Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

GetReligion

May 22, 2021

That’s not intended to be proselytizing (though of course I would be the first to advocate not simply for religion but Christianity). Rather, it’s the name of a great web site dedicated to analyzing media reports on various subjects and topics to point out the “ghosts” in mainstream media – places where religion could have been brought into the report but wasn’t, presumably because liberal media has no interest in talking about religion, or when reporters simply appear to be ignorant about the religious dimensions of a story.

I’ve been following this site for over a decade and greatly appreciate their examination of the media. In case you’ve forgotten, give them a check out!

End of an Age

May 20, 2021

Roughly 25 years ago I made my first major career transition, moving from a network support role for a major private educational institution to a small company providing cutting edge IT training primarily to corporate customers. I became known within this new company as the Internet expert, though I doubt my credentials were a lot better than most of the other trainers. However my familiarity with the Internet from the pre-World Wide Web version we’re all familiar with today was considered deeply qualifying to make me the Internet expert.

I was sent to Redmond, Washington to be trained by Microsoft, Inc. on their new web browser – Internet Explorer. I had cut my teeth on UNIX command line interfaces and then moved to NCSA Mosaic and then Netscape when the World Wide Web began to be a thing beyond the limited scope of university pages and home pages dedicated to pets.

It was heady and exciting to be sent off for training by the premiere software company in the world. But it also seemed crazy. Someone was going to challenge Netscape’s practically universal dominance of the browser market? After Microsoft had essentially ignored the potential importance of the emerging Internet? Crazy! And yet, a quarter century later IE is still running out there while Netscape is long dead and buried.

I’ve long since moved beyond Internet Explorer. For years I made Google my default browser, enchanted with their early mantra/mission statement of Don’t be evil. They have discovered that this is harder than it might seem, and so I’ve been looking for an alternative. I’ve experimented with Firefox and other options but laziness always drove me back to Google. But now, on my latest laptop, I’ve decided not to download the Google browser and utilize the on-board alternative , Microsoft Edge – the successor to Internet Explorer.

No complaints thus far. Hopefully it’s sucking up less personal data than Google was, but I won’t be shocked to find that’s not the case. But in any event, it’s sad to see that Microsoft has definitely, finally announced the end of support for Internet Explorer. The end of an age…multiple ages perhaps, at least in technology terms.

The Other Antibodies?

May 18, 2021

According to the World Health Organization, over 32 million Americans have had COVID. That’s about 20% of the total number of Americans who have received both one vaccine installment and about 25% of the total who have received both installments. It’s a sizable group of people.

Although reliable data has been hard to come by from the beginning, data seems to demonstrate that both those infected with COVID and those receiving vaccinations generate antibodies which are supposed to provide protection against severe COVID symptoms, possibly protection against mild symptoms, and possibly protection against re-infection. Not only that, a recent study suggests that these antibodies gradually disappear from people at about the same rate regardless of whether the person had COVID or was vaccinated against it.

So I find it fascinating that while a major media push continues to urge people to get their vaccinations (both doses) and criticizes anyone who is reluctant or uninterested, there is absolutely no data available for how people who have had COVID may alter their social distancing and mask wearing, particularly in light of the Center for Disease Control’s recent proclamations that fully immunized people can dispense with both masks and social distancing in most indoor and outdoor situations. The CDC site says nothing about whether people who have had COVID can similarly do without masks and social distancing. Perusing the CDC site, you’d be hard pressed to know that 32 million Americans have had COVID, have recovered from it, and have the same antibodies and therefore presumably protections the vaccines are supposed to create.

Information is hard to come by. Some reports make it sound as though the vaccines provide better protection than actually getting COVID, which seems counterintuitive to me but admittedly I’m not an immunologist. There are a lot of TV news snippets that address this topic, and given the short amount of time involved there aren’t any good references to support the assertions.

I was excited to find this article from MIT on the topic, however they assert that it’s possible to get re-infected after you’ve had COVID, implying that this doesn’t happen with vaccinated people. However there have certainly been more than a few anecdotal reports of people still getting COVID after getting both doses of the vaccine. The article references this CDC page, but the information here reads strangely to me as well. Experts are uncertain how long any of the antibodies and immunities last, whether from having COVID or from getting the vaccines, because everything was rushed so quickly they didn’t have time to do longer term testing – something this page at least acknowledges to some degree, while still insisting that despite a general lack of knowledge and understanding, you should still get vaccinated even if you’ve had COVID.

At the very least it would be nice to see more discussion on this. Whether from COVID or from vaccines, it seems pretty certain the antibodies created and maintained after fighting off the infection don’t last forever, and probably aren’t reliably around in adequate numbers as soon as six to nine months after infection/vaccination. Which means that in addition to pressuring people to get their first round of vaccinations, they’re going to need to start ramping up a campaign to encourage people to come back in for a booster. Or two. It will be interesting to see how well this is received, as people begin to realize they’re expected (or perhaps even required!) to receive at least one if not two annual boosters to maintain their antibody levels. Will the emphasis on getting flu shots every year make the idea of an annual COVID booster more palatable? For how long? Are we moving towards a general expectation (or requirement) that everyone come in for a shot every year containing whatever new things are believed to protect us?

Curiouser and curiouser.

Silencing Dissent

March 29, 2021

Thanks to Ken for this Wall Street Journal article discussing how social media companies censor religious speech and even eliminate accounts and access to their platforms when it disagrees with vaguely defined rules against fake news or simply contradicts the cultural narrative they prefer to reinforce and support. This means affirming the inherent value of all life (contra abortion or euthanasia) or other traditional and ancient religious views may be grounds for content being banned or deleted. The appeal process in such a situation is by no means clear or guaranteed to result in a restoration of access or content.

A good reminder that while free speech remains a Constitutional freedom, when private companies hold monopoly-level power over digital communication that freedom becomes a technicality. Private companies are not bound to respect freedom of speech and are free to impose their own limitations on what sorts of statements and content are permitted. While they will find politically correct descriptions for these limitations, the effect is further limiting the expression of viewpoints held by a large (perhaps even majority) proportion of our nation.

Again, I urge people to reconsider supporting these platforms and their monopolies through continued membership and usage, whether it costs you anything or not. Between the blatant bias against conservative, traditional Biblical Christian beliefs and the increasingly egregious collection of personal data, the corresponding benefits of such social media giants (and other tech companies such as Google) become questionable, at best. It’s ironic and sad that Google, a company whose motto was originally Don’t Be Evil has come to represent some of the most questionable practices in terms of gathering data on the people who use it’s products.

Making wise choices is not easy, nor is it guaranteed to be easy or inexpensive.

The New America

February 19, 2021

Maybe Australia can be the new America. Somebody has to refuse to cave to these massive companies and their arrogant demands to dictate the terms (and exceptions) by which they should be allowed to operate simply because they’re big.

Digital Dangers of Association

January 17, 2021

I received a call this morning, about an hour and a half before our worship service. The young woman identified herself as a reporter for the local newspaper, and I sat up. This could be interesting.

Contrary to some colleagues or parishioners, I view the relationship of the press to the Church with a healthy dose of skepticism and caution. Part of this is objective, watching how the Church as a whole is often portrayed in the American press. Part of this is subjective. I’ve dealt with the press to a limited extent in my pastoral career, and the results have never been satisfying. Not through deliberate malice on their part, but just because of the challenge of trying to articulate a message to someone who will then rearrange that message to suit the various needs of their individual reporting style, length limitations, and other unknown criteria.

The reporter indicated our congregation’s name was listed on the web site for a local Martin Luther King committee dedicated to fostering a greater understanding and appreciation of Dr. King and his legacy. That was news to me. I quickly found the web site and sure enough, under the list of faith organizations honoring Dr. King was our congregation’s name (misspelled) and address, as well as our two daughter congregations in the area. I know I never asked to have our name put on that list, nor have I had any contact whatsoever with this organization. While I respect Dr. King’s contributions so our country, I don’t believe in actively associating my congregation with any particular outside organization. Such relationships are complicated to say the least and problematic at worst.

I assume the reporter was interested in attending our service to see how we honored Dr. King, as apparently this local committee had designated today as the day for churches to do so. And it was a good reminder of how easy it is to be linked digitally to an idea or cause or group these days. Without any knowledge on your part, and without any cost or responsibility to whomever it was that put our name on that list. A good reminder of how impossibly complex and convoluted digital rabbit holes can be. This was (I presume) an innocuous request and no harm was intended either by putting our name on that list or by the press contacting us. But it could just as easily have been much less innocuous, and the ramifications far more difficult to clarify.

COVID Coping

September 25, 2020

We’re all trying to figure out how to get through this season of COVID. With restrictions on where you can go and what you can do and who you can be with, people are getting a bit stir crazy and I’m no exception. I’ve admitted to being not the smartest guy on the block this summer, an admission some would argue was far overdue and hardly limited to this summer. But as a closing foray into stupidity, last night I took the Paqui One-Chip Challenge.

I’d like to defend myself somewhat. I haven’t eaten Tide Pods or overindulged on cinnamon. I haven’t poured ice water over my head. I’ve never been much of a joiner, and taken more pride than probably reasonable in going against the flow. I’m fairly discerning usually when it comes to common sense. But apparently not always.

Because another source of pride throughout my life has been an affinity for spicy food. The hotter the better. And the more other people back off and avoid it, the more inclined I am to try it. So when I saw a YouTube video for the One-Chip Challenge, I immediately started Googling to see where they could be purchased locally. Just a few hours later I had two small bags of their chips and one of the casket-shaped One-Chip Challenge boxes.

I tried the bag of Fiery Chili Limon chips for lunch. It claims to be Super Hot!, but it was disappointing. I mean, there was some heat to it, but I ate the small bag without the need for water – let alone bread or milk. I make much hotter pico de gallo and while these chips were somewhat respectable by mass produced chip standards, they certainly didn’t live up to the hype.

So when my kids found the box at dinner they naturally assumed I should do it. Right then. And really, why put it off?

Frankly the most impressive thing initially was that this company found a way to keep their chips intact! The small bag of chips was not a bunch of crumbs as is often the case with chips. Almost all of the chips were intact, which was impressive in and of itself. And the One-Chip Challenge was even better insulated to ensure I found it intact. This year’s challenge uses a blue-corn tortilla chip covered in their signature blend of ground chili spices, utilizing the Carolina Reaper chili, the Scorpion Chili, and Sichuan peppercorn. The chip looks black and it’s covered in this black spice. The challenge says you have to eat the entire chip, so I broke it in two and ate it.

Initially it wasn’t terribly impressive. But, as chilis sometimes do, the impact grew over time. Still, it wasn’t really all that painful initially. Eventually it was the sides of my tongue that took the brunt of the burning. The rest of my mouth was relatively unaffected. Or perhaps completely numbed. I’ve longed to take spicy challenges for years, but this is the closest I’ve ever come to actually doing one. Beyond the growing burning on my tongue were other physical reactions I’ve watched in other people but never experienced myself. I began perspiring. My eyes started watering and my nose started running. My hands were shaking and my legs were a bit weak. There was a jumbled sense to my thinking, as my brain rapidly occupied itself almost completely with what was going on in my body and how unhappy it was with it.

The challenge grants different levels of recognition depending on how long you can hold out before eating or drinking something after eating the chip. My goal was to last at least five minutes – the lowest level of Featherweight. It’s what I had seen the host do on the YouTube video, and since we had guests for dinner I didn’t feel like drawing it out indefinitely. And, honestly, it hurt. So the glass of milk I had my kids bring me in advance went down pretty quickly but only provided moderate relief. As with the water after. Ice cubes were more effective at numbing my tongue and easing the pain. And with homemade apple crisp with ice cream for dessert, I found the frozen dairy was most effective in helping neutralize and disperse the oils binding the burning to my tongue. Within 15 minutes or so I was feeling mostly back to normal.

I could feel it in my stomach, as the packaging said I would, but it wasn’t anything bad. Until about 30 minutes later. I was sidelined severely by a terrible burning sensation in my stomach that left me almost completely incapacitated for about 10 minutes. Some cold water eventually helped to ease the pain, and within another 15 minutes or so I was fine again. I panicked a little, thinking perhaps the spices had eaten through my stomach or aggravated an ulcer I didn’t know I had. But a few years ago I had a similar (though far less intense) pain from a particularly powerful chili pepper I ate, so I figured it was basically the same reaction this time and it would pass before long.

Blessedly, it did. I was able to sleep without any other side effects and, other than a slight tenderness in my stomach today, I appear to be fine.

This challenge is not for the faint of heart. Visit the web site to see different reactions from customers. I have a good tolerance for heat and rarely find something uncomfortable, but this certainly was. Paqui doesn’t indicate what heat level the chip is, but the Carolina Reaper chili clocks in at 1.5 million on the Scoville scale (a typical jalapeno clocks in at 2500-10,000). So it’s a serious heat!

I’m glad I did it. That being said I feel no need to do it again. And I’ll probably let the small bag of Paqui Haunted Ghost Pepper chips lie untouched for a little while. I know it won’t be anywhere near what the One-Chip Challenge felt like, but still. I’ve had enough heat for the time being.

Blogging Curiosities

September 24, 2020

I’ve been at this for nearly 15 years, blogging on a regular basis. I never expected it would be a success by any sort of commercial or industrial metric. I never expected to earn revenue from it (and I don’t). I hoped to have some conversations with people, and that has happened.

I have a small following of regular readers (that I know about). A couple of dozen folks from past and present congregations. A little more than 250 followers through WordPress, but I don’t think about that much as I know many of them followed me in the hopes of building their own sites towards commercial viability. I generally get a couple of dozen visits per day, with fluctuation in both directions. Since moving my site to WordPress six years ago, my visitors and views have gradually increased each year. There are at least a few people who read, and that makes me happy.

But it’s interesting to me that yesterday I had double my usual number of visitors. I could pat my back for saying something people found interesting enough to share with friends, but that’s generally not my modus operandi. Rather, I find it curious that some of my visits yesterday came from China, and that yesterday’s post mentioned the conviction of a prominent Chinese opposition figure. I didn’t say much about it, just referenced it in passing. But it makes me wonder just how far-reaching the tentacles of geo-political monitoring go. Did I appear on some sort of Chinese radar for mentioning a related news story? Perhaps. Is that disturbing? Perhaps? Should it be more disturbing? Probably. But I’ll leave it at the curiosity level instead.

Fear of Self and Others

September 18, 2020

Here’s an article that starts off interesting and wanders basically into a defense of wearing face masks during COVID-19. The initial part of the article is interesting, documenting scientific evidence of what common sense and cultural shifts should make clear to most anybody – human beings are communal creatures and as our contact with others (known or unknown) decreases, our well-being decreases.

Obviously COVID-19 has been a huge source of social isolation. Physical distancing might be helpful in reducing the transmission of the Coronavirus, but it’s definitely harmful in fostering a climate of fear, where anyone who gets to close or – God forbid! – sneezes or brushes against us leaves us feeling violated and endangered. The self-righteous pride some people take in shaming others they think are too close is chilling.

Masks also lead to isolation. Difficulty in reading facial expressions complicates even mundane and traditional interactions. Add to that the added difficulty of being heard and hearing others clearly through masks and another barrier to interaction arises. And for many places who rely not only on masks for both sides of the transaction but also those thin sheets of plastic between everyone? It’s barely possible to communicate a food order or a service request, let alone engage in a conversation.

Those most at risk of complications from COVID-19 are further isolated as assisted living facilities and senior care facilities exclude any access between residents and family members.

And even family members treat one another with distrust and fear these days, demanding COVID testing and other measures just to allow for a family visit. Certainly this is a time of extreme and unhealthy isolation. I won’t bother here whether or not such measures are necessary or useful for reducing transmission of the Coronavirus to some people – let’s assume they are. But let’s also admit and acknowledge they are most definitely detrimental to the psychological and emotional well-being of literally everyone.

But this is only the latest stage in an increasing isolation mentality in American culture. Studies long before COVID-19 indicated Americans were lonelier and reported feeling more isolated, despite a plethora a technological apps and programs that should enable us to be better and more frequently connected with all manner of family and friends. As our ability to connect with others has risen, there has been a corresponding decrease in the desire to do so.

The idea of stranger danger that arose in the 80’s has dominated our social awareness and perception of one another. As reporting news from distant locations became easier and cheaper, we perceived a rise in the number of child abductions. The fact that we were hearing about more of them in more locations contributed to this perception, even though statistical data eventually demonstrated there was no increase in the number of abductions (or rather child abductions were decreasing as a whole). Further data also demonstrated that contrary to the stranger danger mantra, which taught (and teaches still) children to be fearful and wary of anyone they don’t know, the vast majority of child abductions were not perpetrated by perverted ice cream truck drivers or other malevolent strangers but rather by trusted family members and friends of family – people the abducted child already knew.

But despite the data, the perception of strangers as a danger persists. We distrust others. We worry excessively about our children in a dangerous world where biking the street or walking to the store are now seen as worrisome activities. My generation wasn’t parented that way, and yet I suffer with a certain degree of anxiety about my children’s safety, despite knowing they need age-appropriate independence to stretch their wings and prepare them for lives as healthy adults.

This also causes ourselves to see ourselves through fearful eyes. We hesitate to reach out to strangers, fearful we will be perceived as a potential threat or danger, because that’s how we would view others – at least momentarily. The fear of being perceived or even called out as inappropriate or pervy or disconcerting pushes us back into our shells, keeps us a safe distance (whatever that means) from others and from life-changing interactions with people – just because we haven’t met them yet.

This is not accidental. As I’ve mentioned before, watching of The Twilight Zone series (or probably any mid-century television series) provides amazing glimpse of an American culture where the stranger was welcomed and indulged to an extent I find incredulous – even when that stranger exhibited odd behavior. No, our fear of others and our fear of ourselves in turn has been cultivated. And while the original intentions might have been good, there is considerably greater harm being done now than mere isolationism.

That fear of the other and the unknown is now be exploited for political ends. We are pitted us against them. We’re no longer Americans but rather ideological marionettes expected to leap and dance in anger and indignation at whatever strings are next tugged. We are expected to view anyone who doesn’t hold with our party not as another thoughtful citizen who might have some good reasons for their perspective, but as a threat and a danger to our way of life or to the well-being of a vague set of marginalized persons. And while good argument can be made we have always tended to do this in American politics (hence our two-party system, despite explicit warnings against such an arrangement by some of our Founding Fathers), the situation has reached a new level of vitriol because of our social isolation from one another and our inability and unwillingness to engage with someone we don’t know and who might disagree with us. Social media has only reinforced this echo chamber effect, further discouraging us from interacting not only with strangers, but with people we know, simply because they don’t agree with us.

We’re designed as social creatures, not simply evolved that way out of some sort of obscure, genetically-driven guide towards greater personal success. To deny both our need for connection to one another as well as our need for connection to the divine is to damage ourselves and by extension those around us. Extreme measures may be necessary for a time to protect against health emergencies and other threats, but the there’s a deeper level of isolation and estrangement that has been at work a lot longer than 2020. Rethinking our relation to the stranger is a good place to start in backtracking to a point that we can talk to not just strangers but people we know full well don’t agree with our parenting styles or our political choices or our belief (or lack thereof) in a higher power.

Convenience Costs

September 15, 2020

Online ordering and delivery was a Thing long before COVID-19, but I can only imagine how much more money is being poured into Internet-based shopping options instead of traditional brick and mortar stores. Correspondingly, the push for faster and faster delivery times is driving not just technology but policy as well.

Amazon has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to begin delivery of small (under five pounds in weight) packages to customers. It has been testing such delivery systems since 2013.

I’m curious how this might impact home designs. Could homes have designated rooftop or balcony landing spots where drones could leave packages instead of leaving them by the front door where they are more vulnerable to theft?