I’ve made it to Chicago for a mini-stop before my Amtrak train to San Francisco, though it wasn’t without some minor challenges.

Stormu conditions in the area led to my first flight from Bradley to be cancelled. Luckily, I was able to easily rebook on a slightly later flight, which went off without a hitch.

Once at Chicago’s Midway, I had a little trouble finding the L train into the city, due to some poor signage, but eventually did. I was also worried about my luggage due to the flight change, but I needn’t have been. Southwest came through!

The train ride was low-key enough, if a litle uncomfortable. I got off at my station, and my suitcase would barely fit through the exit turnstile! With some re-positioning, I just got it through.

The hotel I’m at is pretty nice, with an art-deco look. No time for pictures, though. Perhaps on the far end of the trip, when I return here.

That’s it for now! Preparing to head to the train station for my journey across America!

Recently I purchased and installed an SSL/TSL certificate for this website. Besides wanting to benefit from the security aspects of the installation, I just wanted to see if I could do it. Of course, CPanel, a common control panel on shared web hosts, makes it fairly simple.

So I bought the cert, got it installed successfully, set up the 301 redirect from HTTP to HTTPS, enabled HSTS for so that all page loads are served by TLS, and even went through the tedious task of converting all image source attributes to be served securely. However, I noticed something odd. When I went to try out my redirect, I noticed that articles and second-level pages like the About the Author page would not redirect when I tried to access them from the HTTP protocol. The homepage redirected, but nothing else.

I was baffled because everything I read said it was done correctly. Then I read that HSTS doesn’t work on the initial page load unless you apply for the pre-load program offered by browsers. It takes months to get on the approved list, though, and who has that kind of time where major hacks are now a monthly event? Granted, TLS and HSTS won’t prevent the hack of an insecure piece of software, but I can at least ensure a secure connection for any visitors. In any case, it still didn’t make sense that it would be an HSTS issue, since a redirect should just forward the user to the specified URL format every time. My redirect from www to non-www worked, so why not this?

I finally figured it out tonight. The HTTP to HTTPS redirect must be above everything else in .htaccess. At the very least, it must be above anything not having to do with redirect. In my case, I’m employing a caching plugin to enable gzip and other features, which also modifies .htaccess. For whatever reason, redirect on second-level pages will not work unless the redirect directive is the first one.

I couldn’t find this solution anywhere else, so I hope it helps anyone who might be in the same boat.

My Route Through America

Anyone who knows me knows that although I don’t stray away from conventional trips, I usually only go when someone else is planning the details. Left to my own devices, I end up coming up with trips that are a little out there. Or at the very least, I plan trips people don’t seem to expect out of me. When I went to Bonnaroo in 2012, it was definitely a trip that some folks I know were surprised I’d take.

So that’s why I can announce that I’ll be going on a cross-country, three-city trip at the end of August and beginning of September. Not just any trip, though. A trip by train.

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Today is #WorldIBDDay. I’ve been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease since 2002, though I’ve probably had it a couple years longer than that.  Despite periods of pain, running to the bathroom, diarrhea, long trips to the toilet, and what sometimes feels like very unproductive days because I’m in and out of my office chair, I consider myself pretty lucky. My case is quite mild compared to some people I know. I haven’t had to have surgery (yet), hospital visits for it other than for blood work and when my doctor was based in a hospital, or needed to have ostomy appliances installed. I’ve had to work from home more often than the average employee (thanks for your understanding, TicketNetwork!) and there have been times where, well, the bathroom just wasn’t quite close enough, but not anything worse than that. Not anything physically, anyway.

I don’t say this to put up a “strong soldier” face, I just know that others have it worse than me. Actually, there are some things I’ve long sought to change in my case. The worst thing for me in all of this hasn’t been the physical damage to my GI tract, or the constant bathroom usage, but the psychological cost. I’ve always tried to not let the disease get in the way of me doing things and going places, but sometimes I’ve caved in and let it. I’ve had to cancel appointments and decline invitations, and have closed myself off to simple things like a good walk, all because I feared I wouldn’t be close enough to a bathroom when it came time to go, if only because there’s nothing worse than having to gingerly make your way back to the dorm/apartment/condo.

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Today on Facebook, I made this statement:

So today is Openly Secular Day (http://www.openlysecularday.org/), an event that is primarily focused on atheists/non-believers opening up to other people about their life experience. I could spend some time saying I’m “openly secular,” but this description also applies to any religious person who supports the principles of secular government and other secular institutions, which is most people in my experience. Instead, I’ll take a different route.

I am an atheist, but I’m also a videographer and editor, a webpage creator, an uncle, a son, a content developer, a huge sci-fi/fantasy geek, a grandson, a moderate libertarian, a book lover, a nephew, a cousin, a travel enthusiast, an asthmatic, a Chronie (Crohn’s Disease), and an American.

For me, “atheist” is just one part of who I am, and there are millions of people all across the country and the world who can can say the same.

Though I’ve never exactly hidden it, I’d say I’ve been openly quiet about the matter of my lack of belief, though it’s no doubt been blindly obvious to anybody who’s ever followed along with what I discuss. Yes, I am an atheist, but as I pointed out on Facebook, it’s only a small part of what makes me, well, me! I do other things, I talk about other things, and overall I’d say the issue of belief or disbelief is a rather minuscule part of the profile of my life.

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Today, February 11, is The Day We Fight Back, a semi-organized attempt at letting Congress and the public know that we won’t stand for dragnet surveillance by the NSA. Here is the letter I sent to Senator Blumenthal, Senator from my state of Connecticut. I’ve sent similar letters to Senator Chris Murphy and Representative John Larson.

Senator Blumenthal,

As you know, there have been many revelations in the past several months regarding surveillance activity by the NSA. These revelations, though not entirely unsurprising in light of the ways we already knew the government interpreted the Patriot Act after it was passed in 2001, are nonetheless concerning to me.

While I understand the need to uncover plots by terrorist groups, I do not believe that these activities should be done at the expense of civil liberties. The NSA has routinely claimed to be sensitive to the privacy of Americans, only for a new revelation to expose many of those claims as, at best, partial truths. The revelations that the agency has gathered data from private data lines owned by Google and other companies, as well as its attempts to weaken encryption standards, are particularly concerning.

These actions and others give me the sense that the agency has an attitude that, if it isn’t already, is very susceptible to becoming ambivalent toward civil liberties.

As one of your constituents, I am very pleased to see that you are a co-sponsor for the USA Freedom Act. I am hoping that you will push for the passage of this bill in the Senate, and perhaps even strengthen it, to ensure that it protects civil liberties and does not become watered down in favor of the NSA and other surveillance agencies.

I am also hoping that you will oppose the passage of the FISA Improvements Act of 2013, at least as it currently stands. I do not wish to see the kind of secretive, dragnet surveillance that we’ve learned about in these past months be codified into law.

Finally, I hope you will be a strong advocate against civil liberties violations by not only the NSA, but any federal, state, or local agency that might follow the NSA’s lead in conducting widespread surveillance. Most of the nation’s attention on these matters is currently focused on that agency, but police departments across the nation are currently looking into the use of unmanned drones, and we must ensure that these devices are not used to conduct surveillance on citizens.

I hope that you will strongly advocate for the privacy and civil liberties of your constituents in the coming days and months. I believe the time to do so is now, while surveillance activities are still able to be regulated.

Thank you taking time to read my letter.

Michael Merritt
Manchester Resident

Social CircleI’m sure this is nothing new for most people, but I had an experience the other day that was completely mind-blowing and gave me a bit of a social development lesson.

For a little background, anybody who knows me even a little bit knows I’m not one to talk much, and those who know me a little better know that I’m never exactly the life of the few parties I attend.  This is not uncommon for introverts like me, but I find it particularly hard to initiate conversations and usually only contribute to existing ones if I really have something to say.  Among other problems, this has led to some uncomfortable situations on my part when I’m with large groups of people, where I’m not entirely sure how to fit myself into a group’s conversation.

Friday afternoon was one of those times.  I was at a little going away party for a co-worker, who is leaving the company I work at for another job. Everything started out pretty well. Though I didn’t have much to contribute to any particular conversation, I was at least part of a group. By the time I finished my cake, everyone has gathered into the several little circles you often see at a party. I briefly left to throw away my plate, but when I came back there was no circle with a big enough gap to fit me.

I was a little worried, as this has happened to me many times before.  It’s something that usually leaves me sort of awkwardly standing there, alone, and I hate that.  Not sure what to do, I decided to stand a bit outside one group, in hopes of at least catching a glimpse of what they were discussing.  I forget exactly what it was that prompted me to speak, but I finally had something to say, so I did.  The co-worker came over to address me, and lo-and-behold, I was suddenly part of the circle.  I was kind of astonished at the turn of events.

So, to all introverts out there. You know how all the literature describes us as good listeners? Well, put that skill to good use and jump in at the first available opportunity. You’ll be rewarded for it.

Barack Obama Playing BasketballIt never ceases to amaze me how a single event, action, or activity can be shaped to produce a narrative intended to spread a viewpoint or bias. Then again, we are humans, who have long had the capability to tap into anything and create a story. Tonight I’ve been thinking of sports. It’s fascinating how different athletic and sporting activities have been perceived and interpreted by a group of people, depending on their bias.

Take golf: When the subject of a game of golf is Barack Obama, the narrative is often of a weak, ineffectual, and distant man, seemingly unbothered by the current events, and perhaps demonstrating a dereliction of duty to his office. On the other hand, golf has long been the game of choice of the rich and powerful. We’ve seen it in a thousand movies: the golf course is where lucrative business deals are and tycoons show their power. I don’t doubt reality is much different. When you end up on a golf course a businessman, you have “made it.” But for politicians – at least in Obama’s case – the narrative is complete opposite. It’s not one that’s entirely undeserved, but it is interesting.

Then there’s bicycling: When the subject is Barack Obama, he’s a sissy street bicycler, wearing helmets and taking it slow on the sidewalks (though in most pics he seems to be with his children). Bicycling isn’t always done by the “sissies,” of course. George W. Bush is a well known athletic bicycler, often taking to the dirt on off-road bikes. Of course, the narrative here is between the city biker, who doesn’t have a competitive, aggressive bone in his body, and the athletic competitor, who goes off road to compete.

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For the last full day of the trip, I visited Colonial Williamsburg. The historical city aspect of it certainly isn’t new, but CW certainly has their own spin on it. There were interpreters aplenty, active smithing shops, and reenactments of key events of the Revolutionary War-era city.

I took a tour of the Governor’s Mansion and the Capitol, saw the gaol, the silver smith, and how the colonials made bricks for their buildings, sat down to hear some Q & A with Thomas Jefferson, and (partially) viewed a troop inspection and victory march. Perhaps most interestingly, I witnessed active archaeology at the hypothesized site of a market building.

I liked the site, but again expected all the interpreters/staff to be purely in-character. This wasn’t the case, though, as some people were, such as most tour guides, while others were not, and there seemed to be no particular rhyme or reason as to whom was or was not.

Still, it was very interesting to learn about the royal governor who was almost hanged after he removed the powder from the muskets, and that copper-based green over wallpaper was an ideal color for colonial-era dining rooms.

Well, everyone, this is the last post in this series, unless something of mention should happen on the train home tomorrow. It’s definitely been an interesting and challenging task to update this blog everyday on a vacation, but it was fun.


When the Siege at Yorktown concluded 232 years ago with Lord Cornwallis’ surrender, General Washington recognized the impact of the American success by commissioning a statue to commemorate the battle. But did anyone think that all those years later Americans would still be visiting the site?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. But here we are in 2013, and we still go there, year after year, and for good reason. As I mentioned in the Jamestown update, it’s one thing to hear about the battle, and another to see where it happened.

Today, my cousin and I visited Yorktown, and it is still clear as day some of the conditions the American and French troops had to endure as they closed in on the British. Lots and lots of earthwork done to create a battlefield that perhaps neither truly knew would be the final one up until then last couple days.

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