A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

The Real Life Ramification of Software Glitches

with one comment

When people think of software glitches they generally think of annoyances such as their application crashing and losing any changes since their last save, their smart thermostat causing the furnace not to kick on, or the graphics in their game displaying abnormally. But as software has become more and more integrated into our lives the real life implications of software glitches have become more severe:

OAKLAND, Calif.—Most pieces of software don’t have the power to get someone arrested—but Tyler Technologies’ Odyssey Case Manager does. This is the case management software that runs on the computers of hundreds and perhaps even thousands of court clerks and judges in county courthouses across the US. (Federal courts use an entirely different system.)

Typically, when a judge makes a ruling—for example, issuing or rescinding a warrant—those words said by a judge in court are entered into Odyssey. That information is then relied upon by law enforcement officers to coordinate arrests and releases and to issue court summons. (Most other courts, even if they don’t use Odyssey, use a similar software system from another vendor.)

But, just across the bay from San Francisco, one of Alameda County’s deputy public defenders, Jeff Chorney, says that since the county switched from a decades-old computer system to Odyssey in August, dozens of defendants have been wrongly arrested or jailed. Others have even been forced to register as sex offenders unnecessarily. “I understand that with every piece of technology, bugs have to be worked out,” he said, practically exasperated. “But we’re not talking about whether people are getting their paychecks on time. We’re talking about people being locked in cages, that’s what jail is. It’s taking a person and locking them in a cage.”

First, let me commend Jeff Chorney for stating that jails are cages. Too many people like to prevent that isn’t the case. Second, he has a point. Case management software, as we’ve seen in this case, can have severe ramifications if bugs are left in the code.

The threat of bugs causing significant real life consequences isn’t a new one. A lot of software manages a lot of equipment that can lead to people dying if there is a malfunction. In response to that many industries have gone to great lengths to select tools and come up with procedures to minimize the chances of major bugs making it into released code. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), for example, has an extensive history of writing code where malfunctions can cost millions of dollars or even kill people and its programmers have developed tools and standards to minimize their risks. Most industrial equipment manufacturers also spend a significant amount of time developing tools and standards to minimize code errors because their software mistakes can lead to millions of dollars being lost of people dying.

Software developers working on products that can have severe real life consequences need to focus on developing reliable code. Case management software isn’t Facebook. When a bug exists in Facebook the consequences are annoying to users but nobody is harmed. When a bug exists in case management software innocent people can end up in cages of on a sex offender registry, which can ruin their entire lives.

Likewise, people purchasing and use critical software needs to thoroughly test it before putting it in production. Do you think there are many companies that buy multi-million dollar pieces of equipment and don’t test them thoroughly before putting it on the assembly line? That would be foolish and any company that did that would end up facing millions of dollars of downtime or even bankruptcy if the machine didn’t perform as needed. The governments that are using the Odyssey Case Management software should have thoroughly tested the product before using it in any court. But since the governments themselves don’t face any risks from bad case management software they likely did, at best, basic testing before rushing the product into production.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 6th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Take Care of Yourself

with 3 comments

Anybody who has worked in system administration, software development, or information security is probably familiar with the stereotypical “rockstar” employee. These are the employees that are too busy to eat, work ridiculously long hours, and replace sleep with caffeine. They’re often held up on a pedestal by other “rockstars” and sometimes even admired by their fellow coworkers and managers. Unfortunately, they also the model many computer science students strive to be.

The problem with these “rockstars” is that they have a short shelf life. You can only keep up that lifestyle for so long until you start facing major health issues, which is why I was happy to see Lesley Carhart write a short post aimed at hackers offering them advice to take care of themselves. Computer science disciplines need more people discussing the importance of taking care of yourself.

I’ve never been much for the “rockstar” lifestyle. I like getting a decent amount of sleep (which is about six hours for me) each night, socializing, eating decent food, exercising (which I’ve started to take very seriously this year), and not dealing with work during my off hours. While this lifestyle hasn’t made me a millionaire I can say that my quality of life is pretty awesome.

Don’t spend every waking hour working. Take time off for lunch. Eat a decent supper. Try to workout at least a few times per week. Go out with friends and do something not related to work. Go to bed at a decent hour so you can get some actual sleep. Not only will your qualify of life improve but your ability to handle stress, such as those days where you absolutely have to put in long hours at work or those days where you get sick, will be greatly improved as well.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 6th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Posted in News You Need to Know

Tagged with

The Mythical Five Percent

with 2 comments

One of the reasons that I have a hard time taking political libertarians seriously is because many of them operate in a fantasy land where the electoral process is fair and the only thing needed for another party to gain prominence is hard work. Take the Libertarian Party struggle to reach the mythical five percent of votes. Many political libertarians naively believe that if their party can get five percent of the national vote that their party will be granted federal campaign dollars. But that’s not how the political process works. Washington is giving us a glimpse of what will happen if the Libertarian Party ever obtains anywhere near five percent of the national vote:

In order to gain gain major party legal status in the state of Washington, the Libertarian Party needed to get 5 percent of the vote in the presidential race. As the final counting for the state dragged on for weeks, the state party looked on eagerly as it seemed they’d just make the cut.

And indeed, according to the public data on the Washington secretary of state’s website on election results, they did! 5.01 percent as of this morning for Gary Johnson for president in that state. Seeing this, Ballot Access News thought major party status was a done deal.

But you didn’t think the state would make it that easy, did you? This week, as later reported in Ballot Access News, the secretary of state Kim Wyman announced that the L.P. did not in fact qualify.

Why? Because that public total doesn’t include the sacred-to-Washington-process write-in vote.

This is despite the fact, as Winger reports, that the state has never even announced any counts of such votes for the past 24 years. But Wyman insists that including the write-ins will be done, and will dunk Johnson’s percentage below 5.

This is another example of the layers of protection that exist within the State to protect it from unwanted influence. In this case the write-in votes, which haven’t been counted in almost a quarter of a century in Washington, appear to be the layer of protection against the Libertarian Party achieving major party status in Washington. Once major party status is denied to the Libertarian Party the politicians of the state will likely pass a law upping the required percentage to 10 percent or more to protect against this kind of thing happening again.

Politics by its very nature is a practice of deception, lies, and changing rules. Libertarianism is an anti-statist philosophy, which means it will never achieve success in the political realm.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 5th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Monday Metal: Confusion by Metallica

without comments

2016 has been a weird year. Celebrities have been keeling over left and right, Trump somehow managed to win the election, and Metallica has released an album that doesn’t suck. I finally got around to listening to Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. Admittedly, it wasn’t high on my list of albums to listen to. Metallica’s track record as of late has been pretty piss poor. St. Anger was a complete shitfest and Death Magnetic was, at best, mediocre. But Hardwired… to Self-Destruct was, shockingly, quite good. While the album may not be redemption for Metallica is certainly is a huge step in the right direction.

This week we’re listening to my favorite song from the album, Confusion:

Written by Christopher Burg

December 5th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Posted in Media

Tagged with

You Can Have Either Guns or Cannabis in Minnesota

with 9 comments

Minnesota’s medical cannabis laws are, to put it nicely, absurd. Instead of legalizing cannabis across the board like Colorado, the Minnesota legislative and executive branches allowed law enforcement to effectively write the initial bill. The result was a bill that allowed patients with very specific conditions to access cannabis at prices that today remain artificially inflated due to the government granted duopoly of approved growers. Now that the bill is through minor tweaks are being made. One of the tweaks is adding more approved conditions to the list. Recently post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was added to the list:

ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) – The Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday announced the decision to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a new qualifying condition for the state’s medical cannabis program.

PTSD was one of 9 conditions considered for addition this year, including depression, arthritis, autism, diabetes, insomnia, schizophrenia, phantom limb syndrome and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – a genetic disorder that can affect the joints and skin.

I bring this up primarily because it’s an interesting intersection of cannabis and gun laws, especially for one beloved group of individuals that commonly suffer from PTSD and enjoy shooting sport: veterans. Unfortunately, due to the disagreement on cannabis between state and federal governments, using cannabis in a state where it’s legal means you lose your gun privileges. In fact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) recently updated Form 4473 to clarify this. In Minnesota, unlike states that have completely abolished cannabis prohibition, you have to register as a patient with the state, which means that it only takes one agency communicating with another to list you as a prohibited person in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

So now those veterans who suffer with PTSD and enjoy shooting sports have a choice to make. They can either treat their condition or they can own firearms. At least legally.

Illicit cannabis dealers are still happy to provide their product to people suffering from PTSD without requiring any registration with a government agency that might report them to the ATF. The lesson here is that if you’re suffering with any of the approved medical conditions that allow you to legally buy cannabis in Minnesota buy your cannabis illegally instead.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 2nd, 2016 at 11:00 am

A Beginner’s Guide to Privacy and Security

with one comment

I’m always on the lookout for good guides on privacy and security for beginner’s. Ars Technica posted an excellent beginner’s guide yesterday. It covers the basics; such as installing operating system and browser updates, enabling two-factor authentication, and using a password manager to enable you to use strong and unique passwords for your accounts; that even less computer savvy users can follow to improve their security.

If you’re not sure where to begin when it comes to security and privacy take a look at Ars’ guide.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 2nd, 2016 at 10:30 am

Debating the Important Issues

with one comment

The politicians in Minnesota always prioritize the important issues. While this fine state is facing several minor issues such as skyrocketing health insurance costs, stupidly high taxes, and the idiocy of the medical cannabis law that was written in a way that ensures the continuation of the drug war there is a very sinister issue facing us: senators can’t drink water on the floor:

Early in the upcoming legislative session, the Minnesota Senate will again take up an issue sure to spark debate and division among its members: whether to allow senators to drink water while on the Senate floor.

The upper chamber of the Legislature has long prided itself on tradition and a particular view of decorum. Senators are banned from looking at each other during debates, and are required to instead look only at the president of the Senate while speaking. Men — including both senators and members of the press — are required to wear a jacket and tie on the Senate floor, while women have less specific rules but are expected to dress professionally. Anyone on the Senate floor is banned from bringing in food or beverages, including water.

Supporters of the rules, who have continually voted down attempts to change them, say they are needed to enforce order — and protect the Senate’s antique desks from water damage.

I hope these senators come to their sense and realize that the wisdom of the no water rule is so self-evident that the only sensible choice is to expand it beyond the floor. The no water for senators rule should be expanded to encompass the entire state. Imagine how much better this state would be if elected senators were never allowed to drink water. Minnesota’s most significant problems would be solved in approximately three days!

Written by Christopher Burg

December 2nd, 2016 at 10:00 am

Paving the Way for Trump

with one comment

The once positive aspect of Trump being elected, other than the fact that I can actually still find standard capacity magazines, is that self-identified leftists are learning the value of limited government (don’t worry, I’m sure this will pass when their guys gets in just like last time). They’re finally understanding some of the threats that libertarians have been warning about for decades. Adding insult to injury, their guy that currently occupies the Oval Office is busy paving the way for Trump:

For years now, we’ve written about how the Obama administration has regularly rewritten the dictionary in order to pretend that the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) hastily granted by Congress in the wake of 9/11 enabled him to go to war with basically anyone. If you don’t recall, the AUMF granted the President the power to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to go after those who “planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” That’s already fairly broad, but over the years basically our entire government has pretended that (1) the AUMF included the ability to also target “associated forces” (even though it does not) and (2) it allowed the President to simply lump in anyone he wanted as an “associated force” allowing him to bomb them without any Congressional authorization. This is how you get a war without end, in which the explicit authorization to go after Al Qaeda is now being used on a surprisingly long list of groups that didn’t even exist in 2001.

And, just a few days ago, President Obama expanded the list yet again, allowing himself to go after yet another group: Shabab. Now, no one is trying to claim that Shabab, or ISIS or any other group that has been added to the list aren’t out to do serious harm to the US. But, this seems to go way beyond the basic functions of the office of the President and the simple Constitutional requirement for Congress to declare war.

If you mistakenly believe that the Democratic and Republican parties are opponents then you may find Obama’s actions a bit confusing. After all, why would he further expand presidential powers if he knew somebody like Trump was going to take the office in a month? The fact is that both parties are on the same side, which is a fact missed by self-identified leftists.

Remember when George Bush Jr. was in office? As he declared war on Iraq, signed the PATRIOT Act, and otherwise expanded the State’s power the anti-war left was having fits. They were actively out protesting. In fact public opinion was enough against Bush’s actions that Obama was able to openly campaign against those powers. During his first presidential run Obama promised to end the wars, curtail the State’s war powers, close Guantanamo Bay, and much more. Then he was elected. He followed through with none of his promises. In fact, he expanded the number of countries that the United States was bombing and further expanded the powers that Bush’s started implementing. Unfortunately, because their guy was in office, the anti-war left vanished. And now their guy is further expanding the powers of his office even though it will soon be occupied by somebody from the other team.

The anti-war left starting to come out of the woodwork again because their guy won’t be in power for much longer. But they’ll vanish again when their guy gets back in the White House. So long as you allow yourself to believe that the Democratic and Republican parties are opponents you’ll be suckered into a vicious cycle that requires willfully ignoring horrendous acts when somebody you side with is performing them and strongly protesting the very same acts when somebody you don’t side with is in power. If you have any principles at all you need to abandon this infantile notion that there are two major political parties in this country and accept the fact that both parties are working together to solidify their power.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 1st, 2016 at 11:00 am

Jurisdiction is Dead

with one comment

It seems like every cop show or movie involves the protagonist’s very competent and morally upstanding department fighting with an incompetent immoral law enforcement agency over jurisdiction. Eventually this fight is taken before a judge who rules in favor of the protagonist’s department.

Jurisdiction is supposed to curtail the power of any single agency by only granting them a specific area in which they are allowed to operate. That concept has been dying as the federal government has continuously expanded its jurisdiction. But today that concept of jurisdiction died completely:

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden attempted three times to delay the changes, which will take effect on Thursday and allow U.S. judges will be able to issue search warrants that give the FBI the authority to remotely access computers in any jurisdiction, potentially even overseas. His efforts were blocked by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican.

The changes will allow judges to issue warrants in cases when a suspect uses anonymizing technology to conceal the location of his or her computer or for an investigation into a network of hacked or infected computers, such as a botnet.

Magistrate judges can currently only order searches within the jurisdiction of their court, which is typically limited to a few counties.

This rule change, as most expansions of governmental power are, was ultimately justified by a crime that almost everybody agrees is heinous. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), using a child pornography site it was hosting, ended up hacking computers in 120 countries off of a single warrant so the question of jurisdiction came up. Instead of slapping the FBI down to protect everybody’s civil rights (because these powers start with heinous crimes but end up being using for petty crimes such as cannabis usage) the rules were changed to make any future shenanigans like this completely legal.

Of course, this is nothing new. The State always rewrites rules that it finds inconvenient. This is the reason why the idea of a limited government is a fairytale.

Revenge is Sweet

with one comment

Once in a while karma or the universe or the gods or whatever see fit to teach us a lesson. Take Howard Brookins Jr., a petty elected official in Chicago. He has been waging a verbal war against Chicago’s squirrel population:

Howard Brookins Jr. is the alderman for Chicago’s 21st ward, and one thing he isn’t a large fan of is the city’s “urban squirrels.” Brookins is known to speak out against the “aggresive” creatures for their destruction of the garbage bins around the city.

Tired on his blaspheming against their kind a self-radicalized extremist squirrel decided to take matters into his own hands:

Apparently the squirrels were not going to take that lying down, as WaPo reports.

While he was biking down the Cal-Sag Trail on the 13th of November, one squirrel ran out in front of him and wrapped itself in the spoke of Brookins bicycle. This caused Brookins to flip over his handlebars and land on his head, fracturing his skull, breaking his nose, and knocking out a few teeth.

Today’s lesson is don’t be a politician. Animals won’t like you and they’ll go so far as to sacrifice themselves to strike against you.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 1st, 2016 at 10:00 am

Posted in Humor

Tagged with ,