Monday, April 29, 2013

This Kind of Thing Should Not Happen

Oh what a week it’s been.

A new semester has started at BYU-Idaho, but never in the two years that I’ve taught here have we had so many technological glitches in one course as we’ve had this semester in the redesigned ENG 106.

Which is a pity, seeing as this is the course meant for students who can’t make it to BYU-Idaho proper, and are taking classes remotely. Many of them are English as a second language students. Many are of age. These are not in of themselves obstacles – but combine them with a classroom that’s malfunctioning at every turn – imagine a physical classroom in which none of the desks have stable surfaces and the fluorescent lighting is flickering constantly – and you’ll have a pretty good picture of what’s been going on this week.

I’m not here to cast blame, because I did next to nothing in looking at the course prior to its inception, though I’d been invited. Maybe if I’d been there, I might have noticed a few of the glitches. But I doubt it. Because many people smarter and more active than I went through the course, tooth and nail, and declared it ready when it was not.

Here’s the flaw: We, as instructors, don’t get to see things from the student point of view. So to find things exploding (as in the syllabus not matching up to questions on the syllabus quiz, journal entries not showing up as completed and readings not available or linked to the wrong article) is not a surprise. We should absolutely have beta tested this course from the student perspective, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that such testing did not happen, or at least did not happen in earnest, as it should have.

And if BYU-Idaho wants to continue offering online courses and to push the Pathways program, we’ve got – and I pardon the expression – to get our shit together now.

There are human ways around the glitches, thank heaven, and we as instructors have taken many of those routes this past week. But the undue frustration adds up – and adds to the expectation that when the next glitch is encountered, the entire class, from the students’ perspective, is flawed, poorly assembled, and rotten. We can put Band-Aids on things, but if the errors continue, no amount of human intervention will heal the damage to the brand.

We’re advised to prepare every needful thing as instructors – but right now I’m unable to post a note from myself to my students in Week 1 of the course because of some glitch. I posted it instead in the discussion thread, and maybe they’ll read it there; maybe not. (Of course, there’s no guarantee they’d read it if it were in its rightful place, but it’s the principle of the thing.)

This is no hysteria. If this continues, we are doomed.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Follow-Up to My Follow-Up

Yesterday I wrote about Sneakers and the AP Twitter hack. Today, some information on how easily AP staffers were phished into granting access to something or whatever that gave hackers access to the aforementioned Twitter account. 

Scary note: Similar successful attacks were carried out at other major news outlets, ranging from Reuters to the BBC. Now, if they’d all occurred in a coordinated way at the same time, well, Niagara Falls, Frankie Angel. . .  

I’m being vague here because the stories here are in of themselves vague. My assumption is that the hackers gained access to AP computer networks through this phising attack. 

First, posits the question: Would I, average Joe Sixpack, have clicked on the link that led to a bogus web site from whence the phising attack was launched? Probably. Because the message and the link look innocuous. 

But hold on there a minute, folks. Here’s what Slate leaves out: Once at the linked site, AP staffers were asked to log in. Log in using what I’m not certain, but it appears they were asked to log in with their AP ids – though Romenesko isn’t clear on that point. What is clear that the successful phising attacks continued even after the AP warned its staffers that an attack was underway.

So, yes, I would have clicked on the link. 

Would I have logged in using my work credentials? Hell no. So if that’s how it went down, well then, the AP has got some basic computer security training to do. 

I can’t quite work the logic out here, but it has to be that they were asked for their work credentials, because logging in to an external site (way, into the Washington Post in order to read an article because of a paywall) wouldn’t get hackers access to the AP stuff. So these folks were, in fact, dumb as rocks, thinking they had to log in with their work credentials to read something unrelated to their work. That, I would not do. In fact, when, on occasion, I’m asked to log in with my work credentials in order to access an internal website, I will not do so. I certainly wouldn’t for a site external to my job. So the mind boggles.

Kybard? What's a Kybard?

A few months ago, my sister asked us what kind of tablet she should get. She asked us not because we’re tablet gurus, but because between the two of us, we have no fewer than six tablet devices, ranging from one iPod Touch each to her iPad and iPad Mini and my Kindle and Kindle Fire. 

Sis’ biggest question was this: Which tablet is best for text input? 
We talked her in to upgrading to a better laptop computer instead. 

Because truth is, when it comes to text input, tablets are right now in that awkward stage. Awkward keyboard sizes make typos inevitable and impossible to use for ten-finger typists. Autocorrection makes for some frustrating editing, or, in my case, a lot of errant talk about fir trees, rather than the “for” I was hoping for. 

Yes, there is voice to text – which is great if you’re a loquacious talker, which I am not. I know the speaking part of my brain has little to do with the part of my brain that takes words from brain to screen, via that clunky convention of the QWERTY keyboard. So talking isn’t an option. 

Maybe there are other options. 

There’s something called Swype, which could be a fun thing, taking pattern recognition and other such fancy stuff to a higher, more accurate level. 

There’s also a re-thinking of the traditional tablet keyboard, along the lines of KALQ, which promises to transform ten-finger typists into two-thumb typists (though at a laughable average 37 words per minute, a far cry from my (admittedly snail-paced) 80 wpm on a traditional keyboard.

All of this tinkering gives me hope that in another five years or so, text input on tablets will be as simple – and as fast – as text input with a traditional keyboard.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

We Were Gonna Change the World, Marty . . .

A follow-up to my previous post mentioning the sneaky prescience of the film “Sneakers.”

Today, someone hijacked the main Associated Press Twitter account, tweeted that two explosions had occurred at the White House, injuring President Barack Obama – sending the US stock markets into a precipitous if brief free-fall. 

Here’s the graph, and more information on the incident, from Ars Technica:

Per Ars, the markets dropped 150 points in the minutes following this single tweet, recovering when the AP – through other Twitter accounts – announced the hack. 

This isn’t a prank, folks. 

Imagine if all of the AP’s Twitter feeds had been hacked, with confirmatory – or at least a lack of denials – coming out of other AP feeds. This seven-minute market blip could have lasted a lot longer, even before other news outlets had determined that the tweet was incorrect. 

Now imagine some social aspect of two or more news organizations were simultaneously hacked, with confirmatory messages coming from multiple news sources. That causes the market blip to last longer. Possibly a lot longer. 

What’s wrong with this country, Marty? Money. You taught me that. Evil defense contractors had it; noble causes did not. Politicians are bought and sold like so much chattel. Our problems multiply. Pollution, crime, drugs, poverty, disease, hunger, despair. We throw gobs of money at them. The problems always get worse. Why is that? Because money’s most powerful ability is to allow bad people to continue doing bad things at the expense of those who don’t have it. 

I agree. Who did you say you were working for? 

Oh, that’s just my day job. Listen, when I was in prison, I learned that everything in this world, including money, operates not on reality –

– But the perception of reality.

Posit: People think a bank might be financially shaky. 

Consequence: People start to withdraw their money. 

Result: Pretty soon, it is financially shaky. 

Conclusion: You can make banks fail. 

Bzzt. Done that. Maybe you’ve read about a few? Thing bigger. 

Stock markets? 


Currency markets? 


Commodities markets? 


Small countries?

I might be able to crash the whole damn system. 

And if you think this kind of power is going to end up giving money to Greenpeace, the United Negro College Fund, Amnesty International and the Democratic Party so those organizations can do good, well, you have rocks in your head, son and daughter, you have rocks in your head, and Crease is going to come along and bust you head.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Chapter Thirty-Two: Hawksong

Chapter Thirty-Two: Hawksong 

We must hide this candle under a bushel, Chylus said.

The morning after they brought Jarrod back from the canyon, they hurried him away from his nest before the sun rose, before the songs in his throat overflowed and brought sunshine and happiness to the world. 

There are many who say magpies do not sing. 

But every bird sings. Not all may have the voices of meadowlarks or whippoorwills, but all birds sing.

And it is not mimickry, like the crows learning to quack like ducks. The songs are in the brain and in the heart and in the voice and on the air. Whether a magpie graduates beyond croaking or screeching when humans are near, the song is there. 

Jarrod knew it.

Jarrod felt it bubbling in him and knew if he did not sing, he would burst.

So the crows carried him far from home, far from where the joyful song of a magpie whose burden at long last was lifted could be enjoyed by his fellow beasts, wasted on those who would hear the sounds and cry for joy but not know why the tears came nor why the song was sung.

Jarrod agreed. 

For now, he said, it is valuable to us that I continue to appear miserable. Those who are miserable are indeed invisible in this world. Those whose joy bursts are the object of awe and scorn on this farm. At least in the eyes of the marmots. 

But that morning, far from the farm, joy. 

Jarrod and Chylus and Magda soared on a thermal rising from the black of the highway asphalt. The sun shone through the low clouds like a grey-haired dandelion struck by lightning and lit the birds’ black wings with iridescence. Jarrod, thin as a whisper, shouted as the magpie shouts, pumping wings, soaring, soaring. Chylus and Magda swam through the heavy morning air to keep up with the bird bursting light from the tip of every feather. 

Oh, he screamed. I could fly ‘round the world. I could fly to the moon and the stars. Oh, today of days, I could fly! He pumped his wings and flew higher still, his exuberance startling a lone hawk who had been watching the trio, thinking of breakfast. Jarrod saw the bird and sped towards it, wings pumping, pumping. 

Magda cast a worried eye at Chylus, who shrugged – not an easy feat for a bird in flight. He pumped his wings as did Magda, hoping to keep up. 

The hawk smiled as Jarrod approached. Good morning, brother of the morning, it said, offering the traditional greeting of one hawk to another. I see in your eyes a burden lifted, and my hunger abates. ‘Tis a fair morning for flying high. 

God, Jarrod said. God, today, you let me fly with the hawks. Me, who for so long, flew with the toads. 

Yes, Jarrod said, breathlessly. 

It is rare to see lowlanders as yourself, flying so high, the hawk said. But you have reason, and that is reason enough to fly unmolested. 

Yes, Jarrod said. I have reason. 

The hawk and the magpie flew higher until, arching his wings, the hawk darted over the lake where the air cooled. Jarrod followed and soon the two spiraled down towards the water, dropping into an invisible hole of cooler air. 

Oh, Magda puffed. He flies like a star. 

Yes, Chylus answered. And we his keepers, stars as well. 

They laughed as they followed the hawk and the magpie, descending toward the lake, calling to each other, laughing, singing. 

The hawk sang, sharp notes like knives shining in warm sunlight. The magpie sang, water bubbling over smooth stream stones caressed by the moon. A rare thing, the hawk said, to fly with such a companion. I do not know what burden you have left behind, but you no longer have its chains about you. 

No, Jarrod said. I do not. 

If we all flew with such exuberance, the skies would be dark and the air a cacophony of song, the hawk said. Alas, such is the world, nearly silent, baleful. You mind, he said. Fly high as you like in these parts, and I’ll see to it no hawk causes you harm. I have marked you with my eyes, and as I am known as a teller of tales among my own, they will recognize you from afar, and leave you unmolested. The world needs joy much more than it needs bellies full in the morning. And there are plenty around here to catch. 

Chylus heard the conversation and wheeled, Magda close at wing. 

This talk of full bellies makes me nervous, he said as they flew over the lake, he above, she below, to protect her from any predators. 

Now you know what the voles feel like, Magda said. 

Yes, yes, Chylus muttered. They flew to a willow hanging over the lake and perched, watching Jarrod and the hawk flying to and fro over the lake. The hawk dove to the water, speared a fish. He and the magpies settled on a shoreside rock to feast. 

I would like to hear your story, the hawk said, between beakfuls of fish.

I would like to tell it, Jarrod replied.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Don't Look Away

It made me wince.

It’s clear what we’re seeing here, or at least in part. A shattered leg. One leg; where the other leg is, that’s not certain. Certain, however, that this man – a victim of the bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15 – has lost the lower extremities of both legs. 

There is blood. There is bone. There is hanging cloth, hanging flesh, hanging skin, tenacious tendons. And, in the hand of the man in the cowboy hat, a pinched artery or vein. 

I will not show this photo to my children. Their tender hearts are still trying to process that bad people did something horrific in Boston on Monday. 

But we as a people need to see such photos. We do not need to be protected from them. Because in them we can see in them the resilience and the ugliness that is the world we live in. 

German residents near concentration camps were marched through them after they were liberated, so they would know firsthand what had happened there. 

This photo will become iconic of the Boston Marathon bombings, if we, as a nation, are allowed to see it. It was shown on the news the first day, but has since appeared cropped, leaving the worst of it out. If we see enough of it, if we see enough of images such as this, perhaps we can figure out how to end things like this, perhaps we can think that our own drones are doing things like this in other countries in the name of fighting terror. 

There are other iconic photos, of course. The Falling Man, from the September 11 terrorist attacks.

There is the photo of a fireman carrying one-year-old Baylee Almon from the wreckage of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

We need to see these photos so when we say never again, we don’t forget what we never want to see.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Click Bait

Found this today, poking around the recesses of some news web site, the name of which I forgot as soon as I watched the video linked here. 

Pretty typical, anti-corporate screed here. 

But . . . 

Where is it coming from? 

I don’t know. And Upworthy apparently thinks I either already know or (most likely) don’t really care, because informing me isn’t their goal. Sharing them is.

Obviously, I’m supposed to share this link on Facebook or Twitter. And, apparently, if I’m reading these pseudo-graphs right, more people have shared it on the former than the latter. Nevermind I don’t know who this guy is – Oh, it’s Peter Hart, and he might be from FAIR – I did watch the video, remember – but then again, he might not. Upworthy doesn’t tell me. I have to go find out on my own.

And that’s fine. That’s what I should be doing as a critical consumer. 

FAIR is, of course, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Obviously left-wing, if you go to their website. 

Peter Hart is “activism director” at FAIR – a left-wing title if I’ve ever heard one. but that’s a no-nevermind. FAIR could be right-wing, and Upworthy would just assume you know that, or don’t care. Share. That’s all Upworthy seems to want. Share, share, share. “Things that Matter. Pass ‘em on.” That’s their motto.

They appear young. Rollie Williams, breathless about this FAIR video, tells us that the “biggest priority for corporations is that sweet sweet cash money. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but when massive corporations come together to profit from journalism, it becomes incredibly debilitating to consumers of that journalism. We’re living in a society that values the truth yet has insufficient access to it because it hurts corporate profits.” 

As if that’s a new thing. And as if getting news funded by left-wing or right-wing causes is any better than news funded by advertising. But all that doesn’t matter. Share, share, share. And design it with an obvious click-bait title like “This is Why Journalism has Sucked for the Past 20 Years.” 

Oh Rollie, you’re so young. William Randolph Hearst loves that you think corporate journalism is a new thing. 

But Upworthy’s plan – kickbacks from “non-profits and organizations who are looking to grow their memberships via the sign-up boxes you might have noticed on your way into the site” is more noble, of course. Advertising disguised as social activism, is always – ALWAYS – better than advertising disguised as advertising. 

Conveniently, this is all spelled out in their viral-ready privacy policy infographic. 
“We work with non-profits and other groups to connect them with people interested in their causes. If you sign up to learn more about a particular organization, we receive a small fee for making the match.” 

Doed non-profit automatically mean a group’s goals are pure as the driven snow? Apparently, if they’re left-wing or at least left-of-center causes, yes. 

Nothing right-wing, of course. Not that politics matter.* Making stuff that matters viral, well, that matters. And if we can make money at it, why, that matters as well. Remember, folks, this isn’t corporations making money off the news. It’s high-minded individuals pushing what matters – or, at least what matters to their paying non-profits and “others” – to the masses. 


Aldous Huxley, once again, was right. 

*I’m not a right-winger. I sag in the middle, but truth be told I’m more left of center than right. I voted for Obama. I favor civil unions. I don’t mind if there are homosexuals in the Boy Scouts of America. But I may eventually get a gun. PETA makes me itch. I’m a Mormon, for heaven’s sake.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Chapter Something Else: The Coming of the Voles

Chapter Something Else: The Coming of the Voles 

We may have a problem.

Really, Father Marmot said. We’ve got produce nearly ready to rot in the field. We’ve got two raccoons who can’t drive their way out of a wet paper sack. We’ve got rabbits finding all of our tunnels, and crows spying on our every move. And you think we may have a problem? 

Aye, Aloysius said. We may have a problem. 

Pray, tell, Father Marmot said, rubbing his eyes. 

The badger snorted dirt out of his nostrils. He’d had to dig his way in a bit, as the marmot tunnels weren’t quite large enough for him to squeeze through. 

It’s Jarrod, he said. He’s got a stink of Sunday about him.

Father Marmot stared at the badger in the semidarkness. Up from the tunnels and chamber below same the murmur of voices, the scrape of chain, an occasional violent shriek of machinery.

A stink. Of Sunday.

Aye, Aloysius said.

Of Sunday.

Yes, Aloysius said. Most abominably 

Father Marmot signed deeply. Pretend I’m tired, he said to the badger. Explain what you mean. 

Aloysius snorted again. Pah, he said. It’s like he’s got religion. The kind of religion you can smell, all of stale bread and sunshine. And the kind that makes you glow and want to, how to say it, how to say it, fly. Or dig a tunnel like you’re going through the best loam where the dirt moves easily but the sides harden when they hit the air. 

Father Marmot groaned a quiet groan. I don’t follow. 

What, what? You don’t follow? Aloysius barked in the semidarkness. He’s been redeemed! Saved from the fall! Shown the path to righteousness lined with burning candles and with a shaft of sunlight at the end!

I fear, Aloysius said, as Father Marmot stared at him in the dark, that the beavers have forgiven him. 

There was a rush of air from below, a sucking, then silence. The sounds of murmuring and machinery dimmed. 

Father Marmot laughed. Redeemed? Forgiven? What does that matter to us, he said. 

Oh, it matters a great deal, Aloysius said. For these few years, the weight of his sins kept Jarrod flying low, avoiding the rain. That kept him in the semidarkness – hah, where we are now. But the clouds appear to have parted and the sky is blue above the canopy of the trees, which until this point have barred his way to heaven. Soon, he will fly high again. 

Riddles, Father Marmot said. Why does everyone speak to me in riddles? 

Oh, you want plain talk, Aloysius said. You shall have it. 

Aloysius swallowed, licked his lips. 

They’ll listen to him now, he said. And obey. 

Mostly, they do that already, Father Marmot barked at the badger. What is the difference? 

They did it for pity, then, Aloysius said. Well, not all. Some few did it for other reasons. But soon the number that do it for respect, for love, will grow. Especially if the beavers spread their tale of forgiveness – which has already started to happen. The canyon yonder already stinks of forgiveness. And I smell the stink coming downstream. Swiftly. 

Think this way, he said to the marmot. A mere few weeks ago, were the crows watching you as tightly as they do now? 

Father Marmot’s breathing paused, for just a moment. 

No, he said, finally, expelling a long breath. No, they were not.

Why do you think they watch so hard now? Aloysius asked. Coincidence? Nay. Chylus and Magda have long stood by Jarrod’s side, when nearly everyone else – including the elder of the magpie – left Jarrod as a doya verdammerling, as my ancestors said. But they’ve sensed the change. They’ve smelt the stink of Sunday on him. They feel it spreading from the canyon down to the wood. And as one stink comes, freshening the nostrils, other stinks are noticed. 

They have smelt the air coming from the canyon, and the air coming from your little burr holes, Father Marmot, Aloysius hissed. And they have found your air wanting. So they watch you. And, he chuckled, they find much worth watching. 

And because they watch you, the others sense the change. Already the rabbits are talking – but more importantly, the stink helps the crows listen to the rabbits more closely. They begin to wonder why marmots need so many tunnels. So they ask more questions. The rabbits speak to the voles, whom they recruit to dig smaller tunnels between yours, though the chicken wire you have buried, to spy, to pry, to watch. And to report. Aye, we may be in trouble, Aloysius said. Jarrod’s Sunday stink is awakening the sleeping forest. His skies above are clear. Which means yours, Marmot, are clouding up.

Father Marmot was indeed worried.

His marmots had reported the discovery of some smaller tunnels, some penetrating the chicken wire surrounding the enclosure. As fast as they filled them in and plugged them up, more appeared. At first, it was only a few, say, half a dozen. But their numbers were growing.

It's A Journey, Not A Prank

Back in 1992, a smart little film called “Sneakers” hit the theaters. It was a moderate hit, but has, over the years, evolved into a classic cult film. 

For good reason. The film was prescient in its focus on the power of data: 

The world isn’t run by weapons any more. Or energy, or money. It’s run by little ones and zeroes. Little bits of data. It’s all just electrons. 

I don’t care. 

I don’t expect other people to understand this, but I do expect you to understand this. We started this journey together. 

It wasn’t a journey, Cos. It was a prank. 

There’s a war out there, old friend.  A world war. And it’s not about who’s got the most bullets. It’s about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think. It’s all about the information.

Unfortunately, this clip leaves out the least prescient part of what the film had to say about data. Here’s the rest: 

[Cosmo] Don’t you know the places we can go with this?

[Bishop] Yeah, I do. There’s nobody there.

If you think nobody’s there, well, you’re a na├»ve little soul, aren’t you? 

Google, for one, is there. Read this. 

It’s a little spooky, to tell the truth. 

Even I, a non-traveler, know the Frommer’s name. Frommer means travel. To Google, it meant something simpler. Data. 

[I]t appears that Google, despite selling the Frommer's name, has retained the brand's social data and is integrating it with what is now called Zagat Travel. “Google is keeping all of the followers that Frommer’s accrued on Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, Google+, YouTube and Pinterest.” PaidContent writes. “These thousands—or more likely millions—of accounts are valuable because they represent a huge collection of serious travel enthusiasts.” 

There’s a war out there, old friend.  A world war. And it’s not about who’s got the most bullets. It’s about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think. It’s all about the information. 

This is much, much more than just a prank.

And Google isn't alone. Just two weeks ago, announced it was purchasing Goodreads (an internet book review website that woefully fails to recognize the value of retaining a space between its words).

We put lots of data on the web. Tons of it, per experts like Clay Shirky and others. The vast, vast majority of it, we put there voluntarily. 

But companies and governments and who knows who else is watching. And collecting it all. Some so they can sell stuff to us – old hat, absolutely. Some, so they can steal stuff from us, also old hat. And some, because, well, there’s that thrill of knowing. And of lording it over the rest of us that they know. 

I’m not necessarily saying this is all sinister stuff; there’s good that comes from data collection, obviously. But it’s clear that those who don’t have our best intentions at heart are just as eager to gather our data as those whose intentions are pure as the driven snow. 

Cos’ work for his quaint “family men,” in the light of the people eavesdropping on the massive amounts of data we’re shoveling into the waiting maw that is the web, well, in the words of another fictional character, in this case, Former Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfuss of the Surete, “makes the Cosa Nostra look like the Vienna Boys’ Choir.”

It’s not the Markets, it’s the Participants.

UPDATE:  Bitcon nerds say the slump yesterday was not the result of a DDoS, but rather a surge in interest from legitimate coin buyers. The currency slump, however, still occurred as reported, as the lag brought on by the surge in interest caused current Bitcoin holders to panic sell. They also announced that today they're under a DDoS attack.

UPDATE 2: It gets even sillier.

Interesting doings with the buyers and sellers of Bitcoins today. 

Never heard of Bitcoins? Me neither, until I read Farhad Manjoo’s piece about the virtual currency at yesterday. So ironic that today the currency should crash, oozing more than $100 per coin in value as what appear to be market manipulators attack various Bitcoin exchanges, hoping to harvest a profit as Bitcoin holders panic, sell their coins, which the attackers then snap up at bargain prices.
We’ve seen such shenanigans in any market where money is concerned, from the stock exchanges to currency exchanges to the tulip mania that swept the Netherlands in the 17th century. That it happened to Bitcoin isn’t surprising; given human nature it’s always been a question of when, not whether. 

This brings us once again to the fundamentals of it all: It’s not the markets, but the participants, that cause the trouble. And it’s old-fashioned greed (or maybe the new-fangled lulz) that get people to do such stupid, stupid things. Remember than next time you joke (even I joke about it) the Bank of Evil. Because whenever someone creates a good thing, sure as shootin’ there’ll be somebody along sooner or later to do something bad with it. 

I’m not saying Bitcoin is evil or stupid. Sounds like any other investment to me. I just feel bad for those folks who sunk too much into Bitcoin they weren’t diversified when the DDoS started. Maybe this isn’t over. But lordy, it sure doesn’t sound good.

Monday, April 8, 2013

[Shakes Tiny Fist]

Elder Hales, with his fists in the air, did it for me. 

He recalled, during the priesthood session of general conference this weekend, as a boy being told that the world’s standards were at one point, indicated with a fist held in the air, with church standards at another point, indicated with a second fist. The two were apart, but not terribly so. 

Today, he cautioned, the world’s standards are far away, out the door. 

President Monson, even as I waited in anticipation for him to wiggle his ears, did it for me. 

He cautioned us not to pick and choose which commandments to obey. Why adhere to one and not the other, he asked – a caution against so-called Cafeteria Christianity in which we select the commandments that are easy to follow, rejecting those that are tougher.

And Elder Packer, struggling with his health as he is, didit for me. 

He cautioned us against falling into a “tolerance trap” that I’ll leave him to explain because I don’t want to muck it up: 

The permissiveness afforded by the weakening of the laws of the land to tolerate legalized acts of immorality does not reduce the serious spiritual consequences that result from the violation of God’s law of chastity. Tolerance is a virtue, but like all virtues, when exaggerated it transforms itself into a vice. We need to be careful of the tolerance trap so that we are not swallowed up in it.

I admit, though, to struggling with some of this, most particularly the tolerance trap. Elder Holland, of course, has an answer to that. Paraphrasing again, he advises that some of us feel it’s more faith-promoting to express doubts than to express faith. I need to show greater faith, obviously. Not that we can’t ask questions – but that we should ask questions in a context of wanting to understand the answers that come, not stand in defiance when the answers that come don’t fit with our preconceived notion of what the answer should be. 

Some tolerance is a trap – because it becomes one-sided. Some are expected to tolerate all while those pushing the toleration are willing to tolerate but little. The hypocrisy of it all stinks to high heaven, and yet those who are in that hypocritical stage can’t see it. 

At the same time, Satan – who is real – tries to push us into making apples-to-oranges comparisons in one of the many ways he tries to get us to shatter the commandments with the logic of men. I came close to that recently, pondering the perceived tolerance of the 1978 announcement of granting priesthood to all worthy male members to wondering why the same tolerance couldn’t be extended to gays seeking marriage. I see now the difference: There was never any doctrinal basis to the priesthood ban, while there is clear doctrinal evidence on maintaining marriage between man and wife, and in no other way. The tolerance trap nearly had me.
That doesn't open up floodgates of hate, however. It just means true tolerance and love. I can love my brother, because he is and always will be my brother. I do not have to tolerate his pornography addiction. There again, the tolerance trap. 

We’ll be persecuted for this stance, that is clear even before we were reminded of that at conference. We can love. We can accept. But we cannot and should not be forced to violate or invalidate portions of the gospel because the logic or tolerance of man dictates we should do so.

Back to Elder Hales. The church and Christ have not moved. 

So lots to think about. I want to maintain an eternal perspective on all of this – because what we do in this life is only a part of an eternity that can be endangered by what we do and do not do here. This is where life becomes a test. I aim to pass it.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The New Sim City: Not As Bad As Advertised.

Despite the online rage, I bought a copy of the newest Sim City game anyway. I knew I wanted it even as the rage over overloaded servers, space limitations, the “always-on” requirement and other items exploded all over the Internet and got it sticky. 

Luckily[!] for me, our internet connection has been spotty at best over the past few weeks, giving Electronic Arts time to get over the initial teething issues, which I knew the game would have even before the rage erupted. 

Thanks to a few technology tricks and a finally-working Internet connection, I’ve had some time to play around with the game. Here are my thoughts: 

Not as bad as advertised.

Yes, there have been odd quirks. The first city I create inexplicably disappeared – but that’s no great loss, it was a test city that I wanted to get rid of anyway. Building on what I’d learned the first time around, I quickly built a better burg. 

The game challenges are far less annoying than those in Sim City Social (which I’ve all but forgotten during this new Sim City wave). The free downloadable content is on par (so far) with its Facebook counterpart, mainly being advertising for other companies. That I can take or leave; it’s no big deal to me. 

What matters to me is the simulation which, as far as I’m concerned, is great. 

I know folks online have quibbled about the depth of the simulation as well, but they are – to put it kindly – micromanaging nitwits who want to control every little bit of thing and are the kind of people software developers sell (shudder) flight simulators to. Not my thing. I just want to build roads, encourage housing, watch fires get put out, hope my Sims aren’t too ill or too dim and eventually die happy. 

I could do without the multiplayer elements, and will, in fact, do without it. Don’t ask to be my Origin buddy; I’ll say Nay, nay. 

I could also do with more space. I like big, American cities to spread all over the landscape, and to litter the landscape between cities with farms, little assemblages of homes and businesses and such. Real world, in fact. That’s more meaningful to me by way of simulation, which tells me that Sim City 4 is going to reign supreme as the best of the franchise, as far as I’m concerned. Maybe in some future iteration, EA will open up the spaces between the spaces for the kind of intricate verisimilitude I want. But until (and even if never) it happens, I’ll be a content Sim City player.

Short Hold

Doleful Creatures, as much as I love the book, is going on hold for now. 

I don’t want to ruin it, and in my present mindset I’m pretty close to doing that.

Part of my problem is that I refuse to outline. I refuse to plan for the future, aside from some vague end goal – the animals are not going to save the farms, but at least some of them will find peace, one will find redemption, and a few of them will find, well, we’ll have to see. I also refuse to outline. When I start a chapter, I have no idea where it’s going to end up. I kind of like that, it gives my writing an organic feel. But it’s hell for finishing anything. 

I have a PDF of the draft on my Kindle right now. As I read it going to and from work, I can tell it’s rough. I have achieved enough distance from the beginning of the book at least to see where my style needs some polish, and where my style needs to be flushed down the toilet. That’s a good sign. I am also seeing some stuff that is absolute gold. That’s a better sign. 
I want Doleful Creatures to be a good book. Rushing to finish it seems foolish.

Yes, I've said this before. But I broke that promise and started writing again. What came out was just awful. So I need some distance before the rot pervades the entire story. It's not going on hold for long, however. Maybe a few weeks, long enough for me to get to that break between semesters when I've got a few weeks off of teaching. Then I'll hit it again. May also hit it hard this weekend. We'll see.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

See Ya, Fark

The Internet is all growed up. And has a porn addiction. And, for the most part, the mentality of a prepubescent ignoramus that would make Beavis and Butthead look like Rhodes scholars.

My latest evidence? The site, which I will no longer visit because the juveniles have apparently taken over.

They won’t miss me, I’m sure. The feeling is mutual.

Read two comment threads today; the first on a column from a British newspaper concerning a mother’s discussion of pornography with her 11-year-old son, who exhibits a greater amount of maturity than the so-called adults (and aforementioned prepubescent ignoramuses) and the second on a brief video showing an Italian teenager being pulled from the tracks milliseconds before a train arrives – she’d gone onto the tracks to pick up her dropped cell phone.

The comments, well, are comment-y, even for the Internet. Moving from the “what’s wrong with porn”-fest to the second thread, where voyeurs were actively commenting on the girl’s stature rather than her actions – or the fact she survived left me cold. It used to be better, says the man with the onion tied to his belt. We self-censored a bit more. Well, a lot more, than we do now. I don’t know if it’s the anonymity of the Internet, or the fact that it’s always there now, or if these ignoramuses who lack the filter between what the brain thinks and what the mouth says (or the fingers type) have always been around, they’re just more visible now. (Well, I’m sure it’s about 95% of the latter, because, well, humans are humans after all.)

Guess What I'm saying is that the internet has gotten a lot more coarse than when I was fooling around with it back in the early 1990s.

Way back in 1993, as Scott Adams shows us, the Internet held this kind of connotation:

Now, well, it’s basically the same. But the seamy underbelly which would have had Dilbert and the other folks in this strip stark naked has surfaced, ready to talk about people as if they’re slabs of meat to be ogled and fondled and as if EVERYONE ELSE on the planet is going to agree with them. And then the same Internet turns around and tells us rape is bad. Very bad. Very, very bad.*

Can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding . . . 

Of course, it’s not the same internet. There’s the part where mostly decent folks hang out. Then there’s the part where the likes of Michael Brutsch hang out. Guess where I want to be?

Call me a prude. Please. Because that’s what I am. Watching my younger brother’s life self-destruct due to a pornography addiction – he’s lost his wife, his three children, and is currently serving a four-year prison sentence – will kind of make prudery seem like the more viable option.

*Which, of course, it is.

Monday, April 1, 2013

So, Google. Any Chance You're Going to Fix This Soon?

As far as I can tell, I'm not the only one suffering this Blogger error.

It comes when you try to edit a list -- in this case, I've got two lists, Charlie Brown. One list is of books I've read in 2013, while the other is of books I'm reading in 2013. There's no chance of Chuck getting put on the wrong list, because I can't edit the lists at all.

Not a big deal. Except for anal retentives like me, who put lists on their blogs for a reason. Since Google Our Lord and Master owns Blogger, I hope they fix this soon. Else I'll be forced to go back to papyrus. Or, heaven help us, Wordpress.