Sunday, June 21, 2009

There are no atheists in foxholes B-huts...

I come across the saying that there are no atheists in foxholes rather often. It's a pretty common cliche, and I'm sure most people have seen it. It's a rather ridiculous claim saying that Atheists are all hypocrites. Although I am an atheist and I have been in foxholes, I've never been in one besides during training. I think the whole point of the quote is that when an atheist is in trouble that they turn towards god for help, especially in the case of mortal danger.

During my recent deployment to Afghanistan I was relatively safe, especially compared to some of my fellow soldiers. I believe the death rate at our base was actually safer than most cities, and highways, but I still think there were some cases where I can personally attest to whether or not there are atheists in foxholes B-huts. The best example would probably be in the early morning of Father's Day 2009 when we were awakened to a large explosion. We were close enough to the blast from an incoming rocket that debris rained down on our B-hut. There could have been more incoming rockets, and I was standing in my room trying to decide what to do. B-huts in case you aren't aware, are little buildings made of plywood and tin that soldiers in Afghanistan regularly sleep in if they are "lucky". An incoming rocket would have no problem destroying the building and seriously injuring or killing any inhabitants. So as an atheist in a life threatening situation did I suddenly fall to my knees and start praying? No. In fact, it wasn't even an idea that crossed my mind. You see, the key point to atheism is that I don't think there is a god. Why would I pray to something that I don't think exists? It's silly and I wouldn't. If there is a god, which I'm not saying there is or isn't, just that I seriously doubt there is, why would he value my wishes(prayers) over the wishes of all the other millions of starving and/or dying people in the world every day? All I wondered about was whether or not anyone was hurt, if more attacks were coming, and whether we should gear up and get in the bunkers or not.

If you are one of those people that like to use the fox hole cliche, maybe you should reconsider. It's silly, and untrue. Here is a link on the attack Unfortunately we lost two American soldiers that morning. My heart goes out to their friends and family members.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Should I buy a kindle?

I've been seriously debating whether to get a Kindle 2 or not. I thought it might help to list the pros and cons. I also thought that I would throw it on the blog to get some outside input. So, here is my pros/cons list and please put forth any thoughts you may have on the subject.

  • Have you seen electronic ink screens? They are freakin' awesome!
  • Lots of books, low weight. I travel a lot (when I'm back in the real world) and often a significant portion of my travel weight is books. I also don't take as many books as I want with me when I travel to limit weight.
  • Built in dictionary. I love new words. I look up lots of words. Carrying a dictionary is another book that I don't want to carry, and you don't always have access to the internet.
  • Being able to take notes without messing up the book is nifty. I'm not sure if I don't take lots of notes because I don't like writing in books, or if I'm just not the note taking type. I do usually have a small notepad with me, but that's mostly just to write down words I want to look up. I wouldn't have to write down words to look up anymore, but I might be more inclined to take notes if it were built in to the book.
  • Not having to deal with bookmarks and losing your place. Enough said.
  • I'm a gadget whore and a Kindle 2 would really give me geek cred, whatever that means.
  • Free Wikipedia just about anywhere. I find Wiki to be almost as useful as Google. In terms of time, I actually spend more time on Wiki than I do on Google, but that's not a fair comparison because Google is a gateway and Wiki is a destination. Wikipedia is a truly valuable tool and it would be a real boon to have it in your pocket (Hey, I have big pockets!).
  • Music. In some situations it would fill a dual role as mp3 player and book reader. Although with how small mp3 players are and how long the batteries last, I wouldn't use this all to often. Could be nice to listen to music and read while on an elliptical or exercise bike though.
  • The price.
  • THE PRICE! Seriously, even with the fact that you would be saving money on the cheaper electronic books, it would still take awhile to recoup the initial $360 investment. If you saved $10 a book (which you won't), it would still take you 36 books to break even. That would probably take me more than a year and maybe as long as two. Saving money on books can't be my motivation if the warranty is already expired before I recoup my money.
  • Graphic novels probably don't transfer well to Kindle. Not that I read all that many, but who wants to be excluded?
  • Black and white screen. Tied in with the above, but also with a lot of science magazines and blogs that I follow there are a lot of really cool color pictures that wouldn't transfer over.
  • You have to subscribe(read pay) to blogs. I'm all for bloggers making money, hell, I wish I made money blogging, but I don't know if I would pay for them directly.
  • No videos/movies.
  • When I'm at work, we have some down time that can be (and has been) spent on reading. This is in the cons because I'm typically in facilities that don't allow electronic devices inside. This is only a little con because only a small amount of my time is spent reading at work.
  • No expansion/memory card slot. If I'm going to use this for music and books, it would be nice to stick an 8gb micro SD card in there for extra storage
  • After reading a book I enjoy, I can't just hand it to my friend to read, unless I want to give up my Kindle until he/she is done.
That's all the pros and cons I can think of right now. If I think of more later I'll throw them on at the bottom as an edit. As it stands, all the pros are either things that make my life a little easier, or things that make me look cool. I obviously don't concern myself all that much with looking cool, so the only thing I gain is convenience. You know what's not convenient? Work, and work is what I would be doing to pay for the $360 price tag. That basically sums up the cons. It's really a lot of money just for a little bit of convenience. I think it's the future of books, and that eventually all books will be predominantly electronic, if not exclusively, but being a part of the future right now is always expensive. Even if I was a millionaire (which I'm definitely not) I would still think this was a silly way to spend money. Of course the whole point of being a millionaire is being able to spend your money in silly ways.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The ants go marching...

Bunch of ants all marching from one hole to another hole about 10 feet away. I've never seen such a mass migration of ants before. They were almost all going in the same direction. They weren't carrying anything. They all looked like the same kind of ants, and didn't seem to be fighting. I've walked this way dozens of times and never seen it before or since. My buddy and I watched this go on for more than five minutes, a steady stream of ants. Anyone know what they were doing? Maybe running from the Egyptians and about to wander the desert for 40 years?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Afghanistan ornithology - The Common Myna AKA the Indian Myna

I'm stuck on base all the time, which is good because it's safe, but sucks because it's boring. I've taken to following birds around to pass the time. There is one interesting bird that I've never seen before that I've been documenting. A quick Google search of Afghan birds and I found out it's probably an Indian Myna, aka a Common Myna. It's a pretty cool bird. Looks like a mix between a crow and a puffin. The very first thing I noticed about Afghanistan was the Mynas. I didn't know what it was at the time, but right after getting off the plane we walked under a tree that had about a thousand of these birds all chirping at each other. It was late at night and at first I thought it was bats. After being here a few nights I realized it was actually these birds. Every evening and morning they are in the pine trees fighting/mating/partying? They would also hang out on top of a few buildings and an antenna tower.

Here is a video of the birds going crazy in a tree.Here is a picture of the tower covered with birds.

I've actually been following these birds around for quite some time. I've got hundreds of pictures that are just too far away to be any good. They are very skittish. They seem to know when you are looking at them, and take it as an act of aggression. They really don't like you to get closer than about twenty feet, and with my camera it isn't close enough for a good picture. Lately they haven't been chirping in the trees, I assume because they are nesting. For how many hundreds (thousands?) of birds there are around I've only been able to find one of their nests. There is a couple that is ever vigilant about watching you when around this one stack of shipping containers, so I spent some time looking and finally managed to find the nest. It's in a hole made by the joining of two shipping containers stacked on top of each other. I can just barely see a bunch of grass that is probably the nest. I didn't take any pictures of it because I would have to stick my camera in the hole to get a good shot and I don't want to disturb the nest. I have since sat and watched from a picnic table just in sight of the nest and have watched them visit the nest confirming that it's theirs.

I finally got an up close picture of one. This myna was harassing a group of sparrows (I think they are sparrows anyhow) that nest here. Probably the only reason he (she? I assumed since it was aggressive that it was a male.) let me get close enough to him. I haven't been able to tell the difference, if any, from males and females.

I also had to avoid making eye contact with him. I intentionally wouldn't look at him except through my camera so as not to spook him. After I'd snapped a few photos, I looked right at him, and sure enough he took off.

One of the shipping containers near this ones nest. By wearing my hat tilted down over my eyes and looking through my camera, this one let me get kind of close to it. They seem to be slightly more tolerant of me being around since I've been hanging around them a little. The tree in the background is a mulberry tree with a ton of fruit on it right now. I haven't actually seen them eating the berries, but they come to this tree a lot, so I assume they are.

Although they are indigenous to Afghanistan, apparently they are quite a nuisance as an introduced pest species through out the world. Anyways, I thought that I would share what I've been doing with everyone. If you want to know more about them here is a link to their Wikipedia page.