A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

An Interesting Psychological Phenomenon

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Whenever there’s a story about an instance of abuse where the victim failed to fight back I see at least one comment asking why the victim didn’t fight back.

It’s an interesting question. I’ve often asked the same thing about inmates on death row. There is a population of individuals who have nothing to lose. If they follow the rules and act submissive, they’re going to die anyways. Why don’t they fight back? Certainly the minute chance of escape is better than the guarantee of death, right? Yet we seldom read stories about inmates on death row making a last ditch effort to escape before they’re executed.

It’s an interesting psychological phenomenon. I wish I had a better understanding of it.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 16th, 2017 at 11:00 am

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There’s Hope for the Internet of Things

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Granted, it’s not a lot of hope but it seems like some consumers are actually holding off on buying Internet of Things (IoT) products due to security concerns:

Consumers are uneasy about being watched, listened to, or tracked by devices they place in their homes, consulting firm Deloitte found in a new survey it released Wednesday. Thanks to such discomfort, consumer interest in connected home home technology lags behind their interest in other types of IoT devices, Deloitte found.

“Consumers are more open to, and interested in, the connected world,” the firm said in its report. Noting the concerns about smart home devices, it added: “But not all IoT is created equal.”

Nearly 40% of those who participated in the survey said they were concerned about connected-home devices tracking their usage. More than 40% said they were worried that such gadgets would expose too much about their daily lives.

IoT companies have been extremely lazy when it comes to implementing security, which is a huge problem when their devices provide surveillance capabilities. If enough consumers avoid purchasing insecure IoT devices, IoT companies will be forced to either improve the security of their devices or go into bankruptcy.

Apple has done a good job at easing consumer’s security concerns with its biometric authentication technology. When Touch ID was first introduced, a lot of people were concerned about their fingerprints being uploaded to the Internet. However, Apple was able to east these concerns by explaining how its Secure Enclave chip works and how users’ fingerprints never leave that secure chip. The same technology was used for Face ID. IoT companies can do the same thing by properly securing their products. If, for example, an Internet accessible home surveillance device encrypted all of the data it recorded with a key that only the users possessed, it could provide Internet accessible home surveillance capabilities without putting user data at risk of being accessed by unwanted personnel.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 16th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Professionalism

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Once in a while the War on Drugs brings us humor instead of tragedy:

Sources say it started when two special ops officers from the 12th Precinct were operating a “push off” on Andover near Seven Mile. That is when two undercover officers pretend to be dope dealers, waiting for eager customers to approach, and then arrest potential buyers and seize their vehicles.

But this time, instead of customers, special ops officers from the 11th Precinct showed up. Not realizing they were fellow officers, they ordered the other undercover officers to the ground.

FOX 2 is told the rest of the special ops team from the 12th Precinct showed up, and officers began raiding a house in the 19300 block of Andover. But instead of fighting crime, officers from both precincts began fighting with each other.

Sources say guns were drawn and punches were thrown while the homeowner stood and watched.

I’m glad to see the officers were fighting with the actual criminals for once.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 16th, 2017 at 10:00 am

The Importance of Out-of-Band Verification

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Yesterday I received an e-mail that appeared to be from a friend. It was a short e-mail asking what I thought about the contents of a link. The first red flag was that this friend seldom e-mails me. We have other forms of communication that we use. The second red flag was the e-mail address, which was his name at a domain I wasn’t familiar with. The third red flag was the link, it went to a domain I wasn’t familiar with.

Friends asking me about content on unfamiliar domains isn’t unusual. Moreover, friends e-mailing me from unfamiliar domains isn’t without precedence since new “privacy focused” e-mail domains pop up everyday and I have friends who are interested in e-mail providers who respect their users’ privacy. I smelled a scam but wanted to make sure so I contacted my friend through another messaging service and he confirmed that he didn’t send the e-mail.

The combination of social media with people’s general lack of security has made a lot of social information available to malicious individuals. If you want to specifically target somebody, the social information is often available to do it convincingly. Even if you’re not interested in specifically targeting somebody, the social information that is available is often complete enough that it can be fed to an automated tool that sends targeted e-mails to anybody it has information about. These types of scams can be difficult to defend against.

One method for defending against them is establishing multiple channels for communicating with your friends. Between e-mail, Signal, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, text messaging, Skype, XMPP, and a slew of other freely available communication tools, it’s easy to ensure that you have at least two separate means of communicating with your friends. If you receive a suspicious message that appears to be from a friend, you can use another form of communications to verify whether or not they sent it. Admittedly, such a tactic isn’t bulletproof. It’s possible for an attacker to compromise multiple communication methods. However, it’s more difficult to compromise two communication methods than to compromise one.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 15th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

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The older I get the more cynical I become towards statistics. Statistics can be a valuable tool for identifying trends. However, the trends revealed by statistics often have multiple possible explanations. Case in point, a lot of media outlets have been making a big deal about the supposed rise in hate crimes, especially against Muslims. They have been quick to blame the election of Trump. However, another cause of this trend could be methodology:

There were 271 more incidents deemed hate crimes in 2016 than the previous year, according to the latest Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data. There were also 257 more law enforcement agencies reporting last year, so that increase could largely or even entirely be a matter of getting more complete statistics. The higher numbers mostly represent small increases in incidents classified as anti-Hispanic, anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, or anti-white.

[…]

Some will surely blame the beginning of Donald Trump’s political ascendancy, and that can’t be ruled out. But another explanation is as likely, if not more likely: The FBI changed how it classified certain hate-crime incidents in 2015.

Before this period, crimes based on someone’s ethnicity or national origin were simply sorted into Hispanic or non-Hispanic bias incidents, leaving us with a cache of uncountable incidents that could’ve been based on someone’s perceived Middle Eastern or Arabic status. But in 2015, ethnicity was lumped in with the racial-bias category. This means that some of the incidents previously attributed to a general sort of anti–Middle Eastern bias could either be categorized as anti-Arab racial/ethnic bias or anti-Muslim religious bias, possibly spiking the anti-Islamic incident stats.

More law enforcement agencies providing data may be influencing the results. Moreover, the category being mentioned most frequently by the media, hate crimes against Muslims, is a recent addition. Going from zero incidents before 2014 to incidents in 2015 will necessarily show an increase in incidents.

None of this is to say that Trump’s election hasn’t played a contributing factor. But there are also alternative explanations for the increase in hate crimes that cannot be ignored. Perhaps the increase in hate crimes is a combination of Trump’s election and changes to methodology. Statistics can reveal a trend of the methodology is solid. But even if a trend is revealed, statistics can seldom point to a specific cause or provide an effective solution.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 15th, 2017 at 10:30 am

No Government Choo Choo for You

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While the Super Bowl itself won’t provide me any entertainment, the National Football League’s (NFL) decision to bring it to Minneapolis has provided me a significant amount of entertainment. Between turning the city into a prison and the possibility of mass transit being unavailable during the big game I’ve already been giving a great deal of entertainment. But the real icing on the cake is that even if the Amalgamated Transit Union doesn’t strike, the government choo choo will only be available to people who have purchased a Super Bowl ticket [PDF]:

Gameday Pass: $30
Only those holding one of these tickets and an official Super Bowl ticket will be able to ride the METRO Light-Rail on game day. This pass is also valid on all bus, Light-Rail and Northstar service on game day and Monday, February 5. Available only from the Metro Transit app.

There are a lot of people who mistakenly believe that “public” transport is owned by the people. “Public” transport is actually owned by the government. If the government decides that it wants to make its transportation system exclusively available to a certain segment of people, there’s not a damn thing “the public” can do about it.

If you rely on the government choo choo, don’t despair. More buses will be made available. They’ll just be slower so plan to leave much earlier than you otherwise would, you fucking pleb:

Buses: For non-ticket holders, buses will replace light-rail trains on the entirety of the Blue Line throughout the day on February 4, 2018. Replacement buses will operate between Target Field Station and Stadium Village Station on the Green Line. Buses run on similar schedules to trains but can take longer; please plan accordingly.

With all of the streets that will be shutdown in Minneapolis during the big game as well as all the additional traffic that will be flooding the remaining streets, the buses are going to end up taking a lot longer. But sacrifices must be made. Just because you paid tax dollars to build and maintain the choo choo doesn’t mean you have the highest priority. The highest priority goes to those who have enriched the NFL, which contributed absolutely nothing to the construction and maintenance of the choo choo. Isn’t it fun being a lowly pleb?

Written by Christopher Burg

November 15th, 2017 at 10:00 am

The Evolution of Languages

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If you’re familiar with any Romance language, then you’re familiar with the concept of gendered nouns. Each noun is assigned a gender; which can be masculine, feminine, or neuter (although some languages have dropped the neuter gender); which changes how its accompanying adjectives are declined and what pronouns are used to refer to it. Things can get interesting when a noun that refers to a person doesn’t reflect the gender of the person.

For example, the Latin word for farmer is agricola. Agricola, despite being in the first declension group of nouns (which are mostly feminine), is a masculine noun. Because of its grammatical gender it would be grammatically correct to use masculine adjectives and pronouns to refer to any farmer even if they’re female. Some Latin nouns could be either masculine or feminine depending on the gender of the person they described, which is a concept many of its successors have expanded on. French, for example, has masculine and feminine versions of many nouns that describe people. However, what does one do when they are referring to somebody whose gender isn’t known? This question has been a hot topic in French circles in recent years:

Paris (AFP) – Moves to make French more female-friendly have sparked impassioned debate in France, with an appalled Academie Francaise warning of a “mortal danger” to the language of Moliere.

At the centre of the debate is the growing use of formulations such as “lecteur.rice.s” for the word “readers” to embrace both genders.

[…]

But the school textbook referring to farmers as “agriculteur.rice.s” and shop owners as “commercant.e.s” — complete with a new punctuation mark called the “middle dot” at the level of a hyphen — sparked particular rage among French language purists.

I find it amusing that people who speak a bastardized version of Latin are worried about purity but I digress.

Language is one of my favorite topics to study. Since languages evolve spontaneously they becoming friction points. Different groups of individuals have different views on how languages should evolve. French is subject to these arguments more frequently than most other languages because there is an organization, the Academie Francaise, that attempts to control the evolution of the language. Whenever popular culture decides French should evolve in some manner the members of the Academie Francaise are there to bitch about how that evolution is unacceptable.

One side effect of the spontaneous nature of language evolution is that one can often get a feel for the concerns of many of a language’s speakers by looking at the most recent evolutions. Gender, for example, has become a larger concern in the United States and Europe. This has reflected in the predominant languages of those regions by the introduction of new words and, in the case of languages with gendered nouns, new grammatical rules.

Ultimately these changes will contribute to the languages changing so much that today’s speakers won’t be capable of comprehending speakers of the future. What is even more fascinating in my opinion though is that these changes will contribute to today’s languages splitting off into multiple other languages. In a way our concerns and disagreements can become so polarizing that we literally cease to speak the same language.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 14th, 2017 at 11:00 am

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They’ll Let Anybody in the Military

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The Army is in a precarious position. It has been tasked with waging a war on terror. Since terror is such a nebulous term the Army has no defined condition for declaring victory. That being the case, the war it was been tasked with fighting has continued to grind on for almost more than one and a half decades. The problem with a grinder is that you need to constantly feed it fresh meat and the Army is having a difficult time finding enough meat.

Who wants to join the Army only to be deployed to the Middle East to get maimed or killed by an improvised explosive or a child with an AK-47? Not only is the work dangerous but the pay sucks too. The Army is offering a lot of risk with little reward, a situation most investors would run away from.

So how does the Army fill its ranks without offering better pay? By lowering its standards, of course:

The Army wants to widen the pool of recruits.

Facing low recruitment levels, the U.S. Army quietly lifted its ban on allowing people with a history of mental illness, self-mutilation and drug abuse to serve in the military – despite warnings from the industry about the risks involved.

The new rules green-light recruits who have bipolar disorder, depression and issues with cutting – a process in which a person takes a knife or razor to his or her own skin – along with those who bite, hit or bruise themselves intentionally.

If you suffer from certain mental illnesses, Uncle Sam won’t let you buy gun. Likewise, if you use illegal drugs, Uncle Sam won’t let you buy a gun. But now he’ll happily hand you a gun!

I’d make a smart ass remark about the deplorable state of education in the United States making this necessary but the decision to lower military recruitment standards is a necessity of any country fighting a decade and a half old war against an undefined enemy.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 14th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Let the Games Being

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I’m sure I’ve made my feelings about the Super Bowl coming to Minneapolis obvious. However, I do believe that people should get what they wants and they should get it good and hard. That being the case, I do take some pleasure in the fact that Minneapolis will be turned into a prison for the duration of the Super Bowl. But the icing on the cake could be the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which has declared its intent to strike during the Super Bowl:

Unionized bus drivers, LRT operators and others at Metro Transit voted overwhelmingly to reject a final contract offer and authorize a strike during Super Bowl festivities next year.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1005, which represents about 2,500 workers at Metro Transit, voted 93 percent in favor of rejecting the Metropolitan Council’s last contract offer and authorizing a strike during the period leading up to the Super Bowl.

The City of Minneapolis will be relying heavily on its public transportation system during the Super Bowl since traffic there is a clusterfuck at the best of times and will be worse with the combination of tourists and closed streets. Either the Metropolitan Council gives into the ATU’s demands or the ATU follows through with its threat to strike and the public transportation system is unavailable during the Super Bowl.

I’m expecting the Metropolitan Council to give the ATU whatever it wants but I’m really hoping it won’t and the strike will occur.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 14th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Monday Metal: End of an Empire by Turisas

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Written by Christopher Burg

November 13th, 2017 at 10:00 am

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