No promises

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In late 2016, I deployed again with a counter-ISIS joint task force.  It went fairly well, all things considered.  I think I came back in a better mental state from that trip than I did from my first one back in 2005.

It’s weird to summarize a four-year period of time, but when I look at old entries, it’s like an entirely different person was writing here.  What has changed since last I was posting regularly?

  • I became less interested in guns and leather work.  My interests wax and wane over time, so this is not uncommon.  I brought my leatherworking stuff with me to Qatar/Kuwait, and then all I did was make a bunch of wallets for people.  (And a watch strap when mine broke.)  I haven’t done much since coming home, although I’d like to get back into it. I need a new notebook cover; I gave my awesome one away for a fundraiser auction.
  • I became much more interested in electronics, programming, and music–and the overlap therein.  Mostly music, though.  I have acquired many more musical instruments and tools and toys.
  • In 2015, I started volunteering with Team Rubicon USA, a veteran-led disaster response non-profit org.  I deployed several times (while on regular leave) to clean up after flooding or hurricanes or what have you.  I wrote about it extensively in other places so I won’t recap here, but it was enormously rewarding.
  • I returned to teaching for my full-time job with the Guard after the ISIS thing, but I started doing more curriculum development.  I was finally certified to officially teach and develop curriculum for the Army, despite having already been doing so for years. I spent the better part of last year researching and writing a short crash course in critical thinking which will probably never be taught.
  • I also bit the bullet and went through the arduous and mostly stupid process to become a warrant officer. As I write this, I am finishing up warrant officer basic course (WOBC, “WOE-bick”), after which I shall return home to my new unit–and almost immediately go to NTC.

My children continue to grow and become fascinating people.  My best friend finished killing himself with alcohol last spring.  I continue to not deserve my wife, to whom I’ve been married now for almost 20 years.  I am starting to think about what I want to be when I grow up and retire from the Army in a few more years.  Everyone else around me continues to age, but that weirdly doesn’t seem to affect me, except for my hair turning a little grey.

I have been blogging on and off since mid-2000, a span covering nearly half my life but with regrettably significant gaps.  I wish I had been doing so more regularly because reading old posts is fascinating–I’m one of my very favorite people, but it’s odd to see how I thought about some things at various points in my life, and now I wish I had a more complete record. As for now? I won’t attempt anything grand, but maybe just write about a few things that I think are interesting at the moment.  Or maybe it will be another 4 years.  Depends on what else is going on. No promises.

PineCraft: my $29 Pine64-based Minecraft server

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Impulse buy

A few months ago, I backed my first Kickstarter.  For $29, I figured the sunk cost was minimal and I could probably figure out something useful to do with this:

Capture

Mine looks pretty much like this, including the fancy ABS enclosure.

PineA64+ (2 gigabyte model) stats:

  • 1.2 GHz Quad-Core ARM Cortex A53 64-Bit Processor.
  • Dual I/O expansion slots
  • Dual Core Mali 400 MP2 Graphics card
  • 2GB Memory
  • Integrated Display engine with HDMI 1.4 output up to 4K
  • 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet Port
  • Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11BGN Wireless Module Port (Add on module optional)

(In addition to the case, I got both optional modules and a VGA adapter; the tab came to around $55 all together.  If you don’t already have a micro USB charger of appropriate amperage and/or USB keyboards and HDMI cables, you might need to spend a bit more.)

After a few months of waiting, it showed up and I realized that I forgot to buy some microSD cards.  Amazon Prime to the rescue, I now have five 16GB microSD cards.  Now what?

I played around a little with the RemixOS from the Pine64.org wiki page, but I don’t really need another mediocre desktop.  More useful by far would be a low-powered Linux server within my LAN that I wouldn’t feel bad about leaving running all of the time. I’ve been wanting to set up a dedicated Minecraft server for a while so I can play with the kids from anywhere in the world, so that was the obvious application.

This isn’t really a how-to or guide so much as an annotated checklist for my own reference.  I used this excellent blog post as a reference for most of these steps.  It’s a little older, but the instructions are still good. I only really changed things from personal preference (Debian vs. Ubuntu) and to use SpigotMC vs. the vanilla server. Continue reading

My soldiers cannot afford to train for war

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The theory behind the National Guard and the whole “one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer” thing is that you maintain a baseline level of readiness and training such that when invited by Uncle Sam to join The War, you can rapidly train up to the level you need for effective support to the collective effort.

So with only 39 training days per year, you focus on the universal tasks that everyone needs (shoot, move, communicate, don’t sexually harass anyone) and as many of the specialty tasks for your particular job as you can make time for, with the expectation that once Big Army calls, your unit will suddenly have additional money to pay for training days and schools and whatnot.  Once that happens, you will now be balancing your regular job or school, training for your Army deployment, and spending time with your family/friends/dog prior to being absent for some duration of time between nine months and eternity.

This can be somewhat stressful. On the one hand, your job wants you to wrap up some projects before you go and isn’t happy about you being gone for nine months, let alone additional weeks or months beforehand.  Your kids want to spend time with you.  Your spouse wants to spend time with you.  Your dog wants to spend time with you.

On the other hand, you need the training.  It might be in stuff you haven’t done in the decade(s) since your initial entry training.  It might be in something you’ve never done, either because it’s specific to your mission this time, or because it’s new since last you had training, or perhaps because you could never get into the school before (because people deploying have priority).  You may not (probably don’t) know exactly what you will be doing downrange, but you want all of the training you can possibly get before you go, to increase your odds of success when friendly lives may be riding on your competence.

On the gripping hand, you simply may not be able to afford it. Continue reading

Army online training is epic fail.

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I am too lazy to write a real thing, especially since I blew most of my day off on online training for the Army.  Much of it was live-tweeted, the results of which I have organized in chronological order and annotated because I’m cool like that.  Also, I wanted to play with Storify.

So go read it over there.

The only way you leave Bravo Company

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It’s a Navy town. When kids at church contemplate enlisting into the dirtside branch, their parents occasionally ask my input. In describing the components of the Army, I usually describe the National Guard as being more like a family. Whereas Big Army might rotate you somewhere new every 3-4 years, you could easily work with the same people in the same Guard unit for a decade or more. Holding a less common MOS, I could have easily retired from the Guard with 20 years without ever leaving my platoon–the only one in the state in which I am fully duty MOS qualified.  You get to really know and work with people over the years, sometimes deploy with them, and have very tight bonds that can last.

The punchline is that like a family, the Guard also has those batshit crazy people that you can’t really do anything about and you pretty much just have to wait for them to die off.

But sooner or later, everybody goes, not just the crazy ones.

Continue reading

Business trips, Microsoft SYNC, and bad dreams: how I bought a Taylor Swift album

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So in December I flew over to the East coast for two weeks to tell some people how to do their jobs.  I spent most of that time using chat (often with people back home), so really, I’m a little fuzzy on whether it was really worth flying all the way out there and staying in a hotel, but mine is not to reason why.

My hotel was about 10 to 12 minutes from work, so unlike everyone else in the entire time zone, I didn’t have strong feelings about my commute.  It literally took me longer to walk to the office from my parking space than it did to drive to the parking space from my hotel.  This is important for later.

My initial rental car was a Toyota, but a week and a Check Engine light later, I swapped for a recent model Ford Fusion.  I like the Ford Fusion in many respects, except for the entirety of the in-car interface, powered by Microsoft SYNC.  It looked just like this:

Seriously, WTF?  It's a rental car, not a space shuttle.

Seriously, what the hell? It’s a rental car, not a space shuttle.

Continue reading

Bureaucracy Keeps Doing Its Thing

I don’t reblog, but you should read this.

The XX Committee

On the weekend, The New York Times ran an interesting story about how U.S. Army Major General Michael Nagata, the commander of our Special Operations Forces (SOF) in the Middle East, has been reaching out to experts far beyond the Pentagon, the Intelligence Community (IC), and the U.S. Government altogether, to better understand what drives the Islamic State. Since that war is clearly not going very well, and MG Nagata’s elite forces form the point of the spear there, listening to alternative voices is always commendable. As NYT noted:

Business professors, for example, are examining the Islamic State’s marketing and branding strategies. “We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it,” [Nagata] said, according to the confidential minutes of a conference call he held with the experts. “We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.”

Who is

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