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This last week, hundreds of thousands of people showed their support by patronizing Chick-Fil-A restaurants after the media created an explosion of controversy in response to a little-distributed interview with Chick-Fil-A’s founder Dan Cathy. In the interview, Mr. Cathy reiterated an opinion he’s expressed before: He supports traditional marriage (that is, “marriage” should be a man and a woman.

The media succeeded in making this a much bigger deal than it should have been. Mayors of Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco were quoted either saying or implying they would use their positions of power to either shut down existing Chick-Fil-A restaurants in their cities or prevent the chain from obtaining permits to open new locations in the future.

The ears of constiutional watchdogs throughout the country perked up.

One candidate for public office in Mississippi said Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel “needs to be introduced to the Second Amendment ASAP.” He’s entitled to his free speech, but this seems a little like shouting fire in a theater. It was a poor judgement to say those words.

That being said, there is a nugget of truth behind those inflammatory words. The types of actions the mayors of San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago have talked about doing are examples of tyrannical abuses of government power. These are small examples of why we have the Second Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees citizens the right to resist, with arms, against a tyrannical government.

I patronized Chick-Fil-A with my family to show my support of Mr. Cathy’s right to free speech. He should be able to express his opinion about marriage without fear of retribution from government officials. Government officials should respect his opinion and should be committed to protecting his ability to say what he wants.

Had Mr. Cathy said he intended, either personally or through his business, to discriminate against gays as customers or employees, I’d be up in arms myself. But, he didn’t say anything like that. Corporate policy at Chick-Fil-A is that everyone should be served and treated as a valued customer.

I’m sure there are many who work for Mr. Cathy or who own Chick-Fil-A franchises who disagree with his opinion on same sex marriage. In fact, there have been some news reports of franchise owners who disagree with Mr. Cathy. Despite the disagreement, they still want the public to eat chicken sandwiches and, chances are, they support Mr. Cathy’s right to have and speak his opinion.

As this story has evolved, I’ve come across some stories that point out Chick-Fil-A donates millions to organizations that are anti-gay or “hateful.” I checked it out and discovered these organizations are mostly Christian faith-based groups that are dedicated to promoting traditional marriage. They’re not “anti-gay.” They’re pro-traditional marriage. That’s not the same and the distinction is something those in the media should be ashamed of being guilty of not understanding.

An anti-gay organization would be a despicable group that promotes intolerance, active discrimination, and violation of human rights. I haven’t looked into these organizations that Chick-Fil-A has donated to in detail, but I suspect they may support civil unions and/or equivalent visitation and legal rights for same-sex couples. That’s not hateful at all.

To set up kmail or kontact to handle mailto: links from Firefox in Fedora 17, follow these directions:

  • Go to Edit -> Preferences in Firefox
  • Choose the Applications tab
  • Type mailto in the search entry field to select the specific rule
  • Change the target to Use other…
  • Enter /usr/libexec/kde4/kmailservice as the path to the program to use

KDE users have had a powerful calendar utility at their disposal for quite a few years with http://userbase.kde.org/KOrganizer which is a component of the http://userbase.kde.org/Kontact.

KOrganizer was built for a long time with the ability to use iCal and vCal data. In recent years, however, http://www.google.com/calendar has become a very popular calendaring tool. Integrating Google Calendar with KDE's native calendaring application has been, unfortunately, hit and miss.

Read-only access has always been pretty straightforward. You just load a remote ICal file. This technique has been documented on a few sites including http://win.ua.ac.be/~nschloe/content/korganizer-google-calendar.

Google Calendar supports CalDAV and there have been some people who have documented how to take advantage of this to do read-write with Google Calendar from Kontact/KOrganizer by entering Google Calendar as KDE DAV groupware resource. This is documented http://jpwhiting.blogspot.com/2011/04/kontact-with-google-calendar.html.

Probably the most documented strategy is using a Java daemon called http://gcaldaemon.sourceforge.net/. The project's website states that the daemon "offers two-way synchronization between Google Calendar and various iCalendar compatible calendar applications."

I tried unsuccessfully to get GCalDaemon to work a couple of times and gave up. Many people have gotten it to work, however. http://www.yeap.de/blog2.0/archives/206-Accessing-Google-Calendar-from-KOrganizer.html is one of many that documents how it is done.

Recently, the KDEPIM project added a component called http://community.kde.org/KDE_PIM/Akonadi which is an "extensible cross-desktop storage service for PIM data and meta data providing concurrent read, write, and query access."

Basically, it is a modular system that allows KDEPIM applications (like Kontact and KOrganizer) to read from and write to various data sources, local and online. Like Google Calendar? You bet!

On Fedora, all you need to do to talk to Google Calendar with Akonadi is to install a few packages:

# yum install akonadi-google-calendar

Then restart the akonadi service:

$ akonadictl restart

Then, after restarting Kontact/KOrganizer, you can add a new calendar and "Google Calendars" as the type of calendar you want to add. Provide your Google credentials, choose the calendar you want to manage inside Kontact/KOrganizer, and let 'er rip!


Google Calendars option in Akonadi sources dialog

The http://www.catalystframework.org/ for Perl web development has some powerful special actions that frequently come in very handy when you’re building an application, especially one that is heirarchical in nature as most are.

An application I am working on right now provides a list of hash references to the template view for presenting a dynamic crumb trail on the page. The crumb trail can be defined in the controller class like this:

$c->stash->{'crumbtrail'} = [
    {   href    =>  '/',
        label   =>  'Home',
    },
    {   href    =>  '/section1/'
        label   =>  'Section 1',
    },
    {   href    =>  '/subsection1/'
        label   =>  'Sub-Section 1',
    },
    {   label   =>  'Final Destination',
    },
];

In the interest of DRY, we certainly don’t want to duplicate this code in each of our handler methods in the controller class. The special action method begin comes to the rescue.

The https://metacpan.org/module/Catalyst::Manual::Intro includes a brief section on these actions and describes the begin method as follows:

Called at the beginning of a request, once the controller that will run has been identified, but before any URL-matching actions are called. Catalyst will call the begin function in the controller which contains the action matching the URL.

If we have a controller class Foo that handles requests for /foo/ and any other path below it, we might have a begin action method defined in our Foo controller class that looks like this:

sub begin :Private {
    my ( $self, $c ) = @:

    $c->stash->{'crumbtrail'} = [
        {   href    =>  '/',
            label   =>  'Home',
        },
        {   href    =>  '/foo/'
            label   =>  'Foo',
        },
    ];
}

Then, in our index handler method, we simply remove the last href value:

sub index :Path Args(0) {
    my ( $self, $c ) = @_;

    ...
    $c->stash->{'crumbtrail'}->[-1]->{'href'} = undef;
}

In another Foo path handler, we would probably want to amend the crumb trail:

sub bar :Local {
    my ( $self, $c ) = @_;

    ...
    push @{$c->stash->{'crumbtrail'}}, {
        label   =>  'Bar',
    };
}

In summary, the begin special action method is a valuable way to save time and effort. Its cousins end and auto are also handy.

On 14 May 2010, I began working at Grant Street Group as a software developer. Grant Street Group is based out of Pittsburgh, PA and I worked for them as a telecommuter. Most of Grant Street Group’s development team works remotely as I do and their procedures and work environment has been molded around distributed development. It works very, very well.

The last two years have been terrific, but I’m moving on to another opportunity. Friday will be my last day at Grant Street Group. I’m sad I won’t be working anymore with several people I’ve gotten be good friends with (we’ll always have Facebook, won’t we?!) and some of the smartest Perl developers in the world.

Next week, I start at Bluehost, one of the top web-hosting companies in the world. They’re headquartered in Provo, UT and I’ll be working in their offices some of the time and home some of the time.

Many blog posts begin with “It’s been a long time since I last blogged.” While that’s certainly true in my case, I’ve recently come upon some new technology that may increase the frequency of my blog posts: tablet computers.

I recently picked up a used HP Touchpad from a seller on EBay. The tablet was already loaded with Android 2.3.7 alongside the stock WebOS (which is, of course, kind of a dead product). I promptly upgraded Android to 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and began installing various apps.

The HP Touchpad is a 10-inch tablet, similar to an iPad (but runs a superior OS, heh.) I was lucky enough to also get a bluetooth keyboard with the tablet, which makes entering text (like this) much easier than using an on-screen keyboard. I did install a Swype clone app so that I could enter text via the screen more effectively.

The lack of momentum in the Movable Type community is clearly evident in the fact there aren’t any blogging clients for Android that work with MT. All hope is not lost since the web interface works fine in an Android browser.

A couple of weeks ago was the 2012 Utah Open Source Conference and I was there as a core team member recording video of various sessions. After the conference was over, I began editing and uploading video of sessions to my YouTube channel.

This was going quite well and surprisingly efficiently… until I upgraded kdenlive, the non-linear video editing application I use. The kdenlive team announced the 0.9 release and I updated my git sources and built the new version, excited to explore some of the new features.

But, lo and behold, I ran into problems. While editing one of the UTOSC session videos, kdenlive would crash. I got into the source code and did some debugging and discovered it had to do with calculations related to audio file characteristics by the FFMPEG libraries. As it turned out, I was seeing the effects of a known bug.

The kdenlive developer mailing list has always impressed me. The participants are on the ball and very helpful. Each time I’ve had a problem (not really that often), it’s given me an opportunity to learn more about how kdenlive is built and how to work on it. This most recent issue is an excellent example. I learned how to build kdenlive for debugging inside of kdevelop and how to step through it. That was a good experience.

The bug has been fixed and I’ve updated and rebuild kdenlive. More videos from the 2012 Utah Open Source Conference should be showing up on my YouTube channel soon.

It’s interesting, enlightening… could be depressing, but I won’t let it be… to assess the changes to my personality over the years. I went back and read some journal entries from some 12 or so years ago and was a little shocked by how “raw” I was then. I was much more easily provoked and much more easily frustrated. My stress levels were off the charts.

Here’s an excerpt, edited to protect the innocent (I don’t believe I would have bothered to protect the innocent back then.)

(My employer) has been forced to move into our new office space before we were ready because we found out this morning that as of Monday, the building we’re in is scheduled for demolition. I also found out this morning my boss no longer has an office reserved for him. He will be in a cubicle with the rest of us weenies who are not worth of an office.

So… I’m kind of depressed. I really don’t feel like the managers of this company are very considerate of those working for them- making the company work. And… most of all, I just don’t enjoy what I’m doing. I don’t enjoy the working conditions.

So… I just don’t know what to do. (Our vice president) used to spew &%^$ about honesty and openness and how he wanted good communication in this company. I don’t know how you promote good communication in a company, but we sure the %&$ don’t know how to do it. The communication in this company is so &%$#@& screwed up… I feel we could be a prototype for bad communication.

I don’t think (Employer)’s problem is that nobody’s TRYING to communicate. Everyone is yacking and spouting constantly. It’s just that nobody’s listening and nobody’s considering what anyone else has to say. In fact, nobody seems very considerate at all. I’ve tried to be considerate. I don’t know if I am… but I try to be.

I know I’m a lot more wise now than I was then. I probably have a long, long road ahead of me in the path to wisdom accumulation, but I’m proud to say I’m a lot more level-headed now than I was then. If I could talk to the person I was then, I’d have a lot of advice on how to deal with the situation I was in, but I’m fairly certain the person I was then would just deflect the advice and make excuses for why the situation was dire, grim, and hopeless.

The problem at that particular company was that of leadership- there wasn’t any good leadership. We had good technology, really good technology, but we were undermanned and overtasked. I really didn’t have much experience under my belt at the time to realize I should have, could have, stepped up to the plate to contribute some of the badly needed leadership. I had a good deal of confidence and passion about what I wanted to do for the company, of course, but felt mostly unsupported by those above me.

Today, on the other hand, situations are different. I have very little of that passion I had then. I’ve force myself, intellectually, to learn new skills, to do a good job for my employer because I know I need the skills, not just the technical skills, but even the simple ability to accept and complete tasks given to me. My confidence shattered in the intervening years is on a slow but steady growth curve, accompanied by a small sense of humility I didn’t have back then. I’d love to regain that passion, but I suspect a newly gained apprehension of faceplanting looms, everpresent.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged anything, let alone anything technical. So, here goes.

I’ve been making the rounds in our house, upgrading all the desktops to Fedora 16. For the most part, this has been fairly painless. One thing I’ve noticed, however, is that Fedora 16 changes the default UIDs for new users. In the past, UIDs started at 500. Now they start at 1000.

This became a problem when I tried to make changes to files on an NFS-mounted filesystem shared by a server running CentOS 5.7. On the CentOS server, my UID is 500. On my Fedora 16 desktop, my UID is 1000. I knew this was going to be a problem for other users in the house as well.

Ideally, some way of mounting NFS filesystems with some UID mapping would be the easiest approach here. I’m no NFS guru so I did some research online to see what I could come up with. I could be wrong, but this doesn’t come easily.

So, next, I looked at using Samba instead of NFS. Because the various desktops might have more than one user account on them, I wanted to make sure each user could have access to files on the server they’re supposed to have access to.

We use KDE on our desktops. KIO provides some very nice means for users to connect to network services via HTTP, SSH, SFTP, Samba, FTP, and other protocols. Once you connect to a network service, you can save the connection for use later. This is handy, but I could not find a way to make this work at the command-line as well. That is, if you have a Samba share mounted via KIO so you can access it via KDE applications, there is no way of opening a terminal application and interacting with the files in the Samba share with shell commands.

Right away, I got thinking this would really be a good use of Filesystem In Userspace FUSE. FUSE is a kernel module for Linux that allows non-privileged users to interact with the root filesystem aspects of the kernel. In addition to allowing non-root users to mount local devices and network services like Samba and SSH, it also has given way to some projects that do some very interesting things like provide filesystem access to archive files like .zip and .tar files.

It looks like there is a project called KioFuse that aims to make KIO connections available via FUSE, but I didn’t see that until just now. In fact, I ran across this discussion on the KDE mailing list that seemed to indicate KIO and FUSE were not a match to be. It seems, however, that hasn’t remained true. I will definitely have to check out KioFuse and see how well it performs.

Fedora 16 includes the fuse-smb package which provides FUSE access to Samba shares. On the surface, it appears to be fairly simple to use. You create a fusesmb.conf file in a .smb subdirectory in your home directory. This file should contain a username and password for the share you wish to mount. Then, create a directory to act as a mountpoint for the FUSE filesystem, like ~/Network. Finally, run fusesmb followed by the mount point you created.

fusesmb ~/Network

If all works well, you should be able to access servers and shares under your mountpoint. For example, ~/Network/servername/sharenamename

.

I never got fuse-smb to work. I suspected SELinux was in the way, but I couldn’t find any evidence to support that theory.

In the meantime, I’ve set up entries in /etc/fstab for the Samba share I want users to be able to access. The entry has the user option which allows a non-root user to control the mount. This provides some of what FUSE is supposed to do.

Next, I need the Samba share mounted for each user when they log in. To accomplish this, I created a simple shell script in the ~/.kde/Autostart directory that mounts the Samba share. Something like this:

#!/bin/bash

mount //server/share

Simple enough.

I also would like the system to automagically unmount the filesystem when the user logs out. To do this, I should be able to put a similar shell script in ~/.kde/shutdown that does a umount of the mounted filesystem. But, this didn’t work.

Despite the fact the manual pages for mount and fstab clearly say all that is needed to allow normal users to mount and unmount a filesystem is to add the user option, I can’t seem to unmount the Samba share as a non-root user.

$ umount /import/server/share 
umount: only root can unmount //server/share from /import/server/share

This is a partial solution. If others have ideas, I’m all ears. I’ll continue to explore.

In the past, I had an OpenLDAP server that most of the desktops in the house authenticated against. When Fedora introduced SSSD, that stopped working and I had to create users on each desktop again. I’d like to eventually get back to that and I know that would solve the original problem with UID mapping.

This last weekend, Standard & Poors downgraded the credit rating of the United States of America from ‘AAA’ to ‘AA+’. This, of course, created an uproar in political circles. Wasn’t the raising of the debt ceiling passed by congress and signed into law by the president supposed to prevent something like this?

Many on the left are blaming the downgrade on the Tea Party, calling it the “Tea Party downgrade.” John Kerry and David Axelrod are both on record using that term.

Others are calling the Tea Party terrorists for holding up the legislative process and preventing proposed legislation from being passed because Tea Party-minded members of the House of Representatives wouldn’t compromise.

David Beers of S & P has come out and explained, specifically, why they downgraded the US’s rating.

“Entitlement reform is important because entitlements are the biggest component of spending, and the part of spending where the cost pressures are greatest,” Beers said according to a story posted by Fox News. He added that “political gridlock has prevented the U.S. from reaching a plausible solution to getting its financial house in order.”

Because the “poltiical gridlock” was caused, largely, by the Tea Party-minded members of Congress holding their ground, yeah, based on that reasoning, you could say they’re responsible for the downgrade. But, what if there were no Tea Party-minded members of Congress? What if the 2010 elections hadn’t given the Republicans a majority in the House (comprised of a number of freshmen Tea Party congressmen?) If the House was voting as it had prior to 2010, there probably would not have been much, if any, debate about raising the debt ceiling at all. Sure, some Republicans would have hollered about it, but more likely the Democrat majorities would have passed new legislation to raise the debt ceiling along with sweeping tax increases in the name of raising revenues accordingly.

We might have been downgraded all the way to “AA.”

While it’s true that Washington currently can’t act cohesively at the moment, I contend the Tea Party contingent in Congress prevented a worse scenario.

The only way our government could have prevented any downgrade at all would have been if congress passed legislation including sweeping entitlement reforms and cuts, across the board cuts of discretionary spending, and some sort of commitment to a balanced budget. Under Obama and Reid, this never would have happened! The credit rating downgrade was completely unavoidable.

One of my good friends over on Google+ posted a link to this New York Times blog/article written by Nobel Prize-winning economist and journalist Paul Krugman.

Krugman’s article is so full of blatant bullshit. He, along with Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter, is living proof the Nobel Prize committee consists of idiots.

First of all, he says “the right is making insane demands.” Do you really think “stop spending so much money” is an insane demand? Let’s say your wife says, “We’ve got X dollars per month coming in and you’re spending X+Y every month. You need to stop spending so much money.” Is she making an insane demand?

Next up is Krugman’s assertion that “the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating.” Oh man, I wish that were true. The president has vowed to veto pretty much everything the House has passed or talks about passing. Sen. Reid wouldn’t even allow Senate debate on the House bill that passed. That doesn’t sound like bending over backward at all.

Next, Professor Krugman says (with a straight face), we “have a centrist president — actually a moderate conservative president.” That’s perhaps the most laughable thing in the whole (short) writeup.

Of course, President Obama and his re-election campaign want us to think he’s moderate/centrist. That’s the only way he’s ever going to get re-elected. He’s very good at talking the talk, but facts are prickly, stubborn things. Take his books, for example. They would never be at home alongside other moderate/centrist books. They’re very left-leaning. His record in the Illinois state senate also shows him on a very liberal path. His record as U.S. senator doesn’t really exist. The last 3 years of him as president has included nationalizing banks and the auto-industry, dramatically increasing the amount of regulation at the federal level, and putting in place a framework for a nationalized healthcare system. Not really the handiwork of a moderate or a centrist.

The ADA awarded him a 95% liberal voting record last year; the year before that, it was a perfect 100%. The American Conservative Union gives him a lifetime rating of 8%; Republican moderate Olympia Snowe has a 50% lifetime rating; Joe Lieberman, thrown out of the party for being too conservative, has a 17% lifetime rating. ” (From http://stubbornfacts.us/politics/centrism/barakobamacentrist )

Once a year, Salt Lake County drops off large dumpsters in neighborhoods as part of their Area Clean-up program. They remain in the neighborhood for about a day or so and then they’re picked up and the contents are taken to the county landfill.

area-cleanup-trailer.jpg

A couple days ago, the large dumpsters appeared around our neighborhood. As soon as I noticed the large dumpster across the street from our house, I began to notice slow-moving pickup trucks, sometimes with flatbed trailers, moving through our neighborhood. Some of the trucks and trailers were full of miscellaneous items. These vehicles definitely didn’t belong to people from our neighborhood. I didn’t know if they were people from other areas who were just looking for dumpsters to dump their trash in or if they were hoping to scavenge items from the dumpsters.

A few hours later, a neighbor reported that a Canondale road bicycle had been stolen from out of his open garage. I was surprised by this because he lives in a fairly secluded culdesac. Then, someone else mentioned another neighbor who had something stolen from out of their garage.

I continued to see the pickup trucks driving past my house. The postcard the county sent out a couple weeks before the dumpsters were dropped off indicated that the postcards could be used to show authorization to use the dumpster. It was obvious the county didn’t want other people freeloading and dumping their crap into dumpsters that were there for our use. I had my camera camera on-hand in case I saw someone throwing stuff into our dumpster, but I never saw anyone stop.

On the side of the dumpster, there was a printed warning against scavenging saying that it was illegal. So, either way, someone from out of our neighborhood that was doing anything with these dumpsters was doing something against the law.

On Facebook, neighbors were saying they were seeing people taking items from the dumpsters and loading them on trucks.

The morning before the dumpsters were reclaimed by the county and taken away, I saw a police vehicle with its lights flashing behind a truck filled with items from a nearby dumpster. I was glad someone got caught.

Another one of my neighbors talked to me later and said he took some time to do some surveilance of the neighborhood with his camera and what he saw indicated there was a network of coordinated people both looking for items they could take out of dumpsters and driving around, slowly, scoping the neighborhood for houses with open garages. This neighbor followed a couple of vehicles, snapping photos of license plates, and even followed one vehicle to a home in West Valley City where he saw a garage that appeared to be filled with “loot.”

My neighbor reported all he saw to the police and turned over some photographs to them as well. The police talked to people they caught in the act in the neighborhood, but nobody was apparently arrested, maybe only cited.

The next thing my neighbor told me is the icing on the cake: The individuals he observed were not speaking English, or not speaking English very well, but communicated mainly in Spanish and appeared to be natives of a Central or South American country. As he interacted with the police as they were talking to one of the people they caught, my neighbor said they also didn’t have any identification to show the police.

This strongly suggests these individuals, working as an organized network, were illegal aliens.

I spoke with a family member who told me, yes, this happens regularly in their area as well and they knew someone else who, while moving items from their backyard to a dumpster, a large aluminum extension ladder was taken from out of their open garage.

Now, I’m not going to paint ignorant, broad strokes here and say that all or even many of the people in the country illegally are involved in criminal behavior like this, but based on what my neighbor saw and what I’ve been able to ascertain in my limited investigation, this is a powerful indication of what we have brought on ourselves by tolerating illegal immigration.

The problems presented here have several facets. Not only are citizens being robbed by these illegal aliens, but law enforcement appears to either be restricted in what it can do when these individuals are caught, or they choose not to do anything. This may be because a prosecuting attorney isn’t going to press charges. I don’t know.

One thing is clear: If you receive notice that dumpsters are going to be delivered to your neighborhood, get prepared to be on the lookout for crimes being committed. Tell your neighbors to keep their garages closed and to be extra vigilant. If you see vehicles driving through your neighborhood that you don’t recognize, especially if you see them a couple of times, get a picture of their vehicle. If you see a crime being committed, call the police immediately.

It’s been about six years since I got my current hearing aids, Oticon Synchro 2s. Typically, people who wear hearing aids replace their aids about every five years.

When I was a kid, getting my hearing aids to last five years was a significant challenge. My first hearing aids, Starkey in-the-ear aids, were sent in for repair and/or rebuild several times during the time I had them. My second set of aids, Audiotone behind-the-ears (BTEs), also suffered much abuse as they accompanied me during my early adolescence.

Now that I’m an adult, I guess I take better care of my aids and haven’t had to send them in for any kinds of repairs. However, I have taken up running during the last three years and that has affected my aids. My battery compartments sometimes show signs of battery corrosion, likely from my perspiring so much as I train. I try to keep that cleaned out so that it does not become a problem.

My audiologist (also my father-in-law) recommended we check out the GN Resound Alera. These aids are behind-the-ear but the receiver— the speaker component itself— goes in the ear canal and is connected to the rest of the aid by a thin cable.

I had impressions made of my ears two weeks ago so that molds could be made for the receivers. Today, I got to try out the Aleras. They’re easily a third the size of my Syncro 2s. In addition, they have several features the Syncro 2 does not:

  • Much-improved feedback management
  • Wireless communication between the aids. Changing a program on one aid may also make the same change on the other.
  • Remote control is possible with a wireless remote
  • Stream audio wirelessly to the aids from a bluetooth device or a directly connected audio device (TV, Stereo, etc.)

alera.jpg

I have been anxious to try out these new aids, but in the end, I was disappointed.

First of all, they don’t have an induction coil, or telecoil, inside of them. The induction coil is how most hearing aid wearers use the telephone or listen to music or other audio through headphones, neck loops, or ear hooks. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if GN Resound offered a portable audio streamer accessory to wirelessly stream audio directly to the aids, but the only audio streamer they offer right now is their TV Streamer which requires AC power.

For telephone use, GN Resound has a Phone Clip which connects a Bluetooth mobile phone to the hearing aids. Users of traditional phones, however, don’t have any options.

While I do appreciate the wireless options available in these new devices, in order for the aids to be functional for me, I need:

  • Connection options to portable audio devices like an MP3 player
  • Connection options to traditional phones as well as mobile phones

If wireless connectivity is not available, then I need a telecoil in the aids so I can listen to phone audio, music, etc. the “old fashioned way.”

My holy grail of hearing aids appears to be:

  • Wireless connectivity (for remote control, simultaneous control of both aids, and possibly audio injection)
  • Internal telecoil
  • Receiver in the canal
  • Enough power to compensate for my moderately severe hearing loss (my loss is around 70db, fairly flat, in both ears)

This seems to be a tall order for hearing aid manufacturers as the telecoil is relatively large. For these new, small aids like the Alera, manufacturers are opting to exclude a telecoil in exchange for wireless audio options.

For those aids that do feature a telecoil, many do not feature an in-the-canal receiver, but instead feature a narrow rubber tube that carries sound from an integrated receiver to a mold in the ear, not much unlike what I have now with my Syncro 2s.

A quick look at offerings from other manufacturers shows that the Starkey S Series 5 RIC AP aid is an option. This is a powerful BTE aid with an in-canal receiver, an integrated telecoil, and wireless streaming options. It doesn’t appear that Starkey has a portable streamer (something integrated with the remote control would be ideal), but that’s tolerable since the integrated telecoils offer an alternative way to listen to music, telephones.

Phonak has several powerful aids with integrated telecoil and wireless options, but none of the BTE models seem to feature an in-canal receiver.

This last week, one of the big items in the news was the GOP proposal in the U.S. House of Representatives to defund Planned Parenthood as part of federal spending cuts in budget negotiations.

It should be clearly obvious at this point that across the board cuts are needed to improve the fiscal crisis the federal government is currently faced with. Planned Parenthood, however, is a darling for those on the left.

You could tell how much of a darling by the hysterics reported in the news:

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood itself is breaking out the heavy weapons. Hollywood starlet Scarlett Johansson starred in a promotional video for Planned Parenthood in which she says the U.S. House passed a bill to “eliminate our country’s family-planning program.”

(I find it a little amusing Planned Parenthood chose Ms. Johansson as a spokesperson for this campaign spot. I wrote about her before when she was quoted in the media as saying “[Monogamy] is an overrated virtue, because, let’s face it, we’re f*ing animals.” There’s your spokesperson for responsibility.)

Planned Parenthood is in a tough spot. Many only know them as providers of abortion services, but that’s an unfair characterization. They also provide invaluable other services such as dispensing birth control, screenings for cancer and sexually-transmitted diseases, and educational materials on sexual issues.

While some die-hard extreme folks on the right might celebrate the demise of Planned Parenthood, don’t count me as one of them. Many Americans, particularly those who are poor and/or young, may depend on Planned Parenthood for valuable, maybe even life-saving, services and information.

With that being said, the only way we’re going to solve any of the fiscal problems in the federal government is by eliminating all pet projects and funding to special interest organizations. This doesn’t mean they will instantly cease to exist! Planned Parenthood has done a commendable job in the past marketing itself and you would think they’d have little problems replacing — by way of fundraising — money lost by a cut in federal funding.

Another pet project of those on the left is public broadcasting. I ran across this article that ran yesterday which explains that local public radio stations have had “enormously successful” fundraising drives this year, partially because of the news that federal funding may go away.

Some projects and organizations currently funded in part by the federal government would simply disappear if the faucet delivering those funds were shut off. In a time of crisis, that’s what needs to happen.

Glenn Beck has recently spoken about the problem of “normalcy bias” and I think it applies perfectly here. Many Democrats in Congress would agree the federal government is in bad financial shape, but they protect funding going to things that should only be funded if the government had a surplus or, at the very least, a balanced budget. These representatives are experiencing normalcy bias just like a person who goes back into a burning building to get their purse or jacket or to make sure the lights are turned off.

On 30 April, 25 days from today, I plan to run the Thanksgiving Point Half Marathon. I ran the race last year, my first half-marathon, my first race, ever, with a time of 2 hours 26 minutes. I ran pretty much the entire route.

It’s amazing to me how easy it is to completely lose the fitness. It seems like about a month after the race a year ago, I felt I couldn’t run a couple miles. I was able to get myself a bit more fit and ran a 5K in the Fall and then spent the Winter just trying to stay somewhat in shape.

Starting at the first of the year, I began training for this year’s upcoming half-marathon. I began by running three days a week, about four miles each day.

As that became easier, I increased the distance gradually. I’m up to seven miles, three days a week for a total of 21 miles per week. I feel I should be running around 25 miles a week to be “ready” for a half-marathon.

Beginning in March, about a month ago, I added weight loss to my routine. I’ve been doing diet meal replacement shakes and generally watching what I eat. I lost about 7 pounds in March and hope to lose at least that many before the race on 30 April.

I’ve been running the indoor track at the South Jordan Recreation Center, but since the J. L. Sorenson Recreation Center opened up in Herriman, we’ve moved my daughters to swim with the swim teams that practice there. Logically, I should start running there. The Herriman rec center has an indoor track as well, but it’s a little smaller (11 laps to a mile vs. 10 laps to a mile) and it’s a carpeted track. Ugh. Plus, the air is warmer. And, it’s more crowded.

So, yeah, my first impressions of running on the track at the new rec center haven’t been superb, but I realize I need to see these not as inhibitors, but as challenges I must learn to overcome.

Obviously, if the weather is permitting, I can and should run outside. I generally like to do this if the temperature is between 45 and 65 degrees. We’ll see how it goes.

I think the situation in Wisconsin is pretty simple: The government has a major budget problem. The teachers are not willing to sacrifice and are raising a stink, whining, and throwing a hissy fit. Maybe it’s from being around kids all day.

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Sorry if it seems like I’m being incredibly insensitive, but that’s how I see it. Here in Utah, our legislature and governor have done a far better job of managing the state fiscally than most other states in the US. As a result, we’re not laying off public employees or asking them to make significant concessions in order to prevent a major budgetary meltdown.

Personally, I think public employee unions should be banned. They’re public employees, after all. They already have mechanisms in place to petition their employer (the government and, by extension, the people) for requests be it wages, benefits, working conditions, etc. Unions add overhead costs to both the public employees and the government they work for and siphon government employee pay to political activities, as we can plainly see by the organized activities in the news.

The Wisconsin governor’s and legislature’s decision to cut wages and benefits of public employees makes perfect sense as a strategy to regain some fiscal sanity, but so does restricting union involvement in public employees’ contracts and so forth since that also costs money and could endanger the government’s solvency in the long run.

As for people living and working for the government in Wisconsin, it sucks to be you. If you’re not willing to do what it takes to keep your job, then consider moving somewhere else where people aren’t being asked to sacrifice. Maybe Utah, but I have to warn you, median teacher pay in Utah is about half what they’re making in Wisconsin. Oh, and test scores are much higher. Hmmm. Maybe there’s a connection buried in there.

Dear family, friends, and others,

Every year, we receive wonderful cards and Christmas letters from others and I always think it would be nice to do the same and send out some written Christmas well-wishes and deliver a year’s worth of news about our family. Well, this is it, folks. I’ve finally gotten around to it.

Merry Christmas to you!

Great! Now that’s over with. Let’s talk about us!

2010 was a terrific, momentous year for the Bartons. We moved into a new house in Herriman, about a mile southwest of our previous home, on December 15, 2009, just in time for last Christmas. We purchased the home as a short sale and got a wonderful, luxurious home for a killer deal. The house was entirely finished so, unlike with previous homes, we were not faced with any challenges of finishing basements or anything like that. Instead, we’ve had to do some work on the yard and furnishing the extra space inside.

In February, a client that had been giving me the majority of my contract work let all their employees go. They continued to keep me busy managing their servers for the next couple of months, but I could see the writing on the wall. I started looking for other work— even something that was more like a “real job.” Christine hoped I could find something that let me work from home doing software development instead of I.T. work.

In April, I flew to Pittsburgh, PA to interview with Grant Street Group for a position as a software developer on their TaxSys product. The interviews went well and in May, they asked me to come on board as a telecommuting software developer. It’s been a very challenging job for me as I haven’t had a “real” development job in about eight years, but it’s all been great experience for me as I’ve learned and grown a lot.

Also in April, I ran in my first running race and first half-marathon, the Thanksgiving Point Half Marathon. This was a major accomplishment for me as I’d been running to get into better shape for several months prior and really had no idea if I could do it. I ran a 5K in September and am planning to run the Thanksgiving Point Half Marathon again next April.

Maya, Lucy and Eli changed schools in the Fall because we moved into a different elementary school area and because Maya started the seventh grade. Maya took an special algebra class over the summer to qualify to be in Pre-Algebra in seventh grade and had no problem passing the tests. She’s doing very well in middle-school and brought home her first report card with straight As.

Maya is also now in the Young Womens program in our church and loves it.

Lucy is in fourth grade and her classmates in our neighborhood frequently inform us she is the “smartest kid in the class.” Lucy is also doing very well in piano lessons and on the non-competition swim team at South Jordan’s recreation center. When the new Herriman Recreation Center opens in February, we’ll probably be looking into signing Lucy (and Maya) up for swim team practices there.

Eli is in second grade and got straight As on his first report card. Eli started piano lessons this year with the same teacher Lucy has and is doing well at that also.

Christine has been at Sorenson Communications for almost six years now and is the manager over the quality assurance department where she has about 50 employees working under her. She recently got a new boss who is shaking things up and taking a hard look at how things are being done. Christine is enjoying the excitement, challenges, and new directions her job is taking her in.

On Sunday, 19 September, we came home from having dinner with my parents to find the mountain near our home covered in flames and our neighborhood being evacuated. After we hurried and packed a few belongings into our cars, we could see the wall of flames, stoked by strong, dry winds, moving down the north slope of South Mountain toward the homes on our street. With firefighters nowhere in sight, we had little confidence our home or others around ours would survive the fire.

You can read more about our experience here, but to make a long story short, what happened that night was nothing short of a miracle. Elected officials, police, and firefighters felt the fire would destroy dozens, if not hundreds, of homes. The final tally the next morning was 3 homes. All of the homes in our neighborhood emerged intact, some with charred brush right up to their yards.

It was a humbling, spiritual, and emotional experience that brought neighbors closer together and reminded us that nature is what it is.

Also in 2010, we lost Christine’s paternal grandmother Elna Nielsen. I knew her for years before I met and married Christine. She was a vibrant, loving, wonderful woman who definitely left her mark on the world.

We recognize and acknowledge many of our friends, neighbors, and family members are struggling these days with employment and other economic woes. It is our hope that new congressmen and local elected leaders, with a fresh appreciation for the U.S. Constitution and the philosophy of our Founding Fathers, can steer us in the right direction and back to being a productive, successful people.

With that being said, Utah does seem to be one of the best, if not the best place to be right now.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Thank you for your kind indulgence and have a happy New Year!

Sincerely,

Doran, Christine, Maya, Lucy, and Eli.

Recently, Connor Boyack — a fellow conservative/libertarian — posted the following status update to Facebook:

The “secure our borders” crowd isn’t concerned only about securing a geographical delineation from physical threats — they’re more concerned with building walls to exclude people they don’t like, and/or who economically compete with them.

I’ve known for a few months Connor was an “open borders” guy. Mutual friends, acquaintances and I have joked that Connor is young and when he hits 30, maybe he’ll wise up and find common sense on issues like this. But this statement shows a gross misunderstanding of the “secure our borders” crowd, of which I guess I’m a part of.

I responded to Connor’s status update saying that while he and I agree on most issues, this is one we do not and I found his statement to be closed-minded and intellectually dishonest. It wasn’t long until someone asked me to back up my beliefs. It had to wait, of course, until I had some real time to dedicate to espousing my beliefs. So, here we go.

I’m actually all for Shurtleffesque guest worker programs, but believe we need to address the elephant in the room first. Specifically, the millions of illegal immigrants currently living in the US (or, at least, the thousands of them living in Utah). Sure, they’re good people, hard workers, yadda yadda yadda, but they broke the law and, in many cases, broke several laws getting into the United States and procuring employment.

Many in Connor’s camp will say our current immigration policy is bad policy represented by bad laws that shouldn’t be on the books or, at least, shouldn’t be enforced. I say, if a law is bad, it should be enforced to the letter so that its warts, inadequacies, and failings are clearly visible. Then legislators will take the laws off the books.

In Salt Lake County, no one may walk down the street carrying a paper bag containing a violin.

It’s fun to dig up old laws still on the books that don’t get enforced anymore because they’ve completely lost their relevance and have failed the test of time. Why are they still on the books, then? Because nobody enforces them. If someone was enforcing them, there is no doubt legislators would be under increased pressure from their constituents to strike these outdated laws from the code books.

If our current immigration laws are flawed, then they should be enforced to the letter of the law. Selective enforcement (yes, I’m looking directly at you Chief Burbank) either prevents bad laws from being recognized or does a disservice to good laws which should always be enforced. Either way, the law should be enforced.

I’d actually be okay with granting those already here illegally some sort of legal status, but only if they pay some sort of fair restitution for the crimes they’ve committed. The law must be upheld and must be respected.

Many “open borders” folks like to look back to the 19th and early 20th Centuries to show that our country has a rich history of welcoming immigrants. There’s no denying that we welcomed many from other nations into ours. My grandmother and her family emigrated to the United States in the early 20th Century from Armenia to flee the Turkish invasion of their homeland.

Things should be no different now, right? This comparison has some merit, but for the most part, it’s apples and oranges. Those who came to the United States a hundred or so years ago did it through “proper channels” and most became legal U.S. citizens. They didn’t sneak in, steal someone’s identity, and “live in the shadows.” No, this is what they did:

  • Went through a thorough registration process
  • Were inspected and screened by doctors for communicable diseases (and, unfortunately, physical disabilities)
  • Were turned away if they participated in belief in political philosophies that were incompatible to the constitutional republic of the United States
  • Learned the predominant language (English)
  • Most pursued U.S. citizenship
  • Most had little or no interest in returning to live in their “home” country someday
  • Most were not taking money they earned in the U.S. and sending it to family in their “home” country.

There is a lot of argument to be made that our current immigration policy is unfair, that only those who are well-educated, white-collar workers can get legal status to come here and work. “Unskilled laborers” don’t really have much of a chance of coming into this country legally. I agree with all who believe that policy should change.

During the heyday of “Ellis Island” immigration, the U.S. wasn’t making sure people who traveled across the ocean had graduate degrees and/or work experience in technical fields of expertise. I’d wager most of the immigrants in those days were blue collar workers. Most in those families would not see any kind of college degree for at least one or two generations.

Today, the “secure our borders” argument is more than just keeping illegal aliens out of the U.S. It’s also about keeping out terrorists and drug-related criminals. The southern border is rife with criminal activity thanks to the Mexican mafia and the illegal drug trade. Senator John McCain claimed Phoenix, Arizona is the number two kidnapping capital of the world. Only Mexico City has more kidnappings, he said. I’ve read articles that refute this claim, but regardless, Phoenix remains the kidnapping capital of the U.S.

The docile, serene story of a small Mexican or Latin America family, independently crossing the southwestern desert in hopes for a better life in America is far from what is typical. Border land is patrolled, not just by the U.S. Border Patrol, but also by criminal agents involved in either the drug trade or the human smuggling trade. Moving people (and drugs) across the border has become a big (illegal) business. People who want illegal entry into the U.S. typically must pay, often thousands, to garner (hopefully) safe passage in a group. Individuals in these groups often endure physical and emotional hardships during their passage that can only be compared to those many African slaves endured being transported to the U.S. on board ships hundreds of years ago. Physical and sexual abuse often occurs in these groups as well.

Our “compassionate” support of perpetuation of illegal immigration also, inadvertently, supports the perpetuation of all this criminal and immoral activity.

The illegal smuggling of people and drugs needs to be stopped. Those who have come here illegally should be identified and charged with crimes they’ve committed.

I enjoy visiting Failblog, but it’s even better when you spot some FAIL on your own, which I did today in my e-mail. Check this out:

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One of the many advantages of having a software developer job where you’re working in a distributed, collaborative development environment is that you get to look at other people’s code. What a great way to see examples of coding strategies you’ve never used before.

For example, today I saw where someone had used the part subroutine provided by List::MoreUtils module. The part subroutine basically splits a list into two component parts: A part that meets the condition specified and the part that does not. The example given in the List::MoreUtils documentation is pretty decent:

my $i = 0;
my @part = part { $i++ % 2 } 1 .. 8;

The contents of @part is now two elements, each a list reference to lists containing [1, 3, 5, 7] and [2, 4, 6, 8]. The first list contains elements from the original list (1 .. 8) that basically have a remainder after division by two. The second list contains elements which do not.

You can fetch each of the resulting list references into their own scalars:

my ($odd, $even) = part { $i++ % 2 } 1 .. 8;

Now that I’m reading that code more closely, I think I like this variation, which drops the $i iterator and uses the input list instead, better:

my ($odd, $even) = part { $_ % 2 } 1 .. 8;

Subroutines like part are very useful and many Perl developers make the mistake of throwing together their own implementation instead of looking to CPAN. If that describes you, stop it!

A lot of people have written up their thoughts and their experiences about going through the Herriman “Machine Gun” fire 19 September 2010. I’ve had some friends ask me to do the same. One friend asked me to specifically to highlight the preparedness aspect of our experience.

We’ve lived in the Herriman area for about seven years. During that time, we’ve seen a handful of fires on the hills south of us, usually ignited by lightning. These have usually been small fires and quickly contained by firefighters. So when we heard there was a fire burning in the hills Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t terribly shocking news.

When we came out of church after 4:00 p.m., the sky was considerably smoky to the point that the light from the sun had taken on an orange-ish hue. That was remarkable, but it still didn’t really concern any of us. We carried on with our plans just as most everyone did.

We had been invited to my parents’ in West Valley City for dinner. I decided to drive out there on the Bacchus Highway instead of using the usual route on Bangerter Highway. I wanted to see if the Bacchus route, with fewer stop lights, would be as fast, despite having to drive further to get to the artery.

I drove down 6000 West to 11800 South and then went west toward the Bacchus Highway. As we headed west, I looked south and was really taken back by the visual of the smoke plume coming off the mountain. It was suddenly obvious to me then there was a potentially serious fire burning on the mountain.

We continued to my parents’ house and had dinner. My brother had driven from Utah County and remarked on seeing the smoke as he drove north on Interstate 15.

The smoke was obviously affecting many in the Salt Lake Valley as the winds carried the smoke north. Christine got on the computer at my parents’ house and read a news story about how residents in The Cove were being evacuated and the amount of smoke was causing problems because it was limiting visibility. We decided to head home after 7:30 p.m.

As we drove south on Bangerter Highway, our level of concern began to elevate. The mountain was no longer encompassed by just a plume of smoke, but there was also a prominent red-orange glow that become more and more prominent as darkness set in.

After we turned onto 12600 South to head into Herriman, we began to notice throngs of people pulled over to the side of the road and out of their cars with cameras, video cameras, cell phones, and binoculars, gazing southward at the fire on the mountainside.

It was a spectacular sight, nothing like you’re ever used to seeing at the south end of the Salt Lake Valley. It evoked memories of the visuals of Mordor from the Lord Of The Rings films. One of my neighbors later wrote he had been joking Sunday he was living near “Mount St. Herriman” in a reference to the Mount St. Helens volcano eruptions in the early 1980s.

So far, the fire was merely an intriguing spectacle. Traffic was heavy for a Sunday evening, but it seemed the extra traffic was due to spectators. As we drove up the hill to our home, things were more chaotic. Residents and spectators were visible in nearly equal numbers as well as law enforcement.

Mandatory evacuation

We stopped at a close neighbor’s home where there was a gathering of people. There we learned of the evacuation order that had just been issued. One of our neighbors was starting to panic. “What do we take with us?!” he asked.

As we drove home, I started pondering the possibility we might need to evacuate. In my mind, I considered what we should get out of the house. Our important documents (social security cards, birth certificates, bank account information, etc.) were in a small Sentry fire safe. All our digital photos and lots of other valuable data was stored on our Linux file server in the basement.

When we got home, we told the kids to hurry and pack a day or two of clothes to wear. I went to our storage room and got the 72-hour kits we’d put together a couple years before, one for each member of the family.

Being an insulin-dependent diabetic, I carry fast-acting insulin with me pretty much all the time, but I also inject a long-acting insulin analog in the evenings, so I packed that with my basic toiletry items.

We put our dog in the van.

Our oldest daughter was worried about her pet rats she keeps in a cage in her room. I wasn’t really that concerned about them, but she and my wife convinced me we should take them to a friend’s house who could take care of them temporarily. Our daughter called her friend who agreed to take the rats.

We decided not to do anything about our two cats as they were free-ranging and, we figured, they could get away from the house if the fire got to it.

I disconnected our file server and took it to the garage and fetched our safe as well. My wife grabbed a box from our bedroom closet that had family pictures in it. We packed our clothes and items we were “saving” into the back of our van and the trunk of my wife’s car.

The entire time we were running through the house gathering items, police officers were driving up and down the road in their patrol vehicles running their sirens and talking over their PA horns saying, “Evacuate now! The fire is here!”

There were no firefighters in sight.

It took us about ten minutes to get everything gathered and packed into the vehicles. After I had pulled the van out into the driveway, I got out and quickly took a picture with my phone of the fire advancing toward our house from the west. My kids, especially my younger daughter, was hysterical inside the van that I would delay our escape to take a photo. As you might imagine, tensions were running a bit high.

Here’s the one photo I took of the flames advancing on our neighborhood.

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Because we were taking the rats to our daughter’s friend who lived in a nearby neighborhood, we didn’t take the major artery roads out of our neighborhood. As a result, we didn’t run into any of the congestion others reported having to deal with.

After we dropped off the rats, my wife and I convened outside our vehicles for a few minutes to decided where we should go. We didn’t have any family close-by. My parents already had my brother and his son living with them, so there really wasn’t any room there. We considered the possibility we might be out of our house for several days and we’d want to be somewhat close to Christine’s work and able to get the kids to school. In the end, we decided to go to Sandy where there were several hotels.

We drove to Sandy and listened to the news on the radio as we went. Of course, the headline news was the fire in Herriman, but there wasn’t any information being broadcast that we didn’t already know.

We checked into a Residence Inn in Sandy and they offered us a special $65 rate because were evacuees. We got a room on the third floor with a window that afforded us a view of the South Mountain burning. There were others there at the hotel who were in the same situation as us. While the hotel allowed animals—and several evacuee families had animals with them—I called my parents and asked them to come get our dog.

We stayed up late, me later than the others, watching the news coverage on television (ABC4 and Fox13 did the best jobs). I was also online following the #herrimanfire Twitter feed, Facebook, and listened to a Utah Highway Patrol radio feed provided by RadioReference..com.

We heard a couple of our neighbors on the TV news, answering reporters’ questions via cell phone. Our neighbor Jody told ABC4 he could see our houses from where he was and he could see water being sprayed by firefighters either one the houses or behind them. In any case, he could tell, at that point, our houses were still okay.

I chatted with a couple of our neighbors via Facebook. One of them told me her “cop friend” had been in touch with her and let her know that all of our homes were still okay, save one. There was one home at the top of Friendship Drive, she said, that was burning.

(Thank goodness that story turned out to be false.)

I chatted with one friend on Facebook who lives a few blocks away from us outside the mandatory evacuation area. His family had left their home, but he stayed behind. He told me he could see a home in Sol Vista Circle that sits to the west of our house and it was still okay. This home is the only house in that circle and is surrounded by mountain terrain. I think everyone expected that house to burn just because it’s isolated and surrounded by fuel. My friend told me there were several firefighter vehicles in the circle and they had unloaded some heavy equipment to create a firebreak to the east beginning from that circle.

I found these photos on Facebook, taken by Greg Cutler, that shows the heavy equipment working behind the homes above Rose Summit Drive.

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My friend said there had been looters out in the neighborhood, but they had been dealt with quickly by law enforcement patrolling the streets. He also took a few pictures and uploaded them to Facebook for us.

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I called a couple of our neighbors and exchanged information with them. A couple of them were still in the Herriman area. Several other neighbors and friends and family of neighbors also exchanged information with me via Facebook or Twitter. The online communities were being well utilized that night.

I finally went to bed around 4 in the morning.

Thoughts and perspective in hindsight

Looking back, there are lots of things I’m glad we did or wish we had done differently.

Planning ahead as we approached our home was smart. Having our 72-hour kits ready to go and having all our important documents in one place (the safe) was also good.

We probably should not have left our cats behind. In the end, it worked out fine. When we arrived back home, the cats were snuggled in the garage just like they would be on any normal day (except the garage smelled like a campfire). Salt Lake County had set up a shelter for pets and other animals which would have been a good place to take our cats until we were able to return to the house.

Our 72-hour kits consist of basic hygiene items, water, food, and a “space blanket.” We didn’t really need any of these things for this event and it made us wonder if we should have a couple different kinds of 72-hour kits.

While Christine grabbed a box of family photographs to take out of our house, there were still several photo albums and another box of photos that were left behind. In a day and age where photos can and should be preserved digitally, it makes sense that all those photos should be scanned and stored on a medium we can take with us.

I regret all those times I passed up CERT training or HAM radio training. Fortunately, Herriman City just happens to be doing both in October, so I will be doing at least one of them so that I can be better prepared the next time an emergency like this occurs.

Herriman City did an excellent job of getting information out via Twitter and Facebook. Other methods, such as “reverse 911” seemed to have failed miserably.

While I was able to get in touch with several our neighbors in the hours after we were evacuated, we were out of touch with most of them. It would have helped greatly if we had cell phone numbers for all our neighbors.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this write-up, we really didn’t think much of the fact there was a fire on the mountains behind us until it was very obviously barreling down toward our house at a high rate of speed. In hindsight, knowing there was a fire on the mountain, relative humidity was very, very low, and winds were gusting upwards of 60-70 miles per hour, should have caused a lot more concern.

Insurance

Going through this experience gave us an opportunity to to think about our homeowners’ insurance. Our home was purchased as a short sale and, because of this and because the housing market is depressed at the moment, if our house were destroyed, a policy payout for “market value” would probably allow us to rebuild, but we wouldn’t be able to rebuild our house. We’d have to settle for something less than our house. For this reason, we’ve been talking about discussing changes to our policy with our agent so that if our house were destroyed, it could be replaced.

Staying behind

We’ve heard a few stories of people who stayed despite the evacuation order. For the most part, I think this is unwise. However, there were some residents to the west of us whose homes basically sit between our house and the three homes that burned. They saw the flames heading down the mountain toward their street, saw there were no firefighters on the scene to protect their homes, and took matters into their own hands using garden hoses to soak the areas around their homes to try to save them from the fire.

(Read more about this in this Salt Lake Tribune story.)

Upon learning about this from the online news story, we talked about it and decided, if we had to go through a fire like this again, I’d stay behind, as long as there were other neighbors doing it too, and try to set up a defensive position against the fire. Obviously, this is dangerous business, but if there are no firefighters there when the flames arrive, you either walk away and consign your homes to complete destruction… or you do something.

Like I said, I wouldn’t do it alone— that’s just not smart. But, if there was a group of us working together, I’d stay and fight the fire, at least until the professionals arrived.

Misinformation

In any emergency situation there is bound to be a lot of misinformation, if any good information at all. We were fortunate to have Herriman City sending out tweets as new information became available.

Herriman City did a good job of only sending out valid information. The media, on the other hand, was all over the place. They had varying reports on different stations saying that churches had burned, that dozens of homes had been lost, and more. I remember one station was actually carrying the governor giving a statement about the fire from the command center and when we changed the channel to another station, they had no idea the governor had even arrived in Herriman.

It seems the news media got their best information from Twitter and from cell phone calls from residents in the area (when cell phones worked.)

The problem of misinformation is another motivation to set up a reliable network of information sources ranging from online information and people’s cell phone numbers. I think, despite the problems with voice communications over the cell phone network, most text messaging was working.

This breakout session was hosted by Gary Wood and Ken Ivory of Heritage Training Center in Salt Lake City.

Ken Ivory, incidentally, is running for a seat in the Utah House of Representatives after having beaten Republican incumbent Steven Mascaro in the 2010 Primary Election. He’ll be going up against Democrat candidate John Rendell in November.

This session began with a simple question: “What is the greatest check and balance?”

The answer: “States’ rights” or Federalism.

There’s a lot of information here, I’m probably just going to include my notes verbatim with some added commentary.

Voices of influence

John Dickinson - “In short, the government of each state is, and is to be, sovereign and supreme in all matters to relate to each state only. It is to be subordinate barely in those matters that relate to the wholel and it ill be their own FAULTS, if the several states suffer the federal sovereignty to interfere in the things of their respective jurisdictions.”

Ivory added, “The states are CRITICAL constitutional actors.”

Thomas Jefferson: “I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid of this ground: That ‘all powers not delegated to the US by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.’ To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.”

One person commented: “You hear ‘Commerce Clause’ and ‘Supremacy Clause’, except Clause is spelled C-L-A-W-S.”:-)

What is the federal government?

“Actually the federal government is a combination of the one centered in Washington and those located in States for it is this combination that constitutes the federal system.” — Felix Morley, Freedom and Federalism

Federal government or Federation; government of a unit of states in which sovereignty is divided between a central authority and component state authorities.

Changed meanings of words in 1787. Federal vs anti-federalists

“The federal and State governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes.” — James Madison, Federalist 46

Double-security. Different governments will control each other.

Are we supporting federalism or are we supporting nationalism?

How is ‘separation of powers’ divided?

Horizontal separation consists of three distinct branches (legislative, executive, judicial)

Federalism - states are where experiments are done. Case in point: Massachusetts was the experiment of the 3 branches of government.

Vertical separation of powers: National and state governments

Who holds sovereignty under our federalist republic?

Is there sovereignty at the national level?

Where is sovereignty at the state level?

Stephen Pratt says this is absurd.

“You have a ‘just claim’ to your life but that doesn’t mean you’re invincible.”

What level of sovereignty do the people retain?

Was the 10th amendment issue settled after the Civil War?

A common assertion is the principles outlined in the 10th Amendment no longer hold true due to the victory of the North over the South.

10th amendment is still on the books, still keystone.

Is secession the issue of the 10th amendment?

“We don’t want to secede. We want our country back. We want our general government operating appropriately.”

Madison “If Congress can apply money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may establish teachers in every state, county, and parish, and pay them out of the public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the union, they may assume the provision for the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post roads; in short, every thing from the highest object of state legislation, down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress; for every object I have mentioned would admit the application of money, and might be called, if Congress pleased, provisions for the general welfare.”

Do states, as sovereign partners in United States, still hold the power to interpose between the people and the general government?

Is the general government supreme based on supremacy clause?

The constitution, and the Laws and the laws of the US which shall be made in Pursuance thereof, and all Treaties made, or which shall be made… — Article VI, Sect 2

What is the Doctrine of Interposition?

Official action of the state government on the part of the state govt to question the constitutionality of a policy established by the central govt.

A resolution of Interposition, like that of Kentucky and Virginia of 1799, can result in the nullification of legislation deemed unconstitutional by the States or States.

Using interposition or nullification is like putting a proverbial ‘finger in the dam’ while the cause of the breach requires further investigation and solutions. It is a useful tool yet not the ultimate solution usurpation.

Nullification — Thomas Woods “Not a silver bullet.”

If I don’t take it, someone else will

One of the presenters illustrated a concept with this story: A little girl sees a bicycle she wants in a store window. To raise money to buy the bicycle, she does bake sales, lemonade stands, babysitting, anything she can do to earn the money. When she finally has enough money, she puts her piggy bank in her wagon and pulls it to the store. Along the way, the wagon hits a bump and the girl’s bank falls out of the wagon. The girl, excited to buy her bicycle, fails to notice the bank is no longer in the wagon, and continues on.

A bystander says to himself, “If I don’t take it, someone else will.”

This is often the rationalization for accepting money from the federal government.

We’re bringing in $200B, we’re spending $300B.

We must commit, in our own homes, to resist govt handouts and to be self-reliant.

The first breakout session I went to, after lunch, was the grassroots session.

Bill Barton

The first speaker was Mr. Bill Barton — my father — on Utah Grass Roots.

The Utah Grass Roots organization rates state legislators and the governor each legislative session based on their votes on various bills.

Lowell Nelson

Lowell Nelson, from the Campaign For Liberty was the second speaker in the breakout session and, following up on Bill Barton’s presentation, said, “A recorded vote on a controversial issue is the most sincere political expression.”

Nelson pointed out some of the differences between a Statesman and a Politician and then discussed ways activist organizations can make a difference: by dealing “political pleasure” and “political pain.”

For an elected official, political pain is defined as the following:

  • Acute pain - Losing an election
  • Sub-acute - Being challenged in an election
  • Chronic pain - Angry voters, angry delegate

During the legislative season, activists can inflict political pain by making personal visits, sending postcards or e-mail. etc. One important point is to be specific and direct. Politics is a number game. 100 postcards is more impact than one hand-written letter.

Nelson discussed the value of getting involved at the party level as a delegate, precinct officer, or party officer, and having a hand in state party constitution.

Nelson recommended reading and learning Robert’s Rules of Order and state bylaws.

Finally, Nelson left us with this gem: “Silence is consent.”

Independent Caucus

The final presentation of this breakout was by the Independence Caucus. This organization’s claim to fame was ousting former Utah congressman Chris Cannon in the 2008 primary and ushering in wildly-popular Jason Chaffetz to represent Utah.

The presentation given at this meeting discussed how the Independence Caucus has gone national, helping candidates in both major parties strategically win races. It hasn’t all been successes, but most have been.

I had meant to get this out a lot sooner, but then our neighborhood nearly burned down. That set me back a couple of days.

I had the fortune of attending the first ever Utah Freedom Conference on Saturday, 18 September held at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. Things outside and around the hotel were made more interesting by the fact The Dew Tour was going on across the street.

There was a prayer breakfast held beginning at 7:30, but I didn’t attend that. I showed up in time for the main 8:30 meeting in the Ballroom. Rod Arquette, the new “live and local” guy from KNRS welcomed everyone. I was really looking forward to hearing more from Rod as I’ve become quite enamored with his show since they started running it in the afternoons (4-7pm), but that was pretty much the last we heard from Rod.

The Freedom Conference was being financed, apparently, by Bert and Kathy Smith (of Smith & Edwards fame, my dad told me).

Bert Smith spoke after Rod Arquette, mentioning the talk that Stephen Pratt gave at the breakfast, which I did not attend. He garnered some applause after simply stating “We want our local lands back.”

Kathy Smith, Bert’s wife, then recognized the host committee.

There was mention of “Milestones of Freedom,” which describes what immigrants experienced going through Ellis Island. I’m afraid my notes don’t mention what exactly this is, a book, a video, or what. Maybe someone can help me identify this.

Carl Wimmer, the official Master of Ceremonies for the event, talked about being prepared to defend the Constitution. Carl was followed by an invocation.

Christina Lowe, Miss Utah 2010, sang an amazing version of the national anthem without any musical accompaniment at all.

Jason Chaffetz

Our amazing congressman, Jason Chaffetz, spoke next. He spoke of the reverence he has about serving as congressman. He mentioned he was able to lead discussion in congress for the Republican leadership the previous Thursday about the Constitution

“People like to talk about separation of church and state,” Chaffetz said, but went on to point out that without God, we fail to be the great country we’ve been. We are “United under God.”

Jason quoted Abraham Lincoln and said our founders were rooted in an understanding our liberties are God-given.

Some metrics Congressman Chaffetz shared:

  • We are $13T in debt, not counting unfunded liabilities.
  • This is $5-600M dollars/day in interest.
  • In comparison, the state budget of Utah is $10-11B
  • Since Obama took office, more than 130,000 new federal workers have been added to the payroll.

Jason also expressed his admiration for George Washington and mentioned that at the height of power, he could have done whatever he wanted. He chose to walk away. He understood power was not vested in him, but “We The People.” The nation didn’t need one particular person to lead them.

Chaffetz also said he is very encouraged that support for Freedom is brewing, even in congress. To illustrate this, he mentioned that a fellow congressman wants to pass a resolution to support of the tenth amendment.

In conclusion, Jason read a couple excerpts from George Washington’s Farewell Address citing separation of power and the Constitution’s amendment process.

Bill Howell

State representative Chris Herrod introduced Bill Howell.

Bill Howell started by recounting an experience he had listening to a liberal talk-radio host who couldn’t understand why people say “We want our country back.” Perhaps people who feel we are losing our country aren’t expressing their beliefs with sufficient clarity, he suggested.

Howell explained that the federal government should obey the Constitution, but this demand is too general. We need to be more specific and detailed.

He added that it’s even difficult to single out a specific Constitutional principle, that the Constitution is a “fabric” or akin to a mathematical formula. If you change one thing, lots of things change.

His example was the 17th amendment which changed how US senators were elected. This affected the states’ voice on judicial appointments, treaty ratification, and more, not just the composition of the Senate chamber.

Howell spotlighted one principle he feels should be given more attention: State territorial sovereignty. He talked about some historic court cases to illustrate how state territorial sovereignty has changed over the history of the country.

Some key points made by Howell:

  • Federal govt is not defined by territory
  • Founders valued state sovereignty. Point: D.C. limited to 10 square miles
  • Constitution opposed to unlimited power in any hand.

“Who understands constitutional principles in detail sufficiently well enough to defend them?” Howell asks. Good point. We should all become more familiar with the Constitution and the principles behind it to the point we can defend it.

Chris Herrod

I don’t know much about Chris Herrod, but I did videotape a townhall meeting he participated in about a year ago where he spoke about the dangers of socialized medicine. His wife is a legal immigrant from Russia and they’ve had some experiences first hand with state-run medicine.

In his address to the Utah Freedom Conference crowd, Herrod spoke of the Patrick Henry Caucus, the 77 oil leases that were pulled by the federal government right after Obama became president.

“People of Utah are actually not free,” he said. “There is undue influence of the federal government on the state.”

Stephen Sandstrom

Stephen Sandstrom is best known right now for introducing a new bill that go before the Utah Legislature in 2011 regarding illegal immigration. Some priceless quotes he delivered included:

  • “We should only welcome the immigrant who will assimilate.”
  • “Illegal immigration is a brick in the melting pot that will never melt.”

Karen Budd-Falen

Karen Budd-Falen is apparently a long-time friend of Bert and Kathy Smith and an attorney who has lots of experience dealing with property rights issues.

“Daniel Webster didn’t create the first dictionary so y’all could spell better,” she said, indicating that the first Webster’s Dictionary was intended to help the masses understand the language of our nation’s founding documents.

“The Constitution doesn’t give you rights. God gives you rights,” she added.

Budd-Falen’s time was spent mostly highlighting her experience fighting Western Watershed, an environmental activist group that allegedly intimidates and litigates ranchers.

It’s interesting that the federal government does not track the money it gives to environmental groups to turn around and sue the federal government.

In 9 years, for 9 environment groups, the federal government gave 36 million dollars to fight the federal government. Not including settlements.

Using the legal system, Western Watershed extorted $22 million from El Paso Corporation, to specifically eliminate livestock grazing.

But there was no environmental change after the Ruby Pipeline coughed up the $22M.

“It’s really stressful when an environmental group sues to end your livelihood,” Budd-Falen added.

Dan Byfield

Dan Byfield is from Texas and spoke on Coordination, a strategy for local leaders to fight against federal encroachment and other issues. His claim to fame is stopping the “Trans Texas Corridor” project that would have built a huge international highway through the middle of the country.

Dr. Michael Coffman

Michael Coffman, author of “Rescuing a Broken America”, began his speech talking about two competing worldviews that have been prevalent for centuries:

  • The Skowsen/Jefferson worldview, established on the philosophies of John Lock. Alsao known as “People’s law”
  • The Feudal-Ruler model, established by Jean-Jacues Rosseau, father of modern European socialism and communism

“Arizona lawsuit is extremely important from this perspective,” Coffman said, in proving the Federal Government is sovereign over the states.

Coffman quoted Bastiat, which is nice to hear.

Finally, Coffman illustrated what Thomas Jefferson and others have been warning us against for hundreds of years: The more power the federal government has, the more people clamor to have their voice heard by government (lobbyists, special interests) and the more division there is as one group of people vies for power over another group of people.

Thomas Pratt

Thomas Pratt was the next speaker of the morning session. His presentation was polished and rehearsed and included a synchronized slideshow.

Thomas Pratt’s website is AmericanLibertyVideo.com.

Pratt asserts that state sovereignty and national sovereignty can not co-exist, that there is no such thing as “dual sovereignty” or “mixed sovereignty.”

Pratt’s presentation went by so fast (he was short on time), I only have nuggets of notes from it. Rather than expounding on each of them, I’ll include them verbatim as I typed them up.

  • Albert Taylor Bledsoe - National Fed govt vs Sovereign states
  • Unitary republic vs republic of republics
  • Able Parker Upshur - ~1840
  • Walter Neal - The Sovereignty of America
  • Declaration Of Independence - 13 nations unitedly declared independence.
  • Delegation vs Cede power from the states to the Fed. govt?
  • Convention of States.
  • The Republic of Republics - by Bernard Janin Sage
  • Madison - Each state is a sovereign body, independent of others.
  • Compact between the states, not between fed govt and the states.
  • “This leads to the solecistic absurdity.”
  • Dual sovereignty, etc.
  • Think of sovereignty as pregnancy. You either are or you’re not.
  • Jefferson - Maintain free, sovereign independent states.
  • August 14, 1866 - Nationalists declare victory - Andrew Johnson
  • The insurrection against the supreme authority of the nation has been suppressed.
  • After that - states were just administrative agencies carrying out the work of federal govt.
  • “By arrogation of power…”
  • Tenth amendment is the foundation of the nation.
  • Either the Constitution means something or it means nothing.
  • Nullification by Thomas E. Woods
  • View of the Constitution of the United States - St. George Tucker
  • Necessary that every man knows his own rights.
  • Washington added to oath: “So help me God.”
  • Roy Moore - “So help me God.”
  • There is indeed a cause, and God is waiting for His people to stand in faith — to let the light shine in on the darkness.

Congressman Rob Bishop

Rob Bishop began by teaching a little history. Progressive era politicians, he said, didn’t like the Constitution because it prevents them from doing “great and marvelous things.”

Bishop pointed out that the federal government has grown under both Republican and Democrat control. Why is the federal government always going to grow? he asks. “Because it’s rigged in their favor.”

The solution is “individual liberties.” Not many people in public schools know what “individual liberties” means.

We’re talking about BALANCING power between states and the federal govt.

Maybe under federalism, you don’t have fewer programs, but you have power with the people and you have choices.

Rob Bishop was a far more dynamic speaker than I remember him being. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, though, considering he was a school teacher for many years. He clearly knows how to command an audience.

This last Saturday was 28 August, 8/28, the day of Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor event in Washington D.C.

Restoring Honor

I didn’t attend the event in person, but I did donate some money to the Special Operations Warriors Foundation which was the beneficiary of the event. It’s not the same as actually sacrificing to be there, but I hope it’s something.

The rally was carried live on C-SPAN Saturday morning, so I recorded it on my DVR and watched it later. The actual rally was about three and a half hours long.

True to Glenn’s word, the rally was not political. Sure, there were a couple comments made during the rally that could have been perceived as political, but by and large, it was not political. Instead, it was religious, spiritual, and pious. It was also patriotic and reverent. There was lots of tribute during the first hour or so to those who serve, and who have served, in the branches of the U.S. military. That portion of the program could have been held in late May as part of a Memorial Day program.

If you’ve listened or watched Glenn Beck much over the last, say, three or four years, you may have caught him talking to, or about, Jon Huntsman Sr., a prominent businessman from Salt Lake City, Utah. I remember hearing about the Huntsmans when I was growing up and my dad was in the state legislature. I also remember the Christmas cards we’d get from the Huntsman family. There was always a picture of a HUGE family that always seemed so much bigger than it was the year before.

To say Glenn Beck admires Jon Huntsman would be a terrible understatement. I would say Glenn is in awe of Jon’s philanthropic work, his integrity, and his character. So, it was no surprise that Huntsman received the first Badge of Merit for Charity at the Restoring Honor rally. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend to receive the award (He was attending the marriage of one of his grandchildren- something he probably does a couple times a week these days… Remember the family photo? Yeah.)

The last half of the rally was about turning to God.

It’s been quite a journey for those of us who have followed Glenn Beck over the years. Since 2007 and especially since the 2008 election, Glenn has been spending most of his time presenting to his listeners, viewers, and readers the threats of Progressive, Marxist, and socialist movements to the republic our Founding Fathers designed.

He has demonstrated. over and over, how we have allowed our country to be taken over by progressives, from both major parties, He also introduced a long lost revolutionary idea to the masses, that voting for a candidate because they have an “R” or a “D” next to their name was stupid; We should be voting the candidates that share our values and principles, that have character and integrity.

Is it any surprise we have seen candidates like Doug Hoffman in New York’s 23rd congressional district come out of nowhere and make a spectacular showing in a race. People are waking up and looking at elected officials in a way they haven’t in a long, long time.

Glenn’s also reminded us and taught us how religion played such an important role in the early days of this country. Our founders never meant for our government to be free of all religious influence.

The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that the federal government and the states shall not ESTABLISH any official state religion or interfere with the free practice of religious worship. Somehow, over the years, the Progressives and other well-meaning interpreters of the Constitution, have misconstrued the intent of this law to mean that religious observance has no place in the public sphere. But, in fact, our founders insisted, on several occasions, that our public officials, and the people at large, should be a “moral and religious people” in order for the American experiment to survive.

The first sessions of congress after the new federal government was instituted under the U.S. Constitution included hours of prayer and bible study. These men elected to represent their constituents believed the best way they could possibly serve was to be sure they were in prayer with God.

Benjamin Franklin believed it was only through God and through the various representatives to the Constitutional Congress humbling themselves and turning their hearts to God that agreements could be made to bring about the U.S. Constitution.

So, in the end, Glenn was surrounded by 240 religious leaders, each pledging that their organizations would be teaching their congregations it is time to turn to God, to rally behind God, and to recognize the importance of equal justice and individual liberty.

By doing this, Glenn has reinstituted the “black-robed regiment” to fight for the soul of the country. Pretty heavy stuff.

Now, I understand many people these days are bound to feel uncomfortable about what Glenn Beck is doing. Even if you do not believe in God or are not that religious, this is a good thing. Glenn made it very clear on his radio show today that when he approached these religious leaders about including them in his rally that he wasn’t creating a political force like the Christian Coalition or the Moral Majority. He told them, if this is political, it won’t last. It seems like most of them agreed with him.

I listened to Glenn’s radio program today. I don’t usually have time to do that, but today I had some driving to do and had time to listen. I wasn’t sure what to expect the first day back on the air after the rally. There was some time spent talking about the number of people that came and re-iterating some of the messages that were delivered, but what really struck me… What really stood out were the callers that called into Glenn’s show today. Did they call and say, “Oh man, Glenn, you were the most awesome guy on Saturday!?” Did they call and tell him he was right, that they felt in their heart he did the right thing? No, not exactly.

Most of the callers that had been to the rally called to tell stories of exceptional, extraordinary experiences they had while attending the rally. One caller, a disabled black woman from the northeast, spoke about how she and her daughter decided to rent an electric scooter so she could be mobile enough to attend the rally. When they had difficulty using the subway and navigating through the crowds going to and from the rally, a man and his family befriended them and treated them as one of his own family and helped them for the entire event.

Another caller spoke of her husband losing his wallet containing the money they had to live on while they were visiting Washington D.C. A man nearby heard their distress and handed over four $100 bills.

Another woman spoke of pushing a stroller and pulling a cooler through the National Mall to meet up with her husband who was saving them a spot to listen to/watch the rally. She said the crowd was more than helpful in helping her and her children move through the sea of people to her husband, even cheering when they finally made it.

These stories of people helping people are incredibly uplifting and, in a way, demonstrate exactly what the rally was about.

If you want to read a political message into it all, it’s probably this: Looking to government for guidance out of darkness is hopeless. The best path out of the mess our country is in right now is for us to serve each other; Find ways to help one another. The best place to start is in supporting our churches.

Well, I finished “Ghost Rider” by Neil Peart.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why it took me six years to finally get around to reading it. But, it did. Thom, one of my best friends, was reading “Ghost Rider” while we were traveling through Oregon and Washington many years back. He enjoyed Neil’s commentary on Oregon’s ridiculous laws that mandate that you do not pump your own gasoline. Instead, you must allow a minimum-wage worker to do it for you.

Thom and I share a common heritage of sorts. We both became hardcore fans of the band Rush when we were teenagers. Neil Peart is probably best known for being the amazing drummer for Rush. I venture to guess that a large proportion of the sales of “Ghost Rider” and Peart’s three or four other books come from loyal Rush fans that can’t find enough ways to support their favorite band.

I finally came around to ordering the book from Amazon after I attended a screening of the documentary “Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage” when it was in limited theatrical release. There was a short segment in the documentary about Neil’s hiatus from the music business, his motorcycle journeys across North America and down into Central America, and the resulting book he wrote about it. I decided it was time to finally read the dang thing.

Why would Neil Peart walk away from the successful role as drummer of one of the world’s most successful rock bands? Well, it was a tragedy. Two tragedies, actually. First, his 19 year-old daughter, Neil’s only child, died in a freak car accident on her way back to college from home. Then, his wife was diagnosed with cancer and died ten months after the car accident.

Neil was left with no family. Neil’s wife Jackie took it especially hard when their daughter died. Neil had a rough time caring for Jackie as she grieved inconsoleably after their daughter’s accident. Then, he had to deal with her descent and surrender to cancer.

Following his wife’s death, Neil described himself as being nearly soulless, to the point of feeling like a ghost. He felt it was torture to sit around home where he had nothing but memories and things that reminded him of his wife and daughter. So, he mounted his “trusty steed,” a BMW R1100GS motorcycle, and headed to The Yukon and Alaska, beginning a journey that attempted to heal a wounded heart, soothe a grieving soul, and patch a broken man.

For those not in the know, in addition to being the band’s drummer, Neil has been the predominant lyricist for Rush since he joined the band in 1974. His influence on the band’s music is heard not only in the complex rhythms and ever-shifting time signatures, but in the reflective and obviously literate lyrics.

Peart’s book is littered with verses he wrote for various Rush songs that, more or less, fit that part of the book. I found it interesting, ironic perhaps, that for a man who seems obviously so inexperienced dealing with real human suffering, he sure had written anecdotally about it a lot over the years.

The writing is an unusual mix of straight-ahead storytelling mixed with copies of letters Neil wrote to friends and family along with transcribed excerpts from his personal journal writings. Sometimes, his letters also include journal excerpts.

Neil’s letters went to different acquaintances, some closer to him than others, but most of the letters included in the book are correspondence sent by Neil to his friend, and riding partner, Brutus. Brutus was supposed to join Neil a month or so into the ride but got himself thrown in jail after being caught with a “‘truckful’ of a controlled substance of a leafy green nature.”

While Neil doesn’t come right out and acknowledge it, it does seem that he finds some rehabilitative help in writing… and writing… and writing… to Brutus. He tells Brutus everything he’s doing, seeing, and thinking while he’s on his road trip. Neil does this both to engage his own need for an outlet, but it also seems clear he wants to make things easier for his friend while he’s in jail. I found that endearing and sweet. I’ve never had someone write to me that much, but then, I’ve never been in jail and I don’t think any of my friends write anywhere close to as much as Neil Peart apparently does.

In addition to writing about his feelings as he’s going through the motions of processing his unbearable grief, the highlights and notable sights of the country he’s riding through, the hotels, motels, and lodges he stays at, the food he eats at the various restaurants and other dining facilities along the way, and the relative merits of BMW Motorcycle dealerships and service centers he deals with, Neil also provides a running list of the books and authors he’s reading when he’s not in the saddle.

As a result, I learned a lot about authors such as Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Truman Copote, Jack Kerouac, Cormac McCarthy, Edward Abbey, and Hunter S. Thompson.

I think anybody who has been through any kind of significant suffering can empathize, to some extent, with what Neil describes having gone through in “Ghost Rider.” I also think this book could be useful, therapeutically, for someone who is going through a difficult time dealing with some kind of loss.

I’m not in any way suggesting I “completely understand” how Neil Peart felt when he hopped on his motorcycle, hit the road, and repeatedly said he’d never return to playing the drums because he “wasn’t that guy anymore.” But, I do understand the desire to flee from your “old life,” to run away on some mind-numbing distraction involving simply the road and nature.

I remember when I was young — only 22-years-old — I had been dumped, somewhat abruptly, by a girl that I thought the universe of. I had really thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with her and had grown quite attached to her company. It didn’t help that I still had to see her around the college campus we both attended. I’m sure any of my friends at the time can attest, accompanied by sighs of recollection and plentiful amounts of eye-rolling, how grieved and confused I was; How I always wanted to ask the same questions (usually starting with the word “Why”) over and over; How it didn’t matter what the answers were, they never seemed to bring me any closer to moving on; How I neglected my schoolwork, participated in some self-destructive behavior, and spent quite a bit of time driving around on backroads through various rural and mountain areas listening to loud music.

Neil’s detailed and carefully architected expositions about the landscapes he visits are amazing. The way he describes the deserts of the southwest, complete with flora and wildlife, precipitation cycles, and history makes it nearly effortless to imagine what he was describing. The same thing goes for the forests (and the high, barren areas) of the great north Canadian Yukon areas and Alaska, not to mention the cold, icy, muddy road conditions on the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Circle.

Neil employs the same degree of detail in describing the accommodations he finds at each lodging facility he stops at along the way. The same goes for the nearby restaurants.

In a nutshell, reading “Ghost Rider” kind of made me want to go out and buy a nice, big touring bike and hit the road visiting some of the wonders Neil describes.

The caveat, however, is that along with these picturesque word-paintings luring you to various destinations, Neil also injects the would-be traveler with a diatribe of hateful anti-tourist insults. It’s like he’s saying, “These are some amazing, wonderful places to visit, but all the people visiting them are ugly, fat, and stupid.”

I think some that stems from the down mood he was in at the time.

One place he describes visiting that stood out for me was Telegraph Creek, a small settlement in the forests of the Yukon. Neil’s description really gave me a vivid picture of it in my mind’s eye.

The destination I had in mind was Telegraph Creek, because… well, because I liked the name. I first heard of it in Equinox (“The Magazine of Canadian Discovery,” now defunct, unfortunately) in which the writer had pointed out that map-makers seemed to like Telegraph Creek because it gave them a name to put on an otherwise empty region, where northern British Columbia met the Alaskan Panhandle.

The settlement had flourished briefly twice, first during the Klondike gold rush when it was the head of navigation for steamboats carrying prospectors up the Stikine River. From there, they could travel overland to the Yukon goldfields on what came to be known as “The Bughouse Trail,” its history replete with Jack London-style tales of starvation, scurvy, frostbite, and madness. The town’s second life, and the source of its name, came from an American scheme to run a telegraph cable overland through Alaska, under the Bering Strait, and across Russia to connect with Europe, but shortly after the surveying was completed, the project was rendered pointless by the laying of the transatlantic cable. Telegraph Creek once again lapsed into a virtual ghost town, and the only present-day visitors seemed to be attracted by boat, raft, and kayaking expeditions on the Stikine River. Or by the name.

Another siren-call for me was the romantic lure of an isolated, storied destination which lay “at the end of the road.” Telegraph Creek was a dot on the map at the end of a long unpaved road, far from anywhere, the kind of place Brutus and I used to dream about exploding (in fact, it was Brutus, in a recent telephone conversation, who had urged me go there). The guidebooks disagreed on whether I would have to navigate 74 miles or 74 kilometers of that road, but they agreed that it was “rough” and “often treacherous.” In fact it turned out to be 112 kilometers (near enough 74 miles) of dirt and gravel winding through deep forest and steep switchbacks up and down the walls of “The Grand Canyon of the Stikine.” In some places, the sheer cliffs of eroded, multi-layered rock did resemble a modest version of that famed stretch of the Colorado River, and sometime the road was a mere ledge perched on those vertical walls, dropping off into a frightening abyss.

My journal described it as a “scary, scary road,” and I was fairly rattled when I pulled up in front of the Stikine Riverson café, general store, lodge, and boat-tour headquarters. All this was housed in one large white frame building facing the swift-moving river, and I learned later that it had been the original Hudson Bay Company trading post, situated just downriver, and had been moved piece by piece to Telegraph Creek. A few other abandoned-looking houses and a small church clustered on the river bank, but only the Riverson showed any signs of life.

The guidebooks said that a few rooms were available there, but if they happened to be filled it would be a long way back to any other lodgings. The cold, gloomy weather made the idea of camping uninviting, but once again I was glad to be carrying my little tent and sleeping bag, especially when the owner told me he was closing up for the weekend and taking the staff upriver in his tour boat to celebrate the end of their season. Then, after a moment’s thought, he said that I was welcome to rent one of the rooms and stay there on my own. That was thoughtful, hospitable, and trusting of him, and I only asked what I might do for food. He told me there was a kitchen upstairs where I could prepare my own meals, so I bought a few provisions in the general store in the back of the building, including some fresh salmon from the river, and carried my bags to a small bedroom upstairs.

I watched through the café window as the owner and his three employees loaded their camping gear into the motor boat and my only regret was missing the opportunity for a tour of the river myself. I stood on the riverbank and watched the boat speed away upriver against the strong current, and felt a little excited, and a little fearful.

I slept soundly with my window open to the cool, fresh air and the murmuring of the river, and took a walk before breakfast on another chilly, overcast morning. Past ruined cabins and abandoned, moss-covered cars and pickups from the 1950s, a narrow path led up a high lava-rock cliff above a steep scree to an old graveyard overlooking the town. As I walked among the stones reading the inscriptions, the bare facts of names and dates had a whole new resonance for me, for I felt them as part of a story like mine, a story of love and loss. I thought about “Honey Joe,” who had died at the age of 105 and was buried beside “Mrs. Joe,” who he had outlived by about 40 years. Then there were all the babies, children, teenagers, and young men and women, and I found myself weeping for all the lost ones, theirs and mine. Ghost town indeed.

After I started reading “Ghost Rider,” I told a friend that I had picked up the book. He said he remembered hearing or reading a little about it and that it struck him as being quite vain or that other reviews had painted Neil as being vain.

I don’t think he’s vain, I think he’s just… odd. Neil Peart is better-read and better-schooled than probably 99% of people in the civilized world. He’s likely afflicted with Aspergers Syndrome because it’s clear he has serious social phobias and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. In his writing, he tends to be blunt, even if his prose is beautiful and intricate. He doesn’t stop until he’s faithfully described what he’s thinking, what he’s seen or what he’s experienced. I can see how some people would find his writing style as vain, but I don’t, really.

One personal observation I made to myself as I read this book was that Neil would have probably dealt much better with his tragic circumstances if he had not depleted himself of religion. Several times in the book he describes himself as a rational-scientific-skeptic. It made me think of a common religious perspective that an atheist is not someone who believes in nothing, but rather someone who can be persuaded to believe anything. There was a moment in the book where Neil takes a chance on a fortune teller who uses Tarot cards or similar to tell Neil exactly what’s going in his life, leaving him stunned. It’s no surprise that Neil has acquired a deck of the cards for himself before long.

But, yeah, it’s sad to read Neil’s constant bellyaching about how confused he is and how unfair his life has been to him and his family. Several times during the book I reflected on how fortunate I felt I was to have a belief system that give me a structure to sustain me if I were to go through such trying times.

Another surprising observation I had as I read the book was just how much of a liberal environmentalist Neil is. For someone who dedicated a record to Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” I guess I just thought he’d still have more of an Objectivist outlook toward nature, capitalism, and industry. I guess any of that he once had has been stolen away by his success and now he’s, for a lack of a better description, a snobby left-winger who thinks we need to save the planet from ourselves.

Overall, I liked the book. I have some degree of interest in reading another Neil Peart book, but now I have so many other books on my reading lists thanks to what Neal said in this one.

I recently read Obama’s Oil Spill To-Do List by Heritage Foundation Director of Strategic Communication, Rory Cooper and found it to be a sensible task list that identifies and enumerates things I think most on the right side of the political spectrum wish the administration were doing to address the oil “spill” in the Gulf Of Mexico.

The very first item mentioned in this list is to “waive the Jones Act,” which, as Cooper explains, “requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried in U.S.-flagged ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens.”

This law obviously restricts what ocean-bound vessels can be used in the cleanup efforts. But, the restriction can be lifted, as it was by DHS secretary Chertoff during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. Doing so would allow a much greater diversity of equipment to be used in the cleanup effort.

In recent news, BP and the U.S. Coast Guard are apparently testing a giant Taiwanese oil skimmer. I assume using this ship, owned by a Taiwanese shipping company, will require a Jones Act waiver or exclusion. If that’s the case and they get the legal right to use this skimmer, that’s good news for everyone.

A lot of the talk about the Gulf oil “spill” has been about enormous amounts of money. It is apparently going to cost a lot of money to clean up the oil out of the water. It will apparently cost various Gulf Coast industries (fishing, tourism, etc.) lots of money in lost business. It will apparently cost the oil industry a ridiculous amount of money if the administration gets their way with these ridiculous moratoriums.

One area which I wonder if the money might be spent in vain is the cleanup efforts. I’ve read many sources that indicate that oil in water is pretty well handled by nature. We can maybe add a little fertilizer to speed up the growth of natural bacteria that break down the oil particles, but other than that, nature handles it.

The outlook becomes more muddied — no pun intended — when oil reaches land. Nature will take care of it, but it will take longer… years longer. So, it’s shocking to learn that the administration is seemingly blocking many attempts to do sand-berm dredging along the coast that would catch oil before it reaches coastal beaches and wetlands.

Finally, I completely agree with Cooper that the administration should stop using the oil “spill” as a wedge or lever issue to promote climate change (i.e. “Cap and Trade”) legislation.

If you know me, you know I’m a pretty big fan of Glenn Beck. I’ve been listening to his radio show for about five years now and have followed his forays into television, live stage performances, and books. It may be no surprise, then, that I liked “The Overton Window,” Glenn’s latest book, a fiction thriller.

Now that I’ve said that, let me qualify it.

“The Overton Window” is a simple story, really. It has its plots and twists like a good thriller should, but its overall story arc is pretty straightforward. The protagonist is an unlikely good-guy, just an average Joe named Noah Gardner. He’s a young, single public relations guy at a big firm in New York City.

The bad guy? Barack Obama.

I’m kidding, but that answer is not that far from the truth. The antagonists in this story is a group of rich, powerful socialists, one of which happens to be Noah’s father. Having declared the old ways of the constitution and freedom-loving America to be a failed experiment, they’re ready to transform the country into what it should be: controlled by a knows-better big-government.

Noah meets Molly Ross, a smart, beautiful seemingly easy-going girl who is has an odd quirk: she’s heavily involved in a movement to get America back to its founding roots.

Intent on getting to know Molly better, Noah attends a meeting at a club in New York, his first Tea Party as it were. While the speakers tell story after story about how the government and those in power are intent on destroying the Constitution and eliminating people’s individual liberties, Noah’s cycnicism and realism boils over. When he utters something loud enough for those around him to overhear, he is asked to explain himself with a microphone so that everyone can hear.

“The United States was built to run on individual freedom, that’s true, but because you’ve let these control freaks have their way with it for about a hundred years, your country now runs on debt. Today Goldman Sachs is the engine, and in case you haven’t realized it yet, the American people are nothing but the fuel.”

Noah goes on to explain all the conspiracy theories bantied about like the Bildeberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, etc. are all true and they’re wealthy beyond believe and they’re globalists.

Noah knows all this because these powerful organizations have long been using PR firms like his father’s to push their transformative ideas on the people of the world.

“There’s no respect for you in Washington. They laugh at you. You say you want a revolution? That Constitution the lady was holding up a while ago? It gives you the power to revolt at every single election. Do you realize in a couple of weeks every last seat in the U.S. House of Representatives will be up for grabs? And the presidency? And one-third of the Senate seats?

“The approval rating for Congress is somewhere around fifteen percent. You could turn the tables and put them all out of a job on that one day. But do you know what’s going to happen instead? I do. The presidency is going to change hands, but the corruption will accelerate. Over ninety percent of those people in Congress— people who are deeper into the pockets of the lobbyists every day they spend in Washington— over ninety percent of them are going to get reelected.”

The story puts Noah on a collision course with destiny. What he learns both from his new friends in the freedom movement and via his ties to the powerful forces through the PR business helps him shed his cynicism and start to believe in the cause.

Now, this book is a very easy read. It’s 321 pages but it goes by fast. My only real complaint about the writing is that much of dialogue between characters doesn’t read like believable dialogue. It reads like it’s written, not spoken. You could easily say the same thing about any fiction written by Ayn Rand, but Beck’s dialogue is a lot easier to comprehend.

The Afterword, the last chapter in the book, contains a surprising amount of information about items in the story that are actually based in truth.

Pornographic website owners will soon have a new top-level domain (TLD) to populate, .xxx, but the TLD comes with a boatload of controversy.

Back in the Iodynamics daze, we wrote about this in one of our quarterly newsletters that was distributed to our clients and posted on our website. In the article, Is .xxx good for the Internet?, we explained that neither a majority of online pornography peddlers or anti-pornography factions were at the root of the push for a separate sexually-oriented TLD. Who was it? “A British Internet domain registry based in Florida.”

ICM is the domain name registrar that will have exclusive management rights of the new .xxx TLD. According to one report, ICM is looking at making $30 million per year on this business.

Why are pornography peddlers against a differentiation for their sites from normal “dot-com” sites? They feel this differentiation will lead immediately to discrimination- making it easier for implementation of blanket blocks on all porn sites. Essentially, they want to maintain the status quo that currently allows them to collect visits from people going to porn sites by accident. This is a lame excuse, in my opinion.

Anti-pornography activism groups are against the new TLD because they feel it will legitimize online pornography. This is a lame argument as well as online pornography has already reached a well-established legitimacy.

The creation of the new TLD won’t force current pornographic website operators to migrate to new .xxx domain names and abandon their current domain names. As a result, most operators will probably operate their sites with domain names under the new TLD… and with any other TLD they can get their hands on.

Many concerned may feel this is justification to get the government more involved in regulating the Internet. After all, government regulations make it impossible or very difficult for minors to purchase pornographic magazines or pornographic movies.

The most obvious obstacle to this approach is that the Internet still consists of vague jurisdiction issues. If a pornographic website is hosted on servers located in the Bahamas or in Asia, could the US government have any say in who can view the content on that website?

In my opinion, pushing for more government control over what people can and can’t view on the Internet is asking for China-esque national firewalls and that would threaten to limit free speech in the United States.

As much as I don’t want my children to view pornographic or indecent material while using a computer connected to the Internet, I recognize that it’s my responsibility as a parent, not the government’s, to determine what material is appropriate and inappropriate.

In our house, we have a content-filtering proxy powered by open source software called Dan’s Guardian. This, in combination with a good network firewall, functions well for us.

My conclusion on .xxx: It’s not going to change much of anything, except make the registrar TCM rich.

Day Five was a short day because I had to leave to catch my flight back home around 3 in the afternoon.

Last night, I watched a couple more training videos in my hotel room. This morning, I watched one more and was all caught up on what I was supposed to watch this week. I talked to one of the business ananlysts with some questions I had come up with from watching the videos. I got all my questions answered.

I spent some time with my team leader going over some more development practices. I’m glad he’s patient with me. :)

Last night, I looked up a few coworkers on Facebook and added them as friends. One of them, a functional architect, accepted my friend invite almost immediately. She admitted to me today that she looks up every new hire on Facebook. It was a little shocking to discover I had been “stalked” before I had “stalked.”

Today, I went to lunch with two of the functional architects, one being my new Facebook friend, to a little “hole in the wall Indian place.” The food was super-tasty.

Now I’m on my way home. It’s been a great week.

Now, our development manager talked to me about my blog posts. He’d heard from the functional architect I went to lunch today that I had written about my previous lunches on my blog and that gave her a good idea of where we were going to go to lunch today.

He expressed concern that I had information about the company in my posts. He acknowledged that I hadn’t published any secrets but that I had discussed names and what could be construed as business practices.

I was devastated. For all my efforts to be a good new employee, I had “caused concern” with what I was doing outside of business hours. My lack, perhaps, of tact, respect for the company, consideration of possible consequences of revealing what I did reveal, was causing friction with at least one person of decision-making capital at the company.

Crap!

I went back and edited each of my blog posts for the week, removing any names, any names of any software, hardware, or services that I may have mentioned by name. The only thing I thing I left was my Apple MacBook Pro. I hope that’s not a problem.

In retrospect, I made a serious miscalculation, which isn’t surprising considering I seem to have a history of miscalculating things of a social nature. Chalk it up, maybe, to my maybe being afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Now that I’ve thought about it, I can see that if I had been an employee with the company for some time, to the point everyone, especially those in decision-making positions, knew who I was, what kind of person I was… Basically, if they knew me well enough to trust me, it probably wouldn’t have been a problem, or as much of a problem. But with me being the new kid on the block, coming in and blogging names and crap, even if I was being careful not to divulge anything that might be a company secret, I understand now why they’d be nervous.

These corporate social dynamics are a real challenge for me. It’s almost like I never know when I’m being appropriate and when I’m not. I guess I should be more careful and just ask more questions about everything.

I was tired on Day Two because I only got about six hours of sleep between getting home from the Porcupine Tree show and getting up for work. It rained most of the day in Pittsburgh. I didn’t have an umbrella, so I wore my new Porcupine Tree hoodie as I walked to the office. It worked nicely.

At the office, I finished watching a training video I started watching the day before. I also met with another telecommuter via an online screen sharing solution and a phone call to get some training on the internal issue tracking system.

I set up MacFUSE and sshfs on my Mac laptop so that I could remotely access, via SSH, files from the main development server from my laptop. This way, I could use a graphical text editor like MacVim (gvim for OS X) to do my code edits. My officemate — the manager of all software development — suggested I blog about it on the internal developer blog. I did and that stirred up some conversation in the developer chat room.

I went to lunch with one of my co-developers and a business analyst today at a place called Storms. It was alright. The developer asked me what life was like in “semi-rural Utah,” using the words I had included in my introduction e-mail message sent to everyone yesterday. I told him about Herriman- how the population has just exploded over the last decade or so, and how there’s very little sales tax revenue because it’s mostly homes, but that’s changing, and how there are still a few farms and planted fields.

This afternoon, I attended a training meeting with several others and found it to be very educational. Also this afternoon, I committed my first changeset and submitted it to my team leader for code review.

Day Three was more of the same. More hacking on fairly simple and straightforward problems. More watching training videos. More training on coding practices and standards. More training on time tracking. Another lunch with a couple other people — a business analyst and one of the developers who I interviewed with a couple weeks ago. They took me to Euro Cafe which was decent food and the dining room was refreshingly quiet compared to most places during the lunch hour.

Tomorrow morning, I’m providing a urine specimen to fulfill the mandatory drug test requirement. They were going to work with the drug testing offices in Utah to get this done before I came out, but the offices in Utah apparently don’t use any of the barcodes or identification numbers that the offices in Pennsylvania do.

I’ve been warned that the drug testing facility is very strict and, to prevent fraud, they have removed sinks from the rooms and a nurse must be present while you… provide you specimen. That has a lot of potential to be embarrassing, don’t you think? Perhaps I’ll ask the nurse if he or she would mind if I took a picture of them while I was providing my specimen? Hah hah.

Google Maps told me there was a Barnes and Noble near my hotel, so I walked to the address given and found no bookstore. Stupid Google Maps.

Lots of stuff downtown closes in the late afternoon. It’s odd, but I guess the bulk of their business is the white-collar crowd that evacuate the city at 5pm.

Day Four. I will be going home tomorrow and will be home for approximately 28-30 hours before hopping on a plane again and heading back to Pittsburgh for the second week of training.

Today was my first development team meeting. As many of our developers work remotely, the meeting was held via a conference call and an online screen-sharing solution . I liked that it was short (about an hour) and to the point.

I closed three issues today. Now, I wouldn’t be so proud of that except that these were all supposed to be very simple issues, like “change the spelling” types of issues. One of them, however, ended up being more complex than anyone thought. I found the problem extended into the database schema data. As a result, what my team leader thought was going to involve minor editing of one, two, maybe a handful of files, ended up being something like 14 files and a new schema change. To fix this issue, I had to go through the process of testing schema changes and writing detailed instructions for testing.

It felt good to get that one done.

The other two were pretty simple. One was just changing the text of a link inside the application. The other was formatting a date from a string that looked like this “YYYYMMDD_HHMMSS” into this “MM/DD/YYYY HH:MM:SS”. Pretty simple stuff, but it still gives me good experience working with the source code management tools, issue management system, and the applications themselves.

Because of all the actual work I’ve been doing, I’m behind a day or so on watching training videos. I’m going to try to catch up on those tonight.

I went out looking for a bookstore last night. Google Maps erroneously told me there was a Barnes and Noble near 6th Street and Wood Avenue. Of course, I didn’t figure that out until I walked over there. A security guard in the building at the address just laughed at me and told me the nearest one was clear out of town.

Bummer.

I went to lunch with two of the system administrators for the company. We had a lot to talk about because of my background doing systems administration.

It’s been three and a half years since I was privileged to see Porcupine Tree play at The Fillmore in San Francisco (See my blog post about it. They’ve never played anywhere in Utah and may never play anywhere in Utah, so my only option is to travel to see them. I was very lucky to be in Pittsburgh on business at the same time PT was playing a show!

First, the venue. Mr. Smalls Theater is much smaller than the Fillmore, and quite a different place. The building itself is a renovated 18th century catholic church. The inside has a cathedral-like shape with a tall, 40-foot arched ceiling. A small stage elevated three feet off the rest of the floor is at one end. A couple bars for food and drink line the exterior walls in the rear of the room. The stated capacity of the room is 650 people and I’m pretty sure it was close to full. Standing room only.

Porcupine Tree was preceded by Bigelf, a band I’d never heard of. I was impressed with lead-man Damon Fox’s showmanship and his ability to multitask between four or five ancient keyboarding instruments and singing, but I didn’t find the music itself very interesting.

Bigelf looked like they either walked in through a time portal from a midwest heavy metal show circa 1971 or from the set of a Geico “caveman” TV commercial. The long, unkempt hair and the beards were… too much.

The music itself was not terribly complex. It was, if nothing else and especially compared to Porcupine Tree, analog. That’s one word that can, in my opinion, summarize Bigelf. The guitarist and the bassist both played through a tube stack. According to the Bigelf website, Fox’s rig consists of some of the following: Hammond C3 & Leslie 122, Mellotron MKII & M400, EMS Synthi AKS, Chamberlin M-1D, Moog 3C & 2P Modulars, Minimoog, Memorymoog, Korg MS-20 & MS-50, Arp 2600, Freeman String Machine, Baldwin Electric Harpsichord, and Hohner Pianet. Basically, old, analog stuff… amplified and sometimes distorted.

It was so loud that many in the audience were plugging their ears when Bigelf started playing. Fox said, “Oh, is it too loud? (Expletive) you! It’s a rock show!” and started another song.

The following photo, not from this show, is a good representation of what Fox was doing for most of their performance (and is a good look at his rig.)

And then, Porcupine Tree. They started the show by playing the entire album The Incident, taking a 10 minute break, and then coming back to play older pieces.

I’ve listened to The Incident a lot, but I still enjoy just about every album before it more. After this concert, however, I have a lot more appreciation for The Incident. One thing that won me over was the harmonies sung by John Wesley and Steven Wilson. They were perfect and beautiful.

I just ran a half-marathon a couple of weeks ago and I listened to songs by Porcupine Tree the whole 13.1 miles. I wondered how many of those songs I would hear live. They played “The Sound Of Muzak,” “Blackest Eyes,” and “Trains” in the second set, all of which I had in my running playlist. Unfortunately, they didn’t play anything from the Deadwing album. That was a bit of a dissapointment to me.

The second set went like this:

  • Hatesong
  • Russia On Ice - Anesthetize
  • Stars Die
  • Way Out Of Here
  • Blackest Eyes

Then, the encore:

  • The Sound of Muzak
  • Trains

The band started playing Hatesong without John Wesley on stage. He walked out in the middle to sing harmonies with Steven and then walked offstage again. When a part for a second guitar was needed, a pre-recorded track was used.

I was a little bummed that they didn’t finish playing Russia On Ice. Instead, after the second chorus, they went into Anesthetize after the guitar solo performed on the album by Alex Lifeson. Steven Wilson noodled on the keyboard at the front of the stage for a bit before going back to playing guitar and then singing “The dust in my soul…”

Stars Die was an interesting move. There were definitely some hardcore fans there as they erupted with cheers as soon as John Wesley played the opening bit for it.

When the video for Way Out Of Here started, I became very emotional, probably because I’ve been repeatedly watching the video on YouTube of the song that’s appearing on the Anesthetize DVD coming out in the next month and because I learned of the band dedicating the song to Arielle Daniel, a young fan who was killed by a train in 2005 (read about it here). It was an awesome performance of an awesome song. John Wesley and Gavin Harrison (drums) are simply fantastic during the song.

At one point during the show, Steven Wilson surprisingly remarked that he could see lots of “chicks” in the audience. It’s true, there were a lot more women in the audience than you’d expect at a Porcupine Tree show. That being said, the audience was 90% guys in their 20s to 50s. A lot of us seemed out of the mainstream, socially, which also wasn’t surprising.

All in all, great show, as always. I picked up almost $100 in merchandise while I was there too.

I have arrived in Pittsburgh for my first of two weeks of training for my new job at Grant Street Group.

When I flew out here a couple of weeks ago for my interviews with the company, I flew on US Airways on a connecting flight through Phoenix. What was nice about that was that I got to lunch with my good friend Dave during my two-hour layover. What was not nice about that was that it was US Airways. The onboard service was just lacking all around.

I asked if I could fly on a direct flight or a different airline for this trip. Grant Street was very accomodating. In the end, I gave them the flight numbers of the Delta Airlines flights I wanted to take (I researched and found inexpensive flights that resulted in a minimum amount of travel time).

There were no direct flights available, that I could find, but one of the shorter flights went through Detroit. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about laying over in Detroit, but now that I’ve been there, I must say the Detroit Metro Airport is actually pretty nice. I expected portions of the airport to be on fire and people gathered for warmth around 55-gallon drums with burning debris in them, but it wasn’t like that at all.

I didn’t leave the airport, so I have no idea how the environment outside the airport is, but the environment inside the airport was pretty nice.

I grabbed some lunch at one of the restaurants in the airport and was a little taken back by how ambivalent and disinterested the young lady was that took my order. I mean, I’m used to that to an extent from service people at airports, but this ambivalence was cranked up (or down, as the case may be) a couple notches.

A short flight (35 minutes) from Detroit and I’m in Pittsburgh. It’s a little windy, but there’s a baseball game going on across the river from my hotel.

More to come as my stay here unfolds.

Thanksgiving Point in Lehi held their first annual Thanksgiving Point Half Marathon today and I participated as a runner. This was my first long-distance race ever and I’m pleased to say that I finished and not only did I finish, I ran pretty much the entire course. I crossed the finish line at 2:27:40. Not bad for a first half-marathon!

Thanksgiving Point is using the marathon to raise money for a new children’s museum: The Museum Of Natural Curiousity. They plan to raise $500,000 over the next five years and started by raising over $30,000 with this first marathon.

I have very little knowledge of running dos and don’ts, but I tried to incorporate what I’ve picked up into my preparation for this race. I dialed down my training regimen over the last week, only running twice and for much shorter durations. I ate well the day before the race and had a bowl of cold cereal before heading to the race this morning.

About twenty minutes before the race started, I walked around for about five minutes to warm up my legs. Then I went inside, found a place to sit down, and tightened and stretched my shins so that I wouldn’t get shin splints during the first part of my run. Then I did some wall push-ups to make sure the backs of my calves were loosened up.

It was about 35 degrees (Fahrenheit) when the race started at 7 a.m. I had a long-sleeved shirt on under my technical race shirt. I pulled the sleeves down over my hands during the first part of the race because my hands were cold, but it wasn’t long before the sun was out and my hands weren’t cold anymore.

The course for the race started at the Thanksgiving Point water tower and followed trails around the Thanksgiving Point golf course, their tulip gardens, and then along a trail next to the Jordan River up to a park called Willow Park in Lehi. Then the race followed some surface roads back to Thanksgiving Point’s “Electric Park” where the finish line was.

The organizers had a nice number of volunteers along the course route to provide drinks, other aid, and direct traffic. There were 7 aid stations which featured water and sports drinks. Some also featured energy gels, energy bars, and fruit.

I spent Thursday and Friday flying to and from Pittsburgh, PA for a job interview. On Friday, I walked about 20 minutes in downtown Pitttsburgh in my dress shoes, and then in the Pittsburgh, Phoenix, and Salt Lake airports on my way home. When I got home Friday night, I had a nice blister on the ball of my left foot. I was worried about how that was going to affect my race. I didn’t know if I should “pop” it or what. I soaked it in some warm water before I went to bed and it felt a little better in the morning, but it was still there. I ran the race on it and while it was a little uncomfortable, it didn’t cause any serious problems. I had some aching in my left knee and groin muscles, maybe because I was favoring the foot that didn’t have a blister.

At the finish line, there was plenty more food to eat and even some massage therapists available for post-race massages.

After the race, awards were given out (I didn’t get one) and then they had some raffle prizes which included running socks, energy bars, Timex Ironman running watches, and two Garmin 405 GPS training watches. The Garmins were the last items to be given out and the last number they read off was mine!

So, it was an awesome experience. I got to say I completed my first half-marathon and got a Garmin 405 as well.

I don’t know when I’ll be doing another one of these races. Right now I’m just happy it’s done, but maybe in a couple weeks I’ll start thinking about doing it again.

Thanks to my family (including my parents and in-laws) that came out to support me as I crossed the finish line. I’ll have to get some pictures posted as well.

DSCF6315.JPG DSCN1366.JPG DSCN1367.JPG

A whole lot of talk has taken place recently about Net Neutrality. The histrionics and grandiose claims on both sides of the issue are quite disappointing. And that seems to be biggest problem.

In his recent FOX News program, Glenn Beck highlighted the group Free Press and their support of Net Neutrality legislation and regulation. Beck makes some points and observations about the leftist agenda of Free Press and its co-founder founder, Robert W. McChesney. There’s no doubt that McChesney is out of step with mainstream America with regard to his views on media, government control, etc. His comments do seem like those of a socialist or, dare I say, a Marxist.

But, stop! Net Neutrality wasn’t created by Marxists! No, it’s just being co-opted by them… and probably lots of other groups that see government control over Internet service providers as a means to an end for them.

The problem with Net Neutrality right now is that many groups are trying to claim it as their poster-child issue. Libertarian conservatives are saying Net Neutrality is an example of government overbearance or even tears at the fabric of the Constitution.

On the flip-side, we have leftists who apparently have incredible amounts of disdain, distrust, and suspicion toward corporations who might alter, affect, control, or in any way or form touch content from the Internet as it’s being delivered to their computers.

I’m opposed to Net Neutrality. Not because it’s a conspiracy to usher in totalitarian government control over the Internet and not because I don’t care about freedom of speech or freedom of the press.

Let’s look at some history.

In 2007, some customers of Comcast’s Internet service complained they were having problems downloading files using the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol. BitTorrent is a common method for sharing and distributing large files such as Linux distribution installation images that can grow to several gigabytes in size. To be frank, however, most BitTorrent traffic is largely downloads of music, movies, and TV show content. I think it’s fair to say most of this data is for entertainment purposes.

Apparently, Comcast was experiencing some problems with BitTorrent users creating congestion on their networks. Comcast chose a highly unorthodox means of dealing with the congestion and basically tricked the users’ BitTorrent clients into thinking their connections had been closed, thereby killing the BitTorrent downloads.

As word got out about the experiences of the Comcast users who had been affected by Comcast’s tactics, Comcast denied doing anything. When users showed proof of what was going on, Comcast confessed. Eventually, Comcast said they would adopt a “protocol-neutral stance” on managing traffic on their networks.

I think Comcast was out of line doing what they did. I think someone should have been fired, if they weren’t, for doing what they did. I’m surprised, really, that Comcast didn’t have more integral methods for dealing with “bandwidth hogs.”

Internet protocol networking has long supported the notion of Quality of Service (QoS) measures of traffic control for prioritizing certain kinds of traffic over others. For example, voice-over-IP (VOIP) traffic might be deemed high-priority because it’s a service people depend on and can’t tolerate congestion affecting the service.

I’m surprised, to say the least, that Comcast didn’t have priority-based queuing in place for their networks.

But some free-speech advocates are crying foul saying any attempt to regulate the flow of data by an Internet service provider essentially equates to censorship or stifling speech. Bull crap!

That’s almost like crying censorship because a newspaper didn’t quote everything you said, verbatim, at that pro-spotted owl rally. No, they had limited space and had to prioritize.

Now, I’m not a fan of Comcast… or Qwest (both are the major providers of broadband Internet service in my area), but I do believe they should not be regulated, controlled, or otherwise overseen by the federal government in how they carry Internet traffic.

Any Internet service provider’s business model is built around giving its customers the best Internet experience possible. I firmly believe that, within reason, any ISP is going to do as much as they can do accomplish that goal. However, if certain users abuse the freedom they’ve been given by the provider and that threatens to affect the experience of other users, the provider has every right to do something to protect the overall network performance. I contend that the business objective of Internet service providers already promotes the best service possible for the bulk of customers.

Net Neutrality, on the other hand, could force less-than-ideal performance on everyone in the name of equality. It could force providers into charging tiered rates like Time Warner explored doing in 2008, much to the disapproval of their customer base.

The federal government was responsible for creating the Internet through Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) projects in the 1960s that created the ARPANet, the great-granddaddy of the Internet. In 1998, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released its last talons from the backbones of the Internet and allowed complete privatization of the burgeoning network. It’s arguable, based on what happened from 1998 until today, that allowing the Internet to thrive completely out of the government’s control was the best thing that could have happened. I don’t see any benefit of returning any aspect of the Internet back into the government’s hands.

I caught the tail-end of Glenn Beck’s radio program today and was impressed to write about it. Here is my transcript:

May I read this to you?

“What no one seemed to notice was the ever widening gap… between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with… And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to have a civilian defense force, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with [a leader], their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.”

That is from a chapter “Then It Was Too Late” from the book “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45” ( See here ).

That could have been written today!

That doesn’t mean we are headed for that… Let me rephrase that. Let me be more clear.

It doesn’t mean that this president or this congress will take us there, but it does mean that the more power we give this government, the more we allow them to become more and more remote to us, indifferent to us; The more power we give them to decide our fate and decide who should be listened to and who shouldn’t be, who should live and who should die, who is politically correct and who is not, who should succeed and who should fail; The more we let them decide those things… It may not be this president. It may not be this congress. But will be in our future because all we have to do is elect the wrong person… once… and they have all the structure they need. Let’s not finish the job Germany started in 1898.

We’re headed down the same pathways and both parties have been involved.

I’ve had a few conversations recently with people who think Glenn is a “nutjob,” a “kook,” and a “loon.” Or… perhaps the most amusing characterization is that he’s a shill for the Republican party and an apologist for George W. Bush.

It’s obvious to me that these people have never really listened to the man.

I told this story in the network security class I’ve been teaching this semester. They enjoyed it and figured I might as well type it up for the blog… you know, so everyone else can consume, ingest, etc. the story.

It was in 1994, about sixteen years ago, my wife and I started dating. We had met online, long before eharmony.com or other online dating services appeared on the Internet. It wasn’t via an online dating service, we had both been invited into a kind of virtual party line application on the VMS computer system at Utah State University. A program called PHONE separated the screen into regions, one for each person on the “call.” Each participating user could see what they and everyone else was typing in real time. What happened with Christine and I was that we were both involved in a call with about six people or so and then everyone left except us. The rest is, as they say, history.

But that’s not what this story is about.

Anyway, as Christine and I started hanging out, she explained that one of her best friends had accepted a scholarship to study math at a small private college in the northwest. This school had a student body of around 2,000 students. Where USU had a cluster of DEC Alpha systems running OpenVMS to serve as a central computing system for around 20,000 students, faculty, and staff, this small college had a Sun Solaris Unix system that students logged into to send and receive e-mail and perform other central computing tasks.

At the time, my future wife and her friend had figured out a way to communicate electronically with each other in a manner more interactive than electronic mail. Christine knew her friend’s password on the Solaris system. Christine would telnet into her friend’s account at a prescribed time and they would chat using a program called ‘talk,’ similar to PHONE on the VMS system.

I knew Unix pretty well then. I taught Unix system administration courses for a private training company in Salt Lake City in 1992, had worked as a systems administrator for a couple of companies, and spent a lot of time working in Unix labs on campus. When I found out Christine knew her friend’s password and had gotten to know her friend a little bit, I started forming an idea for an incredibly funny, albeit cruel, geeky prank to pull.

To understand the impact of this practical joke, you have to understand how these computer systems were used back then. The World Wide Web was only barely in use then. The venerable Netscape Navigator Web browser wasn’t to be released for several months. E-mail users at USU and at Christine’s friend’s school used text-based e-mail applications. To access and run these applications, users would use a telnet application to connect to the system and then type in the name of the e-mail application (pine, elm, VMS Mail, etc. Even Mutt — now a favorite among text-based mail applications — wouldn’t be released until the next year.

Christine’s friend, like many at Utah State as well, would go into an on-campus computer lab, boot up a computer, probably running Microsoft Windows 3.1 or Mac OS, and then run a telnet client (most at USU used MS-DOS Kermit because its principal author worked as a professor at USU) to connect to the system where the e-mail application ran.

Telnet has long since been replaced with SSH as the preferred way to log into a remote computer system. Telnet sends all data over the network unencrypted including all login credentials like username and password. Anyone who could intercept (or listen to) traffic between one computer and another could get everything, usernames, passwords, entire e-mail messages, conversations, you name it.

When you telnetted to a remote system, you would generally be prompted for your username and then your password. If you entered the right information, you’d usually then see a command prompt. That’s where you’d type in ‘pine’ or whatever program you wanted to run.

Sometimes, there would be system scripts that ran before you saw the command prompt. The most common would be one that required you to change your password at certain intervals.

Now, back to the joke. I worked for a couple of hours on a shell script that we could upload to Christine’s friend’s account that would get run automatically the next time she logged in. The script would display something like this:

Your password has expired. Please choose a new one.
New Password:

Now, this is where things started to get a little tricky. A real password changing application would not echo the characters typed back when the user typed in a password. My script had to turn off the behavior that normally echoed characters back. This wasn’t that hard. I just had to use the ‘stty’ command in the script to turn the echo mode on and off.

The script notified Christine’s friend that her password had expired and asked that she choose a new one. If I wanted to be really, really evil, I could have captured her password as she typed it and filed it away somewhere, but this was just about fun. After she typed in the password, like any good password changing program, the script asked her to type the password again.

Then, the script said her password wasn’t long enough and prompted her to enter a longer password.

Then, it said her password didn’t contain the necessary assortment of characters, numbers, and special characters.

Then, it called Christine’s friend by name and said, “Oh come on, you can do better than THAT!” and gave her another chance.

I don’t remember how many iterations it went through, but it was at least 4 or so. Then, when it was all done, it removed the directive that made it run when she logged in and deleted itself.

A few hours later, we caught up with Christine’s friend and confessed. She was still frustrated, but began to see the humor in the prank we had pulled on her. She explained that others in the computer lab were puzzled as to why she was yelling so much profanity at her computer screen.

Good times. Good times.

There have been a couple things about Fedora 12 that haven’t been as nice as I would have liked. I finally solved one of them tonight.

My laptop, a Dell Latitude D830(N), has an NVidia Quadro NVS 140M video chipset in it. Fedora 12 worked out of the box with the open source nouveau driver which is an experimental reverse-engineered driver for NVidia chipsets. It works pretty well and I probably would have kept using it if I could get my laptop to hibernate properly. Instead, I could never get the laptop to come back to life after it went into hibernation.

Meanwhile, the RPMFusion folks (a popular third-party repository) usually have the kmod-nvidia package available to install which gives you everything you need to run the proprietary NVidia drivers (Fedora doesn’t include this because they adhere to an all-open, non-patent-encumbered package policy). However, the kmod-nvidia package wasn’t available for Fedora 12.

When it did show up on rpmfusion, there were some caveats. Fedora had done some work to make the nouveau driver work as seamlessly as possible and, as a result, made it a little more difficult to install the proprietary driver. The RPMFusion folks have some errata info on how to get the proprietary driver working. I’ll summarize the process here since it’s a little tricky to execute and understand.

Before you do anything the RPMFusion information says to do, you should obviously install the kmod-nvidia package. Then, run:

nvidia-system-config enable

(I usually do this with sudo.)

Then, reboot into runlevel 3 and proceed with the commands RPMFusion’s page recommends.

The first commands the RPMFusion info indicates should be run are these:

mv /boot/initramfs-$(uname -r).img /boot/initramfs-$(uname -r)-nouveau.img
dracut /boot/initramfs-$(uname -r).img $(uname -r)

The initramfs-blahblah.img file is a replacement for the old initrd-blahblah.img file. So, we’re making a backup of the original initiam ramdisk image file for the running kernel and adding nouveau to its name so we know this is the initial ramdisk image that contains the nouveau driver (Fedora added the driver to the initial ramdisk so the graphical bootloader can take advantage of the NVidia chipset’s capabilities).

Then, running the dracut command creates a new initial ramdisk image for the running kernel. The dracut command replaces the mkinitrd that has been used traditionally. For more information about dracut check out the Fedora Project’s wiki page on dracut.

Finally, run the setsebool command RPMFusion’s page mentions:

setsebool -P allow_execstack on

If you’re like me, however, you probably have SELinux set to permissive because RPMFusion’s nonfree codec packages have already broken some SELinux stuff. Hopefully that will be fixed soon.

Then, reboot again into runlevel 5 and enjoy.

UPDATE: Read below!

Soon after getting kmod-nvidia installed, I noticed some weird issues in KDE. Whenever I would press ALT-F2 to run a command, the UI would freeze for about 10 seconds. I did some searching and found this was a reported bug. I’m guessing a forthcoming xorg-x11-server-* package update will include this, but in the meantime, I installed new xorg-x11-server-Xorg and xorg-x11-server-common packages from this 1.7.1-12 Koji build. Pressing ALT+F2 does not freeze the system anymore.

Another excerpt from This Nation Shall Endure by the late Ezra Taft Benson, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and President of the Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The principles behind our American free market philosophy can be reduced to a rather simple formula. Here it is:

  1. Economic security for all is impossible without widespread abundance.

  2. Abundance is impossible without industrious and efficient production.

  3. Such production is impossible without energetic, willing, and eager labor.

  4. Such labor is not possible without incentive.

  5. Of all forms of incentive, the freedom to attain a reward for one’s labors if the most sustaining for most people. Sometimes called the profit motive, it is simply the rights to plan and to earn and to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor.

  6. This profit motive diminishes as government controls, regulations, and taxes increase to deny the fruits of success to those who produce.

  7. Therefore, any attempt through government intervention to redistribute the material rewards of labor can only result in the eventual destruction of the productive base of society, without which real abundance and security for more than the ruling elite are quite impossible.

“… with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens—a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits or industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

— Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address, 1801

There has been a whole lot of discussion both online and offline about healthcare. Specifically, about government’s role in healthcare and whether that role should be enlarged, redefined, etc.

Personally, I’d like to see the federal government get out of healthcare altogether. If things were done my way, there would no longer be any Medicare or Medicaid.

“But, Doran, what about all those people who depend on these programs for their healthcare?! Do you just want them to wither away and die?!”

No, but I have something I think many who are pushing for more government involvement in citizens’ healthcare do not have: Faith. I have faith in the people of America to provide help to those who really need it. I have faith in the free market to find healthcare solutions.

The U.S. is, by far, the most giving population of any country on Earth. In the absence of government run, mandated, etc. healthcare, I believe the people will step forward.

I have a friend who recently received a kidney transplant and has since relied on a regular dose of anti-rejection medications and regular doctor visits. He also recently was laid off from his job and is now paying for C.O.B.R.A. coverage to maintain the health insurance benefits he had when he was employed.

My friend can not go out and buy individual or family health insurance coverage outside of an employer group because his condition places him in a precarious position called “uninsurable.” Because I am an insulin-dependent diabetic, I am also in a similar position. To my knowledge, no health insurance company will provide coverage for me outside of an employer group either, regardless of how well I control my diabetes and lifestyle.

That’s frustrating, but I know any program provided by the bureaucracy of the federal government will have the following attributes:

  • Plan will provide a minimum baseline of coverage with few options
  • Plan will result in my treatment being a paperwork nightmare
  • Plan will restrict what medications and/or treatments are available to me regardless of doctor recommendations
  • Plan may restrict what doctors I may consult
  • Play may require ridiculous amounts of my time to see a medical professional and/or fulfill my obligations in seeing that bills are paid
  • Plan will suffer from corruption, mismanagement and fraud

I know these things because this is par for the course for any kind of service provided by the federal government.

Now, imagine I am in a situation like my friend could be in if he does not soon find employment with a company that offers health insurance benefits. Imagine, also, that our government offers no assistance to people who find themselves in this position. Who would I turn to?

I would probably first turn to my church. My church has proven itself invaluable to many people in need for food, financial assistance, and other needs. Historically, this is one of the things churches have done in the past. I’m not familiar with people going to their church leaders to help with healthcare needs, but that could be because the government, in one form or another, has become the de facto first place people turn.

I am confident that assistance provided by my church through a church leader familiar with my specific issues and background would provide more than a minimum baseline of coverage and would provide more options that would benefit me. It certainly would not be a “Cadillac plan,” but I’m confident that if my doctor recommended a procedure or a medication, I would not be told, “We’re sorry, that is not covered.”

I am also confident there would be a common sense amount of paperwork and I would definitely not be restricted in what doctor, hospital, etc. I see. And, most of all, I have an order of magnitude more confidence in my church’s ability to run an assistance program that isn’t plagued with corruption, mismanagement, or fraud.

If churches were not sufficient to fill the void, I believe other non-profit and charity organizations would appear to fulfill the need.

One such organization — Volunteers in Medicine — was mentioned in a recent General Conference talk by Thomas S. Monson, the president of the church I belong to. In this talk, President Monson describes the organization as follows:

[Volunteers in Medicine] gives retired medical personnel a chance to volunteer at free clinics serving the working uninsured. Dr. McConnell said his leisure time since he retired has “evaporated into 60-hour weeks of unpaid work, but [his] energy level has increased and there is a satisfaction in [his] life that wasn’t there before.” He made this statement: “In one of those paradoxes of life, I have benefited more from Volunteers in Medicine than my patients have.” There are now over 70 such clinics across the United States.

Prior to the “Progressive Invasion” of the early 20th century, the people of the United States of America never thought of looking to the federal government to aid them in their individual or community concerns. Churches and other organizations ran all kinds of programs for people that would later be handled by government programs. There was a time when churches ran hospitals, schools, and more.

Some people have traced the first progressive shift in federal policy to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 when then commerce secretary Herbert Hoover convinced others in the Coolidge administration that the federal government needed to step in and provide on-the-ground assistance to those displaced and otherwise affected by the flood. Even then, Hoover wasn’t spending federal money as much as he was directing the relief effort at a federal level — telling people how things should be done.

This action got Hoover elected as the 31st president of the United States and under his administration, the country experienced the great stock market crash of late October 1929 that began an economic recession that grew to become the Great Depression and endured through Hoover’s presidency and two terms of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency.

Hoover and Roosevelt both implemented federal programs to spend taxpayer money to provide assistance to those afflicted by the lackluster economy. The merits, effectiveness, and end result of these programs is still debated today, but some believe — and I do — that these programs only lengthened and amplified the recession that began with the crash of 1929 and made it “Great” while other countries’ economies participating in the global marketplace at that time recovered within a couple of years.

Healthcare dictated, provided by, or otherwise governed by the government is perversion of the law as dictated by Frederick Bastiat, an early 19th century French political economist whose essay “The Law” explains.

Each of us has a natural right — from God — to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties? If every person has the right to defend even by force — his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right — its reason for existing, its lawfulness — is based on individual right. And the common force that protects this collective right cannot logically have any other purpose or any other mission than that for which it acts as a substitute. Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force — for the same reason — cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups.

In the above excerpt, Bastiat defines the fundamental purpose of government. It is to defend and uphold our rights as individuals. It is to act on our behalf where we can not. It is not to interfere in our rights, something our current system of government increasingly does!

Bastiat continues:

Under such an administration, everyone would understand that he possessed all the privileges as well as all the responsibilities of his existence. No one would have any argument with government, provided that his person was respected, his labor was free, and the fruits of his labor were protected against all unjust attack. When successful, we would not have to thank the state for our success. And, conversely, when unsuccessful, we would no more think of blaming the state for our misfortune than would the farmers blame the state because of hail or frost. The state would be felt only by the invaluable blessings of safety provided by this concept of government.

Bastiat later writes about the difficulty of reconciling this definition of the proper role of government with one that does things to help its citizens.

Here I encounter the most popular fallacy of our times. It is not considered sufficient that the law should be just; it must be philanthropic. Nor is it sufficient that the law should guarantee to every citizen the free and inoffensive use of his faculties for physical, intellectual, and moral self-improvement. Instead, it is demanded that the law should directly extend welfare, education, and morality throughout the nation.

But the government’s participation in this socialism, Bastiat explains, is “legal plunder” and infringes on the citizens’ ability to be FREE!

This is the seductive lure of socialism. And I repeat again: These two uses of the law are in direct contradiction to each other. We must choose between them. A citizen cannot at the same time be free and not free.

Patrick Krey, an attorney in New York, wrote a piece titled “Bastiat, Barack and Bail-Outs” for the John Birch Society site this last April talking about this very concept as it relates to our current administration.

How about some relevant quotes from founding fathers? Here are a couple from Thomas Jefferson:

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.

John Adams:

Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.

And don’t get me started with Benjamin Franklin!

Masterminds of ProgrammingMasterminds of Programming by Federico Bioancuzzi and Shane Warden and published by O’Reilly and Associates is a large (480 pages), dense book packed full of exposition about language design, software engineering practices, software development lifecycle methodologies, Computer Science curricula, and unique insights into computer and computation history.

The format of the book is straightforward. Each chapter is dedicated to a programming language and contains a series of questions by the authors and responses from designers and creators of the language being highlighted.

I expected the chapters on languages I was familiar with to be the most interesting and those I was not familiar with to be the least interesting but my experience was the opposite. Chapters highlighting languages that I have had no exposure to such as Forth, APL, ML, and Lua were full of intriguing information, especially languages that were designed in the 1960s or 1950s. It’s fascinating learning about how these languages came to be given the relatively restrictive hardware they were developed with.

Other languages highlighted in the book include:

  • Python
  • Perl
  • Java
  • C++
  • C#
  • Objective-C
  • UML
  • AWK
  • Postscript
  • Eifel
  • Haskel
  • BASIC

The book is just overflowing with powerful quotes that carry substantial meaning to developers, language designers, and managers. Here are a few that stood out to me.

“Whenever I hear people boasting of millions of lines of code, I know they have grieviously midunderstood their problem. There are no contemporary problems requiring millions of lines of code. Instead, there are careless programmers, bad managers, or impossible requirements for compatibility.” —Chuck Moore in the Forth chapter

“As processors continue to get faster and memory capacities rise, it’s easier to do quick experiments and even write production code in interpreted languages (like AWK) that would not have been feasible a few decades ago. All of this is a great win.

“At the same time, the ready availability of resources often leads to very bloated designs and implementations, systems that could be faster and easier to use if a bit more restraint had gone into their design. Modern operating systems certainly have this problem; it seems to take longer and longer for my machines to boot, even though, thanks to Moore’s Law, they are noticeably faster than the previous ones. All that software is slowing me down.” —Brian Kernighan in the AWK chapter.

“Software engineering is in many ways a very pathetic field, because so much of it is anecdotal and based on people’s judgements or even people’s aesthetic judgements.” — Peter Weinberger in the AWK chapter

“The software business is one of the few places we teach people to write before we teach them to read. That’s really a mistake.” — Tom Love in the Objective-C chapter

“What do you think the chances are that Microsoft applications get slower and slower because they haven’t managed memory properly? Have you ever met a three-year-old Microsoft operating system that you wanted to use? I actually operate with a laptop that has a Microsoft-free zone. It’s amazing how much more productive I am than other people sitting in the same room with Microsoft computers. My computer is on, and I’ve done my work, and I’ve closed it down before they’ve gotten to their first Excel spreadsheet.” — Tom Love in the Objective-C chapter.

“If you study gold or lead from day to day, you can measure the properties and employ scientific methods to study them. With software, there is none of that.” — Brad Cox in the Objective-C chapter.

“C# basically took everything, although they oddly decided to take away the security and reliability stuff by adding all these sorts of unsafe pointers, which strikes me at grotesquely stupid, but people have used most of the features of Java somewhere.” — James Gosling in the Java chapter responding to the question related to C# being inspired by Java.

“I think architecture is very important, but I am cautious about labeling individuals as architects, for many reasons. Many times I have seen companies with a team of architects that they send to other organizations to work on projects. That may be fine if they work inside a particular project, but companies such as big banks usually have a group of enterprise architects that sit and draw representations of the architecture. Then they throw this over the wall to the developers. The developers just ask themselves: ‘What is this? It’s useless.’ In many companies, enterprise architects sit in an ivory tower without doing anything useful.” — Ivar Jacobson in the UML chapter

“Developing software is not rocket science. Look at the 5-10 million people who call themselves software developers. Very few of them really do anything creative of fundamentally new. Unfortunately, the outside world thinks that programmers are creative and brilliant people, and that’s far from reality.” — Ivar Jacobson in the UML chapter.

“I rarely have met a programmer who understands the principles of computational complexity and puts them into practice. Instead they fuss with all kinds of pointless suboptimizations that are ‘pennywise and pound foolish… I think the most important skill in computing (as in physics and other creative fields) is the ability for abstraction.” —James Rumbaugh in the UML chapter.

“I have found over my career, whether it be researchers or engineers, that in addition to the sort of intellectual skills that they manifest, if they are people who finish what they set out to do, they tend to be much more productive and have a much larger impact.” — Charles Geschke in the Postscript chapter.

These quotes are just scratching the surface.

Many of the interviews discuss history of computer science and computation theory. For example, Charles Geschke and John Warnock gave answers in the Postscript chapter detailing how Xerox PARC came into existence out of ARPA’s emphasis on digital communications which was the result of thinking within the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.

Because of the simple, straightforward format of this book, there is definitely room for improvement. For example, readers unfamiliar with certain languages would find it immensely useful to see examples of the language in use. One thought is that each chapter could start with a code excerpt showing how a programmer might use the highlighted language to solve a generic problem. Readers could then see, in code, how each language differs in their approach to the same problem.

Each chapter is preceded by one paragraph description of the language which may contain brief history of the language’s history. This could definitely be expanded upon. This book is big already and I don’t think O’Reilly’s goal is to make it a computer language text book, but it would be useful if each chapter started with 2-4 pages of introductory abstract about the language.

The authors have placed biographical information about each of the contributing interviewees in a Contributors appendix near the end of the book, but it would be more helpful to the reader if this information appeared at the beginning of each chapter instead.

Masterminds of Programming is available at a suggested price of $39.99. I rate it at four and a half stars.

I’m almost a text-based e-mail purist. I used to use Mutt as my primary e-mail client application, but decided to go with a graphical client such as Mozilla Thunderbird or KMail so that I could at least effectively read HTML-formatted messages.

I’ve been happy with KMail. I’ve had it configured to prefer text-based e-mail and aside from the fact I don’t use my preferred text editor (vim) inside it, it’s been a good e-mail client. Now, my dad is a more typical e-mail user. While he probably doesn’t care that much about composing original HTML messages, he does receive a lot of them that he wants to forward onto other people that he feels may be interested. He’s on lots of political and family mailing lists that swap HTML messages complete with embedded images, etc.

He has been using Thunderbird at his home and KMail (an old version running on a Fedora Core 6 desktop) at his office. He mentioned to me that KMail runs noticeably faster on his work system than Thunderbird does on his home system. I suggested that we could standardize him on KMail and upgrade his office desktop to a more recent version of Fedora Linux.

Things got more interesting when Thunderbird recently got updated on his home system in a package update to version 3.0b4. The Smart Folders “feature” threw both of us for a loop. It combines multiple Inbox, Sent, and other IMAP folders into single virtual folders containing an aggregate of messages from each corresponding folder. I really have no idea who would want this feature. My parents each have their own e-mail accounts and I had Thunderbird configured so they could check mail for both accounts. The new version of Thunderbird combines both inboxes into one virtual “Smart” folder and subsequently confused the heck out of my father.

I figured out how to disable the “smart folder” behavior (View->Folders->All), but Thunderbird was still hiding other IMAP folders like Sent and Trash that my parents often need to access messages in.

So, KMail. KMail works great for almost all things, but my father noticed right away when he tried to forward an HTML message with embedded images that KMail wasn’t letting do what he was used to doing: Editing the forwarded message to remove the annoying gazillions of e-mail addresses the original message(s) were addressed to.

KMail has two methods of forwarding a message: First, you can forward a message as an attachment. This preserves everything about the original message, but KMail doesn’t let you edit anything within the attached message. Alternatively, you may forward a message “inline”. This lets you edit the message, but it only gives you the text portion of the message to edit and completely omits the HTML attachment altogether.

I did some research online to see if there was a way to get the desired functionality out of KMail, but it doesn’t look like it’s possible. If it does ever happen, it’s a couple versions out at least. It may never happen because it seems there are voices within the KMail community that feel KMail should never take on these types of features because it risks KMail becoming “another Outlook/Thundebird clone.”

Has anyone found other solutions to this problem for a Linux user?

“We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessing were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that makes us.”

— Abraham Lincoln, Proclamation for A National Fast Day, March 30, 1863

Hear, hear.

I recently encountered a problem when I plugged in my Sprint USB aircard (A Sierra Wireless USB 598) into my laptop running Fedora 12. When I clicked on the NetworkManager applet running in my system tray and selected the mobile broadband (CDMA) device to connect to, it appeared to connect and, then shortly after, disconnect.

I watched the messages sent to the /var/log/messages file to see what was going on and sure enough, NetworkManager was successfully making a PPP connection to Sprint’s service and then PPP was terminated and the connection was closed.

I did some quick searching online but didn’t find anything definite about this. There were lots of links to the Fedora 12 release notes which claimed Fedora 12 had better support for mobile broadband cards than previous releases. That made me wonder if their improvements were actually breaking things for me.

I decided to explore the options dialogs. I right-clicked on the NetworkManager applet and chose Edit connections..., selected the Mobile Broadband tab, selected my adapter and clicked Edit.

Under the PPP Settings tab there is a button labeled Configure methods in the Authentication section. This lets you choose which authentication methods PPP should try. A list of checkboxes next to possible methods appears with EAP, PAP, CHAP, MSCHAP, and MSCHAP v2 as possible selections.

I knew Sprint doesn’t use anything fancy. In fact, you don’t even need to provide a user or password. It authenticates using the device ID or virtual phone number of your device. So, I wondered if disabling some things might work. I figured if it was using anything it was probably CHAP or PAP. I disabled everything else.

Lo and behold, the next time I tried to connect, it connected and stayed connected!

I hope this is useful to someone else.

Mobile Broadband connection dialogs

The ffmpeg package that is available for Fedora 12 via the rpmfusion.org respository does not include faac support. This can be a problem when you want to create H.264 video content that incorporates the AAC (Advanced Audio Codec).

The most straightforward way I’ve found to rectify this situation is to build a new package from the source RPM.

First, download the source RPM using yumdownloader.

yumdownloader --source ffmpeg

This will download the .src.rpm file to the current directory. Install it using the rpm command. (This assumes you have a person RPM build environment set up. This blog post provides some good information on that.)

rpm -ivh ffmpeg-0.5-5.20091026svn.fc12.src.rpm

You probably want to indicate some sort of difference in the version numbering since this version is a modification of the upstream. Edit ~/rpm/SPECS/ffmpeg.spec and modify the Release: line by adding something to the end of it.

Release: 5.%{svn}svn%{?dist}_fozz

Now, you can try building the package with rpmbuild. Unless you’ve already installed all the development libraries and other dependencies ffmpeg relies on, you’ll get some dependency messages. Use yum to install those dependencies and then try building again.

rpmbuild -ba ~/rpm/SPEC/ffmpeg.spec --with faac

This will create RPM packages for you under ~/rpm/RPMS/. Use rpm to install the ffmpeg and ffmpeg-libs packages.

rpm -Uvh ~/rpm/RPMS/x86_64 ffmpeg-{libs-,}0.5-5.20091026svn.fc12_fozz.x86_64.rpm

The FFmpeg::Command Perl module is a convenient way to drive the ffmpeg command-line utility for converting multimedia files.

For work, I have developed some scripts that make heavy use of FFmpeg::Command. Yesterday, one of the other developers told me they need a conversion script to be able to merge separate video and audio streams into one file that contains both audio and video. The ffmpeg command-line utility can do this by accepting more than one input file. For example:

$ ffmpeg -i video.avi -i audio.wav -acodec copy -vcodec copy merged.avi

The FFmpeg::Command Perl module, however, assumed there can only be one input file. I made the necessary changes to the module code so that it would accept multiple input files, created a patch file, and sent it to the Module owner Gosuke Miyashita. This morning, I received e-mail from Gosuke thanking me for the patch and informing me that he has uploaded a new version (v0.12) of FFmpeg::Command to CPAN.

I love Perl and open source software!

Anyone who’s been through some sort of big deal in their life is familiar with the annoyance that comes from dozens of family, friends, and other people asking for the latest on whatever it is you’re going through. I’m sure anyone who’s been divorced, had a loved one in the hospital, going through divorce, had a family member or close friend be involved in a big court battle, etc. knows what I’m talking about.

Our family has been going through a frustrating situation, but I haven’t really talked about it much, but those who do know about it have been calling me, e-mailing me, etc. to get frequent updates on the status, so I’m blogging about it so I can just say, “Go look at the blog.”

For the last year or so, Christine and I have been thinking about buying a larger house. We bought our most recent house in 2003 when the housing market was experiencing a low period. The house was a HUD repossession and had been trashed — or never taken care of — by the previous owner. We recarpeted, repainted, and repaired damage throughout. Over the years we finished a couple of bedrooms and an office in the basement and put in a yard with a watering system.

That house has served us well, but Christine and I had been looking at some of the houses in the newer developments near our house and wondering if we should upgrade. In fact, we made an offer on a home last year which was accepted. After the offer was accepted, we got cold feet and withdrew the offer because we realized we just were not prepared to commit to short sale moving into a newer, larger house yet. We hadn’t done anything to sell our house so we’d have to pay two house payments until our prior home was sold and who knew how long that would take.

After backing out of that, we finished our family room in the basement and made other minor improvements to the house. We still weren’t complete sure we wanted to sell the house because the family room was a nice addition and gave us a lot more breathing room.

Come Summer, we started seeing a larger home as a wise investment decision. Many of the larger homes near us were being listed at steep discounts by owners that simply could not afford them anymore. We began looking around at what was available and walked through many homes. Christine saw a nice house that caught her eye listed, but when we talked to our agent about it, it had been pulled off the market. Our agent said it hadn’t been sold so it might be relisted. Christine kept an eye out.

Finally, a couple of weeks later, Christine found the house again. It had been relisted a couple of days before. We talked to our agent, got a showing, and decided to make an offer on the house. Our offer was accepted. That was in August.

During the time we were looking at homes and making the offer on the nice house, we put our house up for sale. We had an offer in about three weeks and a closing scheduled for late September.

The closing for the house we were buying was scheduled for mid-October. Christine and I had a vacation scheduled at that time and had it moved to the 22nd of October. As the date approached, the messages we were getting from the selling agent was that they weren’t ready to close.

A little background: As we dealt with the selling agent, the house really started sounding like a short sale because there was talk about them having to get banks to sign off on the sale. But, they never represented the sale as being a short sale. If it was, there would have been additional paperwork, specifically a short sale addendum, involved in the contract.

Well, as 22 October approached, the selling agent indicated they would not be able to close. He blamed it on the bank (or banks). We had arranged to rent our older home from the new owners for the month of October so that we would have a place to live until we closed on the new house. If we didn’t close on the newer home, we’d have to make new living arrangements because we had to be out of our previous home by the end of October.

Nothing happened on 22 October. We gave them a few more days to surprise us with a closing and then proceeded to move everything into storage units. One of Christine’s coworkers said his in-laws would let us live in their basement while we waited for things to come together. We were hoping it wouldn’t come to that, but in the end it did.

We’ve been living in a basement, out of suitcases, since 31 October. We extended the closing until 13 November, but as of today, the selling agent has said they will not be able to close then.

The good news, if there is any, is that the selling agent said today they have written approval on at least one of the banks involved in the selling (apparently there’s stuff between a first and second mortgage that has to be resolved).

So, we’re extending one more time, to 25 November. The selling agent expressed confidence to our agent we’ll be able to close before Thanksgiving.

Our theory is this: The sellers we’re dealing with is a third party to a short sale. They’re working directly with the bank to buy the house in a short sale at a price lower than what we’re offering. As a result, when the sale is completed, they’ll make a few thousand (or a few tens of thousands) in profit. So, technically, we’re not involved in a short sale, but the people we’re buying the house from are.

Should this be legal? Maybe, but I think they should be required to provide full disclosure. It’s a little unethical to paint the sale as not being a short sale when in fact it is. Short sales are historically difficult because the banks involved generally take a long time to move.

We’re very grateful to the Hancocks (the older couple whose basement we’re living in) for their benevolence and hospitality. We’d be in a much worse mess if we didn’t have their basement to call a temporary home.

We’ve been looking at other houses on the market, but nothing really compares to the house we’re set to buy.

We’ve considering renting an apartment in the interim so that we’re not taking too much advantage of the generosity of our hosts upstairs. If this looks like it will go beyond November, we may do exactly that.

In the meantime, we’re crossing our fingers (once again) for a closing sometime before 25 November.

Superfreakonomics is the new sequel to the best-selling book Freakonomics by Steven D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

This book roughly follows the same formula its predescessor established, although the original book seems rough and a bit disorganized compared to Superfreakonomics, which flows smooth and is even easier to read.

The pattern, of course, is to start each chapter with a shocking or strange statement that, at first glance, appears to make no sense. The rest of the chapter leads up to a point where that statement makes perfect sense once you’ve been exposed to the underlying statistical data the authors enthusiastically present. Each chapter contains an assortment of short stories about related events or historical analysis for perspective on each of the studies discussed.

The most memorable parts of the original Freakonomics, for me, were the chapters on Chicago drug dealers and the chapter that suggested that the falling urban crime rates in urban areas like New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago during the 1990s was due less to bureaucrat policies and more to do with the fact that the landmark Roe v. Wade case had occurred roughly 20 years earlier, thereby allowing legalized abortion. This allegedly decreased the number of children born into poor, single-parent homes that would have basically been bred into a life of crime. The conclusion was that crime rates fell in these urban areas because the would-be criminals were never born.

If you read the first book, you’ll remember the stories and conclusions about inner city gangs and drug dealers. The researchers had to employ some unorthodox methods of data collection because of the closed nature of gang society. THat is, members of inner citty gangs are not going to welcome some college professor into their inner circle with open arms. Even if they did speak to a stereotypical economics researcher, it’s unlikely they would provide entirely truthful or reliable data to the researchers. As a result, these studies required much more effort on the part of the researchers to blend in and become a trusted individual. It was, essentially, an undercover operation that revealed some surprising facts about how gangs and drug dealing worked (and didn’t work).

So, what about this new book? This time they’ve brought us economic analyses of current and past practices of prostitution. How is “the worlds’ oldest profession” enduring? Well, it depends. It apparently depends on who the prostitute’s target customer base is. Prostitutes who “work the street” pretty much all make the same hourly rates and have to deal with some pretty serious side effects of their work including violence, disease, and the (relatively low) possibility of being caught and arrested by the police.

Prostitutes that work as high-class escorts, are well educated, and can carry on conversations with wealthy customers can earn hundreds of dollars per hour. In fact, it seems the more they can charge, the longer their engagements are. Their patrons are less interested in engaging in a single act and more interested in living out a fantasy of living with an “ideal” mate.

What else is in this new book? An interesting study on infant and child carseats. My state just made it a law that children under the age of eight must use car seats or booster seats in a car. The studies done by the authors of this book suggest car seats and booster seats may offer no real added protection to children over the age of two compared to plain old seat belts.

In this new book, the authors take on global warming. I found this interesting because I’m what you might call a “skeptic” or a “denier.” I don’t believe man has much at all to do with what some call “global warming” (or, more recently, “climate change,” because there hasn’t been any warming for a while.)

I was a bit disappointed that Dubner and Leavitt didn’t take on the plethora of data that suggest historic warming has actually been caused more by solar cycles rather than emissions of greenhouse gases. While acknowledging there is no real concensus (sorry Al Gore), they went with the assumption that global warming/climate change is a real problem we must solve and concentrated their investigation on the proposed strategies to solve it.

Most governments want to “solve” our climate woes by capping emissions, taxing production, and thereby stiffling economic growth across the board. This will, of course, impact humanity globally, probably much more than any changes in the climate will. The costs for these measures are estimated in the trillions of dollars, most of which will come from developed nations. Dubner and Leavitt suggest that in many, if not most, cases, the best solutions to problems are often the simple and least expensive solutions.

They outline some solutions proposed by a small group in the northwestern US called Intellectual Ventures. One of their global warming proposals, for example, involves putting supposedly harmfull emissions into a higher layer of the atmosphere. Doing this would be uber-cheap and would effectively stop warming (assuming there is warming). They know it will work because volcanoes do it when they erupt and it cools the planet for a short period of time by blocking the amount of solar radiation that reaches the surface.

I applaud the authors for taking on so many issues and showing that the way we typically approach problems is often the wrong way.

Freakonomics is available now in hardcover for a suggested price of $29.99. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

I installed Hulu Desktop for Linux recently, but could not get it to work. When I ran huludesktop, a dialog box would display saying that the Flash plugin could not be found and that I should edit ~/.huludesktop.

The ~/.huludesktop file has a INI-style syntax and has a section for Flash settings:

[flash]
flash_location = (null)

It’s not obvious whether the flash_location variable needs to be set to a directory or a full path. I tried both /usr/lib/flash-plugin/ and /usr/lib/flash-plugin/libflashplugin.so. Neither of these worked. I didn’t find much help via Google, but kept experimenting until I found a solution that worked:

flash_location = /usr/lib64/mozilla/plugins-wrapped/nswrapper_32_64.libflashplayer.so

When the 64-bit Flash plugin is officially released, this will probably become unnecessary. In the meantime, Hulu Desktop works!

Milton Friedman was a highly visible economist, statistician, and policy commentator during the Twentieth Century. Before he died in 2006, he wrote and co-wrote several books relating economic theory, policy studies, and statistics. He was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics in 1976.

I just finished reading “Free To Choose: A Personal Statement,” written by Thomas Friedman and his wife, Rose Friedman. The book is dense and full of well thought-out arguments for free markets, smaller government, and how policies that adhere to these principles will result in greater liberty and freedom for the people that live under them.

This book is almost thirty years old and it shows. Many of the numbers the Friedmans use in the book are laughable today, especially those they use as salaries for the common man or the cost of an average home.

It’s fascinating, however, they write at the end of the Carter administration that “the tide is turning.”

The failure of Western governments to achieve their proclaimed objectives has produced a widespread reaction against big government. In Britain the reaction swept Margaret Thatcher to power in 1979 on a platform pledging her Conservative government to reverse the socialist policies that had been followed by both Labour and earlier Conservative governments ever since the end of World War II.

“Free To Choose” is organized in chapters that each spend a liberal amount of print on a specific category of policy thinking. The first chapter, “The Power Of The Market” spends nearly 30 pages covering the ideals of a free market, the dangers of price controls, and the role of government with respect to markets. The second chapter is devoted to governments’ role in free trade and overall liberty and economic growth. Hint: Friedman isn’t a fan of tariffs or any other kind of government meddling with trade between nations. He offers a compelling historical argument for free trade by examining the governance and trade policies of Japan during the latter half of the 19th century and India during the latter half of the 20th century.

The third chapter, “The Anatomy of Crisis,” is perhaps the most relevant to readers today. It examines the modern banking system in the United States from the inception of the Federal Reserve in 1913, the depression nobody remembers from 1920-21, and the Great Depression of the 1930s. For those who believe we are currently at risk of suffering from the same mistakes or making greater ones today in our vulnerable financial status, this chapter offers some brilliant insights.

In the conclusion of this chapter, the Friedmans write:

In one respect the (Federal Reserve) System has remained completely consistent throughout. It blames all problems on external influences beyond its control and takes credit for any and all favorable occurrences. It thereby continues to promote the myth that the private economy is unstable, while its behavior continues to document the reality that government is today the major source of economic instability.

The fourth chapter, “Cradle to Grave,” examines the development of the welfare state beginning in Europe in the late 1800s and then in the U.S. in the 1920s. Friedman spotlights health, education, and welfare in this chapter because at the time the book was written, they fell under a single department within the federal government.

The waste is distressing, but it the least of the evils of the paternalistic programs that have grown to such massive size. Their major evil is their effect on the fabric of our society. They weaken the family; reduce the incentive to work, save, and innovate; reduce the accumulation of capital; and limit our freedom. These are the fundamental standards by which they should be judged.

The following chapter challenges the popular notions of what “equality” means. The Friedmans distinguish between the following:

  • Equality of outcome
  • Equality of opportunity
  • Equality before God

Concerning equality of outcome, they write:

Life is not fair. It is tempting to believe that government can rectify what nature has spawned. But it is also important to recognize how much we benefit from the very unfairness we deplore.

This chapter goes on to examine the effects of egalitarian policies as practiced in the US and in other modern societies.

… a society that puts freedom first will, as a happy by-product, end up with greater freedom and greater equality. Though a by-product of freedom, greater equality is not an accident. A free society releases the energies and abilities of people to pursue their own objectives. It prevents some people from arbitrarily suppressing others. It does not prevent some people from achieving positions of privilege, but so long as freedom is maintained, it prevents those positions of privilege from being institutionalized; they are subject to continued attack by other able, ambitious people. Freedom means diversity but also mobility. It preserves the opportunity for today’s disadvantaged to become tomorrow’s privileged and, in the process, enabled almost everyone, from top to bottom, to enjoy a fuller and richer life.

Next, the Friedmans attach “What’s Wrong with Our Schools?”

It’s no surprise their position is that centralized planning is a substantial culprit of the problem with schools. Again, freedom is the answer, they say. Vouchers, for example, tied with freedom to choose public schools, are an ideal way to encourage competition between private and public schools and drive education quality up.

I found this passage about public subsidies of higher education shocking considering what we have observed in 2009:

When we first started writing about higher education, we had a good deal of sympathy for the (justification that public subsidies was an investment in future productivity and economic growth of society). We no longer do. In the interim we have tried to induce the people who make this argument to be specific about the alleged social benefits. The answer is almost always simply bad economics. We are told that the nation benefits by having more highly trained people, that investment in providing such skills is essential for economic growth, that more trained people raise the productivity for the rest of us. These statements are correct. But none is a valid reason for subsidizing higher education. Each statement would be equally correct if made about physical capital (i.e., machines, factory buildings, etc.), yet hardly anyone would conclude that tax money should be used to subsidize the capital investment of General Motors or General Electric.

Milton Friedman is undoubtedly spinning in his grave today.

Following education is the question of “Who Protects the Consumer?” This chapter discusses the development of the Interstate Commerce Commission, The Food and Drug Administration, The Consumer Products Safety Commission, The Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Friedmans raise some very valid questions about the government’s role in establishing these authorities and whether they are effective in their stated objectives.

For example, many are familiar with Ralph Nader’s book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” in which he supposedly documents the safety risk the Chevrolet Corvair was to its occupants. This book ignited a firestorm that eventually crushed the Corvair out of production and resulted in new government regulations pertaining to the manufacture of automobiles. It’s difficult to argue that the outcome was a bad thing, but what about the original premise? Was the Corvair that bad? My dad was a Corvair collector and had two that he tinkered with, restored, and drove around on occasion. I always thought they were odd cars because the engine was in the back. The Friedmans point out that ten years after Nader’s book landed, “one of the agencies that was set up in response to the subsequent public outcry finally got around to testing the Corvair that started the whole thing. They spent a year and a half comparing the performance of the Corvair with the performance of other comparable vehicles and they concluded, ‘The 1960-63 Corvair compared favorably with the other contemporary vehicles used in the tests.’”

Next is “Who Protects the Worker?” Here labor unions land square in the crosshairs. Also addressed are government interventions into work such as regulations against child labor, minimum wage laws, OSHA oversight, workers compensation, and more.

Chapter 9 is about inflation. This isn’t very relevant right now, but likely will deserve a re-read in a year or so.

Here, Friedman puts his statistician muscles to work and establishes through numbers a strong correlation between monetary control and consumer prices. When the the Treasury and the Federal Reserve flood the market with money, prices respond by going up.

The final chapter is a nice capstone on the book and discusses how the U.S. Constitution relates to many of the policies discussed and how it is eroded by some.

Appendix A is an interesting inclusion. It is the party platform from the Socialist party during the 1928 presidential campaign. The Friedmans go through each of the 14 items in the platform and demonstrate that despite the Socialist Party not having a chance in Hell of ever having a candidate elected, since 1928, just about each and every one of these ideas put forth by the Socialist Party has been enacted.

That’s something to think about.

“Free To Choose” is available in paperback at a MSRP of $15.00. It’s not a quick read, but definitely an informative and educational one.

Palm Pre: The Missing Manual Palm Pre: The Missing Manual by Ed Baig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'll start by saying that this book-- Palm Pre The Missing Manual-- is a must-have for any new Palm Pre owner. Sure, the pamphlet that comes with the Palm Pre is adequate for getting you started and on your way, but there are so many figurative nooks and crannies in the operation of the Palm Pre that you won't even know about unless you've happened across them by accident or you've read this book.

I've owned a Palm Pre since the first week it was available. A long-time user of older Palm smartphones such as the Treo line and Centro, I enthusiastically and anxiously followed the the technology news about the forthcoming Pre. The concept of Synergy -- the Pre's software mechanism for collecting data from various online sources such as GMail and Facebook into centralized databases on the phone -- was incredibly appealing and frightening at the same time. I often wondered if Palm really could pull it off or if the Pre was going to be Palm's dying gasp and I would be left to the mediocrity of Windows Mobile or Blackberry or the cult of conformation using Apple's iPhone.

Thankfully, my experience with the Pre has given me hope. Being an early adopter, I've had my shares of bumps along the way, but generally, the Pre is an awesome device. Now that the Palm App Catalog is filling up with new, exciting applications and there's talk of more operating system updates on the horizon, I'm really enjoying myself with the Pre.

Let's get back to the book. Ed Baig's book seems fairly typical for a "Missing Manual" book. It is fairly short, witty, funny, and packed full of valuable information interspersed with plenty of callouts to "tips" and "notes" along the way.

The book is extremely easy to read and shouldn't intimidate those who are nowhere nearly as geeky as me. My daughter was easily digesting the book before I started reading it she's nine years old.

Had I had this book the first week I owned a Pre, it would have saved me some frustration figuring out the best way to get my contacts and calendar data onto the Pre.

Palm Pre, The Missing Manual is available directly from O'Reilly and Associates and probably from any of your favorite online booksellers. The MSRP is $24.99. $24.99 seems a bit much for this book, even if you're probably never going to pay full price. For what you get, I would think $10 less would be more reasonable.

I finally got around to watching the documentary film I.O.U.S.A., which I rented from NetFlix. Wow. I recommend anybody and everybody in the U.S.A. watch this film. If you’re not up to renting it or buying it, watch the 30-minute byte-size version available on YouTube.

David Walker, former Comptroller General of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), now President of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, takes on the seemingly insurmountable task of explaining our national debt and does so successfully with finesse.

I learned a lot from this film. I mean, because I’ve been pretty well plugged-in, politically, I knew our national debt was a huge problem, that the federal government’s budget deficits were only making things worse and federal programs like Social Security and Medicare only exacerbate the problem. What I didn’t know was that our trade deficit is so huge, the largest in the world, in fact.

Before watching I.O.U.S.A., President George W. Bush was not my favorite president. While he did a good job responding to the terror attacks in 2001 and going after terrorists where they operate in the Middle East, he and his administration seemed to ignore problems here at home, like the growing problem of illegal immigration and adding more liabilities to Medicare with the Part D prescription drug coverage. Overall, I think he was a mediocre president.

After watching I.O.U.S.A., I’m beginning to wonder if George W. Bush didn’t commit some kind of treason against this country by letting all things economic get so out of hand under his watch!

After watching I.O.U.S.A., I’ve developed an increased respect for the Clinton administration for how they handled economic matters by getting the federal budget under control for a couple of years. Granted, things were easier then with no War On Terror to fund and what-not.

So, what about our present president? Well, he sucks too! Maybe worse than Bush!

Walker is dead on by identifying the four big economic problems facing America:

  • Federal budget deficit
  • Savings deficit
  • Trade deficit

And finally,

  • Leadership deficit

For example, the Democrats’ healthcare reform proposal does not help our debt situation. The government’s own policy analysts show that it too will only add an increasingly large liability to an already fast-growing balance we owe. Yes, we need reform, but this ain’t what the proverbial doctor ordered.

One big chunk of our trade deficit is our dependence on foreign oil. Our president’s solution is to pull new, alternative energy solutions out of his butt to replace all energy infrastructure. You know, that might be a fine solution if we were already in a good economic situation, where we had economic surpluses to rely on as we went through the painful process of converting to a scientifically, environmentally superior form of energy generation, but in the state we’re in right now, it simply does not make sense.

What does make sense is for the U.S. to start getting more energy production from its own resources. We have lots of it. Oil. Coal. Natural gas. We’ve got gazillions of tons of it, literally, but we’re staying away from it, on principle, I guess.

Leadership deficit! We need leaders that will do what’s right regardless of what’s popular or what their party, platform, or agenda might be. President Obama wants to usher the U.S. into a new era of green-ness, environmentalism, ecological awareness, etc. etc. He needs to realize we’re never going to be able to do that unless we address our vast economic imbalance represented by our debt and unfunded liabilities.

What our government aims to do now is a classic example of cart before horse.

Here’s another tough pill I had to swallow watching I.O.U.S.A.: We probably will need to raise taxes to get out of this mess. But our legislators need to reduce the overall size of government at the same time. We’ll need to raise taxes and reduce spending.

That trade deficit thing just keeps bothering me. I want to know more about why the United States doesn’t produce much anymore. Common sense tells me it’s because other nations can produce cheaper than we can. Why? Is it high labor costs? Is it restrictive regulation?

At the state capitol rally on Saturday 9/12, a young woman (Nicole Condie, I think her name was) was an unscheduled speaker. She said she had interned for Orrin Hatch and, as an intern, was responsible for handling incoming mail. She said she would prepare responses to letters from concerned constituents and sign them with an autopen. She said she assumed the senator’s staff would at least collect statistics on what issues his constituents were writing in about and how they felt. However, she said, no statistics were being collected at all. She said there were always protests happening near the senate offices, but the senators never heard or saw them and had private entrances to the building that allowed them to come and go without any exposure to these protests.

Is it really any wonder why our senators seem to be off in their own little world?

I’ve been reading Free To Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman. This book was written in 1979-1980 and it talks about many of the important political and economic issues of that time. Friedman explains things so well and his points are still very relevant. However, as I was reading the chapter “What’s Wrong with Our Schools?” something jumped out at me. See if you can pick it out. I’ll add emphasis it to give you a hint.

When we first started writing about higher education, we had a good deal of sympathy for the [justification that public tax subsidies for state schools was an investment in the future productivity of members of society]. We no longer do. In the interim, we have tried to induce the people who make this argument to be specific about the alleged social benefits. The answer is almost always simply bad economics. We are told that the nation benefits by having more highly skilled and trained people, that investment in providing such skills is essential for economic growth, that more trained people raise the productivity of the rest of us. These statements are correct. But none is a valid reason for subsidizing higher education. Each statement would be equally correct if made about physical capital (i.e. machines, factory buildings, etc.) yet hardly anyone would conclude that tax money should be used to subsidize the capital investment of General Motors or General Electric. If higher education improves the economic productivity of individuals, they can capture that improvement through higher earnings, so they have a private incentive to get the training. Adam Smith’s invisible hand makes their private interest serve the social interest. It is against the social interest to change their private interest by subsidizing schooling. The extra students — the ones who will only go to college if it is subsidized — are precisely the ones who judge that the benefits they receive are less than the costs. Otherwise they would be willing to pay the costs themselves.

Wow. Hardly anyone, indeed. Yet, it has happened in the last year and some would argue it was unavoidable because no one in any administrative position (i.e. George W. Bush, John McCain, or Barack Obama) has/had the courage and wisdom to hold back and not “save” failing companies.

Your Body: The Missing Manual Your Body: The Missing Manual by Matthew MacDonald

My rating: 4 of 5 stars I was hanging out on Facebook one day and O'Reilly Media sent out a status message saying they needed a few people to review a new book Your Body The Missing Manual (go here for O'Reilly's catalog page for the book). I responded and was contacted by an O'Reilly representative who got my shipping information.

Within a couple of days, I received a box. Inside was a stinky (stinky because of the ink and paper they used) book with a green cover.

I didn't really know what to expect. I had planned to compare this to some of the larger encyclopedia-like books that my kids had that were packed with fancy color pictures and diagrams for various aspects of the body. This book isn't like those at all. It is more exposition and less illustration, although there are some very good illustrations in the book. They're just relatively simple compared to other books.

The writing style is very interesting. It is not clinical at all and is littered with sarcastic and sardonic quips. The first chapter -- about your skin -- starts off, in the very first paragraph, talking about robbing a bank wearing a ski mask. When the author wrote about techniques for removing fingerprints to avoid leaving evidence of your involvement at a crime scene, I was beginning to wonder if there was an underlying, hidden agenda in the book.

The text is packed with fascinating callouts that fit in contextually throughout the book. This lets the author pack each chapter with numerous bits of tangential information.

All in all, however, the book is somewhat light on the coverage. This isn't a tell-all, but it is a tell-a-lot. And what it does tell, it tells well. There is a lot of information about latest research and findings. For example, I learned that stretching (in the chapter on muscles) isn't the recommended activity before an aerobic/cardiovascular workout, but that 5-10 minutes of light warm up activity is better.

I learned a lot from this book I didn't know before so I definitely feel more knowledgeable as a result of reading it.

While the other body atlas-type books I've seen seem to be targeted at pretty much all ages, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone under the age of 16. The reason I would not recommend this book to younger readers is because Chapter 10, the chapter on sex and reproduction, ventured a bit too far out of my comfort zone into sociological and cultural aspects of sexuality than I would ever feel comfortable letting younger kids read. I'm pretty sure my 10-year old does not needs to learn about "Arousal and the Art of Foreplay," "Reaching The Big O," or how to "Engage in mutual exploration."

So, all in all, a good book. It's light, not-very-clinical reading that's bound to teach you several things you didn't already know. You can buy it direct from O'Reilly or from everyone's favorite online bookseller: Amazon.com for $25 or less.

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I think I have finally, really arrived.

I’ve been doing contract work for a company in Provo that is launching a new website called YoManSports.com, which is in beta right now. At first glance, the site may appear to be a “YouTube for sports,” but it so much more than that. The concept is centered around video sharing, but includes familiar social networking elements you’d find on sites like Facebook or MySpace. In addition, there are several applications within the site that are sports-related — things like competition bracketing, scorecards, and groups. Perhaps the coolest feature that rounds out the list is the broadcast feature. This lets a person go to a sporting event with a video camera, even something as simple as a USB webcam, and set up a live web broadcast that anyone with a web browser can watch. The person managing the broadcast can mix prerecorded video, pictures, and even live video from other users into the broadcast. There’s even a news ticker for embedding clickable URL links into the broadcast. It’s pretty cool stuff.

Now, I said at the beginning of this post that I have arrived because we’ve been asked by management to blog regularly about the site and what we’re doing with it as part of our marketing plan. So, yeah, it’s cool to be able to do this and not be wasting my time at work.

My job has been designing and building the server architecture that sits behind the scenes and makes it all work. I was brought in late 2008 when the site was pretty much in a prototype stage. All the code was running on a single server and it really wasn’t designed to scale beyond that one server. So, one of the first things I did was figured out what we’d need to do split things like streaming video, web services, and database services onto their own dedicated servers.

After that, I went through and figured out how we were going to accomodate loads higher than we could with individual servers. In a nutshell: load balancing. That has now been implemented.

Another thing I’ve had a big hand in is offloaded encoding and conversion. The developers had created routines to do all the video encoding in PHP on the frontend of the website. Of course, doing video encoding on the same server Apache is running on can be detrimental to the experience of other website users. I developed a distributed encoding system that handles all the video conversion and encoding on a separate set of servers. I did it with Perl, of course.

I’m pleased with the technology being used on the site. I’m not a fan of PHP, but it’s doing the job well for frontend development. We’re making use of a lot of open source technology in dealing with videos. For example, all our transcoding is being done with the formidable FFMPEG software along with libraries like x264 and FAAC.

We’re leveraging Flash pretty heavily pretty heavily to make the site work so it’s fortunate that Flash support has nearly ceased being a problem for cross-platform compatibility. YoManSports.com works almost seamlessly across Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.

Watch this space for more info to come.

Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Evolution of Thomas Paine's Revolution Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Evolution of Thomas Paine's Revolution by Glenn Beck

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Anyone who knows me or has read some of my previous reviews probably knows that I'm one of Glenn Beck's biggest fans, so it will come as little surprise that I now have 4 copies of this book and plan to distribute it to family and friends.

As with his previous non-fiction work, An Inconvenient Book Real Solutions to the World's Biggest Problems, this book is, for the most part, a repackaging of things Glenn says every day on his television and radio shows. It discusses the corruption in government, the loyalty to special interests among those in congress, the amassing of power by the executive branch, and the cancer that is the Progressive movement.

That being said, this is definitely a book you can give to your friends who aren't necessarily one of Glenn's biggest fans. And, encourage them to pass it on when they're done. Sign your name on the inside cover and include the date your read it and encourage others to do the same. This book is a rallying cry to all those who feel their voice is held in contempt or just plain ignored by the political class in America.

I would like to share one of my favorite parts of this book. It is very near to the end of the book (before the Thomas Paine section starts) and addresses religion in a democracy.


So why is religion so important to the proper functioning of a democracy? Well, once again, our Founding Fathers had the answer. In a letter to the president of Yale University, Benjamin Franklin once wrote:


Here is my creed: I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is in doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion.


It wasn't about any one particular creed, dogma, or church, but rather about all religions that inspired men to selflessness, virtue. and godliness. Our Founders understood the thing that we try so hard to forget today: there is far more than unites us than divides us. Virtue, honesty, and character aren't the purview of any particular congregation; they can be found in any church that has God as its foundation. We have forgotten this lesson and instead of using religion as our anchor, we use it to shame or blame. To many in this country, those who attend church regularly aren't pillars of their community, they're freaks or extremists.

But that mind-set can be changed by setting an example of tolerance and unparalleled acceptance toward each other. Let's stop using our religious symbols to score political points. Are we that insecure in our own faith that the religious symbols or public prayers of a different religion cannot be welcomed with open arms? As Thomas Jefferson once said:


Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homeage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear... Do not be frightened from this inquiry from any fear of its consequences. If it ends in the belief there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise...

Religions and their followers must stop turning on each other. We are a land founded through divine Providence, a land where, as James Madison said, the "spirit of liberty and patriotism animates all degrees and denominations of men."


Very well said, Glenn.


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Last updated: September 27, 2012 02:15 PM