Archive | July 2013

Here comes my weighty one page appeal NSA

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A couple of weeks ago, I railed against the National Security Agency for denying my request for records. They sent a nice, polite form letter of rejection and told me how to appeal

Today, I banged off my appeal, well clicked it off in Microsoft Word. See how the lack of typewriters affects the cathartic resonance of correspondence today? 

The reasons for the denial were due to some nebulous public law that may or may not cover records concerning me and a Huntsville, Alabama attorney that could or could not exist. That sounds very spookily convenient to me. I drafted my appeal under the auspices that I was a writer doing his job during the decade I seek records for. I await the denial of denials. 

It seems that I am not the only entity that is facing the NSA rejection. The Atlantic magazine/blog too was denied a request for records.  The reason: NSA could not verify their address. Hmmmm … and I thought NSA was the all seeing electronic hoover of the 21st Century. 

The Atlantic’s problems aside, NSA did have the courtesy to bitch in my refusal letter about all the problems Ed Snowden is causing them via a couple of graphs trying to educate me about all their problems due to Snowden’s release of information. 

Sorry guys. I still want my records. 

The Colonel

Why take pictures of the moon … because it is hard

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Above is a shot of the “supermoon” from July 22, 2013. As of late I have been preoccupied with night time photography of the moon.

Why?

I am bored and I am brushing up on my camera knowledge. I have acquired a lot of Canon bodies and lenses over the past two decades and I want to put them to good use.  Boredom may have something to do with it, too.

Why not?

Part of it could be when I grew up. I came of age in the 1970s, when we still thought their might be lunar colonies and trips to Mars in our lifetimes; images taken by Apollo astronauts were still everywhere in the American culture. I was always captivated by astronauts, space station … and science fiction. “Star Trek” showed what sailing the ocean of space might be like and “Space 1999” revolved around a moon colony blasted out of Earth orbit. It was all pretty exciting for a youngster of 10 years old, and I was just programmed to think about images of the moon.

For the past couple of months, I have taken a short jaunt out to the drive and shot the moon. At first my pictures were just luminescent blobs, then I refined them more and more by playing with the manual settings on the Canon T2i I shelled out for about three years ago.

Thank the maker for digital cameras – DSLRs – as there is no cost with film. You can experiment all day long without paying for developing film.

You need a telephoto lens – mine is 200mm and I really want a 300mm – and a steady grip. Some people use a tripod, and for long exposures that would work, but I have found that if I just shoot, shoot and shoot for about a minute – some 100 exposures – I can find one I want.

Zoom in on the moon and shoot on a cloudless night.

I set my Canon T2i to 1/320 at F/5.6 and ISO of 800 and get good results and resolution. Depending on the light, I can shoot at 1/1250 at F/5.6 and ISO 800 and get the shot below – taken at 7:10 am on Bastille Day, July 14, 2013:
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I am very happy with the resolution of the craters and surface features of the moon.  It is not the same as the Voyager 1 photo of the moon and Earth together, but I try, try and try. 

Some of the sites suggest a shutter speed of 1/125, a stop of f/11 and an ISO of 100 for Canon cameras. That is with a tripod. When you are your own tripod, the faster shutter is better and just shoot, shoot and shoot. Program your camera to bracket at full stops, too. 

Enjoy the moon … and sunsets. I enjoy sunsets, too:Image 
The Colonel

Why I cringe at “It’s in Black and White … I don’t wanna watch it.”

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Buzzfeed has one of those silly list articles today that is heavy on photographs and one liner insight on “31 Black-And-White Movies Every Twentysomething Needs To See;” it is the kind of list I hate, but invariably love if I agree with most of the choices.

I admire this particular Buzzfeed entry if only for the inclusion of Carol Reed’s 1949 production of “The Third Man” – you can’t have too many cuckoo clocks and Tums antacid pills around, I told Harry once. You remember Harry Lime. Fine fellow back before the war, let me tell you about the time … well anyway I am talking about the Black and White art medium.

When somebody complains about black and white entertainment it makes me wince and cringe and just generally inwardly groan. I also groan at the use of “twentysomething,” but that is a story best left for Holly Martins to write.

The ostrich effect … the shallowness … the lack of appreciation for content – that is why I cringe when somebody (probably a woman I am torturing with my film choices – yeah I know, ladies, but she asked) complains about a film or television show being in Black and White. Everything cannot be in living color and visually assaulting, even NBC.

Generally, and for the past couple of generations of youthquake culture this is never more true, Black and White means “old.” So much so, that, now, websites run a photo from the 1980s in monochrome color to indicate this is from “a time capsule beamed back from the past.” meaning they changed it from the color shot I know it was as an original print.

Notice I described it as monochrome – a person can tell the difference between single color and black and white. Black and White has natural shadows, monochrome gives off this flatness to it. Pretty much any photo after 1960 was taken in color for major newspaper publications or magazines. It may have been digitally stored in an archive as a Black and White shot to save on time and expense in the scanning process, but odds on it started live in glorious color.

To me, Black and White means artful communication, especially in film. There was an art in using shadows as a way to communicate emotion. Horror films seem spookier in black and white. And all due respect to Christopher Lee and Hammer productions, those Dracula and Frankenstein movies of the 1950s and 1960s had more to do with sex and less to do with fright.

I mentioned the “The Third Man,” it is about Harry Lime, who is just a criminal in post World War II Vienna that literally lives in the shadows. I could never imagine this film in color. The city of Vienna was a collapsed shell – like most of Europe in the late 40s – when this picture was shot. Even filming in color would have meant a basic two tone color palette of slate gray and black for there is no splashy primary. Harry moved in between and through those black, white and gray shadows, and met his end in a filthy sewer. In color, the symbolism would have been lost.

Television shows are the same as those old movies; the photography directors and crews of the 1950s and 1960s grew up learning their craft in the movies studios of the 30s and 40s. There are some excellent black and white television shows, and I am not just talking about “The Andy Griffith Show.”

The mood of “The Twilight Zone” would have been shattered if color photography had been used like so many splashed paints. Rod Serling, Zone creator, tried it in the early 70s with “Night Gallery,” and that show lasted less than three years and now resides in obscure trivia and history.

A cop show called “The Naked City,” very popular for its time but again pretty much regulated to off beat broadcast channels today, was shot in black and white. Excellent scripts and acting that showed the plight of many a likeable crook and cop were the meat of the show, but the filling part is the black and white photography of the New York streets of the time period.

It is as ignorant to ignore art that is older as it is to brand a generation “twentysomethings.” Give the old shows a chance – everybody not just young people. Sit on your hands for about 10 minutes, put down the phone and pay attention. You might like it.

If you don’t, then get the hell off my black and white grass ya bums.

 

The Colonel

The lessons of funerals and closure

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I hate rituals. Always have. They seem like uncomfortable relics of the past. Having spoken with a number of family members about unaccounted for war dead and missing soldiers, I understand better the need for ceremony around deaths. 

A closed casket can sometimes mean the end of a family – finger pointing and blame between husbands and wives as the ignorance of what happened to a child seeps into their world. Tying up loose ends dogs people every day in their lives.

Closure in a death is essential for the living to go on with what little of joy remains in life. Imagine never knowing what happens to a family member – are they coming home THIS Christmas, or will I see them on THIS birthday.

Families of unaccounted for Prisoners of War and Missing in Action know this grinding pit of the guy feeling every day. 

Being a military writer gives a view to incredible sites – aircraft, men and women at work and accomplishments. It also brings somber, sobering moments. Standing in Emmie Ard’s dinning room and talking to her family about the loss of her son in during the Vietnam War –  Army helicopter pilot Chief Warrant Officer Randy Ard – was grim some 34 years after he died. 

A rated Army helicopter warrant officer pilot, Randy Ard disappeared after his OH-58 Kiowa was shot down in Laos on March 7, 1971. His family only knew he was missing for years. No body was recovered, and there were only sketchy details passed onto the family about why Ard’s small helicopter was shot down or what they were doing that day in Southeast Asia. 

Randy Ard had been a little over three months shy of his 20th birthday. The Army needed helicopter pilots at this point in the Vietnam conflict, and Ard actually turned down a chance at going to the U.S. Air Force Academy because the Army promised him he would be a pilot, his mother told me. 

A few years after the shoot down, in 1975, the Ard’s had moved from up from Florida, settling in Albertville, Alabama. In 1978, the Pentagon officially declared Ard dead. 

There were more than three decades of pain etched into Emmie Ard’s face. And I will never forget her telling me “When we moved, I always thought ‘How will (Randy) find us if he comes home? How will he get back here?’ … I always looked for him to just come through the door on Thanksgiving or Christmas … that’s what a mother does.

Randy Ard never sat down at his mother’s table again. His death in Laos was confirmed by Pentagon lab technicians in December 2004. Ard was buried in March 2005.

Having lived in Air Force towns – I grew up in the shadow of Robins Air Force Base, Georgia – and wrote about fighter pilots and wars of the past, I thought myself accustomed to POW/MIA tales. I has spoke to brave men held in North Vietnamese prison camps, and fighter pilots worked over by the North Koreans and I had talked with men who spent time in German Stalags after falling out of burning aircraft plummeting from the sky. 

There is a national holiday – POW/MIA Day – to recognize the sacrifices of families of the missing and former prisoners of war, which is the third Friday in September and has been recognized since 1990.

Many military communities, especially Air Force ones, have a ceremony marking this event. However, the majority of the public know little about it, and as the Vietnam War recedes further into history, I fear the ceremony will be silenced by time and history. There are 1,645 unaccounted for missing from the Vietnam War alone, and I have watched that number be whittled down year after year from around 4,000 some 20 years ago.

Technology and agreements with the ruling party of Vietnam have helped ease the pain of many families. By contrast there are some 73,000 missing from World War II, and the fear is these will never receive a proper accounting. For a complete list go to: http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/summary_statistics/.

For the Ards, that day in March 2005, the pain eased a bit. I had never faced a mother who had spent 34 years living in hope that the reported death of her boy was some Pentagon mistake.

A darkness washed over Emmie Ard’s face while she spoke with me and it all the war stories and news reports about budgets and missiles and colonels and generals seemed millions of miles away. There was nothing anybody could say to this woman who gave up her son at – as the military lists him – the age of 19.7. 

It dawned on me that day the importance of closure for some people. The ritualistic need for coffins and funerals and the ability to actually see somebody laid to rest. I am an only child and never paid much attention to funerals, other than when I would have to attend a ceremony. 

 Now I realize what an open coffin means to a person who might lose their daughter or son or father or mother. I realize that a closed casket – or NO casket – can really be traumatizing. I would hope no family has to endure these pains of loss again.

However, war and the mistake of conflict will see me wrong. 

I should stick to Fembot research and NOT the history of blowing up H-bombs in space

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I just spent about 90 minutes on something I do all too often: Making sure I right the wrong of somebody being WRONG on the internet. Of course, I await my gratitude, along with my gratuity, in the mail.

AND it had to do with a 1970s cult science fiction show – Space 1999 – and the use of explosions and shockwaves in space. I ride the rapids of important discussion AND trendy pop culture here. I don’t have a phaser or a Star Trek uniform though. Never plan to get one – the uniform, that is. I would get the phaser if I could in an atomic second.

It was all simple – there would be no shockwave in deep space. End of story. So, naturally, somebody balked at this posting/reply in one of the Facebook groups I lurk on. And, well, I had to run off and shoot down the windmill theory of there being blast waves in space.

In another life, for about a decade, I wrote about the United States space program, and the Pentagon’s various missile defense programs. Sometimes, I even wrote about international space programs. Moreover, I understood some of what I wrote.

I never got to sneak the word “moreover” into the published article, however. (Editors hate words like “thusly” and “moreover.” All those eighth graders who read the newspapers would be offended, I guess.)

Heretowith, while I was doing what I knew would be a short fact check round up on the internet about nukes and space shockwaves, I found out that yes and no there are no shockwaves – made of “air” or atmosphere – in space; there is no atmo in space to cause a shockwave like you see with a conventional explosive on all those cool, realistic war shows.  Also, with my own blog, I can use the word atmo, which I have wanted to do when I would write stories about missile defense.

However, there seems to be wiggle room owing to the fact that a nuclear blast could create a plasma cloud that would act as a shockwave. Well, damn you Internet for being so definitively wishy washy.

Here’s what I answered a fellow Space 1999 lover when he challenged my knowledge of space shockwaves:

” … there are a few schools of thought. One is that an exploding nuclear device would create a plasma cloud that could act as a shockwave, but not as potent as atmospheric gases or a mostly Oxygen-Nitrogen-Co2 mixture like we have on Earth. . 

The other is that no “air” means no shockwave. From NASA: “If a nuclear weapon is exploded in a vacuum-i. e., in space-the complexion of weapon effects changes drastically:
First, in the absence of an atmosphere, blast disappears completely. …”

http://history.nasa.gov/conghand/nuclear.htm

In 1962, the United States exploded a hydrogen bomb at about 250 miles above the Earth’s surface as part of a test of high altitude nuclear explosions called “Starfish Prime.” 

IN 1958, the X-17 rockets lofted three “Operation Argus” warheads into low Earth orbit, the highest – Argus III – being 325 miles above the surface. There is still a slight atmosphere at this altitude, and when solar storms kick up unexpectedly then it can cause a drag effect via atmosphere and other particles on satellites like NASA’s Skylab in the 1970s and, today, the International Space Station. 

In the late 1950s, Project Orion was an American research and engineering effort that was intended to build a spaceship that would be propelled by ejected nuclear warheads which would detonate away from a massive plate at the rear of the vehicle and this would “push” the ship via the impulse of the blast. It was abandoned after the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban treaty, and really hadn’t got much past the concept phase. (Interesting story however and is documented by George Dyson in the book Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship. Dyson’s father is Freeman Dyson who worked on the project and is a well regarded scientist.)

I tend to believe outside of Earth orbit there wouldn’t be enough of an atmosphere or space particles to cause a shockwave. Debris could still tear through a space vehicle, however. But animating a shockwave is easier than illustrating a “shotgun” blast of debris in space.”

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All that and I managed to do one achievement: Not convince the doubters of a thing.

I should just stick to trying to raise venture capital for the creation of the first true FemBot and leave all this Internet wrong righting to those overflowing with dedication. And the fact we exploded all those bombs in space – “outer” space as it was called then – gives me the shakes.

The Colonel

Friday Night – is made for old movies (when I stay in) – and I have found an old gem

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I run hot and cold on the “going out on the weekend” jaunts. When I was younger, I felt like I had to go “out” on Friday and Saturday night. Either I was looking for a girl, or I was looking for a good time. 

Inevitably, I would find the girl and the good time, but after a few weeks we would settle into a “Let’s watch TV mode” that blights all couples. Or you get married and blighted, too. 

Point being, I am in a “I don’t wanna go out” on the weekend mood and I have fallen back to the comfort of my 12-13 year old Shelby years, when I would stay at home and watch television.

During those days, mostly, I would go for the science fiction shows that were on what we called  Atlanta’s “SuperStation 17,” when it went by the call letters WTCG or WTBS. Shows like “The Outer Limits,” “UFO” or “Space 1999” and even the occasional original episode of “Star Trek” would enthrall me. The Brit TV outings like “The Avengers” and “The Saint” were on the CBS Friday Night Late Movie, although I really just didn’t pay much attention to any scene Diana Rigg wasn’t in. (Can you blame me?)

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Dianna Rigg, above, in her Avenger’s Color 1967 garb

In the past couple of weeks, I have discovered one that slipped the net of Shelby’s prepubescent consumption: Moon Zero Two.

I have nothing bad to say about this movie. Other than the fact it is an on demand DVD, meaning it has NO special features (even though the two principals, James Olson and Catherine Schell are still alive to provide an interview and commentary track, and any number of film historians would take about $50 and a shot of scotch to review it).

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And Catherine Schell looks good in, or not in, all her clothes  in the “Moon Zero Two” photo above (Jim Olson is on the right … did I mention how absolutely stunning and Venus like Catherine Schell is? Well, she is):

The “Moon Zero Two” plot concerns Olson’s Capt. William H. Kemp, an aging astronaut-hero who runs a space salvage operation on the moon where he scratches out every buck for survival. He gets involved with (the stunningly lovely) Schell’s Clementine Taplin, who is trying to find a lost miner brother on the far side of the moon. Throw in a no nonsense, do anything for a Lunar Dollar businessman and an asteroid made of sapphire and there is the standard action conflict.

This movie has been described as a Space Western, and I see the tropes, what would be called homage today – six shooter, bad guy vs. good guy, aging hero, and show downs. But the same plot devices are used in Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, Ben Hur, Hornblower etc., and were long before Akira Kurosawa provided a Samurai/Cowboy shorthand for lazy film critics. This film is closer to “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” than “Seven Samurai.”

And it gets the science and technology of the moon down right, and explains it in a way that even Kubrick could have learned from on 2001 – make it simple and don’t drag it out.

The science is pretty bang on. There are real concerns about gravity and the propulsion physics of space. In a few words during one scene, Olson describes to Schell why lunar life can be deadly, and what he says moves the plot forward and answers a lot of questions about life on the moon in 2021 without dragging the plot down.

That is the problem with a lot of 60s productions about space, they were slightly a notch above the bug eyed monster craze of the 50s in terms of believable science, which make them laughable today. But audiences were savy by 1969/1970 having been exposed to coverage of the real NASA lunar program and other space exploration efforts.

And Catherine Schell is in it just after she was one of the many Bond girls in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

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I would say this movie owes a pat on the back from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun” and the then in production television show “UFO,” in terms of realism and look. Anderson’s productions always were grounded in mostly believable science.  And those Anderson shows had a stylistic look, with props that make sense, and good looking 60s women in future clothes. So does “Moon Zero Two.”

(More than one person has noted that. Seems the spacesuit costumes were reused as well, just like the Anderson’s “UFO” props and costumes, too. And the wig look was borrowed as seen below with the left side of the image being a “Moon Zero Two” image and the right a “UFO” moonbase operative.)
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All just television shows and movies, but, for me, It all makes one long for the future we were promised but never realized in the late 60s.

Now, where is my food in a pill and hover car?

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