A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Killing Yourself Slowly

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Trump is working to take this country back to the good old days of mercantilism when governments decided who would succeed and who would fail. Implementing tariffs was just the first act in his strategy to provide a supposed advantage to American companies. His latest act was far more blatant. He issued an executive order to prohibit Huawei from the United States market. In the aftermath of this executive order Google has revoked Huawei’s use of its services, including its Play Store:

President Trump issued an executive order last week banning “foreign adversaries” from doing telecommunication business in the US. The move was widely understood as a ban on Huawei products, and now we’re starting to see the fallout. According to a report from Reuters, Google has “suspended” business with Huawei, and the company will be locked out of Google’s Android ecosystem. It’s the ZTE ban all over again.

That’ll give a much needed boost to American device manufacturers, right? You know, all of those device manufacturers who manufacture their devices in China, where Huawei is headquartered. Because I’m sure this executive order won’t result in any reciprocation from the Chinese government.

But even if we set aside the likelihood of a Chinese retaliatory response, this executive order sends a rather clear message for companies headquartered outside of the United States. That message is that they shouldn’t rely on products or services from companies headquartered in the United States. Huawei can still use Android since it’s an open source project (a good reason to prefer open source code to closed source code) so it doesn’t have to write an operating system for its devices from scratch. It does have to figure out a replacement for Google’s proprietary bits though. There are several solid third-party clients available for Android that allow access to online calendaring, contacts, and e-mail services. Many of those clients are also open source. Huawei could utilize them in place of apps like Google Calendar, Google Contacts, and Google Mail (Google Maps is the tough one to replace but a third-party client could be written for it). So it would only need to worry about distribution and it has enough funding to build its own app store (it could also use something like F-Droid, but that’s unlikely). It could also make licensing money off of its app store by providing access to other Android device manufacturers who had their access revoked by Google due to an executive order.

Foreign companies aren’t going to stop doing business when the figurehead of the United States puts his signature on a piece of paper. They’re going to either make or buy replacements for everything can no longer use. If this behavior of barring foreign companies from business in the United States continues, companies headquartered outside of the United States are going to become more and more wary of relying on American products and services and instead seek foreign alternatives. American companies like Google will find themselves more and more isolated from the global market. The constantly dwindling market size will cause them serious economic hardship, which will translate into economic hardship for their employees.

Isolating domestic businesses from foreign markets is slow economic suicide.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 20th, 2019 at 8:00 am

A First

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For the first time in the history of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) an officer has been found guilty of murder while operating in an official capacity:

Mohamed Noor became the first former Minnesota police officer found guilty of an on-duty murder Tuesday as a Hennepin County jury convicted him for the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017.

Jurors reached their verdict after about 10 hours of sequestered deliberations in a case that was closely watched nationwide and in Damond’s native Australia. They convicted Noor of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter but acquitted him of the most serious count — second-degree murder.

I’ve been following this case through Lou Raguse’s Twitter account since he was one of the handful of journalists granted access to the trial. The main thing I took away from the trial was the extent to which MPD went to cover up the murder. From body cameras not being turned on at critical moments to Noor’s squad car being washed and returned to service the very next day it was pretty obvious that MPD went as far as it could to cover the up the evidence of this murder. However, the case was so blatant that those efforts ended up being in vain.

There is currently a pending civil case brought by the family of Justine Damond against the City of Minneapolis. The evidence revealed during Noor’s trial will likely provide a lot of legal ammunition for Justine’s family’s case. I hope the City of Minneapolis gets soaked for the entire $50 million being sought. It’s obvious that MPD and the government tasked with overseeing it are horribly corrupt and they deserve some swift and severe punishment.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 1st, 2019 at 10:00 am

Destructive Rights Management

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Digital Rights Management (DRM), and oxymoronic term since something ceases to be a right the second it’s managed, has been the bane of digital content consumers’ existence since it was first developed. Why does the single player game I bought need a constant Internet connection? DRM. Why is this audio CD trying to install a rootkit on my system? DRM. Why can’t I watch this movie I purchased from the iTunes Store on my Kodi box? DRM.

However, the greatest danger of DRM lies in the fact that any content protected by DRM can be taken away from you. This is a lesson that people who purchased e-books via Microsoft’s service (I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know Microsoft had an e-book service) are learning right now:

There’s bad news for users of Microsoft’s eBook store: the company is closing it down, and, with it, any books bought through the service will no longer be readable.

To soften the blow, the company has promised to refund any customers who bought books through the store (a clue that there may not have been that many of them, hence the closure. Microsoft did not offer further comment).

But just think about that for a moment. Isn’t it strange? If you’re a Microsoft customer, you paid for those books. They’re yours.

But they’re not yours. Why? DRM.

The upside for consumers is that Microsoft isn’t closing its e-book service because it’s is filing for bankruptcy, which means it’s is in a position to offer refunds (more on that in a moment). This situation makes it an oddity though. Oftentimes when a service shuts down it’s doing so because it has run out of money. If this were a small e-book distribution service, not only would its customers lose all access to the books that they purchased, but they would also receive no refund.

But let’s talk about Microsoft’s refund for a moment. If you go to the announcement page, you’ll see that there are some strings attached:

How do I get my refund?

Refund processing for eligible customers start rolling out automatically in early July 2019 to your original payment method. If your original payment method is no longer valid and on file with us, you will receive a credit back to your Microsoft account for use online in Microsoft Store.

If your original payment method is still valid (i.e. if your credit card hasn’t expired or been stolen) you will get a credit back. That’s actually pretty good but if the original payment method is no longer valid, you get Microsoft Fun Bucks, which you can use to buy more DRM encumbered content that may go away at any moment. That’s not as sweet of a deal.

The service will shutdown in July so if you’re in the middle of reading a book, you better finish it up before it’s taken away from you.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 4th, 2019 at 10:00 am

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Californians Receive Some Scraps from the Freedom Table

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I frequently bitch about the People’s Republic of Minnesota but at least we have decent overall gun laws (although the politicians, not surprisingly, at constantly at work to change that). The denizens of California don’t even have that. However, a federal court tossed those poor saps a few scraps from the freedom table:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — High-capacity gun magazines will remain legal in California under a ruling Friday by a federal judge who cited home invasions where a woman used the extra bullets in her weapon to kill an attacker while in two other cases women without additional ammunition ran out of bullets.

“Individual liberty and freedom are not outmoded concepts,” San Diego-based U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez wrote as he declared unconstitutional the law that would have banned possessing any magazines holding more than 10 bullets.

This case stems not from California’s original ban on standard capacity magazines, which allowed gun owners to continue possessing magazines they acquired before the ban, but from a 2016 change that demanded Californians surrender their pre-ban magazines. But that 2016 attempt may end up costing California its earlier magazine ban as well:

Chuck Michel, an attorney for the NRA and the California Rifle & Pistol Association, said the judge’s latest ruling may go much farther by striking down the entire ban, allowing individuals to legally acquire high-capacity magazines for the first time in nearly two decades.

This ruling is potentially good news for gun owners across the entire country. It could be used to invalidate magazines bans in other states that have them and prevent states like the one in which I suffer from implementing them.

In other related news, several California gun owners have miraculously discovered their boats full of standard capacity magazines that went under in 2016. This is great news for both those gun owners and the environment since those lost magazines can now be removed from those marine environments.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 1st, 2019 at 10:00 am

Subscription Fatigue

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Daniele Bolelli announced that he was going to take his excellent History on Fire podcast to a new subscription podcast service called Luminary. I don’t blame him. As he said, he’s been putting full-time hours into a podcast that is currently paying part-time wages and Luminary appears to be offering him a better deal. However, Luminary is a new player in the already crowded premium podcast market. There are quite a few services offering podcasters a mechanism to monetize their content. The problem is that they’re all silos that have a handful of exclusive podcasts available, which is the same problem facing the movie and television streaming market at the moment.

Rewind just a few years ago when Netflix was the king of streaming movies and television shows. You paid Netflix a monthly fee to access all of the content it had available and life was pretty good. But Netflix’s success convinced a lot of content creators that they could make big money in this space without giving a third-party like Netflix a cut of the action. Today if you want to stream the new Star Trek series, you need to subscribe to CBS’s streaming service. If you want to stream Marvel movies and shows, you’ll soon have to subscribe to Disney’s streaming service. If you want to stream Man in the High Castle, you’ll have to pay for Amazon Prime. Hell, DC Entertainment is starting its own streaming service, which is where you’ll probably have to go if you want to watch the latest Batman series.

Compare this to music streaming services. Whether you subscribe to Apple Music or Spotify doesn’t make a huge difference. Both services provide largely the same content. That’s because the record labels never entered the streaming market themselves. Instead they let far more competent companies handle the delivery mechanism. The fact that music piracy is down shows that people are willing to pay for convenience. But would this story be the same if each record label was operating its own service? Would people who currently pay a single monthly subscription to Apple Music or Spotify be willing instead to pay a monthly fee to Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, and EMI simultaneously?

As more and more content, software, and services migrate to a subscription model we’re going to start seeing what I like to refer to as subscription fatigue. Consider just a small sample of the subscription fees an individual could find themselves paying today. You have the obvious service subscriptions such as a home Internet connection, cell phone plan, garbage collection, water, etc. But people have to get work done so they may also find themselves paying a subscription fee for Microsoft Office 360, Adobe Creative Suite, Dropbox Plus, and maybe an important app or two on their phone. All work and no play makes for a dull life so many people may subscribe to a few entertainment services. They may pay a subscription fee for cable or satellite television, Netflix, Disney+, World of Warcraft, a phone game or two, and maybe soon Google Stadia (if Stadia uses a subscription fee). Then you have their daily commute to consider. What will they listen to as they drive to work? Maybe Apple Music or Spotify subscription, Luminary, and Stitcher Premium.

All of these small monthly subscriptions add up quickly and each household only has so much money to spend. At some point an individual may decide that they can’t afford both Netflix and Disney+. Does that mean they will cancel one and forego that service’s exclusive content or does that mean that they will simply pirate that service’s exclusive content? I’d bet the latter in most cases. And once they’re pirating one service’s content, they may decide it would be financially smarter to cancel their other subscription and pirate that service’s content too.

This post isn’t meant to be a condemnation of subscription services. I understand that people need to make a living and certainly don’t disparage people for trying to do so. But I do question the sustainability of having so many silos. I think the current music streaming model where content creators are largely separate from content deliverers and exclusive access deals are at a minimum is the most sustainable model. That way the content creators get paid and the content consumers can take their pick of delivery services without having to sacrifice a lot of their content. I think the diaspora way from Netflix is going to hurt the movie and television streaming markets (although some large players like Disney will likely do well with their service) in the long run. I also think it would be wise for Podcast streaming services to adopt the music streaming model where content creation is mostly separate from delivery and exclusive content deals are the exception rather than the rule. And when game streaming becomes more viable (which is may with Google Stadia), I think it would be wise for game creators to avoid being shuffled into a series of exclusive silos rather than providing their games to a wide number of streaming services. All of these services are ultimately competing not just with each other but with the free alternative of piracy. People will pay for convenience but they will only pay so much.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 25th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Posted in Economics

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Tyranny in New Zealand Isn’t Beginning

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In the wake of New Zealand’s announced gun ban I’ve seen a lot of pro-gun people stating that this is the beginning of tyranny in New Zealand. However, tyranny in New Zealand isn’t beginning, it’s already well established. Yesterday I posted not just about the new gun ban but about New Zealand’s law that grants the government permission to lock somebody up for up to 14 years for publishing objectionable material. It shouldn’t surprise anybody that the government not only gets to jail people for posting objectionable material but it also gets to define what is objectionable.

None of this is new either. There is a long tradition of censorship in New Zealand, including filtering Internet traffic. As an amusing aside, New Zealand’s Internet filtering came almost immediately after its government promised not to implement Internet filtering:

In March 2009, the Minister for Communications and IT, Steven Joyce, stated that the government had been following the controversy surrounding Internet censorship in Australia, and had no plans to introduce something similar in New Zealand. He acknowledged that filtering can cause delays for all Internet users, and that those who are determined to get around any filter will find a way to do so.[5] Later in July of the same year, it was reported that the Department of Internal Affairs had plans to introduce Internet filtering in New Zealand.[6][7] The project, using Swedish software, cost $150,000.[8] February 2010 saw the first meeting of the Independent Reference Group, who are tasked with overseeing the responsible implementation of the DCEFS.[9] In March 2010, a year after Joyce stated that there were no plans to do so, the Department of Internal Affairs stated that the filter was operational and in use.[10] Tech Liberty NZ objected to the launch of the filter, but DIA defended the system and noted that trials over two years showed that the filter did not affect the speed or stability of the internet.[11]

Free speech, which is usually considered a cornerstone of a free society, hasn’t existed in New Zealand for a very long time. Banning firearms is just another step in the direction New Zealand has been traveling for a long time now.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 22nd, 2019 at 10:00 am

Keeping the Slaves in Their Place

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Not only is New Zealand punishing gun owners, it is also punishing slaves who expressed themselves improperly:

The United States is unusual in offering near-absolute protection for free speech under the First Amendment. Most other countries—even liberal democracies—have more extensive systems of online and offline censorship. That difference has been on display this week as New Zealand authorities have begun prosecuting people for sharing copies of last week’s white supremacist mass shooting in Christchurch and for posting hate speech in the wake of the attack.

[…]

Distributing objectionable materials online comes with stiff legal penalties. One man—the 44-year-old owner of an insulation company with alleged neo-Nazi sympathies—has been arrested and charged with two counts of distributing objectionable materials in violation of New Zealand’s Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act. He is being held without bail and could be sentenced to as much as 14 years in prison for each offense.

If you want to judge some of humanity and find them wanting, go to the comments section of that story and read all of the comments by the fascists who support this nonsense (or, just as bad in my opinion, believe the punishment is too severe but otherwise support the law).

I personally object to the ideas expressed by white supremacists and pretty much every other type of collectivist. I’ll even remove their garbage from my site. However, I object even more strongly against the idea that a government should be allowed to punish somebody for what they say, even if it’s the vilest thing imaginable. But I learned long ago that I’m a rather rare breed because I believe individual freedom trumps the demands of the unwashed masses (often referred to as democracy).

Written by Christopher Burg

March 21st, 2019 at 10:30 am

Putting the Slaves in Their Proper Place

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Once again proving that the concept of due process isn’t acknowledged even in so-called liberal democracies, the overlords in New Zealand have announced that in the aftermath of the Christchurch attacks they’re not just punishing the shooter, but they’re also punishing every gun owner in the nation:

New Zealand will ban all types of semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles following the Christchurch attacks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said.

The announcement comes less than a week after 50 people were killed at two mosques, allegedly by a lone gunman.

Ms Ardern said she expected new legislation to be in place by 11 April, saying: “Our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too.”

Just because you had no hand in the commission of a crime doesn’t mean you can’t be punished. Now the slaves in New Zealand will join their counterparts in most of the other Commonwealth nations in being all but entirely disarmed.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 21st, 2019 at 10:00 am

Alternate Social Media Project Part 1: Riot.im

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When I announced that I was cutting back on blogging, I explained that it was so I could focus my energy on other projects. One of those projects, which I’ve dubbed the Alternate Social Media Project (ASMP), has been replacing the social media functionality provided by Facebook. Why? Because Facebook has become not only a total invasion of privacy (which most people apparently don’t give two shits about) but also an increasingly useless platform for anybody with beliefs that aren’t state approved (which people seem to care about when they find themselves being censored by Facebook’s administrators). Rather than demand that the government step in and force Facebook to run its operations in the manner I approve, I decided it would be easier to just move somewhere freer.

This project is occurring in steps. The first step was to find something to fulfill the primary use of social media: communication. My requirements were modest. The solution upon which I settled had to be decentralized, fully usable on mobile platforms, and offer the option of secure communications. I settled on Riot.im since it was one of the few decent options that met those requirements.

Riot.im is the reference client for the Matrix protocol. The Matrix protocol is, basically, an evolution of Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Unlike other attempts to improve on IRC, Matrix is also federated, which means anybody can run a server and those servers can communicate with one another. Facebook demonstrates the importance of federation. If you express wrongthink of Facebook, you risk being exiled. If you express wrongthink on a Matrix server, you risk being exiled from that specific server but you can migrate over to another server, possibly your own server (where you can express all the wrongthink your heart desires). So long as the new server you’re on is federate with the servers your friends are on, you can continue your conversations.

Unlike IRC and many other older communication protocols (XMPP comes to mind), Riot.im works well on mobile devices. Android and iOS like to kill apps in the background and when those apps are killed, all of their active network connections die with them. With IRC this means you have no idea what is going on in the room until you open the app and reconnect. Riot.im, on the other hand, will work like other modern communication tools when your app isn’t running. When activity happens in one of the rooms of which you’re a member, you will receive notifications (unless you disable those notifications). If something piques your interest, you can open the app and jump into the conversation. My previous attempts to migrate friends to other platforms were thwarted because none of them were willing to use something that didn’t play well with mobile. I’m happy to say that Riot.im doesn’t suffer from that shortcoming.

Riot.im fulfills the third criterion by offering the option of end-to-end encryption. Matrix has no concept of direct messages as far as I can tell. When you want to communicate privately with somebody, you’re placed in a private room with them. If you want your communications to be private, you can turn encryption on in the room. Another nice feature is that once encryption is enabled in a room, it cannot be disabled. This setup, although potentially confusing to some people, has two nice features. The first is that this setup enables any room to be encrypted. You and your friends can setup an encrypted room where you can express wrongthink without the server administrators being able to see it (unless you invite them into your room). The second is that you don’t have to worry about somebody secretly turning encryption off at a future point (and thus exposing your wrongthink to outsiders).

Riot.im obviously isn’t a replacement for Facebook. At most it’s a replacement for Facebook Messenger. Since everything on Riot.im occurs in a chatroom, it’s not as easy to have a conversation about a linked article and there is no way to accrue imaginary Internet points like you can with Facebook’s reactions. However, I’m not actually a fan of services that try to do everything. It’s too difficult to replace individual parts when something better rolls around or an update to the current tool makes it unusable.

If you’re interested in migrating off of Facebook or other restrictive social media platforms, you could do worse than starting with Riot.im.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 19th, 2019 at 10:00 am

There’s Nothing Worse for a Revolutionary than Victory

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There’s nothing worse for a revolutionary than victory.

Consider the plight of the Russian communist revolutionaries. So long as the czarist loyalist remained, the handful of communist factions had a common enemy upon which to focus.

Then the communists won. Without the common foe to unite them, they quickly turned on one another (sorry Mensheviks and anarchists, there’s only room in Moscow for one communist party).

Then the Bolsheviks won. Without external communist foes to unite them, they too turned on one another (GTFO, Trotsky, and take Bukharin and Zinoviev with you).

Then the remaining Bolsheviks realized that without an external enemy, they would have to continue killing each other. So the people were accused of being kulaks and counter-revolutionaries.

The counter-revolutionary is the last refuge of a revolutionary that has run out of foes to kill. It is likely that without the counter-revolutionary, the revolutionary would have to kill himself.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 13th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Posted in Politics

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