Tuesday, January 30, 2007

off we go, into the wild blue yonder....

It was recently "gently" pointed out to me that I had pompously (my interpretation) suggested that I don't post here about inconsequential things, such as bronchitis and buying a camera. It brought me up short, reminding me that I should practice what I preach. While the following may be actually considered even more self-indulgent, as it is about me, my mea culpa is that it is in response to a request.

I spent 6 years in the Air Force as a cryptologic linguist. This is how the USAF describes this job:

Operates and manages operation of communications equipment. Operates radio receivers, recording equipment, typewriters, keyboards, computer consoles, and related equipment. Tunes receivers to prescribed frequencies or performs frequency search missions, or both, over specified portions of radio spectrums to locate and monitor stations and frequency use. Monitors and records communications, adding appropriate comments to assist in transcription and analysis. Performs preventive maintenance on mission equipment.

Transcribes and processes communications. Transcribes, translates, analyzes, and reports on assigned communications.

Translates spoken or written material from one language to another. Uses wording aids, and references. Recognizes essential elements of information for reporting activity. Assists analysts in identifying, analyzing, and reporting activities.

Maintains technical aids, logs, and records. Compiles and maintains operation records and statistics. Ensures logs, forms, and correspondence are properly completed, annotated, and distributed. Monitors and maintains handbooks, working aids, and analytical references to ensure applicability and currency. Reviews, updates, and compiles data for operational use.

Paraphrased, I listened to arabic communications, recorded and typed what I heard, translated it, analyzed and reported it.

I included the official job description because that is about all of the detail I can get into without disclosing potentially classified information. This job requires a top secret/sensitive compartmented information security clearance.

I joined the Air Force in March of 1983 because I didn't know what else to do. I was in college and was burned out - I tried to work full time and go to school full time and I just couldn't hack it anymore. I had had some idea that joining the military would give me a full-time job that would also help pay for college. I took the military entrance exam and scored well enough that I could request any job they had an opening for. Somehow or another I ran across the description for airborne cryptologic linguist - that really caught my eye as I've always been interested in flying. The job requires a facility for foreign languages, so I took the language aptitude battery and qualified for language school. So off I go to basic training. (The less said about basic, the better.) While there, I had to take 2 days worth of tests to determine which language type I had a propensity for (slavic, romance, inflected, etc). Once again, I scored well enough to be allowed to choose. I had no idea which I was interested in. We saw a film that described the locations the different languages were taught. At that time there were 4 (I think) - San Antonio, San Francisco, San Diego, and Monterey. Monterey sounded the most interesting place to be (I still don't know why San Francisco didn't top my list - although I remember pictures of Monterey including palm trees and the ocean) so I asked which languages were taught there. Arabic was among those that had current openings. So, come April, off I go to Monterey - to the Defense Language Institute, Foreign Language Center at the Presidio of Monterey, California. I spent the next year there 6 hours a day, 5 days a week learning arabic. This included written as well as oral training, with some cultural lessons too. Here is where I met Laura. She was a student at DLI too, learning chinese. We decided to marry. (Laura decided to leave the military.) Due to the "dangers" inherent in the airborne portion of the job, I opted for a ground slot instead - new wife, kid on the way, etc. In April of 1984 I graduated from DLI and in May we moved to San Angelo, Texas, for my next school - this time technical training. For the first time I was introduced to the fundamentals of being a cryptologic linguist. (see job description above) We were there for 3 months - during the middle of the summer. In September we moved to the island of Crete. Now began another 3 months of OJT to learn mission-specific skills (new equipment, targets, etc.) For the next 2 years there I worked a cycle of 4 swings (2:30PM to 10:30PM), 4 mids (10:30PM to 6:30AM), 4 days (6:30AM to 2:30PM) and 3 days off. Believe it or not, you get used to it. Anyway, in September of 1987 we moved back to the states, to Maryland. I worked at NSA (the National Security Agency) for the next two years doing primarily analytical work.

In late 1989 I had some choices to make. I was due to re-enlist in early 1990. I liked my job but it meant the distinct possibility of transferring to Crete every 2 years then back to Maryland. As much as we liked Crete, the biggest problem was that there weren't schools there for kids beyond elementary school - which they would reach during the next enlistment. If we were stationed on Crete when the kids were old enough for jr. high or high school they would have had to attend a DoD boarding school in Spain. That wasn't going to happen. So, my choices were to:

a) stay in, and when the kids were old enough, hope for an assignment to somewhere other than Crete,
b) stay in and go to Crete unaccompanied - Laura and the kids stay state-side,
c) change career fields giving me other assignment options
d) get out of the military.

Neither a nor b appealed to us. I tried option c but wasn't able to get a slot in the career field I wanted - computers. I could have re-enlisted and continued to try option c, but I was on the cusp of my next rotation to Crete and didn't feel confident that I would be allowed to transfer. So, I chose option d. My dad told me about this company whose computers he repaired that had a programming staff and I submitted a resume. They called me down for an interview and within a week I was offered a job. The next week I took terminal leave and we moved in with my parents here and I took this job.

I know that this doesn't tell you really anything about being a cryptologic linguist. The only other thing I feel I can mention is that there is (or was when I was in) a "crypto" portion of the job that involved codes & cyphers. What can I say, I like puzzles. If you are interested, there have been a few books written about NSA that might give a little more insight to their overall mission and imply a little more about what I did. For those that hung on all the way to here, you deserve a prize (that I don't have to give) and I hope it wasn't too boring. I am planning on a multi-installment post about our experience living on Crete and our kids being born there. Maybe that will prove to me more interesting.

Monday, January 29, 2007

cough, cough, hack, hack, *splat* - so that's what it looks like.

I think I am back in the world of the living. I won't commit myself until I make it the rest of the day. Except for Tuesday morning and another attempt Thursday morning, I have been either in bed or on the couch. I doubt I have any lungs left as I have been coughing them out for the past 10 days. The *official* diagnosis is viral bronchitis with a prognosis of "wait it out". (This is from a man with 12-14 years of training, x years of practice and a 6 or 7 figure income - an expert in the field. go figure.) I am still waiting, albeit from my desk now instead of the couch.

Laura is almost over hers, as she didn't have nearly as bad a case as I do. She only missed 1.5 days of work. She is back to planning for her trip. She's talking to her sisters about the pros & cons of buying a 14 day rail pass (@$330 per person) or renting a car (@$700) while they are there. They are beginning to talk about what they want to see, about Scotland vs. Paris for the weekend, etc.

I am back to shopping for cameras and hope to wrap it up soon. Thanks for all of your suggestions & advice - I still haven't quite made up my mind, though. Also, thanks for all of your well-wishes regarding my on-going cheating of death - I hope to continue to do so, but it is difficult with most of my lungs strewn about the house. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

T-minus 1 and holding

I have spent the last 3 days in bed with bronchitis. (well - I did go to work for a few hours this morning, but that was because I had to write my yearly eval and turn it in to my boss. My yearly eval of myself. I might find the strength later to go into this interesting management philosophy.)

Laura's birthday is tomorrow and NO PRESENT. ARGH.

I really appreciate the input on which camera. I had about settled on the Canon SD700 IS when the malady struck. The last time I had bronchitis it lasted for 3 months and I lost 25 pounds. I don't think I'll be able to sell anyone on this diet, efficient as it may be.

Anyway, just a quick update - I know everyone was on tenterhooks about the big decision. which hasn't been decided.

I might be up to catching up on all of you tomorrow.


Friday, January 19, 2007

smile and say "CHEESE"

Laura's birthday is coming up next week. I want to give her a digital camera to take with her to England. We have a 35mm Canon AE1 - it was given to Laura 25 years ago. It still works, but we have film from 10 years ago that hasn't been developed yet. Time to move into the modern age.

This request is a bit late, but I'm looking for advice on which camera to purchase. I'm leaning towards another Canon but there are so many out there I can't really differentiate between them and have no feel for which is better. (I love, but cannot afford, the Canon digital Rebel SLR.)

So - any last minute advice for this last minute request?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Over There, over there......

My wife has an irritating habit of starting conversations like "my sister called me today", or "My sister pissed off dad again." Laura has 4 sisters. So, which sister this time? Like I'm supposed to read her mind, or play 20 questions? argh.

Anyway, Jackie's (The sister in question here) husband Tony's sister is working in England, has a large house, and has invited Jackie & Tony over for a visit. The problem is that Tony is all "nope, ain't gonna do it. don't wanna. can't make me." So while we were up in Kansas City last December Laura and her sisters were talking and they decided that if Tony didn't want to go, he didn't have to go, his loss, we do - so let's go. They tossed around dates and 3 of the 5 - Jackie, Laura, and heretofore unmentioned Annie, are going.

Annie told Laura that she had researched flights and they (Annie & Jackie) were flying out of KC on the 5th of May arriving on the 6th at Gatwick. So I cashed in my frequent-flyer points and immediately found out that all of the frequent-flyer seats out of Atlanta direct to Gatwick were gone. Dammit. BUT the frequent-flyer lady, through 45 minutes of herculean flight-table mumbo jumbo found some non-Delta flights getting Laura there only 2 hours before her sisters - so we booked Laura's tickets. We then found out that Annie & Jackie HADN'T really bought tickets and confusion ensued. They, not being encumbered by frequent-flyer restrictions - paying actual money for theirs, got tickets fairly easily and wound up arriving just about the same time as originally stated. AND wonder of wonders, wound up on the same flight leaving Gatwick as Laura coming home on the 19th.

So, long story short, Laura and her sisters are going to England for 2 weeks in May. If there are any anglophiles out there cognizant of the south of England (Bramley, Hampshire) and environs please feel free to suggest any "can't miss" attractions providing, of course, they fit within a moderate budget.

I am sooooo jealous. I've always wanted to go to England. But - I have to travel occasionally on business and get to go to some neat places (this year will be Bahrain and Pakistan) so I'm not complaining by any means. She'll have a blast with her sisters - she's really excited about going. (Last night she stopped in the middle of being excited to tell me she wished it were me she were going with - and then continued being excited.) I'm excited for her. She's had such a rough time recently - 2006 was a bitch - she deserves this. And although I will have to work some big-time magic on our budget, I'll make it work.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

drawing a null......

as it is almost a week's silence here, and nature (and bob) abhors a vacuum, and I can't think of anything noteworthy, I'm stealing a meme for blogfodder from MOI.

A) Four jobs I have had:

1. short order/pizza/dining hall cook
2. library assistant
3. cryptologic linguist
4. driver-helper for UPS

B ) Four movies I could watch over and over:

1) Mon Oncle
2) Blazing Saddles
3) McLintock
4) Wallace & Grommit - A Close Shave

C) Four places I have lived other than where you live now:

1. Biloxi, Mississippi
2. Gournes, Crete, Greece
3. Hilton, Georgia
4. Austin, Texas

D) Four T.V. Shows I like/liked to watch:

1. My Name is Earl
2. CSI
3. M*A*S*H
4. The Last of the Summer Wine

E) Four places I have been on vacation:

1.Perdido Key, Florida
2. Niagara Falls, NY (& Canada)
3. Santorini, Greece
4. San Francisco, California

F) Four Web sites I visit daily:

1. Daily Oliver
2. Joe Mathlete explains Marmaduke
3. Woot one day, one deal
4. The Onion

G) Four of my favorite foods:

1. Prime Rib
2. Barbecue from Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City
3. my wife's pot roast
4. everything on the table at our family reunions

H) Four places I would rather be right now:

1. on the beach
2. on a train crossing the northern rockies
3. in the meditation room in the B&B just up from the corner of Haight & Ashbury
4. helping my best friend in his furniture shop

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Last night as I tossed and turned I found myself once again wishing I could still sleep on my stomach. For years this is the way I lay down to go to sleep. But a combination of an old bed and my old back forces me to lay on my side. (For some weird reason, I cannot fall asleep on my back.) Anyway, as I tossed and turned I started thinking of other things I missed from the past.

  • my kids when they were toddlers. Despite the day to day frustrations of raising two at one time, I sometimes really miss them sitting in my lap, smelling their hair as they nestled in my arms. the way all of their problems could be solved with a hug and a kiss.
  • first kisses. We've been married 22 years so I have to reach WAY back, but I still remember the feeling I would get when kissing a girl for the first time. I can't describe it other than it was like a high current flowing through me looking for a ground. The nervousness, anticipation, not knowing if it would be returned or spurned. And the giddiness of knowing there would be a second kiss.
  • my great-grandmother. Her house was right beside my grandfather's (of Hilton Grocery fame). Mama Smith always had time for us young-uns. There was always a cake or pie in the safe. She made the best biscuits - she kept a wooden bowl with flour in it, she would scoop a hollow and add buttermilk and oil and stir in flour with her hand until a dough was formed. She'd pinch off bits of dough and put them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. no recipe, no measuring - I can't remember her ever having a cookbook out. I would sit on her back porch in a rocker helping her shell peas or butter beans, gather the eggs from the hen house, or get her a jar of pickles from the smoke house. She had fluffy white hair, wore simple dresses, her support hose rolled just below her knees, the blue veins in her strong hands stood out (missing the end of one of her fingers). And a cackle for a laugh - which she did often.
  • my grandfather's barn. That barn was in turn a fort, a playhouse, a sanctuary. It had a hay loft and a tin roof. There was a lean-to on one side that sheltered his tractor and a bench full of old rusting tools and plow blades. He kept hogs in a pen around part of the barn and a trailer of corn to feed them. I loved to climb in the hayloft when it was raining for the sound of it on the tin roof. There was a corn crib which sometimes had corn, and always had spiders.
  • Monterey California. I spent a year there learning arabic. I and a buddy would catch a bus Saturday mornings and ride over the hill to Carmel to go to the beach. We would stop at a shop, pick up some beer, bread & butter & cheese and stay the day catching the last bus back that evening. I met and married Laura while there. Our first apartment was one room with a divider that could be drawn across to close off the bed from the rest of the room. There was a little grocery store that made the BEST sandwiches, Laura and I would split one and bake a potato to go with it. There was a little bakery called Fifi's and the Dream Theater that down front instead of seats were pads on the floor with seat backs wide enough for two, you could stretch your legs out, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder. I saw the Rocky Horror Picture Show there for the first time with Laura. I guess she and I had a lot of firsts in Monterey.
  • my van. I have owned two VW vans (buses to be correct) - a '69 and a '71. I taught Laura to drive a stick shift in one. I rebuilt the engine of the other in our living room. ( I almost didn't get it out of the house, it wouldn't fit through the front door once reassembled.) Our first vehicle was the '69 and we drove it from Texas to Missouri, then to Georgia, then to New Jersey to send it to Crete. On my days off there we would often ride up into the hills and when we got hungry we would pull over, open the side door and have our picnic in the back of the van with the view of the valley in front of us. If the babies wouldn't sleep we could put them in the back of the van and ride them around - they'd be asleep in 10 minutes. I still can hear the unique sound of it's engine.

As you can see, I was awake for quite a while last night. I'm off to get another cup of coffee. Cheers.