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Ash Wednesday

Today Christians around the world are celebrating this day as “Ash Wednesday” or the day in which we are called to remember that we are mortal beings, with only a finite number of days. By reflecting on the fact that we are composed of elements which come from the Earth and we will one day return those elements to the Earth, we are compelled to examine how we are using the precious days that we do have while we are here.

I remember the one day during my first year as a college student, my professor, Dr. Chad Davies revealed to us that all elemental matter, including the elements from which our own bodies are constructed, originated from inside of ancient stars that exploded and spread the heavy elements throughout the universe. My mind sort of exploded like those stars! Now wait a sec… I came from inside of stars? How does that jibe with what I was taught as a youngster about people being created by God?

But then I remembered the creation story in which Adam is formed by God from the clay of the Earth. And then I remembered Ash Wednesday and the words of the priest on that day,

“Remember man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Hmm, I am basically made of dirt. I come from the Earth and will one day return to it. The elements come from stars that exploded. The Earth formed from those elements. The Earth’s creatures are composed of the elements of the Earth.

As I learned more, I also learned about the Big Bang Theory of the origin of the universe. It is that point in time where there was nothing at all, and from the nothingness, a big bang occurred. First, a blinding light, followed by heat and some primordial stuff that ejected out and became the first stars.

“Let there be light” -God

Robert Spitzer wrote a fascinating book called, New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy which explores important questions about the formation of the universe. He discusses the precision with which the universe got its start. A few degrees cooler, no big bang. A few degrees warmer, nothing is sustained. It was a perfect setup for the beginnings of the universe and of us.

When I think of Ash Wednesday, I think of the sciencey things I have learned about how the universe was made, how the Earth was formed and how people later appeared, composed of elements coming from exploding stars by way of the dust of the Earth, and I think to myself that there is really no contradiction between the truths of science and the truths of faith in a creator God. Of course there are differences in how these two ways of knowing arrive at what is true, but in the end, the truth is the truth.

Tuesday Writing

I wrote less on Tuesday. Bad winter weather predicted. Watched more Frontline over lunch. Learned some new things. I didn’t know the much touted Patriot missile system had such a low rate of success. It was all over the news how it was shooting down everything that came near it. Turns out, by some estimates it hit 20% or less. One expert said it might have never hit one scud missile.

In one news conference an aide to Gen. Schwarzkopf showed “scud launchers” being destroyed but an unnamed CIA official later said they were petroleum trucks or even milk trucks.

The scuds were actually stopped by British special forces.

Wrote a piece about battleship technology. Word count ?

had another idea but didn’t write it down, now I can’t think of it.


30 Day Challenge – Week 2

This week I wrote an additional 8,000 words (up 500 words over last week) in my writing project. I struggled to work in the writing each day. Some days I came home dog-tired and just didn’t get it done. But I wrote a bit more on some other days. Overall it was a successful week. My total writing for two weeks is around 16,000 words.

One related piece I wrote that I nearly forgot about was my Oh Shut Up post. It talks about the macho man culture of the military and how men are not really permitted to be anything else but a tough guy. One veteran was shamed in an online forum about Gulf War illness. I didn’t like it, but didn’t want to join the fight there. (Maybe I should have?) But I did write a post about it and shared it on my own online outlets.

In this coming week, I want to make an effort to post some daily updates on my writing progress, just to see how that spurs me to do more with my writing project.

I also lost another 4 lbs. My total weight loss over the two weeks is 8 lbs.

Thirty Day Challenge – Week 1

My students and I are working on one project we have chosen that we would like to do for the next 30 days to try to learn a new skill or make some self-improvement change. You can follow our progress by searching Twitter for the #digme406 hashtag (no Twitter account required).

I am actually working on two projects. My main project is to write all that I can over the next 30 days about my experiences during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 on the Battleship Missouri. This week I was able to write on about a dozen different topics. I tried to write every day, but accomplished more on some days than others. I have posted all of this writing on this website under the Sailors of Desert Storm page.

My other self-improvement project is to lose some weight. Over the holidays, I’ve been packing on some extra baggage. I don’t feel as good as I did when I was thinner. I’m doing the Naturally Slim program provided by my employer. I already lost six pounds since I started on Monday! The main things I’ve done are:

  • Eat only when truly hungry.
  • Don’t eat breakfast.
  • Eat more slowly. Chew every bite.
    • Follow a ten-five-ten minute plan where you eat for ten minutes, rest for five and eat for another ten. This gives your brain a chance to feel full before you over eat.
  • Stay hydrated. I drink water with a splash of orange juice in it using a 7:1 water to juice ratio.
  • Cut out all obvious sweets. (Not easy in my house. My wife is a baker.)



Amy Schumer’s Body

Amy Schumer responded to a stranger on the Internet who Photoshopped her to make her appear slimmer. She writes,

“I like how i really look… The other picture looks nice but it’s not me.”

The young man replied, “I’m sorry Amy, I had no idea you’d see this…”

It’s none of our business. It is everyone’s business.

Really, why should anyone be telling Amy Schumer how she should look? I guess he admitted he didn’t ever imagine she would see it, let alone respond to it. The only thing I can think of is that she is in the public eye and makes her living as a celebrity. It is fun to discuss these people and even to “improve” them with software. But do we really have a right to make comments or suggestions on their appearance?

Celebrities are people too. Some famous people make their living by willingly being objectified. Is it any wonder then that some people want to project that set of values on to all celebrities? Kudos to Amy Schumer for speaking up about this.

It is interesting that people who create these “better” celebrity images delete them after being called out. It is interesting to me that the person who posted it “had no idea she would see it.” That is the power of the internet. It can cut out the middle man. You can communicate directly with the famous and powerful.

In a most memorable incident, I once had a student who inadvertently brought the US Secret Service to our campus. I was teaching web development back when having that skill was uncommon and specialized. I had all of our students create websites on the Internet. One student made a website that included a threat to the US president at that time, G.W. Bush, I think. A few days later some men in dark suits showed up and wanted to speak with Mr. So and So, the author of that page.

Yes folks, people really do read the stuff you put online about them.


Battleship From A Distance

After talking with some students today about our upcoming 30 day challenge, I have been thinking of my own project I want to work on over the 30 days. I am planning to write a book, or at least a big chunk of a book about Operation Desert Storm from the point of view of sailors who served in the Persian Gulf. I have a number of videos that I recorded there aboard my ship the USS Missouri. Some of these I have published on YouTube.

I have found some other interesting videos on YouTube from other sailors there at the time as well. But today I decided to look on Twitter to see what, if anything, people were saying with the hashtag #desertstorm. To my surprise, only a few tweets down from the top of my search results, I found a tweet with a link to a video of my ship, the battleship Missouri, that was recorded during a fire mission into Kuwait from another nearby ship, the USS Curts.

I have never seen footage like this from another perspective before. I have only seen the Missouri firing the big guns from aboard the battleship itself. I watched the video several times, that’s how mesmerized I was by it. I enjoyed hearing the comments of the sailors on the Curts as they watched us do our thing. It was interesting seeing the fire and smoke, followed by a long delay and then finally a boom. Aboard the Missouri, a gun firing was bone-rattling. Aboard the Curts, from a mile away, it was more like a regular gun shot sound.

Today I was thinking that whoever recorded that footage was documenting history in action. The USS Missouri and the USS Wisconsin were the last two battleships in the world to fire their guns in combat. That footage captured some of those final moments. Unless Mythbusters or some other such reality show manages to secure a surplus 16″ gun and some ammo, the world won’t ever see anything like it again.

I was also thinking about how I would explain to others what it was like to experience the fury of a sixteen-inch battleship gun firing. Even those sailors aboard the USS Curts didn’t get to feel the full effect. I thought I would take a big metal 55 gallon drum and bang really hard on it with a metal pipe or something. That might be somewhat like the sound (not really even close, but a start).

But banging the drum would just simulate the sound. You also need the blast of air in the face. A shot in the face from an airzooka toy would be a start, but again not even close. It really needs to slap you hard in the face and the chest. You would also need to feel in instant blast of heat as well. I don’t think a standard hair dryer would be hot enough. Maybe a flash from an industrial heat gun blowing on you.

Do all of these things simultaneously, bang a 55 gallon drum, shoot an airzooka in your face, blow a short blast of hot air in the face with a heat gun, and you are getting in the ball park of what it is like. You still would need to feel the deck rattle beneath you. Maybe you could do all of this while standing on top of a small trailer that someone could strike with a sledgehammer to make it vibrate. Finally, you would need to light one of the big smoke bomb from July 4th, because you need to inhale some smoke as well. Do all of these things and you would have a simulation that only somewhat describes the experience of seeing a single sixteen-inch gun being fired up close. Now for full effect, you can multiply that by nine to feel the fury of a broadside!

I honestly did not enjoy watching the battleship guns firing up close. I’m glad I experienced it, but it really was overwhelming. I preferred to be and usually was, down inside of the plotting room where the guns were being fired from deep within the ship. Maybe I was just a wimp, but the plotting room was where I was supposed to be.

However, seeing that footage from another ships perspective was a wonderful find today. It makes me wonder what else is out there for me to discover?


Professor Gx’s 30 Day Challenge

I am challenging my distance education class in Social Media to learn  and document a new skill in 30 days.

The steps are:

  1. Pick a skill or activity that we would like to learn how to do
  2. Find information online about how to do that thing
  3. Work at doing that thing every day for 30 days
  4. Document the process
  5. Share what we are doing online
  6. Support one another in the class who are doing the same thing.

I intend to join in the fun. The activity or skill I have selected is writing a book. For years I’ve had some ideas about writing some books. I’ve jotted down some ideas, but never have made a serious effort towards making it happen. So for 30 days beginning this coming February 4th, 2019, I plan to write my first book. Or at least make significant headway towards that goal.

The topic I’ve decided to write about is Desert Storm in the Gulf: Experiences of Ordinary Sailors During Operation Desert Storm.

I plan to use various social media and online platforms to locate sailors who were there. As preparatory work this week I want to develop an outline of subtopics to explore, start collecting names of people to request interviews with and locate the videos on YouTube made by people who were there.


Gillette Advertisements

Before you read on, please be sure you have seen the heartwarming Gillette story about the man who shaves his father’s face for him each day. It will be the best three minutes you spend today. I will wait until you get back…


Wow, how moving was that one? Every time I see it, I am filled with emotion about those two men. It makes full use of the memes that move us, namely mission, pproblem-solving caring, and distinguishing yourself.

Since I am on social media often (probably much too often) I encounter many things that might simply slip past most people’s radar. However, I saw this particular story on the evening news so it must be getting some greater traction. It seems that the Gillette brand of shaving razors has created a video that is generating some controversy. As of today, it has over 20 million views with 582K up votes and 1M down votes.

I was first alerted to it on Facebook by a friend from California criticizing those angered by the ad’s message. He writes


“… If guys gotta prop “masculinity” with being a violent, ragey, obnoxious total asshole… damn, boy. Ya got issues. Go get some therapy or something before you make everyone else’s life a mess.


Another Facebook friend, a woman from California shared this parody:

When I am presented with two such widely differing views from people I truly respect and admire, I know it is an opportunity for me to reflect and think about my own stance. I also recognize that since it is a divisive issue, it will probably be a good question to raise with students who are developing their media/information literacy skills.

The main question I have is why does Gillette owned by Procter and Gamble, or any company for that matter feel compelled to lecture us about morality? Why should we pay any attention to it? As Stephen Colbert asks, do we need to be taught moral lessons by razor companies?

I always refer back to the key questions of media literacy when thinking about these things. These days I want to think critically about any corporate message, positive or not, because I know it ultimately seeks to influence me as a consumer. Ultimately they want me to buy what they are selling.