Category Archives: Navy

Posts dealing with things in the Navy.


I haven’t updated in awhile. This isn’t going to be much better, but it’s something.

Just got done with another long day at work. I will be leaving very soon to do my final class presentation (on a MySQL-backed Catalyst web site). After that I will be hitting the road tonight to drive 4-5 hours in order to see the Change of Command for one of my former Executive Officers, now taking command of my old ship (albeit the “other crew”…)

I hope to get more time for other things soon! :-/

The November update

So it’s been a busy month for me:

At work I’ve qualified as an instructor, qualified as Command Duty Officer (basically the senior-most officer on duty when everyone else goes home for the day), and just today I’ve become the Division Director for my division. Basically it just means way more work (I spent 10 hours at work today…) but on the other hand I’ll eventually get my picture on the posted Chain of Command pictureboard at the entrance. Not sure that’s the best tradeoff ever but that’s the major job I was assigned here for in the first place so onward I’ll go.

My class has a sense of humor. I mentioned yesterday that we always ran out of a particular flavor of coffee creamer first while underway. When I walked into the class today there were two little individual-sized creamers waiting for me. :)

On the KDE front, I sent the story about Sheldon’s T-shirt to a friend of mine who watches Big Bang Theory. I’ve switched kdesvn-build in trunk to not use any specific remote alias names for git repositories (since people who already had a repo clone couldn’t just use it with kdesvn-build). Finally I’ve been testing a patch to fix a JuK crash-on-shutdown bug. (My reproducer hasn’t gotten back to me though, so it may end up in trunk with me being the only tester :-/). Oh, Jeff Mitchell and Kubuntu conspired to get support for ASF and MP4 added to JuK (requires taglib 1.6, with support for MP4 and ASF specifically enabled). Still to do is to actually make a new kdesvn-build release, change the kdesvn-build name (I’m accepting reasonable suggestions!), and somehow, someway, eventually port JuK off of qt3support and kde3support.

Last (but certainly not least), on the personal level I’ve been super-busy learning LaTeX so that I could turn in two research papers (due on the same day, THANKS PROFESSORS! :P). Now I have to prepare related presentations (which I’m going to use LaTeX Beamer for).

The most somber assignment deserves its own paragraph: We received the death certificate for Emma in the mail recently. We know as much now as we did when she died; the cause of death is listed as undetermined. I need to find time during the working day to run to various Navy offices to handle the administrative mumbo-jumbo of updating my record of dependents to match. It’s still weird. Every day that I really focus my thoughts on Emma, I still don’t really accept that she’s dead. Not sure when it will finally hit me but I’m not looking forward to that day.


If I’m incommunicado over the next few days, it is because I’m in the process of moving to my next duty station, which will take place over the next couple of days. Everything is getting packed up tomorrow and shipped out Tuesday. Hopefully I will receive it Thursday at the new place.

I’ll try to check my email and such in the interim but if you can’t reach me, that’s why. Next stop: South Carolina!

Big news

You may have noticed that I was in port longer than normal between deployments. The reason is that my sea tour is over.

Right now I’m on leave, in the transition period between checking out of my last command and checking into the next one. I will be on instructor duty, responsible for training some of the Navy’s best and brightest (which is to say, I’ll just be one of the many cogs in the training pipeline, but still).

I just got back today from doing some house hunting in the area that I’ll be stationed, looks like I’ve managed to obtain a suitable place.

Of course, with any major transition needs to come some inward reflection. I’ve set aside some goals for myself to accomplish over the next 2 (or so) years as I accomplish my shore tour:

  1. Decide whether I want to stay in the Navy or not. I don’t hate submarines, but then again the Department Head tour that would be next for me would be, if anything, even more stressful. Not only that, but since my first boat was an SSBN, I would be pretty much guaranteed to be assigned to an SSN for my DH tour. SSNs have much longer times away from homeport (although they do at least get to make port calls — I’ve never seen a port other than Kings Bay, Georgia). I can say with certainty that I ended up being much better at the job than I thought I was going to be going into OCS in January 2005, so I know I’d do well if I continue on. In the end though, I think family issues may preclude me from remaining in the submarine force.
  2. A more mundane, though practical goal, would be to complete a master’s degree. Right now I can basically do Computer Science or some kind of Engineering Management course that qualifying Engineer Officer from Naval Reactors has set me up for. I’d like to do this before I complete my instructor duty assignment.
  3. I would like to attend at least one KDE or open-source conference! I should have more leave opportunities available to try to do so this time at least.
  4. And a shore tour wouldn’t be complete without hitting the gym 3-4 times a week at least. I want to get myself to where I don’t have to panic for the 2 weeks prior to a PRT to avoid going onto the “Fitness Enhancement Program” (although even that beats 2006 when I had to panic for 2-3 weeks prior to a PRT just to pass).
  5. I might start playing video games again. If I can get myself to swallow the swill that is modern video game marketing I might even sign up for the PlayStation Network so I can at least download game demos for my PS3 BluRay player. I’ve been waiting for Sony to quit referring to it as PLAYSTATION NETWORK, hopefully Sony gives up before my PS3 dies of underuse. Until then my Gamecube library still works fine and is (in retrospect) better than ever.
  6. And let’s not forget the various applications I maintain. It would be nice to merge JuK’s style into the modern era. Maybe I’ll learn KHTML or WebKit someday as well, as it’s a nice mix IMHO of systems programming (i.e. JavaScript, HTML parsing) and practical applications.

I’m also trying to build my own personal network to see what the possibilities are for non-Navy gainful employment about two years out in case my family situation doesn’t support that kind of sea duty.

Right now I see four feasible options assuming I have to get out:

  1. Get a job in the computer field programming. I think this would be ideal obviously, especially if it can also be open-source related.
  2. Get a nuclear-related job referred to me via the various submarine officer headhunters out there whose only purpose in life is to redirect officers getting out of the sub fleet to choice (and not so choice) nuclear jobs. Demand is so high that the employers pay for the privilege of fighting to hire you.
  3. Get a non-nuclear-related job via the same headhunter. Apparently submarine officers are highly regarded in the business world in general. Who knew?
  4. Give up and work for The Man in the form of some civil service job (in an attempt to make some of my Naval service time usable for a .gov pension). To be honest I think I’d rather just suck it up in the Navy if it came to this route.

Anyways though, it will be time to revisit this post in about a year I think.

Stupid heat pumps

So our boat is in refit right now, and even though the workload seems to be reduced in theory, it’s been more stressful than ever. I can at least be thankful that I’m no longer in Engineering Department, since it still seems like Engineering division officers are forced to spend long hours at work all the time due to some new and exciting broken part.

One thing I’ve noticed though is that pretty much every job I’ve had that’s supposed to be “easy” (especially being the Tactical Systems Officer) is a lot harder in practice, since I actually attempt to perform all the duties/responsibilities instead of just leaving things to rot. It’s fine, as I know I’m accomplishing a lot but then I worry about what the guy who relieves me is going to do. :)

Anyways, as you may have inferred from the subject the heat pump in our house seems to have broken. The refrigerant line on the outdoor coil was completely iced up (which is unfortunate given that this is only supposed to ever happen in wintertime, and it’s quickly approaching summer here).

I’ve looked it up a bit online and it seems the scenario is either dirty coils (although the ones I can see look fine), clogged coils, low refrigerant (which implies a leak), or something other semi-minor issue. It’s times like this when I really value the Navy-style fashion of having gauges and pressure switches everywhere, at least I’d have a chance at figuring out what is going on. This system has no user-visible status of the refrigeration cycle other than when the lines freeze up. :-(

Although my time has been sharply reduced between Emma, Ian, and refit I’m still working on my programs. I’ve recently committed the purge log feature I recently blogged about. It doesn’t run by default however. I’ll try to make a release tonight but I also want to make a kdemultimedia introspective for JuK so we’ll see.

Nuclear subs collide

I guess Slashdot has finally picked up on the collision between a British and French SSBN. Since submarining is my Real Job ™ I figured I’d try to disspell some of the inaccuracies I saw among the Slashdot comments.

I saw lots of comments regarding how extraordinarily low the probability “must be” for having two SSBNs collide in the Atlantic, therefore it must be some secret exercise, which I wanted to go into.

First off, SSBNs on patrol would not be able to just go anywhere in the Atlantic that they wanted to. Any missile system will have a set range, so depending on what country or countries they suspect they’d have to launch against, they’d at least have to be within some kind of minimum weapons range.

Further, there could be other criteria limiting their possible operating area. Maybe a country wants to keep their SSBNs within range of their maritime patrol aircraft so that there is air cover available to try and detect hostile SSNs looking for the SSBN. Maybe a country wants to keep their SSBN within a certain number of days of transit time to allow for timely changeout of SSBN in the event of mechanical failure or personnel casualty. There’s a lot of variables that could be put into the problem of determining a good operating area.

Given the fact that Britain and France are right next to each other it stands to reason that whatever operating areas they chose could be near each other or even intersecting. Unless the countries corresponded with each other to deconflict their operating areas they could unwittingly be having their SSBNs operate in the same waterspace.

France has been performing submerged strategic deterrance patrols since 1971, and Britain since 1968. That’s almost 40 years of submerged patrols going on and the fact that there’s been 1 collision in that time between countries which do not coordinate waterspace is frankly not that shocking.

The question then becomes how the submarines did not take action to avoid collision, since both were equipped with sonar. The answer lies in the fact that there are two major types of sonar, active and passive. Active sonar is the type of sonar you see in the Hollywood movies, where the submarine crew looks anxiously at the hull while it is being “pinged”. It’s actually counter-productive for a SSBN to use though, as it draws attention toward itself. Imagine a completely dark room with two people, and one turns on a flashlight. The person holding the flashlight is brilliantly obvious to the other person, but the person without a flashlight can still try to run out of range of the beam. Active sonar is more like an omni-directional light than a beam but in the context of avoiding detection at all costs it is still a no-go. So neither SSBN would have been using active sonar.

Passive sonar is the fallback, and is simply “putting an ear into the water” and listening for sounds. There are all manners of noise producers in the ocean. There is wave action, weather, biological activity, merchant traffic, normal background noise, etc. etc. When you keep in mind that both France and Britain have probably spent substantial sums of money designing, building, and maintaining a SSBN fleet that is nearly undetectable it doesn’t seem so surprising that passive sonar would have been ineffective at detection, not to mention tracking. There are other ways of trying to detect a submerged submarine but the common thread is you’d need to be close no matter what you do.

Given that there have been collisions between submerged submarines before (for instance, USS Tautog), even back when they were much noisier it’s not surprising per se that it would happen again.

The other major comment I read was the usual uninformed commentary over nuclear weaponry and/or propulsion. Many were concerned with the effects on either the warheads or the propulsion plant. I can’t speak to warhead design but the engineering problem of preventing an inadvertent detonation of an unarmed warhead is not exactly rocket science. The hard part was getting it to blow up in the first place! In addition the reactor plant (if it’s anything like ours at least) is probably going to be the most likely thing to work after a collision. Keep in mind they are designed to sustain battle damage from things like torpedoes and depth charges. The real contamination people are worried about is embedded inside the fuel plates in the reactor core. The reactor coolant itself is not nearly as large a concern. In fact, American nuclear-powered ships maintain a coolant discharge log (section 25.2.4) to record coolant discharges at sea.

Even if the nuclear plant were to have sprung a leak, it has to get through the submarine hull itself before it escapes to the environment (and in that situation the submarine is likely sunk anyways).

What would have happened in the event of the real catastrophe, that one or both submarines would have sunk? Same thing that happened to USS Thresher and USS Scorpion, the reactor plant would scram, and the decay heat cooling would be provided by the seawater flooding into the ship and reactor compartment as the submarine broke up while it was sinking. If contamination did leak it would be at the bottom of the ocean (the phrase “like peeing into the ocean” springs to mind).

The warheads themselves would sit inert in the ocean, undoutedly to be recovered at great expense (if feasible, at least). A US Air Force nuclear bomb was dropped into the Mediterranean Sea without blowing up in 1966 (three other bombs fell on Spain, two actually blew up without detonating the warhead). So the consequences would be severe but at the same time, a magic detonation just from going bump isn’t a plausible failure mode for the warheads.

So to sum up, this is a big deal, I’ll be interested to see what is publically released after the inquiry but there is no reason to be up in arms about warheads blowing up or reactor cores melting down or weird conspiracies between French and British SSBNs gone awry. (In fact, if the British and French had been doing an exercise it’s highly unlikely they would have collided, it’s very easy to say “you stay above 100m and I’ll stay below 200m” and thereby prevent the very possibility of collision.)

As an aside, if you think this collision was bad, then you must not be familiar with USS San Francisco, which ran into a mountain underwater at flank speed (and survived). And the reactor plant not only survived unscathed, but she managed to drag herself home under her own power.

Back again part 5

So I returned a few days ago from our latest deployment. As far as SSBN patrols go it was pretty successful.

Anyways, since there’s no better way to celebrate a return to port than spending time with family, I’ve been doing a lot of that. My wife is pregnant with our second kid so we went out to get her a recliner since the littlest one has been hurting her back.

Another good way to celebrate return to port is to start fixing bugs! In that spirit I fixed bug 178425 in kdelibs yesterday. Hopefully the File Open/File Save standard dialogs will sort more intelligently for you now.

I also did the normal upgrades and cursory review of the last couple of weeks of messages that I missed. I noticed that Paul Adams had a post up about code contributions to KDE. It looks just how I’d expect for myself:

In other news someone was nice enough to mail my wife some KDE swag and a cheer-up note for the holidays, which is much appreciated! :) So now I have a KDE ballcap to wear around when I’m out and about.

I’ve still got a lot to do around the house so I’ll probably not be online too much but I just wanted to let everyone know I’m back.

Happy Halloween

I’m not back yet but I figured I’d leave a message to be posted while I was gone. Don’t forget that feature freeze is almost up! (At least according to the release schedule as of this time). If you have stuff to get in do so, just try and make sure it’s well-baked by now.

It’ll be interesting to see if we end up adopting the branch seasons idea being thrown around (i.e. winter, autumn, summer, spring). It could serve to change our release mechanism such that we could add new features whenever and they would only make it into a release once they have the kinks worked out.

Also Thanksgiving is coming up for the American contingent. Wish I could be there but someone has to stand the watch, right now it’s my turn. So Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it, be sure to save me some pumpkin pie!

This is an autogenerated message. I am currently away

Here I go again

So by the time you read this I’ll be deployed again.

Unfortunately even as demanding as our refit environments normally are this was more demanding than most. I’ve had a few bugs in the latest kdesvn-build releases reported (172635, 172696, and 172719). Not all of the bugs were regressions but it appears that despite my best efforts 1.7.1 is a buggier release than I would normally find acceptable. And of course JuK continues to float by almost on life support.

Even given all of that however, I think I did manage to get a lot done during this in-port period. KDE is already working on the 4.2 release with a few non-JuK, non-kdesvn-build improvements which I got included including some kioslave improvements and a new screensaver. JuK itself did see some love although not as much as I’d like. So I think I’m satisfied with what I’ve accomplished.

Please note that software like kdesvn-build is by definition unmaintained unless some kind souls want to keep it going while I’m out. I can’t tell you when I’ll be back (although it obviously won’t be forever) but Perl isn’t quite as bad as it’s made out to be and besides that I’ve tried to deliberately use easy-to-read coding style in kdesvn-build to make it maintainable. I’ve also disabled my mailing lists and Bugzilla email. I will email an address that may work separately to Thiago Macieira if it is urgent to reach me, just keep in mind I may not be able to reply back depending on the ship’s schedule.

So while I’m out working hard please keep yourselves safe and keep truckin’ on KDE work. KDE 4 is looking great and I’m looking forward to being back to work on it. There is a rumor this may be my last patrol. No definites unfortunately but until you have orders to your next duty station in hand, nothing is definite anyways. I’m leaving comments enabled so if you see spam start to pop up in the comments I apologize and I’ll fix it when I get back.


So the recent Hurricane Hanna that passed by forced our ship to get underway last week and I got to spend almost a week deployed. Yay. I’m back for now but we’ve been super-busy since then trying to make up for lost time.

I managed to find time to go ahead and move the asciiquarium screensaver into kdeartwork, which should be a part of KDE 4.2.

KDE trunk is looking better and better with each passing day which is nice. I’m tempted to run out and buy an ATI card at this point if only for the better hardware support in Linux. It seems that everytime I build a computer I inadvertently pick the worst-supported graphics card somehow. :-/

Anyways, I’m too tired to remember what else I was going to post so I’m just going to go to bed. :P