Categories
Defense Life

Dear Mr. LaPierre and the NRA

(Sent today.)

Dear Mr. LaPierre and the NRA,

I have been a member of the NRA for many years.

I renewed my membership after the Virginia Tech shooting, in which a deranged man killed 30+ classmates at a college. He never should’ve been able to purchase firearms, but your organization didn’t agree.

I renewed my membership after the Aurora, CO theater shooting. The killer in that shooting never should’ve been able to buy a drum magazine — it has no purpose being owned by an ordinary American. Soldiers in the military aren’t even issued them individually.

I renewed my membership after the Newtown, CT shooting, and that one was tough. You would think 20 small children being gunned down would cause your organization to at least soften its stance on the issue — to sound a little less combative — but no. Your organization came out after the event as angry as ever.

But the Las Vegas shooting is too much. There has to be limits to the 2nd amendment. Even if the stated goal of your organization is to help protect the right for citizens to arm themselves in the event of armed insurrection.

No one needs 50+ firearms. A common sense argument for your organization would be to say, if the goal of the 2nd amendment is to protect liberty, you only need one rifle and one handgun.

No one needs thousands and thousands of rounds of ammunition. A common sense argument for your organization would be to say, if the goal of the 2nd amendment is to protect liberty, you only need to be able to buy enough ammo that you could carry on your person in the event of a “SHTF” event. (One could purchase more ammunition for target practice at places like ranges and gun stores, but the ammunition should not be allowed to leave the premises.)

And no one, I mean no one, needs “slide fire” modifications to allow a semi-auto rifle to shoot fully automatic. Your organization could come out today and join the call for such devices to be banned, but you probably won’t.

I am a gun owner, and will remain one. I own one rifle, and one handgun. However, as of today, I will no longer renew my membership in the NRA. Also, I resign as a member of the NRA, said resignation to be effective immediately. Please remove my name from your membership lists.

Categories
Blogging Computing Distraction Internet Life Politic Rants and Raves

Why “Social Media” Should be Renamed “Social Masturbation”

We have hundreds of friends on Facebook. We follow hundreds of people on Twitter. We interact with dozens a people a day, spread across an equal number of timezones or even countries.

We follow funny blogs, meme-generators, and news sites on both of these services, and they deliver dozens of posts that we like and re-share to all of our friends, so they can see that we like them.

We feel like we’re making such a difference in the world! It’s so amazing! A collective consciousness if forming, almost — who can stop it? Who can fight it?

Disadvantaged groups are in control of such power! They now have a voice in the world so that everyone can hear of their struggles, thanks to the Internet! Social behavior that would’ve been illegal 50 years ago, and just an enormous faux pas even 25 years ago is now completely normal and accepted… isn’t it?

I mean, that’s what all my friends think. And I’m sure yours largely do too, if you’re probably reading this.

The reality in the rest of America, however, as we just learned, is very different.


Stages of Grief

We’re still not even in the postmortem stage from the Trump election win in 2016, but we’re close. Right now, people don’t know who to blame, mostly because the final results were such a surprise. Nobody saw the coming — not even FiveThirtyEight, who haven’t predicted an election wrong before this one.

And why would they? Why would any of us?

How many Trump supporters are you close to, on a daily basis? How many do you talk to daily, as a friend? Not bickering with online, but in person — where you’re more than just text making them angry on a website, but a living, breathing person in front of them, that they can see, and hear.

If the answer is zero, honestly I don’t blame you. Trump supporters aren’t usually… let’s just say it’s hard to have a conversation with someone who’s starting position is “Ban the Muslims/Mexicans, Build The Wall, Lock Her Up!” There’s not much gray area — not much room for common ground.

Even I only had about half a dozen, and they were all online. Mostly family members who survived earlier Facebook purges and friends from high school who stayed behind in the small town area where I grew up, and never left.

After this past week, of course, I’m no longer friends with them. Not because of anything they did or said, of course — most of them were fairly well-behaved — but because I realized, after the election, that we’re not really friends.

I didn’t talk to them in person. I couldn’t affect their lives in any meaningful way. In any discussion, there was never any meeting of the minds — no give and take. Every conversation could stop immediately when the aggrieved party wanted it to, by just walking away. There was never any reconciliation attempted, because there was no need to.

Our interaction was limited to them sharing their funny conservative memes from ridiculous websites and fake news sources, while I would groan inwardly and put up with them, because I was being “open-minded.”

They were certainly never going to change my mind about Hillary Clinton by posting some link about a “child sex ring in Macedonia run by the Clintons” (all false, of course), and I was never going to change their mind about voting for ol’ Agent Orange himself by telling them about his six bankruptcies, piggish attitudes about women, or the ridiculousness of building a “90 foot wall on the border of Mexico.”

So, why keep up the charade of pretending like we’re friends?


Fair and Balanced

However, I didn’t stop there. How many like-minded people are you friends with on Facebook, that you also don’t see in person? A dozen? Ten dozen? A thousand? How many do you follow on Twitter?

Do you think these relationships are healthy? Do you think you’re making a difference in their lives? That by liking their posts, and replying to their comments on yours that you’re doing something nice for them?

Maybe — just maybe these interactions are robbing you of the desire to make actual relationships, with those people around you.

Now — before you get outraged — I’m not saying you can’t have a meaningful relationship with someone in a purely online fashion. I met my partner online, so I of all people am not saying that.

I’m just saying you can’t have a dozen simultaneously. Or ten dozen. You’re not Scarlet Johansson’s character from the movie Her. And you certainly can’t have 1,456 real “friends” on Facebook, no matter how much you like seeing the number.

These interactions you are having on Facebook, or Twitter, with people you rarely ever see in person, are having a negative influence on your life, and you may not even know it.

They momentarily quench the desire to have real connections, out there, in the real world. Friends you can visit in the hospital if they’re in a car accident. Friends with who you can move a couch. Friends you can go to a party with, or to the park.

And most importantly, friends who, if they don’t think exactly the same as you, may come around to your way of thinking when it’s voting time.


Beating Us at Our Own Game

Because you see, like it or not, this is something “the other side” has the non-Trump-voter beat in, wholly — real life social engagement.

They have churches, where they see the same people regularly, every week.

They go to tailgate parties. Constantly.

They go to real parties, out in the woods, where cell phone connections are spotty and where you’re forced to, you know, talk to people.

And when it comes to voting time, they’re the ones telling their real-life connections, in person, who to vote for.

Yes, they have huge social media presence online, mostly — the recent trouble with fake conservative news being spread like wildfire across Facebook being an example of that — but it’s not their only, or even their most major form of social engagement.

Human beings are social creatures — it’s coded into our DNA. You may think you can survive without a tribe, or a group, but you can’t — that’s just our pleasant, safe, modern world fooling you.

When we human beings were first coming down from the trees and learning to walk on just two legs, the tribes we formed required people to work together to achieve goals — you had to know like-minded people (or in this case, hominids), or you didn’t survive. Human beings weren’t the fastest, or the strongest; we didn’t have sharp fangs or claws or sticky webs to trap pray in; but what we had was cooperation.

And those that could work together with others had their genes propagated to the next generation.


Say “Hi”

So what can you do? If you’re not going to delete your Facebook account in protest of their out-of-control “sharing” feature (I’m still considering it), start by unfriending everybody you don’t see on a daily basis.

Make a few exceptions for those two or three people who, no matter what the geographic distance, you’re still soul mates with. It won’t hurt.

Make an exception for close family that aren’t racist.

But that’s it.

Stop spending time talking to people who you can’t make a meaningful difference in their lives. It’ll hurt at first; I know. But soon that desire will turn into actual action that may help those that are close by to you right now, especially if you live in an area that’s a bit more heterogeneous. (You know, like those “swing” states that Hillary all lost.)

And that is where the culture war will be won. Not by posting rebuttals or Snopes articles on Facebook and Twitter. But by showing people who look and think slightly differently than you how you’re not a caricature.

And maybe, must maybe, they won’t vote next time for a man who thinks that women’s bodies are up for grabs, if you have enough money, or that it’s okay to mock the disabled, or that all illegal immigrants are murderers and drug-dealers.


Caveat

Now, please don’t misunderstand me — I’m not talking about possibly changing the minds of any Trump voters — you should know that’s not possible by now. You’re talking about a kind of person who believes in fake news, without any facts, and when confronted with facts to the contrary, simply chooses not to believe in them. You can’t change that kind of person’s mind, so don’t try.

I’m talking about possibly convincing someone who doesn’t vote, or who is undecided, that they might want to try voting. Those are the changes you can make. And they can be made.

Categories
Book Reviews Life Reviews

Review: The Peripheral

The Peripheral
The Peripheral by William Gibson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Probably the book I’ve most loved from William Gibson since his earlier work — while not giving up on the, ahem, “different” style from his later work, he seems to have blended it with the futurism of his earlier 80’s work to make something entirely new and refreshing refreshing.

Taking place in two different times completely (15-20 years in our future, and about 70 years on from that), the book features the plot device of time travel, but in a way that doesn’t break the laws of causality — each world is more like its own universe within the multiverse. The denizens from the earlier time are used as a form of labor — think Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

While all of Gibson’s books seem to end suddenly, leaving you wishing they’d go on for just another 40-50 pages, this one is especially so — I haven’t been reading a book and wanting it *not* to end this bad in a long time. The world that Gibson has created is just so rich.

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Categories
Life Linux Ubuntu

Converting Your Existing Ubuntu Installation Into a VirtualBox Virtual Machine

Update for 2018: some of the commands have been changed  below to reflect new  possibilities present in Ubuntu 18.04, namely the excellent losetup command.)

I often find myself in the position of having to transfer all my files, applications, and other configurations that make my laptop “mine” onto a new laptop.

What’s so strange about that, you might add? Well, I go through all of this once every six months.  It’s not that I keep buying new computers — I don’t.  But I often obtain them in other ways — I trade, I help someone buy a new computer and in turn get their old one, etc.

So, tired of having to constantly re-install everything (or, at the very least, if I’ve imaged one laptop to another, having to spend a week or so having to get everything running just right), I decided to just convert my current main computer into a VM that I could just run on any computer, running any sort of OS that’s enough to run VirtualBox.

(This tutorial was created with VirtualBox in mind, but other VM’s have similar ways of converting the final file after you get to about step 3 or so.)

It seems like it should be easy, and after a little bit of work, I found out that it’s not too hard.

  1. First, you’ve got to make an image of your current installation.  (This is much easier if you have your entire Ubuntu install on one partition, i.e., no /home partitions on another hard drive or partition.  You can probably figure out how to manage that, but this tutorial will be just for one-partition installs).
    • Boot your computer with another startup disk (CD, jump drive, whatever), and then perform the following command:
      • dd if=/dev/sda1 of=image.bin
    • “/dev/sda1” refers to the partition name that your main install is on — you can find this by doing a “sudo blkid” or “sudo fdisk -l”
    • “image.bin” refers to the output file that the image will be contained in — this can be anywhere you want, but set it to a location that’s not on the hard drive you’re trying to image.
  2. At this point, I tried to turn the image.bin file into a .vdi file so that VirtualBox could use it for a virtual machine — the problem is, at this point, your .bin file is just a partition, and not a real “virtual” hard drive.  There’s no partition table, etc. — you have to simulate these things.
    • You do this by creation an empty “sparse image” where we’ll copy the image, simulating a hard disk, and then create a partition table:
      • dd if=/dev/zero of=newhd.img bs=1G count=0 seek=100
      • In this, “newhd.img”represents the location of the file we’re creating, and “100” represents the size of the virtual hard drive we’re creating, in gigabytes.  You may want to make this larger or smaller depending on the image you made.
    • Now, edit the image with “fdisk newhd.img“, and, following the commands presented in the fdisk interface, create a new partition table, and create a partition as large as the image you created. (The commands inside fdisk are pretty self-explanatory.)
    • Now, make the partitions available as individual devices to your system.
      • sudo kpartx -a newhd.img
    • Now, copy the original .bin file you made in step 1 onto the newly mounted partition:
      • sudo cp image.bin /dev/mapper/loop0p1
    • Now, run a disk check, and expand the copied partition to fill all of the available space, and then finally close the mounted partitions:
      • sudo e2fsck -f /dev/mapper/loop0p1
      • sudo resize2fs /dev/mapper/loop0p1
      • sudo kpartx -d newhd.img
  3. At this point, you should have a newhd.img file, which represents the entire hard drive you’ll virtually mount in your VM — the only step left is to convert it from a raw image of a hard drive into a .vdi file for use in VirtualBox:
    • VBoxManage convertfromraw -format VDI newhd.img newhd.vdi

The only steps left at this point are to create your new VM in VirtualBox, and then start it using this HD.  It more than likely won’t boot, so what you’ll need to do is start it with a livecd of your choice, and then fix the boot (I used the wonderful boot-repair utility available to Ubuntu).

 

 

Sources:

https://unix.stackexchange.com/questions/41137/convert-image-of-a-partition-into-image-of-a-disk-with-partition-table

https://superuser.com/questions/554862/how-to-convert-img-to-usable-virtualbox-format

https://askubuntu.com/questions/69363/mount-single-partition-from-image-of-entire-disk-device

Categories
Life

Oree Carved Wooden Wireless Keyboard

For some very impractical, inexplicable reason, I want this, or would at least like to buy it as a present for someone.  I just have no idea who.Oree Wooden Wireless Keyboard

http://www.theverge.com/2013/7/5/4494966/oree-wooden-keyboard-gets-pop-up-tokyo-workshop

Categories
Book Reviews Life Reviews

Review: Titanicus

Titanicus
Titanicus by Dan Abnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not a bad tale of the Adeptus Mechanicus — there aren’t too many books in the 40k universe written about them, though they’re a huge part of the lore of this literary universe (standing quite a bit higher than the Astartes in the hierarchy of how things are run in the Imperium of Man).

Titanicus deals with some of the usual things you might expect to find in a book about the Mechanicus — the politics of human-augmentation in a society that seeks species purity, the way the masses see the Mechanius as distant, aloof, etc — and some of things you would rather not see explored too far, like the relationship between the God-Emperor of man (a being exalted as a living/dead god who sits on a golden throne on the Earth) and the Omnissiah (the being who the Mechanicus are allowed to worship simply because everyone has decided to look the other way and just claim that it’s obviously another avatar of the God-Emperor).

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Categories
Life

Spidey the Cat.

image

Categories
Book Reviews Life Reviews

Review: Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well — I had never read anything by Mr. Neil Gaiman before, but had always heard his name repeated everywhere. And… I was pleasantly surprised. Weird writing, but really great.

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Categories
Book Reviews Life Reviews

Review: Small Gods

Small Gods
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not bad — I’d never read anything by Terry Pratchett before this. I like his style of writing, and the ideas brought up here and there in the book regarding religion are thought-provoking.

Sadly enough — because I really wanted to really like this book — I’ve never been a fan of the “all satire/funny” style of writing. Give me some Heinlein (with the witty banter of his characters) or something more modern like John Scalzi (who’s a LOT like Heinlein in how he writes) and I’m fine, but the type of writing in Small Gods (or something similar like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) just bothers me. I’ve never liked it.

Maybe when you try for the joke-a-minute style of writing that sometimes it can’t help but seem forced, or the jokes kind of just start losing their funniness after a litle while (I had that problem with Hitchiker’s Guide — near the beginning, I’m literally laughing out loud while reading, and about 2/3 of the way in, I’m like okay, get on with the story).

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Categories
Book Reviews Life Reviews

Review: Pandora’s Star

Pandora's Star
Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now, this is one of the best new SF books I’ve read in a while.

An interesting story of a quasi-utopian future that suddenly meets with danger out amongst the stars, the “Commonwealth” series of novels by Peter Hamilton tell of a future mankind that never really takes to the stars in a great diaspora via starships — instead, mankind stumbles across the ability to open up instantaneous wormholes relative to where they’re currently located, at least across a few light years. The ability to do this is a closely kept secret of the team that first invents it, so, while they remains quite generous with the opening of new wormholes for mankind, the progression of man amongst the stars continues in a very orderly, organized fashion for about 400 years or so, with new wormholes opening up only after many, many committee meetings and discussions.

It is only when an interesting astronomical event occurs far outside the reach of any wormhole, that starships are finally created (using a sort of “progressive” opening and reopening of the same wormhole technology) to travel the far distance necessary to observe it up close. However, what they find was probably better left alone.

One of the most interesting things about the future in this universe is just how normal everything remains compared to modern day — there’s still a stock market, there’s still large companies (only now they’re multi-system instead of just multinational) — there’s even still a middle class. People can live much longer thanks to rejuvenation and body cloning techniques (given enough money, an individual can be nearly immortal), and you can securely back up your memory to a bank in case of complete body loss.

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