Thursday, March 1, 2018

Time for the Boy Scouts to break up with the NRA

 An open letter to Chief Executive of the Boy Scouts of America, Mr. Michael B. Surbaugh

Dear Mr. Surbaugh,

I am an Eagle Scout and a Cub Scout Leader. I credit the Boy Scouts of America with helping set my moral compass and I'm an enthusiastic participant, helping mentor my son and other young people through Scouting.

As a youth member, I enthusiastically participated in the BSA's shooting sports program, earning my Rifle Shooting and Archery merit badges. While an active youth member of the Order of the Arrow, I helped our Lodge Chief run a black powder range at our Council's annual Mountain Man Rendevouz. I enjoyed working with the Shooting Sports staff when I worked as a teenager at Camp Oljato in Northern California. The BSA did an excellent job of teaching me about firearm safety and proficiency. I look forward to helping my son learn how to safely use firearms in his Scouting career.

I understand that the Boy Scouts of America has long partnered with the National Rifle Association as part of BSA's shooting sports program. This was likely a fruitful partnership when the NRA was merely a firearm safety organization. This partnership is no longer in the interest of the Boy Scouts of America nor the youth we serve. In recent years, the National Rifle Association has become a political advocacy group, lobbying for radical political change that is putting the lives of children at tremendous risk.

I do not want the Scouting organization that I love so much to become tarnished by an unfortunate association with the NRA. Likewise, I don't want the NRA to benefit from the BSA's good reputation.

When I was a Scout, I learned that the right choice was often the hard choice. I know that it will not be easy to disentangle the BSA from the NRA, but the time has come. Please take immediate steps to separate the BSA from the NRA and create new programs for the shooting sports program.

Yours in Service,
Mike Ryan Simonovich
Eagle Scout '96
Order of the Arrow Vigil Honor '96

#####UPDATE 3/1/2018 13:30#####
 If you agree with my sentiment, please sign this petition:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I refuse to give in to fear

In the name of my friends and family who are LGBTQ;
In the name of my friends and family who are immigrants;
In the name of my friends and family who are women;
In the name of my friends and family who are disabled;
In the name of my friends and family who are minorities;
In the name of my grandparents who came to these shores as refugees, fleeing the horrors of war, nationalism, and hatred;
In the name of my son who deserves a better world;

I refuse to give in to anger. I refuse to give in to hatred. I refuse to give in to fear.

I resist.

I choose love. I choose community. I choose camaraderie.

To all of my LGBTQ friends and family;
To all of my immigrant friends and family;
To all of my female friends and family;
To all of my disabled friends and family;
To all of my minority friends and family;
To all people, everywhere, who are suffering;

If you need food, I will feed you. If you have fallen, I will give you my hand. If you are bullied, I will stand by your side.

Love makes us strong. Openness makes us strong.

We will all make it through this together.

Remember that our politics swings like a pendulum, but it inclines toward progress. Like an inchworm, it must draw back before it can stretch forward.

We must accept the legitimacy of the recent election. We must have faith in the strength of our institutions and our shared values. We must have faith in the good will of our fellow humans.

Now, it is our work to turn toward our communities and see how we can help each other. It is time to stand together and help each other. It is time to plan for the next four years and the long future beyond that. It is time to build a future that is warmer, more loving, and more inclusive than the past.

Will you reject fear? Will you stand with me in this long struggle?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Refugee Story

My father was born in a DP (displaced person=refugee) camp in postwar Germany. He had no nationality, until he became a naturalized citizen of the US as a teenager.

His parents had survived World War 1, the Russian Revolution, and World War 2. They had strange accents, strange names, and strange customs. They weren't English speakers. They weren't Protestants. They were outsiders, desperately fleeing the misery of postwar Europe, trying to find safety and security.

Despite their differences, the United States welcomed them. Despite their differences, they became Americans. My grandfather went on to become a civilian intelligence analyst for the United States Air Force, helping protect this country at the height of the Cold War. My father, a refugee until he was 4 years old, has worked for Fortune 500 technology companies, helping to secure our financial and medical records. My siblings include an entrepreneur, a psychologist and teacher, an engineer, and a college student.

Our family is part of the tapestry of this great nation. We came here as strangers, we were welcomed, and now we are Americans.

I say fling open the doors. Let them come. They will only make us stronger and richer as a society, and will help us best embody our national values and virtues.

By all means, let them come.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Robot Curve

Kevin Kelly's Robot Curve, as rendered by Cory Doctorow

No robot could do my job.
No robot can do my job as well as I can.
This robot can do my job as well as I can, but i need to catch all the exceptions that it's not smart enough to deal with.
This robot can do my job as well as I can but it needs me around to fix it when it breaks.
This robot can do my job as well as I can.
Why would anyone want to do that job? It's a robot job.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Information Doesn't Want to Be Free (it wants to not be anthropomorphized)

Computers and the Internet are essential to the well being of the vast majority of humanity. People with access to the Internet score higher on any measure of quality of life you care to measure - health, education, income, life expectancy, etc. The global network of computers helps artists find fans, small farmers find markets, abused women find legal advice, and LGBTQ teens in small towns find acceptance and moral support. It helps the disenfranchised tell their stories and it helps political activists get their message out.

Computers and the Internet are here to stay. They occupy our vehicles, our workplaces, our homes, our pockets, and in some cases our bodies. They are incredibly powerful tools. Like other powerful tools they can be a great boon. They can also do great harm. 

The rules and regulations that we put in place surrounding computers and the Internet are byzantine and may at first glance appear to be dry and boring. In fact, they are critically important to promoting a free and prosperous society. Luckily, we have Cory Doctorow to help us contextualize and understand the incredibly complex issues surrounding computers, the Internet, and intellectual property.

In his latest book, Information Doesn't Want to Be Free, Doctorow unpacks the complex issues surrounding Internet policy, surveillance, security, privacy, digital rights management (DRM), and how artists can make a living in the digital age. Doctorow does all this in his characteristic breezy, conversational style, making the minutae of International copyright agreements interesting, engaging, and shows how they are relevant to all of us.

If you are someone who uses computers or the Internet (that means you!), this book is essential reading.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Protopia - Envisioning an Improving Future

As part of the movement to return to optimistic science fiction, Kevin Kelly proposed a writing project on the web magazine The prompt was to write in 100 words or less, a description of a compelling future 100 years hence that is neither horrible dystopia (machines harvesting our energy, vast squatter cities picking through the garbage of the rich) or boring utopia (free food, no work, sybaritic decadence).

By promoting optimistic and appealing future scenarios, we may be able to inspire young people to become technologists and scientists that work to create such a future. (More on the Optimistic SciFi movement at Neal Stephenson's Project Hieroglyph page

Below is my humble submission:

Small scale fusion and distributed solar cells make energy cheap enough to ignore.

Radical transparency reduces inequality to tolerable background levels. Prediction markets and algorithms inform policy making.

New perennial food crops, restore tilth and sequester carbon in healthy, biodiverse soils. Small scale attempts at deextinction lead to increasingly ambitious rewilding projects.

Human population voluntarily split between dense cities and distributed villages. All are connected by high speed networks. There are no hinterlands.

Automation renders most human work unnecessary, liberating people to engage in creative and analytic pursuits. Code and algorithm auditing are major sources of employment.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Lenovo Yoga 2 11

A customer has asked me to prepare some Windows 7 machines to go to South America for some fieldwork. Because of the scope of the project (and some time constraints) we didn't use an institutional vendor through the University, but went to Best Buy instead. We settled on Lenovo's nice, compact, light weight Yoga 2 11. It comes with Windows 8.1, but we intended to 'downgrade' to Windows 7. The Yoga 2 11 doesn't come with a CD drive, but that wasn't a problem - I just grabbed a USB CD drive and prepared to install Windows 7 from a CD. It turns out that the Yoga 2 11 comes with an unadvertised 'feature' - you cannot boot it from an external source.

I assumed that this was merely some BIOS security getting in the way. In BIOS, I disabled Secure Boot, disabled Fast Boot, and enabled USB Boot.

Going the traditional route, I rebooted and hit F12 at the splash screen to select an alternate boot source. Nothing. My only option was Windows Boot Manager. I selected that and Windows 8.1 launched.

Accepting that I'd have to interact with the 8.1 OS, I went into Advanced Startup Options. Under Advanced startup, I selected 'Restart now'. I then selected 'Use a device'. I first tried 'EFI USB Device' (the CD drive is connected via USB, right?) and received the following error: 'System doesn't have any USB boot option. Please select other boot option in Boot Manager Menu'. Next I tried 'EFI DVD/CDROM' and received 'System doesn't have any CD/DVD boot option. Please select other boot option in Boot Manager Menu.'

After spending several hours on the phone with Lenovo tech support (3.5 hours, 4 representatives) I eventually got through to a supervisor. The representatives had variations on 'If you want to restore your OS, press the 'novo' button and boot from the recovery partition.', 'We can sell you the recover disk that you need.', and (my favorite) 'Yes, you can do that, but you'll have to talk to a different department so they can tell you how. Here, I am transferring you to the department that transferred you to me.' The supervisor quite definitively told me that boot from an alternate source is simply not an option for this machine.

This was very frustrating. I've had many frustrating afternoons with computers in the past, but I've always managed to get a resolution. This is the first time that I've had a computer say 'I can't let you do that Dave.' I really expect my machines to say 'Yes master!'.

So here's what I think about the Lenovo Yoga 2 11: It's a remarkably small, light, and sleek laptop. It seems quite responsive with a gorgeous monitor. If you're looking for a Windows 8.1 machine and know that you will never need to change the OS, this is a great buy. It is smaller than a legal pad and weighs barely anything at all. However, if you're a power user and expect to be able to change your OS, boot to Spinrite, want to play with Linux, etc. I'd strongly recommend against buying this machine.