Friday, May 31, 2013

Pic of the Day: Columbus Tower, San Francisco

I snagged a shot of San Francisco's Columbus Tower without realizing that I was a half-block from a "Star Trek IV" filming location, near the intersection of Kearny, Columbus and Pacific.

Dig that JJ Abrams lens flare in the Google Earth shot! That makes it more Trekkie! (Trekish? Treklike? Trekalicious? Trekadelic?)

Right here:

Man, that music sucks.

The building's got an interesting history. It was home to Caesar's, the restaurant credited with creating the Caesar salad. Francis Ford Coppola bought the place in the 1970s and made it home to his American Zoetrope production company.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pic of the Day: Six Forts, Decades of Advancement

(clockwise from upper left: Ft. Pickens; Ft. Pike/Macomb; Ft. McRee; Advanced Redoubt of Ft. Barrancas; Ft. Point; Ft. Jefferson)
I don't really give much thought to which forts I pick as CAD projects. As it turns out, I've got three of the earliest Third System forts--Pike, Pickens & McRee--and three of the last, the Redoubt, Jefferson and Point.

The Third System commenced in the wake of the War of 1812. The U.S. had learned a painful lesson about protecting its harbors and rivers from enemy ships. Since we didn't like the British anymore, we got French experts to help build strong and modern brick and stone defenses that were unbeatable at the time. The first was little pie-shaped Fort Pike (commenced 1819, completed 1827) guarding the Rigolets Pass into Lake Pontchartrain. This was the first of five forts controlling access to New Orleans and the Mississippi River.

Fort Pickens was the first of four forts guarding Pensacola's harbor and navy yard. Building commenced in 1829 and wrapped up in 1834. Almost immediately thereafter, engineers got to work on the smaller Fort McRee (1834 to 1839), putting it across the channel from Pickens to develop a withering crossfire on enemy ships.

As soon as McRee was done, Fort Barrancas was commenced in 1839 and finished in 1847; a smaller supporting structure, the Advanced Redoubt (1845-1870), was built a few hundred yards to the north. Together they controlled the landward approaches to the navy yard peninsula.

Forts Barrancas and its Redoubt show the evolution of American fortification away from the bulkier and massive (and more elaborate) Fort Pickens toward simpler construction. Curtain walls, casemate arches  and bastions were pared down to essentials. Solid brick walls gave way to inner and outer brick facings with concrete poured between them for strength.

Fort Jefferson (1846-1874) exemplifies this leaner approach to construction. It covers a larger area, is taller, has longer walls, and was designed for more guns than Fort Pickens, but uses 75% as many bricks (16 million vs. 21.5 million).

Fort Point (1853-1861) is comparable in size to Forts Pike and McRee but could mount more guns (126, compared to Pike's 43 and McRee's 110). This was the only such fort built on the West Coast.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Pic of the Day: Fort Point CAD project

I got tired of sorting through and tagging all the pics I took in San Francisco. Decided to draw Fort Point instead.

This little fort's the only one of its type on the West Coast, commenced in 1853 and still under construction when the South's little tantrum began in 1861. Its closest brush with battle at the time was when a Southern ship captain headed toward the Golden Gate only to learn from a passing British ship in August 1865 that he'd missed the war entirely.

Wasn't there a "Gilligan's Island" episode based on that?

Anyway, I went all the way to San Francisco planning to visit the fort and some of the batteries nearby. Saw Alcatraz, Coit Tower, that big red bridge (can't remember what it's called...smaller than I'd expected) and some other stuff, and Fort Point.

Very nice parking lot. Smallish. Fence was kind of rusty. Barbed wire was a nice touch. Closed except on weekends.

This was a Monday. Heh.

At least the National Park Service had their scheduling make more sense than the rubes in Louisiana who made Fort Pike open only on weekdays. Their fence was prettier.

Still, I got close enough to Fort Point to touch and get some pictures. Well, actually only six out of 20 were of the fort. The rest are scenery from the fort. Turns out those six pics did help a little, but not as much as oh, say, actually being in the fort and loading my camera card up.

Here at home I did a good bit of Google-Fu, grabbed a couple hundred megs' worth of photos, and found 3D Virtual Design Technology's website. The company uses laser scanning and surveying to build a computer model of a structure for restoration or renovation (for example).

On the one hand I'd love to have a laser scanning system. Saves a lot of time I'd otherwise use in taking measurements manually. All the hard work's done. But I can't really see myself settling for that. I'd miss out on spending hours just wandering from spot to spot, taking detail photos and sketching, learning about the place. I don't want to miss out on that by making things quicker.

Besides, I've learned so much about how these old forts were built by studying them that when I'm stumped on a project there's at least one other fort I've been to that has some similar structures.

Armed with the plans I found at 3DVDT and a couple of Historic Structure Reports put together by the National Park Service, I ended up with this:

Took five days and two scrapped attempts. The 3DVDT pics don't have enough resolution to make out dimensions and the Structure Reports don't have any technical drawings, but one of them has a writeup of the fort's condition and includes enough measurements that I was able to throw out the second (and horribly inaccurate) version and start again.

Between these, all those photos and the drawing I did of Fort Jefferson (which has some similarities), I'm more than happy with the result. Six "Third System" (1820-1867) forts in CAD...only 36 more to go according to FortWiki.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Medical Update

After chasing my vascular doc around for a few months, I finally saw him face to face a few weeks ago. Good news is that the aortic dissection is "stable" (he had me get a full-length CAT scan of the aorta back in April). All I have to to is keep my blood pressure under control to keep it from getting any worse.

It's still bad, running from the top of the arch all the way down to the iliac branch. It's just not getting any worse (at this point, that would mean dissecting back toward the heart, which is what killed John Ritter).

It'll never heal, either. That's the big one for me; I'd been led to believe that it would.

That other embarrassing medical issue hasn't come back, so that's something.

In the wake of the San Francisco trip--or, the "Hiking the Airports of The World!" tour--I'm even more convinced that my leg troubles are from the aortic dissection. Now it's time to get out the anvil gun and get my little collection of medical specialists to listen.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Road Trip: San Francisco! Pt. 2--The Flights!

If I were designing an airliner, one thing I'd add would be High-Def panoramic cameras that feed to each passenger's seat-back screen, with an assortment of controls to let people look all around the plane, zoom in on points of interest, and label locations so you know where you are and what you're seeing. Pop an SD card in and get stills or video. Like Google Earth, but in realtime.

There would need to be a "virtual" mode for cloud cover.

When we took to the air on June 28th, it was pretty clear; I could see the lower half of Santa Rosa County as we circled eastward from the north runway, then south, then west. Santa Rosa Island, Pensacola Beach, and Fort Pickens scrolled by beneath us.

It didn't take long before Fort Morgan and Mobile Bay were below us--and then a thin haze gradually thickened into a mat of opaque clouds that stayed with us all the way to Houston. I did get glimpses of the Gulf and the Louisiana peninsula. At some point either someone broke wind...or we were over Mississippi (love y'all, mean it! Keep bangin' them rocks together...).

Part of the fun of flying is in getting pics of places you've never been to, then trying to find them in Google Earth:

The FoodMart at Richey and Imperial Valley, just west of the Houston Bush Airport. Took a while to find it in Google Earth (I was looking in all the wrong places).

Once we turned northward from the Gulf toward Houston and started losing altitude, my ears felt like  they'd been hammered into my throat. Now I could only hear the hissing of the air vent over my seat and other high frequencies. My right ear cleared after about 30 minutes on the ground, somewhere in the airport. My left stayed blocked up all the time I was in San Francisco.

Once we left Houston, it was clouds all the way--and my seat was right over the wing. Looking forward, I could see the engine, clouds all the way to the horizon, and the occasional airliner crossing our path below. Looking sideways, there was The Wing. I had a sliver of landscape behind and below, with mountains (snow-capped? Hard to tell) and rugged terrain:

In-flight entertainment was a bunch of ABC programs--something with Matthew Perry (I was thinking this was just United Airlines-produced  happy-happy propaganda until I saw the "ABC" logo), some other show with one of the Wayans brothers, some really bad-looking swords & sorcery thing with Jennifer "Dr. Cameron" Morrison that looked like an all-female Dungeons and Dragons game with nothing but pretty people, and some reality show called "Shark Attack" or somesuch where people act out or demonstrate business proposals for a board of money people, hoping to get financial backing. I glanced at this stuff occasionally to rest my neck from being cranked hard-right so I could watch the mountains and such behind my wing.

By the time we were on final approach to San Fransisco, the sun was glaring me in the face, but I could see the bay, Treasure Island, and the hills to the north:

On this leg, every place past New Orleans was the furthest west I'd ever gone, so now I can say I've been within 37,000 feet of New Mexico and Arizona and actually planted feet in Texas and California.

The trip from San Francisco to Charlotte a few days later was more like riding in a car at night. Lots of nothing to see. There was an occasional sighting of mountains, irrigation circles, a large lake (we were too far south for it to be the Great Salt Lake; might have been Strawberry Reservoir in Utah--something with small islands), and a wide, meandering stretch of river (Mississippi?). Really could have used that Google Earth interface.

Once we crossed over Colorado, it was clouds, clouds, and clouds (aside from that big river) all the way to Charlotte--and even as we were on final to the airport itself. Didn't help that for this flight I had an aisle seat. All I got was glimpses when there weren't clouds; the guy who had the window freaking WASTED it by sleeping.


I can see where doing enough flying might inure one to the wonders of being in a thin, fragile tube of aluminum and plastic, sailing 37,000 feet above the ground, so high up that one can't see trees, cars, houses, or even cities as anything more than a general "place" (trees make a place green, a road's a gray strip).

But you're freaking FLYING.

Never fails to amaze me, living a few miles from Pensacola's "International" (bwahahahaha!!) Airport and seeing planes big and small floating along on their approach to the north-south runway. Even knowing some of the physics behind it doesn't take away the magic, knowing that the jet thundering overhead is moving close to 200 miles per hour (looks like it's creeping along).

Even more amazing being in one, being pushed back into your seat as the engines spool up to full power and the plane starts rolling like a dragster, waddling as its nosewheel turns just slightly left or right, every crack in the runway kicking you in your seat...then the nose comes up...then the main wheels, and you're suddenly moving in all three dimensions at once.

You're freaking FLYING.

And this guy's taking a nap.

So yeah...clouds. And glare. Man, was it bright outside. But now I could say that I'd been within 37,000 feet of central Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, a little sliver of northeast Tennessee, and South Carolina. Missed Oklahoma and Arkansas, but now I've at least been close to most of the southern half of the country. Could have mooned the ones who deserved it, if I'd have been able to twist around to present the salute. Those cabins are tiny even if you're not Mr. Chunky.

What he said. Did I mention that for this one flight (San Fran to Charlotte), I had to ask for an extension seatbelt? Yeah. The existing one was 1/4" shy of touching. Forget about buckling it. My ears repeated their "hammered into my throat" trick. Couldn't hear the screeching toddler creature in the row ahead of mine, so there's that. Then both ears adjusted a little--and ALL I could hear was the screeching toddler. Nice.

The flight from Charlotte to Pensacola was canceled. "Aircraft maintenance." I learned from several other people that their flights had been canceled for "aircraft maintenance," too. We all speculated that it was from the airline being unable to maintain enough dollars bodies in the seats to bother flying the aircraft (I snarked that if it was really a maintenance thing, they could do what all us drivers do: put some black tape over the warning light and keep driving). I didn't complain, though. Unless I wanted to try bouncing from Charlotte to Tallahassee to who-knows-where to Pensacola (more airports? Screw that!), better to look at it as an adventure instead of an asswhipped and thoroughly exhausted traveler who just wants to be done with this crap already. Got to keep my blood pressure down.

Hell, maybe we were sequestered out of our flights. But I can kick a Republican anytime.

The hotel was pretty damn nice. The Hilton Embassy Suites maybe 10 minutes from the airport. At first, when the shuttle dropped me off and I'd checked in, all I wanted was to crawl to my room and collapse on a horizontal surface. I'd have settled for the elevator floor, but those tend to be kind of busy. As I was wobbling toward the elevators, though, I caught sight of The Restaurant. Can't even remember the name, but survival instincts kicked in. I hadn't had solid food for two thousand miles and I was feeling that way. So I made my way to the lounge, collapsed into a very comfortable seat, destroyed a Coke, and then destroyed the best hamburger I've ever had.

That's not exaggeration. This was one of those restaurants that asks how you want your burger cooked instead of making it assembly-line style. This burger tasted like steak.

My room was impressive, for someone being shuffled to a hotel for the night. Bedroom, living room, a little kitchen-like spot in the hall (fridge, microwave, coffee maker), and a generous bathroom with a walk-in shower, a Shower Massage head and plenty of awesome hot water. I have GOT to get one of those.

The only thing to mar my night was some jerk downstairs who kept throwing what sounded like metal and glass into the Dumpster outside the kitchens--and right below my bedroom windows. Sounded like a Pottery Barn being invaded by a cookware store.

The flight to Pensacola was another cloudy "nothing to see here" ride. At least my seat belt fit. :)

I've never been so happy to see ground. I was almost giddy with relief when I walked out of this final airport. Had to sit and rest, of course, but then I laid eyes on a line of cabs waiting for fares, told my goddamn legs to get stuffed, and power-marched the first 20 feet...lost steam and went back to hobbling, wishing I had more than the one speed. Had to rest again once I got to the cabs, but now I was a few car lengths away from not having to walk. Cabbie told me it was $11 minimum. I didn't care. Guided him on the shortest route, gave him $20, got into the house, and utterly failed to fall asleep for several more hours.

That left ear still hasn't cleared.

I'm still amazed at how a simple backpack with 4 T-shirts, underwear, 1 pair of shorts, a washcloth, a polo shirt, a pair of khakis and a hoodie could weigh so damn much.

It was fascinating, mostly fun...but I'm not going near a freakin' airport for the next few years.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

RIP Ray Harryhausen

Just a week ago, I was standing right near this scene--looking at Fort Point (under the bridge arch--there's no house there).

Ray Harryhausen's got a hell of a resume across decades of movie history. Screw the CGI stuff, his stop-motion work is the coolest thing ever. If anyone could have made Hayden Christensen seem like a realistic creature in the "Star Wars" prequels, it'd have been Mr. Harryhausen.

He might even have been able to make Keanu Reeves into an actor!

[ "Cool stuff" tag's for his work, not his death--but 95 years is still a hell of a tour. ]

Monday, May 6, 2013

Road Trip: San Francisco! (April 28-May 3, 2013)--Pt. 1, The Airports

There I was--surrounded by hoooooomasexshuls!

...and I couldn't spot 'em.

To hear the wingnuts & other haters tell it, San Francisco is World Homo Headquarters, every street corner populated by mincing, very nicely dressed, expensive cheese-eating, twinkletoed incubi indulging in every one of the Kama Sutra positions, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs, but mostly in massive, sweaty, leather-chaps-and-rainbow-flag-draped orgies of sin that would embarrass Satanists and shock the ancient Greeks, who are well-known to have indulged in lustful Baccanalic displays themselves.

The strangest thing I saw was one old man wearing a backpack and using ski poles to cross-country hobble through a crosswalk. Nothing kinky about that: maybe his back hurt. After three days of airports and three of walking and climbing the sights (and sites) of San Fran, I could have used a pair of those poles, myself.

Instead of "Great Babylon is come up before me" (as a scandalized Rachel Jackson said of New Orleans as she and husband Andrew made their way to accept receipt of Florida from Spain in 1821), San Francisco was cleverly disguised as an ordinary town with ordinary people doing ordinary things such as shopping, driving, and working.

Not so much as a Gay Pride Child Recruitment Center!

I left Pensacola Sunday afternoon, had 90 minutes in Houston, and on to SF. I'd be returning Thursday by flying cross-country to Charlotte, NC, 4-hour layover, then 90 minutes to Pensacola.

Maybe it's because Pensacola's airport is so small, but the security line was ridiculous! The line was pretty long and there was just one checkpoint (there's only one terminal). Took close to 45 minutes to get from right next to the check-in counters to the other side of the checkpoint. Man, were my legs tired. Fortunately the terminal is small. Getting to my gate didn't take long even with a couple of rest breaks.

I was hoping that all the standing and walking would help with the leg problems I've been having since Aorta Day. Nope.

Houston airport could have used more benches (something I noticed about every place I went). Most of my 90-minute layover was spent in me hobbling toward the next terminal, finding a train, then hobbling to the departure gate. I saw some passenger carts toting people around, but figured they were pay-to-ride, so I just kept going. I was too tired to smirk at the the place being named after George Bush (the wimpy, ineffectual entitled prat, not the war criminal). Airports should be named for heroes like astronaut Rick Husband, not zeroes. Check out all of Husband's accomplishments. Imagine landing at Houston's Rick the Astronaut Airport. I made it about 10 minutes before boarding started.

I really liked San Fran airport. The terminals are arranged like spokes on a wheel. Get off your plane, head toward the hub and get out. Minimal hiking, no pain-in-the-ass navigation. Still a long walk. Man, were my legs tired.

At the other end of the trip, I got to San Fran airport around 7 Thursday morning. Check-in was fast. The security line only took a few minutes. My legs and back still got sore from the standing, but I was expecting that and flagged down one of those people-carts (finally realized they're free--but considering all the luggage carts for rent, the quick cellphone chargers-for-pay, and stuff like that, my earlier assumption is understandable). I rode like a tired-legged prince to my departure gate and relaxed.

The Charlotte airport was a nightmare of long stretches without benches. Hell of a place. Three and a half hour layover. I started off the right way by going the wrong way in my arrival terminal. When I figured out that the gate numbers were going the wrong way, I sagged, turned around, and moved with what little purpose I could muster. My destination, Terminal E, was at the furthest point possible from me. Man, were my legs...well, you know. Started looking for one of those handicap buggies. Didn't find one for the entire length of Terminal B, or into the mall along the main building. Finally flagged one down only to be dropped off at the top of an escalator. Down that, try to find another cart, end up walking...and damned if I wasn't overtaken by a cart a few minutes later. Finally grabbed another one after more walking and a few rest stops. This one got me to the proper gate, allll the way at the end of Terminal E.

Did I mention that my legs were tired?

Sat there, pondering trudging back up the terminal to one of the restaurants. My phone rang. Flight's canceled, call us to reschedule, thanks for trying to fly us, g'bye. Automated message. I called and learned that I'd be staying in Charlotte for the night ("aircraft maintenance")--in a hotel. Guy told me to find the closest Customer Service desk. Said it was several terminals away. Nice.

Again with the cart-hunting. Not one in sight the entire length of the terminal, until the end, but this one was unattended. I sat, anyway, and waited. Got passed by a couple of active ones. Finally gave up and hiked until I found one, flagged him down. Turns out I passed a Customer Service desk in Terminal E--but my driver took me to the now-closest one and dropped me there. A little ticket for the next morning's flight, voucher for the hotel.

Next morning, check-in went fast, security took maybe 20 minutes (including the line). Now that I was savvy to the handicap carts, getting to the terminal didn't take long.

Pensacola's airport really needs to get their game together and work on decongesting the security line, even if it means putting some more people on the payroll to open up a second line. The single checkpoint worked as well as it could, but took 2-3 times as long as it needed to.