30 November 2008

Victoria Cross: W. J. English


Lieutenant, 2nd Scottish Horse

Born: 6 October 1882, Cork, County Cork, Ireland
Died: 4 July 1941, aboard ship, off Egypt

Citation: This officer with five men was holding the right of a position at Vlakfontein on the 3rd July, 1901, during an attack by the Boers. Two of his men were killed and two wounded, but the position was still held, largely owing to Lieutenant English’s personal pluck. When the ammunition ran short he went over to the next party and obtained more; to do this he had to cross some 15 yards of open ground under a heavy fire at a range of from 20 to 30 yards.

(London Gazette issue 27362 dated 4 Oct 1901, published 4 Oct 1901.)

Medal of Honor: M. Hudson


Sergeant, US Marine Corps; USS Brooklyn

Born: 1834, County Sligo, Ireland
Died: 28 Dec 1891, Michigan

Citation: On board the U.S.S. Brooklyn during action against rebel forts and gunboats and with the ram Tennessee in Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864. Despite severe damage to his ship and the loss of several men on board as enemy fire raked the decks, Sgt. Hudson fought his gun with skill and courage throughout the furious 2-hour battle which resulted in the surrender of the rebel ram Tennessee.

This day in history: 30 Nov

1803: The Spanish transferred Lower Louisiana (including the city of New Orleans) to France. (Twenty days later, the French transferred it to the United States.)

1804: The US Senate began an impeachment trial against Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. This was the third impeachment trial, and the only such trial to date of a Supreme Court justice.

1853: The Russians destroyed the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Sinope - the first battle of the Crimean War.

1864: The Army of Tennessee, under General John Bell Hood, attacked Union forces at Franklin, Tennessee. The battle was a Pyrrhic victory for the Confederates, with almost three times as many casualties as the Union had.

1934: Flying Scotsman, a Gresley A1 4-6-2 (nr 4472) operated by the London and North Eastern Railway, became the first steam locomotive to officially exceed 100 mph.

1936: The Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire.

1939: Soviet forces commanded by General K A Meretskov invaded Finland.

1940: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were married, in Greenwich, Connecticut.

1942: Eight Japanese destroyers under Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka defeated a US force consisting of five cruisers and four destroyers, commanded by Rear Admiral Carleton H Wright, in the Battle of Tassafaronga (aka the Fourth Battle of Savo Island). Destroyer Takanami and heavy cruiser USS Northampton (CA 26) were sunk; USS Minneapolis (CA 36), New Orleans (CA 32) and Pensacola (CA 24) were damaged.

1954: An 8.5-lb meteorite crashed through the roof of a house in Sylacauga, Alabama, bounced off a radio, and hit Mrs Ann Hodges - the only verified case of a person's being struck by a meteorite.

2000: Space shuttle Endeavour (mission STS-97) was launched from Cape Canaveral with a crew consisting of commander Brent W Jett, pilot Michael J Bloomfield, and mission specialists Joseph R Tanner, Carlos I Noriega and Marc Garneau.

King Edmund II "Ironside" (989-1016), Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), General Sir Arthur Currie GCMG KCB (1875-1933), Sir Hubert Wilkins MC* (1888-1958), Herbert Khaury (1932-1996) and Gertrude Ederle (1906-2003) died on this date.

And happy birthday to Andrea Doria (1466-1560), Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Oliver Winchester (1810-1880), Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), Sir Winston Churchill KG OM CH TD FRS PC (1874-1965), Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942), Efrem Zimbalist Jr (1918-TBD), Allan Sherman (1924-1973), Richard Crenna (1926-2003), Robert Guillaume (1927-TBD), G Gordon Liddy (1930-TBD), Sir Ridley Scott (1937-TBD), my sister (1944-2000), Colin Mochrie (1957-TBD), Ben Stiller (1965-TBD) and my niece (1969-TBD).

27 November 2008

RIP: Edna Parker

Edna Scott Parker
20 April 1893 – 26 November 2008

The oldest person in the world has died. ZUI this article from the Chicago Tribune:
Edna Parker, who once taught in a two-room schoolhouse and became the world's oldest person more than a year ago, has died at age 115.

UCLA gerontologist Dr. Stephen Coles said Parker's great nephew notified him that Parker passed away Wednesday at a nursing home in Shelbyville. She was 115 years, 120 days old.

Parker was born April 20, 1893 in central Indiana's Morgan County and had been recognized by Guinness World Records as the world's oldest person since the Aug. 14, 2007, death in Japan of Yone Minagawa, who was four months her senior.


Parker had been a widow since her husband, Earl, died in 1938 of a heart attack. She lived alone in their farmhouse until age 100, when she moved into a son's home and later to the Shelbyville nursing home.


Parker taught in a two-room school in the Shelby County town of Smithland for several years until she wed her childhood sweetheart and next-door neighbor, Earl Parker, in 1911. The same year, she graduated from Franklin College with a teaching certificate.

But as was the tradition of that era, her teaching career ended with her marriage. Parker traded the schoolhouse for life as a farmer's wife, preparing meals for as many as a dozen men who worked on her husband's farm.

Parker recalled last year that her chores included helping maintain the family's barn and butchering chickens for Sunday post-church supper. She noted with pride that she and her husband were one of the first owners of an automobile in their rural area.

She is the third supercentenarian listed by the Gerontology Research Group (GRG) to die since the death of Delfino Borroni on 26 October. The other two were Viola Koch of California (24 May 1897-11 Nov 2008) and Abeline Spiehs of Nebraska (4 Sept 1898-24 Nov 2008).

The GRG's list of validated living supercentenarians (people who have reached their 110th birthday) currently includes 88 people (10 men and 78 women), ranging from Maria de Jesus of Portugal (born 10 Sep 1893) to Annie Turnbull of Scotland (born 21 Sep 1898). According to the GRG, the oldest person in the US is now Gertrude Baines of California (born 6 Apr 1894), the world's second-oldest person.

It's that time of year again....

26 November 2008

NASA news

First, ZUI this NASA press release, dated 21 Nov 08, regarding Space Station crew assignments and updated Expedition numbering:
NASA and its international partners have assigned the International Space Station's crew members through 2010. The numbering sequence of expeditions was modified to reflect the start of six-person crews.

The update to the expedition numbering begins with the docking of a Soyuz spacecraft in May 2009. That Soyuz will mark the beginning of six-person crew operations. From that point forward, expeditions will end with the undocking of a Soyuz. The expedition number will change every two to four months as new crew members arrive and depart.

The arrangement emphasizes that every six-person crew living on the station is a cohesive team. A crew member typically will stay about six months and be part of two expeditions. In addition to the Russian Soyuz, the space shuttle will continue to provide transportation for station crew members through mission STS-129, targeted for the fall of 2009.

With the departure of a Soyuz, command of the station will be handed over to a crew member remaining aboard, and the next expedition will begin. Specific backup crew members will not be announced because of the streamlined training flow for six-person crews. If needed, backups can be selected from subsequent crews in training.

The groups of assigned crew members, beginning with the first six-person crew and including newly announced crew members, are outlined below by expedition. An asterisk indicates the crew member was previously announced.

Expedition 20 begins with the Soyuz 19 docking and the arrival of three new crew members in May 2009.
- Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, International Space Station commander, who will launch in March 2009 on Soyuz 18 and return in October 2009 on Soyuz 18.*
- NASA astronaut Michael R. Barratt, who will launch in March 2009 on Soyuz 18 and return in October 2009 on Soyuz 18.*
- NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, who will launch on STS-127 and return on STS-128.*
- Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, who will launch in May 2009 on Soyuz 19 and return in November 2009 on Soyuz 19.
- European Space Agency, or ESA, astronaut Frank De Winne, who will launch in May 2009 on Soyuz 19 and return in November 2009 on Soyuz 19*
- Canadian Space Agency, or CSA, astronaut Robert Thirsk, who will launch in May 2009 on Soyuz 19 and return on STS-129.*
- NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, who will launch on STS-128 and return in November 2009 on Soyuz 19.*

Expedition 21 begins with the Soyuz 18 undocking in October 2009. Two new crew members will arrive on Soyuz 20 for the handover before the previous crew departs.
- ESA astronaut Frank De Winne, the first European Space Agency station commander
- CSA astronaut Robert Thirsk
- Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko
- NASA astronaut Nicole Stott
- Russian Cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, who will launch in September 2009 on Soyuz 20 and return in March 2010 on Soyuz 20
- NASA astronaut Jeffrey N. Williams, who will launch in September 2009 on Soyuz 20 and return in March 2010 on Soyuz 20.

Expedition 22 begins with the Soyuz 19 undocking in November 2009. Three new crew members will arrive shortly thereafter on Soyuz 21.
- NASA astronaut Jeffrey N. Williams, station commander
- Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev
- Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, who will launch in December 2009 on Soyuz 21 and return in May 2010 on Soyuz 21.
- Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who will launch in December 2009 on Soyuz 21 and return in May 2010 on Soyuz 21.*
- NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer, who will launch in December 2009 on Soyuz 21 and return in May 2010 on Soyuz 21.*

Expedition 23 begins with the Soyuz 20 undocking in March 2010. Three new crew members will arrive shortly thereafter on Soyuz 22.
- Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, station commander
- JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi
- NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer
- Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri, who will launch in April 2010 on Soyuz 22 and return in September 2010 on Soyuz 22.
- Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, who will launch in April 2010 on Soyuz 22 and return in September 2010 on Soyuz 22.
- NASA astronaut Tracy E. Caldwell, who will launch in April 2010 on Soyuz 22 and return in September 2010 on Soyuz 22.

Expedition 24 begins with the Soyuz 21 undocking in May 2010. Three new crew members will arrive shortly thereafter on Soyuz 23.
- Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri, station commander
- Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko
- NASA astronaut Tracy E. Caldwell
- Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, who will launch in May 2010 on Soyuz 23 and return in November 2010 on Soyuz 23.
- NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, who will launch in May 2010 on Soyuz 23 and return November 2010 on Soyuz 23.
- NASA astronaut Douglas H. Wheelock, who will launch in May 2010 on Soyuz 23 and return in November 2010 on Soyuz 23.

Expedition 25 begins with the Soyuz 22 undocking in September 2010. Three new crew members will arrive shortly thereafter on Soyuz 24.
- NASA astronaut Douglas H. Wheelock, station commander
- Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov
- NASA astronaut Shannon Walker
- Russian cosmonaut Dmitri Kondratyev, who will launch in September 2010 on Soyuz 24 and return in March 2011 on Soyuz 24.
- Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, who will launch in September 2010 on Soyuz 24 and return in March 2011 on Soyuz 24.
- NASA astronaut Scott J. Kelly, who will launch in September 2010 on Soyuz 24 and return in March 2011 on Soyuz 24.

Expedition 26 begins with the Soyuz 23 undocking in November 2010. Three crew members will arrive shortly thereafter on Soyuz 25.
- NASA astronaut Scott J. Kelly, station commander
- Russian cosmonaut Dmitri Kondratyev
- Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka
- Russian cosmonaut Andrey Borisienko, who will launch in November 2010 on Soyuz 25 and return in May 2011 on Soyuz 25.
- NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman, who will launch in November 2010 on Soyuz 25 and return in May 2011 on Soyuz 25.
- ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who will launch in November 2010 on Soyuz 25 and return in May 2011 on Soyuz 25.

Second, ZUI this press release, dated 24 Nov 08, regarding the Juno mission to be launched in 2011:
NASA is officially moving forward on a mission to conduct an unprecedented, in-depth study of Jupiter.

Called Juno, the mission will be the first in which a spacecraft is placed in a highly elliptical polar orbit around the giant planet to understand its formation, evolution and structure. Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our early solar system.

"Jupiter is the archetype of giant planets in our solar system and formed very early, capturing most of the material left after the sun formed," said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "Unlike Earth, Jupiter's giant mass allowed it to hold onto its original composition, providing us with a way of tracing our solar system's history."

The spacecraft is scheduled to launch aboard an Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in August 2011, reaching Jupiter in 2016. The spacecraft will orbit Jupiter 32 times, skimming about 3,000 miles over the planet's cloud tops for approximately one year. The mission will be the first solar powered spacecraft designed to operate despite the great distance from the sun.


The spacecraft will use a camera and nine science instruments to study the hidden world beneath Jupiter's colorful clouds. The suite of science instruments will investigate the existence of an ice-rock core, Jupiter's intense magnetic field, water and ammonia clouds in the deep atmosphere, and explore the planet's aurora borealis.

"In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter's wife Juno peered through Jupiter's veil of clouds to watch over her husband's mischief," said Professor Toby Owen, co-investigator at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. "Our Juno looks through Jupiter's clouds to see what the planet is up to, not seeking signs of misbehavior, but searching for whispers of water, the ultimate essence of life."

Understanding the formation of Jupiter is essential to understanding the processes that led to the development of the rest of our solar system and what the conditions were that led to Earth and humankind. Similar to the sun, Jupiter is composed mostly of hydrogen and helium. A small percentage of the planet is composed of heavier elements. However, Jupiter has a larger percentage of these heavier elements than the sun.


"Juno gives us a fantastic opportunity to get a picture of the structure of Jupiter in a way never before possible," said James Green, director of NASA's Planetary Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "It will allow us to take a giant step forward in our understanding on how giant planets form and the role that plays in putting the rest of the solar system together. "

The Juno mission is the second spacecraft designed under NASA's New Frontiers Program. The first was the Pluto New Horizons mission, launched in January 2006 and scheduled to reach Pluto's moon Charon in 2015. The program provides opportunities to carry out several medium-class missions identified as top priority objectives in the Decadal Solar System Exploration Survey, conducted by the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council in Washington.

For more information about the Juno mission, see here.

23 November 2008

Victoria Cross: A. B. and V. B. Turner


Second Lieutenant, 3rd Battalion (attached 1st Battalion) Princess Charlotte of Wales's (Royal Berkshire) Regiment

Born: 22 May 1893, Reading, Berkshire
Died: 1 October 1915, Chocques, France

Citation: For most conspicuous bravery on 28th September, 1915, at "Fosse 8," near Vermelles.
When the regimental bombers could make no headway in Slag Alley, Second Lieutenant Turner volunteered to lead a second bombing attack. He pressed down the communication trench practically alone, throwing bombs incessantly with such dash and determination that he drove back the Germans about 150 yards without a check. His action enabled the reserves to advance with very little loss, and subsequently covered the flank of his regiment in its retirement, thus probably averting a loss of some hundreds of men.
This most gallant Officer has since died of wounds received in this action.

(London Gazette Issue 29371 dated 18 Nov 1915, published 16 Nov 1915.)


Major (temporary Lieutenant-Colonel), The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own)

Born: 17 January 1900, Thatcham, Newbury, Berkshire
Died: 7 August 1972, Ditchingham, Suffolk

Citation: For most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on the 27th October, 1942, in the Western Desert.
Lieutenant-Colonel Turner led a Battalion of the Rifle Brigade at night for 4,000 yards through difficult country to their objective, where 40 German prisoners were captured. He then organised the captured position for all-round defence; in this position he and his Battalion were continuously attacked from 5.30 a.m. to 7 p.m., unsupported and so isolated that replenishment of ammunition was impossible owing to the concentration and accuracy of the enemy fire.
During this time the Battalion was attacked by not less than 90 German tanks which advanced in successive waves. All of these were repulsed with a loss to the enemy of 35 tanks which were in flames, and not less than 20 more which had been immobilised.
Throughout the action Lieutenant-Colonel Turner never ceased to go to each part of the front as it was threatened. Wherever the fire was heaviest, there he was to be found. In one case, finding a solitary six-pounder gun in action (the others being casualties) and manned only by another officer and a Sergeant, he acted as loader and with these two destroyed 5 enemy tanks. While doing this he was wounded in the head, but he refused all aid until the last tank was destroyed.
His personal gallantry and complete disregard of danger as he moved about encouraging his Battalion to resist to the last, resulted in the infliction of a severe defeat on the enemy tanks. He set an example of leadership and bravery which inspired his whole Battalion and which will remain an inspiration to the Brigade.

(London Gazette Issue 35790 dated 20 Nov 1942, published 17 Nov 1942.)

Note: One of four sets of brothers who were awarded the Victoria Cross. According to several sources, both brothers bear the name Buller due to a family connection with General Sir Redvers Buller VC GCB GCMG, though I have not been able to find out what that connection might be.

Medal of Honor: J. L. Jerstad


Major, US Army Air Corps; 9th Air Force

Born: 12 February 1918, Racine, Wisconsin
Died: 1 August 1943, Ploeşti, Romania

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. On 1 August 1943, he served as pilot of the lead aircraft in his group in a daring low-level attack against enemy oil refineries and installations at Ploesti, Rumania. Although he had completed more than his share of missions and was no longer connected with this group, so high was his conception of duty that he volunteered to lead the formation in the correct belief that his participation would contribute materially to success in this attack. Maj. Jerstad led the formation into attack with full realization of the extreme hazards involved and despite withering fire from heavy and light antiaircraft guns. Three miles from the target his airplane was hit, badly damaged, and set on fire. Ignoring the fact that he was flying over a field suitable for a forced landing, he kept on the course. After the bombs of his aircraft were released on the target, the fire in his ship became so intense as to make further progress impossible and he crashed into the target area. By his voluntary acceptance of a mission he knew was extremely hazardous, and his assumption of an intrepid course of action at the risk of life over and above the call of duty, Maj. Jerstad set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.

21 November 2008

"The Three-Decker"

I read Heavy Weather, by P G Wodehouse, a couple months ago. This poem, which I'd never heard (or for that matter heard of) before, was quoted therein by the Hon Galahad Threepwood.

The Three-Decker
Rudyard Kipling, 1894

Full thirty foot she towered from waterline to rail.
It cost a watch to steer her, and a week to shorten sail;
But, spite all modern notions, I found her first and best —
The only certain packet for the Islands of the Blest.

Fair held the breeze behind us — 'twas warm with lovers' prayers.
We'd stolen wills for ballast and a crew of missing heirs.
They shipped as Able Bastards till the Wicked Nurse confessed,
And they worked the old three-decker to the Islands of the Blest.

By ways no gaze could follow, a course unspoiled of Cook,
Per Fancy, fleetest in man, our titled berths we took
With maids of matchless beauty and parentage unguessed,
And a Church of England parson for the Islands of the Blest.

We asked no social questions — we pumped no hidden shame —
We never talked obstetrics when the Little Stranger came:
We left the Lord in Heaven, we left the fiends in Hell.
We weren't exactly Yussufs, but — Zuleika didn't tell.

No moral doubt assailed us, so when the port we neared,
The villain had his flogging at the gangway, and we cheered.
'Twas fiddle in the foc's'le — 'twas garlands on the mast,
For every one got married, and I went ashore at last.

I left 'em all in couples a-kissing on the decks.
I left the lovers loving and the parents signing cheques.
In endless English comfort by county-folk caressed,
I left the old three-decker at the Islands of the Blest!

That route is barred to steamers: you'll never lift again
Our purple-painted headlands or the lordly keeps of Spain.
They're just beyond your skyline, howe'er so far you cruise
In a ram-you-damn-you liner with a brace of bucking screws.

Swing round your aching search-light — 'twill show no haven's peace.
Ay, blow your shrieking sirens to the deaf, gray-bearded seas!
Boom out the dripping oil-bags to skin the deep's unrest —
And you aren't one knot the nearer to the Islands of the Blest!

But when you're threshing, crippled, with broken bridge and rail,
At a drogue of dead convictions to hold you head to gale,
Calm as the Flying Dutchman, from truck to taffrail dressed,
You'll see the old three-decker for the Islands of the Blest.

You'll see her tiering canvas in sheeted silver spread;
You'll hear the long-drawn thunder 'neath her leaping figure-head;
While far, so far above you, her tall poop-lanterns shine
Unvexed by wind or weather like the candles round a shrine!

Hull down — hull down and under — she dwindles to a speck,
With noise of pleasant music and dancing on her deck.
All's well — all's well aboard her — she's left you far behind,
With a scent of old-world roses through the fog that ties you blind.

Her crew are babes or madmen? Her port is all to make?
You're manned by Truth and Science, and you steam for steaming's sake?
Well, tinker up your engines — you know your business best —
She's taking tired people to the Islands of the Blest!

Click on the "Poetry Friday" button at left for this week's round-up, which is hosted by Holly at Brimstone Soup. (Susan, of Susan Writes, has done a round-up of previous round-ups here.)

Book giveaway: The Magician’s Book

Book Dads is having a book giveaway: Three lucky winners will receive a copy of The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, by Laura Miller.

Here is a full description from Hachette:
THE MAGICIAN’S BOOK is the story of one reader’s long, tumultuous relationship with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Enchanted by its fantastic world as a child, prominent critic Laura Miller returns to the series as an adult to uncover the source of these small books’ mysterious power by looking at their creator, Clive Staples Lewis. What she discovers is not the familiar, idealized image of the author, but a more interesting and ambiguous truth: Lewis’s tragic and troubled childhood, his unconventional love life, and his intense but ultimately doomed friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien.

Finally reclaiming Narnia “for the rest of us,” Miller casts the Chronicles as a profoundly literary creation, and the portal to a life-long adventure in books, art, and the imagination.

The contest ends on Tuesday, 25 November. Book Dads will announce the winners the following day.

Only residents of the US or Canada are eligible to win. No PO Boxes please!

How to enter:
For one entry, simply leave a comment on the original post, on their blog, telling them you’d like to win the book.

For three entries, write a post about this contest on your blog with a link back to the original post.

Update 1411 27 Nov: The winners are:
Kyle from The Boy Reader
Marina from Momma Writes About Books
Tricia from The Miss Rumphius Effect

20 November 2008

Buried glaciers on Mars

ZUI this NASA press release:
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed vast Martian glaciers of water ice under protective blankets of rocky debris at much lower latitudes than any ice previously identified on the Red Planet.

Scientists analyzed data from the spacecraft's ground-penetrating radar and report in the Nov. 21 issue of the journal Science that buried glaciers extend for dozens of miles from the edges of mountains or cliffs. A layer of rocky debris blanketing the ice may have preserved the underground glaciers as remnants from an ice sheet that covered middle latitudes during a past ice age. This discovery is similar to massive ice glaciers that have been detected under rocky coverings in Antarctica.

"Altogether, these glaciers almost certainly represent the largest reservoir of water ice on Mars that is not in the polar caps," said John W. Holt of the University of Texas at Austin, who is lead author of the report. "Just one of the features we examined is three times larger than the city of Los Angeles and up to half a mile thick. And there are many more. In addition to their scientific value, they could be a source of water to support future exploration of Mars."

Scientists have been puzzled by what are known as aprons -- gently sloping areas containing rocky deposits at the bases of taller geographical features -- since NASA's Viking orbiters first observed them on the Martian surface in the 1970s. One theory has been that the aprons are flows of rocky debris lubricated by a small amount ice. Now, the shallow radar instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has provided scientists an answer to this Martian puzzle.


Radar echoes received by the spacecraft indicated radio waves pass through the aprons and reflect off a deeper surface below without significant loss in strength. That is expected if the apron areas are composed of thick ice under a relatively thin covering. The radar does not detect reflections from the interior of these deposits as would occur if they contained significant rock debris. The apparent velocity of radio waves passing through the apron is consistent with a composition of water ice.


Holt and 11 co-authors report the buried glaciers lie in the Hellas Basin region of Mars' southern hemisphere. The radar also has detected similar-appearing aprons extending from cliffs in the northern hemisphere.

"There's an even larger volume of water ice in the northern deposits," said JPL geologist Jeffrey J. Plaut, who will be publishing results about these deposits in the American Geophysical Union's Geophysical Research Letters. "The fact these features are in the same latitude bands, about 35 to 60 degrees in both hemispheres, points to a climate-driven mechanism for explaining how they got there."

The rocky debris blanket topping the glaciers apparently has protected the ice from vaporizing, which would happen if it were exposed to the atmosphere at these latitudes.

"A key question is, how did the ice get there in the first place?" said James W. Head of Brown University in Providence, R.I. "The tilt of Mars' spin axis sometimes gets much greater than it is now. Climate modeling tells us ice sheets could cover mid-latitude regions of Mars during those high-tilt periods. The buried glaciers make sense as preserved fragments from an ice age millions of years ago. On Earth, such buried glacial ice in Antarctica preserves the record of traces of ancient organisms and past climate history."

JPL manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit:

Cool! (Pun not intentional, but I'm willing to take advantage of it....)

19 November 2008

RIP: Fernand Goux

Fernand Goux
31 Dec 1899 - 9 Nov 2008

The next-to-last French veteran of World War I seems to have died. Unfortunately, this article is the only one I've been able to locate thus far:
Le 12 mars 2008 à 12h45 s'éteignait Lazare Ponticelli, le dernier ancien combattant français connu de la Grande Guerre. Mais la France comptait encore quelques très rares vétérans, des vétérans qui n'avaient pas ou peu combattus durant cette guerre (pas assez pour prétendre à la qualité d'" ancien combattant "). Fernand Goux, 108 ans, était l'un d'eux. Par deux fois nous l'avions rencontré. Deux jours avant le 90e anniversaire de la fin de la Première Guerre mondiale, il s'est éteint. A partir d'éléments fournis par ses proches et des renseignements figurant sur son registre matricule de recrutement, nous avons tenté de retracer sa vie et son parcours militaire.

Fernand Goux naît le 31 décembre 1899, vers 23h00, à Sceaux du Gâtinais (Loiret) chez ses grand-parents. Il est l'aîné d'une famille de trois enfants. Ses parents sont agriculteurs à Butteaux, non loin de La Chapelle La Reine (Seine-et-Marne).


Le 19 avril 1918, il est incorporé dans le 85e régiment d'infanterie sous le matricule 14 436. Affecté à l'arrière des lignes, il participe aux opérations de ravitaillement des troupes, enterre les corps des soldats tombés au front. Un temps il garde prisonnier des mutins français, avec la consigne d'abattre tous ceux qui tentent de fuir.

Le 3 novembre 1918, il passe au 82e RI qui stationne alors sur la ligne de front, dans les Ardennes. Son nouveau régiment vient de relever (le 2 novembre) les éléments en ligne du 407e RI. Malgré les tirs d'artillerie ennemie, le 82e RI avance dans le secteur de Chaudion, Remaucourt. L'Armistice du 11 novembre sonne bientôt la fin des combats. Selon ses proches, Fernand Goux, tombé malade, n'aurait pas participé à ces quelques jours de front.

Just set that anywhere....

ZUI this article from the Beeb:
Astronauts working on the International Space Station have lost a tool bag.

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper watched helplessly as the kit drifted away from her as she serviced the solar array system on the orbiting platform.

The briefcase-sized tool bag is one of the largest items ever lost on a spacewalk.


Stefanyshyn-Piper's slip occurred as she was greasing a rotary joint on the station's giant starboard solar array system. The joint has been unable to automatically point the solar wings toward the Sun for maximum energy production for over a year.

Just as she was finishing up the job, the tool bag became untethered from a larger kit case and floated away along with a pair of grease guns, wipes and a putty knife.

She reached out, but to no avail. The lost bag is now moving ahead of the station and increasing its distance to the platform, giving flight controllers confidence it poses no danger to the ISS.


The space station marks its 10th anniversary on Thursday. The first component of the platform - the Russian Zarya module - was launched on 20th November 1998. The construction of the station is nearly complete and the international partners expect to be using it well into the next decade.

CAPT Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, USN

16 November 2008

Victoria Cross: T. Bryan


Lance-Corporal, 25th (S) Battalion the Northumberland Fusiliers

Born: 21 January 1882, at Stourbridge, Worcestershire
Died: 13 October 1945, Doncaster, South Yorkshire

Citation: For most conspicuous bravery during an attack [at Vimy Ridge, near Arras, France, on 9 April 1917].
Although wounded, this Non-commissioned Officer went forward alone, with a view to silencing a machine gun which was inflicting much damage. He worked up most skilfully along a communication trench, approached the gun from behind, disabled it and killed two of the team as they were abandoning the gun.
As this machine gun had been a serious obstacle in the advance to the second objective, the results obtained by Lance-Corporal Bryan’s gallant action were very far-reaching.

(London Gazette Issue 30122 dated 8 Jun 1917, published 8 Jun 1917.)

Medal of Honor: J. F. Mackie


Corporal, US Marine Corps; USS Galena

Born: 1 October 1835, New York, New York
Died: 18 June 1910, Pennsylvania

Citation: On board the U.S.S. Galena in the attack on Fort Darling at Drewry's Bluff, James River, on 15 May 1862. As enemy shellfire raked the deck of his ship, Corporal Mackie fearlessly maintained his musket fire against the rifle pits along the shore and, when ordered to fill vacancies at guns caused by men wounded and killed in action, manned the weapon with skill and courage.

Note: This was the first Medal of Honor awarded to a US Marine.

15 November 2008

Football rematch: Germany 2, England 1

Never thought I'd end up writing about a football (or any other kind of -ball) game here, but ZUI this article from the MOD Defence News:
British soldiers travelled to France this week to play a football match against German soldiers on the exact spot where, on Christmas Day 1914, their regimental ancestors came out from their trenches to play football in a rare day of humanity amidst the horrors of the First World War.

Some 30 officers and soldiers from the Chester-based 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh (The Royal Welch Fusiliers) went to Frélinghien, France, where on Tuesday 11 November 2008, Armistice Day, they played football with the German Panzergrenadier Battalion 371. The Germans won 2-1.

The soldiers also witnessed the unveiling of a Christmas Truce Memorial in the town. Before the football match, the soldiers conducted a Service of Remembrance, laid wreaths and observed a two-minute silence in the town.

This week's match was organised by Major (Retired) Miles Stockwell, the grandson of Captain C I Stockwell who was present at the truce meeting in 1914. Freiherr Joachim von Sinner, grandson of the commander of the Saxon Regiment, was also present this week.

1st Battalion The Royal Welsh (The Royal Welch Fusiliers) and the team from the German Army's Panzergrenadier Battalion 371 were invited to take part as it was their regimental ancestors from the 2nd Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Saxon Infantry who played football on Christmas Day 1914.


On Christmas Day 1914, in many places along the western front, British troops met their German opponents in 'No Man's Land' in a day of peace. The 2nd Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers, holding the line east of Armentières, met the Saxons of 133 Infantry Regiment and the Prussians of 6 Jäger Battalion. The Jäger brought out two barrels of beer from their positions in the Frélinghien Brewery and were given a plum pudding in exchange by the Royal Welch Fusiliers. The Welsh and German soldiers played an impromptu game of football in 'No Man's Land' and the fighting was resumed, by mutual consent, on the next day.

14 November 2008

Hubble directly observes a planet orbiting another star

ZUI this NASA press release:
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has taken the first visible-light snapshot of a planet circling another star.
Estimated to be no more than three times Jupiter's mass, the planet, called Fomalhaut b, orbits the bright southern star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Australis, or the "Southern Fish."

Fomalhaut has been a candidate for planet hunting ever since an excess of dust was discovered around the star in the early 1980s by NASA's Infrared Astronomy Satellite, IRAS.

In 2004, the coronagraph in the High Resolution Camera on Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys produced the first-ever resolved visible-light image of the region around Fomalhaut. It clearly showed a ring of protoplanetary debris approximately 21.5 billion miles across and having a sharp inner edge.

This large debris disk is similar to the Kuiper Belt, which encircles the solar system and contains a range of icy bodies from dust grains to objects the size of dwarf planets, such as Pluto.

Hubble astronomer Paul Kalas, of the University of California at Berkeley, and team members proposed in 2005 that the ring was being gravitationally modified by a planet lying between the star and the ring's inner edge.

Circumstantial evidence came from Hubble's confirmation that the ring is offset from the center of the star. The sharp inner edge of the ring is also consistent with the presence of a planet that gravitationally "shepherds" ring particles. Independent researchers have subsequently reached similar conclusions.

Now, Hubble has actually photographed a point source of light lying 1.8 billion miles inside the ring's inner edge. The results are being reported in the November 14 issue of Science magazine.


Observations taken 21 months apart by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys' coronagraph show that the object is moving along a path around the star, and is therefore gravitationally bound to it. The planet is 10.7 billion miles from the star, or about 10 times the distance of the planet Saturn from our sun.

The planet is brighter than expected for an object of three Jupiter masses. One possibility is that it has a Saturn-like ring of ice and dust reflecting starlight. The ring might eventually coalesce to form moons. The ring's estimated size is comparable to the region around Jupiter and its four largest orbiting satellites.

Kalas and his team first used Hubble to photograph Fomalhaut in 2004, and made the unexpected discovery of its debris disk, which scatters Fomalhaut's starlight. At the time they noted a few bright sources in the image as planet candidates. A follow-up image in 2006 showed that one of the objects is moving through space with Fomalhaut but changed position relative to the ring since the 2004 exposure. The amount of displacement between the two exposures corresponds to an 872-year-long orbit as calculated from Kepler's laws of planetary motion.


NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2013 will be able to make coronagraphic observations of Fomalhaut in the near- and mid-infrared. Webb will be able to hunt for other planets in the system and probe the region interior to the dust ring for structures such as an inner asteroid belt

ZUI NASA's page for the Hubble Space Telescope and SolStation's page on Fomalhaut for more information.

Endeavour (STS-126) to launch today.

Space shuttle Endeavour (mission STS-126) is still scheduled for launch this evening at 1955 EST.

As previously noted, the crew for this mission consists of commander Capt Christopher Ferguson (USN), pilot Lt Col Eric Boe (USAF), and mission specialists Capt Stephen Bowen (USN), Lt Col Robert Kimbrough (US Army), Capt Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper (USN) and Donald Pettit PhD. Additionally, Sandra Magnus PhD is being ferried up to the ISS to replace Expedition 17/18 flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff PhD, who went up on mission STS-124 in May.

I reported earlier that Capt Bowen - who served as a JO aboard USS Parche (SSN 683) and USS Pogy (SSN 647), as Eng aboard USS Augusta (SSN 710) and as PXO of USS Virginia (SSN 774) - would be the first submariner in space. It seems that honour actually belongs to Capt Michael J McCulley (USN, ret), the pilot for STS-34 (18-23 Oct 89), who served as an enlisted man aboard three submarines in the early 1960s before being commissioned as a Navy officer and becoming a pilot.

Left to right: Magnus, Bowen, Pettit, Ferguson, Boe,
Kimbrough and Stefanyshyn-Piper.

H/T to Rubber Ducky for the McCulley information.

12 November 2008

WWI veterans at Remembrance Day ceremony

ZUI this article from the MOD Defence News:
The three last surviving British veterans from World War I were among political leaders, Service personnel, veterans and members of the public commemorating the 90th Anniversary of the end of World War I, today, Tuesday 11 November 2008.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, the guns of the western front fell silent. Six hours earlier the Armistice Treaty had been signed by the Allies and Germany in a railway carriage in a forest in France.


In Whitehall, London, thousands of people lined the streets to pay their respects to those who died during the Great War and to look on as the three last surviving British veterans from WWI laid wreaths in memory of their fellow servicemen at the Cenotaph.

Henry Allingham, Harry Patch and Bill Stone, who served during World War I, received a round of applause as they made their way past the crowds to pay their respects to the one million British and Commonwealth troops who died during the four years of conflict. A two minute silence was held at 1100 hrs.

Speaking at the service, Mr Patch said:
"I am very happy to be here today. It is not just an honour for me, but for an entire generation. It is important to remember the dead from both sides of the conflict. Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims."

ZUI also this article from The Telegraph:
The remarkable trio, the last historic focus for the commemoration, was led by Henry Allingham, Britain's oldest man at 112, an aircraft mechanic who saw action at sea, in the Battle of Jutland, and ashore on the Western Front.

Then there was Harry Patch, 110, a veteran of the horrors of Passchendaele, who is the only survivor of the trenches and Bill Stone, a relative junior at the age of 108, who ended up fighting two World Wars for the Royal Navy. Their faces a living memorial to the First World War, their presence a warning that the sacrifice of their colleagues they left behind should never be forgotten.

As a mark of respect the three men, covered in blankets in their wheelchairs to protect them from the biting wind, were accompanied by some of the most highly decorated serving personnel from the three Services.

L/Cpl Johnson Beharry, VC, helped lay the wreath for Mr Patch, who was injured in the bloody 1917 battle of Passchendaele. Mr Stone, the youngest veteran, was accompanied by Marine Mkhuseli Jones, MC. But it was down to the first female wearer of the Distinguished Flying Cross, Flt Lt Michelle Goodman, to help Mr Allingham place his memorial.

Additionally, ZUI this article from The Scotsman and this one (with additional photographs) from the Royal Air Force.

(left to right) The three surviving WWI veterans (in wheelchairs): Henry Allingham, with Flt Lt Michelle Goodman DFC (to Mr Allingham's left); Harry Patch, with L/Cpl Johnson Beharry VC (to Mr Patch's right); and Bill Stone, with Marine Mkhuseli Jones MC (to Mr Stone's right)

Update 1214 12 Dec 08: The picture below also came from the MOD Defence News.

Left to right: Mr Allingham, Mr Patch and Mr Stone.

MOD photographs © Crown Copyright/MOD 2008

Spirit of the Glen: Journey

ZUI this article from the MOD Defence News:
Currently deployed to Iraq, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards have produced the first album ever recorded from the frontline of an operational theatre.

The new album, 'Spirit of the Glen: Journey', follows the amazing success of the pipers and drummers of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards first 'Spirit of the Glen' record which was a huge hit last Christmas, staying at No 1 in the classical charts for 14 weeks, reaching the pop top 20 and outselling acts such as Bon Jovi, 50 Cent and Elton John.

Universal Classics and Jazz, the record company behind Spirit of the Glen, came up with the solution to record the follow up album in Iraq when the Royal Scots' pipers and drummers, who are in fact part-time musicians and full-time soldiers, deployed to Basra for a six-month tour midway through the recording.


Understanding that the pipers' main priority is to serve their country as soldiers with music taking a secondary place, UCJ took a mobile recording unit out to the British base in Basra.


After recording, the pipers went back to their crucial military jobs. As Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Felix Gedney explained:
"It's important for them not to forget that they are not a band for me. They're my tank gunner, my lorry driver, my signals operator. I see them very much as soldiers first."


The new album, 'Spirit of the Glen: Journey', features 'Abide With Me', 'In Flanders Field' and 'Dawning of the Day', all recorded in Basra. In addition, the piper on 'Flowers of the Forest' was recorded at the end of the runway with the hum of Basra audible in the background, over which Jim Naughtie will read the poem 'For The Fallen'. And in a moment that evokes the Oscar-winning score of the film 'Atonement', 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind' is sung by men from the regiment in Basra.

The album will be available to buy in shops and online sources from 1 December 2008.

The album is already listed by Amazon UK.

10 November 2008

233 years

United States Marine Corps
10 Nov 1775

Richard B Anderson. Richard Binder. Robert H Dunlap. Jimmy E Howard. Ernest A Janson. Joseph J McCarthy. John F Mackie. Robert G Robinson. Franklin E Sigler. Alexander A Vandegrift. Hershel W Williams.

09 November 2008

George Cross: H. P. Seagrim


Temporary Major, 19th Hyderabad Regiment, Indian Army; attached Force 136, Special Operations Executive

Born: 24 March 1909, Ashmansworth, Hampshire
Died: 22 September 1944, Rangoon, Burma

Citation: The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the GEORGE CROSS, in recognition of most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner, to:–
Major (temporary) Hugh Paul Seagrim, D.S.O., M.B.E. (IA.985) 19th Hyderabad Regiment (now the Kumaon Regiment), Indian Army.

(London Gazette Issue 37720 dated 12 Sep 1946, published 10 Sep 1946.)

Note: Major Seagrim was the leader of a party which included two other British and one Karen officer, operating in the Karen Hills (Burma) during World War II. In late 1943 the presence of this party became known to the Japanese, who started a wide-spread campaign of arrests and torture to discover their location.
In Feb 1944 the other two British officers were ambushed and killed, but Maj Seagrim and the Karen officer escaped. The Japanese then arrested 270 Karen tribesmen, including elders and headsmen, and tortured and killed many of them, but they continued to assist and shelter Maj Seagrim. In order to save them further suffering, Seagrim surrendered himself to the Japanese on 15 Mar 1944. He was taken to Rangoon and, with eight others, was sentenced to death. He pleaded that only he should be executed, as the others had only obeyed his orders, but such was the devotion he had inspired that they all expressed their willingness to die with him and they were executed 22 Sep 1944 in Rangoon.

Maj Seagrim and his older brother, Lt Col Derek A Seagrim VC, are the only pair of siblings to have been awarded both the Victoria Cross and the George Cross. Both were posthumous awards.

Victoria Cross: D. A. Seagrim


Major (temporary Lieutenant-Colonel), 7th Battalion The Green Howards (Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own Yorkshire Regiment)

Born: 24 September 1903, Bournemouth, Hampshire
Died: 6 April 1943, near Sfax, Tunisia

Citation: On the night of the 20th/21st March, 1943, the task of a Battalion of the Green Howards was to attack and capture an important feature on the left flank of the main attack on the Mareth Line [in Tunisia]. The defence of this feature was very strong and it was protected by an anti-tank ditch twelve feet wide and eight feet deep with minefields on both sides. It formed a new part of the main defences of the Mareth Line and the successful capture of this feature was vital to the success of the main attack.
From the time the attack was launched the Battalion was subjected to the most intense fire from artillery, machine-guns and mortars and it appeared more than probable that the Battalion would be held up, entailing failure of the main attack.
Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Lieutenant-Colonel Seagrim placed himself at the head of his Battalion which was, at the time, suffering heavy casualties, and led it through the hail of fire.
He personally helped the team which was placing the scaling ladder over the anti-tank ditch and was himself the first to cross it. He led the assault firing his pistol, throwing grenades, and personally assaulting two machine-gun posts which were holding up the advance of one of his Companies. It is estimated that in this phase he killed or captured twenty Germans.
This display of leadership and personal courage led directly to the capture of the objective.
When dawn broke the Battalion was firmly established on the position, which was of obvious importance to the enemy who immediately made every effort to regain it. Every post was mortared and machine-gunned unmercifully and movement became practically impossible, but Lieutentant-Colonel Seagrim was quite undeterred. He moved from post to post organising and directing the fire until the attackers were wiped out to a man.
By his valour, disregard for personal safety and outstanding example he so inspired his men that the Battalion successfully took and held its objective thereby allowing the attack to proceed.
Lieutenant-Colonel Seagrim subsequently died of wounds received in action.

(London Gazette Issue 36013 dated 13 May 1943, published 11 May 1943.)

Note: Lt Col Seagrim and his younger brother, Maj Hugh P Seagrim GC DSO MBE, are the only pair of siblings to have been awarded both the Victoria Cross and the George Cross. Both were posthumous awards.

Medal of Honor: H. Hogan


First Sergeant, Company G, 5th US Infantry

Born: 8 March 1840, County Clare, Ireland
Died: 20 April 1916, Montana

Citation: Gallantry in actions [at Cedar Creek, etc, Montana, October 1876 to 8 January 1877].

Citation: Carried Lt. Romeyn, who was severely wounded, off the field of battle under heavy fire [at Bear Paw Mountain, Montana, 30 September 1877].

07 November 2008

RIP: Sydney Lucas

Sydney Maurice Lucas
21 Sep 1900 - 4 Nov 2008

ZUI this article from The Telegraph:
One of the last British soldiers to serve during the First World War has died, less than a week before he would have marked the 90th anniversary of the Armistice.

Sydney Lucas, who joined the Sherwood Foresters regiment just three months before the end of the conflict in 1918, passed away at the age of 108 in Rosebud, near Melbourne, Australia, where he lived most of his life, on Tuesday.

His death leaves the number of known British veterans of the Great War at four, including one man who also lives in Australia.

The three surviving veterans still living in Britain - Henry Allingham, 112, Harry Patch, 110 and Bill Stone, 108, - are expected to lead a two minute silence at the Cenotaph on London at 11am on Tuesday, Nov 11 - exactly 90 years after the moment in which the Armistice between Germany and the allies was signed ending four years of carnage.


The fourth surviving British veteran is Claude Choules, 107, who also lives in Australia.

ZUI also this article dated 21 Apr 05 from The Age:
Originally from Leicester, he was conscripted into the British Army's 54th Sherwood Foresters while a teenager in August, 1918, but the war ended before he was sent to fight.

Mr Lucas migrated with his wife, Winifred, to Australia in 1928 and enlisted in the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion soon after the outbreak of World War II.

This time, an attack of appendicitis and an operation on his gall bladder on arrival in Palestine meant he could not continue with his mates to their landing in Crete.

At the age of 41, he was transferred to prisoner-of-war duties and guarded Italian and German prisoners being shipped to Australia on the Queen Mary.

"They reckoned I was not fit enough, so they brought me home. I was never in any fighting, but it wasn't my fault I wasn't," Mr Lucas said.

According to Wikipedia, Lucas was the 13th WWI veteran to die this year - a list which includes the last surviving Italian, German, Austrian, Turkish, Polish and female veterans. Their list of surviving WWI veterans now lists ten men: five British, two French, and one each Australian, Canadian and US.

05 November 2008

RIP: Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton
23 Oct 1942- 4 Nov 2008

ZUI this article from the Chicago Tribune:
Michael Crichton, the doctor-turned-author of bestselling thrillers such as "The Terminal Man" and "Jurassic Park" and a Hollywood writer and director whose credits include "Westworld" and "Coma," has died. He was 66.

Crichton died in Los Angeles on Tuesday "after a courageous and private battle against cancer," his family said in a statement.

For nearly four decades, the 6-foot-9 writer was a towering presence in the worlds of publishing and filmmaking.

"There was no one like Crichton, because he could both entertain and educate," Lynn Nesbit, Crichton's agent since the late '60s, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.


Crichton was still in Harvard Medical School when he wrote his first best-seller: "The Andromeda Strain," a fast-paced scientifically and technologically detailed 1969 thriller about a team of scientists attempting to save mankind from a deadly microorganism brought to Earth by a military satellite. It was made into a movie in 1971.

With his success at writing thrillers, Crichton abandoned medicine to become a full-time writer whose novels in the '70s and '80s included "The Terminal Man," "The Great Train Robbery," "Eaters of the Dead," "Congo" and "Sphere."

Crichton made his feature film directing debut in 1973 with "Westworld," which he also wrote, about a fantasy theme park for wealthy vacationers whose fun is spoiled when malfunctioning androids turn deadly.

He directed five other movies in the '70s and '80s, including "Coma," "The Great Train Robbery," "Looker," "Runaway" and "Physical Evidence."

As a novelist, Crichton came back stronger than ever in the 1990s with bestsellers such as "Jurassic Park," "Rising Sun," "Disclosure," "The Lost World," "Airframe" and "Timeline."

During the same decade, he co-wrote the screenplay for "Jurassic Park," the 1993 Spielberg-directed blockbuster hit; and he co-wrote the screenplay for the 1996 action-thriller "Twister" with his fourth wife, actress Anne-Marie Martin, with whom he had a daughter, Taylor.

Crichton also created "ER," the long-running NBC medical drama that debuted in 1994 and became the No. 1-rated series the next year.


The oldest of four children, Crichton was born Oct. 23, 1942, in Chicago and grew up in Roslyn, N.Y.

He developed wide interests at an early age, he later said, recalling his mother taking her children to plays, museums, movies and concerts several times a week.


Intending to become a writer, he entered Harvard as an English major in 1960. But after his professors criticized his writing style, he changed his major to anthropology.

After graduating summa cum laude in 1964, he spent a year on a fellowship as a visiting lecturer on anthropology at Cambridge University in England.

Returning home, he entered Harvard Medical School.

To pay his way through medical school, he began writing paperback thrillers under the pen names John Lange and Jeffery Hudson.

Of Crichton's movies, I've seen The Great Train Robbery, Jurassic Park and its two sequels, Timeline and about half of The 13th Warrior. I've seen bits and pieces of ER, though I've never watched a complete episode.* And I've read four or five of his books: The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Timeline and possibly Sphere. (I don't recognise any of the John Lange titles.)

* By the time I learned that I knew one of the actresses, she was already off the show.

Destroyer to be named after Medal of Honor recipient

ZUI this DoD press release:
Secretary of the Navy, Donald C. Winter announced last night at a Navy SEAL Warrior Fund Benefit Gala at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, the name of the newest Zumwalt-class Destroyer will be USS Michael Monsoor. Designated as DDG- 1001, the name honors Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, a Navy SEAL who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Ramadi, Iraq, on Sept. 29, 2006.


“The full extent of Michael’s courage, gallantry, and self-less heroism were revealed on the 29th of September, in Ramadi. When his team was surprised by an enemy grenade, Michael could have escaped and saved himself,” Winter said. “But he chose a different path, a path of honor that embodies the way of a Navy SEAL. For having chosen that path, Petty Officer Michael Monsoor joined the ranks of those who have earned our nation’s highest distinction, the Medal of Honor.”

Winter concluded that Michael Monsoor’s heroism and self sacrifice for his teammates and his nation epitomize the Navy’s core values, and will forever provide prideful admiration for our sailors.

“Michael Monsoor’s name will now be linked with one of our nation’s most visible examples of military power, a U.S. Navy warship,” Winter said. “His legacy will inspire the hearts of future Sailors who serve on the ship that bears his name.”

The USS Michael Monsoor will be a multi-mission surface combatant tailored for advanced land attack and littoral dominance. The ship's mission is to provide credible, independent forward presence and deterrence and to operate as an integral part of naval, joint or combined maritime forces.

The USS Michael Monsoor will be the 2nd Zumwalt-class destroyer. She will be 600 feet in length, have a beam of 80.7 feet, and displace approximately 15,000 tons. Michael Monsoor will have a crew size of 148 officers and sailors, he will make speed in excess of 30 knots.

USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) is expected to be delivered in 2014.

For more on MA2(SEAL) Monsoor, see here. For more on the Zumwalt-Class destroyer, see here and here.

NASA: Old and new

For the old, ZUI this NASA press release:
NASA managers completed a review Thursday of space shuttle Endeavour's readiness for flight and selected the official launch date for the STS-126 mission. Commander Chris Ferguson and his six crewmates are scheduled to lift off to the International Space Station at 7:55 p.m. EST on Nov. 14.

Endeavour's STS-126 flight will feature important repair work to the station and prepare it for housing six crew members during long-duration missions. The primary focus of the 15-day flight and its four planned spacewalks is to service the station's two Solar Alpha Rotary Joints, which allow its solar arrays to track the sun. Endeavour will carry about 32,000 pounds to orbit, including supplies and equipment necessary to double the crew size from three to six members in spring 2009. The new station cargo includes additional sleeping quarters, a second toilet and a resistance exercise device.


Ferguson will be joined on STS-126 by Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Donald Pettit, Steve Bowen, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Shane Kimbrough and Sandra Magnus. Magnus will replace space station crew member Greg Chamitoff, who has been aboard the station for more than five months. She will return to Earth during the next shuttle mission, STS-119, targeted to launch in February 2009.

And for the new, ZUI this one:
The first major flight hardware of the Ares I-X rocket has arrived in Florida to begin preparation for the inaugural test flight of the agency's next-generation launch system. The test flight is targeted for July 12, 2009.

The Ares I-X upper stage simulator traveled to Port Canaveral aboard the Delta Mariner, a ship that also transports the Delta IV rocket for United Launch Alliance. The journey began Oct. 22 on the Ohio River as the barge traveled toward the Mississippi River for its voyage to Port Canaveral. By Nov. 6, the flight hardware will have been moved off the barge into high bay 4 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

The upper stage simulator consists of 11 individual components that were designed and manufactured during a two-year period at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The components represent the size, outer shape and weight of the second stage of the Ares I rocket, and will be integrated together in the Vehicle Assembly Building. The upper stage simulator eventually will be stacked atop the solid rocket booster segments of the Ares I-X rocket.

The Ares I-X test flight will provide NASA an early opportunity to test and prove hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I crew launch vehicle. It also will allow NASA to gather critical data during ascent of the integrated Orion crew exploration vehicle and the Ares I rocket. The data will ensure the entire vehicle system is safe and fully operational before astronauts begin traveling to orbit.

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains (Laurel Snyder)

Some children's books are educational, others are thought-provoking. This one is just plain fun.

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains is about the adventures of Lucy, a milkmaid, and Wynston, a prince. The two grow up together in the town of Thistle, in the Bewilderness, playing, exploring and arguing with each other. But then one day King Desmond informs Wynston that it is time for him to grow up and to begin looking for a suitable princess to become his future queen. And also, of course, to learn to be a proper prince:
"Yesterday I got fitted for a new pair of beaded boots, learned to eat fish soup with a tiny fork, and studied the ancient art of holding my tongue without getting it wet."

Lucy, left alone, decides to head for the Scratchy Mountains and see if she can find her mother, who has been missing since Lucy was two; all anyone will tell her is that her mother is gone. So off she goes, up the mountains, accompanied only by her somewhat confused cow, Rosebud. Along the way she acquires a prairie dog named Cat, takes a boat ride and passes through a most peculiar hailstorm before finally arriving at the neat, orderly, "very civilized" town of Torrent - where people live in alphabetical order, rainstorms run on schedule and the jail doubles as an ice-cream parlour.
She climbed down and led Rosebud around to the front door of the jail, where she found two signs. The first read sternly THE LAW PROTECTS THOSE WHO PROTECT THE LAW. The second proclaimed FLAVOR OF THE DAY: BUTTER FUDGE RIPPLERUMP! Lucy puzzled at this. It didn't seem very Torrential to sell ice cream in a jail, but she was learning not to be surprised at the twists and turns of her strange adventure
Meanwhile, back at the ranch castle, Wynston escapes from his lessons and goes looking for Lucy. Upon learning where Lucy has gone, he and his horse, Sprout, set out into the mountains after her. He also ends up in Torrent (having been commissioned to deliver a letter to someone there), and he and Lucy promptly run afoul of the local laws....

As I said, the book is fun. Lucy's songs are amusing, as are most of the situations Lucy, Wynston, Cat and Rosebud find themselves in. Even the scary and depressing bits aren't too scary and depressing for younger readers. Greg Call, who did the cover, also illustrated the book. My favourite pictures are the one of baby Lucy pulling the dog's ears and the one of the boat and the waterfall. This is Snyder's first novel, and I'm looking forward to her next one.

Other reviews can be found here and here.

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, by Laurel Snyder; Random House Books for Young Readers, 2008. Available from (amongst other places) Amazon, Amazon UK and Barnes & Noble.


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32 SF novels you should read

This morning a list of "32 books that have pushed the boundaries of the genre, inspired generations of thinkers and in some cases have even predicted key aspects of societies development" was pointed out to me. As always with these lists, bolded numbers indicate the books I have actually read.

1. Foundation, by Isaac Asimov (I'm currently in the process of rereading this one)
2. The Time Machine, by H G Wells
3. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick (filmed as Blade Runner)
4. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
5. War Of The Worlds, by H G Wells
6. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
7. The Minority Report, by Philip K Dick
8. Neuromancer - William Gibson
9. Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson
10. Accelerando, by Charles Stross
11. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
12. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert A Heinlein
13. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
14. The Giver, by Lois Lowry (Newbery Medal, 1994)
15. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne (I've read the Classics Illustrated version)
16. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
17. More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
18. Spook Country, by William Gibson
19. Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow
20. Altered Carbon - Richard Morgan
21. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
22. Dune, by Frank Herbert
23. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
24. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
25. Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
26. 1984, by George Orwell
27. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
28. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
29. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
30. The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton
31. A Scanner Darkly, Philip K Dick
32. Timeline, by Michael Crichton

Brief descriptions of each book can be found at the link above.

H/T to Rich Gombert.

RIP: Col John Ripley, USMC

John Walter Ripley
29 Jun 1939 - 28 Oct 2008

ZUI this article from the New York Times:
John W. Ripley, a highly decorated former colonel who entered Marine Corps lore when he single-handedly blunted a major North Vietnamese offensive during the Vietnam War by blowing up a strategically placed bridge, died Oct. 28 at his home in Annapolis, Md. He was 69.

The cause has not been determined, his son Stephen said.

Colonel Ripley, who at the time was a captain and a military adviser to a South Vietnamese Marine unit, blew up the southern end of the Dong Ha Bridge over the Cua Viet River on Easter Sunday, April 2, 1972. On the north side of the bridge, which was several miles south of the demilitarized zone, some 20,000 North Vietnamese troops and 200 tanks were poised to sweep into Quang Tri Province, which was sparsely defended.


The destruction of the bridge created a bottleneck for the North Vietnamese, allowing American bombers to blunt what became known as the Easter offensive.

Captain Ripley was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions at the bridge. He served two tours in Vietnam and remained on active duty until 1992, eventually rising to colonel. Among other decorations, he received the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

John Walter Ripley was born on June 29, 1939, and grew up in Radford, Va., the son of Bud and Verna Holt Ripley. He enlisted in the Marines out of high school in 1956, and a year later received approval from the secretary of the Navy to attend a preparatory school leading to his appointment to the Naval Academy, from which he graduated in 1962.

Besides his son Stephen, Colonel Ripley is survived by his wife of 44 years, the former Moline Blaylock; a sister, Susan Goodykoontz; two other sons, Thomas and John; a daughter, Mary Ripley; and eight grandchildren.

ZUI also this post from the Washington Post:
John W. Ripley, 69, a highly decorated Marine Corps officer and demolitions expert during the Vietnam War whose destruction of a strategic bridge was credited with helping repel a Communist-led armored advance at Easter time in 1972, died Oct. 28 at his home in Annapolis. He had undergone liver transplants in recent years.

Col. Ripley -- then a captain -- participated in dozens of major combat operations during two tours of duty in Vietnam. His quiet daring not only led to two of the highest awards for valor -- the Navy Cross and the Silver Star -- but also induction this year into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Ga. He was the first Marine to earn that distinction.


Amid an onslaught of enemy shelling, Col. Ripley and about 700 South Vietnamese marines were asked to hold a pivotal crossing point near the DMZ -- a bridge that spanned the Cua Viet River at the village of Dong Ha. Col. Ripley later recalled orders to "hold or die."

According to his citation for the Navy Cross -- the service's highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor -- Col. Ripley on April 2, 1972, used 500 pounds of dynamite and C4 plastic explosives to take down the bridge.

He and a U.S. Army colleague were chiefly responsible for rigging the bridge with explosives -- with Col. Ripley hand-walking along the beams while his body dangled 50 feet above the swift current. The bridge was more than 500 feet long, and the work of rigging it required about three hours of intense work.

"I had to swing like a trapeze artist in a circus and leap over the other I-beam," Col. Ripley told the Marine Corps Times in June. "I used my teeth to crimp the detonator and thus pinch it into place on the fuse. I crimped it with my teeth while the detonator was halfway down my throat."

Col. Ripley helped provide the first success against the North's incursion and delayed the advance of more than 200 enemy armored vehicles, including tanks. His actions gave the South Vietnamese marines further time to regroup along another defensive line. They eventually stopped the Communist invasion in Quang Tri province.

More can be learned from this article from WorldNetDaily, and from Walter Grider Miller's book, The Bridge at Dong Ha (see here and here).