February 29, 2008

My Bookworm Starved To Death

This ain't my first rodeo, so I've got a few things figured out by now. I like to read books, but it's a pain to carry a two-month's supply. So two weeks before this float, I ordered a bunch of novels from the SF Book Club. The SFBC takes about three weeks to get out to me, so when we got our first mail call, I'd receive a package of new reading material.

It didn't work out somehow. I finished the six books I brought in my initial packup, a mountain of mail arrived when we had a working port in Subic- but my books weren't there. I've read everything interesting in the ship's library, and I've been reduced to borrowing whatever anyone else happened to bring along. I've read some terrible books in the last two weeks, folks. Several million neurons in my linguistic center signed a protest petition.

We're expecting another mail call in a day or two. I hope my books arrive, or things are going to get ugly.

Oh, and this is not an appeal to send me books. They'd arrive way too late anyway.

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We had an underway vertical replenishment today, in which a helicopter flies pallets of stuff from a supply ship (the USNS Niagara Falls) onto our flight deck.

What made this one noteworthy was that the helicopter wasn't military; it was a civilian variant Sea King operated by an American charter airline company.

They landed to take on fuel from us, which was a complicated evolution. They didn't have a crew chief, so the pilot hopped out to supervise. He had to rig an adapter hose because the military spec fuel hose nozzel wouldn't fit his civilian size fuel intake. And we watching troops were mightily amused by the copilot's truly impressive, flowing, pure white beard and moustache.

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February 28, 2008

Happy Leap Day

Well, here we are, on Leap Day. Fredric's birthday! One of the guys in the airframes shop also has his birthday today, and we were harassing him about it. There's no way to have a party on the boat, so now he's going to have to wait another 1460 days until his next birthday. He'll have to reenlist if he wants to get a Marine Corps party.

I'm unwell again, with the upper respiratory infection that's swept through the boat. I've not gone to medical though, as I hope I would have heard about a cure for the common cold.

Sick or not, I had a class scheduled for this morning, so I did my egress and explosive safety lecture for ninety-five people. My many years of singing training have given me good vocal projection skills, but as I'm sick I couldn't manage and had to just shout. Which is inelegant and also not healthy for the vocal cords. Ah well. As usual the class went over well, because I make tremdous efforts to not lead yet another dry and dusty lecture. We Marines get way too many of those already, mostly inflicted by each other.

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February 26, 2008

Sixty Days

It's official, my extension package was approved and I signed a stack of paperwork. My exit date is now mid-July, although I would expect to be back stateside in mid-June.

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February 25, 2008

Fish and Whale Watching

The waters off the Philippines are still teeming with life. We've been watching more dolphins and whales, and watching entire schools of flying fish flee the giant ship bearing down on them. I've still yet to get a photo of a flying fish that I was actually happy with. They move really fast, low to the waves, and are camoflaged. So all my photos are of water-colored blurs with a background of water. Not very compelling. Part of the problem is that I'm eighty feet up; if I were in a small boat I might be able to shoot the fish with the sky as a backdrop, and the contrast would make the fish more visible.

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February 23, 2008

Class Up Da Joint

Today I'm chained to the desk, doing a mountain of paperwork. (When I've got everything typed up, there will be about 450 pages to file.) No one else in the shop likes my music, so normally I don't push the issue. But if I'm going to be at this desk for the next six hours typing, I'll be damned if I listen to the same crap songs I've been listening to for the whole boat ride.

So I hooked my laptop up to the shop's speakers. I started with some techno, but that wasn't the right mood for hours of typing. I switched to classical.

It got depressing very quickly. The 1812 Overture came on, and someone asked "Is that from a movie? Cause I think I've heard it before!" I had to concede that "Yes, that particular song has probably been in a movie or two."

And now, I've got Peer Gynt going. Chavez was getting his hair cut, and I think In the Hall of the Mountain King was making him nervous. Maybe I should switch to Stravinski's Rite of Spring and freak them all out.

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You Think You're Funny, Don't You

Last night's dinner entree: Yankee Pot Roast.

Last night's dinner vegatable: Fried Okra.

Thus making everyone unhappy, regardless of where they grew up.

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February 21, 2008


Yesterday evening the sun was fixing to set over the mist-enshrouded mountains that surround Subic Bay. I had my camera, and I was waiting until the moment became perfect.

But even as the sun was setting, the clock was ticking. Dinner service was almost over.

Ah well, I could stand to lose a couple of pounds anyway.

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Dread Empire's Fall by Walter Jon Williams

Dread Empire's Fall is a trilogy of novels by Walter Jon Williams, consisting of The Praxis, The Sundering, and Conventions of War. It's a space opera in the Napoleonic Navy mode, with our two heros being Lord Martinez and Lady Sula, two young officers in the navy of the interstellar empire that conquered Earth (and several other species's homeworlds) 120 centuries earlier. But the empire is falling apart at the seams as the the last of the Great Masters dies, and the formerly subordinate races start elbowing for power.

The Fleet hasn't fought a battle in millenia, so there had been little chance for promotion for our heros; their ancestry allowed them entry into the officer ranks, but without powerful families to provide patronage, they would never rise above the juniormost ranks.

But in a war, clever and ambitious men and women thrive, as the old guard stick to the old ways and die in blazes of antimatter fire. Martinez and Sula struck me as being modeled on English forebearers, in fact: Martinez is Nelson, and Sula is Drake and perhaps Cromwell. I don't mean to suggest that they are merely copies of the historical figures; but their tactics and situations intentionally echo thier forebearers.

In this, Williams does better than David Weber's Honor Harrington novels, which are also set in a pseudo-Napoleonic space opera regime, but have a less independant background. Weber straight up copied the age of wooden ships and iron men, and gets tied up about the ways space change things. The tactics and technologies used by Williams are much more convincing and three-dimensional.

But be warned: Williams likes to write in a realistic style, not a romantic one. Major characters can get killed in non-heroic ways, and he hates Chekhov's Law and breaks it at every opportunity. Plus, the series was intended to be longer than a trilogy (according to the author's FAQ), and the last paragraph of the third book ends with a kick in the gut for people that like all the heros fat and happy at the end.

Still, I liked it, but I'm not sure I'll read it again unless a sequel comes out, because that kick in the gut still smarts. It's perhaps not as good as his Aristoi or his Knight Moves, but those novels were written when Williams was following the style of Roger Zelanzy. Dread Empire's Fall is in William's own voice, and the better for it.

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February 19, 2008

What the Hell Is a Balikatan?

I forgot to mention that we arrived in the Philippines a few days ago, and have been busy doing the annual excercises. Whee. It's hot and humid, and the ventilation in our shop is broken, so it's like a locker room in here. Most unpleasant.

For a while it was looking like I'd go ashore for a few days with a detachment, but then the powers that be switched up the aircraft mix, and someone else got to go. Woe is me.

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