Aldon Hynes's blog

Conveying Wisdom

Recently, I received a candidate questionnaire from the Connecticut Realtors Political Action Committee. Their first question is:

Connecticut presently permits eighteen distressed communities to add an additional local option conveyance tax on home sellers. This tax should be repealed as it is regressive tax that unnecessarily increases the costs of selling a home in Connecticut. Would you support repeal of this regressive local option conveyance tax?

A regressive tax is one where the rate decreases as the amount subject to taxation increases, yet as I understand the local option conveyance tax, it is a flat rate no matter what the selling price is. I wonder if they really meant to say that it is a tax that hits poorer people harder since their homes are often a larger percentage of their wealth.

It raises some interesting questions. Does this tax hit poorer people harder? What sort of effect does this tax have on communities in terms of house sales, house prices, economic opportunity or the health of the community? Would changing or eliminating this tax make health and opportunities more equitable? How would it affect house opportunities for different people or how would it affect smart growth plans. If such a tax were removed, what would be used to replace the money necessary for our already cash strapped communities?

I’ve read through their Public Policy Statement which doesn’t seem to address these issues. I will follow up with them to see what they have to say on these topics.

On Facebook, today, a friend, Miles, posted a link to the Thai Life Insurance Company commercial, “Unsung Hero”. Please, take a moment to watch this commercial and think about commercials in the United States.

With the link, Miles posted,

America today seems to be all about money. I don't think that was always the only thing we valued, and I hope we find our way back from that delusion.

Just before his post was one from Zephyr Teachout. Zephyr is running for Governor in New York State. I met her through Howard Dean’s Presidential campaign over a decade ago, which is also how I met Miles. They live on opposite sides of the country, but share a lot in common.

Zephyr posted

Over 1,000 ALL-VOLUNTEER Teachout-Wu petitions came in this weekend from Long-Island!

These are teachers and parents who are determined not to allow Governor Cuomo to keep taking money from schoolchildren to give away in tax breaks for banks. Your committed fight for our children and future is inspiring. Thank you.

They volunteers are the unsung heroes that the Thai Life commercial talks about. They are those who have stepped away from the delusion that money is the only thing of value.

Another friend, Ed, posted a picture of an Italian Renaissance painting at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, talking about visiting the Met as being a wonderful way to spend the day and after that, my friend Elia posted a cartoon with a signpost. One direction pointed to Truth, Justice and Wisdom. The other pointed to 99 cent burgers. The crowds were all headed towards the burgers.

Perhaps the crowds will vote for my opponent in the election this fall. Perhaps the crowds in New York State will vote for Zephyr’s opponents in the fall, but I will stand for Truth, Justice, and Wisdom, for Unsung Heroes and appreciating the arts, even if all I do is to get a few more people to sit back and wonder what their lives are really all about after all.

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Hobby Lobby and the Church at Laodicea

Last Sunday at Church, the priest spoke about the challenges mainline Christians have today. In our modern secular society, we don’t talk about religion, except for talking about the extremists, whether they be Muslim extremists or Christian fundamentalists. God call to us to love everyone created in God’s image too often gets lost. A friend had shared that last Sunday was #SocialMediaSunday and so I was sharing posts about the service online.

I thought of my friends who are people of faith online, some Christian, some Muslim, who often share their belief online, not as an effort to proselytize, but as living examples of being in a loving relationship with God, Allah, and the people around them. People who share prayer requests as well as moments of sadness and moments of joy.

At coffee hour, I talked with a friend about the Church in Laodicea. I’ve always been struck by Revelation 3:15-16.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Has the mainline Christian Church in the United States become too much like the Laodicean church? Neither cold nor hot, afraid to offend members of secular society, or become too much like the extremists?

I thought about this when I heard about the Hobby Lobby decision. It has been a major topic amongst many of my friends online. One of the first articles I read was about how the decision was bad for religious people in the United States. It increases the power corporations, which do not have souls, over the people of the land in the name of religious freedom. It casts religion in a more negative light for many. In such an environment, it becomes more difficult, and more incumbent for mainline Christians to stand up and proclaim the Gospel of God’s loving kindness to all God’s people. I believe that showing God’s love is the deeds that Laodicean church lacked, and the real lukewarm church of modern day are those, like the people at Hobby Lobby who use their religion as an excuse not to show God’s love to all people.

This came home to me recently when I read a comment on Facebook. Middletown, CT Mayor Dan Drew shared a link to an editorial in the Middletown Press, "Increased patrols in Middletown show proactive approach". One person commented "Why'll your at it keep those freaking crazy Muslims out of Middletown."

Mayor Drew responded, " I feel badly for you, Mr. Salonia, because you're guided by fear and xenophobia. Judge people by how they treat others - not by their religion. There are billions of peaceful Muslim people throughout the world. Instead of fearing the "other," let's remember our common humanity and the fact that we all have so much more in common than not. I hope and pray that you find it in your heart to love rather than hate. We are all brothers and sisters."

I do not know Mayor Drew’s religious beliefs, but I find his words more in line with my understanding of God’s call to us than the actions of the folks at Hobby Lobby.

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Virtual Reality Viewers

The recent announcement of the Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer has caught my interest, as well as the interest of a bunch of other people. So, I’ve been doing a little reading up to try and figure out exactly what the best way for me to approach this would be.

First, I installed the >Cardboard Demo on my phone. Even without a proper viewer it is fairly interesting. Next, I started looking at getting a viewer. My brother had shared a link to a kit from DodoCase for $25 which comes with everything you need. Unfortunately, they say to allow four to six weeks for delivery. The Google documentation includes a pattern you can print to make a viewer yourself. I was figuring I’d try that out at work next week. The biggest issue is finding the right lenses.

The documentation suggests the Durovis OpenDive Lens Kit. It costs about $20. This led me to look at Dive. Dive appears to be an already manufactured VR viewer for cellphones. It costs 57 Euros and ships from Germany. They say their estimated delivery time is 10 to 15 business days, perhaps longer if there are issues with customs.

Their Open Dive How To includes STL files for printing with a 3D printer. Perhaps I will try that at work. They also mention a Snakebyte iDroid:con Rechargeable Bluetooth Game Controller for Android and iOS Devices. They recommend this for VR games that need a controller. It costs $23 and I don’t see a need for it, yet.

Dive uses the Dive Launcher It is also worth playing with and has an interesting interface, even without a proper viewer. It seems similar to the Google Cardboard app and I wonder how much things will interoperate.

I continued to look for other sources for lenses and ended up in the Cardboard & VR Developers community on Google Plus.

I believe it was there that I found out about Surplus Shed which supplies surplus, used, and unused optical and electronic bargains for fun, hobby, education or profit. They mention on their front page that they have lenses for Google's new DIY Cardboard Virtual Reality Smartphone Viewer. Just $4.50 each! (Get 10 or more for just $3.50 each).

This looks like the best deal so far and I’m thinking I should get a ten pack of lenses. This would allow for making five pairs of VR glasses. I suspect that if I make a pair of VR glasses, there will be people asking how to get them.

Google Cardboard uses magnets for controlling the glasses. It is possible to get by without the magnets, which may be a good thing, because the ones that Google suggested are out of stock at both Home Depot and Amazon. They are 3/4 in. Neodymium Rare-Earth Magnet Discs. At Home Depot, a 3 pack is $5 and on Amazon a six pack is $12. Applied Magnets has magnets like these for 89 cents each. You also need 3/4 in. x 3/16 in. Ceramic Disc Magnets. HomeDepot has them available online at eight for two bucks and Amazon has them at eight for seven bucks. Applied Magnets has these magnets for 29 cents each. I should probably get five of both types of magnets from Applied Magnets.

To hold the Google Cardboard together, Google recommends two strips of adhesive backed Velcro, approximate 3/4 of an inch by 1 1/4 inch. If I make five glasses, I’d need five times as much Velcro. My guess is that we have some Velcro somewhere in our sewing supplies, either stuff that Fiona has accumulated or that came from my mother, but I don’t know if any of that is adhesive backed, or if we can find it.

Google also recommends 3 1/2 inch rubber bands. Again, that should be something we have around the house or should be able to find easily. Some of the other, non-cardboard projects also call for rubber bands like these, so it would be good to have them on hand, and probably extras in case some break.

The final, optional item that Google recommends, but isn’t required is sticker NFC tags. The one in Amazon the recommend is unavailable. It looks like the best option for these are these NFC tags. They come in five to a pack, so one pack is probably sufficient, but it would be nice to have two packs to do other NFC experiments or to use tags on different devices.

As I read more on this, I stumbled across vrase. It looks like they hope to ship a device similar to Google Cardboard or Open Dive soon. They did provide a link to the
Secondsight - Virtual Reality Headset, VR HMD that I could print at work and which I believe would use the same lenses. The person writing about also used a RII Mini Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard. That is another interesting device I should look at some time. However, there seems to be a bunch of different options, and I should explore them before deciding what to get, or how useful they really are. VRASE lists several different Bluetooth game controllers.

I also stumbled across REFUGIO3D. It is a kit which appears very similar to Google Cardboard, but only seems to be available in Germany. However, from reading through that website, I came across 3D Side By Side movies. Searching on Youtube for 3D SBS provided a lot of material.

So, lots of work to do on Virtual Reality viewers, and when I get some running, I can then think about developing code for them.

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Independence and Interdependence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government

Happy Independence Day. The past few weeks have been fairly trying and I slept late this morning. When I awoke, I glanced at a couple discussions on Facebook. My eldest daughter was asking if believed there could be such a thing as a just war. Friends were discussing the implications of the Hobby Lobby decision. There is probably enough material in the Hobby Lobby decision for several blog posts, so I’ll save that for a later day.

Tomorrow, Mairead will be a facilitator in a discussion, “America and Japan: Talking About Peace” in Kobe Japan. She says that “probably the reinterpretation of the Japanese constitution to allow for collective self-defense will be a big topic”.

As we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence today, I suspect many would suggest that was a just war. To the victors go the spoils of war, and after the fact, I suspect most Americans believe the revolution was a just war and a good thing. However, this does not seem to have been the thinking in colonial times.

The most common piece of evidence cited in numerous books about the Revolution is a letter of John Adams indicating that one third of the Americans were for the Revolution, another third were against it, and a final third were neutral or indifferent to the whole affair.

See more at: http://hnn.us/article/5641.

I’m interested in genealogy and know that I have ancestors that fought on both sides of the war. So, how do we determine if this, or other wars are just? Perhaps a useful, but maybe slanted viewpoint can be found in the section of the Declaration of Independence quoted above.

While we call this the Declaration of Independence, it is really talking about our interdependence. Governments derive their power from the consent of the governed, to protect our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. The problem is that one person’s pursuit of happiness may threaten the life, liberty of pursuit of happiness of others, so we need to seek ways to find balance between different peoples pursuit of happiness.

Those supporting the revolution felt that King George’s pursuit of happiness, for himself and his friends, was done at the expense of the colonists, that the form of the British Government had become destructive to the rights of the colonists.

A just war, would then be considered a war that seeks to protect the rights of the oppressed. Those arguing for war are bound to frame their arguments in this context, even if the war is about land or access to natural resources, and both sides will try to wrap themselves in the mantel of protecting the oppressed.

In all of this, it seems like the underlying issue is not individual independence, but corporate independence, the independence of one group of people from another group to find ways to work together to protect the interdependent rights of all the individuals in the group.

Unfortunately, too much of the American dialog these days is about individual independence at the expense of the individual independence of our family, friends and neighbors. I hope that as people in Japan think about collective self-defense, they focus on what they are defending and whether or not such a defense is truly justifiable.

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Diversity of Stories

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Another busy, rocky month comes to an end and we roll full force into summer mode. Last night, I stopped at the town pool to swim laps. So far this summer, I’ve swum over five miles in the town pool. On the way home, I stopped at the library and picked up a collection of short stories by Chimamanda Adichie. I mentioned her in my previous post.

She gave a TED Talk, The danger of a single story about misconceptions that can arise from hearing a single story, or single type of story. While she focused on literature, it just as easily apply to any medium. Perhaps the simplest example is the warped view people get from a diet of one cable talk news show or another. To some, this is old news as people promote studies showing that viewers of specific cable news channels are more misinformed than others.

Other’s criticize older institutions of journalism that tell us telling us “That’s the way it is” and that they print “all the news that’s fit to print”. That’s the way it is, from a particular cultural framework, it’s all the news that a certain set of editors embedded in their cultural constructs found was fit to print.

Yesterday, Google News and Facebook, using their algorithms to find things I’d be most interested in, showed me stories about the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. Being interested in media, I’ve often looked at how different outlets select what stories get covered and none of this is new.

Thirty two years ago, I went to the big anti-nuclear rally in Central Park. Afterwards, I walked home to my apartment in Little Italy. In my mind, the rally was the top news story of the day. Then, I walked past a hearse outside of an East Village funeral home, with the hearse outside and the family mourning. For them, there was much bigger news.

With this in mind, I read one of Chimamanda Adichie’s short stories last night. It was about a young woman whose brother was arrested. This morning, I glanced at the headlines in Global Voices.

One of the stories that repeatedly showed up on my computer yesterday was about Facebook manipulating news feeds to study the effects on users’ emotions. It appears to have been completely legal, within the terms of service, but people question the ethics. Most of this has been around the ideas of tests on human subjects, something that is done more and more online. Yet it ties back to the larger story of how information is selected for us to view.

Recently, on Facebook, a friend posted a card which said something like, “Being creative is like having 2847 tabs open in your browser 24/7”. I had just written about closing tabs in my browser, and strongly related to this. A friend shared a link he had written a few years ago about this, The Great Media Garbage Patch.

Content is King—for a day. But eventually it takes its place among the flotsam and jetsam. Today’s treasure is tomorrow’s trash.

Kind of like Life…and Death. And new birth. The circle of life. Every new campaign (or book or poem or blog) is a challenge and a dare—to make a mark, however brief, in the face of unplanned obsolescence.

And so, another month begins. The big stories of last month are rapidly becoming the flotsam and jetsam of this month. Perhaps I’ll view this month from the vantage point of the town pool, mingled with thoughts of Nigerian short stories and see who Facebook shows this story to.

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