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Showing posts from August, 2010

Surgery Went Well for My Oldest Daughter Lauren

Good News from the hospital.  Plates and screws will fix the compound open fracture and dislocation of her left index finger.  Lauren called me an hour after the surgery, groggy but in good spirits.  Her mom sent me a text right after the surgery to say the procedure went well.  Lauren should get most of the range of motion back in her finger.

Her big concern was whether she could play this season.  She is a senior so it's her last year playing college soccer.  She thinks if the recovery goes well she will be able to play at the end of the season.  She was doing some aerobic training during the three days she was waiting for the surgery and plans to practice as much as possible as she recovers (without using her left hand of course).

She asked the doctor if she could work out while she waited for the surgery.  The doctor said, "Yes Miss Type A. . ." and told her the exercises she was allowed to do.

Two Great Saves Become a Broken and Dislocated Finger in Pre-Season

Three days ago my oldest daughter Lauren made a spectacular save in a pre-season game.  She is a senior and plays goalkeeper for Juniata College.  She made the diving save with her left hand hitting the ball away just before she hit the ground, left hand first.  Lauren felt  a momentary sharp pain in the first finger of her left hand.  Her training overrode her feelings.  She snapped to her feet knowing that a loose ball of the net meant another shot.  She made another save.

When the ball was clear of the goal she yelled to the coach that her first finger was out of her glove.  She took the glove off then yelled to the coach that she needed a substitute.  Part of the first bone of her first finger was sticking through the skin.  At that point the game stopped and she walked off the field to get ice, ibuprofen and a ride to the hospital.

Lauren called me on the way to the hospital telling me what happened.  She was clearly on the edge of tears, but being brave.  she said she hoped for…

K-Oz Gets a Home!!

While i was in Boston on a business trip, Annalisa found a dog at the Humane League.  The newest member of our family is 6-year-old K-Oz (My wife studies Chaos aka Dynamical Systems in math).  He is a very sweet tempered German Shepherd.
K-Oz is helping Jacari wash his face!!!

Nigel with K-Oz.  K-Oz is happy but needs a nap.

From My Day Job--Book Review Published on

My friend John Wilson just posted this review on his Web site at  Good book.  Congratulations to John on the 15th anniversary of his magazine:  Books and Culture.

The following article is located at:
The Disappearing SpoonTales of chemistry, from the heroic to the absurd. Neil Gussman | posted 8/26/2010 If you have never balanced a chemical equation, if you think chemical bonds are long-term investments in a maker of turpentine or Teflon®, then you may have missed the flurry of books based on the periodic table published in the last several years. You could be excused for thinking Sam Kean has chosen an arcane subject—the map of the chemical elements—for his 400-page book. The title and cover art are suitably retro. In fact, the old-style title and subtitle—The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of t…

Party at Work--September 30 Simulcast of Ig Nobel Prizes at CHF

I had lunch in near Harvard Square today at Rafiki Bistro with Marc Abrahams, creator and host of the annual Ig Nobel Prizes.  Great hamburger.  And a lot of fun talking to Marc about life in Iraq, and back home.  But the real subject of our lunch conversation was the 20th Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony on September 30 which will be simulcast at Chemical Heritage Foundation where I work.  We are hoping to have a big crowd and several special guests in Philadelphia.
Tickets are almost sold out for the 1200 seats of Harvard's Sanders Theater, where the Ig ceremony is held every year, so Philadelphia may be the best place to eccentric published science get the recognition it deserves.
After leaving Harvard Square, I got stuck in traffic jams on Mass. Ave., Mystic Parkway, and five miles of Route 93 including the Big Dig.  In the rain.  It's nice to be home.

Numbers Update

Early this morning my blog got visit number 75,000.

A few hours later, somewhere in Medford, Mass., I went over 5,000 miles on my bike for the year.
I rode those miles and the last 10 miles of this morning's 30-mile ride in cold rain.  The weather has been bad in Boston for this whole trip.

Looking Up--My View of Sling Load Training

Six huge rotor blades whipped the humid August air, lifting and holding the Chinook helicopter just a few feet off the ground.Inside the cargo-carrying giant, the pilots waited for the signal to move forward.
Fifty feet in front of the hovering helicopter sat a Humvee with thick cables attached to its frame at the front and rear.A soldier crouched on top of the Humvee at either end, holding a four-foot long metal rod with a circular eyelet at the end—looking like the loop end of a huge sewing needle.The eye is made to fit hooks attached to the belly of Chinook helicopters.
With a thumbs up signal from the flight engineer working with the ground teams, the Chinook tips its plexiglass nose slightly down and rose to 20 feet of altitude as it flew toward the Humvee.As the big bird approached, the soldiers holding the big cabled hooks begin to get blown around by the front rotor.A flight engineer, hanging his head and shoulders out of the “Hell Hole” in the belly of the Chinook between the c…

On Vacation

For the past week I was on vacation in Utah with my family.  I have a lot more pictures to post from the sling load.  But in the meantime, I have 1,000 pictures on a public FLICKR page here.

I plan to transfer most of the photos from Iraq to this page eventually.

Today through Wednesday I am at a chemistry conference in Boston.  It is raining and will be raining through Wednesday.  I rode in the rain yesterday to see my best friend from High School, but will be in meetings all day today.

I'll try to post more pictures in the next few days.

Two of My Favorite People Get Promoted

At first formation on Saturday morning two of the best soldiers in Echo Company got promoted.  Sgt. Jeremy Houck got promoted to Staff Sgt. and Spc. Daniel Lake to Sgt.  In Iraq, Houck was one of leaders on the team that re-built and rewired many buildings all over Tallil Ali Air Base.  We were sent at the last minute to a base that was not ready for a Combat Aviation Brigade and Houck helped to change that--in a big hurry.  Lake is a smart experienced mechanic who spent a very long year doing whatever was required on maintenance teams. He had a sergeant's responsibilities during most of the tour.  His promotion was slowed by several paperwork hassles and long overdue.

Because they are in Echo Company, the ceremony ended with a splash!!!

More Sling Load Shots

How close does the Chinook get to the soldiers hooking the payload?

Chinook Sling Load Training

Today I got a call at 11 am from our Command Sgt. Maj. saying I needed to get to the south side of the airstrip as soon as possible.  Our Bravo Company set up sling load training for the 2-28th Brigade Support Battalion, the soldiers who support the 55th (Heavy) Combat Brigade.

Sling loads are anything that can be carried underneath a Chinook helicopter by hooking heavy cables and lifting.  In the morning, it was a Humvee.  In the afternoon pallets so large they could not fit inside the Chinook.


Yesterday I watched Restrepo, the movie about the worst corner of the war in Afghanistan.

Here's the trailer:

Both the movie and the book War both by Sebastian Junger, are about a year in Afghanistan with an infantry company assigned to the Korengal Valley.  Although based on the same year, the book and movie are very different, even focusing on different soldiers.

The movie is a documentary, but faster.  It doesn't explain, but shows what life is like.  And the soldiers on camera are more candid than I ever would have expected.  The commander of the unit busts on his predecessor so much I hope those two are never assigned to the same unit in the future.

I watch so few movies--this is my first in 2010--that I can't compare Restrepo to other films.  But I can tell you that I find many war movies silly or funny or both.  I wasn't laughing during Restrepo.  I was leaned forward in my theater seat and stayed all the way through the final credits.

More from Jim Dao, NY Times about Afghanistan

Jim Dao of the NY Times is following a combat unit on their entire deployment to Afghanistan from pre-deployment through the getting back home.  Here's the latest installment.

There's some funny stuff about all the things that go wrong with a  new unit on its first mission.  It's front-page of the print edition today for those who read the old fashioned way.

Talking About Dante Again

Followers of this blog know I had a "Dead Poets Society" book group in Iraq beginning last July.  The first book we read was Inferno by Dante Aligheri, translated by Tony Esolen.  Yesterday I was talking to the editor of the magazine at my day job about science education and Dante came up.  Our magazine is Chemical Heritage.

We were talking about the construction and location of Hell--Inferno is a guided tour of Hell down to the center of the earth and out the other side.

By the way, for any of you who had a bad education or read Thomas Friedman, Dante wrote 200 years before Columbus sailed and knew the size of the earth within about 10% of its actual size--as did everyone in the Church at the time Columbus sailed.   All that Flat Earth stuff connected to Columbus is bullsh#t.

The whole conversation was fun, but the most interesting thing to me was the vote at the end of the reading Inferno.  The group decided by a small majority to reading Aeneid next, not Purgatorio, the …

Unfriending on Facebook

Unfriending is an ugly word.  But in the virtual world it is very easy to make a friend you know very little about.  Most of the friends I have on Facebook are people I know in real life.  By category most are

Riding buddiesArmy buddiesHigh school classmatesCollege friendsBut there are some people whom I have never actually met.  Some of them follow my blog, some were on online discussion groups I participated in.
Last week, I unfriended a guy I have never met in person, but we have traded opinions for a few years.  He is a very smart guy who fires back hard whenever he thinks he is right or the other person is wrong--which is mostly all the time in my experience.  His Facebook comments can go to hundreds of words.  Anyway, I never minded his dismissive comments because I asked for them by being equally dismissive of him.  But last week I posted something that got positive comments from two "live" friends and scorn from the other guy.  Rather than confine his scorn to me, he l…

Back to Riding for the Team

Today was a small but important milestone on my road back to racing.And I am not talking about contending for wins.At its best, my ability to sprint is about equal to the acceleration of a fully loaded tanker truck going uphill.
But bicycling really is a team sport and my place on the BiKyle/Mazur Coaching Main Line Cycling team is helping the riders who can climb/sprint to win races.Today’s race for the 55+ riders was 20 laps of a one-mile serpentine loop at the Rodale Fitness Park in Trexlertown PA.The twisting circle is wide, smooth and has a flat, straight run to the finish.Perfect for sprinters.
Only 18 riders started our race and three of them were in the 65+ category.Three members of my team, Dave Nesler, David Frankford and I, were on the start line.Nesler is a good sprinter, but there were a few very good sprinters in the so Dave would need to go before a pack sprint and stay away to win the race.
The race started off slow with a few attacks that raised the pace.When the speed d…

Piss Bottles

In writing about daily life in Iraq, I neglected to write about Gatorade bottles.  Specifically, empty Gatorade bottles.  I never went anywhere without one.  I never had to use the one I kept in my backpack whenever I boarded a helicopter flight, but I always had one.

Neither Blackhawks nor Chinooks have latrines.  And as some of their crew like to say, "We can stay up for hours."  In any case, I made sure to hit the latrine before boarding every flight and had that bottle just in case the Blackhawk had to stay up longer than I could wait.

In all the convoy training we did at Fort Sill and in Kuwait, I had that same empty bottle just in case that convoy kept moving.

And I kept an empty bottle in my CHU, just in case. . .

My commander once announced that he only relieves himself three times a day.  Any more than that is a waste of time.  I agreed with him in principle, but in actual fact, I am 57 years old and that kind of schedule is a long way in my past.

Writing for the blog Periodic Tabloid: gravity and Pseudoscience

July 30, 2010 | Neil Gussman Recently the lead article in the Science Times profiled a string theorist who claims gravity does not exist.   Instead, physicist Erik Verlinde says “gravity is a consequence of the venerable laws of thermodynamics, which describe the behavior of heat and gases.” Verlinde is not denying the phenomenon nor expecting pigs to fly, he just wants to describe why gravity keeps us firmly on Earth.

Theories do have a history of falling out of favor. In the late 1600s, both Christiaan Huygens and Isaac Newton developed useful and mutually exclusive theories of how light travels. For Huygens, light was waves. For Newton, particles. Huygens got a big boost from Augustin-Jean Fresnel in the early 1800s when the French scientist described light as waves in the omnipresent ether.

Almost a century later, the ether theory was found to be false. And in the 20th century both the wave and particle theories of light turned out to be true at the same time.

As a history of scienc…

Visiting Pittsburgh--Nigel's First Foster Family

Today we got up at 3:45 am to drive to Pittsburgh for a math conference where my wife is a presenter.  Our girls are working, traveling and otherwise occupied so only Nigel and Jacari came on the trip.  Annalisa had meetings from 10am till 230pm then she and the boys drove to Dormont, 9 miles south of Pittsburgh to visit Nigel's first foster family.  I rode there and got a chance to ride over Pittsburgh's Mount Washington, while they drove through the same mountain in the Liberty Tunnel.

The Sharbaugh family cared for Nigel for the first six weeks of his life--from when he left the hospital the day after he was born until six weeks later when we picked Nigel up and brought him to our home from their home.

The Sharbaughs cared for Nigel and 11 other newborn children in the first weeks of their lives, then turned them over to other families.  Wow!

I admire them very much in the same way I admire running backs who can smash though hulking linemen or hockey players who can speed s…

Some of my Favorite Quotes from Women in Iraq

"The biggest stress for me is calling home"--female soldier in Iraq whose family expressed their fear & anger to her, not to her Sergeant brother.

"I wanna light some mutha fu*ka's up"--20-year-old woman I served with disappointed when we did not pull convoy security.

"This place is all drama and no action."--SFC Melanie McCracken, Chinook Maintenance Platoon Sergeant, Tallil Ali Air Base, Iraq.

And the one that applies to every place from the beginning of time:
Stupid Should Hurt! SFC Pam Bleuel, Drill Sergeant and convoy training NCOIC

Quote for Today

In times of war, you often hear leaders--Christian, Jewish, and Muslim--saying, "God is on our side."  But that isn't true.  In war, God is on the side of refugees, widows, and orphans.

Greg Mortenson, as quoted in "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time", Penguin Books (2007) p. 239

Porthos Dies in the Night

When Annalisa and I were married 13 years ago yesterday, she had three cats--Athos, Porthos and Aramis.  They are the Three Musketeers if you ready old books or watch bad movies.  Of course the main Musketeer is D'Artagnan, and that is one criticism of the story for most of the past two centuries.

Actually, Aramis, who spent way too much time sitting in the middle of streets, died just before we were married.  Athos, the more adventurous of the two remaining brothers, lived several years longer, but also succumbed to injuries from spending just that extra moment in the road.

Porthos lived a fairly long life for a cat.  He and his brother Athos were excellent hunters.  They left the remains of mice and baby bunnies near the back door so we could see how proficient they were in small furry animal population control.  After the demise of Athos, Porthos was less inclined to hunt and, like many older carnivores, put on a lot of weight.  At his weight peak, his hind feet would disappea…