Justice Rant One

There is an often cited tenet of the “western world’s” justice systems, and that is that an individual who is accused of a crime must be considered innocent until they are proven guilty. And yet so often our knee-jerk reaction is to encourage violence against those accused of heinous crimes — not yet even convicted. To suggest cruel and unusual punishments to those against which we perceive guilt, regardless of what evidence may have been presented, or withheld.

The righteousness of a Justice System is found not in how it treats the guilty, but in how it accounts for its treatment of those who are later found to have been innocent.

I suggest to you that even after an individual has been proven guilty before a court of law, their punishment must be such that those held responsible for their welfare during their incarceration, as well as we as a collective society, are able to live with it if we later determine that the proof was lacking, nay, that we prove conclusively that the individual was wrongly convicted. I further suggest that this doctrine should apply not only to those found guilty under protest or silence, but to those found guilty by their own admission, their own proclamation.

Despite the other tenet that says “it is better that ten guilty men go free, than one innocent man face punishment” history tells us that this is not often held to. Even on its best day our justice system allows for innocent men to be found guilty, be it by evidence that is incorrectly interpreted by the police, the prosecution, and the jury; or through the falsely accused being coerced into pleading guilty for fear of harsher punishment if a trial does not end favorably – after all, it is generally far more difficult to prove you did not do something, if there is even minimal evidence that can be arranged to suggest you did.

It is not enough for the government to send an apology or to offer a little restitution to those who are granted freedom after providing enough evidence of their innocence. It is imperative that we treat all of those that we incarcerate with dignity and respect, not because it is deserved by the truly guilty (for it is not), but because it is owed to those who are not. We are obligated to show humanity to the convicted, not because we have reason to believe it is in their best interest, but because it is truly in ours.

Stay tuned for the next Justice Rant…

DACA, Immigration, etc

I’ve written about immigration before. It’s not a new topic for me.

Since I am one (an immigrant) myself, I am occasionally asked what I think. I figured I’d write it down.

It’s simple: something has to be done if we are to bring an end to illegal immigration. Specifically, three things, ideally four depending on how you look at it, if we are to bring an end to illegal immigration while still maintaining a moral high ground and continuing to promote the American Dream.

The difficult part is that realistically, all three (or four) components MUST be sold as a unit, and even if they are implemented over a period of time, they must be designed not as individual components, but as an interconnected system.

1. Border Security: Stop the flow of traffic

It’s a simple concept, really: stop the flow of traffic. Of course, it’s easy for me to write this as I sit in an air-conditioned cubicle, thousands of miles from the nearest point on the border with Mexico.

I don’t think we need a border across every inch of the southern border, but security does need to be sufficient to catch the majority of people who are attempting to cross without prior approval from USCIS.

I don’t know if that means we need to increase security, or pay our Border Patrol agents more, or give them more technology or resources. I do know that we need a metric to measure how many people are attempting to cross, and we need a reliable method of measuring how many of those aliens (and I use that term because it’s what the Government calls us) are able to cross without interception.

2. Amnesty/Deportation: Handle the people who are already here illegally

Once the flow of traffic is reduced to a reasonably low number — preferably but unrealistically zero — you need a program to identify people who are here illegally, and resolve that issue of status.

Plenty of conservatives will simply say “deport them back to their country of citizenship” (or primary eligibility, if they were born here to illegal parents and ineligible for US Citizenship). That’s one way of resolving the issue, and depending on their history I would agree. The other would be to create a path to citizenship, just as any other alien (who arrived legally) has.

They don’t need immediate citizenship, maybe they begin with a conditional permanent resident status, like I did. Commit no crimes (perhaps grant exceptions for traffic violations), go to school or maintain at least half-time employment or provide valid justification as to why school and work are both impossible. After three years, remove the condition. After another two years, allow an application for citizenship.

3. Reduce the load: Make Legal migration more appealing

Legal immigration is a long and tedious task. It costs a significant amount of money, and takes a very long time with very little communication and results in a lot of uncertainty if you perceive yourself to be needing it urgently. It involves a lot of paperwork, and despite speaking English natively, we still got it wrong a couple of times.

A lot of things can be done to improve that — hire more staff for the USCIS to bring down case processing times. I’ve been waiting nine months for a replacement for my Green Card, and that’s a little bit ridiculous.

Bring the cost of migration down. All said and done, we’ve so far paid somewhere in the vicinity of $2000 USD, and I’m not even a citizen yet. For poor families who are seeking hard work with poor pay that Americans are unwilling to do, it seems only reasonable to bring that price tag down. At the very least, offer a reimbursement of some portion of that cost as a reward for being a Good Alien.

Reconsider what ‘refugee’ status options are available. Many of the people crossing our southern border didn’t originate in Mexico — plenty of them traveled much, much further, from places like Honduras and El Salvador. Some of them wish to perpetuate violence, I believe many of them seek only a better life for themselves and their families by escaping the violence at home. This one may have to involve some kind of treaty with Canada and Mexico to accept blocks of refugees and distribute them across North America.

4. Reduce the load again: Make Illegal migration less appealing

People break the law because of one of two things, and each is subjective based on the person’s own opinions.

  1. The probability of getting caught is sufficiently low that it is worth the risk of trying.
  2. The punishment for getting caught is sufficiently low that it is worth the cost of getting caught.

Think about it for a moment — how many people do you know who repeatedly commit criminal acts? I don’t mean people who are caught, I mean people who do illegal things because they think their chance of getting caught is minimal. Or, if they do get caught, they have sufficient resources available that the punishment isn’t going to hurt them too badly.

This is related to #1, increasing the border security, but it isn’t strictly the same. It increases the probability of getting caught, but that’s only half of the equation.

People who attempt to (illegally) cross the border must be punished in an appropriate way such that it discourages them from attempting to do so again (illegally) in the future. I don’t know what that looks like, exactly, whether it’s to reduce the time to deportation, or to put anyone with two arms and two legs on a chain gang for the duration of their stay, I don’t know.

If we are to maintain the moral high ground, we can’t be torturing or separating families unnecessarily, we must treat the prisoners well. But we can treat prisoners in a humane way that is still unappealing and undesirable, and then send them home as quickly as the justice system will allow.


That’s my opinion. You’re free to disagree, but I think that in large part it remains in line with the values of the country I chose to live in.

Again, all four components (especially the first three) need to be done in connection with each other. They must be a single intertwined bill — you can’t say “we’re going to offer amnesty” and then not close the border, it encourages further illegal migration. At the same time, you can’t say “all you illegal people get out” because for the most part, they’re really good at hiding and the border security is sufficiently loose that it won’t be long before they all come back.

And this is where I leave it. Enough rambling for me 🙂

Parenthood: First Birthday

I realized when I posted earlier this week that it was the first blog post I had made in over two years. So much has changed in that time: I went from working in tech support to working in Systems Administration. I went from constant customer interaction to occasional customer interaction, I went from guy who has been at the company more than half the staff to guy who only has about 5 people ahead of him in terms of seniority, and a couple of them aren’t on anything close to related career paths. It’s weird.

And I became a parent.

This time last year, we were in Labor and Delivery, going through hour 24 or so of labor. The nurses were struggling to get reliable readings on their monitors, and so it would be another 8 hours before we got a good nurse who was determined to get the child out of my wife, and another 16 hours before that effort would succeed.

Today we celebrated that with a party. As all good first birthday parties are, it was at least as much for us older people as it was for the guest of honor. My wife went to great efforts to plan and prepare a simple affair with a mostly-gnome-but-generally-woodland themed affair with mushroom-decorated cupcakes and gnome decorations along with animal tablecloths. We ate under a tree and generally enjoyed each other’s company.

Here’s a small array of photos from the event, enjoy!

Gah, Politics

Ah, another day, another political post on Facebook. Another one that makes me frustrated, and demands me to respond.
Here was today’s item of note:
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Sounds like Congress in general, really.

Let’s take a step back, though. They were “doing nothing” because the Republican speaker of the house ended the session, rather than doing the work that the Democrats were asking them to do. It wasn’t difficult work, either. All they wanted was to vote on a bill. A vote they knew they were probably going to lose, but a vote they wanted to occur nonetheless.

Since that’s their job, to write, debate, and vote on legislation, one could argue that the Democrats were more about getting their job done than the Republicans.

But no. Instead of allowing the vote to occur, the speaker prematurely ended the legislative session and left. So, who is choosing to be “doing nothing” in this situation?

Look, I get that both sides suck. They both play political games, they both game the system to get done what they need to get done. More often than not it’s using childish tactics to stop things they don’t like from happening. It doesn’t get us a functioning government. It gets us polarized and gridlocked politicians, which leads to polarized constituents who will de-humanize members and supporters of the other side. And once your opposition doesn’t have a normal human face anymore, it’s far easier to attack them.
 
It’s far easier to attack the faceless monster in Washington DC, or the faceless slut, or the faceless fag, or the faceless moron, or the faceless clown. What does it matter, it’s just a Facebook post, right? “If you disagree with me, why don’t you just unfriend me!” Because then you live in even more of an echo chamber, regurgitating the same views that everyone else around you has, despite being in the minority overall. “Everyone I know thinks ….” How many people do you know? Do they all agree with you on almost everything? Maybe you need to meet more people, find some people with whom you disagree. Get to know us, we’re not all monsters or clowns. Morons, maybe.
 
What I find frustrating is the constant implication that one side or the other is un-American, or worse, anti-American. I believe, quite firmly, that most Republicans in politics are firmly committed to doing what they believe is best for the country. I do. I believe the same for the Democrats, and for the independents. The problem is that those views are so opposed in many ways that they are directly incompatible. If we could just shut up for a few minutes and actually have reasonable conversations about the issues, we might find consensus and common ground. I’ll bet a lot of gun-rights activists could find common ground with those who are vehemently anti-gun if they would put away the rhetoric (and possibly the guns, at least holster them ;)) and talk. The same goes for the abortion debate. The same goes for the religious rights debate, for healthcare, for drugs, for gay/lesbian/transgender rights.
 
Stop de-humanizing the other side. They have thoughts, feelings, and opinions too. They’re just as valid as yours — you might even agree with one or two of them.

My Beef with Comcast

Wow, has it really been 6 months? I need to update more often. I know, I know, I feel like I say that (to myself at least) every time I update, but there really hasn’t been much happening to write about.

It seems to me that everywhere I look, someone is complaining about Comcast or Verizon and their terrible customer service. I know that “the squeaky wheel gets the most …” blah blah blah, but I’m curious what their ratio of satisfied to unsatisfied customers is. Because really, there are alternatives. Not so much for cable or phone, depending on where you are, but with mobile phones at least there’s really not a whole lot of reason to stick with your current provider if you’re unhappy, and yet somehow these companies remain in business – they must be keeping someone happy.

Now, part of the problem seems to be that people call support for stupid reasons. If your cable goes out at 2am, call support but don’t be too mad if it doesn’t get “fixed” for a couple of hours, because chances are they were doing maintenance while most of their area was asleep. It sucks for those of us that are online at 2am because of our schedules, but we’re statistically few. On the other hand, if it goes out every day at 2am, that’s a good reason to call and start complaining.

My interactions have been minimal. In the last year I have been the owner of a Comcast Account, I have called them twice. The first was a year ago, to set up my account and get online with my purchased modem. The second was today, when I called to upgrade my account to add TV service. Both occasions were relatively quick, I was given the information I needed to make an informed decision (combined with research earlier in the day), and so far I’m happy. They were a little pushy for a couple of addon services that I neither can afford nor have desire for, but their goal is to make money. The tech is coming out to get us set up for TV on Friday and I’ll update if that doesn’t go well.

Am I in the minority? Are there really so few of us that have positive interactions with these large, terrible companies? Really, my only major complaint in this situation is that I had to call to make the change. Comcast’s website knows that there is an active account at my address when I enter it in looking for deals, but then it just tells me there are no deals and that it can’t find my address in the system to make changes to the service. That, to me, is the epitome of frustrating.

In closing, Comcast, please fix your website’s backend so that people like myself don’t have to call to make changes to our service. Let the customer service team know that they did well on at least these two occasions. And if you want to reward me for giving you a good review, you can always lower my bill a few dollars a month. You really don’t have to though, for now I’m a satisfied customer and expect to stay happy until we move to a location that forces us to switch provider.

I Made a Thing

Disclaimer: Sorry, another nerd post.

One of my personal projects recently has been replacing my Cacti setup. I realized I had been moving computer systems around and hadn’t updated the graphing system that monitored them over time, so I figured it was about time to overhaul.

The actual replacement system was pretty easy. I’ve rolled out Cacti several times, and this wasn’t much different. Learning from the past mistakes helped me utilize templates much more efficiently, the only thing I’m really lacking at this point is the ability to monitor a handful of devices on my network.

The other thing I’ve been eyeing for a while is a tool called “Network Weathermap” – I’ve been trying to push for us to build weathermaps for at least the larger market presences we have at work, either as a marketing tool or just to help diagnose high network traffic issues quickly. I showed it to my boss and he was impressed, but I wanted to actually make it work so that I had some idea of what kind of work would be involved. This is my network:weathermap-cacti-plugin

 

You see the green section, those are virtual servers represented individually. My home network is in the orange. Physical links (or virtual physical links) are shown, unfortunately I don’t have the ability to monitor any of my switches. The one I might be able to is the Guest Wireless switch but it’s locked down too tightly. But that’s a problem I can solve later. Guy Smiley is my VMWare server, the other machines are all guests on that server.

I’m actually slightly disappointed at how boring it is!

That said, as a brief review of Network Weathermap, it’s a pretty awesome tool. It’s fairly picky about how it is set up, and the WYSIWIG editor that comes with it needs a lot of work (which it freely admits). That said, getting all the nodes placed was simple. Getting the links configured was also pretty easy (it’s just a case of linking nodes the right way round for the Cacti graphs, and if you get it wrong, editing the config file is simple). The thing that took the longest time was getting everything aligned to my liking. The WYSIWIG editor wouldn’t let me select more than one node and move groups of nodes together.

If you’re a nerd with a monitorable network like me, give it a try!

 

Five

moiI didn’t note the day or the month, or even the year, for that matter. We say “when we were twelve” because that’s our best guess (though she probably remembers better than I).

It doesn’t really matter, the specific date, or even the year. What matters is that we met, and talked for a while one random, long-forgotten night. And then again another night, and another.

It was lost for a while, changes in life, adjustments in time zone, we didn’t connect at all and eventually lost touch completely. Until another random, long-forgotten night, when I decided to clean out my contacts list. She happened to be online, so I asked who she was. We talked some more, and eventually made a connection to an event we both remembered (something about underwear and pyromania).

Even for this, it doesn’t really matter, the specific date or time that we found each other again. What matters is that we did, and that we talked again, and again, and again, and then some more.

312570_10150300651507539_1218378609_nTime went by, and the story evolved in the way so many do. Boy meets girl, boy decides he likes girl and girl decides she likes boy, they get together and make the best of it. But that’s where we are a little different, because we are so far separated. Not in a Romeo/Juliet kind of way, our families didn’t hate each other – they didn’t even know each other. We faced a different challenge: isolation. I lived in Wellington, New Zealand, she lived in a small town somewhere in Virginia.

Somehow, though, we made it work. Through plane tickets and immigration paperwork and moving and money and more immigration paperwork, we made it work. And so here we are. Today marks five years since we committed to what we had in front of friends and family, what we had essentially committed to a few months before that by beginning the application process to USCIS, what we had almost committed to just by stepping foot on the planes the very first time, flying to meet the other, meeting the friends and family, seeing the home towns and environs.

Kelly, I love you. Here is to another five years, and then another five, and another five after that, until how long it has been doesn’t really matter anymore, until what matters is that we met that random, long forgotten night, so many years ago. You were, are, and maybe always will be the best decision I ever made – to ask who you were, and not to just hit “Delete.”

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Trains from Broadway

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Last night I happened upon a large number of old train documents that have been added to Google Books recently. I haven’t scanned for more recent dates, I just looked at 1906 and found three trains in each direction served the small town of Broadway, VA. That’s six a day, and four of those went to or came from Washington DC!

What’s more interesting is that I know where all of those locations are. And that the trip took upwards of five hours! Five! Today, we drive most of that in two hours, maybe three if you skip the interstates!

For more old train timetables, for anyone who is interested in the history or other parts of the country in that era, here is some more information on how to find the books in Google’s archives: http://www.naotc.org/oldguides/index.html

Western North Carolina, in Northern Virginia

I could have sworn I had posted about this, but apparently not. About a month ago I learned of a model railroad club based out of the old railroad depot in Vienna, Virginia. Sited along the path that once was the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, the depot is in use today as the home of the Northern Virginia Model Railroad club.

The club has existed since the late 40s. It has occupied the Vienna depot for the last 35 years or so. The club models the Western North Carolina Railroad, which was a real line in North Carolina between Spencer and Asheville. In fact, while the club models the mid 50s, the prototype is still in service today, as part of the Norfolk Southern network.

The layout itself is quite large, with hundreds, if not thousands of feet of track. All the track that is visible is hand-laid, with rails spiked on hand-made ties. The only places where flex-track was used is in tunnels and particularly the helices where it is harder to get to. It operates on Digitrax DCC, and signals are being installed. They largely operate as Automatic Block signals, but I understand full CTC is on the way.

It’s quite impressive to see, and if you’re in the area when they are holding their regular open-house events (next one is May 25th and 26th for the Viva Vienna festival, other dates can be found at nvmr.org) it’s worthy of a few minutes at least to watch things happening and listen to the talks about how and why things are.

As it relates to me more personally, last night I was read in as a probationary member. Despite attending meetings for the last few weeks, I just missed the meeting in April so I had to wait until the May business meeting. It’s fun so far, and I’m enjoying meeting the various members (including, I believe, one of the NS train crew in the area who I hear about often from other railfans) and learning the rules and regulations of the layout. I also participated in my first scenery auction event, where old pieces of no-longer-required scenery are put up for a silent auction. I picked up a small schack for 50c, and an Atlas 9″ turntable ($20-30 value) and motor drive (another 20-30) for $10 together! I was excited!

I still need to acquire and install my first set of DCC decoders. Money is tight this month, but I’m confident it can be done before too long! Even just one!