Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Age of Analog

I am currently listening to a book on tape of 'The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.' It's a gripping true story from WWII in which U.S. destroyers and destroyer escorts go up against a fleet of Japan's biggest cruisers and battleships.
While I could spend paragraphs on the story of the battle itself what interested me most was a small item in the narrative that describe the Mark 37 fire director that was in use on the Fletcher class of destroyers.
Unfortunately the history of technology in war is a neglected area in popular history and it's always amazing to find out how technically advance the weapons of WWII were.
The Mark 37 featured:
  • An analog mechanical computer for ballistic calculations
  • Gyro stabilization to automatically compensate for the movements of the ship imparted by the sea and keep the guns on target
  • Radar range finding for target acquisition and feeding the computer.
  • Electromechanical servo control of all 5-inch guns
This was an extremely sophisticated and accurate system. And, it was done with analog technology! The computer was mechanical and not electrical! Using gears, cams, and rods it could still provide for curvature of the earth, gravity, and weather conditions when calculating the guns' aim and then remotely slew and elevate each individual gun to ensure the rounds hit on target. In fact, as a further example of the capability of the Mark 37, when hitting the target the fire control officer could choose from a single pinpoint target to a spread of shells impacting along a line, for example a spread of 100 yards or 200 yards depending on the size of target.
I can only stand humbled and in awe of the quality of minds that could take gears moving in ratios, cams nudging rods to trip counters (see here for example), which could then read voltage high or voltage low signals, switches open or closed, to bring this all together.

Visit the Analog computer Musem.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Good Weeds, Good Cash Crop

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Capital Idea?

Maybe it's because of the movie 'The Killing Fields' but when I read of a government suddenly moving its capital to the vacant country side, as Burma is doing according to the BBC, I get uneasy feelings of what will happen next.

I hope this isn't the herald of a forth coming outbreak of internecine madness.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

1st Your Knives, Then Your scissors

The first nationwide knives amnesty to be held in Scotland is to be launched in the spring ....
When knives are outlawed only outlaws (and the Boy Scouts will have knives).

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Soldiering for Freedom

I just compete a very interesting book, "Soldiering for Freedom," by Herman J. Obermayer. Mr. Obermayer's book is an easy read. The chapters feature a summary and then copies of Mr. Obermayer's letters to his family during World War II.

What makes Mr. Obermayer's story interesting is that he was a young man who didn't like the Army, but did his best to serve his country.

Every since the movie "Saving Private Ryan," and the book "The Greatest Generation," the public has viewed WWII veterans as people who were on a crusade. "Soldiering for Freedom" brings back the facts of 1940 military life we've forgotten. He describes:
• The hurry up and wait so common to military operations.
• The dependence on rumors for information and the concurrent frustration of not knowing what's happening.
• The forming and training and then re-forming and retraining. He goes through a dizzying number of programs and units: college based technical training, Combat Engineer battalion, Airborne Engineer battalion, a medic in a Fuel line detachment, and legal clerk.
• The senseless and unfair rules: officer only facilities of higher quality than what the enlisted men were provided with, censorship of his mail, working for officers and noncommissioned officers who had less intellegence and/or education than him, etc.
• The resentment and lack of support from liberated French people for the war effort.

This is a part of the Army and the war that use to be shown in the television show "Sergeant Bilko" or the "Sad Sack" comic books--Civilians with an uneasy alliance to military life who often spent their time in uniform doing the best with what little the Army gave them.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

New Tin Cans

I have never visited the United Kingdom (UK). I don't have any personal experience of the UK mind set to help explain some of the news stories I read in UK newspapers, which seem to have a level of detachment form reality that I would normally only expect from the old 'Monty Python' television show. My example for today is:

"The most powerful frontline warship since the Second World War was launched… The first of Britain's new Type 45 destroyers took to the waters … The boat's defensive system, combining a hugely powerful radar and missile system, has left American visitors to the yard ''shaken and shocked'', according to BAE Systems."

Holy Cows! A destroyer! We're doomed call the fleet back to Pearl Harbor. I'm sorry, but until you have some real aircraft carriers, cruisers, etc. a destroyer no matter how decked out it is not going to leave any other countries Navy 'shaken and shocked.'