Life Hack

When you’re staring at the stranger in the mirror, wondering who the fuck you are and how the fuck you got here, you may as well be flossing.

Bitcoin is Cool, but It’s not Money

The subject of blockchain technology in general, and cryptocurrency in particular, has come up a few times lately, and I’ve been doing some reading. When you look, you mostly find stuff that does a bad job describing what blockchain is, before jumping to some particular use for it – generally cryptocurrency, and why you should buy some.

But “blockchain” is the second-least important word in this discussion. “Cryptocurrency” is the least important. Blockchain is a way to achieve a utopian dream, and it’s the dream we will talk about today. The dream is the Distributed Ledger – a system where there isn’t some central institution who decides who owns what, instead that information is all kept in an encrypted ledger that we all share and maintain, and magically we can only read the parts of the ledger that are our business to read.

All the blocks and chains and whatnot are an implementation detail that is not really that important. But… later we will see that some implementation details matter a lot.

Let’s talk about the distributed ledger. Instead of some bank tracking how much money is in everybody’s account, there are thousands of copies of the ledger, spread around the world, immune to deprivations of institutions who use the ledgers to control us. It’s a pretty sweet idea. Better yet, ideally even when the ledger is spread around the world, only the right people can read the parts about you. For all the rest, the ledgers just have to agree.

To make this happen there are two key concepts: redundancy and consensus. Redundancy we just spoke of. Thousands, maybe millions of instances of the ledger, all verifying that they are the same, even if they can’t see the individual transactions.

But imagine if Ronald McDonald decides to give a Bitcoin to Mayor McCheese. He duly records the transaction and that information propagates through the network as all the instances of the ledger are updated. But at the same time, on another ledger it is recorded that in fact Ronald gave that same Bitcoin to the Hamburgler! I heard that gasp of horror, and it is well-placed!

With every distributed ledger, there has to be a way to resolve discrepancies that through sloppiness, bad timing, or malice will inevitably arise. Eventually all those ledgers have to concur about what actually happened. Therefore, the people who run the system need to make it difficult for the bad guys to overwhelm the honest transactions. They need to allocate deciding power based on some resource they control that makes the holders invested in the success of the platform.

In the case of Bitcoin, that resource is pure computing power. Solve math puzzles, get Bitcoins. Once you have Bitcoins, you will protect them. So to push false transactions onto Bitcoin, you would have to to solve those math puzzles faster than everyone else on the network combined.

That would not be easy. I read an estimate today that the current Bitcoin puzzle-solving economy, which uses extremely efficient hardware designed to solve these particular problems and nothing else, is currently chewing through the amount of electricity consumed by the entire country of Austria – at the low end. So to fool Bitcoin, you’d need about 1.1 Austrias (at the low end) of power. That’s pretty impractical, and that’s what keeps your Bitcoins safe.

Or, to defraud the system you could find a different way to generate sha256 hashes (that’s the Bitcoin puzzle). If you came up with a new way to do that calculation that took 1% of the power, you could destroy Bitcoin. Quantum computing would trash Bitcoin, but the latter will be long gone before the former arrives on the scene. Yep, Bitcoin will be long gone.

There are other ways for distributed ledgers to form consensus that are far less carbon-awful. In fact, there’s a currency that was recently announced that awards blocks (coins) for each ton of CO2 sequestered. And away from cryptocurrency, the distributed ledger promises to transform some really complex problems like adaptive energy grids and a world filled with self-driving cars. All the new cryptocurrencies are finding less ecologically-disastrous ways to manage consensus. Etherium is launching a new less-eco-awful version of their currency, and leaving their old version to the winds of fate. The power bill will eventually destroy Bitcoin.

I mentioned above redundancy and consensus. We have seen that consensus can be extremely expensive. New distributed ledgers are working to reduce that cost. But redundancy also has a cost.

All the ledgers have to share information, constantly updating each other. For the blockchain implementation, each update itself requires a great deal of computation to ensure security — digital signatures, hashes, more signatures. Recording a single transaction in thousands of ledgers eats up CPU time, to the point where processing a single Bitcoin transaction takes the juice to run your house for a week. (Actually, a German house for a week, whatever that means.)

And this is where we get to “Bitcoin is not Money”. Despite demanding the power of a European nation to operate, Bitcoin can only process a few transactions per second. Like, less than ten. How many credit card transactions take place every second? A global-scale distributed ledger makes each transaction very expensive. It is simply impossible for Bitcoin to be a factor in everyday commerce.

(Although I have to say that since you can know the entire history of each coin, you could, for instance, simply refuse to accept any coin ever touched by a company that dealt with blood diamonds, effectively making their money worth less. That is the true power of the distributed ledger. Someday it will be real.)

When it comes right down to it, our current attempts at the distributed ledger are way better at things that aren’t money – things where there is value in decentralizing, but they don’t move as fast as we need money to move. Or things that move fast but in a smaller context, like an office or a company.

Or, God help us all, Non-Fungible Tokens. A topic for another day.

When you hear about the ways blockchain technology will change the world, quietly, to yourself, substitute the term “distributed ledger”. That is the idea that has the power to change so many things for the better, and it’s a lot easier to fit in your head. Blockchain is an implementation of that idea, but it’s got warts big enough to mostly obscure the magical toad underneath. Moore’s Law may finally get us to the promised land, but computers will literally have to be a million times faster than they are now to turn blockchain-based cryptocurrency into actual money. My bet is now that we have seen the value of the distributed ledger, we will find a better way to accomplish it. And that’s pretty exciting.

2

Happy Road Trip Day

Elevator, Ocelot, Rutabaga, everyone, as we cross 17.000 in the Muddled Calendar*. Seventeen has always been an auspicious number in the Muddleverse, being prime and whatnot, and I’m feeling pretty good about the upcoming 365.2422 days (give or take; there is some wobble).

In other news, apparently I’m still a Padres fan. Time will tell how those two mystical forces align.

* The Muddled Calendar started at 0.000, so at the millennium I don’t want to be hearing from any pedants.

6

Google’s New Evil

Google, Facebook, and their pals make big money because companies believe that carefully-targeted advertising is more effective than plain ol’ marketing blitzes. While there is some debate about that, it hasn’t stopped Google from harvesting and reselling enormous amounts of information about people. About you. One of their primary tools has been the third-party cookie. When you go to myfavoritesite.com, you are the first party. myfavoritesite.com is the second party. But they can also send cookies your way on behalf of Google et. al., and allow those behemoths to track your every move.

Nowadays, those third-party cookies are falling into deep disfavor. The abuses they enable are vast, including institutional discrimination, predatory marketing, and deep invasions of privacy.

The handwriting is on the wall; third-party cookies are on the way out, and Google is stepping nimbly to repackage its evil. Never forget, fundamental to their business is their ability to package and sell you.

Their latest initiative is the “privacy sandbox”, which means that some information about you is never sent to the mother ship. Instead, an algorithm in the Chrome browser will wrap up your browsing history for the week and assign you to a group. Google won’t be selling you, they will be selling a group. That makes it private.

Now mind you, that group won’t be useful to advertisers unless they know some of the qualities of the group. And don’t forget, if the site you visit knows you’re one of a few thousand people, it’s much easier for them to pin exactly who you are than if you were one of many millions.

And now you’re in a “cohort”, defined by google. You cohort might shift a bit, week to week, which is especially interesting to the sites who can tell exactly who you are.

Brief aside on “knowing exactly who you are”: two browsers have built-in systems for thwarting those efforts. Tor is one, the official browser of the Dark Web, and Safari is the other. Firefox has some great add-ons that accomplish the same thing. But none of those browsers can keep you anonymous in a pool of only a few thousand.

Less brief Twitter anecdote: Twitter offered users the choice to opt out of a particularly invasive form of tracking. But after a while they discovered that there was a bug in their software and that in fact they had been sharing that stuff with advertisers anyway. Oops! They fixed the bug and revenue plummeted. Turns out that information was what they were being paid for. Their solution: Change the Terms of Service! Users can no longer opt out of sharing that information. It was pitched as being required to keep Twitter a free service. Twitter is not free, and is not a service.

Anyway, back to Google. They say that they will watch the cohorts, to make sure that people who are in “sensitive interest categories” aren’t bunched together in a too-exploitative manner.

First, that means that there will not be a privacy sandbox on your computer, because the mother ship will need to monitor the cohorts. Second, there is a corporation deciding what the sensitive interest categories are, and how to protect them, and each iteration of their algorithm may expose another “sensitive” group. Third, I may or may not be part of any of the sensitive groups as defined by Google, but that doesn’t make my privacy less a right. Finally, It just won’t work, because if someone can figure out that other people in my cohort have visited places I consider part of my private life, they will be able to assume the same about me. That includes medical sites, mental health advisors, and lawyers.

This is all just bad. Google is offering different surveillance as an answer to what we have now. The stuff I describe above is in beta testing in the Chrome browser right now. While I don’t know the scope of this beta test, if history is a guide with Google “beta” means “it’s out there.”

Long ago, Apple and Google worked together on a thing called WebKit, the software that underpinned both browsers. I watched as schism formed between the two companies, as Apple engineers found security and privacy exploits in many of the new features Google wanted to implement. It was esoteric at the time, very abstract discussions about how some drawing tools could be used to read the screen underneath, which could include private information. Eventually the partnership split, and now Google has way more features than Safari, and Safari offers way more protection for you. Some sites don’t work so well with Safari, but that’s the cost of privacy.

Use whatever browser you like, but remember one thing: Chrome is the core tool (along with Android) created by a company that makes money by watching everything you do.

For a more detailed discussion of the new Google shenanigans, please visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

1

Quarantine Pro Tip

If your dog is licking your sweat pants, you should probably put on a fresh pair. You know, in the next couple of days.

3

A New Tool (almost)

This weekend Harlean (who is a fiction) and I had a really fun photo shoot. We were using our Lensbaby gizmos for the first time, and allowed ourselves the emotional room to experiment and accept when things didn’t work right, and celebrate when changing something actually had the predicted result. A wonderful day in the studio.

There is a part of me that believes that getting good results with your current gear is an indication that you don’t need better gear. But over the years I have identified a few cases where new gear would be better. And heck, I used to watch a series on YouTube that included “Good Photographer, Shitty Camera” episodes where respected pros would be handed a Barbie doll with a camera embedded in her chest or a LEGO camera or what-have-you, and invariably these pros would manage to find a remarkable image.

But none of them said, “I’m ditching my Nikon for Barbie!” Sure, some of those folks are probably still using Canon 5D Mark III’s, but I suspect not many of those do a lot of self-portraits. Here in this house the limitations of the 5D started to become apparent when self-portraiture became a regular occurrence. On the 5D, you have to make choices — not all autofocus modes work when you are using strobes or speedlights. Specifically, the autofocus modes that don’t require you to look through the viewfinder are absent. Additionally, the presence of the viewfinder itself can interfere with autofocus, as light coming in through the viewfinder can confuse things.

### For a bit here, I go on about Camera Stuff that is interesting (to me) and relevant(ish), but does not really build on the narrative of this episode. You could probably skip to the picture below if you’re not interested in the evolution of modern cameras or how that solves specific problems in our studio.

Anyway, at the heart of those problems is the very nature of the SLR itself. SLR stands for “Single-Lens Reflex” and is a system where there is a mirror in the camera that while at rest diverts the light coming through the lens up to the viewfinder. When you push the shutter button, the mirror snaps up out of the way and the light hits the sensor (or film) instead. It is the mirror snapping up and back that gives an SLR its distinctive shutter sound.

The reason some focus modes aren’t always available in our 5DIII is that those focus settings require computer processing to identify eyes, faces, and whatnot, and when the light is going to the viewfinder rather than hitting the sensor, that processing cannot take place. There is a mode that lifts the mirror to allow that processing, but then the camera can’t trigger the flash for “electronic shutter” reasons I don’t quite understand.

SLR was a big deal because it gave the photographer a much better idea what the picture was going to be like. Before that, the viewfinder had its own lenses, which tried really hard to match what the main lens would show, but as the “main lens” became ever more complicated, that became impractical.

But your phone doesn’t have a mirror in it, now does it? The light doesn’t need to be diverted to a viewfinder, the sensor chip itself sends that info to a screen. Then when you push the “shutter”, it sends a signal to the camera to take a much higher quality image off the same sensor and send off for storage.

All the big camera companies have lines of “digicams” that try to be better than a phone and easy to carry around and shoot with. They have the screen on the back, and depending on where you live, they might be legally required to play a recording of that SLR mirror-clack when they take a picture.

But until fairly recently, all the high-end gear continued to be SLR. Honestly, I know there were compelling reasons, but I’m not entirely sure what they were. But then Fuji and Sony made exciting high-end “mirrorless” cameras. As mentioned above, “mirrorless” itself wasn’t huge news, but now that word is used to describe the top-end gear out there that doesn’t have a mirror.

Canon responded with a thud, creating the EOS-M format, that utterly failed to establish them in this market. Maybe not a Zune-level flop, but in the neighborhood. Nikon did a little better, and Sony pulled ahead while Fuji found a very comfortable niche to totally dominate, while still pushing Sony.

Now, Canon and Nikon have stepped up their games, and Canon at least burned their boats on the shore. There will be no new major updates with a mirror from Canon, and no new lenses to fit their SLR line. It’s all about the R.

With that long-winded explanation, you might not have noticed that a mirrorless camera solves two of our current issues: “Aha! No optical viewfinder means no light leaking in from the eyepiece to mess up autofocus!” and (less obvious) “Aha! There’s no mirror! Sensor-based focus modes are available all the time!”

So, after one very frustrating shoot that might have been somewhat less frustrating with different technology, and two very smooth shoots to prove we deserved it, we helped pay off Canon’s gamble:

This lovely photo of our new hot-shit camera was taken with my phone.

It is physically smaller than the 5D it is replacing, because there’s no need to make room for a mirror to flip up and back. The geometry of the mount means that lens makers can go crazy. Hopefully, somewhere at Canon is that troublemaker saying, “hey, remember when we did that 50mm f/1.0? We can beat that.”

So there it sits, radiating potential. In the camera world, as in computers, the chips are obsolete before they even land on your doorstep. I’m honestly surprised that the 5DIII is still not obsolete after eight years. But in photography the real investment is in the lenses. Camera bodies come and go, but glass is forever. Mostly. There are better versions of almost every lens I own made specifically for the new camera, but not enough better to justify replacement.

All one needs is an adapter to connect the old EF-mount lenses to the new RF body. (In fact, because of the new geometry, I can now attach other, non-Canon lenses I’ve long longed over. There’s a Minolta…)

Anyway, all I need is an adapter, and my library of lenses will be ready to go. That’s all I need.

The adapter is on backorder. Sitting in a box is a pretty dang incredible camera, and I can’t attach any of my lenses to it. The L-plate arrived today, so I have a lot of flexibility attaching the new camera to a tripod. Just… no lenses. I can hold it, I can admire it, but I can’t take any pictures with it. “Coming soon!” the reputable camera company says.

Not soon enough.

2

Outdoor Hockey

In general, I enjoy the NHL games played outdoors. I might argue that they are turning to that gimmick a touch too often these days, robbing the event of its inherent specialness, but I’m still on board for at least one outdoor game each year. It’s different and fun and the players just seem a little happier.

Most years, it’s also a chance to have a hockey game in a giant arena that holds tens of thousands more fans than fit into a traditional hockey venue. After a couple of dicey years, the NHL developed a mighty mobile refrigeration unit that could maintain a good sheet of ice just about anywhere.

Just about. Today’s outdoor game in South Lake Tahoe was a disaster. The sun shone down and any ice over painted areas, like the logo in the center of the rink or the red dots, turned to slush. After the first period it was decided to postpone the rest of the game until long after nightfall. Luckily no one was hurt before that decision was made.

When you schedule an outdoor game, the weather will always be a risk. It seemed smart at first blush to put a game where there was no need to accommodate fans in a beautiful wintry setting. So the NHL decided to play a couple of games in Tahoe, setting up the rink on a golf course next to the lake. Lovely.

The thing is, when you don’t have to accommodate fans, you don’t have to build a rink. There are thousands (probably) of outdoor rinks on this continent that could have hosted this game — and imagine all the extra hometown color that could have enhanced the story.

I have been skating plenty of times — as ai kid I hit the ice fairly regularly in the winter — but I’ve never skated indoors. Not once. The little rink in my hometown was nestled in a deep canyon and shaded by ponderosas and long banners of fabric hanging from wires overhead to thwart the Northern New Mexico sun. At 7200 feet altitude, the air was cold and dry. Good for ice.

For the cost of building a rink on a golf course and then destroying TV ratings by moving most of the game until after most hockey fans were asleep, the NHL could have installed glass at our little rink and played the game in the most nostalgic setting imaginable — a little rink in a little town (high enough up that even the Avalanche might have been short of breath), and the players could have got their hot chocolate in little plastic cups just like the rest of us do. It could have been fuckin’ magical.

Much fancier than back in the day, but ready to host a big game.

Addendum: I went looking for a picture of the ol’ rink, and apparently it has glass now. In fact: “Built in 1936, the Ice Rink is the only refrigerated, NHL regulation, outdoor Ice Rink in New Mexico.” Those who know the history of Los Alamos realize that in 1936 the town didn’t exist; the rink was part of the Ranch for Boys that occupied the land before the Manhattan Project. Maybe there’s an old photo somewhere of Colgate and Pond in hockey garb. All more fascinating material for the TV yakkers to gush over.

The rink in this picture looks WAY swankier than it did was when I was a kid. Maybe not so good for nostalgia, but that ice is just waiting for the NHL to figure out how to get a no-audience outdoor game right. And with the glass they won’t have to send someone up the slope into the woods to find the puck quite so often.

5

Gotta Ride, Part 6: The Crash

I have set a goal for myself: Get to the top of Mount Hamilton by bicycle before I turn 60. It is a well-known climb in these parts, and it has the advantage of being a serious ride that I don’t have to start with a ride in the car. It’s only a few miles from home to the foot of the climb. It’s about 1300 meters from where I live to the top. Routine for some, the achievement of a lifetime for others.

I have given myself three years to get fit enough to make that climb, and let me tell you, kids, I am extremely excited about this goal, and I’m sure I can do it.

If I survive those few urban miles between me and the mountain.

December 19 was, mostly, my best ride ever. I had planned to do a small loop up the first couple of miles of the climb. That would be a preview to a bigger loop I would build up to. Not even remotely close to the full climb, but more than I had done on the last trip.

Man, I had fun. I told myself there was no shame in stopping for a breather a couple or times, and I missed the turn for the smaller loop and kept on going up. I found the larger-loop road down and took it easy heading back; this wasn’t a time trial. It was a chance to enjoy the day, and when my tire hissed and spat angrily I pulled over only to find that the sealer goo I had reinforced just prior to the ride worked perfectly.

It was a tiny road down, twisting and turning, but there were almost no cars. There were many junior-high level kids slogging up the other way, pedaling at absurd gear ratios but moving forward and up. A club? A team? Just what kids do up there to get around?

I had a song in my heart when I returned to the foot of the mountain. An epic day, for small values of epic. I’ve mentioned before how much I love a good day on the bike; this was the best day ever.

Until the crash, at least. I was back on urban roads and looking over my shoulder to check traffic as I approached an intersection, when I hit a massive ridge of pavement in the bicycle lane. According to software, I was moving at somewhere between 17 and 18 MPH when it all went to hell.

The Death Berm. It’s taller than it looks in this photo.

My first thought, as my reflexes fought to control the bike, was utter surprise. That didn’t last long. Given the distribution of my injuries, it’s pretty much a miracle that I didn’t break a wrist or leg or you-name-it trying to break my fall. I wobbled, I tipped, and I smashed to the curb and slid across the sidewalk to wrap myself around a tree in its oh-so-soft mulch.

Somewhere in there I heard the sound of my helmet whacking against the pavement. It seemed, in that time-dilated moment, that I had been waiting for that sound.

Finally I was at rest, against the tree, and I hurt in a very non-specific way. I just hurt. My watch asked for my attention. “It seems you have fallen,” It said. “Do you need help?” I wasn’t sure at that point how to answer.

A bystander came close, but not too close. He asked if I was OK. I was still trying to figure that out, as I lay on my back and looked into the clear sky. My watch asked me about my status again, ready to call 911 on my behalf if I was unable to answer. I selected “I did fall, but I’m OK.” I still wasn’t sure that was true.

Once the bystander was sure I was not going to die, my Samaritan turned to humor. “You need last rites? Because my friend here is a priest.” I wasn’t ready to laugh, but I was glad he was. When I told him I was wearing a brand-new helmet, one with new technology for better brain protection, he was effusive. “Wow! that’s great! Thank God for that.” He couldn’t offer physical aid, but he was working as hard as he could to throw spiritual aid my way.

Eventually I convinced my electronics and my helpful bystanders that I would be all right. I just needed to lay on the grass for a bit. After a short while I got up, documented the death berm in the bike lane, and started my ride home.

That was a long six miles. There was enough blood coming off me that motorists at intersections waved me along and waited for me to cross. I couldn’t (and still can’t) signal my right turns; my shoulder won’t allow it. My front derailleur is either damaged or knocked out of whack; I tried a shift that left my chain flopping around my bottom bracket, and in my state that nearly dumped me over again. There is also quite a bit of cosmetic damage to my brand-new bike.

Perversely, I’m a little proud of those six miles. Not in the same way I’m proud of the climb that came before; but proud nonetheless. Two miles from home I called the Official Sweetie and said that when I got home I needed to go to urgent care.

As my Samaritan was quick to tell me, it could have been a lot worse. I had a good helmet and somehow managed to hit the concrete with my fleshy parts, and not break any bones. My brain survived unscathed, judging by subsequent code reviews. I have a massive hematoma on my thigh, a bulge larger in span than my fully-extended hand, that ripples when I tap it. The doctor says it will probably go away, and almost six weeks after the wipeout it seems a little smaller. I have a separated shoulder that is pissing me off and making it difficult to sleep. But I am alive.

I am alive, and I really, really want to get back to climbing that mountain.

7

Use It or Sell It

I don’t spend nearly as much time in video conferences as many of the people around me do, but even after we figure out what normal is anymore, it’s likely to include a lot of telepresence. I have been mildly dissatisfied with some of my gear for these gatherings, but it has recently occurred to me that I already have excellent alternatives.

The first annoyance is my dissatisfaction with my older-generation little earbuds. They have an elegant design, but they are persnickety. I think keeping the case in my pocket has introduced grime in the connector and inside the case as well, but where else am I going to put the case if not my pocket? I’m not buying a fanny pack to carry around my too-hip earbuds. And beyond that the buds have this slick, “I know when I’m in your ear” feature that doesn’t always know when one or the other is in my ear.

I have another set of headphones, the over-ear type, that I really like. I can save swearing at the sleek little ear buds for when I’m on the workout machine, and wear the superior cans the rest of the time. The only catch: no microphone. My laptop has a microphone, but it turns out I have an even better solution.

I have an actual microphone. A pretty good one, in fact, purchased roughly 25 years ago. Maybe 30. I’ve been paying to store it and I’ve been dragging it along with me ever since, but I’ve hardly used it. (it was bought as an expression of commitment for a project that failed to launch.) It is a condenser mic, but it has a battery if you are in situations where you can’t provide phantom power. It turns out somewhere along the way I also picked up a little tube preamp to supply phantom power and provide knobs to twist. Used even less.

All I need to get that rig up and running is a cable that has XLR on one end and USB on the other. That’s not as simple as it sounds, because on the microphone/amp end of the wire the signal is analog, while on the computer end the signal is digital. So it’s not just a cable but an a/d converter. But those converters are out there. You can pay as much as you want, or twelve bucks.

Also, I will need a desktop microphone stand, or a Tinkertoy set.

But the bottom line is that I have utter overkill for the microphone requirement. And if I don’t use that microphone now, what the hell am I holding on to it for?

But it doesn’t end there. There was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments when my employer introduced their new line of laptops this year. Sure there is much excitement around the new chip (I have no information about it that you don’t, but it sounds pretty dang awesome), but the laptops still have the same barely-adequate cameras their predecessors did. Back when the new lineup was finalized, that probably didn’t seem like such a big deal.

Software has improved the quality of the video from these laptops, but for a company that makes a big deal of the awesomeness of the cameras (plural! working seamlessly together) on their phones, they sure seem to be slacking on the laptops. (My uninformed opinion is that this will change when FaceID come to the laptop line.)

My “office” corner is fairly dim, and I like it that way, but it doesn’t work so well in virtual meetings. If only I had a better Web camera! Like, that Canon right over there. Huh. And then with the 50mm at a fairly wide aperture the background back-lit liquor cabinet would just be an interesting blur, rather than a testament to what I have become. Turns out Canon rushed out software to make many of their cameras work with many of the conference platforms. All I need is… the cable to connect the camera to the computer.

I am two cables away from having a pretty high-end conference station. Because I TOTALLY NEED one. And hell, If I can’t justify owning that microphone now, it’s time to let go.

2

Hank Aaron

I was a kid in 1974, and not particularly attached to baseball. Yet I felt the buzz as Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron approached the all-time home run record.

Aaron was approaching a record set four decades earlier by Babe Ruth. He accomplished this (I read today) by being the singly most consistently great player in baseball history. This is something that can only be accomplished by a talented athlete who never takes a day off, mentally or physically, for decades.

In 1974, there were a lot of other things I didn’t know. My recollection of the game is vague, except for the part where Hank went long. While I watched the TV to see if this would be the at-bat that made him a legend (not even really understanding what that meant, but I was caught up in the spectacle), I did not know that Hank Aaron was receiving death threats every day. A lot of people were threatening to kill him if he, a Black man, were to break Ruth’s record.

When Aaron’s team relocated from Milwaukee to Atlanta, he wasn’t too stoked. He had played minor league ball in the South, and the fans had not been pleasant. But his team moved, and so did he, and he quietly became a voice of racial justice in Georgia.

But (I read today), rather than being filled with anticipation at breaking a legendary record, Aaron was living in hell, and just wanted that final home run that put an end to the conflict, one way or another. That angers me, that such an accomplishment would only be a source of catharsis, rather than joy. That the last part of the climb to that summit would be tainted by fear of something not natural but simply evil.

Aaron broke the record set by a man who played in a league that excluded black players. Imagine what might have become of Ruth’s numbers if he had had to face Satchel Paige occasionally, or any of a number of powerful pitchers and fielders relegated to the Negro Leagues.

Aaron’s record was eventually broken by the bioscience industry, with Barry Bonds as its representative.

Neither of those two were dealing with thousands of hostile letters every week. Neither of those were just wanting to get this whole thing behind them.

Hammerin’ Hank, you’re still my hero. You’re still the home run king.

Fun Fact: Hatchet detector

You are watching or reading or scrolling past a political ad. In that ad there is a photograph of a public figure. If that figure’s mouth is open, it’s an attack ad. Every time.

1

A Cocktail Challenge

Your assignment, kids, is to come up with a cocktail with the following name: The Tears of Q Spirit. If you would prefer to avoid politics, The Tears of Ben Roethlisberger is an acceptable non-organic substitute.

Barring obvious troll recipes that include bologna or Barton’s QT, I will drink all the entries and judge them. There might be a prize, but even if there is, it will probably be something you don’t want. Feel free to suggest a prize, even if you don’t enter the contest.

Back in the heyday of this blog, I might have been able to expect as many as four entrants in this contest, but now, well, I’m just hoping for a chuckle. If you choose to answer on Facebook, I’ll even pop over there to check it out.

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Trump’s Virtual Impeachment

Today a handful of executives yanked Trump’s megaphone out of his hands. Given the circumstances, it was the right thing to do. I was gleeful when I heard the news. But still, a handful of executives took the megaphone out of the hands of a major political figure. That’s… unsettling.

Given the Circumstances. Ultimately, Facebook and Twitter and the rest had no choice, and that is not their failing. Although the platforms are (currently) shielded from legal liability for things people say through their services, when someone promotes violence, someone must be held accountable. Currently, the individuals who promote hate and violence on those platforms are doing so in secure anonymity or implicit immunity.

You can’t protect both the platform and the individuals who use it. Someone must be held accountable.

The tech companies are seeing how that is shaking out. The party of individual responsibility is shrieking that they are being censored for irresponsible speech, but will block every effort to hold individuals responsible for what they say online. On the other side, the Democrats are intent on finding someone to blame.

Ultimately, I don’t see any way forward that doesn’t hold individuals responsible for the things they say. That means that when someone named RegularJoe456 posts a comment promoting violence, that Martha Haas, the person who lives behind that name, is held accountable.

And Fer Feck’s sake, let’s all understand that inciting violence and threatening someone’s life are not free speech. Never have been, never will be. Also libel and slander laws still apply on the Interwebs. Free speech does not mean you can say whatever you want without consequences. Free speech does not mean a company is legally required to publish your bullshit.

There can be no freedom without responsibility. And until people are held accountable for their speech on the Internet, the companies that enable that speech will have no choice but to police their platforms.

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Blam!

“EMBRACE ME!” the hand grenade cries.

About a year ago, I wrote that the impeachment of Donald Trump would provide Republican leadership with a historic opportunity. I asked you all to picture people rowing a canoe in choppy waters, while a fizzing hand grenade rolled around their feet.

The paddlers are, of course, the Republican Party, and the hand grenade is, of course, Donald Trump. The Democrats came along and said, “We INSIST you throw that fizzing hand grenade out of your boat!” (About the fizzing – many hand grenades have fuses; once the pin is pulled and the lever is flipped, there is fizzing, for a few seconds before detonation.)

The Republicans had a choice: Save themselves or defy their opponents. They chose to defy their opponents. They picked up the hand grenade and held it to themselves.

Now the hand grenade is detonating, and while I thought the worst-case scenario for the Republicans was losing the senate, in fact there is a much worse outcome. For them. I’m kind of stoked.

Midterm elections almost always swing against the sitting president. In normal times Republicans could dream of recapturing both houses of congress two years from now. Heck, they made pretty good progress in the House of Representatives this year. They won key legislatures to keep their flagrant gerrymandering alive.

In fact, there’s only one thing that could change that outcome. Things would actually be looking pretty good for Republicans now, were it not for the hand grenade detonating in their canoe.

I am in the short term simultaneously frightened and gleeful at the passing events. Tomorrow the “Sedition Caucus” will go on record, putting their names on an attempt to nullify the certified votes of the people of the United States of America. Outside Trump will wave his tiny fists in the air and the Proud Boys will answer.

Donald Trump is no smarter than any other hand grenade, and cares for the people around him even less. Now he’s so far off the range that Tom fucking Cotton is sounding like a reasonable person.

You had your chance, kids. The Democrats gave it to you on a silver platter. Now you simpering, spineless, cynical anything-to-please-the-base cowards are going down with the ship.

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Diversity

If there is a big decision and everyone in the room agrees, then someone is missing from the room.

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