Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I Might Be A Murdering Jihadi, But At Least I'm Not A Sewer Rat

So my local community weekly newspaper, the Alexandria Gazette Packet, featured this delightful cartoon on its editorial page last Thursday:

"Mz. Geller" is Pamela Geller, the editor of the blog Atlas Shrugs and president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) as well as Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). She is a fierce defender of free speech, and sponsored a "Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest" in Garland, Texas this month. As you may have heard, two Islamist gunmen, apparently furious that such an event could be allowed to take place, stormed the venue with high-powered firearms, but were both shot dead by an off-duty policeman who'd been hired for security.

The aftermath has been controversial, with apologists who clearly don't understand our First Amendment - people Salman Rushdie calls "the but brigade" - trying to blame the victim of the attack rather than the gunmen. "Yes, we believe in freedom of speech, but..."

There's no "but." You either believe in freedom of speech or you don't. Steve Artley, the Gazett Packet's editorial cartoonist, doesn't.

And so I've sent the following letter to his editor:
That's a pretty neat trick Steve Artley, your editorial cartoonist, pulled off last week - pretending to defend free speech while attacking one of its most vigorous defenders.
The point of free speech seems to be lost on Mr. Artley. Speech that offends no one need not be defended; no one ever got in trouble for saying, "Have a nice day." Offensive speech is the speech that needs to be defended - the only speech that needs to be defended.

Defended from whom?

Defended from those who would kill you merely for offending them by expressing it.

If you dread to open your mouth for fear that someone will kill you for it, you have made him your master. If he can forbid you to draw pictures on pain of death, he can forbid you to worship the God you choose, forbid you to not worship God, forbid you to marry whom you choose, forbid you to disobey your husband - the list is endless. Far worse than the "heckler's veto" over your speech, he wields the murderer's veto.

How do you stand up to such a person? There is only one way: to do exactly that which he expressly forbids. When I was a teenager, African-Americans were forbidden to eat at lunch counters in some department stores. How did they demand their rights? By sitting down at those lunch counters. They were forbidden to sit in certain seats on public buses. How did they resist? By sitting in those forbidden seats. They were forbidden to march from Selma, Alabama to petition for their basic voting rights as Americans. How did they resist? By marching.

When someone threatens you with violence for daring to exercise your rights, he determines the manner of your defiance - doing exactly that which he forbids. If he can forbid you to exercise that right, you must defy him, or else you have lost that right; you have made the murderer your master, and it's just a matter of time before he finds more things to forbid you on pain of death.

It's easy to say you believe in free speech - as long as it doesn't cost you anything. Susan Geller has done what any American who truly believes in free speech must do - defy the threats. If the editors of the Gazette Packet also believe in the value of free speech, they will publish the drawing of Muhammad that won her contest. The artist, Bosch Fawstin, has granted permission on his blog and twitter feed to those who wish to publish it - http://fawstin.blogspot.com/ and @BoschFawstin.

If you don’t really believe in free speech, or if you're afraid to exercise your right, then you'll ignore that challenge. After all, publishing a cartoon portraying a middle-aged Jewish woman as a sewer-dweller is a lot safer than publishing a picture of Muhammad.
Let's see if they publish it.

President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). - See more at: http://pamelageller.com/about/#sthash.IO45bDvF.dpuf
President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). - See more at: http://pamelageller.com/about/#sthash.IO45bDvF.dpuf
President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). - See more at: http://pamelageller.com/about/#sthash.IO45bDvF.dpuf
President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). - See more at: http://pamelageller.com/about/#sthash.IO45bDvF.dpuf
President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). - See more at: http://pamelageller.com/about/#sthash.IO45bDvF.dpuf
President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). - See more at: http://pamelageller.com/about/#sthash.IO45bDvF.dpuf
President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). - See more at: http://pamelageller.com/about/#sthash.IO45bDvF.dpuf

Thursday, May 7, 2015

"Hello, I'm Calling From Microsoft and I'm Here to Rob You."

I got that call today.

It showed up as "Private Number" on my caller ID, but I picked it up anyway.

It was a guy with an Indian accent calling from "Microsoft Windows in California" and informing me that my computer was doing bad things and that he was here to help me fix them. In case you've never gotten one of these calls, the scam is to get you to boot up your computer, go into the system files folder (your scammer will guide you there), and ask you if you have certain files showing up in the folder listing. You will have those files, because they are perfectly normal system files, but lots of people don't know that and your scammer is counting on your ignorance. He'll then have you type some commands that will give him control over your computer, and he'll install some malware on your computer so he can read your passwords and logon IDs, which he'll find very handy when he wants to go online to empty your bank account. Here's what Microsoft - the real Microsoft - says about these scams.

I decided to play along. Fortunately for my new friend, I don't have a police whistle or an air horn, because otherwise he'd be visiting a doctor to treat his newly-ruptured eardrum, so I decided I would just tell him I needed to boot up the computer and it would take a few minutes, and then resume what I was doing until he got bored and hung up. My object was to see how long I could string him along (hey, I'm retired; I have lots of time for this kind of stuff).

He said that was fine, and I should take my time, and he would wait for me.

I put the phone down and resumed looking at my Twitter feed, and after a couple of minutes, picked up the phone again and asked if he was still there. He was, and I told him the computer was still booting. He was very nice about it, said he understood, these things can sometimes take a while, and he'd be happy to wait.

Then I got a brilliant idea.

I took the cordless phone I was using and went and got another cordless phone from another room. And I fired that phone up.

Then I placed the two phones right next to each other, speaker-end to earpiece-end. If you've ever done that, you know the result is a frightful high-pitched whine.

I held the phones like that for about 30 seconds, then hung up.

A minute or two later, the phone rings again. It was my Microsoft buddy. I have to give him credit, he's a persistent fuck.

"Did you hang up?" he asked me.

"Yes, there was a terrible static coming from your end and I couldn't hear anything. It seems to be better now."

So we resumed our "reboot" session (my computer is on 24/7) and after a couple of seconds, I mated the phones again. Here's the video, in case you want to try it yourself someday (you might want to turn down your computer's volume a bit...).


I have to admit, I took a guilty gleeful pleasure hearing him say "Hello?" repeatedly.

After about a minute, I moved the phones apart and spoke loudly into the phone: "Hello, can you hear me?"

"Yes, is there something wrong with your phone?"

"My phone works just fine, I've been speaking with people all day long" (that was a lie on my part) "and I haven't had any trouble at all. The trouble is obviously with your phone. You need to have your phone lines looked at. Meanwhile, I thank you for your help; there's a computer shop right near my house; I'll bring it in for them to look at. Bye!"

I've been trying to feel bad about what I did, but I'm just not getting there.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Increase the Minimum Wage! It's the Right Thing to Do! For WalMart!

Have you ever worked with someone who needed to be fired? The guy who habitually walks in the office a half-hour late, with a ready excuse in his hip pocket? The guy who hands in work that's either overdue or shoddy or both? The guy who leaves for lunch before everyone else and returns an hour after them? Who seems to spend an unusually long time in the bathroom or is otherwise missing in action? Who seems to go through an awful lot of office supplies, like Scotch tape, especially around Christmas? And when confronted, seems to have an excuse for everything?

Of course you have. We all have. You may even be that guy yourself.

How much is that guy worth? What should he be getting paid?

If you answered, "Nothing - he really needs to be fired," welcome to Realville.

Now, have you ever worked with someone whose work was barely adequate? The guy who's constantly skating the edge, whose work is just good enough, who you can trust with the simplest tasks in his job description, but no more, who can't be asked to take on any extra work at crunch time? Yeah, you know him, too.

Now, some questions:

How much should your company be paying that first guy? We already answered that - nothing. He should be fired. Duh.

That's cold and heartless, isn't it? But he's actually costing the company money; they are losing money because of him. Why should any employer keep someone who's sending more money out the door than he's bringing in? If his sloppy work costs his company a net $25 every single day, why should they pay him any salary at all on top of that $25? Why should any employer deliberately lose money? If it cost a widget manufacturer $10 to manufacture each widget, would that employer deliberately price them at $9 each, knowing he would lose $1 every time he sold a widget? So why should he treat the cost of keeping that worthless employee any differently?

What about that second employee? The one who's barely adequate? Who's barely pulling his weight, but isn't about to get fired? How much should he get paid?

Well, that's a tougher one, isn't it?

Okay, I propose he gets paid a thousand dollars an hour.

What? What do you mean that's ridiculous?

If you pay him a thousand bucks an hour, he would have no financial worries; isn't that a Good Thing? Yeah, but his employer would have big-time worries, especially if that employer is a mom-and-pop crafts store that only employs ten people and has only about a thousand dollars in sales per day.

Okay, how about a hundred bucks an hour?

Still doesn't work; if the worst employee gets $100 an hour, and you have ten employees, your labor costs have eaten up all your $1000 in daily sales an hour after you open your doors.

Let's lose another zero; we'll pay him ten dollars an hour.

Okay, $10 an hour, times ten employees, times eight hours, gives a daily labor cost of $800, leaving $200 daily profit for the owner.

Not so fast. That's not profit. The owner is also paying to keep the lights on and paying rent to the landlord. Not to mention the cost of buying the merchandise he's trying to sell. That reduces his $200 down to zero profit pretty quickly.

Okay, how about five dollars an hour? That leaves mom and pop with $400 a day to pay for the costs of keeping the doors open; whatever's left over after that is their profit, from which they can pay buy their own food, clothing, and shelter for themselves and Bobby and Susie. After they've paid the tax man, of course.

The only problem is that it's illegal to pay employees only five dollars an hour. Even an employee whose work barely covers the expense of employing him in the first place.

Minimum wage laws say this: If an employee isn't bad enough to fire, his work is automatically worth whatever the minimum wage law says it's worth. President Obama says we should pay everyone $10.10 an hour. In other words, President Obama believes that the difference between an employee barely worth keeping and one barely worth firing is $10.10 an hour. There's no gray area. Our president is telling us that there is no work that is worth less than $10.10 an hour, that an employee who's one step away from getting fired is worth $10.10 an hour until his boss pulls the trigger and sacks his sorry ass, at which point, in an instant, he goes from being worth $10.10 an hour to being worth $0.00 an hour. According to President Obama, there is no such thing as an employee who is worth $9.90 an hour, or $8.80, or $2.20. Nope - if you're good enough to work at all, you're worth $10.10 an hour. Why? Because income inequality! Or something.

So while everyone with average intelligence understands that there are people who would be getting overpaid at ten cents an hour, our president, being the Smartest Man in the Room TM and therefore of far greater than average intelligence, is wiser than that, and understands that all work is worth at least $10.10 an hour. So let it be written. So let it be done.

So, what's going to happen when the federal minimum wage jumps from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour? What happens when mom and pop suddenly find their labor costs have jumped almost 40%?

What's going to happen is that mom and pop are going to do one of two things - maybe both.

Thing the first: They'll lay off employees or cut back their hours, starting with the least-productive ones. The guy who was barely worth $7.25 an hour will find himself out of a job when, with the U.S. Department of Labor standing firmly behind him, he commands $10.10 an hour. "Sorry, Fred, you were barely worth keeping at $7.25 an hour, so you sure as hell aren't worth keeping at $10.10. Good luck and write if you get work!"

Thing the second: Mom and pop will raise their prices.

You know who won't raise their prices or lay anyone off, if your communist leftist socialist liberal progressive  friends are to be believed?

WalMart. Evil WalMart.

Because we all know that Evil WalMart makes billions of dollars in profits, and Evil WalMart can afford to pay more without laying anyone off and without raising prices. So when the minimum wage goes up to $10.10 an hour, Evil WalMart will suck it up and pay.

Meanwhile, mom and pop will find they can't afford to pay $10.10 without raising their prices, so that's what they'll do.

And rip their hair out in frustration as they see their loyal customers start shopping at Evil WalMart.

And when mom and pop, unable to compete with Evil WalMart, go out of business, they, and their remaining seven employees will all head for the unemployment office. And the TV news will report that "unemployment remains stubbornly high as the economic recovery shows no sign of strengthening..."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Under the Tip of the Iceberg is a Giant Shipwrecking Machine

If you know just a little about database management (that describes me to a T), Flynn, over at NightShiftPolitics, makes a convincing case that the system underlying Obamacare is a cruise ship full of  fail - and the website is the least of its problems. I raised a number of the issues he discusses here; he brings an experienced data and web developer's eye to them. His conclusion is that it's almost certainly the entire system that's a catastrophic mess, not just the website.

If perchance you don't know doodly-squat about database management, never fear - NightShiftPolitics puts it all in plain English. Don't know what call latency is? You will before you've read for five minutes, and will understand it well enough to explain to your saintly, white-haired mother why it's gumming up the works. Then you can explain to her what a data warehouse is.

Read it here. When you're done, you'll decide you're safer risking the fine for being uninsured than registering.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

If You Like Your Vogon Poetry, You Can Keep Your Vogon Poetry

Today's assignment: Compare two selected items from Al Gore's Amazing Internet TM and determine which one is more subject to rational description.

The first is a sample of Vogon poetry found in Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But first, a little background on Vogon poetry:

Vogon poetry is of course the third worst in the Universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their Poet Master Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning" four of his audience members died of internal haemorrhaging, and the President of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council, survived by gnawing one of his own legs off. Grunthos is reported to have been "disappointed" by the poem's reception, and was about to embark on a reading of his twelve-book epic entitled My Favourite Bathtime Gurgles when his own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save life and civilization, leaped straight up through his neck and throttled his brain. The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England, in the destruction of the planet Earth.

Here is the Vogon poem, written by Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council :
Oh freddled gruntbuggly,
Thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.
Groop, I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes,
And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts
With my blurglecruncheon, see if I don't!

Below is a diagram of all the known interfaces in Obamacare. If you would like to see it in a size that makes it readable, click on the diagram below, and when the page comes up, click on the diagram again to get it to full size..

As anyone who's worked in IT can tell you, the greater the number of interfaces in a system, the greater the complexity and difficulty involved in building the system architecture that executes it. And the greater the likelihood of an execution failure somewhere. If you're reading this in October, 2013, you're already seeing the system's failure, as the simple task of registering people and allowing them to log on to the system has brought it to its virtual knees.

Your assignment: Choose either the poem or the diagram and explain it to a person of average intelligence so that he or she understands it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Your Data Is Safe - Trust Us

So by now, you're familiar with the horror stories surrounding www.healthcare.gov, AKA the Affordable Care Act website, AKA the Obamacare website, AKA the biggest tech disaster since Chernobyl. People trying to register spend hours, or even days trying to get in, ambiguous error messages pop up, the website can't even locate its own error messages, and (I like this one best), call center reps were telling everyone who called they had to change their passwords.

And of course there are the "What the hell were they thinking?" design stupidities, requiring you to register even before you could browse the site to see what kind of insurance you might be able to buy. Imagine if Amazon did that to you. Or your friendly neighborhood automobile or homeowner's insurance sales person:

Sales Person: We won't talk to you or let you see what we have for sale until you tell us who you are and let us set up a customer file on you.

You: Fuck you very much.

But these are minor issues. Seriously. I mean, building a couple of pages to set up a user logon ID and password is relatively easy. Your bank does it on their website, your gym does it, Amazon and eBay and PayPal do it. It's not rocket science.

And letting people see what wares you have for sale before they buy isn't just good web design; it's simple good business sense. And it's a problem that could probably be resolved by moving the location of a few modules of code in the logic stream.

So again, these are minor issues. Here's the major one, the one that should scare you to death.

Obamacare wants to know everything about you. Your name. Your date of birth. Your Social Security number. And more. And Obamacare is going to share all kinds of information all around the U.S. government. It'll share your name and SSN with the Social Security Administration to confirm that you are who you say you are. It'll share your SSN with the IRS so the IRS can send back income information so Obamacare can decide how much of an insurance subsidy the taxpayers should fork over to help you pay for your health insurance. And it'll tell the IRS if you don't have government-approved health insurance so the IRS can fine you (or is it tax you? I'm still waiting for a rational explanation of how what you have to pay for not having insurance can be both a tax and a fine, or one or the other, or neither...). And it'll share your SSN with Immigration and Customs Enforcement so you can be thrown out of the country if you're not here legally.

So all this information about you is going to get kicked around the government like a hockey puck and reviewed by all kinds of government employees.

The federal government has roughly 2 million employees, plus an untold number of contractors. Some of them can not be trusted, even those with all kinds of security clearances. There's Sandy Berger, who tried to steal classified documents from the National Archives. Edward Snowden, a contractor, who stole top-secret U.S. government surveillance documents and handed them over to Russia and China.

And there's Lois Lerner, who was at the center of the conspiracy at the IRS to target conservative groups for their political leanings.

Now that those three bad apples are out of government, do you really believe that there's nobody left who would misuse your private information?

And here's the real ticking time bomb in www.healthcare.gov: We now know that the contract wasn't given to the low bidder; it was given to the only bidder, and they fouled up things so badly that people can't even do something as simple as log on to the system.

That problem will surely be fixed. But if it took them this long to discover the problem (where was your volume testing and beta testing, CGI?), what other problems are lurking that they haven't fixed yet?

When Jay Carney gets up at a press conference, someone should ask him the following questions:
  • Who was/is the project manager for healthcare.gov? Has that person and his entire staff been fired? If not, why not?
  • Healthcare.gov was supposed to roll out October 1. It is clearly not working as designed. Please tell us the date by which it will be working properly. Who will be fired if that target date is not met?
  • In project management, there's a rule of thumb: On time, under budget, bug-free: pick any two. Healthcare.gov rolled out on time, but five times over budget, and completely broken. How soon will the American people get their money back?
  • It took over three years to design a website that won't let people log on. Shouldn't Americans be concerned that the much more complex parts of the site are even more broken?
  • Once people can log on and easily access their records, what will keep their records secure from snoopers like Snowden? "Trust us" is not an acceptable reply, nor is offended self-righteousness.
  • Once people can log on and easily access their records, what will keep political operatives like Lerner from using confidential medical information for political purposes? "Trust us" is not an acceptable reply, nor is offended self-righteousness.
  • Once people can log on and easily access their records, what will keep their records secure from outside hackers? "Trust us" is not an acceptable reply, nor is offended self-righteousness.
Frankly, I don't know how those last three questions can be answered. Which is why, if I didn't already belong to an HMO, I wouldn't sign up for Obamacare unless a real gun (not a Pop Tart or someone's fingers) were literally being pointed right at my head. Because the question isn't if my personal data will be compromised; it's only a question of when. The Obamacare fine would cost a lot less than getting my stolen identity straightened out.

Go ahead. Sign up, log on, and hand over all your personal information. What could possibly go wrong?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Strange Visitors From Another Planet

Of course you understand that when high-tech civilizations meet low-tech civilizations, low-tech always loses badly, even when high-tech isn’t deliberately trying to exterminate low-tech.

So when the tentacled aliens arrive in their high-tech spacetime warping vehicles, it will mean very bad things for us, even if we do have the advantage of opposable thumbs. There’s only one thing that can save us, even if they arrive with the best of intentions: the first one that gets off its spaceship, before it can gabble out “znɚʂx pɷʆwrnaʡɮ snȜʑʥϢxx” (“We come in peace! Behold, we bring you gifts of beads,  trinkets, and digital watches!”), we kill it and eat it and hang a few tentacles by our front door in plain view of whatever else is in that high-tech spacetime warping vehicle.

When word gets back to the home planet, they’ll decide our crap-covered hornet’s nest of a planet is too disgusting to mess with, when Argelius II is right next door to us (next door for a galaxy-hopping civilization, anyway) and has a “Gun-Free Zone” sign prominently posted in the front yard to boot.

As precedent, I refer you to the Jivaro Indians of Ecuador and Peru. The Spanish conquistadors utterly destroyed the great civilizations of the Aztecs and the Incas, but the Jivaro are still there today. Why? Because they never tried to make nice with the high-tech civilization; they simply regarded shrunken Spanish heads as delightfully chic accessories for their mud huts. It wasn’t long before everyone needed a couple of shrunken Spanish heads hanging on the front door
and the conquistadors decided to move on to less-hazardous and more-promising enterprises like searching for the Seven Cities of Gold and the Fountain of Youth.