Friday, August 30, 2013

It's Friday - Picture Day again!

Well, another week gone by, another opportunity to post more pictures!

Dragon!  (in Germany)

San Jacinto Monument under Construction (Texas)



Coneflower, partially open

Coneflower with moth

Don't know this flower

A little place in Virginia!  really, this was a real place...

Guess who?

Guess Who, again!

Ground Zero, New York



No idea what kind, but Wow!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Is it Technology Day again, already?

Yes, it is!

So, what to talk about again?  I know!  Let's talk about something lots of people get mixed up about.


Human beings have a lot of it.  We can remember stuff that happened decades ago, conversations, road trips, immense amounts of data, stuck up there, just waiting for a trigger to help us remember.  Problem is, it's not really very well indexed.

With computers, that's a bit easier.  But wait, humans only have one kind of memory - the wet stuff.  In between the ears wet.

With your PC or Mac, there are two kinds of memory, but geeks use two different words to describe them so we all know which ones we are talking about.

In reality, they really are different, so the different words make sense.  First, we've got what is more commonly known as Storage.  Hard drives, flash drives, floppy disks, and a host of other, older types of storage are sometimes referred to by the uninitiated consumer as memory.  It isn't memory, it is storage, because that's what we do with it, store stuff on it.

Your computer's Operating System, the applications (or programs) you use on it, the data that results from your application usage - all of it has to reside somewhere so your computer can find it, read it and present it to you so you can do with it what you wish.  That's storage.

Remember last week when I talked about Megabytes and Gigabytes and so forth?  That's the measuring standard we use to tell how much data we can put on a particular item of storage.  Hard disks are usually of greater capacity, followed by flash drives, floppy disks and other older types of storage.  A newer kind of storage, similar in use to Hard Drives is called Flash Storage.  Similar in its basic construction to flash drives, these new drives have no moving parts, boast faster read/write times and help computers boot over twice as fast as those equipped with standard disk based hard drives.  However, they usually are of smaller capacity, and are much more expensive, due to the more recent entry into the market place.

What all of these things have in common is that they are what we call non-volatile, or permanent storage.  You can turn off the computer, come back later, and the data is still preserved intact.

The other type of memory is called RAM.  That's short for Random Access Memory.  Yep, that's memory!  It is NOT storage, because it is volatile memory - when you turn off the power, the data stored there disappears.

What is RAM for, and why do you need a lot of it?

A computer is, as I said last week, a rather dumb machine.  It needs you to tell it every move to make.  Line by line of instructions, called code, does this.  That's what Programs (or Applications) are for.  They contain the code that allows you to tell the computer what you want it to do.

Those apps are stored on the Hard Drive.  Storage.  Kind of like a book shelf.

Think about the RAM as your desktop.

You have a task to perform, so you turn around, take the book with the instructions in it from the bookshelf and put it on your desktop.  Every time you have to perform one part of your task, you turn to that book for the next set of instructions.  When that task is finished, you put the book back.

That's what the computer does with RAM.  When you open a program, the computer reads the main portion of the code for that program into RAM, where it is more easily accessible.  (RAM is MUCH faster to read than a hard disk is, so it takes less time to read the instructions from there.)  When you finish, it "wipes" that portion of RAM, making it useful for holding another program's code.

The more RAM you have, the more programs you can open at one time, or the more data you can manipulate at once, like video or pictures.

RAM's size is also measured in Megabytes or, these days, in Gigabytes, to show how much data can be temporarily kept there.   More RAM not only helps you open and use more apps, it also makes your Operating System seem faster, since it can store more of the code from the OS in the faster RAM, so it takes less time to read new lines of code.  Less time reading or writing, the faster things seem to be.

I hope this makes things a bit more clear!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

No, they haven't gone away.

Lately, it sure seems quiet, doesn't it?  Except for nut cases like Ted Cruz and Pat Robertson, you'd think all the right wing nut cases had just gone and disappeared!  It's been downright... well, almost... rational lately.

Don't let it fool you!

They haven't gone away, they're just closeted somewhere, plotting how they're gonna close the government and kill the global economy by refusing to raise the debt ceiling - all to prove how government doesn't work!  How better to prove that by causing all those Socialist countries in Europe to fail, too!  Bonus!

Listen carefully and you can still hear them, muttering quietly to themselves, hoping the rest of us won't overhear.  It's downright scary, I tell you, when we have to resort to reading about Maine politicians at the township level being right wing crazy in order to get our fix of right wing nut bags.

I mean, what is a progressive atheist blogger going to do for material?  Talk about guns in schools in Tampa?  Geez!  This is maddening!

It's terrible!  In order to fill space, I've got to talk about stories like an atheist in New Jersey of all places whose request for a vanity license plate "ATHE1ST" was at first rejected, but got accepted after all the publicity made them look bad.

Come on, GOOD news?  Is this any way to sell a blog?  Come on, Boehner!  I need CRAZY!  I need Insanity!  Come back to Washington, guys!  Please?  Drama!  Action!  Talking heads!  We need it all!

I might have to resort to going crazy myself.

Oh, wait...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Robertson is at it again.

If he keeps this up, I'll need to separate my posts about his antics into their own category!

Today's craziness is brought to you by Instinct Magazine, which tells us (with a video which you've got to see!) that Pat Robertson's latest bag of crap is that Gays Wear Special Rings, which they use to cut your hand when you shake hands so they can give you AIDS!

Damn, now I'm totally disappointed, they've got their own special club ring, and I don't get one.  It would almost be worth turning gay just for the ring!
“You know what they do in San Francisco, some in the gay community there they want to get people so if they got the stuff they’ll have a ring, you shake hands, and the ring’s got a little thing where you cut your finger,” Robertson said. “Really. It’s that kind of vicious stuff, which would be the equivalent of murder.”
Seriously, now.  Please tell me there isn't anyone who really takes this clown's bullcrap as anywhere close to the truth.  Please?  Pretty please with sugar on it?

::sigh::  Didn't think anybody would.

This man is exhibit #1 - the Poster Child - for just exactly why religion is harmful.  If this man didn't have religion to use as an excuse for spreading his imaginary friend's supposed values and ideas, the world would be a much better - and cleaner - place.  As it is, he poisons the airwaves, and peoples' gullible minds, with the nastiest lies and untruths, and makes it just that much harder for the rational folks to keep things on an even keel.

If only there was a legal way to get him off the air.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Missed Technology Thursday, didn't we?

Sorry about that!  But, here to make up for it, is the missing post:

How does my computer compute?

Computers have come a long way since the days when they were programmed with a pair of pliers and a soldering iron!

(Do you know where the term “bug” came from?  When the government owned a computer big enough to fill a building with, one day, the thing just wouldn’t work.  So they laboriously started searching through the thousands of physical connections and switches to see where the problem was.  It turned out a moth had spun a cocoon so that it impeded the operation of a single switch.  Hence the term “bug” came from having a real bug gum up the works!)

When they were first used, they were thought of as big, fast calculators.  They were used to perform calculations of a size and scope people had never been able to do manually, just because of the scope of the amount of work that needed to done to complete it.

Eventually, someone realized they could be used for more, and someone invented other programs for them, including word processing, spreadsheets, collating and sorting long lists of information and so forth.  Databases were invented for storing tremendous amounts of information where it could be manipulated, sorted, recalled and regurgitated in ways nobody had ever been able to do before.

Why? Because computers are, at heart, big FAST calculators.  But as you’ve probably heard before, they are stupid.  Dumb as a rock.

Then why is your smartphone so smart?  How does it do all that stuff?

Basics.  Lets take a look.

At the very most basic level, your computer only understands two symbols.  A zero (0) and a one (1).  This is called a “binary” system.  Binary meaning “two”.  So, how does it know when you hit a key whether that represents an “a” or an “A”, or a “z” or a “Z”?

Code.  It uses something called an ASCI code to know what letter or number is which.  The very most basic bit of information is called just that, a “bit”.  That is a one or a zero.  So, how does that translate into an A or a Z?  You string bits together.  Kind of like Morse code, only with eight elements instead of three.

A computer chip, or CPU (Central Processing Unit) processes information one cycle at a time.  It does it VERY fast, on the order today of billions of cycles per second, but still, only so many bits at a time.  The first computers were only able to read eight bits at a time.  They were called, therefor, 8 bit systems.  Eventually, that increased, but because of that, even today’s systems are built on the eight bit base.

A single character is represented by eight bits of ones and zeros.  So, for instance, that lowercase “a” would be 01100001 in binary code.  For simplicity's sake, that string of code is called a Byte.  Pronounced “bite”.  The ASCI code, extended today, covers just about any symbol you might want to type, including spaces, special symbols, foreign language letters, and so forth.

So, to unravel a mystery to most consumers, this reveals the meaning of those mysterious bits and bytes you see on the packages of electronics you see at Staples.

It works like this: When you store information on your local C: drive (or your Macintosh HD for Macs), a single letter takes up one byte of space.  If you keep typing, 1024 bytes makes up a Kilobyte (Kilo meaning thousand in latin).  The next step up is the Megabyte (MB), which is, again, 1024 Kilobytes (written kB), which is 1,048,576 bytes.  A million bytes, approximately.  Remember, we are looking at a base of eight characters here!

So, a Terabyte is 1024 Megabytes (MB), or 1,073,741,824 bytes.  A billion bytes.   (Note that the second letter “B” is capitalized.  This because we are working with BYTES.  Bits are abbreviated with the lowercase b.  We’ll see that in a moment.)

So, when you see MB or TB, you now know we are talking storage space - how much storage a hard drive or a flash drive has on it and how much information you can put on it.

Now, I mentioned bits, and how they are abbreviated with the lowercase b.  Why?  Because bits are used to describe the amount of data that can be TRANSMITTED over a network.  So, here, we aren’t looking at the traditional eight bit limitation of the operating system, but we use the base ten we humans use to count.  So, when you see an Internet Service Provider that claims to have a speed of 25 Mbps, he isn’t talking about Megabytes - that would be storage - he’s saying that his network can transmit 25 million BITS of information per second - that works out to a little over 3.1 million bytes (or characters) per second.

That’s pretty decent speed in the US.

In later posts, I’ll explain a bit more about operating systems and such, but I think I’ve stretched the average users’ mind enough for one day!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What about miracles?

Today, on Facebook, the page Together - people of all faiths, humanists, agnostics and atheists, posted a piece on Miracles.  Suffice it to say, I do not agree.

His first paragraph starts out just fine.
Some consider miracles proof of the working of the divine, for others those events are a source of inspiration to investigate reality and gain insight in the laws of nature, again others simply accept them as a stroke of luck or some strange exception. 
No problem, simple statement of something fairly commonly understood.

But then,
But no matter what, we all agree such events as called miracles exist. 
Not quite.  First, you've got to define what a miracle might be.  This is where he goes off the rails.

A miracle is a benificial, or a least meaningful insightful event, coming out of the blue without a logical explanation for its meaningfulness, and can be one of these three kinds: 
- miracles, based on meaningful coincidence
- miracles, based on the event being a statistically very unlikely exception - like winning the lottery
- miracles, not ascribable to human power or the laws of nature, consequently attributed to supernatural or divine power, sometimes performed by a saint or a religious leader - like the parting of the waters of the sea.
Really, I see no difference between the first and second "kinds" he defines here.   A coincidence is just that - a coincidence, and is merely an artifact of statistical likelihood.  What is a "meaningful" coincidence or "meaningful insight" event, anyway?  What may be meaningful to one may mean nothing to another.  The only thing he got right there was the term "beneficial".  Most people do appear to see miracles as positive things.  If it isn't positive, it isn't a miracle, we call it "bad luck"!  (Sometimes, we call on Murphy's Law to explain it.)

But, really, the third one is the one that gets my goat.

History is full of purported miracles.  Purported, because nobody can verify that any of them actually happened.  The fact is, to claim a miracle is to claim the occurrence of an extraordinary event.  Something, like he says, that is not ascribable to the powers of humanity or the natural world.  Divine intervention, if you will.

Proof.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.  Solid, verifiable, repeatable, and scientifically valid proof.  Anybody can statistically show the likelihood that one person out of a couple hundred could survive an airliner crash.  All of us at one time or another have had a close brush with something that could have injured or killed us, like a car or something heavy falling.  Again, one can trot out statistics to show the likelihood of that event turning out differently.  Mathematics has some very specific ways of calculating such things.  Easy.

But miracles?  At no time, can anyone prove that an event has occurred that violates the laws of the natural world around us.  Time and again, events that look at first that they may be a miracle turn out upon examination to have been the result of hidden forces or unseen elements - sometimes even optical illusions - that prevent us from seeing the truth.

Many folks don't care to look that closely.  They prefer the miracle.  But those of us who look at the world skeptically prefer to actually KNOW what happened.  Proof.

Eventually, he does concede that miracles, as divine intervention, are not there.
Therefore, the third category is actually empty, as believers and non-believers alike have no means to decide whether a certain event belongs to this category.
 Then, off the rails he goes again.
There is - at least - one scripture agreeing with this conclusion, which is The Qu'ran. It uses miracles in the sense of signs; signs to recognize the workings of Allah. In that sense, only events in the first category of miracles - meaningful coincidences - qualify as such a sign. Supernatural phenomena or humans performing something absolutely out of the ordinary, are either a known-in-advance interference of Allah as creator and manager of the universe - and therefore not a miracle - or they are not, in which case they don't fall in the last category as we miss the requirement of divine intervention.
<Sigh>  And here I thought rationality was back.  Again, proof!  Nobody has ever proved that Allah exists, so how could a miracle be attributed to him?  And also again, just what is a meaningful coincidence?  What makes it meaningful?  And to whom?
 So a miracle is a meaningful coincidence, with no explanation for the synchronicity. Two - or more - things just happen out of the blue at the same time to our benefit, getting us out of trouble or giving us a very important insight.
This assumes the existence of something or someone with a purpose.   A superior knowledge combined with the purpose of providing that knowledge to us as a lesson through the vehicle of a miracle.  Assuming, of course, we are smart enough to get the point.
The point is, the mere fact that miracles exist, the fact that we all from our own experience have experienced a few of them, form just one more scientifical, secular proof of the principle of interconnectedness, a very intricate interdependence.
Interconnectedness?  Who is connected?  How and by what mechanism?  Where is the scientific research that shows this mechanism?  It doesn't exist, not in any new agey, spiritual kind of way, that's for sure!  Just because you use the word science doesn't make it scientific.

Sure, we are all, as animals, interconnected with each other within the ecology of our world, such that human actions can affect other humans and animals in negative or positive ways through our own interactions with the ecology we live in and are part of.

But, somehow, I don't think that is what the author of this piece means.

Yet to see the interconnectedness is to see the miracles; to see the miracles is to be filled with wonder; to be filled with wonder is a huge source of inspiration, joy, zeal, hope and life.
Oh, yeah!  Connectedness!  Wonder!  Inspiration!  All that sounds great, and includes words that uplift and inspire.  (including the word "inspire" itself!  Win!)

 But they don't really mean anything.  Not in the sense in which miracles may or may not exist.

Now, if you want to start talking about nature - the whole, truly inspiring, wide wonderful span of nature, from the very smallest quantum particles to the vast expanse of ultra-galactic superstructures forming the universe itself, then, yes, you can talk about a form of interconnectedness, as all of nature is connected in myriads of ways science is only beginning to understand.

But, please, stop nattering on about miracles, unless you want to get lost in a conversation with mathematicians.  Plenty of them will bend your ear for hours about the almost miraculous manners in which math fits together and describes this universe so perfectly!

While I can appreciate the wonder of it, math will put me to sleep.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Human Trafficking - Just Plain Slavery


Back to the real world.

Tonight I am going to introduce you to a subject that get very poor reception in the United States:  slavery.  Most people when they hear that word, think of black slaves bending under the lash of white slave masters, being sold on a slave block, families being separated, etc.

Welcome to the 21st century!  Slavery, modern style, is quite a bit different.  Often, it is sex slavery.  There was a post on Facebook tonight that highlighted a story in which the various States of the US have been ranked according to their efforts to stop what is today euphemistically known as Human Trafficking.  (I guess the term slavery is a bit ... uncouth ... for American tastes.)  The site is Take Part, and the story is entitled, "The 7 Worst States in the Fight Against Human Trafficking - 2013 Edition".
The number of people trafficked in the United States is difficult to estimate, but the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says that there are approximately 100,000 children in the U.S. forced into sex trafficking every year. And many more thousands of adults are enslaved, as well.
I urge all of you to get educated about this horrible crime.  It is unconscionable that any human being should be enslaved and forced to work against their will.

I mean, come on, this is the 21st century.  This kind of thing is insane, and to think that AMERICANS are responsible for some of this is even worse.

Go check out that web site and find out how YOUR State ranks in the fight against slavery.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Damn it, I AM going to be happy!

I'm going to tell you a short story.

I went to Costco today, to return some merchandise which had turned out to be defective.  It turned out to be a short trip, surprisingly.  But at the return counter, a young lady waited on me, and she seemed to be, well, a bit worn.  Not sad, not unhappy, just worn.  It must get to you, waiting on folks bringing in stuff they don't want or turned out to be damaged or something.

When she finished, I looked up after she gave me the returned cash and said simply, "Have a nice day!"  Instantly, her entire demeanor changed - she brightened up and smiled (which made her face even prettier) and kind of stumbled out a quick return "Thank you".  I walked away, not thinking much about it because I do this all the time.

But just a while ago, doing the dishes, I thought about it again, and something occurred to me.

Generally speaking, I am happy with my life.  Don't get me wrong, I don't walk around with a silly grin  on my face all day.  But, and this is important, I want to be happy, and refuse to let the little stuff get me down.

I have every reason to like my life.

I have a family that I love dearly and by and large returns that love.  I have a job that more than just pays the bills.  I live in a country that has allowed me to go from a poor GI Spec/4 with a wife and a daughter to a senior IT tech with the Feds barely two or three years away from what should be a good retirement.  I never miss a meal except by choice and have what to most of the world throughout most of history would consider a king's wardrobe.  Well, by size and numbers, anyway.  My stuff isn't THAT expensive!

So, having said these things, I know that most of the human race isn't as fortunate.  But even so, there is one thing I have in common with others I have met who are among that group - I refuse to let life make me unhappy.

Let me say that again.

I refuse to let life make me unhappy.

I've met folks whose circumstances of life are quite a bit less fortunate than mine, and were as happy as can be - because they, too refused to let things get them down.  I met a man on the Metro a while back, and that was his point to me.  He was fully aware that his life was frankly, the pits.  No home, no job.

But the man had a smile on his face and a good word for everybody he met.

I want to be like him.  I want to walk away from as many encounters with others as I can where they walk away with a smile on their faces.  Not because they like me, but because I can remind them what it is to be happy.

In retrospect, that young lady at Costco made my day.  She smiled at me, not just because I said something nice, but because I reminded her that not everybody is unhappy and has their hands out for money.

I want to do that every day.

I know that I post a lot about politics and religion, and much of it is about what I consider bad aspects of them.  Posts about things people say and do that I think are bad for our society and do not bode well for the future.  So much of it isn't exactly positive and upbeat.

So, I will try, at least once a week, to post something upbeat.  Something positive.  Life isn't all roses, but neither is it full of thorns, either!

I hope you had a nice day.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

“Judeo-Christian” - What does this term mean?

You hear this term a lot these days.  It gets used so much, even we atheists use it, and in so doing, are allowing fundamentalists to set the terms of the argument in their favor.  Let’s learn what they mean by this term, and what the effects of those values have had on modern history.

First, what DO they mean by this term?

Wikipedia says:
Prominent champions of the term also identify it with the historic American religious traditions. The Jewish Conservative columnist Dennis Prager, for example, writes: 
“The concept of Judeo-Christian values does not rest on a claim that the two religions are identical. It promotes the concept there is a shared intersection of values based on the Hebrew Bible ("Torah"), brought into our culture by the founding generations of Biblically oriented Protestants, that is fundamental to American history, cultural identity, and institutions.”

Well, that’s not so bad is it?  Or… is it?

Remember - Judaism is no more monolithic than Christianity is.  This guy is a conservative Jew.  That means he is in line with certain values fundamentalist Christians have, because those Christian fundies got much of their fundamentalist values straight out of the old Testament.  (Ignoring for the sake of argument that the Christians cherry pick only those things that they think they can actually get away with and ignore the rest.)  So, yeah, he’s got a lot in common with America’s fundies, including misogyny, religious intolerance, rigid adherence to rules, opposition to gays, and preference for religious education, including creationism and the belief that they have the right to force others to adhere to their rules, since if their “nation” fails to do so, their god will kill us all.  They also share a righteous support for the State of Israel.  (More on that in a bit)

But, Jews who belong to the Reform Movement don’t share those views.  They support women’s rights, including the right to choose contraceptives or abortion, gay rights and a few other more liberal beliefs fundies abhor.  Their support for Israel is weaker, too.

Speaking of support for Israel, while American fundies may support Israel, and gain support from Jewish groups (especially orthodox groups) for doing so, the reasons each group has for their support of Israel is very different!  Jewish folks naturally have some connection, Israel being the first ethnically Jewish state for a couple thousand years or so, and one can see how it can be something to feel a connection to.

But American fundies have a very different reason, that being the biblical book of Revelation and its “predictions” of Jesus’ “Second Coming”.  Scattered through the supposed predictions are constant references to Jerusalem, the Jews and certain occurrences that are supposed to happen to herald that much anticipated event.

This school of thought believes that they can influence an eventual (and quicker) Second Coming by ensuring that these events (such as the rebuilding of the Temple) do occur.  Indeed, they see it as their duty to god and that they are commanded by him to MAKE these things happen, and they have maneuvered themselves into positions of influence to ensure through US foreign policy that they do.  This school also sees this as proof of America’s strength being supported by god and a result of our adherence to a rigid program of worship of god, from which comes the growing program of revising US history to closely match their narrative of this country being founded as a Christian Nation.

I mean, how could it possibly be so successful and strong if it weren’t, right?

Thus was born the modern concept of “American Exceptionalism”.  This term embodies all of that, holding that with the US being so guided by god that we can pretty much do whatever we wish.
Thus, the US has been pushed into a constant state of conflict with various “enemies”, culminating with Muslims and Islam now being pushed to the top of that list, necessitating the alteration of two thousand years of Christian history to wipe out the historical repression and oppression of Jews so we can logically make them allies.

Hence, the term “Judeo-Christian” which conveniently leaves off the “Islamic” part of the Abrahamic trio.  Nice, huh?

Of course, this also leaves out of the narrative the part where, in Revelation, the Jews who do not convert to Christianity get thrown into the lake of fire along with Satan… is this a nice thing to do to your allies?  One also isn’t supposed to note that in the entire book of Revelation, it never quite mentions that the city of god - Jerusalem - was taken and held by Muslims for almost 1500 years.   Odd how a book with such important predictions of the future never quite bothered with that little detail of how the Jews were to gain it back.  I guess they hadn’t ever heard of the United Nations…

In short, the term “Judeo-Christian” is not really a term that describes the historical foundation of the US as a Christian nation.  It is a term that hides the historical truth, sets the terms of the conversation to a false narrative and bids to make that false narrative the future history of this country.

Let’s not let that happen, ok?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Picture Day!

Hey, it's Friday, so I've got more pictures!

Daddy Cardinal

 Mt. St. Helens

 On the Mall

 Yes, he really was that small once!

 ...and cute!

 It's an Apple!

 Lady Hummingbird

 My famous chili and cornbread 

 Blowing out an Emu egg!

 'nuff said!

 Man, it's cold out here!

 The beginnings of a good chili!

Self explanatory.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Technology Day! Story time...

Well, it's Thursday, so it must be Technology Day.

Instead of some tech advice, I've got a story of woe.  It's about me and my day today.

Usually, I see Murphy (as in Murphy's Law) maybe once a week, sometimes less.  He does show up - I do work with high tech, after all (IF you call Micro$oft's stuff high tech!).  But because we've got a good support group, we are rather good at keeping him at bay.


Today, he found a way in, and he stopped in MY shop.  Spent all dang day there, carrying this big, black nasty cudgel - you know, the ones they depict in the comix with the huge freaking nail stuck through the end?  Yeah, that one - and he used it to beat me silly every chance he got.  Sadistically.  Wearing a big, smirky smile.

It really started a few days ago, when Adobe Captivate suddenly decided to stop loading.  On any machine, for both versions 5.5 and 6.  No rhyme or reason to it, it just decided to start freezing at the splash screen.

Today, I did get one machine to take 5.5 and it worked!  Hallelujah!  Choirs of angels sang!  So, as we agreed in our trouble shooting conference yesterday, I then installed 6.  Carefully copied the installation files to the local hard disk and unpacked them.  Ran them under my Domain Superman account.  Everything possible.

Rebooted after the install was finished.  Ran Captivate 6 - it stalled.  Damn.  Rebooted, ran 5.5 and IT stalled.  Double Damn!  Back to the beginning, right where we started.  Gonna call Adobe support tomorrow.

Wham!  Murphy strikes again.

Second laptop.  Lady came to me, complained that all her shortcuts were launching Windows Picture Viewer.  ALL of them.  So, I checked, and sure enough, every dang one had that same icon picture on it, and every dang one opened that same app.  Had one of these last week, ended up re-imaging it, because Windows 7 doesn't allow deleting profiles like XP did - in part due to our restrictive GPOs.

So, I played it careful - I talked to our new Windows 7 expert and he eventually pointed me to a set of instructions.  Remove the profile folder from the Users folder, launch regedit, go to a certain key and kill the hive associated with that user's folder.

Simple, right?  I launch and use regedit a hundred times a week, right?  Not this time.  The OS primly informed me that I had no such access permissions.  Went to the Windows directory, ran it from there.  Same denial.  Put my already privileged account into the Admin group, even though Domain Admins were already there - same error.  Had to re-image this machine too.

Wham!  Murphy strikes again.

So, I trek upstairs to install a monitor driver for someone whose big 27" monitor was no longer showing her laptop screen, which was supposed to be shared to it.  Logged her off, logged into the Domain Superman account, downloaded the driver from Dell's site and ran the installer.


Blue screen.

Wham!  Murphy strikes again.

Gotta take this one up to Gaithersburg tomorrow to let the encryption team pull the data off of this encrypted drive before I re-image it.

Tonight, I am going to treat myself.  I deserve it.

Glenmorangie 18 year bottle Single Malt Whisky

Friday, August 09, 2013

Picture Day!

It's Friday, so I've got more pictures!

 Lady spider...
 Day Lily...
 Chicks & Hens - blooming!
 The Moon
 Redbuds are Heart Trees!
 Post production black & white filter

All of these photos were taken by me with my Nikon 5100 DSLR.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them!

Thursday, August 08, 2013

It's Technical Information Day - Again!

It's Thursday, so it must be Technical Information Day!

Today, I am going to talk about maintaining your computer.

Apple, Inc. is very fond of using the tagline "It Just Works" in talking about their products, but as a desktop technician for over 20 years, I can tell you that isn't quite true.  In fact, it is pure marketing!

That said, Apple computers have pulled in ratings over the years as some of the best computers to own as far as build quality, longevity, reliability as well as customer satisfaction.  But they do break, and as with any human built piece of machinery, regular maintenance can help minimize inconvenience in case of trouble, as well as often put that trouble off for a while.

Macs use the Operating System known now as OS X (the X being a Roman Numeral, thus pronounced as "ten", not "ecs" as in the letter.  It is the tenth major iteration of the Mac operating system.) with the current version being 10.8.4.  The current version is a very robust system, and is designed to be extremely user friendly.  It helps that it is designed on top of a Unix kernel, which was designed from the beginning as a server OS that was intended to run for months if not years between reboots.

To ensure this, Unix (and OS X) runs certain maintenance tasks on a daily, weekly and a monthly basis to reduce log file sizes, remove system files no longer needed and reduce or remove temp files.  These tasks run at certain times when your computer is less likely to be in use. The tasks are scheduled for 03:15 to 05:30 in your computer's local time zone, if your computer is running at that time and not in sleep mode.  If the tasks do not run, it is possible that certain log files (such as system.log) may become very large in Mac OS X v10.5 or earlier.

In Mac OS X v10.6 and later, background maintenance tasks that do not run when the computer is asleep are run after it wakes from sleep mode.  So, although many people want to save energy (and money) by turning their Macs off when not in use, it is good for it to let it run overnight at least twice a month, if not weekly.

[Note:  Windows does NOT perform these tasks, they are programmed into Unix (and thus OS X) only.]

As for you, the user, one of the easiest things you can do to maintain your Mac is to keep the OS updated and current.  You do this using either the Software Update command in the Apple Menu in the upper left corner, or running the App Store app from the Dock and clicking on the Update symbol at the top of the window.  Your Mac will look for updates to Apple software, the OS and any third party apps you may have installed using the App Store.

This includes any Security Updates Apple may issue for your OS or Apple applications you have installed.  Apple does not issue regularly timed or dated security updates like Microsoft does.  It only issues them as needed, so be sure to check at least weekly, if not monthly.  You can set your Mac to do this automatically in System Preferences in the Software Update preferences panel.

[A word about updates.  Updates are wonderful things, but they CAN create problems by introducing new features and sometimes killing off older features.  If your software is used at all for what you consider critical tasks, be sure and investigate new versions BEFORE you click "update"!  This will ensure you don't do something you may regret later.]

Now, the biggie:  Backups!

No matter how cavalier you may be about your computing habits, you've got data you'd rather not lose.  (Note:  data = your stuff, pictures, email, word processing documents, spreadsheets, everything)

Everybody does.

So, back it up!  Keep copies of everything.  Keep copies on an external hard drive, or a flash drive or in the dropbox app online.  Google Drive is also ok.  Or, if you prefer to not have to think about it, Apple has Time Machine that will take care of the daily scut work for you.

Just back your stuff up!  You won't regret it.

Additionally, you can do the hard work of cleaning up your files, deleting old stuff, archiving things you'd like to keep but hate to delete and keep your stuff organized.

Occasionally, break open a can of canned air and blow out the air holes on your computer to remove the dust and crud that accumulates over time.  This allows a better airflow to keep your Mac cool.

Apple doesn't actively recommend it, but some Mac Techs do - run Disk Utility occasionally to check your disk for needed repairs.  All hard drives accumulate errors over time, as sectors go bad.   Disk Utility, run occasionally, will block these off and prevent your computer from attempting to read or write to or from these sectors, saving your data and keeping your blood pressure down.

Some folks will recommend repairing permissions also, but in my experience, it rarely makes a difference, unless you are having some issues with files not being read correctly or apps not running properly.  If it ain't broke, in this case, better off not fixing it.

Oh, and you don’t need to defragment or optimize your disk when you use Mac OS X. When writing files, Mac OS X optimizes your disk space and avoids fragmenting large files into smaller segments.  This is automatic, unlike Windows.

Ok, for this week, that's it!

Happy Computing!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

An Atheist Thinks About Death.

I believe that one of the biggest draws religion has is the idea that after you die, you nevertheless live on.  That somewhere, somehow, in some unexplainable place, everybody you ever loved, or knew or even wanted to meet is there, alive and waiting just for you.

Assuming, of course, they pass the entry exam.

Humans are eternally optimists about themselves, they always like to assume they will still be around at any later point you want to talk about.  One of the most difficult thinking processes one can go through is to think about the world you know WITHOUT YOU.

Come one, give it a try.  At some point in there, doesn't your mind just want to slide off into another train of thought?  Doesn't that make you uncomfortable?

So it's no wonder that a belief system that says you won't be separated from the lover that got lost in a car accident forever holds some true attraction.

On the other hand, aren't there some folks you've known that spending an eternity around them just might get a little tiresome after a while?  To some folks, spending eternity around those abusive parents may not be a comforting idea.

Be that as it may, as an atheist, I don't have those problems.  To me, the idea that there is this unseen, undetectable soul thing which somehow survives your bodily death is one that makes no sense.  That an eternal deity would divide humans according to their credulity while on earth and would torture those who chose wrong for an ETERNITY sounds way beyond cruelty, it sounds positively medieval - which, of course, is when this particular belief was developed.  Interesting coincidence, isn't it?

So, Christians ask, how do you console yourself after a loved one dies?  How do you deal with difficulties in this life?  What comfort do you derive from not having heaven to look forward to?

To know, not to suspect, but to know that when a loved one dies you will never see them again, will never hold them again and will never hear their voice again is never an easy thing.  Heck, for many Americans who DO believe in heaven, it is a hard thing!  For a people who are supposedly informed about a future paradise after death, Americans sure do deal badly with it.  Our funerals are often dark, sorrowful things, which have always seemed to me to invoke a lack of real belief in an after life.  Even with the rituals that invoke the Christian beliefs, people don't ACT that way.

But as hard as it is, death is a fact of life, it is a part of life.  The life cycle includes it and one needs to learn to deal with it.  You move on, pick yourself up and learn to get along.  You speak with friends and family, you reflect on and remember the lost friend or family member and how much you enjoyed each others company. You try to keep the best of those memories for future remembrances and then you move on.  There isn't much else you can do!  How can treating it like a temporary absence help?  It just prevents you from being able to get over it.  Puts it in suspended animation so you don't have to deal with it.

It's the lazy way of dealing with death.

To me, the knowledge that the end of my life is THE END just makes what is left of my life more precious.  It makes ALL life precious, irreplaceable.  You realize that every time someone dies, their life, their talents, their point of view is lost - forever.  A point lost to the Christian view is that even if heaven IS real, that persons life, talents and everything are lost to this world anyway.  Never to be seen again.

This pragmatic point of view is actually pretty simple.  Life is what it is.  No mysteries, no hidden agendas, no invisible eye looking over your shoulder.  That puts the onus on being good on YOU.  You have no excuses that you didn't read something right, or that a lack of consequences for bad behavior is somehow proof that your sky daddy might approve of your actions, no matter how reprehensible.  What you do is on you.  Period, end of story.

Integrity was once described to me as being. Something you've got that makes you stop at a stop light or sign, even if the cross roads is in the middle of a desert and you can see for miles that there's nobody around.  Integrity makes you stop anyway, because you agree with the social contract that says you should.

That's how I think of being an atheist and believing that there's no god.  Morality is something I believe in FOR ITS OWN SAKE, and not because I might get punished or rewarded according to my behavior here on earth.

Not believing in heaven and hell is actually EASIER, because there is less stress.  It is also HARDER, because there's nobody to take the hard part off of your back.  YOU have to do the hard work of developing your morals and deciding what is right or wrong - because YOU have to live with the consequences of being wrong, and those consequences are often immediate and sometimes severe.  You don't have to wait for death to find out you were wrong.

Death is actually a release.  End of the run, nothing else to worry about.  I don't have to worry about some future judgement day, or something.

I find that to be a tremendously freeing thought.  It puts ME in charge.

And I like it that way.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Official Cybernetic Atheist Holiday - 37th Wedding Anniversary!

Thirty-seven years ago today, the cyber-girlfriend and I became husband and wife!  So, today, this post is going to be short, sweet and to the point.

Happy Anniversary to the Cyber-wife, I love you and hope that we can do this for another 37 years...

See ya'll tomorrow!

Monday, August 05, 2013

Technical Information Day!

As a long standing IT technician, I have been advising family and friends for years about cleaning up their computers before selling them or giving them away.  I am very happy to see Apple, Inc. has finally taken the bull by the horns and posted a Support Page document explaining how to do this for a modern Mac, including how to do it without accidentally deleting your data in iCloud at the same time!

Simply follow these steps:

Important: Do not manually delete contacts, calendars, reminders, documents, photo streams, or any other iCloud data while signed in to your iCloud account. Doing so will not only delete that information from your Mac, but will also delete it from the iCloud servers and any other devices you also sync with iCloud. Instead, follow the steps below to remove your iCloud account from your Mac and leave your iCloud data intact on your other devices.
1.  Deauthorize your computer from iTunes (if applicable).
2.  Back up your data.
3.  If enabled, turn off Find My Mac and sign out of iCloud. To turn off the iCloud service on your Mac:
  • Choose System Preferences > iCloud.
  • Deselect Find My Mac to disconnect your devices from iCloud.
  • Click the Sign Out button on the left side.
  • The system automatically removes iCloud data from your Mac. 
4.  Reformat your hard drive with Disk Utility to erase all stored data and then reinstall OS X on your computer. For instructions specific to your operating system, select the appropriate article below:
Optional: If you want to return your Mac to its original "out-of-the-box" state, so the new owner can set up the computer with the Mac OS X Setup Assistant, follow these steps:
1.  After you reformat your hard drive and reinstall OS X, the Setup Assistant automatically starts and displays the Welcome screen that prompts you to choose your country or region. Do not continue with the setup of your system.
2.  Press Command-Q to shut down your Mac.
Your Mac is now ready for its new owner. When the Mac is turned on for the first time, the Setup Assistant will guide the new owner through the setup process. 

Simple! In fact, so simple a cave man could do it!

(Sorry, guys)

Back on a serious note, you really, really need to do something like this, so your data isn't left on your machine for anybody to steal after you no longer have it.  Once it is out of your hands, you can no longer control it, so be sure it is gone!

Windows users, I can't give you specific instructions like this, but the same principle applies, save your data, reformat the old hard drive and reinstall the Operating System from the original media.  That way, your data is gone, not simply deleted.

Happy Computing!!

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Another Guest Post!

Hey, folks, have I got a treat for you!

Cyberdaughter the Youngest has written another guest post.  Not a story like the last time, but a short piece on her love of books and how it affects her.  It is a wonderful little snippet, but well worth the time to read - more than once!


Sometimes when I am reading just the right passage in a book, I feel as though I can reach out and touch the words. I can peel them off of the page like a sticker and adhere them on to the world around me and see, for a time, their meaning in everything that touches me. The words blend seamlessly in to my perceptions and for just a little while I am changed. Everything around me is suddenly awash with sensation, beauty, meaning... 
I feel more alive at these moments. I feel full and heavy and secret. I feel special and alone. For a few minutes, days, or even weeks, I am looking out at everything in a new and wonderful way. I move slower, I see more clearly the things that I often take for granted. Even the simple act of making myself a cup of coffee is full of moments that I never noticed before. I am more open to the people around me - the ones that I know and love and also the strangers that pass by normally unnoticed. It's as though they are wearing their stories like a cape or a blanket and in order to look them in the eye I have to read them all. Thoughts and meanings and words and strands of time weave around them and I almost feel as though I can run my fingers through them the same way I would run my fingers through my own hair; soft, silky, and intensely personal. Familiar. They are stories that I already know but had forgotten, the memory of them teasing at me as I take them in. They linger. A car drives past and the driver's stories reach out to me and settle gently around me as though the car drove through a patch of dust and left me covered in it, breathing in the cloud. It's a peaceful feeling, like having a silken sheet drift down to cover my naked body over and over again; it's always there, but I hardly notice it unless it moves. 
It fades after a while. The passage lingers until I once again forget in the face of every day motion. The sticker of words fades and peels, the edges are rough and the letters are barely legible after a while, but it never entirely leaves me. Some small piece, a tiny bit of paper, a letter, a feeling - it stays with me and becomes a part of my world. I cherish these pieces; they are my foundation. Hundreds upon thousands of these minuscule moments are embedded in my thoughts and perceptions. If I concentrate, I can pull one up and unfold it and cradle it and cherish it and be awash with the meaning of it for a while, but most often they are an accident. A moment, a thought, a bit of sun that looks just like it did that afternoon so many years ago. A shout in the distance, the splash of water, a scent, or a flavor of the past will catapult my senses back to those tiny, faded letters and for just a little while I am caught in its web once more. It is like my mind is pulling at the threads that make up my self and showing me for just a moment that I have not forgotten, that it is still there, that it is a part of who I am and always will be. That feeling is like the sun on a lazy afternoon. I bask in it, I close my eyes and smile to the sky until the clouds eclipse the rays of warmth and I return to my normal, whole self again, made up of all the faded words and feelings and stories so deeply woven with each other that they are scarcely separate letters anymore.
 Sometimes, being a parent is so worth it!