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Friday, July 31, 2009

A Conversation With My 6-Year Old Neighbor


I was in the shop, this is the song that was on the sound system. Play it loud (Anybody know who the bassist is? You don’t get anything if you’re right, but I’d be very impressed).


I was indexing pieces prior to cutting them on bandsaw. I had the music turned up. I was grooving right along. Looked up. Neighbor kid standing in the open highbay door.

This kid’s middle name must be “Crap,” he loves the word.

Kid: What’s this crap?

Me: Excuse me?

KId: What’s this crap?

He kind of vaguely waves around, I understand he’s referring to my music selection.

Me: This is John Lee Hooker, one of the greatest blues singers that ever lived.

Kid: What?

Me: John Lee Hooker, the song is Boom Boom. I take it you don’t like it?

Kid: It’s crap.

Me: You say that about every song I play. What kind of music do you like?

Kid: Not the crap kind. Don’t you have any music that’s not crap?

Me: Well, let me think about it for a minute.  Say, has anybody told you about the monster?

Kid: What monster?

Me: I probably better not say anything.

Kid: Tell me.

Me: Well, there’s been this monster seen in the neighborhood lately, and…

Kid: What, what?

Me: I better not say.


Me: Okay. It’s long and slimy and goes around like a giant snake with eight legs.  It crawls in your window at night and wraps around you and…

Kid: What! What!

Me: It sucks your eyeballs out.


Me: Yep. You can protect yourself though…

Kid: Tell me!

Me: It hates John Lee Hooker music. You have to listen to it all the time, really loud. That’s why I have it playing in the shop, so the eye sucker monster doesn’t get me.

Kid: Really?

Me: Ayep.  You better get yourself some of that.

Kid: Moooooooooooom! [disappears down the drive]


I’m sort of hoping he went home and told his mom he needed a hooker so the eye sucker… uh, never mind.


Calling Johnny Lee crap, I hope he has nightmares.

Better yet, maybe the eye sucker monster will get him – that’ll teach him to appreciate the blues.

Esperanto? Kio La Infero?

I was fooling with my Google search preferences.

One of the options under "Search Languages" is Esperanto.

Esperanto? Esperanto?

For those of you not familiar with this, Esperanto is a constructed international “auxiliary” language, created in the 1870’s by one Dr. Ludovic L. Zamenhof, a Russian Jewish doctor and ophthalmologist. He intended the language to foster harmony between people of different countries – reasoning that if they could all speak a common language they’d understand each other better and therefore be less likely to go to war.  Dr. Zamenhof grew up and lived in Bialystok, a city in what is now Poland on the Belarus border, but during Zamenhof’s time was part of the Russian Empire. The city was divided into four distinct cultures, Russians, Poles, Germans, and the Jews. They each spoke their own language and had their own traditions and they, in large part, didn’t mix. There were problems, as you might guess. Zamenhof thought those conflicts could be fixed, if everybody could at least speak to each other in a common language.  He spent ten years developing Esperanto as a result. The final product was a artificial language constructed from the basic elements of predominately Romanic natural languages. It was easy to learn and speak (for people of European extraction, not so much for non-Latin derived native language speakers such as those from Central Africa or Asia). Zamenhof spent the next couple of decades promoting it – there were congresses held in different countries every year and the number of speakers grew rapidly – right up until the the Second World War.  Esperanto was seen as the “language of the Jews” under Hitler who specifically condemned it in Mein Kampf and it was ruthlessly stamped out. Zamenhof’s own family was sent off to the death camps specifically because of it. In what was now Soviet Russia, Esperanto was called the “language of the spies” by Stalin and made illegal.  By the time the war was over, so was Esperanto for the most part.

So, seriously now, who the hell actually speaks and reads and writes Esperanto today?  I mean, speaks it on such a regular basis that they publish web pages in it?

OK, I do know people who understand Esperanto. They have little clubs where they get together and trade the few books that were ever published in it.  They chatter back and forth in Esperanto at the meetings, trying to sound clever - it's a lot like those nerds who speak fluent Klingon and recite poetry in it. The difference being that there are probably a lot more people who speak Klingon than there are people who speak or even give a shit about Esperanto.

OK, Esperanto people, don’t beat me up.

I know there’s maybe as many as a couple million people worldwide who speak the language (but it may be as low a 10,000 too, nobody is really sure). You’ve got your own Wiki and a radio station or two and some newspapers and such. There’s even a college that uses Esperanto as its primary teaching language, the Akademio Internacia de la Sciencoj in San Marino

Hell, full disclosure here, I studied it myself, briefly, and speak a few words, I even have a couple of books published in Esperanto, somewhere in a box downstairs. We used to use it as the “adversary language” during certain military simulations, which is how I happen to know a couple of Esperanto speakers.

I realize that there is a fanatical core group of you who still believe that Esperanto is the key to hope and understanding and universal peace and enlightenment. Good luck with that. Really.

But, is Esperanto such a big deal that Google offers it as a search language option?

So how come Google doesn’t offer Klingon?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dear National Rifle Association...

...please fuck right the hell off.


Stop calling my house with your hysterical "Obama is taking our guns Oh NOES!" bullshit.

I don't want to take your survey.

I've hung up on you three nights in a row now, get a fucking clue would you please?

You people are the ones who scare me, not the prospective Supreme Court line-up and Judge Sotomayor. Most of you rightwing NRA hard-ons are exactly the type of people who shouldn't own firearms in the first damned place and anything that puts some limits on you wackos is fine by me.

There, are we clear on this now?

Take my number off your call list. K? Thanks.

Offline For a While (updated)

Folks, don't expect much from me today.

Today is the day my brain decided to have its standard migraine.

I took a boiling hot shower and took a couple of pills and was feeling slightly better. However, after an hour of answering email and reading blogs and the news, the headache is flaring again and it feels like my eyes are being pushed out of my head. I'm nauseated and dizzy and I'm going to go lay back down for a while with a cold compress over my eyes.

No worries, this is a normal thing for me. It'll pass in a couple of hours, then I'll feel like hammered dog shit for the rest of the day - which is a real pain, because I have a large job to finish in the shop.

See you later, Internet People.
Lying down didn't help.

The headache has faded a bit, but now I have the shakes and trouble focusing.

Again this is normal for me.

It'll run its course in a couple hours.

Best thing at the moment is for me to go out to the shop. I can't run equipment at the moment, but I'll sweep up, and organize, and put away tools. Doing that kind of routine thing usually helps it go away.

Stupid Migraines.

Note: there's an interesting conversation going on the comments section of the previous post, in case you feel like jumping in.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You Can’t Stop the Signal, Mal.

I like Twitter.

I didn’t think I would.

Really, when people first started telling me about Twitter I thought it just sounded stupid.

One Hundred and forty character “micro blogging?”  Yeah.  I thought the name described it perfectly, a bunch of little birds chirping back and forth. 

I’ve got enough noise in my life, I sure as hell don’t need any more background chatter.

I mean seriously, I don’t really like people in the first place. I’m not a social person (Really, Jim? We would never have guessed that.  See? That’s what I’m talking about, that kind of sarcasm will not get you invited to dinner). Anything with the phrase “social networking” in the title turns me right off.  I like my peace and I’m not afraid of silence. People irritate me. Noise irritates me. The soap opera crap most people talk about doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I don’t care what people are doing, or who said what, or what some dumbassed pop star did, or who said what as long as they leave me alone. I’m the guy who doesn’t slow down to gawk at accidents, because I just don’t care. (Oh hell, I’ll stop to help if I’m needed, but if I see blue and red lights I figure the cops got things under control and it’s none of my business. Seriously, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have that printed on my gravestone. Well either that or, “Move along, Dickhead” which I think is a pretty fitting epitaph)

But I digress.

Back to Twitter: I especially don’t need to see posts from the bathroom about bowel movements or from the kitchen about the wonders of baloney sandwich construction or any of the other endless personal minutia of the lives of people I don’t know and couldn’t possibly care less about.

When the most famous post on Twitter is “OK, poop is coming out” I figured me and Twitter got nothing the other one needs.

Twitter seemed like something kids did. Wandering down the street with their hair hanging in their eyes, furiously clicking away at those little texting phones until they fell into an open manhole or got weeded out of the gene pool when they drifted into traffic.

Twitter held no interest for me whatsoever.

Or so I thought.

But people kept talking about it.

Things were happening over there.

It made me curious, I wondered if I was wrong. I mean, I’m hip, Daddy-O, I’m cool, I’m not a N00b, I know the cake is a big fat lie – maybe I should be on this Tweeter thing because it’s an emerging technology and if I don’t get onboard my brain will shrivel up and I’ll be left behind with the fading remnants of the Bush Administration.

Hell, even Sarah Palin is on Twitter. Maybe I was missing something?

Then there was Flight 1549, and I went back to being pretty sure Twitter was just as stupid as it sounded.  You remember Flight 1549? The US Airways jet that belly-flopped into the Hudson after plowing through a flock of birds and losing all power? Passengers were sending tweets from inside the sinking plane as they were scrambling to get off.  How stupid is that, seriously? If some dipshit is blocking the emergency exit while she taps out a tweet to friends (OMFG! We just crashed! We’re in the RIVER! I hope they don’t lose my luggage!) they’re going to find her dead body at the bottom of the Hudson with her Blackberry jammed about a foot up her colon.  I mean, who risks their life, who risks my life, to send a tweet to a handful of “friends” and ten dozen pornbots? Stooooopid.

Except, maybe not. 

See, suddenly people with smartphones were sending data from on scene. In real time. Hundreds of times faster than any News organization could get on site.  People were alive (and honestly, how often does that happen in a major airplane crash?) and the whole world knew about it instantly without waiting for the press conferences.  There were amazing pictures appearing on the web and little lines of text – connecting people to the event all over the world in real-time.

My job used to be information - the collection and analysis and management and manipulation and weaponization of information – suddenly, in that second, I saw smartphones and tools like Twitter and Plurk and twitpix and Flicr and other social networking sites as near real-time sensors.  Spread across the globe in a vast loose network.

I started paying closer attention.

Turns out there were actual sensors, like those of the USGS, plugged into Twitter. And real time twitter feeds from varied instrumentation and cameras and dozens of other things.

I started seeing hits here on Stonekettle Station that back-linked to Twitter. Sometimes swarms of them (is “swarm” the right word? Maybe I should have said “flock?”  Seriously what’s a group of Twitterers called? I’m such a N00b).  Sometimes huge swarms of them.  I had one day were I got over a thousand unique hits for something I said here – that got my attention. I wanted to know what people were saying about me.

So I set up a Twitter account.

And found that I was right – both ways.

Twitter is filled with silly, inane chatter (and yes, I am currently contributing to it. Thanks for pointing that out. Dinner. Invitation. Yours. Not likely).  People do tweet about bowel movements and baloney sandwiches and stupid silly nonsense.  It’s entirely possible that this kind of soybean filler makes up 90% of the traffic on the network.

But then there are things like Iran.

People were sending pictures and words and impressions and eyewitness accounts from the streets of Iran, from the middle of riots and protests and clouds of tear gas.  Real-time data from inside one of the most secretive countries in the world.  They’re still doing it.  As an intelligence analyst, I would have killed for information feeds like that.  Amazing.  And I’m not the only one who thought so, the State Department asked Twitter to postpone its routine maintenance down cycle in order to ensure Iranians had access to the outside world.

Like any technology, especially communications technology, Twitter is a two edged sword – you have to be careful. There are no filters between the transmitter and the receivers – i.e. while Twitter allows for the almost instantaneous dissemination of information, that information is limited and only a piece of the picture and there is absolutely no guarantee that the information is nonbiased or correct or or complete or even real. There’s a reason that cops and intelligence folks put little stock in eye-witness reports, most people are not reliable witnesses.  Twitter spreads rumors and hysteria like wildfire – and this can have devastating effects by propagating false information and then reinforcing and mutating it over and over. 

This rapid spread of information is having a debilitating effect on traditional news organizations – and this trend is only a subset of the overall effect of the Internet and rapid communications technology, such as blogging, is having on Newspapers and Broadcast News.  In an effort to just keep up, those organizations have almost completely dismantled their traditional fact checking and editorial functions.  Few news organizations still adhere to the Edward R. Murrow ideal.  The once vaunted CNN is a perfect example, once the epitome of integrity in reporting, CNN nowadays is fronted by the likes of Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace and their daily news line up is little more than topical fluff, rumor mongering, and hysteria.  CNN isn’t alone, the behemoths of journalism are in serious danger of going extinct. They simply can’t compete. What they fail to realize is that they shouldn’t even try.  Their strength lies elsewhere, in integrity, in in-depth investigation, in accuracy above all else – and as the buck stops here wall when it comes to those rapidly spreading rumors and falsehoods of the internet.  By lowing themselves to the level of bloggers and tweeters and social networkers they’ve given up their credibility – and the public increasingly sees them as no better and no different and in many cases far less reliable than the average blogger or tweeter. 

The sad thing is that they just can’t seem to grasp that, and as a result many of them are dying off.

On the other hand, Twitter can be an absolutely vital guide to information you would otherwise miss – and a guide to accurate and timely information. I follow the feeds for the Alaska Volcano Warning center – if Mount Redoubt or any of the other half dozen active volcanoes within range of my house here in Palmer, Alaska blows, I’ll know almost immediately via real-time sensors and the USGS twitter feed to my phone – and I’ll have time to take the appropriate action before the ashfall reaches us. 

Which brings up an interesting dichotomy: the Twitter Haves, and the Twitter Have Nots.

I’m much more likely to survive a catastrophic natural event than those who don’t subscribe to the USGS/AVO Twitter feed – because they don’t care, or don’t have access, or don’t have Twitter accounts.  It’s the difference between living next to the tornado warning siren and being deaf.  Push this far enough, allow the rest of the information infrastructure to atrophy, and real-time social networking becomes a survival characteristic.

Another example: yesterday I saw a Twitter notification from the White House, requesting that small business owners weigh in on health care reform. Yes, that’s right, the President was asking Americans, specifically small business people, to help his administration design the Universal Healthcare program.  Those with Twitter feeds are a hell of a lot more likely to be involved than those without.  There may come a time when your franchise requires such social networking connections. Those without might become the Gypsies of the Information Age.

Things like Twitter are changing the world and America in far less tangible ways. 

In a case that has the potential to impact 1st Amendment Rights, a property management company is suing one of their tenants for expressing her dissatisfaction on Twitter with one of their housing units in Chicago.  It’s not that they’re disputing the woman’s claims, that mold was growing on the walls of her apartment, it’s that they feel saying so to twenty friends online harms their reputation – so they’re suing her for defamation in an attempt to specifically limit what anyone can say about them in any public forum.  Without Twitter this woman’s complaint would have been limited to a few friends and acquaintances, with Twitter she speaks to the entire world – and has in this case, the company’s actions turned this minor issue into a top trending topic on Twitter and as a result they’ve basically hung themselves on their own petard.  People coming to Chicago in search of apartments would do well to avoid this landlord, and they are – which is the crux of the company’s complaint.  I suspect the company will lose, I also suspect this is only the beginning of such cases, but it begs the question – if a tenet can’t complain about her landlord online, can she protest in front of the building? Can she complain to her handful of friends. What are the limits of free speech and the number of people she is allowed to reach, where does that line fall in between zero and the entire global online population? The case very much has the potential to effect bloggers like me.

Twitter can be fun. 

Those folks we admire, actors for example, are sometimes as interesting on Twitter as they are in our movies and TV shows.  More so in many cases. It’s not surprising I guess, they’re entertainers, and Twitter provides them with a personal and direct connection to their audience.  Brent Spiner, of Star Trek fame, is a prolific tweeter, running improvised story arcs and strangely entertaining and amusing and often bizarre glimpses into his incredibly creative mind.  Some people simply don’t get it. They’re not amused, they expect to follow Commander Data, the Next Generation Android, and instead they get Spiner, clown, philosopher, jokester, and raconteur. 

And of course, Twitter connects us to friends

And yes, sometimes it does connect us to the minutia of their lives.

But that’s what friendship is about, isn’t it? We share the details of our lives, we trade jokes and stories and things we know that others will find interesting. We live vicariously through each other, scattered across the globe and even out into space.  Twitter in many cases has humanized the Internet, for both good and bad and mostly something in the middle.

The medium is changing people, changing how they see the world and each other. Breaking down barriers and opening doors into parts of the world many of us have never seen. Like inside of Iran.

It’s been fun watching it evolve over the last couple of months.

I wonder where it will go.


Note: I continue to resist Facebook with all my strength. I do not have time for Farmtown. I do not.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shatner Beat

As Eric said: Bill, I publicly forgive you for Star Trek V (Not Generations though, I'm still pissed about that):

(This is a Hulu video, I like the quality better than You-Tube, but you've got to put up with the commericial)

Amusingly, this is a top trending topic on Twitter today, Shatner seems somewhat bemused by it all.

Ignorant Crazy Stupid

State officials in Hawaii on Monday said they have once again checked and confirmed that President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen, and therefore meets a key constitutional requirement for being president.

"I have seen the original vital records maintained on file by the Hawaii State Department of Health, verifying Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen," Health Director Dr. Chiyome Fukino said.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that this will not, in fact, convince the so-called “birthers” that the President is indeed an actual and legitimate natural born citizen of the United States and is as fully qualified to be the leader of the free world as any random rich white guy from the God Fearin’ Midwest.

I’m also going to say this, if you’re a Birther – and yes, I am talking to you and you know who you are – you’re just plain nuts. Nuts, stark staring bonkers, a pilgrim to Whatthefuckistan, due for a thorazine enema and a nice new straightjacket. Nuts, like Michael Jackson contemplating plastic surgery nuts.

I.e. You’re a fucking loon. Your wife is a loon. And your children are little loons. Your friends are loons and your dog is probably a loon too. The people who go to your church are loons. You’re like a big flock of crazy chattering loons who get together for loon potlucks where they serve loon in loon sauce with a side of loon salad.

And once again - since you seem to think that repetition is the key to communication - you’re goofy.

You’re so nuts in point of fact, that you make actual crazy people look sane (seriously here, Birthers, when you start ranting that Crazypants Anne is too liberal – when Anne Coulter is the voice of reason in the room and Geraldo Rivera looks like an actual and responsible journalist in comparison - well, then you are on the Crazy Bus careening down the road to Bugfuck Town and the brakes have failed).

But seriously, why stop there? If you’re going to do the crazy dance, go all in. Like Klinger on those old M.A.S.H episodes, put on the dress. Put it on. The sun bonnet too. And the high heels. I mean if you’re going to ride the Bugfuck Coaster of Doom, do it screaming and with your hands above your head. Buy a T-shirt and the commemorative coffee cup (perfect for Teabaggers). Get your picture taken with Alan Keyes, it’s only five dollars more.

Not to rain on Crazy Pride Days or anything, but I have a minor quibble, I think the problem here is that “Birther” is too general a term.

Maybe what we need here is some schism in Church Birther, some different categories so every bat guano eating fruitcake can find his or her niche in the movement:

Alien Baby Birthers: for people who believe that Obama is really an alien reptile from Zeta Reticuli in a rubber human suit, which as you know would make him completely ineligible to hold office due to the Constitutional clause specifying that Americans be, in fact, warm blooded and not eat mice alive and whole.

Reformed Alien Baby Birthers: Those people who watched too many episodes of the X-Files while snorting Tester’s Model Cement and believe that Obama is actually an alien reptile/human hybrid vice a full blooded scaly invader from outer space.

NoBirthers: Those who believe Obama wasn’t, in fact, born at all – but was created in the secret biological laboratories of the Kenyan ACLU hidden deep in the grassy plains of the Serengeti as part of a centuries old plot on the part of the Masai Illuminati to conquer the world.

Belly Button Birthers: Those who believe that Obama did not actually have a father, but is in fact an early example of cross-sex cloning. These folks demand that Obama provide his belly button for examination and verification of actual natural gestation inside an actual natural human woman. A number of these folks claim to have seen pictures of Obama’s Belly Button and that it looked “totally Photoshopped.”

RoboBirthers: Those who are firmly convinced that Obama is a auto-animatronic robot built by Walt Disney before his death, which now carries Walt’s mental engrams through the process of neural transference worked out by former-Nazi engineers captured at the end of the war by Disney World Operatives. The mental transference was performed in the World of Tomorrow labs and was the basis for the Disney movie Return to Witch Mountain.

ManchurianBirthers: Those people who believe that Obama is really a Soviet sleeper weapon leftover from the Cold War, a brainwashed automaton created by the KGB in the 60’s and then left, forgotten like a suitcase nuke in an East Berlin pawn shop, after the Wall came down. Someday the Hotline will ring and Putin will issue the self-destruct command and grease Palin’s ride into the Oval Office.

AfterBirthers: Those who believe that Obama and Arnold Schwarzenegger are really twins separated at birth, like in the movie Twins – only Obama is Danny DeVito.

And finally,

American Birthers: Those crazy heretical bastards who believe that Obama is actually a natural born American citizen and the legitimate 44th President of the United States.

(Go on, Readers, make up a few of your own, it’s fun)

Seriously, Birthers, if it sounds like I don’t respect your beliefs and that I am in fact ridiculing you, there’s a good reason for that – it’s because I don’t respect your beliefs and I am, in fact, ridiculing you.

I know, I know, but I feel it important to state the obvious.

* Note: I think that instead of a law like the Birther Bill proposed by Rep Bill Posey (R-Fl) and supported by goofs like Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), what we actually need is a law that makes conspiracy nuts like the Birthers wear a shirt with the word “Idiot” spelled out in big block letters both front and back, a pointy hat with a propeller on it, and one of those beepers like they’ve got on heavy equipment to alert us when the crazy people enter a room.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Reducing Reduction

So here I am this morning, filling out government paperwork.

Piles of endless forms, of which nearly all of them want exactly the same information.

Now, you understand, I spent my entire life in military service. I've had a high level security clearance for well over twenty years. I now fall under the purview of the Veteran's Administration. So, there are few US Governmental databases that my name doesn't appear in and there is absolutely nothing that the government doesn't know about me.

But still, I have to provide the same information that they already have in endless redundant detail.

One of the forms I have to fill out is one page long. It has ten pages of instructions, mostly disclaimers telling me why the Department of Defense needs the information and what US Federal laws the request falls under.

The last Act noted is the Paperwork Reduction Act.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Jim Arrives in the 21st Century, Finally


My old phone, a Motorola V710, has been dying a slow death for the last several months. 

I was reluctant to scrap it though, basically because as a phone it was perfect for me. The buttons were large, which suited my midlife presbyopia and my nerve damaged hands just fine.  It was Bluetooth capable and had a voice command function that worked perfectly for me with almost 100% reliability.

However, texting on it was an excruciatingly painful process and it had no internet capability at all. The camera resolution was about half a meg and didn’t work at all in dim light. There was no video capability. A couple of buttons, including the volume button, had quit working and worst of all the computer interface plug was worn out and the phone would no longer talk to my laptop.

Time for a new phone.

I’d been wanting a smart phone, something at the top of the technology food chain.

I’ve been looking around. 

I’ve looked at all the demonstrators Best Buy had and for the last two month I haven’t been able to walk past a cell phone kiosk without stopping to check out the shiny new smart phones.

I really wasn’t impressed with anything I saw.

I had some very specific criteria for my new phone:

First, it needed to be a phone. First and foremost I want my phone to be a friggin phone.  Not a game device, not a texting device, not an MP3 player, not a PDA, not a toaster oven. Phone, first and foremost. I don’t want some internet gizmo with phone capability tacked on as a second thought.  I wanted all the capability I had in the V710, ease of use, excellent voice recognition capability right out of the box that I don’t have to train, Bluetooth, and so on.

Then, of course, I wanted all the other stuff, texting, internet, MP3 and video player, decent camera, PDA functions, and toaster oven if they could fit it in. I wanted something that would keep me connected, let me manage, view, and update my online presence, and surf the internet if I needed to.

I wanted a full QWERTY keyboard.

I wanted something small and compact.  My wife has a smart phone and the thing is a brick – I didn’t want anything like that (My wife also has a Blackberry that her employer provided her and I liked the look of that device. I really wanted something like that.)

I wanted something with a readable screen – no, strike that, I wanted something with a excellent screen, clear, sharp, brilliant color, something on the order of the resolution I get with my ZEN.

I wanted something that could take memory chips.

I wanted something that would interface smoothly with my computers – including USB, wireless 802.11, and Bluetooth.

I wanted something I could expand with software downloads.

I wanted GPS capability.

I wanted something easy to use.

I wanted something easy to maintain, i.e. reasonably rugged and no special chargers and other such paraphernalia. I wanted something that would charge from a standard mini USB cable, because USB is fast becoming the universal standard for such things and I already have car chargers and wall charges and computer cables and USB batteries and I don’t want to have to buy a bunch of other crap.

I didn’t want anything that needed a stylus.  I didn’t want anything that used a touch-screen. And I sure as hell didn’t want anything where the advertisements for it emphasized weird obscure functions, games, Hello Kitty faceplates, or the hip hop skater punk lifestyle.

And I wanted it all in an affordable package. And I wanted it from my current cell phone provider on my current family plan.


The Rolling Stones said that you can’t always get what you want, they may be right – but not this time. I got everything I wanted and quite a bit more.


What I got was the Blackberry Curve 8330.


image image

First, as I mentioned was a priority, it’s an excellent phone with crisp and clear audio. It does everything the old V710 did and more. The Bluetooth earpiece setup is simple (I just transferred over my Plantronic Explorer 320 from the old phone to the new one, best ear piece I’ve used yet – and I’ve gone through a lot). The 8330 recognizes voice commands without training, and in fact, the voice functions are expanded far beyond the old v710 and, after I got used to how it worked, I found that I liked it a lot better.  For example, with the old phone I had to have a separate entry for each contact number, so for my wife who has four contact numbers I had to have four separate entries in the old onboard phone book. With the Blackberry I can just upload my entire Outlook contact list as is, including her contact card with all her numbers on it, and then specify which number I want with a voice command, such as “Call Becky Mobile” or “Call Becky Business.”  So good is the voice recognition function in fact, that I can actually just tell it a phone number and it’ll recognize it and call it. For example “Call 555-1212.” That’s pretty cool.  The phone also uses voice recognition for a number of other functions, such as reporting status and connectivity and battery levels. It may seem that I’m putting a lot of emphasis on voice recognition and the ability of the phone to give me status verbally vice having to look at the screen – and I am.  It’s important to me. I don’t like looking away from what I’m doing to use the phone. If I have to make a call while driving, I don’t want to take my eyes off the road, I want to tell the phone what to do and have it do it without me having to look at the keypad. The Blackberry does exactly what I want with very high reliability.

The Curve is the smallest BlackBerry smartphone with a full QWERTY keyboard. Despite the fact that the keys are small, tiny even, they’re surprisingly easy for me to use – couple that with smart software that figures out things like where the @ symbol should go in the the email address I’m typing and puts it in there without me having to jump through hoops and I’m seriously happy with it. It makes typing email, texts, tweets, and even short blog updates a snap. And I really, really like the Blackberry trackball thumb mouse.

Internet access depends on the provider network, of course, but so far it’s been excellent. The screen is crisp and clear and easy to read with user selectable font sizes. Page loads aren’t fast but they’re not slow either – and the smart display software can display even large webpages like Stonekettle Station’s main page with its huge banner picture in an easily readable format.

Hooking up my several email services with the Blackberry was as simple as entering the user name and password and the device took care of the details – seriously, the Blackberry software is how software should work.

The curve comes equipped with a 2.0 megapixel camera, with video recording capability.  The resolution isn’t great, but it’s a damned sight better than most phonecams.  There’s an integrated flash and video light. Here’s a shot I took this morning when Becky and I were sitting in the sunroom drinking coffee:


The sun was just rising over the shop and shining in the windows, which accounts for the angelic rainbow halo effect. Like I said, not the best resolution, but not too bad either.

There’s an advanced media player for music, videos and photos. The phone has a microSD card slot for extra memory and I replaced the 2Gig card that came with the phone with an 8Gig card I had lying around – now I’ve got plenty of room for annoying ringtones, you bet.

There’s 3.5mm headphone jack, Bluetooth with support for stereo headsets and car kits, GPS navigation and the ability to be used as a modem with a laptop.

Battery life is supposed to be up to 17 days in standby, I haven’t tested this yet as I only got the phone 24 hours ago.  Truthfully though, if you’re using it a lot and have Bluetooth connectivity turned on you’ll be lucky to get two days out of it. That’s OK with me (Funny memory, my first portable phone was a Motorola analog bag phone with a lead acid battery, you’d get maybe four hours standby out of that battery and about twenty minutes talk time. You kept it plugged in to the car’s cigarette lighter – which is what we called a car power port back then - or you kept it turned off. Times, they’ve changed a bit). 

About the only thing the 8330 doesn’t do is WiFi connectivity (the 8320 and the 8350i do have 802.11g/n capability if you need it). This wasn’t a deal breaker for me, and besides the phone can talk to my laptop or server or the HP C7280 printer via Bluetooth, so WiFi isn’t necessary at all.  And speaking of interfacing with the computers, the included software is excellent and easy to use – and did I mention that it was included? Motorola made me buy their Phonetools software and the special cable and they charged me a fortune for it and it never worked worth a crap.  The Blackberry software is simple and easy to use and works without screwing around. It took a second to configure and then loaded my entire Outlook Contacts list, calendar, notes, and task list onto the phone without any effort at all. It also backed the entire phone up in a couple of seconds.

My current cell provider had a very affordable package that I could add to my current plan. The excellent tech behind the counter at the Wasilla store had the whole thing done and ready to go for me in a couple of minutes and I walked out of the the store more than a little satisfied.

I did think that the case/holster that came with the phone was pretty useless.  I stopped by Target after leaving the phone store and they had Blackberry holsters on sale. Note: you want a holster designed for the Berry, they’ve got a magnet in them that tells the device when it’s sheathed – the Curve will then adjust ringtone to vibrate and do other programmed functions if you want. I got a very nice semi-hardshell horizontal clip holster for $15 (and while there I checked for online deals on Blackberry holsters using the Blackberry. Seriously how big of geek am I? Pretty big, yep).

Five years ago I needed a Sony Clie PDA, a laptop, an MP3 player, a camera, and my phone to get everything I get in the compact Blackberry Curve. I like being able to take the internet and my email with me wherever I go.

So far I haven’t managed to fall into an open manhole or walk into traffic while texting.

But it’s probably only a matter of time.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Conversation With My Cat

I’m in the shop, running a stack of wooden plant hanger bases through the shaper. Between units I pause to adjust my safety glasses and happen to look up. Out in the drive, I can see ShopKat hunched down, staring intently into the raspberry bushes. The tip of her little tail is twitching slowly, back and forth, back and forth.

Some small hapless creature is about to meet its fate.

I look back down at what I’m doing (seriously here, you really want to keep eyes on hands when running the shaper unless you enjoy riding in the ambulance helicopter). When I look up again, Shopkat is gone.

There is a small cat shaped cloud of cartoon dust where she was a moment ago, and a furious commotion in the raspberry bushes.

Go, ShopKat, go!

I kill power to the shaper table and I’m in the process of moving a stack of finished pieces to the project cart - when out of the corner of my eye I catch a black and white shadow slinking furtively through the far highbay and around behind me towards the carving table at the other end of the shop. The hunt has been successful then, obviously. ShopKat likes to display her prizes on the mat in front of my lathe, next to the carving station. I’ll go to use the lathe and find the headless carcasses of voles and chickadees lined up like corpses in the morgue of some budget horror flick. The fact that she’s sneaking into the shop, after stalking prey in the bushes, indicates that she’s made a kill.

I don’t mind the voles (voles are exactly like mice, little gray gnawing disease vectors with tails), in fact I’m all for it – this is ShopKat’s primary duty, vermin eradicator, it’s what I pay her for. But I wish she’d leave the birds alone. So I look to see what she’s got this time.

It’s a HUGE black vole.

It is so big I think for a moment that she’s finally taken down a moose. On second glance I realize it’s the Vole King, Granddaddy Patriarch of the entire Vole Nation, hanging limply in her jaws. This thing must be the source of all the voles in Alaska. He’s like the Godfather of Voles – try to visualize ShopKat dragging Marlon Brando across the floor and you’ll understand what I’m saying here. And when I say Marlon Brando I don’t mean handsome chiseled hardass Marlon Brando from A Streetcar Name Desire, I mean more like blobby gelatinous Island of Dr Moreau Marlon Brando. What I mean is it is one big damned rodent.

ShopKat drops her prize, plop! square in the middle of the mat and nudges it around until it’s perfectly lined up, perpendicular to the centerline and square to the lathe. Then she sits down in satisfaction of a job well done and commences to wash her face.

The Vole’s eyes pop open! Pop!

He jumps up! Boing!

He’s not dead at all! It’s a trick! He was only playing possum, the sneaky son of a bitch!

The giant Vole King spins around and zips off towards one of the work benches like Marlon Brando going for the all you can eat buffet table!

ShopKat is caught completely off guard. She goggles in yellow-eyed amazement. Her tail rigid, like a pipe cleaner, her ears straight up in points.

I yell and gesture, “There he is! Right there! Get him, ShopKat, get him!”

ShopKat continues to stare and the expression her face says clearly, “Well, that’s odd. I know I killed him. Zombie Marlon Brando Voles are not my responsibility.”

The Vole King alters course and dodges towards a pile of birch burl blanks that I have drying in the middle of the floor. The big bastard is fast, like a furry brown bean bag on wheels. For a moment I have a flashback to Saturday morning cartoons and Wylie Coyote giving a shot of super speed tonic to a mouse before trying it himself. The Vole King moves like that super charged mouse. Meep! Meep! Bwing!

ShopKat continues to stare, whiskers twitching, ears wiggling. But she doesn’t move. This is blatant dereliction of duty.

I yell. She looks at me. The Vole King disappears under the stack of birch burl.

ShopKat yawns.

I get the broom and start moving burl around. ShopKat moseys over to watch.

Suddenly the Vole King appears, making a break for the router table!

ShopKat becomes fascinated with her tail. The Vole King passes her within inches, unnoticed.

“Out of the way, Peck!” I shout, and swing the broom with savage abandon.

Contact! There is a solid Thunk! The crowd goes wild! The Vole King is ejected from the shop at high velocity along a low flat trajectory. He lands stunned in the drive. Ha! Didn’t see that coming, did you, your highness. I pick up a hunk of scrap wood and go finish him off - and in this regard it is exactly like a Godfather movie. Meet your Maker, Brando. Thwack! Thwack!

The Vole King gets a royal funeral pyre in the burn barrel.

He was a canny foe, we shall miss him.

Yes, yes, I spent twenty years in the military, I have murderous skills. Back off, Ladies, I’m married. I am a mighty warrior, facing down the Vole King like Beowulf and the Grendel with nothing more than a bad attitude and a stick of hickory. But that’s not the point here. The point is I shouldn’t have had to do it.

Obviously it’s time for ShopKat’s employee review.

I find her sitting on the workbench next to the radial arm saw.

Me: OK, look, we need to discuss a few things regarding your recent performance.

ShopKat: Makes a rumbling noise, like a poorly tuned diesel engine [Translation: Pet Me!]

Me: Stop that. Look, I thought I was pretty clear when I hired you. You keep the shop vermin free, in return I feed you and give you a place to sleep. You get a basic health plan and the occasional tuna treat. There may, may, be some petting involved. Which part of that is unclear?

ShopKat: Sticks her nose in my face, sniffs [Translation: Your breath smells like a dead mouse]

Me: Perhaps you aren’t clear on the process. See, you prowl around the shop, all stealthy catlike and such, and kill the vermin that try to get inside. You don’t go out into the bushes and get them and escort them inside! Understand? Well?

ShopKat: Yawns, turns around, swishes tail [Translation: Blah blah, I don’t hear your monkey chatter. Talk to the paw.]

Me: Look, your actions are tantamount to aiding and abetting the enemy! You could be court martialed!

ShopKat: Mmph? [Translation: Is that a piece of fuzz! oooh! Me likey fuzz!]

Me: Hey, over here, Princess. Pay attention, I’m talking to you. Here’s the bottom line - you catch ‘em, you kill ‘em. Savvy?

ShopKat: Meow [Translation: Speaking of things, the cat box needs changing, Monkey Boy. See to that, would you?]

Me: Damnit! I’m the boss here!

ShopKat: Makes sort of a feline snicker [Translation: I’ve met your wife]

Me: I mean I’m the boss of the shop!

ShopKat: Wiggles her whiskers [Translation: I’m pointy on five ends. I win]

Me: Well, don’t let it happen again.

ShopKat: Jumps on to my carving stool. Curls up in a ball. Yawns hugely [Translation: Nap Time]

Me: You probably shouldn’t expect a raise this year. Just saying.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Taking A Pass At Real ID (updated)

[update: I’ve updated this post to reflect some additional thoughts. Those changes are bracketed and in blue font and are notated with the word “update.”  Additionally I’ve corrected a number of typos and grammatical errors – and I’ll correct more as they are detected.  //Jim]

I’ve been asked several dozen times in recent weeks what I think of the so-called Real-ID act.

The short answer is: I’m not entirely opposed to it.

The longer answer, however, is that while I think the intention of Real ID is sound, its method of adoption into law without public discourse and review by our elected representatives is totally unacceptable. The act, as originally written, leaves a lot of questions unanswered and failed to address the legitimate concerns of American citizens and lawful foreign guests in this country. And because of its vagueness, the Real ID act has given rise to some completely unhinged hysteria within the ranks both conservatives and liberals alike, if for different reasons (Believe me, researching this subject was an exercise in batshit crazy in many cases. Whoa). However, the Department of Homeland Security has, since 2005, done a credible job of addressing the legitimate concerns of the American population and the Final Rule as it stands right now is, for the most part, a workable compromise.

Real-ID, for those of you not familiar with the subject, is a federal law that requires states to comply with specific guidelines for security, authentication, and issuing procedures for state driver’s licenses and state issued ID cards. Only identification that complies with Real-ID standards will be accepted by federal agencies as legitimate. Specific examples of where Real-ID compliant identification would be required are things like commercial air travel and entering federal buildings. Additionally the law implements a number of other identification related actions, such as: Changing work visa limits for specific groups and professions, creates new rules governing “delivery bonds” (which are like bail bonds but for accused non-citizens who have been released pending trial), updates and tightens regulations regarding application for asylum and deportation (specifically those accused here or abroad of terrorist activity), and waves existing laws that limit or interfere with the construction of barriers at border crossings. Because of the controversy surrounding the act, implementation was delayed until 2008 and then pushed back until 2013 (which is where it stands right now). Congress may repeal or modify the law with a new proposal called Pass-ID, proposed by the Obama administration and supported by a number in Congress on both sides of the aisle.

Much of the controversy surrounding Real-ID comes from how it became law. The act, which originated in the House as H.R. 418, was introduced by James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). It passed the House, but then went stagnant. Not to to be deterred, Sensenbrenner then attached it as a rider, 368-58, to H.R. 1268, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005. Because of the emergency nature of H.R. 1268 (the bill provided money for combat troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan and opposition was seen as unpatriotic), there was considerable pressure on Congress to get it passed. The Real-ID rider was not discussed in any detail either by Congress or in public review. The Senate passed the joint House-Senate conference report with a vote of 100 Yes and 0 Opposed and the 109th Congress forwarded it to the president for signature. President George W. Bush. signed H.R. 1268 and the Real ID Act into law on May 11, 2005.

An HTML version of the pertinent portions of the Final Rule and its amendments as they stand right now, can be found here, on the Department of Homeland Security website. Note: There are a number of versions of the Real-ID Act text floating around the Internet. The HomeSec version I’ve linked to is the version you want to read. The Secretary of Homeland Security is responsible for implementing the rule and this is the final version, including responses to public comments, that HomeSec is operating under. The other versions are irrelevant, so is arguing about them.

Your papers please, mein herr!

The principle opposition to Real-ID seems to be the sentiment that it creates a national identification card, reminiscent of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Naturally, American are repulsed by this idea.

There is some small grain of truth to this notion – but most of it is based on hysteria, and any similarity to the “papers” issued by the Nazis or the Soviets is purely superficial.

Real ID compliant licenses and ID’s would not be issued by the federal government, but by your state of residence, exactly the same as they are right now and always have been. The difference being that the state agency issuing them will be required to adhere to strict federal guidelines for issuance and identification of the person receiving the identification.

In principle, this is no different than the American Express, Visa, or Debit cards in your wallet right now. It is no different from the checks you carry in your checkbook. Each are issued by your local bank of choice, but they all are required to comply with basic federal banking standards for format, personal information, identification, standardization, security, and machine readability. Any credit card or check that does not comply with these standards cannot and will not be accepted by any federally issued institution. And it’s the same here, Real ID does not dictate in any way where you live or limit your right to move about as you please. It does limit your access to certain forms of transportation and certain federal buildings – exactly the same as identification does now. You cannot board a plane now without proper ID – and frankly if you can’t identify yourself, or there is some question of who you actually are, I don’t want your ass on the plane with me and my family. I have to present proper identification to access a military base. You have to present ID to visit your mother in prison, or enter the court building to post her bail, or to get married, or to cash a check, or when you get pulled over for acting like an idiot on the road. Real ID doesn’t change any of that at all, not one iota other than to mandate that the identification you present complies with certain standards. And in fact, because of those standards and the fact that Real ID moves the onus of verification to agencies specifically delegated to perform that task, it speeds up the process of identification in places where it’s required – say like the security line at the airport. Your name comes up on the No-Fly list by accident, how do you prove that you’re not that guy in a timely fashion? You don’t, now. But with a Real ID card it’s a simple matter and you don’t even have to sit in a holding cell while they figure it out. That’s one example, there are many more.

The standards imposed by Real ID would require issuing agencies to verify the identity of each person receiving an ID through birth certificates, social security numbers, proof of residence, and proof of legal status for non-citizens, and an electronic photo. The issued Real ID compliant card, at a minimum, must include the person’s full name, signature, data of birth, gender, driver’s license number or identification card number. It also includes a digital photograph of the person's face and the address of principal residence. It is required to have physical security features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication of the document for fraudulent purposes. Additionally, each card must be machine readable using a common technology as specified by the department of homeland security.

Now, few of these requirements are anything new. The requirement to present proof of identification, i.e. birth certification and so on, is required in almost all states as part of the initial driver’s licensing process that most 16-year olds go through. And if it’s not, it should be. Seriously here, I don’t get the complaint – the one that says Real ID requirements will make it harder for people to obtain fraudulent driver’s licenses and that’s somehow a bad thing. Oddly the people screaming the loudest about this are the same ones jumping on the “Obama isn’t a real American because he hasn’t shown his real birth certificate” bandwagon. They’re also the people pissing and moaning the loudest about all the illegal immigrants flooding our country with state driver’s licenses and fake American id’s. Illegal immigrants and criminals and, yes, terrorists, and other such types seek out states with lax standards, they have networks and webpages that point others in the right direction. Those opposed to Real-ID are the same people most opposed to illegal immigration, a dichotomy I find curious. The hypocrisy is obvious, they want strict laws and standards of identification for funny looking foreign people, but not for themselves.

I see absolutely nothing wrong or unconstitutional about requiring states to make positive identification before issuing an ID card. In fact, I’m all for it. [update: allow me to say that I’m not sure that Real-ID as it stands right now will accomplish that. I have strong doubts about it]


Another major point of opposition is the the requirement that Real ID cards be “machine readable.”

A large number of conspiracy types and those prone to the hysteria spawned by radio talk show hosts take this to mean each card will contain an RFID (Radio Frequency ID) chip similar to those used in anti-theft tags and contemplated for use in the new US passports. RFID chips can be read from a distance using a scanner like those anti-theft gateways you see in the exits of Wal-Mart and Home Depot. The concern here is twofold: 1) the government can track real-ID cards without the owner’s knowledge simply by placing RFID readers at critical places, and 2) a criminal with a scanner could lift your information and steal your ID without you even knowing it simply by scanning a crowd from a distance.

In the first case, I’ve got news for you, the government can track your ass now. Any competent law enforcement agency or private investigator or the National Security Agency can pull up your credit card transactions or the location of your cell phone or the location of your On-Star equipped SUV and figure out what you’re up to with little or no trouble at all. There are other methods. Very, very few Americans nowadays don’t leave electronic tracks in the system. Trust me here, I used to do this for a living. If the government wants to track your every movement, they will with or without RFID. [update: but the truth of the matter is that in most cases you simply aren’t as interesting as you think you are. The government has neither the interest nor the manpower nor the assets to track every citizen.] 

In the second case, any criminal who wants to steal your ID can do so now. ID theft is easy. There are a hundred ways to do it, thousands. Real ID and RFID doesn’t make it any easier, but it might in fact actually make it harder. If your ID requires a PIN or thumbprint to access for example, just like your ATM card. [update: what I mean here is that I’d be more supportive of Real-ID or any federally mandated identification program if the cards contained technology similar to public/private encryption. Think of how safety deposit boxes work, you need both the bank’s key and your own key to access the contents.  I’d be more supportive of Real ID cards if they required some kind of key on the owner’s part to unlock the data, like a PIN does for an ATM card]

And while we’re on the subject of RFID, there is a rather vocal bunch that takes the phrase “machine readable” in the Real-ID Act to mean the government is going to inject RFID chips into all American citizens, the way you’d chip a pet. I’ve actually seen online petitions that you can sign to protest this, nonexistent, course of action. That’s ridiculous and there is no, repeat no, initiative to chip citizens – though another vocal bunch does advocate chipping for immigrants.

Here’s the kicker folks, the Real-ID Act specifies that Real-ID compliant identification be “machine readable” only, and leaves the implementation up to DHS. DHS in the Final Rule has specified that the machine readable technology incorporated into the cards will be a standard barcode – which more than 40 states already include on their licenses.

What will be included in the barcode? Only the information on the front of the license, i.e. name, address, age, license number, and so on. This allows a cop to scan the card and verify that the information on the front matches the barcode information and that the ID hasn’t been tampered with.

No word yet from the conspiracy nuts on whether or not they think the government will be branding us with barcodes.

The Mark of the Beast

I suppose this is as good a place as any to address another bit of lunacy.

A rather large number of folks are convinced that President Obama is, indeed, the actual biblical Anti-Christ as foretold in the Book of Revelations. They are convinced that Real-ID will be a form of universal identification as also foretold. This is where the RFID implantation paranoia comes from, so far as I can tell. These folks are convinced that “Obama will have a chip implanted in our hands or foreheads,” i.e. the mark of the Beast. Once that’s done, well, you know what comes next – The End Times.

I actually know people who believe this. No, really believe this. They are deathly afraid that The End Times are upon us, Obama is the Anti-whoois, and the Rapture and last battle are coming. They are frightened to death. Absolutely terrified. Nothing I can say will convince them otherwise.

These people are nuts.

I don’t know any other way to put it. They are just plain goofy. I cannot respect their beliefs in any way. I can barely listen to it without laughing in their faces.

They’re not alone however, the internet is full of them. The churches are full of them. Click on that link, over one hundred million sites worldwide dealing with this exact subject.

There is no chip.

There is no mark.

None of this was President Obama’s idea – and, in fact, the Real ID act was proposed by a staunch Conservative, passed by a Conservative majority Congress, and signed into law by Conservative Devoutly Fundamentalist Christian President – all long before Obama took office. President Obama is, in point of fact, opposed to the Real ID act and his administration has proposed a much less stringent modification to the law called Pass ID which would repeal nearly every facet of Real ID that that the fundamentalists have a problem with.

If anything, the religious end-times fearing types should be supporting President Obama.

But, when you’re cowering under the bed, pissing your jammies over made up bogeymen in the closet, I guess there’s not much I can say to convince you to act like a rational adult, is there?

Bottom line, this entire argument of the Anti-Christ and the Mark of the Beast is silly childish bullshit that needs not be entertained in the discussion of Real-ID.

Final Thoughts

There are legitimate concerns here:

Cost. Implementation of Real-ID requirements is projected to cost anywhere between $11 billion and $50 billion for start up and billions to maintain annually – per state. States don’t have the money. Hell, California alone could go bankrupt attempting implement this program with their vast number of drivers – and huge population of illegal immigrants. There is federal money available however, to help offset some of the cost. DHS has specified a staggered implementation of the program, i.e. only those most likely to have false ids based solely on age (16-50) will be required to get a Real ID at first, the rest of the population at a later date. There are other methods to defray the cost of startup, as outlined in the Final Rule.

Cost. It is very likely that a large amount of the cost will be transferred directly to the those attempting to get new licenses and ID’s. The cost of a driver’s license is likely to double. Some believe this will place an undue burden on the already overtaxed poor.

Privacy. There is a significant concern regarding the security of information contained in interlinked national databases. Anyone with access, literally tens maybe hundreds of thousands of state and federal employees across the nation, would have access to all the information. A single unscrupulous individual could steal or access the personal information of millions. The probability of this happening is almost 100%. [update, Vince, who is an expert on database implementation, has a response to this exact issue up on his own site, Reality Is Frequently Inaccurate, that deals specifically with database vulnerabilities and why this alone should kill Real-ID dead in its tracks. It’s definitely worth the read.]

Privacy. Currently certain states allow issue of licenses without certain personal information such as addresses in order to protect victims of domestic abuse. The Real-ID act makes no similar provision.

Religious Freedom. Currently all states allow an exemption to the photo ID requirement on the grounds of religious belief, i.e certain Muslim sects do not allow woman to expose their faces for pictures. These people are exempt from having a picture on their license. The Real ID act makes no similar provision.

Increased Wait. It is unlikely, at least at first, that you will be able to get a license on the same day you apply for it. Verification of your documentation will likely take several days, or even weeks and could end up being similar to applying for a passport. This period may diminish over time as the system becomes more streamlined, then again it may not.

Totalitarianism. Many, many folks see Real ID as a gateway to a national ID. They worry that even if the current law is reasonable and the intention behind it is from the best of motives, there will be those who, with the best of intentions or even for nefarious purposes, expand the system into a pervasive program that governs all aspect of our lives. From gun registration and ownership, to regulating who can buy cigarettes, to tracking what we eat and buy and wear and watch. Some have expressed concern that the nation will divide into those who have Real-ID and those who do not, those who can access government or private services and those who cannot. They fear that like social security numbers, Real-ID might expand far beyond its original intention and become a requirement simply to be an American.

They very well may be right.

Adequate safeguards must be put in place to address these concerns. I don’t think they’re there yet. They may never be.

There are many more concerns, some major, some minor, some real, some completely imagined. The ACLU, whatever you think of them, has a very good breakdown of all these issues here.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I’m not entirely opposed to Real ID. I think the current hodge-podge of state licensing is long, long overdue for an overhaul and standardization. I expect my government to provide certain protections to its citizens, one of those being that the guy sitting next to my son on an airplane is really Bob Winkle of Smelly Cheese, Wisconsin and not Jugdish Almeani, terrorist fanatic from Bumfuckastan here in this country illegally and with malice in his heart. I think the arguments that Real ID makes it too hard to get fake ids or cheat on your taxes or is the mark of some bogeyman from the depths are stupid and silly and deserve no respect whatsoever. I do think think that costs, and privacy, and limitations to the program are significant and legitimate concerns. I think the concern that Real ID might further exacerbate the divide between the haves and the have-nots is a very real and very likely outcome – you can see it happening right now with those who can’t afford a cell phone, or don’t use debit cards, or don’t have a fixed address, or have no access to the internet.

I’d be interested in hearing what you think, all of you, both the regular commenters and the many of you who lurk around this site without joining in. I’m interested in what those of you who are not Americans think, and what systems of identification you use – I see a number of regular readers from Canada and Australia and Germany and the UK and Mexico and I’m interested in your opinion.

Please feel free to comment.

[update: understand something here, I am not advocating for the implementation of Real-ID. This post may appear that I am.  I’m not. I simply wanted to write an article and examine the issue free of the hysteria and false information that is common to this topic.

As it currently stands I’m against Real-ID.  I’m not against the idea, however I don’t think it can be properly implemented.

I’m against it primarily because I don’t think the program can adequately protect the privacy and personal information of the population. And in fact, for exactly the reasons Vince described in his post (linked to above and in the comments section) I don’t think the Real-ID databases can ever  be secured to any reasonable degree. Implementation as it stands right now is robbing Peter to pay Paul. The costs (both monetary and personal liberty wise) to implement and maintain the program far, far outweigh the benefits at this point.  Frankly I don’t think we’re getting enough bang for our buck.

I don’t think that Real-ID does anything whatsoever to protect the average American against terrorism, which is the entire justification for it in the first place and its only reason for existence.

However, say the process does increase the safety of the average American with regards to terrorist actions and maybe cuts down on some illegal immigration issues (for the sake of argument, not that I actually think it will do either), it absolutely will make the average American more vulnerable to domestic crimes such as ID theft. And in the final analysis the vast majority of Americans are far, far more likely to be the victims of domestic crime than they ever are of foreign or even domestic terrorism. 

America has terrorism on the brain, we need to get over it.

As to the concept of a National ID, frankly I don’t give a fig. I don’t understand the hysteria, and I don’t see how a National ID is any different whatsoever than the Military ID I carry in my wallet or my state Driver’s License]

Why I’m Having Trouble Typing This Morning

Desk Cat 001

There seems to be a large furry object in the way.

As I mentioned to Dr. Phil yesterday, you have to be careful writing science fiction when there are cats present – you’re very likely to fall under their psychic influence and end up channeling Andre Norton.


Angry Eddy is my hero.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My Back Pages

I’ve been busy today and haven’t had time to post much.

I do have a large and complex piece on some pending legislation in the works, but it requires more research and a bit more thought. Maybe tonight, depending on how I’m feeling.

I also have a letter asking my opinion on some pending gun control (Obama is taking our GUNS! Oh NOES! We TOLD you!) that I might or might not write about - depending on how much I feel like dealing with the crazy gun nuts.

And I have a really interestingly capitalized and punctuated letter I got this morning demanding that I get the word out about Deep Under Ground Bases (yes, D.U.M.B) and Obama's Secret FEMA Prisons. I actually looked this up and it's a lot like being sprayed right in the face with a big old fire hose of thick gooey stupid, then rolled about in crispy stupid flakes until you're completely coated, and deep fried in a big old black iron kettle of hot oily stupid. Writing about it would be a lot like beating up a comotose accident victim - which doesn't mean I won't, but maybe later. I can only handle one batch of idiots at a time.

In the meantime here is Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Roger McGuinn doing Dylan’s My Back Pages at Madison Square Garden during Dylan’s 30th Anniversary concert celebration, October 1992.

Dylan wrote Pages in 1963 and released it on Another Side of Bob Dylan in 1964. The song was based on a rambling speech he gave in 1963 while accepting an award from the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee in New York. The song is mostly about how his view of music and the 60’s protest movement had changed, as summed up in the refrain “I was so much older then, I’m young than that now…”

A number of bands have released cover versions of My Back Pages over the years, most notably the Byrds in 1967 on their Younger Than Yesterday album and next to the ensemble version above, the Byrds’ release is my favorite.

I was listening to Younger Than Yesterday this morning in the shop, the neighbor kid asked "What's this crap?" I thought about stapling his lips together - yes, yes, I know there are laws about stapling an obnoxious kid's lips together, so I gave some thought to more humane methods such as gorilla tape or super glue.

In the end I settled for turning up the volume until I couldn't hear the little cretin anymore.

Have A Picture Of My Cat


It’s been a while since I posted a picture of ShopKat, so here you go:


She’s sitting on top of some rough cut burl pieces that will eventually become bowls.  I’m not quit sure why she’s sitting up there, but she spent most of the morning perched on that slab staring out the door into the drive. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

One Small Step, A Bittersweet Anniversary

Houston, Tranquility Base here…the Eagle has landed.

Forty years ago today, the entire world listened as Neil Armstrong spoke those words from the surface of the Moon.

Eagle, that fragile tinker-toy of a spaceship, had just set down on the dusty regolith of the Mare Tranquillitatis and it wasn’t just Mission Control who had been holding their collective breath, but the entire population of planet Earth – with those words, we all started breathing again.

In that one moment, the entire human race was as close to united as it has ever been, black, white, brown, yellow and red, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheists, and agnostics, from the most sophisticated rocket scientists at NASA and Star City to the most primitive bushman, capitalists and communists and socialists and the left and the right and the undecided all stared at the moon in abject wonder and shivered at the smallness of man against the vast and terrible backdrop of the universe. They cried and they cheered and they hugged random strangers in the streets. They marveled at what men could do if only they dared dream big enough and they all wished the crew of Apollo 11 Godspeed.

A few hours later we watched as Armstrong and Aldrin opened the hatch and descended the ladder and made the first foot prints on the surface of a world other than Earth.

There was a silver plaque mounted on the side of the LEM’s descent stage, it said:

Here, men from the planet Earth
first set foot upon the moon

July 1969 A.D.

We came in peace, for all mankind.

Beneath those words were the signatures of Apollo 11’s crew, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin, and the President of the United States, Richard Nixon.

It was as if ten thousand years of recorded history, of centuries of scientific advance, of decades of effort, and the dreams of millions had come together in that one moment solely in order to place that message on the surface of another world. You could feel it. Hell, even as a seven year old kid, I could feel it. In that moment the world was different – men had walked upon the surface of another world and everything was about to change. Before that pivotal event our dreams had been limited to the near horizons of Earth, but in that moment our vision was limitless and the whole universe spread out before us. Mars would be next, and the moons of Jupiter, and then Saturn. There was talk of ships that could lift whole colonies, hundreds of people, into space, Orion, rising on a column of atomic fire and even of an unmanned probe to the near stars, Daedalus.

Men had walked on the Moon and there was nothing that we could not do.

It sounds impossible now, ships like Orion, giant stations in orbit wheeling against the stars, colonies on the moon, on Mars – but in 1969 it didn’t seem so. Less than eight years before, John F. Kennedy gave his famous speech, “We choose to go to the Moon. We chose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard!” Damn straight. And we did. We kept the promise and the vision of a murdered president, a promise made in one of the darkest hours of our history, the Cuban Missile Crisis. We kept the promise despite the turmoil of that terrible decade, the battle for civil rights, the radically changing culture, the Cold War and the Vietnam War and the threat of imminent nuclear Armageddon. And in less than nine years we went from barely making it into low Earth orbit to the Moon itself.

We choose to go to the moon, you damned right we do.

In 1969, nothing seemed impossible. We would walk the surface of other worlds, we would build our homes there and birth our children there and dream our own dreams. People believed.

Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins came home to parades and the adulations of billions. Six missions followed them to the moon, five landed.

But, by 1974 it was over, all of it.

The hippy dreams of the sixties were lost in the reality of drug addiction and venereal disease and Charlie Mason, Nixon had resigned in disgrace, and we had retreated from Vietnam leaving 50,000 of our countrymen dead on the battlefield. And in far less than five years flights to the moon had become so routine, so boring, that they weren’t even covered by the media. In that five years the dreamers and the engineers and the scientists and the astronauts and the men with the Right Stuff were replaced with accountants and administrators and bureaucrats and those with no imagination.

Somewhere in that five years the dreams of 1969 died and no one even noticed.

The last men to walk on the moon, Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt, lifted off in their ship Challenger from the Sea of Serenity on December 14th, 1972. And when they, and Command Ship pilot Ron Evans, returned to Earth in America, it would be the last time human beings would leave low Earth orbit.

There were supposed to be three more missions, Apollo 18, 19, 20 – and follow on programs after that, building on the success of Apollo.

The ship that would have become Apollo 18, a fully operational moonship, rests on its side now, moldering and covered in bird shit on the grass in front of Johnson Space Flight Center – The mightiest machine ever built by the hands of man, a ship designed to land men on the surface of another world and bring them home safely again, the culmination of the skill and daring and dreams of millions is now nothing more than the largest and most expensive lawn decoration in the history of mankind. A testament to failed dreams and the cowardice of politicians and the small horizons our children are born beneath today.

Pieces of the ship that might have become Apollo 19 rest now in a similar display on the lawn in front of Kennedy Space Center. That display is made of bits and pieces, some operational and some not, a junk sculpture made from the debris of our dreams, things that could have been and never were.

Apollo 20 was never built, the command module and lunar modules were scrapped, the uncompleted carcasses dumped in a landfill. Pieces of the Apollo program were locked away forgotten in dusty storerooms or sold off to museums. Some components were later used for Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz rendezvous – sort of like using a semi-truck to deliver the mail and just about as foolish and wasteful.

I’ve been to the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington DC and I’ve seen the Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, scarred and pitted, resting beside the great machines of history, the Wright Flyer, The Spirit of St. Louis, The Bell X-1, the Voyager, and Spaceship One and the sight brings tears to my eyes for all the things man has dared and done. And I’ve been to Florida and Texas and I’ve seen our future out there rusting in the sun and the rain and the sight fills me with revulsion and disgust and sadness for all the things we could have done, and did not.

As a kid, I heard great men say that the stars would belong to my generation, I watched brave men walk on the surface of another world and dared to believe that I too would do so some day. That belief has filled me with wonder my whole life and driven me to far ends of the Earth in search of adventure and mystery and far distant shores. That desire filled me with great dreams and instilled in me a belief that men can achieve anything if they only believe, if they only have the courage to try, if they only have the will to seek new horizons and push the edge of the safe and the known. I firmly believe that the meek shall inherit the Earth, and that they are welcome to it - but the rest of the universe belongs to those willing to risk all in order to see what is beyond the next hill.

As a teenager, I watched cowardly men protest that the cost was too great and the price too high, and I watched those selfish fearful sons of bitches dismantle the space program and turn our future into lawn ornaments. I wondered then, and I still wonder now, how if we cannot afford to build a future for all of mankind how then can we afford to spend twice as much in order to build those weapons that would destroy all of mankind? In the last thirty years we Americans have built exactly five manned spacecraft. Five, and one of those only as a grudging replacement for the lost Challenger. Columbia we chose not to replace. Soon, America will depend solely on Russian built craft and have no manned ships of her own at all. In the last thirty years however, we've built thousands of nuclear bombs. Thousands. We've built hideously expensive invisible airplanes that we can't even use. We are even now dismantling many of those bombs and missiles and I am grateful that it is so, but, my God, the colossal waste, the colossal folly of it all. Funny that we can afford to build our own destruction, but not our own future. Funny, and tragic, and ironic, isn’t it?

As an adult I’ve watched our halfhearted efforts to stay in space, to keep thirty year old technology flying, and build a space station that instead of housing thousands, or even hundreds, or even tens, can barely support three - ironically the same number who went to the moon in a tiny capsule four decades ago and the same number who flew onboard Skylab twenty five years ago. Three seems to be the limit of NASA’s vision. As an adult I've watched as robots and machines roll across alien land in place of the men and woman who sent them, and it is no more exciting or inspiring than watching a video game. As an adult I’ve watched my dreams fade and die and know that I will never walk the surface of another world, and yet I look up there at the moon and still dare hope that some day we will see the lights of cities shining back from that shadowed crescent.

You know, it wouldn’t bother me so damned much if we had tried and failed. But we didn’t fail. We did it, we went to the moon, we could have gone to Mars and beyond.

And then we just quit.

We gave up.

Thirty eight years ago, we turned our backs on Kennedy’s vision. We didn’t do the things that were hard. We did the easy part, and then we walked away. And I see that legacy all around me here in America today, the failure to face the challenges, to take the difficult roads, and do the things that are hard. We argue and squabble and hate each other, we spend our time trying to tear down what others have built and instead of driving forward into a future that we have forged, we cower in fear. Instead of following the men and women of vision and daring, we listen to the counsel of those small minded fearful men who admonish us not to dream.

My son, like most of his generation, has no interest in space. His school, though a fine place it may be, does not have the classrooms decorated with pictures of the men and the ships and the planets and the stars. There are no big dreams, no great national goals to galvanize his generation.

For these kids it’s not that the dreams have died, it’s that they never were.


"As I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I'd like to just say what I believe history will record, that America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."

Eugene A. Cernan, Apollo 17 Commander.
The last man to walk on the moon, December 14, 1972.