Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XV – FTC

My friend and fellow Not Operator author, Kilroy, said he was joining the US Army last year. We realized that his experiences would make for an interesting read, especially when there are so few online writings about what it is like, emotionally and physically, to experience modern basic training and beyond. He agreed to keep a journal of his time, and that we would publish it to Not Operator.

Kilroy tends to write his personal journals with pretty purple prose, so with his permission, I’ll be editing and paraphrasing his journal a bit to make it an easier read, with the help of my other friend and fellow Not Operator author, Michael. I’ll also be adding comments of my own in bold brackets [like this] to provide some extra context when necessary. If there’s large enough demand for it, we will post the full, unedited, version of Kilroy’s journal. To avoid making Kilroy’s experiences one giant wall-o-text, the journal will be broken up into an ongoing series of articles where it makes sense to do so. Plus, with Kilroy still in the Army, the journal is far from complete.

All entries in the Kilroy Joins the Army Series can be found here.

Without further ado, welcome to Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XV – FTC.

 

Day 112

Today is Thanksgiving Day. Not sure what I’m supposed to be feeling thankful for. I guess it’s good that I seem to be healing okay.

Day 113

Our day was pretty uneventful today. We wasted time by taking someone out to the hospital (I was his battle buddy), only to find out the people he needed to see didn’t come in to work because of the holiday.

Last night’s sleep was interrupted by some vivid dreams that left me feeling exhausted today.

Day 114

We’re all in a pretty bad mood today. An hour before we went to bed last night, the cadre put out a message to confiscate our personal books, magazines, etc.

This leaves me with just my writing materials and not much else. The morale of the others has fallen to an all-time low, some even saying this is their final straw and they’ve started planning their exit strategy.

Thanks to someone’s ineptitude, we’ve been assigned cleaning duties all around the company for the day. They didn’t make it clear to us why they’re having us do it, so it turned out to mostly be a tremendous waste of time. Even after finishing cleaning stuff, they told us that we were still supposed to be cleaning, so we just kept cleaning already clean things.

Day 115

This is the final Sunday of the month. Counting the weeks doesn’t really help anymore.

Since it’s a free day, the majority of people here elected to go to church services.

Sadly, instead of a long weekend break that rejuvenates the spirit, the punishments we received with no clear reason why have left us all feeling aggravated.

Everyone seems quite sullen; their entertainment taken away, people just sit around talking idly.

Day 116

My day starts at 3:00 AM with a charge of quarters shift. What an illustrious military career I’ve had thus far.

It’s not a good sign when my day-to-day life leaves me fantasizing of a future where I no longer have to live like this, considering it’s my choice to be here.

Otherwise, I continue to write, sleeping uneasily and waking to the same dulled reality I’ve come to accept, counting the days until I can go home for winter break.

I feel a certain amount of strength returning to my leg, but after the moderate usage it’s had lately, the pain response is still worrisome.

My day proceeds with more of the same, accompanying another person to the hospital to waste time.

The Alpha Company reject who I referenced earlier (National Guard girl) has given in to the Army’s desire to med-board her out. I don’t know why I’m so attached to her success, but it saddens me to see her give up. I guess it’s just depressing to see people I came in with drop out.

Day 117

The most interesting thing about the others in RHU [Reception Holding Unit] and FTC are actually the badges and tape from their BCT companies that people left on their camelbacks like the faded banners of our former masters. None of us care to remove them, and our current prison doesn’t seem to care that we still wear them.

Day 118

It’s Wii Wednesday again. That means the exercise today is fairly light and I’m glad for an easier day. Thankfully, my leg is improving noticeably; it has gotten stronger and has greater range of motion. My flexibility remains much higher than most will aspire to, so I’m not worried about that for the moment.

Today’s schedule seems off. We had an early lunch that finished before noon, and that threw us all off. Turns out they had us do everything early today so we wouldn’t run into the new recruits in Army Reception.

Later, we were herded in to fill out a series of DA Form 31s to request leave for winter break. We spent the afternoon doing more PT with the Wii.

Day 119

I’m definitely feeling like I’m in Groundhog Day; every day has the same schedule, the same food, and no variation except that we’ve lost a few of our members who are headed back to training.

Needless to say, I’m envious of the people leaving. However, even with them leaving, our ranks swell with more members, a majority of them having failed their PT tests and are here for a chance at redemption.

It’s not so much that I’ve found a rhythm here, but more so that I’ve become dulled to the life in this place.

We’ve begun to get the paperwork for our leave sorted out, logging it into the system. Our time is definitely not well spent.

Day 120

I’ve been assigned a follow up appointment with my doctor; at least it breaks the monotony here.

Those of us who want to improve and move on tend to segregate ourselves from the people who just failed and want to leave, choosing to try to focus on our own healing.

My progress is going a bit slower than I’d like. The next step will be weaning myself off the cane, and then after the winter break I’ll start working on moving around normally again.

Day 121

It’s the weekend again. I had a nonsensical dream last night where I dreamed I was in a cave fashioned into a banquet hall; the tables we sat at were made from large slabs of stone. I sat across from a bright red ogre that was somehow friendly.

We feasted and discussed something that I can’t remember. The hall was full of people, but I’m unsure what sort of folk they were. Halfway through the meal I said something, touching a central placement on the table and caused a bunch of perfectly round boulders to fall from the ceiling, striking me in the head. Someone spoke, asking “Why must he pay the price for this?” I was still conscious, but completely unable to move. More boulders fell and the dream ended, presumably in my death. Weird stuff.

Day 122

Another Sunday; a completely worthless metric to gauge my passage of time. We have don’t much of anything today. I’ve spent my time trying to connect to the internet. My service provider can’t manage to penetrate the Fallout vault that is our barracks.

Luckily, we got our books back after we complained a bunch. I finished one Jack Reacher novel and started another, and I’ve made progress in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I’ve written very little in the past few days.

My night continues into the next day; a CQ shift to take over for the people who are taking the PT test tomorrow. The sleep I was able to get in between shifts was not fulfilling.

 

This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XV – FTC. Next time we’ll pick up where we left off, as Kilroy continues his time in the Fitness Training Company. Stay tuned for Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XVI – FTC.

 


Review: Netgear PLP1200 Powerline Network Adapter

I’m pretty familiar with a wide variety of networking equipment. I understand the technology behind routers, switches, modems, cell phones, hotspots, Ethernet cables, WiFi adapters, and more. However, powerline adapters are not included in that “more” as I know very little about them. Well, I knew very little about them until I wrote this review.

Powerline adapters are something I’ve never researched or had any experience using. The idea that you can send Ethernet signals through regular copper wiring seems like magic to me. By that, I mean that I literally didn’t believe the technology would work on account of us not living in the Harry Potter universe.

While I’m aware powerline adapters have been available to consumers for years, I didn’t understand the technology and I was hesitant to believe they would function as advertised.

I understand Ethernet. Ethernet cables use dedicated ends and wires purpose-built for carrying signals associated with networking. I’m not an electrical engineer, or anything even close to an electrical engineer, so I always operated under the assumption that cables are designed for a specific use and cannot be repurposed for other uses.

Following that logic, USB is not a replacement for Ethernet, which is not a replacement for HDMI, which is not a replacement for 3.5mm audio. Never mind the fact that HDMI can carry Ethernet signals, or USB can carry HDMI signal using MHL, or the fact that 3.5mm can be… actually, forget that one… getting 3.5mm audio from a digital signal is a pain.

In any case, my point is that powerline adapters are magic.

You know the sockets you plug all of your devices into for power? TVs, phone chargers, refrigerators, computers, lamps, etc. Yeah, forget wiring your house with Ethernet, you can just magically send network signals through your regular wall sockets.

Now, I don’t want to spoil this wondrous feeling for you; it’s way more fun to believe in the magic of powerline adapters than it is to understand the technology. The main reason I don’t want to ruin it is because the explanation is moderately technical and it would require a bit of work to type it all out. Plus, this article isn’t a primer, it’s a review. So, here’s all the explanation you’re going to get on how the technology works:

It’s magic.

Ok, fine. Clearly you want the magic ruined. Powerline adapters work by sending signals at a variety of different frequencies over your regular power lines. Since your electrical system at home operates at a frequency of 50/60 Hz, the powerline adapters can send higher frequency signals over the network that are picked up and recognized by other powerline adapters without affecting your normal electrical usage.

Are you happy now? Santa Claus isn’t real, you probably won’t be an astronaut/president/firefighter, you will never have superpowers, Harry Potter is a work of fiction, and powerline adapters use electrical signals instead of magic. You’re welcome o’ Seeker of Truth, isn’t that what you wanted to hear?

Netgear was kind enough to send us a set of their magic internet boxes to test out: the PLP1200 Powerline Network Adapter.

frontBoxbackBox

Before I get too carried away with explaining details about the PLP1200, here are the specifications:

Product Number

  • PLP1200

Powerline Technology

  • Homeplug AV2 compliant

Powerline Performance

  • 1200 Mbps

Number of Ethernet ports

  • One (1) 10/100/1000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet port on each adapter

Key Features

  • 1200Mbps powerline speed
  • Extra noise filtered power outlet
  • Perfect for connecting smart TVs, streaming players & game consoles
  • Ideal for 4K HD streaming & lag-free gaming
  • Add up to 16 adapters to expand your network & lag-free gaming
  • Extra outlet provides convenience & lag-free gaming
  • Pick-a-plug LED for highest possible performance
  • Sets up in minutes, no need to install software
  • Secures the network connection with the touch of a button
  • Energy saving -- powers down when not connected

Physical Specifications

  • Dimensions: 120 x 58 x 42 mm (4.72 x 2.28 x 1.65 in)
  • Weight: 183 g (0.40 lb)

Package Contents

  • Two (2) Powerline 1200 + Extra Outlet Adapters (PLP1200)
  • Two (2) 2m (6.5ft) Ethernet cables
  • Quick start guide

Standards

  • One (1) 10/100/1000Mbps† Gigabit Ethernet port on each adapter
  • HomePlug® AV2 compliant
  • Works with HomePlug AV and HomePlug Green PHY
  • IEEE® 1901 compliant
  • IEEE®3 compliant
  • Typical coverage up to 500m² (5382ft²)

System Requirements

  • RJ-45 Ethernet Port
  • Existing electrical wiring and outlets

Product diagram

productDiagram

In this case, the “1200” in PLP1200 represents 1200 Mbps, which refers to the theoretical maximum data transfer capabilities. Simply put, don’t expect to get 1200 Mbps over the network.

Don’t get me wrong, the “1200” is important. It’s important in the sense that it allows you to differentiate between “1200” powerline adapters and “200”, “500”, or “600” rated powerline adapters.

At the time of this writing, there are no powerline adapters that have a higher theoretical speed than 1200 Mbps, which makes the Netgear PLP1200 one of the fastest (theoretical) powerline adapters around. Luckily for us, faster theoretical speeds will also end up translating into faster real world speeds.

Before I get into benchmarks, I figure I should address the obvious questions: why are some powerline adapters rated faster or slower than others? Aren’t all powerline adapters limited by the wall sockets and wiring of the house?

Well… yes, but as you’ll notice, your wall sockets tend to have three holes per socket. This means that three individual metal bits get plugged in there…

Still not getting it? Earlier models of powerline adapters used just the two primary prongs (live and neutral), which limited the possibilities. The PLP1200 makes use of the ground wire prong in addition to the two primary prongs, meaning it has 50% more prongs than previous models! It’s a well-known fact that you can’t go wrong with more prongs.

withAccessories onSide

In any case, the latest HomePlug AV2 standard uses the fastest two wires from the three wires in the live, neutral, ground configuration.

Laid out a bit more clearly, the HomePlug AV standard used just the live and neutral wire and was limited to a theoretical 200 Mbps. Some Qualcomm Atheros adapters used the HomePlug AV standard plus a proprietary extension which increased that to 500 Mbps. The HomePlug AV2 original standard was limited to a theoretical 600 Mbps, due to the fact it only supported a single stream. The latest HomePlug AV2 devices utilize 2x2 MIMO in order to double that rate, hence the theoretical 1200 Mbps on Netgear’s latest powerline adapters. The only devices that make use of the ground wire are the ones utilizing the latest HomePlug AV2 MIMO standard.

Based on my repeated usage of the word “theoretical” when referring to the speeds, it should be quite apparent by now that the real world speeds aren’t anywhere near the theoretical ones. Real speeds can be affected by quality of wiring, noise on the lines (often caused by large appliances), as well as a variety of other factors.

However, theoretical speeds tend to map to the real world speeds quite well. Adapters with higher theoretical speeds will perform better in the real world than adapters with lower theoretical speeds. Since I don’t have any other powerline adapters to compare to, you can either take my word for it, or check out this chart here.

In any case, the real world speeds achieved on the Netgear PLP1200 are quite good.

To benchmark the adapters, I devised two tests.

The first test involved me plugging one adapter in a wall socket next to me and the other adapter into a wall socket in the same room. This was done because I’m lazy, and walking more than 5 feet away from where I was sitting sounded unappealing at the time. I’ll call the results from this configuration the Near Results because I’m not very imaginative.

For the second test, I left one adapter where it already was and took another with me as I went downstairs to the far corner of the house for a glass of water. This was because sometimes even lazy people get thirsty. The results from this configuration will be referred to as the Far Results.

To test the speeds, I paired the two adapters together and plugged laptops into each adapter using Ethernet cables. You have no idea how annoying it is for two computers to share network locations when connected directly (without a router). Somehow I was able to do it using magic (much like powerline adapters).

Using a freeware application called ‘LANSpeedTest’ on the client PC, I selected a destination folder on the other PC that would be used as the target for LANSpeedTest. For both tests I took three measurements: average, maximum, and minimum throughput, each measured in Megabits per second).

I’ll start off with the Near Results:

LANtest

Near average throughput yielded read/write speeds of approximately 76/80 Mbps.

LANtestMax

Near maximum throughput yielded read/write speeds of approximately 176/100 Mbps.

LANtestMin

Near minimum throughput yielded read/write speeds of approximately 33/49 Mbps.

Next up are the Far Results:

LANtestFar

Far average throughput yielded read/write speeds of approximately 134/78 Mbps.

LANtestFarMax

Far maximum throughput yielded read/write speeds of approximately 154/97 Mbps.

LANtestFarMin

Far minimum throughput yielded read/write speeds of approximately 82/47 Mbps.

You might be wondering why the Near Results appeared to be slower than the Far Results. The answer is that I have no clue. No, I didn’t accidentally mix them up. If I were to hazard a guess, it’d be that the way the wiring in the house routes signals that caused the oddity.

Based on that assumption, I figure that the signal sent in the Near Results probably had to travel further than it did for the one in the Far Results.

The signal in the Near Results had to travel from the room upstairs, to the breakers outside, and back to the room upstairs. The signal in the Far Results had to travel from the room upstairs, to the breakers outside, to another room downstairs (closer to the breakers). Presumably, this would explain why the Far Results were faster, but I’m not certain this is actually the case.

In any sense, both results are pretty impressive considering the test was done in a 2,700 square-foot house that was built in the mid-‘90s. It should also be noted that the read/write results could have been affected by the read/write speeds of the hard disks contained in the two node PCs used for testing, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole.

While the Netgear PLP1200 powerline adapter might not match the real world speeds of a CAT6 Ethernet cable, it certainly exceeds the maximum bandwidth speed of most internet connections in the US, even within a large house. WiFi signals sent through a house of that size is unlikely to reach the speeds of the PLP1200, making the PLP1200 the most effective way to send network signal across a large home. That is, unless you’re willing to wire your house with CAT6, which I highly recommend if you are able.

The Netgear PLP1200 currently retails for $90, which isn’t particularly expensive for networking equipment. It is ridiculously easy to set up, and I had no issues pairing the adapters. The speeds are great and the internet was perfectly usable. The benefit of the PLP1200 compared to the PL1200 is that it has a pass-through socket so wall sockets aren’t monopolized by the adapters. For anyone unwilling to wire their house with Ethernet, I’d highly recommend the Netgear PLP1200 as a networking solution – it’s magic.


Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XIV – FTC

My friend and fellow Not Operator author, Kilroy, said he was joining the US Army last year. We realized that his experiences would make for an interesting read, especially when there are so few online writings about what it is like, emotionally and physically, to experience modern basic training and beyond. He agreed to keep a journal of his time, and that we would publish it to Not Operator.

Kilroy tends to write his personal journals with pretty purple prose, so with his permission, I’ll be editing and paraphrasing his journal a bit to make it an easier read, with the help of my other friend and fellow Not Operator author, Michael. I’ll also be adding comments of my own in bold brackets [like this] to provide some extra context when necessary. If there’s large enough demand for it, we will post the full, unedited, version of Kilroy’s journal. To avoid making Kilroy’s experiences one giant wall-o-text, the journal will be broken up into an ongoing series of articles where it makes sense to do so. Plus, with Kilroy still in the Army, the journal is far from complete.

All entries in the Kilroy Joins the Army Series can be found here.

Without further ado, welcome to Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XIV – FTC.

 

Day 103

Finally got moved over to actual FTC [Fitness Training Company] today. Otherwise, the day has gone by without much activity.

So far, they inventoried our issued items twice and gave us new bunks in the facility across the street. They also took away access to our phones now, so I guess it’s back to writing letters.

I’ve been issued a bright orange belt to wear with my uniform, designating me as part of a platoon full of broken people. From here, I can focus on rebuilding the strength in my legs and passing the PT test that will allow me to go back to BCT.

A random thought that came to mind: who makes the shitty green blankets that we’re issued? It seems to be a common supplier for the rest of the Army.

My initial impression of the FTC makes it seem like a lower stress training unit that may actually allow me to train and recover properly.

I’m noticing a theme for my military career so far – trying to just keep moving forward. The motto of the 1-34th was “Always Forward” and now forward progress is all I seek. Here I’ve been assigned to a platoon called the ‘Spartans’.

Day 104

Tonight is my first night in the FTC and I’ve already been assigned the shittiest fire guard shift. I’ll be allowed to sleep at 9 PM but I’ve been given a 3:00 AM report time for fire guard.

To wrap up yesterday’s summary, we were checked into our new accommodations, our bags were taken from us, and then we were sent to do some workouts. Spending a few hours in the gym let the time pass a little more easily, but working out my upper body muscles for the first time since my leg surgery has caused them to be sore and twitchy during the night.

The positioning of my bunk makes it so I’m exposed to the light from the door to the latrines as well as a cold, unforgiving breeze from the outside that comes down right onto my head.

As far as the condition of my leg goes, I still feel pain relatively consistently, though I hope it will be alleviated in due time. Otherwise, while I look forward to putting in the work to get myself back to fighting form, right now I’m more focused on getting to leave during Christmas Exodus. While it’s true that I literally just got back recently, I look forward to enjoying more time off.

Oddly enough, despite some of the stuff they did wrong, old Alpha Company 1-34 seems to have inspired a very extreme sense of loyalty. Many of us still speak about it in a moderately positive or neutral way, and surprisingly, none of us feel any hatred for it.

Anyways, the new policy for tonight’s fire guard is that our chairs must face each other and essentially we will just stare at each other for the duration of the shift. My current shift partner is working on a word search puzzle while I’m writing in this journal.

Day 105

I had a physical therapy appointment today for the initial evaluation. Like everything else around here, I have to show up stupidly early and wait. For a 10:00 AM appointment, I had to be there at 7:30 AM.

After getting my evaluation, my day consisted of lunch and classroom activity involving a documentary covering the Desert Storm conflict.

My progress currently will be slow. Building the strength back up in my lower body will be a long process. I’m still on crutches until at least my follow up appointment in three days.

Day 106

Not much to say about today; I expect that’ll be the case often here in FTC.

I woke up and went to the gym again. Thankfully, the weather has warmed up a little. The pain in my legs seems to have lessened a bit today.

This place runs trainee CQ shifts all day, every day, so I’ve been assigned a shift during the afternoon. [For those that don’t remember, CQ stands for “Charge of Quarters”, which means guarding the front entrance to the barracks].

Days here feel like the constant loop of Groundhog Day; we wake up in the cold and dark and do the same thing until it becomes dark again.

The latest Army contractor I’ve noticed is Purell. There are OD green [olive drab] issued hand sanitizers and little Purell branded stations mounted on the walls. The germ safety posters here are also sponsored by Purell, recommending their products.

Day 107

It’s finally my first weekend at the FTC. The day began at 6:00 AM, leading straight to breakfast.

So far my day has been spent either cleaning or wasting time. During the night, my leg pain returned, and today’s activities have only aggravated it.

On Monday, I’ll follow up with my orthopedist and hopefully something will change. To borrow the idea from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I owe it to myself to strive for excellence and make it through daily progress.

Our afternoon consisted of lunch, a time period of nothing, and an evening meal of MREs.

Day 108

Not much happened today other than a company-wide contraband inspection. I spent the day getting extra sleep and finishing Psychology and Alchemy.

After dinner, the company was assigned the honorable duty of cleaning the battalion main office area. Since I’m still not authorized to do anything that involves a lot of heavy duty activity, I’m left sitting and observing.

I just need to take the days one step at a time. My level of success depends solely on myself. The ideas I so desperately need to retain and internalize seem phantasmagorical, ephemeral in a way that feels like I’m lying to myself. In the meanwhile, I just suck it up and continue.

Day 109

Today begins in the dark for me, as usual.

Since today is Monday, the people who are cleared to take the PT test will do so, which means that those of us not cleared to do so must take up their shifts. So I’m currently doing a shift of fire guard.

[Later in the day, Kilroy continues below].

After my follow up, I began the next phase of my recovery: weaning off my crutches. I’ve downgraded to a cane like I was using at home during part of my leave and eventually I’ll be off of it and back to walking normally. My prognosis today projects my recovery to be complete in about three and a half months.

The weather here is its own kind of insanity. The cold, bone chilling weather from a few days ago is gone, having been replaced with muggy heat that turned our bay into a convection oven.

Day 110

I’m finally making some progress, doing more exercise in the mornings now.

I have a disconcerting feeling that a majority of the food in the dining facility is from concentrate, including the milk. There’s a subtle powderiness to the milk that disturbs me slightly.

My day was spent doing a lot of waiting around, starting with a 10:00 AM class that I had to show up at 7:30 AM for.

I’ve begun to read a few of my journal entries to my peers and they’ve been an appreciative audience.

Later in the day, we had a core workout class.

For some reason, every waiting room here seems to have an Ebony magazine available. I suppose it makes sense given the demographics of the area.

Day 111

Today I experienced my first Wii Wednesday; our cardio workout in the morning was replaced with a mass game of The Michael Jackson Experience.

The rest of the post seems to be shutting down for the upcoming Thanksgiving break. Our breakfast today was limited to eggs, sausage, oats with cereal, and a similarly abbreviated salad bar. They’re promising us a more expansive lunch meal served by the people in charge. Since they need extra prep time, they’ve given us extra time to hang out between breakfast and lunch.

[Later in the day, Kilroy continues below].

Lunch turned out to be a dog and pony show consisting of slightly better food being served by higher ranking NCOs and Officers as a sign of solidarity with the common enlisted. After a few pictures and shallow pleasantries, they were all gone.

Dinner consisted of leftovers from lunch. The rest of our day was basically empty time filled with more of the same card and board games. It was relaxing, if a little bit mind numbing. I kind of wish we had been given back our phones.

 

This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XIV – FTC. Next time we’ll pick up where we left off, as Kilroy continues his time in the Fitness Training Company.. Stay tuned for Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XV – FTC.


Preview: Night Vision Devices

Recently I've been working on some night vision related content for the site, such as a primer on night vision as well as a review of a couple night vision devices.

Armasight was kind enough to loan us their Spark CORE Night Vision Monoculars as well as their N-14 Gen 2+ QS Night Vision Monoculars.

These are basically Gen 1.5 and Gen 2+ devices, and in the near future I'll hopefully also get to play around with some Gen 3 and Gen 3+ night vision devices as well.

I've taken a few teaser pictures which I've included below:

both

The SPARK is on the left, and the N-14 is on the right.

NODnod

Used my Nexus 5 to take a picture of the N-14 while looking through the SPARK.

NODselfie

This is my best attempt to take a selfie using a Sony NEX3 and the SPARK monocular.

spark


Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XIII – FTC

My friend and fellow Not Operator author, Kilroy, said he was joining the US Army last year. We realized that his experiences would make for an interesting read, especially when there are so few online writings about what it is like, emotionally and physically, to experience modern basic training and beyond. He agreed to keep a journal of his time, and that we would publish it to Not Operator.

Kilroy tends to write his personal journals with pretty purple prose, so with his permission, I’ll be editing and paraphrasing his journal a bit to make it an easier read, with the help of my other friend and fellow Not Operator author, Michael. I’ll also be adding comments of my own in bold brackets [like this] to provide some extra context when necessary. If there’s large enough demand for it, we will post the full, unedited, version of Kilroy’s journal. To avoid making Kilroy’s experiences one giant wall-o-text, the journal will be broken up into an ongoing series of articles where it makes sense to do so. Plus, with Kilroy still in the Army, the journal is far from complete.

All entries in the Kilroy Joins the Army Series can be found here.

Without further ado, welcome to Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XIII – FTC.

 

[Kilroy left BCT on Day 69 of his military experience, and after 29 days of Con Leave he’s headed back to join the FTC (Fitness Training Company) for physical therapy].

Day 98

Like most days in the military, this one began in the dark. My allotted leave is over and now I must return to Ft. Jackson to see if I’ll begin my physical therapy or be sent back for extended Con leave.

I’ve been concerned for the past week that the injury I’ve been having no trouble with has suddenly flared up in pain. I still cannot get up stairs, leading with my left leg, without  constant pain, and for some reason it seems to be worse in the mornings.

I know that starting physical therapy will be painful, and I wonder if I will be sent home for further healing time. Whatever happens, I’ll have to focus and stand strong in the face of all of this.

Day 99

It’s not yet even the dawn of a new day and my night has gone poorly. Re-acclimating to the sleep schedule wasn’t that difficult, it’s the misery this place embodies. Seeing how they treat the TDD platoon is motivation enough to push forward. [TDD stands for Trainee Discharge Detachment. It’s where people go when they’re chaptering out of Basic Training]. The people being discharged are treated like human garbage.

The only goal anyone has in this place seems to be to spend as little time as possible in it. The people opting to join the TDD group just want to be done with this place; all of them want to be out and away from the system with the option to return later. I don’t have that choice. I can’t afford to.

How should I describe this place? The 120th AG seems to be running itself into the ground. As far as I can tell, the buildings were constructed sometime in the ‘60s and have never been touched since. Even the officers and NCOs here appear to be injured. The company commander had a pretty severe ankle injury and was in a boot for a while, and all the NCOs had various health problems that were either bad enough for them to have been sent on Con Leave or to have received permanent physical profiles for their condition.

The rumor mill has me worried. There are people here being medically discharged for the same reason I have - forced out of the rehabilitation program because they weren’t showing signs of healing and improvement. I have to heal. I have to win. On the side of good news, however, I have been scheduled to enter the rehabilitation program soon. My energies must remain focused in the direction of healing.

There’s a kind of quiet desperation to my situation. Mine is not the story the army wants told. The best part of today wasn’t even the news that I would be able to move on, it was actually being able to talk with a friend from my old company. Her opinion is the same as many others who are familiar with my situation – that she would probably would have quit in my shoes.

My greatest, only concern, is my health. I need to get better - be better. For now I can look forward to a friend of mine showing up in the next week.

Day 100

Today is the start of the first weekend here. There’s nothing important happening today. We had a late wakeup, the same meals, and free time to do whatever. Not much to say, really. I’m awaiting change – either the return of a friend or the ability to move on.

The more time I spend here, the more little, nasty, details I begin to notice: the particular shade of wear and tear to the paint, the foul feeling of the grime, how thin and insufficient the sheets seem to be. In the afternoon and into the evening I was assigned to staff duty – sitting at a desk for 3 hours reading A Game of Thrones. Potential jokes aside, the weather here is cold now, a winter that chills us all to the core.

Day 101

Another day of arbitrary time wasting. My time is spent reading and writing with plans to use the Day Room later if possible. [The Day Room is sort of like a recreation room].

[At night, Kilroy continues below].

I’m back again with night duty; I’m sitting at a receptionist desk doing some more nothing. The military seems to be great at finding a whole lot of nothing to keep people occupied.

What I do want to do is take the time and ponder more around the idea of kismet, destiny, and fate. Over and over again, some voice in my distant mind has always told me to follow a certain path in the most arbitrary of ways. I’ve always trusted that voice and now it has led me here. Looking at my past in retrospect has always painted it in a way that makes sense, but I know that the actual way forward is somehow more complicated than I could ever hope to understand. Where I am now is a kind of limbo - non progress with no ability to say that I’m doing something I enjoy. On the one hand this feels like the most trying time of my life, on the other I feel so dead inside I think I’m simply passively accepting whatever happens to come my way. Where I am now is the true dredges of the army, a place broken toys go to see if there’s anything left in their souls to continue on.

Many here do not seem to have the motivation or wherewithal to try to continue their military career. In my lowest moments I consider why I’m here. I’ve told my friends and myself that I wanted to do work for the government – to be part of the intelligence community in ways that would matter. Instead, now I’m stuck here feeling like I’m wasting time.

Day 102

Today is the day I’m supposed to be evaluated for entry into the WTRP [Warrior Training and Rehabilitation Program] program.

I wonder how it will go. As of this morning, I’m not too hopeful. My leg hurts in ways that I’m having difficulty trying to describe. Some part of me would like to go home for just a little while longer, but my chances of that seem astoundingly low.

I’m surrounded by people whose first instinct is to simply give up at the first major challenge. I’ve been advised to simply ask again for more leave, but I’m ready to move past this.

The good news is that my bones seem to be healing well. The impact of the injury on my right side has healed over with scar bone matter. They say I should make good progress in the WTRP.

I’m just glad that my body is healing. The spiteful struggling determination I used to drive myself forward certainly ran me into the ground. Nobody said this was going to be easy.

A final recap for the day: my initial injuries seem to be completely healed. All of the fractures and damage I had done to myself are now healed up. The left leg that had surgery is stable and the right side has also patched itself up.

 

This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XIII – FTC. Next time we’ll pick up where we left off, as Kilroy continues his time in the Fitness Training Company. Stay tuned for Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XIV – FTC.


Destiny - The Taken King Leak and Why We Shouldn’t Care

Ahhhh, Destiny. The last game you’ll ever need… since you won’t have money or time left to buy or play any others. Late last night, details for Destiny’s third expansion pack, The Taken King, were leaked to Kotaku.

New features for the expansion include a new raid, PvP maps, and most notably, a third elemental subclass for each of the game’s three classes. These subclasses will consist of “an electrical storm for Warlocks (arc); a gravity bow for Hunters (void); and a flaming hammer for Titans (solar).” Sounds cool to me!

“What’s the price of admission to partake in this new endeavor?” you may ask. Only $40. “But Michael,” you reply, “Didn’t I already pay $60 for the full game and $35 for the season pass?” Yes… yes you did. “This DLC should be covered by the season pass then, right?” No… no it isn’t included in the cost of the season pass.

If you aren’t concerned or confused by now, let me help you with the math. Assuming you’re still playing Destiny now, after purchasing the game when it launched in September 2014, you will have most likely spent $60 for the retail copy of the game and $35 for the season pass (or $40 if you bought the two already released DLCs separately).

Conservatively, that means you would have spent at least $95 on Destiny during its first 9 months of release. Throw in an additional $40 for The Taken King on its expected release date of September 15th, 2015, and you will have spent a total of $135 on Destiny over the first 12 months of its release.

This may not seem like a lot of money for the value when averaged out over the games’ life for those 12 months ($11.25/month), but it most certainly wouldn’t feel that way if you are still hoping to buy and play through the other new games that have been and will be released.

destinyMeme

Compare this cost to a game like Battlefield 4, where purchasing the Premium Edition for an extra $50 nets you every DLC the game releases (which, as of this writing, is comprised of five expansions plus some other features). New maps, guns… the works. That’s a pretty comparable cost to Destiny and its DLC if you bought the Premium Edition of Battlefield 4 at launch ($110 total).

However, there’s one important distinction to make. You don’t actually need a Battlefield 4 Premium membership to keep playing and enjoying Battlefield 4. The experience you get from the original maps is just as good as those in the DLC. Alternatively, in Destiny, you have to buy all of the DLCs if you want to get new loot, level up, and participate in weekly events. Basically, you have to pay in order to keep up with the game.

It’s important to note that all of the information related to The Taken King is leaked and potentially subject to change down the road. If that’s the case, then my argument might be meritless. If that isn’t the case, and the leak is 100% accurate, then a terrible precedent is being set here and we must do something about it before this becomes endemic to the video game industry. All you have to do is something as simple as saving yourself $40: Don’t buy the DLC.

Evolve didn’t sell as well as Take-Two hoped it would (approximately 2.5 million units across all three platforms). After learning about the game’s extensive DLC plan and lack of initial content, gamers took a stand and spoke with their wallets in opposition of Evolve.

This happened to be so effective that the CEO of Take-Two, Strauss Zelnick, even mentioned that Take-Two has “come out of that experience reminding ourselves we have to have a strong single-player opportunity” and that “if there were something lacking, I would say it would be that it was probably a bit too multiplayer-focused, which we knew all along." We can only hope that gamers will come together again to vote with their wallets when The Taken King releases. If they don’t, paying $135 just to continue playing a mediocre game at best could become the industry standard.

As a once-proud member of the hype-train that was Destiny, I really wanted to like the game. And I did, right up until the time I was told by an NPC that they didn’t even have time to explain why they didn’t have time to explain an important part of the “story” to me.

That being said, I still played the game for a few more weeks. I ran the Vault of Glass a bunch, PvPed, farmed materials, and grinded my way to level 30. It was all great fun, until my gamer friends refused to join me and I finally realized I was basically playing a mobile game that was built for consoles. Unfortunately, if that doesn’t make sense, my fellow Guardians of the Light, I don’t even have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain.


Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XII – Con Leave

My friend and fellow Not Operator author, Kilroy, said he was joining the US Army last year. We realized that his experiences would make for an interesting read, especially when there are so few online writings about what it is like, emotionally and physically, to experience modern basic training and beyond. He agreed to keep a journal of his time, and that we would publish it to Not Operator.

This week’s entry in the series is a bit different from the rest, as it will not be comprised of Kilroy’s journal entries, but rather my own observations of Kilroy during his Con Leave.

All entries in the Kilroy Joins the Army Series can be found here.

Without further ado, welcome to Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XII – Con Leave.

 

Kilroy arrived back home from BCT with a buzzed haircut and a pair of crutches. He spent his first few days at his parents’ home, but eventually headed down to San Diego to hang out here with me and a few other friends.

He seemed to be in pretty good spirits despite being in constant pain. The doctors told him he needed to stick to the crutches for a while before he could switch to a cane for walking.

It was clear Kilroy was still on an east coast military schedule, as he had the tendency to wake up ridiculously early, even after some adjustment he tended to wake up at 6 AM at the latest.

The first weekend he was here, Kilroy and I went to a specialty soda store and bought a selection of different colas. Kilroy tended to love Coke, but ever since we discovered Boylan’s Cane Cola, that became our new favorite. We figured that we could taste test a variety of colas and take notes to determine which one was the best.

Kilroy and I would split a soda during lunch, sip it, and take notes on the aroma and flavor (much like you would a scotch). For those who might be curious, our favorite cola from our rigorous taste-testing still ended up being Boylan’s cola, with Mr. Cola coming in as a close second.

We spent a fair bit of time catching Kilroy up on movies and TV shows he missed during his time at BCT, and he took the opportunity to get some gaming in as well. Fortunately, we were able to indulge our Kung Fu movie addiction as well (my Jackie Chan obsession is well documented).

Kilroy and I were able to spend a fair bit of time experimenting with perfecting homemade Neapolitan pizza, which we had been working on before he joined the Army as well I had ordered an Uuni 2 wood fired pizza oven before he shipped out, but it didn’t arrive until he was already at BCT.

Finally, Kilroy had a chance to try out the 840°F oven for himself. It really makes a significant difference when compared with a traditional electric oven and pizza stone, cooking a pizza in about one tenth of the time and provides leoparding on the crust as well. The Uuni 2 also does a fantastic job with steaks – it sears and chars perfectly and leaves the inside medium-rare.

Most of the time Kilroy and I spent together during his Con Leave revolved around food for two main reasons. The first is that we tend to iterate well when collaborating on food. The second reason is, because after the food in BCT, Kilroy was anxious to drastically increase the quality of the food he was eating. He wanted to get as much good food before heading back to Ft. Jackson for FTC (Fitness Training Company) and another round of BCT.

Life for us during that month was basically a throwback to college. We were just hanging out, gaming, watching Kung Fu and Hong Kong action films, and experimenting with food. All of these activities seemed quite necessary for Kilroy to help decompress after BCT and surgery.

Kilroy was annoyed by his situation, mostly seeing it as an inconvenience. He was anxious to be done with BCT already and start AIT (Advanced Individual Training) as soon as possible, so there was definitely a sense of restlessness during his time off.

Once he was back home, any feelings of regret he might’ve harbored about joining the Army were not present. He seemed content with his decision to join, and it was clear to him that it was the career path he wanted to take.

He even spent a fair amount of time doing research on Army policy, as well as reading accounts of other people’s experiences in FTC. Kilroy wanted to know what to expect and how likely he was to succeed in his goal of recovering fully during the timespan mandated by the Army.

Luckily, things worked out for the best for Kilroy. When he shipped back out, he was feeling much better both physically and mentally. He ended up making a full medical recovery and continued on in his military career, but I’ll leave the details of those experiences for future entries in the series.

 

This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XII – Con Leave. The next article will pick up with Kilroy going into the FTC (Fitness Training Company) for physical therapy. Stay tuned for Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XIII – FTC.