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Kevin, Errant Atheist
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A. has a death in the family last week. So it was my responsibility to transport her to WVa for the memorial services. It was a time to be quiet, funny on-demand, and wear uncomfortable shoes. I had a bit of a head cold, and there were three crises in full bloom at the office. If you're not from the area, there was a bit of a snowstorm that started Friday. It had just started to hit its stride as we were leaving town. A. was hesitant and willing to turn-around and go home and hide, but I was determined to get us there safely. I owe a big thanks to the Ohio and WVa. DoT crews. They did a really outstanding job. I think we saw only 3-5 cars that were off of the road or spun in the wrong direction.

I attended a couple of Catholic Masses. I'd been to one Catholic wedding so it wasn't my first Communion. A. was concerned that I would have trouble grasping what was going on, what the underling meanings were, but I think I kept up. I must admit that I'm much more comfortable with WVa Catholics, than I am with Protestants in the area. I didn't feel like I'd be "found out," and baptised (or worse.)

I'm more of a freedom-of-religion kind of Atheist. It's out of respect that I don't "play along" or "pretend" to be Catholic. They knew I wasn't, but I'm quiet, respectful, and look good in a suit. But I'm not about to try to pull one over on Jesus.

The experience was good for me. It made me think those thoughts that we often try to avoid as we live our lives day to day. A person's death makes us confront the topic. When I go, I hope to have clearly figured out and written down what it means to me to be Atheist. Why I think the way I do and why I believe (yes believe) the way I do. I hope someone reads it that day and walks away not as a convert but thinking "I can see that, it's not so bad really." I also want them to know that I have no fear of their hell, and I didn't convert at the last minute to avoid the fires.

One of the Brother's (clergy, not relation) spoke of the Body of Christ (i.e. the church's congregation) lifing up the Spirit (of the departed) and that sparked an interesting conversation on the drive home. A. believes that the body and spirit are intertwined, that the spirit is a form of energy that is shaped by the body (and consequently that the same spirit would turn out to be different people if it were in a different body.) I'm not a big believer in the spirit as an energy. To me it is information. The mind is that experience in your head that makes you: you. And spirit is what's left behind when you're gone. Think of it like "the Spirit of 76" or "esprit de corps." The spirit of a loved one "lives on" when you remember them, or strive to be more like them. A home, or a special collection of objects can embody a person's spirit. Carrying on a person's mission is a way to keep their spirit alive. I get this. It fits within my belief-structure.

I would like to congratulate Seamus McNasty on his recognition as official clergy (unlike a pretender like myself.) So say it with me: "Reverend Seamus McNasty." Who doesn't want that on their business card?

Backstory: I'm part of a geo-diverse team which means we have people spread out over the planet and there's no cluster of individuals. This makes it a great pain to my boss to comply with the company policy of "take your teams out for lunch and that'll pass as a holiday bonus." So to make up for that, the forensic team that sits next to me invited me out to their "Christmas Party."

I'm going to try to overlook the social miss-step of calling it a "Christmas" party in a building with over 10k people, I'm pretty certain they're all not Christian. I'll grant that the word Christmas works for most people as a short-hand for "any end of the year holiday that isn't New Year's Eve. I'm cool with that. No it's not some atheist principle that I stand upon when I turn down your invitation. No, this goes a little deeper.

You see, breaking bread with people has deep connotations. It's how we build friendships and form bonds. If you want me on your side of things, you put food on my table. It's a low level/reptilian brain thing or something. So, sounds like a great opportunity, go to the dinner with them right? Well, there's just one little thing:

They left me behind to die a fiery death.

No kidding. Earlier this year we had a suspicious package incident and the building was evacuated. I had my headphones on and my brain was fully engaged into analyzing some logs. No less that 15 people had to walk by my desk to comply with the evacuation order and not a single one of them bothered to take a moment to tap me on the shoulder, yell at me, hit me with a cat, etc.

Ignored and left to die.

So yeah, that kinda sucks the camaraderie and team-spirit out of me.

Happy holidays.

... and out of the Solstice.

Happy Holidays, whichever one(s) you celebrate.

From a conversation tonight.

Me: "If they made an electric snuggie, I wonder how many Americans would die."
A.: "Not enough."

So, there's a few interesting issues coming up on the ballot. I know you're looking to me to tell you how to vote, or at least clear up what they all mean.

Issue 1.

Simply put it's to authorize the State to issue bonds to pay a bonus to Ohio veterans of the Persian Gulf war.

So WTF would we do that? What makes them so special? Well, it's actually not that odd, the payments that is. We're talking about Ohio National Guard here, so that explains why Ohio would make the payments instead of the Federal government. A good piece on issue one: http://www.wkyc.com/life/programming/shows/seven/news_article.aspx?storyid=123090

So if you vote against it, you're an un-american bastard. Or you could make that up by funding your own veteran and send them checks.

If you vote for it, it'll cost you about $50 over 15 years.

You could also buy some of those bonds and make money off of the deal.

Issue 2

This is a constitutional amendment to create a farm board that will rule on things agricultural.

I'm not a fan of constitutional amendments, but they seem to be how they do things in this state. On the surface it looks great, who doesn't love happy cows, right?

From reading the issue, it looks like it creates a group that could be easily manipulated by special interests. Yeah, one of the members has to be a veterinarian but it doesn't say they can't work for Monsanto.

I did a little sampling of who's for and who's against issue two while visiting farmer's markets and driving out in the country. Large farms are pro issue 2, everyone I buy my food from was against.

I'm voting with my stomach on this one.

Issue 3
It's for gambling casinos. Not that any of the mailers that they send me mention that bit.

I get a mailing every day, which tells me that there's a lot of money on the line for somebody. That somebody isn't me. Maybe if there were mandatory bonds or shares made available so that people other than the owners might see some of that income.

I'm not sure how many times that I have to vote against gambling, but I'll keep doing it.

Don't sit on your ass on voting day

Yeah, I know it's not a history changing election or anything, but take the 15 minutes to vote. I'm talking to you Sean. :)

So the house has been sitting on the market all year. Despite redoing everything and swearing that I'd never rent the place, I've changed my mind. Well the two house payments helped to change my mind. The market isn't exactly that great and the neighborhood isn't that great and the agency listing the place wasn't that great. So basically it sat and the money set aside to help me stick to my guns dwindled away.

Thus plan B.

Plan B's going pretty well actually. While the end of the real estate contract was approaching I had an interesting chat about the situation to an engineer and graphed it out a bit and came to the conclusion that renting was the way to go. A friend in Chicago is building a bit of an empire there and he gave me the skinny on property management. But man I had a lot out doubts.

Last Saturday the sales contract ended. Thursday I call my original real estate agent to discuss the property. He comes to the same conclusion and recommends his property manager. That's a pretty good vouch if I've heard one. I talk to them that afternoon. Friday, my parents are showing them the property. Monday I have an agreement and they have a key. Tuesday they're showing the place and we have our first applicant.

Should everything check out, I'll be back into rampant slum-lordery. Good times.

22

A. was on the road and I had an important technology demo for the Red Cross re-scheduled up to today (Tuesday.)

So I went out, picked up a cheap pizza and a two-liter of go-juice and locked myself away for a week of hacking and frabricating.

The results look like something that would cause the bomb-squad to be scrambled, but it performed for the demo. It was a telemetry system for the Mobile Communication Center and had little simulated inputs to model the truck: generator status, air conditioner status, fuel level, battery voltage, and what direction the camera was facing with respect to magnetic north.

The heart of it was an arudino that pulled in all of the inputs, packaged them up into a simple data packet and it would spit it out at 115200 baud over a USB cable into a little ASUS EEE PC where a terrible-example-of-a-Python script would pull in the data, update a file with the latest status, and then keep a record of the data at one-minute intervals. It was also a mini HTTP server that would spit back a cheesy table with the current status, and links to gnuplots of the histories. The little fuel block would turn red if the value was less than half a tank. 6th-grade science fair kind of stuff.

Speaking of science fairs. I was scarred-permanently by my freshman science-fair, when I realized that it was really all about posters and who's dad had the coolest woodshop to build stuff in. No one appreciated my genius, but I'd show them! Ahem. Anyway....

So, python. This was the first real project that I've used it for. I've hacked up other people's scripts (and this was no exception) but this one was just embarrassing. Even the processing code running on the arudino is shameful. You'd think I'd respect the code reusability offered by simple things like sub-routines. Nope, this is straight up procedural commands in most cases. In my defense, it's definitely the best way to code when you have people shooting at you and you just need the thing to do exactly these 3 steps over and over. So it's not pretty, I hope I won't be forced to post it, but it works.

Which brings me to this. This whole make it yourself movement is pretty cool and all, but we've got to learn how to document our process. I don't have a really handy way of doing it. I can journal some of it here, and I have a private little geek-wiki, but I lack the discipline of having a camera handy and using it often, and stopping to keep notes. There's always a ton of lessons-learned, and little ideas that need to be captured in the process, that you loose in a simple post-mortem.

For example, in getting all of this together, I managed to brick the ASUS-- and recover it. That would be something worthwhile to document. I also managed to brick my sheeva plug, but alas have not managed to un-brick it yet. I had to make tough decisions to get the project ready for today's demo. I'll hit it again later this week I hope. It was a shame, because I think I've lost my disaster-response wiki and all of my quick client install tools in that.

One of the technologies that I didn't get to demo today was INSTEDD's (www.instedd.org) GeoChat. It's a simple, web-based GIS (google maps, with the ability to import KLM data layers) that interfaces with a chat system that links, SMS, twitter and email. I was toying with using it with twitter last night, you could tell it where you were and your icon would move on the map, then any messages that you sent from that location would persist there. So if you were performing a survey you could post messages like: power out, or flooding, or 3 dead, or gas station. And it would tag that message from where you posted it as you traveled through the scene. AS you get more and more people reporting in to your group you can really gather a lot of accurate and up-to-date intel on a scene. Neat stuff. Really limited security, but you have to open stuff up to allow interoperability sometimes.

And there wasn't one cookout. :-(

First off a little disclaimer: I haven't read enough of the proposed solutions or really researched either side of the health care debate. There's not a whole lot I can do about it at this point, and honestly, I'm doing more good for society spending my time in other ways at the moment.

Yet, I am now moved to say a comment or two that I think I'm still well qualified for, mainly because I'm not a raving lunatic.

If you are against changing the current state of the health-care system I think you really don't have to look to hard to find compelling, rational arguments to support that position. With virtually no research whatsoever I offer you off of the top of my head:

Nearly everything the government gets involved in gets fucked up some how-- this is a natural outcome of lowest-bidder and corruption.

Run with it, you can fill in some gaps and don't have to resort to any sort of crazy.

...unless the people railing against the program are, in fact, really FOR the program and just want to make people who are reluctant to change, afraid of what might happen to their current health care program, or afraid of the tax burden to support it all look like crazy fools.

A case in point that you might not be familiar with:

At the day job, we're having a little bit of a problem where some of our contractors are managing other outside contracts while working on our dime (and probably double-billing the other client as well.) So we've got some signature to detect that kind of behavior. Today it caught one of our full-timers who is also some sort of political activist on the side. He wrote a brilliant blog entry from the office this morning arguing against health care for every citizen. His justification: it's what Jesus would have done. Oh yea, he also made every mention of Jesus in his blog a link to wikipedia (WTF?) The argument went something like this (intentionally not quoting so you can't google him easily): when Jesus was spending his time on Earth, he had the power to heal everyone, but he chose not to for a good reason. So the government should be trying to one up Jesus.

This is of course coming from an individual pulling down high 6-figures. It's a pretty comfortable seat to be sitting in telling folks that they're poor because they deserve it.

I think I'll take my "don't be a dick" principle-based way of life over that dude's Jesus. I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus would agree with me on this one too.

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