A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘You’re Doing it Wrong’ tag

The Public Private Data Cycle

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Just as the Austrian school of economics has a business cycle I have a data cycle. The Public Private Data Cycle (catchier web 3.0 buzzword compliant name coming later) states that all privately held data becomes government data with a subpoena and all government data becomes privately held data with a leak.

The Public Private Data Cycle is important to note whenever somebody discusses keeping data on individuals. For example, many libertarians don’t worry much about the data Facebook collects because Facebook is a private company. The very same people will flip out whenever the government wants to collect more data though. Likewise, many statists don’t worry much about the data the government collects because the government is a public entity. The very same people will flip out whenever Facebook wants to collect more data though. Both of these groups have a major misunderstanding about how data access works.

I’ve presented several cases on this blog illustrating how privately held data became government data with a subpoena. But what about government data becoming privately held data? The State of California recently provided us with such an example:

Our reader Tom emailed me after he had been notified by the state of California that his personal information had been compromised as a result of a California Public Records Act. Based on the limited information that we have at this time, it appears that names, the instructor’s date of birth, the instructor California driver’s license number and/or their California ID card number.

When Tom reached out to the CA DOJ he was informed that the entire list of firearms trainers in California had been released in the public records act request. The state of California is sending letters to those affected with the promise of 12 months or identity protection, but if you are a CA firearms instructor and haven’t seen a letter, might bee a good idea to call the DOJ to see if you were affected.

This wasn’t a case of a malicious hacker gaining access to California’s database. The state accidentally handed out this data in response to a public records request. Now that government held data about firearm instructors is privately held by an unknown party. Sure, the State of California said it ordered the recipient to destroy the data but as we all know once data has be accessed by an unauthorized party there’s no way to control it.

If data exists then the chances of it being accessed by an unauthorized party increases from zero. That’s why everybody should be wary of any attempt by anybody to collect more data on individuals.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 17th, 2017 at 11:00 am

How Fake News Happens

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Fake news has remained one of the big boogeyman ever since Hillary Clinton failed to win the presidential election. But what is fake news? At one time fake news was referred to as tabloids. Then fake news became known as Onion articles. Now fake news seems to mean whatever news one disagrees with. But there is actual fake news and it usually stems from so-called legitimate media outlets:

The original article was posted online on the Washington Post’s website at 7:55PM EST. Using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we can see that sometime between 9:24PM and 10:06PM the Post updated the article to indicate that multiple computer systems at the utility had been breached (“computers” plural), but that further data was still being collected: “Officials said that it is unclear when the code entered the Vermont utility’s computers, and that an investigation will attempt to determine the timing and nature of the intrusion.” Several paragraphs of additional material were added between 8PM and 10PM, claiming and contextualizing the breach as part of a broader campaign of Russian hacking against the US, including the DNC and Podesta email breaches.

Despite the article ballooning from 8 to 18 paragraphs, the publication date of the article remained unchanged and no editorial note was appended, meaning that a reader being forwarded a link to the article would have no way of knowing the article they were seeing was in any way changed from the original version published 2 hours prior.

Yet, as the Post’s story ricocheted through the politically charged environment, other media outlets and technology experts began questioning the Post’s claims and the utility company itself finally issued a formal statement at 9:37PM EST, just an hour and a half after the Post’s publication, pushing back on the Post’s claims: “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems. We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding.”

Fake news tends to be the result of journalists jumping the gun instead of performing a investigation. In this case a journalist or journalists at the Washington Post received information about malware being found on a laptop at a power station. Instead of investigating the story further the journalist(s) wove a story about Russian hackers attacking the United States’ power grid. Had they waited for a response from the power company they would have known that the laptop wasn’t even connected to the network and was therefore a nonissue.

We see this happen with every breaking story. In fact it happens so often that I now consider the term “break story” to mean “incoming bullshit.” The talking heads on your moving picture boxes, the writers for news websites, and your friends on Facebook all crave attention. In the case of the former two attention equals money and in the case of the latter attention equals an ego boost. Either way, the people reporting about a breaking story have no information to go on so they’re just speculating. Furthermore, because journalists are often ignorant about the technical matters surrounding the story they’re reporting on, their speculations tend to be fantastical.

While tabloids are often advertised by their creators as real news almost everybody with the ability to think critically knows they’re bullshit. The Onion straight up admits to being a satire site. So-called legitimate journalists don’t have an excuse to be propagating false information. In fact, the job of journalism once involved investigating stories so true information could be reported. Yet they end up being the biggest propagators of false information time and again.

If you really despise fake news you should be demanding that journalists do their job by waiting until they have some factual information to report before reporting.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 10th, 2017 at 10:30 am

The Streisand Effect

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The Internet doesn’t lend itself well to censorship. In fact, attempts to censor information usually lead to a great deal of public scrutiny. Take Ham Radio Deluxe, for example. Until a few days ago I hadn’t heard of the software or the company that creates it. But then the company tried to make a negative review posted by a user go away. Now I’ve not only heard of the company but I know that it’s a company that I won’t ever do business with:

This tactic, however, is a new twist on the old “punish customers for negative reviews” game. A user of Ham Radio Deluxe wasn’t too happy with its apparent incompatibility with Windows 10. He posted a negative review of the software at eHam.net, calling out the company for its seeming unwillingness to fix the underlying issue.

[…]

The “customer support” at HRD Software then pointed the user to its terms of service, stating that it had the right to do what it had just done. HRD Software reserves the “right” to “disable a customer’s key at any time for any reason.” Then it told him the blacklisting would be revoked if he removed his negative review. Bonus: mention of a capital-A “Attorney” for added seriousness, I guess.

If you remove the eHam review, which was blatantly false, we will remove the blacklist from you call. You are not buying software, you are buying your callsign’s access to the software. the so called bug you reported is not one in HRD, but one in the CAT commands of the FT­3000 radio, which have been verified with yaesu. Again refer to section 8 of the TOS, which was written by our Attorney.

There are many ways to deal with negative reviews. Usually the best option is to ignore them. Not everybody is going to have a good experience with your product so you need to accept that some users will give negative reviews. If a particular negative review is hurting business you can either act on that review by improving your product or you can issue a rebuttal if the review is based on false information. What you should never do is try to coerce the reviewer into deleting their review. That looks scummy to everybody watching.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 6th, 2017 at 10:00 am

CNN and Hackers

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The media’s portrayal of hackers is never accurate but almost always amusing. From hooded figures stooping over keyboards and looking at green ones and zeros on a black screen to balaclava clad individuals holding a laptop in one hand while they furiously type with the other hand, the creative minds behind the scenes at major media outlets always have a way to make hackers appear far more sinister than they really are.

CNN recently aired a segment about Russian hackers. How did the creative minds at CNN portray hackers to the viewing public? By showing a mini-game from a game you may have heard of:

In a recent story about President Obama proposing sanctions against Russia for its role in cyberattacks targeting the United States, CNN grabbed a screenshot of the hacking mini-game from the extremely popular RPG Fallout 4. First spotted by Reddit, the screenshot shows the menacing neon green letters that gamers will instantly recognize as being from the game.

Personally, I would have lifted a screenshot from the hacking mini-game in Deus Ex, it looks far more futuristic.

A lot of electrons have been annoyed by all of the people flipping out about fake news. But almost no attention has been paid to uninformed news. Most major media outlets are woefully uninformed about many (most?) of the subjects they report on. If you know anything about guns or technology you’re familiar with the amount of inaccurate reporting that occurs because of the media’s lack of understanding. When the outlet reporting on a subject doesn’t know anything about the subject the information they provide is worthless. Why aren’t people flipping out about that?

Written by Christopher Burg

January 4th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Everybody Loves Discrimination

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Most Americans, if asked, would probably say that they oppose discrimination. But deep down inside most Americans love discrimination, so long as it’s their form of discrimination.

Those who identify as political leftists have been very vocal about their opposition to discrimination. They’ve been taking every opportunity to state their objection to discrimination against non-whites, homosexuals, transgender individuals, poor individuals, and the mentally disabled. However, they seems to be perfectly fine with politically motivated discrimination.

Imagine if the restaurant owner from the first link put up a sign that read “If you’re black you can not eat here!” or if the person from the second link refused to help the stuck motorist because they had a gay pride bumper sticker. Most self-identified leftists would be up in arms. But the two individuals mentioned in those two links are being cheered by many of those same self-identified leftists. Why? Because those two individuals are discriminating in an approved manner.

Every one of us discriminates. When you cross the street to avoid the suspicious looking individual walking down the sidewalk you’re discriminating. When you avoid talking to your racist uncle at Christmas you’re discriminating. When you avoid the really drunk guy that won’t stop grabbing your ass at the bar you’re discriminating. Some forms of discrimination, such as the three I just mentioned, make sense. In those cases you’re discriminating to protect yourself, avoid starting a family fight, or avoid being sexually molested. But those forms of discrimination are also based on specific signals being produced by specific individuals.

Racially, sexually, and politically motivated forms of discrimination aren’t based on specific signals produced by specific individuals. They’re forms of collective discrimination where the only signal is membership in a group. Of course, everybody who discriminates against groups has a long list of reasons why their form of discrimination is proper even if they find other forms of group discrimination unacceptable.

I personally find collective discrimination, like all forms of collectivism, distasteful but fear that I’m in the minority because even the loudest opponents of collective discrimination seem to only oppose discrimination against groups that they like. When challenged they will have a long list of reasons why they’re not actually discriminating but all they’re doing is performing an act of cognitive dissonance.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 30th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Trump Will Turn the Propaganda Machine into a Propaganda Machine

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Post election outrage is probably the only thing that is more annoying than pre-election campaigning. It doesn’t matter who wins, all of us end up having to listen to the apocalyptic predictions of the supporters of the losing candidate.

If you listened to all of the outrage you would believe that Trump is going to single handedly destroy the entire United States government (trust me, he won’t, if he could I’d support the guy). And the predictions are becoming more bizarre and more disconnected from reality. Take this prediction, which is titled “Trump could convert government news agencies to propaganda machines”:

One more thing President-elect Trump will inherit when he takes office next month: a large, state-run media operation with little or no impartial oversight. As the Washington Post‘s editorial board wrote this weekend, the United States’ official external news sources Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and others are about to lose the buffer that keeps the content they project to the world fair and objective.

Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Liberty are fair and objective? Jesus Fucking Christ. How stupid are the people who write this nonsense? Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were never fair and objective. Both stations were created for the expressed purpose of spreading propaganda:

During the Cold War, Radio Free Europe (RFE) was broadcast to Soviet satellite countries and Radio Liberty (RL) targeted the Soviet Union. RFE was founded as an anti-communist propaganda source in 1949 by the National Committee for a Free Europe. RL was founded two years later and the two organizations merged in 1976.

Not only where both stations designed to be propaganda machines but they even received a great deal of funding from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) until 1972. Voice of America (VoA) is also a propaganda machine, although a more subtle one. Instead of being overtly anti-communist, the purpose of VoA is to spread general propaganda showing the United States in a positive light.

Any claims that Trump will turn these stations into propaganda machines are based on the false assumption that these stations aren’t already propaganda machines or were ever anything but propaganda machines.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate Trump too. In fact I probably hate him more than most of the people freaking out about him. But he wasn’t elected to the position of god emperor. He was elected to be the president and the president only has so much power. Unfortunately, he is unable to destroy the United States government so let’s all stop claiming he will. Such claims just give people false hope.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 14th, 2016 at 11:00 am

History Repeats Itself

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I swear that the United States government is hellbent on repeating all of its dumbest mistakes over and over again. One mistake that the United States loves to repeat is handing out weapons to groups that will eventually use those weapons against it. This strategy was a staple of the Cold War. During that period the United States would hand weapons out like candy to anybody who declared themselves in opposition to the Soviet Union. Today the same strategy is being used although the weapons are being handed to anybody who declares themselves in opposition to whatever particular nation or organization is the flavor of the day. Right now the flavor is Syria:

Washington, D.C. – Congress for the first time authorized the Department of Defense to provide vetted-Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft missiles.

The provision is contained within the $619 billion Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the Senate on Dec. 8 and the House on Dec. 2.

Under the bill, the Secretaries of Defense and State must submit a report to Congress explaining why they determined Syrian groups need man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).

We keep hearing that it’s impossible to vet Syrian refugees but apparently it’s not too much trouble to vet entire Syrian rebel groups.

If you’ve read any history, even badly, of the proxy wars that were waged by the Soviet Union and the United States you know how this will play out. The Secretaries of Defense and State will submit a report to Congress, which will give Congress the ability to cover its ass. Congress will authorize the transfer of weapons to the Syrian rebel groups. Those weapons will then eventually be used to shoot down a commercial airliner or some such nonsense and Congress will act shocked and demand to know where this terrorist organization (they cease being a rebel group when they no longer serve the United States’ interests) obtained such weaponry.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 13th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Pebble Goes Bankrupt

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Pebble was an interesting company. While the company didn’t invent the smartwatch concept, I have a Fossil smartwatch running Palm OS that came out way before the Pebble, it did popularize the market. But making a product concept popular doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. Pebble has filed for bankruptcy and effective immediately will no longer sell products, honor warranties, or provide any support beyond the material already posted on the Pebble website.

But what really got me was how the announcement was handled. If you read the announcement you may be lead to believe that Fitbit has purchased Pebble. The post talks about this being Pebble’s “next step” and the e-mail announcement sent out yesterday even said that Pebble was joining Fitbit:

It’s no surprise that a lot of Pebble users were quite upset with Fitbit since, based on the information released by Pebble, it appeared that Fitbit had made the decision to not honor warranties, release regular software updates for current watches, and discontinue the newly announced watches. But Fitbit didn’t buy Pebble, it only bought some of its assets:

Fitbit Inc., the fitness band maker, has acquired software assets from struggling smartwatch startup Pebble Technology Corp., a move that will help it better compete with Apple Inc..

The purchase excludes Pebble’s hardware, Fitbit said in a statement Wednesday. The deal is mainly about hiring the startup’s software engineers and testers, and getting intellectual property such as the Pebble watch’s operating system, watch apps, and cloud services, people familiar with the matter said earlier.

While Fitbit didn’t disclose terms of the acquisition, the price is less than $40 million, and Pebble’s debt and other obligations exceed that, two of the people said. Fitbit is not taking on the debt, one of the people said. The rest of Pebble’s assets, including product inventory and server equipment, will be sold off separately, some of the people said.

I bring this up partially because I was a fan of Pebble’s initial offering and did enjoy the fact that the company offered a unique product (a smartwatch with an always on display that only needed to be charged every five to seven days) but mostly because I found the way Pebble handled this announcement rather dishonest. If your company is filing bankruptcy you should just straight up admit it instead of trying to make it sound like you’ve been bought out by the first company to come by and snap up some of your assets. Since you’re already liquidating the company there’s nothing to be gained by pussyfooting around the subject.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 8th, 2016 at 10:00 am

The Real Life Ramification of Software Glitches

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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

“Libertarians”

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I make no secret of my disagreement with political libertarians. While they claim that we need to implement incremental change by working within the system I’m rolling my eyes because I know that the system has numerous redundancies that prevent anti-statist meddling and that the State, like the One Ring, corrupts all who try to wield it.

The Star Tribune ran a story about the Crystal City Council. Crystal, for those who don’t know, is a suburb here in the Twin Cities. The Libertarian Party controls a majority of its city council. That’s the joke, this is the punchline:

At the same time, in a seeming departure from Libertarian principles of thrift, the city has raised property taxes and water and sewer fees.

Libertarians seized control of a municipal government and taxes went up. If these Libertarians didn’t exist I’d have to make them up to illustrate my point about political action being an ineffective strategy for libertarianism. One is probably wondering why a “libertarian” city council would raise taxes and water and sewer fees. After all, that seems like a pretty anti-libertarian decision. It’s for muh roads and the children, of course:

The alliance split in September when the City Council raised property taxes nearly 8 percent. One of the Libertarians, Councilwoman Olga Parsons, said she voted in favor because she thought the budget was already lean and she didn’t see anywhere to cut spending.

The budget was already tight? She is obviously not a libertarian. Any libertarian could find a significant amount of unnecessary crap to cut. For example, they could start with the police. Most police departments invest the majority of their time in enforcing victimless laws such as drug offenses and speeding citations. Stopping the department from enforcing those nonsense laws would greatly reduce the need for officers and the city could downsize the department (I would personally eliminate it entirely but this is me trying to play the libertarian political game). City “services” could be privatized or eliminated entirely and the city properties related to providing those “services” could be sold. Doing that would allow the market to decide what the community actually wants and what has been forced down its throat by a handful of politically connected community members. The bottom line is that if the budget is tight that means the city is providing things it shouldn’t be providing.

In spite of what the Star Tribune and these “libertarians” claim, paying cash for government projects isn’t libertarianism. Libertarianism is dismantling the government. If there’s a government project any libertarian worth their salt should be working to eliminate it, not fund it.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 2nd, 2016 at 11:00 am