Monthly Archives: April 2009

Catalyst West 2009

I spent Thursday and Friday in Irvine at the first-ever west-coast Catalyst conference.

Catalyst 2009 West Coast

As a whole, the conference was outstanding. (The weakest part for me was the worship music, by Hillsong United and other bands, because it was mostly unfamiliar to me, because I’m mostly a clueless old duffer.)

The speakers included Andy Stanley, Guy Kawasaki, Ravi Zacharias, Brian Houston, Erwin McManus, Craig Groeschel, Jud Wilhite, Perry Noble, Francis Chan, Catherine Rohr, and Nick Vujicic. Here’s a sample of Nick Vujucic:

High Speed Rail

Good grief. As if government hadn’t already spent enough money, now it’s proposing to double-down with transportation. Here’s what the BBC report about Obama’s proposal for high speed rail:

US President Barack Obama has announced his “vision for high-speed rail” in the country, which would create jobs, ease congestion and save energy. He said the US could not afford not to make the investment in 10 routes.

Let’s think about that.

Save energy? Of the reasons given, that’s the most likely. But energy is a commodity. Even non-renewable sources are vast, and renewable sources are, from a human standpoint, infinite.

Ease congestion? Again, a possibility, but not as likely. Nobody wants a high-speed rail line in their back yard, though. I used to live a couple of miles from the NE corridor line in New Jersey, and even an 80-mph train is surprisingly noisy. So the surface street routes between homes and train station parking lots will be congested even in the best case.

But “easing” congestion is a telling remark. What it says is that the roads will clear up so you can take your car, because the other chumps will take the stupid train. That may gain support for a proposal, but it doesn’t mean it will happen. More than likely, the roads will be just as congested as ever, but a study projects that a high percentage of new riders will elect the train instead. So what? Congestion is only eased against some might-have-been-future scenario. And two can play the might-have-been scenario. For example, inventing flying cars would ease hypothetical future congestion. Increased use of bicycles or those Segway pod vehicles would ease future congestion, as would more telecommuting. And, for that matter, so would fairies riding unicorns to my house to give me a paycheck for not working.

Create jobs? Oh, yes. That would happen. And the best part about them, from the government’s standpoint, is that they would all be government jobs. And what kind of jobs would they be? Well, today, we still have a few transportation jobs like auto mechanic. Consider someone working on individuals’ cars in a privately-owned and probably non-union, garage. There are dozens of garages like that in their area. If they don’t like their job, they can change employers. They can go with a chain like Jiffy-Lube or a mom and pop shop. They can be generalists, or they can specialize in a particular type of car, or a particular part of the car like transmissions, according to their interests. So can the people who own the garage, as they desire.

Government jobs wouldn’t be like that. No, sir. In the future, all these high-speed rail jobs would either be civil service jobs or too-big-to-fail public-private-partnership jobs like AMTRAC. You’d be paying dues to SEIU or AFSCME or the equivalent, which is to say, making huge contributions to politicians. Better yet, you, the employee, would know who to vote for, because if they got thrown out of power, you might lose your job. That doesn’t happen when you work for Jiffy Lube or a small garage.

Those are “good jobs” — good for the government, and particularly, for the people who run it.

In my next post, I’ll respond to the notion that “we can’t afford not to” spend more money.

Digital Music

I see that Apple’s price increases are supposed to have caused Amazon to raise its own. Perhaps.

Yesterday (not realizing Apple was raising prices) I finally got around to upgrading my iTunes purchases to iTunes Plus. I had 16 items, and upgrading cost me $4.60. Apparently the upgrade price of $0.30 per item didn’t go up.

On the other hand, either I screwed up and deleted the wrong files, or I got screwed by Apple, because when I count them today, I have 17 .m4a files (without DRM) and 9 .m4p files (with DRM).

I also purchased 23 songs in MP3 format from Amazon. It looked like the average price was very close to $0.99, with only a few songs costing anything else. I tend to prefer Amazon because it has greater selection and lower prices. A purist might prefer Apple’s encoding scheme to old-school MP3s. Or maybe they wouldn’t. I haven’t investigated, because MP3 is adequate for me.

Anyway, higher prices or not, it’s nice to be able to buy $25 worth of music and get 23 songs you specifically wanted.

So. What did I buy? Well, too many to list here. But a couple of examples: Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away,” and America’s “Sister Golden Hair.” (The older I get, the more I like music from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.)

Jury Duty (or: How I Spent My Day Off)

This is Holy Week. I have to preach three different sermons in the next six days. I also have three members of my congregation in hospital settings. So of course I would be summoned to jury duty.

I arrived at 8:30, along with 60-odd friends and neighbors. At 8:45, the judge’s admin assistant gave us a good-humored lecture about fulfilling our vital role in the cogs of justice or something like that. Then we got to see a videotape about our vital role in the cogs of justice, while she ran our summons through the bar code reader. (Two people were able to be excused at this early point on account of felony convictions. Two full-time students, on the other hand, were told to tell it to the judge.) Finally, at 10:15, we were ushered into the courtroom. After a few minutes, the bailiff told us to rise, the judge came in, and he swore us to secrecy. (Maybe. I don’t remember what, exactly, we agreed to do, because at the end, instead of saying, “so help me God,” or something like that, he only had us say, “I do.”)

He listened to people whining about having a life, etc. I told him I had an out-of-town conference coming up, but it’s far enough off that he said they could still seat me and then excuse me toward the end of the trial. That is, he’s okay with wasting a couple of weeks of my time listening to evidence and then excusing me as the trial winds down, because he doesn’t want to impose a hardship on me.

After he’d failed to excuse about 45 or 50 of us, they seated 18 in the nice seats. The judge started quizzing them about how many reasons they had to hate lawyers and cops. He also asked if they hated people who did [what the accused was accused of doing]. Only two people were able to be excused at that point: both because they personally knew San Bernadino County sheriffs deputies and had previously discussed this particular case. (Good call.)

When the judge had quizzed the 18, the two lawyers were given the opportunity to do the same. The defense lawyer was harder to listen to, partly because he was soft-spoken and partly because he’s dull. There were three points he wanted to belabor: (1) it’s okay if the defendant doesn’t testify, (2) sheriff’s deputies are neither more nor less likely to be wrong about things or even lie than normal people, and, especially, (3) you can’t convict someone just because you thought the evidence proved him guilty, but only if the evidence proved him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That last one must be a tricky idea to communicate, because he kept beating it like a dead horse or something.

The assistant D.A. was only a little bit better. He wanted to be sure the jurors knew that, despite what they might have heard on Matlock or Law and Order, they were permitted to convict someone based on circumstantial evidence. In fact, pretty much all he wanted was for us to ignore anything we knew about the law from TV shows. That and agreeing that people in the defendant’s situation were no less likely to lie than sheriff’s deputies.

That took us all the way to 11:30, and the judge excused us for lunch. When we came back at 1:30, we got hectored for awhile, then the lawyers took turns unloading jurors. The defense attorney got rid of a few people, but he quit after a while and pronounced himself happy with the composition of the panel. The D.A. got rid of two more, bringing us down to 12, so everything stopped so they could seat another batch of 6.

I was the first to be called to that second batch, so call me potential juror number 19. The judge quizzed us some more, then the defense attorney and the prosecutor did the same, and they began with the peremptory challenges again. The defense attorney was happy with the panel again, and the D.A. excused yet another person, and the bailiff motioned for me to go get in one of the nice seats. I sat down, and was renamed juror number 4.

That lasted for about 30 seconds, until the defense attorney asked the judge to thank and excuse me. I got my pink slip to prove I’d wasted my whole day and got out at 4:00 on the dot.

In my next post, I’ll write about why I got dumped.

I'm from the Government. I'm here to help. (1 in a series)

From Slashdot today, a lengthy piece: “New Legislation Would Federalize Cybersecurity.”

The bill, containing many of the recommendations of the landmark study “Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency” by the Center for Strategic and International Studies …

Who is this? Anybody with expertise in computers and/or security? According to their web page, no. But it does include (among others) Sam Nunn, Zbig Brzezinski, Richard Armitage, William Cohen, Carla Hills, James Schlesinger, Brent Scowcroft, and (of course) Henry Kissinger. It looks like a blue-ribbon commission in-waiting, made up of ex-Secretaries of State and Defense. Could even one of them tell you what SSL is? Not how it works, just what it stands for? I doubt it.

So, what is it they want to do?

…would create the Office of the National Cybersecurity Adviser, whose leader would report directly to the president and would coordinate defense efforts across government agencies. The legislation calls for the appointment of a White House cybersecurity “czar” with unprecedented authority to shut down computer networks, including private ones, if a cyberattack is underway.

This would be the same Federal government that runs the FAA’s computers. I’m sure they have all kinds of useful advice for anyone running a fleet of IBM 704s.

But the most predictable thing about the recommended legislation?

The legislation also would require licensing and certification of cybersecurity professionals.

Because that has worked so well in the areas of medicine and law. For the doctors and lawyers, I mean–not for anyone else.

Creating a guild — straight out of the middle ages — to regulate entry into and practice within a trade. It hardly augurs well for something as high-tech and 21st-Century as cybersecurity.