A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for May, 2010

Yet Another TSA List

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We have the selectee list, the no-fly list, and now Dvorak Uncensored reports we have the uncooperative serf list:

Airline passengers who get frustrated and kick a wall, throw a suitcase or make a pithy comment to a screener could find themselves in a little-known Homeland Security database.

The Transportation Security Administration says it is keeping records of people who make its screeners feel threatened as part of an effort to prevent workplace violence.

Now I can understand wanting to deal with customers kicking walls and throwing suitcases (for instance removing them from the airport) but making comments? Seriously? Are the poor wittle TSA agents getting hurt feewings? On a more serious note this list could be used as a sort of “revenge” list:

Privacy advocates fear the database could feed government watch lists and subject innocent people to extra airport screening.

Once again I’ll state that customers who are acting outwardly violent by damaging equipment should be removed from the airport like the tantrum throwing child they are. They still shouldn’t be put on a list that opens them up to additional screening as a form of revenge by untouchable government agents. This goes double for people making rude remarks. But here’s the funniest part:

The database was created in late 2007 as the TSA launched a program to prevent the nation’s 50,000 airport screeners from being attacked or threatened, agency spokeswoman Kristin Lee said. At the time, TSA officials voiced concern about passengers disrespecting screeners, and they began issuing new uniforms with police-style badges pinned to shirts.

Lee said attacks and threats against screeners are “rare” and the database has records from about 240 incidents. Most are screeners in conflict with other screeners. About 30 incidents involve people such as passengers or airport workers attacking or threatening screeners, Lee said.

I don’t know why they put the word rare in quotation marks. Considering the number of people who fly every year having only 30 passenger names in it since 2007 means it’s pretty fucking rare. I do find it funny how 210 of the recorded incidents involved screeners in conflict with their colleague. It shows what happens when you give two morons a little bit of authority, they can’t use it responsibly.

All That Video Gaming May Have Benefits

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It’s not secret that I played a lot of video games when I was younger. These days not so much although I did clear up some free time for MegaMan 10. Apparently all that video gaming wasn’t a complete waste of my time though. It seems people who play video games have higher levels of awareness when they’re dreaming:

The first study suggested that people who frequently played video games were more likely to report lucid dreams, observer dreams where they viewed themselves from outside their bodies, and dream control that allowed people to actively influence or change their dream worlds – qualities suggestive of watching or controlling the action of a video-game character.

Maybe that’s why I have such an uncanny ability to control what goes on in my dreams. Finally a benefit to all that time spent playing games!

Written by Christopher Burg

May 27th, 2010 at 7:00 am

High-Tech Scope

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The military wastes no time in finding the next best technology to blow enemies away. It should come as no surprise the military is looking at making their snipers even more precise than they are now. Right now they are looking into some really bad ass sounding optics:

The “One Shot” program originally aimed to give snipers the power to hit a target from 2000 meters away in winds as high as 40 miles per hour. In the first phases of the 3-year-old program, shooters used prototype rifles dressed with lasers and fancy computer hardware to do damage from 1,100 meters away in 18-mile-an-hour winds. The scope-mounted lasers can “see” wind turbulence in the path of the bullet and feed the data to computers, enabling real-time calculation of — and compensation for — the wind-blown trajectory.

That just sounds like all sorts of awesome right there. I think it goes without saying that I want one.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 26th, 2010 at 5:00 pm

When You’re All Alone

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Jay, as the title of the linked post implies, brings up a tough question. Greg Baer, a higher up employee of Bank of America, had a slight dilemma on a Sunday morning when 500 SEIU hoodlums showed up in his front lawn screaming and holding placards. Of course Mr. Baer wasn’t home at the time only his 14 year-old son was but he did arrive at the scene while the hoods were doing their “protest.”

The question being asked by Jay is when is it OK to introduce such crowds to the business end of a defensive weapon. On one hand they didn’t hurt anybody but on the other hand there is good reason to believe lives were in danger (an angry mob is never a safe thing). Of course most people would say you should barricade yourself in your home and call the police. Of course that’s the best advice except for one little detail:

Intimidation was the whole point of this exercise, and it worked-even on the police. A trio of officers who belatedly answered our calls confessed a fear that arrests might “incite” these trespassers.

In this case the police were going to be of no assistance.

I believe there most certainly was a reasonable fear of life in this case. These protesters numbered in the hundreds (large crowds develop a hive mentality and all it takes is one person to turn violent for the entire crowd to follow suit) and were fired up big time. In addition the protesters weren’t protesting on the sidewalk or other public property but walked right up to his home. If they decided to go bursting in there would not be enough time for the police to react and with that many hoods the three officers on site couldn’t do anything anyways (gee maybe they should have called for backup).

Personally I think the best solution to this type of problem would be to call barricade yourself and family members in the home where a natural choke point exists (at the top of the stairs in a two story home for instance). Have every weapon available at hand along with as many loaded magazines as possible. I’d also ensure everybody capable of shouldering a weapon would be armed.

Why not give the invaders (what those hoods really were) some warning shots and hope they disperse? Well legal issues aside you’re facing odds of 500 to maybe one or two in most cases. No matter how well armed you are those odds aren’t going to look so survivable. You can only hope the crowd will disperse on their own without attacking, the police will show up and disperse the crowd (which they weren’t looking to keep on doing), or realize you’re surrounded by a superior force.

One thing I would do though is try to get a camera on hand to record or photograph the protesters. This would give a record and source of identifications so you could bring up changes at a later time (trespassing at the very least).

Of course Mr. Baer’s situation was different and worse in my opinion. He was not at the house but his kid was. What he did required major balls:

Baer, on his way home from a Little League game, parked his car around the corner, called the police, and made a quick calculation to leave his younger son behind while he tried to rescue his increasingly distressed teen. He made his way through a din of barked demands and insults from the activists who proudly “outed” him, and slipped through his front door.

I don’t care who you were walking through a crowd of people who outwardly hate you takes guts.

This entire situation was messed up to say the least. As usual the SEIU thugs were using fear and intimidation in an attempt to get what they want. This becomes more obvious when you see how cagey they are:

Targeting homes and families seems to put SEIU in the ranks of (now jailed) radical animal-rights activists and the Kansas anti-gay fundamentalists harassing the grieving parents of a dead 20-year-old soldier at his funeral (the Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on the latter). But that’s not a conversation that SEIU officials want to have.

When I asked Stephen Lerner, SEIU’s point-person on Wall Street reform, about these tactics, he accused me of getting “emotional.” Lerner was more comfortable sticking to his talking points: “Millions of people are losing their homes, and they have gone to the banks, which are turning a deaf ear.”

Millions of people may be losing their homes but that doesn’t give them the right to trespass on the property of those who still own a home. And not only trespass mind you but in an obviously threatening manner. Then the obvious question:

Okay, fine, then why not continue SEIU protests at bank offices and shareholder meetings-as the union has been doing for more than a year? Lerner insists, “People in powerful corporations seem to think they can insulate themselves from the damage they are doing.”

Wait what? That makes no fucking sense. They aren’t insulating themselves from damage they are going to work. Oh right I forgot the SEIU wanted to scare Mr. Baer, not make a statement against him or his company’s policies. They are probably also trying to get out of the massive loan Mr. Baer’s company was so good to give them:

Complicating this picture is the fact that BofA is the union’s lender of choice — and SEIU, suffering financially, owes the bank nearly $4 million in interest and fees. Bank of America declined comment on the loans.

I’m just saying. Oh and to just judge the intelligence of the SEIU’s supporters in this particular matter:

Of course, HuffPost readers responding to the coverage assumed that Baer was an evil former Bush official. He’s not. A lifelong Democrat, Baer worked for the Clinton Treasury Department, and his wife, Shirley Sagawa, author of the book The American Way to Change and a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, is a prominent national service advocate.

In the 1990s, the Baers’ former bosses, Bill and Hillary Clinton, denounced the “politics of personal destruction.” Today politicians and their voters of all stripes grieve the ugly bitterness that permeates our policy debates. Now, with populist rage providing a useful cover, it appears we’ve crossed into a new era: The politics of personal intimidation. To top of page

Yeah they’re supporters are mostly uninformed nitwits.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 25th, 2010 at 1:30 pm

The Proper Use of Bayonets

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Apparently somebody called Sir Sodomy on his remark about placing certain objects in certain locations. The Truth About Guns has the heads up about Daley and his fear of bayonets (and love of butt rape):

“It was a gun with a bayonet,” Daley said, referring to the weapon he picked up Thursday. “Just think, a gun with a bayonet. What is a bayonet used for?”

It’s used for rushing at the enemy when your five rounds in your fixed magazine in your bolt action rifle are expended. Thank God we finally invented “high-capacity” magazines that are quick to reload so we could do away with antiquated and barbaric bayonet runs!

Of course somebody pointed out the bloody obvious:

When it was suggested bayonets are not for sticking in butts, Daley replied, “Well, you stick it anyplace. It’s a bayonet, so let’s not make trivia about this.”

Yeah you can stick it anyplace, Sir Sodomy just prefers to stick it in the butt.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 25th, 2010 at 12:00 pm

More Bad Ideas from New York

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Seriously that state is fast becoming the bad idea capital of the Union. Tam found another bad idea brewing the in the state mostly run by a single city. Meet the “minimum force” bill:

Under present NYPD training, cops are taught to shoot at the center of their target and fire their weapon until the threat has been stopped.

Which is how it should be done. You aim for the largest target that also house organs which the human body stops without. It’s pretty much a win-win area to target. Well that makes too much sense so:

This legislation would require officers to literally shoot the gun out of someone’s hand or shoot to wound them in the leg or arm.

So this legislation would require the police to do the impossible (shoot a gun out of the criminal’s hands) or aim for very small targets that, when hit, won’t incapacitate the criminal in most cases. I’m all for restricting police powers and limiting the use of deadly force to when it’s needed. With that said the gun generally comes out when deadly force is needed and when it’s needed it’s needed. If a criminal is endangering the life of another the quickest way to stop the situation should be taken which is almost always shooting the punk until he stops. A punk will stop a whole lot faster if bullets enter critical areas like the head or chest as opposed to limbs which the human body can very well survive without.

Freedom(TM) by Daniel Suarez

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I mentioned during my review of Daniel Suarez’s Daemon that I’d do a review of its sequel, Freedom(TM), when I finished it. Truth be told I finished reading it some time back and never got around to writing this review. Yes I’m lazy deal with it. But for your reading pleasure here is a review on Freedom(TM).

First the spoiler free part of the review. The book is fan-fucking-tastic. I can say with a straight face that the Daemon series is one of the best I’ve read. The combination of characters, technology, and story blend very well together. It’s obvious Mr. Suarez has a real understanding of both modern mature technology and technology still in the prototype phase. The other obvious thing is Mr. Suarez knows how to tell a good story. The book is paced well meaning you don’t have to worry about long sections of the book that really accomplish nothing (also known as filler or padding). Every chapter has a purpose and reveals something interesting and advances the story.

The main thing that attracts me to this series is the combination of real technology and a good story. Daniel Suarez is like combing the late Michael Crichton with computer scientist (Mr. Suarez is a database consultant after all) and other scientists. This series is a technothriller although using believable technology is a believable manner. There are no self-replicating nanobots or faster-than-light ships. What the universe of Daemon does have are fabricators that can created objects out of base raw materials, optical weapons that can blind opponents temporarily, and vehicles which can be remotely controlled via satellites.

The biggest component of any story (besides the story itself obviously) are the characters. Mr. Suarez gives us a variety of characters from your average guy with good intentions to a sociopath on a mission of revenge. All the characters in this book are meaningful (so you don’t have a cast of throw away characters you could give two shits about) and have a purpose (once again not sources of filler material). Each character has some complexity behind them and all the major characters’s lives advance with the story (no forgotten characters in other words).

Be forewarned that there is no recap in this book meaning you really do need to read Daemon first. Personally I always read series novels in order but if you’re not one to do that you’ll be very confused by Freedom(TM).

So that’s the spoiler-free portion of the review, the book is amazing. Now for the detailed review.

Do note story spoilers for both Daemon and Freedom(TM) will be present from here on out. Don’t bitch if you see story elements revealed.

Freedom(TM) picks up where Daemon left off. In Daemon a computer game programmer left behind a daemon process which began executing a series of functions based on news headlines is scraped from the Internet. Ultimately the goal of the Daemon was to find agents to assist in creating a new society in the wake of the currently collapsing one. The Daemon infected the networks of most of the major corporations and siphoned money from them for use by the Daemon’s agents. From there the actual plan executed.

Freedom(TM) mostly reveals the ultimate plan of the Daemon which is to establish a self sustained society. When we pick up Freedom(TM) the world is in the wake of the greatest depression in history. There are no jobs to be had and money is quickly becoming as worthless as it’s true value (fiat money has no actual value). Mr. Sobol, the daemon’s creator, foresaw this and hence designed a mechanism to ensure long-term survivability of society.

This is accomplished by creating communities that have everything needed for all of the population in a 100 mile radius to survive and prosper. In essence a society which can exist without long supply chains or government (any question why I love this series so much). Each self-sustained area or holon consists of farms, schools, fabrication facilities (using 3D printers to construct anything needed), and a renewable power source. These holons are popping up in many areas during the time line of Freedom(TM). The purpose behind these self-sustaining holons is to, in essence, create a distributed society with no single points of failure. Any single holon can be destroyed without it causing troubles for any other holon thus making a durable and reliable society.

It can go without saying that the government and many major corporations (whom the Daemon is stealing funds from) don’t really like this idea. In Freedom(TM) the Daemon agent’s primary opponents is a mercenary private security company who thrives off of the current conditions. As you can expect the government is putting a ton of money into private security firms at this time. The military is stretched too thin and there is a lot of civil unrest.

At the disposal of the Daemon’s agents is very advanced technology. Not only do they have access to automated vehicles at this point but they also have small aerial craft that keep the skies clear, non-lethal sonic weapons, and MetalStorm style weaponry. As previously mentioned everything they need can be fabricated at most holons using 3D printers capable of using both metals and plastics as a base material. The Damon’s agents also have access to insurmountable amounts of information provided by a mesh network.

There are two main story arcs going on in Freedom(TM). The first I already mentioned which is current society’s conflict with the Daemon’s society. The second is the quest of Peter Sebeck. If you’ve read Daemon you know Mr. Sebeck. He’s brought back by the Daemon to fulfill a question, justify humanity’s freedom from the Daemon. The Daemon sends Sebeck and his partner around the country visiting several holons and discovering the daemon’s true purpose.

This is where I say go read the book. It’s honestly amazing. The story is unique and interesting. Likewise it’s well paced (I really hate books with long sections of nothing happening) which makes it a page turner throughout.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 25th, 2010 at 10:30 am

Comparing the Kindle and iPad

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Every since the iPad was released I’ve been getting asked if I’m going to throw my Kindle away and replace it with Apple’s new device. My answer is always no which almost always causes the asking person to inquire why I’m not replacing my Kindle. Well simply put the iPad doesn’t do as good of a job as my Kindle at the one task I bought it for, reading books. So here is a comparison of the two devices as it relates to being e-readers.

Screen Technology

This is the most crucial element in this discussion for me. The iPad has a very nice looking screen. Unlike the Kindle the iPad’s screen is full color and higher resolution. Actually the fact it’s full color is generally the reason I hear from people who say I should dump the Kindle.

On the other hand the Kindle has an e-ink display. It’s a unique display for several reasons. First of all it doesn’t use a back light as LCDs do meaning you don’t get a harsh glow from it at the price of requiring lighting to read in the dark. The second difference between an LCD and e-ink display is the fact e-ink displays only use power when they are changing on screen elements. So long as nothing on the screen changes an e-ink display will not consume power meaning devices using these displays can have amazing battery life. And finally the third major difference is an e-ink display works in direct sunlight. You can read your Kindle on your deck, at the beach, or anywhere else bright sunlight can prevent a LCD from being usable.

Of course these advantages come at a cost. As previously mentioned e-ink displays are gray scale online while LCDs have full color. Additionally the refresh rates of e-ink displays is pretty bloody slow. While you can watch a fast paced action movie on the iPad you can’t even play Tetris reasonably well on the Kindle screen. The slow refresh rate can also make navigating the display laggy.

But it comes down to function. The Kindle is meant, at least for me, to read books. Any additional features are secondary and barley of note. The e-ink display excels at emulating paper meaning reading on the Kindle is as close to reading a real book as you’re going to get today in an electronic device. I absolutely love e-ink displays and would really love to have a cell phone with such a display (to crank up the battery life).

Battery Life

There is no question here the Kindle wins. Once again this shouldn’t be surprising since the Kindle’s screen only uses power when it’s refreshing and the device itself uses very little power otherwise unless the wireless connection is on. I believe Apple rates the iPad’s battery life at roughly 10 hours. I’ve gotten a solid three weeks out of my Kindle with the wireless turned off. With the wireless turned on all the time the battery life still hovers around one and a half weeks. Generally this isn’t a big deal as I recharge most of my devices every night (with the exception of the Kindle). But it’s nice knowing if I have a full day of flights ahead of me I’ll have the battery life to make it.

The other reason the Kindle has such great battery life is because the hardware inside is clocked down a lot. This restricts what capabilities the Kindle has which is perfectly fine for a dedicated device which the Kindle is. The iPad on the other hand has some wicked hardware for a mobile device. You can play games, watch movies, listen to music, and pretty much anything else you would want to do. The iPad is a generic device meaning it has the capabilities to do more but at the cost of not being designable (and thus tuned to) to a specific task. 10 hours is still a pretty respectable amount of battery life for what is essentially a netbook sans keyboard.

Form Factor

Here again the Kindle wins for what it does. The Kindle’s (standard not the DX) form factor is very close to that of a real book. It’s thin and very light. The iPad on the other hand is larger and heavier meaning is doesn’t keep the form factor of a real book. Once again this is a trade-off between size and capabilities. The iPad has a larger screen and needs a larger battery. The Kindle on the other hand only needs a screen large enough to display a comfortable amount of text and a much smaller battery since it draws less power.

Wireless

Both devices are wireless capable. The Kindle is able to use cellular data connections (which Amazon calls Whispernet) while the iPad can use either Wi-Fi or, in specific models, AT&T’s 3G network. The nice part about the Kindle is the cost of the wireless data is incorporated into the price of the device and books your download. You never have to pay a monthly subscription for access to the cellular network the Kindle uses while you have to pay up to $30.00 a month for the iPad’s 3G capabilities.

With that said I wouldn’t mind having the ability to use Wi-Fi on the Kindle. Everywhere I go has pretty good 3G coverage but there are a lot of places without. For those locations your only option is to purchase Kindle books on a laptop and transfer them over to the Kindle using a USB cable (included with the Kindle). I hope someday a Wi-Fi card is put into a future Kindle model.

But once again we see the difference between a dedicated device and a general purpose device. The Kindle uses the wireless connection to download books, firmware upgrades, and browse web pages (in a very limited manner via the Kindle’s built-in web browser which isn’t very good). The iPad can use it’s wireless network for everything from browsing web pages to streaming video. Thus the Kindle uses very little bandwidth meaning Amazon can soak up the cost. Still having the ability to download books at almost any time without needing to attach it to another computer is great. Being able to do said task without an additional monthly charge is amazing.

Overall

Overall I feel the Kindle is a better e-reader than the iPad for the above stated reasons. With that said the Kindle is also designed specifically for reading meaning the entire device can be tailored as such. The big difference between a dedicated device and a general purpose device comes down to having a master of one trade or a jack of all trades. A jack of all trades can do most things decently but oftentimes is limited in some manner from being perfect on most of those trades. A master of one trade can be designed entirely around that trade making it much better at doing the job.

The iPad will net you move features but it’s not a dreadfully good e-reader in my opinion. I read a lot so it’s worth lugging around an additional device to read on. But I can’t really use it to replace any tasks I do on a laptop. Either way my Kindle isn’t going away anytime soon.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 25th, 2010 at 10:00 am

It’s Funny Because It’s True

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From Bruce Schneier’s encounter with the TSA:

TSA Officer: Don’t worry. No one will notice. This isn’t the sort of job that rewards competence, you know.

That pretty much sums it up.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 25th, 2010 at 9:30 am

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Excessive Use of Force

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The CATO Institute put out a handy map showing SWAT raids that went wrong. The eastern half of the United States doesn’t seem like a friendly place to be.