Independence Day

Independence Day: celebrating U.S. independence from England in 1776. More…


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!

Neighborhood Fireworks

July 3rd, 2010

For some reason, everybody seems to be celebrating Independence Day (the 4th of July) today, even though today is the 3rd of July. Oh well. I guess we Americans aren’t known for our attention to detail ;-).

Anyway, some of the people on our street were setting off fireworks and, best of all, we are in a neighborhood adjacent to where the South Riding community fireworks show takes place. From our back porch, we had a great view of the official and unofficial shows alike.

To top all that off, I just got a new Canon PowerShot SX20 IS camera. It is a ‘prosumer’ model which is not a DSLR, but is about the best you can get if you’re not serious enough (or are too cheap) for a DSLR. You can see loads of photos below. Considering that cameras don’t handle night or motion well, and fireworks are both, I’m very happy with how things turned out.

Read the rest of this entry »

Video Blog: Single vs. Multi-Use Devices

July 1st, 2010

Comparing the merits of the multi-use device (e.g., computer or smartphone) vs. the single-use device (e.g., iPod Classic, e-reader, camera).

Direct YouTube Link

Palm is Dead; Long Live Palm

June 30th, 2010

Palm, Inc. has one of the strangest corporate stories…ever. Let’s see if you can follow this timeline:

  • 1992 – Palm founded by Jeff Hawkins, Ed Colligen, and Donna Dubinsky. The Pilot handheld PDA becomes a big success in the subsequent years.
  • 1995 – Palm is acquired by US Robotics Corp.
  • 1997 – US Robotics (and Palm) are acquired by 3Com.
  • 1998 – Palm’s founders, unhappy with 3Com’s direction for the company, leave and form a new company called Handspring.
  • 2000 – 3Com spins the Palm subsidiary off into an independent company with an IPO on Nasdaq.
  • 2002 – Palm creates an independent subsidiary, named PalmSource, to manage and license the Palm OS operating system and renames itself, the device maker, to PalmOne. PalmOne spins PalmSource off into a separate, independent company.
  • 2003 – PalmOne buys Handspring, bringing the founders back into the company.
  • 2005 – PalmOne buys the rights to the ‘Palm’ name, jointly held by PalmOne and PalmSource, and renames itself back to Palm, Inc. PalmSource, meanwhile, is bought by Access, Ltd. PalmSource/Access struggles to create a worthy successor to the badly aging Palm OS operating system (it never does).
  • 2007 – Equity firm Elevation Partners buys a 25% stake in Palm, Inc., giving them a badly needed lifeline.
  • 2009 – Palm finally announces its own home-grown mobile operating system, WebOS, and a new ‘Pre’ smartphone. The system is well regarded, but doesn’t sell especially well.
  • 2010 – Palm, Inc. is acquired by Hewlett-Packard.

Obviously, this timeline had a lot of wrong turns. The splitting of Palm into two companies will likely go down in business history as one of the dumbest things a technology company has ever done, and PalmSource’s failure to deliver a worthy successor to the old Palm OS for so many years is a blight on their record and seriously hurt Palm[One]‘s ability to compete in the market. While WebOS is still, in my humble opinion, the absolute best mobile operating system available, Palm has struggled to produce competitive hardware at a fast enough pace to compete with the Apple, Google, and RIM juggernauts.

This week—perhaps as early as tomorrow—Palm, Inc. will cease to exist. It will become part of venerable Hewlett-Packard, Inc. (HP). The expectation is that Palm won’t be a subsidiary (as it was under US Robotics and 3Com), but will become an internal unit at HP. It’s unknown at this time if the Palm name will live on, but it looks like Palm, as we loyal customers have known and loved it for so many years, will be gone.

The good news, however, is that with HP’s backing there’s a good chance that WebOS will land on better and better hardware in the months and years to come, and that HP/Palm/whatever it’s called will live on and regain its former standing in the mobile market. Long-time fans like myself are cautiously optimistic. Palm is dead; long live Palm.

Update: It’s official; Palm no longer exists as an independent company as of this morning (7/1), and is being de-listed from Nasdaq. In other news, stole my post title! :-) At least in the near term, Palm is being labeled as a subsidiary of HP but it’s unclear if this is a temporary or more-permanent arrangement.

BREAKING: Supreme Court Overturns Gun Bans

June 28th, 2010

In a narrow 5-4 ruling, the United States Supreme Court has overturned the gun ban in Chicago, IL and reiterated its previous rulings that individuals have a right to keep and bear arms under the 2nd Amendment.

The Court ruled two years ago in District of Columbia vs. Heller that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual civil right, but the ruling was narrowly crafted and some believed it only applied to federal laws and federal enclaves like the District. In today’s McDonald vs. Chicago ruling, the Court explicitly clarified that states must also abide by the Bill of Rights in their legislation, ending any serious confusion about the meaning and scope of the 2nd Amendment.

Technically, the Supreme Court did not directly overturn the bans, but it did clarify the meaning of its previous rulings and sent the case back to lower courts for consideration. In practice, this means that the gun ban will either be overturned by the lower court or returned again to the Supreme Court to be overturned later.

This ruling will potentially have wide-ranging impact on state and local gun laws across the country, possibly forcing these governments to bring their laws in-line with the plain text of the Bill of Rights.


cDonald vs. Chicago

Sen. Byrd Dead at 92

June 28th, 2010

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), the longest serving member of Congress, has died at the age of 92. He had suffered numerous age-related health problems over the last two years.

Byrd served West Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1953 to 1959 before moving to the Senate for an astounding nine terms. During his half-century in the Senate, Byrd has served in various leadership positions including President Pro Tempore, Majority Leader, Minority Leader, Majority Whip, and Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

His legacy, however, has been tarnished by his racist positions earlier in life. In his twenties, Byrd was a recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan and he famously filibustered the Civil Rights Act. He has since repudiated and apologized for these positions, and in later years became a reliable supporter of minority civil rights issues.

Under West Virginia law, Byrd will be replaced by a gubernatorial appointment.

How to Quantify My Politics

June 27th, 2010

I’ve been giving some thought lately to how I can quantify and/or explain my political views in a short, pithy, simple way. I keep coming up short. What’s most annoying is that I’ve been trying to do this with only limited success since I first started paying real attention to politics, some time around 1997 or 1998. Originally I called myself a ‘moderate Republican.’ This gave way to something like ‘libertarian Republican’ [note the small-L].

In 2000, I first began to really identify myself as an independent since I found that I was in disagreement with a lot of ‘Republican’ policy stances and calling myself a Republican wasn’t really accurate. I didn’t really have any good qualifiers so I just said I was independent. When prodded, I would give an explanation like, “I disagree with Democrats 80% of the time and Republicans 60% of the time, so I generally vote Republican.” This was both an oversimplification and an exaggeration, but it got the point across. It’s still somewhat accurate.

At some point, in desperation for a 1- or 2-word statement on my politics, I began calling myself a ‘conservative independent’ and this stuck. This is what showed on the ‘about’ page of this web site for many, many years…but it never felt totally right. It wasn’t that it was wrong, it just seemed like it lacked clarity. It says I’m somewhere center-right, which is true, but doesn’t really explain what I’m center on, what I’m right on, or, for that matter, what I might be left on! At some point ‘conservative independent’ gave way to the equally obtuse ‘independent conservative,’ reflecting a slightly more pronounced rightward slant (though certainly no sea-change). Read the rest of this entry »

House Passes ‘DISCLOSE’ Act

June 25th, 2010

The United States House of Representatives narrowly passed the controversial ‘DISCLOSE’ Act last night. The Act would impose a number of new, unconstitutional requirements on organizations that engage in First Amendment protected political speech. More on the Act here.

If you value your civil liberties and your own free speech, free assembly, and privacy rights, you might want to contact your Senators and demand that they vote against this bill when it comes to their chamber.

If your Congressman voted for this (and the many other unconstitutional bills they’ve been passing over the last several years), you might want to contact them too and let your opinions be known. Of course, the best way is to vote with your…votes ;-).

Don’t forget, all of our elected officials swear to protect and defend the Constitution; this usually precludes trampling it. It might be worth letting your representatives know that you expect them to do what they swore to do.

Gen. McChrystal Had to Go

June 23rd, 2010

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the Commander of Afghanistan Forces, was subject of an in-depth article in Rolling Stone magazine in which he and his staff members shared their low opinions of President Barack Obama (D) and other high-ranking civilian government officials. After the article went public, McChrystal promptly met with Obama and tendered his resignation earlier today. He will be replaced by Gen. David Petraeus.

McChrystal—and his staff members—are all entitled to their opinions. Heck, their opinions might even be right! Even so, McChrystal should be smart enough (and experienced enough) to understand the chain of command. You make your opinions known to your superiors privately, and then accept their judgment and follow their orders. You don’t insult them, especially not in a public forum, and you always treat them with honor and respect.

Our military forces answer to the civilian government and, whatever McChrystal might personally think of that government, its officials outrank him. Elected and appointed civilian leaders are entitled to appropriate respect and deference from our military officials, whatever they might think of their policies and personalities. I cannot understand why an experienced, professional military leader like McChrystal would allow himself to land in this position but, at least, he handled it honorably after the fact by apologizing for his poor judgment and resigning.

Insubordination is not accepted in the ranks of our armed forces; had McChrystal insulted his military superiors in this way he quite possibly would have faced court-martial for it. If McChrystal had not resigned, then Obama would have had to fire him. He had to go.

Website 21.2 In Development

June 19th, 2010

I’ve started some preliminary work on a minor update to the site which, when done, will bring the version to 21.2. Believe it or not, it’s been six months since the last minor update and over a year since the last top-to-bottom redesign. I’m still pretty happy with it, but—as happens every-so-often with me—I’m starting to feel like I ought to update it just for the sake of updating it. I also want to try out some cool new jQuery and WordPress tricks I’ve been learning.

So far, my experimental development version has…nothing all that great, at least from the reader’s perspective. I’ve added support for the new menu system in WordPress 3.0, which will make it easier for me to make changes to the menus when I need to (and make sure the Site Map and menu are always in sync). I’ve also hacked around on WP-Super-Cache so I can enable WordPress caching on my theme without screwing up the desktop vs. mobile versions, which will speed things up a bit for everybody when it goes live.

Other than that, I don’t really have much planned yet…so if you have any requests, now is the time. What do you love about the site? What do you hate about it? Let me know.


June 17th, 2010

Back in January, to everybody’s surprise, the United States Supreme Court ruled that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” means that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” I never saw that coming; the Court actually read the Constitution and made a ruling based on what it actually says.

Regardless, our current Congress and President didn’t like this ruling since the laws it overturned were laws that benefited their special interest groups at the expense of groups that supported their political opposition. As such, our government has been working on crafting new laws to “abridge the freedom of speech, or of the press” until the Supreme Court can overturn them too, or until we amend the Constitution to actually allow these things.

Up for debate very soon will be the DISCLOSE Act, which is intended to re-muzzle those ‘peaceable assemblies’ (hm, also mentioned in the 1st Amendment) that were recently un-muzzled by the Court. This act, if passed, will have a dangerous chilling effect on speech by political groups, left and right. This act doesn’t protect our political liberty, it destroys it (again).

Interest groups, of course, are made up of people who willingly support those groups with their time and money. They aren’t some diabolical, nebulous enemy of our democracy; they are democracy. We have a right to support political interest groups and those groups, representing their members and supporters, have a right to engage in pretty-much unrestricted political speech.

Those of us who still want and enjoy our political liberties must oppose this bill. We also must oppose the back-room deals being made between Congress and certain large groups, like the National Rifle Association (NRA), to exempt them from the law in order to buy their silence. This is the same-old ‘politics as usual’ that President Barack Obama (D) campaigned against and, most perplexing, it benefits the large lobbying groups the President decries at the expense of the small, grass-roots organizations across the political spectrum that are the lifeblood of our republic.

Editorial Note: I am a member and regular supporter of the National Rifle Association (NRA). The views expressed in this piece are mine and mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the NRA.