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22 November 2011

Diego Garcia: Recreation

Before I arrived on the island four weeks ago (!!) I assumed that there really wouldn’t be very much to do, so I brought several books with me. Little did I know that the Morale Wellness Recreation (MWR) program here on Diego Garcia organizes activities every single day. A few are limited to military only, but most are open to everyone. Also, everyone gets a free t-shirt for participating in the event! Here are the MWR events that I’ve done:

  • 500-m Windsurf Board Paddle Race
  • – Heather & I weren’t even planning on doing this one. We just happened to be at the Marina getting a windsurfing lesson on our first full day on the island, when the Marina guy (Poga, more on him and windsurfing later) insisted with a big smile that we stay for the paddleboard race. We said we’d never paddleboarded before, but he said it didn’t matter, and that we’d get a t-shirt out of it. So that sold us! Basically, we could either stand or kneel on a windsurf board, and paddle out a couple hundred meters against the surf, turn left for a hundred meters, and then paddle a couple hundred meters back into shore. The wind was whipping up some decent waves coming into shore, so I thought the way out would be really tough, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be.


  • Ultimate Frisbee
  • – It took me awhile to find where the field was, and by the time I showed up it was almost halftime. I jumped in for the 2nd half, and played well (I was happy about that, playing with a bunch of military guys!), but when that game was over that was it. Supposedly a few other teams were supposed to show up to have a tournament, but only two teams did. So I got a free shirt for playing 10-12 minutes of frisbee. Not bad work!

  • Moonlight Wander 5k Fun Run
  • – Around a couple hundred people showed up for this run. It’s so hot and humid on the island, it was nice that this was an evening run, starting around sunset. It’s still plenty humid in the evening though, as the dewpoint is almost constantly 77 degrees F. I hadn’t done much running in the previous 6-8 weeks, so that combined with the humidity made me okay with finishing the race in a sluggish 33 minutes. Hopefully I’ll be able to do the 5k at AGU in San Francisco faster than that!

  • 37-mile Tip to Tip Bike Ride
  • – This was one of the highlights of my entire trip! Rachel & I went down to the Marina at 7am one Saturday morning, loaded up on an LRV (think of what the boats that landed at D-Day), and ferried across to the northeastern tip of the island, at Barton Point. The first 10 miles of the ride were on a trail through the jungle, where we had to dodge coconuts, crabs, rats, and roots. Not long after we started it rained pretty hard for awhile, which turned the trail to mud, adding new obstacles. Some of the puddles were quite long and deep with no way around them, and my feet would go into the muddy water when I pedaled. In one of the puddles I was trying to power through, my momentum came to a sudden halt on a submerged coconut. My shoes and legs were literally covered in mud, it was crazy!


    After we got to the R & R Site (just north of the East Point Plantation on the east side of the island), we had 9 miles on a gravel road through forest and jungle. There were fewer obstacles to dodge, but there were still plenty of big puddles. The puddles weren’t necessarily cleaner, but after the Plantation they were gray and chalky from the chipped stone gravel, instead of mud brown. So gradually the brown mud I was covered with was replaced by gray mud, haha. Then at mile 18.5 was a much-welcomed refreshment station at GEODSS (Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance; I may write a separate post about our tour of GEODSS) with fruit, water, and Gatorade. But it was only the halfway mark. (For the first 10 miles there was water every mile, but only every ~3 miles afterward.)


    From then on it was 18.5 miles on paved road. By this point the sun had come out and it was really hot. I was able to keep up a pretty good pace with Rachel until the donkey gate at about the 12 mile mark, but from then on I was really struggling (and Rachel went on ahead). I was very tired and very sore, but I kept going with frequent breaks. Though I was exhausted, I didn’t want to give up — I wanted to finish and accomplish this. Eventually I made it, completing the race in 5.5 hours! I walked around like an old man for the rest of the day, sore in just about every muscle and joint in my body (and I had to work a 9-hr shift right afterward!). I’m not used to biking any distance; other than my ride around Rottnest Island near Perth a month ago, it had been around eight years since I’d ridden a bike more than about 5 miles in a day. I’m sure the going would’ve been easier if I had bike shorts, or if I’d had a road bike for the last half instead of a rental mountain bike. But hey, I still did the Tip to Tip!


  • Scrabble Tournament
  • – I got pwned by three Filipinos. Totally pwned like I was a Scrabble n00b. It was a bit humbling, haha. Of course, my chances weren’t helped my missing three straight turns; two were lost when I challenged words others made (and they were in the Scrabble dictionary, including “gleed” … huh?), and then another was lost when someone successfully challenged a word I tried to make. Oh well, I still had fun and got a t-shirt out of it!

  • 3-person Innertube Swimming Relay Race
  • – Rachel was on shift out at the site, so Heather & I convinced Adam to come out of his room and have a little fun down at the pool. Each of us had to swim 50 meters, or one full down-and-back lap, with our bodies in the middle of an innertube. Heather led off, Adam was second, and then I was our “Team Awesome” relay anchor. I went 110% the first 25 meters, and then around the 35 meter mark I started dying; I’m definitely not used to swim races! I still managed to catch one other team to place us second out of four in our heat. It wasn’t good enough for a “medal” though (14 teams total). The sudden burst of exertion was a little much for normally-sedentary Adam though, as he hurled in a garbage can on the way back to the barracks. Heather & I felt kinda bad for “making” him do it, but he was a good sport about it, and fully recovered a few minutes later.


    I’d say that’s pretty good variety! There have been plenty more events that I haven’t done, such as 6-person indoor volleyball tournaments, 400-m swims, 500-m ocean kayak races, bowling tournaments, doubles tennis tournaments, doubles table tennis tournaments, quarter marathons, duathlons… Most of those I didn’t do because I had to work, or they were team events and the other people down here didn’t feel like doing those. Seriously, there’s a lot going on, it’s great!

    One “unofficial” activity is the Diego Garcia Hash House Harrier runs. Heather & I both participated in two of these. The runs themselves involve trail running as a social event. The trail is marked by spots of flour periodically, and as you pass each marker you need to yell “ON-ON!” so that the people behind you know where the trail is. There are also markers occasionally for clothing exchange (where one item of clothing must be exchanged with another hasher for the rest of the run), for the guys to wait while the women scout out where the trail is, for the women to wait while the guys scout out where the trail goes, for pausing to dance a jig, and most importantly for “BEER NEAR.” Yep, there are multiple breaks during the run for drinking a beer (that’s probably how hash houses worldwide earn the nickname, “a drinking club with a running problem”), haha. There are even markers for false trails too, which are evil. Anyway, the trails can go pretty much anywhere, including on trails through the jungle, through mud puddles, along the beach, into the lagoon, through barracks buildings, along a road… I think the military’s restricted areas are pretty much the only off-limits places for hashing. The runs themselves are pretty fun, but then afterward is the “circle time,” where “infractions” are handed out (with insults and fairly crude songs sung — not such a fan of some of the songs), new members welcomed, some veteran hashers given a hasher alias, etc. Unfortunately the circle time on my two hash runs has been an hour and a half (as long as or longer than the actual run itself), which is waaaay too long. Hash run: lots of fun. Circle time: tedious, boring, and a bit uncomfortable. Circle time should be limited to half an hour, tops. There are hash houses around the world apparently with lots of odd and eclectic traditions, so maybe I’ll check out one in Colorado at some point. But anyway…

    On top of the official MWR activities, the gym and pool are both free to use, which I mentioned in my last post. I took good advantage of those, I feel like. All sorts of sports equipment is free to rent at the gym too, including stuff like golf clubs and tennis rackets. Bikes also only cost $15 to rent for the whole month. Incidentally, there was a bit of a language barrier at the bike rental place though, so I wound up purchasing a cateye bicycle headlight and taillight for $10 instead of renting them (but I think the taillight fell off sometime during the Tip to Tip, bummer), and because none of their helmets were anywhere close to fitting me, I had to “purchase” one from them for $10, but it’s not at all clear to me if I’ll get my money back when I turn in the bike or not. If not, it was still a cheap rental for a month!

    Then there are all sorts of water activities down at the Marina, about a mile away from Downtown. At the Marina you can rent snorkel gear for free. Sadly, I only took advantage of that once, going snorkeling out near our research site in Thunder Cove. I had problems with water getting in my mask though, and there weren’t flippers that fit me, so I didn’t feel comfortable venturing too far out into the coral where it wasn’t safe to put my feet down. The Marina also offers sailing classes periodically, but we didn’t do that.

    One thing I did take advantage of at the Marina was windsurfing. Your first lesson is FREE, and then after that it only costs $2/day to rent a windsurf board/sail. Seriously. Two dollars. So I went down there a few times, but not as much as I probably should’ve. Anyway, my first time I spent falling down a lot (big surprise). On my second time I figured out how to stay balanced much better, and learned how to turn around. On my third time the wind and waves were much stronger than I’d previously experienced, so just staying balanced was a big problem again for me. And then I didn’t go again for awhile, but my fourth time was yesterday. I spent an hour and a half unsuccessfully trying to figure out how not to get pushed into shore. So I asked Poga, a really cool guy who’s the head of the Marina, for a few tips. After another couple of tries it finally clicked and I fixed what I was doing wrong! So I was able to end on a couple of really good runs (really good for me, anyway), including several turnarounds. On my last run I saw a sea turtle playing in the water right in front of me, so I just started watching it instead of paying attention to what I was doing — of course I lost my balance and fell right over, haha. Still pretty cool! And on an earlier run I saw a big stingray swim right under my board!


    Add on to that all the lagoon and ocean beaches that there are to visit (I’ll make a future post dedicated to DG beaches and beach photos), and it makes absolutely no sense for people to say there’s “nothing to do” on Diego Garcia. There’s heaps to do if you’re willing to get out there and enjoy this beautiful island and all it has to offer!

    Oh, and we can make our own homemade recreational activities too, such as “let’s try to cut open a coconut by cross-sectioning it with a small knife and make a big mess in one of our barracks in the process, only to discover well over an hour later that there’s no water in the coconut after all”:


    I just launched my last radiosonde (I’m working the overnight shift tonight). I watched it sail up into the starry sky until darkness hid the balloon. It’s kind of sad that this adventure is drawing to a close. But with only 23+ hours left on the island, I’ll try to make the most of it!


    15 November 2011

    Diego Garcia: Downtown

    I can’t tell you what the name of the town is that I’m living in here on Diego Garcia. After three weeks of living here I still don’t know if it has an actual name, but the two most-used names for it are simply “Downtown” or the unwieldy “Naval Support Facility” (NSF). So here’s a quick peek at Downtown/NSF, Diego Garcia, which is located at the northwestern tip of the island.


    First, our accommodations. We’re staying at the Navy Gateway Inn & Suites (or Chagos Inn, it’s sometimes called). Most people refer to them as the barracks though, because all the military personnel are housed in the 30-ish buildings of NGI&S throughout Downtown. It’s a pretty standard motel room, and is permanently air-conditioned (we can’t adjust the temp). All in all, not too bad. All four of us are up on the second floor. Rachel, in the next room over, doesn’t even get most of the TV channels I get, and her microwave repeatedly blows the circuit after 20 seconds of use, so apparently there are some ghetto rooms. Also, the tap water isn’t safe to drink anywhere on the island because of high trihalomethane levels, so we have to fill up 7-liter coolers with water from “potable water” tanks outside.


    We get a few channels on the TV through Armed Forces Network (AFN News, AFN Sports, AFN Prime Atlantic, AFN Prime Pacific, AFN Xtra, and AFN Movies, each of which has a hodgepodge slate taken from various networks in the US), plus stuff like Sky News, CNN International, Turner Classic Movies, Star Movies, and NatGeo. TV reception isn’t great though, and is usually pretty terrible during the day for most channels. What’s puzzling is that reception usually seems pretty good in the mess hall and other places at times that it’s bad in my room. Oh well.

    Here’s what street signs look like on DG. The map of downtown that the motel gave us doesn’t have street names on it though, so it took a bit longer to figure out how to get around.


    A couple blocks down the road from our barracks is the Ship’s Store, which has everything from Diego Garcia souvenirs to bicycle supplies to DVDs for rent to alcohol and groceries. Most everything’s pretty cheap, actually. For instance, bottles of Tiger Beer are 95c each, 12-packs of Bud Light cans (eww) are $3.55, cans of Mountain Dew are on sale for 10c each (!!), postcards are 25c each, and cans of Pringles are less than a dollar. I noticed that ice cream is a bit expensive though. When fresh produce arrives, a green “FFV” flag (fresh fruits and vegetables) is flown across the street from the store, at which point the store gets kinda busy.


    There are a few restaurants in town, all of which are fairly cheap. The cheapest is across the street from our barracks, the “mess hall” (Seven Degrees South Cafe), which has breakfast for $2.40 and lunch and dinner for $4.25. Another favorite of mine is the Officers Club, which is situated at Eclipse Point and has some awesome views. The O-Club has a all-you-can-eat great Sunday brunch for $10, make-your-own-pizza for $7.50 on Thursday nights, 15c wings on Tuesdays… I’m there a lot, let’s just say. Both the O-Club and the mess hall require that you wear shoes (no sandals), the mess hall prohibits tanktops, and the O-Club requires you to wear a collared shirt. All the other restaurants on the island (United Seaman’s Service, CPO Club, Island Room, Peacekeeper’s Inn, Mean Gene’s, the food court, which has Smash Hit Subs, Hot Stuff Pizza, and C-Street Cafe) are fine with flip-flops. And just about every sit-down place has pineapple iced tea for 70c a glass, which I think I’m addicted to.


    There’s also a chapel just half a block down the road from our barracks, the Chapel in the Palms. I’ve been there the last two Sunday mornings for their Protestant contemporary worship service. It’s pretty small, but it’s nice to be able to go to church while I’m here and see what Christian life is like here. The band is a group of Filipinos, but they’re honestly not a very good band because they’re not together musically. But the chaplain likes to sing a traditional hymn a capella during the service too. After this week’s service I overheard him tell someone he’d have a wider selection of hymns if anyone could read music and play it on the piano, so I volunteered to play this coming Sunday. Getting involved! I also was invited to a primarily Filipino Sunday evening church service, so I went to that a couple weeks ago, and a Bible study in the barracks last Wednesday night. Another small, neat thing about being invited to both of those was that I got fed home-cooked meals, and right before that I had just started to complain about always having to eat out for every meal. Thanks God! It’s been nice to meet some of the Christians who are stationed here, both military sailors/airmen and FIlipino contractors. One of the military women even commented that she was surprised to meet a scientist who was a Christian, as she thought all scientists were atheists. So maybe I’ve been an encouragement to them by being here, too.


    Being surrounded by the lagoon on one side and the ocean on two sides, there’s plenty of pretty scenery around town too.


    There’s also a really nice gym that’s free to use, and a swimming pool that’s probably the highest point on the island, as it’s built into a manmade hill. And by highest point, I’d estimate about 5 or 6 meters above sea level. This island is very, very flat. The pool is nice too, especially since it’s outdoors and isn’t overly chlorinated.


    All in all it’s not a bad life here in downtown Diego Garcia. The beer selection could be better, but I’ve been spoiled by living in Colorado, haha. It’s nice being able to walk everywhere, and also to be no more than a 5-minute walk from the ocean or the lagoon. And it’s been fun to meet some of the “locals” too. Hard to believe I only have one week left here…


    10 November 2011

    My Thoughts on the Scandal at Penn State

    I have spent much of the past few days here on Diego Garcia glued to the TV and the internet, trying to keep up with the news coming out of State College. I’m just trying to digest it all. Maybe putting my thoughts in one place will help.

    Late on Saturday night (Diego Garcia time) I found out the news that former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky PSU Athletic Director had been indicted by a Grand Jury with 40 counts of felony child sex abuse, for abusing 8 boys over a 15 year span, and that Tim Curley and VP of Finance were indicted by a Grand Jury with the charges of failure to report abuse (a misdemeanor) and perjury (a felony) by the same Grand Jury for covering up the scandal. I was shocked and horrified.

    While I didn’t read the Grand Jury report for myself, I know almost all of what is in it from quotes I’ve read from people who have read it. I’ve read some news articles, but for the most part I’ve been keeping up by reading BlackShoeDiaries.com, a Penn State sports blog/message board. The details that are contained in that report about what Sandusky did are revolting, and still make me sick to think about them. Those poor boys and their families… My heart goes out to them, as do my prayers.

    So how did this blow up into a scandal that enveloped pretty much the entire administration of Penn State University? I’ll recap it here, since the national media has done an abominable job of actually doing accurate reporting about this scandal. So what follows is what I know of what’s been going on, presented as accurately as possible.

    Here’s what we know from the Grand Jury report. Back in 2002, graduate assistant (and now wide receivers coach) Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky engaged in an unspeakable act with a 10-year old boy in the showers of Lasch Building (the football building). All parties ran away. McQueary talked to his father that night, seeking advice. The next day McQueary met with Paterno to tell him what happened, though it’s unclear at this point exactly what details McQueary told Paterno, but their Grand Jury testimonies agreed with each other. Paterno testified to the Grand Jury that McQueary was “distraught.” So the day after that (a Sunday), Paterno summoned Curley to his home to relay what McQueary had told him, and to arrange a meeting between McQueary, Curley, and Schultz. Schultz was also the overseer of the University Park Police Department, so Paterno likely thought that this was one better than simply notifying the police. The meeting between McQueary, Curley, and Schultz took place a week and a half later. McQueary testified to the Grand Jury that he went into lurid detail about what he saw; Curley and Schultz denied that, but the Grand Jury found their testimony not credible and charged them both with perjury as a result. Curley and Schultz then told university president Graham Spanier about the incident, but that it was something “inappropriate” that had made an employee feel “uncomfortable.” Curley and Schultz informed Spanier of their decision to ban Sandusky from bringing kids on campus (which Curley later admitted was unenforceable), and to take away his keys from Lasch Building. Spanier must have known that there was more to the story, but did nothing. As near as can be told, the matter was swept under the rug at this point, and no police investigation was ever started. For what it’s worth, Schultz testified that he thought the matter had been referred to Child Protective Services, but it never was.

    Now for some backstory. It should also be noted that Sandusky was investigated in 1998 for a similar incident. Police even listened in to a conversation in which the mother of the victim met with Sandusky, and Sandusky even admitted to showering with the boy, but would not promise not to do it again. For reasons that are still unknown, charges were never filed against Sandusky in 1998. Unfortunately we will never be able to get answers from then-Centre County District Attorney Roy Gricar on why he never pressed charges against Sandusky, because Gricar mysteriously disappeared in 2005. His car was found next to the Susquehanna River in Lewisburg, PA, and his laptop computer was recovered from the river, as was his hard drive eventually (data unrecoverable), but no trace of Gricar was ever found. In 2009 investigators announced that they found Google searches stored on Gricar’s home computer shortly before his disappearance for how to destroy a hard drive in water. Then a few months ago his daughter had him legally declared dead. I don’t think we’ll ever know what happened in that bizarre disappearance, but anyway…

    Another interesting thing that comes from the 1998 investigation of Sandusky is that shortly after that, Paterno informed Sandusky that he would never be the head coach at Penn State, and basically forced him into retirement in 1999. That was puzzling at the time, because Sandusky was one of the best defensive coordinators in the country, and was just assumed to be the heir-apparent to Paterno. Did Paterno know about the investigation in 1998? He testified to the Grand Jury that he did not know about it at that point. Paterno and Sandusky were very good friends for a long time, as Sandusky worked for Paterno for about 30 years, but their relationship did appear to change around 1998. At Sandusky’s 1999 retirement banquet, the normally loquacious Paterno spoke for only about a minute.

    Sandusky also founded a charity organization in the 1970s called The Second Mile, for disadvantaged and at-risk youth. Sandusky and The Second Mile appeared to be doing wonderful, wonderful work for a long time. Sandusky and his wife were also unable to have children of their own, so they adopted eight kids. Sandusky was always around children, and ran youth football camps at Penn State until 2009 (incredibly).

    Fast forward to 2008. Administrators at a high school in Clinton County (PA) became aware of Sandusky, who was a volunteer football coach at the school, repeatedly abusing a boy on school grounds (pulling him out of class repeatedly, despite not being the boy’s father). School administrators immediately banned Sandusky from school district property, and notified police of the incidents. That eventually led to the Grand Jury investigation from 2008-2011, which culminated in the indictments handed down last weekend. That a Grand Jury had been convened to investigate Sandusky was known approximately a year ago, though. Yet Sandusky was still allowed on the Penn State campus as recently as last week.

    It was chaos once the news of the indictments broke on Saturday. Shortly after the news broke, PSU president Spanier issued a statement offering his “unconditional support” for Curley and Schultz, praising their honesty and integrity, and saying he was confident they would be “completely exonerated” on the charges of perjury and failure to report abuse. There was not one mention of sympathy for the victims. This mind-blowingly dumb statement poured gasoline on the raging inferno of a PR disaster on Penn State’s hands. As a result of his asinine, heartless statement, and because of his role in the cover-up (being intentionally ignorant of what actually happened and not taking it to police), I sent an email to President Spanier with the subject line “please resign,” and I calmly laid out my case for why I thought he was no longer fit to lead our great university.

    From the moment the scandal broke, however, the media has been howling for the blood of Joe Paterno, and only Joe Paterno. They claim that he didn’t do enough to stop Sandusky by following up on the investigation or reporting it to the cops. But let’s review the facts here. Paterno received an eyewitness report of an incident (again, we don’t know how detailed) from someone who worked for him. Not being an eyewitness, Paterno decided to run it up the administrative chain of command (which, by the way, is what Pennsylvania state law requires in these situations), and arranged the meeting with McQueary, Curley, and Schultz. At this point, Paterno thought he’d alerted the proper authorities, who would conduct an investigation. Unfortunately, those administrators covered it up and did nothing. We DO NOT KNOW yet whether or not Paterno followed up with Curley and/or Schultz, but from what’s coming out of the Paterno camp, Schultz assured him that an investigation was happening. Schultz even said he thought that CPS had been brought in. If he told that to Paterno, what more is Paterno supposed to do? To wit, the Pennsylvania Attorney General praised Paterno in this case, saying he’s been very cooperative and that he did what he was supposed to do. That’s not been enough for his detractors, though.

    The media coverage has been one-sided against Paterno, to the point that the media has hardly mentioned Sandusky, Curley, or Schultz in the past few days, the only people to have actually been indicted with crimes. There’s virtually no outrage about McQueary failing the victims by not calling the cops right away. There’s virually no outrage about Curley and Schultz failing the victims by covering up this scandal and not reporting it to police like they were legally mandated to do. The reporting has been abysmally inaccurate too, which is why I’m linking to this article yet again. The media is outraged at his heinous moral failures, yet he’s pretty far down the list of people to blame for this:

    1. Sandusky
    2. Curley and Schultz
    3. Spanier (and anyone else in authority who knew enough to know something bad happened)
    4. McQueary
    5. Paterno

    I understand that there’s probably more Paterno could’ve done, but we don’t even have all the facts in yet to make that judgment. That doesn’t matter to the media jackals.

    On Sunday night, Curley asked to be placed on administrative leave so that he could focus on his criminal defense, and Schultz, who was only serving in his post on an interim basis after retiring from it a couple years earlier, resigned entirely. Meanwhile, there was total silence from the normally very talkative Spanier for days. Penn State University was leaderless.

    On Tuesday afternoon, Paterno was scheduled to have his usual weekly press conference about the upcoming football game this weekend. Penn State made an announcement on Monday night that Paterno would not be taking any questions about the scandal, but only questions about Nebraska. Umm, what? Good luck getting the hordes of media from around the nation to abide by that request. So then about 30-60 minutes before the press conference is about to start, a Penn State spokesman announced that the press conference was cancelled due to legal concerns and would not be rescheduled. PSU just could not keep itself from pouring more and more gasoline onto the PR inferno, it was unbelievable. It was then reported that Paterno wanted to hold the press conference, that he had a statement ready about the scandal, and that he was prepared to answer questions about it. Therefore, it was the PSU administration who cancelled the press conference. Unbelievable. Then the Paterno family was reported to be trying to arrange an off-campus press conference at which Joe could speak. It was difficult to keep up with all the news developments coming out of Happy Valley.

    On Wednesday morning, Paterno came out with a statement to announce his retirement at the end of the season:

    “I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief. I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care.

    I have the same goal today. That’s why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can. This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.

    My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this University.”

    Paterno’s statement showed the grace, dignity, integrity, and class for which he has been known throughout his 61-year coaching career at Penn State. He was the one of the only people in this situation to do the right thing (though maybe not enough), yet was being mercilessly and relentlessly pilloried. So he decided to fall on his sword. Shortly thereafter Paterno met with the team to tell him of his retirement, and both he and the team broke down in tears. Unfortunately the rest of the PSU administration doesn’t have even half of the class or integrity
    that Paterno has.

    Wednesday night the Penn State Board of Trustees met. Throughout the day it had been rumored that President Spanier was on his way out, and that was confirmed after the BoT meeting. They took action on Paterno too. Apparently about 10pm the BoT sent a messenger to Paterno’s house to deliver a piece of paper. The paper asked Paterno to call a phone number. He did, and two members of the BoT answered, one of whom said that he was “relieved of his duties” effective immediately. So Paterno, a coach of 61 years for Penn State (almost half of the 125 years that Penn State has existed!), and who did more for the university than anyone else in its history, was fired not in person. He wasn’t even fired with a phone call. He was fired by a note asking him to call them. What an utter disgrace. Yet another horribly botched situation by PSU administration. It upsets me how poorly they handled this. Here’s Paterno’s statement following his dismissal:

    “I am disappointed with the Board of Trustees’ decision, but I have to accept it.

    A tragedy occurred, and we all have to have patience to let the legal process proceed. I appreciate the outpouring of support but want to emphasize that everyone should remain calm and please respect the university, its property and all that we value.

    I have been incredibly blessed to spend my entire career working with people I love. I am grateful beyond words to all of the coaches, players and staff who have been a part of this program. And to all of our fans and supporters, my family and I will be forever in your debt.”

    While I understand the BoT’s decision to fire him immediately instead of allowing him to finish this season, I think it was the wrong decision. (And while I think it was a wrong decision, rioting was not the right response on the part of the students.) Part of that was the BoT’s admission that they still don’t have all the facts (they’re in a shoot first, ask questions later sort of mood). In essence, they caved to the media mob instead of waiting for the facts about what JoePa knew and did. Another part of that is based on who remains still employed at Penn State: Tim Curley and Mike McQueary (recall that Gary Schultz resigned on Sunday). If Paterno was canned for “not doing enough,” then how come McQueary is still employed? He was the eyewitness and had a far greater responsibility to call police than Paterno did. And Curley? He was the one whose legal responsibility it was to report this, but instead he covered it up, and is now indicted with charges of perjury and failure to report abuse. But they still have their jobs. How is that just??? If “not doing enough” is now the standard to fire employees, then the BoT better fire every other employee who knew anything about the Sandusky scandal, or who knew enough to know that something was going on. That’s going to be a lot of people, including janitors, and, as I believe will be revealed in the coming days and weeks, members of the Board of Trustees as well.

    Believe me, there is a lot of rot in the administration of Penn State that needs to be excised. Paterno probably needed to go after the season, if not sooner. But Paterno should not be the scapegoat in this scandal, when he’s one of the only people who did something right in it. I am upset by the injustice of firing Paterno while several other people remain on the university’s payroll. The blame needs to be first on Sandusky for his unspeakable actions in violating at least eight boys, and second on Curley & Schultz who were told what happened and did absolutely nothing. That’s who our anger should be directed at.

    This is the ugliest scandal in the history of American universities, and it has made me embarrassed to be a Penn State student. It’s shaken me. And I’m angry for what Sandusky has done to those boys, at the cops for not pursuing the matter further in 1998, and at the PSU administration for covering it up in 2002. There’s lots of blame to go around, that’s for sure. As ugly as it is, this is only going to get uglier as more victims of Sandusky’s come forward, and as the trials start. Also, more revelations are going to come out about who at Penn State knew what when — in other words, who else was party to the cover up. Penn State does need to clean house, absolutely. It’s just embarrassing how horrendously Penn State has handled this scandal since news broke. Every single step of the way, administrators have been throwing gas on the fire and making the wrong decisions (except their decision to fire Spanier, that was a good one).

    The media’s behavior in this scandal has been utterly disgraceful too. How do these reporters sleep at night, writing such blatant inaccuracies repeatedly to aid their crusade to take down Joe Paterno? Shame on them all. I remain convinced that the main reason they targeted JoePa was because he’s the face of the university, and because he’s been preaching integrity for his entire 61-year tenure. It had to be that, because it surely wasn’t because he was anywhere close to the person who was most to blame. The media love to see people who preach morals and integrity fall from grace, and love to destroy them and bring them down to the muck. They take joy in that. These reporters should be embarrassed of themselves and of their conduct. They shouldn’t even enjoy the privilege of being called reporters and journalists. It’s astounding that the media wonders why they’re despised so much. It was incredible to me how much ESPN was clueless about why PSU students hate them so much — do they really not know? Yes, Paterno wishes he would’ve done more in hindsight, and he’s the only person involved to have expressed such a sentiment. That’s also telling. But seriously, let’s focus instead on the true villains and victims of this scandal.

    We will stand strong and united through this scandal. We Are. Penn State. And as our Alma Mater says, “May no act of ours bring shame.” And as Paterno taught for decades, let us continue to have “Success With Honor.” Let us restore our repuation for that. And most importantly, let us pray that Jesus Christ will bring healing to this situation for all involved, especially the victims and their families.

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    4 November 2011

    Diego Garcia: Research Site

    In my first of a series of posts about my experiences on Diego Garcia, I’ll write first about the DYNAMO research site, and describe some of what I do for work, which is why I’m here after all.

    “Downtown” is located at the northwest end of the island, and our research site is about six miles southeast of there. It takes a solid 15 minutes to drive from our hotel to the site because of slow speed limits that are very strictly enforced (speeding tickets are 10 British pounds per mph over the speed limit, and the Brit cops are happy to pull people over going 1 or 2 mph over the limit). The site is located on the U.S. Air Force base, at a place called Tent City (also called Camp Justice). Tent City is a field of cement pads that were poured to accommodate hundreds of troops during wartime operations based from Diego (such as Operation Desert Storm or the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom).


    But right now Tent City is virtually empty, and our research trailers (shipping crates, really) are placed on two of the cement pads. One of our crates is full of a bunch of helium canisters, and the other crate is where we spend most of our time. That one has the computers that monitor the various scientific instruments that are on site.


    The DYNAMO site is an Integrated Sounding System (ISS) because several sounding technologies are in place here. In the bottom-left photo just above, there are five objects. The middle object is a 915 MHz radar wind profiler. Like the name suggests, it uses radar to measure the wind in a vertical profile and two angled profiles. The radio acoustic sounding system (RASS), which is the four satellite objects around the wind profiler (and integrated with the wind profiler system), measures atmospheric temperature using backscattered radio waves. The RASS turns on for five minutes at the top and bottom of every hour, and makes this lovely sound:

    The site also has a ceilometer (pointing vertically) to measure drop size in clouds. That’s also a very handy tool to determine if icing is likely in the clouds above, up to an altitude of about 4 km. If it looks like icing might be a problem, then we need to add extra helium to the balloon to try to give it enough lift to get through the icing region. And we have a webcam to take photos of the sky periodically, but now we’ve been asked to start taking panoramic photographs since the webcam imagery is low-resolution. There also is a rain gauge and a rain collector from which we collect samples for isotope analysis (to try to determine where the rain came from). Here’s the inside of the main trailer with some of the computers displaying the real-time data that’s coming in (the one on the left is data from the weather balloon as it rises).


    So what’s the process for launching a radiosonde (weather balloon)? Read below to find out.


    1. Call USAF Air Traffic Control to get approval for launch. If there are incoming/outgoing flights in the near future, they’ll ask us to wait.
    2. Recondition the radiosonde’s humidity sensor for three minutes to burn off any oils or impurities that accumulated during manufacture or transit.
    3. Find a GPS radio frequency away from interfering signals, and program it into the sonde and the sounding program on the computer.
    4. Hook up the battery pack (six insulated AA batteries) to the sonde, and verify that the sonde’s temperature, humidity, pressure, and GPS sensors are working and within tolerances. The GPS sensor allows measurement of wind direction and wind speed.
    5. Aspirate the temperature and humidity sensors of the sonde in environmental (outside) air while shaded, and continue to verify that the sensors are operating within tolerances.
    6. Fill up a weather balloon with 30 cubic feet of helium (or 35 cu. ft. if it’s raining, or 40 cu. ft. if we’re worried about icing aloft), and close the bottom of the balloon with a zip tie.
    7. Unspool some thread from the spool attached to the sonde, and use another zip tie to attach the spool to the balloon. (As the balloon rises, the rest of the string will unspool and the sonde will dangle about 30 feet below the balloon.) This is usually the most finnicky step.
    8. Remove the sonde from the aspirator, hold the sonde upright in an open palm, and release the balloon someplace where it won’t hit any structures or trees (only a worry in windy conditions).

    Here’s a video of me doing steps 7 and 8 of a radiosonde launch:

    It takes about an hour and a half to two hours for the sonde to rise high enough in the stratosphere for the weather balloon to burst (often as high as 25 hPa, or about 80,000 ft). We have to launch balloons every 3 hours (though right now we’re in a four-day stretch of launches every 6 hours). It only took a couple of launches under someone’s supervision to get comfortable enough with it to do it solo. There are four of us rotating through three shifts (0500-1400, 1400-2300, and 2300-0500 local time), so each time we get done with a shift, we have 24 hours until the start of our next shift. That way none of us gets stuck with any one shift. One neat thing about launching balloons at night (daylight hours are from about 0645-1915 local time) is watching the balloon sail up into the stars!

    Oh, and when we have a little downtime during the balloon’s ascent or while waiting for the next launch, we can chill out and go for a swim at this lagoon beach about 100-200 yards away from the research site:


    All in all, it’s not a bad gig here on Diego Garcia! Stay tuned for more upcoming posts about life on the island.


    1 November 2011

    Flight to Diego Garcia

    After having spent a day and a half in Singapore, it was time to fly to Diego Garcia on 25 Oct for the main part of my Indian Ocean adventure! I met up at the hotel in Singapore with Rachel & Adam, the two Colorado State University atmospheric science grad students who are on Diego with me, and we took a taxi to the Singapore military airport at Paya Lebar. The cabbie didn’t know where exactly to drop us off, and neither did we. Rachel & Adam had a hand-drawn map that someone had emailed them, but it apparently didn’t contain enough info for our cab driver (or even a military guy at a bus stop who we asked for help) to understand what it was a map of. Oh well! Eventually we got to the right place. Obviously no pictures were allowed because it was a military airport.

    At the terminal we met Heather, the NCAR technician who’s here as our supervisor on the island. She was supposed to fly out the day before, but the DC-8 was on the fritz (she still had to wait for 6 hours at the airport the day before, though), so instead she wound up flying out the same day as us. After about 2-3 hours of waiting in the small terminal we boarded a bus that drove us out on the tarmac to where the C-17 was sitting. The safety briefing about the plane seemed pretty standard, until the guy at the microphone got to the part about lifejackets. Then he paused for a bit, clearly trying to figure out what to say next, and then simply said, “Umm, the lifejackets are pretty self-explanatory, you all know how to put one on.” I thought that was pretty funny, and not “by the book” like you’d expect the military to be.

    The flight itself wasn’t as wasn’t freezing cold like we were warned it would be. I had on jeans and a t-shirt, and if anything, I was too warm during the flight because of the heat vent right above my seat. So the long sleeve shirt, hoodie, hat, and gloves that I packed are all useless until I land in Colorado in late November. However, the plane was pretty loud. When I had my earplugs in the flight sounded about as loud as a normal commercial jet, but I could barely hear the person next to me, so they were definitely doing their job. Also, the seats were quite uncomfortable, mainly because of the lifejacket that served as a “lumbar support.” During takeoff and a bout of turbulence mid-flight I was also really wishing there were windows to look out of while we were seated (each side had only two or three small windows in the entire main cabin). Here are some photos from the flight:


    In the top right photo, my seat was next to the guy in the foreground at the bottom left corner (I sat to his right), so my view was staring at the boxes in the foreground. Scenic!

    Eventually we landed in Diego Garcia at night, and got a cool stamp in our passports for British Indian Ocean Territory. There was even a British diplomat of some sort on the plane, and he was excited to get a BIOT passport stamp. We got a ride to our hotel from one of the students that we were replacing, and then Heather, Rachel and I walked down to the Ship’s Store (the general store) to buy a beer or two to celebrate that we actually landed on this remote tropical island. It was exciting to be here at long last.

    Next time: some photos and stories from our first couple days on Diego! I’m going to try to make the posts about the island more bite-sized and frequent, rather than infrequent and novella-sized.

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