Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lords of Lightning

More of an addendum to the previous post than anything, but that video reminded me of seeing these guys (link, i didn't actually know until I read this article that they were from NZ) live at a Big Day Out a few years ago. It was very cool. If you are wondering, they are wearing a kind of chain mail, and they get very hot during the performance :)

*sorry about the sound, but the visuals are the main thing.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Too awesome not to share

Mythbusters host Adam Savage dances in a faraday cage while two tesla coils throw lightning at him to the tune of the "Doctor Who" theme. Need I say more?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Blue Photo Contest / Plane Favourites

Listening to: Dynamite Steps - The Twilight Singers (2011).

I've been meaning for a while now to post some of the favourite aircraft photographs I have taken over the last twenty years or so, and talk about the background behind them and why I like them. It was originally going to be a top 10, but I couldn't decide on 10, so it will more likely be an occasional thing.

A post at Adventures in the Underground about another blogger's blue theme photo contest seems a good way to kick the series off.

Bella Skye Photography's 100 Follower Photography contest

When I thought of images I had taken that could fit the theme, one in particular came to mind. Now taking pictures of aircraft as a hobby will mean there is a lot of blue sky I can choose from, but this one stood out. It would have been in the top 10 (click to enlarge):
It is an Australian FA/18 showing off at the RNZAF Whenuapai Open Day in 2009, launching into the sky just after take off, undercarriage still retracting, tail-planes well deflected for the climb, full afterburner (and full noise) and moodily underlit due to the patchy cloud that day.

To get an idea of what the aircraft is doing, here is video from further down the crowdline of the take off. I took the picture somewhere around the 0:05 mark, and yes it was loud, the kind of loud that makes your insides vibrate, activates car alarms, frightens small children, and makes me smile for some reason:

I like it because it evokes the power and agility of aircraft like this, and the way they can seem to bludgeon gravity into submission by sheer performance. I also like it because it is a decent snap of an aircraft not seen in NZ too often, and because it was the start of one of the best combat aircraft displays I have ever seen. It was a cool moment.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Spirit, signing off

Since 2004 there have been a couple of little robots that could exploring the surface of Mars. Robots built by people on Earth, roaming another planet (I like that I can write that and not have it be science fiction), producing images like this (courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU, click to enlarge):
XKCD poignantly had this to say about the Mars Rover 'Spirit' in January 2010 when contact with it was lost. Further attempts to contact it have been unsuccessful (as described here by Stuff, and here by Bad Astronomy), and 6 years beyond it's original 90 day mission it has been officially declared dead. It is sitting there right now in martian sand, lifeless and inert, having exceeded every expectation. If there is a real-life WALL-E equivalent the rovers are probably it, and elsewhere on Mars Spirit's twin 'Opportunity' is still going strong.

Admittedly it is anthropomorphising a completely inanimate object, but Spirit's passing should be noted nonetheless. Hopefully sometime in the future someone might get the chance to go and get it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

You're spelling "Wellywood" wrong

It should be spelt "C-r-e-a-t-i-v-e P-r-o-c-e-s-s F-a-i-l".

So after a furore last year that I blogged about here, here and here, and a 'putting on hold' and 'consideration of other ideas', imbecilicly Wellington International Airport Limited has returned and announced it will go ahead with exactly the same freaking idea that caused the re-think in the first place.

The stupid. It burns.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


My indifference for the various CSI franchises is not only based on the fact that what happens on screen bears about as much relation to actual scientific investigation as hard-core porn does to childbirth, but also that they reduce great rock music to the status of mere theme tunes. The only upside is that it might get more people to discover and appreciate the genre bedrock that was The Who.

This has probably been done a thousand times before elsewhere on the interwebs, but to set things right a bit here are the three Who songs from the 70's in question, properly, not as thirty second sample mixes :)

Who Are You? (CSI Las vegas)

Won't get Fooled again (CSI Miami, the 'YAAAAAAARRRGGGHHHH!' is at about 7:50, right after Keith Moon starts demonstrating that apart from the debaucherous legend, in rock drumming there is him, John Bonham, and everybody else in their shadow.)

Baba O-Riley (CSI New York, sometimes mis-referred to as 'Teenage Wasteland')

You're welcome

Sunday, May 15, 2011

One week old already

Soph and Fi came home on Tuesday, after only a couple of days in the ward. She is a week old as of today, and gets a little more alert each day, even if she still sleeps most of the time.

Sophie so far is perfectly normal and healthy and providing us with a few novel experiences, in that her sister was three weeks old when she came home, so in some ways Sophie is giving us insight into what regular first time parents deal with, things we never had to deal with before.

In addition Fi and I both have a slight sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop and something to go wrong (realising in hindsight that our previous experience might just have affected us a little more than we thought). That said though we feel fortunate just to have them both and Charlotte has been a very good big sister so far :) Others we know and have seen aren't as lucky.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The WALL-E Effect

So in late September 2008, we went to an early evening screening of "WALL-E". Later that night our first daughter Charlotte was born.

Move forward to early May 2011, and Charlotte's sibling was becoming increasingly overdue. Having tried all the usual old wive's tales, on a whim we watched "WALL-E" again.

The next day (yesterday), our second daughter Sophie was born.
Welcome to your world new daughter of mine :)
In relieved contrast to her sister's arrival, Sophie is happy, healthy and awesome. As are her mother and sister. Although I am wondering if the labelling on "WALL-E" DVD's might need amending for viewers in a delicate condition...

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Not your average Black Hawk

I get my plane geek on in this post. Be warned.

In amongst the wall to wall coverage of Osama Bin Laden's death, there is an intriguing little element of the story that doesn't seem to be getting a lot of play outside of specialist media, and it is to do with just why Pakistan in addition to not being in the loop anyway, didn't seem to notice the airborne part of the operation.

One of the helicopters used in the raid crashed on arrival (and it genuinely seems to be crashed rather than shot down. It happens), and apart from making me wonder if that was deliberate as it is a tactic that has been used before, the surviving wreckage that wasn't destroyed by the SEALs seems to have it's own suggestive story to tell.

The damaged helicopter was in theory destroyed so classified bits of it didn't circulate into the wrong hands, which isn't that unusual, even in supposedly friendly territory. The footage of the surviving wreckage from this angle that surfaced on Tuesday had me a little confused though when it came to figuring out what type it was:
The closest match I could come up with was the tail of a Black Hawk, but some of the details didn't match up. The image above is looking down on the wreckage in plan view; the rest of the helicopter would normally be at the top of the picture. For comparison, here is a representative what a Black Hawk family tail looks like (usually minus the serviceman):
The main thing that stands out is the horizontal stabiliser (the little 'wing'). On the regular Black Hawk it is unswept, but on the one above it is clearly swept forward. In hindsight a few other anomalies from the regular are obvious, but I don't really know the Black Hawk that well, so put it down to crash damage and moved on.

This morning though some more images came to my attention, and as an aviation enthusiast, got my attention:

Now without making any grandiose claims, I am pretty good with my casual aircraft recognition, but if this was genuine, it didn't look like anything I had ever seen. I had no idea what it was, which is unusual for me. More unusual though was that after having a look around a few aviation forums, mostly populated by people in a position to know more than me, nobody else seemed to know what it was either. Highly irregular. It looked like a Black Hawk tail, but not a version anyone without a need-to-know was familiar with.

The official story at the moment seems to be that a pair of MH-60 Black Hawks inserted the SEALs into the compound, with a pair of MH-47 Chinooks carrying more SEALs as an airborne reserve. Now the proportions and configuration of this thing match an MH-60, but the details are way different. It appears to have a five-bladed tail rotor compared to the usual four, but the main thing that sticks out is that it is stealthy. The normal MH-60 is not a stealthy design-this thing is. The shrouding and shielding of moving parts around the tail rotor, the fairing around the top and base of the fin, the silver-grey paint (yes, you can have stealthy paint), and possibly the non standard forward swept stabiliser are all stealth increasing features. You can't completely stealthify a non stealthy design (low observability is most effective when designed in from the start), and helicopters are harder to make stealthy than fixed wing aircraft, but on the face of it this looks like stealth modification. Not only was the helicopter destroyed to conceal classified material and equipment, it seems the helicopter itself was classified. If the tail looks this different, I wonder what the rest of it looks like (and also if the MH-47's were similarly modified). There is some reasonably informed speculation about exactly what it probably is here and here.

So if this is genuine (and there is no real reason to suspect it isn't), it is the inadvertent disclosure of a previously completely secret technology application. This doesn't happen very often. Stealth modified Special Operations helicopters have been rumoured apparently, but that was as far as knowledge went outside the operators.

That this previously secret technology was used in this context suggests the mission was considered important enough by it's planners that it was worth risking compromising secret assets for, when in theory at least other less secret assets could have been employed (by contrast there were at least two occasions in the 1980's when the then still secret F-117 was considered for live use, but not used for fear of compromising the technology secrets).

Another reason this kind of extreme high profile op isn't considered lightly, is that the fallout and political cost of failure is massive and far reaching, as witnessed by the Battle of Mogadishu and Eagle Claw debacles. No way did Obama authorise this to get a bump in the polls; the stakes are too high (ironically, in the run-up to the 1980 election, President Carter suffered in the polls not only for the Eagle Claw failure, but for not revealing the existence of then new stealth technology after he cancelled the first incarnation of the non-stealthy B-1 bomber in favour of the secret B-2).

The conspiracy theories started swirling about a minute after this operation was announced, but for my money the nature of the operation is pretty compelling evidence that it really was Bin Laden who was identified and killed there.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Zeroes and Magnificent Lightning

Listening to: Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (2011).

Apparently this blog needs to be a bit more manly. So in an effort to up the manly-ness, here is a picture of Manly Beach, Sydney for y'all.
Bebe still not here yet. Will be a week overdue by this time tomorrow. Have now been in "anytime now" quick-reaction mode for long enough that any nervousness will be overshadowed by "Finally!" when things start happening. Fi is naturally a bit over it. Charlotte is ever more aware that something is up, but still hasn't figured out she will shortly be sharing her world.

In the meantime I have been getting some modelling done. To get back into the groove, I'm revisiting a couple of kits from my childhood, the little known (if web presence is anything to go by) small scale Hasegawa Shinden ('Magnificent Lightning') and Zero (erm, 'Zero'). These were part of a range of small snap-together kits Hasegawa produced in the early 80's (at least, I have no idea when they were originally created), aimed at the young beginner market. They were cheap (hence the 'buy by coin' logo on the box) and didn't need any glue to be assembled.

I got one of each back in 1984 or so, and they were assembled and re-fighting the Pacific War in no time. In this hobby revisiting models you built as a kid can be fun, so on a whim a while ago I found some online from a secondhand retailer in the UK, at a cost of slightly more than 75p.
As can be seen by the parts layout, they are somewhat more basic than what I usually build these days, although nicely moulded for what they are (kits intended to be built in the space of an afternoon or less). The Zero is 1/100 scale which is reasonably common standard scale, but the Shinden is an oddball at the uncommon 1/106. Wierd scales like this are often known as 'Box Scale', in that the size of the model was determined by the size of the box it was going to be sold in.
The original Zero I built in the 80's is still mostly intact, complete with inappropriate French Air Force roundels that were applied in the mid 80's after the original Japanese decals had worn off, and experimental camouflage prompted by trying to hide where the brush slipped when I was painting the undersides and got grey on the top instead of the bottom.
It is interesting from a modeller's viewpoint comparing two examples of the same kit from slightly different production runs. I have no idea of the relative ages of the two (other than 'old') but there are definite differences, even though they are in theory identical. The newer one had sink marks in spots where the plastic hadn't filled out the mould properly, while the original one has a warped wing (and always has).

The original Shinden on the other hand has aged so well. It survived into the late 80's at least reasonably intact, but theses are the only parts a recent search turned up.
I might re-use the spinner that covers the propeller hub on the new Shinden (actually it is the only piece intact enough to be able to re-use), to incorporate some old with the new.

Now being that I am not 7 anymore, and not going from in the box to flying around the room in an hour or so, I thought it only proper that I build these retreads properly.

Given the cockpit and pilot in both models was represented only by a ball of plastic in a stick, and almost any change would be an improvement, I cut open both cockpits and built my own out of plastic sheet and rod. They are best described as 'representative' rather than accurate, but still better than not doing anything.
I'm guessing there are thousands of these things that have been built, but I'm betting not many with this amount of effort.

Did I mention how small these models are? If you embiggen the image you can see the seat belts I made up from tape. I have no idea how visible they will be on the finished item.
Since these two are taking approximately a thousand times longer to build than their predecessors, having been carefully glued, filled and sanded, they are only now getting painted.

Only two real Shindens were ever built, and never actually got into service, so the Shinden paint is fairly neat and tidy and straightforward and not needing to be weathered. Zeroes on the other hand were ubiquitous, and in common with other Japanese aircraft notorious for shedding paint in the late war period this model depicts. So to try and simulate that it has been undercoated with aluminum paint topped under the camouflage green, the idea being when the topcoat is done you can remove bits of it to look like chipping.
I still haven't quite figured out how that is going to work out on something this small, or which way to do it is best. Watch this space.