story

Schematic of the Japanese Fu-Go Weapon

Fu-Go, The Japanese’s best kept secret weapon of WWII

One of my absolute favorite things of late is listening to awesome podcasts like Radiolab and This American Life. I love stories, and these guys consistently tell some of the coolest ones around.

On this recent Radiolab podcast I heard the story about the Japanese secret weapon, the Fu-Go. I’m a big WWII buff and I’d never heard the story and was captivated by the sheer creativity involved.

Flummoxed by the Doolittle Raid on their homeland, the Japanese created and floated some estimated 9,000 paper balloons equipped with fire bombs towards the U.S., taking advantage of the eastwardly flowing jet stream.  The vast majority didn’t make the voyage and most of the remaining came down in sparsely inhabited areas and didn’t explode.

A map of Fu-Go landings and known explosions.

A map of Fu-Go landings and known explosions.

These things landed all over the Pacific Northwest and a few even made it to British Columbia and even to outside Detroit. Thankfully, they had virtually no real impact for the volume that were sent and only lead to a few deaths – which are really tragic to hear about.

The military kept the whole thing secret to avoid panic and the media at the time willfully complied as patriotic supporters of the war effort.

Model of the complex mechanisms used to allow the Fu-Go to travel over 5,000 miles - 10x what a typical balloon of that size could travel.

Model of the complex mechanisms used to allow the Fu-Go to travel over 5,000 miles – 10x what a typical balloon of that size could travel.

As the balloon needed to travel at 30,000 feet to take advantage of the fast moving jet stream, the biggest obstacle was the gas condensing during the nighttime. In order to keep it aloft, an altimeter would ignite a fuse, dislodging a sandbag hung from the bottom of the balloon which would shoot it back into the jet stream. The Fu-Go contained 30 of these sandbags to help it bob up and down all the way from Japan to the mainland of the United States.

The creativity involved to solve an insurmountable problem with the minimum of expense or effort would be just awe-inspiring, were the pursuit not so heinous in nature.

If you’ve got an iphone, go to the podcast icon on your phone and search for Radiolab – it’s completely free and new episodes come out weekly. Plus, there’s an absolute trove of back episodes you can download and listen to anywhere.

A Song, An Original Typed Story, and Picking Yourself

During a recent sojourn through the fjords of the internet, I ran into a remarkable artist going by the twitter handle @RovingTypist. His real name is C.D. Hermelin, and he types original one-page stories, on an honest-to-god typewriter in the parks of NYC, all while you wait, and for a donation amount of your choosing.

How cool is that?!

Having seen it, and that he also takes requests for stories via his website, I had to order one. But what about? The coolest aspect of this little service of Christopher’s is that you can provide him with as much or as little (read: none) information to craft your story.

Recently, I’d become obsessed with this song by a fledgling band called The Front Bottoms, and more specifically their song “Twin Size Mattress” which had been on repeat at my desk for a week.

So, I decided to ask the Roving Typist to listen to it and write whatever came to mind. It didn’t have to be about the song at all, could just have been a thought that formed while listening to it. The final product was amazing in how well it fit together and created this little possible backstory for the song.

My Story from @RovingTypist

My Story from @RovingTyp

I tweeted the author to convey my thanks and was hit back with this:

tweetRovingTypist

All of this then ties in with another of my favorite authors, Seth Godin. One of his big sticking points is that in a world of people that get picked, we should pick ourselves. Sure, a publisher could do it, or a record company, or art dealer – but that’s not really necessary or ideal at this point. Pick yourself. Put your art into the world. Make connections. This is your time, and if you do something remarkable, why not let people know it?

C.D. Hemelin is most certainly doing that, and succeeding on a grand scale of connecting with people and making a difference in their lives.

This entire trip has been an amazing experience. I’ve realized fully, the value of being your most authentic self. Reaching out to another person I’d never meet and then to get a piece of art (and this is most definitely art!) that I’ll always tie to a time and place. Plus, I get another great story – or, two, actually.

If this remotely appeals to you, I suggest you contact the Roving Typist and let him share his art with you. Even at the $25 I chose to spend, it’s a pittance, and something you’ll enjoy sharing with others.

The Secret of Life?

I read a story today about an ad that proclaimed to offer the “Secret of life” for the low price of 25 shillings. Intrigued, the author wrote a letter and included the price asked in the ad. A short time later he received an answer that stated simply “If you believe the Secret of Life would be available for a mere 25 shillings, you don’t deserve it. Please send 50 shillings to receive the Secret of Life.”

You have to love the chutzpah.

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It got me thinking, how many are doing the same thing today? Maybe not so brazenly, but certainly in the same vein: “Secret to weight loss, Secret to Business Success, Secret to meeting the love of your life, etc…” Everyone has a hole they’re looking to fill in their lives and for each one, there are hundreds looking to fill it for them. 

For the less mature among you, this is a good place to pause for jokes.

I thought for a moment about setting up a site with a simple shopping cart and offering the “Secret of Life” for a dollar. Then, after people paid, I’d send them some fortune cookie quote that would purport to be the secret. Like, “Love is all you need” or some other platitude from the Beatles. Ugh. 

I couldn’t do it though. Not only for the technical barriers, but the idea of being one more jackanape preying on the weaknesses of well intentioned people was just too much. Afterall, someone already wrote “The Secret” which was about as bad as it gets. Cashing in on such garbage isn’t something I’d like to be involved in but I recognize it does sell. And maybe that’s what’s so sad about the whole thing.

Remember, if you see someone selling the Secret of Life for a pittance, you’re guaranteed of two things:

1. You get what you pay for. 

2. It wasn’t me.