July 26th, 2015

Peter G

The Whole Shooting Match

(Full disclosure:  I don't like guns myself, but I support the right to bear arms.  I'm not one of those "ban the guns" types, because the people buying and using guns legally are not (usually) the ones I have to worry about, so banning guns just seems like punishing the people playing fair while the cheaters continue to carry on.  Admittedly, in this instance, there was nothing that could be done, as the shooter bought his guns legally.  But I don't think eradicating guns from the country is the answer to the problem.)

On Thursday night, in Lafayette, LA, a gunman walked into a movie theater and opened fire.  He killed two people and injured nine others before killing himself.

On Friday morning at work, one of my loudmouth dipshit co-workers began talking.

And repeating the same old song.  "If someone in that theater had a gun, they could have stopped him!  What's the point of concealed carry if you aren't going to use it?!?"

I keep hearing this same thing every time there is a national tragedy.  It's the "What if?" writ large.  The idea that random tragedy can somehow be controlled, that we humans are somehow ultimately in control of the world and our lives and we can make a difference.

But we don't.  We can't.  People who don't deserve success and recognition, who are driven by ego, who treat those below them like dirt, are worshipped as gods (every time I see someone talk with reverence about Steve Jobs, I want to punch someone).  Meanwhile, people with ability, with talent, with humility, those that can make the world a better place, are ignored or exploited as a resource and never allowed to be more than what people want them to be.  In movies, books, song, we hear that we can make it if we try, that lack of effort is the only obstacle to being a success.  Try being a writer for a couple of decades, and see how long it takes before hearing that makes you want to funnel sulfuric acid through your ears.

We live in dangerous times, in a society that has been trained to find any reason to hate and put down and is now practicing it on any target they can find, and responding to any criticism or detraction not with consideration but with singular dismissal -- "Oh, they're just haters.  Your behavior is just fine, and if they liked you, they'd see you as just being you instead of acting like an entitled snot."  We have done such a good job of teaching ourselves to not see other people as people but just obstacles to our self-fulfillment that we no longer accord them any empathy.  We are building a society of narcissistic psychotics, who see nothing wrong with a random act of violence.  In this case, both the shooter and the guy I work with who wants to arm the citizens.  Both want violence visited on favored targets, the only difference is what makes those targets favored.  Killing for the right reasons, that's the excuse.

I pinched the bridge of my nose when I heard this.  Like I said, we don't want to admit we are at the mercy of a cruel world and random chance, so we seek something, anything, that enables us to say, "This could have been prevented, we could have asserted our authority over Fate."  And this line of reasoning, arming all citizens, pops up every time there is a random public massacre, that the bar scene in Chuck Norris' Code Of Silence can be made real.  I heard it after the planes were hijacked on 9/11.  I heard it after Columbine.  After the Aurora Theater shooting.  After Sandy Hook.  And in the days after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, I heard it again, but as validation instead of wish fulfillment.  I will get to Giffords in a moment, because it ties in with the point I wish to make.

Feeling weary, I turned to my co-worker and told him, That wouldn't have changed anything.  It would have made it worse.

"No, it wouldn't have!"

First of all, this is Lafayette, Louisiana.  I can guarantee you at least one person in that theater was strapped.

"So why didn't he shoot back?"

Because he knew it was dangerous.  Think about it:  a gunman walks into a darkened theater and starts shooting.  You have to pull your attention aware from the movie, override flight response, stand up from your seat, draw your weapon, get into position, and somehow hit a target in a dark environment without hitting any of the panicking people running for their lives.  You have a better chance of wounding or killing an innocent person than you do hitting the gunman.

"If everybody in that theater was armed, there would have been SOMEONE with a clear shot."

It's not as simple as giving someone a gun, though.  They have to be trained.  They have to know what to do and when to do it.  And some people just don't have it in them to control themselves.  Otherwise, no one coming back from Iraq would have PTSD.

That statement illustrates the point I want to circle back to about the Giffords shooting.  When the gunman opened fire, several of the people in the crowd coordinated and apprehended the gunman.  But this isn't inborn behavior.  It's not something people just know how to do.  The culture of Arizona is frontier country, where guns are just tools and a part of everyday life, where how to handle them and how to take action without being mistaken for another target gets drilled into you at an early age.  You will NOT get this same behavior in, say, New York.  You cannot use the Giffords shooting as an absolute guide for human behavior.

Like I said, there wasn't anything that could be done here.  This wasn't someone who bought the guns illegally or anything like that.  As far as anyone knew, he was just fine.  Under the current system, there was no reason to suspect anything.  And you can't really change the system without negatively impacting the law-abiding citizens who like their guns and are responsible people.

It was a cold, cruel, uncontrolable world.

Whose graveyard we keep trying to whistle by.


Orbital -- Phase 1 Finished

The cabinet is as done as I can make it right now.

I'm not going to work on the marquee yet.  I have to disassemble the whole thing in order to attach the T molding, so there's no point in monkeying with it right now anyway (it will affect how far out the marquee brackets go).  Also, I'm not sure if the big control button will be final, I might go for a slightly smaller one.  This also gives me time to engineer and implement a coin acceptor that hopefully doesn't require a separate circuit pushing 12V to work.

But enough of that.  Here's the unit so far.

The display is going in the middle, the brackets are holding well.  I was thinking I had to engineer the display from a single board, but then had the thought of just using the brackets.  To disguise the gaps, I'll simply use T molding.  The display will be removable to gain access to the batteries and components running the game, making it much more convenient.

Originally, I wasn't going to bother with easy access to the bottom of the machine where the coins would land.  I was just going to screw the kickplate in place, and anytime work or coin retrieval was needed, just unscrew it.  But after fighting to install the brackets and periodically dropping screws, screw bits, drill bits, and even the brackets themselves into the guts of the cabinet, I became grateful that I'd engineered a simple way to flip the front up and reach in.

This basically means that updates on Orbital will be slowing for a while.  At this point, the T molding (which should just be a short afternoon job) and the marquee are the last of the cabinet assembly to worry about.  Now, I need to work on the actual electronics.  So I need to break out the breadboard, Arduino, and fire up Sylvia (IBM X31 with the programming and testing software) and work on the game itself.  It will also give me time to figure out a coin mechanism and where I can put it on the machine that won't interfere with anything.

But the hardest part, engineering the cabinet?  It's done.  Go me.