Friday, September 13, 2013

The National Electronics Museum

Yeah, I had never heard of it either.  I passed it several times before I realized it was a museum.  What clued me in were the military radar arrays and the American WWII-era 90mm AA gun sitting outside the building. 

And, of course, the small sign at the corner of West Nursery Rd. and Elm, near Elkridge Landing Rd., in Linthicum, MD saying, "The National Electronics Museum".  It sounded deadly dull, but I was intrigued by the outside displays so thought there might be something inside to see.  I had one hour after class to get through the museum.  It was only $3 to get in, which sent up warning flares - government agency owners, but actually it was apparently started by Westinghouse, and continues to be funded by them, among others. 

The initial exhibits in the museum are actually pretty interesting and allow the visitor to recreate the great experiments that led to important advances in our understanding of electricity and electronics, and which trace the history of the development of electronics up through wireless telegraphy, radio and television.  The GPS device from the '90s looks positively archaic compared to modern units and the first carphone was the size of a suitcase.  But it traces the development of military electronic technology side-by-side with the equivalent civilian technology, displaying things like the WWII SCR-300 and "Walkie-Talkie", up through radar arrays from the F-15 and F-16, and, in fact, the F-22 and F-35.

There was really too much there to detail, but some of the more interesting things were a trailer (unfortunately, they don't have all the components for a complete trailer) and radar aerial of the type that tracked the in-bound Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. 

A radar set from a P-61

A Wurzburg array

A camera from an SR-71

Debris from a Scud missile (note the reliance on vacuum tube technology)

A cross-section of an AWACS array

ECM, chaff, noise and deception, and other pods from modern aircraft

And the list goes on.  They really don't have any weapons - other than the 90mm AA - but the electronics are just as fascinating.  It really turned out to be an interesting museum after all.  It doesn't make up for the fact the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum moved from Aberdeen to Fort Lee, reducing the chance that I'll get to see it anytime soon, but it was a wholly unexpected opportunity to see another side in the development of military technology.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Man on a Mission

I was originally going to tack this post onto another one I have planned for later in the week (or month), but on reflection I decided to go ahead and make it its own post.  I'm out of town doing some Army training, and though staying in a very nice hotel with a small suite, I don't have any desire to cook my own meals so I've been going out to various restaurants.  I'm not one to turn down bar-b-que when I come across it, so when I ran into Mission BBQ, I had to give it a try. 

Now, you might think it strange that I'm reviewing a restaurant on a miniatures wargaming blog, but I'll explain that here.  Having never deployed in 12 years of service, I'm always a little embarrassed when I get the "thank you for your service" treatment.  I do appreciate it, but I just haven't done anything.  I was genuinely touched and appreciative, however, when I walked into Mission BBQ and got what they were about. 

First, let me talk about the food.  Since I'm not a local, I don't have the opportunity to eat there regularly (which I would do, if I was local), but being on an extended TDY, I've eaten there a couple of times so far (and plan to eat there a couple more times before I leave) and haven't had anything that wasn't absolutely top notch.  You order your meal from an a la carte menu which includes meat (either by itself or on a sandwich), sides and your drink.  Each meal comes with cornbread as well. 

So far, I've had the brisket and pork and both are delicious - perfectly smoked with a dry rub that, if anything, is slightly understated.  It is very tasty, without a lot of heat.  There is no sauce on the meat, which some bbq fanatics might consider heresy, but don't despair - there are six home-made sauces that you can try.  I like to separate the meat into bite-sized portions and sample the different sauces at my leisure. 

The sauces are modeled on the typical flavor in various bbq regions around the country - they have a Memphis, Texas, Smoky Mountain, Carolina, Mississippi and I know I'm missing one (and might have one wrong - erk!) and I think Mission scored big with their system. 

I've had the cole slaw, baked beans and fries as sides.  The cole slaw is pretty typical, but the beans are unusual.  They are not spicy or plain - rather, they have a pleasant sauce on them and chunks of brisket mixed in.  The fries were just about the best fries I've ever had outside of poutine, which is its own experience altogether. 

Now don't get me wrong, from what I've written you might think that I don't appreciate spice or heat.  I like both as my wife (who has learned to appreciate a little spice and heat since marrying me) and my kids (one of whom is wary of anything dad barbeques and one who is the true defender of his father's cooking) will attest, but I find that restaurants typically overdo both, if they even do either, but Mission has it down perfectly. 

The cornbread is just about perfect, too.  It is sweet and moist with bits of pineapple, I believe, without being too heavy.  In fact, it reminds me of the cornbread the my black cooks used to make when I was first in the Army.  Now, they knew how to cook despite the confines of the Army system!

Now, the real 'meat' (pun intended) for why I'm writing this.  Mission BBQ is a big supporter of the military and emergency services in this region.  Walking in the restaurant was a surprise - its covered in emergency services and military patches that have been given to the restaurant, along with photos and even some memorabilia and other militaria.  There's a sign on the door offering a free sandwich to emergency services personnel and they are big supporters of the Wounded Warrior Project, which becomes clear at the restaurant, but without being blaring or self-serving.  Their website, found here, gives a fine tribute to the people who serve us - both military and not. 

In fact, seeing it hearkened back to Campagno's, a sandwich shop just down the street from DLI, which had the best sandwiches and cake at reasonable prices, and both loved the military and was loved by it!  There wasn't an inch of that store that wasn't covered in something military related.

Currently Mission BBQ has three stores - two in the Baltimore area, another further south, and two building with another going up in MD and one in York, PA. 

As I said, being military and having previously been in law enforcement, I was touched by what they stand for, and I call on you, dear readers, to give Mission BBQ a try if you're in the Baltimore area or if you're just visiting for any reason.  You won't be disappointed and you'll be helping to support people who really care and who really 'get it'. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Day at the Museum

I'm doing some military training near Baltimore and my family came down for the long weekend since we're only about three hours away.  My wife and daughter had come down to DC (which is only about a half-hour drive from Baltimore, if you aren't familiar with the area) for my daughter's birthday a few weeks ago, but they didn't have time to do everything they wanted so had some unfinished business.  We spent an afternoon at the International Spy Museum.  It was interesting and they had some pretty cool stuff in it, including the US seal in which the Soviets had hidden a bugging device.  It hung in the ambassador's study for six years before it was discovered.  Actually, if you knew anything about the spy business of the '60s through the '80s or '90s, you already knew about many of the artifacts, or could read between some of the lines to understand what they weren't saying.  They also had a special display on James Bond, which was pretty cool, showing artifacts from a number of the Bond films, such as Jaws' teeth, Bond's Aston Martin and a lot of other things.  One neat thing was a film of former CIA agents telling their best "Bond Moments". 

While there were some cool things at the Spy museum, it was the next day that really made the weekend for Lynn and I, if not for the kids.  Unfortunately, because we had not really planned to do two of the three things we ended up doing, I didn't have my camera with me, and neither did my wife.  Only my daughter had thought to bring hers and her memory card was almost full because of some video she had taken at the school field trip last spring.  In fact, Lynn didn't even get the idea to snap a couple of pics with her phone until we were pretty much done with the personal tour that follows.  She got a couple of random pics, and both she and Julia got some nice photos at Arlington.

My family and I found ourselves in Annapolis with some extra time on our hands.  It had been a long-time goal of mine to pay my respect at the tomb of Revolutionary War naval hero John Paul Jones in the crypt of the chapel at the United States Naval Academy, and being so close I couldn't pass up the opportunity.  We pulled up to the museum and it being my nature to never pass up a museum (especially a free one) without a browse inside (regardless of how quick), we went in. 

My daughter pre-decided that she would be exceptionally bored here (as she is by EVERY museum that daddy drags her into!) and having no interest in listening to dad explain any of the absolutely awesome things we were looking at in the display cases, she zipped on ahead and breezed through with just a glance at the items in the cases.  A couple of times, she came back to me and said, "Daddy, I found something neat!  Look at this!"  I think she actually did find the items more interesting when she let me explain a little about them to her - like happened when I told her the story of the USS Maine - but she wasn't going to admit that to me.  At one point, we were sitting on the floor in front of a case talking about what we were looking at, and a museum employee came by and commented on our discussion.  We chatted for a bit and I thought he'd move on, but he stuck with us as we looked at a couple more cases and talked about what was in them.  I mentioned to him that Julia was determined to be bored and after a minute he asked if my family and I would like to visit The Attic, where they store all of the items that are not on display.  I don't know whether he recognized my knowledge of and love for naval history, or just thought he'd be doing Julia a favor in making the experience more interesting, but I was stunned, to say the least, and of course I said yes.  Julia was still dubious about it, not understanding the rare opportunity and treat she was in for.

We followed him out of the elevator into a large room that looked like it was under construction.  He stopped at a large crate, opened the top, and pulled a flag out of it, which he unfolded and held up for us.  It was a 13-star flag from the Civil War, which had flown from one of the ships at the Battle of Mobile Bay.  And we were *that* close to it, even able to touch it.  It had protective stitching to preserve it all over it, but it was still quite beautiful.  EDIT: While reading my blog post, my wife reminded me that he mentioned this particular flag was made by the same woman who made the Star Spangled Banner.  END EDIT.  We then went through a set of doors where he stopped to flip on a whole bank of lights.  A quick glance around didn't reveal anything too amazing, but as we began walking and he started pointing things out or holding them up for us, the amazing was revealed. 

Even as I write this the next day, I can't remember all of the cool things we got to see and hold.  Model ships from all over the world and all periods of history were everywhere, trays of medals (foreign and domestic), cabinets of uniforms (including a full-length, fur-lined, leather jacket worn by a naval officer on Arctic duty during WWII), drawers of recruiting and propaganda posters through history - there is so much to recall, I can't think of all of it.  There were some items from Perry's visit to Japan.  A wall full of paintings by N.C. Wyeth depicting various events in the American Revolution.  One of the most unique items was a smoking set presented to the Academy by the Royal Thai Navy made out of a tiger skull.  He showed us several stand-up cabinets full of 1/700 model ships - they have the entire US and Japanese fleets of WWII in that scale - and another couple of cabinets of 1/1200 and 1/2400 models.  He seemed interested when I mentioned to Adam that 1/700 was a great scale for gaming, and was impressed that I have several hundred ships in 1/6000 and another hundred or so in 1/1250 for coastals. 

One of the things that my daughter really, really loved were the knick-knacks made for Admiral Hyman Rickover out of spent nuclear reactor fuel rods, including a desk-top pen and pencil holder.  (If you don't get the connection between Rickover and nuclear energy, you need to do some reading!)  She loved the color and random crystallization of the metal.  They were very pretty in an industrial sort of way.

One of the highlights for my wife and I was when he opened a cabinet of documents and pulled out a random document.  Opening it and laying it on the table, it was an order from the Continental Congress releasing the captain of the ship Ranger from duty (basically for being a jerk) and replacing him with a fellow by the name of John Paul Jones.  It was signed by some guy named John Hancock, who was President of the Continental Congress.  EDIT: Again, my better half reminded me that the important part of the document was that it described what the new flag (i.e., the national flag) was to look like.  You can see where my brain is, forgetting that part of the document.  END EDIT.  When he pulled this out of the cabinet, he did not know that I had done a lot of research during my Master's work on various Revolutionary War naval issues, or that had I continued with my Ph.D., my research would have focused on John Hancock.  To touch a document bearing his signature and dealing with naval matters was almost more than my heart could bear.  And I didn't need my spectacles to read his signature.

He pulled out a couple of other random documents, one an order from an admiral to a couple of gun-boats during the Civil War, but none held a candle to the Hancock signature. 

Another of the highlights for me was when he opened the weapons vault.  He began pulling weapons off the racks and handing them to me or the kids.  We were able to hold and inspect Chief Red Stick's carbine, presented to him by the Prince of Wales and captured from him by a Marine (if I remember correctly - could have been naval) officer serving under Andrew Jackson, Sharp's and Spencer's carbines, flintlock muskets, a German 1898 Mauser (no, not the K.98 of World War fame, a full-length 1898), and a whole range of WWII weapons including an M1, a Thompson, an MP 40, an Austen, a PPSh, and I don't remember what all else.  He pulled the Holy Grail of WWII machineguns - an MG 34 - out of a rack and "handed" it to my 7-year-old boy.  As he slowly released the weight, Adam's arms sunk lower and lower until he couldn't hold it.  He then handed it to me.  It was a beast - weighing in at nearly 27 pounds - but what a beauty at the same time. 

We held weapons from the 1600s through Vietnam (he gave my son an RPG launcher to hold, and a home-made Vietnamese zip gun), including a shipboard wall gun, a Japanese Tanegashima, and others.  We were *that* close to and could touch a Japanese heavy machinegun from World War II, a WWI British Vickers off a US Jenny, a German Parabellum with the water cooling shroud installed, and the twin MG from the rear gunner of a Japanese light bomber.  He opened drawers and handed us pistols ranging from a Navy Colt, a Spanish pin gun, various pepperboxes and boot guns to a Webley, a broomhandle Mauser, a Walther PPK, and a whole slew of others.  It was awesome to say the least.  Probably close to half of our time in the museum was spent in the vault.

On the way back out, he stopped and opened a cabinet drawer and began pulling out prints from the 1600s depicting contemporary naval battles that were so pristine they looked like they could have been printed yesterday. 

My 45-minute foray into the USNA museum turned into a 2-hour-plus marathon.  My daughter decided that it was pretty cool after all, though both of the kids were ready to go after that.  John Paul Jones' tomb was almost a denoument after all that, but it was still an incredible sight for me, having taken so long to get there.  (Being in the Army National Guard, you might not get my love for the Navy.  My father had been a Marine in WWII and was in the Navy during the Korean War.  I had considered applying for the Naval Academy when I was in high school and had twice taken various exams to go into the Navy as a Nuke.  I chose not to for stupid reasons and often still wish I had gone active duty in the Navy when I was young.) 

Following that, we went to see the Lincoln Memorial in DC, another bit of leftover business from Julia's visit the previous month.  We were all hot and tired and cranky at that point, but again, we were so close, I couldn't resist crossing the bridge to Arlington.  I knew the kids just wanted to get back to the hotel, but Lynn and I kept cryptically talking about a visit to Arlington, and it was driving Julia nuts because she didn't know what was there.  I told her I wouldn't explain it to her until we were in the car on the way over.  She said that was fine as long as it didn't have anything to do with the Civil War, World War I or World War II.  Little did she know...

When I explained what Arlington was to her, she actually thought it sounded pretty interesting and was excited to go see it.  When we got there, I didn't realize we were going to have to walk so far to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as everyone was already hot and tired, but everyone soldiered on, so to speak.  As we walked, though, I was talking with my daughter, and since she had pointed out John F. Kennedy in the USNA museum, I mentioned that he was buried at Arlington and gave her the choice of going to see his grave as well or just going to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  She decided to go see his grave as well, which I was proud of her for.  After that, we just happened to get to the Tomb of the Unknowns a few minutes before the Changing of the Guard so we got to watch that too.  Lynn and Julia were both enthralled by it.  It turned out to be an extra bonus and something that Julia will remember for a long time.  I don't think Adam really understood the impact of row after row of tombstones, mostly of people who had served their country - many who had died while serving it - but Julia and I talked about it and I think she had at least an inkling of what it means.  One of the things I hope to develop in them is a strong respect for those who have served or are serving our country, and for those who gave their lives serving us. 

The kids are still at an age where they don't really realize what an amazing day they had yesterday.  The things they got to see up close - and handle if they wanted to - at the museum are things people don't even ordinarily get to see.  I mean, to hold a one-of-a-kind artifact like Red Stick's carbine or to be *that* close to a document signed by John Hancock without a sheet of fracture-proof plexiglass between you and it is just out of this world.  I think Julia is starting to get it at 10, but Adam is still a world away at 7.  He thought it was cool, but in a different way than Julia.  He got to hold real guns - couldn't care less the history behind them, he just got to hold them.