Archive for 2004

Operation Dear Abby: A Personal Testimony

December 30th, 2004 by xformed

While reading something on Matt’s blog recently, he commented about taking the time to send a letter to the troops. While I’m sure it was being done before my experience in 1986, I found myself at the other end of a big letter writing campaign. Here’s my after action report:

I’m not sure if this story is about the real beginnings of Operation Dear Abby, but I believe it is. The purpose of this post is to use some history to give you some first hand accounts of the impact of letters from all over America have on our troops, and, quite honestly, to help you make a decision (for you fence sitters) to take the time to get out pen and paper and to communicate with those at the “pointy end of the spear.”

Sometime in mid to early 1985, an enterprising and forward looking sailor stationed aboard USS BIDDLE (CG-34), wrote a letter to Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) and asked if she would ask her readers to write to “any sailor” while our Battle Group was on deployment to the North Arabian Sea from Oct, 1985 through Apri1, 1986. This certainly was before the days of extensive access to the internet in the US, so “the word” would have to he passed by more conventional means. From my understanding, Abby checked with the Pentagon to make sure this would be acceptable to publish and (the obivious) answer was “yes.”

Fast forward about 9 months. We had left our east coast ports, sailed to Singapore, and then made an early return to the “Med,” in January, 1984, due to the belligerent stance taken by Col. Khaddafi. By April, we had conducted several “freedom of navigation” operations and had engaged Libyan surface slips in combat. Then the letters started to come.

Sometime about early April, mountains, as compared to the normal flow of mail, I’m not exaggerating, began to be delivered to the USS CORAL SEA Battle Group, addressed to “Any Sailor.” My staff was embarked aboard BIDDLE at the time, and when the logistic runs by helicopter from the Carrier came each day, we would get 3-4 large orange mailbags of just this mail. The bags would be taken to an area near the front of the mess deck, and left for all to dig through as time permitted. Believe me, we made time for this.

I’ll say this: It was better than Christmas, and all we were getting was letters from ”home.” It was special and mail, the hard copy kind, hand written stuff is/was always wonderful to receive from your real relatives, but this stuff was outstanding because all types of people from all over took a few moments of their lives to write to us; faceless, nameless service members floating about on haze grey vessels half a world away. I can’t put into words the elation these pieces of paper provided to so many of us.

We read them, passed around the ones we liked, and many sailors wrote back, I know at least a few sailors even met some of the writers. I recall letters from veterans, housewives, an airline pilot, school kids and even a few from some women inmates in the Florida Correctional system. The “thank yours” were numerous, but many included just plain old “slices of life” from the hearts and souls of American citizens, giving as a glimpse of their days.

These letters were a special gift and lifted the spirits of many. If your ever wonder if just taking a moment to share a little of your life with someone in the service is worth the effort, the answer from someone on the other end, is a resounding “it sure is!”

I know after we were released from the theatre, after a 3 week extension to bomb Libya in May, 1986, the continuous, massive amounts of mail were delivered to the Battle Groups left in the Med, and I suspect it got distributed widely about the Fleets in all oceans.

For my part, thank you to those who may have written back then, but today, especially to anyone who has been doing the same sort of thing for our service members. You are making a difference, and, as then, I know your seemingly small efforts are tremendously appreciated by the men and women far from home.

Category: "Sea Stories", History, Military, Military History, Navy, Supporting the Troops | 1 Comment »

What Began as a Tool for Mechanics….

December 30th, 2004 by xformed

It’s called a “data port” and I believe it began to he standard equipment in cars about 1995. Don’t quote me on that but, suffice it to say, it’s a development we know took place.

Ok, here we go. This data port enables mechanics to connect computerized diagnostic computers to your car quickly. Not only can they “see” into your engine quickly they can, theoretically, identify and quickly correct problems in the automobile. That has the benefit of saving on labor hours for the consumer, as well as giving the mechanics the ability to handle a greater volume of customers.

Invented by the automobile industry by the hybridization of electronics and mechanical devices, some other people come along and come up with a way to further their work, at no significant cost. Enter the law enforcement profession. The data port is not merely an interface into your vehicles “propulsion” system it has been fortified by being given a short, but telling memory. Like the sibling we had that reveled in reporting our egregious acts of immaturity and boundary testing to our parents the data pat retains a constantly refreshing memory of what you had the vehicle doing for the last 30 seconds.

30 seconds? That’s not long you think. Just for fun, stop doing anything else and watch your watch via clock for 30 seconds. This will recalibrate you as to how long 30 seconds is. With things like speed, acceleration and breaking being recorded, quite an accurate picture can he quickly reconstructed, completely unbiased by people with agendas. When an accident occurs, an information recovery specialist will use specialized equipment to record the vehicles last 30 seconds of data. Certainly this type of information retroviral will or must have been judged as legal, as is permissible to search based on “probable cause,” when a crime has occurred. If there was an accident, it certainly follows that a warrant-less search is in order. “They” now have what you did (and did not do) for permanent record. I would hope this would cause one to consider this, and to meditate on whether personal driving habits should be changed.

It gets better. Look how far we’ve come in less than 10 years: From the automobile engineer to the mechanics to law enforcement. Just where can we go next? Enter an industry that grew from the premise of sharing risks to the one that has become risk adverse and “currency–philic:“ Insurance. About a month ago, I caught the last portions of a news report on how an insurance company in the northern mid-west is experimenting with having customers place a device on their car’s data port to record not just the last 30 seconds of data as they roll into their driveways at the end of the day, but all day long. When you get home, you remove the data collection module, hook it up to your computer and upload your day’s driving to the insurance company’s computer. Once your data (provided voluntarily) is there, the insurance company software will take over and analyze your driving.

How could a same person volunteer to do this? It’s simple, the insurance company offers an attractive incentive: a 15% discount. I’d be willing to bet this “project” is presented as a way to collect live data for the actuaries to review and analyze, So the company will be able to mitigate the isles farther. That certainly Sounds fair, but the real question is in which direction is the risk being attenuated? It’s not in your favor.

As time passes, some incredibly compulsive math managers (actuaries) will sit down with computer programmers and discuss which combination, data points from the daily data capture files will indicate an unsafe (read: someone who we think will cost us money) driver is. The programmers will return to their cubicles and begin coding the proper “algorithms” to apply to received data. This process, in and of itself, is working material for an entire other post but that will have to he done later.

Just close you eyes for a brief moment, get in touch with your inner child and imagine your flood of emotions when, as you have your first cup of coffee, you find an email from your wonderfully protective, good neighbors type insurance carrier subject line: “You insurance is canceled.” Oops, that’s traumatic. Try this line: “Your insurance rates have been raised.” Sin confident your blood pressure is higher as a result and you may even have wondered (in the first scenario), “how will I get to work today?”

Ina perfect world, a perfect set of computer code will be able to weed out aggressive drivers from the pack. On the other hand, were far from a coherent problem solving program. In the January, 2005 issue of “Scientific American,” pages 36 through 37A have an article discussing robotics and Hans Moravec of Carnegie Mellon University and Seegrid Corporation fame, figures a Mac G5 (dual processor) 2Ghz computer is sort of at the top of current mainstream computing ability and he rates it’s intelligence above a guppy and below a mouse. The news is computing power is improving, but it won’t be until about 2040 until computing power reaches that of humans. In the meantime, that means the fate of your driving record will be determined by either a smart fish, or a less than smart rodent. That, I submit, will jump start your heart better than a portable defibrillator.

All of this reminds me of the BBC produced series ”Connections” of about 20 years ago. This started as a way to service a car more efficiently and it ends up being the sibling that always ratted you out, and all at no cost to anyone except the original designers of the data port.

As a porting thought, consider the current Rush Limbaugh prescription drug “shopping” charges and how the Police collected Rush’s medical records from his doctors, without a warrant. That issue is presently headed for the Florida Supreme Court to determine the legality of this type of evidence seizure. Put that in the context of personal daily driving statistics being stored in the information systems of insurance companies. Will insurance companies willingly turn over information demanded by someone with a badge? It’s probably much clearer to assume that a “doctor-patient privileged relationship” would be upheld, but I doubt that few people would think to apply that quality of protection to information held by the insurance firms.

As the computing power of the insurance companies computers grow, so will the capabilities of vehicle computers. With “On-star,” callers are electronically located by GPS. Cell phones have a GPS locating feature in ones produced in the last few years. You can bet that all vehicles will soon be fitted automatically with such equipment, and interfacing it to the data port will he a simple thing. When this occurs, Sin sure downloaded data from this pat will include position reports. As with the mechanics into it will quickly become a mandatory thing, and it could even be used to write speeding and other traffic violations automatically.

We will accept this story creeping, penetration into our lives without a thought, other than how it enhances am lives on a minute-to. Minute basis, being concerned little about the threat to personal privacy this will beget.

Category: History, Public Service, Technology | 1 Comment »

Here’s something to be thankful for

November 25th, 2004 by

Not only am I thankful for the people who have given their live, but in reading this, I am also thankful that there are service members who will push it to the limits to care for those who have given their lives.

The linked article is from a USAF Reserve pilot who brought home some Marines. You will most likely be saddened and encouraged, at the same time, while reading this article.

In reference to my post on being “by the book,” this Air Force officer is to be commended for knowing the book existed and cracking it open, in order to render honors to the dead.

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Thanksgiving, oh, and opinions.

November 24th, 2004 by

It’s been a busy time setting up to get away for a few days. I have not been here for a few days, and won’t be for a few more.

I thought it would calm down after the election, but it’s getting exciting again. I’m once again becoming a little irritated reading people’s opinions. It’s not that we shouldn’t have ours, but it sure would be nice if we could manage to know what we don’t know and not open our mouths, or click our mice, when we are under (or un) educated to make a coherent decision on how we should naswer a “survey.”

This topic has been rattling around in the pile of chaotic thoughts and hasn’t made it to the top of the heap. As a quick wondow into my one day forthcoming thoughts: I never saw a survey/opinion poll that asked the persons on the street whether the doctors did President Clinton’s bypass surgery correctly. “We” have asked about every question imaginable about President Bush and every decision made by any one in the entire government. There’s rich soil in this topic to plow…

In the meantime, I’m headed north a few states to spend tomorrow with family.

For all of you who can read this, I know you know you are thankful that 1) you are enabled through an education, 2) you have been blessed by enough finacnial resources to have access to a computer and the Internet and 3) that many have gone before us, in every place in our lives to allow us to be here. Have a wonderful holiday and make a special effort to get in touch with those in your family that are a not in your regular contact cycle.

Category: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

By the Book? Yes, I am….

November 18th, 2004 by AW1 Tim

Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m a “by the book” kind of guy. After many years of being around organizations big and small, I believe I’ve finally figured out why I have chosen to read “the book.”

Usually, when someone accused me of being “by the book” (let’s make the BTB from here on out), it was because they thought it was a bad thing. I challenge you to think of it this way: I was just lazy. When someone in the military remarks that someone is BTB, it’s most often spoken in such tones that you cannot possibly miss the negative connotation it carries with it.

Books in business or governmental settings are horribly dry reading. Full of blah, blah, blah and…. What people found out about how to do it the easy way through their mistakes. In the military arena, it is often said the books are written in blood. I’d be willing to bet the NAVSHIPSTECHMAN on the proper preparation of a steel surface for priming and painting had little or no blood on its pages, but the tactical doctrine to fight against anti-ship cruise missile attack had the blood of the crews of the USS STARK (FFG-31) and the HMS SHEFFIELD on them.

So, if you have the ability to keep your eyes open and you get rewarded with explanations of why things are done the way they are done. This can provide you with reduced levels of tension, cure migraines and generally make you have a kinder and gentler disposition, now that you “know” why they did it like that. In addition to this basic information, you will be able to see when it is appropriate to lobby for a change. Maybe the old way was tied to manual methods that have become superseded by automation, yet no one has updated the procedures.

There is, how ever, a dichotomy inherent in all of this: On one hand people dislike it when someone tells them to do it like the book, but they certainly don’t hesitate to tell you they are doing it “this way” because “that’s how we do it.”

I came to look at the study of documents on policy and procedure as a method to also determine what were the circumstances under which these procedures were to he carried out (the “normal” cases) and, by derivation, when you rightfully needed to come up with your own plan. It’s one thing to think you’re out of the box, it’s another to know you most certainly are. When you find yourself out of the box, your hard earned BTB information provides you with a foundation of knowledge to work with, while you rapidly work to get the chaos under control., rather than standing dumbfounded.

See how it’s all about lazy? I’d rather let someone else make the mistakes, and therefore, I lessen the opportunity to repeat them, thinking that my stupidity is something original.

Another angle to take on the BTB philosophy is that of the fiscal one. If you do things the way someone figured them out already, you should be able to be more efficient. Now, unless you have a “make the work expand to fit the remaining time” type of boss, then you have the option of bagging out sooner, an opportunity to get in some afternoon golf.

The other side of the financial stuff here is if you read the book, and see the “procedure” is just plain wasteful, and you choose not to take the time to fix it, then you are not being very responsible with the dollars of whoever is putting money in your hand on payday.

So, there’s my chaotic thoughts on being “by the book.”

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Yep, I’m still here…

November 17th, 2004 by

I am hoping to attract a readership, and I see there are some people who come around, and I know I haven’t posted stuff in a few days.

I’ll just say the last two nights were spent “comment-sparring” with Zippo over on Chap’s blog. I’m not sure if it will do anyone else any good, but it helps me vent a little frustration with those who somehow cannot face much (if any) truth. There are things you just have to grasp. I skydived for a long time. One of the T’s that showed up sometimes, which was a rip-off from the physicists said: “Gravity, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law!”

In case you’r the least bit interested in a good piece Chap wrote on why the Left doesn’t get the military use thing, go here.

(PSST!: Read the comments, too and see what Zippo thinks!)

I’ve got a few posts ruminating around….please come back and see what “random thoughts I come up with….

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You have to smile sometime….

November 13th, 2004 by

Once again, I link you to the conservatively creative team of Frank and Scott, in their continuing effort to bring instructive OnStar recordings to you.

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Another letter with no agenda

November 13th, 2004 by

Through following links to places such as this, I have found some wonderfully detailed first person letters and emails. They aren’t written in order to further anyone, they are just a slice of life, written by those who are on the front lines, in peaceful and not so peaceful places.

The link here says at least two things: The writer is a person who can stop, put aside his inital reaction and focus on what it really happening. Secondly, it is a reminder that the world see us through the filter of such men and women who wear a uniform and come to their aid, and also, let us not forget to deal in that issue of justice.

What does this mean to us?

– We owe it to ourselves to send the very best, and make sure they are supported. Their actions leave a lasting impression on those who see them.

– We owe it to the world to send the military abroad for the right reasons. Some will consider they are now in Iraq for some wrapped idea we have become neo-colonialist, but the truth is our daily, long term security is intimately linked with the ability of others to live, knowing a basic respect for their humanity. In a conversation last night, someone told me President Bush remarked that after WWII, the thought of making a democracy of Japan was completely written off. Look at the result of sticking to a dream to make a peaceful nation, then come back and tell me us being in Iraq now is a bad thnig.

Also, consider this: Permission to use nuclear weapons has been given to Osama bin Laden. for those who would like to sit, safe in their home, believing it’s all about Haliburton filling the pockets of Dick Cheny, HELLO, McFly! You’re in a new world now. You can choose to pretend it won’t happen, or you can figure out how you can best secure the lives of many, now and in the future.

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News on the Stolen Election

November 11th, 2004 by

Frank J of IMAO has done a great service for us. Concerned about the possibility of a conspiracy to throw the Presidential election, he went straight to the top. Here’s the transcript of his conversation with the main VRWC office.

If you care about this country and where it’s headed, READ THIS POST!

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Veterans Day Reading

November 11th, 2004 by

Charles of Little Green Footballs just stuck a short post up, announcing today as Veterans’ Day. As of a few minutes ago, there were 489 comments.

The amazing cross section of stories and the back grounds of those contributing is nothing short of spectacular. Tribute is paid to many, names of those who have given us this freedom are mentioned, names that were, nor probably ever be the ones to make the page of a paper, other than the obits, are there. People who have served, people who knew people who have served, foreigners who saw what American did and do for them, and the list goes on.

Please allow yourself to be blessed by this collection of honor, saddness, humor, and just plain statements of facts.

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