Sunday, May 26, 2013

Around Aberdeen: Oystercatchers

Seagulls - or, rather, rats with wings - are ubiquitous in Aberdeen, as it's right on Scotland's northern coast. A couple of months ago, I started seeing a new type of bird, smaller than a seagull, with black and white plumage and a long, orange beak used for digging town into the ground (presumably to feed). The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (there's a Royal Society for pretty much everything) has a bird identifier utility on its website, so I used it to figure out what it was that I was looking at. The answer? Oystercatchers. I occasionally see them getting into airborne fights with attacking seagulls, but since oystercatchers don't seem to do things like steal food or spread garbage around, and they're a lot quieter than seagulls, and they seem to travel in pairs (awwwww), they've garnered a sort of soft spot with yours truly.

Now, if only CN Black Sheep and I could figure out a way to significantly cull the seagull population...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Exam Help from Goodreads

One of the methods I use to nail exams is to cite books that I've read. It seems like a really simple method, but apparently I'm pretty much the only person in class who actually does it. Seriously, I will do footnotes in my exams. It's a technique, so to speak, that I picked up from working with sensitive information, which must often be cited in order to ensure accuracy and ability to find the original source. That particular method is pretty similar to citations and footnotes in academic work, only the work I do tends to be a lot more important than academic work, because - let's face it - a lot of academic work is nonsense that will never serve any actual purpose. (Strategic Studies, thankfully, does not fall into this category, especially not in the way that anthropology or sociology do.)

So, with my last set of exams coming up, I thought to myself, "Why not put together a list of the books that I've read that have informed my opinions on a variety of these topics, and review that list in order to ensure that I have plenty of books to cite while writing my essays?" Fortunately, a couple of weeks ago I decided to actually invest an hour or so into the Goodreads account that I've allowed to lay fallow since 2007. I know, right? I went in and entered most of the books I've read since about 1996, maybe even a few before that, and then culled the list to include only those books which directly or indirectly apply to the subject matter. Here's my list:

  • A Bloody Business
  • Assault from the Sea
  • A Savage War of Peace
  • An Unorthodox Soldier
  • Another Bloody Century
  • Arabian Sands
  • Band of Brothers
  • Black Hawk Down
  • Bravo Two Zero
  • Ceasar Against The Celts
  • Citizen Soldiers
  • Dune
  • Faith of My Fathers
  • Guests of the Ayatollah
  • Heart of Darkness
  • How Did This Happen?
  • How the Irish Saved Civilization
  • Imperial Grunts
  • In the Service of the Sultan
  • Inferno
  • Intelligence Power in Peace and War
  • Iron Coffins
  • Islamic Imperialism
  • Legionnaire
  • Modern Military Strategy
  • No Easy Day
  • Orkneyinga Saga
  • Papa Bravo Romeo
  • Plutarch's Lives
  • Rising Sun
  • Rogue Warrior
  • Shadow War
  • Starship Troopers
  • The Agricola and the Germania
  • The Civil War
  • The Conquest of Gaul
  • The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy
  • The Prince
  • The Return of History and the End of Dreams
  • Sea Power
  • Thinking About Nuclear Weapons
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
  • Warfighting
  • World Politics and the Evolution of War

    I obviously won't cite all of these books, but if a couple of them are on my mind at the right time, it'll help. Totally worth the effort, I tell you what.
  • Wednesday, May 22, 2013

    Around Aberdeen: What Is That!?

    A couple of months ago - sheesh, maybe even February? - I was on my way to the post office near campus before heading to campus itself, and I happened to look down on the pavement (sidewalk) and see something I would have never expected to see in Scotland in 2013. Do you recognize it? For my younger readers, and for those who have never worked with technology, that's the magnetic "disk" portion of a 3.5" floppy disk! Not only did I use these things a lot in middle school, high school, and college/university, but when I was working in network security a few years back, I actually had the responsibility of destroying old ones. How was that accomplished? But physically breaking them out of the square plastic case, removing the metal bit in the middle, and feeding the flimsy magnetic disk into a paper shredder. Ahhh, memories... And now those memories will extend to my time in Aberdeen!

    Tuesday, May 21, 2013

    Island Paradise: Message in a Bottle

    A few years ago, the BBC did a really neat audio documentary entitled Message in a Bottle - not to be confused with the evergreen song by Sting and the Police, or the Nicholas Sparks novel and film, all of which share the same name. The documentary focused on Orkney, and discussed other locations in the Faroe Islands, Shetland, and Scotland. Normally, that kind of documentary isn't really my thing, but this one really held my interest, and I actually keep it on my mp3 player at all times. Now that I know how to embed mp3s into the blog, I thought I'd share it with you folks.

    One of the folks they interview in the documentary is a guy named Rory Auskerry. I've never had any personal contact with Rory, and Rory's never heard of me at all (it will be interesting if he finds me through this post!), but we have a mutual acquaintance. Rory grew up on an island called Auskerry, which is one of the islands in the Orkney archipelago. As you can see here, there's nothing there - two things that are, for some reason, labeled in Russian, and that's it.

    Anyway, enjoy the documentary. I know I have, on several different occasions. And, for anyone who's curious, the other two BBC documentaries I always keep on my mp3 player, they're The Generals Debate Iraq and The Wireless World of Gerry Wells. The first is very serious and informative, while the second is lighter, like Message in a Bottle.

    Sunday, May 19, 2013

    Exam Prep Update

    Nobody who knows me well will be at all surprised to know that I'm using Excel to organize my study for my second set of exams here in Aberdeen. I made a list of stuff to study, which then expanded a bit. It's remained (mostly) intact since Thursday. I've been using it to keep track of the various things I need to either read for the first time, or review from earlier in the semester. It's been pretty effective.

    I probably won't finish everything on the list. The Secondary Study Topics, for example, may get a bit of attention, but I'm focusing on areas of overlap between my two classes, and trying to figure out particular sources that I can be ready to cite. I worked from a similar strategy for last semester's classes, and was fairly successful in Strategic Theory, and did well enough in Strategic Intelligence. I'm feeling pretty confident about GSI, so I've been focusing on materials that cover both GSI and SND, because I'd like to do at least one grade point better in SND than I did in SI last semester. I'm still a bit nervous about SND - Critical Mass is a tough grader - but I'm probably more comfortable with the concepts, and with having appropriate sources to cite, than I was in SI last semester.

    I checked the exam timetable again. SND is Friday morning, and GSI is Monday afternoon. I'm pretty confident that I'll be ready.

    Gotta say, I'm getting a ton of mileage out of my Kindle during this particular exam prep period. I've been using my laptop, and studying in the SOC, but I've also been taking my Kindle to Starbucks and reading Modern Military Strategy, or a ton of PDFs. As part of my continuing mission to turn my Kindle into the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I've also sent some additional "Defeating Tech" PDFs to it, including some Marine Corps doctrinal publications, and the transcripts to the 1981 Reith Lectures for reading while listening to the corresponding mp3s. In all honesty, it's really simple stuff, but I love how I've been able to use the thing as a sort of academic force multiplier. It also saves me lugging my laptop to Starbucks. I continue to lean further and further toward blaming all of the Kindle's shortfalls on the university's network settings.

    More updates as they come, but as far as I can tell, I should be more than ready to trounce my peers when it comes time to spend a combined total of six hours destroying my wrist. Booyeah!

    Around Aberdeen: Inspirational Land Rover

    The other day, during a break from exam prep, I walked to Asda - the British manifestation of the WalMart empire - to buy a radio as a substitute for my Grundig Mini 100PE, which appears to have a short. (The Mini 100PE is long since discontinued, so I'd like to preserve it and fix it once I'm back in the States, since it's a fantastic piece of kit - more on radios in a subsequent post.) As I got to within about half a block of Asda (which, coincidentally, is right across the street from Codonas Amusement Park, where the Strategists once played hard during happier times), I spotted an inspirational message on the side of a Land Rover - complete with The North Face logo and some bizarre graphic of a scantily clad woman, all three of which were repeated on the other side of the vehicle. I decided to snap a quick picture before continuing on for my radio. It serves as a good reminder - particularly during the hard times - to get the most out of life, regardless of the circumstances in which you may find yourself.

    Saturday, May 18, 2013

    Exam Prep

    I'm preparing for two exams: Global Security Issues (GSI) and Strategic Nuclear Doctrine (SND). I have a lot of material to review. For starters, I'm going to review several of the topics from last semester's Strategic Theory curriculum - particularly deterrence, arms control, and alliances. Ironically, pretty much all of that is for SND. I'm fortunate this semester, as there's a lot of overlap between GSI and SND. I've made a list of primary review topics...
    Primary Study Topics
  • United States / United States global strategy and perspectives
  • Russia / Russian security policies and objectives
  • NATO’s Nuclear Posture / European security challenges
  • United Kingdom / Anglo-American "Special Relationship"
  • Israel / Security in the Levant
  • Alternative Nuclear Futures (SND)
  • Formation and Evolution of Strategic Nuclear Doctrine (SND)
  • Gulf security (GSI)
  • Political Islam (GSI)
  • ... and a list of secondary review topics...
    Secondary Study Topics
  • China / China’s role in Asia-Pacific security arrangements
  • India and Pakistan / Tensions in the sub-continent
  • Thoughts about post-Cold War security (GSI)
  • Japan and international security (GSI)
  • Salient security issues in sub-Saharan Africa (GSI)
  • Water as a security issue (GSI)
  • Legal and Moral Issues Relating to Nuclear Weapons (SND)
  • ... to organize myself. Those topics with a slash between them are topics in which the content overlaps between the two courses. So, I've put together complementary POA&Ms - "Plans of Action and Milestones", a phrase I picked up doing network security work - for studying. First, GSI...

    GSI Study POA&M
    [ ] Pick Five GSI Topics
    [ ] Review Oil Cuttings
    [ ] Review GSI Slide Decks
    [ ] Listen to Kagan #1 x2
    [ ] Listen to Kagan #2 x2
    [ ] Listen to Kagan #3 x2
    [ ] Review Operational Strategy Documents
    [ ] Review Atomic Kingdom
    [ ] Read MCDP 1-1 Strategy
    [ ] Assemble Book List (Goodreads) for Review

    ... and then SND.

    SND Study POA&M
    [ ] Pick Five SND Topics
    [ ] Review SND Slides
    [ ] Review Gray's Modern Strategy
    [ ] Review Gray's Another Bloody Century
    [ ] Review Sloan's Modern Military Strategy
    [ ] Review Wohlstetter's The Delicate Balance of Terror
    [ ] Review Brodie's The Anatomy of Deterrence
    [ ] Review Martin's The Two-Edged Sword
    [ ] Review Freedman's The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy
    [ ] Review relevant ST Slides (Deterrence, Arms Control, Alliances)
    [ ] Review seminar note sheets
    [ ] Define Deterrence
    [ ] Define Narrow Deterrence
    [ ] Define Broad Deterrence
    [ ] Define Extended Deterrence
    [ ] Define Central Deterrence
    [ ] Define Deterrence by Denial
    [ ] Define Deterrence by Punishment
    [ ] Define General Deterrence
    [ ] Define Immediate Deterrence
    [ ] Review NPRs, et cetera

    The SND exam is the one I'm most concerned about, since a lot of the material was new to me this semester and my professional experience - mostly with the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps - hasn't focused much on nuclear strategy, which has tended to be a primarily Air Force-centric discipline save for a limited niche in the Navy's submarine force. I'm a lot more comfortable with GSI, but I'm going to try to combine my study topics in order to cover specific regions, in addition to some materials specific to each individual course.

    I'll have about seventy-two hours, maybe slightly less, between the two exams, which will give me some additional time to study for one or the other. I'll have to check, but I think that SND is the second of the two, which will help a bit. Either way, I have a lot of work ahead of me for the next week and a half, but I feel, ironically, that I have more productive time to work on this than I did for last semester's exams.


    Wednesday, May 15, 2013

    The End of Classes

    It seems like a very short time ago - and, in fairness, it was - when I arrived for my first lecture here in Aberdeen. Last Wednesday, I attended my final lecture. In just over a week, the Strategists will sit for final exams, take a bit of a breather, and then start in earnest on our dissertations. I expect that exams will be the last time we're all together in the same place, as several among us will leave to write their dissertations in other venues. The time is bittersweet, because I spent two and a half years preparing for Operation Highlander, and even though there's plenty of it left ahead of me, the remainder of the year will be different than it has been. There's also the conflict of wanting to savor every minute of my time in Scotland, and feeling antsy to get back to work.

    This second semester has been more difficult than the first. I expect - I hope - to ultimately do better this semester than I did last. Even so, there have been challenges, both academic and social, that have dug into me this time around. I'm realistically optimistic - by my very nature, I'm not an unmitigated optimist - that with some hard work studying ("revising") over the next two weeks, I'll be able to crush this semester as I've always intended. Having tied for top marks in Strategic Theory last semester, I'm virtually guaranteed graduation "with distinction" - the Scottish equivalent of summa cum laude, from what I can gather - as long as I don't goon up my dissertation. (It's highly doubtful that I'll goon my dissertation up.) At the same time, I feel extremely competitive in this program, not merely with my coursemates, but with myself. I want there to be no question who led the pack in the 2012/'13 Strategic Studies course.

    So, after a bit of a breather, the next couple of weeks will be spent fervently reviewing GSI and SND, with a few bits of ST thrown in to round out some of the concepts. As with last semester, I'll post my exam study strategy and some of my study notes in the next couple of weeks. I'll have one exam on the Friday of the first week of exams, and the other on Monday of the second week of exams. That's greatly preferable to last semester, when they scheduled both exams within forty-eight hours of each other, at the beginning of the first week of exams.


    Saturday, May 4, 2013

    Debacle in Shetland: The Geocaching Catastrophe

    As I mentioned previously, my goal upon reaching Shetland was to see as much of Shetland as possible by finding as many geocaches as possible. My goal was to start at the top of Unst with Shetland's - and the United Kingdom's - most northerly geocache. In retrospect, it would have been a good plan in a few months, assuming that I complete my physical training plan. In April, it probably nearly cost me my life.

    I read the description of the cache in question, which stated that:
    this cache requires a walk of approx 2.5Km/1.5miles each way from the car park above the visitors' centre at the old shore station
    Based on that description, I figured that the cache would be a bit of a hike, but no real issue to get to. In fact, I was almost immediately off track. After walking for maybe half a mile, I stayed on the main path, missing the turn that I should have taken in order to take the most direct route up Hermaness Hill. This took me on a sort of winding northwesterly route, rather than due north toward the hill's summit.

    When the path terminated, my Garmin eTrex Vista said that I was still nowhere near the cache, which I had expected to be near the end of the path. I decided that I had come that far already, so I may as well press on. I walked further until I came to a sort of gentle ridgeline. The GPS was pointing far away from where I was standing and I eventually decided, against my better judgment, to give up the altitude that I'd already gained in order to descend the hill. I expected that, once I was on the next hillside, the GPS would point me toward the northern edge of the hill, and I could walk around it to get the cache.

    Alas, no.

    In fact, the further around the hill I went, the more sure I became that the GPS was, in fact, pointing me toward the top of the hill. At that point, I had a choice: I could climb back up the hill I'd just dismounted and go back the way I'd come, or I could climb the taller hill in front of me and keep looking for the cache. I made what I'm still not sure was the right choice: to live my motto of "keep fighting" and keep looking for the cache. Feeling fairly warm and sweaty on an unseasonably warm and sunny Shetland day, I made slow progress up what turned out to be Hermaness Hill, biting off a little piece of it at a time. Because the hill's slope was so gradual, every time I thought I was going to get up to the top, there was another nub to climb over. After the better part of four hours, three or four miles of walking, and two hills, I made it to the top and found the geocache in short order. I quickly signed my name in the log, and set about getting back to my hired car.

    It's at this point of the story that I'd like to mention just how concerned I'd become. I had eaten literally nothing that morning, and I had only taken in a couple of swallows of water to clear my palate after brushing my teeth. There was virtually no mobile phone reception, and by the time I reached the summit of the hill it had been a solid hour since I had seen anyone. I'm nowhere near as physically fit as I ought to be. Factoring all of those things in, it was obvious that I needed to get back to my car and head for civilization.

    Remember earlier, when I missed the turn-off from the path to go straight up the hill? Well, the path down to the car park from the top of Hermaness Hill was practically non-existent. It was marked by wooden stakes stuck in the ground every so often, barely visible from one to another. A variety of crude bridges, some of them seemingly built from cargo pallets, crossed various drainage streams, but in many cases these weren't the best routes across the terrain. In fact, the entire hillside was fairly treacherous moorland, requiring very careful footwork and the occasional leap in order to make it from top to bottom. In all honesty, had I made the correct turn-off at the beginning of the journey, I almost certainly would have called the fool's errand off at the very beginning. After about an hour, maybe a bit less since I was going downhill, my path rejoined the main path at a point where I would have never guessed I was supposed to have turned off, and from there it was only about ten minutes' walk back to my car.

    When all was said and done, I had walked five or six miles, climbed two hills, fell four times, trashed one of the two pairs of trousers I'd brought on the trip, and blown about three more hours of my time in Shetland than I had intended. I later looked at another website - this time, one specifically about hiking in Shetland - and found that the second hill was more than six hundred feet in elevation, and my ascent had begun at the car park, which was no more than about fifty feet above sea level. I also checked that listing at the geocaching website, and learned that while I had read and reviewed the cache description, I had failed to note that the terrain difficulty rating was 3.5 out of 5. Had I twisted my ankle or something, I hesitate to think what would have happened to me. And what did I get for it? Picturesque vistas of Muckle Flugga and RAF Saxa Vord, a massive blister on my left big toe, and the right to say that I almost died on the Isle of Unst while seeking out a geocache. In retrospect, I should have done a better job of managing my risks - lesson learned.

    With at least an hour and a half of driving ahead of me, and two ferry rides, I had no time to see or photograph Unst or Yell in more detail. As I drove back from the farthest reaches of Unst to check in at my digs in Lerwick, Shetland stopped looking like Wyoming and began to more closely resemble one of my two least favorite states of the Union: Oklahoma.

    Friday, May 3, 2013

    IRN-BRU Advert: Mum

    I love - love - IRN-BRU adverts. I posted a couple of them a few weeks ago, and then a new one came out. Well, have a look.

    Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is comedy.

    Thursday, May 2, 2013

    GBU-16 vs. The Finn

    CN GBU-16, my Italian coursemate, is an amateur boxer. She's done less of it this year than in previous years, but her coaches convinced her in March to commit herself to climbing back into the ring for a bout in late April. She started training for it before she went to Nepal, continued training in the Himalayas as best she could, and then fought a week and a half after she'd returned. I try to do whatever I can to support my coursemates - I even voted for CN Ness and CN Baltic when they recently ran in the student elections - so I was there to cheer GBU-16 on!

    The fight was held at a club called Institute, which is actually right around the corner from Lionel's. I was there early to get a good vantage point, and took a few pictures. They'd cleared out the dance floor and erected a boxing ring, gotten Aberdeen's local boxing establishment to officiate, and even got a hold of some trophies for the boxers. The agenda including a mix of official and exhibition bouts. I had never seen any boxing before in my entire life, so I wasn't quite sure what I'd think.

    I was actually pretty impressed. You could definitely tell, in pretty much every match, who the leader was - regardless of whether the matches were being ranked or not. The boxers tended not to be as aggressive in the "skill"/exhibition matches, but it was clear by who was on the ropes, whose footwork was cleaner, and who was landing more shots who came out on top. The Aberdeen boxers had a great showing against a bunch of boxers - mostly female, but with a couple of fights between male boxers - from Peterhead and Dundee.

    GBU-16's was the fourth bout, and she was fighting The Finn! The Finn is apparently a student at the University of Dundee. GBU-16 was initially nervous because The Finn had a few "kilos" on her - something about weight that doesn't translate well into English, so I've tried not to worry about it - but she trained hard and was able to make it up to a competitive weight in time for the fight. Then, she beat the tar out of The Finn. Well... In actuality, The Finn had forgotten her boxing license back in Dundee, so GBU-16 went easy on her... Except for the times when The Finn panicked and illegally hugged GBU-16, the result of which was a series of uppercuts to the Finn's face that I have elected to term "Naples Style". Throughout the fight, I was shouting motivational lines to GBU-16, like "Wahid, ithnayn!" (Arabic for "One, two!" - we're both Arabic students) and "Keep fighting, [GBU], keep fighting!" (one of my own personal mottos). When the fight was over, I greeted GBU-16 with a hug, and the remainder of my gin and tonic, which she happily accepted.

    When GBU-16 had herself sorted out, and since her boyfriend was unable to attend the event, we went to Lionel's for a well-earned kebab, and then to the Tippling House for a couple of drinks. She was happy to have me (and her brother) loudly shouting our encouragement, and I was honored to have been invited to come out and support her. All in all, it was a fun afternoon for all concerned. Boxing: yet another first that happened to me during my year in Aberdeen.