Category: Personal

Australia tweeted #illridewithyou – and traveled in solidarity with Muslims

#illridewithyou

Against a backdrop of fear and uncertainty following the hostage taking in Sydney, thousands of ordinary Australians turned to social media to spread a message of unprecedented tolerance and solidarity.

Trending worldwide, the #illridewithyou hashtag was a response to a number of Muslim listeners who called Australian radio stations to say they were scared to travel in public as the siege unfolded.

Users offered to ride on public transport with anyone feeling intimidated. They posted their travel plans and invited others to get in touch if they were going the same way and wanted a companion.

Police stormed the Lindt cafe in the central business district, bringing an end to a day-long standoff with gunman Man Haron Monis. There is still uncertainty about his motive for taking up to 30 people prisoner.

But the sight of hostages being forced to hold a black flag bearing the shahada, the basic Islamic creed – “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God” – in the window of the cafe seemed enough to make innocent people concerned about a backlash if they wore Muslim dress in public.

There is little wonder that Australian Muslims are scared. As research has shown, terrorist attacks and events seen to be “the fault of Muslims” have been shown to catalyse a sharp increase in the number of Islamophobic attacks perpetrated against Muslims going about their everyday lives…

All this might make the popularity of the #illridewithyou hashtag surprising. But what really underpins this social media phenomenon is the fact that ordinary people are not only aware but are prepared to do something about the Islamophobia that ordinary Muslims face in the current climate…

In the world of bigots you don’t even need to be Muslim to be lynched. You simply have to “look” like a Muslim or “dress” like a Muslim. The first person I recall being murdered by a bigot right after 9/11 was a Sikh in Arizona. Reality didn’t matter in the least. The distance between Sikh and Muslim beliefs includes centuries and are nations wide. Meaningless to a narrow-minded fool.

I mentioned this response to the siege in Sydney to my wife and her first recollection was folks in a software company she deals with in much of her IT work. They’re in Georgia. After 9/11, folks throughout their company made it a point to travel together with many of their fellow workers, Indian, Pakistani, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist – everywhere – to act as an additional shield against the bigots and fools who wanted to kill a Muslim ar at least some kind of non-Christian foreigner.

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App turns iPhones, Android phones into burner phones

Despite what you might think from watching “Law and Order,” it’s not only crooks who want disposable phone numbers.

There are all kinds of reasons people don’t want to give out their number, in part accounting for the popularity of cheap cellphones, often called “burners.”

But it’s not really the cellphone most people want to replace. It’s just the number.

So one startup has built its business around letting people use their cellphone with multiple “burner” phone numbers.

Ad Hoc labs, a nine-person, Los Angeles-based startup, created Burner, an iOS and Android app that lets people get one or more temporary numbers. The app is free to download, but customers pay for more than a minimal amount of use or for more than one burner number.

And it’s built a pretty good business, with Burner frequently ranking near the top of the best-grossing apps in the utilities section of Apple’s App Store…

Soon, the company is adding a few new tricks, most notably the ability to send picture and video messages. Prior versions could make calls and send text messages, but not handle multimedia messages…

Burner is also extending its usual free trial period, giving new iOS users a year of limited use. It’s not giving a ton of minutes or texts for free, but CEO Greg Cohn said it is enough for casual use and for a more serious user to see the value of the paid service.

Now – could you use something like this?

I don’t need anything like this – right now. But, there have been occasions in my past when having a disposable, untraceable phone number was handy. Sure, snoops with legal power can eventually trace when and where the number was used. They can subpoena the carrier. Useful to an extent – and slow.

This still sounds like something that would piss off the FBI, maybe lazy local police departments, maybe even the NSA. Reason enough for me to post this wee article.

Nice guy of the day

phillip leclerc

A Massachusetts man who bought a desk for $40 at an auction said a search for a missing knob turned up at least $127,000 worth of bonds.

Phillip LeClerc, 60, of Weymouth, said he bought the desk for $40 on Nov. 19 at a Kelley Auctions sale and he went searching through the desk’s many compartments when a knob came loose from a small drawer and fell off.

LeClerc said he discovered the first envelope poking out from a small gap beneath a drawer and he soon had a stack of bonds that matured in 1992 and have since accumulated interest. He estimated the stack of bonds is worth a total of at least $127,000.

LeClerc contacted Marge Kelley, president of the auction company. Kelley said the bonds were returned to a man who said the money will go toward caring for his 94-year-old father.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years and every day the stories get stranger and better…” Kelley told the Boston Globe.

All I can do is agree.

Nice story, nice human being.

Gizmag’s Top 10 sustainable houses

You can click over to the article to wander through all ten. I’d like to feature a few I really like.

The ZEB Pilot House

International architecture firm Snøhetta has partnered with Norway’s Research Center on Zero Emission Buildings (ZEB) and to design and build a remarkable experimental house that helps move the development of very efficient buildings forward. The ZEB Pilot House is claimed to generate almost three times the amount of electricity it requires, with the significant surplus available to help run an electric car, for example…

A lot of sustainable technology was used on the build. The roof sports a 150 sq m (1,614 sq ft) photovoltaic array, and a 16 sq m (172 sq ft) solar thermal panel array, in addition to a rainwater collection system that provides water for toilet and garden use. In order to ensure all available rays are caught, the roof also slopes 19 degrees toward the southeast.

A Snøhetta representative told Gizmag that the photovoltaic array is expected to produce 19,200 kWh annually, while the home’s total electricity needs are calculated at just 7,272 kWh per year.


Pop-Up House

Whatever kind of home you live in, the chances are it took longer to build than the Pop-Up House, by French architecture firm Multipod, which was erected by a team of builders in just four days with no more tools than a screwdriver. The firm likens the construction process to building with Lego.

The Pop-Up House is a prototype prefabricated home that Multipod aims to bring to market for around €30,000 (roughly US$41,000). Thanks to its excellent insulation and near-airtight thermal envelope, no heating is required for the home in its location in Southern France, and it meets the very exacting Passivhaus energy standard.


The S House

Vietnam’s Vo Trong Nghia Architects has been tinkering away at the issue of providing practical, sustainable, and most importantly, cheap, homes. The result is the S House, a US$4,000 dwelling part-built using local, easily-obtained materials, including Palm leaf thatching and bamboo.

The interior of the S House is very basic and measures just 30 sq m (322 sq ft), with one large interior space. The building is prefabricated and can be disassembled into multiple small pieces for easy transport by local builders. Vo Trong Nghia Architects is still working on the design of the S House but the eventual plan is to mass market it.

I could wander off into the tech of these three. I shan’t. Wander through the series and reflect on your own choices – and why.

The last two, the S House and the Pop-Up are my favorites of these three because of size. I firmly believe smaller is usually better. My wife and I [and a dog, of course] first lived together in a 2-bedroom guesthouse that encompassed 650 sq.ft. – and we didn’t use one of those bedrooms. We lived day-to-day in about 450 sq.ft. and that still was more than we needed.

We live in more space, now, and once again have a room we don’t use at all. The guesthouse is back to being a guesthouse. A functional design when you live within a destination. It’s convenient to have two bathrooms; but, still, the main room could be smaller and that would simply encourage sitting closer to the TV set watching a football match or a movie. :)

What do you celebrate?

In our geek household, we celebrate holidays when We get days off from work. That’s irrelevant for me since I’m retired; but, all the more important because my honey and I get an extra weekday together – instead of only the evening through to morning. Make sense?

We celebrate New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day because the first is my wife’s birthday, the second is mine. We celebrate MLK Day. Memorial Day in its original form – remembering the Civil War. Independence Day, Labor Day. Veterans Day is Armistice Day in our home. Again, we’re celebrating the original.

Thanksgiving is a perfectly reasonable holiday; but, remember to reflect on the lot of First Nation folks who didn’t exactly invite us in – and were brutally shoved aside. I used to belong to a sport club named for Metacomet who damned near wiped out all those original English colonists.

Lots of folks get their knickers bunched over what should be a special December event – whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus. Essentially, we celebrate the winter solstice. There are Druids on both sides of our relationship and neither of us is religious. My wife is a student of Buddhist philosophy [among others] and I’m a philosophical materialist, dialectician, existential and atheist. Wandering the roadways and footpaths of our small bosque community with Sheila the dog – is plenty of celebration.

What are we thankful for? Well, today we celebrated our 254th Lunaversary. We take time to express our thanks to each other for another wonderful month since we were married here in the courtyard at Lot 4. We celebrate the regular anniversaries, too. Of course. But, we consider ourselves exceptionally fortunate to have found each other…and celebrate that every month.

Have a mellow holiday, folks. We send you our love and respect.

Pic of the Day

nina pham & bentley
Click to enlarge

Nurse Nina Pham had a tear-jerking reunion with her dog Bentley Saturday after they both had been declared free of Ebola and released from quarantine.

Bentley was quarantined along with his owner after Pham tested positive for the disease. He has been cared for by Dallas Animal Services and his treatment has been covered mostly through donations. Bentley only had one more step before ending up back in the arms of his owner — a bath.

“I’d like to take a moment to thank people from all around the world who have sent their best wishes and prayers to me and Mr. Bentley,” she told reporters. “I feel like Bentley reentering my life is yet another reminder of hope and encouragement for me moving forward … with my best friend at my side again.”

Pham was released from the hospital on Oct. 24 after being declared Ebola-free.

With all the hysteria, opportunist politicians and mediocre journalism surrounding anyone and anything to do with ebola in America – it’s a pleasure to offer a happy moment. Realism in the midst of insanity.

Remembering absent friends — all wars

I presume these Canadian troops are marching away from a memorial to those who fell during the liberation of Belgium during World War 2. Yes, I remember all of those days. I can’t forget those days.

My best friend died ten years back. He was the most decorated soldier from our home state in WW2. He had 16 months in hospital to reflect upon how he got there – not just the German soldier who threw a hand grenade at him at the liberation of a death camp; but, the corporate and political creeps who helped scum like Hitler into power. Both sides of the pond.

We learned a lot together over the years. Both of our fathers’ families came to the US from Canada, btw. His from Montreal and mine from PEI.

This weekend watching football from England the silent tributes pre-match – and more – have started. Tens of thousands of sports fans of all ages in complete silence remembering all they have to remember. I thought I’d repost this tribute.

I salute you, too, Clyde.

Thanks, Mister Justin

“Active Fatalism”


Wolfgang Schaeuble

A core problem with the modern world is that we have heroism all wrong. It is not just the conflation of heroes with celebrities as role models, giving rise to the endless magazine lists of ways to be more like Beyoncé. The more serious issue is how, in the rush to elevate the authors of exceptional acts, we forget the ordinary man and woman doing their often menial jobs day after day. I am less interested in the firefighter-hero and the soldier-hero (not to mention the hedge-fund honchos and other quick-killing merchants thrust into the contemporary pantheon) than I am in the myriad doers of everyday good who would shun the description heroic.

A few weeks back I was listening to remarks by the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. The minister was the target of an assassination attempt in 1990 that left him partially paralyzed, confined to a wheelchair. He brought up Sisyphus, the Greek mythological figure whose devious attempt to defy the gods and even death itself was punished with his condemnation to the task of pushing a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll down again and oblige him to renew the effort through all eternity. No task, it would appear, better captures the meaningless futility of existence. But Schäuble suggested that Sisyphus is a happy man for “he has a task and it is his own…”

The phrase was arresting because the culture of today holds repetitive actions — like working on a production line in a factory — in such contempt. Hundreds of millions may do it, and take care of their families with what they earn, but they are mere specks of dust compared to the Silicon Valley inventor of the killer app or the lean global financiers adept in making money with money. Routine equals drudgery; the worker is a demeaned figure; youths are exhorted to live their dreams rather than make a living wage. Dreams are all very well but are not known to pay the mortgage.

Schäuble was echoing the French writer and philosopher, Albert Camus, who in his book “The Myth of Sisyphus” noted that “there is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn…”

In Camus’ book, “The Plague,” one of the most powerful moments comes in an exchange between the doctor at the center of the novel, Bernard Rieux, and a journalist named Raymond Rambert. Rieux has been battling the pestilence day after day, more often defeated than not. Rambert has been dreaming of, and plotting, escape from the city to be reunited with his loved one.

Rieux suddenly speaks his mind: “I have to tell you this: this whole thing is not about heroism. It’s about decency. It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.”

“What is decency?” Rambert asked, suddenly serious.

“In general, I can’t say, but in my case I know that it consists of doing my job.”

Read the whole article. There are more examples. They make the point.

I haven’t read Camus since I was 17 or 18. At the time I was drawn more by Sartre…in turn more drawn to Engels than Marx. I guess I’ve always felt that societal ennui to be important as cultural inertia as anything.

I have both The Stranger and The Plague sitting in my wish list at Amazon and will likely revisit that thoughtful, existential anti-fascist again this winter.

Thanks, Helen

A mother’s tale about her son, autism — and Siri

Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the iPhone, is currently his B.F.F. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms — an hour in which, thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:

Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”

Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”

Siri: “Thank you, but I have very few wants.”

Gus: “O.K.! Well, good night!”

Siri: “Ah, it’s 5:06 p.m.”

Gus: “Oh sorry, I mean, goodbye.”

Siri: “See you later!”

That Siri. She doesn’t let my communications-impaired son get away with anything. Indeed, many of us wanted an imaginary friend, and now we have one. Only she’s not entirely imaginary.

This is a love letter to a machine. It’s not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in “Her,” last year’s Spike Jonze film about a lonely man’s romantic relationship with his intelligent operating system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But it’s close. In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the story.

Read on! Long, informative, interesting.

I’ve always talked to machines. The conversation moved from cars to electronics to computers. Record-keeping has become data-mining. The river of experience has reached a rapidly broadening delta.

Gus: “Goodnight, Siri. Will you sleep well tonight?”

Siri: “I don’t need much sleep, but it’s nice of you to ask.”

Brittany Maynard has scheduled her death for November 1st — UPDATED

Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old with terminal brain cancer, tells her story and explains why she plans to ingest a prescription that will end her life on Nov. 1 in this video from advocacy group Compassion & Choices…

Brittany Maynard carries a prescription in her wallet. It was written by a doctor in Oregon, one of five states with legal protections for terminally ill patients who want to end their suffering. And in three weeks, she plans to use it to die.

Maynard has chosen to die Nov. 1 in her bedroom in Portland, Ore., surrounded by family — her mother and stepfather, her husband and her best friend, who is a physician. She said she wanted to wait until after her husband’s birthday, which is Oct. 26. But she is getting sicker, experiencing more pain and seizures…

“I’ve had the medication for weeks,” she wrote in an op-ed for CNN. “I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.”

Watch the video, please. Read the interview with Brittany. Reflect on her right to choose her death with dignity.

I understand religious folk who reject this choice. They accept a concept of morality which doesn’t allow for individual choice. On lots of issues. The real hypocrites who would stop Brittany Maynard from this difficult farewell are the so-called libertarians who blather all year-round about liberty and personal freedom – and then reject her right to make this choice.

Step back and consider how many little pieces of freedom we willingly give up for the common good – from voting for elected officials to traffic lights at urban intersections. All understandable even though ranging from irksome to frustration – depending on how much individual corruption worms its way into the equation.

OTOH, there are beaucoup examples of personal decisions that trump interference. Not screwing with someone else’s safety and health? Then it is your right. The rest can keep their morality to themselves.

UPDATE: Brittany Maynard stuck by her decision.

The terminally ill woman who revived a national debate about physician-assisted suicide ended her life Saturday by swallowing lethal drugs made available under Oregon’s Death With Dignity Law. She would have been 30 on Nov. 19.

Thanks, Ursarodinia