October, 1999


My assignment was to go to Florida and make holograms of schrapnel slamming into things and resulting debris. You may ask why someone would pay me to do that, and I am afraid this is one of those jobs that I cannot talk much about. I can tell you what kind of information one can record in a hologram, and that would probably be boring, but I will tell you quickly, anyway. The hologram acts like a window into past time, and when we make a hologram of some event, it literally is a window that allows us to view the event over and over as if we had frozen time. This is not just a photograph, either; it is THE EVENT itself, for all practical purposes. When you look into the hologram later on, what you see is the same thing you would see if you could have looked through a window where the hologram was located when the recording was made.

There before your eyes is a full three dimensional field of debris that can be examined in great detail with a microscope. You can see the shape of each little fragment and you can even tell where it is headed and how fast. From there, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell how much damage it would have inflicted on some poor soul on the receiving end. If I tell you any more about the assignment, I will have to kill you.

Actually, Robert and Dave had already been on the job for several weeks and I was headed there to see the results of their labors. In addition, I would make a quick stop in Phoenix to give a talk on holography at the Annual meeting of the American Society of Non Destructive Testing. (another use of holography). Robert would have given the talk if he had not been in Florida. The conference hotel was the Hyatt Regency, which was too expensive for my government allowance, so I stayed two blocks away in a Ramada Inn.

I stepped into a 100 degree midnight and waved a taxi. At this point I was under the mistaken belief that Phoenix was an hour later than Los Angeles, so for the next 20 hours I was in a virtual time zone, one hour ahead of the world around me. I assumed it was too late for any restaurants, so relied on my stock of soups and crackers to tide me over until morning.

Because of a mandatory 7:30 speaker's breakfast, I had to rise early. I was running late and wasted what little time I had waiting to check out of the hotel. The coffee and hot rolls, ASNT had promised the speakers would have to hold me until lunchtime. I raced onto a still dark and abandoned street and concluded that Phoenix people sure don't start early. The Hyatt Regency appeared as abandoned as the streets, with little sign of any ASNT activity. (It was now 6:30 AM. in the real world and 7:30 in my world) Finally, I asked a concierge if he knew where the ASNT breakfast was being held. Looking at his list he finally responded, "Oh, here it is! The Presidents room, at the end of the hall there."

I was greeted outside the Presidents Room with much commotion and a crowd complaining about the breakfast being late. Suddenly the doors opened and we all entered, where to my amazement lay a buffet of fruits, juices, eggs, potatoes, and even steaks, topped off with huge dessert table displaying every type of cake and sweet roll. Man, was I ready for this! I was first in line and headed for a table with an armload of food.

Soon I was joined by others who introduced themselves and started an interesting conversation about management styles. They all seemed a bit surprised when I introduced myself as a director of research for a science related company. As we scoffed down steak and eggs (one guy even had two steaks) I commented at how great the food was, but I was a little worried about the time. 8:30 had arrived and the ASNT director had still not come to the podium. I had yet to even registered for the conference. No one else seemed concerned.

I always need to preview the room in which I present a paper, so I left the others still working on the desserts. In the lobby, I asked someone with an ASNT badge where the registration room was. She pointed across the street to the Phoenix conference center. At the conference center, I quickly found the registration desk and, soon discovered that I had been running an hour ahead of everyone else. After giving me a speakers badge, the lady at the registration desk pointed to a room across the lobby and said, "The speaker's breakfast is there in the Admiral's room."


The Admiral's room was full of speakers, a pot of coffee and about 10 stale bagels. I may never know whose breakfast I had eaten, but it was surely good. I discovered that a John Robert Powers Seminar was being held at the Hyatt, though, and I think I may owe John Robert for a breakfast. What the hell, he can afford it.

The stretch of beach from Pensacola to Panama City, Florida may be the most beautiful beach in the United States. Unfortunately, I drove it at midnight. I could only imagine the snow white sand and Palm lined highways I have seen many times before. Along Interstate 10 the most remarkable thing was the tandem big rigs that passed me at 90 miles per hour plus. At one point I attempted to follow a fleet of about 10 big rigs that had passed me. Looking at the speedometer and its needle passing 100 mph I could barely see the truck tail lights still in the distant swamps.

Eglin Air Force Base is the place where we developed the now famous "Bunker Buster", that some claim was key in bringing Saddam Hussein to the bargaining table during the Persian Gulf war. The laser guided missile was developed in five months from scrap gun barrel parts. Dropped from a high altitude aircraft and guided by laser, it penetrated about 20 feet of reinforced concrete, waiting until it got inside to explode. It killed a herd of Iraqi elites, Saddam's friends, who had taken up residence in the "impenetrable" bunker. Saddam realized that it was just a matter of time before he would wind up with one in his bedroom. You can see one in the Air Museum near the front gate of Eglin, where you can also see many other tools of war dating back nearly a hundred years. The yard is decorated with just about every significant airplane the Air Force has used. This is a good place to go and ponder what men do to each other when their bosses go mad. Some of these weapons have the very look and smell of anger and death and I am sure some of them caused some death before arriving here.

The front gate guard gave me surprisingly little delay, giving me a badge without even the usual phone call to a contact inside who would assure him that I was not a bomb laden terrorist. I must have looked like I had been here before. I had...many times. As I pulled in to the ballistics experiment facility, Robert greeted me with a quick wave to hurry into the bunker, because a shot was just about to happen on the nearby range. I was replacing Dave, who had left for California on the 7 AM flight. The team had been collecting data for three weeks, each test being called a guarded success, but not "the money shot".

After a countdown, a loud explosion, and a gun clear signal, we made a few adjustments to the hardware, and I tried to look useful, wiping some of the resulting debris off of the optics before the next shot. What happened next is a phenomenon I have never explained, but have always thanked the universe for repeating for me. The shot was perfect. The elated test director was shouting "That was the money shot!!!. We can all go home now!!" Well we didn't go home; we continued to take another 10 magnificent sets of holograms. As long as I can remember I have had this awesome experience with ongoing experiments, regardless of who is running them. I walk up and the experiment starts working the way it is suppose to. What better gift could God have given a scientist? I wished I could have called Dave on the plane to tell him his three weeks had paid off.

I had not had much time to become familiar with the equipment since it had been two years since I last saw it. that was not too important since Robert was handling everything with full competence, anyway. As time permitted I began to learn as fast as I could which buttons moved what device, because I did need to evaluate some of the data quality to make sure we were doing the best we could. These tests were extremely important to us because they would establish the value of the technique for a wider range of testing. In addition, we were expecting a group of visitors from other test centers who wanted to assess the use of the equipment in their own tests. They were running late and no one knew their whereabouts.

Two minutes after Robert left the range to process the holograms, a van load of VIP's arrived. Robert, who had been practicing for this "dog and pony" show for days, was out of touch. I began the tour myself recalling the details of the equipment as best as I could as we looked at it. One part of the equipment that was totally controlled by computers was important to show. I had not been checked out on that part. I could only hope that I could guess my way through the operation. Moving one step at a time, to my on amazement, every thing worked flawlessly. No one seemed to figure out that I had just arrived on the scene two hours earlier and had shown them just about everything I knew about the equipment. Fortunately, none of the buttons I had pushed blew anything up.

Ballistics range people are a great bunch. During the breaks we looked at high speed movies of a potato smashing a watermelon at Mach 2. Even crazier was a chicken gun that hurls dead chickens at airplane wind shields at Mach 1 (to simulate bird impacts). When they first began these tests, some peckerhead shot the chicken without thawing it and tore the entire top of the airplane off.

Destin is the deep sea fishing capital and some of the best seafood in the world is served here. If there were two things I could bring from Florida to California, it would be the white sand and the seafood. The topless bars run a close third, but since their importance has declined in my touring agenda, I will go no further than say that California could relearn from Florida how to make a topless bar into a great place for high value added entertainment. I don't think, however that "relearn" is the correct word, because, even though California topless bars used to be pretty good, they were never as good as Florida's. It is not just the women, but more the attitude and mood. In fact, I think most of the women in Florida topless bars came from California.

Another good thing about Destin is that my friends Joe and Ivora O'Hare retired here, and, as you know, the WWT relies heavily on locals for touring. They had invited me for a seafood lunch on Saturday. Since I customarily drop in on Joe and drink his booze I decided to show up with a least a few supplies. I stopped in at Sam's Club and picked up a case of beer, a bottle of millennium champagne and some wine. On the way out I passed by a pumpkin display and threw one in the cart since it was close to Halloween. This all turned out to be extremely fortuitous since it was Joe's birthday and I could pass these off as birthday presents.

To get to Destin one drives along the Miracle Strip over a bridge to Okaloosa Island. The highway follows a narrow sandy strip through white sand dunes between the Gulf of Mexico and the Chocktohatchee Bay and area known as the Emerald Coast. During the summer hurricane or 98 a mile stretch of roadway and most of the sand dunes were washed out to sea. Another bridge crosses from Okaloosa Island to Destin.

The "O'Hare restaurant" lunch served the sea food meal of all seafood meals. Joe and Ivora had prepared seven varieties of fish, starting off with appetizers (that Joe called 'fishbate'), which included tuna sushi, Hawaiian tuna (chunks of tuna rolled in spices and seared on the outside while raw on the inside), and smoked mullet (this was the week for the local mullet festival, I learned). For the main course we had sea food gumbo, shrimp cocktail, broiled ahi, fried grouper, broiled grouper, hushpuppies, and a baked potato. We topped this all off with birthday cake for dessert.

Some day I will write an entire story about Joe; he is probably the most creative friend I ever had, and I have been observing his retirement, so I can model my own after his. He is indeed, one of those people who leave visible positive differences in his wake. I first met him when he moved from Florida to Tennessee. In Florida in the '50's he had developed one of the first water ski shows ever, when water skiing was still being invented. Upon his arrival in Tennessee, using his talents and skills, he organized a water ski club that trained on a local lake, before most Tennesseans had even heard of water skiing. Many years later, a young middle Tennessee lady who, except for Joe, would probably never have donned a water ski, became the national water ski champion. That is what I mean about leaving positive marks in one's wake. Working together in an Air Force test center in the early years of holography, Joe and I practically invented the field of aerodynamic holography, though we still tease each other about who taught who what. If I ever have to do holography or high speed photography in heaven (or hell, God forbid) I hope Joe can be my partner. Hell could not be much worse than some of the things we have recorded in holograms.

I was in Florida for only three days this time, and I had seafood every day. Except for Joe's Cafe, my favorite place is a small restaurant in Fort Walten Beach, called Jack's Crab Shack. Jack's has a back porch that sits on the bay facing south providing what may be the most romantic place ever for dinner. During this trip the most romantic thing I did at Jack's was to introduce Robert to raw oysters. Robert, like a great sport, had his first, and I think he even liked it. Florida, where, oysters can cost as little as a dollar dozen, during happy hour, is about the only place left where one can afford to eat ones fill. Once I ate five dozen in one setting. Although oysters are said to be an aphrodisiac, I can tell you for a fact that not all of the five dozen worked in my case. (an old Florida joke)

The sand along the Florida panhandle beaches is made of tiny quartz crystals, resulting in an appearance that especially at night resembles snow. This is complemented by water that is so warm you can walk into it without hesitation and never feel a chill, and the water is so clear you can judge its depth by the color. When it looks a deep blue, almost black, you know it is a long way down. But you have to be extremely careful on a Florida beach. Even sitting under an umbrella, you can get the sunburn of your life, because what reflects off the sand is about as powerful as what comes straight from the sun. I made the mistake of sitting comfortably under an umbrella all day and walking away looking like one of the lobsters I had eaten for dinner the night before. Sunscreen is an absolute necessity for these beaches.

Just south of Destin lies the city of Sea Side, an interesting new development of houses in a quaint arrangement made to be self contained and designed for comfortable living without a car. The setting was used for the movie "The Truman Show", starring Jim Cary. This is a model for what the country is going to have to do to deal with our ever increasing automobile traffic problem. Seaside is such a picturesque village that it now attracts so many tourists that it has lost its attraction. The architects of Seaside forgot to build a huge parking garage for the tourists, and the traffic jams and parking problems create a new ugliness to this place.

Leaving at 5 AM on Sunday morning for the Pensacola airport in typical World's Worst Tourist fashion, I drove along the most beautiful beaches in the U.S. in pitch dark. I knew I was committing a sin doing it this way, but some how just the knowledge of what lay 50 yards to my left in the dark gave me a good feeling anyway. The beautiful benefit was that a traffic jammed highway during the day time was totally devoid of cars, and all the traffic lights blinked yellow, giving me the go ahead to drive 80 miles per hour, making Pensacola in just over an hour.