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March 16, 2011

Sea Stories
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:37 AM * 90 comments

I will now do my impression of the tedious folks who hang around the VFW talking about the exciting days of their youth. This is from my Navy days.

No shit, guys, there I was assigned to USS Hawkins (DD-873), my first berth as an officer. I wrote this song (to the tune of “The Wreck of the Anna Maria” by Ryan’s Fancy, on their album Dark Island).

Forty-eight hours on a rusty old FRAM
How my throat seemed to long for a beer
I’ll be glad to see land and once more lay my hand
On the auto I left on the pier.

From Philly’s pier two we went laden
With cockroaches, dopers, and rinks.
And I hope that we may get back into the bay
Before the whole lot of us sinks.

There’s trouble aloft with the Forty
There’s sludge in the old coffee urn
The DRT’s broke, the machine’s got no Coke,
And the spring bearing’s starting to burn.

Our ship was an antique destroyer
She’ll go out a-cruising no more
But still you can bet when you shave with Gillette
You’re seeing the Hawkins once more.

Forty-eight hours on a rusty old FRAM
How my throat seemed to long for a beer
I’ll be glad to see land and once more lay my hand
On the auto I left on the pier.

Forty-eight hours:
Training for the reservists, every weekend. There was the core crew (of which I was a member), and a rotating group of reservists, one group per weekend, with occasional longer cruises.
When you’re out of FRAMs you’re out of cans. (Can = tin can = destroyer.) Fleet Rehabilitation And Modernization program. This was supposed to add somewhere between five and eight years to the service life of WWII destroyers, and add an ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) capability against Soviet boomers (fleet ballistic missile submarines). The Hawk had been FRAMmed … fifteen years before I got aboard. FRAMming removed one gun mount and added a miniature hanger and flight deck for a DASH helicopter. That’s a Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter. These were radio-controlled helicopters that carried Mk 44 homing torpedoes. Theoretically these could be carried out miles and miles away to where a sub was lurking and drop a torpedo on top of them. In actual fact, the range of the DASH bird exceeded the range at which the radio control would reliably call it back, so usually the last you saw of one would be as it went over the horizon.
Philly’s pier two:
Pier 2, Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, which was where we really-o truly-o tied up. We were part of DESRON 30 (Destroyer Squadron), which means I knew where Marcus Aurelius Arnheiter’s bugle was.
Those were the days before Combat® Roach Bait. Navy ships tended to have more roaches than a Bronx tenement. On older ships, this was a good thing, since everyone knew that the only thing that kept the rust together was the cockroaches holding hands. Just don’t ask what the brown crunchy bits in the bread are.
Do I really need to explain this one? How to recognize a doper: Parts his hair in the middle, wears wire-rims, and smokes Kools.
Disrespectful term for Naval Reservists. These were active, drilling, reservists who, in the event of national emergency, could be recalled to active duty and so needed to keep up their skills. That’s where the acronym FIBIJAR comes from: Fuck It, Buddy, I’m Just A Reservist.
The bay:
Chesapeake Bay. Down the Delaware from Philly to the C&D Canal (Chesapeake and Delaware), to Chesapeake Bay, to an OPAREA (Operation Area) in the VACAPES (Virginia Capes; off Cape Hatteras and the rest). Which is how we came to have the bow crimped over a degree and a half; that happened in a storm off the VACAPES. That storm was also when I learned The Destroyer Song (“You rock, you roll, you pound, you pitch, / You creak, you groan, you son of a bitch / Boy it’s a hell of a life on a destroyer….”)
The Forty:
AN/SPS-40 air-search radar
To sail the seas for cash takes a taste for the nasty. Midwatch coffee is nasty.
Dead Reckoning Tracer. A device that took input from the ship’s gyrocompass and pit log (a device that measures speed through the water) and turned it into a moving dot of light (the bug) projected up through the chart table to show where the ship might be. This would be great if it worked. I’ve seen a lot of DRTs but don’t recall ever seeing an actual working DRT. These were eventually replaced by the Shipboard Inertial Navigation System (SINS). SINS was great for one thing: While making up obscene flag-hoists the signal group that broke to “Position to be determined by SINS” was a handy one. (Rest easy, America! Your Navy is on watch!)
No Coke:
I had the honor of being the Soda Machine Officer. (This is what junior ensigns are for.) Profits from the soda machine went to the crew recreation fund. So, my first day as SMO, I called the distributor to order up some soda. “How many cases of Aspen do you want?” he asked. Aspen, for those who don’t recall, was an artificially-flavored allegedly-apple carbonated beverage. What can I say? I ordered a case. That’s how I discovered that there was, indeed, something that sailors won’t drink. Eventually I got rid of it by making Aspen the only thing available in the soda machine while shipboard water was turned off during a yard period. Even so we kept finding half-filled Aspen cans stuck in the angle irons.
Spring bearing:
When you have two propeller shafts, and two boilers and two engines, with the engines in line (rather than side-by-side), one of the shafts will be lots longer than the other one. The longer one will tend to sag, which is a bad thing. In this case, the starboard shaft ran from the forward engine room through the after fireroom, through the after engine room, then out to the shaft alley before it got to the starboard prop. So, it’s supported by spring bearings. These bearings were … old. They were worn. Spare parts for them hadn’t been made in decades. The ship herself was out of true, and there wasn’t a lot of money going to be thrown at a reserve FRAM can. Which required a lot of faith, a lot of work-arounds, and the expectation that of course the bearings were going to overheat. That’s what bearings do, isn’t it?
Widely believed folklore in the Fleet was that WWII cans were built with an expected six-month life. That six months had passed decades before. The Hawk, when I was aboard her, was older than USS Caine had been in the novel The Caine Mutiny.
Razor blades, traditionally what happens to all decommissioned ships. (Actually she eventually wound up in the Taiwanese Navy. Her superstructure is now reportedly a museum.) Anyone who wants to know what she looked like can go aboard ex-USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. at Battleship Cove in Massachusetts.
Named after William Deane Hawkins, 1st LT, USMCR. A Marine Corps scout-sniper, he got a battlefield commission on Guadalcanal, then went on to get killed in action at Tarawa. He got a Congressional Medal of Honor (posthumous) out of it, plus an airfield on Betio Atoll, a bar at The Basic School, and a ship all named after him. USS Hawkins was the first ship in the column that entered Tokyo Bay at the end of WWII.
Comments on Sea Stories:
#1 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 08:32 AM:

I notice the Wikipedia article on DASH keeps emphasizing the expendability of the aircraft.

I worked on yet another FRAM study at NSWC White Oak as a co-op student around 1980; this one was directed towards improving ASM defense. I heard a rumor later that all of the simulation data we generated had to be throw out due to some error or another.

#2 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 12:03 PM:

I think of "Fram" as a wooden ship, which was one of the early ones used for chasing the Northwest Passage and also for Amundsen's South Pole expedition. It's parked at a museum in Oslo, near the Kon-Tiki and some Viking ships.

A guy I used to work with used to go on trips like "skiing on Ellesmere Island", and has the same last name of one of the Fram's crew; don't know if it's coincidence or if it's his grandfather.

#3 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 01:07 PM:

And a wonderful museum it is in Oslo! One one of their islands, which Oslo seems to have about as many of as London has squares or Paris has cafes or Houston has bayous...

#4 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 04:26 PM:

One of my RM shipmates at NavCommStaJapan did a TDY (Temporary Duty Assignment) on the Richard B. Anderson, DD-786. He was aboard for about 90 days sailing to Subic Bay in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and who remembers where else. When he got back to his shore station what he told us about shipboard life during WestPac storms made us all think twice about the advisability of shipping aboard any destroyer.

#5 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 04:41 PM:

TDY (Temporarily Divorced for a Year) is slightly different from TAD (Temporary Assigned Duty, or Traveling Around Drunk).

Back in the early days of destroyers, destroyer sailors were given Hard Lying Pay, a bonus paid because they were so uncomfortable.

Oh, and here's a version of The Destroyer Song. Rather than the stanzas comparing soldiers' and sailors' lives, the one I heard compared life onboard a flat-top (i.e. bird farm, aka aircraft carrier) with life on a tin can.

#6 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 05:27 PM:

Oh! I thought "Fram" was a reference to Fridtjof Nansen's ship.

#7 ::: Edmund Schweppe ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 06:47 PM:

Can it really be a sea story if it doesn't start "Now, this is a real no-shitter"?

Linkmeister @ 4: Being able to duck underneath stormy weather was one of the best things about serving on submarines - in my case, USS OMAHA (SSN 692). It's nice and calm at depths of "greater than four hundred feet".

#8 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 07:09 PM:

You're right, Edmund. Editing post to reflect reality.

(BTW: Destroyers are the reason submariners do it deeper....)

#9 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 07:30 PM:
Midwatch coffee is nasty.

Come about 4 in the morning on a 12 hour night shift in an Army commcenter we used to consume a lot of bad coffee. But my shift NCO swore up and down that it just couldn't compare to the awful stuff that the Navy got. Is it true you guys used to put salt in the grounds?

#10 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 08:05 PM:

It is totally true that we put salt in the coffee grounds.

#11 ::: Duncan J Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 08:12 PM:

Bruce Cohen @11

Why yes, we did (do). It helps cover up the flavor of the DFM in the water.

DFM = Diesel Fuel, Marine. What the boilers burn.

#12 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 09:47 PM:

No shit, the worst; bar none, coffee I have ever drunk (and yes, I drank it) was in the galley of The Nasty (NSTI, Naval Station Treasure Island).

On alternate days it was no worse than any other coffee which had been a "bullet" (i.e. five gallon percolator) for five or six hours (topped up by rebrewing over a half charge of grounds when it was first spotted to be just below the half-way mark).

On the other days we swore by God, the guy filling it had just pulled the water out of SF Bay, so it would taste like the mid-watch coffee the sailors at the A-Schools would have to learn to drink.

Vile doesn't begin to describe it, it was worse than the bilgewater served on the USS Belleau Wood (why yes, I did play with Marines, and got charming trips out of it).

#13 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 10:04 PM:

I work with people who seem to want to have burnt-coffee syrup available in the kitchen. I'm not sure why, since the company is providing the (low-end) coffee grounds and the rest of the necessary equipment, free.

#14 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 10:05 PM:

One of my uncles was generally underwater, when he was in (late 1950s to late 1960s). He got a ride to the North Pole and back, one winter. I hear it was a closer call than they wanted to admit at the time.

#15 ::: Dreamer of Stars ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2011, 10:38 PM:

The DRT is *always* broken. But I used to rack disbo out when the bloody soda machine was empty on the rev watch...

#16 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 03:59 AM:

#1 Charlie: That Wikipedia article on DASH says, "The CIC controller could not see the aircraft or its altitude and occasionally lost operational control or situational awareness."

The word "occasionally" should read "almost inevitably."

I notice I used the word "device" a lot up there. There's a reason for that: In the big Navy Stock Number catalog, you had to know the true name of a thing to look it up and order it. So, to get a clock, you'd have to get out Volume D, because a clock is really a "Device, time measuring."

A zipper, on the other hand, was in Volume F: "Fastener, slide, toothed."

#17 ::: Kyndra ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 08:04 AM:

Coffee (various comments).

I would have to figure that while navy coffee may be bad (although the sailors I've known made pretty good /very strong coffee (with salt which I actually prefer and still do)), the coffee we used to get in the press room on the midnight to eight am shift was at least as bad. It was very black, very thick and always tasted as if some of the water had been removed in favor of ink. It was guaranteed to wake you up and keep you awake though- a good thing when one is operating high speed printing presses...I'm sitting here getting heartburn just thinking about it.

#18 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 09:45 AM:

Coffee, from the veterinary student POV: necessary for those nights on call, or during rotations in which one was assigned to the 1am-5am shift in Equine ICU. In order to safely take the vitals on this 2000-lb horse at 3:30 am, and give the proper medications to the correct patient, one must be at least awake enough to perceive written instructions.

To this day, I can wake up, dress, and be out the door in 15 minutes.

I learned not only the value of coffee but also that of cat-naps.

#19 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 10:45 AM:

James D. Macdonald @18 said: In the big Navy Stock Number catalog, you had to know the true name of a thing to look it up and order it. So, to get a clock, you'd have to get out Volume D, because a clock is really a "Device, time measuring." A zipper, on the other hand, was in Volume F: "Fastener, slide, toothed."

Hence, of course, the main plot of Eric Frank Russell's wonderful short story "Allamagoosa". I read that sometime in the middle of grade school and adored it, and still do on each reread.

#20 ::: lee Thomson ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 02:22 PM:

@9 - in my experience (admittedly on the surface and under sail) the stories all start "it was 0300 and the wind started to pick up"

#21 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 03:28 PM:

Elliott Mason @21: I was going to ask which Volume 'offog' would have been listed in.

#22 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 03:37 PM:

Rob Rusick: Not to get too spoilery, but if I recall correctly it was in the portion of the inventory assigned to the morale officer, so that might clue in a bit.

#23 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 03:50 PM:

Ginger @20: Or, at 4 am, put a new drip into the dog which had twisted the drip tubing so badly (walking round and round its kennel, I presume) it had blocked up sometime since the last two-hourly check. When you're going to be up again at 6 am to do your morning cheks before rounds at 7.30 and lectures at 9am. Oh the fun days. That was before I discovered coffee gives me headaches.

The time we (we did duty in twos or threes) really had a problem with a cat IV catheter luckily it was only about 11 pm and I knew the head nurse was in the library studying for an extra qualification. So we asked for help, for the cat's sake. "We saved you a cephalic* vein," said I, as I made the request.

*(forelimb, for anyone wanting this info - generally prefered).

#24 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 04:11 PM:

For those times when Midwatch Coffee just isn't strong enough, you can try this: Make up a cup of Swiss Miss Cocoa using Midwatch Coffee as the fluid.

That'll keep your eyes open for about three straight days.

#25 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 04:35 PM:

Hey--we (programmers) do that too(double-strength coffee and Swiss Miss)--nicknamed a breakroom mocha. (I once managed 30 hours straight programming on that.)

#26 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 05:22 PM:

Rob @ #23

Ah, stores codes work somewhat differently to kit lists. The NSN (National (or NATO) Stock Number) which grew out of the FSN (Federal Stock Number) assigns numbers sequentially within broad (then narrower) categories. The first four digits are the "main category", the next two are the country code, the next three are the sub-category, and the last four (issued sequentially) denote the item. So 6135-99-910-1135 is a specific type of dry cell. (Battery, Dry, 1.1/2 volt No.12) Fifty five years ago, it would have been "Cell, Dry, X Mk.II with a stores code of WB.0200 (Vocabulary of Army Ordnance Stores, section W (Electric light & Power), subsection B, item 200. Forty five years before that it would have had the same name (possibly as the Mk.I). Army storekeepers have long memories and are resistant to change.
Anyway, the description is sorted into alphabetic order within category, so you don't find "Pins, sewing" next to "Pins, Earth, Small" - though you might find "Protectors, Earwig, Mk.I" close to "Pins, Earth". It makes stuff easier to find.

Hope this is some help, and not too boring.

#27 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 05:27 PM:

dcb @ #25

...I read cat IV as "Category 4" which made it sound Very Nasty Indeed - the sort of large bore hose that firemen would use.


p.s: would you like a contribution to the international folding crane postage? Moose are useless at origami, but not bad at chocolate.

#28 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 05:38 PM:

James @26: actually, that's how I deal with Starbucks. (Vile toxic waste -- they burn their beans -- but if you can't find anything else, tip cocoa into it. As long as you get them to leave the cream off the mocha it probably won't kill you immediately ...)

#29 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 06:23 PM:

Sam @ #27 "I once managed 30 hours straight programming on that."

How good was the code? ;)

#30 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 06:40 PM:

How good was the code?

It ran. The results were close enough to initial guesswork that management would accept them.

It wasn't right, as 2 major underlying issues remained to be identified (and fixed)--but after a 100 hour week, then a 30 hour marathon, "it runs" was good enough for right now.

#31 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 06:49 PM:

29 ::: Cadbury Moose @ 29: It's that specialist vocab. again - I thought to "translate" the name of the vein, but not to expand on IV (= intravenous, as I'm sure you realised on second glance).

I don't think postage will be too horrendous - I've just finished stringing all the ones I've folded into strings of 25, so I'll find out tomorrow when I get to the Post Office. Luckily I have a padded envelope large enough to take my strings of cranes (and the extra tiny newspaper ones really add very little weight). Chocolate is always nice, of course.

SamChevre @ 32: Been there, done that - you have my sympathies. Not with code in my case, but that's how we finished off a huge information resource on Foot-and-Mouth Disease, back in 2001 - lots of long hours and an all-nighter followed by most of the next day to finish. Not fun

#32 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 07:29 PM:

Writing code at 4 in the morning made me graduate from bad coffee to chocolate-covered espresso beans. Eat 2 of them and you'll be vibrating for hours. On all-nighter I spent 12-14 hours and half a dozen beans writing Prolog code because with everyone else gone I had a VAX11-780 that normally supported 40 users all to myself. And Prolog is a real CPU hog.

#33 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2011, 11:01 PM:

re emergency awake/energy:

Ranger Pudding:

1 packet MRE Hot Cocoa Powder
1-2 packet Taster's Choice Instant Coffee Crystals

Add crystals to cocoa packet. Add water (from canteen) to make it liquid enough to move.

Drink from packet.

Move out.

#34 ::: Terry Hunt ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 12:12 AM:

Is it just me who keeps reading "Midwatch Coffee" as "Midwich Cuckoo"?

#35 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 02:33 AM:

Terry H, that sounds like the kind of mistake you'd make if you'd actually been drinking the stuff. If you drink it too long, it starts to turn in to The Dunwich Cuckoo, tentacles and all, at which point it's time to call it a shift.

#36 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 02:56 AM:

Every midwatch puts another hair on your chest.

#37 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 06:12 AM:

Writing code at 4 in the morning made me graduate from bad coffee to chocolate-covered espresso beans. Eat 2 of them and you'll be vibrating for hours.

YES. Like amphetamines but (unaccountably) legal. Six of them are basically "instant shell-scrape, just add squaddie".

#38 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 09:19 AM:

Mmm, caffeine. I drove from Oregon to Maine primarily on Trader Joe's chocolate covered coffee beans. (Don't have to brew them, safer to spill while driving than hot liquid.)

For some reason people keep giving them to me now. They don't quite grasp that no, these are not a snack food item, they are an emergency alert system....

#39 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 09:36 AM:

Thena @ 40... I think I'm going to keep a supply of those handy. Got woken up a few times last night because of production support, and once because my wife decided at 2am that she needed to know now where she had misplaced her car keys this time. Zzzzzzzz...

#40 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 03:35 PM:

The One Office Perk You Must Splurge On. If I tell you that's not a change of topic, can you guess what it is? :-)

#41 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 04:15 PM:

David, #42: And don't forget that not all of your employees are coffee drinkers. A hot-water pot and some decent tea (NOT Lipton!) tells them that you don't consider them second-class citizens or freaks.

#42 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 04:37 PM:

And I wish that the hotels that have kitchenettes would have a tea kettle among the pots and pans supplied. (Homewood Suites, I'm looking at you--)

One Doubletree* I stayed in did have one, right on the stove...had a lovely brew-up every afternoon when I got in from training.

*A couple of blocks from the Watergate complex.

#43 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 04:57 PM:

Lee #43: Agreed -- that would make an excellent comment to the article, but comments there need a login. But I'd expand that Lipton into stuff like hot chocolate and herbal (that is, non-caf) teas.

#44 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 05:02 PM:

Addendum to Lee: Sorry, I missed you were "not Lipton". The generalization still holds; I actually don't think Lipton is that bad, but yeah, it shouldn't be the only tea available. And these days, there are so many good teas around!

#45 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 05:19 PM:

It's been my experience that store-brand supermarket teabags are usually a distinct improvement from Lipton. Lipton is my idea of what the Nutri-Matic machine dispensed.

#46 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 06:28 PM:

Rikibeth @47: I drink tea because I burned my stomach out on filter coffee more than 15 years ago. I drink tea for caffeine, dammit. Lipton's tea bags ... are not an optimal caffeine source.

(Preferred variety: Irish Breakfast Tea, as served in Dublin -- orange-brown (when diluted with milk), corrodes stainless steel spoons, has about the same caffeine kick as the filter coffee it replaces.)

#47 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 06:44 PM:

Charlie @48: The "import" aisle of our local grocery has Barry's tea. Does that meet your standards? I find it very tasty.

The more upscale brands' "Irish Breakfast" blends all seem to be built around Assam tea as their core. This suits me PERFECTLY, as Assam is very malty-tasting, and I am notoriously fond of malt. My mother says that I was given malt extract in my bottle of baby formula as an infant, and I loved it then; this has apparently carried over into liking very malty ales and enjoying whiskey, as well as the more usual chocolate-covered milk balls and Ovaltine.

#48 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 06:50 PM:

Lori Coulson @44: In the UK, it's a rare bed & breakfast, never mind hotel, that doesn't provide a kettle and tea bags (and instant coffee and UHT milk). Many also offer hot chocolate, and they've started to realise people like peppermint tea etc.

When I go to conferences elsewhere (e.g. continental Europe, North America) I take my travel kettle and teas with me, because I like my morning mug of freshly brewed cherry tea (a particular black tea with cherry leaves and flavouring). At home, of course I have a choice of about 100 teas (black, green, herbal, rooibos.

Charlie Stoss @ 48: I agree. If I'm just drinking plain tea then good and strong is prefered.

#49 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 07:01 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 48:

These days I have to limit my coffee intake (high blood pressure and migraines don't like it much), so I cheat a little by drinking tea after the 3rd cup of coffee in the day, usually black teas like Irish Breakfast or Darjeeling. It may not be a lot better for me, but it does reduce the headaches.

Rikibeth @ 49:

Now that's an idea: scotch and Irish Breakfast. On second thought, I think I'll stick to coffee and rum; I don't want to have the Troubles refought in my stomach.

David Harmon @ 42:

At one division of Tektronix in the late 80's we got tired of expensive crappy machine coffee, and formed a coop. The members each chipped in a couple of dollars every month and we bought drip coffee makers, and bulk beans direct from the roaster. Result: pretty good coffee, very cheap, and the coffee coop was the Tektronix business unit with the best profit margin in the company.

#50 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 07:16 PM:

Bruce Cohen @51: nobody said it had to be SINGLE malt. Bushmill's!

#51 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 08:56 PM:

In addition to the hotel-provided coffeemaker, which will only produce coffee-flavored hot water....

I bought an immersion heater so I wouldn't have to deal with coffee-flavored hot water. (Travel tea kit: stainless-steel travel mug, heater, teabags or infuser and loose tea. Because some hotels don't provide much in the way of tea, and not much to make tea in.)

#52 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 08:59 PM:

There are worse teas out there than Lipton's. Like the free-to-us tea at work ('Superior'). (Some other locations have better tea; the facilities manager we have doesn't seem to know about those brands. But there's also a budget involved....)

#53 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2011, 09:40 AM:

Rikibeth @49: "Barry's" is okay-ish, but I seem to recall only ever meeting it in tea bags (and I consider tea bags to be a poor substitute for the real thing).

#54 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 09:29 AM:

Bad coffee and bad tea - my church does suppers, biggish ones for 400 or so people, always on Saturday. Sunday after, there would be leftover pies, and really vile coffee, much worse than usual. When I wound up running the supper, I discovered why the after-supper coffee hour had that coffee - it was the bottom of the last 100-cup perc from the night before, reheated. A custom invented by the tea-drinkers(*). I put a stop to that.

(*I think I'm semi-serious - usually at church either the tea or the coffee is bad, depending on the tastes of the person who made both.)

We had one period (about three weeks) of amazingly vile tea. It turned out two people were collaborating. One set out the tea pots with the teabags in them. The other added tea bags and hot water to the pots set out. So in general the pots, where three tea bags is "weaker" and five is "stronger", got randomly six, eight, or ten tea bags. Ten bags makes something that looks like coffee (and tastes like nothing on earth!)

Also, if you keep adding tea bags and water to the same teapot for a four hour supper (and pouring out, of course), for some reason the tea starts to taste salty. At that stage, there were over a dozen bags in the bottom.

#55 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 10:18 AM:

Having been raised in Dorchester (MA), and Knowing Tea (I swear my mother some weeks had that as her entire nutritional resource), my first recognized case of cognitive dissonance was at a Noreascon awards dinner, and when asked if I wanted tea or coffee, I asked the waiter what kind of tea was on offer.

His answer of "tea is tea" was in the same sort of tone later advertisments would proclaim "parts is parts."

The disconnect was between the (supposedly) experienced waiter's inability to realize a meaningful difference between teas and the very recognizable accent that would place him within about 2 square miles of where I grew up.

#56 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 01:38 PM:

Henry, #56: it was the bottom of the last 100-cup perc from the night before, reheated

Good ghod. Even I know better than that, and I've never made a pot of coffee in my life!

Related, sort-of-funny-now story from my first programming job: After I'd been there for about 6 weeks, I was confronted one morning by the receptionist in high dudgeon. "It's YOUR turn to make the coffee today! You NEVER make the coffee!"

If she had been less snippy about it, I might have made a joke to the effect that they really didn't want me making the coffee. As it was, I snipped right back: "I don't DRINK it, I don't MAKE it."

You never saw anybody's eyes get so big. "You don't drink COFFEE?!!1!11!!ELEVENTYONE!" That was my first exposure to the "non-coffee-drinkers are SUCH FREAKS" reaction, but sadly, not my last. OTOH, it did put an end to demands that I make the coffee, which was a Good Thing. Because they really didn't want me making the coffee!

#57 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 03:56 PM:

Lee @58: I can do you one better, in the odd-reactions department, since I drink neither coffee NOR tea. Just don't like 'em. Never have. Tried, failed, not interested. This makes even people I've known for years give me the googly Martian eyes when they find out, sometimes. :->

#58 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 04:05 PM:

In my experience, in the set "people", the subset "do not drink coffee" is fairly large (>20%); in the set "programmers and related geeks" the subset "do not drink coffee" is very small (

#59 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 04:13 PM:

AHhh.....unclosed paren!!!!


There, I fixed it.

#60 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 04:19 PM:

Elliott Mason (59): I'm with you. I was quite pleased this last weekend that none the inhabitants of the Lunacon Green Room batted an eye at my consuming an "alternate source of caffeine" (i.e., Coke) in the morning. Usually people are aghast at the very thought of soda before noon. ("Would you be happier if I were drinking coffee with lots of sugar?")

#61 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 04:59 PM:

I used to grab an RC first thing in the morning, on my way to school. I liked the cold and the fizz and the bite.

That it didn't require preparation was also a plus.

#62 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 05:22 PM:

I don't generally drink soda with breakfast any more, but in college I did, and I tend to revert at conventions.

#63 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 06:04 PM:

Elliott Mason @ 59: My husband doesn't drink coffee, tea or any hot drinks or caffeinated drinks. This is sufficiently unusual that it makes people uncomfortable. Took me a long time, when we first got together, to stop wanting to ask him what he wanted to drink, when I put the kettle on.

#64 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 06:37 PM:

dcb: My housemate is the same, as is my finacée. The latter is more disconcerting, because, as you say, the urge to be sociable in that context is both strong and deep.

#65 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 06:38 PM:

fiancée. Sheesh.

#66 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 07:57 PM:

Mary Aileen, #62: Usually people are aghast at the very thought of soda before noon.

Now THAT'S freaky. :-)

(Not you, them. Someone who looked at me funny for drinking a soda in the morning would definitely get the Hairy Eyeball.)

#67 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 08:56 PM:

I don't drink coffee, but it's easy enough to make at work. So I do, if I walk in and the pot is empty (or close enough to it).
I think our floor is fueled primarily by caffeine.

#68 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 10:26 PM:

Lee @68: Wow, drinking soda in the morning makes your eyeballs grow hair? No wonder people tend to be aghast.

#69 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 12:34 AM:

Count me in as another person who doesn't like coffee or tea. Perhaps we should form a support group for the uncaffeinated.

#70 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 12:38 AM:

I don't like bubbles except for root beer and orange pop. I don't like either coffee or tea unless they are different somehow-- I really like extremely sweet caramel lattes and Good Earth Sweet and Spicy tea. I think some, if not all of it, is that I grew up drinking mostly chocolate milk.

#71 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 02:23 AM:

I was just prescribed Fosamax to slow down the cells which are determined to diminish my bone density. One of its rules1 is that you may not consume anything before taking it or for a half-hour after taking it, not even coffee. It's a once a week pill, thank FSM.

1. Another rule: Must stay standing or sitting upright for a half-hour after taking it.

#72 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 02:54 AM:

Terry @ 66

I'm suddenly struck by the utility of the word "financee." That's pretty wonderful.

#73 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 09:31 AM:

Terry Karney @66: Yes, not offering to share the partaking of a hot drink with your significant other just feels wrong - even when they don't want a share.

Luckily we can share good beers (real ales/microbrewery beers)!

#74 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 05:52 PM:

dcb: She's not much a beer drinker, and kosher wines are problematic. I forsee a richer diet of sake.

#75 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 07:17 PM:

Terry Karney @76: good luck with the sake. Or you could -teach- her to be more of a beer drinker - I wasn't, before I met my now-husband. He started me on the golden ales and honey ales and I progressed over about two years to reach liking the stouts and porters. Now I like most styles of beer - except mass-produced lagers.

#76 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 07:59 PM:

KayTei @74: I'm suddenly struck by the utility of the word "financee."

I does suggest a marriage for money.

#77 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 08:01 PM:

Meant 'It', not 'I' (emphatically 'I' am not suggesting anything of the sort about Terry).

#78 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 08:14 PM:

Here is who I am thinking of.

#79 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 11:30 PM:

It occurs to me that, given the current drift of conversation, multiple Fluorospherians would enjoy knowing that the marvellous podcast, Science ... Sort Of, in addition to (as they say) being about things that are science, things that are sort of science, and things that wish they were science, starts every episode with a detailed description of the beverages the various participants have on hand to imbibe while recording.

Most of them are really, really into what I can only call beer geeking. I didn't know what IBUs were before listening to this podcast; I am now glad I do, because my spouse -- who greatly enjoys some beers -- utterly detests the taste of hops, and now I have some guidelines (if the brewers bother to include an IBU value) as to whether a given beer I see while out and about might be acceptable to his palate.

There is one regular, Ben The On-Call Canadian, who seems relatively teetotal. He makes up for it by deliberately trying to find really bizarre soft drinks in ethnic grocery stores, and opening them for his first taste on-mike. His reaction to Tiger Malt Drink was especially memorable; if I may paraphrase, I think it was something along the lines of, "Imagine if you were expecting a Coke, and what you got instead was a carbonated, liquid malted-milk ball, only without the sugar. Or the milk. / Y'know, it gets less-worse as I drink more of it ..."

#80 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 01:29 PM:

Elliot, thanks for the IBUs! I like lambics, and not much else, and that will help me find other possibilities.

#81 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 12:30 AM:

Elliot Mason @ 81:
(if the brewers bother to include an IBU value)

They put it on most of the more bitter ales because the people who like them (like me as it happens) want to be able to find that which is most bitter. Oregon brewers have a tendency to compete to see who can cram in the most IBUs because we have a large hop crop here:-)

♒ Everytime I think about hops I remember Terry Carr's story Hop Friend and chuckle.

#82 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 12:46 AM:

Elliot: Hops being a big part of West Coast Brewing, a moderate; to fair, number of local breweries include them.

I've never found them to be more than generally useful. I like a hoppy beer, but there are several type of hops (notably Cascade) which I don't care for at all. So knowing both the guesstimated bitterness, and the hop(s) in the beer are both useful.

#83 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 06:33 AM:

Hops and brewing:

Can't stand bitter beers. No wonder I was such a beer snob in Oregon; everyone seemed to want IPA's.

I miss Deschutes brewery. I'm outside their distribution range by a couple thousand miles, and I liked their Cascade Amber Ale. (Harder to find than the slightly more bitter Mirror Pond Pale Ale, but oh so tasty.)

Haven't found anything local that's quite the same.

#84 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 08:38 AM:

Bruce Cohen @83: the ones I'm interested in is the ones with IBU values significantly under 30, though, as that's what my spouse drinks. I don't care if it's a 68 -- that just means he won't drink 'em. :->

Actually, I need to know how many IBU's Leinenkugel's Berry Weiss has, as that's the hoppiest beer my spouse has ever managed to enjoy. So anything higher than that would be Right Out. 30 is just an estimate on my part.

#85 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 02:07 PM:

80 ::: Rob Rusick

"..You've got carbon in the pistons..."

#86 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 08:37 PM:

A blog post relevant to our thread's interests, about the many ways a spouse has caused Coffee Disasters.

#87 ::: Dave Bell sees Spam ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2012, 04:34 AM:

I must call out on the spam again, in a lonely thread that must die,
And all I ask is a wakened gnome, with a spade to bury the lie,
And the screen's glow, and the fan's whine, with the mouse-arrow flying,
And words which vanish into mist, leaving the spammer crying.

#88 ::: Thrud Urgle, the gnome we don't talk about ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2012, 05:27 AM:

Knife is dull now. Spam is flayed.
Screams have died and whimpers fade.
Thread's pollution is repaid.
Earth is turned by gnomish spade.
Above the spam a mound is made
While all around it stand dismayed
Mice bound to arrows. Be afraid.

—Thrud returns to cave in shade.

#89 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2012, 05:50 AM:

A fine sea-officer once I knew,
A seaman bold, of five foot two,
A cable snapped and whipped, my dears.
We had to call for two short biers.

As callous as that sounds, by damn,
It's naught to what we do with spam.

#90 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2012, 08:45 AM:


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