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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Adrenaline Junkies

I am an adrenaline junky, but I've now fallen enough times to know my limitations and develop an aversion to chronic pain.  On the other hand, I really enjoy the video clips of people with less fear than I have...  These are pretty amazing to watch in full screen mode.

This guy makes a really cool move at 2:05 to scrub off some speed before entering a tight turn.

An oldie, but still pretty intense.

How about some raw speed at very close quarters?

Friday, January 23, 2015

More music videos. An eclectic mix...

A few more music vids.  Very Guitar Centric.

I will be going to see these guys pretty soon!  The Reverend Horton Heat:

Horton Heat Rocks! Music starts at 0:55

A cool old San Jose Band I discovered in high school.  Classic stuff with the wah pedal.

Joe Bonamassa:

A couple of videos from Nutty Jazz.  These guys are pretty cool.

Three classic songs from the Robin Trower band.  Trower's Bassist/Vocalist James Dewar (1942-2002) had a magnificent bluesy voice.  Totally made the sound of this trio.  Very reminiscent of Paul Rogers from Bad Company.

Not keen on the lyrics of this song, but the guitarist is masterful!

A nice bluesy intro and some great power chords.

Like the dual guitars - like southern rock, but metal.  Awesome vocals.

And of course the magnificent David Gilmour playing the strat.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Genetically Modified Organisms - the first fatalities

"Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley is a powerful cautionary tale.  It's a story about man and science - and hubris.  The nature of that hubris is attempting to replicate the work of the Creator by artificially bringing life (but not a soul) back to dead tissue.   When people think of "Frankenstein" these days (who reads books anymore?) they think of the scary monster, but not the affront to the nature and the madness of Dr. Frankenstein or the immense suffering of his poor soulless creation.

"Jurassic Park" by Micheal Crichton gives us a modern version of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein", where an inventor, again filled with hubris, is done in by his own creation.  In the process many innocent lives are lost, and the disaster wreaks havoc with nature.

With Frankenstein, it was man's use of electricity to artificially bring life into a dead body.  With Jurassic Park, it was man's manipulation of fossilized DNA.  Both are works of fiction, and both are powerful cautionary tales about tinkering with things that we barely understand.

The harsh lesson warned about in one of these cautionary tales has already come to pass.

Which finally takes us to the first deaths caused by genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  That's right - people have already died from GMOs.

In the mid to late 1980's, there was a surge in popularity of Amino Acid supplements.  Amino Acids, as you might recall from high school biology or chemistry class, are the "building blocks of life". What that means for practical purposes is that amino acids are used to build most of the tissue that you are made of.  The human body can manufacture 12 types of vital amino acids, which are called "non-essential".  The remaining nine amino acids cannot be made by the body and are called "essential amino acids"

These "essential amino acids" are in supplements aimed at fitness buffs and bodybuilders.  They are Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalinine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine.   It makes sense if you are a body-builder to ensure your body always has enough raw material on hand to build muscle.  Readers are probably familiar with Tryptophan.  It's the amino acid that is supposed to make you sleepy after eating a big Thanksgiving turkey dinner (actually what makes you sleepy is the carbs).  Tryptophan is also the subject of today's post.

In the late 1980's the US experienced an epidemic of Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS), which led to 1500 cases of permanent disability and 37 deaths.  EMS is a an incurable and sometimes fatal neurologic condition.  The single outbreak of EMS was traced to the Japanese manufacturer Showa Denko.  Although the EMS outbreak wasn't recognized until 1989, there were EMS cases 2-3 years prior to that recognition.  Epidemiological studies led authorities to Showa Denko, who sold most of the amino acid supplements under various brand names in the US.

Tryptophan is manufactured by a fermentation process that starts with a couple of simpler amino acids.  Showa Denko decided to speed up the fermentation process by genetically modifying the bacteria that did the fermenting.  They also modified their filtration process to purify the Tryptophan after it came out of the fermenter.  After the EMS outbreak was recognized, samples of the Tryptophan were analyzed, and over 60 impurities were found, of which two are thought to be the toxins responsible for EMS.

Of interest here are the responses of the company Showa Denko, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), both of which I consider unethical.

Showa Denko destroyed the GMO bacterial stocks when the nature of the EMS outbreak became known.

The FDA banned all Tryptophan supplements from 1991 until 2001.  Tryptophan, however, was not the problem.  Showa Denko's process was.

The FDA has since acted as if Showa Denko's filtration process were the cause, although it has no evidence to prove that.  It has assumed the GMO process was not the cause, although it also has no evidence to prove that.  And since Showa Denko decided to destroy the evidence, I would tend to lean toward GMO as the cause.

Lastly, please note that the Tryptophan that Showa Denko produced still met the USP purity requirements of 98.5% purity.  So a tiny fraction of a 1.5% impurity lead to 37 deaths and 1500 permanent disabilities.  Thats some pretty toxic stuff.

Here's some good reading on the 1989 EMS outbreak while you munch on your GMO corn chips. Hopefully the genetic engineers and regulatory agencies are more worried about our health and safety than they are about getting their next blockbuster GMO seed to market or protecting the biotech industry...  Oh who am I kidding?

Sunday, January 04, 2015


The US operated only one nuclear submarine that was NOT a warship.

The ship I am talking about is of course NR-1.

Cute, ain't she?  You can tell she isn't a warship because of the clutter on her deck.  She clearly isn't intended to go anywhere quickly.  In fact, when you look below the waterline, she's really weird!

This little ship has manipulators to grab stuff, and a little bay to store it once it has been grabbed.  Most interestingly, she has retractable wheels to scoot along the bottom of the ocean!

Here are her specs from Wikipedia:
Displacement:400 tons
Length:45 m (147 ft 8 in) overall
29.3 m (96 ft 2 in) pressure hull
Beam:3.8 m (12 ft 6 in)
4.8 m (15 ft 9 in) at stern stabilizers.
Draft:4.6 m (15 ft 1 in)
Box keel depth (below base-line): 1.2 m (3.9 ft)
Installed power:one nuclear reactor, one turbo-alternator
Propulsion:2 × external motors
2 × propellers
4 × ducted thrusters (mounted diagonally in two "x-configured" pairs)
Speed:4.5 knots (8.3 km/h; 5.2 mph) surfaced
3.5 knots (6.5 km/h; 4.0 mph) submerged
Endurance:210-man-days nominal
16 days for a 13 person crew
330-man-days maximum
25 Days for a 13 person crew
Complement:3 officers, 8 crewmen, 2 scientists
Motto:The World's Finest Deep Submersible
A partial cutaway of this unique ship:

A model of NR-1.  Not very attractive above or below the waterline!

The controls.

Wiki also says this:
NR-1 performed underwater search and recovery, oceanographic research missions and installation and maintenance of underwater equipment to a depth of almost half a nautical mile. Its features included extending bottoming wheels, three viewing ports, exterior lighting, television and still cameras for color photographic studies, an object recovery claw, a manipulator that could be fitted with various gripping and cutting tools and a work basket that could be used in conjunction with the manipulator to deposit or recover items in the sea. Surface vision was provided by a television periscope permanently installed on a fixed mast in her sail area.  
Following the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, NR-1 was used to search for, identify, and recover critical parts of the Challenger craft.[2] Because it could remain on the sea floor without resurfacing frequently, NR-1 was a major tool for searching deep waters. NR-1 remained submerged and on station even when heavy weather and rough seas hit the area and forced all other search and recovery ships into port.
The NR-1's size limited its crew comforts. The crew of about 10 men could stay at sea for as long as a month, but had no kitchen or bathing facilities. They ate frozen TV dinners, bathed once a week with a bucket of water and burned chlorate candles to produce oxygen. The sub was so slow that it was towed to sea by a surface vessel, and so tiny that the crew felt the push and pull of the ocean's currents. "Everybody on NR-1 got sick," said Allison J. Holifield, who commanded the sub in the mid-1970s. "It was only a matter of whether you were throwing up or not throwing up." 
NR-1 was generally towed to and from remote mission locations by an accompanying surface tender, which was also capable of conducting research in conjunction with the submarine. 
All personnel that crewed NR-1 were nuclear-trained and specifically screened and interviewed by the Director, Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program.
Another public reason the Navy used this ship was to recover advanced aviation electronics and missiles from aircraft lost overboard from aircraft carriers.  These would have sunk to the ocean floor, and NR-1 was used to recover them, prevent unfriendly states (the Soviet Union) from getting them and reverse engineering them.

I actually considered re-enlisting for a billet on this interesting vessel (mainly to get off the ship I was then serving on).  I had a pretty high GPA at Nuclear Power School and met the good conduct criteria.  Nothing was said about the conditions aboard the ship or its mission, merely the strict requirements to even apply.  I would have been on board at the time of Challenger Space Shuttle mission.

However even my vapor-locked squid brain realized that life aboard even the very cool and secretive NR-1 probably wouldn't be that great, in addition to sticking me on the east coast for a while. Fortunately common sense prevailed.  In the end, I sucked it up until my first enlistment ended.

Oscar Wilde once remarked that "Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.  Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience".  Let me rephrase Oscar based on my personal experience: "Enlistment is the triumph of recruiters over common sense.  Re-enlistment is the triumph of hope over experience".  Fixed that for you Oscar.  Obviously there are other (better) experiences to be had in the Navy, because plenty of people do re-enlist.

That said, I would not have missed my first enlistment for *anything*.  There were some awesome guys I got to work with:  Intelligent, motivated, and humorous.  Many of them are still great friends. I learned a lot (some of which I share here), and it led to an interesting and profitable career in electrical power generation that is shielded from the ups and downs of economic cycles.  Submarine life had really big pros.  It also had really big cons - like submerging for a couple of months at a time, never having time for relationships, and doing things that might lead to angry people dropping depth charges/shooting torpedoes at you.

The bottom line though, is that I paid my dues, and decided that I didn't want to put off the pursuit of happiness a minute longer than my enlistment papers called for.  Knowing today that NR-1 crew could only shower out of a bucket once a week and had to eat TV dinners reinforces one thought:  I probably made the right decision back then.

And now for contrast,  the largest nuclear submarine ever built, the Russian Project 941 "Акула" Typhoon-Class Ballistic Missile Submarine.  These actually had room for on-board weight room, sauna room, and hot tub.  Two extremes :)

Friday, January 02, 2015

Sturgeon Class submarine variants

USS Sturgeon was the first of a new class boats which were the mainstay of the attack submarine fleet from the mid 1960s and well into the 1980s.  Here is what Wikipedia has to say about them:

Operators:United States of America
Preceded by:Thresher-class submarine
Succeeded by:Los Angeles-class submarine
In commission:1967–2004
General characteristics
Displacement:3,640 long tons (3,698 t) surfaced
4,640 long tons (4,714 t) submerged
Length:292 ft 3 in (89.08 m)
Beam:31 ft 8 in (9.65 m)
Propulsion:1 × S5W Pressurized water reactor
2 × 11.2 MW steam turbines
1 shaft
Speed:15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph) surfaced
26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph) submerged
Range:Unlimited, except by food supplies
Test depth:1,320 ft (400 m)[1]
Armament:• 4 × 21 in (533 mm) amidship torpedo tubes with MK-48 and ADCAP torpedoes, plus 15 reloads, and 4Harpoon missiles or up to 8Tomahawk missiles, instead of equivalent of number of Torpedoes or Harpoons.
In minelaying configuration:
• Mark 67 Submarine Launched Mobile Mines and Mark 60 CAPTOR mines instead of torpedoes.

The Sturgeon class (sometimes called the 637 class, due to the hull number), was an incremental improvement over the Permit/Thresher class.  The improvements were primarily ones of size and auxiliary equipment. Depth and speed were similar, as was the propulsion plant.  The fairwater planes could be rotated to vertical for surfacing through ice, and the sail was enlarged to house additional intelligence-gathering equipment.

The last nine built were "stretch hulls", with an additional 10ft of length.  We called them "stretch limos", because they were about as luxurious as attack submarines ever got.  Of course to us, *any* 637 was the lap of luxury.

There were a couple of special operations boats in this class, notably the Parche, but also including Gurnard and Pintado.  These don't interest me much because even though they carried spooks around, they were still basically standard 637 designs.

Of interest to me, because they had unique power trains, were USS Narwhal (SSN-671) and USS Glenard P. Lipscomb (SSN-685).  These were truly unique ships from a propulsion standpoint, and that is what I find interesting.

USS Narwhal was launched in September 1967.  Her unusual S5G reactor used natural-circulation for cooling, thus eliminating a major source of noise that all other nuclear subs had to deal with: The primary coolant pumps.  She had primary coolant pumps available, but did not need to use them, unless high power levels were needed to increase ship speed.

Below, USS Narwhal, SSN-671.  A successful prototype.

Also eliminated on Narwhal were the reduction gears.  A multi-multi-multi-multi-stage, low-speed propulsion turbine was coupled directly to the propulsion shaft, completely eliminating the reduction gears (and their noise).  Rumor has it that this one-of-a-kind steam turbine was very problematic due to having an extremely long rotor that chronically suffered from bowing.  

Narwhal was also equipped with scoop induction for seawater, so that the forward motion of the ship would force seawater through her cooling systems, including the main condensers.  This allowed the main seawater pumps to be shut down, yet again reducing noise.  Narwhal was probably the quietest submarine built until the Ohio Class ballistic missile submarine arrived on the scene in 1981, carrying some of the features that Narwhal had successfully pioneered.

USS Glenard P. Lipscomb was launched in August 1973, and was a second attempt at turbo-electric propulsion, the first being the DC motor-driven USS Tullibee.  Unfortunately, Lipscomb (which instead used AC propulsion turbine generators) was larger and weighed vastly more than a standard Sturgeon Class boat, while still using the exact same power source (the S5W reactor). She was therefore quite slow (18 knots surfaced/23 submerged).  I have no idea if she was any quieter than a standard Sturgeon boat.  She had a relatively short life, being decommissioned in 1990 after just 17 years of active service.  Typical service life for a submarine is around 30 years.