Sunday, February 28, 2010

Riding The Midnight Bus


This is a Big post. Not really a lot of places that are withing walking distance of each other. We are fortunate to have our own truck, but the majority of the people here on COB Adder get around via one of the many buses that constantly make their way around the base.

I had to ride the bus for about 2 weeks when I first got here. I didn't really mind too much though. It was actually a great way to learn my way around the place. Have you ever had those quick tours in a car, where the dude who's been here for 6 months is showing you all the important places? lol, you don't remember a darn thing the next day. To make it even better, they gave me a map of the base that was most definitely NOT to scale. I only got lost 4 or 5 times before I began to figure out what some of the street names were ... and more importantly which bus route took me to work, the chow hall, and my CHU.

For the most part, the buses are driven by TCNs (Third Country Nationals), although there are also a few American drivers. They've always been really nice the times that I have ridden. I do have one sort of funny observation about the buses here at Tallil though ... they don't seem to run on any sort of a set schedule. I'm not complaining at all. I've never actually heard of anybody waiting more than maybe 15 or 20 minutes for their bus to come. What can seem a little frustrating from time to time though, is when you wait that 20 minutes, and then it's not just 1 bus that shows up, but 3 or 4 of them, one right after the other. I think there should be some sort of a "5 minute interval" rule or something ... if two buses get to a stop at the same time, the trailing bus should have to wait 5 minutes before proceeding.

But hey, it's all minor ... at least we have buses.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Totally Tubular


Nothing profound to say tonight. I got too caught up watching the coverage of the Hawaii tsunami to come up with a good blog post. I used to live right on the water in Ewa Beach, and still have plenty of friends in Hawaii. Glad to see it looks like they dodged a bullet. Now time to focus back on Chile. We actually sponsor a child, Manuel, from Chile ... I hope that he and his family are ok.

... and now I need to get off of here ... do a bit of homework and get some sleep. Catch up again tomorrow.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Art Is In The Eye Of The Beholder


You know what's cool about being a "photographer" ... as opposed to just "some guy with a camera" ?

I can post up a picture like the one above; tell you that it's "Art" (who's deep meaning, I'll leave to you to interpret); and you might just have to believe me. ;-)

Todd, the "guy with a camera" probably could have just taken the easy way out and gone with the helicopter picture for his project365 today:


But every once in a while, it's more fun to step outside the box, shake things up a bit, and try to make people think (darn, wish I knew a few more cliches) :-D

So, did I make the right decision?

Is "funky cool colors" more interesting than "boring old helicopter"?

Either way, it's too late now, I'm about to hit the publish button on this post.

I hope you enjoy my "art" (whichever one you chose).


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Will This Dust Ever Go Away?


Do you remember that dust storm I talked about a few days ago, in the background of my dramatic bridge picture? Well, it still hasn't gone away. Our visibility has been 2 miles or less for 3 days now. Don't worry though, I decided not to bore you with pictures of the dust (because let's be honest it's not very exciting).

But, I did want to take this opportunity to share a picture of what a typical weather briefing that we do looks like. In the scene above, one of my forecasters (Kevin), is delivering the news to a helicopter pilot that he's going to have an interesting flight tonight, because the dust just won't go away ... and we don't know why.

Seriously, sometimes being a weather forecaster can be a bit frustrating. Normally at this time of year, when we get a dust storm, it clears out sometime the next day. It's pretty unusual to have light winds, which we've had for the past two days, but still stay as dusty as we are. Now, during the summer time, when the northwesterly winds blow 25-30 knots for a week at a time, this will happen quite a bit. But with this event, we were a bit stumped.

Regardless ... I'm way ready for the dust to just go away ... I have a got the mother of all headaches right now.

Ok, on that fun note, I'm off to bed for an early night of sleep. Catch up with you tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I Miss Having A Cell Phone


If you've been following along with my pictures and stories, you're probably aware that we don't have it all that bad over here ... certainly not compared to some troops in other parts of Iraq, and definitely those in Afghanistan. But, human nature being what it is, of course I've still got a few minor gripes ... mainly about my access to the Internet (cue: wife Ana rolling eyes as she reads this).

In some ways, being over here is almost like a flashback to the 90s. I'm truly thankful to have Internet in my room, but I also forgot how frustrating VERY Slow Internet can be ... seriously, it's like I've got dial up AOL again ... except thankfully without having to listen to the modem trying to connect (or worse, the dreaded busy signal).

With just a little more than a month left here, there are a couple things I am really looking forward to when i get home.

The first is obviously seeing my family. BTW, with the winter storm at Fort Hood yesterday, the kids got to play in snow for the first time ever:
Jasmine Snow Angel

The other things that I really miss, are High Speed Internet (do know how frustrating is is to try to watch a YouTube video when the download speed is like 15k?), and having an Internet enabled phone so I can check things like twitter or facebook anytime I want ... even when I'm at work, and they (along with many other websites) are Blocked. This is probably something that shouldn't be so important to me ... but it is ... so I gotta deal with it.

We will be going phone shopping, probably shortly after I get home. Since my t-mobile sidekick died shortly before I left to come here to Iraq, I really don't have much of an excuse to tell Ana that we can't dump t-mobile and switch over to Verizon or AT&T. As of right now, I'm definitely leaning towards Verizon. Part of me wouldn't mind going down to the AT&T store and getting a shiny new iPhone. However, since reception problems are part the reason we're switching, I'd rather not even risk dealing with AT&T.

Still trying to decide on a phone. But if I'm not getting an iPhone, I definitely want something that runs Android. (need Apps) We will probably end up going with a DROID for me, and an ERIS for Ana ... especially if they still have the 2 for 1 deal going.

And on that note, I'm going to end this post, because if I keep writing about cell phones, I'm just going to end up getting frustrated that I don't have one to play with NOW! :-D


p.s. disclosure: the Droid and Eris links above lead to (which actually has a lot of good information about the phones). But, should you purchase something as a result of clicking on those links, you should know that I will be compensated ;-)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Busted For Speeding


Would you believe that even here on our little deployed base, we've got traffic cops? Seriously. I've never been pulled over for speeding, like these unfortunate gentlemen. However, I did have the "pleasure" of dealing with one of these young Airmen a couple of months ago, when I first got here.

I was driving one of my guys back to his room after his shift was over. About half way there, he realized that he'd forgotten something he needed, so I did a "Ueeee" and turned around. About a 1/4 mile or so later, I noticed the flashing lights in my rear-view mirror. I wasn't speeding or anything, so I figured the cop was going around me ... I realized I was wrong, when he pulled up right behind my truck.

So he walks up to the truck and asks "Do you know why I pulled you over?"

I said "No, what did I do?"

Him: "There was a stop sign back there. You didn't come to a full and complete stop."

I swear, it took every ounce of restraint I had not to blurt out "You've got to be shitting me !!!!"

Not only was he not kidding, but he gave me a ticket.

.... later that day, back at the office, I administered a stern counseling to myself (I am the NCOIC after all) , then I taped the ticket up on the wall so the guys could laugh at me for the next week or two.

Don't get me wrong, I think that obeying traffic laws is important. But come on, we're here in Iraq, and these armed, well trained, Security Forces Airman don't have anything better to do than hide near stops signs, to make sure that the driver of every single vehicle stops and counts to 3 mississippi before proceeding through a wide open intersection ???

Some things just make you go Hmmmm.


Monday, February 22, 2010

One Antidote For Dull and Ordinary Pictures


I very rarely; ok pretty much never; just save/share my pictures straight from the camera (it probably has something to do with the fact that I shoot everything in RAW). But really, a fairly large part of making a dramatic picture, happens in the post processing stage ... back in the film days, this "magic" took place in the dark room ... now in the digital age, having some photoshop skills are every bit as important as a "nice" camera and a good eye.

My personal preference is for a "high contrast" type of finish on my shots ... especially landscapes. If I'm going to make a picture look significantly different than the original, chances are pretty good that it's going to be more contrasty and more colorful.

That's just how I roll.

I am by no means a photoshop "expert". Heck, I'm probably not even an "advanced amateur". One day, I will get around to taking an actual photoshop class (I just noticed that they have one in my online college's catalog). But until then, I tend to learn via the trusty old method of trial and error ... basically I play around with the image until I like the way it looks.

With that preamble in mind, I thought it might be fun to show you how I came up with the shot above. (I don't have a nice fancy video screen capture program, so I'll just use images from the different photoshop layers; along with explanations of what I did).

First off, here's how the picture looked straight from the camera:
bridge raw
Nothing at all exciting about that shot ... to be honest, it looked better in "real life".

So I opened up the image in the camera raw dialog box, where I reduced the clarity slightly, increased the contrast / blacks a bit, and bumped up the Vibrance a lot. Here's the result:
Better, especially the contrast between the sky and the dust. But, the colors are a bit funky looking.

I know, let's see what it looks like in Black & White:
That came out ok, but straight B&W isn't really what I had in mind for the final treatment of this shot.

Fortunately, I always make my adjustments on a copied layer. So, I just changed the blending mode to "Overlay" and here's what I got:
Hey! Now we're getting somewhere. I love what this did to the sky. But the bridge and the ground are still kind of a funky yellow/orangish color.

One last new layer. This time it's a photo filter adjustment layer, set to "Cooling Filter (82). Here's what it looks like with the new layer:
Almost there. This really helped with the color of the wood on the bridge ... but now the sky is too blue, and I lost some of the contrast between the dust and the clouds. I liked the sky in the last shot much better ...

So, I added a mask. I'm still not entirely clear how this works (just started using masks recently), but I do know that it's much better than the "eraser" method that I used to use. Basically you just select your layer, click the "add layer mask" button down at the bottom, and then you use the paint brush tool to color, in black, any areas where you want the underlying layers to show through. In this case, I painted the whole sky, pretty much from the horizon up.

After flattening the layers, and applying the smart sharpen filter, the result is the image up at the top of this post.

It's not "perfect", but I do like the way it turned out.

And here's the really cool part about shooting in RAW. in addition to the finished .jpg, I also saved a .CR2 raw image, and a .psd file with all the layers. What this means is that in the future, as I learn more tricks with photoshop, I can actually go back to this picture and process it again ... possibly coming up with something even better (or at least different).

My bottom line when it comes to photoshop ...

Use layers, and experiment with all those buttons and menus ... keep playing with your image until it looks like you want it to. Hands on experience, especially via trial and error is the best way to learn just about anything.

I hope you found my little "tutorial" (I use that term loosely) useful in sparking your own imagination.

Til next time ...



Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ok I Guess I Won't Talk About Jock Itch


But if you're a guy, and you take a trip somewhere really hot, the LAST thing in the world you want to Forget is your bottle of Medicated Body Powder.

... I'm just sayin ;-)


Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Pile Of Sand On My Front Porch


I remember when I deployed in 2007, my mom (as moms are wont to be) was all upset that I was going "off to war". I explained to her at the time that in all likelihood, I would probably be relatively safer during my time in Iraq than I would at home ... simply because I wouldn't have to drive back and forth to work every day (on Kunia Road).

That prediction proved to be very true in 2007, and is basically the same here this time (although I do drive more here at Ali AB than I did in 2007 at Tal Afar). I don't go off post, and I don't do a whole lot of flying in helicopters. For the most part, my "view" of the war isn't a whole lot different from here than it was back home in my living room in Texas.

That being said, I don't have a big wall of sandbags right outside my front door back at Fort Hood.

... it does make me think every once in a while.


p.s. with about a month and a half to go, I think I'm just ready to be home already. :-)

Friday, February 19, 2010

But I Don't Want My Picture Taken


Tough, I'm taking it anyway !

I swear some people will go to such great lengths not to have their picture taken. Seriously if they'd just stand still for even a couple of seconds I might be able to create a seriously cool portrait for them. But NOOOOO ... instead they have to go moving around, and trying to cover their face with their shirt. Well hey Mr "you're not getting MY picture", the joke's on you this time ...

If I look really, really hard, I can't almost make out your face. :-)

... and even though it's all motion blurry and everything, it's actually still kind of an interesting picture. lol, and since I honestly didn't have anything better to use for my picture of the day; behold, I hereby proclaim this my 19 Feb 2010 masterpiece!

It's all good though, it's less than two months until I get home, where I'll have at least two little girls who really, really like to have their pictures taken:

Jaiden counting to 10 (with an assist from Jasmine).
Courtesty of: The Baby Jaiden Blog

And on that note, I'm off to do homework and try to get some sleep.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Macbook Pro Got A Bath Today


Today was cleaning day. My room finally got to the point where even I couldn't take it any more. So I turned in my laundry, changed the sheets, swept and mopped the floors, and dusted all the furniture, and last but not least broke out the wipes so I could clean my laptop and extra monitor. And then, because having a nice clean room is a relatively "special" occasion, of course I had to commemorate the event with a picture ...

And how do you like that product placement? I wonder if Endust has an affiliate program? ;-)

Catch you tomorrow.


p.s. Even though my computer is nice and clean, I do sort of feel sorry for it ... because I have to admit that it's not in nearly as good a shape as it would be had it stayed "Ana's Macbook Pro". Why do women treat their toys so much better than we do? :-)

p.p.s. update: lol, ok this is really just for shits and giggles, but since my picture looks so much like an ad for Endust, I might as well put the Amazon link here to see if anybody actually buys some: Get Endust Wipes Here (standard disclosure: if you buy from this link, I get paid ... woo hoo!!!)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Young Soldier Reenlists In Iraq

Specialist Kennedy Army reenlistment

We have to go to a lot of meetings and ceremonies in the military. Of all of them, reenlistments are probably the ones the I like the most. It's always fun to see people, especially the young troops, who like their jobs enough to want to keep doing them. Today it was Specialist Kennedy's opportunity to extend her time in the Army.

... and it was an opportunity for me to take a few of my favorite kind of pictures: semi-candid people shots. ;-)


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

At Least I Got A Ripe Tomato


We have a pretty nice sandwich line at the dining hall. There are 4 or 5 different kinds of bread, various meats and cheeses, and of course egg and tuna salad. Then, just like Subway back home, you get to choose your vegetables. This is were it matters who's working the counter that day. There's one guy who is very meticulous. He'll make sure everything is neatly on the bread, dig through to find the perfect leaf of lettuce, and even make sure all the grill lines stay straight when you get the sandwich toasted.

But then, there's another guy who really doesn't seem terribly happy to be there. We actually came up with a nick-name for him. We call him "Green Tomato Guy" ... because unlike Mr. meticulous, this dude just grabs whatever happens to be on top of the pile (even if it's totally green) and plops it on your sandwich.

So this afternoon, when I went through the line to get an egg salad sandwich to bring home for dinner, I was none too thrilled to see that Green Tomato Guy would be preparing my feast. But every once in a while, the stars just happen to line up, and we get lucky ...

I got a nice red, juicy, ripe piece of tomato on my sandwich. Life is good!

Speaking of food, I've notice that there a couple of things I eat on a regular basis over here, that I didn't eat much of before; and probably won't eat much of again once I go back home. Egg salad sandwiches are one of those things. It kind of reminds me of being a kid. I used to love egg salad sandwiches. But now that I'm a grown up (and lazy) adult male, most of the time I just can't be bothered to take the time to actually make egg salad.

Same thing with Cole Slaw. I probably eat cole slaw 4 or 5 days a week ... it's really good. But back home, I think the only time I would have cole slaw is if I happen to pick up one of those little tubs at the grocery store.

And last but not least, almost every day here, they put fresh cut pineapple out on the fruit/salad line. I usually have some at breakfast. I remember thinking to myself several times, that I have never eaten so much fresh pineapple in my life ... even when I live in Hawaii. Not that I'm complaining or anything. ;-)

lol, ok I apologize for torturing you with stories of my eating habits, but it was a fairly uninspired picture taking day ... and there's a pretty narrow range of article topics available when the picture the post is supposed to be based on, is of an egg salad sandwich. I have no idea how I rambled on for 480 words.

Don't unsubscribe just yet though ... I'll try to do better tomorrow :-D


Monday, February 15, 2010

Spring Comes Early In Iraq


I noticed we have a lot more birds flying around the past couple of days; Spring must be almost here. Actually, it kind of already is. The high temperature has gotten up in the 80s for the past two days, and is even forecast to climb into the low 90s by the middle of the week. I had to turn on my air conditioner.

I can't say that I'm terribly disappointed about missing the winter in Texas this year (Ana said it snowed the other day), but in some ways, the weather here is kind of "Texas-like" ... the 90 degree highs this week, are coming only about 7-10 days after our coldest 3 day stretch since we've been here ... earlier in the month the wind was blowing, and the lows were in the 30s almost every morning.

This week is much better. But hopefully I'll be out of here before it gets too hot again. It is "a dry heat" ... but I'm sorry, 125 is Hot no matter what kind of adjective you put in front of it. ;-)

In other news, apparently I have a mouse in my room. I saw him for the first time the other night; he came out from under my fridge, looked at me for a few seconds then ran back to safety. I really wasn't bothered. Then yesterday, he got into (as in tore open the wrapper and ate) at blueberry muffin that I had left sitting on the extra bed. I was still willing to overlook it, as it was my own fault for leaving food out. But today, the mouse crossed the line. I went to grab my little green ipod so I could go to the gym. When I picked it up, the headphones didn't come up with it ... the little bastard chewed right through the wire!

I might just have to go get a mouse trap. Hopefully with the spring like warmer weather, his buddies will be able to find enough food outside, and won't also invade my room.

Speaking for spring like things ...

I finally got tired of my dreary feeling all black and grey blog, so I decided to add a little color back in. Not a major design change; it's still the same theme and everything. I just spruced up the header a little bit and swapped out some grey areas for brighter, cheerier colors. For the record, I'm not 100% sold on the Orange border ... but so far I don't hate it either.

What do you think ?


Sunday, February 14, 2010

She Has The Key To My Heart


Well, since my Valentine is thousands of miles away, in a totally different country, February 14th is really just another day this year.

But even though we won't be together today, I can't help but to reflect on how fortunate I am to have found someone who holds the key to my rusty old heart.

I love you my wifey.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Is This The Men's Room?


So on my way back to work this afternoon, I have to take a quick pit stop at the bathroom. As I'm standing there taking care of business, I happen to glance to my right and notice these nice pink curtains on each of the shower stalls.

Uh Oh ...

Did I accidentally go into the woman's bathroom by mistake? (it's happened)

Wait ... no, I'm standing here at a urinal ... it must be a men's room.

But pink shower curtains ... really ???

lol, perhaps we're jumping the gun a bit on this whole ditching don't ask don't tell thing?

Or ...

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. Maybe we're just getting in the spirit?

I don't really know. But either way, it was my 5 second head scratcher of the day. :-)

Keep havin Fun!


Friday, February 12, 2010

How Forecasters Really Guess The Weather (Humor)

For some you non-weather people (most who read this blog actually), this joke may be a little "inside baseball", so I apologize in advance. But I know at least a few of my facebook friends are fellow Air Force weather forecasters, and might appreciate this. Then again, I bet most of you actually suspect that this is how we come up with our weather guesses anyway ...

The following is taken from the picture above:

Forecasting Dust 101

by: SSgt Kevin "KJ" Johnson

  1. Acquire one regulation dart board

  2. Write the numbers 0, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 on sticky note sheets

  3. Place above mentioned sticky note sheets on dart board

  4. Place blindfold over eyes

  5. Place forehead on end of baseball bat and spin around in circles for 5 minutes

  6. Puke

  7. Run as fast as you can into a wall

  8. Get up and realize you are a total idiot

  9. Pick up 3 darts and throw them (at the same time) at the dart board

  10. Lowest value is the visibility in miles. If you fail to hit anywhere on the dart board, repeat steps 4-9

Exception: These rules do not apply if your name is Dave Smith (our mid-shift forecaster), Chuck Norris, and/or Jack Bauer. If your name is mentioned above, you have the right to tell the dust to stop F#!@?ng with our flights. ;-)

Hope you liked it.

p.s. I didn't do a blog post yesterday, but the picture I took was just a cheesy sunset so there wasn't much to write about

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Favorite Lens


I got my first dSLR about 5 years ago. Like most people, I started with the kit lens, a 50mm, and a cheap 80-200mm zoom lens. Shortly thereafter, I learned about "quality" lenses, and went on a buying spree. The lens that's on my camera most of the time is a Tamron 28-75mm F2.8 (I took this picture with that lens). But my favorite lens, is the picture's subject ... my only "pro" lens ... the Canon 70-200 F4L. I bought it used on the buy and sell board for I think $450 (which was a pretty good price).

Over the years, this has been my main portrait lens ... especially since I'm very fond of "candid" type portraits ... it's much easier to do with a nice telephoto lens. I have another long zoom; the Sigma 50-500mm; that is a lot of fun. But, that sucker weighs almost 3 lbs, so it's not my favorite.

Anyhow, I'm just rambling. I found out yesterday that I'll be going up to Baghdad next week; and staying there until I go home. Not really looking forward to packing up all my stuff 6 weeks earlier than planned. But on the bright side, I'll be working in one of the palaces, so I suspect I will have a few interesting locations and landmarks to take pictures of ... so you may not have to suffer thought any more picture of my silly white lenses ... much better that you see what I can do with it on my camera. ;-)


p.s. with the upcoming move, I'll be pretty busy for the next week or two. I'm definitely going to keep up with the project365 picture a day. But I may end up combining a few pictures into a couple of bi-weekly blog posts until I get up there, and get settled in; as opposed to writing a post to go with each and every picture.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Who Is Manning Your Control Tower?


Do you sometimes feel as though you're going through life on auto-pilot?

That's it ... "deep thought" Tuesday.


p.s. I hope you like the picture ... kinda reminds me of Christmas

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Monday In Iraq

super bowl monday in Iraq

The Super Bowl party over here took place overnight, into very early Morning. If you wanted to see the game live, you had to stay up all night, and go to your unit's designated "party" area. But for many it was worth it ... not only to see the game, but because this is the one time of year where we get Real Beer. Every person got to have two beers of their choice to eat with their dinner of chicken wings, pizza and assorted other fried goodies. A good time was had by all.

lol ... I am a typing zombie right now. I stayed up all night to work; slept a couple of hours this morning; and am now just trying to eek it out until about 7:30pm, so that hopefully I can sleep all night, and get back on schedule.

It's all good though, the sacrifice was worthwhile ... my guys got to watch the game ... and after I got off work, I even got to stop in and have my two beers too !!!

"See" you tomorrow ...


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Not The Goodyear Blimp


Since it's Super Bowl Sunday and all, I just couldn't help thinking that this scene reminded me of driving towards the stadium on the day of the big game. Only thing is, that's not the Goodyear blimp, and it's not taking pictures of a sporting event. Oh well, the imagination can be a wonderful thing sometimes.

Speaking of the big game, it starts at about 2am over here. I will not be watching it live though. I'm actually just about to hit the rack, to try to catch a nap so that I can work the mid shift for one of my forecasters. We actually get 2 real beers while we watch the game tonight ... and since my guys work harder than I do, I figure it's only fair that they are the ones who get to go to the party.

That being said, I do intend to find a way to try to get some images of the Super Bowl Party for tomorrow's picture/blog post of the day.


p.s. If any of you want to email me with "updates" during the game, I'll be up ;-)