Calling jihadis "wankers" is not original, Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has received a lot of coverage for his suggestion that:
"If you look at all the psychological profiling about bombers, they typically will look at porn. They are literally wankers. Severe onanists.”
Yet the idea seems strangely familiar. And a little googling tells me where I first came across it.

In February 2006 Ian Buruma began a Guardian article as follows:
Does masturbation lead to suicide bombing? One would think not. There is no more direct link to suicide bombing than there is to blindness or schizophrenia. But there may be a connection between sexual inadequacy or frustration and the pull towards violent extremism.
Like anything by Buruma, it is worth reading.

Radio 4: David Boyle on the decline of the middle classes

Liberal Democrat blogger (and much else) David Boyle has a programme on Radio 4 on Tuesday evening at 8pm:
Clinging On: The Decline of the Middle Classes 
Is the middle class in terminal decline? Writer David Boyle, author of Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes?, explores the split between a small rich elite and those who are argued to be clinging on to a deteriorating lifestyle and falling expectations. The salaries of financial service workers based in London are soaring away from those in more traditional professions. At the same time, house prices are rising and so-called 'cling-ons' are being forced out to the peripheries of London and beyond. Many of those who might have aspired to private education for their children find the fees are beyond them. 
But does it matter? According to the eminent American political scientist Francis Fukuyama, it definitely does – democracy is dependent on a healthy middle class and without it there is a real threat of instability, with demonstrators taking to the streets even in Britain and America. 
David Boyle also talks to the distinguished Oxford sociologist John Goldthorpe, who worries that there is no room at the top for today's aspiring young. Tatler's deputy editor Gavanndra Hodge explains why even they decided to print a guide to state schools. And the programme visits Liverpool College, the great Victorian public school, which decided to cross the great divide and become an academy within the state system. 
Middle class professionals describe problems buying a house on two doctors' salaries, finding a job as a solicitor and raising the money to pay school fees, and even how an architect's life can be a tough one. 
Are the professions themselves under threat from technology that undermines traditional ways of working? One GP worries that the discretion he once enjoyed is being destroyed by the computer.

David Cameron has given the Lib Dems their election slogan

Yesterday I suggested our general election slogan would be:
"Labour will screw the economy, the Tories will screw you."
But this effort from David Cameron may be even stronger.

Thanks, Dave.

Thanks to lots of Lib Dems on Twitter.

Blog Tour: Ares Bringer of War

When studies in folklore are offered in classrooms it seems legends and myths are two terms frequently tied together.  In my way of thinking the two are completely different.  A tiny shred of truth, not necessarily verified, over time is enhanced with each telling until fact becomes shrouded in fiction as in the tales of Robin Hood or King Arthur.  This is what legend means to me.

The myths of any particular culture are explanations of why certain historical events or natural phenomenon occur including the origin of the world.  A mythology of a certain people is like a religion which they endorse and follow.  The mythologies of which I have enjoyed reading the most, for as far back as I can remember, are those of the Norse and Greek gods.  

Five years ago author illustrator George O'Connor released the first book of twelve to begin his Olympians series of graphic novels, his retelling of the classic Greek myths.  I recently finished rereading the earlier titles and read the most recent ones for the first time.  The first six, Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon and Aphrodite while seeking to focus on the titular god also introduce other events and beings intertwined in their immortal lives.  The point of view or voice(s) in each volume varies in order to best present the Olympian. 

In Zeus his story is told with respect to the creation of the world and the order of the gods, the battle for power between the Olympians and the Titans and the roles of the Cyclopes, Kronos and Metis. It is the three Moirae who spin the tale of Athena's extraordinary birth as daughter of Zeus, her training in the art of warfare, learning to be thoughtful before taking action, and the downfall and destruction of Medusa by the hand of Perseus.  The story of Hera, Zeus' queen begins with their courtship and her demand for marriage but she is also well aware of Zeus' many infidelities and countless children. One in particular, Hercules and his twelve tasks, becomes the center of revealing to us the personality of Hera.  Demeter and her daughter Persephone assist us in understanding death and Hades.  We are able to see him in a different light as well as the strength of a mother's love.  The children of Poseidon, Odysseys, and the Minotaur are all significant in explaining his position as god of the sea and his unresolved acceptance as ruler of that realm.  In learning about Aphrodite her three attendants, Charites, are the narrators acquainting us with Eros and Eris.  A contest to decide who is the more beautiful, Hera, Aphrodite or Athena, has repercussions which will plague mankind with the ravages of war.

My copies of the first six books.
The front of the case for the boxed set.
The back of the case for the boxed set.
The spine for the case of the boxed set.

This brings us to the release of Ares:  Bringer of War on January 27, 2015.


 Unlike his counterpart, Athena who works with strategy and a plan in her approach to warfare, Ares relishes in the point when in the heat of battle, the lust for blood, the rage of revenge and the desire for all-out chaos overcomes any thoughts of order.  For ten years a fight has been fought between the Greeks and the Trojans.  The presence of both Ares and Athena has been felt by the men on the battlefield but all grow weary of a conflict which seems to have no end.

Zeus calls a council of the gods and their children on Mount Olympus in order to see this Trojan War end.  Regardless of the discussion, arguments between those favoring one side over the other, on Mount Olympus, the mortals have decided to have two men determine the fate of this war.  All is well until Aphrodite intervenes.  Then unbeknownst to Zeus both Athena and Ares return to the field of battle.  Athena has already altered destiny but she asks Ares to stay his hand and avoid the wrath of Zeus.  

From Mount Olympus the gods watch but are unable to keep from exerting their influence.  Heroes from the Iliad spring forth in the narrative, Diomedes and Aeneas, Patroclus and Hektor, and Achilles.  As the battles continue on the mortal plain, a fight begins on Mount Olympus between Ares and Athena, between those favoring the Greeks and those favoring the Trojans.  A barbaric act by one of the earthly warriors costs him dearly.  One by one the gods lose interest in this Trojan War; all except Ares.  In a final conversation between him and his father, Zeus, we come to understand that beneath his apparent thirst for blood is the sure knowledge his actions are a part of his destiny.

In the six prior books and this newest title, for all his reading and research, one might expect George O'Connor to speak above his audience but he does not.  In his writing he provides understanding for his readers, wanting us to develop the same passion for Greek mythology as he has.  He speaks to us.

The narrative and dialogue between the gods is in a contemporary language.  It reveals to us the essence of Ares (and the others) depicting weaknesses and strengths.  Regardless of his desire for the constant conflict with bloody results, when asked to wait, he waits.  He may seem to act without conscience or care for human life but the loss of his son shows us otherwise.  O'Connor, in his interpretation of the most original versions he can find, strives to give us Ares Bringer of War as he is meant to be.  Here are some sample passages.

And that is when Ares takes the field.
He arrives in a chariot driven by his sister-in-arms, Eris, the goddess of strife and discord.
Ares, war insatiate. His armor blazing like fire. Dealing death.

Ares:  I am under no one's sway!  I am Ares! God of War!
Athena:  God of Getting Stuck Like A Pig, you mean!
Ares:  You! You maddening gadfly!  Biting and flitting about the field!  I'll make you eat those words!!
Athena:  Bring it blowhard!

What makes this volume as good as the others are the extras George O'Connor adds.  In the front is a lineage chart beginning with Gaea, earth. At the conclusion O'Connor sets forth a conversational Author's Note informing his readers about his approach in telling this story of Ares.  He is careful to disclose why he includes what he does in each volume.  A page is devoted to Ares; naming what he is god of, his Roman name, symbols, sacred animals, sacred places, his day of the week, month, heavenly bodies associated with his name and his modern legacy.  Explanations for Eris and Achilles are also given.  What is truly interesting to read are the G(R)EEK NOTES.  O'Connor's remarks about pages and panels are not only informative about the series but downright funny.  He wants us to notice all the added details in the text and his illustrations.  There are eight questions for discussion, a bibliography and print sources for younger and older readers.

The color palette shown on the front of the book case is prevalent throughout this title.  (What you can't see on the cover here is the blue foil inlaid in Ares' two spears.) O'Connor's panel sizes and placement create the pace for the story. For the most part straight narrative is placed within rectangular boxes with dialogue in speech bubbles.

O'Connor may have elements from one panel extend into another to direct the flow of our eyes.  Every line and every item are part of a well-conceived layout. There is never any doubt as to the mood of the characters.  The action scenes literally jump from the pages.  You would hardly be surprised to hear the sounds of battle at any moment.

Olympians Ares Bringer of War written and illustrated by George O'Connor is an outstanding volume in an already stunning presentation of the Greek myths.  It's a rare thing when mythology is presented in as a compelling form as this.  George O'Connor's dedication to this subject is evident on every single page.

To learn more about George O'Connor and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  This link will take you to the Olympians website. For each title an excerpt can be downloaded, there is a reader's theater and other extensions.  To access the Olympians blog follow this link.  O'Connor is hosting other illustrators' versions of Ares.  On both the Olympians website and blog, you can see the processes used by O'Connor for creating these books.

A link to the publisher's website provides you with a look at interior pages from this title.  At Watch. Connect. Read. hosted by teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher, George O'Connor stopped by twice; to chat both times with questions, answers and sentence starters and to show readers the new cover and to announce the book release.   Educator Colby Sharp, the man who stands on desks to proclaim his love of reading, interviews George O'Connor here at his blog, sharpread.

Make sure you take the time to watch this interview with George O'Connor by Rocco Staino on KidLit TV.  It's informative and completely entertaining.

Here is a link to the other bloggers participating in this tour.

DoD Moves Data to the Cloud to Lower Costs, Improve Security

By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2015 – The Defense Department is moving its data to the cloud, driven by cost reductions, technical efficiencies and security considerations, Acting Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen told military and industry leaders gathered here yesterday.

Halvorsen’s office hosted the first of what it characterized as a series of DoD CIO Cloud Industry Days – meetings intended to promote a continuous, open dialogue with industry that will shape DoD’s approach to the business of information technology, or IT, and cyber.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, cloud computing is a model for enabling on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources -- networks, servers, storage, applications and services.

For users, cloud resources can rapidly be provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction, NIST says, providing efficiencies and cost effectiveness.

Modernizing and Streamlining Government IT

Cloud computing is part of a government-wide effort to modernize and streamline government IT, and Halvorsen said that in the early stages of transitioning to the cloud, and moving as much as possible into the commercial cloud, it’s important to communicate with defense industry partners.

“Industry needs some consistency,” Halvorsen added, “so I've got to … let industry know ahead of time [what we need],” and when a baseline changes.

Such an interactive process with industry, he said, will be critical to avoiding “putting industry in a place where they think they've got it right, they spent their money, they've come in and said this is [our solution], and we have to tell them … that we’ve found new security threats and [their solution] is not going to work.”

The cloud is as new an environment as anything out there, the CIO said, and for each element of the cloud the department has new decisions to make new.

One of these has been to move as much nonsensitive data as possible to the commercial cloud, Halvorsen told the audience, because costs there are lower.

Leveraging Against a Larger Population

“We're leveraging against a larger group population in this business. E-mail, particularly, is commoditized, and any time you can share more pricing and more capability with a commoditized environment, you're going to drive down the price,” he added.

The CIO said commercial companies will be able to meet DoD’s security requirements for nonsensitive data.

“I see the national cyber bar coming up,” he added, “and we're such a big market that they'll be willing to adapt their security to meet us. I'm hoping this comes out to be 25 percent or 30 percent more efficient when we're done.”

Two important programs involved in DoD’s transition to the cloud are FedRAMP and the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, or FDCCI.

A Standardized Approach to Security

FedRAMP is a government-wide program that offers a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services.

FDCCI aims to reduce the number of federal data centers by optimizing them, consolidating them or closing them.

About FedRAMP, Halvorsen said that if industry wants to do business with DoD they have to meet FedRAMP security requirements, plus extra security requirements if DoD calls for them.

“I think there's an opportunity for national, commercial and government [entities] to set some very common standards,” the CIO said. The medical industry has done that, he added, and the same could be done in other areas to “raise the national bar” together.

He added, “We actually could have some national standards that apply to everyone.”

The milCloud Suite of Capabilities

Another element of the move to the cloud is milCloud, a cloud-services product portfolio managed by the Defense Information Systems Agency, or DISA.

milCloud offers an integrated suite of capabilities that can make the development, deployment and maintenance of secure DoD applications more agile, according to the DISA website. It leverages a combination of mature, commercial off-the-shelf and government-developed technology to produce DoD-tailored cloud services.

Halvorsen said DoD has to do a better job of internal marketing so everyone understands the pricing differences between standard storage of sensitive but not classified data and storage in the cloud.

“It's 20 percent to 25 percent less … in the milCloud now, and this milCloud data is data that, by everything I see right now, is going to stay inside the government,” he said. “It's not classified in many cases but it is so sensitive that I'm probably not ever going to put that data into a public [cloud].

Wrestling with Data Security

The CIO says he’s wrestling with how much of DoD’s data is truly sensitive, using the example of budget data from 1949, which was sensitive at the time but is not sensitive now. Yet it is still stored with data that has relatively high security protection.

“I think [relatively sensitive data] is a much smaller portion of our data than we think it is,” he added.

Where DoD is in its transition to the cloud is hard to measure, Halvorsen said, adding, “but I can tell you this, I'm not where I want to be.”

In the near future, the CIO envisions situations in which a defense contractor might put data inside a data center located on federal property.

Pushing the Model Forward

“The other group I see that would probably want to do that is financial institutions. We are not there yet [but] that's what we're looking to push the model forward on,” he added.

In this scenario, federal systems and commercial systems would have to move beyond interoperability, Halvorsen said, and into interconnectivity and become part of the same structure.

“I can make things interoperable a lot of times by kluging them together. I want to get past the klugde so it’s a seamless, interconnected structure. How am I doing that? With lots of help from all the services,” he said.

“All the service CIOs get that we’ve got to go there. Top leadership gets that we've got to go there,” Halvorsen added. “One of the chairman’s top priorities is the whole [DoD Joint Information Environment], which gets us there.”

Making it Work

Now, he said, it’s time to take the technical engineering solutions and make them work, and do it in a cost-effective way.

In 10 years, the CIO said, DoD will have a much better distributed data network.

“It’s all data distribution,” he said, “it really is.”

Halvorsen added, “I think what you'll have in 10 years is a lot fewer physical facilities, much more virtual cloud data that from our standpoint is accessible on whatever the new technology brings.”

The CIO doesn’t think the platforms will be laptops or smart phones, but perhaps smaller devices connected to big-screen entertainment systems accessible at home.

Wearing the Future

“You'll probably have a watch-type device that gives you some level of data, and you'll be wearing the rest of it,” he speculated.

“Wearable IT is going to be an interesting phenomena for DoD. Think about what you could do, how you could [suit up] a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine with wearable IT -- monitor health, monitor location,” he said.

“That’s the growth area to me,” he added, “but you've got to get the data distribution right.”

AFRL announces winners of student satellite competition

Air Force Research Laboratory

1/30/2015 - KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Students representing 10 universities competed in Albuquerque, New Mexico this week for the chance to send a satellite they designed and built into space. The competition was held through the Air Force Research Laboratory's Space Vehicles Directorate University Nanosat Program.

The winners:
1st place - Missouri University of Science and Technology
2nd place - University of Colorado at Boulder
3rd place - Georgia Institute of Technology
4th place - Taylor University

Boston University and State University of New York at Buffalo tied for 5th place. Judges will break the tie during upcoming visits to both universities where they will conduct a deep dive into their respective programs.

Each winning school will receive $110,000 from the Air Force Office of Science and Technology, and mission support from AFRL/Space Vehicles to finish preparing their satellites for launch. Now in its eighth cycle, this is the first time multiple winners were selected.

"We are excited that we were able to expand the number of winners from one to five this year, allowing more teams the opportunity to send their satellite to space and, in turn, increasing the scientific and technology benefits of the program," Dr. David Voss, University Nanosat Program manager said. "We had a remarkable field of competitors this year, and we commend the hard-work, passion and professionalism of these young great minds."

The University Nanosat Program was established in 1999 by AFRL and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research as a way to inspire and train the next generation of space professionals. It is a rigorous two-year concept to flight ready spacecraft competition, and the only program in the country that gives university students the opportunity to actually participate in U.S. spacecraft development. The approximately 5,000 students from 32 universities have participated in the program and several of their satellites have been sent to space.

Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, University of California Los Angeles, University of Florida and New Mexico State University also competed.   

Winning schools and descriptions of projects:

Missouri University of Science & Technology, M-SAT (SSA/Prox Ops) - Determine physical characteristics of an Uncooperative Residential Space Object (URSO) by utilizing visible light and infrared images. Estimate and track the trajectory of an URSO. Perform visual-based proximity operations to characterize the physical structure of an URSO.

Colorado University at Boulder, PolarCube (Upper Atmospheric Imaging) - PolarCube shall study the Earth's tropospheric temperature patterns in the polar regions and observe the extent of sea ice/open ocean boundaries through atmospheric temperature sounding with the 118.7503 GHz O2 resonance

Georgia Institute of Technology, RECONSO (Defensive Space/Prox Ops) - RECONSO's mission is to place a passive optical sensor in a Low Earth Orbit. This sensor will be used to detect and track transient objects within its field of view. The detected objects will be analyzed to generate track information from the optical observations made to help study space debris.

Taylor University, ELEO-SAT (SSA/Space Weather Effects) - To study ionospheric structure, temperature, and composition, their effects on VLF transionospheric propagation and the efficiency of VLF-LEP coupling and to open up the F-region for further nano-sat studies

Boston University, ANDESITE (Space Weather Effects) - ANDESITE will evaluate a space based - wireless sensor network to examine the spatial and temporal variability of the current density within the region 1 and region 2Birkeland currents through in situ magnetic field measurements.

State University of New York at Buffalo, GLADOS (SSA) - Utilize multi-band photometric data of glinting space objects to identify their type, surface materials, and orientation.

"Labour will screw the economy, the Tories will screw you."

In the course of an upbeat assessment of the Liberal Democrats' chances in the coming general election, Andrew Grice reveals what must surely be our campaign slogan:
"Labour will screw the economy, the Tories will screw you."
Grice attributes it to an "influential Liberal Democrat".

I have asked Lord Bonkers, but he assures me it did not come from him.

Healthy Vegan Caramel Slice

I've never seen myself as a particularly outgoing or even social creature really. It's not that I'm overly shy or anything, it's more of an active choice I've made to keep a smaller circle of close friends rather than being surrounded by a whole bunch of people whom I barely know at all. (Of course some people manage to have six hundred besties at once but needless to say, I'm not one of them. How do they even?) But thanks to Instagram I've had the opportunity to connect with and befriend so many amazing, inspiring and crazy talented girls from all over the world! How this little story relates to the raw caramel slice? Well this recipe would have never seen the light of day had it not been for one of these Instagram girls and her #twistmytreat competition.

 Who she is? Well the one and only EatLikeEloise of course! This slice was 100% inspired by hers and guess what? If you want in on this fabulous competition where you can win Loving Earth chocolates, all you have to do is reinvent or put a twist on Eloise's caramel slice! I'd do anything for chocolate hehe. Also, this is positively the best competition I've ever participated in. Look at that oozy caramel. Just look at it and tell me you don't agree.

One more thing before we get to the recipe: it looks longer and more complicated than it actually is! Mostly because I've included two different ways to make the chocolate layer. I was way too eager to get to taste this to bother making my own chocolate but if you want to keep this recipe raw, I highly recommend you spend those extra five minutes on this!


- 7 dates (around 80 g)

- 1/4 cup oat flour (30 g)

- 1 tbsp tahini (20 g)

Caramel layer:

- 10 fresh/soft dates (110 g)

- 2 heaped tbsp all natural peanut butter

- 2 tbsp unsweetened almond milk

- 1 tbsp lucuma powder

Chocolate layer raw version:

- 1 tbsp melted coconut oil or cacao butter

- 1 tbsp cacao powder

- 1 tbsp liquid sweetener of choice

Chocolate layer non-raw version:

- 2 oz. (56 g) vegan dark chocolate (preferably refined sugar-free)

How to:

1. Blend all the ingredients for the base in a food processor until you're left with a ball of raw 'cookie' dough. Add more oat flour if the dough is too sticky and more dates or tahini if it's too dry. (This depends a lot on how moist the dates are!)
2. Press it out into a small rectangle to about 1/4-inch or 5 mm thickness on a non-stick baking sheet. Set aside.
3. Peel and pit the dates for the caramel layer. This is easier if they have been soaked in hot water for at least 10 minutes or if you're using really soft ones. 
4. Place all the ingredients for the caramel layer in a small bowl and blend with a hand blender until smooth. (This step could be done using a food processor but I prefer the hand blender.)
5. Spoon the caramel on top of the base and level it with a spatula. Place in the freezer to set for at least one hour.
Raw version: 
6. When the caramel and base have set, make your own raw chocolate by mixing equal quantities coconut oil, cacao powder and sweetener in a bowl until combined. Wait until it's not super runny, then spread an even chocolate layer on top of the caramel. This will hopefully set immediately as the caramel is frozen so go ahead and cut as many slices as you want before placing them in an airtight container to store in the freezer or fridge if you prefer a gooey caramel.
Non-raw version:
6. If you're a lazy ass like me, then melt your (store-bought) chocolate over a hot water bath and spread it out on top of the frozen caramel base. It can be a bit trickier to cut neat squares this way (as is shown by the cracks on mine) but they're just as delicious, I promise. Store in the fridge for gooey caramel and the freezer if you want it solid.

Food Reward Friday

This week's lucky "winner"... the KFC Double Down Dog!!

Read more »

A Silver Dollar Read

For the most part the suffering is done in silence; wanting to remain unnoticed at the same time as hoping to be acknowledged by the group.  It's difficult to be known for being too tall or too short, too heavy or too thin, too smart or not smart enough, too young or too old or anything outside of the current approved unwritten rules for normal.  Younger children are better able to see a person's true self.  As they get older their vision of individuals might have labels attached.

By the time middle school begins the agony of trying to find out who you are and what you should be doing is complicated by the perceptions others have of you as more layers of labels have been added.  Make no mistake; sometimes the actions and remarks of our peers are brutal.  Fish On A Tree (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), February 5, 2015) a new middle grade novel written by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (One For The Murphys) explores the experiences of a sixth grade student and her relationships with friends, classmates, family and one insightful teacher.

Chapter 1
In Trouble Again
It's always there.  Like the ground underneath my feet.
"Well, Ally? Are you going to write or aren't you?"
Mrs. Hall asks.
If my teacher were mean it would be easier.

Seven schools in seven years have not helped Ally but sixth grade has been even more challenging especially now with Mrs. Hall being replaced by a substitute in November when she takes maternity leave.  She is trying her best to fulfill Mrs. Hall's request to write about herself but the glare of the paper, the beginning of a headache and the difficulty making letters form words, is too much.  In her conversation with Mrs. Hall we quickly meet three classmates, Oliver who bursts out laughing and speaks frequently without thinking, super intelligent with logic like Spock, Albert, and Shay whose words cut like a knife.  As this chapter closes we also know a little more about Ally, she is witty with a keen sense of humor.

It's when Ally mistakenly gives Mrs. Hall a sympathy card at the class baby shower; we are privy to what she has kept hidden for years.  She can't read; letters move and dance whenever she looks at them.  Three more student names become part of the narrative, Jessica, two-peas-in-a-pod pal of Shay, Max, always ready for a good time, Suki, a quieter soul with excellent ideas, and Keisha, a new student, outspoken, brave and a champion for those who are different. After a conference, yet again, with the principal, Mrs. Silver, Ally knows she should tell the truth but how do you tell people you think you're dumb.

Although Ally has the support of her warm-hearted waitress mom, her dad currently deployed overseas and mechanical genius older brother, Travis, who struggles with school too, Ally's constant coping companions are her Sketchbook of Impossible Things where she perfects her artistic skills and the movies she plays in her mind.  When Ally and her classmates meet Mr. Daniels, the new teacher, on his first Monday in their classroom his resounding cheerful,

"Okay, Fantasticos! Take your seats!"

signals a new beginning for everyone but especially Ally.  Within a few days his interactions with the students, his lessons and activities, questions and responses to their answers tell them he is here to help them be their best selves.

Each day in the classroom, during lunch hours and special events a pattern of change begins to take shape.  Keisha, Albert and Ally form a friendship, a trio of strength, brains and not only artistry but the ability to visualize answers "outside the box."  Ally realizes Mr. Daniels is trying to figure something out by his questions asked of her.

On a field trip, when a particularly cruel action by a classmate sends Ally running, Mr. Daniels seeks her out pointing out her creative, inventive and artistic abilities and reveals his theory about her learning differences.  Chess lessons after school expand to include re-learning lessons as a teacher connects with his student enriching her world beyond her most fervent wishes.

The birth of a star, shared secrets, a fox, a chicken and a bag of grain by a river, a class election, a tricky letter, an ant defender, a lesson in dyslexia, a stance against bullies and help for a hero are all ripples from the pebble, Mr. Daniels, thrown in Ally's pond.  The slip of paper given to her with the im torn from impossible is given to another.  We may not always see it but when we give each person we meet value with our sincere attention and yes, love, it has the power to change everything for good.

The worth and capacity of this title to affect an impact on readers, as in Lynda Mullaly Hunt's debut book, is her masterful skill at creating fully believable characters placed in true-to-life situations.  Giving voice to Ally's inner thoughts allows us to feel her every emotion.  The dialogue between all the characters gives you the sense of being a silent participant; Ally's shadow, if you will.  I can't begin to tell you the number of times I laughed out loud at Ally's remarks either said in her mind or as conversational statements.  You find yourself wanting to shout out in frustration or disgust, to cheer for victories and to hug Ally, her family members, her friends, classmates and Mr. Daniels for those moments when their acts of kindness fill you with hope.

A technique Hunt uses excellently is a closing thought or bit of dialogue at the end of each chapter. It expands our thinking as readers.  It also makes us wonder what will happen next.  At the end of chapter 42 Mr. Daniels is speaking to Oliver about him having one of the kindest hearts.  It is followed by a two page chapter which might be one of my favorites in the book.  The kindness Ally and Keisha extend to Albert in the form of t-shirts is almost overwhelming.

The first time I read A Fish In A Tree I began to place sticky notes in my favorite spots.  On my second reading I added even more.  Here is a picture of my book, an advance uncorrected galley, so graciously given by the publisher.  I have selected some passages to share with you below.

Mrs. Hall clears her throat.
The rest of the class is getting tired of me again.
Chairs slide.  Loud sighs.  Maybe they think I can't hear their words:  Freak. Dumb. Loser.
I wish she'd just go hang by Albert, the walking Google page who'd get a better grade than me if he just blew his nose into the paper.

Alice in Wonderland---a book about living in a world where nothing makes sense made perfect sense to me.
"I miss Grandpa," I say.  Three words that hold sadness like a tree holds leaves.

He seems disappointed.  I turn to go.
"How about if I excuse you from homework for learning how to play?"
I stop like my feet are strapped to thousand-pound blocks.  Did he just say that?  I turn around.  "What's the catch?" I ask.
"No catch.  If you stay after to learn chess for a few days, I'll excuse you from homework on the days you stay."
"Am I going to have to write a paper or something?"
"No papers.  Promise."
"I just come in here and play a game and I get out of homework?  No catch?"
"Well, you can't tell anyone in the class.  I'll call your mom about it, though."  He holds his hand out to shake.  "We have a deal, then?"
"Yeah.  Okay"
I can't say no to that deal.  Homework is only one step above death.

Fish In A Tree written by Lynda Mullaly Hunt is a tribute to teachers, single individuals, who are forces of change in the classroom.  Everything Ally and her classmates and the adults in their lives learn during the course of this book can be applied to life as a whole.  If you've ever felt singled out because of any kind of difference this book will show you the importance of asking for help, the significance of true friends, and the beauty within yourself.  You are never alone.  Ever.

To discover more about Lynda Mullaly Hunt and her books please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  On July 2, 2014 Lynda Mullaly Hunt was a guest blogger at the Nerdy Book Club where she revealed the cover and spoke about her personal connections to this book.  Here is a Pinterest board created for Fish In A Tree.  On January 22, 2105 Lynda Mullaly Hunt was a guest at teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  She speaks about the ten similarities in making a book trailer and writing a novel.  The book trailer below was revealed at the same time.  Here is a link at the publisher's website for a study guide to this title and One For The Murphys. Update:  Matthew C. Winner, teacher librarian, chats with Lynda Mullaly Hunt at his upbeat informative Let's Get Busy podcast. Update:  Lynda Mullaly Hunt is the guest blogger at the Nerdy Book Club, Who Is Travis Nickerson From A Fish In A Tree?

Valentines Hair

Thinking about putting your hair up for Valentines Day? I think I found the hairstyle for you. I'm impressed with her volume.

Don't forget to check out the Facebook page: where I just put up a photo album with some Kreml ads.

Rutland earthquake latest

Thanks to Tired Old Git on Twitter.

Apollo 1 crew remembered, honored in annual memorial ceremony

by 45th Space Wing
Public Affairs

1/29/2015 - Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. -- Three former space pioneers were honored during the 48th annual Apollo 1 Memorial Ceremony Jan. 27 at Launch Complex 34, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The memorial honored crew members, Command Pilot Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White II and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee, who were killed by a flash fire during a launch pad test of their Saturn 1B rocket, Jan. 27, 1967.

"Throughout our nation's history, its greatest accomplishments have been manifested by brave men and women, willing to exert the effort necessary and overcome adversity to seize upon life-changing opportunity," said Col. Shawn Fairhurst, 45th Space Wing vice commander. "These three Americans chose to serve our nation, first in defense of the freedoms we hold so dear and then later as our nation's explorers. They embodied humanity's desire to understand who we are and our place in the vast universe we call home."

About 140 people were in attendance at the event, including Gus Grissom's wife, brothers, son and grandson, and Roger Chafee's daughter, Cheryl. The family members were recognized and honored for the sacrifices they made.

"You have our deepest sympathy and hope that you can find some solace in knowing that we promise to continue the legacy of Gus, Ed and Roger ... To serve proudly and honorably, finding strength from your sacrifice and their memory ... To continue reaching for the stars," Col. Fairhurst said.
During the ceremony, three candles were lit, and burned through the ceremony. At exactly 6:31 p.m., the exact moment of the fire on board Apollo 1, the candles were extinguished and a bugler played Taps.

Dr. Sonny Witt, 45th Mission Support Group director of operations, said it is an honor to be part of the ceremony, which honors both the heroes and their families.
"It's the right thing to do, and the right day to do it," he said of the event, which is held on the anniversary of the flash fire." It's their ceremony, and we treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve."

Along with Col. Fairhurst, Kelvin Manning, Kennedy Space Center director and Navy Capt. John Sager, Naval Ordnance Test Unit commander, also served as guest speakers for the event.

"Tonight, we stand here, in recognition that we are forever indebted to the sacrifices of these men and women and their families," said Col. Fairhurst. "With nearly 3,500 launches from this small piece of Florida, the spirit to serve and explore lives on in the men and women of our nation's military, NASA and our commercial space partners."

Ashby Castle

Ashby Castle in Leicestershire is well worth a visit.

Bring a torch, because it has a secret passage you can explore.

Winter Storms - Be prepared

In Thurston County, we aren’t strangers to winter storms. Days of heavy rainfall, power outages, and strong winds are all too familiar to many of us. But many of us need reminders for how to prepare and how to respond in these situations. So let’s review the basics of winter storms.

Make a plan. Having a plan that your household is familiar with allows for you to feel more in control of the situation, to remain calm, and to think more clearly. Plan for the three Ps – People, Pets, and Property. This Family Communication Plan from FEMA can help you organize phone numbers to call in case of emergency. Many cell phones have a special contact list for emergency contacts. This can be a helpful tool to have your emergency contacts readily available, but keep in mind that cell phone batteries die and a hard copy doesn’t need batteries. When planning for people, think about any special medical needs your family has and make a plan to cover them. Get to know your neighbors so that you can share resources and help each other in an emergency.
Planning for your pets is important too. Watch this short video by FEMA. Plan escape routes and household meeting spots. If your home is taller than ground level, plan to use an escape ladder. Make sure everyone in your household understands the escape routes and how to use associated equipment. Or better yet, hold practice drills!
Plan for your property. First things first, learn how to safely shut off natural gas, water, and electricity here. Do a walkthrough of your property to identify areas of potential hazard in a storm. Look for trees that have branches that could fall on structures and keep them well-pruned. If you cannot access the branches safely, hire a professional. Look for one that is licensed, bonded, and insured. Be familiar with locations of gas, water, and electricity lines on your property and where hazardous materials are stored.
You can’t predict where you will be when an emergency occurs. Have a plan for different locations.

Build a kit. A disaster kit should have enough supplies for everyone for at least three days.
  • Here are the basics of what a kit should include:
  • Water – one gallon per person for at least three days.
  • Food – at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food.
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio with extra batteries.
  • Flashlights, headlamps, and extra batteries.
  • First aid kit – include any necessary prescription medication.
  • Whistle to signal for help.
  • Dust masks to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place.
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.
  • Manual can opener.
  • Local maps.
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger.
  • Pet food.
  • Matches in a waterproof container.
  • Extra clothing.
  • Copies of important family documents (identification cards, insurance and bank account records) in waterproof container.
  • Hand-wipes, alcohol based hand sanitizer, paper towels.
  • Games, puzzles, books. 

Be cautious. In severe weather, be cautious of the steps you take in the situation. Be aware of your surroundings – above you, around you, and below you. Avoid standing water, wires and power lines, and large trees that could have limbs ready to fall. Be aware of hazardous materials that may have spilled or had their containers broken in the storm. To reduce the risk of hazardous exposure during storms, take unused and unwanted household hazardous products to HazoHouseat your earliest convenience. When you need to use a hazardous product for something, only purchase the amount you need. This will help minimize the amount of hazardous materials you have stored at home. When returning home after an evacuation be sure to follow these steps to safety.

Being prepared can reduce stress and anxiety when an emergency arises. Preparing for emergencies can help you make the most of a bad situation. When the next big storm comes our way, you will be glad you prepared for it!