8:07 AM, 01/13/18

Sitting on the edge of my bed, I yawned, stretched, put on my slippers and ambled down the hall to feed the cat, little did I know my few remaining seconds on earth were ticking away. I stood at my sliding glass door, staring out across the horizon to where the clear blue sky met the ocean. It was going to be a nice day. Maybe we’d go for a hike.

My half-awake body shambled over to the coffee table where I’d left my phone the night before to look at trail options. No sooner had I opened the app than my phone vibrated in my hand; once, twice, three times… Notifications coming in? I looked to the top left corner and saw the little Emergency Alert symbol; probably a Flash Flood warning, those come in with some regularity in Hawaii, but we live on a hill so usually nothing to worry about. But like I said, it was a bright, clear day. Curious I closed the trail app and took a look:

Ballistic Missile Alert

My heart sank, my stomach knotted. I did some quick mental math… Estimates released to the public say that a ballistic missile launched in North Korea could reach Hawaii in 20-30 minutes. It takes about five minutes to confirm a launch and report it to the public. Those minutes were gone. I’d spent them staring out the window and picking a wedgie.

I sat there, in my chair, quietly Googling: “Ballistic missile launch 1/13/18.” Nothing. “Ballistic missile launch hoax.” Nothing. A series of similar searches turned up similar answers. So, I tried social media. I scrolled through Facebook… no mentions one way or the other. I tried Twitter. Just the same old “The President is a dummy” stuff.

“Okay.” I thought, “This is good, maybe it’s just me. Maybe this is some sort of spam text from someone with an exceptionally dark sense of humor.” I got up and quietly made my way back into the bedroom. I opened the door quietly, my wife was still asleep, her phone lying face down on the nightstand beside her. This was good. Surely if this was real it would have awakened her.

I picked up her phone and looked at the screen. My rapidly beating heart sank again. My stomach tied a double knot. There on the screen was the same notification. She’d set the phone to silent the night before. I set it back down without waking her and left the room.

I paced the length of the apartment a few times, my cat underfoot, howling at me to pay attention to him. I finally sat in the hallway, my back against the wall, feet against the opposite wall. The cat crawled into my lap, purring furiously. I pet his face, absently while I looked for a way out of the situation.

“Maybe it’s a network-wide thing.” I thought, “Maybe something got hacked.” I tried to think of someone else on-island who had a different cell phone carrier. A co-worker? My boss? No, it’s still fairly early on a Saturday, surely this is a hoax and I don’t want to bother them about it.  I heard noises coming from the apartment downstairs, should I go down and knock? No, I’ll call my in-laws; they’ll know what’s up. The phone rang, and rang, and rang, and voicemail. Shit.

Reality began to sink in. 8:17 AM. Five minutes left. I began to think about who I should call. Friends and family? I only had five minutes, no way I could get to everyone. Maybe a group text? No. Absolutely not that.

Were there any last words I needed to relay to anyone? Any lingering business I needed to attend to? I couldn’t think of any. One of the benefits of living honest and guilt free; in what I believed to be my final moments I felt no need to reconcile with anyone, about anything.

Big Spoon Little Spoon

Big Spoon, Little Spoon

Any regrets? No.

Life flash before my eyes? Nope.

I realized, later, that I didn’t pray. I didn’t even consider it. There’s an old saying, “There are no atheists in a fox hole.” And yet it never even occurred to me to invoke the divine. So, there’s one question answered, I guess.

Instead I thought about my wife still lying in the other room, the woman I love more than anything, asleep, blissfully unaware of any of this. If I’d had the option, that’s how I’d have preferred it happen; at night, while I was asleep and unaware and maybe they’d find us in the wreckage, big spoon and little spoon. People would smile sadly and say, at least they were together…

I pushed the cat off me and stood up. Sliding my phone into the pocket of my pajamas, I moved from open window to open window closing them ever so quietly and drawing the curtains. I paused at the sliding glass door, stared out again to where the ocean met sky. I was going to have been a nice day. I took a deep breath of fresh air and slid the door closed, letting the curtain fall in place.

I crept back to the bedroom, opening the door just enough that I could get inside, making sure not to let the cat in; he would wake her up for sure. I took the phone from my pocket and glanced at it again. 8:21 AM. One minute left.

I laid the phone face own on the nightstand next to my wife’s and crawled under the blanket behind her, careful, ever so careful not to wa—

I woke her up.

“What’s wrong?” she asked immediately. She propped herself up on one elbow, groggy with sleep. She knew.

“Nothing.” I lied.

“What’s wrong?” She asked again. She was calm, but confused. Perhaps she could feel my racing hearth pounding against her spine, I don’t know, but something had put her on alert.

“There was…” I started, “I got an emergency notice on the phone. There was a missile launched at Hawaii.” I felt my throat begin to tighten, “About fifteen minutes ago.”

“Oh,” she said, processing. “Did you close the windows?”

I smiled, “Yeah.” And tried to pull her back down to the pillow. Maybe if she didn’t wake all the way up I could coax her back to sleep before it hit.

“Okay.” There was a pause, “Why aren’t the sirens going off?”

Wait. Why weren’t the sirens going off? Back in December, the state of Hawaii began testing the Ballistic Missile attack waning sirens at the same time as they tested the monthly tsunami sirens. In the event of an attack, they were supposed to sound. But outside all was quiet.

It hadn’t even occurred to me, but somehow in her half-asleep haze her brain had gone to the logical place mine had completely overlooked.

“Hand me my phone.” She said.

8:23 AM. Any second now.

I rolled over and scooped them both up, handing hers to her and logging once again onto social media. She began responding to a text from her sister while I started scrolling furiously though my Twitter feed. People had begun posting, people were scared and confused. I skimmed tweets as fast as I could. Sifting through mainland news and panicked posts from other islanders as I looked for something official from someone official until finally my eyes settled on a Tweet from Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard:

False Alarm Tulsi

False alarm? False fucking alarm? I’d spent the last twenty minutes wrestling with my mortality because of a false alarm?

I nudged my wife with my elbow and showed her the tweet. She looked at for a second, squinting in the low light against the bright screen. “Oh,” she said finally, “that makes sense.” And returned to texting her sister, letting her know that all was clear.

I, too, began to sound the all clear to anyone who would listen, sharing and retweeting and ranting until finally my heartbeat began to normalize.

Still lying in bed, thirty-eight minutes after this whole thing had begun, my phone begins buzzing frantically a second time. The little exclamation-point in the upper left corner letting me know another Emergency message was waiting to be read. False alarm to the false alarm? I can’t say it didn’t cross my mind.

With trepidation I opened it up:

Ballistic Missile False Alarm

Finally. The official all clear. Nearly forty minutes after the initial notification. Keep in mind that, accounting for the five minutes of silence before the warning came out, that’s six minutes longer than the longest estimated flight time I’d ever seen published. If it hadn’t been a false alarm, we’d have already known it by then.

I didn’t even know how to react. It was too late to be relieved, it had just stirred me up again, my stomach was twisted and my head was starting to hurt. I needed to just walk away from all of it. I got out of bed and let the cat into the room.

I turned to my wife, “So… You wanna go get some breakfast?”

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Net Neutrality: Flipping the Table

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the Net Neutrality debate lately, as I’m sure a lot of people have. Me, I tend to approach most political questions from a non-political philosophical point of view which has left me scratching my head on this one because unlike a lot of questions where I can usually find a strong philosophical foundation for my stance, Net Neutrality has left me in a bit of a lurch. Allow me to explain.

Disclaimer: What you’re about to read are the philosophical musings of a non-expert. My opinions are my own and are almost certainly ignorant in some or many regards. I’m still working through this.

I’ve long subscribed to an individualist vs. collectivist school of thought when it comes to philosophy and morality. The idea that all decisions come from either a place of individual interest (which prioritizes what is best for you, the individual) or a collectivist interest (placing value upon what is best for the group). This is based largely on the Objectivist principles of Ayn Rand which I spent a lot of time with as a teenager and through my early twenties (Wait! Don’t go, keep reading, seriously). But where she focused on a rational self-interest as the only moral standard, I’ve come to understand that there is a rational group-interest which is often overlooked. There is a place where acting in favor of what is beneficial to the group might be in one’s own best interest as well and it doesn’t get enough attention.

But unlike my own train of thought, discussions I’ve had have found most people approach this in almost purely political/partisan terms when deciding whether they approve of the FCC’s recent decision to abandon the Net Neutrality rules put in place in 2015 or not. Where Net Neutrality lands on that scale seems be determined largely by how you see the internet as an entity.

 

Argument 1; It’s a Physical Commodity:

The internet, at it’s most basic, is a series of physical components trading physical electronic impulses (packets) across a physical network. All of these physical components are the product of someone’s hard work. Like any other product, the producer whose blood, sweat and tears went into developing it should be free to trade the fruits of his/her labor without someone else deciding how much it’s worth and who they can and cannot sell to. In short, keep your government out of my business.

And there’s a certain undeniable logic to that. A logic that the individualist in me agrees with wholeheartedly; I believe firmly that a person should be able to live their life in the way which is most fortuitous for them so long as it’s not harmful to anyone else. This includes their business interests. Economically speaking, this philosophical tendency leans toward Capitalism as it’s logical conclusion.

While I don’t believe that “corporations are people,” I can’t deny that corporations are run by people, and it’s in those people’s rights to run their business in the way they believe is best for their profit margins. The people who’ve invested time and money into developing the infrastructure which makes the internet possible should be allowed to determine how it’s operated. They are the service provider, after all, and you cannot force a person to provide a service against their will. That’s called slavery.

 

Argument 2; It’s not the Simple:

But we’re not just talking about electronic impulses here are we? Those packets carry information. Information which is the voice of millions of individuals. Does not our Constitution guarantee each of us the freedom of speech? If the big ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are allowed to determine what information goes where and when and how fast, as is their right, how is that fair to the rest of us? Does limiting access to certain media infringe upon the rights of a free press?

There’s a lot of talk about streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu and Amazon, or gaming services or a number of other internet-reliant forms of entertainment being impacted by the repeal of Net Neutrality, too much I think, because it misses the point. It puts the argument into a business vs. business context in which the ISPs will always win because it’s their cables/servers/satellites/etc. But this isn’t a business vs. business issue. The question is whether or not the internet is a public space, and whether ISPs have the right to hold the keys to said space.

The facts that the internet as an entity, is ubiquitous, spans the entire globe, and is not beholden to any one ISP should place the question of whether the internet is a public space firmly into the “Yes” column. And as public space, we should each have access to it; or at the very least, our available access should be as equal as possible provided we have access to the necessary hardware.

There’s a logic here, as well, which is hard to deny; that for the betterment of the collective these ISPs should be forced to serve everyone equally.

 

Here’s Where it gets Hairy:

And let’s not forget those electrical impulses. That information, those ideas. Is it right for these ISPs and telecommunications companies to have the power to direct the flow of ideas; the trade of information? As outlined above the “Individualist” and “Collectivist” lines are pretty clear, but I can’t help but think it’s inherently flawed.

Historically speaking Collectivist regimes have spent long hard hours stifling creative thought and the trade of ideas. From Fascism to Communism, making sure everyone thinks the same thing is the single most important point of security when it comes to maintaining power. Make sure no one questions the leader.

On the opposite side of the coin, individualist philosophies have flourished when the exchange of information and ideas are at their most free. When there are fewer barricades between conception and creation, when people are free to make contacts and contracts and build (we’re speaking idealistically here, of course).

And yet, net neutrality flips it all on it’s head. In America, the political Right, the group who claims to champion Capitalism and the rights of the business owner and individual consumer, cannot stop cheering about how they’ve finally ended the “oppression” of Net Neutrality and given the power to control the internet back to a handful of people who run the ISPs. While the political Left, the group most often associated with collectivist ideologies and governmentally controlled social programs is crying foul and calling this a loss for free speech in America.

And I can’t say that either of them are necessarily wrong and it’s thrown me for a philosophical loop. So, I’ve had to ask myself, what’s more important; individual business interest? Or the free trade of ideas? Who do I side with?

 

Censorship?:

In the past I’ve seen a backlash to certain websites banning or restricting access to certain types on information. There’s always a host of people who start screaming, “This is censorship! I have free speech! This is America! You can’t do this!” And I’m often the guy who steps in and reminds them that “Censorship is a regulatory action and as a private, non-governmental entity [this website] has the right to filter whomever/whatever they want.” Logically speaking, this would extend up as far as a privately-owned ISP. But what if I’m wrong? Not about what censorship is, but about an ISP being a non-governmental entity?

Let’s ignore the question of whether telecommunications companies are federally subsidized and just ask something fundamentally more interesting. At what point does a private entity become a governing body?  No, the telecommunications companies don’t have direct state control, but to say that they have no governing influence upon our lives is naïve at best. If we look at the internet as a virtual dimension spanning the globe, a world on top of our world, then the ISPs are absolutely the nations and states of that world. They draw the borders, they set the terms, they make the laws. But is a virtual world on top of our world beholden to the laws of our world? Does a virtual state which overtakes and expands the borders of our physical state beholden to the laws of our physical state? That’s a tricky existential question, so let’s bring it back down to earth.

Telecommunications companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying in Washington, pushing policies which are advantageous to their bottom line. In some cases, private entities have even written legislation which Congress later voted on. How can we say that entities which have this much influence on our government are still non-governmental entities?  At what point do we say to these huge corporations, “You’re a part of the government now, you have to abide by the same rules the government does.” In terms of ISPs, that would include not infringing upon the First Amendment and maintaining without interruption the three principle terms of Net Neutrality; No Blocking, No Throttling, No Paid Prioritization, and if you don’t like it, keep your business out of my government.

Photodump

One of the things that’s kind of a bummer about doing these trail blogs is that when I’m out on the trail I see and take pictures of a lot of cool stuff which, when it comes time to write, gets filtered out for various reasons.

So, since I accidentally created an Instagram account a while back that I haven’t used and a whole bunch of people have started randomly following it, I figured I may as well toss up some of the photographs that don’t make it into the blog. Reason I’m posting this now instead of just doing it is to apologize in advance to anyone who might have chosen to follow my Instagram account and is gonna get hit with a whole bunch of hiking pictures all at once.

I’m gonna try to space it out over the next couple of days until I eliminate the backlog, but after that I’ll upload in real time, or as real time as my cellular network will allow. Oh, also, I’m not a great photographer, and I’m shooting on my phone so I make no claims to quality. Hopefully this can be improved with time.

So, if you already follow me on Instagram, I’m sorry. If you don’t already follow me on Instagram, you can now totally follow me on Instagram! Aren’t you lucky!

https://www.instagram.com/snarkipelago/

A Funny Thing Happened…

High Peaks Hiking

A while back I decided I needed to take a step back and reduce my internet presence. I wrote about it here before. It was, in large part, to help me clear my mind of the clutter induced by social media, current events, and just the life-by-proxy nature that comes with interacting with people across thousands of miles.

Part of that effort included escaping to the forests and attempting to fit a weekly hike into my already packed schedule of television and video games. Believe it or not, in the eleven weeks since making that decision I’ve hiked thirteen separate trails to varying degrees of completion. So, so far, I’d say it’s been a resounding success.

I think it was about the fourth week of consecutive hiking that I decided that I wanted to share my experience with friends and family. The island of Oahu has some truly beautiful and unique scenery which I thought acquaintances both locally and afar might be interested in seeing. In addition to this, Hawaii is just dripping with history and folk-lore everywhere you look, and I wanted to share some of that as well.

And so began the Trailhead trail blog; my weekly write up of trails I’ve hiked on the island of Oahu. And it’s been good so far. It keeps the writing gears oiled and operational and, probably even better, when I come back from a hike with a phone full of photos I feel like I have something to write about. I don’t have to come up with a clever idea, or interesting characters or a plot twist or any of the other sometimes-burdensome conventions of fiction writing. Instead I can just tell my story with only mild exaggeration.

The “funny thing” is that I didn’t expect retreating to the forest to steer me back to the internet.

Though I withdrew in large part from Facebook, I increased my presence on Twitter. There’s a different vibe there which is just less intrusive to my thought process, and it’s better for networking and such which is how I stumbled upon High Peaks Hiking.

High Peaks Hiking is an online hiking and backpacking outfitter based out of Northern New York. Their mission is to help make hiking appealing and accessible to everyone by not only peddling high-quality gear at reasonable prices; but more so, just by reminding people that hiking is a thing you can totally do to get outside, get healthy, and get away from it all.

It’s an idea that really resonated with me, so when I saw a “Blogger Wanted” post on Twitter, I figured, “Why not?” I’m going to write this stuff and share my photos regardless of whether or not anyone reads it, why not get it seen by a wider audience? So, I shot them an email telling them a little about myself and linking them to the blog here.

A representative responded to me in a matter of hours saying they really liked what I was doing here and they would love to host my work as a guest blogger on their community page. We kicked about some details and, long-story-short, I’m a shill now!

Every few weeks or so, when I go on an especially satisfying hike, I’ll send it over to them, they put it on their site and I add a link to their site on my end. Mutually beneficial, just the way I like it. As of today they’ve accepted two of my trail blogs; the Ka’ena Point Trail and my newest, the Kaunala Loop Trail and it’s been great so far.

I’m really looking forward to continuing the trail blog and have some good ones coming up that I can’t wait to share, and High Peaks Hiking is helping me share them with a much wider audience. Also, I got a coupon code for 10% off on swag, so…

Oh, I’ve also been tinkering with some new fiction stuff too, but I don’t want to talk too much about that lest I convince myself I’ve already finished it; because apparently that’s a thing.

Trailhead Update: Aiea Loop Trail

Due to its centralized location, ease of access, and the happenstance of being situated within the boundaries of one of Oahu’s very few public campgrounds, the Aiea Loop Trail is unarguably one of the most heavily trafficked unpaved trails on the island.

The Aiea Loop Trail is an off-shoot Kea’iwa Heiau State Recreation Area, and said heiau is the first thing you’ll see upon arriving. I didn’t realize there was a heiau near to our destination because I do all my research retroactively for some reason, so I was surprised to see it and wanted to check it out.

Read the rest…

In to the Wilderness

Into the Wilderness

Onward!

As I mentioned before, I’ve been trying to get out into nature more often, see the lesser known parts of the island, to move around a little more and let the fresh air and physical exertion help me to clear my mind.

And so, with the help of the Alltrails app and my trusty sidekick, Matt the Dinosaur, we’re going blogging… about hiking… Which we’re also doing.

In the last eight weeks, we’ve have hiked seven different trails of varying lengths and varying degrees of quality and difficulty and as you might have guessed, I’ve started writing about those hikes.

Both hiking and writing serve a similar function for me; escape. In writing I can un-tether my mind from the day-to-day mundanity and/or insanity and drift off into alternate worlds. Hiking allows me much the same freedoms, only I can take my body along for the ride. So, considering the strong thematic link, in only makes sense that I host the “Trail Blog” alongside my fictional work. I’m also having a lot of fun with the formatting and stuff that comes with doing these.

In addition to pictures, I’ll also try to dig into any relevant history, or mythology, or just interesting local trivia whenever I can; so hopefully these will be more fun to read than a typical hiking blog. As always, feedback is welcome!

There’s a clicky thing right HERE which will take you to the Trail Head (see what I did there), or you can access individual trails from the drop-down on the menu bar. I’ve got three trails up there already and a few more written (pending formatting), and at least two more hiked but not written about by the time you’re reading this.

Going to try to update this thing about once a week, so click the “Follow” button that’s hiding around somewhere and you’ll be notified by email when I do.