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the Stetson Kennedy centennial [Oct. 5th, 2016|10:20 am]
Tom the Alien Cat
A reminder that a fellow named "Stetson Kennedy" was born on October 5, 1916, a hundred years ago today.

During the Great depression, he took on with FDR's program that hired people to go out and get narratives from U.S. citizens, and became a folklorist, one who passes on folklore.

Within a few years, his adventures and investigations led him to hang out within the Ku Klux Klan, and he began spreading their secrets. The rest of the story is he became a very effective social activist, and wrote a lot of books about it.

The name really was "The Klan Unmasked", published in 1954

Read more about him at his website and at Wikipedia.
Social Activist Stetson Kennedy

Entry in the New Georgia Encyclodpedia
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Anachronism. . . . Spooky. [Sep. 3rd, 2016|08:21 pm]
Tom the Alien Cat
This made sense, late in the twentieth century.

In the present context, it reads very very differently.

President Ronald Reagan signed this proclamation, in August 1987. gives a little of the history of the "911" emergency number, and states that we should pay attention to things about "911" ... on September 11.

"Protecting the lives and property of citizens is one of government's fundamental responsibilities..."

This also appeared in one of my blog comments a few months ago, yes.
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Twenty Years [Aug. 23rd, 2016|09:43 am]
Tom the Alien Cat
This is a remembrance of a friend that died twenty years ago today, on the Feast of St. Rose of Lima.

Waaay back before that, I heard a communications expert explain that the "world network of broadband lines" was going to turn into "the nervous system of the human race" ... in other words, the Web, the Net. And that happened. One still has trouble imagining the possibilities that it can provide to us individually.

I was one of the geek boys that liked people, but found people frustrating, and found machines more cooperative. Another one (in my opinion) may have been a guy named Carl.

In person, I understand that Carl was a polite person. He saw the Internet as a place where he could try other approaches to people.

But online, he could use the online posting areas, the conversation areas. Instead of normal conversation's "say something, hear the response immediately, respond to the response immediately", one can "type up something, correct it and think about it and 'craft' it, finally post/send it and wait for the response later". It probably fit his style of logic-based thinking.

Or maybe I am projecting. Because I also liked that about that part of the Net, called "Usenet".

He and I also shared an interest in what could be called the "virtual reality" part of the conversation areas. Many folks there did not know what Carl looked like, or what I looked like, or what anyone looked like. As someone imagined then, a dog could be typing these posts, and then the dog could say to another dog, "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog".

So one could wear a mask, and try new 'poses', and try things that are impossible in Real Life.

Carl saw those possibilities. It was hard not to notice the experiment he was living, out on the Net, twenty years ago, when it was called Cyberspace.

His posts were outrageous in style. I didn't know if they were intentionally posts of the "I dare you to disagree with me" kind. But he would say that they were meant to be read literally, and I took him at his word, at face value, and gave that a try.

The result would be what looked, to the outside, as a "flame war", but some folks noticed that I wasn't responding to any of his "baits" and instead that I was digging into what he was supposedly trying to say.

And durn it. Almost all of the time, I'd see what he was getting at, and respond to that, and he'd settle into his less aggressive mode. Not always, but often.

It was a lot of work, but it was rewarding. But Real Life intruded, and I had to stop the online stuff for a while.

And while I was offline, he "stopped", too. August 23, 1996.

* * * * *

Of the sad things about it, a big one is that I don't think it did him as much good as should have. That is because his death interrupted it. He probably did not start this all until about 1993. And he was found dead of his medical condition on August 23, 1996. (Some of his friends out there may know the years or exact dates of his first and last posts.) Whatever he learned, it didn't have much time to be used.

Oh, yes, his medical condition. I hope it is not intrusive, on my part, to report that he had diabetes, and that had a lot to do with his passing, but it was more of a heart condition.

I mention that, as well, because, in Real Life, his blood sugar would sometimes get out of control. Then, in Virtual Reality, his "Avatar" would be (even) more aggressive than usual. Then, later, in what seemed to be an other-than-logical manner, his online persona would make an apology, a quiet 'sorry but my blood level' kind of post.

* * * * *

Of the happier things about it ... He could help people having a rough time. Someone might post about some real trouble they were having because of bureaucracy, or official stupidity, or some other kind of problems. He might respond with one of his explosions, with his incredible swearing, and the force of his online anger would be posted in support of someone who needed help.

So there would be a outraged blast of humanity. Included, sometimes, with detailed advice in the form of instructions and information. He was capable of empathy and sympathy, it seemed.

He is missed, I know.
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another performer gone [Aug. 14th, 2016|08:20 am]
Tom the Alien Cat
Sorry to see this guy go. He was the dwarf "performer" inside R2-D2, as you will see in the news stories about him.

For me, a better remembrance in his roles (and in his face) is that of a kindly dwarf in "The Elephant Man", who said something like "we'll get you out of here" as he released the unfortunate Mr. Merrick from a carnival cage.

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Some Things I Learned from Reading Robert Heinlein, 109 years old today [Jul. 7th, 2016|10:22 am]
Tom the Alien Cat
[Current Location |Somewhere near Earth-Moon, approx 2016 A.D. in Heinlein's Future History]
[music |Jimmy Webb's"The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress"]

It has been nine years since the Robert Heinlein Centennial. Here are some things I learned from reading Heinlein stories.

Number 1: "Always leave room for your enemies to become your friends."

In "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress", the professor told us "Always leave room for your enemies to become your friends". I've gotten a lot of traction out of that one.

Just like the heroes in serial stories, like John Carter of Mars and any other character that wound up allies with former enemies, I have gotten job queries and job offers from past bosses that used to act like they hated me. The way I curb my aggressions and talk nice nearly all the time, there are some former enemies that probably think "Tom is apparently too stupid to know that I hate the chairs he sits on."

Eventually, people realize that their grudges kind of get to look silly. Especially after a decade or two. And even though two former enemies may have had their differences, they always have that history in common. It is nice to renew and catch up and do business.

Number 2: "When you don't know how to do everything that needs to be done, do the parts that you DO know how to do. Then the rest will be easier."

Also in "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress", the main character was overwhelmed by what needed to be done, when he had the entire defense of his country resting on his shoulders. Too much to do. Then he remembered something else the professor had said: "When you don't know how to do everything that needs to be done, do the parts that you DO know how to do. Then the rest will be easier."

I get frequently snowed under that way, and get out of it with that saying, which I repeat to myself.

Starting my income tax? Don't know where to start? Well, one procedure that IS known to me is to just get all the W-2s and 1099 statements together with a legal pad, and then ... well, it IS easier from that point on.

Number 3: Databases using Hierarchies for Storage

In "The Number of The Beast", the characters have a computer on hand that has voice input. To pack for a trip, they did a magnificent job of cramming their stuff into a small space, because they could fearlessly put the toothpaste into the tip of a shoe that was in a duffel bag that would be under stuff in the far corner of the car's trunk. And they did not have to worry about not being able to locate that toothpaste later.

How? They told the computer "I am putting this toothpaste down inside this shoe", or just as often, the computer would tell them where it should go. The computer kept track of everything in a hierarchy of objects and collections and objects that could hold a collection.

Retrieval then involved asking the computer for the location of the toothpaste, and the computer would say something like "Trunk, the far corner. Under the top stuff, the duffel bag, the shoe inside that. The toothpaste is crammed inside the tip."

Ever since, I've been recording locations in a file I call "Where" that has such a hierarchy, and I am working on the voice recognition part. The recent Windows 8 Voice Recognition wasn't up to my needs, and I've switched over to Linux and am using "espeak" for output, so we will see how it goes.

Number 4: Getting Access Beyond Gatekeepers, Regular Channels and Back Doors

From "Stranger in a Strange Land", Jubal Harshaw gave a crash course in getting past gatekeepers when he tried to get a phone call with the leader of Earth's government. Of course he tried the direct approach, calling someone who was hired to get such calls, and worked his way up the ladder from there. But he eventually wound up with some functionary who was pleasant and would smile and listen to him forever, but would not connect him with anyone higher. Jubal's next statement to the fellow was provocative, and he was switched over to someone in The State's police force. Once more, he tried to get somewhere, but finally ended the call, because (as he said later during the ensuing police raid) "dammit, I thought they would parley".

Before he could be taken into custody, he took a quicker approach, trying to get an influential friend to suggest a friend-of-a-friend sort of thing, and that worked! Nicely done! The leader of Earth's government was talking to him when the police walked in, and that leader told the officers to leave.

Okay, this time I can't say either that I've had something similar happen to me. But from that sequence on, I've paid attention to "how to get access" articles and lessons from life, and yes I've resolved some bad situations just by learning how important administrative assistants and secretaries are, and also how to write nice letters to the members of some company's Board of Directors. All to good, and effective, effect.

Recommending his books, I say . . .

Happy 109th birthday to Robert Anson Heinlein.
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Surprise Day - Remembering the Queen of Voting (and National Catfish Day) [Jun. 25th, 2016|04:49 pm]
Tom the Alien Cat

The Queen of Voting

I noted years ago, that on this day in 2009, both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died. I missed another death that day, because it hadn't been reported yet.

Someone known as the Queen of Voting also passed away June 25, 2009. Sylvia Levin had worked as a volunteer, six days a week, without pay, over a span of 36 years from 1973 until 2009.
Sylvia Levin dies at 91; she registered more than 47,000 to vote
According to NBC:

Her son, Chuck Levin, estimates she spoke with more than 470,000 people, trying to convince them to take part in the electoral process.
Restated: That is almost a half million. (See the note on her in Wikipedia). Again from her obituary in the Los Angeles Times:

Sylvia Levin dies at 91; she registered more than 47,000 to vote

She would never reveal whether she was signing up more Democrats or Republicans. "Everyone is important," she would explain.

"People who are registering for the first time in their lives leave this table just flying," she said. "They know they've taken a big step."

As a deputy county registrar, Levin worked without pay.

(Just to make sure you caught it, I repeat: Sylvia Levin died on this day in 2009.)

My own opinion? This year, all US citizens are important. Make sure you are registered, make sure you vote.

Two Other Interesting Anniversaries

On June 25, 1978, the rainbow flag representing gay pride was flown for the first time during the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade.

And on June 25, 1984, Prince released his album Purple Rain.

National Catfish Day!

It is Surprise Day again, and ... guess what? I find that it is National Catfish Day. Congress cooked up this holiday, President Ronald Reagan signed it.

So what's the surprise? As I write this at 4:13 pm June 25, 2016, with the Proclamation as retrieved 4:10 p.m., June 25, 2016, I see the proclamation that was "Filed with the Office of the Federal Register, 4:13 p.m., June 25, 1987"

(Just pushed the refresh button again. There, "4:13" both times, 29 years apart.)

It is interesting. Here's one sentence: "Farm-raised catfish have come a long way from their bottom-feeding ancestors."

Here is another: "I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities." That is in most of the proclamations. Try typing it into a search engine. You should get a few screenfuls of White House proclamations. No surprise.

Personally, for me, I will say the year itself is surprising, in that both the upcoming Olympics and upcoming U.S. Presidential Election having taken disquieting turns, months before they each happen.

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A Match with Muhammad Ali [Jun. 4th, 2016|08:51 am]
Tom the Alien Cat
If you are wondering what Muslims are like, hear me when I say that nearly all the ones that I've met are admirable, good people.

I respected this man.

He proclaimed his faith by living it, not preaching with words.

The story was that he carried a book of matches around with him. At those times when he was tempted to something that he knew was wrong, he might take the matchbook out. Then he might light a match, and then blow it out, and then hold the hot end between his fingers.

It hurt, it burned his skin. And he'd say to himself, "You think this is hot? Hell is much hotter than that."

The dedication to doing what is right carried over to the rest of his life. Read all the tributes you are seeing out there right now.

I hope he is remembered for that part of his character.

God's Blessings.
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Surprise! Fifty years ago. [Jun. 3rd, 2016|08:51 pm]
Tom the Alien Cat
Fifty years ago, Surveyor 1 landed on the moon. June 2, 1966. Here is how it appeared to me.

NASA had conducted a good number of programs by that time, and I knew how they went. The first couple of missions were "test" flights; after all, they always failed. For instance, the first satellite program, Vanguard, was not a good "vanguard" at all. The first launch blew up on the pad.

The Mercury and Gemini programs went through a minimum of two unmanned flights before they'd chance a manned launch. Mercury Redstone did that, as did Gemini Titan. Mercury Atlas had FIVE. The Gemini Atlas first launch was a complete failure.

And I remember try after try after try for the Ranger program, the previous lunar program. I was waiting and waiting for pictures from very close to the moon. Five tries were complete failures. I felt terrible.

Then Ranger Six had a nearly perfect flight . . . but the camera didn't work. Ugh, I was getting frustrated. And finally Rangers 7, 8, and 9 worked very very well.

So when I heard about Surveyor 1's flight, I was truly happy about it, but had very very low expectations. Of course it was going to crash, I thought to myself. Landing on the Moon ought to be much more complicated than crashing into it. I planned to watch anyway.

Watch the NASA Control room is what I did. Surveyor got lower and lower, over the Moon, and I kept waiting for the bad news. It could be "loss of contact" or "failure of rocket ignition" or some other interesting phrase.

I was listening for those. So I almost missed the very calm statement that it had landed and was on the lunar surface.


My double take only lasted about five seconds. It did take a while for me to truly digest the news.

In the meantime, I started waiting for any possible report that the robot had sunk into the deep, deep surface dust we had feared. At that point, we still didn't know if it was possible for anything to rest on the surface.

Of course, we now know that the surface dust is pretty thin. And I had a great time looking at the pictures we got.

Was the "jinx" broken? I was disappointed that it seemed to be still around, after Surveyor 2 failed. But then Surveyor 3 succeeded! Hurray! Oh, but Surveyor 4 failed. Nuts. Hey, wait, Surveyor 5 was a success!

Never learned why our abilities seemed to be on-again-off-again there.

But the experience impressed me enough that I wrote a term paper on Surveyor 1. And I had deja vu a decade later, when Viking 1 also made a great touchdown on the first try.
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Tallahatchie Day: "C'était le quatre juin" [Jun. 3rd, 2016|08:28 pm]
Tom the Alien Cat
This year it won't matter if you catch this today or tomorrow. Every third of June, this song runs through my head. But last year I said that the translation into French put it on the fourth. Don't ask me why.

"Marie-Jeanne", as written and performed by Joe Dassin, reverses the roles: a young man recalls how his family reacted when a girl he knew jumped off a bridge.


But if you like english, here is Tammy Wynette giving it everything.

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It only took six years. [May. 30th, 2016|10:27 pm]
Tom the Alien Cat
I paid a visit to a grave I remember in Second Life, an artificial world on the web.

(for visually challenged: a granite tombstone on green grass under a blue sky. not a photograph, but graphics of the kind found in Second Life. The stone reads "JEANNE ROBINSON. March 30, 1948  -  May 30, 2010.  FAREWELL  STARDANCER." There are stars next to the words.)

I do not know what Patron set up the Callahan's Saloon on Conch Island there, with the lighthouse on the hill overlooking. I have never checked the tombstone for the username of the fan that created Jeanne Robinson's tombstone there.

But the top of the hill is a pretty place, with a beautiful view.

* * * * *

Jeane Robinson died six years ago today. Aside from being the wife and writing partner of a famous writer, she also pioneered the ideas of Zero G Dance.  She and her husband co-wrote a series of novels about the concept, "Stardance".

This anniversary is a special one for her, because only a few months ago, the music group OK Go released a video with a lot of Zero G Dance, the first of its kind. (They used a Russian company's aircraft for the Zero G.)

It is frenetic and mind blowing, probably because it is very quickly paced, undoubtedly because the times of Zero G that they had available were only 21 seconds long.

If that is not clear, they have other videos that explain how this was all done.

And I feel almost certain that this "dance company with Zero G Plane" must have studied Jeanne's efforts. She may be to Zero G Dance what Robert Goddard was Rocketry. Both born in the U.S., both seemed to live for the future, and both worked to bring it about ... but their efforts first bore fruit over in Europe.

Enjoy, and raise a glass to Jeanne Robinson's dream coming about! It only took six years after her passing; she was not just ahead of her time, she is one of the authors of this our time.

(Facebook, but account should not be needed.)


(Youtube - "Upside Down Inside Out" Behind the Scenes. How We Did It)

God's Blessings.
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