Category Archives: Wonders & Signs

Open Thread: Surviving Sandy

What are your experiences? Lessons learned?



Upsiders complain. And they have been complaining about what new conveniences they didn’t get on the latest iPhone. One of them is a technology called NFC. I complained about the Rams in the NFC West, because of those damned Cowboys, but that’s a different story. This NFC is near field communications, a brand new technology that can best be described as secure bluetooth with a shorter range. But how secure is secure. Downsiders want to know.

How about this for a rule of thumb for downsiders? If it can be done automatically, know how to do it manually. Hmm. I like it.  I think this obviously makes sense for paying for stuff at a cash register, but the idea for NFC is that you don’t have to open up your wallet – that the cash register goes into your wallet for you and takes your money automatically. You know, just like a pickpocket. Nice and convenient.

Well what if I told you that there’s an older Upside technology that already does that? Yes, you may remember that it’s called RFID, for radio frequency ID. It broadcasts a little bit of information (and a credit card number is only a little bit) to a receiver. And what if I told you that there’s a 30% chance that you already have that on your credit card. Hey now! Thing is, any hacker can buy a receiver and swipe you. They’d have to be as close as a pickpocket, but it’s possible. Check out the following alarming 6 OClock News style video, if you have a couple minutes to spare.

Now American Express and Visa and those other guys aren’t stupid. They know that fraud limits the upside uptake of their products. That’s why they have mainframes chugging 24/7 to check all of your prior spending patterns against all new purchases. If you’ve never shopped at Nordstrom and bought $1000 worth of shoes, chances are such a transaction is going to raise hackles back at Visa’s cloud. And of course you are reasonably insured on authorizations post-hoc. You’d be surprised at how much computing goes on while you’re waiting at the register. (Enough so that ‘Free’ is profitable if you only pay 4 bucks a year, but that’s another story). So while it’s absolutely true that you can be pickpocketed, it is less true that crime can be profitably followed up as they showed in the video. What’s more likely is that your credit card information will go into a pile to be sold in bulk on the black market.

Nevertheless, you ought to check your wallet to see if you are vulnerable in the first place. Out of the 40 or so cards I have, only my Chase debit card (on the account that is overdrawn $20 bucks) is vulnerable. Plus, that card stays home, not in the wallet.

I promise that we’ll be getting the wiki up shortly so that you’ll have access to these Downsider facts.. Happy shopping!

Revolution: Mommy Apocalypse

MommyWell, it’s official. Men with stubbly beards are back. They are the new swag. It’s called ‘swag’ these days – you can read that as ‘fashionable manhood’. It’s not quite up to the manly standards of Commander Riker, but it’s doing a bit better than the metrosexual standard we have suffered since the disappearance of Burt Reynolds, no disrespect to Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis, Daniel Craig and Jason Statham. We’re about up to 85% of the Mid 80s Winston Man who was about 85% of the Marlboro Man. So things are looking up, mostly – almost to the point at which I can watch prime-time television without having to suppress my gag reflex. 

Now that I’m thinking about leading men for a hot minute, I think I can safely say that we have finally gotten rid of William Hurt, Chevy Chase and the rest of the boarding school boys club of actors which forced the careers of all the other actors, save the above, into weird corners of manhood where only actors like Danny Devito, Dennis Franz and Joe Pesci could have balls. But let me not get distracted.

The subject of discussion is JJ Abrams‘ new show Revolution. It has a fabulous premise and it needs to grow up really quickly. And it needs to start moving with some speed, or else it will be a terrible waste. I don’t know if Abrams is trying to back out of his reputation for shows that go in seven directions at once or what, because right now things are so damned ploddingly linear it’s practically Gilligan’s Island. 

What have we got? We’ve got a semi-rebellious, semi-heroic, semi-motherly girl with a crossbow. She can be really good but she’s got nothing on Abrams’ other heroines. I guess he wanted to do young and Brave and all that Hunger Game flavor.  Check. He’s got Giancarlo Esposito as a smiling borderline sociopathic military commander who actually cares about his cause. Good move. You’ve got uncle badass with deep secrets about the origin of the plague, which is this case is a suspension of the laws of physics such that electricity doesn’t work the way it used to. You’ve got dead dad, and presumed dead mom, and kidnapped asthsmatic baby brother as the emotional cellar for the heroine. Check. And you’ve got bearded fatboy ex-Googler semi-wastecase in the wasteland, and British babe with long braids, jeans and white shirts as hangers-on in the great Trek. There are boatloads of potentials here, BUT.

Here is yet another apocalypse where all of the cops, engineers, first-responders and Denzel Washingtons have just disappeared. The only rebels we recognize are women and slightly less than Mad Maxes. So basically all the rednecks (which lies deep in every American male psyche) have sold their souls to the evil, brutal and criminal Monroe Militia. Oh, didn’t I mention that? No women carrying guns or water for them. Just dudes with scars on their faces and/or pitiful souls. 

So for the purposes of demoralizing macho, we have an excellent platform. She ain’t Laura Ingram, she’s a hunter, not a farmer. But she’s civilizing the wild frontier as are, I suspect, all of the women in this series so far, with nary a naughty wench to be seen. You see it’s all about family, because it’s all feudal now. 

Here’s the crux. Deeper in the emotional celler of our heroine (named ‘Charlie’) is the drawdown scene where her mom fired on the man who threatened her toddler life in a hostage exchange for a little red wagon full of the family’s only food. Dad had the perverted thief in his sights, the thief said ‘I dare you’ and Dad couldn’t manage to fire. Mom, with an appropriate tear and shaky hands wound up doing the deed. One shot, one kill. Motherhood is a mutha!  

There are swords. There are lots and lots of swords. For that alone this is a superb vehicle, but even though it trawls at 10pm, it definitely is on the PG-13 track. Which ought to be good considering the gratuitous depravity of most of the premium channels, but well… The first commercial break advertised Clinique. So that just about says it all, huh?

We are being patient for some good storytelling, but we have been warned. 

I like the whole fuedal narrative, and there is no doubt that war and revolution are coming. Who’s your Leviathan is the entire subtext I’m reading into this, but I think there’s an opportunity here to be flagrantly wrong or right about some fundamental feminist and other social questions. And that, my dears, is what’s particularly enticing about this new dramatic world, if it can stand up and walk. 

You Might Just Be A Downsider

What is a downsider?

If you think about emergency preparedness even though there is no emergency, you just might be a downsider. If you think it’s rather uncivilized to be rolling around in a luxury sedan while the country is in recession, you just might be a downsider.  If you don’t trust  Iran with nuclear weapons. If you think public bailouts of private failures are a bad idea. If you are on the lookout for Black Swans, you just might be a downsider. If you have solar panels on your house. If you have fresh water stored in your garage. If you own a gasoline powered generator. If you have no fond memories of inflation, you just might be a downsider. If FEMA’s performance after Katrina made you distrustful. If you’d rather learn CPR than wait for help to come. If you have ever been a floor warden at your place of business, you just might be a downsider. If you don’t trust McDonald’s to cook for you. If it bothers you that you can’t fix things that break. If you like watching the Discovery Channel. If you don’t want to be an addict to modern convenience,  you just might be a downsider.

Downsiders are not paranoid. Downsiders simply refuse to be bewildered, helpless or clueless. Downsiders are not excited about the downside, they just want to be cleareyed if such things happen. Downsiders are not hedging against  civilization to cash in on misery. Downsiders are not obsessed with zombies, the Mayan Calendar or the Book of Revelations. Downsiders are not Eloi or Morlocks, but we want to know what the future holds.  Downsiders are interested in being civil under all conditions, of keeping their heads when all about them are losing theirs. Downsiders have intellectual insurance. Downsiders are about figuring out how to live indifferent to fashion. Downsiders are about maintaing personal integrity tested in the worst of times. Downsiders are the enemy of panic.

Come along with us. Explore the potential of life, not completely off the grid, but on the grid that malfunctions.

Not City, Not Sticks

I happen to be under the spell of Charles Dickens for the moment because I am trying to understand exactly how people survived roughly 150 years ago in London. Nobody would have thought to suggest that London of the 1860s was uncivilized. In fact, I’m sure most folks given the choice of being in London in 1865 as contrasted to somewhere like Virginia in the middle of our Civil War, would have picked London for their time machine. And yet did London have radio? Flush toilets? 40 hour work weeks?  Well, here’s the news of 1848.

INSTEAD of there being the slightest chance that wonders will ever cease, we have strong reasons for thinking that wonders have only just begun. The last new marvel is a Company for lighting our streets, our shops, our houses, and even our bed-candlesticks with electric fluid, so that we may sit, and read or write by flashes of lightning, and go to sleep with a column of electric fluid doing duty for a rushlight in our room. The new lights that have sprung up within the last few years have been extinguishing and snuffing each other out in rapid succession. The first breath of science blew out the dips, which fell prostrate und the wan of discovery, and then came the metallic wicks, offering “metal more attractive” than the cotton, of whose existence ingenuity has at last cut the thread. Chemistry then took the candles in hand and superseded with the composite fashion the once popular “mould of form,” until the public, having noted the presence of arsenic, stopped its nostrils and its patronage. The electric light now threatens to supersede all, and considering the universal use now made of electricity, we should not be surprised at the formation of a Company to fix a lightning conductor instead of the ordinary conductor to every omnibus.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1848


Brand new for the wealthiest are electric lights in the nicer part of town. But surely the middle class was tolerable. Particularly, I’m interested to know how well a middle class American might be the proper Connecticut Yankee in Victorian London. What would we know that might advance our station? That is one of the questions we ask here at the Downside. 

I don’t believe that, as the conventional wisdom holds, that American cities would immediately become unlivable if the electricity went out. I think we would have a whole lot less nightlife and we would make our days more productive. Furthermore, I am fairly certain that no doomstead could hold off an intelligent siege. In other words, the power of numbers will still be the superior force no matter how much barbed wire and bullets you might possess in your hidey hole. 

There is some combination that would make a new city lifestyle work. And that’s one of the things to investigate.