Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year's End & St. Bernardus Abt 12

Trying to set up our new house and celebrate the holidays pushes updating the website down the list of priorities each evening.  Sarah has been bloggin' away, though; you can follow her iPhone photos of our recent event over on From the Desk.  More to come here, though; prepare for Motorcycle Mondays to resume with gusto.

Sarah and I went to a friend's house to watch the Lesnar/Overeem fight.  It was a BYOB sort of gathering and I brought St. Bernadus Abt 12 because a] it's a Belgian abbey ale I've never had that turned up on-post and b] it looks strange enough that no-one would "accidentally" mistake it for something they brought.
Photo from Ryan Conklin at Tasty Daze
When I got it, I had no idea how much Beer Advocate loves this one. I had it chilled on ice with the lagers that other folks brought and I think that was a mistake. At first I thought it might not be cold enough. It poured with a big root beer float head and tasted over-roasted for an abbey ale. As it warmed up, it got better, but I don't think my choice in glassware helped either.  Probably one I'll have to try again.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Busy times and I'm trying not to be tied up on the computer.  Sarah and I are finally cooking our first meal in the house!  Angel hair with vodka sauce.  It's gonna be a cozy Christmas at home for us.  Look for me tomorrow on Skype.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Back in Texas, at least.  The traveling was rather tiring with customs inspections through the night and flights all day.  At least I can say I've been to Ireland now.  The arrival ceremony was thankfully brief and I found Sarah in the crowd right away.  I know some of you wanted to be there, but it was rather anticlimactic in the middle of the night.  You can see some of what we did in the first 48 hours of alternating giddyness and fatigue on Sarah's blogger page.

We have no internet or furniture in the house yet, but hopefully that will change soon and I can resume semi-regular posts.  With luck we'll be set up to Skype on Christmas day.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Progress in Kuwait and one that got away

Turning in more equipment here in Kuwait.  We had a bit of a dust storm yesterday; nothing like the big summer ones back in Iraq, but it still cut down visibility and put grit in my teeth.

As some of you may know, earlier this week I made a deposit on a used motorcycle for sale in Texas. I’m not going to post it here yet because the deal is not finished, but they are going to hold it until I return to America and I’m excited to inspect the bike in person. Independent of that potential sale, my Army Basic Riders Course will begin the week after Christmas. It feels good to be making real progress on my desire to ride after months of shopping/anticipation.

However, this is not the first bike I’ve started to pursue while still deployed. Back in October I came across this beautiful 2005 Bonneville T100 on the Austin, Texas Craigslist page.
More photos at this Picasa page
I thought it was overpriced, but worth a chance to find out more and maybe haggle.  The seller never wrote back to me and the listing has since been taken down; I imagine it was on its way to a new home before I ever inquired. Still, I’ve kept one picture in rotation as my desktop background because a) it’s eye-candy but also b) it’s a reminder that such used gems do come up in classified ads if you keep an eye out.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Royal Enfield G5

There are several of us in the platoon that have motorcycle aspirations for when we return to the states (soon!).  Getting housing in order for Sarah and I will be a much greater priority once I'm finally on US soil, but browsing houses and apartments doesn't have the same effect as motorcycle shopping.  We can talk among ourselves about the qualities and values of different bikes and tease each other over our tastes for hours.  I'm still most interested in a Triumph Bonneville, T100, or Scrambler, but they're kinda rare to come upon used.  I've been entertaining different manufacturers and options.

Today I stumbled upon a new Royal Enfield G5 at a dealership up in the Dallas area.  Royal Enfield is another British marque with a long history that eventually entwined with Triumph's.  The companies' operations on English soil were sold to Triumph in the 60s and shortly after dismantled, but their manufacturing facilities in India continued with largely unchanged simple designs for decades.  In the ninties, Enfield of India bought the rights to the Royal Enfield marque and updated their engines to compete in the export market.  Comically, their biggest market is now selling these classically designed bikes back to the British Isles.
Photo from
This G5 is only a 500cc thumper, but it's been brought into this century with electronic fuel injection, softer suspension, and disk brakes.  I think the styling is cool, but it's pricey for a 500 single-cylinder and doesn't have near the service network/parts availability that the Triumph twins do.  Still, it's a cool bike and that English Racing Green with gold does look classy.
Photo from

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Army Terms to Know Part V: Rank

Rank is tricky.  You've probably heard lots of different terms thrown around in the movies and such, but what do the different names mean and how do they relate to each other?  I can't speak for the other branches, but I'll give the best account I can for the Army (though the information for the Navy/Marines/Air Force is out there if you're terribly curious).

Let's start with the ranks in a Squad:
PVT: E-1 Private
PV2: E-2 Private Second Class
PFC: E-3 Private First Class
SPC: E-4 Specialist
CPL: E-4 Corporal
SGT: E-5 Sergeant
SSG: E-6 Staff Sergeant

Privates and Specialists ill answer to a Sergeant or Corporal acting as a team leader.  Those team leaders will answer to a staff sergeant acting as squad leader.  Depending on the nature of the squads, several will make up a Platoon:

SFC: E-7 Sergeant First Class
2LT: O-1 Second Lieutenant
1LT: O-2 First Lieutenant

The Lieutenant (O-1 or O-2) is the only Officer in a Platoon and ultimately in-charge of the platoon even though the Sergeant First class will almost always have more experience and time-in-service.  LTs will differ to their SFCs at their discretion, which means much of the day-to-day leadership flows from there.  Withing the Platoon, power and responsibility follows upward from E-1s fresh out of initial training to salty Specialists up into the NCO corps (corporals and sergeants).

Several Platoons will then be organized into one Company.  At the company level, you add a First Sergeant (E-8) to manage the NCOs and day-to-day stuff and a Captain (O-3) to be in overall command.

Several Companies will then be organized into a Battalion.  An E-8 serving in other capacities is a Master Sergeant; the term First Sergeant refers to their role in a company as well as their paygrade.   Majors (O-4) will staff the battalion and command for coordinated tasks.  The Battalion has a Sergeant Major (E-9) to manage the NCOs and advise with a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC, O-5) in command.

Beyond the battalion level is less standardized throughout the army, considering the different roles battalions can have, but it generally follows Brigade (commanded by a Colonel, O-6), then Division (Brigadier General or Major General, O-7 and O-8), and Corps (Lieutenant General, O-9).  Each General will have considerable staff and a Command Sergeant Major (E-9) to advise and implement policy.  Generals (O-10) are in charge of huge things like the Chief of staff of the army or all forces (in their branch) in Europe.  The Chief of Staff is accompanied and advised by the Sergeant Major of the Army, who oversees all NCOs in the  Army.

Images from 
If you're wondering why I'm ignoring Warrant Officers, it's simply because I haven't had any interaction with them beyond a salute.  I'll give them their own post if/when I have firsthand knowledge.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Army Terms to Know Part IV

AO: Area of Operations
PX: Post Exchange. The military Wal-Mart.
AKO: Army Knowledge Online.  The portal for Email, online courses, and HR records.
ADO: Army Direct Ordering.  Uniform replacements and such you can order while deployed.  The is an allotment per month that you can spend, but it does not roll over.
EOF: Escalation of Force
ROE: Rules of Engagement
FRG: Family Readiness Group
MOS: Military Occupational Specialty.  Basically your role/trade/job in the military.
PLB: Personnel Locator Beacon
APFU: Army Physical Fitness Uniform
ECWS: Extreme Cold Weather System
PALS: Pouch Attachment Ladder System
UCMJ: Universal Code of Military Justice
AAFES: Army & Air Force Exchange Service.  Operates PXs, barbers, and the like.
ALICE: All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment.  The system of harness, pouches, and rucksacks used from the middle of Vietnam to the present.  I used a medium ALICE pack for my initial training at Leonard Wood, but it's largely been phased out in favor of
MOLLE: Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment.  New integrated system using PALS and plastic frames for rucksacks.

I still don't have any concrete date for my return to the US or when I'll be released from Fort Hood on leave.  However I have turned in my PLB, Night vision goggles, and exchanged my M249 squad automatic weapon for a dainty (in comparison) M16 rifle.  Good signs, I suppose.  The Wifi access in the tent I'm living in is still terrible, but there is an MWR not too far away so I can check email regularly.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hello Kuwait, Goodbye Mustache

Image from

We've safely arrived in Kuwait.  The evening of our arrival I ceremonially shaved the mustache to commemorate the switch from hazardous duty back to garrison duty.  Several people have joined the platoon since I started growing it in June, so this has been the first time they've seen me clean shaven.  There is supposed to be wireless internet access in the big tent my platoon is now living in, but I have not had much success connecting or maintaining access.  Currently accessing the internet from a very crowded MWR.  This is just to let you all know I'm here and the packages from my Aunt and Grandma were finally received!  Thank you both!  I'll be going through my inbox and getting back into things online as soon as I can.  I'm not sure how long we'll be here, but expect news by email when I get a more concrete timeline.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Laptop Arrives!

Less than two days after sending an email full of doubts concerning the specifics of address I had sent, the package arrived here! It's a Hewlett-Packard ProBook 4525s with a classy dark brown aluminium body. It runs very cool and has a functioning battery (something my Dell Inspiron failed at rather early). The HP is about an inch wider than the Dell but about an inch less deep.

I am still getting used to the off-center touchpad and keyboard as well as getting all programs, settings, and such back to what I prefer. I had forgotten exactly how much better Chrome is compared to Internet Explorer.  I'm sure there will be more technical observations later, but for now I am just really stoked to have a nice laptop I don't need to worry about.

Images from
Enough of that gushing, though. I want to say thank you to Brandon and Sarah for putting this together and especially to every one of you who donated to make this possible. I will try to do something for each of you to show my appreciation. Letters or knicknacks from Kuwait? I don't know what sort of "free" time I will be afforded, but I will work something out. It was an unpleasant week or so moving from one base to another while the old Dell refused to function or cooperate, but I was completely surprised when Sarah told me that there was already a computer ordered and on its way here. The jpeg "advertisements" she made made me smile each day. BC, you picked a classy machine. Thanks again everyone; I don't deserve you all.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mail and a Presidential Announcement

I have been hearing some contradictory things about mail right now.  For example, I was first told mail would be shuttled up to us until we leave.  I found out that the last day for outgoing mail was the 12th, on the 13th.  Later it filtered down that all mail postmarked after the 14th of October would held for us in Kuwait.  Two days ago we received a big load of mail, but none of it seems to be for my company.  I doubt anyone knows for sure, especially considering how plans and schedules to leave the country may be changed:
Photo from CBS News, AP/Susan Walsh
Many of you probably noticed that recently President Obama said that All US troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year and "home for the holidays."  Pretty exciting to hear from the commander-in-chief himself, but unfortunately, I have not heard the same through concrete Army channels.  Our orders have not changed yet but then if/when they do, I'll probably be one of the last to know.  As of right now, I expect to be back in the United States for the Superbowl (first week of February for you non-football types), but I have no specifics concerning dates or the amount of leave we will be allowed to take.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Army Terms to Know Part III and other things

PC: Patrol Cap.  Basically a pillbox-style baseball hat; rank on front, name on back.
RPG: Rocket-Propelled Grenade
RKG: Ruchnaya Kumulyativnaya Granata.  A Russian-made anti-tank grenade.
IED: Improvised Explosive Device
UXO: Unexploded Ordinance
EOD: Explosive Ordinance Disposal
NTV: Non-Tactical Vehicle.  Civilian vehicles used to move people/equipment around base.  Usually American-made trucks and SUVs.
JBB: Joint Base Balad, formerly Logistics Support Area Anaconda
Kiowa, Blackhawk, Chinook: Helicopters are generally named after Native American nations.
Bradley, Abrams: Tanks are generally named after Generals.  While the Bradley follows this naming convention, it's really more of an armed/armoured personnel carrier and some Bradley crews take offense to being compared to "death before dismount" tankers.

This is coming from another location in my tour of Iraq; new roommate and new routines to learn.  The laptop had a bit of a frightening fit recently, but it's working once more.  Internet connection here is less reliable but quite welcome after an absence.  Scrabble on the Kindle became rather popular in the interim, so much so that I visibly disappointed folks when I chose to read a book on it instead.  I have an as-yet-untested mailing address here, but email is still the most reliable way to contact me.

So you've probably noticed that I've changed the look of the website around a bit.  The old background was alright, but just one of the defaults offered by blogger.  This background is a picture I took during my first semester at Pitt of a lamp above a door to the Carnegie Library in Oakland.  It's been flipped and resized, but the colors are unchanged.
The header/title is based off of Brandon's over at  Just taking the size/simplicity from him, really; I don't think I'm completely finished fiddling with mine.  This has the wrench lotus from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and a unique Cavalry patch as well as a more accurate/specific spelling of Arete.  One day I'll have the time, perspective, and research I need to do posts on those.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Army Terms to Know part II

OD: Olive Drab
OEF: Operation Enduring Freedom.  The Afghanistan campaign.
OIF: Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Numbered for different movements/phases from the invasion (OIF 1 in 2003) until September, 2010.
OND: Operation New Dawn. September 2010 to present.
BDU: Battle Dress Uniform
DCU: Desert Combat Uniform. Chocolate chip or tri-color desert versions of the BDU.  Used until 2005.
ACH: Army Combat Helmet also known as a Kevlar.
ACU: Army Combat Uniform.  The current daily uniform; lots of velcro.  A fire-resistant version is issued for deployments
ACS: Army Combat Shirt.  Moisture-wicking and worn without an undershirt.  Generally limited to missions and guard duty.  Rank and name moved to right shoulder to not interfere with body armor.
UCP: Universal Camouflage Pattern.  Same digital fractal as the Marines, but with different colors (tan, foliage green, gray) adopted by the Army for all-terrain use in 2005.  Not perfect, but cheaper to produce and works ok in many situations.  In Afghanistan (and rumored for the whole Army after we leave Iraq), it has been replaced by
OCP: OEF Camouflage Pattern also known as Multicam for non-military sales.  It's a non-digital, 7-color blended pattern with greens and browns that looks a bit like bird droppings.  It always performed better than UCP, but was cost-prohibitive to produce when first designed.
MRE: Meal Ready-to-Eat
IBA: Individual Ballistic Armor
IOTV: Improved Outer Tactical Vest.  Better protection than the IBA on the neck and sides with a quick-release for emergencies.  Also, more comfortable in my opinion.
Smoking: A noun for Corrective PT.  Exercise as punctuation or memory enhancer to discourage under-performance, negligence, or disobedience.
Moondust: The fine, powdery dust that's made from tracked vehicles and trucks on gravel/dirt roads.  It collects in drifts (sometimes ankle-high) in intersections and turns.  Kicks up in clouds when walking or driving through.  Worst place to be smoked.
Toy wearing tri-color DCU, me wearing UCP ACU.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dexter and the Equinox

Image from
I am at season 3, episode 6 of Dexter.  Which, until the 6th season starts sometime this fall on Showtime, is precisely halfway through the series.  I don't have much to say that Sarah hasn't said already, but I like it.  It's well written and well cast/acted.  I've never really followed series on the 'specialty' channels before, but thanks to netflix and loose application of copyright laws here in Iraq, I've been able to get into this one.  I'm trying to pace myself and only watch one a day, but confess I binged and watched half of the second season all in one night.  Suspense!  I can't imagine waiting a whole week between installments.

Internet access has lasted much longer than previously anticipated, but there will periods coming up in which I'll be incommunicado.  I haven't got physical mail in a while, but emails are still a prompt and reliable alternative.  Send something to my gmail account and I'll get it eventually.

Happy Equinox and a pleasant fall to everyone.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Army Terms to Know

PT: Physical Training
MP: Military Police
CP: Control/Command Point
SAW: Squad Automatic weapon.
FOB: Forward Operating Base
CHU: Container Housing Unit
MWR: Morale, Welfare, and Recreation
R&R: Rest & Recuperation. 2 weeks mid-tour vacation.
DFac: Dining Facility aka Chow Hall
IRAM: Incendiary Rocket Assisted Mortar
CONEX: CONtainer EXpress; the steel shipping containers.  Can be moved by air, train, truck, or sea . They’re used as mobile storage for everything from explosives to linens and can be converted into offices or living spaces.
Woobie: Poncho Liner
Joes: E-1 through E-4; basically everyone below a sergeant/team leader.
Ugandans: Defense contractors who serve as security around base and the dining facilities. I believe the company they work for is actually American, but the guards are all African (cheaper to hire/outfit). I can’t be sure they’re actually Ugandan, though; that’s what I was told.  They're friendly, but their English isn’t always the most clear.  They carry AK-47s instead of M4s and M16s like US forces do.
Mounted: To be in an armored vehicle
Dismount: A person on foot.
Outside the Wire: Beyond the concertina wire and other defenses surrounding a base.  Basically outside a controlled/safe area.

Monday, September 12, 2011

ADVrider Scramblers

Photos from MeridianKnight at is a website and forum for people who like to ride their bikes on long trips, sometimes in locations where roads are fewer and less maintained.  The forum is a place where riders can get together and plan trips or discuss modifications and pre-, mid-, and post-ride maintenance on their bikes.  Suspension improvement and tough baggage are most common.  They have an epically long-running thread on the Triumph Scrambler with lots of pictures, advice, and ride reports.

Photos from ChrisLX200 at

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years

I was in 8th grade, posing for a life-drawing in 1st period art class when the first plane hit.  We learned about it the next period in social studies.

It is strange to think of all that has happened since then, both on world scale and in my own life.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Kindle & Last Journey

When walking, just walk.
When sitting, just sit.
Above all, don’t wobble.

A Zen haiku, quoted from the first book I’d read on my Kindle.  In some ways the little poem seems to embody the Kindle’s approach as well.  In order to conserve battery life, the Kindle designers made several deliberate interface choices in pursuit of that mantra.  One example is how the Kindle does not allow more than one application to ever run at once.  Even the web browser is limited to one page at a time.  This is strange and limiting to users who, like me, are used to multi-tab browsing and running chat and music applications in the background all the while.  It makes each page into the whole of the reader’s focus, instead of just another data blurb to ingest.

The volume of books I have on the Kindle and library of options I have access to in the Kindle Store (so long as I have internet access) is staggering.  I just finished Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime and in it, the son had become a voracious reader of philosophy, religion, and history.  I can't imagine using military transport (as mounted infantry!) with bulk of books he'd brought with him on his two tours in Iraq.
Image from Tower Books
The book itself was good to read.  I mean that while it wasn't especially well-written, the context and information about their circumstances and leadership are specifically valuable to me on my middle-eastern excursion.  The middle of the book was unflinchingly bloody; the authors wanted to tell the whole story instead of the sanitized-for-evening-news version and he was an infantryman in the thick of it in 2005 and 2006.  I am glad that I have yet to see that side of the war and hope the rest of my tour passes peaceably.  But I have a greater understanding and appreciation for my senior NCOs and officers who've been through tours like that.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A satisfied T100 owner

Photo from
If I won a contest to have any production bike waiting for me when I return from deployment, it would have to be a Green/New England White Bonneville T100 with fuel injection.  I may flirt with the Scrambler and off-road or adventure style accessories, but for my anticipated use and stylistic inclinations the T100 is hard to beat. is an impressive photoblog from a guy who uses his Bonneville as a daily driver around the island.  You can read the post on how he went from riding a Vespa to a Bonneville Here.  The blog itself makes me jealous since it's exactly the sort of riding I'd like to do on the bike I'd like to do it on.  Well, very nearly; he has a '06 or '07 all-green, carbureted T100 and I'd rather ride in the mountains with a passenger than touristy tropics.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Starship Troopers

Image from

I had been warned that Heinlein tends to ramble and lecture in his stories.  This warning was intended to dissuade me from reading or at least let me know what I'd have to "put up with" to get to the SciFi story.  However, I found those lectures/meditations far more interesting than the dated science fiction.  I could see how this work influenced later writers in the genre, but the creative details about the alien bugs and interstellar war were old hat to me.

The meditations and dialogues on military and social topics were much more engaging and probably each deserve a measured response.  I did not always agree with Heinlein; his concept that people still under contract with the services are not yet allowed to vote comes to mind.  Others were spot-on; I remember having a similar revelation about my Drill Sergeants and the process of soldier-making as Rico does about his instructor Zim.

On a mission shortly after I had started reading, a major we were escorting noticed the book.  He was a big fan and seemed impressed that a junior enlisted soldier would seek such a novel.  I was only in the first chapter or so, but he ended up talking to our Lieutenant about it for a while, specifically the concepts of citizenship and leadership.  Most people probably think of the Movie first, but it seems clear to me that the book is still widely read in the military, especially within the officer's ranks.

How can I talk about the book without some commentary on the movie?  I didn't see it until a few years after it premiered in 1997, but I thought it was cool at the time.  Much more focus on action and CGI of fighting the Bugs which fits the medium and popcorn-movie angle.  It takes the same frame of the story in a different direction with commentary on their imperialist society and concepts of propaganda with more military influence from the Vietnam war than the original space- and technology-driven fighting from '59

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lions for Lambs

Photo from
I have to thank whoever had the notion to include this film in the care package for our platoon.  It's very wordy and probably doesn't appeal to most soldiers who use action and comedy movies just to relax here.  The tone reminds me of the best episodes of the West Wing; articulate in-character discussions of important issues.  The characters are grounded with their own motivations, though; all executed with talented performances.  The film is from the same writer who wrote "The Kingdom," which I've heard unfairly called "Syriana for dumb people."  Apples to oranges, really.  The author began thinking he was writing a play, since the sets are very limited and it's almost all dialog.  I think it could succeed as a play, with some changes in presentation.

Spoilers below.
I really enjoyed it, but I have a few issues with the film at are primarily related to the Army portion.  Firstly, the two characters decided to go to infantry OCS after graduating from USC.  Reasonable with their motivations, but then we're just supposed to accept that both of them go through ranger school and are 1st Lieutenants in the same company in the 75th Ranger Regiment?  The senator repeatedly referred to the Rangers as "special forces" which is common for colloquial use, but unlikely for a character with 8 years experience in military intelligence to equivocate the two.  Lastly, I have a serious problem with the fact that one Lieutenant jumped out of the damaged Chinook after his buddy fell out.  Sure following after your best friend was all heroic-looking, but they were officers in charge of the operation. Their platoons and airlift crew had taken many causalities and would be making an emergency landing somewhere other than their intended LZ.  These platoons are now shorthanded and dealing with casualties without either of their officers and perhaps without communication with the command point.  In the DVD commentary, Redford says the Lieutenant acted on instinct to jump out, but I don't think that's good enough.  He jeopardized a lot more lives with that action and was derelict of his duty toward his men and the mission.

Overall, it makes me hope that Redford will eventually be able to follow through with the Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance project mentioned in Lila.  It wouldn't be a blockbuster, but I think he'd give the book the pacing, dignity, and articulation that Pirsig and the book deserve.

Friday, August 26, 2011

MWR & Spades

When I was without internet back at Fort Hood, I used the USO facilities on post to keep in touch with you all.  But out here, we use the MWR much more, which stands for Morale, Welfare, and Recreation.  We have a small MWR operated by our company with computers and internet phones to use.

The one plus side of this curtailed internet access is more platoon-bonding in the evenings instead of retiring to our personal computers.  The chief for of evening entertainment is playing cards, a variation of the game Spades specifically.  I'm pretty decent at it, but I haven't developed the ability to read my opponents or partner the way some guys can.  I just use the logic of the game and let the cards fall how they will.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Basketball and Blackened Voodoo Lager

Convenient, pay-as-you-go wireless internet will be shutting off at some point in the near future.  I don't know if the phone or computer banks on base will still be operating or if I'll simply be out of touch again.

I'm not good at Basketball.  As an altitude-disadvantaged youth, I actively avoided the sport and related skills.  Despite going to Pitt, I never went to a game at the Pete or owned a Zoo t-shirt.  Most of what I know about the rules and strategy comes from watching Space Jam.
Nevertheless, I've been playing a lot more basketball here than I have since middle school gym class.  This began as mandatory squad PT, just a break from cardio machines and weightlifting.  It was good to do something not army-related as a group, even though there was a wide range of skill levels and experience and almost zero penalties called.  Since then I have occasionally stepped up to make even teams in non-mandatory games, but that can be less fun with pick-up game egos and such.  Mostly, I cannot shoot or dribble, so I'm only really useful alongside people who can.  That way I can focus on finesse defense, rebounds, and passing.  I don't know if my techniques would be legal in a normal game, but it works well enough here.  My flailing arms have earned me the nickname "Octopus" on the court.

The Dixie Brewing Company is the last of the old brewers from Louisiana and they almost didn't make it through Katrina.  Their Blackened Voodoo is a Schwarzbier is one of the last beers I tried before leaving the States.  It has a bit stronger hops profile than I usually go for.  Far from a hops-demon, though; the balanced roasty malt flavors came through while staying rather light in body.  I'd like to compare it head-to-head with Shiner Black which I remember being a bit sweeter and less hoppy.  
Photo from

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jack Pine

This is the Jack Pine, a simple and scrappy-looking bike the folks at Hammarhead Industries of Philly have made out of a carbureted Triumph Scrambler. The engine internals are pretty much untouched, but suspension, carburetion, and exhaust have all been lightened and improved with performance parts.
This is how road bikes were converted for off-road use before specialty enduro and motocross bikes became commonplace.  It's cool, but a bit too light and spartan for me, not to mention the cost of those performance upgrades.
Discovered via BikeEXIF

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Heat Management & Shiner Light

I think the weather is finally turning; not that it's cool by any stretch, but I think the 130 degree days are behind us.  Some email questions urged me to go into more detail about how we manage in the heat here instead of snarky posts.  I'll be referencing the Heat Injury Prevention Guide (HIP) we were handed as well as my own observations.  The HIP guide gives recommendations for policy and behavior at different "heat categories."  Comically, the highest is category black at only >90 degrees Fahrenheit.  I think it's only below 90 here from 0200 to 0500 or so; so all references will be to heat category black.

Clothing.  The HIP recommends that we unblouse our pants from our boots, unbuckle our belts, and remove our tops when working at that temperature.  Sometimes we'll take our ACU tops off while working, and often while hanging out within our barracks area, but boots and belts stay tight and tan undershirts are always tucked in.  A full uniform must be worn while traveling around the base, so you'd have to put the top back on to go to the latrine or chow.  Fortunately, a Physical Training uniform consisting of light shorts and army t-shirt counts, so most guys are eager to change into that after 'work.'  Of course, this only accounts for what we wear inside the base.  Outside we're authorized to wear the moisture-wicking Army Combat Shirt which does help cool your torso, but those benefits don't outweigh the extra burden of a combat helmet, gloves, body armor, ammo, and maybe a radio.

Acclimatization.  The HIP says it takes 2 weeks for soldiers to get accustomed to the heat.  I haven't been a heat casualty yet and 80 degree room feels quite refreshing now, but I'm not sure I'll ever acclimate to 120+.

Drinking water.  It comes in dozen-packs of 1-liter filtered, disposable bottles from Kuwait and on a hot, active day I'll easily go through 6 plus Gatorade or juice at meals.  This is one thing I think the HIP is accurate on with their recommendation of 1 Liter per hour.  Chilled water is preferred and our camelbaks are usually loaded up with potable ice for missions.  We are officially dissuaded from soda or energy drinks like Monster before missions or long workdays because they supposedly dehydrate you faster, but in practice they are widely used.  I mostly prefer the powdered Tang mixes available at the chow hall and occasionally small energy shots if it's going to be an early or late day.

Air-conditioning.  When available, we'll be in it.  This is especially true when it comes to our barracks rooms, so long as the power is on.  The only exception to that is when it cools down to about 100 in the evenings and folks gather outside for conversation and such.  During the heat of the day, though you try to stay inside.  The gym where most folks do PT is air-conditioned, as is the chow hall.  There is a reason that the air-conditioning unit in our trucks is called the life-support system.  Those armored boxes get pretty darn hot in the sun without the engine running.

Heat Casualties.  I haven't seen anybody pass out, but there are several steps to look for before that. Profuse sweating, obviously, then confusion and weakness developing into nausea.  We try to check up on each other, but I've seen someone get disoriented and vomit just from the heat.  Supposedly, one is more susceptible to the heat after being a heat casualty in the past, but I can't say for sure.  It a kind of vague concept to diagnose.

This light lager is advertised with “Munich malt” and aimed squarely at the territory of the major macrobrews.  It's not bad for a light beer, more flavor than Coors light, but well behind it's brothers in the Shiner household.  Nothing too remarkable and I have little interest in light beer, though.  The difference in calories is negligible for someone with a normal diet and exercise regimen.  People get beer-bellies from the high-fat, high-calorie foods they tend to binge on while drinking, not the beer itself.
Photo from

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Care Packages and Warsteiner Dunkel

Our platoon got a care package from Soldiers' Angels nearly a month ago now after my squad leader applied for it. There were several large boxes containing mostly snacks but also playing cards and crossword puzzles and smallish toys. Included with the Package was a stack of postcards from a high school in Florida; probably where the snacks were donated/collected.

More recently, I personally received a care package from my Grandparents' newspaper.  They also had a collection and our unit was selected; there was more than enough for our platoon.  The 5 packages were full of books, a few movies, puzzles, lots of sunflower seeds and jerky, various trail mixes, soaps, deodorant, disposable razors.  I had the guys go through my room and take what they wanted, but there's still 3 boxes worth of stuff left.  The jerky, gum, and bodywash were most popular.

-- Edit 10/Aug --  2 more boxes have arrived from the newspaper.  Holy peanut butter cheese crackers, batman.  I'm spreading the wealth around to other platoons now.  Unfortunately, I've already sent the thank-you note back to the editor.

-- Edit 12/Aug -- Another box arrived.

I've never been on the other side of such charity/support before.  It's good to know and appreciate that real people took the time and money to collect and send us these items.  Of course we always "know" people care, but it's more tangible when your holding a postcard from a high school kid or a novel someone thought you'd enjoy.

I found it similar to the Flying Dog Tire Bite Golden Ale, but with less hops and slightly more roasty malts.  Upon reflection, it's a rather strange association (Golden Ale to Dunkel Lager), but that's what I wrote when I tried both back in February.  The Warsteiner brewery of Germany is better known for their brews with citrus fruits added.  Adding grapefruit to a lager doesn't sound very unappealing, but I'm curious nonetheless.
Photo from

Monday, August 8, 2011

Naked Goldwing: Condor

"What's this?" you say; "Honda Goldwings are fairing-encased full-dresser touring machines.  Surely there's been a mistake."  Well Goldwings are usually comfy tourers that come in conservative colors like wineberry red and metalic blue-black.  But "usually" doesn't apply to the folks that populate the online community Naked Goldwing Club.  They specialize in restorations and customizations on older Goldwings that "release the thoroughbred from the plough."
This particular machine stared out as a crusty 1000cc '76 belonging to forum member HOTT.  Behind the dirt and plastic he found this elegant cruiser waiting to be released.  Gone are the front fairing, seats, and saddlebags.  The new seat and headlight/instruments were fabricated to fit.  Everything else has been stripped down, cleaned and repainted.   The paint job is obviously custom, but takes design cues from earlier Hondas and BMWs to give it a classy retro look that befits its age.  This simple seat is probably not as comfy as the old one, but the suspension is just as smooth and the 4-cylinder boxer engine is still the king of the road.
My grandfather's '86 Goldwing is completely stock and currently does not run.  It's far too much bike for me to handle as a rider or mechanic right now (and belongs to my mom), but doing something like this would be a cool heirloom project to work on sometime down the road, either with my parents or with my own future offspring.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Questions, Google+, & Sierra Nevada Kellerweis

In the past few days I've been asking folks via email what questions they have about me/Iraq/the army/the deployment.  I still have to be doubly careful what I publish since it's a public site.  Everything published here is out there for all to see which includes "bad guys," but also members of my platoon and folks up the chain of command.  Still, it can't hurt to ask questions if you're curious about something.  Let me know in a comment or email and I'll fill you in as best I can while fulfilling my Army obligations.  Some of the questions I've already received will be turned into updates here in the next few days.

I've been on Google+ for a while now and while refreshing, I'm not too impressed.  It reminds me of the earlier days of facebook, before the latter became cluttered with ads and games and twitter updates.  The best improvements for me are a) the circles system which lets me sort people and follow semi-famous folks without a digital handshake and b) embedded gchat.  Gchat now works better in google+ than it does in gmail.  That's strange for me; leaving a gmail window open for chat had been a fixture of my browsing experience for several years.

Sierra Nevada Kellerweis
This is a well-wrought hefeweizen that comes off with a hint of Belgian sophistication.  The main flavor I got out of it is banana and it was bewildering for me at first.  It's not a harsh banana, though, and there are clove and malted wheat flavors to remind you it's still a beer.  I'm glad I got the 6-pack; trying a single bottle would not have been enough let my palate adjust and appreciate the flavors.  I haven't seen it since, but I would probably get this again especially for Sarah to try.
Photo from

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Gear Update 2 & Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale

A few words on more of the items I've brought with me.  I dunno; is this something people like to read about?
Many of you probably know, I don't like to wear watches.  I think they're a) largely unnecessary in a cell-phone age and b) a silly and potentially expensive exercise in man-jewelry/status symbols I don't care to partake in.  However, cell phones are not a viable option and wall and dashboard clocks are in short supply here.  A watch was a mandatory item for our deployment so I had to get one.  This Casio has been alright; it's not huge, the buckle band is tough and not failing like a velcro one would have.  Plastic magnifying face is unfortunately raised and staring to scratch, but otherwise going strong.  I don't think this is destined to become an heirloom "the watch grandaddy wore in the war," though.
I was never issued a liner for my snazzy silicon-impregnated nylon poncho the way everyone else has since Vietnam (it seems).  So when I finally got frustrated with using the lightweight sleeping bag I was issued, I order a military-spec one from Amazon for myself.  It's just as nice and useful an item as people have said.  Keeps my torso warm, while letting my feet air at night.  Provides insulation from my hot-running laptop. Can easily add several degrees of survivability to the 3-piece sleeping bag system we were issued and packs down really small.
Hector, like my laptop, occasionally shows his age.  So far his fits have been alleviated with normal troubleshooting and patience.  I don't use him/it much here; I don't need music to work out or sleep.  It will be quite handy when/if I get R&R.  The pink leather case still draws comments, though.

From Yorkshire’s oldest Brewery, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale is a classic and proper English brew complete with a white rose as part of their logo.  I liked it a lot, but I think by their nature brown ales don't wow the palate enough to warrant the specialty bottle/price treatment.  This is the brown ale with the highest pedigree, but if I ever stumble upon it again, I may just pass it over to try something new or stock up on something cheaper.
“Samuel Smith’s of Tadcaster has the richest, maltiest and nuttiest of brown ales”
~Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ramadan, Rivale, & Celis White

Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar, which is why it's earlier each year.   This year it falls from August 1st-29th.  The month commemorates the length of time in which the Quran was revealed to Mohammed in 610.  It is a time of fasting and religious mindfulness for Muslims.  They will abstain from eating, drinking anything other than water, or activities evoking strong emotions during the daylight hours.  After sundown, they will break their fast with a date just as Mohammed broke his fasts.  Iftar is a big meal with family that follows.

This is the Rivale from Italian custom motorcycle builder Roberto Rossi.  It began life as a 2003 Triumph Bonneville T100, but has been worked over to be intentionally scruffy, home-grown, and scrambler-like.  Highlights include the tank and mirrors from 70's Triumphs, finessed to fit the modern frame.  The seat and detachable saddle bag were custom creations for this bike as were the high-exhaust and fenders.  More details at Bike EXIF.

I'm not a fan of the intentionally-scruffy detailing, but I like the bike overall.  I'd like to see a larger speedometer and tachometer and the seat could have easily been extended a couple more inches for passengers' comfort.

Celis White
I'm reaching back into the archives for this one.  I'm not exactly sure that the beer in the link is the one I tried, since there is an awfully similar brew from Austin.  Regardless, I was not a fan. Similar to the continental hefeweizens, which is a bad thing for me.
Image from

Monday, July 25, 2011

Kawasaki W800 & Brewhouse Brown Ale

This is a stock 2011 Kawasaki W800.  It's a new model for this year, but with vintage styling that mimics the late-60s much closer than the "new-classics" from European companies like Triumph and Moto-Guzzi.  It has an air-cooled 773cc parallel-twin engine with fuel-injection and a kickstarter.  It has more chrome that I'd like, but overall it looks like a fun and functional ride. This is a very tasteful design from a company whose name I generally associate with plastic-covered dirtbikes and sportbikes.  Unfortunately for me (and many others) the W800 is not available in North American markets.

Real Ale Brewing Company is another Texas-based microbrewery.  They operate out of Blanco and have won their fair share of awards in the 15-year existence.  I got to try their Brewhouse Brown Ale as part of a sampler pack.  It's less roasty than some other brown ales but smooth.  Maybe too smooth if you're looking for a more punchy beer experience, but this seemed pleasant and reliable to me.  A good session beer; it doesn't draw too much attention to itself and can be enjoyed without fuss or pretension.
Picture from

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Temperature & Ugly Pug

Forgive me for being unsympathetic to the "golly gee it's hot" statuses and posts from folks back in the states. Yes, I know the dry-vs-humid argument, but you're not wearing boots/cargo pants/overshirt or, as occasions warrant, gloves or body armor either.

This is a Schwarzbier from the Fort Worth brewery Rahr & Sons.  They've only been around since 2004, but seem to be making a splash in the Texan craft beer community.  This wasn't bad, but I felt it was over-roasted in comparison to Shiner Black.  Unfortunate for them because most establishments that carry this will also have Shiner, so I'm afraid I wont be getting it again.  I look forward to trying their other styles, though.
Picture from

Monday, July 18, 2011

Motorcycle and Kosmos Reserve

Is alliteration necessary when starting a weekly series of themed posts?  Probably not, but it sure makes it easier to remember.  Welcome to the very first Motorcycle Monday, or maybe Monday Motorcycle.  I haven't decided yet, but you can expect pictures of stock and customized bikes I've found on the internet in my deployment shopping and research with some commentary and explanation.  Maybe some photos of equipment or events as well.

Today's bike is a modified Triumph Scrambler I found on  It has the factory-option 2-in-1 Arrow exhaust, though you can see the headers have been installed on the wrong pistons.  Custom additions include knobby Enduro tires, improved suspension and handlebars, and the halfway practical solution of a .50 caliber ammo can as a saddlebag.  The most striking feature is how they've covered the painted surfaces with Line-X polyurethane truck bed liner.  It's supremely tough and certainly unique, but a little too utilitarian for my tastes I think.  I would want more road-friendly tires and the bench seat for passengers.

The little brewery in Shiner advertises this brew as a “full-flavored, hop-jacked lager” which immediately made me wary.  I have come to associate phrases like "hop-jacked" with IPAs and strong ales that abuse my palate (and often my wallet).  This was hoppy but really not bitter.  It grew on me.  Similar to Yuengling’s Lord Chesterfield in that respect, though I haven't had ol Chesterfield since our trip to El Paso.  
Photo from Cavalier Beer