Tag Archives: Opinion

This we don’t need

It’s been a week since the attack on OSU campus. As you might imagine this particular act of violence struck a little closer to home than most. I’m an alum of OSU and live a few miles north of the campus.My dad is involved with campus ministry, as are some people I used to go to bible study with. While I don’t go down there as often as I used to, I did see a game with my wife earlier this fall, and I sometimes go for a sentimental walk to No. 1 Chinese, Used Kids Records or just down the Oval. I think of OSU as part of my home.

I’m grateful that people were not more seriously hurt and that the situation was able to be resolved in a short amount of time. Though things certainly seemed uncertain for most of Monday morning (I spent the day trying to get work done while listening to 10TV news feeds and Facebook Live press conferences) the actual incident was only about a minute.

Not long after the attack a friend of mine said on social media that he wasn’t looking forward to whatever hateful thing the President-elect was going to tweet on the subject. And sure enough, the Donald delivered:

ISIS is taking credit for the terrible stabbing attack at Ohio State University by a Somali refugee who should not have been in our country.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2016
There are a lot of things wrong with this tweet. For starters, the motive of this 18 year old student will likely never be firmly known, and speculating is a destructive activity. Of course ISIS claimed credit. The attacker isn’t alive to contradict them, and it makes them look like they have more influence. Second, Columbus, Ohio has a thriving Somali community (who were among the first to condemn the attack). We have a legacy of taking in refugees for over 25 years. The president-elect may have won Ohio, but he didn’t win Columbus and he doesn’t know this city or have a right to speak for it.

But honestly it isn’t even Trump I want to talk about, but the people who are using this attack as an opportunity to advocate for a concealed or open carry policy on campus. This culminated today in a group of people parading around the campus carrying guns. Let me repeat. A week after a violent attack on a college campus, a group of non-students organized by a gun-rights activist from Cincinatti decided it was a good idea to march around with guns including assault rifles.

Now to be fair the students were notified, and the advocates were escorted by police the whole way. But this was far from a calm discussion of gun rights. When a professor questioned the group’s presence and said this wasn’t what the college needed, the gun-advocates questioned his citizenship. Lot’s of students are still dealing with the trauma and the fear of the last week. This community is still healing.

There was a lot of luck and providence in last Monday’s attack. A gas leak meant that an officer could be on the scene in less than a minute, and good training resolved the situation quickly. The school’s alert system notified everyone almost as the attack was happening, and the run-hide-fight protocol probably kept a number of students safe. One of the people injured by the attacker had military training, and even tried to grab the knife. There were heroic and well trained people on scene. The students were as prepared as any student population could be. And I believe God was there as well.

Here’s what a someone with a concealed carry permit would have added to that situation. Unless they had hours of extensive training dealing with active-attacker situation, there’s a decent liklihood they would not have drawn their gun, or fired it if they did pull it out. If they drew their gun and fired there is no guaruntee they would not have injured people besides the attacker. And when the officer came on scene they’d be adding another confusing element to a hot situation. Unless they were immediately compliant with the officer’s commands, they’d stand a decent likelihood of being shot themselves.

You may disagree with my assessment, and that’s fine. I know a lot of reasonable people who are gun enthusiasts. Maybe we can discuss it calmly in a month or two. But for right now, why don’t we spend our time having a national conversation about what OSU did to prepare for attacks like these, and praising the work of a fine young officer. Let’s not tar an entire community because of the actions of one person, and let’s stop waving guns around for a while.

That’s not too much to ask, right?

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What’d I miss?

About two weeks ago I pulled my back out and between that and the fact that my software project has kicked into high gear, I’ve been a little out of the world lately. So … what’s going on?

Seriously.

What just happened?

I was up until about one last night after waking up that morning at 5:30am (which is about an ahour and a half earlier than usual). I actually walked to my polling place which is a school just around the corner from my house, in part to loosen the aforementioned back, though I didn’t factor in what standing in a line for 25 minutes might do to it. Ah well, that’s what ibuprofen and the oddly spelled supplement turmeric is for.

I got back to the house around 7 and actually took a second to enjoy one of the benefits of reverting from daylight savings time, watching the sunrise. Just taking a minute to bask in the joy of God’s creation. If only the rest of the day had been so calming.

The coverage on all the channels was really something to see. We have a tradition since the 2008 election of watching the Daily Show’s live election special. In 2012 I’d had to watch it in a hotel room in Cleveland with my wife on the phone while we watched Obama be reelected over a Republican we didn’t like, but not someone who seemed unqualified.

The mood this year was frankly somber, correspondants stress-eating and pounding back shots of pepto bismol. @midnight’s Chris Hardwick was more of tugging at the shirt collar “I don’t know” variety of anxiety. But my favorite part of the evening, or at least the one that encapsulated how I was feeling was Rachel Maddow. In the middle of reading some of the latest results she just *sighed*.

For myself I was feeling equal parts depressed and angry. I sent this to my friend Brian at about 11:45 which summed it up pretty nicely:

At the urging of my wife with things looking uncertain but not completely lost I went to bed around 1am, then woke up around 4am which I’ve been doing the past few nights, needing to roll over to spread some of the tension in my back around. I argued with myself that I shouldn’t check the results, that I should just roll over and go back to sleep. I lost that battle, but fortunately I was too exhausted from the short night the day prior to spend much time thinking about it.

A lot of people on social media today have been saying the depressing thing is not that Donald Trump is going to be our President, it’s what his being elected means about us. There’s certainly a part of Trump’s constituency that has said some pretty hateful, misoginyst, bigoted, anti-intellectual, xenophobic, homophobic, anachronistic, jingoistic, and yes deplorable things. But the truth is I think the majority of these people have just felt left behind by the world. They felt that neither side was listening to their concerns, or doing enough to help them, and they finally made their voices heard.

There’s a part of that frustration I will never understand because it’s just not the kind of life I lead. I can sympathize. I’ve known plenty of people who’ve worked in the auto industry or in steel, or out on the factory floor. In my parent’s day that was a good middle class job, and something to be proud of, and whatever the cause of it, it’s something we’ve lost in today’s America. It makes sense that that’s frustrating.

If I’m honest, I’ve lived a life of relative privilege. I’ve worked hard, but I had a lot of opportunities. I’ve pursued a career that hopefully will remain relavant throughout my lifetime, though automation and best cost countries threaten programmers as well. That’s why life-long learning to me isn’t a cliche, it’s a necessity. But my ability to say that has largely been the product of parents who valued higher education and my own interests and passions. And there are plenty of vital industries that can’t be outsourced, like senior care, that get crap wages for crap work (literally sometimes). We need to do better for everyone.

Some of this frustration turns into implicit racism, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or any number of things, and I could tar these people with the brush of being intolerant and dismiss them. It seems like that’s what the democrats did in some ways. You don’t change anyone’s mind by unfriending them, or blocking them, or telling them they’re a monster. You get to know them, you try to understand where they’re coming from, and you have a honest discussion.

I want to call everybody useless. I want to be mad. And there are a lot of hateful things out there to get righteously angry about. But honestly that feels like I’d just be sinking to the level of that man who will be our president.

I’m not leaving for Canada or any nonsense like that. I actually think God doesn’t smile to fondly on people who leave the mission he’s set out for them. Let’s remember that a whale swallowed Jonah when he tried to run. If I’m sad or disappointed in what America seems to be, then I need to do something to make it better. That means writing about wrongs I see happening in the world. It means talking to people and finding out what they really need. And maybe it even means getting politically involved in the next seasons. I still need time to reflect, to mourn, to vent my anger in productive and not destructive ways. I’m still figuring this out even as I write.

I don’t know what the next four years are going to bring. None of us does. But I’m going to spend them being an American. I’m going to spend them as someone who greets others with love, who is loving of those with different colored skin, or religion, or sexual orientation, or class, or even political party. If Donald Drumpf seeks to enact policies that hurt people I love, I will do what I can to protect them. But I admit to being a little heartened that Mitch McConnell and a lot of other Republican senators have made it clear they want to defend a lot of what makes America what it is as well.

We’re all in this together. We all have ownership of this moment, no matter how we voted. If America isn’t the place we thought it was, then let’s do what we can to change that.

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Squirrel Rant: Group Rules

foamy_by_foamy_the_squirrel

Turns out I haven’t done one of these since 2012, though I’ve probably written a few posts that qualify.

Here’s the basic rules for reading this:

  1. Read this entire post in a high-pitched chipmunk like voice a la Foamy. Here is a relatively SFW outing from Foamy to demonstrate the format.
  2. Assume the contents are due to a particular bout of crankiness and are not directed at individuals unless specifically mentioned.

So I’ve been joining a lot of Facebook groups lately as a way to broaden my circle, make new writing connections, get advice, and do a little *shudder* self-promotion.

Now at the outset I’m going to say that I HATE spam. One of the reasons I don’t love my twitter feed, and need to make adjustments to it, is that I feel like I’m being barraged with book ads. Twitter is particularly aggravating because I get little context other than the picture, and many of the ads are pretty badly constructed.

But this rant isn’t about Twitter, it’s about Facebook.

Now I’ve been trying to read the rules of these groups pretty carefully. I don’t like to step on toes, and I don’t want to do something spammy. If a group doesn’t like self-promotion, or isn’t geared to selling things, then I won’t try to sell there. That’s a good way to get banned.

Some groups broaden promotion out to anybody who is selling anything.

Here’s the context. I was answering a question about self-publishing and the need for freelance editors. I stressed some rules for choosing good editors (i.e. Make sure they give you a free sample edit, and see if they’ll work with you on price or edit a smaller portion of your book). At the very end of my post I shared a link to an editor friend of mine who edits my books and who I know does a good job (and is willing to work with at least some self-publishers). A few minutes later somebody commented that the link was probably not allowed. Not being a fan of how Facebook does previews, I cut it, but left the pertinent details to find said editor in the post.

Later on somebody said I should remove the editor’s name because any mention would still be promotion. Since I’m not on Facebook all the time, I didn’t do this till this morning, but I did remove the pertinent part of the post (sorry Brian). At the same time I made the comment that I draw a distinction between SPAM (i.e. trying to sell you something) and NETWORKING (i.e. trying to help you get in touch with somebody who will help you professionally). In this particular group, however, there is no such distinction.

Here’s the thing. I get the idea of groups that don’t want to be sold to, and I’m largely in favor of it. In fact, even as someone with several things to sell, I find self-promotion tacky. Marketing is the hardest thing any writer needs to learn how to do. At the same time I feel like intent should be taken into consideration. My post did several things:

  1. It addressed the actual question in detail and from experience.
  2. It suggested someone who might be a good editor at the very end.

If me promoting someone bothered you, you can just ignore it. Since I was able to remove it from the post without subsequent editing, obviously it wasn’t content critical. And as a self-published author it can be hard to find a freelance editor who does good work and is willing to work with you, especially without paying the big upfront costs. My intent was to help someone out, and yes, maybe throw my friend some work. I fundamentally feel like there’s a difference between that and just someone who posts their services without engaging with the discussion.

As someone who is trying to advance in the business and craft of writing I want to meet actual people. I want to build connections and get advice from people farther down the road. Again, I get the idea of rules, but fundamentally I’m against legalism. Intent matters.

I realize I’m letting myself get bent out of shape about a largely peaceful Facebook discussion (hence the title Squirrel rant). But the takeaway for me is I want to find groups who can have substantive discussions, and will also make some suggestions on who does a good cover, or an edit, or who they’ve used for marketing that’s helped, and will not get worried that people are promoting or being sold to.

Know any groups like that?

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What I Learned In 2015

Year end summaries are kind of a mixed bag.

We can read lists that convince us that we are living in magical wonderful times, truly the best times to be alive. Or we can read something that makes us believe that we’re all going to “hell in a handbasket” which if you think about it, is a rather cheerful conveyance. Better than going to hell in a washing machine or a Ford Focus.

I think at the end of the day, our perception of the year is subjective, and very personal. “Did I have a good year?”

Generally speaking, yes. I turned 30, as did a lot of my friends. My wife and I celebrated our 7th anniversary and nine years of being together overall. I said goodbye to one car, and hello to another. I published a book. I got a new dog, moved my office to the basement, and spent a lot of time with friends. And I found a new place to get a good Reuben.

I’m not one of those people who analyzes their growth over the past year, but there are a couple of things I’ve picked up on that might be of use to you:

  • Change can be good – I loved my upstairs office, and was a little reluctant to move into the basement. I think I have a pretty good idea of what things will be like without seeing them. Some people need to move things around before they can be sure if they like something, whereas I like to do that moving in my head. The thing is… on this one I was totally wrong. My basement office\man cave is awesome. I should have moved down there years ago. And so far, I’ve stayed home working rather than trying to find coffee shops to get work done in (which was often just an excuse for some HPB shopping later, shhh).
  • If the pizza says “Epic Meats” it probably will be a mistake – I’m getting a little better about some food decisions. I’m discovering that bad food makes me feel bad. Also sleep is good. And coffee is wonderful, but too much caffeine is not. I still have my weaknesses, but I’m learning to say no to things I used to say “oh, what the hell?” to. Baby steps people, baby steps.
  • Finishing projects feels good – Sure it’s exhausting, but seeing the first physical copy of Surreality was deeply satisfying. I highly recommend it. Oh… and finish your books too.
  • There’s more room than you think – I wanted one dog. I thought our house could only support one dog. I thought my whole life would be deeply disrupted by the addition of another dog. And now I can’t imagine not having Murphy, even though the boy needs to learn that occasionally daddy needs both his hands to type. Or he can spring for the speech-to-text software.
  • Make a conscious effort on friendships – Some friendships can run on autopilot for a while and be okay, but deep friendships, be it with your spouse or your best friends need work, give and take, and time. I’m an introvert by nature, and have the tendency to not notice when long stretches of time have gone by since I’ve last talked to someone. Thanks to everyone who pulled me out of my shell a little more.

How was your 2015?

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Working with tablets

Microsoft’s recent series of ads for the new Surface Pro includes the tagline “The tablet that can replace your laptop”. In the sense that the tablet costs roughly what 2-3 decent laptops cost ($899) I would agree. But this isn’t really a post about ragging on Microsoft (it’s generally not nice to kick someone when they’re down). Instead, I’d like to take on the notion of tablets replacing your laptop.

I’m a cheapskate when it comes to tablets. The idea of spending more than $99 on a single piece of tablet hardware seems silly to me when I can buy more power in a laptop. So most of what I own are 7″ tablets and eReaders, including the newest fifth generation Amazon Fire (which I discussed last week). Some of you with 10″ tablets or more disposable income may have different opinions, but listed below are some of the ways tablets have helped and hindered my writing work.

Reading (Superior to laptop, both superior and inferior to paper books): I am a voracious reader, and tablets let me bring a whole library books with me wherever I go. They’re not as good to flip through for specific bits, though tablets outstrip most eReaders in this respect. And physical books can’t travel as easily to the places I actually have time to read (I can’t plug a paper book into a car stereo and have it read to me).

Research (Internet research okay, Wikipedia good, not as good as paper books): The same principle of being able to carry more with me applies, and it is nice to not have to lug around 900 page programming books. But for fractal research, the real book is much better. Basic internet research can be slower especially for a multi-tab person like myself, but specialized apps like Wikipedia hold up to their laptop equivalents.

Writing new drafts (Terrible): Even with an external keyboard, tablets will never match up to the capabilities of even the most stripped down computer. And onscreen keyboards, even on larger tablets, feel unnatural and are prone to fat-fingering or auto-correct. There may be an argument that tablets slow you down in the same ways writing a draft by hand does, but I don’t have to fight my hand to write the word I meant to say.

Writing notes (On par, maybe even better): I’ve been keeping notes for my latest book on my new Kindle. It’s nice to have by the bedside, and I have more confidence the notes won’t be lost. Still slow going, but not bad.

E-mail (On par, more convenient locations): For complex or long e-mails it’s not as good as a laptop, but for a basic conversation it’s nice to just sit in the living room rather than having to go down to my office.

Sorting through files (Great): At the moment I’m going through several 1000 images selecting some for an upcoming project. This is tedious and necessary work, and something that’s nice to do when I’m watching a show or waiting on a program to run. My old tablets weren’t as good at this task, but the new Fire lets me toss 4GB of image files on without disturbing all of my personal entertainment media.

Revision (Helpful aid, but the real work is being done on the keyboard): I find it extremely helpful to always have access to my latest or previous drafts of a book on the tablet. It’s something I can easily put side-by-side with my computer, particularly when I’m re-writing new sections from scratch, or when I need to catch up by having a section read to me. But the idea of doing complex editing like rearranging paragraphs, words, or sections on a tablet just doesn’t work for me. I need the finer control of a mouse.

Social Media (Twitter great, Facebook okay, WordPress good for looking at stats and not much else).

Programming (N/A): If there’s a way to write code on the tablet I’d love to try it, but for now I like IDE’s on real machines.

My general conclusion is that a tablet is a great way to complement tasks I perform on the computer, or to allow me to work in odd locations at shorter intervals. But my real work is still done on computers.

Discuss.

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Poochie 2.0

Heard a story on the radio this morning that touched a bit of a nerve. Apparently, for $100,000 a lab in South Korea can clone your dog for you. NPR did a profile of a couple in Louisiana who did this with their dog Melvin, twice.

There are a number of troubling things about this, and to NPR’s credit they did a good job of touching on them. For starters the eggs for these clones need to be harvested from female dogs and placed into surrogate mothers. The procedure is often unsuccessful and requires multiple attempts to produce a viable clone. And most clones have defects that can cause them to be sickly.

But as all science fiction writers have a tendency to do, let’s set aside all of the medical complications and consider the question from a more ethical perspective, assuming eventually the technology will get better.

The US Humane Society estimates the owned dog population (in 2013) to be about 80 million. Another 6-8 million dogs wind up in shelters, with approximately 2.7 million not adopted each year. That’s 1 dog for every ten people in the United States. Clones don’t appreciably affect this population (NPR reported the particular lab has only produced 600 or so cloned dogs), but there are still many dogs out there who are alive and need a home.

Okay, dog over population is bad, it’s why Bob Barker always told us to get our pets spayed and neutered (and not because of his amusing last name). But again, not my point.

We lost our first dog, Simon, about a year and a half ago*. Like the family in the radio piece, it took two dogs to replace him, our beagle-boxer Riley (who we adopted from a shelter 3 days after we put Simon to sleep) and Murphy, a beagle like Simon who we adopted a few months ago. Simon was a great dog, very chill, but always greeted me when I got home. Those last days with him were hard as a tumor in his brain caused seizures, but he still was able to enjoy walks, and even a Five Guys Burger.

Losing a pet is hard. It took us a while to grieve for Simon and every now and then Murphy gives us a look that reminds us of our dog when he was younger (though we’re doing a better job at keeping Murphy thin). Riley and Murphy are very different dogs. Riley is playful, energetic, a lot taller even though he can curl up surprisingly small and isn’t much of a snuggler, though he has his moments. Murphy is a lap dog (at least he thinks he is) who I suspect would explode if he wasn’t on a human for more than an hour.

Cloning Simon, I would have missed out on the new experience of my dogs now. And cloning anything, a pet or even a loved one is trying to deny a fundamental part of our nature.

Things end. People and pets pass away. It’s sad, and it can be hard to deal with sometimes. But I can’t help but feel like cloning a pet is denying that truth, trying to set aside grief, to cheat death. But it’s a trick. A dog might be a genetic duplicate, but that is not everything that made it who it was. Even a cloned animal is still a different being than the one that preceded it. Part of life is about letting go, and letting others into our lives. Simon had a happy full life with us, and we’re trying to do the same for Riley and Murphy.

$100,000 could help hundreds of dogs. You could pay the adoption fee for the whole Franklin County Animal Shelter with that kind of money, and let families who might balk at the upfront money still provide a loving home. You could pay for medical expenses for older dogs and help them live a little longer with their owners. You could buy free bags of dog food for needy families who otherwise would have to give up their pet.

I understand this Louisiana family’s choice. But I can’t help but think of it as selfish, offensive, and ultimately self-defeating.

* My wife has had other dogs, but this was the first one she adopted herself. I came along a couple of years later so he predated me.

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The Problem

John Oliver had a pretty big get on Last Week Tonight on Sunday, Edward Snowden, NSA leaker and revealer of the ways in which our government is spying on our data. The problem is, we don’t know who this man is, or why we should really give a hoot. Oliver interviews a number of people on the street who, if they have heard the name Snowden at all, incorrectly identify him as Julian Asange from WikiLeaks.

Oliver tried to tease out reasons why the American public should care from a very technically minded person. Ultimately Oliver chose to frame it as “can the government see my dick pics?” Sure, it’s crude and an oversimplification of the privacy rights of citizens, but it’s something that at least some of us will care about. And the analogy worked as Oliver quizzed Snowden on the ways in which certain government programs can see our unmentionables if we’re foolish enough to ever have them touch the Internet ever.

I think there are a couple of problems when we try to have a complicated discussion as a society. We’re not all very technically minded, and the technically minded among us aren’t very good at teasing out what should be common knowledge, and what is just easy to them because they’ve spent years working with the stuff. And societally, we’re not good at assessing long term risk. We eat too much even though it negatively affects our health in the long run. We don’t save enough for retirement because it’s so far away, you get the idea.

I have this problem all the time when trying to explain something technical to someone else, even when I think it’s pretty simple. Part of this is I’m not actually that inclined to be a teacher. I like writing about technical problems, but sit me next to someone on a computer trying to work something out and I go a little crazy. I’m tempted to snatch the keyboard and mouse away and just do it rather than try to explain in non-technical terms.

Other times it’s simply a matter of thinking something is easier than it is, or thinking we’ve explained ourselves when we really haven’t. And the American people have a shorter attention span than we’d care to admit. We need  a simple analogy. And that’s not all that unreasonable of a demand. There are a lot of things we should technically care about, international crisis in Iran, Yemen, Syria, ISIS, Boko Haram (if I spelled it incorrectly, then good ). We’re supposed to worry about climate change, our health, health care, the rapid pace of technology and how our technology is made. The list goes on and on.

So, yeah, maybe not all of us have dick pics, but what do we have that we’d rather the government not see? If we’ve put that thing on a computer, the government has probably seen it.

Discuss.

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