Wednesday, December 30, 2015

How to vote for Bernie in the primaries

The Bernie Sanders campaign has opened my eyes to how elections work and how they have changed. There is an enormous amount of money riding on the 2016 presidential election, more than ever before. There are basically three contenders for president: Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton for the Democrats, and Donald Trump with a commanding lead over all other GOP candidates.

I'm almost certain that Trump will win the nomination on the GOP side. On the Democrat side, there is considerable debate about who will win the nomination. The polling in the major media does not reflect the social media. Where Clinton tends to be reported as winning the polls in the major media, Bernie is dominating social media. The Sanders campaign now has a lead in New Hampshire and is within striking distance of winning in Iowa. If Sanders win those two primaries, then Bernie has a great shot at winning the nomination.

In order for Bernie Sanders to win the nomination, his supporters must register to vote and vote for him in the primaries in every state. Unfortunately, primary voting procedures vary from state to state and there may be confusion as to how and when to vote for Bernie. To address this problem, the campaign has put together a great map showing how to vote for Bernie in the primaries, state by state. You can see the map here:

One you land on that page, you find your state on the map, click there and you will land on a page with instructions for how to vote for Bernie in the primaries.

Why is this important? To put it simply, the more votes Bernie gets in the primaries, the more votes he will get from delegates at the Democratic Convention next year. For Bernie to win the nomination, he also has to overcome the superdelegate problem:
About 85% of the delegates vote the way we vote. They look at our votes and follow our votes. This is how the regular delegates vote. 
About 15% of the delegates are "superdelegates" and they vote their conscience. They are made up of former politicians and other VIPs in the Democratic Party. they vote however they want, regardless of the outcome in the primaries.
Here is a video that explains the Super Delegate problem.
Here is an article that explains the Super Delegate problem.
Here is another article that explains that if Bernie gets zero Super Delegate votes, he will need at least 55% of the vote to win.

Bull Moose Nation has this to say about the superdelegate problem:
"The irony is that no one knows about this problem better than Hillary Clinton.  When she ran against President Obama in 2008 she won the popular vote counting the ballots in Michigan - it was the superdelegates who ended up making the decision. She was unable, however, to secure the needed superdelegate votes and lost the nomination as a result.  
The Bernie Sanders campaign is vulnerable to falling into a similar trap since the majority of Democratic Party leaders having been falling in behind Hillary Clinton. If we as a public truly believe that Bernie Sanders is the man who will best represent us, the first step that we need to take is making sure that he gets the nomination."
Hilary knows how important the primary vote is. So does Bernie. Anyone and everyone who wants to see Bernie in the White House should know about the superdelegate problem and act accordingly.

What we need to do is "Double Down on Bernie". We need to bring in another 8 million votes in the primaries from people who are registered to vote, but are not showing up at the primaries.

We need to do more than just cast our own vote. We need to talk to the people we know and get them to vote, too. The Vote For Bernie website will show you how to make sure your vote counts for Bernie Sanders in the primaries.

This is how we win the nomination and the White House. We show up and we vote.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Hey climate change deniers, what about the oceans?

From time to time, I come across people who still want to debate climate change. I see that they are almost entirely focused on the temperature, average temperature and precipitation. There are still people who don't believe that humans are responsible for the change in climate we've been witnessing over the last 30 years. There are still some who don't even believe that the climate is changing. This despite a consensus among scientists that humans are causing it.

The people who say that we should just go on burning oil, gas and coal have much to gain from the use of carbon as an energy source. They've been spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about any attempt to legislate away the use of carbon fuels for decades.

But one issue they refuse to discuss is the environmental impact of carbon fuels, from extraction to the end product, CO2. On this blog, I've talked about the deathprint of various energy sources. I've also discussed some of the incredibly toxic accidents that occur on weekly basis with the transport and storage of carbon fuels and waste products. I've also talked about the desolate, unlivable land left behind by mining and the drilling. In California, there is a massive natural gas leak ongoing right now and it will be months before the leak is capped. Our use of carbon fuels has been a monumental ecological disaster, worldwide.

While the climate change debate around carbon fuels is an important consideration, there is something else much more important to bring up: the ocean. The ocean covers almost 80% of the earth and is the source of the vast majority of life on the planet. It is not just a driver of climate on the planet. It is a driver of almost all life here. Kill the ocean and much of the life on the planet goes with it.

The plants that produce most of our oxygen are known as phytoplankton. They're tiny plants that float in the ocean, collect sunlight and use that energy to metabolize CO2 into O2, the gas we need to breathe. 50-85% of the all of the oxygen produced on the planet comes from the phytoplankton in the ocean.

Phytoplankton, like us, require certain conditions to live. One of them is a proper pH level in the water. The pH level of water is a measure of the acidity in water. In humans, the blood must remain at a constant level of pH. Move it one number either way and we die. The same is true for phytoplankton. If the ocean becomes more acidic, they start to die off in large numbers.

Some scientists are raising alarms that the oceans are becoming too acidic as CO2 levels rise and unless we make a change now, and very quickly, we could lose a major source of oxygen, the phytoplankton. But it doesn't stop there. Phytoplankton are at the bottom of the food chain. If the phytoplankton die off, that will send ripples up the food chain and eventually, it will reach us. Can you imagine a world without fish? Sharks? Dolphins? Whales? That's where we're headed at our current rate of carbon use. We could see the rise of the slime in our lifetime.

If the phytoplankton go, we go. Or, at the very least, life is going to become very difficult to sustain for 7 billion people. So while we've been talking about the temperature, we've been misdirected away from a much, much bigger problem.

There is hope yet that humanity will get a clue stick without dying from it. We can decarbonize our economy. Yes, we can use wind, solar and geothermal energies. There is an abundance of clean energy around us. But we need to act quickly and consistently.

Most of the clean energy available to us is not that consistent compared to say, nuclear energy. France is one example of a country where nuclear energy accounts for 80% of their requirements. They recycle the vast majority of their fuels in pressurized light water reactors with uranium, leaving very little waste to deal with.

An even better hope for the future is thorium molten salt reactors. It is not a question of if these reactors work. It's a question of when we can make them commercially viable as a going concern. It is probable that we will have a commercially viable reactor within 5 years with the Thorcon modular reactor.

There is also the question of political will. The carbon fuel industry has gone to enormous lengths to foment FUD on nuclear power. That industry is willing to say or do anything to keep the gravy train rolling, even if that means destroying the ecosystem we live in.

In a nutshell, we've been sold a bad bill of goods by the carbon industry, wreaking destruction upon our air, water and land, and waging wars to do it. Now, the carbon fuel industry would like to walk away quietly before they are held to account for all of the damage they've done.

So even if the climate changes deniers are right in their beliefs about the state of the climate, they still have a lot of explaining to do about the state of the environment. If we are witness to a mass extinction in the oceans, life is going to get really tough for all the remaining animals, including us.

We need to expand the scope of the debate around carbon beyond climate change. We need to talk about the $5 trillion in subsidies received by the carbon fuels industry every year. We need to talk about the environmental damage caused by carbon fuels. We need to talk about our oceans, the source of all life on the planet after the sun, and save it for our children and their children.

By expanding the scope of the debate, we can then have an honest discussion about whether or not we should continue to use carbon based fuels to power humanity.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hilary calls for a Manhattan Project to break encryption

I note with interest that Hilary Clinton is calling for a Manhattan Project to break encryption. For those of you bereft of a little bit of history or perhaps, not old enough to remember, Hilary is making reference to the initiative to create the first atomic bomb during the second world war.

Hilary is calling for an initiative that is well underway and has been so for years. Security agencies worldwide including our own, have been on a steady march to break all encryption and keep it broken so that they can "enforce the law", or "fight terrorism".

With her call for such a project, she shows a profound ignorance of encryption and that she fails to understand the policy implications of breaking encryption and deceiving people into believing that their communications are secure. I'm sure she isn't alone. Many of the GOP candidates running for president would like to force companies to decrypt encrypted content on demand. Some would like to see a backdoor to encryption.

It is often the case that when a new technology is found and applied, using a straw man like terrorism is a great way to get the public on board with breaking encryption or banning it. But time is not on Hilary's side. Time is on the side of encryption for a number of reasons. First, there is the changing of the guard. People are born, grow old and die. The younger generation are more aware of computers and how they work. They understand encryption better than the adults do. They want good encryption.

Whatever you may feel about encryption, good, nearly unbreakable encryption is here to stay. I say "nearly unbreakable" because it is only a matter of time before one method of encryption is broken and a newer, better algorithm is applied in the same context.

Let's look at why the NSA hates encryption in the first place, the laws of thermodynamics. While researching this issue, I found that someone was kind enough to post an excerpt from Applied Cryptography, by Robert Schneier, an expert in the field. Here is what he has to say:
Longer key lengths are better, but only up to a point. AES will have 128-bit, 192-bit, and 256-bit key lengths. This is far longer than needed for the foreseeable future. In fact, we cannot even imagine a world where 256-bit brute force searches are possible. It requires some fundamental breakthroughs in physics and our understanding of the universe.
One of the consequences of the second law of thermodynamics is that a certain amount of energy is necessary to represent information. To record a single bit by changing the state of a system requires an amount of energy no less than kT, where T is the absolute temperature of the system and k is the Boltzman constant. (Stick with me; the physics lesson is almost over.)
Given that k = 1.38 × 10−16 erg/K, and that the ambient temperature of the universe is 3.2 Kelvin, an ideal computer running at 3.2 K would consume 4.4 × 10−16 ergs every time it set or cleared a bit. To run a computer any colder than the cosmic background radiation would require extra energy to run a heat pump.
Now, the annual energy output of our sun is about 1.21 × 1041 ergs. This is enough to power about 2.7 × 1056 single bit changes on our ideal computer; enough state changes to put a 187-bit counter through all its values. If we built a Dyson sphere around the sun and captured all its energy for 32 years, without any loss, we could power a computer to count up to 2192. Of course, it wouldn't have the energy left over to perform any useful calculations with this counter.
But that's just one star, and a measly one at that. A typical supernova releases something like 1051 ergs. (About a hundred times as much energy would be released in the form of neutrinos, but let them go for now.) If all of this energy could be channeled into a single orgy of computation, a 219-bit counter could be cycled through all of its states.
These numbers have nothing to do with the technology of the devices; they are the maximums that thermodynamics will allow. And they strongly imply that brute-force attacks against 256-bit keys will be infeasible until computers are built from something other than matter and occupy something other than space.
This is the problem that the NSA faces. Breaking encryption is hard. Really hard.

Yet the NSA worries about people breaking their encryption. According to Rob Schneier, they've been looking at the threat of quantum computing as a means of breaking encryption. They've even created a list of encryption methods that are believed to be resistant to quantum computing. That is telling. The problem of breaking encryption is much bigger than most of us imagine.

But for most of us, that is a good thing. If we want to secure our information, encryption is the way to go. If we want to discuss politically sensitive information, without fear of reprisal from the government that should be serving us, right about now, encryption will help to keep that discussion safe.

Encryption is not just a security issue, it is a First Amendment issue and a Fourth Amendment issue. Not only does the Constitution secure for us the right to express ourselves, it reserves for us the right to choose how to express ourselves. The Fourth Amendment secures for us the right to express ourselves, privately.

Hilary is a lawyer and she is well aware of the legal implications of her call for breaking encryption. But she fails to understand that breaking encryption for the government means that not only do the good guys have the keys, the bad guys have them, too. Can she assume liability if a life were lost due to broken encryption? I don't think so.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Bernie or Bust? Not really. Hilary is just too little too late.

There are some who would say that the Anti-Hilary rhetoric is coming from conservative sources, that the left is being trolled. I disagree. While there are people instigating division within the Democratic Party from without, most of the problem is from within. What is really happening is that many on the left are beginning to realize that Hilary, and others like her, are not the reform candidate we're looking to elect. Bernie Sanders is that candidate.

Sanders is not a candidate for president as his sole purpose this election cycle. No, he is leading a revolution. He admits openly that he cannot do it alone. He admits openly that he needs the rest of us to help. He understands that we've struggled under more than 30 years of conservative momentum that has taken its toll on our country. He knows that one man cannot turn it around.

Clinton never talks revolution. She uses language to suggest that through her leadership, she will effect change. But she never suggests that a revolution is needed to make the changes we need to secure the middle class. She is seen as a pragmatist rather than a revolutionary. She will seek incremental changes rather than revolutionary changes.

When pressed, Clinton will not commit to breaking up the too-big-to-fail banks like Sanders. She will not commit to universal health care and she will not commit to free public higher education. She is not committed to complete and total reform. Why not?

Clinton is far more conservative than the last great liberal president ever was. That president was Jimmy Carter. With Clinton seeking incremental changes coming from a conservative Democrat, the middle class and the millennials are going to be waiting awhile for real change. They may not even see it at all with Clinton as she is carrying tons of financial baggage with her campaign contribution sources. big banks, law firms, and legacy incumbent telecoms.

This is why we need Bernie Sanders. Sanders has been a socialist democrat for his entire career. He has been speaking the same message for more than thirty years. He has seen and acknowledged the long, slow decline of the middle class. Whenever he can help, he gets the job done. If you're looking for consistency over time, and mastery of the legislative process, Sanders has it in abundance.

Where the Clintons have been running a foundation that has taken in $3 billion over 41 years, Sanders has no foundation to take in money. Where the Clintons take in 6 figures for their speaking engagements, Sanders is writing and passing legislation to help the middle class. A comparison of their lifestyles will tell you who is more engaged with the middle class.

To be for Sanders and against Clinton is not to express any desire to split the Democrat vote. It is to acknowledge that Clinton is too little, too late. There are some, especially millennials, who might sit this one out if Hilary wins the nomination. There are even some who say that criticizing Clinton will reduce our chances of winning the White House.

I disagree. If you want to keep the old guard conservatives in power, and send most everyone else shopping next November, nominate Clinton. If you want to whip up the base and bring in all sorts of people who might otherwise sit this one out, nominate Sanders. Sanders might just be our best shot a turning this ship around within the next decade, but he will need your support. Before and after the election.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Dissecting a prank meme on Trump

As many of us peruse social media, we come across memes - pictures with words on top, to get a message across. Today, I'd like to demonstrate one of the pitfalls of these memes: they may not be correct. Sharing a false meme can damage your reputation, which is particularly important if you want to have any influence on the internet.

So, the other day, I found this meme:

This is the one I posted and subsequently, someone else did some research on it and busted me with a Snopes article to show that it's not true. After reviewing the evidence, I agree, it's not true, and posted my agreement in the comments. Rather than take down the post, I left it there with the comments for others to see. I want others to know the folly of not checking your memes, or for that matter, anything you share again with your followers.

But what I also want to show you is that here, art imitates life so well. We know from the Snopes article that the first sentence in the meme is false. Trump never called GOP voters dumb as in the quote above. Researchers of People Magazine could not find any quote of the text in the meme in any article published by People Magazine.

The meme really speaks more as commentary on the GOP as observed today. It could almost certainly be satire if not for the nuggets of truth in it. Take the second statement, "They love anything on FOX News." FOX News is widely regarded as part of what is know as the "conservative echo chamber". According to this New Republic article, that echo chamber exists and it's fairly well documented. FOX News is a big part of the conservative echo chamber, but local radio also figures in as a source of daily consumption of conservative leaning news for many conservatives.

To be fair, there is a similar echo chamber for liberals, but the New Republic article linked to above found that there a bit more diversity in their sources and it's not all liberal. I myself like to read both liberal and conservative articles on the same topic just to see which facts match or corroborate.

"I could lie and they'd eat it up." That's the next sentence in the meme. According to Politifact, of the statements made by Donald Trump that were checked, 0% were completely true. 5% were mostly true, 13% were half true and the rest, about 76%, were mostly false or completely false ("Pants on fire" false). This is a serious consideration for any supporter of Trump as a candidate for president. Since we can't read his mind, we don't know for sure if he's lying through his teeth or he is just ignorant like many of his followers.

"I bet my numbers would be great." That's the last sentence, and by any measure, for much of the campaign so far, Trump has had and maintained a solid lead over all other candidates for the GOP nomination. RealClear Politics has surveyed all major polls and confirms that Trump has been in the lead since July 21st of this year. Trump is now 17% ahead of the distant 2nd, Ted Cruz.

While this meme isn't true, I think it rings the bell for satire and truth. It's an interesting reflection of politics in America and many people would be duped by it were it not for fact checking sites that have the research to show if claims are true or not. The most significant aspect to this meme is that of the statements that are true in the meme, they are attributed to a man who could be president. 

I think it's also very important to understand the GOP. Their leading candidate for president is not speaking the truth to his followers and supporters. If they are aware of the fact checking done on Trump's statements then it is possible that they're willing to overlook the outright lies by Trump just to have someone in the White House who is not an insider. 

While it is possible that Trump is serious about running for president, there are some who believe that he may be intentionally blowing up his campaign. Why? The president's job is unbelievably difficult compared to developing property as a business. It's possible that this campaign is all about publicity so he can sit back and sell a few books. 

I have wondered if Trump is running a prank campaign on the GOP, you know, to show America the true colors of the GOP. Then maybe he can hand over a victory to whoever wins the Democratic nomination. Someone like Hilary. Maybe, maybe not.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

You'll have to guess where your food comes from thanks to NAFTA

Congress has voted to repeal a law that requires labeling of meat to show the country of origin. Common Dreams has picked up the story and pointed out something else. The US could be fined heavily, as in "billions", for this "onerous" labeling requirement, hence the hasty repeal effort. The labeling requirement is popular with customers, but not endearing to big business.

What I find so interesting here is that the suppliers of the meat we see in stores would prefer that we do not know where the meat comes from. This is just one more reason to go organic when it comes to meat. At least if you go organic, especially with the Non-GMO Project label, you have some assurance that the quality you expect is the quality you're buying.

Where is the pride in the label? Where is the national pride that says, "hey, my country is producing and selling a quality product"? Dare I say that customer deception is more important than customer service?

Customer deception seems to a be a business norm. Umar Haque noticed this when he wrote, Why Business is Brain-Dead--and How to Wake Up. Ok, the article is about 4 years old today, but it is more relevant than ever before. As with GMOs, data caps and any surcharge you care to find on a statement from any big business, we have to wonder, why so sneaky? I wonder if the trend towards binding arbitration in contracts has contributed to this slow brain death. The attitude of business towards customers can border on the psychotic if the tables are so heavily tilted in their favor and there is little accountability for the executives that run them.

Back to that law that Congress passed in an omnibus spending act a few days ago. That law repeals a labeling requirement, so now that that the labeling requirement is gone, will the companies affect by it actually earn more money? Will they save money? If so, how much?

Looking again at the food quality and what goes into meat, discerning customers have to work hard to find clean food. Clean of GMOs. Clean of antibiotics. Clean of radiation treatments.

The action by Congress to repeal the country of origin labeling law is a direct response to a Wolrd Trade Organization ruling under NAFTA, a 20-something trade agreement that was signed by Bill Clinton. That was so long ago, almost before the internet became the norm, that we'd have to do some serious digging to see who lobbied for a rule that prevents or adds costs to a country of origin labeling requirement.

What has happened is that the meat industry has decided that deception is an acceptable business practice. In a WTO ruling, the meat lobby has successfully sued the United States for almost a billion dollars to make that labeling requirement, now declared a barrier to trade, go away. And they were successful.

This is what money can do to people. If you have enough money, you can make even common sense rules expensive. If you have enough money, deception is justified, customer be damned.

The WTO decision is a ruling as a result of NAFTA, a "free trade agreement" that went through extended and intense debate in the early 90s. The unions, consumer advocates and others could all see it coming. At the same time, Obama is telling us now that the Trans Pacific Partnership will be no worse. Yet, every review of the final draft of the TPP says that the TPP is like NAFTA on steroids.

So business wins again? Sure, if there are any customers left with the health, the money and the will to buy the products produced by business. It would be nice to see trade agreements that were not negotiated in secret, with language that actually puts consumers first. Until we put people before money, and teach businesses to have faith that the customers will come, consumers will remain second class citizens in the world of business.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

An open letter to Centurylink

Dear Centurylink,

I got your statement a few days ago and I now see that the "discount" has expired. We know what this means, don't we? Why, it's customer service time! This is where I call your customer service department to fulfill your vain hope that one of your customer service reps can upsell me to something more. I know this because it happens on a periodic basis with both you and Comcast.

Sorry, I got an antenna and now I can watch my local news for the weather because that's all I really care about on broadcast TV. We can watch PBS, too. I really hate getting a TV subscription and having the feeling that I'm obligated to watch it to justify the expense. So between us, there is only internet service and that's it. That's all I want from you until I can get it from someone else. For entertainment I'll watch Netflix and YouTube for now because that's enough.

The Discount Cycle is a great way to keep in touch with your customers and pretend to offer great customer service in a competitive market. But there is only one wireline ISP here, and that's you. All others require line of sight with radio transmission. You operate in a de facto monopoly, not a competitive market and that makes me a price taker. There really isn't any negotiation here since there is no competition.

It seems to me that you have a great agreement going with Comcast. Comcast cedes this territory to you while you cede some other territory to them. I guess that's what you call "competition".

Then there is Utopia. You know, that community broadband service you decided to hobble through your proxy, the legislature? In 2001, you used your corporate money to ram through a bill preventing Utopia from selling direct and from expanding service outside it's original service area.

In recent years, you used your corporate money to lobby against a possible agreement between Macquarie and the remaining Utopia cities to finance the roll-out of fiber to every address within their respective cities. Your argument? "Government shouldn't be in the ISP business". You even got the Utah Taxpayers Association to play along and act like they're protecting the taxpayer.  You did this despite the overwhelming evidence against you.

Take Spanish Fork as an example. They get to sell direct. They've paid off their debts, redirected their profits to build fiber and have every intention of offering world class service to the citizens they serve. They delivered. They came into existence because absentee ownership gives you the option of providing better service or not. You have plenty of other more lucrative markets to play with.

Contrast that with the fate of iProvo. iProvo had to resell through third parties and eventually, the city sold off their network to Google Fiber for a dollar. They're still paying off that debt, too. Ahhh, but to you those are just rewards, right?

Even where Utopia is present, I see that they have happy customers. I've talked to people who have it for their homes and their businesses and they really love Utopia. Utopia is now offering gigabit service for about $70 a month. And yet, you and your proxies will not relent on your useless politics against community broadband.

So I'll play your game. I'll call to negotiate for a discount. I'll ask why my neighbor can get 40mbs and I'm stuck with 20mbs. I'll ask if he got the sweet deal because he signed up for your TV service, PRISM. I'll ask if that's fair. But I will always know that I'm a price taker because you get so much assistance from the government. I'll always consider the possibility that you have an unspoken agreement with Comcast not to compete in my neighbor. I will never consider you a "private enterprise" because of all that assistance from the government.

No matter. I'm biding my time. Google Fiber is coming to town. Utopia is adding more customers and building a bigger customer base, one customer at a time. We might eventually see an agreement with Macqarie in West Valley City. Someday, I'll have world class service and be free of Centurylink and Comcast.


But I will always know that the reason there is only one wired ISP at my address is because that is exactly the way you want it. How else could your CEO afford a third home on the coast of Spain?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Divide and Conquer is the conservative mantra of politics

It is interesting to note the tone and intensity of the leading GOP candidate, Donald Trump. Trump would like to ban Muslims from the country and build a wall to keep them out. It is also interesting to note that numerous articles have noticed that the theme of the GOP campaign, across all candidates has been subtly crafted as divide and conquer. The Southern Strategy teaches the GOP to let go of the black vote in favor of unifying a white base, but that is only part of the story.

A case in point is the anti-union bias of the GOP. Since the Reagan administration, we've seen the labor landscape reshaped to hinder and weaken unions. The right to work laws are a well known example of conservative policy to keep unions under control or to eviscerate them completely. Limiting the power of unions is to keep workers divided and incoherent. While Republicans like to crow about the virtues of the free market, they don't like to discuss the fact that unions are a free market response to really shitty capitalists.

Then there is that 30 year trend in contract law which seeks to force consumers to surrender their right to sue as a group in court in class action lawsuits. Class action lawsuits are a union of people that are acting coherently. When a capitalist seeks to introduce charges on an invoice or statement in small amounts to millions of customers with little to zero prior consent, he can be subject to a lawsuit. Better to ensure that all those customers cannot band together to sue, else he's going to be facing high caliber legal talent in court. So the contract with the customer forces the customer to access binding arbitration. Diving the customers will only increase profits. 

Another example is found in the realm of community broadband legislation at the state and federal level. Community broadband is what you get when a small community, say a town or a city, get together to roll their own solution to recalcitrant internet service providers. Small towns simply don't have the attraction for a large national ISP like Comcast or ATT to build a fiber network. So, more than 450 communities and towns across this great nation have voted to roll their own. They sold bonds, built their own network and doffed the big national ISPs.

To head off this trend, the big ISPs have lobbied for laws that restrict this practice in more than 20 states. They are working hard with their conservative cohorts in Congress to prohibit the FCC from rolling back these onerous laws on the grounds of interstate commerce. There is a sizable conservative faction in Congress that seeks to limit or prohibit the power of the FCC to intervene, despite the fact that most community broadband networks are in conservative jurisdictions. in the last couple years, more than 50 jurisdictions in Colorado, a conservative state by any measure, voted to overcome their own state level law to assert local control.

The final example is a return to the Muslims as the subtext of that message is immigrants and immigration. For a time, it was the Mexicans and how we must keep them out. Then it was the terrorists and now the focus is on Muslims. Muslims make up 3 million of our population. Worldwide there are more than a billion of them. If they were to unite for one day just to get into this country, there would be little we could do to stop them from entering short of declaring war at our borders. Never mind that this country was founded by illegal immigrants. We're removing the ladder to ensure our supremacy.

In almost every realm and venue, the message is the same. Divide and conquer. Find an enemy, point your base at them, and get them to vote based on who they hate. There is simply no single unifying message from the GOP. It's not in their election campaign rhetoric and most certainly not in their public policy.

The liberal message is about unification, acknowledging that we are all in this together. Universal health care is to acknowledge that when we take care of our brother, we are all better for it. Tuition free public education is to acknowledge that when we teach our brother, we are better for it. Unions say that when we all get a fair slice of that productivity pie, we are all better off for it.

Where unification leads to multiplication of our efforts, division always leaves a remainder. Who gets the remainder? The middle class and below. That is the point of division between the GOP and everyone else.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

So I installed an SSD with Ubuntu Gnome 15.10 on my computer - here's how I did it

I finally did it. I installed an SSD on my computer, the computer I use everyday to get stuff done. I did a lot of shopping, read the reviews, the comparisons and checked out the benchmarks. Eventually I settled on the Samsung 850 EVO 500GB. It just has the right price, speed and capacity combination for what I needed to do.

To make sure that I was going to end up with an operating system and file system well below 75% of capacity, I went with the 500GB model. The reason for this is that SSDs slow down considerably when they fill up. Keeping them light means keeping the speed that comes with the drive.

Just before I did the transition, I did a lot of soul searching. Should I move everything lock stock and barrel or should I do a new install and then move my data? The consensus among the articles I've read is to do a new install and then move the data. That adds more time, but it is worth it. The reason for a new install is to allow the installation routine to automatically set up the hard drive according to best practices. The latest versions of Ubuntu do just that. They automatically recognize the disk type and configure accordingly so I don't have to spend hours in the forums to figure it out.

I have a family and a life so I had to wait until the coast was clear before I could start work on this project. I had to be sure my kids were asleep, lest they be around to "assist" me. I picked a night before a 3 day weekend and went to work.

I was using Ubuntu Gnome 14.04 LTS because I just didn't want to run upgrades every six months to keep up. But then I read this very cool article on Ubuntu Gnome15.10 at Tech Republic. The summary: Ubuntu Gnome15.10 is everything an operating system should be. It should boot and get out of the way so that I can work.

With some experimentation, I got a USB drive working with an Ubuntu Gnome 15.10 boot image and tested it on an older computer, and a laptop. I used Unetbootin to create the boot drive, which worked great on the newer USB drive, but not on the older one, so be sure to use a newer USB thumb drive if you plan on doing the same. Both of the other computers now have the latest version of Gnome ready to go when needed. They will will make good failback computers if I need them. Now I have a nice boot disk on a USB stick if I ever need it in a pinch, you know, to demonstrate Gnome or to recover files from a Windows computer that doesn't boot anymore.

With time, tools, USB boot disk, and the new SSD in hand, I got to work. I did one last copy of my home directory to an external USB drive and watched another episode of Jessica Jones while I waited. I used Beyond Compare to do the file copy. If you haven't used Beyond Compare, it's worth it just to see how to consolidate redundant files on your computer. It's really good for file copy tasks, too. BC provides a nice two-pane view of your source and destination directories so you can easily sync folders together. Once the copy was done, I was ready for the next step.

I shut everything down, removed the old disk drive and installed the new one. Looking back, I probably could have kept the old drive in there, remove the boot flag from the OS on the old drive and booted with the new drive, but I just wanted to err on the side of caution. I wanted to leave that disk intact in case something didn't go well.

Once the new SSD was installed, I booted with the USB drive and installed Ubuntu Gnome 15.10. On a normal drive, this would take about 15-20 minutes. With the SSD, it took about 5 minutes to get to a prompt from the installation routine to reboot the computer. Once the operating system was installed, I rebooted and ran updates until there were no more to find.

Then I copied all my files back. I started by installing Beyond Compare again and used my external disk drive as a source to copy everything from my old computer to my home directory. I was able to copy all my settings very easily because the settings are in configuration files. It's not like Windows where you have to manually work to recreate your settings. Anyway, I don't use Windows at home anymore, and I'm never going back.

After all is said and done, here's the quick summary. this computer cold boots in about 22 seconds including the splash screen. On reboot, the time from end of splash screen to login prompt is 11 seconds. On the old disk drive, boot times were closer to 30 seconds.

But the most noticeable difference comes after login. With spinning disk, loading Gnome took minutes to load. With an SSD, Gnome loaded instantly. LibreOffice loads instantly. Google Chrome loads instantly. Even the GIMP. a really big picture editing program (think Photoshop) loads instantly. This SSD reads 531MB per second, almost 5 times faster than my spinning disk. This trip was worth it.

I hope you find this article helpful. If you have any questions, post them below. I'm happy to help.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The economic perils of slow or no internet access

Community Broadband Networks has this short but fascinating story about life without internet access. Or, in this case, slow internet access. You know, like dial-up. This is about a family that is dealing with Charter Communications and ATT, neither one of which feels inclined to provide better service.

The video provided in the story tells most of the story. Slow access. Inconsistent or sometimes unavailable access. "Let's go to the university to get something done" access.

The story is about a resident of Bradley County, TN, a place with mostly slow or unavailable internet access. Debbie Williams is speaking and she goes on and on about how hard it is to get anything done. Not only that, when her family tried to sell their house, it took two years to sell it. Why? As soon as people asked about the internet access, the exchange went the same. Slow speed? I'm out. They'd get all the way to closing and the question would come up and that would be the end of that. They tried renting a room and even then, could not get a renter because of poor internet access.

The Williams family, like many others in the area, live next to one of the fastest ISPs in the world, Chattanooga's EPB Fiber Optic network. But they can't get service from the EPB because of a state law that prevents the EPB from expanding service outside their network. That law was written and paid for by incumbent service providers like ATT and Charter Communications.

EPB is a publicly owned ISP. It has great customer service, very happy customers and it will connect you to a gig for about $70 a month. Contrast that to the neighbors to the network that can't get EPB service. They can't telecommute to work. They can't get renters and have difficulty selling houses. Their kids have to go to the university or somewhere else to get faster access to the online services they need to use. All because a few incumbents are just not as efficient as a public utility that provides internet access.

I kid you not, I have seen "conservatives" in social media go on and on about how efficient private enterprise can be compared to government services. True, there are many examples where private enterprise does and should excel at what they do compared to how government operates. But in most examples I've seen, we're not talking about utility services like water, electricity and ... and ... and ... internet access.

Most cities and states get it that when it comes to utility services like water and power, public utilities that are strictly regulated work best. But if we had the kind of service with our utilities like people in Bradley County have with internet access, you can bet we'd be voting in droves to fix it. You know, like they did in more than 50 jurisdictions in Colorado.

There is a much darker side to this story, though. When we witness the contrast in quality of life between Bradley County and Chattanooga in the context of internet access, we see a seemingly secret desire revealed to us. The private ISPs could deliver the same service as EPB if they wanted to, but they won't. Why not?

Do private ISPs derive some guilty pleasure at watching their customers plead with them for better service? Are they waiting for the day when, somehow, their fantasy legislation will sail through both houses with a custom noose just for EPB so that they can swoop in to save the day? Or do they really find it that difficult to choose between bloated executive salaries and customer service?

This contrast in service between EPB and the surrounding areas is a matter of public policy. Who pays for that public policy? Some of us would say the taxpayer. But follow the money and what we see are incumbent service provider executives so terrified of having to provide higher speeds with better service, or even competing against each other, that they got together to write legislation to suit their whimsical desires. Then they sent money to representatives in areas they don't even live in, to pass legislation they don't have to live under.

The legislation in question prevents the EPB from servicing residents outside of their original service area. The EPB is providing great service, earning a reasonable profit and pumping it all back into the community they serve in a virtuous circle. This what legacy incumbent ISPs don't want us to see. You'll never see this story on the evening news from any of the 4 national television networks. That just isn't going to happen because public policy is not written by the average man or woman. It's written by the 1%, in complete and total contempt for the people they don't want to serve.

To change this scene, we only need to show up at the next election, every election and study up on even the local candidates. Those local candidates, if determined enough, will wind up in the statehouse or even Congress. As they move up, they could do more damage or more good. But if we're not watching, listening and voting, we'll never know.

Ultimately, it's up to us to change it. If we want local control, we're going to have to work at it to get it. When we establish local control for internet access, we will be in a position to decide how internet access is sold and provisioned in a way that a CEO in corner office in New York City cannot. We can make internet access work for the public good rather than the private interests of a few very lucky men and women.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

When seats in Congress are safe, mass shootings become mundane

Over the past few years, I've taken note of some of the more outrageous actions passed by Congress. Here's a sample that comes to mind:

  • Congress has had more than 50 votes to repeal Obamacare.
  • Congress refuses to increase benefits for veterans of war.
  • Congress handed NASA oversight to a man who is definitely anti-science, Ted Cruz.
  • Congress voted to give land owned by native American indians to an oil company.
  • Congress has a small but strong faction dedicated to shutting government down.
  • Congress has refused to pass reasonable gun safety laws.

I could go on. But the point is not in the specifics. It's easy to get lost in the specifics because there are just so many details. That may be the point of their actions. In other words, what we see in the news may just be obfuscation for what is really going on.

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I know, it's cliche, but it's relevant. Our Congress seems to use power with little consideration for the future or the people affected by it. Many members of Congress are playing to their base rather than passing meaningful legislation. They can do this because they hold a position of near-absolute power.

Many members of Congress sit in safe seats and have been re-elected year over year. Wikipedia has an interesting article on a concept known as "Congressional Stagnation". Congressional stagnation is where we re-elect the same people over and over, the incumbents. Here is a list of the longest serving members of Congress. It is worth noting that the top 20 are overwhelmingly Democrat. Of the top 20 only one was defeated. The rest either retired or died in office.

Some might think that the problem of incumbency is a recent phenomenon. Sorry. This has been going on for a long, long time. has two nice charts of the re-election rates since about 1964. Typical re-election rates are better than 80%.

How is this possible? Money. Incumbents get more money than challengers. They have better name recognition, seniority, and experience. I note with interest the following passage at the bottom of the Wikipedia article, Congressional Stagnation. At the bottom, we see, "Increased incumbency as a positive development". Why?
Also, incumbents whose re-election is virtually guaranteed can arguably focus on actually passing productive legislation rather than on campaigning.
But that's not what we're seeing in Congress. reports:
Right now, members of Congress must raise huge sums of money to win elections. And that requires spending 30–70% of their time raising money from wealthy donors and special interests. The incentives are clear: more money = higher chance of getting elected. And more money comes from pleasing their donors, creating a system of cronyism.
If guaranteed elections gave us better politicians with better legislation, we're not seeing it. Well, "better" might be relative. If you're a member of the wealthy funding more than 60% of SuperPAC spending, it's better now with incumbents at your beck and call. If you're anyone else, change is what we're looking for.

With so many incumbent and experienced legislators in Congress, we might be able to avoid government shutdowns, or even the threat of them, but we don't. We might avoid cliffhanging debates on raising the debt ceiling, but we don't. Here are a few recent trends that haven't been helped by increased incumbency:

  • The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that 1 in 9 bridges are structurally deficient. We could fix this with a whopping $20 billion (out of a $3.5 trillion budget)
  • The US is eating the dust of Asia and Europe when it comes to internet access speeds of 11 megabits per second, compared to 23.6 megabits per second in South Korea.
  • Income inequality in America has reached all time highs, and is about the same as before the 1928 stock market crash.
  • America has frequent mass shootings, but seems powerless against the NRA to do anything about it. Compare that to Australia, a country that hasn't had a mass shooting in 19 years after passing gun law reform.

The problems we see are a result of a pattern of public policy that most Americans have little influence over. It's well established that America has become quite an oligarchy. But we do have power if we choose to use it.

In 2014, 140 million people, or 44% of Americans went shopping on Black Friday. Did they vote? Only 77 million people bothered to vote, or about 34% of the eligible voters showed up. According to Pew Research, the US is near the bottom of the list for voter turnout in OECD countries.

Whatever the problems we see in America, we are to blame for it. We could go on blaming the wealthy, the elite, but if we don't even show up to vote, we might not even be able to go shopping for Christmas. Why not? Because if we don't vote, someone else will.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Movement on the open source voting front

A reader sent me some interesting news after reading my blog post, "If Volkswagen can program cars to cheat on smog tests, guess who can flip the vote?". It turns out that the city of San Francisco is committed to replacing their aging voting machines with open source voting machines. This is welcome news.

There is similar activity in the City of Los Angeles, too. There are a few other cities around the nation that are working on open source voting, but to see it in two of the biggest cities in California means that a trend is brewing. A big one.

Another reason this is good news is that cities are starting to realize that they're paying a lot of money for licensing Windows and other proprietary software for doing something as basic as counting votes and keeping records. The projections for the new voting systems in San Francisco point to an open source voting system that will cost but a fraction of the proprietary systems. Perhaps our cities will get the hint that open source software can save money in other areas, too.

The best part about this news is that people are waking up to the idea that it's important to know what the source code is doing in voting and tabulation machines. Without source code, it's hard to know for sure if the votes are being recorded and counted correctly. With open source software, anyone can see the code and verify that the voting machines are working according to plan. The People's plan.

I note with interest that there is little public resistance or opposition to the open source plans from the proprietary vendors. Contrast this scene with the ruckus over OOXML a few years ago between Microsoft, the ISO and the State of Massachusetts. In that contest, the Sate of Massachusetts had decided to require all documents create by the state to be in an open format that didn't require proprietary software to read it.

Microsoft didn't take too kindly to this, so they created OOXML as a competing file format designed and promoted for the purpose of keeping the Open Document Format at bay. Most people are unaware of this struggle, but it is well documented on Groklaw. We're lucky to have avoided a similar struggle with voting machines. The debate over standards for documents and voting machine software is about sovereignty so the proprietary vendors may well know it's a losing battle. Perhaps that is why they've been so quiet this time around.

If San Francisco stays on track, they could have open source voting implemented in time for the 2020 presidential election. This could change the course of history and would be a model for other cities and jurisdictions to follow. We might actually be able to trust our voting machines someday, perhaps in our lifetimes.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Life after cutting the cord could use an antenna

There is a rising tide of cord cutters, people who have given up on cable or satellite subscription service but keep the internet access. I am one of them. For much of my life, I've had a subscription to cable, but in recent years, we just couldn't justify the cost of cable. Even with the minimum barebones subscription to basic cable, I always had this nagging feeling, a sort of obligation to watch TV.

But life gets busy. I have a job, a family, and a wife. I mean, I have a life. I can't sit in front of the TV for 4 hours a day like the average American and I certainly can't imagine where they get the time to do that. I shudder at the thought of sitting in front of the tube for that long. I'd rather watch my kids grow up, work on my computer, go for a walk, read a book or just hang out with people. I know. I'm old school.

In the last ten years, I got married, had kids and during that time, bounced around from cable to satellite to nothing. Then my wife got the idea of buying an antenna. The first one we bought was crap and didn't pull in anything except Telemundo. But that might have something to do with the location we were in before. We were at the bottom of the valley then. Now we live above the valley, and I see the valley every day on the way to work.

So we tried the antenna again. This time, it worked and it worked wonders. It's much bigger than the last one we bought and it works indoors. I think we get some 30 channels and most of them have English language programming. Surprisingly (or not), there are a few shopping channels over the air. There are also a few networks that I thought were cable or satellite only, like Qubo. But they're there. There's even a national weather network on the air. And we have a few PBS channels to choose from.

Now we can get the local news to check the weather or see what's happening in the city. Still pretty much the same as it was with cable. The news is mostly about very confused people doing really awful things to other people. I just watch the weather if the weather app ( on my phone shows anything interesting on the horizon. If there is a chance of rain or snow, I get interested. Otherwise, I'm busy with the kids, fixing something around the house or watching something else on my computer.

I have Netflix and pay for the streaming only option. I can watch that anytime I have the time to watch it and have just started Jessica Jones. I've been getting into the Marvel thing on Netflix - definitely R-rated but great character development. I have YouTube, too. What I like about YouTube is that I can pick any topic off the top of my head and find a video on it. I can learn about anything there. There's a massive ecosystem of content to watch or listen to across the internet. If you want to pay for it, there are plenty of video services to choose from. Just pick one and try it.

As far as content goes, Netflix is the only thing I'm willing to pay for. I can watch what they have commercial free. In fact, there has been a dynamic with cable and satellite that has always bugged me. When I had a cable subscription, I was paying for access to content. The cable companies pay the content networks, CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, CNN, Comedy Central, etc, for retransmission rights. But most of those channels carried commercial content.

So let me get this straight. I'm a consumer. I'm willing to pay money for things that I see advertised on TV (theoretically). But I'm the one paying for the content? I'm paying to see commercials? And I pay *more* for commercial free content?

Here, the antenna makes so much more sense. I know. Old school. But I'm not paying money for local channel access. I don't feel obligated to watch it at all. It's 720p but who cares? It's free. The advertisers pay for it, not me. I just bought the TV and the antenna, that's it.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Orrin Hatch thinks government should be in the business of religion

It is with some alarm that I see my Senator from Utah, Orrin Hatch, calling for the destruction of the wall separating church and state in The Washington Times. Senator Hatch is one of the oldest and longest serving members of the Senate. He is also one of the most conservative as well as one of the most influential members of Congress. I am somewhat relieved that his article was not published in The Deseret News or

After reading his missive, I came to the conclusion that he has a secret wish to re-make American into the Christian mirror image of Iran. In Iran, the dominant religion is Islam. All others are second class and are subject to discrimination, violence and public humiliation. Trust me, you don't want to be a Christian living in Iran. It would seem that Hatch would like to impose the fate of the Iranian Christian upon the American Muslim (or anyone else who is not Christian for that matter), because that's what we're going to get if we tear down that wall.

Once the wall between church and state comes down, Christian dominance in government will be overt rather than subdued. The rise of arson against black churches, the terrorist attacks against Planned Parenthood and other places of service for women will continue, unabated. The people who commit such crimes will only be emboldened.

Hatch further claims that state sponsored religion was common among the several states shortly after the birth of this nation. He wonders why there should be any question at all of Christian dominance in government, for they are only thinking of us. Having witnessed second hand via the news numerous atrocities in the name of the Christian vision of God, I doubt his sincerity.

Just as the Muslims worldwide have denounced the recent attacks in Paris as not representing Muslims worldwide, I don't think that the spate of burning churches and women's clinic shootings represent mainstream Christianity. But I know that the fringe will always be there. There will be groups like ISIS and The Army of God, claiming the right to take the life of another in the name of the Great Maker. When they take the life of an innocent human being, that only makes them less of an authority to me.

Hatch would have us believe that The Founding Fathers or the Framers (take your pick), founded a Christian nation. They did not. They were not devoutly Christian nor did they have any intention of creating a Christian nation. Worse still for the proponents of government Christian-style, they prohibited government from getting into the business of religion. Anyone who has ever seen the streets of Tehran around 1979 can get a clear picture of what life would be like if somehow Christians established overt dominance in our governments at the federal, state and local levels.

There are few conservatives I happen to agree with, but from time to time, I find a relevant quote that fits the scene. Barry Goldwater is one of my favorite. Though I may disagree with him in many areas of political discourse, he has a few gems I happen to love, like this one:
“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them.”
This is why we should not let God into the door of any public office or legislature. For once we start running government in the name of God, the preacher's vision of a Christian nation will be imposed upon the rest of us, without so much as a debate. Let us remind them that the freedom from religion is what makes this country so great.