Category Archives: Commentary

Impressions of My New Motorola Moto X (not really a review)

Sadly late last week my much loved Nexus 4 phone died. After much testing, it turned out to be a failure of the flash memory on which the system lives, and so the device is fairly well dead.

I’m pretty well determined to keep as close to the stock Android experience as possible. LG is pretty good at that, and they manufactured the Nexus 4, and it was a great price. However, it concerns me when an manufacturer sells me a product that dies less than six months past its warranty. So I am skeptical of LG right now.

That left me considering the Google devices and the Motorola devices. The Nexus 5 looks wonderful, and the price is excellent. I’ve heard many good things about it. And looking through the Motorola lineup, the Moto X stood out as the best option, even above their new “budget” models.

Between the Nexus 5 and the Moto X I was hard-pressed to decide. The Nexus 5 certainly had much better system specifications on paper, but the Moto X was incredibly well-engineered, and creatively so as well.

In the end, the creativity and engineering of the Moto X won out for me, even above the base system specifications. This decision was the more premium, price-wise as well, though not by a wide margin, considering a free bumper case was being included and Google charged a ridiculous price for shipping last time.

When all was said and done, I ended up with a new phone from Motorola, the Moto X, 32 GB of flash memory, a bumper case, an NFC clip that acts as an unlock, and a real walnut wood case, for $475, including tax.

Most satisfactory, except for the fact that I have to buy it at all, because my Google/LG Nexus 4 failed, and I was forced to. I think the main reason I chose the Moto X was because Motorola is the manufacturer, and every Motorola device I have ever owned has worked flawlessly, never dying, and survived everything I dished out to it. In my mind, Motorola has a reputation of reliability and durability, as well as engineering — and they are a company that takes pride in making a solid product as well. But I have to admit, having a real wood case was also a nice selling point.

Anyway, I ordered it, custom made, with walnut, gold metallic highlighting, orange bumpers, my name engraved on it (I never resell), and all sorts of little custom details about the software innards. It arrived before a week was out, and they were excellent about keeping me informed of the billing, build and shipping progress along the way. A completely satisfactory experience.

The Experience

This Moto X, first of all, is much more fluid than my Nexus 4. And the screen, even though it is less resolution, looks better. And best of all, this is the first of the smartphones I’ve owned that actually felt very natural and comfortable to hold in the hand.

Of course, being a Google Android device, it synced itself up all quick and nicely with my contacts once I connected my Google account. And the phone was great at pointing out things you should consider activating or doing as your started to break the phone in, customizing it even further toward your tastes.

I really was surprised at how fast and smooth this phone was. I was imagining that, despite what others had said, I would run into the occasional performance stutter, especially when all the apps were installing themselves as I was trying to do other things. But it didn’t. I don’t know what these Motorola engineers did, but they did something very, very right.

For a while now, I’ve slowly been getting myself used to dictating messages to my Android devices rather than typing them out. Always there is the occasional annoying glitch in its interpretation than you must awkwardly return to manually fix. Happily, one of the first things I noticed was that this Moto X was noticeably superior at voice recognition than my Nexus 4 was, and my Nexus 4 was damn good!

I think I remember reading somewhere that Motorola engineers added a small CPU whose sole purpose was to perform voice recognition. I suppose I should verify this before even mentioning it, but I’ll leave that for you to do, if you doubt my memory as much as I do. If they did, it certainly shows.

I remember thinking, when I first heard of it, how unsettling it would be to have a device that was going to be listening to you at all times. Particularly in an age when so many “true Americans” with “American values” have such a fetish for voyeurism and disdain for any privacy. But my Moto X is sitting right next to me, on the right. I know it hears my clicking keyboards, and maybe a fart. And of course, all the lies I tell myself when nobody is around. But it’s not looming there, like I imagined it might, with its own disturbing gravity of ears. Though perhaps it should. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I love being able to yell out to it from across the room and have it answer or do something for me. Before, I thought, what a silly feature really. I can just hit the microphone button on the search bar and get the same thing. But there is something very different about it just being there, knowing you can just tell it something, at any time, or ask it something, as if it were actually something… in the room with you.

I think it’s impossible to describe. Just like how it feels in the hand. And just like how things move within the screens. And how it knows when you’re in the car driving, and will read out messages to you if you like, instead. These guys as Motorola thought of a lot of things, and they really did an amazing job bringing those things together into an actual working device.

I suppose it all boils down to, I like this phone. I like the Moto X so much that I’m even a little happy that my LG Nexus 4 died, just so that we could be together now. And I don’t have even the slightest hint of regret that I might be missing something, having chose the Moto X over the Nexus 5. In fact, I’m happy that I did.

Oh, I should also mention the camera. I like taking pictures. From what I was reading earlier, neither then Nexus 5 or the Moto X supposedly have the greatest camera. But I do like this camera better than the one I had on my Nexus 4. It takes beautiful pictures, to me. And the camera app is very fast. In another very clever design decision, Motorola engineers thought to make the camera start when you flick your wrist. I thought, how silly, really. But the thing is, it’s very useful! And it happens fast!

The thing I don’t like about the camera is that it seems very easy to blur the pictures. I think it must not have any image stabilization, or maybe I just haven’t found it to enable yet. So you have to be aware of your hand and body motion as you snap. This is a little bothersome, being so sensitive. Then again, for years with cameras, I had to worry about the same thing – always using the trick of holding your breath when you shoot to keep the lens from any distorting motions.

I would still say that is a minus of the camera. And really, that’s the only minus I’ve found – amongst so many pluses! The most peculiar and delightful thing about this phone is the pluses you never even thought would be there. The biggest being; the Moto X is just so damn comfortable to be around!

This device really is a truly wonderful dollop of engineering and design baked into a sweet package. It is understated, elegant, and intelligent, at all levels, and at any angle. I honestly don’t think I could be happier with a phone. I could just eat it!

My new Moto X with a walnut back! Picture was taken with my no-good Nexus 7 front-facing camera though, with lots of unsightly reflection from the plant's artificial sun.
My new Moto X with a walnut back! Picture was taken with my no-good Nexus 7 front-facing camera though, with lots of unsightly reflection from the plant’s artificial sun.

Overclock Experience on AMD FX-8350 CPU on ASRock 990FX Extreme9 Mobo Using 2400 Speed Memory

A few months ago I decided to sacrifice my AMD FX-8150 – re-purposing it as a decent 8-core virtual server instead. In its place I purchased one of the new AMD 7850K Kaveri APU’s. My former FX-8150 workstation had an Nvidia 670 graphics card and the system consumed a lot of power, even when barely being used for anything. The thought of a 95w Kaveri sounded great.

And it was – with the new Kaveri 7850K chip as my CPU/GPU (APU) and the Nvidia card removed, the system rarely consumed more than 65w (including an LCD 24″ monitor)! When I played the occasional game on it, or the odd video encode, the power would spike up to 150w easily enough, since I had it overclocked a bit. I love this little system and still keep it. But I found that there are times when I really need the raw horsepower I gave up with the FX-8150.

So I decided to purchase the newer AMD FX-8350 instead. Of course, this chip isn’t all that new, really. But after looking at various “not-just-mainstream-talking-head” benchmarks, and see it compared reasonably well with the much more expensive Intel offerings, even their latest and greatest, I decided to go with it. My old FX-8150 was so solid. I was hoping the FX-8350 would be the same, and give me a little more performance as well.

The Kaveri APU’s benefit greatly from very fast memory. The talking heads out there claim that the FX-series processors don’t benefit that much from faster memory, and many claim that the AMD memory controller can’t even handle faster memory speeds well, past 1866 MHz. I decided to purchase faster memory nevertheless, thinking I could always use it in the APU system, since I wasn’t that thrilled with the more bargain Team Group memory I purchased for it. So I bought the AMD Radeon Gamer series memory, 2 sticks of 8 gigabytes rated for 2400 MHz speed at a CAS latency of 11. Expensive, but I didn’t want to mess around this time, wondering.

I also bought the obligatory aftermarket CPU cooler: a Hyper 212 Evo. It’s a beast of a hunk of metal, but I kinda like that. And no matter what, I’m not putting water inside my computer. I’ll just keep the clock speeds down (and power consumption).

For the motherboard, I decided upon the ASRock 990FX Extreme9. I was going to go with the ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z, but it was always out of stock at Newegg, and I’ve recently become more skeptical of ASUS’s quality. I only ever used ASRock boards one other time, for a router I was building, and the thing was a good price, and very solid. So why not? The Extreme9 even had the Intel NIC on it, and a 12x power phase, which is unheard of. So anyway, that’s the board I chose, and it was only $169 – while the FX-8350 I got for $179. 🙂 The 16G of 2400 memory was the most expensive of all at $199!

Anyway, to the point. That’s what I have, and why I got it. In this machine is also a Bluray SATA drive, 2 3T SATA hard drives, and 2 120G SSD’s. All of that, and one ASUS LCD monitor are plugged into a UPS to draw power. So I can see my power utilization. Not uber scientific accuracy of course, but close enough just to have a look-see. Oh and the big power draw (supposedly), I splurged on a new graphics card as well, an R9 290 OC – just to keep it in the family.

I shelled out the $100 to Microsoft as well to get a Windows 8.1 Pro OEM license. That always makes me happy.

This AMD FX-8350 machine does run very solid. Like a tank. Just like me FX-8150, I never can seem to bog it down in its responsiveness, no matter what I’m doing, including virtualization.

I don’t overclock that often, and don’t know a ton about it. However, I was surprised that I could easily get the AMD FX-8350 CPU up to 4.4 GHz and the memory up to the full 2400 MHz speed, all while just using the air cooling of the Hyper 212 Evo! It honestly shocked me.

Of course, that’s no big deal unless you are running the CPU at full throttle for a long period of time. And what better way to do that, than to encode HD video using Handbrake – which maxxes out every single core for hours on end. It was my test, both of thermals and voltages, as I fine-tuned things.

People get confused about CPU temperatures. There are 2 different kinds. There is the CPU temperature at the socket, and there is the CPU temperature of the CPU cores themselves, within the chip. Both temperatures have different manufacturer suggestions/limits.

Using the ASRock motherboard’s automatic overclocking setting to reach 4.4 GHz on the CPU and 2400 MHz memory speeds, with handbrake running continuously my CPU core temperature maxxed out at 80c, and the thermal thresholds of the CPU cores reached AMD’s predefined limits, and the voltage automatically dropped at brief intervals to keep the temperatures below the supposed damage threshold.

So I thought, well, I should be able to lower the CPU voltage some, and the Northbridge voltage as well, and still be stable — and this should lower both my temperatures and power consumption. My thinking was, the motherboard manufacturer would want to pick voltages that were on the more greedy side to make sure the overclocks were more likely to work.

This proved to be a good move. I managed to lower the voltage on both the CPU and northbridge without sacrificing any performance, bringing the thermals down well below thresholds, and decreasing the power consumption by about 30 watts.

I’ll show you some screenshots I took while I was in the middle of running those Handbrake video encodes that kept the FX-8350 CPU cores pegged at full. The power draw you’ll see is reported from the UPS the system is plugged into. So here is a list of devices that are currently drawing power on that device:

  1. AMD FX-8350 CPU
  2. 2x8G AMD Radeon Gamer series memory @ 2400
  3. 6 120MM case fans
  4. Seasonic Gold something power supply 😉
  5. AMD R9 290 OC (MSI)
  6. Yeti microphone
  7. ASUS Bluray SATA drive (not actively spinning)
  8. 2 3T Seagate Barracuda hard drives
  9. 2 120G SSD drives (Samsung and OCZ V4)
  10. ASUS VN247 LCD monitor

All of that, with the CPU pegged out and overclocked to 4.4GHz, the system was drawing 307 watts! Of course, if the graphics card were going like crazy, it would be significantly more. But that just amazes me how little that graphics card will draw, too, when it’s not being used except for dual-monitor 1080p (one monitor is plugged into that UPS while the other isn’t).

When the system is idle but awake, just doing its normal system-y things in the background, all those things draw 121 watts with the CPU at 4.4 GHz still. Absolutely nuts! That’s some amazingly good power-awareness work, in both the CPU and video card.

As you can see from those screenshots, there is the idle power draw and the fully loaded CPU power draw running maxed-out FX-8350 on all 8 cores. Also, the AMD Overdrive screenshot shows those cores all maxed out, along with the “thermal margin”. This “thermal margin” value is often confusing to people it seems. It represents the number of degrees you have left to heat up before you reach AMD’s predefined maximum safe temperature per core. By lowering voltages I was able to give myself a comfortable thermal margin while still maintaining a completely stable 4.4 GHz overclock that ran and ran and ran.

The “ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility” screenshot shows ASRock’s included software overclock utility that came with this 990FX Extreme9 motherboard. It’s not the greatest utility – but it’s ok for tweaking some things. The BIOS is the place to do it, and the boot-to-UEFI feature is great. I am incredibly pleased with this motherboard. The ASUS stuff has seemed so buggy lately. I am convince that there is no way I could have gotten such a stable overclock with such low voltages were it not for this fine board (and perhaps the silicon dye god’s favor).

The last screenshot above is the CPUZ utility showing the memory speed and timings, in case someone doesn’t believe that an FX-8350 can run with 2400 speed memory. There it is! It’s using those AMD memory modules, though.  And if you look at the northbridge speeds in the ASRock utility screenshot, you’ll see that the bandwidth is there. I could probably even press it further. Haven’t tried yet, though. It most certainly increased my AIDA64 scores below. The AMD chips, even the FX ones, actually do seem to benefit from fast memory.

All in all, I’m extremely happy and surprised by this system. I’m also impressed with the memory bandwidth AMD has provided even on the FX series processors. I had an evaluation copy of the AIDA64 test suite, and included the benchmark results below.

What astonishes me is that there are cases where this FX-8350 CPU greatly outperforms even the i7-4770k from Intel. Of course, there are cases where the Intel i7-4770k CPUs outperform the AMD FX-8350 as well. The price difference between the two is huge, though, especially when you take into account motherboards with comparable features.

I used to run i7’s several years ago, but switched to the FX processors after experiencing how much better the AMD chips handled virtualization. I have no benchmarks, but using the systems I could certainly feel the difference. And virtualization is a lot of what I do. Playing games, I can never tell the difference. But if I’m playing a game on a system that’s running some load in a virtualized environment at the same time, the AMD system runs smooth, while the i7 system acts choppy. That’s why I switched.

But all silly Intel vs. AMD stuff aside, if I look at just this chip, and even the small overclocking up to 4.4 GHz, I can certainly notice a huge performance gain while transcoding video with Handbrake. I have also noticed that running the memory at 2400 MHz most definitely improves the responsiveness of the system, such that I can’t even tell when I’m running with all the cores maxxed out.

Honestly, I was a little hesitant about going with the FX-8350 chips, since they are older than the newest releases from Intel. But right now, I have absolutely no regrets. They are still amazingly great performing workhorses and absolutely rock solid. Especially if you invest in the quality components.

AIDA64 Extreme benchmark test results:

Anyway, I hope you have found something useful in all this. It’s hard finding any more detailed information out there related to specific use cases and experiences.

I’m so pleased with this purchase and have absolutely no regrets about spending the money for the quality components. And no regrets about not spending twice even that much for an Intel-based system.

Besides the incredible solidity of this system, the thing I’m most impressed with is how well it utilizes power. Although the FX-8350 chip isn’t the most power-efficient chip, it’s not bad for an 8-core! And it seems like AMD has gone to some great lengths to only draw power when you really need it, whether it’s a CPU or a GPU. I swear that R9 290 isn’t drawing any power it seems. You do see it when you’re gaming though.

Oh, and I should mention, I overclocked this while leaving Cool and Quiety enabled in the UEFI, and also C6 state on the CPU, which gives it the ability to save lots of power. This has not impacted the stability of the overclock at all. Then again, I’m hardly pushing this chip to anything close to what it’s capable of, either.

Anyway, just thought I’d share my happiness and enthusiasm in case you might be questioning similarly.

BTW – the hardware support for AES encryption on this chip is phenomenal. Encrypted disks and folders? No worries. 😉

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.

A Linux Person’s Windows 8 Upgrade and Inadvertent Install Experience

The first night Microsoft released Windows 8 I bought a copy. What the hell, I thought – they’re only charging $30-some dollars for the upgrade. I don’t use Windows very much, mostly just for gaming. I’m a long-time Linux person and an advocate of free software.

My main workstation computer has several operating systems installed on it, one of which was Windows 7. It has 3 monitors, 3 hard drives, and 2 solid state drives. The 2 SSD drives were the first two drives in hardware order – that is, a C: drive and a D: drive in Windows terms. Both of them have Linux distributions installed on them, using an encrypted filesystem, so Windows can’t see the partitions. The 3 hard drives are next in the hardware line, each being partitioned with a Windows partition, and other partitions for Linux in various states of RAID and LVM and encryption.

I was actually surprised that Windows 7 would boot, not being on the first drive in the system. But it did. And this new Windows 8 was supposed to be the easiest thing to install ever, so I was fairly confident it could handle upgrading Windows 7 to Windows 8 using the same drive layout it already was.

I booted into Windows 7 and then went to the Microsoft website, where I ran the utility that looks at your system to verify it can be upgraded to Windows 8. The utility ran without a hitch and was happy with my system. It then asked if I wanted to purchase, download and install Windows 8 right now, on the spot. Sure, I said! What a new and amazing thing for Microsoft customers to finally be able to do. Recently it was a new and amazing thing for Apple customers, upgrading OSX. But we Linux users are completely used to this – in fact, online upgrades have been standard practice for Linux users for many years.

Before the download I had to enter into several lengthy legal agreements, but here it was! A single executable file. When I launched it, it did all kinds of thinking and verifying on the system before deciding my system was fine for the install, and then it took off. The first thing it wanted to do was uninstall my virus software and then reboot. After then, it chugged away for a good half hour or so, getting all the way through the percentage install bar, and then thinking for a few minutes with its whirly balls telling me my system will be rebooted in just a few minutes – then suddenly, that loud horn chorus denoting failure detonated from the speakers as a red X dialogue came up saying my install had failed. All I could do was click “OK”.

Thankfully, it left my Windows 7 installation in tact, only without virus protection, so I was still able to use it. I decided to reboot and try the install again. Wait, wait, wait…. then after it was completely installed once again, and telling me we were about to reboot into it, the install failed again.

Well, that was a waste of $30-some dollars, I thought! I imagined myself trying to explain to some robotic, generic, procedure-minded Microsoft tech on the phone the layout of my system. I can already here them saying, we don’t support Linux. Well, you don’t support the bloody chop saw and hammer drill in the garage either, do you, but what does that have to do with your damned product upgrade failing? And getting nowhere, until I removed all Linux….  …

Fat chance. Then I remembered Microsoft gave me the option to create an install media using a USB thumb drive, to perform the Windows 8 upgrade. Worth a shot. So I chose when running the install again to create an install media on the thumb drive, which took a strangely large amount of time. After it was finished, I rebooted and forced the system to boot from the thumb drive. Happily I saw a menu that gave me two options – I could upgrade my system or I could install a pristine Windows 8, but loose all my programs and settings.

Of course, I chose the upgrade. For two reasons. First, I don’t want to re-install the programs I use, and re-do all the settings. And second, I purchased a Windows 8 upgrade, and I know what hellish torment Microsoft will happily put any customer through when dealing with licensing and install particulars. Sure, it says it will do a fresh install, but if I do one, it will pretend to do things for a long while and then tell me it can’t because it’s only an upgrade license. Or, if I’m luckier, it might install, but will instead torture me until I pay out more money or spend hours on the phone with them trying to get license keys worked out.

So yes, I chose upgrade instead of install. And instead of trying to upgrade, it told me to reboot the computer back into Windows 7 again and run the installer from there, like I already had twice. So I did. Because I needed to feel pain at this point. And it failed again.

One last stab in the dark, I thought, because it really would be nice to bludgeon myself until I die in a bloody pulp. I booted into one of the Linux installs on an SSD and saved away elsewhere any files I needed. Then I rebooted to the Windows 8 thumb drive installer again, and told it to perform a fresh install on the first drive of the system, which was an SSD. Now this Microsoft could handle! What a clever Microsoft. What a good Windows.

Anyway. The installer finished successfully this time and I rebooted into a fresh, clean, completely pristine Windows 8 environment. Well, first I had to tell Microsoft my email address. And home address. And phone number. And my first dog’s name. You think I’m joking, don’t you? I’m not. They want it all now. They want you to use their “cloud” services. And giving them all your information is for your own protection. At least that’s what Mitt Romney wants us to think…

But you know what? After all the trouble I have a nice little Windows 8 workstation that I can, and have, re-installed many games into. And they work great. It’s not so difficult if you’re using Steam and Origin. Both Steam and Origin work well in Windows 8, as do each of the games I’ve tried.

The funny thing is, Windows 8 reminds me a great deal of Gnome 3 in Linux, and to a slightly lesser degree, Unity. Gnome 3 is far more sensible and intuitive, though. I honestly believe that any Windows user would have a much easier time moving to Gnome 3 than they would to Windows 8. And you know what? Linux is way easier to install and get going – if you go with something like Ubuntu. And it’s free!

I’ll be spending a good deal of time for a few weeks in Windows 8, getting used to it and giving it a chance. I do like it. But there is a great gravitational force built into it, to move everyone deeply into Microsoft – never to return to the light of day. I think they might be past their monopoly fears – and they’re using every trick in the book to lock people in. I mean, for the love of all that’s holy, how can you still have problems implementing simple IMAP correctly Microsoft? We don’t all want to use Exchange Server and your sync methodologies. Oh, I see, it’s not that you’re stupid and can’t figure out how to do IMAP correctly after a decade or more, it’s that you want it rickety so that people will get frustrated enough to pay to be chained to you.

Poor Apple people. They’re so dazzled by plastic trinkets that they don’t even realize they’ve gone so far down a dark one-way rabbit hole of their own. But I digress.

Yes! I like Windows 8. It will play my video games nicely I’m sure. And I like that horrific Adobe Flash works well in it, too. In Linux, maximizing Flash videos is always a pain, because it shoots off to some other monitor, and doesn’t stay full screen often when you click on other windows. Yes, full-screen Flash and games. That’s what Windows is to me. Everything else about using and computer, the tools, and the software, I like far better in Linux.

So there you have it – my Windows 8 upgrade and inadvertent install experience. Oh yeah, it is pretty, too. I think Ubuntu is prettier. Both I think are prettier than OSX now.

Why I’m Voting Third Party (and O.K.)

This election year I’m confronted with a compelling ethical choice. On the one hand, I cannot vote to re-elect President Obama because he has chosen to execute American citizens without any charges and without any trial. He has also pursued the prosecution of government whistle-blowers with inordinate zeal, creating a chilling climate for anyone who might consider bringing to light wrongs committed by our government. On the other hand, his competitive adversary, Mitt Romney offers no indication he would act more ethically and every indication he would act even more unethically, in even more areas.

Right now the United States has a two-party system. Despite any rhetoric, the differences between these two parties are negligible. Both use the collective might of the United States primarily to service financial interests, even financial interests that do not benefit the American people. That’s it.

As a minor aside, which inexplicably polarizes and paralyzes the American people, one party makes overtures to use our collective might for the immediate and tangible benefit of Americans, while the other party makes overtures to undo any power government wields over Americans. Both are perpetually unfulfilled promises. However, the ideological division it generates amongst the people insures the perpetuation of that two-party system.

I’ve never heard anyone entirely happy with their political party choice. People on both sides have considered voting for a different party that more closely represents their views. But they never do; myself included. You see, as the thinking goes, if you vote for the party you really want to, then you are throwing your vote away – effectively giving away the election to the party you hate. In other words, if you do not vote for one of the two parties, you are, in essence, voting for your opposite party.

I’ve even used that flawed logic on others, when I found out they intended to vote for a third party candidate. You’re just throwing your vote away! The other party will win because of your short-sightedness!

But I was wrong. Well, mostly wrong. I was wrong because they were not being short-sighted. They were, in fact, being rather long-sighted. They were voting their conscience and their convictions despite the two-party monopoly. They were lessening its power and grip over us all by ceasing to believe in it, and ceasing to feed it. I was also wrong because the only way to throw your vote away is by not voting.

Those people brave enough to vote for third party candidates are actually doing more with their vote than anyone voting for either a Democratic or Republican candidate. In a real sense it is one of the most profoundly revolutionary steps an American can take. And both parties know it. This is why they spend enormous sums of money and invest a considerable amount of manpower to keep third-party candidates off local ballots. It is a worthy investment of time researching what third party candidates must go through simply to survive staying on a ballot in one state.

I’m proud of those Americans brave enough and with enough fortitude to see the struggle through – to offer us all a real choice of candidates. I’m also proud of those Americans brave enough to vote with their conscience, not settling for a stick figure wrapped in glitz, spewing out platitudes like a high-priced prime time advertisement.

To be sure, any transition away from the two-party system will be a difficult one. It’s far more likely Democrats will allow their conscience to prevail than Republicans – potentially resulting in a long, desolate decline in what little remains, of humanity in government.

But perhaps not. Perhaps Republicans will take upon themselves that rebel spirit they claim to embody, like the tea-party terrorists of Boston harbor so long ago – and vote for someone they truly believe in, who is a real, honest American representative and not just some corporate/religious puppet. Stranger things have happened.

I know that I am done with the two parties now. Completely finished. Even though all other candidates are forced into silence and obscurity, I will actively hunt them down, and I will listen to them. I will get to know them; our own real people who are crazy and brave enough to stand outside in the open, saying, there is another way. I’m going to listen. And if I like them, I will vote for them. Because that’s my vote. And I am not going to throw it away.