Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hey Mr. Taliban...

Wow past week flew by!  I had a really good week so no doubt that had something to do with it.

The boss and I took a little trip over to Bagram to attend some meetings and check on some ongoing projects.  First off the guys over there that we work with are all top notch and so it is always nice to get a chance to hang out with them and talk about current things going on in theater.  We ended up flying over there on Saturday morning, we we’re able to take the usual helo ride that we do so we took a different helo “service”.  What is the difference you ask? Well normally we fly in Blackhawks, which is well and good, but this other service uses an Sikorsky S-61 which is pretty big compared to a Blackhawk.  It was beautiful flying weather, unfortunately all the seats in it faced in so it was really hard to get good views when we were flying.  There was one neat point while we were banked in a turn that looking out the windows in the back it looked like we were sideways.  We weren’t but you could see ground out of all the starboard windows and sky out of all the port windows, it was a neat feeling. 

Once in Bagram we stayed at a different compound which was pretty nice, I actually ended up sleeping on the floor in the “living room” of the team leader there.  I had a bed in temp billeting but his floor was dark and quiet which is not always the case with temp billeting, plus he had a thermarest pad and I had my sleeping bag so I was actually fairly comfortable.  (As far as sleeping on floors go it was actually really nice, I’ve slept on a lot worse.)  Also this compound has a pretty nice DFAC, so that is always a plus.  They say the DFAC at C^3 is one of the better one and while that is probably true it’s nice to get other places when possible since things are a little different and that helps.  Actually I ate at 3 rather good DFACs over the couple of days we were in Bagram, and they were all military dominated (some of the DFACs there have more contractors eating than military, it is a bit strange sometimes.) dunno if that had anything do with it but no complaints here.  Speaking of food we also got to eat at the local Afghan restaurant which was close to where we were staying.  I had Lamb Kabobs served with Nan of course. (Nan is the Afghan flatbread)  It was all rather good (cheap too), I’d go back. 

While visiting with some of our teams there we got to go see some pretty cool new technology so that is always fun for a geek like me.  The highlight of the whole trip, for me anyway, was probably getting to go to the CEXC Lab. (yes it is pronounced Sexy)  Think CSI + IEDs, it was awesome, had some good discussions with some of the engineers there as well. It was interesting to see the progression of IED technology over the course of the war.

I also got to drive some for the first time in ~3 months, not sure how note worthy that is but it was something different.  We had an old Land Rover Defender 110, not the nicest vehicle but it got us where we needed to go.  Also it appears that british people are short, even with the seat all the way back there just wasn’t enough leg room to drive.  Other than that it actually drove pretty well.

The flight back to C^3 we were back aboard a Blackhawk.  They had the doors open when they came into land so I picked my seat more carefully and got on the edge but facing the back so I didn’t get the wind in my face.  That was one of the coolest flights I’ve been on yet.  Doors wide open, flying along at at dusk, it was beautiful.  The more you fly the easier it becomes to identify things along the way, makes sense right?  Anyway I think there are really only two occupations that people around here outside of the towns/cities have.  You’re either a farmer or a brick maker.  Lots of green farmland as well as farmers herding animals but tons of brick factories.  Afghan brick factories have a very standard look so they are pretty easy to spot once you know what they are. From above they look like big ovals with a chimney in the middle and then huge piles of bricks around.  They make a lot of bricks here, not that have wood or other building materials. 

One of the guys we work with came back with us for some meeting around here, one of those was over at another compound here in town.  As he had never been there before I ended up going with him to make sure he got to the right place etc.  Well nothing to interesting happened until after we finished the meeting.  We were done early so we had a while to wait but I thought I might be able to catch an earlier ride back so we went out to wait.  This area of town is “safe”(there are a ton of checkpoints and guards around so it really is pretty safe but also one of the few places you can be “outside the wire” if you will) so we’re allowed to sit outside of the compound on a bench waiting for a ride.  It is a pretty wide road (not sure how many lanes) but running down the center is a big divider and some local foot traffic and such is allowed on the other side.  Anyway we’re sitting waiting for a ride and this little girl on the other side of the barrier starts trying to sell us scarves. The street urchins are pretty impressive in that they actually speak English pretty well and they know all the military ranks and whatnot.  So they’ll call to people using their name and rank, we’ll I don’t have my name on my IBA and of course I don’t have a rank so she starts trying to get my attention by calling “Hey Mr. Taliban”.  Yup apparently I look like a taliban type.  Now I’m sure it’s because of the beard but it was still pretty funny that she was trying to sell me something by calling me Taliban.  Anyway after she wandered off this boy comes by wanting to sell scarves or somesuch.  So he is trying to get the guy I’m with to buy some, he isn’t having much luck so he resorts to a rather interesting sales tactic. “I kill you this afternoon, you buy a scarf?”  needless to say that tactic didn’t fare any better.  But still gotta give them credit for the effort.  The rest of that trip was significantly less amusing…

While I’m continuing to read my kindle and making good progress on the game of thrones series I decided that I should take the time while im here to learn something else.  So I went ahead and ordered an Arduino starter kit and book on amazon, now that isn’t too impressive anyone with a credit card can do that.  But it got here in a week! With free shipping, I was amazed.  For those of you that aren’t as much of a geek as I am (probably 95+% of anyone reading this) an arduino is a microcontroller/programming “language”.  The programming is based off of C or C++ which I have no experience with.  Now I’ve already used microcontrollers for a few projects but those were all BasicStamps which are programmed with a  variant of BASIC.  The difference between the two really comes down to cost as far as my uses are concerned, a cheap Arduino is <$20 while a BasicStamp is closer to $50.  I’m much more likely to drop an extra $20 into a project than $50 so I’m thinking I’ll be more likely to do cool microcontroller based projects.() yes most of my current ideas are boat related….)  Anyway that should help keep me more than busy in my free time while I’m over here.

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