One for the history books

In the United States History courses I took in college, the emphasis was squarely on political history: the political and military efforts to create our country, the effect of electing this candidate rather than his opponent as President, the transformation that World War II wrought on the world geopolitical stage and our emergence as a global power.  I learned also about the concept of historical perspective: that historians cannot speak intelligently about the effect of a given action until decades have passed and the ripples can be seen.

That still leaves us with the enjoyable pastime of speculation.

Just as the destructive force of post-tropical storm Sandy was amplified by merging with a North Atlantic system before making landfall, the economic and military fear, uncertainty, and doubt provoked by the possibility of sequestration, which strikes me as the United States’ self-imposed withdrawal from its role as a major military power, is coupled with what has become an annual Congressional tradition of holding the nation hostage, with each party and representative seeking to maximize the political and economic ransom in exchange for a continuing resolution to keep the government operating. Back when the Congress still performed its Constitutional duty to pass an annual budget, that opportunity to play chicken with (pig-)earmarked spending and unrelated amendments that would never pass on their own merits came only once a year.

The sequestration bill, the idea of Congress motivating itself by creating an alternative default scenario so dreadful that no sane person would allow it to come to pass, may make sense at first glance, but what it reveals to me is a Congress that lacks an awareness of its own capacity for stupidity and that considers brinksmanship as the default method for dispute resolution. The federal government has become so accustomed to unthinkable things, such as a war over personal animosity or abandoning our most fundamental ethical principles, our rights, and legal obligations for the sake of expediency and the perception of security, that it has lost that healthy fear of the repercussions of its own actions.

Regardless of what happens with the looming budgetary crises, there will be negative fallout for the Armed Forces and vital defense contractors. Infrastructure will go unmaintained or even be dismantled. Personnel training and equipment maintenance will be delayed or canceled. Our government is failing us in its most important duty: defending us. The degree and result of that failure cannot be foreseen. It is worth noting that a nation along our porous border is in a state of open war between the federal government and drug cartels, and some have speculated that it is in danger of becoming a failed state.

One would think that our elected officials should be spending all of their energy resolving the government’s immediate fiscal problems and mitigating the impact on the readiness of our Armed Forces. Instead, they have chosen this time to try to limit the American people’s access to firearms. Why, they ask, would a person need military-style weapons? As our politicians eviscerate our military in a way that no adversary ever could, that question pretty much answers itself!

It will be…interesting…to see how this plays out in the coming months and years. Perhaps historians will look back on this year as the beginning of the end of the United States’ status as a superpower.

 

2013 Novus annum

Each year, I set aside some time in late December and early January to reflect on the events and the lessons learned in the preceding twelve months and to set a course for the coming year. I don’t make resolutions, per se. Rather, I consider what I would like to change about my life, realizing that some changes may take longer than twelve months.

One goal with which I have been particularly unsuccessful over the years is the maintaining of a daily journal to capture my life. My physical journals have taken many forms, but beginning in 2007, I standardized on pocket-sized, page-per-day Moleskine journal with either a red or black cover. It is an excellent tool, but several years passed before I realized that it was not the right tool for me: the 3.5×5-inch pages were too small for my lengthy entries. Beginning with 2013, I am using the A4-size, page-per-day Moleskine journal. The larger pages should give me enough space to capture my thoughts. In addition to paper journals, I have used a variety of computer-based solutions, with mixed success. While this blog may appear under-utilized for a person intent on recording his life, it is actually a relative success compared to most of the local computer and web-based solutions I have tried over the years.  EverNote (www.evernote.com) has been a spectacular success for the short time I have been using it. The ability to store text, photos, audio files, and links in a single tool, all with geographical and topical tagging, makes it a key component (along with Gmail and Google Calendar) in my web-based “brain backup” system to combat the otherwise life-impairing retrograde and anteriograde amnesia caused by my medications. So far, so good.

In addition to a more suitably sized Moleskine journal and enabling software, I have added a couple of hardware implements to aid in capturing my life.  For as long as I can remember, I have had an “all-in-one” printer that included a scanner with automatic document feeder. Very handy, if I happen to be working next to it. My latest all-in-one printer (HP OfficeJet 4500) is a network node, with both ethernet and wireless connectivity, and I use the latter. Combining the 802.11g adapter with  Google’s cloud printing feature, I can print using my Linux netbook from practically anywhere. Scanning, though, is another matter. Wireless scanning using my netbook remains illusive; therefore, I have added a new portable wireless scanner (Xerox Mobile Scanner) to my toolkit. This battery-powered sheet-fed scanner converts scanned materials into either PDF or JPEG and stores them onto SD card, USB drive or a smartphone’s internal micro SD card via the phone’s USB cable. The SDHC card included with the scanner is an Eye-Fi card, which I have set to wirelessly send all scanned materials to both my smartphone and EverNote. The system is working great so far, and I am looking forward to using it to digitally store some 20-year-old journals I have found!

The last remaining piece to digitally capturing my life is storing verbal communications. Right now, the easiest way is to take notes, then write out a “memorandum of conversation,” which is emailed to EverNote and the other party. I am experimenting with an older Olympus digital voice recorder with a USB interface for the capture, and I am looking for open-source software to do speech-to-text transcription and OCR processing on the audio file. My goal is to duplicate in Linux the functionality of Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium. Alternatively, my wife’s Windows box is available to use with Dragon software and the audio files, emailing the text output and the audio file itself to EverNote.

I am experimenting with capturing current weather observations (unsuccessfully) and watches/warnings (successfully) from RSS feeds for ultimately appending that information to the daily log.

There are still obstacles to overcome, but they and their range of possible solutions are known. What started out as a digital adjunct to memory is rapidly developing into digital awareness of the kind that has been my ambition for YEARS, capturing the “outside world” through countless sensors – weather instruments, sea buoys, GPS, traffic cameras, commodities tickers, practically endless remote sensors – and feeding that data stream into my consciousness.

I shall save the potential applications for another post. 🙂

Shameless LOPSA plug!

I am proud to be a Charter Member of the League of Professional System Administrators.
LOPSA
The organization’s origin can be traced back to a disagreement circa 2005 between USENIX – The Advanced Computing Systems Organization and one of its several special interest groups: SAGE (System Administration Guild). The short version is that SAGE and its parent organization decided to part company. (Ironically, USENIX still has a sysadmin-oriented special interest group.)

I’d say that overwhelming majority of the members of SAGE had interests in other areas of USENIX, so the separation was emotionally charged for a lot of us. USENIX is an extraordinary organization, and its annual conference, the Large Installation Systems Administration conference, “LISA,” is renowned in Linux/Unix systems and network admin circles as a pinnacle of our professional year.

Anyway, when I joined LOPSA during its formation, I cancelled my USENIX membership as a symbolic statement, and I simply never had a reason to rejoin. As I became unable to work in 2006-2007, I let most of my professional memberships and journal subscriptions to lapse. They had been paid-for by my employer, and they weren’t cheap! I have remained active in only two fine organizations: LOPSA and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in order to stay abreast of both the practice and the theory and academic developments in computing and system administration, both as a personal interest and in the hope that I will be able to resume my career.

Published in: on 2013 01 07 at 05:50:23  Leave a Comment  
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My Beautiful Bride – 2012-12-01

My Beautiful Bride - 2012-12-01

I was beaming with joy inside! Due to my dysthymic disorder, I didn’t know I looked so emotionless on the outside.

Published in: on 2013 01 02 at 03:30:56  Leave a Comment  
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