Cat Flag Vlog 1: Garden Wins and Fails

So, I’ve discovered in my travels across the internet the phenomenon known as “vlogging”, where people take a handheld camera and record themselves rambling on about their personal lives and whatever other random topics they care about, then put them up unedited on YouTube.

And I thought… gotta get me some of that!

So, here’s my first “vlog”, on my garden. Everywhere I have lived, my mom has tried to leave it more beautiful than she found it. By the time we moved to Morro Bay, I was old enough to really start helping out in the garden, and many of the plants in our yard I put in or helped to put in. I have especially been the go-to guy in our house when it comes to vegetables, which as you will see doesn’t always work out so well.

I enjoy gardening, and I think it is a worthwhile endeavor for anyone who has a yard to tend or even so much as a window flower box. Even if growing vegetables or herbs for cooking aren’t your thing (though, it is FAR CHEAPER than constantly buying the stuff at the store), having a beautiful space in your life just makes home that much more welcoming.

You can find out more about the garden and what you can do with the vegetables you grow in it at my mom’s website:

Cyber-security bill causes deja vu for Internet activists

The House of Representatives will soon vote on a bill that will allow greater communication between government agencies and private corporations on cyber-security matters, giving both a stronger weapon against hackers. But opponents say the bill is overly broad and easy to abuse, and will violate Internet users’ privacy.

CISPA – The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act – is to be put up for a vote in the House this week, as Congress prepares to take a long break so its members can concentrate on their re-election campaigns. The bill was introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), and has support from members of both parties. The bill also has the support of technology industry titans like Facebook, Intel, Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, AT&T, and Verizon. However, the bill’s opponents also include a few big names – among them the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and most recently, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.

The way CISPA works is by making changes to the National Security Act of 1947. It gives the Director of National Intelligence the power and responsibility to set up a system where government agencies and private corporations can share cyber-security information with each other. The bill does not require any company to comply with this program, companies can sign up for the program freely. It also prohibits participating companies from abusing this shared information to gain an unfair advantage over their competitors.

The bill’s supporters point out that the government has no legal power or right to help companies defend themselves against hackers, a problem this bill is designed to remedy. They also have worked hard to distance this bill from SOPA and PIPA, two Internet bills that were defeated in Congress after a massive public outcry.

But opponents of the bill are far from satisfied. They claim the bill is giving them deja vu, and that the new bill is actually very much like the old ones. For although the two bills seem to have different focuses (CISPA is an anti-hacker bill, while SOPA and PIPA were concerned with online piracy), CISPA does allow information on “threats to intellectual property” to be one of the things shared in the name of “cyber-security”. This means that, theoretically, participating companies could share information with each other on identifying Internet pirates and people who download pirated material.

Yargh! Google be blockin' by website so none may partake of me stolen wares!

Other objections to the bill are centered around the provisions that all this cyber-security sharing is to be kept from the public view, that participating companies can’t be sued over what they do with the data they collect, and that there are no safeguards whatsoever to protect user privacy. Ron Paul said that the bill “encourages some of our most successful internet companies to act as government spies, sowing distrust of social media and chilling communications in one segment of the world economy where Americans still lead.”

You can read the full text of the bill here, and decide for yourself.

Update! CISPA passed the U.S. House of Representatives 248-168 Thursday, but a statement from the White House indicated President Obama would veto the bill if passed as-is.

Morro Bay High School will soon be solar-powered

Driving up to Morro Bay High School in Morro Bay, California, I was shocked to see this in the parking lot:

That is a set of solar panels currently being installed and due to go online next month. A number of schools in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, including both high schools and both middle schools, are being fitted with solar panel arrays that will generate up to 80% of each school’s electricity needs annually. The project is expected to save the district about $10 million per year.

SunEdison has been tasked with the construction of the panels in Morro Bay High School’s parking lot and agricultural studies area. When complete, the panels will provide shade as well as electricity. SunEdison doesn’t charge the school or the district anything to build the panels; instead, it will make its money from charging the school for the electricity the panels generate.

The students’ reaction to the new solar panel array has been generally positive, according to Principal Dan Andrus. “Most people like the idea of clean energy,” he says, adding that many students also look forward to being able to park in the shade on hot days.

Getting the project approved, however, was a three-year effort on the school’s part. Andrus explained that the project needed approval from the school board, the City of Morro Bay, the California Coastal Commission, and several other governmental agencies. During this process, Andrus said, the plan got hung up as some Morro Bay residents objected to the initial design, which would have required the trimming of a row of trees along Highway 1, which passes by the school. These residents argued before the City Council to block the development until an alternative plan could be devised that would not harm the trees. As the fight dragged on, the original bidder for the solar panel development dropped the project, but SunEdison intervened and submitted its own plan, which leaves the trees alone. SunEdison’s plan was approved, allowing the project to move forward.

Andrus said of the approval process, “It is interesting as someone from one bureaucracy to be watching all the other bureaucracies at play.”

The construction of the panels has been carefully timed, because of the decrease in available parking while they are installed. Construction began after a major statewide wrestling tournament hosted by the high school, and is set to be completed well before graduation.

Mailbox Special: Your questions… answered

I’m back! Thank you, Cat Flaggers, for responding to my anniversary post, either to ask a question or just to wish me congratulations. I really appreciate you all! This post is for you.

Now, to answer those questions…

What is your favorite outdoor activity?

Hiking, hands down.

I love walking, getting fresh air, enjoying the scenery around me. The exercise is also healthy for me. I sometimes go on walks just for the heck of it, but I really love going to a park or nature preserve and hiking the trails. I’m so lucky to live in a place that has all kinds of state parks and forests full of trails. It’s beautiful out here, and it makes for some exciting hikes. My dad is a birdwatcher, and we often hike together, though he will sometimes stop suddenly to look at a bird he just heard, when all I want to do is charge ahead.

I guess running would be my second choice, though I am not in as good a shape as I was when I ran for my high school cross-country team, and all of my running shoes have been worn out.

Who would win? Star Wars or Star Trek?

Star Trek, hands down. Here’s why.

In Star Wars, much of the fighting is done by tiny fighters with tiny ray guns that wouldn’t even scratch the Enterprise’s shields. Although there are several references in Star Wars to “deflector shields”, they seem to be almost an afterthought and have next to no stopping power. In A New Hope, the X-Wings are able to just buzz right through it, and throughout the battle sequences there is much more stuff blowing up than stuff dissipating around the ship.

A demonstration of Star Trek's shields when hit.

The Death Star would be a legitimate threat, to be sure. But do you think the Enterprise’s scanners that can pick up small life forms from orbit around a planet wouldn’t pick up a small exhaust port?

The only place where Star Wars has a clear advantage is in hand-to-hand combat. Because Star Wars fight scenes look like this:

And Star Trek’s like this:

Yeah, if it were a hand-to-hand fight, then Star Wars would mop the floor with Star Trek. But otherwise, Star Trek would win.

You did a great job on Homeless in Paradise. Do you have any plans for another documentary?

You are not the first person to ask that. I haven’t ruled out making another documentary, but so far I just haven’t come up with a subject to make one on. Plus, as working on Homeless in Paradise taught me, documentary film-making requires lots of planning ahead, because calling people, setting up interviews, filming, catching sound bites, getting all the permissions you need, and editing are all serious time-consumers. I would probably be working on such a project for about three weeks to a month, and I would have to find a subject I’m really passionate about to dedicate that kind of time. If I do end up making another documentary, I will be sure to let you all know.

Were you aware of the “other” Cat Flag phenomenon?

Yes. I am aware that there is someone who made a T-shirt saying “Cat Flag”, as well as a number of variants. The creator of that line contacted me some time ago on Twitter, and has commented on my blog. I guess sometimes different people just spontaneously come up with similar ideas. Great minds really do think alike!

What are your goals for Cat Flag in your second year of writing it?

Well, I haven’t really thought about that too much recently. Then again, I really want to start posting more news stories that I’ve investigated and reported on myself. I haven’t really done that in a long time, and I think it’s high time I bust out my camera and notepad again. I have one story idea in mind, that I expect to be able to cover fairly soon… stay tuned!

Another goal is to cut back on preachy-sounding editorials. I’ve done far too many of those recently. And I want to do more movie reviews… I’ve recently become a n00b movie buff, and this year is looking like it will be a bumper year for good films! Maybe movie reviews might become a regular feature, you never know.

Thanks to Ramona, Zachary, bluemoonsailor and AuntLessie for your questions! And thanks to all of you Cat Flaggers for your support!

Before I go: Mike Wallace, the famous news reporter who was the long-standing face of 60 Minutes, died Saturday at the age of 93. Wallace was famous for his intense on-air interrogations of anyone and everyone, including Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. Rising from being laid off at ABC, he joined CBS’s news team and after spending time in Vietnam and in morning news ended up making 60 Minutes a household name. Mr. Wallace leaves behind a wife, a son, a stepdaughter, two stepsons, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The journalism world will miss him.