Friday, December 23, 2016


Once again it's THAT time of year. Wow...Christmas is HERE! ALREADY! It seems impossible that we've come to the end of another year, feels like it was just summer a few blinks ago.

Per tradition, here is our 2016 Christmas card. This year marks the 19th year (out of 20) that I've made our card. I started back in 1997 when I was out on the ships, but I missed missed 1 year since we've been here in Santa Maria. So without further adieu, here it is.

We're off to Arizona in minutes (It's Friday morning), likely will be driving thru a storm that is headed our way. Gotta scoot, MERRY CHRISTMAS to the Asylum! Stay safe and have a wonderful Christmas!


Sunday, December 4, 2016

December 7th 1941, 7:48am, "a day which will live in infamy".

Exactly SEVENTY FIVE YEARS AGO this Wednesday, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. There are very few survivors left from that calamitous event in our history, and with every anniversary that passes there are fewer still. As a sailor in the US Navy I was stationed at Pearl Harbor twice: 1984-1987 and again from 1991-1994 when I retired. I came back years later with Jeannie (after she finished college) in 2001, and we bought a condo in Aiea which we still have today (it's about a 5 minute drive to Aloha Stadium where the NFL Pro Bowl is played every year, and about 10 minutes to Peal Harbor). In 1987 as a young Navy lad I re-enlisted on-board the Arizona Memorial, and one of my treasured mementos is a US flag that was raised on the USS Arizona flag mast (the mast is actually attached to a part of the USS Arizona's structure protruding above the water, where-as the Memorial doesn't touch the ship). My flag proudly sits in our hallway in it's "flag box" along with my retirement "shadow box". Also on the hall wall by the flag is it's certificate of authenticity, stating exactly when it was raised and lowered.

Note: when you re-enlist on the Arizona Memorial it's reserved for just that occasion, there are no tourists allowed (we do it early in the morning before it's open to the public). Myself, my enlisting officer and all my invited guests meet at the Arizona complex across the harbor, and then we are all brought out to the memorial for the ceremony in the same boats that take tourists out. I VIVIDLY recall reciting my enlistment oath on-board the memorial that morning. It's quite a sacred spot, and I swear you can feel the presence of the 1177 sailors and marines who perished on the ship during that horrible morning so long ago, and who are forever entombed below.

An aerial photo of the USS Arizona (not my picture, I copied it from Wikipedia). You can see the boats that are used to shuttle passengers to and from the Arizona docks on the main island (Oahu). You can also see the flagpole (where my flag was raised) rising above the memorial. You can also see the ever-present oil slick on the surface of the water drifting away from the ship. They were never able to fully drain all the fuel and oil from the enormous wrecked ship, and it still continually weeps out and the sheen is clearly visible on calm days.

I was stationed in Pearl Harbor during the 50th anniversary of the attack, and remember that it was quite a big thing. There were lots of survivors who made the trip to the island for the remembrances and ceremonies. Boy do I feel old...that 25 years seems SO long ago. I was stationed out on Ford Island for both of my Hawaii Navy "tours", and to get to work we had to take either the Ford Island ferry or a "small boat" (50 foot utility craft) back and forth every day. If you missed your boat or ferry by 30 seconds you were going to be 2 hours late for work. Now there is a lovely bridge that connects Ford Island with Oahu. It leaves Oahu pretty much across the street from the Aloha Stadium, and lands on Ford Island on part of the old 9 hole par-3 golf course, just a stones throw away from the USS Arizona (the golf course is now 7 holes). Just beyond the Arizona floats the USS Missouri, a decommissioned battleship guarding her fallen sister. On the back side of Ford Island still lies the remains of the USS Utah, another of the three ships sunk during the raid that were never repaired (the  battleship Oklahoma is the third, which was actually raised but was too damaged to be repaired).

Most people don't know about the Utah as there's no touristy trip getting you to it's small memorial, and Ford Island is off limits to civilians being as it's part of Naval Station Pearl Harbor. Yet there she remains, out of the limelight, lying on her side with just small areas sticking up out of the water.

This is a panorama I made of the Utah. The land you see in the background is the Pearl City Peninsula. You can't really see them, but there are some Navy docks which we frequently used during my USNS ship-days (after I retired from active duty I sailed these ships for 7 years as a civilian). The peninsula also hosts a large Navy family housing complex.

This is the Utah memorial which most people have never seen. It's actually built out over the water on a concrete walkway from Ford Island, but it's not actually over the ship like the Arizona Memorial. Just above the memorial plaques you can see the Utah further out in the harbor.

 On-board the Battleship Missouri. This plaque is set into the deck commemorating the spot where the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Powers in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.

 This is the view from the Bridge of the Mighty MO as she guards her sister. Behind the Arizona you can see the new bridge to Ford Island (I'll always call it the "new bridge" even though it's probably been there at least 15 years, due to the fact that I never got to use it in either of my two tours on Ford Island). In the upper right you can see Aloha Stadium. To the upper left there is a group of high rise of the shorter brown/tan ones is The Park at Pearl (where our condo is...which we still own). And the city you see is Aiea, with Pearl City to the left.

Yours truly standing below the "BIG GUNS" of one of the three turrets on the MO. Those guns are RIDICULOUS in size, the barrels are 16" in internal diameter. The Navy had to actually recruit a special group of guys to inspect the inside of the barrels (guys whose shoulders were less than 16" wide, so that they could tie a rope to their feet and slide them down inside the barrels head-first looking for damage).

This really says all there is to say about our Battleships "BIG GUNS". Wow...just WOW!

Here's a zoomed view from the fantail (back) of the Missouri looking at the building I worked in during my first tour (Naval Oceanographic Processing Facility, or NOPF for short). It's the white building that has a single horizontal row of windows near the top (that part is new from when I worked there). You can see the large microwave tower sticking up from behind the building. Those white things in the water are the "quays" for mooring of the battleships.

This is the building I worked in during my 2nd tour, Command Oceanographic Systems Pacific (COSP), which was later changed to Command Undersea Surveillance Pacific (CUSP) after our 'mission' was declassified. My office was just inside that doorway at the top of the stairs on the 2nd floor. NOPF (from the prior picture) is to the far left of this picture only partly visible (the part that has no windows). You can see the bottom of the microwave tower that goes up from between the two buildings.

This is a Pearl Harbor panorama I put together. The individual shots were taken from the balcony of a condo building (the Leli Pono) in Pearl City where we were looking at units to buy before we found and bought into The Park at Pearl. You can see Ford Island in the middle of the harbor, and the bridge going off to the left.

 This is one of the shots I used to make my panorama. To the left side you can see Aloha Stadium (brown and yellow), and behind THAT in the FAR background you can actually see the tall buildings of Honolulu and behind them is the Diamond Head volcano sticking up above the city.

In this second shot of my panorama you can see where the bridge to Ford Island lands, and just above that is the USS Arizona Memorial. And then pretty much directly across Ford Island from the Arizona lies the USS Utah peeking out of the water (on the right side of Ford Island, tho not really visible in this picture but it's me!).

Here's another picture I copied from Wikipedia showing the order of the battleships in "Battleship Row". However this picture is a modern shot, as it has the bridge to Ford island. If you look just below the California's mooring position on ford Island, that is where both my work buildings were located at.

And finally, another picture I downloaded from Wikipedia. This one is a black and white that was taken from an attacking Japanese plane showing Ford Island during the opening moments of the attack. The big whoosh of water on the far side of Ford Island is a torpedo hitting the Battleship West Virginia. Along with the West Virginia you can see all of Battleship Row on the far side of the island (per the photo before this one you can see that the Arizona is the 2nd from the left in Battleship Row). On the left side of Ford Island you can see more ships moored, one of them being the Utah (not sure which one).

And yet ANOTHER fantastic picture I got from Wikipedia. Not even going to try to talk about this one, instead here is their description: 
"Aerial view of "Battleship Row" moorings at Pearl Harbor on the southern side of Ford Island, 10 December 1941, showing damage from the Japanese raid three days earlier. In upper left is the sunken USS California (BB-44), with smaller vessels clustered around her. Diagonally, from left center to lower right are: USS Maryland (BB-46), lightly damaged, with the capsized USS Oklahoma (BB-37) outboard. A barge is alongside Oklahoma, supporting rescue efforts. USS Tennessee (BB-43), lightly damaged, with the sunken USS West Virginia (BB-48) outboard. USS Arizona (BB-39), sunk, with her hull shattered by the explosion of the magazines below the two forward turrets. Note dark oil streaks on the harbor surface, originating from the sunken battleships."

One of the bigger mistakes the Japanese made that morning was NOT destroying the Pacific Fleet fuel storage depot, which is all those white tanks on the Main base of Pearl Harbor, visible above and to the right of the water plume of the West Virginia. Another of the BIG mistakes was not destroying the Pearl Harbor drydock facilities. Had they been destroyed the Navy would have had to attempt to tow heavily damaged ships to the west coast, which would likely have been very time consuming AND costly (how many of them would have sunk along the way?)  On a side note, the last ship I sailed back in 2003 (the USNS Victorious) was put into drydock in Pearl Harbor. It was a fascinating experience, and the drydock we used was HUGE...big enough to handle the WWII battleships and carriers I believe). Also on a very lucky note for us, there were no aircraft carriers in port that day (which was probably the biggest error of their plan). Destroying the carriers was the primary goal of the attack, and with our carriers intact we were able to take the war across the Pacific, eventually to the Japanese mainland and victory.

That's all the pictures of interest that I have of Hawaii in my travel-laptop (I'm back in Colorado Springs again btw). THE ATTACK on that fateful morning left damage all over the island, and there are bits and pieces saved for posterity. On Ford Island there are still bullet holes from the attacking planes in some of the hangars that are still standing and also on the walls of the main berthing building (just across the street from where I worked). And our little medical building on Ford Island had a bomb go thru the roof and plow into the floor (it wasn't a medical building at that time) but it didn't explode. It was rebuilt and the roof in the middle (where the bomb came thru) was left open so there's a little courtyard inside now, and there's a brass plaque in the floor showing where the bomb was. On Hickam AFB you can still see machine gun bullet holes in the headquarter building.
It was quite a treat to be stationed in Hawaii (TWICE) and to get a feel for what it must have been like all those years ago, to be suddenly attacked with all those casualties. Can you just IMAGINE the insanity early on a Sunday morning if a bunch of warplanes suddenly dropped from the sky and attacked your city, bombing, torpedoing and strafing everything in sight? It's beyond comprehension, and it was certainly a pivotal moment in our nation's history.

So I ask you to take a moment this December 7th to pay tribute to the brave men and women in uniform who were stationed in Hawaii on that awful day so long ago.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gosh, can you BELIEVE it's already Thanksgiving again? As I get older it seems that time has picked up it's pace. I'm only SIX short years away from retiring! (I hope!!) As long as the world doesn't collapse into Zombie-Apocalypse we will be fine (in great part due to Jeannie's frugal ways and her passing that on to me). Well...that's IF the zombie's don't get us due to California's draconian laws concerning self-defense (they JUST passed ANOTHER gun-control-law...this one concerns buying ammo. NOW we need to buy a license to buy ammo, but first you need to pay for ANOTHER background check to get said know, the SAME EXACT CHECK we pay for when BUYING and registering any gun (in CA anyway).

Cuz you know, all the bad guys (who OBVIOUSLY buy all their guns down at Big 5 Sports) will OBVIOUSLY also be buying all their ammo there using their brand-spanking-new license. bad guys will be able to get around THIS new law...I feel so much safer already! They will be totally foiled by the ammo license law! Their little arsenal of AK-47's and other associated fully automatic assault rifles (all illegal, along with all their illegal high-capacity magazines) will be without ammo from here on out. Way to go CALIFORNIA! You finally found a way to stop gun violence! (or just MAYBE, it's just ANOTHER law that ONLY affects honest people). Sorry to get political in my Thanksgiving post...this one just cracks me up tho. Even more so than the usual stupid laws we pass. But doesn't affect re-loaders (such as myself)....but the bad guys certainly won't be able to figure out this little loophole...and besides, even if they knew about it (cuz it's a big secret) actually MAKE ammo...well, that would just be too much of an effort, AND  besides, they just don't have that kind of time. Simply being a bad-guy is pretty much a full-time-job.

Now don't get the impression I'm one of those people who arbitrarily oppose any gun laws. I'm all for security measures that actually DO SOMETHING POSITIVE. I believe there SHOULD be federally mandated background checks (not state by state laws). I also think the gun-show loopholes (where you can buy a gun and take it home bypassing background checks and the waiting period) should also be eliminated. Anybody who NEEDS their new gun RIGHT NOW is likely somebody you don't want to have a gun RIGHT NOW. Honest people can wait a few days to pick it up. I even believe that there should be some sort of license to own a gun (much like a vehicle drivers license). THAT would be where they do the FEDERAL background check, eliminating the checks when you buy a gun OR ammo cuz that would be redundant. Part of that license would be testing...including a written test and a proficiency test (much like the actual driving portion of a drivers license). Typically this part would be done for younger or 1st time license applications, OR if you've had your license rescinded for any reason. And like a drivers license, your firearms license could be taken away if you show cause.

OK...enough on that rant. I feel a teensy bit better now. ON with my Thanksgiving post!

We're back at my Bro-in-law's farm in RURAL Virginia again. Last year we didn't come out as we did Oktoberfest in Munich Germany in early it's suddenly been TWO years since I was here. That seems hard to believe...feels like I was here just months ago (always feels like home). The weather is pretty great for this time of year...not only is there NO snow, but it's sunny and almost warm (long sleeves are good but don't need much more than that). The trees still have lots of brown and gold leaves on them, and also there's a nice coating of said leaves on the ground. It's also deer-season, and sitting outside for any length of time you hear the baying of the packs of deer-dogs, chasing the poor deer to their doom (the hunters sit in their trucks on the road waiting for their dogs to flush the deer into the open). It's also Amish country here...if you sit outside early in the morning you will hear the clip-clop of the wagons coming down the road, soon enough they will be in sight...and if you give a cheery good-morning wave, they always wave back. Nice people those Amish...I hear they have a pretty good work-ethic too.

Here's a pic I just took this morning while sipping my coffee (Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve-day). It's the lone survivor of the Guinea-fowl flock. This one is apparently has the best survival skills cuz the rest have been picked off by whatever it is around here that picks off things like that (coyotes, dogs, foxes, bobcats, and Peggy even SAW a mt lion a few months back, which was just 100 feet away from the front door...and which supposedly don't exist here). He or she (the Guinea Fowl) as I never got an answer when I asked), apparently comes up to the front porch every morning and scratches on the front door....accompanied by his/her best friend 'white kitty' (one of the barn-cats). I've always liked Guinea Fowls...they are pretty cool looking. And even tho I've never seen them fly, John says they do roost up high somewhere every night, thus greatly improving their survival chances.

AND, being my annual T-day farm-post, here are a bunch MORE farm pics 
(cuz you can never get enough farm pics).

The view from the porch looking across the tiny street. Always beautiful..should be a painting!

From the front porch to the MAIN ROAD and looking left (it's a VERY narrow road).

 Looking back at the front of the house. The little black blob in the yard below the front steps is Bosley (a mini poodle). We were playing 'chase the ball' and then I started walking around taking pics. Jeannie is actually sitting on the porch to the left of the flag.

On the road and looking right.

Bosley with leaves stuck in his face (poodles fur is kind'a like velcro) waiting for me to throw the ball...again...and again...and get the picture. He doesn't get tired playing ball. EVER.

Domini (another mini poodle) waiting to go in. She has zero interest in the ball.

The back yard looking downhill into the fields. The building is the OLD tobacco barn and on the left of that is an addition of a barn-type-add-on area (the cows like it). The tobacco barn has the boards running horizontal, and the addition has them running vertical.

John's 1970 GTO ground-up restoration project (3.5 years and going strong). The rolling frame and engine is about 90% complete (totally rebuilt engine and tranny, almost ready to run, just needs wiring). 

 The body to the GTO is the current project. A LOT of rust to cut out and replace. The new entire floor pan is on the right just out of the picture ready to go in. The trunk pan has some bad spots, he's just trying to decide whether to cut out the entire pan or just the areas that need replacing. I vote to go with the entire new pan (he already has it)...but that's a lot more work apparently (easy to vote that when I'm NOT doing the work).

 A closeup view of the tobacco barn (on the left) and the animal-side from down the hill. The cows heard me walking and all stood up...I guess they don't trust strangers (there's only 3 of them).

 Same view, just backed out the zoom. Looking up the hill towards the house and all the buildings. On the right (below the giant oak tree) you can see the tobacco barn and cows.

And here we have the Guinea Fowl (again) and his OTHER friend Yellow-Cat. After I took the shot I took a few steps forward and saw White Cat just behind Yellow Cat, hidden by the tractor in this shot. I guess ol' GF is pretty smart...2 cats as BFF's can't be a bad thing. Wild cats are likely pretty tough hombres. Maybe THAT'S how he's still alive. He must watch's all about alliances.

Here's Peggy Sue, Bosley and Domini watching what's going on in the next pic. 

 And finally, here's Jeannie and John making smores in the wood-stove. Maybe this will become a new Thanksgiving Eve tradition! Smores are always good!

 And my parting shot, an Amish wagon clip-clopping down the road. We followed one the other day for a bit waiting for a chance to safely pass...they have TURN SIGNALS on their wagons! (I assume they have installed a 12v battery to power them). I thought it was awesome! 

 And so...that's it for now from THE FARM! Hope you all have a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving!

Be safe out there!


Sunday, November 6, 2016

After the fire's been over a month now since the big wildfire on South Vandenberg Air Force Base. They still have signs up at the gate saying no outdoor recreation...can't say if that's because of the fire or the pending launch of the SLC-3 Atlas V with Worldview IV onboard, waiting for it's ride into space (hopefully TODAY!). The no rec signs were up a good week before Worldview's pending launch over a month ago, which was scrubbed due to a malfunctioning fueling valve. They postponed it a week, and then the fire happened 2 days before it's new date cancelling that until further notice. I'm HOPING if Worldview launches today they will remove the signs and let me back in there on my Mt Southbase ride goes right thru the burn area up on Avery Ridge over towards SLC-8 (an old pad that has nothing left but the actual concrete pad...the buildings and towers are long gone).

I did however drive up Arguello Rd last Friday and took some pictures of the carnage along one of my road ride loops. It's hard to reckon the land I knew with what's left. The soil on most of the base is pretty much sand, and over the years lots of various trees, shrubs and such have thrived in this pathetic topsoil layer. That's ALL gone now over a significant portion of Soutbase (over 12,000 acres worth). Now what's left is scorched sand and black sticks poking up out of the sand. The Manzinita chaparral is a very tough and THICK type of shrub/bush that grows like MAD in the sands of the base. It's branches are quite tough and pretty thick near the ground. It is typically SO thick that I can't fathom how the hordes of deer we have on the base can move whatsoever. But deer are amazing animals and they make the Vandenberg chaparral their home in vast numbers.

So anyway...without further adieu, here are some of the pictures I took (note: if you click on any picture it will open up in a much larger format, and you can then scroll thru all the pics via the icons at the bottom of that screen).

This is what the terrain looks like when it's NOT burned. Notice how THICK it can figure the brush is at least waist high and above. Like I said...pretty impenetrable...I can't even see how deer run thru this but they do.

Compare this picture with the first one. This looked the same until the fire.Notice the dirt...nothing but sand. And there's already some green grass coming up (it's been over a month since the fire, AND we had rain a week ago). 

To my eyes, the burnt areas look a lot like the old B&W photos from WWI and WWII...the burnt-crisp and bombed out areas of France, Belgium and Germany. So I've included a few in B&W.

This one shows what's left of some power can tell how hard they fought the fire here (with water-dropping helo's and slurry bombers) as evidenced by how much is remaining of the Manzinita areas where it burned unabated there's only a few sticks standing out of the sand. Here they're dead but pretty much must missing the leaves. And yet the power poles still burned.

Another B&W shot...this one reminds me pictures I've seen of the battlefields of Okinawa. 

Same shot but in color. I kind of like the B&W!

Even amid the devastation there are pockets of life. Not sure if this shrub will live but the fact that it still has leaves shows it was somehow spared the heat of the fire. Amazing!

This is a B&W shot of trees on a ridgeline. Not much between me and the trees...pretty crazy! It will be a long while before nature rebuilds this land.

Same shot of the trees in color.

This is Tranquillion Peak (or as it's commonly referred to, Tran Peak). Kind of hard to tell from the picture, but the ENTIRE hillside burned. They must have fought like MAD to save the buildings at the top (it's where they do the high-speed video of the launches from). The trees all look to be dead or dying, they must have taken some good heat. The hillside is nothing but scorched black. I really want to get up there and take a closer look sometime soon, whether by bike or car.

This is heading down Egress Road (a common descent of my Southbase road rides). 

LOVE this shot...I think it's my fav of the entire bunch. Definitely got the WW devastation thing going on.

Same basic view as the last pic, just a bit further north on the edge of the hill (and also zoomed in a bit).

Further north from the last 2 shots showing the vast nothingness that's left.

I'm thinking if we get any decent amount of rain this winter things will be pretty ugly in the burn area. This is nothing but sand.

Another view looking north heading down Egress Road. This is getting close to the northern boundary of the fire, as you can see trees and green at the bottom of that hill in the distance.

My OTHER favorite shot...this one has some sun glare coming in from the upper left, and the large burned tree surrounded by toasted shrubs. Definitely no-mans-land. I can just picture waves of soldiers running thru this hell on earth terrain, bravely charging the entrenched enemy.

A little panorama showing the little dip-climb on the descent of Egress Rd. There are areas on no-burn surrounded by total loss areas. Strange how fire works.

And this is another B&W no-mans-land shot. It blows my mind how sad this land all looks now, and how long it will take to get much other than grasses to grow here. However, I do see a HUGE opportunity to maybe make some new Mt bike trails. With the scrub-brush all gone, I could ride pretty much ANYWHERE I soon as they let me back in there I mean (which is MAYBE why they're not letting me back in there...that is a distinct possibility).

And looking at, there's no information about the Worldview IV launch that was SUPPOSED to be today...which I take it to mean that it's STILL sitting in the tower, darn it! That bird has GOT TO GO if they're EVER going to let me back mt biking on Southbase! And I can't even find any info on when it's next scheduled to try.

And with that I bid you good day. Oh, and Susie, if you're out there, so very sorry about your Terps yesterday...sadly the NCAA polls require teams to not only win, but to CRUSH their opponents. We're seeing HUGE blowouts all the time these days...cuz it counts a lot more than 'just a win'. I'm not a fan, but not sure how to change the system. Ol' Blue is having a pretty fantastic season tho (please don't JINX me on that football gods!) They still need to beat Ohio State (in Ohio) after Thanksgiving...that will be their real test this year! IF they can win that game, they'll have a real shot to play Alabama for the National Championship (assuming THEY don't collapse before the end of their season).