Thursday, May 1, 2014

What Happened? They're Tearing Down Our Youth! Cell Phones! Video Games! Computers & the Internet!

What happened to our youth?  I took a good, hard look at Google Maps to see.

It's not just Richardson Square that's gone...

Of all the malls we went to, Richardson Sqaure was the most convenient,
   (especially for simple after-school pleasures)
Valley View was second in convenience, and pretty nice,
Of course, the Galleria... nuff said...
but I always liked Prestonwood best.

Now it's a Wal-Mart.  A set of strip malls.  And, if you'll believe it, an airport.  I feel pretty sure that wasn't there, before.

I also looked on maps over by Big Spring Elementary - did you know there's a lake just the other side of the "nature trail," now?  I guess it's been there for years, but it's got piers, and everything.  Boats 'n stuff.  And that big field across the street from the school is mostly a swamp, it looks like.  I used to play with friends, there, during recess.  We'd play "G-Force."  Yeah, the old "Americanized" version of the anime "Gatchaman."

Richardson Junior High is still there, but it's got a new name now.  At least it's still a school.  A Math and Science Magnet school, but that's ok.  I wonder what they use the old band hall for, now?  The days of Mr Costellano directing band are long gone, I guess.

It's weird to look back on all these places, even just with Google Maps & with street view.  Places where Home used to be, and is no longer.  Places that were so important to our lives that even decades later, fill our memories more than most of what's happened since.

It's not so much that I'm brought to wonder what happened to our youth, as: What happened to make such important places less valuable than a parking lot?  Is it online shopping?  Cell phones?  What was it?

Most of us didn't have computers in our homes.  When I graduated in '89, there was just the one set of computer labs in the school.  There were the TI based MS-Dos machines, and the IBMs.  I learned some Basic and Turbo Pascal on the non-IBMs.  I didn't even really consider that I'd get my first computer shortly before graduation (a 80286 briefcase portable with monochrome EGA graphics, 512k ram, 1.2m 5 1/4 floppy, & a 30 mg hd).  I never, ever considered that computers would be such a huge part of everyone's lives only a decade later, let alone how much they've taken over our lives today.

There are times when I wish we could just go back to those days.  Days before email.  Before Facebook.  Before cell phones were disposable, let alone common.  Before we had to be connected, every single second of the day.  Sometimes I consider leaving my phone at home when I drive to the store, just so I can disconnect for a few minutes... but then I bring it along, anyway.  The days when phones were attached to our homes by wires are gone; the days when getting in the car meant nobody could reach us are gone.  "Call us when you get there," is gone, replaced by status updates and tracking software.

Is it possible, do you know?  If it's possible to disconnect, and live life actively, instead of under the direction of all of our wonderful, powerful, all-consuming technology?  Are things really better?  Or, are we simply distracted from reality by our new toys?  I really would like to know if it's possible to get out there, and live without being in constant, total contact, or if it could only mean coming in last for the rest of our lives.  After all... there are new sets of kids out there, today, growing up with their sets of favorite places... but more and more, their favorite places are on the couch in front of the X-Box and Playstation, instead of at the mall or riding bikes with their friends.

I guess in part, I just miss what we got to have when we were young.  And I wish that the youth of today could experience that for themselves, too.  I guess when they grow up, they'll be nostalgic about playing online games with friends who they only ever knew as voices in their headset, and shopping online at Amazon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Removing that Pesky Toolbar!

Have you ever accidentally left a checkmark in place during an install?  Ever ended up with some pesky toolbar, or other form of software that occasionally just pisses you off??

I recently had such an experience.

Silly me, I decided I'd try to make a few bitcoins (yes, I decided to see what the fuss is about) by trying some so-called "surveys."  Of course, they're not surveys - they're "complete the offer to get the prize" scams.  You can't even often tell when you've actually completed the offer... and end up signing up for a dozen spam sites you'll have to unsubscribe from that very evening.

One of the "offers" I wound up completing was for the Shop At Home website and toolbar.

While technically not a virus, it gave me so much trouble in removal that I was halfway convinced it was one.

They give a great deal of detailed information on how to uninstall and remove their software on their website.  First, try "add/remove programs."  It's possible it may be installed under one of two names. (Isn't that a bad sign, right there?)  It may not be in the list at all, though.  Now, if you're using Firefox, open the browser, and get to the /tools/add-ons.  Click on the "Extensions" tab, if it's not already open.  Now, if you're like me, you start to freak out: there's nothing there!!

Most people will probably see a list of add-ons, and be able to click "remove" with no problem.  Not me, though!  You see, the nice people at Yahoo! sometimes put a download link on their webpages saying that "your version of Firefox is out of date: click here to get the latest version."  One time, some years ago, I did.  These nice people at Yahoo! took their 3rd party version of the browser and modified it to make it more friendly to their own website and toolbar.  They added the Yahoo! toolbar, with no option not to install it.  Since the Yahoo toolbar is (mostly) harmless, I just unchecked it and forgot it was there.  They also (so it seems) made everything on the extensions tab invisible, so there'd be no way to get rid of it.  The best you could do was to uncheck the toolbar in the "view" menu.

I'm afraid I spent a little too much energy e-mailing back and forth with some poor soul working at the ShopAtHome help desk.  Let's just say that, after a few e-mails, my attitude had become somewhat like... a jerk.  It's embarrassing, you know?  First, I had every reason in the world to believe that their simple looking bit of software had outwitted me, and all of my attempts to get rid of it.  Second, why on earth couldn't they put together a normal sort of uninstall program that anyone could use?  My verbal outpourings had, by the end, reached a point of threatening to go to every "partner" website they had and complaining about their virus-like software.  Thinking back on it, it probably would have sounded a lot better if that's what the problem really was.  Instead, I was just e-mailing outbursts of misdirected anger at someone who is (probably) innocent of wrongdoing.  The problem was the 3rd party Firefox package I'd installed years before much more than it was of theirs!

To help prevent outbursts like mine, I'd recommend following these simple instructions: that if the Firefox browser was installed from a 3rd party website such as Yahoo, it may be necessary for the user to 1) Go to the Mozilla Firefox website for a clean download, 2) Uninstall Firefox (but it's not necessary to check the box for removal of user information), 3) go to /Program Files and delete the /Mozilla Firefox folder (the folder will be different on a 64 bit machine!), and then 4) run the freshly downloaded installation software.  Upon opening the fresh install of Firefox, the ShopAtHome toolbar may still be at the top, but now you can go into /Tools/Add Ons and see what's actually installed in the Extensions tab.  From there, it's simple to remove whatever you want gone.

I hope this helps others out there to remove toolbars they're getting frustrated over - I only wish there'd been information that would have helped me better, sooner!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A lot of people are complaining about Obama, these days.  From Obamacare, which makes it impossible for many people to get insurance where they may have had it in the past (while encouraging employers to cut employee's hours from full to part-time), to Gun Control, to whether he was even born in the USA to begin with (there are good arguments out there), there's no shortage of complaints.

Actually, this helps to demonstrate a symptom of our President's personality.  Obamacare is the biggest demonstrator of all.  He's narcissistic, and has a complete lack of empathy for the people he's supposed to represent.  He also has no respect for the Constitution he's supposed to defend.

That's a big accusation, you might say.  I'll agree with you, it is a big accusation.  It is, however, an accusation that's true.  President Obama assumes that everyone has the same financial, political, and popular means that he has.  What this means is that when he writes a bill or has one written, the bill is written for him, and not for the citizens of his country, and not following the dictates of his country's Constitution.  Obamacare being the first example at hand, we'll take a quick look at how it fits the example.

Obamacare is written for Obama: The bill assumes that everyone in the USA has identical health care needs, and has identical health care providers and insurance.  If someone's health insurance fails to meet the standards of Obamacare, it's no longer permitted.  Period.  Obamacare assumes that everyone in the United States has a full time (40 hours per week) job - and the bill is written so that all medium to large employers of full-time employees are required to provide top-quality health insurance - no matter if that employer can afford to do so, or not.  Obviously, this leads to more jobs, and less hours per job.  You cannot expect a small Burger King franchise to provide top-notch health insurance to it's employees and still keep burger prices within range of the general public.  This leads to Obamacare's next trap - the un- and under-insured.  If you don't carry Obamacare insurance, then you're liable to be fined.  While it's still legal (barely) to pay cash at a doctor's office, you still better have a fully capable insurance policy according to Obama.  If not, then be prepared to be fined.

I'm sure we've only just scratched the surface, here, but the basic truth that's revealed by this is: President Barack Obama has no empathy for the people.  He doesn't understand what it's like to be less than rich.  He doesn't understand what it's like to not have political influence.  He doesn't understand that the majority of Americans don't go without insurance because they, or their employers, don't want them to have insurance - it's because insurance is expensive, so they take what they can get.

Along with that lack of empathy that allows our President to blithely go through his day writing bills that require most Americans to bankrupt themselves is the narcissism that what he wants and believes is the only right way to want or believe anything.  Because of this narcissistic tendency, he's perfectly willing to break the American Constitution into shards.  The very founders of this country put into it's Constitution the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.  This doesn't mean just the weapons that a politician decides are ok for him to possess.  This doesn't mean that all United States citizens must get permission to buy a gun, or get a permit to carry it.

The right to keep arms means that anyone in the USA has the right to buy and possess any weapon that he can use himself.  This obviously leaves cannon and tanks out of the picture, as those require multiple men to move and use, but definitely includes any other easily man-portable weapon, whether it be knife, sword, pistol, or AR-15.  Whether any individual person needs a fully automatic weapon shouldn't even be a question - firing a weapon on full-auto is simply wasteful of ammunition, while being very unlikely to ever hit a target.  WMDs - Weapons of Mass Destruction - such as nuclear devices and truckloads of C4 also definitely do not fall under "arms."  Arms are simply hand-held and controlled weapons for protection and combat that can be used with precision, rather than blunt broad-area destructive forces.

The Right to Bear Arms is... simply the right to carry said weapons, be it knife, sword, pistol or rifle.  Certainly some businesses might feel it best if their patrons not have such weapons on their persons while on the premises, such as at bars, but since most bars need to have someone checking IDs at the door to keep minors out, they can also have patrons check their weapons at the door.  It worked pretty well in the Old West - with modern technology, it can work even better.

The founders of the United States didn't intend for the people to run about in an anarchic state, but to be a self-governing people.  Many of the intents and even stated purposes of the Constitution have been bent, or even broken, but the more this continues on, the less relevant that Constitution becomes.  Once a country no longer has any relevance to the Constitution on which it was built, it no longer has any relevance to the people who live within it's borders.  When that happens, revolutions happen.  Those who came before us had some words to say on the topic:

  To model our political system upon speculations of lasting tranquility, is to calculate on the weaker springs of the human character.
         ---Alexander Hamilton

  [W]hereas, to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them; nor does it follow from this, that all promiscuously must go into actual service on every occasion. The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle; and when we see many men disposed to practice upon it, whenever they can prevail, no wonder true republicans are for carefully guarding against it.
         ---Richard Henry Lee, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
(Note that he speaks not of a political party, but of the Republic itself)

 [W]hen the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man, who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually...I ask, who are the militia? They consist of now of the whole people, except a few public officers. But I cannot say who will be the militia of the future day. If that paper on the table gets no alteration, the militia of the future day may not consist of all classes, high and low, and rich and poor...
         ---George Mason

 Today it is our own government which attempts to weaken it's citizens, and when our government falters in that goal, the United Nations attempts to push laws to weaken the United States' citizens through our own Congress, and if not that, to force it upon us all though artfully crafted treaties.   Today, those artfully crafted bits of Constitution Breakage are aimed at our right to keep and bear arms.  Tomorrow... who knows what they'll be aiming for?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Here, Chief! Good Dog! Now: Arrest!

The small town of Vaghn, New Mexico, has an unusual problem:  The Police Department is now run by Nikka, the town's drug-sniffing dog.  That's right, since the Police Chief stepped down, the only certified police officer in the entire town is Nikka.

It's a small town, with only 737 people living in it.  There's no crime to speak of.  It's probably one of those backwater communities where people really don't bother locking their doors at night.  Even so, they do have a police department, and they try to keep one officer (the Police Chief) hired on.  The problem with this police chief is that he used to be married - in Texas - and owes thousands in delinquent child support payments.  Having failed to keep up with his child support, he's techically a criminal, and isn't allowed to carry a firearm in his duties.  Ex-chief Armijo is also under investigation for the sale of a town-owned rifle and pocketing the cash - a felony, if convicted.  He feels confident he can clear up this felony case.  Once cleared of all criminal charges, Mr. Armijo plans to run for Chief again, if nobody else has taken the job.

The only other member of the Police force in Vaughn pleaded guilty to an assault and battery case last year; he's not certified, which means he cannot carry a gun, nor place people under arrest.

Helping out in Vaughn's time of need, the local Sherrif's department helps make sure to patrol the area, but itself being short-staffed, is barely able to show a presence.

Perhaps they should just let the dog out of the kennel, equip it with a strap-on taser gun on it's head, set to go off when the dog barks loud enough.  Instead of dolphins with lasers, it's a police dog with tasers.  We've got you now, you Bond Villains!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Internet's Cloud of... What?!

Gone are the days when a business could pack all of it's computing needs into one room.  Or even one building.  Today, the big boys have turned to farming as an answer:  Data Farming.  This basically entails buying up some farmland in an area with cheap electricity, getting some great tax breaks from the local small community, and putting in one or more large warehouse-type buildings packed with computer servers connected to the internet.

In one sense, this is the cloud - warehouses full of servers.

In another sense, this is the cloud: great billowing clouds of deisel smoke that go up whenever the warehouse decides to run on their own generators, instead of the power supply they bargained for so eagerly.  Once in a while, there's good reason for the data farm to switch over to generator power; the local substation will be undergoing maintenance, for example.  The rest of the time, for some unknown reason, the data farm will simply decide to run on it's own power, instead of locally supplied power.

Microsoft is one of the biggest troublemakers, when it comes to using deisel power instead of local power.  In Washington state, a small farming community thought they'd hit the jackpot when Microsoft decided to put in a huge data farm.  Overall, they did come out ahead.  Unfortunately, Microsoft isn't the best friend to the area - instead, Microsoft is one of the areas biggest bullies.
When they decided to move into the neighborhood with their "cloud" factory, they made deals for cheap electricity from the local provider.  Part of this deal is to make a serious estimate on how many kilowatt hours the server farm will need.  This way, the electric company is able to reserve that much power across the year for Microsoft's use, when otherwise that power might be sold to the overall power grid.  Microsoft has, at times, run their own deisel generators excessively, sending clouds of smoke over the nearby elementary school, even though the local power grid was fully capable of serving their needs.  Near the end of the year, Microsoft was going to have to pay a very large fine for not using power that was reserved for their use.  What does MS do?  They threatened to run large, electric heaters full-out during the last few weeks of the period, in order to waste electricity and bring their usage up to near the estimated levels.  Having shoved with their strong arm, the electric company fell, and reduced the fine. 

There are many other data centers around the nation that also rely on deisel backup generators.  Yahoo, practically right next door to the Microsoft facility.  Facebook and many others, as well.  These data centers typically run at 100%, 24 hours a day, no matter what the demand actually is.  The New York Times found that these data centers can waste 90% or more of the power the pull off the grid.

It's been said that if manufacturing plants were as wasteful as these server farms, they'd be out of business right away.  So... how are these data centers managing to remain so profitable, under their clouds of deisel exhaust, with such massive waste of resources?

Profits are that good?

So... is it a cloud of data, cloud of smoke, or cloud of money?  One thing is for sure:  there's a big cloud of wasted energy.

For more info, check out The New York Times' articles on the Cloud.

Monday, September 24, 2012

One Nation, Under Obama, for Which He Stands...?!?!

I don't know if it was Obama's idea, or someone in his political campaign, but he's really screwing up in a big way. I don't know if you've seen this, but his campaign is selling t-shirts and limited edition prints of new version of the American Flag. It comprises a combination of a poorly painted set of pale red lines (as opposed to the bold, straight lines of the flag) with the field of stars replaced with the pale blue insignia of the Obama campaign.

I've seen two versions of this flag. One, in the shape of the flag, and the other, in the general shape of the United States - minus Alaska, Hawaii, and possessions. Sorry, guys. You'd think he'd want to include Hawaii, since he's selling mugs and other goodies on the campaign website that have photocopies of his birth certificate: "Made in the USA." That's quite a slogan. Unfortunately, I doubt the slogan has anything at all to do with keeping manufacturing inside the United States. 

Interestingly, since this story jumped into the news just the other day, the Obama campaign has removed these parodies of the flag from their website, and taken the merchandise down, as well.  It's good to see the offending flag taken down, but for many Americans, the Obama flag will be a flag of warning.  After all, what sort of person goes around changing the flag of his country?  Historically... not good.

The Capable Politician

In this world, we see all kinds of people getting involved in politics. Husbands, Fathers, Activists, and so many more. Yes, also Wives, Mothers, and Daughters. We see all sorts of people becoming involved, but really... what marks the true capability of a politician?

We see people aiming for the top political offices in our country all of the time. Sometimes, the candidate makes it as high as Congress simply because nobody else in his district had the time or inclination to try. Other times, we see the candidate stand strong, holding fiercely to his beliefs, a pillar of strength. And then, we see politicians vie for public office just because “I can do it better!”
“I can do it better!” seems to be the main battle cry, lately. After all, if a politician tries to stand firmly on an issue, the other politician will dig for something negative within that issue. Abortion vs Pro-Life. Religious Freedoms vs Separation of Church and State. Taxes vs... well, other Taxes. Reduction of taxes is seldom promised, and even more seldom something anyone can follow through with. Bush number 1 did a pretty good job, lasting as long as he did on that issue.
“I can do it better!”
Sure. I'll stand up there, and repeal the laws that clog the system, shovel out the glut of Government Employment and Agencies that basically either don't do anything, or are just there to back-up and duplicate other agencies. At the same time, I'll push laws through that limit the government's ability to spy on our citizen's private lives. I'll push legal guarantees through Congress so that we can protect our citizen's privacy for generations to come. I'll make sure you can go to the bathroom without a federal agency watching.
Yeah. I can do it better. If I didn't have to attempt all of those things with the full might of the American Government standing against me. If I didn't have to turn into a Politician, first.
Weirdly, we have “I can do it better” people who actually are politicians. People who want to enter our nation's highest office, standing on a soapbox of “I can do it better.” This is a pretty small soapbox, people. When the opposition is standing on a soapbox of “I've been doing it already, and I'm going to protect what I've done no matter how bad it is,” the soapbox of “I can do it better!” is pretty small, indeed.
So, what is it that marks a truly capable politician, then?
Taking a stance. Taking a stance on something. Anything. Doing This, or Undoing That. Fixing what's broken. Only... don't fix, and don't undo. Instead, you're implementing a plan to improve the efficiency of the legal process and lower the overall cost of your government. You're taking a stance on personal freedoms. You'll stand between all comers, and protect the citizen's Constitutional Rights. You're the Champion of Civil Liberties. The Protector of Privacy.
And maybe you take a stand on something even more incendiary than that. But these days, taking a stand on something as basic as privacy, or civil liberties, or even our constitutional rights is pretty incendiary.
Good luck, out there.