Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
Everyone is welcome here.
(Some links or topics may not be completely kid-appropriate.)

Sun, Oct 31 2004

Got Candy?

As if most of us don't get enough sweets on Halloween, there are recipes that take candy bars to a whole new level.

Some neighborhoods give out fresh cotton candy and attract more than a thousand trick-or-treaters.

Reeses and Snickers may be high on the list of favorites in some places, but we find that a lot of kids in this area go right for the Twix. Which is fine with me. They don't tempt me at all.

posted at: 14:15 | category: /Playing | link to this entry

Fri, Oct 29 2004

Extra Absentee Ballots

Just throw them away? This doesn't sound like what I learned in training class. (I received training in Santa Cruz County, and not San Benito County).

posted at: 12:30 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Speaking of theft...

With a tip of the Stetson to Slashdot, I wonder if is this what one might call an ambush makeover?

I wonder if the Secret Service got permission to use that Mission Impossible theme?

posted at: 12:22 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Thu, Oct 28 2004

Drink To Your Health?

They are telling us now that some studies show red wine being a good tool against lung cancer. We've heard for some time that red wine has benefits for the cardiovascular system, but some studies have shown that red or purple grape juice also works well, and the juice doesn't have many of the negative side effects of red wine. It also appears that at least some of the benefits of grape juice may last longer than those associated with red wine.

Health studies often tend to be funded by groups which would benefit from research statistics stacking up in their favor. So I'm skeptical when I hear first reports on any one food substance showing itself to be a major factor in health. Such studies may do more harm than good, especially when people consume that substance in larger quantities while they continue other bad health habits. Even plain water can damage your health, if you don't use reason and end up drinking too much of it.

posted at: 11:20 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Wed, Oct 27 2004

DA, DUI, Duh-Huh?

I don't know any of these people personally, but it does bother me that, of all those "dozens of applications" the Santa Cruz County District Attorney's office received, the present office personnel selected an attorney with this background as the cream of the crop. Or maybe they just saw him as the best fit for this county. Either way, it's worrisome. And the quoted comment from San Joaquin County's District Attorney is worrisome too. How can a DA think that a DUI conviction isn't serious and then properly prosecute DUI cases?

To say that our tax dollars are paying for these folks to send out a whole lot of mixed messages might just be an understatement at this point.

posted at: 10:02 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Tue, Oct 26 2004

Today A Lunch Box: Tomorrow Rocket-Propelled Grenades?

It's seems that emotions run high in Taiwan Parliament meetings, and in the last day or so they had a good old-fashioned food fight. With that kind of violence in the parliament chamber, aren't we just a wee bit afraid of what they'll do with all those weapons we plan to sell them?

posted at: 17:31 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Winning Isn't Everything, Or Is It?

Between extreme points of view there are often subtleties that have bounced off both sides and become dynamic glimpses of truth. It's interesting to read all the politcal bantering here in the US and then read this blog written by someone who is living and working in Iraq.

It's so easy when we opt to describe someone in extreme terms. He/she is a liar, a saint, a soldier, a draft-dodger, a savior, a heathen. Labels are convenient, and they do help us communicate our ideas more clearly, but when is enough, enough?

Labels and extremist thinking become more acceptable during times of war. We need a way to villify the one who opposes our point of view. We need to deny that portion of him (or her) that might otherwise allow us to become emotionally vulnerable. We've all done it. What's usually the first thing that happens when we argue with an individual? We start using terms such as "always" and "never". We tell the other person they're wrong and we're right. Sometimes we stoop to name-calling. That's how we manage to shut off our vulnerability and get through the fight. Yes, it works very well, but only for that particular purpose. It doesn't necessarily help us win over the person. It doesn't necessarily help us appreciate the other person's feelings or allow them to maintain respect in our eyes. It doesn't help us think about what steps might build a better relationship with that person in the future. I'm not sure it even makes us want to build a better relationship at all. But we're likely to get our way, in that moment, for that conflict. I just can't help but wonder if getting our way is really worth what we give up to get it.

posted at: 11:00 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Mon, Oct 25 2004

Just How Big Is Korea?

We are placing a lot of attention and focus on a country the CIA World Factbook describes as "slightly smaller than Mississippi". Last year former President Jimmy Carter spoke of issues with North Korea being a great threat. Of course, his being a Democrat might have colored his view. But I checked back some time before that, and found a report from March of 2003, in which several members of Congress, from both major political parties, expressed varying degrees of concern. Comments ranged from a wait-and-see attitude to an expression of the situation as a crisis.

It's always difficult to know just how tense a situation really is when there are so many partisan remarks being tossed about just prior to a major election in our country. Is this a more of a hot topic because of the election? One journalist who wrote a piece last week felt that the issue, which is not a new one, is an issue unlikely to be resolved under current conditions, whether George Bush, or John Kerry, is elected president in November. I wonder if he's right. It does seem that certain conflicts are almost set up from the start, not because of collusion, but because of a premeditated stance on the part of those in power. If the situation was somehow reversed, and it was the job of a very large North Korea to dissuade a much smaller United States to develop very powerful weapons, would our country's response be less defiant? Would we run to the table and begin peaceful negotiations? If we move back to reality, we have to remember that our country has actually had nuclear capability for several decades, and has done tests of that capability more than once.

We have Colin Powell dashing about and talking to China and other countries in an effort to put pressure on North Korea while North Korea says we're hostile and that they're not going to deal directly with us under the current conditions. I just keep thinking that, for the size of a country slightly smaller than Mississippi, North Korea is certainly getting a lot of attention in the world arena.

posted at: 11:03 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Sun, Oct 24 2004

World Series Baseball And Blogging

I never sit and watch baseball, but I sat and watched the first of the World Series games last night while I did some paperwork. It was kind of a strange experience, because names were mentioned and baseball history was drudged up by announcers between swings of bats, and I didn't recognize a lot of the names or the history they spoke of with all their knowledge and enthusiasm. The World Series that sticks in my mind the most was that of 1989, and that's because of a very rude interruption by the Loma Prieta earthquake. It's a little tough to think about a ball game when your whole house suddenly sounds and feels a bit like that scene in Poltergeist where they open the door to the kids' bedroom and its entire contents shift and spin. Of course, in this particular case the ballplayers were also getting shaken, so their thoughts weren't really on a ballgame either.

The blog writer known as Big Stupid Tommy watches a great deal more baseball than I do, so if you want to read some live-blogging from a guy who knows the game and its players, check out BST's World Series Blogging. He even included comments on the side, just the way the professional announcers do, and he mentioned taking time to go to the bathroom, which is something you never hear the professional announcers admit to doing. BST's reporting is earthy and honest. Just like baseball and apple pie.

posted at: 08:58 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Unexpected Song And Dance

Singing is one of my favorite things, so I loved a posting over at the Fire Ant Gazette where Eric took a fun look at how unexpected bits of song and dance give a boost to movies that wouldn't otherwise be classified as musicals.

posted at: 07:34 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry

Fri, Oct 22 2004

November Election Training Day 2004

Today I did my training for being an election officer on November 2. There seems to be something new each voting period, and a lot of recent changes have come from efforts to comply with the Help America Vote Act. For instance, new attachment pieces have been constructed so that they can be added to the legs of standard voting booths in order to make them wider and more accessible to disabled voters.

California allows a registered voter to register as a Permanent Absentee Voter, and our trainer told us today that there have been a record number of requests for this registration this election period. It's a really flexible way to vote, because you can get your ballot in the mail, vote at leisure, and return your ballot by mail or drop it off at a polling place on Election Day.

Along with the federal requirements, there are voting laws that vary greatly from state to state. I hadn't realized that a handful of states still do require bars to close on Election Day, including Utah, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. In California, electioneering is banned within 100 feet of a polling place, but some states protect a much larger area. Wyoming and Iowa mandate 300 feet and Louisiana demands a whopping 600-foot buffer.

posted at: 16:52 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Thu, Oct 21 2004

Faith or Fate?

I hadn't seen a recent piece from the New York Times until The Regular pointed to it. It's quite lengthy, but it gives a sense of the importance that Christianity can have on the life of a politician, particularly a U.S. President.

Compare this from January of this year in which evangelical politician Pat Robertson predicted a big win this November for President Bush, based on a message Robertson says he received from the Lord. It's very difficult to argue with someone when they say such things. A message from the Lord can be a very subjective experience.

Then there's this. Pat Robertson has claimed the Lord gave him a message concerning the pitfalls of a war in Iraq and claimed that President Bush told him (Robertson) that there would be no casualties in Iraq. The backlash from these statements was immediate from Scott McClellan and others who handle press and public relations for the White House.

A couple of weeks ago there was this piece. The person who wrote it felt that Pat Robertson's words and actions are seen by some as the workings of a religious bigot with an eye toward carving Israeli/Palestinian conflicts into his version of the Apocalypse.

Politicians simply must deal with ethics and morality from time to time. While many of us value the concept of the separation of church and state, we also have to see that individual beliefs play a heavy role in the lives of politicians, in their personal lives, in their associations with others and in their decisions for our country. Many Christians who are conservatives believe that the best political leaders are those who are Christian conservatives. This is the yardstick by which they measure a person's fitness to lead others in the political arena. But conservative Christians must admit that their own lives don't always include the best choices. Automatically expecting a Christian in politics to do the right thing for the right reason a hundred percent of the time could actually be a very dangerous assumption.

Christians, by virtue of the whole concept of salvation, want God to be vindicated, triumphant, and proven correct in the end. And we want to be on that bandwagon that takes us right along to that victory party where "every knee shall bow". Just thinking about it is a rush for a human who struggles to battle what we believe is a world gone quite mad from the ravages of sin. We want to know that when this is all over there is something that makes sense and that we will finally get to be with the One who loves us through all of it and who will dry our tears and invite us to sit with Him on his throne. We know we struggle here, but we use our faith to see down the road. (I'm using the male pronoun here because it's simpler than trying to describe all aspects of someone whose existence encompasses both known genders and more.)

And what good is having a faith-based life if we aren't confident about the One in whom we place our trust? But sometimes there's a fine line between faith and presumption. Faith is actually a very humbling experience in which we learn to subjugate the dark side of our humanity and allow a loving God to call out the best in us for His purpose. He encourages us to reflect goodness. Presumption, by contrast, glorifies the selfish side of a person and blocks out the real relationship with God, except for a cursory thought now and then to reinforce one's own desires. Even well-meaning persons of faith can be drawn into this trap, so that instead of making God's mission our mission we make our mission God's mission. This way of thinking can demonize our human brothers and sisters and can cause us to presuppose that anyone who disagrees with us is actually disagreeing with the Lord himself. Taken to an extreme, this type of view demands that certain events (which further our picture of the great spiritual conflict in the world) become prophetic and possibly even inevitable. Taken to the most dangerous conclusion, one might become completely devoid of love, blind to God's true will, and end up heading down the same selfish path as the Satan we Christians claim to denouce.

If I see anything in all this, it's that I need to keep watch over my own agendas in life if I want my walk with the Lord to be one of faith and not fate.

posted at: 10:18 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Wed, Oct 20 2004

Small-town Criminal Element

If we needed proof that not all senseless violence occurs in big cities we can look at stories like this local one. Why would anyone heave large rocks at strangers through the windshields of cars? If people are this badly in need of weekend recreation they must be leading a very pitiful life. Let's face it. All it takes to throw rocks is the presence of a few muscles. Well, and possibly a little alcohol and a couple of other feeble suspects to feed your starving ego. It doesn't exactly require higher brain function. I hope they either get a clue or get caught before they kill someone.

posted at: 09:35 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Tue, Oct 19 2004

The Dull Roar Is Increasing

Some communities are tired of waiting for federal action when it comes to border issues, and are finding ways to act locally to combat the impact on their community when people come to the United States illegally. Towns near borders tend to bear a large share of burdens when illegal aliens flood their town and are hired to work by employers who also act illegally in the hiring. The Bugle is a local community paper in the Murrieta/Temecula area of California, and they have posted information for the Southwest California Business Alliance that offers free classified listings to businesses who guarantee to hire only legal workers.

California Assemblyman Ray Haynes, who represents the Temecula area, published a blunt editorial online earlier this year in which he lashed out at both federal and state personnel who have failed to take seriously the consequences of lessened vigilance when it comes to the illegal invasion of people into this state. He mentioned one item that was new to me, and that is that illegal immigrants have been getting discounts to attend colleges and universities in California.

Long-time Representative Joe Baca (D-San Bernadino) has taken a few hits lately for his stance against sweeps that capture illegal immigrants.

The San Diego area is finally be getting some federal help in their ongoing battle with human smuggling.

Those who make it into the country are often taken advantage of by unscrupulous people ready to make money off people who are on the run. This issue is one major hot potato for this state and others. We may need to ask ourselves if we want to continue to support politicians who choose to represent the interests of illegal invaders over the interests of citizens and legal residents. My fear is that if the issue isn't solved in upcoming elections and through legal channels, all the frustration and anger is going to explode into localized violence in many communities.

posted at: 11:15 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Mon, Oct 18 2004

Porcupine Marketing

I really hope more companies are actually thinking this way. And I hope the executives at Proctor & Gamble mean it when they say they're interested in taking seriously the reinvention of marketing. I've only worked along the fringes of true marketing, but even in that bit of time I've noticed that high energy is what a lot of companies look for when they hire marketing executives or managers. Unfortunately, a lot of what they perceive as high energy is just a flighty desperation that some poor soul is trying to insert into a corporate world where the rest of the executives are more interested in the yearly sales figures than they are about meeting the needs of real employees and customers. The marketing and sales people become the ones who lie to the potential clients or customers. They lie about the time it will take to get a product or service to the customer, and sometimes they lie to the customers about whether or not the company can develop the product at all. The rest of the company ends up hating them, but feeling as though they're a necessary evil. So the marketing people take on a kind of porcupine role. They're all fired up and ready to go while the rest of the company backs away from their enthusiasm in fear of getting a painful quill and looking bad to the employees and to customers. The marketing people are often the laughing stock of the rest of the company and yet they're hired by the company to be the interface with the public. And they're among the first to become scapegoats if all their energy doesn't produce increased sales. (I'm not picking on Proctor & Gamble here, by the way. They were just the company quoted as wanting to make a change.)

As a creative person, I know that idea people do have a lot of energy, but it isn't always the kind of energy that shows itself in speed or frenzy. It's just that we routinely tap into areas of the mind that other people are in the habit of setting aside. Some were not encouraged to think creatively as children and they've suppressed that talent. Some feel it's a waste of time. Whatever the reason, some folks haven't actively tapped into that creativity for a long time. What's sad is that creativity is part of the best of humanity and your company's marketing people could be answering that call in themselves, and in the lives of customers. If you really wanted them to.

A lot of consumers are overburdened, overworked, stressed out, terrified, sad, and also very wary of anybody or anything they think might set them up for more of the same. So they do respond when marketing people tell them what it is they think they want to hear. Even if it's a lie. Even if, deep in their heart, they know it's a lie. So they bite. They buy. Your company gets a sale. Hurray. Hurray? You sold a lie and they bought a lie. It might look like a happy transaction, but somewhere, down the line, you're both going to pay for it in ways that don't always show (at first) in terms of gross sales.

A real revolution in marketing, to me, would be companies moving toward creative marketing that is based, not on lies, but on integrity and on enhancing the best in people. And the marketing department can't sell that to me by just nabbing a 30-second TV spot during the Super Bowl, no matter how many millions of dollars they spend on it.

posted at: 17:22 | category: | link to this entry

Link To Dead Pages

I found some great information this morning for those of us who are writing something online and want to reference an old web page that isn't available online any longer. If the page has been archived at the Internet Archive you can use this advanced search to locate it, even if you are unsure of the exact date of its original web publishing date. The search form allows you to fill in a date range and other criteria, plus that search form page includes other tips on how to get the most recently archived copy of a URL. You can also check a box that will give you duplicates of a URL on any given day, which would be handy for finding sites that had material that was updated throughout that day and had been indexed more than once during that day.

There are other handy options to narrow your search, such as audio or image links, Just choose your options for the search, and when your search is returned (if the link was indexed and was later archived by Internet Archive) you'll have an exact link to refer to in your own writing and you can just credit the Internet Archive as the source for the archived material.

posted at: 09:20 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Sun, Oct 17 2004

Service Pack 2: What Was That Improvement Again?

This weekend has flown by with other projects, so new blog entries have been nonexistant. I had to reinstall some software after my Service Pack 2 annoyed several applications, and I still get the Blue Screen of Death now and then when I restart the computer. At this point, the idea of Longhorn, the future new operating system from Microsoft holds no interest for me. Each new thing they do leaves me with more maintenance, less security, and less confidence and less joy in their product. I just want my computer to be there and be reliable for the work I need to do, and I don't want to have the burden of troubleshooting (or finding someone else to troubleshoot) so-called upgrades and enhancements.

posted at: 19:59 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Fri, Oct 15 2004

Local Italian Food Now Available

A few weeks ago we had dinner at Lorenzini's, the newest Italian restaurant in Watsonville. We've been sorely in need of local Italian cuisine in this valley where there are about ten Mexican restaurants to one of any other kind. I hope this turns out to be good timing for Lorenzini's. I'd love to see them stay awhile and balance the cultural ambience and tastings. We had trouble deciding what to order last time, so we'll have to go back soon. I have to decide whether to try the Lasagna Vegetariana next, or opt first for the Rigatoni Al Pollo. All decisions in life should be this much fun.

posted at: 16:26 | category: /Food | link to this entry

Hand Over The Goose And Nobody Gets Hurt

I loved the story of the surprise a goose hunter in Minnesota got. This is exactly what's been missing in modern hunting. Human hunters pack a bologna sandwich, a thermos of coffee and a gun, and then head out into the woods in full camo gear. They call this sport. But where is the competition, where someone bigger, stronger or smarter shows up to compete with them for their prey? Now, that's sport. In this particular case, all it took was a poor creature who was truly hungry to bring the small time game hunter to his knees.

posted at: 07:40 | category: /Food | link to this entry

Thu, Oct 14 2004

Blogging As A PR Barometer

Recently David Sifry posted on his blog a chart that shows how blog posts increase surrounding certain political (and other) events. He also talks about the way blog posts might act as a sort of barometer for PR departments. If companies and organizations pay close attention to what people are posting on their blogs, they might get some idea of what to focus their attention on next in their own efforts to dispatch postive mews, and to explain and counterbalance negative news.

I'd agree that this is one way to monitor perceptions, but only if viewed in the context of a much broader picture. There are people who write blogs, people who read and write blogs, people who read blogs and people who don't read blogs. Each group, and each individual within that group, comes with biases and backgrounds that color their postings and their reading perception. And some blog topics become popular only because a well-known blog writer mentions them and others are drawn to the fame or the infamy in their wish to be part of an inner circle (as they perceive it).

Still, one thing's certain. If, as David tells us, there really are more than 400,000 new blog posts appearing on the internet each day, those numbers are approaching a phenomenon that may not be the bottom line in PR alerts, but can't be ignored as a fluke either.

posted at: 16:19 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Not Quite Rocket Science, But...

Sadly, no one on board survived the crash of a cargo jet at Halifax International Airport. One article reporting the story made a disturbing mention of depleted uranium being present. Forgive my wild association here, but is it remotely possible that the routine presence of such material in cargo plane construction helps to explain the lack of success cargo plane inspectors have had finding any in their search for it as a possible component of weapons of mass destruction?

posted at: 14:20 | category: /Science | link to this entry

Thinking Outside the Packet

Taco Bell sells my favorite fast food. So how could I not have known that their tasty hot sauce puts the shine back on pennies?

posted at: 09:36 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Wed, Oct 13 2004

High School Bait And Switch

I hope New York student Joshua Phelps gets to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court, especially if the school actually recruited young people for the Civil War re-enactment group. The 124th New York State Volunteers roster lists young Mr. Phelps as a member in good standing.

Suspended (and possibly expelled)? Arrested? With tongue in cheek, I must say, it's a good thing the young man portrays a Union soldier. If he'd been playing the part of a Rebel there's no telling what those Yankees might have done to him.

posted at: 07:51 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Tue, Oct 12 2004

Blind, Balanced And Budget-starved

I read something this morning that sounds like a Law and Order Episode, but so far it's a very real Monterey County issue. Many cases may have to be retried if a public defender there is found to have been practicing law without a license in California.

Monterey County isn't the only place having difficulty. Growing populations in California counties mean more crimes, but while need grows, there are fewer attorneys in some places, including San Bernardino County. The whole state of Louisiana is in crisis with its indigent defense system. Missoula County, in Montana, is turning to private attorneys to take on more cases until they can get enough public defenders hired to handle the load. And at least one article is reporting that public defenders in Thurston County (Seattle area), Washington, have been working from home and even working out of their cars after losing the lease on their office.

It's bad enough that we might not be spending enough to make sure everyone has access to legal counsel. But the idea that we aren't spending enough to guarantee certification and office space for that counsel makes us look pretty downtrodden in a nation that brags of the best justice system in the world.

Awhile back someone took time to compile a list of images of Lady Justice. I guess some of us have always romanticized the idea of a fair and impartial legal system. While that sounds good, the reality is that we'd better be willing to put some money into the budget for it, or we're liable to see less of the scales of Justice and a lot more of that sword she holds ready to stab with in her other hand.

posted at: 12:11 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Mon, Oct 11 2004

Presidential Predictions

A tip of the Stetson goes to Political Wire for the link to a site where you can get Presidential Electoral College Predictions based on data from current state-level polls.

posted at: 16:36 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Vaccination Blues

It looks as though Americans will be largely dependent on the vaccine coming from French company Aventis Pasteur this flu season. It was relatively easy for angry folks to boycott French fries when they perceived a lack of support from France regarding actions in Iraq. I wonder if the same people will be just as ready to pass up their French-made flu vaccination.

Earlier this year Indiana's Senator Bayh introduced S.2038, The Flu Protection Act of 2004. This latest vaccine crisis might push the men and women of the Senate to jump in and add more legislation to an already heavily-regulated pharmacy industry.

If you're panicked at the idea of not getting your dose of flu vaccine, take heart. You might beat the illness anyway, since the whole matter is certainly not an exact science at this point. Some folks even say getting the vaccination is playing Russian Roulette in itself.

And if you really want something to be afraid of, think about this. If bioterrorism could be spread by a germ or a virus released into the air, couldn't it also be followed up with an even nastier bug in the form of a contaminated vaccination? The issues with the most recent flu vaccine seem to be unintentional, but the whole affair could certainly spark ideas in an evil mind. Just thinking about it all is enough to make you sick.

posted at: 14:37 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Sun, Oct 10 2004

Hunting PSP Tutorials

I was looking for some help with Paint Shop Pro this morning and found several terrific pages. Check out the satiny look of the pearls picture tube at Teph's Tubes. And if you want foliage, Scented Nectar has some good Plant and Flower Tubes.

I also ran across a nice RGB to CMYK (and vice versa) code generator/converter application in VB6.

Bruce Beard did handy charts for common skin tones and hair color. They're each done as a .jpg on his site, but he also has a link to a zip file you can use to add the charts directly to PSP.

This tutorial (presented applet-style) shows how to add a sense of depth to a thumbnail graphic by creating a drop shadow. If you wanted to add interest to a tiny 2D image, this would be a great enhancement.

A black and white photo can be tweaked to look like a pencil drawing.

A color photo can have the look of an oil painting.

Here's a good way to get PSP images ready for high quality printing.

Put your images inside a film negative graphic.

Here's how to create and organize preset shapes.

If you need a room or outdoor setting with arched windows, columns and other elegant features get some help with the room setting tutorials at Jaddell's Graphics. That great double staircase on the home page comes with Room 31.

Plant a tree in front of a gorgeous African sunset.

There are so many more I'm still discovering. Keep in mind that most of these are for PSP 6 or PSP 7, because those are the ones I currently use, but a lot of tutorials are easily adapted to other versions of PSP. I'm going to get busy and create something right now.

posted at: 11:45 | category: /Playing | link to this entry

Fri, Oct 08 2004

Mr. Farr, Meet Mr. Stern

Congressman Sam Farr recently expressed his views on the raid on Free Radio Santa Cruz in a letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell. Radio Free Santa Cruz is an unlicensed (therefore categorized as pirate) low-power radio station that includes poetry, music political material and items of interest on local issues as well as national and international ones.

U.S. Senator John McCain has been working for some time to encourage easing of restrictions so that it would be simpler and faster for communities and organizations to operate low-power FM stations that benefit local residents. Earlier this year, he introduced (with co-sponsoring senators Leahy, Cantwell and Baucus) S. 2505 to do just that, but the whole idea is not being taken favorably by some, including the National Association of Broadcasters, who got pinched by the FCC some time ago for biased input concerning Low Power FM Engineering Issues. The NAB's stance is that adding low-power stations causes interference for radio listeners.

This isn't Sam Farr's first attempt to remind the FCC of its responsibilities to taxpayers. In 2000 he cautioned them that their national policies would lead to unintended clumps of power in local broadcasting, specifically in their allowing Monterey Bay area TV stations, KION and KCBA, to be sold and placed under the operation of Clear Channel Communications. In spite of Mr. Farr's protest, the deal was allowed to go through.

Oddly enough, it was controversial radio personality Howard Stern who turned all eyes on Clear Channel when they pulled his syndicated radio show off the air earlier this year. There was much speculation that the move to squelch Mr. Stern's indecency (and resulting FCC fines for Clear Channel) had been a political move, since the only recent change in Mr. Stern's format had been remarks critical of the actions of the current U.S. administration. (Mr. Stern has since opted to take his show to SIRIUS Satellite Radio.)

We all own the airwaves, so we should all have at some voice in what happens on the airwaves. Should media giants be allowed to control chunks of local broadcast markets at the same time the FCC uses taxpayer money to cart off equipment belonging to local citizens operating local radio? It's true that Free Radio Santa Cruz was/is not licensed. But if the FCC's low-power station licensing requirements are the problem, those need to be corrected in order to reflect citizen ownership of the airwaves. If the problem is coming from politicians and the appointments they make to agencies such as the FCC, citizens could choose to address that issue in voting booths and in other ways.

Whatever happens next, I find it really amusing to see what an interesting mix of people these separate issues brought to much the same arena.

posted at: 12:11 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Thu, Oct 07 2004

Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac Need To Grow Up

In considering the investigation into the financial practices and management at Fannie Mae, I begin to wonder about something. I realize that the lender is sort of a hybrid creature that has both Federal leanings and private ownership. Maybe it's that very distinction that makes it, along with Freddie Mac, the sort of place where people can rise to the top of management with a sense of both unique placement and unique power. This is what baffles me. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have cute little nicknames that don't sound very professional or important at all.

Like some other people, I'm notorious for nicknaming things. I nickname cars, people and even home appliances. I've noticed that among those of us who are fond of making up nicknames, we tend to take one of two tracks. When we value or cherish the item or person we tend to make the nickname gently descriptive, or embarrassingly cute. When we dislike the item or person we tend to make the nickname sarcastic or derogatory. It isn't always a conscious choice, but it does tend to affect our interaction with the object or person.

It's easy to use the abbreviation or first initials for the names of things. And I realize that folks occasionally make up funny parodies of other phrases for the initials CIA, FBI, FCC, IRS, NYSE, NASA, DOJ, SEC and other governmental agencies. But as far as I know, we don't have any accepted common nicknames for any of these other agencies. We don't refer to the Central Intelligence Agency as Cinnie Ann nor do we call the Securities and Exchange Commission Sarah Kay. We don't refer to The Department of Justice as Davy Jack. We just don't.

Maybe it would be better for all concerned if we stopped using the nicknames for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Let's use FNMA (for Federal National Mortgage Association) and FHMC (Federal Home Mortgage Corporation). When we say we're going to deal with Fannie Mae, it sounds like we're trying to have a relationship with a toddler in training pants. When we say we're going to deal with the FNMA the whole thing takes on a whole different meaning. Maybe we're more likely to promote professionalism and respect with the FNMA than we would from something nicknamed Fannie Mae.

posted at: 10:43 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Choosing The Lesser Of Two Evils Isn't A Given

By way of The Kitchen Cabinet I browsed over to a piece by Elbert Lin at Yale Daily News. Its central idea invites us to call for a choice for None of the Above in elections. TCK also pointed to some samples of this type of ballot choice at the Voters for None of the Above site. I hadn't realized that Nevada has been using this option for almost 20 years. NRS 293.269 provides for a non-binding None of the Above option, which means that if the majority of votes is for None of The Above the person with the second highest number of votes wins the election. A binding choice would mean another election would need to be held, and the new election could include a whole new list of candidates. Depending on how the option was written into law, the subsequent election might eliminate the original candidates from the the new ballot.

There are many people in the U.S. who don't vote, or who vote for a candidate of a minority party only in order to protest what they perceive to be poor choices between the two major parties. A binding vote for None of the Above would send a much clearer message of voter dissatisfaction. If Americans went to the polls (for instance) this November and eliminated both George Bush and John Kerry as possibilities, who would emerge to take their places in a subsequent election? And would the option be set up in such a way that the second election would declare a clear winning candidate, or could None of the Above wins keep the whole thing going for an indefinite period of time? I have some questions, but I do like the option of having some sort of "no confidence" vote. I wonder if the idea will catch on.

posted at: 09:14 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Wed, Oct 06 2004

Did Cheney Forget Meeting Edwards?

There are all sorts of zingers flying back and forth today about the debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards, and I've seen several mentions of the comment Mr. Cheney made about not having met John Edwards prior to the debate. By now, we all know that this recollection was not correct. Quite a few folks seem to be assuming that Dick Cheney lied, or that he made the statement in order to make a point that his prior meetings with John Edwards had not impressed him enough to remember them. But what if he really forgot? That's spooking me just a little bit. If Dick Cheney met me and forgot me I wouldn't think much of it, but if he really did meet John Edwards multiple times, and then forgot that, I'm more than a little bit concerned about his memory. I'm not being sarcastic at all when I say that. The man is our current Vice-president. His memory is very important in his job. If he could forget meeting John Edwards several times, what else might he forget that could possibly affect our welfare and security as a nation? Whether or not he becomes the next Vice-president, Mr. Cheney still has a few months to serve as the current one, and that means he is still the traditional "heartbeat away" from being our Commander-in-chief.

posted at: 09:30 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Tue, Oct 05 2004

Shots Fired

It looks as though Gary, Indiana is joining the list of cities using technology to differentiate between the sound of gunshots and similar sounds, and to pinpoint the source of the gunfire through triangulation. The company making the location system is ShotSpotter, Inc. in Mountain View, California. The system has already been tested and used in several California cities, as well as in Charleston, South Carolina and Glendale, Arizona.

The folks in Gary are getting their system through funds supplied by United States Department of Justice. You can see the Office of Justice Programs and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Servicees grants awarded for the Fiscal Year 2003.

Government grants come from taxpayer money, so we all have the right to know where that money goes.

posted at: 13:09 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Mon, Oct 04 2004

A Few Art Competitions

Brian Flemming recently pointed to the Arts Project Contest. You can use Flash, or similar programming, to show the tensions between art and intellectual property law, and you have to keep your entry to 2 minutes (or less) in length. Deadline is November 1, 2004, so there isn't a lot of time left, but they are offering some nice prizes for the winners.

And the Macworld Conference & Expo is looking for talent for its Digital Art Contest. The event is January 11-14, 2005, but the contest deadline is November 18 of this year. They are hoping for entries in both 2D and 3D art. Steve Wozniak and Peter Max will be among the judges.

You could win free house cleaning for a year if you can use a picture of someone cleaning to create a great scrapbook page. The contest is Caught You Cleaning, and the deadline is November 11, 2004. You'll need to make a copy of your page and submit it as a .jpg image.

posted at: 13:07 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry

Sun, Oct 03 2004

The Irony Of Diebold

Last week Online Policy Group (and other internet service providers) got a judicial precedent to help them when there is a dispute over material published online. This sort of thing is always of interest to me as a writer, but since the decision also involved Diebold, one company that makes machines and software to be used by the voters, it holds an extra measure of interest. And since the case also involved a dispute over the use of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, it will probably be referenced many times as future copyright issues rise up over material placed on the internet in one fashion or another.

In an attempt to put a lid on things, Diebold and its legal advisors have inadvertently put a landmark floodlight on a full record of legal material that will be used to shed light on future cases. It's nice to know that they just made a great case for the voting taxpayers of America.

posted at: 08:47 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Fri, Oct 01 2004

Name Dropping

Solano County has a new elections manager. But Deborah Seiler is not really new to elections work. She spent several years working elections in the secretary of state's office. It's what she did between these two positions that makes this such an interesting story.

posted at: 15:44 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Mil Mi-38 Helicopter

Isn't it cute? Of course, the real one won't be cute at all, but will instead be a hard-working transporter.

posted at: 13:42 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Pandora's Phone

I confess to being late in the fray with this, but I'd been hearing rumors of a new service called Star 38, which some say is intended only for bill collectors and police investigators. But when you go to the website, its main page doesn't look as though it's geared toward anyone so professional. (That's only my opinion.) I've also heard that Jason Jepson (who I don't know personally and have nothing personal against), started the business and then quickly decided to sell it because he was harrassed and threatened over the whole business concept. I thought maybe it was people concerned about getting calls from spoofed numbers who were angry at Mr. Jepson, but last month Engadget (and others) said it was the discreet hackers who really got upset. Others have also expressed their discomfort.

Being the type I am, I decided to hunt for a bit more information before making too many comments, so I went to the search engines and began putting in some key words. I pulled up several stories and mentions of the whole caller ID spoofing issue. I kept seeing the founder of Star 38's name on some other sites, including one for Home Loan Center, which is based in Southern California. Is this the same Jason Jepson? It sounds to me as though it is. I'm not saying one company is directly associated with another, but maybe Mr. Jepson thought the whole concept of letting bill collectors spoof a phone number would help companies such as Home Loan Center get a foot in the door when people defaulted on their loan payments.

Other people have apparently been experimenting with this same sort of redirection for quite awhile. I'm not sure if the hackers were upset because Mr. Jepson wanted to make a profit off the information or because he made their practices more publicly known. I understand that he also works in public relations. This has to be either a publicist's worst nightmare or a dream come true.

Aside from the spoofing issue, I've always wondered about the money the phone companies make from Caller ID. Since technology already existed to present Caller ID, or Caller Number Identification, as it's also called, why did we have to pay for it in the first place? The phone company always knew what number a call originated from. Otherwise, they couldn't have billed the calling number. The first racket was the phone company selling us information they'd had all along, and marketing it to us as a shiny, brand new service. That's pretty clever marketing. They also had to provide a blocking service for Caller ID, in order to allow people assistance with privacy. When it comes to technology, what can be done, can usually be undone. Might it also follow that a technology that could show Caller ID, or not, could also mask, change, or even back-direct, the originating number? If folks are hacking to do this sort of thing already, that must be so.

Now that the cat's out of the bag, I wonder how long it will be before the phone companies figure out they missed their chance to get in on the ground floor, and they decide to get in on this whole service. The possibilities for technological hide-and-seek are limitless. If a technology exists at all, someone is already planning to exploit it. Should the holding provider of a technology be the first to profit from that technology, and from any subsequent exploitation of that technology? And might existing phone companies sue someone like Jason Jepson for trying to profit from the use of exploitive technology that was based on the phone companies' own Caller Number Identification technology, even if they didn't think of marketing the exploitation first?

The FCC has been just as lost in space as I am on some of the details of modern phone protocol. They've been taking information and comments to try to figure out how to make the rules work for those who use adaptive phone technology. I don't think they're up-to-speed on this whole matter, and that concerns me, because they're the ones who are supposed to be the regulators. Is the budget crunch so bad that we've got to send in our tax money and then turn around and do all the research free for the FCC, so that they can make rules and regulations that we'll all just get angry about later?

Then there's the whole issue of the FCC not regulating intrastate calls. So I went off to look at our own California Public Utilities Commission site, but couldn't really find very much having to do with Caller ID except general advisories such as this one. In fact, if you go to their Current Issues section, you'll see that their main focus right now is not on phone companies at all, but on electricty.

I guess we could give up all this fun and go back to beating on logs or using 2 tin cans and a string. But the truth is, most of us are willing to put up with a few risks, in order to enjoy technological speed and quality. In the process, we all get to examine the ethics and morals of invention and exploitation.

posted at: 11:54 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

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Stealin' copy is as bad as horse-thievin'
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