Category Archives: All of Us

Happy Birthday US Postal Service!

For a good while, Benjamin Franklin was the Postmaster General for the British. But in 1774 the English fired him for his unruly and revolutionary talk.

A year later, on this day, July 26th, the Colonial Congress created its own post office and gave Benjamin the job of Postmaster General. We may owe American independence from Britain to a disgruntled postal employee who wouldn’t shut up.

The seal the new US post office used was, of course, an up-tight European cliche, Mercury the Winged Messenger. But about 60 years later, we switched to a guy riding a pony. 🙂 And it stayed that way until 1970! When they started talking about privatizing it, and it went all corporate-looking eagle.

Where Dad Is

The wind blows sticks off trees to be picked up

This is my dad. He is almost 90 years old. Doctors often tell him now that he doesn’t need routine medical tests that older people get, because of his age.

It is a strange thing if you live to be old.

My dad grew up in Kansas during the Great Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. He was very poor. He had a brother and two sisters. I remember when his mom died.

When he was a kid, there were no jobs. People were starving. My dad says most kids were very skinny and had those big bellies like you see on kinds in starving African pictures.

When he was 10 he managed to get some work at a farm where they paid him with some food. He said that as he worked on the farm he started to fill out.

He said that Republicans took surplus farm food, bought it up, and dumped it in the ocean in an effort to raise prices so that profits could come back from scarcity. He also became a Republican later.

Dad’s family

He was happy when Roosevelt became President because the extra food that got bought up was instead sent to warehouses in cities instead of being thrown away in the ocean, and that food was distributed to starving people.

It was nice when you could get pork belly fat for meat. It spoiled quickly though. Nobody had refrigerators. But you could melt the fat into lard and it would keep longer and then you could eat the lard.

Trains came through town all the time loaded with men who left their homes looking for work. A man would hear a story about there being work in some town, and people would start flocking there, only to find nothing.

Eventually he started getting paid money for working on a farm in addition to food.

All the dirt roads that the farmers needed to use were never maintained by the rich farmers. They were too busy. It was the poor people who kept up and fixed the roads for no pay. Sometimes a poorer farmer might bring out a mule to help.

When the New Deal happened from Roosevelt, the roads really started to get fixed and so did the railroad.

My dad got married to my mom when they were teenagers in Dodge City, Kansas. He joined up with the Army. When his stint was done he got a job on the railroad between Kansas and New Mexico.

Mom and dad in Dodge City in the 50’s

They wanted to get out of Dodge. They heard rumors about a place called Seattle. They came here with a friend who had got a job at a military base.

My dad saw an ad in the Seattle paper from a company called Boeing who built airplanes. The ad said you didn’t need know anything, just come on down if you want a job.

Dad got hired and they taught him math and trigonometry. He wasn’t used to learning anything, but they were paying him a lot of money and he didn’t want to mess that up. He worked for Boeing the rest of his life until retiring.

He and my mom found some property here for a good price out away from the city. He could buy it with his wages and a bank loan. There was only one store nearby out here. You could take things from the store, and when you got your paycheck, you could cash it at that store and they would just take out what you owed for the things you took.

He built a house here with the help of friends from work. He also helped them build their houses. He sold a lot of his property to friends from work over the years. All of them are gone now and their property has been resold.

I came into the picture much later as an adopted child when they were in their 40’s.

My dad is lucky because he gets a pension that the aerospace union got for him and that gets added to his social security payments. This lets him buy food and pay property tax and his mortgage. He would have lost everything at his age, if he was back in the US of his childhood.

But property taxes go up and the prices of food and utilities keep going up. And he has lived longer than most people do. So his pension and social security could no longer easily cover the expenses.

When my mom was dying over several days I promised her that I would take care of him. She died that night.

I paid off his mortgage and bought the property and house from him and now he has extra money each month. But he insists on being the one to buy the food.

He tells me stories a lot. Most of the time I have heard the story already. He also shares ideas for inventions he’s imagined. I try to get him to write them down so I can help him follow through. But there are always sticks in the yard needing picked up. Or the jittery birds fed.

It’s a peculiar thing, a life. Just a single one. How and where a life starts. What you do and learn. And how the world changes around you.

The ego. The humility. The happenstance and the design.

My dad always wanted me to learn. And my mom, even more so. Our whole country has learned. So many things during all those years he’s been alive. The whole world.

He’d like some fried potatoes and onions right now. I get to make it. It’s comfort food on a cold day. Only for him, now, a still peculiar luxury: an olive oil base and hint of rosemary seasoning.

Give a Little Bit

Every person on the planet who uses information technology owes debts of gratitude to literally hundreds of people they will never know, or meet — those people who contribute their personal energies and efforts to the creation of free software and technologies that benefit us all, while asking nothing in return.

It is a labor of love, passion and obsession for these creators. And their greatest reward is seeing that their labors are useful and appreciated.

Some are nearly silent and invisible, working away for years on things we take for granted, with no recognition, and often intentionally so. Others, more loud and boisterous, who can draw and rally and prod.

Every large and small profit-seeking organization that uses or develops information technology exploits the work and and passions of these people, be it Google, Apple or Microsoft, some network switch vendor, a small website developer, SaaS provider, or even a writer making a blog post.

It’s the year’s end, yet again. Please consider donating some of your cash, if you have it to spare, to these people who do so much for us, and whose numbers we will never really know. For all they have done for you, and all they have empowered you to accomplish yourself.

It’s hard to single out people to give rewards to, in such a democratic sea, when viewed from above. But some organizations exists who blanket much good work.

Here is a small list that I give to. All are tax deductible non-profits.

Free Software Foundation, Inc. is the “original”. There is no way to estimate the value of what this organization and people have done, and the impact of what their ideas and efforts have had. And they continue to be a very important guiding light — some would say the ethical center — of free and open. This, in addition to providing key technical foundations.

Software in the Public Interest, Inc. is another venerable organization that gathers funding for many free and open software projects, including Debian (to which I owe so much), PostgreSQL, LibreOffice, Arch Linux, even such stuff as FFmpeg… 🙂

The Mozilla Foundation has been instrumental in helping push web development in free and open ways, as well as technically good ones, and they are in many ways the last bastion of any privacy hope we may have in browsers. Not to mention a great email client for home and business, Thunderbird.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation doesn’t do much directly developing software and technologies, but they are critical to helping us keep good government and legal standards in place to allow  freedom and innovation to thrive.

Personally, I feel so incredibly happy that these organizations exist, and that people made the effort and took the risks to create them, and that I can help propel them along in my own small way.

The Pope, You and I. And Gadgets!

In recognition of an event that has not happened in more than half a millennium, the Bishop of Rome abdicating, here is a piece of music composed by Bach and played on a cathedral organ.

I am not a religious person in any traditional sense. However, I do recognize history. As much harm has been done in the name of God, so too has much benefit come.

Cathedral organs were, for centuries, the pinnacle of human technological achievement. The complexity, scale, craftsmanship, art and engineering was a major milestone. Cathedrals themselves are astonishing achievements.

While browsing through YouTube for a good video example, I ran across several submissions where the person taking the video within the cathedral could not help but continue panning around the vista continuously. Even today these structures manage to fill us with a sense of awe, whether we believe in any god or not.

The West has Christianity because of the Catholic Church. They brought education. And even today the Catholic Church strongly advocates academic achievement, even in deference to science, particularly amongst the Jesuit order.

I have never been Catholic. But if you are aware of our history in the West, you realize the significance – the impact the Catholic Church has had upon our most fundamental thought processes. It is our legacy, in many ways.

It was the first multinational organization, at a time, much like today, when all people were ruled by a very few individuals who held nearly all the resources and power. The Catholic Church brought a common sense of ethics and morality, and a respect for written law, that all Western nations, despite language differences, share in common. They became a force that dictators and rulers had to heed. And this helped bind Europe with a common identity that eventually transcended the notion of earthly rulers.

And that’s the key here. Transcendence. Moving beyond where we find ourselves. And this can be sad, painful and exhilarating. We look for a rebirth into something new. As individuals, and as nations. A rebirth into something kinder. Something better. Something wiser.

The Pontiff has abdicated his position, calling for someone who will be, perhaps, more open. But perhaps not caught up so much as us in all the fast-paced, momentary and superficial trappings we lap up. Perhaps while even being more open, he will still remind us of the importance – to look within ourselves.

God knows we need some good and big changes for the better. Or perhaps there is no being to know this. Perhaps we have to do this on our own. The harder route. The route where we must take responsibility for all that we say and do. And all that we do not say – and all that we do not do.

It is worth a prayer to something larger than ourselves. If only to our better selves that we aspire. May we all make wise choices in the time to come. And may we find peace and comfort in that.

What’s Inside with Giving and Taking

Varada MudraWhen you do yoga, the last pose you usually do is called corpse pose or Savasana – dead man’s pose. You lay there, unthinking, allowing yourself body, mind, spirit, whatever or all, to form into whatever it will, afterward.

Often people will mediate afterward, allowing things to happen further still. Mudras are hand gestures, held in stillness. This one is Varada Mudra on the left hand. Open and outstretched it represents charity, giving, generosity and morality. It is rarely seen alone. The right hand is Abhaya Mudra, with the palm held up and facing outward. It represents protection, the dispelling of fear, or anything bad.

The pose is felt mostly in the chest around the heart. It is an opening and circular balancing. Giving and protection. Some would say an acceptance and balance of giving and receiving.

The real truth of it is only found inside.

This image came from Wonderland at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/3294979410/in/photostream