Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Packin' Heat

My sister-in-law Jacqui (my hero!) sent me email at 0500 hours today containing this photo of her. She'd been up since 0415—something my dad used to call "Oh-dark-thirty." I don't know how she does it.

As you can see from the photo, at the Carolina base where she's preparing for deployment to Afghanistan, it was "Weapons Day" yesterday. She was issued a pistol and an M-16. She is supposed to carry the M-16 with her everywhere she goes throughout training. And, at some point soon, she'll learn how to use it.

I'm sure this isn't what Jacqui had in mind when she went to medical school!

She still doesn't know too much about her future living quarters, although rumor has it that she has to share a tent with about 10 other people. That's something else I'd have trouble doing. I have so much respect for the military. It's not just that they are putting their lives on the line for our freedom and that many get killed or maimed in the process. It's the daily sacrifices they make—leaving their families behind and giving up their lifestyle and the comforts of home to live in a tent in the hot, dry, dusty desert or in the miserable, steamy, mosquito-infested jungle.

They don't get to "go home" every night after work—work that never really ends. There's no private shower or big screen TV with cable. No Simmons Beauty Rest mattress and Egyption cotton sheets to sink into at night. No air conditioning (god forbid). They don't get to eat whatever they want whenever they want it. There's no Starbucks or Barnes & Noble, no movie theater, no picnics in the park. The list goes on.

When most of us travel away from home we stay in a motel or B&B or other "home away from home." Imagine going camping in a foreign country thousands of miles away for nine or eighteen months straight. In the middle of a war, no less. It's the epitome of selflessness. It's takes a special kind of person to do that. Thanks, Jacqui. :)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Life at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan

My sister-in-law sent this YouTube link of a BBC news report that covers Camp Bastion: She is in the process of deploying there right now. It's neat that she can actually acquire video of her future 'home.'

Right now, Jacqui is in Norfolk, VA, for a couple weeks of training. Then she's off to another base in South Carolina for combat skills training. Then to Kuwait. And finally, Afghanistan.

Friday, September 25, 2009

NutriSystem: Round Two

Ok, as of today I'm back at it again. The truth is, the NutriSystem diet isn't that bad once you get used to it and determine which foods are good and which ones are worthy of the trash can. Plus, once you start eating well and stick with it, you stop craving the 'bad' foods (like triple-chocolate fudgy brownies).

My second 35-day box of food (weighing 37 pounds) arrived yesterday. That meant a weigh-in today. Last I'd checked, I was down seven pounds. As of now, I'm down nine pounds. I think the weight-lifting routine is finally kicking in.

I wish I could add caridovascular exercise to my routine, but my knee still hurts after a long walk. As soon as I discovered that the "semitendinosus" is a large hamstring muscle, and not a knee muscle, I realized that my problem isn't really a knee problem after all. Rather, my knee pain is actually directly tied to the hamstring muscle that I apparently tore one year ago on September 14th at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

From my research, I learned that a semitendinosus tear can cause knee pain. I wouldn't have known this if my sister-in-law hadn't read my knee MRI. She mentioned it may be an irritation of the semitendinosus or bursitis. I finally found out (via the Internet) that the semitendinosus is the exact same muscle I hurt a year ago but hadn't healed.

The doctor here certainly wasn't any help. It's pathetic when you get better medical advice from the Internet than from the M.D. you just paid $750 to spend three minutes with. I told him about the pulled hamstring that hadn't healed in a year, but he totally blew me off. If he'd paid attention and asked more questions, he would've sent me for a thigh MRI, not a knee MRI. I won't be going back to him again. I'm so tired of doctors like him that make you wait then usher you out as quickly as they can before spending more than a few minutes with you.

A word to the wise: If you ever pull or tear a hamstring, stop running. Get off of it, ice it for a few days, take some anti-inflammatories, elevate it, and wear a compression sleeve on it. Let it heal. Now I know this. But back then I did not, and I was too busy getting laid off from my big Wall Street job to even think about seeing a doctor. (I was in shock for a month, so give me a break!) :)

I kept running on it thinking that it was "just a pull" that would go away in time, like most pain. Bad idea. I should've learned from my last year-long bout with plantar fasciitis.

Live and learn. I finally have a thigh compression sleeve and I'm icing the correct muscle (instead of the knee). I haven't run since last November, and I've cut way back on my walking. Maybe it'll get better. If not, well then it's time to find a new orthopedist. Ergh. It sucks getting old!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Destination Afghanistan

I was blessed with two really cool sisters-in-law. Both Judy and Jacqui are the kind of people that you can't help but like. They're down-to-earth, funny, and deal with life head on. My kind of women!

My sister-in-law Jacqui—who was my inspiration for going back to school—went to med school when she was in her 30's and now is a radiologist and commanding officer for the Navy. She is leaving for Afghanistan this Sunday. A month ago, just three days before Jacqui's 46th birthday, the Navy notified her that she was on the deployment list as first alternate. It was quite unexpected.

Several days later, when the primary officer was let off the hook, Jacqui was notified that she'd be deploying in two weeks. Then she was given a one-week reprieve. Finally, her deployment date is rapidly approaching.

She'll be going to a large British camp about 100-150 miles northwest of Kandahar, literally in the middle of nowhere. Endless miles of nothingness. Dust-storm land. From Camp Bastion it is nothing but flat, dry desert as far as the eye can see. The camp has a fully functioning hospital manned by Brits, Danes, and Americans who have saved a lot of lives over the past few years in the war.

Although Jacqui is currently head of radiology at the naval hospital in Florida where she works, she'll likely be practicing general medicine over there—she's not sure. In fact, she doesn't know much at all about her tour. It's one of those "You'll find out when you get there" things.

Her deployment is supposed to last seven months. But with the military you just never know; it could be longer. Her youngest child Matt is due to graduate from high school in early June, so we're all hoping and praying that she comes back in time for that event. Her eldest child Jason is in the Marines. He's due to deploy to Afghanistan in February. Because their deployments overlap, they won't be able to see each other for over a year.

I know how close Jacqui is to her boys, so it's not going to be easy for any of them. And of course my brother Pete isn't happy about it either. Me, I'd probably be terrifed. I know I certainly wouldn't want to leave my family and wonderful job to go into an unconventional war in a barren land on the other side of the globe. Jacqui has been amazingly strong about the whole thing. She's a true hero, like the rest of our service men and women who have gone off to war.

Sure, I don't like it. But my family and I can only pray that Jacqui and Jason both come home safely and timely. Your prayers are appreciated.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Impulse Control in America

What's going on? We've got a lawmaker yelling "You lie!" at the Commander-in-Chief during a congressional address. And a tennis player flying off in a profane rage at a line judge for a foot fault call. To top that off, some idiot rapper stole the microphone away from an MTV award winner on stage to let the world know that he thought someone else should've gotten the award.

What do these events have in common? They all took place in front of TV cameras, and we get to see (and hear) it all.

Everyone who knows me knows that I don't blog about politics and I do everything in my power to sidestep politics in the workplace (something that can cost you your job on Wall Street where it doesn't pay not to play). I admit, I've lost it before. Haven't we all gotten so mad about something that we just exploded? But most of us learn to control it by the time we reach middle age.

The difference between us and them is that most of us aren't celebrities or national figures, much less high-ranking political leaders. Most of us aren't being video-taped during our outbursts. And most of us have enough common sense not to lose our cool in very public settings, especially those endowed by the leader of the free world.

So, even though I normally don't blog about politics, when I saw the news blurb tonight that the Legislative branch of our federal government actually took time out to vote on the impropriety of Joe Wilson's outburst, I thought, "Are you kidding me? Isn't this carrying it too far?" Seriously, a "disapproval resolution??" Joe Wilson's behavior was beyond idiotic. Why in the world do our lawmakers need to waste precious resources to vote on it?

Getting back to the point, either this type of unprofessional behavior is far too commonplace these days, or America is just having a bad week. Some of us are a bit stressed because we had to watch the twin towers disintegrate all over again on TV, eight years later. Others of us are probably miffed that the Times afforded Osama bin Laden the title of "Mr." in its latest article about his recent anti-American rants. D.C. folk might be a tad on edge because the Redskins are, once again, 0-1. But there's no good excuse for the childish behavior that we all witnessed this past week.

We expect to see unsportsmanlike conduct in sports arenas because it's gone on for years there and we all know that many sports celebrities are grossly overpaid spoiled brats. Besides, clearly our national sports organizations don't have scruples. First it was the baseball players we idolize all getting caught with their hands in the steroid jar. Then came the Eagles' brilliant hire. How many outfits do you know would hire an ex-con? I'm sorry, but shouldn't there be an NFL rule against that? Maybe the NFL took Vick back because no one else would hire him (because most organizations have the sense to leave convicted criminals off the payroll). But I'm pretty sure it was about winning, and money that winning brings to the organization.

So on the tennis court, Serena's behavior was pretty much on par with what many of us have come to expect of these overpaid sports stars. And I certainly wouldn't put it past a rapper to be a total jack ass in front of the cameras. But I gotta say, I do not expect this type of conduct of one of our own congressmen toward our President.

I used to work for Microsoft. I cannot imagine standing up at a televised company meeting attended by thousands of my peers and screaming at Bill Gates that he is a big fat liar. I'd be fired in a heartbeat and escorted out by security. And that's just a software company.

This, on the other hand, was a televised Presidential address! Was Wilson thinking when he did it, or was it a temporary lapse in judgment based on his uncontrollable rage? Was it pre-meditated, or should he plead insanity?

I don't care if you're Democrat or Republican. This isn't about that, and the media shouldn't make it about that. This is why our country is so divided, because the media makes it so, and forwarded email threads perpetuate the blue vs. red mentality. The world just is not that black and white. Nonetheless, the Times article (naturally) had to go and make a big point about how many Democrats voted against the disapproval resolution and how many Republicans voted for it.

Who gives a rat's patooty? Joe Wilson's embarrassing behavior is no less disrespectful than that of the Bush shoe-thrower. And that guy went to jail for his actions. Did the media report on the shoe-thrower's political affiliation? Nope. Do we care? Nope. But here in America, we sure as heck care. Too often, too much.

This also isn't about the First Amendment. It's one thing to speak your mind and voice your opinion freely; it's an entirely different thing to display unconscionable disrespect to the President of the United States in front of Congress and the world.

Rather, what this should be about is a basic human right that is much more intrinsic than even the right of free speech— and that is our right to be treated with respect and dignity by our fellow human beings.

I'm quite sure that many people disagree with me on this. And that's fine. But to me, this whole Joe Wilson event isn't about agreeing with Obama or disagreeing with the health care plan. And, contrary to popular belief, it's not about being a Republican or a Democrat. It's about common decency. There just isn't enough of it anymore. We can do better than this.

Next week I will be happy to revert to much simpler blog topics, like the love of chocolate or the joy of kitty cats.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

NutriSystem: One Month

Ugh I've only lost 5.5 pounds after over a month of susbsisting primarily on MREs, vegetables, and fruit. Even after virtually giving up my favorite meal of the day—dessert, and all my favorite foods (like cheese, bread, popcorn, and chocolate), I only lost half as much weight as I expected to.

I started lifting weights nearly three weeks ago. I've been doing that five times a week. My knee still isn't 100%, which makes any other form of exercise nearly impossible. Could it be that I've been building muscle mass, which weighs more than fat? We shall see. In my experience, a weight-lifting program will cause either a weight gain or stagnation for the first six weeks; then, suddenly, the pounds start to come off.

Or it could just be wishful thinking.

I looked in my cabinet for lunch earlier this week and screamed, "I'm so sick of NutriSystem!" I think I just skipped lunch that day.

I'm not a big fan of NutriSystem because some of the food tastes so badly that you have to throw it away. Like the breakfast egg fritata - blech! And a few of the dinners that I started to eat but couldn't finish. But now that I know which foods to avoid, maybe I'll have a better go at it next time.

So I ordered another month's subscription through Costco. This time I'll know which foods to pick when I place my order. And I went to the grocery store this week, loading up on about 20 bags of frozen vegetables. Thank god for those steam-in-the-bag microwave vegies—they're easy and good.

Looks like I have another six weeks of this "diet" to look forward to. Yippee.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sweatshirt Weather!

After a long, icky, sweaty, sultry hot summer in D.C., we finally had some Seattle weather here today. It was cloudy and gray all day, and cool and breezy. Upper 60's. Just lovely. When I told the postal clerk to "Enjoy the weather!" she probably thought I was nuts. I could've jumped for joy when I stepped outside.

School is in session, and this semester is going to be another killer. I'm taking "Protection of Information Systems," which uses the ~1,200-page Shon Harris CISSP book. The amount of reading I have to do for that class surpasses even Ethics class from this summer. The class technically isn't a CISSP prep course, but I figure that, if I'm going to read so much of the book, I may as well do the whole chibang and take the CISSP exam when the course is over.

It's the kind of test you want to pass on the first try because it costs over $500 to take it.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is one of the hardest certifications to acquire in the IT industy—also one of the most esteemed and valued by potential employers. I know a handful of people who've passed the 6-hour 250-question test. They're all very smart guys, but even they have told me how incredibly hard the test is. If my brain is still functioning after final exams, I'd like to sit for the test in December or January. We shall see.

I'm also taking a class that I know I'll enjoy, "Computer Law," better known as "Computer Crimes" by the teacher. This is the same teacher that I had for the criminal procedure class that I loved so much last spring. He's a DOJ prosecutor. He's tough, but we all love him.

So far we've been talking a lot about U.S.C. Title 18 Section 1030, otherwise known as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which has only been around since the mid-80's. By constitutional standards, it's a relatively young statute. I'm glad I recently read Cliff Stoll's book (The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage) about the first documented hacker attack because one of the cases we study in this class is the United States v Robert T. Morris case, and Cliff was one of the folks that help track down RTM, the creator of the first known Internet worm.

Mr. Morris, a graduate student, was convicted under the CFAA for his 1988 release of the worm, which brought down thousands of government Arpanet computers across the U.S. His primary defense was based on his claim that he had no intent to do damage; (and he was basically given a slap on the wrist and a $10,000 fine for his crimes). No intent? Really? That's strange becuase he went to great lengths to hide his tracks.

For example, he released the worm without authorization from MIT's network, not from the Cornell network where he was a student. In addition, he later released his "Oh-crap-what-have-I-done-here's-how-to-kill-the-worm" email from Harvard's computers where he'd formerly had an account, not from the Cornell network. Not only that, but he'd built a fail-safe into his worm ensuring its replication on at least every seventh computer it was passed to, knowing it would multiply at an exponential rate.

All of this stuff fascinates the heck out of me. I love reading about it. I never knew school could be so enjoyable. So this is what's it's like to work on a degree in a field I actually enjoy!

I can't wait for the day that I graduate and can get out there and do work that I enjoy. It's too bad that many of us run off to college at 17 or 18 years of age when we really have absolutely no clue what we want to be when we grow up. I was one of those, and I struggled with it for a good 18 years after that.

Why can't we have the kind of wisdom that comes with middle age when we sign up for college? And the kind of body in middle age that we had when we signed up for college? Just more of life's mysteries....