Life on an Aircraft Carrier

Thomas is a Tiger. That is, he's in his first year of Cub Scouts and he and his friends are known as Tigers (go Pack 464!). This gets Thomas and I doing lots of interesting things: going on outtings, building cars, and... spending the night on an aircraft carrier!

The USS Hornet is a floating museum docked in Alameda, just south of Oakland and across the bay from San Francisco. As part of the Hornet's "live aboard" program, Thomas and I spent about 20hours on the ship from Saturday afternoon to noon Sunday.

Neither Thomas nor I had been on a military ship before, let alone an aircraft carrier. The Hornet was built over 60 years ago and refitted multiple times since then. It served in WWII and picked up the Apollo 11 crew upon their return to earth. Saved from the scrap heap 10 or so years ago, it's been renovated by a welcoming and dedicated group of people.

After orientation, setting up our bunks, muster, and chow, we spent the evening exploring the ship from top to bottom. Being able to roam around a floating city (3,500 crew members during WWII) was a lot fun. We got lost a few times but, as long as you know which way is up :-), it's easy to find your back to the hangar deck.

The Hornet's team is doing a great job at procuring and restoring navy aircraft, including many that once served on the aircraft carrier. Our favorite is the F8 Crusader. Looking down its air intake was truly like looking into the gaping maw of a great white shark. Indeed, we were told the story of a 260lbs man being sucked in from 10 feet away and literally pulverized. BTW the plane you see to the right took 1,000 hours to restore and is in beautiful condition.

By far the best part of our stay was the fact that ex-crew members of the Hornet and its sister ships were giving us tours and answering our questions. It made all the difference in the world and gave us a window in the lives of the crew. We learned a ton:

  • Frank, who worked on the flight deck on the Hornet in the 50s explained, with the help of a model and cardboard planes, how the carrier managed its fleet of 90 aircraft.
  • He also told us of the time he was burnt by jet thrust and being blown 400ft down the flight deck. Thomas was very impressed.
  • The Hornet's flight deck is made of teak (by far the most valuable part of the ship we were told!). Metal would make it too easy for sparks to fly and fuel to combust.
  • Rich gave us a very detailed tour of the flight bridge and told us of his experiences working on deck: how planes were launched, how pilots lost their lives in the event of cold catapults (i.e. ones that didn't propel their jets from 0 to 120mph in 2sec flat), and of pulling pilots out of burning aircraft wearing an asbestos suit.
  • Michael (?) gave Thomas and I a private tour of the CIC (Combat Information Center) and turned on all the green and blue "mood lighting" for us. Very cool.

I could go on and on. Suffice it to say it was an incredible experience and Thomas already wants to go back. Many thanks to our hosts on the Hornet and esp. the former crew members. You made a tremendous and often very moving difference.



$880 to fly 12 miles...

When flying, you usually expect to pay more for greater distance. Flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles is a lot cheaper than to Tokyo. However, it seems that there's a point at which you pay more the closer you get... I was on United's site and, just for the hell of it, priced out a flight from Oakland airport to San Francisco. I believe the distance between the two to be roughly 12 miles as the crow, I mean the jet, flies. Those are some very expensive miles, check it out:

The perceptive among you will have noticed that, although the title states "Oakland to San Francisco", the trip details actually have us flying from SFO to Sacramento (yes, that would be a bug). This is much more reasonable, after all SMF is a whopping 80miles away! And I bet they don't even serve drinks :-)

China rules

I was on Alexa today and looked at their top sites, i.e. the most traffic'ed sites on the net. In the top 10, four sites were Chinese and one Japanese. Very impressive. Obviously internet growth mirrors economic growth.

When I was in China a year ago I was impressed by the amount of construction going on. Huge cranes congregate in large numbers in cities. Four to eight lane roads run through the countryside with comparitively little traffic, awaiting the future onrush of cars (parking lots are for some reason still way too small though). We were even overtaken by a Lamborghini one day!

I expect most websites will have a "Made in China" logo in their footers before long :-)

Tour the Earth

I played with the Keyhole client a long time ago: it allowed users to roam the earth viewing satellite images, zooming over my house, checking out where I worked, tilting the view so I could the images rendered on the contour of landscape (very impressive). It was all going so well... And then my 30 day free trial expired.

Though I enjoyed it, it didn't seem worth the $30/year subscription. I mean, it was just a toy right?

Fortunately for everyone, a few months ago Google (having acquired Keyhole) decided to improve and make the entry level client free to all. However altruistic Google is, I suspect they also believed that the free version of (the now-rebranded) Google Earth was the best advertisement for the commercial version.

So is it worth trying Google Earth?

Most definitely yes! And not just for the pleasure of flying over your neighborhood. Playing the virtual tourist is a ton of fun, esp. when all you do is type "Paris, France" in the search box and you're wisked off to Europe (in my case zooming out from North America, flying over the Atlantic, and zooming down on Paris). And once you're there, why not check out the Eiffel tower?

The software's real strength, as you'd expect from Google, is in the way it leverages the internet community. The Google Earth bulletin boards are filled with lots of destinations (double-click on them in the browser and they'll direct your Google Earth program to that spot, usually with notes describing what you're seeing) and overlays (imagine being able to see hurricane Katrina's before and after impact on New Orleans, or viewing storm forecast models).

My favorite is the National Geographic coverage of Africa and the data they've set-up for Google Earth. There are over 4,000 high resolution pictures that you can zoom in on, each represented by a little plane icon. Click on the icon once and you get a callout with a low-res picture and description of what there is to see. Double-click on the icon and you zoom into the picture. Check out the elephant family I found... And this isn't even the full resolution.


Very cool!