Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane
240 pages
Historical fiction

Last book of the year.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Happened To The Doc Report?

I know I haven't posted anything in quite awhile. I am busy, but I do have free time at night so time isn't an excuse.

Problem is, things here are controversial at best and I don't want to muddy the waters.

I go on a small vacation soon, will post some highlights then.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Banquo's Ghosts by Richard Lowry and Keith Korman
352 pages
Spy thriller

This one wasn't too bad.

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Trust No One by Greg Hurwitz
352 pages
Crime thriller/Mystery

For some reason there was several copies of this book in an office when the Army left. they all appeared brand new.

It wasn't bad. A little corny.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
272 pages

This was a funny book. Maybe a tad bit dark in places, maybe a little R rated in others.
Might not be for everyone.

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Semper Fi (The Corps, Book 1) by W.E.B Griffin

352 pages
Military fiction/Military history

Wasn't sure what to expect from this book. It was a bit boring. I've read other books from the author that were better.

I liked the historical accuracy of the book, but not the story line.

Not so much a good read.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

The Bible - Various Authors
1094 Pages
New International Version

My 11th time reading the Bible cover to cover. I just checked to see when I finished reading the Bible last year, October 30th. I believe the year before that around the first week of November.

It was a good journey through the Bible.

Book Corner - Finished Reading

The Night Stalkers by Michael J Durant and Steven Hartov
352 pages
Military history

Not to be confused with the bad guy (Richard Ramirez), this is about a special operations helicopter unit.  Think Blackhawk Down.

It was a good read.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

We Meant Well How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (American Empire Project) by Peter Van Buren
288 pages
Nonfiction - Personal narrative
First Edition

The best thing I liked about this book was that the author covers many subjects that I always forget to blog about, and he does it with grit and humor.

This book has gained a rather controversial status and I can see why.

As with all Doc Report book corner reviews I just get to the point, it's a good read.  At 288 pages, put away the TV remote for an hour each night and you'll read it in a week.


I'm bad, I haven't posted a Doc Report in what seems like forever.  Truth be told the company frowns on blogging, especially about certain places, especially Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It's because of security but also because things are just a tad bit sensitive here.  I just have to be careful what I blog about.

I mentioned before that I live in a CHU, Containerized Housing Unit, it's about 12' x 16' with a small private bathroom.  The CHU's are back to back as there is another one connected to mine.  When I was in Baghdad in 2005 we called them hooches and we had a shared bathroom between the hooches.

All in all it's not bad, I have a dresser, a stand up closet, a television, dorm fridge, a desk, nightstand, a rug, and pretty nice pillow top twin bed mattress.  I am supplied with sheets, pillow and a blanket (towels if I need them), an ironing board and a outside fold up camping chair (that I never use).

The CHU's are under a big protective covering.  Honestly I don't know and nobody seems to know what exactly make it a protective covering but I believe it has sheets of E-glass which is composed of kevlar.  I can't begin to imagine how much sheet of this stuff costs, to say the least cover our entire living area.

All in all, we feel safe, although as far as anyone knows the covering hasn't been "tested".  I hope it passes if t does.

Now along with the CHU's I live in we also have the concrete CHU's, the hotel CHU's and the dry CHU's.

The concrete CHU's are a group of just that, CHU's made of concrete.  They look like a group of very small hotels.  It's not so good to live there as there is no wifi, half of the outdoor lights don't work, the door locks are always finicky.  But on a good note they seems fairly new on the inside and you do have a private bath.
I always thought people who lived in the concrete CHU's lived in the bad side of town.  I never ventured over there until recently.  It wasn't that scary.

The hotel CHU's are also called the double decker CHU's.   Why they are called the hotel CHU's, I don't know.  The hotel CHU's are actual shipping containers that have been converted into a CHU.   They are rather small as you can imagine.  But they do have a desk and a television mounted on the wall, a tiny private bathroom and occasionally the wifi does work there.  They are also called the double decker CHU's.  Reason being is that they have a row of shipping containers on top of these units for protective purposes.  Nobody knows what's inside them, rumor is sandbags.

I have yet to see the dry CHU's here but apparently we do have some.  Dry because they do not have a bathroom, at all.  There is a unit with sinks, toilets and showers nearby.  Most dry CHU's have two single beds.  I have slept in these while waiting overnight at the Baghdad Airport.

The folks in Baghdad know nothing about this as they have nice apartments with fully equipped kitchens and bathrooms with bathtubs and 50+ channels on TV (we have about eleven working channels on a good night, and most of them are Arabic).

Till next time! 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Slang Shot

There is a whole new language when it comes to working in Iraq.  Most of it is military jargon, but some of it was started by an anonymous person and passed on through to the next person and so on.

Here are a few common ones.

CHU: Containerized Housing Unit.  What we live in.  Basically about a 15'x15' room with a bed, dorm fridge, stand up closet, desk, dresser, tv, bathroom with shower.  Just the necessities.  They are side by side units as my bathroom walls shares the wall with the bathroom of the unit attached to mine.

Dry CHU: The dreaded CHU without a bathroom.  We don't have many, but we do have them.  One must walk to an ablution unit.

Wet CHU: Typical CHU with a bathroom

Ablution Unit: Honestly I do not know why they are called this as the ablution means something not entirely regarding taking a shower or using the bathroom
There are a few of these scattered about with showers, sinks and bathrooms.

Blue Man Group: Iraqi laborers that wear blue coveralls

Thrown under the bus: What happens on a daily basis here i.e "Sorry I had to throw you under the bus".  As in something unexpected thrown your way.

The Donkey: Our bar that is opened one day a week.  Story goes that there used to be an inflatable donkey that hung from the ceiling.

Haji shops: Again, entirely the wrong name for these, but apparently totally acceptable.  These are small shops that are on the base grouped together that sell clothes, electronics, carpets etc.

The Oasis: Where all the haji shops are.

Book Corner - Finished Reading

The Fall of Berlin 1945 by Antony Beever
512 pages
War history

I always enjoy a good war history book. This was packed with powerful images. The author has a series of WWII books that I just might check out.

I'd say good read for history buffs.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

TV Fun

One of the few things we have to keep up moral is satellite television in our rooms. We have seven Armed Forces Network channels (news, sports, movies etc.) and several Arabic channels with English programming, and a smattering of Arabic channels.

There was an advertisement on Armed Forces Network (AFN) that they were switching to satellite and viewers had to move their satellite dishes to align with the new satellite. They provided instructions on their web site complete with a video. I printed out the instructions and watched the video. They really made it look easy. I knew otherwise.

We had about a month to realign the dish, of course we waited for the day before to tackle it. The dishes were on one trailer but to align them you had to climb on the roof of another trailer about two feet away. This really made for awkward work, that and it was very hot on top of the roof.

Unfortunately as soon as we loosened the bold to adjust the dish we realized tiny adjustments was going to be impossible in fact not only were we dealing with left + right adjustment, but also up and down. The channels were separated between two dishes and now all of the channels were out as we had lost the signal. Much grumbling from everyone followed.

It was decided to adjust the dished at night, mainly because of the heat. Two guys on the roof, one guy watching the satellite signal and calling it out on the radio, as soon as the signal locked in, they would tighten the bolt holding the dish in place, done. At least that's the way it was supposed to be.

As soon as the signal was locked in, and the guys on the roof tightened the bolt, we lost the signal.
This went on over and over again for an hour. Finally over the course of two nights we locked in the signal on both dishes, everyone was happy.

I had a bad feeling that something was bound to happen. Sure enough the signal on one of the dishes kept slipping Now the signal is gone on four channels, one of them being the sports channel and we are hearing it left and right from the football crowd.

Nobody is motivated enough to go through this again.

Another Day Off

I live Saturday to Saturday here. It's my day off and I do just that. I sleep in and the only time I go to the office is to get the keys to the truck so I can go to the Iraqi shops and look around. I get some snide remarks about taking a day off, most people work seven days a week. The way I see it, the world is not going to fall apart if I take a day off. That and I'm sorry, but I'm not paid any extra for it. Is "Doc" a team player? of course. But we are limited to XX amount of overtime hours we can submit and we all work over that XX amount, I know I do. I had to work last Saturday for a few hours, my day of, will I see that as overtime? Nope.

Speaking of overtime I was talking to this Department of Defense civilian (GS) when I was in Kuwait about overtime, I told her how many hours we were limited to. She is "limited" to 60 hours of overtime per pay period, down from 70, down from 80, down from unlimited. Back in the wild west days you could submit for as many hours of overtime you could claim. The wild west days are going away.

We currently have free wifi Internet access, this is going away. We'll have to pay. Some of us get use of a wash and fold laundry service (me), this is going away. There has always been a rumor that we'll have to pay for meals. Yes, it's a whole new Iraq!

Just returned from the Iraqi shops and they are pushing hard to sell whats on their shelves as because of a new contract they have to leave the base soon. It's sad as they provide just one little added diversion for already very bored people and of course we provide them income.

Yesterday marks my third month I've been in country. My next R&R break is a little ways out, first week of November, but hoping it will get here soon. Planning on going to Dubai and staying at a nice hotel and enjoying the beach.

The Army has been packing up and leaving more and more, which means more office space for us and some equipment. We recently acquired the USO building. Complete with a small movie theater and game (XBox etc.) stations, less the game systems and 32" televisions, but the movie theater has everything there.

Well back to my usual day off activities, watch a movie, read and take a nap!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time
by David Relin
349 pages

I really though this was a feel good story about this guy building schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

And then I Googled his book and this was one of the top results:
Questions over Greg Mortenson's stories;contentBody

End of story. Not a good read.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


I have to apologize for letting the Doc Report fall by the wayside. I guess living in this "Groundhog Day World" doesn't provide much material to blog about. That and I just shouldn't publicly blog 99% of the stuff that goes on here. Nothing that's classified, but it would just disappoint a few folks.

So there's not much to do here. Lets see, you can go to the well equipped gym, throw darts, play pool on the pool table that is outside getting dirty, watch movies, surf the net, work. Yeah, that's about it. Okay, there are some small shops that sell the assorted knock off name brand clothes, carpet and some electronics, but one visit is enough.

So with that we tend to linger longer during dinner. It's not uncommon to see a table with empty dishes on the tray, people engaged in conversation, it's something to do.

Every night there's a new conversation to keep everyone engaged. The subjects cover everything from cars, homes, kids, jobs, and on and on.

I have this routine during the meals. When I am through with my dinner I dump my tray and plastic dishes and flatware, then go and get my dessert and coffee and go back to the table. I don't like having my dessert with dirty dishes in front of me (plastic or otherwise).

Afterwards I usually go play darts with a few guys. I'm not good at it, but it keeps me out of my CHU.

And that's dinner here.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Master Mind: The Rise and Fall of Fritz Haber, the Nobel Laureate Who Launched the Age of Chemical Warfare by Daniel Charles
Hard cover
366 pages

As I have mentioned before I rarely buy books, I just read what I find in the paperback library at post.

This book caught my eye and decided to give it a shot.

Very interesting book. Fritz Haber pretty much changed the world by inventing the process to create Ammonia Nitrate. Whats the big deal with that? It's used in fertilizer and has helped crops grow bountifully.

But as the name of the book suggests he is also notorious for inventing something else.

No, he didn't die during the Holocaust, but direct relatives of his was killed in the gas chambers by the very gas he helped invent.

The author does a good job interspersing enough history of the time period, equal parts of Fritz Habers life and technical jargon.

It was a quick read for me. I'd say it was interesting, but not necessarily a good read.

Monday, July 25, 2011

10 Things You Will See At A Beach In Sri Lanka

1. A dog

2. A beggar

3. Women selling handmade beach covers and blankets (covers, throws etc)

4. Men selling handcrafted items (masks, Buddhas etc.)

5. Tout's

6. Beach boys/Sea urchin's

7. Beach cabana's

8. A washed up coconut

9. A surfboard

10. Restaurants with signs in German and German flags outside.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Normal Noises

"It's just the normal noises in here" - Tom Petty - Even the Losers

Aaah the noises of Basrah. The little birds singing in the morning, the glee club singing in the gym auditorium. You know I'm kidding about the glee club.

Mostly the noises are not good.

The incoming (IDF) alert. Wow, if that won't wake you up and put a chill up your spine nothing will.

Lest we forget the explosions that follow, that's good for keeping you awake for a few.

The other night I was treated to a burst from the Phalanx C-RAM (Counter Rocket and Mortar) gun. At 1500 rounds per minute that three second burst sounded incredible, but whats worse is that it's designed to shoot down IDF's within range. I didn't hear any explosions or incoming alert, rolled over in my bed only to hear another burst from the gun. I didn't go to sleep for awhile.

But incoming alerts, explosions and C-RAM guns were nothing compared to the most frightening sound that I heard last night. Nothing. My air conditioner is on 24/7 and I always hear it.

Power had gone out in my trailer, actually both halves of the trailer. Thus no air conditioning. When it's 100 degrees at night, things like this matter.

I tried resetting the main breaker but it kept tripping. I called someone to assist and he determined that it was my air conditioner that was making it trip. He gave me the keys to another trailer to sleep in but the keys didn't work and I didn't want to bother him so I grabbed a pillow and blanket and slept on the couch in my office.

Maintenance cleaned my air conditioner today. Funny thing is that we have a bit of humidity in the air blowing in from the ocean. My air conditioner not used to humidity pooled up the extra condensation and tripped the breaker, which is not a good thing. When maintenance brought my air conditioner back, dripping water and plugged it back in, it tripped the breaker again. They blew it out with a compressor and it seems to be working fine now.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Steak and Lobster Night

Somethings never change in Iraq. One of them being steak and lobster for dinner on Friday nights.
I can hear the gasps from here.

When I was in Baghdad in 2005 I tried the lobster once and never had it again. Many people filled their plates with it like it was the best thing going. With that said, since 2005 at least, and probably earlier, all across Iraq KBR has been serving steak and lobster on Friday nights at dining facilities throughout Iraq.

First, you have to realize pretty much 90% of everything served to us comes frozen. The crazy thing being that the steak and lobster probably did originate in the U.S.A.

The lobster tails are the fancy prepared kind but how they are prepared here is not fancy. I don't know what they do to them but to me they taste awful. I see more people here pass up the lobster tails which make more available for those who want extra. The cooks usually take the leftovers and throw it in the next days salad.

The steaks are on par with the lobster tails. Served one style and one style only, in the big serving pan and you have no idea how they are cooked. The steaks are not bad, but by all means they are not good. Sometimes the edges are really hard and almost inedible.

On top of all of that we eat on flimsy disposable plastic plates and plastic utensils. I guess the fast that I can cut through the steaks with a plastic knife is a good thing.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
242 pages
Personal narrative

To some people this book and movie is very familiar. I had never seen the movie but have heard many stories about the book and author and always had it on my reading list. Fortunately i just happened to have found a copy lying around so I had my chance.

If you haven't guessed the story is about a family that had hidden Jewish families is a secret room in their home during WWII. Yes, there are sad events, but many unexpected happy events.

It does have "religious" overtones, but it's not the basis of the book.

I'd say it's a good read.

As I'm a horrible book reviewer I am including a link to the review of the book

Sunday, June 26, 2011

One Month In Country

Has it been a month already? It sure went by fast. I'll have to say that the long days here really make the days go by quickly. The fact that everyday seems like "Ground Hog Day" also seems to help.

I think it only takes a week here to make you a seasoned veteran. One good early morning "Duck and Cover" alert and you've earned your stripes!

Speaking of "Duck and Cover" I was awakened last night by a 'rack shaker', as in a rocket shook my rack, which woke me up. As is the norm around here, it doesn't matter if it's one rocket or ten, when they blow up early in the morning you can forget trying to go back to sleep. Although I was able to go back to sleep, after about an hour, I woke up feeling like a Mack Truck hit me.

My colleagues were a bit excited as they heard the rocket whiz over their rooms, which first woke them up. There is a certain added stress level to hearing the rocket whiz over you and blow up versus it just blowing up. As one of them said to me this morning "That #^%$ rocket, WOOSH, right over my #$%^ hooch and BAM!!! it shook my $%^& rack, WOOSH! I heard that $%^& thing! "

(I just edited the above paragraphs, think this might be the last of my rocket stories)

I am going to take my first rest break much sooner than I thought, and glad to do it! So come July I'll head back to Sri Lanka to see my beloved.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Day In The Life

My Doc Reports from Iraq have been a bit slow. Partly because I'm too tired when I get back to my CHU (containerized housing unit), partly because I have to mentally edit over and over what I want to write.

CHU. When I was here in 05' we called the hooches. You lived in a hooch. Well there was mumbling and grumbling about 'hooch' not being politically correct, so now we call them CHU's.
It's funny as the WiFi network is still known as "hooch-net".

A Day In The Life:

My supervisor went on vacation a scant six days after I arrived and two of those days I spent in Baghdad so basically I got four days to learn from him how everything worked. Along with that we have a big project that a team from Baghdad came down to do.

I wake up at 0700, although the little chirping birds tend to wake me up much earlier and sometimes something else wakes me up much earlier. More on this.

By 0730-0740 I'm cleaned up and dressed and drag myself to the DFAC (dining facility) which is not very far away. I get three boiled eggs, two pieces of pineapple, a big coffee and some low fat milk. Scarf down breakfast and head to my office.

0755 or so, unlock the office, login to my computer and start going through emails.

Run around and put out fires, attend meetings, work on projects, do operational stuff, attend more meetings.

Go to lunch.

Run around and put out fires, attend meetings, work on projects, do operational stuff and attend more meetings.

1800 Go to dinner.

Go back to the office and put out one more fire.

I am back at my CHU usually around 1900 or so.

If I don't feel totally like collapsing in my bed I'll go to the gym, again just around the corner.

I'll do some reading, maybe watch some television (Armed Forces Network + some Arabic channels with programming in English).

2200 or so hit the sack.

Now the fun part. We have loudspeakers throughout the compound in case of emergencies. I can rarely if ever make out what they are saying except when the incoming alarm goes off. The bad guys don't like to bother us during the day, they prefer the night and early morning. So when I'm sound asleep, HONK HONK HONK HONK INCOMING INCOMING INCOMING HONK HONK HONK HONK. This WILL wake you up. And then you wait. BOOM! Wait a few seconds, maybe a few minutes and repeat once, twice, maybe ten times. The good thing is we have a ring of Phalanx guns (200mm 1500 rounds per minute gatling gun) to shoot down the mortars or rockets. If you don't hear the guns it means the rockets are not in range. This still doesn't mean that it won't make you nervous. I'd say given between an unsettling feeling and totally terrified when you are waiting for the explosions I'd say it's that going to the top of the rollercoaster feeling, but not the being at the top looking down feeling.

Then I try to go back to sleep.

Fortunately this isn't a nightly occurrence. As funny as this may sound the fact that bad guys are not bothering us during the day and everyday is proof that we are making a difference. Baghdad 2005, fuggedaboutit. Rockets day and night.

I work six days a week, Saturday being my "day off". Ha ha. Today is Saturday, I have already put out one fire, responded to about ten emails and already have two more things to do after lunch that require my attention.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Death Traps: The Survival of an American Armored Division in World War II by Belton Cooper
384 pages
Military history

I have always been a military history buff and enjoy first person narratives. I found this book barely staying together but still managed to read it in about four days.

If you are familiar with the tank war of WWII you know the U.S. Army won the battle against German armor because of sheer numbers. The German tanks picked off our tanks like a turkey shoot in most cases.

The author was with a maintenance unit that had to take the battle damaged tanks, repair them (if possible) and send them back into battle. His insight is very interesting.

I'd say this was a good read.

Book Corner - Finished Reading

The Pearl of Kuwait: A Novel of the Gulf War by Tom Paine
310 pages
Military fiction/drama/humor

My thoughtful wife bought this book for me to have something to read on my way to Iraq. It's about Marines and Kuwait (close to Basrah!), should be a perfect for me.

I enjoyed reading the first couple of chapters but then it suffered from the final chapter drag on. I have to say that it started getting very difficult to finish reading the book, but I soldiered on and did.

Judging by the Amazon reviews everyone else seemed to enjoy it. My take, not a good read.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Never Easy

When it comes to information technology work, it seems that it's never easy. The smallest thing can become a nightmare. Now add being in Basrah, Iraq to the mix and you have oodles of fun!

Just recently there was some equipment that needed a software upgrade that I had done before, shouldn't be a problem. In fact things started off easy enough. Now my easy enough software upgrade has turned into a priority flight to Baghdad and even a helicopter to pick me up at the airport (with another helo escort) to bring me to the embassy. Honestly hate to think how much this little adventure is going to cost, but back to the subject.

I've been working very long hours, but I never seem to catch up. It's always one step forward and three steps back.

Along with the all of the other mayhem I have to scrounge for just about everything, be it office supplies or cleaning supplies. I visited the cleaning supplies container, boxes of toilet paper and Windex, that's it. My boss has purchased many things around the office out of his own wallet.

One day at a time I guess.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Sound

I've only got one good war story, and it always ends with this line "nobody ever presses the play button and says this is the sound of a rocket flying over your head".

The fact is, by the time your ears hear it and your brain analyzes it, you will find yourself on the ground before you realize that you want to get flat on the ground (sounds like this is coming from experience?)

Think bottle rocket sound, but really magnified. It doesn't go pop, it goes BOOM! And oh yeah, that BOOM can ruin your day if you're to close.

Well funny thing happened today. I was attending a safety brief and guess what. The presenter said "if you hear this sound (click play) WOOOSH, run!" There are bunkers all over for this reason and the buildings are fortified.

So now I need a new way to end my only good war story!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Baghdad 2.0

I've been here in Baghdad since Thursday night. Pretty much ever since then I've been trying to decide what to blog about in this inaugural Baghdad Doc Report. Well first, this is not where I am going to be working. I am just here until June 1st taking care of administrative things. Being that weekends here are Friday and Saturday and on top of that Sunday is a holiday, I haven't been able to get anything accomplished.

First observations? It's huge. It's also dare I say almost extravagant. Every time I go for a walk I see something I didn't see before. Just recently, a putting and driving cages for the golfers. Then you have the beach volleyball lots, tennis courts, swimming pools, pool tables, gyms and I'm probably forgetting many other things.

We have a dining facility that provides Las Vegas buffet style eating. Sundays is the most popular day as steak and lobsters are served. Although I see that the steaks were served at lunch time and lobsters were served at dinner with a prime rib carving station. Mind you this is a fraction of what you can eat. Want a burger? They'll grill one for you. Want a sandwich? There is a sandwich station, yes with a panini grill. Healthy food? They have broiled fish and steamed veggies. Wings, ribs, fries? Yep.

The coffee's even good.

Funny thing is that I am pretty sure the dining facility was an after thought. See the embassy was built to be a “normal” embassy. Huh? Whatchu talking 'bout Doc? Well at any other embassy you're not provided free meals. Sure there's always the embassy cafeteria, but nothing to this extreme. The designers never envisioned the military still being here when the embassy was completed. Thus the second gym also CHU-ville. I'm not exactly sure what CHU stands for (possibly containerized housing units), they are trailers, like I used to live in when I was here last. Also the apartments, meant for one person have now been divided down the middle to accommodate two people (with shared kitchen, common area and bathroom).

I did notice that the ever present beat of helicopter rotors, be it from Blackhawks or Blackwater Little Birds are gone. I saw some Little Birds today, probably old Blackwater assets, probably old Blackwater pilots but now under new management.

Till next time.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

61 Hours (Jack Reacher Novel) by Lee Child
400 pages
Mystery thriller

I grabbed this book at the Dubai airport as I had nothing to read. I hesitated knowing that I haven't been exactly fond of the Jack Reacher series, but I gave it a go.

It wasn't as bad as the others, still very far fetched.

No more Jack Reacher novels for me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Because of my job I find myself in Arlington, VA for training every now and then. Coming from typical suburbia I must say that I have to really appreciate this city. Everything is is walking distance and the public transportation system is the best. It helps that the Metro runs almost directly down the middle of the city and there are convenient Metro bus stops everywhere.

I love this video that pretty much covers all of the nuances of this city.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Devil's Waltz (Alex Delaware Novel) by Jonathon Kellerman
528 pages
Mystery thriller

I thought I had certainly read the last of Kellerman, but I caved in and decided to give him another try. I'll admit this one was better than the others, although like the others the end just seemed to drag on.

I'll say this was somewhat of a good read.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The McDonalds Lesson

So I've been back in the States for a couple of days now immersing myself in all the Americana I can.

Tonight I decided to go for a stroll and have dinner at the McDonald's near the Rosslyn Metro station.

The crowd waiting at the counters was the usual mixture of blue collar and office workers.

In comes a man wearing what can only be described as rags. He was talking loudly, to himself, ranting endlessly on many subjects, fortunately no obscenities. Everyone gave him a wide berth as expected. The counter people gave him dirty looks. Everyone else tried to avoid looking at him.

When there was no one waiting in line he walked up, gained a minute of normalcy, turned around and asked if anyone was waiting. With no reply he placed his order of Dollar Menu items.

Just then a young girl wearing a hijab (head scarf that Muslim women wear) walked up to the counter, gave the counter woman some money and told her something. She in turn said something to the homeless man and he turned around and said "Thank you ma'am, thank you, thank you, God bless you!"

Life's little lessons in the strangest of places.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Trip to McDonald's

When it comes to "round to it" projects my list is a mile long. One of things that I wanted to do was treat our housekeepers daughter and friend to McDonald's, maybe something else along the way.

Because my time here is short, I knew I had to do it this weekend. I asked my housekeeper if I could take her daughter and a friend to the park and McDonald's and she said yes. Later Chris told me that I should also bring our housekeeper which I ended up doing.

I called a taxi and met them at a store near her home. We then went to Victoria Park (actually that's the old British name for it, but I can't pronounce the new name). It's a big park with lots of the usual playground stuff, swings, slides etc. I was surprised to find out all three of them had never been there. The girls were very happy and had a good time, I bought them ice cream. I was hoping to take them to the side of the park that had a bunch of carnival rides, but it didn't open until 4:00PM, probably because of the heat. Speaking of heat, the girls did tire quickly so it was off to McDonald's.

We arrived at McDonald's and when they came inside I had just as well taken them to Disney Land. They didn't know what they wanted, which I expected, so I ordered hamburger Happy Meals (in hindsight I should have got the chicken nuggets). A counter girl came over and put paper crowns on their heads, which made them both happy. They saw the playground and got excited.

When I brought them the food they didn't know what to do. They both found their Happy Meal toys, but neither one opened the bag with the toy in it. I think they wanted to save it until they got home. One girl ate some of her french fries, but not all and didn't touch her burger, the other girl did not touch anything in her bag at all. When I asked why it's was because she wanted to take it home to her mother. I told her I would buy her another Happy Meal, but she said no.

They both played in the playground for awhile and then it was time to go. I offered some more entertainment for them but I think this little episode was a bit overwhelming for them.

One thing that I didn't put into perspective and didn't expect was the fact that the other customers knew that this was probably their first visit and that they were poor. There was lots of unnecessary stares.

I wanted to take them to our company clubhouse as it has a children's playground complete with rubber matted play area. It never gets used and it's mostly shaded.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Super Spy by Matt Kindt
336 pages
Graphic novel

I saw this book at a bookstore in Santa Cruz while visiting my daughter. I flipped through a couple of pages and decided I had to have it...via Amazon.

The book is a graphic novel in that it's almost like a comic book. The graphics are great.

From Amazon:
Super Spy is 52 interwoven short stories about cyanide, pen-guns, heartbreak and betrayal. Each story follows the life of a spy during World War II. Spanning the globe from Spain to France and Germany, this book takes the reader on a tour of the everyday life of the spy. From the small lies and deceptions to the larger secrets that everyone hides, Super Spy reveals the nature of espionage and how an individual can be lost and also find redemption. A children's book is something more than it seems... a woman swims the English Channel to deliver a deadly secret... a German spy desperately seeks escape for herself and her daughter... and a spy continues to serve his country even beyond death.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sinhala and Tamil New Years and Other Breaks

I'll have to say if there's one good thing about working in Sri Lanka it's the time off for holidays.
This week we get the 13th and 14th off for Sinhala and Tamil New Years, yeah! Friday is our usual half day, so it's a two and a half day work week. If you were very crafty you could have taken vacation this week, burned up 3 vacation days and utilizing last weekend and the upcoming weekend quite the long vacation to get off the island!

Along with the usual local holidays we just have to love it when the Sri Lankan president decides for whatever reason (his birthday party) to declare a national holiday.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Blood Test (Alex Delaware series) by Jonathon Kellerman
360 pages
Mystery thriller

Against my better judgement I decided to give Kellerman another try. True to his style the books keeps you interested in the beginning. In fact I was tearing right through it. But then much like the previous novel I read by him it got, well, stupid. The dialogue between the bad guy and Dr. Delaware seemed ridiculous.

Judging by the reviews on Amazon I wasn't the only one who felt this book was not a good read.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Good The Bad and The Ugly

Living in Sri Lanka.

The Good
Watching the wonderful sunsets from our apartment
Looking at the twinkling lights of the ships anchored out at sea
Relaxing on the beach at Hikkaduwa

The Bad
The corruption
The huge number of stray dogs and cats
The poverty

The Ugly
Story time. We just went shopping across the street and ended up with a few more bags then we thought we would. Easy enough, we would get a tuk tuk to take us to our apartment. Chris went to find one and in short time she was back. The bagger loaded the bags, the tuk tuk driver didn't help. He took us across the street which meant leaving the parking garage, turning left and going about 50 feet, making a U-turn, returning about 50 feet and going down the ramp to our parking garage. Again he didn't help unload the bags and just sat there. I counted out 80RS (we figured 50RS was certainly sufficient) and he shook his head and said no, he wanted 100RS (or at least that's what I thought he said). Chris told him in no specific terms what he could do with his request. I being the diplomatic one said I had 100RS in our apartment,I would get it, against Chris' wishes. I told the driver to wait. I got the 100Rs and came down, stifling my anger I handed it to him and he said "No sir, 120RS". At that point, diplomacy went out the window. I went full Drill Instructor on him. Huh? I used to be a Marine Corps Drill Instructor, we have a special way of yelling when we get "upset". The driver called me a few names, I told him to "GET THE #$% OUT OF HERE". One of our splendid apartment guards was in the garage, he started approaching, then he backed off, go figure.

The beloved Colombo tuk tuk driver, always giving Sri Lanka a good name.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Consuming The Consumables

Over a year ago we received our shipment of consumable items. We were of course curious to see how far the items would go.

Kitty litter (about 400 pounds) and kitty food, long gone
Peanut butter, long gone
Balsamic vinegars, still have
Mustards, still have
Restaurant sized plastic wrap and aluminum foil, plenty left

What we do have plenty of is cleaning supplies. Initially we had a difficult time making sure our housekeeper would use it. I think she was afraid to and she would end up purchasing stuff at the store when we sent her shopping. Now she knows to use it. We probably have a good years worth of cleaning supplies left.

Now the toothpaste and toothbrushes was used up a few months ago. What has remarkably held out is my 10oz can of Skintimate shaving lotion. Yes it's a woman's shaving lotion but like I mentioned before it's an old Drill Instructors trick to use it, works great. I think the original can will deplete this week, but whats cool is that it also came with a free travel size can and at this rate it will last me another two months at least!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

The Spiders of Allah: Travels of an Unbeliever on the Frontline of Holy War by James Hider
336 pages

I couldn't read this book fast enough. It was a real eye opener. I'd have a hard time explaining the book, which is why I pretty much never write a review.

It's a good read.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I don't know if you have ever watched the NBC show Outsourced, I love it.

I have almost choked on what I was eating from laughing so hard while watching it. Why?

The show is about an American who has to work in India and him learning about the culture and nuances. The similarities between the show and what we deal with living in Sri Lanka are very close.

In one episode the "head bobble" is explained to him. "Sometimes it means yes, sometimes it means no, sometimes it means maybe". Scary thing is after you've been here awhile you can actually tell what head bobble is which. Case in point, I was at this event and this girl asked a gentleman to take our picture. He pointed the camera and bobbled his head, I knew that meant, "Nope, didn't get the picture", she showed him how to use the camera and he tried again and bobbled, my guess this was a "Maybe", it was, one more try and another head bobble, he took a good picture. Scary thing is, I have caught myself head bobbling a time or two.

Other aspects of the show deal with the food, cleanliness, tuk tuks, food poisoning, things we deal with pretty on a daily basis.

Believe me, the show is much funnier if you have ever lived in India or Sri Lanka.Link

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Silent Partner (Alex Delaware Novel) by Jonathon Kellerman
512 Pages
Mystery Thriller

This is my third book by the author and I was hoping to enjoy it. Unfortunately it just dragged on towards the end. I think he could have easily wrapped it up 200 pages earlier.

It did have a good twist at the end, even two twists, but it's almost not worth getting there.

I was really surprised by all of the positive reviews on Amazon. All in all not a good read.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Utility Bill Cometh

The other day when I walked into our elevator lobby our receptionist handed me an envelope. As I waited for the elevator I went ahead and opened it and noticed it was an electric bill. I tried explaining to her that these usually go directly to the company which she I wasn't able to make her understand so I took it with me and would bring it to work the next day.

I took a better look at the bill to see how much it was and initially I kind of shrugged it off, then I felt bad. Now I know that electricity is supposed to be expensive here, we live on an island, but this bill was big. How big?

I'd say about five times the amount for our home in Virginia.

In Virginia we can keep the windows open and use the ceiling fans and only turn on the air conditioning on the hottest of days. We can't open most of the windows here as they have been sealed shut to keep out the heat. That and one wall has floor to ceiling windows that soaks up the heat.

We have five separate air conditioning units. They are in the bedrooms, living and dining room. But not in the kitchen or the maids quarters (our pantry), why? Because the designers figured that the tenants would not pay for air conditioning for their housekeepers who would be spending most of their time in the kitchen.

The sad thing is that our electric bill is only half of what the people living in houses receive, which is incredible to say the least.

We have been pretty good at turning off or turning down the air conditioners and now that we've seen one of electric bills with our own eyes, even more so.

But the electric bill is nothing compared to the rent on this place, that's a real eye popper.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Iraq Adventure

The WHAT! Come April 25th I am departing Sri Lanka for the States where I will start four weeks of training for a one year tour in Iraq.

This is something Chris and I had discussed and I was more concerned about her feelings about it and she was okay with it.

As some of you may know this won't be my first time to "The Sandbox" as I did a year in Baghdad during 2005. I was there for the elections and admittedly some bad times. I feel that things have calmed down considerably since I've been there, also I will not be going to Baghdad. I would rather be in the Green Zone, but I'm happy that I was just able to get a slot there as the positions were very hard to come buy.

Unlike my previous experience there the benefit$ won't be nearly as much, but there is a financial incentive that is very generous along with two paid trips to the States (or wherever you want to go) and three paid trips within the region, Basically Chris and I can meet every two months or so and she can catch a flight to Dubai, Amman, Charm-El-Cheik etc.

Where is Chris going to stay during my one year in Iraq? Well right here in Sri Lanka. The company gives you the choice of packing up and going to the USA and receiving a stipend or staying at your current location. Given that she has access to pools, beaches, the apartment is maintained, all utilities paid and we have a housekeeper, she'll stay here. That and we have a friend who will be starting a job in Singapore so I expect Chris will visit her when she needs a break from the city.

I hope to visit the gym more often while I'm there, not like the last time I was there (well honestly I quit going to the gym which was in a big tent after a rocket landed nearby and we could feel the concussion).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Computer Donation to the Boys Home

Over a year ago I went on a company trip to a boys home (orphanage) outside of the city limits. We went there to just have a fun day with the boys.

Initially we were treated to a tour of the home which is on a very large tract of land and has many buildings. One of the first things that we say was the computer classroom. I noticed that they were all shut off. I asked if they were any problems with them and they said there was many. Myself and a few others tried to get a few to work. It was futile, they were all junk.

We continued our tour and was given a karate demonstration by the boys and then we ended up playing some impromptu volleyball and cricket.

It occurred to me that the company often donated used computers and even the worst computers that we get rid of would be better than what they had now. I told the director that I would try.
(open mouth, insert foot).

This isn't the first time that I had some grandiose idea for charity. The last big idea I had didn't turn out well. That's a story for another time.

As it turns out one of the units with the company had just received new computers and they said I could have the old ones and the monitors! Only problem was that they had removed the hard drives. They also had the old restore CD's (software, drivers etc.) that came with them.

My first problem was getting the computers home. Between procrastination and logistics, this took awhile.

Next came the hard dives. I was hoping that some grant money would come through but it never did and I ended up having to buy the hard drives off of eBay. I was trying to get the best bang for my bucks and I lost a few auctions before I finally won an auction for the hard drives that I needed at a good price. Now I had to wait for the hard drives to arrive.

The hard drives arrived and now I had to prepare one that I could clone to the other computers. This took awhile as I wanted to find the best open source educational software I could find.

When I finally got one of the computers the way I wanted it I was ready to clone the hard drive. If all went well I would be able to use a hard drive duplicator at work and the job should only take a half hour tops to clone all of the hard drives. The duplicator wouldn't work with the drives. I needed a plan "B".

I then had to figure out a software way to clone the computers. This took forever but I finally was able to bot the computers from a USB flash drives and clone all of the computers over a weekend. But then two of the computers used different hard drives. Fortunately I had the drives but then the clone image wouldn't work and I had to come up with something new for them. I ended up installing Ubuntu Linux on them.

Then I tested the monitors and realized some of them didn't work. Now I needed more monitors, Back to the company and asked if I could get some used computer monitors to be donated. This took awhile but I got the monitors and got them home.

I'll just fast forward here. I finally was able to get someone to make liaison with the boys home and with some help delivered and set up the computers.

The boys were very excited and dived right into the educational software that I had installed. It was so good to see how happy they were. I'm ashamed at myself for dragging this on for so long.

We are making another trip to the home next month and I'll get a chance to follow up on the computers and I am going to see about getting the company to donate a printer.

Boys home web site:


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

When the Bough Breaks (Alex Delaware series) - by Jonathan Kellerman
448 pages
Detective thriller

This is the book that introduces the Alex Delaware character. Honestly I liked the first Alex Delaware series that I read, but this one was good.
All in all a good read.

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Over the Edge (Alex Delaware series) = byJonathan Kellerman
448 pages
Detective thriller

I think I have found yet another series that I like. The main character in this book is a retired psychologist who retired young and ends up in helping to solve crimes in one way or another.
If you tired of reading Patterson's Alex Cross series, give this a try.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Singapore Adventure - Final

Time to fill in the gaps of our trip to Singapore. Where to begin?
Well for one I have to say the flight to and from Singapore on Emirates Air was amazing in itself. Flying coach on Emirates Air offers you just as many benefits of flying business on any American airline. They even serve you a full meal for a 3 1/2 hour flight, a good meal at that!

I'd say our hotel was pretty much typical what Holiday Inn has to offer. It had a very nice lobby and glass elevators. As with everything else in Singapore it was expensive, to include breakfast for about $18 per day and Internet access about the same. Room service was unbelievably expensive. One cup of coffee, about $8. Don't ask me how I know that.

We wanted to experience the many food courts that Singapore has to offer. They call them hawker centers. They are very large and have food stalls that seem to go on and on and on. You might think that these places are dirty and loud, but they are neither. The centers were very clean and you can leave your trays on the table. We were surprised that with all of the people we were able to carry on a conversation without raising our voices. The prices were very reasonable. Oh, yes, how about the food? Fantastic. I tried the chicken rice and Peking duck with noodles, delicious!

We visited the Hard Rock Cafe, one of three on the island. The prices were a bit higher than the States, but they had the same good ol' HRC menu. I always get the pulled pork bbq sandwich, for no other reason other than it's probably one of the least expensive items on the menu : )

The metro system was great. Very easy to use and inexpensive. The station were very clean and architecturally pleasing. The trains were behind glass doors that opened when they arrived which kept the noise down. A neat thing about taking the metro is that if you bought a single pass you can redeem your pass at any of the ticket machines for a $1 refund.

Singapore is famous for two things, shopping and food. I mentioned the hawker centers but they also had food malls. No, not food courts, food malls. We visited two and could not believe the huge selection of foods they had to offer. The vendors went on and on with every type of food you could imagine. Again they were very clean and the prices were reasonable. Speaking of clean, what do you imagine when you think of a mall bathroom? Now how about a food court bathroom? You probably wouldn't even want to use it unless you really wanted to. We used one at a food court and I almost took a picture of the inside. It was like something you would find in a five star hotel. The attendants carried tongs to pick up anything that fell on the floor. It was amazing.

Now we found out the shopping fell into two categories. For the most part the prices were totally ridiculous. Crazy expensive. Yet, the malls were crowded just like any mall in the States and the kids were buying the stuff up. But on the other end of the scale we visited a mall in Chinatown and they had many stores with lots of reasonably priced goods. In fact most of Chinatown had small stores with good prices.

Final thoughts? I really enjoyed Singapore. By far the cleanest, most advanced and civilized country I have ever visited. I liked the food, I liked the friendly people. I liked that nobody cared we were tourists. When we were in Chinatown we ate at a hawker center and had to have been the only tourists there. We didn't worry about the price mysteriously getting higher, nobody stared at us, nobody tried to scam us. It was very nice. But on the other hand it was just very expensive as a whole. More expensive than the Maldives and I thought that was expensive. The Maldives was affordable compared to Singapore! I'm not sure if I'd visit there again. I'd like to see Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) next.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tips for Seeing a Concert at The Singapore Indoor Stadium


If you plan on seeing a concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium here a few useful tips.

DO pick up your tickets before the show. I really didn't see a line at the box office when the show began but why take chances.

DO take the metro (MRT). It's affordable and the Stadium station is conveniently located. Take the Circle Line from any of the connecting MRT stations such as Doby Ghant.

DO give yourself PLENTY of time if you take a taxi to the concert. Expect plenty of traffic.

DO purchase a return ticket (If you don't already have an EZ Pass) at the MRT so you don't have to wait in line to purchase a ticket after the concert (very long line).

DO NOT plan on taking a taxi. You can try calling for one but chances are they will all be booked up and you will have a very long wait for one.

DO bring your cell phone and non-SLR type camera because you can take pictures during the concert.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Operation Singapore

Tomorrow morning my beloved and I will depart for beautiful Singapore. Our goal is to eat good food, her shopping, me see the museums and both of us see Eric Clapton on Valentines Day.

I already know that Internet access at the hotel we are staying at is $21 per day, but free at the business center. I'm not sure if I'll cough up the $21.

I also want to go to the roof of the Marina Bay Sands hotels where apparently you can see Indonesia on a clear day.

There is road construction on the way to the airport and we have been forewarned to leave up to four hours early tomorrow, not looking forward to that part of the trip!

I have extra batteries for the camera and my binoculars ready!

Till next time.

Coming Down the Mountain in the Rain

Coming back from Badulla in the rain. Note our driver attempting to pass on a solid double white line.

Badulla Visit - Epilogue

I finally found a chance to catch up on The Doc Report, and now the rest of the story.

The trip to Badulla took six hours to the southern end of the island. We went through twisty windy roads all of it two lanes. The scenery was very beautiful, especially the mountains. Apparently there is some sort of election going on so there were huge vertical banners with the Sri Lankan president pretty much everywhere and in the corner a small picture of the person that he was endorsing! There was big smiley pictures of the president everywhere on banners everywhere, with the little picture of the person he was endorsing. Too funny.

We stopped for a classic Sri Lankan rice and curry lunch. 600RS to feed all three of us, about $5.50, that was including a Pepsi that was probably 100RS by itself!

As we got closer to Badulla we could see banners for the exhibition and eventually a police checkpoint that would only allow vehicles with passes to continue on, we were getting closer.

But then we reached a crazy intersection with signs for the exhibition pointing in nearly every direction. We turn left, pull over and ask a cop, he says we need to turn around, go to another street pull over, ask a cop, same thing. Finally a cop saw our pass and just pointed down the road, we took this as a good omen and continued.

Finally made the exhibition and had to get the vehicle inspected by security. We had five cases of apples and a few cases of Coca Cola, they asked if they could have some and we obliged.

Now the next problem was actually finding our actual display location. This was a very large fairground with roads leading in several directions. We finally found an information booth and we proceeded to go there (still making a few wrong turns).

We set up and did what we had to do, give out pencils, apples, Coca Cola and other assorted company stuff. The crowds were anything from a handful of people to five minute frenzies of handing out apples and pencils. It got pretty crazy sometimes.

After a long day we took off to the hotel. We heard one source say that the hotel was an hour away, someone else said that it was twenty minutes away, it was an hour. Up a mountain, in the middle of nowhere, tucked in the jungle.

The hotel had a nature theme and my room was built to not disturb the natural rock formations, providing plenty of places to stub your toes! The crew before us said that one of them had seen a rat in their room. I didn't see a rat, but did see many bugs the next morning. The woman that accompanied our group could not sleep at all, worried about the rats!

The next morning we checked out, went down the mountain and back to exhibition to give out more promotional material.

Our relief crew arrived and we briefed them on what to do, uhm, hand out stuff! Well we also had a plasma TV that was showing a movie that we had to keep an eye on.

The ride back home was mostly in torrential rain. The roads were flooded and it the rain slowed our trip down.

Finally made it back to Colombo around 8:00PM that night, no so bad.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Definition of BOONDOGGLE
: a braided cord worn by Boy Scouts as a neckerchief slide, hatband, or ornament
: a wasteful or impractical project or activity often involving graft

I'm not exactly sure that I can agree completely with the Merriam-Webster definition, I prefer to call a boondoggle working while having fun.

Tomorrow morning I leave for what will be my third boondoggle since my assignment to Sri Lanka. When I was in Montevideo I never went on a boondoggle, while assigned to Jeddah I went on one.

The other week I was in the Maldives which is a prime boondoggle mission, especially because of the outrageous daily per diem amount. Tomorrow will be on the the complete other end of the spectrum as I am going to Badulla which is in the interior of Sri Lanka: It's going to be a six hour trip by vehicle south. Wish I had an iPod!

Basically I will be manning a booth with promotional material for the company, and I have to give out said promotional material. I did this boondoggle last year but in the old capitol of Kandy. At that exhibition we only had refrigerator magnets to give out and it caused quite the commotion giving those away. This year the goodies have been kicked up a few notches to include book bags, hats, pencils, pocket calendars and Coca Cola. It's probably going to be pretty crazy as we are expecting 3 million to visit.

We have been told that our per diem will be reduced by $5 as the hotel provides breakfast, truth is the company is just trying to save money. Can't blame them.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Gardens of Water: A Novel by Alan Drew
352 pages

I really enjoyed this book. You encounter socio-economic differences, cultural differences, romance, tragedy, it's all there.


In Drew's well-intentioned if overwrought first novel, cultures clash as a teenaged Kurdish girl and an American boy fall in love over the objection of the girl's father, a Muslim Kurd living in Istanbul. Sinan, a shop owner, tries to keep his American upstairs neighbors, Marcus Hamm and his family, at arm's length. But this is impossible after an earthquake devastates Istanbul, and Sinan and his family end up living in a tent city provided by American missionaries. Marcus, the director of a missionary school, lost his wife in the earthquake; she was found dead, shielding Sinan's son, who was buried alive for three days before being rescued. Now, Sinan watches as his America-obsessed daughter, Irem, falls in love with Marcus's bipolar son, Dylan, and his impressionable younger son, Ismail, slowly becomes converted to Christianity at the camp. The story moves inexorably toward a climax in which Sinan's Muslim pride and Marcus's Christian proselytizing collide with predictably tragic results. Though some may find the ideological conflict that provides the narrative thrust too textbookish, Drew, who lived in Istanbul at the time of the Marmara earthquake, effortlessly transports readers to a wrecked Istanbul and finds shards of hope in the mountains of rubble. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Maldives Adventure - Part I - Sri Lankan Airport Fun

So today I had to leave for a trip to the Maldives on an official boondoggle of sorts. I made arrangements for a driver to pick me up and I realized that I was probably cutting it a little to close but I was unable to get in touch with him. When he did pick me up I expressed my concerns about to getting to the airport in time and he in turn expressed that with a heavy right foot.

Because I have a special airport badge we were able to go through the staff lane (all cars and passengers are inspected by the military at the airport), we were pulling up at departures with time to spare.

As expected there were small crowds of people trying to get through the entrance doors with no organization. There is an Sri Lankan Airman checking for tickets, not putting much effort into it, but slowing everything down. I managed to get through fairly quickly.

I rush to to the counter to turn in my bags as I already had a boarding pass. There was one guy in front of me, how long could that take. Well apparently forever as another agent called me over. My bags were over the limit (carrying printers) and I had to pay an overweight fee, no biggee it will be expensed. You have to go to a cashier, pay the fee, then return to the counter. No big deal right?

I go the counter and give the woman the slip of paper indicating how much overweight the bags were. She told me the amount and I hand her a credit card. I wait, and wait, and wait. I'm watching the minutes tick by. Finally they ask if I had another card, when I knew there was nothing wrong with the one I gave them, I give them another card, and wait and wait.

Finally my temper starts rising. I tell them if I need to go and get some cash tell me, but they need to make up their minds as I am cutting it close. Finally I make up my mind get my card out and head to the ATM, that's not inside the airport, but OUTSIDE.

So I go outside the airport getting hassled by security along the way. I go the first machine. Low and behold it won't give me any money. But I didn't believe it so I went to another machine and did get my money.

Now I had to go through security baggage check again but this time I whip out my airport badge which got me to the head of the line.

I get back to the cashier, pay her then to go back to the ticket agent, give her the receipt and run for my gate, but I have to go through customs first.

Usually I can go through a special line for people in the company but the guy waved me off as he was dealing with a special case apparently. The lines were slow.

I get through passport control and run for my gate. Newton's Law says my gate has to be the last one. I am running with a backpack with two laptops in it. "Sri Lanka Air paging passenger Meyer, please report to Gate 12 for boarding". I am now down to a fast walk when a guy in a golf cart stops and says "Male'?", I said yes, he tells me to 'please hurry as I am the last passenger'. I'm thinking, dude I know that and how about giving me a ride. I take off and make it to the gate and onto the half empty plane. I am dripping sweat. Not perspiring, I am DRIPPING sweat, my shirt is soaked in sweat.

I quickly fell asleep and we were in Male' quickly. When I made it out of the arrivals terminal a gentlemen was there waiting for me. There was a big group of Chinese also going to the same hotel. I had to wait for the second speedboat that was no problem, I was offered something to drink and a seat to relax. The speedboat arrived and my luggage was loaded and off we went to Male, about a two minute ride. I knew where the hotel was so I hightailed it in front of the Chinese folks.

There was still a big group of people checking in. A flight crew was in front of me complaining of the wait. One of the desk guys comes around the corner asks for my passport and told me to have a seat. In about two minutes he is at my table with my room key, he said he would send my bags up.

I go to my room and there is a nice fruit-bowl waiting for me with a card that has a handwritten note from the manager, nice touch.

I'm bushed, it's past 3:00am. Good night!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

The Secrets of Inchon: The Untold Story of the Most Daring Covert Mission of the Korean War by Eugene Franklin Clark, CDR USN
325 pages
Military history

Without a doubt this has to be one of the best military history novels I have ever read. I came across this book at book store in Santa Cruz and for $5 thought I would give it a try, I'm glad I did.

The author had typed up his memoirs of going to a small North Korean held island to gather information for the assault at Inchon harbor. He forms a small guerrilla unit and together they encounter many situations that would make any spy thriller novel that I have read look like a walk in the park. What I especially like is that the author just writes it as it happens. The mistakes, the deaths, and in the end watching the assault from a U.S. Navy cruiser (although almost being shot when approaching it from sea.)

I encourage you to read the Amazon reviews:

It looks like you can buy a used hardback edition for under $2

This was especially a good read.

Book Corner - Finished Reading

The Disciple by Stephen Coonts
368 pages
Spy thriller

I think this is the second by by Stephen Coonts I have read, but I'm not sure. Have to say that in the whole spy thriller genre that I seem to like so much this was a huge improvement.
Overall not over the top and I'd say it's a good read.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Of Cars and Cell Phones

Whenever I come back to the States two things always seem to grab my attention, cars and cell phones. I'm just amazed at the cars that I see that I had no idea were on the market.

I got a Toyota Corolla rental car when I went to visit my daughter in California and I was amazed at the quality and features the car had. It easily had enough acceleration to outperform my old Porsche 944, not that I tried to find out... Great gas mileage, roomy. I'm not selling this car, just 15 years ago I would have never considered a Corolla. It had a GPS unit (Hertz Never Lost) with it. I had never used a GPS so it was a little embarrassing to ask the clerk how to. I still ended up making a few U-turns during my trip.

I haven't seen a single SMART car on the road although I have watched the inventory at the local dealership dwindle daily.

And cell phones. Every time I come home the phones get more and more advanced. I had a cheap prepaid Wal Mart no thrills cell phone while everybody else has an iPhone or Android. Fact is, I'm not sure I would want one of those phones. I find myself spending too much time playing around with the baby browser that my phone had, couldn't imagine if I had full blown Internet access!

Well lets see what happens the next time I come back. I'm hoping to see flying cars.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Corner - Finished Reading

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Llosa
416 pages

I had read good things about this book so decided to give it a read, well I didn't like it. The book is about the dictator of the Dominican Republic Rafael Trujillo and his subsequent assassination.
I guess I was expecting more facts. All in all it was kind of a difficult book to read.
Well first book of 2011.

Catching Up

When I've been behind on posting updates on The Doc Report I usually wrap it all up in one tidy 'catching up' report. This usually means I've forgotten most of what I really wanted to blog about but here goes.

So I have been back in the good ol' U.S. Of A for about two weeks now. I had an agenda and so far I've been on track or better, but not so in the food department. You see there is always a list of food that I want to eat when I get back to the States, namely Vietnamese pho soup, a North Carolina pulled pork barbecue sandwich, maybe a good beef burger and breakfast before I go at IHOP.

So far I've had the pho soup and a good beef burger, but I'm really dying for that Carolina pulled pork barbecue sandwich!

I mentioned in my last post that I went to the Robbin Thompson concert, that was loads of fun and something I've always wanted to do.

I also had the opportunity to feed the homeless at my Dad's church. It was a really heartwarming and learning experience. I talked to a gentleman named “Rambo” who has served time in prison and for awhile lived in a tent in the woods. He had a really great attitude and was very happy to have a warm place to sleep that night (at the church) and for the food.

Likewise in the learning experience department I drove a used truck for my friend back from Richmond to Virginia Beach to be delivered to his brother. My friend bought the truck at a auction and it was plagued with electrical gremlins and a few other problems that had me worried as I drove it to the beach. When I met my friends brother I gave him the laundry list of problems with the truck. I didn't tell him that I thought he should just take it straight to the junkyard. But after telling him all of the problems with it and handing him the key, I realized I just as well have been handing him the keys to a new Rolls Royce. He told me all of the problems were minor compared to the problems he was having with his current truck. I learned a good lesson from him.

My Mom had recently traveled with some ladies to the Grand Canyon. This was pretty much her first real vacation and travel experience in years. She enjoyed the trip and wanted to see more. I came up with a few suggestions and looked at things to see and do, airfare etc. In the end, she wanted to go back to the Grand Canyon. I made reservations in the morning and we were flying to Las Vegas that evening. I booked a Grand Canyon tour with one of the many operators out of Vegas. We went to the West Rim of the canyon and if you've never been there I highly suggest that you take the trip. But do pass up The Skywalk which extends over the canyon with the glass floor. We both thought it would be exciting but in the end it was a waste of money and you could get just as good a view of the canyon from any of the other viewing points. It was kind of sad that the Indians there had sold out for tourism.

Our return flight from Vegas was supposed to go to New York and then to Norfolk, but because of all of the bad weather our flight was canceled and instead we were routed through Dallas. On the good side we were able to sleep in a little longer, on the bad side instead of getting to Norfolk around 5:30PM we arrived at 9:30PM. After checking emails and taking care of a few thing I went to bed at 11:00PM only to wake up and 4:00AM to go right back to the airport and fly cross country again to see my daughter! Funny as I left Norfolk at the same gate and arrived in Dallas at the same gate when we left for Vegas. This time I was able to fly business class which let me arrive rested.

Now here in the Santa Cruz area playing tourist and spending time with my daughter and son in law.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Robbin Thompson Band- Sweet Virginia Breeze

This was one of my most favorite bands of the early 80's. I would listen to the album 'Two B's Please' over and over again.
I finally got a chance to see the Robbin Thompson Concert last night at The National in Richmond Virginia with my best friend Bill.
The Robbin Thompson Band did not disappoint!
Everyone got out of their seats for the unofficial Virginia theme song "Sweet Virginia Breeze"