How One Jerk Ruined MapMyFitness For Me

As you may have seen from several of my earlier posts, I'm a big fan of recreational road cycling. Over the past few years I have ridden thousands of miles, and I have blogged about several of the "Century Rides" in which I have participated. During the average month I love climbing on my bicycle and riding through the surrounding desert three or four times per week.

Earlier this year I had shoulder surgery, and cycling became an important part of my recovery program. When my doctor and physical therapist both said that it was okay for me to start riding again, I spent several painful weeks working through the shoulder pain and slowly increasing my mileage, but it was ultimately worth the effort.

That being said, I also like to track my rides on the MapMyFitness website, and over time a playful competition developed between myself and a few of the other riders on some of my favorite desert courses. I am too old to be a serious competitor, so I was always a few minutes behind the fastest riders. But I usually rode more often than a few of the other riders, and therefore I was able to earn enough points to maintain my standing.

mmfit_logo

However, earlier this year someone moved to town who - for some inexplicable reason - decided that he needed to cheat.

On the one hand, this makes no sense to me: the MapMyFitness website is supposed to be about tracking your health, so why anyone would want to cheat seems beyond my comprehension.

On the other hand, some people like to compete with each other, as I mentioned earlier about myself and a few others on the MapMyFitness website. And where there's competition, some people like to win - regardless of what it takes to do so.

All of this leads me back to the cheater. What this guy likes to do is ride several of the courses with several cycling GPS devices and upload the results from all of his devices to the MapMyFitness website. I wasn't aware of this before, but the MapMyFitness website is poorly-designed in such a way that it allows people to do this, so it doesn't bother to check if a person is uploading multiple rides for the same course at the same time. This seems like a pretty trivial thing to check, so it was amazing to me just how easy the MapMyFitness website made cheating possible.

Needless to say, once this guy started uploading his fraudulent ride data, it became impossible to compete with him. I usually rode one of my favorite courses twice each time that I rode, and this guy would ride the same course two or three times. But since he was uploading the data from three GPS devices, the MapMyFitness website was giving him credit for six or nine rides. At that point it didn't matter how many times that I rode each course - there was no way that my honesty would be able to keep up with his dishonesty.

Now you would think that the folks at MapMyFitness would care about this, so a few months ago I decided to bring this to their attention. Here's what I sent them:

I have been a member of MapMyFitness for several years now, and an MVP member for some time. To be honest, from a workout tracking perspective, MapMyFitness has a lot of stiff competition from Strava, Ride With GPS, Garmin, etc. There is one reason why I chose MapMyFitness over its competitors - and that is for the friendly competition with other members. Over the past couple years, a few members have competed with me for Guru and Sprint King on a few of the MapMyFitness courses, and the opportunity to challenge or be challenged by someone else has created fun and attainable goals for me to strive for. This has been especially beneficial for me recently because I spent the latter part of last year and the early part of this year recuperating from surgery due to a series of cycling accidents last year, and the challenge of competition got me back on my bicycle again. As I mentioned earlier, this spirit of competition is specifically the reason why I chose MapMyFitness over its competition, and why I became an MVP member.

However, over the past few weeks I have realized just how easy it is for someone else to cheat, and as a result it has become apparent that honest behavior on my part will never achieve the numbers that someone who is being deliberately deceitful can attain. While I realize that MapMyFitness cannot actively police all of the activities that its users post, I think some things are easy enough to detect. Consider the following workouts from one person in question:

GARMIN_EDGE_500 GARMIN_EDGE_800 GARMIN_FR920XT

It is readily apparent that this user is uploading the same workout from three different Garmin devices, so each time that he completes a course his numbers are multiplied by three. With that in mind, on days when he has completed some of the courses in our area more than once, his numbers are simply unattainable by anyone who doesn't resort to his methods of dishonesty. Following my surgery I can barely make it 20-25 miles before I have to quit for the day, so there is no way that I could ride the 90-100 miles that I would need to ride in order to overcome this person's deceit.

As I mentioned earlier, I realize that MapMyFitness is more or less on an 'Honor System' and it cannot actively police all of the activities which are uploaded, but it would be easy to detect this specific user's behavior by simply checking if any user is in a course more than once at the same time; when that happens, do not count one of the courses.

Unfortunately, I also realize that my complaint will likely fall on deaf ears, and as a result I will probably cease using MapMyFitness in the near future. Since the one feature for which I chose your service is apparently suffering from unchecked fraudulent behavior, I feel that am left with little alternative. Thankfully, as I mentioned earlier, there are other choices available to me.

To be honest, I did not expect a response, so I was surprised to hear back from them. However, the banal substance of their response was ultimately worse than hearing nothing:

Kyle (Help & Support)

Hi Robert,

Thank you for writing in about this.

We have a system in place for identifying users that circumvent the rules on both challenges and courses. Sometimes, these are missed and certain users are able to manipulate the system, but we actively monitor and check leaderboards and challenges for cheating. We appreciate you reporting this to us and I have passed this along to the appropriate team.

Cheating participants will not be awarded prizes.

Let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns

Thanks,
Kyle

It may sound like I'm being overly harsh to what seems like a polite response, but the truth is - the scammer rocketed to the top of the leaderboard on several courses, and MapMyFitness didn't do anything about it. The year is barely half over, and this fraudster has already amassed scores which cannot possibly be attained by anyone who refuses to stoop to his level of deception.

So I used to look forward to the friendly competition on the MapMyFitness website, but now that's something of an impossibility. No matter what any honest person does, they simply cannot compete with this schmuck. It's amazing how all it takes as one jerk to ruin something.

Politics, Plagiarism and the Press

To be honest, I could care less about the Trumps, or the Clintons for that matter. From my perspective, this is going to be a lousy election year. But that being said, the amount of attention that a single, stupid, and seemingly-insignificant speechwriter gaffe is generating in the press and social media these days is enough to make me want to hurl. (Although I will admit to finding #FamousMelianaTrumpQuotes pretty amusing; almost as much fun as #BrianWilliamsMisremembers.)

In case you've been living under a rock for the past 24 hours, the following article should catch you up on what happened at the Republican National Convention (RNC) yesterday; Melania Trump's speechwriter lifted a handful of phrases from a speech by Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) eight years ago:

The Melania Trump Plagiarism Scandal
https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2016/07/19/melania-trump-plagiarism-scandal/

The above article does a good job of pointing out just how much was copied, which amounts to around two paragraphs in which Melania Trump's speech was either substantially copied or paraphrased from Michelle Obama's speech. In my college days, if I had used the same level of copying or paraphrasing in a term paper without proper citation, the best-case scenario is that the entire paper would have been rejected, and the worst-case scenario is that I would have justifiably received an "F" in the class. However, as the above article points out, Melania Trump is not alone in the recent history of presidential campaign plagiarism.

To begin with, and what is most amusing to me, is that the same speech by Michelle Obama at the 2008 DNC leveraged a few phrases from Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" book without proper attribution, although to be honest I think those few phrases were probably added by Michelle's husband since he was a big fan of Alinsky's work. (However, if someone wanted to be as obnoxious as everyone in the press is being today, one could make the argument that Melania Trump's plagiarism is simply carrying on a tradition of campaign speech misappropriation by potential First Ladies which was first established by Michelle Obama.)

Nevertheless, if the gaffe in Michelle Obama's speech was indeed the fault of her husband's, that would not be too surprising, as Barack Obama has often quoted other authors' works in the past without proper attribution. Here are just a few examples:

Obama by the Numbers: Twice-Told Tales, and Nine in a Row
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/19/AR2008021902342.html

Obama's State of the Union Was Tantamount to Plagiarism
http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/alvin-felzenberg/2011/01/26/obamas-state-of-the-union-was-tantamount-to-plagiarism

The Obama Plagiarism Scandal
https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2008/02/20/the-obama-plagiarism-scandal/

Bush speechwriter accuses Obama of plagiarism in State of the Union
https://www.yahoo.com/news/blogs/sideshow/bush-speechwriter-accuses-obama-of-plagiarism-in-state-of-the-union-143818874.html

You might be tempted to take the following video with a grain of salt based on its origin, but it does do a good job of showing the levels to which Barack Obama (or his speechwriters) will go when leveraging other people's speeches:

When Obama Plagiarized Speeches from Deval Patrick and John Edwards
http://youtu.be/H6pDCvXNVTE

And of course, I could go on about John McCain, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and a host of others, but let us not forget Joe Biden, who seems to have made a career out of plagiarism. I love how Joe Biden not only stole material from other people - he actually stole other people's life stories and substituted them for his own. He also fabricated his academic records, and eventually his web of intentional deceit forced him to drop out of the 1988 presidential race. Of course, Biden went on to become the Vice President later, proving to future generations of politicians that outright plagiarism will not necessarily be the end of your career. Nevertheless, here are just a few articles about Biden's many transgressions:

The Write Stuff? Why Biden's plagiarism shouldn't be forgotten.
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history_lesson/2008/08/the_write_stuff.html

Biden Admits Errors and Criticizes Latest Report
http://www.nytimes.com/1987/09/22/us/biden-admits-errors-and-criticizes-latest-report.html

Biden Admits Plagiarism in School But Says It Was Not 'Malevolent'
http://www.nytimes.com/1987/09/18/us/biden-admits-plagiarism-in-school-but-says-it-was-not-malevolent.html

The Biden Plagiarism Scandal
https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2008/08/26/the-biden-plagiarism-scandal/

All of this is just to say, a lot of people in politics have plagiarized other people, and the frequency with which it occurs does not make it right. However, from where I am standing it seems as though the way in which today's press has latched onto this single incident with such venom while essentially giving a multitude of other offenders a free pass is more than a little lop-sided. I guess we can see which candidate the mainstream media has chosen, as they have done in the past.

To be honest, nothing in this mini-scandal is going to do anything to sway me any more against either candidate; at the moment, the following image seems like my best option. And just to make sure that I give credit where it is due, I am pointing out - for the record - that I plagiarized it from someone else.

Giant Meteor 2016

 

 

 


POSTSCRIPT:

The following information was interesting, albeit somewhat outside the original scope of the blog, so I intentionally omitted it from my main narrative. However, I thought that it was worth adding to the end of this post. In an odd turn of events, Barack Obama has also been accused in the past of plagiarizing from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who in turn was guilty of plagiarizing other people:

Boston U. Panel Finds Plagiarism by Dr. King
http://www.nytimes.com/1991/10/11/us/boston-u-panel-finds-plagiarism-by-dr-king.html

So the saga of Melania Trump quoting Michelle Obama who quoted Saul Alinsky has a rich tradition in politics. Perhaps nothing is original anymore?

Open-mouthed smile

An Open Letter to LIVESTRONG

I have recently been unable to read any articles on the www.livestrong.com website, and as a result I sent their customer support staff the following letter:

Despite having been on your mailing list for years and thoroughly enjoying your articles, I am no longer able to use your website because of your poor website design and engineering decisions. Look, I get it - LIVESTRONG needs to make money, and to do so you charge for advertising. And I realize that in order to increase your advertising revenue, most of your "articles" are now "click-bait slideshows" which require your readers to click through multiple pages in order to read a single article.

The problem is, your website designers have built an extremely-fragile house of cards, so more often than not I can only get one or two pages into a "slideshow" before your website ceases to work; e.g. pages hang, display timeout errors, etc. Because I actually WANT to read your content, I will try other browsers and other computers, but the results are the always the same; after a couple of pages I get nothing else.

In some cases I think this is because your website is trying to popup a modal dialog to ask me to sign up for your newsletter, which I already receive, so this is annoying for multiple reasons; I hate being asked to sign up for something to which I am already subscribed, and I hate your website crashing while asking me to do something which I have already done.

As a result, I'll probably stop trying to read your content. Oh sure, I'm just one guy so it's no big deal to you, but here's food for thought: I'm willing to bet that other website users are facing these same frustrations, so you're really losing ALL OUR BUSINESS and not just my business. So please, for my sake and yours, FIX YOUR @#$% WEBSITE.


07/16/2016 - Update: LiveStrong appears to have fixed their problems. Yay! I can read articles again!

Obama at Hiroshima

I have seen a great deal of Internet chatter over the past 24 hours regarding President Obama's speech at Hiroshima, with the central theme for most of the comments being a condemnation for any attempt by a United States President to apologize for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Before I continue, let me make two facts perfectly clear: 1) I am no fan of President Obama, and 2) I fully support President Truman's decision to end World War II as expeditiously as possible. Let me address those two points out of order.

The second point in my introduction is difficult for many people of this generation to understand. Years of revisionist historians have deluded the weak-minded into a semi-apologetic state with regard to the decisions which were made in the latter years of the Second World War in order to quickly bring that conflict to a definitive end. By the summer of 1945, WWII had been raging for six years. Over 70 million people had perished as a result, and Japan's personal contributions to those death tolls were in the millions. However, the Empire of Japan impudently refused to surrender despite all indications of its imminent defeat. As a result, the U.S. would have had no choice but to invade Japan as it had done for Europe, and the war would have continued for several years. The expected number of military and civilian Japanese casualties which would have occurred as a result of such an invasion varies greatly depending on the source, but the numbers are generally in the millions; with the most-conservative estimates of at least one million per side of the conflict. So if we were to hypothetically assume a 'lower' number of just one-half million Japanese casualties as a result of an invasion of Japan, (and that number is excessively low by almost all estimations), then hundreds of thousands of Japanese lives were spared by bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead of invading. While I agree that arguing in favor of mass destruction seems counter-intuitive, the fact remains that a lower number of deaths is a preferable outcome - even if you are comparing a quarter-million to a million.

That being said, the first point in my introduction should be self-evident. To put it mildly, President Obama has been a bad president; he has managed to consistently bungle both domestic and foreign policy. All of the goodwill from countries around the world who celebrated with the United States upon the election of our first African-American president has evaporated as President Obama's misguided policies have continued to erode world-wide opinions of our once-great nation. When regions of our country erupted with racial violence, President Obama is the one man who could have stepped in and asked all sides to lay down their arms and restore peace. This was President Obama's single-greatest opportunity to behave like the President of the United States, and having done so he could have created a lasting legacy. Yet he did nothing. In short, President Obama has consistently failed in his duties and responsibilities to this country.

All of this brings us to President Obama's actions during this last year of his presidency; he is desperately searching for what will become his "Legacy." Like most presidents, he wants to be remembered for the good that he has done, and he needs something monumental to overcome his many shortcomings as president. His recent overtures to the Communist dictators still in power in Cuba are a perfect example of the levels to which his political distress have plummeted; attempting to normalize relations with an out-spoken Communist-ruled country which possesses Cuba's horrific human rights record is unconscionable. (In past years I have spoken with political refugees who have fled that corrupt and inhuman regime; the sufferings of Cuba's people have been abominable, and to recognize the Castro dynasty as legitimate nullifies its victims' anguish.)

So it hardly came as a surprise to hear that President Obama intended to become the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima. As I mentioned earlier, he needs something significant by which to make himself remembered. And yet, I was immediately suspicious as to what he would say. Neither common sense nor the presence of facts to the contrary have ever stopped 'Great Liberal Minds' from apologizing for things about which they should not feel remorse. As such, it was with a small sense of trepidation that I watched President Obama's speech at Hiroshima earlier today.

Despite my admitted dislike for President Obama, I listened to his entire speech - and not just the sound bites which opposing Talking Heads have been posting. In addition, I vowed to keep an open mind as I listened. As a result, I did not see any part of President Obama's discourse where he "apologized" outright, nor did I necessarily consider any of his statements vague enough to be misconstrued as an apology. That being said, his speech was often redundant, naive, and simplistically idealist in nature.

Yes, war is evil.
Yes, many lives were lost in WWII.
Yes, peace is a good thing.
Yes, no one should ever use another atomic weapon.

I think everyone understands those ideas without having them drowned in waves of political rhetoric. But to be fair, some might argue that even though these these concepts are a given within civilized societies, they still need to be expressed. Perhaps that is so. However, those thoughts would have been considerably more palatable had they not been voiced in such a long-winded fashion. It took President Obama 17 minutes to convey a series of ideas which should have been whittled down to a five-minute speech at the most.

But the one thing which I heard that was truly deplorable was President Obama's continuous pontification about the need for peace in the world, yet his personal track record on the subject is atrocious and hypocritical. President Obama ascended to his office built on the empty promises that he would end U.S. participation in the wars throughout the Middle East, and yet he has continued to escalate the various conflicts, and through his mismanagement of declining situations he has made matters arguably worse in most areas of that region. I could go into detail about ISIS, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Israel, Syria, etc., but those subjects are really outside the scope of this blog.

However, what is within the scope of this blog is the president's continuous escalation of drone-based bombing campaigns. Personally, as a veteran I am openly in favor of killing terrorists with minimal risk to U.S. personnel, and unmanned drones fill that role quite nicely. That being said, President Obama cannot wax poetic about the necessity for peace and the end of bombing campaigns while simultaneously sanctioning innumerable bombing campaigns throughout the world. Such behavior is deceitful and duplicitous.

In the end, perhaps this is where President Obama may ultimately find his legacy. When several decades have passed and the dust of history has settled on his presidency, Obama may be remembered simply as 'The Great Hypocrite.'

We Need Less, Not More Idiots

A friend of mine recently posted the following video from Jacob Appelbaum on Facebook:

"We Need More, Not Less Democracy"

I have a lot of problems with this video, and I would love to go through this speech line by line and address each ridiculous point that Appelbaum makes, but that would take more time than I have available. Granted, Appelbaum makes some valid points in this video; for example: "We will not bomb Syria [or any other country] into peace - at best we may bomb it into submission. Submission is not the same thing as peace." This is true, however - submission as an alternative to war is still a palatable solution for many people, but I digress.

That being said, when you set aside a few bright points, you quickly realize that for all his flowery rhetoric, Appelbaum is an idiot. For lots of reasons. Here are just a few.

Appelbaum is an idiot because he naively believes that spontaneous peace erupts in the vacuum that would exist if a war suddenly ceased. There are a million things wrong with that argument. First of all, Appelbaum's point of view presupposes that everyone wants the same things that he wants, whether that is "peace" or something else. However, Appelbaum is too shuttered behind his self-imposed exile of naïveté to realize that - even at the most-basic level - everyone has different definitions of peace and security. This difference of opinion has led to wars in and of itself - here's a simple example: some people foolishly believe that peace means "no war" for everyone, but it doesn't. For some people the word "peace" means removing the possibility that there may ever be another war, which typically means disarming everyone. While universal disarmament sounds attractive, many people justifiably lack the faith to believe that peace will continue to exist, and therefore disarming means that they will be ill-prepared in the event of another war, which threatens their sense of security. Because of this all-too-realistic expectation, when one nation is told to disarm, they might choose to say "no." So what can the rest of the world do when faced with this situation? The remaining nations can choose to: 1) do nothing, in which case the world will have a heavily-armed nation which is waiting for the next dictator to gain power and start a shooting war, or 2) forcibly disarm that nation, which means that everyone is going back to war in order to promote peace. Yes - everyone laying down their arms forever would create "peace" by the textbook definition, but that peace will not last. Someone sooner or later will want something that someone else has, and no amount of socialism, or communism, or redistribution of wealth, or any other left-leaning solution will ever alleviate that fact. If we managed to somehow create a world in which everyone's essential needs were met - e.g. food, shelter, security, health - someone will still "covet their neighbor's wife." That is human nature. We should still strive to provide food, shelter, security, and health for everyone, but we need to provide these things under the full knowledge that no matter how equitable we try to divide whatever resources are available, everyone will always have a different definition for what is "fair." And that's how wars begin.

Appelbaum also fails to realize the logic (or illogic) of the adversary in this situation, which I will explain based on my years in the intelligence services. Nations of the west are perceived as "wrong" by certain non-western nations because the west believes things that go against non-western points of view. A case in point is freedom of speech, and examples of how this difference is perceived has manifested itself in the acts of terrorism at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and the art exhibition in Garland, Texas. In both of these cases, artists believed that it was their right to express themselves through their art, whereas other people believed that it was their right to kill these artists for expressing themselves through their art. (Yes, you can blame radicalized religion in this specific instance, but that doesn't matter - the same situation will present itself for dozens of other root causes that have nothing to do with art or religion.) However, in this specific situation, the attackers believed whole-heartedly that it was their right to open fire, because - from their perspective - the artists fired the first shots in this "conflict," and as such the attackers were justified to retaliate against the west. However, because the attackers genuinely believed that they were responding to provocation, they believe the west is wrong if it chooses to retaliate. And if the west retaliates, the attackers are once again entitled to bomb, kill, maim, etc.

What Appelbaum is too naive to realize is that you cannot reason with enemies who believe that they have been attacked and therefore allowed to retaliate when you have not actually attacked them. Appelbaum foolishly believes that with enough diplomacy and "democracy," the opposition will magically realize the wisdom and logic of his arguments, but that's simply not the case. When Appelbaum says stupid things like, "We need more, not less democracy," he is clearly assuming that democracy is a gift that is wrapped up with a pretty bow and found under a religiously-appropriate form of ritualistic foliage at a certain time of year. Don't get me wrong, I'm very pro-democracy; but when some nation doesn't want a democracy, what is Appelbaum going to do about it? Force democracy on that nation? If so, then he's at war again. If a nation has a despot in power but the bulk of its people want a democracy, what is Appelbaum going to do about it? Encourage their rebellion? Train their rebels? Take sides when civil war erupts? If so, then we're looking at another political quagmire like the dozens of intrusive maelstroms in which the United States has been embroiled (or has created) all over the world. This is - once again - the trouble with idiots like Appelbaum; they believe that democracies happen spontaneously with no wars or loss of life, and that's just not the case. Revolutions are often protracted and painful; liberty comes at an extreme cost.

On a complementary point of view, Appelbaum is also an idiot because he genuinely believes that if everyone stopped fighting, the terrorists would suddenly stop acts of terrorism. This is a very, very foolish belief, and many a conquered civilization throughout the history of the world has believed that refusing to fight means the other side will stop fighting as well. That is NOT the way that human nature works; a potential adversary who also happens to be a pacifist is simply an easy target, and not a laudable peer. Martin Niemöller was a noted theologian and pacifist in the mid-twentieth century who adequately summed up the inevitable effects of pacificism when he wrote, "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me." Niemöller's comments were certainly meant to express his sense of self-condemnation for refusing to help out when he had the opportunity, but Niemöller's attitudes at the time were a direct result of a prevailing sense of anti-war pacificism that was sweeping across Europe prior to WWII. Many thousands of people at that time believed that peace at all costs was the only answer, and these people are directly responsible for the Nazis gaining power throughout Europe. Chief among these pacifists was Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister during the 1930s, who foolishly believed that if the world simply gave Hitler everything he wanted, (through a program called "appeasement"), then Hitler would eventually stop asking for more. Chamberlain's naïveté is equally as condemnable as Appelbaum's. (The latter of the two being a petty academician who has never actually had to face the prospect of war, and therefore he can safely pontificate about his unrealistic visions of the world from the security of what he thinks is an ivory tower, but it's really a house of cards.)

Another sheer indicator of Appelbaum's idiocy is his circular arguments about the failures of the world's intelligence services and the need to reduce the amount of government surveillance. Appelbaum is too stupid to realize that these are not exclusive concepts: if you want the world's intelligence services to succeed, that means you need more surveillance. If you want more privacy, that means the world's intelligence services will not succeed. Period. Note that this does not mean that I personally advocate more government surveillance; I am simply aware of the fact that intelligence services do not succeed where there is no data to analyze. To suggest reducing the amount of surveillance data while condemning the lack of intelligence results is a really stupid thing to do. But then again, considering that the source of this suggestion is Appelbaum then stupidity is a given by this point.

In the end, most of Appelbaum's arguments are circular, and he's too stupid to realize it. He has an admirable level of passion, but he obviously lacks the intellectual wherewithal to grasp the basic concept that the rest of the world does not see itself as he sees it. To restate what I said earlier, everyone has different definitions of what constitutes peace, security, fairness, equality, justice, etc. These are ideals, and we should certainly strive for them, but we need to do so with the full knowledge that there will always be wars, insecurity, inequality, injustice, etc.

Consider the following quote John Stuart Mill:

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need be, to do battle for the one against the other."

Ultimately, war is an evil concept envisaged by evil people, but conversely peace without consequence is most-often a stupid concept embraced by stupid people. War has it's place, and peace has its place; and sometimes you paradoxically need one to have the other.

The Power of Positive Thinking

I saw a would-be motivational poster today with the following quote from Norman Vincent Peale: "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

I don't mean to be nitpicky, but if you fall short of the moon, you're still going to be light years away from the stars, although you can ardently admire them as you burn up on re-entry.

But if you really miss the moon, and by that I mean hideously overshooting your intended target to an exponential degree, your long-dead corpse might one day make it to the stars, although that will still be thousands of years after you choked to death due to lack of oxygen.


UPDATE 01/20/22:

I recently had the opportunity to weigh in once again on this failed attempt at motivational thought, and the following text was my updated version.

I have often seen the statement that you should shoot for the moon, and if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. However, have you ever considered what that actually means? If by some quirk of poor navigational skills you manage to miss the relative safety of the moon, then you're doomed to a miserable existence; drifting terrified and helpless through the cold expanse of empty space as you journey across millions of light years on your way to the nearest star, at which point your lifeless corpse will be incinerated as it descends into a chaotic maelstrom of burning gases and thermonuclear radiation.

Discussions versus Arguments

When I was younger I learned the following axiom from Robert Quillen: "Discussion is an Exchange of Knowledge; an Argument is an Exchange of Ignorance."

Copyright Universal Press Syndicate
© Copyright Universal Press Syndicate

I beg to differ; these past few days have shown definitively that Facebook is the exchange of ignorance. Pick an issue - any issue - then sit back and watch both sides of the debate slug it out. Neither point of view ever convinces the other to change their mind, and in the end there is nothing to show for their efforts but legions of hours wasted on senseless squabbles.

Stop the Domino Effect of Overreacting

Like many people last week, I was appalled when I read about the treatment of 14-year-old high school student Ahmed Mohamed in Irving, Texas. Ahmed was arrested for bringing what several people thought was a "hoax bomb" to school, despite his repeated assertions that it was simply a clock which he had invented. When I was Ahmed's age, I loved tinkering with electronics, and I brought my own creations to school several times, so I was understandably incensed when I read about Ahmed's plight.


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However, there is a big difference between what Ahmed claims to have done and what he actually did. Ahmed did not - in fact - build a clock from scratch. As multiple websites and YouTube videos have shown, all Ahmed did was remove an existing clock from its plastic case and mount the unmodified electronics inside a pencil box. As someone who actually built things from scratch when I was Ahmed's age, this was insulting to me, because it means that Ahmed is a fraud. While his motives are unclear, the fact is undeniable that Ahmed actually did bring a hoax to school; but he didn't bring a hoax bomb, he brought a hoax invention.

As I looked at photos of the clock which Ahmed was supposed to have built, I couldn't see where he had done anything to merit "inventiveness." The jumble of wires appeared largely intact to me; the only thing which seemed out of place was the 9V battery connector, so I wondered if Ahmed had soldered a battery connector to the main board after the transformer in order to allow the clock to work when it wasn't plugged into the wall. If so, that would have been a cool idea. But my theory proved untrue when it was later revealed that the 9V connector was the built-in battery backup for the clock memory in the event of a power failure. So once again, Ahmed appears to have done nothing to warrant all of his new-found fame and accolades. (By the way, what is truly embarrassing about this situation is that Make Magazine, which is one of my favorites, completely failed to notice that Ahmed did not actually build his own clock. That's a really big fail, guys. You should have known better.)

I realize that everyone who pursues a career in electronics has to start somewhere, and the disassembly of an existing electronic product is the perfect place for Ahmed (or anyone else) to start. When I was a teenager, I was an avid electric guitar player, so I started out with electronics by taking apart existing guitar effects to see how they worked. When I didn't understand something, I went to the library to check out books about electronic theory, and I dutifully studied the subjects which were foreign to me. Eventually I moved on to repairing other people's broken guitar effects, and finally I moved on to building guitar effects from scratch. (Craig Anderton was my hero.) So when I brought a creation to school, it was something which I had actually created. But even more than that, when I was a little older than Ahmed I actually created a digital clock from scratch by wiring together all of the parts by hand. That is a far cry from what Ahmed did; Ahmed took someone else's work, slapped his name on it, and asked to be recognized as its creator. What Ahmed has done constitutes fraud. Period.

Nevertheless, even though Ahmed is a phony as an inventor, at least in this situation, he probably did not deserve to have been arrested for bringing his hoax invention to school. I will admit that the jumble of wires and the large LED screen certainly resembles a bomb which you might see on a low-budget television show, so I should at least acknowledge the good intentions of the safety-minded school officials who thought the situation was worth investigating. (Note: Can you imagine the uproar if a student had actually brought a bomb to school and the school officials did nothing about it?)

However, once the facts of the matter were made clear and everyone knew that Ahmed had not actually brought a bomb to school, the academic and police officials overreacted, and Ahmed was humiliated as he was handcuffed and paraded before his peers as he was led away by the police.

But the overreactions didn't stop there, because everyone in the community - myself included - quickly overreacted to show our support for Ahmed. Many people were angry at the close-mindedness of the investigating officials; we all wanted to take this young David's side as he took on the Goliath of insensitivity. "@IStandWithAhmed" and "#IStandWithAhmed" became instant Twitter sensations. Mark Zuckerberg invited Ahmed to drop by Facebook for a meeting. Microsoft sent Ahmed a treasure trove of goodies to encourage his inventiveness. The Google Science Fair invited Ahmed to drop by and bring his clock. And President Obama asked Ahmed to bring his clock to the White House.

I have come to realize that these overreactions are equally as wrong as the original overreactions by the school officials; perhaps even more so - because Ahmed is being heavily rewarded for being a charlatan. Everyone needs to step back and think about this for a second: if Ahmed brought his clock to Facebook or the Microsoft Garage or the Google Science Fair, he would be a laughingstock, because his "invention" is a fake. When Ahmed is done being praised by the press and exalted by social media for being the underdog in this story, sooner or later he will have to stand in a room surrounded by people his age (or older) who are actually creating cool things from scratch. When that happens, Ahmed desperately needs have something better to show than an off-the-shelf digital clock that he stuffed into a pencil box, because real teenage inventors will immediately identify him as an imposter.

So I have changed my opinion in this matter from being upset over Ahmed's treatment by the authorities to being upset over Ahmed's treatment by the community, because we are rewarding his dishonesty. If Ahmed had copied the answers for an exam from one of his classmates, everyone would immediately recognize him as a cheater. Yet that is essentially what Ahmed is doing with his clock; he is taking someone else's creation and claiming to have created it, and therefore he is being deliberately deceitful. And through our collective overreactions our country is sending a terrible message to the youth of Ahmed's generation: "If you lie to America, not only will you get away with it, but you'll win big prizes and get an invitation to meet the President."

Modern Art versus the I Could Do That Mentality

I found the following video fascinating because... I love art. I have been to dozens of art museums all over the world, and I have often said the words, "I can do that." (See my blog post titled The Eye of the Beholder for more about that subject.)

To Those Who Have Looked At Art And Thought I Could Do That An Art Curator Explains Why You Couldn't

However, I vehemently disagree with this presenter's central supposition; pushing back on "unappreciative observers" by claiming that "it's their problem" if they cannot appreciate something which is obviously below the artistic standards of a two-year-old is a cop out. Much of what is called "art" in this generation will not survive to be admired by future generations because - to put it bluntly - most modern art is crap.

Don't get me wrong, there is something to be said for challenging artistic norms, breaking new ground, and using creative license to push any art form into new avenues. It doesn't matter if an artist is using oil on canvas, sculpture, photography, musical composition, etc.; the mark of a true artist is someone who takes their chosen field to new heights. However, within each artistic field are pretenders who are in a race for the bottom, while at the same time protesting that your lack of approval for their creations is due to some deficiency on your part. That - my friends - is a load of cow poop. (And as a quick case in point, a load of cow poop has been considered "art" by some people, which perfectly illustrates my premise. See Why is Modern Art so Bad? for more.)

The presenter in the original video asks her audience to consider asking why they didn't actually create the art which they are critiquing, and then posits the inane suggestion that her viewers are actually incapable of doing so. This assertion is also a bunch of hogwash; the reason why most people do not actually do the things they say that they can do when it comes to art is because: 1) most people realize that the unskilled smearing of paint on a canvas is a colossal waste of time and money, and 2) most of us are not con men.

It is a sad fact that in this day and age a lot of the peddlers of modern art make their living from convincing the rest of the world that anyone who cannot appreciate their art is simply "uncultured," so most everyone plays along in order to not seem like a unsophisticated simpleton. The presenter in that video is a perfect example; it's her job to make you think that you simply aren't as refined as she is. But the truth is - you're a much better person for standing back every once in a while and exclaiming, "That's a big pile-o-poppycock; I could do that." What's more, you're probably helping the art world. As more people begin point their fingers and laugh at the ever-growing number of incompetent charlatans who are passing themselves off as "artists," perhaps we'll finally be able send them back to art school where they can develop some sort of talent. Or even better, maybe these artists will get real jobs and quit milking the empty-headed stooges who continuously buy into their deceptions.

One parting thought, take a look at Can You Tell The Difference Between Modern Art And Paintings By Toddlers? and see if you can tell the difference between actual modern art paintings and creations by four-year-olds; I'll bet you'll find it nearly impossible to accurately separate the two sets of "art" into their correct categories, regardless of your appreciation for modern art.

Price Gouging versus Common Sense

Look, I get it - companies are in the business of making money. I like a good paycheck, you like a good paycheck, everybody likes to receive a good paycheck. But that being said, everyone who has ever bought something from someone else has realized that the people who are doing the selling are charging you more money for their merchandise than what they originally paid for it - that's called profit, and that's how they make their living. We implicitly accept this arrangement every time that we make a purchase, and I have no problem with that. In principle, at least.

But every once in a while I run into a situation where someone is so blatantly overcharging that I no longer want to deal with them.

For example, consider the following true story:

I recently dealt with a company which attempted to keep my business by using "Hard Sell" tactics when I contacted them to cancel my account. When they asked why I was cancelling, I said it was because I could get the same service through another company for less. They replied that "since I was such a loyal customer," they would be willing to match the other company's price.

At this point I said, "You realize that you just admitted to ripping me off for all of the time that I have been your 'loyal customer?' If you were willing to provide the same service at a lower cost all along, why didn't you do so earlier? That would have kept me as a customer! But now I think you're just a bunch of thieves; so unless you're willing to refund what you have been overcharging me, just cancel my @#$% service and let me get on with my life."

That ended the sales pitch and they cancelled my account.