Thursday, October 16, 2014

Looking over my shoulder: Typhoon Nina, November 21, 1987, in Chuuk

My family lived through this typhoon on the Island of Moen (now known as Weno), four before the first birthday of my first son, Forrest.  This was a memorable occasion for me, on several counts.  I had just recently started to work at Chuuk High School: my classroom was destroyed, as were many at the school.  The house we were living in was destroyed: the tin roof landed, intact, some 100 feet away from the former house site; fortunately it missed the house we were sheltering in.  It was my first payday, a substantial paycheck covering five pay periods remained uncashed, and provided a source of cash start our recovery.  Susumu's Store had to sell of all frozen food, as there was not power to run the freezers, so for Forrest's mandatory birthday party, we were able to buy a large quantity of whole frozen chickens for US$7.00 per each 20 or 30 pound case.

That night, the Chuuk Weather Station did not receive any forewarning of the arrival of the Typhoon, due to a convergence of factors.  Typhoon Nina was the first storm in Micronesia for which typhoon chaser planes did not fly---a stormy beginning for the now incredibly effective satellite-based storm monitoring of the Joint Typhoon Warning System (  If I recall correctly, radio communications were also lacking that night between the Chuuk Weather Office and the JTWC on Guam.   When the typhoon struck, it was without warning.

The winds were not strong, looking at the numbers, but the destruction was impressive.  Many homes in Chuuk were built out of plywood and "tin roofing"---corrugated iron.  Looking back, it seems incredible that more people are not injured by flying roofing material.  Looting was rampant.  We later found pieces of a unique type of roofing from our house on a neighbor's re-built house.  Much of my science gear was lost.  My camera was among the first items lost.  Some of my science gear was in the classroom, completely destroyed.  During my last year at UCSB, realizing I would be teaching in Chuuk, and that opportunities for research and study existed, I had xeroxed several boxes of material for reading and reference.  These were scattered far and wide, in a second.  Books were reduced to a soggy mush.

FEMA came to Chuuk immediately.  C130s brought in relief materials.  Soon a new phrase was heard all over the islands: "ke pach, ke tento."   If you have connections, you get a tent.  It was true: the governor's family, it was well known, were recipents of a large share of tents and other relief supplies.  Finally, I think my family got some tents.   When FEMA inspectors came through to assess the damage, I was asked, are you working?  I said I had a job, even though I had only just started.  For this reason, and because I didn't have the right DNA, I suppose, I was told that I could take out a loan from the SBA to cover my losses.  I guess it doesn't make a FEMA inspector feel as good to help one of their own, as to reach out to the third world needful people.  I spent weeks making a comprehensive list of everything had lost which came to 10--12,000 dollars.  It took many months, but eventually I received a loan for 8,000.00 to cover the house and my materials.  FEMA did provide assistance for some of the losses of my family. Inequity was the order of the day.

Today, 27 years on,  a Google search on Typhoon Nina is telling.  Even though the wind speeds were moderate in Chuuk, it turns out to have been one of the most destructive Supertyphoons in Philippines history.  Available now are storm tracks.

Here is the track published on

Information for this typhoon in the PI:
Super Typhoon “SISANG” (Nina)
November 23-27, 1987
240 kph
979 deaths
PhP 1.119B damage
Here is the map of storm tracks for the 1997 typhoon season, from Wikipedia (

From the Wikipedia article on Typhoon Nina (are you kidding me?  Awesome!):

Federated States of Micronesia

After passing near Truk, which has a population of 42,000, Typhoon Nina brought heavy damage to the area. In the capital of Meon, 85% of homes and 50% of government buildings were damaged.[6] There, communication lines were downed.[7] Hundreds of people were evacuated while the typhoon also inflicted severe crop damage.[8] Throughout the atoll, four lives were lost,[7] including a woman and a 14-year-old boy were killed by a falling breadfruit tree and an 11-year-old girl died after her leg was struck by a piece of flying metal.[8] One person was reported missing. Over 1,000 people were rendered homeless[9] while roughly 1,000 homes were damaged.[10] Damaged from the storm ranged from $30-40 million (1987 USD) and 39 were wounded.[11]

We built an experimental structure, made of Burlap Reinforced Plaster, 8x12 feet, which became our home.   That is another story, but a really interesting one.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Landmark on my Linux Trek: Ubuntu Trusty Tahr is trustworthy

Short note to a friend:

I despaired, and as usual, when I suffer GNU/Linux despair, I reached for Ubuntu, copied an iso to a flashdrive using "dd" and had the system installed in excellent time.

The experience has been wonderful.  I had just recently installed Debian, but my experience was pretty frustrating.  I am a mere mortal, I fear.  When I posted a question on the Debian mailing list, I got an answer something like "you have to be tech saavy."  There are a lot of bad vibes on some lists.  Only Gentoo---long ago---was 100% nice.

YMMV, but I am extremely happy with how it's going with Ubuntu.  I will probably update, but maybe not for a while.  I've gone and compiled emacs and a few other items on my own. 

I am eating many words about Ubuntu from past times.  No GNU/Linux install is going to go perfectly, but this has been fantastic.

  • Most packages are in the repositories and  up to date
  • The developers have taken great pains to ensure that all components work together nicely.  (It's all seamless).
  • I am getting used to Unity
  • The PPAs are well documented, pretty much.  
  • The freezeups I was getting using Fedora are not happening, so far (Knock On Wood)
  • Plugging in a flash drive or a USB HDD goes well and easy.
  • Even for a Brother DCP-7020, which works well but was painful to install using the OEM's detailed instructions, the printer was working instantaneously, after running the CUPS interface on "localhost:631" in the URL bar of my browser.
  • On the install,   I got stuck on a step or two.  I can't rememer which steps now. 
I would also like to point out that I have carelessly installed several distros, and each time, Grub finds the other OSs on the HDD and puts them in the menu.  

I have installed Xubuntu on my other machine, and had good luck.  My only unfavorable impression is the Xubuntu developers have mangled XFCE4 a bit much.  It all works nicely.  The desktop's appearance and icons, etc., were not expecially endearing. 

It is FAST and nice.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Platynereis abnormis of Saipan

Platynereis abnormis is a nereid polychaete worm.  A congener, P. dumerlii is one of the most studied worms of all.  Ernest Just spent evenings studying them under the lights on the dock at, I think, Woods Hole, and wrote about them.    The following paper by Just is noteworthy:

E E Just. Breeding Habits of the Heteronereis Form of Platynereis megalops at Woods Hole, Mass. Biological Bulletin 27, 201 - 212 (1914). 
This publication is available online.  However, even though Just has been dead for many years, JSTOR places this information over one of his papers on line, probably in violation of the law:

Preview or purchase options are not available

You may be able to access this item through one of the over 9,000 institutions that subscribe to JSTOR. Check the list of participating institutions to log in or find a participating library near you.

You see, the publication I have in mind was published in Biological Bulletin, all volumes of which are available free online.   This angers me, because I have wasted time because of the disingenuous actions of JSTOR, leaving aside the issue of the current unavailability of the author---presumably along with the lawyers who drew up the copyright policies of Biological Bulletin at the time.

On Saipan, these worms are super abundant in the evenings, yet they---like several other small emergent zooplankton---are almost completely unknown.  SCUBA divers report that, when night diving, swarms of these small worms are a nuisance, swarming around dive  lights (? and getting into regulators).  The swarms are of the Heteronereis (reproductive) stage.  What appears odd to me, they swarm almost every night; yet a great deal of interest has been shown in worms of this genus that spawn on a lunar cycle.  Or then again, maybe they do swarm on nights when they do not spawn.  Hardly ever did we see a night when this worm was not to be found, attracted to our flash lights.

For now, I will post this photograph taken when John Furey and I went collecting for plankton for his marine aquarium on Saipan.   (The transparent, larger organism is an eel larva.   The Heteronereids are less than a centimeter long.