Where’s the Microphone?

So my wife uses her iPod Touch as a tuner/metronome. She had to buy a small microphone because her Touch didn’t have one, leading to the following conversation:

Kristen: Where’s my microphone?
Becca: I don’t know.
Kristen: Becca, you took it out. I told you to put it back.
Abby: It’s in the living room.
Kristen: Where is it in the living room?
Becca: I don’t know. I didn’t mean to throw it at Abby’s head!

We have not yet found the microphone.

Kentwood Water Tower Followup

So just for the record, some links about Ed’s experience photographing the Kentwood water tower.

The original Grand Rapids Press article about it.

Blog reactions:
Here’s my reaction.
Boy with Grenade
NYC Photo Rights
Stormy Webber
The Lonely Goth’s Guide to Independent Catholicism
US Message Board
Topsy’s Twitter Trackbacks
Canon Digital Photography Forums
Boing Boing
Reddit: 1 2, 3, 4
Also on Reddit, the picture that got Ed in trouble.
Flickr Group: Photography is Not a Crime
Slashdot: I submitted this one. Vote it up.
Mark Maynard: There’s a reference near the end of the post.
The Grand Rapids Flickr group

UPDATE 9/28/10: A couple more…
Urban Planet
Also mentioned in the show notes for No Agenda, the Adam Curry/John Dvorak podcast show, but not in the actual show.
Photography is Not a Crime
Bizarre Confessions

UPDATE 9/29/10:
Commonplace Book

UPDATE 9/30/10:
Todd Boss
What’s Pissed Me Off
Truth and Justice For All
: Warning–includes nudes.

UPDATE 10/9/10:
Network World

Personally, I think it’d be extremely funny if someone were to organize a group of people to photograph the water tower — say about 500 people, all of them wearing name tags.

That’s to make it convenient for the police who would presumably be coming to take their names.

Security or Paranoia? Kentwood’s Water Tower

Ed Heil‘s been a friend of mine since the age of six. It’s pretty much a given then, that I think he’s a decent guy.

Kentwood’s municipal staff haven’t known him as long and apparently weren’t willing to risk the possibility that he wasn’t.

The gist of the situation is that Ed took a picture of Kentwood’s water tower and one of the workers there noticed and asked his name. Ed didn’t believe he had any reason to give his name, and didn’t, but the person (and it sounds like more than one person from the article) followed him into Kentwood’s library and continued to request his name. Eventually he gave it to them.

It’s kind of bizarre.

It reminds me, oddly enough, of being in the Soviet Union as part of a college choir tour.

While we were there, we learned that we were not allowed to take pictures of train stations, and airports. Annoyed by this, I made a point of taking a couple pictures while inside a subway, and one or two of the Moscow airport as we flew away on a KLM jet.

Post 9/11, taking pictures of train stations, airports, and harbors (if I remember correctly) is also discouraged in the United States.

I recognize that there are potential security issues here. In theory, terrorists could strike anywhere. If you protect the big cities, they might go for smaller ones. If you profile people from the Middle East, they’ll use people who look European.

The question is, how far do you go?

Though it’s probably worth worrying about a city’s water supply, is it worth making everyone who takes a picture give their name? More to the point are they making everyone give their name, or do they only do it on a whim?

If they don’t have permanent guards or cameras there, is the water supply really safe?

And if they don’t have guards or cameras, why don’t they?

If it’s because the low level of risk doesn’t justify the expense, one might ask if the level of risk justifies randomly interrogating people with cameras.

If you read the article I linked to, you might find the Kentwood government representatives’ comments interesting.

The mayor states that he’s “proud of” the employee. On the one hand, it’s good that the man takes his job seriously. On the other, essentially what he did was grab some people and try to bully someone into giving his name.

What’s also interesting? The new policy, as of Friday (the day after the incident), is to call the police when you see something suspicious. Don’t do anything yourself.

That’s a good thing in the sense that I’ve got more faith in the police officers’ ability to handle things appropriately than I do in the water department’s staff. It’s not so good in that it means that they’ll potentially be sending out the police to hassle people at the water tower on a semi-regular basis instead of having them go out to solve actual crimes.

In summary…

In situations like this we have to balance personal liberty against public security. My suspicion is that if the solution reminds me of experiences I had while traveling behind the Iron Curtain, we’ve moved too far in the direction of security.


So I don’t know if you keep track of this sort of thing, but there’s apparently some kind of hack that works on older WordPress installations that allows people to put whatever they want into the spot where Google reads the title from.

As such, for the last little while, my blog could be found under searches for phentermin and zoloft.

I have no idea what’s up with that.

Thinking about Racism

I’ve often thought that the biggest obstacle to getting rid of racism in the United States is our country’s condemnation of it.

Basically no one wants to think of themselves as racist.

That’s understandable because being racist isn’t a good thing. That being said, what’s racism? I don’t mean the definition, but what racism is composed of. It’s a bunch of ideas. That’s all.

Society passes along the ideas not just as deliberate, conscious things but also as unconscious assumptions. Since the Civil Rights movement, very few people deliberately tell their children that minorities are not as good as they are, but it’s easy to pass along that message in subtle ways.

The effect being that people can intellectually believe that no race is better than another, but still get more nervous if they see a bunch of black teenagers walking down the street behind them than they would if they see white teenagers.

In short, we might all be a little racist.

Seriously, Jesse Jackson talked about feeling a little nervous about seeing a few black teens walking on the street.

The trouble is, no one wants to think of themselves that way.

People don’t have gradations of racism. People seem to have a “good vs. evil” sense of what racism is. If you’re not racist, you’re normal. If you are, you’ve got a similar perspective on life to Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan.

I’d suggest a more realistic and more useful perspective might be that almost everybody has an unquestioned racist assumption (or more) hanging out in their minds. For the most part, this doesn’t mean that they’re evil, just normal.

Bringing the level of condemnation down a notch or two might actually allow people to talk about their beliefs and notice when they’re making racist assumptions.

By contrast, I’d argue, the current situation, in which we notice someone’s said something slightly racist, and then criticize them endlessly probably results in them justifying it to themselves, and, not changing anybody’s mind at all.

Digital TV

So here’s something strange…

Today was the first day of all digital TV. No more analog TV. It’s gone.

I was at the local public access cable station last year and ended up talking to one of the employees about the upcoming switch and he pointed to an old black and white TV (that probably dated to the 1950’s) that they had in the office. He noted that it had been able to interpret TV signals from the beginning and would up until the switchover date and after that, never again.

For most people of course, the switchover doesn’t really matter. Most people have cable or satellite TV. For the other 13% of the country, it does.

I’m a member of that 13%.

Aside from a brief period in which I got 400+ channels for free as a result of trying AT&T U-verse, I’ve gone broadcast for my entire married life as well as a few months of my childhood.

Thus, when I heard about the digital switchover I was interested.

We got our digital converter box more or less immediately after receiving our government rebate on it. Full of anticipation, I tried it out as soon as I got it.

It worked, but I got a total of about two stations clearly and the rest were unwatchable.

That cooled my anticipation considerably.

I went back to analog, figuring that I’d enjoy it while it lasted.

Then came the first switchover date. Before Congress decided to move things back, I checked things out again.

It was worse. Almost nothing came through. I may have gotten one channel clearly enough to watch.

I changed back again, deciding to enjoy it while it lasted.

Thus, with no anticipation and a mental shrug of my shoulders, I switched yesterday, figuring that I might as well find out how bad it would be.

I was shocked.

I got eleven channels — all the local stations only now with multiple channels. Plus, I’ve always had rather static-filled TV reception in the past, but now I have pictures with no noticeable static at all.

The only station I appear to have lost completely is channel 54, and I don’t feel bad about that at all.

It’s bizarre. I’d never have expected it to result in anything resembling an improvement.

How Not to Rest on the Weekend…

It’s actually very simple to arrange. Sign up to do too much stuff.

On Saturday:
1. Kristen went to flute choir while I watched kids, wrote and tried to get them dressed to go pick up groceries.
2. By the time we finished with groceries, Kristen got back and I ran off to work on someones’ computer/dsl problem. Meanwhile Kristen attempted to clean up the house.
3. When I came back, I started supper for the seven people coming over that night.
4. Meanwhile Kristen brought kids to her mom’s.
5. When she came back, she cleaned some more…
6. And people arrived and then we actually had supper.
7. And then went to pick up kids from her mom’s.

On Sunday, we:
1. Went to church, trying (but failing) to arrive early because kids dance as part of the service.
2. Prepared food for a potluck for a church small group.
3. Kristen dropped off Becca at another kid’s birthday party…
4. And joined me (and Abby) at the potluck.
5. Except she ended up leaving early to pick Becca up from the party.
6. And I drove Abby back from the potluck…
7. Meeting at home to go to church for a visit with our church elder.
8. After that, we went home.


I wonder if we can do better next weekend?

The Computer is Dead, Long Live the Computer

So here’s how to waste time for a week…

On Monday we had a thunderstorm and we shut off our computers because we didn’t want them to get destroyed via electrical surges. All well and good, but my regular computer (it runs FreeBSD) didn’t come back on after the storm had past.

It hadn’t been destroyed by lightning. We’d actually been having trouble with it for a while. Basically the only way to get it to turn on after turning it off was to let it sit for bit after turning it on. Then after you rebooted it, it would spontaneously boot the operating system.

This time that didn’t work.

So, on Friday I bought a new computer.

Friday night turned out to be a hellish experience. Here’s why: I intended to install either Linux or FreeBSD on the computer. Neither worked.

It took me several attempts to realize that the DVD writer on our other (Windows XP) computer had issues. After that, I installed XP temporarily on the new computer, used it’s DVD writer to burn DVD’s of Ubuntu and PC-BSD (a user oriented distribution of FreeBSD), and decided to keep whichever of the two installed most easily.

PC-BSD gave me a workable resolution for my video, detected the sound card, and failed to detect the network adapter.

Ubuntu Linux gave me an unworkable resolution (800 x 600), failed to detect the sound card, and inconsistently detected the network adapter. It also didn’t allow me to install the Nvidia drivers that would probably have allowed me to use the video card effectively.

I ended up sticking with PC-BSD and scavenging the network adapter from the dead computer.

Now everything works.

Well, sort of. I’m still tempted to buy a separate video card for the computer, allowing me a better resolution and the use of Google Earth (a package for PC-BSD…).

Next up, I plan to install all the applications that make me comfortable on a computer.