25 December 2006

Happy Xmas

Xmas means a lot of things – different things, to different people. Jesus. Snow. Eggnog, fruitcake and stollen. Springerle and other cookies. Gingerbread houses. Well-decorated evergreens (or pieces thereof). Loot. Special movies, like this or (my favourite) this. (Or this.) Songs, like this or this or this*. Clement Moore’s famous poem. (Or try this version.)

This is one thing I really like about the day**. For those who don’t recognize it, the gentleman in the black hat is Hipshot Percussion, and the strip is Rick O’Shay; this particular sample is from 23 Dec 73.


* Oddly, every site I checked had the same incorrect translation for the second line.

** The word balloon in the last panel is a little hard to read: "Happy birthday, boss."

24 December 2006

Victoria Cross: R. Quigg

ROBERT QUIGG

Private, 12th Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles

Born: 28 February 1885, Carnkirk, Co Antrim, Ireland

Citation: For most conspicuous bravery [on 1 July 1916, at Hamel, the Somme]. He advanced to the assault with his platoon three times. Early next morning, hearing a rumour that his platoon officer was lying out wounded, he went out seven times to look for him under heavy shell and machine gun fire, each time bringing back a wounded man. The last man he dragged on a waterproof sheet from within yards of the enemy's wire.
He was seven hours engaged in this most gallant work, and finally was so exhausted that he had to give it up.

(London Gazette Issue 29740 dated 9 Sep 1916, published 8 Sep 1916.)

Medal of Honor: D. J. Daly

DANIEL JOSEPH DALY

Private (later Gunnery Sergeant), US Marine Corps

Born: 11 November 1873, Glen Cove, Long Island, New York
Died: 27 April 1937

Citation: In the presence of the enemy during the battle of Peking, China, 14 August 1900, Daly distinguished himself by meritorious conduct.











Citation: Serving with the 15th Company of Marines on 22 October 1915, G/Sgt. Daly was one of the company to leave Fort Liberte, Haiti, for a 6-day reconnaissance. After dark on the evening of 24 October, while crossing the river in a deep ravine, the detachment was suddenly fired upon from 3 sides by about 400 Cacos concealed in bushes about 100 yards from the fort. The marine detachment fought its way forward to a good position, which it maintained during the night, although subjected to a continuous fire from the Cacos. At daybreak the marines, in 3 squads, advanced in 3 different directions, surprising and scattering the Cacos in all directions. G/Sgt. Daly fought with exceptional gallantry against heavy odds throughout this action.

23 December 2006

This day in history: 23 Dec

1783: George Washington resigned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.

1888: Vincent van Gogh, stressing over his relationship with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, cut off part of his left ear and presented it to a prostitute.

1916: ANZAC forces defeated the Turks at the Battle of Magdhaba, in the Sinai.

1948: Hideki Tojo and six other Japanese (six other generals and the former foreign minister) were hanged for war crimes committed during World War II.

1954: The first human kidney transplant was performed by Dr. Joseph E. Murray, in Boston, Massachusetts.

1972: The last group of survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, which had crashed in the Andes on 13 October, were rescued.

1986: Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, becoming the first aircraft to fly non-stop around the world.


1990: 88% of Slovenia's population voted for independence from Yugoslavia in a national referendum.

In addition to Tojo (1884-1948), Berengaria of Navarre (1160s-1230), Anton Fokker (1890-1939), Lavrentij Pavlovich Beriya (1899-1953), Charlie Ruggles (1886-1970), Andrej Nikolaevich Tupolev (1888-1972), Jack Webb (1920-1982), Victor Borge (1909-2000) and Billy Barty (1924-2000) died on this date.


And happy birthday to Tsar Aleksandr I Pavlovich (1777-1825), Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832), Avraham Stern (1907-1942), James Gregory (1911-2002), James Stockdale (1923-2005) and Queen Silvia of Sweden (1943-TBD).

22 December 2006

"A Dubious 'Old Kriss'"

Here's an Xmas poem that's a little different from all the rest.
Us-folks is purty pore—but Ma
She's waitin'—two years more—tel Pa
He serve his term out. Our Pa he—
He's in the Penitenchurrie!

Now don't you never tell!—'cause Sis,
The baby, she don't know he is.—
'Cause she wuz only four, you know,
He kissed her last an' hat to go!

Pa alluz liked Sis best of all
Us childern.—'Spect it's 'cause she fall
"When she'uz ist a child, one day—
An' make her back look thataway.

Pa—'fore he be a burglar—he's
A locksmiff, an' maked locks, an' keys,
An' knobs you pull fer bells to ring,
An' he could ist make anything!—

'Cause our Ma say he can!—An' this
Here little pair o' crutches Sis
Skips round on—Pa maked them—yes-sir!—
An' silivur-plate-name here fer her!

Pa's out o' work when Chris'mus come
One time, an' stay away from home,
An' 's drunk an' 'buse our Ma, an' swear
They ain't no "Old Kriss" anywhere!

An' Sis she alluz say they wuz
A' Old Kriss—an' she alluz does.
But ef they is a' Old Kriss, why,
When's Chris'mus, Ma she alluz cry?

This Chris'mus now, we live here in
Where Ma's rent's alluz due ag'in—
An' she "ist slaves"—I heerd her say
She did—ist them words thataway!

An' th'other night, when all's so cold
An' stove's 'most out—our Ma she rolled
Us in th'old feather-bed an' said,
"To-morry's Chris'mus—go to bed,

"An' thank yer blessed stars fer this—
We don't 'spect nothin' from Old Kriss!"
An' cried, an' locked the door, an' prayed,
An' turned the lamp down.... An' I laid

There, thinkin' in the dark ag'in,
"Ef wuz Old Kriss, he can't git in,
'Cause ain't no chimbly here at all—
Ist old stovepipe stuck frue the wall!"

I sleeped nen.—An' wuz dreamin' some
When I waked up an' morning's come,—
Fer our Ma she wuz settin' square
Straight up in bed, a-readin' there

Some letter 'at she 'd read, an' quit,
An' nen hold like she's huggin' it.—
An' diamon' ear-rings she don't know
Wuz in her ears tel I say so—

An' wake the rest up. An' the sun
In frue the winder dazzle-un
Them eyes o' Sis's, wiv a sure-
Enough gold chain Old Kriss bringed to 'er!

An' all of us git gold things!—Sis,
Though, say she know it "ain't Old Kriss—
He kissed her, so she waked an' saw
Him skite out—an' it wuz her Pa."


From The Book of Joyous Children, by James Whitcomb Riley; New York, Scribner's, 1902.

Bomb disposal

Found this interesting article at the MoD's Defence News:
A Howitzer shell unearthed by grave diggers, grenades in garden borders, a 120 mm tank shell used as a doorstop and mortar rounds in the drawer of an antique wardrobe – all in a year's work for the Army bomb disposal troop that covers Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Cheshire, North Wales and the Isle of Man.

Referred to in the media as "the bomb disposal squad", Chester Troop 521 Squadron 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) has attended over 100 incidents of Conventional Munitions Disposal (CMD) in their region this year.

-----

The CMD incidents have ranged from fairly benign, such as picking up grenades found in attics and cupboards, to potentially devastating, like the grenade found buried on a building site close to five different gas mains.

Thousands of military explosives are found on the UK mainland every year through excavations, building works and dredging operations – many are relics from the two World Wars. Hundreds more turn up in gardens, attics and cupboards, on beaches or in the countryside. Caches of Second World War Home Guard munitions regularly turn-up having laid forgotten in attic rooms or outhouses for decades.

21 December 2006

Changes at the Groton sub base

From the New London Day (registration required to read after today):

The commander of the Naval Submarine Base in Groton said Wednesday that a $12 million demolition program there involving up to 40 buildings will lower maintenance and utility costs and add more green space and much-needed parking at the military installation.

Capt. Mark S. Ginda, who took over command of the 687-acre base in August, said the demolition program involves the removal of almost a half-million square feet of antiquated structures and will take about 18 months to complete.

-----

Ginda, a 25-year Navy veteran, made his remarks during a meeting at The Day with its editorial and newsroom staff. He said there are a number of large-scale construction projects under way at the base. These include much-needed pier upgrades, plans for a new fitness complex and expansion of both the commissary and exchange at their present locations on the base.

Several new piers are planned for the lower base, which is where the attack submarines are homeported. Ginda said one pier has already been modernized, offering far more space and improved utilities for submarines. The new piers will be 67 feet wide, compared to the older piers that are 33 feet wide. The new piers, which each cost at least $30 million, offer a host of specialized hookups for the nuclear submarines, including sophisticated wiring and cabling to accommodate a sub's complex electronics gear.

-----

He said the proposed expansion of the Navy commissary and exchange, with a projected price tag in the $20 million range, would likely take place in fiscal year 2010.

20 December 2006

The Sky People sequel

Have you read S M Stirling's The Sky People yet? The prologue and first chapter of the sequel, In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, are now available on-line.

Pern meets Bolitho

Or "Pern meets Aubrey and Maturin," if you prefer*. Novik has taken the world of the Napoleonic Wars, and added dragons. The book begins with the capture of a French ship by the British. The new prize turns out to be carrying a dragon's egg; it's about ready to hatch, and when it does, the baby dragon will choose one of the people nearby to bond with. When it does, the pair are transferred from the Royal Navy to the Aerial Corps, to train together to fight the French.

Looks like a book I'm going to have to buy. And wonder of wonders, they actually released all three books together, instead of a year apart like most trilogies. More to come, too....

Oh, and there's a rather amusing short story here.

* I still haven't gotten around to reading any of O'Brian's books, though my father-in-law loves them.

Don't fix it if it ain't broke

From here:
Over the weekend, comics industry news site Newsarama reported that Archie Comics will adopt a new style, altering the basic appearance of Archie and the rest of the Riverdale gang for the first time in...well, ever, as far as I can tell.

-----

Comics fans have been voicing skepticism, mostly along the lines of "it if aint [Dan] DeCarlo style, it just ain't Archie to me," but there've also been some more substantial concerns raised: "Archie seemingly has a normal everyday physique, while B&V look like twigs that could snap in two," says one commenter. "I realize that comic books aren't known for their realistic anatomy, but comics like this specifically designed to court younger, and female, readers really should take care to not indoctrinate such a double standard."


Here's a picture (taken from the above site) of the new Betty and Veronica, with old pictures provided for those of you who've forgotten what they look like.

Ick.


Thank you, Betsy.

Wrathful sloth

Take the Seven Deadly Sins Quiz! My score:

Greed:High
Gluttony:Medium
Wrath:Very High
Sloth:Very High
Envy:Medium
Lust:Medium
Pride:Medium



Thank you, Chrystoph.

18 December 2006

This day in history: 18 Dec

1642: Abel Tasman became the first European to reach New Zealand.

1787: New Jersey became the third state to ratify the US Constitution.

1793: The French frigate La Lutine (26 guns) was handed over to the British by French royalists.

1966: Saturn's moon Epimetheus was discovered.

1973: Soyuz 13 (V V Lebedev and P I Klimuk) was launched from Baikonur for an eight-day mission.

1999: EOS AM-1 (Terra) was launched from Vandenberg AFB, California.

Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737), Andrija Mohorovičić (1857-1936) and Hans-Ulrich Rudel (1916-1982) died on this date.






And happy birthday to Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (1863-1914), Josef Stalin (1878-1953), Benjamin O Davis Jr (1912-2002), Betty Grable (1916-1973), Ossie Davis (1917-2005), Michael Moorcock (1939-TBD), Steven Spielberg (1946-TBD), Ron White (1956-TBD) and my niece (1963-TBD).

17 December 2006

Posthumous VC awarded for Afghan service



Says the Mirror:
Two soldiers from 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, were posthumously awarded medals for exceptional valour in southern Afghanistan this year.

Corporal Bryan Budd, 29, who died leading an assault against the Taliban, won the Victoria Cross.

He is the first person given the medal posthumously in 24 years.

At a ceremony in the Defence Ministry his wife Lorena, 23, a clerk in the Royal Artillery, said: "He was a proud and passionate soldier who was prepared to make the very highest sacrifice to save the lives of others."

The other para was Cpl Mark Wright, who received the George Cross for "an extraordinary attempt to save critically injured soldiers."

A total of 134 personnel were awarded medals Friday (15 Dec), including Pte Michelle Norris, RAMC, who received the Military Cross "for saving lives during a fierce gun battle in Iraq," and four men who received the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross:
Acting Captain Timothy Illingworth of the Light Infantry led attacks in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

L/Cpl Andrew Radford of the Household Cavalry carried a wounded comrade 70 metres uphill under heavy fire, also in Afghanistan.

Lt Hugo Farmer of the Parachute Regiment led his men to find and evacuate the dying Cpl Budd.

Colour Sgt James Harkess, then of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment, saved lives on three occasions as a Warrior platoon sergeant in Iraq.

The Telegraph has further details on most of the individuals mentioned above, as well as a complete list of awards given.

For further information on British Military Honours, see here.



Medals shown: (top left) VC, (top right) GC, (bottom left) CGC and (bottom right) MC.

Maxwell's equations

David Morgan-Mar has a really nice explanation of Maxwell's equations.

Who says reading comics isn't educational?

Victoria Cross: R. H. Buller

REDVERS HENRY BULLER, CB

Captain (Brevet Lieutenant Colonel), 60th Rifles

Born: 7 December 1839, Downes, Devonshire

Citation: For his gallant conduct at the retreat at Inhlobana [Zululand], on the 28th March, 1879, in having assisted, whilst hotly pursued by Zulus, in rescuing Captain C. D'Arcy, of the Frontier Light Horse, who was retiring on foot, and carrying him on his horse until he overtook the rear guard. Also for having on the same date and under the same circumstances, conveyed Lieutenant C. Everitt, of the Frontier Light Horse, whose horse had been killed under him, to a place of safety. Later on, Colonel Buller, in the same manner, saved a trooper of the Frontier Light Horse, whose horse was completely exhausted, and who otherwise would have been killed by the Zulus, who were within 80 yards of him.

(London Gazette Issue 24734 dated 17 Jun 1879, published 17 Jun 1879.)

Medal of Honor: W. H. Brown

WILLIAM H BROWN

Landsman, US Navy; USS Brooklyn

Born: 1836, Baltimore, Maryland
Died: 5 November 1896

Citation: On board the U.S.S. Brooklyn during successful attacks against Fort Morgan rebel gunboats and the ram Tennessee in Mobile Bay on 5 August 1864. Stationed in the immediate vicinity of the shell whips which were twice cleared of men by bursting shells, Brown remained steadfast at his post and performed his duties in the powder division throughout the furious action which resulted in the surrender of the prize rebel ram Tennessee and in the damaging and destruction of batteries at Fort Morgan.

15 December 2006

This day in history: 15 Dec

533: Belisarius defeated the Vandals, under Gelimer, at the Battle of Ticameron.

1791: Virginia ratified the United States Bill of Rights, thus making it law.

1960: Richard Paul Pavlick was arrested for plotting the assassination of President-Elect John F Kennedy.

1961: Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death for war crimes committed during World War II. He was hanged on 1 Jun 1962.

1965: Gemini 6A (Schirra and Stafford) was launched from Cape Kennedy.

Jan Vermeer van Delft (1632-1675), Sitting Bull (ca 1831-1890), Glenn Miller (1904-1944), Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958) and Walt Disney (1901-1966) died on this date.





And happy birthday to L L Zamenhof (1859-1917), Charles Duryea (1861-1938), Nudie Cohn (1902-1984), Freeman Dyson (1923-TBD), Tim Conway (1933-TBD) and my niece (1964-TBD).

14 December 2006

Mess cooks

Sometime back, I made mention of "my two-bit senior chief on the Oly," and promised to explain that description of him. So....

As I understand it*, the Royal Navy, back in the days of wooden ships and iron men, divided those men (the ratings, that is, not the officers) into groups of four. When it came time for swill - excuse me, I mean "food" - to be served, rather than having the whole crew queue up, each of these groups-of-four would send a representative to collect the rations for himself and for the other three. Such a group of four men was called a "mess," and the chap who was doing the fetching was called a "mess cook." And when the newly established US Navy drew upon the Royal Navy for its traditions, mess-cooking was one of those it adopted.

Times change, and navies change, and men's duties change. In today's Navy, a mess cook** is a very junior person, recently reported in to his/her first ship, who is assigned temporarily (usually for a period of 90-120 days) to assist the cooks by doing things like dishwashing, veg prep, general cleanup, &c. On submarines, mess cooks also serve as waiters, fetching drinks and desserts for their shipmates, in order to cut down on the number of people moving around in the cramped confines of the crew's mess. Almost no-one escapes this duty.

(I, as it happens, did. My first boat was in new construction; it didn't even have a galley when I arrived. By the time the first person assigned as a mess cook - an A-gang FN from Massachusetts - started those duties, I was already a PO2, and I had my dolphins long before they ran out of E4-and-below and the first non-qual E5 was sent mess-cooking.*** But I digress....)

On the skimmer, it was unheard of for petty officers to mess cook. That was reserved for E3 and below. As soon as a mess cook was frocked Third, he was sent back to his division - even if he'd just reported to the mess decks a couple days earlier, and even if it meant recalling some poor E3 who'd already completed twice his normally allotted time as a mess cook, to take his place.

Now, a six-month deployment on a submarine can really drag on. One of the things that's done to make it more bearable is Halfway Night: A celebration held somewhere near the midpoint of the trip. The cooks prepare a special meal, and other events take place, such as Corn on the COB (a #10 can of cream-style corn is auctioned off, and the winning bidder gets to pour it over the COB's head) or Pie in the Eye (pie shells filled with whipped cream are auctioned off, and the winners get to shove them into the faces of the chief, JO, or other person of their choice).

One such traditional event is Crank Night. I have no idea when mess cooks were first called mess cranks - it was certainly long before I joined the Navy - but Crank Night is another auction, and the winners/victims take the place of the regular mess cooks during the Halfway Night meal. The bidding starts a week or few before the Night, and progress is closely monitored by all; very popular contestants, such as the Eng or the COB, can bring in a few hundred dollars each. (The money collected for this and for other auctions goes to the boat's rec committee, and is used for ship's picnics, the Xmas party, &c.) Normally five people are selected; the one with the most "votes" - almost invariably the Engineer (because he has the largest department to annoy) - gets trash-compactor duty, the next is assigned to the scullery, the next two work as waiters on the mess decks, and the fifth serves as wardroom steward for the evening.

So. 1988, and we're on our second WestPac - port calls in Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea and Guam. And somewhere in the middle of all that, we have Halfway Night. Crank Night bidding starts, and everyone thinks that RMCS is a very likely winner. The ETs take up a collection (back in those days the ETs, nav and ESM, were together in one division, separate from the RMs), and come up with the amazing sum of twenty-five cents, which they put down on RMCS. And there it stays - everyone is gunning for other targets, and no-one else puts any money on RMCS. And after a week or so of looking at the tally, I started referring to him as my Two-Bit Senior Chief. (His response was to accuse me of having orchestrated the whole affair, just so I could call him that, but it just warn't so.)

And that's the explanation.

But it's not really the end of the story, because we had another lengthy underway later in the deployment, and the command decided to hold another Crank Night. Engineering had gotten enough fun out of their boss during the first Crank Night, so this time the winners were, in order, the COB, the Nav, the Commo, RMCS (hey, look - it's my chain of command!) and one of the riders, who had managed to very seriously tick off the rest of the riders.

And so here we have the COB**** washing dishes, having escaped from the trash room, while the Nav brings out another stack of plates.










The guy in the yellow Hawaiian flowerdy shirt, scrubbing the deck, is the Commo. (As I've said before, I do better with given names than with surnames; he was an LT, and his name was Jon, but I can't for the life of me think what his last name was.)






And presenting RMCS, two-bit senior chief and mess cook extraordinaire, in all his glory (with Weird, Wild Wally laughing in the background).





* And there is, of course, no guarantee that I understand it correctly.

** Technically, there are no mess cooks in today's Navy. Apparently someone decided that was a pejorative term, and they are now officially known as "food service attendants," or FSAs. Pfui, as the great man would say.

*** It wasn't until I was on my third boat that I had a COB who kept people on the mess decks to finish out their time after they got their dolphins.

**** QMCM, with (at the time) just over 34 years on active duty. One of the two best COBs I've ever had.

13 December 2006

RIP: Peter Boyle

From ABC News:
LOS ANGELES Dec 13, 2006 (AP)— Peter Boyle, the tall, prematurely bald actor who was the tap-dancing monster in "Young Frankenstein" and the curmudgeonly father in the long-running sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," has died. He was 71.

Boyle died Tuesday evening at New York Presbyterian Hospital. He had been suffering from multiple myeloma and heart disease, said his publicist, Jennifer Plante.

A Christian Brothers monk who turned to acting, Boyle gained notice playing an angry workingman in the Vietnam-era hit "Joe." But he overcome typecasting when he took on the role of the hulking, lab-created monster in Mel Brooks' 1974 send-up of horror films.

-----

He went on to appear in dozens of films and to star in "Joe Bash," an acclaimed but short-lived 1986 "dramedy" in which he played a lonely beat cop. He won an Emmy in 1996 for his guest-starring role in an episode of "The X Files," and he was nominated for "Everybody Loves Raymond" and for the 1977 TV film "Tail Gunner Joe," in which he played Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

Looking at his list of movies at IMDb, I only see a few that I remember having seen, including Young Frankenstein, Yellowbeard and the first Santa Clause.


(My thanks to Afarensis for the tip.)

10 December 2006

This day in history: 10 Dec

1817: Mississippi became the twentieth state admitted to the USA.

1861: Kentucky became the thirteenth state admitted to the CSA.

1869: Wyoming granted women the right to vote.

1898: The Treaty of Paris was signed, officially ending the Spanish-American War.

1936: Edward VIII signed his instrument of abdication.




1941: Battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse were sunk by Japanese aircraft.



Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), Damon Runyon (1884-1946), Ed Wood Jr (1924-1978), Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987) and Faron Young (1932-1996) died on this date.



And happy birthday to Melvil Dewey (1851-1931), Sir Harold Alexander KG OM GCB GCSI GCMG GCVO (1891-1969), Dorothy Lamour (1914-1996), Dan Blocker (1928-1972), Clive Anderson (1952-TBD), Susan Dey (1952-TBD) and Kenneth Branagh (1960-TBD).

Victoria Cross: T. F. Durrant

THOMAS FRANK DURRANT

Sergeant, Corps of Royal Engineers; No. 1 Commando

Born: 17 October 1918, Green Street Green, Farnborough, Kent

Citation: For great gallantry, skill and devotion to duty when in charge of a Lewis gun in H.M. Motor Launch 306 in the St. Nazaire raid on the 28th March, 1942.
Motor Launch 306 came under heavy fire while proceeding up the River Loire towards the port. Sergeant Durrant, in his position abaft the bridge, where he had no cover or protection, engaged enemy gun positions and searchlights ashore. During this engagement he was severely wounded in the arm but refused to leave his gun.
The Motor Launch subsequently went down the river and was attacked by a German destroyer at 50-60 yards range, and often closer. In this action Sergeant Durrant continued to fire at the destroyer's bridge with the greatest coolness and with complete disregard of the enemy's fire. The Motor Launch was illuminated by the enemy searchlight, and Sergeant Durrant drew on himself the individual attention of the enemy guns, and was again wounded, in many places. Despite these further wounds he stayed in his exposed position, still firing his gun, although after a time only able to support himself by holding on to the gun mounting.
After a running fight, the Commander of the German destroyer called on the Motor Launch to surrender. Sergeant Durrant's answer was a further burst of fire at the destroyer's bridge. Although now very weak he went on firing, using drums of ammunition as fast as they could be replaced. A renewed attack by the enemy vessel eventually silenced the fire of the Motor Launch but Sergeant Durrant refused to give up until the destroyer came alongside, grappled the Motor Launch and took prisoner those who remained alive.
Sergeant Durrant's gallant fight was commended by the German officers on boarding the Motor Launch.
This very gallant Non-Commissioned Officer later died of the many wounds received in action.

(London Gazette Issue 37134 dated 19 Jun 1945, published 15 Jun 1945.)

Medal of Honor: V. J. Baker

VERNON JOSEPH BAKER

Second Lieutenant, US Army; 370th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division

Born: 17 December 1919, Cheyenne, Wyoming
Died: 13 Jul 2010, St Maries, Idaho

Citation: For extraordinary heroism in action on 5 and 6 April 1945, near Viareggio, Italy. Then Second Lieutenant Baker demonstrated outstanding courage and leadership in destroying enemy installations, personnel and equipment during his company's attack against a strongly entrenched enemy in mountainous terrain. When his company was stopped by the concentration of fire from several machine gun emplacements, he crawled to one position and destroyed it, killing three Germans. Continuing forward, he attacked and enemy observation post and killed two occupants. With the aid of one of his men, Lieutenant Baker attacked two more machine gun nests, killing or wounding the four enemy soldiers occupying these positions. He then covered the evacuation of the wounded personnel of his company by occupying an exposed position and drawing the enemy's fire. On the following night Lieutenant Baker voluntarily led a battalion advance through enemy mine fields and heavy fire toward the division objective. Second Lieutenant Baker's fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the Armed Forces.


Notes: Medal awarded 13 Jan 1997.

Edited 19 Jul 10 to add birthplace and place/date of death.

09 December 2006

This day in history: 9 Dec

1917: British forces led by Edmund Allenby captured Jerusalem.

1937: Japanese forces began their assault on Nanjing*. The city fell on the 13th.

1945: George S Patton was injured in an automobile accident; he died of his injuries twelve days later.

1961: SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann was found guilty of 15 criminal charges, including charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

1965: A UFO may or may not have visited Kecksburg, Pennsylvania.

Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Mary Leakey (1913-1996) and Robert Sheckley (1928-2005) died on this date.







And happy birthday to Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632), Clarence Birdseye (1886-1956), Emmett Kelley Sr (1898-1979), Grace Hopper (1906-1992), Douglas Fairbanks Jr KBE DSC (1909-2000), Broderick Crawford (1911-1986), Kirk Douglas (1916-TBD), Redd Foxx (1922-1991), Dick Van Patten (1928-TBD), Dame Judi Dench CH DBE (1934-TBD) and Michael Dorn (1952-TBD).



* Nanking, to us old folks.

08 December 2006

"The Hippopotamus"

L Sprague de Camp is well known as a science-fiction and fantasy author. (One of my favourites, in fact.) Lest Darkness Fall, the classic alternate-history tale, is still in print over sixty years after it was first published. There are the Viagens Interplanetarias books, and a lot of short stories, such as "The Gnarly Man" and "A Gun for Dinosaur." In the realm of fantasy, de Camp (and Lin Carter) wrote a lot of Conan tales, vastly expanding the series begun by Robert E Howard; there are also the Harold Shea stories, written with Fletcher Pratt. And there are even non-fiction books, including The Great Monkey Trial, Great Cities of the Ancient World and The Ancient Engineers.

So when I found out he had written a poem about a hippopotamus, I just had to read it....


The bulbous hippopotamus: it looks so slow and mild,
One sees it as a funny beast that wouldn't hurt a child,
But it is something other when one meets it in the wild.

When I was in Uganda, "on safari" as they say,
We stopped to watch a hippo who was tucking in some hay,
And George and I took cameras, and we left the Chevrolet.

We stalked the stout behemoth with alert and stealthy tread.
At thirty yards we halted as the hippo raised its head
And shot a surly glance at us, ere once again it fed.

The buzz and click of cameras then aroused the burly brute;
It champed its jaws and bounded at us with a thunderous hoot,
And George and I like rabbits ran, the hippo in pursuit.

We jumped into our auto and we slammed the Chevvy's door;
The hippo turned and waddled off to gorge on grass some more.
But then for days the ladies with us begged for an encore.

They'd have their cameras ready, so they said, but we refused.
We found one chase was quite enough to keep us both amused,
So we would take the photographs, while they some beast abused!

07 December 2006

Evidence of water on Mars?

From the International Herald-Tribune:
The European Space Agency said Thursday that its Mars Express orbiter will follow up new evidence that water may flow on the surface of Mars — a find that would support the idea of life on the Red Planet.

Scientists said Wednesday that pictures taken by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor show changes in craters that provide the strongest evidence yet that water coursed through them as recently as several years ago, and is perhaps doing so even now.

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Global Surveyor previously spotted tens of thousands of gullies that scientists believed were carved by fast-moving water coursing down cliffs and steep crater walls.

According to findings to appear Friday in the journal Science, scientists have now compared pictures taken of two craters in 1999 and 2001 with similar images from 2004 and 2005.

In both craters, scientists found light-colored deposits several hundred meters (yards) long in gullies that weren't present in the original photos. They concluded that the deposits — possibly mud, salt or frost — were left there when water recently cascaded through.

The Daily Telegraph has a photo.

And in other news, the Houston Chronicler says:
The newest spacecraft orbiting Mars has taken pictures of three NASA crafts used in previous missions to the red planet _ the rover Spirit that landed on the surface in 2004 and the two Viking landers that set down in 1976.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, circling the planet since March, took images that show Spirit, the Viking landers and associated equipment as pinpoints or blobs against the surface.

The images were released Monday by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Copies of the pictures can be seen at NASA's site.

Pearl Harbor - 65 years later


Sixty-five years ago today

Pearl Harbor raid, 7 December 1941

Dec 7, 1941
Much worse
Even more


0755AM, December 7, 1941.

A day that will live in infamy

Day of infamy

A date which will live in infamy...


This day in history: 7 Dec

1787: Delaware became the first state to ratify the new US Constitution.

1917: The United States (which had already been at war with Germany for eight months) declared war on Austria-Hungary.



1941: US bases at Pearl Harbor, Kaneohe and elsewhere on Oahu were attacked by aircraft launched from the Japanese aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, Soryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku.




1965: The Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration ended the mutual excommunication of the Catholic Pope and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch which had been in place since the Great Schism of 1054.

1972: Apollo 17 (Cernan, Evans and Schmitt), the last moon mission to date, was launched.

1995: The Galileo probe, launched from the space shuttle Atlantis (mission STS-34), on 18 Oct 89, arrived at Jupiter.

Michel Ney (1769-1815), William Bligh FRS (1745-1817), Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805-1894), Thomas Nast (1840-1902), Rube Goldberg (1882-1970), Joan Bennett (1910-1990) and Frederick Fennell (1914-2004) died on this date.



And happy birthday to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (1545-1567), George Grossmith (1847-1912), Richard Sears (1863-1914), Gerard Kuiper (1905-1973), Eli Wallach (1915-TBD) and Harry Chapin (1942-1981).

05 December 2006

NASA news about Mars

MEDIA ADVISORY: M06-186
WASHINGTON - NASA hosts a news briefing at 1 p.m. EST, Wednesday, Dec. 6, to present new science results from the Mars Global Surveyor. The briefing will take place in the NASA Headquarters auditorium located at 300 E Street, S.W. in Washington and carried live on NASA Television and www.nasa.gov.

Hmmmm....

04 December 2006

This day in history: 5 Dec

1492: Columbus reached Hispaniola.

1933: Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st amendment to the US Constitution, thus ending Prohibition.

1945: The five TBM Avengers of Flight 19 flew into history.






Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye (1685-1749), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), Alexandre Dumas, père (1802-1870) and Claude Monet (1840-1926) died on this date.

And happy birthday to George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876), Sir John Rushworth Jellicoe OM GCB GCVO (1859-1935), Sir Arthur Currie GCMG KCB (1875-1933), Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968), Walt Disney (1901-1966), Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), José Carreras Coll (1946-TBD), Suzanne Cupito (1951-TBD) and Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards (1963-TBD).

03 December 2006

Imperial artifacts found in Rome

Says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Archaeologists have unearthed what they say are the only existing imperial insignia belonging to Emperor Maxentius - precious objects that were buried to preserve them and keep them from enemies when he was defeated by his rival Constantine.

Excavation under Rome's Palatine Hill near the Colosseum turned up items including three lances and four javelins that experts said are striking for their completeness - digs usually turn up only fragments - and the fact that they are the only known artifacts of their kind.

Some of the objects, which accompanied the emperor during his public appearances, are believed to be the base for the emperor's standards - rectangular or triangular flags, officials said.

An imperial scepter with a carved flower and a globe, and a number of glass spheres, believed to be a symbolic representation of the earth, also were discovered.

Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius was born ca 278, and was Emperor of Rome from 306 until 312 (not 321, as the article quoted above says). He died after the battle of the Milvian Bridge, north of Rome, in battle with the forces of the Emperor Constantine.

Another biographical article on Maxentius here.

Victoria Cross: H. V. H. Throssell

HUGO VIVIAN HOPE THROSSELL

Second Lieutenant, 10th Light Horse Regiment, Australian Imperial Force

Born: 27 October 1884, Northam, Western Australia

Citation: For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during operations on the Kaiakij Aghala (Hill 60) in the Gallipoli Peninsula on 29th and 30th August, 1915. Although severely wounded in several places during a counter-attack he refused to leave his post or to obtain medical assistance till all danger was passed, when he had his wounds dressed and returned to the firing line until ordered out of action by the Medical Officer.
By his personal courage and example he kept up the spirits of his party and was largely instrumental in saving the situation at a critical period.

(London Gazette Issue 29328 dated 15 Oct 1915, published 15 Oct 1915.)

Medal of Honor: R. H. C. Donlon

ROGER HUGH C DONLON

Captain, US Army; Special Forces Detachment A-726

Born: 30 January 1934, Saugerties, New York
Died: TBD

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while defending a U.S. military installation against a fierce attack by hostile forces. Capt. Donlon was serving as the commanding officer of the U.S. Army Special Forces Detachment A-726 at Camp Nam Dong [on 6 Jul 1964] when a reinforced Viet Cong battalion suddenly launched a full-scale, predawn attack on the camp. During the violent battle that ensued, lasting 5 hours and resulting in heavy casualties on both sides, Capt. Donlon directed the defense operations in the midst of an enemy barrage of mortar shells, falling grenades, and extremely heavy gunfire. Upon the initial onslaught, he swiftly marshaled his forces and ordered the removal of the needed ammunition from a blazing building. He then dashed through a hail of small arms and exploding hand grenades to abort a breach of the main gate. En route to this position he detected an enemy demolition team of 3 in the proximity of the main gate and quickly annihilated them. Although exposed to the intense grenade attack, he then succeeded in reaching a 60mm mortar position despite sustaining a severe stomach wound as he was within 5 yards of the gun pit. When he discovered that most of the men in this gunpit were also wounded, he completely disregarded his own injury, directed their withdrawal to a location 30 meters away, and again risked his life by remaining behind and covering the movement with the utmost effectiveness. Noticing that his team sergeant was unable to evacuate the gun pit he crawled toward him and, while dragging the fallen soldier out of the gunpit, an enemy mortar exploded and inflicted a wound in Capt. Donlon's left shoulder. Although suffering from multiple wounds, he carried the abandoned 60mm mortar weapon to a new location 30 meters away where he found 3 wounded defenders. After administering first aid and encouragement to these men, he left the weapon with them, headed toward another position, and retrieved a 57mm recoilless rifle. Then with great courage and coolness under fire, he returned to the abandoned gun pit, evacuated ammunition for the 2 weapons, and while crawling and dragging the urgently needed ammunition, received a third wound on his leg by an enemy hand grenade. Despite his critical physical condition, he again crawled 175 meters to an 81mm mortar position and directed firing operations which protected the seriously threatened east sector of the camp. He then moved to an eastern 60mm mortar position and upon determining that the vicious enemy assault had weakened, crawled back to the gun pit with the 60mm mortar, set it up for defensive operations, and turned it over to 2 defenders with minor wounds. Without hesitation, he left this sheltered position, and moved from position to position around the beleaguered perimeter while hurling hand grenades at the enemy and inspiring his men to superhuman effort. As he bravely continued to move around the perimeter, a mortar shell exploded, wounding him in the face and body. As the long awaited daylight brought defeat to the enemy forces and their retreat back to the jungle leaving behind 54 of their dead, many weapons, and grenades, Capt. Donlon immediately reorganized his defenses and administered first aid to the wounded. His dynamic leadership, fortitude, and valiant efforts inspired not only the American personnel but the friendly Vietnamese defenders as well and resulted in the successful defense of the camp. Capt. Donlon's extraordinary heroism, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

Note: This was the first Medal of Honor awarded for the Vietnam War.

02 December 2006

Figs in space

Well, maybe not figs, but the folks up in the space station have to eat something, right?

According to the Mercury News:
[The space shuttle] Discovery is set for a nighttime launch on Dec. 7, the start of 12 days in space. It will be the first night launch in four years.

And this mission will have more rookie astronauts than any flight in years - five have never been to space before. The two veterans are Mark Polansky, the commander, and Robert Curbeam, who will spacewalk three times. The others are pilot William Oefelein, and mission specialists Joan Higginbotham, Nicholas Patrick, Sunita Williams and the European Space Agency's Christer Fuglesang, who will become the first Swede in space.

Discovery will deliver an $11 million addition to the space lab, release three small satellites on the return trip home and bring home one of the space station's three crew members, German astronaut Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency. U.S. astronaut Williams will replace him, staying for six months.

As for the food, USA Today says:
For astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, shuttle Discovery's scheduled delivery this month of a key girder to the International Space Station means more than just new hardware for the orbiting lab.
Lopez-Alegria, who's lived on the station since September, will get 22 packets of instant latte to add to his dwindling stash.

Food tends to be an afterthought on space shuttle missions. But NASA officials have slowly come to realize that food is central to the well-being of the astronauts living on the space station.

Station crews spend six months confined in a plastic-and-titanium box without greenery or fresh air. Food is a rare sensory pleasure on the station, something to look forward to amid the grinding work of keeping the place shipshape and conducting scientific research.

As a retired submariner (who was it that said submariners were the logical people to serve as space-station crews?), I can definitely agree that food is important for people doing long cruises like this. And these guys don't even get to hit a liberty port during their deployments.
At the request of the astronaut office, future crews will have to settle for a standard menu rather than favored dishes. The upside: the menu will repeat every 16 days — rather than the current 10 — giving them more menu variety.

After the switch, station residents will eat food from three categories, just as they do now:

•American. Most items are either freeze-dried (add water and serve) or sealed in pouches after being precooked to kill germs (ready to be reheated in space). Entrees range from meatloaf to fajitas.

•Russian. Half the station is operated by Russia, which also supplies half the food. Packaged mostly in cans, it includes novelties such as jellied meat and buckwheat gruel.

•Bonus foods. For each month of their stay, station crewmembers pack a locker about as big as a shoebox with treats that have a long shelf life. Former station resident Ed Lu took dried calamari, among other things. Lopez-Alegria, who was born in Madrid, opted for a special Spanish ham.

In the meantime, though, Discovery will be carrying more than just latte and satellites. From another USA Today article:
No more goop-in-a-tube for America's hungry astronauts.
Space shuttle Discovery, slated to launch Dec. 7, will carry Thai chicken and two other dishes devised by Food Network star and TV talk show host Rachael Ray. They're the first meals from a food celebrity to fly on the shuttle.

-----

Space station astronauts have already sampled celebrity food. Emeril Lagasse's jambalaya and mashed potatoes with bacon were devoured on the station in August. German station resident Thomas Reiter told Lagasse, famous for his New Orleans-style fare, that it was "perfect" for satisfying the crew's "longing … for spicy food."

Oh, and in addition to the other things:
The seven Discovery astronauts will help expand and rewire the International Space Station.

I got it from Kelly; she got it from Gail

This meme, which I first found at Big A little a, has been wandering around for a while. It was originated by Kate S, at Kate's Book Blog, who issued a general "tag" to anyone who reads her post.

Here's my version....

1. How old were you when you learned to read and who taught you?

My sister taught me to read when I was three. My earliest memories, however, are from when I was four, so as far as I'm concerned I've always known how to read.

2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what’s the first one that you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles that you borrowed from the library?

Many. My whole family (parents, brother and two sisters) were readers. The earliest book I remember was The Story of Ferdinand, about the Spanish bull who just wants to sit under the cork tree and sniff the flowers. My sister tells me that this was my favourite book when I was really young, and it was the one she used for the reading lessons I don't remember.

As for library books, the earliest one I actually remember was The Guns of Shiloh, by Joseph Altsheler. I had a terrible time convincing the school librarian that I, a mere second-grader, was capable of reading such a book (Amazon says it's for ages 9-12) and that she should let me check it out.

3. What’s the first book that you bought with your own money?

Yeah, like I'm really going to remember that far back....

4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often?

Yep. My sister bought me a lot of the Landmark books, from Random House, and I know I reread the one about the Bismarck more than once. Once I got started on Edgar Rice Burroughs (see next question), I reread most of his books.

5. What’s the first adult book that captured your interest and how old were you when you read it?

I was about ten years old when my sister (she's almost thirteen years older than I, and yes, she was a major influence on my early life!) brought home copies of The People That Time Forgot and Thuvia, Maid of Mars. Those two books were my first introduction to ERB, and even more importantly, my first introduction to science fiction. Ace and Ballantine were just reissuing most of his works in paperback at that time, and I ended up buying almost all of them. The following year, I discovered A Bertram Chandler, and I've been a big SF fan ever since.

6. Are there children’s books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? Which ones?

Can't really think of any. Most of the children's books I really love - Swallows & Amazons, Green Knowe, Enid Blyton's "Adventure" series, Dean Marshall's books, Trixie Belden, &c - are books I first read as a child or as a teenager.

(And my thanks to Tom Lehrer for the subject line I used....)

01 December 2006

More on ancient whales

Last week Olduvai George (who is really artist Carl Buell) wrote about Pakicetus inachus, a smallish (coyote-sized) middle-Eocene ancestor of today's whales.

Today, he has a post up about Ambulocetus natans, another "walking whale" from later in the Eocene, with a promise of more to come.

(Look at the rest of his blog, too. It's full of wonderful examples of his art.)

Ransome papers being auctioned next week

It says here:
Deep-pocketed admirers of Arthur Ransome, author of the Swallows and Amazons books, will be mustering at a Gloucestershire saleroom on Thursday, credit cards at the ready.
Under the hammer is much illuminating new evidence about Ransome’s literary apprenticeship in London, Paris and Wiltshire and his relationship with his first wife, Ivy Constance, and the manuscript of his first substantial children’s book, begun in 1914 for his only daughter, Tabitha.

-----

The auction includes books that Ransome left with Ivy. One is his Rugby School hymnal, others are inscribed by friends such as the poet[s] Lascelles Abercrombie and [Edward] Thomas.

The liveliest lot of all is a 1,500-word memoir written in about 1945 by Tabitha. It says that Ivy was engaged to a cousin when she “at the eleventh hour decided to run away with my father — a Common Writer”. He “had a Wild, & Bohemian nature” and “lived an adventurous life in Paris with my mother”.

There are some interesting details about Ransome's life, too:
But life with a writer who spent his leisure time tramping across country with literary chums did not suit Ivy. Her tantrums, manipulations and subterfuges included a message that she was about to be kidnapped and the claim that she was having an affair with Ivar Campbell. Miserably aware that a war between parents was no fun for a child, Ransome decided in 1913 to decamp to Russia, officially in search of fairytales to retell for English children.

The memoir puts things slightly differently. “Then the 1914 war came and my Father went to Russia on Secret Service,” Tabitha writes, blowing the gaff on what had been concealed until recently by the Official Secrets Act. Poor sight and an ulcer-plagued gut prevented Ransome from enlisting, as Thomas so tragically did, but he was determined to do his bit. Debate still rages over when and why Ransome first began his unofficial reportage on the state that Russia was in before and after the 1917 revolution.

If you were wondering what to get me for Xmas....

What did you do in the Navy, Daddy?

Back in '92, I got put on medical hold because of a couple episodes of "probable kidney stones" while I was on the tender. None were actually found, and I ended up getting a waiver after several months, though in the meantime I lost my orders. (I'd been in the process of reporting in to Gato when Squadron Medical noticed the entries in my medical record.)

Whilst waiting for Medical to dedigitate, I hung out at Squadron, making myself more or less useful. After doing odd jobs for the first month or so, I was assigned to duties that I continued until I finally transferred back to a boat.

In those days, the recycling dumpsters here at the Groton sub base were fairly new. Now, if you tell the average mess cook* to put the cardboard in the brown dumpster, the bottles and tins in the blue dumpster, and everything else in the green dumpster, what's he going to do? Yep, you guessed it - walk up to the closest dumpster, no matter what colour it is, and throw everything in.

The obvious solution? Lock the dumpsters, and only unlock them when someone's there to supervise the people using them.

So I'd get in a pickup just before morning colours, drive to the first set of dumpsters, unlock the two (brown and blue) for recycling, and sit in the truck for 55 minutes. Then I'd lock the dumpsters, proceed on to the next set, and repeat the process. Until I'd finished my 55-minute stint at the last set, somewhere up near Pier Norwich, at which time I would stow the truck, turn in the keys, and go home. Five days a week, Monday through Friday.

Oh, and on Saturday I'd go in to the office from 0800 until 1200, just in case a boat had done a Friday-afternoon stores load or something and needed a dumpster or two opened.

Now, 55 minutes is a long time to be sitting in a truck doing nothing, so I took a book along. Not an RTM or some other piece of official, Navy-approved literature(?); whatever book I happened to have checked out from the base library. And I took my book to the office on Saturday, too. Got a lot of books read that fall and winter.

But wait - it gets better. Because, you see, there were two of us assigned to this duty. (Plus a chief. Can't get anything done in the Navy without a chief.)

Obviously, you don't need to have two people sitting in the truck watching the dumpsters to make sure the mess cooks aren't screwing up. So Mike (I think that was his name...) and I switched off; one of us would take the morning and the other would take the afternoon, and we'd alternate Saturdays.

It didn't take much to get the chief to agree that the one who wasn't in the truck didn't need to be sitting in the office doing nothing. He even agreed that the one who was taking the afternoon shift didn't need to muster - even by phone - in the morning, just as long as he did show up after lunch for his shift.

So we did it this way:
  • One guy did Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. The other guy, of course, took the remaining shifts.

  • We alternated weeks, so that if I had Monday morning, &c, one week I'd have Monday afternoon, &c, the following week.

  • Whoever took the Friday afternoon shift also did Saturday. That way the guy who did Friday morning got off at lunchtime, and didn't have to come back in until after lunch on Monday.

Which worked out to alternating 17-hour and 22-hour work weeks. With a 73-hour weekend, every other week.

And I did this for six months....


* More on those in another post.

Book list - Nov 06

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder - mystery, by Joanne Fluke
Here Lies the Librarian - YA, by Richard Peck
On Hitler's Mountain - memoirs, by Irmgard A Hunt
Lavender-Green Magic - children's fantasy, by Andre Norton
The Sky People - AH, by S M Stirling
Mister Monday - fantasy, by Garth Nix
Grim Tuesday - fantasy, by Garth Nix
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles - children's fantasy, by Julie Andrews Edwards

The Norton was the only one I'd read before.

The two by Nix are the beginning of a seven-book series; I'm reading the third one (Drowned Wednesday) now. Unfortunately, only four have been published thus far, so it's going to be a while before I get to finish reading them....