Say Goodbye to the Phonics in Telephony

An article in this morning’s Washington Post gave me pause. It’s a thing now that some, perhaps many, people have come to resent receiving phone calls. I’ve sensed this shift in attitudes for a time, but not focused on it. “Text! Please don’t call me!” is the etiquette now. It seems there are people thrown into panic when their phone rings with a caller unexpectedly.

Then again, voicemail has gone the way of the horse-drawn cart, perhaps deservedly, because texting IS more convenient, and, yes, much less intrusive. I’ve many friends who have disabled voice mail in their phones, and I myself only check for voicemails as an afterthought.

Even junk callers are now preferring to text me rather than ring my phone. But, there have been voicemails that delighted me, and which I’ve saved, and listened to repeatedly, as if they were photographs of someone as they were years ago. It’s not likely I’ll hear more of those in days to come.

And let’s examine what we all know has happened to customer service: No one wants to actually speak with you! After delving through the elaborate menu options and several invitations to contact them online or by email, you’re more likely to arrive at a voicemail box rather than a representative. And you sense the sketchy odds of that message being reviewed any time soon!

The written word, too, is taking a back seat to the cuneiform of emoticons, emojis, and whatever other modern glyphs are now the mode. Even the representation of verbal sound is fading away in the way we share our thoughts.

So it seems, my world is rapidly shifting to a future when phones will mostly communicate in silence. I believe there’s a connection between this trend and the increasing isolation between and within communities, but that is a subject for another day.

For my part, ring me any time, or text if you prefer. Leave voicemail if so moved, and I will listen to it. Make it endearing enough, and I might even save it!

Everything is Copy

Nora Ephron’s mother once said to her, “Everything is “copy”, meaning that anything occupying one is fodder for the maw of your creative life. The challenge of journaling is to take what’s on your mind, and express it in a way that is potentially meaningful to one’s self, or even to others, in which case it may become a blog entry.

For Nora Ephron, this truism made for a fruitful life of creative projects, and I’m here today to embrace the possibility.

I learned this week that WordPress has a setting that permits the author to “privately” publish a draft, so it will only appear to its originator or an editor; only for those approved when logged into the site. This is, I realized, a perfect way to become more engaged and active with personal writing on a daily basis, because it removes the pressure to polish work as one is writing.

The fussiness of scribbling in a notebook, and then refining and transcribing some time later, and to finally rewrite it all in the environment where you might wish to display it for general consumption; all that can now be undertaken in the final venue, through its messy phases, until ready to release from the “private” realm into full publication.

I could wax on about the intuitive qualities of the WordPress Block Editor, and how it has vastly simplified integrating photos, link creation, and other media content as you refine the layout of your work, but that’s not the point of my journal this morning.

I’m here to remind myself, and you, that self-expression is joyful, and to say “Thanks!” for whatever makes it easier to launch in to it.

Well done, and thank you, WordPress!

Austere Thanksgiving

What is an austere Thanksgiving?

Well, put most simply, it’s Thanksgiving on a smaller, quieter, more manageable scale. It’s less food, and simpler choices for the day. Try staying put, and doing less. It’s much lower stress, you can be certain!

Our Thanksgiving has been one of quiet time with the computer, and books, and music. A spot of viewing the Macy Parade. And a bit of repair on a truculent blu-ray player.

We’ve been untroubled with shopping, or travel. Utterly negligent of feast preparation, and football. I haven’t even left the building, but we did do some laundry. And we both had wonderful family time by telephone with daughters and special friends. I only get exhausted if I am surrounded by too many party people. Don’t you?

Who needs all the sleepy making turkey, let alone a turducken. Next year try to do less, and keep it simple. What if we just treated Thanksgiving like a really, really good dinner party? Plan a cohesive menu, invite a sane number of guests, craft a rhythm to the evening, and make the whole thing feel special yet still manageable. Last Thanksgiving my wife and I decided to try something different. When our guests asked what they could bring, we gave them a one-word answer: nothing. Now that’s perfect for your austere Thanksgiving!

PiHole: Configuration notes for use with Fresh Tomato Router:

For the uninitiated, PiHole is a way to scrub lots of ads AND improve the privacy of all devices using  your internet provider at home. It’s a service most people run from a small, dedicated Raspberry Pi computer which you  host on the network.

It does this by filtering all DNS queries on your network through a list of known advertising sites, and blocking those advertisers from placing ads on the webs you surf. It also blocks a good deal of monitoring of your devices by external webs spying on your devices at home. It lets you monitor which of your devices at home are most affected by “rogue dns hogs”, which can give you a heads-up on computers at home that may be compromised by malware.  PiHole is also capable of managing DHCP IP address assignments on your network, and has other useful tools baked in. It’s really a terrific addition to your home network, and a good way to use any stray Raspberry Pi you have lying around.

There are very good how-to pages on setting up Raspberry Pi systems, and installing PiHole on them, but this post is not about that. We’re here to supply specific notes on implementing PiHole most effectively on a network using  a router running the Fresh Tomato firmware.

Fresh Tomato routers, because of their complex configurations, have confounded numerous PiHole users; me among them. The page at this link  reviews three different methods to make ad-blocking work in PiHole. Method 2 has advantages over the others, but the notes (derived from a different router firmware) don’t really show what to do in Fresh Tomato routers. The notes below worked for me to solve the problem. Here’s my configuration for PiHole with a Fresh Tomato router.  (Asus RT-AC66W running Fresh Tomato 2022.3, and PiHole v5.14.1, running on an old RPi-2 and Raspian Lite.)

On the router:

  1. Go to Basic: Network: WAN0 Settings: DNS Server , and set DNS Server to ‘Auto’. Click Save at the bottom of the page.

Next:

  1. Go to Advanced: DHCP/DNS: DHCP/DNS Client (WAN), and uncheck ‘Enable DNSSEC’, uncheck ‘Use dnscrypt-proxy’, and uncheck ‘Use Stubby’.
  2. Further down, find DHCP/DNS Server (LAN), and check ONLY ‘Use Internal DNS’ and ‘Enable DNS Rebind protection’.
  3. In the area for ‘dnsmasq – custom configuration’, Enter the following:
    ‘ dhcp-option=6,<ip of your pihole system>’ . Ours is as you see below:
  4. Click on Save.

Then, in PiHole:

Go to ‘Settings’ and click on the DNS tab :

  1. At Upstream DNS Servers, Custom 1 (IPv4) enter your in-network router IP address.
  2. Check the recommended setting: ‘Allow only local requests’.  (If  your  network  is  secured  behind  a firewall, the  other  choices  may  be  acceptable.)

Advanced DNS settings-

  1. Check ‘Never forward non-FQDN A and AAAA queries’.
  2. Check ‘Use Conditional Forwarding’.
  3. Enter your Local Network in CIDR notation, and the IP address of your DHCP server (router).
  4. Click Save

I was very surprised that there was no need to enter anything beyond ‘Auto’ as noted for DNS Server on the router’s Basic page.

On your Windows client computers, review the DNS server settings for the network device, and set to default.

I spent considerable time trying to enable DNSSEC on the router, and in pihole, but it only broke things. If  you have any insight on THAT problem, please post in the comments, and I’ll try to make it work, and add it here!

It is VERY helpful to view the query log while fiddling with these settings.

Good luck!

The Supreme Court and Existential Angst?

“There must be some way outta here, said the Joker to the Thief…” -Bob Dylan

We knew it would be bad back in 2016, sitting there watching the election returns as the worst imaginable person in America was elected without a majority to the presidency. “This is verrry bad…” , murmured Cherie, as the rest of us stared at the screen in shocked silence. The Supreme Court was only in the background of our concerns that night.

Fast forward to June, 2022: three new hyper-conservative and radically partisan Supreme Court appointees, in concert with three other Republican appointees, are wreaking havoc on the nation.

In one week the high court:

  • Has have discarded a century of precedent in New York State, of requiring a carry permit for handguns.
  • Has discarded fifty-plus years of precedent for a woman’s right to bodily autonomy.
  • Has mandated a right for teachers and coaches to openly force religious indoctrination on their students and athletes.
  • Has mandated the use of public funds for parochial schools.
  • And has severely weakened the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to reduce carbon emissions in our fight to save the planet.

In so doing, they have also:

An absence of consensus:

There was no national majority consensus behind the election of the hideous canker who shifted the balance of the court, just as there was no national consensus behind the Republican-controlled Senate which denied an appointment to President Obama, who WAS elected with a national majority consensus.

The Republican electorate, it’s fair to say, has been radicalized to an extent where a majority of them nationwide no longer believe in democracy. At least, they don’t seem to believe in the democracy I was raised to revere.

They do NOT constitute a majority of our citizens, And yet, they have transformed the Republican party into a malignant organism which is now dominating the course of our nation’s culture and history.

The Supreme Court IS the existential crisis causing me angst this morning.

navigating a dream:

The guitar I found in the dream was as round as a jug, and wielding it for play was awkward, as tho you had an obese dwarf in you arms, but it was stringed, and fretted, and and ready to play. It wasn’t mine. I found it in a dorm room that had once been mine, but I’d been away for many years, and so had an improper sense of entitlement as to what I found there. I may have awoken there, or I may have made my way there, dreamily, on foot, ascending the sole escalator, which was set to go down. It wasn’t so fast as to make climbing impossible, but it was narrow enough to complicate traffic had I encountered anyone going down.

The rotund guitar was resting on an armchair in the corner of the room, and I picked it up intending to strum her, but thought better of it, as I suspected there were sleepers in other rooms nearby. I wasn’t trying to be sneaky, but was honestly concerned for the peace of the place. The bottom of the instrument was a deep, wooden green, and patterned like a melon. Her strings were gut. And I was very curious as to how she would sound when played, so I lifted her from the padding of the chair, and took her with me.

Indeed, as I made my way from the small cluster of sleeping alcoves, I did see at least two occupants stretched out on pallets, lost in dreams of their own. I balanced the guitar on my shoulder (or was it actually a mandolin?), and made for the narrow escalator. The descent was considerably more relaxing.

Ann stirred beside me, and I woke up. She said good morning, and gave me a kiss before arising and gathering herself for the day. “Sleep in.”, she told me, as she knew I’d been up for quite a while in the middle of the night, unable to sleep.

The art of finding your way back into good dreams is something I wonder about.

She closed the bedroom door, and I stretched across the now capacious mattress, and thought about my dream. Details came to me that I’d passed over: The guitar, as I considered forming a chord, proved unplayable for me, for while it seemed to have a fret board for fingering and chords, the strumming neck was missing. (There is, of course, no such thing, but that didn’t occur to me in the dream.) I looked for the strumming neck, and saw where it might have once been, jutting away from the fret board at about a 30 degree angle for just an inch or two, and beyond that nothing. Alas, I thought, this isn’t for human hands, or, at least not for mine.

(By the time my head was getting into sorting these details out, I was back in the dream itself, deep asleep again, the whole bed to myself.)

The dormitory, I was now realizing, was part and parcel of my working life, which included two actual things I’ve done; two big things: I was in the military long, long ago, and much later, as a civilian, I practiced eye doctoring on an army post. This dreamscape was a military dormitory. As I reached the lobby, there were residents in uniform, lounging here and there. I seemed to belong in the place, but knew that even if I had , it was in another time, and my presence, although in rhythm, was a trespass.

The weight of the guitar on my shoulder made me feel conspicuous. It was wrong that I had taken it. My curiosity as to how sweet it might sound with a B7 chord was misplaced. I couldn’t even find it’s strumming board! It was time to return it.

So, I made my way back to the escalator, and trod against the downward flow of the steps with enough effort to climb back to the suite of rooms where the dream began. Again, it was lucky no one was descending, as it could only have made for slapstick in trying to get ’round one another.

In the common room of the suite, two of my neighbors were now awake, and one guy was fixed upon the guitar across my shoulder, so I asked the other one, “Whose is this? I need to return it.” His eyes crinkled, as tho’ to say, “Oh, this will be fun.”, and he pointed at my staring neighbor. So, I turned back to him. His face relaxed a bit, and he raised his eyebrows, which asked, “So?”.

I coughed.

“Yes. Well. I don’t seem to belong here. When I woke up, I saw this in the armchair, over there, and the beauty of the thing seized me, and I just had to hear how she sounded, so I picked her up.  But it seemed too early to play her, and I really didn’t want to disturb anyone, so I headed downstairs with your guitar, just to hear how she plays.  But, it seems that I can’t do any more than form chords with my left hand, and I’m unable to actually play, or even hear her if I hold her…”

“So, I owe you an apology. I hope you understand, and accept my words as sincere…  Here…” , and I returned his guitar.

“Thank you,” he said, “It’s not a problem.” I chose to believe him, but his expression was unreadable.

So, who was he? And who was the fellow watching us. Or is all that unimportant? Are the themes of being displaced, or the importance of courtesy and forgiveness the point here? Is the guitar a symbol, or just some weird failed mandolin design? In Hitchcock films, sometimes the hat is a clue, and sometimes it’s only there to drive the action: It’s a MacGuffin, they say.

And as to the matter of navigating the dreamscape: I know a fellow: He’s a psychologist and a sailor, and he has created a teaching project concerned with just that; navigating dreams. I’ve not taken his courses, nor talked with him much about his work with dreams. We live on opposite sides of this small planet. I do think I might send him this essay, as he’d find it interesting.

However, I’ve not had much luck before last night in completing a meaningful cycle in a dream.  I well know how, as you are waking from a powerful dream, your mind is rich with ideas attached to the action you’ve just experienced: Such a story! It needs to be retold! This place was full of other stories, with lessons to be learned, an entire cycle of stories: An anthology of stories! But the longer you lie there, waking up, the substance of the place, and all that meaning boils away. It’s evanescent.

This is one time I can at least recall having closed a story, despite that damned escalator, and found a lesson or two to ruminate on with my coffee in the light of the day after.

Good dreams to you.

Consequences of untruth

Five years ago, a man who faced no consequences while being reared, faced no consequences for business failures, his domestic failures, his admitted sexual misbehavior, and, especially, his many malicious public lies…. this man decided to run for the highest office in our nation. He won, despite his well-known flaws, failures, and dishonesty.

He won, it seems to me, because in our nation’s public discourse, we have not learned how to discern between objective journalism and politically sponsored propaganda. This storm of propaganda is paid for by both domestic conservatives with economic and societal policy interests, alongside foreign nations who have geopolitical aims. The former style themselves as patriots, the latter deny their actions. Either way, the information they inject into the flow around us is not objective. It is purpose designed to achieve goals apart from the nation’s best interests.

That we have permitted this to be without fact-checking in real time has warped our lives, and our nation. It’s led to the election of the worst president this nation has seen, and a flagrant attempt to destroy the democracy introduced to the world almost 250 years ago. There’s a direct line between this president, the Republican congressmen, their spokesmen, lawyers, and press secretaries lying to the masses about the outcome of the election, and the death and destruction in Washington last week.

What should be the consequences of those lies? For this monstrous failed president? For the house and senate members and paid pols echoing the falsehood that the election was somehow rigged? What should be done about the “talking heads” who now propound new lies about the assault on Congress, falsely reporting mysterious “others” were the “real” culprits; plainly propaganda. How do we permit this?

Free speech, the old saying goes, does not permit capriciously shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. There are stiff penalties for that wrong-doing.

So…

This failed president must face impeachment, even if conviction occurs after he’s evicted from office. His attempt to undo a national election absolutely requires it. He deserves no pension, no travel allowance, no Secret Service detail as a past president. He must be barred from holding any future office.

Senators Hawley and Cruz should face removal from office, or censure at the least.

Rudy Giuliani and other lawyers in service of the disinformation campaign should be disbarred.

And we clearly need legislative checks on propaganda presented as news. Perhaps a separation of objective reporting outlets from opinion outlets, so that outrageous opinions won’t fly under the cover of a “news banner”.

Mom and Dad never used the word ‘consequences’ while raising my sibs and me, but it made no difference. My upbringing had consequences aplenty to steer my course to adulthood. When it became the fashionable parenting buzz-word at the turn of this century, we were teaching consequences to our daughters daily. They turned out just fine.

Now it is our nation that needs to be the tough parent, to mete out consequences for the lies that wrought last week’s havoc.

Balancing Life’s Boxes

The sale of our big country house has opened the planned transition to a life of sailing alternating with city life. The country home was clearly one mode too many, and was driving us a bit batty. Oh, yes, we did love the place, and some tears were shed after the closing. The memories are to be cherished, but, bottom line: It was just getting in the way of more important things we wanted to experience.

We got a sailboat about three and a half years ago, and while we’ve taken good care of her, we haven’t fulfilled her potential. The same could be said of the big country house, in that it was a home for aviators, with a hangar, and runway, and a community of like-minded fliers. I’ve loved having a plane, but when I was working I never seemed to have time to plan trips. And after retirement, well, we got a sailboat and we were just spread too thin.

The city place, up in NC, we’ve had for much longer than the boat, but when I moved my career to coastal Georgia, it had settled into a role of hosting family gatherings. It mostly served as a weekend getaway from Georgia’s heat. We didn’t really “live” there, we just popped in and out, or loaned the use of it to the kids or to our friends. Our city place served us the way some people’s beach houses serve them; like a bed and breakfast that happens to have a few drawers with your socks and jammies waiting for you, right there!

So, what’s to come? An emphasis on boat life, which entails a regimen of day and weekend sailing to burnish our skills and learn new ones. And, too, sweat equity in the boat’s systems and solidity, which are already quite good. However, if you know sailboats, they’re never entirely “finished”, and the project lists are unending. When she (and we) are ready, and as the pandemic becomes controlled, we will journey in her to the islands!

The city place will see more use, too. When the boat gets too small, or if one or both of us needs a rest, we will retreat to Charlotte and the apartment. After COVID vaccines are commonplace, we will gather there with our kids and friends, and celebrate life’s diversity. There are seasons that suit boating better; winter into spring. And city life in NC makes more sense in summer and fall than cruising the islands in hurricane season.

I think we’ve found a better balance with these changes. Not a bad plan, eh?

City Notes: COVID Life

I’ve been residing in a big city again for the past week and some, and it’s been good, even in the context of COVID and 2020. The charms of city life in a pandemic do suit me better at this age, in my sixties, than they would if I were half that.

For one thing, the city is dialed back enough to lessen the stresses. The streets, while by no means vacant, are quieter. Enough of the citizenry are being conscientious about the pandemic (using masks, and making room for one another), that it’s restored a bit of my faith in humanity. Down on the Georgia coast, there’s much less concern shown for one another.

We walk almost everywhere here. Out on the streets, the elders are the best about masking. The younger and more privileged people seem far less concerned about spreading the plague than the older and less well-to-do. But, overall, it appears that more than half the people walking around are at least trying to suppress the spread.

The young and the restless seem to pose the greatest viral threat. On my walk yesterday, an open-air tour bus blew past me, packed to the gills with partiers, all twenty and thirty-somethings, drinking and listening to a comedian’s guide to The Uptown. Not a mask among them, so, I guess the back of the bus was The Hot Zone for the whole ride.

Call me overly-cautious, but I don’t even drive with my vents left open. Behind that party bus, I think I’d just turn to take a different route.

Late last evening we were startled when what sounded like gunfire from an armed skirmish rattled our windows. It built in fury for several minutes before we realized it was fireworks over the baseball stadium perhaps a half mile from us. We learned that the Charlotte Symphony had hosted a concert for first line health care providers. The stadium seating was limited to 750 attendees for the event. It’s normally 10,000+.

Maybe that’s some elbow room I could live with.

…our word-window on the world.