Monday, September 29, 2014

Manic Monday: Colorado Students School the School Board on Democracy and Fight Back Against 'Big Brother'

1984 by George Orwell
One of my all-time favorite books is 1984 (Signet Classics)
by George Orwell. You like dystopian? Now that's dystopian! 1984 may not be a horror story per se, but to me it is may be the scariest story ever written.

Scary because it feels plausible. And scary because for a person such as myself who values the freedom of thought and speech above all else, there is nothing more frightening than losing both.

1984 was published in 1948 as the super powers entered the cold war. Orwell may have been reacting to the events in pre-war Germany and Italy or perhaps looking east toward Russia and China.

But a recent news article brought Orwell's dystopian masterpiece to mind. Have you heard about the brave students, educators and parents in Jefferson County, Colorado that are fighting back against an all right-wing school board?

Image via Associated Press
I found this story via the LA Times. Apparently the recently-elected school board decided that it did not like the AP History curriculum. Here is a quote from the board calling for instruction in which “theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights."

Okay, we'll stop it right there for a moment. Read the words of the school board closely. "Promote citizenship, patriotism ..." Sound familiar? Does it not sound like the "Ministry of Truth" from 1984, the organization responsible for propaganda and historical revision? After all, Winston Smith's job in 1984 was to rewrite past newspaper articles so that they always reflected the current party line. This is exactly what the Jefferson County school board is attempting to do.

The school board also said: "Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard for the law."

I suppose, then, that the board proposes that students not learn about the Civil Rights movement, Women's Suffrage movement, and other events in which citizens used their rights of Free Speech (yes, you know that thing guaranteed by the First Amendment, i.e. the law) to attempt to change to system and obtain freedom for all people, not just the white male people.

In fact, the board's plan to revise the history books was "drafted in response to a new set of history standards adopted by the College Board, which gives more attention to minorities, Native Americans and pre-Columbus early American history." (Source, Portland Press Herald.) (As an aside, the Herald also reports that the school board blames the student protest on "dissident teachers", a phrase which also sounds a lot like it came from a spin-doctor handbook. If someone points out the problems with your agenda or policy, then call them "dissident" or "crazy" to discredit them.)

There was a well-written opinion piece on the Huffington Post blog yesterday written by Joseph Palermo. Mr. Palermo, speaking about Gretchen Carlson and Ken Witt, said: "And I doubt if Carlson and Witt ever heard of George Orwell who wrote: 'Who controls the past controls the future. And who controls the present controls the past.'"

What Ms. Carlson or Mr. Witt know (or think) is probably irrelevant. They are mere pawns belching out the party line. You can be very sure that the right wing politicos behind this move in Colorado, even if they have never heard of George Orwell, absolutely know how to gain power through control of history. And make no mistake that their agenda is to control propaganda so that they can increase their own power.

That's what totalitarian regimes do. And that's what we're talking about here.

Totalitarian is a system of government with only one party (or leader) having complete control and power over the people.

And what is the antonym for totalitarian?

Democracy.

And what is the foundation of democracy?

Freedom of speech.

Unfortunately, the freedom of speech in our country mainly serves the purpose these days of delivering free porn to every smart phone, tablet and computer in America. As I write this, more people right now are viewing porn than are engaging in political debate. Many, many, many more people.

That's okay with the Koch brothers and their ilk. Because if you are sidetracked by porn and cat videos and such, then you're not paying attention to what they're doing to consolidate their power. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

Kudos to the students, teachers and parents in Jefferson County who saw the move by their school board for what it is: an attempt to white wash history in furtherance of their own political agenda. Kudos for exercising their First Amendment rights. It takes courage to speak out against the actions of institutions and people in power. But now, perhaps more than ever, we all must be vigilant about our freedom and muster the courage we may not believe that we have to preserve our freedom. This is our right - and responsibility - in a free society. I for one feel a surge of hope today as I witness young people pushing back against what is most assuredly a threat to their freedom of thought.



Friday, September 26, 2014

Sci Fi Friday: 3 Cool Future Identification Technologies

There are certain technologies that are ubiquitous in future stories. Flying cars. Laser guns. And identification technology.
It's hard to imagine fingerprint dusting in the 22nd century. Instead, crime investigations may be "dusting" for DNA. And forget about a mere iris scanner to gain entry to that above top-secret lab. Instead you may have to pass the sniff test.
Good luck trying to fake someone else's scent.
Here are three super cool, super futuristic identification technologies that I read about recently on LiveScience and provide some cool inspiration for futuristic sci-fi stories:
1. BODY ODOR
dog noseYou read the correctly. Apparently, each person has a unique odor. That's an "of course" to dogs. Companies are working to catch up to dog tech by finding ways to identify our unique smell signature.
But don't worry about having a computer sniff you yet. Although researchers have attained a recognition rate of better than 85%, the technology is still in the research stages.
2. HEART BEATS
nymi-hero
While I can see the "sniff test" being used at border crossings and airports, this one seems more like the kind of thing we'll use every day. A Toronto company called Bionym is developing a bracelet called Nymi that uses your heartbeat for digital identification. Each of us has a unique pattern of electrical activity in our heart. Who knew? The bracelet reads ECG (electrocardiogram) waveforms to identify the wearer.
But here's where this one gets super spiffy. The Nymi bracelet can them communicate via Bluetooth to our devices. It seems that the possibilities there are endless. No need for a password or even a finger scan to log in to your computer. Just wear the bracelet and it could seamlessly connect the wearer to their devices. But why stop there? How about your car? A hotel room? Bank deposit box? 
And this one isn't just theoretical. You can order this device from Bionym now and it will ship next year.
3. VEINS
This one is even more strange than the others. And a bit creepy too. Apparently we not only have unique fingerprints, odors, and heartbeats, we also have unique vein patterns. This sounds like it's straight from a sci-fi movie, but it's actually a technology being branded as BiyoWallet (originally called PulseWallet). Imagine waving your palm over a machine that scans your veins. Once you've introduced yourself to the machine, the device would automatically deduct payment owed to the merchant from your account. Good-bye credit and debit cards. Sounds like one of the more promising technologies to prevent identity theft related to credit/debit card use.
Until some evil genius finds a way to counterfeit our veins! (Just wait - you know it will happen ;-)
Do you think we'll see widespread use of any of these technologies in the near future? Do you embrace these technologies? Or do they scare you? What one would you like to use the most?






Thursday, September 18, 2014

A WordPress Rant

I have had this Blogger blog since the spring of 2011. It has worked pretty well for me, but there are limitations. And everyone and their brother suggests having a WordPress blog instead.

Two days ago I began my journey to migrate my blog to a WordPress blog. The headache began about fifteen minutes into it and after two days, I have a full-blown migraine!

I see people with wonderful WordPress blogs and I think "I'd like my blog to look like that." And even more importantly have the same kind of functionality.

But after two days, my WordPress blog looks like a piece of dog crap and works no better.

I'm no computer guru, but I've been able to set up my own website, blog and social media accounts with no outside help other than YouTube tutorials. Why am I stymied by WordPress?

Oh well, I'll take a day off from it and see if when I come back to it with fresh eyes it makes more sense. Eventually you may see a message on this blog to go over to my spiffy new WordPress site. But in the meantime, thanks for visiting my humble little Blogger blog :-)

Have any of you migrated a Blogger blog over to WordPress? Was it easy for you to navigate the world of WordPress? Or did it make you experience overnight male-pattern-baldness?