A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for December, 2018

A Plea Bargain Is Not Proven Guilt

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Last week major media sources published stories claiming that a woman was guilty of being a spy for Russia. However, if you spent a few seconds reading the articles, you quickly learned that she wasn’t proven guilty by a jury. She signed a plea bargain:

A Russian woman accused in the US of acting as an agent for the Kremlin to infiltrate political groups has pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors.

The key part in that sentence is, “in a deal with prosecutors.”

Imagine you’re brought before a prosecutor. The first thing they show you is the long list of charges that they’re bringing against you. If you’re found guilty of even some of the charges, you’re looking at decades behind bars. However, the prosecutor is willing to cut you a deal. If you sign an admission of guilt, you will only face five years in prison. You know that you’re innocent by do you believe that you’ll be able to convince a jury of that? Even after the judge gives the jury instructions that will stack the odds against you? Even if the prosecutor has an unfair advantage because their transgressions against court procedure often go unpunished? Even though many of the laws you’re accused of violating are so vaguely written that it’s nearly impossible for anybody to argue their innocence against them? Wouldn’t it be better to take the five years in prison rather than the very likely decades you’ll face if this case goes to a rigged court?

These are the questions one must ask themselves when a prosecutor puts a deal in front of them. In my opinion it’s one of the most corrupt aspects of the American judicial system. At a minimum I wish news agencies would reflect this ridiculousness by clearly stating in both the headline and the article that the suspect wasn’t found guilty but merely signed a plea bargain.

None of this is to say that this woman isn’t guilty as Hell. She very well may be a Russian spy. But I don’t believe signing a piece of paper under duress is the same as proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 18th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Apple’s Diminishing Quality

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Yesterday I was asked to recommend an Apple laptop (the laptop was going to somebody with a learning disability so the hurdle of transitioning them to a non-Apple platform was great and not a realistic option). As I was making my recommendation it really struck me just how far Apple’s laptops have fallen in the last few years.

In the past when somebody asked me if they should get AppleCare, I usually recommended against doing so. Apple’s laptops were pretty reliable and when they did fail, they could usually be repaired.

Apple’s current lineup has a significant problem. The new slim butterfly keyboards are notoriously fragile. A mere piece of debris getting under a key cap is enough to disable that key. This wouldn’t be a problem with a normal laptop keyboard because there is enough clearance to easily remove most debris that gets caught under a keycap. Moreover, even if the debris cannot be easily remove, the keycap usually can, which allows you to remove the offending debris. Getting a keycap off of a butterfly keyboard without wrecking the fragile butterfly mechanism isn’t easy. And if you do damage the mechanism, you’re stuck replacing the entire keyboard and that requires breaking a bunch of rivets that hold the keyboard to the top of the casing. This is why Apple replaces the entire top case when the keyboard needs to be replaced.

So you have a keyboard that cannot be serviced and has a high probability of failing. Strike one.

Strike two is the solid state drive (SSD). Apple no longer utilizes modular SSDs. Instead their SSDs are soldered to the mainboard. With SSDs failure is a matter of when, not if. This is because flash memory cells can only handle so many erase operations. SSD manufacturers attempt to prolong the life of their product with wear leveling but that only means that the time between failures is extended, it’s not eliminated. This isn’t a big deal with modular SSDs. If an SSD is modular and croaks, you replace the dead SSD with a new one. When an SSD that is soldered to the mainboard croaks, you end up having to replace the entire mainboard. Since the mainboard also has the processor and graphics card soldered to it, you necessary end up replacing those pricey components as well. What used to be a relatively cheap unavoidable repair has become an extremely expensive unavoidable repair.

Recommending an Apple laptop has become an exercise in presenting the least bad option. An expensive repair is a matter of when, not if. The keyboard is likely to suffer a premature death because of its design and lack of repairability. If the keyboard survives, the SSD will eventually die, necessitating replacing the entire mainboard (and thus the processor and graphics card). Instead of recommending a computer that I know will likely leave the buyer happy for years to come, recommending an Apple laptop involves tagging on a great number of caveats and warnings so that when the buyer is looking at an absurd repair bill, they aren’t doing so unexpectedly.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 18th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Posted in Technology

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Monday Metal: Altair IV: The Forbidden Planet by Dire Peril

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Written by Christopher Burg

December 17th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Posted in Media

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The FCC’s Wealth Redistribution Plan

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The Fascist Communications Commission (FCC) has revealed its latest plan for wealth redistribution. The agency wants to tax successful online businesses so it can give that money to Internet Service Providers (ISP):

A Federal Communications Commission advisory committee has proposed a new tax on Netflix, Google, Facebook, and many other businesses that require Internet access to operate.

If adopted by states, the recommended tax would apply to subscription-based retail services that require Internet access, such as Netflix, and to advertising-supported services that use the Internet, such as Google and Facebook. The tax would also apply to any small- or medium-sized business that charges subscription fees for online services or uses online advertising. The tax would also apply to any provider of broadband access, such as cable or wireless operators.

The collected money would go into state rural broadband deployment funds that would help bring faster Internet access to sparsely populated areas. Similar universal service fees are already assessed on landline phone service and mobile phone service nationwide. Those phone fees contribute to federal programs such as the FCC’s Connect America Fund, which pays AT&T and other carriers to deploy broadband in rural areas.

As somebody who grew up in a rural area and still has family in a rural area I can say with some certainty that ISPs aren’t using the money they’re getting from these taxes to provide rural communities with broadband Internet. Fortunately, there are methods for rural communities to get broadband Internet and, best of all, it doesn’t require any wealth redistribution.

The claim that the taxes will be used for rural broadband initiatives is just another euphemism to avoid calling the tax what it is, plundering the pockets of plebs to line the pockets of ISPs with good government connections.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 14th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Promises, Promises

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I guess it’s rerun season for American Politics because we’re stuck rewatching the episode The Wall. Trump wants Mexico, err, the United States to pay for a pointless wall on the southern border and the Democrats, for no reason other than Trump wants it, are refusing to fund it. No we’re at the episode’s plot twist. It appears that Trump doesn’t actually want the wall funded because he’s making great promises if the wall isn’t funded:

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday transformed what was to be a private negotiating session with Democratic congressional leaders into a bitter televised altercation over his long-promised border wall, vowing to force a year-end government shutdown if they refused to fund his signature campaign promise.

During an extraordinary public airing of hostilities that underscored a new, more confrontational dynamic in Washington, Mr. Trump vowed to block full funding for the government if Democrats refused to allocate money for the wall on the southwestern border, saying he was “proud to shut down the government for border security.”

Shutdown the government? Oh no. Not that. Please. Anything but that.

Of course we’ve all seen this episode and know how it will end. The government shutdown won’t be a shutdown. All that will happen is the services that will directly inconvenience the plebs will be shutdown while the “essential” services, all of those services that are convenient to the government itself, will remain operational.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 14th, 2018 at 10:30 am

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

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What happens if you witness a bad crash in front of you and stop to help the injured parties? You get detained and have to pay to get your vehicle out of the impound lot:

Davis managed to get the survivor out of the car, but the second person in the car, 21-year-old Kyree Payne of Northeast D.C., died.

Davis, who lives in Baltimore and was on his way to work, says he told D.C. Police everything he witnessed and was allowed to leave. But when he was just a block away, he was pulled over by a D.C. Police officer – and that’s when his nightmare began.

“He said, ‘You’re being detained because you were a witness to a vehicle where someone died in an accident,'” Davis said.

Davis said he was made to wait for about two hours and was harshly questioned, before he claims a police supervisor told him because he witnessed a fatal crash, his car was being towed.

Davis also said that he was not involved in the crash and that his driver’s license is active and his car is registered and insured — as police gave him no citations. Unfortunately for Davis, he will have to find a way to work as his car is still impounded.

That’ll teach him for being a good Samaritan!

Of course the officer is claiming that Davis’s car was impounded because Davis refused to show a valid driver’s license. Davis refutes the officer’s claim and since the story points out that he does have a valid driver’s license, I’m inclined to side with Davis. However, a more important question is, so what if Davis didn’t have a valid driver’s license? He pulled a survivor out of a car wreck that was bad enough to leave the other occupant dead. I think a scene like that has far more important issues to address than the validity of anybody’s driver’s license. And the fact that he stopped to help people should have at least netted him a get out of a petty offense card.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 14th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Tax Them to Death

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The government here in the frozen tundra of Minnesota likes to tax us plebs hard. However, as bad as we get bled it’s nothing compared to California. It’s clear that the government of California doesn’t see the denizens cursed to live in its state as people but as cattle. Every time you turn around the government is enacting or proposing a new tax. Yesterday it was reported that a new proposal is to tax text messages. But a proposal of a new tax in California isn’t anymore newsworthy than pointing out that the name of the day today ends in “y.” What is amusing though is the number of euphemisms that are used to make the new proposal sound like something other than theft:

As mobile phone users have shifted their usage patterns away from voice calls, voice call revenues for PPP have dropped by about a third, while the budget for subsidizing poorer users has risen by almost half. So California’s PUC is exploring its options and, as texts share infrastructure with voice calls — even if the medium is different — it estimates it could raise $44.5 million a year with the change. Applied retroactively it could amount to a bill of more than $220 million for California consumers.

You see? It’s for the poor! If you complain about this proposed tax, you’re obviously a rich baron who hates poor people! Oh, and this proposed tax isn’t actually stealing money from you. You see, “revenues” are down because you stupid plebs don’t call your mother enough so this is really just reclaiming cash that has been lost because of you assholes!

As the article points out though, text messaging is declining as chat applications take their place. This proposed tax will be irrelevant in short order, which means the Public Utilities Commission will be looking for a new way to bleed Californians in a few years. This is the vicious cycle of taxation. A tax is placed on a popular consumer activity, that activity is eventually replaced by a different activity, a new tax is placed on the new popular consumer activity, and so on.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 13th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Helping

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I love having access to online satellite imagery. I can use it to find landmarks, interesting geological features, and military bases! That last item is why many nation states have developed a love-hate relationship with satellite imagery. While the technology is convenient for finding enemy military bases, it’s inconvenient because it allows the enemy to find your military bases.

Yandex decided it wanted to be helpful to several national militaries. Before making its satellite imagery publicly available, Yandex decided to blur out a bunch of military bases. However, in so doing it showed everybody exactly where a bunch of previously unknown military bases were:

A Russian online mapping company was trying to obscure foreign military bases. But in doing so, it accidentally confirmed their locations—many of which were secret.

Yandex Maps, Russia’s leading online map service, blurred the precise locations of Turkish and Israeli military bases, pinpointing their location. The bases host sensitive surface-to-air missile sites and facilities housing nuclear weapons.

The Federation of American Scientists reports that Yandex Maps blurred out “over 300 distinct buildings, airfields, ports, bunkers, storage sites, bases, barracks, nuclear facilities, and random buildings” in the two countries. Some of these facilities were well known, but some of them were not. Not only has Yandex confirmed their locations, the scope of blurring reveals their exact size and shape.

Whoopsie!

Written by Christopher Burg

December 13th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Avoiding Embarrassment

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Operation Fast and Furious was quite an embarrassing moment in the federal government’s history. Imagine being in its shoes. You’re arguing for stronger domestic gun control to prevent drug cartels from acquiring guns and then somebody discovered that you’re simultaneously running guns to drug cartels. Now imagine that you’re forced to relive this embarrassing moment in court. I’m sure you can see why federal prosecutors are trying to hide the embarrassing memory of Fast and Furious from the jury of the El Chapo trial:

BROOKLYN, New York — Operation Fast and Furious is among the most epic boondoggles in the history of federal law enforcement, which probably explains why federal prosecutors don’t want jurors in the trial of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to hear anything about it.

[…]

So on Friday federal prosecutors in El Chapo’s trial in Brooklyn, which is entering its fifth week, filed a motion that asks Judge Brian Cogan to make “questions or evidence” about Fast and Furious “completely off limits” to the defense. The government cited “negative reporting on the operation” and argued that mentioning it would “distract and confuse the jury.”

I think the reason most of the reporting on Fast and Furious was negative was because it involved the federal government arming the very same people from whom it claimed to want to keep guns away. And I’m sure hearing about Fast and Furious would confuse the jury. Members of the jury would likely be asking themselves why the federal government has any right to prosecute a man to whom it sold guns.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 13th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Changing the Rules

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As the tirade against intellectual property I posted last week probably demonstrated, I really don’t like it when content creators change rules after I’ve purchased a product. It should also come as no surprise that the gaming industry has inspired yet another rant from me by changing the rules after purchase since the gaming industry seems to be the biggest offender in this regard.

Capcom released Street Fighter V in 2016. Fighting games aren’t my thing so I never purchased it but a lot of people did, for the full new game price of $60. Then, as it tradition with Capcom, a new edition of the same game was was released for $40. So far, so good. However, Capcom has announced that those who paid $40 for the new Arcade Edition will now have to deal with in-game ads:

Capcom is introducing “sponsored content” to Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition on December 11th to promote its purchasable bundles, costumes and the Pro Tour. You’ll see them on costumes, in certain stages and on pre-fight loading screens.

While Capcom is offering players the option to disable ads, doing so will negatively impact their game play experience by making unlockables trickle out at a glacial pace, which is the same strategy free-to-play games employ (buy in game currency or you’ll be grinding forever).

I have no objection to ad supported, free-to-play, or subscription games so long as I’m told up front how the developer is going to make its money. I do object when developers charge full price for a game and then change the business model after the fact. This is the reason I no longer purchase or play games on my iPhone. It’s quite common for mobile game developers to charge a price up front and then transition to a free-to-play model at a later date. When the transition occurs, the gameplay is almost always altered to make advancing in the game much more time consuming (not necessarily more difficult, just time consuming) to encourage you to buy in-game currency. If you purchased the game before the transition occurred, you’re effectively charged twice for the same game.

Unfortunately, the app store model makes this bait and switch tactic much easier to pull off. If an old computer game did this, I just wouldn’t install any updates after the transition occurred. However, with the app store model there generally isn’t a way to download previous versions of an app so even if you avoid installing updates after a developer changes to a new business model, you won’t be able to install the version you had if you have to reformat your phone. The same is also true on modern consoles where only the latest version of a game can be downloaded from the online app store and only the latest update can be applied to a physical copy of the game.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 12th, 2018 at 11:00 am