Barack Obama on the JCPOA

May 8, 2018

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In a dangerous world, America must be able to rely in part on strong, principled diplomacy to secure our country. We have been safer in the years since we achieved the JCPOA, thanks in part to the work of our diplomats, many members of Congress, and our allies. Going forward, I hope that Americans continue to speak out in support of the kind of strong, principled, fact-based, and unifying leadership that can best secure our country and uphold our responsibilities around the globe.

It’s hard to remember, but for eight years we had an intelligent, articulate, and principled president in the White House. How far we’ve come.

Sometimes Surveillance Footage is Great

May 4, 2018

(Watch man trip armed suspect fleeing police)

Police in Ohio are sharing their appreciation for a quick-thinking bystander who tripped up an armed man chased by officers.

I must have watched this guy ten times. This one is just as good.

Hannie Dong, a professional dancer with the Golden State Warriors, chased down the thief who stole her laptop at a Starbucks.


April 16, 2018

It’s easy to put people in boxes. Well, ok, not literally, but metaphorically. It’s something we learned in jr. high, and rebelled against in high school. There are deep parts of human psychology that both desire to be part of a group, and to categorize other people into groups. Us vs. Them. We get a sense of self and place in this world by the people we surround ourselves with and the groups we are a part of. This is how society works… and partially why it’s not working so well right now.

I first noticed a problem years ago when I’d heard people referring to themselves as “citizens of the Internet”. Not claiming citizenship of their native country, but instead belonging to some global idea of a people group. At the time it was an interesting concept, something new that I’d not thought of before, but quickly dismissed. I dismissed the idea too soon. It was a seed of an idea that mutated and grew like a cancer, and like any cancer, it is killing it’s host.

Social groups, healthy, real social groups, have a moderating function. The more extreme or unwelcome behaviors are discouraged because members of the group can see how they damage the collective community. There are no moderating abilities with online social groups though, in fact, quite the opposite has proven to be true. No matter what your personal opinions are, online you’ll find a group to belong to that will not only condone and accept the beliefs and behavior, but amplify it. People will type things online that they’d never say in person. Online, one group will verbally attack another with juvenile name-calling and insults, but in person I’ve found that most people are more than willing to have reasonable conversations.

You and I might have different opinions on how involved the government should be in our personal lives, what, if any restrictions we should have on guns, how, if at all, the government should be involved in healthcare, and what, if anything, to do about climate change. In fact, I’d say with all the people reading this, I’d find something to disagree on with everyone. That’s ok. It’s good to have different viewpoints, different ways of looking at an issue or a problem. 1 One person can’t see all sides of the issue, and likewise one person in an insular echo chamber of similar views is in danger of never exposing themselves to voices that don’t mimic their own. Healthy debate is good. It helps separate the wheat from the chaff.

Unhealthy debate though, is not good. Calling names, insulting the intelligence of the opponent, assigning evil intent where none exists, all serve to further divide us into these imaginary groups. These interactions do not serve to help foster an understanding of the problem being discussed, they simply provide an avenue for reinforcement of a preconceived notion without the troublesome burden of independent thought. It’s easy to assume that all liberals are evil baby-killing socialists who want to destroy America. It’s similarly easy to assume all conservatives are backwards, idiotic, racists hicks who don’t know what’s good for them. Neither is true.

The past fifteen years of technical advancement have culminated in a perfect storm that none of us were prepared for. It started with the citizens of the Internet, went mainstream with Facebook, and nuclear with the iPhone. From finding your social group online instead of with real people, to accepting and amplifying your own insular beliefs in these groups, to bringing your group with you everywhere, every waking moment of the day. The iPhone is the delivery mechanism for the Internet, and the applications we have all been drawn into are designed by teams of PhDs to be as addictive as possible. Like cocaine in Coca-Cola.

Perhaps in fifty years we’ll look back on this time and collectively say “what were we thinking?” If we are still capable of rational thought.

I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said “Kill Your Television” 2. I had it on there because I wanted to experience life first-hand, not second or third-hand through the tv, as I sat like a slug on the couch. For a long time, I did. But then I was caught up in the Internet and technology, entranced by the possibilities and the seemingly limitless ability to know everything that was knowable. I built a career on it, and now I support my family by staring at a screen for twelve to thirteen hours a day. Familiarity breeds contempt.

I think about that bumper sticker and what I’ve learned about social media when I read about internet addiction in teenagers. It’s not uncommon to see kids who are never without the phone in their hand, staring at the screen, oblivious to their surroundings or what is really going on. Kids have literally walked into walls and fallen down stairs because they couldn’t put the phone down. We haven’t built up the social norms to handle always being connected. Instead of being a boon to our children’s education, we have introduced a monster that we don’t know how to deal with.

That old bumper sticker is on my mind now more than ever as I seek to recapture some of that desire to live what life I have in the moment, experience by experience. I’m trying to get outside more, learn new skills, and pick up new hobbies. To move my mind away from the mindless, toxic, rage-inducing thing we know as social media.

Not all online communities are bad. Not all politics are divisive. The world is a vast and complicated place. Every person I’ve met has their own desires, fears, hopes, and dreams. We each want safety and some level of comfort. We each want to belong to a group that accepts us. What I’ve learned is that the online groups are virtual… they’re not real. They don’t last. Only the friends and family you make in real life are real life.

It’s well past time we reevaluate our use of the technology pulling us apart, when our desire is to be together.

  1. Of course, there are limits. I’ll not discuss anything with Nazis. What a bunch of morons. 

  2. it was right next to the one that said “Question Authority” 

Kill Your Television

April 3, 2018

It’s a grey and dreary day here in rural Iowa. Overcast, cold, and rainy, not at all the bright and sunny spring I’ve been hoping for, but it is a good day to write a letter. Like a lot of people, I’ve been thinking about current events and technology, and how we (the collective we) have managed to take something as silly and fun as social media and turn it into something unrecognizable. Twitter, Facebook, and the online breaking news sources have created a perpetual outrage machine reverberating in an echo chamber. Like War Games, it seems, the only way to win is not to play. So, I’ve decided to take a step back, but that doesn’t mean I want to lose touch with the people I care about.

I’ve been working with technology since cross-rating to radioman in the Navy in 1998. Back then it was with satcom and radio equipment. We had vacuum tube HF transmitters and receivers, computers that accepted and printed out punched paper tape, and single-line displays for chatting with another radioman over the OTO circuits. The Navy is quite slow to adopt new technology. What we had was mostly WWII era, but it was battle tested.

Over the years I worked with continuously more modern technology, up to where I am now working from home with a distributed company that manages data in the cloud. It’s a good job, but at some point I thought that I might want to do something different with my career. A few years back I went to grad school and earned a masters degree in Human-Computer Interaction. For two years I studied psychology, design, and programming. I studied how the brain worked and how to build interfaces that were optimized to keep the user engaged. It was fascinating. While I ultimately didn’t wind up working in the design field, what I learned has helped me to view what has happened in the past few years in the technology industry in a new light.

Basically, we are all being manipulated.

The aim of any free online service is to keep the user on the site as long as possible. Some news sites repeatedly publish opinion and think pieces, and “breaking news” that hasn’t been appropriately analyzed before release. Other sites create enemies where there are none and incite their viewers to fear or hatred, or both. Other sites, like Facebook, aggregate the content of multiple sources, mix them together with the opinions of like-minded people, and present them all together with the same authority. In Facebook there is no difference between the New York Times and Infowars, a published or shared post is the same as all others. All of these sites capitalize on human emotions. The desires to be safe, connected, and informed. If there is a crisis, we feel we need to know about it, but what happens when everything is a crisis?

We are starting to find out. We start to see people with different opinions not as fellow Americans, or sometimes not even as brothers or sisters in Christ, but they suddenly embody all that is wrong in the world today, the very presence of evil tearing our world apart. Liberals, 2A supporters, environmentalists, climate change skeptics, the list goes on. What’s missing from our conversation is the actual conversation. What’s missing is the mutual respect that must come before a compromise is reached.

If we could each come to the table with the understanding that we both want positive outcomes for everyone involved, if we could base our decisions on a shared understanding of fact and truth, then reasoned debate could start and real progress be made. With each side demonizing and dehumanizing the other, shouting obscenities and insults from the safety of our keyboards, we draw further apart and compromise becomes less and less likely. I pray that cooler heads eventually prevail before anything drastic happens.

Now, some of you reading this, I can hear it now, are saying something to the effect of “it doesn’t matter, Jesus is going to come back any day now and just take care of all this.” To which I respond… well… possibly! No one knows when He’s going to come back. It is a central tenant of the Christian faith that Jesus’ return is imminent, and that we should always be ready for it. The reality is that we’ve been waiting for two-thousand years, and even though our current situation looks dire to us, it’s no more dire than any other inflection points in the past. I will continue to wait for His return, but out of compassion for the unsaved, I pray that he waits just a little while longer.

The other argument I’ve heard is even more pessimistic. It tends to go “the world is just going to get worse and worse, as predicted by the Bible. Nothing we can do about it, so why bother?” I can’t agree with this. I’m an optimist. I think we should strive to build a just and fair society. Furthermore, the statistics just don’t agree with this position. Global poverty is going down, illiteracy levels are going down, education levels are going up, death from widespread diseases is going down, the long term trend is that we are making progress on the big issues that humanity faces. We might never completely get rid of disease, poverty, or famine, but with God’s help we can give it our best shot.

Optimism is good. God told us repeatedly not to worry. Love God, love your neighbor, and love your enemy. If he slaps you, let him slap you again. If he asks you for your coat, give him your coat and your shoes. If he wants you to walk a mile with him, walk two. These are radical ideas, even two-thousand years later. Not really in keeping with the macho Rambo culture a lot of us live in. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay.” The Bible doesn’t actually say “vengeance is Jon’s, he’ll get really mad at some perceived slight and send off an angry subtweet.” My anger does not produce the righteousness of God.

What I’m saying here, in a nutshell, is that we should be mindful of what we are letting into our heads. Recognize when things we are reading or watching are designed to make us angry rather than inform us. Consider turning off the TV news and avoiding the online outrage machine. Personally, I’m thinking about subscribing to my local paper and maybe a well respected magazine like the Economist. Getting just enough news to stay informed without being reactionary and having my blood pressure raised unnecessarily.

Maybe, if you’ve got something to say, you might consider writing a letter to those who mean the most to you.

How to manage your windows like a pro in macOS | iMore

March 29, 2018

Mikah Sargent:

Working with a lot of windows on macOS? Here are the tips and tricks you need to know to help keep your workspace neat, tidy, and within click’s reach!

I enjoy articles like these that dig into what the Mac can do without any third-party apps. I almost always find something new that I didn’t know about before.


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