A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for April, 2014

Byron Smith Found Guilty

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Over a year ago two teenagers broke into Byron Smith’s house and were shot. What made this story different from other break-in stories was the fact that the teenagers were effectively executed by Mr. Smith. Yesterday the jury ruled Mr. Smith guilty of first degree premeditated murder:

The jury of six men and six women deliberated for about three hours in deciding that fate of the 65-year-old Smith, who shot 18-year-old Haile Kifer and 17-year-old Nick Brady after they broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day in 2012.

Smith faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutor Pete Orput hammered home the idea that Smith, 65, plotted the killings of the intruders as they descended his basement steps about 10 minutes apart on that fateful Thanksgiving Day in 2012. After repeated break-ins to his home and his adjacent property throughout that fall, Smith set up an ambush, the prosecutor argued.

His gun was loaded; he moved his truck from his garage; he got a book, food and water, as he waited at the bottom of his basement steps. All of that points to premeditation, Orput said.

Smith also had a tarp ready and quickly wrapped up Brady’s body to move it after the shooting. “Some of you hunters will think this sounds like deer hunting,” Orput said.

This is the outcome I expected and, after hearing the evidence submitted at the trial, believed was right. Some people argued that Mr. Smith shouldn’t have been found guilty. Advocates of Mr. Smith’s innocence argued that the teenagers broke into the home and a man has the right to defend his home. I agree that a person has a right to defend his home but I disagree that Mr. Smith was acting in self-defense.

In general if somebody breaks into your home you can safely assume they mean you harm. That being the case I believe it is a valid act of self-defense to use whatever means necessary to stop the threat. Any action taken after the threat has been stopped is no longer self-defense. In the case of Mr. Smith he physically moved the bodies after he shot them and then executed the girl. Moving the bodies indicated that he felt that the teenagers to no longer be a threat (because if they were a threat why would he approach them and physically move their bodies). Since he felt the threat was no longer present he had no justifiable reason to shoot the girl.

Then there is the evidence that Mr. Smith was planning on shooting somebody. He moved his truck, which would have made it appear that he wasn’t home. Additionally he had tarps ready to cover bodies. As his house had suffered a string a previous burglaries moving the truck appears to be an attempt to bait the burglars into returned. Having a tarp on hand, in addition to the other evidence, indicates that he was planning on dealing with bloody bodies. Needless to say all signs point Mr. Smith setting up a situation that he expected to result in him killing people.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 30th, 2014 at 11:00 am

Mozilla Releases Chrome, Err, Firefox 29 and It’s Basically Chrome

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Yesterday Mozilla released the latest version of its Firefox web browser. The most significant change is the user interface, which received a complete overhaul:

Mozilla is launching its most important release of Firefox in a very long time today. After almost two years of working on its Australis redesign, the company is now finally ready to bring it to its stable release channel.

After loading it for the first time, chances are you’ll be slightly confused. This is Firefox’s most radical redesign since it moved to its rapid release schedule a few years ago.

The new user interface is basically Google Chrome’s user interface:

I think this move demonstrates that Mozilla’s developers are desperately thrashing in the water without purpose. Mozilla’s business model now seems to be do whatever Google does. That’s not necessarily a bad strategy as Google does a lot of really amazing things. But there are far better features to lift from Chrome than its user interface. Why doesn’t Mozilla lift Chrome’s behavior of isolating each tab in a separate process? When a single tab in Chrome crashes it doesn’t take the entire browser with it. As a security measure isolating tabs in separate processes is also beneficial. I would love to see Mozilla copy that feature.

There’s nothing wrong with copying (in my intellectual property hating opinion). Good ideas should proliferate. But differentiation is also important. Unique features are what you can market to convince users to use your product. If Firefox and Chrome are identical, at least in the eyes of most end users, what can Mozilla do to convince people to use its browser instead of Google’s? Right now the only thing Firefox really has over Chrome, that I can think of, is extensibility. That’s not a lot to market a browser on, especially when Chrome has several features that Firefox lacks (such as isolating each page in a separate process).

I fear that we’re looking at the slow demise of Firefox. Mozilla seems to think that copying Chrome is a sufficient business model. As far as I know most of its income is still derived from users making Google search from Firefox’s search bar. Firefox isn’t as important to Google’s business model as it was in the days before Chrome so that money is likely to dry up at some point. What’s Mozilla’s answer to this likely inevitable future? Sell ads:

(Reuters) – Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox Internet browser, will start selling ads as it tries to grab a larger slice of the fast-expanding online advertising market.

The company said in a blog posting on Tuesday that it has reached out to potential corporate sponsors about its fledgling “Directory Tiles” program, targeted at first-time users.

Novice Firefox users now see nine blank tiles when they open up the browser, which fill in over time with their most-visited or recently visited websites. Now, Mozilla intends to display the most popular sites by location, as well as sponsored websites that will be clearly labeled as such.

That’s a frightening road. If the “Directory Tiles” program turns out to be a money maker Mozilla will be motivated to include more and more ads in Firefox. Ads have a tendency to ruin software products. If I see ads pop up on a program that I’m using I will almost reflexively begin searching for a replacement and I’m not alone.

Mozilla needs to get its shit together and come up with something besides doing what Google does. Because if my options are Chrome or a cut-rate version of Chrome I will just use Chrome. Somehow I doubt that I’m alone in this.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 30th, 2014 at 10:30 am

Failing to Understand the Real Net Neutrality Problem

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The Internet is up in arms over discussions of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) endorsing tiered Internet access. Solutions are being offered by many but most of those solutions involve some variation of “We need the government to regulate itself in a way that’s favorable to the people instead of its corporate partners!” Such solutions are pointless. There is an article by Davis Morris making its way around the Internet that offers a slightly different solution:

With the announcement by the FCC that cable and telephone companies will be allowed to prioritize access to their customers only one option remains that can guarantee an open internet: owning the means of distribution.

This is what I’m talking about. It’s time that we the people stood up to the FCC and Internet Service Providers (ISP) by seizing their monopoly on distribution. Viva la revolución!

Thankfully an agency exists for this. Local government. Owning the means of distribution is a traditional function of local government.

Oh, my bad. I thought Mr. Morris was going to propose an actual solution not simply another variation of “We need the government to regulate itself!” The root of the net neutrality problem is the institution of government itself. So long as any central organization maintains ownership of the Internet infrastructure the threat of censorship, tiering, and other undesirable restrictions will loom over our heads. What happens if local government take ownership of the infrastructure? The large content providers, such as Comcast (Comcast plays both sides against the middle by being an ISP and a content provider), will simply buy the local governments just as it has bought the federal government.

Mr. Morris’ basic idea, that we need to own the means of distribution, is correct. But his method is wrong. To defeat net neutrality we must put the means of distribution in the peoples’ hands (I never thought I’d see the day that I started sounding like Karl Fucking Marx). I briefly describe the work I’m participating in to bring mesh networking to the Twin Cities. The nice part about mesh networks is that individuals can own the infrastructure. Each person can purchase and maintain as many mesh nodes as they desire and establish a system of federation with other node owners. In other words we need infrastructure anarchy.

Through this method we the people become the literal owners of the means of distribution. The biggest advantage of this is that buying off many people willing to operate mesh nodes is difficult since they are oftentimes motivated by the desire to maintain a free and open Internet. It’s people with such motivations that we want owning and maintaining the means of distribution.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 30th, 2014 at 10:00 am

Pentagon to Destroy $1 Billion in Ammunition; Paul Krugman Applauds Its Efforts to Stimulate the Economy

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Only an organization so vast, inefficient, and dumb could put itself into a position where it willingly destroys $1 billion worth of ammunition:

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon plans to destroy more than $1 billion worth of ammunition although some of those bullets and missiles could still be used by troops, according to the Pentagon and congressional sources.

It’s impossible to know what portion of the arsenal slated for destruction — valued at $1.2 billion by the Pentagon — remains viable because the Defense Department’s inventory systems can’t share data effectively, according to a Government Accountability Office report obtained by USA TODAY.

Most of this story focuses on the Pentagon’s shitty inventory system. I will save you some reading by providing you a TL;DR. The Pentagon has a shitty inventory system, it wants a fancy new inventory system, and it needs to make up claims about the potential to save billions of dollars so Congress will fund it.

I believe the more important question is why the Pentagon is destroying all of that ammunition. Obviously Stripes couldn’t be bothered to scrounge up an answer. My guess is that the ammunition is being destroyed as part of the effort to demonstrate how badly a new tax victim funded inventory system is needed.

Setting aside my cynicism I must ask if destroying all of that ammunition is necessary. If the ammunition slated for destruction is handgun and rifle cartridges then I feel the need to propose an alternative. Handgun and rifle ammunition, so long as it’s stored properly, keeps almost indefinitely. That being the case there is no reason that handgun and rifle ammunition needs to be destroyed in most cases. If the Pentagon is simply tired of having the ammunition around it could release it for sale to use mere civilians who can put the ammunition to good work at the firing range.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 29th, 2014 at 11:30 am

Stop Using Internet Explorer and Upgrade Your Flash Player

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Are you one of those people who still uses Internet Explorer as your primary browser? If you are you really need to stop. Seriously. Right fucking now:

Attackers are actively exploiting a previously unknown vulnerability in all supported versions of Internet Explorer that allows them to surreptitiously hijack vulnerable computers, Microsoft warned Sunday.

The zero-day code-execution hole in IE versions 6 through 11 represents a significant threat to the Internet security because there is currently no fix for the underlying bug, which affects an estimated 26 percent of the total browser market. It’s also the first severe vulnerability to target affect Windows XP users since Microsoft withdrew support for that aging OS earlier this month. Users who have the option of using an alternate browser should avoid all use of IE for the time being. Those who remain dependent on the Microsoft browser should immediately install EMET, Microsoft’s freely available toolkit that greatly extends the security of Windows systems.

Internet Explorer has a pretty expansive history of major security flaws. As far as I’m concerned it’s not a safe browser to use in any context. This problem is also worse for people still using Windows XP since Microsoft has finally dropped support for it. By the way, if you’re using Windows XP stop it. Running an operating system that no longer received security updates is asking for trouble.

Also, since I’m on the issue of security news, you also want to upgrade your Adobe Flash Player:

The attacks were hosted on the Syrian Ministry of Justice website at hxxp://jpic.gov.sy and were detected on seven computers located in Syria, leading to theories that the campaign targeted dissidents complaining about the government of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a blog post published Monday by researchers from antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab. The attacks exploited a previously unknown vulnerability in Flash when people used the Firefox browser to access a booby-trapped page. The attackers appear to be unrelated to those reported on Sunday who exploited a critical security bug in Internet Explorer, a Kaspersky representative told Ars.

While the exploit Kaspersky observed attacked only computers running Microsoft Windows, the underlying flaw, which is formally categorized as CVE-2014-1776 and resides in a Flash component known as the Pixel Bender, is present in the Adobe application built for OS X and Linux machines as well.

Flash is another dangerous plugin to have installed. Unfortunately there are still sites that necessitate the use of Flash. My tactic is to disable Flash in every browser except Firefox and use NoScript to block all Flash content I don’t expressly allow. This method does a good job of balancing usability and security in my opinion. Hopefully we will someday live in a world where Flash is no longer used.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 29th, 2014 at 11:00 am

Posted in Technology

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Verizon Collecting More Customer Information to Sell to Advertisers

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Verizon has notified its customers that it will begin collecting more information from its customers for sale to advertisers:

The company says it’s “enhancing” its Relevant Mobile Advertising program, which it uses to collect data on customers’ online habits so that marketers can pitch stuff at them with greater precision.

“In addition to the customer information that’s currently part of the program, we will soon use an anonymous, unique identifier we create when you register on our websites,” Verizon Wireless is telling customers.

“This identifier may allow an advertiser to use information they have about your visits to websites from your desktop computer to deliver marketing messages to mobile devices on our network,” it says.

That means exactly what it looks like: Verizon will monitor not just your wireless activities but also what you do on your wired or Wi-Fi-connected laptop or desktop computer — even if your computer doesn’t have a Verizon connection.

The inevitable outcome of government protected monopolies is customer abuse. This move by Verizon is a prime example of this. Verizon enjoys government protection from competitors in many forms such as the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) monopoly over wireless spectrum distribution, municipal control over the installation of new communication infrastructure, and outright monopolies granted by local governments to favored Internet Service Providers (ISP). Without any effective competition Verizon enjoys the ability to abuse its customers who have two options: put up with the abuse or go entirely without the service. And this abuse is only going to increase as Verizon realizes it has a captive audience who can be used to extract every possible penny from without fear of retaliation.

Abuses by ISPs is another reason why we need to radically decentralize Internet access. One of the more promising ideas for decentralizing Internet access are mesh networks. I’ve been working with several other people on using a combination of Ubiquiti M2-HP access points with Commotion Wireless firmware to create mesh networks. We’ve found out that setting up a mesh network is trivial and I believe it could be an option in bypassing ISPs, especially high-density in neighborhoods where access points could be installed on every building. While such a solution isn’t universal it is a step in the right direction.

The less power ISPs have over us the less they can abuse us. Our priority at this point in time should be to take as much control away from ISPs as possible.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 29th, 2014 at 10:30 am

The NRA’s Speaker Selection Needs Work

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As it happened over the weekend I didn’t pay much attention to the news coming out of the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meeting. The only news I paid any attention to involved new firearms and firearm accessory announcements. I didn’t even bother to look up any of the speeches. If an organization has people like Sarah Palin speaking then I know it’s not worth my time looking up the speeches. Unfortunately Palin’s speech found me. Once again she opened her mouth and a flood of stupid came forth. And this was stupid that I couldn’t let go without commenting:

(CNN) – Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told a capacity crowd at a National Rifle Association rally how she would baptize terrorists if she was an elected official.

“If I was in charge,” Palin said Saturday in Indianapolis, “they would know, waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

Once again we return to the culture clash within the shooting community. It saddens me that so many people in the shooting community are warmongers. I’m sure this statement by Palin was met with great applause and cheering. Nothing gets a warmonger harder faster than discussions about torture.

But those of us who oppose imperialism don’t find statements like this funny, endearing, or appropriate. Torture is a barbaric act used by cowards and sadists whose only interest is inflicting pain on other human beings. The fact that Palin sees something like water boarding as a positive thing demonstrates her psychopathy. And this is far from her first time saying something like this, which makes me look down on the NRA for having her as a keynote speaker.

Obviously it’s impossible for any single organization to appease everybody. The NRA looks for speakers that will appeal to the majority of its members. That majority is made up by the old guard of the shooting community. But there are speakers that could be hired that appeal to both the old guard and people outside of the traditional shooting culture because they focus on gun rights and self-defense and not United States imperialism and warmongering. It would be nice to see the NRA try to bridge the gap between the traditional and nontraditional gun owning communities by hiring speakers for and hosting events at its Annual Meeting that appealed to both sides.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 29th, 2014 at 10:00 am

It’s the Thought that Counts

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Unless you’ve been living under a pile of rocks you know that the National Rifle Association (NRA) held its annual meeting last week. From what I’ve heard there was an estimated 70,000 NRA members in attendance. Every year there is a traditional protest held by whatever gun control group happens to be prominent (relatively speaking, of course). This year the Michael Bloomberg funded group Moms Demand Something or Other Action were the protest holders. According to gun control advocates the people of the United States desperately want stricter gun control laws. But if the number of protesters who turned up to this year’s annual protest are any indicator the demand only exists in their heads:

I was interested in seeing what Shannon Watts and her allies at Moms Demand Illegal Actions From Mayors In Everytown (MDIAFMIE) were to say during their trip to Indianapolis. The group had promised to “send NRA leadership a message.”

Apparently, their message was “we don’t want to be anywhere near where you are,” because when I decided to attend their rally, I found that I had to hike down W Maryland Street, hang a left on N Illinois, turn right on E Market, hang a left around Monument Circle, and then schlep four blocks up, to see this.

Most of the MDIAFMI members attending the rally were convincingly camouflaged as an empty lawn, but there were perhaps 100+ people (some have claimed as many as 200, but a good 10%-15% appeared to be media, so that number seems inflated) clustered around the stage, roughly matching the numbers of supporters that Bloomberg paid to attend.

Roughly 100 people? Wow. No wonder they held their protest several blocks from the NRA meeting. It would be embarrassing to have your protests outnumbered by the people simply going to and exiting from the meeting you’re protesting.

This is par for the course. Every year the NRA protests fails to attract any real numbers. But, as they say, it’s the thought that counts. And it’s nice to know that the gun control crowd is thinking about us.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 28th, 2014 at 11:00 am

Solar Power That Doesn’t Suck

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Renewable energy is the buzzword used by any company or non-profit organization that wants a big fat grant from the federal government. One of the big categories of renewable energy is solar. Solar sounds nice on paper since it produces energy from the sun and if the sun stops providing energy we will have much larger issues to worry about that electricity. But solar panels can also be unreliable. At night or when there is cloud cover solar panels produce nothing. The atmosphere, by design, also greatly diminishes solar energy before it gets to Earth’s surface. These factors make terrestrial solar panels less than idea for power production. But that doesn’t mean solar energy is nonviable, it merely means solar collectors need to be placed in space:

It’s been the subject of many previous studies and the stuff of sci-fi for decades, but space-based solar power could at last become a reality—and within 25 years, according to a proposal from researchers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The agency, which leads the world in research on space-based solar power systems, now has a technology road map that suggests a series of ground and orbital demonstrations leading to the development in the 2030s of a 1-gigawatt commercial system—about the same output as a typical nuclear power plant.

This is research into solar energy that actually matters. Unlike the shit research produced here in the United States, research into space-based solar collectors could actually create a viable source of energy for our increasingly energy-hungry society.

Obviously the technology isn’t without danger. If energy is being beamed from orbit the beam will most likely carry a rather high damage potential. But wind farms and terrestrial solar collectors don’t have a flawless safety record either. Anything that generates enough electrical energy to matter is almost certainly going to have some tradeoffs. The only question becomes one of tradeoff. Here in the United States we’ve basically decided that the risk of nuclear meltdown is too great for the amount of power produced. Will we decide that the risk of a point on land being incinerated is low enough for the amount of power produced? I hope so because space-based solar panels will likely be the only renewable energy source that can produced what our species needs.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 28th, 2014 at 10:30 am

Monday Metal: Odins Söhne by Bifröst

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I really didn’t know what kind of metal I was in the mood for this week. After some searching I decided to pick a song based primarily on the amount of umlaut it offered. Have a listen to Odins Söhne by Bifröst, a death metal song that offers both umlaut and vikings:

Written by Christopher Burg

April 28th, 2014 at 10:00 am

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