User:Greg L Information

From Wikipedia

Five Great Minds:

Archimedes Charles Darwin Albert Einstein Algernon Parsons Nikola Tesla
A  great inventor, a great observer, a great thinker, a great engineer, and a great experimentalist.

Around the time of the French Revolution, scientists such as Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, were referred to as “naturalists.” Why? Because they endeavored to understand and explain the workings of the natural world without invoking supernatural phenomena.

Ideas like how infectious diseases are spread by microscopic pathogens, not evil spirits, seem common sense today but were considered heretical at one time. So too the notion that the Earth is a planet that orbits the Sun and the Sun is just another star; for espousing such a view, Giordano Bruno was burned alive at the stake—with his tongue tied so he couldn’t address the crowd.

Instead of labels such as “agnostic” or “atheist,” I am—at my core—a naturalist.  ‑Greg

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”  ‑Carl Sagan

Left Screen of the two-screen painting, Pine Trees (Shōrin-zu byōbu) by Hasegawa Tōhaku

In the Japanese language, the word (“ma”), for which there is no single-word English translation, refers to the interval between substance. To understand ma is to understand how void shapes form; how emptiness influences substance. The best industrial design, technical writing, and page layout embodies ma, for it is just as important as substance.


If you’ve arrived here in search of information on U.S. Navy SEALs, click here to automatically scroll down to the relevant section of this page.

If you’ve come here looking for my essay about not overlinking articles or linking to dates, here’s the link: Sewer cover in front of Greg L’s house

This is a “user page” for Wikipedia authors. Wikipedia is the premier, Web-based, free encyclopedia that anyone can contribute to. User pages are where authors often maintain a “sandbox”: a place to store the digital bricks & mortar that comprise Wikipedia articles. The animation at right is one of those “bricks,” which serves as a technical note to myself detailing some of the intricacies when creating certain kinds of animations.

I worked for seven years as a fuel cell engineer and am now working on medical equipment. Three of my fifteen patents pertained to entirely new ways to calculate the properties of gases. One involved a new way to back-calculate the equation-of-state of sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) to—in effect—find the terms of its quadratic equation when given only the pressure and temperature. This was not an easy task because SF6 has a very high molecular weight and is far from an “ideal” gas. The other two gas-related patents were a method for calculating the dewpoint of air using an analog circuit when given the relative humidity and temperature. Before this invention, the only known way to calculate dewpoint was to use a microprocessor. Interestingly, there were geometric solutions to both these problems (separated by many years). The SF6 problem was a relatively straightforward 2D solution. The dewpoint problem, though also a geometric solution, required complex 3D geometry (and logarithmic “math” in the analog circuitry). The reason for the dew point development is certain types of hydrogen sensors (MOS) are influenced by dew point. We wanted to null dew point’s effect on the hydrogen sensor and didn’t want a microprocessor running firmware in a safety-critical circuit.


Ideological certitude is one of the great weaknesses of mankind.
It is the tool of bad leaders; its allure, the refuge of weak minds.

Myself  Greg L ( talk) 20:33, 30 November 2008 (UTC)

“We shall not cease from exploration
  And the end of all our exploring
  Will be to arrive where we started
  And know the place for the first time.”
  T. S. Eliot – 1942 *

“Science … looks skeptically at all claims to knowledge, old and new.
  It teaches not blind obedience to those in authority but to vigorous
  debate, and in many respects that’s the secret of its success.”

  Carl Sagan

“The King of Oxford sent a troop of horse,
  For Tories own no argument but force;

  With equal skill to Cambridge books he sent;
  For Whigs admit no force but argument.”

  Sir William Browne

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”

  Albert Einstein

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts”

  Richard Feynman

“In the 1990s there will be millions of personal computers. They will be the size
  of notebooks today, have high-resolution flat-screen reflexive displays, weigh
  less than ten pounds, have ten to twenty times the computing and storage
  capacity of an Alto. Let's call them Dynabooks.”

  Alan Kay – 1971

“In most people's vocabularies, ‘design’ means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s
  the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the
  meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that
  ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”

  Steve Jobs – 2000

“Good judgment comes from experience,
  and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”

  Will Rogers

“A second plane hit the second tower.
  America is under attack.”

Presidential chief of staff Andrew Card whispering in President Bush’s ear
(picture) at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida as Bush
visits a class of 2nd graders. Within minutes of the second plane hitting the
tower, a Boeing E-4 Advanced Airborne Command Post—a heavily modified
747 from which top military leaders can conduct war if Washington, D.C. were
destroyed in a decapitation strike—took off and orbited the area.

“For God and country: Geronimo,
  Geronimo, Geronimo.”

Over the radio while they were still in the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan,
by the ground commander of DEVGRU—the counter-terrorism unit of the U.S.
Navy SEALs—to the operational commander in Afghanistan to signal that the
operation to kill or capture Osama bin Laden had been a success.

You can never gain real respect for what you are.
The only kind of respect that matters is that earned for who you are.

Myself  Greg L ( talk) 03:16, 25 July 2009 (UTC)

“Identity is not inherent. It is shaped by circumstance [...] and resistance to self-pity.”

  Dorothy West

PHILOSOPHY: Questions which may never be answered
RELIGION: Answers which may never be questioned.

From a viral e-mail floating about in cyberspace.

“To be prepared for war is one of the most
  effectual means of preserving peace.”

  George Washington

Dionysius, the ancient thinker, twenty centuries ago uttered these
words: “It is a law of nature, common to all mankind, which time
shall neither annul nor destroy, that those that have greater
strength and power shall bear rule over those who have less.”

Douglas MacArthur speaking before the 1935 annual
reunion of the 42nd Infantry Division, which was
nicknamed the “Rainbow Division.” MacArthur took a little
license with what Dionysius of Halicarnassus actually stated.

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought,
  but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

  Albert Einstein

“Imagine a world in which we are enlightened by
  objective truths rather than offended by them.”

  Neil deGrasse Tyson

“The hard fact is that unless new resources are opened up, energy
  derived from fuel will remain our chief reliance. The thermodynamic
  process is wasteful and barbarous, especially when burning coal,
  the mining of which, despite of modern improvements, still involves
  untold hardships and dangers to the unfortunates who are
  condemned to toil deep in the bowels of the earth. Oil and natural
  gas are immensely superior in this and other respects and their use
  is rapidly extending. It is quite evident, though, that this squandering
  cannot go on indefinitely, for geological investigations prove our
  fuel stores to be limited. So great has been the drain on them of late
  years that the specter of exhaustion is looming up threateningly in
  the distance, and everywhere the minds of engineers and inventors
  are bent upon increasing the efficiency of known methods and
  discovering new sources of power.
  Nature has provided an abundant supply of energy in various forms
  which might be utilized if proper means and ways can be devised.
  The sun's rays falling upon the earth's surface represent a quantity of
  energy so enormous that but a small part of it could meet all our demands.”

  Nikola Tesla – 1931

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in
  seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

  Marcel Proust

“Because the papacy often was treated as a political pawn, popes sometimes
  found themselves at the mercy of ruthless rulers.
  Consider poor John XVI, who thought he was the rightful pope, according
  to Roman nobles who pushed him onto the papal throne in 997. Unfortunately,
  another politically powerful pope, Gregory V, was alive elsewhere in Europe.
  Gregory returned to Rome with an army and wasn't amused at finding a rival.
  He ordered John's eyes put out as well as his nose and ears sliced off.
  Then, to underline the point, John was excommunicated. Should he wish to object,
  his lips, teeth and tongue were removed next. And his mutilated body,
  still alive, was shipped to a monastery.”

 David Crumm, Knight Ridder Newspapers

“For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from
  the wars enjoyed the honor of a Triumph—a tumultuous parade.
  In the procession came trumpeters and musicians, and strange
  animals from the conquered territories, together with carts
  laden with treasure and captured armaments.
  The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed
  prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes, his
  children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot or
  rode the trace horses.
  A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and
  whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory… is fleeting.”

Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North, in their
screenplay for “ Patton”. Voice-over at the end of the
movie by George C. Scott as the title character.

“You have got many great hazards, and one of them is in
  this White House. I have been watching this thing a long
  time. I have seen people in the White House try to build a
  fence around the White House and keep the very people
  away from the President that he should see. This is one of
  your hazards. The special interests and sycophants will
  stand in the rain a week to see you and will treat you like
  a king. They’ll come sliding in and tell you you’re the
  greatest man alive—but you know and I know you ain’t.”

Sam Rayburn Speaker of the United States House of
Representatives, to Harry S. Truman on his first day
in office after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
As accounted by David McCullough in “Truman”.

“We consistently said ‘No, we are not going to mess up
  the consumer experience on the iPhone to make your
  network tenable.’ They’d always end up saying, ‘We’re
  going to have to escalate this to senior AT&T executives,’
  and we always said, ‘Fine, we’ll escalate it to Steve and
  see who wins.’ ”

A high-level employee at Apple Inc. telling of meetings with
AT&T executives, who were concerned about the high
network load caused by Apple’s iPhone and wanted Apple to
de-feature the product, as reported by ‘Wired’ magazine in
Bad Connection: Inside the iPhone Network Meltdown.
“Steve” referred to Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs.

“The third choice that must not be missed is to cherish your human
  connections: your relationships with family and friends. For several years,
  you’ve had impressed upon you the importance to your career of dedication
  and hard work, and, of course, that's true. But as important as your
  obligations as a doctor, lawyer or business leader will be, you are a human
  being first and those human connections—with spouses, with children,
  with friends—are the most important investments you will ever make.

  At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more
  test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will
  regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent.”

Barbara Bush, wife of 41st President, George H. W. Bush, in her 1990
commencement address at Wellesley College, a women's liberal-arts college.
After hearing who their college had invited to give the commencement address,
the student body publicly announced that they did not welcome Mrs. Bush
because she had gained her notoriety through her husband and not through
her own accomplishments. Mrs. Bush delivered her address anyway.

“Imagine you are dead. After many years of exile,
  you are permitted to cast a single glance earthward.
  You see a lamppost and an old dog lifting his leg against it.
  You are so moved that you cannot help sobbing.”

  Paul Klee

“Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad:
  whether from great personal success, or just an all-night drive,
  we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen.”

  John le Carré – 1974

down ten `a's,
eight `c's, ten `d's,
fifty-two `e's, thirty-eight `f's,
sixteen `g's, thirty `h's, forty-eight `i's,
six `l's, four `m's, thirty-two `n's, forty-four `o's,
four `p's, four `q's, forty-two `r's, eighty-four `s's,
seventy-six `t's, twenty-eight `u's, four `v's, four `W's,
eighteen `w's, fourteen `x's, thirty-two `y's, four `:'s,
four `*'s, twenty-six `-'s, fifty-eight `,'s,
sixty ``'s and sixty `''s, in a
palindromic sequence
whose second
half runs
snur flah
dnoces esohw
ecneuqes cimordnilap
a ni ,s''` ytxis dna s'`` ytxis
,s',` thgie-ytfif ,s'-` xis-ytnewt ,s'*` ruof
,s':` ruof ,s'y` owt-ytriht ,s'x` neetruof ,s'w` neethgie
,s'W` ruof ,s'v` ruof ,s'u` thgie-ytnewt ,s't` xis-ytneves
,s's` ruof-ythgie ,s'r` owt-ytrof ,s'q` ruof ,s'p` ruof
,s'o` ruof-ytrof ,s'n` owt-ytriht ,s'm` ruof ,s'l` xis
,s'i` thgie-ytrof ,s'h` ytriht ,s'g` neetxis
,s'f` thgie-ytriht ,s'e` owt-ytfif
,s'd` net ,s'c` thgie
,s'a` net nwod


Lee Sallows’ self-documenting sentence
as described by Douglas R. Hofstadter
in the Jan 1982 issue of Scientific American.

looking down on empty streets, all she can see
are the dreams all made solid
are the dreams all made real
all of the buildings, all of the cars
were once just a dream
in somebody’s head
she pictures the broken glass, ’pictures the steam
she pictures a soul
with no leak at the seam
let’s take the boat out
wait until darkness
let’s take the boat out
wait until darkness comes
nowhere in the corridors of pale green and grey
nowhere in the suburbs
in the cold light of day
there in the midst of it so alive and alone
words support like bone
dreaming of mercy street
wear your inside out
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy’s arms again
dreaming of mercy street
’swear they moved that sign
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy’s arms
pulling out the papers from drawers that slide smooth
tugging at the darkness, word upon word
confessing all the secret things in the warm velvet box
to the priest, he’s the doctor
he can handle the shocks
dreaming of the tenderness-the tremble in the hips
of kissing Mary’s lips
dreaming of mercy street
wear your inside out
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy’s arms again
dreaming of mercy street
’swear they moved that sign
looking for mercy
in your daddy’s arms
mercy, mercy, looking for mercy
mercy, mercy, looking for mercy
Anne, with her father is out in the boat
riding the water
riding the waves on the sea

Lyrics by Peter Gabriel in his song “Mercy Steet” from his So album.
(♬♩iTunes link to “Mercy Street” ♬♩)

“Let us remember that there are multiple theories of
  Intelligent Design. I and many others around the
  world are of the strong belief that the universe was
  created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He
  who created all that we see and all that we feel. We
  feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific
  evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is
  nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.”

Bobby Henderson in his open letter to the Kansas School Board. The
Flying Spaghetti Monster” is a character created as a satirical protest
to a decision by the Board to require the teaching of intelligent design as
an alternative to biological evolution. The proponents of intelligent design
swore under oath in Federal court that the “Intelligent Designer” mentioned
in “ Of Pandas and People” had nothing to do with creationism nor God.
However, a researcher, examining draft manuscripts of the book provided
by the publisher found that every instance of “design proponents” had
originally been “creationists”. Further, she found a “ transitional fossil” in an
intermediate draft. One instance of “creationists” had been incompletely
converted in a copy/paste error (creationists), producing “ cdesign proponentsists”.

Religion teaches how we should live.
Science teaches why we live.

Myself  Greg L ( talk) 00:26, 7 May 2009 (UTC)

Two babies were born at the same hospital on the same day. They were
placed right next to each other in their bassinets in the hospital nursery.
Neither cried; they just laid there and stared at each other in silence.
Their families came and took them away. They each grew up and
served separately in the war. After the war, they worked hard and
raised families. They each had grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
They each followed remarkably similar, but separate, journeys in life.
By some bizarre coincidence, they both ended up in the very same hospital
and again were put beside each other, this time in a semi-private room.
They just laid on their deathbeds. Neither moaned; they just stared—again—
at each other in silence.
Finally, one broke the awkward silence and asked “So, how was it?”

Closely based on a comedy routine by Steven Wright

Pfc. Downey: What did we do wrong? We did nothing wrong! 
Lance Cpl.Dawson: Yeah we did. We were supposed to fight for people who couldn't
Lance Cpl.Dawson: fight for themselves. We were supposed to fight for Willy.

Aaron Sorkin in his screenplay for A Few Good Men.

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

  Carl Sagan

A father bull and his son were strolling along one day.
They eventually came to the edge of a bluff. Below was
meadow in which a hundred cows were peaceably
The young son, his tail waving in anticipation, looked
up wide-eyed at his father and said “Say Dad! Let’s
run down there and fuck ourselves a couple of those
The father bull stared down at the sight for a moment.
Without breaking his gaze from the spectacle below, he
tilted his head slightly down towards his son and said
“No Son. We’re going to slowly walk down to that
meadow and we’re going to fuck ‘em all.”

A philosophy I hold dearly

…and on a purely Wikipedia-related note:
“What consenting mathematicians get up to behind closed
  doors is their business, but please don't do it in public.”

  User:Dweller 13:58, 14 May 2008 (UTC)
Quotations Ideological certitude is one of the great weaknesses of mankind. It is the tool of bad leaders; its allure, the refuge of weak minds. Quotation Ideological certitude is one of the great weaknesses of mankind. It is the tool of bad leaders; its allure, the refuge of weak minds. Quotation Ideological certitude is one of the great weaknesses of mankind. It is the tool of bad leaders; its allure, the refuge of weak minds. Ideological certitude Ideological certitude Ideological certitude


So far, I've contributed to the following:

Also, my son and I together added a small section on the Navy SEALs regarding the physical standards required to join the SEALs.

Please see the ITS–90 discussion page and the VSMOW discussion page before editing the articles. I don't do "drive-by shootings" on articles just to inflate the number of articles I've contributed to. I take pride in doing that which is hard. And doing well-researched, correct, tight, understandable (for the target audience) technical writing is among the more difficult tasks I ever attempt to tackle. I derive pleasure in making excellent contributions to just a few articles (as opposed to poor contributions to many).

Trying to become a Navy SEAL

Lt. Weinberg: Why do you like them so much?
Lt. Cmdr. Galloway: ‘Cause they stand on a wall. And they say “Nothing's
Lt. Cmdr. Galloway: gonna hurt you tonight. Not on my watch.”
                                                                From A Few Good Men ( YouTube video)

6 April 2006:

My son just entered into the U.S. Navy SEALs’ training program known as BUD/S. I hope he makes it through BUD/S and I pray that our President and the Navy put him in jeopardy only for well-conceived, important reasons. Over 70% of BUD/S candidates wash out (so it's real, real tough). Here's a letter-to-the-editor I wrote that appeared in our local paper. It will give you a little insight into how proud I am of my son:

World Trade Center Ground View 1999.jpg

    My wife and I just read your riveting article
about a 20-year-old who spent 41 straight hours
in a Wal-Mart. He reportedly passed time with
such activities as reading magazines and playing
video games.
    WOW. Just… wow. That is something.
TV networks have started calling. He was a
guest on NPR radio and he’s had discussions
with a movie company!
    Our 19-year-old son just joined the Navy
with a guarantee to join their special forces
(a six-year commitment with the SEALs). To
prepare, he ran six miles a day wearing boots.
Before shipping off, he could do 87 sit-ups in
two minutes and a 500-yard side stroke in
10:17. He studied for months to improve his
entrance exam score so he could qualify to
simply apply for the SEALs. Even though the
Navy will teach him scuba diving, he took
private lessons before joining. In many ways,
he was a product of 9-11. Events like that can
make an impact on a 15-year-old.
    But you know, with the Navy intent on
growing the SEALs to 3000 members, there’s
probably hundreds of young men just like our
son doing the very same thing. Nothing at all
unique like the Wal-Mart kid.

The thing that really impressed me though was the privilege during Navy graduation of meeting two of the three other young men in my son's division who also had SEALs guarantees. To prepare before joining the Navy, they had all done almost exactly the sort of stuff my son had. They had read nearly all of Dick Couch's books on the SEALs, they knew the Discovery Channel's series about the SEALs by heart (because like my son, they too owned the DVD set), and they had all worked very hard at getting into awesome physical shape.

The future of the U.S. is in good hands with the next generation.

  • In a call recently, my son recounted an incongruity he found humorous. There’s an instructor at the BUD/S training base in Coronado who’s extremely "buff" and bronzed and has a jaw that looks like it was whittled out of granite using a chain saw. He gets around on base using one of those most-practical retro-’50’s-style bicycles with fenders, old-fashioned wide seat, fat white-wall tires, and a thumb-driven bell. It even has a basket on the front to carry items in. So as my son and his friends walk about on the base, they'll occasionally hear the "cha-ching" of the bell as this ultra-tough instructor wearing camo passes them sitting ram-rod straight up atop something that looks suitable for Dorothy (from Kansas).

UPDATE, 9 February 2007:

Mask appreciation

I guess the odds of 70% attrition rate applied to this group of three. My son and one of the two friends I mentioned above didn't make it through BUD/S. My son re-trained as a master of arms (military policeman) and now guards a naval base.

“Phase 1” is the period of SEAL training at Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado (or simply, “Coronado”) that lasts through Hell Week. Hell Week is by far the hardest week to get through. The second hardest is the first week of Phase 1; the instructors (all of whom are operational SEALs) really ride the trainees hard to weed out the weak or uncommitted as early as possible. My son's class was the biggest on record and the instructors were doubly motivated to get the class size down to something half-manageable before Hell Week started.

There's the mini-series about BUD/S you see occasionally on the Discovery Channel and the Military Channel. My son and his friends all owned a set of DVDs of the mini-series and all thought they knew what to expect. But no; the Navy has lots of stuff they put the trainees through that you never see on any TV documentary. My son and one of his two friends both washed out in the last exercise of the last day of the first week. After that, they would have gone to dinner, taken the weekend off, and would have to get through the three, somewhat easier weeks before Hell Week starts. What tripped up my son and one of his two friends is a pool exercise that doesn't appear on the mini-series. Maybe that's partly why my son didn't make it; there was a fear factor due to the uncertain novelty of it. What you do see on the mini-series is something called "drown proofing" where they put the trainees in the water with their hands and feet bound with rope. They have to sink to the bottom of the pool, push off and rise to the surface, and repeat for so many minutes. Then they have to swim — still bound hand & feet — 50 meters to the edge of the pool. My son had seen that many times (he owns the DVD) and was prepared for it.

September 14 2001 Ground Zero 02.jpg

What tripped my son up is an evolution called the “Mask appreciation exercise” (which I think is a euphemism akin to “Taser Appreciation” exercise). The instructors put about thirty trainees into the pool wearing just their swim suits and masks. The trainees all cluster tightly around an instructor floating in a raft in the middle of the pack. Everyone is treading water but since they're so tightly packed together, they are half treading other trainees. It's hard to stay afloat. Then they have the trainees fill their masks completely with water and have them start singing loudly and yelling out calls. A lot of water goes up many of the trainees' noses, down their throats, and into their lungs. Most handled the situation well. Some didn't. The instructors are looking for the ones who don't freak out at the sensation of drowning. My son kept at it until his mask was about half filled with air. Half a mask-full of water had gone up his nose and down his throat, and about half of that had gone down into his lungs. He swam out of the group to the edge of the pool. Well, of course the instructors were all over him then and told him to suck it up and get back into the group. So he did. And the same thing happened again: after a few minutes, he sucked in half a mask-full of water and felt like he was drowning. And he swam to the pool's edge again.

Well, that was it. For those who didn't handle the drown-proofing exercise well (the one where they tie their hands and feet in the pool), they had been allowed to practice the exercise in the pool over the weekend and try to qualify again on the following Monday. This wasn't the case with “Mask appreciation.” Anyone who couldn't suck up this exercise the first time around were out. They were either threatened with being performance dropped, or they were given the option of ringing the “drop on request” (D.O.R.) bell. When my son went to the pool's edge the second time and stripped off his mask and looked up, hew saw the class's officer-in-charge (the ranking officer trainee of the class) ringing the D.O.R. bell. In BUD/S, officers and enlisted are both trained together. The only difference is that the instructors (who are mostly enlisted personnel) simply address the officer trainees "Sir" while they're yelling at them and making them drop and do one hundred pushups as punishment. Anyway…

The instructor told him he was finished and had to ring the D.O.R. bell. Throughout SEAL training, instructors mess with the trainees’ minds. “Go ahead,” they chant while a trainee is doing pushups with a face full of sand, “ring the D.O.R. bell; it’s easy. You can immediately stop the misery and come back in a year or two when you’re ready. There’s a nice soft bed waiting for you in your barracks.” But if recruits are “performance dropped” (dropped by the instructors because they obviously don’t have what it takes), they can never come back again. This incident with Mask Appreciation was different though: the instructor wasn’t egging my son on to ring the bell, he was telling him he had to ring it. My son refused. Maybe the instructor was putting on an act and would relent, my son thought. My son certainly wasn’t going to simply quit. So the instructor said he could consider himself as performance-dropped and told him get out of the pool. Period. That was it. He could never come back to try again. Well, my son knew it wasn’t quite that simple; he’d have to appear before a formal hearing board chaired by this salt & pepper-haired “Capt. Square Jaw” to make it official. He called home that Friday evening, thoroughly bummed. There wasn’t anything my wife and I could say to console him. He thought about his options over the weekend and then put out the word on Sunday that he wanted to wash out under the best possible circumstances. The instructors allowed him to ring the D.O.R. bell Monday morning at the start of the 04:00 muster. In the darkness, he carefully added his helmet to the end of the long line of dew-covered helmets that had accumulated beneath the D.O.R. bell and walked away.

Note on the preceding three paragraphs: As far as I know, all evolutions in First Phase are not classified. However, it’s noteworthy that nearly all — perhaps all — books on the SEALs don’t tell about an evolution called “Mask Appreciation.” This is a likely indicator that this information might be sensitive and that the Navy requires that book authors and documentary producers not disclose the subject in return for inside access at Coronado. Mask Appreciation is no doubt designed to expose recruits to a novel situation; if the existence of this evolution became well known, it could undermine its very purpose. Wikipedia User Pages are predominantly the private domain of the Wikipedia authoring community. Still, the contents of these User Pages are indexed by Google and are discoverable in searches. To find the information on Mask Appreciation discussed above however, requires prior knowledge of the term: one must google on the words mask and appreciation (or the phrase “mask appreciation” in quotes) to hit on this page. More general Google searches like Navy SEALs and Coronado doesn’t produce this Web page in at least the first eleven Google search pages. Thus, the discoverability of detailed information on Mask Appreciation in a forum such as this is much different from that of actual books on the SEALs. Regardless of the Navy’s intentions regarding secrecy, it’s obvious that extremely few recruits or Navy personnel who are planning on trying out for the SEALs would ever happen across the information available here beforehand; they look to books on the SEALs (such as those written by Dick Couch), where they won’t find it.

The reason for this statement is the above three paragraphs were anonymously deleted by someone alleging that the Mask Appreciation evolution is “classified.” While I don’t doubt the sincerity of the individual in looking out for what he or she thought was in the Navy’s interests, this allegation seems utterly preposterous since every trainee who washes out during First Phase is discharged without signing any secrecy documents — or even counseled regarding the sensitivity of Mask Appreciation — and is free to roam about and discuss their experiences with whomever they please. Further, the URL of the anonymous editor traced back to a private Internet provider ( SBC Internet Services/AT&T) in the Los Angeles area, not a government site. Even though Mask Appreciation is most certainly not classified, if the above information undermines the Navy’s interests in any way, the proper way to address this is to either contact me on my Talk page or e-mail me here. Please provide a telephone number so I can validate your identity and affiliation with the U.S. Navy. If censorship is to occur here, it will be self-censorship, for a valid reason, as requested and articulated by a responsible party. It will not be the imposed censorship of an anonymous Internet user who took it upon his or her self to delete someone else’s writings on their own User Page.

My son was real familiar with that bell. The youngest trainees in the BUD/S class are given the chore of polishing it. They take turns. Since there were four 19-year-olds in the class, every fourth day, my son polished the D.O.R. bell. It's the very same one you see in the video. You can even see the shadow of the D.O.R. bell on Google Map if you zoom all the way in on "The Grinder."

He stayed at Coronado for several weeks (though not as a SEAL trainee). He occasionally joined the crowds of civilians who gather along the road overlooking the beach where SEALs train. It's quite the tourist attraction for civilians as they cheer on the SEALs as they run on the beach under their rubber boats. My son was pretty much oblivious to them when he was under the boats. One evening after the sun had set, he realized that it should be the day and time when the SEAL trainees do rock portaging. So he joined the crowd that had gathered up on the road to watch the trainees bringing their rubber boats in over the rocks. It’s actually one of the more dangerous things, injury-wise, that SEAL trainees do. The sun had been down for about 45 minutes and the western sky was only darkly lit in cobalt blue. One could rather easily see the chemilum light sticks tied to each of the trainees and their equipment but could just barely make out the silhouetted forms struggling on the rocks. He listened as some lady wondered out loud who those soldier-types were. Her boyfriend/husband/whatever stated with an authoritative tone that they were Army Rangers doing invasion training. My son said nothing. He just stood there, part of an anonymous crowd, watching the important-looking spectacle from the sidelines.

Blue force vs. Red force
USMC War Memorial Night.jpg

While waiting at Coronado for his transfer orders to arrive, an instructor walked into his barracks, pointed to my son, and informed him he had “volunteered” for something. He was going out into the desert where he would help play the roll of Red-Force insurgents opposing full-tilt SEALs who were receiving polish-up training before shipping out to “The Sandbox.” This training is done at a remote desert “village” not too far of Coronado. The instructors pile the club cabs of government-owned three-quarter-ton trucks chock full of people and tear helter skelter up the freeway to the desert facility. There, he got his butt kicked in sundry ways for a couple of weeks. Of course, he was exposed to how SEALs go about their business. Since all SEALs have at least a “Secret” classification and receive classified training in 3rd Phase, it’s best that I not pass along any of my son’s experiences to ensure no sensitive aspects of SEALs’ capabilities and tactics are accidentally exposed. There was this little bit of advise an instructor gave him: “Don’t get stung by a scorpion or bitten by a rattlesnake; we don’t have antivenom out here.” Okaaaaay… nice to know. In fact, when he wasn’t playing his Red-Force role, one of his tasks was to club rattlesnakes with a shovel.

U.S. Navy SEALs’ Trident

When he was telling me of the above over the phone, he was despondent and somewhat surly because he so much wanted to be one of them one day. Instead, he was just so much cannon fodder to practice with. I was thinking at the time that he was having incredible experiences that few 19-year-olds receive. His friends back home at this time were driving around in their tricked-out Hondas with 40-series tires; their biggest concern being how to get enough money for beer on the weekend. Simultaneously, my son was in the desert playing the role of an insurgent doing “insurgent things” like getting into fire-fights (using lasers and blanks) with genuine SEALs who had received their Tridents. He did his best to make sure they earned the right to kick his butt too. I told him that one day he’d look back at this time of his life with fond memories of his experiences there. I don’t think he believed me.

There was something about his Coronado-related experiences that my son paid no attention to until after he had gone to Lackland AFB for his MA training. Lackland has an AFB/Navy joint MA training facility there. My son noted that a significant number of trainees at Lackland were immature as hell and were continually getting into trouble. During his short stay there, the Navy had to institute a complete lockdown so no one could leave base, even over the weekend. This was all due to the misbehavior of a few. Also, a driver had crashed an AFB-owned van. In response, no one would drive the vans anymore. The thing is, the vans were specifically there for the express purpose of transporting people and that was the drivers’ job!  But there they sat. This kind of babysitting struck my son as odd because it contrasted so dramatically with his own experiences at Coronado. One evening in the desert, one of the instructors handed my son the keys to a truck and told him and another fellow (another SEAL wash-out) to find their way back to Coronado. Well, what the heck?!?  He had only ever been a backseat passenger and had never driven the 90 miles from Coronado to the desert base before. Now he’s supposed to find his way back at night?  Well, uhm… yeah; that’s exactly what he wanted. So my son — still 19 years old at the time — drove a government vehicle while his friend navigated. They found their way back to Coronado from the desert OK. That’s just the way things are at Coronado: everyone there is mature and driven. And they’re all given a crap pile of freedom and responsibility in return. Trainees are effectively tortured during the week and then are given the entire weekend off. There are no limitations at all as to where they can go. About all they’re told during indoc is that under no circumstances are they to get into fights in town; drunk locals often try test their manhood by getting a piece of a Navy SEAL trainee. Trainees can drive something like 90 miles away from Coronado and screw around all weekend if they feel like it. They had just better damn well show up for Monday morning muster though. My son didn’t realize he had so much freedom until he had been put into a situation where he no longer had it. Now he was at Lackland where, due to a lockdown, he couldn’t even walk to a 7-11 to buy some dish washing detergent or beef jerky. All because a bunch of underage “goombas and pregnant chicks” (my son’s words) got caught drinking and having a party on base. It was a big culture shock for the young man.

Getting back to the subject of not getting into fights in town: When my son told me about this, I opined that the Navy must not want their SEALs kicking the living crap out of drunk jackasses in bars. I was imagining something akin to that scene in Witness where Harison Ford’s character, while dressed as one of the Amish, busted the nose of that town bully. My son said “Jeez Dad, everyone thinks we’re a bunch of ninjas or something. We’re trained to shoot guns.”  Well… perhaps. But I suspect that if the fights are done in the water, the jackasses are going down.

Hindsight: Getting ready to go back
The Navy Pier in Chicago

While at Lackland, my son retrained as a Master of Arms: M.A. (M.P. for you Army types) and scored top of his class in shooting the M9 pistol. He's now at his duty station. At the very moment I'm writing this, he's at his duty station's gym working out. He eats plenty of protein, runs miles and miles each day, and is looking even more “rough, tuff & buff” than when he first joined. He is also spending a lot of time in the pool with a mask. Of the two friends I met on the Navy Pier boardwalk in Chicago, the one that made it past Hell Week and past Second Phase, and is now — as I write this — into Third Phase, was very comfortable in water. He played water polo in college and was a life guard. So my son understands how critically important it is to be really comfortable in the water if he's going to be a water-borne warrior. We have a pool at home and my son and I both thought that since he had access to it for most of his childhood, that he was comfortable in the water. We also took private SCUBA lessons just before he shipped out to the Navy. So we both thought water wouldn't be a problem for him. We were wrong.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, he realizes he had been developing an ever-increasing fear of the water — and lack of self-confidence — with each passing day at BUD/S. The stress the instructors put the trainees under every single time they put them into the water was no doubt designed to uncover this sort of weakness. When they finally got to the Mask Appreciating exercise, my son realizes that he simply panicked. His heart rate went way up (and so too did his oxygen requirement). In such a situation (a continuous face full of water plus panic), he truly had to quit, rip off his mask, and swim to the edge of the pool. It was a constitutional weakness in water — not a physical weakness — but certainly not something the Navy needs in their SEALs.


My son goes to the pool at his duty station pretty much every day to do various exercises. Lately, at pool’s edge, he tosses in some rope, bricks, and his diving mask to the bottom. Then he pretends that he’s at BUD/S, where he must complete an assigned task on the very first try. He jumps into the pool, dons his mask while at the bottom of the pool, and clears it. Then he ties various knots, gathers up the load of bricks under his arms, and walks along the bottom of the pool (slogs through the water) to the edge of the pool where he can get a breath. If he tries to clear his mask and only half-accomplishes it so he has to blow even more air out of his lungs (awe sh*t), he just guts through it and finishes his task. Stay calm. Stay frosty. Be “one with the water.” Accomplish the task. He used to have dreams where he was underwater at BUD/S and was failing his tasks. Freud would say this was the standard performance-anxiety dream many of us have about going into a classroom and discovering there’s a test one didn’t prepare for. Now he’s having dreams where he is succeeding at underewater BUD/S exercises. I think this dream business is very significant and telling.

He will have to work as an M.A. for a while before he can apply to go into BUD/S again. I think he will be ready then. He's damn motivated.

“But as the second jet crushed into the second
  tower at the World Trade Center, I knew bin Laden
  was the culprit, and that Taliban were harboring
  him in Afghanistan. Despite the horror that day, I
  was relieved. If al Qaeda had possessed
  deployable weapons of mass destruction, atomic
  or otherwise, they would have used them.”
             Michael Yon, former A-team member
            in U.S. Army Special Forces, in Tabula Rasa


Curtis LeMay (in leather flight jacket) was only 37 years old when he was first tasked with leading all strategic air operations against the Japanese home islands.

The Navy is really an awesome branch of the U.S. military. Today’s Navy is a high-tech operation that places a premium on education. As soon as my son arrived at his duty station, they gave him an SAT-type test during indoc there. From that, they concluded he needed remedial math and reading. They told him that since his duty station places such a high premium on education, they wanted him college-ready before starting his job. They also told him they would pay for all his tuition and books if he would take college classes while stationed there. The first stop though, is the remedial classes and he’s been doing this for a month or so. After he started taking the remedial classes, it shortly became apparent that a mistake had been made somewhere in evaluating his English skills. The language part of the SAT-like entry test must have been at the very end of the test (and my son was burned out or didn’t get to it), or the Navy goofed somehow, but it soon became apparent in his English class that my son is actually way-advanced in his reading. They were however, correct about his lack of math skills (I knew this much) and he’s been learning a lot. These are his last few days of math. He will be doing geometry for the next two days and then he can finally start working as an MA next week (at least that’s what they tell him).

During our phone call with him, my wife and I pushed him hard about getting his college degree while in the Navy. I also emphasized (again) the value of becoming an officer in the U.S. military, where they teach you about leadership and give you tons of responsibility at a very early age. Many people are surprised to learn that Curtis LeMay, the super-aggressive, cigar-chomping WWII general who oversaw all strategic air operations against the Japanese home islands, was only 37 years old when tasked with the assignment. My son said “Well, I’m going to tell you something but I don’t want you guys to get all gushy and go ‘AHHHhhhhhh; sweet nookums’ ” (delivered with a lilting, musical intonement). My son said the 35-ish-year-old lady who supervises his lessons and proctors his tests (his “teacher”) asked him to approach her desk at the end of class. She asked him what his plans were; whether he was going to try to make a career of the Navy. My son told her how he had washed out at BUD/S and that being a SEAL was the very reason for his joining in the first place. He said that if his only option was to be an MA, then no, he wouldn’t likely be staying long. He added though, that if he could be a SEAL, he could imagine staying in the Navy for a long time. She said “You’re not like most of the people around here; you’ve got a head on your shoulders and you’re intelligent. You shouldn’t be wasting your time as an enlisted man, you should get your college degree while you’re here and become an officer. The Navy needs people like you.”

True to our word, my wife and I waited until we got off the phone with him to go ♬♩“AHHHhhhhh… sweet nookums!”♩♬

UPDATE, 20:56, 29 March 2007:

My son’s duty station recently had a “Command Competition” where each of the departments on base entered people to compete physically to see which command had the toughest dudes. At least that’s how it was supposed to work. In reality, people just showed up if they felt like it and entered for personal reasons. My son tried out for all that was available: sit-ups, pull-ups, and running. He won them all and the competition’s officials awarded him a trophy for each event. Since it was a Command Competition, they also gave him a giganzo-size “overall” trophy for his command, the MAs.

He took the three individual trophies to his room and the big Command trophy to his MA office. Apparently, the office had only a couple of small trophies (for things like “Third place in Softball”). His boss was so pleased that his command beat all the others (making the MAs look tough), he gave my son two days off with pay. He’s going to use them when my wife and I visit next.

Apparently, he missed a swim-off that was part of the competition. The competition had actually started the week prior but he hadn’t heard anything about it at that time. My son asked them if he could do the swim anyway but they guffawed and said it was all over. My son said he thinks that had he persisted, they would have caved and let him swim anyway. He added that he could have won the swim too. That sounded a tad arrogant so I asked him why he felt that way. He said “Well, it was a front crawl swim and the guy who won did it in twelve minutes; I can do it in seven-something.” OK, maybe not so arrogant.

He’s really looking forward to an on-base Ironman competition coming up this summer. He said he’s always been fascinated by Ironmans and wants to try one. He doesn’t own a bike though so he figures he’s either going to come in at the back of the pack due to poor bike performance, or he’s really going to hurt the next few days after the competition for pushing himself too hard, or he will have to rent a bike a month in advance.


Petty Officer Third Class insignia. The symbol between the eagle and the chevron denotes the sailor’s rate (job classification). Crossed anchors signifies a Boatswain's Mate.

My son has been in the Navy now for 13 months and was just promoted to Petty Officer 3rd Class (E-4). His promotion went like this:

(Phone rings)
My son: Hello
Voice: Petty Officer [Last name]??
My son: Uhm… well, this is Seaman [Last name].
Voice: Well, it’s Petty Officer now; you’ve been promoted. Congratulations.

If a new enlistee doesn’t feel motivated, you enter as an E-1. Immediately after enlisting, my son studied a manual the Navy recruiting office provided him (regarding ranks, uniform insignia, Navy policies, etc.). Self-adhesive reminder notes are still stuck to the downstairs bathroom mirror here at the house. Before leaving his home town for Great Lakes Recruit Training Command (“basic training”), he took the entrance exam to see what he remembered from the manual. Having passed that test, he started his Navy career as an E-2. He got promoted to Seaman 1st Class (E-3) some while ago. Getting to his current rank, E-4, can’t be done in any less than one year. His bosses were pushing him to take the promotion test before he felt he was ready. “We know it’s short notice, but we want you to take this test next week. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait six more months before you can next take the test” they told him. My son said he wanted at least a month to study (but didn’t get the extra time). He passed the test anyway.

My son doesn’t want to go any higher in rank. If he gets to E-5 and then goes to Coronado, he would almost certainly be the head of a boat crew. He doesn’t want that because the boat crew leaders receive a lot of sweet personal attention from the instructors. Apparently, there were twenty-six officers in my son’s class at Coronado. That ensured that each boat crew had a crew leader who was an officer. In the DVD series on the SEALs, one can see that the instructors hold the boat crew leaders to a very high standard of conduct. When watching the DVD, keep a lookout for the fortunes of a trainee by the name of Rivera; being a boat crew leader can be extra tough if you’re singled out. Since my son left Coronado, the Navy cut back on the number of experienced personnel from the fleet who are allowed into BUD/S. Apparently, the SEALs don’t get as many good years out of these older (but more experienced) guys before they can no longer physically keep up. Consequently, the Navy is increasingly filling slots at Coronado with new recruits fresh from the civilian world. As a result, the latest classes have an abundance of E-1’s to E-3’s but very few with the rank of E-7+ (or commissioned officers). In one of the latest classes at Coronado, there were only three officers. As a result, the boat crews are now headed by guys with the rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class or 1st Class. These soles are now on the receiving end of the special, one-on-one attention from the BUD/S instructors that used to be largely reserved for commissioned officers.

I told my son that being a boat crew leader would look good on his record and grease the rails for further promotions after receiving his Trident. I also told him I thought he would do really well as a boat crew leader (I truly feel this way, of course). But having experienced the pleasures of Coronado first hand at the ripe old age of 19 (when he really wasn’t ready), he felt that BUD/S is tough enough without further stacking the deck against one’s self. I suspect he fears that getting stuck with an underperforming boat crew would almost certainly get him jettisoned. However, I believe exactly as the instructors do: underperforming boat crews are largely the result of poor leadership. Sure you can get stuck with a real turd on the crew but an effective leader can deal with things like that. I don’t think my son’s boat crew would perform poorly at all. Effective leaders “lead.”  Men need to be lead by someone they have confidence in. It’s clearly true that being a boat crew leader can be impossibly tough and get you ejected if you aren’t up to the task. But if a boat is consistently “pretty good,” you make it through with a bearable amount of flack from the instructors. Being a boat crew leader reminds me of the Chinese character for “crisis”: weiji.  It’s an ideograph comprised of the characters “dangerous” and “opportunity.” I had that symbol posted in my cubicle for years while in R&D. It served as a reminder to me that opportunity often awaits for those who remain cool when the going gets tough.

P.S.: While looking on the Web to see if a Unicode character existed for weiji, I ran across a site stating that weiji doesn’t fairly translate to “dangerous opportunity.” That author referred to a twin-character version of the word — rather like how two German words can be chained together to create a new word. I also noted that the very next post on that same Web site disagreed with the first. Regardless, I had my weiji produced, calligraphy-style with brush and ink onto an 8½ × 11 paper, by the owner of a Chinese restaurant. He wrote the single-character amalgam version (an ideograph) and stated that it does indeed translate to “dangerous opportunity.” I later posted that sign in my cubicle at a fuel cell laboratory where I worked with a Chinese engineer who has a Ph.D. in electrochemistry. He knows English about as well as Chinese and affirmed its meaning.

On an aside, the nature of Asian languages has a profound influence on the very nature of Asian society. Westerners are often baffled by the negotiating style of businessmen from Asian countries (primarily China and Japan). I’ve met and negotiated with groups of businessmen from these countries several times myself and was struck by how little verbal communication amongst themselves they require. In every case, they flew quite a distance to visit us and had ample time to prepare in advance of the meeting. These representatives speak their native tongue as well as English. When they have a sidebar conversation, they speak privately in their native tongue. When we have a sidebar conversation, we do so in English, which our visitors can also understand. Realizing this of course, Americans may try to whisper. But Americans tend to be a loud bunch and inevitably, a less-sensitive topic comes up in a sidebar and whispering discipline erodes from thereon. I’ve long theorized that the nature of the Chinese and Japanese written languages imbues them with a harmonized philosophy and outlook on life to a much greater extent than Western peoples, who use the letter-based Romance languages. My second-favorite example of the Chinese language is the character for “trouble”; it’s an ideograph comprising three symbols: the symbol for “house” with two women in it. It should come as no wonder that male chauvinism is alive and well in these societies; old-style notions of men and women are deeply entrenched in the very building blocks of their written language. Policemen in America often tell about how after working with their partner in a car for years, they can damn near read each others’ minds. Negotiators from Asian countries invariably struck me as possessing this attribute; they sometimes just looked at each other and gave barely perceptible nods. Every time I came away from these negotiations, I tried to develop a theory-of-mind with regard to our Asian visitors: how did we strike them? I eventually concluded that we must come across the opposite of how they came across to us. We must strike them as loud, loquacious, poorly coordinated (less able to “get onto the same page”), and horribly prone to spilling the beans by discussing sensitive topics right in front of them.

UPDATE: GOING UNDERCOVER WITH NCIS, 05:55, 23 December 2007:


In the summer of 2007, my son was in his guard shack at his duty station when the O.I.C. of the M.A.s (a lady who commands about a hundred M.A.s) told him to come out to talk to her. She told him she just received a call from NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service). The first thing that went through my son’s mind was “oh crap, what’d I do, what’d I do?” She quickly followed up by saying the NCIS wanted someone from the Navy to go undercover in an investigation. Many are surprised to learn that NCIS isn’t a department of the Navy and NCIS personnel aren’t even “military,” they’re Federal civilian law enforcement personnel, like the FBI or BATF; they just specialize exclusively in Navy-related investigations. For this particular investigation, they reportedly needed someone who was currently in the Navy to help. She said NCIS asked her to suggest someone suitable for the undercover assignment and the first person—in fact, the only person—that came to mind, she told my son, was him. She said she couldn’t tell him what it was about but he’d be contacted by NCIS shortly. By the way, when he’s not in a guard shack of one sort or another, my son spends his 12-hour shift piloting a patrol boat, chasing recreational craft away from a certain Nimitz-class aircraft carrier when it’s at its home port.

In a few days, NCIS called him. A lot of Navy personnel were buying drugs downtown so the NCIS had decided to do drug-buy stings on dealers in cooperation with local police. They wanted the word to get out onto the street that dealers shouldn’t sell drugs to Navy personnel. They wanted someone from the Navy who could talk “Navy lingo” if questioning from the dealers got detailed. They also wanted an individual who looked “obviously military.” That’s supposedly what they were looking for when they called the head of the M.A.s. They didn’t say as much, but I suspect that the reason they specifically called the head of the M.A.s is they wanted someone with law enforcement training and the powers of arrest—not because he would actually make any arrests, but work in law-enforcement gives individuals street smarts. I also suspect they weren’t terribly concerned about “talking Navy lingo,” and needed someone who really was from the Navy to bolster a legal theory or point of law, and/or that they wanted their message to the drug dealers to be strengthened by the fact that one of their people truly was “Navy.”

It’s not how my son performed in the undercover operation that I’m proud of him, it’s the fact that he was the first person that came to the mind of the head of the M.A.s. My son said he had only spoken once with the head of the M.A.s briefly when he first arrived at his duty station. She asked him about his background and he told her he had washed out of SEAL training and hoped to eventually go back. My son’s immediate superiors also know my son works out every day (he’s completely got the Crossfit “religion”) because they make special accommodations in his schedule for him to go work out at the gym. I don’t think the head of the M.A.s knew he worked out, but I believe she observed how damn physically fit he looks and how he carries himself. She also knew he must be a highly motivated individual based on her initial interview with him when he told her about his desire to be a SEAL. I offered this observation to my son and he said “Dad… this is a limited-duty station. People with medical waivers for light duty work come here. There are guys with bad backs and pregnant chicks crawling all over this base.” I asked, rather incredulously, “and that applies to the damn M.A.s? Are you trying to tell me that the guards are a bunch of ‘goombas’?” He replied, “well… no.”

Young men wear humility particularly well. I don’t know whether my son works this “awe shucks, I’m just a country doctor”-thing on purpose or if he just naturally feels that way. I think it’s the latter. Either way, I couldn’t be more proud of him.

As regards the actual sting, it was the classic drug sting stuff you see on Fox network’s Cops. My son and this young NCIS guy approached two drug dealers loitering in front of a convenience store. My son and the NCIS guy (the “buyers”) said they wanted to buy some crack. The drug dealers said they didn’t have any but did have some meth. The buyers said something along the lines of “Hey, that sounds great. We’ll take some of that!”. That response sounded somewhat unrealistic to me but it apparently aroused no suspicion. The drug dealers told the buyers someone would come along shortly with what they were looking for. Apparently, they were talking only to “runners” who front for the actual dealer. While they were waiting for the dealer, the runners and the buyers made small talk. “So, you guys are in the Navy huh?” they asked. “Yeah” my son answered.

After about fifteen minutes, the actual drug dealer drove up in a Mercedes, sold them their meth, and our buyers paid him. As they walked away, they gave a secret “signal” that local police and NCIS investigators watching from nearby could see. The plan had been that once the signal had been given, the local police would swoop in with their cars, block the drug dealer in before he could leave the parking lot, and make the arrests. Unfortunately, all the police and NCIS cars necessarily had to position themselves across the street some distance away. At the time the transaction went down and the signal had been given, traffic had backed up in several directions at once and all the law enforcement cars had to wait a moment for traffic to clear before they could move out. My son and the NCIS guy just watched over their shoulders as the drug dealer drove away with the law enforcement cars in chase. They also watched as a couple of cars pulled into the parking lot to arrest the two runners.

Reportedly, the police and NCIS caught up with the drug dealer several blocks away. He had allegedly murdered someone several months prior and had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. He had the marked drug money on him but didn’t have any drugs on his person when they pulled him over. He did, though, have a locked glove compartment. NCIS investigators made the actual arrest and turned the suspect over to local police on-scene. The police later obtained a search warrant to open the glove compartment, where they discovered more drugs and a handgun that was later determined to be the one used in the murder.

When my son told me of all the above, I asked how the runners assumed he and the NCIS guy were Navy personnel. My son said “well, for one thing, we were both wearing grey tee-shirts that said ‘NAVY’ across the front.” Yeah, but lots of people wear those shirts. My son responded “Dad, these drug dealers don’t look anything like we do; they’re all meth’d-out on drugs.”

At the end of the day, my son was at the downtown police station filling out his witness statement. He said the scene was a stereotype straight out of the movies with lots of cops sitting at their crammed-together desks with their coats on the back of their chairs and guns in their holsters. The buzz was accented with a cop who was hauling a spiky haired tuff in handcuffs through the maze. An obvious prostitute was being processed by one of the officers at his desk. Then he heard a familiar voice. He looked up. A policeman was bringing his methed-up female drug runner though the office area. She, having spied my son from half way across the room, yelled out “Hey, I had no idea you were a cop; you guys were GOOD.”

Note: The above occurred earlier this year. I can talk about the above now for two reasons: 1) The express intention of NCIS in performing the above sting was to get the word out to drug dealers on the street that customers who are seemingly Navy personnel might really be law enforcement officers who could bust them, and 2) my son will no longer be working for NCIS in this particular capacity since he recently put in his chit to go back to Coronado to try to be a SEAL.


My son is now going back to BUD/S to try to be a SEAL again. Click here to skip forward to the beginning of that section.


The Navy would desperately like to find a way to screen SEAL candidates using some magic testing technique that could predict their likelihood of making it through BUD/S. Most trainees have the physical capability to get through the evolutions and tolerate the cold; it’s how much “heart” the trainee has: a desire to be a SEAL that is so powerful that a man is willing to endure pain and the extreme discomfort of bone-chilling cold. The Navy spends millions of dollars yearly advertising to recruit for the SEALs and still eliminates 70% of those who try out. That’s not an efficient way of doing things. Coronado had a brief foray where the base commander pressured the instructors to lighten up so more trainees could make it through. Of course, this was deleterious to the SEALs’ esprit de corps. In fact, the class just before my son’s was the last one under that particular commander and it had an unheard-of graduation rate. My son’s class was the first to go back to the old way of doing things under a new commander. It would be better though, if precious slots in BUD/S at Coronado could be filled with candidates who not only have high ASVAB scores, but have also scored high on a test predicting a given recruit had the will to succeed in the face of adversity.

Soon after arriving at Coronado, my son and the other SEAL trainees were given a test. It was a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-like test that MIT developed in hopes that some sort of correlation could eventually be found linking test results to the likelihood of making it through BUD/S. My son didn’t even tell me about this until after he was done at Coronado. He told me of the test and how while at Coronado, he had been under a boat on the beach (something you do a lot of in BUD/S) with some guy. This guy said he could feel and hear his knee tearing as they ran. My son reacted in the civilian-sane way: “Dude! You can’t keep that up. You’ll really screw up your knee. You gotta go see the medic.” The guy’s response was something along the lines of “Forget that! They’d roll me to a later class or drop me.” Rip, rip, crunch, crunch, rip. My son exclaimed to me “How the hell can anyone test for that?” Now, I wouldn’t put anything past the capability of the U.S. armed services to eventually solve. But I was struck by how emphatic my son was over how the reaction of his running mate was the sort of thing that couldn’t be uncovered via any written test. He had taken the test and he had “been there, done that” under the boats. Accordingly, I accept that testing for that kind of dedication is a mighty difficult task and that’s why the likes of MIT was involved in the experiment.

Strange as it may seem, this reminds me of tests some stockbroker candidates were once given. My brother is a stockbroker. He was the manager of a branch office of a nation-wide brokerage house. He was given various entry tests before getting his license, including an actual MMPI. A lot of money is spent in training a stockbroker and lots of opportunity income isn’t realized when a new stockbroker fails to flourish. After years of messing around with testing foolishness, the brokerage houses found only one correlation between all of their test data and the likelihood any given broker would be successful: people from divorced families tend to do better. They could find no other correlations. It didn’t matter if you went to a community college or Harvard. It didn’t matter if you were a first-born child or last-born. Nothing else mattered — at least no other correlations were found. They still give all their would-be brokers a test, but it’s a test to see how well an individual takes tests! At this, it’s an exceedingly accurate predictor. One has to take lots of tests to be certified as a broker so one’s ability at taking them is important. I spoke with my brother when I was writing this entry. He thought (this was his opinion now) that three attributes are required to be a successful broker: bravery (a.k.a boldness or chutzpah in this context), organization, and perseverance. One can get by satisfactorily if they have just one of these attributes in spades but the super performers have lots of all three. Apparently, these aspects of one’s personality can’t be accurately measured with a test. My brother used the word “bravery” and its two parenthetical equivalents before I told him I was adding to this article; they’re the words he chose. Bravery, organization, and perseverance; I thought that was pretty interesting. A final observation: after reading a draft of this paragraph to my brother to check for accuracy, he added that the brokerage house theorized that the reason children from divorced families succeed more often is they are better accustomed to overcoming adversity. Doubly interesting.

Perhaps this explains the affinity some hiring managers have for ex-Navy SEALs and others like them (e.g. Army Special Forces). There’s clearly a certain “cool” factor, I long ago recognized, that shines on such individuals and makes managers want to hire them. Why the bias? Could it simply be a matter that people want to “hang” with a guy like an ex-Navy SEAL on lunch breaks and listen to his stories? If the guy isn’t an arrogant cuss who’s full of himself and is genuinely likable, maybe you can pick up an anecdote here and witty retort there. Perhaps some of his “coolness” might rub off onto you. For a variety of reasons, most of us wanted to belong to the “cool groups” in high school; it’s natural to want to associate with appealing people you think are better than you in some way and have high social skills and standing. We are after all, social animals. But, I wondered, maybe there is a truly valid but intangible reason why ex-Navy SEALs and others like that might be more productive employees. I think I’ve got the answer and the stockbroker angle was the key.

Even in the modern world, we must daily overcome adversity to accomplish our assigned and personal goals. Today of course, “adversity” is non-life-threatening stuff like dealing with a prick of a boss, or a salesman not getting rattled after having heard “no” twenty-five times in a row, or someone in R&D dealing with the fallout and opposition arising from an experiment that failed and plowing ahead to salvage the project. One must continuously stay cool as a cucumber and maintain a friendly and professional demeanor at work. Our little social slights to coworkers when we are frustrated and not at our best are long remembered. Whether it is interacting with coworkers or our boss, it takes twenty “attaboys” to make up for one “awe shit.” Employers are always looking for those individuals who are perpetually on an even keel, mature, seemingly never lose their cool, and quickly and successfully accomplish complex and challenging tasks with minimal supervision. Often, jobs also require that someone must perform in a team environment as well. And look what you get when you hire someone like an ex-Navy SEAL: a man with a demonstrated ability to overcome obstacles and a demonstrated ability to work in a team environment. Even after retiring as a Navy SEAL and going to work in the civilian workforce, the man who drives to work each morning without complaint to face and overcome the day’s challenges is performing the modern equivalent of riding off to slay dragons. He must, in order to bring home the material resources necessary to ensure his children aren’t raised in poverty. Especially demanding jobs require lots of bravery, organization, and perseverance. Doing well at a challenging job is the human equivalent of the bull elk that commands the best valley territory with lush meadows and a flowing stream; his cows and offspring enjoy the resources necessary to thrive and have the best chance of survival. The ability to overcome adversity — whatever its form — and succeed is an attribute all employers seek.

What has become clearer to me since my son tried to become a SEAL is just how intangible the ability to overcome adversity is. And it isn’t an attribute that only the military needs; any demanding job, like being a stockbroker, needs it. It is important for men in many walks of life. Even more interesting, the ability to overcome adversity is so deeply rooted in one’s character that the brightest minds to date haven’t created a written test that can assess it.

Statue of Buddha at sunset

Not that I think being a hard-driven workaholic is the be-all, best thing in existence. All societies need a mix of personality types amongst its citizens. Clearly, certain leadership positions are best filled with people with type-A personalities. One can however, overdo it while trying to reach one’s personal objectives. I have a friend who spent quite some time in Thailand. He told me of the Thai people and Buddhism. Buddhism is arguably more of a philosophy than a religion. Buddhism teaches how to accept everything that life — and death — throws at you with grace and tranquility. Regardless of whether one reaches their objective in life or how hard one works on achieving that end, one squanders their life if they endlessly chase the carrot on the stick and forget to enjoy the ride on the way. I’ve seen workaholics spend 13 hours a day at work six days a week who now have regrets over missing out on family life when their children were young. I’ve seen lazy bums who’ve done precisely the opposite. Neither is a proper balance in life.

“MATURITY”, 11:43, 11 JUNE 2007:

I’ve developed a theory regarding maturity in young men. European young men appear to be more mature and secure in their manhood than American young men. My best friend is well-traveled and I’ve spoken with him for years about differences between all things American vs. the rest of the world. Also, my daughter and son-in-law recently arrived back after teaching English in Vienna for a year. My daughter by the way, speaks German and Spanish and was able to learn much about Austrian life that year. Also, my wife and I traveled in Europe and observed first hand the differences between Europeans and Americans. I have a theory as to why young men in Europe come across as more mature and self-confident. Not surprisingly, there are a variety of reasons to account for this but all of them boil down to the fact that European young men truly have more substance at an earlier age than American men, who tend to project a superficial façade.

Why more substance? It seems to boil down to education, sexual attitudes, social hierarchies, and mandatory military service. I’ll address these in order:

  • In Europe, young men just out of the equivalent of high school are much more knowledgeable about the world and world history. They also speak not only their native tongue but also know English pretty well. This “education” factor alone is significant. A European young male knows he’s got a head on his shoulders.
  • In many European countries, prostitution is legal and well regulated so it’s not uncommon for a young man’s first sexual encounters to be with a prostitute. This is not a big deal at all in Europe. A young man heading into his first meaningful relationship is already sexually experienced and confident. Consequently, European young men don’t have an entire culture of drinking and socializing centered largely around the sexual conquest of women.
  • European school children don’t fragment into social cliques like they do in American high schools. In America, you have “the jocks,” “the soshes” (if that’s how you spell it), “the nerds,” etc. This concept is so foreign to Europeans that one of the first questions a classroom of older Viennese school children had for my daughter was “Are American high schools really like in the movies?” My daughter had to have them explain what they meant. To them, high school social cliques were the product of Hollywood screenwriters. They seemed suitably awed when informed that it was largely true. In contrast, European public schools are more like American private schools: they’re socially “flat.” Consequently, European young men don’t have a strong a sense that they’ve been pre-judged all their lives. They don’t feel they’ve been labeled as belonging to a particular social segment, nor do they feel the need to prove they don’t deserve the label under which they’ve felt marginalized. Instead, they’ve spent their socially formative years in a comparatively supportive social environment of their peers.

    P.S. The school kids got a big kick out of seeing pictures of the inside of an American refrigerator. They studied the pictures intently.

  • Finally, Austrian men, as with many other European countries, have universal, compulsory military service for men. In Austria, it’s a six-month to one-year commitment. This weighs on a young man’s mind starting in primary school. Constantly living with the realization that one will be drafted into the military when one is in his late teens or early twenties drives home the lesson that “baby” is not the center of the universe; one must subordinate himself to society for the greater good.

Due to the above four factors, I believe, young European males come across like older American men: self-confident and socially at ease. If you have dinner at a restaurant, they are invariably keeping an eye out for whether you are properly being served by the waiter. When in group discussion, they are curious about others and want to hear from their foreign visitors; they are loath to talk about themselves or brag. They develop a true independence at a relatively early age: it’s not uncommon at all for a European male in his early adulthood to have spent a summer — or an entire year — backpacking through, say, the Australian outback or throughout the Greek islands. They’re not intimidated by the notion that if they drop their cell phone into the toilet while traveling, mommy’s not going to be around to fish it out for them; they’ll have to do it them-self. All in all, European young men come across as worldly, confident, and mature. They dress more maturely too. Clearly, there are good reasons underlying this inner confidence. As Freud said, after the instinct for self preservation, there are two motivations of men to explain their behavior: the sex drive, and the desire to be great. European men have a head start in both departments. In the end, European young men at, say, the age of 22+, truly seem to have embraced the two golden rules of dealing with adversity: 1) don’t sweat the small shit, and 2) everything is small shit. They seem to understand at an early age that one will be remembered and judged not by their wealth or possessions, but by how they treated others. By contrast, you can often easily identify a young American male in Europe simply by the way he walks down the street. He takes up more room and walks “with a ’tude” as if busying himself with the effort to project the “I’m rough, tough ’n’ buff so see me strut”-look. It’s almost laughable because the bravado is pure façade. Either that, or the poor young man is projecting the military and industrial might of America upon himself. Older American males have come into their own by the time they’re in their 40s and no longer expend energy telegraphing male bravado. Accordingly, it’s somewhat more difficult to identify an older American male traveling in Europe (so long as he’s not over-weight). The easiest way to tell is from his clothing or the way he holds his cigarette.

An aside on “blending in”: I worked hard at trying to blend in while visiting Austria, hating the notion of being conspicuously “American” for any reason. One has to be especially careful when eating at restaurants; ways of holding and using one’s flatware while dining that are perfectly appropriate in America are considered childish, even barbaric, in many places in Europe. I watched what I wore, how I walked, and even the expression on my face. Austrian men have this practiced, dour, nothing-can-impress-me countenance that I found could be rather easily mimicked. Austrian men also assume a rather polished, even military-like, posture that took a bit more work to replicate. I even practiced my “Ich bin Amerikaner” (“I’m an American”) line until my daughter and son-in-law pronounced it to be passable for Viennese German. I imagined I would use that line for the inevitable (desperately hoped-for) confusion Austrians would have regarding my origins. Yet, I got to use the phrase only once: he was a young man having difficulty with a change machine in a train station and was probably desperate enough to approach the mayor of Dorkville to break a ten-Euro note. But I rattled off my line and he instantly showed me his palms in a “never mind, sorry”-type of motion and said something in German that was the equivalent of “Oh, I understand.” I walked off thoroughly pleased with myself, now ready to try to fool an immigration official with some James Bond-like exploit of impersonation. I eventually found that while traveling, some officials, like the security people at the airport terminal you show your passport to, will address an oncoming traveler in either English or German based only upon visual clues. I suppose that if all you do is ask for a damn passport all day, little games like this probably keeps your mind from turning to mush. I found that if I kept my passport hidden, they were getting it wrong (saying hello and asking for my passport in German) more often than they were getting it right. It takes effort to pull this off; if you aren’t paying attention to the details as you approach them, they’ll invariably address you in English as you approach (“Hello. Passport please.”) How’d you know, how’d you know?!? I hate it when that happens.

P.S. Going back for a moment to my “well-traveled friend”: A long time ago, I was working on an industrial control device and was designing computer-generated, algorithmically produced alert sounds for it. One of the alerts was a low-level one that I tried to make sound as close as possible to one featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was the low, grumbling alert where Bowman was in the pod and had just pressed the first buttons to blow the explosive bolts on the hatch. I played my recreation of it for my friend, proud of my accomplishment and thoroughly pleased with its similarity to the one in the movie. He shrugged his shoulders dismissively, pronounced that “It sounds like a Belgian busy signal,” and walked away quite unimpressed. Yeah, well-traveled. He might well have said “It just sounds like a Belgian busy signal: government-owned telephone exchange: east of the Senne River.”

Anyway, back to the subject of maturity: The ability to accept everything that life throws at you with grace and tranquility requires, to a certain extent, wisdom. Wisdom comes with maturity. When my son was younger, like most 15-year-olds, he had entered a phase where he thought he knew everything. That phase reminded me of something Mark Twain supposedly said about his father:

The quote, while useful, is apocryphal. Samuel Clemens’ (Mark Twain’s) father died when he was eleven years old.

My son seemed to have fallen victim to that malady afflicting most adolescents: he was perpetually experiencing an awakening over how knowledgeable he had become. And yet, he was still making poor decisions. I was having difficulty explaining to him how having knowledge does not automatically equate to wisdom and maturity so I posted the following sign in his room:

(Accumulated Facts) (Synthesis) (Judgment & Maturity)
• Remembering facts that are
  each explicitly learned.
• The ability to take one or more bits of knowledge
  and deduce a new conclusion that hadn’t been
  explicitly learned before.
• Knowing what is important and what’s not.
• The ability to look at problems from a different
  point of view.
• Anticipating what the broader implications of
  actions might be.
• The ability to recognize connections and
  associations — patterns — in data and
• Understanding peoples’ motivations and being able
  able to anticipate their behavior.
• Planning for the future rather than for the moment.
• Forgoing what you want to do in order to do what
  is expected of you.

That was just part of what it took to raise a well-adjusted, proper young man. Things seem to have worked out so far.


On our first day in Rome, my wife and I were out for a walk looking for a place to eat. At a bus stop was an 80-year-old man and a thirties-something lady. Generally throughout Europe, people below the age of 30 universally know English whereas those older than that know English only if their job requires it (working in the retail service industry or tourism, for instance). Needing directions, I asked if either spoke a little English (even if they don’t, everyone understands that question). I fully expected the lady to speak up but the 80-year-old guy spoke up in a strong and confident voice and said he knew English perfectly well. He had started working for Americans right after the war. He asked what country I was from. We had been forewarned by my daughter and my son-in-law that people in Austria (our next stop) are near-universally incredulous that Americans could have voted for Bush the second time. Regardless of your political leanings, this is the reality of how many Europeans feel. As long as Americans aren’t “ugly Americans,” Europeans treat Americans decently but there’s a growing resentment over America’s foreign policy lately and many Americans can sense the tension.

Anyway, back to the old guy. He asked us where we were from. I told him we were Americans but added — largely as a way to disarm people and humorously break the ice — that I didn’t vote for Bush either time. He wrinkled his nose, puckered his lips, waved his palms at me in a dismissive side-to-side motion, and indicated that this “Bush stuff” is transitory B.S. of no substance. He’s 80-something after all; he’s a “big picture” kinda guy now. With a big, sincere smile, he put his hand on my shoulder and warmly said “Good for you. America is at the top of the heap. No other country comes close. You’re lucky.” We had a short but wonderful conversation as I did what my wife sometimes criticizes me for doing if done indelicately: I do a “brain suck.”

I thought that since Mussolini’s Italy was an Axis power during the war, that Italians had no problem with the Germans. Not true. From the point of view of the average Italian, the Germans were an occupying power who mistreated the Italian populace. Although we think that things started going bad for the Germans after June of 1944 (the D-day landings), things were going bad for the Germans in Italy by early ’43, immediately after Germany lost in North Africa. There wasn’t enough food for the average Italian citizen thereafter. By the end of the war, there was hardly a cat remaining in Italy; the Italians had eaten them all to survive. The Italians hated the Germans. Maybe they weren’t throwing kisses and flowers at American servicemen when they rolled into Rome, but Italians quickly found that the Americans were very nice, cared about their personal welfare, fed them, and got their economy going again. They even hired Italians for American construction projects in Italy. This apparently, is what happened with this man.

The average young person in Europe doesn’t remember much of the Cold War, let alone WWII. This old man had been around the block more than a few times and couldn’t hold America in any higher regard — nearly a reverence. His bus pulled up and we had to say goodbye. I wish I had taken his picture. I wish I had been able to visit with him for several hours over dinner. After his bus pulled away, my wife and I walked, as the old man had directed, up the road where we found a nice sidewalk café and ate some pizza. We like Italy. The people are warmer and friendlier than any other place we visited. The girls are prettier there too; some are positively stunning.

UPDATE: DIVE PHYSICAL 17:41, 28 January 2008:

A few weeks ago, my son filled out the proper paperwork to go back to BUD/S and e-mailed it to Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado (or simply, “Coronado”). They responded the very next day, telling him to go get his dive physical. A dive physical is essentially a standard physical on steroids. You get an EKG, blood-work, inoculations, the whole nine yards. Once he passes his dive physical, he expects to have few days to a week before he undergoes his Physical Screening Test (PST). Regardless, he’s (very) ready for the physical; he’s never been in better shape except for his run times, which have flagged a bit given that it’s wintertime. Accordingly, he’s been doing a lot of extra running lately.

The PST comprises gym performance on pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups; a 500-yard swim; and a 1.5-mile run. My son can now do all of these far better than when he first qualified to try out for the SEALs.

UPDATE: Scheduling the PST, 06:28, 21 February 2008 (UTC):

A single modified tactical SM-3 Block IA was launched at 5:36 PM (Hawaii time) from the USS Lake Erie (CG70), which is a U.S. Navy AEGIS cruiser. The missile successfully impacting a 5,000-lb, non-functioning NRO satellite approximately 247 km (133 nautical miles) over the Pacific Ocean, as it travled through space at more than 17,000 mph.

Based on U.S. Navy press release.

First things first. Here’s an excerpt, from a less than an hour ago, as originally reported here on CNN:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The U.S. Navy succeeded in its effort to shoot down an inoperable spy satellite before it could crash to Earth and potentially release a cloud of toxic gas, the Department of Defense said Wednesday. The first opportunity for the Navy to shoot down the satellite came about 10:30 p.m. ET Wednesday. The plan included firing a missile from the USS Lake Erie in the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii to destroy the satellite.

They did it on their first try with a ten-second launch window!

In the weeks to follow, it was reported in Aviation Week & Space Technology (an American aviation industry magazine with ads in it for stuff like missile defense systems and the 787) that airborne sensors aboard an RC-135 Cobra Ball reconnaissance aircraft from the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, which is equipped with spectral analysis equipment, confirmed the presence of the toxic hydrazine rocket fuel after the intercept. The event was also imaged by the Navy’s NP-3D Cast Glance (a variation of the P-3 Orion), which shot the video released to the public. The MDA’s HALO I and II flying observatories also assisted in the intercept. Though the USS Lake Erie was some 500 miles northwest of Hawaii, the intercept occurred just west of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, which bristles with telescopes. The intercept also occurred within sight of the Maui space surveillance telescope. Finally, the kinetic intercept vehicle itself transmitted highly detailed imagery back to the ground. Thus, the intercept was ultra-well documented imaging-wise.

Go Navy!

I got that one from a friend of mine who is an ex-Air Force Captain.

My son passed his dive physical so his next step towards getting back to BUD/S is getting his Physical Screening Test (PST) scheduled. It must be proctored by someone and the task was assigned to the Master Diver on base. The people at the dive locker had earlier put my son off for a week because the aircraft carrier is currently in port, which means a lot of underwater maintenance must be done.

SM-3 Kinetic Kill Vehicle (KKV). This warhead contains no explosives. At a closing speed of 9,151 m/s (20,470 mph), every 10 kg of the intercept vehicle has the kinetic energy equivalent to the explosive energy of 100 kg (220 lb) of TNT.

Today, my son knocked on the door at his base’s dive locker. “Come on in!” a voice shouted from inside the door. “I’m on the sh*tter!” My son entered and found guys suiting up in a locker room. They were all busy with their individual tasks at hand and paid little attention to him. The place had an ambience that was appealing to someone like my son—a hybrid of the living quarters at a fire-station and the locker room of a SWAT team unit. My son continued his conversation with the voice on the other side of the door to the head. He had obviously entered a world where real men worked, in a real man’s environment, and where military-grade work really gets accomplished. This was a place where you performed and there was no politically correct patting you on the head for “good effort.” This was where the rubber hit the road.

The Master Diver eventually finished his business in the head and met my son face to face. He’s a tall guy—seemingly six foot-three, looking to be in his early 50s, and clearly in damn good physical shape. He perused my son’s dive physical report and pronounced that it all seemed to be in good order. He questioned my son about his swimming training regimen and general workout regimen. While listening to my son tell me of this conversation, I expected that at each turn, the Master Diver would respond with something like “While that might be good enough to try out for those slack-jawed SEALs, that wouldn’t be nearly damn good enough to keep up with a Navy Diver©®! Damn it son, if you’re wanna be able to perform at 300 feet down, you gotta exercise like you mean it!  Instead, he just listened to my son’s account of the types of work-outs he does and nodded thoughtfully at each answer. He mentioned that he had noticed him working out in the gym on a few occasions. The Master Diver asked what his time was on his 500-yard side-stroke and my son answered truthfully, that he tries to keep it in the “high eights” (~8:50). At the conclusion of their brief meeting, they scheduled his PST for next Thursday. Greg L ( my talk) 07:08, 21 February 2008 (UTC)

Tests vs. the likelihood of making it through BUD/S

As I’ve written earlier, the U.S. Navy has spent a lot of money trying to find indicators that can be used to screen candidates for the BUD/S Challenge. They hired some MIT researchers to give the candidates in my son’s BUD/S class (the first time he was at Coronado) a computerized test in hopes of finding a strong correlation between something on the test and the likelihood of graduating from BUD/S. Currently, ASVAB scores have a decent, but not extraordinarily high, correlation with graduation rate. The ASVAB comprises a number of subtests to evaluate cognitive abilities. Different rates (jobs in the Navy) require a certain minimum combined score on certain subtests. Jobs like going into “Nuclear” or trying out for the SEAL Challenge require the same score on the same three subtests: Arithmetic Reasoning (AR), Verbal Aptitude (VE), and Mechanical Comprehension (MC). In testing shorthand, this is called a “AR+VE+MC” score.

A recent study by the US Navy Personnel Research Studies & Technology and the US Navy Selection & Classification Office found a somewhat better correlation if a different set of subtests was used to screen for SEAL Challenge candidates: Mechanical Comprehension (MC), plus two different ones, General Science (GS), and Electronics Information (EI). In 1997/1998 study of 849 candidates, those who had a “GS+MC+EI” score of 174–180 had a 49.1% graduation rate. But those with a “GS+MC+EI” score of 195 had a graduation rate of 65.4%. However, the Navy would have a tougher time setting a higher ASVAB standard to qualify for entering the BUD/S Challenge because there are so few candidates with the highest scores; there were 177 candidates in the study who (coincidentally) had an “GS+MC+EI” score of 177 but only 26 candidates who scored 195. So the correlation with mental ability and the odds of making it through BUD/S is there, but it’s a weak one.

Further, there is more to being a good SEAL than having the greatest possible ability to make it through BUD/S. It makes sense—to me anyway—that the sort of guy who can get through BUD/S would be someone with good abilities in General Science, Mechanical Comprehension, and Electronics Information. The authors of the Navy study theorized that perceptual speed and technical tests would correlate better to the highly physical BUD/S environment than would the academically oriented math and verbal tests. So it strikes me as interesting that the Navy is willing to pay the cost of going through a few extra recruits by using both Arithmetic Reasoning and Verbal Aptitude as two of the three subtests. These skills are clearly important if one is going into Nuclear but on the surface, seem less critical of a skill for a SEAL. Apparently though, the Navy places a high premium on SEALs who can deal with numbers and the written word; they don’t want a SEAL who drags a dead bad guy out of hole in the sand, drops him at the feet of a lieutenant, and announces “Here… for you. You want me kill more?!?” Accordingly, the Navy isn’t trying to attract those with the absolutely best odds of making it through BUD/S. The Navy’s SEALs must quickly solve problems, operate high-tech equipment, and must be able to communicate effectively amongst themselves and with superiors who are two, even three steps higher up in the chain of command. Being able to effectively get SEAL missions accomplished is, after all, the primary purpose of requiring minimum scores on select aspects of the ASVAB: to ensure the recruit has both the aptitude for a job, and also has the cognitive abilities to perform well at intellectually challenging tasks. It’s icing on the cake for the Navy that the current AR+VE+MC score on the ASVAB serves double-duty as an indicator (albeit a rather weak one) of the likelihood of an individual making it through BUD/S.

Although there is no mental test known that is an extremely good predictor of an individual’s odds of making it through BUD/S (the average drop-out rate is around 70%), there is a strong correlation between one’s run and swim times on their PST versus their odds. The correlations are shown in the tables below:

(Used to be 11:30 max. to enter
SEAL Challenge. It is now 10:59.9 max.)
1.5-MILE RUN* % Graduated
Greater than 11:05 8.9%
10:13–11:05 18.7%
9:52–10:12 27.9%
≤9:51 41.5%

* In boots and pants

The above are the run times. The swim time correlations are as follows:

(12:30 max. to enter SEAL Challenge)
500-YD SIDE-STROKE % Graduated
Greater than 10:52 10.2%
10:12–10:52 19.5%
9:43–10:11 25.3%
9:02–9:42 33.6%
≤9:01 43.3%

Now here’s the kicker: For those who can do a run time of less than 9:33 and a swim of less than 10:11, they have a 55.2% chance of making it through BUD/S. I’m not sure as of this writing what my son’s PST run time is, but his swim is around 8:50. This further improves his odds.

Clearly, SEAL recruits with PST times that just barely meet the minimums have stacked the deck against themselves. Willpower or “heart” can only go so far; your legs still gotta carry your heart to the other end of the beach. Unless you have the willpower to push yourself to the point of developing rhabdomyolysis (“rhabdo” as my son refers to it), it’s nearly impossible to continue through the evening and into the next morning when the instructors have ground down those around you who are in even better shape to the point that some have already decided to DOR.

There’s something else at BUD/S that should increase my son’s odds: “surf torture.” That’s where the instructors have the recruits soak themselves in the surf—often at night—until their lips turn blue and they have uncontrollable shivering. No, it’s not easy. But getting through BUD/S is about being able to withstand the punishment only until 70% of the other recruits have DOR’d. It’s all about relative advantages. The recruits’ ears are underwater when they’re on their backs in the water. My son quickly discovered the last time he was in BUD/S that he can’t hear the instructors hollering at the group. Whereas some individuals’ minds begin to focus on the stinging cold, my son seems to “go to a happy place.” He enjoys the respite from having to pay attention to the instructors and just listens to the underwater sounds while he’s there. I’m not sure where he got this ability. I’d like to think that our conversations about surf torture before he went to BUD/S the first time helped in some way. We had discussed at length about monks who are able to condition their bodies to exposure to cold so their bodies’ shock reflex, which reduces blood flow to the extremities in order to shunt blood to one’s core, is suppressed. Instead, their bodies just crank up the furnace. There they are, sitting in a snow bank in the middle of winter, deep in meditation. Objective physiological monitoring of their body temperature clearly shows they are well and truly controlling this shock reflex; it’s not a matter that they are simply mentally coping with the pain. It’s a mind game and I think one must first suppress their adrenaline rush to master it. You have a head start in mastering this reflex when you go into surf torture with the right attitude.

Given that this will be his second time through BUD/S (which gives one retrospective insight into the instructors’ mind games), and given that he is in such good physical shape, I figure the odds are well on his side this time around. Greg L ( my talk) 21:54, 29 February 2008 (UTC)

UPDATE: Results of the PST, 11:00 Pacific, 28 February 2008

My son took his PST this morning. Here are the results:

Swim (500-yard side-stroke): 8:10 min:sec (12:30 maximum)
Push-ups in two minutes: 81 (42 minimum)
Sit-ups in two minutes: 100 (50 minimum)
Pull-ups (no time limit): 17 (6 minimum)
Run (1.5 miles in boots and pants): 10:08 min:sec (<11:00 to qualify)

These were very competitive scores except for the run which was middle-of-the-pack—especially so now that the Navy recently reduced the maximum-permitted run time by 30 seconds; the 1.5-mile run must now be “under 11 minutes.” HIs swim came first and he feels if he hadn’t smoked himself by swimming forty seconds faster than he’s ever done before, he could have done better on the run. Now that the weather is improving, he plans on getting back to his old regimen of more frequently running with a 20-lb backpack.

The Master Diver was on a dive when my son arrived for his PST so another diver proxied the test. The first thing he asked my son was “You’re in shape to do this aren’t you? You’re not going to be wasting my time I hope. They’ve apparently had personnel from the base show up at the diver locker, permission slip in hand from Coronado to have their PST proxied, and not do nearly well enough. All one guy could do is two pull-ups.

My son and I both thought it was noteworthy that the PST requirements the Navy’s posted on their Web site require that the run be less than 11 minutes but the sheet the diver from the diver locker referred to had the old value of 11:30 to pass. The change must be rather recent. With the PST out of the way, the next step for my son is a “pressure test.” They’ll put him in a hyperbaric chamber and “take him down” to ensure he is able to clear his sinuses and inner ears. That’s scheduled for next Tuesday.

My son’s greatest wish now is that he can be a “mud pup” for the dive locker. Mud pupping is a new addition to the Seal Challenge program and the diver locker hasn’t participated in it before; the details of how my son might fit in are fluid. Mud pupping allows someone who is scheduled to go to Coronado to stay fit during the wait. Essentially, my son would just “be their bitch” at the diver locker and would help out with mundane tasks. He’d answer the phones, sweep the floors, and maybe clean the dive equipment after dives (whether you’ve been in a chlorinated pool or the ocean, your equipment must be rinsed after a dive). But he’d also get a lot of time to work out. In my son’s case at the diver locker, he would be able to PT with the divers in the morning and work out throughout the day.

The mud pup program is a relatively recent development and is part of a series of improvements in how the Navy manages recruits with SEAL Challenge guarantees. When my son and three other recruits in his division with SEAL Challenge guarantees were at Great Lakes Recruit Training Command (“basic training”), they were quartered and trained along with the regular recruits in their division. Whereas Great Lakes had a separate division for their marching band so they could do their high school-style “oompah oompah” out in the field and sound very pretty during the graduation ceremony, there was no similar arrangement for the SEAL Challenge recruits. My son and the three others in his division all got horribly out of shape because the PT they participated in was—from their perspective—a complete joke. The four of them snuck out of their bunks at night to work out. They even found a heavy-duty shower-curtain rod in one of the heads on which they could do pull-ups. Still, they bent the crap out of the thing. In retrospect, my son realizes they would have really caught hell if they had broken the bar and shouldn’t have tried that stunt. Notwithstanding their best efforts, all four suffered serious degradation in their physical condition while at Great Lakes. My son passed his BUD/S PST re-test upon arriving at Great Lakes and was re-tested three more times while there. He noted that his scores and times progressively worsened with each re–test. He further noted he would have just barely qualified on his fourth test.

At the time my son joined, the Navy was spending millions of dollars to advertise on TV to recruit for the SEALs; it still is. Young men throughout the nation worked their asses off to get into prime shape before joining. Then the very first thing the Navy did was get them into worse shape than when they joined! This was a classic case of a lack of coordination between different commands subverting the core objectives of the Navy. I thought this was industrial-strength stupid: a shameful squandering of human resources, a waste of taxpayer money, and an undermining of the security interests of the United States. So in late May of 2006, I wrote a letter with specific proposals for fixing the situation to the captain who heads Great Lakes. It’s hard to know if the letter changed anything, and there’s a strong possibility that Great Lakes was already working on the problem, but it wasn’t too long after my son left for Coronado that Great Lakes separated all the Special Forces guys—which the SEALs is part of—into their own division.

While my son keeps his fingers crossed on being able to mud pup for the diver locker, he is preparing for an upcoming base-wide competition simulating an “Ironman” triathlon. On Monday, he will swim 2.4 miles in the pool, then he’ll pedal 112-miles on a stationary bike in the gym, and then finish with a 26.2-mile marathon run outside. Since world-class pros do it in 8.5 hours, my son will be committing to something like over 12 hours of continuous exertion. He expects to be pretty sore at the end of it all because the bike ride consists of roughly five hours of pedaling, which is something he hasn’t practiced up to now. Five hours on a bicycle outdoors would indeed be grueling but would at least be interesting. Five hours on a stationary bike would be truly mind-numbing so he’ll move the stationary bike over to where he can see a TV.

Greg L ( my talk) 19:00, 28 February 2008 (UTC)

Taking ’er down in the hyperbaric chamber,19:40 Pacific Tuesday 4 March 2008

My son went to the dive locker today and was taken down to 60 feet in a hyperbaric, or diving chamber. They have different sizes of chambers at the dive locker but the one he got into was about as big on the inside as the Alvin is on the inside: just big enough for three, maybe four guys. Another fellow who was going into EOD and an observer from the dive locker accompanied him. They were taken down at a rate of one atmosphere per minute, which is equivalent to a fresh-water dive rate of 10.34 meters or 33.9 feet per minute. My son experienced some adiabatic temperature changes ( Gay-Lussac’s law) going both ways: it got warm as he went down and quite cool coming back up. Anyway, he passed; he experienced no problems clearing his inner ears and sinuses.

My son wasn’t concerned about this test (nor was I) since we had taken SCUBA lessons together before he joined the Navy to be a SEAL and knew he could clear his ears. Coincidentally, on our SCUBA certification dive, we went down to the exact same depth, 60 feet, as my son did in the hyperbaric chamber. In fact, I was the one during that certification dive who experienced trouble that day. I had a bit of a cold and couldn’t open up my eustachian tubes. I had to turn back at about 25–30 feet on one of my dives that day because no amount of nose pinching and blowing could blast past the obstructions. A couple of Sudafed tablets fixed that in a matter of hours. That certification dive was quite interesting to an utter novice like me. But the water was cold (it stung the exposed skin around our mouthpieces) and very muddy. Perhaps I had seen too many travelogs showing gorgeous diving in the Bahamas, but our dive seemed nearly worthless in the grand scheme of diving conditions. One must keep track of their dive partner at all times, and in conditions like we were in, there were times when we could lose sight of each other when we became separated by as little as 15 feet. We stayed at a special hotel that caters to divers—you get high-pressure air at the dock, not gasoline. Although it was overcast, cold outside, and the water was cold and muddy, the hotel was absolutely packed at the time. Recreational divers are an enthusiastic lot.

The next step in the process is for my son to fill out his “1306” (NAVPERS 1306/7). Essentially, it is an enlisted person’s personnel action request for special training. He has to add that to his entire package (medical forms, PST scores, personnel records, etc.) and send it all off to his detailer in Tennessee. It will be up to his detailer to fit my son’s request to the needs of the Navy and assign him to a particular BUD/S class.

Even if you enter the Navy as a civilian with a “BUD/S guarantee” (SEAL Challenge), you are still interviewed by different panels several times while in “boot camp” and each time you must receive their recommendation to go to BUD/S. It seems surprising to me that someone can join the Navy after having first passed the PST and after having received good scores on their ASVAB, and then joined with a SEAL Challenge guarantee—in writing(!)—and you still have to go through a handful of interviews before you can go to BUD/S. But that’s the way it is. I guess that maybe 95% of fresh recruits make it through these interviews. I don’t know exactly what they might be looking for to screen out but imagine that some can get great scores on their ASVAB and still be complete Gomers.

Apparently, getting a BUD/S “recommendation” can be a bit tougher if you’re coming out of the fleet. The Navy already “owns” you and has trained you for a particular rate (job). Even if you passed your dive physical, got great ASVAB scores and did great on the PST, there’s more to it than that; you still have to get the recommendation from the fellow who proctored your PST to receive final permission to apply for BUD/S. In my son’s case, that would be the Master Diver. Even though my son had aced his PST and handled the hyperbaric chamber without difficulty, my son’s perception from dealing with the Master Diver was that getting his BUD/S approval shouldn’t be assumed. The Master Diver really keyed on how my son had previously been in BUD/S. He had overheard my son mentioning it to another diver at the locker and said he wanted to know much more about that. So they had a long talk. He wanted to know all the details of how he didn’t make it through the first time. What phase? What evolution? Exactly what was it about Mask Appreciation that my son couldn’t handle?

They seemed to have hit it off really well. The Master Diver was generally supportive of my son’s objective to be a SEAL and signed the papers giving his recommendation for my son to go to BUD/S. But he laid out a solid case as to why my son should become a diver. It turned out that the Master Diver had been in BUD/S a long ago and had advanced well into third phase before dropping out for family reasons. The Master Diver offered to put my son in the pool with equipment to evaluate his skills. He also offered to give him an honest appraisal of whether he will be able to handle himself in the water. After my son had been systematically torn down for weeks during his first go around at BUD/S, only to have his crisis of confidence occur in the pool during Mask Appreciation, he could probably use some confidence building in the water. Still, he’s seriously considering the Master Diver’s offer/advice to come work for them. It would be a good, no-B.S. job working with good people and he’d get out of the Navy in a reasonable period of time. He had to sign a two-year extension when he opted to be an MA and his commitment doesn’t end until 2012. He’d have to add yet another two years if he gets his SEAL’s trident. As a Navy diver, he would be helping the Navy in a more tangible way than he currently does working as an MA. Still, being a Navy diver wouldn’t allow him the same, direct, hands-on involvement the SEALs have in tracking down those responsible for knocking down America’s two biggest buildings filled with people.

Greg L ( my talk) 03:40, 5 March 2008 (UTC)

Making the decision to try for BUD/S again, 19:13 Pacific Monday 17 March 2008

My son made his decision. Becoming a diver and later trying to become a SEAL was not an option. He would have to work for years as a diver before even trying to become a SEAL. Further, he wasn’t even sure if he could try out for BUD/S if he was a diver. Even if that was permitted, my son already has to take his test to become an E-5. If he makes the promotion (he’s thinking of trying only half-hard on the test), he’d probably be a boat crew leader at BUD/S. He doesn’t want that because the instructors really ride the boat crew leaders’ butts. Also, he would be a little too old at 23/24 years of age to try for BUD/S; Navy policy now is to try to get them young out of the civilian world, in part, because they get more good years out of them before their bodies can’t keep up. Finally, he said “Dad, the whole reason I joined the Navy in the first place was to be a SEAL; that’s where my heart is.”

Though he made his decision several days ago to not be a diver and try out for BUD/S, he couldn’t act on the decision until he had a day off. So today he went to his Career Counselor on base and memorialized his decision in writing. His paperwork (his “package”) is being put together now and the counselor will ensure that all the necessary forms are properly filled out. Then the approval form will be sent up the chain of command, signed off at each step of the way, ending with a sign-off by the C.O. Then it will be sent back to his Career Counselor who will forward it to the Package Coordinator in Tennessee. After a quick review to ensure everything is in order and the paperwork is properly handled, the job of assigning my son his orders will go to his detailer, who is in the same office in Tennessee.

My son hopes to work with his detailer so he can go to Great Lakes and participate in a special two-month-long program that prepares Seal Challenge recruits for BUD/S. This would be like a dream for him. As it is, he works over 13 hours per shift. He likes to exercise every day and it is very difficult to find the time to do so—particularly when he has a 50-minute one-way commute to the only good Crossfit gym in the area. After Great Lakes, he would go (hopefully) straight to the next BUD/S class. With any luck, that will be a summer class. The waters are a bit warmer at that time of year so the instructors simply keep the trainees in the water longer during Surf Torture to get their lips that perfect shade of blue. We already know my son has a relative advantage in surf torture—at least during summer. There is always the possibility though, that this relative advantage might evaporate in colder waters—he has absolutely no body fat—so a summer or autumn class is strategically the better play. He already knows he should have no difficulty getting his security clearances after (if) he gets through First Phase because as an MA, he already received his “Secret” security clearance. The latest understanding from his friends who became SEALs (my son has connections here and there in the SEAL world), is that at least some SEALs are now required to get Top Secret security clearance.

He’s now done all he can to prepare for BUD/S. In fact, he needs to lighten up a bit. He had been working out like a mad man at Crossfit. He was doing some overhead squat lifts with a 160-lb barbell. He thought, “OK, just one more” and pulled a muscle big time in his lower back. He had hurt it before and clearly hadn’t allowed himself sufficient time to heal. This time, he was stoved up and shuffling around like an old man with a cane for several days. He will just have to be conservative until the last possible moment. He can’t afford to go into BUD/S with a weak back muscle that is inordinately susceptible to injury. The Navy doesn’t usually kick good candidates out of BUD/S if they suffer an injury; they typically roll them back to the next class. However, if the injury happens during Hell Week, unless it occurred on a Friday, you have to do First Phase all over—including Hell Week.

Mt. St. Helens
Mt. St. Helens shortly after it became active

Few people today realize how poorly Washington State officials understood the magnitude of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. An annual air show, SkyFest Fairchild, is held at Fairchild Air Force Base, near Spokane, Washington. At that time, SkyFest was purposely timed to occur the same week as the Lilac Festival, a weekend-long series of festivities that includes the Lilac Parade. This usually took place in mid-May. Not surprisingly, Spokane’s nickname is The Lilac City. In fact, I had several big lilac bushes at my first house, where I was living in 1980. My son wouldn’t be born for six more years but my first child was only one month old in May 1980.

From the time of Mt. St. Helens’ first awakening from dormancy until its massive explosion was a relatively short time period of only two months. During much of this time, it sent up many ash plumes, often to the 35,000-foot level at which commercial airliners fly. Periodically, flights had to be rerouted to avoid the ash.

The final, explosive eruption of Mt. St. Helens occurred at 8:32 AM on Sunday, May 18th. SkyFest at Fairchild was in its second day and I was planning on attending at least part of it. I turned on my home radio at roughly 11:00 AM and learned that flying exhibitions had been canceled due to yet another ash plume from Mt. St. Helens. In other words, the news was saying that a simple ash plume, a not-unusual event that typically affected planes only in proximity of the volcano, had caused the cancellation of flying demonstrations at SkyFest on the other side of the state! It seemed an absurd amount of caution given that you’d have to drive five hours from Spokane before you can even see the area of the volcano and the skies above it. Note that this news report came two and a half hours after the mountain completely fraged, turning hundreds of square miles of surrounding forest into a moonscape. Miraculously, only 57 people lost their lives due to strict enforcement of an exclusion zone. In the process, one of the largest landslides in recorded history covered over an entire lake, forming a new, much shallower one 200 feet higher.

Ash plume

By around 2:30, I decided to drive the forty minutes to Fairchild AFB to attend the tail end of the show and at least watch an F-14 or two depart. My wife was interested enough to attend, and that meant the whole family went on the outing; which is to say, we brought along our newborn daughter. Up to this time, the scope of the eruption still wasn’t appreciated by Washington state emergency personnel and nothing at all was on the news about how the top part of the volcano had been blown clean off. On the drive west, my wife and I could see what appeared to be a gigantic weather front moving in. It stretched from as far south to as far north as the eye could see and was black. As it was nearly on top of us, we couldn’t see quite how high it went, but it looked like a seriously big front. Opposing traffic coming from the show was unusually heavy, nearly bumper-to-bumper, so I turned on the radio. The entire air show, even the static ground displays, had been canceled due to the heavy “ash plume.”

So we turned around to head back home. This “weather front” was different. Normally, when a weather front gets over the top of you, winds pick up and the ground-level weather changes. None of that was happening with this front. It was extremely dark at high altitude and the sun was being blocked to such an extent the freeway lights were turning on. Yet the air was tranquil and there was no temperature change. Within a few minutes, although it was only shortly after 3:00 PM, it might as well have been midnight. Everyone’s headlights were on as we navigated down the freeway in pitch blackness. Note how our minds have not connected the dots of two seemingly disconnected facts: a heavy plume of ash from a volcano on the other side of the state had canceled an air show, and a humongous horizon-to-horizon weather front is moving in.

Then gray, snow-like stuff started to fall past the orange glow from the low-pressure sodium freeway lights. It hit the windshield and didn’t melt. The wipers just turned it into a smear of dust. A squirt of washer fluid turned it into streaks of mud. “What… the… hell,” I thought, “it’s ash from Mt. St. Helens! I rolled down the window and felt what was coming down. It was cool to the touch. It took probably another minute to put it all together. We still didn’t understand that this was all due to that morning’s “eruption.” We understood though, that the weather front was really something from the volcano, that it was responsible for the total darkness, and that something of unimaginable magnitude must have occurred. The scope of it all was hard to take in; whatever was happening, it encompassed our entire observable universe (and an unknowable distance beyond). My mind had that stunned feeling that occurs when events that fill the senses are beyond the bounds of all prior experience. That’s one step short of when stunning news makes Earth’s axis seemingly shift about six feet. The radio had nothing about what was going on. The broadcasters were likely running to their studio windows, as dumbfounded as we were. There wasn’t even a “Well, will you look at that!” over the radio. Nothing but music and regular programming on all channels. We had no idea where all this was heading. None. And whatever was happening, it was really, really big. I felt somewhat small and vulnerable. Thoughts of Pompeii naturally went though my mind but I had no immediate sense of danger. As long as the falling ash stays cool like this, we can get buried up to our chimney tops with this stuff.

Post eruption

Within about a half hour, we were back home. We dashed out of the car with our newborn completey swaddled in blankets. The ash didn’t smell particularly sulfurous; it had a near-neutral, chalky smell actually, as one would expect from rock that has been pulverized into dust but not what one would expect of a volcano. It was eerie though because people become reflexively accustomed to the fact that when stuff falls from the sky, there is a “wet” smell, or a “clean” one—at least “a thunderstorm is coming” smell. This was very different. One’s five senses and prior experience were of no help and the mind was overwhelmed with a sense of novelty tinged with danger. It was pitch black out; fluffy, clumpy snowflake-size stuff was falling from the sky; and it smelled like we were dust mites making a quick shortcut though a vacuum cleaner’s dust bag. Very odd, but only at a subliminal level and it lasted only as long as it takes to run from the car into the house.

Turn on the room lights. All seemed entirely normal inside. A house can provide fine protection from ashfall; it’s like shutting out a dust storm simply by closing the windows. That was the first thing where prior experience was of some facility in dealing with the current situation. Except that this dust is falling outside. A quarter-inch had already accumulated on the ground even though we had raced the thing eastward.

At this very moment, a fellow who would become a friend of mine over twenty years later, Mark, was ridding motorcycles with a friend up on a bluff in the forests of Idaho. They arrived at a clearing at the edge of the bluff and looked westward. For as far as the eye could see, from horizon to horizon, a black wall that seemed to ascend to the limits of Earth’s atmosphere was approaching. It looked nothing at all like a weather front and looked like the very embodiment of death. As they sat there on their idling motorcycles looking west, they concluded that World War III had begun and all life in Washington had been extinguished in a nuclear holocaust. Greg L ( my talk) 22:04, 17 March 2008 (UTC)

In-demand rates, and “safety” 15:04 Pacific Thursday 3 April 2008

It’s interesting how the Navy resolves conflict when there are shortages in qualified personnel for different “rates” (jobs). My son’s paperwork arrived at his detailer in Tennessee. All was pronounced as being in good order and he was ready to be assigned to a specific class. He learned that all fleet personnel heading to BUD/S have to go (“get to go” in my son’s parlance) to Prep School at Great Lakes. However, there is currently a shortage of MAs (Master-at-Arms) so a detailer in the same office who handles MAs is holding up my son’s transfer until December when his PRD (projected rotation date) is up. It seems the detailers work a bit like commodities brokers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The Navy is apparently paying MAs $48,000 reenlistment bonuses due to the shortage. Given that the Navy trained my son to be an MA, they want to get at least the full two years until his PRD is up before they release him to be trained as a SEAL. If they really wanted to, they could keep him as an MA until his EAOS (End of Active Obligated Service) was up (2012). It seems a practical way to balance the Navy’s interests. You find that a lot in the military. Policies that seemingly make no sense at first usually make plenty of sense when you dig deeper into it and understand the bigger picture. Policies that seem insane at all levels of scrutiny, while not at all rare, do eventually get solved.

Prep School is the “A school” that everyone who is going into Special Forces takes. The whole purpose of the two-month-long Prep School at Great Lakes is to keep all their personnel with Seal Challenge guarantees in good physical condition before they ship out to BUD/S. Brand new inductees fresh from the civilian world who have Seal Challenge guarantees now have their own division at Great Lakes, where they receive more PT during basic training than do regular recruits. Then they go on to Prep School where they continue with the extra PT. Fleet returnees simply go straight to the Prep School. My son has a friend who just arrived at Prep School and it sounds like they are doing a good job of keeping them in good physical condition. However, he also heard from another friend that the Prep School guys are not doing well in Class 270. Far from it in fact. About half of the guys in Class 270 went to Prep School. Reportedly, only 13% of the prep schoolers who started Hell Week on Sunday were still there on Tuesday. This is an abysmal drop out rate and it seems safe to say that even fewer will remain when Hell Week ends. My son and I can’t fathom the reason for this. Perhaps this first wave of graduates from Prep School was dominated by fleet returnees. Maybe they have less fear of failure since they can fall back onto something that is familiar and comfortable to them. That’s a double conjecture: a conjecture about the underlying facts, and then a conjecture about what might be going on psychologically to account for it.

One of the things my son was remarking about is how safety conscious the military is. This has been on our minds because he recently severely sprained his ankle during a basket ball game. “Pop” went his ankle as he rolled it over and he fell to the floor in a heap. It was extremely painful. As it happened, there was an off-duty Naval base fireman (actually a DOD fireman) there who tended to him. The guy called an ambulance and he was taken to an emergency room at a civilian hospital. X-rays showed no bones were broken so they stabilized the joint with an inflatable cast. It was first-class, rapid service. He thought it kind of odd at the time that he was so rapidly tended to. Only as he was being rolled out out through the waiting room on a wheelchair did he realize that the waiting room was chock full of people coughing and wheezing away, others with bloodied hands wrapped up in blood-soaked bandages. He had jumped the queue because he came in via ambulance. He got first class service due to an overabundance of caution. And the military will pick up the whole tab. That’s fine though; MAs are in short supply right now. My son met an MA on his base who just got back from the sandbox. The guy told him about the kind of work he did over there. It’s tough work they do while we civilians back home watch the Tonight Show between our toes at 11:30 PM without a worry in the world. In my son’s case, he has it relatively cushy because he is stationed stateside. But still, he sits out in a patrol boat twelve hours a day, protecting in-port ships from terrorist attack and has the weaponry (I shouldn’t be more specific than that) to defend the ships. The Navy needs all their personnel back on the job as soon as possible after an injury.

My son was telling me of how safety considerations can go to a ridiculous extreme in the military. Base personnel doing PT who go for on-base jogs alongside slow military roads must wear safety-orange vests even when they’re running during the day. He said it could be that some dumb ass ran in front of a train or something ten years ago and they now wear orange reflective vests to this day. It seems prudent until you think about all the high school track kids you see running along major arterials in large groups on city roads wearing drab gray whatever-suits-their-fancy sweats. And they seem to do fine. You see this pretty much everywhere throughout the military. The list of those held accountable in the military for lapses in safety runs wide and deep. Unless a battle is being fought, military life is pretty free from routine accidents caused by shear stupidity or negligence. For instance, you rarely hear about something like how a serviceman got electrocuted when he turned on a shower and the water was electrified due to a faulty water pump. Yet this is precisely what happened in Iraq to an American serviceman because civilian contractors were responsible. The mother of the serviceman is suing a civilian contractor who was overseeing a barracks in Iraq. An investigation revealed the civilian contractor simply overlooked deficiencies in the plumbing system of the barracks after they took it over. There was a Chinese-made water pump that had an insulation failure and it was improperly grounded. My old boss at a fuel cell lab was a head engineer at an electrical utility in the civilian world and headed an Air National Guard unit whose specialty was installing the electricity infrastructure at new air bases (think: tent cities). The uniform code of military justice keeps everyone doing their jobs well. If you actually have someone die because some Air National Guard electrician goofed, he could go to jail for years if it is shown there was dereliction of duty. If it’s the civilian world, what are the personal consequences of not paying attention to your job? Likely, there will be a lawsuit. The insurance company pays and your employer doesn’t even fold. I can pretty much guarantee you that the civilian contractor responsible for that Iraqi barracks will still be in business even if they are found liable for the death.

All of this contrasts a bit with deaths during BUD/S. Deaths are not at all uncommon. They nearly lost a guy in my son’s class. He collapsed during a run and they found he had a core body temperature of 112 °F (44½ °C)! He lived though. Reportedly, the very next class after my son’s had a death. None of this means the instructors at BUD/S are indifferent to safety; they are quite safety conscious. The trainees are grilled to yell out “man down” if they see someone drop. There are signs posted all over telling trainees that if they have a concern about the safety of an evolution they are being told to perform, that they should raise their hand and tell their instructors of the concern. One time they were doing pushups in the sand and one of the recruits, in utter exhaustion, simply dropped down into the sand, unable to go any further. The instructors were standing around gabbing with each other with their shirts off, preening and looking rough, tough, and buff for the civilian ladies walking along the sidewalk above when one of the trainees yelled “Man down!” The smiles on the instructors faces instantly evaporated and they all bolted to the circle that had formed around the guy. The circle peeled open to let the instructors in. Of course, they found that the guy was simply dead-ass tired and could go no further. Though exhausted, he was entirely responsive and there was no medical emergency. They all got their butts chewed over that one. Basically, Naval Special Warfare Center does the best they can to be as safe as possible without compromising on the inherently dangerous nature of the training they must do.

Mt. St. Helens: Next morning

After our three-member family—mother, father, and month-old baby girl—were safely inside our home, all was well. There were no noxious smells inside the house since even outside, the ash from Mt. St. Helens had only a very slight sulferous odor; the smell was dominated by a chalky, very rocky, dusty smell. After turning on the house lights, it seemed like any other evening scene inside. Looking out our living room window, it appeared very similar to a midnight winter snow storm even though it was 5:00 PM. A half-inch-thick coating of ash had accumulated on the ground and one could see large clumps of ash falling past the street light across the road. It appeared every bit like a common snow fall—the clumpy kind, not the individual flake kind—except the clumps were light gray and weren’t as reflective as snow. I don’t recal hearing anything on the TV that night explaining that Mt. St. Helens had completely exploded, just that it was a big eruption, nor do I recal having any difficulty falling asleep that night. I don’t recal for sure what was on my mind at the time but I believe I had near total confidence that the worst conceivable outcome would be a couple of meters accumulation the following morning. We couldn’t possibly sufficate in our poorly insulated 1929 house and the ash had such low density that it couldn’t overload the roof. Go to sleep… see what the world looks like in the morning.

A sound level meter

Only a couple inches of ash on the ground greeted us the following morning. The sun was up and the sky was bright. The ash storm had passed. Just like a winter snowfall, it blanketed everything: the lawn, the car, trees, power lines. I went outside to see what it was like. I couldn’t understand why it was so eerie; it just was. There was something very, very different from any other winter’s morning but I couldn’t immediately figure out what it was. I walked out onto the ash-covered lawn. I could hear my feet crunching down into the highly compressible ash. The experience was similar to what one would hear if they put on a pair of those blue Silencio-brand hearing protectors shooters use and walked on melting snow—I could hear the crunching transmitting up my leg, through my body, and directly to my inner ear without going through my ear drum. Each step was like this. There was no noise going into my eardrum via the ear canal whatsoever! Zero. I quickly realized that this was the property that made it seem like an alien world: there was absolutely no sound whatsoever in the air. It was the quietest quiet I had ever heard. It was much quieter than being in an audiologists sound booth for a hearing check. This was absolute silence. “Crimeny! The ash fall had somehow destroyed the ability of air to transmit sound,” I thought to myself. So I clapped my hands together. Yeah, I could hear that. The sound obviously came in through my eardrums so the air still ‘works correctly.’

So I stood out there in the middle of my front lawn. After several minutes of observation, I realized what had occurred in order to produce such a remarkable, absolute silence. The first thing everyone did the previous evening was rush to stores and businesses along each of the arterials in our city and turn off the ventilation fans so the dust wouldn’t get sucked into the buildings. Everything was buttoned up tight and static. That was quickly apparent. Next, no one was driving in these conditions. Doing so would kick up the biggest dust cloud imaginable and one would quickly clog their air filter and be stranded. There was zero traffic noise outside. If you were to go buy a sound-level meter right now, you’d be surprised just how noisy your living room is inside your house with all its windows and doors shut. The dB level due to street traffic in urban and suburban areas is really surprising and our minds simply unconsciously tune out the din. Our homes can attenuate the sound pressure level several hundredfold but background noise can still be 45 dB inside one’s living room (down from 70–75 dB three blocks off a six-lane arterial). There were zero car engines puttering outside in this ash; zero car tires hissing on asphalt. There were zero ventilation fans on commercial buildings droning on. As luck would have it, there was also zero wind blowing in the trees; dead-still air. Even the birds and insects had apparently hunkered down and were making no noise. Perhaps most of them were suffocated and dead? For whatever reason, clearly, no insects were flying or flapping their wings or rubbing their legs together in mating calls. Whatever noise might be generated by something (a house door a quarter mile away?) was being quickly absorbed by the dust that had covered everything. The ash covering absolutely everything served like the ultimate sound deadening material. This was absolute, total quiet. I had never heard anything like it before, and have never head anything like it since.

Meeting up with someone else from Class 261, Monday, 29 Sept. 2008

My son withdrew his request to go back to Coronado and asked to be retrained as a Navy Diver. His application was accepted and he is now mud pupping for the dive locker on base. Being a mud pup means you are taken under the wing of the diver locker and given preparatory training, both academic and in the pool.

The reason for the change of heart? He had recently been hurting his lower back (straining muscles by improperly doing weight lifting) and this really sensitized him to some stories he heard through the grapevine about the experiences of others he left behind at Coronado. The training of SEALs at Coronado is a rough business and breaks down bodies. They have medical inspections each morning where full-tilt doctors examine each of the recruits to ensure they are fit to go another day. But no recruit wants to get rolled back or kicked out and they do their best to hide their health problems from the doctors. Many times they can’t but sometimes they can. One of his friends caught pneumonia. You can’t hide that sort of coughing and he got rolled back. Then he caught pneumonia again in the next class. Rolled back again. Finally, he made it through First Phase the third time around. But in Second Phase, he blacked out during his free-ascent in the Dive Tower. It turned out that his lungs were too scarred from his multiple bouts of pneumonia. My son had heard of this over and over. Ruined knees. Lots of stuff. So many good recruits simply had been so physically battered, that even though they wanted to continue, they got medically rolled back or kicked out. My son’s back problems at the time probably made him feel extra vulnerable. Furthermore, Navy Divers are part of Navy Special Operations and do enough “bad ass” stuff to satisfy my son’s desires at the moment. So he took the option where the outcome is better determined by preparation and will power and less so by the luck of the draw of one’s body being able to take the stress.

To a certain extent, mud pups can become a diver locker’s “bitch” where they make mud pups do a bunch of sweeping and cleaning equipment. Fortunately, Navy policy is clear that mud pups had better arrive at Great Lakes knowing their stuff. And my son’s dive locker has a great leadership that takes their mud-pup training responsibilities seriously. Still, they do have locker-wide tasks that everyone pitches in on and my son is more that happy to help. The dive locker was the recent beneficiary of a 65-foot, EOD boat that Guantanamo didn’t want any more. The boat needed a lot of work and the dive locker, my son included, was busy crawling all over the thing for a few weeks. Paint to be stripped. Paint to be applied. Old radar units to be hauled down by block & tackle. It was all a lot of physical labor and my son was more than pleased to help. But, most of the time, he just studies his curriculum: gas laws, such as Boyle’s law, Dalton’s law, Gay‑Lusac’s law, Henry’s law, dive tables, etc. Lots of swimming in the pool. The whole point is go prepare him as best as possible while waiting to ship out for formal training as a Navy Diver at Great Lakes.

My son was in the on-base Subway restaurant when some guy his age came in. There was now a total of two customers in the restaurant. My son took one glance and instantly sized him up. He was either in Special Operations, or was preparing to go into Special Operations, or had just tried to go into Special Operations and washed out. Either a wannabe or the real deal. It was a just quick thought since his order was ready at the counter. My son was eating his meal when, a few minutes later, the other guy approached and asked if he could sit at my son’s table. Of course. My son was wearing a Crossfit T-shirt and the fellow broke the ice: “So, you’re into Crossfit, huh?” It didn’t take long before they found a lot of common ground. It soon developed that the other fellow had tried out for the SEALs and washed out in the first week too.

“Really? Which class?”
“Class two-six-one.”

This was same class my son had been in. My son didn’t recognize his name but the other fellow remembered hearing my son’s name (not a good thing, really, as it just means that name was on the lips of the instructors a lot).

What I found interesting is what my son did remember something about this fellow: he remembered the moment he quit. It was Thursday of Week 1. What the trainees hate more than anything is running miles upon miles on sand with the damned inflatable boats on their heads. They are sandy, which abrades the skin with each stride, and their bodies ache with pain that can only be understood by those who’ve been there. The instructors dish out the abuse until they can tell that they are close to breaking their bodies. These are motivated men the instructors are training. If the instructors kept pushing, they could grind many of the recruits straight into a hospital bed in one day; they can be pushed that far. But the instructors don’t want to break bodies (there are actually consequences for that); they only want to weed out the unmotivated.

The recruits were all dragging their butts along the sand after being “beaten” under the boats. They were heading up off the beach to go to the pool. Not that the evolutions in the pool are a cake walk, but nothing compares to being under those boats on the sand. As one of the four youngest trainees at BUD/S, one of my son’s duties was to take turns polishing the brass D.O.R. bell. This day, that duty had been left to two other recruits. As the class was heading along the beach to the pool after being beat under the boats, one of the instructors drove up in his 4-wheel SUV and cussed out the class. It seems, the two recruits whose turn it was to polish the D.O.R. bell, had decided to not haul the thing all the way up the facility grounds to their dorm to polish it. Instead, they had decided to sit in one of the instructor’s SUVs and polish it in there. “You God-damned screw ups!” the instructor yelled. “You guys can’t do anything right!” He told them they were all going to go back down to the beach and get under the boats. Again. The whole class fell silent. There wasn’t any verbal grousing. The news was so profoundly discouraging. My son said everyone acted like they had just been told someone in their family had died. The prospect of going back under the boats only minutes after having gotten out from under them was beyond bad. They milled about and turned course to head back in total, dejected silence. At that moment, one of the trainees called it quits. He simply couldn’t face the prospect of going back under the boats on the beach. It turns out that the fellow in the restaurant had been that trainee. Though my son didn’t recognize his face, my son vividly recalled every detail of that moment.

The doubly interesting part is that when the recruits got back down to the beach, the instructor instead just had them paddle their boats out into the ocean. It had been a mind game. The instructor knew he had pushed them mentally and physically as far as he could. One more trainee had been weeded out so there was no point pushing them any further. Of course, my son didn’t need to tell him of how things went on the beach that afternoon. After quitting, the fellow went back to his room and found out only hours later.

Remarkably, this fellow then went on to try out for Navy Diver—same as my son—in Great Lakes but couldn’t make it past an evolution in the pool where they must tread water with about sixteen pounds of negative buoyancy for five minutes along with a dive partner. During this five-minute evolution where they are kicking mightily with their fins to stay afloat, both guys must check out their dive partner’s equipment. Having taken dive lessons with my son and received my dive certificate, I can see that this particular evolution is tough… tougher than it sounds. Sixteen pounds is an entire weight belt. Normally you’d wearing a “B.C.” (buoyancy compensator vest) that you fill with air to counter the effect of the weight belt and achieve neutral buoyancy. But here, you have only the weight belt dragging your down. You would have to kick mightily with your flippers to stay on top of the water and still stay focused as you tend to lots of rigorously defined procedures that must be precisely perform without error. If you start struggling and don’t maintain an extremely efficient kick, I suspect you can quickly get into an aerobic death spiral: you would be breathing hard and a sensation would quickly set in that you can’t get enough air. The efficiency of your kick would diminish and the problem would worsen. Though there are safety divers in the pool to keep you from sucking in even a single lung-full of water, panic would set in, further aggravating the aerobic death spiral. Down you go. So you ditch the weight belt and go back up. I imagine the safety diver(s) would also swoop in at this point to assist in keeping you afloat. I can also imagine that you’d feel a weird mix of emotions with the safety divers’ hands helping to keep you afloat, forcefully taking you to the edge of the pool: you’d feel deeply relieved by the feeling of the assistance in keeping your head above water, and you’d simultaneously feel like an utter wuse and a total failure.

I once got myself into an aerobic death spiral on the second-to-last day when my son and I were getting our scuba diving certificates. I was wearing a way-too-tight wet suit that made it really hard to take deep breaths. I hadn’t noticed any problems while walking on land without my equipment. But as I began struggling with my heavy equipment while trying to wade into the water, I quickly noticed that the suit was making it difficult to take heavy breaths and that was making me breath even harder. This was a respiratory and aerobic vicious circle: a death spiral if you don’t have an “out.” I had taken care to ensure my air supply was ready to rock & roll before I got near the water. My regulator was in my mouth. So I finally plopped down into shallow water and started adjusting my B.C. to achieve negative buoyancy. I saw though, that I would have really been screwed had I been in deep water and didn’t have my air ready to go. The lesson is to get as comfortable as a fish in shallow water. And always dive with a diver partner who stays close.

Our dive instructor was pretty lax in instilling the philosophy of keeping close to your dive partner. He’d say “follow me down to the wreck” and everyone would follow like a wide-eyed pack of small dogs following the big dog to the next fire hydrant. He’d be loping along like a sea turtle as most of the class was screwing around with their B.C.s as they descended. Trainees would fall behind and the group stretched out behind the leader. No one paid much attention to where their dive partner was; the imperative and focus was on keeping up with the leader, who was sea-turtleing on, ever deeper. The water conditions aggravated this behavior. The water was muddy and if you got behind by more than about 25 feet, you’d loose sight of your leader. Then you’d be alone and would have to just swim “last-known heading” in hopes of intercepting your group. It was a dumb-ass way of instructing, I thought. The instructor should have swam more slowly and periodically paused so everyone could regroup. And he should have practiced what he preached in the pool. In the academic setting of the pool in the early portion of the course, it was instilled that you always stick close to your dive buddy in case you have equipment problems. But all that seemed to go out the window on these free-water dives in poor visibility; there was no enforcement of staying in pairs.

On my final certification dive that weekend, the leader took a group of four of us to fifty feet for individual assessment. My son and I were one dive pair. I don’t know who the other pair was; two guys in our class though. Descents from beaches aren’t like the deep-water descents that often come to mind from watching TV. You swim along an underwater slope leading away from the beach. So a fifty-foot descent comprises a l-o-n-g swim away from the beach as you follow the lake bottom ever downwards. When we got down, I looked around and saw that there were only three of we trainees in the group; someone didn’t make it. I don’t know what the major malfunction was with either the dive instructor or the dive buddy who made it down, but both seemed quite oblivious to the fact that we started down in a group with four trainees and there was now only three of us all fat, dumb, and happy at fifty feet. So I hand-signaled the instructor with four fingers: a couple gestures of “four, FOUR.” Then I pointed to myself, my son, and the other guy, and signaled with great imperative “THREE”. The diver instructor looked around. You learn to read body language really well under water; it’s your only method of communication and communication keeps you safe and alive. The dive instructor’s body language was as clear as a Warner Bros. Road Runner cartoon. It was almost like a big “WTF!” thought balloon appeared over his head. He signaled that we should stay put—his index finger twice thrust downwards—and swam off. Roughly five minutes later, he swam back and indicated we would swim with the group as-is. After we got to the surface, I learned that the guy who fell out had experienced B.C. difficulties and turned back midway in the descent.

On the subject of dive buddies: several years after my son and I got our dive certificates, some guy died in this instructor’s class. It occurred at the very same beach under the very same circumstances (open-water certification dive). He was even about my age. They found him dead after a class-wide dive. I stumbled across this bit of news in the newspaper and called the instructor. No one saw what happened. Translation: No dive buddy had stayed with him to observe what happened or render assistance. At the time, the coroner’s report hadn’t been issued so it wasn’t known if the guy had a heart attack or drowned. If the latter, he could have panicked, or had equipment difficulty, or something else; it may never be known. It doesn’t matter in my mind. He had without-a-doubt entered the water with a dive buddy but the two didn’t stay together. He was alone under water, and shouldn’t have been.

As I write this, my son is still mud pupping at the Dive Locker and hasn’t shipped out yet for Great Lakes to be trained as a Navy Diver. It doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a cake walk.

Getting through Diver Preparatory School, Wednesday, 17 Dec. 2008

My son graduated from the Navy Diver Preparatory Course at Great Lakes this week. The next step is to go to the Navy Diving and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC) in Panama City Florida. NDSTC is one of the two major tenant commands at Coastal Systems Station (CSS). Coincidentally during that same week, he was formally promoted to Petty Officer Second Class (E5)—a product of from his days at his last command where he was an MA. Had he been an E5 while an MA, he would have had shift-duty responsibilities. Instead of manning a guard house or patrolling in a boat to protect the carrier, he would have been in the MA’s office, manning the radio and taking calls on the phone. One of the things about being a navy diver, is—like EOD and some other rates—the Navy automatically upgrades personnel to an E4 upon graduation. Thus, when you get to your diver locker as an E5, you aren’t anything special at all; there might be only one E4 in the group.

The In-Water Procedures (IWP) test required to graduate was just about as tough as it sounded. My son isn’t short; at 5′ 10 ​58″ (1.79 m) he’s just a tad over average for modern young men in the American military. Apparently though, there are distinct differences between the buoyancy of the different students. Those with body composition that are fatty are decidedly buoyant. Such buoyancy can be a disadvantage in certain evolutions in the pool, like where you are supposed to go down to your SCUBA tanks, which sit at the bottom of the pool, and you tie some knots and then don your mask. My son, who sinks like a rock, has no problem staying down at the bottom doing his drills. The buoyant guys on the other hand, have to wrap their legs around the tank as they tie off their knots. In the final IWP test, buoyancy is a blessing and the fatty guys and the really tall guys have an advantage.

That final IWP test—the one that the guy my son met at the Subway restaurant who had also been in Class 261 couldn’t pass—also proved really tough for my son. They had a practice IWP the day before the big test. The instructors make that practice extra tough by splashing water in their faces, trying to break their concentration. In the IWP test, you jump in with a weight belt, a deflated BC (buoyancy compensator vest), two SCUBA tanks partially filled with lead shot to simulate the weight of a full air charge, and fins. Your dive buddy jumps in along with you and you have to check out each others’ equipment following an extremely detailed, scripted protocol. My son’s diver buddy was a Navy SCUBA diver. SCUBA diver is a subset of the full Navy Diver. They ride, for instance, on submarines where they perform certain duties outside of the sub.

On this practice session, the strap of my son’s BC was accidentally positioned below the weight belt before they jumped in. The instructors asked them, “Are you sure your equipment is ready for you to jump in?” My son looked down and couldn’t see anything out of place (the strap was hidden from view by his BC). His dive buddy checked himself out and didn’t see anything amiss. Into the water they went. There, you kick mightily with your fins trying to stay afloat. They go through their drills, step by step, by the book. This whole time, two safety-diver/instructors are in the water with them, splashing water in their faces to thoroughly stress their ability to stay focused on a task that would be a true life-or-death situation in the real world. Then they turn to the instructor, who is standing by the edge of the pool, and in perfect unison, call out a scripted statement along the lines of “Instructor Squarejaw: trainees Dirtbag One and Dirtbag Two have completed our IWP procedures and are ready to blow up our BCs.” You want to blow up those BCs. There is a tube on it you blow into. Once inflated, the BC is like a life preserver and keeps you afloat.

“Nope. Something’s not right with your equipment” the instructor told them. Crap… They looked each other but couldn’t see the problem. This whole time, their legs are burning and they desperately want to just blow up the BC. Notwithstanding the pain in their legs and the water in their faces, they are expected to make their equipment perfect. The instructor told them the problem was with my son’s equipment. So his dive buddy went under to find and correct the problem. But while under, moving the strap, he also accidentally unlatched the clasp of his weight belt. So then my son submerged to fix the weight belt, and resurfaced. Again, in unison, they declared to the instructor they were ready and were given the command to inflate their BCs.

Inflating the BCs is a trick in itself. You have to lean your head forward to reach the inflation tube. But that tends to lift the tanks out of the water, adding weight when your legs are already about to give out. They had been in the water far longer than if they had done it right the first time around. So you then tend to lean backwards while inflating. However, you are supposed to face your dive buddy and stay within arms grasp of him the entire time. If you lean back, you tend to kick away from each other. So my son leaned forward to blow on his inflation tube. As soon as he did that, he sank. The safety divers scooped him up and delivered him to the edge of the pool. He was given another practice opportunity only five minutes later but that’s not nearly enough time if you’ve already thrashed your legs from being in the water too long the first time around. So down he went again.

He called me that evening and was a little bummed. Both he and I knew he could certainly do it. I knew that if he had been in the water twice as long as necessary, that he could most certainly pass the IWP if he stays calm and frosty. I said astronauts and military pilots are given simulator training until they have muscle memory. Pilots of the B-2 bomber have a flight computer they interact with for configuring the plane, navigation and targeting coordinates. The pilots say their fingertips grow their own neurons. I suggested he and his buddy get ordinary life vests and belts and ropes and whatnot and just do “carpet IWPs” in their living room until their bodies grown new neurons. He responded that they knew their procedures well enough, that it is all about maintaing composure in the water and kicking like hell.

The next day was the big test. Into the water they went. They went through their IWPs fine. They looked at their instructor at the pool’s side and recited their scripted chant. The instructor said, “OK, ask Instructor Robinson for permission to inflate your BCs.” So they both turned to the instructor in the pool—one of the two safety divers to keep them from drowning—and recited in unison, their scripted request to inflate their BCs. The instructor said “No, you didn’t do that right.” They looked at each other. WTF?!? They’re kicking like mad to stay afloat and they’ve recited this passage often enough that it shouldn’t be wrong! They want to inflate their BCs. They repeat their chant to the instructor. “Nope. You still don’t have it right” said the poolside instructor. Poor bastards. Their two, mask-equipped heads turn to each other. You can see the “?!?” thought balloon form above their heads. Time is running out. Then one of the other students across the pool shouted “Your addressing the wrong instructor!” Crap. So they turn to the other instructor in the pool and repeat the chant. “Divers, you may inflate your BCs” came the response. So my son made one final furry of kicking to rise a bit more out of the water and leaned forward to inflate his BC. He was about half way through when his head slipped below the surface. The rule is that you must keep your left hand on the inflation tube and your right clutched tightly against your BC while you inflate. If you have to take either of your hands off your BC while you are inflating, such as to paddle with your hands to surface, then your fail. Which is what he did; he took his right hand off his BC and did a quick flap while he kicked to surface. The safety divers stepped in at this point to assist him in buoyancy and deliver him to the edge of the pool. His dive buddy, successfully passed.

They only give trainees exactly five minutes clinging to the edge of the pool to recover before they get their second attempt of the day. He had really wanted to pass the first time around because ones legs don’t recover much in such a short time. If you are going to pass on your second effort of the day, it has to be perfectly executed; there is no reserve capacity to spend precious seconds churning water trying to figure out and correct a screwed up detail. If he couldn’t pass this second test of the day, then they would give him two more back-to-back chances the following day. Though my son’s dive buddy had passed his test on today’s first try, he was still my son’s dive buddy so they both let go of the pool’s edge and began their IWP. This time they executed them perfectly and were given the command to inflate their BCs. My son clutched his BC with his right hand, grasped the inflation tube with his left, and leaned forward to inflate his BC. Again, he slipped below the surface when he had his BC about half inflated. Only this time, he mustered a final burst of energy to generate some mighty kicks to breach the surface while keeping his hands where they were supposed to be. He gutted through the fact that water had gone down his throat and some of it down his trachea and finished inflating the BC. The instructors told him he had passed—but just barely.

What goes around, comes around, Wednesday, 17 Dec. 2008

Great Lakes Recruit Training Command trains Navy divers. They also give basic training to all Navy personnel. If the recruit is going to be going on to Coronado to train to be a SEAL, Great Lakes finally now trains those recruits differently. They now are segregated into their own division, just as they do for the band, which does its “oompa oompa” thing out in the field while most recruits are running laps. I had written the base commander in May 2006 about how they needed to give all special forces their own division at RTC so the poor bastards going to Coronado didn’t have to sneak out of their bunks at night and bend the shower curtain rods while performing pull ups. My letter was probably didn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know becuase that was exactly what they shortly later did.

For the last week, my son and his Diver friends have been in “celebrate” mode: light duty, such as dodge ball. My son took part in a little bit of dodge ball but mainly stuck to his workouts. Today, he was in the galley for lunch. He was standing in the “E4 or greater” line waiting to get his food. Apparently, a table of about thirty guys with their BUD/S guarantees were at another set of tables. These are the guys who are in their own division and get separate preparatory basic training to keep them in shape so their PST scores don’t degrade. They even get special harassment drills where they suddenly turn out the lights in the gym and “beat” the recruits (“drop and give me a hundred”) and yell instructions. The first batch of RTC recruits to have received this special mental preparedness training and to get through BUD/S proved to have a poorer graduation rate than others, so the efficacy of the mental training business no-doubt needs to be tweaked. My son barely tolerates these pre-BUD/S guys because (no surprise), they strut around and act like they are very special and have done a great accomplishment. In reality, they have done nothing but stay in top physical form, have no idea what BUD/S is really like, and likely more than 70 percent of them won’t make it.

My son and about five of his diver friends were eating at their own table, not far from the “I’m going to BUD/S peacocks”. Apparently, while my son was in line getting his food, one of the guys from the BUD/S-guarantee table came over to the divers table to complain. It was hot in the galley and a couple of his friends had take off their sweatshirts, leaving only their white shirts with their names stenciled on them. The BUD/S-division guy said “Hey, you know it’s rude to wear a tee-shirt in the galley; it’s against regulations.” He apparently said it using a really confrontational tone so my son’s diver friend just smiled back at the guy and ignored him. When my son got back to the table, his friends told him of what had just happened. They could hear the BUD/S-division table, all 30-members strong, talking provocatively about the divers—“stupid bitches”, that sort of thing. Then one of the guys from the BUD/S-division came over to their table and repeated his demands that they put their sweatshirts back on. “No, I’m hot. I’m not going to put a damned sweatshirt on just because you want me to” came the reply from one of my son’s friends. Back to the table went the arrogant little peacock. More loud grousing, obviously intended to be overheard.

Again, this same guy approached the divers’ table, only this time armed with a small notepad and pen. He took down the names of the two guys wearing their white shirts. Not too difficult, since their names are stenciled right on them. Then, to the other friends at the table wearing their sweatshirts: “What’s your name?” he asked one of my son’s friends. “I’m not going to tell you my name; it’s not too hard to figure out.” The guy persisted with each friend at the table but skipped right over my son. Apparently, his having been standing in line to get his food during the first encounter meant he was not a party to the dispute even though he was now sitting there. So my son went to over to the bulletin board area of the galley and got an newsletter showing the galley’s official rules of conduct. “Plain white tee-shirts” were prohibited. The white exercise shirts with the recruits’ names stenciled on them clearly weren’t intended to be swept up in the ban; if they were, everyone on base would be in violation during summer. He went over to the BUD/S-division table and said “Look, it says right here: ‘Plain white tee-shirts’ are prohibited. These aren’t plain white tee-shirts; they’re official exercise shirts. Further, you guys are way out of line calling my friends ‘fucking bitches’ over something you’re not even responsible for.” “Oh yeah? Go back and sit down with your other bitches you vagina.” Indeed, it would be splendid if these guys could make it to Afghanistan; they could kill Taliban with their personalities alone.

It later proved that the BUD/S division went to their master chief after lunch and complained about the dress attire of the divers. I don’t know what his response was, but I imagine it was something like “mind your own business.” My son and his friends went to theirs and told him of their encounter with the BUD/S-division guys and what they were demanding. Their master chief’s response was “I don’t give a fuck what they want.” Master Chiefs: they’re the backbone of the Navy.

Note that one of my son’s diver friends who had been at the table had briefly been a SEAL, which is to say, he had actually earned his Trident. He had made it all the way through Third Phase but lost his drive and resolve to continue while in jump school so he resigned. Like my son, he wanted to be a Navy diver and was in my son’s class. His dorm was directly across the hall from my son. He is reportedly quite well connected at Coronado and knows some of the instructors there. My son said his friend was going to call his connections at Coronado, tell them of these guys, and name names. My son told me that when those BUD/S-division guys soon ship out to Coronado for BUD/S, they’ll “hook up.” I asked him what “hook up” means. He replied, “it means the instructors will give them extra love.”

More about “what goes around, comes around” 31, December, 2008

One of the more frustrating things for northerners in wintertime is a long stretch of snowy weather. One can spend day after back-breaking day shoveling snow from ones driveway as well as the approach from the road leading into it. It can be frustrating in the extreme to get the approach pristine and flat so one can quickly and safely drive out into the road, only to have snowplows come by a few hours later and create a huge snow berm in front of your driveway—doubly so if you are right in the middle of digging out as they go by for a second pass. This plowed-up snow comes from the roadway where cars have been driving on it; the snow is compacted, dense, and difficult to shovel in the extreme. Further, the snowbanks where the snow must be deposited can be as high as a man’s neck.

A thought came to me the other evening as the snow plows were making multiple passes through my neighborhood. The snowplows have a lot of lights on them and are noisy. All down the road, people were shoveling out huge berms from in front of their now-immaculate driveways. Many in the neighborhood simply wanted to ensure they could quickly drive to work the following morning. At other houses, you could see couples peering through their windows, clearly curious about the nighttime hubbub. The snowplows passing through and the attendant shoveling that was facing everyone created an opportunity to stand around in the darkness and take a break from the back-breaking labor and converse with friends as their children played in sixty inches of snow in their front yards.

One neighbor, several doors down, told of how he offered the snowplow operator a cup of coffee. The operator said “Excuse me?” The neighbor repeated himself: “Would you like a cup of coffee?” The snowplow operator replied “That is the first time all evening someone has said something kind to me; everyone else has been yelling and cussing me out.”

My other neighbor, a Marine reservist who spent a lot of time in an M1 Abrams main battle tank during the first Gulf War and is also an arson investigator, said that a few nights previous, someone down the road had threatened a snowplow operator with a gun. The guy went to jail. If convicted of a felony, he will loose his right to vote and it will be decades—if ever—before he can legally posses a firearm.

It occurred to me that there are three kinds of people in this world, and you see them all here on Wikipedia:

  1. Those who stand at their windows, looking at snowplow operators clearing the streets and making huge snow berms that must be dug out. They might be commenting to each other at how nice it is to have the road cleared of snow. Or perhaps they are grousing about the inconvenience of having to do yet more digging and how their backs already hurt. But they watch and do nothing about the impending inconvenience.
  2. Those who run out and yell at some guy who is just trying to do his job. Often, the snowplow operator is just trying to bring back the resources necessary to ensure his children aren’t raised in poverty and his wife has the support she needs while raising them. Yelling makes absolutely no difference in the outcome for the fellow doing all the yelling and cursing; the berm is there and it won’t move itself. All that has been accomplished is the snowplow operator feels bad and the guy who cussed him out somehow feels some measure of satisfaction for having done so.
  3. Those who ask the snowplow operator whether he will be back in five minutes or so because you’d like to bring out some hot cocoa to him. The operator might ask where the individual lives, and acknowledge that he will be going up one block before turning back. No request for quid pro quo is made. Perhaps the snowplow operator might perceive the need to take an extra moment to help keep that driveway clear; perhaps not. But, without a doubt, he will feel appreciated for doing a hard job that evening that required his being on the receiving end of a load of crap from some of the people he had to inconvenience while really making their lives more convenient by clearing the road. He might very well mention to his wife when he gets back home later that morning about how someone brought him out some hot cocoa.

There are too few of this third sort of person. Ofttimes, I find that Wikipedia is a microcosm of the real world in more ways than I previously believed. Greg L ( talk) 20:51, 31 December 2008 (UTC)

Getting through dive school, 13 April 2009

My son graduated from the academic portion of Navy Diver training at Great Lakes. The officer who handed him his diploma was a true hero type; someone who had done some notable missions in Afghanistan, including stuff that made it into the press and into books. As I write this, my son is still in Panama City, Florida. He hasn’t graduated, but he received his blue & gold shirt, which means he’s gone through all the tough stuff that weeds out some of those who can’t cut the mustard and it’s all downhill from hereon. In part too, getting the blue & gold shirt (something much better than the white shirt with the recruit’s name stenciled on it), puts the trainees in a better frame of mind as they advance into deep-water training out in the Gulf; they are a step up from the maggots that get yelled at all the time. They no longer feel they have that feeling of “I’m continually walking on thin ice.”

His training at Panama City consisted of much more academics on dive medicine. They also had academics on using tools underwater and on handling explosives. As for the tools, they put the recruits in a big water tank with windows. At the bottom of the tank is a big metal table. They learn to drill a hole in the table with a hydraulically powered drill, tap the hole, install a bolt, cut off the bolt, and grind it off flat. My son was in a diving suit trying to drill the hole. It was slow going and the drill was getting really hot. He tried wrapping his legs around the table leg to keep himself from rising upwards as he applied downward force on the drill. But that was hardly doing anything. Then he positioned himself horizontal above the table and positioned his feet against the walls of the tank to get some downward leverage. Still, the hole was hardly getting any deeper and the drill was getting almost uncomfortably hot. He told the instructors over the intercom that it wasn’t working and the drill was getting hot. He was told that he was mimicking a certain piece of female anatomy and it was not endearing to the instructors. Finally, they told him to stop drilling and to wait while they checked something out. After a minute, they told him to start drilling again. Suddenly, the drill had many times the power that it originally had and he sailed through the hole. The rest was a piece of cake. They don’t exactly give the trainees “righty tighty—lefty loosy” lessons; they expect the recruits to learn to overcome obstacles and work as a team. So the first trainees to tap the hole have to figure out how to go one turn in, then reverse an eighth turn to break the chip, and keep on with that to keep from binding up the tap and breaking it.

After a week of academics on handling explosives, they had each trainee set off explosives. He first set off two, 1.25-pound blocks of C4. They learn how to make a noose out of their detonation (det) cord. The shock wave travels up the noose and, where the two shock waves collide at the peak of the noose, there is a shaped-charge effect that detonates the C4. The det cord is ignited with an electric fuse. The recruit uses a galvanometer (ohms meter) to check for continuity at each step of the way until they are a hundred meters away behind a big, sandbagged barrier. The finally attach the leads to the “blasting machine.” He pressed the “Charge” button and the “Fire button. The 2.5 pounds of explosives was positioned underwater near shore. And even though my son was behind a barricade, the blast wave shook his sunglasses lose. They also set off a half pound block of TNT.

For the last couple of weeks, he’s been doing deep-water exercises, such as using underwater air balloons to lift objects off the sea floor, and how to find underwater mines using sonar equipment and “Mark I eyeballs.”

He was recently offered his choice of commands. He could have chosen to go to the very same ships husbandry dive locker where he mud pupped; which is to say, to the very same command stateside where he guarded an aircraft carrier as an MA. But he wants to do “bad ass” stuff with the SEALs. There are a number of Special Warfare Groups. Special Warfare in the Navy comprises SEALs and SWCC (pronounced “swik”). Just like there are other rates (jobs) that help at Special Warfare Units (cooks, mechanics), Navy Divers work there too. Of course, Navy Divers are in the water a lot and often work along side of SEALs. I shouldn’t go into it much more than that. Naval Special Warfare Group 1 is “West Coast” and has jurisdiction over all special warfare in the Pacific (west coast, Hawaii, Guam, etcetera). Group 2 is “East Coast.” My son chose to go to Naval Special Warfare Unit 1, based in Guam, which is under the jurisdiction of Naval Special Warfare Group 1. His CO will be a SEAL.

The Last Conversation

On February 9, 2003, I went to a friend’s house and had a Last Conversation with him. His name was Jerral Joseph Smith—we knew him as “JJ.” He was dying of a smoking-related cancer that had spread. After my long visit, as I was heading out the door, I said I hoped he would find peace and tranquility in the journey before him and said goodbye. About a month later, my boss at the fuel cell company I worked for told me JJ had died.

Years ago, at a little-known fuel cell startup, a small group of talented individuals headed by a visionary began work with a couple million dollars of seed money and began research on fuel cells. We started from square one. We researched what we could from the literature and patents, toyed with small prototypes and, when we got puzzling results, some of the baffling points in the existing literature suddenly made sense. Eventually, we went beyond the current literature and could see where others had stumbled as we learned to circumvent the problems.

After not too long, we were preparing for a fuel cell seminar held only every other year. We didn’t want to miss it, for we were way ahead of the competition—even companies with many times more employees and which had been in business for years longer than we had were behind. For years, the fuel cell seminars would host exhibitors on the show floor with their mockups of what they were working on. These competitors promised the moon if one would just give them van-full of money. Our boss was arranging to actually demonstrate a functioning fuel cell—running off of real hydrogen no less. No official from the organizer had heard of such a request. The seminar was to be held in Palm Springs at a hotel convention center and there was simply no way the fire department would allow compressed hydrogen on the convention floor. So he arranged for us to demonstrate our fuel cells running just outside on the sidewalk.

Now we were busy as a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest trying to get a handful of functioning prototypes up and running. We wanted a demo unit, and a backup to the demo unit, and a backup to the backup of the demo unit. As I recall we were aiming for six units, at least three of which would be functional, with the remaining three in various stages of operability (at the very least, able to wink and blink its LEDs and act like it had a brain).

I had designed the opposing, compliant-pressure mechanism for the cartridges that comprised the fuel cell. The opposing, compliant-pressure method liberated us from the need for precisely machined, ultra-flat surfaces that normally squeeze on the MEA—the heart of the fuel cell. The cartridges were coming well enough along but we still had a lot of work to do to make the “subracks” that the cartridges fit into. My job getting to the trade show was to design the heart of the cooling system, the high-power electrical distribution and power outlet, and the hydrogen-supply and “bleed” system of the subrack. I later went on to specialize in hydrogen sensing, which was either expensive and large, or small and prone to fail unsafe. The subrack had a lot of electrical and electronic components in it, and with six subracks to make for the Palm Springs trade show, we had far too much labor to handle ourselves. So our boss hired a handful of technicians from a temp agency. One of those technicians was JJ.

One Friday afternoon, it was clear we were really running behind and were going to lose a critical weekend of experiments and tuning if the technicians couldn’t stay late and finish their work. We asked them all if they could stay late Friday. All but one gave various excuses for why they had to leave promptly at 5:00 PM. But JJ said, “Well, that’s what I’m here for: to help. Of course I’ll stay.” I never heard JJ embellish a story. And you could always count on him; he was exceedingly competent at everything he did. With (a lot) of JJ’s help, we got to the trade show on time. We loaded up a rented van with our equipment at 2:00 in the morning and our boss drove the equipment down to Palm Springs at the last possible moment. The rest of us caught up with him by taking a plane.

To this day, fuel cell industry insiders recall the Palm Springs trade show that was attended by our group, where we operated our fuel cell. The way the trade show worked, you attended seminars all day. Then, at 7:00 PM, the exhibition floor opened up. Since we needed extra time to pull out our fuel cell from storage and set up outside, we got to fetch our equipment just after 6:00. It didn’t take us long to set up. By 6:30, when attendees were bored and anxious for the exhibition floor doors to open, we were outside with a music and light show in the dark. It does no good to just make electricity, you also have to do something interesting with it. So we had made a huge light panel of fluorescent lights. The light panel wasn’t backed with gloss white, it was backed by mirrors; the thing really lit up the parking lot. We also had a boom box making music. With nothing else going on at that moment, we had attendees four layers thick crowding around us. Four layers thick around loud music and bright light. I had engineers from various companies that needed remotely generated electricity (can’t say who) who were begging me for fuel cells to provide power for their particular use. But, though we were ahead of the competition, we were still like the other exhibitors: we had no product ready to go out the door.

After our success at the trade show, my boss drove the van back by himself. He was unloading it into our big main test room over the weekend when he heard a knock at the window. JJ looked a bit like Santa Clause’s wild younger brother. He was tall and lanky, with a mop of salt & pepper hair—more salt than pepper—and a beard to match. There at the window was a backlit form with JJ’s signature hair. He had driven down on his day off and was anxious to hear how things had gone at the trade show. There was no doubt JJ was going to become a permanent member of the team. JJ had in spades, what my boss looked for in his employees: enthusiasm. Even though the crush of getting to the trade show was over, JJ was now our new electronics technician. And even though he continued to work for a while as a temporary employee through a temp agency, he was given the key to the building so he could get into the lab any time he wanted. As soon as he could though, my boss hired JJ directly.

JJ was older than me; a Vietnam vet. He was also a smoker and this made hiring him as an employee problematic. At this time, our fuel cell spin-out was still a wholly owned subsidiary of an electrical utility. They had instituted a new hiring policy where they would no longer hire smokers. Was this discrimination? Oh, yes, they said; but it was legal discrimination. As a utility, they had more generous heath insurance than most workers get in the private sector. The extra burden that smokers presented was costing the utility serious money and they were simply going to hire non-smokers from then on. My boss had clout and they made an exception for JJ. He would be the last smoker the utility ever hired.

I was friends with JJ and many times pushed him hard and gave him pep talks about quitting smoking. But he was really hooked. Roughly five years later, the news came out that JJ had developed squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus. Apparently, the combination of smoking and drinking alcohol (something JJ also mildly indulged in) is a particularly nasty combination of nasty habits. The carcinogenic tars from the cigarettes not only goes down the trachea, but also gets into the throat before the esophagus and trachea diverge. And some of the tars from the smoke also gets into the esophagus itself. Then you take this wonderful solvent comprising water and ethyl alcohol and you soak carcinogens into delicate mucous membranes in your throat and esophagus while you inhale more of the carcinogens. Nasty. Very nasty.

JJ soon got so weakened from the cancer treatment and needed so much time off for treatment, that they had to let him go. After many months of this, it had become clear that the radiation and chemotherapy hadn’t been successful and that JJ was terminal. I can’t recall exactly how the invitation came up, but one day my boss told me that JJ would appreciate visitors at his house before he died. I “signed up” and found myself at JJ’s house a few days later.

JJ had never married but had a long-time girl friend who was effectively a common-law wife. He lived in a modest home deep in the forest off a dirt road. He invited me into his living room and I sat on the sofa as JJ sat in his easy chair. What does one talk about under such circumstances? It wasn’t awkward for long because JJ seemed to have a need to tell me about his life. I listened, and asked questions when I needed clarification. I wish I had brought along a tape recorded. Being an engineer, only two things stand out clearly in my mind and they are both the technical aspects of some really special tasks he did in Vietnam.

JJ had been an electronic technician in the Army. At that time, the Army had radio communications equipment that had encryption. The really, really secure stuff was theater-wide communications. But the squad-level, man-portable radios used a much simpler frequency-hopping technique. Apparently the frequencies that “hopped” were selected by inserting a sort of key into the side of the radio. That key was basically a matrix of pins that pressed into matrix of receptacles in the radio, each of which had a small electrical contact. So the key was an electromechanical way of selecting frequencies. Not surprisingly, in the fields of Vietnam and all that rain and mud, the radios would periodically stop working. The problem was often mud and dirt packed into the frequency-selecting receptacle contacts. JJ’s job was to go into the field and repair these squad-level radios. He soon improvised little tools the Army hadn’t provided him that drastically sped up the repair job: a sort of toothpick to pick out the gunk.

One day, the word passed through the electrical technicians’ ranks that the Air Force was looking for volunteers out of the Army who could quickly and accurately site stars with a sextant. This was something JJ thought himself to be particularly good at so he volunteered. He soon found himself in a classroom setting with dozens of other volunteers. They were told that what they would be doing was classified and they couldn’t tell them what it was for. All they were told is that the fastest and most accurate of them would be chosen for this classified task. They were given written tests and then they were put into a simulator dome where they each took turns with a sextant getting star fixes. JJ won.

When JJ told me this account, he still didn’t know precisely why he had done what he did, but he knew what he had done. He rode in the backseat of an SR‑71 and took star fixes as it flew high over Vietnam. For this, he wore a pressure suit; the SR‑71 flies very high. My guess is that the military was testing an advanced area navigation system at the time. Before GPS, there were other systems such as the U.S. Navy’s NAVSAT system. It could be they wanted to confirm the accuracy of a satellite-based system. Or perhaps they were testing the military equivalent of a LORAN (radio beam-based) ground-based system. Whatever it was, they wanted to check out the accuracy of something and they wanted to do so at extremely great altitude. The thing that stood out in my mind is just how high he went. The official “sustained” altitude for the SR‑71 is 85,069 feet. JJ said they shot ballistically and rode the flame to 176,000 feet. Indeed, it was an unsustainable altitude, but it was clearly very, very high. At 33.33 miles or 53.6 km, JJ was half way to his astronauts’ wings.

Our conversation (JJ’s account of his life) petered out after he had told me of is Vietnam experiences. The rest of his life after that had become that of just one more unremarkable, post-Vietnam veteran whose ambitions weren’t that great. His drinking, smoking, education, and the diamond-in-the-rough manner of the way he dressed and groomed his hair and beard had all binned him at the margins of society—both figuratively and literally if you looked at where he lived. For much of his life, he was the stereotypical “Vietnam vet”; someone we may dismiss as just one of those guys who gets an extra ten points on his civil service test only because he had been in the military. I can't tell you the feelings I had while I sat there talking with JJ. I didn’'t just listen, I asked many questions to be sure I properly understood what he was saying and to solicit greater details. It was clearly his intention that he tell me how he had mattered in the world and that I should become a living piece of JJ—a bit of his legacy—after he died. After only a couple of hours, he was content and our conversation had naturally concluded. I said goodbye.

A few days later, my ex boss and a machine-designer friend of mine visited JJ. When they got back to work the next day, they told me of how profusely JJ said he appreciated my visit with him. I took that as a sign that I should go back. But I didn’t, probably because I feared the awkward silence that might arise since he had already told me his story (tick… tock… tick… tock…). Of course, the only reason I didn’t go see him again was because of concern over how ‘I’ would feel, not over how he would feel. He died a few weeks later. To my knowledge, he had never had children to carry on his legacy. Were it not for my writing about him, precious few humans would know JJ had ever existed.

JJ came to mind the other day when I received this endlessly-forwarded e-mail:

Wal-Mart greeter

Harry, a new retiree greeter at Wal-Mart, just couldn't seem to get to work on time. Every day he was 5, 10, sometimes 15 minutes late. But he was a good worker, really tidy, clean shaven, sharp minded, and a real credit to the company who clearly demonstrated their ‘Older Person-Friendly’ policies.

One day the boss was in a real quandary about how to deal with Harry’s tardiness. Finally, he called Harry into the office for a talk.

“Harry, I have to tell you, I like your work ethic, you do a bang up job. But your being late so often is quite bothersome.”
“Yes Sir, I know boss, and I am working on it, and I'll improve.”
“Well good, you are a team player. That's what I like to hear. It's odd though, your coming in late. I know you’re retired from the Armed Forces. What did they say if you came in late there?”
To which Harry replied, “They said, ‘Good morning, General. Coffee this morning, Sir?’ ”

You rarely know the life story of the older people you meet.

Greg L ( talk) 22:14, 5 March 2009 (UTC)

Murder on Mica Peak

In August of 1986, Christopher Mark Blystone and an accomplice robbed and kidnapped a young pharmacy delivery man—a kid really—and took him to Mica Peak, a 5204-foot mountain popular with target shooters; a place where gun shots would arouse no suspicion. There, the robbers had the delivery boy on his knees. He was crying and begging for his life. Blystone executed him from behind with a pistol shot into his brain. Together, Blystone and his accomplice, who I will call J.R., took the $8000 of the day’s cash receipts to buy drugs and left the delivery boy to rot in the summer sun.

I had made a phone call a few months before that set into motion a series of events that ultimately resulted in the delivery man dying. Science fiction often has stories of time travelers going into the past, where they try to avoid “upsetting the timeline”; changing a seemingly innocuous thing, such as asking someone on the street for directions, causing that person to miss getting across a crosswalk, and who then gets to the post office too late to mail an important letter, allowing a business associate an extra day… (etcetera). Unless we play matchmaker and introduce two people who later marry, we can seldom know how significantly our actions can “change the timeline” if given enough time to propagate. I can say from experience that the most innocent and well intentioned of actions, if you let events run their course long enough and you forensically connect the dots, can lead to unforeseeable and significant consequences.

One of my brothers, Mark, ruled the streets back in 1986. He sold marijuana, which was—and still is—often paid for with stolen goods. Mark is tough. Only back then, he was a bad ass with a damned quick temper. He drove a fast truck and did antics with his truck that made Hollywood stunt drivers look like they needed a lesson or two. On the street, Mark was a living legend. He also had guns, had made a MAC‑10 machine pistol (I once fired the thing), and was well connected with law enforcement. Mark was no friend of the local sheriff’s office; they tried to shut him down. But Mark was also extremely knowledgeable with what was happening on the street, and therefore, was a valuable informant for the Washington State Patrol. He actually had detectives on speed dial and was on a first-name basis with them. For the State Patrol, Mark was someone who sold a relatively benign street drug and, by turning a blind eye, Mark helped them solve many important crimes. That’s the State Patrol’s point of view. From Mark’s point of view, the State Patrol was an organization that put his competitors out of business—for good; all he had to do was hit one speed-dial button on his telephone.

The MAC‑10 fires from an open bolt, which is to say, that when it’s not shooting, the bolt is locked back and the chamber is open. There is no hammer and moveable firing pin; the firing pin is a nub permanently on the face of the bolt. When you squeeze the trigger, it releases the bolt to slide forward, chambers a cartridge, and the instant it closes, the “firing pin” on the face of the bolt fires the round. Between this and the fact that the MAC‑10 is a direct blow-back action, means it can fire ammo fast: 1090 rounds a minute for 9 mm. We had marched into the hills a ways and came upon a water heater sitting in a meadow. It didn’t have a bullet hole in it; a situation we fixed in short order. I fired two 30‑round magazines-worth. The first was multiple bursts of about six rounds each: braaap, braaap, braaap. I shot the second magazine in one continuous burst. The muzzle rose a bit during the first eight rounds or so but I got the muzzle back down and maintained concentrated fire into an area about the size of a man’s chest on the water heater until the magazine was exhausted. At 18 bullets per second, a MAC‑10 quickly changes the hole-count in items.

Things were different in 1986. An entire baby boom generation had come of age and a certain portion was getting into trouble with the law. Law enforcement was overwhelmed and was simply employing a holding action for their strategy: just keep things from getting worse. What would fly like a lead balloon today could go on for years back then. In the evening at Mark’s house, the phones would ring incessantly. The conversations were always the same: (picking up the phone) “Yes?” “Hey, this is [insert drug user’s name here]. Do you got any?” “Yes”. “Can I come over now.” “Yes.” Mark tired of that and soon started answering the phone with “Yes, yes, and yes.” There would be a barely audible popping sound of someone quickly opening their mouth but halting themselves before any words could come out. Then they’d stammer “Uhh… OK.” For a while, Mark had two hispanic brothers as roommates who sold cocaine. The elder was Pete. I forget the younger’s name. They were simply known as “Pete and Repeat”. After Pete and Repeat were on the scene, Mark started answering the phone with “F. T. A. double-D. C.”, which stood for Full-Time Attended Drug Distribution Center.

Mark had a sophisticated surveillance system at his house that I had designed. Even though I knew exactly how it worked, it would have been impossible for me to defeat it. He also had closed-circuit TV monitors. Weed. His reputation. A deep knowledge of guns. The MAC‑10 machine pistol. Every other marijuana dealer was just a punk in comparison. One day, Chris Blystone was in Mark’s kitchen when there was this exchange:

Blystone: “So, can you get me a silencer?”

“What do you need a silencer for?”

“I just want one.”

“No, you just don’t ‘want’ a silencer. What the hell do you need a silencer for?”

“Well, I’m going to rob a nighttime Pizza Hut delivery girl and if she screams, I’d have to blow her away.”

“Blow her away?!? She’s a delivery girl! If she screamed, you’d just take the money.”

“Well, she might not cooperate so I’d have to waste her.”

“Jesus Christ! No, man. I don’t know where to get a silencer.”

About a week later, Mark was at a friend’s house. His friend was reading the newspaper and commented on how a Pizza Hut delivery girl had been robbed at gunpoint. Mark, of course, had a darn good idea who it likely was. He was surprised too. Many a customer, whom Mark referred to as “pukes,” would venture some fantasy as to how they might do this or that if given the chance; perhaps knock off an armored car during pay day. It was all just the musings of people on the margins of society who amount to nearly nothing, but who dream of greatness achieved by the only means they feel are within their grasp. But here was someone who only days later had acted on what were plans, not mere musings. Moreover, Blystone wanted a silencer just so he could “waste” an uncooperative victim. Mark had an instant epiphany of just how quickly Blystone acted on his impulses and just how much of an utter sociopath he was. It sent a chill down his spine.

Some number of months previously, Mark called me with an offer of a good deal on a brand new, unused Sony television set. Mark often accepted goods in exchange for his weed. Much of the goods had been stolen; he knew that much. I knew he was fencing goods and that some of it was stolen. One day Mark called me to say he had a new—as in still in the box—TV I could buy. Usually, stolen goods are (very) well used so I asked how the world it was that it was literally brand spanking new. He declined to answer. A month or so later, Mark called me again. He had purchased a huge Sony TV and could get me one too. Again, I asked how it was that these TVs were so new they were still in unopened boxes. After some ventured false guesses on my part, a tactic that often gets Mark to spill the beans, he explained that the janitorial & delivery guy at the family-owned pharmacy known as Halpins was stealing from his employer.

This was an interesting connection. Over ten years earlier, I had worked for Halpins as janitorial & delivery. The janitorial aspects of my job was to sweep the parking lot, vacuum the carpets, clean the windows, and break down old cardboard boxes in the shipping & receiving room. Halpins offered free delivery of prescriptions, which was indispensable for many elderly and invalid patients. Once in a while one of the three pharmacists, two of whom were co-owners, would announce that they had some prescription deliveries for me. I had started with an old 1964 station wagon with three-speed column shifter. During my second year, they bought a brand new 1973 wagon. Halpins was, and still is, a pharmacy and gift shop combined. At the time, they also sold Sony TVs, which were price-controlled at the time so a low-volume pharmacy could sell them and make some money on the deal. I maintained a particularly good friendship with one of the co-owners and anytime I needed a prescription filled, I bought it from Halpins.

What was going on now, over ten years later, is the janitorial and delivery guy would wait for a delivery of Sony TVs from the wholesaler, a well known electronics shop downtown, and he would simply take one or two TVs, still in the box, and put them under the wooden loading dock out back rather than bring them inside. After closing time, he would come back, load up his van, and exchange them for weed. The TVs simply wouldn’t make it onto the showroom floor or into the back room stock.

This bothered me. The owners of Halpins were WWII-age guys who had started a business back when Spokane, from old aerial photos, looked like an old-west saloon town. They worked hard and were honorable members of the Spokane culture. If you needed a donation for the local high school, you could count on Halpins. They had certainly treated me fairly. So I called the co‑owner of Halpins. This guy was sort of a Renaissance man. After retiring, though he had silver hair and a well receded hairline, he wore a pony tail. He looked like the epitome of who you would see running some art studio in San Francisco. Without telling him precisely what was going on, I asked him if they kept track of incoming and receiving and had the ability to cross check with receipts to see if they were suffering from internal theft. The answer was no. I persisted. I told him I thought there were losing big-ticket electronics of a certain type, and inquired that if they knew exactly what was being stolen, if they could look at what they were receiving from the wholesaler, and compare it to what they were selling, and tell if there was a difference. Again, no. They were simply Mayberry R.F.D. (“if we’re gone, go ahead and gas up yourself and leave your money in the tin can”) colliding with the 1980s. So I flat told him what was going on. He was incredulous.

A few weeks passed and I called the co-owner of Halpins to see what eventually came of their theft situation. They had hired a private investigator to come in and surveil the janitorial & delivery guy. They didn’t see him divert any TVs, but they caught him stashing some item for later retrieval and they fired him.

A few months later, all the local TV stations and the local paper had a story about a Halpins janitorial & delivery guy who went missing. Apparently, in the intervening years since I had worked there, they had given another duty to this young man: he was now responsible for taking the day’s receipts and making a night deposit at the bank after hours. His car was found abandoned along Dishman‑Mica Road. The money bag with about $8000 of cash was missing too.

Several days later, the delivery boy’s body was discovered on Mica Peak. The news accounts said he had been shot, execution style. I was a bit shocked. Murder in our city was—and fortunately still is—rare. My brother, Mark, however, was stunned. If anything, Mark has extraordinary street smarts, intuition about people and their behavior, and keen observational skills. He and I are 180° polar opposites. We can invite him over for some sort of going-away party and he’ll come in the back slider. After having taken one single step into the kitchen, he once commented “So, you’ve got the place all decorated for St. Patrick’s Day.” I’m sure I had a slightly startled look on my face, for I quickly looked around and realized that my wife had green this and green that everywhere about the house. I hadn’t even noticed. Mark is in tune with his surroundings and notices everything that goes on. One of the things that Watergate’s Deep Throat—an active FBI agent—did was move a potted plant on his balcony from one side to the other as a signal to Woodward & Bernstein that they should meet. Mark would notice such a thing.

Mark was stunned when he read that the delivery boy’s body had been discovered and that he had been shot execution style. He instantly realized that the robbery of someone carrying money was the M.O. of Blystone. He also knew, from Blystone’s request for a silencer and his sociopathic intentions to use it at the drop of a hat, that Blystone was exactly the sort of individual capable of doing such a thing. Mark had also known that J.R. had worked in the same capacity as the the slain delivery boy until the private detective spotted him stashing goods for later retrieval and he was fired. Thus, J.R. would have had inside knowledge of how the janitorial & delivery boy carried the day’s cash receipts to the bank after hours. Now the question was: do J.R. and Christopher Blystone know each other?

So Mark hopped into his truck and drove the few blocks to where J.R. lived. Mark knew he couldn’t just walk up and say “Do you know a Chris Blystone?”; if he did, and given that they had just committed a murder, he would deny it. As luck would have it, J.R. was out front washing his car in the driveway as Mark drove up. So Mark stopped his car in the middle of the road, got part way out of his truck, leaned forward to shout across his windshield, and yelled “Hey, have you seen Blystone lately?”. If J.R. didn’t know a Christopher Blystone, he would have responded “Who?”. But he responded “Naw. I haven’t seen him in a few days.” Mark now knew that Blystone had killed the delivery boy and that J.R. was somehow involved. But he had no way to prove it.

Only a few days later, a drug dealer who specialized in cocaine called Mark. The two had nothing but a casual relationship; no business or economic ties. The drug dealer was troubled. He said Christopher Blystone and J.R. had just been there, bought $7000 of cocaine, and had bragged that they were the ones who wasted the Halpins delivery boy. He wondered what he should do now. Mark told him to come on over.

When the cocaine dealer got in the door, Mark told him to come in and sit down. He then picked up the phone, pressed the speed‑dial for a Washington State Patrol detective friend of his, identified himself, and said he had someone with him who had important information on the delivery boy killing. He then looked the cocaine dealer straight in the eye and said “Tell… the… entire… truth” and handed the phone to him. Notwithstanding that this guy had just sold $7000 of cocaine, he complied precisely as Mark had instructed.

Within a half hour, there were a dozen State Patrol cars parked outside Mark’s house. There were so many detectives and uniformed Patrol officers, there wasn’t room to walk in the living room and kitchen areas. What the detectives desperately wanted was the murder weapon. They wanted some physical evidence linking the suspects to the crime besides some idle admission to a drug dealer that they had committed the crime. They figured that if they simply picked up Blystone and interrogated him, he’d deny it. They needed the physical evidence. Apparently, the murder weapon had been stolen from the father of J.R.’s girlfriend. According to the girlfriend, J.R. still had the gun but she didn’t know where exactly it was.

Mark called me when this was going on. He told me of plan the State Patrol detectives had hatched with Mark. He would call J.R. and tell him that the word on the street was that they had been involved in the killing and he needed to get rid of the gun. Mark was to tell him he would be there shortly on his motorcycle and the two of them would go to a particularly deep part of the river and throw it in. Mark would give J.R. a ride on the back of the motorcycle with J.R. in comfortable possession of the gun. He would drive along an isolated stretch of road alongside the river and pull over at a certain point, turn off the motorcycle, and take the keys with him. He’d quickly hop off, say “Give me the gun” and when J.R. handed it to him, he’d start walking further down the road ahead of the motorcycle. A friend of Mark’s, following Mark in Mark’s own truck, would pull up and Mark would jump into the bed of the truck and they’d take off, gun in hand.

Mark called me shortly later and said the plan was temporarily on hold because the detectives had enough evidence based on the testimony of the drug dealer to arrest Blystone. They had made the arrest in a fashion that the word of his arrest wouldn’t spread to J.R. They were going to wait a few hours and see if they could get Blystone to confess before putting the gun-retrieval plan in motion. Mark called again about an hour later. Blystone had confessed to the murder.

I might add that Chris Blystone knew that Mark was after him for the murder. Mark was plenty worried as a result. Blystone brought the pistol to a party shortly after the murder and had popped off a shot. The last two days before the arrest, Mark had a laser-sight-equipped, Remington 1100 shotgun with alternating rounds of deer slugs and double‑ought buckshot. It was beside him on the couch. It went with him to the bathroom. Early the day of Blystone’s arrest, there was a knock at Mark’s door. “Who is it?” Mark yelled, his hand gripping the shotgun. “It’s Chris.” “Who?!?” “Chris Peterson! Chis Peterson!. *Whew*. It turned out too, that J.R. didn’t have the gun and they wouldn’t have needed to pull off the gun-retrieval stunt with Mark. Blystone had the murder weapon on him when he was arrested.

On March 16, 1988, Christopher Mark Blystone, in Spokane Superior Court, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. His accomplice, J.R. served a lengthy prison sentence and was released. Mark, today, is a successful business owner.

What had started as a phone call to my friends at Halpins to help them avoid future economic loss due to employee theft, resulted in a chain of events that left a delivery boy there dead within a matter of months. Would I do the same thing again given the same information? Sure. Most of the time, we never know how our actions change the world. This is one of those exceptional cases where it’s easy to connect the dots.

I suppose though, that this particular exercise of “connect the dots in the time line”—a bad outcome—is is overcome by another one that comes to mind. Through a well documented series of events, and only three degrees of separation to President Reagan, actions I took resulted years later in saving Reagan’s life during the Reagan assassination attempt. That is another story yet.

Note: The above account is true. All names have been changed or truncated to conceal the identity of individuals with the exception of Christopher Mark Blystone, who is a notable public figure of infamy, now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. J.R., though an accomplice in the crime and also a public figure of infamy, served his time, is now a free man and is herein mentioned only by his initials. Who knows… I may soon do a Wikipedia article on Christopher Mark Blystone to accompany Kevin Coe, Spokane’s infamous “South Hill Rapist” (or not). In previous editions of this story, I referred to Halpins as “Pharm‑Us.” After over a half-century in business, Halpins recently accepted a buy-out offer from a pharmacy chain and shuttered their doors for good.

What if UFOs came to earth?

I have no “respect” for fruit flies. They are so easy to kill. Now, house flies, they’re worthy of some respect. Unless you have a rolled-up newspaper in your hand—or an genuine flyswatter—house flies are hard to kill; rather “sporting.” My brother, Mark, not surprisingly, found a novel way to kill house flies. When a house fly would alight somewhere in his office, he would shine a laser pointer at it. He’d get the laser pointer good and close so he could clearly see that the beam was awash over the fly’s head. Then he would take his finger and slowly push it towards the fly until he mashed it. It turns out that the air disturbance preceding a quick hand swat (or the whip of a horse tail) triggers special hairs on the fly and induces a reflex action to fly sideways to the disturbance. So, once blinded by the laser, you can slowly mash those wile flies. But fruit flies… any half-way decent hand clap can easily smash them out of all existence. Whenever I kill a fruit fly, I often marvel at how instantaneously it died; no pain. I often contemplate one other thing: how clueless they are to my very existence in the seconds preceding their death.

Fruit flies and their utter cluelessness to the nature of their surroundings got me thinking about how they compare to more advanced organisms. A fruit fly seems to be unaware that a human is a half meter away from them when they are flying about. They only start to react when a hazard encroaches within their alert zone, which isn’t very big. They can not distinguish or understand the nature of “inside a house” versus “outside.” The extents of their awareness is pretty much limited to food, hazard, and sex. The “poop” part is probably rather reflexive. Dogs on the other hand, can understand an awful lot. A dog can understand the “inside the house” and “outside”. They are social animals and can deeply love their masters. They understand the distinction between “other” dog and “other human.” Moreover, they understand the distinction between individual humans; particular members of a family, and who is family and who is a “stranger.” They can understand what a door is and that the door handle is something a human must manipulate in order to open the door and that they, the dogs, lack the ability to adequately manipulate the door handle. Genius dogs can actually manipulating the door handle with their mouths. But no dog can possibly understand how door handles are made and come to be there, attached to a door: how their raw materials are mined from the earth, fabricated into the shape of a door handle, sold by a distributor to a retailer, sold, and installed. A door handle simply “is.”

When the Aztecs and the Incas encountered Spaniards, they could see that the Spaniards had armor, horses, guns that fired projectiles with a boom, and a cannon that did the same thing but on a bigger scale. To the Aztecs and Incas, the means of making the guns must have seemed understandable—not magical—but profoundly beyond their grasp.

More importantly, how would Spaniards at this time have regarded each of these life forms: fruit flies, dogs, and South Americans? To any 16th-century Spaniard, a fruit fly is something you can squash out of existence and forget about it. For many 16th-century Spaniards, a dog would be an animal that you wouldn’t mistreat. There wouldn’t be any laws governing a soldier’s treatment of a dog in the new world, but social peer pressure would ostracize any soldier who mistreated a division’s mascot. Some other soldiers might acquiesce, or even approve and encourage, another conquistador’s shooting of an Aztec’s dog. Others might not. To the conquistadors, the Aztecs and Incas were humans. But they were inferior humans who had wealth the conquistadors coveted. Neither the Incas nor Aztecs spoke Spanish. The conquistadors thought them immodest for their sparse dress and backwards for their lack of industrial capacity. The only reason the conquistadors likely afforded them the initial courtesy of negotiating with them was fear: there were a lot of them, foes who had spears and other hand-propelled weapons. But the Incas and Aztecs didn’t have horses and when the conquistadors saw that they had a clear upper hand and allies from neighboring tribes, they destroyed both cultures and took what they wished.

In modern society, civilians and their elected representatives have higher expectations for their soldiers. Wars, after all, are fought to achieve political ends and all modern democracies have their armies serving at the pleasure of the politicians. But in the field, the armies of Western civilizations often struggle with individual soldiers and squads running amok and killing innocent civilians in urban conflict areas because the soldiers view them as less worthy of being treated like a full human. In modern society, there are laws governing how humans can own some animals (dogs) but not others (chimpanzees). There are laws governing how you may treat them, house them, and when and in what manner one can “put them down” (kill them). In all cases, anyone who owns an animal can kill them. The degree of pain involved in killing depends on a variety of factors: the extent to which the animal is capable of suffering like a human; how cute the animal is; how much of a nuisance the animal is and how much economic harm it causes; how much economic gain there is to killing the animal.

Accordingly, a coyote can be poisoned. A dog must be gassed, given an injection, or in rural areas, shot. A farm animal like a cow or a pig must have a rod smashed through its skull, gassed, or electrocuted before being bled out. It is all a sliding scale and there is no black and white. Below a certain level of Linnaean sophistication, below say, a turtle, it is OK within the law to cause extreme suffering. Slug bait no doubt causes some pain but no one cares. Many children aren’t even admonished for using a magnifying class to fry ants. To this day, I still use salt on slugs outside. My wife and I have some colossal-size slugs that you could slip on like a banana peel in a cartoon. I salt them. They clearly suffer. I don’t give a crap outwardly. But I’m thinking about all this each time I do it. And I seem to recall that I instructed my children to at least think about how the ants might perceive what was happening to them as they nuked them with a magnifying glass. I then walked away and let them noodle on this concept. As I recall, none of my kids killed ants with a magnifying glass beyond that first day.

It should be clear by now where I am heading with all this when we contemplate what might happen if extraterrestrials came to earth from another solar system: we’d be royally screwed. No doubt, E.T. would be a highly advanced civilization. Also, given that even E.T. can’t escape the laws of physics and spacetime, even if they travel at a 99.499% the speed of light where spaceship time runs at one-tenth the rate of their home planet, the very fact that they traveled long distances and left behind loved ones who will be hundreds of years older when they return, means that they probably live an exceedingly long time. To them, we will be short-lived organisms. We would be to them, as a dog is to us: something that lives only maybe one-seventh as long as we do. Another possibility, and more worrisome, is that E.T. coming here could be pilgrims who are leaving their home planet behind. As such, they would be traveling in complete family units and wouldn’t care if those left behind would be much older by the time they could arrive back; they don’t intend to go back. If this were the case, then the only limitation on distance would be the speed of the ship. If E.T. could travel at 99.980% the speed of light, they would be traveling at a Lorentz factor of 50; which is to say, they could travel 50 light years for every year of ship time that elapses. As the Nausets soon discovered on Manhattan Island, simply accepting some beads from pilgrims in return for a bit of central Australia doesn’t solve anything in the long term.

Moreover, the more important question is how advanced would they be to us and how little sophistication would we have in their eyes? If they seem like conquistadors to us, then we could see that they have advanced technology. We could understand the nature of what it does and how it generally works. But we could only marvel at the sophistication it must have taken to make the technology and know it is well beyond our grasp to replicate it in our lifetime. They might negotiate with us. Do they want a bunch of our salt? Go for it. Do they want us to be kitchen slaves for them and make their dinners? Enslavement will be acceptable to death for some. The reverse for others. Science fiction often deals with this level of disparity: magical, advanced technology that is still within our ability to grasp and convey to an audience.

What if we are dogs to E.T.? It’s hard to contemplate, let alone describe the notion of how there can be concepts that are beyond our comprehension. Makers of sci‑fi movies don’t venture into this realm that I am aware of. It is damned hard to convey the incomprehensible; audiences would walk out of theater wondering “What the hell was that about?!?” Just like a dog can not understand how a door knob came into being, or even the nature of the question, it is likely that there are E.T.s that are sophisticated beyond our ability to comprehend. They would be so sophisticated, we wouldn’t know what it is we can’t know. A dog being used in a medical experiment will know it is having something shoved down its throat. But it can not understand who the veterinarian truly is, and how he is different and has different economic motivations from the drug company’s representative. The dog can’t understand the nature of drug trials, and how human trials come next, and how drugs then go to market and how they are distributed, and the economic motivations of everyone along the way. To us, E.T. would simply be magic. The only thing that would make our lives bearable is there would likely be E.T.-laws governing how humans receive humane treatment—or E.T-esque treatment. But only if we luck out and are as cute and sophisticated to them as dogs are to humans.

What happened to AGF, Greg??

What if we humans are annoying fruit flies in the kitchen of E.T. when he/she/it arrives here on earth? We would scarcely be aware that they have even arrived at all. They’d swat an annoying scurrying human that is in their way and we would be dead or completely gone. Then they would rinse us down the drain. If earth is a big farm waiting to be planted with E.T. food, earthlings might be like locust in a corn field rather than like a single fruit fly in their kitchen. E.T. wouldn’t bother to smash an individual and rinse him or her down the drain; they’d exterminate us in wholesale quantities and leave the billions of our corpses out in their “fields” to rot—too numerous to count. Suddenly, we might only be aware that a giant force is rolling along the land, like an invisible steam roller squashing everything it its path. If the crushing force advances along at the speed of sound, most would not know of their impending doom until it was already upon them. [1] Really, a nice, targeted (species-specific) “humacide” would be a likely tool as it causes no collateral damage to the ecosystem and is highly efficient. They’d spray their fields.

This comes to mind when I hear about how we earthlings contemplate beaming radio messages into space saying “Hi, we’re here.” In 1974, NASA beamed a radio message to M13, 25,000 light years away. Although transmissions like this to very distant stars carries little risk of harm per transmission, the general practice is very, very unwise in my opinion. If anything at all can be learned from earth history, it is that advanced life forms and advanced civilizations with advanced technology always subjugate the lesser. Always. And the greater the disparity, the greater the subjugation. Whenever there is extreme disparity between the life forms, the consequences are always catastrophic for the lesser one. We should be using the the Arecibo Observatory only to listen for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence— SETI style. If NASA started using Arecibo to broadcast powerful messages to every star within 200 light years, I’d be thinking “Oops. I hope E.T. doesn’t send pilgrims and I hope we aren’t like pesky vermin to them.”

The most exceedingly unwise thing to do on earth

Fresh off of my work on Fuzzball (string theory), I was thinking about the density of fuzzballs, which are thought to be the true quantum description of black holes, and their “singularities.” I note that a conservative lower limit for the mass of a black hole produces a “singularity” density (according to one aspect of string theory) of 2.5286×1018 kg/m3. A bit of such a black hole the size of a drop of water at that density would have a mass of 126 million metric tons, which is equivalent to a ball of granite 449 meters in diameter (taller than the Empire State Building). Said another way, one teaspoon of such a fuzzball would have a mass of 12.5 billion metric tons. This is greater than the density of neutron stars, which are thought to be in the range of 1.8–2.9 billion metric tons per teaspoon.

Since mass and energy are interchangeable, I was pondering how profoundly unwise it would be to create even a cubic millimeter-sized zone on earth with an energy density equal to the mass density of a fuzzball. If one were to assemble a large number of converging lasers so they concentrated their beams at a power density of 6.8×1037 watts into a volume of cubic millimeter for 3.34 picoseconds, that should create a black hole on earth. This would probably be the most unwise thing to do on earth as the 2.53‑million-metric-ton black hole would drop out of the convergence zone and fall towards the center of the earth, feeding upon the earth, growing the entire time. Within about 42 minutes, such a black hole will have reached the center of the earth, where it would continue to feed upon the earth at an ever-accelerating pace. I suppose that within a few more hours or so, the earth would entirely disappear to produce a black hole with an event horizon measuring 1.774 centimeters in diameter. Normally, a mass equivalent to at least about 1.7–2.7 suns would be required to create enough compression to smash matter to a density of a black hole; gravity is, after all, the weakest of the known forces and very great quantities of mass are required to generate a large gravitational force. A laser-beam approach like this would nicely circumvent such an inconvenience.

I had often wondered if there was a fundamental quantum upper limit to light intensity. I suppose this power density, which is 6.8×1039 W/cm2, is it since there would be no way to get more strings crowded into a volume. Fortunately, this intensity is 340 million billion times more intense than the world’s most intense laser beam. Even if a millimeter-sized black hole was unstable and “puffed up” to a miniature neutron star with a diameter of about 2 millimeters, the outcome for earth would be the same: it would fall to the center of the earth and quickly consume it. Greg L ( talk) 21:46, 30 May 2009 (UTC)

The world’s second-best April Fools Day joke

My older brother is a stockbroker. Over the decades he advanced up the ranks to become the manager of a local branch of a worldwide financial institution. After a merger, he later became an assistant manager. Stockbrokers in the United States have onerous SEC regulations restricting their activities and governing the documentation of their communications. I learned about this just by chance. I was at my mother’s house for a family gathering that my older brother was attending. Over dinner, he told about an embarrassing incident with a letter his then-girl friend had written and mailed to his work.

My brother, “Terry,” and his girl friend, “Janine,” had gotten into a spat and ‘separated’—if you can call it that—where she stayed at her house and he at his. This mutual pout went on for a week or so, after which time she was feeling rather apologetic. So she wrote a letter to him, mailed it to his work, and marked the envelope “PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL.” Well, such a disclaimer on the outside of an envelope changes matters not one twit in the eyes of the SEC. One could have all sorts of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing by rogue stockbrokers if all communications weren’t monitored, documented, and archived. Accordingly, the SEC requires that all e-mails and snail-mail must be read by an office manager and a copy archived for inspection by the SEC if there is an investigation. Audits are periodically conducted to ensure managers are rigorously adhering to the rules.

The day’s mail is opened by a front-desk receptionist. She reports directly to the office manager. As required, she opened the letter to my brother, Terry. The letter had some drama in it about how Janine was sorry for the spat and wished they would get back together again and how she looked forward to him bringing his gear home as she was interested in some serious make-up hubba‑hubba. As required, the receptionist put a copy into the filing cabinet for the SEC and printed a copy for the office manager and then gave the original to Terry. Well, as one would expect, the letter proved to be the source of much good natured ribbing and office buzz for the next several days. Terry is an exceedingly mature individual and highly respected at the office. The events surrounding the incident was, though embarrassing and unfortunate, quite understandable and very human. Amusing.

Well, I was only half tuned in on this at dinner and wasn’t sure I was comprehending this quite right. “You mean that even if you write a letter and mark it ‘PERSONAL AND NON-BUSINESS’, the office manager has to read the letter and they have to put a copy on file for the SEC to look at even though it obviously doesn’t have jack to do with stocks or financial dealings? What the hay!” But that’s the rules, I was told. Well, my mind working the way it does, I instantly filed that bit of information in my mental filing cabinet marked “For Future Hijinks.”

So here is a letter that I wrote and mailed across the town on March 31st so it would arrive on April 1st, April Fools Day:

Dear Terry:

Please let me apologize for last night. I was short with you
because my feelings were hurt; I love you and will continue
to forever. It just seems like you are procrastinating on
leaving Janine. When I first surrendered my body to you, it
was because I thought I was your only true partner in love
and that your relationship with Janine was purely physical.
I know this is still the case— I really do— but when my
feelings are hurt, I lash out with my insecurities; I know this
isn’t the Christian thing to do.

What I want is for you to stop here first, before you stop at
Janine’s. It seems like every single time you go to her
embrace first, she satisfies your physical needs right as you
get in the door. By the time I get you in my embrace, you
have less fire and desire for me and this doesn’t satisfy me.
I can always tell the difference. I love that fire of desire for
me you have in your eyes when you have not been with
Janine. When you are like this and we are one—
emotionally, physically, spiritually— it’s like the very
creation of the universe for me. I can feel your power flow
through every fiber of my being.

I’ve talked about this with Grandmother. I don’t think she
understands or maybe even cares. She just gives me her
Greek philosophical “que sera sera” or “slag sloof lirpa”

Please, oh please; try more often to stop here first. If you
have to stop at Janine’s first, try to resist her advances so
that I am still the one that you first bring your loins to.

With All My Love,


Oh, yeah! This was fodder for juicy gossip. As I had planned, the letter arrived and was stamped as having been received April 1st. As I had hoped, their regular receptionist, who fully understood the SEC regulations and her duty, was working that day and opened my brother’s letter. And she made a copy and put it into the filing cabinet for the SEC to audit. And she made a copy and put it into the office manager’s IN basket. And she spilled… her… guts to the entire office gossip mill.

Now, mind you, I had ensured my brother would have an easy-out once the embarrassment had taken its course. How? Well, “slag sloof lirpa” is “April fools gals” backwards; this is a practical joke, after all. I was perfectly pleased that he would go into the mens’ room to relief himself, walk up to the urinal next to one that was currently being used by one of his co-workers, and the co-worker would ever-so-slowly turn his body away from my brother while doing his number. But like all good practical jokes, the humiliation must eventually end for the victim and everyone who was gullible enough to believe that letter would realize they were as much—or more so—a victim of the joke as anyone else. One has to want to believe what was in my letter to fall for all that melodrama.

So what does the office manager do? He could have quietly just ignored the matter. The office buzz can take its course and die out. Stick to business. That is certainly not what he did. He called my brother into his office for a discussion:

“Hi, Terry. Have a seat, please.”

(He pushes the letter across the desk over towards Terry.)

“Read this.”

(My brother reads the letter.)

“I don’t know a ‘Bob’ ”, my brother responds.

(The office manager throws his hands up, palms facing my brother and wags them back and forth, tilts his head down slightly and too the side, and says…)

“Of course… of course. I’m not making any judgements here. Your personal business is just that: personal. But I thought you should see this letter and might want to take measures to avoid having others come to the office.”

(My brother’s tone getting a bit persistent now.)

“But, I really don’t know a ‘Bob’ and don’t know what this is about.”

“Of course not. Of course not. Hey, far be it me to be passing judgements here. I just thought you should know about this. OK? I think we’re done with this now. I just wanted to help you avoid more of this in the future.”

I waited for several days without hearing from my brother. I fully expected he would know who was behind the letter. I had anticipated that he would be called to his manager’s office, be presented with the letter, read it, see the “slag sloof lirpa”-bit, and it would all ring a bell and he’d say “the joke’s on you guys; this is an April Fools joke.” But he didn’t. And why would I expect him to figure it all out so easily? Because I had sent him nearly the exact same letter several years before and he entirely forgot every single thing about that previous incident. There is actually a human being on this planet who has his head in the clouds worse than I.

That first letter, from years before, was signed “Ramona.” Except for that, it was identical, including the “slag sloof lirpa” part. In that particular case, they had a temporary receptionist who was opening the mail that day. She didn’t know that the SEC requires that all correspondence—even exceedingly *private* letters—must be treated like all other mail. She opened that letter from Ramona and read it for a few moments. Her eyes opened wide and she uttered “Personal – personal – personal - PERSONAL! ” And then she hurriedly re-folded the letter and feverishly stuffed it back into the envelope like it was going to self-destruct in five seconds.

That first letter quickly and discreetly ended up in my brother’s hands. He didn’t know a “Ramona.” This must be a practical joke. And he noted that it has been printed on a toner-type laser printer. Mind you, this was in the very-early 90s and, though many people owned ink jet printers, few had laser printers. I had access to one at a graphics arts business where I periodically did consulting. My brother took the letter to his office friend next door. He showed him the letter. “This is some sort of practical joke,” my brother told him. “I don’t know a Ramona. Who has access to a laser printer who would play a practical joke like this?” They looked at each other and came to the obvious conclusion at the same time: “Greg.”

Later in the evening on this first time I sent him the love letter, I was coincidentally again, eating dinner at my mother’s house. He walked in the front door and entered into the kitchen. The fan and lights over the range obscured his face but I could see his torso as he stood in the kitchen. I ducked my head down to make eye contact. He looked at me and said “Hi Ramona.” He explained how it would have been a great joke but they had a temp worker that day opening the mail. He explained how he and his friend deduced it was I who sent it. I then explained to him how, if he was being burned big-time by the joke, I had given him an “out” to prove the letter was a prank by imbedding the “slag sloof lirpa”-bit into the letter. He said they hadn’t even picked up on that odd phrase. So…

I fully expected that, several years later when he was in his manager’s office and the letter was shoved in his face, that he would go “Oh! This is a prank. And here’s the proof.” But the letter didn’t ring a bell; not the foggiest recollection. He suffered for several days as I waited and waited for him to call me at my work saying “Smooth move.” I imagined he’d tell me all about how everyone had egg on their faces once he showed them my clever proof that they bought into all that drama and it was all an April Fools-day joke. But I never got that call.

After about four days, I finally called him. I asked him how things were going at work. Fine, he said. “Was anything a little odd lately there for you”, I asked? He asked me why I would ask such a question. So I asked him if he had received an odd letter. Why, yes, he said. “Well, for God’s sake,” I told him. “It’s that ‘Ramona’ letter I sent you years ago with the ‘slag sloof lirpa’ bit to prove it’s an April Fools joke.” Normally, when I provide some bit of information I think is earth-shaking and exceedingly important to my brother, he sorta yawns and says something that generally amounts to “Yeah. I suppose I can take that to them one of these days and do something about that.” This time, upon hearing (again) that the letter had an imbedded code proving it was all a hoax, he quickly got off the phone and marched into his office manager’s office to break the news.

Roughly a year later, I was talking to him at his work and asked him about the details of how this joke went down. Our conversation was one of those “reminiscent”-type conversations where you go “Hey, remember that ‘Bob’ letter! Wasn’t that just great?!? Tell me how it all went down.” He said “Well, it wasn’t very funny at the time… *ipt* [interrupting himself]… Come to think of it, it really isn’t all that funny now!”  I was at my work in my cubicle, falling off my chair in laughter. I’d get back into my chair only to fall back out when he was telling me of how the conversation went with his office manager.

Anyway, now I’ve told the world about the little SEC rule over personal correspondence. Anyone know a stock broker who is understanding and forgiving? As for the *best* April Fools joke (not second-best), that’s for another time. I played that one on my younger brother. Greg L ( talk) 21:40, 1 April 2010 (UTC)

An open letter to extraterrestrials

Dear extraterrestrials:

Enjoy your visit to Earth; but please don’t stay long.

Given that you have arrived here from another star system, you are clearly more advanced than we are. Accordingly, you no-doubt see us as inferior, at best, and as pests at worst. I hope you will treat Earth as a “Celestial Natural Park” to be preserved and enjoyed by future tourists from your world rather than a new land over which you have eminent domain.

Earth is a planet inhabited by many species. Of the many species, the most advanced are humans. I am a human. By “advanced,” I mean our species is best able to increase the average live span to very close to the theoretical maximum age to which we can live. We do so through cultivation and control of our food supply, through hygiene and control and eradication of disease, and by greatly limiting predation by other species. Seldom do humans get eaten by other species, and when this does occur, it is often because of extreme risk taking or foolishness.

Some of Earth’s species have adapted to survive by evolving thick hides, or sharp claws, or long teeth. Still others have evolved defensive mechanisms, such as producing toxic substances or armor. Humans’ adaptation has been our brains and our minds, which are more highly advanced than any other species. Our minds have enabled us to share concepts with each other and to fashion tools and modify our environment to a spectacular extent in order to better suit us.

Humans have the ability to think abstractly a great deal. Death is often on our minds. Other species such as chimpanzees can understand death of a member of their troop and grieve. But whereas other species understand the concept of death, they don’t dwell upon it when it is not imminent. Humans, on the other hand, ponder death even when it is not a pressing and immediate concern. Naturally, like nearly all life forms in the Universe, humans have the instinct of self preservation. Accordingly, our ability to ponder over something that takes our lives but which we can do nothing about lead many of our species to invent religion, wherein many of us believe in fictitious beings and forces that are not part of the natural world—things called the “supernatural.” We imagine these mythological beings have magical powers that can give us the gift of an eternal life after death. This liberates many of our species from the fear of death.

You will see that there are old people amongst us who are dying away. You may also see that the younger people with much of their life ahead of them do not give much respect to these older people and do not spend a great deal of time learning from their experiences. This is curious to me and many others of my species because these older people have life experiences and knowledge, which can be passed down via speech and the written word. Inasmuch as our species survives through our intellect (we have no sharp teeth, long claws, nor thick hides), this, at first sight, seemingly makes no sense. This is because a form of knowledge and judgement called “wisdom” is accumulated by older people precisely because they have more experience. This wisdom enables those who have it to better discern the distinction between what is important and what is not. Wisdom also enables humans to better predict the behavior of others and to detect deception. This ability to predict the future behavior of others protects social groups (where there are older leaders and younger followers) from harm and better ensures survival of the collective. This is important because humans are social beings and different social groups often struggle in battles over limited resources or because of differences in the cultures of the various collectives.

Given the importance of wisdom to survival of a collective, you might find it a curious phenomenon that young humans are not currently doing a good job of ensuring that wisdom is passed down from old to young. This is largely because of two reasons: 1) a Great Struggle on Earth that profoundly molded the worldview of our elders, and 2) a lesser struggle that profoundly changed the worldview of a younger generation. The “Great Struggle” was known as “World War II”. Yes, there were two of them. This struggle affected nearly all people on our planet. The lesser struggle was known as The Vietnam War. It affected primarily the young people from just one country (a “country” is collective of people who live under a common set of rules).

World War II was a great struggle between good and evil. A few leaders lead a great number of followers on both sides of the struggle. Each side fought to the death. Combatants died in great numbers. Non-combatants died in even greater numbers. Those members of our society who were followers bore the brunt of the risk of death; leaders did not. But this was a necessary element of conducting war and everyone on both sides did their part to win the struggle. The “good side” won this struggle. And for one of the first times in the history of our species, those who won the struggle did not vanquish and kill the remaining survivors amongst their enemies; they cared for them and protected them and showed great magnanimity in victory. They helped their vanquished foes rebuild their societies and guided them to develop a system of societal rules to ensure that their leaders governed with the consent of the governed.

For those who lived through the struggle, that period of their lives was formative and shaped them in many ways. They learned that by pulling together, they could prevail. They learned that sacrifices—often at great personal cost—was sometimes incumbent upon many. Most dominating of all the aspects of their worldview, was they learned that one simply had to follow what their leaders told them to do and had to trust that the orders they received were for a good reason; usually, they were.

The children of this generation that had lived through the Great Struggle were eventually faced with the lesser struggle known as the Vietnam War. This was a war that for the much larger country on one side of the dispute, did not carry a risk of their being invaded and killed by their enemy. The leaders from the larger country wanted the war for less direct, long-term, strategic advantage; immediate survival and preserving their culture was not an issue. This lesser struggle resulted in the deaths of a great many of the followers and almost none of the leaders. Given our instinct for self preservation, and the realization that not fighting the war would not result in the larger country being vanquished by its enemy, the followers lost confidence in their leaders. They shortly learned to very much distrust their leadership.

The worldview of the younger generation made no sense to the older generation that had learned to follow orders in order to survive as a country. The youngers’ worldview seemed selfish and cowardly. To the older generation, following the orders of their leaders was incumbent on each individual and seemed a necessary and vital element of living in a societal collective. To the younger generation, the new war was not worth fighting. To the younger generation, questioning the wisdom of leaders who wanted to fight this new war seemed not only a right, but a duty. In large part, this was because—in the larger country on one side of the dispute—leaders govern with the consent of the governed. Accordingly, fighting wars are ultimately done only because the governed want to do so. During the Great Struggle, nearly everyone who was the governed wanted to fight the war. The leaders of the “good side” at that time, who had great wisdom, concurred and recognized the need for the war.

To the younger generation, the older generation’s worldview seemed narrow-minded and lacked critical thought. The older generation seemed to lack wisdom. The two generations lacked respect for each other because of a difference over the need to fight the lesser war. As a result of this great difference, there is now a great number of younger people who are now at an age where they should have great wisdom. They are now looking around and are realizing that in many cases, they have forever lost the ability to absorb, through communication, the wisdom of their elders who have died.

I personally fell victim to this when I was a very young adult. I had a friend and his father argued with me about fighting the lesser war. I thought his father to be a fool and did not respect him. He seemed to lack any critical thought and seemed to have blind acceptance of what our leaders wanted even though the war was a useless waste. I simply did not understand *why* he thought the way he did. He died several years ago. It had been decades since I last saw him and I did not say goodbye. I heard that he had developed a great interest in literature in his later years and enjoyed discussing what the authors meant. He died of cancer—a disease that humans have not yet eradicated. Though in pain, he enjoyed boating. As he lay on his bed, his last words to his children were “Take me gently across the water.”

Though I still believe the older generation was wrong about the lesser war, I now understand why the older generation had the worldview they did. Living through the Great Struggle and pulling together against great odds had greatly influenced how they saw the world. For them, there was little ambiguity (also known as “shades of gray”); things were very “binary”: living or dying; good vs. evil; leaders vs. followers. For them, there was no shades of gray in war; one did not question one’s leaders.

Unfortunately, I have largely squandered my opportunity to have wisdom passed down from the older generation to me. Considering that the human mind is the evolutionary adaptation that gives our species its survival advantage, this failure to absorb wisdom from a passing generation seems a scandalous waste and a failure. It is. And for that I am sorry.

Yours truly,
Greg L ( talk) 23:43, 18 July 2010 (UTC)

P.S. I hear that beef jerky tastes much better than human jerky. I suggest you try the former and not make any of the latter during your visit to Earth.


The thoughts and opinions expressed above on this user page are not intended to be offensive to any particular minority group (based on race, religion, ethnicity, country of origin, gender, gender identification, disAbility, occupation, meat-eating/vegetable-eating practices, and hobbies—even hunting). Note too that parenthetically mentioning “even hunting” in the preceding sentence was not intended to signal any disapproval of the sport; the author does not wish to disparage the legal, safe, and most humane-possible methods of hunting. This preceding statement should not however, be construed as an endorsement of the sport; the author values all the biodiversity of earth and no animal should suffer at the hand of a human. However, that preceding sentence should not be construed that the author is indifferent to the plight of workers displaced by environmental issues; the author is mindful of the plight of timber workers vs. the plight of spotted owls. The preceding sentence should not be construed that the author thinks there is only one group of workers who have been financially harmed by environmental issues; there are others and not mentioning these others by name should not be construed as suggesting they are any less important than another. The author wishes to ensure all who review this communication that he values diversity and has the utmost respect for the law, government officials, the institutions of the United States, the wide variety of social customs and diversity of its peoples, and the civil treatment of other Wikipedians, even if they come across as assholes. This statement should not however, be construed as being intolerant of others who have contrary or differing values or who might hold the U.S. in disdain. The author embraces the wholesome notion that no person’s or group's values are any more meritorious or valid than another’s, and the author does not wish to suggest that by stating an admiration for America and the U.S. Government, that this ought to be construed as deprecating the many other fine systems of government throughout the world and the social practices of its peoples. Notwithstanding that the author wrote the word "he" three sentences ago, (the author happens to be “anatomically male” by birth) this should not be construed as diminishing in any way, the existence of the word "she" nor does it signal that the author is adverse to the use of the gender-neutral "he/she" where appropriate. Furthermore, the words "he" and "she" should not be construed as being exclusionary or diminishing to the transgendered. This paragraph was not intended to be understood by blondes.

Hecho en China

Charles Algernon Parsons

P.S. If you’re wondering why I honor Charles Algernon Parsons with the picture included above with such prestigious company, it’s because of how well he designed the first steam turbine; not that he was also the first to do it. The current Wikipedia article doesn’t give him his sufficient due in my book. If one studies steam turbines, you will see that there is “this issue” or “that issue” that must be technically addressed to make a reliable and efficient turbine. And in pretty much every case, the lesson reads something like “Oh yeah, on this issue too, Parsons figured it all out and properly addressed it with his first design.” The development of his steam turbine is analogous to the development of the first airplane, only instead of ending up with the 1903 Wright Flyer, he ended up with a 1936 Spitfire on his first try. You can make a turbine that’s different, or bigger, but Parsons didn’t leave much room to make one better and more efficient. At a time when steam power was synonymous with big, inefficient pistons, Parsons’ invention was truly way ahead of its time.

And for a visionary, check out Paul Otlet. A description of his 1934 book, Traité de documentation (Treatise on Documentation) is here on YouTube.


Moved to User:Greg L/Delimitnum sandbox

Sewer cover in front of Greg L’s house

Delimitnum sandbox

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Progressions of features and digits:

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3960-count progression

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NEW: Known bugs

Edit resources


The bridge cost £175,000 (about £13.5 million as of 2021) to build; with the costs of approach roads and compensation payments, the total cost came to £297,000 (about £22.9 million as of 2021). [2]


Wikipedia:Tutorial Wikipedia:How to edit a page


Row spanning columns


Substance Phase Specific
heat capacity
J g-1 K-1
heat capacity
J mol-1 K-1
Air (Sea level, dry, 25 °C) gas 1.005 29.10
Air (typical room conditionsA) gas 1.012 29.19
Aluminium solid 0.897 24.2
Argon gas 0.5203 20.7862
Beryllium solid 1.82 16.4
Water (25 °C) gas (100 °C) 2.080 37.47
liquid 4.1813 75.327
solid (0 °C) 2.114 38.09
Standard ambient temperature and pressure
used unless otherwise noted. For gases, the value given corresponds to
Background color, text color, and rows spanning columns

SI prefixes may be used to denote multiples and subdivisions of the kelvin. The most commonly used factors of kelvin used in science and engineering are listed in bold.

Kelvin and subdivisions Multiples
Factor Name Symbol Factor Name Symbol
100 kelvin K
10−1 decikelvin dK 101 decakelvin daK
10−2 centikelvin cK 102 hectokelvin hK
10−3 millikelvin mK 103 kilokelvin kK
10−6 microkelvin µK 106 megakelvin MK
10−9 nanokelvin nK 109 gigakelvin GK
10−12 picokelvin pK 1012 terakelvin TK
10−15 femtokelvin fK 1015 petakelvin PK
10−18 attokelvin aK 1018 exakelvin EK
10−21 zeptokelvin zK 1021 zettakelvin ZK
10−24 yoctokelvin yK 1024 yottakelvin YK

A This is an example of small text. Assuming an altitude of 194 meters above mean sea level (the world–wide median altitude of human habitation), an indoor temperature of 23 °C, a dewpoint of 9 °C (40.85% relative humidity), and 760 mm–Hg sea level–corrected barometric pressure (avg. molelcular weight = 28.838).

More color control as well as alignment control
kelvin Celsius Peak emittance
wavelength of
black-body photons
Absolute zero

(precisely by definition)

0 K –273.15 °C
(No emission)
Water’s triple point

(precisely by definition)

273.16 K 0.01 °C 10,608.3 nm
(Long wavelength I.R.)
Water’s boiling point A 373.1339 K 99.9839 °C 7766.03 nm
(Mid wavelength I.R.)
Incandescent lampB 2500 K ~2200 °C 1160 nm
(Near infrared)C

A For Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water at one standard atmosphere (101.325 kPa) when calibrated strictly per the two-point definition of thermodynamic temperature.
B The 2500 K value is approximate. The 273.15 K difference between K and °C is rounded to 300 K to avoid invalid precision in the Celsius value.
C For a true blackbody (which tungsten filaments are not). Tungsten filaments’ emissivity is greater at shorter wavelengths which makes them appear whiter.

1–(e–X) Reading
0 (start) 0 s 0% 25.00 °C
1 1.5 s 63.21% 72.41 °C
2 3.0 s 86.47% 89.85 °C
3 4.5 s 95.02% 96.27 °C
4 6.0 s 98.17% 98.63 °C
5 7.5 s 99.33% 99.49 °C
6 9.0 s 99.75% 99.81 °C
7 10.5 s 99.91% 99.93 °C
8 12.0 s 99.97% 99.97 °C
Measure SI
parts-per ratio
or symbol
Value in
A strain of… 2 cm/m 2 parts per hundred     2% [3] 2 × 10–2
A sensitivity of… 2 mV/V 2 parts per thousand 2 ‰ 2 × 10–3
A sensitivity of… 0.2 mV/V 2 parts per ten thousand 2 ‱ 2 × 10–4
A sensitivity of… 2 µV/V 2 parts per million 2 ppm 2 × 10–6
A sensitivity of… 2 nV/V 2 parts per billion 2 ppb 2 × 10–9
A sensitivity of… 2 pV/V 2 parts per trillion 2 ppt 2 × 10–12
A mass concentration of… 2 mg/kg 2 parts per million 2 ppm 2 × 10–6
A mass concentration of… 2 µg/kg 2 parts per billion 2 ppb 2 × 10–9
A mass concentration of… 2 ng/kg 2 parts per trillion 2 ppt 2 × 10–12
A mass concentration of… 2 pg/kg 2 parts per quadrillion 2 ppq 2 × 10–15

Measure SI
parts-per ratio
or symbol
Value in
A strain of… 2 cm/m 2 parts per hundred     2% [4] 2 × 10–2
A sensitivity of… 2 mV/V 2 parts per thousand 2 ‰ 2 × 10–3
A sensitivity of… 0.2 mV/V 2 parts per ten thousand 2 ‱ 2 × 10–4
A sensitivity of… 2 µV/V 2 parts per million 2 ppm 2 × 10–6
A sensitivity of… 2 nV/V 2 parts per billion 2 ppb 2 × 10–9
A sensitivity of… 2 pV/V 2 parts per trillion 2 ppt 2 × 10–12
A mass concentration of… 2 mg/kg 2 parts per million 2 ppm 2 × 10–6
A mass concentration of… 2 µg/kg 2 parts per billion 2 ppb 2 × 10–9
A mass concentration of… 2 ng/kg 2 parts per trillion 2 ppt 2 × 10–12
A mass concentration of… 2 pg/kg 2 parts per quadrillion 2 ppq 2 × 10–15
Code Before After
[[15 April]][[2009]] 15 April 2009 15 April 2009
[[15 April]] [[2009]] 15 April 2009 15 April 2009
[[15 April]],[[2009]] 15 April, 2009 15 April, 2009
[[15 April]], [[2009]] 15 April, 2009 15 April, 2009
[[April 15]][[2009]] April 15 2009 April 15 2009
[[April 15]] [[2009]] April 15 2009 April 15 2009
[[April 15]],[[2009]] April 15, 2009 April 15, 2009
[[April 15]], [[2009]] April 15, 2009 April 15, 2009
[[2009-04-15]] 2009-04-15 2009-04-15
[[2009]]-[[04-15]] 2009- 04-15 2009- 04-15
[[2009]][[04-15]] 2009 04-15 2009 04-15
[[2009]] [[04-15]] 2009 04-15 2009 04-15
[[2009]] - [[04-15]] 2009 - 04-15 2009 - 04-15
IN BLOED GEDOOPT (Dutch original)
Dit is dan mijn laatste woord…
Door kogels doorboord…
In bloed gedoopt…
Zoals ik had gehoopt.
Ik laat een boodschap achter…
Voor jou…de vechter…
De boom van Tawheed is afwachtend…
Naar jouw bloed smachtend…
Ga de koop aan…
En Allah geeft je ruimbaan…
Hij geeft je de Tuin…
In plaats van het aardse puin.
Tegen de vijand heb ik ook wat te zeggen…
Je zal zeker het loodje leggen…
Al ga je over de hele wereld op Tour…
De dood is je op de Loer…
Op de hielen gezeten door de Ridders van de DOOD…
Die de straten kleuren met Rood.
Tegen de hypocrieten zeg ik tenslotte dit:
Wenst de DOOD of hou anders je mond en ...zit.
Beste broeders en zusters ik nader mijn einde…
Maar hiermee is het verhaal zeker niet ten einde.
BAPTISED IN BLOOD (English translation)
So this is my final word…
Riddled with bullets…
Baptised in blood…
As I had hoped.
I am leaving a message…
For you…the fighter…
The tree of Tawheed is waiting…
Yearning for your blood…
Enter the bargain…
And Allah opens the way…
He gives you the Garden…
Instead of the earthly rubble.
To the enemy I have something to say…
You will surely die…
Wherever in the world you go…
Death is waiting for you…
Chased by the knights of DEATH…
Who paint the streets with Red.
For the hypocrites I have one final word…
Wish DEATH or hold your tongue and …sit.
Dear brothers and sisters, my end is nigh…
But this certainly does not end the story.

Font control

Checkerboard gamma test.png

Color control of text

This is an example of using Red text via RGB manipulation.
Here's a custom brown color with RGB values manipulated: custom brown
This is an example of using a named color “maroon” to change the color of text.
Here are more colors:
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make AQUA text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make BLACK text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make BLUE text.
This is link-blue, which is in <font color="#002BB8"> text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make BROWN text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make CHARTREUSE text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make FUCHSIA text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make GRAY text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make GREEN text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make LIME text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make MAROON text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make NAVY text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make OLIVE text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make ORANGE text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make PURPLE text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make RED text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make SILVER text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make TEAL text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make VIOLET text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make WHITE (white) text.
This is an example of using one of the widely supported named colors to make YELLOW text.

This is an example of using a wide-spectrum named color (that may not be viewable with some browsers) to make PALEVIOLETRED text.
And here is the same color but with the RGB value explicity controlled to make PALEVIOLETRED text.

Text on a black, span-based background

Table of Decimal (DEC) and Hexadecimal (HX) number equivalents
000 00
001 01
002 02
003 03
004 04
005 05
006 06
007 07
008 08
009 09
010 0A
011 0B
012 0C
013 0D
014 0E
015 0F
016 10
017 11
018 12
019 13
020 14
021 15
022 16
023 17
024 18
025 19
026 1A
027 1B
028 1C
029 1D
030 1E
031 1F
032 20
033 21
034 22
035 23
036 24
037 25
038 26
039 27
040 28
041 29
042 2A
043 2B
044 2C
045 2D
046 2E
047 2F
048 30
049 31
050 32
051 33
052 34
053 35
054 36
055 37
056 38
057 39
058 3A
059 3B
060 3C
061 3D
062 3E
063 3F
064 40
065 41
066 42
067 43
068 44
069 45
070 46
071 47
072 48
073 49
074 4A
075 4B
076 4C
077 4D
078 4E
079 4F
080 50
081 51
082 52
083 53
084 54
085 55
086 56
087 57
088 58
089 59
090 5A
091 5B
092 5C
093 5D
094 5E
095 5F
096 60
097 61
098 62
099 63
100 64
101 65
102 66
103 67
104 68
105 69
106 6A
107 6B
108 6C
109 6D
110 6E
111 6F
112 70
113 71
114 72
115 73
116 74
117 75
118 76
119 77
120 78
121 79
122 7A
123 7B
124 7C
125 7D
126 7E
127 7F
128 80
129 81
130 82
131 83
132 84
133 85
134 86
135 87
136 88
137 89
138 8A
139 8B
140 8C
141 8D
142 8E
143 8F
144 90
145 91
146 92
147 93
148 94
149 95
150 96
151 97
152 98
153 99
154 9A
155 9B
156 9C
157 9D
158 9E
159 9F
160 A0
161 A1
162 A2
163 A3
164 A4
165 A5
166 A6
167 A7
168 A8
169 A9
170 AA
171 AB
172 AC
173 AD
174 AE
175 AF
176 B0
177 B1
178 B2
179 B3
180 B4
181 B5
182 B6
183 B7
184 B8
185 B9
186 BA
187 BB
188 BC
189 BD
190 BE
191 BF
192 C0
193 C1
194 C2
195 C3
196 C4
197 C5
198 C6
199 C7
200 C8
201 C9
202 CA
203 CB
204 CC
205 CD
206 CE
207 CF
208 D0
209 D1
210 D2
211 D3
212 D4
213 D5
214 D6
215 D7
216 D8
217 D9
218 DA
219 DB
220 DC
221 DD
222 DE
223 DF
224 E0
225 E1
226 E2
227 E3
228 E4
229 E5
230 E6
231 E7
232 E8
233 E9
234 EA
235 EB
236 EC
237 ED
238 EE
239 EF
240 F0
241 F1
242 F2
243 F3
244 F4
245 F5
246 F6
247 F7
248 F8
249 F9
250 FA
251 FB
252 FC
253 FD
254 FE
255 FF
Text size and style control

Note that the above "five-level" ===== "five-equal signs" were replaced with an <h5> and </h5>.


This is a synthesis of the cquote:

This is an example of a blockquote: <blockquote>text</blockquote>

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, maecenas eligendi tincidunt aenean, sit et hac hendrerit massa, morbi maecenas nec vel auctor. Aliquam sit, tincidunt justo arcu neque eu mi fames. Vitae tellus suspendisse sed sit, dapibus ante purus erat non dui vivamus, dolor ultricies maecenas lacus luctus nunc, integer cursus tellus, anim a sem.
Vitae fusce non, hendrerit etiam turpis vivamus hac, eget magna laoreet. Ipsum class risus, vitae leo lacinia rutrum cursus mauris nunc, purus tincidunt quisquam est blandit sed, auctor auctor.

This is an example of a quotation: {{quotation|text}}

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, maecenas eligendi tincidunt aenean, sit et hac hendrerit massa, morbi maecenas nec vel auctor. Aliquam sit, tincidunt justo arcu neque eu mi fames. Vitae tellus suspendisse sed sit, dapibus ante purus erat non dui vivamus, dolor ultricies maecenas lacus luctus nunc, integer cursus tellus, anim a sem.

Vitae fusce non, hendrerit etiam turpis vivamus hac, eget magna laoreet. Ipsum class risus, vitae leo lacinia rutrum cursus mauris nunc, purus tincidunt quisquam est blandit sed, auctor auctor.

The following words: bigger and bolder and more text

This is called an in-line CSS style. It causes only a size change but must be its own line of text since it is a paragraph attribute.

The following words: small via a "50% call, and more text
These are normal size letters and then they suddenly get small with a "-8" call, and then they go back to normal.
Using a "-8" call, there is a small gap in this string:
123 456. And…
123 456…
…had an ordinary gap

From Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (dates and numbers):5 Grouping of digits after the decimal point: 5.2 Grouping of digits: Discussion:

I would love to see {{formatnum:141421.35623731}} modified so it automatically generates 141,421.35623731 and further, I would hope that the template would support the expression of uncertainty in ‘concise form’ (the parenthetical suffix digits). By the way, in the coding for narrow spaces, using <span style="margin-left:0.3em">, I used “0.3em” here, which I think is easier to read.

This value has asymmetric em-based pair kerning adjacent to the digit “1”: 6.02214179463 × 1023 and is coded 6.022<span style="margin-left:0.3em">141<span style="margin-left:0.2em">794<span style="margin-left:0.3em">63</span>&nbsp;×&nbsp;10<sup>23</sup>. Note that the pair kerning between the 1 and the 7 is coded narrower to compensate for the extra space the 1 occupies to its right. Thus, any pair of digits beginning with a “1” is kerned narrower than all other pairs to make its visual appearance similar to the others. Note also the use of </span> to cancel the CSS span directives, which would indent the beginning of the next paragraph if not terminated.

This is an example of the most simple way to change a font’s color by typing font color=maroon and then the line reverts back.

This is an example of full control over color, face, size, and style:

 “Grey in color, bold, italic Palatino, in +1 size.”
“Gray in color, bold, italic Palatino, in 117%.”

Edwardian Script ITC

Music: ♬♩


Talk symbol=

Links: html tips: fonts and… HTML Font Chooser and… font markup and… more font markup

Line spacing control:

This code:
<p style="line-height:300%">1<br>2<br>3<br>4</p>


To push a section down to clear a picture, use {{-}}

An example of text worthy of emphasizing via {{highlight|''text worthy of emphasizing''}}

Interesting exchange on italicizing
Copied from Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (text formatting)

Hi everyone, me again :-) After possibly making some mistakes ( diff.), I would like to add more clarity to the "Foreign terms" section, more specifically the good rule of thumb:

Loan words or phrases that have common use in English, however— praetor, Gestapo, samurai, esprit de corps—do not require italicization. If looking for a good rule of thumb, do not italicize words that appear in an English language dictionary.

Appearance in any single English language dictionary would suffice, or appearance in a certain number would be necessary ? In any case, it would be a good idea to designate which dictionaries would qualify for this use. (I won't propose any for lack of experience on the issue).

And then, to make sure that I don't make the same mistake again :-), how about using the resulting guideline to create a Wikipedia:List of foreign words to be left unitilicized (to be kept fully protected) ? - Best regards, Evv 19:23, 1 November 2006 (UTC)

A rule of thumb is best left as a rule of thumb to help discriminating editors, not a legal code to be enforced with a stack of dictionaries.
My dictionary (the Canadian Oxford) actually italicizes some headwords, to indicate that it is "originally a foreign word and not naturalized in English". Michael  Z. 2006-11-01 19:27 Z
Makes sense. Forget about the thumb rule then. (To be honest, only after your comment do I understand better the meaning of the expression).
How about creating the list ? - Evv 21:24, 1 November 2006 (UTC)
Be my guest. Lists of English words of international origin may help. Michael  Z. 2006-11-01 21:50 Z
Superscript, subscripts, special symbols

Superscript: 999.974 95 kg/m3 at 3.984 °C
Subscript: CpH
This is multiplication with a special "times" symbol: 2 × 2 = 4
Middot: 6.626 068 96(33) × 10–34 J·s
9.111 And this is the most simple way to make a × (multiply) sign; just use the symbols from the Wikipedia box.
This is the use of of a non-breaking space (and I keep on writing a long string of text to force the value and it’s related symbol to the right): 999.974 95 kg/m3
Standard atmospheric pressure should be defined as precisely 100,000 Pa (=1  bar and ≅750.062 torr).
1.988 435(27) × 1030 kg is has full-tilt spacing control.

IDENTICAL TO: ≡ and ≡ (the second one was the HTML entity name)
APPROXIMATELY EQUAL TO: ≅ and ≅ (the second one was the HTML entity name)
ALMOST EQUAL TO: ≈ and ≈ (the second one was the HTML entity name)

This is an example of the square root of 2: <font-size:150%> where no size is specified

And this radic: …is at 75%

  • Here are the Unicode symbols:
Hand-typed hyphen/minus (character 45) = - and superscripted: 10-2
Unicode equivalent of hyphen/minus &#x002D; = - and superscripted: 10-2
Unicode hyphen: &#x2010; = ‐ and superscripted: 10‐2
Unicode non-breaking hyphen: &#x2011; = ‑
Unicode minus: &#x2012; = ‒ and superscripted: 10‒2
Unicode endash: &#x2013; = – and superscripted: 10–2
Unicode emdash: &#x2014; = — and superscripted: 10—2

SI multiples

Because SI prefixes may not be concatenated (united serially) within the name or symbol for a unit of measure, SI prefixes are used with the gram, not the kilogram, which already has a prefix as part of its name. [5] For instance, one-millionth of a kilogram is 1 mg (one milligram), not 1 µkg (one microkilogram). The most common prefixed forms of gram are shown in bold text in the table below. [6]

Submultiples Multiples
Factor Name Symbol Factor Name Symbol
100 gram g
10−1 decigram dg 101 decagram dag
10−2 centigram cg 102 hectogram hg
10−3 milligram mg 103 kilogram kg
10−6 microgram µg 106 megagram Mg
10−9 nanogram ng 109 gigagram Gg
10−12 picogram pg 1012 teragram Tg
10−15 femtogram fg 1015 petagram Pg
10−18 attogram ag 1018 exagram Eg
10−21 zeptogram zg 1021 zettagram Zg
10−24 yoctogram yg 1024 yottagram Yg

  • When the Greek lowercase “µ” (mu) in the symbol of microgram is typographically unavailable, it is occasionally—although not properly—replaced by Latin lowercase “u”.
  • The microgram is often abbreviated “mcg”, particularly in pharmaceutical and nutritional supplement labeling, to avoid confusion since the “µ” prefix is not well recognized outside of technical disciplines. [7] Note however, that the abbreviation “mcg”, is also the symbol for an obsolete CGS unit of measure known as the “millicentigram,” which is equal to 10 µg.
  • The unit name “megagram” is rarely used, and even then, typically only in technical fields in contexts where especially rigorous consistency with the units of measure is desired. For most purposes, the term “ tonne,” or “metric ton” is instead used.

The Greg L Sewer Cover Barnstar

Sewer cover.jpg The Sewer Cover Barnstar
You have been awarded the Sewer Cover Barnstar because you can read through anything. You don’t know the meaning of attention deficit disorder, laugh in the face of boredom, and are wasting your talents if you don’t become a patent examiner.


Category:Wikipedia templates
Category:Template categories
Category:Formatting templates
Help:Magic words
Help:Magic words#Formatting (formatnum)

Template:Days elapsed times factor: 
The effect on the Moon’s orbital radius is a small one, just 0.10  ppb/year, but results in a measurable 3.82 cm annual increase in the Earth-Moon distance. [8] Cumulatively, this effect becomes ever more significant over time; since when astronauts first landed on the Moon approximately 52 years ago, it is now 1.97 meters farther away.

To transclude (imbed) text from another page, one copies to a subpage (like here Wikipedia talk:MOSNUM/draft) and transclude as though it were a template.

For instance, one could have this text


and have the entire above page and its own green-div formatting (like this green-div) included here.

{{#expr:{{age in days|1969|7|20}}*0.00010459 round 4}} meters → 1.9719 meters

{{days elapsed times factor|1969|7|20|0.00010459|4}} meters → 1.9719 meters

{{#expr:{{age in days|1969|7|20}}*0.00010459 round 2}} meters → 1.97 meters

{{days elapsed times factor|1969|7|20|0.00010459|2}} meters → 1.97 meters


Clearly, having the magnitude of many of the units comprising the SI system of measurement ultimately defined by the mass of a 142-year-old, golf ball-size piece of metal is a tenuous state of affairs. The quality of the IPK must be diligently protected in order to preserve the integrity of the SI system. Further, given that the third periodic verification took place 32 years ago, the average mass of the worldwide ensemble of prototypes is likely to have already gained another 7.4 µg relative to the IPK. The world’s national metrology labs must wait for the fourth periodic verification to confirm whether the historical trends persisted.


Using CSS span gaps

To see the difference between span gaps and non-breaking spaces, slowly select the two values below with your mouse:

6.022464342 (via em-based span tags, note how the cursor snaps across the gaps)
6.022 464 342 (via non-breaking spaces, note how the spaces can be individually selected)

Val sandbox is at User:Greg L/Val sandbox
Example failure at User:Greg L/val failure example


You have to use the “1=” anywhere there is an equal sign within the bracketed expression. There are at three four ways to work around this, depending on whether the = sign is functional or only for display. For instance…

  • {{xt|1=''M''<span style="margin-left:0.15em"><sup>2</sup></span>}}M2 (the = sign is functional in a CSS span… the span here is just an example that came to mind.)
  • {{xt|2 × 3 {{=}} 6}}2 × 3 = 6 ( {{ =}} (template replacement of the = as it is only display)
  • {{xt|2 × 3 &#061; 6}}2 × 3 = 6 (character reference to replace the

Graphics and videos

“tl” Markup for templates and colon prefix for image links

Jimp: What does the “tl” in {{tl|SI multiples}} stand for and is there an equivalent syntax to do the same thing with links to images? Greg L ( my talk) 20:53, 13 December 2007 (UTC)

FYI: Tl stands for Template link (per documentation at {{ Tl}}. For images, are you wanting more than just insterting a colon ":" before the word Image in the image link? The nearest relative I could find for similar links to images is {{ li}}; but that one adds several additional links related to the image, so may not be what you want. --- Barek ( talkcontribs) - 21:07, 13 December 2007 (UTC)

SI templates can be linked to by inserting a tl prefix, as…

Regarding the "tl" template, see Barek's answer on my talk page. Another useful one is {{ lt}}. {{lt|SI multiples}} for example will give you the following.

Template:SI multiples ( | talk | history | links | watch | logs)
J ɪ m p 00:08, 14 December 2007 (UTC)

For license tags, see Wikipedia:Template messages/Image namespace

The below graphic can be collapsed and expanded when readers have Javascript turned on. {| class="toccolours collapsible collapsed" style="width:395px; border: 0px;" !align="left"|Image:Z-machine480.jpg |- |align="center"|[[Image:Z-machine480.jpg|thumb|left|440px|Now you can see the collapsed graphic and its caption.]] |}

Click on this link to go to graph of absolute zero’s relationship to zero-point energy.

Here's an image that is this link imbedded in text.

Unicode, which is an industry standard designed to allow text and symbols from all of the writing systems of the world to be consistently represented and manipulated by computers, includes a special “kelvin sign” at U+212A. One types &#x212A; to encode this special kelvin character in a Web page. Its appearance is similar to an ordinary uppercase K. To better see the difference between the two, below in maroon is the kelvin character followed immediately by a simple uppercase K:


When viewed on computers that properly support Unicode, the above line will appear as follows:

this link


to go to a Wikipedia internal image page link. There, you will need to click on the icon to go to a movie (with was converted from QuickTime to .ogg using ffmpeg2theora.

GIF Scaling

This section appears to be largely obsolete. It appears MediaWiki’s ImageMagick plugin has been vastly improved over the years.

This is a 280-pixel-wide animation shown at its native resolution. Note the visible dithering due to the 256-color limitation of GIF-based animations.
This 280-pixel-wide animation is here being displayed at 240 pixels. This animation has the same proportion of shrinkage as does a 350-pixel file displayed at 300 pixels. Note how the dithering is much less apparent.
This is a 280-pixel-wide animation shrunk to 266 pixels to lessen the visible effects of dithering.

Click here for Theora-based video

A looping, dithered, GIF-based video. This has a native resolution of 320 pixels horizontally and is here displayed 226 pixels wide to make the dithering less apparent. This thumb can be displayed both larger and smaller than native.
This is a 371-frame GIF with a native resolution of 300 pixels horizontally. It has an interframe delay of 50 ms. When it is on a Wikipedia page where it is the only visible animation, it takes 20.41 seconds to repeat on a reasonably fast PC and 22.67 seconds on a medium-speed computer. This means the time to display each frame is 55 to 61 ms (18.18 to 16.37 FPS); which is to say, the processor time necessary to process a frame is 5 to 11 ms. Thus, a reasonably fast computer will display this size GIF animation—when it is the only animation visible on the page—at 35 ms per frame (28.6 FPS) if the interframe delay is set to 30 ms. When this animation is on a page with the above, small “scale” video, then the processing time increases by 50%. This thumb can not be displayed smaller than the native file and will display at its native size if the commanded thumb size is set larger than native.

In a galllery, images appear at 50% their original size, as shown below:

Translational motion

Various parts of this type of placement can be used. This type of placement allowed this image to be placed with a 250-pixel width.

Linked graphics

Hugh Beaumont
50s coffee ad
industrial-strength whining
double whining
nerd in bed
amicable work relationship
Don’t understand at all
The Final Countdown (3:52 YouTube)

Link articles

double hibakusha

{{diff2|251174803|a Wiki-diff}} = a Wiki-diff (without the external link icon)

Graphic search


Citations and PDF icons

This is a citation reference [9]

The note attached to this paragraph does have Adobe PDF icon at the end. [10]

…But the note for this paragraph does. Adobe PDF icon. [11]


  1. ^ A subtler scenario was laid out in the sci-fi story The Screwfly Solution by Raccoona Sheldon (one of the pseudonyms used by authorn Alice Sheldon.
  2. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  3. ^ Compliance with the SI regarding the percent symbol (%) is limited in this chart. According to the BIPM’s SI brochure: Subsection 5.3.3, Formatting the value of a quantity, a space is always used to separate the unit symbol from the numeric value. Notable exceptions are the unit symbols for degree, minute, and second for plane angle, °, ′, and ″ (e.g., a latitude of 47° 38′). However, according to 5.3.7 Stating values of dimensionless quantities, or quantities of dimension one, the exception does not apply to the “%” symbol; it states as follows: “When it [the percent symbol] is used, a space separates the number and the symbol %.” This practice has not been well adopted with regard to the % symbol, is contrary to Wikipedia’s Manual of Style, and is not observed here. 
  4. ^ Compliance with the SI regarding the percent symbol (%) is limited in this chart. According to the BIPM’s SI brochure: Subsection 5.3.3, Formatting the value of a quantity, a space is always used to separate the unit symbol from the numeric value. Notable exceptions are the unit symbols for degree, minute, and second for plane angle, °, ′, and ″ (e.g., a latitude of 47° 38′). However, according to 5.3.7 Stating values of dimensionless quantities, or quantities of dimension one, the exception does not apply to the “%” symbol; it states as follows: “When it [the percent symbol] is used, a space separates the number and the symbol %.” This practice has not been well adopted with regard to the % symbol, is contrary to Wikipedia’s Manual of Style, and is not observed here. 
  5. ^ NIST: SI prefixes ( link to Web site).
  6. ^ Criteria: A total of ≥250,000 Google hits on both the U.S. spelling (-gram) and the U.K./International spelling (-gramme).
  7. ^ The practice of using the abbreviation “mcg” rather than the SI symbol “µg” was formally mandated for medical practitioners in 2004 by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) in their “Do Not Use” List: Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Symbols because hand-writen expressions of “µg” can be confused with “mg”, resulting in a thousand-fold overdosing. The mandate was also adopted by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.
  8. ^ "Apollo Laser Ranging Experiments Yield Results". NASA. 2005-07-11. Retrieved 2007-05-30. Check date values in: |date= ( help)
  9. ^ The ice point of purified water has been measured to be 0.000 089(10) degrees Celsius - see Magnum, B.W. (1995). "Reproducibility of the Temperature of the Ice Point in Routine Measurements" (PDF). Nist Technical Note. 1411. Retrieved 2007-02-11. Unknown parameter |month= ignored ( help)
  10. ^ Citation: Torus Formation in Neutron Star Mergers and Well-Localized Short Gamma-Ray Bursts, R. Oechslin et al. of Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics., arXiv:astro-ph/0507099 v2, 22 Feb. 2006.  Download paper (725 kB PDF) See… there is no icon at left.
  11. ^ Citation: Torus Formation in Neutron Star Mergers and Well-Localized Short Gamma-Ray Bursts, R. Oechslin et al. of Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics., arXiv:astro-ph/0507099 v2, 22 Feb. 2006.  Download paper (725 kB PDF) See… the icon is at left because ".pdf" was appended to the end of the referenced file but this addition didn't break the link.

Vote Issue: Example article

The issue being discussed is whether the “Whole Foods Market” paragraph at the bottom of Criticisms and controversy should stay in the article.


Support, the paragraph should stay: Please sign with # ~~~~

Oppose, the paragraph should be deleted: Please sign with # ~~~~

  1. Greg L 03:23, 9 February 2007 (UTC)
Other Proposals

Greg L / ( talk)

Spelling: National conventions

Wikipedia’s official policy is that the spelling convention used by the first major contributors should be retained. The Kilogram article is written throughout with American spelling (kilogram instead of kilogramme, liter instead of litre). Note the following passage, taken from Wikipedia:Manual of Style:

Note that “liter” is the proper American spelling. Note further that two other instances of liter are elsewhere on the page. Please also take note of another common-sense policy from Wikipedia:Manual of Style:

Accordingly, your insistence at “correcting” this one instance just makes the article non-harmonious. It would be highly inappropriate of you — and against Wikipedia policy — to go through the entire article to change the rest of the article to British spelling.

As regards consistency from article to article within Wikipedia, there is none. Note the Pressure article. It uses British spelling throughout. Further, if you click on a link in the article spelled centimetre (of water), you go to an article titled Centimetre of water wherein the spelling within the article uses the “centimeter” spelling!

Wikipedia’s policy (that the spelling convention used by the first major contributors should be retained) seems a good one. It encourages contributors to begin or substantially expand articles. Further, it reduces frustrations for contributors such as when someone later wades into an article (like the Kelvin article, which uses American spelling throughout) and changes “color” to “colour.”

Please adbide by these policies.

P.S. On a final note, I’m not entirely ‘hung up’ on American conventions. For instance I used the European date convention of “7 April 1795” in the History section. It is such a steaming logical way of doing it and eliminates a comma. And although I am an American engineer, I do all my primary design in SI units and only convert to inches etc. at the last step when generating prints for machine shops or writing an owners manual. (19:09, 13 August 2007)

Renaming an article

Theresa, I just created an article, Freedom From Fear (painting), and then realized that its title should have a lowercase “for”, as in Freedom from Fear (painting). Can you fix that? I don’t know how to. Greg L ( my talk) 23:32, 15 January 2008 (UTC)

Done. For futire reference you click on the "move" tag to move a page to a new title. The history page is moved and a redirect is created at the old page. Theresa Knott | The otter sank 06:20, 16 January 2008 (UTC)
  • Thank you. I'll make a note of it (never did that before). Greg L ( my talk) 08:47, 16 January 2008 (UTC)

Edit dispute resources

  • The section in question Criticisms was in flagrant violation of many Wikipedia policies. There certainly may be a “Criticisms” section in Wikipedia articles—even widely accepted theories will have mainstream, respectable detractors and skeptics. But writing about dissenting viewpoints does not somehow create an "equal opportunities" scheme for fringe viewpoints. Over ten million Americans believe the Apollo Moon landings were faked. Notwithstanding the fact that this is a widely shared view, reliable sources state that the landings were real. Accordingly, Wikipedia strictly adheres to this view in our Apollo 11 article. Widespread, particularly famous fringe theories may be discussed and these are sometimes given their own articles (such as Apollo Moon Landing hoax conspiracy theories), but even then, Wikipedia does not depart from a mainstream view as to what is fact and what is discredited opinion.

    This entire issue is, at this very moment, being discussed here on Jimbo’s talk page as a result of POV-pushing by a certain editor on Cold fusion. The cited criticism by Michael Crichton, who is a science fiction author, is a fringe view that is not shared by most reliable sources. Wikipedia is a mainstream encyclopedia that represents scientific points of views. The fact that Wikipedia always endeavors to maintain a neutral point of view does not mean that equal standing must be afforded to minority viewpoints—even if those views are those of an author who has sold many books—when those views are wildly contrary to the vast preponderance of reliable sources. Clearly, most reliable sources state that SETI is unquestionably science. The offending section has been deleted. Greg L ( talk) 03:48, 30 December 2008 (UTC)

Follow Current Literature (FCL)

The job of any encyclopedia is to communicate with minimal confusion so that readers can learn about a subject and are primed as well as possible to learn even more in their studies elsewhere. Wikipedia reaches a worldwide audience and, with a few exceptions, follows the rule of the SI. However, some industries and practices do not observe the SI. Unless there is good reason otherwise, editors should generally use terminology and symbols commonly employed in the current literature for that subject and level of technicality. When in doubt, use the units of measure, prefixes, unit symbols, number notation, and methods of disambiguation most often employed in reliable periodicals directed to a similar readership.

The role of any encyclopedia is to educate readers with minimal confusion and ensure they are well prepared to absorb information in their studies elsewhere on the subject. We also properly and honestly use terminology and symbology so readers can be conversant with others experienced in the art.

Colour vs. Color, and related spelling issues (condensed form)

The issue of British English vs. American English has been a subject of heated debate. Wikipedia’s current policy seems to be the most equitable, encourages contributions, and settles conflict. Per Wikipedia: Manual of Style: Disputes over style issues, the term originally used in the article by the first major contributor(s) should be retained. Greg L ( my talk) 01:50, 1 April 2007 (UTC)

Wiktionary and Metawiki links

[[:wikt:get one's knickers in a knot|knickers in a knot]] = knickers in a knot

[[:meta:Don't be a dick|WP:'''dick''']] = WP:dick

Hijacking Wikipedia to promote adoption

You’ve confused me for someone who embraces the U.S. customary system. I do not. First, the U.S. customary system is no “system”. Secondly, I am an R&D engineer and do all my initial design in SI and convert only at the last minute to write owners manuals and what not. SI is the only way to do tough engineering. I even installed a Honeywell, mechanical, round-dial celsius thermostat in my house and had to have a friend snare one when he was up in Canada for me. How many Americans go that far?

Having said that, you are totally mistaken when you presume that “most Americans” will understand square meters and square kilometers.” No, they don’t. This whole issue has been thoroughly hashed out in depth on Talk:MOSNUM before. MOSNUM guidelines are clear, correct, serve an important purpose, and—as Skyring stated below—should be abided by all editors.

The simple fact is that Americans use the U.S. customary system and any article that is U.S.-centric should use U.S. customary units as their primary measure. We do this to minimize confusion and best serve our readership. That’s what we’re here for as editors; we are not here to help promote the adoption of the SI in the U.S. by ignoring U.S. customary units in an faux “Oh, didn’tcha know? Miles are so ‘yesterday’, they aren’t even found in our encyclopedia anymore.” Wikipedia is not to be hijacked by proponents of the SI in a back-door effort to promote change in how the world works. In order to communicate to our readership with minimal confusion, we communicate in a fashion that is accurate, succinct, clearest, and most natural and comfortable for the greatest portion of our readership. Sometimes that requires SI units first (with U.S. customary units in parenthetical conversion), and sometimes it doesn’t.

Date format

  • The role of any encyclopedia is to educate readers with minimal confusion and ensure they are well prepared to absorb information in their studies elsewhere on the subject. Our English-language version, en.Wikipedia, is read by a world-wide audience but fully one-quarter is our American audience. There is no single date format “April 20, 1985” or “20 April 1985” which is “better” than another and there is no reason to even try to standardize on one format project-wide.

    Keep it simple. And I certainly wouldn’t try to intertwine date formatting to the dialect of English some volunteer editor used for an article; that is a separate matter. I would propose we simply make the date format as natural as possible for the likely readership. Nothing more.

    Allow me to illustrate my point via example: Articles not closely associated with American topics such as Italy, Austria, Basilica di Saccargia and Kilogram have a pronounced non-American readership. Regardless of the dialect of English used by the editor of that article, we should be thinking foremost about our readers. So in articles on general or European subjects (articles clearly not associated with the U.S.), we would simply use Euro-style dates.

    Conversely, for articles on, or closely associated with American topics, such as Spokane River Centennial Trail; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; American Revolution; and New York Yankees, they have a preponderance of American readers and the date format that is most natural for those readers is the American-style date.

    It is an utterly trivial matter to simply use the date format that is most natural for the likely readership. I would propose this simple guideline:

For articles on, or strongly associated with, the following countries and territories: The United States, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Wake Island, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Republic of Palau; editors should use the U.S.-style date format (“February 2, 2008”), otherwise, editors should use the international date format (“2 February 2008”) in articles.

The virtue of this guideline is it doesn’t require that editors go research what is an “American territory”; all the criteria they need is right there in the article. The guideline has a simple test: “what is the subject of the article about?”, which equates to “will it tend to have a preponderance of an American readership? If so, use American-style dates. Otherwise, use Euro-style dates. I see no reason to make it any more complex than this.

Auto dating


(1931-07-01) July 1, 1931 (age 89)

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This image is of a project the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is a department of the U.S. Government. The image is copyrighted by Robert Rathe Photography under terms with the NIST where free use of this photo is restricted to materials that describe NIST programs directly.

The use of this image on the English-language Wikipedia, hosted on servers in the United States by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation,] qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. Any other uses of this image, on Wikipedia or elsewhere, may be copyright infringement. See Wikipedia:Non-free content for more information.

This image, as used in the Kilogram article falls under fair use because of the following:

  • The image illustrates the project in question, which is the subject of a section of the Kilogram article.

Links: Principle of least astonishment

Vinyanov: Regarding these edits, according to the general principals outlined in WP: What needs to be done on pages that are targets of redirects? and WP: Principle of least astonishment, the reader should be able to best anticipate what will happen when they click on a link. Examine the below examples; the last link in both skips the page forward to the same section in the Kilogram article:

While the weight of matter is entirely dependent upon the strength of gravity, the mass of matter is constant (assuming it is not traveling at a relativistic speed with respect to an observer). Accordingly, for astronauts in microgravity, no effort is required to hold an object off the cabin floor since such objects naturally hover. However, since objects in microgravity still retain their mass, an astronaut must exert one hundred times more effort to accelerate a 100-kilogram object at the same rate as for a 1-kilogram object. See also Mass vs. weight below.

Note that by using the above method, the reader properly knows precisely what will happen if they click on the Mass vs. weight link; they will skip forward to a section of that same article where they can read a passage that expands on that particular subject. Contrast this with the following technique for accomplishing this simple task:

While the weight of matter is entirely dependent upon the strength of gravity, the mass of matter is constant (assuming it is not traveling at a relativistic speed with respect to an observer). Accordingly, for astronauts in microgravity, no effort is required to hold an object off the cabin floor since such objects naturally hover. However, since objects in microgravity still retain their mass, an astronaut must exert one hundred times more effort to accelerate a 100-kilogram object at the same rate as for a 1-kilogram object.

Note that in both examples, the reader could reasonably and correctly anticipate what will happen if they click on the “weight” and “relativistic” links: they will be taken to the relevant Wikipedia article. These two links are properly made and carry no surprises. The third link (“ one hundred times”) in the latter method does not provide the reader with sufficient information in to properly anticipate what they will be taken to if they click on it. This latter style of linking has an “Easter egg hunt” quality to it as it almost begs to be clicked on just to find out what a “one hundred times”-link could possibly take the reader to: (elsewhere in the current article(?), at article about “ one hundred”(?) who knows?). Sometimes very obscurely aliased links may be suitable for special purposes, like humor. As a general rule, the Principal of Least Astonishment makes articles more enjoyable to read and encourages interaction and exploration (learning) because the reader knows they won’t be wasting their time by clicking on mysterious links of no interest to them, which is not a good way to make links. :-)


Were you expecting something else?


Units of measure, kiB

  • All: MOSNUM can be a little like the Bible or the Koran: you can often read what you want into it. Note however, this exceedingly practical policy on MOSNUM at #Which system to use:

I would argue that Wikipedia should observe whatever practices are observed by the best paid-subscription computer magazines. I am a Mac owner, subscribe to MacWorld, and routinely visit a huge number of Mac-related Web sites—usually daily. I must profess that I haven’t lately perused Windows-oriented magazines so I can’t purport to being an overall authority on computer jargon across all platforms. For instance, the Unix or Linux crowd may be much more precise than Windows/Mac magazines. Having covered myself now with caveats…
I encountered the term “kiB” the very first time on Wikipedia. I correctly surmised it must have had something to do with clarifying the ambiguity with binary and decimal math but had to click the linked unit of measure to figure out which one it meant. I submit that Wikipedia should always follow common practices and not attempt to lead—regardless of the field or article. It takes more than a proposal from an organization like the IEEE to make something an effective way to communicate; the proposal must be widely adopted so the term is well recognized by the intended audience. If scientists in the field of gravimetry routinely use a unit of measure called the gal, then Wikipedia articles should (and do) use than non-SI unit of acceleration in related articles. If Wikipedia didn’t, we would be undermining the fundamental objective of technical writing: to clearly communicate technically oriented information to the intended audience with minimal confusion. Sometimes, we just live with certain shortcomings in units of measure. For instance, the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics once proposed that expressions like ppm (parts per million) be replaced with a new unit called the uno. Notwithstanding that it was arguably a great idea, it was not widely accepted and the principal proponent of the idea withdrew it. Note that the necessary virtue—and the one that was missing with the uno—is “widespread adoption.”
In a nutshell, I am unclear about MOSNUM policy on kB, MB, GB, etc. However if there is a MOSNUM policy that, in an effort to remedy ambiguity, calls for the use of terms that are unfamiliar with the typical reader who would be visiting any given article, then we should fall back to MOSNUM’s one, extremely wise policy that requires adoption of the term that is used in current literature on the subject. If Wikipedia finds itself leading the charge in an effort at correcting an ambiguity when most other publications have not entered the fray, then perhaps the “ambiguity” is more of a perception that a real problem. If “kiB” is well recognized by the Unix community, the Wikipedia articles on Unix topics would be well advised to use “kiB”. And if the term is not well recognized among general-interest computer users (and computer advertisements, brochures, owners manuals, and packaging) then Wikipedia should use whatever terms are common there. This anyway, is my 2¢ on the subject.

And this note to an editor…

Glad to help. When I come across “kiB” in Wikipedia, it reminds me of that know-it-all kid on the train in that 3D animation, The Polar Express. In my opinion, Wikipedia looks its best when authors follow what the professional editors do at Encyclopedia Britannica and World Book. My spell checker, which recognizes all sorts of arcane computer jargon, just flagged “kiB”.

The following tidbit may also be of assistance to you in your efforts to counter those whose arguments are too dependent upon proposals of standard bodies:

Wikipedia currently flouts the Mother of all Standard Bodies, the BIPM, with regard to the use of a certain unit of measure. According to the BIPM’s SI brochure: Subsection 5.3.3, Formatting the value of a quantity, a space is always used to separate the unit symbol from the numeric value. It is “23 °C”, not “23°C”. Notable exceptions are the unit symbols for degree, minute, and second for plane angle, °, ′, and ″ (e.g., a latitude of 47° 38′). However, according to 5.3.7 Stating values of dimensionless quantities, or quantities of dimension one, the exception does not apply to the “%” symbol; it states as follows: “When it [the percent symbol] is used, a space separates the number and the symbol %.” This practice has not been well adopted by writers throughout the English-speaking world and Wikipedia wisely established a policy that is contrary to the BIPM ( here in Manual of Style) that effectively requires that authors flout the BIPM in order to conform to the way people are accustomed to using and seeing the percent symbol. It is “75%” and not “75 %”.

The fundamental objective at Wikipedia must be to clearly communicate technically oriented information to the intended audience with minimal confusion. Technical bodies like the IEEE and IUPAC make proposals all the time. Some are well embraced and rapidly adopted. Sometimes not.

Practical examples of E=mc2

Einstein performed his calculations using the CGS measurement system (centimeters, grams, seconds, dynes, and ergs). His formula works just as well using today’s SI system (with E in joules, m in kg, and c in meters per second). Using SI units, E=mc2 is calculated as follows:

E = (1 kg) × (299,792,458 m/s)2 = 89,875,517,873,681,764 J (≈90 × 1015 Joules)

Accordingly, one gram of mass — the mass of a U.S. dollar bill — is equivalent to the following amounts of energy:

≡ 89,875,517,873,681.764 J (≈90 terajoules), precisely by definition
≡ 24,965,421.631 578 267 777… kilowatt-hours (≈25 GW-hours)
= 21,466,398,651,400.058 278 398 777 1090 calories (≈21 Tcal)  [1]
= 21.466 398 651 400 058 278 398 777 1090 kilotons of TNT-equivalent energy (≈21 kt)  [1]
= 85,185,554,537.701 118 960 880 666 4808 BTUs (≈85 billion BTUs)  [1]

Anytime energy is generated, the process can be evaluated from an E=mc2-perspective. For instance, the “ Gadget”-style bomb used in the Trinity test and the bombing of Nagasaki had an explosive yield equivalent to 21 kt of TNT. About 1 kg of the approximately 6.15 kg of plutonium in each of these bombs fissioned into lighter elements totaling almost exactly one gram less. [2] This occurs because nuclear binding energy is released whenever elements with more than 56 nucleons fission. Another example is hydroelectric generation. The water passing through Grand Coulee Dam’s turbines every 1.6 hours loses one gram of its mass. [3] Turbine designers look at their equations in terms of pressure, torque, and RPM. However, Einstein’s equations show that objects falling into a gravity well lose mass and, per E=mc2, this mass is equivalent to a certain amount of energy. The potential energy — and equivalent mass — bound in the waters of the Columbia River as it descends to the Pacific Ocean would be lost as heat due to viscous friction and the turbulence of white water rapids and waterfalls were it not for the dam and its generators, which convert some of this potential and kinetic energy into electrical energy.

In the equation E=mc2, mass and energy are more than equivalent, they are different forms of the same thing. Anytime energy is added to a system, the system gains mass. For instance, lifting a one-kilogram mass upwards one meter against the force of one standard gravity increases its mass by 109.114 femtograms (1 fg = 1×10−15 g). [4]  [5] From Einstein’s perspective, the kilogram gains mass as it rises out of a gravity well. To the engineer, the kilogram gains potential energy as it is raised upwards. A spring’s mass increases whenever it is put into compression or tension. Its added mass arises from the added potential energy stored within it, which is bound in the stretched chemical (electron) bonds linking the atoms within the spring. Raising the temperature of an object (increasing its heat energy) increases its mass. For instance, if the temperature of the platinum/iridium “international prototype” of the kilogram — the world’s primary mass standard — is allowed to change by 1 °C, its mass will change by 1.5 picograms (1 pg = 1×10−12 g). [6] All types of added energy adds mass. Note that no net mass or energy is created or lost in any of these scenarios (except for that radiated away into space as in the case of hydropower). Ultimately, the chemical energy required to heat the platinum/iridium kilogram, or the mechanical energy required to lift it upwards or to compress the spring, expends at least as much mass and energy as is gained by the object being worked on. These are all examples of the transfer of energy and mass in accordance with the principal of mass-energy conservation. [5]

Note further that in accordance with Einstein’s Strong Equivalence Principle (SEP), all forms of mass and energy have equivalent quantities of inertial and gravitational mass. [7] Thus, all radiated and transmitted energy retains its mass. Not only does the matter comprising Earth create gravity, but that gravitational energy itself has mass. This effect is accounted for in ultra-precise laser ranging to the Moon as the Earth orbits the Sun when testing Einstein’s theory of general relativity. [7] According to E=mc2, no closed system (any system treated and observed as a whole) ever loses mass, even as matter is converted to energy. This statement is more than an abstraction based on the principal of equivalency, it is a real-world effect. One can also just as easily say that in the context of E=mc2, no closed system ever loses matter+energy or energy.


  1. ^ a b c Conversions used: 1956 International (Steam) Table (IT) values where one calorie ≡ 4.1868 J and one BTU ≡ 1055.05585262 J. Weapons designers’ conversion value of one gram TNT ≡ 1000 calories used. 
  2. ^ The 6.2 kg core comprised 0.8% gallium by weight. Also, about 20% of the Gadget’s yield was due to fast fissioning in its natural uranium tamper. This resulted in 4.1 moles of Pu fissioning with 180 MeV per atom actually contributing prompt kinetic energy to the explosion. Note too that the term “Gadget”-style is used here instead of “Fat Man” because this general design of bomb was very rapidly upgraded to a more efficient one requiring only 5 kg of the Pu/gallium alloy.
  3. ^ Assuming the dam is generating at its peak capacity of 6809 MW at 50% thermodynamic efficiency.
  4. ^ 1.3: Mass-Energy Conservation at a Microscopic Scale by Dr. Paul Marmet. One kilogram raised one meter against one standard gravity (9.80665 m s–2) gains 9.80665 J of potential energy.
  5. ^ a b The increase in mass an object experiences when raised upwards against Earth’s gravity is not observer-dependent; the effect is real from an absolute point of view, i.e., for an observer outside the Earth system looking inwards. As matter loses mass as it falls down a gravity well, its contribution to a system’s total gravitational field diminishes slightly. Taken to the extreme, this effect can be striking. As Stephen Hawking wrote in A Brief History of Time, the net energy of the universe is exactly zero. He wrote that the matter in the universe is made of positive energy and in this context, gravitational fields are a negative energy. If the expansion of the universe somehow reversed and all its matter came together in a Big Crunch, no energy (mass) would remain. This is an example where the maximum conceivable amount of matter — the entire observable universe — falling down the greatest gravity well in existence — the entire observable universe — results in all mass being lost. The mass-loss effect occurs from an absolute point of view. Thus, the potential energy — and mass — the kilogram gains by rising out of Earth’s gravity well is independent of its position relative to an observer (e.g., it is independent of the respective floors in a building the observer and the kilogram are on); it is an absolute effect relative to the center of the Earth (the gravitational field outside of a sphere behave as if all of the sphere’s mass is concentrated in a point at its center). Accordingly, raising the height of an object on Earth entails an exchange of energy and mass from the lifting machine (human or mechanical) into the object being lifted; the entire Earth system (including the lifting machine and the object) gains no mass. However, if an extraterrestrial being magically reached down from space and separated the Earth and the platinum/iridium kilogram cylinder, the entire Earth/kilogram system would gain net energy and mass. Still, in accordance with the principal of mass-energy conservation, this added energy and mass would have been extracted from the extraterrestrial who did that work.
  6. ^ Assuming a 90/10 alloy of Pt/Ir by weight, a Cp of 25.9 for Pt and 25.1 for Ir, a Pt-dominated average Cp of 25.8, 5.134 moles of metal, and 132 J K–1 for the prototype. A variation of ±1.5 picograms is of course, much smaller than the actual uncertainty in the mass of the international prototype, which is ±2 micrograms.
  7. ^ a b Earth’s gravitational self-energy is 4.6 × 10–10 that of Earth’s total mass, or 2.7 trillion metric tons. Citation: The Apache Point Observatory Lunar Laser-Ranging Operation (APOLLO), T. W. Murphy, Jr. et al. University of Washington, Dept. of Physics ( 132 kB PDF, here)

Dark matter’s effect on the IPK

Assuming a dark matter density of 0.3 GeV/cm3 ( PICASSO Experiment), the IPK comprises 25 yoctograms of dark matter.


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The perils of collaborative writing (stress reducer)

The following is widely considered to be an urban legend. But apparently it is based in truth ( Snopes). Sharon Melnicer in 1997 was teaching 12th-grade English students in Winnipeg and gave an assigment in tandem writing. The students collaborated via e-mail to the teacher. Two of her students turned in the story detailed below. If tandem writing can be so interesting, think about all the interesting dynamics and fun there can be on Wikipedia!


(first paragraph by Rebecca)

At first, Laurie couldn't decide which kind of tea she wanted. The camomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked camomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her asthma started acting up again. So camomile was out of the question.

(second paragraph by Gary)

Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had spent one sweaty night over a year ago. "A.S. Harris to Geostation 17," he said into his transgalactic communicator "Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so far..." But before he could sign off, a bluish particle beam flashed out of nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship's cargo bay. The jolt from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.


He bumped his head and died almost immediately but not before he felt one last pang of regret for psychically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. "Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel," Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously excited her and bored her. She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth, when the days had passed unhurriedly and carefree, with no newspapers to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her. "Why must one lose one's innocence to become a woman?" she pondered wistfully.


Little did she know, but she had less than 10 seconds to live. Thousands of miles above the city, the Anu'udrian mothership launched the first of its lithium fusion missiles. The dim-witted wimpy peaceniks who pushed the Unilateral Aerospace Disarmament Treaty through the congress had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires who were determined to destroy the human race. Within two hours after the passage of the treaty the Anu'udrian ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan. The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his top-secret Mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam, felt the inconceivably massive explosion, which vaporized poor, stupid, Laurie and 85 million other Americans. The President slammed his fist on the conference table. "We can't allow this! I'm going to veto that treaty! Let's blow 'em out of the sky!"


This is absurd. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic semi-literate adolescent.


Yeah? Well, you're a self-centered tedious neurotic whose attempts at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium. "Oh shall I have camomile tea? Or shall I have some other sort of F***ING TEA??? Oh no, I'm an air headed bimbo who reads too many Danielle Steele novels."








Go drink some tea - whore.

(Ms. Melnicer)

A+ - I really liked this one.