I am (no longer) the NRA
The Senate's defeat of sensible background-check legislation was the final straw for me. If the Congress can't pass legislation that is supported by the vast majority of Americans thanks to one huge pressure group, then things are seriously broken. I can't fix everything, but I can at least withdraw my own personal financial support. So today I have posted the following to NRA Membership Services:
Please cancel my NRA membership #183508706 immediately. Enclosed is my membership card. I do not wish any further communications from the NRA beyond an acknowledgement of this letter. Please remove me from all NRA mailing lists at once.
Although I remain a supporter of shooting sports, I can no longer support an organization that prioritizes the profits of firearms manufacturers over all else. The disgusting and cowardly opposition to even reasonable limitations supported by the vast majority of Americans, as exemplified by pressuring the Senate to not pass a fill for universal background checks, is not in my interest or that of the country as a whole.
I will be taking any money I would have sent to the NRA and contributing it to Americans for Responsible Solutions instead.
I do regret that this means I'll no longer be able to help Boy Scouts learn to treat firearms safely and sensibly, thanks to the NRA's domination of the BSA Shooting Sports program. But I'd rather give up something I enjoy than continue to be complicit in the NRA's actions. I'll be forwarding copies of this cancellation letter to BSA contacts and to my congressional representatives.
April 17, 2013
Comfortable Cold-Weather Hammock Camping
Last night I decided it was time to test out my current cold-weather camping gear in a relatively safe environment - the corner of my backyard. I limited myself to gear I would have had along on a backpacking trip, and set it all up during the day so I'd be starting out with ambient temperatures. It was about 25 degrees (all temperatures are in Fahrenheit; I'm a yank) when I went outside to sleep at 9:30PM, and 13 when I got up this morning at my usual 4:00AM. In between I spent a warm and comfy night. I did get a little chilled when I had to get out of my nest to use the pee bottle and reset an errant tarp stake at 2:30 or so, but I warmed up again quickly enough. Here's what it took in the way of gear to make that happen:
- Hammock Bliss No-See-Um No More hammock - Obviously I didn't need the mosquito netting last night, but this is my regular hammock. One nice thing about the netting is that it has a couple of built-in pockets for storing phones, headlamps, and the like.
- Hammock Bliss tree straps - Usually these hold quite well and protect the trees I'm using. I had one of them wrapped around a swingset pole last night and it did slip a bit overnight on the slick pole, but fortunately not quite enough to put my butt on the ground.
- A couple of Black Diamond Neutrino Carabiners to attach the hammock to the straps.
- A couple of cheap Wal-Mart carabiners and about fifty feet of paracord to rig a ridgeline with.
- Hammock Bliss All Purpose Waterproof Shelter rigged close to the hammock as a rectangle. It definitely makes a difference to have a windbreak and a way to trap some of the body heat in a microclimate around the hammock. I'm probably going to replace this at some point, though, as I'd like a somewhat larger tarp.
- Titanium crevice stakes for the tarp guylines.
- ALPS Mountaineering Crescent Lake 0 Degree Mummy Bag - 0 degree is optimistic, but it's fine down to around 10-15 degrees on the ground. It's a lot heavier than a down bag but a whole lot cheaper too.
- Reactor Thermolite Liner - It's a bit tricky getting into a sleeping bag liner in a sleeping bag in a hammock, but boy does it add warmth.
- An old Nalgene water bottle filled with near-boiling water, wrapped in an old sock and tucked into the foot of the sleeping bag (between the bag and the liner).
- A cheap foam pad from Wal-Mart. I've modified a couple of ways. First, I cut it in half, so I can sleep on a "T" shape of foam, with one half of the pad turned sideways under my shoulders. This way it wraps around naturally as I lie in the center, extending the insulation up around me. Second, I've duct-taped sections of a Mylar emergency blanket to the flat side of the foam, with the reflective side towards the foam. This reflects heat that would otherwise be lost out of the bottom of the pad back towards me and makes a huge difference.
- Multimat inflatable pillow - I'll probably swap this out at some point; it's light, but a bit bulky even deflated and not astoundingly comfy. But it's better than sleeping with a rolled-up t-shirt as a pillow.
- Minus33 Merino Wool Briefs - Warm, and not scratchy. But after very little wear they're already showing a few tiny holes, which is disappointing given the price of the product.
- Teramar Thermolator II Crew Tee - Nice warm base layer. The thumb holes in the sleeves are a big win, keeping it down over my palms even as I toss in my sleep
- Duofold Expedition Weight Thermal Bottom - "Expedition weight" is an exaggeration, depending on where you want to take your expedition, but these are plenty warm enough for around here.
- An old promotional long-sleeve t-shirt and some ratty old sweat pants I've had for a while, mostly to give me a layer between the wicking and the bag liner.
- A good pair of wool socks
- An oversized pair of Gator Neoprene socks - Having the vapor barrier makes a big difference in keeping my feet warm.
- Outdoor Research PL 100 gloves
- Columbia Fast Trek Fleece Hat - Nice and warm, and comes down over the tops of my ears.
- UA ColdGear Balaclava - I actually kept this pulled down as a neck gaiter; it wasn't cold enough for me to want the coverage on my face.
- A pair of Hot Hands hand warmers. 60 cents or so for a night of chemical heat, which I consider a bargain. Depending on what position I'm in these set in my armpits, on my femoral artery, or in my hands.
- Miscellaneous gear: cell phone, weather radio, old Nalgene for a pee bottle, headlamp, zipper light.
With this rig, I could have gone another 5-10 degrees colder without undue discomfort (though I would have been feeling it if temps hit the low single digits). Add another layer of clothing and I'll bet I could take it down to 0 degrees. Beyond that I'd need to take additional steps that would involve spending more money, like a good down bag or a PeaPod. But this is good enough for any conditions I'm likely to encounter in the immediate future with our Scouts.
December 30, 2012
I am the NRA
It will probably surprise some of you (and not surprise others) to learn that I am in fact a member of the National Rifle Association. In fact, I'm not just a member: I'm certified as a Range Safety Officer, and certified as an instructor on pistol, rifle, and shotgun. I've been a gun owner for many years, I'm on our local BSA Council's Shooting Sports Committee, and I donate part of my time to train young men and women in Scouting on safe firearms use. I believe that citizens owning firearms is a good insurance policy against tyranny, and the state of Indiana has seen fit to issue me a concealed carry permit. I think my credentials as a responsible member of the shooting community are fairly impeccable.
That's why I want to say this loud and clear: the current NRA leadership and their asinine "we need armed cops in every school and a national mental health registry" proposal doesn't represent me in any way, shape, form, or fashion.
I thought long and hard about resigning my NRA membership (and I am happy to applaud those that have publicly done so). I'm not doing so, for only one reason: this would require me to also drop being a Rifle and Shotgun Merit Badge counselor for the Boy Scouts, and I feel I can continue to do good in that role. But I am incensed enough about this matter to speak out, and to urge other gun owners to do the same. Here's what I'm doing:
First, I responded to the NRA's mass email after their idiotic press conference, which invited me to publicize the "National School Shield Emergency Response Program" and send a personal note to Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's current leader. I decline to do the former, but here's the email I sent to Mr. LaPierre:
"P.S. I'm also interested in YOUR thoughts on this extremely important issue, so please feel free to send me a personal email to this address: WayneLaPierre@nra.org. Thank you again."
My thoughts? I'm frankly appalled at today's press conference, and at the failure of the NRA in general, and you in particular, to seize this moment to become serious and credible participants in the national debate on gun violence. As far as I'm concerned, you squandered the chance to show that responsible gun owners would be in favor of common-sense steps to keep guns out of the hands of the "bad guys" (such as closing the loopholes in national background checks) in favor of ranting about media favoritism and putting forth unrealistic policy proposals. I am deeply disappointed in the NRA's leadership on these issues, and will be making it clear to my own congressional representatives that the NRA does not speak for me in this matter.
Second, I emailed the President and my Congressional representatatives to make it explicit that the NRA does not represent me. "You have my support in making our children safer, and I trust you will stand up to the bullying of the out-of-touch NRA leadership."
Third, I urge you to do the same, if you're an NRA member. If you don't know how to email your representatives, Congress.org makes it dirt simple: click on "Write All Your Federal Officials" on the right side of the page.
Fourth, I intend to offset my NRA membership dues by making a larger contribution to a group that is working for sensible firearms laws. Right now I'm inclining towards the Brady Campaign though I haven't made up my mind for sure.
To be perfectly clear, I don't think "lone nuts shooting kids in school" is the problem that we need to be discussing here. While the situation in Newtown is utterly tragic, it's just one tiny piece of the statistic that really upsets me as a parent and youth leader: the tens of thousands of children who are injured or killed by guns every year. This isn't sport, this isn't personal defense, this isn't defense against tyranny: it's the effect of too many guns on the streets, and of it being too easy for anyone to get one of those guns. There aren't any easy answers to this, but there are steps that seem to me very likely to help, notably making a gun license at least as hard to get as a driver's license. I'm fairly sure that putting even more guns out there, or setting our schools up to be a hotbed of accidental shootings by well-meaning trained teachers, is not part of the answer.
December 22, 2012
Twitterless and Happy
From time to time I hear from folks - usually because my Dear Wife passes along their tweets - saying roughly "When is Mike coming back to Twitter?"
As far as I can tell right now, the answer is "never." This isn't some grandiose political statement. Rather, it's a simple reflection of one fact of life: the payoff from Twitter does not, for me, justify the time investment.
I'm coming up on 52 years old in less than two months. I'm acutely aware, in a fashion that was not true in my twenties, that everything I choose to do uses up some of my dwindling supply of hours on this earth. As life goes on, I find that this makes me ever pickier about what I'm willing to spend time on. Some things - like earning a living and supporting my kids - are simply not optional. But for many others, the question is simple: is this the most enjoyable and fulfilling thing that I could be doing with these hours?
In the case of Twitter (and pretty much every other social media network out there) the answer for me is a resounding "no." Sure, I could spend time composing carefully-crafted tweets designed to amuse and inform, as I did a couple of years ago. But that takes a lot of time, and what do I get in return? Not a heck of a lot. Twitter contacts are not, in the manner that I understand the word, friends. They're at best acquaintances, of the sort that you might say hello to in a bar or at a concert, but not people you can draw any substantial amount of support, love, or empathy from.
Twitter strikes me these days as a rather pernicious exercise in operant conditioning. You press the little lever (er, send out a tweet) and get a food pellet back (a comment from someone else). This in turn encourages you to press the lever again, regardless of whether you're really hungry, or whether there's a big steak in the back of the room. If you enjoy it, great; I'll pass. As with many other aspects of the computer revolution of the past seven decades, I'm not convinced that Twitter has made my life better. Unlike many of the other aspects of computing, this is one I can opt out of.
July 10, 2011
Yeah, I know. I've been horrid at updating here. I've been busy, and who hasn't'
Right at the moment, I'm on vacation (as much vacation as I ever take), which means I'm touring the country with family and only working 4 hours a day or thereabouts. I also haven't been reading nearly as much on the internet as I usually do, and somewhat to my surprise, I'm not really missing it. For over a decade I've obsessed with keeping up with hundreds of feeds in my RSS reader - first as one of the early bloggers myself, then as a writer for Web Worker Daily, then as a beginning rubyist.
Now? I'm not any of those things any more. I'm a guy with a coding job and a family. And I waste way too much time reading stuff on the web that does absolutely nothing to advance my interests, out of some vague sense of nostalgia and duty. Which is why Giles Bowkett's mention of an informational diet (referencing Amy Hoy's post on informational hygiene) came along at just the right time for me.
Being on the road as meant not keeping up with things - to the point where I think I can finally break at least some of the habits. My RSS reader has been undergoing a gradual purge of news sources, blogs of people I used to be in daily contact with, and so on. If you used to be a steady part of my life and we've both moved on, I'm vaguely sorry - but I want my time back. See y'all down the road somewhere, maybe.
March 13, 2011
I've been paying more attention to my diet over the last few months. In part, that's because my metabolism seems to be slowing down with age; while for many years I could eat whatever I wanted without gaining weight, now my limit is around 1700 calories a day. I don't follow any particular diet, though I'm partial to the general advice that Michael Pollan gives: "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much."
As part of paying more attention, I've looked at my intake of various vitamins and minerals. Generally I get a quite adequate supply of everything, but as with pretty much everyone else in the first world, I was eating way too much sodium. The various national bodies that have looked into this seem to have all ended up at about the same place: 1500mg of sodium is a good limit to aim for. That's the number in the current report of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans committee, though I cynically suspect that the American food industry will manage to get that relaxed before the report is accepted.
For some perspective, here's what limiting yourself to 1500mg of sodium per day means:
- No eating out.
- No packaged foods.
You don't have to be quite that extreme to get under the 1500mg line, but pretty close. You can order a salad or steamed veggies while out, and as long as they don't get loaded up with bacon or cheese or creamy dressing, you should be OK. You can eat some low-sodium packaged foods, but pretty much forget about opening a bag of chips.
On the other hand, if you like fruit and veggies and nuts (as I do) it's perfectly possible to get your sodium intake way down, as long as you do your own cooking. My own downfalls these days are cheese and seafood, both of which tend to run my intake back up. But overall, I manage to stay in the 1500-1600mg range most days.
When you first start trying to limit your salt intake, food will end up tasting very bland. But one thing I've noticed over the last couple of months: after a while, it takes far less salt to make things seem salty. A pinch of salt in a pot of soup is plenty for me now, and if I do try something like a potato chip my mouth puckers up from the overwhelming heavily-salted flavor.
November 24, 2010
I ran across a John Steinbeck quote the other day (from Steinbeck: a Life in letters) that struck me forcefully enough to copy down:
But the thing which probably more than anything else makes me what I am is an imperviousness to ridicule. This may be simply dullness and stupidity. I notice in lots of other people that ridicule or a threat of it is a driving force which maps their line of life. And I haven't that stimulus. In fact as an organism I am so simple that I want to be comfortable and comfort consists in -- a place to sleep, dry and fairly soft, lack of hunger, almost any kind of food, occasional loss of semen in intercourse when it becomes troublesome, and a good deal of work. These constitute my ends. You see it is a description of a stupid slothful animal. I am afraid that is what I am. I don't want to possess anything, nor to be anything. I have no ambition because on inspection the ends of ambition achieved seem tiresome.
I'm not going to claim that I have no ambition - but I do seem to have less ambition, or altered ambitions, than I had 30 or 40 years ago. Increasingly it feels like I have too much stuff (though this doesn't stop me from buying more stuff). A lot of things I'm keeping due to a combination of abhorrence of waste and lack of time; I don't want to just pull up a dumpster and dispose of possessions that someone else might benefit from, nor do I want to take the time to sell, give away, or otherwise find new homes for things. If I could snap my fingers and get 90% or more of the things I own to gain new owners, I probably would.
Meanwhile, I'm past wanting to be anything in particular when I grow up. I've drifted into writing software for a living and I stay there because I'm reasonably good at it and the pay rate is OK. But it's not a life-long dream, or really anything more than day-to-day income generator for me. I could equally well do something else, or nothing at all. Except of course "nothing at all" doesn't put food on the table for the kids.
November 22, 2010
The Pruning Saw
I think the first time that the huge mismatch between "things I want to do" and "things I have time to do" really came home to me was when I gained access to Harvard's Widener Library, which is somewhere around the eight-largest library in the world. Browsing through the Widener stacks convinced me that not only could I not read everything I wanted to, I couldn't even find it all, or read the titles, or come up with a good way to know what to read first.
As I age, this feeling recurs with increasing frequency. At 51, it's safe to assume that I'm past the halfway point of my life: I've done over half the things, read over half the books, tried over half the foods, had over half the experiences that I'm ever going to. I could tip the scale one way or the other, but fundamentally: the number of potential experiences continues to increase exponentially, and my time to experience them decreases linearly. The end game for this process is as distasteful as it is inevitable.
So it is that I find myself in a constant state of thinking (sometimes worrying) about what I can prune out of my life. There's some calculus of time, enjoyment, and necessity that I cannot clearly enunciate, but which on a regular basis reminds me that some things are just not worth the bother. Perhaps it's rereading a not-very-good novel, or spending time writing letters on paper, or alphabetizing the books on my shelves, but the internal message is clear: as my time decreases, I am more and more jealous what I allocate it to. In your twenties, it's easy to assume that you will live forever; in your fifties, it's much harder to do so.
So it is that I occasionally realize that some addiction is eating up more than its fair share of time. It's easy to get sucked into visiting X web site or indulging in discussions on Y forum or engaging in repartee on Z IRC channel. But there comes a point when I ask myself whether the time invested is paying off for me in quality of life, or even enjoyment, compared to what else I could be doing. When the answer is "no" then it's time to move on again.
November 19, 2010
Taking Back my Web Presence
Whether you call it user-generated content, consumer-generated media, or consumer-created content, there's plenty of it out there: Twitter and Facebook add a gazillion bytes of this stuff every day. And I've certainly done my share; as of this writing, I've posted to Twitter nearly 30,000 times. But lately, I've been growing disillusioned with spending my online publishing time in venues completely controlled by other people, whose goals are not really my own.
More and more, my participation in Twitter seems to have uncomfortable echoes of the Situationist notion of the spectacle - being ruled by the objects that I am supposedly producing, rather than ruling over them. Maintaining a Twitter persona requires constant attention to the tweetstream and a relentless production of new pithy thoughts for the entertainment of my followers - and for the enrichment of Twitter.com. The recently-announced partnership of Twitter and Gnip to resell access to streams of Tweets, the rise of "Promoted Tweets" (or, in more honest language, advertisements), and the leaks about an official Twitter analytics platform, all make it clear that tweets are a commodity (not that it was ever otherwise, but in the early days of Twitter it was easier to pretend).
As is often the case, it's instructive to follow the money. If you're twittering, you are not the customer. You're what's being sold, just as you are on Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, and a zillion other social media and UGC sites. And yet, you don't get any of the money. Writing for books and magazines is bad enough - the actual producers of content get but a small fraction of the cover price - but UGC raises this approach to the distribution of funds to a whole new level by cutting the producers out of the profit picture entirely.
I dimly recall having actually enjoyed writing for the web, back when I was first doing a blog over a decade ago. It wasn't so much a chore. The words and presentation were entirely mine, as was whatever income I could derive from the writing. I can't roll the clock back, and I don't know how much of a writing itch I've really got for updating my own site at this point. But (even though it won't make a whit of difference to the social media companies of the world) I'm opting for now to take back control of my own words by posting them here, instead of contributing them to do their fractional part for the enrichment of large companies.
November 18, 2010