Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Whatever Happened to the 15 Hour Work Week?

I came across an interesting thought recently, and darned if it didn't hit home as to what's happened to up-end our society. The author basically talks a great deal about "meaningless" or "worthless" jobs and the impact on our social well-being. While I don't agree with the term "meaningless" in this context -- lesser value is more likely the term -- I can't help but agree on a fundamental level. Below is the paragraph that hits the nail pretty hard on the head:

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it in Britain, when tabloids whip up resentment against transport workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that the workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It's even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilising resentment against schoolteachers or car workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or car industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It's as if they are being told: ''But you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and healthcare?''

The piece that you have to understand is that productivity has been on the rise for decades -- and yet middle class compensation and benefits have been on the decline. I can't put it as eloquently as the author (I really have to recommend that your read this one -- the link is at the bottom).

I work with a lot of people who at the end of the day do such meaningful work -- and I see this same group demonized as if somehow their getting paid to do this work at a reasonable rate is a burden to our country. The truth is that their work is some of the most worthwhile work -- like a school teacher or a car mechanic -- because if they didn't do it, our nation wouldn't be what it is today and certainly wouldn't be strong. I think of my friends from high school (one in particular, you know who you are) who ended up as school teachers and how they're certainly not compensated for the value they've brought our lives -- and the difference in pay compared to say, someone who's an investment banker.

While the author of this piece may have not chosen his words carefully enough, he's certainly hit home on the front of the mismatch in value our society has at its core. The end effect is demoralizing and insidious. I'm again thankful that I'm paid to do something I love.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/public-service/the-modern-phenomenon-of-nonsense-jobs-20130831-2sy3j.html#ixzz2j6X6Lt2d

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tea Party legislators to enter Combine Demolition Derby

Fresh off the heels of their recent stunt to shut down the world economy, trash the US recovery and play roulette with the government, Congress has staged their next event: Entering the first annual US Congressional Combine Demolition Derby. http://www.ohgizmo.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/combine_demo_derby.jpg
Members of congress that comprise the Tea party coalition were quick to explain their reasoning. "Look, there's nothing like slamming some heavy metal together to de-stress after pulling billions of dollars out of the US economy."  Quipped Senator Ted Cruz, who will be judging the event.  "Plus, it's frickin' AWESOME." 

Congressman John Boehner was more descriptive: "Look, you get an adrenalin rush, playing chicken with large heavy objects that are normally meant to be constructive in nature -- there's nothing like it.   The closest we can come to the experience is combine demolition derby."  Sources familiar with his district claim he's chosen a bright orange Allis-Chalmers model, to best match his pallor. 

Others were quick to criticize the action.  "This is a blatant waste of tax payer dollars" quipped house minority leader Nancy Pelosi.  "Although it's obviously cheaper than watching them tank the economy, this is no excuse."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My only complaint with my new Ford ... and it's a Microsoft Product at the core of the problem.

In may of last year I bought a 2011 Shelby Cobra GT500.   It's been a great car with one glaring flaw: Microsoft Sync.

The irony abounds.   I have built my career on non-Microsoft products (Linux, if you must know, but that's hardly a surprise to regular readers of my blog).   All of the desktop and phone products I run have either Linux as their core OS or Android.

So why, after all of this, does my favorite car have to ship with a lame Microsoft product?!?   Ford, please do yourselves and your buyers a good deed -- and end your relationship with Microsoft.   Their logo on your product is tarnishing it.   I've even thought of ways to remove the stupid Microsoft sync logo off of the dashboard (one of my reddit /r/Mustang friends suggested buying a Shelby plaque that -- no joke here -- goes right over it).

The first thing I do when I get a new laptop is -- you guessed it -- remove the Microsoft sticker on the laptop, and find the nearest urinal to affix it to -- looks great on the vertical chrome post underneath the flush lever, by the way.

Seriously -- why Ford?   What the hell were you thinking?   People don't associate Microsoft with quality.   They are very much lately more than ever associating the Ford brand with quality -- this is not a step in the right direction.

Just last week, friends over from Australia -- took them for a ride in the Cobra.   Too bad I couldn't play any of the music I had on a thumb drive in the car -- because Sync was hung tighter than Dick's hat band (Dicks hat band, for those not in the know, is very tight -- something like 2000 PSI at last measurement).

So, some swearing, reading on-line forums, etc -- I finally figure out how to reboot the damn thing in my car so I can listen to some tunes on a trip.   It's the first and only thing that's ever gone wrong with my Cobra.

Ford -- I hope you're listening -- ditch this crap (or at least cover the damn logo) -- it's not rocket science here.   Playing music and picking up phone calls over bluetooth should be one of those features that "just work".

Note:  Microsoft stuff in my not-so-humble opinion here (and I know I'm not alone)  rarely "just works".

Oh, and Ford -- the rest of the car is frickin' awesome!


Thursday, April 05, 2012

Complifying Columbine

Recently I read with some interest Death wish: How did America become the land of the high school massacre? and its conclusions. Besides an obvious (to me) fallacy, the article gets one basic fact wrong -- the venue for the shooting.

A lot of these shootings take place on college campuses. The article leaves out work place shootings. This problem is obviously not just about high school massacres. Hey, it's simpler though, to make the shooting seem to be just about one or two problems -- it makes the story easier to digest and it fits nicely on a page. What are a few deaths in a different country anyway? Regardless, I read the article and found myself agreeing with some of the points.

But this problem (Columbine-like shootings) has been making me think for years -- the Columbine massacre had a grave impact on me -- positive and negative. How it could have a positive impact I'll leave to the end of this post. It saddened me and immediately made me wonder just what had gone wrong with our society at the time.

Just like all of us remember where we were when important events went down, I clearly remember driving to work and hearing the story on the radio. I remember stopping my car in shock and listening to the story. I remember thinking that something was going gravely wrong with our society and culture.

Americans, like the author of this article, want simple answers to the questions that haunt them. Want to know how September 11 happened? It was Muslim terrorists who "hate our freedom". This has been further simplified: now it's just "Muslims".

Tragedies and the dead buried from them deserve better than these kind of simplified hack jobs. I'm sure this kind of journalism sells advertising and attracts valuable eyeballs. This article, like others, offers the reader the satisfying whiff of sanctimonious truth -- but like a lot of seductive copy, it has obvious logical fallacies.

Truly Honoring the Dead

The dead deserve the truth and often when something big happens and our news media gets engaged things get simplified. The truth is very complex, but it gets compressed, simplified and dumbed down for mass consumption on the cable and other news networks.

Right after the Columbine massacre, the media kicked into high gear, citing the perpetrators as being a part of something called the "trench coat mafia". This was a story that petered out later as it wasn't all that relevant. Then it was all about how they were outcasts and bullied. Then it was the fact that they played violent video games. Lot's of theories came and went as things progressed. Each simple explanation fell over like a weak straw man -- none of them could seemingly explain any of the brutality.

I myself wondered at the time how two kids could give up so much life -- theirs and that of their classmates -- for such a short trip to the end. Oh, and the joy of watching some pipe bombs explode (or not). They weren't all that good at making bombs it turns out.

Wat kind of community were they involved in? What kind of local support group was not functioning that they could get so far off track?

People at that time also pointed to our gun culture. For a great illustration of how far we've become desensitized to violence, check out Michale Moore's hack job on the event, Bowling for Columbine -- it's an entertaining piece that focuses on our propensity to violence as well -- just like the author of the reference article that starts this post. Unfortunately, despite a lot of witty observations, Bowling for Columbine offers very little in the way of conclusion. Or even plot, for that matter. It certainly doesn't do a good job of prescribing solutions.

I'd argue in deep retrospect, Bowling for Columbine makes Moore every bit as guilty of exploiting the tragic dead of Columbine as the rest of the media.

No, the dead deserve more than this. In my opinion the dead from events like Columbine and workplace shootings should suffer no simple answers.

Complify, Complify, Complify

You see, I don't believe this is a simple problem. I'm not getting paid to offer my opinion here -- and my opinion is neither simple or authoritative. The solutions I offer are not cheap. This opinion is just something that comes out of my grieving for the dead, and my careful observation at a distance of many of these events. I do not have the credentials to psychoanalyze the killers. I don't have the journalistic background to report on the events. I am not a sociologist.

Still, I've thought about this for a really long time, and I've been paying attention carefully every time one of these has gone down. I think events like Columbine are the result of a complex collision of vectors. They are events that prove Murphy's law -- they are the perfect storm of a complex cocktail of destruction.

Here are the vectors that I think contribute to a event like Columbine:

Gun Culture

America does have a gun culture -- it's had it for a long time. It had it back when I was in high school in the 70s, and that was a time of no events like Columbine. Some of my classmates brought their guns to school -- and left them in their cars. No, I don't think that it was a good idea -- but it's one ingredient. Without the rest of the ingredients, the fire of a shooting event didn't ignite.

Violent Guy Culture

Rambo, Arnold [Get Into Da Choppa] Schwarzenegger, James Bond -- the action hero flick where the guy with the gun solves the problem. Yeah, this has gotten more and more intense every year. Now TV is loaded with shows that glorify shooting. And yes, it's desensitizing.

I watch some of this crap myself. I love the FX show "Justified", it's great TV. The hero's gun is one of the stars of the show. Video games? I love first person shooters and I, as a guy, am not alone. Still, after all of this, I'm about as motivated to go to work packing a revolver as I am to own a new Country Music CD (sorry Country Music fans -- I just can't get into it).

Breakdown of Community

Somewhere along the way to leaving no child behind we've become a society where school is more about containment and making statisical quotas than it is about raising children to be functional adults. My observation is that kids today don't feel connected to their society and local community. I watched this in my own family and have talked to many victims here -- our schools are far less community places than they used to be.

There are exceptions -- some schools are better than others. A lot of schools simply don't deal with bullying the right way. Even the fact that we have this term on the tip of our tongues points to the fact that community is severely lacking in our classroom experiences. Kids don't feel connected to anything. Something at a crucial community level is simply falling apart and collapsing.

The kids are being ground through a process -- not connected at all along the way. The idea that they're a part of something is foreign. People somehow point out problem students like the issue is on the outside of their control space. Parents that should be a part of this same solution point to the school and their kids in the same fashion. Which brings me to the next vector.

TV (Observer) Culture

Our society lacks participants. It lacks people that truly are willing to dive in and solve problems. Teachers think that education just happens. You (as a teacher) go to school, learn a process, present the material like a PowerPoint slide deck, and somehow the result is people on the other side of the school desk learn something.

I had some extraordinary teachers. Some very fortunate people these days have this joy as well, but it's less common. I had Teachers that got involved. Teachers that sensed I was lagging or even soaring and could go higher. Teachers that got to know me.

I don't think this kind of involvement in student success is all that common anymore. I don't think it's being rewarded. I think in the haze of statistics and the idea that we're separated from the show (the TV show -- get it?), or in this case, the classroom experience, that idea has become so pervasive that it's part of our cultural disease.

How many times have you been amazed at the bad service you've gotten at a fast food restaurant? The person behind the counter is on auto-pilot. Their minds are not engaged -- they're hitting buttons and observing, when they should be interacting (but I'm cutting them some slack here, it's a job I've done, and it sucks, and it's mindless in its own right). No, the problem that I'm driving home here is that our teachers are doing something similar -- and that it's another vector in the complex mix of potentials that lead to a Columbine-like event.

Drug Culture

I'm not talking about the illegal stuff -- how about anti-depressants? Studies of some of these drugs show that a common side effect is "Thoughts of suicide".

It's this last ingredient that I truly suspect is one responsible for ignition.

Sure, all of the others are present -- they've been here in various states of attention abandonment for years. I've been suspicious of the drugs though from the start of this run. I remember listening to the story in my car and thinking "What the hell?, were these guys high on some new drug or something?", but quickly, like most adults, writing this thought off.

What if it wasn't that they were high? What if one of them was in a state of deep rage? A rage like the one experienced by Charles Whitman. This event took place long before Columbine and the broad application of anti-depressants. It was deadly as well. It too, was on a college campus.

Whitman had issues as well -- divorce in the family, failure at school and drug abuse (amphetamines). Charles even knew that the rage was wrong, but somehow was so beyond anger that all logic circuitry was disconnected. He was lucid enough to leave a not behind to the coroner to ask them to conduct an autopsy to determine how to prevent people like him from going off. As it turned out, he did have a brain tumor.

That kind of rage is hard for most of the rest of us to fathom. What's hard for me to understand is how he was able to be so functional while at the same time being so ruthless as to kill over a dozen people.

I'm starting to get suspicious that it's linked to the "Thoughts of Suicide" "side effect" of the anti-depressants our doctors so readily toss out like aspirin these days. These "Thoughts" which are likely connected to drugs that didn't used to be quite so common. Drugs that are now being passed out by doctors that are part of the TV generation -- and very much a part of our legalized drug culture. One that says there's a pill for everything that ails you. A culture that says these drugs are awesome at addressing our every symptom -- they just might have some minor "side effects".

If you go back over every one of the events in the reference article, and do some minor research, you will find a preponderance of drug prescription to go along with them. One of the two shooters at Columbine. The Virginia tech shooter. It will not surprise me one iota if the 43 year old guy in the recent event was on anti-depressants.

Closing down this thread -- I don't think it's just the legalized depression drugs that are the cause of the shootings.

It's the mix. Mix access to guns with powerful anti-depressants, a really lacking sense of community (so the person doesn't feel as connected to the people being shot), a sense of rage for [insert injustice here], a guy culture that worships the idea of shooting things as a solution -- all of these things put together are likely the true recipe for a school or workplace shooting event.

To fix this we'd need some sense of the gravity of this problem -- and this is always someone else's problem. We'd need our government to work properly -- yet Congress can't easily legislate the solution here. We would need our Medical establishment to work properly -- but the drug companies are going to fight the idea that their profitable anti-depressants are involved. We're talking about a huge a cash cow after all. Don't forget how many commercials they buy on our news networks.

To truly fix this we need to make going to school akin to being a part of something. Workplaces and schools would need to be turned into places where interactive and constructive dialog with students and employees is rewarded. We'd truly have to have a culture where no child (and employee) is left behind.

I think our violent culture doesn't have an easy fix. Feel free to suggest your own ideas in the comments here-- I'm happy to entertain the ideas.

Guns have been with us for quite some time -- while I think the idea of letting a teenager bring one to school is crazy, it went on in my high school years without incident. I think in this climate (with these vectors), it's obviously not a good idea. Any attempt to address the gun vector will be met by the NRA and news pundits that will make the problem out to be something simpler than it is and pander to the dumbest minds in the audience.

How Columbine Changed Me

As for myself, sitting there in the car, along the side of the road, I began to look inward. I had lived in a community for nearly 5 years and didn't know my neighbors. I hardly knew anyone except a couple of people from work in the area. That evening, I walked over to my (future buddy and unkown at the time neighbor) Dean's house. Dean had invited me over many times to hang out. That night, I got to know him and his family -- and I didn't stop there.

How could I criticize a culture that was isolationist when I myself wasn't becoming engaged in my own local community?

How can you, dear blog post reader, help this situation? It seems like an intractable problem, after all, and one we're helpless in changing.

I suspect that the first part of solving this complex issue is going to be in realizing that it's not something that can be contained in a 5 second sound byte.

I know that our dead deserve better than simplified sound bytes aimed at making people feel disconnected from this problem. Even more important, by distancing themselves from the issue, the writers of these pieces exploit (and dishonor) the dead by making you, the reader, feel disconnected as well. With this cheap sense of disconnection, you too can feel that it's "someone else's problem" and that it's surely not a part of anything you have control over.

Sure, it's that simple.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Want more Free / Open Source Software in Your Work Life?

If so, you should read my series (part I published today) entitled Being a Free/Open Source Software Catalyst : Part I.

My plan is to cover as much of the social components of this situation as possible. I have a lot of experiences in this arena to share. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Time for Linux on the Door Stop

I've written my first editorial for 2011 and Posted it on LXer.com.

It's basically a decade in review piece, and it talks very much about how Linux has not taken over the Desktop -- and that it doesn't really matter any more, because in many ways, Linux has arrived.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Obama back speaking to the kids!

Looks like Obama is back speaking to the school children in the US, likely in an attempt to force them into his socialist point of view. Well, that, or possibly our president simply would like to do something leadership oriented, and speak to the kids in our country, and encourage them to do their best.

Being the positive kind of guy I am, I'm pretty certain it's the latter. The former opinion was how it was being cast at about 6:30 or so this morning when I surfed past the anchors at Fox news as they told the story.

But honestly, I have a link to a letter to the editor from last years speech that sums up the situation much more clearly.


Before you get your panties in a bunch over this, bear in mind that the above text is sarcasm, and nearly a year old.

If you read it closely you'll see that the author is none other than my old man. Now you know the source of my sarcasm as well.

Dad, I love you man.

Friday, June 18, 2010

How to report an unauthorized call to the FTC ...

First, if you have not done so, you should register your phone number in the "Do Not Call" national database. Kind of sad that we have to worry about such things, but lately there have been a lot of scams running that (besides soaking up valuable cell phone minutes) are potentially quite expensive and damaging.

One involves someone saying they will sell you an extended warranty for your car. I've comically accepted the calls before for entertainment value (and to understand the scam a bit). Honestly, if someone calls saying your warranty is just about to expire a lot of things should set off alarm bells. Some of my favorite responses: "This is great timing! The transmission just went out in my 1954 DeSoto! Can I buy coverage to get it fixed?" Better: "I have a 2000 Hudson Hornet... You can insure that? Awesome!" The scams are well documented and the primary offending company was recently shut down. Hopefully the people executing the scam are doing jail time now.

Another scam involves someone from "Cardholder services." I've had a few of these end recently rather abruptly -- before I could say the phrase "Please take me off your list." The more generic the call -- the more likely it's a scam. Cardholder services to what card? What interest rate range are they talking about. Do they even know who they are calling (let me answer there -- no, they're doing robo-calling through a range of telephone numbers hoping to hit a live body).

In all cases, reporting these things to the FTC is a good idea. Here's the web site:


You'll find a link on there to also register your phone number in the do not call database.

Do your civic duty -- if you get a call like this, report the idiots and help the FTC shut them down. And if you're not pressed for time, it doesn't hurt to waste a little bit of their time (the scammers) in the process.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Android Fragmentation

Disclaimer: I'm a long-time users and enthusiast when it comes to Linux -- and I own a Motorola droid.

Recently, there have been a few articles that talk of something called Fragmentation in regards to the Google android operating system. These articles talk about developer-centric problems and the general lack of stability as compared to other operating systems, such as Win Mobile and Apple's operating system for the iPhone.

This is my humble opinion: none of this crap matters to anyone but developers and technical journalists. The Android is for the most part, from what I see, unstoppable. It has recently taken the mobile operating system space by storm, spawning multiple products from multiple vendors.

It will continue to do so, despite any kind of stupid fear, uncertainty or doubt. Here are the reasons why:

  1. Android phones work acceptably for the vast majority of smart phone users.
  2. Unlike the strategic mistake that Apple made -- the Google android operating system is available from a host of carriers.
  3. Unlike Apple, the android store is far more open to developers.
  4. The operating system and the underlying development components are transparent. They are truly open in most respects compared to Apple.
Sure, developing for a moving target of device capabilities, APIs and "fragmented" operating system versions is going to suck. Sure, the interface is no where near as smooth and polished as Apple's. Sure sure sure, lot's of things compared to other proprietary vendors.

At the end of the day, the decisions that Apple made will continue to make their product the Cadillac of phones. The Droid will be the Chevy.

And the real reason it will continue to sell will be obvious to the end users: Most times, all you need is a Chevy.

Those of us in the Free/Open Source community will wax onward about why people should choose freedom over tyranny and all that important stuff that's right -- and I wish that these things mattered to a lot of people. Sadly, most people haven't a clue. At the end of the day, Apple will still have a huge market share -- but over time, I'm willing to bet that Linux (Android) will take a large or similar percentage.

More carriers, a good product, more choices, less cost. It's a simple equation. It reminds one of the bad choices Apple made in the 1980's to single-source their own hardware and sue the crap out of anyone that tried to establish anything close to a competing hardware platform. I'm not saying that mobile devices will be exactly the same as that territory -- the devices are replaced much faster and cost far less. But it sure is similar.

Fragmentation though? No one on the receiving end will really care all that much. The market physics pretty much dictate the outcome -- Android will march on, more or less unstoppably, regardless of any kind of FUD around the platform.

Because, most times, at the end of the day, you just need a decent phone that works at a reasonable price. Android definitely delivers that.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Google Goggles


I was sitting down chatting with my Aunt and Uncle over the weekend and they were asking about features of the Android phone I'm using -- and I had recently loaded google goggles -- and hadn't tried it.

Sitting in front of me is a picture on the wall. My Aunt says something like "That picture is so old, it probably won't recognize it."

Well, conversely, that's not exactly the case -- stuff that's been around a lot, it did really well on. It instantly recognized (and brought up several links related to) a Norman Rockwell painting on a nearby calendar. It recognized a DVD I had brought over to watch with them. It was darn impressive, actually.

If you have a 'droid -- you need to try this thing. It's supposed to someday recognize plants from their leaves, and is supposed to recognize bar-code (it failed, unfortunately, at that task ever time I tried it).

Entertaining at least! Give it a whirl:
Google Goggles