Scott Bradford: Off on a Tangent

Welcome to Off on a Tangent, the online repository where I share my creative endeavors with the world. Inside you will find fiction, news, commentary, poetry, music, and more that I have produced over the years and am still producing today. I am always open to feedback, so please don’t hesitate to contact me or leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Maine 2nd State to Validly Legalize Gay Marriage

May 6th, 2009

Maine became the second state in the United States to validly legalize same-sex marriage through its legislative process today, and the first state to do so with a governor’s signature. Maine joins Vermont, which legalized same-sex marriage in April with a legislative veto override, as one of two states to have established legal same-sex marriage through a valid, Constitutional process. Maine’s state legislature passed the bill today, and it was signed by Gov. John Baldacci (D) within hours.

New Hampshire’s state legislature passed a similar bill today which has not yet been reviewed by Gov. John Lynch (D).

Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts also recognize same-sex marriage, but do so due to illicit and unconstitutional judicial rulings. California recognized same-sex marriage through a similar court ruling last year, but Californians amended the state Constitution in November to reassert the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This amendment overruled the illicit court ruling.

The Washington, DC city council also passed a resolution yesterday which would recognize in the federal District of Columbia those same-sex marriages performed in other states, but not permit those marriages to be performed in the District. Upon approval by Mayor Adrian Fenty (D), who has announced his support for the resolution, it will be sent to Congress for a 30-day review period. After this period, if not rejected by Congress, the resolution will become law.

My Patron Saint: Maximilian Kolbe

May 5th, 2009

saintm01In Catholic tradition, people entering the church are confirmed in the name of their selected patron saint. The whole concept of patron saints is somewhat foreign to most Christians outside of the Catholic church. The idea is basically that a patron saint—a holy person recognized by the Church as a saint—is one who can act as an intercessor on your behalf in heaven. You can pray to your patron (or any saint, for that matter) and ask for their assistance much like you can ask your friends and family to pray for you in time of need.

While you ultimately get to choose who your confirmation saint is, many would say that you don’t chose your patron…they choose you. In my case, as I started considering who my confirmation saint would be, I loaded the SQPN Saints Index and began browsing. I looked at patron saints of places I enjoy, for subjects that are close to my heart (the Internet, pro-life, etc.), and more. Eventually, you stumble upon a saint who’s story touches you and just feels right.

In my case, I was confirmed in the name of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. If I remember correctly, I stumbled upon his page while clicking through the various saints associated with the pro-life movement, and I was nearly brought to tears when I read his story.

He was born Raymond Kolbe in Russian-occupied Poland in 1894. He—like me—was a ‘mischievous’ child and a trial to his parents. He received a vision of the Virgin Mary at the age of 12 which he explained this way: Read the rest of this entry »

Flu Hysteria

May 3rd, 2009

Okay, seriously people. The flu is a very, very common virus. Sure, there are tons of variants—some of which can be pretty harmful—but for a normal person with a healthy immune system, it’s just the flu. It’s like a cold, just worse. It’s just like pretty much any other respiratory virus.

The regular, run-of-the-mill seasonal flu generates enough irrational hysteria every year. Millions go out and get flu shots that they don’t really need (they’re really intended for the very young, very old, and others with weak immune systems). It makes the news when the flu starts afflicting people in the region, and there are regular updates on how effective or ineffective the vaccines have been that year.

But, despite this, most people still seem to understand that the seasonal flu is just the flu. Schools don’t close, people don’t stockpile hand sanitizer, and it’s not the lead story in every news outlet every spring—even though the regular seasonal flu infects 5-20% of Americans and kills about 36,000 of them (mostly with weak immune systems) each year.

With all this in mind, let’s have some sanity in our discourse about the so-called ‘Swine Flu’. Yeah, it’s new and different. Yeah, it has the potential to infect lots of people. But, ultimately, it’s still just the flu. It’s still not gonna’ kill you unless you have a weak immune system. It’s not gonna’ destroy society. All evidence so far would indicate it’s not much worse, if it’s worse at all, as compared to a regular seasonal flu. We don’t need to close schools for weeks or months because one student has it. We don’t need to drastically reorganize our lives around it.

Calm down.

Website 21 Coming Soon

May 1st, 2009

I mentioned a little over a week ago that I was starting to work on my designs and such for the next version of this site, Website 21. As I mentioned then, this is going to be (from a visual perspective) an evolutionary rather than revolutionary upgrade. At a glance it won’t look all that different, though I think you will notice some changes.

I’ve been writing mostly smaller entries on the site over the last week since I’ve been dedicating a lot of my web time to the development of the Website 21 templates and code (I’ve been in a pretty nerdy mood, so the timing was right). I’m happy to report that I’ve made very fast progress. With the weight of supporting Internet Explorer 6 off my shoulders, web development is much quicker and much less hacky these days.

I’m doing a major upgrade to the code—a complete rewrite in parts—and already have a working WordPress template with a couple of nifty new features worked in. Of course, all this does introduce the possibility that something won’t work right initially. I’ll do my usual wide range of browser tests and will try to catch and eliminate as many bugs as possible before launch, but some are bound to slip through.

Anyway, I have not yet set a launch date…but don’t be too surprised if Website 21 launches in the next week or two. Then again, since I’m pretty busy and do get sidetracked, don’t be surprised if it takes longer either ;-).

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: It’s Got a Hemi

April 30th, 2009

While it’s not 100% official yet, major media outlets are reporting that Chrysler LLC—the parent of Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep—will be filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy today. Chrysler has been unable to reach agreements with enough of its lenders to reduce debt and remain solvent.

While under Chapter 11 protection, Chrysler is expected to reorganize, merge or partner with Italian automaker Fiat, and come out in as little as 2 or 3 months as a leaner, profitable American automotive company.

Chrysler’s story, in particular, is a very frustrating one for me. The company has long been my favorite of the former ‘big three’ U.S. automakers. My last American-branded car was a 1998 Chrysler Cirrus—up-market cousin of the Dodge Stratus—and it was a great little mid-size sedan. I had few complaints about the vehicle, and it had no major mechanical problems except what you would expect for a car with the age and mileage it had. Read the rest of this entry »

The Genius of Bureaucracy

April 29th, 2009

As a long-time observer of government and, for the last five years or so, one who has worked on a number of government projects, I continue to be amazed at the abject idiocy produced by our federal bureaucracy. Now, I want to be careful here because many federal workers and contractors I have worked with have been extraordinarily talented professionals. In fact, working in government, I have been continually stuck by the bipolar nature of the institution—it seems to attract some of the most dedicated people, and at the same time some of the most indifferent, disinterested morons.

Because the morons, unfortunately, outnumber the good ones, it happens fairly regularly that a bad idea originates somewhere in the ranks of the federal bureaucracy and manages to snake through the channels of authority, being signed-off on by five or ten managers and analysts and Deputy Under-Secretaries before eventually being implemented. In the real world, one of those five or ten reviewers would have said, “Hey, this is a bad idea.” In government, well, it doesn’t always work that way.

For example, some low- or middle-ranked bureaucrat somewhere in the labyrinths of the Washington, DC federal buildings thought it would be a wonderful idea to fly one of the presidential planes—a Boeing 747 that looks very much like an airliner—right over the Statue of Liberty in New York with a couple of F-16 fighter jets trailing it. “After all,” says the anonymous bureaucrat, “we need a new picture of Air Force One.” So, without bothering to make any public announcements or properly informing the City of New York, the photo-op happened. It went great.

Except, of course, that thousands of New Yorkers looked up to see what appeared to be a low-flying airliner trailed by fighter jets zooming over lower Manhattan…sort of like another couple of airliners did eight years ago, killing 3,000 people when they slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Seeing this, New Yorkers prudently evacuated their buildings, left the city, called 9-1-1, etc. Way-to-go, anonymous bureaucrat and team of anonymous managers who signed off on this grand idea.

I’ve personally seen this kind of thing happen, albeit on a much smaller and less newsworthy scale. I’ve watched equally dumb ideas progress through the system, collecting approval signatures, and then watched everybody scatter like cockroaches when higher-ups start asking who’s responsible for the mess that results. Somehow, in my experience, the contractors always get blamed…even if the contractor can print out the e-mail where the government manager ordered them to do whatever it was. Before too long the contractor gets replaced, and the government manager who made the bad decision gets to keep his office and even gets a pay raise.

This, folks, is why we need reform of the bureaucracy. People who enter the public service should be paid based on merit and skill, and if they under-perform they should be fired. This is how the private sector works, and it is no wonder that the private sector (on average) works better, cheaper, and more efficiently than the government.

GM Terminating Pontiac [15 Years Late]

April 27th, 2009

So General Motors (GM), the wayward American automaker, has announced that they will be killing the Pontiac brand. This isn’t a bad move, except that it’s way too little (Saturn, Buick, Hummer, and possibly others should be axed too) and it’s way too late (Pontiac stopped making sense at least 15 years ago). Reducing the irrational hodge-podge of internally competitive brands now won’t help; doing it a decade ago probably would have.

GM is also trying desperately to avoid the bankruptcy court—even though the court is really the only way for GM to break the stranglehold of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union—by announcing its intent to use various bizarre financial tricks to, essentially, nationalize themselves and put us taxpayers on the hook for their decades of mismanagement.

All-in-all, nothing has really changed. GM is still a money pit, and it’s a money pit that has already received billions of taxpayer dollars to help them hobble along. Bankruptcy remains the last, best hope for a GM resurgence. More federal investment won’t do anything but prolong the inevitable.

Anticipating Windows 7

April 26th, 2009

So, you all know my opinions of Windows 6.0 (Vista). It’s terrible, at least on any hardware that originally shipped with Windows 5.1 (XP) or right around the release of 6.0 (Vista). It’s acceptable on new hardware, and even downright decent on new hardware since Service Pack 1 came out. Decent, however, is still quite a lot behind contemporary Mac OS X, Ubuntu Linux, and even Windows 5.1 (XP) installations. As such, most businesses and attentive consumers have stuck with XP in hopes what Windows 7 will be better than Vista, or have begun switching to Windows alternatives.

But Windows users now have what looks like a light at the end of the tunnel. I expressed cautious optimism in October that Windows 7 would be a move in the right direction based on some screenshots and positive early reviews, and that cautious optimism has been reinforced throughout the development of Windows 7 so far. Most people who have had the opportunity to play with the new operating system from Microsoft have found it to be speedy, reliable, user-friendly, and—quite frankly—what Vista should have been all along. Best of all, unlike Vista, Windows 7 has a logical name (its version number; imagine that), has proceeded through its development process largely on-schedule, and hasn’t promised more that it can deliver.

Indeed, it does look like Microsoft is getting it. Windows 7 at this early stage looks like it’ll actually be on-par with its Mac OS and Linux competition.

In the coming week, Microsoft will be releasing the first ‘Release Candidate’ of Windows 7. While Microsoft has only committed to a final release in 2010, many pundits and observers see the Redmond company releasing the final product to manufacturers and retailers as early as this summer. It is heartening to find that Microsoft can, indeed, develop a quality product in a reasonable length of time. It is also heartening to know that even a behemoth like Microsoft gets a little shell-shocked when it makes a major blunder like Vista, and takes some drastic action to right itself.

Why am I happy? After all, I gave up on Windows a long time ago and use Mac OS X and Ubuntu Linux almost exclusively now for my personal computing. Well, competition is a good thing. If Windows gets really great, it’ll drive Apple and the many thousands of Linux developers to up their game a little more. It was Apple’s resurgence that drove the industry forward to where it is today, and a resurgent Microsoft will help drive the entire industry even further forward. Microsoft’s improvements to their once-wayward operating system ultimately has benefits across-the-board, even if you shy away from trusting Redmond with your computing needs.

Website 21 Planning

April 22nd, 2009

I’ve started doing some preliminary work and prototyping for the next major update to my web site, Website 21. It’s been over a year now since I launched Website 20 on the WordPress blogging and content management platform, which makes it one of the longest-lived designs in the history of Off on a Tangent. It’s been through two minor revisions and I still really like it, which is also pretty abnormal. Usually I start getting annoyed with my site after six months or so and start furiously experimenting with redesigns. In this case, I got a bit annoyed with the color palette and darkened it in the 20.2 revision but that’s been about it.

All-in-all, I’m mostly doing a redesign because it’s time to do a redesign. It’s been over a year, and—perhaps most importantly—I’m no longer supporting Internet Explorer 6 so I can start doing some more advanced, clean, simplified coding without all the hacks and insanity. Internet Explorer 6 has held back the Internet long enough. Don’t expect a really ground-breaking change from a visual perspective. Website 21 will likely be an evolutionary design change, not a revolutionary one. Having said that, I do intend to spend a lot of time reworking all the code on the back end. I’m basically going to code the template from scratch with clean, compliant, modern code. IE6 users beware; the site will not work properly in your browser. Upgrade!

Lastly, I’m always open to suggestions. If there’s something about the design or function of Off on a Tangent that you love or hate, please let me know. I will seriously consider your input as I go through the process of developing concepts and building the next version of this site.

Bad Economy? Depends on Perspective

April 21st, 2009

I keep trying to tell people that whether this economy is ‘bad’ depends on perspective. Those of us who work hard, save money, live within our means, and mind our credit ratings actually have some great opportunities available to us right now. Sure, there is some uncertainty, but depressed home prices and low interest rates make this a great buyers’ market for people looking at real estate.

In our case, we live in a very expensive area. A few years ago, mediocre townhouses in our area sold for $500,000 or more and home ownership seemed to be completely out of our reach. We were content to live in apartments for the immediate future.

Today though, even decent brand-new townhouses can be had in our area for significantly less. The going interest rate is nice and low (in the 4-5% range), and—despite all the media blather about a ‘credit freeze’—credit is widely available for people who have minded their credit scores and don’t present significant risk to lenders.

And I’m not just spouting off either; Melissa and I are very seriously considering buying a home when our lease expires in October—an opportunity that we would not have except for a well-timed economic downturn. We had an initial meeting with a Realtor yesterday and have already started identifying nice townhouses in our price range ($300,000 or less). Even better, as of today we have been pre-approved for a mortgage up to $400,000 (!!). Credit freeze? What credit freeze?

I’m sure I’ll have more on this subject in the coming months ;-).

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