Monday, June 30, 2008

Iraq - Day 15

It's another dusty day here in Baghdad.  How dusty?  I'm glad you asked.  Here's a thousand words on the subject:


'nuff said.

Today has been shopping and kicking ass day.

I finally caught a ride with a couple guys that were going to the big PX over at Camp Liberty.  I've been wanting to get some more presents for the folks back home.  Adjacent to the PX is a bazaar where they have a better brand of junk than the mall at Camp Slayer.  I didn't find anything I liked there so I bought the quality goods at the real official store.  I got what I need. but I'm not going to spoil the surprise by listing the goods here.

As soon as we got back I got news that a server was down and I was to go help out.  "It's probably a SharePoint issue" they said.  It sounds an awful lot like an old Asian dude yelling "You got full house, you can't lose!" (props to BadBlood) on the turn only to have the one outer hit your opponent on the river.  Sure enough, I take a look at the SQL Server and it is dog slow even trying to connect to the server locally.  I found that the memory is horribly configured.  I made the adjustment necessary and everything started working much better.  I love it when that happens. (So I lost the hand but won the session)  Like I said in an earlier post, that is what I love about the job.  I wish I could make it happen every day.

Tonight is the quarterly Camp Victory Poker Championship.  I have 4 points and it looks like 5 were needed to assure a seat.  I shouldn't have any trouble getting in.  I just have to get there by 8.  I hope to have a late update tonight -  late tonight.

Late Poker Update:  (8:25) Well, I didn't waste any time hanging around only to finish out of the money.  Of the losers, I was the best, meaning I was first out.  A quick recap goes 1) I flop top pair, I bet, call, turn, I bet, call, river, I bet, call, I got out kicked.  Two hands later, exact same thing with the exact same player.  Later, this same guy made the final check on the river with the 2nd nut straight!?!?!? I won one hand with 2nd pair when 1 guy called my overbet with A high (sooted no less). (This was really terrible poker).  Final my AA got out flopped by 77.  He got got a set, I got to go to the hooch.  I'd sure love to play those guys for money.

It was still a good day.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Iraq - Day 14

Today started out with a trip back over to the other side of the base to finish the installation that we started yesterday.  Every thing went smoothly.  We get SQL configured and shrunk the log file that had grown to 800 GB (GB is not a typo).  I got it down to 50 mb (not a typo either) and fixed it so that it would not happen again.  The guys were so thankful, they offered to let us use their pool or laundry.  Working 12 hours a day, I'm not sure when that would happen, if ever, but it was thoughtful.

I have since learned a bit more about where I was and some things that have happened there, and it is not at all funny.  That was one of Saddam's favorite prison, torture and execution sites.  I looked up a little about the place on the web.  Here is a sample:

"Ahmad was Uday's chief executioner. Last week, as Iraqis celebrated the death of his former boss and his equally savage younger brother Qusay, he nervously revealed a hideous story. His instructions that day in 1999 were to arrest the two 19-year-olds on the campus of Baghdad's Academy of Fine Arts and deliver them at Radwaniyah. On arrival at the sprawling compound, he was directed to a farm where he found a large cage. Inside, two lions waited. They belonged to Uday. Guards took the two young men from the car and opened the cage door. One of the victims collapsed in terror as they were dragged, screaming and shouting, to meet their fate. Ahmad watched as the students frantically looked for a way of escape. There was none. The lions pounced. 'I saw the head of the first student literally come off his body with the first bite and then had to stand and watch the animals devour the two young men. By the time they were finished there was little left but for the bones and bits and pieces of unwanted flesh,' he recalled last week."
-- Sunday Times, London, July 27, 2003

The cages and cells are still there.  There are no pictures.  They are not allowed and wouldn't want them anyway.

One a happier note, we went from there back to tour Camp Slayer.  One stop that was pretty awesome was the Victory Over America Palace.  Here's a picture:


I'll put together a final picture dump in the next few days.  For now, I'm starting to think about my final assignments and the trip home.  Five days to go.  Six until I'm home, assuming all goes to plan.

Late poker update: I IM'ed into the Falstaff home game tonight.  Took a couple of hands down.  Got crap cards, but did hit one straight in about 10 hands.  I think I made Falstaff a small profit.  That shaves off a bit of my debt from the blogger game from 3 weeks ago. :)  I really appreciate them letting me slow the game down.  They are a good bunch.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Iraq - Day 13

I got to take a tour of the other side of camp today.  They have a "mall" over at Camp Slayer where the local merchants set up shop on Saturday and Sunday.  It was interesting to say the least.  Since I didn't need a $20 Rolax :) watch, or any Cuban cigars, I settled for something a bit more appropriate.  I'm not going to say what it is because it is a present for some of the folks who read this blog.  I can be sure that the don't already have one.

Here I am at the entrance to the camp:


Down this way were two of Sadam's palaces, some blown up tanks and the Mall.  No pictures of the mall allowed.

In the afternoon, I got an emergency call to help install a SQL server for a down SharePoint portal.  It just so happened that the server was in one of Saddam Hussain's palaces.  The pad was pretty cool with marble walls and heavy wood doors all over the place.  No pictures allowed here either.  Something that would surprise many folks who know me - I have not been fooling around breaking the rules.  These folks are serious and you do what they say.  They say it nicely, but you'd better listen.  I do.

The weather turned hot today.  How hot was it?  I'm glad you asked.  As I came out of one of the vision boxes (porta-potty), I hit the hand sanitizer dispenser.  That sanitizer had been sitting there in the sun just waiting for me.  It was so hot I think the burn will leave a scar.  That might be stretching the facts a little, but it sure felt like it was burning through to the other side of my hand.

It has also turned dusty as hell.  The mosque from earlier posts all but disappeared this afternoon.  So this is a dust storm.  It's not real windy, though there is a good steady breeze.  The air is hot, so the breeze actually makes it feel hotter.  It looks like orange fog, but it's not cold.  This can be a really strange place.


I have plans to play poker at Falstaff's tomorrow afternoon.  I'll let you know how, and how I do in the next post.  More pictures coming soon, too.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Iraq - The Hooch

Pictures of my Iraq residence.

Welcome to Dodge City North, J-19, Room EF (I'm in bed E and Dave has F).  The broom taped to the AC unit is the base of our wi-fi antenna.



This is pretty much all of my space, complete with laptop, internet hook (the router hanging by its power cord) up and paperback.



My nightstand (it's a chair).   The baby wipes are very useful.  Also note the waterbottle and my 5th place victory chip.



How to get to the building.  Now I feel safe.



Between the buildings:



A pack of water bottles.  Thank God these are pretty much everywhere.


Iraq - Day 12

For the first time since my arrival, nature called for some serious business while I was at the office.  Near my bunk, the latrine trailers are air conditioned and okay enough to use.  At work, we have the afore mentioned vision boxes replete with said dangers. 

Even so, its it better to give nature it's due than to risk the complications that can come from fighting the system.  So I marched out through the heat, grabbed a handle next to a green indicator dial and swung the door to the side.  Imagine the horror when I see that the cleaning crew has just left and the inside of the facility is now sopping wet from floor to ceiling.  Only the paper avoided the wrath of the cleaners sanitary blast.  Of course the lid was up and the seat was soaked.  Adios, dry butt seal.  As you probably already figured, everything came out fine in the end.

Otherwise, things here are slow and calm.  The air has been clear and the temperature has been off the charts.  They tell me it will get hotter for the next month or two.  Wow.  Sorry I can't stick around for that one.  I did pass the one week to go mark today.  I'm going to bear down and push toward a big finish.  I also need to get a ride to the PX for some shopping before I go.  Last thing to remember is to take more pictures.  I'll have another photo dump shortly.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Iraq - Day 11

So my bicycle is dead.  I can live with that.  Yea, right.    I think I may be able to bring her back to life.  The problem with the bike is that too many spokes on the rear wheel have broken.  It doesn't look broken, but close inspection reveals the problem.  It occurred to me this morning that I can probably fix it if I just get some more spokes or maybe move the remaining good spokes around to even out the load.  Luckily, I bought a new leatherman tool before I left the States.  All I need is another pair of pliers, and I may be back in business.  If I can located an abandoned bike with the right size wheel, I'll be golden.  So I retrieved the bike from the DFAC this morning on my way back from breakfast.  We'll see what I can find and exactly how much effort I want to put into this.

In other news, it is hot.  The dust has died down for the last several days.  It helps.

I really appreciate the comments and emails.  Even though I'm about on the other side of the world, it is nice to hear from you and to keep up with what is going on at home.  I keep getting comments like 'be safe' and 'keep your head down'.  I appreciate your concern and I plan to practice safety at all times.  Truth is, I have not seen or heard any threat since I've been here.  I don't expect to see or hear any and I'll fly out in about a week as long as the weather and the airlines cooperate.

The big happening today was eating a Whopper.  Yep, we went to the Burger King on base.  I'm pretty sure it was the first catsup and mayo that I've had in 2 weeks.  It tasted just like they do back home.

No big stories or issues today.  I'm going to hate missing poker this weekend, but I'll be home a week later.  Maybe there will be a Sunday game next week.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Iraq - Day 10

I'm officially past the half-way point of this trip.  Last night ran late, but we did what we needed to do without incident.  The office provided pizza and soda.  That was a nice change of pace.  We didn't start until 2230 (10:30 pm for you civees) and didn't finish until 0130.  It is still a bit creepy biking it from the hooch to the office.  It would be creepier if I was walking.

One of the things I'm having to watch is my food intake.  It is real easy to eat too much.  The DFAC (dining hall) is cafeteria style, but there are many line and types of food and drink.  The food is good and they serve big portions.  Since I'm working 12 hours a day and sleeping 8 or so (and it's hot as hell out there), I'm not working out so I've got to watch it.

I had a big meeting with the colonel who is in charge of this office.  He started the meeting by telling me that some of their interaction with consultants have been less than productive.  great.  But I hit him with the slide show and the doc and he was pleased and ready to double the size of his portal at the end of the meeting.  One of his junior officers pulled me aside to thank me.  I love that part of the job. 

Now I've got to be careful of what I say and finish the last 9 days strong so that I can call this a successful trip.  Those who know me well know that I'm far from being out of the woods on that score.

I love looking at the cool helicopters flying over and the HMMWVs (Humvees), Guardians, and Cougars (Armored Vehicles) driving by.  I'd love to have a Guardian to drive to work.  I just wonder if I would quit starring at them if I  here longer.  I doubt it.  I still want one of those cool rifles, too.

Late update:  My bicycle broke tonight.  This is going to suck having to walk everywhere.  I think I'm ready to come home now.  How many more days?  Dang it.

Ride Bitch

Cancer sucks.  It hit my family this past year, hard.  Falstaff is doing something about it and could use your support.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Midway Photo Dump

Here are a few more pic that I've snapped around Camp Victory.

My roommate Dave:

Vision Boxes:

Bill (right) and Monty who have been both fun to be around and patient with my limitations:

Dried Baby Ears are a delicacy here in Iraq (or maybe they are apricots): 100_0189

Iraq - Day 10 Army Poker

10 days already.  Cool.  Just a little dust in the air today.

Last night I played my first poker ever in Asia.  The recreation hall, called and MWR, hosted a free no limit hold em tournament.  It was well organized, though not well played.  Splashing the pot was mandatory, I think.  String bets were also encouraged.  I saw several times where a player would put out some chips, put out more chips, go all in and then pull some chips back for his final bet.  Andres the Bold would have been carried out in a straight jacket.

Another local custom was racing off who would get moved to another table.  Usually you pick the player who is in the same seat, relative to the button, as the seat he is taking.  Not here.  When someone had to go, the dealer would give everyone a single card face up.  The highest card (or first highest in case of a tie) would move.  I got moved one time.  My first two hands at the new table were knock out hands for someone else.  I quickly became the tourney chip leader with 3 tables to go.  I think I won one more hand the whole tourney.

It was fun.  I took 5th place (out of about 50) and may be able to enter the 12 week championship next Monday.  I got a prize chip for my efforts.

One note about this picture.  Did you notice the guy on the far side of the table wearing his gun?  That black pipe in the lower left is an M-16.  That was cool.

Other than that, work continues on.  Some of the guys are getting ready to go on vacation.  They must be ecstatic to get out of here for a while.  Most have families and must miss them terribly.  I know I miss Dr. K that much, and I've only been gone a week and a half.  I'll soon have a big presentation and may move to another office, but I know my way around now, so learning the new names will be the biggest challenge.

Update: Scratch that.  There is a data corruption issue that I've been pulled into.  I guess I'm here for that, too.  

10 down, 11 to go.  I sure could use a beer.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Iraq - Day 9 Saddam's Revenge

Same disclaimer as yesterday.  Do not read while eating or operating heavy equipment.

Americans in any foreign country have to worry about food and water borne illness.  In Mexico they have Motezuma's Revenge.  In Iraq, the bane of the visitor is Saddam's Revenge.  The source of the condition, like the Nile, is shrouded in mystery, but the effects are unmistakable.

It starts with a rumbling in the gut that could easily feel like the initial gestation of an Alien.  That is the alarm that tells the victim that he (or she) has approximately 2 minutes before all hell breaks loose. 

Hell, in this case is no exaggeration.  Neither is breaking loose.  Phase two is aptly named, as your body attempt to expel all foreign (and some domestic) matter from the body.  Like rain that falls in the mountains, matter in said body discovers on which side of the great divide it currently rests and rushes to the nearest exit. 

Ice can turn to liquid under the right circumstances and apparently so can food.  This liquid forces itself from the body with great force to the amazement of the host.  Early man (pre-Iraq invasion) thought that excretions from the body could only happen en mass from one orifice at a time.  Modern man knows differently.  This is where the vision box urinal comes into play.  Since both ends are now in play at the same time, it is a fortunate coincidence that the urinal thingy in modern porta-john is located at the perfect height and distance for simultaneous use with it's larger cousin.

So far as is known, Saddam's Revenge is 100% survivable.  The greatest danger occurs in the rare instance where Saddam's Revenge is combined with loss of dry butt seal.  The danger is obvious.  I'll have to leave the result of the 360 degree dual projectile spewage to your own gruesome imaginations.

I'll be back with more pleasant thoughts tomorrow.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Iraq - Day 8 Dry Monkey Butt Seals

This is going to get a little gross, but it is too good not to publish. Continue at your own risk (you've been warned).

One of the constants about Baghdad this time of year is the heat. The mornings start out at 85+ and the temperature shoots up from there. It is usually not so bad as just about every building is air conditioned. The one hot spot that must eventually be endured is the porta-jon. This plastic palace is also known as the vision box as heat and aroma will cause most to see visions on all but the shortest stays.

The heat in the box is bad, but the occupant is not the only thing getting cooked. The aroma can actually peal two layers of dead skin from your face before you even get comfortable. If you can go standing up, you've got a chance to avoid permanent damage. The little urinal box on the side is your best friend for those forty-five seconds.

The real dangers come when the seat must be employed. The though of spending more than a couple minutes in potty hell is bad enough. The unknown dangers can trip up all but the toughest marines.

The first danger involves losing your "dry butt seal". This is the seal your cheeks make with the seat when you first make contact. It may burn like an egg on a grille, but a good seal is absolutely necessary. As your business progresses, so does the heat. You may start to sweat on your face and down your torso. If the sweat reaches your seal and manages to get between you and the seat, you've lost your dry butt seal and all friction that was keeping you in a reasonable working position. One wrong move could project you out the door and half-way across the parking lot. Wet butt cheek on porta-potty plastic has lubrication properties that science is just now beginning to probe.

Should you manage to stay on the throne long enough to complete your mission, you will leave with a case of Monkey Butt like you've never known (never known Monkey Butt? Read on). As I've written before in this space, dust is everywhere in Baghdad. It is on your floor, in your clothes, and in your bed. Toilet seat are no exception. Placing your back side on a dusty surface and mix in the correct amount of moisture, then applying pressure will bind the resulting concoction to said parts like a prison tattoo. This is not a major problem most of the time. You pants will cover the damage. Trying to find a time in the showers when no one else is there is the real problem. A lot of soap and water is the only cure, but like other STDs that you can catch from the seat, you don't want to advertise what you've got.

Those have been the biggest dangers so far. Personally, I've been able to visit the toilets with the AC most of the time. I hope knowing the dangers will keep others safe. Don't be a victim!

Next time we will learn about Saddam's revenge and the other use for the vision box urinal thingy. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

More Iraq Photos

Like i said, I took a quick tour around Camp Victory to get some pictures, so here they are:

First up is my Iraqi can of Coke.  Notice the pull tab and the funky writing.

Next is the Bat House. It really is a house for bats, a natural way to control bugs. This house is about 200 yards from my bunk.
I know you are dying to get a peak at my pimpin' ride, so here it is
They have the cool little forts all around the camp. I haven't had time to play in one yet.
Here is a shot of (formerly Saddam's) Al-Faw Palace that is at the center of Camp Victory.
Finally, here is a shot of the mosque near my office on a clear day.

Iraq - Day 7

I'm now through one-third of this trip.  So far, I'm glad I came but I'll be gladder when it is over.

There was a little too much excitement today when I managed a major bone-head move.  I lost my wallet.  That is the first time I've lost it since 1996.  That was the day I was going to Seattle for my first SQL Server job interview.  My then girlfriend T brought it to me in the terminal explaining that it was a gesture of true love.

Anyway, today I went for a little excursion before work to take a few pictures.  I put my wallet in the front pocket of my new pants and headed out on my bike.  The pockets on these pants are very shallow.  The wallet fell out and spilled most of it contents as soon as I hit the street.  The only reason I know that much is because Staff Sergeant Jiggetts found it,, gathered up the contents and emailed me about what he had found.  I wish he had taken some of the money as the law will not allow me to reward him or even treat him for his honesty.  I did write to his commander about the actions of his top notch soldier.  I've written it before, but our men and women of the armed forces are our best.  They continue to amaze me.

So I got the wallet back, got some good shots that I will post shortly, and had an excellent calsone for lunch.  Now I'm back at the grindstone (except for writing up this post).

Late Note: On the ride back to the bunk tonight, i saw my first Jackal.  At first, all I saw were the two eyes glowing blue.  Then it moved off of the road and I got a good look at the creature.  I was a cross between a dog and fox with some wolf thrown in for size.  It didn't want to see me nearly as much as I wanted to see it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Iraq - Day 6

Except for the heat, dust, guys and girls with guns, and the occasional controlled explosions, this place is just like any other customer trip.  Oh yea, the room service really sucks here.

I can't believe it was just 2 weeks ago that I was in Vegas last.  The close proximity of the visits has me thinking about the similarities and differences between Iraq and Vegas.  Let's see if I can build a top 9 list on the subject.  First the similarities:

  1. It is as hot and dry as the surface of the sun
  2. The buffets aren't bad
  3. If you stray into the wrong area you will likely get shot or worse
  4. Did I mention that it is HOT!

and some differences, in camp, they have

  1. No Sex
  2. No Drugs
  3. Very little Rock n Roll
  4. No lights at night
  5. No color on anything
  6. And worst of all, no Poker.

That was 10.  Close enough.

I'm not sure how this one fits in, but I swear, the hand sanitizer outside of the porta-johns smells just like the inside of the Venetian Casino.  Now if they could get the porta-johns to smell like that.

Actually, I found out today that there is a free hold' em tourney not far from my room on Monday night.  I'll have to take a run at that if I have time.

Speaking of running, I'm going to try to take a run tomorrow morning.  I think it has been about 3 weeks since I did any more exercise than carrying a bag through an airport.

lastly, I got some wheels.  Not exactly what I'm used to in the States, but it's better than walking.  I got a bicycle from on of my departing colleagues.  It came with a helmet.  I just had to put my light on the helmet and move the bike's light to the back and I was off.  Maybe I will see more of the camp now.

I'll get more pictures up soon.  Roger that.  Over and out.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Some Iraq Photos

The mosque is only about 400 yards away.  it is my gauge on how bad the dust is:

This is my workplace for these three weeks. Notice the sandbags and the high wall with barbed wire at the top. That is Baghdad on the other side, but it's just the outskirts.
This is a sample of the high "t" walls that are everywhere on base:
More pictures to come soon.

Iraq - Day 5 Don't Miss this Post

Wow, is it day 5 already.  I guess this trip is going by quick enough.  Actually, I feel like I have finally arrived now that I have a logon to one of the two systems and I have my stuff.  Today is also the first non-dust storm day I've seen. 

It was great fun last night putting my stuff away, making my bed with MY sheets, putting on some decent sandals, taking MY medications, etc, etc, etc.  Just brushing my hair for the first time in almost a week was a pleasure.

That struggle made me think about the things that I have at home that I don't have here and what I miss.  I'm still just getting started here, but I've drawn some interesting conclusions.

I don't miss TV.  I would like to have seen Tiger win the US Open, but I don't feel like I missed a lot.  I can still get my news from the internet like Drudge, MSNBC and the Observer web sites.  I don't miss driving.  Driving around town can be a major pain even without the high gas prices.  I like to walk to work in the morning and I haven't had to walk back after work as yet.  I do miss my shower every morning.  The showers here would suck if they all worked as there are supposed to, but they don't.  Some leak out the sides. Some don't stay pointed in the right direction.  Some stalls don't have shelves for soap and shampoo.  I like having time to read in the evenings.  I could make time when I'm home, but I'm too easily distracted.  Maybe I can keep doing that when I return.  I don't miss the rain, but I'm not fond of all the dust that is on everything here, so I guess you could say that I miss clean things.  Of course, I miss my wife like you wouldn't believe.

It is now about 3pm Baghdad time.  Over the past 3 days at this time of day, I've been fighting a major need to sleep.  The urge would get so bad that I would nearly fall asleep while on my feet.  You know that feeling when you jerk back awake from the edge of sleep.  That's where my afternoons have been.  But not today.  Yes, I've adjusted to the time difference and I do have my own stuff which lowers stress, but I don't think those things are making the difference.  I think the Welbutran that I take makes the difference.  I started taking it at my doctor's suggestion and, man, does it rock.  I don't tilt at poker (much anyway) and I'm much more alert and generally feel better.  Is that because I'm clinically depressed?  I don't care.  It looks like I'll be taking this stuff as long as I want to be a productive member of society (another 2 weeks or so).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Iraq - Day 4 - Turning the Corner

Progress is being made.  The first step was to stop the bleeding. 

There were no unpleasant surprises yesterday.  I got down to work and we fixed a corruption problem in one database.  The brass was very surprised.  It seems that they had another consultant here a few weeks ago that told them that the cleaning procedure would require down time on the whole server.  That was not the case and we were able to fix the problem without bouncing the server.  Sweet.  I do love getting off to a good start.  First impressions and all that jazz.

I managed to take a couple of pictures, but when I tried to post them along with the rest of yesterday's post, Windows Live Writer kept timing out.  Once I removed the pictures the post went through fine.  I was too tired to post the pics to flickr.  I'll get that done and get the pictures on this site tonight or tomorrow night.

Today I should turn the corner.  I should get my network access that will allow me to get access to the databases I'm supposed to be working on as well as email access.  I'll be a part of the world again.

The big event (or big disappointment depending on what happens) will be tonight when my luggage does or does not come in from Kuwait.  I'll probably know by the time I post this to the blog.  I'm just going to freak if I don't get my stuff.  I don't think I can take being a third class citizen much longer.

Note: The bags did arrive.  Relief!

My main contact on this job is leaving the country on Friday.  Today he gave me access to his bicycle.  As soon as I get access to my bags or other reflective clothing I will have transportation as well.

So the bottom line is that the stress is down, attitude is holding steady to improving, comfort is improving.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Iraq - Day 3

Weather forecast in Baghdad: Windy, dusty, highs in the 90s near 100.  Yuck.  The sun looked quite odd today.  It was not the usual bright yellow that is too bright to look at for more than a second.  It looked more like a dim silver dollar than the sun.  A colleague told me that I would see something bazaar just about every day.  That qualifies.

There is a stark lack of color here in camp.  There is color other than brown.  There are the cars and signs and some plants, but they are all muted with dust seemingly covering everything.

I'm getting my bearings slowly but surely.  On day 2, I can now find my way to work, to the toilet, to the shower, and to the DiFac (which is short for Dining Facility).  I have a pretty good idea how to get to the nearby PX (store) and fast food restaurants.  In case you are interested, the choices are Green Bean (like Starbucks), Pizza Hut, Subway, and one or two others.  The food in the DiFacs is good, but I'm sure that I'll be looking for a change of pace before long.

I keep hearing shooting in the distance.  I'm almost certain that this is the local firing range.  No one in the office has commented on it as yet.  They have picked up on my nick-name are are calling me Special K and not just one-on-one, but in front of the officers in this section.  I think it is meant as a compliment.  I'm taking it that way until proven different.

I'm still hoping to get my luggage tomorrow night.  There are so many things in there that I really need.  Without them I am reduced to begging for rides, escorts, and some supplies.  We work 12 hours a day, so that has not given me any time to go back to the PX to try to pick some things up.  I would really love to have a comb right now.  I'm not really sure what the effect of being without my medications for 4 days is going to be.  I'll be sure not to let it effect me too much before I take action.  I'm just hoping to get through to tomorrow night.   If the bags don't show up then, I'm not sure what I'll have to do.

I knew coming in that there would be difficulties and I'm dealing with them so far.  I got into this because I felt it was the right thing to do.  The idea of the adventure and testing myself (which I really haven't done in a while) were also factors.  Of course, I knew that I would have to do it all with a good attitude (something that does not come naturally to me).  I just hate that I'm having to remind myself of these things so often in the first 36 hours.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Initial Impressions of Iraq

This place smells and tastes like dirt. That is probably because there is dirt in the air. It wasn't bad first thing in the morning. By lunch time, visibility was down to a half mile or less. This is not a full blown sand storm. It is just a windy day in Iraq.

The area that I'm working in has lakes and canals, but the plant life only grows within 5 feet of the water in most places. If you were 10 feet away with your back to the water, you would think there was no water for miles.

Rabbits, dogs and jackals roam the area at night. I can't wait to see my first jackal.

The bunks are placed in trailers like you would see on a construction site. Each trailer has three units and each unit can hold 2 people. Each group of 4 trailers is surrounded by huge concrete walls that stand about 20 feet high. Imagine those portable concrete highway dividers at the same width and depth by 5 times higher.

The also have a bat house at the end of my row. It is about a quarter mile from my place. They encourage real bats to live there and to take care of the insects.

It is about 7:45 pm here and I'm having trouble keeping my eyes open. I felt good this morning, but the jet lag is catching up with me. I'm going to get some sleep now.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

In Iraq

I made it to the camp. Everything is dusty. I mean really dusty.

That was one long flight. My bags didn't make the plane from Kuwait to Baghdad so I will be without most of my supplies until the next flight on Wednesday. That is going to make getting started just a little bit tougher. We went to the PX to get me the basics and will try to make some phone calls tomorrow to see what can be done.

I've got to get some sleep on something that is not moving. I'll add some details tomorrow. Work starts early in the morning.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What is the quickest way to kill a circus?

Man am I living close to the edge.  No, I'm not talking about Iraq yet.  I'm just talking about having a lot of things all going on at once.  I'm currently trying to juggle getting ready to go to the desert for 3 weeks, plan a high school reunion, dog-sit for my sister-in-law (actually, Dr. K is going most of the work there but this is my rant), buying new glasses (progressive = progressively worse), and contract house work, all while being a good enough husband.

I just watched a news report on the flooding in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  The flooding is horrible.  I hate it for all the people who will have to struggle through this mess, but that is not why I watched it.  The reporter on the ground in CR is the "little" brother to a good friend of mine from my high school days.  Bob was about 7 when I got to know the family.  He is still stuck at that age in my mind.  I have good memories of teaching this young man to hit a baseball.  I think he hit a home run in the very next game.  Now look at him: 

Actually, I would like for you to at least click on the link.  Maybe a little extra traffic will open some doors for him.  He was a great kid and I'm sure he is a fine man today.  Give him 30 seconds.

My favorite floor contractor came by to look at the work that was needed for my porch (not my Porsche - that's a different dumb joke).  What really surprised me what when he asked me if I wanted him to do it, I said yes and he got started, right then.  He was done in about an hour.  I expected him to come back in a week to get started.  Check the porch off the list.

I leave for the desert on Saturday.  I've spent a butt-load of money on new clothes, shoes, bags, powder drinks, socks, soaps, etc, etc, etc.  Most of it will be useful and everyone knows I could use some new clothes.  I guess I'm about ready.  I will have Internet access, though it may only be during my personal time.  I'll blog what I can.

People ask if I am nervous or excited about the trip.  The honest answer is both.  I really don't know what it is going to be like.  I know about the hot, gritty, dusty part.  I don't know about the food, bed, work area, expectations, and so much more than I can imagine.  The work days will be long.  12 hours per day, six days a week is the norm.  Do I have that much attention?  I hope.  Three weeks is long, but not nearly what everyone else who is there will be doing.  There will be no reason for me to complain about anything.  Will I have the patience?  We'll see.  BTW, I don't look like a bad-ass in my helmet and Kevlar vest.

Life is good and I plan to keep it that way.  I've just got to remember that the rough times are just part of it.  Without them, there can be no good times.

Brian the Red had better make plans to go to the Hofbrauhaus this October in Vegas.  Just ask Falstaff.

Answer to the title question: Go for the juggler.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Memories of Vegas

I've never seen such an enthusiastic toast among strangers.

I finished my last trip to Vegas on Sunday morning.  Happily, it was the best trip to Vegas that I've had in a while.  Sadly, it will probably be the last trip for a while.

Getting to Vegas was a series of delays that finally got me to the Imperial Palace about 2 hours later than I had planned.  First there was a mechanical delay getting out of Austin.  Next there was a delay to let the cops arrive before we pulled into the gate at LAS. I don't have any details on the cause there.  I'm sure alcohol was involved.  It always is.  Then the baggage handlers never posted our flight on the baggage carousel, so no one knew which of the 5 carousels our bags were on.   Then there was the taxi line.

But I got there, dumped my bags and headed for the poker room.  Falstaff (my buddy and roommate for the trip) got up to go do some poker writing and left me to play his stack of chips, about $120 worth.  This was a $1-2 limit mixed game and they were on the O8 round.  My very first hand rivered quad 10s.  Too bad there wasn't much of a payoff.  During the next hour, I got my full house beat by a better full house, twice.  Falstaff really sucks at that game.  I did leave him a few chips.

What made the trip so good was the smaller than usual number of bloggers.  That sounds like a negative, but it was easier to spend time with those who were there.  I usually come away feeling that I didn't really visit with anyone.  It was great to visit and/or get to know EasyCure, Zeem, Doc Chako, Stb, Pauly, and Change100 among others.  The fact that I got down early and rallied late to drop less than $100 on poker for the trip does not figure into how good a trip it was.

The best time for me was going with the gang to the Hofbrauhaus.  The bier (beer), the food, and the 'scenery' were all spectacular.  It was one of those times when I sat for a while and though about how good the good times are. 

At one point, Falstaff felt compelled to make a loud toast to boobies.  Of course our whole table joined in on that toast, as did the table in front of us, and the table behind us, and the table behind them.  It may have sent a wave through the whole joint.  Good times for sure.

Other highlights for me:

  • Falstaff winning the Sahara 11 am tourney
  • Visiting the WSOP at the Rio
  • Dinner with Falstaff, Pauly and Change100 at Ferraro's

There are no events or business trips planned that will take me to Vegas in the near future and the price of airline tickets has gone through the roof.  I'm going to make a special effort to attend Brian the Red's birthday in Sin City, but that is not until October.  Until then I will have to settle for home games and whatever else I can find.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


What a day it has been. What a day is still to come. When it started, I got up and joined the army for the morning. As I write this, I am in the Austin, TX airport waiting for a plane to Vegas.

I've been working on a project for the past month for which I passed a big milestone today, so I'm going to start blogging about it. If it wasn't going to happen, there wouldn't have been much to write about. As it is, it will dominate the next month of my life. You see, my traveling database consulting job is taking me to Camp Liberty in Iraq.

That is why I spent the morning with the army. I was concluding the process of getting approval to ship-out. They don't want anyone over there that will get sick, get in the way, or just generally be more of a burden than an asset. They now feel that I won't be that burden.

The process today was really interesting. I won't say much about the specifics as I don't know how much they want to let out. Out of 300-400 people going through this process, I may have been the only civilian. I was the only one with a bright shirt (Home Depot orange in my case), or a ball cap, or facial hair. I may have stood out just a little. The funny thing is that it felt really comfortable. The instructions were clear. The questions were mostly precise and easy to answer. All of the lines were orderly and there was no breaking in line or messing around that I often see in the real world. They could use some reallocation of their resources as one line took and hour and 45 minutes to navigate while other stations were idle. Maybe standing that long was part of the test. When I left, the line had grown to probably 3 hours so it could have been worse.

Over the years, I have had many opportunities to associate with military people. In almost every case they have been polite, smart, and helpful. Today was no different. I didn't know what the hell I was doing half the time, but they understood and quickly put me on the right course. I know there are some bad apples and bad situations in our army, but more than once while standing in line, I was amazed to think that I was in the midst of the best military in the history of the world. We should all be very proud of them.

So I got through the entire process in about 4 and a half hours. This was the last step before I get cleared to go overseas. The plan is for me to leave next Saturday and return on Saturday, July 5th. I expect the three weeks will seem to be very long until I'm back. There will be many 10-14 hour work days with probably 2 or 3 days off during my stay. Maybe I'll catch the bus tour of Baghdad.

I have a ton to do to get ready to go and to get ready to tackle the technical issues that I will see. But I've still got my priorities. I'm going to meet up with the bloggers who have already started gathering in Vegas. There will much more on Iraq in the coming weeks, but the next post will probably be a Vegas trip report. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 02, 2008

I'm not in London

I'm in Texas.  Unfortunately, many of the folks on my hotmail contact list got an email explaining that I am in London and that I lost all of my money.  The bogus email asked for $2500 be sent by Western Union.

I tried to login to my hotmail account to warn my contacts, but the whole account had been hijacked.  I did get off a quick email to security and got the account disabled, so I hope the abuse will stop there.  My security contact told me that I was not the first person that this has happened to and that it was probably a brute force attack (where the criminals repeatedly guess at the password) although it could happen when using an infected shared computer which I almost never do.

In any case, I'm having to spend quite a lot of time tonight changing passwords, just in case too much information leaked.  What a pain.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Poker = Work

Last nights home game edition was a bit more work than most of the previous editions.  We had a good group.  We were missing Nate the Elder and Brian the Red, but Big Nick and CVegas Don filled in.

I spent the whole night on one buy-in.  I was never up buy more than a buy-in and only went all-in once that I can remember.  I played a ton of hands (for me), saw lots of flops and won a good many small pots.  Every decent pot won was followed by a good one lost which was followed by several small wins.  I had won so many small pots at one point, I was getting complaints about hogging the pink (25s) chips.  I managed to give them all back during my usual cold spell.

I had a wonderful knack for running my big hands into someone else's monsters.  T got me twice with a straight over my 2-pair and a boat over my top straight.  The knife got me once with an over pair of KK to my top pair/top kicker.  The highlight of my night was taking a nice pot with a biggish river bet on a shammer (72 suited) bluff.  During the entire HE session, I saw big slick once and pocket 9s once.  The rest of the hands I played were crap like weak As, unsuited connectors, one gappers and low painted cards. 

Things didn't get any better in O8 where I relied on the board hitting my hand hard instead of getting good starting hands.  I had maybe two decent starting o8 hands in the 1.5 hours that we played.  I caught a nut straight with no low to scoop one of the first hands.  Around midnight I flopped a boat that improved on the turn.  With the boat I got 40 in against Don, but he folded his trips to my all-in bet on the river. Later on, I pushed with a pair of Ks and got called by Falstaff and Big Nick.  I avoided all of their many draws and lows to triple up.

The cards that I drew make it sound like I must have been a big loser, but I actually ended up ahead on the night.  I finished with 35 more points than where I started.  It sure was a lot of work for 35.

Conversation Topics:

  • Cystoscopy
  • Jim's trip to Great Britain
  • $800 to get to Vegas - Not going
  • Monkey Joe's (Mojohito)
  • 9 gallons of blood per night
  • $5 and a chicken
  • Falstaff writing for PokerNews
  • Trip to Vegas this week (me and Falstaff and little Nick)