April 30, 2007

Pacific Rim

There's a binational bilingual ATM on base that I use. It takes both American and Japanese bank cards, dispenses both yen and dollars, and speaks Japanese and English.

The voice in Japanese speaks in a very polite and formal mode, a woman with a Tokyo accent. The English voice is also female and polite... and very Australian. I wish I could tape record it for you all to hear, because for some reason it sounds hilarious to me. I think that's because my mental associations with Australians don't suggest formality and financial dealings.

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Golden Week

I hate Golden Week. The island is crawling with tourists and half the stores are closed. The only good thing is that a lot of the tourist events are cool.

Next weekend is the annual Naha Dragon races. I was considering going down to see them. Today I found out that my OIC was recruited to be on one of the teams, so now I really want to go. I've seen a lot of great photos of the races.

But my camera's kit lens zooms from wide-angle to natural, not telephoto. A wide-angle shot of boats in the distance is not going to be cool. So after work today, I grabbed a taxi to the authorized Pentax dealer on Gate 2 Street, near Kadena Airbase.

It was a ¥3,000 ride to get there, only to discover that the store was closed for Golden Week. Did I mention that it was Golden Week? Luckily, there was another camera store that the driver knew of, on the way back to where I live. I'd been by it many a time and hadn't realized what they sold; it doesn't cater to Americans, so their signage is all in kanji and katakana.

None of the staff spoke English, but that's all right, because we could easily write out specifications to each other. ("KAF 50-300 mm?" "F?" "F4.5-F6".) I found a lens I wanted... and then I couldn't get it, because my debit card was declined. Which is a problem. I need to call my bank again, as my card has started getting randomly declined at about half the places I try it at. I've called the bank and they insisted that there was no problem, the card was being denied because the cashier entered the wrong expiration date- but that's BS, because some places it'll swipe and work, and some it'll swipe and not work.

So today during my lunch break I opened up an account at a credit union that has a branch on-base. Getting up at 5AM just to call my hometown bank's help line during EST working hours is for the birds.

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April 28, 2007

Long Lens

I'm not normally an eBay kind of guy, but I took a flier recently. I just won a used 200-400mm zoom lens for my Pentax for a very good price. Sure, it's an older lens, so it won't autofocus for me; but it cost about 3% of what a new one would.

Naturally, sight-unseen auctions mean substantial risk. But I figure most of my friends spend as much money in an hour of drinking, so if it ends up being a bum deal, I count it as a life lesson.

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April 27, 2007

Bowl Full of Jelly

The agricultural inspection on our aircraft started this afternoon. No one is allowed on the flightline in civilian attire, so we gave the three inspectors a !set of coveralls each. Embarassingly, the lead inspector is, shall we say, a gentleman of substantial girth. We don't have any coveralls big enough to fit him. So he had it zipped only to the beltline, with quite a bit of him hanging out the front.

There are two Americans from the USDA doing the inspecting, and an Australian watching the Americans inspect. The Aussie isn't allowed within ten feet of the aircraft, for reasons of either security of national soverignty, depending on who you ask. I chatted with him, and was glad to discover that he found the whole thing as amusing as I did. He's got a nice gig, being flown out to a subtropical paradise to watch other people work. He had a small camera to take pictures of the people doing the inspection, I guess to prove that he had in fact inspected. But he'd forgotten to charge it the night before, so he didn't get many shots off.

I had brought my camera, so I took plenty, and I promised I'd mail him a CD-ROM with them. It's all part of international relations. It was kind of odd switching back and forth between taking photos, and directing people to scrub spots at the last minute.

We don't have any failures yet, but they looked at only a third of our aircraft. We'll continue on Monday.

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April 26, 2007

White Gloves

The agicultural inspectors start going over our aircraft this afternoon, and will continue on Monday and Tuesday. I'm feeling good about it; I was scrubbing all morning, and most of the aircraft are spotless. I was working on the two exceptions.

The problem is that we keep two aircraft on standby every day from dawn to dusk for firefighting duties. Normally that means range fires, but I guess if a local FD called us we'd help them too. Obviously, the two "firebucket" aircraft couldn't be stripped and washed when all the others were being done. So the plan is, as soon as the inspectors clear two aircraft as being vermin-free, those two get declared the new firebuckets, and the old firebuckets get attacked by all hands, and we'll have them ready for inspection Monday or Tuesday.

Interestingly, we had to launch to fight a range fire this morning, even though it's been raining on and off all week. The grass is all soaked and the ground is all mud, so I have no idea what they managed to ignite up there. But Marines always find a way.

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April 25, 2007

Treasure Hunt

(This is my third try at posting this, as my computer is being unstable today. I just installed some new hardware, and it seems to have a bad driver.)

Yesterday, Gunny D came by my shop to personally invite me to join the Mando PT group this morning. They were going to be doing "Something fun, like a treasure hunt." This morning, I discover that I was not the only person to receive this offer; there are normally about a dozen people in Mando, while this morning there were more than eighty.

We divided up into five teams, and each team got a map of the base with a dozen buildings marked. Each marked building had a cone outside, with a note attached. The notes each listed an exercise and a Marine Corps trivia question. The teams were to run to each building, do the exercise, write the trivia answer on the back of the map, and run to the next building. It could be done in any order except that the final question at the start point was to be done last. 

So we take off, my team decided to run straight to the furthest building and work our way back. My GPS says we covered 4.4 miles in 53 minutes, including all the time doing calisthenics and discussing answers. 

We finished fourth, which is bad, except the victor was the team with the most correct answers, with time being only a tiebreaker. We had only two wrong, which was best overall. Go Team Five! Highfives all around! 

Gunny had announced the prize as such: "I will buy the winning team chow this weekend anywhere they want." His wallet must be relieved that our team won, as there were only five of us; the other four teams were all about twenty people. Also, he's a former drill instructor, and he'd call a twelve-course meal at Valabar's in Adrilankha a "chow". So now we need to decide what restaurant we want to go to. He also told us his wife had offered to cook us all a home-style meal, and we may take that option too. I'll let you know how it works out.

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I was at the PX last night. Easter candy, 75% off. My willpower failed.

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April 23, 2007

Back in the Saddle

I've not been PTing since we got off the boat. I've been too short on time.

Which is a bald-face lie, as I've had plenty of free time, I've just been using it to do things other than go out running.

So this morning I left at the same time the Mando PT group did, 0515. I jogged to the track, did a bunch of intervals, and ran home. Just over four miles in 40 minutes. That seems a slow time, but intervals are by their nature slower than a constant-speed run.

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April 21, 2007

Disco Inferno

This is secondhand, just so you know; I was back in my office working on a gigantic stack of paperwork when the excitement happened.

So the aircraft are being cleaned down by the hanger, using rags from discarded clothing dating back years. When a rag gets too coated with old oil and grease, it gets tossed into a pile just off the back ramp of one of the birds. The pile grows. The sun beats down...

Spontaneous combustion! The rags reach their ignition temperature, probably that of the isopropyl alcohol. All the petroleum compounds join the fun, and it's a nice little blaze, right next to an aircraft.

Luckily there were people all over, so five different Marines grabbed hand-held fire extinguishers out of three different aircraft, and the blaze went down under a three streams of carbon dioxide, one of potassium bicarbonate, and one of Halon 1301.

My shop is responsible for all the firefighting gear, so I heard about this quite quickly, when Sgt L walked into my shop, nonchalantly said "These are empty," and strolled back out. Lacking an HH FB (as we normally call them) is a problem that will down an aircraft, and now we were short five of them! Good thing we're not doing any flying at all because of the cleaning project, so we've got plenty of time to replace them all.

And I was somewhere between amused and insulted when another maintainer mentioned to me that he was surprised that the fire extinguishers actually worked. I spend a lot of time inspecting those things, so they had damned well better work!

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April 20, 2007

"Scrub!" "Harder!" "Scrub!" "Faster!'

The squadron is going to Australia in about a month. The Australians are terribly paranoid about invasive species, for some reason. So we're getting ready to have all our aircraft inspected by people from the USDA. (Why not the Aussies themselves? We can't let them near our classified gear.)

We have to remove every speck of dirt that might contain a snail egg, an insect, or a seed. The easy part is taking the aircraft apart and pressure washing. But then all the little nooks and crannies need cleaned. So all maintenance has stopped, and all maintainers as well as all the S-shop (admin) personnel, are cleaning the interiors with toothbrushes. Yes, toothbrushes. They're not just for boot camp anymore!

I am happy that the officers have also been given this task. So the Lieutenants and Captains are there alongside us, scrubbing away.

Of course, you can't just scrub away the oily mess that accumulates from hydraulic leaks, lubricating grease, dripping fuel, and suchlike. So we've got rags and isopropyl alcohol too. Which leads to a story for later...

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