Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Not Another Sunset

Gentle Readers,

Merry Christmas from Anchorage, Alaska!

While this may look like yet another sunset picture, it isn't.  It's high noon on the shortest day of the year:  the Winter Solstice.  Since Anchorage sits only 5° south of the Arctic Circle, it never has a day without sun.  However, the sun spends the short day just skimming the horizon never rising more than 6° above it. 

I took this picture yesterday just afternoon and thought you might enjoy it.

Dad / Geoff

Monday, August 8, 2011

Yet another sunset

“A cloud does not know why it moves in just such a direction and at such a speed...It feels an impulsion...this is the place to go now. But the sky knows the reasons and the patterns behind all clouds, and you will know, too, when you lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons.”  ~  Richard Bach

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones All,

I apologize up front for dumping two cliches on you at once.  Sunsets and Richard Bach quotations - how boring. Yes, I am about to show you yet another sunset.  I thought this one was special and deserving.

We took off yesterday from Guam in the western pacific and flew to Taipei, Taiwan.  A tropical depression was forming to the northwest of Guam and we had to work our way through it.  The clouds were layered and varied and it produced a really pretty progression of pictures.

This satellite photo may or may not orient you to the trip.  PGUM in the bottom right is Guam and RCTP on the northern part of Taiwan is Taipei.  The cloud mass to the northwest of Guam is the area these photos are from.  Please recall that you can click on the pictures to blow them up.

I knew the sun was going to be in our eyes for the cruise west.  But instead of being a nuisance, we climbed out of the lower cloud deck to see this. We are cruising at 40,000' above sea level an there is a fairly thick layer of stratus clouds above us. 

I zoomed in on the center of the sunlit area to produce this next picture. 

For some perspective, here is the sunset framed by the windscreen and instrument panel.

I like this next picture the best.  It shows the layered nature of the storm.  There is the status overhead and the cumulus clouds in the distance.  In the middle are the translucent cirrus clouds and through them you can see more cumulus below.  The cumulus are dark and unlit by the Sun as it has already set behind the clouds at that lower level.

As the Sun sank lower the clouds became more purple.

And finally, just before the sun set, this:

Because we were flying just slightly slower than the sun was moving down the sky, this whole process took about 45 minutes.

I hope you found these pictures as pretty as I did.

On that note, I remain,

Dad /Geoff


Thursday, June 9, 2011

San Francisco Walkabout

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." ~ Mark Twain (Not)

Esteemed Readers and Loved Ones,

The Mark Twain quotation beginning this post is almost mandatory when discussing San Francisco.  I've heard it all my life - which is why I was surprised to find this link on snopes.com debunking Twain. Pressing on into the murk, the weather in the San Francisco Bay area is notoriously fickle and can change several times during the day - more on that later.

This is going to be a long and muddled mess. I apologize up front. The post will be organized around my favorite walk along SF Bay and I don't know how to organize it any better than this.  I’ve been walking this route for years and I intend to jumble observations together.  The upshot is that in mid April, I spent a nice 24 hour layover in San Francisco at the Tuscan Inn in the Fisherman's Wharf district. On Saturday, My FO and I walked out the base of the Golden Gate Bridge and back.

First, for your orientation, here is a google map of our walk.  I used the GPS in my droid phone to trace our walk.

View Saffron Cisco Walk in a larger map
I stole this picture from Wikipedia.  It gives a visual overview of some of the route from the opposite side of the bay.

We started the walk in the Fisherman's Wharf area of San Francisco.  There probably is no more "touristy" an area in the world. Since it was Saturday afternoon both the tourists and the locals were out in force on a very nice day. The range of folks walking around this area is huge - Tatooed, fat, skinny, old, young, Americans, foreign visitors - use your imagination - they are all there and thronging around the street mimes, restaurants and the street car station.

My favorite street mime really isn’t a mime - it's the San Francisco Bush Man.  He's an older codger who has a pair of artificial palm fronds.  He kneels down on the curb and crosses the fronds in front of his face.  With all the confusion and hectic activity, this simple camouflage seems to work perfectly and he blends into the chaos.  At random he spreads the fronds out and jumps up and screams ‘boo!’ It always works and he scares the clich├ęs out of people – then they move on a bit and stop to watch the next sucker get startled.  I have no idea how this works out to be a business model – there’s probably a government subsidy at work here - but he doesn’t appear to be starving to death.

As we went west towards Fort Mason and the basin just east, we passed a guy walking in a wet suit.  The top of the wet suit was peeled back down around his waist and he was bare-chested.  This being Saffron Cisco, my immediate reaction was ‘nice fashion statement.’  I had to revise this estimate as we approached the basin as there appeared a growing number of wet suited swimmers emerging from the frigid water.  It was some kind of swim competition.  We never did figure it what was going on.

Past the basin, you climb the hill up to Fort Mason.

Before I discuss Fort Mason, I want to discuss a “Pro-Choice Rally” I saw on this spot some years ago.  This is from an e-mail I sent out to friends and family before I started blogging – I will italicize the early stuff.  My observations back then were somewhat political for which I apologize.

I hadn't gotten a quarter of a mile before I ran into a "Pro Choice Rally". Well, it is Saffron Cisco, I expected to see all the usual suspects.  There were somewhere in the vicinity of 150 sandal clad, wire rimmed, hairy legged, Pelosi voting, Bush hating patriots shouting various slogans.  

I need explain no more, everybody's seen them.  I did note - despite the fact that I am somewhat aged, I'm still a red-blooded American male – that short of a massive makeover or change in orientation, many of the protestors were not likely to need the services of an abortion doctor any time soon.  I managed to escape getting any brochures or other consciousness raising literature and continued my walk up over the hill through Fort Mason.

Fort Mason is really a pretty vantage point for the San Francisco Bay.  Big old trees - Eucalyptus, I think, but my arboreal identification skills are severely lacking - line the sidewalk and frame the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, all the sailboats, and Alcatraz.

Fort Mason is also a rough demarcation line.  Most of the tourist types don’t/can’t climb the hill.  You begin to run into the locals and physical fitness types. 

At this point, I will return to my description of the walk years ago.

West of Ft. Mason is a long narrow grassy park in front of the waterfront district that used to be a landing strip – Crissy Field.  There is a plaque there commemorating the pilots who flew airmail in and out of SF there. 

As I walked down the hill towards the strip, I noticed several thousand people milling about.  I thought "Great, more protests."  As I walked closer, I noted that the signs being carried were "Pro-Life" signs and that bearers were more neatly attired than the previous activists I'd seen.  "Great," I thought, "it’s a Pro-Choice rally with Pro-Life guys on the outside.  Hope this doesn’t’ get violent. Maybe I ought to turn around.”  But then I noted there were plenty of SFPD

That's when I discovered that all of the thousands of people milling about were Pro-Lifers: all of them.  Imagine that: a huge Pro-Life rally and walk-a-thon in Saffron Cisco.  They literally dwarfed the measly crowd of Pro-Choicers I'd just seen.  There was a line of buses that had hauled them in.  I counted 25 Porta-Potties set up to handle the crowd and a speaker system.  This thing was well planned. 

Then I saw the coupe-de-grace.  Overhead, a Cessna 172 was pulling a huge banner up and down the San Francisco waterfront that said: "Stop Abortion Now!"

Gentle Readers, say your prayers and get right with the Lord because I think this is one of heralds of the end times.  It's gotta be in Deuteronomy somewhere.

One final thing to note: There is a sociological concept called the  "Roe Effect." The Roe Effect states that since Pro-Choicers reproduce at much lower rate that Pro-Lifers, Pro-Choice will lose political influence over the generations as their numbers decrease.  I think I saw this at work today.  First, the Pro-Choice rally was much smaller than the Pro-Life Rally by a factor of 10 or so.  Second, there were no children at the Pro-Choice Rally.  None.

On the other hand, children were running all through the Pro-Lifers.  Some were carrying the same signs as the adults.  Two little boys were having a sword fight with their Pro-Life signs.  Most telling, I saw one cute little boy thwack his little sister with his sign.  Once.  Then his Mom explained to him in easily understood terms why he shouldn't do it again.  I'm sure there's a parable somewhere in this, but I'll leave it as an exercise to the student, as my math teachers used to say.

The Marina area is wonderfully picturesque especially when there is no fog to obscure the view west.

The Presidio climbs to the south and is very lovely. Nor is the terrain and the Golden Gate Bridge the only view.  There is a wide jogging path along the bay shore with lots of physically fit people jogging by in spandex attire.  You see all sorts of folks splashing in the bay, many with dogs running around free with their tails whirling in happy arcs.  Hundreds of tennis balls and Frisbees add to the bedlam getting happily chased and chomped. 

There are lots kites too as the wind never stops blowing through the strait.

As I said earlier, SF’s weather changes.  As we got further west, the fog rolled through the straits, the Bridge’s foghorn began blaring and the bridge disappeared.  It also got increasing colder the further as nature demonstrated adiabatic cooling.

Soon you come to the main portion of Crissy Field which is just chock full of aviation lore.  The old hangars that line the field are now used for several touristy kinds of businesses.  Climbing Walls and Trampolines abound inside the old hangars as little and big kids have fun. 

At the end of the walk is Fort Point.  It is a fort that was built out of brick and mortar prior to the Civil War and intended to guard the entrance to San Francisco Bay.  Now it sits at the foot of the south support of the Golden Gate Bridge.  The literature says that it sits on the rubble of an even earlier Spanish Fort that occupied the same ground. 

In the big scheme of things, standing alone, most of us would find this fort to be a huge artifice.  It is 4 stories high and probably covers most of an acre.  It was built to house a lot of soldiers under siege and is massively thick and looming.

At least it would loom if it didn’t sit directly under the Golden Gate Bridge.  For looming purposes you can’t beat the bridge and it just dwarves the fort.

It was very cool at the fort and we were dressed lightly and somewhat sweaty from the long walk out.  We did not tarry long, but got some interesting pictures.

On that happy note,
I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tanker Pilot

"I found out that it's a whole lot easier to be brave while strapped in the cockpit of a plane 5 miles high, where you've got some control, than to be stripped of your clothes in a room alone and tortured while nobody else knows you're alive. That's when it's tough to be brave."
      Col Leo Thorsness
      Fear Can Be Your Best Friend

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

This is going to be a long, rambled mess. Sometimes life is like that. It's a story of several people that I admire greatly.

It started when I got an email today from a friend today linking me to this story from Sacramento.

Years later tanker pilot who 'saved' fighter pilot in Vietnam gets introduction.

Please click that link and read the story. The reporter seems to think he has resurrected an old musty story - it wasn't. When I first became a tanker pilot in 1979 this story was told often - it was part of the tanker driver's lore. Most especially the part where the fighter guys wanted to give Mr. Hague the Silver Star and SAC wanted to punish him. The compromise was the old SAC joke: "In SAC, the reward for good performance is no punishment."

Tanker pilots don't get many opportunities for heroism - the job is to fly in big circles and pass gas. It's an important job in a modern Air Force but you are a second stringer - you are support.

The few occasions where tanker drivers are called upon to go above and beyond the call of duty are stories of legend. In 1979, we young guys sitting in the Tanker alert shack on Okinawa, Japan's Kadena Air Base told them frequently. 

Several years later, one of the guys telling those stories got his chance to add to the lore. The Air Force Academy gives the Jabara Award every year to an academy grad who does something remarkable in aviation.

In 1988, Major Marc Feldman (USAFA '76) won the Jabara award for a heroic save where he took the initiative to rescue several fighters.  He took off in a KC-10 with low weather from a base in the Canary Islands, made an emergency refueling and 'dragged' them up to Portugal.  If he had waited for permission, the fighter guys would have gone for a swim.

One of the first things I do when I start one of these posts is to go to my quote collection.  I searched on 'bravery' for this one and the first quote I found was Col Thorsness' from above.  He won the Medal of Honor.  This is his MoH citation.  A tanker has a support role in that story too.  Sometime after that day, Col Thorsness was shot down and spent years in the 'Hanoi Hilton'. His full story is here.  He also has just published a book.

As I said at the beginning, this is a rambling, untidy post about men who showed gallantry in the face of the enemy and adversity.  In conclusion, I found another quote that connected with me:

"There are no brave men and cowardly men in the world, my son. There
are only brave men. To be born, to live, to die - that takes courage enough
in itself, and more than enough. We are all brave men and we are all
afraid, and what the world calls a brave man, he, too, is brave and afraid
like all the rest of us. Only he is brave for five minutes longer."

     Alistair Maclean
     The Guns of Navarone

On that note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jim Jones

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

This is not a travelog. My father-in-law, James David Jones passed away on Mar 6. He was fine, wonderful man and a great father.

His obituary is here. Please take a moment to read it - it was the featured obit today in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

I don't think it does justice to his life and his accomplishments - I can not do justice to his life. He was born a normal kid and at the age of 5 lost his hearing, his sister and his mother to viral spinal meningitis. This happened at the beginning of the Great Depression.

His loving father enrolled him in the Indiana School for the Deaf where he did well and was chosen to attend the premier deaf college in the US - Gallaudet University in Washington DC. He graduated with a degree in Chemistry.

He met Eldora there.

He spent 20 years in research at the University of Minnesota Hospital and then dedicated the rest of his life to teaching and mentoring the next generation of deaf. He had an impact locally in the Twin Cities, statewide in Minnesota and nationally - a well known man in a community that we 'hearing' know little about.

Just last summer the family celebrated he and Eldora's 60th anniversary - the picture above is from that celebration. There is a wonderful biography that his children commissioned that tells the story of two lives intertwined and lived well.

Five children and 14 grandchildren. Manifold friends.

Requiescat in pax.

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Brown Snake

    "I have never been able to see life as anything but a vast complicated
joke, and it's better to laugh than cry."

         Robert A. Heinlein
         I Will Fear No Evil

Esteemed Readers,

We spent the next morning just moping around the hotel. Our bus time to go back to work was at 3pm. We went back out to Andersen AFB and began pre-flighting the airplane to fly up to Eilson AFB. As we were sitting there waiting for the last freight to be loaded a hangar door next to us opened. The Air Force began rolling out a Global Hawk drone.

I'd never seen one before. I casually mentioned that I hoped we'd get to see it take off. The guys with me told me in a disgusted tone that the drone was at least two hours away from being ready to start and taxi.  It takes that long to get it ready and 'talking' to the remote controllers. These drones already have a huge role in the Air Force and I'm glad we have them. But I don't think they will ever replace the need for having a pilot. History will probably laugh at me.

I did not take any pictures of the drone as I was unsure of security issues and did not wish to learn them the hard way.

At this juncture, esteemed reader, we come to a discussion of the Brown Snake Infestation.

Please click this link to get up to speed on Brown Snakes and Guam.

The Air Force has Brown Snake dogs.   Really.    Dogs who have been trained to sniff out the mildly-venomous snake. Evidently, the snakes have been known to crawl into freight and even crawl out across the ramp and climb the landing gear. Can you say "Brown Snakes on a plane?"

Please recall that we were flying up to Eilson AFB, Alaska where the ambient temperature at landing was -33F. There was little danger of us being the vector by which the Brown Snake was introduced to the frozen Central Alaskan Tundra. A Malthusian snake population explosion will never be one of Alaska's problems.

Bureaucracies do not think that way. We were getting inspected and that is that. You have to report "Brown Snake Inspection complete" to Andersen Tower along with the time the inspection was completed. So we did.

In the last post, I promised to tell some personal stories.  This is a no-kidding true story.  I swear it.

Run the 'Wayback Machine' back to 1979. Newly promoted 1st Lieutenant Whisler is the copilot on a KC-135A that is returning from Guam to Okinawa.  We've got all the inspections complete, engines started and are nearing the runway to take off.

Out of nowhere, a security police (SP) truck appears, sirens blaring, lights flashing.  It stops directly in front of us and the two SPs jump out.  One has an M-16 rifle and stands in front of our airplane, weapon at port arms.  Obviously he desires that we stop the jet - so we do.  The other SP runs under the jet, dragging a pair of tire chocks.  He reappears without the chocks so we assume that we have been immobilized.  This second SP retrieves his M-16 and positions himself in front also at port arms.  

We don't know why this is happening.  Tower Controllers have many stock radio call phrases that they fall back on to exude professionalism when some unforeseen event occurs.  Apparently, there is no stock phrase to explain why armed SPs are standing threateningly in front of your jet to prevent you from taxiing.  When we asked them why, Andersen Tower said "Stand By".  This was not very helpful as being threatened with deadly force pretty much results in activity that looks a lot like 'standing by'.
Next we hear: "Exxon 27, we aren't sure what's going on down there.  Contact the command post for information."  Inter-cockpit communications ensue describing the helpfulness of this radio call - I'm shamed to admit much of it vulgar.  In those days, the navigator was responsible for communicating with the Command Post.  So, he calls them and explains the situation.  This results in another 'Standby'.  

After about a 5 minute wait, we hear, "Exxon 27, the SPs say that you did not clear the Customs and Brown Snake Inspection."  We turn to glare at the Boom Operator, who being the junior enlisted on a KC-135 flight crew, got stuck with maintaining the paperwork and ensuring such inspections are complete.  Ours was a very good, experienced Boom Operator.  He had anticipated this very reason for our situation and met our glares by confidently holding up the duly signed and stamped paperwork documenting the completion of the inspections that the SPs claim were ignored.

The Nav explains this documentation to the Command Post.  Command Post says "Standby".  We standby.  5 minutes later, we hear:  "Exxon 27, SPs say the inspection was not complete and the dog is on the way out to your aircraft.  Open hatch to allow entry."  

At this point, esteemed reader, I need to provide you with some background aviation knowledge germane to our story.  First, KC-135s have two means of crew entry.  First, there is a large cargo door on the left side of the fuselage in front of the wings.  This door requires a staircase or a freight loader for entry.  This is the normal way that a sniffing dog and handler would enter the jet.  Once the engines are running this door is not ever used as the engines will suck in humans and other debris.  This is bad for the both the debris and the humans - not to mention the engines.

This leaves the crew hatch located just behind the Aircraft Commander's seat on the left side.  You must open the hatch on the bottom of the jet and the grate in the floor of the flight deck and stick a long ladder down the hatch.  Then the ladder is locked into place so that one can safely climb up and down it.  A 'Bag Drag' evolution to load the jet usually required one guy to go all the way up into the Flight Deck, another half way up the ladder and then one guy on ground to pass bags and so forth up the ladder.  

The next salient fact is that the KC-135A - we called them A-Frames - did not have the new quieter turbofan jet engines of the KC-135R.  It had the older GE J-57 Turbojet engines.  These engines running at idle made an extremely loud, dog whistle whine that was painful for humans.  We 'A-Framers' all wore hearing protection any time the airplane was running.  The noise was much worse directly in front of the running engines as the compressors emitted the whistle in a cone out the front of the jet. 

Keep those two salient facts in mind as we turn back to our saga.  

Soon, a new SP truck appears in front of our parked jet.  It has a chain link cage in the back.  In the front left corner of the cage is a forlorn huddled lump of doggy haired protoplasm, her paws held protectively over her once cute German Shepherd ears.  One can only imagine the aural pain that she is in. 

Military Dog Trainers and Handlers achieve a rapport with their animal charges that we mere dog owners can only be jealous of.  They love their dogs and the dogs love them.  When our hero opens the cage to take the dog out, the dog balks.  Actually, the dog goes ballistic and the Handler is bitten manifold times about the face, neck and arms.  Clearly, the dog does not want to go near our screaming jet.  Gentle Reader, it shames me to admit that I joined the laughter on the flight deck.  Finally, the handler drags the dog out of the cage and down on the ramp and begins dragging her over to the hatch.  I say drag because I will go to my grave with the mental image of a large German Shepherd, feet splayed out in front, collar pulled up around her ears producing three folds of skin, being forcibly dragged across the concrete - growling, whining and leaving a trail of scared doggy urine.

The handler arrives at our hatch and the extended ladder.  We can barely hear him scream, "I'll hand the dog up to you" to our Boom Operator over the jet noise.  The Boom Operator just shakes his head "no".  His mama didn't raise no dog-bitten fool.

So the handler loads the dog into his arms into a dog carry that allows him to climb the ladder.  This places his head and the dog's head in close proximity and the dog begins biting him again.  (Yes, I laughed again.)

Once they are inside the jet, the handler runs the dog through the aircraft.  It is obvious that this dog would not smell a Brown Snake or other contraband if you rubbed it on her nose.  The dog is in pain. The handler is not happy, but he's got orders to run the dog over the plane.

Once the farce is complete and the handler begins to complete the paperwork documenting this new inspection, our Boom Operator shows the Handler the old paperwork.  As you might surmise, this results in an angry exchange of insults between the bleeding handler and the smug Boom Operator.  The handler takes the dog back into the carry / biting position and descends the ladder.  More bites ensue.

The next thing we see is the dog exploding out from under the jet, dragging the handler towards the truck, the cage and blessed silence.  The dog does not bite his beloved handler as he is loaded back into the truck.  The dog truck leaves.

The original chock SP goes under the jet and removes the chocks.  We receive a respectful military salute and are cleared for takeoff to climb into the long, delirious burning blue.

I remain confident that we did not introduce the Brown Snake into the Okinawan ecosystem.

Next post, I will discuss the return flight to Eilson AFB and the frozen tundra.

On that note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

ps,  A friend just emailed me two brown snake stories.  Click Here and Here with some trepidation.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Narita, Earthquakes and Tsunamis

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

As you probably know, Japan just had a huge earthquake and tsunami.  The epicenter was just off-coast of Narita International where I layover often. 

I was not there.  It was my huge luck to be at home.  I just got an email from official sources saying that all our crews are safe in the hotel which has power but limited phone and email. 

The news sources say that all US military are safe - my son George and his wife Brook left many friends there when they came back to the states last September.

My heart and prayers go out to the local citizens who weren't so lucky.

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Offutt AFB

'War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest thing; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war is worse -- a man who has nothing for which he has to fight, nothing which he cares for more than his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself" ~ John Stuart Mills

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

Recall that the main reason for this blog is to share with you things I see as I travel. Sometimes, I share things I've never seen but I usually try for an aviation theme.

I got an email from my eldest cousin today. He grew up in Nebraska and has a deep and unabashed love for that state and his country. Like me, his first career was in the Air Force. Offutt AFB lies just outside of Omaha, Neb very near the Missouri River and therefore it's nestled right in amongst some of the best farming land in the world.

Farmers are usually patriotic fellows whose land lies fallow during the cold Nebraska winter. The farmers who live off the end of the runway at Offutt have evidently been using their fields to make billboards supporting the aircrews flying in and out of Offutt for some years now.

Here is the email:

As the fight song says, "There is NO place like Nebraska!"


This is on Hwy 75 south. A farmer does it with his tractor; not sure if he uses a plow or a disc. He uses GPS to get the letters readable. He has done this every fall for several years now.

Here's the view from the flight pattern into OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE (Bellevue, NE just south of Omaha). This is what our servicemen see when landing at Offutt AFB. Hat tip to the Bellevue farmer who made it happen!

Of course this intrigued me and I went to the internet to see if I could learn more. The GeoEye website evidently posts interesting satellite imagery. I stole this image from their site. Click this link to learn more about it. According to GeoEye, this message was plowed just this year in 2010.

Next, I went to google maps to see if the satellite maps there could add more to the story. The Google maps images of Offutt were made back in 2004. I found this:

View Larger Map

So, 6 years ago a different field was used for a different message.

To conclude I give you Mark Twain:

"...the true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation ALL the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it." ~ Mark Twain
On that happy note,

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Iditarod 2011

"We can't all be heroes, someone has to sit on the curb and clap as
they go by." ~ Will Rogers

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

Frankly, I'm bummed. I'm gonna miss the Iditarod Ceremonial Start by one day. The start is two days from now on Saturday morning. It's a good time. I'll miss it because I have to "operate a revenue flight" down to Memphis tomorrow night.

You may or may not remember that I posted a gadabout two years ago about the Iditarod. Click this to see that post. I think it is one of my better posts here.

The Anchorage newspaper - The Alaska Daily News has a web site dedicated to the Iditarod.

It's a very nice web site and I recommend you spend some time looking at it.

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


"Among the most foolish, yet pervasive, ideas in America today is
that, if we are careful with our money and our votes and our diet, we can
live without risk. It's a fallacy that infects our financial lives, our
politics and our personal habits." ~ Louis Rukeyser

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

I offer this without comment:

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Discovery's Last Flight

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

I did not take this video nor do I know who did. It's just cool. Looking at the geometry of the video, the airliner was cruising above FL300 and pointed north. Probably somewhere northeast of Orlando. Enjoy.

I found this video here and here.

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lunar Venus Eclipse

"It has been conclusively demonstrated by hundreds of experiments that
the beating of drums will restore the sun following an eclipse." ~ James Gregory

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

As most of you know, I'm an astronomy geek. I've made one or two astronomical posts here on this blog. Tonight I saw this picture and it set my inner geek free. Please remember you can click on all of these pictures to blow them up larger.

What you see is Venus and the moon just minutes after the moon has eclipsed Venus in the daylight. Both Venus and the moon are relatively close to the sun so that they show as early crescents. I stole the picture from this NASA website. A Hungarian Photographer / Astrophotographer named Ivan Eder took this picture just after noon on May 21st, 2004.

I have a great astronomical mapping and planetarium program written by Chris Marriot called Skymap. This next picture is setup for Budapest on that date and will give you a rough idea of how the sky might have looked if you could see the planets and the stars in the bright blue sky. In fact, you probably would have needed a pair of binoculars at a minimum to have seen the moon and Venus. Mr. Eder used the very nice TMB 130 refractor at the bottom of this page.

This map faces due south, west is to the right east to left. The straight up zenith is at the top center. Therefore, the moon and Venus would have hung up high in the southeast.

Skymap will let you set the heavenly bodies in motion exactly as they would have in reality. As I set about doing that I discovered some new things. (Not the least being how to make an animated gif file.)

The astronomy of this eclipse is such that it could only happen in the day. But if it had been a deep dark night, this eclipse would have occurred over the top of some interesting deep sky objects. This image will show you that. When you click on it, it will move and show you the eclipse. Please do not click on it yet.

The green arcs in this picture represent the very faint supernova remnant Simeis 147 (Sh2-240). If you click that link you see a picture of it using a 25" telescope that dwarves the little scope that Mr Eder used. The link says that Sh2-240 is one of the faintest objects in the sky and requires hours of exposure using a camera just to 'see' it. At the bottom right of the picture are two green circles. These represent the open star clusters DoDz 3 and 4.

Back to the eclipse. If you click the picture, the moon and Venus will move and give you a taste of the geometry of the eclipse. The first frame starts a 11 am Budapest time and runs at one hour intervals until 3 in the after noon.

I filtered the star brightness to declutter these pictures. The dimmest (and therefore smallest star in the picture is about Magnitude 8 or about the dimmest you can see with a pair of binoculars. The brightest is about Mag 5 and would just barely be visible with your naked Mark I eyeball.

I hope you found this as cool as I did. On that note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Zoom and Boom

It's better to be down here wishing you were up there, than to be up there wishing you were down here.

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

A friend just sent me this wonderful video. Please watch it now.

Like some others that read this blog, I have a little experience in zooming and booming. I found that video fascinating.

In general, one is not supposed to make a boom close to the ground unless one is operating in "Special Use Airspace" specifically set aside for such activity - these areas mostly exist in the western desert and off-shore. Booming San Francisco Bay is most definitely not such airspace - but the Blue Angels are special too so I guess they get a pass......

The perspicacious reader will have noted that the movies on the ships are way out at sea where such rules no longer apply.

As I have mentioned in other posts, I instructed in the T-38. The student syllabus contained one supersonic flight. It was regulatory to perform this boom ride over 30,000' above mean sea level so that your shock cone did not reach the ground and upset civilians and harm the environment. At that altitude, the only way you could tell that the T-38 was supersonic was by looking at the mach number on the airspeed gauge. If you started around 40,000' in a slight descent, you could get up to Mach 1.2 or so. It was in fact pretty underwhelming.....and you had to complete paperwork when you landed. Most guys didn't like doing it.

High speed, low altitude flight on the other hand is about as exciting as it gets.

When I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy it was accepted as gospel that a flight of F-105s had boomed the zoo in the 60's. As the story goes, they had broken a LOT of windows out of the glass filled architecture that is the Academy. We all retold the story not really knowing what we were talking about but loving a good story. This is the way of many urban legends.

In this modern day of google, I decided to see what the internet contained. I found this fascinating link and this picture:

So, it's not such a legend after all....

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Volcano in Japan

Gentle Readers,

Just saw this news item: Shinmoedake Volcano.

I'm going to take off from Anchorage to Hong Kong here in an hour or so. I'll spend the next several days flying routes that go near this beast. If I get any pictures or stories I'll share them.

Note to self: Do not fly through Volcanic Ash.

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Turnagain, Again,

"Anything running counter to conventional wisdom is probably the right choice."
~ The Contrarian Philosophy

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

Most of us would not dream of surfing in Alaska in January in the dead of winter. This post is about contrarians who do.

Please recall that I fly out of Anchorage, Alaska. Anchorage is surrounded on 2.3 sides by water - The Cook Inlet branches into the Knik Arm and the Turnagain Arm and wraps around the city. I wrote about a day trip I took up the Turnagain here. There are also pictures of this general area in this post.

The Turnagain Arm is famous for it's tidal dynamics. It often produces a bore tide.

Please click this link now. Ann pointed it out to me yesterday and I knew my gentle readers would enjoy seeing it too. Roughly half way down the link is a video showing a group of intrepid paddle surfers out running the bore tide several days ago on Jan 13, 2011.

In the video you can see the road that runs along the north shore of the Turnagain and you can see a motorcade of cars following their progress. That is the same road I drove.

Note that the surfers are wearing dry suits - not wet suits.

I looked up the weather observation for Jan 13th and found the temperature rose to a blistering 18F for a high. For those of you who think in communist centigrade that's -8C. Both of those temperatures are below the freezing point of water.

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

ps, I considered using this quote at the beginning here, but decided it would just confuse us.

"There are amusing mathematical relationships everywhere if you are
on the look out for them. In the ripples on the water, or the shapes of
busts - elegant fifth order functions."
"Huh? You mean 4th order."
"Fifth order. You omitted the time variable. I like fifth order equations,"
Libby said dreamily. "You find 'em in fish, too."

Robert A. Heinlein
Methuselah's Children