Back when girls of my generation were swooning over those upstart musicians from England known as the Beatles, I couldn't have cared less. My heart was given to David McCallum.

The show was The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I did my best to catch it on television every week. (Remember, in those days if you missed a show, it was gone forever—unless you managed to find it in summer reruns.) McCallum's character, Illya Kuryakin, easily upstaged the show's main character, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn). I wasn't the only one; as Kuryakin, McCallum received more fan mail than any star in MGM's history.

I didn't write fan letters, and I didn't scream and swoon. What I did was buy and treasure his music. David McCallum was the son of musicians, and a classically-trained musician himself. I still have this record: Music: A Part of Me. McCallum plays the oboe on this excerpt, which he also composed.

I don't remember when we started watching the TV show N.C.I.S., though it was after it had already been on air a number of years—we eventually caught up via Netflix. Porter was the initiator, and I steadfastly resisted—until David McCallum, as the character Donald ("Ducky") Mallard, drew me in. Yep, he was still fascinating, 50 years later. Here's one of my favorite scenes:

I confess we stopped watching N.C.I.S. a few years ago, so the departure of Ducky from the show has less impact for me. He was the last-remaining member of the original cast, and although his role had been reduced for quite a while, at age 90 he was still planning to continue on with the work he loved so well.

As we say in the Episcopal Church, 

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 30, 2023 at 9:17 am | Edit
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Since we always buy used cars, I may not live long enough to get a cool car like the one my sister-in-law just bought. It has some impressive features, such as using facial recognition to know which of its regular drivers is sitting in the driver's seat, and adjusting the seat and mirrors accordingly. It has camera vision all around the car, and if in spite of all that you are about to back into an obstacle, it applies the brakes for you. It does many more cool things, including getting you from Point A to Point B, the last being pretty much where it and my own car intersect.

Recently I read an article that somewhat cooled my auto-envy: Modern Cars Are a Data Privacy "Nightmare," Says Study, in the International Business Times. If you're happy with your fancy modern car, don't read it. Elon Musk-haters will probably get an ironic kick out of it. It's a short article. Here's a teaser:

"Modern cars are a privacy nightmare" at a time when "car makers have been bragging about their cars being 'computers on wheels'", said Mozilla, which is best known for its privacy-conscious Firefox web browser. "While we worried that our doorbells and watches that connect to the internet might be spying on us, car brands quietly entered the data business by turning their vehicles into powerful data-gobbling machines."

Tesla was the worst offender, according to the study, with Nissan coming in second and singled out for seeking some of the "creepiest categories" of data, including sexual activity.

The study found that a staggering 84 percent of car brands admitted to sharing users' personal data with service providers, data brokers, and other undisclosed businesses.

Today's connected vehicles not only mine data from driving, but track in-vehicle entertainment and third-party functions such as satellite radio or maps.

Enjoy your next ride!

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 27, 2023 at 5:49 am | Edit
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The same guy who brought you the 18-Minute Cabin had an old, broken down pop-up camper that he decided to renovate from the ground up. I know a few people who might find the work interesting; I know I did. (44 minutes, does well at 2x speed.)

I've really enjoyed his YouTube channel, black spruce. Perhaps it's the uncertainty of life these days that makes me especially appreciate people with these kinds of skills. Either that, or I just like watching other people work. :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 24, 2023 at 2:13 pm | Edit
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I'm not posting the article I read about the latest efforts of China and other worrisome countries to use AI to divide and conquer America, because it's behind a pay wall. But here's the freely-available article from Microsoft that inspired it, and some brief quotes (emphasis mine).

In the past year, China has honed a new capability to automatically generate images it can use for influence operations meant to mimic U.S. voters across the political spectrum and create controversy along racial, economic, and ideological lines. This new capability is powered by artificial intelligence that attempts to create high-quality content that could go viral across social networks in the U.S. and other democracies. These images are most likely created by something called diffusion-powered image generators that use AI to not only create compelling images but also learn to improve them over time.

We have observed China-affiliated actors leveraging AI-generated visual media in a broad campaign that largely focuses on politically divisive topics, such as gun violence, and denigrating U.S. political figures and symbols. This technology produces more eye-catching content than the awkward digital drawings and stock photo collages used in previous campaigns. We can expect China to continue to hone this technology over time, though it remains to be seen how and when it will deploy it at scale.

Jack Barsky, former Soviet spy turned patriotic American citizen, has warned repeatedly against cyber warfare. He has also pointed out that disinformation campaigns behind enemy lines are nothing new. I immediately thought of him when I read this article, because the sophistication level of disinformation is skyrocketing, thanks in part to Artificial Intelligence.

Remember when you could easily detect phishing schemes because the English grammar and writing styles were so bad? AI can solve that problem, and it's getting better all the time.

We all know how divided America has become, on almost any issue you can think of. Part of that is real, but there's an accelerant out there that is turning our campfires—around which we can roast marshmallows, drink cocoa, and calmly discuss anything from the details of our lives to the problems of the world—into world-destroying conflagrations.

That accelerant is social media interactions by agents pretending to be what they are not, insinuating themselves into online discussions, poking and tweaking, providing "news stories" of questionable veracity and false "personal experiences" designed to provoke anger, irrationality, and hopelessness. It's important to remember that the enemies, whoever or whatever they may be, don't care much, if anything, about what side we are on in the conflict, as long as we get angry and learn to see those who differ from us as less than human.

We must not fall for this. We must fight this with all we have.

I do not mean we need government-and-big-tech censorship, which has already proven far too effective at keeping us away from information that is actually helpful. I'm not certain of any good way to counter this kind of attack, except personally.

We can stop rising to the bait.

When faced online with some speech or action that makes us angry, we need to bring to mind a respected friend who holds views we consider related, and respond, if at all, with that friend in mind. If we can't find a friend like that, we need to get more friends. And it's probably better not to react at all. If it's a Chinese tiger or a Russian bear that's poking us, we're not going to get anywhere good by poking it back.

I don't mean that there isn't real evil out there worth getting angry about. Nor do I mean we shouldn't speak the truth. Now more than ever it's important to seek and speak the truth. We need wisdom in choosing our sources, our venues, and our battles.

Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 21, 2023 at 8:55 am | Edit
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I don't like to pay too much attention to elections until things have shaken themselves out enough to narrow the field somewhat. I'm more aware of Ron DeSantis' race because he's our governor, but whether I'd vote for him or not I don't know. Frankly, he's the only Florida governor I've liked in longer than I can remember, and wonder if he's not needed more here than in the Oval Office.

Of Vivek Ramaswamy I confess I know little more than his name, and having read it more than heard it I'm not even sure I can pronounce it correctly. But the following video caught my eye, and maybe some of you can guess why it did and why I watched it: It's set in New Hampshire, home of over half of the best grandchildren in the world.

Here a 10-year-old girl asks Ramaswamy a question. Maybe she was set up by her parents; then again, I know 10-year-olds who could have both come up with that question and been as articulate in asking it—even if the answer would have left them in the dust.

With the admission that I know little about Ramaswamy's politics and positions, I have to say that it was really nice to hear such calm, thoughtful, intelligent—and therefore rare—political speech.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 18, 2023 at 9:24 am | Edit
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Have you ever heard of Pippa Malmgren? Maybe you have—not everyone is as ignorant of current events and culture as I am. Let's just say she has a very broad knowledge and experience base, and is absolutely fascinating in this 1.5-hour podcast with Ed D'Agostino, where she expounds on geopolitical, social, and economic realities, and how they connect.  (bold emphasis mine)

I haven't listened to the podcast; instead I read the transcript, which you can find here: The Space Wars Are Here. Take your pick; I'm a fast reader, and generally prefer print to audio, but the podcast at double speed might have actually been faster. If you can make the time, I'd recommend it. It's good stuff, and unfortunately may be important to be aware of.

Here are some time stamps, followed by a small handful of excerpts:

Time stamps:
00:00 Introduction to guest and what we talk about
03:28 The real story behind the “coup” in Russia
08:10 A Ukraine resolution has become a NATO imperative
15:19 How China and Taiwan fit into the Ukraine peace negotiations
24:02 We are already in WWIII
25:18 The invisible war in space
34:43 How tech innovation solves tech vulnerabilities
41:10 The mood in Washington and across the country in general
51:50 The rise of political angst in America, and what might be driving it
1:03:12 The economic “elevator” in the US is broken
1:08:58 Thoughts on the US presidential election

On the Russian side, I always think the most wonderful quote is really apt here. It came from Carl von Bismarck, who was the Iron Chancellor and who knew more about diplomacy than anybody alive today, and he said, "Diplomacy is the art of building ladders for others to climb down." And that's the situation we have here, is that Putin in some ways, he has no exit from what has turned out to be a terrible situation, and so this is not about being nice to him. It's like you're dealing with a cornered caged creature that is going to behave worse, until they can find a way to escape the situation.

There's an active strategy that the US is literally airlifting the most valuable parts of the semiconductor production in Taiwan, which are mainly those Dutch lithography machines, which cost 250 grand each, I think, and they're moving them to Texas and Arizona. And they're moving the families, because you need a certain amount of skill to operate these things. There's been lots in the press in the United States about we don't have the skills to make super edgy semiconductors, but the Taiwanese know how to do this. And those families are like, "Great, I'll just become American. How fabulous." ... I also see semiconductor production moving into space. We're going to have in orbit manufacturing that produces much higher grade computer chips at a lower cost.

We're in a hot war in cold places. Now those cold places are space, the Arctic, and the High North. People are like, "What do you mean we're at war in space?" I'm like, well, okay, so let's remember we live in a GPS world, and so we're completely dependent on satellites for not only missile guidance, but frankly, Uber Eats, right? None of this happens. ...

So what's been happening in space? The Russians have been targeting their own satellites, particularly the really big ones that weigh like 4,000 pounds, smashing them to smithereens, creating this huge debris field, which they call a Kessler effect, which has been described as razor blades in a washing machine. And that is partly what has forced the International Space Station to nearly evacuate on a few occasions, because they're getting caught in the shrapnel field that the Russians created. Now, why did they do it? Because they're trying to deny access to those critical orbits. ... The Chinese have also been very active in space, demonstrating they have lasers and all kinds of offensive capabilities, but two things there. One is only the United States and China have satellites with robotic arms. And the Chinese recently demonstrated with, I believe it's called the Shijian-17 satellite, that it was able to go up to a Chinese satellite, grab it with the robotic arms, and then hurl it into outer space. Now, why are they hurling their own satellite into outer space? To show us that they can. And so we're like, "Oh boy, all our satellites that we depend on could be gone in a heartbeat, and never to recover into the depths of space." So this is space wars.

It also has led to a fight over subsea internet cables. ... The fastest internet cable in the world is on a little island in the Arctic called Svalbard in Norway. Now, why is it there, of all places? Because that is where pretty much all the high altitude satellites connect to Earth, is at Svalbard. So you cut that cable, and suddenly your missile guidance system's not working, and your Uber Eats isn't neither. So how much damage can you do to the world? Answer, a huge amount. But luckily, that was a lot of redundancy already built in. ... It's such a wonderful story, it's so interesting. There was a oligarch yacht positioned over the top of the cable, and that yacht had a submarine inside it, but they think that, and I'll just say, we don't know who did this, right? And nobody wants to acknowledge who did it, but somebody's submarines went underneath it, and they cut away, I think it was six and a half kilometers of [cable]. Somebody cut it at both ends and took it away. Luckily, it was redundant. But it was the opening salvo to my mind of World War III.

There's this invisible war that it's there if you look for it, but because no one's given you the overarching narrative of this World War III happening in these spaces, in these ways, most people just don't even see it. And then that's just the hot war in cold places. I've also said we're in a cold war in hot places, which is what I've described in the Pacific and Africa. And I'm about to do a piece talking about the hot war in hot places, because now the coup in Niger, and the string of coups across Africa, it's literally heating up into a regional war, where it's ultimately the Russians versus the West.

I feel like this is coming to a head, some of what was happening in this country politically, where you had far left and far right people ... I'm going to try to thread the needle on this, but you had one side not understanding the other, and I almost feel like that was a distraction put out on purpose by the political class, if you will. I've abandoned the idea of there being this real left versus right divide. I'm sure there is to some extent, but I feel like the bigger divide is really those with political power and everybody else, all the rest of us. There was a song released last week by a little known singer in West Virginia named Oliver Anthony and this guy, he was doing his thing, he's an artist, he's putting his music out on YouTube and getting maybe a few hundred views. Then he released a song that I want to play for you, because I really want to know what you think because this song, last time I looked, after having been posted for eight days on YouTube had already achieved 12 million views. I'm sure it's way higher even as I speak, but I think this guy nails really what a lot of people are thinking.

Wouldn't you know? The day I read that paragraph, I had also run into that song elsewhere. The Malmgren podcast had been sitting in my inbox for weeks, and I just happened to get to it the day I heard this song for the first time. Here is Oilver Anthony's Rich Men North of Richmond (which as I write this is up to 61 million views).

Remember those days when everybody said inflation was dead? And I'm like, "Listen, as an economist, I'm telling you, when you throw free money in the system and you drop interest rates to zero, the only purpose is to create inflation." ... What we did is we tipped the balance in favor of the speculators, at the expense of the savers. And the savers are now feeling it, or the people who don't have any savings, they feel it in the form of, "Wait a minute, I'm working this hard, but I can't feed my family." And this is what gives rise to Trumpism. ... Inflation hits the poor really hard and really fast.

One of the trends that I find really heartening is that a lot of companies in America, particularly regional, large, medium-sized businesses, so not your Fortune 500s, but real companies that generate genuine unimpaired cashflow that do real business, increasingly they've been ... reverting to a very old model, which is, let's hire high school graduates, not even college, let's hire high school graduates and let's offer them that we will train them in the company because the school system isn't even providing the skills that we need. They may have a degree, but we got to train them again from scratch. So, let's bring them in, and then we'll say, "We'll pay for your college education." So you can do that while you work here, but we train you first with our priorities. And so it's the old-fashioned apprenticeship system that the whole German economy was always built on, and that economy has always been very sound because it was focused on small and medium-sized businesses. A lot of family owned businesses, regionally rooted businesses. And that's working well. But of course, that's heretical to say to the education system, which thinks that they own the stamp of approval on whether you're employable or not.

I am very optimistic about the world economy of tomorrow. I see so many new jobs being created, so much innovation that's going to make our lives easier and better. I think the biggest constraint on the future is, number one, we refuse to take advantage of the free time that we're given, because we're so ego-driven. ... We keep wanting to still make more money and have more stuff. So, that's a human problem that can be solved. Second, our most undervalued asset in the world economy are people. And we have this industrial revolution mentality that you have to have a certain degree, and you have to have a certain title, you have to have certain job skills in order to do certain things, which is simply not true. And people are capable of extraordinary things.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 15, 2023 at 5:36 am | Edit
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There's an Episcopal/Anglican magazine called The Living Church, which I'll admit I've never read and am therefore not endorsing nor repudiating. And the article I would point you to is behind a pay wall.

However, I here present to you the most important part of September's issue.

That's our church, our choir director, and one of our most important ministries. Resurrection Players draws children (and their families) from all over the area. Tim has an amazing talent for making children, from preschool through high school, comfortable with public speaking, singing, and dancing. (He's pretty good with adults, too.) If you ever want to meet a future Broadway star in his very beginnings, getting to know the kids in Tim's plays would be a good bet.

I wish this had been available for our children; at least one of them would have absolutely eaten it up. I'll bet several of our grandchildren would love it, too. But none of the grandkids is closer than 1300 miles away, and the program did not exist when our children were young.

However, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate this opportunity for those who can take advantage of it. It's not just about theatre and performing. It's about developing skills and confidence, and getting the whole family connected with a good community.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 12, 2023 at 5:49 am | Edit
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Earlier this week I both took a Covid test and wore a face mask for the first time in a long time. I hadn't been planning to do either.

I really didn't think I had Covid. I had a wicked sore throat, and barely any voice, so I wasn't going to church anyway, but I finally decided to take the test. If it turned out negative, Porter could reassure choir members that I hadn't exposed him—at least not to that—and if it were positive, I would have the reassurance that I was being given an immunization better than any vaccine could.

Taking a Covid test is a lot less stressful if you really don't care about the result.

As I had expected, it was negative.

For some reason, that knowledge didn't help either my throat or my voice. Covid-19 must not be the only virus game in town. At least I had the "it's not Covid" reply at the ready should anyone ask.

The face mask? That was because I had to go to the grocery store. I know masks are no longer considered particularly useful at stopping the spread of viruses, but it was completely effective for what I asked of it: encouraging other people to keep their distance, and shielding me from  their dirty looks should I be afflicted by a sneeze or a cough.

The only really scary part of the experience was how normal the mask felt after the first few minutes.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 9, 2023 at 9:50 am | Edit
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EReaderIQ is my good friend, and it ought to be Amazon's, given how much of my business they've sent the company's way. I partially understand that Amazon might be annoyed that I'm buying these Kindle books because eReaderIQ informed me that they were on special sale, but the reality is that I've spent a whole lot more money on amazon.com than I would have otherwise, even if most of my purchases have been in the $1 to $4 range.

One of the things I've been having fun with is accumulating books that I particularly enjoyed in my childhood. There are those I can't remember well enough to find again, even though I know I found them special at the time. And there are those that aren't available as e-books, or inexpensive second-hand books. But I've been finding enough books to keep enriching someone's coffers, though quite often the authors themselves are dead.

One such author is Walter Farley, with his Black Stallion series. A friend and neighbor of mine had her own pony, and induced me to vary my science fiction reading with some horse stories. This was one series I fell in love with, and I've so far picked up three of the first four for $3 each.

Sometimes rereading old favorites reminds me of why I loved them; sometimes the pleasure is marred by things I didn't notice sixty years ago. Rereading the Black Stallion books has done both.

As a child, I loved adventure stories with young people as the heroes. I still do. The Rick Brant books and Robert Heinlein's "juveniles" were another two series that I loved. (Heinlein's adult books were a mixed bag, some good, some awful—but I loved the ones with youthful protagonists.) Looking back, I'm a little surprised it didn't bother me that it was mostly boys who had all the fun in these stories; females tended to be overly-protective mothers or weak, silly girls. But it didn't bother me; I strongly identified with the boys and ignored the girls. (And no, that doesn't mean I had any gender confusion in real life, any more than I thought I lived on Mars or could leap tall buildings in a single bound.)

On rereading the Black Stallion books, I can see clearly both gender and cultural stereotypes that were common during the 1940's, which is when the first five books in the series were written. But I don't find it objectionable; it all seems pretty reasonable for the time. If I read a book set in a particular time and place, I want it to reflect the culture and values of that location. There is little more annoying in a book than finding 21st century American values in the mouths of characters who are supposedly from a very different time and culture.

The Black Stallion Returns, for example, is primarily set in Arabia, and perhaps someone who really knows the culture of that time would find inaccuracies, but to my knowledge it is close enough, perhaps even with educational value. Certainly the culture and people, while acknowledged as different, are treated with respect.

And the culture back home? That's accurate, too. There really was a time in this country when children grew up with loving, supportive parents, where men and women married "till death us do part," and where children—boy children, at least—were given a lot more opportunities for adventure than they are now. Even if not quite to the extent that the characters in these adventure stories experience. That last part is where "suspension of disbelief" is required, but not the setting. That's the world I grew up in. Even if I hadn't, I think I'd rather read books like these than the depressing books that are marketed as "realistic fiction" today.

I'm curious to see how many of the Black Stallion books make it to the "can't pass this up" price range. I know I missed many of them as a child, being limited by a very small village library. Even the nearest "big library" wasn't all that large, and we didn't get there very often. There was no Inter-Library Loan, and buying books was rarely within the budget. I'm hoping I may have the opportunity to read some new-to-me stories.

Culturally, it may have been a more satisfactory time when I was young, but having such access to books as we have now is to me almost immeasurable wealth.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 6, 2023 at 6:21 am | Edit
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Yesterday we were driving home from a Saturday outing of museum + Cheesecake Factory, when we saw a small group of people waiting to cross the street near a local park. Travelling together, wearing clothing that identified them as a group, they reminded me of schoolchildren on a field trip, or perhaps tourists being led around a foreign city. The only weird thing was that more people than the leader were carrying banners—and wait! Were those swastikas on the flags?

As far as I could tell from the news reports this morning, the group did nothing more sinister than walk through the park, shouting "We are everywhere" and throwing out a few "Heil Hitler"-style salutes. There was enough angst and anger from politicians that I'm certain anything nastier would have been all over the news.

What would we have done if we had been walking through the park, as we sometimes do? Probably gawked a bit, then ignored them. (I'm "ignoring them" here as best I can while still telling the story, in that I'm not posting any photos or videos.) I know a priest—"a better man than I am"—who would probably have brought them cold drinks and told them about Jesus. That's how he treated the people from Westboro Baptist the time they picketed his church.

All I know is that there are a lot of people in this world with crazy ideas, but if they're American citizens, they have the same rights as I do.  (And if they're not, they still have human rights.)

If we don't believe in freedom of speech and the right of peaceable assembly for those whose ideas we hate, we don't believe in them at all.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 3, 2023 at 5:11 am | Edit
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