“I did my job.”

rpg 2

The photo above was taken in Afghanistan, 2011 with Advisor Team 1.6. Closest, left is Pete the Ranger.

I attended a remarkable gathering today, it was a celebration of the past career of Pete the Ranger. I’ve written at some length about this gentleman, he was my old Team Sergeant in Afghanistan. If you look back at 2017, you can find some of his pieces. Ham Slice, The Girl, The Tiger and the Monkey, Pete’s Ranger School Overview, Limits.

Now his time in the Army is through. He started off as a fresh eighteen year old before the First Gulf War. Pete went straight to the Ranger Regiment out of Basic and AIT, then directly to the Gulf. He attended many schools, fought on many fronts, was promoted and thrived. But you can find a lot of this stuff in the articles mentioned above. Today I took some pretty cool pictures of stuff I’ve never seen before, it was laid out on a display for family and friends, comrades.

Here’s Pete after the Gulf War.

young mike 2

Today’s article is going to be a bit of show and tell. Something I’d like to zoom in on is Pete’s old-school black Ranger beret. It is pure hell to earn the right to wear one of these.

flash

The colorful fabric “flash” is for the Ranger Regiment (the 75th). It has one horizontal red bar for 1st Battalion, Pete’s unit. Worn superimposed upon the flash is the enamel Regimental crest for the 75th with its distinctive red lightning bolt. This is worn only by these elite soldiers. Period.

Something else I chose to zoom in on is boots.

jungles

Nothing tells the story of an infantryman like his boots. The pair above is a worn almost to destruction pair of Vietnam-era jungle boots, they were still being issued through about 1992 or so. I used to have a pair. Mine went to Turkey, Mike’s went to South America and other garden spots.

And how could I miss his desert jungles?

deserts

There is no better boot, in my opinion. A shame the Army quit issuing them. They were replaced by an inferior product, of course. Hidden in the cracks of this pair is moon dust from Iraq and Afghanistan. The stuff never goes away, no matter how hard you scrub. Kind of like Lady MacBeth’s bloody hands.

There was a lot of stuff.

Here’s another hat, and my favorite picture.

tab pc

Readers, it is hard to describe what a total badass you are as a junior enlisted soldier to wear a hat like this. Pete passed Ranger School as an E-3(!), his rank on this hat is E-4 (Corporal). He eventually made it to Master Sergeant, E-8.

Well done, Pete.

He was asked to give a speech. Pete doesn’t do speeches. Today was no exception. What did he say, as a reflection on 30 years of long and painful service? Distinguished service that really was distinguished? What did he say to the nine present members of Advisor Team 1.6?

He looked us over, shook his head and spoke.

“I did my job.”

Freshly.com meal service- a review

ideal freshly meal

OK- foodies have not taken over my site; as I have said before this blog looks at technology, space, the future of things, entertainment and pretty much whatever I feel like talking about. Right now I’m trying out something which is going to be very big; internet just-on-time food services. In a few days I’ll be reviewing a bit of solar-powered travel gear, so keep an eye out for that, too.

So let’s get down to it. Does freshly.com deliver the goods?

Yes. And here’s why.

First, ease of ordering. I’m not the best in the world about this stuff, so the so-easy-to-use website was a definite plus. There were forty-odd menu choices for the week of February 18th, all I had to do was choose a couple. We went for the Peppercorn Steak and the Cod Cakes. I’m reviewing the Cod Cakes today, we’re eating the steaks on Monday. Spoiler: if the steaks are as good as the Cod Cakes, all will be well. I put in my payment stuff, and voila! The food was on its way.

Freshly assured me that it would arrive on Tuesday the 18th, it did. The order was correct, too. Stuff came in a cardboard box with biodegradable insulation and frozen gel packs. All was cool as a cucumber, and I think in August it would be OK, too. A concern of mine is the junk and clutter. Well, nearly everything is recyclable, including the food trays. And I thought of something to do with the insulation- I’ll save it and use it as… insulation on construction projects. It’s really good stuff. But I digress.

The box had six of these in it.

front

There is a meal in each one, these ones were 670 cal units. The back had the usual handy nutritional data.

back

As you can see, mostly natural good stuff with few additives. Quality food. The preparation was a snap, super simple, just follow the instructions on the packaging. I went a little conservative and eased up on the microwave time, nuked it for thirty seconds less. Worked fine.

But how did it look, smell, and taste? Was it satisfying?

I won’t keep you waiting.

Here’s what it actually looked like cooked, you can compare it to the ideal image above (forgive my humble plating skills).

how it actually looks

I should have taken the time to have arranged it exactly like Freshly’s stock photo.

It’s not as bright as the idealized image above, but then again the lighting wasn’t great and I used a cheap Samsung phone camera. But I think it looked pretty good, tasty. The meatball looking things are the Cod Cakes.

It smelled wonderful.

And the taste? Excellent. The potatoes tasted as they should have, their texture was perfect. Not rubbery or starchy, just good. The succotash was tasty, spicy, and very filling. The hero of the dish, the protein, was very nice. Flavorful, although I’ve never had Cod prepared quite like this.

The meal was a real hit, and it did exactly as intended for the two nights of the week where everything is too chaotic for a sit down, let alone cooking. It was filling, convenient, nutritious, and healthy.

No McDonalds required for- get this- less money.

Freshly.com. So far, highly recommend.

 

Crazier by the day

Screen Shot 2020-02-13 at 6.55.05 PM

So maybe I’m a sucker. For weeks I’ve been seeing an ad on Facebook for freshly.com, a subscription meal service. The first few times I saw it, I thought “how freaking ridiculous, too lazy to cook a meal.” Then I gave it some thought. A couple of nights a week it’s tough to get something out there, a lot of time on those busy nights we do take out. And how healthy is that? Also, if you compare costs it is comparable. Visit the site, check it out.

The fascinating thing for me is that this is something only possible in the last few years. For Pete’s sake, ordering food for everyone in the family and having it delivered here to the hinterland fresh? Unthinkable in my childhood, unworkable but a few years ago. You never see the people you pay, the food shows up fresh and on time. Hell, you don’t have to leave the house at all.

Jaw-dropping stuff.

There are some drawbacks that I can see. One is what to do with the packaging. I’m going to have to figure out some kind of recycling arrangement. But seriously, that’s about it. The prices are comparable, the food is safely prepared and healthy. Really, amazing stuff.

I was talking this over with an old friend today, our conversation ranged from Neuralink to Starship and all the stuff in between. We looked over the events of the past ten years, and wow has a lot happened.

For example, there is the realistic prospect of true Mars colonization by the time I die; the prospect for interstellar travel is out there as well. And speaking of death, there is the chance that we can be digitized. Whether that technology shows up in time for yours truly, I don’t know. Guess I’ll have to take my chances like my ancestors for the time being. By the second our cell phones and computers grow more powerful, our transportation more eco-friendly, safer and autonomous.

This is crazy stuff. Science fiction come to life, and we are living in an unbelievably exciting time.

It’s the Jetsons. Really.

If you want to be excited, there is no shortage of good, crazy news.

If you want to be frightened, that news is out there too.

Sometimes it’s the same.

 

NASA, Boeing, and the killer drone

killer drone

Read an interesting article today about the fraying relationship between NASA and Boeing. Really I don’t have much to add to the article except to say that it looks as if NASA is finally done with being fleeced and they are increasingly turning to people in private industry who are serious about exploration as opposed to milking the taxpayer for more guvvermint’ money.

Another article I encountered touches upon a theme that has reoccured in these pages; namely that we are wasting an enormous amount of money in manned aerial combat systems. You all know I’m talking about the F-35, the 150mil per pop waste of time.

This makes me want to tear my hair out when I look at that figure- 150,000,000 USD per base aircraft on what is essentially an expendable end item.

I know it sounds harsh, but weapons of war ARE expendable, and ultimately so are the operators. Looking at fairly recent history, I quail to think how US industry would replace a Midway Task Force, or the one that was sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea. Or how about Eighth Air Force losses mid 1943? Or even losses over Vietnam? If you scale those campaigns to the modern cost of our equipment, it would be disastrous, unsustainable.

It couldn’t happen again, you say.

LOL, prior to 1914 the then-fashionable wisdom was that the modern world was too economically interconnected for major warfare to crop up.

Well, we saw how that ended up. An entire generation lost in the mud and barbed wire.

So yeah, it can happen again.

Why are we busy fighting the last war? I think the next war will be the swan song of the manned aerial combat platform. I could hear the echoes of this future conflict while crouching in an old Soviet fighting position in Afghanistan, with the whispery voice of the Predator drone overhead.

Ten years ago it was actually a thing in the Air Force, debating combat awards for drone operators in Nevada.

I wonder how that ended up.

Going forward it is going to be the exception, looking your enemy in the eye. Actually, it already is.

That drone you see above? It’s real, and it’s stealthy. Does it cost 150mil USD? Hell no. and there’s no dead pilot to mourn, either. Send waves of them at another dinosaur, the US Navy carrier task forces, and for pennies on the dollar you send billions to Davy Jones’s Locker, along with thousands of dead sailors.

Armored Infantry in powered suits with top cover via drone- it’s not just pie-in-the-sky stuff in my books. It’s going to happen, and Boeing, et al can cry rivers of tears.

No, scratch that. Boeing won’t be crying, and neither will their upper management. They will have made their money.

The crying will be done by the families of our servicemen and women.

We need imagination and intelligent spending now. Not when it’s too late.

Because when the stealth drones appear in waves over our bases, the bill will come due.

 

The Antipodes

house winter 2020

The image above is what my house looks like today, the ninth of February, 2020. There’s ten centimeters / four inches of snow on the ground and it’s below freezing, of course. Winter is not my favorite time of the year, to say the least.

However, this year there is really little to complain about. Here we are in the middle of February and this is the first real snowfall we’ve gotten. There have been far harsher winters within recent memory, this one has been a pussycat so far.

But I still hate the cold. Maybe it was the falling snow that drove me to the computer, and to a travel website.

I researched tickets to Australia, the price in the timeframe I identified was actually very reasonable. Especially considering that it’s 9200 (!) miles from my house to Brisbane, a bit further to Sydney.

Well, I’ve been threatening this for a while. As the snow fell, I pushed the big red button on the travel website.

The button said “Pay Now.”

And just like that it was done.

Dates locked in, destination established, I booked my first overseas vacation since, well, an incredibly long time.

australian flag

So it’s going to happen, readers. I am going to Australia for the first time ever.

This is novel in so many ways. I’ve never been on a real overseas vacation as a civilian. My overseas experiences were all in Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and South America. Never to the Pacific, and rarely beneath the equator. Not traveling on an official passport on orders, no weapons or war stuff.

Nope. I’m going to Oz as a strict gawking tourist, fresh off the boat.

My point of arrival in country and my base of operations on this iteration will be Brisbane.

I am very much looking forward to this; at the same time there’s a bit of trepidation. This really gets me out of my comfort zone; travel unrelated to duty.

Who knows, maybe I can get in some book/author stuff too.

After all, that’s the whole point. If it wasn’t for you all, readers, I would have never had this idea. In a few months I’ll sling my duffel over my shoulder and head south with Air Canada. As road trips go, this will be my longest one ever.

Australia or bust. Finally.

And this time it’s not on the King’s shilling.

 

 

 

 

The Immortal Jet

I78 (1).gif

Imagine my surprise when I read about the USAF buying its first new F-15 in twenty years today. I did a little looking and there are some people seriously steamed about this… politicians from F-35 production districts. I’ve talked about this before on this site; there is a reason the USAF is re-buying the F-15. It really takes something serious for an organization as big on bells and whistles as the Air Force to go back to buying an aircraft that is essentially a product of the late 60’s.

What is that serious thing? It’s things, actually. Cost overruns, reliability issues, infrastructure concerns, a gun that won’t hit, the dreary list goes on and on. No wonder the USAF wants to buy up to 72 new F-15EX models, the ‘Fifteen has been flying and killing since the 1970s, and these jets could form an important complement to an existing fleet of F-22’s and 35’s.

That is, they could complement the 35 and 22 fleet at a fraction of the cost of the newer generation jets.

I read somewhere that the AF is looking at fielding about 1700 F-35’s eventually. At 122 mil USD a pop, that’s a lot of money. So it makes sense that the USAF is looking to save some money by keeping the current fleet of F-15’s and 16’s flying for a while longer.

Plus, you have to be realistic about the wars we are likely to fight.

Almost all of the combat time faced by modern aircraft has been in air to ground scenarios. The USAF is unlikely to face a true peer conflict anytime soon, and the Chinese and the Russians are a long way back in terms of fighter development. Where they are awesome in is air defense, and the F-35 is supposedly better in penetrating modern defense networks.

OK, fine. If we are going to invade Russia and we need to put Moscow’s lights out, use a squadron of F-22’s or 35’s. And then stand back, because whatever idiot orders such a mission would have just kicked over a hornet’s nest with the nuclear option on the table. But I digress.

For non-peer conflicts the old battle-axe 16’s and 15’s will work just fine. I would even make the argument that a bird like the F-15EX could hold its own against many of the peer aircraft in service today.

I think someone at DoD and USAF HQ agrees with me. That’s why they want new and improved F-15’s.

And of course the purse-milkers hate the idea. Heaven forbid that we give our warfighters tools that actually make sense. Why the hell would you send a 122 million dollar fighter to blow up some crazies in a cave somewhere? Because that’s mostly what the Air Force does these days. You just plain don’t need a stealthy fifth generation fighter for those types of jobs. Plus… psst… the day of the manned aerial combat vehicle may be drawing to a close. So….

Order the F-15EX and be done with it.

Bags for any occasion

me at cache

On the image above, left, that’s me using the US Army three-day assault pack. It is the best darn bag available anywhere. These bags are available right now for CHEAP. That’s what today’s bit is about. I am a bit passionate and opinionated about packs and bags- they must be excellent, or don’t bother.

Why am I talking about this today.

It seems that the three-day assault bag is coming onto the surplus market for a very reasonable fee. If you’re in the market for a backpack, don’t wait. Surplus has a way about drying up.

Alright, so quite some time ago I published an article, inspired by John Birmingham‘s apocalyptic Zero Day Code universe. Seeing as how we were discussing the contents of an ideal zombie bag over on JB’s patreon.com, I expanded on the concept here on my blog.

I kind of glossed over the bag part, though, except to say that it should be sturdy. Well, today I am going to expand on the bag.

A good carry-on or zombie bag should be tough, light, and versatile. And oh yes, as cheap as possible. Well, I have good news for those who are interested; it seems that right now Uncle Sam is dumping probably the best bags and equipment in the world at pennies to a dollar. Why? It seems the US Army is switching from the old ACU digital pattern to the new OCP pattern. The ACU equipment is being dumped onto the surplus market. In my opinion there is no better, tougher stuff in the world.

But yeah, the ACU camo pattern is kind of stupid. That’s why the Army is switching over to OCP/Multicam. It just works better.

That being said, who cares about a stupid ugly camo pattern when you can have arguably the world’s best carry-on for 23 USD or thereabouts? Now, I’m not sure as to availability in the Australian, European or British markets, but if you guys can buy these bags there, do so with absolute confidence. They are that good. OK, a few pictures by means of illustration.

front

First off, this bag is relatively compact, at about 19.7 in / 50cm high. I’ve used these as carry-ons on flights and I’ve never had a problem making it fit. This might not be true for puddle-jumpers, for those you might have to check the bag. The pack pictured above is my overnight bag, I keep it loaded in case I go out on the road and have to stay at someone’s house. So not exactly a zombie bag, although it does share some characteristics with such an animal. It weighs 15.6 lbs / 7.0kg fully loaded.

The next photos are detail shots made to show the versatility of this humble piece of surplus.

right

First, let me make clear that this pack is MOLLE compatible, meaning it uses a very durable woven strap attachment for placing pouches of all shapes and sizes wherever you want. For example, above you see the right side of my carry-on. On the lower left on the image is a sustainment pouch from a large ruck, above it is an M4 magazine pouch. Also, you can see a small olive drab pouch, this is an old ALICE pouch. ALICE stuff works with MOLLE, so no issues.

I use the mag pouch for travel documents (I’m always juggling those stupid things around). This keeps everything in one place. The sustainment pouch was originally meant for MREs, but you can use it for literally anything; I prefer it to hold travel comfort items like a small pillow or a keffiyah, gloves, etc. Whatever needs to be on the outside of a bag so you don’t have to dig. And the little, old-school OD green pouch? A compass, of course. I always have one of those. Always.

Here’s another view, the other side of the bag.

left

Note the old-fashioned canteen at the top. Lots of people like camel-baks, and so do I, but the canteen is king when traveling. Empty it out before going through security, fill it back up on the other side of the gate. Water only. (Laughs) I knew a guy once who put milk in a canteen and forget to clean it out. Not pretty. The little British pouch on the bottom is for a US Army style poncho, I never go anywhere without one of those along with some 550 cord. Combine the two and you have instant shelter, no matter where life may find you.

So there you go, that was my take on which bag is best for plain travel / adventures / zombie hordes.

Hands down the US Army three-day assault pack.

In country mine held spare medical supplies, an MRE, some belted 7.62, extra grenades (frag and smoke, sometimes thermite), 40mm grenades, a spare battery for my radio, flares, extra socks, a camel-bak, you name it. I never once had any issue with the bag under extremely hard use and bad circumstances. As a bonus, it even kept stuff fairly dry and mostly dust free.

Did I mention that the little pack is made of rubberized Cordura? It doesn’t get tougher. Seriously. And the zippers, lashing straps and snaps are first-rate, top shelf. I’d hate to think what Uncle Sam paid for these originally, but I’ll bet it was multiples of what you can pick them up for now; 23 bucks well-used (and needing a little TLC) to 75 USD brand new, unused.

If you want a bag, and you don’t mind that it is ugly, these can’t be beat.

Buy with confidence.

 

 

Taste Test- Beyond Burger

beyond burger

BLUF- A real alternative to a beef patty.

Alright- since when is this a foodie website? Well, it isn’t. What I do try to do is to keep my articles around a central theme; the future, and our place in it. This is a pretty rough idea. The war, other random stuff creeps in from time to time.

Well, the Beyond Burger and its competitors occupy a solid place in this niche, i.e. futuristic developments. When we finally get to Mars, I doubt there will be space made for cows. However, I can certainly see something like cloned meat and dairy products or stuff like the Beyond Burger having a firm place in the diets of settlers and space travelers.

So let’s cut to the chase.

I’m sure many of you have tried vegetarian burgers before. Some of you may be vegetarian and that’s all you’ll eat. If so, that’s fine. The Beyond Burger is for people who really want the meat experience and texture, but don’t actually want an animal to be put to the knife. I get that. Does it live up to its billing?

In my opinion, almost.

First there’s the color/appearance. Somewhat beef-like, but not quite there. As you can see in the above picture the “meat” is close to the color of real beef, but the finished product has a bit of an orange tint to it. Not a game-changer, but some may be thrown a bit.

Then there’s the smell. The raw product has a bit of a whiff of corned beef, oddly enough, but it does smell appetizing as it cooks. Pretty good, even though I would hesitate to call it a true beef simulacrum. An odd detail; the meat appeared to bleed as it heated. Some weird food coloring? A nice touch, if a bit unnecessary.

The texture is excellent. It gives a very meaty, as opposed to pasty feel as I’ve encountered before in veggie burgers. If you ate by candle light you could almost pass this off as the real deal.

And most importantly- the taste. Pretty darn close. For comparison’s sake I followed the Beyond Burger with a real Angus patty- the Angus patty was comparable, although it had the unmistakable iron sub-taste that only real beef can have.

Hate to say it, but I preferred the Beyond Burger patty to the real thing.

Was it an absolute dead ringer for animal protein and hemoglobin? No. But so what? It gave an enjoyable and tasty experience without some beast meeting its end, and food products like this are a viable option for meat products going forward.

I don’t have any problem recommending these burgers, although it could be the case that if you are against additives, etc. you should probably stick to real beef or bean burgers.

Four out of five stars.

Fry ’em up and eat ’em.

1917- a review

1917

BLUF- An accurate, entertaining movie. Fills an important hole; the Great War.

Right up front I’d like to say that I’m not a big war movie guy. But if I do go to one, it needs to be historically and physically accurate. Historical accuracy is obvious- uniforms, gear, and scenery needs to be right. But what do I mean by physical accuracy? Allow me to explain. I don’t want to see people acting like clowns when they are supposed to be shot. By the same token, I do not want to see them take round after round and keep functioning.

It doesn’t work that way.

Also, when I see a movie about war and fatal conflict, I want to see people act like people actually do in those circumstances. Pissed off. Out of control. Shaky. Grim. I don’t want to see people pretending as if it’s all a grand show- soldiers are painfully aware that they could die at any moment. No fancy speeches, no grand aspirations. Just regular guys going about a desperate trade, trying to live to see the next sunset.

This movie mostly succeeds in the above criteria.

We follow the protagonist through a series of horrifying events, you won’t catch me calling them “adventures.” A big reason I wanted to see this movie was to catch a major picture about the Great War; to compare the film against my latest manuscript, an alternate history set in WW1.

I am pleased to report that I don’t think I missed a lot of tricks, and neither did the film’s producers. For example: there was a distinct difference between the British trenches and those of the Germans; this is historically accurate (BTW, the Germans had better trenches). There were many, many details which were excellent, authentic. They vastly outweighed the few nitpicks I had.

One such nitpick was the lack of the sounds of a bullet’s passage. I think this would have drawn in the casual viewer, forced the same to engage in a visceral fashion. There were a couple of other small things, but those really were quibbles compared to the terrible beauty of the whole.

The tension was there. The stakes were high. The viewer rooted for the heroes; curiously I did not find myself hating the villains. This was an excellent job, and I think apace with the film’s historical accuracy. The Germans of WW1 were soldiers caught up in the same catastrophe as the British; they were bitter enemies who used harsh methods. The Allied soldiers of the time hated them, but there was respect as well. The film bears this out.

All in all this was a war film worth watching. The viewer cared as the protagonist fought his fights, as he overcame obstacles. Literal obstacles. Speaking of which, one stands in awe of the barbed wire defenses as depicted. Imagine actually assaulting such a position. If you know what you’re looking at, you get the chills looking at the malevolent tangles and coils.

Much respect for Great-Grandpa. What a nightmare.

So yeah, go see this movie. It’s worth it, and it was cool to see that a lot of what I saw squares with what I recently wrote and researched.

I’ll go with a solid four stars for this film.

 

“Boeing.” American for taxpayer abuse.

SLS

The picture above looks really cool, but it’s actually a big fat joke. Like the F-35, another complete waste of the taxpayer’s money. The “Space Launch System” is an enormous fraud made up of cobbled together outdated, un-reusable parts. For God’s sake, why didn’t they just rebuild a Saturn V and call it quits, we would have been a lot cheaper out.

Read an article today about how Boeing, Grumman, etc. have shot the space program in the foot and bilked the US taxpayer for billions upon billions. And oh yeah, absolutely jack has gotten done by these companies in space.

Thank God for Space X or we would be at the mercy of these fraudsters and losers.

We are so screwed if we get into another shooting war and these people are making our machines. And as for real progress in getting to space, doing real exploration?

Not if Boeing has anything to do with it.

It’s looking like Space X or bust. Maybe Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin.

‘Cause the military-space complex is twiddling their thumbs.