Tolling the Information Superhighway

If you’re like me, you hate paying tolls. I already pay taxes for infrastructure and adding a few bucks every time I take a certain route irritates the hell out of me. Thankfully there are few roads tolled in the state of Washington (although that may change soon). Imagine having to pay tolls to use certain cyber roads on the internet. Doesn’t sound appealing does it? Well if the current commissioners of the FCC have their way, get ready to pay some tolls!

I pay a given amount of money each month to Frontier for my onramp at home to the internet. I also subscribe to a few streaming services like Netflix, CBS All Access, and Hulu. Thanks to current net neutrality laws, Frontier can’t limit my access to anything I may want to seek on the information superhighway. I can stream Netflix or Hulu with the exact same speed as any other website. But Frontier and other telecommunications company have the ability “throttle” or limit how fast I access certain websites. They could even block sites. Imagine Fox News was the only news site AT&T customers could access. Again because of current laws, they cannot do that.

If the FCC overturns the laws passed two years ago, I could see a huge change in how I access certain websites. Frontier could decide to lower the speed at which I access Netflix making streaming content very difficult. They could do this for any website, including this blog! Why would they do this? The telecommunications companies insist that Netflix, YouTube, and other major sites jam the “roads” making it difficult for them to provide access to everything as fast as consumers want it. Verizon and the others want to charge these big content providers a fee to offset maintaining the “roads” because so much of their content passes through the connections they provide. They want a toll to maintain the infrastructure.

Show of hands: Who thinks that toll money will actually be invested in maintaining infrastructure?

If these laws are overturned, what’s to stop them from charging every content provider? I imagine Netflix and Google could find the funds to pay off the telecoms. If Netflix pays the fee, they will simply turn that fee over to the consumer, which would be me. I’d see a rate hike on my Netflix subscription fees; a toll if you will. But what about my Orbital Platform? Will my hosting service for this site make the payment and thus raise the rates I pay for hosting? If so, it could price me out and I’d have to shut down my platform! These fees or “tolls” could price out start-ups or smaller content providers from competing.

This country prides itself on being a free and open society and we created the world wide web to reflect that. Net neutrality gives everyone a fair shot, a level playing field to compete. It also makes it possible for many voices to be heard. Because so many of our larger news sources are owned by so few the potential to restrict information is overwhelming especially if net neutrality is overturned. Overturning these laws could set this country further down an Orwellian future. What is to stop these telecoms from restricting access to information contradictory to their interests? Right now net neutrality stops them. Now more than ever we need to be vigilant where our freedoms are concerned. Rarely are they taken away all at once. Overturning net neutrality is a step in the wrong direction and we’ve taken too many steps the wrong way already.

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The Kicker

A last minute opportunity took me to the Seattle Seahawks game Monday night. I had very little confidence they could pull off a victory with so many injuries and with the damp cold weather, I was reluctant to go. The game started at 5:30pm local time and that meant I would be fighting a tremendous amount of traffic just to get down there. Will all those things in mind, I went anyway because the Seahawks are my team, win or lose.

There’s no question Atlanta has a good football team. They almost won the Superbowl last year and it takes a lot of talent and grit to get to the championship. Both of those qualities Seattle used to have in abundance but after last night’s game, I wonder how much of that has slipped away in the last few years.

Back in 2014 when Seattle won their first Superbowl they did so with an incredibly young team and as the most penalized team in the NFL. Many of the core players are still with the team yet they have not been able to recreate their past success. One would think they would only get better as they developed their skills together over the years.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve watched more and more football is that time is not very friendly to NFL players. The longer a player plays the game, the more injuries they sustain and the slower the recovery becomes. I think we are seeing that with the Seahawks particularly this season. But teams can still win together even when some of their best talent is broken. That’s where the grit comes in and last night, the Seahawks had a chance to show their true grit. They almost did, they almost won.

The Seahawks played from behind the entire game. Russell Wilson’s intercepted pass and fumble led to 14 Falcon points in a game where the Seattle defense was already fighting an uphill battle. At the end of the second quarter they tried a trick play instead of kicking an almost certain field goal. Those three lost points may have cost them the game. There’s no way to know if Blair Walsh would have made the field goal had he been given the chance to kick it.

The Hawks fought hard in the second half of the game but the Falcons fought back and it really was a good game in the end. In the last few seconds it looked like Seattle might tie the game and send it into overtime. All they needed was a 52 yard field goal from Mr. Walsh. Unfortunately he couldn’t deliver and Seattle lost another home game.

As I was herded out of the stadium last night the crowd was very upset with Blair Walsh, as if he alone were the reason Seattle lost the game. The crowd seemed to forget Wilson’s inability to protect the football or that our defense let the Falcons put 34 points on the board. Had Walsh made the field goal resulting in overtime, there’s still no guarantee Seattle would have won the game.

Seattle scored 31 points last night and those points were scored entirely by the offense. For Seattle that’s a big deal. If the Seahawks are to have a shot at the playoffs moving forward, they’re going to have to dig deep and the offense needs to win games until our defense is ready to play again. I believe there’s enough heart, enough love of the game, and love of each other among the players to achieve victory for Seattle. I truly believe they can rally and be the champions I know they are.

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During 2015 I kept hearing about this American astronaut aboard the International Space Station. I don’t follow NASA and the ISS as much as I would like but for whatever reason, Scott Kelly kept popping up on my social media news feeds. I began following his shenanigans and learned he would set an American record for the number of days in space. His mission was largely to study the long term effects of microgravity in preparation for an eventual manned trip to Mars.

As I mentioned last week I’ve always been a space case and for some reason, Kelly’s story piqued my interest in the final frontier once again. When he announced he had written a book I quickly pre-ordered mine on Amazon. He even wrote a children’s book in hopes of inspiring a young mind to set their sights on the stars. I picked one of those up as well hoping one of my nephews might take an interest.

It didn’t take me long to read his book even though I’m a bit of a slow reader. He wrote extensively about what it was like to live on the ISS for a year as well as how he became an astronaut. I was surprised to learn he was barely an average student in high school and even after he started college he really didn’t have a direction in mind. A book on display one day changed his life and after reading that book he knew what he wanted to do. He worked harder than he ever had and eventually lived his dream of becoming an astronaut.

For the longest time I wanted to be an astronaut and for a while it looked like I was on the path to at least set myself up as a good candidate. Eventually math kicked my chances too far away and at the time I didn’t have the focus to do what it took to get back on track. I also began to realize what I wanted most was to be a starship captain and explore strange new worlds, not conduct science experiments in a lab in orbit of Earth. While it is very likely I will live long enough to see the first humans on Mars, I doubt it will happen in what I would call my prime. So yeah a part of me has some regret for not going full-bore on my dream but I have other gifts and talents and I certainly have a full life even if it doesn’t include a walk among the stars.

Yesterday my husband and I stood in line for just over an hour at the Costco in Kirkland waiting for our turn to get my copy of Endurance signed by Scott Kelly. I saw at least two kids dressed as astronauts and people of all ages young and old stood in line with us. While it certainly wasn’t the masses I’m used to seeing at Emerald City Comicon, it was refreshing to see so many people enthusiastic about space exploration.

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Waiting for Discovery


I have been tuning in every week since the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery eagerly anticipating the next installment of the latest iteration of my favorite sci-fi series. I won’t lie, I’ve usually been left disappointed on some level after each episode. That’s not to say I don’t like the series, I do like it a lot but after every episode I felt a little unsatisfied with the progression of the story.

The pilot episode set up a major conflict with the Klingons. While aspects of this set up are a little frustrating I can totally buy into it as part of the history of Trek and the story they want to tell. War makes for great and tragic dramatic story telling and some of Deep Space Nine’s best episodes were during the Dominion War.

As I began hearing about the premise of Discovery before it was released, I imagined a ship of science changing its focus as it found itself in the middle of the Klingon conflict. Kind and gentle Starfleet officers would have to learn a more militaristic lifestyle and that would create a great deal of internal conflict with the primary characters of the show. I haven’t really seen anything like that with the crew of Discovery. Most of them seemed kind of shady from the start!

As for external conflict, I imagined the Klingons would press the Federation with numerous engagements, seizing world after world until the Federation had no choice but to dig deep and stand up to them. We really haven’t seen that either. Since the pilot we’re seen one space battle, the opening of episode 8 ‘Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum’ where Discovery swoops in to try and rescue a fellow Starfleet ship (they fail). The only conflict involving a strategic world was episode 4 with the awesome title ‘The Butcher’s Knife Cares not for the Lamb’s Cry’ where a dilethium mine colony is about to be overrun unless Discovery can get there in time.

Instead we have a show where there is a large focus on a new way to travel through space. We know this form of space travel will inevitably fail because this is a prequel series and in the twenty-fourth century they still use the tried and true warp engine. We have a small story arc with Harry Mudd, a character who made an appearance in the original series. This had me excited at first as I was hoping for some kind of anti-hero; a character who doesn’t play by the rules but still has some kind of moral backbone. With the shadiness of Captain Lorca, I guess there wasn’t much choice but to make Mudd a full on villain.

So far the show talks a lot about war, the cost of war, and how they must win the war. While Discovery has had a few run-ins with the Klingons, most of the time the show just tells us they’ve done a lot rather than show us the action. The primary focus is Burnham’s character arc and redemption journey. This would be great if she weren’t hampered by years of Vulcan training on the suppression of emotion. She comes across as cold which in my opinion doesn’t work very well in your principal lead.

While the content of the show may leave me with something to be desired, the production quality is nothing less than spectacular. I absolutely love the musical themes and I wish they’d release the soundtrack. Visually the show is stunning and it’s easy to believe the world they’ve created. While it’s not the Star Trek of old, it is very much in line with the reboot “Kelvin” universe and utilizes the best of what’s available in current cinematic tools. It may not have the feel of Star Trek but it does make for great science fiction.

After every episode I feel like I’m still waiting, waiting to see where they go and disappointed they haven’t made more progress in getting there. At least that was the case until I saw the mid-season finale. All of a sudden everything comes to a head and it looks like everything gets wrapped up in a nice package. Discovery has a plan to unlock the secrets of the Klingon cloaking device and mid-execution of said plan, the security chief suffers an episode of PTSD! Burnham fights the Klingons, Discovery fights the Klingon ship, the spore drive is put to the test! We went from zero to warp 9 in a single episode! That too was not very satisfying as there are still at least six episodes remaining in season one. It’s possible this wrap up is just an illusion or the show could be taking a new direction. The latest episode does end on a cliffhanger so I guess I’ll have to wait until January to find out.

Looks like I’m still waiting.

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Women of NASA

It’s no secret I’ve been a “space case” most of my life. I’m not sure when it started but I recall a book I picked up in my school library when I was in second grade that really inspired me. It never occurred to me at the tender age of seven just how significant the woman featured in that book was. I mean come on, what does gender have to do with space exploration? Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. While America had all but won the space race, Russia got a woman up there first. It wasn’t until June 18, 1983, twenty years after Valentina Tereshkova, Ride broke that particular glass ceiling. It leads me to wonder what the hell took NASA so long.

There are many notable women in S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, math) fields and particularly at NASA. The recent movie Hidden Figures highlights a few of the many contributions by Kathrine Johnson, a brilliant mathematician integral to the success of the Apollo missions. I felt the film did a wonderful job portraying the challenges Ms. Johnson had to overcome not only as a woman but as a person of color as well.

When I heard about a Lego Ideas kit featuring some of the pioneering women of NASA I was super excited. This isn’t the first Lego Ideas kit to feature women in S.T.E.M. The previous kit featuring generic female characters in a research institute was so successful they had to do a second run. I imagined this new kit would be equally popular! I waited by my computer on the evening of October 31st to be sure I had a good chance to snag one. One of the benefits to living on the west coast is not having to wait until midnight. The kit went on sale online at 9:00pm my time and I was able to get one with no trouble!

I was a little disappointed the kit didn’t include the aforementioned Johnson as she was part of the original Ideas concept. Apparently there was some conflict with obtaining her permission. However the kit did include my personal hero Sally Ride as well as Mae Jemison, Nancy Roman, and Margaret Hamilton.

I really enjoyed building the space shuttle as part of the Ride Jemison vignette. It’s really easy to build large scale models of various things out of Lego but a real challenge is building something small. Micro scale is quite difficult but also a lot of fun. The Hubble Telescope in Roman’s vignette is another good example of micro scale.

The Women of NASA kit has already sold out on Amazon and the online Lego shop proving once again the popularity of women in S.T.E.M!

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The Last Time…

On Sunday, All Saints Day as it were, a person I have known my whole life lost her battle with cancer. Since her passing I have been thinking about the last time I saw her and at the time I didn’t know it would be the last time. It was probably a Wednesday evening; it was probably a bell rehearsal. I imagine that was the last time many in my church community saw her. None of us, not even she knew it would be for the last time.

Many things we do in life for the last time we don’t always realize it will be the last time to do it. None of us think about the last time we wore a diaper or drank from a bottle as child. Those “last times” are probably more significant to our parents but even those last times are important as they mark an end of one phase of growing and the beginning of another.

For all of us there will be a last time to drive a car, play in a park, and see a movie. On the day my friend passed, she was preceded by a church full of people in Texas who woke up that morning for the last time. None of them realized they were going to church for the last time, saying prayers and praising God for the last time. Had they known that any of those things would be their “last time” would they have done something different? Eaten something different for breakfast, driven a little slower, maybe slept in a little longer?

The next time you hold a door for a stranger could be the last time they enter that building. The next time you wave to your neighbor could be the last time they see you. The next time you smile at a homeless man, yours could be the last face they ever see. What have any of us to lose by making our everyday actions count for something? And what do we gain by making an effort to be better people?

The truth is most of us never get to know when our last time for anything will be. We shouldn’t wait for a mass shooting or the death of a friend to help a stranger, to stop and smell the roses, or slow down in our chaotic lives and appreciate all that we have. When our last breath comes, when our heart beats for the last time, it’s too late to make a legacy, too late to say all that went unsaid, too late to make right any wrong we leave behind. We all need to live as if our last time to do anything is now because the “next time” is never guaranteed.

Rest in peace my friend.

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Strange Things about Stranger Things

WARNING: Contains Spoilers for Season 2

Last year when I binged watched Stranger Things, I was simply amazed. I grew up during the 80’s and loved movies like E.T. and Goonies. Television and movies today can’t seem to capture that adventurous spirit those of us old enough to remember existed back then. That’s probably because it really doesn’t exist today. Back in the 80’s kids lived outside with each other. We built forts and went everywhere on bikes. Society in suburban America has changed since then and kids today don’t get to experience the problem solving of fort building, rope swings, and the minor medical emergencies that go along with them! Stranger Things convincingly takes us back to 1983!

Season one of Stranger Things quickly became a cult classic and overwhelming success. It came as no surprise there would be a season two. It’s so hard to reproduce magic in a series like this one. Many shows start out strong with a seasonal arc without much thought to a continuing through story. While season one of Stranger Things ended with a tease, the show did wrap up everything in case it failed. Could season two live up to the awesomeness of season one?

I recently finished watching season two and I have mixed feelings as to it living up to season one. The production design remained epic and the character dialog was really good as I couldn’t get enough of Dustin and his smart mouth. However, there are two major elements of season two that didn’t work for me.

The first was Eleven’s story arc. Her character in season one became an instant fan favorite. Anyone attending comic conventions since it aired can tell you of all the characters from Stranger Things, hers is cosplayed most. While the character of Will in season one was the driving motivation, Eleven was the means to get him back from the upside down. Her character and how she interacted with the three boys was the heart of the show. In season two, Eleven has her own story arc. While she pines away wanting to reconnect with Mike, she doesn’t get to interact with the boys until the end. Even when she finally reconnects, it’s short lived as her part of the climax is carried out with Hopper rather than the boys. For a majority of the season, she goes off on her own self-discovery tour. She meets her mother and finds Eight, an older girl with different psionic abilities who was part of the same program that raised Eleven. I’m guessing this story thread will become relevant in future seasons as it didn’t seem to connect with everything else happening in Hawkins.

The second element that really didn’t work for me was the dynamic between the four boys and the addition of Max. I actually like the character of Max and having a girl compete with Eleven is a really awesome story trope. Yet as I mentioned earlier, Eleven wasn’t with the boys for most of the season so Max was just competing with a memory. In addition, the four boys themselves didn’t interact as much as season one. Each of them had their own arc and while they spent more time together than Eleven, that “group character” dynamic was really missing. For me the best parts of E.T. and Goonies are the interactions of the kids as they face adversity on their story adventure and season one of Stranger Things was entirely that. The kids carried the show largely together and that was awesome. I just didn’t get that same feeling from season two.

The principle story arc itself for season two was a good one as far as the upside down and the machinations of the Hawkins Lab went. I felt that Will’s story arc was a necessary one and a logical progression from season one. It would have been nice to see his arc interact more with Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven but at least Mike was there for most of it.

I did like season two but I didn’t like it nearly as much as I liked season one. The Duffer brothers plan on a season three and four with the potential for a fifth but as the principal actors age, keeping the show credible beyond that is nearly impossible. That’s my perspective anyway.

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