May 31, 2008

A Trip to England...

The "Morphis" Motion-based Entertainment Simulator

In the mid-1990's, my employer, Camber Corporation, established a new division called Camber Entertainment. The division was set up in Crawley, England, not far from London. We planned to develop a line of entertainment simulators. Since we already had a division that built flight simulators (Camber Flight Simulation, in Albuquerque), we thought that the two divisions would be synergistic. Although that never proved to be true, I got a wonderful trip to England out of the deal.

Most of the personnel in the new Camber Entertainment organization were former employees of Thomson Training and Simulation, part of a large European aerospace conglomerate. They were mostly "techies," deeply immersed in the technology of motion-based simulation devices. A couple were also astute market analysts who understood the various segments of the world market for entertainment simulators. Their contacts included many artsy creative types who were of a very different psyche from their techno-nerd brethren. It was a remarkably talented, extremely diverse group that came together in a common enterprise.

The group decided to develop three separate product lines -- a small one- or two-person simulator for mall venues, a larger 14 to 20 passenger "pod" type ride for larger markets, such as museums and amusement parks, and a line of large theater-sized motion and sound seating systems. They decided to develop the pod configuration first. Our CEO, Walter Batson, asked me to go to Crawley to develop the master plan (road map) and schedule for the project.

I flew to Gatwick airport, only a few miles from Crawley, and was picked up by a couple of the new Camber employees. Our site manager, Paul Spence, introduced me to many members of the team and we began to subdivide the project into manageable pieces. The next day, we were joined by several other participants, including Nigel Brown, who owned a factory and would be manufacturing our prototype units. There were artists, engineers, sound specialists, marketeers, and technicians. For the next six days, I coralled this unlikely group and tried to keep them focused on the job at hand.

I used Microsoft Project to create a logic network of the tasks needed to develop the product. The final product was a network of some 2,000 activities and milestones, described in terms that everyone had agreed to and understood. Development began immediately.

Eighteen months later, our first "Morphis" unit was completed, almost exactly on schedule and close to its development budget. It was one of my most rewarding planning efforts. And even though that division of Camber was sold off many years ago, the product is still in production.

The Mobile Version of the Morphis Simulator Designed for the U.S.Navy

A Great Display of Hawaiian Slack-key Ukulele Playing

I am fascinated by a style of open-tuning string instrument music that originated in Hawaii. One of my favorite Christmas albums is a Hawaiian slack-key guitar CD. Recently I found this little gem on YouTube and had to share it:

Note the bass ukulele on the left!

May 29, 2008

Living Sculpture

Click on the image to see animation
In 1971 and '72, I served as Superintendent of the power plants and chilled water plants at the University of Oklahoma. In a building we referred to as the "old" power plant there was an 1898 Westinghouse reciprocating steam driven dynamo -- a very early electrical generator that had served the university at the turn of the century. It was gorgeous! It had a huge cast iron flywheel decorated with bright paint, ornate lettering, and gold leaf. Everything had been beautifully preserved. It was like a technological time capsule. Each week, my crew turned it over by hand to make sure it stayed lubricated. About once a year, Earl Tabor, our chief engineer, would apply steam pressure to it and run it for a few minutes to exercise its mechanisms.

A Dynamo Similar to the One at Oklahoma

My immediate boss, Mike Hunt, had gone to work for the University in the 1920's. His first job was setting the clocks in the classrooms every morning. This was necessary because they shut the powerplant down every night! The power plant stayed on line for one half hour after the library closed each night. Then, everything shut down, including the street lights. At 6 AM, the plant was restarted for the day.

The University was building a new engineering center in the early 1970's. The architects had designed a large atrium at the main entrance to the building. There were plans to have a sculpture competition to come up with a work of art that would idealize the engineering profession. I suggested to one of the officials that the antique dynamo would make the perfect centerpiece for that large open space. My suggestion went nowhere, and a massive laminated wooden abstract sculpture was installed.

I wonder what ever happened to that beautiful piece of machinery. Could it still be residing in the "old" power plant???

May 27, 2008

Command at Sea...

USS Herndon (DD-638)
In May, 1965, I was serving as the Executive Officer of the USS Maloy (DE-791), the last Buckley-class destroyer escort in the active fleet. We decommissioned her at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on May 28. I had already received orders to my next duty station, the University of Oklahoma, where I was to report in August. I informed the navy that I didn’t want to consume all my accrued leave and requested an interim duty station. They ordered me to report for duty at the Philadelphia reserve fleet for a couple of months. Little did I suspect that I was about to encounter my only “command,” on a lifeless ship being towed to it’s final resting area and subsequent scrapping.

The reserve fleet in Philadelphia was a collection of World War II vessels that had been decommissioned and preserved along the banks of the Delaware River near the foot of Broad Street. At the time I arrived, there were still dozens if not hundreds of ships, large and small, including several Iowa-class battleships and every variety of cruiser, destroyer, destroyer escort, and amphibious vessel. Row upon row of each class were neatly arranged, all hermetically sealed, with active anodic protection to prevent external corrosion, and dehumidified to prevent interior deterioration. The gunmounts and other deck fittings had curious igloo-like structures that encapsulated them within the dry envelope.

Fleet personnel requested shore duty as a respite from the lengthy deployments that separated sailors from their families. In general, a sailor could count on a shore assignment every third duty station. The navy often used the promise of a shore assignment to entice an enlisted man to reenlist for one more four or six year tour. Thus it was that many of the personnel who reported to the Philadelphia Reserve Fleet Group (PHILARESFLTGRU in Navy-ese) in 1965 were unpleasantly surprised to find that much of their time would be spent aboard vessels being towed to Orange, Texas, for scrapping. When I reported in for temporary duty, I was a prime target for one of these seagoing assignments. I was informed on my first day aboard that I was to be the Officer-in-Charge of the USS Herndon (DD-638) on its final voyage.

The second USS Herndon, a Gleaves class destroyer, had been commissioned in 1942 and had served in both the European and Pacific theaters. She was decommissioned in 1946 and had been in the mothball fleet in Philadelphia since 1947.

Before I could get underway, I had about two weeks to prepare the ship. Much needed to be done. When these ships were decommissioned at the end of the war, many superstructure components, such as radar antennas, had simply been removed and placed inside the dehumidified envelope. They were not fastened to anything; they were lying loose on the deck inside the superstructure. These items would have to be fastened securely before the ship could be taken to sea. I would need to get navigation lights installed and a generator to provide the required power. My small crew would need bunks installed. Kitchen facilities would be installed. I also arranged for a freezer to be mounted aft of the superstructure near the generator. A radio on the bridge was required to communicate with the ocean going tug that was to pull us to Texas.

About a week before our departure, a certain chief petty officer suggested that I get some fishing equipment for my crew to use on the way south. He also intimated that if we had a good harvest of fish when we arrived in Orange, we could trade the fish for a crew’s party that would be unforgettable. I arranged for the fishing equipment with the welfare and recreation office. We also rigged some awnings on the main deck to protect us from overexposure to the sun. I found some heavy coated paper and tape to use in wrapping the fish. Around the third week of June, we got underway for a two-week “cruise” at the end of a steel cable.

Ocean Going Tug

The trip was not too eventful. Off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, our cable snapped. Our escort tug left us for a few hours, proceeded to port where he got a new cable, and we successfully rerigged our tow line. We were visited by a speed boat off the coast of Florida and the owner told us he had served on a Gleaves-class ship during the war. Our weather was superb throughout the trip and we filled out freezer with fish as we emptied it of food.

The last few miles up the Sabine River, we were pushed by an LCM (a World War II era 56-foot long landing craft) lashed to our stern. Finally, we were secured to a pier in the Orange ship processing facility. Instantaneously, a ship’s superintendent appeared and we negotiated a fish-for-party deal. The results were spectacular.

That evening, a bus picked up my “crew” at their barracks. A local bar had been rented for the evening. Some local ladies showed up. Drinks were free. There was food in abundance. A local band made its appearance. The dance floor was full of sailors and locals. It was a night to remember!

The next day, we flew to Love Field in Dallas, from where we would leave for Philadelphia. That’s a story for another time…
Footnote: The Herndon met its ignominious end some six years later when it was used as a target for a gunnery exercise and sunk in the Gulf of Mexico.

May 6, 2008

A Thing of Beauty

One of my current projects is the building of a street rod. In 1998, during my first Great Race experience, I had an overnight stop in Canton, Ohio. A gentleman came up after looking at my 1932 Plymouth coupe and told me he had a 1932 Plymouth sport roadster. "Would I be interested in it?" That led to two years of negotiation resulting in the purchase.

Peter Flowers and I brought it home on a trailer in 2001. Eventually, as I considered how to proceed with the car, I made several decisions:

  • I would make a street rod, rather than restore the car

  • I would use an old hemi V-8 as the power plant

  • I would use an independent front suspension and a modern differential

About three years ago I acquired the engine for the car, a 1953 Dodge 241 hemi that had originally resided in a Pennsylvania fire truck. It is restored and ready to be put into the car.

A few weeks ago I saw a magnificent 4-carburetor Weiand intake manifold with 4 Stromberg 97's available for purchase on eBay. It was built to go on a 241 hemi. After corresponding with the builder, I knew I had to get it to put on the car. It now resides in our garage. Is this gorgeous or what???

May 5, 2008

Ebabe's Progress...

Mary Ann is finally occupying the new building. We held off doing anything until we got the alarm system installed and the utilities working. Now the fun begins. I went home this weekend and spent a good part of the weekend putting shelving units together. The office area is going to be beautiful, with bright yellow walls, white furniture, and a very cheery floral rug. The idea is that this area will eventually encompass a small retail outlet as well as the hub of the online business.

The warehouse area is filling up. The boxes that had filled the house are now largely relocated. Mary Ann still has to move the inventory from the basement of the house and wash all the shelving units that were there. All in all, it's a lot of work, but we think it's well worth it. Ebabe rocks!!!