Friday, March 29, 2013

I Am Woman

I’ve had such wonderful and close relationships with women in my life. Growing up with a cultured, gracious, talented yet unassuming mother and a maternal grandmother that kept a home that was my personal favorite destination. From a sister that I can best describe as "sweet," to a loving and caring wife that I now share thirty-seven years of blissful marriage, to a beautiful and talented, as well as gracious and sweet granddaughter, these women in my life have taught me much about caring and nurturing and putting others before themselves.

But then that is often the role that women have played in our society. From the natural and biological job of raising children and keeping a home, a time-honored yet often unappreciated role that women have had throughout the centuries, to the male protectiveness toward mothers and sisters and wives and daughters, to a secondary place in culture and business, women have been abused and ignored and treated as second class citizens, even to the point of denying them the right to vote in this country founded on the principles of democracy … or were we? That’s a point worth discussing, but let me remain focused on women and their success, hard earned in a male dominated world.

We talk about minorities and minority rights, which also have been denied through both legislature and practice, but women are not a minority, they actually outnumber men in America. As of the last census there are 158 million women in the US compared to 153 million men. At the age of sixty-five and older, women are 13 percent greater in population. Women have nearly 58% of the jobs and about 42% of those are jobs in management, professional, and related occupations compared with 35% of males as of the end of 2012. However, there are only 38,000 women officers in the US military compared to nearly 202,000 total active duty officers. The median annual earning of women 15 or older who worked full time, year-round in 2011 was $37,118 compared to the equivalent group of men who earned $48,202 making female pay about 77% of men’s. A number that has improved in recent years, but still lacks equality, yet the number of women 25 and older with bachelor’s degrees or higher in 2011 outnumbered males, 31.4 million to 30 million. Women have a larger share of high school diplomas, including equivalents, as well as associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. (However, more men than women have professional and doctoral degrees.)

It is an interesting intellectual exercise to ponder why careers that are dominated by women, including public school teaching, administration and secretarial, and health care have lower salaries than other comparable career paths. These jobs tend to have lower pay than similar jobs with comparable skill requirements. Is it low pay because these jobs are dominated by women, or is it vice-versa?

So how did all this come about? Did it start with the weaker sex remaining in the cave while the manly men went hunting and gathering? Is it a built-in prejudice from patriarchal societies? Is it just brute strength and domination of the male over the weaker female? Well, yes!! That and a dozen or two more reasons stemming from psychology and history and religion.

I am woman, hear me roar.

“I Am Woman” is a song written by Australian Helen Reddy and singer-songwriter Ray Burton. The song first appeared on Reddy's debut album I Don't Know How to Love Him, released in May 1971.

After securing a recording contract with Capitol Records that yielded the hit "I Don't Know How to Love Him," Reddy — then living in Los Angeles — was asked for an album. She gave the label a set of 10 jazz-tinged pop songs. Nestled among the Leon Russell, Graham Nash, and Van Morrison songs were two Reddy originals. "I Am Woman" was one of them. The composition was the result of Reddy’s search for a song that would express her growing passion for female empowerment. In a 2003 interview in Australia’s Sunday Magazine she explained:

I couldn't find any songs that said what I thought being a woman was about. I thought about all these strong women in my family who had gotten through the Depression and world wars and drunken, abusive husbands. But there was nothing in music that reflected that.

The only songs were “I Feel Pretty” or that dreadful song “Born A Woman. (The 1966 hit by Sandy Posey had observed that if you're born a woman "you're born to be stepped on, lied to, cheated on and treated like dirt. I'm glad it happened that way.") These are not exactly empowering lyrics. I certainly never thought of myself as a songwriter, but it came down to having to do it.

Reddy’s own long years on stage had also fueled her contempt for men who belittled women, she said. "Women have always been objectified in showbiz. I'd be the opening act for a comic and as I was leaving the stage he'd say, 'Yeah, take your clothes off and wait for me in the dressing room, I'll be right there.' It was demeaning and humiliating for any woman to have that happen publicly." Reddy credits the song as having supernatural inspiration. She said: "I remember lying in bed one night and the words, 'I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman,' kept going over and over in my head. That part I consider to be divinely inspired. I had been chosen to get a message across." Pressed on who had chosen her, she replied: "The universe." The next day she wrote the lyric and handed it to Australian guitarist Ray Burton to put it to music.

So there you have it: women as second-class citizens. Held back by culture and, quite frankly, men. Women have had to struggle all through history to attain the status and recognition held by men. Often denied a basic education, even today that is an issue in some countries, what great odds women had to overcome to be recognized for their accomplishments, or even to obtain any accomplishments.

Throughout history there have been powerful and influential women, but it is their very rarity that makes them special. Beginning in the twentieth century in America and other advanced nations, things started to improve. I could write about the suffrage movement and hard fought victory of the vote or about the first woman in Congress, Jeanette Rankin, elected by Montana in 1916. After being elected she said, "I may be the first woman member of Congress but I won’t be the last."

But this is the STEAMD blog, and so I want to write about women in technology and science. I’ve always had a special fascination for the history of science, and I would haunt the college bookstores seeking out volumes that described just how we got here and who discovered what. An excellent book I read in my early years about the history of mathematics was E.T. Bell’s The Men of Mathematics written in 1937. Although it was a well-written and very informative book, the title seemed a bit challenging. In fact, when I first read Women in Mathematics: The Addition of Difference, my first thought was it was a direct response to the challenge implicit in Bell’s title. This 1997 work by Claudia Henrion made it clear that women had also contributed, often quite significantly, to the advancement of what, after all, is referred to as the “Queen of the Sciences.” (Oh, and there is no king!)

It seems that the progress is very slow, and I’m sure my sisters, as well as mothers and daughters will agree with that. However, given this strong current of history that has often marginalized women and their efforts, isn’t it extra rewarding to learn of advancements and successes that the female gender has offered society, even if they had to swim upstream to accomplish it.

World War Two created a special opportunity for women. With most of the able-bodied men fighting overseas in a war that required massive amounts of manufacturing and technology, women naturally filled in for the missing men. Rosie the Riveter was part of it, of course, as women took on blue collared jobs on the factory floor building the arms needed for battle overseas. In addition, women took clerical jobs in banks and firms that had previously been held primarily by men.

(My mother was a “machine accountant,” which is an early form of computer operator, at a bank in Seattle, while my dad flew a B-17 out of England.)

There were many technical jobs that women filled including an early form of “computer” which were just people working hard with devices similar to an adding machine to calculate formulas. The term "computer", in use from the early 17th century, meant "one who computes": a person performing mathematical calculations, before electronic computers became commercially available. "The human computer is supposed to be following fixed rules; he [or she] has no authority to deviate from them in any detail," said Alan Turing in 1950. He was a founder of computer science, a mathematician and code breaker during the great conflict. Code breaking was an example of the type of calculations during that time, as well as work on the atomic bomb. Teams of people were frequently used to undertake long and often tedious calculations; the work was divided so that this could be done in parallel.

It is in that context that we now celebrate Ada Byron King also known as Ada Lovelace as the first computer programmer. She worked with Charles Babbage to program his original calculating machines and used a very early type of punch card to encode the programs.

Over one hundred years later, one of the first digital computing machines, called ENIAC for Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, was developed for the US Army to calculate artillery trajectories. So guess what happened? The programming of the new device fell heavily upon women scientists. Kay McNulty, Frances Spence, Jean Bartik, Frances Elizabeth Holberton, Ruth Teiltelbaum, Marlyn Meltzer, Adele Goldstein, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Betty Jennings, and Fran Bilas have all been honored for their work programming these early machines.

If you want to learn more about these ladies and their accomplishments as well as other women in computer science, I suggest this web site:

The list at this site concludes with Ginni Rometty, first woman President and CEO of IBM (2012-present).

I recently read an obituary for Jean Jennings Bartik. She died of heart disease at a nursing home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. She was 86. (For those not aware, Poughkeepsie was the manufacturing headquarters for IBM Corporation throughout most of the twentieth century and is the home of the “main frame.”)

She was the last surviving member of the group of women who programmed the first all-electronic digital computer, the ENIAC. It was completed in 1946, too late for use in World War II, but was a milestone in the evolution of modern computing. The ENIAC led to the development of the Univac, the first commercial computer. It was only after the release of the Univac, that IBM developed their own line of electronic computers. Prior to this point, IBM made “Unit Record Machines” which manipulated punch cards to perform calculations, but were not true electronic computers of the type we recognize today.

When the ENIAC was shown off at the University of Pennsylvania in February 1946, it generated headlines in newspapers across the country. But the attention was all on the men and the machine. The women were not even introduced at the event.

"For years, we celebrated the people who built it, not the people who programmed it," said David Alan Grier, a technology historian at George Washington University and a senior vice president of the IEEE Computer Society.

The oversight has been somewhat redressed in recent years, and Ms. Bartik, in particular, received professional recognition as a result. Ms. Bartik and Frances Elizabeth Holberton, who died in 2001, were the lead programmers among the small team of women who worked on the ENIAC.

In 2009, Ms. Bartik received a Pioneer Award from the IEEE Computer Society, and in 2008 she was named a fellow by the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

The ENIAC women were wartime recruits with math skills, whose job was initially described as plugging in wires to "set up the machine." But converting the math analysis into a process that made sense to the machine, so that a calculation could flow through the electronic circuitry to completion, proved to be a daunting challenge.

"These women, being the first to enter this new territory, were the first to encounter the whole question of programming," said Paul E. Ceruzzi, a computer historian at the Smithsonian Institution. "And they met the challenge."

Betty Jean Jennings was born on Dec. 27, 1924, in rural Missouri, the sixth of seven children in a farm family whose parents valued education. She attended Northwest Missouri State Teachers College, now Northwest Missouri State University, majoring in math.

Her faculty adviser saw an advertisement in a math journal in 1945 that said the Army was recruiting math graduates for a wartime project in Philadelphia. She applied, was accepted and told to come quickly. She got on the next train, according to her son. "She wanted adventure, and she got it," he said.

In Philadelphia, while working on the ENIAC, she dropped the use of the first name Betty, and down the hall at the University of Pennsylvania, she met William Bartik, an engineer working on another Pentagon project. They were married in 1946. (They divorced in 1968.)

After the war, Ms. Bartik joined the ENIAC designers, John Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly, in their effort to develop the Univac, an early commercial computer, which was introduced in 1951. While at the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation — acquired by Remington Rand in 1950 — Ms. Bartik worked on hardware and software for both the Binac, a small computer made for Northrop Aircraft, and the general purpose Univac.

Ms. Bartik called working with the Eckert-Mauchly team on the ENIAC and later the Univac a "technical Camelot," a tight-knit group advancing the frontiers of computing. "This was the most exciting time in her life," said Kathy Kleiman, a technology policy lawyer who has been making a documentary film about the women who programmed ENIAC.

Ms. Bartik left the computer industry in 1951 to raise her three children and returned to it in 1967. After holding a series of jobs in programming, training, and technical publishing, she was laid off in 1985. Since was nearing 61 and could not find another job in the industry, for the next 25 years Ms. Bartik was a real estate agent in New Jersey — another common job for women. Age discrimination is another bias that seems to be greater against women.

I guess the legacy of exclusion and prejudice is still with us. May we soon become as enlightened as a society as these social pioneers and technology leaders have been. Why we would ignore the contributions of over half of our society is a sad question that all people should ask themselves. While we are appalled at stories of girl’s schools in Afghanistan being blown up by the mindless barbarians, we should take a good look at our own society to see if the only difference in the way we treat women is just a matter of degree. We should be a lot better than that. I know I try to be.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Boosterism is the act of "boosting" or promoting a town, city, a state, with the goal of improving public perception of it or increasing business opportunities. It is particular to the US Western region which has a long history of attempting to attract people, usually form the Eastern region. That part of boosterism may have decreased in the last few decades, but there still is a “Chamber of Commerce” focus on local business intended to attract both customers and citizens. After all, citizens are also customers as well as tax payers and growth is always good for the real estate market.

Well, I’m a “booster.” I’m very proud of where I live, both the natural beauty and the economic opportunities, especially those in technology. When it comes to regions well known for economic opportunity and high technology, none can equal the Silicon Valley of California, that prosperous and booming area south of San Francisco that is home to so much technology and entrepreneurial spirit. The San Jose and adjoining cities are, without a doubt, the kings of the kind of industry I am interested in.

As other regions attempt to duplicate this combination of technology, education, and success, you often hear of the “silicon this” or the “silicon that.” The area near Portland, Oregon and towns of Beaverton and Hillsboro refer to themselves as the “Silicon Forest.” Colorado and especially the area south of Denver and around Colorado Springs preferred the “Silicon Mountain.” I’m not sure what the high tech area around the city of Boston or the Austin, Texas area called themselves, but I’m willing to bet there was a “silicon” in there someplace.

The reference to the base element for transistors, semiconductors, integrated circuits, and all that modern computer element jazz is not misleading. It is the electronics and especially the computer business that is at the heart of this revolutionary entrepreneurial success. It’s not all computers, of course. There are closely related industries such as telecommunications and satellite and other space industries. There’s also the aviation industry and the medical and pharmaceutical industries and others of that type. The contrast of “silicon” is with the older, “heavy” industries such as steel making and other metal manufacture or automobile production.

Also distinguishing these new industries is the importance of a very smart and well trained workforce. Computers and particularly the software industry is really all about bright and fresh ideas: the next big thing. Research Triangle Park, a successful business area in North Carolina, has a rule against manufacturing. Only “development” is allowed on that campus. With software, all there is is development. There’s no real software manufacturing, especially in this age of downloaded programs. Interstingly, RTP considers software development “manufacturing,” so IBM located their large program lab on the border, but just outside of RTP. Maybe they're right. Maybe software is the new manufacturing!

I mentioned the Silicon Mountain, and certainly the Colorado Front Range, the area at the edge of the mountains and extending from Fort Collins in the north to Colorado Springs in the south, figures in any list of these high tech regions and challengers to Silicon Valley.

The Front Range and particularly the Denver-Boulder area, is a hub of innovation and entrepreneurial activity. According to Startup Colorado, a regional consortium of entrepreneurs who share a vision of expanding entrepreneurship along the Front Range, Boulder alone boasts 166 startups and 7 investor groups. Some are established and very well-known – Coors Brewing Company and Celestial Seasonings – while others are on the rise now: Camp Bow Wow, Level 3 Communications, Spyder (ski apparel), and Rudi’s Organic Bakery.

California’s Silicon Valley has long been the premier hot spot for start-ups, but here are some reasons why Colorado just might be next in line:

At the state level, Colorado has adopted a number of innovative strategies in its successful efforts to attract high caliber people and companies. Colorado is ranked #8 on CNBC’s list of best states for business. Metro Denver scored #5 on Forbes’ 2012 “Best places for business and careers” list, while Fort Collins came in at #3. USA Today ranks Boulder/Denver as a top 10 city for technology start-ups. Moreover, Colorado, on a per capita basis, is well ahead of other states in the areas of green technology, health care, telecom, energy, aerospace, bioscience, high tech, health food, and organics.

Among companies that have relocated or expanded operations to Colorado are Arrow Electronics, Vestas Wind Systems, DaVita, Lockheed Martin, Hitachi Data Systems and the new U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All of these moves signal recognition of Colorado’s unique quality of life, business-friendliness, availability of capital and drive to spur innovation. As U.S. Senator Michael Bennett (D-Colorado) said regarding Hitachi’s recent move, “It is recognition that Colorado is an environment where innovative companies like Hitachi can thrive.”

Longmont, the other large Boulder County city has also shared in this advancement and is a center of technology and innovation. I believe it began back in the 50’s when Longmont’s city fathers (and I suppose mothers too) enticed the Federal Aviation Administration to locate an Air Route Traffic Control Center here. That was followed by the establishment at a point half-way between Boulder and Longmont of a large IBM manufacturing and research facility in the 60’s.

Soon many new and existing high tech companies began locating in Longmont as the region became a center for the telecommunications and cable industries. Storage and disk drive manufacturing also concentrated here as well as other industries that would be right at home in the Silicon Valley chose this less expensive, and naturally spectacular location to start or expand.

Today, besides the FAA and IBM facilities, Longmont is home to such diverse corporations as Seagate Technology, which is a combination of the local Seagate as well as the local Maxtor facilities when the companies merged; Intrado, a 911 mapping and services company; as well as DigitalGlobe, a satellite mapping organization. Western Digital, another large disk drive company is also located in Longmont.

Amgen biopharmaceuticals and Croc shoes are located here as are Circle Graphics, a designer of digital billboards and Xilinx, a manufacturer of programmable logic chips. We also have small branches of Intel and Texas Instruments, so Longmont is well represented in the original “silicon” works.

Dot Hill Systems develops fiber channel computer devices while the nearby GE Energy produces power generation and energy technology. OnCore Manufacturing provides contract and custom manufacturing for design organizations and LSI designs integrated circuits for storage applications and the cloud.

Thule Organization Solutions creates computer, audio, and video storage cases while the local Woodley’s Fine Furniture manufactures home furnishings sold all along the front range. Micron Technology creates electronic displays and also industrial strength disk drives, making Longmont a key source of computer storage from nearly any brand. Finally, Mentor Graphics is one of the largest software development groups in Longmont.

This list will never be complete because startups and new companies are appearing all the time, leasing small spaces in Longmont’s many industrial parks and making a bet that their product will be the next big thing.

With the University of Colorado only twelve miles away and other excellent Colorado Universities and schools within an easy commuting distance, Longmont seems well situated to be part of this 21st century businesses. With the majestic Longs Peak as a backdrop and Rocky Mountain National Park a short twenty mile drive away, this area beckons to those wishing to be part of these dynamic industries and have a love of biking, hiking, and other mountain recreation. So grab your skis and your text books, update your resume, and head for Colorado. Things are booming. You might check out Longmont, it’s not a bad place to live and work.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Richard Wright -- Pink Floyd Keyboardist

Pink Floyd is a band that has a memorable and powerful influence on music since the sixties. Although there were internal struggles and inter-musician rifts, their music stands the test of time.

I was always a fan and actually wore out my first Dark Side album and had to buy another. A few years ago I became acquainted with a Pink Floyd tribute band named “Pinky and the Floyd.” Among the members of this Bozeman, Montana band are the son of my close high school friend and a former schoolmate of my nephew. I’ve been to many of their shows and look forward to another summer of Pinky and the Floyd.

Although Roger Waters and David Gilmour — or perhaps the original member, Syd Barrett — may be the Pink Floyd players that come to your mind; or if you’re a drummer you probably focus on Nick Mason, a steadying influence since their origin; my favorite is Rick Wright who passed away in 2008. He was the band’s keyboard player, so naturally I take great interest in him and his contribution.

I started piano lessons in Lewistown, Montana when I was about ten years old. Mrs. Pennock was my piano teacher. She had been my mom’s teacher twenty years earlier. Although I later learned guitar and some other instruments, I still consider keyboards my main thing. I grew up playing on my mother’s Hammond Organ and I’ve played on the big B-3’s with Leslie speakers. I’m no Rick Wright, but I sure love keyboards.

Richard William Wright was born in London in 1943. He was married three times, fired from the band, was the only player to actually make money when he was hired back as a session musician for the The Wall tour in 1979, and rejoined for the final days. He was a quiet, yet competent contributor to Pink’s unique style and sound.

He was never the star of the band, although keyboard players rarely are (with the exception possibly of Styx), but that was a pleasing role for Rick. Making music as creatively as possible was what mattered to him and there are few moments more sublime than his measured playing on the 1973 The Dark Side of the Moon album of the song he co-wrote and sang with Roger Waters, "Us and Them."

He began his music at an early age, playing piano, trumpet and trombone as well as the guitar at home. He developed an interest in jazz and spent time in London clubs. It was in Architecture school in 1962 that he became friends with two other students, Roger Waters and Nick Mason. Their first band was a rhythm and blues group called “Sigma 6.” A few years later, at the age of 19, Rick married the female vocalist. The group went through various name and personnel changes, but Wright, Waters, and Mason remained throughout. With his career now decided, Rick quit Architecture school and enrolled at the London College of Music.

At that point, Roger Waters invited his neighbor, Syd Barrett, to join the group and the four formed a new band, called at first the “Tea Set” and then, at Barrett's suggestion, the “Pink Floyd Sound.” The name was in honor of two blues players, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. The quartet soon dropped the “Sound,” and “Pink Floyd” they became.

As the group expanded the scope of their writing and playing, Wright's talents were appreciated. He mastered all types of keyboards and also added trumpet and trombone. His knowledge of jazz and classical music contributed to developing the group’s special sound. Rick was a good harmony singer and a competent, if somewhat uncomfortable, lead vocalist. The extended instrumental, "Interstellar Overdrive," became their first anthem containing contributions by most of the band and even has a little Frank Zappa and Byrd's Eight Miles High somewhere under the covers.

Pink Floyd soon became well known around London for playing the experimental music, which by 1966 was called “psychedelic.” Their performances included film and innovative light shows and they played at well known London clubs. They were common players at Marquee’s Spontaneous Underground which was part of the “London Free School,” an English art school modeled after the concept of US “free schools.” Pink Floyd played at All Saints Church Hall, initially as part of The Notting Hill Carnival, and then a series of fund-raising concerts for the London Free School. These were among the earliest gigs by the band. In the summer of ’67, they starred in “14 Hour Technicolor© Dream,” an event at the Alexandra Palace that is now considered an essential part of the "Summer of Love."

At that time, Syd Barrett was the dominant songwriter and his "Arnold Layne" was their first single. It was at this point that the famous incident when an EMI executive asked the band, "Which one's Pink?" took place. They reached the Top 10 with another Barrett song, "See Emily Play," and their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was a success. The album name came from a line in the British novel, Wind in the Willows.

When Syd Barrett became unreliable due to his descent into drug dependency, Roger Waters recruited David Gilmour to play guitar. The band intended for Syd to remain on board, possibly just writing for the band, but he soon quit. The band did remain friends with Syd and Rick played on his solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, both released in 1970.

With their new member, in 1968, Pink Floyd made A Saucerful of Secrets. Rick wrote "Remember a Day" and "See-Saw," as well contributing to the 12-minute title track. This song became a feature of their performances and they headlined at a concert in Hyde Park. They were also shown in a documentary film by Peter Whitehead shot in 1967 describing the music scene in London with the suggestive title Tonite Let's All Make Love In London.

Continuing their interest in film, Pink Floyd provided the sound track to More, a 1969 film about heroin addiction, and in 1970 they scored Zabriskie Point for Michelangelo Antonioni. They also released a double album at the end of the year with the title Ummagumma which included live music recorded at shows in Birmingham and Manchester, as well as studio recordings that showcased individual members, each composing half a side for the album.

Rick provided "Sysyphus — Parts 1-4," music influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen, a German composer and keyboardist widely acknowledged as both an important and controversial influence on modern music. Stockhausen was an early adopter of electronic music and his influence on both jazz and modern music, through Rick Waters, may have played a part in the developing Pink Floyd sound.

I first became aware of the band when I purchased a copy of their 1970 Atom Heart Mother. This music was performed at the festival in Bath, England, and the performance included a choir, orchestra, and fireworks — early indications of what would evolve into spectacular Pink Floyd road shows.

Pink was developing a reputation as a visual art as well as a musical group. Although some critics considered the work a little pompous, Atom Heart Mother topped the charts and elevated Pink Floyd to major stardom. It was while working on this composition that Pink Floyd tried to use everyday home and street sounds for composition. They spent a lot of time in the studio, but were not as successful as they had hoped. Atom Heart Mother did include the sound of frying bacon and led to future inclusions of everyday sounds in Pink Floyd’s music.

The next album, Meddle, combined a suite of songs, "One of These Days", and the atmospheric, 23-minute "Echoes." That was featured in the 1974 film, Pink Floyd at Pompeii. This was followed by another Schroeder film, La Vallée, whose score the band released on the album Obscured by Clouds.

In 1973, Pink Floyd, now working with the soon to be famous Alan Parsons, but producing themselves, created their best-known work — and technological masterpiece — The Dark Side of the Moon. With songs exploring insanity and the pressures of modern life, the album remained on the top of UK and US charts for over six years, a record that has yet to be matched.

Both the music and the lyrics, as well as the sound effects and atmosphere evoked on this album established Pink as one of the greatest rock and roll bands ever. Like the Beatles, this album also found the band neglecting singles and focusing on concept albums.

Rick was very intimately involved with the development of Dark Side, writing key contributions such as "The Great Gig In The Sky," and he co-wrote "Breathe," and "Any Colour You Like." Using an unused melody from Zabriskie Point, Rick wrote my favorite on the album, "Us And Them," with Waters. He performed vocals with Waters on this track and his electric piano featured prominently on "Money.”

The live shows by the band continued to become more theatrical and spectacular. They added quadraphonic sound and British Spitfires flew over the concert in their 1975 premiere of Wish You Were Here. The album was a tribute to Syd Barrett, and included the song "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" written by Waters, Gilmour, and Wright. Syd actually showed up at the studio during the recording, but his appearance had changed so much that, at first, none of his former bandmates recognized him. That was the last time any of them saw him until his death in 2006.

It was around this time of theatrical exuberance that an incident occurred that became Pink Floyd legend. In 1976, while shooting photos for their next album to be called Animals, a 40-foot balloon shaped like a pig attached to Battersea Power Station broke from its moorings and drifted away. The British Air Traffic Control had to issue a warning to pilots to beware of a flying pig. (What’s that governor? Say again, a flying pig?)

During these years of great band and personal success, Rick Wright produced a solo album, but it was a commercial flop. His Wet Dream project, released in 1978, did not sell well.

Soon came Pink Floyd's most ambitious project, a double album that deals with the themes of abandonment and personal isolation: The Wall. The idea was sparked when Waters began to experience what he called a "gulf" between himself and the audience. After an experience where an exuberant audience so frustrated Roger that he actually spit at them, Waters spoke with music producer, Bob Ezrin, and a friend of Ezrin's, a psychiatrist sharing their car, about the feelings of alienation he was experiencing on the tour. He articulated his desire to isolate himself by constructing a wall across the stage between the performers and the audience. He later said, "I loathed playing in stadiums … there is something very wrong with this.'

Trouble, however, was to haunt the development of this epic album set. The Wall is a rock opera that explores abandonment and isolation, symbolized by a metaphorical wall. The songs recount a storyline of events in the life of the main character, Pink, a persona based loosely on Waters, whose father was killed during the Second World War. The character Pink is oppressed by his overprotective mother, and tormented at school by tyrannical, abusive teachers. Each of these traumas become metaphorical "bricks in the wall". Pink eventually becomes a rock star, his relationships marred by infidelity, drug use, and outbursts of violence. As his marriage crumbles, he finishes building his wall, completing his isolation from human contact.

The release of The Wall was followed by an elaborate road show and also lead to a crisis point for Rick. There are many different versions of just what happened, but there were problems from the beginning. Rick asked to produce the album and he was allowed at first to do that, but later Waters switched back to Ezrin as producer. This didn’t work well either because of the tight and complicate recording schedule and Ezrin’s poor work habits and late arrivals. Ultimately the recording schedule had to be moved forward to allow for a Christmas release of the album and tempers amongst all the band members were short. There were several disagreements and misunderstandings between Waters and Wright that ultimately led to the “firing” of Rick Wright from the band.

One fact that stands out to me personally is that Rick did not contribute any songs to The Wall, unlike most previous albums. That and the tight recording schedule and very complicated production of the album and travel to various studios stressed out all the band’s members. Wright had his own problems, a failing marriage and the onset of depression. So Wright left the band, the album was a huge success, and a rare single, "Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)," topped the UK charts for five weeks in 1979, all without any credit to Richard Wright.

Ironically, Wright was contracted as a musician for the world tour of The Wall, and since the lavish production was very expensive, and as Wright was salaried as a musician, he was the only “member” of Pink Floyd that made money on the tour.

In the early 80’s, Rick was in another band under an alias, but that endeavor was not successful. In the mean time, Rick took unsuccessful legal action to prevent Gilmour and Mason from using the band name.

Internal and artistic tensions continued with the band, and Roger Waters left the band in 1987 stating they were a “spent force.” David Gilmour began reconstituting the band. There were legal obstacles to Wright's re-admittance to the band; however, after a meeting, Gilmour invited Wright to participate in the coming sessions. He later stated that Wright's presence "would make us stronger legally and musically."

Rick rejoined but was not reinstated as a full member until the following year. He appeared as a guest on A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and was back writing with the band for another soundtrack project in 1992.

In 1994, Wright wrote four songs and sang lead vocals on "Wearing The Inside Out" on Pink Floyd's final studio album, The Division Bell. The tour promoting the album and band concluded in October 1994 and was the final performance of Pink Floyd. It appeared the band was truly “spent.”

Following the breakup of Pink, Wright continued his solo work producing an album with computer-based songs about depression featuring Sinead O'Connor on vocals.

Over ten years later, in July 2005, the original quartet, Wright, Gilmour, Mason and Waters, reunited triumphantly for the Live 8 concert in London's Hyde Park. Wright played on Gilmour's album On An Island in 2006, and he was working on a solo album at the time of his death.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Deficits and Debt

There have been so many Federal fiscal crises in the last months and years that it is getting difficult to get anyone to pay attention. The politicians are having a problem getting any American citizens to get concerned about budgets and debt, or to even get the news media to report on it anymore. Maybe the boy has cried wolf too many times. Recent news is that the Senate has just passed a budget and that’s the first time in four years. Ho-hum; who cares?

We are still hearing “raise taxes … on the rich” from the left and “cut the spending … except the military" on the right. We’ve added a new word, "sequester," to our vocabulary, but I still think the average person doesn’t know the difference between the Federal Deficit and the National Debt.

I am not really that interested in politics, to tell the truth. However, I do get interested in the subject of the economy, taxes, deficits, and debts; and talk about cutting social security or Medicare perk my ears right up. I always take the role of a teacher and I want to explain all this complicated Washington, D.C. stuff to anyone who will listen and especially those that vote. Heaven knows the people in Washington don’t seem to understand it. Otherwise how can you explain the asinine comments they spout.

Not that I watch any TV or talk shows, but I do read the paper every day and have a lot of news feeds on my iPhone … mostly technical and computer news, but I read the headlines and follow the farce in Washington.

I consider myself a moderate. That means that both sides hate me! The Republicans think I’m a socialist and the Democrats think I’m some kind of gun-loving nut. Actually, I don’t support guns nor gun laws, and I am worried there may be more people going for a ride in the wagon than there are to pull it. I’m for increased support of education while I am opposed to high tuition costs. I respect the environment while I think we’ve got to keep fuel costs reasonable. I’m opposed to both unions and corporate power. I support the military and I'm anti-war. I'm against abortion and the death penalty. I only believe in things I think will actually have an effect, and not an unintended consequence.

However, I do have stake in this economy game, and I keep watch for inflation and news about debts and debt ceilings and cutting benefits … especially benefits that I benefit from … isn’t that why they’re called “benefits;” or another loaded term, “entitlements.” Darn right I’m entitled to all I paid for. I want the government to keep their cotton pickin’ hands off my social security checks and keep those Medicare payments coming.

I am concerned about the debt, but I’m more concerned about the deficit. In the American political conversation, the national debt has become something almost mythical. It has become a metaphor for all that ails the United States, a scary monster under the bed. It isn’t. It’s an accounting concept.

The debate over deficits and debt is frequently clouded with sloppy language and sloppy thinking. Here, as something of a primer, are some basic concepts every American — and every member of Congress — should understand about the U.S. fiscal situation. These are the five things everyone should know about the deficit and the debt.

1. The deficit is the gap between revenue and spending — usually on an annual or fiscal year basis.

For FY 2013, the U.S. Federal budget deficit is projected to be $901 billion. That's because U.S. government spending is budgeted at $3.8 trillion, while U.S. government revenue will only be $2.9 trillion. Although this deficit is huge, it is less than the budget deficits in each of the past four years.

The U.S. government took in about $7,000 in revenue for every man, woman and child in the United States last year. It spent more than $11,000 per person. The gap between those numbers, about $4,000 per person, is the deficit, and it was covered by borrowing money adding to the national debt.

Some politicians speak as if high levels of government spending and a large budget deficit are the same thing. This isn’t so. You could have a government that spends $11,000 per person — but with taxes to match it — and no deficit. Or you could have a bare-bones government of a libertarian’s fantasy that spends only $7,000 per person but that runs a large deficit because it raises only $3,000 per person in taxes.

Inevitably, the debates over the proper size of government and the proper level of the deficit are intertwined. But they’re actually separate questions. Think of it this way: There are rich people who borrow a lot of money, and there are poor people who live within their means. The question of whether someone is rich or poor is separate from the question of how much money they borrow.

2. The national debt is from deficits accumulated over 200 years.

Looming over 6th Avenue in midtown Manhattan is a clock ticking ever upward, showing the accumulated national debt. It is currently $16,687,289,180,215 (as of the end of February).

The national debt works out to about $53,000 per American. If you are a family of three, then your share is about $160,000. (Assumes population of 313,914,040; a figure from July of 2012 Census Report.)

That level of debt has been accumulated over two centuries, rising rapidly in times of war and depression, rising slowly most of the time, and occasionally falling in times of prosperity and fiscal restraint.

But even if Congress and the Obama administration agreed to a budget for next year with zero deficit, the national debt would still be with us. It would take massive budget surpluses year after year to eliminate it. No one in public office has offered a plausible plan that would do that.

The good news is that there’s really no need to eliminate the debt entirely. Having no debt could be problematic. Government debt, in the form of U.S. Treasury bonds, plays a crucial role in the inner workings of the financial system, offering what is considered a safe place for investors to put their money.

3. Not all debt is bad. Some debt is good.

There’s no doubt that debt can be dangerous, but used correctly it can be beneficial. For example, a family might borrow to buy a house or for a child’s education. So long as the family is careful about the amount of debt it takes on, it could pay off handsomely — giving them a comfortable place to live for many years and ensuring their child has higher future earnings.

But if the same family used borrowed money to pay for lavish vacations, a new boat or even just routine day-to-day expenses, then it would probably lead to trouble.

The analogy is straightforward: If the government borrows money to pay for things that have a long-term payoff, such as a highway between two major cities or education for its citizens, deficit financing can make a lot of sense. When the government borrows money just to pay its year-in, year-out expenses, it’s really just a tax increase by another name. When a family puts its grocery bills on the credit card, they ultimately have to be paid. It’s just a question of when and for how much additional cost.

And speaking of credit card bills, soon there will be another debate in Congress on raising the debt ceiling. The sequestering cuts that the US is now undertaking are the results of the bargain reached last time the ceiling had to be raised. Some will oppose raising it again as a method to force balancing of the budget. I want to see the budget balanced too, but not raising the debt ceiling is like spending the money and then refusing to pay the credit card bill when it is due. That is a direct road to the poor house. We need to get the debt and deficits under control, but not by wrecking our entire financial house and going into bankruptcy … that’s what you call it when people or countries don’t pay their debts.

Liberals and conservatives tend to have different views of what sorts of government functions have a long-term payoff high enough to warrant deficit spending. For example, when the steep recession came, the government enacted $800 billion in spending and tax cuts paid for with borrowed money. Back to the household metaphor, it would be the equivalent of a family, with one of its earners unemployed, using the credit card to stay afloat during a difficult period, hoping to pay off the balance when conditions improve.

Is that a good use of debt or a bad one? The answer depends on your ideology.

4. The stronger the economy, the less debt we’ll have and the more we can handle.

The diligent economists at the Congressional Budget Office dutifully prepare 10-year forecasts for the federal deficit and debt, under a wide range of policies that Congress might or might not enact. But to make those forecasts, they have to guess how the economy will do. The reality is that economic growth has a massive impact on both the scale of deficits and how sustainable a given debt level might be.

When the economy is stronger — when there is more economic activity, fewer unemployed and higher incomes — income taxes are higher. Simultaneously, there is less need for unemployment insurance, Medicaid and other social welfare programs.

As Republicans argue, lowering taxes increases economic activity, which can actually lead to higher revenues for the Federal Government. And the opposite, high taxes may slow the economy to the point that less total revenue is collected in tax than when rates were lower.

Democrats point out that government spending — at least the right kind of spending — will lead to an improved economy and actually pay back the extra spending with a surplus. Yes, it can work that way too. In an economy where Federal spending is a large percentage of the total gross national product, Uncle Sam becomes one of the largest employers, and when Uncle lays off (or cuts spending to companies supplying stuff to him), the economy suffers. It kind of reminds me of the state of Wyoming. My theory is that everyone in Wyoming works for the state. You gotta think about that from an economic and tax view to see what is wrong with that. (Not picking on you Wyoming folks, but you gotta agree with me that plenty of Wyoming jobs are with the state government.)

Figuring exactly which side is correct is pretty tricky. That’s why economists are right up there with weather predictions. Expect rain tomorrow, unless it doesn’t rain. As a moderate, I’m always cheering for some middle ground. Let’s cut unnecessary and wasteful government spending and lets be more efficient with our tax system, closing loop holes and making sure everyone, person or corporation, pays their fair share. Seems so logical and simple, yet it never is. But I wish the debate would focus more on priorities rather than simple partisan rhetoric.

Not only would a stronger economy make the deficit lower — it would broaden the nation’s capacity to handle a large debt. Just as a $1 million mortgage would be ruinous for a poor family but easily manageable for a wealthy one, the United States can handle a larger amount of debt the greater our national income.

5. Interest rates matter … a lot.

Here’s a phrase that most Americans have never heard but that will be really, really important over the coming decade: “debt dynamics.” That’s the concept that deficits and debt have a built-in feedback loop. So when debt levels rise too high, interest rates can rise, making the debt problem all the more onerous. Debt dynamics are the reason that, even though interest rates are very low now, it is worth worrying about current U.S. debt levels.

A debt level that is completely manageable when interest rates are 3 percent can become burdensome when rates are 6 percent. Every rise in interest rates by a single percentage point increases the annual cost to service that debt by about $140 billion, or $450 for every American.

What that means is that with debt levels high relative to the size of the economy, a country loses control of its own destiny in terms of public finances. If global lenders lose faith that the U.S. government is the safest entity on Earth to lend money to, the fiscal situation would go from being a long-term challenge to a near-term crisis.

You may have noticed that the Fed (a quasi-government agency that determines interest rates for banks) has been setting almost zero percent rate for the last five years. That was partially to stimulate the economy, but it also helps keep the Federal Government debt service (interest) low. You’ve got to ask yourself how much longer will they be able to keep interest rates so low without causing inflation.

An increase in inflation, which has its own danger to our economy, would force the Fed to raise interest rates. That would slow down the economy, lowering government revenues, and increasing the cost of the debt. It’s a real danger to everyone in the US and in the whole world because we are a leading economy. When we sneeze, the world catches cold.

There are countries that maintain larger levels of debt than the United States, relative to the size of their economies, such as Japan and Italy. But it creates a certain national vulnerability — to the hard-to-predict whims of financial markets.

There are big increases in government expense on the horizon, especially from Social Security and Medicare, and an ongoing issue of national security and the size and spending of the military, as well as other concerns of the environment, education, health care for the rest of our citizens not on Medicare, and helping those most in need of assistance.  We are undertaking a giant change in our medical insurance system which no one can really predict if it will cost money or save money, and everyone in Washington seems to want to change it before we find out if it will work or not. We need to be concerned about our infrastructure from roads and bridges to our power grid to computer servers being hacked by everyone from Anonymous to our greatest enemies abroad. And now people are worried about meteors striking the earth. How much will that cost?

It is a complicated issue that requires clear thinking and understanding, not the emotional appeals that have become part of the government finance process where every few months we have a crisis which is fixed at the last moment by kicking the can a little farther down the road. The can will soon be too big to kick.

The Next Big Thing

When the IBM PC was first released in August 1981, by IBM—or more correctly, by the small development team led by Don Estridge at IBM’s “Entry Systems Division” in Boca Raton, Florida—there were many groundbreaking characteristics to this new computer. This was not the first IBM small computer. It was actually the third.

What really made the IBM PC different from previous IBM small (actually "tiny") computers was that it was the first one built from off the shelf parts (called open architecture) and marketed by outside distributors (Sears Roebuck and Computerland). The Intel chip was chosen because IBM had already obtained the rights to manufacture the Intel chips. IBM had used the Intel 8086 for use in its Displaywriter Intelligent Typewriter in exchange for giving Intel the rights to IBM's bubble memory technology.

The price was relatively low for an IBM product and in the same price area as most personal computers of that time; at around $1,500, maybe a little bit more, but it was obviously worth the extra expense in the quality of the design and construction. It is a little known fact that IBM had considered buying Atari, a company that produced a very good design in the late 70’s, but IBM decided to design their own, and thus project “Acorn” was born. (IBM always used codenames for development projects and changed the names annually to fool the myriad of “IBM Watchers.”)

The code name for the new computer was "Acorn". Twelve engineers, led by William C. Lowe, assembled in Boca Raton to design and build the Acorn. On August 12, 1981, IBM released this new computer calling it the “IBM PC.” The "PC" stood for "personal computer" making IBM responsible for popularizing the term "PC".

The first IBM PC ran on a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 microprocessor. The PC came equipped with 16 kilobytes of memory, expandable to 256k. It came with one or two 160k floppy drives and optional monitors. There was an attachment card and monochrome—actually green—display that was such a pleasure to view in those days before high definition and another attachment card that would power all the popular monitors available at that time. IBM also produced a good color monitor, and it was possible to attach both the mono and the color monitor and run in dual display mode.

A new extended ASCII character set increased the standard 7-bit code to an 8-bit character code was designed for the computer and several of the new characters were intended to draw rectangular figures making even the monochrome display slightly graphic. In addition, the computer included a speaker and a programmable sound chip that soon was being used to make crude but recognizable music under the instruction of the thousands of hobbyists and professionals that started the great PC ecosystem of available programs.

What really made the PC the “next big thing” was the inclusion of some groundbreaking software in the offerings available from the moment of announce. IBM had versions of the popular VisiCalc and also a good word processor as well as numerous development tools and programming languages. All this software was packaged in attractive boxes with complete documentation. That was a change at a time in the industry when most software sold consisted of only a floppy disk in a zip lock bag and maybe a few pages of mimeographed instructions.

IBM really produced a professional package, a system that would be of interest to businesses as well as home users. Soon VisiCalc was in competition with a new spreadsheet produced by a startup Boston company called Lotus, and the 1-2-3 program raised the ante for quality commercial programs and productivity aids. Professional database programs appeared and networking and the Internet and ...

As the saying goes, the rest is history.

Ever since the IBM PC and VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3 and all that came after it, the PC industry has always moved forward on the momentum from the “next big thing.” The technical press and computer users as well as entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are always searching for the “next big thing.” Like a surfer watching for the next wave that will provide a “bitchin’ ride,” the entire industry jumps from one new and creative idea and product to the next, and is always looking over their shoulder trying to decide what ripple in the water will be that next big wave for them to catch.

Unless you are living in a cave or under a rock, you know that the "cloud" and cloud computing are hot items now. Apple's announcement of the iCloud, Microsoft’s Sky Drive, Drop Box, the perennial Amazon Web Services, and many other news items reinforce how the cloud has captured imagination and media buzz. 

What do I think about the cloud's true potential? To be honest, I don't know yet, one way or the other.

Here's why I am ambivalent: every year, there is a topic or trend (or two or three) which the pundits and media say is the "next big thing." The hype machine goes into overdrive and we hear and see it everywhere. Sometimes it is so; more often it is not. But what bothers me is that this next big thing—whatever it is—is somehow proposed to be the solution to all problems, whatever the problem actually is. One year it's Twitter, before that we had Wikis. We've also had multicore processors, tablet computers, and social media. The list of hot items that will solve all your problems goes on and on.

Somehow, all problems map to this hot solution, and you can project onto it whatever you are looking for, as it leads you along (or you are led by it). Just be patient, they say: once this next big thing is properly implemented, then it will really, truly be the ideal solution for whatever ails you. People who a few months ago couldn't spell the word "cloud" are now touting its inestimable virtues and benefits. I suspect the cloud and cloud computing will become another useful option and tool, one which engineers and businesses will choose when appropriate and suitable. It will not erase all previous storage/computing schemes. It will have its own set of virtues, vices, and tradeoffs which users will weigh as they decide if it matches their needs and priorities.

Now we see whole computers (Chromebook) built around this cloud concept and low cost components. At least they were low cost until Google introduces the Pixel, a Chromebook with a price tag like a Mac Air. So, is Chromebooks the next big thing? Or will we soon all be connecting to a giant mainframe located somewhere in central Idaho with our smart terminal? For those that remember the IBM 3277 and 3279 (and for those that don’t there’s always Google Search—another “next big thing"), it is just Déjà vu all over again.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Joy of Physics ... and how I plan to get it back.

I’ve really been struggling with my studies these last few weeks. At first I could not figure out what the problem was: what was different or what had changed? Was the math harder? Was the physics harder? Was this something new that I hadn’t studied before or was unprepared to learn? 

I’d run into these learning roadblocks before. I remember struggling almost helplessly with Abstract Algebra. I’ve written before how I started using the local library as an oasis of peace and calm in an attempt to get to the heart of the topic and gain understanding and ... frankly ... just get the homework done.

Another time I got way behind my class in a physics course and spent a long weekend in the mountains camping with Linda and Mike. They fished while I did every problem in my four inch thick “Physics Problem Solver” book.

Then there was the time I was first learning electromagnetic theory and struggling with div, grad, and all that jazz. In this last case several meetings with an excellent professor finally showed me the light. If you didn’t understand the math, you would never figure out the physics.

So this is not a new feeling; that “I don’t understand any of this stuff” combined with the feeling in your gut like you're on a roller coaster ride and the bottom just fell out. Been there...done that. So I certainly recognize the current circumstances. One difference is that, this time, since I’m taking the course online, I can repeat the lecture. In fact, I’ve repeated some of them three or four times. But if you can’t understand what the guy is talking about, listening several times doesn’t help that much.

So I’m trying to diagnose my current problem and seeking a solution. I’m thinking about the other times in my life when the problems zoomed over my head like one of those government drones, and I just could not grasp what is going on like waking from a dream and trying to figure out what the dream was as all recollection slips away. Even when I do make progress, it is at a much slower pace than I expect, and it is quickly ruining my plans and schedule.

I certainly know when the trouble started. I’m currently in the middle of an about two-year review of physics in preparation for taking my PhD Qualification Exams. The Classical Physics went well, even if I had to remember a lot of math that I’d happily forgotten in the last twenty or more years. I’ve gone over a giant list of common integrals and especially sweated out the Trigonometric Functions and their common Integrals in an attempt to sharpen wits that have dulled with age and time. But since everything is “open book,” it hasn’t been a failure of memory or even process. Sure the math is hard and I’ve forgotten more than I have remembered, but that is not what is inhibiting my success now. After all, I’m well prepared for that with a Master’s Degree in Mathematics, even if it has been a lot of years since I practiced much of this stuff.

No, that isn’t the problem. One reason I’m writing this note is to try to diagnose the problem. This is sort of a conversation with myself, and you all are welcome to listen in if you like. I’m not sure what is giving me the difficulties, but the great clue to the solution is the fact that I didn’t struggle like this in the Classical Physics subjects. It was only when I started this current Quantum Mechanics course that I seemed to have lost my way.

The mathematics of standard Quantum Mechanics is no more difficult than the math in classical physics topics and is very similar to electromagnetic and field theory that I’m pretty good at ... albeit that that was a topic I struggled with initially years ago.

I believe the problem may be in how I understand things and how I learn new subject matter. New ideas and concepts are always added to and built upon what you already know. New knowledge is added to old knowledge like building a multiple story building. I used to tell my students to take each new fact and idea and connect it to the web of information they already possess. I imagine a spider web like structure of interconnected facts and data which, taken as a whole, gives knowledge and understanding. That’s how I’ve always learned.

In this case I do have the fundamental ideas. And, quite frankly, Quantum Mechanics isn’t that different or strange to me. I grew up in a world of science that quantum theory was a familiar topic. It is the starting point that I may be struggling with. After all, Quantum Mechanics is not that different than most field theory and QM uses the Hamiltonian just like Classical Mechanics and wave equations similar to standard field theory. I think it is the conceptual understanding that is giving me the most problem.

Of course, I’m not the first to struggle with the fundamental concepts. The history of the development of QM is filled with brilliant scientists that struggled with the concepts. Even the genius of Albert Einstein, a great man of visualization and "gedanken" experiments, could not agree with all the Copenhagen Convention and he supposed hidden variables to understand and eschewed probability based explanations, no matter how well they seemed to describe and predict what was happening.

Even the use of the statistical Probability Density Function, which should be quite familiar to me, is a struggle because it is not a probability that an electron is located at a specific location. Rather, in some mystical and almost non-scientific way, the electron is located simultaneously at all the locations. It is not a “cloud OF electrons,” but a "CLOUD of electrons." They seem to be “smeared” out across the atom and they get “shared” and can even “tunnel” through impossible least statistically, and I know that works from my introduction in the 1960’s to tunnel diodes that so brilliantly implemented the underlying theory in a practical application.

In classical mechanics it is quite possible to have concrete mental visualization of a situation that you then describe mathematically and solve for results. After all, Newton is said to have equated an apple falling from a tree to the moon "falling" around the earth in his discovery of the rules of gravity.

I just can’t seem to visualize the underlying concepts of QM. The topic uses familiar terms such as particle, wave, spin, energy, position, momentum, etc., but they are all in such a new and mysterious way that I don’t grasp them. Sure an electron has spin like a planet or moon, but what in the world is “integral spin” and a “spin of 1/2”? It is boggling my mind.

Sometimes I just wish the early pioneer scientists had chosen brand new terms like “Quark” rather than use familiar concepts like “color” to describe something that has nothing to do with light, or at least rainbows.

I’ve studied QM before and I’m well aware of the mystical interpretation from books such as the “Tao of Physics” or the “Dancing Wu Li Masters.” But these were books written for laymen and you didn’t have to take the understanding and apply it to difficult matrix mathematics and time-dependent Schrödinger equations. I suppose one could divorce the mind from understanding and just learn the math, but my mind doesn’t work that way.

I want to “know.” That’s why I’m taking these courses and beating my head against the books. I want to know and understand, not just “do.” So, assuming that is the problem, what is the solution?

Is it possible that I’m just too old and my mind has lost the flexibility to grasp these new and amazing principles? Could be, but that’s a big cop-out. Maybe I lack the fundamental knowledge that would be the basis for the new facts and understanding. Maybe my spider web lacks the tie points to connect the new information. Especially if the missing element is mathematics. I am still very, very rusty on almost all my higher math knowledge. Perhaps I should take some math classes before attempting QM. I had considered that when I made my initial plans for my doctoral pursuit, but rejected it as too time consuming and I didn’t think it would be necessary. Maybe I was wrong in that regard.

I know that scientists such as Richard Feynman understood the physics at the root level. Of course, Feynman was a brilliant mathematician and so the math didn’t get in the way of a more fundamental understanding. But Richard could explain the subject in everyday terms ... well, nearly everyday. He is my mentor and model, although I don’t expect to equal his brilliance, I do try to mimic his technique and style and ... most importantly ... his joy in learning and discovery. Sadly these current problems have sucked the joy out of this and, earlier this morning, I actually considered quitting this entire enterprise.

I’ve recovered from those defeatist thoughts, and I have an idea. For my current problem, I’ve written my self a prescription: Feynman’s Lectures on Physics. I will once again sit at the feet of my mentor and try to catch a glimmer of his wisdom in his written words. If he can’t explain it to me, then no one can.

Plus I’m going to stop the QM while I further sharpen my math tools. That was what helped most when I struggled with E-M and Maxwell’s equations. Make Div, Grad, and Curl as familiar as your fingers and then you’ll grasp the field theory.

Eigenvectors and Ehrenfest’s theorem, Lie groups and complex vector spaces must become as as my fingers and toes ... well charted territory and capable of reaching out and grasping. That and a careful reading of the three volumes of Feynman’s Lectures on Physics along with several of his books that are in my library, but my initial reading was shallow. I am going to dig deep.

So, for now, I’m putting my class on Quantum Mechanics on hold ... another advantage of online classes. If this was traditional college, I’d have to drop the class and register for another class next semester.

So now, after writing this little essay explaining my problem ... mostly just to myself ... and deciding on a course of action that is—most importantly—a change, I have a plan of action. It feels so good when you quit hitting your head against the wall. As of this morning, I’m taking a new track. I have a new plan. I expect to spend a month on this new plan and then get back to the original course. That shouldn’t upset my schedule that much, assuming this works. If it takes longer, and that is a very real possibility, then it will just take longer. I have the time...I think!

Wish me luck.

Here’s a picture of Richard Feynman and his bongo drums. You have just got to love a physicist who plays drums as a hobby. He sought the joy in everyday experience. I’m trying to recover that joy from my current state of disappointment. Maybe I should get a pair of drums.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Quality and the Japanese Economy

During my early years at IBM, all that was talked about was the Japanese. At that time they seemed invincible producing quality products and marvelous engineering. Years later it was DELL that was all the buzz ... but, back then, it was all about Japan, Inc.

How things have changed. (For both Japan AND DELL!) What brought the reversal of fortunes to Japan’s economy, which looked pretty much invincible in the 1980’s? More specifically, I’m interested in finding out why the pride of Japan Inc., the electronics industry, has sunk so low. I was a bit shaken by the recent news that Panasonic, a Japanese company that built my first transistor radio I had back in Junior High, was downsizing and laying off and selling divisions in an attempt to remain solvent.

The diagnosis of Japanese semiconductor companies and consumer electronics vendors involves no shortage of theories and speculation.

Armchair analysts often zero in on macro factors like the rote-learning education style of Japan (less emphasis on creativity), the utter lack of a sense of urgency among Japanese workers (getting too comfortable with their wealth), non-existent global perspectives, Japan’s stubborn lack of fluency in English, outdated industrial policies driven by elite bureaucrats, slow decision-making process (or their skills in making no decisions at all), and perhaps most important, a complete lack of leadership in management—both in the political and industrial worlds.

Meanwhile, Japanese electronics companies, when reporting their dismal performance in recent years, typically blamed their failures on three factors: the historic high of the Japanese yen, the devastating flood in Thailand, and the dramatic cratering of prices for DRAMs, LCD TVs, etc. Surely, there’s truth in these alibis. But these outside factors are hardly the root cause for what ails Japan.

However, there are two things—although often absent from the debate, especially among Japanese themselves—that I’d like to suggest as the real culprit behind the downfall of Japanese electronics industry.

One is the tendency among Japanese companies to overbuild over-specified, high-quality chips and systems in the costly and time-consuming pursuit of perfection. Another is the decline of technology innovation in Japan.

Let me be clear. Japanese companies love talking about “technology innovation.” But they almost always define innovation as the “most advanced technology” they can develop by throwing around a lot of R&D money. They rarely talk about the innovation that opens and creates new markets. More to the point, Japan today appears almost incapable of the innovation necessary to reduce the cost of products and create fresh demand. The Japanese has forgotten this art. Samsung, in South Korea, has apparently inherited it.

These two realities are deeply intertwined. Casual Japan observers should notice that Japanese companies take great pride in the “high quality” of their products but they often fail to mention “at what cost.”

Let me explain what I mean by high quality vs. cost. Consider, for example, LCD manufacturing. Many Japanese consumers bought into the legend of Sharp Corp.’s Kameyama fab, which developed and produced in the mid-2000’s the most advanced, high-quality LCD panels—billed at that time as “the most revolutionary.”

Believing in its own Kameyama myth, Sharp poured billions of dollars into a new LCD manufacturing plant. The Sakai plant was designed to be the first in the world to manufacture tenth-generation LCD glass substrates, capable of producing eight 50-inch panels per sheet. In 2008, Sharp announced that Sakai plant would dwarf the Kameyama 2 plant, describing it as “30 times the size of Yankee stadium.”

Manufacturing 50-inch panels per sheet was surely an enviable technological feat—at least on the drawing board. I’m skeptical, however, about how much analysis and due diligence Sharp’s management team—including its own engineering and marketing executives—invested before taking to what proved to be the suicidal step of building a fab big enough to accommodate 2.4 million vicious Yankee fans.

Takashi Yunogami, a director of the Fine Processing Institute, points out the fallacy of the 25-year quality guarantee Japan’s memory chip vendors promised for their DRAMs in recent articles in the Electronics Engineering News—an excellent newspaper to keep up with the happenings in the electronics industry. He is a former engineering expert in dry etching at Hitachi and now author of books on the Japanese semiconductor industry and a lecturer at several universities.

He has written that the 25-year guarantee on DRAMs was born when DRAMs were first designed into large-scale, mainframe computers and communication infrastructure equipment such as telephone switching. NTT, one of the biggest customers for DRAM in early 80’s, told Japanese chip vendors at that time: “Bring us DRAMs that won’t fail.”

In efforts to meet that onerous 25-year standard for mainframes and a 23-year guarantee for phone switching equipment, quality-conscious Japanese memory chip engineers amazed the world by actually accomplishing the goal. Their unparalleled skills in developing fine processing technology and manufacturing high-quality DRAMs led Japanese semiconductor companies to dominance in the global DRAM market by the mid-1980’s.

What followed then were inexplicable choices by Japanese semiconductor vendors. They didn’t scale back from 25-year “perfection” to cost-effective alternatives that didn’t need to last that long, even well after the computer industry made a dramatic shift to personal computers. In spite of the typical PC’s much shorter life, Japanese memory companies kept pumping out high-quality, over-specified DRAMs. The result was a massive loss of market share against Samsung which mass-produced low-cost, three-year guarantee DRAMs for PCs.

By the late-1990’s—right around the time when Japan began retreating from the DRAM market—Yunogami states that noticeable differences existed in a photomask set used for 64-Mbit DRAM fabrication process used by Japanese, compared to those by non-Japanese vendors.

A mask set for a process node typically contains as many as 20 or more masks, each of which defines a specific photolithographic step in the semiconductor fabrication process.

While Japanese DRAM vendors then used as many 29 to 26 masks, Korean and Taiwanese vendors used 22 to 20 masks. Micron was believed to use only 15 masks, according to Yunogami. More masks means more processes, and more processes means more semiconductor manufacturing equipment. “This led to the high-cost structure of Japanese semiconductors,” said Yunogami.

That structural problem continued to dog many Japanese semiconductor companies including Elpida, a DRAM joint venture between memory divisions of Hitachi and NEC. Elpida was known for operating a lot of screening tests for the DRAM manufacturing process. Take the example of a wafer-level burn-in test. Applying a certain power supply current to wafers on which DRAMs are formed allows vendors to spot defects. At one point, DRAM vendors outside Japan reportedly stopped doing burn-in tests, because the cost didn’t justify the discovery of extremely rare failures.

Japanese semiconductor engineers were shocked to learn that other vendors had stopped burn-in tests. But instead of dropping the test to save cost, the Japanese soldiered on, proudly declaring their commitment to this extra step in quality control. The logic may have worked with quality-conscious Japanese system OEMs, but it made no sense to anyone whose job depended on pushing down the cost of their systems.

Historically speaking, by the 1980’s, Japan’s consumer electronics industry was well on its way to ditch the “cheap copycat” stigma that had plagued the nation’s reputation after World War II. Japanese semiconductor makers, who closely followed the invention of chip technologies in the United States, also by the mid-1980’s succeeded in sweeping the global market with DRAMs.

The Japanese electronics industry earned respect for the quality products the nation’s engineers had earnestly pursued. Meanwhile, the industry lost perspective on the cost that their products need to compete on the global market. They needed to heed the words of Mr. Miyagi, the wise Okinawan in the 1980’s film, “The Karate Kid.”

“Balance,” said Miyagi-sensei. “Balance.”

There’s nothing inherently virtuous about overspending on production equipment and multiplying manufacturing/testing processes in the worship of quality for its own sake. Sometimes, innovation and quality work hand-in-hand at lower cost. This is where Japan might heed the words of one Mr. Miyagi’s philosophical forbears, Henry David Thoreau, who said: “Simplify. Simplify.”


Years ago, long before the dawn of the DVD or Blu-ray formats, consumer video was strictly all-analog, from the very first broadcasts right up to the introduction of the LaserDisc. The 12-inch, double-sided LaserDisc looked like a giant CD, but the video was analog encoded on two single-sided aluminum discs layered in plastic. The discs that debuted in 1978 had analog audio soundtracks, but later discs featured stereo digital sound.

Millions of players were sold in the U.S., but LaserDisc was, even during the height of its popularity, a niche format that appealed mostly to videophiles. It had much greater success in Japan, and was used in 10 percent of all households. LaserDisc video quality was a big step up from VHS and Beta tapes. Pioneer's LaserDisc players, starting with the VP-1000 in 1980, dominated the market, but in 1981 RCA started a minor format war with its analog CED video discs (an LP-like grooved video disc), but the inferior system faded quickly.

Rental stores sprung up providing Hollywood movies in a disc format. I remember the first movie I ever saw on LaserDisc. It was "Escape from New York" with Kurt Russel—a John Carpenter film with Earnest Borgnine. That was before he married Goldie Hawn—Kurt, not Earnest.

When DVDs first appeared, I was skeptical of DVD's quality, and unhappy with the first DVDs' compression artifacts. The LaserDisc supporters gleefully pointed to poor DVD transfers, ridden with aliasing, blotching, and pixilation woes. LaserDiscs were 100 percent compression-free.

In addition, there were significant DVD compatibility issues, some discs wouldn't play in some players. Similar to many opinions on records versus CDs for music, there was a natural smoothness to the image, because it was analog, and over most televisions of that era there wasn't a radical change between a good LaserDisc and the first DVDs. Even the Criterion Collection, known for releasing exquisitely restored editions of classic films, didn't immediately abandon the Laserdisc format

However, it didn't take all that long for the DVD engineers to sort out the mastering problems, but in the early days it looked like we were going to have an analog vs. digital war on our hands. It didn't happen, but the LaserDisc true believers kept the faith long after DVD reigned supreme. Pioneer continued selling players well into the DVD age and ceased production in 2009.

During this early time of analog LaserDiscs, we were experimenting in the use of the video recordings as educational media. We produced video training sessions on LaserDisc and used them internally at IBM to train employees. A friend of mine at the Boulder IBM site, Phil Smith, developed an excellent plastic case that would hold the 12-inch LaserDisc (or two), along with a small instruction booklet and several floppy discs. This was a complete training package using the IBM PC and a LaserDisc player. I created courses on Software Testing and spent a lot of time in the television studio recording the material that was then copied to the LaserDisc.

And you all thought I had a face meant for radio. Well, maybe I do, but video killed the radio star. I don't have any of those old discs any more, nor a player to play them on, but I do have some video tapes of my early lessons. I sure had a lot more hair back then.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

U.S.S. Vulcan (AR-5)

At 4:30 PM, Saturday, February 15, 1969, Electronics Technician Third Class Mickey Cheatham arrived at the Army Terminal located just south down Hampton Blvd from the Naval Operations Base (N.O.B.) in Norfolk, Virginia. I had completed over a year of electronics training and was arriving for my first duty station aboard the U.S.S. Vulcan, AR-5.

The Vulcan was the first of its class – Vulcan class – a Navy Repair ship. Repair ships were part of a larger group of ships called by the generic term of “Tenders.” These support ships had evolved from original designs developed before World War I to provide provisions, fuel, and repair services to ships deployed around the world.

Moored at the Hampton Roads Army Terminal, Norfolk, VA., circa Mid-1950s with ships alongside.

By the time of the Second World War, fueling and provisions was handled by specialized supply ships, leaving Destroyer Tenders, Submarine Tenders, and Repair Ships the function of maintaining and repairing the fleet. The range of services available from these floating repair shops went from heavy-duty machine work and hull repair to sophisticated electronics maintenance and even fixing watch, clocks, and typewriters.

The Vulcan (AR-5) is the third U.S. Navy vessel to bear the name of the Roman god of fire, metalworking, and craftsmanship. Vulcan was launched on December 14, 1940 just about a year after keel was laid down in mid-December 1939 by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation at Camden, New Jersey. Mrs. James Forrestal, wife of the Undersecretary of the Navy, was the ship's sponsor.

Six months later, on June 16, 1941 USS Vulcan was commissioned with Lieutenant Commander P. G. Hale, USN, listed as the ship's first commanding officer. Captain R. W. Mathewson, the guest speaker for the commissioning ceremony designated the new repair ship and her crew to be the "craftsman, forger, and healer of wounded floating warriors of the Navy."

When I first joined the Navy, I chose a program called the “Advanced Electronics Enlistment.” I agreed to extend my four-year enlistment by two additional years, and the Navy agreed to send me to nearly two years of advanced electronics training. After the completion of boot camp, Basic Electricity and Electronics School, Electronic Technician “A” School, Electronic Technician (Radio) “C” School, and Electronic Instrument Calibration School (at Lowry Air Force Base, Denver, Colorado) plus a couple of long leaves to return home, I was finally arriving at my permanent duty station.

Underway near Philadelphia Navy Yard, 21 August 1941, two months after completion.

I had been trained at the Colorado school in the specialty of electronic test equipment calibration. Out of a Navy electronics school class of about 60, typically 2 are chosen to attend the Air Force training. One advantage of being a calibration specialist was your choice of duty stations. Most calibration labs were either at shore facilities or on Tenders that rarely put to sea. Although ships like the Vulcan were designed to travel with the fleet, in peace time they usually were tied to the pier and ships in need of repair and maintenance would be docked along side for two to six weeks of repair “availability.”

As a Calibration Technician, duty on such a ship was considered “sea duty,” yet only went on short cruises about twice a year. So it was really more like “shore duty.”

The Navy would chose candidates for Calibration school based on grades in “A” school. I graduated top in my class (like most Calibration Technicians) and was given the opportunity to attend the special school in the Rocky Mountain West.

After her shakedown cruise, Vulcan served as repair ship in Hvalfjordur, Iceland, arriving there in September 1941. At this time, British and American destroyers were screening merchant convoys, representing a vital sea link between North America and war-ravaged Europe. Weeks before Pearl Harbor and our entry into World War II, American destroyers were attacked by German U-boats while on patrol. On October 17, USS Kearny (DD-432) was torpedoed, suffering thirty-three casualties. Returning to the American anchorage under her own power, Kearny was positioned alongside Vulcan for repairs. Two weeks later, on October 31, USS Reuben James (DD-245) was sunk by a Nazi marauder. Eventually, some of the wounded from both of the destroyers were cared for in Vulcan's sickbay.

By Christmas 1941, Kearny was ready to return to the United States for further work. In recognition of the fine job performed by Vulcan's crew, Admiral E. J. King sent a letter saying, "the successful accomplishment of this feat of repairs merits the sincere appreciation of all, and is an inspiration to those in the Naval service ashore who are building and repairing units of the fleet."

Since it was the weekend, I was assigned a space in the berthing area and spent the rest of the weekend aboard. Berthing on most Navy ships for enlisted are large areas filled with bunks, usually stacked two to five high. I was assigned a bunk on the ground level (or “deck” as the Navy referred to it.) The bunk lifted up and, underneath the mattress, was my locker or storage area for all my gear. It wasn’t a five-star hotel by any means.

Underway near Norfolk Navy Yard, 10 June 1942, wearing pattern camouflage.

The berthing area was in the aft part of the ship and further aft was the “head” area, Navy talk for the bathroom. There were rows of steel sinks with spring loaded hot and cold faucets. That assured that no water was wasted as fresh water on a ship at sea is produced by the “evaps” which boiled away the salt to produce pure water. There was always a limited supply, especially on a ship that was over twenty years old when I arrived.

Next to the sink area were rows of toilets. They used salt water, so it didn’t matter how often you flushed. However, unlike a public restroom, these toilets were not in individual stalls. They were lined up like soldiers at parade rest and there was zero privacy. So you could have a spirited conversation with eye contact while sitting on the toilet. There were also urinals since this was before women were deployed on war ships. The head was definitely the “men’s room.”

Vulcan remained in Iceland until April 1942. She left on the 26th and one of her escorts was Kearny. Arriving in Boston on May 2, Kearny blinked a grateful message to Vulcan: "Thanks for all you did." Vulcan's brief dry-dock period was interrupted in late May. The destroyer-tender USS Prairie (AD-15), then berthed in Argentia, Newfoundland, had suffered extensive damage when a fire from an alongside ship spread to the tender. As a result, Vulcan was called upon to relieve Prairie. Vulcan served as repair ship in Argentia until November 14. Commissioned in August 1940, Prairie is today based in San Diego and is the only active ship in the Navy older than Vulcan.

In mid-November, Vulcan returned to Hvaljordur and relieved USS Melville (AD-2), a Destroyer Tender, from her repair assignment. On April 6, 1943 Vulcan left Iceland for Hampton Roads, but set a course via Londonderry, Northern Ireland, because of the German submarine danger.

Just forward of the berthing area was a large sheet metal shop. I was awoken early Sunday morning to the sound of the sixteen-foot “brake.” That’s a machine used to bend sheet metal. It had a horizontal jaw about sixteen feet long that clamped the metal and then a large plate would move up bending the metal along the clamp edge. The clamp was hydraulically powered and closed with a big thump. Someone was working on the weekend, and I arose to the serenade of steel clamping.

At anchor in the Mare Island Channel, circa 1942

I headed forward, through the sheet metal shop and into a large central area of the ship. This was the main machine shop. It was open for three stories above and over 100 feet long. In this area machinists would manufacture and repair large parts. There was a turret lathe that had a jaw that could hold a cylinder over six feet across. There was also a long shaper with a 24-foot bed to plane long pieces of metal.

Nearby was a forge for casting metal and above a fine machine shop that could manufacture gears for clocks and other precision instruments. There was nothing too big or too small for the Vulcan to repair or replace. I later learned that sometimes we would have a ship alongside in a floating dry dock, cut the ship in two, and then use one of our two cranes to remove a motor or engine as big as a locomotive and replace it if necessary. Then Vulcan crew would weld the ship back together.

The first few weeks I was on board Vulcan we had the Palm Beach alongside. She was the sister ship of the USS Pueblo which had been captured by the North Koreans. We were adding armor and armament to the Palm. Typical military closing the barn door after the horses had escaped. But that kind of heavy work was part of our mission.

I finally arrived at the galley, which was in the middle of breakfast service. With hundreds of sailors on board, there was quite a selection from hot or cold cereal to eggs, meat, and potatoes, to fresh fruit and bakery goods. You could get eggs cooked to order or just select some items off the steam table. There was juice and milk and plenty of coffee. In those days you could smoke at your table, although the “smoking lamp” would be out if we were loading fuel or explosives.

Following an outfitting period in Norfolk, Vulcan arrived in French Algeria on June 27, 1943. First based in the capital city of Algiers, Vulcan supported the Sicilian invasion as head of Task Force 87 Train, a collection of twelve auxiliary vessels. On August 4, a Vulcan rescue and assistance team came to the aid of HMS Arrow, a British ammunition ship that had caught fire in the harbor. Three Vulcan sailors received Navy and Marine Corps Medals for their heroic efforts. During one German air raid on the port, Vulcan gunners were credited with downing a Junker-88 dive-bomber.

In October 1943, Vulcan sailed west for Oran and berthed in nearby Mers-el-Kebir, the principal French naval facility. While there, Vulcan supported the Sardinian, Corsican, Anzio, and southern France invasions. As Admiral H. D. Hewitt's flagship (Commander, North African Waters), Vulcan hosted Generals Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, and Clark.

On Monday I reported to my division, R-4, Electronics and Instrument repair. I was assigned to department 67B, Electronic Calibration. There was the Electronics Repair Shop, 67A, and the other departments in our division serviced watches and clocks as well as typewriters. Later we added a mechanical calibration lab that was literally a room hoisted onto the top deck and welded in place. Unlike the steel construction of the ship, this added space was all aluminum. The technicians in that lab were part of the R-5 division if my memory serves me.

Underway, near Norfolk Navy Yard, 10 January 1945

There were five repair divisions on board, R-1 to R-5. Some where all machinists shaping and repairing metal while some were enginemen, rebuilding and repairing motors. There was a shop to fix electric motors and another to fix boilers and steam lines. The Vulcan had pattern makers who could create intricate wooden models used to build molds that were used to cast new parts, and there really wasn’t any problem a ship could encounter in peace or war that the Vulcan couldn’t fix.

I had a friend that was a pattern maker and sometimes I’d call him a carpenter. He’d retaliate by calling me an electrician. In fact, pattern makers were a skill above cabinetmaker. No one could work so precisely with wood. There were a lot of very skilled crafts on board the Vulcan and I met a lot of great and talented guys during my time on board.

In addition we had a usual ships company of seamen and deck hands, radar and radio operators, quartermasters who navigated the ship, cooks and bakers and laundry personnel as well as yeoman who performed clerk functions for the 1200 sailors aboard. We had a ships laundry, a ships store, and even a soda fountain that the Navy called a “geedunk” for reasons that were never clear to me.

Vulcan left Algeria in November 1944. After repairs and outfitting, Vulcan departed Norfolk in mid-January of 1945. Arriving off Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on February 9, Vulcan later shifted to the Florida Island and Tulagi Island area (fifteen miles north of Guadalcanal) for repair duty. After a brief stay in Noumea, New Caledonia, Vulcan transferred to Ulithi Atoll, Service Squadron TEN's famous "Overhaul Center of the Pacific." While at Ulithi, Vulcan workers were dispatched to anchored ships in need of maintenance and received USS Biloxi (CL-80) and USS Hinsdale (APA-120) alongside to repair damage suffered from kamikaze attacks.

In May 1945, Vulcan moved to Leyte Gulf, Philippines, where she received USS Randolph (CV-15), USS New Mexico (BB-40), USS Block Island II (CVE-106), and USS Rocky Mount (AGC-3) for alongside repairs.

I soon met my shipmates, many of whom I spent the next four years with. All the men in the Calibration Lab had the same training at Lowry AFB that I had. The one exception was an Electrician who calibrated the meters that were submitted to us. We had a special test board that could provide voltage, current, and all the other signals that these on-board meters would measure. They were removed from the control panels on ships along side and sent to us to test and adjust. We’d add a sticker indicating that they had been calibrated and the Navy had a schedule for all these instruments stating how often they needed to be serviced.

The guy that calibrated the meters was Eddie Williams. He used to do a perfect imitation of George Carlin as the "Hippy Dippy Weather Man." That was Carlin before he got so political. Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end.

Moored pierside, NOB Norfolk, VA., with two destroyers alongside to port, circa early 1950s. Also visible in this photo are USS Randall (APA-224) moored at Pier 4, a heavy cruiser astern of USS Vulcan and in the far distance USS Hornet CVA-12).

The calibration lab had very precisely controlled environment, both the temperature and humidity, as well as special voltage regulation to assure good power. This was the age of vacuum tube equipment, so the lab had an air conditioner about the size of a Volkswagen that kept us all cool, even when cruising the tropics. We used to put cans of soda into the vents and they were kept as cool as a refrigerator thanks to the constant stream of conditioned air.

One of the characteristics we would test and adjust was “frequency.” Having a stable source of a given frequency to calibrate radios and other gear was essential. The Navy built precision oscillators that would maintain a constant frequency for these adjustments. They were battery powered so they never stopped. We would calibrate these instruments using sophisticated equipment and chart recorders. Amongst the equipment was a mechanical clock that read out like an automobile odometer. Now it kept perfect time. That is, it ran at exactly 10 MHz and divided that frequency down to exactly one cycle per second. However, keeping good time and having the correct time are two different things.

If the clock was not set correctly in the first place, then the time would not be perfect. We just used it to calibrate oscillators, so the exact time was not important. I used to set it to my Timex. When Captains or Admirals would tour the lab, they would often set their wristwatches to our digital clock since it looked so fancy and impressive. I think they were just setting their Bulova Accutrons to my $10 Timex!!

Following Japan's-surrender, Vulcan steamed to Buckner Bay, Okinawa. She not only offered her wide array of repair services, but also on 28 September, led seventeen merchant ships from the harbor to avoid damage from an approaching typhoon.

Vulcan served on occupation duty in Japan from October 1945 until March 1946. After spending a few days in Pearl Harbor, Vulcan transited the Panama Canal and returned to the United States.

At first I lived aboard the ship. We had four-section duty. That meant that every four days you had to remain on board the ship, perform cleaning details, and stand watches. The other three days was like a regular job. After you finished work at 5:00 PM, you were free to leave the ship and return the next morning.

At one point, for reasons I don’t recall, Woody and I started working a second shift. I think we were on a special assignment and needed to be in the lab alone to finish the work. So we would start work when the regular crew quit. We had a couple of air mattresses to sleep on. (Woody insisted that the plural of mattress was mattri.) We could have slept in the berthing area, but there were no alarm clocks on a ship, and the lights went on at 6:00 AM and revile was sounded. You weren’t allowed to “sleep in.” So Woody and I would sleep on the benches in the lab and only get up when the day crew arrived around 8:00. Then we’d head for the beach and sleep in our cars or on the sand or just lounge around off ship until we went to work at 5:00 PM.

After several months, I joined up with Woody and another roommate and we rented a house in Norfolk. I lived in that house for nearly four years and about six different roommates as some would leave and others would move in. Other than the days you had duty or the rare cruises, it was like a 9 to 5 job, except it started at 7:00 AM and we wore funny clothes.

Newport, Rhode Island served as Vulcan's homeport for about eight years until the tender was transferred to Norfolk in February 1954. While in Newport, Vulcan's crew was actively involved with the civilian community and the ship's athletic teams were always among the city's best.

In late 1962, Vulcan participated in the Cuban Quarantine operation by providing repair services to the ships manning the naval blockade (November 3-29).

In October 1963, on her way home following the completion of a training cruise, Vulcan rescued a 41-ft. yawl named " Northern Light, " carrying three crewmen. Standing by the stricken craft through the night, Vulcan towed the yawl to Little Creek the next morning.

Then, in April of 1970, president Richard M. Nixon nominated Admiral Elmo Zumwalt to be Chief of Naval Operations. Zumwalt quickly moved to eliminate all the “mickey mouse” and “chicken sh*t” rules that had proliferated the modern Navy. He allowed beards, standardized the rules for length of hair, and allowed sailors like us to wear our dungarees home. Before that we would have to dress in our blues or dress whites to commute to the ship, then change to our work clothes called dungarees, and at quitting time, reverse the process. He allowed us to travel home in dungarees, and even stop to get gas or groceries. That really made things a lot more convenient.

The house we rented was originally rented by our friend, Roy Parker. Roy was married. He had originally served three or four years in the Navy as a Signalman. He got out and played guitar in bands. He was one of the better guitarists I’ve ever met. I have a lot of his music recorded, but they are what I call “ambient recordings.” That means I set up the recorder somewhere in the room, and just ran it. So it is not mixed well.

In his second tour with the Navy, he had trained as an Electronics Technician and worked in the Electronics Repair department. He had a Hammond B-3 and taught his wife to play bass. When I showed up at his house, he would let me play the Hammond and he went back to the guitar playing my Gibson. He was a Jimi Hendrix fan and did an excellent “Little Wing.” We had a lot of fun jamming with him. My friend, David Woodman (Woody) would play guitar along with Roy, and all we were missing was drums.

These patches were worn on the shoulder of a Vulcan sailor's uniform.

After Roy got out of the Navy and moved on, Woody and I rented the house on 8240 McCloy Rd. that was Roy and Marilyn’s. The rent was only $100 a month and we all chipped in for utilities and food. The owner was some lady down in Florida and she had a friend that managed the rental and lived in Virginia Beach. At first she was a little apprehensive to rent to Woody and me, but she did it and was never sorry.

We always had a third roommate, although he wasn’t on the lease. At first it was Woody and Dan McDonald or “Mac.” We soon found another lead guitarist in Pete Roderiguiz and had a number of drummers playing with us over the years. I bought a Magnavox Organ to provide keyboards and later bought a Vox Jaguar. I had my Gibson Firebird and Woody played a Gretsch semiaccoustic and a Hagstrom bass.

Another shipmate, Bob Peyre-Ferry, was an excellent trumpet player. We also had a singer, but I just can't remember his name. He was the best singer I ever played with and we had a lot of fun playing what we called "beach music," as in "Virginia Beach." It was sort of white soul, although our drummer was black.

I had a Fender Deluxe Reverb and Woody had a Fender Showman with a custom cabinet with two-fifteen inchers. Pete played a Fender strat. Those were fun times and plenty of buddies from the ship would come over for parties. When Mac got out,we added Fred Gardner as a roommate. He was an Electrician who had taken Eddie William's place in the Cal Lab.

After Woody transferred to Orlando and Fred got out of the Navy, I lived with Mike Bott and Mark Foreman.

Along with the rest of the Vulcan-class repair ships and their contemporaries, the Dixie-class destroyer tenders and Fulton-class submarine tenders, had their original battery of 5" guns removed in the 1970s and replaced by a minimal 20-mm armament.

Finally, when I got out of the Navy, I painted the entire house and turned it back to the realtor. She was very happy with us, primarily because we always paid the rent on time and never called her to fix anything. That’s good, because if she had come by and saw the living room filled with motorcycles, she might not have like us so much.

Vulcan again performed rescue duties in March 1964 when she came to the aid of USS Antares (AKS-33) and helped extinguish an uncontrolled fire that was raging in the supply ship's No. 3 hold. In late 1964, Vulcan participated in NATO exercise "Teamwork" and then proceeded to take part in "Steel Spike I," the largest amphibious exercise since the end of World War II.

In May 1965, Vulcan served as flagship for a mobile logistic support group and provided repair support to units of the fleet engaged in the Dominican Republic intervention. President Johnson eventually ordered 30,000 U.S. troops to maintain order in the Caribbean nation.

Among the many ships serviced in 1967 was USS Liberty (AGTR-5), which was later accidentally attacked by Israeli planes and gunboats during the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although Vulcan remained in Norfolk during the Vietnam years, she repaired many vessels that were transferred for duty with the Pacific Fleet.

Although the Vulcan remained a nearly permanent fixture in Norfolk, about twice a year we’d go for a two to four-week cruise. We had to maintain sea-readiness and keep the crew trained, so these periodic cruises were required. When we were at sea, the Calibration Lab was shut down. So it was a pleasure cruise for us.

I don’t recall all our ports of call. I remember the first cruise I was on was to Bermuda. We went to Puerto Rico a couple of times, Jamaica also a couple. We took one cruise up to Nova Scotia and several trips to Ft. Lauderdale, either on the way to the Caribbean, or just to turn around and return.

Vulcan on station in Guantanamo Bay or GTMO.

A common destination was Cuba. We’d visit Guantanamo Bay and practice war games. GTMO wasn’t much of a liberty port since the only women were the wives of the sailors stationed there. We did have a good time snorkeling and swimming in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean.

One time I was snorkeling and I surfaced and noticed that every single swimmer was out of the water. They were all standing on a small concrete pier as crowded as a New York subway. I realized I was the only one in the water and swam as fast as I’ve ever swum to that pier and literally jumped out of the water.

I was told someone had seen a Barracuda. I don’t know if those are dangerous or not, but apparently everyone thought so. That was the closest call I ever had swimming in the ocean other than the time I got into some very shallow water on a coral reef. I tried to turn around and was rubbing the coral, which is like sandpaper only worse. I sort of “back-pedaled” out of shallow area with only a few scrapes. However, later, those scratches itched like the dickens.

In late 1975, Vulcan paid a working visit to Cartagena, Colombia, where she tended three ex-U.S. Navy destroyers of that nation's navy. Not only did Vulcan repair the vessels, but her crew also provided valuable training to their Colombian counterparts.

A comprehensive overhaul lasting nine months was completed in 1976. Gone were the ship's four five-inch guns. In 1977, while returning from underway training, Vulcan was called upon to assist a Portuguese destroyer named Coutinho. Alongside, Vulcan provided emergency boiler feedwater to the Coutinho.

GTMO was a training base. From that port we’d go out to sea and play war games, although they were pretty serious. We’d have referees or judges or whatever you would call them on board and we’d go through practice drills to measure our readiness.

Note the wooden decks. Very unique and "old school."

My general quarters station was “Aft Auxiliary Transmitter Room Two.” We had a radio room filled with communications gear just aft of the bridge. My duty station was a little room near the fantail that had one transmitter. The idea was that, if the main radio room was destroyed, then the aft transmitter would be back-up. There were three or four of us stationed there. My job was to repair the equipment if needed. There was a radioman to operate the radio and a couple of others for communications with CIC, the Combat Information Center. The “talker” used voice-operated phones.

If you’ve seen an old WWII movie, these phones were a microphone on a harness in front of the face and a pair of earphones. The talker would press a button on the microphone and the whole thing worked by the electricity generated in the carbon powder phones; very reliable as long as the wire to the bridge was in tact.

Vulcan preparing to refuel at sea. Note the five-inch gun turet.

We would go back to the room when “general quarters, man your battle stations” was sounded on the P.A. We’d button the top button on our shirt and stuff our pant cuffs into our socks. That was to protect us from nuclear fallout. I’m not sure just how effective that would be!

What would usually happen during the war games is that a referee would come back and enter our space. He’d tell us we were just hit by a shell and we were all dead. So we could pull our pants out of our socks and “smoke ‘em if we got ‘em.” Being dead was the best part of a war game.

Since our talker was dead, obviously he couldn’t answer the regular call from CIC. So, pretty soon they’d send back a damage control party to check on us. There wasn’t much equipment in that little room, but one item was a “shorting bar.” That’s a long hook made of copper connected to a handle made of some kind of insulator. There was a heavy copper strap that was about three feet long ending in a big clip.

Vulcan docked at the pier in Puerto Rico.

This hook was used to discharge the power supply capacitors in the transmitter if you were going to work on it. Even after you shut off power, these capacitors could store a pretty powerful shock, so the procedure was to connect the hook to ground and then touch the tops of all the caps to discharge them. This was really important in powerful equipment like a radar transmitter, but a radio could store a pretty good charge too.

We were trained to use the hook, without connecting the ground, to pull a sailor off a hot wire. If someone was in contact with high voltage, and you touched them, you’d get shocked too. So you were suppose to use the hook to safely clear the wire or just yank the guy off the juice. We were also trained on cleaning up electronic tubes with radioactive materials too. We were definitely the best-trained Navy in the world.

A popular product produced on the Vulcan were ships plaques. The molds were hand carved and metal disks were cast.

Anyway, getting back to the war games, after a while a repair party would be sent out to check on our condition. Now the referee would usually draw a circle in the floor – or as we called it in the Navy: the deck – to simulate a hole blown in it. He’d also hang a cable from the ceiling to act as a hot wire.

When the party arrived, the lights would all be out, but they had battle lamps, which are like flash lights. They had to move the cable using the hook I described and not step in the hole. Otherwise they were dead too. Often the referee would have one of us lie on a cable and wiggle like we were being shocked. The party had to jerk the guy off the cable without touching him and administer mouth-to-mouth – simulated.

I remember one time this big guy yanked this sailor off the cable so hard he flew against the wall – only, in the Navy, we called them “bulkheads.”

The Electronics Calibration logo was hand carved into the floor of the Calibration Lab.

Part of the exercise always included an abandon ship drill. Everyone would go to their lifeboats with their floatation gear on. The crew in Aft Transmitter Room didn’t have to do that. That’s because we were supposed to wait for the Captain. He would be the last to leave the ship. His last duty was to come to our room and send the final message listing all the equipment and secret documents that had been destroyed before departing. After the captain sent that message, I was supposed to destroy the transmitter so it wouldn’t fall into enemy hands.

These transmitters were built like a file cabinet. Each draw opened up so you could work on the components. They were made of heavy steel and I had a big axe that I was supposed to finish off the transmitter with, and then run to the Captain’s boat and depart. So the Captain was not the last person to depart the abandoned ship … I WAS!!!

Now I’m a loyal sailor as gung-ho as anybody, but I’m glad I didn’t have to ever do that for real. The idea of leaving the ship AFTER the Captain and only after I’d wrecked the gear was not really very appealing to me.

Navy Times, July 4, 1983

USS VULCAN — Commissioned only months before the United States was thrust into World War II, the repair ship recently celebrated her 42nd anniversary.

The ship has had a long and storied career, participating in World War II and the quarantine of Cuba, as well as many exercise and routine repair tasks. She earned a battle star in support of the invasion of southern France in late summer of 1944.

And in November 1978, she became the first Navy vessel since hospital ship Sanctuary to have women officers and enlisted personnel assigned as members of the ship's company.

Vulcan recently completed an extensive overhaul and was back to performing new worthy events. Following completion of a five-week post-overhaul refresher training visit to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the ship came across a small boat in distress. The boat had been without power for three days.

Chief Machinist's Mate Lee Plummer and Engineman Second Michael Fink discovered a worn flange coupling between the engine and propeller shaft. The engine was American-made, and a replacement part was quickly located by Plummer.

Soon the boat was on its way again, with the some added provisions from the crew.

I remember one cruise down to Florida that we encountered bad weather off of Georgia. It was not a problem for us. We were a pretty big ship.

Class & type: Vulcan-class repair ship
Displacement: 12,911 long tons (13,118 t)
Length: 530 ft (160 m) Beam: 73 ft 4 in (22.35 m)
Draft: 19 ft (5.8 m) Speed: 19.2 knots (35.6 km/h; 22.1 mph)
Complement: 1,297
• 4 × 5 in (130 mm) guns
• 4 × .50 caliber machine guns

With nearly 1,000 sailors aboard, we were making about ten knots into the heavy weather. We came upon a small sailing vessel struggling with the high seas. We signaled them both by radio and light and eventually got a response. They said they were OK. However, shortly after that encounter, we turned and went back and rescued the crew as the little boat was in trouble.

We rode bad seas pretty well. Since the Calibration Lab was air-conditioned and about mid-ships, we rocked and rolled less than most aboard and in these high seas. The mess deck was usually deserted as most were settling for saltine crackers. I love the swaying of the ship and always had a good appetite.

Vulcan at anchor in Kingston Harbor. Shot from the "liberty gig" on the way to shore.

After I got out of the Navy I used to go fishing in small boats off the coast of Washington State and I remember a trip where my dad and the other fisherman were all sick. Only the captain, his wife and myself enjoyed the fish we’d caught. One secret is to stay on deck and breathe the fresh air. Avoid the inside and diesel fumes. Just a few years ago Linda and I were on a fishing boat in Hawaii and again we were about the only ones not sick. I guess I just was born with “sea legs.”

When we’d arrive in Ft. Lauderdale, a bunch of us would usually rent a motel room for the weekend and have a good time of it. I remember one time Woody and I went to a bar called the “Bachelors Three.” that was owned by Joe Namath and a couple of other football players. The pretty waitress brought our drinks and said she’s start a tab.

We had several drinks and were ready to leave, but our waitress was nowhere to be found. After waiting over ten minutes we decided we would just go. We walked out and she chased us down in the parking lot. Now we were so embarrassed we gave her a twenty and told her to keep the change. I think our bill was only $10, so she got a good tip. (Drinks weren’t as expensive back then. I suspect a bar drink was probably $1.50. I used to drink “Rusty Nails,” which is Scotch and Drambuie.)

Navy Times, July 18, 1983

Vulcan, the second oldest ship on active duty in the Navy, recently celebrated her 42nd birthday and unveiled the ship's new logo, which shows a female sailor and the god Vulcan at an anvil.

Illustrator Draftsmen Third Alexander Bostic and Erick Murray made the design after the ship's skipper, Capt. James E. McConville came up with the idea. Seaman Sandra Kendall of the ships 1st division, was the model.

A highlight of the three-day birthday celebration at Norfolk was a visit by Lucius (Ken) Kennedy, a retired CPO who served aboard Vulcan in 1941-42 and had not been back since.

The repair ship has about 100 women among the crew of 700 and helped initiate the Women in Navy Ships (WINS) program in November 1978.

By a matter of hours, Vulcan became the first non-hospital ship in the Navy to receive women officers on November 1, 1978. The first contingents of enlisted women arrived in December 1978 and January 1979. Vulcan's first point-to-point cruise with women took place in February 1979, with a trip to Earle, New Jersey. In September 1979, Vulcan left Norfolk for the Navy's first Mediterranean cruise with a mixed crew. A pioneer in the Women in Navy Ships (WINS) program, female sailors now make up one-seventh of the crew.

The new ship's plaque after the Vulcan became the first "man of war" to have female crew.

Besides music (and we played a lot of music on McCloy road, some of it live and some of it recorded), our gang was into motorcycles. Most everyone we knew had one. Woody found a nice Harley chopper that he bought. It was a big 74 ci Harley with extended fork.

I was about to extend my enlistment and receive a bonus. I had signed a contract with the Navy that if they gave me this extra schooling, I’d extend to six years. At the end of a four-year service I had to sign up for two more. The good news was that I got a bonus for reenlisting. Electronic Technicians were in short supply and there was a large bonus for re-upping … even if you had already agreed to do it. I don’t recall the exact amount, but it was in the neighborhood of $5,000. Now realize that, back then, a brand new car cost less than that. So it was sort of like getting $20,000 to $30,000 in today’s money. Woody had been in about six months longer than me, so he got his bonus before me. He agreed to loan me $500 and I found a nice 1965 Triumph 650 that I bought. I paid him back a few months later when I got my bonus.

I remember one of our buddies that spotted a used Harley Sportster in the classifieds. We all drove down to the address, but the owner was still at work. We waited until he got home, took one look at the bike, and said, “We’ll take it.” About that time another guy showed up and said he’d pay an extra $200 if the owner would sell it to him. The owner said, “No, he’d already made a deal with us.” Glad he had some integrity.

We all started working on our bikes, customizing them and painting and adding custom parts. If the landlord had come by, she might not have appreciated seeing the living room full of motorcycle half assembled. We used to hang gas tanks on the clothesline in back and spray paint them. We ended up customizing a lot of bikes.

My roommate, Fred Gardner, traded in his Yamaha 350 for a big Harley dresser with windshield, saddlebags, floorboards, and a giant seat. We used to ride down to Nags Head near Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk. You may have heard of Kitty Hawk. A couple of bicycle mechanics made it famous a few years before us.

Vulcan was the first US warship in which women were deployed. She left Norfolk Virginia in September 1979 for the Navy's first Med deployment with a mixed crew, and is seen here at Barcelona, Spain, 23 December 1979; at the time, the presence of women aboard a warship was odd enough to attract the attention of the news media.

My other passion was camping. I had a buddy from Texas, Mike Desnoyer. He bought a nice new Ford pickup and we’d take it camping and had a great time in the woods. Once we made squirrel stew out of a fresh road kill and drank a lot of beer in those woods. I would lie under the stars and plan what I’d do once I got out of the Navy. I was going to go back to Colorado, get a bicycle and a canoe, and spend my time in the mountains fishing and camping.

I had bought a 1973 Dodge Maxi-van and we would all drive up to Shenandoah National park and camp. You could “rent” camping gear from the Navy, only there was no charge. We would get these nice tents made by Winchester. On one trip a bear attacked our camping site and tore up one of the tents. I took it back to the Navy place and explained what had happened.

They said that they got a good price for the tents since they bought in bulk and charged me $20 for the lost tent. I think it must have been worth $100 or more. So, on our next trip, when we got back, I told them another bear attack had occurred and here was my $20 for the tent. Now I had a tent. I’m not sure if that was stealing or not. I was young and not as moral as I am today. Sorry USN, but you did get reimbursed.

A good friend and camping buddies, Joe Eden and his wife Pat, rented a very nice house a few blocks from our house. Best of all, his house had a two car garage. Soon we were painting the motorcycles inside his garage. We had a good time at Joe and Pat’s, and at other friends who lived on the beach. We were a very close group that spent all our time together just enjoying the company and the freedom that only comes to twenty-somethings at the beginning of their lives before families and responsibility. It was a special and magical time and I remain very close to my Navy friends to this day.

I had originally reported to the Vulcan as a Third Class Petty Office or E-4. In the Navy promotions were based primarily on knowledge in your rate – what you did – your skills. You had to complete some correspondence courses and take an exam for promotion. The Navy used the results of the exam in a formula that included years in the Navy, time in rate, awards and medals and your annual performance scores. But most important was your score on the promotion exams and whether the Navy needed the higher rating. Electronic Technicians were in such demand that anyone that made a minimum score on the exams and had adequate time in rate was promoted.

In a normal, four-year career, you would make it to Second Class or E-5. Since almost all the ETs were in for six years, most of us made First Class or E-6 before our time was over. I think I was promoted shortly after reenlisting. So I got out of the Navy as a First Class Electronics Technician. I had three stripes on my arm representing “First Class” with a little atom indicating I was an “ET.” I had a single stripe on my sleeve for my first four years of service. I had two medals. The first was the “National Defense” award for volunteering during a time of war and a “Good Conduct” medal for never being caught doing anything wrong. I figured you got a medal every four years, so if I stayed in for twenty, I’d probably have five.

I’m just kidding. I was never in combat and that’s really where you earn your medals. I loaned mine to a friend of my son to wear with a Halloween costume about twenty-five years ago and never got them back. Doesn’t matter. This was the height of the Vietnam War, and I feel lucky I wasn’t directly involved. I could have ended up there, although most Navy were off shore in the relative safety of a ship at sea. I did have shipmates who had been in the middle of the conflict. Some were on small boats that cruised the rivers in Vietnam and got shot at plenty. The First Class who was in charge of the ET shop had been with a group of Seals that went on patrol in the jungle. His job was to maintain their radio. He had some hairy stories to tell, but I was pretty glad that I didn’t have any combat episodes to relate. It’s no fun when some enemy is trying to kill you, and I have great respect for those that served in the war. My little service was more like a regular job that was at an office that just happened to be painted gray and floated on the water.

Moored at pier 9, Naval Station, Norfolk, 29 June 1992. Vulcan had returned to Norfolk following deployment in the Persian Gulf area during "Operation Desert Storm". Astern of Vulcan lies the amphibious transport dock USS Nashville (LPD-13) while on the opposite side of the pier across from Vulcan is an Iwo Jima-class (LPH) Amphibious Assault Ship (Helicopter).

My final weekend we had a three-day party at a house on the beach. I had a case of steaks I got from the ship’s cook in payment for some lights I had built for him. So we spent the entire weekend celebrating and partying and eating steaks. Somebody came by with a ski boat and took us water skiing just off the beach. At one point the cops showed up because a nearby parent thought his underage daughter was at our party. Everyone told the cops it was my party, but I said I didn’t know anything about it. They left, and – fortunately – the cops never came back. I never saw an underage girl, but who knows. The party was outdoors on the beach, and there were people walking in off the street. I have no idea who all was there!

In September 1980, Vulcan deployed to the North Atlantic to participate in NATO exercise " Teamwork 80 " which included ships from the United States, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and West Germany. Vulcan completed an extensive overhaul of thirteen months in mid-February 1983. Captain J. E. McConville, the ship's thirty-fourth commanding officer, guided Vulcan to a successful completion of the difficult overhaul and subsequent refresher training. In May 1983, while en route to Florida from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Vulcan assisted a Haitian refugee boat, the "Rose Carida," adrift without power for three days.

Port visits to St. John's, New Brunswick and Earle, N.J., were made in the first half of 1984. On October 1, Vulcan left for Diego Garcia, where she is scheduled to relieve USS Yosemite, another World War II-era vessel. Vulcan resumed her Norfolk duties in mid-1985. She was decommissioned in 1991.

Finally my six years with the Navy were up. I had checked into a transfer to true shore duty once I had three years on the Vulcan, but the only duty available was New London, Connecticut, and I would have to extend my enlistment another year. So I stayed with the Vulcan to the very end of my time.

I got an early out, about three months early, to attend college in Montana, but I never enrolled. The last few weeks were pretty intense with celebrations held at our house and at friends out on Willoughby Spit, a narrow strip of land and beach. We would frequent many of the watering holes along Ocean View Avenue from the amusement park to the Jolly Roger.

Once Woody and I were in a bar somewhere along Ocean View and Woody told me that the girl at the bar with some guy was married, and not to the guy she was with. I said so what, happens all the time with the husband at sea. Woody said that it was special because the husband had just walked in the door and he had a gun. We made a quick retreat to the head, but no shots rang out, so we soon returned to our beer.

One of our favorite watering holes was a place called “Brads.” They had pretty waitresses, good service, and a juke box. You could only get beer and wine in a bar in Norfolk, no hard liquor. Woody and I would get off work, and then lay down for a couple of hours nap before hitting the bars at around 9 or 10. We’d drink a few beers and end up closing the place at midnight – early bar closing in Norfolk. Then we’d hit the Waffle House for steak and eggs and be in bed by 1 or 2.

The next day we were bright eyed while others who had spent the night in the bars were still pretty wasted. A man has to know his limitations, and Woody and I had a pretty good system down. I knew a few shipmates that had serious problems with alcohol. Fortunately, we kept a balance of work / life. We rode motorcycles and you had to keep a fairly clear head to keep that head connected to your shoulders.

The USS Vulcan was the first of a class of repair ships called the Vulcan Class. The Vulcans were modern purpose-build repair ships completed in 1941-1944. They were equipped with booms of up to 20 ton capacity, allowing them to do heavy repair work. Some of these units were still in commission at the time of the Gulf War of 1991. The Vulcan, AR-5, outlasted the Ajax, AR-6, decommissioned in 1989; the Hector, AR-7, also decommissioned in 1989; and the Jason, AR-8, decommissioned in 1995. The Jason had been refit and designated as a heavy-hull repair ship, ARH-8.

I remember my final celebration with just a few very close friends. We spent the night in Virginia Beach partying. After I got out of the Navy, I stuck around for a week or so to finish cleaning up and painting the house before I loaded up my yellow van and headed west. The day after the final party saw me headed for civilian life.

I had purchased the Dodge van in order to haul my motorcycle home. I then sold the motorcycle to pay for the van! I also sold my Gibson Firebird to have cash for the trip home. That’s the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. I sold it for $700. I had only paid $300 for it originally, but it was ten years old by then and worth a lot more. I also sold some guitar amps and both of my organs. The guy who bought the organs never paid me. Oh well, that’s life.

I loaded up my van – it was empty except for the two seats in front, and headed west. It took me about four days to make it to Montana. I picked up my brother in Billings and headed for Lewistown. I spent a few days there before heading to Spokane, Washington where my parents lived.

That was the end of my Navy career. I had enlisted on the “90-day delayed enlistment” and got out about three months early on a college discharge. So I had a full six years and received my Honorable Discharge on my last day aboard ship. I had grown a beard, which was allowed by the new “Zumwalt” rules. I proceeded to shave off the beard leaving only a mustache. That was May of 1973. I have not shaved that mustache since. I’ve had a few beards and a fu manchu mustache or at least a cowboy version of that, and even a Van Dyke. These day’s I’m modeling the Frank Zappa look. I’ve even returned to the black horn rim glasses I wore in high school for that Bill Halley face. For several years during and after the Navy I was into “plastic rimmed aviation glasses.”

Under tow in Hampton Roads (Norfolk, VA. is in the background), 19 December 2006, while being moved from the James River National Defense Reserve Fleet to the breakers yard, Bay Bridge Enterprises LLC, Chesapeake, VA. for scrapping.

As soon as I got out of the Navy, I grew my hair long. These days, I try to keep what little hair I have left down around my shoulders, although I’ll never be that “bald guy with a pony tail.” I’m just trying to keep my freak flag waving.

Linda has never seen me without a mustache … and she never will!! She says that, after I’ve passed, she’ll have the mortician shave me and have an open casket service. Well, in that case, I’m not dying. That’ll teach her.

Vulcan was decommissioned on 30 September 1991, struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 28 July 1992 and laid up in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. She was transferred to the Maritime Administration on 1 February 1999, for lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet on the James River, Fort Eustis, Virginia. On 9 November 2006 the contract was awarded to Bay Bridge Enterprises LLC, Chesapeake, Virginia, for her scrapping, and she was towed to the shipbreakers on 19 December 2006.

And thus ends a storied career for a great gray lady.

Vulcan at the ship breakers yard, Bay Bridge Enterprises LLC, Chesapeake, VA. for scrapping, circa February 2008.

This is my best recollection of people, places, and dates. Any corrections would be appreciate. Thanks for reading.