Every target matters – this weekend’s IDPA match GoPro video

We had about 20 show up for this weekend’s IDPA match. I think I’m finally (18 months in) starting to get into a groove for planning, setup and administration to the point that I can actually enjoy the match and shoot well without being all stressed out about being the RSO.  Time and a few additional SO volunteers has certainly helped.  I’ve also been using my SIRT trainer a lot more and I think that may be changing some muscle memory for the better as well.

The GoPro video from all but the first stage (only forgot to film one this time – see I am less stressed out!) is below.  Let’s see how closely you al can watch: do you see the stage and even the target where I dropped 12.5 seconds on score alone?

Other than the one match blowing target, the rest of the stages went really well, with the exception of a procedural (you can hear me call it on myself…) on the last stage – I didn’t scan wide enough when coming to the window to actually pickup the target I was supposed to be engaging and picked one  up out of order.  In the end (with the added 12.5 second penalty…one on target) I finished 4th out of 18.

Ah well, back to the practice range.  Doing the classifier in October trying to inch myself closer to Expert.

 

Learning from the past on 9/11

Three years ago, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks I shared my 9/11 story.  I wasn’t in New York or DC on that day, nor did I know anyone that was killed, but 9/11 is very personal for me nonetheless.  However, on this anniversary my mind is not focused on the events of that day, but rather what has been done since that day that is in some way related to the attacks.

We’re admonished to “Never Forget”.  Like most bumper sticker slogans, I think there is some wisdom there, but you have to get beyond the initial emotional (conditioned) response and think more deeply about what is worth remembering and also examine what we are doing based on what we remember.

I try to never forget that 13 years ago today, 2,977 people woke up with no idea they would never see the sun set ever again.  Based on that remembrance, I try to make sure to get as much as I can out of each day without pushing too hard – what’s the point of living if you can’t enjoy it?  This sort of remembrance builds up.

But I see and hear far too many that try to never forget the fear of terrorism they felt that day and anger at the religion shared by the 19 terrorists and those that supported them. Based on this fear and anger we’ve done some things and had some things done in our name that have diminished us, individually, as Americans, as “the West” and as human beings.

Going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq (twice three times as of last night) and committing acts of war (i.e. droning people to death) in many other countries in the Middle East is at the top of this list.  Thirteen years into it, we have to ask ourselves has the human cost of these wars been worth it – have we achieved what we set out to do?  There is no clear sign that these wars have given us any less to fear from terrorism – in fact they may have created even more of a terrorist threat by our actions.

The anger and fear that drove these wars have resulted in all sorts of other, secondary negative actions:

  • we’ve increased our debt to levels nearly beyond our ability to pay
  • we’ve collectivized (or stereotyped) and entire class of people based on their religion.  (side note: what’s odd to me about this is that the people that are most apt to call our current administration “collectivists” have no problem doing them same thing to Muslims…or Mexicans.  We have to recognize and avoid collectivism in all its forms).
  • we’ve created the surplus of military equipment that is fueling the police arms race we saw demonstrated in Ferguson (coming to a city near you)
  • we’ve allowed government agencies to violate our basic human rights as they construct a surveillance and security state that watches our every move.
  • we’ve condoned torture, which not only dehumanizes those that do it, but also creates a precedent for those that order it to be done – that they are “above the law”
  • we’ve allowed new supply channels to be opened for heroin, which in turn feeds additional terrorism (additional funds) and police militarization (additional justification).

I do believe its true that those that forget the past are doomed to repeat it, so I am not arguing for throwing the history and events on 9/11 down the memory hole.  Rather, I think its time we pack up the fear and anger of that day, because I also believe its equally true that those that don’t take the time to learn from the past are also equally doomed to repeat it.

iWatch needs to cut the apron strings before it’s really going to be useful

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I watched the tech crunch live blog of the Apple presser today on the side on my screen while I was working. My short take: I will finally pull the trigger (and sign away another two years of my life to ATT) and upgrade my aging and broken iPhone 4 to one of the two new iPhone 6 models. Not sure I can pocket the plus, but I’ll take a look once both are in stores and see which one fits.

One more thing. I can’t see an iWatch gracing my wrist any time soon. I’ve been mildly interested in the smart watch idea and was really hoping that Apple would innovate here. I don’t see it. I think it’s going to be kind of like the iPod was before it grew a WAN radio – a neat toy that interests some. You have to start somewhere, but I think when the iWatch doesn’t need an iPhone around to connect to the net then it will get interesting. Until then, I need to buy some pants with bigger pockets.

Starting today: home education

The Kelley Family home school education center officially opened for business today.  After a long period of discussion, investigation and thinking, today we officially withdrew my son from the private K-12 school he had been attending since first grade.  The motivations were numerous:

  • First and foremost its something that our son wanted to do.  He asked about it and did everything we asked over the past few months to prove to us that he understood what it would and wouldn’t be and that he was up to the task.
  • Although he had been doing much better both in terms of grades and hours of homework every night, it was still the case that most school systems treat boys like broken little girls.
  • Both my wife and I did a lot of reading about education: what it is, how you get it, what the system we have today actually does, etc.  If you want to have your eyes opened to some things you wish you could unsee, look at the real history of the Prussian American education system.
  • I spent some time thinking about the skills and knowledge I use on a day to day basis both at work and at home and compared that to what I learned in school and what my son is learning.  I also took a look at the skills and talents of candidates for intern positions I was interviewing at work vs. what I wanted them to have.  Lots of mismatches to say the least.

Although we did (do?) have a few reservations:

  • Of course “socialization” always comes up (it’s the homeschool equivalent of the Libertarian question “but who will build the roads?”) and it was a concern for us as well.  He is pretty involved in the church youth group and has a emerging group of friends in the neighborhood that I think will help here.  He has also continued to regularly talk with the friends he met at Porcfest, thanks to Skype.  So its something we’ll have to watch, but I think it will be OK.
  • The big question was whether we (me, my wife and most importantly my son) could “do” it.  Could we effectively educate?  There are a few things that got us past this one.  First, the realization that education is not something you can make anyone do – they have to want to (the old you can lead a horse to water saying comes to mind).  I think home education could actually be more productive since he will be able to study what he is interested in and interest means a lot for desire.  Next was an understanding of what 8th grade is really all about: review.  I skipped 8th grade and my daughter really coasted through her 8th grade year at the same school.  If we were going to try home education, this was the year.  Then there was the (almost overwhelming) amount of materials that are available.  Kahn Academy, Ron Paul Curriculum, iTunes University will all be making appearances in our home this fall in addition to some plain old physical books (“real” books mostly – not text books).  Last was the realization that it doesn’t have to be forever.  We’re doing home education for this academic year and evaluate how it goes at the end of the year.  If it’s working and we want to continue, we will.  If its not or if we think the best option is to go back to school, we’ll do that.

My son will be setting up a blog to document his adventure and I will post the link when its live.  All in all I think we made a well considered decision and I am excited about the discovery and conversations that will happen in the next 9 months.  I’m not sure exactly what it will look like, but I know for sure it won’t be anything like this:

The work – money – consumption cycle (or “I had a dream”)

I composed this post almost entirely in a dream the night before last. Seriously.  I wrote most of it up in the hour or so after I woke up, finishing it up this morning (busy day yesterday…). Since my dreams usually consist of the physically impossible and discontinuous as a metaphor for something my sub conscious needs to express , a more or less fully formed logical thought is somewhat remarkable.  Here it goes:

Almost everyone I know would say that they work too much, or more precisely spend too much time working.  The success of a book like “The 4 hour work week” is a testament to this. The reason most people give for continuing to work when they say they do it too much, is that they need money.  They need money to be able to consume, both necessities as well as desires (needs and wants).  You need water, food and shelter. You want a nice car, nice clothes and the newest gadget. You need money for all of it.

With everyone working so much, it would seem logical to conclude that it should be easy and cheap to consume, since a large portion of that work would increase the supply of things to consume.  Increased supply equals lower prices.

The reality for most people today, however, is that the things they consume are actually getting harder to find and more expensive. This drives them to work more in order to make more money to be able to afford what they both need and want to consume.

It seems to me that there are three drivers for this contradiction:

  1. Labor is not being efficiently allocated to the areas where it will be most valued, specifically creating the things that people need and or want the most.  The reasons behind this vary from the “everyone needs to go to college” meme (which is increasingly looking to be driven by similar motivations and will have similar results to the “everyone needs to have a house” meme) to all sorts of market distortions (corn subsidies, tax credits for electric vehicles, etc).  Regardless of the causes, the net result of inefficient labor allocation is that people don’t make as much money as they could and things get made that people don’t need (which creates the the need for the third issue listed below).
  2. The supply of money is increasing faster than the supply of stuff to buy with it. Much has been written about the evils and causes of monetary inflation that I will do no better trying to explain here.  Regardless of what you think about inflation, the fact is that by the time you get the money you work for its worth just a little bit less than when you actually earned it.  The same thing that works for goods works for money – the more of it there is, the less each unit is worth. Whether this is a grand plan by cigar smoking, back slapping businessmen or simply the result of a series of poor choices, doesn’t matter. The result is doubly good for producers and doubly bad for consumers. Consumers are driven to consume now rather than later since their purchasing power is continually decreasing – they won’t be able to buy as much tomorrow as they can today. This is an obvious benefit to producers: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The second benefit to producers is that because of this continual source of consumption, producers can afford to make the capital investments required to get bigger. As they get bigger, they will of course produce more, but as long as inflation keeps going they have a guarantee that increased production will not lead to lower prices.
  3. The use of marketing to create demand rather than awareness. As a consequence of the mis allocation of labor and capital surpluses are created. Goods that the market didn’t want and couldn’t consume get made. The modern professional marketer rode in on his white horse with full psychological profiles and neuro-linguistic programming in hand (images of Don Draper should be flashing through your mind). The modern marketer changed the playing field from simply telling people about his product to making people want things they wouldn’t have otherwise. This artificial demand helps producers off load the surplus by filling peoples houses and garages with things they don’t need and over time don’t even want.

So, how about some redemption in the third act? All is not lost. There are (at least) three things you can do to break the cycle:

  1. Engage in production to meet some of your own needs. I can’t emphasis enough how important this is. To be clear, I am not saying you need to make all your own clothes, grow all your own food and build your own house. Even supplying 5% of your own needs, or event wants, in one area will confer all of the benefits. You will start to understand the true cost of things and therefore be wary when you have a chance to buy something that is cheaper than it should be (see externalized costs). Also, you will build self esteem because you will realize that you are not completely dependent on others for your existence.
  2. When you do consume, do so mindfully. Develop a series of questions that you can ask and answer quickly before making a purchase. The bigger the purchase, the more questions you should ask yourself and the longer you should give yourself to answer them. Evaluate the true costs – not only what does it costs in monetary terms, but what else could I do with that money or even more importantly with the time I will have to use to are that money? Is it something a I want or need? The needs of a human are surprisingly consistent over time, so if it didn’t exist 100 years ago, you probably don’t need it (this is not an argument for becoming a Luddite – wants are fine to fulfill as long as they are understood as such). These are just examples – you should come up with your own that make sense to you.
  3. Learn the lost art of barter. Despite all the best intentions of the former congressman of the great state of Texas, the inflationary monetary system isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Many have predicted its demise, and although it won’t (can’t?) go on for ever, it seems to be so well tuned now that it will go on longer than is good for anyone, including producers (that may be what started to happen in 2008).  The simple realization that people will take things other than paper/digital money in exchange for goods is extremely powerful.  The idea that you can take things in exchange other than paper/digital money can be even more powerful.  Trade some of what you make yourself or pay someone in silver.  Take bitcoin for something you are selling.  It takes some practice, but with a few reps you can get good at trading value for value, where both parties come out as winners.

Not sure what triggered all of this (maybe something I ate?), but I think the work – money – consumption cycle is something that deserves a little more conscious reflection.

Reading some St. Augustine

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Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.

From City of God

Dealing with disappointment

For me, the hardest part about dealing with disappointment is the post-disappointment self flagellation.  I usually don’t dwell for too long on the source of the disappointment, either the thing I wanted that I didn’t get or the thing I didn’t that I did.  Rather, my inner perfectionist rears its ugly head and I beat myself up for not seeing the main reason for things not going my way, which due to 20/20 hindsight, is always so obvious afterwards.  The more seemingly obvious the reason, the worse I feel.

I was disappointed yesterday and the reason is so obvious (now) that I should have seen it coming a mile away / months ago and not elevated my hopes so much.  For some reason though this one really isn’t bothering me all that much.  Maybe I knew the reason…but just didn’t admit it to myself.  Have to have a think on this one.

The post I meant to write about Ferguson

This post started out life very differently than it’s appearing here now.  It was all about the false choice we are being presented with (support the police/damn the rioters or support the protestors/damn the cops) and the lack of critical thinking being displayed on both sides in Ferguson.  It was a pretty long post, one of my longest in fact, at almost 2,000 words.  I had a browser window that I had thrown every interesting story into for almost a week – and has used most of them as sources.  I wrote down everything I was thinking and I thought getting it out, going through the writing process to refine my thoughts, would make me feel better.  It didn’t – it made me feel worse.  After writing it down, I was not only bothered by what was going on in Ferguson, I was bothered that I was bothered by it.

For a long time now I’ve tried to be very conscious of where things fall: my circle of influence or my circle of concern.  I originally learned about this idea reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People when I first got out of college.  Recently I learned that, like most wisdom, the concept is much older, tracing itself back to the Stoics of Rome.  The basic principle is that you classify everything into one of two buckets: influence, which are things you can do something about and concern, which you can’t.  Focus on the things you can actually do something about and you’ll waste less time worrying about things that you can’t fix anyway.  I guess if I had been listening to the message of the so called serenity prayer (the real one, not the watered down/edited one), I would have learned this a lot earlier.

The reason the original version of this post was bothering me was that it was all about things in my circle of concern: the fraying of society, police militarization and the use of divide and conquer tactics by the string pullers.  So I deleted it .  And I wrote this to get back into my circle of influence.  Here’s some things I can do, that I hope I actually do:

  • Starting closest to home, I am going to pick up working with my kids again to develop their critical thinking skills.  I think so much of what is going on in Ferguson stems from lack of critical thinking and what takes its place when its absent: emotion or fear based response.  I am thinking specifically about what has happened after Wilson shot Brown and and specifically NOT trying to make any comment on the incident that started it all.  There is just too little I know and the story is changing so rapidly around the shooting to say anything about the starting point, but I think there is plenty that can be known about what has happened since.  If a few more people on both sides were able to understand what was really going on, think about what they wanted to achieve, communicated with compassion and acted with humility,  I think things would have taken a radically different course.  Maybe my kids can help keep something like this from happening the future by being one of those “few more”.
  • Moving out into the neighborhood, I am going to let the folks I am close to know that they don’t have to choose between supporting the police and supporting the protestors.  That there is a third option, even though it isn’t presented by anyone.  You can choose to support peace.  You can choose to support the peaceful protestors who are seeking justice and the peaceful police (and individuals) who are protecting property.  At the same time you can condemn the rioters and looters who are violating property rights and the cops that are violating human rights.  I think the conversation should shift from what group we support and condemn to what actions we support and condemn, regardless of who does them.  That conversation would actually start to solve the issues instead of make things worse.

Viktor Frankl said:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Choosing your response is critical thinking and and alongside growth and freedom, in that same space, lies peace as well.

Shall we play a game?

Yesterday, my son and I and a friend of his spent a few hours at GenCon.  It was a bit of a lark, since I hadn’t even heard of GenCon a week ago – a priest at my church mentioned that she was taking her sons for “all games, all weekend” and my interest was piqued.  A few google searches and emails later, I was purchasing a discounted ticket for the three of us to get official badges for Sunday only.

We spent about 5 hours in an around GenCon, but I have to say it left a bigger impression that I guessed it would.  Some thoughts 24 hours after getting back home:

  • Who knew that so many people are so into gaming?  I’ve been to lots of conventions before, but this one was packed – it was almost hard to see things in the vendor area.  I’m sure some of that had to do with it being Sunday and the tickets being cheaper, but still…
  • Who knew that so many people are so into a specific kinds of gaming?  When I heard “gaming convention”, I thought this might be games of all sorts – board games, card games, video games, portable games, arcade games, etc.  While there were a few spots where you could play video games, the vast majority of the space and the people were there for card,strategy, or role-playing games.  There were more games in these few categories at the show than I would have guess existed overall.
  • GenCon is proof positive that the market is everywhere.  A few examples:
    • Magic the Gathering cards – I don’t know much about this game, but it was one of the few I had actually heard of before I walked into GenCon (I think I’ll be learning a bit more since my son came home with a box of 500 cards – yes…I already learned that they are all “old” ones and not very useful for tournaments).  One thing I learned on the show floor is that there is a planned scarcity of some cards (Magic seems to be entirely card based) and that (albeit artificial) scarcity drives prices.  I saw some cards that were going for as much as three and four hundred dollars.  There is supposedly a card that has sold for over a thousand.
    • Games funded by Kickstarter – this shouldn’t have been a surprise given how much Kickstarter (and Indiegogo) seems to get used for everything else, but it seems to be making a big difference in the gaming world, letting fans fund the games they want to see made, disaggregating the power of the established game publishers.  Very cool.
    • The ecosystem that springs up around specific games: there were miniature makers, costume designers and artists all selling their wares based on the characters and themes from the most popular games.  Prices ranged from a couple of bucks to thousands.  There was even a bespoke furniture maker there that could custom craft a mahogany gaming table for D&D sessions with the global elite ;-)
  • Some people really get into this gaming thing.  I suppose its all just a function of math – given that there are lots of people into gaming, that there would per a certain percentage that would really get into it.  Really into it as in dress like their favorite characters, which could be anything from Anime FemBots to Gargantuan Barbians.  As adults.  In public.  With other people around.  Honestly, it was cool to see people expressing themselves so freely – just not something I would do (unless it was a really cool steampunk outfit…)

Most of all, going to GenCon reminded me of what its like to be new at something.  It’s not that I don’t try new things, I do all the time.  Rather, I usually know what I am geting myself into – I know what to expect, I know something about the terms, I know a little about the people.  The internet makes all that basic research possible, but I learned that it also kills a little bit of the joy of first person discovery.  Only having heard about GenCon a few days before I was buying tickets and going took away any opportunity to do any prep work.  To be honest, I think I’m going to go into a few more things “cold”.

If none of this has persuaded you to go to next year’s GenCon (my son and I will be there), then perhaps this will:

The human mind can be a powerful tool for good, but only if you know how to use it.

This quote from “The Trivium” has been rattling around in my head lately:

Only human beings have the power of intellectual abstraction; therefore, only human beings can form a general or universal concept. Irrational animals have the external and internal senses, which are sometimes keener than those of humans. But because they lack the rational powers (intellect, intellectual memory, and free will), they are incapable of progress or of culture. Despite their remarkable instinct , their product ions, intricate though they may be, remain the same through the centuries, for example: beaver dams, bird nests, ant hills, beehives.

It occurs to me that this ability of abstraction is both a blessing and a curse.  As Sr. Joseph rightly points out in the quote above, the ability of the human mind to observe the world around them and then to create general concepts/ideas about the way things work is the basis of all culture and progress – language, science, the arts, etc.  That’s the blessing part.

The curse comes not from the ability to form these concepts, but rather how we use them; specifically how we deal with the inevitable conflicts or inconsistencies between the models we have developed based on prior observations and an observation we make after the models have been created that doesn’t fit the model.  In other words, we think the world should work a specific way, but then we see it actually working another.  The question is what wins: how the world is actually working or our concept of how it “should” work? If the answer is the real world and that we need to adjust our concepts, then all is good.  If the answer is our concepts, then we quickly end up in all sorts of bad places: stereotypes, racism, collectivism – all of which stem from us forcing our ideas onto how the people in the world should behave instead of observing what is really happening.

The human mind can be a powerful tool for good, but only if you know how to use it.