Thursday, July 28, 2011

Engineers and Oreos

So a couple of not so major yet almost important things happened this week.  Earlier this week I hit the 50% point in my summer vacation.  So I’m on the downslope if you will.  Actually my initial roommate that I had when I got here has been making fun of me this whole week about it, we got here at the same time but he is here for a year so I imagine the razzing about being short will only continue as I actually do start to get short.  I don’t really consider myself short yet but it is all perspective I guess.  I think this is going by faster than my winter vacation trip to Los Alamos.  But man I could go for a breakfast burrito and some chicken tacos from El Parasol.  They do have mexian night at the dinning hall here every once in a while, it isn’t bad but nowhere close to the El Parasol level.   They did have Mongolian BBQ night here this week, that is about a once a month thing, so I finally stood in line and waited for it.  I made the mistake of thinking the asian sauce would be more sweet than hot…oops.  Oh well maybe I’ll try again next time because other than my mouth being on fire the whole time the food was pretty good.

We’ve been having a long ongoing discussion about Oreo’s too as we tend to get them from time to time in packages.  Specifically which Oreo’s are the best, advantages of regular Oreo’s over double stuff (are there any?), how to properly separate cookie from cream, what do you do with the cookie if you are able to separate it completely from the cream, should goldies/blondies even really be considered Oreo’s or are they an affront to Oreos everywhere, is it harder to separate cookie from cream on a regular or double stuff oreo, proper dunking procedures, milk vs water (for drinking with oreos not dunking them).  As you can probably imagine between a few people with science/engineering backgrounds and those that just love oreo’s this can go one for a while.  Also our supplies for testing are limited (we can get regular and mini oreos at the PX but that is it.) now this isn’t some sort of hidden plea for lots of double stuff oreos as I don’t really have a desire to hit the gym any more than I already do,  But it has been a pretty funny ongoing conversation so I thought I’d share.

Speaking of the PX, the new one they built here just opened this week.  The old one was in a trailer.  Not a house trailer but the back of an 18 wheeler trailer, needless to say it was small.  The new one is huge in comparison, word on the street is that it is the biggest/nicest one in Kabul.  So of course everyone went and checked it out.  They have a lot more stuff than the old one and a lot more variety in the brands they carry, however I’ve made it this far without really needing anything so I didn’t see anything I had to have.  I might pick up some t-shirts or something before I leave since they have a couple of OEF tshirts and stuff like that.  I did purchase a few things this week, first I got my dad’s birthday present at the bazaar (yeah it’s late but it took the guy a while to get it and finally bring it to the bazaar), now I cant say what it till I send it home and my dad gets it, then again he probably already knows what it is, but it is awesome!  Also I broke down and decided that while I was over here I could spend a little time in the evenings learning how to program Arduinos so I bought a kit and a book on them from Amazon which should get here sometime.  Now I’ve known how to program BasicStamps for a while and I’ve done some pretty neat thing with them but at the same time at ~$50 a pop I don’t use them as often as I’d like to.  Arduinos are significantly cheaper (~$20) and more or less just as capable so once I get comfortable with them hopefully I’ll be more willing to use them in various projects.  The big difference initially is that BasicStamps are programmed in a modified form of Basic, which I’m comfortable with and understand the syntax and all that rather well.  Arduinos use a C/C++ type code for programming which I have no experience with and always looks strange when looking at code.   Since I already understand microcontroller and things you can do with them I figured if I can get comfortable with the C/C++ syntax/coding structure while I’m here I’ll be good to go when I get back.  Not that this has anything to do with Afghanistan….

I was able to see the last shuttle landing due to the time difference so that was pretty cool, I think that was this week right? Also it has been weird seeing the news from back home about the super high temps, we’ve been having beautiful weather here.  High in the low 90’s with low humidity and a nice breeze, we’ve been eating outside whenever the wind is calm enough to not blow everything away.  Of course we’re also at about 6000’ which doesn’t hurt.  Down south/southwest where they are lower it gets brutally hot, 120F+. 

Also Axis won IRCWCC Nats, again…

Thursday, July 21, 2011

We sure have an awful lot of seafood here for a landlocked country.

I’m back!, Ok well I’ve actually been back since the weekend but who’s counting.  In case any of you were actually paying attention and wondering we have milk again, which is nice.  It’s in a slightly larger container which of course changes the milk: cereal ratio but oh well.  Speaking of food they’ve also had a lot of bananas recently which is nice just out of the ordinary.  However I don’t think I’ve seen any fresh bread all week, oh well can’t win them all.  I guess on the plus side while I was at bagram they had steak and lobster tail for dinner Friday night.  Steak is pretty common for one a week but last I heard the Lobster was on medical hold so we we’re able to get any, guess that changed?  Now it wasn’t the best lobster I’ve ever had but for a land locked country in SW Asia it wasn’t that bad.  Plus they didn’t get it at Camp CupCake(they had steak and fried fish or something less exciting like that), right place right time I guess.

The trip to bagram worked out pretty well, I’m glad I got a chance to go out there and spend some time somewhere else.  The project there is going well, not perfect but well enough I think.  I took some pictures, nothing really spectacular, the one I’m going to post is actually a pretty poor quality picture but I if you look closely you can see a little red inverted triangle hanging from the wire.  Now this picture was taken while we were driving around and it is actually looking into the base as we were on a perimeter road so the perimeter fence is behind me as I took this photo. Anyway you can’t read the sign in the photo but if you know anything about warzones you don’t need to.  It marks a minefield.  Yup we have bases that have minefields ON them.    Then again Afghanistan itself is pretty much one big minefield.  It just struck me as a rather odd sight, not because there was just one little section but a ton of different areas scattered all over the place that are waiting to be cleared, which is a rather slow and labor intensive process.

On the housing front I finally got a wall locker for my room, there is a tent full of them here and you just go and take one, not much trouble if you know where the tent is and have someone help you carry it. (not heavy just bulky)  So for the first time in a couple of months I’m no longer living out of a bag.  Also my other roommate (who has the bottom bunk under mine) got back from leave, he is a pretty cool guy very friendly so that’s nice.  And this morning the other roommate was able to scrounge up a ladder for me which is pretty cool.  Now I have no problem climbing into and out of the top bunk I’m still young and limber enough to pull that off somewhat gracefully however the bunks are the sturdiest things in the world so hopefully the ladder will help reduce the shaking of the bunk required and be somewhat nicer for my roommate in the bottom bunk. (It’s the little things in life.)

Not a whole heck of a lot else going on, least not that I can think of at the moment, just another day in paradise.

Ohh I almost forgot to mention the green beans smoothies.  Now I’m not a fan of coffee which is what green beans really serves (think starbucks in a warzone, yeah I don’t understand that one either), and they were out of ice tea which is my go to so I tried a chocolate smoothie.  It is more like a chocolate icee with milk.  However it is rather chocolatey so no real complaints(besides the lack of smoothness), plus on a hot dry day it’s pretty hard to go wrong with a nice cold drink.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dont have a Cow man.

EDIT: I wrote this a few days ago but was unable to post it.  Stayed tuned for the next episode where I discuss Bagram and I wonder why green beans smoothies arent really all that smooth. or really whatever i feel like talking about when the time comes.

Another week, another blog update.  Time just keeps going by.  So what has been going on in my life?  Well a lot of trivial things but I’ll write about them anyway since that is sorta the whole point of this. 

They’ve been out of milk at the dinning hall, ok they aren’t really out of milk they are just out of normal regular run of the mill milk. They have plenty of chocolate mike and banana milk and strawberry milk and soy milk (which I don’t think should be called milk since it’s from a plant but I don’t get to vote on these things so ehh)  Now this really isn’t a big deal and I understand the logistics to get stuff to camp cupcake but really cupcakes without milk? It just isn’t right.  The up side to this is while I have to have dry cereal since most people have switched to other breakfast foods that leaves a much larger selection of cereal for those of us that are diehards. I didn’t even know they had honey nut cherrios which are delicious(did you know they have a slight almond taste to them? I sure didn’t till I read the label) so I guess overall I’ve come out ahead on the whole deal.  The other option im thinking about is using chocolate milk on cocoa puffs, I doubt that would be a significant change. 

I also finally got a hair cut.  They have a little “salon” there with ?russian? ladies working there.  I got my head shaved back down to about the length I had it before I left, so it’s pretty short but much less to deal with so that is a significant improvement.  It took longer than I thought it would to just get it buzzed but ehh there was no wait and it was rather cheap so I cant complain to much.  I think it was 250 Afghani and with a tip on top of that so in the end it was probably about $7-8, which is fairly reasonable.

I also trimmed my beard.  Yeah it was kinda cool to have it all big and bushy but really it was just starting to be to much effort to keep it looking halfway decent.  Main reason to have the beard is it is less work than being clean shaven so when it starts to be extra work over and above the none that I have allocated to it I was forced to trim it back down to my standard just trimmed length.  It will grow out again if I let it, haven’t decided on that yet.  I was however rather surprised how long it got in a relatively short time.  It never really got itchy or anything like that either.  So maybe when I retire and live on some mountain in the middle of nowhere Montana I’ll be able to grow it all back out… haha we’ll see.  It was kinda fun to have especially with pretty much everyone else being clean shaven.  (makes picking yourself out in pictures very easy.)

Work this week has been ehh for the most part.  I did get to do some technical research/explanation which was actually pretty fun and interesting.  Other than that it was mostly non technical stuff.  I was part of a meeting with one of the generals which was neat but the really cool part was at the end of the meeting he turned to me and wanted to know who I was what I did etc.  we ended up sitting and talking for a few min about my background and some of the things I have done and why im here.  He was pretty supportive of what I think is my real reason to be here so that was nice.  He seems like a pretty decent guy.

Actually as I write this I’m over at Bagram but that doesn’t really matter since I wont be posting it till I get back to C^3 so you wont even know.  Actually the flight over here was a bit different than usual.  Flew rotary wing since why not it is the easiest way to get here as far as I can tell.  Well the birds they use have sliding doors on either side, like the new minivans do. For some reason they kept them open this time, normally they close them.  Well I was sitting in the back row on the right side facing forward.  My right foot was on the edge of the floor and you could look to the right and pretty much straight down which was pretty cool.  However it is also like riding in a convertible with the top down going somewhere around 100mph im guessing, I’m glad I bought a good pair of sunglasses for times like that it was worth it.  Makes it a little hard to breath too just cause you’re being hit with the wind and the rotor wash.  It was a pretty neat experience being able to look more or less straight down while you’re flying along.  Helicopters are so cool, just how they move in the air is really neat and fun to watch/be in.  Other than the wind it was a pretty normal flight.

I’m obviously in bagram for work, naw I just vacation here… but I’ve also been able to meet some people that I’ve emailed and talked to on the phone or whatever but never actually met in person so that has been nice as well.  They still fly a lot of plane out of here and it’s been pretty dusty today, and windy, sorta of minor dust storm from what I can tell, sometimes you can only see a few hundred yards it seems.  Actually it felt like it was going to storm/rain for most of the afternoon/evening but of course it didn’t.  Maybe it will rain some once we get to the fall? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  At least the humidity is low, I caught a glimpse of the news and the weather and looks like it’s hot back home but at the same time they say it’s 102 or whatever and that is slowly starting to seem less hot. Hope everyone is managing to stay cool!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

4th of July and ISAF

Time for another update from the wonderful world of Camp CupCake.  I’m sitting out in the courtyard, which they spruced up a little recently, writing this.  Currently in the background over the hum and drone of the generators you can hear the Call to Prayer from a nearby Mosque.  It sounds like a dull moaning but it isn’t altogether unpleasant and it doesn’t last a long time.  Just enough to remind you you’re some where else.  As for the courtyard they added fresh gravel and a lot of new picnic benches, however they took away the chairs and small tables they had which is what gave it the cafĂ© feel. Oh well.  We’ve actually eaten outside a few times this week since the weather has been good. One day the wind kicked up and started blowing everything around, I haven’t done the math but the wind has to be pretty strong to blow over a half full can of soda.  It makes eating interesting when food starts blowing away.  Maybe I should just stop eating salads?

The 4th of July was this week for those of you not paying attention.  Not that we have days off or weekends but the work level here really did drop noticeably just due everyone back home being off.  We had a short little ceremony here which was pretty cool.  The big deal is that GEN Petraeus was here and gave a short speech as well as handing out Commander Coins and Combat Patches to some of the soldiers here.  Of the three of us in the office I was the only one not to get anything, then again I’m not a solider.  Commander Coins are more or less an atta boy type of tradition.  I think they evolved from challenge coins that units give to unit members but I could be wrong.  Anyway getting one from GEN Petraeus is pretty cool.  Combat patches are worn on the right sleeve of the uniform and show what unit you were deployed with for combat operations.

 “They aren’t a big deal, unless you don’t have one.” – GEN Petraeus
Just the army way of saying “been there, done that”  Still getting one from GEN Petraeus adds a little to the experience.

Other than that the 4th was a pretty normal day, I did get to watch the hot dog eating contest while I was riding the bike at the gym so I guess that is worth mentioning too.  I was able to get a polish sausage for lunch which was hot dog like enough and the grilled up steamship round for dinner.  They had a huge cake but it looked really dry so I didn’t have any, still working our way through the stash of cookies in the office anyway.  (It is a tough job but someone has to do it right?)

Also last weekend I finally got kicked out of my room, it was a little sad but atleast I don’t have to deal with that anymore.  So now I’ve got a room in one of the real building with two roommates, both seem pretty cool.  I’ve got a top bunk which is only annoying since there isn’t a good way up or down.  It’s different but I’ll get used to it, actually right now one of the guys is off on R&R or Emergency leave or something like that so who knows when he’ll get back.  I need to get a locker in there so I have somewhere to put my stuff but I keep forgetting to go grab one during the day, guess it isn’t that critical.

The boss and I made a trip over to ISAF HQ the other day, that was a pretty neat trip.  It is rather close by so not a long drive over or anything but I always like getting outside of walls and seeing what’s around.  We almost missed the ride over, we showed up late (not my fault),  but we made it so that’s really what matters.  We were really just going over to get a lay of the land and so when we have to go over in there future we know where things are and can do things efficiently.  That said we spent most of the time we were over there exploring and finding all sorts of things.  It isn’t much bigger than C3 but they have I a lot more shops and building packed into the area.  Eating lunch at the dining hall (yeah we didn’t get to go to the good pizza place, oh well guess I’ll need to get back there..) they have sign in sheets for every different country that is there.  We counted 33 different countries and then spent most of lunch comparing all the different uniforms and camo patterns that we saw.  They also have grass, nice grass.  I don’t think ive seen that anywhere else.  The volleyball court has astro turf and looks like they also use it for soccer, however when we walked by there were a bunch of guys playing cricket on it. (it’s caged in and rather small and it was obvious they were playing some indoor/modified form of cricket but still not something you see everyday, least I don’t).  They also have a really nice garden type area with grass and trees and places to sit in the shade and hang out.  I guess that doesn’t sound to weird except unless you see what is around it.  Everything is drab and dusty and gravel, veryy little green or natural looking things.  There were 3 or 4 decent sized PXs there each one run by a different country so they cater to their own people but anyone can shop there.  So just walking thru those was interesting.  Something that they sell there just blew me away with surprise, one of the PXs had “Fury Love Cuffs” for sale, yup, furry handcuffs.  Someone is having a lot more fun than I am…   They also had a pistol crossbow that I actually thought about getting (hey if you can’t have a gun why not a crossbow right?) but according to the boss I wouldn’t be allowed to carry that either so that defeats the point, alas I didn’t get it.  Before you make fun of a crossbow it worked out ok for Chewy.

Oh I also saw a strange stat this week that actually made me rather proud of my alma mater.  The four year graduation rate for first time, full time students, starting in 2001: 21%. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

ehh little of this little of that

EDIT:I wrote this on Thursday but the USO internet has been down so I wasn’t able to post it, I picked up some Stantel cards at the bazaar today so now I can use one of the other networks which is how im posting this. We’ll see how it goes.  It's Afghanistan, stuff happens...

Short week since my last update, that’s what I get for posting on a Saturday I guess.  Not nearly as interesting a week this week as last week was.  Work was pretty busy for the first few days but has since died down greatly much to my dismay.  I’m doing what I can to try and accomplish the goals I set for myself when I came over here and I think I’m making progress.  However since of course I don’t have full control of things I can just make stuff happen, but I’m trying.  Plus a lot of the guys I work with are really great and willing to help me out so that makes it a lot easier.

Tonight they had a “Hail and Farewell” dinner for some of the people that just arrived but mostly for a few folks that are leaving.  It reminded me of a more professional version of an Eagle Court of Honor.  Well and since this is the army there was powerpoint involved. (I imagine there are plenty of Eagle Courts these days that use power point, im glad that wasn’t really an option when I was in scouts.  Storytelling is much better and if you’re smart the funny stories generally don’t have pictures that go along with them if you catch my drift.)  So more or less I guess you could call it a roast, it was pretty funny and a very welcome break to the “routine”.  Also there was spaghetti and meatballs for dinner so that’s always a good meal.  Granted the spaghetti here is umm different but ehh I have different standards for everything here, kind of like college. 

What else…(see slow week)

Actually I guess anyone that pays attention to world new probably heard about this but the InterContential Hotel here in Kabul got attacked this week.  It isn’t that close to C3 but it was kind of a big deal anyway.  More of a propaganda thing I think for the Taliban.  Not sure how attacking a hotel and killing a bunch of civilians and police equals good propaganda but they didn’t ask me for my advice either.(no publicity is bad publicity?)  Oh you still have the ability to strap bombs to yourself and go blow yourself up? Wow that sounds like an organization I want to join! Wait a tick…

It’s been a lot dusty/hazy here the past week, but other than that it has been great summer weather, not to hot during the day and comfortable at night.  It reminds me a lot of what I think Los Alamos is like in the summer.  Aside from the fires which don’t seem to be a problem here, guess since it’s dry enough that there isn’t much vegetation to burn. 

Well I guess that is about it for this week, hopefully the next week will be more interesting.