My journey from Stress to Biotech to Mindfulness – Part I

December is ordinarily one of my favorite times of the year — what with my extended vacation, Christmas, family, decorations, and just all the joys the season brings. But this past one was different — I was stressed…about work, about relationships, about hosting Christmas, about…you-name-it. And try as I might to find my usual peace and inner joy, I just couldn’t do it.

Enter my Oura ring, which I had ordered several months prior in October, but due to its being publicized by a photo of Prince Harry wearing one, was severely backlogged. So my ring finally arrived in mid-December, and upon being charged and worn overnight, confirmed what I already knew: I was severely stressed and sleeping poorly.

Let me back up a moment and fill you on the ultra-coolness that is the Oura ring. This bit of biotech is primarily a sleep tracking device, or rather, it is a device that tracks a number of metrics while you sleep, crunches the data in the cloud and gives you what it terms a “readiness” rating. This rating is basically an overall assessment of your readiness for the day, i.e. your degree of go-ness, or no-go-ness as the case may be; whether you should seize the day or take an easier, more relaxed approach.

For example, on this day, my readiness was 87/100 (anything over 85 is ideal). So the app tells me, “Challenge yourself. Your readiness is off the charts! What can you do with all this potential?” Among the data it considered was that I had slept for eight hours and 16 minutes, my sleep score was 91/100 (it also breaks down the why behind that score, as well), my resting heart rate was in its typical range, I had met my previous day’s activity goals, and I went to bed close to Oura’s recommended bedtime based on its assessment of my circadian rhythm. I also hit the minimums for each phase of sleep (rare for me). It did, however, seem to feel that my sleep and activity levels were not quite in balance. Cool Stuff.

The Oura offers other sets of data beyond those listed above, among them Heart Rate Variability (HRV). This value is an accepted measure of stress. Essentially, the lower the number, the greater the stress. Several factors impact HRV, such as level of cardiac fitness. I am, er, how to say, a “cardio junkie,” so one could reasonably expect my HRV to be in the higher range for my demographic (age and gender). Except it wasn’t.

The way it works is this: most of us are familiar with average heart rate, i.e. the number of times the heart beats in a given time frame, typically one minute or beats per minute (bpm). But the heart doesn’t beat evenly like a metronome, i.e. there is variability in the timing of each beat — some beats are closer together while others are farther apart. Think of it as playing or practicing a musical score where an overall piece or section of a piece is performed at a certain tempo, such as 80 bpm. But within each score or section there are whole notes, quarter notes, eight notes, etc. Your average heart rate in bpm is equivalent to the piece’s tempo, while your variability might be a measure with a quarter note, an eight note, two sixteenth notes and a half note. Overall, there are four beats in this example measure, but the timing between each beat varies. Higher variability, i.e. a greater variety of notes of different durations, is, for the purpose of this discussion, the desired state.

As a general rule, the lower your heart rate, the more time there is for variance between each beat, thus the higher the variability. But stress, which triggers the sympathetic (fight or flight) aspect of the autonomic nervous system, drives down this variability. My resting heart rate is in the mid-low 40s, occasionally the 30s (yeah, me and Lance Armstrong, though that’s where the similarities end). Did I mention I was a cardio junkie? So with my resting heart rate (rhr), there is (should be) plenty of time for variability. Except that’s not what the Oura was reporting.

This led me down the path of trying to answer the question: “How can I increase my HRV?” Now, admittedly, that really wasn’t the exact question I should have been trying to answer, but it is an established fact that stress can and does impact executive functioning. Nevertheless, in the course of trying to answer *that* question, I learned not only about the specific psychophysiological effects that stress has on the body, but also tools and techniques that laypersons can use to both measure and affect the same.

Stay tuned for Part II of this series where I discuss more about what corporeal systems drive stress and the first tool I came upon that allowed me get a grip on those systems and bring them into greater balance.

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Book Review – Star Trek Discovery: Desperate Hours

Published essentially in tandem with Star Trek: Discovery’s premiere (Jan. 24, 2017), Desperate Hours (Jan. 26, 2017) pairs characters Michael Burnham and Spock, as well as Captains Philippa Georgiou and Christopher Pike, working alongside one another to solve a crisis brewing on a colonized planet as the situation becomes increasingly dire.  Set one year prior to the events of The Battle at the Binary Stars, the novel, an action-packed, page-turner of a Science Fiction adventure, contains all of the elements that keep Star Trek fans in the fold and awaiting ever unfolding incarnations of the original classic tale.  These include moral questions that challenge the reader as well as the novel’s characters, self-serving leaders, aliens of questionable intention, starships and their diverse crews, space battles….  And did I mention action?

Without spoiling the plot, the USS Shenzou, under the command of Georgiou, is called to a planetary colony in distress after it comes under attack from a local, but previously unknown entity.  The Shenzou comes to the rescue and then sends details and analyses of results collected from planetary scans to Starfleet, including those of a very large, very ancient spacecraft.  Shortly thereafter, Shenzou is joined by the USS Enterprise commanded by Pike who has been instructed to carry out orders from Starfleet to which Georgiou, as expected, objects.  The two Captains engage in an escalating battle of pride, duty and wills, leading Shenzou First Officer Burnham, “Number One” in that era’s parlance, to take action and reach out to “family friend,” Mr. Spock, of the Enterprise.  Her efforts to enlist him in a desperate grasp for an alternative course of action are successful for the critical duration of the book, as she and Spock join forces offship to eliminate the threat not only to the planet, but also to the Federation’s moral compass.

In concert and from space, the starship captains are left to deal with traditional human, political issues arising on the surface of the planet, an alien spaceship, and each other.

All in all, the book spun an exciting tale consistent with the traditions one has come to expect from Gene Roddenberry’s initial conception and its follow-ons.  The revisitation of Captain Pike preceding the events of Star Trek’s TOS provided a backdrop to the Enterprise story pre- legendary Captain James T. Kirk, a time of which many Star Trek followers are aware, but have had little opportunity to explore.  The creativity the author demonstrated in devising a series of trials to which Spock and Burnham were tested served to keep the reader engaged and, at the same time, stewed him or her in a bath of science, technology and math. Despite the death and destruction, there were moments of levity, as well: the dentist character and the ironic conclusion to his arc was laugh-out-loud funny.  In the political situation surrounding the colony, the viewer is treated to both big buisness and politicians at their worst, perfect foes in any drama that tests the fortitude of idealism. What is more, the space battles were vivid and although the reader knows intellectually that both the Shenzou and Enterprise must and do survive the onslaught of their enemy, the author took readers right up to the point where one had to question both if and how they would do so.  The necessity of team in the outcome cannot be understated and proved to be a recurring theme throughout the book.

Deperate Hours came up a little short in several ways, however.  Namely, in terms of bringing the situation with the colonial leadership to conclusion — it didn’t. Rather, the reader was simply told that the crisis was resolved.  Given the prominence of this storyline in the novel, this eschewal left me feeling somewhat unsatiated.  The Nook version of the book ran 275 pages and it seems that with just a few more, this plot device could have been tidied up more neatly.

Pike was portrayed as a blind order-following stick figure who, despite ethical awareness, was willing to consciously join the ranks of those infamously relegated to the annals of history for obeying unjust orders.  This characterization felt inconsistent with both the depiction in the Kelvin timeline movie series, as well as Anson Mount’s portrayal in Discovery Season Two, not to mention military officer training (or so I’m told by non-fictional military officers).

Georgiou’s character was more in line with what viewers of the TV series have come to expect — tough, competent and compassionate.  There was a small hint of sexism in the author’s treatment of her, however.  While Pike was simply thrown about during the space battles, Georgiou was shown to feel “fear”, and we saw her looking tousled with her hair out-of-place.  If only the author had simply not gone where men have gone before and stayed away from the gender stereotypes…

Finally, having watched the first episodes of Discovery Season Two prior to reading the novel, inconsistencies between the book and TV series become apparent.  Most notably, in the Episode Brother, Burnham states that she and Spock have not spoken in years and that the situation is her fault.  Meanwhile, not only does Desperate Hours take place a mere two years before the events of Brother, but Spock and Burnham take great strides towards resolving their differences at the end of the former, differences which at their core proved to be the fault of Sarek more so than either Burnham or Spock.  Now, although technically, two years can constitute years in its plurality, the estrangement was made to feel more extensive in the referenced episode.  While these inconsistencies in no way detract from the merits of the novel itself, given the editor’s commentary on the place this and others hold in the Discovery universe, they are, indeed, inescapable.

Be that as it may, as a stand-alone read, Desperate Hours is a worthwhile time investment, especially for fans of both Star Trek in general and Discovery, in particular.  What is more, it provides a stable launching point for the series of novels to follow.

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George Zimmerman, American Hero?

Self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman was acquitted in the wrongful death of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. In response, Zimmerman’s brother Robert Jr. tweeted, “Today… I’m proud to be an American.”

I am proud to be an American every day. The knowledge that it is apparently possible to get away with killing kids with no fear of consequences is not a contributing factor to my love of country, however.

Since the verdict was read, numerous websites have published a running string of reactions from well-known personalities and the general public alike.

On NPR’s website, the top-rated comment as of the time of this writing is:

what was the young man supposed to do when approached by an armed guy on the side of he (sic) road? Black, white, whatever, if a guy with no obvious authority stops anybody on the side of the road in an accusatory manner…?” (emphasis added)

The most salient point of this question is the part highlighted above. As the prosecution stated in its summation, this scenario was any child’s worst nightmare, any person’s really: walking home alone, in the dark, and being followed…

How many TV shows, movies, novels, etc. begin this way? The creepy music starts. The tension becomes palpable and the reader or viewer knows something bad is about to happen.

As first described by American physiologist Walter Cannon in the 1920s, under such conditions, the human body will undergo a series of physiological reactions to help mobilize its resources in order to help it deal with threatening circumstances. This set of responses is better known as the flight or fight syndrome.

We know from witness Rachel Jeantel’s testimony that Martin tried the former, flight. That didn’t work. Zimmerman was not to be eluded.

The two individuals – civilian adult and minor — came face to face. What then, was Trayvon Martin to do?
Seemingly, according to Florida law, the Zimmerman family and their attorneys, a successful defense of self on Martin’s part was apparently out of the question.

That the Zimmerman family would rather have their loved one come out with his life and well-being intact is understandable. Nothing less from George Zimmerman who, for those few minutes got to live his dream, is to be expected.

We know from Zimmerman’s 2012 interview on the Hannity show that he has no remorse about setting off the chain of events that culminated with him killing a child. He does not regret getting out of his car. He does not regret taking his gun. He does not regret pulling the trigger. He believes it was all part of God’s plan. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t call 911 and ask for medical assistance as 17 years of life bled out at his feet…for up to ten minutes.

According to defense attorney Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman will spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder. If true, being so occupied, he should at least have no further time or opportunity to act as an angel of the god he believes wanted him to take the life of a teenager.

Zimmerman’s delusions aside, it is difficult to believe that Florida’s various defense laws are intended to afford so little protection to potential crime victims. The precedent established by the referenced verdict is concerning. How this will play out for other young people deemed out of place while blithely going about their own business in the future is worrisome.

Kids should be able to go to convenience stores, walk in the rain, talk on the phone with long-lost friends and wear hooded sweatshirts as long as doing so is ok with their parents. They should be able to return home from such excursions alive.

They should also be able to flee from creepy men who follow them in the dark, or, that failing, have leave to effectively protect themselves when so accosted.

What is more, grown men who kill kids through the consequences own their own actions should be held accountable. Under no circumstances should they be hailed as model citizens or examples of what is best about America.

As Tina Turner sang in the theme song for Mad Max 2, “We don’t need another hero.” We certainly don’t need any more George Zimmermans. Let this be an opportunity for Florida to re-examine and correct its self-defense laws before these patterns of behavior get out of hand.

Otherwise, this country may find itself too closely resembling the post-apocalyptic one of Thunderdome; in which case America will be undeserving of anyone’s pride on any day.

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No, You May Not Touch My Hair

The first time it happened, I was in the lobby of a casino at a Lake Tahoe Resort passing the time before departing after a week of skiing.  Out the blue a woman proclaimed,“Your hair is so beautiful!  May I touch it?” her hand moving steadily towards the braids that fell just below my shoulder blades.

Life inside my little bubble hadn’t sufficiently prepared me for such an encounter. “Uh, thank you, sure,” I stammered.  After the moment passed, an older friend who was with me stared daggers at the woman’s back as she walked away. My friend, shaking her head muttered, “Touching your hair.  People have some nerve.”

Over the years, I have occasionally thought back on the experience, often doubting whether allowing that woman to touch my hair was the right thing to do. Had I, however inadvertently, furthered patterns of behavior that are simply outside the bounds of normal and acceptable social conduct?

To this day, I remain ambiguous, but twenty years later with a head full of waist length, all natural, cultured locks, I have my grown-up answer to the ever inevitable question dialed in.  With a slow shaking of my head, my simply stated, “No, I don’t think so” typically does the trick.  Some of the requestors show embarrassment, some confusion and others get a little upset (angry, indignant, the usual array of responses from the perceived sense of public humiliation).  Better them than me.

I suspect that it is precisely the question of what motivates people to literally want to reach out and touch someone, a perfect stranger, and grope her hair that prompted Antonia Opiah of Un’ to stage her NYC Exhibition, “You Can Touch My Hair” in early June.  In the exhibit, three black American women sporting different natural hair styles stood and held signs that read, “You can touch my hair.”  A number of passersby took them up on the invitation to touch, caress and otherwise engage in the tactile experience of putting their hands in, on and through the models’ hair.

In Opiah’s article about the event, published in the Huffington Post, she voices several theories (not all of them her own) about the motivation behind those who inquire, either at this exhibit or in the normal course of their daily lives.   The speculation ranged from feelings of racial superiority and white privilege (buy clear band-aids and move on, people), to some sense of ownership of black people’s bodies.

I think the answer is much less sinister and dramatic, however, and simply chalk it up to poor socialization.  Somewhere along the way, many people in our society have lost sight of and respect for personal boundaries.  People confuse curiosity or inquisitiveness, i.e. a desire to know, with having a right to know.  I can’t be sure if this is the natural outcome of our 24×7 media bombardment in which every sordid detail of the lives of public figures is laid bare on a routine basis, or if it comes from the increasingly close quarters in which we live and work each day.  Or it may come from the mistaken belief that if only we could get to know one another better, we could get along, so hey, let’s celebrate differences and make them the foundation of interpersonal dialogue.

From such a perspective, then, I suppose it may be perfectly normal to focus on that which is in some ways foreign to us.  By the same token, black Americans have been a fixture in this country for several hundreds of years and anyone who has not seen a person of such color by now really does need to get out more.  That being said, it really might be best for anyone who is so completely lacking in basic social graces and any sense of propriety that he or she believes hair touching is a winning icebreaker to pursue a more secluded life.  Interaction, at any level, requires manners of the kind we learn in Kindergarten.

In the French language, there are two forms of the word “you,” “Vous” and “Tu” with the latter being the personal, more intimate form of the word and the former being the more impersonal, less intimate form.  It is considered a breach of etiquette to address a person one does not know well by the personal form.  It is by invitation only that the form of address transitions from the impersonal to the other implying a deeper evolution of the relationship.

As evidence that it may, in fact, be possible to learn something from just about anyone, even the French, one can conceivably go on to generalize that if you are not on “Tu” terms with somebody, do not place your hands on any aspect of that person’s being.

As far as the exhibit goes, personally, I am agnostic, and limit my reaction to bemusement at photos of people rubbing their hands through the models’ hair. Others, however, were more or less generous.

On one side of the comments, one finds utter contempt for the exhibit with some likening it to a slave auction.  I find that a little extreme.  On the other side are folks who see it as a great opportunity to educate the masses.  I think that position misses the mark in that black hair isn’t necessarily something about which the masses need to be educated.  Our school systems are failing, kids can’t read and speak properly, and we have lost our footing on the global economic and technological stages.  The focus of all educational efforts should be on subjects that actually matter in the grand scheme of things.

Now admittedly, we cannot always expend our energies on solving international crises, but when we are not so engaged, shouldn’t we channel our efforts towards improving the images each of us sees reflecting back at us through our own mirrors rather than obsessing over someone else’s hair?

At the end of the day, the texture and health care regimen of black women should not matter at all to anyone save black women.  It is a poor reflection on the mental and social state of those whose social triggers do not fire in time to stop them from crossing the most basic lines of human conduct.

So the best advice I can offer when the compunction to inspect another person’s mane comes over those who are so inclined is this: unless you are a woman’s hairdresser, dermatologist or mother, just don’t do it.  Don’t ask about it.  Push all such thoughts from your mind.  Exercise some personal control and discipline and keep your hands to yourself.  The hair has nothing to do with you and you have nothing to do with it.

And no, you may not touch my hair.

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Genealogy for the Common Man

Back when I was in the fourth grade, my teacher tasked the class with drafting our family trees.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was probably one of the most valuable lessons I was ever given, and the one whose results I cherish the most to this very day.

I was fortunate in that at that time, all of my grandparents and two of my great-grandparents were still alive, one each from both the maternal and paternal sides of my lineage.  Consequently, I was able to construct a tree that extended back to my mother’s great-great grandmother on her maternal side and my father’s great grandparents on his maternal side.  To a fourth grader, individuals born over a century prior in the mid-1800s were very ancient indeed.

After the assignment was complete, I moved on to the rest of my academic requirements.  My mom, ever the pack rat, however, stored the tree away safely.  I came across it many years later while going through her safebox on a separate quest.  Tucked in with legal papers and birth certificates, there it was, neatly folded, and immaculately preserved. Staring at that drawing many years later, I realized there were a few branches that were fairly incomplete, my maternal grandfather’s, for instance.

It occurred to me that my work on that tree was not yet complete.

My grandfather was a quiet, Southern gentleman with an easy smile who always resisted being bombarded with questions about the past.  This, I suspect, stemmed in part from the fact that many memories held by black Americans who lived in that segregated part of the country under Jim Crow laws were, as they say, nothing to write home about. Of equal likelihood, though, is that special aspect of my grandfather’s charm: for him, being difficult was one of the simple pleasures in life.

I was caught off-guard when one day, upon being asked for at least the dozenth time over the prior 20 years who his parents were, Granddad actually opened up and started answering my questions.  Until then, my inquiries had merely been part of the game we played: I would ask, he would demur.  I recall hurriedly scrambling for pen and paper, realizing I had, however briefly, finally cracked the proverbial nut.

From that conversation, I learned Granddad’s parents’ names, as well as those of his paternal grandparents.  He also came clean and supplied the names and birth orders of all his siblings.  I regret to this day that through my lack of preparation for that talk, I failed to ask other key questions such as what life was like, how he and his siblings passed the time, how the family unit interacted, how he had met my grandmother and the ever vital whether my mother was truly the perfect angel she always claimed to be.

Now faced with the task of redrawing my tree, adding both depth and breadth, I realized that a better solution was in order than the classic grand Oak drafted on 8-1/2 x 11″ construction paper (Granddad had a lot of siblings).

Having pursued technology as a career, the obvious choice was to purchase a software application that would allow me to store my tree in electronic format and add onto it at will without having to redraw and reformat it each time as I gained more entries.  I went with what was then an early version of Family Tree Maker and a membership to

Much to my chagrin, however, my software didn’t actually integrate with the site in any sort of meaningful way.  The software did effectively capture my tree and I could use it to make regular entries and updates.

Fast forward to the second decade of the 21st Century and oh, how far we’ve come.  Later revisions of the Family Tree Maker software integrate fully with  The website, for its own part, now offers indexed record searches and access to an ever-increasing collection of historical records and documents.  It even steered me towards records of my both my father’s and brother’s military service, as well as the WWII draft record of a great-uncle.  It also searches on its own for you behind the scenes and adds record hints when it finds something it believes you should investigate.

Thanks to these capabilities, my tree now extends well back into the 17th century.  Were I to invest time in researching additional findings, it could reach back even further.

Consider the latest phase in Family tree research or as it now commonly known, Genealogy: widespread access to DNA testing and identification of population groups with which our ancestors can be associated.  DNA can be used to look back over hundreds or thousands of years to identify markers or mutations that when so employed, serves to indicate where our predecessors lived in the past and what their migration path out of Africa where our species originated might have been and over what course of time.

Genealogical testing companies generally offer one or more of three types of tests, Mitochondrial, Y-chromosome and autosomal.  Mitochondrial DNA provides information on the maternal line, i.e. one’s mother’s, mother’s…mother and so on.  It is passed from mother to child, both male and female, but is only passed from a mother to her child.

Y-Chromosome DNA tests can only be taken by males.  Such tests follow the paternal line, i.e. a son’s father’s, father’s…father, etc.  Y-chromosome DNA can, for example, be used to trace the family surname back through time.

Autosomal testing looks at the 22 non-gender pairs of chromosomes found in the nucleus of each cell.  Those chromosomes contain information passed down through time from all off our ancestors and therefore, essentially contains a complete record of our genetic history.  Autosomal testing can be used to provide information on ethnic makeup, i.e. what percentage of one’s DNA can be traced to what geographic regions at identifiable periods in time.  Based on sequences and mutations, autosomal DNA can also be used to identify relationships between individuals with various degrees of separation.

In addition to record searches, the site attempts to match its AncestryDNA results, i.e. its autosomal test, with other site users to identify possible relationships.  While still in its Beta stage, this feature has the potential to connect researchers with other relatives whom they might not otherwise have come to know.

My genetic ethnicity results were of no surprise to me in terms of their composition, but the proportions themselves were mildly unexpected.  When looking at such results, it matters that one understands that ethnicity results are neither about race (a social construct not a scientific one) nor about nationality (geographic boundaries are physical not political).

While perusing the web, I often come across comments in which people essentially state, “My dad was half Irish and half Scottish while my mother was full British and the site says I’m 12% Scandinavian instead of 50% English and 25% each Scottish and Irish.”  Such comments are 1) based on the misconceptions that ethnicity obeys geo-political rules, 2) ignore population migration, and 3) falsely assume that any person is 100% anything.  Although we have been conditioned to think in such terms, it is self-defeating to take DNA tests for genealogical purposes and then reject them when they don’t conform  to such invalid conceptions.

Next up for me then is to pour through the matches that Ancestry found through my dna results and see if any represent or can supply information on family tree branches on which I am currently blocked or on individuals about whom my details are not yet complete; or as evidence might suggest, branches or leaves about which I have no prior knowledge.

Oh, the wonders of modern technology.

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Risky moves pay off for H…

Risky moves pay off for Harbaughs

The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens trailed at halftime of their respective conference cha…

With great risk comes great reward. Congrats to the brothers Harbaugh for making that which is old, new again and shaking up the tried and true.

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Trayvon Martin: It’s Not About Race or Fashion, but Action and Consequence

Seventeen year old Trayvon Martin was gunned down in the street on his way from a convenience store several weeks ago.  Pundits and other talking heads have taken the opportunity of the young man’s death to publicly decry the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law.

Others such as Geraldo Rivera have chosen to use the killing of Mr. Martin as evidence of ongoing racial profiling of black Americans and Latinos by authority figures.  Geraldo asserts that Trayvon was targeted by Zimmerman for wearing a hoodie while being a young ethnic minority.  Never mind that Zimmerman wasn’t exactly a real authority figure, or that Zimmerman was himself, actually Latino.

Either way, the salient point is being missed.  A kid is dead. And that kid was killed while walking down the street, armed only with a soft drink and a bag of skittles while the man who took his life walks free.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have little appreciation for youngsters who traipse through town looking as though the only business that will take their money is the Big and Tall store.  Still, if poor fashion sense were a crime, both Hollywood and WalMart would be ghost towns.

Which brings us to the real problem in this case.  Regardless of whether Zimmerman was prompted by deeply seated racial animus or simply by a fear of kids carrying junk food and wearing one of the most styleless, yet timeless, garbs ever to grace a department store rack, Zimmerman was inside the safety of his own car when he first caught sight of Martin.  He therefore, could not possibly have needed to “Stand his Ground” with Martin because the child was, quite obviously, not on Zimmerman’s ground.

Furthermore, Zimmerman left the confines of his vehicle, his “ground”, and pursued Martin for…being there.  Meaning of course, that whatever transpired, Zimmerman was provocateur, not victim or defender.  Given the circumstances, i.e. that Zimmerman initiated both the contact and the ensuing conflict, it should be obvious to even the most dedicated vigilante that it was Martin who was likely placed in the position of standing his ground when stalked and assailed by Zimmerman.

In all scenarios, including the one presented by Zimmerman, there can be no doubt that had he simply left Trayvon alone, the two individuals would merely have passed like two ships in the night, neither altering the other’s course nor destiny in any way.  As it turns out, for whatever reasons – reasons that probably don’t warrant much in the way of examination — Zimmerman couldn’t bring himself to do that.  He opted instead to set off a chain of events that culminated with him killing a kid.

Today Zimmerman is in hiding, apparently fearful that someone who is actually armed and dangerous will do him harm.  His flight provides insight into how he reacts in the face of danger, confirming that he really does know the difference between real threats (Black Panthers looking for a cause) and those of the imaginary variety (skinny kids with candy).

Still, I would not join in calling for any proverbial form of “Biblical Justice” to be dispensed upon Zimmerman .  We must refrain from becoming that which we deplore. One “Zimmerman” in any society is too many.

It would be dishonest of me to say, however, that I do not derive some satisfaction from the knowledge that even though he does not lay his head down in a six-by-six cell each night, that this child killer does in fact live within the confines of a prison of a different kind.  It is all the more poetic that said prison is of the man’s own making.

None if which, of course, serves to breathe life and vigor back into the body of a child whose days were cut far too short by a man who could rationalize – and to this day still does — bullying and harassing a child.  To death.

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My Victory Over the “System Check” Computer Virus

What do Blue Buffalo Dog Food and nasty computer viruses have to do with one another? Before today, I would have answered, “Nothing.” But from one of the dog food review sites flagged as “safe” by both McAfee and PC Tools pyWare Doctor, my computer picked up what is referred to as the “System Check” virus.

To its credit, McAfee did start throwing up alerts as the virus was downloading itself to my system, quarantining some files as they sought to take up residence on my hard drive. Unfortunately, the anti-virus software missed a few other files, causing me to be greeted with one fake message after another attempting to convince me that my machine was at imminent risk of catastrophic system failure.

Having become jaded by make-believe (or perhaps real?) African Kings offering me the equivalent ransom if only I would pass along my bank account information, and internet pop-ups helpfully advising that my system is performing poorly, a problem with which it, the pop-up would be more than happy to assist, I realized I was en route to being in a very bad way.

The words of one of my favorite childhood reads came to mind. I said to myself, “Don’t panic.” Then I went to work.

I couldn’t launch old standbys such as Task Manager.  What is more, the virus set all of the files on my harddrive to “Hidden” so as to give the impression that the situation was bleak. Since the computer was still operational except for the never ending stream of fake system failures being announced by the virus, I knew that things weren’t nearly as dire as the virus wanted me to believe.

Clearly, the malware was preventing anything that might to used to put it to an end to it from executing, so I opened a command window, navigated to the windows\system32 directory, issued an Attrib -H, copied taskmgr.exe to taskmgr2.exe and ran it. Using TaskManager, I found the offending process and terminated it with extreme prejudice. Windows prompted me with its usual query about sending information to Microsoft. I selected, “yes” and used the collected information to identify the location and name of the virus program, enabling me to delete it from the system using the command prompt.

Once the virus was no longer operational, I was able to launch Internet Explorer and do some research on the infection which I came to learn was known as “System Check.”

The bleepingcomputer website presents some great information on this virus and what steps one can take to clean it up. I disagree, however, with the advice to shut the pc down before removing at least the primary executable. Restarting computers can often serve to complete installation of programs, including those of the malicious variety. Similarly, once a computer is down, there is little guarantee that, depending on the nature of the infection, the machine will come back up again.

The steps I took to recover from the virus were:

  1. I opened a command window and copied taskmgr.exe to taskmgr2.exe. This allowed me to launch the task manager in order to locate and kill the malicious program;
  2. The ensuing windows message asking if it should send information about the terminated program to Microsoft provided me with the exact location of the program, enabling me to delete it from the system;
  3. From the command window, I also copied regedt32.exe regedt32v2.exe. I used the copy to remove all registry entries referenced in the bleepingcomputer article;
  4. At this point, I was able to download the malwarebytes application and peform a quick scan against my computer. It identified additional vestiges of the virus and removed them;
  5. I reconfigured my Start Menu according to the instructions in the aforementioned article;
  6. I downloaded and installed unhide.exe, also from the bleepingcomputer website. It completed restoration of my start menu and also found and handled a few more bits of the virus — a secondary executable file and a few more registry entries;
  7. I kicked off a full scan of my computer with Malwarebytes; and finally
  8. I rebooted my computer.

At this point, my computer appears to be virus-free, a point on which PC Tools, McAfee and Malwarebytes all agree. describes the symptoms of the virus in terms of the messages it spews as follows:

Hard drive clusters are partly damaged. Segment load failure.

Hard drive clusters are partly damaged. Segment load failure.

Critical Error

Hard drive critical error. Start a system diagnostics application to scan your hard disk for errors and performance problems.

Windows – Delayed Write Failed

Failed to save all the components for the file \System320004823. The file is corrupted or unreadable. This error may be caused by a PC hardware problem.

Windows detected a hard disk problem

A potential disk failure may cause loss of files, applications and documents stored on the hard disk. Please try not to use this computer until the hard disk is fixed or replaced.

Windows detected a hard disk problem

A potential disk failure may cause loss of files, applications and documents store on the hard disk. It’s highly recommended to scan and solve HDD problems before continue using this PC.

Hard Drive Failure

The system has detected a problem with one or more installed IDE / SATA hard disks. It is recommended that you restart the system.

System Error

An error occurred while reading system files. Run a system diagnostic utility to check your hard disk drive for errors.

Critical Error

Hard drive critical error. Run a system diagnostic utility to check your hard disk drive for errors. Windows can’t find hard disk space. Hard drive error.

Critical Error

Hard drive clusters are partly damaged. Segment load failure.

As for the Dog Food research? The web site in question was entitled, “Veterinarians Reporting Possible Blue Buffalo Dog Food Concerns” located on I Love Dogs dot Com. Be afraid.

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The GOP Presidential Race — We know drama

Winners and losers, rises and falls, spirited and not-so spirited debates, allegations and innuendo.  And now … bobbing for endorsements with Donald.

I have watched the drama surrounding the question of who will and will not participate in the Trump debate with admittedly little interest.  I do enjoy the debates, but as that most wonderful time of the year — Christmas — approaches, a welcome reprieve from the incivility and let’s face it, insincerity of U.S. politics beckons me.

Still, and although I find that “The Apprentice” makes for amusing, if not altogether interesting entertainment, one has to wonder at the Donald’s self-aggrandizing decision to position himself as toll collector on the road to the Republican Presidential nomination.

Let’s be honest: there exists a legitimate question of how much weight The Donald actually carries with voters.  Trump is undoubtedly a brilliant, and, er, somewhat ruthless businessman from whom any aspiring entrepreneur can learn much.  But Mr. Trump has never served in elected office and his political involvement is limited to rampant speculation about a Trump candidacy followed shortly thereafter by an announcement that he didn’t plan to seek office.  It is, therefore, unclear what, exactly, Trump has to offer in terms of vetting Presidential candidates.

Trump promises huge ratings for his debate.  In concert with the obvious advertising profits for the network on which the program will air, and for Trump’s future marketability as a television personality, the candidates who participate will receive added face time with potential voters as the primaries near, not to mention the opportunity to answer questions posed by a moderator who is friendly to their political leanings.

At the conclusion of the debate, however, Trump plans to announce the grand prize winner to whom his endorsement will be awarded, effectively proclaiming that all but one lacks sufficient mettle in his estimate.  The rest, in Trump lingo, will be “fired” from further consideration in his book.  It doesn’t take genius to realize that “failure” is probably not the last lingering impression that candidates would wish to sear into the minds of voters just days before the primary season officially begins.

Further, if Trump is truly interested is finding and endorsing the best contender to unseat the current resident of the White House, must he really have and host his own debate in order to do so?  Can’t he, like the rest of us, learn what he needs from the several dozen or so debates already on the schedule?  And most importantly, is participation in Trump’s own personal debate truly a measure of Presidential qualification?

It seems that as far as Trump is concerned the answer to the last question is a resounding “yes.” In expressing his surprise at Romney’s declination, Donald was quick to point out that the former does desire Trump’s endorsement after all.  The obvious implication of course is that only to a debate participant will Trump’s endorsement go.

The man who brings us “The Apprentice” and its siblings has amassed an enormous fortune over the years as he has played the strings of America’s free-market system like a master harpist.  In doing so, he has never failed to express his belief in the greatness of our nation’s economic system and of the country herself.  Like so many others who hope to see America regain and retain her majesty and place in the world, Trump recognizes that in 2012 we must elect a president who will true up our country’s course so as to align with her founding rather than “fundamentally transforming” her according to a personal ideology.

As such, Trump must rise to the occasion, find a shelf sturdy enough to withstand the weight of his sizable ggo, set the latter upon it, and keep sight of that which is required of all of us.  Specifically, he best proves his worth by putting aside self-serving interests and instead, wielding his influence to support and put forth the man or woman who stands the best chance of winning come November.  And that, regardless of whether that man or woman sees fit to veer off the well-trod campaign trail to one Trump Tower for this month’s premier episode of “The Candidate Apprentice.”

To whom much is given much is expected.  America stands precariously perched on the rim of the abyss.  Will the real Donald Trump now step forward?  Behind Door #1, we have the spoiled child who takes his ball and goes home when the game doesn’t go his way; behind #2, the ruthlessly capable businessman who knows better than most that when one door closes, another opens and through that door countless more.

However true it may be that Trump would make a great debate moderator, it is equally as much, if not more so the case, that this level of noise and drama is not beneficial to either the party or the slate of candidates.  These are serious times that need to be treated seriously. Consideration must be undertaken with the weight and gravity that a decision of this magnitude — the selection of the next potential President of the Unites States — warrants, TV ratings notwithstanding.

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And then there were seven…

The field of GOP Presidential candidates was winnowed by one today when accomplished businessman Herman Cain announced that he was suspending his campaign.  It is not particularly surprising that Cain did not turn out to be the proverbial last man standing among his competitors.  What is striking, however, is the speed and finality with which his political bid was derailed in the wake of accusations leveled by women whose lack of supporting evidence was outweighed only by the obvious benefits they stood to reap by becoming ever-present – for at least 15 minutes or so – fixtures on the evening talk show circuit.

Mind you, I am not one to downplay the seriousness of workplace harassment.  However, patterns of behavior should apply equally to accuser and accused.   How seriously are we to take the word of a woman whose record indicates that filing sexual harassment complaints – sexual harassment of a not overtly sexual nature, that is – is her modus operandi for career advancement.  Or the opportunity afforded by a media tour to a woman who apparently hasn’t been able to gain or maintain employment in over thirteen years (and counting).  And finally, what weight should be given to yet another perpetually unemployed associate who just this year lost a judgment for making slanderous and libelous remarks about a former business partner.

The drum, “where there is smoke, there’s fire” is oft pounded as a mechanism by which to bolster the women’s allegations since apparently, there is little by which to support them on their own merits.  While smoke can often serve as an early warning, it can just as frequently be used to obscure that which actually lies beneath, or more likely in this case, behind it.

The media owes the American public diligence and truth in vetting our potential leaders.  By the same token, the American people are also owed truth and accuracy in reporting.  Stories, all angles of them, should be researched, scrutinized and fact-checked before being published for public consumption.

Our country was founded on the notion that any American, of any background, can make a bid for public office with no barriers to success barring those of public support.  If we accept as the norm the notion that a small handful of people, regardless of the justness of or motivation behind their words and actions can determine the fate of any candidate, and consequently the outcome of any election, then our system of government by the people (and not just a few) is finished.

Should it come to pass that the manner of Herman Cain’s fall is the shape of things to come, then every American who wishes to participate in a vigorous and active civic life should be very, very afraid.

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