Thursday, October 29, 2009

2009 Sea Voyage Day 0...

My plan was to show up early and get my bearings on board the ship. The dispatch said my pay would start at 0800 on the 30th and the ship would arrive around 1600 on the 29th.

I got to the APL terminal at 2100 on the 29th looking for the ship and the security guard informed me that she'd been delayed. New ETA has the ship picking up the harbor pilot at 02o0 on the 30th and then pierside at 0400.

So I'd had Ana drive me from Petaluma all the way to the Oakland Inner Harbor late at night, drive all over the darkest streets that the City of Oakland has to offer, and sit and wait in a dimly-lit parking lot by the docks for no reason at all.

Fuck me for being proactive.

Day one will have me on the pier at 0600 (in the morning) ready to start my 70-day work week. Stay tuned...

Job Hunt 2009

For those of you who don't know, in the midst of all of the random projects I've been working on I've also been looking for another ship. Well after months of waiting, I've got one. Here's the story:

Finding a job is a fairly straightforward process. You go to the union hall, put your shipping card in the basket, and wait for the noon job call. At noon, if there's a shipping job available, the dispatcher takes all of the shipping cards and puts them in order. They are arranged first by seniority group or "book" and then by the age of the card within each book.

There are four different membership books. They are called simply "A-book," "B-b00k," "C- book," and "D-b00k." I am the other type of union guy called an "applicant." This means that I'm even more junior than the most junior book member. So when the dispatcher calls a job I have to hope that there are not book members in the hall that day. If there is a book member in the hall, I have to hope that they pass on the job so I can get it. That's the bad part.

The good part is that among applicants I have a shipping card that dates back to when I signed off the M/V Moku Pahu back in August of 2008 and shipped out for Afghanistan. This puts me in line ahead of all of the other applicants. Essentially I'm on the top of the stack on the bottom shelf. This continues to be the case until I actually take a shipping job. Then, when I get back, I get a shiny new card and I'm at the bottom of the stack again.

Being first in line among applicants is a bit of an advantage. The trick is: if a job comes up and nobody takes it, I have to decide if I want to take it or if I'd rather gamble that there's something better still that nobody wants.

About three weeks ago I made this gamble and almost won big. There was a 35-day gig as 2/M (Second Mate) aboard a containership belonging to American President Lines. I forget the name of the ship. I decided to skip that job because there was always a chance something better would come up. 35 days makes me enough cash to get by for a little while, but 120 is enough to pay the bills for the whole year. It was a gamble.

The following week word got out that there was a 105-day 2/M job coming up aboard the APL Thailand. This would be perfect. Unfortunately, by Friday that week, there was already a book member who had flown up from Long Beach specifically looking for that particular job. Oh well.

The job was called on Monday and he got it. Then, by 1500 that afternoon I got a call to let me know that there was a chance that job would be available again and I'd have to be sure to show up the next day when it was called.

It turns out that that rumor was incorrect and I was back to waiting again.

With Halloween looming on the horizon, I was tempted to blow off the job call for a week or so. On the other hand, with massive debt looming on the opposite horizon, I was compelled to go. This week Monday I walked into the hall and there was a memo posted which stated that Matson Navigation Company was likely to break out two more ships in the coming week. This meant they'd need two 2/Ms and two 3/Ms (Third Mates), all of which were jobs I'd be qualified for. Pay would start Thursday. Clearly, unless a whole bunch of book members decided to ship out at once, I was about to get a ship.

On Tuesday I walked in to see the biggest crowd I've ever seen at the hall. Usually there's as many as four or six guys who show up for job calls. This day there was something like twenty. The Matson jobs I was expecting weren't posted yet, but three other jobs were. With all of the sudden crowd lined up for work, it was obvious that I was just going to have to take the first thing that came my way. If I'd gone ahead and tried to gamble that I could get a better job later, I'd've lost.

By the time it was all done, I ended up walking away with a 70-day job as the 2/M aboard APL Phillipines. Here's a shot of the ship:



For those of you who don't know much about ships, those boxes on the deck are the same 40-foot long containers you see behind big-rig trucks on the highway. This will be the largest ship I've ever sailed aboard and my first time on a container ship.

I'm about to lay aboard to get a quick runaround and figure out where everything is. Tomorrow we'll leave and I'll start my 70 days. I'm told the next stop will be Dutch Harbor, Alaska* and then a whole host of ports in the Far East. The ship will make the same trip twice in my time on board and I should be back sometime in early January.

I'll post updates on this little adventure as often as I can. Stay tuned...

*Dutch Harbor, Alaska is the port that shows up all the time in that stupid "deadliest catch" TV show. Keep an eye out for me in the background.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One More HALO Project Update

I've managed to get a few things done in the shop over the past couple of days.

First up, here's an old pistol prototype I've had on the shelf for a while.


I bought it from another maker who printed it out on some sort of rapid prototyping machine. It's way too small (about half-sized) but it looks cool, so I wet-sanded and primed and wet-sanded it and then dusted it with some silver paint. I'm toying with the idea of molding it up and casting copies. They'll go well with my kid-sized helmets that I've started cranking out:


I also made the first pull from the calf mold and primed it:


Then I started the paintjob on the rest of the armor:


The plan is to make a battle-scarred version of the paintjob worn by the Master Chief in the game. To that end, I start with a black primer and then put on a solid metallic coat (DupliColor Chrome if it matters):


Then I use mustard to mask off all of the areas where I want to have scratches showing bare metal, spray the entire thing with Rustoleum "Army Green" gloss spraypaint, then dust it heavily with Krylon Camoflage Ultra-Flat something or other. It's the dark green from that color line-up. Once that starts to stiffen up, I go over the whole thing with a rag, wiping off all of the mustard masked portions to show the bare metal color underneath:

I think the effect is pretty good:


Somewhere in the past couple of days I got back to tinkering with the visor again:

I've just about perfected the look and it'll look perfect once the paintjob is done:
Partial Helmet Paintjob

I still need to finish the prototypes for the thigh armor. It's still at the 75% point right now:
Thigh Prototypes Fairing

I ran out of moldmaking rubber over the weekend and the new shipment arrives tomorrow. I also ran out of casting resin, so I ordered another ten gallons. Because I'm an addict and I can't wait that long for my fix, I'd also picked up some smaller quantities from TAP Plastics (my local supplier) just to keep up the momentum of productivity.

The plan was to have the whole thing done and wearable in time for Halloween, and it sounded like a good deal. I have altered the deal. More about that in my next post.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

HALOween is Getting Closer

When last I updated the status of the HALO project, I'd just finished making the prototype calf. I now have a mold for the calf armor. Here's how it happens.

Step one: prep the model for molding:
Calf Mold prepped

Step two: Brush on a thin coat of silicone to pick up all of the surface details:
Calf Mold brushing

Step three: add more rubber until you've got at least 1/2" of material covering the entire thing:
Calf mold rubber done
(Note: I cheated a little bit here and added clumps of silicone leftovers from other molds. You can get away with it because silicone only sticks to itself, but it sticks to itself very well.)

Once the mold is adequately thick, the next step is to build a mothermold:
Calf Mold two-thirds mothermold
The idea is that the rubber jacket might flop all over the place and distort the castings, so we need to build a rigid "mothermold" to keep the rubber still while the casting resin sets up. In this case, the mothermold will be a three part shell made of urethane casting resin reinforced with fiberglass mat. Once the back side was hard, the whole thing gets flipped over and the same steps are repeated on the other side.

When the parts of the mold have fully cured, the next step is to pull them apart, remove the prototype, reassemble the mold, and begin making castings. Here's a shot of me holding the jacket after pulling it off the front of the calf:
Calf Jacket

Somewhere along the way I managed to pull my first copy of the abdomen section of the undersuit details.
underarmor ab

Ana was in town to help out for a couple of days, so here's a shot of her trying it on:
Ana Ab Section

Here it is with me holding some of the hard armor parts in place around it:
Underarmor ab test fit

For comparison, here's an in-game screenshot of the same piece:

I didn't get it perfect, but then again every time I compare the costume to the game model I notice something else I missed. Hopefully it'll look a lot better when it's fastened to a form-fitting lycra skin instead of hanging over baggy coveralls.

There are still a few more details over the oblique section of the waist, but those will be separate rubber castings. Here I am pouring the silicone mold for those pieces as well as the details for the small of the back:
Undersuit Moldmaking

So at this point I've got separate molds for the helmet, chest, back, shoulders, triceps, biceps, gauntlets, handplates, abdomen plate, belt pieces, codpiece, buttplate, greaves (calf/shin armor) boot uppers, boot soles, and the waist section of the undersuit.

Now all I need to do is finish fairing, smoothing, and detailing the thigh armor:
Thighs

And makes molds for that as well as the groin details:


I'm about to run out of materials for molding and casting. A new shipment will arrive Wednesday, Wednesday and Thursday will be busy days if I'm going to have this done in time. Fortunately, my friend Matt's wife bought him a bunny suit to wear for Halloween, so he's motivated to help out so we can build him anything else to wear. Between the two of us, we should have the resources to get it done.

Fingers crossed. Stay tuned...

Friday, October 23, 2009

My Own Personal Psychological Problem

Over the past several weeks I've had a handful of people tell me that I seem changed since my return from the Middle East. At first I didn't see it, but I was told that I just don't seem as happy as I used to and folks keep asking me what all I went through while I was at war.

The short answer: not much. I was close enough to hear a handful of explosions, but never saw any. I was in a plane that someone shot an RPG at, but I didn't hear about it until after we landed. I got stuck inside a secure compound for a few hours because a riot had broken out on the street outside, but I spent the duration watching movies in the exchange food court and waiting for the all clear. I can't in any way say that I had a hard time there, so no, I am not suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

I've been trying to maintain the assertion that nothing about me has changed, but I finally noticed a subtle difference Friday morning when I was driving to the union hall and nearly killed a jaywalker. She'd decided to sprint across Howard Street, a somewhat busy four lane road in San Francisco, against the light and without checking for traffic. For those of you who don't know, I drive a somewhat conspicuous car, so I'm usually taken by surprise when someone doesn't notice it. This particular someone dashed out in front of it and came so close that I overreacted, locked the brakes and came within inches of clipping her off at the knees. Then she froze, staring at me for what seemed like forever before shuffling the rest of the way across the street at a snail's pace.

I nearly killed her. Seeing as how I drive a small car, I'm confident that the collision probably would've just maimed her. When I say I nearly killed her, I mean that when this fuckwit hapless pedestrian decided to make me stop because she was in a hurry and then made me wait while she ambled away, it was all I could do to restrain myself from getting out of the car and bludgeoning her to death with her own shoe.

This is not normal for me.

Still, if I do have something clinically wrong with me then I'm convinced it's something new. Given the way my last year went, I can't complain about post traumatic stress disorder. Instead, I've decided to call my problem "post inconvenience stress disorder."

Don't worry, it won't have me climbing a clocktower with a high-powered rifle anytime soon. I don't need medication or lengthy counseling sessions. What I do need is to be left to my little bubble of whatever-the-hell-I-want-to-do. I'm certain that given a little time, I'll be able to reestablish my usual degree of patience and zen. Then, the next time someone tries to commit suicide by running out in front of my car, I'll be able to just smile and wave again.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

HALO Project Update

Yesterday I finished the prototype for the calf armor:
calf prototype2

The overall shape is decent enough, but there's a few problems with symmetry. I'd start over on the whole thing, but with Halloween looming close I figure I'll just roll with it.
calf prototype

There's also some minor problems with some of the details in the Achilles' tendon area, but I'm just going to deal with it:
calf prototype3

Since I had someone handy to take pictures last night, I decided it was a good time to try some test fitting:
test fit

I stuffed a block of foam inside the top of the helmet, so it was sitting way too high and looked much bigger than it actually is:
Test fit3

The piece on the outside of the upper arm is a bit too long too, but that's an easy fix.

I need to upgrade my rifle too:
Test Fit2

When this project was originally conceived, the plan was to build costumes for each of the characters of the online series Red vs. Blue. The guy I'll be dressing up as Sarge is my friend Don. Since he was on hand (and the biggest guy in the group) we had him try on the arm armor:
test fit 6

His daughter Jen will be playing Sister. Here she is on the left with Don on the right. The gauntlets fit pretty loose on her, but they should look fine as long as we pad her elbow to fill out the upper end:
test fit4

I found some great looking gloves to go with the costume too. These are "Death Grip" gloves from Dead On Tools. Their tagline is "make the nails bleed." I had to have them:
test fit 5

Back to the workshop now. Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

HALO Project Update: Tunnel Vision Fully Engaged

When last I posted about this project, I was bobbling along at a medium pace and tinkering with a few of the pieces. At this point, I now have molds for all of the armor parts from the crotch up.

Here's a couple shots of the pelvis armor (aka "space diaper") during test fitting:
crotch armor
Butt Armor
Here's a shot of the inside of the front to give you an idea of the strap arrangement that keeps all the junk in place:
inside crotch
Believe it or not, it's surprisingly easy to wear. I had it on for about an hour in the shop and it didn't interfere at all with walking, kneeling, or anything else while I was working.

That same day I started the mothermolds for the gauntlets. Here's a shot of the silicone jacket with the parting line built in oil-based clay:
Gaunt molds2

Here's the first half of the mothermold being built up:
Gaunt molds3
Once this cured, the next step was to peel the clay off the other side, coat the parting line with a release agent, and build up the other half of the mothermold.

They should be ready to take apart and start making castings soon, so I'll post more when I've got more.

In the meantime, I've also started prototyping the parts to be cast in rubber for the undersuit:
undersuit

For now, I've run out of rubber gloves and a handful of other workshop sundries I really ought to have in order to keep working. I have molds for the helmet, arm parts, handplates, ab plate, chest, back, boot uppers, and crotch armor. Now I just have to finish the prototypes for the underarmor components, calves, and thighs, make molds of all of them, cast the parts I'm still missing, clean, prime, and paint everything, and it'll be all done!

Then I can take a break from looking like this:
Creeping

And spend a few days looking like this:




SIDE NOTE: As the castings of the various armor parts come out of the molds I've been dumping them in a tub full of water and detergent to get the oily film from the silicon molds off of them. As an added bonus, over half of the pieces float:
parts tub
I know it's probably a Darwin Award in the making, but I'm tempted to go swimming in the costume once I've got it built.

More to come. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

There's No Arguing with my Father

Every once in a while, someone will remark that it's amazing how well I get along with my dad. They point out that even though I'm very opinionated, whenever I disagree with him I never make any kind of big deal about it and he always wins. It all boils down to one simple lesson I've already learned time and time again: he's always right.

Case in point...

When I was eight years old I was hanging out while he was tinkering in his workshop. For those of you who've never seen the old man's workshop, it was converted from one of the numerous chicken barns on the property. It has plank and batten siding that keeps out a bit of the rain while still letting in the cold, dust, and bugs.

In the rear of the building is the tool room, a claustrophobic little space walled in completely with shelves overflowing with stuff. The best word that could ever be used to describe it is "cluttered." He has at least three of every tool you could ever think of needing, and usually their age will be spread across at least as many decades.

At eight years old I couldn't comprehend why he had so much random crap crammed into every nook and cranny of this rickety old building. Why not just get rid of it and make space to park another car inside and out of the rain? Why not just sell it all and buy a new car instead? Why not melt it down for scrap? When I asked, he explained his standing philosophy regarding equipment; "if you plan to use a tool once, you rent it. But if you'll need it a second time, you should buy it."

While this principle makes sense on its face, I still wasn't convinced that he had enough use for all this stuff to justify keeping it around. To test my theory, I wandered back into the tool room, knelt down to look behind the stuff behind the stuff in the darkest, dustiest corner of the room, and grabbed the rustiest, most useless piece of junk I could find.

The item I grabbed was a couple of steel plates connected by threaded rods with nuts on the ends, outside of the plates. One of the plates had a large notch taken out of it that went all the way to the middle.

"What's this?" I ask.

"That," says he, "is a propeller puller."

"What?"

"A propeller puller. See, if you've got a propeller that's stuck on a tapered shaft and need to pull it off the end, you put the notched plate on the hub, tighten the nuts on the threaded rods, and the other plate will pull against the end of the prop shaft until it comes off."

"Okay dad, that's great," says I, "but we don't have a boat."

He insisted that he had good reason for keeping it (despite my misgivings) and told me to put it back where I'd found it. I complied but I was unconvinced.

Fast forward about ten years.

I was home from college for the winter break and dad was the skipper of the local scout ship.* I was aboard for a New Year's Day cruise and we were headed back upriver after a fairly slow day on San Pablo Bay when there was a loud thump followed by a terrible vibration that persisted all the way back to the Petaluma Marina.** It was pretty clear we'd hit something solid enough to do some sort of damage to one of the props or shafts.

When we'd moored safely in the marina and shut down the engines, dad pulled on his wetsuit and went down to survey the damage. After a few minutes under the boat he surfaced.

"The starboard prop has a ninety-degree turn bent into one of the blades," says he. Then he looked directly at me and asked, "do you remember where you put that propeller puller? Because we need it."

I didn't even have to ask any questions, I just shook my head and drove over to the house. When I unlocked the shop I went back into the tool room, knelt down to look behind the stuff behind the stuff in the darkest, dustiest corner of the room, and there it was, exactly where I'd left it.


He was right too. He did have good reason to keep it. He's always right.

*Dad's involvement with the sea scouts started sometime around the time I turned fourteen.

**It's worth pointing out that the Petaluma Marina didn't even exist when I was eight years old and first discovered the prop puller.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fleet Week Trip Aboard SSS Compass Rose

Sunday morning I set out with the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Sea Scouts aboard the Sea Scout Ship Compass Rose to see the Fleet Week air show. I'm not sure why they opted out of the parade of ships on Saturday, but the flying part of the show was cancelled due to the weather, so it worked out alright for everyone.

The transit downriver was pretty uneventful (aside from being a bit chilly) and having almost 40 people on board. We took up a position west of Alcatraz with plenty of time for Don to grill up some hotdogs for lunch:
Don Grilling
Along the way I drank a bunch of coffee:
Coffee
The weather was pretty bleak:
Alcatraz
The SSS Steves had made the trip up from Santa Cruz for the day (also with a lot of extra people on board):
SSS Steves
SSS Chaser had cruised down from Napa too:
SSS Chaser
The bay wasn't even half as crowded as it has been every other time I've been out for Fleet Week, but there was still no shortage of big, shiny sailboats:
Shiny Boat

Random Schooner
The air show was as good as ever and we'd picked a great spot where one of the Blue Angels streaked right over the top of us close enough to read the pilot's name off the fuselage. I didn't take any pics or video until a bit later:


It's hard to really capture how fast and loud these things are when you're taking pics from underneath:
Climbing

Either way, it was a nice trip and I'm glad I took the time:
Self Portrait in San Francisco Bay

On the way back up the river we ended up rendering aid to a somewhat clueless sailor who couldn't figure out how to sail into the wind with no fuel. I always get a kick out of situations like this:
Towing

We towed this hapless halfwit to the guest dock at Lakeville before we cast him off to drift over to the dock-our good turn daily.

We were moored in the Petaluma Marina by eight-something that night. Nice.