Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On Polls, Politicking, and Super PACs

About super PACs:

They're not fooling anybody, you know. They're a blatant move by the classic men-behind-the-scenes to control the political landscape and the political discourse like they used to do. They're not about free speech. They're about money and power. We all know that.

But they're frighteningly effective, and so are their tactics. Most voters in a given election will vote based on emotion, not logic or facts, and the super PACs' tactics are focused on manipulating voters' emotions.

About politicking:

You know, since we stopped subscribing to cable TV and watching network TV, we have missed all of the political ads. And when I say "missed," I mean "not seen" or "not been subject to."

When we listen to the radio, we change stations every time we hear a political ad. (In fact, we frequently change stations for any kind of advertisement.) In radio parlance, political ads are an automatic tune-out.

When we read the newspaper, we read the political ads for local issues or candidates, and then go to the Internet to find detailed, impartial facts and to read both sides of the issue.

We get most of our news today from the Internet. We read from a variety of news outlets, analysts, and opinion leaders. We assume that everybody has a bias, and so we make sure to take our news from across the political spectrum. Some of the most detached, unbiased reporting comes from overseas, from outside looking in, but even then we are careful to watch for hidden biases.

We've noticed a lot more political advertising on the Internet. We ignore all of it. (However, we are intrigued by which political ads AdSense chooses to serve up on places like Zyzmog Galactic Headquarters.)

We listen to speeches, or read transcripts of speeches, on the Internet. Sometimes we will find multiple versions of the speech. Sometimes it takes a little work to find an accurate video of the speech, unedited and uncut. We listen to some of the after-speech commentary, but not much. After 5 or 10 minutes, the commentators go into talking-head mode, and then it's time to move on.

About polls:

I used to participate in telephone polls and surveys, thinking that I was fulfilling my civic duty in making my voice heard. Boy, was I mistaken. It took me a while, but I finally caught on to the fact that a "poll" is not really a "poll": the pollster is pushing a specific agenda, and is politicking (or selling, if it's a consumer poll and not a voter poll) just like everybody else.

Caller ID is a wonderful thing. During election season (like, right now), we ignore incoming calls if we don't recognize the calling number, or if no number is shown. There's no law that requires you to answer a ringing telephone.

That short pause before the human starts talking is also a wonderful thing. One day autodialers will be fast enough to eliminate the pause, but for 2012, that brief time while the autodialer processes our "Hello?" and routes us to a human or to a recorded message, is just enough time to alert us to the fact that it's a call we can safely hang up on.

This year I'm going to try something new. If I answer a ringing telephone and I don't realize it's a political call until the caller starts talking, I'm going to abruptly and wordlessly hang up. It may be rude, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to listen to them, any more than I have the time or inclination to listen to a door-to-door salesman.

To wrap up:

Politicians must hate voters like us. We think about the candidates, and the issues. We do our research. We look at all sides of the story. We judge the credibility of everything we hear or read, and we ignore  emotional appeals. And we hate buzzwords, slogans, and cute catchphrases, with a hatred that surpasses all understanding. We don't vote a strict party or ideological line, although we prefer moderates over radicals because we know they will get things done and not just crow like a rooster all day long. We vote for what we think will be best in the long run for our community, our state and our country.


A friend of mine (a real friend, not just a Friend) posted this letter, which was sent from her apartment managers to all tenants. It's reprinted here with her permission. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I copied and pasted this from an email I received on behalf of my apartment managers. The email was entitled "Discretion."

Dear Tenants.

Please share this message with your spouse. We need to address the issue of discretion. We have had numerous comments that neighbors in general are very quiet although there are occasions when lovebirds forget that others can hear them and at that point the walls could not be thick enough. University Courtyard’s apartments are as well insulated as possible. The insulation in the double fire walls and ceilings is blown insulation, meaning they blow the insulation into every nook and cranny. The insulation could not be any more top-of-the-line. However the nature of apartments in close quarters is such that noise travels. Especially through the floor by vibration. Please exercise discretion and realize that sound does travel, particularly through open windows. We realize we have a lot of newlyweds with healthy relationships but please remember you need to keep it between yourselves. We appreciate your exercise of additional discretion in this matter. Thank you.

University Courtyard Managers

I love it, every word. From the gratuitous insulation explanation featuring the words "blow" as well as "nook and cranny" to "vibration" and "healthy relationships" as a euphemism for going at it like wild rabbits. This is what I live with everyday.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On Giving Away Children in Marriage, Part Two

Chronologically, she is a grown-up.

From a distance, she looks like a grown woman. When she was 12 and 13, she was the tiniest of her friends, and I thought she would remain a little girl forever. Boy, did that change.

Close up, she usually looks like a grown woman. But occasionally the little girl peeks out.

Her accomplishments and achievements to date tag her as a grown woman. The trials and other experiences of her life are those that only a grown woman could deal with.

When she meticulously plans the menu for her wedding reception, and wants shishkebabs (with blue potatoes!), fancy rice pilaf, and green salad with all kinds of weird stuff in it, it's clear that she has grown up. But when she spends weeks mail-ordering her favorite candies, in bulk, for the candy bar at her reception, it's clear that she's still a little girl.

When she poses for pictures after the ceremony, she is definitely a grown woman — until she and friends (or her new husband) mug for the photographer — and then she turns back into a little girl.

When I hold her as we dance to "Dancing with Cinderella," and her white dress swirls around her ankles and gets caught in my shoes, and I look at her carefully done hair and her joyful smile and the sparkle in her eyes, there is no doubt in my mind that she is a grown woman. But when we stop to laugh at my missteps, and when she hugs me at the end of the song and says "I love you, Daddy," she is still my little girl.

She and her fiance/husband don't go on dates; they go on adventures. And when they return from their adventures, they write storybooks and comic books about them.

This college graduate goes on job interview trips by herself, and lands a professional job by herself, in a city 60 miles away. And squeals like a little girl. She frets about apartments, and deposits, and credit ratings, and commute distances. Like a grown-up.

She's 24 years old, a professional, and newly married. But she is still my baby girl, and I will always think of her like this:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice

When Oracle bought Sun Microsystems in January 2010, it inherited a collection of community-based  software projects, such as Java, VirtualBox, and Free software and open-source software are both contrary to Oracle's way of doing business. Of the two named projects, VirtualBox flourished. But Oracle mismanaged both Java and so badly that it almost killed them.

Java seems to have recovered from the trauma. There was a while in 2010 and 2011 when it looked like Java had fallen out of favor with professionals, but that's another story for another time.

As for, Oracle decided to assert their control over the project, and did so in such a heavy-handed manner that the majority of the OOo community rebelled. In only a few months, the rebels re-created a free and open-source office suite called LibreOffice. LO's first production release was in January 2011. Unfettered by Oracle, LO flourished and soon replaced OOo as the default office suite in many Linux distributions. Oracle didn't do anything to make OOo competitive, and, for about a year, it looked like Oracle was going to let it starve to death.

But Oracle showed some good sense when, in late 2011, they decided to transfer "stewardship" of OOo to the Apache Incubator, a part of the Apache Software Foundation. The ASF is an organization dedicated to the care and keeping of some very powerful, free and open source, software tools - for example, the Apache HTTP Server, which is the engine behind a galactic buttload of websites all over the world.

Nine days ago, the ASF announced that is back. Apache Open Office (as it's now known) version 3.4 was officially released on May 8.

The big question is whether it will be able to regain the users it lost to LibreOffice. Like many LO users, I don't see a crying need to switch back from LO to AOO. The Document Foundation, stewards of LO, have done some really good stuff. I think it's going to require some competition from ASF to win me back to AOO.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Three rules for a successful marriage

Marriage seems to be on my mind a lot lately. I don't know why.

After observing a lot of happy marriages, struggling marriages and failed marriages, I think I've figured out how to make a marriage work. It comes down to three simple rules.

  1. Choose wisely. Like the knight said in the Indiana Jones movie: "You must choose. Choose wisely." Make sure you pick the right person to marry.
  2. Marry for keeps. Too many people, when they get married, are already planning their escape. They enter into the union thinking, "Oh well, if it doesn't work out, I can always get divorced." When a marriage starts with that premise, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don't plan on getting divorced. Marry for keeps.
  3. Hang on tight. There are a lot of forces in the world today, trying to tear marriages apart. They're very strong, and they're very effective. To make a marriage work, you have to hang on tightly to each other, making your spouse your top priority in life, abandoning everybody and everything else in the world, if necessary, in order to stay together. Don't let go — hang on tight.

Most marriages that fail, fail because one or both spouses overlooked or ignored at least one of these rules.

Zyzmog's Three Laws of Motion

Newton had his laws of motion, and I have mine. Three laws of vehicular motion, that is, and two corollaries.

Zyzmog's First Law of Motion:
Any car can go fast downhill.

Zyzmog's Second Law of Motion:
You can only go as fast as the car in front of you.

First Corollary to Zyzmog's Second Law:
Always have a bird dog.

Second Corollary to Zyzmog's Second Law:
Never be the bird dog.

Zyzmog's Third Law of Motion:
No two vehicles can occupy the same point in space at the same time.

UPDATE, 5 SEP 2014: I have discovered a Fourth Law of Motion. Go read about it here.

For those who need some clarification, a "bird dog" is a car that goes ahead of you, usually a tiny bit faster than you, to "flush the birdies out of the bushes" - to draw out the speed-limit-enforcement authorities so you don't have to worry about them.

If you have any questions about these Three Laws of Motion, post the question in a comment and I will respond with an answer.

Keys to having a good life

I had occasion this winter to write an answer to the question, "What is the key to having a good life?" Life is so complicated that it doesn't have a simple answer. What should be a short sentence is really a list of what I've learned in my first 54 years on earth. Excerpts from the litany at the end of the list can be found, like a benediction, at the end of every letter I write to my children.

Live within your means, stay out of debt, save for a rainy day.
Love your wife and children without reservations or conditions, and without judgment.
Always look for the fun and the humor in things.
Play with your children while they're young and while they grow up.
Treat your wife like a newlywed bride.
Keep God's commandments as strictly as you can.
Listen to your conscience.
Seek for eternal truth, and when you find it, hold onto it and treasure it.
Don't do anything that will cause you pain or regret down the road.
Care about somebody else more than yourself.
Get a hug from somebody every day.
Remember that you are a child of God, that He loves you and that He wants you to succeed.
And treat your children that same way.
Don't be afraid to love everyone.
Don't talk too much. Listen a lot more than you talk.
Eat candy, but don't get carried away with it.
Milk goes best with cookies.
Salt and pepper taste best when carefully applied to steak, medium rare.
Have fun, be safe, be good, buy low, sell high, work hard, play hard, pray hard, play guitar, kiss with your eyes closed, hug like it really matters, kiss like you really mean it.