June 30, 2007

That Time of the Month

Marine promotions are always effective on the first (or rarely, the second) of the month. So tomorrow there'll be a formation for this month's promotions.

LCpl P_ is going to become Cpl P_, and he's asked me to pin his new insignia on. I am greatly flattered. And I am glad that he's picking up, because of all the junior Marines I've worked with, he's got the best chance to go far in the Corps.

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June 28, 2007

The Draco Tavern by Larry Niven

The Draco Tavern is a collection of short stories by Larry Niven, about the most versitile bar on Earth. You see, aliens land in Siberia around 2010-ish, and if there's anything a traveller getting to port needs, it's a stiff drink. Or a stiff jolt of electricity. Or a shot of thorium dust. Lots of different aliens come through, all with their own desires. Thus the Draco Tavern, with a score of airlocks and two score of restrooms.

Presiding at the bar, and narrarating all the tales, is Rick Shumann. Like most bartenders, he's got a couple of PhDs, a willingness to listen, and the knowledge to talk only when it seems necessary.

The stories are Niven's way of using aliens to provide an outside perspective on current events, political controversies, and philosophical questions. What is the purpose of life? Where's the dark matter? What constitues justice? Of course, it's not all heavy. I think there's a rule for members of the SFWA that if you use a SF bar as a setting, it must contain at least 15% shaggy dog stories. On that front, Niven doesn't disappoint.

These stories are quite typical Niven, with both the good and the bad. Aliens are creativly alien, with strange ecology and thought processes. But no variation is visible within any species other than humanity. Surely he's aware of the criticism, so he makes a joke of the two most common visitors being a hive mind, and a race where every adult member is physically identical.

In summary, if you like Niven, you'll like this book. If you're not familiar with Niven, give it a try.

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June 27, 2007

Rain rain, here to stay

It's been raining almost every day since we started the excercise. Limited visibility is interfering with our flight ops. The grunts are all getting hypothermia. It's just annoying.

The Australians are dancing in the streets. Queensland is in the worst drought since weather recording began on this continent, so the rain is desperatly needed. So my irritation is tempered with the knowledge that at least the locals are happy.

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June 26, 2007

Six-String Samurai

I've been wanting the movie Six-String Samurai since I was in college. I'd been told I was pretty much the target market.

Having watched it, I wish it wasn't such a ripoff of other movies. I mean, how many times have we seen this? Buddy Holly wielding a katana, travelling across the post-apocalypic wilderness of Nevada, going to Lost Vegas to replace the dead Elvis as King. Along the way, his steps are haunted by Death aka Slash from Guns N' Roses, who wants to be King, and also seeks to prove the dominance of heavy metal over guitar rock. As I said, it's not like this movie hasn't been done a million times.

This was an indie movie with a $2 million budget, and was quite competently made. The fight choreography was good, although I was offended that only Japanese styles got to shine; the only guy that did kung-fu was presented as a buffoon. The star was an experienced hand in Hong Kong action movies; this was supposed to be his breakout American role, but it didn't quite work out for him. Which is a pity, because he's quite good.

So: I recommend this for people that like humor and/or martial arts movies. Raul, Cheryl, and Tim, that means you. My mom should probably not bother.

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June 25, 2007


As the "smart guy" in the shop, my compatriots sometimes assume I've got skills that I don't. In this case, I mean chess skills.

I am probably the best chess player in the shop, but that's not saying much. I can beat Titan Chess on the computer about half the time on level four, while most of the guys can only handle level two. But there are plenty of real chess players out there that can trounce me.

With the guys talking on my behalf, today I was challenged to a chess match by the gunny of the other squadron that shares our room on the boat. He's not a master either, but he still mopped me up. I need to call in my father as a cornerman; while he's not exactly an international champion either, he's substantially better than I am.

On a related note, last night there was a boat-wide Halo 2 tournament. Teams of two, team killer mode, first team to 25 kills, random map selection, single-elimination ladder. Several people tried to recruit me on the assumption that I'd be good at Halo. They'd be wrong. While I'm pretty good at first-person shooters on the PC, I'm wedded to the mouse and keyboard interface. I'm just not good at playing FPS with a gamepad.

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It's summer vacation time for college students. So we've got a bunch of them aboard this float! We've got about thirty midshipmen here. Some are students at the U.S. Naval Academy, while the rest are in NROTC programs.

They've each been assigned a bunkmate, whose job they share, along with doing tours of different aspects of ship operation. The ones that are going to be sophomores and juniors are with enlisted buddies; the seniors are with junior officers.

Flight operations is something they're quite interested in, of course. We're the coolest thing on the boat. So every couple of days, two or three check out the safety gear for the flight deck, and check things out. Nothing unusual. Except a few days ago, the two best-looking female middies were getting gear, and somehow word spread, and before you know it there were a dozen young Marine officers in the shop, all talking loud and puffing up like birds at a lek. Funny stuff.

Also, the order providing rules for our shore liberty had a clause I'd never seen before: "No personnel shall have sexual relations with any midshipmen during liberty periods." That cut off a line of speculation in the enlisted berthing... because they're not comissioned yet, it's not fraternization, is it?

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June 21, 2007

Sectarian Violence

Last night I was tasked to give my other class, on passenger safety and emergency escape from a ditching helicopter. I was to give it to 15-20 Australian soldiers that we've got embarked.

The traditional military briefing is deadly dull, and I think the biggest reason I've recently developed a reputation as a good briefer is that I put as many jokes in the class as possible. (I also talk fast, which gets it over with.) So I needed some jokes for the Australians.

I first considered introducing every stereotype I know. You know, say something like "I'd like to welcome you all aboard the USS Boat. I know many of you may have had bad experiences with large ships conducting 'transportation' in the past, but I'd like to assure you our brig is quite comfortable. As most of you already know. In addition, I understand the mess deck is setting up a barbie this very moment, and the helos should be coming back with some fresh 'roo meat this evening for you all."

That wasn't working for me, so I decided to go with the other classic bit, which is to mistake your audience for some other group. I worked with some New Zealanders in Afghanistan, and the Kiwis are sensitive about being mistaken for Australians, so I figured the reverse would work too.

So I opened with "Good evening gentlemen. Before I get to my presentation, I just want to say I'm thrilled to be down in this part of the world. When we get a little shore leave, I'm hoping I can see some of the places where they filmed 'Lord of the Rings'- that terrain is just astonishinly gorgeous. And while it's a little early to be taking uniform trades, I was wondering if someone would be willing to take one of my eight-point covers in exchange for those cool black hats with the kiwi on the front? Those things rock!"

At the LotR line, the senior Australian officer slumped in his seat and put his hands over his face. The American Marine captain that had brought me in doesn't know me, and was frantically signalling from the back of the classroom. Capt. K_, who does know me, was in the back of the room trying to keep from laughing.

I had a few more Kiwi jokes ready, but after the hats comment, the junior troops in the front row were balling up their fists and scooting to the edges of their seats in a manner I found threatening. While I have much better hand-to-hand combat skills than most of my compatriots realize, I'm not sure I could defeat a dozen angry Australians without significant injury to some of the participants, and then it's an international incident and people call me into their offices and say mean things to me.

So I said "Hah, just kidding! You guys own one seventh of the world's supply of continents, I thought you could use a little ribbing. We love Australians! To heck with those pansies that use a fat flightless duck as a national symbol!", and then there was laughter, merriment, and I was all right again.

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June 17, 2007

The Rider, by Tim Krabbé

My Gunny is a bicycling nut, and his latest care package included the novel The Rider, by Tim Krabbé, a Dutchman. It was translated by Sam Garrett.

 Krabbé is an avid cyclist, and in the book he projects himself as a top-level amatuer in a race. The short novel (150 pages) is the story of a race, and his musings as it progresses. There are no chapters; the internal divisions are the distances travelled, e.g. "Kilometer 89-92". Also, there are flashbacks to earlier in his career and his childhood.

The writing style is brisk and to the point, perhaps a legacy of Krabbé's journalistic experience. It read a little bit like Hemingway to me, although it's always hard to say how much that was the translator's hand.

I'm not an endurance athelete, but I practiced painful sports, and it rang true. Racing is way of pushing the body, proving the strength of your will.

Krabbé also makes a number of comparisons to chess playing; a little research shows that he was a decent player, and a specialist in creating joke chess problems. Everyone else in the shop just rolled their eyes when I tried to explain why castling vertically was funny.

So, in summary: Der Renner by Tim Krabbé is a quick and worthwhile read.

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Good News/Bad News

Good News:
I've lost five pounds in the last week.
Bad News:
That's because I caught the dysentery that's going around the ship.
Good News:
For Father's Day, the mess deck served a special meal: steaks with strawberry glaze, french fries, strawberry jello with fresh strawberry chunks, and chocolate cake with strawberry frosting with freshly cut strawberries mixed in. (Apparently we got a lot of fresh strawberries in Australia.)
Bad News:
I'm allergic to strawberries. Eating them gives me severe gastrointestinal distress.
Good News:
I've already got severe gastrointestinal distress, so to hell with it!
Best News:
All those strawberries were delicious.

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June 16, 2007

Cutting Scores

The latest promotion scores just came out. I'm sitting at 1619, but the score to make Sergeant is 1683. That suggests I'll pick up in September or so, as I'm going up at about twenty points a month.

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