Saturday, August 25, 2012

Victory, From the Depths of the Ocean to the Heavens

This month two things happened that I thought were important, but mostly because an interest was planted long ago.  One was a success, the other was not - but both were victories.

It was just after I graduated high school, I saw a TV report on an endurance swimmer named Diana Nyad.  One of the things mentioned in the report was that her last name, Nyad, is Greek for "water nymph".  The crux of the interview was that she was going to swim from Cuba to Florida swimming inside a 20 X 40 foot steel shark cage.  As a result of the report, I followed her attempt on 13 August, keep in mind there was no internet or CNN back then, so I listened to radio reports and watched the broadcast TV news.  She swam for almost 42 hours before her doctor removed her from the water.  She had been blown off course, but had covered 76 miles in 42 hours.  That was a big accomplishment even though she was not successful.

Nyad tried it again on 10 July 2010, 32 years after her first attempt.  She was now 60 and her rationale for making the swim:  "Because I'd like to prove to the other 60-year-olds that it is never too late to start your dreams."   This time weather delayed the swim for a year, and then after 29 hours she gave up the attempt because she had was suffered an asthma attack and was in pain after being stung by boxcar jellyfish - really nasty critters.   Earlier this month, she made her third attempt just 2 days shy of 63.
The attempt was called the Xtreme Dream and the attempt is documented on Nyad's Blog, the internet is a wonderful thing.  She swam without a shark cage, using divers to keep sharks away from her but could do little about the jellyfish.  I was one of many who contributed to make the attempt possible and even though she was not successful, I think she proved what a person can do if they put their mind to it.  She is inspirational.

When I was somewhere between 8 and 10 and my Dad was somewhere between Korea and Viet Nam, he woke me up in the middle of the night to watch one of the moon landings with him.  I remember lying on the floor in front of a black and white TV watching scratchy and slightly out of focus images as the craft landed, went through some checklists, and the astronauts got out to walk around.  This was not the first landing, but my Dad thought all the Apollo landings were amazing and worth seeing.  I agreed then and now.  I have seen many of the Apollo capsules in person in museums and seeing each made me reflect on what an accomplishment of science each journey was.  My career in information technology is a direct result of the space program. 

 I have watched the space program through my entire life; I even ate space food sticks and drank Tang.  I remember where I was for the disasters and the triumphs.  I even tracked the unmanned vehicles like Voyager and Hubble.  I was saddened by the termination of the shuttle program and the fact that our national program is no longer a government project for good.  I regret never seeing a space shuttle launch in person, but I did see two of the shuttles (Columbia & Endeavor) as they were flown back to Florida on the back of a NASA 747, and another in the Smithsonian (Enterprise).   
On the 8th I felt renewed excitement as Curiosity touched down.  Being a follower of the Mars program I knew that two prior missions had ended in failure, one crashed the other just disappeared.  I was suspicious of both, and think that someone or something on Mars may have shot the craft down as they were trying to land.  How would we react if someone started landing on our planet uninvited?  Anyway, due to time differences I watched as Mission Control went nuts when they realized that the craft had indeed landed and was OK.  I felt pride.  The same pride I felt lying on that floor all those years before when I watched Apollo land.  NASA ROCKS!

Success?  Yes.  Massive victory?  Yes.  The resulting science and technology advancements that come from the Curiosity launch will result in life improvements here on Earth for years to come.  I would rather see the US launching a rocket a week in pursuit of science than all the government money that is wasted on pointless political projects and entitlements that get abused.

Unfortunately, I am just one man with one vote.  Oh yeah, I sent for my absentee ballot this week - that was totally a victory.

By the way, where is my jet pack?  I was promised by CaptainSatellite in 1964 or so that we would all have jetpacks by the year 2000.  Well?  Did I miss the day they were handing them out?  Fine.  If I can’t have a jetpack, I will take a hover bike:

 Note:  As I was doing the final proof read on this entry I got an email notifying me that Neal Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, had died.  RIP.

Photo Courtesy of NASA, because they made it happen


Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Space Between FNG and GMX

I have talked before about how transient the population is here.  You are the FNG (Frigging New Guy) for only a few days before the next FNG walks through the door.  At 2-3 months you become referred to as a veteran.    In an average two week period there are at least 3 going away lunches, dinners or parties.  Most pass without notice,  just part of the routine, but every now and then there is a big departure that causes you to look back on your entire time in theatre  This week was one of those as the Commander left  and a new one came in.  

During the flurry of activity that it takes to change Commanders, there was time to reflect and reminders as to how many other folks you have known have left to go back to the States.  I put together the retrospective slide show, and as I looked through the pictures that I was forming the presentation from, I started to notice how many people in them that were now gone.  A lot of faces and names that have faded away over the months since they left.  I also started to notice how many folks in the pictures were still here and I began to calculate when they would leave and who would still be here when I left.  

At the actual ceremony today, during a low point, I did something similar to what many people do at a funeral - I tried to figure my return date from the today's date.  As I looked around the room, I could almost see in the faces of the gathered who was doing the same.  I also looked at the latest FNG and saw in their eyes confusion and a bit of jet lag.  They will get to this point in the near future, when they are no longer new but a veteran looking forward to being a GMX..

A high point today was the playing of the National Anthem.  I started thinking about all the hangers, warehouses and fields were I have stood either in uniform or with folks in uniform  and heard that play.  I have heard it played around the world (Australia, Germany, Japan, Italy, Turkey, and Guam) and from coast to coast in the US and it never fails to give me chills while affirming my choice of employer.   

Now that the melancholy is over:

Somethin' Funny: Falkor was messing with the one of the corners of the couch where the back and bottom cushions intersect with the arm.  He stuck his nose into the corner a couple of times,  then stuck his head in and couldn’t get it out.  His backend was nothing but flying paws as he tried to back out but couldn't.  When I finished laughing, I went and picked up the back cushion to release him.  He hopped down, shook himself off, and then turned and barked out the couch a few times before wandering off.

Some Learnin':  I came across an article on Kuwaitiful that guided me to a really interesting video about Kuwait's past.  I had never heard much of this info before and looking at the old footage was interesting.  It is only 10 minutes long and well worth a look.

Somethin' Really Kewl:  I was aware that they participated in Falconry over here, but I have yet to see it up close and personal. Another of the local blogs that I regularly read (2:48AM)  posted a link to this YouTube video that was shot in Abu Dhabi. The latter half of the video features some footage that was shot from a camera mounted atop a Falcon's head.  A very unique perspective. 

Sometimes nature is so much cooler than CGI could ever be.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

آسف المتأنق، أنا لا أتكلم العربية (Sorry Dude, I Don't Speak Arabic)

I've been Kuwait now just a little under 5 1/2 months. When I had been in Germany about the same time I spoke and understood a lot of native-language. Granted, German was my first language and during the course of my life I've spent 13 years there; so it would be expected that I would pick it up rather quickly. Not so with Arabic.

There are a lot of differences between the two languages that have prevented me from learning more than a few cursory phrases, but when I thought about it the primary reason why I have learned so little Arabic is the fact that almost all of the people that I deal with speak English fluently and given a choice of another language would probably speak Hindi or Tagalog. Because of my neighborhood strolls with Falkor, I have learned many phrases in Hindi as well as the gestures that go along with them -- this owing to the fact that I live in a primarily Indian neighborhood.

Of the Kuwaitis that I have met gotten to know, most have spent long periods of time in the United States and as a result speak English at a very high level – – by this I mean their conversational skills include colloquialisms and slang which you would only pick up by actually being there. As a result except for greetings and farewells our discussions are primarily in English.

One advantage that I always had when traveling in Europe through France, Italy, Germany, and the former Eastern Bloc was that the alphabet used was the same as in English. In other words I could read a word and try to break it down to its base origin and figure out what was being said -- big note of thanks to Charlotte Naffin my high school Latin teacher. In Arabic that is not possible.

Arabic letters look nothing like their English counterparts, although some are close to appearing the same they have different sounds and work differently. Additionally, Arabic is written right to left versus my normal mode of reading which is left to right. So deciphering it is more like figuring out an encrypted piece of text than reading and therefore it makes figuring words out much more difficult. Although, in order to be functional I do know all of the numeric symbols used so that I can read prices and money. 

Looking back at the 20+ years of my life that I've spent living outside of the United States, I can honestly say that I feel more separated here from the native populace than I have living anywhere else. Part of that is because most of the people I deal with are the ex-pats who make day-to-day life work in Kuwait. I suppose if I dealt with a higher level of professional level people or if I worked in the oil industry or some other international trade that might be very different.  But it is what it is.

Ramadan continues and every day Saad tries to teach the office a little more of the traditions of the holy month. It is interesting because in many ways they relate to the holidays that I've celebrated for my entire life, to include Halloween. There is a night or two where children put on costumes and go out in search of gifts of candy. Granted, the costumes are not scary or of superheroes – – but other than that the activity is very similar. It is one of those things that unless you lived in a Muslim community you would never hear about.

Earlier this week my air-conditioning failed. It quit, as near as I can tell, at about 1 AM and it was about 2 PM the next day before was repaired. It was not pleasant. While living in Germany, I never had air-conditioning but there the temperature only exceeded 100° about one week out of the year -- so, it was survivable. On the day that my AC failed the temperature was over 120° and my apartment promptly heated up to over 100° and stayed there until the unit was repaired. I have no idea how people survive year without some form of cooling.

That's my take on life, until next week.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Simple Lesson

This is a tennis ball....

This is a tennis ball when you've been a Good Boy!



Sunday, August 5, 2012

Did You Hear the One About the Welshman, the Brit and the Yank ?

Seven items for the seventh day:

A herd of camels has taken up residence near the highway that goes towards the base.  A unique morning view but it has added to the danger of the morning drive because the fence between the camels and the highway has significant gaps, and the camels tend to wander.  The first week was tragic as a car and camel collided and the camel lost in a big way - of course, the car was far worse than any animal strike I had seen before (including a moose strike).  Surprised to find out later that everyone in the car survived.  There now a few boys who are roaming around amongst the herd to control the wandering camels. 

I miss riding my Valkyrie, and given the dry climate in Kuwait, there are few people riding motorcycles.  Most of the local delivery people here ride Mopeds, so I was surprised when I saw a Honda 90 parked by the neighborhood pizza place when I was out walking with Falkor.    The delivery man came out when he noticed me looking at the bike, and after a quick discussion he offered to let me take the bike for a spin;  I thanked him and told him I would be back another time to take him up on his offer.  Next time I will leave Falkor at home and bring my helmet and gloves.  Of course, I brought them with me.  

A Welshman, a Brit and a Yank were sitting by the pool.....  What?  No punch line,  it happened Thursday night about 11PM.  Gave me a chance to meet a few of my neighbors and share of stories of how each of us ended up in Kuwait.  I did get into an in depth discussion about motorcycles with the Welshman who offered to go riding with me when the weather cools off.

Strangest  event of the evening was when the Welshman complained of the cold and even showed the goose bumps on his arm.  The Yank checked and the temperature had indeed fallen from 123° to 115°.  Yeah,  cold -- gonna snow any minute.

Falkor has calmed down and feeling secure in his new home.  Given that he  was a rescue dog this is a big accomplishment.  He doesn't get upset when I leave and entertains himself nondestructively during the day.  

I sometimes leave the TV on for him while I am gone for variety.  Falkor likes Sponge Bob, just like MacBeth - maybe it is a dog thing.  He also gets excited when the Dora the Explorer theme starts playing;  might be the music,  might be that he likes girls with bangs.  Of course, he still hangs out with Mr. Bill.  His hair is growing out and he is looking more like the Maltese he is - he might be Kuwaiti born but he is quickly getting Americanized.

Ramadan continues, a few more weeks yet to go.  Occasionally a report like this appear in the Kuwait Times:

Two policemen were on a routine patrol when they spotted a man driving while smoking, so they stopped him. The man came out of his car and claimed the smoke they saw was "bukhoor" to change the smell of his car.  One of the policemen went to the car and observed that there was cigarette smoke, as a cigarette was found on the floor after burning part of the seat. The man was arrested and charged at Sulaibikhat police station.

When I was in Europe, I would occasionally listen to Voice of America on the radio (it used to be called Radio Free Europe).  A few weeks ago I found the VOA station here and listen to it from time to time.  They play American music, offer English lessons and teach American History - BTW I thought I knew a lot of American History but I am learning a few new things for example the Nonintercourse Act - not what you think.

It was the Cold War when I listened before and the agenda was pro-American, presenting an alternative view to what the Communist state run stations gave.  It has changed but not really for the better.  The reporting has shifted and now includes discussions of internal US political party squabbles, tilting towards the party in power.  Party differences are real, beneficial, and totally American but that friction is also an internal discussion.  In my opinion, what is being done now may make it more difficult when the other party is in power and has to deal with the countries where this skewed viewpoint has been  broadcast.  VOA is funded with taxpayer dollars so it should be neutral (and I mean that for either side).  Just one man's opinion.

Finally, the Earth moved on Thursday morning.  It was a 4.2 on the Richter Scale, which is not a bad jolt.  I didn’t feel it myself but I was already out in the desert at work when it happened.  When I first got here,  I mused over the what the ground under Kuwait must look like since they have sucked so much oil out of there.  With all those open spaces there now,  it is a wonder the country doesn’t sink.  Maybe it is.