Monthly Archives: November 2011

Patriotic van

Yes, this photo was taken while driving, and driving in the rain, no less. On the other hand, it was a heavy rain, and the traffic was very slow. Plus: the car was stopped by a red light, which you can see in the upper left. All that is irrelevant.

What you should be paying attention to: did you know that the Department of Veterans Affairs had a Veterans Transportation Service? And did you know that this service had patriotic Dodge vans wrapped entirely in a patriotic decal? Very cool.

Van wrapped entirely in patriotic decal

Veterans Affairs van wrapped entirely in patriotic decal, traveling north on US 29. iPhone photo by Lawrence I. Charters.

Sensitive selling

When shopping for others, it is always wise to be sensitive to their needs. But in our sensitive, touchy-feely world, sensitive selling is also important. Sensitive selling is very big in the world of ideas (you can take classes on emotional intelligence), and is also a mainstay in animal shelters, where pet seekers often go through a more rigorous screening process than what is required for renting a home, much less marriage.

But sensitive selling has now reached the retail world. Not only is this store concerned about your needs, it is also concerned about the sensitive nature of the products being sold.

The sensitive nature of the product and the needs of the customer are both important

This camera store is concerned, apparently, about the feelings of film. Photo by Lawrence I. Charters

Smart screen

We’ve all witnessed the inappropriate use of technology.

Inappropriate use of technology

Reversed innie and outie.

But no matter how often we may see it, such misapplication happens over and over and over again. Such as this electronic kiosk, found just a few feet from the Apple Store in the Columbia Mall, Columbia, Maryland.

Ignore for the moment the question of “Do you need an electronic sign? Won’t an ordinary paper sign work better?” This Smart Screen tells you way too much about almost everything — except whatever it was supposed to be advertising. You can see the (1) boot time, (2) host name, (3) project name, (4) IP address, (5) Ethernet card address [the MAC address], (6) user name, (7) operating system, (8) security patch level, (9) CPU type and speed, (10) memory, (11) hard drive free space and (12) screen resolution. You can also see the error that crashed it: the machine found a new piece of hardware.

Windows XP-based electronic screen crashes due to trivial error

A trivial error brings down a Windows XP-based electronic sign. iPhone photo by Lawrence I. Charters.

My spouse, afraid that I was trying to break into the machine with my iPad (why would she think that? Just because I was trying different passwords?), dragged me away.

Things sent to me: politics and religion

The First Amendment to the Constitution is often cited to mean all sorts of things. It is a lengthy sentence, but just a sentence:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The first clause, up to the first comma, makes a simple sentence: Congress (and by extension any other government body) can make no law regarding the establishment of religion. Nothing for any given religion, nothing against any religion: no law.

The second clause, up to the semicolon, causes massive confusion: or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. OK, the government can’t write a law preventing the free exercise of religion. This is often cheerfully misunderstood by groups that claim Congress (or the Courts) have “banned” Christianity from schools. No — the Courts have held that the first clause still applies: if a school district sets aside a time of prayer, they are, in fact, acting as a government body to regulate religion, which is banned by that very simple first clause. The free exercise of religion requires no law; any student is free to pray any time they feel like it, most often before tests.

The rest of the sentence is very important, but not to the current wave of political rhetoric that complains about religion being taken out of Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or schools, or political gatherings. There is no law requiring you to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and include the clause mentioning “under God” which was added to the Pledge in 1954. Francis Bellamy, who wrote the Pledge in 1892, was a Christian Socialist and didn’t think it necessary).


Obama is not a brown-skinned anti-war socialist. (Sign held by one of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.)

There is no particular religious connotation to Thanksgiving; yes, the Pilgrims were thankful that the Indians didn’t let them starve, but there is no requirement to celebrate Indian animist beliefs. There is no attempt to take religion out of Christmas; it is an overtly religious holiday, and the government neither tries to add anything religious to it or take anything religious away from it.

Before you advocate prayer in school, give some thought to what the First Amendment means, and the implications of changing it.


Be careful what you wish for when you attempt to politicize the First Amendment.