Things you can send to Soldiers in Iraq

Based on What Soldiers have requested, here are things you can send to Iraq. Different units have different degrees of support. Personally, I try to find line Infantrymen like the folks in my old unit 1st Battalion 27th Infantry, The Wolfhounds. Not that everyone else doesn’t need support, too. But these guys are the ones out on the streets patrolling.

  • batteries
  • beef jerky
  • Brownies
  • bumble bee chicken,
  • Camping Food
  • Canned Tuna Fish
  • cereal (whole grain),
  • chapstick,
  • chips and salsa (bean/cheese dip),
  • DVDs
  • energy/Protein bars
  • face wipes
  • Foot Powder
  • Good Coffee, preground.
  • granola bars
  • Letter Writing Material
  • lifting supplements
  • magazines (Maxim, MensHealth, FHM, STUFF, Flex, MuscleFitness, Time, the Economist, Kiplingers, Gun and Auto Magazines)
  • Minute Rice
  • Multi Vitamins
  • Music CDs
  • Olive Drag Green Wool Socks (Army Issue)
  • Oreos
  • peanut butter
  • Playing Cards
  • popcorn (regular, cheese, and caramel flavored)
  • Poptarts
  • Powdered Gatorade
  • Pringles
  • protein powder
  • Razors
  • Sardines
  • shampoo
  • Shaving crème
  • Soap
  • Socks, White
  • Sunscreen
  • Toothpaste
  • trail mix/nuts
  • Video Games (XBOX 360 …)
  • Vienna Sausages
  • White socks, with no patterns

More musings

Synagogue would be a hell of a lot more fun if more people heckled the Rabbi.

Ayn Rand seems to appeal to men in their mid twenties.

Martin Fowler is responsible for popularizing some of the most important ideas in software design.

There is an amazing power in large combinations of simple things. The universe is defined by a very small number of rules repeated a lot of times.

Even if we accept that there should be a categorical imperative, how can we determine which aspect of our action should be the generalizable part and which is the part that is adapted to our present situation?

Considering how much information is stored on me in computers, I still have to fill out my address an excessive number of times. Shouldn’t we be at the point that my address is be pre-filled in a web form?

High fiber cereal does not make a good dinner.

Wrestling and rock climbing a very complimentary sports. Both require a sense of balance in your body. Rock climbing develops hand grip strength that is a benefit to wrestling. Both require and develop a strong core.

Binary search is the primary tool of debugging anything.

The build-execute-change cycle is the key to productivity in software. Building high performance software usually kills you in the build step.

We wasted too much time on Drill and Ceremony at West Point. If Napoleon Bonaparte ever invades, the United States Corps of Cadets will be ready.

No drug can be more addictive than the sound of your own child’s laughter.

Dreams of the wrong uniform

People often talk about the dream where they are back in High School, and they have a test, but they haven’t studied.

My stress dreams involve USMA.  I am invariably in the wrong place and in the wrong uniform.  Here are a few variations:

It is graduation day.  My company is in Full Dress over White, marching to Michie Stadium.  I am in civilian clothes.

I am running across north Area in PT clothes and the yellow windbreaker we were issued back then.   I have to get changed into As-for-class and get to lunch formation.

I am walking around in Dress Gray and under my long overcoat.  I realize I am no longer authorized to wear it, and so I have to get back to my hotel room to change before someone sees me.

All of these dreams have the same stress feeling I had a decade and a half ago. Hail Alma Mater Dear…


Don’t hit publish on the blog when you just want to save a draft.

Big Builds are Bad. Software should be developed and distributed in small packages. Linux is successful due to things like apt, yum, and yast.

Interface Specifications need to be more specific.  Just saying that something is a string is not really helpful if that something needs to conform to a pattern.

Programming and blogging requires sugar in the brain.

Interviews are tricky…on both sides of the table. Career fairs are worse.

C++ Has a lot of magic in it. Can we make type level programming more transparent?

Microsoft purchasing Yahoo would be good for Google, but bad for just about everyone else.

Being a Dad is really cool. Even when it sucks, it is great. Sometimes kids refuse to go to sleep. This leads to sleep deprivation, but also leads to really wonderful moments in rocking chair in the middle of the night.

Pool is a great Geek game. Lower left-hand English is neat.

Snowshoes are good off the trail. Not so good on the trail. If your going on the trail, take the cross country skis. Snowmobiles smell funny.

New Hampshire winter weather is still as brutal today as it was when I left the area in the early ’90s.

It is hard to sing a Jazzy version of Old MacDonald had a Farm.  It is harder to do after the tenth repetition while trying to get a child to fall asleep.
If you listen to Children’s CDs long enough, you will develop favorite children’s songs. I like the hippo song.

Is there really a difference between the Ethernet and SCSI protocols? I don’t know, but it would be fun to find out.

The compiler is your friend. Let it check your work for you.

Why write code on a white board if you have a computer available? Especially if you have an overhead projector?

Where do the local peregrine falcons sleep? Where would they be sleeping if we hadn’t built up the whole area?

If I could have a redo on which language to take as a Sophomore, I would probably would have liked to take Chinese. Russian and Arabic would also do. German was not a good choice for me.

If Bush Senior had insisted on pushing to Baghdad, it would have been my generation in this mess as opposed to the current set of junior officers. Instead of Haiti, I would have gone to Basra or something.

There are too many interesting topics in the world to pursue them all, or even a small fraction of them.

Every philosopher I’ve read, especially the ones I disagree with, ave said something that is valuable and true.

No matter how old you are, when you get together with your parents, you revert to teenager status.

This list should never see the light of day.

War, Politics, and the Army

I’ve chosen not to make this a political or military blog. There are enough people out there with more experience and more firsthand knowledge on both sides, that I feel like I would be talking out of the wrong orifice.

This is more a rumination, an attempt to place my current wash of thoughts into a coherent structure than a policy statement. I really feel the weight of Socrates advice to admit that I am not wise.  I won’t make many of these.

I think that going into Afghanistan was the right call. Yes, I know that this is not really a surprise, not is it even that controversial a statement. The Taliban government was still in process of taking control of the whole country, and thus had questionable legitimacy at best. Since the government decided to protect the organization claimed responsible for attacking the US on September 11, 2001, I feel we were justified in returning fire.
The war in Iraq is hurting this country. I won’t go through my initial views on the war or my background as an Army officer. Instead, let me state I think the economic burden to this country is more than we can continue to bear. It breaks my heart to say this, because I think it means we are going to do to the Iraqi people what we did to the Montagnards in Viet Nam: pull out and leave them to be massacred. We left Viet Nam because the long term cost was wearing down our Nation. Iraq is less bloody than Viet Nam, but war is far more expensive than it was even forty years ago. If we continue this way, and other nations continue to buy up our debt, we risk losing control of our own country. It seems like General Petraeus and his staff have done an outstanding job this past year in reducing the violence in Iraq. I know that the people on the ground are good soldiers.  Probably better soldiers than I ever was. They may hate being in Iraq, but they want to win the fight.

I remember meeting Viet Nam vets from the VA when I was in high school. These guys were obviously emotionally troubled by what they had seen. One guy said that he still wanted to go back and finish the job. This was 15 years after the last troops had left country. Very few people think that it was in either America’s or Viet Nam’s interest for us to prolong the conflict. But a soldier who has fought, killed, and watched his buddies die for a cause can’t help but either shut down or give his heart to the effort. I think the same is true of our guys in country right now. They want to win in Iraq. They want the Iraqi people to live free of fear, free to raise their kids, and free to rejoin the international community. I want that, too. But I think the overall conflict is much more difficult than that. We have stirred up vast swaths of resentment by being a foreign invader. We have resurrected the ghosts of the Crusades and colonization that bring forth the resistance fighters. Iraq was barely pacified under Hussein. It is going to take a lot more than a Band Aid to fix this sucking chest wound. It would be helpful if we could have truly pulled in an international effort to rebuild Iraq, but we lost that opportunity.

The recent news from Pakistan is troubling.   I think we blew it in Afghanistan by being so quick to rush to war in Iraq.  If the funding that went to the war effort instead went to building infrastructure in Afghanistan (“Thank you for helping us defeat the Soviet Union, here is your pay back.”) we would not be fighting the battles there that we are now. I think the real cost was much higher than anticipated, and I wonder now if we can truly afford it.

One thing that bothers me is that we no longer declare war. The way the constitution was written, it was up to congress to declare war. Not to grant to the President the authority to do so. Deploying troops into a firefight means we are at war. Until World War II, it was expected practice. Yes, we fought the Native Americans, and rebels in many third world countries without such a declaration during this countries history. But if we are going to remove a government from power, we need to state it in no uncertain terms. International Law expects this. I think we have removed one of the checks from the separation of powers in the National Government. Perhaps the language of the constitution should be more a long the lines of: Any deployed forces are allowed to defend themselves. To do anything more than this requires explicit approval from congress. This approval can not be granted a-priori.  But I think the constitution states this, just in the language of 1780.

To the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan: Thank you. Especially the burnt out privates that are just looking to get home, and the fathers and mothers that just want to see their kids again. May the remainders of your tours be boring and may you come home whole.

To those that have lost limbs, eyesight, faculties, or to the survivors that have lost loved ones…I don’t have the words to say that will not trivialize your loss. These losses will be remembered and honored.

Dynamic Frequency Assignment Protocol

A book about the war in Iraq had an brief passage about an Army Unit that needed to stop, dismount, and reset their frequency because they were getting stepped on by a marine Corp unit using the same freq. The Marines were in contact and were not about to change Frequencies. This lead me to thinking about a way to solve this problem via network protocols and public/private key exchanges.

Each unit has a radio. These radios already can encrypt traffic and frequency hop. In fact, frequency hopping would have prevented the unit from getting stepped on. But let’s assume that freq hopping is out of the picture for now. Instead, we want to set up a protocol where a unit can reassemble on the network without having to expose itself and meet face to face.

1. Each machine would get a private key. This allows it to be uniquely identified on the network.

2. Each machine gets a list of public keys and their assigned units (a heads up display could then show who was talking, removing the need for “Black 8 this is Black 6 over.”)

3. A set of frequencies would be set aside for meta-data commo. I’ll call this the MDF. The MDF would be shared by all units within a theater of operations, and would be redundant. Just like name servers, a radio would get a list of MDFs to try. Thus four MDFs could be assigned, and four units would get a different MDF to use as it’s primary.

4. The radio would monitor both its main frequencies (the Radios I used when I were could monitor two, I assume the new ones can do better) and the MDF. MDF traffic would all be binary data. Listening to it would be like listening to a 300baud modem.

5. A “Lost” Unit would broadcast a connection request on the metadata frequency. Any other unit in the area could answer.

6. Higher would send down the new frequency using the lost units public key.

7. The lost unit’s radio would set the new frequency and drive on.

One glaring weakness is that the MDF itself could be jammed. One faulty radio could crap-flood the frequency.

It also adds overhead to the whole system by removing frequencies that could otherwise be used. An optional interactive authentication step could provide for the soldier entering a pin or password if there is some question of the radio being compromised. Two valid response could be provided, one that means , “I’m me” and one that means “I’m me and doing this under duress.”

Note that none of this would prevent manual resets, just provide an additional capability for automated resets.

Of course, this is yet more electronics subject to the beating an infantryman gives it.

Update:  Of course the Military is way ahead of this.


Go Read the Milblogs

If you are at all an American you care about our boys and girls in the sand. If you are a Conservative, you feel proud that they are doing their part in the Global War on Terror and hope they come back home in one piece. If you are a Liberal, you hate the fact that we are at war and just hope they come back in one piece. I’m not going to go into my own position on Iraq and Afghanistan; there are enough political blogs out there. But I want everyone to be hyper-aware that we have friends and family and neighbors in the sand, in the mountains, and the urban sprawl along the old Silk Road.

I can’t tell their stories, and I don’t have to. They are telling them right now, online, in the various military blogs. Doonesbury Creator Gary Trudeau has done a great thing in posting an array of their blog postings on his “Sandbox” page.

I started reading them their, and have gone on tow check the authors own pages daily to see if they are OK. I’m not going to say anything more about them: go to the sandbox, then click on the links for the author’s own pages, and read what they have to say themselves.

If anyone comes up with good blogs that are not linked to from the Sandbox, please let me know.

Military Lessons from the Game Go (Wei Qi)

Go is often compared to Chess. My favorite quote is that Chess is a battle, Go is a war. Go is all about the essence of using scarce resources for maximum effect.

I think the most interesting part of Go is that you are attempting to surround empty space. The idea that the land itself is valuable, but only if not occupied by soldiers. If soldiers are using up the resources of the land, it cannot be used for other purposes.

Territory must be defended to be valuable. People can only produce if they feel safe in their homes.

Where one party attacks is where the other party defends. Whereas the insurgents in Iraq were able to kill many soldier’s in a dining tent, now the whole region has overhead cover against mortar fire.

Defending inefficiently can cause the whole effort to collapse under it’s own weight. The American way of waging war is very resource intensive. We may win the region, but cripple our ability to counter threats elsewhere.

There is a Go Koan that says to attach for defense. If you want to make your opponent spend resources in an area, get close enough to attack that area, and do so visibly.

Stones live by being connected to other stones. An Army lives by it’s supply lines. An Army can forage only for so long before it needs to get food from somewhere else. The ideal is to have a secured line back to where your food comes from. In todays motorized world, oil is even more important than food, as you need oil to move food.

Efficiency matters. You don’t have the resources to do everything. Make sure you do the things that you absolutely have to do.