A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

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

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

All E-Mail Providers are Snitches But Some are Bigger Snitches Than Others

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E-mail should be a dead standard this day and age. By default it offers no confidentiality or anonymity. Even when you use something like GPG to encrypt the contents of your e-mail the metadata, such as who you communicated with, remains unencrypted. But legacy products like to stick around past their welcome and almost all of us have to deal with e-mail on a daily basis.

This dependency on a legacy product has also been a boon for the State. The snoops working for the State such as the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) love e-mail because it’s easy to surveil. Not only are the messages unencrypted by default but many providers are more than happy to assist federal agencies in their quest to spy on the general population. It was recently revealed that Yahoo has been one of the e-mail providers in the State’s pocket:

Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to an intelligence agency’s request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.

Stories like this make me happy that Yahoo has been suffering financially. Most technology companies have at least half heartedly pushed back when the State has demanded all-encompassing surveillance powers. But Yahoo was more than willing to roll up its sleeves and provide the State with everything it asked for. Fortunately, there was at least one decent person in Yahoo during this fiasco. Unfortunately, that person was powerless to stop Yahoo from going through with its dastardly deed:

According to two of the former employees, Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive roiled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who now holds the top security job at Facebook Inc.

I’d say he was well rewarded for standing up for what he believed in. Facebook is raking in cash so he’s almost certainly being paid far better. And while Facebook is a major player in the State’s surveillance apparatus the company has at least shown a willingness to provide customers with secure means of communications by allowing WhatsApp, one of its acquisitions, to implement the Signal protocol and even implemented optional end-to-end encryption in its Messenger app.

This is the point where I’d recommend Yahoo’s users to abandon its e-mail service for a more reputable one. But I doubt anybody reading this is actually using Yahoo’s e-mail service. But if you are a statistical anomaly and still using it you should stop. Yahoo has zero interest in protecting your privacy.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 5th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Have an Offsite Backup of Your Data

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It’s a good idea to have a bug out bag in case there’s an emergency such as a house fire where you have to evacuate immediately. For the same reason it’s a good idea to have an offsite backup of your important data. You don’t want to be the guy who has to run into a burning building to save the only copy of his novel:

A fire inside a blighted house in Broadmoor quickly spread to a nearby multiplex Thursday, sending residents rushing to safety and one — a novelist worried about losing his life’s work — back inside to save his laptop.

[…]

Gideon Hodge, 35, describes himself as a playwright, novelist and actor. When his fiancée told him that their apartment was on fire, he left work in Mid-City and rushed to the scene. That’s when he realized that his only copies of two completed novels were on a laptop inside.

Clad in a T-shirt that said #photobomb next to an illustration of the Joker photobombing Batman and Robin, Hodge dashed into the building. He ran past the smoke and the firefighters yelling at him to stop and managed to grab the precious laptop.

I backup my important data to Amazon Glacier with Arq. What I like about Amazon Glacier is the price: $0.007 per gigabyte in the Ireland region. What I like about Arq is that it encrypts the data before uploading it Amazon Glacier.

Amazon Glacier starts costing you real money when you want to retrieve your backups. But that’s a price I’m willing to pay because the chances of me needing those offsite backups is slim so I don’t want to pay a sizable storage fee. In addition to having cheap storage, Amazon Glacier also allows me to select the region I backup to. You probably noticed that I mentioned the Ireland region. Your offsite backups should be geographically separated from you. An earthquake that takes out your home could also take out nearby data centers. If your offsite is stored in a nearby data center you might lose both your local and offsite backups. Few things short of full scale nuclear war are likely to wipe out both my local and offsite backups and if something that bad happens I don’t think my data will be terribly important to me.

If you’re prepared enough to assemble a bug out bag you should also setup an offsite backup plane as part of your disaster preparedness.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 21st, 2016 at 10:00 am

DEA Decides to Generate More Revenue

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While the government claims the war on drugs is being waged to protect the people, anybody with a brain realizes that it’s about generating revenue. Many of the drugs prohibited by the war, such as cannabis, are far less dangerous than the drugs that remain legal, such as alcohol. However, the war on drugs has opened the door for civil forfeiture, an exponential increase in slave labor, widespread surveillance, and heavily armed revenue generators law enforcers.

New drugs are being added to the prohibited list every year. Each one of those new drugs is another opportunity for the State to steal more wealth and kidnap more slave laborers. This year the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) wants to add kratom to Schedule I:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is moving to place the herbal supplement kratom on its list of Schedule I drugs, effectively banning a naturally occurring psychoactive substance that some say holds promise as a therapy for opioid addiction.

The DEA, in a notice published in the Federal Register this week, said it wants to include two active kratom ingredients in its most restrictive classification of drugs with high potential for abuse and no known medical benefit, signaling that the government considers the plant as dangerous as heroin. The scheduling move would last for two years, with a possible extension of an additional year, and would go into effect at the end of September.

Kratom, like cannabis, is a plant, not some chemical concoction that has to be synthesized. This means that the DEA is effectively waging another war on nature. The advantage of this, to the DEA, is that it can’t win a war against nature so the struggle against the kratom menace would be a perpetual revenue stream for the agency. Also like cannabis, kratom is used medicinally:

Kratom is made from the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa, a Southeast Asian tree related to coffee, and has been consumed in Asia for millennia, typically as a tea or powder. The herb contains alkaloids that appear to activate opioid receptors in the brain and reduce pain. Although most opioids have sedative qualities, low to moderate doses of kratom serve as a mild stimulant.

The advantage of targeting a medicinal plant is that people who use kratom to treat their pain are likely to ignore the prohibition so they can continue living a less painful existence. That means the DEA has a good pool of victims it can exploit for cash and slave labor.

Of course the DEA is citing the usual crap about addiction, health effects, etc. However, all of those things apply to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs that aren’t prohibited. Furthermore, Asian countries have been using kratom for ages to no widespread negative effect. And even if kratom has serious side-effects they’re far less deadly than law enforcers burning babies with flashbang grenades, shooting family pets, and beating people to within an inch of their lives.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 2nd, 2016 at 10:00 am

Silencing the Opposition

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While the court system is used from time to time to settle legitimate disputes between individuals, it’s becoming more and more common for the court system to be used to silence dissenting voices. That’s what’s happening in Waller Country, Texas:

A Texas county sued a gun-rights activist who has complained that county officials were unlawfully barring firearms from being brought into a public building.

[…]

Holcomb has sent letters to more than 75 local governments and other public entities across the state complaining of restrictions placed on license-holders from bringing a firearm into a public arena. Others have filed complaints with the Texas attorney general’s office accusing Austin City Hall, the Dallas Zoo, a nature preserve, a suburban Houston convention center and other places with unlawfully banning firearms. Those complaints are on top of regular fights that rage in Texas over guns, most recently with lawmakers approving the concealed carry of firearms on college campuses.

Texas Carry, the organization Mr. Holcomb is an executive director of, has been notifying a lot of locations that their firearm prohibitions are unlawful. What was the response they received? In the case of Waller County they filed a lawsuit against Mr. Holcomb:

Holcomb argues that the “heavy-handed” decision by Waller County to sue him makes his case much more than a Second Amendment matter.

“We can agree or disagree on the gun issue but this is different than that,” he said, contending that the county’s suit is frivolous and “borderline official oppression.”

There’s nothing borderline about it. Filing a lawsuit against somebody for brining up the fact that your prohibition may be unlawful is outright official oppression. The county, of course, is claiming that Mr. Holcomb misunderstands the intention of the lawsuit and that the fact the lawsuit is seeking $100,000 in damages was a clerical error. But the supposed goals of the county, to received an official court ruling on the matter of whether or not an entire courthouse facility can prohibit firearms, could have been easily accomplished without suing Mr. Holcomb.

What seems more likely is that the lawsuit was filed to punished Mr. Holcomb. Even if he managed to win the lawsuit he would face notable legal expenses that could likely only be recouped by filing a countersuit. Lawsuits send a clear message to the public, which is that anybody causing trouble for the State will be legally harassed at a minimum.

I hope this lawsuit is dismissed for what it is, a thinly veiled attempt to punish Mr. Holcomb for not being a good little slave.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 9th, 2016 at 10:00 am

You Ought to Trust the Government with the Master Key

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The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) director, James Comey, has been waging a war against effective cryptography. Although he can’t beat math he’s hellbent on trying. To that end, he and his ilk have proposed schemes that would allow the government to break consumer cryptography. One of those schemes is call key escrow, which requires anything encrypted by a consumer device be decipherable with a master key held by the government. It’s a terrible scheme because any actor that obtains the government’s master key will also be able to decrypt anything encrypted on a consumer device. The government promises that such a key wouldn’t be compromised but history shows that there are leaks in every organziation:

A FBI electronics technician pleaded guilty on Monday to having illegally acted as an agent of China, admitting that he on several occasions passed sensitive information to a Chinese official.

Kun Shan Chun, also known as Joey Chun, was employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation since 1997. He pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to one count of having illegally acted as an agent of a foreign government.

Chun, who was arrested in March on a set of charges made public only on Monday, admitted in court that from 2011 to 2016 he acted at the direction of a Chinese official, to whom he passed the sensitive information.

If the FBI can’t even keep moles out of its organization how are we supposed to trust it to guard a master key that would likely be worth billions of dollars? Hell, the government couldn’t even keep information about the most destructive weapons on Earth from leaking to its opponents. Considering its history, especially where stories like this involving government agents being paid informants to other governments, there is no way to reasonably believe that a master key to all consumer encryption wouldn’t get leaked to unauthorized parties.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 3rd, 2016 at 10:00 am

To the Gulags, Slaves

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The centrally planned paradise of Venezuela is falling apart. People are starving. Animals are starving. And President Maduro keeps making the situation worse by ordering even more central planning. His latest decree, a socialist favorite, is to allow the government to force people to work in the fields:

International human rights activists are complaining that new laws have introduced forced labour in Venezuela.

“A new decree establishing that any employee in Venezuela can be effectively made to work in the country’s fields as a way to fight the current food crisis is unlawful and effectively amounts to forced labor,” Amnesty International said in a statement released on Thursday.

President Nicolás Maduro signed a decree at the end of last week that gives powers to the labor ministry to order “all workers from the public and private sector with enough physical capabilities and technical know-how” to join a government drive aimed at increasing food production.

They can be required to work in the agricultural sector for a 60-day period that can be extended for another 60 days “if the circumstances require it.”

I’m sure mandatory field work can be extended for an infinite number of 60-day periods.

President Maduro is either ignorant of history or a sadistic son of a bitch. The Soviet Union tried collectivizing agriculture and forcing people to work fields and the country never fully recovered from it. Bread lines were the norm until they were replaced by starvation. If you’re a student of history you know that making people slaves does not motivate them to work harder. Instead they work as little as possible to avoid being beaten too severely because they’re not getting anything for their efforts. I guarantee that the poor Venezuelans that are forced to work in the fields will produce very little foodstuff. And why should they? They don’t want to be there, they’re not knowledgable in the skills of agriculture, and they have every right to resist since they’re being coerced.

Venezuela is fucked. It should go down in the history books as yet another demonstration of the futility of central planning.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 2nd, 2016 at 10:00 am

Garbage In, Garbage Out

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In computer science the term garbage in, garbage out is used frequently to note that if you have garbage data as an input you will get garbage data as an output. This is applicable in any research. A new study has been released that claims there is no racial bias in polices’ use of lethal force in the United States. Quite a few people have jumped on this because it supports their bias that there isn’t a problem with policing in this country. However, Radley Balko points out a serious flaw in the study. It uses reports written by police officers:

For the purpose of the discussion, let’s break shootings and killings by police into three categories: incidents that were illegal and unnecessary, incidents that were legal and necessary, and incidents that were legal but unnecessary. If you’re asking whether current laws and policies allow for too many police shootings, looking at how many shootings are justified under current law and policy is just question begging. It’s that last category — legal but unnecessary — that we want to explore. Unfortunately, it’s also a category that is plagued by subjectivity and the simple fact noted above: Most of the data we have comes from police reports themselves.

If we were to compile statistics on, say, medical mistakes in an effort to make policies that would improve the state of medicine, we wouldn’t get all of our data from written statements by the accused doctors or hospitals. If we wanted to compile data on conflicts of interest in politics, we wouldn’t rely on members of politicians to self-report and adjudicate when their vote may have been influenced by a campaign donation. But this is essentially what we do with shootings by police officers.

The study is simply an extension of the phrase, we investigated ourselves and found that we did nothing wrong. Studying police use of force in the United States is difficult because most of the data is created by the police themselves. There is very little third-party oversight and what little exists is usually tied to the law enforcement community in some manner.

I’m sure Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed Philandro Castile, wrote a report that exonerated him of wrongdoing. This isn’t just because he wants to avoid punishment but also because he probably wants to justify his actions to himself. We humans are great at twisting logic to justify our actions to ourselves. Thieves will tell themselves that since the person they were stealing from was wealthy no real harm occurred to him and therefore the theft was justified. Domestic abusers will tell themselves that they have to hit their partner in order to teach them important lessons. Police, likewise, will tell themselves that lethal force was necessary to preserve their lives. We cannot rely on the reports thieves, domestic abusers, and police write about their own actions because they are necessarily biased. So long as rely on such data as our input we’re going to get garbage as our output.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 15th, 2016 at 10:30 am