America 2.0: Rise of the Machines

There was a time when I consumed a lot of science fiction, which was composed of equal parts of books, comics, and movies.  I spent untold hours plowing through the material, and as a result, I developed a great appreciation for the genre.  Science fiction has a rich history, even though it is largely a product of mankind’s fears as a result of industrialization and later, the advent of the atomic age.  Truly, a great deal of science fiction is born out of man’s apprehensions about the inventions that he has wrought upon this earth.  However, the most amazing thing about the genre is how right many of these works have proven to be in modern America.

I suppose that the easiest place to start is with Orwell.  His vision of the future in 1984 doesn’t seem so fantastic in light of the Edward Snowden revelations.  When Snowden leaked information about the NSA spying on American citizens and collecting colossal amounts of data, there were a lot of “tinfoil hat” types who felt supremely vindicated.  After all, you aren’t really paranoid if the government is actually listening to everything that you are saying, are you?  If one stops to consider the government intrusion alongside the fact that almost all electronic devices are now sold with a camera which faces the consumer, an omni-directional microphone, and an ability to connect with internet and share everything that has been recorded; Orwell easily comes out looking more like a prophet than an artist.

This brings me to my main point.  I think that if we look at the Terminator series, along with the Matrix series, that we will see some cautionary tales that we would do well to embrace.  Although I don’t feel like we will be running from robots disguised in human flesh or finding ourselves plugged into a giant human electrical farm any time in the near future, I do feel like I am seeing elements of both franchises come true on a daily basis.

In the Terminator series, mankind was almost driven to extinction at the hand of the machines.  Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be happening, but we are seeing technology emerging that makes the idea of unmanned machinery oppressing humankind sound a little less crazy.  When we first saw the unmanned Hunter-Killer Drones in Terminator, we thought that it was the technology of the future.  Now, we are seeing unmanned drones being used by the military to conduct operations and eliminate targets around the globe.  With that in mind, it isn’t too much of a stretch to point out that with the right combination of GPS, satellite imagery, and artificial intelligence,  a computer in Utah could easily have the ability to wipe out human beings at any location on the planet.  Scary.

Next, we have the Matrix series, with mankind being subjugated and pacified by machines that use them as a power source.  While mankind is certainly still the primary power consumer on this planet and most would argue that the machines are serving us, I would ask this twofold question:  Are the machines really serving us or have we abdicated our lives to them?

Think about how we’ve structured our lives.  How many of us have a television running every morning while we are getting ready and during meals with our families?  How many of us are slaves to our phones; unable to even have a meal in a restaurant without slavishly staring at the screen of our devices?  Are we really free or are we slaves to the machines that we have built?

Look around.  Are you reading this while looking at your phone instead of your spouse?  When is that last time that you ate with your family without a screened device present?  When is that last time that you went a whole day without watching your television?  When is the last time that you went a whole day without your phone?  When was the last time that you took the time to call and actually speak with someone instead of shooting the a text message?

Let’s face it.  The machines have risen.

 

In Defense of Obama (on this one, single issue)

I’m going to lose some friends over this post…and that’s okay, because it is time for me to be completely honest about this one area of personal moral conviction.  I think that I can best sum things up with this following statement:  We have a horribly broken immigration system that is incredibly unfair and only someone who has been whipped into a frenzy of xenophobia and racism/nationalism by ultra-right-wing interest groups could miss the point that Republicans and Conservative Christians ought to be backing massive Hispanic immigrant amnesty with full gusto.  If you are someone who is politically conservative and you don’t back immigration reform, then you have not been paying attention.

Now, I’m going to pause for a second so that you can un-friend me on Facebook or start composing your condescending comments or email.  Still with me?  Good.  Now I can clarify a few things before I get to my point.  First, I am someone who votes mostly Republican.  I own lots of guns, several of which Nancy Pelosi and her ilk would like to see banned in the United States (with high capacity magazines, to boot).  I am a Christian…and I’m white…and I’m male.  I come from a family of land and business owners.  I hate Obamacare and no matter how I feel about immigration, I personally believe that Mr. Obama is the worst American president in my lifetime, which is hard to believe, since I’ve lived through Nixon, Ford, Carter, Clinton, and two Bush administrations.  I hate our current entitlement-driven welfare system and I despise big government.

So, you might be asking yourself why someone with such credentials is backing Obama on this immigration issue.  The answer is simple, but it is fourfold:

  1. I work in property management and a significant portion of our large holdings are mobile home parks in Western North Carolina.  I know hundreds of illegal immigrant families and the vast majority are hard-working, honest people who work six or seven days a week to provide for their families.  Often they are doing jobs that most people do not want, either because they are unpleasant or because most Americans are lazy and entitled.  These people are providing the services that are keeping our country going and they have none of the rights we have.  They are cooking our food, building our homes, paving our roads, and raising our children.  They deserve our gratitude, not the short-end-of-the-stick.
  2. Every illegal Hispanic that I know would pay whatever penalty and go through whatever program that we established to be able to stay here and become a U.S. Citizen.  Most of them are already paying into our tax system through fake or borrowed Social Security numbers and they certainly won’t be seeing any of that money coming back to them.  (In fact, many believe that this whole issue stems from wanting to keep illegal immigrants in a position where they are propping up the failing Social Security system)  They come from corrupt countries where people are cutting their heads off if they don’t grow drugs.  In Mexico, they just had forty-three student protestors who were beheaded and left in the desert.  Oddly, no one seems to think that is such an atrocity, although we sure will raise hell about three Americans getting beheaded in Syria and Iraq.  These people came here to escape and for an opportunity to live the American dream.  Maybe you don’t read history, but that is exactly what our ancestors did; which brings me to my next point.
  3. I am not a racist.  Sure, both myself and my kids are blond-haired and blue-eyed, but that doesn’t mean that we hate brown people.  Last time I browsed through my history books, I noticed that we annihilated a whole lot of people who looked just like these folks from Mexico and Central America to colonize and develop this country.  We are the imports here, folks, not the brown people.  Oh, and if you say it’s not about the color of their skin, it’s just that they belong in their home country?  Great, that makes you a nationalist which is the first step on the road to being a Nazi.  Awesome for you.
  4. I believe that this country was founded on Christian principles by mostly Christian leaders.  Why is this important?  Oh, I don’t know…maybe if you’re not a fan of gay marriage or abortion or legalized drugs; don’t you think it might be a good idea to find a way to legalize a population of nearly eleven million (let’s look at those zeros – 11,000,000) people who are overwhelmingly Catholic and almost completely Christian in their religious beliefs?  Numbers like that, coupled with areas of population concentration, could significantly change the outcomes of elections all over this nation.

If you’ve stayed with me this long, I would invite you to take a deep breath and consider what I believe is my most important point.  Jesus told us to love “the least of these.”  In American, these immigrant folks are exactly that…and they are Christians.  What does that make you?

Stuart’s Public Service Message for Audiophiles

ipodclassicLadies and Gentlemen, this just became an endangered species.  When Apple launched their new Apple Watch, they quietly did something in the background.  They killed the iPod Classic.  If you are like me and you have a HUGE music collection which you love toting around on your iPod (for use in your vehicles, on-the-go, in your shop, on trips, etc.), then you had better get busy and head on over to Amazon.com or Ebay and pick up one before they are gone forever.  Prices are already creeping up and supplies are getting low.  Be warned: There is no other 160gb option which works with iTunes and with the push to the cloud…it is likely that there never will be again.

I got a used one, yesterday, for $120.  Those are all gone.  Used ones are now up to $275 and new ones are up from $299 to $360, overnight.  If you use these, better “git you one”!

The Venerable Ford E350 15 Passenger Van…and the idiots who have ruined its reputation.

CaptureThis is a typical Ford E350 15-Passenger Van.  There are somewhere around a quadrillion of these things on the road.  I’m not sure of how many zeroes that is, but I’m sure that it is a lot and I’m pretty sure that is an accurate number.

You might be asking yourself: Why are there so many of these vans on the road?  The answer is simple.  These things are an engineering marvel!  They are built like tanks, out-handle and out-perform similar offerings from other manufacturers, and they last forever if they are properly maintained.  I can vouch for this because I by my estimation, I have drive somewhere around 500,000 miles in these vans.

Another interesting fact about the E350 platform is that the vast majority of ambulances in the United States are built on this platform.  In fact, all they do to the chassis to make it ambulance-ready is change the rear axle to dual wheels.  The E350 is simply one of the most amazing and reliable vehicles ever built.

Now, here is the central question:  Why am I singing the praises of this vehicle?  Am I a paid endorser?  No, I just wanted to do a little bit to help clear the name of this much maligned vehicle.

You must realize that this van has taken a beating in the press over the last decade because of school and camp related accidents where students were badly injured or killed.  The press loves  to blame the vehicle, saying that it is a poor design and that the chassis wasn’t designed to handle that kind of weight or weight distribution.

I’m here to tell you that those accusations are simply inaccurate.  The E350 chassis is built just like the F350 and is capable of payloads that make it carry just as much weight as if it were towing the largest of travel trailers.  These vans could carry 15 passengers made of lead and they would still ride and handle well.  Well, that is unless one thing happens….an idiot gets behind the wheel.

Oh yes, it is now time to get the facts straight.  Idiot drivers are to blame for these wrecks; not the E350.  You must realize, there is this simple equation that comes into effect when you take an object and give it speed:  Mass x Velocity = Momentum.  Most people seem to like to ignore physics, but trust me…Physics is the law.  Physics doesn’t pull you over and write you a ticket for a violation.  No sir, Physics skips right to the judgment and sentencing phase when you screw up.  Physics is the real world equivalent of Judge Dredd.

The fact is that an E350 is a huge passenger platform that drives as easily as a typical SUV and so people get behind the wheel and forget that they have 14 other lives in the vehicle with them.  The problem is that drivers of these vans need to take that responsibility very seriously and many of them don’t.  When that happens, you get what I witnessed this morning on the way to work.

Three camp vans passed me that were obviously on the way to the airport to do what is known in the business as an “airport run” to drop off last program’s students and pick up the students for the next one.  The problem being that those vans passed me at all.  I was running somewhere in the neighborhood of 74 miles per hour when those vans passed me like I was standing still.  If any of those vans had a blow out in one of the front tires, the result would have been tragic; if it were either of the front two, it would have been a multiple vehicle catastrophe.

There was little more that two car lengths between each van and they were running around 85 miles per hour.  I’m sure that if they wrecked that the news media would brand it “another 15 passenger van accident”, when what the really ought to do is let everyone know that it was merely physics passing judgment on criminal driving decisions.

Nice job, America! (not really)

Let me get this straight, because I don’t know much about the sports.  In fact, it is the only reason that I have to take several turns to win a game of Trivial Pursuit.  Here is my attempt to outline what I think that I’ve just witnessed:

  1. Donald Sterling, the owner of an NBA team, is suddenly branded the biggest jerk in America because some trollop releases recorded audio of him making some very racist comments.
    1. Apparently, being a racist is what it takes to make him a real villain.
      1. Never mind that he has an extensive history of dastardly business dealings that involve preying on the less fortunate.
      2. Ignore that he is a proven adulterer, hence the aforementioned trollop.
    2. Please also disregard that he as done some things in the past which help him self-identify as an opportunistic, selfish, racist.
  2. The NBA bans this dude, so the team’s control reverts to his wife (who is probably quite sick of the trollop situation).
  3. Lots of racially sensitive, exceedingly wealthy people rush to make offers to buy the team because we certainly can’t have something like this tarnishing the image of the NBA.
  4. Steve Ballmer whips out $2,000,000,000 from his money clip (count the zeros…that is 2 billion) and buys this team for $1,988,000,000 more than Sterling paid for it in the 1980’s.
  5. Donald Sterling and his family get to laugh all the way to the bank and the only real consequences are that the trollop probably won’t be getting anymore Bentleys from Donald (Daddy Warbucks) Sterling.

Amazing.  The NBA is so worried about its bottom line that it brokers a deal which leaves Sterling better off financially, in the end.  Where can I sign up for a golden parachute like that?

Thank you, Rod Hilton!

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I have sensed a great disturbance in the force.  Alderaan being destroyed?  No.  George Lucas’ reach exceeding his grasp?  Absolutely.

I first sensed that disturbance way back in the nineties when a bunch of us ate dinner at Matt Weather’s parent’s house and journeyed to see the reissues of the original Star Wars trilogy.  It was in that one simple moment when Greedo all of the sudden developed a magical rubber arm and took an awkward shot at Han Solo that I suspected that we were in for trouble.  Three prequels later, I was left with the full realization of Lucas’ folly.

My childhood was destroyed.  My beloved Star Wars had been brought low with Lucas’ meddling and ill-planned or ill-executed prequels.  All I was left to do was find unaltered versions of the three original films and pretend that Episodes 1-3 didn’t exist…that is until this month.

Earlier in the month, on Star Wars Day, there was great celebration amongst the geeks.  Incidentally, there was also a special episode of The Big Bang Theory that made mention of “The Machete Order.”  What is The Machete Order, you may ask?  It is simply the most beautiful piece of scholarly film thought in the last 20 years.  I would take the time to explain it, but I’ll simply refer you to the original article and another commentary.

Here is the original.

Here is a follow-up.

All I can do at this point is praise Rod Hilton and spread the word of his glorious work.  Thank you, Rod Hilton!  You have saved us all.

Never again, Jar Jar…never again.

Oh yeah, ladies!

I promised you all that if Caleb did well on American Idol that I would post some sweet pics for your enjoyment.  I also know that I have a twitch in my left eye that won’t quite go away that I developed from Caleb and his partner-in-crime, Matthew, cutting-up so much in youth group.

Welcome home, Caleb!  Sometimes, payback is a mother.

Anyway, I hear that sexy, sultry celebrity internet pictures are all the rage.  Oh yeah, ladies!

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