Messages in Bottles


by Pappy March 17th, 2011 Posted in: Life , World


I’ve always been enamored with the idea of the message in a bottle. To seal a slip of paper into a tiny buoy and the to set it adrift in the world, not knowing who might find it someday, how they will perceive you as the sender – it’s like reverse voyeurism in a time capsule. But it is so much more personal and certainly less salacious than simple exhibitionism. The general concept is intriguing to say the least.

Message in a BottleAnd then there are the multiple variations on the theme. Students attaching notes to balloons and casting them to the skies. Random foreign pen-pal services. I think we just like the idea of being able to touch someone somewhere else without even knowing where or when we’ve done it.

I listen to the news most days during the commute to work. Things happen in the world, you know? So often my thoughts are left on the people they happen too. Earthquakes, tsunamis, wars, famines, victories, defeats; they’re all the events of history flashing past every day. And in this age of instant media, even with hundreds of these things happening daily, we still seem to see only the event of the moment. Everyone wants to cover the hot news item in over-the-top depth – but only until the NEXT big thing happens tomorrow. Then suddenly its as if yesterday never happened. Of course, that’s until the event anniversary falls on a slow news day.

But still my mind rests on the people left over after the news cameras have gone. It’s those people I’ve always wished I could drop a supporting message in a bottle to.

2011 has started off with a bang, with the democratic human wave sweeping the Middle East, the last the of the shuttle flights, and the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown headlines. So I’ve decided to drop some global message posts to the people of the world when events happen. Call them my own little time capsule messages in a bottle. Nothing special and certainly not newsworthy for most people, but it’s my hope that on occasion someone may stumble onto one that might mean something to just them. Who knows, maybe years down the road as I look back over old posts it may help keep alive the thoughts I was having at the time and make some good fodder for an essay or two.

I’d also like to challenge you to find your own symbolic message bottles to toss out into the world.

(by the way, I’ve posted the vector SVG file of the image above over at OpenClipart.Org for anyone who wants to resuse it)

The Architect – Part 1.


by Pappy March 7th, 2011 Posted in: Technology , Work


Part 1. Introduction: The Career, Technology, and the Enterprise

I’ve contemplated writing this for some time now. I’ve been in professional IT (information technology) positions for about 22 years now. It’s a career I was lucky enough to stumble into entirely by accident. But like many fields I’ve learned there are a lot of misconceptions about the way computer-related jobs work and how we all fit into the grand scheme of the organizations we serve.

I often compare IT to the medical field because it’s an analogy people can relate to and are mostly familiar with. There are generalists and specialists, functionaries who perform the daily (but no less demanding) tasks, and the ‘big guns’ – the neurosurgeon types that only handle the most difficult and extreme of cases. There are administrators and managers, politicians and pawns. It’s a very broad field, and still in it’s infancy by comparison to most other ‘professional’ career choices. New specialties frequently appear (and disappear!) almost overnight. But to most people we’re all just ‘computer geeks.’

So there are a few goals I’d like to accomplish with this series.

  • First, to provide some insight into the IT field, it’s history, career branches, common misconceptions, and general observations.
  • Second, to answer the question I often get asked, that’s not so easy to answer – what exactly do I do for a living? Normally, I just give the general answer ‘I’m in computers’ and that’s enough for most people’s purposes. But occasionally someone wants the real explanation.
  • Third, I’m one of the more rare IT specialists most commonly referred to as an Enterprise Architect. It’s title that’s only really emerged in the last five to seven years and depending on who you ask you may get extremely different answers on what that is. So I’d like to throw my definition into the mix. If you’re already familiar with my previous writings on systemic thought, you’ll see how my definition fits into the specifics of business and technology. (See “Darwin Day” and “Systemic Thought” for more on this)
  • Finally, in order to understand all of the above from my point of view, you need the context of how I came up in the industry: a brief (but hopefully relevant) career history.

For the occasional reader of this blog, I hope it provides some understanding and maybe even a little entertainment. If nothing else, as an introspection it may serve my own cathartic need to continually re-examine who and where I am in life. Either way I hope you come away with something useful from it.

I’ll continue to update this first post with links as new posts in the series are released.

William Fitz Stephen, Sheriff of Gloucestershire [6]


by Pappy March 7th, 2011 Posted in: Genealogy


[6] William Fitz Stephen, son of Ralph Fitz Stephen, was Sheriff of Gloucestershire, a position he shared with his brother Ralph during the 12th century.

Several related trees on Ancestry.Com list his dates of birth and death as 1124 and 1190, respectively. Unfortunately, none of them list valid sources and the only references I have to his existence at all are a single statement from an entry about his brother in one published genealogy, and a confirmation of his name from the AGBI.

Ralph Fitz Stephen, Baron of Wapley by feudal tenure, great grandson of Airard Fitz Stephen, was Sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1171, the eighteenth year of the reign of King Henry II, conjointly with his brother William Fitz Stephen.

If the reported dates are correct, he would have been two years the younger and died the same year as brother Ralph.

Due to his position there is at least some hope of additional documents surfacing at some point in the future.

Sheriff William Fitz Stephen was my 26th great-grand-uncle.

Ralph Fitz Stephens, Sheriff of Gloucestershire [5]


by Pappy March 6th, 2011 Posted in: Genealogy


[5] Ralph Fitz Stephen, born in 1122 in Wapley, Gloucestershire, England, died in 1190 in Gloucestershire, England. He was the son of Ralph Fitz Stephen.

Nearly all I know of him comes from the text of “Stevens Genealogy”:

“Ralph Fitz Stephen, Baron of Wapley by feudal tenure, great grandson of Airard Fitz Stephen, was Sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1171, the eighteenth year of the reign of King Henry II, conjointly with his brother William Fitz Stephen. Through him the family seem first to become residents of this shire with which they remained connected for so many generations. A clue to the cause of settlement in the county may be found in the fact that he became treasurer of the great Abbey of Malmsbury in Gloucestershire, not far from the time that the historian William of Malmsbury was resident there. He had charge as a layman of the feudal relations of the Abbey and the administration of its estates.

“Speaking of the Norman changes in government in Saxon times, Garder says “the local chiefs gave way to the King’s representatives. One local officer grew into increased activity. This was the officer who in each shire had always been especially the King’s officer, the shirereeve, or sheriff,  who looked after the interests of the King, while ealdormen or earl looked represented the separate being of the shire. Under William the Conqueror, earls ceased to be appointed save where they had distinct military duties. Under his successors earls gradually sank into merely honorary dignitaries. But the sheriff was, in Norman reigns, the busiest of all officers.”

“The office was of such power as to be held only by persons of rank, high in the King’s favor, and differed essentialy from that of the same name in modern times. In matters of administration its responsibilities necessitated that the sheriff be at the head of a body of knights and armed retainers. Ralph Fitz Stephens was possessed of landed estates in Gloucestershire. In the latter part of the reign of Henry II, he received the feudal barony of Wapley, of which Codrington was the chief seat, and shortly after 1189 he bestowed the manor upon the Abbey of Stanley in Wiltshire, its income to be devoted to payment for masses for the repost of the soul of the late King. This Norman baron died in 1190, in the first year of the reign of Richard Coeur de Lion, having married — de Berkeley, of Berkeley Castle, county Gloucester, near Easington, by whom he had a son.”

The “de Berkley” referred to above was Sedzilla de Berkley (1130-1192), daughter of Roger III, Lord of Berkley Castle. She and Ralph Fitz Stephen married in 1153, and their son Fitz Ralph Fitz Stephen was born the following year.

Ralph Fitz Stephen is my 26th great-grandfather.

Stephen Fitz Stephen [4]


by Pappy March 6th, 2011 Posted in: Genealogy


[4] Stephen Fitz Stephen was born in 1092 in Gloucester, Gloucestershire, England.

He was the son of Thomas Fitz Stephen.

He was married to Nesta Ap Tewdwr (1073-1136).

Stephen Fitz Stephen is my 27th great grand uncle.

Ralph Fitz Stephen [3]


by Pappy March 6th, 2011 Posted in: Genealogy


[3] Ralph Fitz Stephen. Born 1090, in Gloucester, Gloucestershire, England. Son of Thomas Fitz Stephen.

The only details I’ve found on him say he “flourished in the reigns of William Rufus and Henry I.”

He died in Buckland, Gloucestershire, England.

He had two sons, Ralph (1122-1190) and William Fitz Stephen, both of who shared the position of Sheriff of Gloucestershire.

Ralph Fitz Stephen is my 27th great-grandfather.

Thomas Fitz Stephen, Captain of the White Ship


by Pappy March 5th, 2011 Posted in: Genealogy


[2] Thomas Fitz Stephen, son of Airard Fitz Stephen. Born 1058 in Normandy, France. Died 25 November 1120, in the English Channel.

Like his father Airard, Thomas took to the seas in service to the newly established Norman dynasty of England as captain of the White Ship, also known as the Blanche Nef. It was, at the time, the finest ship in the Norman navy. Rather than fame and fortune, however, Thomas was to find only shame and infamy. Although under orders of the crown prince, his actions led to one of the single most disastrous events in the country’s history.

On November 25th, 1120 a disaster struck in the English Channel which had a dramatic effect, not only on the families of those involved, but on the very fabric of English Government. Some of the following is simply speculation, since only one man survived and he was not one of the crew and would not have known much of what took place on deck with the captain, Thomas Fitz Stephen, and the crew.

The Norman dynasty had not long established itself on the English throne and King Henry I was eager that his line should continue to wear the crown for many generations to come. Despite having numerous bastard offspring, he had but two surviving legitimate children and his hopes for his family were firmly secured by the birth of his only son, William the Aethling: called by the Saxon princely title to stress that his parents had united both Saxon and Norman Royal Houses. William was a warrior prince who, even at the age of seventeen, fought alongside his father to reassert their rights in their Norman lands on the Continent. After the successful campaign of 1119 which culminated in King Louis VI of France’s defeat and humiliation at the Battle of Brémule, King Henry and his entourage were finally preparing to return to England. Henry was offered a fine vessel, the White Ship, in which to set sail for England, but the King had already made his traveling arrangements and suggested that it would be an excellent choice for his son, William.

Prince William was the rock star of the Royal Court, and as might be expected he attracted the cream of society to surround him. He was accompanied by some three hundred fellow passengers: 140 knights and 18 noblewomen; his half-brother, Richard; his half-sister, Matilda the Countess of Perche; his cousins, Stephen and Matilda of Blois; the nephew of the German Emperor Henry V; the young Earl of Chester and most of the heirs to the great estates of England and Normandy. There was a mood of celebration in the air and the Prince had wine brought aboard ship by the barrel-load to help the party go with a swing. Both passengers and crew soon became highly intoxicated: shouting abuse at one another and ejecting a group of clerics who had arrived to bless the voyage. Some passengers, including Stephen of Blois, who was ill with diarrhea, appear to have sensed further trouble and decided to take a later craft.

The on-board revelries had delayed the White Ship’s departure from Harfleur and it only finally set out after night had already fallen. The Prince found that most of the King’s forces had already left him far behind yet, as with all young rabblerousers, he wished to be first back home. He therefore ordered the ship’s master to have his oarsmen row full-speed and overtake the rest of the fleet. Being as drunk as the rest of them, Thomas Fitz Stephen complied and the ship soon began to race through the waves. An excellent vessel though the White Ship was, sea-faring was not as safe as it is today. Many boats were lost on the most routine of trips and people did not travel over the water unless they really had to. With a drunken crew in charge moreover, it seems that fate had marked out the White Ship for special treatment. It hit a rock in the gloom of the night and the port-side timbers cracked wide-open to reveal a gaping hole.

Prince William’s quick-thinking bodyguard immediately rushed him on deck and bundled him into a small dinghy. They were away to safety even before the crew had begun to make their abortive attempts to hook the vessel off the rocks. However, back aboard ship, the Prince could hear his half-sister calling to him, begging him not to leave her to the ravages of the merciless sea. He ordered his little boat to turn round, but the situation was hopeless. As William grew nearer once more, the White Ship began to descend beneath the waves. More and more people were in the water now and they fought desperately for the safety of the Royal dinghy. The turmoil and the weight were too much. The Prince’s little boat was capsized and sank without trace. It is said that the only person to survive the wreck to tell the tale was a Rouen butcher, called Berold, who had only been on board to collect debts owed him by the noble revelers. Finely dressed bodies, such as the Earl of Chester’s, were washed up along the Norman shoreline for months after.

One account from a Stephens family genealogy, says that Thomas Fitz Stephen caught a floating spar of the wreck, but on learning of the death of Prince William was so overcome that he lost his hold and sank into the sea. Being as there was actually only one survivor, this is likely just a nice family traditional rather than having any basis in fact.

After King Henry heard of the disaster, it is said that he never smiled again. Desperate to secure his family’s succession, he had the English barons swear an oath to uphold the rights of his only remaining legitimate child: his daughter Matilda who they were to recognize as their Queen after Henry’s death. But the time had not yet come for a woman to be accepted on the English throne. When King Henry died, his nephew, Stephen of Blois seized the crown and four years later, the status quo degenerated into a patchy Civil War.

Thomas Fitz Stephen had two sons, Ralph Fitz Stephen (1090-?) and Stephen Fitz Stephen (1092-?).

He was my 28th great-grandfather.

Airard Fitz-Stephen, Captain of the Mora


by Pappy March 5th, 2011 Posted in: Genealogy , History


[1] Airard Fitz Stephen, a nobleman of Normandy in France.

Born, about 1036.

Married to Maud (born 1018 – died 1049).

He was captain of the Mora, the ship given to William the Conqueror by his wife, Queen Matilda, on which he sailed across the English Channel and launched the Norman invasion of England in 1066.

Vessels for this fleet had been given by all the leading nobles of the dutchy, many of whom, as well known, embarked on the expedition. Detained by lack of favorable winds, the vessels for the fateful expedition harbored for a time at St Vallery on the French coast, where, as Miss Strickland says “William was surprised by the arrival of his Dutchess, at the port, in a splendid vessel of war, called the Mora, which she had caused to be built unknown to him, and adorned in the most royal style of magnificence for his acceptance. The effigy of their youngest son, William, formed of gilded bronze, some say of gold, was placed at the prow of the vessel, with his face turned towards England, holding a trumpet to his lips with one hand, and bearing in the other a bow, with the arrow aimed at England. It seemed as if the wind had only delayed in order to enable Matilda to offer this gratifying and auspicious gift to her departing lord; for scarcely had the acclamations with which it was greeted by the admiring host died away when the long desired breeze sprang up.”

“A joyful clamor,” says William of Malmsbury, “then arising, summoned every one of the ships.”

The Mora, as depicted on the famous Bayeaux Tapestry

The Mora, as depicted on the famous Bayeaux Tapestry

Wace, in the Roman de Rou, mentions that the Mora was anchored in the outer harbor, and set sail in the lead of the fleet, which it soon left out of sight. In the Bayeaux Tapestry, Queen Matilda has given a representation of this vessel and of Airard Fitz Stephen, but the figure of Prince William is presented at the stern instead of the prow of the ship, and the outlines of the craft are conventionalized so as to diminish the actual proportions.

Arrived on the English coast, the Conqueror slipped in landing, and fell, clutching the sand; but quickly turned the incident to account by declaring that it was a token of his possession of the kingdom. He ordered the hulls of the ships to be pierced so as to prevent easy retreat by his troop.

Airard Fitz Stephen remained for the Battle of Hastings.

He had one son, Thomas Fitz Stephen, who himself became a rather infamous sea captain. More to come of Thomas in a future post.

I have read several historians and genealogists who state that Airard Fitz Stephen is the earliest known reference to the family in England. His father is unknown, although some speculate it could have been Stephen of Blois.

The traditional Norman sirname convention was that “Fitz”, meaning “son of” was appended to the father’s first name and given as the son’s surname. This tradition is derived from the Norman’s Norse (viking) heritage. This could mean Airard’s father was indeed named Stephen, although this is very hard to prove. There is no one specific time frame when Normans adopted the familial surname, so it is also possible Airard’s father was named either [something] Fitz Stephen, or Stephen Fitz [something].

I have no clue about the availability to records or historical references in Normandy prior to 1066, when Airard departed forever with William the Conqueror, but that is where any further investigation of the Stephens must ultimately lead.

Airard Fitz Stephen is my 29th great grandfather. Just for the sake of display, that is to say he is my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.

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Human Evolution In Action: In the Last 200 Years


by Pappy November 23rd, 2009 Posted in: Evolution , Religion , Science


Fore tribe membersImagine this:

You are a member of the Fore tribe in Papua New Guinea, living in relatively small tribal and family groups. Your beloved Uncle has died and you are preparing to take part in a traditional funeral ritual to honor him. As part of the ritual, Uncle’s brains are ceremonially eaten by you and your family; it is a mark of respect.

The event is repeated through the years as other family members die. Some time later, many of your neighbors and even some of your own family members begin dying off rapidly. Even though your people wont eat anyone known to be diseased, the death rate spirals upwards. But not you, nor any of your children. You still continue the traditional practice of eating human brains, and see no negative effects at all. You have no idea that a brain wasting disease, called kuru, is sweeping through your culture. You have no idea that your genes protect you against kuru and have been passed on to your descendants. You may be clueless, but you are an evolved human.

Similar to mad cow disease, kuru is spread through the consumption of infected brains. It spread its way through the Fore tribe, killing at least 2500 members in the twentieth century until its cause was discovered in the 1960s, and the brain-eating practice was finally abandoned. At it’s height, between 1957 and 1968, over 1100 members of the South Fore, mostly women, died of kuru. At one point, there were almost no women remaining in some Fore territories.

Kuru is taken from the Fore word “kuria/guria”, ‘to shake’. It is also known as the laughing sickness due to the pathologic bursts of laughter people would display when afflicted with the disease.

This amazing tale is true, and this week scientists have revealed the even more amazing details behind the discovery. Let’s break down the specifics, released by Simon Mead of the British prion research center at University College London:

  • Mead and colleagues discovered a mutated gene after comparing the stored DNA of 152 Fore kuru victims with over 3000 living Fore members, including nearly 600 who participated in the brain eating practice.
  • In 51 survivors they discovered a variant of PRNP, the gene that makes prions, which are the proteins that spread the disease.
  • The change in the gene comes at a position called codon 127. Throughout the animal kingdom, the codon contains the same amino acid, called glycine or “G”, from each parent, giving the form G127G. To their astonishment, Mead and his colleagues found a variant of the codon never seen in nature before, in which one of the glycines has been swapped for a valine amino acid, giving the new variant the name G127V.
  • The mutation first arose about 200 years ago by accident in a single individual, who then passed it down to his or her descendants, and so on to today’s generation, who still carry the gene.
  • It was a very sudden genetic change under intense selection pressure from the disease.

It comes as no surprise that, just as Darwin showed evolution to occur in the Galapagos, the transition arose and took root in an isolated human population with almost no genetic transfer with the outside world. As if the DNA weren’t proof enough, the mechanisms and conditions under which evolution operates are further demonstrated in this instance as well. This is indeed a very specific and demonstrable case of human evolution, observed almost literally as it happened.

As Mead stated in his release, “I hope it will become a textbook example of how evolution happens. It’s a striking and timely example, given the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species,” he says.

Finally, in keeping with my recent campaign, ol’ Pappy has to poke a dead dog in the eye for no other reason than to watch the twitchy, nervous response that corpses sometimes exhibit when properly agitated. I propose the following conundrum to our religious faithful who will insist this proves nothing:

If this is NOT proof of evolution in humans, then the Fore, and only the Fore people, were granted this genetic miracle by God. As the gene protects the practitioners of cannibalism, doesn’t God therefore condone or even encourage the practice? Does this finally prove that the practice of communion has it’s origins in cannibalism like some of us have been suggesting all along? Does God not love the rest of us enough to bless us as well, given the G127V variant may also protect humans from other prion diseases? And if God created the miracle, then which God? The entire kuru epidemic, the resulting genetic mutation, and the abandonment of cannibalism all happened prior to any exposure to, or influence from, the so-called “true” religions of christianity, judaism, or islam.

Did I say I was only going to poke it once?

Pappy out.

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STUDIES: ATHEISTS SUPPLY LESS THAN 1% OF PRISON POPULATIONS


by Pappy November 22nd, 2009 Posted in: Atheism , Religion


One of the most annoying statements religious people make about atheists is that, without belief in a god or gods, an atheist is without moral character. Sometimes the statements are quite wild, such as “You’re an atheist? You must not have any problems with stealing or even killing then, right?”

Just to set the record straight, then, I give you the results of the following study. Given our (atheist)  relative percentage of the general population, it appears that a religious person is about 100 times more likely to commit a crime that will land them in prison. Either that or we’re just too smart to get caught. Either way, I’m okay with the results…

STUDIES: ATHEISTS SUPPLY LESS THAN 1% OF PRISON POPULATIONS

by Wayne Aiken, North Carolina Director

AMERICAN ATHEISTS

In “The New Criminology,” Max D. Schlapp and Edward E. Smith say that two generations of statisticians found that the ratio of convicts without religious training is about 1/10th of 1%. W.T. Root, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, examined 1,916 prisoners and said, “Indifference to religion, due to thought, strengthens character,” adding that Unitarians, Agnostics, Atheists and Free-Thinkers were absent from penitentiaries, or nearly so.

During 10 years in Sing-Sing, of those executed for murder 65% were Catholics, 26% Protestants, 6% Hebrew, 2% Pagan, and less than 1/3 of 1% non-religious.

Steiner and Swancara surveyed Canadian prisons and found 1,294 Catholics, 435 Anglicans, 241 Methodists, 135 Baptists, and 1 Unitarian.

Dr. Christian, Superintendent of the N.Y. State Reformatories, checked records of 22,000 prison inmates and found only 4 college graduates. In “Who’s Who,” 91% were college graduates; Christian commented that “intelligence and knowledge produce right living,” and, “crime is the offspring of superstition and ignorance.”

Surveyed Massachusetts reformatories found every inmate to be religious.

In Joliet Prison, there were 2,888 Catholics, 1,020 Baptists, 617 Methodists and no prisoners identified as non-religious.

Michigan had 82,000 Baptists and 83,000 Jews in the state population; but in the prisons, there were 22 times as many Baptists as Jews, and 18 times as many Methodists as Jews. In Sing-Sing, there were 1,553 inmates, 855 of them (over half) Catholics, 518 Protestants, 117 Jews, and 8 non-religious.

Steiner first surveyed 27 states and found 19,400 Christians, 5,000 with no preference and only 3 Agnostics (one each in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Illinois). A later, more exhaustive survey found 60,605 Christians, 5,000 Jews, 131 Pagans, 4,000 “no preference,” and only 3 Agnostics.

In one 19-state survey, Steiner found 15 non-believers, Spiritualists, Theosophists, Deists, Pantheists and 1 Agnostic among nearly 83,000 inmates. He labeled all 15 as “anti-christians.” The Elmira, N.Y. reformatory system overshadowed all others, with nearly 31,000 inmates, including 15,694 Catholics (half) and 10,968 Protestants, 4,000 Jews, 325 refusing to answer, and 0 unbelievers.

In the East, over 64% of inmates are Roman Catholic. Throughout the national prison population, they average 50%. A national census of the general population found Catholics to be about 15% (and they count from the diaper up). Hardly 12% are old enough to commit a crime, and half of these are women. That leaves an adult Catholic population of 6% supplying 50% of the prison population.

On my, oh my! No sooner did I post this (literally!) I received an email stating these numbers didn’t make sense. So, in the interest of educating the mindless religoids, here they are simplified:

Murderers Executed at Sing Sing

Canadian Prisoners

Joliet Prisoners

Sing Sing General Population

I think that’s enough education. Should you (you know who you are, M.D.) need more, buy the Video Professor’s DVD on MS Excel and plug the rest of the numbers in yourself. I know, I know, that’s math, and math is a science, and science is BIG WOOLY BAD in the religio-fantasy world, but them’s the facts.

Pappy out.