HB1414 – Marshall’s Anti-Gay Attacks Continue

Delegate Bob Marshall, the notoriously anti-gay legislator from Manassas has apparently recovered from his apoplectic fit he threw when the court struck down his beloved anti-marriage equality amendment. For the 2015 session he has introduced HB1414. This little piece of work seeks to exempt state employees or officials from having to help gay citizens.

Here’s the text:

Provides that a person shall not be required to perform, assist, consent to, or participate in any action or refrain from performing, assisting, consenting to, or participating in any action as a condition of obtaining or renewing a government-issued license, registration, or certificate where such condition would violate the religious or moral convictions of such person with respect to same-sex marriage or homosexual behavior.

He has the gall to call it a “conscience clause”. The irony is that the judge who struck down his anti-marriage amendment cited an animus on the part of the state to its LGBT citizens. I guess animus never goes out of fashion.

Even if there were a legitimate religious reason for having such a law (and the legitimacy of any such reason is up for healthy debate), freedom of religion is only one of the freedoms that we enjoy in America. It is just one among many and must be balanced against the other freedoms we enjoy.

However, even bothering to have that debate gives Marshall more legitimacy than he deserves. This bill is state-sponsored discrimination, pure and simple. To call it anything else is to miss that Marshall is using religion to attack a group of people simply because he doesn’t like them. It is more than past time for Virginia to be done with this nonsense.

I urge everyone in Virginia to write to your state delegates and senators to urge them to vote against this bill.

Fitbit: No Healthkit = No Sale

I’ve been a big fan of fitbit. I had a One and later upgraded to the Force. I’ve put up with fairly lame software and fairly fragile hardware because I got something out of it. However, fitbit’s recent decision to not implement health kit for iOS will end up costing them future sales. Mine to name just one.

Fitbit’s decision was posted here. Elsewhere they basically said they didn’t want to implement something that was only of value to iOS users. I get that companies have limited resources and need to prioritize their efforts, but in this case turning away from iOS users is probably a mistake. I chose to remain with iOS, in part, because of new features like health kit and home kit that will integrate across products. Fitbit’s decision to remain a private information silo is shortsighted and limits their product’s usefulness to me. Enough so that when it is time for me to upgrade, fitbit won’t be on the radar.

Of course, there are other factors. My first fitbit force wouldn’t sync. The replacement worked properly until this week when it decided not to sync. The strap likes to pop open on its own with only the slightest brush against something.

We’ve directly bought five fitbits over the years for ourselves and as gifts and probably been responsible for several other sales.  The newly announced Surge looks interesting but if it doesn’t fully support  the environment I use then I don’t see the point.

Rant: Stop Preventing iPad Zoom

This has gone from an occasional nuisance to an epidemic. Too many websites are deciding they know best and preventing the user from zooming in. While there may be legitimate reasons for some web applications to do this, none of the sites I’ve experienced this on actually are in that category.

To make matters worse, these sites tend to use a small font. While this might make the whole page look nice and balanced it also makes it a major squint zone for those of us with less than perfect vision.

While there are some things the user can do to mitigate the problem, they are workarounds that are quite awkward. Here are the two options I’m aware of:

You can enable zooming in the accessibility section of the Settings app. This lets you zoom into any app with a three finger double tap and zoom out the same way. The problem is that navigation is now awkward and the whole experience isn’t as clean as the normal double tap or unpinch to zoom.

The other option is to get a browser that allows you to specify the user agent. Then your iPad can pretend not to be an iPad and websites won’t prevent your zooming. The problem here is that any app that uses the default browser internally won’t get the benefit.

Ultimately, this is a decision by some designer thinking he knows best and foisting the choice on all of us. I, for one, am tired of the eyestrain headaches this is causing.

Just stop! Apple developed an elegant zooming system and unless you have a very good reason to prevent zooming then leave it alone!

Hypocrisy: Virginia

Recent events in the effort to eliminate Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban have done nothing but reinforce the findings of the judge in the Oklahoma case who found that same-sex marriage bans serve no purpose other than demeaning a class of society.

The roar started when the newly elected Attorney General, Mark Herring, announced that Virginia would switch sides in the case from being a defendant to arguing with the plaintiffs. The usual suspects immediately began criticizing Herring, some going so far as to begin an impeachment attempt.

Their “reason” is that the Attorney General does not get to pick and choose which parts of Virginia’s constitution to defend but must defend them all. On the surface this actually sounds reasonable. But, it’s only part of the story. In addition to defending the Virginia constitution the AG must also defend the US constitution. In this case Herring has decided that Virginia’s constitution is in conflict with the US constitution.

There’s plenty of precedent for this. Most recently, then AG Ken Cuccinelli refused to defend a Virginia law in 2013 saying that he believed it was unconstitutional. Yet there was no outcry. No call for him to be removed from office.

What’s different in this case?

The Gays.

This outcry over Herring’s action and the soon to be wasted time and money by the General Assembly in a unwarranted and unwinnable effort to oust him just go to prove that the judge in the Oklahoma case was correct. The lawmakers like Bob Marshall only care about preventing gay Virginians from having any rights under the law and will go to any lengths to attempt to preserve that status quo.

The arguments hold no more water than they every have but it is certainly a sign of their desperation that the volume has increased to such a level.

A Few Days With Fitbit

Lauri and I picked up a couple of Fitbit One’s to help with our fitness efforts. For those that don’t know, the Fitbit One is a small pedometer that you wear on your body and it tracks all your steps. It also tracks the number of floors climbed. It gives you an estimate of calorie burn throughout the day based on your activity. Combined with food tracking it can help you manage your food consumption relative to your exercise a bit more easily. It can also give you a sense of how active you are and how much you move around. You can also wear it while you sleep to get an estimate of when you are asleep vs. awake.

Over the last few days I’ve worn it continually during the day. It’s so unobtrusive I forget I have it on. It silently monitors my steps though it will show them to me on demand. When I come in range of my computer or run the iOS app it sends over the current information to my fitbit.com account.

It’s been fascinating seeing when I move around. As a programmer I lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle so I’m trying to make sure I get enough exercise. Fitbit “rewards” me with virtual badges for achieving activity levels throughout the day. That’s cute and might help some people but I’m motivated by data. Seeing how much I’ve moved and how many calories I’ve burned really helps motivate me to keep moving.

It seems fairly accurate. The floor counting sometimes misses and sometimes give me credit I don’t deserve but it seems to average out. The number of floors may not match the physical number of flights of stairs climbed since Fitbit defines a “floor” as a 10 foot elevation change. This means that I got credit for 11 “floors” during a walk that had enough small ups and downs to account for 110 feet of elevation gain over the course of the walk. This seemed high to me but matched what an iOS walk tracking app said within a few feet. If it is wrong it at least matched the result from a totally different method so they are consistent.

I’ve used it to track sleep a couple of times. The velcro wrist band you sleep the Fitbit into seemed like it would annoy me but I was totally unaware of it after a few minutes. It’s idea of when I was awake pretty much tracked what I remember though there was one definite false negative where it said I was asleep but I know I was awake. I haven’t fiddled with the sensitivity setting for sleep yet but that might rectify that. According to Fitbit I’m sleeping with 95-100% efficiency, falling asleep within 10 minutes and sleeping throughout the night with only a few points where I wake up.

The website is fairly basic but you can integrate with other services like Withings, Lose It! and MyFitnessPal and others. People doing food tracking may find MyFitnessPal a better choice to log food since they are reputed to have a better database than Fitibit. With connected devices like Fitbit and Withings you can remove the need to log weight or most exercise leaving only food to be accounted for. This minimizes the amount of data entry needed so should help minimize the drudgery.

In five days I’ve taken 32,000 steps and climbed 74 “floors” for a total of 14.1 miles. That puts me in the middle of the pack of my four Fitbit friends. Have to see if I can move up to second place!

An Amazing Night

Obama: Reelected.

Kaine: Elected.

Connolly: Reelected.

On any given election having the candidates I supported elected would be more good news than I expect. This is only the second election where my vote for president actually counts at the electoral college.

The good news doesn’t stop there. Perhaps more significant than the above:

Maryland: Marriage Equality passes!

Maine: Marriage Equality passes!

Minnesota: Marriage equality ban fails!

Washington: Looking good for marriage equality!

To win one would have been more good news than I would have expected. To win three (and probably all four) is amazing beyond words!

I was so giddy with excitement last nights news regarding marriage equality that I had to wake Lauri up to tell her the good news. Then it took another 45 minutes before I settled down enough to be able to go to bed.

To all my family and friends in Maryland and Maine: Thank you! You’ve been amazing!

That’s the good news. While there is far more of it than I would have predicted at the beginning of the day, there are still lots of problems.

I wont’ bother to list the ones we heard about for months in election ads. We all know what they are. The ones that I mean are the structural problems built into our political system. The fact that the country elected Obama and sent a much more moderate Senate yet sent a conservative House back to Washington points to more years of gridlock. It also points to how political the House districting system is. The party in power sets up the system to stay in power. It will take 3-4 House elections before this structural inequality has a chance to change based on population movement.

If our political parties don’t learn how to compromise our system is in danger of breaking apart. Politicians need to start representing their constituents and not their parties. This is imperative. John Boehner, in particular, needs to look up the word “compromise” in the dictionary and put it into practice.

Boehner isn’t alone. Both parties are playing Brinksmanship with America. This must end. Remember, all of you work for us. Your job is to govern. Your job is not to scramble for power at the expense of the country.

Hopefully this election will put some of the social issues behind us so we can have a meaningful discussion about the issues facing our country.

Obama vs. Romney

I haven’t made many political posts in the last four years. That’s probably a good thing since it means there’s been fewer high profile political attacks on the LGBT community. Last night’s presidential debate, and our political process in general, has me worked up enough that I feel like I need to get some thoughts down.

This has been the nastiest political campaign I’ve ever witnessed. Because Virginia is perceived as as “up for grabs” the airwaves have been flooded with political advertising. Almost all of it is negative. A great deal of it is factually suspect, if not outright lies.

Both sides have been hip deep in this mess though to my admittedly subjective eyes, the Romney campaign and the Republican super PACs have been particularly egregious. There is something wrong when a candidate will say anything to get elected even when it isn’t true. Romney has been particularly bad at this. He wants to blame the economic crisis on Obama and lose the context of just how bad it was when Obama took office. It doesn’t work that way. We should not have such short memories.

Did Obama make some overly optimistic promises that he couldn’t keep? Yes. Has the bleeding stopped and the recovery begun? Also, yes. You don’t fix a decade of bad decisions in four years. The economy does not turn on a dime (pun intended). It’s actually fairly impressive that Obama has done as much as he has given the Republican party’s stated goal when he took office. I think it was John Boehner who said that their sole goal was denying Obama a second term. Not a word about governing or fixing our problems. Getting back power was all they cared about.

Romney has tried to portray himself as a bipartisan consensus builder. In Massachusetts, where he faced a legislature largely controlled by the other party he had to be. However, it takes two sides to compromise. In DC, the Republican Party has forgotten the meaning of the word. That limits what anyone can do. And now they want to blame Obama for not overcoming the roadblocks they threw in his path!

This is not to say Obama is perfect. I did not really agree with the stimulus package he pushed. However, it does seem to have had a positive effect. Not as much as the Obama campaign says and not as little as the Romney campaign says but enough to get the economy growing and promote job growth. It has amplified the deficit though and it is a problem that will take decades to address. Don’t believe any candidate who says it an be fixed in four years.

Whatever Obamas faults are, we know where he stands and what he stands for. Romney says whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear. First he’s for a woman’s right to choose and then he’s against it. Then he’s for making exceptions in the case of rape or incest. Then he’s against it. Then he’s for it again. What does he really think?

First he wants tax cuts for the wealthy. Then he doesn’t. In this case I think the former is actually true but he’s hiding it behind spin. But, how do we really know? He’s changed so many of his positions that he’s like a teflon candidate. He doesn’t stick to any position.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for people changing their positions. People should be open to change, to growth and honest enough to admit when they were wrong. Obama did this when he voiced his support for marriage equality. We knew where he stood before. We know where he stands now. More importantly, we know when and how he changed his mind.

Romney says one thing to a conservative audience and another to a national audience. He then denies the earlier statement or says it was taken out of context or tries to spin it. Which is the real Mitt?

Do we really want to find out what a president believes only when he takes office? Would you buy a car without a test drive? Would you buy a house without an inspection? Romney says, “Trust me. I can fix all our problems,” but when pressed for details he equivocates. Obama gives specifics.

After watching both men for years I still don’t think Romney has any real empathy with what middle class issues are and for those in poverty, well, they could be from another planet so far as Mitt is concerned. He thinks that companies should be free to do what they want and only in that way will they create jobs. What he fails to realize is that three decades of eliminating regulations created an environment where companies could do what they wanted. Their actions drove our economy to the brink of collapse. Romney appears to have failed to learn anything from this.

Romney decries the high number of people getting government assistance. But, he would eliminate the programs that assist them. He thinks that letting companies keep that money would assist them better. I think they would just put the money in their own pockets and forget the rest of us. Look at what many banks did with stimulus money. They were suppose to use it for loans but instead they used it to bolster their bottom line and give themselves bonuses. It’s a clear example of how that part of the stimulus failed to have the desired effect but it is also a perfect model for what Romney’s policies would do.

Government, for all its faults has the goal of serving its constituents. Companies, particularly public companies, exist only to make a profit. Expecting altruism from corporations is foolish. The only reason companies do anything resembling altruism is because of tax write offs and promoting their brand. In neither case is it truly altruistic. Romney’s actions would eliminate the first carrot. Does he really think they will do what little they do now out of the goodness of their heart? Or will they just keep the extra profit? Will the first create jobs or first line their pockets. HIstory says it will be the latter.

Romney says he believes in small government and that government should not be involved in our day to day lives. Yet he seems more concerned about keeping governments influence over corporations small then its influence over people. Don’t regulate companies but do regulate people. He would tell you what medical procedures you can’t have or who you can’t marry but he wouldn’t tell a company to limit its pollution. How do those positions match up with what he says about small government?

In my lifetime we have had three presidents that ran on small government platforms, Reagan, and the Bushes. All, particularly Reagan and George W. actually did exactly the opposite. They ran up the debt and expanded government influence in our lives. How, exactly, will Romney differ from them?

Clinton, the so-called Big Spending Democrat, had the first balanced budget in decades. I’m wondering if we have the right labels on these people.

I’m not trying to characterize Romney as evil or Obama as a saint. They are politicians and they live in a complex world that we all want to oversimplify. By its nature that does not promote clear communication. I am trying to portray Romney as someone who is the wrong choice because I think his policies are simply the same policies that helped create the problems. His constituency is the Rich, the Corporations. He believes that by helping them he helps us. That’s the idea behind trickle down economics. But, that’s all we get, that trickle. They keep the bulk of it. And in tough times, that trickle disappears. Those policies have never worked to help poor and middle class people. There is no reason to believe they will work now.

Romney says he knows how to run a business and that gives him the skills to lead the country. But, the government isn’t a business. There are certainly lessons that government needs to learn from business but you don’t run a country like a business.