On Columbus Day and gun control

Popping in to update this blog, which I haven’t done in a long time.

I’ve prepped blog posts, but never seem to hit publish.

This entry – written on Columbus Day 2019 – shares two of my ideas for controversial issues facing the U.S. I’ve written to my federal legislators, but alas, I’m always blown off.

Idea one: Repurpose Columbus Day into a Discovery Day

There shouldn’t be any question Christopher Columbus committed atrocities during his trips to the new world. Many states and communities now consider the federal holiday to be Indigenous Peoples Day. I understand the reasoning behind the change, but still believe we’re missing an opportunity. Our nation does not have a holiday that celebrates exploration. And yet, that is the enterprise of mankind.

Exploration is the essence of the human spirit.

Frank Borman, NASA Apollo Astronaut

Our species – regardless of gender or race – has always sought to discover what is over that hill, at the bottom of the ocean, on other worlds and in the tiniest of places. A federal holiday marking those achievements could inspire others to continue exploration and be a gateway to history and STEM ideas. After all, without exploration, we stagnate.

Idea two: A possible way to help curb gun violence

Each time after a mass shooting, people take intractable sides. One side believe less regulation is the answer, the other believes more regulation is the needed. Creative solutions are often overlooked because of emotion. The argument often boils down to how much government involvement we want in our lives. Meanwhile, people continue to die. This is not pragmatic nor helping the problem.

Gun buy back programs are often blocked by lobbying groups because they are government run. What about a free-market approach?

It is in the interests of the health insurance industry to reduce gun violence in communities. Perhaps it’s time for hospitals, drug-makers and health insurance companies to step up. I foresee a coalition in the medical industry that could fund a voluntary gun buy back program. Companies could offer drug, healthcare and insurance products and discounts for guns. People might be more inclined to hand-over an AR-15 if they could get free insulin for grandmom. The government – perhaps through local law enforcement – would have a limited role to play to make sure safety is maintained and fraud is avoided, but in the end it’s a voluntary program from non-government actors. The second amendment argument would have very little relevance to private sector actions.

Why Net Neutrality Is More Important Than You Know

Today was #NetNeutralityAction Day. Because I work with online communications in the public sector, this is an important issue for me. I’ve contacted my representatives in Congress with my thoughts.

Trump’s FCC is currently attempting to roll back the Tittle II regulations which prevent broadband providers (i.e. Comcast) from charging added fees to content provides (Netflix) to carry data. Under the Obama administration, the FCC declared internet broadband a telecommunications utility service and imposed regulations to keep such business deals from happening. In short, it required providers to treat all data content with parity, whether it is from Amazon or NASA.

Rollback of the regulations would remove such conditions, and allow service providers to charge more money to content providers for faster speeds and more bandwidth.

At face value, this would seem to respect free market principles, but let’s go deeper. Establishing a tier approach to providing content is dangerous. Those companies with deep pockets (Google, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Amazon) can afford to pay higher fees.

But what about government, non-profit, education and other public sector websites? There’s the clincher. If we allow providers to classify and distribute bandwidth based on pay-to-play, those that cannot pay will reach smaller audiences.

For example, Rep. Luke Messer’s surveys will be less likely to land in constituents e-mail inboxes. They will also be slower. Education sites such as Ball State University and larger government sites like NASA.gov will also find it more challenging to distribute content. It reaches down to the local level. Consider your town’s website, or your school’s online presence. All could take a dramatic speed hit.

Will Congress and the government realize that rolling back Title 2 is a self-defeating action? I doubt it. As we’ve seen this year, ideological trumps pragmatism. I urge you to write you representatives and mention this angle. It may not have even occurred to them.


How Yellowstone National Park’s social media staff is handling a crisis


Bison at Yellowstone National Park. Photo from YNP Facebook page.

The staff at Yellowstone National Park is handling a public relations problem concerning a bison calf and doing it rather well. You can see the evidence for yourself on their Facebook page.

To recap, two tourists spotted a starving and weak bison calf in the park and  loaded it into the back of their SUV rental in an attempt to find care for it. The problem is such an act of compassion is against law, park regulations and common sense.

Because the calf — abandoned by its mother — had imprinted on humans, the park staff had no choice but to put it down.

This action has resulted in a social media firestorm on the YNP Facebook page.
Folks, keep wildlife wild. I know it is tough at times, and it just hurts us to see animals suffering, but that’s nature. Bison newborns are sometimes abandoned by their mother and herd. The poor critters die, but then the coyotes and wolves and eagles can feed their newborns. Look up “circle of life.”
I urge those passing judgment on YNP staff to consider the following responses left by the park’s social media team on Facebook. They are a great example of communicating natural resource issues to a public that may be ignorant and hostile.
In order to ship the calf out of the park, it would have had to go through months of quarantine to be monitored for brucellosis. No approved quarantine facilities exist at this time, and we don’t have the capacity to care for a calf that’s too young to forage on its own. Nor is it the mission of the National Park Service to rescue animals: our goal is to maintain the ecological processes of Yellowstone. Even though humans were involved in this case, it is not uncommon for bison, especially young mothers, to lose or abandon their calves. Those animals typically die of starvation or predation.
We do not have a rehab center, nor is it our priority to rescue individual animals. Our mission is to preserve the ecological processes of Yellowstone, and even though humans were involved in this case, it is not uncommon for bison, especially young mothers, to lose or abandon their calves. Those animals typically die of starvation or predation.
Since Yellowstone bison carry brucellosis, federal and state laws prohibit their shipment outside the park. This calf would have had to go through months of quarantine to be monitored for brucellosis, and no approved quarantine facilities exist at this time.
Rangers tried for two days to haze the bison away from the road and toward other groups of nearby bison, but were unsuccessful. The calf had fully imprinted on people and cars.
The management of wild animals sometimes requires decisions that may seem harsh if you focus on an individual. But when you focus on populations of animals, and the ecological processes that sustain them, things like a bison losing or abandoning a calf is part of the fabric this ecosystem. It’s unfortunate that these visitors intervened: the calf may have been found by its mother, but it’s also likely that the calf would have died naturally of starvation or predation.
The bison calf was not removed from the landscape: it was left out of sight where predators, scavengers, and other animals could take advantage of it.
YNP staff is not getting defensive, just explaining the reasons for the action. I applaud their courage in responding to some of the posts on the page. This is a teachable moment. Of course, there are those that will never accept the word of government employees regardless of the facts. Unfortunately, comments have denigrated into name calling, insults and flame wars. YNP generally is letting people rant. I’m sure the staff is getting death threats. I’ve been in similar situations before. My heart goes out to them.
Four lessons I wish people to take away from this post:
  1. Keep wildlife wild. Leave it alone. It’s hard to do, I know, but it must be done.
  2. Visiting a park? Leave no trace. Learn and know the rules.
  3. Before passing judgment, get the facts and give the benefit of a doubt to folks even if they work for government.
  4. If you don’t like a government action, it’s okay to be critical and voice displeasure. Just do so without name calling and vitriol.

Celebrating fifty years of Star Trek music

Video montages from all of the Trek series and movies were displayed on the 40-foot screen and time to music being performed by a symphony orchestra.

Video montages from all the Trek series and movies display on the 40-foot screen and were synchronized to music from a symphony orchestra.

For my belated birthday gift, my wife bought tickets to the Star Trek Ultimate Voyage Tour. We attended the concert at the Old National Center in Indianapolis on Friday, March 18.

The event featured music from fifty years of the Star Trek, spanning both the TV series and movies.  The scores were performed by a live symphony orchestra and timed to video being projected on a 40-foot screen.

The concert was a treat for the ears and eyes.

The orchestra highlighted the nuances often found lurking in Trek scores. While everyone knows Trek music can be “in your face” — the fight theme from Amok Time comes to mind — the elegant violin and trumpet solos of later Trek music are often overlooked.  The soloists brought the stately and sweeping motifs to life.  The trumpet soloist on the Deep Space Nine Theme was particularly notable.

The digital projection of the video was pretty much flawless, too. The production used remastered and digital copies of the source material. Colors were vivid and scratches and grain were absent. Even darker scenes displayed well, such as those set inside a Klingon ship.   Editing was polished. Instead of lifting entire chunks from the source material, the production combined visual effects sequences, action scenes and dialog into a seamless montages focused on a central themes such as “villains” and “captains.” Michael Dorn, Lt. Worf from The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, provided a recorded introduction narration for each.

The audience for the event was an older crowd, mostly middle age. There weren’t a lot of costumes, but many had t-shirts or lapel pins. The audience was enthusiastic, especially after one clip from the original series episode The Doomsday Machine in which Kirk finally defeats the planet killer.

The experience rekindled my love of Trek scores, many of which I have on CD. I’m more fond of music from the later years of Trek. James Horner’s score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn  (KAHHHHHHNNNN!), is a masterpiece. Jerry Goldsmith’s theme for the first Trek movie is better than the movie itself. I’m glad it became the main theme for Star Trek The Next Generation.  Also among my faves are the opening themes for Deep Space Nine and Voyager. And yes, I did like Faith of the Heart for Enterprise, although it is sappy. If you get a chance, check out Archer’s Theme on the Enterprise soundtrack. This was the original theme for that series and is on par with earlier opening themes. Other movie favorites include Generations and First Contact.

Star Trek Ultimate Voyage Tour is visiting 100 cities this year. If you are a Trek fan, I recommend it. It’s a great way to celebrate fifty years of Trek music.

Automatic for the people

Automatic Adapter plugs into the OBD-II port in your car.

Automatic Adapter plugs into the OBD-II port in your car.

Vehicles manufactured after 1996 have an OBD-II (on-board diagnostic) port. Wikipedia has a great explanation about the connector. The port, usually found near the steering wheel, is used by mechanics to diagnose car trouble. In addition to troubleshooting, many consumers use the OBD-II port to tune their vehicle’s performance and keep track of teenage drivers.

I’ve been using a OBD-II gizmo called Automatic ($99) for more than a year.  The device plugs into the OBD-II port and pairs via bluetooth to a smartphone. A companion app collects trip data from the vehicle, including location, distance, mileage, time. It’s like a black box for the car. This data is displayed on a map in the app and an online dashboard. One nice feature about Automatic is that it determines the dollar cost and efficiency of each trip. It’s pretty spot on, too. My previous car — a Sonata Hybrid — was always scoring high. My current Hyundai Tucson scores well, but not as as good as the hybrid.

Here’s an demo example of how data is displayed:

The dashboard for the Automatic service displays trip data.

The dashboard for the Automatic service displays trip data.

[Read more…]

Binge watch: Survivors


If you are looking for something to binge watch on Netflix, I recommend Survivors, a 2008 BBC TV series. Both Seasons 1 and 2 are available and short enough to conquer on a wintry weekend. Also available on DVD.

The series is about survivors of a flu pandemic which kills most of the world’s population. At times the show can be rather soap-ish, but more often it explores deeper issues such as security versus freedom, reliance on technology, and how people make connections and form societies after an apocalyptic event.  No zombies here, though, most everyone just catches the “European Flu” and dies rather quickly.

The 2008 series is actually a remake of a 1975-77 BBC series written by Terry Nation, of Doctor Who and Daleks fame. The original series (and Nation’s book that followed) was bleak but fondly remembered. For the 2008 series, head writer Adrian Hodges updated the original with a more diversified cast and included topical issues such as disease outbreaks and increasing reliance on technology. Unlike The Walking Dead, the lead character in Survivors is a mother looking for her son. I found all the characters to be well fleshed-out. There is a low gore factor.

The first episode, at 90 minutes, drags on a bit, but stick with it. Season Two is a winner. Unfortunately, it ends with some unanswered questions. There was no season three. BBC canceled the series because of low ratings. Even so, a worthy watch. There is enough closure to justify the time.

For some time, the series was one of the most popular on Netflix. There were discussions about Netflix producing a continuation, but nothing has materialized so far. Instead, we are treated a new audio series from Big Finish Audio. Set in the same era at the 1975 series, it features some new characters dealing with the same apocalypse. I’m on the first CD. I’m disappointed  that it is not set during the 2008  series, for it would seem more relevant.

Blogging versus Social Media


One of my favorite Demotivational images. I have a small framed version at my work office.

I realize posts on this blog are few and far between, but I make no apologies.

For one, I reach a larger audience with my social media efforts.

You can follow me on Twitter (@indygadgetguy), Instagram (indygadgetguy) and Flickr.

Blogs serve their purpose, and for years I led blogging efforts for local media. Even back then, I — along with my fellow editors and reporters — found it hard to build and maintain an audience. Now that general audiences have switched to social media, blogs have become  more niche orientated. It’s far easier to build an audience on social media than with a blog.

A key driver of this, I believe, is our society’s short attention span and a desire to connect with people via experiences. The long text narratives of blogs have been replaced by the cool filters of Instagram. Another factor is the rise of the mobile platform in content generation. It’s easier to send a Tweet or snap a Instagram from a smartphone or tablet than to write a narrative blog post.

Of course, it’s really not an either/or option, but when one has limited time, one chooses the most effective ways of communicating to an audience.

Unfortunately, I’m in the boat of limited time. I spend three hours a day in a car when I go to work. My professional work involves web site and social media management. I spend my time reaching audiences at work. At the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is look at a computer and pound out a long post for five people (hi wife!).

I will occasionally update this blog with looks at cool new gadgets, experiences, etc. For more frequent updates, please follow me on the social media outlets I listed above.

Spring ahead, fall back. How about neither?

I concur.

I concur.

National Geographic has published an article with experts questioning the validity of DST. I’ve ordered the book mentioned in the article. There seems to be a bit of a backlash building against the concept. The Atlantic resorts to over-the top-hyperbole, but points are valid.

I’ve lived in several states that observed DST. Indiana started in 2006. I didn’t mind DST in my youth, but now it’s a pain. Changing clocks, etc. Worse, there is general consensus that it doesn’t save energy and it messes with our health. Wikipedia has a good overview of these points. 


I doubt the national will ever do away with DST. The Federal Government leaves it up to the states to determine if they will follow the standard. Some states still don’t. That’s where I will be retiring. If DST is not going to be abolished, it might be a good idea to move the time change up on Saturday morning so we have the entire weekend to adjust. This would make the “spring ahead” a little easier.

Pet peeve: It is Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight Savings Time.  In summer, most of the state is in Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), not Eastern Standard Time (EST).

Also, note to Congress: Quit messing with the standard.


Belated thoughts on the Federal government shutdown

One of my favorite demotivational posters.

One of my favorite demotivational posters.

The government shutdown cost America $24 billion dollars.

Let’s put that in perspective.

NASA’s annual budget is about $18 billion.

Besides the political grandstanding over the issue, I was deeply bothered by the disrespect shown towards Federal government workers.

One member of the House of Representatives berated a National Park ranger for following orders to only allow WWII veterans to visit the D.C. WWII memorial.

Many Americans see federal government workers as nothing more than leeches on our income. I see park rangers and NASA scientists that are good at their jobs and passionate about moving our nation forward. They also spend money and contribute to the economy.

America should continue the discussion about the government’s appropriate size and scope for our society, but we should all agree that some government is necessary. Governments are not perfect, but that’s because mankind is not perfect. There are government programs that are wasteful and have committed horrible actions.  There are programs that are thrifty and have brought wonder and made our lives better. It bothers me that people often focus on the negative aspects and overlook the positive ones.

The gridlock in Washington can be summarized in this manner: The problem with Republicans is they say “no” too much. The problem with Democrats is they say “yes” too much.

This centrist wishes we could find a happy medium.

Meeting Major Mancheck

The Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) undergoes testing at the Orbital Science Corporation's Gilbert, Ariz., location. NASA image taken August 7, 2012.

The Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) undergoes testing at the Orbital Science Corporation’s Gilbert, Ariz., location. NASA image taken August 7, 2012.


In two weeks, I’ll be attending a NASA Social at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The event is a two-day affair featuring the launch of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission

What is Landsat? It is “the longest running enterprise for acquisition of satellite imagery of Earth,” states Wikipedia, and a joint effort between NASA and USGS. It was Google Earth before there was Google. Learn more about the program on the USGS and NASA web pages.

LDCM will be launched with an United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 3.

The Landsat program has an interesting Hoosier connection through Vice President Dan Quayle. According to Wikipedia:

In 1989, this transition had not been fully completed when NOAA’s funding for the Landsat program was due to run out (NOAA had not requested any funding, and Congress had appropriated only six months of funding for the fiscal year)[3] and NOAA directed that Landsats 4 and 5 be shut down.[4] The head of the newly formed National Space Council, Vice President Dan Quayle, noted the situation and arranged emergency funding that allowed the program to continue with the data archives intact.

I’m looking forward to my visit and touring the facilities. I’ve had interest in the place since I was a kid, but access is had to obtain. This will be my third live launch (last shuttle mission and Juno being the other two) and my first from the West Coast.

VAFB has often appeared in popular culture, notably in television episodes (The Bionic Woman) and literature (Shuttle Down by G. Harry Stine; it’s a good read). It’s also the home of Project Scoop in the The Andromeda Strain book and 1972 film. The title of this post refers to the fictional Major Mancheck, Project Scoop’s leader.

Following my VAFB visit and launch experiences on Twitter @indygadgetguy starting Feb. 9.