This Week’s Book Review – Ghost Galleon

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.... [Read More]


Books of the Year: 2019

Gnome carrying pile of booksHere are my picks for the best books of 2019, fiction and nonfiction. These aren’t the best books published this year, but rather the best I’ve read in the last twelve months. The winner in both categories is barely distinguished from the pack, and the runners up are all worthy of reading. Runners up appear in alphabetical order by their author’s surname. Each title is linked to my review of the book.
Continue reading “Books of the Year: 2019”


Space Scoreboard: 2019

SpaceX Falcon Heavy liftoffThe year 2019 is almost over, and unless somebody slips one in at the last moment, we can sum up activity in orbital space launches over the last twelvemonth.  Here are orbital launches (some of which placed more than one satellite in orbit) by country of launch, in decreasing order by number of successful launches.  Specifying “country of launch” is simultaneously significant and somewhat sloppy: three Soyuz launches were conducted from the European spaceport in French Guiana, and are counted as European despite the rockets having been made in Russia and sold to Arianespace, which launched them.  Six Rocket Lab Electron launches performed from their Mahia site in New Zealand are listed under New Zealand despite Rocket Lab’s being (for regulatory, export control, and bowing to the empire purposes, nominally a U.S. company).  Russian launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan are, however, listed as Russian, as the launchers are manufactured in Russia and launched by personnel working for Russian companies or military services.

  • China:  34 launches, 32, successes, 2 failures
  • Russia: 25 launches, 25 successes
  • United States: 21 launches, 21 successes
  • India: 6 launches, 6 successes
  • New Zealand: 6 launches, 6 successes
  • Europe: 6 launches, 5 successes, 1 failure
  • Japan: 2 launches, 2 successes
  • Iran: 2 launches, 2 failures.  In addition, another launch vehicle exploded on the pad during preparations for launch.
  • Total: 102 launches, 97 successes (95%), 5 failures (5%)

Of the 97 successful launches, 61 were to low Earth orbits, including polar and Sun-synchronous orbits, 9 were to medium Earth orbits (mostly used by navigation satellites), 24 were to geosynchronous orbits, 2 were to high Earth or lunar transfer orbits, and 1 was to a heliocentric orbit.  All 5 launch failures were attempts to launch into low Earth orbit.


TOTD 2019-12-26: Fads of Christmas Past

I remember the Pet Rock craze, do you? Someone came up with the idea that the person who had everything needed a stone to call their own. (Do you like the rhyme?) Did anyone buy one or get one? If you got one what did you do with it?

And for a limited time only the Ratburger Store is selling these. (Picture below.)... [Read More]


TOTD 2019-12-24: The Resolutionary

This Christmas Eve I am thinking of a babe in a manger. What made him so special? Why is he not forgotten? My thought for this day is that he brought resolution. He was a resolutionary.

In our lives we count ourselves lucky to have people who make things better instead of worse. A person who calms the fears and fixes the “broken toy”.  They turn up in the most unlikely of places. But when they do their presence is felt.... [Read More]


Chopin, Home for Christmas, If Only in His Dreams

Lulajże, Jezuniu, “Lullaby, Little Jesus” is a traditional Polish Christmas carol dating from the nineteenth century, or who knows, perhaps earlier. Here is a lyric in original and in translation; very homey, yes?

Lulajże Jezuniu, moja Perełko,
Lulaj ulubione me Pieścidełko.
Lulajże Jezuniu, lulaj, że lulaj
A ty go matulu w płaczu utulaj

 ... [Read More]


Warm Wishes

I just want to thank everyone here for the great variety of wonderful writings and pictures that tumble through Ratburger every day! I don’t always comment but I see them and appreciate the work and the brain power that precedes them. I hope to be less of a Scrooge with my time, now that my busy season in work is almost over.... [Read More]


Christmas in a Boxcar

OK, prompted by Trinity Waters’s post about Patton’s 1944 Christmas message to the troops, I feel like telling my father’s story of that Christmas in a boxcar.
I don’t believe my father got to hear Patton’s message. He was captured in the Battle of the Bulge. They were marched and then loaded in boxcars. For some days they had been parked on a siding.
They were crowded fifty men in a small cold boxcar, taking turns at one tiny window. They had not eaten in a week. When it was his turn at the window late Christmas morning, he decided to thumb his nose at adversity and treat the group to a day’s menu at the small-town hotel where he had been desk clerk through college. He recited the menu from memory.
When he finished, someone said from the far corner, “Where did you say that hotel was?” And it turned out the man had stayed there. Dad got a better look at him and said, “ I can’t remember your name but you stayed in room 214 with another student from your university- you dated his sister, a student at the nearby women’s college, and were there for a formal dance. And…you borrowed my tuxedo!”
Christmas 1944. My Dad would be 100 now (yes he was VERY OLD when I was born) and the events and the culture of his times are fading into history. That happened 75 years ago, and he retold it many times-he was a good story teller. Circa 1975 my mother whispered to me that she lacked the nerve to remind my father that at one time he would roll his eyes at WWI veterans’ stories and say “Don’t they know it was 25 years ago?”


Christmas Music

Christmas is nearly upon us, heralded by the first round of parties this weekend. It seems friends are scheduling gatherings ever earlier in the month to avoid conflicts with holiday travel and others’ parties. That’s put me in a holiday mood so I though I’d share my YouTube Christmas playlist, along with some comments about each song. The playlist spans about five centuries and several musical genres, roughly in chronological order.

Gaudete is a medieval carol from the 16th century expressing joy at the birth of Christ. It’s a simple tune that evokes a very different world.... [Read More]