A noble Ex-Pilot, X-planes, X-citing innovation, an X-rated bridge…

  • Tower Bridge in London. On June 14 nothing happened at this bascule bridge.

    The bridge also rises: A bascule bridge is the proper name for a bridge where the two halves of the bridge tilt upward to allow tall ships to pass, perhaps the most famous being Tower Bridge in London. But it was at the Liteiny Bridge, which spans the Neva river in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, that on the night of June 14 a group of dissident artists protested the Russian-sponsored International Economic Forum being held nearby. Their protest was in the form of a 220-foot (65-meter) image of a phallus painted onto the roadbed on one side of the bridge so that when a tall ship came along and the bridge was erected… well, you get the idea. Police worked through the wee hours of the morning to remove the image, but not before thousands of drivers were forced to wait in traffic as ships went by, watching the giant phallus rise into the night sky of St. Petersburg. See the story (and yes, a photo) in the English-language site of Pravda (which reads remarkably like the American tabloid National Enquirer, but with more politics and perhaps even less credibility)

  • Tablets to push out desktops: According to Forrester Research, who are paid to be right about predictions like this, the growth in tablet PC sales will be at the expense of desktop PC sales. See the pretty little chart here.
  • But here’s my take on it: I think by late next year tablets will surpass netbooks (those tiny notebooks with Intel Atom processors that go for $300 or so) and will be eating into the low-end laptop market, while desktops will continue to shrink in market share just as they have for years. Remember you heard it here first. If you’re wondering about my rationale, write me in the comments and I’ll post an explanation.
  • Blessed innovation: The most interesting applications of tablet PCs are in places and applications where no computer has gone before. One such interesting application was recently created by the Rev. Paolo Padrini, an Italian Catholic priest who consults for the Vatican. His new iPad application replaces the traditional Catholic missal, the book that contains the order of the worship for every mass of the year. Like most innovative applications of new technology, it seems obvious once someone does it, so why didn’t someone think of it before? We’re going to see thousands such obvious-after-it’s-invented applications for thin tablet PCs.

    A spectacular display of breaking the sound barrier

  • The greatest of the greatest: In the history of aviation there have been many great planes, but few will disagree that the ultimate planes, generation after generation, have been the famed X-planes. These are the planes that in each generation have pushed the boundaries, set the records, expanded what it means to fly, sometimes even beyond the atmosphere. CNET News has a wonderful pictorial essay on X-planes from the X-1 — the plane in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947 — to the X-51A that last month achieved Mach-5 hypersonic flight. It’s a wonderful series of 24 images and accompanying text. (I’m trying to figure out a way to pack it all into a single PDF I can save on disk. Any ideas, please let me know.)
  • On this day in history, on the night of June 21, 1942 the Japanese submarine I-25 surfaced near the mouth of the Columbia River and the town of Brookings, Oregon, and fired 17 of its 5.5-inch shells at Fort Stevens, which was there to guard the mouth of the river. The shells did some damage to telephone cables and took out the home plate backstop at the fort’s baseball field, but not much else. Fort Stevens, as a coastal defense fort, was equipped with large 10-inch artillery capable of taking out even large ships, which the little I-25 submarine was not. But in a less-than-shining moment in American coastal defense, the fort’s commander turned off all the lights and forbid the gunners to fire back, fearing that firing back would give away the fort’s position to the Japanese. With its massive 10-inch guns the fort should have been able to destroy the small, stationary, lightly-armed submarine, but the commander was apparently more concerned about hiding from the enemy than engaging with it. Some American planes on a training mission nearby called in a bomber which did engage and drop ordnance on the submarine, but the sub was able to evade, dive, and get away unscathed. It was the only time in WWII that an American mainland military facility was attacked by the Axis Powers.

    Warrant Flying Officer Nobuo Fujita

  • But that wasn’t the end of it: That particular submarine, the I-25, turned out to have a most illustrious history in the Japanese Navy. After its successful patrol in which it attacked Fort Stevens and torpedoed several vessels along the American coast, on a subsequent patrol it returned to the Oregon coast with a small seaplane stowed in a watertight enclosure on the deck. On the night of September 9, 1942 the little seaplane, piloted by Warrant Flying Officer Nobuo Fujita, flew over the coast and dropped two small incendiary bombs in an attempt to set the American forests afire. The seaplane returned safely to the I-25 and the next night another incendiary attack was undertaken. An American bomber and Coast Guard units eventually chased off the submarine, inflicting little damage. But the I-25 sailed away with the distinction of having inflicted the only attack during the war on an American mainland military installation and the only aerial bombardment of the U.S. mainland during the war.
  • And there’s a happy ending: After the war 1n 1962 the pilot of the seaplane, Nobuo Fujita, made a pilgrimage to the coastal town of Brookings, Oregon, to present his family’s 400-year-old samurai sword as a token of penance and friendship. (He was very ashamed of what he had done, and he had planned that if the town did not welcome him he would use the sword to commit seppuku, suicide by self-disembowelment.) Despite some early controversy he was welcomed by the town, served as Grand Marshall of the local Azalea Festival, and the sword is today on display at the Brookings City Hall. He returned in 1992 and planted a tree at the bomb site as a gesture of peace and was later made an honorary citizen of Brookings. He died in 1996 and two years later his daughter, Yoriko Asakura, buried some of his ashes at the bomb site, a man of great courage in war and great honor in peace.