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Spider in a crooked web
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art, under the bridge
Re: McConnell defends political contributions as free speech

Don't you love it when people undermine their own position and show their inability to reason?

“It is critically important for all conservatives — and indeed all Americans — to stand up and unite in defense of the freedom to organize around the causes we believe in, and against any effort that would constrain our ability to do so,” McConnell said...

Unless you are a policeman or teacher in Wisconson. Oh, you didn't mean to say that Gov. Walker erred?

But consider the larger picture. McConnell and others claim that spending money is 'speech' and should be free of government interference.

Of course, these are the same politicians who voted to make giving monetary contributions to groups the government designates 'terrorist' organizations a crime. Same act: giving money to someone else, presumably because you support their viewpoint.

Wow, that sounds disturbingly like, how did he put it? " “an alarming willingness itself to use the powers of government to silence” political speech of groups with which it disagrees."

But it is actually even worse; traditionally, giving money to someone has been considered an 'act', one that could be a crime in and of itself, be it a bribe or payment for, either before or after, a crime. But, if conservatives really believe what they are saying, handing money to someone is no different from saying "I wish so-and-so was dead." or "That building blocks my view, I wish it wasn't there."

Sounds kind of silly, doesn't it? Probably because it is. However, that has no bearing on its 'legality' in the USA these days.

But it should surely be a good sign about who you do and do not want deciding on what becomes law...
art, under the bridge
No, that isn't fatalistic, the next one isn't until 2125.

Venus will transit the solar disk on June 5 for those of us in North America, and the geometry of the orbits means the US will see the beginning of the transit but the end will be after our sunset.

But the neatest place to observe it that I have found so far is Iceland. The island falls in a 'tiny' keyhole where the transit starts before sunset ... and ends after sunrise!

Reykjavik, IS sees the start (22:03, June 5) and finish (04:53, June 6), but not the middle (sunset 23:30, rise 03:22)

I am not sure where I will be, but I am pretty sure I will have a telescope or two set up this time; hopefully without the fog that made the 2004 transit interesting.
art, under the bridge
[Written in answer to someone's lament that their time was being eaten by requests they were having trouble saying 'no' to.]

Subject: Dealing with popularity.

On the plus side, think how happy you just made all the fans out there lusting for your body!

On the dealing with it side, two suggestions; a real fix (with a possible pitfall) and one fake fix.

Real fix: hire a personal assistant. They keep the schedule, they are the ones who get to say 'No.' to people. The drawbacks are that this requires you to not say 'Yes', but rather "Please speak to X, I don't know if I have time for that on my schedule, but they are paid to know it." If you can't even deflect requests on your time this way then you are doomed, DOOMED I SAY! Ahem, sorry about that. The PA does come with some overhead, besides the cost, and that is that you have to spend some time each day keeping them and the schedule up to date, and that would include estimating how much time various projects are going to require.

Fake fix: Carry a schedule with you (paper or electronic). Fill it up in advance with both real and plausible time sinks. When someone asks you to do something, you can consult your schedule and give regrets, but you already have something schedule that weekend/month/lifetime.

Finally, you ways suspected that the popular kids had different problems than the rest of us. Now you know.

Welcome to Success! Here are your roller-skates and knee pads. Good luck.
14th-Oct-2011 09:24 am - "MAGIC" picture
art, under the bridge
Sorry, no sunspot sketches the last week, due to clouds or traveling. I hope this makes up for some of it; a spectacular picture as NASA's photo-of-the-day today:

Note that La Palma is very near the equator. Look closely at the arc of the star trails on the right and left sides of the photograph.
13th-Oct-2011 01:55 pm - Using a word I don't like.
scary, Halloween
Today, Time, Inc. released the results of a poll conducted Oct. 9-10, 2011.

There were several interesting trends identified in it, like the fact that the folks surveyed were much more in favor of OccupyWallStreet than they were of the Tea Party.

There was one section that was depressing.

Question twelve had four parts, asked of the 787 respondents who were familiar with the Occupy Wall Street protests:

"Q12: Do you agree or disagree with that position?"

A. Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much influence in Washington
B. The gap between rich and poor in the United States has grown too large
C. Executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008 should be prosecuted
D. The rich should pay more taxes.

A. Agree 86%, Disagree 11%, No answer/don't know 4%
B. Agree 79%, Disagree 17%, No answer/don't know 3%
C. Agree 71%, Disagree 23%, No answer/don't know 6%
D. Agree 68%, Disagree 28%, No answer/don't know 4%

Great news, if you agree with the goals of Occupy Wall Street!

Then we get question 12A:

"In your view, will this protest movement have a positive impact on American politics today, a negative impact, or will it have little impact on American politics today?"

Positive impact: 30%
Negative impact: 9%
Little impact: 56%
No Answer/Don't know: 6%

So, a summary of this section could be: "We really think the goals are correct and the protestors are in the right. But we don't think that what they are doing will accomplish much."

Which brings us to the word I don't like much.


Much to my surprise, the OED cites the word from 1945 in the March issue of "Musical Times", with occasional use since then. Not that it really matters.

When there are people supporting or doing things to effect something you think is right, and, at the same time, you do not think that what they are going to change things. then you have become part of the problem. You have stopped acting like a person, and started acting like cattle. Sheeple.

I still think it is an ugly word. It is a sad word to be able to use to describe people or their actions. It is damned frustrating to see it so apt.

But a huge majority of the folks surveyed agree that Wall Street has too much influence on our law makers. If this protest fails to reduce that influence, it will be because of the people who agree with the goal… but do nothing.

It doesn't take much. Go to the survey, print out those questions, write 'I agree with these!' (or otherwise), and mail it to your representative and senators. If you want to be really thorough, send it to your state representatives as well. Call them and let them know. Send email, though that doesn't get their attention as much as paper and a stamp does.

Talk about it. Let people know you think that this is a problem and that it needs to be addressed. Go to and find out how to send them food. Write to the NYC mayor's office and tell them you support the protestors. If you can, convince the folks who own the park to turn on the electric outlets. Go spend some time there.

At a bare minimum, keep abreast of what is happening. One step up, post a rant on the internet…
4th-Oct-2011 01:41 pm - A very short story.
art, under the bridge
Adapted from something I wrote a year or so ago, now even shorter. Not to mention square.

[This was a comment I posted on the Washington Post earlier concerning their article and the 20-odd comments it had garnered at that point, mostly of the 'Well, duh!' sort, blasting the Post (for reporting it), the scientists (for asking a 'stupid' question) and Cornell (or whoever supported the study financially). In summary, the article itself reports on a study by researchers at Cornell mapping the emotional content of (500 million) tweets on a weekly cycle. The study found tweets used positive words early in the day, declined to a low in the mid-afternoon, then climbed to peak around midnight. It also found Saturday to have the most positive tweets. See the article for more information, and the study if really want answers.]

It isn't a question of what 'everybody knows'. "Knowing" something is easy. Now prove it.

Sometimes research is valuable because it proves something 'everyone knows' is false. Commenters here are moaning about waste because this one does not prove something false. Guess what? If you don't ask the question, you will never know which is true in a given case!

The fact that the study seems to confirm what 'everyone knows' is a byproduct of what makes this study interesting and useful: it appears to show that studying twitter postings of large numbers of people can supply researchers with useful information. As exactly *one* person has noted in the comments so far, this is something that businesses (and governments and political parties) find very valuable. Perhaps not this coming presidential election, but certainly by the one after that, you can bet that the candidates campaign staffs are going to include one or two people doing just this kind of analysis. Lots of money and CPU cycles are going to be burned during debates analyzing how people across the country are reacting to answers. Debate guidelines will probably have to be modified to not allow candidates earpieces during debates (if they don't already, I do not recall), or else going first will be handing a huge advantage to your opponent(s).

WIth a little imagination and creativity, this research shows a lot of promise. And threat. If you stop to think about how it can be used.

The other interesting thread in the comments so far is the 'proud avoider' type of comments. Hey, I get it. I have never bothered with Facebook, and the reports of their privacy-invading business model make me glad I did. I also avoided twitter for much the same reasons other folks on here have listed. But a couple of weeks ago I signed up. Hey, guess what? I haven't posted anything from a smart phone yet. I haven't felt the need to tell the world what I am doing every single moment, or even once a day. And I have not had to resort to 'l33t' speak once.

What I have done is started catching up with a few folks I hadn't heard from in a while. Learned of a few things I didn't know were going on. Shared a few things (like, probably, this article) with other folks who would find it interesting. And chatted with folks I have never met before, but who share one or another interest of mine. Following a topic while watching it live can be fun (figuring out how to balance watching the TV and reading peoples reactions is a different story...), and you meet people who enjoy something you do.

You know, kind of like comments on the [article]. But live. And, somehow, less aggravating...
Today 9/30/2011 15:42:28 AM UT
art, under the bridge

I wonder if they kept the hand-strengthening force requirement of those
old mechanical typewriters as well?

I admit that the concept of one that would create hardcopy as you typed
*and* send the keystrokes to your ipod/iphone/ipad/computer would be
kind of neat. And help create that 'place to do your writing' that some
authors recommend.

But not at those prices...

(Note that they sell a kit, at a reasonable price, that would make it easier to make your own steampunk themed keyboard...)
art, under the bridge

Genre, and SF/Fantasy in particular, are well represented:

#99 Amanda Hocking (YA vampire and zombie stories)
#96 Alan Moore
#81 Neil Gaiman
#61 Stephenie Meyer
#45 Salman Rushdie
#38 Philip Pullman
#28 Terry Pratchett
#18 The ghost of Stieg Larsson
#2 JK Rowling

Only 3 authors in the top 10, the rest are CEOs of either publishers or Net/Computer companies (Amazon and Google round out the top 3, with Tim Cook of Apple in #10). I noted 3 poets in the list.
art, under the bridge
[This discussion started on Twitter. I am noting it here for archival purposes, but if anyone wants to provide more information, I'm open to reading it.]

There was a news report a couple of days ago about the Austin, TX police Department's "Digital Analysis Response Team"s plan to 'wardrive' around the city, noting open wireless networks and advising and educating owners of the "dangers" of leaving their network open.

Mike Godwin tweeted "Austin PD spends taxpayer money to "wardrive," push citizens into securing their wireless Internet connections." and the URL:

(Now updated to note that they have decided to postpone the operation.)

I saw it, read the article and replied, "I can think of worse ways to spend public funds than trying to help and educate people. Or is there some sinister subtext here?". The following dialogue followed:

Mike Godwin: "Why on earth do you think the Austin Police Department project to shut down wireless nodes is about educating people? Seriously?"

Vnend: "Link said: "DART - will - contact - residents who have open wireless connections and teach them the importance of securing them" "

Mike Godwin: "In other words, there is obviously a "sinister" way to understand APD's actions - in fact, more than one way."

Vnend: "If another article talks about 'shutting down' rather than education, please tweet it."

Vnend: "Or it could be what it claims to be: pro-active public outreach and education. Is there a reason to assume the worst in Austin?"

After which Mike sent the follow string of tweets:

"Oh, Christ. Didn't realize you had no idea how police departments or government funding operate. Can't educate you in tweets."

"If it's education, why isn't AISD or UT handling it? Because funding education thru city police departments is super efficient?"

"So you're one of those guys who believes every statement the police make about their programs. Lovely for you, I guess."

"Possibly you can't think of a better use for police money in Austin than having officers drive around checking for open wireless."

"Also possible you've never lived in Austin. Theoretically."

Closing with me tweeting that I had to get to bed, we could try to pick this up this morning and Mike expressing some impatience. This morning I noted the update to the KVUE article about the postponement, and that, more or less, gets us up to date.

Nope, I have never lived in Austin. I lived in the Dallas area several years ago, but that is a very different environment. I do have a few clues about how organizational funding works, but we'll get to that in a minute or three.

I would not be too surprised if either or both AISD and UT (briefly) touched on securing WiFi routers at some point, but wardriving would clearly exceed their mandates (and what their lawyers would advise). The exception would be if someone at UT decided to do a research project on the distribution of open vs closed networks in the Austin area, but that would not include the directional hardware to identify the exact location of the open router needed to actually contact the owner. As far as that goes, both of those routes would be *less* efficient, as far as money is concerned, than going through the APD. I am not saying that the APD is efficient, just that the money would probably have been routed through fewer layers of bureaucracy before it was actually spent.

There is a difference between believing every statement that the government makes and a willingness to take them at face value until they screw it up. Your tweets make it sound as if APD has screwed things up, but when I asked for pointers to examples, you didn't provide URLs or keywords. So far it sounds like a situation that calls for keeping an eye out for what they actually do. If one were curious, setting up an apparently unsecured network (actually throttled to nearly useless levels, but enough to allow a DNS query through) to see what form the 'notification and education' took might be interesting and satisfying.

The assumption of 'sinister' motives seems both odd and counter-intuitive. Generally, if something sinister were up, they wouldn't announce it in advance and allow potential honeypots like the open router above time to be set up. Odd because, if the local cops are that bad, why the heck hasn't it been bigger news and why haven't the locals raised a stink to address the problem? Austin isn't your typical Texas town. I would expect to hear a stink if there was a major problem on the level of 'automatically assume the police are up to no good'.

As far as department and group funding, this kind of thing sounds like exactly what I would expect from the police in a state capital, who were given the funds for some investigative hardware (possibly under a wonderful 'anti-terrorism grant') and now needed to show some use for them and training for staff. The nature of most departmental funding, government or private, is 'use it or lose it', so this kind of 'use it' planning is perfectly in character. The problem is the sloppy, piss-poor way most agencies and some companies handle their budgeting.

But that doesn't make things 'sinister' by default, just inefficient and a little hapless.
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