2006/10/31

Happy Howl-oween!

You may remember my friend Max in Tucson, Arizona from his picture on this blog at Christmas time last year: Cool Yule. Now here's Max ready to go out for trick-or-treat with his friend Butch.





-Momo the Wonder Dog

2006/10/30

Michikusa

Lately I've been riding the bicycle fifteen to thirty kilometers a day, three or four days a week, and going to wherever the road and scenery leads me - "michikusa".

K tells me that michikusa literally means "grass by the side of the road", but in the vernacular it refers to dilly-dallying, as a horse would dilly-dally by stopping to eat the grass. I guess that's what I've been doing in a way.

The direct trip to "town" which took me 45 minutes a year ago now takes just 30 minutes as my leg muscles are slowly becoming more fit. So I feel like I can spend a little time dilly-dallying now by exploring side roads.

Which of my blogging friends recently had a post about the "road not taken"? I've been taking those roads and, as the poem by Robert Frost promised, "it has made all the difference".

I took a look at Mt. Tsukuba again the other day. This time I also rode out to the middle of Kasumigaura Bridge. To my surprise, Mt. Tsukuba diappeared all together at the start of the bridge due to the hills in between. It was not until I approached the middle that it "rose" and rewarded me with the view I had hoped for.

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From the bridge I looked back toward home and central Kashima City at the south end of the lake. Our house is only about fifty meters from the antenna in the center of this next picture, though you'll probably have to click the picture for the larger version of the image in order to see the antenna.

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One rarely sees a sailboat on Kasumigaura and I was thinking what a blast it would be to sail a small boat on this lake, such as the Snipe I used to sail as a kid in California or a Laser, a popular class in Japan.

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I made a stop on the way back. Last year I had found this old house, and as the weather was so nice on this day I took some pictures of it. I don't know anything of its history. There has been a lot of work done putting new tiles on large sections of the roof and the storage house. It is located in a small cluster of homes that at the edge of the lake and surrounded by rice fields on two sides.

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The end caps on old tile roofs usually have a family crest or crest of the religious sect on them. The ones on the roof ridges, "onigawara", incorporate gargoyles to keep out evil spirits. "Onigawara" literally translates as "devil tiled roof".

The gate of this house has a new roof, but the wood and hardware looks original and is beautifully weathered. Gates usually had a small door to one side so the main gate would not have to be opened for an individual on foot. The is a small plaque hanging on the left side of the gate which says "Kashima Jingu" (shrine) "ujigami" (local diety) to protect the property. On the right side is a box with something about a police patrol or local neighborhood watch, so I guess they are covering their bases with regard to security.

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Storage houses like this one are common in Japan. There is one a short distance from our house. The walls are made with wood, woven reeds and mud, with a smooth outer finish that is usually painted white with black trim.

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A few days after this ride, I made what was for me a very exciting historical discovery that goes back almost 1,400 years. I'll share it with you in an upcoming post very soon.

Horsey

Pandabonium keeps calling my toy Horsey a cow, YD thinks he looks like a pig, K has got it right all along. He may have a big nose, but he has a mane. He's a horse. I've actually had two other Horsey toys before, but they each disappeared and Pandabonium is such a softy he replaced them each time. Wendy thinks I'm spoilt, but I think she's a little jealous.

It's all OK. As long as I get to play, I don't care what you call him.

Here's Horsey:



and here we are playing:

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Hope you are having a good weekend. Don't forget to take some time to play with your favorite toys.

-Momo the Wonder Dog

2006/10/29

I've Moved House! - by Momo the Wonder Dog

Well, I’ve moved house! Well, we’re all still at the same address. By “moved house” I mean that Pandabonium moved my house.

In previous posts you could see that my house was located next to the garage and storage room. It was OK, but was kind of hot in summer and Pandabonium would have to move my tether in order for me to lay on the bench or under a tree.

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My new location. That's my favorite toy - Horsey - up by my flower pot.


My new location is so much better. I am on a corner of the house that is more sheltered from wind and rain. That also means less dirt. I’m still under an awning too for extra protection from the elements.

The best part for me is that I get another meter on my tether and can reach the bench – which I really enjoy hanging out on to watch the neighborhood children going to and from school. I can lie down by some trees, flowers, or bushes as well.

My house now faces the south, so I’ll get more sun in winter, and I can see the gate and street better too.

Pandabonium and K like it because I am right by their bedroom and can hear me better and they don’t have to run through the rain and mud to get to my house if there is a storm. It is also easier for them to use the garage and storage room, as my house is no longer in the way.

I got moved just before the big storm last Tuesday and Pandabonium had put on my winter door flap to make me more cozy. When in rains hard, he makes a kind of tent over my patio which really keeps my house dry, so even though I had to spend the day indoors during the storm, at least I was comfy.

I’d like them to plant a few more flowers near my house, but I’m really happy with the new arrangement in any case.

2006/10/27

Tonight's Forecast: Dark

Japan's weather never ceases to surprise me. It is, in a word, "changeable".

October's weather has been beautiful for the most part, with the exception of the terrible double-storm that sank three ships on the sixth. And then there was last Tuesday...

It seemed like replay of the 6th, but not quite as strong. Monday night was windy and rainy. I put the blanket cover over Momo's house. Fortunately I had already installed her winter "door" - a cloth flap that keeps the wind and rain out. The storm went right over Kashima City, soaking us, but nearby Hokota was left almost dry. Looking at the weather radar image I was reminded of a scene in the movie comedy "Galaxy Quest" (a spoof of Star Trek). Crewmember "Guy" looks pensively at his screen and says, "There's this red thingy, and it's coming toward this green thingy, and I think the green thingy is us!" - just as some big space weapon hits the ship. In our case the "green thingy" was Kashima, and the "red thingy" was a big cell of very heavy rain, and red meant 31mm (1.2 inches) of rain per hour.

Winds were blowing 25 mph with gusts over 35, and rain was flying horizontally, though again not as bad as the earlier storm. Just after 11:00 am, the electricity went off and stayed off for three hours. No lights of course, no refrigeration, no internet. But that isn't all. Most people in first world countries don't plan for such occurrences and the systems used in homes are not designed for such a contingency. It was a good lesson on what not to do when I build the house in Fiji where there are no public utilities (at least not on Taveuni).

I must say, the electric utility people here were kind enough to drive through the neighborhood with a loud speaker notifying everyone that they were on the job and to please be patient. I sometimes think "customer service" is the national motto of Japan.

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Behind our house - workers endure wind and rain to get the power back on.


You may think I am going overboard here, and that Taveuni is an extreme example that has no bearing on life in Japan or the USA. Yet, the US electrical grid is very susceptible to widespread power outages that cover entire regions of the country. An ice storm, a branch on a wire, a little manipulation by Enron, and several states with millions of people are suddendly, well, powerless.

Japan's reliance on gas to operate power plants is a weak point that became glaringly obvious recently when Russia halted work on the Sakhalin II gas and oil project, which was to supply 8 percent of Japan's gas needs in 2008, and at the same time the USA pressured Japan to back off from buying energy from Iran in preparation for...something. Hopefully these things will turn out to be temporary. Otherwise, in two years time Japan may have to go begging to China for natural gas. Good luck.

Even without the consideration of its dependence on foreign energy supplies, Japan gets typhoons, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, and so on, all of which do interrupt services to homes, sometimes for long periods. Do I need to mention hurricanes to my American readers?

Surprise

Back to our storm, in addition to the obvious items that didn't work without electrical power, the following things also could not function in our house. Some may surprise you:

1) Water. Our water supply comes from a well and the pump is electrical. There is no PV panel charging a battery for backup, no gasoline engine, no water tank. After the pressure in the small reserve cylinder is used up - a matter of minutes - there is no more water to the house. Even after a short time, the inconvenience becomes irritating - can't wash your hands, can't wash food, can't wash the dishes, can't flush the toilet. Oh, my.

2) Solar water heater - a moot point without water pressure, but the solar system does not function without power for its own water pump and control panel.

3) Backup water heater - we have auxiliary hot water from a tank-less kerosene heater. Again, without power for its control panel, sensors and pump, it is useless.

4) Space heater. Happily the weather is still relatively warm and heat is not needed. Many homes in the US use central gas heating. No electricity, no heat. Most kerosene room heaters in Japan require electricity to operate the control panel and circulation fan. (I bought an old style non-electric one last winter for exactly this reason. As an added bonus, one can boil a kettle of water on top of it in case the gas range doesn't work).

5) The gas range. What!? Well, as this was a short power outage, I could still cook lunch, but our range too has electronic controls and ignition. They operate on two D size batteries. Ever go to use a flashlight and find that the batteries are dead? If there were a "real" emergency or long outage the range too might become useless. Not to mention the negative environmental impact of those types of batteries.

In contrast, commercial airliners are designed with backup systems, and there are backups for the backups. The consequences of a system failure are more dire in a plane obviously, but I really think house systems should be engineered so that loss of one element doesn't shut down everything.

We don't often experience a flat tire on the car (though I did have to change a tire earlier this year) but that doesn't keep us from carrying a spare, does it? Compared to the inconvenience of not having a spare, carring one in the trunk is nothing, even if we never use it. Same idea with what I'm talking about here.

Semi self-sufficiency


In the Fiji house, we will us PV panels to charge a bank of lead/acid batteries. Our power needs will be far less than a US or even Japanese home as we'll use LED lighting, ultra-efficient refrigerator, and do without most common appliances except for a clothes washer.

The range will be propane and will be lit with a match or mechanical spark. A back up wood-gas stove will be on hand if gas supplies are interrupted.

No heater required, thank you.

Water heat will be solar, designed to circulate without electrical assistance or need for backup heat. There is an excellent one being built in Malaysia, called "Micro Solar" which is being used in places one would think unsuitable for solar water heating, such as England, and they work quite well.

Water will come from the Taveuni Estates water system, which is gravity fed. As homeowners there tell me the system is less than perfect (ahem), I will also have rainwater catchment system and a large storage tank. No pumps required.

In the mean time...

OK, so that's well and fine if you're building a home from scratch, but what about the one you've got? We don't own this home and don't want to invest in a lot of new equipment. Here are some things to insure your life isn't disrupted when the power is:

I don't want to get into gasoline-powered generators because of the cost and the dangers to yourself and utility workers if you hook one up to your house electrical system.

1) A lead acid battery pack for the well. Doesn't have to be solar, it can charge off the regular utility and provide a temporary backup for a day or so. If you're on a public water system you may or may not have water service in a given emergency, so....

2) Plenty of bottled water on hand. Not 1-liter bottles, I mean tens of liters (several gallons) of it, for drinking, cooking, and simple washing. Enough to get by for a couple of days. We keep 16 liters of drinking water and 10 liters of multi-purpose water (probably should be much more).

3) Dried and canned foods. When the wind is knocking down trees and powerlines, and the rain is flooding the roads is not the time to go grocery shopping.

4) A hand crank/solar radio. I have an inexpensive one that gets AM/FM, shortwave, VHF, weather, and TV bands.


5) A hand crank flashlight.

6) A good book, board game, or perhaps your favorite (non-electric) musical instrument...


7) A bottle of wine ("get da red kine" as Aunty Marialani says) to enjoy with dinner by candlelight.

That's not so hard, now, is it? While your neighbors are sitting in the dark grumbling, you'll be having a nice evening. You may even decide to turn the power off yourself once in a while!

2006/10/23

The 2nd Raid On Pearl Harbor

Most people know that aircraft of the Japanese Imperial Navy (and a few small submarines) attacked the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbor on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941 resulting in the United States' entrance into World War II.

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USS Arizona burning.

From listening to first hand accounts by family and friends who had witnessed the attack, as well as my personal visits to the Arizona Memorial (including one with K), and as a long time resident of Hawaii, it is an event that has long been of interest to me.

The attack was devastating to the U.S. and would have secured Japan's dominating position in Asia (the so-called "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere") for a long time had the American aircraft carriers not been at sea at the time.

As President Roosevelt said, it was a day that would live in infamy. But how many people realize that Japan mounted a second raid on Pearl Harbor? I sure didn't, until doing some research on aircraft a few years ago.

Hitting America's aircraft carriers was an important part of the plan to keep the U.S. at bay. The first raid, while a victory for Japan, did not accomplish that. The point of going to war with America was not to try to conquer her. Rather, it was to consolidate Japan's conquests in Asia by crippling the American fleet. Admiral Yamamoto correctly concluded that the attack had only bought about six months time for Japan. If they could not defeat the American navy in that time, they would lose.

Another raid was planned just three months after the initial attack. The idea was to hit the carriers while in port and to disrupt the repairs of battleships that had been damaged in the December attack. This time, a large naval fleet would not be practicable as the element of surprise was lost. Instead, two giant flying boats - the most advanced in the world at the time - would make a daring attempt to attack Pearl Harbor at night.

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Cutaway view of H8K2 "Emily" flying boat

The airplanes were designated H8K1 and called "Emily" by the allies. Built by Kawanishi, they were huge, with a wing span of 38 meters (124 feet), and a gross take off weight of 32,500 kilograms (71,650 lbs). They were powered by four 1,850 horsepower engines which gave them a top speed of 296 mph. With a crew of ten and defended by ten machine guns and ten 20mm cannons (allied pilots later called it "the flying porcupine") it could fly missions of as long as 24 hours duration. As an anti-submarine plane it carried two torpedoes; as a bomber, eight 550 pound bombs. [A flying boat, by the way, can takeoff and land only on water. Wheels are attached by a ground crew to move it into and out of the water. An airplane that can takeoff and land on either water or a runway is called an "amphibian".]

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Ground crew dwarfed by the massive flying boat.

The two planes used in the raid were based at Wotje in the Marshall Islands, some 2,000 miles from Honolulu. Fully loaded, they could not make the round trip without refueling, so it was arranged to have two submarines at a rendezvous point to refuel the planes at sea.


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On March 4, 1942, the planes took off for a night bombing raid on Pearl Harbor. They flew to the French Frigate Shoals in the north western part of the Hawaiian Island chain, where they were refueled by the submarines I-17 and I-19, which had been modified with special tanks for carrying aviation fuel. Seven hours later, the planes approached Oahu.

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Rendezvous with a submarine. "Got Avgas"?

Meanwhile, in Hawaii, the Americans were of course on high alert ever since the December attack. The women of WARD - Women's Air Raid Defense - were operating radars on Oahu and new stations on Kauai, Mt. Haleakala on Maui, and Hawaii. By March, they had been on the job twelve weeks. In the early hours of March 5th, they had their skills put to the test by the approaching Japanese flying boats. Kaui radar first picked up the flying boats about twenty miles off the coast, headed toward Oahu. The alert went out. Fighter planes were scrambled, searchlights turned on, and anti-aircraft guns manned. But it was a moonless, rainy night and even with vectors from the WARD radar operators, the fighter planes had no success in finding the flying boats.

Due to the cloud cover, the Japanese planes also could not find their targets and had to drop their bombs blind, some of which hit inland from the harbor and two at the harbor entrance. No ships were damaged. The flying boats returned to their base.

Yet another attempt was made a few months later, but was cut short as American ships were patrolling the rendezvous point so the planes could not be refueled and had to return to Wotje.

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Pandabonium and the H8K2 in Tokyo

In June, Admiral Yamamoto attempted to lure U.S. carriers into a trap at Midway, but the plan backfired and planes from the American carriers sank four Japanese carriers and a cruiser. It was a pivotal defeat for Japan. Without those carriers, the Japanese plans to attack Samoa and Fiji, and to invade Hawaii had to be scrapped. While not decisive in and of itself, the battle for Midway marked the beginning of the end for Japan in WWII.

One wonders what may have happened if the weather over Oahu on the night of March 4th to 5th, 1942 had been better. Would the fighter planes directed by WARD have downed the bombers, or would the Japanese planes have found their targets and done sufficient damage to change the outcome of the battle of Midway? The outcome of historic battles sometimes do hinge on such seemingly small points. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, "For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for the want of a horse the rider was lost..."

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167 of the Kawanishi HK8s were built during the war. Some conducted (unsuccessful) raids on the Australian mainland. During one of those raids, a lone Emily showed just how tough the plane was by surviving continuous attacks by P-39 Airacobras until the fighter planes ran out of ammunition. Most saw duty as reconnaissance aircraft and some in an anti-submarine role. A transport version was also built, the H8K2-L Seiku (clear sky) which could carry over 60 troops.

After the war, the Americans took one back to the USA for testing, which as it happened was never carried out, and the plane was put into storage. That plane became the sole surviving "Emily", and in 1979 it was returned to Japan where it was finally completely restored as a static display at the Musuem of Maritime Science in Tokyo. K and I visited there in 2003. I marvelled at the plane, not only as a pilot and someone who likes the lines of propeller driven airplanes, but also because my father was an aeronautical engineer during WWII and did a lot of work on Consolidated flying boats such as the PBY Catalina and the four-enginned PB2Y Coronado.

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ShinMaywa US-1A STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) Air Sea Rescue Amphibian

Not many flying boats are manufactured these days, as runways have been built most everywhere in the world. They are still useful for rescue at sea however, and the largest flying boat now in production in the world is actually one with a design layout similar that of the Emily and built by the same company (now ShinMaywa Industries). It's the US-1A, a highly advanced design and the only amphibious plane capable of handling the rough seas around Japan. It would take too long to explain here, but its sea worthiness is largely due to its STOL capability. So the "Emily" lives on in a way, but now with life-saving mission.

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The H8K2 that we visited has since been moved to Kanoya Naval Air Station in Kagoshima Prefecture in south-western Japan where many of the type had originally been based. I feel lucky to have been able to see it in person. A beautiful aircraft, the Emily was an aviation achievement that also played an interesting part in the history of the war for control of the Pacific Ocean and her islands.

2006/10/20

Giant Panda Math - Learning to Multiply

Pandas have been making a healthy comeback recently. After decades of failure, breeding in zoos is starting to produce results, uh, I mean, cubs.

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San Diego Zoo's Baiyun cuddles her cub Mei Sheng in this 2004 photo. Baiyun has given birth three times at the zoo in San Diego.

Also, the protection of their natural environment and expansion of habitat areas in China has allowed them to rebound in the forests and the estimate now is that there are about 1,600 pandas in the wild, up from fewer than 1,100 in the 1980's.

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These lanterns were photographed by "Bear Bear" at the Chinese Garden Lantern Festival in Singapore earlier this month. Lots more lanterns and other fun pics on her blog - Bear Bear Diary


NZM sent me the following video clip a while ago, but as she and DEJ have been travelling and not posting much on their blog M and J Adventures, I held off sharing it. She recently posted some awesome (as usual) pictures of Cologne, Germany. I especially like the ones of the Cologne Cathedral. Wow. Check them out.

Anyway, if you ever wondered if giant panda cubs sneeze.....





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Click here or on the picture above to learn more about the Giant Panda success story and how you can help sustain it.

2006/10/18

The Music Man

One of the first musicals I saw live was "The Music Man". My mother took me to a "theater in the round" (it had a rotating circular stage in a domed theater) - and I got to see actor Gig Young work his magic in the lead role.

"Seventy six trombones led the big parade...."

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"When our new brass section starts playing, General, the enemy will never know what hit them!"

As a high school student, the band room was my home away from home. I was in charge of the marching band uniforms and so had the small practice room where they were stored as my own "office". That is where I kept my books, coat, etc. After the first semester I never used a hall locker again.

Although I was a math major, I played trombone in the orchestra, concert band, and stageband (a jazz big band). One year I also took Harmony 1 and 2. There were two lunch periods so as to split up the 3,600 students at the school into more manageable(?!) groups. My last two years, I didn't have a lunch period - I was taking a full load of classes for the math major, plus the music groups.

In the fall, Marching Band took the place of Concert Band and the school allowed it to be counted as "Physical Education" (P.E.) due to all the marching around during and after school hours, but I stretched that to include Concert Band in the Spring semesters (totally against the rules). So for four semesters I had no P.E. and no lunch period. Every semester, my "counselor" would call me into his/her office and point out that my schedule was too full and that skipping lunch period and P.E. were not allowed. I would respond that it was too far into the semester at that point (they were slow to catch on what I was doing) for me to drop any classes, as it would mean receiving a failing grade or at best an "incomplete" on my report card, and "hey, I plan to go to college, and I need a good grade point average". The counselor would let it slide with a warning: "Don't let it happen again!" (I did end up having to take a make-up P.E. class my last semester, in order to graduate).

So how did I beat the system and get away with it every semester? Well, I owed it in part to the turn-over in counselors, but mostly it was possible thanks to this man - The Music Man.
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Ken Kamp conducting the Stage Band

Kenneth K Kamp was the band director at my school. Every year when it was time to register, students would go into a large room where cards representing the classes were laid out on tables and pick up the cards for the classes they wanted to take. It was done alphabetically and as my last name is near the last 1/3 of the English alphabet, there was a big risk that some classes I wanted would already be full. So Ken (Mr. Kamp to me then) would slip in before registration even started and pull the requested cards for me and a few other band members. This insured his best players could get the classes they wanted and also play music.

A graduate of USC (University of Southern California) Mr. Kamp directed the band at Taft High School from 1964 to 1995. When I was in school, he was still a very young man, and we all thought he was "cool", and he was - as a band director friend of mine would say "when it was hip to be hep, he was hep". Our football half-time shows often included arrangements current pop hits and special effects. For example, we once formed a jet plane on the field using CO2 fire extinguishers for the engines and played the Joe Cocker hit "The Letter": "Give me a ticket for an aeroplane..."; he had a party for band members at his home. He shared his intersts with us, he asked us about our aspirations. We were all impressed with his car too - a Porsche 911S. But he wasn't trying to be popular - he was simply a great music teacher.

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Tournament of Roses Parade - Mr. Kamp walking next to Pandabonium

Many of the students I was in band with went on to perform professionally. One of my fellow trombone players, Lynn Tivens, joined a band called "The Gringos" which played brassy rock music ala "Blood, Sweat, and Tears". They made some albums and toured the entire US and Canada. Another 'bone player, Jock Ellis, played in the Don Ellis Orchestra (no relation) and has since recorded with artists such as Frank Zappa and groups like "The Doors". One year our stageband won the Los Angeles District Jazz Band competition - using arrangements of then popular Don Ellis big band written by our own pianist (who now plays flute in the Peninsula Symphony in the San Francisco bay area). The marching band also worked hard and on January 1, 1968 we marched in the nationally televised Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. The 9km (5.5 mile) long route is quite a workout, so we spent the two weeks of Christmas vacation leading up to it by marching around the parking lot of a local college every day.

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Rose Parade

When graduation time came and I applied to university, Mr. Kamp wrote an excellent letter of recommendation for me, at least I assume so because I was accepted. Conducting graduation was a lot of work for him. My class had over 900 students and as the names were called and the students received their diplomas, the orchestra played "Pomp and Circumstance" by Edward Elgar over and over and over and over..... It was hard on the wind section too, as those of us graduating played until it was near time to receive our diploma, then rejoined the orchestra after doing so. I lost touch with him for a long time after that, partly because he took a break from Taft to help get a new high school started.

Several years ago I looked up Jock Ellis using the internet and emailed him. At the time I was playing in a dance band and he helped me with suggestions on how to improve. He also put me back in touch with Ken, who had retired but was playing piano for rehearsals of various bands in Los Angeles. Ken was first and foremost a clarinetist, but also very good on piano. I've kept in touch with him ever since. I also found out that Lynn Tivens and another Taft 'bone player, Larry Black, had played some music with Ken and I started emailing those two guys. The internet is truly wonderful for things like that. After all these years I'm back in touch with four of the other trombone players and a saxophone player from high school days.

About six months ago, Lynn emailed to tell me Ken had cancer. He had been smoker, but had quit and was very athletic. He had gone through surgery and was undergoing chemotherapy, but it wasn't working. He was not too uncomfortable and was working on some big band charts he hoped to finish before his time ran out. I would email him about once a month with a music related cartoon, joke, or memory from high school days. Ken passed away on October 10, 2006.

We all have such good memories of him and are grateful for what he did for each of us. I am sure many other of his students from his long career feel the same. I've even come across articles on the internet written by students who graduated long after I did, which quote something he said during their band years. I am happy that I was able be in contact again these past several years and had the opportunity to express my gratitude. Like the Music Man, or the title character in Mr. Holland's Opus, Ken Kamp enriched the lives of his students. I know that for us Taft High trombone players of the late 60's, he's still marching at our side.

UPDATE: See the post about the "KEN KAMP MEMORIAL CONCERT" to be held March 5th 2007!

2006/10/09

Sunset on Tsukuba

Saturday brought gradually clearing skies and K emailed me from the train she was taking to Mito that Mt. Tsukuba, twenty miles from us, was clearly visible. I took a bicycle ride along the levy of Lake Kituara to have a look. The wind coming unobstructed over the lake and rice fields made it quite a workout, but the scenery was beautiful. Roads through the rice paddies - the rice has already been harvested - were nearly flooded and the lake was so full that concrete platforms that people can often be seen fishing from were covered with several inches of water. Sea gulls flocked along a rice paddy road and were scattered by another bicyclist struggling through the wind and water. Mt. Tsukuba was indeed clearly visible.

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Later in the afternoon, the sunset looked promising, so I got on the bicycle again and rode to a clearing overlooking the lake. It would be a beautiful spot to have a house that took advantage of the view. Happily for me it is just being used for growing vegetables and the owner doesn't mind if I come to enjoy the sunset once in a while.

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The scene reminded me of this painting of Montagne Sainte-Victoire by Paul Cezanne.


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The path home through a stand of cedars was carpeted with leaves and branches, their colors like splotches of paint on an artist's pallet. I was still feeling the inner glow of the sunset when I took Momo for an evening walk. As the fading sunlight colored a row of summer cottages in orange pastels, a full moon rose above them. Such an evening is the stuff of poems and paintings. I was duly inspired but also saddened by my own lack of skill in putting ink to paper (like Moody) or paint to canvas (like Wendy) that would in any way convey the moment. My memory of the experience will have to sufice and luckily for me, it does.

2006/10/08

Wreck of the Giant Step

Dateline: Kashima City, Japan
by Pandabonium and K

We went out today to find the wreck of the Giant Step (see previous post) and found her just south of Kashima Port, and north of the wind turbines of Kamisu City in what was formerly Hasaki Machi.

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Looking north from the wreck area. The buildings and smoke stacks in the distance are at Kashima Port


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Looking south - a young boy with a telefoto lens captures the wreck for posterity with the Hasaki wind turbine energy farm in the background.

The surf was big and pounding against the concrete barriers along the road with enough force to cause one to doubt the safety of the cars parked there (such as ours). Occassionally the waves would strike with such power as to send spray over the barriers and onto the highway as if to emphasize the power of the seas over man's feable efforts to tame it. Note to self: wash the car tomorrow.
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The stern section with the bridge is on the left, the bow - pointing left - is on the right. A Japan Coast Guard vessel (out of view) was on duty nearby.

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From a sand dune above the highway the wreck of the Giant Step was an obvious gaping sore. The iron ore cargo stained the waters in the area of the wreck a rust red. An unused bright orange lifeboat hung at its davits on the stern section. What was once a proud, useful machine lay broken in two before us like a toy spurned by a spoiled child - a glaring reminder of the power of nature and the fragility of human endeavor in her grip.

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At a closer vantage point, one sees details more clearly, though the spacial relationship of the two sections is perhaps less clear.

When viewed in a newspaper or on TV or the internet such a picture is just an abstract object and event and one can easily maintain an emotional detachment. But in person, the very sight of it takes on visceral meaning and one thinks of the dread of those aboard as the ship came aground and was torn apart in violent, agonizing death throws on the reef. One can but imagine the the jarring motions, the horrendous sound of steel being ripped apart as the wind, rain, and ocean lashed at every inch, and the knowledge of the end of the ship, perhaps of one's own life. It becomes real.

We followed the road to where it ended near the wreck. People were climbing the dunes to take a look, to take pictures. Most stood in silence. Many were taking pictures or looking through binoculars as were we.
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I wondered what drew us all here, if their thoughts were as mine. Is it just a ghoulish curiousity? Or do we humans instictively seek a kind of reality check, to see first hand that what we suspect about our technological superiorty is true? That in reality, our supposed superiority over nature and our certainty of it, hangs by a mere thread, and that we need to take heed. We need to be reminded now and then of how tenuous that thread really is. In short, we need at times to be humbled.

"The sea - this truth must be confessed - has no generosity. No display of manly qualities - courage, hardihood, endurance, faithfulness - has ever been known to touch its irresponsible consciousness of power." - Joseph Conrad