A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘News You Need to Know’ Category

A First

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For the first time in the history of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) an officer has been found guilty of murder while operating in an official capacity:

Mohamed Noor became the first former Minnesota police officer found guilty of an on-duty murder Tuesday as a Hennepin County jury convicted him for the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017.

Jurors reached their verdict after about 10 hours of sequestered deliberations in a case that was closely watched nationwide and in Damond’s native Australia. They convicted Noor of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter but acquitted him of the most serious count — second-degree murder.

I’ve been following this case through Lou Raguse’s Twitter account since he was one of the handful of journalists granted access to the trial. The main thing I took away from the trial was the extent to which MPD went to cover up the murder. From body cameras not being turned on at critical moments to Noor’s squad car being washed and returned to service the very next day it was pretty obvious that MPD went as far as it could to cover the up the evidence of this murder. However, the case was so blatant that those efforts ended up being in vain.

There is currently a pending civil case brought by the family of Justine Damond against the City of Minneapolis. The evidence revealed during Noor’s trial will likely provide a lot of legal ammunition for Justine’s family’s case. I hope the City of Minneapolis gets soaked for the entire $50 million being sought. It’s obvious that MPD and the government tasked with overseeing it are horribly corrupt and they deserve some swift and severe punishment.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 1st, 2019 at 10:00 am

Destructive Rights Management

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Digital Rights Management (DRM), and oxymoronic term since something ceases to be a right the second it’s managed, has been the bane of digital content consumers’ existence since it was first developed. Why does the single player game I bought need a constant Internet connection? DRM. Why is this audio CD trying to install a rootkit on my system? DRM. Why can’t I watch this movie I purchased from the iTunes Store on my Kodi box? DRM.

However, the greatest danger of DRM lies in the fact that any content protected by DRM can be taken away from you. This is a lesson that people who purchased e-books via Microsoft’s service (I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know Microsoft had an e-book service) are learning right now:

There’s bad news for users of Microsoft’s eBook store: the company is closing it down, and, with it, any books bought through the service will no longer be readable.

To soften the blow, the company has promised to refund any customers who bought books through the store (a clue that there may not have been that many of them, hence the closure. Microsoft did not offer further comment).

But just think about that for a moment. Isn’t it strange? If you’re a Microsoft customer, you paid for those books. They’re yours.

But they’re not yours. Why? DRM.

The upside for consumers is that Microsoft isn’t closing its e-book service because it’s is filing for bankruptcy, which means it’s is in a position to offer refunds (more on that in a moment). This situation makes it an oddity though. Oftentimes when a service shuts down it’s doing so because it has run out of money. If this were a small e-book distribution service, not only would its customers lose all access to the books that they purchased, but they would also receive no refund.

But let’s talk about Microsoft’s refund for a moment. If you go to the announcement page, you’ll see that there are some strings attached:

How do I get my refund?

Refund processing for eligible customers start rolling out automatically in early July 2019 to your original payment method. If your original payment method is no longer valid and on file with us, you will receive a credit back to your Microsoft account for use online in Microsoft Store.

If your original payment method is still valid (i.e. if your credit card hasn’t expired or been stolen) you will get a credit back. That’s actually pretty good but if the original payment method is no longer valid, you get Microsoft Fun Bucks, which you can use to buy more DRM encumbered content that may go away at any moment. That’s not as sweet of a deal.

The service will shutdown in July so if you’re in the middle of reading a book, you better finish it up before it’s taken away from you.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 4th, 2019 at 10:00 am

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Tyranny in New Zealand Isn’t Beginning

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In the wake of New Zealand’s announced gun ban I’ve seen a lot of pro-gun people stating that this is the beginning of tyranny in New Zealand. However, tyranny in New Zealand isn’t beginning, it’s already well established. Yesterday I posted not just about the new gun ban but about New Zealand’s law that grants the government permission to lock somebody up for up to 14 years for publishing objectionable material. It shouldn’t surprise anybody that the government not only gets to jail people for posting objectionable material but it also gets to define what is objectionable.

None of this is new either. There is a long tradition of censorship in New Zealand, including filtering Internet traffic. As an amusing aside, New Zealand’s Internet filtering came almost immediately after its government promised not to implement Internet filtering:

In March 2009, the Minister for Communications and IT, Steven Joyce, stated that the government had been following the controversy surrounding Internet censorship in Australia, and had no plans to introduce something similar in New Zealand. He acknowledged that filtering can cause delays for all Internet users, and that those who are determined to get around any filter will find a way to do so.[5] Later in July of the same year, it was reported that the Department of Internal Affairs had plans to introduce Internet filtering in New Zealand.[6][7] The project, using Swedish software, cost $150,000.[8] February 2010 saw the first meeting of the Independent Reference Group, who are tasked with overseeing the responsible implementation of the DCEFS.[9] In March 2010, a year after Joyce stated that there were no plans to do so, the Department of Internal Affairs stated that the filter was operational and in use.[10] Tech Liberty NZ objected to the launch of the filter, but DIA defended the system and noted that trials over two years showed that the filter did not affect the speed or stability of the internet.[11]

Free speech, which is usually considered a cornerstone of a free society, hasn’t existed in New Zealand for a very long time. Banning firearms is just another step in the direction New Zealand has been traveling for a long time now.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 22nd, 2019 at 10:00 am

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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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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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.

[…]

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

Denial of Service Attack

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An Oklahoma lawyer performed a successful denial of service attack against a courthouse:

The Rogers County Courthouse in Oklahoma closed early Monday due to bed bugs.

Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton said a lawyer came up to a third-floor courtroom with bugs falling out of his clothing.

Courthouse officials had a meeting and decided to close the courthouse until the bed bugs were gone.

This might be a good card to keep in your back pocket in case you’re ever in court and want an extra day or two to get your defense in order.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 5th, 2019 at 10:30 am

How to Shutdown the Post Office

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Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

But cold weather? Yeah, they’re going to bitch out:

USPS announced Tuesday afternoon they are suspending mail deliveries Wednesday in Minnesota, western Wisconsin, Iowa and western Illinois. Pickups from businesses, residences and collection boxes are also suspended.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 30th, 2019 at 10:00 am

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Peak Bureaucracy

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Never underestimate a bureaucracies absolutism when it comes to following its own rules:

As the plane was preparing to take off for a second time and depart from the Great White North, the aircraft ran into a mechanical issue. Natalie Noonan, a United Airlines spokeswoman, told Global News that the door of the aircraft wouldn’t shut because it had likely frozen in the frigid temperatures.

However, because the airport had no customs officers on duty overnight, passengers were unable to leave the plane.

[…]

As the hours ticked away, temperatures continued to drop, sinking to as cold as -26 degrees Fahrenheit around 8 a.m. AST in Goose Bay, according to Weather Underground data.

I’m sure United Airlines is relieved to not be the source of the problem. However, I’m doubting the passengers sitting on a plane with a door that wouldn’t close in subzero weather were seeing the wisdom of barring them from deplaning because a bureaucrat wasn’t present to process their papers.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 22nd, 2019 at 10:00 am

The Hypocrisy That Wasn’t

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Longtime readers know that my opinion of Rand Paul isn’t high but my opinion of intellectually dishonest people is even lower. The story that Rand Paul has decided to go to Canada to receive medical treatment has been spreading like wildfire in socialist circles. A proponent of capitalism is going to a country with socialized medicine in order to receive treatment seems like a great demonstration of hypocrisy after all. However, the socialists sharing this story have forgotten one major fact: although Canada is a land of socialized medicine, a handful of private facilities still exist. This minor detail is important because it turns out that Rand Paul is going to one of those private facilities:

Those who chuckled at this supposed irony missed a major detail, even though it was noted in the press coverage: Paul’s surgery will take place at the Shouldice Hernia Hospital in Thornhill, Ontario. The clinic is private, and run for profit; The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale, who is from Thornhill, notes that it was “grandfathered in to Ontario’s socialized health system.”

Instead of demonstrating Rand Paul’s hypocrisy, this story demonstrates one of my pet peeves: biased nuance. When you criticize the actions of an individual those who consider themselves on the same side as that individual will analyze your criticism with a fine-tooth comb in the hopes of finding a detail that calls your criticism into doubt. That same level of concern isn’t take for criticisms made against perceived opponents.

If you see a criticism of somebody you perceive to be an opponent, do a little digging before you share that story with your ideological circlejerk. It’ll save you from looking like a fool when somebody on that individual’s “side” analyzes the criticism and finds details putting it into doubt.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 16th, 2019 at 10:00 am