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Archive for July, 2011

This for all those folks who want to know how to connect to a console port on a Cisco device (or any console, really) using a Mac.  Because OSX is built on a Unix derivative, it includes a number of tools that are built in, including a little application called screen.  You don’t need SecureCRT, Putty, or any other application.  Screen is a powerful application with a number of different uses, but the manual page is as cumbersome as any.  Using it to connect to a Cisco device, however, is easy.  You only need to take three steps to use it successfully.

First, connect your Mac to the console port using any Mac compatible USB/serial adapter.

Second, from the terminal, run the ls /dev/tty.* command.  This will show you the name of the USB/serial adapter as it appears in the /dev directory.

Third, from the terminal, run the screen /dev/tty.<device name> 9600,-cstop,-cs8,-parenb command.  This invokes Screen using the USB/serial adapter, instructs it to use 9600 baud, one stop bit, 8 data bits, no parity.

That’s it.  When you are finished, press and hold the <control> <a> key combination and then press the <d> key.  This will disconnect screen and release the terminal.  If you want to know more about how Screen works and all that it can do, read the man page.

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Courage, Part II

One more thing needs to be said about courage before moving on. Recall in the last post that courage needs a moral compass to direct it and practice to sharpen it. It also needs something to inform it, something to give it the strength of resolve to act when the time comes. That something is love. Not the romantic or erotic love of the man who woos a woman (though he may need that before all is said and done). It is what CS Lewis called agape, or what is really meant by the word charity, a love not motivated by self-interest, a love that seeks the good of the beloved above the lover’s own, even at the lover’s expense.

This type of love can be difficult to understand for it does not rely on affection or emotion. Not because emotion is not a part of agape, but because agape is larger and more decisive than emotion. Agape is the result of a promise; a lawful vow, a covenant between the lover and the beloved. We are frequently told that emotion is love, but emotions can change rapidly based on the circumstances of the moment. An angry word in a moment of weakness, a pretty face and figure passing by, a bad day at work, or even simple weariness can cool the flames of the most ardent lover. Because agape is based on decision and not emotion it can continue to love and seek the good of the beloved even when emotions fail the lover.

Agape can have any number and types of objects. Friends and family are the first that come to mind. There is little doubt that many men are willing to sacrifice to protect their loved ones. But there are more abstract objects; things like country, honor, freedom, the good, the true, and the beautiful. The greater and more noble the object of one’s love, the greater the deeds of courage a man may exhibit. This is not to say that there can be no other motivation behind heroic deeds. Fear, hatred, and greed can all be strong motivators to action, but the action they motivate, however heroic, will ultimately fail. Love ennobles and builds a man up. Evil can only destroy the evil man. Taking it further, love is infinite and will continue to build a man up until, by God’s grace, he enters the Kingdom. Evil is finite and turns back in on itself like a black hole. Hell has boundaries; Heaven does not. So then, the action born of evil motives must eventually fail the one who relies on them. The man who loves his country and his kinsmen will continue to hold the field long after the slave, the oppressed, and the mercenary have fled. He may be defeated, but not until he has given to the uttermost.

This agape, then, is what gives real courage its strength. GK Chesterton spoke of it when he wrote: “the true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him”. Steven Pressfield wrote about it in “The Gates of Fire”, saying: “the opposite of fear is love.” It is mentioned repeatedly throughout Scripture; for example in Romans when St. Paul writes “you did not receive a spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adaption, by whom we cry out “Abba! Father!” or St. John in 1 John 4:18 “…perfect love casts out fear” This is the love that strengthens the courage of the husband, the father, and the employee as much as it does the hand of the soldier in battle. It gave Martin Luther the courage to stand firm against the combined powers of the Emperor of Europe and the Roman Catholic Church. It comforted thousands of martyrs as they went peacefully to face horrible deaths at the hands of the Roman Empire. And it was love for His Father, and for us, that led to the greatest act of courage the world has ever known when a humble Jewish carpenter, God who was made man, allowed human hands to nail him to a cross. The love that held Him there until all was accomplished is the same love that will give us the strength to courageously face every day the moral battles of life until we hear Him say to us, “well done” and enter into His rest.

There is so much more that could be said about courage, and maybe I will revisit it in another post. For now, though, having talked about courage, honesty, fidelity, physicality, it may be time to lighten up. What do you think?

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Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, #1)Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

CS Lewis once wrote a poem entitled “An Expostulation: Against Too Many Writers of Science Fiction”. In it, he complains that science fiction writers transport us light-years away, only to give us “the same old stuff we left behind…stories of crooks, spies, conspirators, or love.” He then asks why he should leave the Earth unless “outside its guarded gates, long, long desired, the Unearthly waits.” It’s easy to see his point. Most of the science fiction written during his lifetime were twice-told tales set on rocket ships with ray-guns instead of revolvers. Lewis was looking for something that was truly unique, something never before captured in a work of science fiction; the genuinely alien. Though I have no proof of this, it strikes me that, since he could not find anything that fit the bill, he decided to go ahead and write it himself. “Out of the Silent Planet” is the result.

Though not science fiction in the strictest sense (there is no hard science to be found in Lewis’ Space Trilogy), “Out of the Silent Planet” certainly qualifies as science fantasy, and is one of the best examples of the genre. Its protagonist is Dr. Elwin Ransom, a philologist and Cambridge professor. While alone on a hiking tour through England, Ransom is kidnapped by two men, Richard Devine and Professor Edward Weston. Weston, a physicist, has invented and built a spaceship, and together with Devine they force Ransom to join them on a trip through space to a planet they call Malacandra. During the long voyage, Ransom deduces from the conversations of the other two men that the planet to which they travel is inhabited, and that he is being taken there to be offered up as a sacrifice of some sort. Though not the typical SF hero, Ransom has no intention of being offered up without some sort of resistance, and shortly after touching down on the new planet’s surface he is able to evade his captors and effect an escape.

This is where Lewis’ imagination takes flight. Ransom encounters flora and fauna that bear no relationship whatsoever to anything Earthly. At first it is a tremendous shock; the world is so alien that Ransom literally does not know what he is looking at. He is like an infant, newborn from the womb of space. He possesses all of the faculties of a grown man, but like a baby he has no vocabulary for what he sees around him. The world is new. There is vegetation, he sees creatures that move on four legs, others that swim in the waters, but has no categories in his mind in which to hold any of them. In spite of his peril, all that he beholds is beautiful and wondrous. Lewis does an amazing job of capturing the sense of awe that Ransom feels as he learns more about the new world he has crossed space to enter.

Eventually, and quite by accident, Ransom stumbles upon an intelligent alien. Though surprised by each others appearance, they do not fly, and Ransom’s contact with sentient life on Malacandra begins. It is a meeting like few in science fiction. The two beings recognize each other as alien, but intelligent, and proceed from there. There is no malice, no suspicion, no hostility, only curiosity and hospitality. Ransom is taken in by the alien, a Hross named Hyoi, and, given that Weston and Devine are not likely to take him back to Earth, settles in for what appears to be a long stay.

His training as a philologist serves him well and it is not long before he is able to converse with the Hrossa, a water-loving race who bear a faint resemblance to giant otters. As he learns more about them, he discovers that their society is completely unlike any on Earth, which of course addresses the complaint of Lewis about SF authors. The Hrossa, and the other sentient races on Malacandra, live in a state of innocence, untouched by the fall of man. Evil does not exist there. There is no crime, no war, no injustice. The three sentient races who populate Malacandra live in peaceful, amicable co-existence. At the same time, it is not some dry, sterile, idyllic utopia. Malacandra is a rich world with a complex past and an unsettling future that its inhabitants seem to accept without fear. The more Ransom discovers about Malacandra, the more we discover how thoughtful an author Lewis was. He never violates the internal logic of his setting. The whole hangs together as neatly as if the place were real and the reader is drawn in and invited to love Malacandra as much as any reader loved Narnia or Middle-Earth.

But “Out of the Silent Planet” is far more than an alien travelogue. Sadly, Weston and Devine do not give up on finding Ransom. He is found, blood is spilled, and the innocence of Malacandra, though not spoiled, is deeply shaken. When this happens, it begins to look like Lewis will fail to achieve his goal after all and the book will turn out to be nothing more than a sermon on how civilized man corrupts the noble savage. Nothing could be further from the truth. The end of “Out of the Silent Planet” is as surprising as everything that has gone before and sets the stage for even greater delights to be found in the second book of the trilogy, “Perelandra”.

“Out of the Silent Planet” is easily one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Lewis successfully creates the appearance of a world that is not fallen. In it, he explores numerous themes that only another book could analyze fully. It is a meditation on what alien intelligences might truly be like, particularly if they are not affected by the fall of man. It is an homage to and working out of medieval cosmology and natural philosophy. It is an exploration of language and its original source. It is a critique of modern science divorced from a moral compass. And yes, given that Lewis was a devout Christian, it is a deeply spiritual work. Hopefully, that last point will not discourage any from reading “Out of the Silent Planet”. It contributes more to the excellence of the whole than can be imagined. One could no more remove Lewis’ Christianity from his work and retain its genius than Bunyan’s from “Pilgrim’s Progress” or Milton’s from “Paradise Lost”. I highly recommend it to all.

View all my reviews

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The Department of Homeland Security is beginning to resemble the KGB. There are so many things wrong with this video that it is hard to know exactly where to begin.


See the original report on this video here: http://www.infowars.com/dhs-video-characterizes-white-americans-as-most-likely-terrorists/

The first and most important thing that strikes me is that it stands contrary to the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Though not explicitly stated in our Constitution, it is derived from the 5th, 6th, and 14th amendments. There is a presumption of guilt throughout that video. All of the concerned citizens in the video presume that the people they observe are already guilty of the intent to commit a crime.

The second thing that strikes me is the use of “fusion centers”. I know what a police station, city hall, court of law, and fire department are. I know who and what policemen, firemen, the FBI, ATF, and other agencies are. I am not too clear on the TSA and why they get to grope people at airports, but I digress. What in the world is a “fusion center”? Who works there and who appoints them? Why would they be interested in what anyone is doing? More important, who manages and regulates them?

Last and most obvious is the almost exclusive use of white males as the purported terrorists. This hearkens back to 2009 when the DHS listed Ron Paul supporters, libertarians, people who display bumper stickers, people who own gold, militia members, or those who fly a U.S. flag as potential terrorists. If it were just the result of political correctness run amok, I would not be so concerned, but I get the feeling that there is more to it than just a desire to be politically correct. Only totalitarian regimes need secret police forces and informants. Such things have no place in a true republic.

Having said all of that, as a good, law-abiding citizen, I will comply with the wishes of the DHS. I wish to report suspicious activity. There is an organization in America that is working hard to characterize white American males as terrorists. This is suspicious in that it is diverting attention from the largest known pool of terrorists in the world. Someone please arrest Janet Napolitano for fostering a culture of paranoia and suspicion, focusing our attention more on each other than our real enemies, thus making us more susceptible to terrorist attacks.

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Be of Good Courage

So far in this series of posts on what it take to be a real man, I have asserted that the following requirements must be met:
1. A man must be male
2. A man must be a man of his word
The next thing I will assert is that real men are brave; they possess courage. Courage, of course, is not the absence of fear, but the strength and ability to persevere in spite of it. We often think of courage in the context of physical danger, and rightly so. The man who puts himself in harm’s way for the sake of others is the model of courage. But there is another type of courage; the ability to stand up for what is true and good in the face of opposition. Outside of the military and civilian security forces, men are not often called on to put their lives in jeopardy. Most of us, however, face these other challenges on a daily basis, regardless of our vocations; moral battles that require no less courage than those that are physical.

In fact, moral battles can be more difficult to fight and require more courage than their physical counterparts. The enemy can be difficult to define. It is not necessarily another human being and it cannot be removed from the battlefield through injury or death. The enemy is often subtle, advancing and striking multiple times before we know that we are in a fight, before we even know it is on the field with us. All too often, the enemy is our own self, the weaknesses that are exposed when we encounter a challenge in the form of a temptation to do something we know to be wrong or neglect to do something we know to be right.

Making matters worse, the field itself is almost never clearly defined. There are no stakes in the ground that mark its boundaries, no lines are drawn up with enemies facing each other, no attacks at the first light of dawn. The battlefield can be the place where we feel most comfortable, least on our guard, at a time when we are most tired and least capable of resisting. But if the enemy and battlefield are so difficult to define, how will we recognize them when the time comes? How can we hope to be brave and do what must be done?

This may sound overly simplified, but in order to succeed on the moral battlefield, a man must possess morals; he must know right from wrong. Courage is nothing without a moral compass, a conscience, to direct and inform it. A man may act based on the strength of his convictions in the face of tremendous opposition (which might be praiseworthy of itself), but if his cause is not just, can it truly be said that he acted courageously? Prowess on the battlefield may be more a sign of cruelty than courage.

A conscience alerts a man to moral danger and enables him to properly identify the enemy, particularly when it is himself. But to work effectively, a conscience must be keen. It cannot be dulled or deadened from disuse, neglect, and compromise. The conscience must be honed daily through careful listening if it is to be worthwhile. Further, it must be based on an absolute standard to be of any use. Like a physical compass, it must point to something outside of itself or the traveler will become hopelessly lost. When a man listens to his conscience and then acts accordingly, he exercises both conscience and courage.

So what, exactly, does that look like? Probably nothing like the great and momentous conflicts we might like to imagine for ourselves; stirring, eloquent speeches in the halls of state, or a dramatic defense in a courtroom. It is far more likely to be something that seems mundane. Examples abound. How often do men find themselves in the company of friends and colleagues who go for a quick laugh by taking cheap shots at the expense of their wives and children? Or maybe they attack an unpopular co-worker who is socially awkward. Perhaps they openly lust after an attractive woman, or they endorse adultery or abortion. These are the battlefields where moral courage will be tested and proved.

It takes the same courage to face times of life that are tedious: to go to work every day to a job that is no longer interesting or fulfilling but keeps bread on the table. To stay and work in the marriage that is going through a long dry spell, as most marriages will, rather than run away to “find oneself”. To continue to work with and pray for the son or daughter that has rejected you and everything for which you stand, rather than abandon them to the whims of society. As Charles Bronson said so well in that great scene from the Magnificent Seven, when a little village boy calls his father a coward for not fighting the bandits:
“Don’t you ever say that again about your fathers, because they are not cowards. You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility, for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground. And there’s nobody says they have to do this. They do it because they love you, and because they want to. I have never had this kind of courage. Running a farm, working like a mule every day with no guarantee anything will ever come of it. This is bravery. That’s why I never even started anything like that… that’s why I never will.” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054047/quotes?qt=qt0345611

The more important a thing is, the more difficult it can be to exercise the courage necessary to stand up for or against it. But in order for our courage to be proved we must act. We must defend our marriages and families, those weaker than ourselves, and the institutions on which society is built against anyone who attacks, no matter what the setting. If we do not, we are cowards and unworthy of being called men. But the more we stand up for what is right, the more our consciences are sharpened and our courage strengthened. We may never need to lay down our lives to save a fellow soldier, but when the time comes we will be able to put our reputations on the line to defend our wives and children. There are no promises, but it is likely that the man who has stood firm in the mundane skirmishes will be ready if and when the great battles do come. He will not shrink from his duty; he will not desert the field of honor. His courage will not fail him in the time of need and, win or lose, he will quit himself like a man. And though the battles I speak of may seem mundane, they are of eternal significance and will stand next to the greatest of desperate charges when weighed in the great balances of time.

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Just once, I would like to hear someone in the public arena apply a little common sense to the issues of climate change and energy policy. Maybe something along these lines…

We should all be able to agree that global climate change has been a part of nature for as long as the earth has been in existence. The earth has gone through periods of cooling and warming long before man was able to have any significant impact on the environment. There are loud arguments from a number of corners about whether human activity has any impact now, much of it centered on the amount of fossil fuels being burned to generate energy. It may take some time before consensus can be reached on whether carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels has an impact on climate change. That does not mean that we should wait before we take responsible action.

We should also be able to agree that it is foolish to simply burn fossil fuels recklessly, drilling and fracking with abandon. There is no question that doing so pollutes the environment. We have been given stewardship over the Earth, to care for it responsibly. Therefore, to behave in such a fashion is contrary to our call. At the same time, we need to secure plentiful supplies of cheap energy without enriching those who are antagonistic to us and to our way of life. To put a moratorium on domestic drilling, artificially inflating the cost of fossil fuels is deleterious to our economy, our national security, and our collective health and wellbeing.

Finally, we should be able to agree that so-called “green energy” is not quite the panacea that some would like us to believe. Electric cars increase our need for energy and rely on toxic chemicals, the production of solar panels generates silicon tetrachloride, a highly toxic substance that poisons the environment, windmills present a threat to wildlife and are not efficient when it comes to generation and transmission of energy, and ethanol is more expensive and less efficient to produce than gasoline.

It may seem that the goals of responsible stewardship and plentiful, cheap energy are at odds, but they are not. By increasing our domestic production of fossil fuels, we decrease our dependence on foreign suppliers and help to improve national security. By removing the impediments that artificially inflate fuel prices, we allow the market to operate more efficiently, improving profitability while lowering costs. The more profitable the energy industry is, the more tax revenue is generated, without increasing taxes. By diverting money from tax revenues already collected by the government from the energy industry to help subsidize research and development of sustainable, alternative energy sources, we can speed up the development and deployment of those sources.

The devil, as always, is in the details, but if we set aside politics in the name of actually doing something good for our environment and ourselves, we might actually get somewhere.

Yup…something like that is what I would really like to hear from a politician. I could vote for someone like that in good conscience. Well…I can dream, can’t I?

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A younger colleague and I were having a conversation when he happened to say that a particular solution would work “for all intensive purposes…” I did not hear much after that because I was laughing too hard.

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