American Southwest Family Vacation

We followed historic Route 66 on our way to see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, plus much more in New Mexico and Arizona.

End of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Here are our stories from two and a half years of living in Saudi Arabia while exploring the region.

Excursions to Oman

On two different trips, we strolled Muscat, hiked Wadi Shab, and sailed a dhow through the fjords of Musandam.

Our Expedition to Jordan

Highlights included tracing the steps of Indiana Jones into Petra, following Lawrence of Arabia into Wadi Rum, and floating in the Dead Sea.

Our Adventures in Sri Lanka

Safaris to spot leopards and elephants, swimming in the Indian Ocean, sipping tea in the mountains, and several more!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Crash Bang!

Kacey and I spent the last week at Foreign Affairs Counter Threat training, more commonly known to Foreign Service folks as "Crash Bang." It's geared towards (and required for) folks headed to high threat posts, like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan along with several other locations. The first part of this CBS segment gives a quick overview of what we're learning:



Some of the most fun we had was at BSR's track, learning and practicing several driving skills that everyone should learn (but not in your own vehicle). Picture a perfectly beautiful fall day, with white clouds hung in the crisp blue sky, golden leaves falling down onto the sun-drenched grass, with a stillness that's punctuated by wheels screaming around corners while belching acrid white smoke that reeks of awesomeness. So. much. fun. Well, except for those two folks who were sitting it out because they succumbed to motion sickness.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Productivity Tactics: Applying the Eisenhower Method on your Desktop

As you may already be aware, the Eisenhower box is a productivity tool/method that breaks tasks into four categories:

UrgentNot Urgent
ImportantURGENT & IMPORTANTIMPORTANT, but
NOT URGENT
Not ImportantURGENT, but
NOT IMPORTANT
NEITHER IMPORTANT NOR URGENT

Which is all well and good, so why not apply it to a computer desktop and use it at work? My first thought was to do a literal variation of the four boxes, but it wasn't aesthetically pleasing. So, I looked online until I found an awesome background that would work on either a 1280x1024 screen or a widescreen.
Source: http://www.peak15.org/misc/spectrum.jpg
Granted, you have to have a widescreen monitor to make full use of all six panels, but if you have a standard monitor the four orange through blue panels are still there. Bonus: the photos are more attractive than a solid color yet not really distracting.

Here's how I set it up:
RED: Today's tasks, files, and shortcuts. Only a few.
ORANGE: Urgent & Important files and shortcuts. Hot projects and high priority tasks might make their way into this panel.
YELLOW: Urgent, but Not Important (to me). This is where I keep links to files and tasks that matter to my co-workers or office deadlines.
GREEN: Important, but Not Urgent. This is where I keep my links to most active project folders.
BLUE: Not Important or Urgent. These are links to most references and frequently used shortcuts.
PURPLE: All the computer system shortcuts (Chrome, Excel, Outlook, etc) and all of those shortcuts on my government desktop that I can't delete without admin rights.

If you look closely, you'll see this also has an area below the panels that looks like a reflection, I use this space for non-work related stuff that I need to remember to do, with the same prioritization system.

Obviously, everyone has a (or at least should have) a method to be productive and it's a matter of discovering your own personal preference. This works for me, so I hope it adds another option to the internet that might be of use to you!
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Friday, September 12, 2014

Staying Connected: International Phones (GSM, 4G-LTE, etc)

From an international traveller's perspective, it doesn't matter how awesome your smartphone is at home if it can't connect to a local network abroad, specifically 4G-LTE. There are hundreds of other sites (like this tool from Android) that have great reviews on the various operating systems, build quality, cameras, processors, etc., but they all tend to gloss over the fundamental connectivity & compatibility issues. In this post, I'm going to explain how to find the right phone for your international travels so that you don't end up with the prettiest "brick on the block". If you already know the basics about GSM vs CDMA and want to skip straight to the 4G-LTE section below, Click Here. And if you don't care about all that and just want to see which 4G LTE bands are used by the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, Samsung S4, Samsung S5, Google Nexus 6 and Nexus 5, Click here for the chart. (Updated 31 Mar 2015 for Samsung Galaxy S6 in the Spring 2015 update.


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One of the most complicated aspects of an international move is trying to determine what phone & telecom provider to use at your new location. Understanding terms like GSM, CDMA, quad-mode, and 4G-LTE frequencies as it applies to handsets, service providers, and countries will equip you with the knowledge you need to find a phone that works in the two (or more) countries you need it to. Will your current phone work in the new country, or would a new phone work in both a new country and the place you call home but now visit only on vacation?


A lot of these lessons I learned first-person and I hope to save you some of the same trouble. When I was in South Korea, I had a pay-as-you go phone that I bought off the guy I replaced there. In Germany, I had a T-Mobile GSM phone that I was able to take back to the United States and use simply by switching out my German SIM card for an American pre-paid SIM card. Now we're headed over to Saudi Arabia and smartphones & data are additional considerations. So, I've scoured the internet to identify nearly everything you need to know about how to select the right international smartphone for you (or at least I've found the links for the places that do). So here are the considerations and how to determine what applies to you, your phone, and the countries you want it to work in:
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Monday, September 08, 2014

For Former Military Members Looking to Join the Foreign Service

According to the USAF Force Management website, a Reduction in Force (RIF) means that a lot of officers should consider the possibility of a new career after separating from the military. If that's you, let me suggest joining the US Foreign Service. Most likely, you know very little about what we do and where you would fit in, but it's a pretty good deal (some might say even better than active duty!)

For starters, don't get hung up on the title "Foreign Service Officer (FSO)" vs "Foreign Service Specialist (FSS)" as a direct comparison between military officer and enlisted. In military terms, it's much more akin to "commissioned officer" vs "warrant officer" when it comes to knowledge and expertise. That's why FSOs are grouped in "generalist cones" and the Specialists are, well, specialized. I've gone through both application processes and after two years in the Foreign Service as a Foreign Service Construction Engineer (FSCE), I'd like to pass on the following knowledge:
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End Of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

We spent two and a half years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on our second tour in the Foreign Service with the US Department of State. As you migh...

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