Category Archives: History

Extra History: The Berlin Airlift

Yet another post-December catch-up post!

Freelance writers often slow down in December. Budgets run dry at your usual outlets, and everyone’s more interested in wrapping up admin projects. Publications close for the holidays.

On a normal December I might, might have one piece of work go up, and that’s if it was contracted well in advance.

This year I had not one, but three major projects publish before Christmas. I’ve already posted about the Christmas Truce episodes, but I also did this one-off on the Berlin Airlift.

Check it out:

Extra History: Christmas Truce

I have a tendency to only update this blog when new work goes up—and when work goes up over the holidays, it can be double-slow to update!

This Christmas I wrote two Extra History episodes on the 1914 Christmas Truce. The first dealt with the truce itself, while the second was a compilation of soldier’s Christmas letters from the front line, stretching from 1914 to 1916.

And when I say that they came out over Christmas, I really mean it. You might’ve missed the second episode because it posted on Christmas Eve.

Happy New Year, and enjoy!

Extra History: Kamehameha the Great

My hometown of Kāneʻohe sits below the Ko’olau mountains—a ridge of sheer cliffs that are the remnant of an ancient volcano.

And the most famous site in the Ko’olaus is the Nuʻuanu Pali. It’s a jagged split that—before we could blast tunnels with dynamite—was the only path through the range. It’s historic. Kids take field trips there. It’s one of the most beautiful vistas on the island.

But the wind is fierce. On a blustery day you can open a jacket like wings and lean 45 degrees into the wind, supported only by air. And that’s only part of why it holds a reputation for ghosts and otherworldly events. Most locals refuse to go there at night.

In 1795 Kamehameha’s armies invaded Oʻahu, driving the army of his enemy Kalanikūpule up the valley, and over the thousand-foot cliffs of the Pali. The event was captured by local artist Herb Kane in his famous painting.

Even as a child, I knew that I would tell this story someday. The image of those warriors, driven off the cliff, was too haunting to shake. I have to thank Extra History for letting me finally do that, and for both the narrator Dan and artist Lil for being responsive to my constant (often nitpick-y) feedback. I wanted to tell the story as best as I could, and I think we did that.


The Conclusion of Hunting the Bismarck

Hey! I’ve been moving and knocking around the US for a bit so I neglected to put my latest up on the blog.

But just in case you missed them, I wanted to post the conclusion of Extra History: Hunting the Bismarck.

I’m deeply proud of these episodes. They’re some of the best work I’ve ever produced. And so much of that is due to Scott’s art and Dan’s narration. They’re fantastic team members and were a pleasure to work with.

What makes me most proud, though, is that we’ve included many events that documentaries on the Bismarck tend to cut out, like the role of Bletchley Park and the friendly-fire incidents in Episode 3.



Extra Credits: Hunting the Bismarck is LIVE!

I’m about a week late announcing this, but I wrote a series for Extra History!

Hunting the Bismarck is a four-part series about one of the most exciting episodes of World War II. Written as an hour-by-hour intelligence procedural rather than a traditional documentary, it follows British sailors, pilots, and intelligence analysts as they try to find—and sink—what was (at that time) the largest battleship on Earth.

My goal with these scripts was to focus on neglected aspects of the hunt, like the role of resistance fighters, radar operators and signals experts. Telling the story from the British side also portrays the chaos and uncertainty the British faced as they tried to determine where Bismarck was headed and how badly they had damaged it.

I’m extremely pleased with the first two episodes. Scott DeWitt knocked it out of the park on the visuals (seriously, watch it full screen) and it’s among the best narration Dan has ever done.

I’ll also be creating a LIES comment to post beneath the final video, so if you have specific questions, feel free to ask them in the comments here!

Hunting the Bismarck – I: The Pride of Germany


Hunting the Bismarck II – The Mighty HMS Hood



It’s been a very World War II week! My column at Waypoint on Thursday also dealt with how we represent the war in media—specifically, how WWII movies and games continue to be dominated by the visual style Spielberg created for Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.

I’ve Got Some Assassin’s Creed Ghost Stories at Playboy

AC Dickens

There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago…

Man, ghost stories at Christmas. Can I live at your house, Andy Williams?

The only holiday ghost story at my house is A Christmas Carol–but then again, it’s pretty great. Victorianism and Christmas go together like eggnog and brandy, and what did Victorians love more than anything?


Don’t believe me? Well guess what: Dickens himself was a paranormal investigator-I’m dead serious, it’s a documented fact.

And you can read all about it in my new Playboy article “The Truths Behind Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s Ghost Stories.”

I can’t emphasize how much historical weirdness is in this article. It has:

  • Queen Victoria Being Creepy
  • Lincoln Attending a Séance
  • Mourning Warehouses
  • Spring-Heeled Jack
  • The London Monster
  • Trance Mediums Making Out With Clients
  • Spirits From Beyond Calling for Women’s Suffrage

Check it out–or I’ll haunt you.

China’s New 72-Hour Transit Visa: I Did It, And Yes, It Works

For ten months now, I’ve lived a one-hour subway ride from Mainland China but have never been there.

It’s more logistics than anything – as an American, applying for the visa is a pain and it’s relatively expensive for a double entry. While I plan to spring for it next year, this year it just wasn’t in the cards.

But wouldn’t it be great to get a couple days in Shanghai or Beijing without all that hassle?  See the Wall, the Forbidden City or Asia’s tech hub?

Well good news, impatient or poorly-prepared U.S. citizen: you can! In 2013, the People’s Republic started a new program that allows onward travelers to stay 72 hours visa-free in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and an ever-expending list of other cities. There’s no pre-registration, no visa, and best of all, no repeated trips to the Chinese consulate – you just book your ticket and go.

While I’d known about this program for awhile, no one I knew had used it yet, and whenever I brought it up among friends I frequently encountered skepticism that it could possibly be as easy as the ads described.  But when one of my friends visited Hong Kong and our plans for a Thailand side-trip fell apart due to high temperatures and an inconveniently-timed military coup, I suggested we book a flight to Beijing instead.

Having done it, here’s the good news: provided you read the requirements, it really is as easy as it’s described. While I’d recommend you look at the actual text or a good summary of the program, these are the basic requirements:

  • You Have to Be a Citizen of Certain Countries: But it’s a 51-country list that includes the U.S., U.K. and Canada, so if you’re reading this in English you’re probably golden. Still, check.
  • NO ROUND TRIPS: This is a transit visa, so you can’t fly round trip – i.e. no Hong Kong to Beijing and back to Hong Kong.  You can fly from Hong Kong to Beijing, stay 72 hours, and fly on to Singapore.  The neat trick here is that Hong Kong and Macau count as two different countries – but more on that later.  Note that you have to have an onward ticket already booked when you arrive in China.
  • You Must Arrive and Leave by Air On a Direct Flight and Can’t Leave the City: The visa is only available in airports, and you can’t travel to another city during that 72 hour period. Your flight can’t have a layover inside China either on the way there or back (a layover outside China is fine).
  • The 72 Hour Period Starts on Takeoff and Landing (Varies): This actually varies by airport, but in general your 72 hour period starts once you land/get issued your transit visa.  In my mind it’s better to just make sure your tickets fall within the 72 hour period to avoid ambiguity – so if you arrive in Shanghai at 10:00 AM on Thursday, your flight needs to leave before 10:00 AM on Sunday.  Check the requirements for your airport.
  • Tell Your Airline You’re Using the 72 Hour Visa: They’ll inform immigration that you’re coming. Apparently you don’t have to do this for Beijing, but we did at check-in anyway.  We did it verbally and didn’t have to fill anything out.
  • Once You Arrive, You Need to Register: If you’re staying at a hotel, you don’t need to worry about this step as the hotel staff will do it for you.  But if you’re staying with a friend, you have to register at a police station within 24 hours of arriving.



Yep, I’ve confirmed it: it’s certified easy.  Provided you follow the fairly minimal rules, it’s a no-hassle experience – in fact since the program isn’t well known yet, we got through the 72 hour visa line faster than people with standard visas. When you arrive at your destination, have your passport, itinerary and arrival card all filled out and ready to go.  The itinerary is to prove you have an onward ticket, and in our group we used both itineraries printed off email and those printed by the airline – neither caused a problem. The only issue is that since the program’s new, the immigration officer may need some walking through what you’re doing – ours didn’t speak great English, so be prepared to smile a lot and point at the relevant parts of your itinerary. Our guy rang his superior to ask a question, but let us through after that. The whole process probably took 90 seconds per person.



The biggest sticking point for most people is that you can’t use the 72 hour visa on a round trip, meaning you need to chain your China visit with a longer travel itinerary or eat the cost associated with a triangular flight path. But there’s a way around that if you’re living in or visiting Hong Kong or Macau. Both Hong Kong and Macau are Special Administrative Regions of China, but they have independent legal systems and different immigration requirements. That means for the purposes of this program, they’re considered separate countries – which is great, because they’re also 45 minutes apart and connected by a cheap ferry. So when our guests visited, we worked it like this: we caught a flight from Hong Kong to Beijing, stayed 72 hours, boarded a flight from Beijing to Macau, and once we arrived in Macau partied until we lost energy and took a US$21 ferry ride home to Hong Kong. Since Macau’s entry requirements feature a free visa-on-arrival for U.S. citizens, you can basically just show up without any notice.  And who doesn’t want to see the Las Vegas of Asia?



It depends.  If you’re trying to embed yourself in the culture and get a thorough appreciation for what China means then no.  But if you want to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, and buy live scorpion-on-a-stick at Donghuamen Night Market, then it’s totally adequate. But remember that it is a condensed schedule, so book a hotel near the things you most want to see.  Transit represents wasted time, but it can also can drain your energy if it’s around rush hour and you can’t afford to tire out on a packed itinerary.  Thankfully Beijing has an efficient and cheap subway system with stops near popular tourist sites. It’s preferable to cabs, since drivers will quote you a price that’s three to four times what a trip should cost. Best of luck travelers!  And if you’re going to sling ink while you’re there, remember to pack your writer’s travel kit.