Topic Tuesday #175 2015/12/01 "Whoops, Missed one."

Topic Tuesday #175 2015/12/01 "Whoops, Missed one."

Hey readers! If you were paying attention, you did better than me, I missed posting on the 24th, for the first time since this little project began. Well, we are all human, even me. In my defense, I was just back from a vacation and had my hands full. It wasn't until Friday that I realized I forgot! Oh well! Nothing to do but keep rolling.

So what's up? Three big ones  that I can think of. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, 

I met new people, experienced new dishes and ate a lot. I avoided Black Friday in favor of Thanksgiving part 2 with family. I shop online all the time, but there was a good deal that I had to take advantage of on  I am going to give my girls bunk beds, but not normal bunk beds, these have a futon bed/couch on the bottom. 

DHP Twin-Over-Futon Metal Bunk Bed

DHP Twin-Over-Futon Metal Bunk Bed

This will give them some flexibility. It may give me flexibility too, as who knows what tomorrow will bring. This will certainly enhance the guest space!  They will arrive on the 10th, so I will give a little review before Christmas. This isn't exactly a stocking stuffer, but they seem excited about it! It's not easy making everyone happy, but I'm willing to try.

So what have you been up to?

Topic Tuesday #163 2015/09/01 "Sick Rituals"

Topic Tuesday #163 2015/09/01 "Sick Rituals"

No, not twisted and horrible "sick" rituals. I mean things you do when you are getting sick. It appears that I have a runny nose and sneezes and sniffles and a sore throat, either allergies are really affecting me, or I have a cold. The good ol' rhinovirus. 

Yeah, This thing kicks our butts.

Yeah, This thing kicks our butts.

I know many people have traditions around what to do when they get sick. Bundle up and sweat it out. Herbal tea, vitamin C, and honey. Hot showers. Sleep. and the list goes on and on. Everyone has some ritual they go through when they get sick.

So me, when my nose gets all stuffed up, I eat spicy food to clear my nostrils. Works great for a while. Then I pound dayquill until my liver says uncle and I feel better. Today, right after I write this, I'm eating my spicy soup, drinking a tall glass of water, and drugging myself to sleep. Hopefully I can knock it out early, but in all likelihood, I will be sick a couple days and it just has to work it's way through. With real luck, I won't suffer any ride along bugs known commonly as opportunistic infections. If I get bronchitis, I'm down for the count for a while and no one's got time for that!

And with that, I'm out. What rituals do you do when you start to feel an ick coming on?

Topic Tuesday #155 2015/07/07 "Run up the flag pole"

Topic Tuesday #155 2015/07/07 "Run up the flag pole"

Flags have been in the news quite a bit lately. You can't peruse the news without stumbling over a veritable plethora of people weighing in on South Carolina and the Confederate Battle Flag. Since that has been covered to death, (TL:DR-The flag still represents slavery and continued oppression, not Southern Pride, deal with it and put the flag in a museum next to the Nazi Party flag from WWII.)  I'm not here to talk about the Confederacy or racism or the politics behind mandating the flag be mounted at the top of a 30' pole for all time (hopefully changing soon).

No, today it is about a North Carolina Pastor who has decided to show his distaste for the progressive direction the country has taken by flying the Christian Flag (yes it is a thing) above the United States Flag, Old Glory Herself.

The Christian flag flies above the American flag at a NC church (WJZY/screen grab)

The Christian flag flies above the American flag at a NC church (WJZY/screen grab)

This story was brought to me by RawStory, and you can view it's contents here.

The narrative goes that Pastor Rit Varriale, long-time anti-gay activist of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby, NC is claiming this action as part of his own "God Before Government" group. On Sunday he unveiled that he had the pole installed specifically to run this up and see who saluted.

He has been met with criticism from unexpected sources such as Fox and Friends and even the Baptist Press, who reported, "Varriale is among an increasing number of pastors who believe government is trying to coerce Christians to live in ways that violate Scripture." To editor K. Allan Blume's credit, the The Baptist Press writer was rather good about just reporting and not taking a side. Varriale knows he is against proper defined flag etiquette, something taught in grade school and to every scout I have ever encountered. If you need to see what it is, Wikipedia has an outstanding rundown of the United States Flag Code (Yes, there is such a thing)

He said "...from a Christian perspective, our flag etiquette is completely improper, ...we should be flying the Christian flag above the American flag." Varriale is an Army veteran as a Ranger and officer with the 82nd Airborne Division and graduate of The Citadel, Campbell University Divinity School, Duke Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary. He certainly has his credentials in order and is at least walking the walk and talking the talk.

I have one rebuttal to him - Romans 13: 1-10 (New American Standard Bible Translation)

  1. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
  2. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
  3. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same;
  4. for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.
  5. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake.
  6. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.
  7. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
  8. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
  9. For this, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."
  10. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

I am for free speech. I am not into nationalism at all and think such is as destructive as religious division. I count this among those that would burn the US flag in protest. I don't have to like it, but I do respect the free speech and holding to your values in spite of how much of a jerk it will make you appear. At the end of the day, the public court of opinion will settle this one out, as is being done with the Confederate flag.  It makes me wonder what the opinion would be is the local Mosque decided to do the same with the Islamic flag. Food for thought.

Topic Tuesday #154 2015/06/30 "Leap Second"

Topic Tuesday #154 2015/06/30 "Leap Second"

Long ago, I wrote about the origins of the calendar. #24

But what I didn't discuss was corrections to timekeeping.
See the calendar that we eventually landed on is not perfect, by a long shot. This is why every 4 years we add a day (24 hours) to February. This keeps the calendar in sync with the planet's seasons. Today, June 30th, the last minute of the day has 61 seconds as we add a leap second in order to keep the time of day close to the mean solar time, or UT1. Without such a correction, time reckoned by Earth's rotation drifts away from atomic time because of irregularities in the Earth's rotation. Since this system of correction was implemented in 1972, 26 leap seconds have been inserted, including today's. Ideal implementation adds a positive leap second between "second 23:59:59" of a chosen UTC calendar date (the last day of a month, usually June 30 or December 31) and "second 00:00:00" of the following date.

Peter Whibberley, senior research scientist at the UK's National Physical Laboratory (NPL), said: "Because they depend on measurements of the Earth's rotation, which varies unpredictably, leap seconds occur at irregular intervals. Leap seconds are announced only six months in advance. This means computers and software cannot be supplied with leap seconds programmed in, and they must be inserted manually," he explained. "Getting leap seconds wrong can cause loss of synchronisation in communication networks, financial systems and many other applications which rely on precise timing. Whenever a leap second occurs, some computer systems encounter problems due to glitches in the code written to handle them. The consequences are particularly severe in the Asia-Pacific region, where leap seconds occur during normal working hours."

Due to these complications many would like to do away with the practice of adding leap seconds. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is set to discuss the topic at the World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva this November.

There was some jargon in there, like "Mean Solar Day" and "UT1". Let me do the work for you and tell you what those are.

The duration of daylight varies during the year but the length of a mean solar day is nearly constant, unlike that of an apparent solar day. An apparent solar day can be 20 seconds shorter or 30 seconds longer than a mean solar day.

UT1 is the principal form of Universal Time. While conceptually it is mean solar time at 0° longitude, precise measurements of the Sun are difficult. Hence, it is computed from observations of distant quasars using long baseline interferometry, laser ranging of the Moon and artificial satellites, as well as the determination of GPS satellite orbits. UT1 is the same everywhere on Earth, and is proportional to the rotation angle of the Earth with respect to distant quasars, specifically, the International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF), neglecting some small adjustments. The observations allow the determination of a measure of the Earth's angle with respect to the ICRF, called the Earth Rotation Angle (ERA, which serves as a modern replacement for Greenwich Mean Sidereal Time). UT1 is required to follow the relationship
ERA = 2π(0.7790572732640 + 1.00273781191135448Tu) radians
where Tu = (Julian UT1 date - 2451545.0)

Around the world, we try to use UTC, (oddly acronymed for Coordinated Universal Time, because French.)
UTC is an atomic timescale that approximates UT1. It is the international standard on which civil time is based. It ticks SI seconds, in step with TAI. It usually has 86,400 SI seconds per day but is kept within 0.9 seconds of UT1 by the introduction of occasional intercalary leap seconds. As of 2015, these leaps have always been positive (the days which contained a leap second were 86,401 seconds long). Whenever a level of accuracy better than one second is not required, UTC can be used as an approximation of UT1. The difference between UT1 and UTC is known as UT1. 
For most purposes, UTC is considered interchangeable with GMT, but GMT is no longer precisely defined by the scientific community.

Topic Tuesday #152 2015/06/16 "Software-Curses, foiled again!"

Topic Tuesday #152 2015/06/16 "Software-Curses, foiled again!"

Okay, get this: my oldest daughter has been recording herself (with my help of course) doing how-to draw sessions. I was using the cheap cell phone that I got to keep tabs on her (and entertain her) but I am not as steady as a sniper, so the video production quality blows. I'm a techie, so I figure I can do this better than a cell phone. I attached a 1080P webcam, the Logitech C615 to a tripod (it has the mounting built in) and positioned it above her desk.

Awesome!, looks great! but it's upside down... and the angle I have to get things at , it would be over her shoulder and it would be a mess logistically. I don't have another boom that I can incorporate into this, and now it is becoming a huge hassle. I figure I will fix it in software, just flip the image.  

An hour later, and many software trials and failures later, I "think" I can manage it with the Open Broadcasting software ( I was originally using to stream the podcast. But that is less than intuitive to use, so what the hell am I missing?

This would be a problem on pretty much any platform, save smart phones...  The absolute easiest, not the best quality for sure but easiest, is to mount the cell phone to the tripod with a $7 accessory , manipulate the orientation by just rocking it until the gyroscope kicks to the right angle, maybe give it a charging cable and make sure it has enough space to record, and hit it. Seriously... 2 minutes to setup. Then even if I screw up there was a free app to flip the video. Then just go to the Youtube app and upload the video. No stress, it just works. 

WHY CAN'T MY COMPUTER DO THIS? I love my beast of a desktop and the power of my laptops, but seriously, for simple versatility and functionality a smart phone is absolute champion. Add a couple adapters, and send the video to a big screen and it will function for 90% or more of all you ever do on the web. If you are clever, you can use it to remote to another system, like your power house desktop, and crunch away at the heavy tasks or acquire files you need. 

Life these days is played out in the palms of our hands. It's no wonder everyone you see is looking down at their phones, they are actually living their life on that little screen, falling through the looking glass of untapped potential. I swear once I get my augmented reality glasses, I simply won't know what to do with myself. One day... One day at a time... 

Topic Tuesday #151 2015/06/09 "Mobility - The Urge To Travel"

Topic Tuesday #151 2015/06/09 "Mobility - The Urge To Travel"

Do you ever have the urge to do something that you haven't done in decades? I have found myself day dreaming. I want to travel. I want to see the country and meet fascinating people. I do not want to fly, that has become too stressful and expensive. I don't want to stay in hotels, though they are often fabulous, they are also too costly and inflexible in many ways. No.. I have a somewhat crazy idea to buy a travel trailer. 

I have a van that can tow 3,500 lbs. I'm not buying a truck just for this idea. I will use what I have and make it work. I have 2 children. If I plan on taking them, which I certainly do since camping is an American family tradition, I need room for them to sleep. If I want to take my significant other, then I have more berths to allocate with more offspring. I essentially need to look at a sleeping capacity of 6. The criteria of tow weight and number of bodies narrows down what I can look at significantly. A nice, snug fit: 184BH | 2015 JAY FLIGHT SLX  

There are a plethora of options out there, including the styles that pop out beds on the sides. Those models have more space, but have more moving parts. I grew up playing around in an old Winnebago (Brave Style). I have fond memories of that experience, but more than that, I see more potential. Should I go down this route, I want it simple, no setup beyond stabilizing. I want to open the door and be in a little home, or an office. This is not just a camper, this is a mobile command center, at getaway, a den, a club house - with a kitchen. I like this model because of the flow.

I have many aspirations. One day, I would like to just be mobile. Go wherever and setup and be home away from home. I fantasize about podcasting and writing from my mothership, being my own master. Wireless internet and cloud services have made staying connected an easy proposition. It could work. I could be doing it right now, and you would never know! 

Dare to dream.

But, as dreams go, this is quite an affordable option. Brand new, one of these is under $15,000. My van will be paid off soon, and this, this could be toddling behind me on my way to the next grand adventure. 

What do you think? Is camping your thing? Do you have dreams to escape the rat race? 

Topic Tuesday #149 2015/05/26 "Expectations"

Topic Tuesday #149 2015/05/26 "Expectations"

Look, I was promised flying cars and moon bases, okay..? I have a thing or two to say about expectations versus reality (as does everyone currently alive), but as I like to have a special relationship with reality by respecting it exists, I have lowered my aspirations to meet it. 

Recently a friend has had a run in with the intersection of reality and expectations at the crossroads where they diverge. It's hard on him to square this new aspect of reality to his pre-existing one. This is leading to a great deal of existential angst. I completely understand how it can be painful as I would wager we have all been disillusioned, of certain notions or had our noses rubbed in an unpleasant reality, from time to time. Be that as it may, reality doesn't care what we think of it. The universe, for all its wonders, is apathetic to its inhabitants. That quantum foam and fundamental forces don't care about what they look like on a macro scale is humbling. 

Long ago (in a galaxy not so far away), this revelation hit me pretty hard; it had ramifications and implications that my little mind had to grow to accept. This is my story and your milage may vary. I had to accept that there wasn't a guiding force behind me. That beyond my tribe, no one was going to care if I lived or died, succeeded or failed, lived up to expectations - or not. I was pretty much on my own in this big uncaring universe. It was up to me to be remembered or time would certainly forget me. The old saying goes, "Make hay while the sun shines." That seems appropriate a metaphor for life spent making legacies.  

Now, let's be plain, I care a great deal about what my friends and whatever they are going through. My path is my own and I can not profess any special knowledge as to how all this works, only what I have found works for me. If you find that spirituality, religion, mysticism, folk remedies, chakra alignment of your subluxation energy aura something or other, works for you - That's grand! HOWEVER - I have a request. Please make sure your views have a strong basis in reality. Believe as many factual things and as few false things as possible. You are less likely to suffer the heartache of realizing that Santa is not going to bring your flying car so you can spend Christmas on the Moon, and more likely to build it yourself.

Topic Tuesday #147 2015/05/12 "Insurance…"

Topic Tuesday #147 2015/05/12 "Insurance…"

A contract whereby, for specified consideration, one party undertakes to compensate the other for a loss relating to a particular subject as a result of the occurrence of designated hazards.

Insurance has been a reason for many of us to start drinking heavily since before there was beer, way back in the Bronze Age about 2700 B.C.. A little known supposition, a bad insurance deal was the impetus to start brewing. Not really... Maybe.

It has become very important to have insurance. Car insurance, home owner’s insurance, health insurance, life insurance, even pet insurance… It seems you can insure anything. Lloyd’s of London offers insurance for models legs, for instance.  Fast fact: Lloyd’s reports €4.1billion (£3.2billion) profit for 2014. That leads me to my own recent experiences with insurance.

After the ACA has taken effect and the insurance companies have been taken to task over their practices, they did not take it laying down. They are a wily bunch of weasels and enforced changes of practices for certain plans that make having insurance a very frustrating experience. I used to have very reasonable co-pays. Should you be reading this in the future – a co-pay was an amount of money that you would pay based on the service, like seeing a primary care doctor or going to an emergency room. Now my plan, which I have through my employer, uses some strange percentage of overall negotiated service rate, which is a number that you have to be an astrologer to make any sense of. To make matters more complicated, they mandated the use of a Heathcare Spending Account, which takes money out of your employers pocket and your pocket and puts it on a credit card, that will be declined for most things that they say you can use it for, and then arbitrarily change what you can use it for and require approval and requests for payment through a website which you have to figure out without any real assistance. I’m an IT guy and used to the web, but even I would have liked to get some tutorials on what was even expected, yes, it is that bad. At this point, I am getting comfortable with the discomfort of this situation. I’m getting my footing and collecting receipts to send in approval scan or faxes… Then…

I got a bill from a specialist that my daughter had to see. It was a consultation. Aparently, this is not covered… or is it? I'm not sure… The total bill to just talk to this specialist for 5 minutes was $705. I was charged $72.82 before we were seen. That was over a month ago. Now I get the bill stating that I owe an additional $291.27… I wonder why. The statement states my insurance company “paid” $340.91 as a “Insurance Contract Allowance”.  So I go to the website for the insurance company…

Bill received by ********* on 04/06/2015 $705.00
Your ******* Member Rate $364.09
Not paid (excluded by plan) $0.00  
Amount paid toward meeting your deductible $364.09  
Amount paid toward your remaining coinsurance $0.00  
Your copay amount $0.00
Your total responsibility: $364.09
Total amount you can expect to pay out of pocket: $364.09

Again, this is not helpful as I don't know why I need to pay anything at all. What is this member rate? That wasn't mentioned anywhere… Yet it is being presented like they have done me a great service by providing me with such negotiation. I doubt very much that this is at all in my best interest. I have no idea what to expect going forward, and I bet neither do you, should you be in my shoes, or if something happened to you.

For the record, I have pretty darn good insurance, or at least that is what was being advertised to me. This is a money shell game and what feels like absolute lies and trickery to get me to pay for everything and not be able to use the insurance that I have been paying for. Insurance companies only make money when they don't have to pay out the money they take in. This is their goal; to not serve you. Once you know that, dealing with them becomes slightly easier to take.

This is the continued state of the healthcare industry in the USA. Nothing is clear and you need a professional translator to tell you what just happened to you. At this point, even with this insurance, you can go headlong into disaster and have no idea if you will be able to pay for anything. I crave single payer simplicity and to not have this Flex Spending Account or Health Reimbursement Account, or both??? Why do I have both? And why are they different? How does any of this work? I need an adult.

Topic Tuesday #146 2015/05/05 "Cinco de Mayo"

Topic Tuesday #146 2015/05/05 "Cinco de Mayo"

After "May the 4th be with you" is "Revenge of the 5th," more commonly known as Cinco de Mayo. As I like to do with Topic Tuesdays is to examine a holiday that falls on or near the Tuesday posting. So today being the auspicious day of the 5th of May, the When, What, Where, Why, and How - will be examined.


When: Obviously the 5th of May, but it commemorates a battle fought in 1862.

Because American's don't know any better.

Because American's don't know any better.

What: It is the celebration of an unlikely victory over French forces by the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. Regionally in Mexico, primarily in the state of Puebla the celebration is called El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (English: Battle of Puebla Day). IN the USA it is an immensely popular celebration of Mexican culture, and has little or nothing to do with the origin of the holiday.

Where: 19°02′N 98°11′W The battle occurred near enough to Puebla to garner its namesake. Puebla is located southeast of Mexico City and west of Mexico's main Atlantic port, Veracruz, on the main route between the two in Central Mexico.

Why: In short, a little thing called the French intervention in Mexico. After a new president was elected in 1861 after a civil war, which you can look up under the name The Reform War. The civil war had caused sever debt to the nation. The new president opted to suspend payment of the debt to Spain, France, and Britain. They were displeased and formed the Tripartite Alliance, with the main purpose of launching an allied invasion of Mexico, forcing the Mexican government to negotiate terms for repaying its debts and for reparations for alleged harm to foreign citizens in Mexico. The Tripartite Alliance fell apart by early April 1862, when it became clear the French had grander ambitions than simple debt repayment. The British and Spanish withdrew, leaving the French to march alone on Mexico City.

How: The Battle of Puebla delayed the French forces from making their way to Mexico City. The French expeditionary force was led by General Charles de Lorencez. Lorencez was led to believe that the people of Puebla were friendly to the French, and that the Mexican Republican garrison which kept the people in line would be overrun by the population once he made a show of force. This would prove to be a serious miscalculation on Lorencez's part.

Mexican Commander General, Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín, had earlier retreated to Puebla which was heavily fortified – it had been held by the Mexican government since the Reform War. To its north stood the forts Loreto and Guadalupe on opposite hilltops. Zaragoza had a trench dug to join the forts via the saddle.

Lorencez decided to attack Puebla from the north. However, he started his attack a little too late in the day, using his artillery just before noon and by noon advancing his infantry. By the third attack the French required the full engagement of all their reserves. The French artillery had run out of ammunition, so the third infantry attack went unsupported. The Mexican forces and the Republican garrison both put up a stout defense and even took to the field to defend the positions between the hilltop forts.

As the French retreated from their final assault, Zaragoza had his cavalry attack them from the right and left while troops concealed along the road pivoted out to flank them. By 3 p.m. the daily rains had started, making a slippery quagmire of the battlefield. Lorencez withdrew to distant positions, counting 462 of his men killed against only 83 of the Mexicans. He waited a couple of days for Zaragoza to attack again, but Zaragoza held his ground. Lorencez then completely withdrew to Orizaba.

Slowed by their loss at Puebla, the French forces retreated and regrouped, and the invasion continued after Napoleon III determinedly sent additional troops to Mexico. The French were eventually victorious, winning the Second Battle of Puebla on 17 May 1863 and pushing on to Mexico City. When the capital fell, Juárez's government was forced into exile in the remote north. With the backing of France, the Habsburg Archduke Maximilian became Emperor of Mexico in the short-lived Second Mexican Empire. - But that is a story for another day.

On 9 May 1862, President Juárez declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday, regarded as "Battle of Puebla Day" or "Battle of Cinco de Mayo". Although today it is recognized in some countries as a day of Mexican heritage celebration, it is not a federal holiday in Mexico.

Topic Tuesday #145 2015/04/28 "Pressure Cooker Satire"

Topic Tuesday #145 2015/04/28 "Pressure Cooker Satire"

I was going to talk about the SCOTUS and the opening arguments in what may end up as the key to full marriage equality for those that are not hetrosexual, but I was so enraged but the dialog and the logical fallacies in use, the worst of which was the slippery slope argument to incest posed by one of the conservative justices... No, I can't address that right now, no matter how much booze is sat in front of me, so rather I have another concept that I want to address before it flees my brainpan. 


Satire is a valuable element of free cultures around the world. It has been employed for all of recorded history, and therefore into prehistory. Satire, allows up to poke the bear without the bear tearing us to shreds; to provide commentary without the authority to do so. I value all free speech and satire closely. However, there is an affect that was only brought to my attention today that is disturbing.

Anyone that had cooked or been a student and heard the phrase, will know what letting off some steam means. A pressure cooker is the best example. If the regulator doesn't let off some steam, the cooking vessel will explode like a bomb, releasing all of it at once. If you let that steam off, and keep the heat on, the contents cook quite quickly. 

Satire is that pressure release valve to society. Take what has been happening in the United States around racial violence with the police force. Ferguson and the very recent Baltimore riots come to mind as pressure cookers. 
These "pots" have been on a low flame for a very long time. The populace has been brought to a boil time and again, but could it be that occasional humorous outcries of satire, the pressure was released and they didn't explode earlier?
Could we be so manipulated; sated by the heartfelt and frustrated humor that a comedian can deliver? Could the Daily Show not only deliver news, but as it is delivering it, defuse the bomb of the message?

It is a philosophical question, that may have some scientific merit to it, though I have not found a study on it. If you find one, please bring it to my attention.

Until then, stay reasonable.

Topic Tuesday #143 2015/04/14 "What's The Harm?"

Topic Tuesday #143 2015/04/14 "What's The Harm?"

Today my thought train derailed when an article crossed my path. It was one of those "ah ha" style moments. Some of those moments make you jubilant, and sometimes they drive you to drink; this was the latter.

Have you ever excused an action or series of events with the rhetorical question, "What's the harm?" I imagine you have. I have, in the past. I've reached a point in my life that "what's the harm" is a call to action instead of rhetoric. Dear readers, I challenge you to examine those things in your path that could be simple rhetorical questions and find out what the harm really is. 

Beware though; the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.

I don't like to tease too much, so here is the story that jerked me around and made me really consider this topic. 

Briefly, here is the TL:DR version: Texas, a set of very religious parents starved their two year old boy because their faith leader believe he was possessed by demons.  After 25 days without food, the boy died and the couple fled to Mexico with the corpse to attempt to resurrect the boy. It didn't work, much to the grief of the bereaved parents.

So... What's the harm? What could possibly be harmful about religious practice?

They killed their son with the love of their faith. They didn't seek proper treatment for whatever was the root cause of the "demon possession" and rather took it on faith that... what were they hoping for?  As a parent, I can understand how terrible it can be to have a child in pain, or in a psychological condition that you do not know how to handle. I can sympathize that they were trying to save him. I can't fathom how difficult it could be to withhold food from their defenseless child who is completely reliant on their parents for their basic needs... The phrases "for your own good," and "this hurts me more than you" come to mind. That tough love... That ended up killing the recipient of their love. This brings another phrase to mind, "With friends like these, who needs enemies?" 

And of course, the echo in my mind, "What's the harm?" 

I think I figured it out, but you tell me. Cheers. 

I owe you all a drink after this downer. Sorry everyone, but the world is really screwed up and we need to fix it.

I owe you all a drink after this downer. Sorry everyone, but the world is really screwed up and we need to fix it.

Topic Tuesday #140 2015/03/24 "Mid Week Birthdays Suck"

Topic Tuesday #140 2015/03/24 "Mid Week Birthdays Suck"

Today is my daughter's birthday. She is five. Given that it is a Tuesday she will not get her real party until the weekend hits. This has led me back to my conclusion that midweek birthdays always kinda suck. I made sure to get her cupcakes so she could celebrate with her friends at daycare, so I imagine she had a good day, but it wasn't markedly different from her normal day to day routine. I'm not sure if there is more I can do for my kids during the weeks when their birthdays hit, as we always do something on the weekend before or after depending solely on convenience. This is something that everyone struggles with and most adults are perfectly desensitised to, read as numb and apathetic.  I am only concerned because I live vicariously through my children and want the best for them. 

What are we to do to make these days better? 

  • Take a day off and run a muck?
  • Ignore it?
  • Half ass it?
  • Just delay and delay?
  • Stagger presents? A little now a little later?
  • Celebrate the whole damn week?

Depending on how life works for you and yours, you are familiar with all these options and perhaps more that I am overlooking. As for this household with a bright eyed eager five year old, a little now, a little later, staggered until the weekend, and I'll likely be a big softy all week if she does anything wrong. What more can a doting father do? 

Happy Birthday, Honey!

Topic Tuesday #139 2015/03/17 "Being Orange on St. Patrick's Day"

Topic Tuesday #139 2015/03/17 "Being Orange on St. Patrick's Day"

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Unless you are from the area of Ireland commonly referred to as Belfast. 
Green is the color of being Irish, or so all the stores would have you believe with the shamrock shakes, shirts, hats, beer, shots, cups, hair, entire rivers and so on. Green is also the color of Catholic Ireland. 

Thanks to the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 the sovereign  Kingdom of Ireland was established with with Henry VIII as the King of Ireland. Henry had broken ties with the Holy Roman Catholic Church over a little dispute in doctrine to secure an annulment from his wife in the 1530s. So with a new sovereignty came the King's religion in a consolidated and rebranded Church of England. This did not go over very well with the Irish, however they were weary from war and had acquiesced for the time being. 

As time marched on, so the throne changed hands. July of 1553 saw the reign of Mary the First. You may know her by another moniker, that of Bloody Mary. The reason you know that name is because of what she was responsible for. She was a Catholic following after her mother Catherine whom Henry broke ties with the Catholic Church to divorce, as she didn't bear him a son. She eventually succeeded her half brother, Edward VI, when he died in 1553, there was a kerfuffle about succession as she was Catholic and that was bad for Church of England branding. As Royal disputes over lineage go, it was violent. Mary had her first cousin, Lady Jane Grey deposed and then beheaded for being made queen before her. This may have been the first blood on her hands, but far from the last. During her five year reign as the first queen regent of England and queen consort of Habsburg Spain, she had more that 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake. When Mary died in 1558 so did her resurrection of Roman Catholicism. Her younger half sister, Elizabeth I took the throne and returned Church of England and protestantism to the realm.  

Fast forward to the 1700's and we see more formalization of the unification of Great Britain with Scotland and England burying the kaber, becoming the United Kingdom of Great Britain; then in 1714 with the death of Queen Anne and the Act of Settlement they were joined further with Ireland but it wasn't until the Act of Union 1800, the Kingdom of Ireland merged with the Kingdom of Great Britain, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
Things go dicey in 1922 and continued to fall apart until the constituent parts were renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927, five years after the establishment of the Irish Free State. In 1953 the newly formed Republic of Ireland had formed and Ireland  had left the British Commonwealth.  There have been troubles in Northern Ireland ever since. 

Orange Order  Flag .

Where does the orange come in? you may be wondering. Actually, it already did. The Loyal Orange Institution, or Orange Order, was founded as a Protestant fraternal order in Northern Ireland in 1795 when there was significant conflict between the majority Roman Catholic population and the decidedly smaller, but sanctioned under the crown, Anglican Protestants. The order derived it's name from William of Orange, a Protestant king who defeated a Catholic army at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. They wore orange sashes and were called "Orangemen". The order has been a symbol of an ever present rift between Catholics and Protestants; the green and the orange.  "The Orange and the Green" or "The Biggest Mix-Up" is an Irish folk song about a man whose father was a Protestant (Orange) and whose mother was a Catholic (Green). These stories and the violence and animosity have permeated the area for centuries, and continue with the Order making marches and with interfaith marriages being shied away from if they can.

So, when you wear green on St. Patrick's Day, you might want to add a dash of orange, or avoid those wish sashes of orange and an angry look in their eye. Here in the states, you can pretty much count everyone as Irish today, so to your health! Have a green beer for me.

Topic Tuesday #138 2015/03/10 "Short Attention Span Theater"

Topic Tuesday #138 2015/03/10 "Short Attention Span Theater"

From Wikipedia : 

Short Attention Span Theater (abbreviated SAST) was an American clip show in which the hosts presented short segments of stand-up comedy acts and scenes from films airing on HBO and Cinemax.

SAST premiered on the Comedy Channel in November 1989; it was one of the channel's initial programs. Because the Comedy Channel, HBO, and Cinemax were all owned by Home Box Office, Inc., the show was used to promote the parent corporation's programming.

In April 1991, the Comedy Channel merged with Ha!, Viacom's competing comedy channel, to form CTV: The Comedy Network; two months later, CTV rebranded as Comedy Central. The network continued to order new episodes of SAST after this transition, but with some modifications.

Why Am I digging up this hilarious relic of the past? Because of the psychological ramifications of the title, and the meaning behind it. Short Attention Span Theater.  I recently read an article about getting your point across in a very time compressed format. Essentially, an elevator pitch.

See the atricle here:

There have been many studies over the years as to the average attention span of humans in general and Americans in particular.  It would appear that our attention spans have become smaller over the years. Currently some scientists say that it can be as short as 8 seconds. If you are able to get past that initial transience, then you have a second barrier to get past, the "selective sustained attention" of people is about 5 minutes, and recurring roughly every 5 minutes there on.

Based on this information, if you want to grab someone and hold onto them until they really hear you out you need to capture them in the first 10 seconds and then be interesting and compelling enough to get past the 5 minute sustained attention span, and be able to use the next 5 minutes to get real buy in and compelling motivation to stay with it. Even if you manage this daunting task, you only have 20 minutes before they reach a sort of saturation and need a break to absorb or palate cleanse. Some people will drift away and come back to a topic of interest (or responsibility). Often they have to bounce from one to another to maintain a clear focus without becoming bored. Not only should you be concerned with the target of your elevator pitch, you need to be mindful of your own attentions during the pitch. It is just as easy for you to be distracted as those around you.

We have largely become a culture that is forever inundated with memes and sound bites. All these quick nibbles of information has likely contributed to our diminishing attention spans. There were estimates that placed the attention span of earlier generations as being much longer, though testing methods would be forever contested, anecdotal evidence seems to have some merit in this case. 

ADHD diagnosis may be influenced by the environment they person exists in. Likewise someone that is on the autism spectrum may have an advantage for having a more focused attention span as we travel headlong into a more information rich society.  

Now go see something shiny!

Topic Tuesday #137 2015/03/03 "Common Ground"

Topic Tuesday #137 2015/03/03 "Common Ground"

In any communication attempt between two individuals a common ground much be achieved before any discourse can be successful. 

As an example of a common failing, take the word "theory". We have established we are speaking English here, at least we have that going for us, now we have to deal with meaning.  

Do you have one or do you just ask Google everything now?

Do you have one or do you just ask Google everything now?

Where do we get our definitions from? 
In most cases, we get them from our circle of influence. Oh you thought I was going to say dictionary? Sadly, no. We learn language at the proverbial apron strings of our parents. Slowly, formal education can supersede incorrect entries in our inbuilt lexicon. More often than not, the cognitive dissonance that this can create usually causes the most trusted source to be adopted, in spite of correctness. In the United States there has been a rash of anti-intellectualism where facts are debated as if they are merely opinions.

Back to the example of "Theory". If we are speaking about the theory of gravity, then we are dealing with a scientific subject. In the logic tree of life, this would be an indicator that we should use the definition that refers to science: "A supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained." This implies a valid explanation of a phenomenon.

Seems straight forward enough but what if you are not familiar with the ways science? Then you use this definition: "A set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based. Or an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action." This implies that something is unproven or speculative, not a solid understanding of a subject. 

Here we have a dichotomy. What are we to do? We must agree on a definition to continue. We must reach common ground to continue.  

Anytime I have to deal with a situation where the definition of words is the problem, I scramble to rephrase the entire sentiment with other language, grasping at what tenuous understanding may be possible. I'm reminded of a Star Trek TNG episode. Captain Picard was kidnapped by another captain to try to foster diplomatic relations. It was a first contact scenario and though the words were understood by the universal translator, the meaning was lost as Captain Dathon's people communicated through metaphor and shared experiences. 

I guess you had to be there...

I guess you had to be there...

Do you have the Cliff's Notes?

Do you have the Cliff's Notes?

Dathon understood that he had to give them common ground; a shared experience that could bridge the distance between their people. 

Translation: Finally the Terran get's it!

Translation: Finally the Terran get's it!

Have you encountered a problem with establishing common ground? What did you do to bridge the gap?

Topic Tuesday #136 2015/02/24 "Genetically Modified Organisms"

Topic Tuesday #136 2015/02/24 "Genetically Modified Organisms"

Recently a rash of anti-intellectualism has gripped the United States. People are abusing the term skeptic when really they are just denying the consensus of scientific findings.  We have seen this with climate change. We have felt the prick of the anti-vaccination crowd.  One that we haven't discussed is that of genetically modified organisms, aka, food.  

Let me be very clear here: there is no danger in eating the current crops. The danger is in the unknown. 

Let us take as an example, GMO corn. The number one consumer of GMO corn is cattle. It is an enormous part of their diet. The livestock that we rely on for many industries and other food, has suffered no ill effects from this diet. On a microscopic level, the GMO corn is identical to a non-GMO variety.  Combine this knowledge with the thousands of studies from all over the world and you have a mountain of evidence showing there is nothing to be concerned with in its consumption.

Bill Nye, recently, has come out against GMO. His take is different and I share it. He posits that we do not know the impact on the ecosystems around these products. The science is not mature enough for his liking on the effects to all the interconnected bio systems. His, is a reasonable position, even if he would prefer to stop using it all until that science is in. 

That's not going to happen, based on human nature. The horse has left the barn, as is said down on Old MacDonald's farm. The world is the lab in this case, and we will have to deal with it due to inertia. 

In parting, the foods are safe for us, but we don't know what the long term effects their presence in the biosphere will have. 

Remember the fictional PhD, Ian Malcolm. "Life finds a way" "That's chaos theory..."

For the references to the data in the attached meme, the source URL is here.

Topic Tuesday #135 2015/02/17 "Home Automation - Part 1"

Topic Tuesday #135 2015/02/17 "Home Automation - Part 1"

This week I decided to use some of my tax return and jump into the mysterious world of home automation. I'm going to be going through all the bits and pieces on here and with reviews in Cowen's Corner. This is just a tease, as I'm still letting the dust settle.

I went with the SmartThings ecosystem.

There were three primary reasons for why this product and not one of the many others.

1) Cost - The SmartThings Hub was among the least expensive for the features offered. It's a pay once solution with no subscription fees.
2) Flexibility - The SmartThings ecosystem works with the major standards of "internet of things" and home automation. Primarily "Z-Wave" is represented along with the "ZigBee" protocol. These standards make up the backbone of the "internet of things" in your connected home. If you have a security system that has wireless sensors on doors and windows, you might already have some of these in your home.
3) Integration with other pioneers on the internet. So far, I would be lost without recipes from IFTTT (IF This Then That) For instance, IFTTT allows me to record when the front door is locked or unlocked to a spreadsheet on my Google Drive. It is location aware based on my phone., so if I leave the area it will lock the door and turn off my phone's WiFi. I've also set times of day for when that door should be locked by default. It makes that happen and sends me an alert and records it on the sheet. With other partners like Life360 (which I just came across) you can really get a handle on how your family can benefit from some automation and the piece of mind of know where anyone is at a given time.

I've just scratched the surface and it will be an adventure - not the cheapest adventure, but well worth exploring.

What would you automate?

Topic Tuesday #134 2015/02/10 "To Clean Or Not Too Clean?"

Topic Tuesday #134 2015/02/10 "To Clean Or Not Too Clean?"

I'm sure I had a topic around here someplace... But I lost it when I had to start moving furniture in the living room. Last week, I told you about my drain problems. Today I was told the plumbers would be at my house tomorrow and would be trenching through my living room to fix the cast iron. 

So... I will leave you with the thought on my mind:
How much do you clean when the purpose of someones visit is to destroy part of your house?

Topic Tuesday #131 2015/01/13 - "Branding"

Topic Tuesday #131 2015/01/13 - "Branding"

I will get to the crusades next week, they proved too much for me this week.

Did you take the challenge?

Did you take the challenge?

Branding is critical to everything we do. Obviously the can of Coke or Pepsi are iconic examples of brands and the recognition embedded into our culture. Coke has the Polar Bears and Santa, Pepsi used Michael Jackson and their slogan, "The Choice of A New Generation" and we instantly know what they are and maybe we even want to have one right now. 

Brands encompass texture, fonts, color combinations and selections, size and placement of every element, slogans, mascots, uniforms, and if done right - the brand tells a story that sticks with the consumer. But, branding goes further than companies hocking their wares. 

People have brands too. Everything about how you present yourself is part of your brand. Say you are a mask wearing swashbuckling antihero with a penchant for carving the first letter of your moniker into your foes... All of that is the brand of Zorro. But you present your brand too, everyday. Your speech patterns, your tool choices, your favorite pen with your illegible signature, the way you walk, the clothes you wear. The entire package of you, is your brand. Just like Batman, Superman, Wonderwoman, Teddy Roosevelt, Donald Trump (oh the hair...) anyone that wears a uniform to do their job... even clandestine organizations have brands. 

Even the Fluffy White Evil Kitty is part of Blofeld's brand.

Even the Fluffy White Evil Kitty is part of Blofeld's brand.

I had a mentor in college, Tom Begley. Not only was he the best Technical Director I have had the pleasure of working with, he was a genuinely wonderful person. In the morning, classical music played, only to be switched to classic rock in the afternoon. He wore the "same" clothes every day: a black shirt, dark jeans, cost conscious black sneakers, and a coating of saw dust. He would tidy up for headshots. Like he would throw a "nice" shirt on over the black tee. But, if you made it past the barbarian exterior, you got to find out what was behind the brand. He confided in me during a show run about his personal brand. "I dress like a barbarian so no one will bother me." He wanted to avoid distraction and devote time where he was needed. I miss him, and perhaps his brand helped to cement him in my mind. 

What is your brand? Does it say what you want about you? 

Topic Tuesday #116 2014/10/07 "Common Core”

Topic Tuesday #116 2014/10/07 "Common Core”

Today was my first grader's parent/teacher conference. We talked about the usual about how they were doing, what they were learning and what the obvious obstacles were that had to be overcome. there was an underlying note of frustration from the teacher, but not with my child, or even me. This year she has been dealing with the aftermath of a promise that has not been upheld by her administrators. She was told that "common core would be less broad but more detailed" in it's approach. That she would be diving deeper on certain topics and not broaching others. That was partially true. She is diving much deeper on subjects with first graders than she ever has before, and she has been teaching more broadly also. The work load this poor woman has had to undertake to make this program work is monumental. Most K-12 educators already are famous for working LONG hours. This teacher was at school well before 7AM and wasn't likely to leave until it was time for dinner. I'm thinking a 12 hour day. Everyday. 

Now I am not a luddite, I want new things to be tried. However... I have noticed in my years, and even when I was in k-12 myself as a student that the School Board has a long history of not letting a program run its course to determine if it actually works or not. There is already more talk about scrapping this curriculum than many before it, and we are just a few months in. And I can see why.

Common Core seeks to build a more robust and in depth understanding of educational concepts from the beginning. The program is intended to smooth the path to college by making the knowledge gap between college level courses more equitable. Florida has partnered with American Institutes for Research to build the Common Core curriculum as laid out by the national math, language arts and literacy standards. This is great if it is well balanced and starts at the earliest grades and builds through the education path.

I'm not seeing the implementation as having the right fit, yet. The demands on our young kids are pretty severe and in turn the teachers that are expected to make it work are even worse. How do you teach a child a math problem that is all words when the child hasn't learned to read well enough to get through the question? How do you expect an enormous vocabulary of reading and writing that balloons weekly when the kids who are losing all their baby teeth are having trouble with certain sound combinations? It's frustrating, and kids this age have enough problems with frustration without setting them up for failure. 

I am willing to see this through, as I see the underpinnings are teaching not what to think as much as how to think about what they are learning. That is wonderful. My fear is that this will be scrapped and the progress that has been made will be stymied by another dramatic shift in how we are expecting to teach, and how we are expected to learn. Children need stability, and I wish someone would see that as best for the children and implement changes for an entire "crop" of kids. Starting at Kindergarten, make that education method the same through 12th. If there is a change in the method, address it with the next year's Kindergarteners and watch it go. Though there are many arguments against this approach, and rightly so, I would greatly like to see what happens if a plan is allowed to work from beginning to end...