iraqistan

8/16/2009

Found in Translation

Filed under: — lana @ 12:15 pm

We have a slight problem with the one guy in our office who was hired because he speaks German:

His English isn’t always so great.

I have come across sentences of 86 words. I have cut down paragraphs of two pages. I have completely edited random phrases such as “The so-called alliance waved banners and flags of dissatisfaction because of the legions gathering in the neighborhood and to encourage that they disperse.”

He meant that a group got together to have a protest about how they don’t like the increased number of Soldiers in the area. It’s like putting something into a translation program and then watch it spew smoke and gear bits before it vomits up a phrase completely unlike anything you would ever see, and certainly unlike anything that would ever make sense.

So when I open his reports for editing, I always do so with medication nearby. But this was to be a special occasion: the meeting of which he wrote had been conducted entirely in English.

Disaster ensues. You would think it wouldn’t, but it did. I am now almost out of red pills. Security cameras were in the report where none had existed in reality. Landline telephones became cellular. Dogs and cats lived together in peace and harmony. The armies of Allah were bringing handfuls of wildflowers to toss in the streets ahead of their western allies. We had gone back to the moon and returned with great, delicious cheese in our pockets.

Given how critical accuracy is in our reporting, this simply would not do. But recently, I found a website which takes a phrase, translates it into Japanese, then back into English, then into Japanese again, then back to English, and so on until it reaches equilibrium which is defined as the point where further translation only generates the same word sequence.

If you put a normal phrase into it, you usually get back some sort of very amusing garbage. Why couldn’t those Babylonians leave well enough alone? But I came up with a theory. Shakespeare in, garbage out, so perhaps it works in reverse. My logic was that the German was doing this in his head anyway with his language, so what would it hurt to throw in his random phrases and get them back and forth to Japanese a few times?

It actually worked. The sentences that came back were much closer to proper English and actually made a great deal more sense. The moon still had cheese, but at least I could tell he was trying to tell me it was Gouda instead of Parmesean. We even tried it with some of his irritating spoken colloquialisms, which you can spot by listening for him to start out any sentence with, “You must know…” which is then followed by complete nonsense. Now, after three years I am finally able to start understanding why Germans have everything delivered to their homes and what those wooden platforms are next to every tree on the median downtown. I can actually understand the mess of language being spewed in my general direction, making things a little easier.

I am convinced that this could stop wars. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the Crusades, the fall of the Mayans… perhaps all of it could have been prevented with a little more understanding of “It is the same in the Bundeswehr!” Just toss that back and forth into Japanese a few times and Genghis Khan might have actually understood that you were telling him he could use land to graze his sheep if he would just sell the wool at a discount on the market this winter instead of “THIS MEANS WAR!”

“Revenge is a dish best served cold, it is very cold in space… KHAAAAAAN!” Best war line from Star Trek II translated into poor German because I had to look some up in the dictionary: “Man muss die Rache kalt genie├čen und es ist im Universum sehr kalt… KHAAAAAAN!” From him I would get, “One must the revenge coldly enjoy and it is in the universe very cold. Khaaaaaan.” Throw that into Japanese a few times and you get: “If, in the case where the cold is very cold, in the first case you can enjoy the revenge… KHAAAAAAN!”

Still not Shakespeare, but good enough for government work.

8/15/2009

Broken

Filed under: — lana @ 1:07 pm

My one useful Soldier, whom I am about to give up anyway for the greater needs of the Army, is officially broken. He didn’t end up in a cast, but I think his brain is on vacation and forgot to book a return ticket back to my Soldier’s head.

Now, I have known he is not always the sharpest knife in the drawer for quite some time. But he is a good kid, good Soldier, might grow up to be a fine NCO once he learns to shut his mouth.

And stops doing things that are very, very dumb.

He came back from his month of training both bitter with me for having sent him and with a dent in his shin. Story went he was completing a task as assigned by his supervisors and hit himself in the leg with a sledgehammer. I decided that was a good time to just stop asking questions.

About a week later, the swelling had not gone down, so I sent him to sick call. In order to do so, I had to find out the rest of the story. Turns out he was told to use a post-driver (usually a metal-shafted, two-handed, heavy piece of equipment used to put posts into the ground) in place of a sledgehammer to complete a task because they couldn’t get any sledgehammers. My Soldier picked it up, swung it, missed his target, and hit himself in the shin.

What was the task, one might wonder?

Drive a few posts into the ground.

I sent him to sick call with special instructions to ask the doctor to check his head, too, and make sure he still had a brain.

Anyway, I had to send him back this week because his leg wasn’t healing. As luck would have it, the swelling was down enough for proper x-rays and he came back with severe shin splints, hairline fractures. I sent his profile higher and told him to go away before my brain jumped ship in an effort to save itself.

No results on his head. I am pretty sure I know the answer either way. The doctors apparently thought I was kidding. They must not have heard the whole story.

8/10/2009

Off-Day

Filed under: — lana @ 12:36 pm

I suppose we are all entitled to an off-day. Today was mine.

The weather did not cooperate, so I started out rather grouchy and with a headache. Under normal circumstances, I would take the red pills (not the green ones; they make me more grumpy) and the headache would go away after a bit. But I am almost out of red pills and cannot get more without a trip west to visit Those That Want Me Medically Boarded. So I, in my infinite wisdom, have avoided getting a refill by just conserving pills for a month until I get back from my theoretical class. The class is still theoretical, by the by. While they fixed the routing and someone agreed to pay for it, absolutely no one has signed the authorization yet. But that is a mere digression and not even remotely out of the ordinary for this band of zoo escapees, so I continue:

I started out off and things did not improve. I went for a meeting, did my thing, and came back full of fabulous information but a much worse headache and having made the decision that I have a sincere dislike for one of my co-workers. By the time I was done with my day, that number was up from just one, but patience, patience… all in due time. This particular one simply bored me with poor English and inane topics for a two hour drive each way. Because of the headache, I could not evade as well as usual and instead was forced to talk about the weather, the concept of a Jeep Cherokee versus a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and why Americans call the side of the road “The Shoulder.” I weighed options of a quick death and opted not to grab the wheel. A foolish choice, in retrospect.

Upon my return, I asked my warrant officer if he had caught up on any reports while I was gone. I have not been in the office for a full day in the last seven or so working days, so I am a bit behind and have worked at least 12 hour days to catch up, all of which has been fruitless. He said he had not caught up on the reports at all, had not even looked at them, but did I happen to read a funny internet article he passed my way last week? My decision to leave the wheel alone haunted me, but I had work to do. I left some cake on his desk I had somehow acquired over the weekend. It entertained him enough.

I did some work, playing around with a new system to which we just got access. There was a four-page mini-instruction presentation which I skimmed through and I got to work. I should have known better, given my state of mind. I mistakenly thought that once I routed a query, were the query not answered within the computer I could go back and change the routing before submitting a formal request. That would be logical, so I figured it must be so. A mistake, as always. I sent the request before realizing I had just requested something directly from some basement (I suspect, because they usually are) office somewhere back in Washington D.C., as opposed to the basement a few hours away but at least still in Germany. I only realized it because about five minutes after I hit “send” my phone was ringing with someone in the general vicinity of Europe asking me if I really meant to do that. Since I had no idea, he and I had a lovely conversation about what I thought I had done versus what had actually happened. I learned an awful lot. He was most pleasant about it, explaining that it happens nearly every time someone starts using the system because it isn’t the most clear of structures, but now it would take him a few days to fix it. The trouble with my job field is that they love introducing new technology but they hate making it intuitive and really hate training people on it. Analysts come up with a way to make their lives easier, but it complicates things for the rest of us. I function, still having some semblance of engineering background, on logic. These guys seem to focus more on whim and what they had for lunch. We don’t always mesh, but at least one of them caught it three minutes before I received an email stating that my request was now abandoned to some other system. The guy on the phone, who also saw the transition pop up on the system, informed me that he just bumped his estimate from a few days until the end of the week. I told him to take his time.

During this time, my warrant (who never uses the new system, possibly because that would require him to work instead of having me do it) giggled incessantly at me while eating some leftover cake with his fingers. He only paused to answer his phone (getting icing all over the place). Turns out it was our other two Soldiers who were on their way back from the company headquarters but had somehow taken a detour and ended up on the wrong highway with no idea where they were or how they got there. We go to the company headquarters about twice a month. The detour, which I just took with one of them on Friday, takes them towards a large city with clearly marked signs to the correct highway. Upon guiding them back to our general vicinity and waiting for their return, I discovered that they had in fact actually successfully navigated the detour in the first place and even ended up on the main highway back to our area before they got lost. They got lost because they have never once in all the times we have gone to headquarters paid attention regarding how to get back and had left the correct highway for an incorrect highway about halfway through the drive. And no one called until they were a good hour out of the way.

While one might think this would make me feel better, thinking that at least I wasn’t the only one having an off-day, that one would be mistaken. This is about right for the pair I sent out there today, a non-commissioned officer and a soon-to-be non-commissioned officer. The former couldn’t find his way out of an open cardboard box and the latter, while being a good Soldier, still relies a little too heavily on instructions (in the form of a navigation system that they had not taken with them). The blind leading the blind. I was just surprised they made it back before finding out what Berlin was like this time of year. Probably muggy, like the rest of the country.

I am chalking today up to just being an off-day, brought on by the weather and my dwindling supply of red pills. As such, I am going to just have to do what I always do: try again tomorrow. At least I already know how not to have my reports end up halfway around the world. It may not be much, but it’s a start, and we all have to start somewhere.

8/4/2009

Kitty Competency

Filed under: — lana @ 1:10 pm

I have once again underestimated people. I am hereby promoting my cat a few echelons up. She at least productively caught a fly today. That meant she ended an annoyance, whereas others only seem to cause them. I am actually going to enact a comparison study of some of the people in my brigade versus my cat. I am just struggling to come up with a fair test, because it seems that my cat overwhelmingly wins most of the time.

I spent a good portion of my morning lining up a few things to get my orders for my class. Having checked the appropriate training records, I noted that this is the third time this class has been entered into the system for me. I am trying to ensure that this does not become the third cancellation of the class for me, to include securing very difficult seats each time and getting the course to enter me into the system, which is very competitive. I reenlisted, begged, pleaded, cajoled, and even asked very nicely. Once told I had a seat this last time around, which was several months ago, I rearranged things, backed out on my best friend’s wedding, and postponed health treatment and medication refills.

This morning my Battalion was surprisingly helpful in their way. While the normal people who would help are either not around or had no system access, they pointed me in the direction of others who could help. A warrant officer who has been pushing this class since February made some phone calls. The movement officer straightened up an entire section of travel that had me listed in a different company. A poor sergeant who wanted desperately to help but was denied access called around and got a few things arranged. Everyone made phone calls and pulled their favors to encourage the next authority to go smoothly and get this signed. It worked all the way through battalion.

Then it came to a screeching halt.

I left the battalion around 1130. by 1300, right after lunch and I was long gone to harass analysts in a different part of the country, a message was left in my inbox telling me that all requests are two weeks late, money has been allocated elsewhere, and there is “no proof that brigade already signed off on the class.” As though my company and a high-ranking warrant and a few others just went ahead and said “meh, sure, let’s do this” and shimmied around and submitted a packet without them being any the wiser. This being a course that needs full packet approval from several echelons and is tracked by none other than their offices, that becomes a wee bit hard to believe. They said that they apparently needed submissions two weeks ago. They appear to be overlooking the fact that my submission was originally made in March, roughly four months ago. To acknowledge such would be to admit that they messed up and figure out a way to fix it. I should keep dreaming, I know. They also failed to acknowledge the conversation my commander had two weeks ago where he informed them that my part was in the system already, we just needed the course message which would show up in a week. They would then have to again realize they screwed up and actually fix it. Way easier for them to just forget about me, I know. The kitty nearly breaks her neck trying to catch a fly; I would hate for these people to have to pull up an Excel spreadsheet and figure out where they accidentally spent money they had already promised. They might get a cramp in their hand, after all. Kitty wins.

They also did this on a week where my command is conveniently out of town, so my usual bastions of semi-sanity cannot call to yell at anyone for me. I have been given permission to request the help of a few people, hopefully encouraging those people to go ahead and yell at the ones who deserve it. Will it help? That remains to be seen. Again, they would have to admit that they seriously overlooked a few thousand dollars that was promised months ago and possibly pull one of their precious hiking trips off the calendar or something. While the rest of us in the world (probably even the cat) know that a few days hiking in the Alps will not prepare anyone for months in the Hindu Kush, this fact apparently slipped by the Brigade recently, among other silly decisions we have all watched them make and warned them against but only to deaf ears. I hope those few Soldiers enjoyed their campfire S’mores, because now the rest of us and the overall unit mission gets to pay.

My cat serves a purpose. She chases flies, catches them, and eats them. Sometimes she throws them back up on the floor, but that is besides the point. She provides a productive service to this place, and I am convinced she may well be able be moved up a few echelons. She is clearly more of an asset and probably thinks more coherent thoughts than the people that caused this mess. She also will work for nearly free, costs coming via a food bowl and the occasional trip out on the balcony. A cost-saving measure for certain. In the kitty competency game, the cat seems to just win overall every time for practicality and usefullness.

Sorry, Brigade, looks like you lost. Move over: Lucy is coming to town.

8/3/2009

Findings

Filed under: — lana @ 1:42 pm

Today I had to go on a bit of a hunt for a wallet-sized gizmo I think I actually turned in about two years ago but, as usual, cannot remember. While I have yet to turn up the missing piece, I did find:

Every security badge I used in Iraq, ever.
My security badge for a NATO exercise three years ago.
My tax return from four years ago.
Six PADI/NAUI cards (basic, advanced, nitrox).
My birth certificate.
A spare car key.
A 2 dollar bill.
A map of a city in central Romania.
A small wallet calendar with a picture of Pope Benedict that looks remarkably like Emperor Palpatine.
An expired VFW membership card.
Two expired American Legion membership cards.
Several British pounds.
An Arabic cassette tape.
A matchbook with Osama bin Laden on the front.
My associate’s degree diploma (hoping the higher degrees are still somewhere at my parents’ house).

There was plenty more, but those were some highlights. An interesting mix, probably resulting from my interesting job and my sometimes mixed-up brain. But despite the excitement of my findings, I am thinking that perhaps I should clean my desk more often…

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