Monday, April 28, 2008

She says "Tom-AH-to"

She really does! She also says "capsicum" instead of "bell pepper", "rubbish" instead of "garbage", "Al-yoo-min-eee-um" instead of "aluminum" and a host of other things found only in "The Queen's English", including the infamous "zed".

Who? My wife, of course. Some people think it's cool. I call it "separation by a common language".

You can now check her out on her new adventure into blogging, I say Tom-AH-to. Welcome aboard, honey!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I always hated those trains...

From Scientific American:

If a train heading east leaves Chicago at noon and a train heading west leaves New York an hour later, will that make you any better at math? New evidence says "No." In a report in the April 25th issue of the journal Science, researchers from Ohio State University say the preferred method of teaching math just doesn't make the grade. The researchers taught undergraduates mathematical principles they would need to solve future problems. Some were taught using concrete visual examples, like cups filled with water or a pizza cut into slices. Other students learned abstract formulas in terms like "n=x."

When asked to solve new problems using these teachings, major discrepancies appeared. In one case, abstract-learning students scored an average of 80 percent on a test. Their "real-world" counterparts, however, seemed unable to transfer their knowledge to a new situation, posting only a 44 percent average. The researchers say using concrete examples is alluring, because students seem to learn lessons faster. However, students who take the time to get abstract concepts down are able to get on the train before it leaves the station.

Word problems and real world example are the preferred method of teaching? Hmmm, things have changed. I seem to recall being taught by endless repetition of solving "8x = 24" and almost no repetition of "How many 8-slice pizzas do you need if 24 people want one slice each?" Which is good. The former teaches algebra. The latter teaches you to count pizza slices, which is helpful if your dream job is at Papa Gino's.

Wish I could read more about this, to find out exactly how the researchers used "pizzas and cups of water" to teach concepts to undergrad students ("this pizza is an electron with up 1/2 spin...this cup of water is an electron with down 1/2 spin") but I'm too cheap to pay AAAS the $10 for 24 hrs of the article, let alone $144 for a membership when the most scientific thing I get to do any more is ... well, read 60 Second Science feeds.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Who'll come a-waltzing matilda with me?

Today has always been an important day in our home, especially for my wife, Sarah. 25 April is ANZAC Day, the day the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps landed in Anzac Cove on Gallipoli in a long and ill-fated campaign to knock Turkey out of the First World War.

The landing and the next five days would cost the ANZACs nearly 5,000 killed, missing or wounded, and the entirety of the campaign would claim nearly 9,000 ANZAC casualties. Just a tiny fraction of the nearly 340,000 combined casualties that the next eight months would bring, but the impact of those 9,000 is still seen today.

Two war correspondents, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett and Charles Bean, by documenting and this and other endeavors of the Australian troops, are largely credited with giving birth to the Anzac Spirit

The Anzac spirit or Anzac legend is a concept which suggests that Australian and New Zealand soldiers possess shared national characteristics, specifically the qualities those soldiers are believed to have shown in World War I. These qualities cluster around several ideas, including endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour, and mateship. According to this concept, the soldiers are perceived to have been innocent and fit, stoical and laconic, irreverent in the face of authority, naturally egalitarian and disdainful of British class differences.

The Anzac spirit also tends to capture the idea of an Australian "national character", with the landing at Anzac Cove often described as being the moment of birth of Australia's nationhood.

Correspondingly, ANZAC Day is a big day there. It typically starts with a Dawn Service at a local war memorial or other prominent place.

The Dawn Service observed on ANZAC Day has its origins in an operational routine which is still observed by the Australian Army today. During battle, the half-light of dawn was one of the most favoured times for an attack. Soldiers in defensive positions were, therefore, woken up in the dark, before dawn, so by the time first light crept across the battlefield they were awake, alert, and manning their weapons. This was, and still is, known as "stand-to". It was also repeated at sunset.

After the First World War, returned soldiers sought the comradeship they felt in those quiet, peaceful moments before dawn. With symbolic links to the dawn landing at Gallipoli, a dawn stand-to or ceremony became a common form of ANZAC Day remembrance during the 1920s; the first official dawn service was held at the Sydney Cenotaph in 1927. Dawn services were originally very simple and followed the operational ritual. In many cases they were restricted to veterans only and the daytime ceremony was for families and other well-wishers. Before dawn the gathered veterans would be ordered to "stand to" and two minutes' silence would follow. At the end of this time a lone bugler would play the Last Post and then concluded the service with Reveille. In more recent times the families and young people have been encouraged to take part in dawn services, and services in Australian capital cities have seen some of the largest turnouts ever. Reflecting this change, the ceremonies have become more elaborate, incorporating hymns, readings, pipers, and rifle volleys. Others, though, have retained the simple format of the dawn stand-to, familiar to so many soldiers.

I attended a dawn service eight years ago, when Sarah and I were in Cairns for her sister's wedding. Everyone was there - ages 5 to 85 - reflecting on the tragic event that gave birth to their "national character". It was a truly moving experience, and one that I can see no parallel to here in the United States.

The day is just as significant in Turkey. Dawn services are also held at Anzac Cove itself; this year's was attended by ten thousand Australians, New Zealanders and Turks. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first President of the post-Ottoman Turkish Republic, was in command of the Turkish forces at Anzac Cove, as a Colonel.

In 1934 Atatürk wrote a tribute to the ANZACs killed at Gallipoli:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.

This inscription appears on the Kemal Atatürk Memorial, ANZAC Parade, Canberra.

In the past, we would usually recognize ANZAC Day by having a dinner of traditional Australian fare - rack of lamb, with potato, pumpkin, and vegetables, and a pavlova for dessert. We'll also listen to Australian music - from folk (like The Aussie Bush Band) to rock (like Cold Chisel, whose lead singer, Jimmy Barnes sings "Good Times" with INXS on the Lost Boys soundtrack).

This year, it kind of got away from us, with everything going on. And that bugs me, for two reasons. First, it's a large part of Sarah's identity; she is a proud Australian, and as happy as we are together, the separation she endures from her home still weighs heavy upon her after 11 years. We also want our children to take as much pride in their Australian heritage as their Lebanese and American heritage. Lastly, it means a lot to me because, as I said, we don't appear to have anything here that parallels ANZAC Day here in America where we, as a nation, take the time to really reflect on our national identity and at what price it was bought. The direct, practiced link between history and today is not ingrained. I felt some of that on Patriot's Day eve, when I attended the Old North Church lantern lighting ceremony, but name the three (yep, that's it...three!) states that recognize Patriot's Day (I mean the anniversary of Paul Revere's ride...not 9-11!).'s not even ANZAC Day anymore...does that mean I need to delete without posting?

On a final note, I mentioned we listen to Australian music on ANZAC Day. A big part of it is this song - "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" - written in 1972 by Eric Bogle,
describing the futility, gruesome reality and the destruction of war, while criticising those who seek to glorify it. This is exemplified in the song by the account of a young Australian soldier on his maiming during the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War.

It can be tough to get through with dry eyes, but it is a beautiful piece.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
-Laurence Binyon

Thursday, April 24, 2008

We call this a "self-licking ice cream cone"

You'd think that being on leave for a week I'd have plenty of time to post. Hah...that's a good one.

But I do have a few minutes to kill right now, so I might as well help you kill a few.

WARNING - this is 28 seconds you won't get back!

Hat Tip: Boing Boing

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sick S#!% in Washington, DC

My job takes me to DC every few months, as my boss works in the 5-sided building with no windows, and usually the most unusual thing I see down there is a three-star walking down a passageway eating a donut.

But today something happened that really creeped me out, and it was at the rental car return at Reagan International.

I'd just paid off my rental, and headed into the men's room to change out of my uniform (I feel more comfortable snoozing with my iPod going when I'm in civvies). Two things I notice are a man standing in the middle of the restroom and a large stall for changing/handicapped use.

It happened pretty quickly, but it appeared that when the guy saw me looking at/heading for the stall, he decided to walk in and start using it. It seemed odd, as there was an open urinal and another open stall.

Without closing the door, he stands in front of the toilet, and apparently begins attempting to urinate. I try to mind my own business, with my back turned, but I can see him in the reflection of the washbasin mirror. I don't hear anything. Of course, I'm expecting to hear the sound of urine hitting water, but nope. Nothing. Hey, maybe he's having trouble...I've had times like that, especially when my name pops for a random piss-test.

Finally, I hear urine hitting water, so I assume he's "found his stride". He finishes up, I hear him unroll some toilet paper (guess he splashed on the ring) and comes out. He looked pretty odd to me...very over-groomed eyebrows and moustache, and I'd swear the guy had some sort of makeup base on his skin, almost a bit "glossy".

Whatever. I just wanna' change and get on the damned shuttle. I walk by him and into the stall, shut the door, shove my bag in the corner and hang my garment bag. Unzip my trousers, untuck and unbutton my shirt, then I turn around...

...and I notice it.

The wet floor...what the Hell?

Then I notice the toilet ring. He obviously didn't wipe it well, because it was still covered in...well, piss.

WTF?!?!?!?! You mean this guy appeared to cut me off heading into this stall just so he could piss on the ring for 30 seconds and walk out?

I don't even know where to go from there. Just suffice to say I won't use that restroom again.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Eleven Years Ago...

...last week, I came home from a long evening of studying for my "Air Defense" exam at the Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, and faced up to that which I was not willing to for the previous three months.

That I was completely in love with the young woman who had left her home in Australia on a visa-waiver and a prayer to see if there was "anything there" between herself and a young Navy officer.

So, with less than a week left before she needed to depart the United States, I proposed. In bed. Okay, I think the actual words were "well, we could get married". Shocked discussion ensued, interspersed with the occasional trip to the living-room bar for slugs of Jose Cuervo, and within a day or so we had the ball rolling...immigration attourney, marriage license, appointment at the J-O-P.

And eleven years ago today, at about 0945, I finished up my exam, picked up Sarah, went to a J-O-P and we got married. It was, by far, the smartest thing I have ever done.

Eleven years, four children and six moves later, I stand by that assessment.
Now there's a lot more to the story...mostly about how I was a jackass who was resisting the whole way, and other stupid things I did, and Sar tells the story better than I do.

Happy Anniversary, Honey!


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cthulhu Unplugged

For your listening and viewing pleasure...

Download mp3 file here.

Lyrics by Terrence Chua, video by Scary for Kids.

GGMGD: Games, Food, Mai Tais and More

I think the last game day I attended was winter 06/07 when Briwei was back in town from San Diego. Being that I'm never in one place more than a year or so, I hardly get to any of these myself, let alone host one. And what a great day it was!

The games we play are always enjoyable and well-played, but it's really the company and the food that's most enjoyable whenever we do this. It was great to spend the day with friends, old and new, two of whom I don't think I've seen in five years. We completely agreed that we were short exactly one (1) Briwei, though, and schemed on ways to get him back here. But I wouldn't leave San Diego either. I love that place. More than once we asked ourselves "What would Briwei do?" when faced with a serious choice. He's like...the Clausewitz or Sun-Tzu of game day, y'know?

All the important food groups (salt, sugar, fat, booze) were represented as well. James and Julie carpooled up, and brought with them an excellent array of liquid refreshment. James had it going on with a killer Mai Tai concoction that went down waaaaay too easily. Mai Tais rock; and as they are(arguably) from the South Pacific, where a certain city and big, tentacle-headed dude wait under the sea somewhere, I believe they are worth of the Great Old Ones, and do hearby declare James' Mai Tais to also be known as "Great Cthulhu's Nectar". But James said something I'd never heard him say before. Something about "putting too much rum" in a drink or similar blasphemy. He'd better watch what he says.

They also brought a fine array of beers, including one of my all-time favorites, "Arrogant Bastard Ale" by Stone Brewing Company. I wasn't feeling too hoppy yesterday though, so I kept it on the malt-side beer-wise. I did, however, accept and consume the remainder of Julie's "Dog Fish Head Black & Blue" at the end of the day. Great stuff - thanks, Julie!

Bob brought a lasagna that was so freakin' good you couldn't tell it was gluten-free, so I won't even mention that it was gluten-free, except for these two times I just said gluten-free, er...three. I'm done saying it, I promise. ("There is little or no offending material apart from four ****s, one clitoris, and a foreskin. And as they only occur in this opening introduction, you're past them now.") I mean, my kids ate it! I'm not sure Bob understands what a feat it is getting them to eat anything besides Mac & Cheese and Hot Dogs. I made ribs: slow-cooked, dry-rubbed and smoked, BBQ-grilled, but the dry-rubbed ones were unsuccessful...oh well, two out of three. Mrs. Stickthulhu's lemon meringue pie, her first attempt, came out of the oven in tough shape. The custard was entirely too liquid, like some piping hot, lemony shoggoth with a sweet, spongy she buried the dead pie. Deep, deep in the cold depths of the fridge where, after what seemed like strange aeons (but was actually only about 8 hours) the pie arose from it's dreamy death to be devoured by hungry gamers.

It was great seeing everyone, and I can't wait to do it again...quick, Bob and Patti, schedule another one!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New Baseball Insult

"Your team sucks so bad, you lose when your pitchers throw no-hitters!"

It's true.

I love baseball.

Way Off Target

The protesting during the Olympic Torch relay bugs me.

Don't get me wrong. China deserves every bit of bad press, criticism and shovels-full of guilt it gets for it's human rights record. I don't have a problem if people are protesting China during the torch relay.

But the target should be China, not the torch and the torch-bearer. There is simply no good reason to recklessly endanger the bearer, the police, your fellow protestors and the public at large.

From the San Francisco Mercury News:
Barry Chang, a former Cupertino school board member and a Beijing critic, is not mollified by calls for accepting the torch relay solely as an event to be celebrated. On the contrary, he will leave his struggling real estate business unattended today and go to San Francisco to protest. "Human rights is big stuff to me. If China wants to be part of the world, they have to be civil, they have to be humane and they have to stop abusing civil rights."

Unfortunately for Mr. Chang, the dangerous and un-civil displays in London and Paris drove the City of San Francisco to take every measure possible short of canceling to ensure that the scenes would not be repeated.

From USA Today:
A dramatically modified Olympic torch relay ended Wednesday in San Francisco amid tight security, as officials dealt with protests in response to its only North American stop on its journey to Beijing.
The relay, heavily changed and cut significantly in length, ended with the torch getting a bus ride to the San Francisco International Airport some 13 miles from the city. The closing ceremony was held there instead of Justin Herman Plaza, where thousands had awaited the torch's arrival in vain.

While I'll give Mr. Chang the benefit of the doubt concerning his own behavior, I have to believe that the Mayor is aware of his own populace and could only assume that much the same would have resulted.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Military Monday. MA2(SEAL) Michael A. Monsoor, MoH

Tomorrow, the President will posthumously award the Congressional Medal of Honor to the parents of Master-At-Arms, Second Class (SEAL) Michael A. Monsoor of Garden Grove, CA, for exceptional bravery on 29 September 2006 at Ar Ramadi, Iraq. He is the second Navy SEAL to receive the Medal of Honor in the Global War on Terrorism, the first in Iraq.

While vigilantly watching for enemy activity, an enemy fighter hurled a hand grenade onto the roof from an unseen location. The grenade hit him in the chest and bounced onto the deck. He immediately leapt to his feet and yelled “grenade” to alert his teammates of impending danger, but they could not evacuate the sniper hide-sight in time to escape harm. Without hesitation and showing no regard for his own life, he threw himself onto the grenade, smothering it to protect his teammates who were lying in close proximity. The grenade detonated as he came down on top of it, mortally wounding him.

Petty Officer Monsoor’s actions could not have been more selfless or clearly intentional. Of the three SEALs on that rooftop corner, he had the only avenue of escape away from the blast, and if he had so chosen, he could have easily escaped. Instead, Monsoor chose to protect his comrades by the sacrifice of his own life.

You can find this and more about him on the Navy's Medal of Honor page. There is a well-done photo slide show in tribute that shows the "ordinary" side of this extraordinary Sailor and warrior.

Petty Officer Monsoor, I do not have the words...I am humbled by and in awe of your selflessness, and more so, my heart and thoughts are with your family and teammates.

Rest in peace, shipmate.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

This Week's Special - Pancakes

Sunday has been pancake day in the household for quite some time. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, juice, coffee, the whole ball of wax.

It started simple (and mediocre) with Bisquick Shake 'n Pour or some crap like that, until about three years ago when we traded my wife's sugar cookie recipe for my boss' pancake recipe. That ancient manuscript has long since disappeared, but it is simple enough to remember.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/8 cup sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2-1/4 cups buttermilk
2 eggs

Blend liquid ingredients. Sift dry ingredients. Add dry to liquid, mix until slightly lumpy. Cook on greased griddle. I typically use 2 cups buttermilk and 1/4 cup skim milk, simply because it stretches one pint of buttermilk through two weeks. I like my batter a little thin, so I always splash in a little extra milk.

I have a great anodized griddle, but it's getting really old...I need to replace it. And my stove is electric, which I hate - gas very much preferred.

Simple. Which is good. And the best ph00k1ng pancakes you'll ever eat, with a couple of eggs over medium (fried in butter) and some oven-fried bacon. Definitely only a once-a-week treat. I like throwing some blueberries in them - fresh is always better, but I'll take frozen.

Pix on flickr to follow.

Next week's special - RIBS! Those of you attending the Gary Gygax Memorial Game Day (GGMGD) will see what I mean.

Sleep, those litte slices of death...

Actually, I don't share views with Edgar Allen Poe on this one. I don't mind staying up, but I do love my sleep. That's why being able to "sleep in" until 0645 this morning was such a treat!

For the past ten days or so, three of my four minions have been battling a nasty sinus infection, and they're only just now getting over it. Minion #2's eardrum actually perforated, so it looks like she's in for her second set of grommets. Minion #3 was a little more fortunate. A week of crankiness and she's over it.

Minion #4 (I'll call him "Chub-Niggurath" ... the only one I've figured out yet) gave us the toughest time. He had a pretty nasty cough most of the time, during which he cut a tooth and his molars started acting up. So the nights were pretty rough. Don't think Mrs. Stickthulhu got more than 4 hours a night, in 45min - 1 hr chunks. He was always wide awake by 0500, so I took up the slack by getting up with him and getting everything set up for Minion #'s 1 and 2's school while he rode shotgun in the baby backpack.

Uuugh, what a week that made out to be. Worse for Mrs. Stick than me, who actually started coming down with her own sickness on Thursday.

Which is why, when Chubsie ended up sleeping for six hours straight last night, the atmosphere upon waking was more like a carnival than an execution.

So it's off to make a pancake breakfast for the kids and then jet down to Fall River for a few hours this afternoon. The Minions have had the great fortune (unlike me) to really know their great grandfather, and we try to keep the contact as frequent as possible, while we have him.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Cthulhu Silliness

Long day...very instead of being creative I'll be lazy...again.

Cthulhu Ftaghn Cheezburger

Promise I'll do better next time.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Beautiful Photo...

Lots of reasons to love the shot...the rainbow leaping from the center of the picture, the contrast between the ocean and sky...but what makes this old Sailor's heart beat fast is the ship on the left.

She's USS MOMSEN (DDG-92). More than 3 years of my life are invested in those 9200 tons of sovereign US territory. James attended the christening back in August 2003. He still has the post about his experience and the ship's namesake in his August 2003 Archives.

If you want to see more pics of her and other ships, just check out The Destroyermen, the first ever blog by a Navy ship, USS RUSSELL (DDG-59), created to describe life aboard a modern warship at sea.

It's groundbreaking - the Navy's "information" enterprise is still grappling with things like podcasts, blogs, etc. as part of our advertising. While the "official rules" will be forthcoming, hats off to RUSSELL's Executive Officer for blazing the trail, her Commanding Officer for approving the concept, and her Strike Group Public Affairs Officer for approving it.

C'thlego Ftaghn

Courtesy of my oldest son. Photos by Mrs. Stickthulhu.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

That Lord Vader's a bastard after a few drinks...

The UK has a bona-fide case of religious persecution on their hands.

No, it's not British Muslims with their knickers in a bunch over "Fitna".

It's the Jedi's.

Apparently, Jedi's are not welcome in Holyhead in the UK. Especially the head of the Jedi Church of England (JC-of-E?).

From the UK Telegraph:

"Jedi Master Jonba Hehol - known to family and friends as Barney Jones, 36, of Holyhead - was giving a TV interview in his back garden for a documentary when a man, dressed in a black bin-bag and wearing Darth Vader's trademark shiny black helmet, leapt over his garden fence.

Wielding a metal crutch - his lightsaber presumably being in for repairs - the Sith Lord proceeded to lay about his opponent, whose Jedi powers proved inadequate for the task of defending himself."

Story here.

Apparently, the "Liquid Force" was with the Sith Lord. I'll take that over the teachings of a 900 year old muppet any day.