He was the entrepreneur who came up with the bright idea to bring fine cooking and peerless customer service to the rowdy far West, and do so on a grand scale … and as a sidebar to that feat, also supplied thousands of wives to settlers in an otherwise female-deficient part of the country. He was a Scots-English immigrant from Liverpool named Fred Harvey. He arrived in New York at the age of 17, early in the 1850s. He took up employment washing pots and dishes at a popular restaurant of the day, and within a short time had worked up the kitchen ranks to waiter and then line cook. He only remained there for a year and a half – but in those months he had learned the restaurant business very, very well. He gravitated west, but only as far as St. Louis, where he managed a retail store, married and survived a bout of yellow fever. The restaurant business called to him, though. On the eve of the Civil War, he and a business partner opened a café. Which was successful, right up until the minute that his business partner, whose sympathies were with the Confederacy, took all the profits from the café and went South.

Nothing deterred, Fred Harvey went to work for the Hannibal & St. Joseph railroad, which eventually was absorbed by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. He rose as swiftly in the corporate structure of that railroad as it existed in those freewheeling days as he had in that New York restaurant. His work necessitated more or less constant travel; he was in a way of speaking, an early ‘road warrior’. As such, he couldn’t help but notice that customer service in station restaurants was almost non-existent and the food available usually explored those limits between completely inedible and totally vile. The Western road food experience had not appreciably improved in the fifteen years since Mark Twain had so memorably described it in Roughing It.

“The table was a greasy board on stilts, and the table- cloth and napkins had not come—and they were not looking for them, either. A battered tin platter, a knife and fork, and a tin pint cup, were at each man’s place, and the driver had a queens-ware saucer that had seen better days … The station-keeper upended a disk of last week’s bread, of the shape and size of an old-time cheese, and carved some slabs from it which were as good as Nicholson pavement, and tenderer. He sliced off a piece of bacon for each man, but only the experienced old hands made out to eat it, for it was condemned army bacon which the United States would not feed to its soldiers in the forts, and the stage company had bought it cheap for the sustenance of their passengers and employees … Then he poured for us a beverage which he called “Slum gullion,” and it is hard to think he was not inspired when he named it. It really pretended to be tea, but there was too much dish-rag, and sand, and old bacon-rind in it to deceive the intelligent traveler.”

Fred Harvey suffered along with every other traveler – but as it turned out, he was the right man, with the right background, in the right place, and with the right friends to be able to do something about it. In the Centennial year of 1876, he struck a handshake deal with the superintendent of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad to open and manage restaurants and lunch counters at AT&SF stations. The AT&SF would not charge Fred Harvey rent, or haulage for necessary supplies. Originally chartered to connect Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory, to the settlements in Kansas, the AT&SF cleaned up in hauling Texas cattle to the stock yards of Chicago. They would eventually connect reach the Texas gulf coast, reach into Mexico to the port of Guaymas on the Gulf of Carpentaria, connect up Albuquerque and El Paso, and service Los Angeles over the route which had been favored by the ante-bellum South when the prospect of a transcontinental railroad was first suggested.

And Fred Harvey’s restaurant establishments were everywhere that the AT&SF ran. There would eventually be nearly 50 Harvey House restaurants, fifteen resort hotels and thirty dining cars, attending to the needs of the traveling public. Harvey establishments were spotlessly clean, the food expertly prepared and served by staff trained to the highest standard … or else. Fred Harvey was a hands-on manager; he was noted for whipping out the tablecloth of a badly-set table, sending the plates and silverware crashing to the floor and leaving the chastened wait-staff to re-set the table correctly. But he was also passionately interested in hiring and training the very best personnel available, promoting the able and the loyal, and in providing for their welfare.

Another Fred Harvey innovation – and likely the best-remembered in the 20th century – was the wait-staff force itself; all-female, generously-remunerated, and strictly chaperoned. The Harvey organization was a respectable institution, and wanted no breath of local scandal attaching to female employees, many of whom worked in towns geographically-distant from their families. It was a sad reality that quite often in Western boom towns, those single women who came to work in eating establishments and dance halls were suspected (often with good cause) of being prostitutes or just promiscuous with their favors. Fred Harvey wanted none of that. He was going to run respectable, middle-class places. It was one of his site supervisors who first suggested hiring young women. It seemed that many of the waiters at his location were black – and too many customers who were white and Southern males were picking fights with the staff, absconding without paying for their meals and otherwise wreaking havoc. This would not do; it was bad for staff morale, hell on the profit side of the ledger and hard on the furniture.

So Fred Harvey opened an office in Chicago to interview potential employees, and advertised widely in the eastern and mid-western newspapers: young unmarried women between the ages of 18 and thirty, who would sign a contract to work for a set period of time (usually a year). They would have to be literate, well-spoken and accustomed to hard work – and willing to go west, to wherever they were needed. Some estimates have it that over the next thirty years, 5,000 women worked as Harvey Girls, everywhere from Kansas to California. Their working uniforms were plain black dresses with narrow white collars, black shoes and stockings, with white aprons, and their hair tied with a white ribbon. They were not allowed to wear makeup – which likely only became a real trial in the 1920s. Fred Harvey paid wages of $17 monthly; generous indeed at a time when laborers were lucky to earn $11 a month. The Harvey Girls lived in company-provided dormitories, their uniforms were often provided to them, and they were entitled to perks like free transportation on the AT&SF, and after a period with the company could request a specific location. Seniority in the Harvey organization could be accrued – unless a Harvey Girl chose to marry, as many did – she could work her way up to senior waitress or even manager.

(to be continued.)

You know, now and again I wonder if the habits of frugality ingrained by almost fifteen years of living pretty close to the poverty line have turned me into my grandmothers – especially Grannie Jessie who was reputed to pinch pennies so hard that a booger would come out of Lincoln’s nose. I have never had a brand-new car, a totally-new-to-me house, and only occasionally a new piece of furniture or major appliance – the last two such items have come from the Scratch-and-Dent Store. Now and again I do have a brand-spanking new minor appliance – usually freebies from Amazon Vine. There was an electric kettle, gotten for the price of having to write a review of it. The same for the shop-vac, a great clumsy thing and no prize for appearance, but by god, it will suck the paint off a Buick fender. The usual small appliances though, are lightly second-hand; there was the once-top-o-the line Zojirushi bread machine, from a vast community-event garage sale, almost untouched and in the original box for $5. My most recent favorite small appliance toy was the vacuum-sealer, also bought at a yard sale for $5 – and also once top-o-the-line as well as also being barely used. Now, though – I think I have struck some kind of nadir, as far as slightly-used kitchen appliances go. But there is a bit of a back-story.

My kitchen is a small one; storage space at a minimum, you see – and I have a constitutional dislike of kitchen gadgets which only do one thing, and one thing only. Not for me an item like the electric waffle-maker that I remember that Mom had in her kitchen; about twenty-two inches square and eight or ten deep and which only made waffles. These appliances that I give shelf and counter space to ought to be good for more than one task, or amazingly, dazzlingly efficient at that one task … and for extra points, small and easily stashed away. I bought a KitchenAid stand mixer, yea those many years ago, precisely because it had multiple useful attachments, many of which I also purchased.

The current stove does not have a griddle option. (Once we lived in a rental house which had one, and I loved it.) Such things are, apparently, only an option in the high-end gas stoves these days, which is fair enough. One can make do with any number of electric griddle appliances, and there … there is where my multi-tasking option comes in. We have a small electric Delonghi indoor grill (bought at Williams-Sonoma when they were on sale and I was working at one of the reliable but deathly-boring corporate jobs) and a Toastmaster electric griddle, gotten through one of my daughter’s employers who intended donating it to a thrift shop. Both of them are quite adequate to the tasks required … but I had a hankering for something that would neatly combine their various functions … two, two, two in one! And maybe even more … I saw information on-line about a Cuisinart multi-griddle which would do all this and more; it could be a Panini-press, fold out and lay flat to be a griddle, or a grill, and had any number of different dish-washer safe plates, which could be swapped out … yes, that would be exactly the ticket! I put it on my Amazon wish-list, and some months ago, I spotted the exact same multi-griddle for an enticingly-reduced price at an HEB-Plus supermarket. Yes, I’d have to do a bit of finagling; including going halfsies on it with my daughter … but we put it into the shopping cart, and continued through the produce section. There we were approached by a middle-aged woman and her husband who asked most politely if we were going to buy it. I answered yes, I had been looking at and thinking of buying one for months and it all seemed providential … and she launched into her tale of woe. Yes, she had one, had been given it as a Christmas present from her husband … and to make a long story short, it proved to be a total disaster. The handles and catches for the interchangeable plates melted, it didn’t work anything as advertised, bits and parts had been replaced by the manufacturer, it still didn’t work anything like it had been represented to … and. It’s kind of more personal than reading a one-star review on Amazon, when a total stranger comes up and tells you that the item is a total dog. She advised us very strongly to give it a miss.

Which I did, sneaking it back onto the shelf from whence it came, with considerable regret; yes, it was a bargain, compared to the original price, but not at the price of the hassle involved. My daughter and I concluded that maybe Cuisinart was going to come out with a new and improved model soon, which would fix many of the problems, and that was why this one was on sale. I’d wait until the new and improved model to be available. There’s always time.

This week, though – when I was doing the early-morning jog that my daughter insists that we ought to do, in the interests of our health and well-being – I joggled past a house in the neighborhood where the residents had put out a stack of stuff on the curb. Look, I pay attention to this sort of thing, especially at bulk-trash pickup time. We’ve scored no end of useful elements for the garden, this way. We know the family in this house to speak to, since they put out some nice things on the curb before. Paring down the possessions, they said; a relatively-newly-wed blended family. (These days, two adult persons marrying and merging their once-separate households usually have two of everything … so, yes; good and usable stuff extraneous to current needs being put out on the curb. I can totally understand that.) Among the items extraneous to need was a bright red George Foreman grill – the model with a number of extra and interchangeable plates. We took it home, plates and accessories and all, carefully detailed the main unit, ran the washable items through the dishwasher, looked up and printed the owner’s manual, and gave it a test run … and yes, it works beautifully. It’s only lacking one of the grill plates, and they are available for a small sum.

It’s not quite what I had in mind – but if it works out very well, I might later get one of the later models which does open up all the way to offer two flat surfaces for grilling or griddling. But most importantly … the price was right.

Just for fun, and because I am thrashing out a review of The Birdmen, for Amazon Vine – a song from a movie about the early days of aviation, which became a British hit…

Just this week and thanks to gaining a new book-publishing client, I was able to complete the purchase of a new refrigerator-freezer. Oh, the old one was staggering along OK, still keeping the refrigerated foods cold and the frozen food frozen … but there were so many dissatisfactions with it, including the fact that it had such deep shelves that in cleaning it out we discovered an embarrassingly large number of jars of condiments whose best-if-sold-by-date were well into the previous decade … not to mention a couple of Rubbermaid containers with leftovers in them that we had quite forgotten about. Well, out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. Truly, I don’t like to waste leftovers, but in this case, we had a good clean-out and as of now are resolved to do better, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die. The new and larger refrigerator-freezer has relatively shallow and many adjustable shelves in its various compartments; so that we dearly hope that the buried-at-the-back-of-a-deep-shelf-and-totally-forgotten-about syndrome will be banished entirely.

Anyway – enough of my failings as a thrifty housekeeper; the thing that I was marveling on this afternoon was that the new refrigerator-freezer has an automatic ice-maker. Better than that – an automatic ice-maker and ice-water dispenser in the door, and a small light which winks on when depressing the lever which administers ice (in cubes or crushed) and ice-water and then gradually dims once released. And if all that is a small luxury compared to the previous refrigerator-freezer, it is a huge luxury compared to the electric ice-box that made my Granny Jessie’s work and food-storage capabilities somewhat lighter than those of her own mother. It’s monumental, even – and no one thinks anything of it today, unless the electricity goes off.
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Around the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008, I was working two days a week at a Tiny Bidness owned by a friend of mine, Dave the Computer Genius. I had known Dave off and on since 2002, ever since I had looked for a local computer tech to tell me what was wrong with my very first computer. I think that I found Dave through some on-line search, possibly through some local variant of Craig’s list. Anyway, he pronounced my computer well and truly dead, and sold me a rehabbed unit which even if rehabbed was still a better and more up-to-date one than the defunct unit, which I had gotten ten good years out of since buying it at the Yongsan PX. So, I referred Dave to my then-employer, the consultancy dealing in intellectual property (read – did marketing packages and a provisional patent for people who had invented a gadget), and later on he referred me to one of his clients, the ranch realtor, when I was job-hunting.

Dave did computer installation, training, and trouble-shooting – rather like a one-man Geek Squad – and having a nice collection of regular clients, he did pretty well at it. He talked once or twice of one of them, another Tiny Bidness – a little local publisher owned by Alice G. whom he insisted I would get on with like a house on fire. He promised that one of those days he would take me along when he went to her home/office to work on her computer system, and introduce us. He always thought that we should get together, since he thought we both had a lot in common. And so we did, eventually – although that wasn’t until six months after Dave died of a sudden heart attack.

So, Alice and I went into partnership. Her little company was basically a one-person shop, after the death of her husband – coincidentally about two weeks before Dave’s death. I re-did her website, and re-did it again, when the cost of the specialized software to maintain it got to be too much. I learned her system for estimating costs, took client meetings – and she had been doing business so long in San Antonio that the company has a lot of name recognition locally among those with the wherewithal to publish a book privately. I did editing and sometimes transcriptions when the client had only a paper manuscript and not a word-processing file. I learned how to do formatting – that is, book interior design – and a couple of years ago I talked Alice into establishing a publish-on-demand imprint. We had lost a good number of otherwise promising clients, you see; Alice preferred using a local lithographic printing enterprise, which is only a bargain if you want to print more than a couple of hundred copies at a whack, whereas a POD imprint which also fed into a national distributor would let us be more competitive – and put our client’s books on Amazon. The days of clients who could afford to pay $5,000 to $15,000 and up to publish their book was coming to an end, I would argue, and we were in competition with Createspace and Booklocker and Booksurge and a hundred other POD houses. She would point out that there were years when she only did two books a year, and I would say that we wouldn’t even have that many at the rate we were going.

So, we set up the POD imprint – and of our five clients last year, four of them were POD. I handled them all anyway. We re-did all of my own books that had been published already – and the sales of the printed versions came trickling back to the imprint’s book account. Alice was sidelined more and more with health problems, which have come to a head in the last few months.

The bottom line is that I am going to buy her out, for pretty much the cost of her lawyer doing all the paperwork to transfer the business to me. It’s a good thing that the land sold when it did – as I can just about afford to do this. It’s a nice little business, with all the necessary connections to freelance service providers. There are clients with reoccurring orders for reprints, and potential customers who just prefer to be able to sit down and meet face to face with a real person. Together with my pension, with the income from my own writing – there’ll be enough. I’ll never look to grow it to the point of hiring employees, though. Training up Blondie as my junior partner, as Alice trained me – well, that’s where my work future lies, and with luck it will provide for us both.

15. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Air Force, Military, Technology

Sgt Celia copyCuriosity led me to look up the history of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service – from which I parted company about two and a half years before I retired from the military. I found a couple of names I recalled – a guy who was a baby airman when I knew him, now a master-sergeant and instructor at the military broadcaster training school, which amused the hell out of me. Well, someone has to do that – just that I had never seen him as having that potential at all. Frankly, I’m still surprised there still is an Armed Forces Radio and Television, what with the international reach of satellite radio and TV these days. For all of me, the military information mission could be folded up and inserted as needed as public service announcements and segments into regular commercial satellite radio and television programs beamed overseas.

Oh, I had fun for a time with various assignments in my career field, and didn’t bring down any particular discredit on the various outlets I was assigned to, unlike some that I could mention, but the bald truth of it is that it was a dying career field, and moreover, one which had an unenviable reputation for chewing people up and spitting them out. Add in the fact that you were guaranteed to spend long stretches overseas or in remote locations, and any assignments back in CONUS were guaranteed to be very, very short ones … it was only natural that the appeal of working in a in that field would wear thin after a while. I looked around one day, when I had about fifteen years total active federal military service, and realized that every station manager I had ever worked for had cracked up in some spectacular manner, either physically or emotionally. There was the one who tried to commit suicide – twice – the one who barely survived the heart attack and the quadruple bypass which ensued, the one who had to work several outside jobs to keep up with the alimony and child support for all of his ex-wives, a handful who were serious alcoholics, the one who tried to stiff the US government with a false claim on his travel voucher … it went on, and on.

Reflecting on this dismaying tendency, I concluded that it was because of a particular kind of stress inherent in having a management position of the kind that broadcasters did. There was an enormous amount of responsibility, but no hands-on effective control. That, so I was told in several professional development courses that took over the years, was guaranteed to produce a high level of stress. One had to see that certain tasks were performed – there were so many hours of live programming produced by the staff, so many spots and readers, that so many hours of television programming were aired – but the means of ensuring that it all happened were all severely limited. One had to operate within the constraints imposed by the supply chain, the transport chain, the station’s individual technological capabilities, peculiarities of the host nation (some of which – notably Greece – were flat-out insane), the personnel system, plain old human nature, and the fact that most stations were tiny tenant units on a larger base. Throw in the demands of a distant headquarters – whose demands were quite often contradictory when they weren’t nonsensical … a good few years of this would begin to tell on the most able, dedicated NCO.

I didn’t see any of these stressors during my breaks from broadcasting, when I worked in the PA shop, or in the military video production service. I saw excellent managers, high morale, an achievable mission, support from higher HQ and realistic expectations of personnel. I got my very-best performance ratings and service citations during those stretches – which to me merely emphasized the dysfunction in the broadcaster organization. I’d have cross-trained in a heart-beat, if I could have, but the high panjandrums of military broadcasting didn’t allow it; you couldn’t even get out to be a recruiter or a DI, which is usually an all-paid-expenses escape with the blessings of your personnel manager. So, I got out of it the only way possible – by bailing at 20 years and never looking back. So did another NCO that I knew – the finest all around broadcaster, manager and leader that I ever worked with; good at everything, which was rather rare (most people had a strong suit of technical skill, administrative wizardry, or leadership, or a combination of any two) – he didn’t make any higher rank than I did. He went into local politics – he’s a city councilman in Plano, Texas these days. I scribble historical fiction. We both got something out of being military broadcasters for a while, but sometimes I do wonder if any other career field would have done better for us.

Our Booth  After Rearrangement
That is what our booth at the Boerne Market Days contained this last weekend – the first time that we have done Boerne Market Days as a vendor and not as a strolling shopper. Saturday morning was rainy in San Antonio, and the skies were overcast all day. None of the vendors minded not having any sunshine – as long as it didn’t rain! We had a nicely-placed booth space, about midway between the bandstand at one end, and the food-trucks parked at the other. By the way, the gorditas are fab. Sometimes they make the chicken gordita with cut-up chicken chunks, instead of ground chicken meat – but still tasty, anyway. Another good thing – one of the big trash cans was right in front of us, so no need to set aside a bag for our own trash. And it was a landmark for anyone looking for us.

My daughter and I have done a lot of book events, some of them in conjunction with a craft fair, like Goliad’s Christmas on the Square, so we pretty much know the drill; bring tablecloths, plenty of stock (packed in plastic tubs with lids) plenty of change, receipt books, lots of flyers, postcards and business cards, and something to ornament the table with … and chocolate candy. Most everyone likes chocolate, although one of the most relentless book marketer I know has a cookbook with recipes incorporating lemons – she makes lemon cookies or cake, and gives away samples.

This time, we had two more improvements to our retail efforts; a folding dolly hand-truck, which can carry one of the heaviest tubs and one of the lighter ones at a time, and folds up very compactly… no, it isn’t industrial-strength, but better than schlepping the heaviest tubs of books by hand for half a block or more. $20 bucks at Sam’s Club, which might very well be the best and most useful $20 ever spent there, over the long haul. The other was a little attachment for my daughter’s cellphone, which allows us to process credit card payments to her Tiny Bidness Paypal account. We couldn’t process credit/debit accounts before, which has sometimes been a bit of a bind since … well, not too terribly many people carry around checkbooks any more, or cash, either – and going to an ATM and getting cash for a sale is sometimes a bit of an inconvenience for people.

If we keep this up – this making an appearance on the regular market circuit – there are certain things that we will just have to get, in addition to the storage tubs and the hand-truck. We rented the pop-up tent, two folding tables and a chair from the Boerne Market Days management, but eventually we will have to get our own 10 X 10 pop-up; most of the other regular vendors had them, in varying degrees of quality, with zip-up sidewalls for additional privacy, security and shelter from the elements. We will also probably invest in a pair of banners, either to clip to the front of the pop-up or to the front of the table, advertising our various enterprises.
We made back and a bit more the amount that we paid for the space, and rental of the conveniences – but not very much more. We talked to many other vendors, who were similarly disappointed. Either it’s just not close enough to Christmas to loosen the purse strings – or that everyone is looking at the current economic situation with a very tight hold on the pocket-book.

Even so, this last weekend was a learning experience – and one of them was that Boerne Market Days is very animal friendly. A lot of shoppers had dogs on leashes, and one iconoclast among the vendors eve had a pair of infant goats on display. They were such cute babies – but I am told that when they are fully-grown, they can be evil in the extreme.

You know, I have never been one given to donning a tinfoil hat when it comes to pop-paranoid theories about this and that. I firmly believe that JFK was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald (a well-known commie-symp acting alone), that the Bilderbergers are nothing much more than a fantastically wealthy international social group (a kind of Chamber of Commerce on steroids) and that there aren’t any mysterious black helicopters flying from sooper-secrit bases in the American West – after all, the damn things have to come down sometime, be refueled, crewed and maintained somewhere, and as wide-open and thinly-populated as parts of the west are – a quasi-military base with an active flying mission cannot help but attract notice of the locals. Yes, I love to puncture conventional wisdom; it’s one of my hobbies. And yes, oh 9/11 Truthers … steel does indeed melt.

However, increasingly of late and upon considering the current administration, I do find myself looking speculatively at the roll of Reynolds-Wrap in the kitchen drawer. Gun-running to Mexican narco-traffickers, spilling confidential information on political opponents, the IRS coming down like a ton of bricks on Tea Party groups, the Park Service on members of the park-visiting public, the NSA listening to everyone, and whatever shenanigans was going on with regard to our consulate in Benghazi a little over a year ago … one cannot go wrong underestimating the veniality, or at very least, the competence of the Obama administration.
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30. September 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Technology

Materiel Being Removed

New Compressor Being Installed

New Unit in Attic

One Truck

The sale of the California land went through, with one or two small hiccups – and less the necessary fees, I have a portion of the payment for it in my hot little hand. The remainder is to be paid monthly over the next three years, which will ensure a certain degree of economic cushion for me … although a third of it has been already spent on a new HVAC system for the house. The original system installed by the builder was constructor grade, the wrong size, and so badly were the ducts and vents installed that the front bedroom was innocent of any cool air in summer or warm in winter, and the kitchen – at the other end of the house – was hardly any more comfortable, especially when the afternoon sun burned into the west-facing window. So, the first thing we did was to call a local firm who had done a replacement system for one of our neighbors. The neighbor has been singing the praises of the company for months. One of our other neighbors does home renovations of a pretty extensive kind, and he added a good report of this company, saying they were high-end, but worth every darned penny. Like Mike Holmes, of Holmes on Homes, they would do it right and do it good. And they would also file the necessary documentation which would earn us almost $2,000 in rebates on the electric bill, if approved by CPS, our local utility. And the most marvelous thing is that when the manager came to take the proper measurements and line out what exactly would be required, he said casually,
“And when do you want this all done?”
“Would tomorrow be too soon?” I asked.
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I have begun to think that Twitter is just a social media device which reveals the idiocy of celebutards to a waiting world … but what if a celebutard’s Twitter account is just a means of guaranteeing full employment for the next decade or so for their professional publicist, who must clean up the resulting mess?

Discuss, if you dare. Twitter if you must.

… of how metadata can be used. The actual mathematics of it made my head hurt a little, since I am an English major, but the end-result is powerful stuff.

Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere

Found through a link at Belmont Club, but Ace of Spades HQ has also linked.

A Mini concert …

Courtesy of one of those emails…

08. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Good God, Politics, Tea Time, Technology · Tags: , ,

This is the text of the email that I sent to the office of Lamar Smith, who is my congressman. Any reply will be posted here.

I am inquiring if you are aware of how conservative and libertarian bloggers have been maliciously pranked in the last few months by the practice of “SWATing”?

(A bogus 911 call is made claiming that there has been a shooting (or some other act of domestic violence) at the home of a conservative blogger. Usually these “SWAT-ing” calls are made in the middle of the night. Per emergency protocol, such a 911 call triggers a guns-drawn police action at the blogger’s home which puts the blogger and his or her family at immediate risk.)

This is not only a fraud and a waste of police time, but puts both the family of the blogger, any dogs they might have in the household, and the police officers themselves in danger of physical harm.

This a deliberate attempt to intimidate conservative and libertarian bloggers into forfeiting their right to exercise free speech and political commentary. I assume that you likewise would be concerned about this practice, and would like to know if you intend to take any action in this matter.

I am one of your constituents, a military veteran, Tea Party sympathizer – and a blogger. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Update: Monday morning – well, no answer other than the usual robo-email, but it is noted that Lamar Smith is a signatory to the letter from 85 members of Congress to AG Holder demanding that he address and investigate the issue. We’ll see what develops, then!

Tomorrow…

Found, courtesy of a comment thread on PJ Media.

28. December 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: Fun With Islam, History, Technology, World

It sounds like a perfectly impractical and even risible notion – to remove the Pyramids of Giza from the view of the righteous by covering them with wax. Good heavens, what would happen on the first hot day of summer, assuming such a thing could even be accomplished? A vast puddle of melted wax, I am certain. Stick a wick the size of a Titan rocket made out of cotton string in the middle, empty in a couple of truckloads of essential perfume oils and you’d have a scented candle the size of Texas, the eighth wonder of the ancient world and something that could probably fumigate most of the Middle East.
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Yes, it would appear that the lesbians are actually straight men, the women are women, and the tween-agers are FBI agents, and a certain NY congressman with a slightly risible last name and a penchant for tweeting suggestive pictures of his body or parts thereof – is a bit of a perv. Honestly, I thought everyone had gotten a piece of Wiener last week, and there were absolutely no further possible ways in which the gentleman in question could embarrass his party, his constituents and his spouse, after the pic of him in the gym dressing room, clutching his ding-a-ling through a towel, but my daughter alerted me to this gem, courtesy of the UK Daily Mail. Seriously, I am wondering what possibly could top that for humiliating revelations, although now that he has resigned, perhaps that will stop any more from appearing.

The Gay Girl in Damascus and the Paula Brooks thing – honestly, it seems like the plot for a movie – something titled The Gay Deceivers just suggests itself right off the bat. Seldom in real life do we have such a delicious confluence of pretense . . . what is real, what is the real identity behind those pixels on a screen, and how much of what you put out there is really, really, really real. And I speak as someone who has been blogging under a not-terribly opaque nom du-blog since 2002, mostly because I didn’t want to put my real name out there. My daughter was still on active duty, my parents and brothers are listed in the phone book, and I had enough of demented devotion from eccentric fans when I was on radio, here and there among military radio stations. Yes, you have a million fans, if you are in the public eye in some manner, and a half-dozen really sick f**ks as enemies, all of whom have never met you, don’t really know any more about you than what you put out about yourself . . . and I didn’t really want to deal with it, or have my family deal with it.

There were often discussions, early on – about blogging under a real name, or under a nom-du-blog; questions of credibility, of standing behind what you wrote. I took the line that yes, for piece of mind or actual physical safety, there were excellent reasons for someone to blog under another name. One could establish a reputation for verity, and honesty, no matter what name you called yourself. Over time, your on-line reputation could be as solid as it was in real-space, congruent with your real-life experience.

And there are bloggers who have been doing that – under cover or by their real names in various countries, and some of them in physical danger: Salam Pax is one that comes to mind at first, mostly because of the blogosphere controversy over whether he was a real and credible person, reporting from inside Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Hossein Derakhshan, the godfather of Iranian blogging may or may not still be imprisoned by the Iranian authorities. The Egyptian blogger who goes by the nom du blog Sandmonkey was briefly arrested in the recent past. They took – and still are taking risks by writing, and blogging. Creating a whole other persona and identity, at odds with real life, and claiming to bear first-hand witness in a blog to extraordinary current events, when you are actually hundreds or thousands of miles away?

When I do that, I call it a bit of historical fiction, and clearly label it such. Dunno why “Amina” and “Paula” didn’t think of doing it that way. Would have saved a bit of embarrassment, all the way around.

28. May 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: General, Technology, That's Entertainment!, World

Or what they do for fun in South America … and look out for the dog!

Never mind “Got Milk?” Got testicles of steel?

I find three definitions of the term ‘barratry’ when I look it up – two of them are obscure, but the third is relevant, and if stretched a bit, can apply to the current blogosphere kerfuffle-du-jour – the Righthaven violation of copyright lawsuits. Well, that’s the politer term; a quick internet search on ‘righthaven’ also turned up qualifiers such as ‘trolling’, ‘extortion,’ ‘bottom-feeders’ and ‘barratrious a**holes.’ A more thorough search would, I am certain, turn up more pungent terms of abuse and a fair collection of lawyer jokes. (Sample – what’s brown and black and looks good on a lawyer? Answer – a Doberman.) Suffice to say, I went through five or six pages of google-search results before finding a single link to a post which made a feeble attempt at defending Righthaven’s practices – of searching out instances of copyright infringement on the part of bloggers and news aggregators and without warning, or demanding credit and a link to the original story – suing the bee-jezzus out of the proprietor – usually small enthusiast bloggers without deep pockets or institutional support. Adding fresh insult, Righthaven LLC also demands that the domain name of the offending website or blog be turned over to them, as well as fairly substantial payments. Yes, copying someone elses’ work off a website or blog and posting it on your own and taking credit for it. Quel tacky, and plagiaristic, and someone doing it probably richly deserves being served with a complaint, a cease-and-desist order, or just hunted down, smeared with honey and staked out over a fire-ant nest.
However: is posting the story with a link to the original source, with a plainly posted credit – is that plagiarism as well? What about a paragraph excerpt, or the ‘three line’ fair-use standard, with a link, a credit and a recommendation such as “Read this!” A discussion group, with members posting excerpts, and links and talking about it? Is that a violation of copyright also? What about just a link . . . urm, through those little news feed dinguses at the bottom of the page. A Facebook recommendation? News aggregate sites consist of constantly updated pages of all these variants, with links to the new, the weird, the newsworthy or just plain interesting, from a variety of sources, large, small, official, unofficial, regular media or whatever. Even blogs like my main blog which focuses on original writing – I’ve occasionally posted interesting links. Linking, promoting, tweeting and favoriting interesting stories has been the lifeblood of the blogosphere as I have known it for yea these many years; advantageous linkage is beneficial to bloggers and websites alike, guaranteeing a larger and wider audience than the unlinked story or post might have had. But the way that L’affiare Righthaven is shaping up, it appears that all of the above may open up liability among news aggregate and commentary blogs for legal action from the ‘barratrious a**holes.’
The Righthaven law firm has entered into a professional alliance with an enterprise called Stephens Media Group, which owns a number of local newspapers across the southern and western states. One of their publications is based in Las Vegas, a city large enough to generate a fair amount of national-interest news – and it appears that bloggers who excerpted or linked to stories from that particular newspaper over the last few years are now providing a rich harvest of copyright lawsuits brought by Righthaven. Righthaven’s method of operation appears to be either to search out those posted and linked stories, and obtain the copyright for the story from Stephens Media, or to have had the copyright in their sweaty little hand all along before filing suit. Give them credit – Righthaven has figured out how to monetize the blogosphere, and Stephens Media has figured out how to extract a few more bucks from their newspaper holdings. For now, at least – until bloggers and news aggregate sites begin acting on the principle that any content in any Stephens Media newspapers is about as toxic as radioactive sewer sludge. While a fair number of bloggers and websites have paid up just to make it all go away, others are fighting back by either ‘Righthaven-proofing’ their sites, or blacklisting Stephens Media through their site-posting rules. There are even Firefox and Chrome plug-ins to automatically exclude Stephens Media from your internet browser. Righthaven and Stephens Media may perhaps gain in the short run, but prospects for long-term gain seem pretty iffy.

Rantburg, my own favorite one-stop website for all things sarky and WOT-related, is one of those sites being sued. They are taking donations. A blog which lists the websites being sued is here.

Yes, it was a week ago last weekend, but I have several jobs, four books to market, two more to write . . . oh, and a tax bill to pay. So, forgive me for dishing out the good bloggy ice cream in small dishes, ‘kay?

One of the unexpected highlights of the conference was a late addition to the morning panel lineup; this man was almost a proto-blogger: Major Norman Hatch, who as a young NCO and combat cameraman in the Pacific during World War II oversaw the filming of the battle for Tarawa. Greyhawk provided a short version of this video, with the audio turned down, and Major Hatch gave us a live commentary – a sort of directors’ cut.

Anyway, as I have pointed out many times, the military is its whole ‘nother world. I swear, I’ve been convinced for years that most civilians get their ideas about it – not from a genu-wine military person, but from some (usually self-appointed) expert, anointed by the cultural powers that be. Which usually makes those of us who have long been domiciled in the military world just roll our eyes and laugh behind our hands. Or throw something heavy at the television – it all depends. BTW, really perversely-humored military members often amuse themselves by feeding tall tales to said self-appointed experts, just to see if they are going to bite on the tall tale, hook line and sinker. I know they do this – I’ve always called it the Wister Effect.*
Trying to put across something of what the military experience is really like to the average normal civilian is what got me started in mil-blogging, back in the Dark Ages of blogging. And sham-wow! Did Sgt. Stryker’s Daily Brief suddenly have a lot of readers! On one notable occasion just about the time that the drive into Kuwait began, CNN linked to our home page – and the resulting traffic crashed the server. We were included in a short list of mil-blogs listed in a short (is there any other sort?) article in Time Magazine, and Yours Truly was interviewed a couple of times by reporters for national newspapers, who were putting together a story about the Great E-Mail/Milblogging Adventure, and how it was possible for the deployed military to be in such very close contact with their families and friends. All very heady and amusing stuff, this was – but I kept thinking how odd it was that the official military Public Affairs offices seemed to be completely clueless.

Having worked in an airbase PA office, I knew very well that part of the PA staff’s duties was to scan print media for any mention of the service, the particular base, or the military in general. I didn’t think it likely, in other words, that the official military could NOT know about mil-blogs in 2003 – especially since I made a special effort to visit a local PA office and offer to blog about any particular needs the local command had, with regard to deployed troops from that post, or for any casualties they might be caring for. I talked to a civilian in the office – who seemed quite keen, and left my name, email addy and URL for his commander, and never heard another word. Eh – no skin off mine, as the saying goes. But at the first afternoon panel of the Milblog Conference, we had a full brace of commanders – including Admiral J.C. Harvey, Commander U.S. Fleet Forces Command, who is an enthusiastic blogger, and Col. Gregory Breazile, who blogs for the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan.

Obviously, the official blog has arrived; the technology has been embraced by the higher levels. I did get up and asked, precisely when and what event precipitated this interest, when we early bloggers were treated as if we smelled bad, early on. Eh – the answer seemed to be that the very high ranks realized the value of social media fairly early on. One does not achieve the high command rank in the military by being an idiot, by the way. I’ve met some colonels who were dumber than a box of hammers, but every general I ever met personally seemed to be pretty sharp. At the other end of the scale, the very sharpest of the junior ranks had embraced social media, blogging, twittering and youtube almost at once. It was just the intermediate level, or so the Admiral explained, who weren’t quite sure what to do with or about it. This tracked pretty well with my experience, being as the Daily Brief’s founding blogger was a smart-ass Air Force enlisted mechanic who loved to spend his nights on the intertubules. (He also got bored easily, which is why he recruited other writers for his blog after a year.) I have to admit, there is a decidedly different feel to a blog which is there because it’s essential to communicating about the mission, and one that’s a volunteer effort and done for sheer enthusiasm.

Final wrap up tomorrow – stay tuned, sportsfans.

* The Wister Effect: so called after Owen Wister, the writer of The Virginian, who related a story about some cowboys in a small Western town. When some traveling Easterners came to town on the train, and began hyperventilating about the violence and danger in the Wild West, the cowboys obligingly staged a mock-lynching for their edification. Wear your expections too openly – and very likely someone with a perverse sense of humor will make a special effort and arrange to deliver what you were expecting.

The local weather forecast for Friday is predicting a better than 50% chance of snow.
In San Antonio. You know, the cold white stuff.
Well, no one around here know it… they know of it, since they still talk about the last time it seriously snowed here…
Twenty years ago.
Seriously, I’ve seen the natives around here drive on wet streets during rainstorms. On Friday I will not be going anywhere.
I just may stay in bed, curled into the fetal position, with the electric blanket thermostat set to high.

(But you don’t have an electric blanket!)

Shaddup! For an occasion like this, I might very well go and buy one!

That expression became something of a family joke, as I came around, by easy steps, from being a teller of tall tales, an intermittent scribbler, an unrepentant essayist, a fairly dedicated blogger … to being – as my daughter put it – a real arthur. Yes, a “real arthur” in that I have a number of books, ranging free in the wilderness of the book-reading public. Not that I am in any danger of buying the castle next-door to J.K. Rowlings’, and my royalty checks and payments for consignments and direct sales dribble in but slowly. Slowly, but steadily, which is gratifying. Readers are buying my books, as they find out about them in various ways; through internet searches, through word of mouth, and the odd book club meeting, casual conversation and interviews on blogs and internet radio stations. It has been my peculiar good fortune to have come about to being “a real arthur” just when the established order of things literary was being shaken to the foundations, and not wasted very much time fighting – or trying to smuggle my books past the toothless old dragons of the literary-industrial complex, defending the crumbling castle of Things That Once Were.

Time was – or so the older “real arthurs” tell me – there was an excellent chance that if you were a fairly adept storyteller, with a pleasing voice, a discriminating way with vivid description, and could construct a setting and create characters which the general public would want to pay some trifling amount to read about – you would eventually find a literary agent to talk you up to any number of established publishers, or that someone sifting through the slush-pile would fall upon your MS with tears of happy joy. It might take a bit and a couple of tries – but it would happen. The publishing world was small enough, and the body of ambitious scribblers convinced that they had the “next great novel!” within them was small enough that the good stuff would be sifted out from the dross in fairly brisk order; if not at one publisher, then another. And there you go – you would have the benefit of an editor, a printer, a team of publicists to get the word out about your book, ready acceptance at all the established sources for reviewers. The only alternative to that was (*shudder*) the cold hell of a so-called vanity press, the last resort of a scribbler with more money than actual talent. This is what I was assured time and time again, and what I trustfully assumed the case when I was a teenager, scribbling embarrassingly derivative fan-fiction in spiral-ring notebooks.

But the world changes and we move on. Sometime around 1997 I remember going to a local writer’s club meeting, where there was a presentation by a local printer, outlining more than just what was possible, for a writer who was tired of standing outside the castle of the publishing establishment trying to lob their MS over the battlemented wall. What set this little presentation apart was his statement that some authors who had published and printed their books through his business were marketing them to local outlets – and that a good few had gone into second and third printings, due to high demand. He named some titles, which I had recognized because I had seen them, here and there. But even a print run of a couple of thousand copies was well-outside my budget at the time. Still, I tucked that tidbit away for consideration at a later time; I hadn’t written a book, anyway, only some freelance articles and short stories.
Even then, it was becoming harder to get the attention of the major publishing houses; and as I began moving closer and closer to be serious about my own writing, the word around the book-blogs was that you had to have an agent. More and more of the big publishing houses were swamped with manuscripts, and the onus of actually screening them, and searching for the next big literary thing was something that had shifted to agents.

And then, the agencies were swamped, with the flood-tide of manuscripts, to which I contributed my own bits, only to be sadly informed by a couple of them who did take the time to read them, that although I was a very good writer (or at least fairly competent) my first novel just wasn’t what they termed “marketable to a traditional publisher. I went back to consulting the handful of professional writers that I knew, and to the various knowledgeable book-blogs; ah, the received wisdom was that publishing a novel, and especially a novel by a new and unknown writer was very much in the way of a gamble for a publishing house. Before going through all the trouble, and the considerable expense of publishing such a book – major publishers wanted to put their chips on a sure thing, or something very close to a sure thing. Sometimes publishers would ask for marketing plan, including a website and blog, as well as a manuscript. More and more, mainstream publishing looked like Hollywood: ten humongous ten-million-dollar block-buster sure-thing movies a year, rather than a hundred one-million dollar not-quite-sure-thing-maybe-a-little-adventurous movies a year.

Around the time that I was really getting serious about getting published – Print On Demand technology had changed the whole publishing paradigm once again: unlike the old vanity press, which required an outlay of at least a couple of thousand dollars, it was now possible to get in print for considerably less. Of course there were, to put it kindly, quality issues, now that everyone out there who wanted to publish – could do so. POD-published books had a horrible reputation – still do, in many corners of the traditional book-publishing and reviewing. I also heard frequently that having done a POD book was the kiss of death, in trying for an agent, or a mainstream publishing deal. Submission guidelines for quite a few agencies specified that manuscripts must not have been published.

But the reluctance of traditional publishing to even consider more than just a tiny portion of new authors out there drove more and more first-time authors, and authors with considerable experience with the written and published word to consider POD publishing. Many go with the various POD services, and the truly dedicated set up as their own publisher. If the filtering mechanism provided by literary agents, and publishing houses can no longer cope with the quantities of books out there, then publishing through POD at least allows writers to circumvent that bottle-neck, and have readers themselves to be that ultimate filter. Very likely, my own next book will be published by the boutique press which I currently work for, once we set up printing services through Lightening Source – the print service used by many POD and traditional publishers. I will have an editor, and the services of a design studio for the cover and interior formatting – why do I need to go through the whole submission process again, now that I have an established fan base through my books?

There have certainly been some widely-reported success stories over the last decade or so, of books like The Shack or The Christmas Box and The Lace Reader which sold initially and widely as POD books – and suddenly became visible to a traditional publisher. With those books, it seems as if the acquisitions editor at a traditional house came out of a torpid state, exclaiming “OMG, that book has sold a bomb of copies already, we’d better hop onto the gravy-train and sign that author to a deal!” (Note – in 2006, a NY Times article estimated that the average POD book sells 150-175 copies, other experts quoted less than a hundred, possibly as low as 50.) In the last six months or so, I have encountered hints and portents that traditional publishing houses may be reconsidering POD books; yes, even to the point of patrolling Amazon.com, searching out those POD and boutique-press of excellent quality and a consistent, but unspectacular record of sales.

At least one IAG author that I know of, Dianne Salerni has a contract with a small, but substantial traditional publisher, on the basis of her first book and an option on her second. Harper-Collins UK set up a website called “Authonomy” which allowed authors to put up all or part of a published or unpublished MS and allow other people to read and recommend. I have read some terrific historical novels at Authonomy, and am considerably mystified that some of the best have not been published with much acclaim months ago. Another book-blog & website, the Publetariat has recently set up a searchable database of books offered by POD authors, to include hard stats on sales and royalties. It appears to be the hope of the Publetariat that making offering this, along with a synopsis and sample chapters, would make it easier for agents and publishers to locate promising books with a proven record. I don’t imagine that the business of writing books – and it is a business, never mind how much one enjoys the writing aspects of it – will ever go back to the old way, of lobbing manuscripts over the castle walls, in the hope that they will magically fall into the hands of a kindly editor. Seriously, though – I think I’m having more fun this way.

Received the following yesterday afternoon, while working away on a poetry book for Watercress Press:

“As you know, last September Pajamas Media began a new initiative in Internet television called Pajamas TV. When we started with our RNC coverage from Minneapolis, we noted that we would be in a Beta Phase through the first quarter of 2009. In the last few months we have strengthened the PJTV lineup with shows covering Media Bias, Education Bias, Middle East Update, Sharia and Jihad, Powerline Report, Ask Dr. Helen, Hugh News, Poliwood, Conservatism 2.0, Economy and Finance, National Security, and others.

As the end of the first quarter approaches and we near the production phase of Pajamas TV, we will continue to build our emphasis in this area. As a result we have decided to wind down the Pajamas Media Blogger and advertising network effective March 31, 2009. The PJM portal and the XPressBlogs will continue as is.

You may continue to display the Pajamas Media ads through March 31. We will be sending you information in mid-March on removing the ads.

We thank you very much for participating during the formative years of Pajamas Media and we look forward to working with you in other ways. One of those is, of course, Pajamas TV. If you have any ideas in that regard, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Our best wishes in the new year and again our deepest gratitude for your participation in Pajamas Media.

Sincerely,

Roger L. Simon
CEO, Pajamas Media”

It seems that quite a lot of other blogs which were initially a part of PJ Media are also being kicked to the curb, as regards the advertising revenue. When PJ was first put together and the Daily Brief invited to join, it seemed like one of those ideas whose time had come; there would be an enormous range of linked blogs with all kinds of interests and specialties, and in a position to negotiate for serious advertising opportunities and the income arising from it. At least, there would be enough coming in to cover the hosting fees, and a little over. This didn’t last at the Brief for more than a couple of years: about three years ago, I was informed that the Brief didn’t get enough page views to justify any revenue for running the ads – but if page views went up, then the Brief would have that revenue stream restored. So, I went back to paying the hosting out of my own pocket, and kept the PJ ads in place, partly in hopes of eventually getting some revenue out of it and partly for the association. Because of sticking with the PJ ads, I couldn’t place ads from another agency, since PJ had the top place: so, nothing out of having them there – and nothing from anywhere else, either.

I will remove the PJ ads with the greatest pleasure, possibly even before the drop-dead date. I haven’t gotten much out of the association at all, save for PJ including my books on their “Christmas Gift” page throughout December. Frankly, it looks to me that PJ Media has become what they professed to counter – Big Media, in all it’s glory. A handful of the top blogs, all linking to each other, and the rest of us pretty well shut out. All things change, and often not much for the better.

I might as well have a bigger ad for my own darned books. I’m a little tired of looking at that Joe the Plumber picture, too.

…and repenting at leisure, or so it would appear with a new consumer product safety law, which will go into effect in about twenty days. Yes, indeedy, Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, or HR 4040 which is supposed to take effect February 10th, was supposed to strike a mighty blow against the forces of evilness and icky lead contamination in children’s toys, but instead looks fair to bankrupting all sorts of micro-and home businesses in the US, instead – and to plunge a dagger into the hearts of all kinds of well-meaning handicrafters, thrift-stores and various enterprising individuals scrounging a living by selling stuff on e-Bay. Not to mention any parent on a budget, hoping to save some of their diminishing funds by purchasing second-hand clothing, books, toys and accessories for their children.

And I am not about to be frivolous about the problem of lead contaminates in children’s toys, although the temptation is there.

(Hey, did you hear the one about the shipment of lead from China that was turned back at the port of entry because it was contaminated with children’s toys?)

Yes, lead is not healthy for children or other growing things, and frankly, those manufacturers knowingly or unknowingly contaminating their export crap with lead, arsenic or any other dangerous substance ought to be taken out and have their pee-pees whacked with iron bars. Repeatedly – so yes, there ought to be a law. But oh, what a lesson in unintended consequences there is in the hurried and apparently careless formulation of this one! No lobbyists around who speak for the thrift shop industry, I guess, or the little workshops making this or that specialized product, or all the little church ladies across the US, piecing quilts or knitting baby-clothes. The law as written flatly mandates a level and degree of safety-testing which – it may might be argued and probably already has – is appropriate to a large manufacturing industry. Say, something that churns out product by the box-car load daily, weekly, or even hourly.

What got overlooked until the last few months, what with all the good intentions about ‘protecting the cheeeeldren’ was that all those mandated testing of all the elements of every product meant for the use of those under the age of 12 also applied to just about every body who makes stuff for kids, either for sale or charity. Everyone from the guy with a small woodshop making high-end traditional wooden toys, to the lady with the small business making ornamented hair scrunchies, those little businesses making doll-clothes or children’s clothes will fall under this law. Even the POD publisher who designed and printed my own books – they do children’s books; Or they will, up until February 10th. Heck – this law might even apply to me; I made clothes for my daughter, and now for my niece. Once upon a time, I also made bespoke doll-clothes and stuffed toys for sale at church bazaars and craft shows; I still have several boxes of finished outfits in the den closet, which is where they will remain, now. I’m not out all that much, for this was a hobby for me a good few years ago, but serious crafters who depend on small retail sales of their output are stuck with an inventory that they can’t sell legally, or even give away, after having invested in their raw materials and done the work. According to the scattering of news stories (linked here, here and here) second-hand and consignment stores are already feeling a pinch; how can they possibly test every garment or toy, according to the letter of the law? They are either refusing donations or consignments of those items, and very likely making plans to dump those stocks already on hand into landfills or into the market in the next couple of weeks. The fines are insupportable for an individual or a small business; practically no one wants to risk being charged with a violation of the act. Assurances that ‘oh, no – boutique handicrafters and second-hand stores will not be prosecuted under this act, everyone knows it’s really meant for the big mass-producers’ are falling flat among those most concerned. And rightfully so – for what is a law that is on the books, but enforced by bureaucratic or prosecutorial whim? It is a suspended weapon, to be used selectively against people who have drawn the unfavorable attention of the state upon themselves.

And it is purely ironic, that just as the economy is in dire straits, with businesses large and small going through tough times, and individual entrepreneurs doing their best to stay above water, and people who are desperately trying to economize – a consumer safety law is about to wallop those very same small businesses and entrepreneurs whose hold on economic security is least secure. It’s almost as if the captain of the Titanic called for another iceberg to crash into the other side of the ship – just to make sure the whole thing sinks on the level.

03. November 2008 · Comments Off · Categories: Air Force, Technology

Via Drudge, The Wired Blog is Reporting:

The Air Force is fed up with a seemingly endless barrage of attacks on its computer networks from stealthy adversaries whose motives and even locations are unclear. So now the service is looking to restore its advantage on the virtual battlefield by doing nothing less than the rewriting the “laws of cyberspace.”

It’s more than a little ironic that the U.S. military, which had so much to do with the creation and early development of internet, finds itself at its mercy. But as the American armed forces become increasingly reliant on its communications networks, even small, obscure holes in the defense grid are seen as having catastrophic potential.

Read the whole thing.

Let’s see, you’ve spent the past 10 years getting rid of your programmers, networking folks and applications experts, andthen turning your networks over to civilian contractors, some of whom were literally learning how to help-desk while on the job, and now you’re surprised that the security ain’t what it could be? I know at least 20 people off the top of my head that the Air Force “right-sized” out that are exactly the kind of folks needed to fix these kinds of problems. Some of them screamed until they were blue in the face that, “We’re doin’ it wrong!”

I’m sitting here doing the “I f***ing told you so!” dance.

(courtesy of Al Past, another IAG Member, and also cross-posted at the IAG Blog)

15. August 2008 · Comments Off · Categories: Air Force, Stupidity, Technology

According to the front page of the Air Force Cyber Command’s Website:

8/14/2008-Barksdale AFB, La. –The Air Force remains committed to providing full-spectrum cyber capabilities to include global command and control, electronic warfare and network defense. The Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force have considered delaying currently planned actions on Air Force Cyber Command to allow ample time for a comprehensive assessment of all AFCYBER requirements and to synchronize the AFCYBER mission with other key Air Force initiatives. The new Air Force leaders continue to make a fresh assessment of all our efforts to provide our Nation and the joint force the full spectrum of air, space, and cyberspace capabilities.

Which makes sooooo much sense considering that the military doesn’t have a cohesive all-around cyber defense policy. Seriously, cyber security measures can change literally from base to base. What drives those measures? You would think it would be a standard set of security practices applied to all and you’d be somewhat correct. However, what you also have to take into account is that almost every base has a different contract company taking care of their network security measures. Those measures may be based on what the contractor is willing and able to do for the price that the military is willing to pay. On some bases, you may have three to five different companies taking care of the various networks depending on the security level of the network. Not only is the security level dependent on the classification of the material on the network, but it’s also dependent, again, on the capability of the contractors.

I remember getting a call when I was in NORAD/USSPACE from a flag officer and he needed me to come over and help him with one of his computers. Since that part of the network wasn’t “owned” by NORAD/USSPACE, I literally was not allowed to help him. I simply didn’t have permissions for that side of the network. I had to file a help desk ticket for him which, according to contract, allowed up to 3 business days before it was addressed. Since he WAS a flag officer, the contractor did put a rush on it, but still.

I’ve been against the privatizing of the military’s networks since they started. Okay, so you don’t have to pay contractors retirement benefits and all the other baggage that comes along with a military person’s life, but if you don’t write the contracts correctly, the military can wind up needing a task completed by the contractor that’s not in the contract and you can’t force them to complete that task without amending the contract which would also mean, MORE money. That’s right, when a new task is added for any reason to a contract network admin or techie’s tasks, they may not HAVE to do it until the contract is reviewed to see if it falls under the contractor’s “scope of support.” And because only contractors can touch the network on some bases, folks in uniform can’t complete the task either. And since we’ve slashed the living shit out of the military’s network specialists in favor of contractors, we don’t have them to utilize anyway.

Which, if I’m being cynical, leads me to believe that someone has finally realized that having a cohesive policy across all the networks that the Air Force “controls” means that every single one of those contracts is going to have to be rewritten and I’m betting that some Senior NCO and their team has done the legwork and given General Lord and his bosses the cost analysis for those new contracts and someone with power of the purse-strings has crapped their drawers when the reality of what a workable, cohesive, policy is going to cost.

That’s if I was being cynical. It could just mean that what we’ve got is working just fine and there’s no need for a cyber command in the first place…and I swear to you I typed that with a straight face…after three tries.

Thanks to He Who Needs No Linkage for the tip.

You want to know the funniesnt thing for me about all this? I’ve got interviews with two contractors in the next week for jobs supporting the military’s network. I hope the question, “What’s your opinion about privatization?” doesn’t come up and I hope to hell I’ve got the good sense to lie about it if it does. I need a job.

11. July 2008 · Comments Off · Categories: A Href, General, Science!, Technology

Or is it just hidden?

There’s some interesting stuff going on over in Italy, related to discovering artworks that have been painted over. Technology continues to amaze me (I’m easily amazed, but even so…).

Seems that once upon a time, DaVinci began a mural – a battle scene. For centuries, common wisdom was that he’d been unsatisified with his efforts, and destroyed the mural, and it was painted over by another artist, Giorgio Vasari. But in 1977, a young art apprentice was inspecting Vasari’s frescoes, and found two words painted near the top of the wall: “Cerca Trova.” The words were practically invisible from ground level. They translate to “Seek: You will find.”

Skeptical colleagues discounted the discovery. Yet they were the only words on the six enormous frescoes that cover the walls today. To Dr. Seracini, it could mean only one thing: The da Vinci mural must still be there, concealed behind Vasari’s paintings. “We are talking about the masterpiece of the masterpieces of the Renaissance,” says Dr. Seracini, “way more important than The Last Supper or the Mona Lisa.”

Da Vinci and those who commissioned the work left no direct account as to why the master gave up on the mural. Whatever its technical flaws, the painting’s inventiveness and savage passion dazzled artists throughout Europe for a half century before it disappeared from view. “One writer at the time says it is the most beautiful thing in existence, twice as beautiful as the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel,” says Syracuse University art historian Rab Hatfield, a member of the Italian commission overseeing the project.

Dr. Seracini, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, wasn’t the first art scholar to be seduced by the mystery of Leonardo’s missing mural. No one, however, has pursued it with such technical acumen.

Not long ago, art conservationists had only a trained eye to guide their work. Today, sophisticated scientific techniques are becoming part of every art expert’s tool kit. This spring in Vienna, for instance, restorers relied on X-ray fluorescence to analyze the solid gold of a priceless 16th Century sculpture. In France, University of Michigan physicists probed the walls of a 12th Century chapel with nondestructive terahertz beams. In Pittsburgh, NASA scientists used molecules of atomic oxygen to wipe a Warhol painting clean of the lipstick smear left by a vandal’s kiss.

Since that discovery in 1977, Seracini has made use of every technological advance to pursue his search for the DaVinci mural. That search will culminate next year, using a portable neutron-beam scanner that is still in development. Seracini is hopeful the hidden DaVinci will be found.

I hope so, too.

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