A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for March, 2018

Microsoft Is Altering the Deal

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Microsoft recently announced some changes to its terms of services:

5. In the Code of Conduct section, we’ve clarified that use of offensive language and fraudulent activity is prohibited. We’ve also clarified that violation of the Code of Conduct through Xbox Services may result in suspensions or bans from participation in Xbox Services, including forfeiture of content licenses, Xbox Gold Membership time, and Microsoft account balances associated with the account.

This is a great example of the pitfalls of the licensing model. When you purchase a game, movie, or other form of digital content from Microsoft, you’re merely acquiring a very one sided license. Effectively the license states that you can continue to use the content so long as Microsoft doesn’t decide to revoke your license. To make matters worse, the license gives Microsoft the option to alter the terms of the license whenever it wants and without even giving prior notice. In this case Microsoft changed the terms to state that your content licenses can be revoked if you use “offensive language” (a term so vague that it covers pretty much anything you say).

But the fun didn’t stop there. In order to enforce the new terms of service, Microsoft has also reserved the right to surveil you:

When investigating alleged violations of these Terms, Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue.

And this is a great example of the pitfall of not having end-to-end encryption. Microsoft’s services generally lack an end-to-end encryption option, which means a man in the middle, like Microsoft or any entity it authorizes, can view whatever information is being transmitted using its services. Your Skype sessions aren’t as private as you might think.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody. Any agreement that gives one party no power and the other party absolute power, like content licenses, is going to be abused by the party with absolute power. Fortunately, unlike with government, you have an option when Microsoft does something you don’t like; you can cease using its products and services.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 27th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Tough Life Lessons

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A few kids from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been propped up as spokespersons for the gun control movement. One of these spokespersons, David Hogg, who have been pushing to punish gun owners for a crime they did not comment is rather upset by the fact that he and his fellow students will be punished for a crime that they did not commit:

After attacking American’s Second Amendment rights for over a month, calling the NRA “child murderers,” Hogg complained about having to use clear backpacks at school.

Hogg claimed that the decision by Democratic Broward County officials violated his “First Amendment rights” as he also cited potential embarrassment for students going through “their menstrual cycle” because of their “tampons and stuff.”

“It’s unnecessary, it’s embarrassing for a lot of the students and it makes them feel isolated and separated from the rest of American school culture where they’re having essentially their First Amendment rights infringed upon because they can’t freely wear whatever backpack they want regardless of what it is,” Hogg said.

I also enjoy Hogg’s selective acknowledgement of the Bill of Rights by citing the First Amendment here but previously demanding that the Second Amendment be burned to the ground. Since the public schools government indoctrination centers aren’t teaching this, here’s a piece of advice for all of you would-be activists out there: be consistent in your arguments. If you’re advocating that one part of the Bill of Rights should be legally ignored, don’t complain when another part of the Bill of Rights is legally ignored. If you want a particular amendment removed, advocate for a constitutional convention to be called so that that amendment can be removed. You will be taken more seriously if you’re consistent in your arguments and you will hand your opposition less rope to hang you with.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 26th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Monday Metal: Where Red Paints the Ocean by Paddy and the Rats

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Paddy and the Rats isn’t a metal band per se but its song Where Red Paints the Ocean contains enough metal elements that I’m going to let it fly for Monday Metal (mostly because I’m a sucker for metal songs with strong folk elements).

Written by Christopher Burg

March 26th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Posted in Media

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There Must Always Be a New Frontier

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The early days of the Internet were akin to the myth of the Wild West. There was no rule of law. First tens then hundreds and eventually thousands of little experiments were running simultaneously. Some experiments attracted users and flourished, other experiments failed to attract users and floundered. It didn’t matter much because it didn’t require a lot of capital to put a server online.

Some of the successful experiments became more and more successful. Their success allowed the to push out or buy up their competitors. Overtime they turned into multimillion and even multibillion dollar websites. Slowly but surely much of the Internet was centralized into a handful of silos. Much like the Wild West of mythology, the Internet gradually became domesticated and restricted.

There’s nothing unique about the story of the Internet. New frontiers have a tendency to slowly become “civilized.” The rule of law is established. Restrictions are put into place. The number of experiments continue to approach zero. However, “civilization” is never the end of experimentation. Experimenters simply need to move to a new frontier.

Innovation slows to a crawl and can even stop entirely without frontiers. The Internet is mostly “civilized” at this point. A handful of successful experiments such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google exercise a tremendous amount of control. With a simple statement they can make or break other experiments and amplify or silence voices. Moreover, the rule of law has been established by various national governments and they will only tighten their grips. In order for innovation to continue on the Internet, the next frontier must be explored.

Fortunately, there are several frontiers. The most popular are “darknets,” networks that bake anonymity in by default. If clients and servers are unable to identify each others’ locations, they can’t enforce rules on one another. Other frontiers are mesh networks. While mesh networks are able to access the Internet, they are also able to operate independently. Being decentralized, it’s far more difficult to enact widespread censorship on a mesh network than on the traditional Internet whose users depend on a handful of Internet Service Providers (ISP) for their connection. But the most exciting frontiers are the ones that remain entirely unexplored.

Of course the cycle will repeat itself. The next frontier will become “civilized,” which is why there must always be a new frontier if innovation is to continue.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 23rd, 2018 at 11:30 am

Posted in Liberty

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Preparing Kids for Prison

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Approximately 2.3 million Americans are currently sitting behind bars. Public schools are sold, in part, as facilities to prepare children for the real world. With so many individuals behind bars, it makes sense that schools should prepare children for a life in a cage, where everybody is watched by guards and zero privacy is allow:

MIAMI—The Florida high school where a gunman killed 17 people last month will require students to carry only clear backpacks, school administrators announced on Wednesday, after the shooting suspect’s brother was charged with trespassing on campus and two students were arrested on charges of carrying knives.

[…]

Robert Runcie, the superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, sent a letter to the families of Stoneman Douglas High students imposing the new backpack rule, reminiscent of security measures at airports and professional sports venues. He said any student without a clear backpack would be provided one at no cost after spring break, which takes place next week.

Students also will be issued identification badges, which they will be required to wear at all times while in school. Staff members have badges as well.

In addition, Runcie said the district was considering using metal-detecting wands at school entrances and installing permanent metal detectors — a safety measure Runcie recently criticized as ineffective. A person intent on committing an atrocity would find his or her way around them, he said in an interview last month.

I’m glad to finally see some real world applicable education taking place! I also appreciate that the school administrators have finally decided to punish all of the students in this school for the crime of attending the same school as a murderer. Hopefully these students will decide to be reincarnated in a school district without a murderous fellow student.

The real tragedy about this policy is that the students who did nothing wrong are the ones being punished, which is the norm in the United States. When somebody goes on a shooting spree, laws are proposed and passed to punish the gun owners he didn’t perpetrate the shooting spree, students are subjected to new levels of humiliation because of a shooting spree they didn’t perpetrate, and students who didn’t perpetrate the shooting spree are dragged through hell by school administrators who are more concerned about appearing tough than the student’s welfare.

Everybody involved in implementing this decision can fuck right off.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 23rd, 2018 at 11:00 am

Mark Zuckerberg Is Sorry… That His Products Are Upset

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Mark Zuckerberg finally made an official statement about the entire Cambridge Analytica fiasco:

In the interviews, the first difference that jumps out is the presence of an actual apology for… something. As Zuckerberg said to Recode, “We let the community down and I feel really bad and I’m sorry about that.”

But why is he sorry? He can’t be sorry about Cambridge Analytica purchasing data about Facebook’s users since Facebook’s business model is built on exactly that. So he must be sorry that so many of Facebook’s users, his products, are upset. But why are his products upset? I guess it’s because they don’t understand the deal they made with Facebook.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch so if you’re getting something for free, there must be a catch. In the case of Facebook, the catch is that any information you post on Facebook can be sold by the company. Facebook isn’t exactly coy about this arrangement either, although it does try to pretend to care about your privacy by giving you a constantly changing smorgasbord of privacy settings to play around with. Perhaps those privacy settings are the source of contention. Perhaps they give users the false belief that they have control over the information they post to Facebook. Perhaps Facebook’s users are a bunch of socialists who believe in the fairy tale that lunches can be free. Either way, I’m going to try to clear up this apparently murky arrangement.

If you use Facebook, you are the product. Facebook’s business model is to collect your personal information and sell it. Nothing you post to Facebook is private. Everything you post to Facebook is for sale.

I hope that clears up any confusion.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 23rd, 2018 at 10:30 am

Members of Congress Will Continue to Use Your Money to Settle Their Sexual Harassment Cases

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Sexual harassment has been a hot button issue since last year. Hollywood and Washington DC has been awash in accusations, apologies, and payoffs. However, when an actor in Hollywood decides to pay off their victims, they use their own money. When a politicians decides to pay off their victims, they use your money:

An overhaul of Capitol Hill’s workplace misconduct system is in jeopardy and likely won’t be attached to a government spending bill this week, diminishing the likelihood of reform before the midterm elections, according to Politico.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who introduced the bipartisan Congressional Harassment Reform Act last December, said on Monday that House and Senate leadership “stripped” provisions from the language from the spending bill at the eleventh hour.

[…]

Among its provisions, the act requires that members of Congress personally pay for sexual harassment settlements when they are found liable. Currently, lawmakers can tap taxpayer funds to settle with victims. Also, unless the victim opts for privacy, under the act, settlements would automatically be made public, thus lifting the veil of secrecy around the process.

Having access to tax dollars is yet another mechanism that politicians can use to shield themselves from the consequences of their actions. If Congress was composed of angels, this wouldn’t be an issue because the members wouldn’t vote themselves the power to use tax dollars to pay off sexual harassment victims. But Congress isn’t composed of angels, it’s composed of crooked bastards who only care about power.

While many voters will likely claim that they’re outraged by this, members of Congress know that voters will toss aside all of their outrage come election day because most of them will continue to cast their vote for the “lesser evil” incumbent. Members of Congress won’t hold themselves accountable and neither will the voters.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 22nd, 2018 at 11:00 am

Officer Noor Charged

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Against all odds, the grand jury for the case of Justine Damond’s death decided that there were grounds for charging Officer Noor:

A Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed an Australian woman in July has been booked on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

This decision is somewhat surprising considering how biased grand juries tend to be in favor of law enforcers. I can only imagine that the evidence provided by Officer Noor’s defense was nonexistent. However, now the case goes to a jury, which also tend to be heavily biased in favor of law enforcers, so there’s still a very good chance that Officer Noor walks away from this unpunished.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 22nd, 2018 at 10:30 am

This Is What Happens When You Don’t Own Your Infrastructure

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First YouTube purged gun videos and now Reddit is following suit:

Reddit’s bid to clean up its communities now includes what those communities trade. The social site has updated its policies to ban the trade of firearms, explosives, drugs (including alcohol and tobacco), services with “physical sexual contact,” stolen goods, personal info and counterfeits. Accordingly, Reddit has shut down numerous subreddits that either directly traded in these goods or were clearly meant to enable those exchanges, including r/gunsforsale, r/stealing (yes, it existed) and r/darknetmarkets.

One of the victims of this policy change was the great /r/gundeals subreddit. /r/gundeals was one of the best aggregators of firearm related deals on the Internet and while its content didn’t technically run afoul with the letter of Reddit’s new policies, it did run afoul with the spirit of Reddit’s new policies, which was to further tighten the noose around the site’s gun owners’ necks.

Once again gun owners are being taught a lesson about the risks of moving firearm related content to websites owned and operated by individuals who are opposed to gun rights. Hopefully the lesson will be learned and content will return to websites that are owned and operated by advocates for gun rights.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 22nd, 2018 at 10:00 am

Posted in Gun Rights

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A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Not Far, Far Away

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Remember the halcyon days of Internet gundom? Gunnies operated their own blogs, forums, and news sites. You might have had an account on several of the larger gun forums as well as several local gun forums, checked a bunch of separate gun blogs for new content every day, and jumped onto one of several Internet Relay Chat channels to talk about guns in real time. Those days began to wither away as much of Internet gundom began to transition to a handful of centralized services like YouTube and Facebook. As this transition was occurring a few gunnies, myself included, asked if it was wise to move our content to services owned and operated by individuals who are hostile to gun rights. The gunnies making the transition told us that it wouldn’t be a problem.

Fast forward to today:

YouTube is cracking down on gun videos. The video sharing platform recently updated its policies on content featuring firearms. According to the updated restrictions, the site no longer allows content that, “Intends to sell firearms or certain firearms accessories through direct sales…or links to sites that sell these items.”

The list of forbidden accessories includes, but is not limited to, anything that enables a firearm to simulate automatic fire or converts a firearm to do so, and high capacity magazine kits. YouTube’s new policy also now states it will ban videos that show people how to manufacture firearms, ammunition, high capacity magazines, or even shows users how to install these accessories or modifications.

This was inevitable. Whenever you hand over control of your content to your enemy it will be censored. Maybe your enemy will pretend to be benevolent for a while but eventually they will decide to exercise their power to shut your message down.

I continue to operate this blog because I want to have a channel that I completely control. I own the hardware and the software that this blog runs on and am therefore beholden only to myself (and to my Internet Service Provider (ISP), which is why I’ve been harping on the need for a mesh network to remove control from ISPs). I also continue to encourage others to do the same. Everybody should have a channel that they completely control.

While this news was met with a great deal of screeching, gunnies have no control over YouTube. YouTube can decide to do whatever it wants with its property. If it doesn’t want to host videos explaining how to manufacture suppressors on its servers, it is under no obligation to do so. The only option is for gunnies to return to the old decentralized model where content was hosted on a number of individually owned and operated sites or to come together to create their own centralized video hosting site. I prefer the former since it’s the most difficult model to censor. But I can see the appeal of a centralized service like YouTube that is owned and operated by individuals who are friendly to gun rights. Either way, screeching isn’t going to solve anything.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 22nd, 2018 at 10:00 am

Posted in Gun Rights

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