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Showing posts from March, 2017

Bullets, Bikes and Rotor Blades: Random Motion, Perfectly Predictable

Bullets rip from the barrel of modern rifles at more than 3000 feet per second.Tanks fire armor-piercing shells that travel nearly twice that speed, just over a mile a second.Rotor blades on helicopters sweep the air at a constant speed, but a small change in the pitch (tilt) of the blades causes the ‘copter to rise, drop, hover or hurtle through the air at more than 100 knots.

Each of these complex motions is almost perfectly predictable moving through an utterly random medium: air.The atmosphere, from sea level to stratosphere, is nothing but randomly moving molecules.The molecules of air are vanishingly small,so each cubic foot of air has about 30 sextillion molecules (3 with 22 zeroes) of air in it at any moment.
Since air is mostly nitrogen and oxygen, most air molecules are just under a millionth of a millimeter long. These tiny particles move in random directions: up, down, left, right and everything in between at speeds around 1000 miles per hour at room temperature and norma…

Obsessed With Ribbons: Civilian and Military

For Illustration Only! This is what four ribbons looks like on a conference badge. I actually merit no ribbons!
The selection of possible ribbons.
Today I worked in the registration area at an engineering conference.  I helped people find the ribbons they were supposed to wear as conference participants.  Most of the participants knew which ribbons if any they were supposed to wear.  Most people wore none.  The most common ribbon was "Speaker" followed by "Fellow."  
But about one in twenty were entitled to multiple ribbons. Most had been doing this for years and knew which ones they should wear, but at one point a group of four men and women showed up who were very excited about their multiple ribbons and upset that the ribbon "Chair" was not available.  Each of these avid ribbon wearers were the Chair of something and were upset that ribbon was not on the ribbon table. 
Since I had no useful information about where they could get their Chair ribbons, t…

Yes, I am Judging You

When I tell a civilian that I and every sergeant is a judgmental bastard, they think I am being funny.  I am not.  When I was a sergeant in the Army it was my job to glance at a soldier and infer from his wear of the uniform how much I could trust him and how much he really understood his duties.  And when I recognized a fault it was my job to tell that soldier to correct the fault and check that he did.

One sergeant I served with said, "I tell them how they are fucked up and how to un-fuck themselves."

In any area of life in which experts are in close contact with amateurs, the experts will be judging the amateurs. Expertise is tough to come by. It takes hard work.  If Malcolm Gladwell is right, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to truly master a skill.

Because written communication has become so much more common and so much more public on social media, I read people saying that their grammar doesn't matter.  It is their brilliant thoughts we should pay attention to.  …

My Summer Vacation will be on This Blog!

On June 7 I fly to Europe. By the 9th I will begin a bicycle trip from Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia that will cover more than a dozen countries and end in St. Petersburg, Russia. Along the way I will be visiting Holocaust Memorial sites and the sites of some of the fiercest battles in world history as the Nazi Army was pushed from defeat in Stalingrad all the way back to Berlin.

I was going to make a separate bicycle trip blog, but every place I go on this trip was overrun by the Nazi Army then liberated by an Allied Army. In addition to the World War II connection, is my own service in the Cold War.  If all goes as planned my last stop in Europe will be at Land of Kanaan in Darmstadt, Germany, where my friend Bruder Timotheus is a Franciscan Brother. Before he was Bruder Timotheus, Senior Airman Cliff Almes was my roommate for several months in 1978 when we were both stationed in Wiesbaden, West Germany.

After Darmstadt, I fly to Israel then  return home.  I have the bike. I h…

Russia and America: Destined to Conflict, Religion

Russia and America cooperated in World War II because both were threatened by a common enemy. But like our alliances with other wretched dictatorships, it was an alliance of purpose, not based on any fundamental agreement. The Cold War immediately following World War II is proof enough that the Soviet Russian empire and America had little in common but a mutual desire to beat the Nazis, then to beat each other at every turn.

Now influential people in our government, led by Steve Bannon, dream of a white empire that will stand against the Muslim world. They assume that being a white Christian means some sort of common political goal and heritage.  Even in the West you would be wrong to say this. From the late Roman Empire until the 19th Century, Christianity was a state religion in much of the west and in direct conflict with religious freedom for nearly all of that time. The Reformation and the subsequent wars of religion all the way to the terrorism in Ireland in the 20th Century sh…

Ten Years Ago: The Decision to Re-Enlist

Over the next few months I will be writing about why I re-enlisted at 54 years old after more than 23 years as a civilian. Ten years ago next month is when I actually began the process, but for several months before I was thinking about re-enlisting. Congress raised the enlistment age to 42 at the end of 2006. That gave me a window to re-enlist before my 55th birthday.


Ten years ago this month, I had a good job, four kids at home, an amazing beautiful wife, a nice home, a nice life and I had just about convinced myself to call a recruiter and re-enlist.

At the time, in my mind, I wanted to do something for an undefined greater good.  Joining the Army National Guard seemed like something I could do for the state, the nation and I might even like it.

In half-dozen years preceding my re-enlistment I had tried volunteering for organizations that help the community. My wife was a hospice volunteer, a kidney donor, and a dozen other great things.  I raced my bike an…

Israel and Singapore: Best Small Armies Surrounded by Muslims

In the late 90s through 2002 I made a dozen trips to Asia with Singapore as the destination or one of the stops on the way from Europe to Australia or Hong Kong.  I always brought my bicycle. I rode at odd hours of the day or night.  Singapore is the farthest point in the world in the Northern Hemisphere from the the Northeastern U.S. so I was always dealing with jet lag.

Singapore is so well lit everywhere on the main island that I seldom bothered with bike lights.  I would ride out to the airport before dawn or in the evening.  Sometimes I would see a sight like the one above: a Royal Singapore Air Force jet fighter screaming into the air on full afterburners. At the time I was visiting, their main fighter was the F-5, now it is F-15s and F-16s.

Singapore has one of the best equipped, best trained militaries in the world.  It boasts the largest air force in Southeast Asia with more than 100 fixed wing fighters, plus helicopters including Apache Longbow attack helicopters and tran…

The Jefferson Library and the Fall of Rome

Inside the Library of Congress is the Jefferson Library--the 4,929 books Thomas Jefferson owned and read during his long life. His library includes books in English, French, Italian, Latin, Ancient Greek and Hebrew that I saw.

As I scanned the titles, I thought of the brave and brilliant men who founded America: Jefferson was a Colonel in the Virginia Militia and served in the Revolutionary Army. George Washington was the Commander in Chief of the colonial armies and our first President.

The greatest leaders of the Rome were also brilliant and brave men, notably Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus and the philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius, maybe the greatest of all.

Many historians place the fall of Rome in 476 A.D. when the last Roman emperor, Romulus, disappears from the historical record.  But parts of the empire held together for another century under the rule of illiterate barbarians. The empire that was once ruled by Marcus Aurelius who wrote philosophy during his campaigns on …