Tuesday, November 23, 2010

National Opt Out Day

Will you Opt Out on November 24, 2010?

image courtesy of the TSA

The TSA has been deploying Advanced Imaging Technology since 2007.  Persons (including the pilots of the very aircraft the TSA is trying to prevent from being hijacked) can choose to be electronically denuded or they may "Opt Out" and be subjected to an enhanced pat down that includes an inspection of the groin, buttocks, and breasts.  TSA administrator John Pistole says the new procedures strike a "balance between privacy and security."

Some folks disagree and have decided to resist what they regard as an unwarranted intrusion on the privacy of the flying public.  They have designated tomorrow, Wednesday, November 24, 2010, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US and one of the busiest travel days of the year, National Opt Out Day.

The media, the blogosphere, and US politicians are divided (except perhaps those US politicians who are exempt from any screening).  Some lean one way or the other.  Some note that the Israelis don't use AIT.  Some writers are having their cake and eating it.  In This Junk Won't Fly: The idiocy of airport-scanner "Opt-Out Day" William Saletan argues we shouldn't opt out because doing so will cause inconvenience to all travelers.  Saletan wasn't quite so sanguine about the privacy violation back in his March 2007 piece title Digital Penetration: Invasion of the naked body scanners.

I'm traveling by car this weekend so I don't have to decide.  How about you?

Updated 23 November to add: Actually I do have an opinion...

The TSA has reacted predictably to every new mode of attack by implementing a more intrusive inspection regime. Al-Qaeda says "Boo" and the next thing you know the TSA is looking at naked pictures of our mothers, wives, and daughters? What happens when some unsuspecting trans-Atlantic drug mule fills his colon with Semtex instead of a heroin shipment? Will we all line up for preflight abdominal x-rays or opt out and submit to body cavity inspections?

Terrorism may seem like a big problem, but our collective fear of terrorism and the ability of others to profit or accrete power as a result of that fear is a bigger problem. We're going to stop over-reacting sooner or later, why not now?

Updated again on 25 November...

Initial media reports were that National Opt Out was a total bust.  Now, it seems that one of the reasons air travelers did not opt out much at all on Wednesday was because the TSA appears to have quietly turned off their AIT machines, eliminating the need - or the option - to opt out.  An interesting, if transparent (please excuse the pun) solution.  So, if the TSA is convinced we cannot fly safely without the AIT program, on what grounds, and on whose authority, can they choose to turn off the backscatter and millimeter-wave scanners on the busiest travel day of the year?

Nature Is Cruel, But We Don't Have To Be

Please, please, please, put Temple Grandin on your Must See list!

The HBO movie Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes, won seven Emmy Awards in 2010.  It is now available on DVD.  The movie is clever and heartfelt and is one of the best movies I've seen this year.  The performances, large and small, were spot on.  Danes became Grandin; if you close your eyes I'm not sure you could tell them apart.  I look forward to watching it again.

I first encountered Temple Grandin, Ph.D., when she was interviewed on NPR in 2006. She said her visual thinking let her experience the world as a cow does.  This caused her to develop evidence-based animal handling systems in which livestock experience much less stress.  Ironically, her explanation of how animals perceive the world has made me a better hunter.

Dr. Grandin is an outspoken champion of those with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  She invented the "hug machine" which is used to comfort and calm hypersensitive persons.  Grandin is a prolific author, penning a variety of books including The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's and Thinking In Pictures: My Life With Autism.  She gave a funny and poignant talk at TED 2010 where she said she felt right at home with many of the attendees who seemed to be operating somewhere on the autism spectrum.

And yes, she designs slaughterhouses...

Monday, November 22, 2010

A New Batch of iTunes U Podcasts...

Having caught up with my podcast listening over vacation it's time for some new on-line courses...

photo from photos8.com (you really should check out this site if you need stock photos)

The Book of Revelation almost didn't make the cut for inclusion in the Christian canon, and there's no telling how much happier Western Christianity might have been without it.  Having literally written the book on Revelation this course appears to be an in-depth exegesis by Dr. Louis A. Brighton (Professor Emeritus of New Testament Exegetical Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO) who apparently will be taking this troubling book very, very seriously.

Zombies! The Living Dead in Literature, from the University of Alabama promises to be a real hoot.

[Updated to add: Yep, it was a hoot.]

What Darwin Got Wrong by Professor Jerry Fodor may be worth a listen.  This lecture is apparently drawn on the controversial book of the same name by Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini.

The History of Modern Mathematics (1906) by David Eugene Smith is featured in the USF Lit2Go series.

In Tales of Vampires and the Undead, Dr. Rebecca Haynes will "look at tales of vampires and the undead with special reference to Central and Eastern Europe and some orthodox funeral customs used to placate and hopefully prevent their return as revenants to the world of the living."

[This was actually a quite scholarly lecture on the European folklore surrounding the topic, from which Bram Stoker drew his inspiration.]

Religion in History: Conflict, Conversion and Coexistence is offered by The Open University.

[I've also added Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Stoker's Dracula, both from the USF Lit2Go program.]

As always, these courses are free to anyone with an iTunes account or (in most cases) by visiting the host institutions.

No Excuses

My Hoyt Havoc and I were inseparable this last week...

Purchased used from a very serious bowhunter who set it up as a pure hunting tool, my Hoyt Havoc XT 2000 dual cam compound bow is compact, very fast, and extremely quiet.  It's capable of such fine accuracy that I was forced to named it "No Excuses" after its first trip to the range.  I used it that first season to collect my Second Chance Buck.  About the only fault I find with it is common to all compound bows - the metal riser sucks the heat from my hands in cold weather.  This season I gave up on light arrows and mechanical broadheads.  I put Three Rivers Archery weight tubes in my Beman ICS Hunter carbon arrows and installed Muzzy MX-3 broadheads.  I zero'd the pins at 20, 30, and 40 yards (this last distance is intended for challenging practice rather than use in the field).  I was running the bow cranked down to it's full 70 pound pull for practice but backed off a full turn mid-week; a fella needs a bow he can draw without a warm-up once he's out hunting.  I saw the ten point buck I'm interested in three different times this last week but not once did he grace me with a shot.  One evening he loitered for 45 minutes in the vicinity of my buddy Greg's stand while I watched a mess of does from my ambush spot.  Problem was Greg was hunting does and I was after the buck.  Guess that's why we call it hunting instead of deer shooting.  Our host Tim shot a dandy buck his one morning in the river bottom.  Greg tagged a nice doe on Friday.  Alas, I have nothing to show for my efforts...yet.  I have until the end of December to try again...

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Gettysburg Address

One hundred forty-seven years ago today Abraham Lincoln spoke these 262 powerful, perfectly chosen words as he dedicated the Soldier's National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania...

Image of the Nicolay draft courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth
on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and
dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing
whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so
dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-
field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of
that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave
their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether
fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot
consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men,
living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it
far above our poor power to add or detract. The world
will little note nor long remember what we say here, but
it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the
living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished
work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly
advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the
great task remaining before us…that from these honored
dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which
they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here
highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain;
that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of
freedom; and that government of the people, by the people,
for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

November 19, 1863

If you'd like to know more about the Gettysburg Address and the marvelously complex man who wrote and presented it, I strongly recommend Gary Wills 1992 book Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade AmericaWills does an incredible job peeling away the layers of what some people incorrectly assume was a hasty piece of writing and an extemporized delivery of one of the finest speeches in the history of the republic.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Eid al-Adha

Do you remember a time when we Americans imagined the only religious holidays were Christian ones?

another fine photo from our friend Sam at photos8.com

Gratefully, the world is a much more interesting and diverse place than we Baby Boomers thought we grew up in.  In the Muslim tradition the patriarch Abraham was instructed by God to sacrifice his son Ishmael (instead of Isaac, as in the Jewish and Christian traditions).  At the last moment this test of ultimate obedience was called off and a ram was offered as a sacrifice instead.  Eid al-Adha is a family holiday that celebrates the event.  As with other Muslim holidays, Eid al-Adha is determined by the lunar calendar. In 2010 Eid al-Adha is on Tuesday, the 16th of November.  Happy Eid to all our Muslim brothers and sisters around this world we share.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Other Brain

Neurons comprise 15% of the human brain; the rest are glial cells...

The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia, How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science by R. Douglas Fields, Ph.D. is an in depth look at the roles, positive and negative, played by glial cells in the central nervous system.  This accessible book lays out the many ways the various glia affect early childhood development, recovery from brain and spinal cord injury, psychiatric illness, neurodegenerative disorders, addiction, and stroke.  Fields was featured on episode 69 of the Brain Science podcast if you'd care for a sample of his research on this fascinating topic.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Orbital Dance of Epimetheus and Janus

This is just too cool...

Two small moons of Saturn - Epimetheus and Janus - actually swap orbits every four years!  How incredible is that?  More details here at APOD.  Of course, the entire Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn is utterly awesome, and the source of many wondrous and very expensive computer wallpapers.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A New Sort Of Scope Failure

Broken scopes don't always tell you when they quit.  This malfunction was more obvious...

The other afternoon I was at the range refining the 200 yard zero of Erik's Kimber and my Remington. That mission accomplished, I wandered over to the range officer's bench to wait for a cease fire. He was spotting for his sons who were attempting to zero their Savage 110 30'06 rifles at the 100 yard line. Since being put away last season the elder son's rifle developed a need for a foot of left windage correction. When he tried to removed the turret cover to get at the adjustment knob the entire turret came off in his hand, leaving a sad little hole in the side of his scope. The scope was a $60.00 Tasco 3-9x, aged about ten years. As I left he said he'd be visiting the local Gander Mountain that evening to buy a Redfield (the one with the Leupold lifetime warranty).  When a Redfield 2-7x costs but $130 there is no reason to put up with a cheaper or less reliable scope.  Remember, buying a good scope once is better than buying cheap scopes a couple times. 

Another Podcast Leads To Another Author Leads To Another Book...

When will it end?

The podcast, RSA Events.

The author, Richard Watson.

The book, Future Minds.

The reading list continues to swell...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Welcome to the Festival of Lights...

The Indian holiday of Diwali marks the Hindu New Year (in the lunar calendar), the beginning of winter, honors the victory of good over evil, and the power of bright over dark.  This year it begins on November 3rd but the main festivities begin on the 5th.  Diwali, or Deepavali as it is called by some traditions, is a family holiday that involves celebrating with friends, eating special sweets, and setting off fireworks.  Happy Diwali to our friends from South Asia, wherever their travels may find them.

UPDATE TO ADD: Try the Ladoo, it's to die for...yummy!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fully Committed?

"You have Family as a value? That’s beautiful. This is your family right here. Now protect it by making your numbers..."

In his excellent article at the Fall 2010 edition of The Conference Board Review, Stan Slap summarizes his strong ideas about what is required to secure the commitment of mid-level managers:

What’s needed is a model that will reliably allow managers to live their values at work without the company having to constantly facilitate the process. A self-sustaining model that is a safe and healthy choice for both the company and its managers. Brace yourself: The model is called leadership.

This article is drawn from Slap's book "Bury My Heart At Conference Room B" which has just been added to my reading list...