A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

The End of Everything Good and Holy

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It seems like every generation is destined to disparage the next generation. This is nothing new. Even the elderly Romans complained about how an easy life has made their successor soft. In the most recent entry of the new generation sucking we have an article wondering if smartphones have destroyed a generation:

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.
The allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens.

[…]

What happened in 2012 to cause such dramatic shifts in behavior? It was after the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 and had a starker effect on Millennials trying to find a place in a sputtering economy. But it was exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.

The more I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people like Athena, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night. iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.

Do you know what destroyed a generation? The printing press! When books stopped being written by hand by monks in monasteries, they become cheaper and more readily available. This lead to more people reading more frequently, which cause them to pass less attention to their social obligations.

That’s the same argument except it would have, and probably did, taken place in the 1440s.

Just as every generation is destined to disparage the next generation, every technological advancement that makes its way into the hands of consumers is destined to be accused of destroying the next generation. Television, video games, and computers were all accused of destroying a generation in recent times. The first generations the grew up with those technologies turned out fine just as the new generation will end up turning out fine. Adoption of new technologies are always disruptive to a point but it seems like humanity has a knack for discovering, rather rapidly, the positives and negative aspects and adopting the former while discarding or working around the latter. As today’s teenagers develop they too will discover the positives and negatives of smartphones and adjust themselves accordingly. Then they’ll be at an age where they can disparage their successors and whatever new technology is being adopted by them at the time.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 11th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Posted in Technology

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Learning Lessons the Hard Way

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My view of politics is bleak. I don’t believe voting is capable of bringing about meaningful change nor do I believe that the system can be changed from the inside even if decent people are elected to offices. No matter how often I point out the redundancies that prevent meaningful change from occurring within the State, people continue to argue that we (by which I assume they mean the royal we) have to keep trying. Perhaps those individuals, like this individual, will someday get a job within the State and learn the lesson the hard way:

This summer I got to see how Illinois government works from the inside when I accepted a high-level position at the governor’s office.

A lot of people have asked why I took the role, considering I have spent the bulk of my career railing against the government.

It came down to this: If I declined the job, I’d watch Illinois’ problems go unfixed and wonder if I could have made a difference. Or, I could enter the nucleus of state government and attempt to change the system from within.

[…]

The experience was eye-opening, but after six weeks I decided to leave the position. It was a dysfunctional workplace in a flailing administration. The bad I saw far outweighed any good I could do.

But perhaps worst of all is that I learned early on that there would be no fixing the system from within, especially from my role; this is a state government that has been broken for decades. It is designed to reject improvement in every form, at every level.

Then again they, like most people who enter government, might realize how awesome it is to receive a paycheck for doing nothing meaningful and forget all about their plan to change the system from within. But I digress.

The article is a great read and, although it’s discusses the Illinois government, the issues it brings up apply to any governmental body (or any bureaucracy in general). Promotions aren’t based on merit but on seniority and connections. Since promotions aren’t based on merit, apathy is rampant. Tradition rules. “We’ve always done it this way,” is considered a valid argument for doing something in governmental bodies. The combination of apathy and tradition dictating direction is a recipe for failure. Just ask any number of companies that failed due to apathetic employees pursing the things the company has always done.

Every single member of government is an interchangeable cog in a complex machine. Even an office as powerful as the presidency of the United States of America is unable to bring about any meaningful change, regardless of how much people believe otherwise, because the other cogs don’t want to shake up what they perceive to be a pretty good thing (being a government official is a pretty cushy job).

Written by Christopher Burg

October 11th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Something You Don’t See Everyday

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Here’s something you don’t see everyday:

A jury on Monday found a former Minneapolis police officer guilty of a felony for kicking a man in the face during a domestic violence call.

Christopher Reiter was found guilty of third-degree assault for severely injuring a domestic assault suspect in May 2016 while the suspect was on his hands and knees, causing a brain injury.

A law enforcer was actually found guilty for using excessive force. Talk about an isolated incident!

I’m not sure if this decision is the beginning of a change in the culture where law enforcers are no longer seen are heroes but as the regular, fallible human being they are. It seems like there has been a slow shift in that direction, especially with all of the videos of cops behaving badly becoming available. Then again, this decision could also be a fluke. The cynic in me says that this decision was a fluke while the optimist in me hopes that this is the beginning of a shift in the culture.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 11th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Put It in the Cloud, They Said. It’ll Be Fun, They Said.

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Not only do you not own devices that are dependent on online services but those devices are also more vulnerable to unauthorized remote access. If your Internet connected devices aren’t secure, they can be accessed by unauthorized third parties, which can make for an awkward time when said device is capable of playing audio:

That suave chat is a translation of what webcam owner and shocked F-bomb flinger Rilana Hamer, of the Netherlands, related in a 1 October Facebook post.

Hamer says that a month or two ago, she picked up a Wi-Fi enabled camera to keep an eye on the house. Most particularly, to keep an eye on her puppy, who has a penchant for turning everything upside down. She bought the device at Action—a local discount-chain store that mostly sells low-budget convenience utilities.

Hamer’s experience isn’t unusual. In fact, there’s a website dedicated to providing remote feeds to insecure video cameras. Internet of Things (IoT) manufacturers have a pretty dismal record when it comes to security and few have shown any notable effort to improve that record. While the ramifications of this lack of security awareness aren’t immediately obvious for many IoT devices, they are obvious when it comes to devices that allow unauthorized third-parties to interact with you.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 10th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Posted in Technology

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What Happens When You Don’t Own Something

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The cloud is good. The cloud is holy. The cloud is our savior. If you listen to the marketing departments of online service providers and Internet of Things manufacturers, you’d be lead to believe that the cloud will soon cure cancer. While there can be advantages to moving services online there are also major disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage, in my opinion, is the fact that you don’t own anything that is dependent on an online service. People who bought the Canary security camera are learning this lesson the hard way:

Canary, a connected home security camera company, announced changes to its free service last week that went into effect on Tuesday. Under the new terms, non-paying users will no longer be able to freely access night mode on their cameras nor will they be able to record video for later viewing. Night mode is a feature that lets you set a schedule for your Canary camera to monitor your home while you sleep without sending notifications.

On top of that, all the videos the company previously recorded for free will be converted into 10-second clips called “video previews.” Essentially, important features are being taken away from users unless they’re willing to pay $9.99 a month.

People will likely blame this on greed but the real culprit is the lack of ownership. The Canary camera isn’t free but paying money to acquire one doesn’t mean you’re paying money to own it. In reality, you’re paying money for the privilege of paying a monthly fee to tie a camera to an online service. The terms of accessing that online service can change on a whim and, in this case, the change left people who decided not to pay the $9.99 per month fee with a paperweight that used to be a security camera (albeit a limited one).

The Internet of Things means never owning the devices you pay money for and if you don’t own it, you don’t control it.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 10th, 2017 at 10:30 am

NIST Publishes New Password Best Practices

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g’70A32KsZQ8H2n0JkJ__rfy[JsFzJ(wN(y1,F’Ou1kH(TQcSyNYs”3CSXYPbXQm

That looks like a secure password, right? It is. However, there’s no way I could possibly type that in accurately or remember it. Passwords that cannot be typed or remembered aren’t a big deal for online services if you use a password manager. They are a big deal for passwords you have to type in, like the one to log into your computer. Unfortunately, conventional password wisdom has it that users should be required to have complex passwords instead of memorable passwords. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently published changes to its password best practices. Its changes reflect conventional wisdom when it comes to password security:

Among other things, they make three important suggestions when it comes to passwords:

  1. Stop it with the annoying password complexity rules. They make passwords harder to remember. They increase errors because artificially complex passwords are harder to type in. And they don’t help that much. It’s better to allow people to use pass phrases.
  2. Stop it with password expiration. That was an old idea for an old way we used computers. Today, don’t make people change their passwords unless there’s indication of compromise.
  3. Let people use password managers. This is how we deal with all the passwords we need.

The good news here isn’t so much that NIST published these recommendations but that system administrators are willing to follow NIST’s guidelines. None of the changes published by NIST are new, these practices have been advocated by security professionals for some time now. Unfortunately, many, if not most, system administrators have kept the old guidelines in place, which has lead to users having to come up with passwords that are complex enough to satisfy password policy requirements but simple enough to remember for the several months that password is valid for. Hopefully NIST publishing these changes will convince those administrators of the errors of their ways.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 10th, 2017 at 10:00 am

With “Friends” Like These

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The National Rifle Association (NRA) has a history of supporting gun rights when its convenient but throwing gun rights under the buss when its politically expedient. That being the case, it probably came as no surprise that the organization expressed support for legal restrictions on bump stocks:

The National Rifle Association has called for “additional regulations” on bump-stocks, a rapid fire device used by the Las Vegas massacre gunman.

The group said: “Devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”

It would have been nice if the NRA would have at least waited until the fight began before capitulating. Not surprisingly, the Republicans have expressed a willingness to implement such a restriction. Despite their rhetoric, like the NRA, Republicans have a tendency to support gun control whenever opposing it becomes politically inconvenient.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 9th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Monday Metal: Darker Side of Midnight by Ancient Empire

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Written by Christopher Burg

October 9th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Posted in Media

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The Number of Guns is Irrelevant

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The media and gun control advocates are making a big deal about the number of guns recovered from the hotel room the Las Vegas attacker used. According to ABC News law enforcers found 47 guns in the room.

Realistically an individual can operate one gun at a time. Technically an individual can operate two handguns simultaneously but not very effectively. So why does it matter how many guns an individual owns? It doesn’t. The media makes a big deal out of the number of guns because it catches people’s attention and therefore leads to more page hits and accompanying ad impressions. Media outlets exist to make money so that isn’t surprising. Gun control advocates make a big deal out of the number of guns for similar reasons although their goal isn’t as noble as making money, their goal is to drum up outrage so they can coax politicians into punishing innocent gun owners by passing restrictive laws.

Having more guns doesn’t make a mass shooter more deadly so the number of guns recovered by law enforcers is irrelevant.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 6th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Defense Distributed Enters the Handgun Market

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Defense Distributed, Cody Wilson’s enterprise that proves the fallacy of gun control, released the Ghost Gunner, a computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine that specializes in milling AR-15 lower receivers, to the chagrin of gun control advocates. The Ghost Gunner made it simple for individuals with relatively little skill to manufacture an AR-15 lower receiver, the part of the gun that is serialized and therefore regulated. Now Defense Distributed has entered the handgun market:

Today, that scope widens: Wilson and Defense Distributed are now in the handgun business, too.

Defense Distributed will offer two of the most common handgun “80 percent” receivers—for Glocks and single-stack M1911s—for interested customers to complete using the Ghost Gunner. “What we’ve done for ARs we’re going to do for handguns now,” Wilson tells Ars. Defense Distributed’s store now carries new fixtures, frames, and tooling to create these two handguns, in addition to its previously offered AR-15 lower receivers and jig sets.

Building a firearm isn’t rocket science. Anybody with basic machining knowledge and competency in firearm design can do it. This fact has always made gun control a pipe dream. But as technology improves so does the ease of manufacturing. CNC machines reduced the machining knowledge necessary to manufacture a great many goods, which made controlling those goods even less feasible.

I’m sure gun control advocates will demand that the Ghost Gunner be prohibited but it’s nothing more than a specialized CNC machine and there is no way gun control advocates are going to get CNC machines banned. Likewise, CNC machines will continue to drop in price and increase in capabilities. In a few years it will be easy to pick up a general CNC machines that is as affordable as the Ghost Gunner and even more capable.

Gun control is effectively dead. Technology killed it just as it ultimately kills all restrictions.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 6th, 2017 at 10:30 am