A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for February, 2019

The Dying Concept of Ownership

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Apple is once again pushing developers to utilize a subscription model rather than a one-time purchase model for their software:

For a while now, Apple has been encouraging app developers to consider subscriptions as a key revenue source, and the company is introducing some new options for developers that it hopes will make the option more attractive. In the past few days, Apple has informed developers that they will now be able to target current and recent subscribers with promotional rates on subscriptions. That means subscribers will be able to offer discounts to try to get you back if you lapse, or they might try to entice you to stay if you’re considering leaving.

Apple’s push isn’t unique. More and more markets are trying to transition to a subscription model. Car dealerships often push leasing over purchasing. Music and video are moving from selling songs and albums to stream subscriptions. Home ownership is being usurped by renting.

To put it bluntly, ownership is dying. It shouldn’t surprise anybody though. Subscription models are far more profitable. Consider a software package. For the sake of argument, let’s say that there is a software package that you use and that it originally cost $60 for each major version upgrade and that it averages a major upgrade release once per year. Suddenly the developer decided to transition to a subscription model. Now you will pay $5 per month. At first you don’t notice any difference since you’re still paying $60 per year. However, under the old model you paid once and had that software in perpetuity. If the developer released a new major version that didn’t have any new features that interested you, you could just skip it and continue to use the old version. Under a subscription model, even if you stick with an old version, you will lose access if you stop paying your subscription.

The other issue with subscription models is that, contrary to claims made by subscription advocates, they can discourage developers from adding new features. If, for example, a developer releases a piece of software that customers absolutely need to get their job done, they will enjoy a continuous stream of revenue even if they fail to release improvements. Under a one-time purchase model, the only way that the developer could make more money is to release a new version that’s good enough to convince customers to buy it.

But, in the end, subscription models offer more profit for less work so I predict that they will continue to overtake one-time purchase models. I’m not looking forward to such a future but it is what it is.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 28th, 2019 at 10:00 am

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Linux on a 2010 Mac Mini

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I prefer repurposing old computers to throwing them away. A while ago I acquired a 2010 Mac Mini for $100. It has worked well. I even managed to install macOS Mojave on it using this patcher. However, I wanted to try installing Linux on it.

I first tried installing my go-to distro, Fedora (version 29 to be specific). Unfortunately, I immediately ran into problems. The Mac Mini has an Nvidia card that doesn’t play nicely with the nouveau driver in the kernel so I couldn’t bring up a graphical environment (I just got a black screen with a blinking cursor in the upper left corner). I tried booting the Fedora live distro with the “nouveau.modeset=0” parameter but to no avail.

So I decided to try Ubuntu (18.10). Ubuntu also initially failed to boot but it at least gave me an error message (related to the nouveau driver). When I booted it with the “nouveau.modeset=0” parameter I was able to get to the graphical interface and install Ubuntu. After installation I once again booted with the “nouveau.modeset=0” parameter and install Nvidia’s proprietary driver. After that the system now boots into Ubuntu without any trouble (installing the Nvidia driver also enabled audio output through HDMI).

If you’re having trouble installing Linux on a 2010 Mac Mini, try Ubuntu and try passing the “nouveau.modeset=0” parameter when booting and you may have better luck.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 27th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Posted in Technology

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Nothing to See Here

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The judge presiding over the Mohamed Noor case has announced that no audio or video recordings of the trial will be allowed:

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota judge says there will be no audio or video recording allowed during the trial of a former Minneapolis officer who shot and killed an Australian woman.

Mohamed Noor is charged with murder in the July 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who was shot after she called police to report a possible sexual assault behind her home.

If I were in the judge’s position, I’d do the same thing. Noor really put the Minneapolis justice system in a bind. Most law enforcers have the decency of fabricating some kind of plausible (if you use your imagination) justification for their unnecessary use of force. Noor just flat out executed a woman. Letting him off is going to require jury instructions that no judge would look good giving and certainly no judge would want to be recorded giving. At least that’s the only explanation of which I can conceive that explains the recording prohibition.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 26th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Our Future

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God: “So do you guys want an Orwell or Huxley future?”

Humanity: “Both!”

God: “Uh, you only need to select one…”

Humanity: “Oh, and throw in a Mike Judge future too!”

God: “Fuck me. Fine. Here you go.”

Written by Christopher Burg

February 22nd, 2019 at 10:30 am

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Self-Inflicted Dystopia

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Nike has released its self-lacing shoes and the result is funnier than anything I predicted:

One user writes, “The first software update for the shoe threw an error while updating, bricking the right shoe.” Another says, “App will only sync with left shoe and then fails every time. Also, app says left shoe is already connected to another device whenever I try to reinstall and start over.”

“My left shoe won’t even reboot.” writes another. One user offers a possible solution, saying, “You need to do a manual reset of both shoes per the instructions.”

People like to argue over whether Orwell or Huxley more accurately predicted our dystopian future but I think Mike Judge’s prediction is proving most accurate.

Products like the Nike Adapt BB provide the opportunity for a self-inflicted dystopia. If your life is too free from anxiety, you can buy some. Running a little late for work? Now you can worry about whether or not your shoes have enough charge in them to lace themselves or whether or not your smartphone app will connect to them to activate the self-lacing operation. Will the lithium-ion batteries in your shoes explode? Who knows! Will wearing them outside in -20 weather cause the batteries to discharge to such a point that you won’t be able to unlace them? Perhaps!

On the upside, the entertainment derived from watching people struggle with their “smart” shoes is free.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 22nd, 2019 at 10:00 am

Potentially the Largest Threat to the Advertisement Business Model

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I dislike the advertisement business model that currently dominates the Internet. My biggest gripe with it is that it encourages website operators to spy on their users. While nothing so far as been able to supplant advertising as a revenue source, we may see website operators looking more thoroughly for an alternative. Why? Because advertisers are starting to realize the impossibility of perfectly enforcing rules on globally accessible services that allow users to upload content:

YouTube is still grappling with predatory comments on child videos, and it’s once again facing the consequences. Bloomberg has learned that Disney, Fortnite creator Epic Games, Nestle and Oetker have “paused” spending on YouTube ads after video blogger Mark Watson shared a video showing how comments on videos with children were being used to enable an ad hoc softcore child porn ring. Commenters would flag videos where underage girls were performing supposedly suggestive actions, such as gymnastics, while YouTube’s own algorithms would inadvertently suggest similar videos.

The YouTube comments section: where naivety and predatory behavior collide.

Children are able to upload videos to YouTube. Pedophiles are able to mark timestamps and post comments on videos. Needless to say, when a young girl uploads a video of herself modeling swimwear, matters play out exactly as you would expect. Moreover, when another person uploads a video showing this expected outcome, advertisers with reputations to maintain expectedly become skittish and pull their ads.

I’m sure Google, YouTube’s parent company, will remove the offending videos, ban the users who made sexual remarks on said videos, and claim that they’re working behind the scenes to ensure this never happens again… just like it did every other time something like this has happened. It’ll likely appease advertisers enough that they’ll return. But eventually YouTube’s brand could become blackened enough that advertisers refuse to return after yet another one of these controversies.

YouTube, like most websites, is globally accessible. While only a fraction of the seven billion people who inhabit this planet will ever access YouTube, even a tiny fraction of seven billion people is too large of a number of people for a single company to effectively watch over. What makes this problem even worse is the fact that these users are somewhat anonymous (especially if they’re outside of the jurisdictions YouTube exists) and thus permanently banning them is difficult because they can simply create new accounts.

Do I see a hand in the audience going up? I do! It’s a hypothetical Google employee! What’s that hypothetical Google employee? You’ll just “create an algorithm to fix this?” Good luck. Humans have so far proven less clever at creating content filtering algorithms than they have at bypassing content filtering algorithms. Maybe you’ll finally create the perfect algorithm (my money is against you by the way) but, at best, that will just cause the timestamps and comments to move to another site and then it will only be a matter of time until some YouTuber posts a video showing that site and you’re looking at the same controversy all over again (this time without the benefit of control over the offending site).

Written by Christopher Burg

February 21st, 2019 at 10:00 am

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A Barrel of Laughs

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If it exists, politicians will try to tax it. As a correlative, politicians will try to tax it and tax it again. Politicians already tax personal electronics via federal and state sales taxes, regulatory compliance costs, tariffs, etc. But now some politicians in Kansas want to add an additional tax under the auspices of fighting human trafficking:

Two bills introduced in the Kansas House on Wednesday generate funding for human trafficking programs by requiring all new internet-capable telephones or computers sold in the state to feature anti-pornography software and by mandating adult entertainment businesses charge a special admissions tax.

Sabetha Rep. Randy Garber sponsored legislation requiring the software installations and dictating purchasers would have to pay a $20 fee to the state, and whatever cost was assessed by retail stores, to remove filters for “obscene” material. No one under 18 would be allowed to have filter software deleted.

Pay a $20 fee to the state or ask a neighborhood teenager (who will probably do it for free out of spite) to remove it just for the irony? Tough decision.

Setting aside the mental gymnastics required to tie human trafficking to the legal pornography industry, we’re left wondering how, exactly, Kansas legislators plan to enforce this. Take my ThinkPad for instance. Let’s pretend I purchased it in Kansas 20 minutes into the future and it included this hypothetical filtering software. The first thing I did after purchasing my ThinkPad was replace the stock hard drive with an SSD, which removed all of the included software. Moreover, I didn’t reinstall the included software, I install a Linux distribution. I effectively bypassed this legislation in a matter of minutes.

“Ah, you cheeky bastard,” you say, “but what about your phone?” If I lived in Kansas under this law, I would purchase my phone in a neighboring state. If that wasn’t an option, I would likely purchase an Android smartphone with an unlockable bootloader and flash something like LineageOS on it, which would accomplish the same thing as installing Linux on my ThinkPad.

I also guarantee that if this legislation passed, a script to remove the filtering software would be published to GitHub within a day or two. “But that would be illegal,” you say? Maybe in Kansas but that doesn’t apply to anybody in, say, Minnesota.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 20th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Establishing Precedence

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I’m not sure what exact train of thought has convinced Trump that building a completely worthless fixed fortification is the hill on which he is willing to die but in his pursuit of building, as George S. Patton once said, “a monument to the stupidity of man,” he has decided to declare a state of emergency. In of itself, this declaration would be forgotten in a short period of time due to the irrelevance of any border wall built between the United States and Mexico. However, it would establish a precedence that could be used by future presidents for other pet projects.

Nancy Pelosi is already making noise about how a future Democrat president could use this precedence to enforce gun restrictions:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Republicans on Thursday that a future Democratic president could declare gun violence a national emergency.

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“If the president can declare an emergency on something he has created as an emergency, an illusion that he wants to convey, just think about what a president with different values can present to the American people,” Pelosi said.

“You want to talk about a national emergency? Let’s talk about today,” Pelosi said, referring to the first anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead on Feb. 14, 2018.

She said the shooting was “another manifestation of the epidemic of gun violence in America.”

“That’s a national emergency. Why don’t you declare that an emergency, Mr. President? I wish you would,” she said. “But a Democratic president can do that. A Democratic president can declare emergencies as well.”

What’s noteworthy here is that Pelosi isn’t making any real effort to prevent the current president from declaring a state of emergency to push his pet project forward. Instead she’s chomping at the bit to use the same power in the future to push her pet project forward.

It’s almost as if every politicians has a list of things they want to do that aren’t “legal” (as if that means anything when they’re the ones who define what is and isn’t legal) and are just waiting for one of their cohorts to establish the precedence that will allow them to go through with it.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 15th, 2019 at 10:00 am

If You’re Good at Something, Never Do It for Free

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A minor controversy has developed in the macOS world. Linuz Henze, a security researcher, has discovered a vulnerability in Keychain for macOS that allows an attacker to access stored passwords. However, Henze isn’t providing the details to Apple because Apple’s bug bounty program, for some stupid reason, doesn’t cover macOS vulnerabilities:

Security researcher Linuz Henze has shared a video demonstration of what is claimed to be a macOS Mojave exploit to access passwords stored in the Keychain. However, he has said he is not sharing his findings with Apple out of protest.

Henze has publicly shared legitimate iOS vulnerabilities in the past, so he has a track record of credibility.

However, Henze is frustrated that Apple’s bug bounty program only applies to iOS, not macOS, and has decided not to release more information about his latest Keychain invasion.

Some people aren’t happy with Henze’s decision because his refusal to provide the exploit to Apple will make it harder for the company to fix the vulnerability. What these people are forgetting is that Henze isn’t refusing to provide the exploit to Apple, he’s refusing to provide it for free. In other words, he wants to be paid for his work. I don’t know many people who would willingly work for free. I certainly wouldn’t. Unless you would, you really should put the blame for this on Apple for refusing to pay for macOS exploits.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 7th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Posted in Technology

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Sex Trafficking Increases in Wake of Anti-Sex Trafficking Legislation

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A piece of legislation will generally do the opposite of what its title claims, which is why it should come as no surprise that the passage of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) preceded a significant in crease in sex trafficking:

When the SESTA-FOSTA bills were being hashed out in Congress, sex workers loudly advocated against them, saying that rather than decrease sex trafficking, these laws would make it more likely. According to new police statistics, they were right.

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New statistics shared by the San Francisco police show that sex workers, unsurprisingly, were right about the effect this law would have on their profession and on sex trafficking. According to KPIX 5, while most violent crime is down in San Francisco, sex trafficking shot up 170 percent in 2018.

I’m fairly certain that the politicians who pushed for SESTA see this as a feature, not a bug. After all, consensual sex work is a mutual exchange of money for sex. It harms nobody. But most people don’t base their morality on harm alone and the puritanical history of the United States has etched certain oddities in the societal psyche such as the idea that sex itself is dirty. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t matter because politicians would legislate based on their personal morality, they would legislate based entirely on whether a certain act causes real harm. But this isn’t an ideal world and these moralists we call lawmakers legislate their morality all the time and, I’m fairly certain, feel a rush or joy whenever they see somebody who they consider immoral harmed by legislation.

The best argument that can be made for the abolition of government is the fact that people with power cannot be trusted to not use that power to target and hurt anybody they personally dislike.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 6th, 2019 at 10:00 am