Monthly Archives: June 2016

Television, But First, This Word . . .

I confess that I don’t watch a lot of television, mainly because of lack of time. I do watch the local news as I’m getting dressed in the morning, which is mainly limited to weather, traffic, and a smattering of journalism. There are a few prime-time shows I like, but normally we watch those through the DVR.
I understand that commercial advertisements pay the bills for television stations, but sometimes it seems a bit overdone. I have never timed it, but it seems like the local morning news is about 50 percent commercials. There are pitches for replacement windows, new and used cars, lawyers, furniture stores, pawn shops, and even churches. During elections they add a ton of political attack ads. Alas, while I’m trying to wake up in the morning, I’m not particularly persuaded to seek anything from those advertisements.
Our cable company overrides customers’ ability to record the most popular prime-time programs on the in-house DVR, but instead shifts them to their “On Demand” service. The difference is that with their recording one can no longer fast forward through the commercials; if you pause the program for too long, it disengages and you have to restart the program from the very beginning.
The commercials on the time-shifted programs include erectile dysfunction drugs, other programs from the same network, erectile dysfunction drugs, public service announcements, erectile dysfunction drugs, an occasional product, and, of course, erectile dysfunction drugs. I suspect that these are not exactly the same as during the original broadcast, but that’s just a guess.
It’s no wonder I prefer movies and books.

Disaster Communications

This past weekend, amateur (ham) radio operators in the Western Hemisphere participated in an annual emergency exercise called Field Day. In the event of a disaster, regular communications is often disrupted. Not only can cellular equipment be damaged, but the system can be overloaded by increased usage; in some cases, cellular communications can be limited to essential personnel ONLY by FEMA.
Most home telephones (for those who still have them) are not independent circuits, but are part of the house’s internet/cable television system. If power is lost, anyone with a wireless telephone won’t be able to use it.
Handling short range communications via amateur radio is relatively easy. Field Day is to practice as to how long range communications can be ensured without relying on existing systems. Our local club set up seven radio stations at a local park; antennas designed for the various operating frequencies were strung from trees, with the highest being at least 60 feet off the ground. The radios—along with computers, and the all-important coffee maker—were powered by solar cells or generators.
The actual communications portion of Field Day began at 2:00 PM on Saturday and continued around the clock. During that time, over 700 other stations were contacted; most were other stations set up for the drill, but there were amateur operators from around the world that made contact with us as well.
Most of us hope never to have a fire, but we have smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and fire insurance. The few of us that do have a fire are relieved to have the additional protection. The same holds true for amateur radio’s role in communications. It’s not needed every day, but when it is needed, it can be a life saver.
The best part? Hams often arrive with their own equipment and provide the service at for free. THAT is the reason it’s called the Amateur Radio Service; hams cannot be paid for the services they provide.

Breaking News!

The world as we know it ended yesterday with the exit of Great Britain from the European Union . . .

Wait! This just handed to me. I’m sorry, but apparently the world as we knew it actually ended ten years ago due to global warming.

No, wait! This just in. Apparently the world ended when several states made recreational marijuana legal, but they apparently forgot to mention it.

I do apologize, but we have a retraction to make. The previous stories were all in error. The world as we knew it ended with the emergence of hippies . . . no? Beatniks? Flappers? Sooners? Abolitionists? Independence advocates? Protestants? The fall of the Roman Empire?

Well, there you have it. The world has quite obviously ended, although the cause has not yet been determined.

And now for something completely different[i]

Today is Ham Radio Field Day, when amateur radio operators all over the western hemisphere are invited to simulate how they would operate after a major disaster. Stations are set up with a number of transmitters in an undeveloped site, such as a park. None of this may begin more than 24 hours in advance. At 2:00 PM Eastern Time, these stations will begin operating around the clock. Tomorrow, by 6:00 PM Eastern, everything must be taken down and the park or other location returned to its previous condition.

Given that the world has either ended, is ending, or is about to end, this may be a good capability to have.

Next, an interesting story about several butchers’ aprons.

[i] With apologies to John Cleese, Monty Python, the BBC; however, considering that the world has ended, this may not be necessary.

Elites

While we often talk about elites, we tend not to use that term. Elites are the people in any society who enjoy special privileges.

For a long time, elites were entitled to such status as a birthright, the most obvious example being royalty. If your father was King, it must be God’s will, and therefore the son must be qualified as well. Personally I don’t think God gets involved in politics, but you never know.

John Adams predicted that even though our constitution prohibited titles of royalty there would still be an elite class. He figured that those with educations would prosper, ensuring that their offspring would be afforded education and any wealth that the family had amassed, although in many cases the younger elites ended up with an education and the family debt. Nevertheless, they enjoyed the status.

The American dream is that we’re a meritocracy—anyone can achieve through ability and hard work, and sometimes this works. In fact, there have been periods in our history, such as the 1950s, when this was common, Nevertheless, it is not guaranteed.

Today, many of the elites once again obtain their status by birthright. There are many young men and women as, if not more talented, than the children of Tom Hanks, Will Smith, or the Barrymore family. However, it is the children of the elites who seem to land the acting roles. Is Eddie Van Halen’s son better than the band’s original bassist? Cheap Trick sold many albums with Bun E. Carlos as their drummer, but Rick Nielsen—the guitarist now has his son filling that spot.  Julian Lennon didn’t have to work his way up from playing wedding and bar mitzvah gigs. How many Fords have been senior executives at their namesake auto company?

Do we as a society get our best value from this practice?

Terrorism: Step 1-Analysis

I said I was going to concentrate on solutions, rather than problems. The first step in finding a solution is to evaluate the available information. These are all regarding the terrorist actions in Orlando, Florida.

Strategic:

  1. Intolerance: We speak of “extremist,” but what we are actually describing is “intolerant.” Some people demand that you accept their beliefs and their values and adhere to their standards. Just as there are Muslims who are intolerant, there are Christians who are intolerant, and atheists who are intolerant.
  2. Soft Targets: Terrorists want “soft” targets with little, if any, ability to defend themselves.
  3. Publicity: In addition, terrorists choose targets that yield the most media coverage.
  4. Virtual Command: In the web-enabled world, terrorist organizations can attract, recruit, and train people to act in support of the organizations goals.
  5. Hiding in Plain Sight: In order to accomplish their goals, terrorists will play the game to fit in and stay below the radar; this allows to acquire the tools and seize the opportunity they need to commit their action.

Tactical:

  1. Intolerance: Intolerant Muslims are especially opposed to LGBTX individuals. Recent reports describe Da’esh (ISIS) the executing homosexuals by throwing them off roofs, and stoning them to death.
  2. Soft Targets: Nightclubs, are ideal soft targets. The clubs tend to favor relatively low lighting, patrons are not attentive—particularly after a drink or so, and the Pulse provided a collection point for LGBTX patrons. The Pulse club was posted as a “No Gun” zone. Imagine the difference if the bouncer had been carrying a weapon. What if the club were not posted as a no gun zone, merely raising a doubt in Omar Mir Seddique Mateen’s mind.
  3. Publicity: Currently, the LGBTX community is in the public eye, which virtually guarantees intense media coverage.  At Sandy Hook Elementary School murdering children guaranteed intense media coverage for weeks. Likewise the Boston Marathon is covered by every type of the media, so the bombing was guaranteed to be seen as it happened.

Incidently, although one of the first reactions after a tragedy like this is to call for restrictions on guns; don’t forget, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev used bombs in Boston.

  1. Virtual Command: Terrorist organization may actually prefer “lone wolf” attacks. There is no passport stamped with a terrorist country, but attitude and expectations can be manipulated.
  2. Hiding in Plain Sight: Mateen managed to get a job as a security guard, which required several types of background checks. Carrying a weapon might have been part of his job. He was investigated twice by the FBI, but they never found anything upon which to build a case and our constitution presumes we’re innocent until proven guilty.

There are no simple answers to this type of problem. Gun control? Criminals have always been able to get guns and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev used homemade bombs in Boston. Background checks? Mateen passed a number of these. Ban all Muslim immigrants? Americans tend not to turn their backs on families who have lost everything except the right to be barrel bombed by their own government.

Is our immigration system up to 21st century standards? According to news stories, probably not. Ronald Reagan told us the “Trust but verify.” Ellis Island originally acted as a holding point until immigrants’ status could be determined. Maybe we need similar facilities today. Could we repurpose inactive military bases? They have living quarters, dining facilities, administrative spaces, and can be made secure. However, it is critical that these be temporary facilities so violent actors cannot use them as recruiting grounds.

Finally, what can we learn from European countries? They have experience we do not. Let’s not reinvent the wheel.

Will there be more attacks? Yes. Some of the terrorists are homegrown, others have been hiding out here for years, and still more will arrive through the same channels as are used to smuggle other illegal materials. This will happen whether we ban Muslims or not, so such a ban gains us very little. Better control will probably help, but an outright ban will create extensive problems with collateral damage we cannot afford.

A New Direction

My last blog was on how the media is full of negativity. It reminds me of an old Monty Python bit (paraphrased):

I’m sick and tired of being told how sick and tired people are about being told they’re sick and tired. I know I’m sick and tired of it, and I believe they are too.

Imagine someone from another planet discretely visiting you and asking, “Why are there so many disparaging comments on television before each election?”

The honest answer would be, “Because we’re a bunch of losers who respond to negative campaign ads,”

“Excuse me,” the very polite intergalactic visitor might reply, “My galaxy thought that this planet was a hazard that needed to be destroyed. I told them not to be hasty, and I would check things out. I need to contact them, tell them that they were right and get at least 47.3 bleems away from here before the—how would you say it? Before the antibiotic arrives.”

In the sixties (you may have read about that time—not the Civil War sixties, the next one) we used to say that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Therefore, I plan on writing about solutions, which means you’ll be exposed to such nerdy things as ham radio, Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, Makers Fairs, etc.

 

Complain, Complain, Complain!

I haven’t written much lately, or at least not much for the blog. (I have been working on a story, though. For some reason, writing fiction has become more satisfying than writing about reality).  I try, when I write, to focus on the silver lining rather than the cloud. Lately, this has become most difficult.

We’ve already discussed how the news media obsesses on all things negative—or meaningless (What’s wrong with Richard Simmons? Will Johnny Depp survive the breakup? Will Caitlin decide to become Bruce once again?). Every trend dies sooner or later, except, apparently for this one. I suppose it’s because they pick the stories that sell the most erectile dysfunction prescriptions, thereby financially benefiting the media, your physician, Big Pharma, venture capitalists, and investment firms.

I propose that we start anew. First, let’s hold a memorial service for journalism. It had a short and tragic life. The first American newspapers were all opinion pieces, but there was one brief shining moment—a century or so—when factual reporting became the gold standard. Many were thrilled at its demise.

My favorite magazines—National Geographic, Wired, and Smithsonian, and National Public Radio have begun to beat me over the head with more doom and gloom. I don’t care who just wrote a book to announce that they’ve come out as gay; I’m sorry that peasants hack down the rain forests because they need to plant food; I regret that there’s a controversy in reintroducing wild wolves into areas where cattle are raised; and I find it unfortunate that while developed countries used coal in the nineteenth century, we balk at twenty-first century countries using such antiquated (but economically viable) methods.  The difference is that rising sea levels today threaten ninety percent of the world’s population because they live near the coast.

In the 1960s we had a saying, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Complaining, even if you’re a well-known television newsperson, accomplishes nothing. How do you plan to solve the problem? Like the ghost of Freddie Prinz the response seems to be, “Not my problem, man!”

So?

D-Day

This is the anniversary of D-Day, the largest and probably one of the last large scale amphibious beach landings.

The weather had been against the allies, and the original planned date was delayed. General Patton, who periodically managed to irritate his superiors, was in charge of a mock army with inflatable tanks created by Hollywood special effects artists. The Germans expected Patton to lead the invasion, and the feint kept them convinced that it would occur at Calais—the closest place between France and Great Britain.

But it was Normandy where history was made. Roughly 160,000 crossed the channel on that day, most by ship, but also paratroopers, and gliders. The wind blew the landing craft off course and many ended up in the wrong, and more heavily defended, location. Ten thousand allies died the first day.

Imagine the prospect of being tossed around in a ship, climbing into a landing craft, approaching the beach under heavy gunfire, and when the ramp dropped, finding the courage to move forward as others around you fell. Imagine staring death right square in the face.

The “Greatest Generation”—those who fought in the Second World War will soon be gone, but trust me, their spirit endures today.