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Old Blog Posts July 18, 2006

Subject R.I.P. Grandpa Bill Harlan (Age 81)
Posted Date: July 18, 2006 – Tuesday – 2:10 AM
My step-grandpa Bill Harlan died near his home in Grayland, WA on Saturday morning while eating breakfast with Grandma at their usual spot. He had recently had a heart attack, so most likely this was the cause (no autopsy is being performed); he was happily talking away one moment, and the next he was lying on the ground unconscious. He was 83 years old, which means he was born in 1923.

But honestly, I have no idea when his birthday is (although I’ve been to a ton of them), no idea where he was born or if he was married before he met Grandma Doris. I mean, I don’t even remember what he did before retirement (Any cousins want to help me out with some comments?) That’s really sad, actually, how ignorant I am. I probably didn’t listen enough; and I know I always meant to spend more time with them.

In today’s quickly changing world, it’s difficult to accept the wisdom that comes (to some) with age. After all, the rules are always changing, right? Things are not the same today as they were yesterday. But that’s actually not quite true. Some things are changing dramatically, but humans are far behind the curve. Our knowledge and technology are far outpacing us; we can’t keep up, much less predict the consequences of said knowledge and technology. That’s where experience comes in, and Grandpa had that experience and the wisdom that can come with it. Although he was not quick to share it (wise man!).

Grandpa was incredibly easy going; I never saw him fight with anyone about anything. Although I’m sure he did fight, he was much more interested in keeping the peace. He really wanted everyone to be happy, and worked hard to make that so. He also loved to tease people, and was one heck of a kidder. Always smiling and having fun…just enjoying himself with everyone. Obviously that’s a little rose-colored, but whatever. He really was an extra-ordinarily cheerful person.

The last time I saw him was at my brother Chad’s graduation party. He was sitting by the fireplace and talking with everyone, happy as could be. I said hello and goodbye, with nothing in between. I didn’t mean to, but I got there late and they got there early and left before I could talk to them. That’s just excuses, though; even remember looking over and thinking, “I need to go over and hang out with Grandpa and Grandma for a while.” But then I got distracted and didn’t, and then before I knew it they were leaving. I feel pretty shitty about that now, as you can imagine.

And I also feel bad that I didn’t go visit them at their new place this last year. I mean, statistics say the older you are the more likely you are to die. Really…I can prove it if you don’t believe me. We need to take care of our old people, and spend time with them. After all, in a few years YOU are going to be that old person!

Grandpa LOVED Robert A. Heinlein; something we both had in common. You can think of Heinlein as the Ayn Rand of sci-fi; although a sexy Ayn Rand, if you can imagine. And with a smart-ass attitude and a sense of humor. The title of my blog, “Stranger in a Strange Land” is from the title of one of my favorite Heinlein books, and one of Grandpa’s favorites as well. Isaac Asimov (former president of the American Humanist Association) called Heinlein “a flaming liberal.” I wouldn’t call Grandpa a “flaming liberal”, nor myself. We’re populists, if anything…but also individualists. The good of many for the good of the few, and the good of the few for the many.

Grandpa was a religious man, but not weird or anything. They’ll probably have some scripture readings at his funeral this weekend; that would be appropriate. Although, the church tells us that death is a punishment for our sins, and I don’t buy that. Birds die, Bees die, grass dies, all life is born and dies and feeds off each other to make new life. Grandpa is food for other life now, and he’s made room for the next generation. It’s not a punishment, it’s just the way things work.

Maybe I’m being naive, but the entire universe screams birth and death. Everything around us, everything we can see, even the stars have lifespans. And out of these star lives comes new star lives, other things even more exotic. After all, the birth and death of stars are the cauldrons of planets. And look at this planet; it has its own boiling pot of life. Who knows what we are the cauldron of?

In order to love Heinlein you certainly can’t be close-minded. Grandpa , you groked life and loved people, and it was apparent to everyone who really knew you. I hope I have a life as good as yours. I’m sorry I didn’t show you around the Internet more; you would have loved it.

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Subject My MySpace Space Spammers
Posted Date: July 13, 2006 – Thursday – 10:17 AM
OK, this is getting bad. Not one day goes by that I don’t get friend requests from beautiful young women in skimpy clothing. I know, you’d think this would be great, but the the few I’ve clicked on (hopefully? Naively?) have lead me to bogus myspace profiles that quickly re-direct me to porn sites. Which can be kind of embarrasing if you’re at work!

This is bad in another way…what if the beautiful (and scantily clad, of course) women of my dreams actually trys to become my friend? I’d delete her request, thinking it was just another junk spammer! And then what would happen to our happy ever after, our blissful harmony and wild sex romps?

Now at least I have someone to blame for the shortcomings in my life. It’s MySpace’s fault that I’m not madly in love!

We really need to do something about all these dam’ spammers! On slashdot they call it “karma”, on digg they call it, well, “digg”, and Doctorow calls it “whuffie” and makes it the new money. Normals call it “reputation”, and it’s GOT to be integrated into MySpace (and the other Web 2.0 sites, for that matter).

I have this feeling that reputation is going to end up being super important for the new web. I could probably make money off that feeling, if I knew how.
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Subject Population: One
Posted Date: July 11, 2006 – Tuesday – 8:03 AM
Feeling smug and self-important? Check out this site to give you a more realistic perspective…you are merely one small bit in billions of other bits!

The current world population is estimated at 6.5 billion people. That’s a lot of people! When I was born there were only about 4 billion people. In the last 30 years we’ve increased the population by 61%…yikes.

As Agent Smith says in “The Matrix”:
“You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.”

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Subject Help Start A Third World Business
Posted Date: July 10, 2006 – Monday – 11:42 AM
Kiva.org connects third world micro lenders with the average American websurfer, making it easy to loan a little money to someone who could use it. Kiva has partnered with a number of micro lenders, who then do the footwork and collect information about small mom and pop businesses that need a bootstrap up.

This information is uploaded to the Kiva site, where incredibly wealthy foreigners can take pity on them and help a brother get his stake. You know, wealthy people like you and me and most all Americans and Europeans.

Kiva means “unity” or “agreement” in Swahili.

100f the money goes straight to the recipient, and you can loan as little as 25$. It’s really quite amazing; Kiva charges nothing for it’s services, and neither does PayPal, who handles all the money transactions. The micro payment partners charge a reasonable amount of interest, as they are businesses themselves and have to operate.

As long as the interest is honestly accounted for then I don’t see a problem here, but that is a potentially weak link. The principals behind this model are quite sound, though; it’s one of those new “Web 2.0” sites everyone’s trying to understand. How do you harness the power of the masses connected and acting together? (I have a better question…how should you not? The answer to the second question is what’s left after answering the first)

Who couldn’t put a little more money away every year, and maybe use it for something good at the same time? It’s certainly better than buying that X that you really didn’t need but thought you did. So go check out Kiva, and better yet blog about it if you think it’s cool…

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Subject Pirate’s Paradise
Posted Date: July 6, 2006 – Thursday – 9:34 AM
I’m excited as the next person about seeing the new Pirates of the Caribean movie, but that’s not the sort of pirates I’m talking about.

OK, maybe a little about Johnny Depp; the best dam’ pirate since Errol Flynn in “Captain Blood”. Depp’s first movie was “A Nightmare on Elm Street” in 1984, and 22 years later he’s still going strong. I saw “21 Jump Street” a few times, but wasn’t really a fan until “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” (a MUST see!). He’ll do a big blockbuster movie one month, then do an independent movie a few months later. He’s got a lot of cred and I think we’ll be seeing him around for at least 22 more years.

The pirates I’m actually talking about are Chinese, and they’re copying misic like crazy. Per the article, 95 percent of the music sold in China is pirated.

Per the RIAA, piracy at this scale would shut down the ability of musicians to make money. But actually, Chinese musicians are finding it easier than ever to get their music listened to, and make money on it!

The RIAA (in it’s various forms) has been wrong before. When the radio was invented they tried to get it shut down until the inventor could figure out a way to charge people for listening to it. And when cassettes came out, again, Chicken Little mode. When file-sharing became big the same thing happened again. “Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.”

The arguments against radio and recordable mediums seems silly now, but at the time it made perfect sense. After all, who would go to a concert when they could just stay at home and listen for free? And what would happen when people could copy their cassettes and share them with friends? As it turns out, these inventions made lots of money and more music than ever got created. We can’t even think of a world without them or others like them.

Could the same thing be true about unathorized duplication and distribution of copyrighted material (RE: piracy)? The answer is a resounding yes, and it’s taking China to show us that.

Nobody argues that musicians need to be paid; but the thing is, it’s a problem without piracy! Most musicians see little to no money from their CD sales; they make the most from concert tours and merchandising. So piracy isn’t actually hurting them directly…it’s hurting the studio system they depend on.

In fact, file sharing is helping them; in that more people are listening to their music due to word of mouth instead of through expensive advertising. And those same people come to their concerts and buy their tee shirts!

Like it or not, piracy is only going to get easier, and it’s here to stay. Legislation may be able to slow it down, but it can’t stop it.

The discussion should be about HOW musicians should be paid, and how best to replace the RIAA with something more music, musician and fan friendly. That’s an interesting discussion; and it’s nice to see a mainstream newspaper like USA Today write intelligently about this topic instead of just spouting the party line (“Piracy is baad, mkay?”).
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Subject NSA Wiretapping Ruled Unconstitutional
Posted Date: August 17, 2006 – Thursday – 5:19 AM
Hurrah! At least one judge has the backbone to stand up to the executive branch. This morning, US District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that the NSA’s wiretapping program violates the constitution.

While there is still a long legal battle ahead, this is certainly good news. If Bush is found guilty of violating the constitution, that is a clear reason for impeachment, as he directly authorized this program.

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Subject Who is that standing behind the curtain?
Posted Date: August 14, 2006 – Monday – 4:16 PM
Disinformation has come to mySpace, much to the benefit of freedom havin’ free speech lovin’ constitution believin’ fools like me.

When I first heard that a terrorist cell of 20 plus people had been thwarted right in the nick of time, I immediately figured what had happened.

One, covert cells are by definition small. This is a necessary part of the structure, to avoid infiltration and remain hidden. Twenty people is not small.

Second, “nick of time”. How did this happen, and what made the timing so “nick”? Could it have been stopped sooner?

Turns out, the cell was infiltrated by intelligence agents, and the plot was shut down when the maximum number of terrorists could be captured. Of course.

In order to avoid being played the fool, Disinformation suggests we find out the following about all future actions of this sort.

  • Which individual initiated the terrorists plans?
  • Who did this individual truly represent?
  • Who supplied the funds for the terrorists activities and where did such funds originate?
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    Subject Calvin’s 30th Birthday
    Posted Date: August 14, 2006 – Monday – 2:37 AM
    Thanks for all the birthday well wishes, folks; I feel the love. I went camping for the weekend with some friends, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

    But anyway, I’m having a potluck picnic extravaganza at one of my favorite parks in Seattle, Golden Gardens. It’s located in Ballard right on Puget Sound, and has a nice sandy beach with some beautiful views. It also has grassy fields, picnic tables, a public bathroom, volleyball nets and plenty of parking. You don’t need to bring presents, but the more food we have the better. The most important thing is to come and enjoy! I hope to see you there.

    Sunday August 20th, 2006 from 3:00 PM until dusk.

    Golden Gardens, Seattle WA (use “Seaview Ave NW Seattle WA” for online directions)

    What to Bring:
    Food: This is a potluck style picnic, so bring something. Water, pop, and punch will be provided.
    Park Stuff: Lawn chairs, kites and other outdoor games and toys, swimming trunks, etc.

    From 1-5 North or South: Take the 85th Street Exit (# 172) and follow the off-ramp.
    (85th Street is located five miles north of Seattle and runs East to West.)
    Follow 85th St.West to the dead end at the bluff.
    Take a right turn and go down the hill.
    Go under the railroad tracks and arrive at the South entrance of the park. Find Parking.
    We will be at the picnic tables between the Park’s South entrance and the bathrooms.
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    Subject Arrested for Videotaping Cops?
    Posted Date: July 31, 2006 – Monday – 7:27 AM
    Don’t get me wrong, I love cops. They’ve got an incredibly hard job, and they get treated like crap for doing it. Some people say they hate cops, but it’s interesting that as soon as bad things go down guess who they call? Not the ghostbusters, that’s for sure.

    But people using security cameras or cell phone cameras to take pictures of cops are being arrested. This is a BIG problem and needs to be nipped in the bud. After all, cops can take pictures of you. In fact, if you’ve been pulled over for a speeding ticket you can bet that you’re on camera.

    And that’s fine; those cameras provide a impartial third person, and this can help both the cop and the citizen be on best behavior. It’s also an important witness when allegations are made.

    For the same reason, people should be allowed to record their interactions with police and other authority figures. Knowing you’re on camera makes everyone play nice. And if they don’t then you have proof.

    A perfect example of why we need this are some videos that got released earlier this year. An undercover reporter went to number of police precincts and asked how he would go about filing a complaint. Not only was there no official way to file complaints at most of these precincts; they were intimidated by the cops on duty. All of this was captured on videotape, much to the embarrassment of the precincts involved.

    And they should be embarrased; authority should always be accountable to all citizens for it’s actions. Anybody who is assisting in this should be applauded by all law abiding citizens and policemen, not arrested.

    We’re constantly told, “If you’re not not hiding anything then you have nothing to be afraid of.” Well, that goes both ways, buddy!

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    Subject Don’t worry, your vote doesn’t count
    Posted Date: July 31, 2006 – Monday – 5:18 AM
    As do many Americans, I have serious problems with the two party voting system. Unfortunately, this system is simply a feature of a democratic government.

    By this I mean, while it’s possible to have a democratic system with more than two parties, eventually two parties will emerge. It’s kind of like a traffic jam; nobody MAKES traffic jams, they’re a feature of the road system and the amount of traffic on it.

    So while many people don’t feel represented by this system (myself included), we at least assume that our vote isn’t going to be lost, or even applied to the wrong person. Now it seems that assumption is not correct; the new electronic voting machines are easier to hack that ever!

    For those who haven’t been following, this is a story that goes way back, at least in geekdom. The skinny is that Diebold’s machines have been demonstrated to be faulty and insecure; but they are still being used. the Open Voting Foundation has a good summary (site linked to above), if you’re interested.

    A similar dispute is going on about the new RFID passports that are going to be forced on us soon. RFID has also been demonstrated as extremely unsecure; yet this is not stopping the implementation.

    Security and reliability are incredibly important when it comes to things like national elections and personal identity. To ignore the experts in these matters is going to have extremely negative consequences.

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