I’ve decided to split my blog (which gets updated too rarely as it is) off with a separate site dedicated to my writing. Therefore, anything to do with my writing or NaNoWriMo will be posted on my new site, Lacqui’s Fiction. I’m expecting LF to become my more active site, but time will tell.
After a fair amount of time away from it, I’ve decided to yet again turn my hand towards programming. I picked up a Toshiba Excite 10 and have begun to work with Android. Right now, I am only working with tutorials, but I intend to move on to real projects in the not-too-distant future.
To that end, I have a couple of projects that I’m planning to work on. The first will be a Usenet client for tablets, which probably won’t be much to write home about, but will at least be a start. The second is an app to track your location throughout a trip, and to give you a map at the end that shows your path around the world or the neighbourhood, depending on the scope of your travel.
I’m starting to believe that these may be a bit ambitious for my first projects on a new platform, but I will see where they take me soon enough.
Seems like everyone is into Diablo 3 right now. Employees taking leave or even sick days to spend hours playing. The conversation at work seems to center on “What level are you up to now?” Normally I’d be part of the rush for a popular new game, although not to the extent of skipping off work for it.
So why am I not doing this for D3?
Well, it appears that there is no offline playing mode. That means that when I’m playing my single-player campaign (generally the only way I play most games anyway), I’m required to be online and connected to Battle.net.
“What’s the problem with that?” you may ask, “Everyone is connected to the internet all the time now anyway.”
The problem is that I’m not always on the net. I spend quite a bit of time at sea, where I am not able to connect my personal gaming machine to the network. This means that, although I am able to get online to browse the web (slowly and occasionally), I can’t play online games. And, even though Diablo 3 is not an online game, I am still blocked from playing it for the same reason.
If Blizzard releases an official patch that removes the online dependency, I may get D3. But until that time comes, they can deal without my money.
As I have mentioned before, I am a member of my country’s military. While I am at sea, entertainment options are usually limited to do-it-yourself, unless you want to watch yet another showing of Top Gun.1 For this reason I bought myself an ebook reader 2. I also have a laptop capable of loading videos onto my iPad, so I can watch any other movie than the aircraft maintainers have chosen.
Another form of entertainment, which I am able to partake of for a few minutes a day, is a daily reading of Schlock Mercenary. Surprisingly often, it resonates with my daily life in the military. In fact, it sometimes it’s appropriate enough to get put into a daily brief somewhere along the way. Sometimes, the bosses don’t get the humour, but usually we don’t care.
Even though I don’t collect much in the way of physical books, I was delighted to see that Howard has released his next book, Sharp End of the Stick. If and when my budget includes “comic books” 3, I’ll probably get the full set. A few reasons for that:
- Easy to show people how cool Schlock is when I’m not near a computer;
- I can leave the book in one of the common workspaces, introducing people indirectly (while unfortunately dealing with the risk of the book disappearing, so not likely);
- Bandwidth at sea is a rare commodity (think 200 people on a single dial-up modem. And internet is the lowest priority on the net);
- Last but not least, so I can support Howard and keep him entertaining us.
I highly suggest that you read the comics online. They are organized by storyline, so you can read the most recent story to get introduced, then jump to the beginning once you can deal with the less-polished art. Once you’ve read a few, I suggest supporting Howard’s work if you can afford to do so.
I’ll finish up with a plug for another of Howard’s projects, Writing Excuses. It’s a weekly podcast that I recommend for anyone who has had the idea of putting a story on paper, even if it’s nothing more than yet another NaNoWriMo attempt.4
I don’t know how many times we put it off, but my wife and I finally got around to buying bicycles. My legs and ass are not thanking me at the moment.
I am also preparing for my PLQ course, which starts tomorrow. Eight weeks of living in the barracks, close to home but not going. At least I get to see my family during the weekends.
As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I’m at sea, currently in the middle of nowhere. My family, on the other hand, is safely at home missing Daddy. While I’m glad that they’re home safe, I would much rather be there with them than out here.
Keeping in contact with the family is difficult at the best of times. Until recently, we had three Mini-M satellite telephones on the ship. The phones are still there, but the nation-wide contract expired at the end of September, and there seems to be nothing currently in sight. As annoying as the phone sometimes was (it’s hard getting used to a 2-second delay from when I speak until my wife or daughter hears me), it was at least a way that I could hear my family’s voices and that they could hear mine. Coordinating times could be a pain (my current time zone is 19 hours ahead), but it was worth the effort to spend my weekly 20 minutes talking back home.
Now that the phone is gone, members of the ship’s company have to look for other methods of reaching home. Our internet connection, slow though it may be for web browsing, is more than sufficient for sending email back home. It doesn’t need a live connection, so timing coordination isn’t as important. I don’t get the joy of hearing my 2-year-old’s reaction to hearing me on the speaker phone (Dad? Dad!! Dad!!), but I’m able to get news from home and send some back. I’m able to talk to my wife and daughter, and I know that my son can hear what I send, even if it’s not spoken in my own voice.
When I’m in foreign port, I find an internet café and log into Skype. I bring my own laptop with me, so I know that I’ll have a working webcam when I get there. I can see and talk with my family. I’ll see my son’s latest temper tantrum turn into a huge smile when he recognizes my face and voice. I get a bit more interactivity than with the other methods; it’s the next-best thing I’ve found to being able to hold my family in my arms. I can at least see them face-to-face. I can talk to my son, and watch him tell me to come home in sign language (my wife translates for me on voice-only calls). Even though it hurts that I can’t come home, I know that he knows and recognizes me, and that he misses me as much as my wife and daughter do.
The old-fashioned mail package is also available, although much more limited. Every few ports, we send and receive mail, which can include letters, gifts, stories, or anything else that will fit in the box (and is allowed by mail rules). It’s much slower than the other methods, but it also includes something that they can hold onto. My local MFRC had a craft session before the last mail call; both of my kids’ artwork came to me in anMFRC package. These are now posted in my office, where I can see them every day.
The internet, of course, has given us more ways to communicate, but they are less than reliable. It can take forever to load Facebook when two hundred sailors are sharing a 512 kbps connection (about 1/20 the speed of a cable modem). Even posting to my blog would be nearly impossible without the aid of Postie, which allows me to post to my blog from my email account.
Any of my readers who spend time with their families apart and use other means of communication with them, feel free to comment. You could help another family stay in touch while separated.
For a long time now, Canada has not officially had a navy. What we had instead was the Maritime Command of the Canadian Forces. For all intents and purposes, it is the same thing; the name distinction was fairly unknown even to members of the Command itself; let alone the civilian population. We still referred to the military body that owned our ships and paid our wages as the “navy”.
This has now changed. As of today, August 16 2011, we are once again the Royal Canadian Navy. The date was chosen as the 100th anniversary of the original granting of the “royal” designation by King George V, when the newly-formed Canadian Naval Service became the Royal Canadian Navy. This is the name we fought under in both world wars, as well as the Korean war, until the unification of the Canadian Forces in 1968.
Although this is still largely a cosmetic change, this will also have an impact on the outlook of the Navy. Many of our oldest traditions come from the Royal Navy, and were brought unchanged into the Royal Canadian Navy. With the return to our roots, some of these traditions will bring on new meaning, or re-take their old meanings, as we continue to perform our duty for our country and our loved ones at home.
The ship’s current mission has hit its half-way mark. We’ve finished our operational task group training, and are now performing our diplomatic mission.
In addition to changing mission focus, we have changed trainee crew. Several people who have finished their training packages, or whose temporary duty has expired, flew home during our port visit to Singapore. To replace them, received a new group of trainees. Some of these have shipboard experience, and are training for new positions within their trades. Some have just returned from shore-based training (yes, it still exists). Some are fresh-faced, eager new Ordinary Seamen, stepping on ship for the first time.
My department has a large selection of the last group. We have five new trainees who will be the pilot group for our new training system. The Weapons Engineering Technicians (W Eng Tech) have started with a basic classroom introduction to systems. Now, they get to solidify that classroom training with real-world experience on live equipment. The difference between the old system and the new is that they have no specialty at this point. They will get a basic introduction to each of the five combat systems technical sections (Communications, Sonar, Radar, Armament, and Fire Control), followed by more in-depth training in each of the sections. Only after that has been completed will they make their specialty selections.
Another change to the training is the inclusion of boards in the training process. Sitting a board used to be done at the senior levels only. Now, each apprentice will sit a board to determine their progression to journeyman. The old classroom setting is gone at this level – now, the trainee will learn on live kit in the field1 and will have to convince the CSE chief, the CSE officer, and the senior tech that they are capable of handling the systems that will be entrusted to them. This will be a challenge, as the student will be given limited time to answer verbal questions. This will eliminate the possibility to return to a question after reviewing the other parts of the exam. It will also challenge those who may not be comfortable with the idea of public speaking, which is unfortunate as many good techs are uncomfortable with being in front of an audience; especially when said audience knows the subject better than they do themselves.
As with all new systems, this training system will have its own set of growing pains. Hopefully these will be worked out fairly quickly, but in the meantime it will give everyone involved, from trainee to trainer, a challenge.
- Well, at sea actually ↩
Parenting from the other side of the world is not easy. It’s even harder when communications are limited, which can happen for any number of reasons when I’m aboard a warship in the middle of the ocean. The Canadian military has recognized that fact, and has come up with a few initiatives to help keep families in touch while the ship is deployed.
One of these initiatives is called “Books from Afar”. Basically, the sailor (in this case, me) is recorded while reading a children’s book. This recording is then sent to our base’s Military Family Resource Centre, where my kids will be recorded as they watch my video. Additionally, they will have a copy of the book, so they can read along with me. Books on the “official list” have copies on the ship as well as at the MFRC.
I, however, decided to play by slightly different rules. Instead of using the ship-provided books, which are the same ones everyone else gets to read, I bought two books while I was in Australia. Neither of these books is on the ship’s list, because both of them are local Australian books. For my son, I got Little Devils, a book about two Tasmanain devil twins who may be crazy but they save the day. For my daughter, The Tale of Kaz Kangaroo, a story from the kangaroo’s point of view when the European settlers first came to Australia.
This isn’t the same as being in the same room as my kids, being able to hold them and talk to them directly. It’s not even the same as talking on the webcam, where we can interact even if in a limited format. But it is something that the military has done, within the limitations of the service and the situations that we are in, to allow at least some degree of contact between deployed members and our families at home.