GeoGuessr.com

Need another distraction, but you’d like one you can learn from while doing? GeoGuessr.com is for you. It’ll drop you somewhere in the world and you’re supposed to figure out where you are. You can play hard mode where you guess based only on what you know, or you can guess after using Internet resources to narrow things down.

I like the latter mode, which means I try to pinpoint my location. On the round I just did, I was within 11 meters of one location, but really lost it when I was off by 58km somewhere in New Zealand. I like to wander away from my start point to look for clues. One time, I saw a “You Are Here” sign for tourists that was invaluable.

The best part of this is how I sharpen my location-finding skills while seeing some really neat locations in the world. I love searching for road signs, flags, indications of traffic flow, and other clues to help me know where it is that GeoGuessr decided to drop me.

A Call from the Technical Support Department

Guy calls… Caller ID shows “Unknown Number”… I’m game. I answer.

“Hello.” Already I can detect the Bihari accent. This guy’s from India. “My name is John Peterson.” Lie. “I am from the technical support department for the Windows operating system.” Big lie. “Am I speaking with Mr. Webb?” Oh-ho! He’s got a directory!

“Yes,” I reply.

“We have been receiving notifications of many problems from your computer as you attempt to access web sites. We are calling to resolve those issues with you.” Oh really? I did not know that. How wonderful for him to have called me! “Are you at your Windows operating system computer?”

“Yes.” This promises great fun and sport, I can sense that already.

“What version of Windows Operating System do you have?”

“I have one computer with XP, one with Vista, and one with Windows 7.”

“Are you at your computer?”

“Yes.”

“Do you see, in the lower left corner, a button that says ‘Start’?” I guess that’s how he can make sure I don’t have Windows 8.

“Yes.”

“Please apply the left-click on that button.”

“OK.” And, yes, I did apply the left-click to the start button.

“Do you see a list of options?”

“Yes.”

He then proceeds to read off a list of options that I don’t have because I’ve configured my start menu to be like classic Windows. I know what he’s reading to me is for the default config on Windows 7. I don’t have that here. I tell him that I don’t see those options.

“Do you see a list of programs?”

I click on “Programs” and, yes, I do see a list. Three columns wide. No way am I reading all those off, even if I was a chump. “Yes, a long list of programs. Lots of them.”

“Do you see an option for ‘My Documents’ or ‘Computer’?”

Lucky me, I don’t. “No, I don’t have options for those.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am sure. Those options are not there.”

“Well, let us try a more direct method or way. Look at your keyboard. What button do you see in the lower left corner?”

“CTRL.”

“And what button is next to that? FN?”

“No, it’s ALT.”

“And what button is next to that?”

“The spacebar.”

“Don’t you have a key with a Windows logo on it?”

“No.” OK, so that’s a bit of a lie, but I prefer using keyboards without a Windows key, so since he’s lied to me, I get to play make-believe with him.

“There is no keyboard that does not have a Windows key!”

“Mine doesn’t have a Windows key.”

“You have to have a Windows key! Every keyboard made for the Windows operating system has a Windows key!”

“I’m telling you, I don’t have a Windows key. I’ve been using Windows since 1993, and the keyboards back then did not have a Windows key. My keyboard right now does not have a Windows key.”

“You have to have a Windows key! I am smarter than you!”

“Really?”

“Is your mother there?”

What does he need my mother for? “No, my mother is not here.”

“Are you at you at your mother’s computer?”

“No, this is my computer. My mother does not live here. I live here. This is my computer.”

“This is your computer?”

“Yes, this is my computer.”

“Well, I am calling from the Technical Support Department. Now you must listen to me!”

“The Technical Support Department from which company?”

“I have told you.”

“No, you just said you’re with the Technical Support Department. You didn’t say which company you’re with.”

“I’m with the Windows Operating System.”

“The Windows Operating System isn’t a company. Microsoft is a company. Hewlett-Packard is a company. IBM is a company. What company are you with?”

“I’m with The Geek Squad.”

“Hmm… I don’t have a Geek Squad account. Is this free support?”

“No.”

“So this is pay support? How much will it cost?”

“No, it won’t cost you.”

“Wait, so you’re giving me free support and not free support?”

“Stop confusing yourself! Listen to me! Minor problems we fix for free: major problems, big bucks!”

“So what is a major problem?”

“We will find out! Do you have an icon that says ‘My Computer.’?” Nice redirect, Mr. Non-Peterson. I’ll play along.

“Yes.” Looks like the blind squirrel found a nut.

“Please to right-click that icon and read to me the options.”

I right-click it and read the list, as I see it: “Open, Explore, Search, Map Network Drive, Disconnect Net-”

“Please click the option that says ‘Manage’.” Rude! He interrupted me!

Just as well. I didn’t have a ‘Manage’ option. I told him that.

“You have no ‘Manage’ option?”

“No.”

“Is this a special computer that your employer has especially built for you?”

“No.”

“And somehow, you have the *only* Windows Operating System in the world that does not have a Windows key, a Computer option or a Manage option?”

“It’s not the only one that doesn’t fit that description, you see-”

“Why don’t you go use your mother’s computer, you [obscene gerund followed by an obscene noun]!” And then, before I could reply, he hung up.

Pity. I was wanting him to ask me to click on something so I could rattle off one of the many Blue Screen of Death messages that I’ve memorized.

Oh well, now I have to let my mom know that a very angry Indian chap has ordered me to use her computer. Right before Mother’s Day, too. How thoughtful of the guy!

The Saga of a Test-Taking Man

I make no mystery of it: I love taking tests that I’ve studied for. I appreciate a well-written test with difficult, yet doable, questions. I read up for the test, do labs, do my homework, do practice labs, and then I go for it.

This year, I’ve taken three tests so far. After starting my studies in January, I set a goal to have two CCNA certifications by the end of April. I am happy to say that I attained that goal. Now, I’m planning to do four more tests in the next three months to earn my CCNP-Security. These are tests that have a minimum pass score of 80% and the tests themselves are no slouches. They remind me of the AP exams in terms of depth and difficulty – and if a test-taker knows what he’s doing, they’ll drain him of information. No topic goes uncovered.

As a teacher, I’ve told countless students that reading, study, and practice is the key to successful learning. Now, I have another chance to apply that in my life. I believe I can do this. True belief leads to actions based upon that belief. Therefore, it’s time for some actions on my part. Onwards to the CCNP!

A Business Lesson From Microsoft

Long, long ago, when there was a stock market boom, lots and lots of people wanted to work at Microsoft. Its stock was going ever higher, and the company was famous for its generous stock options. True, there was the dreaded “stack rank” review procedure that turfed out a lot of good people, but, hey, the stock! Look at the stock! People signed on for the ride and enjoyed it greatly.

Then, the stock market turned. MSFT was no longer synonymous with magic or even growth. Microsoft had become a mature industry, and its stock price leveled off after dropping hard in early 2000. Microsoft kept its stack rank procedures, but now, there wasn’t any options fun to balance out the terror of a policy in which a certain percentage of the workforce was to be fired each year, usually because they didn’t have good relations with managers they didn’t report directly to.

Without the incentive to stick around in the form of stock options, a lot of talented people left the company. A LOT. Not all of the talent, but a significant chunk of it. New talent didn’t gravitate to Microsoft. Now, I hear people talking about it they way people used to talk about Novell… how it’s a shadow of what it used to be. It’s not the big industry mover that it was in 1999, that’s for sure.

What could turn the company around? Ideas. Where do ideas come from? Bright people that don’t want to be massacred by a stack rank policy in a car accident. The problem is that the policy is entrenched, the management doesn’t really listen to the workers when they complain about it, and the company as a whole suffers.

Moral of the story: don’t fire people for the sake of firing people in order to create a false sort of competition between workers. It doesn’t work.

Hungarian Rock and Roll

I love finding music that I like. The latest round of searching took me to Hungary, in the 1970s. There was some great rock and roll there and then. I’m enjoying the bands Locomotiv GT and Skorpio. I’ve even learned some Hungarian so I can know the titles and sing along.

The best thing I take away from this is the joy of self-directed learning. Assign yourself homework to not just enjoy something, but to learn about what you enjoy so you can enjoy it even more.

The Tragedy in West

Yesterday evening, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas exploded as a consequence of a fire there. The tragedy is real, and it is bitter to see.

My heart and prayers go with the injured and survivors. For those not from this part of the nation, under normal circumstances, West is a beautiful, happy town famous for its Czech culture and food. If I’m ever on I35, I always try to find a reason to stop by and share in the joy that town produces. I know they’ll recover and rebuild.

Bůh s vámi, krásné město, West. Bůh s vámi.

An Italian Military Hero

There’s a glib line that “there are no Italian military heroes.” It’s completely wrong. There’s one who stands out in my mind as the epitome of the soldier, a man willing to lay down his life to protect those of others.

His name is Salvo d’Acquisto. After Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943, the Germans took over administration of Italy from Rome northward. In the area where d’Acquisto was stationed, a bomb went off and the Germans didn’t like it. They gathered 23 people to be killed in reprisal. d’Acquisto offered himself in their place, claiming responsibility for the bombing and letting the innocents go free. I must recognize the valor of men and women of Italy who fought against the Nazis and Fascists. Salvo d’Acquisto represents but one story of many, and although people may joke about the Italian army in WW2, the sacrifices of d’Acquisto and others should not be taken lightly, which is why I happily submit this to you all.

In measures of fame and popular acclaim, d’Acquisto has schools and roads and stuff named after him, had movies made about him, and is up for sainthood – I checked at the Vatican website myself. More than that, though, we see a man that realized a solution to a problem was not in killing the enemy, but in allowing the enemy to kill him as a sacrifice to protect others. As I observed Easter services today, my mind went over to how d’Acquisto’s sacrifice was in the manner of Jesus’ sacrifice. He died that others might live. The popular acclaim is there, yes, but what truly makes Salvo d’Acquisto a hero in my eyes is in the way he was able to drink from a bitter cup of sacrifice when there was no other way to save lives.

He was, and is, a true hero. I salute him.

Where Left Meets Right

At the extremes of freedom and authoritarianism, the “left” meets the “right”. As long as a nation exists in the middle, there is plenty of room for variance between the leftists and the rightists, but when certain basic notions are challenged, the two antagonizing sides have to choose to either hang together or hang separately.

The economic situation in Cyprus is one of those challenges to basic notions. One of the basic notions of freedom is the right of property ownership. Even if some people steal, cheat, or otherwise come across their property in unethical ways, not all people come into property ownership that way. For the European Central Bank to say that the solution to Cyprus’ economic woes lies in seizing the property of individuals means that the ECB has challenged one of the basic notions of freedom.

For those on the left and the right that now find themselves uncomfortably close together on the issue of property rights, let me make a suggestion: drop your other quarrels and unite on this one. Get to know each other. Get used to working together. Remember, we have to hang together if we don’t wish to hang separately. Property ownership is important, and there will be more conflicts in this area as governments seek to turn to financial repression in order to solve their economic problems.

The Search for Truth

I search for truth. That means I have to wade through a lot of stuff that falls in the category of “mistaken, misguided, or misleading statements.” No matter what the cause of the error, error is error. Seeking truth means humbling myself when error is found within and then seeking to know better.

Even if I believe to have found the font of eternal wisdom and perfect knowledge, I can still form my own erroneous impressions or heed the misjudgments of others as I sip from that font. Hence, the necessity of humility.

Pride in my knowledge means I cannot allow it to be corrected. That leads to arrogance and worse. Humility in my knowledge means I know that I must be corrected, that I am not yet perfect, that I *will* be corrected, and, ultimately, that I must be thankful for the correction that I receive.

So what is truth? That part is surprisingly simple, and I suspect that the greatest errors are made when we humans choose to overcomplicate things. Truth is this: God is Love. If we seek to be Godlike, we must love, and love with purity. We must have compassion, unselfishness, no desire of reciprocal utility, and so on, in our pure love. When we hear or think things that interfere with that purity of love, there is something of untruth about those influences.

The search for truth, therefore, is not so much a discovery of the simple fact that God is Love, but is instead the process of removing the errors in our own lives that we might be ready to not only better know the truth, but to be able to live that truth more perfectly.

Foreign Film Roundup

Just watched “Il Divo”, an Italian political thriller about Giulio Andreotti. Fantastic, mesmerizing portrayal of the seven-time PM of Italy, complete with his alleged ties to the Mafia, neo-Fascists, the Vatican, crooked bankers that wound up murdered, and even a goodly dose of clandestine Masonic lodges. Crazy thing is, this ain’t no Dan Brown novel: this is reality in Italian politics. “Il Divo” thrills all right, but it’s a biopic, not a fiction created from whole cloth.

The acting is top-notch, the soundtrack frequently delights, and the suits are AMAZING. First rule of Italy: look fantastic. Morals and ethics can come after that… The cinematography deserves a special mention for its stylization. It creates the proper feel for the film and never lets up. As a whole, the film is immersive, compelling, and – at the end of the day – great entertainment.

I had the film on my shelf, but hadn’t watched it until now, when the Vatican came under fire in its latest scandal, coupled with the election turmoil in Italy. I can’t say that I totally understand Italian politics now, but the insights from this film are most welcome and relevant.