Monday, January 31, 2005

Q: What’s the latest lesson that you have learned about technology?

A: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Here is a lesson that I learned about technology while learning all the stuff that I had to do in order to become one with The Blog: After a while it’s just not that different.

For a long time I was all mystified about RSS. Then as I learned about it I came to realize RSS Aggregators are a morph of email and push technology, which has been around for a while. In case you don’t remember, “pushing” was about pushing data out to users on the web instead of having to wait around for someone to get to your site. I mean jeepers, I remember having to struggle with “pushing” being the next killer thing way back when I worked for Gateway in 1995. Funny that it took about 10 years for it to become a useful big deal.

No doubt for me, Object Oriented Programming and Jimi Hendrix’s use of the Stratocaster changed in the way that I approached technology. But, sitting here slinging code day in and day out, in the final analysis, be it Java, C++, Pascal, COLBOL, TCL, what have you, it’s still a matter of code organization, value inspection and writing conditional statements, with or without the punch cards. And, there are still six strings on a guitar, although most electric bass players feel inadequate these days without at least five.

For the most part TV still seems to be more mindless than not and cars still have four wheels, using gasoline to go in one of two directions. People still die, albeit a little later in years than was the previous norm. Oh yeah, you could say that technology has really made a big difference in the world of finance. In the 19th century you had banks and brokerage houses, all of which sorta depended mostly on really rich people, Uncle Sam and The Queen. Today you have companies that sell "financial services". If it weren’t for cheap hardware, monster software and inexpensive terabyte capacity storage, how would it be possible for you to gamble with your 401k on line, use your debit card at MacDonald's and for CitiBank to extend all that credit to just about anybody with a signature? (Rates may vary according to credit worthiness.)

What about all the breakthroughs in biotech? I mean what would ABC do for a buck if they couldn’t advertise breast augmentations and liposuction on Extreme Makeover and Cialis on World News Tonight for all of us that are going fat, flat and limp in our old age? They might have to go back to advertising cigarettes and beer. ("LS/MFT, Luck Strike means fine tobacco".... Hey wait a minute, they still do advertize beer-- big, buxom, blonde, comely beer.)

And yet, with all my Luddite like yapping do not think for a moment that I am not unaware that at the age of 50 I have all the teeth that I was born with thanks to fluoride and most children do not die in childbirth.

Now, if only we could focus…..maybe on a super high speed, transcontinental rail system powered by solar-magnetic technology in which the price of a ticket to anywhere costs about the same as a copy of WinZip. What’s stopping us, I wonder.

BTW: Rory stopped by here and gave me a plug. I miss him so much that I am going to become Pope.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Q: Do the numbers really suck?

A: Yes

From the Pew Research Center:

"The numbers paint a sobering picture. Just a quarter of the French approve of U.S. policies, and the situation is only slightly better in Japan and Germany. Most people around the world worry that U.S. global influence is expanding, and majorities in many countries say America's strong military presence actually increases the chances for war. "

But, I guess an argument can be made that if popular opinion were the truth, Columbus never would have gotten in the water.

Q: Was it as good for you as it was for me?

A: Depends on how you define, good.

The other day I left a listserver community in a huff as a response to taking a few low blows from other list members that hit my ego and reputation. Upon reflection I understand that such strong responses were the result of ruthless self-promotion of this blog. (While it is true that there is no such thing as bad publicity true, I have come to learn there is such a thing as painful publicity.)

I figured that was the end of it.

Then, a surprising thing happened. Members of that community contacted me privately by email, asking/inviting me to come back. My feelings were akin to Sally Field’s acceptance speech at the 1985 Oscars, “You like me, you really like me!”

So I rejoined the list. Here is the text of first message that I sent since leaving:

At this point, if I were to smoke, I would sit back, light up a cigarette, take 2 or 3 introspective drags and then ask:

“Was it as good for you as it was for me?”

I am deeply, deeply touched by each and every one of you who contacted me directly by email, offering support, guidance and inviting me back.

Thank you.


Oh, yes, just in case you want to know, one of my heroes is Mr. Rogers: He likes me just the way I am. And, I try always to emulate my heroes.


From personal experience in Boy Scout camp I have observed what happens when you put 3 chipmunks in a cage. (Please see yesterday's post.) I wonder what happens when you put 4 chipmunks in a cage?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Q: What happens when you put 3 chipmunks in a cage?

A: Two bond, gang up and eat the third

I had an interesting experience over the last few days. In an effort to bring attention to this blog I began to make daily posts to a list server community to which I subscribe announcing “the question of the day.”

Some of the list members took umbrage describing my promotional activity as spam. A few asked me to stop the daily postings. I turned more than a tad defensive questioning whether or not the list was public or private space, taking the position that promoting my blog was proper use of public space, but completely improper, if indeed the list server was private space. If the list is private space my posting behavior was indeed violating fundamental property rights. Yeah, I threw in a lament or two about the ongoing shrinkage of public space in our culture, Ownership Society and all. I like to take the intellectual high road when I feel as if I am being assaulted.

Then the list owner posted saying that I could “blog away”, but to be aware that I run the risk of pissing people off.

So I sent another two posts, maybe obnoxiously so, but with limited content, no more than three lines in the send. No such thing as bad publicity I figured.

Anyway, things got really weird. A small group of posts coalesced wanting me to stop the posts--

Bob you're getting annoying
Bob you're being icky and spammy

So I stopped posting, after only three posts mind you. And yet, a few responses to the now stopped posts kept coming. Then came the name calling, like so:

“Bob, just how far do you think you have to go to prove you're a jerk?”

At that point I sent a terse response to the list saying goodbye, in a tone that sounded a bit like a hurt puppy. I unsubscribed from the list.

Yeah, my feeling were hurt big time and I brooded over events for the rest of the day, which was yesterday. So today in an effort to come to terms with my feelings of defensiveness and rejection, I went to a 12 Step Meeting. The speaker was comforting and sometimes hilarious, despite his frequent use of the F word and the _hit word.

Toward the end of the meeting a guy in the audience spoke out, telling him to stop it, that his language was vulgar. The speaker took things in stride and tried to diffuse the situation. However, a few of the men in the meeting got out of their seats, One guy told the heckler to stop. Another told the heckler to leave. One even challenged him, asking the heckler to go “outside to settle things”

I was shocked. I mean 12 Step Meetings are supposed to be the safest place on Earth, havens for people who are accustomed to getting kicked out of everything.

Luckily, the meeting ended without further incident.

So what have I learned?

It seems to me that Arendt’s thinking on power is confirmed. Individuals do not have power. Groups have power.

And from where I sit, one of the ways that a group will promote and preserve power is to gang up on those who have less power, whether it be a cranky, somewhat self righteous, somewhat defensive blogger on a listserver, a poor drunk with marginal social skills trying to stay sober in an AA meeting, or some Persian Gulf nation that lends itself to violation.

Maybe there is wisdom in that Groucho Marx line: "I would never belong to a club that would have me as a member."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Q: What's wrong with this picture?

A: The DA is is breaking the law. He is assisting in a suicide.

Yesterday in California a man tried to kill himself by parking his SUV on a railroad track. A train comes along, hits the SUV, and all hell broke lose. 11 people on the train died. Now, according to the NY Times, the D.A. said today that he would probably seek the death penalty for the suicidal man who left his S.U.V. on a track.

Here is the NY Times story.

The guy in the SUV gets his wish anyway. He gets to kill himself, albeit one step removed; this time with the help of the law enforcement establishment. Can't wait to see how Big Entertainment paraphrases this on Law and Order.

Q: What's more valuable, the time of a New York City School Teacher, the time of an LA Escort or a copy of mySQL database?

A: If you hold true the maxim that price reflects value, then the LA Escort is more valuable.

Starting salary for a NYC Teacher, MA or equivelant, 7. 5 years of experience: $55,942. At a 10 month year, working 20 days a month, 6 hours a day the hourly rate is, $46.61.

One hour with an LA escort, $180 (with ad)

mySQL database, version 4.1, free

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Q: Is the blog going to be political?

A: From where I sit it’s all political now; maybe it always has been.

My concerns and dislikes are not centered on G. W. Bush exclusively. I have come to learn that a single person does not come to power, a group comes to power. And as such, the group that has been in power in this country for the last one hundred years has done some good stuff, such as raise the standard of living and safety for its citizens, while not causing a disproportionate amount of damage when compared to all the other nation-states on the planet.

However, this is changing. The ease of living in this nation-state seems to be sliding downward. Yeah we have more techno-toys, SUVs and Wal-Mart vegetables, but as a culture we seem to be working longer hours, more anxiously, more fearfully, while it seems that others high up in the transnational corporate ranks reap the excess of our labor more than is their historical entitlement. And, the under class grows. Most of the wealth made by the citizens of this nation seems to be going one way: further up the socio-economic ladder, faster. Add to these distresses the fact that our government is overtly forcing its citizens to kill a whole lot of people in a far off country without reasonable justification, if reasonable justification exists at all. The murderous, Big Media supported foreign policy that this government is bringing to bear upon the world using my tax dollars is embarrassing and repugnant. As a citizen I feel tarnished. A friend of mine once told me that to tolerate something was to insist on it.

Thus I yap. There is an argument to be made that talk is cheap. There is an argument to be made also that language is the fundamental building block of thought and that thinking drives behavior. So I yap, keep my income down, paying less taxes, so as to legally not contribute to this present debacle of governmental insanity, hoping that I influence others and hoping that I find more people who think as I do and believe as I do. I get lonely. I do not want to be a solitary voice in the civic landscape, if I can avoid it. Luckily, here in California there are a lot of like voices, on both the Republic and Democratic sides of The Party.

Speaking of groups coming to power, from where I sit, we software developers have been the guys in power for a long while, without knowing it.

That some people thought the Carson/Bush thing was not that funny. Oh well.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Q: Have you ever seen these two men in the same place, at the same time?

Monday, January 24, 2005

Q: Is it possible to know tomorrow's news today?

A: Yes, if you are NBC.

Sunday night I was imitating a turnip by watching TV. I was channel surfing when I came across a commercial on NBC promoting Brian Williams and the NBC Nightly News. The advertisement gave previews of tomorrow’s news, focusing on the difficulties of "our fighting forces in Iraq."

I said to myself, how can NBC know what will be tomorrow's news today? I thought the purpose of the daily news was to report important, up to date information. I thought that with only 22 minutes of broadcast time allotted to the program, the powers that be at NBC would determine what was to be broadcast as close to air time as possible.

I was wrong on two counts, I guess. First, I was mistaken to think that NBC News was in the business of the dissemination of important, relevant, time sensitive information. The second mistake was that I assumed that NBC News determined the news worthiness of broadcast content that was in some way akin to impartial journalism.

In a way I miss the old time propaganda when Walter Cronkite would get on the air, talk about the recent activities of "the enemy", deliver the daily fictitious body count and then move onto some story that had to do with LBJ and dog ears.

In the old days it seemed as if The Media was a State stooge, only competent to deliver propaganda. Now it seems to be a commissar, determining, creating and encouraging propaganda.

Ouch! Seems that I have to go back and rethink this whole notion of a Free Society.

This thinking business is hard and the rewards are not always what they are cracked up to be.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Q: What is the meaning of freedom?

A: Not much unless you have an object.

When I say, "I want to be free.", what is it that I want to be free of, or free to do? Do I want to be free to travel anywhere I please? Do I want to be free to read what I choose? Do I want to be free to buy whatever I want?

It's easy to promote freedom as an abstraction. But once I want to travel to Cuba, read Windows 2000 Source Code, buy crack-cocaine without risk of arrest or acquire a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, reality intercedes. Such objective freedom is non-existent within the United States.

So, tell me please, what does this statement really mean?

"The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world." - The Inaugral Address of George W. Bush, January 20th, 2005

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Q: How do you get a lot of good people to accept atrocious behavior by government?

A: Change the meanings of the language

"a carefully built up erection of statements, which whether true or false can be made to undermine quite rigidly held ideas and to construct new ones that will take their place. It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. What after all are a square and a circle? They are mere words and words can be moulded until they clothe ideas in disguise." - Joseph Goebbels, quote taken from the paper, Language Abuse and Human Consciousness

Word count in George W. Bush's 2005 Inaugural Address: 2,083

Number of times the word, 'freedom' is used: 27
Number of times the word, 'liberty' is used: 15
Number of times the word, 'security' is used: 4

Number of times the word, 'Iraq' is used: 0
Number of times the word, 'war' is used: 0

Number of times the word "rights" is used: 4
Number of times the word "ownership" is used: 2

Number of times the word, 'food' is used: 0
Number of times the word, 'clothing' is used: 0
Number of times the word, 'shelter' is used: 0
Number of times the word, 'hunger' is used: 0
Number of times the word, 'children' is used: 0
Number of times the word, 'elderly' is used: 0

Number of times the word, "employment" is used: 0
Number of times the word, "work" is used: 6, and is used as follows:

"The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations."

"A few Americans have accepted the hardest duties in this cause - in the quiet work of intelligence and diplomacy ... the idealistic work of helping raise up free governments ... the dangerous and necessary work of fighting our enemies."

"America has need of idealism and courage, because we have essential work at home - the unfinished work of American freedom."