Thursday, April 28, 2011

Technology - a ticking time bomb

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

Every day, Americans continue to build on our love/hate relationship with technology.

Some love and embrace technology and all of its gadgets. Others detest our computerized world. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle.

Technology is great — when it works.

Hollywood has been fond of making cataclysmic movies for decades. I doubt that anyone can count the number of ways that movie makers have brought our country, or the world, to the brink of destruction. Computers of one sort or another have been responsible for the havoc caused in some of these scenarios.

There is a certain air of reality, or at least plausibility, to how our ever-increasing dependence on technology could prove to be our undoing.

I don’t believe that it takes a genius to figure out that if a person or group could disable our technology, ie: our computer systems, they could bring us to our knees.

One has to look no further than the recent Internet issues brought about when, one of the country’s largest web servers, went down, followed less than a week later by a hacker stealing Sony PlayStation user information. An enormous number of websites served by Amazon were rendered inoperative. Sony customers now live in fear that their personal information is in the hands of criminals.

What is even more scary is that a large percentage of our population, especially those under, say, 30 years old, have grown up with computers and their benefits. Many of them have no idea how to operate, or survive, in a society that is not dependent on a machine.

I don’t believe that it is much of an exaggeration to say that most of our under-20 generation would be lost, literally, if someone took away their cell phones.

If I were looking to wage “war” against America, I would look for ways to disrupt our technology. We have stopped using our brains, our wits and our ingenuity. Most all of our “lives” are computer-based. What better way to defeat us than to take away our computers?

How many of us are thrown for a loss when we drop our cell phone in the toilet? It is not, so much, the loss of the phone, but the phone numbers, email addresses, and calendar that also “goes down the toilet” with the phone.

We are too dependent on machines. Period. Our kids can type. Our kids can’t write. Our kids can add, subtract, multiply and divide — on a calculator. Our kids can Google but few can use a dictionary and even fewer even know what an encyclopedia is.

Adding insult to injury, more and more service manuals for everything from cars and trucks to washers and dryers are available online … only. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great convenience. But, what if something just knocks us offline?

Some of you are going to say, “well, our technology is redundant or, it is backed up.” Technology is not infallible. It does fail. It will fail.

As we put more and more responsibility for everything, from our daily personal lives to the very security of our country, in the “hands” of computers we are edging further out on an ever-weakening limb. It is not a question of “if” there will be a failure. The question is “when” it will fail.

In the event of such a catastrophe, those who lose the least, and those who will recover most quickly, will be those who still believe in using their mind and those who are ready and able to use their hands and their brains to recover.

The Darwin adage, “survival of the fittest,” still holds true today.

Friday, April 8, 2011

"Idol" thoughts

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

I was given some advice many years ago about a difference between men and

women. This sage advice has never proven itself more than in the past two


What was the advice? Women, I was told, when faced with an important

decision, are far more likely to react based on emotion than on reality.

That does not mean that the females of our species are not capable of

basing a decision on facts, just that they are more likely to react


The next issue is that while most everyone who enjoys music knows what

they like best, few are even remotely qualified to really and truly judge


I have seen no figures to support my theory, but am willing to bet that

the following is factual. Far more females than males cast votes for their

favorites on American Idol.

There is no doubt that the remaining finalists on American Idol 2011 are,

far and away, the most talented group in the history of the show, but when

it comes down to it, only one can be the next American Idol.

From the time that the finalists were announced, I told my wife that Paul

would be relatively safe. While his voice is unique, and I am sure that he

is a nice guy, his singing is not even in the same league with a few of

the other contestants. Not to mention that he dances like a guy with

electrodes attached to his private parts. Sorry ladies, but he just

doesn’t cut it. The problem is that women vote for him because they think

he is cute.

Sorry, all of you Paul fans, but I consider him the weakest of the

remaining contestants.

Let’s see, what is another female-type emotion? Ah, yes … jealousy. Ah,

come on now, we all know how women can be. Face it, Pia is cute. Heck, she

is downright good looking. Many women are jealous of other women. Why, you

ask? Heck, if I actually understood women …

So, it is time to vote. On one hand, you have a decent-looking guy who

sings, well, okay, but the word “unique” seems to best describe his voice.

While dancing, or at least moving with the music is not a deal breaker on

Idol, one would think that it should be included in the judgment of

overall performance. Just come right out and say it, Paul couldn’t do the

hokey-pokey and look comfortable.

On the other hand, you have Pia. Okay, she hasn’t exactly looked like a

contender for Dancing with the Stars, but from the moment she tried out

for Idol, I have yet to hear one, that’s right, one, missed note. She is

in a league all her own among female performers this year.

The same tonal accuracy can be said about a couple of the male singers,

but Pia was the only female that was … perfect, vocally. Yet, the women of

America voted her off the show.

What does all of this mean? What is the moral of my opinions?

Quite simply, it means that, if American Idol is really and truly a talent

competition meant to identify the best of the best in a given season, then

the decision should not, repeat not, be left up to “America.”

Some of the changes made by Idol producers prior to this season have

breathed new life into the show. Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez joining

Randy are the best group of judges in the history of the program. Idol was

set to get its second wind and look at another ten years.

I know that the audience participation thing is popular. What a fitting

word … popular. For Idol has turned into a popularity contest with teeny

boppers voting hundreds of times … for what? Are they voting for the most

talented singer? No, they are voting for the cutest guy.

“America” has taken all of the legitimacy out of American Idol. If you

want legitimate, take the voting out of “America’s” hand and put it back

into the hands of people who know the business.

Like that is really going to happen. After all, this is America, where

ratings and selling ads are always far more important than truth and accuracy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Walking a mile (or 7) in their shoes.

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

Rubbery legs make each step an adventure. The combined weight of gear totaling 80 pounds joins forces with gravity to push your feet into the very pavement on which you tread. Putting one foot in front of the other, each step puts you one step closer to the objective.

You ask yourself, why are you even here? What possessed you, a middle-age photographer, to ask for the opportunity to participate in a ruck march with members of Bravo Battery, 1-134th FA, Ohio National Guard?

As you march, it comes back to you. You felt that in order to really understand how our citizen soldiers feel during training, you needed to experience it yourself. You needed to feel what they felt, up to, and including, wearing the same equipment they wear and bearing the same load that they carry.

A ballistic (bullet resistant) vest weighing more than 30 pounds is wrapped tightly around your torso. The vest alone is heavy. It is designed to stop most small-arms fire. For maximum protection, a pair of half-inch-thick ceramic plates can be inserted to protect vital areas from high-velocity rounds. Your vest contains these plates, an extra 10 pounds, or so, so that you can fully experience a soldier’s burden.

In order to provide maximum protection and not chafe skin raw, the vest must be worn with all the elegance of a herd of boa constrictors worn around one’s body. Like a boa, with each breath as the miles click off the march, the vest feels like it tightens around your body, making breathing a challenge in itself.

As you concentrate on keeping each leg from buckling with every step, the sharp crack of fireworks and the whir of bottle rockets passing close by, grabs your full attention. The troops have hit the dirt on either side of the trail. You have just been “ambushed” by “enemy insurgent forces.” You hit the dirt alongside the soldiers, your body driven into the ground like a pile driver by the weight of the heavily-loaded ruck sack.

The soldiers are busy. Although they bear similar loads, they scurry to locate the “enemy”, overcome his fire, and win the engagement. The radio operator is on the air, calling in the contact report and, if necessary, getting a dust off (medical evacuation helicopter) in the air to take wounded soldiers off the field of battle.

As an “embedded” photographer, you struggle to get your camera in action, shooting photos of your unit in “contact.” Shooting is difficult. The pack on your back makes it feel like you are attempting to take pictures while under a huge boulder.

After the “enemy” has been destroyed, your unit nimbly gets to their feet as you struggle back to your’s, not wanting the soldiers to see the fatigue and rubbery legs.

The march continues, left foot in front of right, and again … and again, as your objective gets closer. The pace set by the point man for the entire march is one that would make a race walker sweat.

You are spaced in combat intervals. A distance of about 10 to 15 yards separates each soldier. If a hand grenade of mortar round lands among your unit, fewer soldiers will be killed, or wounded if you keep the proper distance between soldiers.

When it is all over, you have bore your 80 pound load for a distance of seven miles. It is not hot, not even warm, but your clothes are damp with sweat.

As you slip the ruck off your tired, aching shoulders, and release your body from the confines of the bullet-resistant vest, you finally inhale an unencumbered breath of air.

Your body feels like a Humvee ran over you … multiple times. Yet, there is a very satisfied feeling, that, you have accomplished a goal. You have walked the walk.

You drive home thinking that you now know what it feels like. But wait, during this exercise, being “under fire” meant firecrackers and bottle rockets. You recall that when these same soldiers reach their deployment destination, there will be real enemy, with real weapons. They will be carrying even heavier loads than you experienced on this training march and if they fail to react quickly, and correctly, they could lose their lives. You realize that they are not “playing army.” These citizen soldiers of the ONG are preparing for war.