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I make toys for kids who don't want to grow up. I'm on the lookout for new projects. If you're interested in commissioning me to build something ridiculous, shoot me an email.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sucker Punch = Angel Wars

So last night I found myself with a bit of free time and decided to go and see a movie.  Since I missed Sucker Punch in theaters stateside, I figured I'd try my luck and see if I could catch it here in Japan.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, here's the trailer on Youtube:

This movie was directed by Zach Snyder, the same guy who helmed 300 and Watchmen.  I loved both of those movies, so when I heard he was going to be doing a movie based entirely on original material instead of another graphic novel adaptation, I was thrilled.

It came out in theaters in the states just after I flew out to Okinawa to meet the USS BLUE RIDGE and apparently it didn't do well enough to stick around for very long in the box office.  On top of that, apparently all the critics hated it.  I don't know why.  Hated it.

When I made my way to the local theater, it turned out that the local release of this particular film wasn't called "Sucker Punch."  Instead, in Japan it was released as "Angel Wars." 


It was also redubbed entirely in Japanese.  No subtitles.

Since I figured I was mostly going to see this particular film for the visual aspect of it anyway* I went ahead and watched it in Japanese.

Having seen the movie without being able to understand more than about a dozen words that were spoken, all I could say was "Wow!"  I'm not sure what it could've been in the dialogue that made the movie such a flop, but when it comes out on DVD, I'll definitely own this video.

If you're a film critic, I implore you to watch this movie again in a language you don't understand so you can focus on all of the eye candy and the amazing optical roller coaster ride it was supposed to be.  If you wanted something intellectual, resplendent with thematic elements and layered symbolism, go watch The Fountain instead.

In the meantime, I can't help thinking that the Japanese title "Angel Wars" reminds me for some reason of this great mash-up video by Youtube user Forensicator8.  He re-did the Sucker Punch trailer as if it starred only Disney princesses.  Check it out:

Fortunately, even in Japanese the music soundrack was still the same.  So that's good.

*The effects promised to be amazing, so I wasn't just talking about a bunch of scantily-clad girls in a women-in-prison movie like so many of the titles in my DVD collection.**

**They were pretty nice too though.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I Learned Something New

I try to learn something new every day, but some days are less informative than others.

So the other night I was out to a restaurant having dinner with my friend Rich and his family when his daughter points out the toothpick jar on the table.  Specifically, she pointed out the little grooves cut into the top of the toothpicks:
Tooled toothpick

I've seen these grooves before and never given them a moment's thought until she asked me if I knew what they're for. When I told her I didn't know, she snapped the end off of one of them and placed it on the table like so:
Toothpick Rest

Apparently these are designed as an integral toothpick rest so you can set your toothpick down without getting it dirty.

So there you have it.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Visiting Yokosuka and it's Business as Usual

So at long last I've finally had a chance to roll ashore and visit lovely downtown Yokosuka, Japan.

Here's a view of the port from a nearby Starbucks:
Yokosuka Port

Walking around downtown, the locals don't look especially concerned about radiation exposure or fallout:
Downtown Yokosuka

These girls are absolutely not worried about exposure:
Japanese legs

Since I had a bit of time off, I ended up hanging out with my friend Rich and his family:
Me and Rich

As long as I was wandering around, I had to check out the latest and greatest high tech toilet seats:
Hi-tech Toilet Seats

Rich's son Ricky checked them out too:
Toilet Seat Ricky

There was also a Spring sale going on in the pet store section of "Homes" which is something like a Japanese WalMart:
Spling Sall
Excuse me, it was a "Spling Sall."

This is why the pets were all so inexpensive. Like this puppy:
Pricey Puppy 2
The current exchange rate is 85 yen to one US dollar, so this dog costs $1882.32.  He's cute, but damn!

Here's a kitten for $1760 US dollars:
Expensive Cat is Expensive
To think there's people in the states who give these things away for free!

Finally,. here's a $5500 bulldog:
Pricey Puppy

Given the ridiculous high prices for cats and dogs, I had to check out the smaller, cuddly animal section:
Cute and Furry Little Animals

On the left were pet chipmunks or the like:
Pet Chimpunk

In the cage on the right was a pet bat for sale.  He was preening himself:
Pet Bat preening

I wasn't quite sure he was male until he paused long enough to look at me:
Pet Bat

The longer he looked the longer he got, so I left before he tried to molest me in some way:
Boy Bat

At some point while we were out, I also snapped this picture of a plurple heffalump escaping from a nearby building:

So yeah. It's pretty much business as usual here in Yokosuka.

Stay tuned. I've got ten more days here and with the daily aftershocks you never know what's next...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Operation Tomodachi Update: Group Photo of 7th Fleet Staff Augmentees

Here's a winning photo of most of the extra folks who came out to help out the COMSEVENTHFLT staff for the operation:

Vice Admiral Van Buskirk, Commander of Seventh Fleet, is the exceptionally tall man front and center in the flight suit.  I'm one of the guys in snazzy blue digital Smurfy-flage on his right.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Operation Tomodachi Update: More Personalized Pics

The journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step, but the journey of 5,000 miles begins with a car, a couple of airplanes, and a bus. 

Flying into Tokyo's Narita airport was pretty simple.  In fact, the usually bustling Tokyo airport was eerily empty when I got there for my layover before connecting to Okinawa.  Judging by all the short-haired foreigners waiting around in the terminal, the flight was almost entirely filled with US military personnel. 

This made sorting out luggage at the airport a bit of a chore before we all got on the bus to the first base:

Green Bags

They put us up in transient quarters at Kadena Air Base for the night while we waited for the ship to arrive.  The next morning we all piled back into the bus and headed to White Beach Naval Station which still looked pretty much the same way it did the last time I was there (somewhere around the year 2000):
Entering White Beach

It's a small base, so in no time at all we got our first glimpse of the ship:

When I was a midshipman, I actually spent a month on board the USS BLUE RIDGE (LCC-19) and now, almost fifteen years later, I'm amazed at how clean the ship is.  I could show you all sorts of things to demonstrate the showroom quality of the ship, but here's a random passageway, complete with polished brass sounding plates in the deck:

After I'd received my stateroom assignment, key cards, passwords, and electrical safety checks for my personal electronics, I dropped my bags on my rack and headed out to walk around for a bit.  I haven't taken any pictures of my stateroom because there's no good angle from which you can photograph a space the size of a small walk-in closet when it's designed to sleep six adults and store their gear.

Up on the main deck, I took a few minutes to check out one of the helicopters.  Suffice it to say, the admiral rides in style:
Operation Tomodachi1

Then I took it upon myself to leave the ship and walk around ashore for a bit.  It was there on the pier that I finally found LCDR Servance, my closest classmate from the SUNY Maritime College, looking ever the professional naval officer:
Operation Tomodachi2

We went out and had dinner and spent a few hours catching up.  Then it was time to head back to the ship and crash out.  The next morning we were underway bright and early and I started standing watch in the Fleet Command Center, tucked away in the deep, dark recesses of the ship. 

So deep and so dark in fact that I never ended up getting any pictures (that, and pretty much everything in the room is classified to some level*).  In fact, it wasn't until I'd been on board for a week that I finally found my way topside when there was still some sunlight outside.  A bit anyway:
Operation Tomodachi3

Somewhere along the way things began to stabilize ashore and our operational tempo began to trail off.  We were headed to Yokosuka, Japan and someone decided it would be a good idea for all of the folks like me who were augmenting the staff temporarily to pose for a big group photo with Vice Admiral Van Buskirk, the three-star admiral in command of Seventh Fleet.

I'll post that picture whenever I actually see a copy of it.

Meanwhile, I managed to get a picture with some of the guys I've been standing my watches with:
Operation Tomodachi4
I'm the guy on the right not wearing a flight suit.

The next morning I got my first view of Japan's big island from the sea (for this year):
Operation Tomodachi5
If you squint really close in the picture you can see a little dark sliver on the horizon.  That's the land of the rising sun.

As we got closer, I was again amazed at how uncharacteristically quiet it was.  Tokyo Bay is usually bustling with ships and boats going every which way.  This day it was almost serene:
Operation Tomodachi9

As the ship made it's turn toward Naval Station Yokosuka, the crew began manning the rails:
Operation Tomodachi8

Since I was off watch, all I had to do was stay out of the way while the ship moored.  Then everyone was dismissed and I got to hang out on deck while the shore gang rigged the gangways:
Operation Tomodachi7

While I was waiting, I noticed a couple of things I hadn't seen before in my previous visits to Yokosuka.  The first was these tiny little tugboats:
Operation Tomodachi6
I can't imagine what they're good for, but they're adorable.

The second new thing I noticed was a handful of guys on deck taking their Geiger counters for a walk:
Operation Tomodachi16
From what I've heard, they didn't count very many Geigers.

Once the gangway was set up, Rich Servance and I wandered around the base for a bit and headed out into town for dinner.  Japan still looks much like I remember it looking.  As a bonus, the cherry blossoms are in season:
Operation Tomodachi17

Now that we're in Yokosuka and things are slowly returning to normal for the fleet, the bulk of the augmentees are being sent home.  But not me.

Being one of the few people staying behind for a bit means there's finally enough room in the "Flag Mess" where the admiral and his staff eat to fit me as well:Operation Tomodachi15
Unfortunately, I've been standing watches at night and they don't serve mid-rats** in port.  Jerks.

I'll be getting a bit of time to actually go out and about before I'm done here in Japan, so stay tuned for more pictures and whatnot...

*Which might sound cool, but I still don't get to know if there are aliens.

**"Mid-rats" is short for "midnight rations" a fourth meal served aboard ship to accomodate the folks who are getting off work or about to start in the middle of the night.


Monday, April 11, 2011

More Pics from the Heart of Gold's First Photoshoot

As promised in a previous entry, here are a few more pictures from my shop assistant Mallory's photoshoot aboard the Heart of Gold.  Here's one of my favorites:
More pictures after the jump.  Enjoy.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Operation Tomodachi Update: Suddenly Not Much Going On

When the earthquake and resultant tsunami visited massive amounts of destruction on Japan on the 11th of March, the US Seventh Fleet sprang into action.  While coordinating all of the ship and aircraft movements during the ensuing disaster relief mission, the 7th Fleet Commander's staff was working inhumanly long hours while still keeping tabs on all of the things going on in the rest of their Area of Responsibility, the largest and most dynamic AOR the US Navy has.

To ease the strain, the staff called for personnel augmentation from elsewhere in the Navy, both active duty and reserve components.  That's how I got here.

By the time I arrived, the grueling initial pace of the operation had already started to slow.  Working in concert with the government of Japan, the search and rescue mission at sea was wrapped up pretty quickly and the seaborne delivery of humanitarian aid supplies was soon completed.

At the end of a formal "thank you" aboard the USS RONALD REAGAN, the bulk of Operation Tomodachi had drawn to an end.  In fact, all that was left for us to do was to extract the team of sailors and marines who had completed some initial cleanup efforts on O Shima island, wrap up the survey of obstructions in Kessenuma Port, and return ships to their regularly scheduled training and exercises.

I'm still going to be here to augment the staff for the rest of April just in case there's an aftershock that causes catastrophic damage at the Fukushima nuclear power plant (or any of the other nuclear reactors in the area).  But being the guy in charge of the ships involved in an operation that no longer has any ships assigned to it is not exactly challenging.

Still, I'll at least get a chance to go ashore in Japan before too much longer.  I'll get to post pictures by then.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Some Thoughts on Radiation

When I first mentioned that I was going to be headed to Japan for Operation Tomodachi, I was flooded with phone calls, emails, and concerned visitors stopping by to remind me that there was apparently a nuclear holocaust in progress and my vacation planning was going poorly. My grandfather came by and told me about how he'd just read in the news about how the USS RONALD REAGAN had just gone through the fallout cloud and seventeen guys on board were dosed with deadly radiation* and all sorts of other horror stories.

At that point I'd feel safe in saying that I had a better understanding of radioactivity than most people. I feel safe in saying that because most people have no understanding of it at all. I've at least had to sit through a few classroom sessions and a tour of a nuclear power plant on my way to getting an engineering degree.

However, since I got here I've still taken it upon myself to learn all sorts of things about radiation, nuclear power, radioactive contamination, and more. Like everyone else I've been hearing reports of radiation levels and contamination and wondering whether the folks exposed were going to die a sudden ugly death riddled with cancer or if they would walk away with something akin to a sunburn. These things are worth knowing.

The first thing to understand is the difference between radiation and contamination. Right now, the bulk of the problem we're looking at in Fukushima is radio-iodine that's been coming from the plant. Radio-iodine is a particulare type of iodine that emits potentially harmful radiation for a few weeks as it decays.

The best analogy I've come across to explain this comes from a brief I read from the 31st MEU. It was designed to explain the problem of radioactive contamination to the infantry grunts getting ready to help with the clean-up efforts on O Shima. It goes about like so:

1. Contamination is pooh.
2. Radiation is stink from the pooh.
3. Large amounts of pooh = very strong stink. The equipment we use measures stink, not pooh.
4. In this case, there's not a lot of pooh. Instead, there's a very thin layer of pooh. Thin enough that there's almost no smell.
5. If you step in it, some gets on your shoes. Then you track pooh all over your floor.
6. If you reach down and touch it, or pick up something that's covered in it, now you have pooh on your hands or your shirt.
7. On your clothes it's unsanitary. On your hands you could rub your eyes. Your eyes don't like pooh. Even a little.
8. Say you touch something you eat. Now you have pooh in you. You body doesn't like that. Even a little. It can cause all sorts of problems.
9. If you want to play in the area where the pooh layer is, remember to cover your feet if you want to walk in it. Cover your hands if you want to pick up or touch things. If it's going to touch your shirt or pants, cover those too. Don't touch your face and you'll be fine.

You've gotta love the Marines.

This analogy leaves out considerations of cumulative exposure over prolonged periods of time, but in the current operating environment they're working in, the worst of the contamination we've seen anywhere can be pretty well eliminated with soap and water.

Now if you've been hearing about radiation levels in the news, you've been hearing about the amount of stink that the radiation sniffers have noticed.  These amounts are expressed using all sorts of interesting units like greys, sieverts, microsieverts, and so on. It's been a long time since I took my last exam on this sort of thing, so I've been hopeless in trying to remember what any of them mean.

Fortunately, xkcd.com posted a helpful chart that explains, in reasonably simple terms, just how much radiation is a bad thing while comparing them to the amounts of naturally occurring radiation that everyone in the world is exposed to all the time. Check it out below.
(click for ginormous version)

Hopefully you've found these things as useful as I have.

*There have been a few occasions since this operation started where there've been reports about Navy crews getting contaminated. In every case so far, these have been minor bits of contamination which were simply washed off.

Operation Tomodachi Update

Since my own role as a staffer in the Fleet Command Center is pretty unexciting, I figured I'd pirate a bunch of pictures from the 7th Fleet Public Affairs Office and do a quick write-up on what's been going on since I arrived in theater.

With the initial rush of rescue work done and the beginnings of cleanup underway in many port towns in NE Japan, the main focus of effort when I got here was the delivery of Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief ("HADR" in military lexicon, pronounced "Hay-der" if you please) supplies to those folks in remote communities and islands which were cut off by tsunami damage.

The main delivery platform for this type of mission?  Helicopters.  Specifically, Navy and Marine Corps helicopters based aboard ships at sea and the few US air bases scattered across Japan.

Here's a winning shot of one of our CH-53's (usually configured to tow equipment to disable sea mines) delivering HADR supplies into coastal Japan:

After any mission into the "warm" zone, everything gets tested for radioactive contamination:

The helos aren't the only assets shouldering the workload though.  While they've been great for getting clean water, food, medical supplies, and warm blankets and clothing into the affected area, they are less great at moving heavier equipment.  For that, we've been using amphibious landing craft to help the Japanese authorities re-establish vital infrastructure wherever we can.

Here's a Landing Craft, Utility, (LCU) from USS ESSEX delivering utility repair vehicles to O Shima Island:

If you're unfamiliar with LCUs, these are general-purpose landing craft that are designed to move large amounts of marines and equipment to the beach in the course of an amphibious invasion.  They can carry as many as three M1A1 Abrams tanks or something like 450 combat-ready infantrymen all at once.

If you're unfamiliar with O Shima Island, right now it looks about like this:

To help with the cleanup efforts, the USS ESSEX also landed a few hundred sailors and marines to do a massive debris removal project, clearing away obstructions from the roads and whatnot.  They've got quite a job ahead of them.

Meanwhile, navy divers aboard USNS SAFEGUARD have been moved from port to port, helping with obstruction removal and clearing channels in order to allow ships to come alongside and help the Japanese economy begin its recovery.  Here's a shot of the SAFEGUARD during survey operations in the port of Miyako:

Since the HADR supplies are mostly coming from helicopters and the helicopters are largely coming from ships, something needs to be done to make sure the ships don't run out of HADR supplies.  This is where the logistics support ships come in.  These are massive supply ships that have been rotating between ports and the fleet operating area non-stop throughout Operation Tomodachi.  When they arrive in the vicinity of the fleet, ships will take turns approaching the supply ships and replenishing their stores of HADR supplies as well as topping off their fuel tanks (for both ship fuel and helicopter fuel) so they can remain on station to carry out their missions.

Here's a shot of USS SHILOH (a cruiser) making her approach to USNS PECOS (an oiler) prior to beginning underway replenishment:

Here the amphibious landing ship USS TORTUGA alongside another oiler, the USNS RAPPAHANNOCK:

Once the ships are close enough to each other, they begin transferring supplies using helicopters as well as connected high-lines like so:

In addition to the HADR mission, port clearance, and supporting search and rescue operations, the US Navy has also had a minor role in controlling the damage at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant (potentially the deadliest part of the crisis).  The main concern has been finding a way to cool down  the damaged reactors at the plant to prevent a total meltdown which could cause radioactive contamination to spew out in much more dangerous levels than the minor contamination we've seen so far.

For the Navy's part, we've sent a pair of barges with a combined capacity of 500,000 gallons of freshwater to provide additional cooling water for the plant.  Here's a shot of the first water barge being pushed out of Yokosuka enroute to Fukushima:

There's still a lot of other work going on, but the operation is definitely winding down. Still, we've definitely been making an impact and the locals seem grateful.

Here's a shot of a makeshift landing zone that one of our helo crews found:
Not the "Thank you USA" written in the sand to the left of the landing pad.

Here's another one, snapped by a helo crew from the USS PREBLE:

It's nice to be noticed.