Monday, August 27, 2012

Mark Miller: Another Life Well Lived

Local builder, artisan, and businessman Mark Miller passed away July 5, 2012, of a heart attack. The heart attack was a surprise to everyone, and an autopsy revealed that Mark was such a superfit athlete that he had an enlarged heart. In the words of his 10-year-old daughter, the muscles of Mark's heart had grown so big that the nerves couldn't keep up with them. When the heart attack hit, he was relaxing on the couch reading a book, after having spent an enjoyable morning with his girls.

This strong and gentle man had enjoyed the perfect life with his sweet wife and young daughter, and although his passing was a time of sadness, it was also a time of comfort and peace – and cheer, actually. He had prepared well for the eventuality of his death, and he and his family knew that death is just a transition between two phases of living, and that they will be reunited one day. Until that day, Mark will live on through his legacy: the things he made with his hands, the property he beautified for his family, the hundreds of young people he coached in cross country, and the friends and other people he touched in his lifetime.

Mark Miller, August 26, 1959 - July 5, 2012

Mark's family hosted a Celebration of Mark's Life on their beautiful property yesterday. It would have been Mark's 53rd birthday. I was invited to speak at the celebration. There was no eulogy or sermon, only people from the different circles Mark had lived in, telling about the influence Mark had had on them. Here's what I said:

I’m speaking for all the parents of all the kids that Mark and Kathy ever coached. Three of our children ran XC at Loveland HS, and so we got to know Mark and Kathy very well: we did lots of pasta dinners, killer hikes, Rattlesnake runs, and Fall River Road runs.

Mark and Kathy have been a team for as long as I can remember, but Kathy asked me to concentrate on Mark in my remarks. I don’t know if I can separate the influence of the one from the other, but I do know that Jason, Kellie and Lori, especially Kellie, thought the world of Mark. If he had asked Kellie to run across Lake Loveland without getting her ankles wet, she would have done it for him. 

They called him their coach, but Mark was a masterful teacher. By example and by precept, he taught our kids a lot, about running – about life – and about believing in something. We have observed over the years that it takes a special breed of kid to be an XC runner: with only a few exceptions, it's the ones who are serious, studious, smart, and more importantly, morally upright – "righteous" might be a better word. Mark was always careful to nurture and encourage those character traits, and the kids responded to that nurturing. As a result, in addition to Molly, he has a posterity that numbers in the hundreds. 

If you count all of the runners like Kellie, then the 128th Psalm finds real fulfillment in Mark's life: 

1      Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; 
            that walketh in his ways. 
2      For thou shalt eat the labor of thine hands: 
            happy shalt thou be, 
            and it shall be well with thee. 
3      Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine 
            by the sides of thine house: 
            thy children like olive plants 
            round about thy table. 
4      Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD. 
5      The LORD shall bless thee out of Zion: 
            and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem 
            all the days of thy life. 
6      Yea, thou shalt see thy children's children, 
            and peace upon Israel. 

Kathy, thanks for everything you and Mark have done for our children. May God give you peace.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Your smartphone is using you

I've always enjoyed reading what William H. Davidow has to say about anything. He's an intelligent guy, with a broad range of both interests and knowledge, and when he feels passionate enough about something to write about it, his words are definitely worth reading.

And when he writes about how technology — more specifically, computing technology — is taking over our lives and our brains, it's worth sitting up and paying attention to what he has to say. In the article, "Our Tools Are Using Us" (the online title is different, but I like the original title better), he points out that computing and communications technology has evolved faster than the human brain's ability to handle it  —  that is, the brain's ability to control it or to manage it. The end result is that it is controlling us instead.  As Davidow puts it, "The tools are making the rules."

If you were led to this blog entry by an alert in your mailbox, a news item in your Facebook account, or any kind of beep from your iPad or smartphone, you are caught in the trap. And if you found this article because you were on the Web during business hours, and you're still reading it, you are also caught in the trap. I mean, I'm glad you're reading this, but consider the control that technology has over you. You may think that you chose to read this, but, in a frighteningly real sense, technology made you read it.

(And the fact that I'm even typing this right now, and putting a pointer to it on Facebook, reveals that I'm also caught in the trap.)

One of the concerns about this technology trap is that it is ruining the face-to-face social interactions that are the threads that (used to) hold society together. For one example, I think of the high school athletic events that are so different today because, instead of focusing on the action on the field or chatting with fellow spectators, all of those soccer moms (and dads, and siblings, and friends) have their heads bent down and are working their smartphones through mittened hands.

Davidow cites John M. Staudenmaier, a scholar who once observed that "the quickest way to end a deep and meaningful conversation was to glance at your watch." That was in the days before smartphones. What would he say now, when personal, human-to-human contacts are similarly devalued by a beep or a buzz from our iPhones and Androids?

It took a long time to train my family that they didn't have to answer the telephone in the kitchen every time it rang. Now we need to train ourselves that we don't have to jump to our smartphone, iPad, or computer every time it calls for us. We are not Pavlov's dogs.

One of the best ways to tell someone, without words, that they matter to you is to ignore your ringing or buzzing cellphone when you're having a conversation with them. What a powerful message that sends to the person sitting there in front of you!

The other major concern about the technology trap is what it does to you, yourself. People used to have hobbies: working on cars, fly tying, model railroading, woodworking, boatbuilding, sewing, knitting, pottery, scrapbooking, photography, leatherwork, stamp collecting, and on and on. Now instead, they find something to do on their monster-sized, 1080i, HDMI television screens, and they fiddle with their smartphones or laptop computers at the same time. You know you do. Technology has captured you and enslaved you.

Even the cleansing and healing power of the mountains is ruined by these devices. The summits of Colorado's fourteeners are now polluted by remarks like "Wow! I have four bars up here!" and the ritual "Hi.... We made it.... Yeah, I'm at the top." And the sounds of nature on the hiking trails are drowned out by the music that leaks out through too-loud headphones.

Remember that some of the surest signs of an alcoholic are remarks like:
"I'm not addicted to alcohol. I can take it or leave it."
"I can stop drinking anytime I want."
If you have said anything like this about your electronic gadgets or about Facebook or (shudder) Blogger, either aloud or to yourself, then admit it. You are, to some degree, addicted to technology.

You need to give yourself the same consideration, when you're all alone, that you would give to your conversational partner in that paragraph above. Here's how Davidow does it:

I have shut off most alerts and reminders on my computer and smartphone. I check for e-mail on my own schedule, just a few times a day. At home, I have built a physical wall around the virtual world. I let myself read news on my iPad anywhere in my home, but I answer e-mails and conduct business only in my office. I heed Staudenmaier’s advice and never end important conversations by glancing at my smartphone. My iPhone is never ­present when I am out with my wife, listening to the challenges my kids are facing, or playing and laughing with my grandchildren.
Personally, there are times when I take my phone out of my pocket and leave it in the car or in another room, so that I don't have to serve it when it beckons. There's a special place I go to, in the south end of Denver, where I even choose to take off my wristwatch and put it in a locker, so that I can forget about time and concentrate on eternity for a while.

I close with Davidow's own parting shot:

My advice to you is to take control of your tools. I promise your life will be better if you aren’t constantly checking to see if you’ve got mail.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Penalty of Leadership

“In every field of human endeavour, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction. When a man's work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. If his work be mediocre, he will be left severely alone    if he achieves a masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a-wagging. Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass or to slander you unless your work be stamped with the seal of genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are disappointed or envious, continue to cry out that it cannot be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a mountebank, long after the big would had acclaimed him its greatest artistic genius. Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship at the musical shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the river banks to see his boat steam by. The leader is assailed because he is a leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy    but only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as human passions    envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains    the leader. Master-poet, master-painter, master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live    lives.”

That was the text of an ad called "The Penalty of Leadership," which was printed in the Saturday Evening Post in January 1915. The ad was from General Motors, and was written by Theodore F. MacManus under the direction of the CEO, Henry Leland. Leland founded Cadillac Motor Company on August 22, 1902. In 1909, he sold Cadillac to General Motors, and a few years later he became CEO and saved GM from bankruptcy. 

The ad was a response to a competitor's accusation that GM's  new water-cooled V8 engine was unreliable. GM has reused the ad several times over the years to promote its products. The ideas behind the ad apply to more than automobiles — they apply to the front-runners and the visionaries in any field.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

He just opened his mouth, and something stupid fell out

Okay, first Democratic "strategist" Hilary Rosen said something stupid about Ann Romney. Then Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner said something stupid about Barack Obama. Now a Republican candidate for the Senate from Missouri, Todd Akin, said something stupid about women in general. He really put his foot in it good.

Basically, he was repeating some pseudo-legalistic pseudo-science invented (according to NPR) by a conservative southern politician some decades ago and repeated by a few (but fortunately, not very many) conservative southern politicians since then. It was offensive to all women who have been through the trauma of rape, and especially those who found themselves pregnant as a result. In fact, it devalues the women in Africa, India, Bangladesh, China and the Far East who have suffered rape and pregnancy as a consequence of war.

I think he was sincere in his apology today. But once again, as with Hilary Rosen, I don't think the apology went far enough. He apologized for "one word and one sentence" and then said that he didn't think those should negate all the good things he's said and done. And he's absolutely right. But if you looked behind the "one word and one sentence," you could see the core beliefs of a man who you may not want to entrust with the power to make laws. I'm not talking about being pro-abortion or anti-abortion, either.

For myself, I will decide who to vote for, based on what they have said and what they have done, and not what others have said about them. If Akin were from Colorado and not Missouri, he would have lost my vote yesterday.

The Wrong Side Absolutely Must Not Win

One of my friends (a real one, not a FB one) saw an article on and suggested that I read it. In today's political climate, which is at turns divisive, extremist, absolute and contrarian, the author of this article channels Jonathan Swift to warn us about something really important. The article is called The Wrong Side Absolutely Must Not Win . I'm not going to post the text of the entire article here, because I'm hoping that after November 2, nobody will need to read it again. But it's really important, right now.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Florida deputies: Andrew Lee Scott's mother and fiancee speak out

In the case of Andrew Lee Scott, the young man who was mistakenly shot and killed by Florida sheriff's deputies in Leesburg, Florida, Drew's mother and girlfriend have finally spoken in public.

The occasion was a press conference called by their attorney, Mark NeJame.

Drew's mother said that the sheriff's office still had not contacted her to offer condolences. Sheriff's office spokesman Lt. John Herrell said that the sheriff "plans to reach out to the family and has offered the services [of] the agency's chaplain," according to an article in the Orlando Sentinel. It's been a month, for Pete's sake! When does Sheriff Borders "plan" to "reach out" to the family? Before or after the election, in which his job is at stake? Why didn't he "reach out" a month ago, instead of blaming this whole thing on the victim?

Drew's girlfriend (this article doesn't call her his fiancée) said that she and Drew were "cuddling" on the couch when they were startled by a pounding at the door. Since the door didn't have a peephole, and the porch light was broken, and the deputies were not standing near the window, Drew ran to his bedroom to get his (legally registered) gun before answering the door. Interesting details: he was holding the gun in his left hand while he cracked open the door with his right hand. The shooting started as soon as he opened the door. She was a few feet behind him, and I will suggest that if she had remained on the couch or stood beside him, she would be dead, too.

I'm not too impressed with the attorney. News articles are confused and contradictory about whether  he has filed a wrongful-death suit yet, or whether he's just making noise about it. The timing of the news conference is suspect, being a day before an election primary (or is that a primary election?) for Lake County Sheriff. Lawyer NeJame insists that that's purely concidental. And the video of him on Fox News Orlando (announcing a lawsuit six days ago, making things even more confusing) is not particularly awe-inspiring.

NOTE: This is the third article that has appeared on Zyzmog Galactic HQ about the Andrew Lee Scott shooting. Look backwards through the Table of Contents to find the first two.

A government that really works: is that too much to ask for?

Today I'm reprinting an article from ABC News. I was going to write a blog entry like this anyway, but I found this article by Amy Walter while I was doing research for my entry, and she says it so much better than I would have. Excerpting it wouldn't have done it justice.

If ABC or Ms. Walter asks me to take it down, I will, but I wanted to post a copy of it here because I've noticed that articles like this on the mainstream news outlets have a tendency to expire. They disappear after some length of time. This one deserves an extended life. It's something that all politicians need to keep in mind, both before and especially after an election. And as Ms. Walter points out, the rebuke applies to all political parties.

An Ideological Battle that Voters Don't Want

In picking Rep. Paul Ryan, whose eponymous budget plan has become synonymous with political polarization, Mitt Romney assured an ideological campaign where a debate over the role of government will be front and center. It is a debate the Obama campaign and partisans on both sides are also eager to have. But it’s not a debate that swing voters want.

They aren’t as interested in choosing whether government should be more active or less. They are more interested in simply having it work.


This debate is the culmination of four consecutive wave elections — elections where each side (wrongly) assumed a mandate from the American public.

It started in 2006 when, fed up with one party control, voters tossed Congressional Republicans out of power. Once, the party of “outsider” Republicans had turned into creatures of Washington. Voters saw them as gluttonous, self-absorbed and more interested in retaining power than using their power to help the little guy.

Two years later, voters elected a president who promised to break the partisan gridlock and to focus on an agenda that transcended party and special interest groups.

Yet, elected as a counter-weight to previous GOP rule, Democrats turned out to act much like them. They passed legislation on party-line only votes. They pushed a health care law through Congress, but failed to make the case for how it was going to help people survive a flailing economy.

Fueled by this frustration, voters put Republicans back in control of the House in 2010. But like the Democrats before them, Republicans mistook the election as a mandate for their own ideology — an ideology that saw compromise as a dirty word. And, less than two years after providing the energy for the 2010 sweep of Congress, the tea party is an unpopular than ever.

Six years after voters sent a message to Republicans that they were sick and tired of a government that was polarized and self-absorbed, they find a political system that is as polarized and ineffective as ever.

Each wave election has ultimately produced a class of politicians who are convinced that their victory was about them rather than a repudiation of the tactics and behavior of the other party. They were convinced that voters were choosing an ideology, when in reality they were simply trying to punish the folks who put ideology over accomplishment and compromise.


Which brings us to today. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney argue that this election provides voters with a very stark choice between two competing ideologies. One that says that government can be part of the solution (Obama) and one that says that government is getting in the way of the solution (Romney).

But there are plenty of voters out there who are more concerned about function than ideology. They aren’t spending their evenings debating the benefits of Hayek or Keynesian economic models. They are just trying to figure out which candidate is capable of getting something done. They will reward the politician who succeeds in getting things moving again. But that shouldn’t be taken as proof that voters are endorsing the philosophical underpinnings of that success.

In other words, voters are looking less at ideology and more at competency. And that’s not something that either side has been able to show that can deliver.

Friday, August 3, 2012

"Never had a real job" - Karma, round two

Loose-cannon Democrats have not cornered the stupidity market in this election year. Republicans are now taking their turn in the arena.

Remember back in April, when Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said (in an interview on CNN) that Ann Romney had "never worked a day in her life," and then Rosen got buried in the blowback, and abandoned by her fellow Democrats?

Well now, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said (in an interview on Fox News, yesterday) that Barack Obama has "never even had a real job, for [God's] sake."

Huh. According to, Barack Obama is worth $11.8 million. He didn't inherit that money from his father. According to his résumé, he worked hard for at least part of that money. I think that working hard for your money is what constitutes a "real job," don't you?

I guess it depends on how you define a "real job." If Speaker Boehner means that Obama never had to punch a time clock, then he may have a point. (Then again, he may not. Maybe Obama worked at McDonald's when he was a teen. Surely, that would qualify as a "real job.")

What's makes Boehner's statement really stupid is that, only a few sentences earlier, he said "Sometimes I have to catch my breath and slow down because the rhetoric in this campaign is just so over the top."

Watch for the blowback.

Florida deputies and Andrew Lee Scott - more news

I'll warn you right now that some of my sources for this entry are not terribly objective. One has an obvious bias. But they're doing their best to state facts, and you can determine for yourself the truth of what they say.

First is a report from WOFL in Orlando, originally written on July 15 and updated on July 29. This report states that on the day after the shooting, the owners of the apartment complex were seen installing a new door at the entrance to the apartment where Andrew Lee Scott was killed, "because the one it replaced was full of bullet holes." WHAT?

Were they firing through the door? Why? How did they know, then, that Drew had a gun? And second, what if a second, innocent person had been standing behind the door when the bullets tore through?

The WOFL report also contains a statement from a witness that makes a couple of disturbing claims, but I haven't found a corroborating statement yet, so I'm not going to repeat it.

Second is a report from Central Florida News 13, written on July 23. This report states that Drew's fiancée and family have hired an attorney and will be conducting their own investigation into the shooting. In my original posting, I pointed out that nothing had been said about any girlfriend or family. Now we first hear about them, not from the police, but from News 13. The article also suggests that the FDLE investigation will be completed 30 to 45 days from when it started, which puts it in mid-to-late August.

(By the way, John, the guy is the fiancé. The girl is the fiancée. The difference is subtle, but significant. Blame it on the French.It's their language.)

Third is an article in a blog called "The Right Side of the Lake," written on July 31. This blog carries an obvious bias and has a clear agenda, which is to expose corruption and other badness within the Lake County Sheriff's Department. I won't comment further on that agenda, since I want to focus on this one incident, but it's important to recognize the bias before you read the article. The blog's author places the shooting in context with everything else going on in the department. He makes some claims, based on his own digesting of the facts of the case, which do make it more disturbing.

He says, based on the official incident report, that the "attempted murderer" the deputies were hunting wasn't really an "attempted murderer;" he was an assault-and-battery suspect. The escalation to "attempted murder" happened two hours after Drew had been shot.

He says, again based on the official incident report, that the alleged assault and battery was really just injuries suffered in a fight. Jonathan Brown, the "attempted murder" suspect, had been involved in a fight at somebody else's apartment, and had beaten up the other guy. Two important facts emerge about the other guy: first, his injuries amounted to a scraped elbow and cuts around his eye; second, the fight was because this other guy, the so-called "victim" of the assault, had just finished punching his girlfriend in the face; third, the victim, the guy who punched his girlfriend in the face, was the son of a lieutenant in the sheriff's office.

He quotes sources as saying that "eight to eleven" shots were fired, and that five of those shots, not four, hit Andrew Lee Scott. Unfortunately, he doesn't qualify his sources, other than to say that they're "close to the investigation."

To follow the blogger's train of thought, then, the adult son of a cop beat up his girlfriend, and was then beaten up himself. Other cops, friends of his dad, took off after the guys who beat the kid up, and ended up making a terrible mistake and killing an innocent man instead.

Remember, I pointed out at the beginning that the Right Side of the Lake had a bias and an agenda. Let's wait for the FDLE report before we accept RSoL's conclusions. As my friend Amanda has pointed out, it's way too easy in cases like this to paint the cops as the bad guys because things get distorted or misstated (or omitted) in the media. Let's not rush to judgement.

But let's not sweep it under the carpet, either. Drew's life mattered. His death should matter, too.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dropbox: Reliable storage in the cloud

I'm still not convinced that the cloud is totally reliable. Some regional power failure episodes have made the news because they have caused some cloud services to go offline — not a good thing if your business depends on cloud-based data storage or applications.

For that reason alone, I have been cautious about using cloud services at all. But for about a year, I have been using Dropbox as a cloud storage solution. Consider this an unsolicited testimonial: I have been satisfied, pleased, even gruntled, with Dropbox's performance.

I have been using Dropbox three different ways:

1. Instead of a USB memory stick. It's a simple thing to access Dropbox, either directly or through a browser window, to transfer files from one of my computers to another. I can even upload a PDF file to Dropbox from my PC, and view it on my iPad/iPod/iPhone/Android device. And if I'm on a machine without Dropbox installed, I can still upload or download files using any Web browser.

2. With friends, family, and co-workers. I think this is the strongest use of Dropbox. I have swapped photos and documents with family and friends; and I have shared important files with co-workers and colleagues while working on collaborative projects.

3. With multiple operating systems on one computer. My work computer is a Windows box, but I also have several virtual Linux boxes running on it. Dropbox lets me share files seamlessly between Windows and Linux. It's cleaner and easier to use than any of the usual file-sharing solutions.

A basic Dropbox account is free, and gives you 2 GB of cloud-based storage space. Dropbox has an incentive program whereby you can increase the size of your storage space (up to 16 GB) through referrals and other means. If you want, you can also buy more storage space: 100 GB will cost you $10 per month, for starters.

Dropbox is fast, robust, and simple. It doesn't require a lot of space on your computer. If it's not installed on a computer you're using, you can still get to your files using a Web browser. If you really  want to (heavy sigh), you can integrate it with your Twitter or Facebook account. 

And (nerd alert!) if you want to build it seamlessly into your next software project, Dropbox has a versatile API, and SDKs for all the operating systems that it supports.

Dropbox doesn't know I'm posting this, and they're not going to reward or recompense me in any way. I like my reviews to be honest, unbiased, and independent. See my article, "Blogging for Dollars," for more information.

Oops - the secret's out

It's a good thing the Obama administration has such a tight hold on operational security. I'm sure that the rebels in Syria are both impressed and reassured by it.

To quote the header of a news item today:

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, sources familiar with the matter said."

It seems to me that somebody inside the Obama administration doesn't understand the concept of "secret."