Finally, A Social Network…

…that I can get behind.

Finally, there is a new kid on the block. And while the deck may be stacked against it, I hope it succeeds. Taking on tech behemoths such as Google and Facebook can be no easy task for a scrappy young start-up. But this service has an ace or two up its sleeve: Privacy and User Control. Imagine that, two things that both Facebook and Google Plus sorely lack.

I am speaking of MeWe by the company Sgrouples. MeWe doesn’t bill itself as a social network but as a private communications network.

Compare MeWe’s 815 word privacy policy written in common English to Facebook’s 5443 word jumble of legalese. If you have ever read a privacy policy, then you know that the shorter the better. It takes very few words to say that your data is protected, but many many words to explain how your data will be exploited.

The site has the full backing of Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the W3C.

“The original idea of the web was that it should be a collaborative space where you can communicate through sharing information. The power to abuse the open Internet has become so tempting both for government and big companies. MeWe
gives the power of the Internet back to the people with a platform built for collaboration and privacy.”  Sir Tim Berners-Lee
To me this seems like a much needed service. So even though I don’t know anyone who uses the service yet, I went ahead and signed up for an account with the hope that it succeeds.
Check out the press release announcing the service. You can find me on MeWe at:
What do you think, is there room for one more social network?
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Posted in personal, Rave, Society, technology, Uncategorized

Haiku

Where armies once rose

Tragic in their majesty

Tall grasses now grow

 

Rose light eastern dawn

Birds awake to sing aloud

Westward lie the clouds

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Posted in personal, Uncategorized

Murder is Murder, Except When It Is Not

As I write this, a large scale manhunt is under way in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania for Eric Frein. Frein allegedly ambushed two Pennsylvania state police, killing one and seriously wounding the other. The reaction was swift. Marshal law was enacted and all resources were put into finding Frein, even adding him to the FBI’s top ten most wanted list.  Since then many many Americans have been murdered. Since these murders were of mundanes and not of the governmental class, they are treated much differently. Reports are filed and a slow and methodical investigation ensues. Just as police can murder mundanes without consequences, the classes are further divided in death.

Frein is a horrible person who deserves to be punished for his actions, just as every murderer does. It is highly unlikely that he will be arrested or tried for his crimes, odds are he will be killed by those hunting him…probably out of sight of the media. Remember Christopher Dorner? The California ex-cop turned cop killer last year? He was burned alive, prevented from leaving the cabin that he had taken refuge in. Kill a mundane and the punishment will eventually be meted out, that is if you happen to be one of the 60% who are eventually caught. But kill a trough feeding cop and you are guaranteed a swift and speedy arrest and conviction (if you are left alive to make it to court).

Murder is wrong. There can be no ifs, ands, or buts regarding that. The problem lies in the fact that we are divided into classes, with murderers of these different classes being treated far differently. Can we agree that this is preposterously wrong in a nation that is supposedly made up of laws, not men? Mundanes and worthless trough feeders should be treated alike, in life as well as in death.

However, we need to think about a type of murder that is worse than the lone whack job taking shots at individuals from under cover. Far worse is organized state-sanctioned murder. This is the worst type of pre-meditation and collusion. Here in Missouri we are preparing to execute our 9th individual of the year, making us the grossest of the 50 states for governmental sanctioned murder. Worse yet, for each of these murders there are untold accomplices. There are judges, and prosecutors, and wardens, and guards, and juries, the 6 million citizens that these people represent, and even a doctor or two. All pre-meditating and conspiring to commit murder.

The day that we get as (or even more) upset by state sanctioned murder as we do by the lone assassin, the closer we will be to having a just society.

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Posted in News and politics, personal, Rant

Riots in Ferguson: A Step Closer to Insurrection

Editor’s note: this is a re-post from The Anti-Media, authored by Justin King and licensed under a creative commons license.

Many question the moral authority of the rioting in Ferguson that was triggered by yet another killing of an unarmed teen. The rioting is a symptom of a larger nationwide trend of resistance to the encroaching police state, and specifically the ability of law enforcement officials to kill, maim, and harass without consequence.

The riots began before all of the facts were gathered about the shooting. The timing of the riot is important. Preemptive rioting and the destruction of private property is the third step in a historical cycle that has played out since the foundation of governments. It is a five step cycle that ends in widespread rebellion and insurrection.

5 steps to insurgency

Pamphlets:

Prior to the digital age, pamphlets were the main method of spreading dissent around the world. The pamphlets examined and questioned the authority of the contemporary governments and control systems. In the modern world, pamphlets have been replaced by blogs, social media, and to a smaller degree, adversarial journalists.

Reactive Protests:

Once the seed of dissent is planted, people take to the streets to voice their opposition to the government. These protests occur after the control systems of the era attempt to diffuse an offending incident.

Preemptive Rioting:

Preemptive rioting follows a period of reactive protests that go unanswered by the government. The people begin taking to the streets and destroying private and public property as soon as an offending incident takes place, rather than waiting and hoping for the government to police itself.

Military or Law Enforcement backlash and crackdowns:

These riots and small incidents of resistance trigger a government reaction. The control systems of the country tighten their grip on the people and further curtail civil liberties and infringe on people’s rights. The government crackdown fuels the resistance movement as more people tire of government intrusion.

Widespread rebellion and insurrection:

At some point during the crackdown, an incident occurs that tosses a match into the powder keg of dissent. At this point, open rebellion occurs.

To showcase an example most Americans are familiar with, the American Revolution provides a clear instance for every phase of the cycle. As early as 1765, agitators were distributing pamphlets and making speeches. Patrick Henry made his “If this be treason, make the most of it speech!” speech that year (Pamphlet Phase). The government was unresponsive to the cries of the people and protests began. In 1770, British troops opened fire on one such protest in Boston. It is known today as the Boston Massacre (Reactive Protest Phase). The King continued to press colonials until preemptive rioting and violence began. While the 1773 Boston Tea Party is the most famous, violence was initiated in almost all colonial ports. In Annapolis, a ship was set ablaze along with its tea (Preemptive Rioting Phase). British authorities could see the coming conflict and attempted to seize arms from the colonials (Military or Law Enforcement Crackdown Phase). When the colonists of Lexington and Concord resisted, the colonies were plunged into open insurrection (Rebellion Phase).

Throughout history the same five phases repeat. The Tea Parties were not just about the Tea Act, they were a strike against the government for a collection of insults and intrusions. Much like the riots in Ferguson, the participants gave little thought to the private property destroyed during the action. Much the same way law enforcement looks at all of the innocent people killed as collateral damage or an unfortunate accident; the rioters in Ferguson (and during the Revolution) see the destruction as justified.

This will not be an isolated case. More and more people are warming to the idea of using violence against police forces that are constantly overstepping their bounds. An armed citizenry will resist oppression and it will be those carrying out the enforcement of unjust laws that become the target of resistance. In other countries during the Preemptive Rioting cycle, law enforcement officers are targeted while they are on duty, and their families are targeted while at home. Even the respected Founding Fathers of this country engaged in attacking government officials at home. Customs official Thomas Hutchinson’s home was attacked and his family barely escaped with their lives.

Without serious reform in what’s left of the justice system, the future is not one of officers walking free after killing an unarmed person; it will be one of officers becoming the target of sporadic violence. Despite the propaganda, being a cop in the United States is safer than being a trash collector. That will change, and officers will become targets of opportunity for those that previously sought reform through peaceful means.

Those in departments that have excused the actions of their officers and made significant peaceful reform impossible, have now set the stage for their officers to be shot while sitting at traffic lights. Only 61% of murders are solved in the United States. Imagine how hard it will be to solve an officer’s murder that is completely random and lacks a direct connection to the shooter. Without a clear motive, there is no place to even start investigating.

This riot is the warning sign of a very dangerous future for cops. This wasn’t an isolated shooter taking out cops; this was a large percentage of the population expressing rage at the rampant police brutality and corruption. It is doubtful that departments will get a second warning. The time for reform is now. Otherwise, the body count the news is reciting is more likely to be that of officers than of unarmed citizens.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
–John F. Kennedy

Editors Addition: Don’t take this as a threat to anyone, particularly law enforcement. It is a simple statement of fact with predictions based on logical consequences. As the police isolate themselves behind gas masks, barricades and the thin blue line, they become the anonymous “other”. As their authority and capricious violence tightens they become the symbol as well as the means of oppression. This is the second armed rebellion in the US this year. There was the Tea Party inspired Sagebrush Rebellion which effectively forced withdrawal of federal forces and now the ongoing resurrection in Ferguson which can be characterized as Occupy inspired. Should these two seemingly disparate movements merge, and with the militarized police propensity to over reaction, we could be headed toward very interesting/dangerous times.

Posted in News and politics, Rant, Society, Uncategorized

Still Replacing Google Services

I’ve been using the internet long enough to remember the wreck it was before Google came along.  Before Google came along, search engines only indexed meta data–and shady sites would lie in their meta data (description tag) causing the accidental opening of porn sites and other things that one would rather not see. Google’s indexing of entire sites was revolutionary and made the web a better place.

Then along came Gmail with its then whopping 1 GB of storage. Before this, webmail services offered a few MBs and it was necessary to delete mail as it came in to keep from exceeding your quota.  Adequate storage was an amazing idea and made the web a better place.

Over time Google released more services, many revolutionary, many amazing, many making the web a better place. I found myself using many of them…Android, Play Store, Search, Docs, Drive, Voice, Reader, Chrome, Music, News, Maps, Calendar, Sites, Books, Picasa, Youtube,…

Then, at about the same time, three events occurred that caused me to re-think my relationship with Google and its services. First there was Google Now, a fairly amazing predictive assistant for Android. Then Google Plus, an attempt by Google to compete with Facebook. And thirdly, Larry Page replaced Eric Schmidt as CEO of Google. Let’s take each of these in order before continuing.

When Google Now was released I quickly enabled it on my phone.  And like many Google services, it was amazing. Within a few days it was offering up suggestions and it quickly became apparent that Google had amassed a huge amount of data about me. They knew when and where I worked, they knew where I went, where I wanted to go (maps searches), who I talked to, intimate details of my life (calendar), and much much more. Appalled, I turned off Google Now and began re-thinking my relationship to Google.

Google saw Facebook eating the internet and cobbled together Google Plus to compete. Not deterred by no one using it, Google forced integration into its other services to push up the user base.  Picasa web was diminished as photo features were pushed to Plus, Youtube comments need a Plus account to use, you can not review an app on the Play Store without having a Plus account, and many more. As it spread, Plus also became more and more intrusive. And since no one uses Plus, there was no added value to this increasingly intrusive activity.

Eric Schmidt was always creepy, but when he turned the reigns of Google over to co-founder Larry Page, the don’t do evil thing seems to have fallen by the wayside. He seems mostly to blame for the ever increasing encroachment of Plus into everything while coming off as Machiavellian to a dangerous degree. From ending popular services to creating a dystopian future, Google has become a much worse public citizen since his return.

These three events, along with the Snowden leaks, have led me to reconsider my relationship with Google. There is no guarantee that Google is a decent steward of my data, even the fact that the accumulated data exists at all, makes it a target for NSA snooping or other nefarious access. The question I had to ask was, “do I trust an ad agency to know the most intimate details of my life?” Despite all the services that it offers, Google remains an advertising agency and amassing a portfolio on each of its users is its main objective. There is an old saw that states that “when a company is giving away its services, the product is you.” This could not be truer of Google, they do not offer these amazing services out of an altruistic leaning. The product is you.

With the decision made to start decreasing my reliance on Google’s many services, the question became how to begin? Particularly when the company has become synonymous with the internet? The rest of this post illustrates my personal pulling back (or is that pushing out?) from Google’s many services, finding alternatives and shuffling data to make things work in a cohesive fashion. My journey will not translate to your path, I only offer it here as one possibility, as they say: “Your mileage may vary.”

Before breaking down the challenges of switching various services, one other point must be brought to light. Integration. Google is huge and its reach is both long and wide, the integration of its various services is perhaps the largest hurdle to leaving it behind. Add a contact to Gmail and it automatically changes on your Android device and on Voice. And since no single service can replace Google (there would be no point in switching if it did) some of this convenience will surely be lost.

With the preamble out of the way, lets jump into switching services, we’ll start with the big one: Search. Google has become synonymous with search to the point that we actually use it as a verb. They are also very good at it, this makes it difficult to find a decent alternative. Two privacy focused alternatives are available; DuckDuckGo and IXQuick. Each of these services had major road blocks preventing me from switching to them as replacements to Google search. DuckDuckGo while offering quality results without tracking cookies does not allow one to filter for recent documents, a feature that I am dependent on for finding things. IXQuick pulls and integrates results from other services giving good results, it allows filtering for recent documents, but its ads are not easily distinguishable from the results. Either of these services may meet your needs, but I decided to go with Bing for the majority of my search needs. Occasionally I still fallback to Google to find that hard to find item, but overall Bing offers a compelling alternative. While Microsoft may be as bad as Google in many respects, using a single service does not allow them to gain as much of my data as Google has acquired.

Google’s Gmail webmail is another best of breed service.  After googling searching the web for good alternatives I tested three services, any of which could be a good replacement. GMX, Zoho, and Microsoft’s Outlook (formerly Hotmail or Live). Both Zoho and Outlook offer contacts and calendar integration and both sync with Android. If these services and integration are important to you you may want to consider one of them.  I decided to go with Zoho Mail (although I do not use their contacts and calendar–see below.)  After setting up a Zoho account, I logged into both Gmail and Zoho through the Thunderbird email client using IMAP, I was then able to drag my Gmail archive into Zoho where it was uploaded allowing me to have continuity. I then forwarded my Gmail to Zoho giving me plenty of time to get my email changed with friends, associates, and services. I use my own domain with Zoho which is free and easy to set up.

Some of the Google services that I was using I found to be superfluous and unnecessary.  So while seeking alternatives, I found that I didn’t really need one, I simply dropped the service. These unneeded services included Google Music, Youtube, and Google Now. I have a large local collection of music and really did not need Google’s Music service. If you stream music you might consider a service like Pandora or Spotify; for buying digital music I use Amazon mp3 store. Since my online video needs are limited, I found Vimeo to be a solid replacement for Youtube. Google Now was simply dumped as not necessary to my needs.

Maps is a hard to do service that Google has done a great job with, finding a replacement was difficult. Two online services which come close to matching Google are Bing Maps and Nokia’s Here Maps. I went with Here Maps and find it perfectly adequate for my needs. It gives good directions, it is fast and fluid, and it is easy to use. Unfortunately, there are no Here Maps for Android. I decided on a paid map app that gives good results, is available 100% offline and has turn-by-turn navigation; OsmAnd+Maps and Navigation, it costs $8 and uses Open Street Maps as a data source.

Google shut-down its RSS Reader making a switch easy.  With the demise of Google Reader many services sprang up to take its place. The Old Reader and Feedly came closest to meeting my needs, they are both very good services. In the end, I decided to go with a self hosted service called Tiny Tiny RSS. Self hosting is not for everyone, but either of the above listed services are good alternatives. TT-RSS was easy to set up on my Raspberry Pi and is fast with a nice interface and keyboard shortcuts.

Google’s web browser, Chrome, was an easy one to replace. I simply reverted to Firefox. Firefox is cross platform on the desktop and also runs on Android. If you quit using Firefox long ago because it was slow, give it another try, it is faster and uses less RAM than ever. Also Mozilla, the makers of Firefox, are one of the best internet citizens.

Contacts/Calendar, if you decided to go with Zoho mail above, then you are all set, these are included and sync with Android using Exchange.  Microsoft’s Outlook service also has contacts and calendar baked in and it, too, seamlessly syncs with Android. Either of these two services are more than adequate replacements for those of Google. Once again, I went with a self-hosted solution called OwnCloud. As stated above, self-hosting is not for everyone, but if you are up for it, OwnCloud is a feature rich web service running on your own server. Since it uses industry standards to sync data, your contacts and calendar are available wherever you need them (although in a vain attempt to protect its own technologies, Microsoft is slow to adopt these standards).

For many, Google’s online documents editor (Docs) and cloud storage (Drive) are indispensable.  I was heavily invested in Docs but since Drive was so late to the game, and lacked a Linux client, I never really used it.  My needs for cloud document editing are quite limited, I use an Android app from Zoho called Writer to edit documents stored on Dropbox which are then synced to my desktop. Zoho also offers online document editing as does Microsoft on its Skydrive storage service. For cloud storage with desktop sync there are numerous alternatives to Drive, besides Dropbox and Skydrive, there is also Box, Copy, and numerous others (Wuala, SpiderOak, etc…); most of these have a mobile application. I would be remiss not to mention that the self-hosted OwnCloud also has online storage with a desktop and mobile client.

The Google Play Books is unique among book services in that it allows you to upload your own books and then makes them available on all your devices. This makes it superior to its main rivals, with Kindel being the main one. Since I only read digital books on my Android tablet, I went with an Android app to replace Google Books.  I chose to go with Moon+ Reader which integrates with the desktop client Calibre and also with Dropbox to load books and synchronize reading position between devices.

Picasa web photo albums used to be a great service, but with the advent of Google Plus it has gone steadily downhill.  Since Yahoo has recently started showing Flickr some update love the decision to move back to Flickr was an easy one. Since Flickr now offers a full terabyte of data storage, the choice was an easy one.

For free web hosting I switched from Google Sites to Zoho Sites, while it has ads, they are fairly inconspicuous.

Google Voice used to be best of breed for online telephony, but it has not been updated in a long time (years?). I ended up porting my number to RingTo and have not regretted the switch. RingTo does number forwarding and has online voicemail as well as an Android app.

I still use Google News regularly and have not found an adequate replacement.

A special note on Android: I am pretty much an Android fanboy. However, I have a love hate relationship with the carriers. To rectify this, I root my devices and install an alternative version of Android based on the Android Open Source Project called Cyanogenmod. Since I have a monetary investment in apps from the Google Play Store, I continue to use this service. However, I keep my usage to a minimum be also relying on two other app stores: F-Droid has only free open source apps while Amazon App Store has paid apps and even gives away a free one every day.

So, with the exception of News and the Android app store, I have completely weened myself of Google’s services. While this does not stop the NSA from accessing all of my data, it at least makes it less convenient than the one stop shop of Google.

What about you, are you re-thinking your relationship with Google? If so, how is it going? When I first started this adventure over 6 months ago it seemed like an insurmountable challenge but turned out to be fairly easy with hardly any inconvenience.

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Posted in personal, Rant, technology, Uncategorized

Off to Missouri

18 years ago I landed in California. It was a 4 month position that brought me here. I was here something like 5 years before it really dawned on me that I might be staying. Life can be funny like that. Tomorrow evening I pack up the dogs and head to Missouri. The dogs know something is in the air, they had their first fight in 2 years earlier today.
Added the wiring harness to my car for the trailer lights, replaced a belt and the battery yesterday. Today the trailer got re-wired and the hubs get greased. Tomorrow the trailer hitch goes on the car. Then there is nothing left to do but load the trailer and hit the road.
It will be a long slow ride across the southern route. Rain in the bay means snow in the mountains, and we’ve been getting a fair amount of rain. I can’t imagine I can get there before Sunday. I am going to be babying my little car, the trailer’s max speed is 55, I’ll be putting along with the slowest of the trucks.
I’ve been visiting folks and saying my goodbyes. Had a final Peets coffee as well as southwest nachos from
Pepitos Deli, and a chicken garlic cheese-steak (it had been a while and it was a disappointment how much the quality of
Philadelphia Cheese-steak on University had declined) . Hit Point Isabel twice today, this evening for a final visit, I can’t imagine that Shadow will ever be back again. She enjoyed her last dip in the bay, no way to convey to her that it is all about fresh water from here on out. Just watched the sun set behind the Golden Gate… I guess nothing else is holding me here.

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Posted in personal, Travel

The Further Adventures of Smokey

If my battery holds out, I hope to share two more camping anecdotes. Probably won’t be near civilization to post them for at least a couple of days.
I am back in the Kern River Canyon after a 10 day hiatus during which I took some friends who were visiting from Michigan to Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and a short trip down the coast. But that is another story…
We got back here the other night and found a campsite to the east of our previous one and much closer to the Kern River. These two anecdotes both concern my 7 year old Blue Heeler, Smokey. I am not neglecting my senior Aussie, Shadow, but she is wise enough not to start fights with rattlesnakes or the other brash (foolhardy?) things which follow. If I were to write camping anecdotes about Shadow they would all be a variation of “we went for a hike, Shadow stayed close and didn’t cause any problems.”
Smokey is a cow dog, when in the car she barks at every cow she sees. Until last month she had never met a cow in person. Since she had adapted so well to our life of travel I decided to let her meet some cows as a reward. So last month I tracked down some cows in the national forest and turned her loose on them. She instantly knew what to do with them, she circled to their far side and gently pushed them to me. I circled away and she nipped at them and they turned to follow. I eventually ran away and called her along (did I mention that I am afraid of cows?)  That is the background for the first anecdote.
This morning the dogs woke me up at about daybreak to let them out of the tent. Which I did and then I lay back down contented, just loving life. It wasn’t long before Shadow started growling…a rumble low down in her chest that tells me she is serious. She is 11 and this was only the forth or fifth time that I’ve heard her do it.
I grab for my glasses and the tent zipper at the same time and i hear a crashing sound from outside. I get the tent open just in time to see a half dozen cows come careening down a 30 foot sand embankment and into camp, with Smokey at their heels. Three cows, two calves and a bull. One cow lets out a bass “mew-oo” that I could feel in my bones. Evidently she had become separated from her calf. I scrambled out of the tent shouting and trying to get them out of camp while scrambling up the embankment away from them. They left out the drive and down the road, the calf-less cow continuing to call out and thankfully Smokey let them go. I am dismayed that Smokey thought it was a good idea to round up a small herd of cattle and run them through camp first thing in the morning. Incidentally, I saw the wayward calf slink around camp to join its mother about 15 minutes later.
I am blown away by how innate this behavior is in Smokey. Shadow, a sheep dog, would herd people when she was young, but without reinforcement, the behavior was extinguished by the time she was 2. The behavior has to be stored in their DNA, what other explanation could there be? It is totally amazing that Smokey would just naturally know what to do with cows. And, while I know that I am anthropomorphizing, I am certain that she had a self satisfied look on her face.
That was a frightening start to the day, but nothing compared to the fear I had for that dog late this afternoon. Like I said earlier, we are much nearer the river in our current camp. So this afternoon we bushwacked our way down to the river. It was difficult to get down to the river because much of it is cut through rock and has a 20 to 30 foot sheer rock embankment. We eventually found a spot that we could get to with about 20 feet of dirt only 2 or 3 feet above the river. Shadow generally likes the water while Smokey avoids it at all costs. I stripped and put my feet in but the river was too cold and fast to get in. Evidently too fast for Shadow too, as both dogs were hanging over the bank getting a drink. Smokey lost her footing and into the river she went. At first I laughed as that dog hates the water. But my schadenfreude was quickly replaced with fear as she was quickly carried down stream. 20 feet and there would be rock faces and she would not be able to get out. While I wasn’t afraid of her drowning, I don’t think dogs drown very easily, I was fearful that it would be difficult to find her or that she might end up on an inaccessible rock or who knows what. I was terrified for that dog. Somehow she ended up on a rock 20 feet from shore. She didn’t stay there long but made a jump for shore and swam strongly to the embankment where she couldn’t get out of the water. I scrambled over the rocks and got a hold of her collar and pulled her out of the river. She was not a happy dog and there was nothing remotely self satisfied on her face. She spent 15 minutes shaking and rolling in the sand before she wanted anything to do with me or Shadow.
I would imagine that she likes the water even less than she did before. Keep in mind that this is the same dog who canoed with me 350 miles down the Missouri River and never once got wet. Coming up from the river we had to traverse a field of poison oak, I can only hope I don’t get a full body dose of itchy rash, both dogs are covered in it and we will sleep in a pile tonight.
I both love and hate Smokey for her bravery. While I admire her heart, I fear that it will be the death of her.

I still hope to write this trip up in depth when I get access to a keyboard, tapping it out on my tablet is a serious drag.

Just to add, I was only gone from here for 10 days but during that time Spring ended and full on Summer started. The flowers are gone and the grasses are dying. It is 15 degrees warmer and we will have to move further up into the mountains soon.
I am coming up on 6 weeks of off and on camping and each day I feel less like returning to the bay area. I am so over traffic and the hectic lifestyle and the opulence and poverty that exist side by side. The chorus for a song that I recently wrote begins: “This concrete ain’t no jungle, it’s a prison don’t you see.”

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Posted in personal, Rave, Travel
foggytown

foggytown

John is a self emplyed technologist living in Berkeley, CA. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, camping, travel, and exercising with his dogs.

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