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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Richard D. Fox's LiveJournal:

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Wednesday, November 16th, 2011
4:43 pm
Comic Book Resources poll: Show your support for bringing back the Spider-Marriage!
Originally posted by box_in_the_box at Comic Book Resources poll: Show your support for bringing back the Spider-Marriage!
Comics Should Be Good: Do you prefer Spider-Man being single?
We're coming up on the four-year anniversary of Spider-Man's "Brand New Day."

So, what do you think, four years in — are you happier with Spider-Man being single or not?

Do you prefer the current single Spider-Man?
Just say "no," and let them know we want Mary Jane Watson-Parker back.

Monday, September 13th, 2010
10:39 am
Response to seriousfic's "Expendables" review
In response to seriousfic's review of the 2010 crop of action movies, and specifically his review of The Expendables:

I actually enjoyed Couture being in the movie--maybe it's because he's the Expendable who comes closest to having actual character traits beyond being "the crazy one" or "the ginormous black one" or "the little one with the FUCKING LIGHTNING MOVES," or maybe it's because he was the only one underacting in a movie where every single bit of scenery had tooth marks on it and chunks visibly bitten out of it--but I'd say that the only *real* reason for having him in the movie was to have UFC and pro wrestling fans desperately want to see it, just to see "The Natural" and "Stone Cold" throw down. (Given how good both men are at unarmed combat--yes, to be a pro wrestler, you have to learn how to fight, because you also have to learn how to do it *without* killing your opponent!--that could have been an awesome ten-minute bare-knuckles brawl, if not for the goddamn shakeycam and inadequate lighting.) I think he was supposed to be the demolitions expert, which is a reasonable job for him, but you really can't tell, beyond his going to a therapist to keep himself sane. Of course, he's pretty much playing himself, and he's not exactly an exaggerated persona in real life, so he won't be as interesting as other options.

Overall, I've gotta agree, they spent too much time spinning their wheels before they got to the real meat of the movie--they could have easily cut half an hour out of the "is it worth it?" segment and had the movie still work. (Just have Stallone and Statham come back, tell the team that they're gonna cancel the mission as too dangerous *for the price*, do the bit with Statham beating the shit out of Carpenter's abusive boyfriend, do Rourke's "I shoulda gotten the Best Actor Oscar two years ago, I shoulda gotten the Best Supporting Actor Oscar last year, and I should get it this year, but I'm not, because the Academy hates action movies" scene to remind Stallone that sometimes there's more than just money to fight for, then have him decide to go and we pick up with the Jet Li/Dolph Lundgren fight.

They did plan on having Wesley Snipes in the movie originally--Crews's role was written for him--but they had a series of scheduling conflicts, resulting in it being rewritten for Forest Whitaker, then for 50 Cent, and finally for Crews. Lundgren's rather awesome role was intended for Van Damme, who turned it down because he felt that his character should be "trying to save people in South Central." Steven Segal turned down a role because of bad past experiences with the director.

Ironically, Bruce Willis's role was originally intended for The Governator, but he was too busy governating to be able to do more than a one-day shoot, and Willis's role required at least two days, hence his being reduced to the cameo. The role was then offered to Kurt Motherfucking Russell, who turned it down(!) on the grounds that he "wasn't interested in ensemble acting at the moment."

Rumblings are that the sequel is already slated to feature Chuck Norris, and likely will have Willis's character as the BBEG. My idea for how to make the sequel FUCKING AWESOME:Collapse )
Wednesday, August 4th, 2010
10:06 am
Road Trip: Final thoughts
Appalachia is some of the most beautiful country I've ever seen. No matter who you are or where you live, if you ever have the opportunity to spend a week driving in West Virginia, western Virginia and North Carolina, central Pennsylvania, or western Tennessee and Kentucky, for god's sake, GO THERE AND DO IT. The scenery is beautiful, the weather is relatively mild most of the year (late July into August, however, tends to be hot and steamy), and even the freeways are good driving roads instead of just plowing straight through the landscape like you see in the montage early in "Cars." And if you like driving in the twisties, then get your hands on something that handles well (no old Yank-tanks, please, and ideally go for a little two-seater with a bit of grunt, like a Honda S2000 or an RX7 or something like that) and take the back roads, because where the freeways look like someone threw strands of cooked spaghetti at the map, the back roads look like they got a dog drunk, then tied a paintbrush to his tail and let him wander around a big-scale map. If you want a good example, go on YouTube and search for "Midland Trail WV" to see videos of the section of US-60 I drove and loved so much.

Both the North Carolina ($10) and the Wisconsin and Nauticus ($12) are great ways to spend the better part of a day, if you're interested in military things, and the prices aren't bad at all, given the costs of such an operation. (Be sure to spend some money in the gift shop or otherwise donate, because both of them are looking at some major expenses to preserve the ships in the near future, including Showboat needing a drydocking in 2012.) However, whatever you do, don't try to get out of Norfolk at the start of rush hour, on a Friday, just two days after a carrier group had returned to port. You'll lose hours stuck in traffic, just burning gas and breathing monoxide.

The last time I was there (2003), it was still possible to do the entire Air Force Museum in one day, including the Presidential/R&D Annex. Now, you need to schedule at *least* a day and a half to be able to see everything, and inside of four years, it should be up to two full days, once they complete their next new hangar--and even then, they'll still need another new hangar before they can close the Annex, because the R&D aircraft still won't have a place in the main museum. (Yes, the new hangar is huge. However, it's going to be holding all their Air Force Ones, the spacecraft--including, they hope, the Atlantis--and several other transports, including their C-141 and a C-5. All of those take a *lot* of floorspace!)

I have got to do things like this more often. I hadn't been on any sort of vacation in six years, and I desperately needed the change of scene.

It's been three mornings now, and it's still feeling a bit weird to get up and not have to start packing to check out, and to not be out on the road by 10. Not BAD, mind you, it's just that in only a week, I'd gotten so used to getting up, loading some stuff into my luggage, getting cleaned and dressed, heading down for the continental breakfast, then coming back to my room, finishing packing, checking out, loading up, and hitting the road that it feels sorta... odd to *not* have to do so. I'm sure I'll get over that soon enough, though!

I think I've been smiling more these past three days than I had in the entire past year. GOD, I needed that trip!

Current Mood: cheerful
Monday, August 2nd, 2010
11:34 pm
Road Trip Photos
I took a total of 498 photos, some of which I deleted for sucking too badly. The remaining 498 MB of pictures are downloadable at this MegaUpload link.

The file includes captions, for the record.
Sunday, August 1st, 2010
9:22 pm
Trip Diary: Final Day
Daily mileage: 251.22 (per Mapquest)
Exits missed resulting in having to go damn near halfway to Cincinatti to turn around: 1

Woke up at 5AM this morning and couldn't get back to sleep. Therefore, ended up spending a couple hours playing Bejeweled before getting breakfast, packing up, and checking out. Headed down towards Wright-Pat for the museum, and completely missed my exit, requiring me to take a much longer route there, to my frustration.

After getting there, I met up with Rags to work our way through the Museum; had a great time, even if we ended up missing the Presidential/R&D Hangar because it now takes too long to see the whole Museum in one day. (I actually burned through more photos there than I had in the entire trip to that point!) Notable points will come up when I get off my butt and transfer the photos to my computer... probably tomorrow.

After Rags and I said our goodbyes around 4:30ish, I headed straight home; factoring time walking back to the car and everything, I ended up getting home in about three and a half hours.

I'm tired, but happy. Photos to appear tomorrow...

Total trip mileage: 2061.3 (per trip odometer)
Severe peeling sunburns: 1 (on left forearm)
Blisters: 1 (on right middle toe)
Swag acquired: One (1) BB 55 ball cap, one (1) BB 64 shirt, one (1) Air Force Museum shirt, one (1) Mystery Item (as gift for father)

Current Mood: tired
6:25 am
Forgot to mention--I'm actually in my *second* room in Dayton; I couldn't accept the first room that they put me in at the Comfort Inn, because the air conditioner was broken. (No, I'm not THAT much of a wimp, but the windows here are sealed and it was in the 80s with very high humidity, and I didn't have a fan to keep the air moving... the first room was just stifling.)
Saturday, July 31st, 2010
9:05 pm
Trip Diary, Day 5
Daily mileage: 421
Raccoons annoyed: 1

Well, I was going to let Shiner handle the diary today, but he had a bit too much of his own product and has been snoring since Charleston, so I'll let him rest.

Woke up around 6:30 this morning, but didn't get on the road until almost 9, because I had a problem with my boots--the ones I'd had for ten years. Their soles disintigrated when I put them on. Which meant a trip to the local Wally World for a new pair.

Once on the road, I made good progress, enjoying the drive down I-64 through the foothills. Then I got to the exit, and hopped off onto US 60, the Midland Trail, to drive out to Shiner's neck of the woods. I swear, I *will* make the trip again, because driving that road, I now know exactly why Shiner is such a great driver; just from driving it *once*, I'm a better driver. The Top Gear boys would be in heaven on it.

When I got to the town of Lookout, I turned off the main road onto a county road leading first to Winona, then down to Nuttallburg. I was expecting to have to make a turn before I got to the old town site, but I'm driving along (at 15 mph or less on this twisty, single-lane gravel "road" that's more of a trail) and find a gate and a sign explaining that the National Park Service is spending its Obamabucks on stabilizing the remaining structures at the old mine and town site.

Hopped out, had a very enjoyable hour walking the two-mile length of the town in both directions, getting plenty of photos of building footings and such (plus the coal tipple) that might have been the location of Shiner's childhood home, then went to head on to Dayton... and had a moment of utter serendipity that I'm so happy to have had.

Basically, at the gate, there's a fork in the path heading back towards the main road, and I took the wrong fork, which is actually a driveway to a single, solitary company house that the Park Service has preserved as a cabin or something. That's right, entirely by accident, I stumbled upon the Clark family homestead. After getting photos, I turned back, took the RIGHT fork this time, and hit the main road for another hour or so of pure bliss jumping from the New River Gorge to the Kanawha Valley.

Not much more to say after that--got gas about in Point Pleasant, home of the Mothman (only 26 mpg, but a LOT of that was hill-climbing on the back roads), then continued on through Boring Ohio to Dayton. Got myself checked in at the Comfort Inn near the airport, and then spent over an hour in the pool to relax.

Tomorrow's schedule: Link up with an online friend to visit the Air Force Museum, then drive the four hours home. Yay?

Current Mood: tired
Friday, July 30th, 2010
9:55 pm
Trip Diary: Day Four
Today's mileage: 222.92 miles, per Mapquest
Parking fees paid: $5 (at the Nauticus)

Woke up at 6 this morning, which was actually not that good a thing, as the Nauticus and Norfolk Naval Station tours didn't start until 10. Futzed around in the room for a while, before packing up, checking out, and heading for the Nauticus.

Had a great time there--the museum is just as fascinating as the ship, plus I got to see an enlistment ceremony for Sea Cadets graduates happen on the bow of the Wisconsin, at the same time a retirement ceremony was happening on the fantail. Probably did too much walking, though, as I have something that feels suspiciously like a blister on one of my toes, which should make the rest of the trip *fun*.

Just managed to make it to the Naval Station in time to get in on the last bus tour of the day. The tour was about 45 minutes, and a lot more entertaining than an ex-Navy friend of mine had worried ("This is a new building. It looks like a box. This is a historic building. It looks like a box. This is a classified building. Photos are not permitted, not that you'd want a photo, because it looks like a box."), plus it got me what I'm calling my Fifteen Billion Dollar Shot--three aircraft carriers in one frame, including the soon-to-retire Enterprise. And yes, they DO look more like buildings than ships in person.

By the time the tour was over, it was almost 3 in the afternoon, and I still had a four-hour drive ahead of me, so I took off... only to find that I-64 was a parking lot leading up to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. I lost an hour in three different traffic jams before getting out of Newport News.

Stopped for fuel in the tiny town of Zion Crossroads (little more than a sign, a gas station, and a Wal-Mart), then rectified an issue--I'd had the seat of my pants start to tear out as I got into the car after the bus tour, so I stopped off at Wal-Mart there in town to get a new set (I'd only brought two sets, and the other was filthy from being dripping with sweat yesterday).

I managed to get to my target of Staunton, Virginia, before dark, allowing me to avoid driving in the mountains after dark. Saved twenty bucks on my hotel room by taking the one facing the CSX mainline behind the hotel; that shouldn't be a problem, as it's still quieter than the trains going by my apartment back home. (Interestingly, this is the only day of the entire week-long road trip that's going to be spent entirely in one state!)

Dinner was at the Shoney's across the street, where I found (by accident!) that they were having an "all you care to eat" steak and seafood buffet. It was very good, but it also made me regret that I'm getting older; it used to be that "all you can eat" was an open invitation for me to put the restaurant in the red for the night, while not gaining a pound... yet now, I can only make two trips to the buffet before feeling full, and I weigh twice as much as I used to back then...

Tomorrow's agenda: Drive into the New River Gorge, visit the abandoned mining town my Spycraft character is from, then enjoy driving the back roads through the mountains to get to Dayton, Ohio, for my last overnight stop. Also, a likely guest diarist!

Current Mood: mellow
Thursday, July 29th, 2010
10:26 pm
Trip Diary: Day 3
Daily distance: 287.39 miles (per MapQuest)

Today got off to an early start, when I woke up at 6 and couldn't get back to sleep, so I just went downstairs for breakfast, and ended up out the door by 8. Grabbed some SPF 90(!) sunblock at Wal-Mart, along with a set of swim trunks (since I forgot to pack my pair, which didn't fit any more, anyway). As a side note, putting sunblock on an existing sunburn is the most painful thing EVER.

By the time I got to the North Carolina, it was already almost 90 degrees and just as humid. And the ship isn't air conditioned in any way, shape, or form.

Yeah. As much as I enjoyed visiting her, I was literally dripping sweat by the time I left at 11. The self-guided tour was fascinating, and I documented a lot of it on the camera, though I ran out of battery about halfway through, and didn't want to go running back to the car in that weather to get the second battery, so some of the more interesting places, like the bridge, are not going to be in my gallery. (For those who've been on the Showboat, I ran out of battery near the end of the tour of barbette #2, while trying to take a shot of the powder bag in one of the scuttles.)

After that, I took off for Norfolk, expecting to be in town by 3 or so. Was slowed down for a few minutes by a total monsoon that hit about twenty miles out of Wilmington, so bad that freeway traffic was down to twenty miles an hour, but it wasn't too bad.

That is, until I got to just short of Roanoke Rapids. Around milepost 150 on I-95 in NC, traffic just completely ground to a dead halt, four miles short of the one-mile stretch of one-lane-closure. It literally took an hour to get to the closure, then two minutes to get past it. Seriously, what the hell? I summed it up by loudly blaming Freehaven on the way through his town.

Got into Norfolk around 4:30, just as traffic was starting to build up for rush hour, but not horrible yet. Whoever was responsible for the design of the total mess that is the multi-way interchange at the exit of the Midtown Tunnel should be dragged out into the street and shot, though.

After I got set up at the La Quinta (for quite a bit more than AAA said it should cost, the liars!), I went for a swim in the indoor pool, then relaxed in the whirlpool. This was probably not the best timing, as it saw me in the whirlpool when the tornadic supercell thunderstorm I thought was heading out to sea (it was over Virginia Beach when I got in) decided it wanted to go the OTHER way and rolled right into town. First I knew was when the lights flickered twice, then went out, then I got a bolt of lightning so close I heard the ionization crack before the thunder. And then the power came back on in a way that set off the building's fire alarm. Came back up to my room to enjoy the storm out my window--and it was one of the heaviest ones I've ever seen. At one point, the WAVY-TV lightning detector indicated over 7000 strikes in Norfolk, Newport News, Suffolk, and the intervening areas... in a five minute span.

Storms are over now, obviously, which is part of why this report was delayed.

Also, refuelled where I-795 meets I-95. Just over 30 mpg again.

On the agenda tomorrow: Visit the Nauticus and the Wisconsin, then drive to someplace near the WV border to stay for the night. Should be another easy day in terms of drive time, four to five hours.
Wednesday, July 28th, 2010
6:26 pm
Trip Diary: Day Two (Electric Boogaloo)
Daily mileage: 440.17 (per MapQuest, as I forgot the trip odometer when I got here)
Tolls paid: $6 (all in WV)

Got up around 7:30 this morning, allowing me to complete my required actions and hit the road by 8:30. I did stop to get some Advil to help with the sunburn, along with some drinks. Leftovers from last night's dinner were stashed in the cooler with the drinks and ice, to serve as lunch.

West Virginia is so wonderfully bumpy. Even the interstates are wonderful driving roads--when you can drive 90 miles from the town an FM radio station's in, and still be within range of the station, you know it's a twisty road. And I learned that even going *down*hill in the mountains can require quite a bit of throttle. I never thought I'd need to use the gas to maintain speed on a 5% downgrade, but those curves caused so much drag...

Two mile-long tunnels on I-77 in the 30-mile jog through the western tip of Virginia. You don't see tunnels on the Interstates anywhere but in Appalachia--even in the Rockies, they always found a way to go around or over the mountains instead of through them.

Stopped for gas and lunch in Greensboro. Averaged 30 mpg over that second tank that was spent almost entirely in the mountains--very impressive.

From Greensboro, it was a straight shot down I-40 to Wilmington. 200 miles, nonstop, across the Piedmont, which would have been more interesting if NC hadn't decided to plant a thick stand of trees along each side of the freeway for the whole length of its run, meaning that you can now drive all the way across North Carolina and see exactly nothing!

Got to the Comfort Inn on College Road (what I-40 turns into at its eastern terminus), got checked in around 4, and vegged out for a bit. I'm waiting on dinner (Chinese, tonight, since I just do *not* want to go outside again tonight!) right now.

Tomorrow's plan: Head over to see the battleship North Carolina in the morning, then grab some lunch and run up to Norfolk in the afternoon. Sage, if we aren't gonna hang out for a while, I'll be sure to yell the appropriate phrase at you as I pass through town!
4:04 pm
Arrived in Wilmington. Checked into hotel, will do a more complete diary later. z.z
Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
11:46 pm
Road Trip Diary, Day One
Daily mileage: 389.1 per trip odometer

Well, I got off to a lousy start today--I was hoping to be on the road no later than 9:30, but the usual comedy of errors, including my forgetting that the bank doesn't open until 10:00 on Tuesdays, meant I didn't take off until 11.

Got to see a blimp as I passed through Ann Arbor, though I wasn't close enough to see what one. Unfortunately, the squeegie at the gas station I filled up at before leaving was pretty filthy--my attempt at cleaning the windshield just made things worse than they were when I started. I finally gave up and stopped to clean it again in Findlay, Ohio, and grabbed lunch while I was at it.

Speaking of Ohio, it's pretty much the scenic butthole of the eastern half of the country, at least until you get about 30 miles southeast of Columbus. Then you start having actual features to the scenery, making it interesting enough to keep you awake.

Had to stop in Parkersburg, WV, on the Ohio River, for gas, because I wasn't going to make it all the way to Charleston on the first tank. As lovely as the mountain scenery and roads are, though, by the time I was getting into Charleston, I'd been on the road for seven hours and was starting to get *very* tired. Checked into a Days Inn on the southeast side of town for the night, and slathering my left arm with aloe vera, since I forgot to put on sunblock before leaving and thus had the window-side arm beet red by the time I got here.

Averaging something in the neighborhood of 31 mpg. Tomorrow's plan: take advantage of the free continental breakfast, then drive to Wilmington, NC.

Current Mood: tired
Tuesday, December 8th, 2009
8:00 pm
Ruminations on race cars and safety
For those of you who've got me on their friendslists, this is something I wrote a couple months back, in the wake of the latest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway, regarding the safety of the series there and at Daytona International Speedway. If you're not interested, I'd recommend that you skip over this...

For those linked from RJO, hi, folks! Hope you enjoy reading it...

Relief Drivers: Talladega and the Big OneCollapse )
Saturday, July 25th, 2009
5:30 pm
Big Steam 3: Big Steamier
Just got back from Train Festival in Owosso. Probably too tired to go into heavy detail on it, but a quick recap of the day, in bullet-list format:

* 1225 cracked a flue/boiler tube while being moved after the night photo session on Thursday night, and the debris took a couple more with it. As a result, she was rendered inoperable for the weekend. (It's not serious, it's an easy fix, but it'll take a week of work to do, and they just didn't have time to get it fixed during the event.) As a result, she wasn't able to pull her scheduled excursion to Alma today, with near-identical sister Nickel Plate 765 being tapped to pinch-hit for her. It's unfortunate, but it's the sort of thing that happens with steam locomotives. Everyone involved simply feels fortunate that, unlike when Union Pacific 844 coughed up a flue in Sacramento in 1999, nobody was injured this time.
* My almost-five-year-old nephew, Benjamin, went with us to see it, as may be the only opportunity he ever has to see big steam, and he's old enough to remember it for the rest of his life. Happily, there were hundreds of children his age at the show; those indoctrinated into steam today will be the ones keeping the fires lit in the future.
* The day opened by watching 765 depart on the day's long excursion. Ben and Mom were on the downwind side of the tracks, and, of course, got the sooty rain to introduce him to steam. We did forget to tell his mother that he should have been wearing grey or black...
* 765 put on a great show leaving, too, managing to find every slick spot on the rails and getting at least three full revolutions slipping before regaining her footing each time.
* Spent 90 minutes in line waiting for a cab tour of Southern Pacific "Daylight" 4449 before getting in; fortunately, people were understanding of my taking Ben on sidetrips around 4449 and 1225 to show him how they worked and help deal with a five-year-old's attention span. Mom also took him through the Ann Arbor caboose that was on display while we were in line. Once we got into the cab, he was quite suitably impressed by the view of the fire (she was simmering at about 150 pounds, compared to her normal 275 pounds), and we also got a photo of him sitting in the engineer's seat, with permission.
* We also got a photo op of him and me sitting on the pilot deck of 1225, since we decided that waiting two and a half hours(!) to get into *her* cab for five minutes wasn't worth it.
* Benjamin greatly enjoyed riding the 7-1/2"-gauge live steam railroad that was being used as a "people mover" from one end of the event grounds to the other--a good idea, since it's pretty spread out, about a mile and a half long. Meanwhile, I discovered that I had absolutely no trouble operating an SD40-2 in a locomotive simulator that was on display at the event, though eventually destined for crew training on Montana Rail Link, except that I hadn't been told that I was in a 50 mph zone and ended up peaking at 56.2 mph!
* After that, while Benjamin and Mom were taking the miniature train for the second, third, and fourth times, I went browsing through the exceedingly dangerous vendor tent, VERY glad that I had left my credit card at home, because I could have easily run up a five-figure bill in there! With Mom's money, we got Ben an engineer's cap and a 4449 pin to put on it; I got myself a 4449 "Daylight" logo pin to put on Dad's old engineer's cap, alongside the other pins symbolizing places that hat's been.
* Little River Railroad 110 was pulling 45-minute out-and-back excursions every hour on the hour, but we decided to forgo those for financial reasons, as at $18 per adult and $15 per child, it would just cost too darned much.
* Instead, we ventured deeper into the grounds, where Flagg Coal Company 75 was shuttling back and forth along one of the yard tracks with the sold-out-in-May "You Run The Locomotive" program. Two other 0-4-0Ts, Little River Railroad 1 and Vicose Company 6 were also present and in steam, regularly whistle-saluting each other.
* The big attraction at the back of the festival grounds, though, was The Leviathan, a brand-new reproduction of Central Pacific Railway #63, a locomotive identical to the Jupiter, their representative at the Golden Spike ceremony in 1869. Leviathan's so new that there were questions as to whether she would be finished in time to come to Train Festival, but she's completely finished and absolutely beautiful, regularly pulling forward onto the Steam Railroading Institute's turntable to be turned 360 degrees as a demonstration, then backing back onto the same track as before.
* An unannounced, special bonus attraction was that the SRI also had their locomotive shop open to the public, letting people see their two small diesel shop switchers, 4449's auxiliary water tender, and what *may* be Gettysburg Railway 1278, an ex-Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 that suffered, due to crew error, a crown sheet failure in 1995 which was prevented from progressing into a full-on boiler explosion solely by it being unusual among North American steamers in having fusible plugs in the firebox. Last I'd heard, she had been sold and was awaiting repairs on the Ohio Central, but it appeared to be a light Pacific, albeit completely stripped to a bare frame and boiler core (no tubes, no firebox, no valve gear, no cab), the cab was stored on the inaccessible far side of the turntable, and the tender was up on blocks (literally) behind the engine shop, so she does seem right for it.
* By this time, Benjamin was starting to seriously run down (as were the rest of us!), so we started heading back towards the car, first stopping to enjoy the model railroad displays. A local HO club had brought their modular layout, and there was a large O-gauge three-rail layout that got plenty of attention, too, but the real stars of the show were somewhat less precisely-to-scale models--the local O-gauge live steam club, and the Michigan Lego club's Lego train display that featured to-scale reproductions of many downtown Detroit buildings, including the famous Michigan Central station. It also included a large number of amusing easter eggs to find. The ones I saw were: a train station that was apparently "on fire," based on the number of ladder trucks with flashing lights in front; Batman (in the Batmobile), Robin, and Batgirl (both on motorcycles) chasing the Riddler, Two-Face, and the Joker through the streets; an Air Tractor AT-301 cropduster over a cornfield; a dragon on top of a skyscraper; an Imperial Stormtrooper taking a photo of two others posing by a Great Lakes bulk freighter, while Luke Skywalker attempts to save R2D2 from a street sweeper that's sucking him up; and a skeleton, two eskimos, and Spongebob and Squidward on a beach.
* Our original plan to go out and catch one of 765's photo runbys was killed by the rainstorms early in the day that slowed our progress through the festival; instead, we made one last stop before heading home, a visit to the cab of a former Southern Railway FP7 diesel locomotive that had made the trip up from the Eastern Carolina Railway Museum for the show.

I'd say that they easily exceeded the expected attendance of 20,000 today, and there was a brisk business going at the souvenir tents, too, so hopefully, this will raise more than enough money to pay for 1225's 10-year FRA-mandated boiler inspection. (Ironically, if that was Gettysburg 1278 in pieces in the shop, it was her crown sheet failure that resulted in the mandatory every-ten-years inspection, as they'd found that she'd suffered from a great deal of deferred maintenance that would have helped prevent the accident...)

Current Mood: tired but happy
Tuesday, July 21st, 2009
5:55 pm
Big Steam 2: Reciprocating Boogaloo
Just got back from the old Ann Arbor Railway depot here in Howell, where I watched Nickel Plate 765 pass through town en route to Owosso. I *could* have watched her from my bedroom window, but I decided to go out and get a better view from trackside, and I'm glad I did.

For whatever reason, be it liability, regulatory, or just the preference of the operators involved, 765, unlike SP 4449 on Sunday, was not leading the train; she moved from her home in Fort Wayne as a four-car (locomotive/tender, tool car, two deadhead passenger cars) freight shipment, delivered by Norfolk Southern to Milan, Michigan, where the current version of the Ann Arbor picked her up and took her to Ann Arbor, thence handing her off to my "backyard" road, the Great Lakes Central, to handle the rest of the way to Owosso. Being a freight shipment, she was considered "dead in tow" instead of providing power.

However, *no* steam locomotive ever truly moves dead in tow, because of all the moving parts in the valve gear that need constant lubrication whenever they're moving--and the lubricators are all steam-powered ones, requiring the locomotive to maintain at least 50 psi of steam pressure in the boiler at all times to operate them. Since the boiler is really designed for high-pressure operation instead of low-pressure operation, and the Federal Railway Administration counts it as a boiler operating day against the locomotive's maintenance schedule regardless of whether you fire her up to ten pounds or three hundred pounds, "dead in tow" steamers tend to be kept close to normal operating pressure, with just enough throttle applied to keep any condensation blown out of the cylinders.

Such was the case today... most of the time. See, just east of the depot, Michigan Avenue crosses over the tracks on an overpass, and unsurprisingly, a large number of people had congregated on the sidewalk there to watch the train pass, rather than wait at the depot. (As a point of reference, if you pan that map northwest about a mile up the tracks, you'll find my apartment complex bordering them on the west, inside the loop made by Greenwich Street.)

Now, having mentioned where these people were gathered, I'm sure that anyone familiar with steam locomotives is already laughing madly at what they know is coming, but for those who aren't, a quick bit of explanation is in order. Steam locomotives, particularly coal-fired ones like 765, tend to gather soot and cinders from their fires in their boiler tubes and superheaters. (Oil-fired ones like 4449 are less prone to this, as oil burns with less particulate products.) This debris tends to restrict the flow of the superheated combustion gases ("smoke") through the boiler, making it less efficient at boiling water and making steam.

To combat this, every so often--maybe once every few hundred miles if you're really working the engine hard, more often if you're just drifting along on a closed throttle--the fireman will "dust her flues out" by tossing a scoopful of fine, dry sand into the firebox, while the engineer opens the throttle all the way to get the maximum steam exhaust through the stack and maximum draft for the fire. The powerful draft over the fire will suck the sand out of the air before it can hit the fire, and suck it through the boiler tubes and superheater, then out the stack, carrying with it all the accumulated soot and cinders in the boiler, resulting in a volcanic eruption of oily, sooty black smoke from the stack, and a rain of soot and cinders onto everything in the general vicinity. (Since a steamer that's running efficiently will make a relatively small amount of whitish smoke, which becomes all but transparent when it mixes with the steam exhaust, this is often done at the request of photographers who want a dramatic smoke plume from the stack.)

I think you can guess what happened--seeing the people lined up on the bridge, the crew decided to give them a little something special, and just as they were at the right spot, they "dusted out her flues," resulting in the initial belch of smoke and crud just completely enveloping that overpass. Of course, she was still making plenty of black smoke and raining a lot of cinders when she passed the depot, but I was able to avoid the worst of the black rain by ducking under the overhang of the roof. (This did, however, leave me in a perfect spot to get absolutely deafened by 765's whistle as she went by!)

Next round of my Steam Overdose 2009 will be Saturday, when I go up with a bunch of the family to Train Festival in Owosso, the event that all this steam (eight locomotives will be present and simmering, the most in one place since Railfair '99 in Sacramento attracted 25 locomotives) is going to. The day will include chasing 1225 up towards Alma during her excursion of the weekend, among many other things... look for an update about it on Saturday or Sunday night!
Sunday, July 19th, 2009
10:35 pm
I'm sweaty, filthy, greasy, sooty, sunburnt, half-deafened, exhausted, starving... and couldn't be happier!

Mission: Intercept 4449 was a *success!* Caught her on arrival in Lansing, utterly failed at trying to chase her to Durand, but caught up with her there before they wyed her, and got to watch them service her before finishing wyeing her and sending her off to Owosso. She could sure use a good bath once she gets there, of course, but considering she's put in a good three thousand miles in the past two weeks, I'd say she earned it. (Happily, the MANY CN railroad police around the tracks were giving people a *lot* of leeway, so long as they stayed a safe distance back while she was passing.)

Next on the schedule: Sometime on Tuesday afternoon, NKP 765 will be passing directly by my apartment en route to Owosso and Train Festival 2009!

Current Mood: ecstatic
Thursday, June 18th, 2009
8:44 pm
The writing on the wall
Welp, first entry in my new (unpaid) writing gig: Race Journal Online's "Relief Drivers", a new feature there featuring guest writers.

I've got a regular gig previewing Formula One races there every week or two; so everyone knows, this is likely *not* the final format, as it started out as a comment on one of the site owner's articles and we didn't make much in the way of changes to it. (Trust me, I'll not be using "gonna" and similar colloquialisms in future installments!)
Sunday, April 26th, 2009
1:38 am
"YO, JOE!" Or, "warren_ellis, you magnificent bastard, I watched your film!"
I just got done watching warren_ellis's new animated movie, G.I. Joe: Resolute on Adult Swim, and my GOD, its everything that Larry Hama intended the G.I. Joe franchise to be when he created the new world for Hasbro back in the 80s, both in the "background information" he wrote for the then-new three-inch action figures, and the comic book he did for Marvel.

It's a fantastic-yet-realistic view of a special missions force, and Cobra is a properly ruthless, frightening terrorist organization who've been underground for years now, waiting for one of their plans to reach the point of actually *working* before going public again.

The 80s cartoon's "never say die" trope was, thankfully, disposed of (reportedly, Ellis and the producers agreed to go for a film that would, in theatrical release, get a PG-13 rating specifically to appeal to people who watched the 80s show as children), and as a result, the movie racks up an impressive body count without getting to the point of gratuity; the deaths are those that you would expect in combat, and from a terrorist organization "showing the world we're serious."

Ellis gains bonus points from me for not only noting many of the 80s show's writing tropes (as opposed to the censorship ones), but simultaneously lampshading them AND justifying them in one fell stroke; Cobra Commander's monologue, while clearly meant as exposition, is also completely in character, AND explains many of his failings back in the 80s show. Ellis gains even MORE bonus points, though, for doing his research very well and bringing in appropriate bits of milspeak (I think I heard "SITREP" used more times in the past two hours than in the preceding five years!), using interesting and entirely possible technology as part of the plot, making references to obscure but *real* military projects such as Project Manhigh, and making damn sure that we all see that any military force is only as good as its support staff!

Kudos also goes to director Joaquim dos Santos and his animation crew--dos Santos is someone I knew to be an excellent director from his work on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, but he outdid himself here, with high-quality animation, weaponry that is completely identifiable, and all sorts of little touches that lent it the authentic feel, from people using spray-and-pray tactics never scoring a hit while those using single aimed shots picked them off one at a time, to a firefight seeing several pauses in firing as various combatants have to stop to reload, to even going to the trouble of using gunfire sound effects that are appropriate to the various weapons shown, including having the two silenced guns in it actually sounding like silenced guns instead of having the standard Hollywood "zing!" sound for them.

Kudos all around. I'll give it a 9 out of 10 (there's some points where the animation frame rate got a bit low, and the voice actor budget was WAY too small). While I don't know of timing on home video release or when it will reair, US-based readers can see all but the final ten minutes in high-resolution on Adult Swim's website (the ten-minute finale gets its web release on Monday). Others can check them out on YouTube; Ellis has each part linked from his LJ. I presume a torrent or other illegal download will be available at some point, but I wouldn't really know any details about that.

And knowing is half the battle! (Sorry, couldn't resist...)

Current Mood: YO, JOE!
Sunday, January 18th, 2009
12:03 pm
On firearms, firearms law, and common misapprehensions about them
Disclaimer: This entry is, among other things, an expansion on my reply to this comment on a friend's LJ.

All right, first, let's get some definitions down. According to Wiktionary, the definition of "machine gun" is: "A type of firearm that automatically fires bullets in rapid succession." Note the adjective; a rapid-fire firearm that does not fire automatically is not, by the dictionary definition, a machine gun. The military definition of a machine gun is a fully-automatic weapon that fires rounds of a rifle or more-powerful chambering and is designed to be fired from a support (vehicle mounting or tripod) rather than as a hand-held weapon.

The legal definition of a machine gun, per the National Firearms Act of 1934, is "any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. The term shall also include the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person." (US Code, Title 26, Subtitle E, Chapter 53, Subchapter B, Part 1, Section 5845, Subsection B.) Historically, the courts have ruled that hand-cranked Gatling-type firearms are not, legally speaking, machine guns, as the continuous hand-cranking is not "a single function of the trigger;" electrically-driven ones, however, are, as they fire continuously as long as the trigger is held down.

This also means that, legally, an M16 is a machine gun, while an AR-15 (the only difference being that the AR-15's selector/safety does not include a position permitting fully automatic fire--which is literally just one different cam) is a rifle ("a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed cartridge to fire only a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of the trigger, and shall include any such weapon which may be readily restored to fire a fixed cartridge").

Fully automatic operation of a firearm is, of course, a system where, when the trigger is depressed, it will fire the currently chambered round, automatically reload itself, and then fire the newly chambered round, continuing the cycle until either the trigger is released or the ammunition supply runs out. Semi-automatic operation is a related system where depressing the trigger causes the firearm to fire the currently chambered round and then automatically reload itself, but *not* fire the newly loaded round until the trigger is released and depressed again--technically, this means that a double-action revolver is also a semi-automatic weapon, as the shooter does not need to manually "reload" by cocking the hammer to advance the cylinder to the next chamber.

None of these definitions make provision for a "semi-automatic machine gun;" by definition, a machine gun is inherently a fully-automatic weapon.

Additionally, there is no dictionary or legal definition of "assault rifle" or "assault weapon"; the military definition of "assault rifle" is a fully-automatic weapon chambered for an "intermediate rifle round" (i.e., more powerful than a handgun round, but less powerful than a full-sized .30-caliber rifle round like the .30-06 or the .308 Winchester/7.62x54mm NATO) and designed to be fired in a hand-held position; the term (a direct translation of the German "sturmgewehr," which was a name created in WW2 specifically to fool Hitler into thinking that the StG.44 wasn't the same weapon he'd already ordered--out of ignorance--be abandoned) was coined in the early 1960s to differentiate the less-powerful weapons like the AK-47 and the M16 from traditional "combat rifles" such as the M1 Garand or the M14.

Now, fundamentally, the purpose of a firearm is simple--to have a small piece of metal travelling at extremely high speed pass through a specified point in space selected by the operator, on demand, with as little variation as possible. That's the only thing the weapon itself will do--move a piece of metal very quickly on a predictable path.

More realistically, any firearm is a tool intended to make holes in objects from a distance. While the holes are not always very clean, and the precise location of the hole is less controllable than, say, a drill, but the ability to put a hole in the object from a distance greater than the length of your arms is the key ability. The decision of the material through which the hole is made lies entirely in the hands of the operator--it could be a paper target, a block of wood, a chunk of concrete, a deer, or a person, just as a power drill could be used to bore a hole in any of those items.

What purpose could someone have for wanting to own a semi-automatic AR-15? As vakkotaur stated in his reply to the post, in addition to killing people, there's hunting and target shooting. There's also the possibility of wanting to have one to hang on the wall as a memory of serving in the military, or to experiment with in an effort to develop improvements on the existing design to market to legal customers, renting it out to movie and/or television producers to use in productions, or even (gasp) being a licensed firearms dealer who keeps it in inventory for potential sale to legal buyers.

The claim of "being excessive for hunting purposes," often trumpeted as a reason for banning various types of rifle is a non-starter. First, it depends on what kind of game you're hunting--a round adequate for hunting squirrel would be completely inadequate for hunting deer; likewise, a good deer hunting round would be inadequate for hunting elk or moose. In both cases, the round would not do enough damage to the larger animal to be effective against it.

Secondly, the most humane hunting round is the one that does enough damage to immediately kill the animal if a hit is scored. Which would be more humane, being killed instantly, or slowly bleeding to death from a wound, and dying days later of infection if the bleeding stops before it becomes fatal? I know I'd find the latter much more agonizing and undesirable. As it happens, the sort of round that will drop a deer instantly is almost identical to the sort of round required to drop a human instantly; this means that .223 is a very widely used deer round. (Think about it--humans and deer are of similar mass, torso volume, and body density, so they have similar requirements.)

The ability to rapidly fire a second shot is of great benefit when hunting, should something unexpected (a gust of wind, a nervous twitch, or whatever) cause your first shot to miss. Long effective range is also desirable, as it reduces the chance of the animal detecting the hunter before he or she takes the shot. Precision accuracy, as Vakko noted, is good both to prevent wasted rounds, and to increase the odds of a first-shot kill by allowing the shooter to accurately target the animal's vitals. Light weight is of value for the simple reason that I'm sure anyone would rather carry a six-pound rifle to go hunting than carry a twenty-pound one.

Other than those regarding the power of the round, all of these arguments also apply to target shooting--and if you practice with the same weapon you use hunting, then that also becomes a non-issue. (Many shooters who only compete in range shooting, by the way, choose to use "low-powered" rounds like the .22LR, because it reduces the cost of ammunition, even using the match-grade handloaded ammunition that they prefer.)

Regarding reinstating the badly misnamed 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, not only did it arbitrarily draw a distinction between the functionally-identical AR-15 and Mini-14 (the latter, BTW, is just a semi-auto-only version of the M14 scaled down to use the smaller .223 cartridge), ironically, the "high-powered" weapons that it prohibited were *less* powerful than weapons left untouched by it, such as the M1 Garand (.30-06 semi-automatic rifle), or the M1903 Springfield (.30-06 bolt-action rifle).

This post is getting long enough as it is, so I won't inject further commentary at this point...
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
8:48 pm
Dear Santa...

Dear Santa,

This year I've been busy!

In November I signed my organ donor card (28 points). Last Saturday I put gum in rubynye's hair (-12 points). In April I invaded Iraq, broke it, and couldn't glue it back together before Mom got home (-1012 points). In January I put money in _nixxx_'s expired parking meter (14 points). In August I got in line at the supermarket at the same time as someone else and I didn't yield (-8 points).

Overall, I've been naughty (-990 points). For Christmas I deserve a spanking!


Write your letter to Santa! Enter your LJ username:

Um. Yeah. Right. OK.
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