Hemp Shortage in 3... 2... 1...

Seriously.  If all y'all government idiots keep this up, we're going run out sometime in October.

First up, a young Texas man (yeah, yeah - he just turned 19, so technically still a teenager) has been in jail since March for the heinous crime of trash talking during a League of Legends game.

A Texas teenager who has been in jail since March faces an eight-year prison sentence because of a threatening joke he made while playing an online video game.

In February, Justin Carter was playing “League of Legends” — an online, multiplayer fantasy game — when another player wrote a comment calling him insane. Carter’s response, which he now deeply regrets, was intended as joke.

“He replied ‘Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head, I’m going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts,’ and the next two lines were lol and jk,” said Jack Carter, Justin’s father, in a statement to a local news channel.
What the... seriously?  You have got to be kidding me.  I see far, far worse in WoW trade chat on any given evening.  It's a tasteless joke, sure; but in context, any reasonable person would figure he was just exaggerating for effect.  Unless, of course, you're the woman who reported him:

But a Canadian woman who saw the post looked up Carter’s Austin address, determined that it was near an elementary school, and called the police. Carter was arrested one month later, and has been in jail ever since. He recently celebrated his 19th birthday behind bars.

Looked up his address?  Why?  If you honestly thought he was a threat to someone, why bother with that step?  Did she think he was a lazy psychotic killer?  "Oh, man, I'd totally go commit unbelievable acts of violence, but I'd have to walk, like, three blocks.  Maybe next week." [1]

Meanwhile, if you're the police, why do you put this guy in jail over something like this?  Investigate him, sure.  Have someone with experience in diagnosing mental illness check him out, and if he is really disturbed, get him somewhere where he can be treated.  Do something proactive instead of leaving him to rot in jail for the crime of making a tasteless joke.

Either there is way more to the story, or there are some folks in Austin whose careers deserve a good ol' length of hemp.

Next, we have a University of Virginia student charged with three felonies because Virginia state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents are (a) thuggish idiots who are (b) incapable of telling the difference between a case of beer and a case of water, and (c) can't grasp the concept of "check out the situation to make sure we're not endangering ourselves or others before performing the canonical example of a career-limiting move":
When a half-dozen men and a woman in street clothes closed in on University of Virginia student Elizabeth Daly, 20, she and two roommates panicked. 
That led to Daly spending a night and an afternoon in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. Her initial offense? Walking to her car with bottled water, cookie dough and ice cream just purchased from the Harris Teeter in the Barracks Road Shopping Center for a sorority benefit fundraiser.

A group of state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents clad in plainclothes approached her, suspecting the blue carton of LaCroix sparkling water to be a 12-pack of beer. Police say one of the agents jumped on the hood of her car. She says one drew a gun. Unsure of who they were, Daly tried to flee the darkened parking lot. 
"I couldn't put my windows down unless I started my car, and when I started my car they began yelling to not move the car, not to start the car. They began trying to break the windows. My roommates and I were ... terrified," Daly stated.
Good Lord. Six plainclothes law enforcement officers, one with a gun drawn, jump a young lady and her friends in a dark grocery store parking lot.  What a great idea!

Now, I know that under those circumstances, my first thought would be, "Wow, this totally normal, and exactly the way that I would expect police to approach me!" [2]

However, Ms. Daly had the entirely unreasonable view that she and her friends were in terrible danger, merely because they were being attacked by gun wielding thugs [3] who were yelling at her, jumping on her car, and trying to break her windows.  How ridiculous, right?  I mean, it's not like anybody has ever impersonated a police officer.

Riiight.  I wonder if Harris Teeter sells rope?  We could use six lengths, I think.

So, naturally, she is the one who ends up being charged with a crime:

Prosecutors say she apologized profusely when she realized who the agents were. But that wasn't good enough for ABC agents, who charged her with three felonies. Prosecutors withdrew those charges Thursday in Charlottesville General District Court, but Daly still can't understand why she sat in jail... 
Agents charged Daly with two counts of assaulting a law enforcement officer and one count of eluding police, all Class 6 felonies carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $2,500 in fines per offense.

Thankfully, the charges were dropped.  Kudos to Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman for having the good sense to look at the situation sanely.  I can only hope that some good will come out of this situation.  By which I mean, everyone involved in this dunder-headed bit of idiocy gets busted back down to zero, tossed out of their agency, and ends up having to work the graveyard shift   as a Wal-Mart greeter for the remainder of their days.

[1] Just in case you're concerned about my mental health, dear reader, pleased be advised that this is an example of a what we edumacated types call sarcasm, which involves the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.
[2] That would be another example of sarcasm, just in case you're keeping score.
[3] Feel free to substitute "ABC agents" if you're feeling pedantic.  Not that there's much difference between the two in this story.

Sliding Down With The Post Office

A couple of months ago, in Going Down Easy, Sarah Hoyt spent some time talking about what she called "the gentile slide into chaos", where she noted:

This post comes from the fact I was talking to my husband and said “the first thing is usually the post office going unreliable.”

The post office?  Really?  She went on to explain:
The slide goes like this – it begins with mail distribution twice a day six days a week, and the mail fairly reliable in the sense that yes, you do get human error and things delayed a bit.  Then it goes to once daily...
Then slowly the mail becomes more unreliable.  Then one day is cut out.  Then delivery is every other day.
BUT the most important thing is how unreliable it gets.  We’re already pretty unreliable, the reason they’re mostly used for spam.  (Though their tendency to misplace stuff doesn’t help.)
But along that slide comes the time when the mail is COMPLETELY unreliable.  Anything you entrust to them has a fifty/fifty chance of arriving, and anything even vaguely useful/valuable WILL get stolen, unless you’re very, very crafty.
An interesting idea: post office reliability as an indicator of societal health.  I wondered how reliable an indicator this would really be, though.  So the post and comments got filed away into corner of my mind that records all the various bits of trivia that I come across on a daily basis.

It might have stayed there for a good long time, except that it got dragged back into daylight by this recent post from Peter [1] at Bayou Renaissance Man:
I ordered some business cards to take to Libertycon, which Miss D. and I will be attending this weekend.  To my intense displeasure (euphemism!), the package was shown by the courier service as having been delivered, but I hadn't received it.  Inquiries proved fruitless.  This evening Miss D. and I went for a short walk, and found the package ripped open at the side of the road and my business cards thrown into the nearest storm-water drain.  Clearly, someone had hoped to find something valuable inside, and tossed the contents when they proved worthless to him.
Emphasis mine.  Hmmm.  What did Sarah have to say about that?

This is a sign post on the way down.  When you start seeing outright unabashed theft by postal employees, and no attempt to track down your registered package, it’s time to have your preparations for the rest of the slide made.
Because that type of theft is a “societal strictures have broken down.”  It’s not “the neighbors will rape and pillage” but it is the “people will pilfer from strangers as a matter of course.”  A package, entrusted to strangers to carry across the country is, of course, at high risk.
Bad delivery person?  Bad neighborhood?  I don't know.  The "pilfer from strangers" idea does seem to be gaining some traction with government employee now, though.  Just look at the TSA.  Which makes me think that it might be prudent to keep a closer eye on news reports about the postal service (and the TSA) for a while.

[1] Speaking of which: take the time, go to Amazon, buy his book, and enjoy.  Srsly.  "Take the Star Road" is good, solid, classic, Heinlein-esqe SF.  You'll be happy, Peter will be happy, and - best of all - he'll be encouraged to write moar books, which will make us all happy.  It's a win-win-win situation, all for the low price of $2.99!

Lest We Forget

President Obama would like you to forget Benghazi.

The White House would like you to forget Benghazi.

The State Department would like you to forget Benghazi.

The media would like you to forget Benghazi.

Hillary Clinton would like you to forget Benghazi.

Unfortunately for them... we remember it pretty well.

Yard signs outside of Tarentum, PA.

One Fast Library Of Congress

Pittsburgh, PA June 26, 2013—Avere Systems, the leader in network-attached storage (NAS) optimization, has announced today that the Library of Congress has selected the company to increase the efficiency and performance of its storage infrastructure.
The Library of Congress website and file repositories will be supported by Avere’s FXT Series Edge Filers, enabling congressional and public users quick access to valuable content.
The mere existence of data doesn't do you any good unless you can get at it.  Just ask the NSA. 

Mining The Heavens

In which Gizmag visits the company’s Bellevue, Washington headquarters and talks to the President and Chief engineer, Chris Lewicki.
A nice little article.  One of the highlights:
Our capacity as a species to move into an area, become the masters of that area, to improve the quality of life for everyone by using resources and developing businesses and creating economies means we’re at a point where we don’t want to constrained by the surface of this planet. Our mission statement is expanding the economic sphere of humanity off the surface of the planet. 
The only thing that will do that outside of taxpayer dollars, which are finite and contested, is to create an economic engine and an economic reason for doing it. We fully believe that space resources are that economic engine. 
To be able to use the resources of space, to explore space, imagine that if we were building railroads that we had to ship in everything from Europe. We didn't do that, of course. It’s all about using those resources locally, so in space the first resource we’re interested in is water. 
Water is such a simple thing. Why would you ever need water? There’s plenty of it here on Earth. We’re not bringing water back to Earth. We don’t want to ship water into space because it’s very heavy and very expensive to send it there. Just to send a liter to the International Space Station it’s US$10,000 and to the Moon it’s $50,000. 
Space habitats, space stations are going to need hundreds of thousands or millions of liters of water, but there are some asteroids 75 meters across that are water rich. Just one has enough hydrogen and oxygen to fuel every Space Shuttle that’s ever been launched. It’s useful for fuel, its useful for supporting life and it’s full-blown radiation shielding for all those people talking about going to Mars. So, that is a resource that is of near-term interest.
Interesting.  These folks are thinking smart, and thinking about sustainable living in space.  It's not glamorous, it's not fancy... but it's a necessity if we're going to establish permanent colonies off of the Earth.  It's even more of a necessity if we want to establish independent colonies.

If I were in charge of HR at Planetary Resources, one of the first questions I'd ask prospective employees is if they've ever read The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress...

We Haz A Smart

According to data on the 100 most populous cities in the U.S., Pittsburgh is the brainiest of the bunch. 
Henry Ford once said that failure is simply the opportunity to begin again — this time more intelligently. That observation seems particularly relevant to Pittsburgh’s remarkable post-industrial transformation. For decades after the steel industry’s collapse, Pittsburgh was the butt of jokes (heck, even the rebooted “Arrested Development” hit the ’Burgh with a low blow recently).

While the rest of the world slept on our city, we rebuilt — this time more intelligently.
Of course, Washington, D.C. came in third, so there's some obvious flaws in their methodology.  However, they can't be completely off base...
You may also find it relevant that Baltimore was 38th on the list. Cleveland? 47th.
Oh, trust me - we do.  We definitely do.

Where DId They Get That Idea?

The DOJ, DoS, IRS and NSA all seemed to hit on the same brilliant idea in the past few years: we can do whatever we want, and just lie like a rug to Congress and the public to cover it all up when we get caught.  The media?  Eh, they'll do their job and make sure that they spin the story as whatever we say the story is.

I wonder where they got the idea that was acceptable behavior?
Well, Time To Go Out In Front Of A Bunch Of People And Lie To Them
By Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary
Well, it looks like we’re about ready. The reporters have taken their seats, the photographers have set up their equipment, and everyone in the briefing room is waiting for me, the White House press secretary, to walk up to the podium and address the American public’s most pressing questions. And all that means only one thing: It’s time for me to go out there in front of all those people, take a deep breath, and then completely lie to their faces for about an hour.
Good grief.  I'm going to have to add a post label just for poor Jay.

Speaking of which, I wonder where Mr. Carney gets off thinking he can pull this off, day after day?
A major part of what I’m about to do comes in the preparation. Long before I mislead the media, I work closely with the president and his staff to make absolutely sure I’m disseminating the appropriate lies on all the hot-button issues—government surveillance, the economy, Syria, the IRS, whatever.
Oh... yeah.  Right.

Well, at least the media watchdogs will call him out on it, thankfully!
And I almost forgot to mention the craziest part about all of this: When I go out there and deceive these reporters, it won’t end there. Sure, I might start out spinning lies in front of the 50 or so journalists who actually attend the press conference, but then these people go back to their offices and write stories that circulate my lies—pretty faithfully, I might add—to their millions of readers. And then, in turn, these fictions are repeated again and again throughout the public discourse until they eventually attain a level of societal acceptance that ensures the actual truth remains hopelessly obscured, along with any semblance of executive transparency on the issues. Pretty wild, huh?
You know what?  Never mind.  Just... never mind.

Sweet Little Lies

We recently wrote about the NSA's highly questionable "talking points" about the various NSA surveillance programs that have leaked. Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall -- who have long been leading the fight to get people to understand how the NSA was spying on Americans -- have now sent a letter to NSA boss Keith Alexander saying that the "facts" in the NSA's "fact sheets" do not, in fact, appear to be factual, and asking him to correct the errors.
The questionable points are not available - they're classified because, y'know, national security terrorist intelligence etc. - but Senators Wyden and Udall do explictly reference a 'misleading' statement that contradicts statements a letter that the DNI sent them two years ago.

Mr. Masnick sums it up nicely:
So, basically: were you lying to us then, or are you lying to us now?

Tugging On The Mask

Glenn Greenwald - like the majority of Americans - has some issues with the mainstream media:
But it is true that the Guardian generally, and me in particular, are outsiders, not members of the Beltway establishment media clique. I’ve purposely made myself an outsider by very aggressively and harshly criticizing not just the culture itself but the most prominent members of it, including David Gregory and Andrew Ross Sorkin, who this morning suggested on CNBC that I be arrested.*
And yes, Sorkin did suggest that Greenwald was aiding Snowden, and that he should be arrested for it. He's trying desperately to walk back that statement, but it was a pretty blatant accusation.
Some of what is driving this hostility from some media figures is personal bitterness. Some of it is resentment over my having been able to break these big stories not despite, but because of, my deliberate breaching of the conventions that rule their world.

But most of it is what I have long criticized them for most: they are far more servants to political power than adversarial watchdogs over it, and what provokes their rage most is not corruption on the part of those in power (they don’t care about that) but rather those who expose that corruption, especially when the ones bringing transparency are outside of, even hostile to, their incestuous media circles.
Sometimes, the media lets their mask slip, and you catch a glimpse of the evil that lurk behind it.  In this case, Greenwald took hold of the mask and gave it a good hard yank, and what's exposed is not at all attractive.

Perfidy, Thy Name Is Comcast

Comcast is transforming its customers' home modems into public Wi-Fi hotspots by adding a second signal to each device.
I am sure that absolutely, positively nothing will go wrong with this. I mean, allowing any random yahoo who happens to be in your neighborhood access to your wireless router?  What could possibly go wrong?
In addition to a customer's home Wi-Fi connection, Xfinity wireless gateways (which include the cable modem and wireless router) will by default broadcast a separate signal that other Comcast subscribers can log in to with a Comcast username and password.
Right about now, I am glad that (a) I am not an Xfinity customer, and (b) that we're more than a quarter mile from our nearest neighbor.

This might strike you as a little cynical, but I am pretty sure that should a commercial entity (say, a coffee shop) sign up for Xfinity and pass out a free wifi password for their customers, Comcast will come down on them like a ton of rectangular building thingies.

In other words: they want you to pay for - and host - their hot spot hardware, so that they can make mo' money off of your connection. 

That doesn't really strike me as the kind of deal that I would willingly enter into.

Oh, wait - as an article from MSN notes:
This is an "opt-out" service, not "opt-in." As soon as you get one of these new WiFi routers for your home network, your neighbors who are Xfinity customers can get free bits from you.
Ah, yes.  The wonders of opt-out.  It's nice to see that Comcast is finally making an effort to improve their reputation by dragging it, kicking and screaming, up to the level of such respected enterprises as viagra spammers and corporate mass-market email houses.  With a little extra effort, they could easily become as beloved as used car salesmen or the NSA.

If you're a Comcast Xfinity customer living in one of the trial areas described in this CNET article, you might want to investigate further and decide whether you want to opt out of this wonderful service:
Comcast started testing the new service last year in parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Northern Virginia, and in and around Washington, D.C. Currently, more than 100,000 Xfinity Internet subscribers are using the new Wi-Fi access points.

It's Time For The JAY CARNEY SHOW!

Yahoo News has run the numbers, and determined that out of 444 press briefings, Jay Carney has avoided answering questions 9,486 times.  Note that these are just times when he obviously avoided a question; it doesn't count the number of times a reporter asked a question, and Mr. Carney responded by reciting a talking point or answering an entirely different question entirely.

If a typical press briefing runs about 50 minutes, and has about 50 distinct questions (not counting repeated questions, follow ups, etc.), that means that Jay has answered just slightly over 22,000 questions since he became the White House press secretary.

That puts his "evasion" rate at just over 40%.

Let's be generous, and give him the benefit of the doubt.  Let's say that over half of those deflections were done in good faith; Mr. Carney honestly didn't know the answer, or honestly thought that someone else could better answer the question.

That still means that, even with the majority of the mainstream media all but ignoring Fast & Furious, Benghazi, IRS political targeting, etc. and lobbing softball questions at Mr. Carney, he avoided answering one question out of five.

Most transparent administration in history?  Well, yeah.  They're transparent, all right.

Holden is Back!

Abaddon's Gate (The Expanse)
For generations, the solar system -- Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt -- was humanity's great frontier. Until now.
Ahem. Squee, I say.

A Deadly Light Show

In April 1970 James Hensinger took a series of photographs showing US troops engaging snipers on a hillside near Phu Tai in Vietnam at night. He took them with a Nikon camera, resting it on the sandbags around his guard tower and using time-exposures, triggering the shutter with a cable release. He sent the unprocessed film home, and didn't know what he'd managed to capture until he got home after his tour of duty and developed it.
Some amazing pictures.  I'll echo Peter's comment: "Recommended viewing."

I Stand With Inigo

Well, whaddya know.  According to the Obama administration, whistleblowers are now terrorists, or something.
In 2008, now President Obama ran with the following as a key plank in his campaign: Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government...
Well, that was then, this is now.  You see, he was for whistleblowers before he was against whistleblowers, which apparently makes it all right, somehow.
Yes, informing the American public of misdeeds by the US government is considered "aiding the enemies of the United States." The reality, of course, is what they're saying is that they really mean "the current government" when they refer to "the United States," and "the enemies" are the American public. 
And, part of the program seems to be to put pressure on anyone to snitch on their colleagues if they suspect potential leakers. Government employees who fail to report colleagues who exhibit "high risk" behaviors may be subject to criminal charges. Basically, snitch on anyone who acts suspiciously, or else... And, of course, it's not just the Defense Department. The Agriculture Department has an online tutorial teaching people how to spot potential whistleblowers, entitled "Treason 101."
By now, you should realize how it works.  Good little peons support their government.  So if you're a whistleblower, then you're a terrorist.  If you're critical of a government agency, you're a terrorist.  If you're a supporter of civil liberties or concerned about NSA spying on American citizens, you're a terrorist.  If you're a second amendment supporter, you're a terrorist.

To quote Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

U Mad Bro?

Once again, Radley Balko brings Teh Snark (TM).
Just saw on Fox that the State Department says it can't comment on revocation of Edward Snowden's passport in order to....
wait for it.... 
...protect his privacy. 
Now they're just trolling us.

Positively Terrifying

When something is very dangerous, like nuclear weapons, standard forms of protections and control methodologies aren't sufficient. Something that potentially dangerous needs something more aggressive. In the military, that's called positive control... 
We're now actively moving towards a society, and a world, founded on positive control.
Well, only for you, of course.  Your "betters" can be trusted with their privacy.


You Know, It's 2013 Now...

The war crime plays out like so. Two heroic Jedi storm onto the bridge of the enemy ship. They cut through the bridge’s crew, until the only targets left standing are a pair of unarmed battle droids.
Star Wars 'droids as slaves?  Where have I come across that before?

Only two years behind the times, Slate!  Nice to see you've finally moved on past 2008.

An Exhibit Regarding The Late Unpleasantness

The year 1863 -- exactly 150 years ago -- was monumental for Pennsylvania. It was then that President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address after the Union army defeated the Confederacy on Pennsylvania soil.
The year was also a turning point of the Civil War for the Union, greatly due to the efforts of Pennsylvania soldiers.
Although Pennsylvania played a pivotal role in the Civil War, not much attention has been paid to the state beyond the crucial Battle of Gettysburg, said Andrew Masich, president and CEO of the Senator John Heinz History Center.
Because of the lack of readily available information, the Heinz History Center announced it will open a new exhibition -- titled "Pennsylvania's Civil War" -- Saturday to showcase the state's impact on the war. The 9,000-square-foot exhibit will remain open until Jan. 5.
Most excellent!

I suspect that this will be of particular interest to my eldest daughter, my honored father, and my youngest, wise-cracking little brother.

I can see us checking out the exhibits now...
ED: "Dada, look - these soldiers were from where we live now!"
HF: "Hmph.  They've got it wrong.  He's supposed to be from Marshall's regiment.  They had chronic supply problems, and weren't issued the new-style bayonets until September of 1862."
YB: "Well, you see, the new bayonets were so good, some of the soldiers would wait for dark, and sneak away to disguise themselves as Confederate soldiers.  Then they'd find another unit, and surrender! That way, they could steal one of their bayonets.  Of course, escaping and getting back before muster the next morning was the trick..."
Yes, I think we'll have to check this out...

The Modern-Day Diana

When Margaret LeJeune set out to photograph female hunters, she knew she wanted to avoid stereotypes and show the women as individuals... 
The idea for her series, “The Modern-Day Diana” (a nod to the Roman goddess of the hunt), came about in 2007, while LeJeune was teaching a photography course at Lyon College in Arkansas. She had assigned her students to shoot a self-portrait—and of the 11 students in her class, seven came back with photos of themselves hunting.

LeJeune, who grew up in upstate New York, says she had never been submerged in a hunting culture before. But when she discovered how important it was to so many of her students, she decided she wanted to find a way to connect with them and their culture. To that end, LeJeune asked a few of her students if she could take their photos.  
It's a nice little article, with some beautiful photographs.  Kudos to Ms. LeJeune for being willing to step out of her comfort zone and into a different sphere.  I think this is an example of what  Bitter over at Shall Not Be Questioned calls winning the culture.

Junior Snark Merit Badge

A snippet of conversation from on the way to church last night, with my eldest daughter and a friend of hers in the car...
Friend: "What about Catcher in the Rye?"
Daughter: "Oh, yeah, we have to read Catcher in the Rye next year.  Hey, Dada - what's that about?"
Me: "A whiny adolescent."
Daughter: "No, really?  What's it about?"
Me: "I told you.  A whiny, complaining adolescent."
Friend: "So... a typical teenager, then?"
Does she have some good friends?

Why, yes.  Yes she does.

F--. Would Not Dine Again.

Why is it that restaurant reviewers are so wonderfully snarky?  Do they screen for that when they hire, or something?  In any case, Tom Sietsema tells us to Just say ‘No, grazie’ to La Tagliatella:
The chain has plans for U.S. expansion, but here’s hoping diners are smarter than that.
La Tagliatella in Arlington makes a strong case for hazard pay for restaurant critics. The Italian concept, an unfortunate import from Europe that plays up 400 combinations of pasta and sauce, is so distasteful on so many different levels, I was tempted to dismiss it after just one visit. I changed my mind when I considered its prime corner real estate in Clarendon and the Poland-based chain’s intention to expand elsewhere in the United States.
Someone needs to put a stop to this threat to our nation.
tl;dr - he gives them 1/2 star out of five, and compares them - unfavorably - to Olive Garden.

That's gotta smart.

"Haaaarmy Intelligence, Sir!"

Boondoggle Goes Boom
A demented tale of how the Army actually does business. 
The chief intelligence officer for the 82nd Airborne overseeing all Army activity in southern Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Michelle A. Schmidt, agreed with her analysts: Palantir was mission-critical, something they had to have... For soldiers like the Arctic Wolves who were literally walking through mine fields, spending loose change on software to protect thousands of young American warriors would seem to be a no-brainer. 
But Schmidt’s request for Palantir was denied.

Why Yes, I Am Dealing With Date Conversions

Why do you ask?

Just because I find myself intrigued by the Wikipedia page that lists notable epoch dates in computing?

Oh, and for the record, the blog note that brought me there.  And the ObRef to Pham Nuwen.

Fascinating, Jim.


The Electronic Frontier Foundation  has posted a list of secure [1] alternatives to various operating systems, web browsers, email/IM clients, and so on at prism-break.org.

I've used Linux as my desktop for a while, from around 2000-2005.  I am sure that the user experience for Linux on the desktop has improved since then.  I am most familiar with Fedora-based distributions, but what little experience I've had recently with Ubuntu has been excellent as well.

Firefox has started off as a decent browser alternative to IE/Safari, and has continued to improve as the years have gone by. The only reason I continue to use Safari at this point is inertia.

I have used Evolution, KMail, and Thunderbird at one time or another, though not with PGP support.  All are quite serviceable email clients.  Of the three, as far as I know, the first two are Linux-only, which leaves Thunderbird or a derivative if you're not interested in jettisoning your OS.

Pidgin and Adium are both good chat clients.  Adium is my current client of choice, and again, has multi-platform support.

Social media, though... hmm.  Moving to a different social media platform (from Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) has an inherent problem: the value of a social network is not in the software, but in the number of people who are using it.  For most people, dropping Facebook for Disaspora would be like switching to an alternative phone network that can only connect to other people who also switched to the new network.  Sure, there's a tipping point at which it might be useful, but you're working against a huge amount of inertia in trying to get people to switch.  Just look at the trouble Google+ has had in building a social network that competes with Facebook.

Overall, replacing insecure software with secure (well, again, more secure) software is certainly possible.  Is it probably?  Unlikely, unless you're really, really motivated.

Putting together a personal security minded Linux distribution (or sets of packages for various distributions) would be a definite win, though.  It's far easier to decide to install one package that includes a bunch of related tools, and give them a try, than it is to dig through four score packages and figure out how to make them all work together.  That's especially true for Windows and Mac OS X users who might be interested in using security minded software, but who are not willing to completely  abandon their current OS for some reason. [2]

Overall, an A+ for effort to the EFF for coming up with this list.

[1] Well, more secure than the current default of letting your electronic thang hang out.
[2] World of Warcraft


From Radley Balko, in a comment on one of his Facebook posts:
But the most important battle today isn't between right and left, but between those who question and fear established power and those who embrace it, are indifferent to it, or who hope to someday wield it.

Pier. Rope. Whatever.

Dozens of lawmakers and aides are so afraid that their health insurance premiums will skyrocket next year thanks to Obamacare that they are thinking about retiring early or just quitting...
Rep. John Larson, a Connecticut Democrat in leadership when the law passed, said he thinks the problem will be resolved.
“If not, I think we should begin an immediate amicus brief to say, ‘Listen this is simply not fair to these employees,’” Larson told POLITICO. “They are federal employees.”
Because... Why?  Are federal employees somehow special?  Better than your average, everyday run-of-the-mill employee? You know - those, grubby fellows who simply are not as Smaht (TM) as federal employees?

Those non-federal employees who Rep. John Larson apparently thinks deserve to get hammered by these premium increases?  Because if it's not fair for federal employees to have to put up with these increases, by inference, it must be fair for non-federal employees to have to pay them, right?

Rep. John Larson?  You are a despicable, two-faced despot.  I thank God that you are not my representative, and I can only pray that the people of your district will take a good, long hard look at you and understand exactly what you think of them.

And then I hope they invite you to take a long walk off of a short pier.

Amuse Yourself

The world's going to Hell in a hand basket, and y'all really can't do anything about it right now... so you might as well entertain yourself.

Thus, the 2013 #noDRM Summer Sale from Good Old Games!

Pick up the Might & Magic 6-pack for an amazingly low $4.99.

Or Arcanum, only $2.99.

How about Planescape: Torment for just $1.99?

There's a whole lot more there as well.


Calvin and Hobbes nails it.

What Is It Good For?

In a classic case of procrastination, China has been keeping its massive debt crisis at bay by issuing more debt. However, Fitch's Charlene Chu, a leading expert on China's debt, thinks the country's time is up. "The credit-driven growth model is clearly falling apart," said Chu in a recent report.
It may not matter that China is willing to enter the drone market, if their economy is about to take a nose dive.  Of course, if that does happen, they will have a large population of young men, a lot of war materiel, and a need to distract their people from their economic situation.  All of which adds up to a frightening - yet tried and true - method of boosting their economy.

We live in interesting times.

Neither Innovation Nor Quality

Want to buy a military-grade drone? That won’t be easy, unless you’ve got a good relationship with Beijing...
... China could become a drones “proliferator” to developing countries, according to a report (PDF) released on June 13 by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.”Chinese companies appear to be positioning themselves to become key suppliers of UAVs in the global market…Chinese UAVs are likely to be attractive to developing countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, particularly given their price points,” the report concludes.
Unlike the previous article I posted on Chinese competition, the problem here is that the Chinese are entering what is essentially an uncontested market.  Neither quality nor innovation will help US companies in this case, because they are prevented from competing.

Now, anti-drone defense systems... that may be another matter.

Quality and/or Innovation

The collapse of the housing market in 2007 and the subsequent recession turned out to be a boon for China’s brush exports. With far less construction and far fewer jobs, not as many people needed paintbrushes (or brooms or toothbrushes). Those who did need them chose cheap imports over more expensive products made in America. Retailers, who stood to make more from the cheaper products, jumped at the opportunity to sell them. Now everyone in the business has to account for the Chinese.
That’s a familiar story for U. S. manufacturing. The strange thing here is that there are still more than 200 brush, broom and mop makers in the U.S. These companies have employed two strategies to stave off Chinese competition: 1) change everything all the time, or 2) don’t ever change a thing.

"What do you mean, 'biblical'?"

Discussing the IRS and the NSA, Reason.com points out that The Problem Is Bigger Than You Think:
The NSA scandal is the tip of the iceberg...
The revelations about the extent of domestic surveillance have been a big story since they broke earlier this month. And the story keeps getting bigger: MSN reports that the IRS is “acquiring a huge volume of personal information on taxpayers' digital activities, from eBay auctions to Facebook posts and, for the first time ever, credit card and e-payment transaction records.” Soon it will have your health-insurance information, too.
Yet the tight focus on electronic surveillance keeps the bigger story out of the frame.
The bigger story concerns the increasingly asymmetric relationship between citizens and the state. The formerly secret program of domestic spying neatly illuminates one aspect of that asymmetry: The government knows, or can know, an awful lot about you. But you are not supposed to know even that it knows, let alone what it knows.
Zach Weiner at SMBC stated the problem in simpler terms:
There is an oft-repeated quote that's generally atrributed to Ben Franklin.
"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
But, the truth is that very few of us are unwilling to trade some liberty for some safety. 
We just think that the exchange rate has gotten really bad lately.

Greetings, Criminal

Why 'I Have Nothing to Hide' Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance
Many don’t understand why they should be concerned about surveillance if they have nothing to hide. It’s even less clear in the world of 'oblique' surveillance, given that apologists will always frame our use of information-gathering services like a mobile phone plan or Gmail as a choice... 
If the federal government had access to every email you’ve ever written and every phone call you’ve ever made, it’s almost certain that they could find something you’ve done which violates a provision in the 27,000 pages of federal statues or 10,000 administrative regulations. You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.

Snark Snark

View From The Porch: Lede, buried.
Congress's approval levels, not good at the best of times, are examining whale poop from the underside in the latest Gallup poll... 
The story should have been titled "Congress miraculously retains trust of one American in ten!" I'm a little skeptical of such high numbers. You have to wonder how anyone could be dumb enough to trust Congress and still be smart enough to answer a phone.

The Extraordinary League of Young Gentlemen

From the Leader-Telegram, a story about young men who aspire to become young gentlemen:
From dining etiquette to fencing, from stocks to culture, from swing dance to tying ties, a burgeoning club of Eau Claire Memorial students has expanded its studies beyond reading, writing and arithmetic to the finer points of being a gentlemen.

Founded last school year, Memorial's The League of Aspiring Gentlemen is a unique student club that has grown to about 50 members — of which 40 are current high school students and 10 are seniors from last year.

The league's members meet most Wednesdays after class in the school's jazz band room dressed in their best attire to study the habits of gentlemen, said club founder Alec Baca.
How... extraordinary.
The name of the club is important, Baca said, noting members are "aspiring" gentlemen. At no one point do members graduate to a level of gentlemen, but rather always remain aspiring. To declare oneself a gentlemen would be rather ungentlemanly, Baca said.
Hat tip to Ann Althouse for the link. 

"It is a barren wasteland..."

"... there is evil there that does not sleep. The great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, ash, and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten-thousand men could you do this. It is folly."

Happiness, Redux

After my little Sig P226 came home, we here at the Robb Complex [1] were quite happy.  For a while, at least.  Until we realized that we weren't quite "happy, happy, happy", as Phil would say.

Until today.

Last week, I had a chance to surprise the lovely Mrs. Robb with a trip to Ace Sporting Goods in Washington, PA.  We've not been there before, and so we ventured there solely based on it's reputation.  A reputation that, as far as I'm concerned, they lived up to.  A++++, would buy again, n'at.

We went there to look at a Khar CW9.  A friend of ours has one, and the Mrs. was quite taken by it.  While looking it over, the very knowledgable young man who was showing it to us suggested that she might want to look at a Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm Shield as well.

As it turned out, the Shield fit her hand better than the Khar.  On top of that, the Shield has a safety, which pretty much sold her on it.  She wasn't too keen about the idea of walking around with a loaded weapon without a manual safety.

We bought it (no problem with her background check, of course!), brought it home, cleaned it, and... then spent the next three days too busy to test fire the darn thing.

Needless to say, there was a bit of frustration on her part.

That was finally remedied today, when we got home in time to take advantage of the lack of rain and last remnants of sunlight.  I put up a target real quick like, and then she proceeded - with great enthusiasm -  to put some holes in it.

If the little "Squee!" I heard is any indication, I think the Shield is a hit.

Having put a few rounds through it myself, I'll admit that yes, I was very much tempted to squee as well.  It's a really nice little gun.  My Sig is easier to handle and seems a bit more accurate, but the Shield was just plain fun to fire.

I won't say it's the best gift I've ever given her.  I'm naive enough to still imagine that the top spot is still occupied by her wedding ring.  However, I am pretty confident that it has managed to make it into the top two.

[1] Like a compound, only swankier.

Techno Snark

We get it, Joe Citizen. You want your privacy. You want to be able to talk on the internet without everyone and their mother at the InsertAlphabetAgencyHere looking at it... 
You just want to be able to chat with friends, conduct your financial business, and argue with your spouse without Big Daddy Gummint all up in your biz. Believe it or not, that’s your right. Harry “Who Cares” Reid may blow it off and say the government’s been “doing that stuff for years,” but we’ve got a news flash for Harry: just because you’ve been doing it a while doesn’t make it any more okay. Ask Ted Bundy… oh, wait.
Various pointers to privacy options for email, IM, and web browsing.  I'm not going to vouch for any particular tool in any of those use cases, though.  I just thought the "Ask Ted Bundy" line was too good to pass up.

Pork Cloud Attack

There's a communications technique called jamming, which consists of inserting random, unrelated keywords into innocuous email or other electronic communications.  The idea is that if enough people engage in jamming, then the keywords that various shadowy governmental organizations use to troll for interesting messages will become much more difficult, and hopefully useless.

If that sort of thing interests you, you might like to know some of the hundreds of words and phrases the DHS uses when trolling teh intarwebs for the Spoor of Terrorism (TM):

The Department of Homeland Security has been forced to release a list of keywords and phrases it uses to monitor social networking sites and online media for signs of terrorist or other threats against the U.S.

The intriguing the list includes obvious choices such as 'attack', 'Al Qaeda', 'terrorism' and 'dirty bomb' alongside dozens of seemingly innocent words like 'pork', 'cloud', 'team' and 'Mexico'.
Released under a freedom of information request, the information sheds new light on how government analysts are instructed to patrol the internet searching for domestic and external threats.  
The words are included in the department's 2011 'Analyst's Desktop Binder' used by workers at their National Operations Center which instructs workers to identify 'media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities'.
As a friend of mine on Facebook so eloquently commented, "Jihad ricin Pakistan water supply; 9mm pressure cooker bandages materiel. Electrical infrastructure? Cholera anthrax, gunpowder centrifuge plutonium Obama."

Plutonium gunpowder centrifuge, indeed.

Goodnight, PRISM

Radley Balko FTW:
Goodnight stars. Goodnight moon. Goodnight spooks on iChat, peeking into my room. Goodnight PRISM. Goodnight cell. Goodnight Verizon. Goodnight, Orwell.

1984 Was NOT A How-To Guide

11-Yr-Old Suspended From School For Merely TALKING About Guns
Martin Di Caro WMAL.com OWINGS, MD -- The father of a middle schooler in Calvert County, Md. says his 11-year-old son was suspended for 10 days for merely talking about guns on the bus ride home.
Apparently, this is the school district that also suspended a 5-year old boy for bringing a cap gun to school to show his friends.

"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence..."

Oh, yes.  Rope, please.  At this point, the careers of the school administrators involved should be indistinguishable from a burnt-out ruin.

Eye See

Variable Focus Eyewear
Variable focus eyewear closely models the eye's natural dynamic behaviour, enabling better vision quality and control.
Very interesting.

"What is best in (the startup) life?"

I regularly get emails from young people, usually those with an interest in programming, who are trying to make decisions about school and/or their professional futures. This post is for those young people. 
Everyone’s path is different, and your choices are your own. That said, you aren’t making your choices in a vacuum. Here are some things to consider that, in my experience, you’re less likely to hear about working in startups.
A friend commented, "What I want from a job now is interesting technology and nice coworkers; those are available in companies of many sizes."

Indeed - interesting problems and good coworkers are a plus in any size company. In a larger company, though, your particular effect on the customer is often not immediately visible, if it ever is.

While I understand his point that startups eventually accrue a real organization, it does take a while... and in the meantime, you do have the opportunity to be involved in much more than a single area of the business, and see your work have a direct and timely impact on your customers.

For me, that's wonderful.  That's why I've pretty much been a startup employee for the last two decades.  The same things that make the job interesting for me would drive some other people absolutely batty.  Vive la différence.

As for the "hip and happening" startup culture?  Meh.  I live in Pittsburgh, boyo.  I value experienced leadership who see bringing up a company as a marathon instead of a sprint.  The aforementioned interesting problems and nice coworkers are essential.  After that comes good compensation, a decent equity position, and the chance to go home at the end of the day and spend time with my family.

Pull all that together, and while your company may fail for other reasons, it won't be because you're having trouble attracting decent talent.

If you're a young'un interested in working for a startup, ask yourself if that's the profile for the sort of job you want.  Anything related to climbing walls, free energy drinks and other "startup culture" detritus should be way, way down on your list of essentials.

Attention To Detail

It’s 2008 or so, and I am enjoying an influx of good fortune. Unfortunately, every good turn is countered by a disaster. I get a lump of money from contract work, but then the car breaks. Heather gets some money from painting, but something goes wrong with the house.
Shamus Young continues telling his story of financial difficulties.  I am very sympathetic - I have been in his shoes, though thankfully, not to this extent.  Let's just say that the land of financial issues he sojourned in for a time is someplace that I can still see from my front porch on a bad day.
The pile of bills is starting to look kind of scary. We’re starting to hit the cascading failure state that poor people run into, where missing a couple of bills leads to late fees, which leads to panicked over-correction, which leads to overdrafts, which leads to bouncing checks, which leads to double-punishment fees, which annihilates the money you were going to use to pay the bills next month and pushes you that much further in the hole.  We’re in a downward spiral, and I don’t know how to stop it.
Sometimes people who make decent money get snarky or condescending about it. “You just need to learn to manage your finances.” True, but this is like saying the solution to traffic accidents is to not get in crashes. It’s totally possible to be careful and frugal and end up financially ruining yourself anyway. 
Shamus' story telling is excellent, of course. I highly recommend reading his whole "Twelve-Year Mistake" series. He has a way with words that I envy, and writes in a way that is very open and revealing.  When he is talking about his personal life, it is easy to get the feeling that you're sitting on a front porch with him on a summer evening, listening in as he talks about his life with a close friend.  His autoblographry is an excellent (and longer) example of his skills as a communicator.

What really fascinates me about this particular piece isn't just the humanity of it, or the description of how it is possible to be on the edge of financial instability for a while without even realizing it.  He actually traces back the events in his financial life to discover the root cause of his problems:

This cascading failure is not the problem. It’s a symptom. I’m actually walking around thinking I’ve just recently screwed up, but the truth – which I’m about to figure out – is that I blew it years ago.
Yep.  He debugs his financial situation.

If I were speaking that phrase, you would hear the mingled awe and admiration in my voice.

As it so happens, his financial bug stems from a time when he let his attention lapse for a moment.  It happens to be a particularly significant moment, true.  It also happens to be one that is understandable, a moment where he is distracted by other significant events in his life that are demanding his attention.

It's an interesting reminder that even when we like to think that we are eminently rational, we can still manage to make less than perfect decisions.  Decisions that can have impacts not just for years, but possibly even for decades and lifetimes.  Decisions that may take us that long just to recognize them as being significant, and just as long to correct.

It's a sobering thought.

Dangerous Complexity

A "glitch" in an emissions control system forced a D.C. ambulance to shut down. 

Which would generally be a non-story, except that they were transporting a gunshot victim to the hospital at the time.
A malfunction in a fail-safe system designed to assure compliance with federally mandated diesel emissions standards forced a D.C. ambulance to shut down on Interstate 295 while its crew transported a gravely injured gunshot victim Wednesday.
The issue is currently under investigation.  They're not sure if it was user error, a failure to deliver early alerts about the state of the engine, or something else entirely that caused the shutdown.

Whatever the final determination is... I would suggest that allowing any automated system to force the shutdown of an emergency vehicle or system is a Bad Idea (TM).  When you get right down to it, this is precisely why smart guns, aren't.

Robert Bloch Approved

It’s hard to conceive, but 1848 was an even worse time to be dead than usual.
A cholera outbreak had recently swept through London, killing almost 15,000. Burial space was non-existent; as little as 300 acres had been allocated for the capital’s needs and space was tight even without an epidemic. During the winter of 1848, the graveyards reached saturation point...
... By the time the 1848 cholera epidemic came along, it was clear something needed to be done: the city needed a cemetery to suit the times, operating on an industrial scale. It was at this time the problem came to the attention of Sir Richard Broun.
Broun was fascinated by the recently-emerged technology of steam trains. In 1848, Waterloo Station had only just been opened, and the railways themselves were still considered something of a novelty. Broun, along with his partner Richard Sprye, concocted a plan to ease the overcrowding issue with the help of this new invention. Buying up a 1,500 acre site outside Woking, they proposed the creation of a dedicated railway of the dead: a line (serviced by London & Southwest Rail) used for the sole purpose of transporting the deceased from London to ‘Brookwood Cemetery’ for burial.
Of course, you realize that this is just the sanitized history that The Laundry has released to the public.  If you want to read more about the real purpose of the railway of the dead, you can find some details in The Fuller Memorandum

Obvious Correlations

Paul take a stroll through New York with some shipmates.  Passing through Brooklyn after dark, he points out "... only criminals and politicians can carry guns here."

Talk about packing a lot of implications into just a few words...