31 October 2006


Someone came up with the idea of having the kids in my daughter's third-grade class come to school dressed as characters from their favourite books (bringing the books to share). Her current favourites are the Judy Moody series, by Megan McDonald, so she used the cover of Judy Moody, MD as a guide - t-shirt, pants, one of my shirts as a smock, and a nametag paper-clipped to her pocket.

That was just the school costume, though. For trick-or-treating she took inspiration from a tv programme called Halloweentown High, and went as a ghoul cheerleader, complete with green face makeup.

Her older sister decided to be a ghost princess, so my wife made her a white t-tunic (with big, flowing sleeves to cover the cast on her broken arm), and she added white face makeup and a tiara.

Around here they do trick-or-treating at the mall from 1600 to 1800. This gives the kids a nice, safe environment as they go around from store to store. After that we came home, freshened the girls' makeup, added chemlights* and went out around the neighbourhood. Not a bad haul, though I was rather surprised by how early they gave up.

* Thanks go to LawDog for the tip.

More on phorusrhacids

I mentioned phorusrhacids the other day. Darren Naish has an interesting post on them at Tetrapod Zoology today.

Update 2 Nov: Part two of his post can be found here, with a statement of more to come. And if you read Portuguese, he links to this post from Cais de Gaia.

29 October 2006

LawDog on Hallowe'en


I especially like the idea of handing out chocolate-covered espresso beans....

First Canadian medals awarded

Three Canadian medals for valour were created in 1993: The Victoria Cross, the Star of Military Valour and the Medal of Military Valour. Two of these medals have been awarded last week for the first time, to soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

From CBC News:
Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean announced the national honours, which are awarded to recognize acts of valour, self-sacrifice or devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy, on Friday.

The Star of Military Valour and the Medal of Military Valour were created in 1993, but this is the first time the decorations have been awarded. The actual medals themselves will be presented to the four soldiers at a ceremony at a later date.

And from the Globe and Mail:
The Star of Military Valour is going to Sgt. Patrick Tower, who is based in Edmonton and is originally from Victoria, B.C.

On Aug. 3, Sgt. Tower led a platoon medic and another soldier across 150 metres of open terrain and under heavy enemy fire to help wounded comrades. After learning the acting platoon commander had been killed, he then assumed command and successfully got his troops out under continuous small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

The other three soldiers - Sgt Thomas Denine, Master Cpl Collin Ryan Fitzgerald and Pte Jason Lamont - have been awarded the Medal of Military Valour.

This day in history: 29 Oct

1618: Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded for allegedly conspiring against King James I.

1628: The VOC ship Batavia set sail from the Netherlands en route to the Dutch East Indies.

1863: Confederate forces under Brigadier General Micah Jenkins were defeated in a night attack in the Battle of Wauhatchie.

1901: Leon Czolgosz was executed, by electrocution, for the assassination of President William McKinley.

1929: Black Tuesday.

1955: 608 Soviet sailors were lost when the battleship Novorossijsk exploded and sank; the official explanation was that the ship had detonated a German magnetic mine left over from World War II.

1956: Israeli forces invaded the Sinai Peninsula, beginning the Suez Crisis.

1964: A gang of thieves led by Murph the Surf stole a collection of gems – including the 563-karat Star of India sapphire – from the American Museum of National History.

1998: Space shuttle Discovery lifted off from Cape Canaveral on mission STS-95 with a seven-man crew which included 77-year-old John Glenn, the oldest man in space.

In addition to Raleigh and Czolgosz, Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-1877), Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), Hal Clement (1922-2003) and Vaughn Meader (1936-2004) died on this date.

And happy birthday to James Boswell (1740-1795), Fanny Brice (1891-1951), Bill Mauldin (1921-2003), Ralph Bakshi (1938-TBD), Richard Dreyfuss (1947-TBD) and Kate Jackson (1948-TBD)

Medal of Honor: H. W. Gilmore


Commander, US Navy, commanding USS Growler (SS 215)

Born: 29 September 1902, Selma, Alabama
Died: 7 February 1943, at sea, southwest Pacific

Citation: For distinguished gallantry and valor above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Growler during her Fourth War Patrol in the Southwest Pacific from 10 January to 7 February 1943. Boldly striking at the enemy in spite of continuous hostile air and antisubmarine patrols, Comdr. Gilmore sank one Japanese freighter and damaged another by torpedo fire, successfully evading severe depth charges following each attack. In the darkness of night on 7 February, an enemy gunboat closed range and prepared to ram the Growler. Comdr. Gilmore daringly maneuvered to avoid the crash and rammed the attacker instead, ripping into her port side at 11 knots and bursting wide her plates. In the terrific fire of the sinking gunboat's heavy machineguns, Comdr. Gilmore calmly gave the order to clear the bridge, and refusing safety for himself, remained on deck while his men preceded him below. Struck down by the fusillade of bullets and having done his utmost against the enemy, in his final living moments, Comdr. Gilmore gave his last order to the officer of the deck, "Take her down." The Growler dived; seriously damaged but under control, she was brought safely to port by her well-trained crew inspired by the courageous fighting spirit of their dead captain.

Note: USS Howard W Gilmore (AS 16) was named in his honour.

28 October 2006

Got kids?

Got kids that read?

The 2006 Children's and YA Bloggers' Literary Awards (Cybils) are taking nominations here for the best English-language books of 2006.

Quoting liberally (but not completely) from their FAQ:
1. Which books are eligible?
Any children's or YA book published in English in 2006, including translated and bilingual books.

2. How do I nominate a book?
Type them into the comments section under each category. Categories are listed to your right, or scroll down through previous posts.

3. How many books can I nominate?
No more than one in a category. If you list a bunch, we'll email you and ask you to pick your favorite.

4. What if I don't know which category it belongs in?
Make your best guess. If you're mistaken, the organizers will forward it to the right category.

27 October 2006

If God used DOS

Click here.

Try this one....

This one comes from Fuse #8:
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig around for that "cool" or "intellectual" book on your shelves. (I know you were thinking about it.) Just pick up whatever is closest.


"Suppose you sit down here and try your luck, Mr de Forrest. It was close. It couldn't have been an earth station."
"Feed back?"

Don't suppose anybody can tell me what book that was....

(Hey, it could have been worse. If I'd looked to my right, instead of to my left, I would have ended up with the Civilization IV player's manual.)

2239 28 Nov: Just for the record, the book I was using was Four Frontiers, an SFBC collection containing four of Heinlein's Juveniles - Rocket Ship Galileo, Space Cadet, Red Planet and Farmer in the Sky. The quote was from the beginning of chapter 14 of Rocket Ship Galileo.

"Little Orphant Annie"

Three poems in one month – something that will undoubtedly never be seen again, at least not on this blog. In fact, even if I restrict myself to one a month, as I’d originally planned, it won’t take long for me to run out of poetry I like. But it’s almost Hallowe’en, and this piece by James Whitcomb Riley seems awfully appropriate for the season, so rather than hold it until next month….
To all the little children: -- The happy ones; and sad ones;
The sober and the silent ones; the boisterous and glad ones;
The good ones -- Yes, the good ones, too; and all the lovely bad ones.

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you

Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--
An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an' roundabout:--
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
An' make fun of ever' one, an' all her blood-an'-kin;
An' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz there,
She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about!
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,
An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

Reprinted from Complete Works, by James Whitcomb Riley. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1916.

26 October 2006

New Phorusrhacid skull found

As reported by Afarensis. At 716 mm long, it's one of the largest Phorusrhacid skulls yet found. Here's an artist's version:

24 October 2006

RIP: Eric Newby, CBE, MC

Eric Newby, who died on Friday aged 86, was the author of some of the best books in the canon of English travel writing, notably A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush and Love and War in the Apennines.

Informed by a pin-sharp eye and a self-deprecating persona, Newby's literary style was inspired by the comic portrait of the Englishman abroad presented in the writings of Alexander Kinglake, Robert Byron and Evelyn Waugh. In a preface to the book that made Newby's reputation, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (1958), Waugh identified the central elements of this humorous tradition: its quintessentially English spirit of amateurism and its tone of ironic understatement.

For Newby's "short walk" was in reality an arduous journey through the more remote parts of Afghanistan, culminating in a dangerous assault on Mir Samir, an unclimbed glacial peak of 20,000ft. The sum of his preparation for the mountaineering ahead was a brief weekend on the Welsh hills.

I don't think I'd ever actually heard of him until Mike Lief blogged about his death, but I'm obviously going to have to track down some of his books. He was a sailor:
One of his father's frequent fiscal crises, and Eric's persistent failure to pass algebra, saw him removed from St Paul's at 16. He joined an advertising agency, where he spent much of his time riding a bicycle around the office. He was mercifully released from this when his employers lost the Kellogg's account, and in 1938, aged 18, he signed on the four-masted Finnish barque Moshulu, engaged in the 30,000 mile-round grain trade between Ireland and Australia.

Newby later recounted his experiences in his first book, The Last Grain Race (1956), which gave a vivid description of the claustrophobic life of a sailing ship's crew.

It gave notice of his powers of observation, his unforced prose and his taste for the ridiculous. One memorable set-piece describes Newby's attempts at dentistry in a swaying fo'c'sle after an alcoholic Christmas lunch, with most of the molten gutta-percha spilling down the throat of the ailing seaman.

And a soldier:
In 1940 Newby joined the Black Watch, serving in India before volunteering for the Special Boat Section, then operating out of Alexandria. In August 1942 his detachment was sent to sabotage a German airfield at Catania in Sicily. This highly dangerous mission, unpromisingly codenamed Operation Whynot, was designed to aid the passage of the Pedestal convoy, bound with vital oil to Malta.

When Newby landed from his dinghy it was the first time he had set foot in Europe. The operation was not successful — no one had thought to tell the SBS men that there were 1,000 German troops at the airfield — and Newby was captured by fishermen after failing to rendezvous with the waiting submarine.

He was sent to the prison camp at Fontanellato, in the Po Valley. The camp's hierarchy, he later wrote, resembled that of a public school, divided into the "socially OK and the rest", its kindly headmaster the prison commandant. With his connivance, the prisoners broke out into the countryside after the Italians surrendered in September 1943, Newby hobbling on a broken ankle. He related his subsequent adventures in perhaps his best and most original book, Love and War in the Apennines (1971).

Having been initially helped by his future wife, Wanda, Newby was later sheltered, at great risk, by the Italian peasantry. He passed the winter of 1943 on a farm, clearing the stones from a vast field, and then hid in a cave. Once he met a German officer out butterfly hunting, who recognised Newby but preferred to share a beer rather than ruin a sunny day with the business of war.

And other things:
Newby worked for the couture house Worth Paquin from 1955 to 1956 and then, while starting to write, for the publishers Secker & Warburg for three years. He then returned to fashion as the central dress buyer for John Lewis.

In 1963 he and Wanda were the first to travel the 1,200 miles of the Ganges by rowing boat, a journey described in Slowly Down the Ganges (1966). Newby later made the first descent by a European of the Wakwayowkastic, a tributary of the Moose River in Ontario.

Thereafter he was travel editor of the Observer from 1964 to 1973, and wrote several more books, often travelling with Wanda.

The above paragraphs were quoted from The Telegraph. Other obituaries are available here and here.

23 October 2006

RIP: Jane Wyatt

Jane Wyatt, who played the mother in Father Knows Best, died Friday at the age of 96, according to AP.
Wyatt had a successful film career in the 1930s and '40s, notably as Ronald Colman's lover in 1937's "Lost Horizon." She worked throughout the 1970s and 80s, appearing on TV shows including "St. Elsewhere."

But it was her years as Robert Young's TV wife, Margaret Anderson, on "Father Knows Best" that brought the actress her lasting fame. She gamely delivered lines like "Eat your dinner, dear," or "How did you do in school today?"

She appeared in 207 half-hour episodes from 1954 to 1960 and won three Emmys as best actress in a dramatic series in the years 1958 to 1960. The show began as a radio sitcom in 1949; it moved to television in 1954.

From the Seattle Times:
After "Father Knows Best" ended, Ms. Wyatt continued acting, including an appearance as Spock's mother on TV's "Star Trek."

She also had a recurring role as Norman Lloyd's wife on "St. Elsewhere."

22 October 2006

Is one enough? Are three too many?

LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Medal of Honor: E. B. Fluckey


Commander, US Navy, commanding USS Barb (SS 220)

Born: 5 October 1913, Washington, DC
Died: 28 June 2007, Annapolis, Maryland

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Barb during her 11th war patrol along the east coast of China from 19 December 1944 to 15 February 1945. After sinking a large enemy ammunition ship and damaging additional tonnage during a running 2-hour night battle on 8 January, Comdr. Fluckey, in an exceptional feat of brilliant deduction and bold tracking on 25 January, located a concentration of more than 30 enemy ships in the lower reaches of Nankuan Chiang (Mamkwan Harbor). Fully aware that a safe retirement would necessitate an hour's run at full speed through the uncharted, mined, and rock-obstructed waters, he bravely ordered, "Battle station--torpedoes!" In a daring penetration of the heavy enemy screen, and riding in 5 fathoms of water, he launched the Barb's last forward torpedoes at 3,000-yard range. Quickly bringing the ship's stern tubes to bear, he turned loose 4 more torpedoes into the enemy, obtaining 8 direct hits on 6 of the main targets to explode a large ammunition ship and cause inestimable damage by the resultant flying shells and other pyrotechnics. Clearing the treacherous area at high speed, he brought the Barb through to safety and 4 days later sank a large Japanese freighter to complete a record of heroic combat achievement, reflecting the highest credit upon Comdr. Fluckey, his gallant officers and men, and the U.S. Naval Service.

Note: Fluckey is one of seven Eagle Scouts who have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Edited 2007 to add date of death.

20 October 2006

Stirling news

Last month I wrote a brief review of S M Stirling's DtF trilogy (Dies the Fire, The Protector's War and A Meeting at Corvallis). Fans of the series will no doubt be pleased to hear that he has already started on a follow-on trilogy (The Sunrise Lands, The Scourge of God and The Sword of the Lady) - and that the first two chapters of The Sunrise Lands are now available at his website.

The action starts on 30th October, CY22 (CE 2020), twelve years after the end of A Meeting at Corvallis, as a visitor from the distant Free Republic of Richland - in what used to be known as Wisconsin - arrives in the Mackenzie town of Sutterdown.

Two appendices have also been posted, giving additional information on post-Change Britain and Oregon.

The book will probably be published in the fall of 2007. In the meantime, assuming Stirling continues IAW previous practise, you can expect six to eight more chapters to be posted, at roughly monthly intervals.

17 October 2006

A capital ship for an ocean trip

Summer of ’03. We’re poking along somewhere off the northern coast of Sicily, and I’m on watch (00-12, every day). I glance at the monitor in ESM, and the OOD is looking at a sailing ship.

When I go over to take a closer look, I see that it’s not just any old sailing ship – it’s a five-master. A five-master. Under full sail.

Took a bit of searching after I got home, but I finally found out what I’d been looking at that day. The coolest, spiffiest cruise ship in the whole world: Royal Clipper.

Star Clippers have two other ships, Star Clipper and Star Flyer, but those are just plain, ordinary, garden-variety (well, you know what I mean) four-masted barquentines. Royal Clipper is a five-masted, full-rigged ship, 439 feet long, flying 42 sails, a total of 56,000 square feet of canvas. Based on the old Preussen, she was purpose-built in Poland as a cruise ship, launched in 2001.

During the winter she’s homeported in Barbados, doing cruises in the Caribbean islands. During the summer, she works out of Civitavecchia, Italy, cruising in the Med and the Adriatic. And twice a year, when the ship repositions for the coming season, there’s a three-week transatlantic cruise, Italy to Barbados or vice versa. There’s room for up to 227 passengers.

If I ever win the lottery (yeah, right), I know for sure where some of the money is going....

16 October 2006

October is...

...National Applejack Month.


Get some.

Ten favourite mystery stories

Inspired by Sherry at Semicolon, who was in turn inspired by David Montgomery at Crime Fiction Dossier, I offer my own list of ten favourite mystery stories (in no particular order).

When the Sacred Ginmill Closes – Lawrence Block
Original Sin – Mary Monica Pulver
Cat Among the Pigeons – Dame Agatha Christie
Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None* – Dame Agatha Christie
The Doorbell Rang – Rex Stout
The Sanctuary Sparrow – Ellis Peters
Bloodroot – Susan Wittig Albert
She Walks These Hills – Sharyn McCrumb
The Laughing Policeman - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
Death at Charity’s Point – William G Tapply

(Yes, I know. The others were listing only detective stories - ie, mysteries involving specifically detectives or policemen - while I have stories involving a monk, an herbalist and a lawyer, and one which is finally explained by the killer himself. So sue me.)

Unlike David, whose books were all by male authors, and Sherry, who had five of each, I’ve picked mostly books by female authors – six to three, with one book written by a husband-and-wife team. Not that that’s really relevant to anything....

One of the Asey Mayo books by Phoebe Atwood Taylor would have been in there somewhere, if I could just figure out which one I like best. I considered including Brat Farrar and The Daughter of Time (both by Josephine Tey), but I’m not sure if they really count as mysteries. Certainly not the traditional sort, anyway. And the Luis Mendoza books by Dell Shannon are my favourite mystery series, but no single book really stands out.

Hmmm…. There’s an idea – my ten favourite fictional detectives (again, in no particular order):

Luis Mendoza (Dell Shannon – Case Pending, &c)
Bernie Rhodenbarr (Lawrence Block – Burglars Can’t Be Choosers, &c)
Matt Scudder (Lawrence Block – The Sins of the Fathers, &c)
Asey Mayo (Phoebe Atwood Taylor – The Cape Cod Mystery, &c)
Nero Wolfe (Rex Stout – Fer-de-Lance, &c)
Brother Cadfael (Ellis Peters – A Morbid Taste for Bones, &c)
Peter Brichter (Mary Monica Pulver – Murder at the War/Knight Fall*, &c)
Anna Pigeon (Nevada Barr – Track of the Cat, &c)
Brady Coyne (William G Tapply – Death at Charity’s Point, &c)
Clare Fergusson (Julia Spencer-Fleming – In the Bleak Midwinter, &c)

(Trixie Belden and Judy Bolton really ought to be in that list, too, but for the purposes of this list I’m sticking to “grown-up” murder mysteries.)

* Alternate titles for the same book. (There's a third title for Ten Little Indians, but too many people would find it offensive so I'm not going to list it.)

15 October 2006

Medal of Honor: J. P. Cromwell


Captain, US Navy

Born: 11 September 1901, Henry, Illinois
Died: 19 November 1943, off Truk

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commander of a Submarine Coordinated Attack Group with Flag in the U.S.S. Sculpin, during the 9th War Patrol of that vessel in enemy-controlled waters off Truk Island, 19 November 1943. Undertaking this patrol prior to the launching of our first large-scale offensive in the Pacific, Capt. Cromwell, alone of the entire Task Group, possessed secret intelligence information of our submarine strategy and tactics, scheduled Fleet movements and specific attack plans. Constantly vigilant and precise in carrying out his secret orders, he moved his underseas flotilla inexorably forward despite savage opposition and established a line of submarines to southeastward of the main Japanese stronghold at Truk. Cool and undaunted as the submarine, rocked and battered by Japanese depth charges, sustained terrific battle damage and sank to an excessive depth, he authorized the Sculpin to surface and engage the enemy in a gunfight, thereby providing an opportunity for the crew to abandon ship. Determined to sacrifice himself rather than risk capture and subsequent danger of revealing plans under Japanese torture or use of drugs, he stoically remained aboard the mortally wounded vessel as she plunged to her death. Preserving the security of his mission, at the cost of his own life, he had served his country as he had served the Navy, with deep integrity and an uncompromising devotion to duty. His great moral courage in the face of certain death adds new luster to the traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Note: USS Cromwell (DE 1014) was named after him.

14 October 2006

This day in history: 14 Oct

1066: William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, defeated English forces under King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings. Harold was killed in the battle, and William became known as William the Conqueror.

1806: French forces led by Napoleon I defeated the Prussian at the twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt.

1913: 439 Welsh coal miners were killed in an explosion in the Senghenydd Colliery - the worst mine disaster in the history of the United Kingdom.

1939: The battleship HMS Royal Oak, lying at anchor in Scapa Flow, was torpedoed and sunk by Günther Prien's U-47; 833 crewmen were lost.

1947: Chuck Yeager, flying a Bell X-1, became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound.

1987: Jessica McClure fell into a well.

Erwin Rommel (1891-1944), Errol Flynn (1909-1959) and Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) died on this date.

And happy birthday to James VII and II (1633-1701), Dwight D Eisenhower (1890-1969), Sir Roger Moore (1927-TBD) and Harry Anderson (1952-TBD).

Top ten read-agains

Top ten whats?

The subject came up on a Yahoo! group the other day - the ten books (or groups of books) the poster most liked to reread again and again. I'd only read two of the books on his list, and I thought one of those two wasn't worth reading in the first place, let alone rereading.

So after a little consideration, I came up with my own list. My Top Ten Read-Agains would (in no particular order) be:
  • Tarzan of the Apes - the original, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (It's still probably the one book I've read more times than any other.)

  • Island in the Sea of Time and Dies the Fire - two connected AH trilogies by S M Stirling (Counting all six books as one. I reviewed the DtF trilogy here - and he's already started on a sequel trilogy.)

  • Swallows and Amazons - children's books by Arthur Ransome (Counting all twelve books as one. I reviewed them here, here and here.)

  • the Falkenberg series - military SF, by Jerry Pournelle

  • Against the Fall of Night - the classic AH story by L Sprague de Camp

  • Star Rangers/The Last Planet (alternate titles for the same book) - SF by Andre Norton

  • Beyond Thirty/The Lost Continent (alternate titles for the same book) - SF by Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • Starship Troopers - military SF by Robert A Heinlein (Bears almost no resemblance to the movie.)

  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - SF by Robert A Heinlein

  • Tunnel in the Sky - more SF by Robert A Heinlein

Other books that I considered, but which didn't make the cut for the top ten, include the Green Knowe series by Lucy M Boston, the Richard Bolitho series by "Alexander Kent" and the Hammer's Slammers series by David Drake.

13 October 2006

Reviewing the EM log

A brief note of explanation first, for those readers who aren't familiar with Navy terminology. The word "log" has two basic meanings* for sailors. The first is "a record of things or events." For instance, a roving watch will make periodic tours of his space, noting gauge readings and other things and writing them down; this is a log (and the action of recording the gauge readings is called "logging"). The Quartermaster of the Watch keeps a record of every speed, course and depth order the Officer of the Deck gives to the Helmsman, and the time said orders are given; this is also a log. Such logs are reviewed every few hours by senior personnel, to ensure that things are being recorded properly and that no dangerous trends (such as a system pressure going steadily higher and higher) go unnoticed.

The second meaning is "the ship's speedometer." I won't go into the history of why it's called a "log"**, but in olden times it consisted of a man throwing a piece of wood attached to a length of line into the water ("heaving the log"). Nowadays, it's an electromechanical device called, for some reason, the "electromechanical log" ("EM log," for short). Got that?

Another thing: Sailors reporting to their boat go through a lengthy process called qualification, in which they learn everything they can about not only their own job but also everyone else's, so that they can be of maximum effectiveness in the case of a casualty. This is a requirement, not an option; sailors who fail to qualify get thrown off the boat, to go to the surface fleet. And so each man's qual progress is also thoroughly monitored.


Late one night, under way on the Oly, I'm loitering in Control shooting the breeze with SK1, who is the on-watch COW. The Messenger of the Watch is a young man whom we'll call Bill, mainly because that's his real name (though I haven't the faintest idea what the rest of it was). And during a lull in the conversation, SK1 turns to young Bill and says, "Where's the EM log?"

"I don't know," says Bill.

"You don't know??"

"No. What is it?"

Mistake. Big mistake. Bill should be much farther along in his quals than that. SK1 looks at him for a moment, then says, "Well, go find it. The Officer of the Deck and I have to review it."

"Where should I look for it?"

"Try Maneuvering." (This is the small space back in the engine room where the people who are operating the power plant are stationed.)

So off Bill goes, out the aft door to Control. And as soon as he's out of sight, SK1 grabs the phone and whoops Maneuvering to let them know what's going on.

We found out later that what had happened back in the Engine Room went something like this: Bill arrives at Maneuvering, requests and is granted permission to enter, and tells the EOOW that he was sent back to get the EM log for the COW and the OOD.

"We don't have it," the EOOW says.

"Who does?"

Someone suggests that the ERS might have it down in lower level. While Bill is en route, of course, Maneuvering whoops the Lower Level Watch to warn him.

Lower Level Watch says he hasn't seen the ERS, but he thinks the EWS has the EM log in upper level, near the starboard TG. So Bill goes off to upper level, preceded by a telephoned warning, and sure enough, the EWS is by the starboard TG. (Which, coincidentally, is just a few yards from Maneuvering.)

The EWS tells Bill that he'd heard about his quest, and had therefore dropped the log off in Maneuvering so he could pick it up. The people in Maneuvering look at Bill in surprise and say, "Oh, are you still here? We thought you'd gone forward, so we had someone take it up to Control."

So eventually Bill shows up in Control and tells SK1 that he was told the log was already there.

"No," says SK1, "I haven't seen it." He thinks a bit, then says, "Maybe the XO has it. Go look in his stateroom."

"Look in his stateroom?" Bill asks.

"Look in his stateroom. Just open the door quietly and look to see if it's on his desk. And whatever you do, don't wake him up."

It should be noted that this particular XO, when he went to bed, hung a sign on his door: DANGER - SLEEPING DRAGON. And meant it.

So off Bill goes, through the forward door to Control. And back he comes, a couple minutes later, to announce, "He says he doesn't have it."

He says he doesn't have it. The rest of us are still considering the connotations of that phrase when the forward door to Control opens again, and the XO walks in. He looks at the OOD, then at SK1, and mildly - to our surprise - says, "All right, guys. I know what you're trying to do, and I appreciate the humour - but next time, do it in the daytime!"


* Three, I suppose, if you count Seabees, who probably use that word to describe a large chunk of tree.
** If you're curious, you can look it up


When I posted “Evolution” last week I said that I was doing so because I hadn’t gotten permission yet to post the poem I wanted to use. I got said permission yesterday, and was going to use the poem next month, but it seems to be much more of an October poem, so I’m going to go ahead and share it with you now.

Which means I’m actually going to post three poems this month, because I have a good one for the Friday before Hallowe’en.

So without further ado, here’s an untitled poem written in 1968 by my two-bit senior chief off the Oly.
Woodsmoke, leaves of golden brown
And shades that painters never match,
Mornings clear and bittersweet,
Days in quiet reverie
In woods that hold my secrets dear
As I hold theirs.
For years I've moved from fall to fall
Finding quiet joy in being thus alone.
I've walked a different road, outcast by choice,
Not always truly so, but so I made myself believe.
Outcast in truth perhaps, by those who worship only Summer.
Those who never knew the bittersweet of
Woodsmoke, leaves of golden brown
And shades that painters never match.

JWL -68-

I don’t normally care for poetry with neither rhyme nor metre, but this is my all-time second-favourite poem.

And someday I’ll get around to explaining that “two-bit senior chief” crack....

Happy 231st Birthday

United States Navy.

13 October 1775.

12 October 2006

This day in history: 12 Oct

1216: King John lost the crown jewels of England in The Wash.

1859: Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, dissolved the US Congress.

1915: Edith Cavell, an English nurse, was executed by the Germans for helping Allied soldiers escape from Belgium to the Netherlands.

1964: Voshkod 1 - the first spacecraft to carry more than one man into space - was launched from Baikonur with three men aboard.

1972: 46 men were injured in a race riot involving over 100 crewmen on board USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), which was en route to the Gulf of Tonkin.

2000: USS Cole (DDG 67) was attacked by suicide bombers in a small boat whilst in port at Aden, Yemen.

2005: Shenzhou 6, China's second manned space mission, was launched from Jiuquan with a two-man crew.

Robert E Lee (1807-1870), "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell (1883-1946), Sonja Henie (1912-1969), Jay Ward (1920-1989) and John Denver (1943-1997) died on this date.

And happy birthday to Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), Luciano Pavarotti (1935-TBD) and Sally Ride (1951-TBD)

10 October 2006

How much longer...?

This is really my favourite picture from the '03 deployment.

I think it's pretty much standard on 688s for the chow line to go through aft berthing, the head and forward berthing when the boat's in port. Under way, though, things can be different.

On Oly, as I recall, the line usually went down the ladder into FCLL and around to the Torpedo Room door. There it broke off, and a short spur went to the 21-Man door; then the line broke again, to be continued into the Machinery Room, with everybody remembering "I'm after him" and "He's the end of the line." Back in those days, we had a couple of nightsticks stashed above the WSN-2, for use by the reaction force, and I remember watching a couple of bored nucs trying to see who could do the best job of deep-throating a nightstick.

Which brings to mind a TM2's Usetafish story of watching someone demonstrating his ability to deep-throat the emergency stick - just as the VIP and his wife entered Control during their tour of the boat. But I digress....

On Prov, the chow line just went straight forward, down the FCML passageway to the goat-locker door. That, of course, is what's shown here: A bunch of guys reading whilst waiting to be called in for chow. Went through a lot of books that way.

Every bubblehead remembers the drill, Meals were served every six hours (breakfast at 0500, lunch at 1100, supper at 1700 and midrats at 2300). The COW sent the Messenger down to start wake-ups 30-40 minutes before the cooks would start serving, to give people time to get up, shower (if so desired), and get dressed. The Messenger would make one sweep through all the berthing spaces, waking up everyone who was on the list for the oncoming watch. Then he'd go back again, and again, and again, until (theoretically) everyone was up, after which he'd return to Control.

I value my sleep time. I always took my shower before going to bed, and thus wouldn't need to get up early in order to take one before relieving the watch. So I would usually stay in the rack until xx55, then get dressed, fish my book out from under my pillow and go take station as the last man in the queue. (On Prov, of course, that sucked if the boat were rigged for low-level white, because the forward end of the passageway was too dark for reading, and I had to wait until I got closer to the wardroom.)

Had one YNSN who never could figure out that it didn't matter how many times he came to wake me - I still wasn't going to get up until xx55. If he'd just waited until then, of course, I would have gotten up the first time he called me, but instead he'd wake me up every time he passed by my rack. He seemed to get really frustrated at times when I acknowledged his presence and then just went back to sleep....

09 October 2006

Leif Erikson Day

Leif Erikson Day, 2006

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

Leif Erikson Day honors a great son of Iceland and grandson of Norway who became one of the first Europeans known to reach North America. This day is also an opportunity to celebrate the generations of Nordic Americans who have contributed to our country and strengthened the ties that forever bind the United States with Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.

Like the crew of risk takers that Leif Erikson boldly led on a quest to find new lands, Americans have always valued the ideals of exploration and discovery. A desire to seek and understand inspired their voyage more than a millennium ago, and it remains a central part of our national character as a new generation pursues great new goals today. Nordic Americans continue to make valuable contributions to our society that have expanded human knowledge and helped make our world a better place.

To honor Leif Erikson and to celebrate our citizens of Nordic-American heritage, the Congress, by joint resolution (Public Law 88-566) approved on September 2, 1964, has authorized the President to proclaim October 9 of each year as "Leif Erikson Day."

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim October 9, 2006, as Leif Erikson Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs to honor our rich Nordic-American heritage.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fourth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.


(Text quoted from here. The statue pictured above is in Chicago; the one at right is in Reykjavik.)

08 October 2006

Medal of Honor: S. D. Dealey


Commander, US Navy, commanding USS Harder (SS 257)

Born: 13 September 1906, Dallas, Texas
Died: 24 August 1944, off Luzon, Philippine Islands

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Harder during her 5th War Patrol in Japanese-controlled waters. Floodlighted by a bright moon [on 6 June 1944] and disclosed to an enemy destroyer escort which bore down with intent to attack, Comdr. Dealey quickly dived to periscope depth and waited for the pursuer to close range, then opened fire, sending the target and all aboard down in flames with his third torpedo. Plunging deep to avoid fierce depth charges, he again surfaced and, within 9 minutes after sighting another destroyer [on 7 June], had sent the enemy down tail first with a hit directly amidship. Evading detection, he penetrated the confined waters off Tawi Tawi with the Japanese Fleet base 6 miles away and [on 9 June] scored death blows on 2 patrolling destroyers in quick succession. With his ship heeled over by concussion from the first exploding target and the second vessel nose-diving in a blinding detonation, he cleared the area at high speed. Sighted by a large hostile fleet force on the following day, he swung his bow toward the lead destroyer for another "down-the-throat" shot, fired 3 bow tubes and promptly crash-dived to be terrifically rocked seconds later by the exploding ship as the Harder passed beneath. This remarkable record of 5 vital Japanese destroyers sunk in 5 short-range torpedo attacks attests the valiant fighting spirit of Comdr. Dealey and his indomitable command.

Notes: USS Dealey (DE 1006) was named in his honour.
The Japanese destroyers sunk by Dealey were Minatsuki (6 Jun), Hayanami (7 Jun) and Tanikaze (9 Jun). Japanese records examined after the war showed that there was actually not a second destroyer present on 9 Jun, and that the ship attacked on 10 Jun survived.

06 October 2006

What's it worth?

My blog is worth $3,951.78.
How much is your blog worth?


I figure if I post one poem a month, I can maybe go until next spring before I run out of poems I like. I was going to do one with a bit of a fall theme this month, but I haven't gotten a response yet to my request for permission to post it. So instead I'm going to offer a love poem by Langdon Smith (whoever he was) called "Evolution."
When you were a tadpole and I was a fish
In the Paleozoic time,
And side by side on the ebbing tide
We sprawled through the ooze and slime,
Or skittered with many a caudal flip
Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
My heart was rife with the joy of life,
For I loved you even then.

Mindless we lived and mindless we loved
And mindless at last we died;
And deep in the rift of the Caradoc drift
We slumbered side by side.
The world turned on in the lathe of time,
The hot lands heaved amain,
Till we caught our breath from the womb of death
And crept into light again.

We were amphibians, scaled and tailed,
And drab as a dead man's hand;
We coiled at ease 'neath the dripping trees
Or trailed through the mud and sand.
Croaking and blind, with our three-clawed feet
Writing a language dumb,
With never a spark in the empty dark
To hint at a life to come.

Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
And happy we died once more;
Our forms were rolled in the clinging mold
Of a Neocomian shore.
The eons came and the eons fled
And the sleep that wrapped us fast
Was riven away in a newer day
And the night of death was past.

Then light and swift through the jungle trees
We swung in our airy flights,
Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms
In the hush of the moonless nights;
And, oh! what beautiful years were there
When our hearts clung each to each;
When life was filled and our senses thrilled
In the first faint dawn of speech.

Thus life by life and love by love
We passed through the cycles strange,
And breath by breath and death by death
We followed the chain of change.
Till there came a time in the law of life
When over the nursing side
The shadows broke and soul awoke
In a strange, dim dream of God.

I was thewed like an Auruch bull
And tusked like the great cave bear;
And you, my sweet, from head to feet
Were gowned in your glorious hair.
Deep in the gloom of a fireless cave,
When the night fell o'er the plain
And the moon hung red o'er the river bed
We mumbled the bones of the slain.

I flaked a flint to a cutting edge
And shaped it with brutish craft;
I broke a shank from the woodland lank
And fitted it, head and haft;
Then I hid me close to the reedy tarn,
Where the mammoth came to drink;
Through the brawn and bone I drove the stone
And slew him upon the brink.

Loud I howled through the moonlit wastes,
Loud answered our kith and kin;
From west and east to the crimson feast
The clan came tramping in.
O'er joint and gristle and padded hoof
We fought and clawed and tore,
And check by jowl with many a growl
We talked the marvel o'er.

I carved that fight on a reindeer bone
With rude and hairy hand;
I pictured his fall on the cavern wall
That men might understand.
For we lived by blood and the right of might
Ere human laws were drawn,
And the age of sin did not begin
Till our brutal tush were gone.

And that was a million years ago
In a time that no man knows;
Yet here tonight in the mellow light
We sit at Delmonico's.
Your eyes are deep as the Devon springs,
Your hair is dark as jet,
Your years are few, your life is new,
Your soul untried, and yet -

Our trail is on the Kimmeridge clay
And the scarp of the Purbeck flags;
We have left our bones in the Bagshot stones
And deep in the Coralline crags;
Our love is old, our lives are old,
And death shall come amain;
Should it come today, what man may say
We shall not live again?

God wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds
And furnished them wings to fly;
We sowed our spawn in the world's dim dawn,
And I know that it shall not die,
Though cities have sprung above the graves
Where the crook-bone men make war
And the oxwain creaks o'er the buried caves
Where the mummied mammoths are.

Then as we linger at luncheon here
O'er many a dainty dish,
Let us drink anew to the time when you
Were a tadpole and I was a fish.

05 October 2006

A man's bunk is his castle

When we went into post-shakedown availability on Olympia, we all moved out of the bunks we had been occupying. After all, the boat was going to be spending five months or so in dry dock, the crew would be working out of a building, and we weren't going to have much use for those racks. As the end of PSA approached, the COB put up a list and announced that we would be choosing our new racks - PO1s first, by seniority, and then PO2s. By that time, as I recall, I had somehow become the second-senior PO2 on board, so I went looking for a rack that would be good, but not so good that some First Class would claim it.

I found what I was looking for in aft berthing, just inboard the door to the head. It was a top rack, meaning that I would be able to use all the pukas between the cable runs and the piping as extra stowage space (as long as no KCB* noticed and told me to stow things properly). It had a convenient ventilation duct in the passageway right next to it, and a second duct inside the rack, which made it easy to get into; all I had to do was grab hold of both of those, kick my feet up into the rack, and then wiggle the rest of my body in. There was an air vent right next to the head end of it, meaning I would have extra ventilation. And I'm a good, sound sleeper, so the fact that it was in a high-traffic area next to the head didn't bother me.

Sure enough, when it came my turn to choose, that rack was still unclaimed. And I kept it for my remaining three and a half years on the boat, through the homeport shift (Norfolk to Pearl) and two WestPacs.

Then came my three years on the tender, where having a top rack was a bad idea. (Nothing above one to keep out the light.) When I reported in to Jacksonville, I was assigned a rack I didn't like at all - it was a middle rack (in the aft outboard corner of aft berthing), and access to half of the bedpan was blocked. So I went looking for the FT2 who had "my" rack.

I showed him the rack I'd been given and asked if he wanted to trade. His response was "Let me think." Five minutes later, he was back to say "Yes." So I had my rack back, for the rest of my two years on the boat.

I cut my one shore tour short by four months to go back to sea. When I got to Providence I was assigned a bottom rack, just the other side of a thin partition from where the chow line formed up under way. Unfortunately, the TM2 who had "my" bunk liked it as much as I did, and wasn't interested in trading. I could have bumped him, but he had a little less than a year left on board and I decided to just wait until he transferred. However, we all had to move out of berthing during Xmas stand-down, so the space could be painted, and I figured as long as he'd already cleared all his stuff out of the rack....

I kept the rack for the remainder of my time on board, right up to when I went on terminal leave. The photo above was taken during my last deployment. The pillowcase was decorated by one of my daughters, the photos are of my wife (with a friend's new baby) and the girls, and the piece of yellow paper is a family portrait drawn by my then five-year-old. You can see one of my handholds curving through the bunk, and the air vent just outside it.

On Olympia, as I recall, that vent was a bit closer to the curtain rail, and in addition to increased ventilation it also provided "white noise" to block out the sound of passersby. It also served to block out annoying 1MC announcements. And so it came to pass one day that I was snoozing in my normal position, with my face right up against the back wall of the bunk, when one of the other RM2s came to wake me up. "Hutch [our LPO] wants you to come up to Radio and explain why you weren't at battle stations," quoth he.


I rolled over, opened the curtain, and looked out. Sure enough, all the lights were on in berthing, and people were climbing into their racks.... Surprisingly (especially since my battle station was in Control, about three feet from the XO), everyone accepted my explanation that I'd been sound asleep and just hadn't heard the general alarm when it went off.

I don't think I ever did take any pictures of the foot of my rack, so I had to borrow this one from a friend. You can see the little locker and the shelf next to it, with his shoes. For those of you who aren't familiar with 688s, personal stowage consisted of that, plus the "bedpan" - a locker the length and width of the bunk itself, and just deep enough to hold a cassette tape standing on its long edge. (The white bag hanging inside the bunk is a laundry bag.) There were also some common lockers scattered through berthing for people to stow coats in. And that was pretty much it. On deployments I kept my dress uniforms and my (empty) backpack underneath my mattress, and took full advantage of the above-mentioned pukas that a top bunk afforded. By the end of a deployment, things were generally a bit crowded, with souvenirs, new books, &c, stuffed in behind the laundry bag or under my pillow.

* Khaki-clad bozo (ie, chief or officer)


According to my NeoCounter display, the 1000th visitor to this blog came this morning, about two and a half months after I started writing. Site Meter says that particular visitor was from Gays, Illinois, and was searching for information about GM3 Paul Carr.

Welcome, and thanks for visiting. And the same to all the rest of you folks. Y'all come back now, y'hear....

03 October 2006

Red Sea wolfpack

Now there's something you don't see every day, Chauncey - a tender with four fast boats alongside. The date is April, 2003, and the place is Crete; the ships are USS Emory S Land (AS 39) and four of the submarines that were involved in strikes on Iraq in the opening days of the war.

There were actually five boats in port that day; three there for extended visits, and two that just stopped in long enough to load stores and head out again. (Note the tug at the extreme left of the photo.) The latter two passed each other in the bay, one outbound, the other inbound.

This day in history: 3 Oct

1863: Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving, to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

1962: Wally Schirra (Captain, USN) was launched into space for a nine-hour flight in the Sigma 7, completing six orbits in the Mercury 8 mission.

1985: The space shuttle Atlantis began its maiden flight, a four-day trip (STS-51-J) with Karol J Bobko (Colonel, USAF) as mission commander.

1990: East Germany (DDR) and West Germany (BRD) were reunited as a single nation.

1993: US Special Operations forces attempted to capture Somali militia leaders in Mogadishu. 18 US soldiers and one Malaysian were killed in the overnight battle, and 88 US, Malaysian and Pakistani soldiers were wounded; Somali casualties were estimated at between 500 and 2000. Two soldiers, MSG Gary Gordon and SFC Randall Shughart, were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

St Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), Myles Standish (ca 1584-1656), Captain Jack (ca 1837-1873) and Roddy McDowall (1928-1998) died on this date.

And happy birthday to John Ross (1790-1866), Emily Post (1873-1960), James Herriot (1916-1995), Chubby Checker (1941-TBD) and Greg Proops (1959-TBD).

01 October 2006

Medal of Honor: R. H. O'Kane


Commander, US Navy, commanding USS Tang (SS 306)

Born: 2 February 1911, Dover, New Hampshire
Died: 16 February 1994, California

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Tang operating against 2 enemy Japanese convoys on 23 and 24 October 1944, during her fifth and last war patrol. Boldly maneuvering on the surface into the midst of a heavily escorted convoy, Comdr. O'Kane stood in the fusillade of bullets and shells from all directions to launch smashing hits on 3 tankers, coolly swung his ship to fire at a freighter and, in a split-second decision, shot out of the path of an onrushing transport, missing it by inches. Boxed in by blazing tankers, a freighter, transport, and several destroyers, he blasted 2 of the targets with his remaining torpedoes and, with pyrotechnics bursting on all sides, cleared the area. Twenty-four hours later, he again made contact with a heavily escorted convoy steaming to support the Leyte campaign with reinforcements and supplies and with crated planes piled high on each unit. In defiance of the enemy's relentless fire, he closed the concentration of ship and in quick succession sent 2 torpedoes each into the first and second transports and an adjacent tanker, finding his mark with each torpedo in a series of violent explosions at less than l,000-yard range. With ships bearing down from all sides, he charged the enemy at high speed, exploding the tanker in a burst of flame, smashing the transport dead in the water, and blasting the destroyer with a mighty roar which rocked the Tang from stem to stern. Expending his last 2 torpedoes into the remnants of a once powerful convoy before his own ship went down, Comdr. O'Kane, aided by his gallant command, achieved an illustrious record of heroism in combat, enhancing the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Note: USS O'Kane (DDG 77) was named in his honour.

Medal of Honor recipients gather aboard USS Constitution

Over sixty recipients of the nations' highest military honour were presented with the Medal of Honor flag at a ceremony aboard USS Constitution Saturday, under way in Boston harbour. The flag was authorised by President Bush on 23 Oct 02.

Read about it (and look at pictures) here and here.

The Empress of South Korea

According to this article from the JoongAng Daily National, the family of the last reigning emperor of South Korea have unofficially restored Yi Hae-Won as empress.
The privately run Imperial Family Association of Daehanjeguk (the Empire of Korea), organized in June by about a dozen descendants of the last emperor, held an hour-long ceremony in a hotel in downtown Seoul to have Yi Hae-won, 88, restored as the empress of South Korea.
"We unanimously agreed that Yi deserves to be the empress as she is the eldest authentic survivor of the imperial family," said Yi Cho-nam, president of the association. "We hope to unite the royal descendants spread across the country and speak as one voice through Empress Yi."

Another article, from The Korea Times, adds:
Yi is the daughter of Prince Uichin, fifth son of King Kojong, the second last king of the Chosun Kingdom.

In a nationwide poll conducted last month by a local pollster RealMeter, 54.4 percent of 460 South Koreans said they would like to see the royal house brought back to wield at least symbolic power.