Category Archives: Let It Be a Challenge to You

Blogging All Along

OF COURSE, THE IRONY IS that I have been — blogging all along, that is — and I have the stats to prove it. (Speaking of which, I need a privacy-respecting alternative to Google Analytics.)

Last night, I started a comment thread on Facebook and commented on Instapundit. I’ve put out tentative feelers on this topic before, but, as a friend of Prof. Reynolds put it, “With all this privacy crap about Facebook rearing its ugly head, I’m thinking about returning to blogging.”

I would seriously like substantive answers. I have over 1200 Friends on Facebook. Please do me the favor of responding. If I were to leave Facebook and “go back to the blog,” as Prof Reynolds put it. Would many — or any — of you come along with and participate at BabyTrollBlog?

Responses have been neutral-to-negative on balance. Which illustrates the market penetration incumbent socmed (SOCial MEDia) have versus blogs. Most readers find the incumbents more convenient than blogs. Apparently, the privacy crap doesn’t outweigh the convenience. Which, I suppose is the same conundrum leftists face when they think people should be willing to pay a higher price for goods that appear to address some concerns of social justice for that reason alone, but they aren’t; they go for the low-price item every time. That’s how markets work.

We in the blogosphere better hope that the perceived cost of socmed’s assaults on privacy outweighs the perceived inconvenience of patronizing blogs. Otherwise, it’s a lot of effort for little return.

The Liberty Position…

…ON PRIVACY: Like me, my mother (female parental unit) is a writer. Unlike Heinlein’s rules for writers, she did not, when I was growing up, have a private room where she went to write. Her typewriter — an IBM Selectric (pre-golf-ball) — was on a desk in front of the back window of our dining room in the rental house in Oakley (Cincinnati) where we lived for the latter half of the Sixties and up to the Bicentennial. There was always a sheet of paper in the machine, and her progress on that page was readily visible to all passersby.

We were forbidden to read on pain of… (whatever. The punishment was never specified; never had to be.)

The notion was that Mom’s writing was personal and private — as sacred as her (or our own) innermost thoughts — UNTIL and UNLESS she chose to share it. I was allowed to read the novel she wrote (and would love to see it published, for all its 50s-era post apocalypse setting and tropes are outdated). But only on her conditions.

It was an early lesson in the nature of privacy. Even though a thing is in plain view, in public or private circumstances, it is not yours to dispose of. It belongs exclusively to its creator or owner and consuming — or even looking at it — is taboo. Including the so-called “plain view” principle enshrined in post-constitutional case law.

There is no exception in the Constitution for cases where a person’s “persons, papers, or effects” are in plain view or in “public”. The plain wording of the Fourth Amendment brooks no such exception and, in the very fact of the words, makes it clear that the “plain view” or “in public” exception carved out by agents of the state is or ought to be null and void. (Since when are agents of the state fit to define the limits of state authority under the Constitution? Yes, of course, the courts are nominated as judges of such in that document, but there must be limits set by the actual text of it. thus far and no farther.) If a thing is not properly yours, you have no right to dispose of it. And that goes double for agents of the state.

However, it should be recognized (and obeyed) that the language of most of the articles of the Bill of Rights does not limit its intent to the state or its agents. The language of the Fourth, for instance:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

…it should be noted, does not limit its scope to actions of the state, nor does it brook the notion of ANY exception. It is absolute in its scope. “Shall not” has a specific and clear meaning when used in law. And it is universal. Any and all actors must respect and guarantee this security. Including but not limited to the state and its agents.

The same may be said, by the way, of the language of the Second Amendment.

The clarity, universality, and absoluteness of the language of the Fourth makes it clear that, if an agent of the state is engaged in a lawful (warranted) search, and stumbles upon something not named in the warrant, that something is not admissible in court and may not be used as a pretext for a warrant or further investigation. The principle is not, “If it’s in plain view, it’s fair game.” It’s: “If it was not specifically named in the warrant authorizing the search, you didn’t see it. Could not have seen it, in fact. Since you did not get legal permission to look for it.”

Statists will argue that this is an unfair burden on agents of the state. But the notion of constitutional liberty is not founded on the convenience of the state, but on the comfort and freedom of the people. In the vernacular: “Sucks to be you, doesn’t it?”

The same principle applies for non-state actors. For example, the phone company (neither the manufacturer of your equipment nor the carrier of your signal) does not have the legitimate permission to share your data — any data — with any other player, state actor or non-, without a warrant issued by a judge of appropriate authority and under the limits set out in the Amendment as to specificity. This would — or should — eviscerate Google’s entire business model.

Further, I would argue that those entities whose business model or raison d’etre includes the possession and handling of personal information or meta-data should have and exercise a fiduciary responsibility to protect such data from assaults from all comers (including the state) and that the courts should be instructed to pay such duty the same respect afforded the confessional, and client-provider relationships in the law and medicine.

It should be clear that the courts have not read the clear text of the law thusly and should be reined in by legislation.

Let us call this an absolutist position on privacy — one favoring the people’s natural civil right of privacy. After all, if the notion of privacy can be extended to a license to kill unborn children, even up to an after birth, it certainly ought to cover a far more reasonable interpretation.

Print That Out And I’ll Chop It

IN A DISCUSSION AMONG WRITERS and fans on another blog, the notion of a chop — a stamp or seal used to sign and sanctify a document — for authors, the idea being to allow said author to sign more autographs and/or books in a shorter period of time.

Reading the various comments, it came to mind that I have used the concept in the past myself — signing work with a winged capital “A”, as can be seen in this frame from my orphaned comic strip, Jazzcat.

And that I might want to play with the notion of trying it again — to update the idea from forty years ago to the 21st Century. An image I had seen recently — an illustration by an asian woman, the provenance of which I can’t recall any more — put me in mind of a certain style of sig or logo that is, indeed, derivative of Chinese chop seals. examples of which can be seen on this Pinterest board (which I am now following). Designs like those seen can be rendered onto a custom made rubber stamp or, at greater expense, a formal chop-type seal. I do not have the facility with either the Chinese language or the system of writing to design my own of either, though, sometime in the future, given an improved pecuniary circumstance, if I can form a favorite aphorism to thus encode, I might have one made for myself. Meantimes, I tried my hand at a sort of a roundeyes version of the idea.

chop_malger_base_160628If you google “artists’ signatures”, you’ll find page after page of images of things like the Chinese chops and seals. And, in a lot of cases, the designs take advantage of the resemblance of geometric primitives — circles, squares, triangles, etc — to some arcane alphabet. I decided to take that as a jumping off point, using my initials — MPA — as the input filter. The result, as you can see, looks like the back of an envelope — which is kind of meta, if you think about it.

The image I’ve been carrying in my mind is, as best I can remember it, in two colors — black and red, with the design and characters reversed out to the (white) paper color. So I played with the basic logo to make several variations, but not wanting to get too far from something that, in the absence of a stamp or seal, could be drawn with a few quick strokes of a pen. The results below. (Click to embiggen.)


Of course, given a Photoshop install (which I don’t have at the moment — the subscription for PSCC being beyond my reach*), one could readily spin off a wide variation with textures, embossing, shadows, glows, and lens flare, though you’d want to keep it simple. Either you can use a rubber stamp — which you can get custom-made for a reasonable fee — or you want to draw the chop by hand. If you get to the point where you have to use a 4-color, die-cut sticker, the idea of simplifying the autograph process has just jumped the shark.

*Though, it could be made possible were person or persons among the readership here moved to make contributions to the as-yet-ongoing GoFundMe campaign (button at right). Such would also serve the purpose of kick-starting my freelance art business, which is, at this moment (see posts below), stillborn.

For a Little Political Moment

IN THE MORNING… I heard someone yesterday objecting to Ted Cruz (at least I think the intent was objection) on the basis that “he thinks everybody in America should start their day on their knees in prayer.” My response: “Not a bad idea.” The conversation turned there to matters not germane to this post, so we will leave it.

I can hear a lot of my atheist friends objecting on a First Amendment basis, which I, frankly, consider balderdash. The Amendment commands, first: “Congress shall make no law.” Which places no limit on anyone else, anywhere else in this great and vast nation, and is utterly silent on the matter of mere suggestions from public officials or private citizens. (It should be pointed out that, constitutionally, Congress is the sole legislative authority at the Federal level (and ONLY the Federal level — setting aside the so-called supremacy principle for the nonce), a principle which, these days, is honored more in the breach with every Thomas E., Tricky Dick, and Harry S. issuing orders, regulations, and ukases right, left, center, fore, and aft.) and no other pronouncement may have the force of law, so … what’s the bother?

The First Amendment (and requirements within the Articles) are said to demand a wall of separation between Church and State. Which is a silly notion, since we have no Church for there to be a wall between it and the State (which has gotten entirely too big for its britches anyway) — big-“C” as in The Church — in America, (that pesky no-establishment thing), only a bunch of little-“c” churches. Yet, by demanding said wall, the anti-theists, in effect, establish their own church.

For it seems that the semi-(NGO-style)-official High Church of America has, by default become the New and Reform Church of Christ Anti-theist, or so the anti-theists would have us believe, claiming the Founders were “deists” who, having worshiped in Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and even Catholic churches for nigh on two hundred years, didn’t ascribe to Christianity. Such is the anti-theist Big Lie, which, having been repeated often and loudly for decades, now, is close to becoming Received Truth, though We the (little) People seem to be resisting the notion somewhat of late.

Lest my atheist friends be offended (such offense not being my purpose here), I should state my opinion, which it seems is close to observable fact, that while atheism is simply another strain of religious belief, which is to be greeted with a shrug and a “suit yourself” by Americans everywhere, ANTI-theism, the toxic strain which seeks to breach the OTHER part of the First Amendment — the part which demands Congress make no law respecting the free exercise of religion — is, in effect, an offense against individual rights: simple bigotry, not to be tolerated.

So, when a man of faith is open about it, rather than concealing his intent by obfuscation, persiflage, and outright lies, and makes a suggestion which is, on the face of it, utterly harmless, and may even redound in a net good to the country as a whole, one has to ask those objectors (in tones Christians must get tired of hearing in response to objections to moral decay in the country), “What are you so upset about?”

Yet Another Art-a-Day Post

TWO WEEKS LATER. In fact, it’s been so long, with the interim so eventful, I barely recall the subject matter alluded to in the March 29 post. However, today, I have a different subject to relate to you.

Part of my take — right or wrong — on this exercise is that we participants ought to present current works IN PROGRESS. A sort of a semi-formalized What I Did Today. Being a procrastinator, I’m going to lag that a bit. But I think I have an excuse. I was up until 3AM fighting with the machinery and software to transfer photos from my phone to my computer. (If anybody knows a transfer utility superior to Air Droid, please enlighten me. For me, it keeps losing the WiFi connection and failing of transfer. The photo set for today’s post totals out at 43MB. I’ve no idea why, even at WiFi speeds, that should take long enough to time out.) So my post TODAY is about what I did YESTERDAY. For what I did TODAY, tune in TOMORROW. (Or maybe later, depending on how well I can keep to this schedule. Past performance being a reliable indicator of future results. (Or however that goes.))

20160412_171354Swennyway. What I did yesterday was build a shelf. For my wife Toni (whose birthday was Monday, BTW) to go on the exposed brick chimney above her desk in the Study at Casa d’Alger. So, as a spoiler, here’s what it looks like, now finished. Process shots next. (Click to embiggen. Click all the little pictures if you want to see them bigger.)

The whole thing stems from when Toni started collecting things VW. Well, no, I suspect it goes back to the eighties when we collected Lladro porcelain figurines. We have a large stock of cats, flappers … I think there’s a ship under sail in there. Birds, bunnies, rocks, ashtrays (not so many of those since both of us quit smoking). Tux, the Linux penguin. A rubber duckie. Mugs and mugs full of pencils and markers. And, here lately, Toni’s been developing quite the garageful of bugs and buses. And neat, framed art — photos and prints.

It’s started to get a bit crowded over there. So Toni started looking for corbels. I was picturing a pair of nice acanthus leaves, or an owl or a gargoyle. But she ended up with some nice, Shaker-esque brackets. Seven inches tall by five deep. With dadoes cut top and back and screw eyes mounted in the dadoes.

Left Corbel20160412_174719Meantime, let us consider the field. As you can see in the pic above (and the left and right ends, herewith), there is casing molding either side of the brick, covering the seam between the brick and the drywall. Og and I selected this and the dentil molding that runs around the ceiling line of the whole room (or will once it’s done). It’s triple-fluted, so the placement of the corbels is critical. It would have been nicer if they had been the same width as the molding, but you do with what you have. The downside of this is that it becomes obvious that the two pieces — the molding board and the corbel — were not made to go together. If they had, either there would be a table cut into the molding to bed the corbel or the flutes would have been stopped short of the corbel’s position. However, simply mounting the corbel on the molding, with the flutes continuing under it doesn’t look THAT bad. And the upside is that there is a well-centered trough in which to position the mounting screw, which makes the mounting easier.

Before mounting the corbels, I set a six-foot level across the space and drew a line on the moldings to serve as a guide to everything. Then I measured the corbels to make sure I was setting the screws in the right place to position the tops level to each other and the base line. Good thing I did that. On one, the keyhole for the mounting screw was centered 1316” down on the other, the drop was 1¾”. I also noticed to my chagrin that the manufacturer had neglected to include a bracket for the shelf in the top dado. Seemed a rather dumb design decision to me, but, hey — they’re selling, so it must work for them. I’ll never buy another anything from that manufacturer and I doubt they’ll miss me.

Having marked the drops, I set the screws and drove them in with the drill, leaving the heads proud (and testing with the brackets periodically, adjusting with a hand screwdriver). I take a moment to note here that the idiot teenager who designed these things specified flat head screws, rather than the application appropriate round or pan head (with or without washer).

20160412_165438Then the action moved outside with a collection of tools and a six-foot number one grade white pine one by six bought previously. I cut it to length. (Love my Diablo blade — a quick spritz of WD40 on the running blade helps fora cleaner cut and helps keep the blade clean.) 57 inches was our rough measurement to determine needed stock, but the actual length turned out to be 56¾”

20160412_165555Once cut to length, I wanted to chamfer the top edges on three sides (not the side against the wall. My router is a Bosch 2¼ HP beast that weighs a ton but is suprisingly easy to handle and quite nimble on the wood. It handles like a dream when its running. The spinning motor has enough mass to have a gyroscope effect, making the thing tend to want to stay steady. I pulled it out of storage for this project and was surprised when I opened the case to find that I’d put it away with the chamfer bit already locked up and height adjusted to a cut depth appropriate for a ¾” board. It was the work of a couple of minutes to finish the edges.

We’d agreed not to put any kind of sealant or finish on the shelf because of Ditto. Birds don’t take well to the volatile organic compounds that are outgassed from paints and varnishes, not to mention solvents, so you don’t use them in areas where birds are — or even nearby. (And that includes deodorizers.) So the final step in building this shelf was to sand it smooth and clean — free of blemishes and splinters. Not too hard, since I’d started out with white wood to begin with. I put a quarter-sheet of 320 grit sandpaper in my Bosch orbital pad sander — another power tool that’s a dream to use — and smoothed the face and edges, softening the corners as I went. I spotted and smoothed one place where the router had chattered a bit and missed another one. I bet nobody else will ever see it.

Next time, a pretty jewel of a piece.

Rattling the Tin Cup

THE GO FUND ME campaign is still on all donations eagerly solicited and gratefully accepted.

You can get to where you can donate (by PayPal, if that’s how you roll) by clicking the button at right.

Or, you can buy one of my books (at Amazon, of course), and get something tangible for your money. Trust me, you’ll enjoy them.

And I should say some good words about the kind and generous people who have gotten us this far. Thank you SO MUCH.

When Black Friday Comes

I’LL BE ON THAT HILL… well, no. Not really. I’ll probably be right here at this desk, pounding out more adventures for Dolly. But you, you good American consume-a-holic, you, you’ll be out there spending yourself into oblivion to support the economy and make Obama look good in the government’s phoney baloney numbers.

And, since I’m a greedy capitalist type, and have a product on the market (to wit, my book), I have a dog in this fight, so to speak. You see, my book is on special for Black Friday.

It’s set up on what Amazon calls a Countdown Deal. The price is dropped by some staggering amount on the first day. (Or hour, or whatever.) Then, over a given period of time, it goes back up by increments until it’s back at “regular” price.

Ours starts at Five AM PST today and runs through… well. That would be telling.

So here’s your chance to get in at the beginning. Get the first edition of my first novel. You can say you read Alger before Alger was cool. Come on! You know I’m gonna be cool some day!

cvr hi-t shebang1013

Word Spread

AS THICK AS WE can spread it here. Operation Underground Railroad.

Spread Word.

How I Spent My End-of-Summer Vacation

cvr hi-t 0813SO I TOOK A COUPLE of extra days off to extend the three-day weekend to five. Days, that is. My intent was to, by the end of the weekend, have a copy of my ebook edition of The High T Affair that I could send to beta readers, and to have made contact with all those who have volunteered or been roped into volunteering to beta-read this thing. (Apparently, none of them read BTB on a holiday weekend or they haven’t taken the hint, because none of them have gotten in touch with me.)

Well, just after bedtime on Tuesday (before going back to work at the Patch Factory on Wednesday), I have a nearly-perfect conversion (sans table-of-contents and with an extra scene separator) to show around. Yay, me.

So, the first lesson here is to never give up until you win. Because you will always — ALWAYS — lose until you win. So, if you give up before you win, guess what? You lose. And that, my dear readers, may just be the canonical definition of a loser: someone who gives up before they win.

Take me, for example. At dinnertime, I was in the depths of despair. I had been beaten by a primitive (open source, yet) word processor. But then, I remembered that word processors leave tons of cruft in their files. (Most programs do. Modern, well-made programs clean up after themselves when they save. Progams made by teenage wonks don’t. Let that be a lesson for you. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs may have been heroes to their mothers, but they were teenaged wonks and couldn’t code for shit.

The second — and final for this post — lesson is to NEVER, NEVER, NEVER involve Microsoft Word or any Word emulator in a production workflow in which consistent results are needed time and again. There’s a reason why pro graphics houses WILL NOT accept ANY input from Microsoft — and that includes their mis-named (dis-named, as in disinformation?) MS Publisher. And that is, if your livelihood depends on it, Word will let you down every. Single. Time. Now, in my case, it was Open Office, but the principle holds, whether it’s Word, Word Perfect, Atlantis, Open Office or Sigil or any of the myriad other out there whic MAY be used to provide input to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. They embrace fundamentally flawed premises. And why on earth the engineers at Amazon decided to depend on — or to permit or accept dependence on — Microsoft products for what is essentially a graphic-arts process is beyond me. As we say about Stupid Engineer Tricks day after day at the Patch Factory, “Why would you want to do that?”

As for me, I’ve somehow gotten my clock adjusted to Vacation Time and I have to get up early as all fuck in the morning. Say, “Good night,” Gracie.

Good night, Gracie.

Story Starter

BACK SHORTLY AFTER 9/11, Bruce Schneier wrote a column that appeared in Info World. At least, that’s how I remember it. At the time, I didn’t have a blog, and by the time I did, I’d lost all of my copies of the article. Now, I can get lots of returns in Bing-ing various keywords relating to Schneier and security, but I can’t find this particular article. (If somebody knows where I can, I’d love to hear about it.)

The article was about airliner security and contained a proposal for a simple security system that would have several unique attributes:

  • It could be put together from off-the-shelf parts available at the time.
  • It permitted total anonymity.
  • It allowed the building of a Federal security database of trust signifiers that would be, as I say, totally anonymous.
  • It was virtually unbreakable.
  • It seemed (to me) to be totally transparent. I did not see any opportunity for abuse, either by government or the general public.
  • It accomplished the twin goals of securing airliners against infiltration and attack by radicalized Islamist terrorists (or any other type of militant) and of permitting the free flow of traffic over the air routes.

And, in retrospect, it did not require a massive, unionized, intrusive, importunate Federal apparatus to accomplish its goals. Correction: it could accomplish its goals whereas the current TSA farrago cannot and will never accomplish its goals.

The system was founded on two bases. First, the recognition of the core fact that the state (or any protective agency) does not need to know the identities of those accessing an object, a vehicle, or a facility. All that needs to be known is whether or not the person(s) gaining that access are worthy of the trust that they would do no harm having gained the access. Second, there must be no way that the system can be gamed by any participants — either the government or the people earning the trust of the system.

The system consisted of three objects — a trust token, say an ID card; a verification method, say a retina or iris scan; and a database that would connect the unique yet anonymous identifier on the card with the verification method — for the most part, a biometric. If you’re familiar with a QR code, that would be your identifier. It would be on a card that the person wishing access would carry. That code would pass to the system a resource locator that would link to a database record containing ONLY the results of a series of tests the bearer of the card has passed and the degree of trust to which these passages would grant the bearer. The same card would be born by an electrical engineering student from Saudi Arabia who has overstayed his student visa and an 80-year-old granny from Vero Beach and a Federal Air Marshall.

The tests, as I recall Schneier proposed, would consist of what Schneier called (and were misidentified as) Farwell Brain Scans. These are specialized EEGs taken while the subject is watching a prepared video or slide show of particular objects. Supposedly, since the responses to the stimuli offered are totally involuntary, there’s no way to beat this. The types of images shown would isolate a person’s experience. It would not necessarily by itself grant or deny access, but might indicate probable cause for further investigation.I tell you that to tell you this:

Monday, the Supreme Court struck down an Arizona law which expanded on the Federal law regarding the requirements for voting. Arizona wanted to require photo IDs, but the Federal law only requires a signature affirming an assertion of citizenship (under penalty of perjury). It seems clear that the Federal specifications are far less intrusive into the privacy of the individual. Of course, it requires that the prospective voter be honest. The Arizona method permits the state to — sort of — keep the voter honest. But, in a sense, that’s not the state’s business. It’s the citizen’s business to keep the government honest, not the other way around.

I tell you THAT to tell you THIS:

Apparently, it’s becoming clear that police agencies are abusing state driver’s license photo databases, degrading personal privacy and anonymity.

So, here’s the story challenge. Imagine a regime or protocol which can tie these three things together and find a story in it.

As before, the first writer to publication (ebook on Amazon will do) wins a No-Prize.

A Story Starter

Sort of like a sourdough starter.

The Cleanup Man

The Cleanup Man is someone in your life who is tasked, should something untoward happen to you — such as death — to go through your effects and remove all evidence of wrongdoing or moral turpitude. Usually, it’s “Log onto my computer and delete my porn stash,” or “Burn my diaries.” But it could also be, “Break Aunt Sophie out of the chimney where I bricked her up and bury her somewhere in a swamp where she’ll never be found.”

Or worse.

It’s customary, when enlisting someone to play the role of cleanup man in your life to, at the very least, give them some advance notice, even if you don’t exactly get their agreement to perform these delicate tasks on your behalf. After all, you’re dead. Why should you care? But it’s not exactly something you spring on a friend. Especially not a friend you would trust to actually carry through with these risky and possibly illegal tasks.

Mitchell Drummond was not at all aware that anyone in his life thought enough of him to nominate him as a cleanup man and yet so little of him as to not give him any warning. Nevertheless, when the manila #11 clasp envelope landed on his desk in the inter-office mail that Tuesday morning, it happened.

Those of you who have pretensions of being writers, let it be a challenge to you. You can’t use my characters or the exact wording above, but otherwise, have at it. The first one to publish wins a No Prize.