You have got to be kidding me

See the image above? Sure looks like a town in Afghanistan with a military convoy going through.

Guess what? It is. I know this place well, I have eaten kabobs there many times.

Now look at the image below, courtesy of CNN/Getty.

Same exact place, different perspectives, and ten years apart.

As you can see, the town is under new management.

At the moment I have nothing but profanity to utter, so I’ll cut it short.

Hopefully the next installment can be on a better note.

Good surplus tent

Alright, my long time readers will know that from time to time I review camping gear, I have an interest in cheap stuff that works well. While browsing a surplus website here in the US, I found a French Army tropical surplus tent for an unbelievable price. 38 bucks!

If you act fast, you can get one of these right now. Surplus dries up fast. Spoiler: Good tent, if you respect its limits and understand its intended use.

OK, first let me address a couple of videos I have seen on YouTube. One was particularly bad, the poster completely set the tent up to fail, and then he complained about it. Terrible set up, etc.

Alright, a few factoids and first impressions about this tent. First, mine arrived brand-new, unissued. There is no guarantee that yours will be the same. It was date-stamped 1992. See below.

This tent was full mil-spec quality, and something a soldier is expected to do is to prepare his/her equipment. This is especially important on brand-new gear. For example, would you go on a twenty-mile hike with spanking new boots? (The answer should always be NO.) A new tent is the same.

The YouTube fellow not only set the tent up like crap, there was no indication that he prepared it with seam-sealer or a waterproofing spray. Then he complained that it leaked. Well, go figure. Any tent from Wally World would do the exact same if subjected to the same treatment.

But I digress; needless to say I think this tent didn’t get a fair shake on YouTube.

Let me talk about this first rate, if somewhat dated, tropical military tent.

A big surprise. Actual, no-kidding YKK zippers and a full mesh screen, along with generous meshed venting along the sides of the tent. I shook my head at the quality and foresight of construction on the F1 Tropical, it is top-notch stuff. BTW, not canvas but vinyl (Important. I wouldn’t have a canvas tent given to me.)

As an aside, I have come to expect quality from surplus French Army stuff. Very well built and practical gear. Every bit the equal, and in some cases better, than US or UK kit.

So I unpacked my tent, I was the first person to do so since the factory. Everything still had factory rubber bands on it, everything was arranged just-so in the bag. The thing was perfect, I was almost afraid to set it up it was so nice.

But I did, and I learned a thing or two doing so.

First; this tent needs seam sealer along its stitched surfaces, like always, and it needs to be tight.

This isn’t so hard to understand. The French made it easy to figure out, although I did do one minor mod. See below.

In the tent’s eight(!) stake down loops, I ran some 550 (parachute) cord through each. Makes life a little easier when you set-up/tear-down. Here is where I ran into one of my few gripes with this tent, but it’s easily fixed.

LOL if you try to use the issued bent-wire stakes in sand or gravel. Totally useless. Now, for around here with clayey loam, they are great. Or maybe in France itself. But in the Sahara? Or Mali? A really bad idea. So in addition to making sure you prep the tent, you may want to get different stakes depending on your soil. For my uses the supplied stakes are fine. But in the Australian Outback? Not so much.

Another criticism, but not from me, was somewhat legit if a bit spoiled. YouTube dude didn’t like it that the door is only on one side of the tent. Well, I guess a little situational awareness is called for when setting this bad boy up, I didn’t have an issue here.

Speaking of door. Did I mention the nice zippers? The full rain doors backed by mesh? It’s a nice set up. I have to say I’m a bit dubious about how long the “shock” cording (a big spring) on the two poles will last in hard use, but if you saw how the poles were constructed, you’d realize it’s just a convenience feature, anyhow.

This is a good tent, it beats the ever-living hell out of the old canvas USGI “shelter-half” which was still in widespread use in the US Army in 1992. It is a somewhat old-fashioned design, but it does what it’s supposed to do pretty well. It’s theoretically a two-person tent, but I’d call it one person plus gear.

It weighs about five pounds and is relatively bulky, so this is best for vehicular ops, or mech infantry applications.

I wouldn’t lug this very far, but it can be done with careful packing.

So there you have it. For LESS than a total piece of junk at Wally World, a mil-spec, pretty good tent. This will do the job if you use it as intended, and I do not doubt that it will outperform and outlast the flimsy Big Box tent.

Just make sure you stretch it tight. With a grand total of SIXTEEN anchor/tensioning points, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Buy with confidence, I hope you get one as good as mine.


Here is a sample, the first page, of a fanfic short that I composed in the World War 3.1 universe for John Birmingham.

Sergei Petrov couldn’t remember his parents at all. For some reason on this stuffy June night that mattered. The muttering of the guns and the idling diesels punctuated his thoughts. Everything stunk. The chemical reek of ordnance. The violated earth. His squad mates disgusting funk, especially that Ukrainian pig Oleg and the stupid blackass Ibrahim. The reeks choked him, his skin itched with revulsion. 

The Red Army had held few surprises for Sergei, a product of Orphanage Number Sixteen. The fine institute was located outside of what could have been the place of his birth, Vyazma. He snorted. Where he had been born meant exactly nothing, except for a starting point in his graduation through a succession of organs of the State. 

His earliest memory was of being beaten by older youths over scraps of bread. He shrugged. That must have been in the Great Patriotic War against the fascists. Times back then had been hard, he remembered how precious a steaming bowl of kasha was, or dried fish. Shriveled cabbage. Moldy bread. He had learned young not to look too closely at what he ate. 

The Russian that he spoke, mat, was as filthy as his ass. Every other word was “fuck,” and most insults had something to do with the mother that he had never known. What he did know was soul-crushing work and the brutal discipline of the State. He had done a little of everything. Helped with the harvest. Industrial cleaning in the grease pits of a steel mill. Assembly line work for microprocessors, operating a shear press in a Kevlar factory. 

He frowned. The press had been the best of jobs, although half his coworkers were missing a finger or two. He had had no such luck when the Commissars of the People’s Red Army showed up at the factory looking for numbers to fill their quota. Sergei’s foreman had fingered him, the moldy cunt, and four businesslike, unsmiling men threw him into a Black Maria with the other suckers. 

Now here he was, in a slit grave along with his fire team. They were a bunch of shits who wouldn’t have lasted two months in the Orphanage, where the inmates were no better off than zeks. Enemies of the State, orphans, criminals, what did it matter? All of them ended up in the infantry, where everyone was equally miserable and totally fucked. 

He shrugged in the darkness, the diesels of the tanks behind him muttered and ticked. His company of motor-rifle infantry were deployed in ambush hides in front of the main line, the theory was that the Stalin heavies would shoot and burn the fascist’s armor at half a kilometer. Whoever made it past that would have to deal with his battalion, the poor foot soldiers were dug in forward of the main line. 

The fucking tankers called them “crunchies.”

The rest is behind the paywall at my Patreon site.

What do you really need

Last year, for perfectly obvious reasons, I missed the annual vacation. And this year time was tight, so the options were limited. Also, none of us wanted to go hang out with the big crowds. Not this year, because the disease isn’t burned out and I really don’t feel like getting seriously ill.

Again. Because I’ve been there before.

So off to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I went, a few peeps in tow. It’s a fantastic place to go if you don’t want to hang out in crowds, and all you want is the experience of a beach with none of the hassle and astronomical expense.

Yeah, it cost a few centavos, but all in all it can be done on a budget. Probably my biggest complaint is how far it is from anything, but that’s also an attraction. You have to be determined to go to the beaches by Lake Superior. Lemme tell you, though, it’s worth the trip. It does require some careful planning though, as well as a selection of the right time of year.

If you hit it wrong, mosquitoes and biting flies can be pretty bad. And needless to say cold can be an issue as well, even in high summer. If you want to bask in the sun at ninety degrees and people watch, this is not a vacation for you.

But if you’d like to hike and see some spectacular scenery, then give it a look.

I can fully recommend Pictured Rocks National Park.

You’ll see stuff within the park that isn’t anything like a visit to the Outer Banks or Virginia Beach. Almost no crowds. Desolate beaches. Amazing swimming opportunities. Raw nature, seemingly endless expanses of mixed boreal forests. In terms of the Lower 48 east of the Mississippi, this is pretty close to as wild as it gets. The Smoky Mountains don’t really compare, especially not in terms of crowds.

And did I mention Lake Superior? The darn thing is crystal clear and it compares better with the sea than a lake. Excellent swimming, if a tad bit cold.

I went out on a speedboat excursion, it was a great heap of fun. What was better was that when I dried off there wasn’t the sticky film that salt water gives you. Same with kayaking the local lakes and rivers. I had the pleasure of doing a seven mile stretch with a family member, and it was a hoot.

Over and over again I marveled at how the kayak would navigate a few centimeters of water, and then how it handled rapids and deep pools with aplomb, even fallen trees. There was very little trash in evidence, and tons of wildlife. I saw various sorts of fish, cranes, turtles and even a mink as it attacked a duck.

The kayak trip, on the Au Train River, was a real highlight. Even if it revealed what terrible shape I’m in, really. Nothing like the occupational condition I was in during my military heyday.

But still, I was in good enough shape to get it done. And the excursion was a lot of fun. I highly recommend it to anyone who passes by.

Even though “just passing by” isn’t something you do on the Upper Peninsula. You have to really go out of your way to go there.

But it’s worth it.

And it got me thinking. What, exactly, do I really need? Not a whole lot. I’m pretty satisfied with my small following, and my internet peeps. A trip to the wild places, a short journey down a river. Good food. Uninterrupted sleep. Reliable vehicles. A lush garden.

Recharged, I am back to regular life.

I need to buy a kayak.

That was fun.


The above vehicle, the new for 2022 Ford Maverick, is a truck I can get excited about. You can “build” your own here; if you like what you see you can order one on the website.

What’s the big deal, you say. It’s a stupid truck, nothing new.


What you are seeing with this little hauler is a return to the concept of an inexpensive, practical work vehicle at a budget price, starting MSRP is 19,995 (even though you’ll never pay that. There are fees and taxes that will push the real floor price to about 23,000, plus there are a few options you will certainly want.)

Another very important feature about this vehicle; this is the first budget truck that I can think of that comes standard with a hybrid gas/electric drivetrain. So that base MSRP is for a hybrid work truck!

Friends, that is a big deal. It is a signal from one of the world’s biggest auto makers that the era of mass electric transportation has finally dawned.

And did I mention that the Maverick is priced nearly fifteen grand under the base of say, Chevrolet’s Colorado?

Ford hasn’t just undercut the market, they placed a breaching charge on it and lit the fuse.

20k USD for a new truck. Hybrid drivetrain as a standard feature. What else could there be?

Turns out, there’s plenty. This vehicle is made with the DIY crowd in mind, the little truck is like a Gerber tool. Ford says that the bed is perfectly capable of hauling 1500lbs/750kg. This is not a trifling amount of weight. The stubby little bed can be easily configured to haul sheets of plywood, drywall or two by fours.

Also, this little guy is a camper’s delight, as the standard king cab can easily haul four adults and their gear, and the truck can be equipped with an AWD option and a Ford “FX4” option in the higher trim packages.

IMO, I think AWD beats 4WD hands down. Why? AWD is always there when you need it, and 4WD requires some trick reflexes at times, especially on roads that are dry with the occasional treacherous icy patch or snow drift.

Complaint: Ford does not make AWD with the hybrid engine. You have to get a pure gas-burner if you want AWD. True, it’s an efficient turbo four, probably combined 29-30ish, but the hybrid gets sick mileage. It would have been awesome if Ford had planned the hybrid and the AWD package together.

Oh, and did I mention that this little guy can tow 4k lbs/ 2,000kg? Of course, you have to buy the package for this capability, but it’s there.

There is so much to like about this truck. Large electronic console, user-friendly controls. Simple where it needs to be, no-nonsense as well. Back-up cam.

If this truck pans out, and early reports from reputable sources says it may, then this little truck is a game-changer.

I’ve never been a Ford acolyte, but it’s hard to ignore this offering.

Impossible, actually.

Don’t tell me they forgot the flag

Supposedly this is an image by the AP of Bagram AB today. If so, looks like they forgot the flag. See AP article snippet below, the BBC is reporting the same thing.

How shambolic can this possibly be? They didn’t even arrange for a cheesy change-of-command ceremony? What, did they just herd everyone aboard a C-17 and roll out?

Jeez. I hope they at least had a plan for making sure they didn’t leave anybody behind. Just imagine that you’re “Third Row Joe” and you wake up on your cot and things are a bit quiet. You get up, walk out to the road running parallel to the flight line and there’s nothing. No golf carts or side by sides, no troops walking along. No one waiting for the DFAC to open, no Blackhawks on final.

Just a few looters with AKs. Or could they be Taliban?

This would be a bad moment in Joe’s life. So let’s hope it didn’t happen. But what has assuredly happened has been the abandonment of those who fought by our side. Disgusting.

Who planned this goat rope? This disgrace?

Most people would shrug and say something like “It’s good the troops are leaving.” But there’s “leaving,” and then there’s “LEAVING.”

This feels like stiffing a waitress for a party of twenty when her boss is a serial killer, and you know it.

When I think of the years. The lives. The straight-up bad stuff.

For nothing.

Website launch

Hey all.

Today is kind of a big day. It is the official launch of my subscription site on Patreon.

Click here to see it.

I’m building a new trilogy over there, a science fiction world of artificial intelligences, dead heroes, treacherous voyages, strange worlds and colonists run amok.

It’s been fun so far and I’ve barely started!

There are three tiers, each with deepening levels of involvement. 3, 5, and 10 bucks USD. The choice is yours, of course.

Inside the site there are already five chapters plus analysis waiting, so plenty of meat to get things started.

By all means, check it out!

See you inside.

Later Alligator, Wheeling, WV, food review

I thought to do something a little different today, readers, and talk about a great local eatery and an amazing dish I had there today.

First, an admin note; here’s their website. It’s pretty slick.

And a brief aside about what I’ve been up to before I talk about the important stuff, the food. As you all know, I’ve been in a flurry of activity finishing up my latest book and prepping the new website, just this morning I finished scheduling the serial posts of 42 chapters, one or two each week for a while to come. Plus analysis of each piece, mind you. Lots of stuff to read once the site launches.

It’s keeping me busy. The official launch is on the 28th of June, just day or two from now. Keep an eye peeled; the link will appear here as if by magic.

Well, I needed some downtime from all those chores, so I went into town with my kid today and we sat down at a favorite local eatery and I opened the menu, looking for something new.

Just a few days ago a friend was talking about an establishment in Australia that I won’t be able to visit, as it is closing. He waxed poetic about a sandwich called the croque madame, and I wanted one. I needed one. But I thought I could not have one.

Lo and behold I was wrong.

This quirky little restaurant just added one to the menu. I pounced.

When it came out, it looked and smelled amazing. Seriously. Good quality bread with a generous slice of ham. A perfectly proportioned slather of mustard and white sauce. Homemade chips (crisps). An obviously quality fried egg perched on top, Swiss cheese, good Lord.

As an aside, you can always tell a quality egg. Not important? I beg to differ! A good egg is first of all fresh, not sitting around in Walmart for a month. Second, the yolk must be firm and well-defined. Finally, the colors should be vivid, vibrant, and not pale or in any way off.

Later Alligator uses quality eggs. You should too. But I digress.

The help and service was good, as always, and I couldn’t wait to try this open-faced sandwich out.

For a change I didn’t need to add any salt at all, it was perfect as-is. Firm. A hint of spice. Crispy where it should have been, and the egg was cooked just right.

The flavors, the quality, all just right.

It was very satisfying, and an enjoyable experience. I realize that Wheeling, WV is a bit out of the way for almost everyone, and it’s hardly a tourist destination. But if you are ever on endless Route 70 headed somewhere, then it’s worth your while to get off of the highway and find Center Market and Later Alligator.

The croque madame is great, and they specialize in unconventional crepes.

I have yet to have anything that was less than great on the menu.

Later Alligator. Recommend.

Upcoming event

Hey, all.

This is kind of an exciting screenshot. I know it doesn’t look like much, but something I’ve put a lot of thought and time into lately has been the launch of my new subscription website; I’ve nearly finished the first book in an unpublished trilogy.

The trilogy, which is tentatively named “The Promised Land,” is meant to be 100% exclusive to my pay site; only the readers who sign on get to see what’s behind the curtain.

This is the first time I publicly release something other than samples; it has been 2017 since the release of my last book.

2017. Immolation. Crazy.

Oh, as most of you know, I’ve been writing away this whole time. One problem was that I lost my old publisher, I guess those guys made things too easy for me. Expensive, mind you, but easy.

So, here’s the deal.

On the 28th of this month I am going to post a direct link to the site right here. I’ll also do it over on the Book of Face.

Lemme tell you what’s in the site. I’ll be up front about this, I totally emulated another fantastic subscription page for format; click here to check it out. JB’s page is pretty awesome, and it has delivered great content to fans/authors like me.

Here is how it’s set up. There are three tiers on the page.

Everyone who antes up gets the trilogy in serial fashion.

At three bucks (USD), that’s what you get. Steaming hot chapters as they come off the presses, and then Q and A with both me and other readers. This will probably work for most readers, and I’d be honored to have you aboard. Seriously. Something I really look forward to is having reader feedback and interaction, that’s actually one of my favorite parts of JB’s site.

The five dollar (USD) tier is for those who wish to take the interaction to the next level, not only do you get the chapters, but you get my take on them as well. We can sit there and slice and dice the narrative. In Army terms you get to sit in on the AAR, or after action review. Should be a lot of fun.

Finally, there is the ten dollar (USD tier. There are only ten of these slots available; why? Because at ten bucks you get to name a character whatever you choose (within reason). Gift a family member a character name, or put yourself in the book. It’s your choice. And if you PM me with something you’ve written, I’ll see if I can slide it into the books somewhere.

So, there you have it.

My first public release of new stuff in four years.

The website has already been prepped; there are five chapters waiting to start things off, along with analysis.

On the 28th of June, the link will appear here.

Short of an asteroid falling on my head, or a horrible fiery car crash, this is going to happen.

See you next week.

Punching a Wall

OK, it’s almost never a good idea to punch a wall.

There. I’ve said it. Having once been an adolescent male, though, I will admit to having done so a few times. Seriously stupid; especially when dealing with old-fashioned plaster and lathe or brick. All you are asking for is pain and a serious injury.

So why am I talking about this.

Alright, today we’re going to have a “writer’s journey” discussion. As you all may be aware, I have started in on another trilogy, and the premise is solid. Enjoyable. Somewhat novel. I am deeply into the first book in the planned trilogy, I’m hanging out at Chapter Twenty-Seven.

And there I’ve been sitting for about a week. Usually I don’t stop writing until a book is done, then and only then do I take time off.

Well, that’s not been the case this time around. This book has been challenging to write for a couple of reasons.

First, I am building a universe from scratch. But that’s not such a thing, I’ve done this before.

Second, my outline is insufficient. Yeah, it’s a guide, but I simply can’t follow it as usual.

Finally, I think I’m having trouble maintaining tension in the narrative toward the close of Book One. This is not a good place to be when you are supposed to be experiencing an acceleration both as the author and the reader. Instead, I feel dead in the water.

So therefore the “punching walls” theme of this week’s post. My writing at the moment feels nearly as painful and pointless.

I know it’s an illusion. I know it’s BS. But still.

Not so long ago a friend and mentor gave me the sound advice to simply skip over a point in the narrative that you think is holding you up on project completion. He’s probably right, and here pretty soon I may do just that.

But I look at the work as it stands and I think “I can win this. Don’t be a weenie.”

Boy, is it a good thing that I don’t have a real deadline for all of this, or I’d be in a pickle. Now, don’t get me wrong. There kind of is a deadline; I want to launch my Patreon page in November, and this book is the lead-off to the exclusive material that’ll be featured there.

But know this! It hasn’t come without a struggle. I want to produce stuff that doesn’t SUCK. Work that’s readable. Coherent.

Alright, I’ve mapped out the whole trilogy, and I’ve known from the get-go that Book One was going to give me the worst fight. I really hate to be right.

I know that I haven’t adequately explained. I kind of can’t, because the premise is close-hold.

The problem is one of antagonists. In the first book, the enemy is circumstance. In the second book, the enemy is nature of a sort. The third book? Human conflict. The second and third books, I have the antagonists nailed. But in the first book- well, using circumstance as the enemy per se is novel to me. Difficult, challenging. It works, I think, but it involves a bit of thought and care.

So that’s why I’m punching-walls frustrated. Because this has not been easy.

You know what, though?

Tough, I tell my inner wall-puncher. Tough. Deal with it, man-up and grow as an author.

Learn from adversity.

Produce something worthwhile.

That’s one of the few bullet-points of my original plan that has survived contact with the enemy per se.

Make fun, readable stuff.

Way easier said than done. I’ll leave that for you all to judge come November.