Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nearing the End

As I approach the end of my time here I wanted to give you an idea of what I've been doing during my time away from home in southwest Asia...

My typical day:

Wake up---getting to work, lately I've been on the night shift so I wake up around 5:00p (all times are local time).  Depending on when my shift starts, either early 7:30p or late 10:30p, I'll go to dinner.  If I'm on the later shift I'll also try to sleep in a little.  If I'm on the earlier shift I'll go to "dinner" which for me is breakfast, and then to work.  It recently snowed about 4 inches so the walk to work is treacherous.  If I'm on the later shift I'll generally forgo dinner and get the midnight meal that is brought to the office.  The food kinda overall sucks here and getting it fresh is not really a priority, so I don't mind getting the slightly-cooled-off delivered food as opposed to the sitting-under-the-hotlamp food in the chow hall.

Work, obviously I can't tell you all about what I do for work (security reasons), but the basic idea is this: I get to the office and after signing in and waiting around about half an hour we brief about what kind of mission we're going to do.  Then, after another 30min-hr (during which time I'm prepping for whatever mission we're going to do) we go out to the plane.  We fly the mission, which can take anywhere between 4-7hrs.  It totally depends on what's going on, the weather, and the type of mission as to how long it takes.  Sometimes, I'm completely bored out of my mind.  Other times, I'm constantly busy and don't have time to eat/drink/pee/whatever.  Then of course there are in-between missions that are neither busy nor boring.  After returning and landing we debrief what happened and how the mission went.  Of course, if the mission was complicated and busy, the debrief could take a while as we talk about all the things that happened.  If it was gouge-my-eyes-out boring, we just meet up, fill out the paperwork, and say, "thanks for flying" or something similar.

At that point, I'm technically done with work.  I can (and sometimes have to) stay later and do work-related stuff.  However, most of the time I'm done, and I spend time (at the unit compound) hanging out with my coworkers.  We play spades, smoke cigars, play video games, and just in general hang out.  If there are lots of people hanging out and playing, I'll stay and be social, if not, I'll generally head back to my room.  I've paid a fairly exorbitant price to get WiFi access in my room so I always have something to keep me busy.  Also, my roommate is one of my best friends that has worked with me almost my entire career.  We agree on so much of life.  It's been a pleasure spending this time together; I'm actually going to miss him when we have to leave (we're leaving the same time though so that'll be fun).  Also, since I moved to Japan (about 8 months ago), and he's planning on getting out of the Air Force, we probably won't be able to see each other again.  We'll keep in touch and we'll always be friends, but it's a bit sad to go through transitions in life where you know things will probably never be the same.  Especially when it comes to friendships, it's hard to think that we might NEVER see each other again.

In my room I've been keeping myself busy with a free class online, editing a friend's new book Notes from Afghanistan by Steven Specht, putting together my dad's next book Sermons from a Tiny Pulpit, reading, praying, and watching movies/TV (of course only downloaded TV shows as I don't have regular TV access in my room).

Overall, I felt I've kept myself productive enough, though I'm looking forward to returning home to Japan and being with my family.  Some of my plans for when I get home...  First off, I'm going to eat real, homemade, good food!  The food here isn't bad (as I've said), but it's certainly not good either.  We're going to open some late Christmas presents (this is the first time I've completely missed Christmas with my family), and have a mini, late Christmas party.  I also can't wait to go to the beach!  Living in a sub-tropical paradise certainly has its perks.  Those are the big things I'm excited about, some of the little things include: sleeping in a regular sized bed, NOT having to wear a uniform all the time, NOT having to wear flip-flops to the bathroom, NOT having to wait 4 days for laundry, NOT having to walk a mile or so to work regardless of the weather, and NOT having to walk past a sleeping roommate to go to the bathroom or leave the room among other things.  All those minor inconviences add up after a while and I'll be glad to be rid of them.

A couple other plans for the new year and returning home...  I want to read through the whole Bible cover-to-cover (I plan on writing about it on Facebook but I'll probably discuss my reading here also).  I also plan on reading 50 books over the course of the next year; I don't have any particular preference on what books, but the first one is The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins.  One last plan, I want to start training for a triathlon. My goal, right now, is to train for a half ironman (1.2-mile [1.9 km] swim, 56-mile [90 km] bike ride, and 13.1-mile [21.1 km] run, also known as 70.3 because it's a total of 70.3 miles).  I'll discuss my training plans in a later post.

Sorry this was so long, I've been thinking about a lot of stuff lately.  I'm going to separate what I originally wrote into two separate entries and I'll definitely be writing more soon.

Long Time no Write

Well, I'm sorry... Again...  Obviously my time deployed has not been spent sharing with you in this blog!  I've been thinking about canceling my blog altogether but I've enjoyed it before so I think I just need to get back into it.  I think one of the biggest hindrances was my attempts at translating my blog into Korean.  Every time I thought about writing something, I thought about how I would translate it, and many times I was at a loss.  My skills in Korean are just not high enough to express what I'm thinking on a variety of topics.

Therefore, I've decided NOT to cancel my blog, however, I will NOT be translating every single entry.  I just don't have the time.  I know, I'd get faster over time if I continued practicing but just to put it into perspective for you; I spend anywhere from 30min-1hour on each English entry (sometimes more of course, but that's probably my average).  Then to take that and translate it, even using Google translate to help with spelling, it takes me about DOUBLE the time to translate as it took for the original post.  So, what would have taken me an hour now takes three!  I've considered waiting a day to write the translated piece, but that doesn't really relieve the problem.  It's still going to turn a 1hr project into 3hrs, just not all on the same day.  I'm not canceling my Korean blog just going to minimize it and only translate stuff that I really want to or stuff that'll be easily transferred.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Meditation Education

I recently read an interesting article in the magazine, Scientific American Mind called "The Education of Character" by Ingrid Wikelgren, and the concepts intrigued me because it reminded me of the book I read entitled, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human StrengthSince I cannot find the article online (without a paid subscription, though there is a related blog here), I'll summarize some of what it says.

There are several places, and it was apparently it started by a variety of people, including some actors, where an interesting concept has been used alongside traditional education.  Students in these programs practice a variety of meditation-like breathing exercises and other concentration and "mindfulness" practices.  These practices, along with emotional self-regulation are growing among elementary educators.  According to the article the MindUP program and the similar program PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) have both been producing great results throughout the students' lives.  Though the article concludes with a couple notes about how tweaking children's thinking can be difficult to understand in general and sometimes has mixed results.

It was quite interesting to me that I found this article after reading the book about Willpower because the article (and the following article about increasing brain power) confirmed quite a bit of the book.  Now, I'm not the type of person that reads a single article and totally believes every word, but with this well researched article and that book confirming each other, I'm pretty convinced that one of the most important thing a person can learn, especially at a young age, is patience and self-control.  I'm excited about working on some of these patience-teaching techniques with my boys when I get home, and maybe working on some of it myself.  I'm fairly sure that everyone agrees they could use more self-control.

When I was young, I distinctly remember not being permitted to learn martial art because of the link to east Asian mysticism/religion and meditation.  Now, while I don't regret my parent's decision, I think they did what they felt was right in shielding me from negative influences, I think meditation would be good for me.  The difference between what my parents were afraid of and what I would like to practice is the reason for meditating.  Meditation for the purpose of reaching some mystical higher plane of existence and some out-of-body religious experience would be contrary to what I believe.  However, meditation to focus on self-control or breath control would be healthy.  Also, part of meditation is concentration, it'd be good for my mind to spend some time each day meditating on God.  I guess you could just say "prayer," but I kind of see it as slightly different.  Basically, I only want to concentrate on one aspect of God during meditation.  Though sometimes I'd also like to try to just concentrate on nothing.  Though, technically thinking about nothing doesn't really seem possible to me--we'll see.

Gosh I miss home

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day 2012 선거일

Or as my Korean friends would say "erection day."  I don't really want an answer to this, and I've already made my preference clear (Third Party), but who or what are you going to vote for?  I'm sad to say that I officially missed the deadline and my vote won't count, but YOUR'S can!  So, rather than pushing one party or ideal, I'd just like to take this chance to encourage you to voice your opinion.  God has blessed (those of my readers that are US citizens) us with the chance to choose the type of governance and lawmakers we want.  Also, we have decided, as a country, to have a popular vote for the position of President/Vice President (though more on that here), sort of.  Either way, and no matter how you feel about the electoral college, go out and vote today.

On a totally different subject, in order to practice writing in Korean, and to appeal to my (possible) Korean readers, I'm going to start writing a blog in Korean.  It may be full of grammatical and spelling errors, but I'm going to try.  I'm also going to try to make it parallel this blog.  Not necessarily a direct translation of this on but at least the same topic.

Our political system

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Intellectual Property Rights

This is an interesting topic I once discussed with a cigar buddy at the Havana Garage in Omaha.  I had sent out an invitation to my church to meet up for cigars and scotch at a cigar bar, unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, only one person was able to attend.  We held an interesting conversation for hours about intelectual property and copyright law (he's a copyright lawyer for a firm there in downtown Omaha).  One of the more interesting tidbits I learned is that one does NOT have to have a copyright to sue for intellectual property rights (in the US).  If you write a poem, song, business plan, or anything that requires (virtually) any amount of creative effort on a napkin at a restaurant and someone overhears you talking about it and steals your idea, EVEN if they have a copyright, and you can PROVE that it's your idea that that person stole, you can win in a copyright case.  Though granted it's much easier to prove something is one's intellectual property with a copyright, but it's not necessary.  That's what copyrights are supposed to do, protect or give legitimacy to the claim to one's intellectual property.  A copyright in and of itself is not proof, just good evidence.

Anyways, another thing I talked about at that time was how I thought it kind of silly that large companies sometimes sue little mom-and-pop businesses that make a small amount of money off selling copyrighted material.  (My lawyer friend replied that large companies often overlook small organizations so long as they don't make too much money, because it's not worth the cost of a lawsuit to pursue every single copyright infringement.)  If you look on there are any number of copyright questionable sellers that run the risk of drawing the attention of some big company that decides to crack down on these small-time sellers.  To me, for some reason the 'big guy' picking on these tiny establishments is completely unfair.

I know it's a double standard but it bothers me just as much that there's a person on Etsy that has copyrighted a silly simple technique for making a fabric baby toy called a taggy, and that person is (or was, I see multiple taggy makers now) constantly hunting down fellow makers and forcing them to remove their goods from Etsy based on copyright infringement.  Then I came across this from a English language teaching program I'm interested in getting involved in:

This is about the future of creativity and innovation, a David v Goliath flashpoint that we hope to rally your support around.
We are a tiny company called Languages Out There (LOT) and publish the world's first social media English course called English Out There (EOT).

EOT works with Facebook and Skype and can transform the English speaking ability of long-term frustrated learners. It is inexpensive for the students but can help teachers to start their own businesses.

We have developed our content over 11 years and have only made a tiny profit in the last two years. It has not been at all easy.

Over ALMOST THREE YEARS we provided privileged and confidential information about our unique content to Oxford University Press (OUP) because they said they were interested in our content.

In March of this year they wrote to us,

"we do not feel that LOT offers the type of materials that we could bring within our catalogue, whether in relation to the current offering or our future plans."

JUST FIVE MONTHS LATER they launched a new five level English course book series with the words,

"Network is the first course to use social networking to help students succeed in English."

The first three English teachers we sent the OUP product link (just the link, nothing else), said this:

Link here.

This is even worse!  I can understand the "little guy" making a tiny bit of money off innovating or recreating a copyrighted item but when a large corporation steals copyrighted material from a tiny company that's just despicable.  As I said, I know it's a double standard and no one should get away with stealing someone else's hard work, but hopefully English Out There can win this one and stop Oxford University Press from stealing their material.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Questioning the consistency of the Bible

Recently I (kind of) got suckered into a discussion of the consistency of the Bible.  Namely, someone said that the Bible has two different dates for when Jesus was born and one of them couldn't have happened because it would have been before he was born.  References given were Matt 2:1 and Luke 2:2.  I found an interesting response to this idea here.  To save you the time of reading that (rather lengthy and well formed) response, I'll sum it up: No one knows exactly when Jesus was born and the dating system is based on tradition and conjecture and is subject to men's opinion.

I responded to the person that pointed out this inconsistency and his response remained that those two events (mentioned in those verses) were not at the same time.  Though he did point out that at the most they are only different by about 10 years which is pretty close given the extreme length of time that has passed since.

Well, all this discussion, by the way my counterpart in this discussion has challenged me to find an extra-biblical account of Jesus even existing, led me to do some research into what people perceive as biblical contradictions.  I found a rather lengthy list and started going through them.  Now, to be fair the introduction to the list does state that some of the "contradictions" listed are explainable by a variety of translations.  So, I started going through the list reading as much of each example given as I could.  It was an interesting exposition of the Bible and led me to reading quite a bit.  I didn't make it through the whole list, but of all the supposed contradictions I did read through only one or two made me scratch my head and didn't have an immediate and obvious explanation.  I didn't notate which ones... but I'll be going through the list in more detail in the future.  What I would like to mention about that list is that all but a couple were so easily explained.  It was like the person who compiled the list didn't really read what was written in the verses listed as "contradictory."

Prime example:

Gen 7:7 Noah and his clan enter the Ark.  (KJV)

7 And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood.

Gen 7:13 They enter the Ark (again?) (KJV)

13 In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark;

No one claims the the historical accounts in the Bible are in exact chronological order every time.  Obviously verse thirteen is NOT saying they went into the ark AGAIN after they had already entered.  It's simply a restatement about their activities during that time when they were entering the ark, also, who says they didn't go in and out of the window on the deck or some other explanation.  It's not a contradiction at all.  Many of the contradictions listed on that site follow a very similar pattern to this example.  Many mis-translate the word day to an exact 24-hour period of time when often times it's obviously used as just a 'period of time' or similar meaning.

Anyways, all this to say none of this is making me question my faith, but (ironically) it is making me get into the Word more and study a variety of Biblical passages that I may not have studied before.  I wonder if this (obviously anti-Christian) site ever expected that kind of reaction to their post?

Gosh I miss home

Friday, November 2, 2012

Vacation Plans

I don't know much about my readers, but I'm always curious who reads my blog.  I sometimes review my viewership stats and the vast majority of my readers are out of the U.S. (which makes sense), but unfortunately, whenever I look through my blog to edit it, that also counts as a view so my stats are artificially larger because of my views.  But that's all beside the point...

I'm trying to make some vacation plans for when I get home from this deployment.  I have ample vacation time saved up and I'd like to go someplace fun and interesting.  Unfortunately Michelle (my wife) thinks we should postpone any such plans.  However, we've been talking and making plans to possibly have more children.  I'd like to have a little girl.  Michelle wants either no more or two more to make a round 4 total.  I'm content with 2-3.  My issue is that if we don't take this time to travel there won't be a better time.  Traveling with young children is tough, but if we're traveling with a baby it will be much more difficult.  What I'm wondering, is do you have children?  And if so, do you go on vacation?  Or maybe mini-vacations where you don't really go anywhere?  I don't remember much from my childhood but I do seem to remember going on vacation even when I was very young and my brother much younger.  There was a big difference though, my family NEVER flew anywhere for vacation.  Even when we went to Colorado, we drove all the way!

My options are open for vacation.  It is much more expensive, but we could try to go home to Ohio.  Honestly, I don't think that's worth the expense.  It would be nice to see family again but it would be over $1000/person for plane tickets.  I'd like to take my family to visit Korea.  Since I speak Korean I could be their personal guide.  There's tons of great places to ski and it would be fun to teach the boys skiing.  And of course I'd get to practice all the Korean I wanted.  Then of course we could go pretty much ANYWHERE in the S Pacific.  The options are endless, we even discussed going to New Zealand  or Australia.  It's a bit tough choosing to leave the island because we live in a vacation paradise and every weekend is like a mini-vacation.  But, I'd like to go out and explore the world around the tiny island and I think it'd be a great experience for our family.

The boys enjoying dinner on the beach

Friday, October 26, 2012

Third Party?!

Let me first (again) apologize for my long silence, I've mentioned before that I'm deployed and while I most often find myself with plenty of time on my hands I seldom spend it the way I was prior to being deployed.  Prime example, as part of our morale area in our unit we have a couple couches around a card table and I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time sitting around that table playing spades and smoking.  I don't regularly smoke but (only) while deployed I often smoke as I'm sitting around playing cards with my coworkers.  Secondly, let me apologize for a change in topics, especially into a realm I'm not very well versed in, politics.

So, many of my facebook friends, at least many of the vocal political ones, are supporters of the Libertarian party, specifically Ron Paul.  Now, I know he ran originally as a Republican and didn't get the nomination (I'm told because of that fact he won't appear on many states' ballots this November).  But, I've been raised a republican and I've always (more or less) agreed with Republican candidates and voted for Republicans in elections.  In fact, when I wasn't sure of what candidate to vote for in a certain election, I would invariably vote for whichever Republican candidate was on the ballot. However, I've been more and more leaning towards the Libertarian party. I recently read this blog that basically echoes the way I feel about many of the issues.

In that blog the only thing that I sort of disagree with isthis, "My views are not dictated by ONE ISSUE or POLICY, but by the over all character of a candidates CAREER." Specifically the part about one issue/policy kind of bothers me. I believe all life is sacred, and that life beginsin the womb particularly at conception. So, I'm not going to vote (if I know the person's policy) for someone that will legalize or loosen the current legislation on abortion. Other than that, I'm not much of a one-issue-voter.

I've been reading the Libertarian party's platform points and I gotta say I haven't seen much I disagree with.  I think the reason I've never really looked into the LP before is when I was in high school someone described the LP as anarchists, that believed the government should be completely overthrown.  I've since seen that is not true and after thinking about it for a while I think I might vote for a third party for the first time ever.

On voting however, I'm actually not going to be able to vote in this election.  I'm deployed and I don't think I got in my absentee ballot paperwork in before the cutoff.  One thing I am actually looking forward to over the next couple years of being stationed overseas is, absentee voting.  One of my issues in the past has been that I'm not ever really sure who's going to be on the ballot until I actually walk into the booth.  Now, as an absentee voter, I'll get my ballot in the mail and be able to search online for each politician's views on a variety of policies and voting history (if he or she has been in office previously).

DISCLAIMER:  I am NEVER speaking on behalf of the US Air Force or DoD in any of my political opinion posts.  These are just the inane ramblings of a private person in no way associated with the official position of the Air Force or DoD (my employer).

Guest Post: Charles Philip Smith

My friend Steven Specht posted an article on that I'd like to share here. I'm working on a post about third-party politics (I know not one of my usual topics), but I'd like to share this first.

Two Sides of the Same Worn Out Coin
Our system of election is broken.

How many times have Americans been so disgusted with both major candidates that they vote for what they believe is “the lesser of two evils” or not vote at all, yet they will refuse to vote for a third party?

I truly believe that if they looked into the policies of third party candidates, (there are 10 on the 2012 Florida ballot) they would find at least one that they believed in more than the standard two.

Here is the part that doesn’t make sense to me. Americans will complain on end about how either the Democrats or Republicans are ruining their country; often they will not even agree with their own party. Yet, I have heard all my life how voting for a third party candidate is equivalent to throwing your vote away or even how “it will takes votes from candidate X when we really need to beat candidate Y’.

I am not trying to push a candidate or party. (At this time I believe I know who I will vote for. It is not one of the two major candidates, but this is a personal choice and not the purpose of why I am writing this.) It is my hope that sometime in the future we will start voting as a nation for the person and not the party. My belief is that this begins with third parties and being well informed on the issues important to us.

However, I have not seen any indication that Americans could now or ever do this in the climate we have created. There is such an undercurrent of division, especially in the media, that actively polarizes Americans into the two major political parties. The implication being that it is ‘us’ against ‘them’. Most people don’t realize that there are shades of grey to their beliefs and very few absolutes in this world. I could almost guarantee that most average Americans believe in elements of the major two parties, but not in everything that they stand for.

What I am proposing is that we as a nation do our research. If you do not have enthusiasm for a candidate, there is no reason you should not find someone you can believe in. We live in a free country but have been systematically convinced that there is no other options to us when it comes to one of the most fundamental tenets of what it is to be an American—the right to vote–the right to vote for someone we do believe in.

This requires effort on the individual. It is the only option we have to us to start balancing the rampant partisan corruption on both sides that seems to be determined to bring America to ruin for the sake of reelection and not the betterment of the citizens.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are voting for change when you vote for one of the two major parties. The only recourse you have is to change your vote to a third party. The only way to have honest politicians is for them to have enough competition for them to be fearful of not being elected on their own merits. Without this our country will never find balance and it will be stuck with either side of a worn out coin.
-Charles Philip Smith

Saturday, October 6, 2012

This is Not a Deployment Blog

I don't want to change the tone of my blog to a chronicle of my time deployed, however I did write a bit of a journal entry on the flight over here and I have some stuff to share from my first week here.

After my training near Sacramento, CA, I traveled to Baltimore to catch a flight to the middle east (it's called the "rotator").  My short time in Baltimore was fairly pleasant.  I went to the same irish pub I alway go to when I pass through Baltimore.  My previous experiences at that pub were quite interesting, this time however, I was alone and I just sat quietly drinking my one beer then went back to my hotel to sleep.  The next morning I went to the free hotel breakfast (which was pretty disappointing) then, since I didn't have to be at the airport till the afternoon I took a nap.  Around noon I went to the Baltimore Washington International airport and got in line.  The line for passengers on the rotator was at least 200 yards long!  It's a familiar sight for anyone who has deployed before because the flight is almost always packed full.  Fortunately, after checking in for the flight I ran into some friends (one of whom I have deployed with before), and we shared some beers and dinner before boarding.

Fortunately I got a decent seat on this flight, an aisle where there was only one seat beside me.  This plane is amazingly old and crappy.  The inflight entertainment is a VHS tape player!  I didn't think they even made those anymore.  There's no such thing as 'first class' on this plane; we're all packed in like sardines.  The inflight movie was "We Bought a Zoo" which was a good movie, though the sound system on the plane sucked and it was a tiny screen far from my seat.  They also played "John Carter of Mars."  I've heard that it's supposedly a movie version of the first installment of C.S. Lewis' space trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet.  Now, it has been a while since I read the book so I've forgotten some of the details but I definitely remember that it's quite different from this movie!  Oh well, poetic license I guess.  One of the passengers had some medical issues so we had to divert to Ireland.  I didn't see much of the place, we didn't even get off the plane, but what I did see definitely makes me want to go back some day.

Finally, we arrived at the deployment processing center.  Not really a bad place compared to sitting in a plane.  It's not much (a hundred or so bunk beds in a tent), but at least it's a place to lay down and sleep and NON-airplane food.  Also, regular access to wifi is nice, first real chance to call home.  Oh, and one can drink two beers a day there which is nice.  I didn't really care to drink and after only one day in this limbo I moved on to my deployment location.

I've been here a week and so far it's been quite a bit like my previous deployments.  It's nice to have indoor plumbing though.  Last year the place I stayed didn't.  The morale is pretty high in the unit here and one of my best friends from my previous deployments, Jon, is here; which has made for a decent time so far.  The best part about this trip though is the hope that it's only supposed to be three months as opposed to my previous trips which were all six months.  I'll take some pictures and attach them to my next few blogs, which I don't plan on chronicling my deployment, but I might mention it; depending on how it's going.

I have gained way too much weight!  Starting excersize/diet program now!