Fearing America’s Legacy of Violence

[I posted a version of this earlier and deleted it out of timidity.]

The fear of accepting refugees because they might repeat the Paris attacks doesn’t make sense to me. Fanning the flames of fear is an easy way to promote policies that let the powerful increase their power.

We have a fear of terrorists from the Middle East, but the fear mongers forget the terrorist incidents in the U. S. with American perpetrators. There is a long list of shooters in this country who have killed multiple victims. People apparently don’t remember the university shootings this fall, let alone the Charleston Church Massacre, Virginia Tech and many others. Colorado Springs has seen two separate multiple fatality shootings within a month.

Now, Sandy Hook is part of the American legacy of violence. There’s no evidence that there won’t be more attacks by Americans on Americans.

Opposing refugees by promoting fear is a low-cost, highly effective way of winning political points with people who already are afraid of “them.” Who “they” are changes from decade to decade. When we fear “them”, we help destroy freedom in the name of freedom.

Beautiful day

We had a really beautiful day.

In the morning the trees were covered in a thick layer of snow and the sunlight lit them up.

It was cold, I’ll admit, so I’m glad I didn’t have to spend much time outside.

I’m looking forward to the holiday this week. I’ll be able to be with my family and enjoy some pumpkin pie and maybe some date pudding.

Tomorrow I’m getting my tires worked on. I’ve managed to replace them one by one over the past year. Hopefully I’m done with that for a while.

It was challenging driving to Fort Wayne in the snow yesterday. I wasn’t paying close enough attention and left an 3:15 to be at my destination at 4:00. I was amazed that I got there in time.

I went to a Thanksgiving group event last night. I got to see some people that I hadn’t seen for a long time. It’s nice that people come down to Fort Wayne to support the community.

TekVenture & MantisBT

I’ve been busy the past few days.

Saturday I went to a workshop at TekVenture in Fort Wayne. I had worked it out and if I joined (at $40/month) it would be $5/hour or less for the time I’m there. That seemed pretty inexpensive to have access to scopes, milling machines, CNC mills, wood working tools and 3D printers. This week I got rid of my land line which will save about $30/month, so it comes out pretty even.

Today was an experiment to see whether I’m more productive down there. I went this afternoon. I was pleasantly surprised that the trip only required 35 minutes. That’s not bad for reaching downtown Fort Wayne from Auburn. I stayed about an hour and a half today.

Much of the time was spent trying to diagnose why I couldn’t connect to the wifi… and then I realized my laptop had its wifi turned off. Doh! Once I did that, I was up and running in about 10 seconds. Another block of time was spent getting the drivers for the Arduino installed.

Today I connected my Arduino to the prototype output board for the first time. I wrote a simple driver program (which worked after a surprisingly few tries) and the Arduino and display worked perfectly together.Circuit board with 12 digits

The other thing I did this weekend was set up MantisBT bug tracking software. I was going to install Bugzilla, but Bugzilla depends on Perl. Its install needed me to run some Perl scripts. I don’t know how to do that on my hosting account. MantisBT is all PHP and was going after a only few hours of work.

The bug tracker has a learning curve + a setup hump. Each project’s setup is evolving which slows down how I use it. I created 3 projects so far: “How Far Is Mars”, “yyj-tool” and “SysAdmin.” I don’t want to need to remember what needs done next. I’m getting to the point where I am starting keeping little slips of paper and comments in disorganized notebooks.

yyj-tool is the version logging tool that has evolved over the years. I’m getting it going pretty well. One part I’m working on are self-tests. I have big dreams for the next one, yyj-tool++ when I add a few more features.

The next feature to add to yyj is a hot-spot detector. It will take a Git archive and identify blocks of code that had changed a lot in the Git project.,The theory is that the “hot” areas need more care. The analyzer would probably create HTML documents to browse the analyzed code.

How Far Is Mars is a device to display in real-time the distance to Mars from Earth. I’m still prototyping the algorithms for that. Perhaps the local astronomy club would be interested–especially if it also displays the azimuth and elevation of Mars from the user’s location.

President Carson, Vice-President Trump

The beauty pageant circus that’s the current presidential race is really mindless in what it wants to focus on. The real problems that face our country are ignored while we talk about who “won” the last debate and which candidate is having a tiff with which other candidate this week.

There are lots of more useful things to talk about–perennial topics that none of the candidates want to touch.

* What is the ethical approach to the needs of the American’s who are working and have trouble paying grocery bills and rent at the same time?
* What are we willing to do to protect our environment? What does the environment need from us?
* Is it morally right that the wealthy can get the best medical care while those less fortunate don’t have the opportunities to recover from a serious illness?
* What is our responsibility towards the homeless and mentally ill? Do we have a moral imperative to respond to their suffering?
* Are we willing to sacrifice our privacy and freedoms because of fear?

The news media has appropriated the word “ethics” to mean “Did a public figure do something shady that will help me sell more advertising?” Ethics means the rules of conduct one applies to oneself. It isn’t about the other person or what the ethics committee wants to sanction. It’s about what I’m willing to do or not do in each area of my life.

Since Ben Carson is the front runner in the Republican presidential race right now, I want to imagine, based on his current behavior, how will he act as president.

Currently, there are several issues that are critical of him. I won’t list them because some will fade away, while new ones might come up. However, his reaction is consistent to anything negative: “The liberal media is out to get me!” “The media is lying about that topic!” Or any other paranoid response. (From Merriam Webster: “paranoid: having or showing an unreasonable feeling that people are trying to harm you, do not like you.”*)

This kind of defense is successful because many political conservatives have talked up the motif that the media is liberal and that it can’t be trusted at all. It has been said enough times that people believe it. This is really dangerous. If you don’t believe anything that the news media presents, then there are no resources to ask difficult questions to the people in power.

So, this gets me to President Carson. How would he behave in a controversy about some action of his administration. Since past behavior is the best predictor of future actions, I would expect him to still fall back on “The media is out to get me” & “The media is lying.”

It’s a good thing that that argument didn’t work for Nixon and Spiro Agnew. The media was asking difficult questions about their actions. The media was not saying what they wanted to hear. It seems that, if Nixon were in office now, he could just shout down the media, and he would have stayed in office.

I don’t think this is the way I want my government to work. The media’s job is to ask difficult questions, it’s not their job to “play nice” or “only talk about things the way I want them to.” Right now, it appears that if the media says something critical about a political candidate, it’s not evaluated on its merits. The current attitude is “if they say it, it must actually be false. The opposite is true.” Ben Carson says “I’m wonderful, why don’t they leave me alone so I can control what people think about me?”

There are a lot more difficult and important questions to ask than whether someone got a scholarship to a military academy. The answers to those questions are complex and cannot turn into a quick sound-bite for Fox News or CNN. No one knows beyond “trust me, I’ll only do good things, just wait, you’ll see.”

(*) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/paranoid

Meet up at Toastmasters

I recently joined meetup.com I found out about a drop-in every Thursday at TekVenture http://tekventure.org in Fort Wayne. When I was at tekventure there were a couple of other people who found out about the drop-in the same way. I went once, but it conflicts with Toastmasters so I won’t go much. However, I got an event schedule at TekVenture and found there’s a workshop tomorrow morning that I’m going to.

Our district of Toastmasters has a meetup.com group also. I get notified of all of the different Toastmaster group meetings that are coming up. I’m looking forward to going to some other groups in the area this coming week.

The club that I belong to, Anthony Wayne Toastmasters, was chartered in 1947. I was toastmaster last night and introduced the speakers, general evaluator and the topic master. (The general evaluator organizes the feedback parts of the meeting. The topic master has impromptu topics to ask so that everyone gets a chance to participate.) The group is really supportive and wants me to succeed (like everyone else).

Last week I gave a speech about Open Source Hardware. It was lots of fun. The PowerPoint came out well. I had fun using gimp to put together the images.

Sesquiannual party

A long, long time ago, I had the idea to hold a sesquiannual party. I never set one up. It would just be too hard to remember when the next one is supposed to happen in 18 months.

Apparently Randall Munroe agrees. Today’s xkcd refers to an inconvenient sesquiannual meeting:

A Sesquiannual meeting

Since that time I’ve used sesqui* for all sorts of things. My deviantArt user name is sesquicentennial. I use derivatives of sesqui for user names all over the place. My stamp collection includes pictorial postmarks celebrating sesquicentennials.

So, I was not very happy when I got this message on wikipedia today: “Please do not add content or create pages that attack, threaten, or disparage their subject. Attack pages and files are not tolerated by Wikipedia and are speedily deleted. Users who create or add such material will be blocked from editing Wikipedia. Thank you.”

The offensive material was added by an IP: if it was you, please don’t do it again; if it was friends, please discourage them; if it was just random vandalism, never mind, but please keep an eye on your user page in case the vandal returns.” [edit: The bad content was old. Maybe someone was doing me a favor and reported it].

I know that xkcd is really popular. I like it too, but it may have its share of trolls, like anywhere. One of the consequences of Munroe’s popularity it is that when he mentions a page, it gets inundated with traffic. He can refer to a video and it receives a huge number of hits pretty quickly.

He has a secondary project “What If?” Often, when you try to visit a link that he’s referenced, it’s gone. I think the load from the interested traffic causes hosts to delete the pages. He is that popular…

I thought it was funny last night when I saw the sesquiannual xkcd post. I thought I hadn’t used it anywhere to demo that I came up with it first, but there it is on wikipedia.

Perpetual beta is not good for my parents

From my perspective as a user, perpetual beta’s frequent software updates are not good for me. Many times, I go to use a feature of a web page or app and it has changed.

For me, that’s annoying. I have to go on an adventure to find where menu X has gone. I go through a maze of twisty passages all alike. If the interface changes from week to week, it takes time and effort before I learn that the feature I liked is gone.

I can look at this from my parent’s perspective. They’re not experienced. Like many people over 60, they don’t understand common interface idioms. For them, the circular O/1 on-off logo takes effort to recognize. Changing the location of a menu pull-down can be bewildering.

In Wikipedia’s “Perpetual Beta” article (*) Tim O’Reilly is quoted “Users must be treated as co-developers…” (**) That’s totally bonkers. My parents don’t understand their cable TV remote, let alone how to be a “co-developer.” I’m not sure what a co-developer is, but from my experience in software development, it means that I’m expected to do a lot of work.

A couple of consequences of perpetual beta are glaring failures.

First, there is no documentation for anything. And, if there is documentation, it’s probably out of date. When I searched Google for information about Google Drive, everything I found referred to features that had changed. It’s very frustrating. I found answers for the old, older or oldest versions of the interface. I had no guidance to distinguish the documentation versions or assurance that any of them were current. Even the simple courtesy of clearly dating the creation date of information would help.

Second, perpetual beta, from a user’s (and especially a casual user’s) point of view means that the software is hard to use. The “quality” that is supposed to be provided by frequent updates is out-weighed by my constant re-learning of the tools.

In the past, you had to ask to be a beta tester. You had to “opt-in” to get beta features. Now you get beta features continuously. And, you can’t “opt-out” to keep using a consistent tool.

Managers may confuse perpetual alpha with perpetual beta. They’re willing to release features before testing them with users. A sprint to tackle the top things on the work-list doesn’t give the developers time to properly implement testing. Also, formal usability testing may not be in the teams vocabulary.

When I interviewed at Amazon a few years ago, they asked me to complete some simple programming tasks before the in-person interview. The last task asked me to test the routine I developed. I wrote some pretty basic tests in Perl in addition to the C++ code and got a quick positive response.

From that, I’ve learned that testing should be the first job, not the last. When I write software, I can be pretty confident that any non-tested feature is a broken feature. It takes time to make embedded or automatic tests, but they help improve my confidence in the developing system.

So, when my parents use a changing web page, they are confused and lost. It takes time and frustration to figure it out. By any measure, they’re not experts at the process. When it changes every month, my parents aren’t getting any benefits.

The Wikipedia article says that perpetual beta is “the foundation for the habitability or usability of a service.” I claim that it is the complete opposite. It’s a fad that makes a computer, phone or smart device more vulnerable and less usable. If the inexperienced users can’t find an answer easily, the tool is not accessible or usable.

(*) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_beta (retrieved Nov. 10, 2015)
(**) http://www.oreilly.com/pub/a/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html?page=4 (retrieved Nov. 10, 2015)