Sunday, December 25, 2016

Expanding our nuclear capacity, bomb shelters and fear

Years ago, I was exploring a City Hall building about to undergo renovation. This was in New Britain, Conn. I was working as a newspaper reporter. Joined by the city property manager, we went to the basement and worked our way through a series of tunnels and small rooms in the circa-1850s building.

In one room was a stockpile of bomb shelter supplies. It included toilet paper, drinking water in cans, and food rations, mostly high protein biscuits. It was a total time warp.

We really don't think today about nuclear weapons and war the way we did in the 1960s. I was a kid back then, but clearly remember a duck-and-cover drill. In class I daydreamed about a nuclear bomb going off in the distance.

The government no longer prints phamlets about radiation or technical guides for do-it-yourself bomb shelters. But those days may return.

Readers of Eric Schlosser know about the real risk of nuclear near-catastrophe (See his recent World War Three, by Mistake in the New Yorker), as do followers of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, which has moved the Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, and that was before Donald Trump won the election. But most people, I suspect, don't pay it much mind.

I haven't thought about the risk of nuclear bombs going off by accident or design in many years. There's too much stress about it, and I'll admit to avoiding the topic altogether. But then Trump Tweeted this:
The idea of expanding our nuclear capability ... and why exactly? It feels as the stress of the 1960s is about to make a return.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Adams Morgan's goodbye to Obama, hello for Trump?

Adams Morgan is giving people a way to express appreciation for President Barack Obama in what passes for the neighborhood’s town square. Thanks go to the Adams Morgan Partnership BID, which sponsored this effort, for keeping the public bulletin board at Columbia, Adams Mill and 18th, interesting.

I hope the Obama appreciation is followed-up with a  “welcome” for President-elect Donald Trump because the responses are sure to be provocative.

Only 4% of all of the District Columbia’s voters cast a vote for Trump. You may have better odds of winning the D-3 lottery than finding a Trump voter on the street.

Trump’s White House arrival is being met with trepidation for multiple reasons, including the possibility that his administration might hurt DC’s economy. Trump may try to cut some agencies, namely Education, Environmental Protection, possibly Energy, Commerce and others as well. He intends to impose a hiring freeze.

The American Enterprise Institute, an influential group with Republicans, is urging Trump to move the FBI and Labor Dept., to other cities, such as Detroit. Trump may see this as an appealing to boost the economy in struggling regions. 

But it’s also possible that Trump’s impact on DC -- as in a desirable city to live in -- may not be bad. He wants to increase defense spending, which could boost employment in this area as well.

Obama attracted a lot of Millennial-age workers, but that may have been because DC was one of the few relatively economic bright spots immediately following housing collapse. These same young people, and many older people as well, may see DC as something to escape during a Trump administration.

That’s why it might be nice to see what people write about Trump on the Adams Morgan bulletin board.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Posting a Google Photo animation to Blogger is simple

Series of photos, circa 2013, taken from second floor of MLK library looking toward Verizon Center

Google Photos automatically creates panoramas and GIFS from your uploads. There is a tool to allow you to create these things on your own. If you are a blogger and use Google Photos, this is nice to have.

Google Photos assembled the above GIF without any prompting after I uploaded photos from an old SD card. Creating GIFs is a new experience, so kudos to Google for creating this image all by itself.

But how do you embed this GIF from Google Photos to a blog? Wasn't sure.

There are no instructions. Blogger does not appear as an option in the "share" function.  There is no "embed link" similar to YouTube.

But this turned out to be really simple, and very similar to posting any image on your blog.

First, went to Google Photos and clicked on "assistant." This brings up a page showing new movies, and albums and the other things it has assembled. This gives you the option of creating an animation, but in this case one of Google Photo's automatic creations was used.

Once you find what you want, click on the GIF to make it larger.

Right click on larger image, and then click on the "save image as" the option.

The save file will pop up with a .gif extension. Rename the file if you want and then save to local drive.

Go to your Blogger blog (This should work exactly the same for WordPress but haven't tested it.)

Click on Blogger image and upload as you would any photo for your blogger.

There may be even easier, more efficient and better ways to do this, so please share your techniques.

*Follow up: The bad thing here is there is no way to freeze the GIF, and the constant animation is probably irritating to some viewers. It would be nice if Google Photos put in an embed feature that gave users some control.

Monday, December 12, 2016

What's new in Adams Morgan, Dec. 10, 2016

The Adams Morgan community bulletin board at Columbia, 18th and Adams Mill is electric  mix of images, announcements, and weird stuff.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Don't let Apple diminish the Carnegie Library

I love my iPad. It's my main reading device, Words with Friends, etc. I once looked forward to going to Apple stores to check out the new systems. The design seemed refreshing. But not anymore.

The Apple aesthetic, thick wood tables, uncluttered layouts, semi-minimalist, has reached its limit. The stores are now, basically, cookie-cutters.

For sure, Apple has done some interesting things with its architectural designs: soaring ceilings, floor to ceiling windows and spiral staircases. It's Shanghai store, for instance, is spectacular.

But once inside, it's really all the same: Tables with equipment on them. That's fine in most places, but not here. Not in the Carnegie Library.

The Washington Business Journal reports that Apple plans to open a "flagship" store in the Carnegie Library near the Washington Convention Center at Mount Vernon Square. It's a beautiful building on a small island of green space.

A landmark building deserves a landmark occupant. But if it's Apple plan produce a copy of existing facilities for this space then the District should reject it.

This building, the product of philanthropy, was a library, it offered education, knowledge and access to world's beyond. The PC, tablet and smartphone are the new portals to knowledge, but they haven't replaced the role of the library.

If Apple wants this building, or some part of it, the building should function as more than a shell for its products. I don't know how that's done, but Apple is certainly capable of creating something that's more than a store. A store that makes the connection between the library and the computer, and shows a path for both.

What worries me is that Apple's reuse of this building will become of symbol -- a point of reference -- for arguing why libraries aren't needed.

What Apple can't do is let this store, in some way, telegraph the triumph of commercialization over the concept of a public library.

This is a historic and beautiful property and District residents should be assured that any future occupants are worthy of it. That may well be Apple, but not based on existing evidence or this announcement.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

My own investigation into a crazy conspiracy theory

I was working as a newspaper reporter in the pre-Web era, and our newspaper was receiving multiple calls about a particularly horrifying incident. 

A woman, the callers claimed, was out shopping in the local mall and in a store bathroom when a robber approach her. The robber demanded her valuables, including the ring on her finger. He couldn't pull the ring off, so he cut off her ring finger. 

The people calling the newspaper wanted to know why we hadn't reported it. An editor tasked me with finding out. The callers were readers of our paper. 

 I got on the phone with one of the callers and asked her about it. 

How did she learn of it? A close friend told her, she said. Does your friend know the victim? She didn't know, but she put me in touch with her friend. The second person heard it from someone else and didn't have direct knowledge of the alleged victim. Who told her? She didn't want to say. Ok, I said. But how did she know it was true? She just knew it, she explained. She was convinced of it.

I learned nothing that could help me track down the victim. Not one clue, and all the "facts" that the callers provided were incredibly vague when it came to any specifics. It was frustrating, and adding to this was the underlying suspicion by the callers that the newspaper was a party to the conspiracy.

In the minds of the callers, this failure by the police and the media to report the crime had a rational explanation. The incident would hurt the mall's business. 

There was no simple way to check this out. I couldn't Google "urban legends," and "conspiracy theories." There was no Reddit group devoted to this because there was no Reddit. It was the 1980s. 

The cops knew the story of the bathroom assault because they were getting calls from people demanding why they hadn't reported the incident to the media.They said it was complete fiction. 

What was frustrating is how convinced the callers genuinely seemed. That's what sticks with me today. These weren't crazy people. They had families and lives. Their conviction left me with nagging doubt. so despite the denial by the cops, I took one more step to find out the truth.  

I went to the department store and asked two clerks who worked near the infamous bathroom about the alleged incident. 

Asking the clerks was the fastest and most certain route to the truth. For sure, if this had happened, the store clerks must have heard about it. But when I asked, they looked at me like as if I was crazy or dangerous. 

No story was written because there was no story.

Today, there's an entire industry of liars and scam artist who profit off fake news, and get their kicks fueling conspiracy theories supported by fictions, half-truths and outright lies that will nonetheless leave some people convinced of it. What's scary now is just how dangerous this is getting.

Something my father told me over and over again when I was a kid: People will believe anything.

How true is that? It's the foundational truth behind all scams.

Further reading: 

Why people believe conspiracy theories like 'pizza gate', CNN, By Gregory Krieg, Dec. 6, 2016.

Man Motivated by ‘Pizzagate’ Conspiracy Theory Arrested in Washington Gunfire New York Times, by Eric Lipton, Dec. 5, 2016.

The Choking Doberman: And Other Urban Legends, Jan Harold Brunvand, W. W. Norton & Company, 2003 (Mentions ring legend)

Monday, November 28, 2016

The library after closing, empty, and no one is around

Martin Luther King Library, downtown, Washington D.C.
D.C. libraries are unique in their design and character, and often best appreciated when empty. There's something haunting about an empty library at night. It's as if the voices in the books hold sway.

The District's online borrowing system is very good. It's one of a number of library systems that enables use of Amazon's Kindle format. This means that you can download it and use it on a Kindle, Android and iOS device that's no different than a book ordered directly from Amazon.

How does Amazon gain?

It may sell books to readers, such as myself, who don't finish a book in the allotted borrowing time and then buy a copy off Amazon. In any event, Amazon is catering to readers who likely buy books as well as borrow them. In the end, it can't hurt their business and likely compliments it.

One of the sites I use for reading ideas is Kirkus Reviews. It has this continuing mini-review section that gives readers the essential advice about a new work: skip it, buy it or borrow it.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Trump presidency and the White House seer

I have great respect for solo protesters. They usually aren't protesting something. They are there to warn. It's prudent to take them seriously because they may be seers, people with ability to sense a future. What better place to spread their message than outside the White House gates. 

People with prophetic ability exist but we don't know how to recognize them and usually ignore them. They operate in a different place..

The person with the signs above was in front of the White House in 2014. This was well before the age of Trump. I happened by and took some photos, but don't remember what he said.

But his sign includes severals quotes, carefully lettered in black ink on cardboard. The photos only show the first two.

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow and the moneyed power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed." - Abraham Lincoln. 

The second was from Franklin Delano Roosevelt:The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power."

Friday, November 25, 2016

Bear rug at auction

This is a bear rug.

DC is the home of mushy people

is full of 'mushy people,' said a new arrival in a sent in 1910. Postcards were an early form of Twitter

What the new arrival to Washington D.C. wrote in 1910:

"Well I am at home here. I remember what you told me not long ago, but I've found company for there are more mushy people in this city than I ever saw before." Signed. Geo.