Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Volume Ducking - A Way Of Thinking

My wife and I were recently trying to participate in a conference with my daughter and some other folks at her house through Skype. My four-year-old granddaughter was getting bored, and so my daughter turned on the TV for her. From that point, they could not hear us talk, which was frustrating and a bit of a mystery, and we struggled with that through the rest of the conference.

Afterwards, I researched the problem and learned that this was due to Skype being a "half-duplex" audio mode, which basically means that it will transmit sound only in one direction at a time. The direction of transmission is governed by the relative volumes at the two ends - whoever is making the most noise gets transmitted, while the other party is not heard. This mode is called "volume ducking" - the lower volume gets "ducked", or shut off.

The reason for doing this is to prevent feedback from occurring, due to the sound of Party A's transmission feeding back through Party B's speakers. Until Microsoft took over Skype, there was an option to disable volume ducking, which was useful when both parties were using headphones, which themselves prevent the feedback. But Microsoft eliminated that option for Windows and Android platforms. Strangely, they kept it for Mac and iOS platforms, at least for now. It's like the're punishing their own customers.

You might note that the same mode is generally used for cellphones in Speaker Mode. So, if someone is on the road or in another noisy environment and using Speaker Mode, the other party needs to speak loudly, in order to overcome the background noise. Also, on Skype, you can get some improvement by having the party in the noisy environment turn off the automatic volume adjustment. That, at least prevents the ambient noise from being amplified.

It might also be helpful to remember your push-to-talk radio protocols, where only one person talked at a time and indicated that he was finished transmitting and was ready to listen by saying "Over".

I've also learned that people doing remote interviews on TV usually use Skype, but they have an arrangement where they use two channels - one dedicated to each Party's transmissions - so they can babble on simultaneously, although the lag in transmission time is also a hindrance to that, thankfully.

As an engineer, I took some ribbing from my colleagues for my penchant for looking for patterns and making analogies between seemingly dis-similar systems. I suppose it was sort of my way of giving homage to the search for the Unification Theory. But it was also a very useful tool for making extensions of logic. And, in truth, the ribbing was pretty limited, because I made a lot of  folks a lot of money that way. And I think I see some significant analogies between this volume ducking problem and the way people's communication has evolved, in general.

Perhaps my memory of the "Good Old Days" is a bit idealized, but I seem to remember being taught that common courtesy demanded that you listened to other persons speak, then you spoke while they listened, and so forth; so, push-to-talk radio wasn't that much different from the way we normally conversed. Even the early Presidential Debates were conducted in this manner. Also, journalists in that era held to a code of unbiased integrity and tried to give us an unslanted window into the world.

Then the MTV era of fast cuts and reduced attention span gradually took hold and we started relying more on 10-second sound bites as our preferred source of information. Then Rupert Murdoch set up Fox News as an overt right-wing political tool, eliminating unbiased integrity entirely. Then gradually, other mainstream media news turned more and more to semi-literate beautiful talking heads, taking their cues from their producers' desperate struggles for ratings. Well, nothing sells like controversy, so now we see these shows set up specifically designed to give us screaming matches, with moderators skillfully adept at bringing out the worst in their guests. And the guests are the shrillest voices they can find, because they know our brains have become half-duplex processors - we only hear the loudest voice!

Volume ducking. Our modern world's way of thinking.

Monday, July 14, 2014


I'm suffering from mild hypothermia at the moment. I dozed off on the balcony (north facing) this afternoon, wearing only shorts and a short sleeved shirt. Slept a couple of hours. In the meantime, it got breezy and cooler. Viola!

Did you know that you can die from hypothermia in 60 degree weather with no clothing or shelter?

I have a bit of a history. Worst case was in July of 1979. I was still living in Lubbock, TX although my 1-year commitment to help with the start-up of Texas Instruments' adventure with high-tech manufacturing in CEO/Prez J. Fred Bucy's hometown had expired. Transfers were frozen. So I spent the plant-maintenance-shutdown period back in Dallas. I drove back out west on the last weekend, taking Doug, who was 15 at the time, with me for a visit. I don't remember for sure, but I think the girls stayed in Dallas. I do remember that I got popped on the face that morning when I was taking down a yellow-jacket nest in the back yard.

This was during the 1979 fuel crisis, and since the 302 in my Maverick Grabber din't get very good mileage, I decided not to run the A/C on the trip, despite the broiling temps. We actually had a very good trip. I decided to show Doug Ft. Belknap (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qbf02) where public schools from Olney and other area cities had grade-level outings every year. Then we drove up to Olney (http://olneytexas.com), where my family lived from 1952 until 1956, and we visited with Fred Rowe, our old neighbor. Fred ran the Perkin-Timberlake Department Store, and he had four kids that I had been friends with, most notably Cecil, who was one year younger that I. Then we ran into Cecil's brother Calvin when we stopped at a convenience store. Fortunately, Fred had told him about our being headed there, because neither of us would have recognized the other. I had grown up from being a 75 pound runty 13-year-old, and Calvin had developed from a rail-thin 7-year-old to a bearded bear of a man at about 5'10'.

Being a little refreshed, Westward-ho through the heat with the A/C off. No relief until dark, and only a little then. We got to Lubbock about 10:30, as I recall. We climbed up to my apartment, flipped the t.v. and A/C on and flopped in the living room floor. I was clad about like today, except I may have shed my shirt.

I woke up about 3:00 am, shivering and needing to go to the bathroom. So, I went and sat down on the toilet, and, very shortly - I passed out cold! I fell off the pot, giving my right forehead the mother of all rug burns on the indoor/outdoor carpet. When I started coming to, I was totally paralyzed and blind as a bat. I finally got to where I could move my left hand a little and started tapping on the wall. As I gained strength, the taps got strong enough to rouse Doug, who came to check on me. He totally freaked out and responded in true Doug fashion - he called his Mom in Dallas! "Dad's dying! What do I do?" By the time he came back to check on me, I could mumble a little, and then I gradually started getting my facilities back. Doug got me a blanket and wrapped me up. I think I made some coffee and started pouring it down. Wow! Scary stuff!

A couple of years later, I had the anaphalactic shock to the bee stings, which I think most of you are aware of. I can tell you that the symptoms were exactly the same, except with the bee stings, the reaction lasted a little longer and led on to systemic hives during the night.

Moral of the story: Be aware of the dangers and symptoms of hypothermia, even - perhaps especially - in the summer.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Biblical Inerrancy and the Test of Love

In reading an article by Barbara Brown Taylor, author of The Bible and the Seeds of Imagination, I came to the realization that she was touching on some points that have been troubling me for a long time.

Rev.Taylor is a professor of World Religions at Piedmont College, a small Congregational Church school in Georgia. She is an ordained minister and a member of the progressive Christian community.

I guess that description strikes some as oxymoronic, especially since the Republican party has had so much success in radicalizing and co-opting religion in order to augment the 1% of the population actually standing to benefit from their core values into a viable political force. But, in spite of that Taliban-like malice, there actually do exist caring, compassionate, intelligent – progressive – Christians still holding to the teachings of Christ.

 “Remember this book (the Bible) was written by human beings with agendas,” Rev. Taylor tells her New Testament students. Like her, I’ve questioned the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy every since the Civil Rights Movement brought out the worst behavior among Bible thumping hate groups, all backing up their bigotry by quoting very carefully selected snippets of Scripture. I still see a lot of that today, with different targets.

There were a lot of books considered for Canonization in the early Catholic version of the New Testament. The Old Testament had already undergone an evolutionary process among various Jewish sects, and it was also revised by the early Catholics.

There was always debate about a group of books known as the Apocrypha, as to whether they should be canonized. They ended up being put into a sort of Supplemental Reading status by being included in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments in the late 4th Century Bibles. And of course, of the books that made it into the New Testament, Revelations was the most divisive, followed by Philemon, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 3 John and Jude.

We are familiar with the Anglican split with Catholicism over the issue of serial annulments for Henry VIII as he made his treacherous, murderous way from wife to wife to . . . This, of course, eventually led to the King James Version of the Bible of 1611 (James gave the translators instructions intended to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy.), which was reedited in 1769, and upon which all of our subsequent Protestant versions, at least in the English speaking world, are based. Less familiar are the attendant and subsequent statements of creed in the Council of Trent (the Catholic Church demonizing the Protestant Reformation); the 10 Articles of 1536 and the Bishop’s – later the King’s -  Book of 1537 (legitimizing Henry VIII and declaring the opinions of Anabaptists and Pelagians to be heretical); The 6 Articles of 1540 (repealed by Edward VI after Henry’s death); the 42 Articles of 1552 (never enforced due to the coronation of Mary I, a Catholic); the 39 Articles of 1563 (the 42 were revived following Mary’s death, but only 39 passed Convocation, and Elizabeth took out one to avoid offending Catholics, until she was ex-communicated, at which time she reinserted it – navigating a middle road between Catholicism and Puritanism), and the Westminster Confession of Faith, which knocked in and out of use for decades, depending on who was on the throne, until 1690, when it was finally adopted for good (declaring the Pope to be the “Antichrist” and eliminating the Apocrypha from the Bible).

Similar machinations were at play throughout the canonization processes in the Fourth Century and before.

Rev. Taylor points out a number of inconsistencies in the finished product, including a comment that “ . . .  I don’t recognize the Jesus in the Book of Revelation.”

The conservative Biblical Inerrancy believers hold that the end product of all this politically influenced skirmishing is the perfect, divinely inspired Word of God.

So, as I often do, I approach this question with the only perspective that matters, “What does Jesus think?”  I do pray for an answer to that question a lot. Not just about this issue, but about everything that comes up in life. And He always gives me the same answer. The one that is stated and restated throughout the New Testament:

Galatians 5:14
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

So simple. So pure. The Golden Rule that we all learned as children.

I believe that Jesus gave us that command, because he knew it would be useless to codify human behavior for all time to come. He kept it simple. Love. That’s what He did. And it’s what He commands us to do. Love is what makes us Christian, and it is what makes us Christ-like.

So, what about Biblical Inerrancy and all the other minutiae of our liturgies and other doctrines? Put them to the Test of Love. Do they make us more Christlike? Pray about it.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Wage Structure and Welfare Reform

People complain about the welfare system making it more profitable for some people to be on welfare than to work. And I definitely agree that that is wrong. But what is the problem here? Is it the welfare system, or the wage structure, or both? If a person wants to work, shouldn't they be able to earn enough money doing so to make going on welfare a less viable option? And if they don't want to work, should we just give them a free handout?

As a manufacturing supervisor and manager in the semiconductor industry, I frequently had good, productive, long-term employees, especially working mothers, faced with a situation where they could no longer afford to work, as they could just quit and draw more money on welfare than we were paying them. Many worked that way for years, because of pride, job satisfaction, or just being away from a bad situation at home. But I lost a number of them, usually with a lot of tears involved - theirs and mine. Usually, the immediate cause was the loss of a free child care arrangement with a relative. The resultant turnover led to extremely high training costs and lost productivity. These were, generally, demanding, highly skilled positions, with long training regimens, and with new-hire success rates in the 50% range. Even in that environment, the wages we paid our first-level employees were a joke. Most of our employees up to and including middle management, were constantly having to struggle with their personal finances. It was kind of a pleasure to have the big bosses come around, just to see some nice suits.

The problem with trickle-down economics is that there always seems to be an intractable plug in the downspout. If a rising tide is supposed to lift all boats, why does it only seem to lift the bigger yachts? It's because the mooring lines on the smaller boats are tied to points way beneath the surface with little bitty short ropes. As the tide rises, so does the cost of living, and many of the smaller boats get totally swamped! Even a lot of the medium sized craft take on a lot of water.

The acceleration in the separation of wealth since the beginning of the Reagan administration is astounding, primarily due to the reduced taxes on capital gains and the stagnation of the minimum wage. A lot of figures get tossed around, but perhaps the most graphic is the comparison of the combined wealth of the country's richest family - Sam Walton's six heirs - (not individually the six richest people in America, but in the conversation) with that of the poorest 42% (129,000,000). As of 2010, that family had more money than those poorest 129 million people combined! And one has to speculate about what percentage of Walmart employees are among those 129 million.

So, it would seem that some (oh, those despised words) redistribution of wealth is badly needed in this country. It has to start with a reform of the wage structure, but a switch back to a less regressive tax structure wouldn't hurt, either.

As far as the welfare system is concerned, why should it be a pure dole? Why don't we get some bang for those bucks we pay out on welfare? Why not require recipients to perform community service? Speaking of child-care, why not staff low-cost child-care centers with welfare recipients? That would enable more mothers to work and stay off welfare. Let others do first-level maintenance, cleaning, etc. for public facilities, roads, and other infrastructure items. The sort of dirty work that nobody seems to want to do. In the process, they would be developing job skills. And this would be a perfect recruiting pool for permanent public works positions. And if they don't fulfill their community service requirements, they get their dole cut. Why should we just be throwing free money to people to stay home and do nothing?

This line of requiring bang for the buck could be extended to unemployment benefits, as well. There should be an initial period with no community service to allow for getting a job hunt rolling, then community service should kick in, with the weekly hours escalating with time. Credit might be given for serious job interviews, to be certified by the interviewer, and for training courses. 

Get people off their duffs and involved in their communities. Give them something to do and to be proud of. Provide people a raison d'ĂȘtre.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What Do We Do About Vladimir Putin and His Ukraine Adventure and Why Do We Have to Ask This Question?

Vladimir Putin, the former KGB head from the old days, is just an old school Russian Imperialist, trying to reestablish Russia as a player, following the devastation of the breakup of the Soviet Union. He is particularly interested in establishing a buffer zone around Russia, to keep the West as far away as possible. He will push and push to reestablish Russia's influence in the region, knowing that we have no stomach for military intervention, especially with nukes off the table.

So all that is left is diplomacy and economic pressure, and that depends on everyone else ganging up on him. Germany seems to be the key player here, due to his relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who he considers tough and trustworthy. They speak each others language on multiple levels. So, we are largely dependent on her to get him to change his ways.

Modern diplomacy is such a bitch! How I miss the days of the Big Red Button. It was so easy, when the USSR understood that we would not hesitate to launch a preemptive nuclear strike, if they provoked us. Whoever came up with that "Nuclear Winter" scenario, anyhow?

 As much as we would like to go it alone, ala W, it just doesn't work that way anymore. And we are crippled in being able to build coalitions, especially because of W's legacy and the Democrats' unfortunate decision to go with Barack Obama, instead of Hilary Clinton in 2008.

W's arrogance in going it alone did immeasurable harm to our ability to build coalitions since then. H.W. understood the need for a coalition, and, despite the need for a quick response following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, he had the skills and took the time to build a beautiful one. And he recognized the difficulty that we would face if we took over Iraq, even though it was ripe for the taking following its expulsion from Kuwait.

 I think we all gave W a pass on his invasion of Iraq, thinking he must have a clear vision on rebuilding it after the war and on getting a model democracy set up and functioning. Iraq seemed to be the perfect place to plant that seed in the Middle East - not used to having an Islamic-based government, and with multiple cultural segments. It could be another Turkey. I think a big part of his motivation was hubris: he wanted to show up his old man by finishing what H.W. had failed to. We know W's administration started planning that invasion the day they were elected (sort of), and that 9/11 put an unwelcome hold on that plan. I think we all knew that the WMD issue was a pile of crap, but we got caught up in the excitement of planting the flag of democracy in Iraq, which would become a showplace for the rest of the region. And we all shouted down Natalie Maines for asserting that "the Emperor had no clothes", especially since she happened to be in England at the time. Perhaps we should have listened to this young lady from Texas!

The two things that subsequently shocked us were that W was unable/unwilling to build a coalition and the fact that his rebuilding team was not the best and most able people in their fields, but a bunch of totally unqualified "true-believers"! And they failed miserably. And then we thought, "This is the same thing that happened when he was President of the Texas Rangers. He brought in all this power, and he still could not deliver a winner."

Then, when Putin invaded Georgia, W again was unable to get the world behind him to do anything about it. Besides, it was toward the end of his administration, and he was very busy dealing with, or not, the devastation that his economic policies had wreaked on the nation. Just let the next girl deal with Putin.

But then the Dems' extremists managed to nominate another one of their own, knowing that whatever candidate the party put up would be a shoo-in against whoever the GOP offered up as a sacrificial lamb. Oh! My! God!

I will say that Obama showed some balls in getting Osama bin Laden. Otherwise, he has been hard-pressed to restore our position as the free-world leader.

So, we're reduced to letting this German lady lead our fight. Are we further diminished every time Putin goes off on another adventure? Absolutely!

Are you beginning to see why I call myself a Radical Centrist? The disastrous policies and actions of the Radical Left and the Radical Right and their entrenched refusal to work together are destroying the country!

With 2016 on the horizon, will Hillary Clinton be able to carry the day against a Radical Right opponent, which will certainly be the learning-disabled GOP's choice? Will she even get the chance, or will the equally learning-disabled Dems go with another Radical Leftist? One can always hope, but sometimes one feels so disenfranchised.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

How Do I Really Feel About Dallas, TX?

This post is to explain my feelings for Dallas, TX - aka Big D, aka Sodom-on-the-Trinity.

I grew up in west-central Texas, born in Hamlin and moving to Olney when I was nine. This area was in the Fort Worth hemisphere of influence. We subscribed to, and I devoured, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which was owned by the city's biggest booster, Amon Carter. Now to say that Amon Carter had an antipathy for all things Dallas would be a severe understatement, and all us folks in west Texas were undoubtedly influenced by him. We loved the TCU Horned Frogs (Texas Tech was not yet a part of the Southwest Conference), Will Rogers Coliseum, the Stock Yards, Bob Wills, and Jacksboro Highway. Fort Worth is, indeed, "Where the West Begins". 

Dallas, on the other hand, considers itself to be an eastern style cosmopolitan city - a financial (banking, insurance, corporate headquarters), commercial, and manufacturing center. There are no oil wells in the county, and only in 2004, with the introduction of fracking, did the first gas wells go into production. 

In a way, I am reminded of the rivalry between L.A. and San Francisco - San Franciscans hate everything about L.A. while Angelinos barely acknowledges San Francisco's existence.

When I was 14, we moved to Gainesville and the next year, 15 miles further east to Whitesboro, where I went through high school. Now, Whitesboro is at the apex of an isosceles triangle sixty miles north of both Dallas and Fort Worth, which are 35 miles apart. So, we started taking the Dallas Morning News, in addition to the Star-Telegram. And our tv coverage was by both Dallas and Fort Worth stations. So, geographically and in media coverage at least, we were in a neutral location vis-a-vis the Dallas - Fort Worth rivalry.

Whitesboro is a small town 10 miles south of Lake Texoma, which is a large lake on the Texas-Oklahoma border, formed by the Denison Dam on the Red River. Completed in 1943 primarily as a flood control project, the Denison Dam was at the time the "largest rolled-earth fill dam in the world". Texoma is a tremendous recreational lake for all kinds of water sports and fishing, and draws lots of people from all over north-central Texas, including the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and south-central Oklahoma.

My Dad was a pumper for Texaco at the time, and he was responsible for six leases, consisting of about 18 oil/gas wells which made up about half of a big cooperative between Texaco and several other companies, called the Sandusky Oil Sands Saltwater Injection Recovery Project. He was also responsible for the salt water injection system, which consisted of several deep salt water wells, which supplied water which was injected into a number of wells located around the edges of the oil sands, with the idea being to float the oil toward the middle of the sands, where the producing wells were. His basic responsibilities were to make the rounds of all the wells twice a day, gauge the oil storage tanks daily, coordinate with the pipeline gauger, who was responsible for buying the oil from the filled tanks, perform first-level maintenance on the wells, and maintain the grounds at the wells and the tank battery sites. So this typically left quite a bit of time between the morning rounds and the afternoon rounds for squirrel hunting and fishing and water skiing, especially since his job was only five miles from Texoma. Except for the morning founds, including the gauging and coordinating with the gauger, it was the ultimate flex-time job. I spent many days helping him out with the grounds maintenance, particularly, in order to maximize our time at the lake. We had a 14-foot Arkansas Traveler boat with an 18-horse Evinrude, which we kept at Big Mineral Camp. We kept two 50-hook trotlines in the Big Mineral arm and typically ran them twice a day. Of course, that called for harvesting or buying a lot of bait - minnows, perch, crawdads, grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets, mostly. We always had plenty of fish in the freezer. My point being, we spent a lot of time on the lake and were well positioned to assess the activities of others on the lake.

It didn't take long to make a generalization that there were Dallasites - loud, rude, drunken, unmindful of others rights - and then there was everyone else. I'm sure there were exceptions, but we were never made aware of them. Amon Carter was right.

After getting out of the Army in 1973, I ended up working for Texas Instruments in Dallas, and we lived in the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch for 12 years, before moving to Southern California. We experienced Dallas to be the most hedonistic place we have ever lived in. Oh ! My ! God ! If the Love of Money has a home base, it's Dallas, TX. And to make matters so much worse, so much of that avarice is cloaked in religion. Where is the best place in the world for a salesman or corporate executive to network? Easy, the First Baptist Church of Dallas, TX. Hypocrisy, what is thy name? Dallas, TX. 

Am I being hyperbolic? Now, really, have any of you ever known me to go off on a rant? At least one that wasn't justified?