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Book Release Party
November 4th, 2012 | View Post

A bunch of friends and I celebrating the release of the book
This Monday evening I was pleased to officially launch my new book, American Healthcare: A Moderate Approach.

Although the book technically went on sale on October 6th on Amazon, I had not yet had the opportunity to formally announce it. This party was for just that. My friends over at Maki Toki were kind enough to let me host it there and we had a turnout of about 40 people (at its peak). I even managed to sell 8 more copies of the book.

I'm still waiting for Oprah to pick it up...
American Healthcare: A Moderate Approach
October 6th, 2012 | View Post

American Healthcare: A Moderate Approach
My book, American Healthcare: A Moderate Approach, is finally available for sale online through Amazon.

American Healthcare: A Moderate Approach is a political outsider’s examination of the modern American healthcare crisis. The focus of the book tends towards the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, better known as Obamacare. The book explores the vast differences between healthcare and health insurance and challenges the reader to consider who benefits most from the installation of state-mandated health insurance. It also scrutinizes the corporate-influenced positions that both Republicans and Democrats have used to warp the political discussion around healthcare.

Above all, the book strongly acknowledges that there is a need to reform the healthcare policies of the United States and provides a number of reasonable, common-sense approaches towards fixing the system. None of these solutions involve kowtowing to corporate interests.
Older Software Projects
October 1st, 2012 | View Post

About My SoftwareOver the years I have written a bit of software under the GNU/GPL license. Although some of the software that I wrote was originally distributed under my "AustinSmoke Scripts" software label, I have now just assumed distribute it under my own name. All downloads are free and can be used however the license was intended.At the moment I'm not really supporting any of the software. That said, if you run into any problems I probably won't be of much help. Still, you're welcome to contact me.Finally, I have received a number of questions regarding the released of my openFace software and despire the current project name having the word 'open' in it, it is not currently open-source and I have no intentions of making it open source in the near future. Sorry for the let down :(
AustinSmoke GasTracker v1.0.0 (demo)
This script will allow you to keep track of your gas mileage and have the results displayed in an easy to read website. None of the data is harvested from anywhere on the web but is rather entered manually by the user and for the user.Currently the program only supports the English system of miles and gallons. Future versions intend to include the metric system as well as conversions between the figures.If the demand seems to exist, a future version will allow the user to import a CSV file (or something similar). This should satisfy any users who have historically kept up with such data with Excel and other spreadsheets.

FilenameFile SizeFile MD5 Checksum
AS-GasTracker_v1_0_0.tar.gz43789 bytesf8e080a0948becb174496990c84e22fc
AS-GasTracker_v1_0_0.zip62133 bytes1c90e4cccbe1a49c14f718a405f81f1f
Same Gnome 2.8.0+ Custom Image Pack 0.1
This is just a pretty simple image pack that I put together for the popular open-source game, Same Gnome. The top left image is the default pixmap for the game, and the other three images are custom pixmaps that I made. Included in the tarball are: rotating_pills.png (topright), three_lens_flares.png (bottomleft), and mexican_numbers.png (bottomright). I can not guarantee that they will work with all versions of Same Gnome, but were designed to work with v2.8.0.While the Mexican Numbers and the Rotating Pills themes were meant to be graphically appealing, the Three Lens Flares pixmap was simply designed to allow the user to more easily see what particular color appears most in the game (thus allowing for higher scores - or so was the idea).How to use: Read your Same Gnome help section on 'Creating Scenarios'. Simply unTar/GZip the file and copy the .PNGs into your /usr/share/pixmaps/same-gnome/ directory (note: directory may be slightly different depending on your Linux distribution.)

FilenameFile SizeFile MD5 Checksum
same-gnome-pixmaps0.1.tar.gz110354 bytesc89fa40e7016eada6b42f69704b0444a
AustinSmoke Currency Converter v2.0
riginal msg thread: Anyone looking for a Currency Converter (169 different currencies included) or that is already using AS-Currency 1.0, I have finally completed AS-Currency 2.0. Tons of new features including a redesigned and more powerful admin interface, market gain and loss calculations, ability to use graphical images, new flag sets (for 45 countries), and plenty more. Previous bugs have been worked out and I have included a thorough documentation set as well as an easy to use install script. For use with PHP Nuke 6.9+nukecops download thread: Heavily redesigned PHPNuke block/module combination built off of the existing v1.0. The block displays current exchange rate information - displaying countries that the administrator defines. The module is a currency converter. New to v2.0 are: -market gains and losses displayed within the block. -graphical displays available for both gains and losses, and for numerical values -new flag images included -redesigned admin interface -redesigned module interface -multiple data servers can be selected for each currency used -ability to edit specific currency information Version 2.0

FilenameFile SizeFile MD5 Checksum
AS-Currency-v2.0.tar.gz129013 bytese22f8246efa5c5ae44315503a7820d5a
AS-Currency_v2_0.zip205880 bytesbbdb80946c60c7ec0cdd887b072af0dc
AustinSmoke Currency Converter v1.0
nukecops download thread: A PHPNuke block/module combination. The block displays current exchange rate information - displaying countries that the administrator defines. The module is a currency converter. Version 1.0

FilenameFile SizeFile MD5 Checksum
AS-Currency.zip119866 bytes9374d3958cee0aad1906623bd83b139a
9/11 - Part XI
September 11th, 2012 | View Post

The paper from 11 years ago.
It was a year ago today that I posted on my Facebook wall: "I fucking hate 9/11 and everything about it." It was an honest feeling about the 10th anniversary of the American tragedy. Perhaps not surprising, I was met with some pretty strong views from both sides. A few in agreement appreciated the bluntness, but a few in disagreement were furious at my callousness.

Contrary to what the latter group may have assumed at the time, my position was not intended as one of rudeness. It was not intended as a lack of sympathy for mourners. And it was certainly not intended as a childish outburst of disrespect for the deceased.

Instead, it was an introspective position questioning very sincerely what 9/11 actually does mean to America. Not what we'd like it to mean, but rather the meaning it takes on given our actions as a nation. Why can't I "fucking hate" 9/11? Why is that so wrong?

In the 11 years since the towers were brought down, I would like to think that the United States has progressed in wisdom and maturity. I would like to think that the majority of people have become more knowledgeable and less ethnocentric in their ways. But I am also very aware that this is far from reality. People are becoming more and more divided on a daily basis. The United States military is involved in numerous conflicts with sovereign nations around the Middle East, and despite what the President claims, withdrawing from the region seems very unlikely any time soon. The rich continue getting richer and the poor continue getting poorer. And worst of all is that with the exception of fringed political dissenters (both left and right), nobody really seems to care enough to change anything. Hell, most people probably don't even notice.

In my eyes, the United States is the antiquated representation of a former greatness. Where innovation once stood now stands blind corporatism in its place. Where soldiers and police once honorably defended philosophical values now stands blind militarism, used for defending only value itself. Where liberty once stood now stands an army of lobbyists, increasingly proficient at penetrating our three branches of government. And atop the entire chain is the media, always there to remind us that it's the fault of someone else; we are every bit as good to the world as we think we are.

We now live in a country where it's borderline treason to question anything that lead to the events of 9/11. Never mind questioning the conspiracy theories, but even the underlying motives of the hijackers remains a socially condemned topic in most discussions. The population remains willfully oblivious to the fact that we've been dropping bombs on the Middle East for decades without consequence. And of course to most people, it's impossible to believe that we are directly responsible for arming and using the Taliban to stifle the Russians, now one of the very groups we're allegedly seeking to destroy. Still, my personal favorite is that while we continue to wage wars and conflicts with Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and soon-to-be Iran, we still enjoy relative peace with Saudi Arabia, ignoring the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers actually were citizens of the country.

My effort is not to denigrate the lives of 2,977 innocent Americans killed by such evil intentions, but to force the issue of why we should ignore the more than 120,000 equally innocent that we have killed in reckless retaliation since.

The United States is a land of opportunity, and there is no tragedy too great for this mantra. We sell t-shirts, stickers, cigarette lighters, pins, coffee mugs, patches, plates, and truckloads of other petty memorabilia embroidered with this notorious day. We can buy 9/11 in a dozen different colors, we just can't talk about it quite as colorfully. This is how we choose to "honor" the memories of those who died because this truly is the character of the United States. We're materialistic in every way imaginable, and it couldn't be illustrated any better than on a day such as this. People were literally blown to pieces in the sky. Rescue workers were literally crushed to death by falling steel, concrete, and debris. Innocent men and women literally jumped to their untimely deaths to escape the horrors of being burned alive by jet fuel. And so to memorialize these people, we find it in good taste to purchase tiny plastic replicas of the buildings bearing the words "Never Forget" across the front, and "Made in China" underneath. We are truly surreal.

So when I wrote "I fucking hate 9/11 and everything about it" on the 10 year anniversary of the tragedy, I genuinely meant it. And one year later, I still do. If we truly honored the deceased as we pretend to do, we would ALL "fucking hate" 9/11. This is the natural human response towards any tragedy, especially one of such magnitude. Instead we're taught to embrace the moment as some kind of half-time pep rally while we continue to sign the rights of the country away to the highest bidder. I suspect very sincerely that before this chapter in history is all over, we'll learn to fucking hate 9/11.
The Ginny-I
September 5th, 2012 | View Post

Showcasing the completed Ginny-I
The Ginny-I is the loving name that I gave to the most recent rocket I built. Caroline's family enjoys building homemade rockets, filling them with a variety of flammable powders (gunpowder, phosphorus, etc.) and setting them to launch.

I didn't build mine to blow up, but instead to fly with some level of precision. Unfortunately I didn't quite have the right engine for the job, but it did manage to fly three different times. The third time I knew it wasn't going to end well since we only had an E12-8 engine left. The '8' designates the amount of time needed for the ejection stage to occur (triggering my parachute). It crashed long before that 8 seconds was up.

Here are the videos:

If you're interested in building a rocket like this, here is a rough approximation of the costs:
  • Body - 3" diameter postage tube from Office Depot.
    About $7.00 for a pack of two.
  • Nosecone - paper mâché from Michael's trimmed to size.
    About $3.50 for one.
  • Fins - 1/4" basswood from Michael's.
    One sheet for about $3.50 - plenty for all fins.
  • Launch Lugs - plastic shell remnants of firecracker (2 were used for stability).
  • Parachute - made from aluminum-like wrapping paper with hearty rope tied to corners.
    About $1.00
  • Spray Paint - red and black spray paint for the final look.
    About $3.50 each can.
  • Engine Mount - shaped from postal tube ends.
So the rocket only cost about $18.50 to build from scratch, about $11.50 if you exclude the paint job. Far cheaper than most of the sets you'll find in the store.

Howard Ludlow Sr. Labor Day 1960
September 1st, 2012 | View Post

The Akai GX-280D-SS Reel-to-Reel player/recorder I purchased for digitizing my grandfather's tapes.

One of the reel-to-reel tape boxes from the 50s/60s
When my grandfather died in 2005, he left behind a handful of reel-to-reel audio tapes, all of which my father kept. Of course my father also had no way of listening to these tapes (nor do most people). I purchased an old reel-to-reel machine for a few hundred dollars and went about digitizing the old reels. One of them contained a speech my grandfather had prepared for Labor Day of 1960. It was a speech to his Catholic Parish regarding the general lack of responsibility permeating between union officials and management leaders. Sadly, the topic is even more relevant today than it was 52 years ago when he spoke it.

Unfortunately for preservation sake, his recording reel must have been broken because the rate of recording speed was variably inconsistent across the entire speech. This resulted in the beginning of the tape sounding very high pitched (like a chipmunk) and gradually slowing to his normal voice. You can listen to the unedited MP3 at the bottom of this post to hear what I mean. I've spoken with many audio experts online and all seem to agree the problem must have resided with the original recording device.

In the end, and with the help of Audacity, I was painstakingly able to reconstruct my grandfather's voice to match what it should have sounded like. The last minute or so of the tape had been unaffected and thus is his actual voice; I used that as the baseline for comparison.

That all said, there may be certain sections that sound slightly "off". This is because I not only had to reconstruct the pitch, but also the speed at which the words were spoken; it was a pretty challenging project. I have a few other reels and am trying to reconstruct them in my spare time. They're VERY difficult because they contain singing (who knows of what).

His full speech is transcribed below the video.

This speech is being specially recorded.

Irene Ludlow.

Your Excellency, Right Reverend Monsignori, Reverend Fathers, ladies and gentlemen. This morning I had the pleasure of joining with you at Holy Mass as part of our celebration of Labor Day. To many people, such a religious beginning for what is simply a very popular American holiday may appear to be rather strange. They know that Peter McGuire suggested the holiday in 1882 as a demonstration of fraternity and the harbinger of a better age when labor shall be best honored and well-rewarded.

Today labor has that better age and it has been both honored and rewarded. Indeed it enjoys every right and privilege that legal procedures can provide. But we as Catholics know that while Labor Day as a legal holiday quite properly commemorates the attainment of labor's rights, that these same rights and privileges call forth equal duties and responsibilities to the rest of society.

I think that it is almost as if labor's rights and labor's responsibilities were two sides of the same coin. And unfortunately we do not have to look very far to find ample evidence that the responsibility side of the coin is too often turned under so that only the side which emphasizes labor's rights seems to be visible.

Perhaps the working man, the employer, and the union official all need to be reminded of the ethical requirement that demands just actions and morally correct decisions and not merely popular answers or victory over the opposition at any price.

What of the union leader who insists upon a course of action during a labor dispute even though he knows in his conscience that his demands are unreasonable? He will attempt to explain away his actions on the grounds that he has been elected by the membership and must not offend the union rank and file for fear of losing his office. Tell me is he a politician looking for votes, or is he truly a leader who recognizes his responsibility to set an example by acting in a reasonable and just manner?

And what of the union leader who fears to lead and who looks to someone else to take his irons out of the fire for him? He is the type of official who hesitates to rule against one of his members during a grievance hearing and who sends the dispute to arbitration. Of course he knows from the evidence already in his possession that the union cannot hope to obtain a favorable award. But the union's money can be spent, the member can be given false hope, and when the decision is finally handed down, this type of union leader is in the clear; the arbitrator is the villain who is to blame.

Speaking of arbitration, it should be noted that this particular form of dispute settlement has increased tremendously in popularity in New Jersey in recent years. In all fairness, I believe it should be recognized that this increase in the arbitration caseload shows that our labor leaders are constantly striving to improve their service to the union membership and this is a fine example of responsible leadership on their part.

However there are some irresponsible aspects of this which also need a few minutes of our attention.

Our nation's largest railroad system was brought to a halt last week even though two separate arbitrators had made settlement proposals. Now I do not propose to question the merits of the union's position in the strike, but you cannot very well have a binding type of collective bargaining action like arbitration which can be ignored at will.

Nor is management altogether innocent of wrongdoing when arbitration abuses are discussed. How many companies throw almost every grievance into arbitration in order to weaken the union's treasuries? For many industrial relations managers, the word responsibility exists only in the dictionary and the social implications of their jobs are never allowed to overshadow the legal status given to them by their corporations. They may control the job destinies of thousands of their fellow men, but they never forget the source of their paychecks.

And when there are sweetheart contracts or other illegal relationships with dishonest unions, the public is often lead to believe that only labor is at fault and we are asked to conveniently forget that there are two sides to that coin also. That the dishonest union leader cannot succeed without his management counterpart.

All of this talk of responsibility reminds me of the article written several years ago by one of our American Bishops on what he called the "Philosophy of Excuse". The author's contention was that far too many Americans occupy their time trying to think up suitable reasons for not doing what they are supposed to, instead of carrying out their duties in accordance with their vocations in life. Unfortunately I believe that this "Philosophy of Excuse" permeates far too large a segment of those who are engaged with labor-management relations.

The working man who justifies his support of dishonest labor leaders on the grounds that they take pretty good care of him at contract time. The management man who always opposes anything asked by the union because he feels that that is the role that he is supposed to play. The union official who asks the impossible at a bargaining session because he believes that his members will appreciate his show of strength. All are guilty of adhering to the "Philosophy of Excuse" instead of acting in a proper and responsible manner.

In our own state we have the unique situation whereby the AFL and CIO have been unable to join forces as on the national level. Questions of dues, leadership, jurisdiction, all enter into the arguments against the proposed merger. Good reasons I am sure, but isn't there at least some of that excuse philosophy also present?

Many of you are leaders within the labor movement and you may feel that I have been too harsh in my remarks this morning. On the other hand, management representatives may accuse me of emphasizing a labor position too much. In this connection, I am reminded of the story told of the management official who had had a very bad day in dealing with his union at a bargaining session. Everything had gone in favor of the union and he had received quite a pushing around from labor's representatives.

To make matters worse, on the way home from his unsuccessful negotiations with the union, our management man was hit by a car and was taken to a hospital to be treated. Even then he had problems because the operating room was occupied at the time by a woman patient and the injured management official had to wait in the hall outside.

Being angry and in pain and as our union friends would say, acting like a true management man, our management friend began to demand some treatment. He told the nurse to get the woman patient out of the operating room so that he could be treated for his injuries.

"But I'm sorry sir," said the nurse, "But we cannot get the woman out of there. You see, she is in labor."

"In labor!" screamed the management man. "All day I've gotten that kind of argument and now even at the hospital. That's the trouble today. It's everything for labor, and nothing for management."

Well, as we celebrate this Labor Day of 1960, we do not believe that it is everything for either labor or management. As Catholics, we recognize the rights of both sides and we are happy to pay tribute to those who have struggled to improve the fraternity of labor that was spoken of by Peter McGuire seventy-eight years ago. But also as Catholics, we recognize the other size of that coin. The side devoted to responsibility and we urge the representatives of both labor and management to have led the fight for economic success in America to battle with equal vigor along the ethical path to true social justice.

Thank you for the privilege of speaking to you on this beautiful Labor Day morning.

And thank you doll, my toothless little friend.

Full speech audio (unedited): 1960-09-04_HowardLudlow_LaborDay_Unedited.mp3 (11.0mb)
Full speech audio (edited): 1960-09-04_HowardLudlow_LaborDay_Edited.mp3 (9.1mb)