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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

I’ve been thinking about this year’s big game a great deal. It’s important to do so, you know.

Anyway, here’s what’s going to happen. Before the game even starts, we’ll run out of 7 layer dip. I hate that. It’s okay, though, because I will have had my fill by then.

A very important decision we’ll have to be made before the game starts, and the outcome of that decision could have broad implications on the entire event — margaritas or beer.

Beer has been my strategy for the entire season. It’s what’s gotten me to the Super Bowl, and there is certainly wisdom in sticking to what works. On the other hand, margaritas go very well with 7-layer dip, and after all, it is the Super Bowl, so I have the whole season to recover.

My prediction is that I’ll probably make the worst of all decisions, which is to choose both. This decision is a lack of decision, and I’m sure I’ll pay for it by the 4th quarter while I’m still trying to act like I care about this game.

I predict that there will be a bowl of nuts, a bowl of chips, a bowl of dip, a bowl of snack mix, and a bowl of candy. All of these bowls will be super. There may even at some point, be a bowl with salad in it. It will not be super; it will be salad — a salad bowl, if you will. A super salad bowl if you rather.

Deep inside, everybody at the party will want to see Madona at half-time, but nobody will admit it, so the host will turn the sound down during half time, and most of us will download her performance later.

At some point during the game, a party guest will make a political joke that will make a different party guest very mad. But we’ll all laugh just to be polite. At some point during the game, somebody will say something about Tim Tebow. If nobody else does, then I will.

What am I forgetting? Ah yes, the winner. I predict the winner will be supermarkets and liquor stores. Unless you live in an area where supermarkets can sell liquor. Then the winner will be supermarkets or super liquor stores.

The loser will be Home Depot.

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Why I like Tim Tebow

The day after the Broncos lost to the Patriots and ended their winning streak, one of my Facebook friends posted the following on his status update:

“Can we shut up about Tebow now. One of the most overrated a-holes in the NFL.”

I definitely take issue with this post. It clearly shows that my friend in no way understands the Tim Tebow excitement.

First of all, Tim Tebow is not overrated. On the contrary, I have heard almost nothing but criticism for his skills as a quarterback, especially his throwing skills. He, himself, is probably his own harshest critique. What we like about him is that he’s over-achieving.

Secondly, — he’s not an a-hole. I find him to be the complete antithesis of such a character. He has carried himself with far more dignity and class than we’ve become accustomed to expect from professional athletes. So far, I’ve heard of no DUIs, wife-beatings, womanizing, dog fighting, tax evasion, or anything else that cause me to put him into an “a-hole” category.  Instead, we see exemplary sportsmanship, positive personality, humble interviews, and unprecedented determination.

Well, then there’s the Christian thing. I will concede that I’ve always had cognitive dissonance over the role God plays in professional sports. It’s kind of troublesome — while God gives one team a victory, the other gets a defeat, so is it divine intervention? Does prayer or faith really play into it? Or is it really just that one team is better than the other? Furthermore, I would venture to guess that God has much more important endeavors than the outcome of a Bronco game. But that’s just not the point when it comes to Tebow.

The Tebow point is this: He has turned his talents, successes, and celebrity over to Christ. Tebow’s success and subsequent attributions to God inspires all Christians to give God the glory in our lives. I certainly don’t know the guy personally, so I certainly can’t question his true heart. Does he give God the glory because he believes that it will help him win football games? Or does he win football games so he can inspire people to follow Christ? I don’t know. I do know that I’ll take his antics over Randy Moss’s any day.

I was disappointed by the loss to the Patriots, and I hope it doesn’t spoil the momentum, but it’s not going to make me shut up about Tebow. I will shut up about Tebow, however, if he’s unable to display the same quality of character in defeat as he does in victory.

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Almost a year ago I wrote a post about Toyota and the troubles they were having with recalls and sudden acceleration problems.  The post and ensuing comments almost entirely dealt with the issue as a proxy for capitalism in general.  The Wall Street Journal reports today that the NHTSA has released its findings from a 10-month study (completed jointly with NASA) and what was its key conclusion?

The NASA/NHTSA study highlighted a delicate issue for auto makers and regulators: The vast majority of sudden acceleration incidents studied were determined to be the result of driver mistakes. The NHTSA said it will continue to study measures aimed at reducing the risks of unintended acceleration caused by drivers mistaking one pedal for another. (emphasis added)

I would be curious to know what that number or percentage is, because the article is clear to point out that sticking pedals and sliding floor mats were still responsible for some – but “vast majority” is pretty heavy language that would indicate that maybe Toyota was not the evil scourge of capitalist greed that people feared, and that maybe there was a bit of a witch-hunt put on for the media.  How about this from the Transportation Secretary in the same article:

At a Congressional hearing last year, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had suggested that consumers should stop driving their Toyotas. On Tuesday, he said: “We feel that Toyotas are safe to drive.”

That’s a convenient swing.  Meanwhile Toyota has been dealt huge losses from the lost consumer confidence, that turns out to have been misguided by runaway stories and a deluge of what must be frivolous lawsuits.  To be fair, the article states that there are groups that reject the findings in the report… so there is the possibility that this story could come back again full circle.  I don’t pretend to have a solution (or even to want a solution) to this day and ages immediate news spread – perhaps that is just a cost of doing business.  But I would be amazed if somehow the news spreads as quickly or furiously about the results of the findings?  And that is the point of this post – who will apologize?  The people who sued when they knew (or at least later learned) that they were at fault?  Will the newspapers print bold headlines declaring Toyota safe?  Will the congressional members who called for Toyota executives to be grilled on national television say sorry on that same stage?  Don’t hold your breath.

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The revolution began in the late 1970’s but the first shot was fired in 1992 when a group of civil libertarian cryptologists, known as the Cypherpunks, started a mailing list. By 1997, there were thousands of subscribers who discussed politics, privacy, cryptography, philosophy, and wrote code. While the net was still in its infancy, these were the men and women who foresaw what was to come. They understood the battle about to be waged between privacy and secrecy. A manifesto was written in which the opening line reads:

Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy… An anonymous system empowers individuals to reveal their identity when desired and only when desired; this is the essence of privacy.

What the Cypherpunks saw was a world in which the technology would soon exist where every transaction, every email, every purchase could, and therefore would, be tracked by governments and corporations against the public’s will. What made the Cypherpunks so unique is that rather than resist and rebel against this technology, they openly embraced it and transformed it in a way that protected privacy and attacked government secrecy.

We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any. We must come together and create systems which allow anonymous transactions to take place. People have been defending their own privacy for centuries with whispers, darkness, envelopes, closed doors, secret handshakes, and couriers. The technologies of the past did not allow for strong privacy, but electronic technologies do. We the Cypherpunks are dedicated to building anonymous systems. We are defending our privacy with cryptography, with anonymous mail forwarding systems, with digital signatures, and with electronic money.

Up until the 1970’s, cryptology had been something only governments were involved with. But in 1975, a computer hacker named Whitfield Diffie [pictured left] came up with a new system called “public-key” cryptography. What was so revolutionary about this was that it used an asymmetric key algorithm so that the key used to encrypt a file was not the same used to decrypt it. Traditionally, if you wanted to send an encrypted text, known as “cyphertext”, you also had to send the recipient the key to decrypt it into “plaintext”. The problem was that the information would need to be sent over insecure channels and was, therefore, susceptible to interception. But public-key cryptology changed that by using two separate keys, one for encrypting and one for decrypting, one public and one private. The publicly available encrypting key is widely distributed, while the private decrypting key is known only to the recipient. Messages can be encrypted with the recipient’s public key but can only be decrypted with the corresponding private key. To put it in laymen’s terms, the strength of the key is determined by its size. The bigger the key, the harder it is to hack. While the government’s data encryption standard (DES) at the time used a symmetrical key, it was limited to only 56-bits. But Diffie’s public-key allowed for a key to be used with an unlimited size which made it nearly impossible to crack.

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…fun when they are actually doing something cute – but usually just crying, and shitting all over.

Okay, just kidding… unions are never cute.

My long absence from writing was re-awoken this morning upon seeing the picture below in the Wall Street Journal.  The French, if you didn’t know, are embroiled in major strikes because of government proposed changes to the retirement age from 60 to 62 (sacrebleu!).  Gas stations have run dry as refinery workers protest, workers blocked the road to the airport causing travelers to walk on foot (see the sideshow in the above link for more photos of fires, trash, and general mayhem).  And why is the government proposing the age increase?  Because the pension is unfunded and people are living longer and taxes are already stifling the countries economy.  But this would only make sense to the sane – and un-entitled.

I know how to use colors in my sign!

The thing that annoys me most about unions (and this is primarily the ones overseas, because thank goodness ours don’t pull this crap) is how their intent of making everyone suffer until their needs are met is the primary concern.  And this is where the baby comparison comes in.  How does shutting down gas stations that your fellow Frenchmen use help your cause?  Or making people walk to the airport?  Imagine being at a restaurant and someone not getting the salad they ordered and so they take everyone hostage.  It’s infuriating.  And it’s the same thing we witnessed in Greece.  A country is drowning in the ocean, and the people want it to rub suntan lotion on their back while they sleep on their stomachs (bad analogy – or brilliant?).  I’ve never understood how this mentality gathers any support.  Hundreds of subway workers are unhappy so they strand thousands and reduce the productivity of a city to near nothing.  Unions are the only group who’s mob behavior is celebrated – except for the mob that is, with whom Americans are fascinated.

The unions in Europe are worse than America, because they have been bred on a welfare state mentality for far too long.  And that is why I am fiercely anti-union (see here, here, here, here, and here if you don’t believe me).  I don’t want to see our amazing country ever reduced to a spectacle such as this.  Thankfully our unions simply picket and use the same bumper sticker from the 1920’s, rather than set fire to things.  But that day may come – if you don’t discipline the baby, you get a rotten kid.

So what is there for us to do?  Is it possible to protest the protesters?  Well, we have but the government will come around on their side.  We choose to buy from Toyota or other car makers who’s non-union cars are more pleasing and affordable for us – and the government bails out GM.  We put our kids in private school and ask for our tax money back and are laughed at.  We ask for a Walmart in our town, and the city council creates rules about square footage.  At least for the time being we can shop at Trader Joe’s which pays better than union grocers – but, hey that still won’t stop unions from picketing them.

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LinkedIn?

Can anyone explain to me what this website is supposed to accomplish?  About three years ago someone sent me an email asking me to connect to them on LinkedIn.  I emailed back, asking him why he wanted me to do this.  His response was that he wanted me to be added to his network, or something like that.  Well, I didn’t get it- was this a more professional version of Facebook?  I’ve resisted Facebook, Myspace, and every other social networking site.  But the guy asking me to join his network is a very serious man (to borrow from the Coen Brothers), so I figured that I might as well sign up and, in time, I’m probably figure out what this was all about.  Maybe it would lead to some work opportunity or something.

Then, I got more requests, and I indulged them, still completely unclear as to the objective of all of this linking.  Most of the requests came from likewise serious people, such as pastors at my church.  OK, so there must be some clear benefit to all of this right?  But after linking with at least 10 or 15 people, I still couldn’t figure out one single positive upside to the time it took me to log in to my account and click some box accepting invitations to “link.”  So finally, I stopped responding to all requests.  Occasionally I read the LinkedIn updates that are sent to me, and they are always filled with pressing information such as “So and so is now connected with some other person.”  Why would that information be useful to me?

So someone please answer some questions for me: When I ignore a request to “link” am I actually being rude?  If I do link with all of these people making the request, can someone please tell me what positive benefits I might expect from this?  Can anyone share a story of how LinkedIn created some kind of actual, tangible benefit in their life?  And if there is no benefit, can we all agree to stop sending these requests to each other?

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Georgia’s Channel 2 reported recently that an organic farmer in Clarkston is being sued by DeKalb County for having too many vegetables on his property, a violation of zoning laws. The man, Steve Miller, is a landscaper who, according to the report, gives his vegetables to clients and friends and occasionally sells his produce at the local farmers’ market. For fifteen years, Miller has been growing vegetables on his two-acre property. Fifteen years. Which begs the question, how did the county even know he had “too much” in the first place? For fifteen years his farm has remained concealed on his two acres of land. What changed? Why now?

The answer, most likely points to a previous post about a town in Long Island using Google Earth to find zoning violators. More and more local governments are using online aerial photography for assessing fines and generating money for cash strapped local & state budgets. While the privacy concerns were brushed off as laughable then because the story was about rich people problems unlicensed pools in wealthy areas, this story is a little different and cuts right at the heart of our rights to Life and Liberty.

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