Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Gear: Overcoming Kindle Fire Challenges

I bought my Kindle Fire with two functionality expectations:

#1: That I would be able to buy some of my books on it, thus saving me hassle and back ache.
#2: That I would be able to use the wireless functionality to supplement my laptop both in my residence and on campus.

One out of two ain't bad, right?

So, the University's Internet provision is all routed through a proxy server. Beyond playing a bit of havoc with the security software on my laptop, this presents a problem, as the Kindle Fire provides no support for proxy servers. There's apparently a roundabout way of making it work, but it's probably not worth the effort.

So, what we do when we encounter a hiccough? Simple: we adapt and overcome.

My Kindle can connect to the wifi at Starbucks (and I can also download the virus definition updates for my laptop there as well), so if I head in for a cuppa or some weird sandwich thing, I can download whatever books I may need - in addition, of course, to those I already picked up when I was back in the States. The Union Square mall - which, coincidentally, is within spitting distance of the Northlink Ferries terminal that will take me to Orkney in a matter of weeks - has a Starbucks, as well as several other shops of one use or another*, plus a bus station that can get me back to my digs when I'm done.

Two of the things I intend to study on a weekly basis are physical security, and Arabic language. Once I've finished with The Design and Evaluation of Physical Protection Systems, I'll move on to the US Army's FM 3-19.30 and ATTP 3-39.32. So, I downloaded those yesterday at Starbucks. I also downloaded the zipped PDF of the Defense Language Institute's Libyan Basic Language Survival Kit. Unfortunately, the Kindle Fire doesn't provide any automatic provision for unzipping files. Fortunately, a right smart bloke like myself can find the PDF, unzipped, at another website. So, now I have the three documents I'll need to start being effective at several of my goals, without having to lug my laptop all the way to campus in order to study all of it.

Adapt and overcome, friends. Adapt and overcome. And, let's be honest, it would be great if the Kindle Fire came with proxy support, but as far as I'm concerned, it's the University's system that's at issue, rather than the Kindle.

Right, then, back to work.

* One such shop is Boots, the chemist (pharmacy/drug store) that appears to be Aberdeen's leading employer of fit birds (attractive young women). On that note, I'm going to introduce another feature on the blog, entitled "Separated by a Common Language", in which I'll note differences in speech between Americans, Brits, and - as necessary - Scots.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Books: A Textbook Surprise

Unsurprisingly, University life has dealt me a bit of a wild card.

As I noted in some detail, I was informed of some of the textbooks I was supposed to procure and read prior to my arrival, and I gave it a yeoman's effort. In the end, I completed something like six of the nine books that were confirmed by the updated welcome letter. As it turns out, two of the additional three that I didn't read are on the required reading list for the first sequence, which means I'll have to buy them and read them, post haste.

Beyond just that, one of my two classes this sequence (to be discussed in detail later) is a brand new class, never taught before, and do you know what that means? Bingo: more textbooks, and lots of 'em.

So, here's the run down:

  • John Baylis et al.: Strategy in the Contemporary World (Strategic Theory/general reference)
  • Colin Gray: Modern Strategy (Strategic Theory/general reference)
  • Elinor C. Sloan: Modern Military Strategy: An Introduction (Strategic Theory/general reference)
  • Christopher Andrew, Richard J. Aldrich, and Wesley K. Wark: Secret Intelligence: A Reader (Strategic Intelligence)
  • Michael Herman: Intelligence Power in Peace and War (Strategic Intelligence)
  • Peter Gill and Mark Phythian: Intelligence in an Insecure World (Strategic Intelligence)
  • John Keegan: Intelligence in War (Strategic Intelligence)

    Modern Military Strategy and Intelligence in War were both available on Kindle... Which, due to the University's Internet setup and Kindle's lack of proxy support, can only get online at Starbucks. At any rate, the former cost me $38.93, which saved me two cents off the American paperback list price ($38.95), both of which are more expensive than it would have been to buy the paperback at Blackwell's (£23.99/$38.71). Intelligence in War cost me $15.99 on Kindle, compared to the £10.99 ($17.73) it would have cost me to buy the paperback at Blackwell's.

    So, what about the rest of the books? Well, I'm hoping to be able to skip Thomas G. Mahnken and Joseph A. Maiolo's Strategic Studies: A Reader entirely, although it's the first book I bought and the first one I started reading. I'll also be able to skip Beneath the United States: A History of US Policy Towards Latin America by L. Schoultz and Policing Democracy: Overcoming Obstacles to Citizen Security in Latin America by Mark Ungar, because I won't be taking the course on "Latin" American security (at least, not for credit). I'll likely need to purchase and read International Law and the Use of Force by Christine Gray for my course on said topic next sequence. I'm not sure yet whether I'll need to purchase and read Cables from Kabul by Sherard Cowper-Coles for next sequence's course on Global Security Issues.

    At the behest of the Director, I also broke down and finally bought a copy of the The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations. Does anyone want to take bets as to whether I'll ever so much as crack it? Also visible on the shelf are:

  • The Art and Science of Embalming: Descriptive and Operative by Carl Lewis Barnes (don't ask)
  • The Design and Evaluation of Physical Protection Systems by Mary Lynn Garcia (for my PSP certification study)
  • SAS Secret War: Operation Storm in the Middle East by Tony Jeapes (for my potential dissertation)
  • The Secret War: Dhofar 1971/1972 by David C. Arkless (for my potential dissertation)
  • Where the West Ends by Michael J. Totten (for recreation/professional development)
  • an Oberon journal refill (one of two, for taking notes from The Design and Evaluation of Physical Protection Systems and other books on security and risk management)
  • Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger (for recreation/professional development)
  • Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories by Ian Fleming (for recreation)
  • The Rough Guide to Oman
  • Lonely Planet Libya
  • The Book of Common Prayer
  • a Gideons New Testament

    I obviously have my work, and many hours of reading, ahead of me.
  • Around Aberdeen: Something Amusing

    While walking to and fro the other day, I stumbled on something quite amusing. I'm not sure what the particular history of the building is, but I assume that it used to be a brewery, and while it's no longer being employed in that capacity, it retains the name. The funny part? It's now the home of the English and Philosophy departments. I met a young woman in the pub earlier today who's part of the Philosophy Department, and I mentioned it to her, but despite being American herself, I'm not sure she caught what I was talking about, because she said something about it being convenient for her to pop in for a pint. (The pub itself will be the subject of an upcoming post.)

    Friday, September 28, 2012

    One Week Down

    Okay, so as I write this, I'm around twelve hours away from having been in Aberdeen for one week. Things have not gone entirely according to plan, but that's to be expected. I've gotten a lot of the hiccoughs sorted out, and I hope to have most of the rest sorted out by the end of next week. I have material for a few blog posts at this point, so I'll try to find some time this weekend to write them up.

    Owing to my late arrival, I unfortunately missed the first day of class. I met with the Director on Tuesday, and attended courses thereafter this week while continuing to sort things out in the time available. I'm thrilled about the course material, and my classmates seem to be a really affable group. A bunch of us went to the pub the other day after class, and it was brilliant - precisely what I'd been picturing for the last two and a half years, and precisely what I deserved after more than a year's toil in the Middle East.

    Next week will be critical, because it will be my first full week of classes, and after getting settled in, it will be my opportunity to set the agenda for the rest of the year. Having mostly screwed around for the last six months, my goal is to treat my weeks like a 40-45 hour per week job. It's appropriate, since I'm on leave of absence from my real job precisely for the purpose of completing this course of study (among others). As usual, I'm sure I'm being too ambitious, but here are the items I'll be including in those 40-45 hours per week.

  • Coursework: This currently consists of two classes totalling about seven hours of instruction per week, plus reading, plus assignments, plus exam prep. More detail on this later.
  • Security coursework: In addition to my master's degree, I have two additional certifications that I'd like to complete before I return to the real world: my Physical Security Professional certification from ASIS International, and my Certificate in Terrorism Studies from the University of St. Andrews. More detail on these later, as well.
  • Arabic: I desperately need to improve my Arabic skills, and I'll be dedicating some of my time to doing just that.
  • Writing: As I mentioned before, I intend to write a number of research papers for possible publication, regardless of whether any of them end up being turned into my eventual master's dissertation. Since I'll be tasked with doing plenty of writing anyway, I'm probably most willing to be flexible on this one.
  • Physical Fitness: Week by week, I'll be posting my physical fitness plans. When I was living in Virginia and the Middle East, my opportunities to exercise were severely limited, and I allowed myself to get lazy when I was living back in the States. I've never been in fantastic physical shape, but years of sitting behind a desk have taken a toll on me, and I severely want to change this. Once I get my ID card early next week and can use the pool, I intend to start on this with a vengeance. Another goal is to entirely discontinue taking the bus to and from campus, a slightly hilly hike, by the beginning of 2013.

    Alright, that's probably enough for this post, I should do some reading for class and then head to bed. Last night, I was awake until about two in the morning, and subsequently slept until almost noon because I could - but, I slept straight through (until late morning) without waking up in the middle, which is progress!
  • Thursday, September 27, 2012

    Quick Update

    Okay, I've been in Aberdeen for just shy of a week at this point. Everything hasn't gone according to plan, but I've done alright, and I'm ironing out the other little wrinkles as I go. Shortly, I hope to get my computer sorted out so that I can log into the Internet in my room. Once that's sorted out (and it's been a long and arduous process thus far), I'll really be in business. At that point, I'll start updating the blog in greater detail. I already have a few pictures to post, and some stories to tell.

    The bottom line is that in spite of all of the hiccoughs so far, it's fantastic to be back in Scotland - eight years to the day since I last left the United Kingdom, as fate (and the delays of the UK Border Agency) would have it. I think I'm going to thoroughly enjoy the program into which I've enrolled. As my dad and I both noted when we spoke briefly on the phone yesterday, "This is it" - this is what I've been working toward for two and a half years, and it's finally happening, and that's a really bizarre sensation.

    Alright, I need to try to get my computer sorted out, get a payment made on my tuition, and then get to class. Cheers, mates!

    Wednesday, September 19, 2012

    Mid-Packing Update

    Okay, I'm taking a brief respite from packing up. I ran a few errands today, including mailing off a few things, getting my mail forwarded to my folks' place, and picking up duct tape, zip ties, and padlocks to secure the many, many cases I've gotten my stuff packed into. I'm about to change, clean up the back of my car, and take the first load to my super secret storage location.

    It's apparently move-in weekend here in the town where I got my degree. I never lived on campus myself. There are youngsters all over town, buying stuff for their dorm rooms or apartments or derelict houses. Twelve years on, as I prepare to become a full-time student once again, it's tough to imagine that I was ever like them. On the other hand, I'm pleased that I got out of Fred Meyer in one piece, even if the local Fred Meyer didn't appear to have any more Action Packers!

    People keep asking me if I'm getting excited, and the truth is that I don't get excited. This close to an expedition like this, I start getting stressed out, even if I'm on my game, and the stress doesn't go away until I set off, or even shortly after I arrive at my new destination. I don't expect to really calm down until I've been in Scotland for a few days. Until then, I'm fighting off vomiting in my mouth ("being sick", as the Scots would likely say), trying to remember to eat and hydrate, and hoping that I don't forget to pack, do, or handle anything. The truth is that you never get something like this exactly right, but you can get better at it as you learn from your past mistakes.

    Without going into specifics about my itinerary, it won't be long now. Back to work I go.

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

    Tickets Rebooked

    More than $500 later, my airline ticket has been re-booked. I'll get to Aberdeen this weekend in time to register early next week, and attend the first day of classes. I'm still in the midst of packing, of course. My sea bag, Gus' sea bag, my Echo Pack, and one of my two carry-ons are packed, as are most of the Action Packers. As I write this, I'm ripping music to my hard drive so that I can pack my CDs away. Once I've finished with these CDs, I'll go get some food and run some errands. I'm not fantastic at remembering to eat when I'm stressed out or focused on one project or another, so the Quizno's around the block from my apartment has become the beneficiary of that particular dysfunction.

    More to come.

    Monday, September 17, 2012

    Booyeah! Passport Arrival

    My passport arrived by way of UPS just after 9:00 PDT this morning. I'm still in the process of packing my stuff. Yesterday, I got my Echo Pack and one of my sea bags mostly packed up, so today I'll try to finish as much of my apartment packing as I can. Tanner will be helping me to haul my stuff to the storage site in a couple of days. I'm getting closer! I'll also try to rebook my ticket by the end of today. For security reasons, I won't be specifying when I fly, but I can say this: I'll be in Aberdeen in time to start classes next week, on time. Booyeah!

    Saturday, September 15, 2012

    Rocking the Sea Bags

    Many years ago, I was sold on the superior excellence of sea bags (the Army calls them duffle bags, but who cares?). I got a couple of new sea bags, but they turned out to be absolutely massive. So, what I'm going to do is use my old sea bags, and... Well, I'm not sure what I'll do with the new ones.

    Look at that. Look at the difference in size between those two sea bags. One of them is truly massive! The sheer amount of volume is borderline irresponsible! If you tried to check that as luggage on an airplane, they'd scoff in sheer disbelief and awe!

    Anyway, I think I'll probably pack my Echo Pack and one sea bag for departure with me next week, and I'll put the stuff that can come later into the one that I'll be handing off to Gus to bring with him when he comes. For example, my travel guides for Europe and Ireland? Those can come later. Two pairs of cargo shorts? Later. A spool of parachute cord? Well, I'm technically taking two, so the big one can come later.

    Alright, back to work.

    The Gear: Kindle Fire Update

    I've had very little experience with tablets, so I don't have much basis with which to compare my Kindle Fire to anything. The best I can muster is my Droid 4, which I really like. Both the Kindle Fire and the Droid 4 operate using various versions of Google's Android operating system. I have to say that I'm not as thrilled with the operating system on the Kindle Fire as I am on the Droid 4. I like a nice desktop with tidy icons, so the Kindle's "bookshelf" menu isn't my favorite. It also appears that installing apps from Google Play requires some work, so I'll put that work in at some point soon.

  • Ranulph Fiennes, The Feather Men
  • Roger Cole and Richard Belfield, SAS Operation Storm: Nine Men Against Four Hundred in Britain's Secret War
  • Ian Gardiner, In the Service of the Sultan: A First Hand Account of the Dhofar Insurgency
  • Andrew Higgins, With the SAS and Other Animals: A Vet's Experiences During the Dhofar War 1974
  • Gerry Schumacher and Steve Gansen, A Bloody Business: America's War Zone Contractors and the Occupation of Iraq
  • James Ashcroft, Making a Killing: The Explosive Story of a Hired Gun in Iraq
  • Robert Young Pelton, Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror
  • P.W. Singer, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry
  • Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army
  • James Jay Carafano, Private Sector, Public Wars: Contractors in Combat - Afghanistan, Iraq, and Future Conflicts
  • Deborah D. Avant, The Market for Force: The Consequences of Privatizing Security
  • Steve Fainaru, Big Boy Rules: America's Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq
  • Thomas C. Bruneau, Patriots for Profit: Contractors and the Military in U.S. National Security

    That's nine of twelve of the books I've identified for my potential dissertation on private military/security companies, and four of twelve books on the Dhofar Rebellion. It looks like a few more of the books on the Dhofar Rebellion should be available either from Amazon UK, or hopefully through interlibrary loan through the University. This should at least get me started, though, and it's a lot better than trying to carry that volume of literature overseas. I also got A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne as well, thus saving myself the weight of carrying my physical copy with me. As it turns out, I think I could have bought some or even all of my travel guides on Kindle. I won't replace them, since the whole point of buying them was for the trip and I've already spent the money.

    Hey, by the way, has anybody ever noticed that industry has basically invented a ton of the coolest stuff from Star Trek? Like the tablet computer and the mobile phone? Totally from Star Trek. Just sayin'.
  • Friday, September 14, 2012

    Don't Panic: The UKBA's Eventual Win

    I got an E-mail this morning informing me that my visa has been issued, and that my passport will arrive via UPS early next week. As I mentioned previously, I'm not going to re-book my ticket to Aberdeen until I'm physically holding the passport, but this is pretty good news because it means that I'll be able to get to Aberdeen late, but in time for the first day of courses in about a week and a half.

    I've stalled on packing, which means that I need to spend the next three days packing both my bags and my apartment. I've picked up four more Action Packers - two medium, two small - because I was worried about running out of room when packing up my apartment. Hopefully, I have enough now; if not, I can still run out and get a few more.

    At this point, given the delay, I think Gus is going to come a few weeks into the term. I'll likely take my two carry-on bags, my Arc'Teryx Echo Pack, and one seabag, with Gus following with a second seabag to carry stuff that I won't need immediately upon arrival. I'll probably spend the first part of tomorrow packing those bags, which should make it a bit easier to finish packing up my apartment.

    As much as I would have loved to have been in Scotland by now, I think I'll wind up being thankful for the additional time to get things sorted out back here in the States. And now, for more stalling.

    Thursday, September 13, 2012

    The Gear: Gadgets

    As I wait for my passport to arrive, the show must go on.

    * * *

    I'm not much of a gadget hound, but I'll be employing a few to help me be successful during Operation Highlander. Dell Inspiron 14: Honestly, it's probably time for a new laptop, but since I haven't had the time to sort one out, I haven't bought one. I've had this one for two or three years, I've treated it as gently as possible, and it's been a trooper.

    Kindle Fire: I think I may have gotten hosed on this one. For better portability, and because I'd like to get some of my books electronically to make them easier to transport five or six thousand miles away, I bought a Kindle Fire a couple of weeks ago. I'm pretty happy with it so far, though it's smaller than I'd pictured - that probably won't be a problem, it will just take a bit of getting used to. All that having been said, they've just announced the Kindle Fire HD, and dropped the price of the model I bought by about $80. I don't need an HD Kindle Fire - I happen to think that HD is really creepy - but I'd have loved saving $80 on the thing.

    Motorola Droid 4: I joined the newfangled smart phone craze earlier this year. I love this thing, and I love that it's not an iPhone - I think Apple is pure dagnasty evil. I don't know whether I'll be able to use it with a mobile carrier in the United Kingdom, but, I'll be able to use it on wifi connections on campus and elsewhere, so it will still be useful.

    Canon PowerShot Elph 100 HS: I didn't get much of a chance to document my daily life in the Middle East with photos, but Scotland should be an entirely different story. Whether on this blog, or in E-mails to family and friends, I intend to put a lot of photos and possibly some videos online. One of the great things about the Inspiron 14 is that it has a slot for an SD card, so I can take pictures and move them straight from my camera to the computer by way of that slot.

    Garmin eTrex Vista GPS: I'm actually the first person to ridicule those who use a GPS for driving, but I like using mine for navigation on foot, taking grid references of where I've been, tracking my speed and the duration of my travel, and other such activities. If you know how to use a GPS, they can be a lot of fun. I'd also really like to get involved in geocaching. I started with a regular Garmin eTrex a few years ago, and supplemented with a Vista a couple of years ago so that I could interface it with my laptop.

    I have a few other bits and bobs that I've collected in one place or another, but they're not gadgets so much as peripherals. At any rate, I'll post more on these items, and perhaps others, as events develop.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012

    Don't Panic: The UKBA's Epic Fail

    I've enjoyed, and plan to keep, the Keep Calm and Carry On category here on the Operation Highlander blog. I'm now introducing its flamboyant doppelgänger: Don't Panic. KCCO will be posted when I'm under quite a bit of stress, and DP will be posted when I've found reason to relax.

    My passport won't get back in time to leave this week, and there's nothing I can do about that. I've arranged with the airline to cancel the tickets Gus and I had booked on this week's flight, and I'll re-book once I have the passport back in my hands. Assuming we haven't reached the deadline whereby Gus is unable to join me, I'm only out $500 for the cancellation and re-booking. If we reach the point in which Gus can't join me at all, we'll alter the plan accordingly.

    The whole situation is beyond my control, so why panic at this point? As I've stated before, the worst option means I still get to go spend a year in Scotland.

    Saturday, September 8, 2012

    An Omelette In Progress/Challenge Accepted

    You know what they say: in order to make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs. I'm in the process of packing. I'll try to finish as much as I can on Monday, but there are certain things - a number of kitchen items, a number of bathroom items, bedding, and such - that can't be packed until I'm about twelve hours from vacating my apartment. In the mean time, I've been working to get as much sorted out as I possibly can.

    For those who don't know me, I can be exceptionally detail-oriented. I decided on labels for my hard cases, made from packaging tape and 3" x 5" index cards. (There are several people reading this whom are shaking their collective heads, as they know how fixated I am on organizing my life using note cards.) I've divided them into the following categories:

  • TT01 to TT12 for those knock-off Action Packers;
  • FL01 to FL03 for the foot lockers - unfortunately, one of these sustained enough damage being shipped back from the Middle East that I'm going to have to bin it;
  • APS01 to APS02 for the small Action Packers;
  • APM01 to APM06 for the medium Action Packers; and
  • APL01 to APL02 for the large Action Packers.

    Thus far, I've put secured items and decorations into the two APS', field gear and electronics gear into two of the APMs, books into four of the TTs, and some household items into one of the APLs. I'm getting less confident that I have enough TTs for all of my books, but I may be able to expand into space in some of the other bins. I'm either in really good shape as far as storage space, or entirely delusional. We'll find out which soon enough.

    * * *

    Okay, when last I posted, I was quite nervous about my credentials. I'm still quite nervous about my credentials. However, I'm a firm believer in the great advice afforded us from the 1999 film South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut: make a plan, and follow through. It commonly rubs me the wrong way when a finely tuned plan is derailed, particularly for no good reason. In this case, though - and with the help of my good buddy and probable travel companion, Gus - I've realized that this hiccough in the plan is an excellent excuse for more planning.

    Challenge accepted.

    There are essentially three options, which will be determined based upon the date that my passport arrives back to me from the British Consulate. Well, four, I suppose.

  • Option #1 - The Passport Arrives In Time: If the passport arrives in time, we proceed as planned! Great success!
  • Option #2 - The Passport Arrives Slightly Late: If the passport arrives slightly late - something on the order of one day to fourteen days after we're supposed to travel - then we'll do what we can to change our travel arrangements (mainly rebooking tickets, hopefully without having to pay another two grand), and arrive as early as we can under the circumstances.
  • Option #3 - The Passport Arrives Really Late: Gus has some obligations in early October that he can't get out of. There will be a brief window, closing at the end of the first week of October, when I can still arrive and join classes late. If the passport arrives during or directly before that block of time, Gus may be replaced in the rotation by Ken. Maybe.
  • Option #4 - The Passport Arrives Too Late: If, for some bizarre reason, the British Consulate can't get me the passport until the end of that particular window, then I'll have to arrange to defer my admission and arrive in January. Although this would be a worst case option, I'd rather not do this for a whole host of reasons. The only advantage of this option would be that I could read more of my textbooks prior to departure.

    I don't have to come up with hard dates for Options #3 and #4 until Option #1 expires. Fortunately, I don't have to be out of my apartment until the end of September, though I'm not sure where I'll live if I don't have the benefit of my own place. If I have to, I'm sure that I'll figure something out. In the mean time, I'll keep packing and sorting.
  • Thursday, September 6, 2012

    Keep Calm and Carry On: More Trouble With Credentials

    I know I'm posting a lot of these KCCO items lately. To some degree, that's just sort of the time frame I find myself in at the moment.

    I got an E-mail from the UK Border Agency today saying that they'd received my visa application. I'm going to say that again: I got an E-mail from the UK Border Agency today saying that they'd received my visa application. I'm supposed to leave next week. I should have the thing back by now - it was mailed in two weeks ago. This could seriously disrupt my ability to arrive at the University on time, and though I've been given leave to arrive up to two weeks late if I don't get my passport back in time, that doesn't take the $2000 in airline tickets or other disruptions into account. If, God forbid, it takes longer than two weeks into the term, I'm looking at the prospect of deferring my arrival until January. That means about three additional months of living here in the States, which constitutes some additional costs that I'd rather avoid if possible.

    If I'm quite fortunate, someone at the British consulate in New York will look at my stuff, say "Wow, this stuff was mailed two weeks ago, I should get this to one of the Entry Clearance Officers with great haste!", at which point the Entry Clearance Officer will say, "Wow, this chap has all of his ducks in a row, it's all clear as day right here, I should process his visa and get his passport back to him with great haste!" That having been said, if the University's performance is any indication, I'm less than inspired by the sense of urgency exuded by my British cousins.

    You know what they say: don't panic.

    Wednesday, September 5, 2012

    Keep Calm and Carry On: Pull Yourself Together!

    With less than two weeks left until the big day, I've made a bit of progress, but I have a lot ahead of me. There are some things that can't be packed up until a day or two before I leave, like the kitchen and the bathroom, both of which will get their own bin (with a few additional items, like laundry and cleaning supplies, thrown in to fill the extra space). As I mentioned before, I expect to have enough bin space to pack up my apartment and then some. I'm still not positive where all of this stuff is going to wind up, but I have a couple of options, and the worst case scenario is that I'd get a storage unit for a year.

    One of the big tasks was going through all of my clothes. I've probably got about ninety percent of my clothes sorted this point. I started by dividing them up by type (socks, shirts, pants, etc.), then dividing those up by type (dress pants, shorts, jeans, etc.). Now they're divided up into varied piles of what I'm taking, what I'm storing, and what I'm getting rid of. Because the bulk of what I have in my apartment is apparently clothes, with a few other boxes beside, sorting out the clothes has lowered the pucker factor a bit. Once I go through the boxes, I should be able to reduce my overall footprint a bit further.

    I've got about half of my furniture sold. I need to sell three or four more items and then I'll be set. Believe it or not, that reduces some of my stress right there.

    I think I may actually be in pretty good shape as far as packing my clothes and stuff to take with me. If I use those two seabags and that rucksack, I should have enough room to get my clothes, some additional gear, and most or all of the books I'd like to take into that baggage, with some overflow (four or five books, maybe) into my two carry-on bags. One of my upcoming tasks will be to assemble all of the books I intend to take so that I can figure out if all of them can go, and then figure out how to pack them in order to minimize the potential damage in transit.

    I still find that I'm calming myself down a couple of times every day. Between the moving and the prospect of undertaking this graduate program, it's gotten sort of overwhelming. I still think that I'm well prepared for all of it, and that's probably why I'm not freaking out more vigorously at the moment. I like reminding myself that the best way to learn your true potential is to get yourself in over your head - something I seem to do every two or three years. Most of me knows that I'll do just fine, with all of it, but the part of me that's doubting myself seems to be growing louder as the time approaches. I dislike that.

    * * *

    I did some work on my Operation Highlander spreadsheet today. It's a revision of the spreadsheet I came up with to track my goals and accomplishments upon returning from the Middle East. I've mostly failed at those goals, so I'm hopeful that a more solid schedule will help me maintain my discipline. Here are the categories that I've come up with.
  • Notes: I've put in a column for notes to help me keep track of miscellaneous scheduling items or other items of note.
  • Arabic: My goal when I got back from the Middle East was to study Arabic for about an hour per day. I'm scaling that back to forty-five minutes per day, five days per week, once I get to Scotland. I'll probably get more specific with the content of my studies either before or directly after I get to Scotland.
  • Study and Certification: I previously mentioned some certifications that I want to pursue while I'm abroad. I also have additional readings that I haven't completed prior to departure that I'll need to worry about once I've arrived. These two columns will track my readings (and writings, once I get into the dissertation phase), and the steps to complete the certifications.
  • Yomping: I'm not much of a runner, and I've always thought that a better fitness strategy involved walking in boots with a pack and increasing distance and weight over the course of a number of weeks. In the spreadsheet, this item is divided into "kit" - the type and weight of the load I'll carry - and "location". This may involve hiking up a few munros, if there are any within easy travel of Aberdeen.
  • PT: This column will track my goals and progress on the other end of my physical training plan. I got three or four weeks into most parts of my physical training plan earlier this year, and then failed spectacularly. I'm hoping that the new environment and more structured schedule will help me to stick to this workout plan. I'll post more about this soon.
  • Business Development: I want to develop some plans, tools, and potential products for when I return to the work force. I'm hoping to budget a couple of hours per week to work on some of these products so that they're ready to use or market once I complete my time in Aberdeen.

    I'll probably post an image of this spreadsheet week by week while I'm in Scotland. Not surprisingly, I'm really hoping that my ambition doesn't wind up being greater than my discipline. I'm confident that I can accomplish all of this, the question as always is whether I will accomplish all of this.

    * * *

    I wrote most of that a couple of days ago. I'm making slow progress. I hope to have most of my stuff packed or sorted by the end of Sunday. That'll leave all next week for errands and sorting out other loose ends.
  • Monday, September 3, 2012

    The Gear: Recent Procurements

    I bought more stuff.

  • Wiley-X Romer II Advanced safety glasses: I had a pair of Romer IIs that I just lost. Assuming that these are just as good, I'll take them, otherwise I'll get on Amazon and try to replace the original Romer IIs I got for working in the Middle East.
  • Desert Tiger Stripe cargo shorts: I don't expect that I'll wear shorts very often in Aberdeen, but they're good to have regardless. I recently tore a couple of small holes in my existing pair of these shorts, which are a desert version of the Vietnam-era tiger stripe utility uniforms. I may keep that pair, but I'd like to take an intact pair with me.
  • 5.11 Rush MOAB 10 and Rush Delivery Messenger Bag: I'll try to use the messenger bag as my every day carry bag in Aberdeen, and the MOAB 10 will be my second carry-on during the flight over. Between the two, I should be able to get a bunch of stuff directly on the plane with me during the trip over. I may be able to use these two for some of the shorter trips I take as well in order to keep my travel weight low - something I'm not traditionally known for.
  • 2 Carhartt Men's Canvas Utility Cargo Pants: The cargo shorts I wore in the Middle East are pretty worn, and a bit snug. These should be a good fit for what I'll be up to in Scotland: lightweight, durable, and comfortable, just like they were in the Middle East.
  • Morale Patches: 3 TAD Gear Molon Labe patches; 3 Mil Spec Monkey (1 Pirate Skull, 1 Your Mom Sends Me Care Packages, and 1 Spartan Helmet: I have a jacket that takes a patch on one sleeve, and I figure I can also use some additional patches for those 5.11 bags.
  • Kindle Fire and leather cover: I figure that this year will be easier with a tablet, I've heard good things about the Kindle Fire, and having a version of the Kindle may allow me to save some weight on some of the books I'd like to take to Scotland with me.

    Unfortunately, a couple of these orders (some of the morale patches and the cargo shorts) appear to have wound up at my old place in Virginia due to a mistake I made with my settings in PayPal, so I've re-ordered the cargo shorts and I'll see if the originals get forwarded out here.