Friday, December 09, 2016

Jobs, Wages and Income

Second in a series of posts where I'm trying to figure it all out - this one is going to be a little rambling.

Before diving into the real subject here, let me first say that the cabinet and other advisory positions that The Trumpster Fire has appointed so far are remarkably consistent with GOP ideology to an extent I didn't think possible.  We want an aggressive military and we believe that the US military has been emasculated by politicians since the early Vietnam days, so we appoint a crapload of generals to defense and security positions.  Check.  We think most of the rest of the federal government should do as little as possible, so we appoint a fast food mogul to Labor, a climate change denier to the EPA, a Wall Street insider to Treasury, a completely inexperienced hack to HUD, an enemy of public education to the DofEd and so on it goes.  And on top of that, we appoint a white supremicist media mogul as head of propaganda so he can ensure we keep sniping at each other so we don't pay attention as Ryan and McConnell attempt to dismantle the US government.  Mission soon to be accomplished.

So as we continue to dissect this damned election, we're supposed to be wringing our hands about how we overlooked the WWC (white working class) and focused too much on "identity politics".  Well, bullshit.  First of all, it's not identity politics - it's a fight for civil rights that didn't end with Brown vs the Board of Education or the Voting Rights Act or the Obergefell decision.  If any Democrat ever apologizes for that, they should be kicked out of the party.  The biggest shift though was a bigger focus on the poor rather than the middle-ish class which had had ALL of the spotlight in the previous couple of elections.  The Fight for $15 and support for the ACA was the right thing to do, but that shouldn't have stopped Democrats for also spending some time and energy on middle class problems.  It really is possible to do both and we absolutely hadn't done both before - it's just that the poorer folks didn't have anywhere else to turn and they were energized by President Obama.  Those same people appear to have come out and voted for Hillary Clinton but there was some obvious erosion that must be addressed without compromising what it means to be a Democrat.

I am still planning to walk through the minefield of talking about racism and sexism in a future post (yes, I am still a middle-aged Southern white dude, so THAT should be fun!) but let's talk a little about what the WWC actually say they wanted from a Prez candidate - the promise of jobs.  Real jobs, decent-paying jobs, manufacturing jobs (and by the way, mostly jobs that don't require a college education).

Well I hate to be the one to break it to you but those jobs are not coming back.  NO jobs are coming back!  North Carolina has bled thousands and thousands of textile and furniture and tobacco jobs over the past 30-40 years (most of which really didn't pay that well but you could live off of them) and there is not a damn thing that Donald Trump can do to entice them back.  Back in the mid-80s (long before NAFTA) I was working for Bluebell (before VF bought them) - makers of Wrangler jeans and Jantzen sportswear.  Can't get no more 'Merican that that.  Ed Baumann was the CEO or President at the time and he would go on and on about "buy American!" while all of the shirts we sold were being sewn together in Honduras. "Made in America", my ass.  Sure, somebody might open a small boutique textile mill now to make something that will be very expensive and marketed to upper-income people to make them feel better about it all, but it will be a very small drop in a very large bucket.  God love 'em for doing it, but it won't make much difference.  And I'll guarantee they'll run those shops with many fewer people than they used to because they'll automate the hell out of them.  And in the meantime all those WWCs will continue to be addicted to cheap clothes made in Pakistan by people working in inhumane conditions at sub-subsistence wages and sold to them at Wal-mart by our own version of those same people.  There was a story a few years ago on NPR about a US city that was buying manhole covers from India.  Imagine the cost of shipping the damn things but when they're being cast in foundries by barefooted guys in loincloths with no safety consideration and a high mortality rate, the cost of production is approaching zero.  That type of thing, by the way, is one thing that NAFTA and TPP and other trade agreements are supposed to address - raising safety and environmental standards in trading partners (which raises their costs of course) and helps make the US more competitive by making everyone play by the same rules. 

Don't think that manufacturing is the only problem.  Think health care at least is something that has to remain on-shore?  Don't be so sure.  Many of the advances like electronic medical records and telemedicine that really will help improve services and help reach under-served communities are already being used to move back-office and diagnostic jobs off-shore.  There are buildings in India with whole floors of MDs that do nothing all day but evaluate MRIs for patients in the States.  And why not?  It reduces the cost of medical care for us, right?  But it means fewer high-paying jobs for docs in the US.

Of course everyone knows about the off-shoring of IT jobs - the very technology that we support enables us to move much of that support to countries with lower labor costs.  But the move of other back-office services for major corporations like accounting, HR functions, legal etc really hasn't gotten much press but it is happening and happening rapidly.

Think the creative space is safe?  That guy that you hired for your graphic design work probably has ten jobs like that that he's "working on" simultaneously, which really means that he's farmed out the grunt work to people in Poland or Manila or Chennai.  It's all digital, so he can check in on progress, send stuff back for rework and spend 5% of the time it would take if he was really doing all the work himself.  Everyone is a photographer now, so stock photography is dead and most shrinking TV newsrooms now are making their reporters double as camera people.  Remember type-setting?  Remember film labs?  Remember buggy whips?  We don't need 'em anymore.

And I get it.  I've been working in technology since I graduated college in 1982 and it still amazes me the ridiculously cool things we've figured out how to do.  And despite what you might think after a 9 hour day of staring at a computer screen, I do think that technology and automation and all of that stuff have improved human life.  But the (possibly) unintended consequences are making life difficult for many, many people and the answers to that are not found in a glib phone call to Carrier or a threat to Boeing.  And of course Carrier is already signaling that through automation most of the jobs that were "saved" from moving to Mexico will be lost to automation.

Raising tariffs is a dumbass idea (go Google Smoot-Hawley if you aren't sure) and one that runs counter to everything the non-Trump part of the GOP stands for.  Congress would never stand for it and they'd impeach The Donald so fast you'd think he'd had a fling with an intern if he really pushed it.  Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do and I'm convinced that the negative impact on the number of jobs will be minimal, but it won't help the situation long-term and we just lost any chance of doing that on a wide scale for at least the next four years.  And with the majority of state legislatures in GOP hands and likely to stay that way through 2020, we'll lose another census opportunity to redistrict in a way that is less safe for Republicans and that four years becomes fourteen.

All of this is why I think raising the minimum wage and fighting for universal health care is only the start.  The logical and I think necessary move over the next 20-30 years will be to institute a guaranteed minimum income or even a basic income.  There are just not going to be enough jobs available to support the population.  So either a killer bug gets released that kills off half the population or we have a very large percentage of the population that has no work to do.  That doesn't mean that they're lazy, it doesn't mean that they find some jobs "beneath them" - there just will not be jobs available.

There's a difference between guaranteed minimum income and basic income (the former is means-tested while the latter goes to everyone, for example) and I've not done nearly enough research or thinking on this yet, but something is going to be necessary unless we blow ourselves up, drown in the rising oceans or hit a Captain Trips/Walking Dead scenario and that seems to be the best logical bet.  There are smart people out there that have been thinking about this for awhile and actually you can go back to a lot of the science fiction written in the late 60s and early 70s that posits a society where everything is automated and the basics are provided but they deal primarily with the effects that might have on the human psyche more than the mechanics of how the posited basic income (or basic needs met) would work.

But we're going to have to figure this out, including how to overcome the Puritan legacy that seems to continue to drive much of American discussion and thought 500 years later - the idea that nothing has worth unless it was hard to get.  We don't like having things handed to us (and we absolutely abhor seeing anyone ELSE have anything handed to them).  But now that the lack of jobs is hitting the white folk and not primarily people of color and geographies that have been traditionally poor, maybe they'll start to get the message.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Bubbles and Echo Chambers

I started writing this in my head a couple of days ago and many folks that write much better than I do have already captured a lot of what I'm thinking better than I will, but I still feel the need to work through this - and it doesn't count if I don't put it out there for others to argue with or agree with or ignore.  This is long and rambling because I've been pretty rambling since Tuesday night. So read at your own risk and feel comfortable with ignoring.

There have been a lot of accusations that the Dem leadership and/or the "liberal elite" (whatever the fuck is meant by that) live in their bubbles in San Francisco and New York and Portland (and I would assume my college town of Chapel Hill) and they've lost touch with "real America" whatever the hell that is.  I'm also reading a counter to that, that it's Billy Bob Joe Bubba in Podunkville, Kansas that is the one in the bubble, unknowing (and uncaring) of anything much that goes on beyond the next corn field.

Look, we ALL live in not one but many bubbles.  Think of it as a big-ass series of Venn diagrams (I know, I just lost the Billy Bobs) with overlaps, intersections and in some cases completely separate bubbles.  As I said, I live in a college town in a Southern state that defies categorization as blue or red but I also don't believe that it is purple.  Chapel Hill is such a bubble that the late unlamented Senator Jesse Helms suggested we save some money on building a zoo and just build a fence around the town.  As it has become more of a bedroom community for Research Triangle Park, it may not be quite as librul, but it is still definitely an outlier.

At the same time, I've spent most of my 35 year professional career working in the aforementioned RTP, which is dominated by large multi-national technology and pharmaceutical companies.  Big on open borders and loving their H-1B visas and generally fiscally conservative/free-market but fairly tolerant on social issues.  With the exception of a couple of my neighbors, I'd wager that not a single person that I have a social connection with in Chapel Hill voted for The Trumpster.  But I know for a fact that there are people that I have a work relationship with that voted for him, whether or not they held their nose when they did.

I also have a relationship with the western part of the state, where the textile mills have shut down and the mining operations have mostly moved out and logging has died down and the damn hippies have taken over Asheville and are starting to encroach on many of the smaller towns.  The natives vote heavily GOP and every damn one of them had a Trump sign on their lawn - but they also have Confederate battleflags on their pickup trucks and voted hard for the state amendment banning gay marriage before the SCOTUS weighed in.  I'll come back to this point in my next post.  Yes, their lives are tough and in many cases ruled by opioid addiction and diabetes (go to Walmart in some of these towns and look at all the guys younger than me scooting around in the electric shopping carts).  But their older siblings were meth addicts and their parents were potheads and alcoholics and their grandparents were 'shiners - things have sucked for them for generations. I really don't mean to be unsympathetic - I do get that they're in a tough place that has gotten progressively tougher due to a number of factors beyond their control.

I have no doubt that millennials living in Cambridge live in a different bubble and people living in Bugfuck, Mississippi live in another bubble still.  Where I have issue is this idea that one bubble is more important or more real or more "American" than another.  This idea that "the heartland" is the real America and the cities (in particular the coastal cities like NY and Boston and LA and San Fran) are "the other" and somehow less American.  The map that shows the concentration of 50% of the US population in a fairly small footprint that is being used to justify the Electoral College says something very different to me - it says that we're undervaluing the votes of a large number of American citizens just because they live near their neighbors.

I (and many like me) have been accused of living in an echo chamber.  Yeah, maybe.  But we all do - that's the nature of social media as we tend to "friend", "follow" and listen to people that share our views.  But we also have had a fundamental shift in the way news is sourced over the past 50 years that we are still coming to grips with.  When I was a kid, it didn't matter where you lived - you got your news from a limited numbers of sources.  Walter Cronkite or Howard K Smith or a couple of other national news anchors, your local newspaper (or two, depending on how large a town you lived in) and maybe a news magazine like Time or Newsweek.  That was pretty much it as local TV news tended (and still tends) to focus on local crime, feel-good stuff and not much else.

Today there are 1000s of news (and "news") sources to choose from and we have access to an amazing number of information (and misinformation) sources.  And therein lies both our path forward and our biggest challenge.  I'll fully admit that I get much of my political news from Vox, TalkingPointsMemo and a handful of other progressive-leaning sourced.  I also scan the Washington Post and NY Times and Raleigh N&O headlines and other more mainstream news sources. And I hit Twitter for posts from people that I think have good ideas and a good handle on what's going on.  I like to think that I do some due dlilgence and check out sources and demand attribution and try to ensure that what I'm reading has a basis in objective truth.  The wingnuts will deride you for depending on the NY Times as the defining source of your bubble - so will I as they've fallen well-short of what I expect a real investigative news source to do the past 18 months.  Use multiple sources and question if they seem to be repeating each other.

I have friends though that get their information from Breitbart and Fox News and Hannity and Laura Ingraham and I just smh.  I do read the stuff they post from time to time and it creates a fictional reality where elections are stolen from them and the only racism is reverse racism and Hillary killed Vince Foster and and and and I just can't read anymore.  The point being, I guess, that there are echo chambers and there are echo chambers and we continue to struggle to figure out how to deal with outright, demonstrable lies that other have no issue completely believing and repeating ad nauseum.

So where we used to all get our news from kind of the same sources - at least everyone in Nashville when I was growing up had the Tennessean (morning paper), the Banner (evening paper) and three major network newscasts and not much else.  Whether those news sources were impartial nor not, good or bad or whatever, we all got pretty much the same info. Now as part of our bubble choices, we also make news source choices that further focus us on our own bubble/echo chamber.

Where am I going with this?  Hell, I don't know - I told you I was going to be rambling.  But I guess I'm going a couple of places.  One is that with the proliferation of news sources (and more importantly, access to them), there really is no excuse to NOT find better sources for your information than propaganda sites run by Trump's Goebbels.  I get that they may tell you what you want to hear but that isn't necessarily the truth.  When I read crap that people post from Breitbart, it is often almost always unattributed, patently false bullshit that assumes you've read the rest of their crap and believed it so it forms the foundation for the next layer of bullshit.  I'm not saying that because it is reactionary, racist, sexist horse manure - I'm saying it because it is easily-researched and easily-refuted horse manure if anyone even half tried.

So yes, we're all in a series of sometimes-overlapping bubbles but so what?  It is YOUR responsibility as a thinking, vote-having adult human to figure this shit out.  Figure out who you can really listen to - not because they're telling you what you want to hear, but instead what you need to know.  

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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

One-Term Presidents

It struck me a few days ago that in the first 20 years of my life, we had 5 Presidents of the US (not counting the few months that Ike was still Pres after I was born):
- Kennedy (assassinated)
- Johnson (declined to run for a second full term)
- Nixon (resigned in disgrace)
- Ford (unelected and lost re-election bid)
- Carter (lost re-election bid)

In the 36 years that followed, we've only had 5 more Presidents:
- Reagan (term-limited)
- Bush the First (lost re-election bid)
- Clinton (term-limited)
- Bush the Second (term-limited)
- Obama (term-limited)

For all of the craziness of the US political scene the past few decades, that's a remarkable run of Presidential stability that I believe is about to come to an end, regardless of the outcome of this election.

Historical economic cycles point to a recession or at least a serious correction coming in the US economy in the next 2-3 years.  The fact that the recovery from the Great Recession has been as slow as it has may push that toward the end of the next president's term, but my expectation is that Hillary will win and have a narrow Senate Dem majority for 2 years before the Republicans take the Senate back in the mid-terms.  After the economy takes a hit in 2018-2019, my guess is that a President Clinton will face a tough challenge from within the party and then lose to the Republican nominee (Cruz?  Rubio?  someone new?).

On the other hand, what happens if The Donald wins?  I have every idea that he has absolutely no interest in actually being president.  I suspect he would wreak serious havoc for two years and then pull a Palin and quit, leaving us with a couple of years of President Pence and paving the way for an Elizabeth Warren Presidency.  (I'm fine with the Warren presidency but a lot of people would be harmed in the 4 years before she would take over.)

That all may sound crazy but look at that 1960-1980 period again and tell me again that it's nuts.  So I will do what I can to get Hillary elected along with as many Democratic Senators as possible and then push like hell for them to make as many moves forward as they can in the short time they'll have to accomplish anything.

Because we won't get another chance for awhile.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

All-Overlooked Team

With the Tar Heels in the Final Four again, we're getting a lot of looks at past UNC greats, from 'Sheed sitting in the stands and Kenny Smith in the TNT studio to lots of talk about Michael Jordan and James Worthy and Lenny Rosenbluth and Antawn Jamison and on and on (and it's one hell of a list).

This afternoon I started thinking about the guys that don't get mentioned that often anymore that would be all-time greats with most other programs - guys that I thoroughly enjoyed watching but who don't get much mention anymore.  If I were to build an All-Overlooked team of UNC greats, it would probably look something like this:

PG - Easy Ed Cota - 3 Final Fours in 4 years, all time leading assist man for UNC and still #3 in NCAA history.  When we talk about UNC point guards, Phil Ford, Kenny Smith, Ray Felton, Ty Lawson - all those guys typically come to mind before Ed which I think is a bit unfair.

SG - Al Wood - team leading scorer for 3 years, 1st team All-American in '81 and scorer of 39 points against Virginia in the '81 Final Four in one of the greatest games I've ever seen a Tar Heel play.

F - Mike O'Koren - my favorite player while I was actually in school until Mr. Worthy hit campus.  3 time 1st team All-American (despite only making All-ACC 1st team twice - one of the national vs. local press oddities).  Led the injury-depleted Heels to the final game against Marquette as a freshman in '77.  He really was the team in the interim between the Phil Ford era and the Jordan era.

F - Sam Perkins - I guess playing in the shadow of James Worthy and Michael Jordan will do it to you, but it astounds me that the guy who is still the #2 rebounder and #3 scorer in UNC history doesn't get more love.

C - Brad Daugherty - top 10 in field goal %, rebounds, scoring and blocks in UNC history and part of the Best UNC Team Ever To Not Win The NCAA (tm) - the 1984 edition Heels with Perkins, Doherty, Jordan and Kenny "The Jet" Smith that was undefeated in conference play but managed to NOT win the ACC Tournament and NOT make it to the Final Four. Despite that, all kinds of love for Brad who remains a true North Carolina treasure.

I'm probably guilty myself of overlooking some folks but I'd put these guys up against just about anybody.


Friday, March 25, 2016


If I understand it correctly, the bill just rammed through the NC General Assembly without notice and without time given for the legiscritters to, you know, READ what they were being asked to vote on will require a person identifying as male (and quite possibly with male genitalia and male secondary characteristics like facial hair) to use the women's room if their birth certificate says they were born female.  That's not an unintended consequence.  That is a punishment, pure and simple.  It's a feature.

But more than that, it is a clear indicator that the bigotry against my LGBT friends is being used as a smokescreen to hide what the rest of the consequences of the bill are.  It is not only anti-LGBT, it is anti-worker (anti-poor worker primarily) and focused on further consolidation of power at the state level, where the GOP has institutionalized its stranglehold on state government.

There is absolutely zero compelling reason for the state to prevent Charlotte from mandating a minimum wage that at least gets closer to a living wage for the city.  There is absolutely zero compelling reason for the state to prevent local municipalities from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances for veterans or service members (which Greensboro currently has).

It seems clear that HB2 runs afoul of Title IX which could cut off many millions of dollars of funding to NC schools.  It will obviously turn off large employers like IBM, RedHat, Netapp, SAS, Quintiles, Cisco, EMC (the list goes on).  But who thinks the current crop of legislators in Raleigh gives a shit about that?  They've already turned down Federal funding for Medicaid, they've already stripped funding from schools, they've already killed the film industry in NC and reduced unemployment protections to the worst in the nation.  For all of their bullshit during campaigns about being all about job creation, they don't give a flying about jobs - except their own.  "Smaller government" and "local control" be damned - it's all about consolidating their unConstitutionally-gained spoils in Raleigh.

There is a lot of energy right now among a lot of folks (many of them younger) that hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about politics until Senator Sanders starting campaigning for President.  There are more that are being energized from the other direction - in opposition to the campaign of The Donald.  Regardless of who wins the Democratic primaries, we need to find a way to channel *some* of that energy into state races in order to overcome the gerrymandered, quasi-permanent majority that the GOP has in North Carolina.  While turning the NCGA blue is not going to happen this cycle, finding enough votes to at least overcome the current GOP supermajority (hopefully coupled with a new Democratic governor) would be a good start.

Don't get so caught up in the dumpster fire that is the Presidential election that you don't pay attention to the down-ticket races - every damn one of them is vitally important.


Friday, September 04, 2015

Driving Music - Preesh!

The Xterra is getting a bit long in the tooth - multi-CD changer but no MP3 player.  So I had the bright idea of making a CD of the songs that Preesh! covered at the Cat's Cradle last weekend during the Be Loud! Sophie benefit - until I came to the shocking realization that I had copies of everything on the setlist except the first and last tunes.  I do have the Hindu Love Gods on cassette but I've never digitized it and the only Prince I've got is the vinyl for 1999.  And while I have copies of almost everything Elvis Costello has ever recorded, I did not (until tonight) own a copy of Imperial Bedroom in any format.  Thanks to Google Play that has been rectified and I did go with the Warren Zevon/Hindu Love Gods version of "Raspberry Beret".

So the CD is now complete, with live versions of "Respectable Street", "Bad Reputation" and "Driven to Tears" all taken from the incredible Urgh! A Music War soundtrack.

Ready for the road!


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Courtin' Songs

Every relationship has songs that have meaning for the couple in it that would make no sense to anyone else.  This is my quick take on songs that, if encountered in the wild, will cause us to pause and look at each other and smile, grin, smooch, laugh or look mildly embarrassed.

Tears for Fears - Pale Shelter
Talk Talk - It's My Life
Icicle Works - Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)
The Psychedelic Furs - Heaven
Depeche Mode - People Are People
U2 - Sunday Bloody Sunday
Frankie Goes to Hollywood - Two Tribes
The English Beat - Jeanette
REM - Don't Go Back to Rockville
The Monkees - Daydream Believer

The first seven were constantly in rotation at Cagney's on DuPont Circle in DC, where we would go as often as possible to escape our little apartment in Montgomery Village (aka Stepford) when we first got together. The rest have their own stories that wouldn't mean anything to anyone but us. But that's a hell of a playlist...


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Family IT Guy - Dell XPS 13 Edition

I'm not one of those guys that complains about being the family IT guy - I've enjoyed helping Jeannette and my folks with upgrades, replacements, troubleshooting etc (and I never forget that I'm a second-generation IT guy - Mom preceded me in the IT support biz).  With all of the unsolvable problems I run into as an IT manager, it's nice getting my hands "dirty" and actually solving a problem.  I'm usually fairly methodical, doing some research before jumping in.

That wasn't the case when Jeannette told me last week that she was getting messages on her Dell ultrabook saying that her hard drive was about to crash.  She had some things she needed to do urgently so I uncharacteristically sprang into action without thinking things through.  

1st step was actually reasonable - grab an external hard drive with some space and copy off all of her data.  I do occasionally back up her laptop but it had been awhile.  That preserved her photos, documents etc but didn't help for her installed software like MS Office and Scrivener.

That done, I rushed out to Best Buy to grab a new SSD.  Dumb.  If I'd taken five minutes to check, I'd have noted that the XPS doesn't use a full-size SSD - it has an mSATA drive that looks more like a memory stick than a hard drive.  I would have also noticed that the laptop has 10 screws requiring an odd-size screwdriver that I didn't own in order to get into the guts.

So off to Amazon (thank you, Amazon Prime!) to order an mSATA drive and a set of screwdrivers that include a Torx T5 head.  I should have used that time to take a deep breath and think this through, but instead we went to the beach where I got horribly sunburned, ate way too much Mexican food, had a fantastic time and didn't think much at all about computers.

Back home and I'm starting to flounder around again rather than thinking about this.  I've replaced OS drives on workstations and laptops before so the fact that the drive hadn't failed should have made this easy.  But my normal methods were failing me with the ultrabook.  No optical drive, no additional SATA ports, limited USB ports.  I couldn't hook up the external optical drive I have because it requires two USB ports and the only two on the Dell are on opposite sides of the box and the cables on the drive wouldn't reach them both.

Finally, step back, take a deep breath.

1) Clear off a good-sized USB stick, download Clonezilla (open source software), install it on the USB drive and make the drive bootable.

2) Hook up the big external drive I'd used to copy files to as a target for the clone

3) Boot from the USB stick and clone the soon-to-be-dead hard drive to the external drive

4) Remove the bottom cover of the laptop, replace the mSATA drive and close it up (this was actually remarkably straightforward).

5) Boot from the USB key again and clone the new hard drive

6) Boot from the new hard drive - all is well

The only issue I ran into afterwards was that Spybot was acting funky but I don't think that had anything to do with the clone process - I think it just hadn't been updated in awhile, so I blew it away, reinstalled it and it seems to be working fine now.

My lesson from all of this - Don't Rush!  Take an hour to do some research and think things through and things will go much faster overall.  Regardless, the good news is that J has her laptop back and I feel a sense of relief.

I'm also thinking that in addition to the normal backups that I do, I may start cloning the OS drive on my workstation every couple of months to make sure I can recover programs in addition to data.


Friday, June 19, 2015

A Slow About-face

It has taken me a long time to get here, but I have finally done a complete 180 with my opinion on getting rid of vestiges of the Confederacy.

Southerners might have lost the war, but we won the PR campaign, I would assume because the North was war weary and probably didn't see the harm.  When the Republican Party bought the 1876 Presidential election in exchange for withdrawing Federal troops from the former Confederate states, it ended Reconstruction and ushered in nearly a century of lynching, Jim Crow, voter suppression (okay, more than a century of that) and other methods of ensuring that the lowest white folks maintained a distinct advantage over most black folks.

I grew up in the South and was raised with the knowledge that Southern generals like Lee and Jackson were far superior to Yankee trash like Grant and Sherman both as tacticians and as gentlemen.  The noble cause of the South (states rights of course - had nothing to do with slavery) was brought down by there being just too damn many damn Yankees.

The view that we never really lost the war led to a South full of buildings named after Southern politicians and generals, statues of Confederate leaders in every town and US military bases named after Southern generals who made their career killing US military personnel.

I long ago lost any interest in the Rebel battle flag or any illusion that secession and the resulting war were about anything other than a burning desire to continue to have the right to own other human beings as personal chattel.  But I accepted the buildings like Saunders Hall at UNC and the military bases named for traitorous generals as pieces of history that we needed to remember.

It was only in the past few months that I've come to realize how incredibly wrong that is.  While Ta-Nehisi Coates maintained yesterday in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on African-American parishioners in Charleston that one doesn't have to compare it to the Holocaust to state the seriousness of racism in America, I think for some of us born and raised in the South that you do.  It wasn't until I started to consider whether I would think a building named for Goebbels or Himmler in a German university would be ok.  And the idea that US soldiers (white or black) would be serving on bases honoring generals who led troops responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of US soldiers suddenly became completely repulsive.

We're not going to forget the Civil War or Reconstruction or Jim Crow or mob violence and terrorism against black people if we don't have buildings named after racist KKK leaders on our university campuses any more than we're going to forget the horrors of WWII even though Germany doesn't still fly a flag with a swastika on it.  The thought of a young African-American student having to take a class in a building named after a KKK leader is completely abhorrent and should not happen anywhere.  

We're not covering up history by doing things like renamed Saunders Hall - we're recognizing that the myths that many of us grew up with were damaging self-serving lies and it's time we grew the fuck up.

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Cord-cutting Update

A little geeky, maybe, but here's the latest status on our cord-cutting adventure.

Our previous setup was Earthlink DSL and Time Warner Cable, with coax directly into the bedroom TV (so we only got the lower tier of channels) and coax in the media room split between a TWC-provided digital receiver for the full slate of channels and a home theater PC I built a few years ago, that I used as a DVR for the lower tier of channels).

With a change in my work situation last May, we decided to do what we'd been discussing for some time and get rid of our TWC service.  Living in Chapel Hill, my biggest concern with over-the-air delivery was the distance to the towers servicing the Research Triangle market (most of which are located SE of Raleigh) and to the Triad (most of which I think are down around High Point) - we split the middle and aren't particularly close to either market.  Previous purchases of interior digital antenna were definitely unsatisfactory and exterior antenna looked like a huge hassle.  However, Jeannette and I independently hit on an antenna that does work for us - the Mohu Leaf.

Our current set-up in the bedroom is simple - TV attached to a Mohu Leaf 50 powered antenna that is in the bedroom bay window facing pretty much East.  We get decent reception of some Triangle and some Triad stations - enough that all the major networks are covered from one or the other market (except maybe NBC but who the hell watches NBC?).  Plus we get the UNC stations of course.  We absolutely get some pixelation and picture freezes from time to time (often weather-dependent) but overall it's a pretty acceptable experience.  We also have a Google Chromecast device on the bedroom TV which allows streaming of Netflix, Youtube, HuluPlus and anything in a Chrome browser.

The media room TV setup is a bit more complicated.  I mentioned the home-theater PC that I was running cable through (no cablecard, so I was only getting the lower tier of TWC channels through it).  That HTPC remains as part of the setup.  Adding a second Mohu Leaf 50 however was unsatisfactory.  We've never been able to find an antenna position in the media room that brought in more than a couple of channels clearly.  So we've added another component - an HDHomeRun Extend, which is basically a router-sized box with Ethernet connectivity and two TV tuners.  It sits upstairs in my home office attached via Ethernet to our wireless access point and via coax to the second Mohu Leaf, this one in my office window facing SW.  So TV watching in the media room is through Windows Media Center on the HTPC accessing the HD Homerun tuners via the home network.  The HD Homerun unit also gives us the capability to watch over-the-air TV on pretty much any of our networked devices (PCs, tablets, etc).

So OTA is taken care of with the two Mohu Leaf antennae and streaming via the HTPC in the media room, the Googlecast unit in the bedroom and subscriptions to HuluPlus, Netflix and Amazon Prime.  That certainly doesn't get us everything we used to have with cable, but Sling TV will get us closer when it is available next month.  The HTPC gives us DVR capability as well.

With the various subscriptions (including the Sling TV that we'll add when available), we've dropped a $106/month cable bill in favor of about $42/month in subscriptions (we were already paying for Netflix so I'm not counting it).  Overall equipment costs for stuff we didn't already have was about $250 for the two Mohu Leaf antennae and the HD Homerun Extend (look around for deals) - depreciate those purchases over a year and you can add another $20/month to the total for year 1.  Still substantially below the monthly cable bill.

So how does this new arrangement stack up?  For broadcast networks, it is mostly better.  We're getting uncompressed HD signals (unlike TWC) so the picture is typically better.  We do get pixelation and the occasional screen freeze but frankly we did on TWC as well.  Most will let you stream the latest handful of episodes for free within a day or two of broadcast as well and I can usually get full HD with fewer glitches than either our old cable or the over-the-air setup. There are a lot of cable shows that are available for streaming but that has been hit-or-miss.  No longer having Syfy, we managed to stream all of the last season of Defiance, but for some reason the Syfy website dropped about 5 episodes of Haven all at once so we missed most of the latest season of it.  Covert Affairs is just not available for streaming anywhere without either a cable/satellite provider or paying via Amazon or iTunes.  On the other hand, I've missed a large number of Doctor Who episodes since the relaunch so we're making our way through the Eccleston season and will soon get started on the Tennant years.  Sling TV will get us ESPN, TNT and some other networks back that we've missed, but Jeannette still really misses her Turner Classic Movies (ok, I do too) and I do miss Syfy and USA.  But frankly those three channels are probably all I'm missing from a full cable subscription that I would actually watch with any frequency.

I think once we've gotten Sling TV (please before the end of the college basketball season please?), we'll be in good shape to last the two or three years it will take before Google Fiber is available in our neighborhood.

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Sunday, January 04, 2015

A Year (or more) of Beer

I joined Untappd about 16 months ago as a way to track what I liked (and didn't like) while enjoying the craft beer revolution.  Typically if I drink more than one of a particular brew in a night, I only check it in once.  That being said, here are my top check-ins (first is most - go Foothills!):

1.  Foothills Hoppyum IPA
2.  Starpoint Brewing´╗┐ Duh! DIPA
3.  New Belgium Rampant DIPA
4.  Bell's Two Hearted Ale
5.  Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
6.  Victory DirtWolf DIPA
7.  Catawba Firewater IPA
8.  Carolina Brewery Flagship IPA
9.  Ska Modus Hoperandi IPA
10. Terrapin Hopsecutioner IPA

Foothills has done a great job getting Hoppyum into restaurants and sports arenas in the Carolinas (doesn't hurt that it's really good) and of course dinner at Margaret's with a couple of Tim's Duh!'s is the highlight of any week.  If I'm heading up to our family place in the NC mountains, I'll usually pick up some Catawba Firewater at Ingles.

While I rarely rate anything less than 3, I've never rated anything a 5 and I've only had a handful of 4.5s:

Starpoint's Duh!
Bell's Two Hearted Ale
Victory DirtWolf
NoDa Hop, Drop and Roll
Terrapin's Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout
Terrapin's Hopzilla DIPA
Stone's Arrogant Bastard Ale
AlphaDog's Imperial IPA
Foothills Seeing Double IPA

Obviously I like the strong stuff as 6 of the 9 are 8% ABV or higher.  The DirtWolf is as close to a 5 as I've ever had and if I don't find anything better in the next few months, I'll revise their score up.

In terms of breweries, I've never had anything from Terrapin in Athens, GA that I didn't think was fantastic.  NoDa from Charlotte and Olde Hickory (from Hickory, of course) do some really interesting things.  Locally I'm not going to go wrong with Starpoint or Steel String or Carolina Brewery or Top of the Hill.  But one of the things I find remarkable is the excellent beer one can find in some out-of-the-way places.  If you're in the northwestern part of the state, drop in at Dry County Brewery and Pizza Shop in Spruce Pine for some really good beer and some excellent pies.  Even further afield, Blind Squirrel Brewery in Plumtree does a fine IPA. Catawba Brewing Co. in Morganton is doing some good stuff outside of the huge Asheville beernanza.

It's a good time to be a beer lover.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Another Goodbye to Another Good Friend

Just heard from a mutual friend today that my bud Dave Anstine died this summer.  Dave and I worked together at Nortel and then at CSC, Dave in Richardson, TX and me in RTP.  Dave was hard-working, funny, smart, loyal and one of the most fun people I've ever been around.  I have no idea what happened to him and maybe it doesn't matter - all the matters is that a good man is no longer with us.

Dave introduced me to Deep Ellum in Dallas and I introduced him to The Cave in Chapel Hill.  Whenever we were able to get together, trouble would likely ensue and we'd somehow talk our way out of any negative repercussions.  He was bright, charming and irrepressible.

I was in Dallas for meetings not long after Dave bought his first house.  It was up in Plano when Dallas Metro real estate was pretty cheap (may still be) and Dave had bought this 3500 sf place and furnished it with exactly the following:

1 easy chair
1 TV and stereo
1 mattress/box springs
2 kitchen stools

One bedroom was where his clean laundry was neatly folded in stacks on the floor.  The window coverings were brown butcher paper taped (or stapled?) up over them.  It was perfect.

Dave introduced me to the Old 97s, the Killers and more recently to Caro Emerald.  I hope I turned him on to some good music as well.  We lost touch for awhile other than yearly Christmas cards and the occasional Facebook chat until earlier this year, when he told me that he was quitting his job and moving to Houston to help take care of his aging parents.  A couple of months later he asked if I'd mind being a reference (which of course I didn't) and he sounded a little frustrated in his job search.  Then after I lost my job at Quintiles, he reached out (just a few weeks before he passed away) with welcome words of encouragement, ending with this:

"I am always in your corner as a colleague and friend"

And he was, to the end.