Replacing a Military Radio - The Hard Way

Many years ago - more years than I would care to admit - I spent eight years in the Army as a 98G Voice Intercept Operator, which is a long title for someone that spends a lot of time listening to what other people are saying, taking notes, and then telling someone else what was being said. I won't go into any more details about what I did for a living, but for several years I was stationed in Fulda, Germany, where I was a member of the 511th Military Intelligence Company, which was attached to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.

My fellow soldiers and I spent a lot of time hiding in the forests along what was then the border between East and West Germany, which is where the conditions were generally the best for our line of work. During the day we used an AN/TRQ-32(V) Radio Receiving Set, which we affectionately called the "Turkey 32."

The Turkey 32 was my favorite piece of equipment, and it's primarily used for direction finding operations. (Which means "locating the bad guys.") The only trouble with the Turkey 32 was - it used a great deal of fuel, and its generator was horribly loud, so at night we would shut down the Turkey 32 and use our AN/TRQ-30 Manpack Radio Receiving Set to continue our listening activities... which we called the "Turkey 30."

These radios were left over from a bygone era in the distant past - like the Korean War, or maybe the Civil War - so they were really starting to show their age. One of our radios was falling apart - literally. The knobs on the face panel kept falling off, the reception was terrible, the tuner barely moved, etc. I knew that my Turkey 30 was on its last legs and was in dire need of some kind of emergency maintenance, so one day I hauled my Turkey 30 to our Circuits & Electronics (C&E) office to see what my options were. (I was secretly hoping that C&E would replace the radio, but I was almost certain that it would simply spend a few weeks in the shop for repairs.) I had a good friend who was working in C&E that day, SP4 Villarreal, and he replied that as long as the radio was working, there was nothing that he could do about it.

So I started to pack up the radio, and I was probably muttering something about the fact that I had no idea how long it would take for the radio to eventually die, when Villarreal stopped me and said, "Perhaps you weren't paying attention, so listen to me very closely this time - we can't fix it, but if it doesn't work then we can replace it."

And suddenly - the light bulb turned on.

I blissfully carried the Turkey 30 back to our platoon office in the 511th building and announced to everyone, "Gentlemen, this radio has to die - today." So we spent the next hour or so having a contest to see who could throw the Turkey 30 the furthest from the 2nd-story window where our platoon office was located. After everyone had made their share of attempts at breaking the previous distance record, we declared the contest winners with the usual pomp and circumstance that is called for in such occasions - which means that several people were undoubtedly punched a few times before heading back to work.

Once that was taken care of, I packed up the Turkey 30 and strolled back to the C&E office, where I announced to Villarreal that, "For some reason my Turkey 30 has stopped working." Villarreal didn't blink as he overlooked the massive dents and broken glass and replied, "Well, we'll just have to order you a replacement."

It's times like that when it's great to have friends in the right places. Smile

Who is this Santa, Really?

I spent the weekend in Leavenworth, Washington, with my wife, our kids, and my future son-in-law. It was a fun-filled weekend of bright lights, snow-capped mountains, hot apple cider, chestnuts roasting on open fires, and Christmas carols sung by choirs. But the more that I listened to Christmas carols, the more I started to get an interesting picture of Santa Claus.

Like many other people, I grew up with the concept of Santa Claus as a kindly old gentleman that brought gifts at Christmas to all the good children of the world. Santa was like the ultimate grandfather - with a bright red suit, a cheery disposition, a full beard of whiskers, and a sleigh that flew through the air by magic reindeer.

But this year the words to some of the traditional Christmas carols began to really sink in, and I started to see a different Santa. A darker Santa. A scary Santa. Let me give you just a few examples:

  • "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" - Think about it: "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake..." Wait - Santa is IN MY ROOM and WATCHING ME SLEEP? Holy cow - I never realized that Santa was stalking me. I don't think that I can match eyes with him in the mall from now own; it's just too creepy.
  • "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" - So Santa is breaking up marriages now, eh? Does DADDY know that Santa is spending a little too much time under the mistletoe with MOMMY? How does Mrs. Claus feel about this?
  • "Santa Baby" - That's obviously not MOMMY that's singing those lyrics, so Santa must be two-timing mommy with someone else. And she sounds well-taken-care-of. I wonder how many pretend Mrs. Clauses Santa has scattered around the globe.
  • "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - All those years of prejudice and abuse that Rudolph had to endure, and what did Santa do about it? Nothing. Santa ignored the whole affair, until a foggy Christmas Eve came around, and suddenly he has a use for Rudolph. That poor abused reindeer is nothing but an opportunistic tool to Santa.

My childhood illusion is finally shattered - this Christmas Eve Santa isn't filling STOCKINGS hung by the chimney with care, he's STALKING you by the chimney with care. That's why he's sneaking into your house like a burglar, and why he has so many aliases around the globe - even James Bond doesn't use as many pseudonyms: Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Grandfather Frost, Yule Man, Sinterklaas, Дед Мороз, etc.

So this Christmas Eve I suggest that you heed the wise advice found in the "Here Comes Santa Claus" Christmas carol: "Jump in bed and cover up your head, Because Santa Claus comes tonight."

Misadventures with Foreign Languages

I served in the Army for 8 years as a Russian translator. When I was still in Russian school, we were required to attend "conversation" class, where a group of students would sit down and discuss various topics with one of the instructors.

One day the instructor asked me what I had been doing the previous evening, and I said that I had played soccer. She asked what position I played, and since I didn't know the Russian noun for a goal keeper, I took a chance and replied in Russian that "I played goalie." She looked surprised, and asked if I was often goalie when playing soccer, and I replied yes - I usually play goalie. After that we chatted back and forth about how I preferred to play goalie, why I preferred to play goalie, etc. This conversation continued for about a minute, when she switched to English and informed me that in Russian "goalie" (голый) is the adjective for "naked".

So I had spent the last part of the conversation waxing poetic about my preference for playing soccer... well... you know. ;-)

Famous Amos is Out to Kill Me

Let there be no misunderstanding – I love Famous Amos cookies. But that being said, Famous Amos is out to kill me.

If I eat a small handful of Famous Amos cookies, I will pay for it with severe heartburn that lasts for several hours. But the following week, I’ll buy another package – I know that I'm going to be in pain, but I just can't help myself.

I know that one of the hardest experiences for mankind is trying to kick the smoking habit, but I have to be honest – trying to stay away from Famous Amos cookies is much harder. At least for me, anyway.

What’s even worse is when I have just enough pocket change to buy a little bag of cookies from the vending machine and the @#$% machine won’t take one of my coins. Those machines do that just to mess with me, I’m sure of it. All I can do is stare at the bag of cookies – just out of reach – and there’s nothing that I can do. There they sit – right in front of me – taunting me to resort to drastic measures.

[Deep Sigh.]

I have to go – the day is getting late and I feel like a snack.

I wonder how much change I have?

School in 1959 versus 2009

I was sent this list of how several things have changed in our educational system and lives over the past 50 years, and it's a sad but true observation of how "Trying to Make Things Better™" ultimately makes things worse...

SCENARIO 1: Jeffrey will not be still in class, he disrupts other students.

  • 1959 - Jeffrey sent to the Principal's office and given a good paddling by the Principal. He then returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.
  • 2009 - Jeffrey is given huge doses of Ritalin. He becomes a zombie. He is then tested for A.D.D. The school gets extra money from the state because Jeffrey has a disability.

SCENARIO 2: Johnny and Mark get into a fist fight after school.

  • 1959 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.
  • 2009 - Police called and SWAT team arrives -- they arrest both Johnny and Mark. They are both charged with assault and both expelled, even though Johnny started it.

SCENARIO 3: Mark gets a headache and takes some aspirin to school.

  • 1959 - Mark shares his aspirin with the Principal out on the smoking dock.
  • 2009 - The police are called and Mark is expelled from school for drug violations. His car is then searched for drugs and weapons.

SCENARIO 4: Jack goes quail hunting before school and then pulls into the school parking lot with his shotgun in his truck's gun rack.

  • 1959 - Vice Principal comes over, looks at Jack's shotgun, goes to his car and gets his shotgun to show Jack.
  • 2009 - School goes into lock down, FBI called, Jack hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers.

SCENARIO 5: Billy breaks a window at his school and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.

  • 1959 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college and becomes a successful businessman.
  • 2009 - Billy's dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy is removed to foster care and joins a gang. The state psychologist is told by Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has an affair with the psychologist.

SCENARIO 6: Pedro fails high school English.

  • 1959 - Pedro goes to summer school, passes English and goes to college.
  • 2009 - Pedro's cause is taken up by state. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. ACLU files class action lawsuit against the state school system and Pedro's English teacher. English is then banned from core curriculum. Pedro is given his diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.

SCENARIO 7: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from the Fourth of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle and blows up a red ant bed.

  • 1959 - Ants die.
  • 2009 - ATF, Homeland Security and the FBI are all called. Johnny is charged with domestic terrorism. The FBI investigates his parents -- and all siblings are removed from their home and all computers are confiscated. Johnny's dad is placed on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

SCENARIO 8: Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him.

  • 1959 - In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing.
  • 2009 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison. Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy.

To the Moon... or Bust...

I have always been fascinated by all things space-related; the moon, the planets, the stars, etc. Perhaps it was watching all of the live TV broadcasts during the race to the moon in the 1960's, or perhaps it was spending part of my childhood living in Florida where astronauts would drop by the schools to talk about what they did for a living. My dad probably had a lot to do with this space-age attraction; when we were living in Tampa, he got us up early one morning and drove across Florida so we could be there to watch Apollo 16 launch for what was to become one of the last manned missions to the moon, and he bought the telescope that I continue to use to this day.

In any case, I was fascinated with space throughout my childhood. Over the years I followed the stories about the development of the space shuttle program, I watched several of the shuttle launches on television, and I even managed to make it back to Florida to attend one of the shuttle launches.

I tell you all of these things just to set the stage - when I heard that NASA was going to smash a rocket into the surface of the moon at 7:30am EST on October 9th, 2009, my first thought was shared by many people around the globe: "What gives NASA the right to bomb the moon?"

This was followed quickly by my second thought, which was: "Cool - can I watch?"

In fact, NASA had said that the explosion would be large enough to be seen by amateur enthusiasts, which is why I stayed up all night on October 8th to wait for it. I set up my telescope in the backyard, and I had a computer nearby that was streaming the live video feed from NASA. So I waited, and I watched, and I waited, and I watched, and then... nothing happened. There came a time when all of the folks at NASA's Ames Research Center in California started cheering, and it became obvious that whatever was going to happen had just done so, but not only was it impossible to see anything through my telescope, it was impossible to see anything on NASA's cameras that were smashing into the moon to record the event.

When you study the history of NASA's exploratory missions to places like Mars, you see a long pattern of failures due to one problem or other, and a lot of very expensive equipment has met a tragic end by plowing into the surface of Mars. So now that NASA has a chance to make up for their bad track record by intentionally crashing something into alien soil, you'd like to think that they've had enough practice to get that one thing right.

But unfortunately, they didn't.

Advertising IIS Around the World

In case you haven't already surmised from some of my other blog posts, I've been around IIS for a long time, so it should go without saying that I'm a big fan of IIS.

I remember when we first released IIS 1.0 for Windows NT 3.51 and we were handing out IIS CD-ROMs at trade shows way back in early 1996; everyone kept asking, "What is this for?" (Obviously the Internet was still a new concept to a lot of people back then.) Out of nostalgia, I kept a shrink-wrapped copy of IIS 1.0 for myself, and I think that I have one of the few boxes left. It usually sits in my office next to my IIS 4.0 Limited Edition CD-ROM...

IIS-1.0-BoxIIS-4.0-CD-ROM

Anyway, over the years the IIS team has printed up an assortment of IIS shirts, and I have been wearing several of these various IIS shirts as I have travelled around the world. Because I have been doing so for some time, I've found myself advertising IIS in some unexpected places. For example, my wife and I were visiting our daughter in Peru this past March, and we took the following photograph of my daughter and me (wearing one of my IIS shirts) at Machu Picchu:

IIS-at-Machu-Picchu

So - you may ask, "What does IIS have to do with one of the newest wonders of the world?" My answer is, "Um... nothing, really." I happened to be wearing my IIS shirt that day, and it made a pretty good photo. (Obviously, it was a bad hair day for me... so I'm blaming the mountain winds. ;-] )

As another example, my son and I took a road trip down the California coast this past summer to visit my brother in San Francisco, and we posed for the following photo before boarding the boat to Alcatraz:

IIS-at-Alcatraz

There are other times where I have taken advantage of a situation to deliberately and shamelessly pose for IIS. For example, I was scuba diving in Hawaii a couple of years ago, and I borrowed someone's dive slate to write the following message:

IIS-7-Rocks

Actually, I tend to wear IIS shirts when I go scuba diving as a matter of habit - it's kind of a good luck charm for me - and this behavior of mine has led to some interesting experiences.

For example, my wife and I were going scuba diving in the Bahamas several years ago, and once again I was wearing one of my IIS t-shirts that day. The dive company had sent a van to our hotel to pick up several divers, and as I climbed aboard, one of the other passengers saw my shirt and remarked, "Oh, we have an IIS person today. I'm more of an Apache Girl myself." I quickly replied, "That's okay, everybody needs a hobby." I really only expected her to get the joke, but apparently we had a tech-savvy group that day because everyone else on the bus chimed in with, "Ooooooh - you're in trouble." I didn't realize what everyone meant until we got to the dive boat where Apache Girl came walking up to me holding an air tank and said, "I'm your dive guide today, and I picked this air tank especially for you." We both had a good laugh, and I survived the dive so she can thankfully take a joke.

IIS-in-the-Bahamas

All that being said, I really like to show off IIS. It's a lot of fun to demonstrate the many features of IIS to customers at trade shows, and it's a lot of fun to unofficially advertise IIS when I'm traveling on vacation in various places around the world. So if you see me when I'm on vacation somewhere, the chances are good that you'll be able to find me in a crowd - because I'll be the geek wearing the IIS shirt.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/

To geek, or not to geek...

Like most of the computer-obsessed friends that I hang out with, I am often called a geek by the non-techie types that I have to interact with. (That list of non-techies includes my wife, by the way. ;-])

I wondered if that was a label that I should wear with pride, then I saw a great quote the other day:

"A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one."

Given my over-interest in computers, maybe the "Geek" title fits.

When discussing several subjects with some other geeks the other day, one of my friends asked, "Is it possible that there is anything that you're not a geek in?"

I had to give that some thought, but then I replied, "Shoes."

To be honest, I wear a set of sneakers just about everywhere. I wouldn't know a good set of dress shoes if they snuck up behind me and kicked me in the rear.

Maybe that's why I have such a hard time understanding why my wife owns 40 pairs of shoes... To me, I figure what's the point?

To be honest, I actually do own a couple of other pairs of shoes, but my wife bought them for me. When all is said and done, all I ever wear is the sneakers. (Even to church... ;-])

I think my wife buys my other shoes for me in the hopes that I will either: 1) empathize with her plight, 2) convert to the dark side, or 3) develop some form of shoe-fetish gland. I think the fact that I work for Microsoft has still escaped her.

I've told my daughters that I'm making them a simple deal: I'll wear a tuxedo for their weddings. If I foot the bill for the wedding, then I'm wearing sneakers with the tux. If they pay for their own wedding, then I'll wear whatever shoes they like.

Seems fair to me.  ;-]

But the question remains, am I a socially hopeless cause? I hope not. (After all, I do get out a lot.)

Am I a geek? Hmm... I guess I should consider the old adage:

"If the shoe fits..."

Well, you know the rest. ;-]