Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Dawn of Idiocracy

There was a time in my life where I believed in the corrective measures of our electorate.  There was a time in my life where I believed that somehow, there had to be some kind of a universal corrective measure in place to set the universe back in order.  Hell, there was a time in my life where I believed in a higher power.  I mean seriously, throughout the history of our nation, we have confronted our fair share of phony, inept, unethical, narcissistic, Biblically evil assholes.  Both foreign, and domestic.  But this... This shit is different.

There was a time where I believed in a fundamental decency of humanity.

That time has passed.

This blog will serve as my anesthetic.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Cat's Out of the Bag

I just received a mass email from none other than Texas Senator John Cornyn addressing his thoughts on Obama's latest Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.  And to my surprise, it seems Senator Cornyn just let the real reason Republicans in the Senate are giving a new definition to the term, "obstructionist".  Here's a screenshot of what I received:



Just in case the screen capture is hard to see, I'll quote Senator Cornyn:
"The next Supreme Court Justice could change the ideological makeup of the Court for a generation, fundamentally reshaping our society in the process."
That's right folks, this has nothing to do with the, "Biden Rule" or, "Letting the voters have a voice."  They refuse to even hold a hearing because they do not want the current President of the United States the opportunity to fulfill his Constitutional obligation of filling an empty seat on the Supreme Court because they know their ideology, their Christian ideology, will no longer have a stranglehold on the Supreme Court.

Most of his colleagues have been hiding behind the empty rhetoric of a "lame duck" President amid the Presidential PRIMARY season.  But this guy, comfortable in his seat for another four years, told us all the real truth.

Get this, he even included a "poll" in this ridiculous excuse for not performing the duties for which this man was elected.  I'll let you decide if this actually meets the definition of a poll:
"Do you agree that Texans and the American people deserve a say in the selection of the next lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court?
 Yes
 No"
Nothing says, immature elementary school begging like a loaded yes or no question.

Please forward this to everyone who says they're not going to vote.  Forward it to all the young people that claim they'll stay home unless Bernie Sanders gets the nomination.  These are the type of people that are currently running our Congress, and they will continue to operate this way until we vote them out.

So please, I beg you.  VOTE.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

SILAS - My Home Automation

Now that my home automation is finally getting to the point where it feels like an integral part of my house, I decided to take some time to review the hardware components and of course, the software.  While there are both hardware and software components to my home automation, I always refer to it in the general sense as SILAS - Simple Intranet/Internet Linked Automation System.  (I should disclose that I wrote my own software integration to my home automation components, but we'll cover that in a bit.)

First of all, after my initial research I realized I needed a robust and high quality control unit.  I chose the ISY994i from Universal Devices for it's flexibility, ease of use, and more importantly, their various network programming interfaces (again, more on that later.)  At the time I purchased this unit, it was the only controller offering so many features.  I felt I got more bang for my buck, and I knew it would fit the bill when it came time to write my software.  (Insteon is now offering a new Hub, which looks very promising as well.  However, in my opinion their programmer interface is not nearly as concise as the ISY994i.)

Next, for my outlets and switches I chose Insteon products because they offer both powerline and RF communication between components.  Insteon refers to this as "dual-band", which means that a signal is sent via the electrical wiring within your house, and another signal is sent via radio frequency.  If the signal isn't consumed by the particular device through the wiring, it has another chance to consume the signal via RF.  Plus, most of their components not only receive controller signals, but also possess the ability to re-transmit these signals to other potential components.  Obviously this means that as you buy more components, you build a bigger automation network.  This is very convenient for any houses larger than say, 1,600 square feet.

Insteon also offers an extremely wide array of components like in-wall outlets, switches, sprinkler controllers, thermostats, garage door kits... you name it.  My house is littered with various Insteon components and anytime I find a frequently used lamp or light that would be better served by automating it, it's an easy conversion.  For example, I never really felt like I had complete control over my sprinkler system.  Not to mention the Weathermatic controller had a knack for blowing the tiny little 1 Amp fuses every couple of months.  So, I removed the old flaky sprinkler controller and installed a couple of Insteon low voltage sprinkler controllers.  After a quick bit of wiring and linking to the ISY994i, I was all set with complete control and status of each station in my sprinkler system.

Now let's go back to the ISY994i in order to discuss my software.  Years ago, my software ran as an executable in Windows 7 and utilized a direct network connection to the ISY994i controller.  This worked very well for a while, but it generally only functioned when used within my home network (we techie people call that your 'intranet').  Outside my home network (or what techie people call the 'internet'), my connection reliability to my home was spotty at best and nonexistent at worst.  Thus, as the Windows operating system changed, and computer hardware adopted touchscreens, AND Windows Phone offered an easy port of my code, AND the Universal Devices folks offered a new network programming interface, AND internet connections got faster, (and you get the idea...) I decided a new approach was long overdue.

Without going into all the gory technical and programming details, I recently finalized the latest iteration of my SILAS software.  The results of which have been outstanding, at least for me and my family's uses.  I have given the clunky, overly complicated web interface of the ISY994i an easy to manipulate user interface that fits very well with the smallest of Windows tablets.  Not to mention it serves as a satisfying balance between providing the current state of my home and the convenience of modern touchscreen user interfaces.  SILAS can display active devices; the current weather at a glance (and a more descriptive forecast if you wish); lists of rooms or scenes; and of course, Cortana integration for those that actually like issuing orders to their homes.

Finally, I'd like to add that having all of this automation without some kind of fixed, interactive terminals around your house forces everyone, even visitors, into your particular technological ecosystem.  It is this reason that I recommend at least one easily located, wall-mounted terminal/interface to your home automation.  The good news for me is that finding relatively cheap Windows tablets has been fairly easy since Dell and HP have been practically giving them away for the past year-and-a-half.  These small tablets - 8" to be exact - make the perfect interface for high traffic areas like our kitchen and our loft.  Here's a quick snapshot of SILAS in our kitchen (please note that I have plans to build a custom frame to give the tablet a proper finish to the wall):


Also, I have found that Microsoft offers extremely cheap unlocked Windows phones (Lumia 635) on Amazon or the Microsoft Store.  As a matter of fact, these phones are so cheap that they are a far more economical choice than Insteon's 4 or 6 button remotes!  All you have to do is set them to airplane mode and then turn on the WiFi.  And just like that, you have yourself a crisp, backlit LCD interface.  Not to mention they look exceedingly dapper running SILAS (if I do say so myself):


So there we have it.  I hope this helps someone else who might be considering entering the world of home automation.  There are so many products coming to the market now that it is extremely difficult to find the right fit for what you envision for your home.  I hope that in reviewing my home automation solution, it might help give you a bit of direction and clarification as you begin your own adventure toward a fully automated home.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Claim and the Evidence

Lately, I have noticed that some people have either never been taught the difference, or they have simply forgotten their definitions.  Therefore, I decided to review some basic concepts behind critical thought and skepticism.

First, let's review what usually activates the critical mind - the claim.  In this context, a claim is a statement of fact, or an assertion.  These can be things like:
There is a basilisk living in my chimney. 
Samsung phones sell better than iPhones. 
The Earth's orbit is so perfect that if it moved 100 miles in either direction, we would either freeze or burn.
Some claims are so grandiose that it's difficult to comprehend.  Others seem wrong, but only if taken from your perspective.  And of course, some claims are so outlandish that it is just too wild to take seriously.  For example, take my first claim.  I'm quite sure that as a reader, it would take me actually producing said basilisk before you would ever consider my claim.  As a matter of fact, I think you would assume I had lost my mind (and rightly so.)  If I did produce a basilisk, however, remember not to look that sucker in the eye...

Now take the second.  In the United States, many people would probably think that claim about Samsung was false.  That is, until they're shown the actual sales figures where in fact, Samsung outsells everyone when it comes to smartphones.

The third claim might seem plausible to those who know that the Earth is a very long way away from the Sun; and that our planet orbits in the "Goldilocks" or habitable zone of the Sun; and that 100 miles is a really long way, too.  But this claim is not just wildly incorrect, it's downright silly.  The Earth's orbit varies throughout the year by approximately 5 million miles, so 100 miles is just a drop in the orbital bucket.  But the unwitting human can easily comprehend 100 miles, and since it sounds really far, then it's easy for some to believe.

Now that we've covered the claim, let's review the evidence.  This is generally easy for most people to understand - it's anything that can be used to prove or disprove something.  And yes, contrary to popular opinion, even statistics are a completely valid means of providing proof of a claim.

Why is all of this important?

It seems that many people have forgotten that the claim cannot also be used as evidence.  For example, I cannot use the Harry Potter series as evidence for my claim that I have a basilisk in my chimney.  The Harry Potter series does contain some nonfictional castles and cities in the UK, and it also mentions that basilisks exist, but that doesn't mean that the series can be used as a valid source of my claim.

The exact same thing can be said for the Bible.  Try to remember that a book which makes a claim cannot be used to provide evidence that the original claim is true.  Far too many people use this type of circular reasoning to argue a Biblical point of view without realizing the fallacy.

What you choose to believe is your own business.  But please... please do the rest of us a favor and realize that your book, read independent of personal bias, is nothing more than a long list of unsubstantiated, supernatural claims.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Prosperity, Politics, and Schadenfreude Gold

Hopefully all of you have been keeping up with the current fiasco that is the modern religious right.  As for me, I've been eagerly waking up every morning just to see who's going to be next!  What must it be like for those people that have been lifting these delinquents into prominence within the religious community?  I wonder how hard they cringe when they see, "Breaking now..." scrolling by on their television screens?

I can tell you what it's like for the rest of us - it is outright, no holds barred, unadulterated joy!

Since people tend to have a very short memory these days, I feel it's my responsibility to start out by saying that this kind of thing really isn't all that uncommon.  There's Ted Haggard, John Paulk, Larry Craig, David Vitter, Henry Hyde, Mark Foley, Bob Livingston, George Rekers, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Bishop Eddie Long; just to name a few.

But since we had so much of it this week, I'm going to do something I normally don't do - I'm going to cover a some of the stories revealed over the last few days so in twenty or thirty years I can look back on these stories and have a good chuckle when I'm an old geezer.

First, I give you Donald Trump.  Here's a guy whose companies have filed for bankruptcy four times, and thus far is the front-runner for the Republican nomination.  The man sounds like an eight year-old when interviewed or participating in political debates.  Admittedly, it is quite possible the reason he sounds like an eight year-old is that we are witnessing the extent of his vocabulary.  Yet he still remains the front-runner.  He makes morally asinine and fiscally impossible claims on very complex issues like immigration, the budget, gun control, and civil rights.  Yet he still remains the front-runner.

As sad as it is, our once grand nation really has become, "Idiocracy".

Want more proof?  I give you John Oliver's Televangelists piece on his HBO show, "Last Week Tonight".  If you have twenty minutes to spare, I beg you to watch it.  It's worth every second!

You see, these pastors charismatically preach something called, "The Prosperity Gospel" where wealth is a sign of God's favor and blessings.  This idea works especially well for them, because all of this prosperity begins with "seed faith", where honest and hard working people are convinced to donate money so that one day they will get to "harvest" the bounty from that seed.  The people in these congregations are even told to charge $1,000 dollars on their credit card in order for God to wipe out their credit card debt...

I realize that it's easy for us to sit back and laugh at the sheer volume of people that these pastors and other religious leaders are able to bilk for millions and millions of dollars, but when we take into account that none of these people or organizations pay any taxes whatsoever, how are we all not enraged by what they're doing?  Instead of insisting the IRS pursue prosecutions for fraud, we shake an accusatory finger at the ones doing the bilking.  And it's not the fault of the IRS either; that agency is forced to ignore most of these religious racketeers out of fear of more budget cuts from their religious cronies in the United States Congress.  It's a vicious cycle of corruption created and maintained by the very people that want to force even MORE of their religion into our society.

And then... there's Josh Duggar.  This guy...  The hits just keep coming and coming.  (Cue rimshot!)

I am not at all surprised that his name showed up TWICE in the Ashley Madison account hack.  To me, this was the very definition of a no-brainer.  What I found the most offensive was his silly statement released after he had been caught.  Sure he's a hypocrite, and sure he admitted that he had multiple affairs.  BUT WHO CARES?!?!?  What bugs me is that he did exactly what other religious people have done and blame it on something outside, something intangible.  Like, you know, pornography.

That is exactly like blaming violence on video games!  Seriously, millions upon millions of people view some form of pornography every hour of every day.  Yet the number of divorces in the United States really hasn't changed over the past 15 to 20 years (as a matter of fact, I believe the divorce rate has gone down a bit.)  Blaming pornography is a distraction, a diversion.  He's doing what any good religious leader would do - find a scapegoat or claim you were deceived by Satan himself.

What a perfect out these guys have.

Then his poor wife, Anna.  She's so brainwashed by her religion that she apparently claims that it was partly her fault that her husband was so horny and lacked so little self-control.  And this is what religion does to women.  It teaches most of them that they are nothing more than property for men - toys for men to satiate their uncontrollable appetite for sex.  For even in the face of scandal caused solely by the transgressions of her husband, she's taught to think that she's partly to blame.  How sad is it that only religion is allowed to do that to another human being?

And finally, the annual bellyaching that the rest of us must endure from those that are the direct cause behind everything I've discussed in this post.  Every single year when the kids are set to go back to school, we get to hear all the whining and whimpering about school prayer from the religious right.  You guys really need a new playbook...

Okay, first of all, which god would you like them to pray to?  My preference would be Thor, because does anyone ever see Ice Giants walking around?  I didn't think so.  Thank you, Thor.

Second, how popular would a set of kids yelling, "Allahu Akbar!" be during this proposed school prayer?  If we allow Christians to pray at schools, then we must allow all the religious to pray as they see fit.  And that scenario would be the one where I know I'd be standing nearby with a big box of popcorn.

I mean, good grief Christians!  As if forcing every kid to go through the motion of bowing their heads will actually make them pray.

Wait a second...  I have a thought.  If you honestly believe that most of those kids are actually praying, even in church, then I'd like you to send me your email address so that we can get your "Prosperity Gospel" account started!

Friday, August 14, 2015

One Plate Less

Over the past few days I have begun one of the hardest moments of my life.  Now I realize that many people have already experienced this, and may not necessarily think this is that difficult a hurdle.

Well...  Deal with it, because it is for me.  I am going to miss grabbing four plates for dinner.  I'm going to miss seeing that beautiful face sitting next to me at the table and hearing all the drama and happiness she experienced throughout her day.  I'm going to miss looking over her head while we watch movies.

You see, I made it point to be as involved in my kid's lives as I could.  Perhaps that's why this is so difficult.  Since Rachel and Zack were born, my life has been filled with those two.  Our homes in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Arizona and Texas.  Our trips to Alaska, Wyoming, California, Colorado, and of course, to Disney.  These two have been our little traveling troopers - with nothing but eagerness and excitement to join in.

But now the time has come where our troop will be down by one.  It's that damn empty seat again.

And I realize that this is selfish and childish of me, but the closer I get to leaving our baby girl, the more I feel the weight of the emptiness of her chair at our dinner table and the emptiness of her seat in our car.

While parents are raising their children, we all have this understanding that one day these wonderful people will leave our homes to break off on their own.  But that understanding is buried under years of, "Daddy, can you help?" or, "Daddy, come see!" or time after time of your child just being... a child.  The thought is like a spot on your carpet you choose to ignore.  You know it's there, you see it every day, but at the time it seems better to simply wave your hand and deal with it when you have more time.

That's the problem, though.  For me that time passed far, far too quickly.

It came before I was ready.  It came before I had the courage to deal with it.  And it came before I had the strength say goodbye.



We love you and will miss you deeply, Rachel.  Have fun, work hard, and we can't wait to see what you accomplish over the next four years...

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Lost That Claim To Be Saved

"For a person that's been saved, he sure seems lost."
That quote came from my brother in just casual conversation, and it made such an impression on me that I absolutely had to write about it. I wish that I could deliver so concise and so powerful a message as he did in just ten words.

Well done, sir!

First, I'll do what I do best and write about my own experiences living life, raising kids, and growing older. I'll begin by saying that I unconditionally love my wife. I'll even go so far as saying that I worship the ground that woman strolls upon. She's the most beautiful and intelligent person I know, and to this day I still cannot even fathom how I convinced her to marry me. (I think it was the alcohol...) I absolutely adore my kids. They're both brilliant, hilarious, kind, and compassionate. I wake up in the morning eager to see their groggy faces and tattered hair. And of course, as my work day wears on I find myself anxious to see them when I get home.

My family has always been my inspiration.

But the thing is, I live my life knowing that each breath I take could very well be my last. And in knowing that, I will make every effort to make even my very last moment worth living. I know that I will never, ever have enough time with these wonderful people, even if I live to a ripe old age. It will never be enough. Ever. I know I'm fortunate to be surrounded by such interesting and entertaining human beings, which is why I will always cherish every single moment with them.

Compare that with what you hear from people that wrap themselves in a blanket of religion. You know the type. The people whose actions and prejudices give us the expression, "holier than thou." These individuals don't think they're living life unless they're singing songs of their own self-loathing. They use words like, "worthless" and, "emptiness" and, "undeserving." They go on and on about their past; how wretched they once were and how they pray ever so hard now for forgiveness.

Now, keeping all of that in mind, let's go back to what my brother said. Does that last paragraph sound like a healthy outlook on life for someone who has supposedly been dipped in the waters of salvation? Does that sound like someone that's been "delivered" from all the sin and debauchery that's supposedly rampant in our society?

Yet that type of thinking is commonplace in religious circles. They are never good enough. They are never worthy enough. They are never faithful enough. And according to their pastors, their religious leaders, and the people they surround themselves with, they are simply not allowed to be happy with themselves and who they've become even after being saved by blood of Jesus Christ.

I know this sounds like I'm building up my own straw man, but I honestly wish I was. I read this type of stuff anywhere from Facebook posts to Christmas cards. You really don't have to search very far to find it. It's just about everywhere, as sad as that is.

And yet I pity these individuals. I pity them to the point where I wish I could convince them to go speak with a therapist. I sincerely worry about many of them, since much of what they say and write reminds me of someone who's suicidal.

But my hope is that anyone that reads this will take a moment and look back on their lives not as a constant downward slide of mistakes and depravity, but instead as a tapestry of learning and experience. Sure, we all fail, we all stumble here and there, and we all wish we had said or done something nicer. But then again, we also succeed, we all achieve here and there, and we all feel good when we help another person in need. All of these experiences - including those that give us pride and those that make us feel terrible - are what make us who we are.

So the person you see in the mirror is not one or the other - that person is both the achiever and the failure. Focusing on your mistakes over your successes doesn't make you a better person, it just makes you vulnerable to someone who's ready to sell you a cure for something you never even had in the first place.