Geek On A Battleship!


This weekend I stayed on the Battleship New Jersey. My wife’s youngest brother is in the Boy Scouts and they needed a chaperon, so I jumped at the opportunity to go. The challenging part was to do all this with my HTC EVO. It’s battery life is pretty crappy for a technology addict like me. As I packed, the thought of my battery life was my second most important thought.

The first was, bring a towel. (Thanks Douglas Adams!) There was so many reasons for it.

Back to the battery. I don’t have lots of disposable income to blow on expensive gadgets so, having a solar charger or a external battery for my phone isn’t an option. I had recently spent my technology allowance for the year and part of it was spent on a larger phone battery from Sedio. It had held up well so far with daily use. This, however, was much different. My phone would be a portable internet search engine, vacation camera, writing tool, connection to my social networks, map, alarm clock, the way I would tell my kids goodnight and more.

Since I am obviously addicted to this technology, I worried that the withdrawal pains if the phone/computer died midway through the trip, would ruin my experience. I NEEDED this phone! How could I enjoy the experience when I would be searching for hours to find a plug, or worse, sleeping in the warm glow of my phone huddled near an outside outlet or in an unlocked car with a working cigarette lighter? How bad would it get when I couldn’t read the latest tweet from @CaliLewis or @wilw? How would my friends know if I was having fun or not?

Starting to get cold sweats I had to resort to charging the stock battery for a backup. That might not be enough!  I grabbed the bottle of left over Vicodin I had in the cabinet. Realizing that being doped up on pain meds wouldn’t set a good example to  a group of scouts, I put the bottle back in the medicine cabinet and packed my two year old netbook up. I figured if there was no place to charge the phone, I could suck the little computers battery dry. My EVO would be a technology vampire!

The HHGTTG rules applied already, since the towel made the perfect protection for the little computer to be stuffed in my old geocaching backpack. I packed a change of clothes, bathroom necessities and a pair of binoculars.

We hit the road and luckily, I rode in a van with charger outlets to juice my phone. The thirteen year old kid could survive without his ipod for the night. HE was the scout and should have been prepared anyway. It was a short ride from Southern New Jersey to the magical city of Camden. 

As we stepped on board someone picked up what looked like a newspaper. It was filled with information on the ship. I too picked up this ancient form of sharing knowledge.  The basics I had already looked up on the way but the map and tour routes might be useful.

The ship was awe inspiring. They began construction on 1941 and it was launched on December 7th, 1942. This was the one year anniversary of Pearl Harbor. (That was no coincidence!) The ship is permanently docked in the Delaware River on the Camden waterfront. It is over eight hundred feet long and you can’t appreciate its mass until you stand next to it.

We were shown to our bunks and given time to unpack. The first thing I noticed was the mirror, light and outlet set up for the sailors to shave at. I tried the light and it worked so theoretically the outlet would as well. It did! I lucked out with a top bunk by the working outlet. The lower bunks were like lying in a coffin so the extra head room was a plus as well. Once unpacked and set up, I went out to experience the wonders of the Battleship NJ through the screen of my phone.

We had to go out on the dock at ten minutes to eight for Evening Colors, where they do the flag ceremony. All American naval ships perform this ceremony at 8pm, as well as Morning Colors at 8am. I recorded the lowering of the flag. Since I had better reception outside the giant steel box, I also uploaded my first pics and the video to Facebook. Once the flag was down we went to dinner and started the night tour.

Our tour guide, while enthusiastic, seemed a bit off. He later admitted he hadn’t done a tour in over six months, and it showed. His dates and facts were off occasionally and when he got caught on words or dates he turned into Porky Pig, stuttering on it in frustration till he finally gave up and just said something else less accurate. This encouraged me to use wikipedia. Had to be more accurate then he was.

We toured all the major parts of the ship and I took a ton of pictures with my phone. The ship was fascinating and awe inspiring. The tight corridors, steep ladders and low ceilings make you appreciate how challenging it must have been to spend extended time serving on any naval vessel.  I realized rather quickly that you should always look down. There were all kinds of things to trip on.

Around the ship in various places were leisure areas.The little tables in them had backgammon or chess board patterns on the surface.  The geek in me pictured playing Magic the Gathering or D&D on the down time. There wasn’t much room for anything else unless you were an officer. The Captains quarters could handle a good game of Warhammer and you could run a tournament inside the Ward Room or the Mess Hall.

We went into one of the berthing areas, aka: crew sleeping quarters. There was a lamp in each bunk and not much else. The bunks were all hinged in the back and lifted to expose a storage area for that sailor. They had a 2′ X 6′ box that was maybe six inches high to store all their belongings in. Not a lot of storage for all my RPG books!  Apparently there was room for some comics though. While checking out the displays of what sailors stored in them, I spotted a Conan the Barbarian #145 comic from the eighties. I used to own that comic! The only problem I had with the display was, it was in there with a paperback copy of the Pelican Brief. What respecting fan of  John Buscema’s artwork or the writing of Alan Zelenetz, would waste time reading legal drivel from Grisham! Let’s not even bring Robert E. Howard into it. (yes, I know he didn’t write the comic) Should have put a copy of Michael Moorcock or Tolkien in there.

We walked around the ship as the strong winds that pummeled the Philadelphia/NJ area this weekend, were just beginning. As the winds picked up, my pics got worse. The phone on a higher ISO setting, doesn’t like movement at all. The 800 ISO setting combined  with winds that occasionally made it hard to stand up, were a bad combo. Still, all things considering, it did OK.

We climbed in 16″ 50 caliber gun turrets and everyone looked through the sights for the big guns! Don’t know why, but when I got up there to look, we were targeting a church. Christ Church to be exact!  This inspired me to try my camera with the sight. As my group filed out of the turret , I stood moving my phone closer than further from the sight to get it to focus through the lens. Suddenly I got it. SUCCESS! As I snapped off a few pictures, the voice of our tour guide faded. I quickly scrambled down the ladder out of our turret and searched the deck for my tour group.

I took pictures of all the ancient computer technology this ship had. It was amazing to think how far we have come in twenty years. Five and a quarter floppy drives, tape drives & rotary phones, how did we ever survive?

As the tour was winding down, our tour guide waved us on into a close huddle. He said, “Would you guys like to see something I am not supposed to show you? I’ve actually got in trouble for showing this to groups.” Immediately the line, “Now this is something the other tour guides won’t tell you.” from So I Married An Axe Murderer came to mind. It wasn’t quite as messed up a story as I was hoping for but still worth hearing.

By now, my battery was draining fast. I had shot a good 90 photographs with the flash on for most, a few videos too. I posted to Facebook, Twitter and more. I was using 4G (came in OK from across the river) and searching things we saw on the net to find out more information. All the while doing this I was switching back to type in notes. I even made a few actual phone calls and texts. It held up admirably considering this was the first time I had really abused it.

After the tour and some downtime with the gang from Troop 56, I went to start writing this blog. I climbed up into my bunk and quickly realized that, while I could sit up, the heat was atrocious. The dry hot air was unbearable. Now I had a dilemma. All the bunks closest to the outlet had been taken. What was I to do? Who doesn’t curl up with their phone at night?

But I was prepared! I unrolled the netbook power cord and stretched it across my old bunk. This made it possible to set the netbook on another lower bunk. The USB cable for my phone made it easily to my new bunk that was only eight inches from the floor. I had to sleep in the bunk facing the wrong way to use my phone, however, I was charging and writing. I lay in the relative quiet, (kids were still horsing around in the bunks) and wrote the first couple paragraphs of this blog. My towel served it’s second purpose by becoming my pillow for the night. I soon fell asleep in my bottom bunk and slept fairly well. The cramped quarters were not so bad.

I woke around 5:30am. I lay in bed, listening to the hum of the ship for a while. It had it’s own rhythmic, thrumming heartbeat. You could even feel it when you pressed against the side of the bunk. Kind of soothing really. I picked up my phone that displayed it’s tiny green, fully charged light and slipped out of bed trying not to wake anyone else and hit the head. (I use that term all the time and this was the only time it was true!) After cleaning up a bit and getting some more use from my towel, I wandered upstairs to the mess hall. It was quiet and still. There was coffee from the previous night that was still warm, so I drank a cup and wandered the ship a bit. I visited the brig, chapel and a few other places before I wandered up on deck to see the sunrise.

By now, people were getting up and moving around. I went down and had breakfast, packed up all my wires and cords, and wrapped my netbook back in it’s towel.

All in all, I really enjoyed this trip and send out my sincere thanks to Troop 56 for allowing me to go. It is really worth the visit. The whole experience gave me;

  • A minuscule taste of what it’s like to serve in the Navy.
  • Appreciation for the engineering, design and construction that goes into making a 45,000 ton ship
  • More respect for my father, who served on an Aircraft Carrier during Vietnam
  • I learned some nautical terms.
  • I got a  history lesson.
  • Made some new friends.
  • and much more.

Once packed and ready to go, I found out we were heading out on a hike across the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia to see some historical sights. It would be ten miles, which was about 9.5 miles more than I had walked in any single day over the past five years. To top it off there were high wind alerts coming in on my phone.

Three things worried me.

1) The 60mph gusts of wind that were being reported could be a little scary on that bridge.

2) Could I keep up with a scout troop for ten miles?

3) Most importantly, would my batteries hold up for the day?

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