Friday, November 28, 2008

Bebo Ethics

A fairly computer savvy person I know sent me an invitation to BEBO. In part of the signup process, it wanted my Gmail account and password, "and we'll show you who's here." I declined. It turns out that the invitation was not intentionally sent--I don't know the exact details, but I did a bit of Googling, and found this, this, this and this in a few seconds. Quite a few people who don't appear to be the type to be caught by this sort of thing have had BEBO spam their entire address books and IM contacts. It was likely my unfamiliarity with social networking sites that saved me from the same mistake--I'm suspicious by nature, and didn't see any good reason for them to have my Gmail password. If like these people, I'd used the same feature elsewhere I would have assumed I'd have the chance to edit the list and I may have been caught too. Maybe not though--I'm cautious about giving third parties my friends and relatives email addresses. I don't understand this sort of marketing. Sure, BEBO gets more exposure, but an awful lot of it is likely to be remembered as "that company that tricked my friend into spamming me". Yet another victim sums it up nicely:

A social network site which embarrasses me is not a site I want to use. This kind of problem is an absolute show-stopper for me. I will be steering people away from Bebo.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Goofy laws

A group of 5 republican representatives wants to reintroduce the expired and failed Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. So what's the problem? Why do normal people need these weapons? What is wrong with this particular laws, and gun laws in general? We keep seeing calls for "reasonable restrictions" on guns--Always MORE laws than we have now, never removing some of the current unreasonable ones. These rules are more often than not broader than their titles would suggest. Fairly often a non-gun person just doesn't understand the details, or has been actively mislead. Sometimes a law is minor, doing little to either fight misuse or to inconvenience gun owners--but it is one more chip at the foundation. An example: This is a picture of a Springfield Armory XD-40, a handgun in the $450-500 range. The highlighted area is a critical feature of the gun, according to the Gun Control Act of 1968. Based on a law theoretically designed to combat Saturday Night Specials, this particular gun would not be eligible to be imported to the US if this feature were removed. The critical feature? A thumb rest. Makes the grip a "target grip", worth 5 points on the silly points system used to determine the "quality" of an imported handgun, and giving this particular model just enough points. Most modern handgun designs with polymer frames have similar problems with getting enough import points, since having a steel or "HTS Alloy" frame is worth 20- 27% of the total points. Glocks are imported with cheap adjustable sights, most of which are removed and replaced with standard fixed sights before sale. The smaller Glocks have grooved "target" triggers (as does the XD in the picture) OK, what about registration? Is it OK if the government lets you have most guns, as long as you let them know what you have? Gun owners mostly believe that the second amendment is an individual right, allowing ordinary people to own at least semiautomatic versions of infantry weapons, and that the primary purpose is to make tyranny harder. Some think we will need to rise up against the tyrant soon, others (me among them) think that as long as we have the ability to rise up, we will never need to. This leads to the conclusion that before a government can become too tyrannical, it is necessary to disarm the citizens. Even if the disarming is done with the best of intentions by a currently benevolent government, it makes a later tyrant more likely. Registration is a necessary first step before prohibition. Prohibition isn't (quite) an inevitable result, but it is a common one--First registration is required for a certain type of gun, then no more are allowed to be sold. Finally, the existing ones are banned, and the registered owners are contacted to give theirs up. The people wanting to ban all guns shift their efforts on the "worst" of whatever is left. Criminals aren't going to register their guns, so what legitimate government purpose is served by registration? As a result, most pro-gun activists are against registration, whether explicit or back door. Back-door registration is a system that claims to have some other purpose, but requires registration--Microstamping, eliminating the "gun show loophole", some parts of "safe storage" laws all require registration. The "gun show loophole"--The loophole is that the rules at a gun show are exactly the same as anywhere else--Dealers still have to do background checks, just the same as if they are at their store. In most states, this means that private owners can sell to each other without paperwork. Many of the proposals to end the "loophole" require all gun sales to go through a dealer--This will add $20 or so in cost to every private sale, as well as ensuring that there are records of who owns what. Gun shows are not a significant source of criminal guns. Criminals rarely buy their guns from ANY legitimate source--Instead they are stolen, or the criminal convinces someone with a clean record to purchase for them, known as a "straw sale". "One gun per month" laws are meant to combat straw sales--but also require records to be kept. Safe storage laws put the liability for a stolen gun on the listed owner. These are often accompanied by a requirement that stolen guns are reported shortly after the theft. Enforcement requires registration. Almost all gun owners will report stolen guns as soon as they are discovered. How do the authorities tell the difference between an unreported theft and an unreported (but legal) sale? These laws may also make it difficult or impossible to legally have a gun ready to defend a household. New York and Maryland both have a requirement to submit a fired cartridge from each new gun to be included in a database. This has been in effect for 7 and 8 years respectively. The data has been used in just one conviction in Maryland, with allegations that the case was already solved before the database was consulted specifically so there would be a "solved case". New York has yet to use the database in a conviction. It doesn't do any good to know that a particular gun was used in a crime without a way to cross-reference to an owner. Micro-stamping means that the firearm must be designed to imprint a coded serial number on each ejected cartridge. To be effective, this requires registration. It also complicates manufacture--not all designs are amenable to micro-stamping, and it is trivial to defeat with simple hand tools. So far, micro-stamping is a patented technology, and it is unknown what the licensing terms will be, or if the terms will be evenly applied to all. Ammo serialization means that each bullet and cartridge is marked with a number unique to that box of ammo, and sellers would have to record who a particular box of ammo was sold to. Some versions of these laws would require all non-serialized ammo to be destroyed within a certain time period. This would significantly increase the cost of most ammunition-more than likely .22 ammunition would more than double in price. Buying from a dealer requires a NICS background check and ID. It is a felony to lie on the 2273 form, and the form asks you questions that determine if you are elegible. Even this law is mostly wasted--Less than 1% of failed background checks result in a law enforcement investigation and arrest. Either the background check is rejecting innocent people, or not enough people are being arrested. If we aren't going to use the laws we have consistently, do we really need more?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Back to Hardy Heron

I backed up my home directory, deleted Intrepid Ibex and went back to the previous version, Hardy Heron. (note--these are versions of Ubuntu Linux) The sound problems were maddening, and troubleshooting took too much time because the problems didn't appear until several hours of use. I usually had to restart Firefox to play any flash with sound. I'd lost the ability to control keyboard repeat rate, and there was a keyboard issue I'd fixed before that came back, where the computer would occasionally drop a key event--either it would ignore the key entirely, or it would not realize I'd released it and would go into repeat until I hit another key. I would also get maddening keyboard lag in some web forms--the display might be 2 words behind my typing. Dual screens sort of worked with almost no trouble, but they don't work right--Glitches in the primary display, and it kept wanting to move my toolbars to the second monitor.

One of the really nice things about Linux is the home folder. Most of my customizations go in the home folder, so by making a copy to an external drive (make sure you also back up hidden files) I could reinstall the older version, then when I copy my home folder back, I wind up with most everything configured the same way I had it before. Even third party applications kept their settings.

I may try a clean install of Intrepid sometime in the future, but as a second OS rather than an upgrade.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Squirrel Hawk

I was driving here yesterday
Flying overhead was a hawk of some sort, carrying a squirrel.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Fisking Obama

Obama has a webpage up at Basically a campaign website at a .gov address, before he is inaugurated. Lots of "spend more here", no information on how this gets paid for. Indented material is directly from the website.

Do No Harm: Barack Obama and Joe Biden do not support imposing unfunded mandates on states and localities. They strongly support providing necessary funding for programs such as No Child Left Behind.

No child left behind increases federal control of schools, and increases bureaucracy.. The feds should have a much smaller role in schools. The unfunded mandate was only part of the problem. Fairly typical that a change of party does not give up the power established by the previous administration.

Support Regional Innovation Clusters: Thriving innovation clusters across the country like the North Carolina Research Triangle Park and Nashville's thriving entertainment cluster prove that local stakeholders can successfully come together and help reshape their local economies. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will create a federal program to support "innovation clusters" - regional centers of innovation and next-generation industries. This innovation clusters program will provide $200 million in planning and matching grants for regional business, government and university leaders to collaborate on leveraging a region’s existing assets - from transportation infrastructure to universities - to enhance long-term regional growth

Why do some areas get special treatment? I don't believe tax breaks and grants to locate in particular places do overall good--they help the specific area at the expense of others. The jobs would have been created somewhere. Better to have an overall low-tax climate.

Enhance Workforce Training: Obama and Biden will make long-term investments in education, language training, and workforce development so that Americans can leverage our strengths – our ingenuity and entrepreneurialism – to create new high-wage jobs and prosper in a global economy. A critical part of this process is ensuring that we reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and ensure that it strengthens federal investments needed for success in the 21st Century.

Not sure what program this is, but similar programs are essentially boondoggles. A whole bunch of my Cisco training was paid for by a federal grant. One of the classes was relevant, (and would have been paid for by my employer) the other was expensive and useless--but my employer only had to pay travel expenses. The class was filled with people from my (major corporate) employer. The main beneficiary was the training facility.

Increase Access to Capital for Underserved Businesses: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will strengthen Small Business Administration programs that provide capital to women and minority-owned businesses, support outreach programs that help business owners apply for loans, and work to encourage the growth and capacity of these firms. They will also strengthen Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which are engaged in innovative methods to provide capital to urban businesses.

Define "woman and minority owned", especially with a publicly-traded corporation. This creates companies with the primary purpose of "being minority owned". In highway construction there is one particular aspect that is almost always handled by a minority company--If I remember right, it is guardrails. There may have been a time when racism was so bad that this sort of thing was necessary. We will never completely cure racism, but we are close enough that we no longer need to segregate minority businesses.

Lower People's Interest Payments by Creating a New Mortgage Interest Tax Credit: Many middle class Americans do not receive the existing mortgage interest tax deduction because they do not itemize their taxes. Obama and Biden will ensure that middle-class Americans get the financial assistance they need to purchase or keep their own home by creating a 10 percent universal mortgage credit that gives tax relief to 10 million Americans who have a home mortgage.

This will likely benefit me, but how does taking other people's money to help me with my mortgage benefit the US as a whole?

Increase the Supply of Affordable Housing throughout Metropolitan Regions: Communities prosper when all families have access to affordable housing. Barack Obama and Joe Biden supported efforts to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to create thousands of new units of affordable housing every year. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will also restore cuts to public housing operating subsidies, and ensure that all Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs are restored to their original purpose.

Housing cannot be a right, else people will not respect it. Housing projects, Metropolitan, Section 8 housing attract a high proportion of criminals and "high maintenance" tennants. They know their "rights", but don't have any concept of responsibility.

Establish 'Promise Neighborhoods' for Areas of Concentrated Poverty: Successful strategies to address concentrated, intergenerational poverty are comprehensive in nature and address the full range of obstacles that stand in the way of poor children. One highly-acclaimed model is the Harlem Children's Zone in New York City, which provides a full network of services to an entire neighborhood from birth to college. Obama and Biden will create 20 Promise Neighborhoods in cities that have high levels of poverty and crime and low levels of student academic achievement.

Again, why isolated neighborhoods? Are these primarily neighborhoods with community organizers?

Increase the Minimum Wage: As president, Obama will raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011 and index it to inflation so full-time workers can earn a living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic needs such as food, transportation, and housing – things so many people take for granted.

What happens when someone is not worth $9.50 per hour, but would be if they had some job experience? They don't get a job, and don't get the experience. Employers will have to give raises to not only those people making less than the new minimum, they will also have to give raises to their more skilled employees. They will have to raise prices, or cut back on jobs. Wages rise which drives costs up, which drives prices up, which drives inflation, which triggers another raise of the minimum, starting the cycle anew. The other option is that even more entry-level jobs will go overseas.

Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities: Our communities will better serve all of their residents if we are able to leave our cars, to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives. As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account.

This assumes we should be funding transportation. Subsidized transport distorts job and housing locations-it gives places the ability to lobby to reduce "undesirables" by controlling the location of bus stops. What if all that was controlled through economics, rather than political?

Use Innovative Measures to Dramatically Improve Efficiency of Buildings: Buildings account for nearly 40 percent of carbon emissions in the United States today and carbon emissions from buildings are expected to grow faster than emissions from other major parts of our economy. It is expected that 15 million new buildings will be constructed between today and 2015. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will work with cities so that we make our new and existing buildings more efficient consumers of electricity.

This will happen anyhow--nobody will deliberately build inefficient buildings. Government intervention will wind up like Ethanol power--Steering resources to where the lobbyists are, rather than where the savings are.

Address Gun Violence in Cities: As president, Barack Obama would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information,

No, it doesn't. It restricts non-government special interest groups from accessing trace information, for purposes other than law enforcement.

and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade. Obama and Biden also favor commonsense measures

Here we go...How come none of the commonsense measures ever increase freedom where experience shows no reduction in crime?

that respect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, while keeping guns away from children and from criminals who shouldn't have them. They support closing the gun show loophole

Criminals don't buy at gunshows in significant numbers. The "loophole" is that the rules at a gunshow are identical to the rules everywhere else. "Closing the loophole" is banning private sales, and effectively requiring gun registration. Are criminals going to register?

and making guns in this country childproof

How can that be done, without making them adultproof as well, or vastly increasing the cost? I've said before, the overwhelming majority of child gun accidents have other risk factors.

They also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent, as such weapons belong on foreign battlefields and not on our streets.

Battlefields almost universally use full-auto machine guns, not the semi-autos covered by the Assault Weapons ban. If these weapons don't belong on our streets, will police and secret service have the same restrictions? Will there be an effort to limit the restrictions to those features that are used disproportionately in criminal activity--For example, If we find that criminals don't stab people with bayonets, is there any reason to restrict them?

End Racial Profiling: Barack Obama cosponsored federal legislation to ban racial profiling and require federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to take steps to eliminate the practice. He introduced and passed a law in the Illinois State Senate requiring the Illinois Department of Transportation to record the race, age, and gender of all drivers stopped for traffic violations so that bias could be detected and addressed.

In theory, good. In practice it assumes that all races and genders drive equally, and treat police equally. Will this expand to prison and courts? "Sorry, you've reached your quota of black immates, he will have to go free".

Cap Outlandish Interest Rates on Payday Loans and Improve Disclosure: In the wake of reports that some service members were paying 800 percent interest on payday loans, the U.S. Congress took bipartisan action to limit interest rates charged to service members to 36 percent. Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe that we must extend this protection to all Americans, because predatory lending continues to be a major problem for low and middle income families alike.

Does this include banks, bounced check fees and the practice of handling overdrafts in the way that generates the most money to the bank? If someone has a $100 balance, makes a $100 deposit, and writes a $102 check and 5 $10 checks, and the bank has a $20 overdraft fee, the ending balance depends entirely on the order stuff is processed--Could be $48, could be a minus 72. That is essentially $120 in interest for a loan of an hour or so. What sort of APR does that calculate to?

Encourage Responsible Lending Institutions to Make Small Consumer Loans: Some mainstream, responsible lending institutions are beginning to enter the short-term lending market to provide many Americans with fair alternatives to predatory lending institutions. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will work with his Secretary of Treasury and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to encourage banks, credit unions and Community Development Financial Institutions to provide affordable short-term and small dollar loans – and to drive the sharks out of business

Some people are bad risks--A higher than normal probability of default, extra labor to collect, a low loan amount with corresponding low profits. Banks are unlikely to be interested in these people as customers. Should they have no choice? What would happen if there were less regulation on loans--Would there be more competition in the "payday loan" market, with better terms offered?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I've been watching the 70's series Connections by James Burke on Youtube. It is a really good, relatively highbrow history of technology, produced by the BBC, and broadcast here on PBS.

Why are so many of the so-called "related videos" about nipples?

Blender Defender

One man's way of keeping his cat off the counter:

I especially like the video from 10/17

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Intrepid Ibex first look

I just upgraded to Intrepid Ibex, the latest version of Ubuntu Linux. On the positive side, I was able to get multi-monitor support running with no particular trouble. Networking appears to run both wired and wireless simultaneously, rather than leaving wireless disabled until you disconnect wired. I think I prefer the old way.

On the downside, I wound up with a recurrence of a bug I'd fixed in Hardy Heron, where the keyboard randomly goes into repeat or drops keys. I won't know if I've fixed that until I use the laptop away from my desk--the trigger seems to be hitting the touchpad and keyboard at the same time, and at my desk I use my 20 year old Type M. (Once the bug is triggered, it is also on the external keyboard)

Sound lost the right channel--Appears to be a Pulseaudio problem.
sudo killall pulseaudio
sudo alsa force-reload
fixed it for now, and it is working through logoff and logon. Took a surprising amount of time to find a solution--Lots of pulseaudio problems reported, but most are either no sound or distorted sound, I didn't find anyone who had only one channel.

Suspend now seems to work again--Suspend worked originally, (and in fact, unsuspending was necessary to wake my wireless up) but for the last two releases it would not unsuspend, and I had to hold the power button down and force a reboot.
Update: Sound doesn't come back when unsuspending.

The external mouse isn't waking up the screensaver.

Easy multi-monitor support is the only compelling feature I've found so far, otherwise I'd stick with the previous version--especially since it is in long term support.