A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘You’re Doing it Wrong’ tag

The March for Philosophy

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This weekend was the March for Science. What was the March for Science? A march for philosophy.

Judging by the number of people who participated in the March for Science, there are a lot of people who don’t understand what science actually is. Perhaps nothing illustrates this fact better than the commonly used phrase, “The science is settled.”

Science, or more specifically the scientific method, is a process of discovery that relies on observation and experimentation. First, a phenomenon is observed. Second, a hypothesis that explains that phenomenon is developed. Third, an experiment is performed to determine whether the hypothesis is plausible or not. Eventually, if enough experimentation indicates that the hypothesis is correct, a theory is developed. The keywords here are “hypothesis,” “experimentation,” and “theory.” Theories are not immutable truths. Every theory has the potential of being proven incorrect by future experimentation. So science can never be settled.

The existence of this misunderstand can be further illustrated by people mixing the scientific method with democracy. How many times have you heard a variation of the phrase, “[Insert an arbitrary but large number] percent of scientists agree that…” as if it meant something? Democracy is based on the idea that truth can be discovered by polling a voting body. Science is based on the idea that observation and experimentation can help us explain natural phenomenon. The two are unrelated. Even if 99.9 percent of scientists agree on one theory they can be proven wrong if the remaining 0.1 percent perform an experiment that proves the majority’s theory incorrect. A debate based on what the plurality of scientists think isn’t a scientific debate.

The purpose of the March for Science was to promote science-based policies. This purpose is entirely philosophical in nature. You see, the scientific method is a tool that can address a specific problem domain, namely the understanding of natural phenomenon. The scientific method cannot address all problem domains though. There’s no way to prove that two plus two equal four with the scientific method. To do that humans rely on deductive logic. There’s also no way to prove that the scientific method is the proper tool for understanding natural phenomenon. To do that humans rely on philosophy.

What is the best way for humans to conduct themselves in groups? The scientific method is not the proper tool for answering this question because the answer cannot be discovered through experimentation. The best way is not a natural phenomenon, it’s a subjective criteria. For example, the most important criteria for decided the best way is individual freedom. For a somebody else, the most important criteria may be equality in wealth. The question is necessarily philosophical because it’s subjective.

Whenever somebody says that the United States needs more scientists they’re using philosophy because they are using their subjective criteria, the number of scientists, to decide the best way for humans in an arbitrarily defined group (often referred to as “society”) to conduct themselves. The same is true for anybody who says that there needs to be more government funding for scientific education.

Naturally, I’m apt to blame the government indoctrination system, which is often mistakenly referred to as an education system, for Saturday’s deplorable public display of ignorance. I’m also smart enough to know that my blame is philosophical in nature, not scientific, because there is no way for me to perform an experiment that can confirm or deny my hypothesis. I will also say that I philosophically find this widespread ignorance detrimental to humanity (based on my subjective criteria of what is best for humanity).

Written by Christopher Burg

April 26th, 2017 at 11:00 am

License, Please

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Occupational licenses are sold to the public as a mechanism for protecting consumers from fraudulent providers. Licenses don’t actually provide such protections since they’re just pieces of paper. More importantly, they can actually reduce protections since their existence convinces people that actual protections, such as regular inspections by private independent inspection organizations, aren’t as necessary. So what purpose do occupational licenses server? They serve as a source of revenue for the State as well as a mechanism for it to lash out at its critics:

In September 2014, Mats Järlström, an electronics engineer living in Beaverton, Oregon, sent an email to the state’s engineering board. The email claimed that yellow traffic lights don’t last long enough, which “puts the public at risk.”

“I would like to present these facts for your review and comments,” he wrote.

This email resulted not with a meeting, but with a threat. The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying responded with this dystopian message:

“ORS 672.020(1) prohibits the practice of engineering in Oregon without registration … at a minimum, your use of the title ‘electronics engineer’ and the statement ‘I’m an engineer’ … create violations.”

In January of this year, Järlström was officially fined $500 by the state for the crime of “practicing engineering without being registered.”

How dare he practice engineering without a license? The audacity of this criminal scum!

You almost have to admire the vindictive nature of the State. An individual came forward offering information that could potentially lead to the correction of a bug in a system and the State slaps him with a fine for daring to question its authority. Welcome to America, the freest goddamn country on Earth!

Written by Christopher Burg

April 26th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Yes, Rights are Double-Edged Swords

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The argument over what is and isn’t a right used to primarily take place between governments and the people they claimed dominion over. Today, at least in the United States, the argument seems to be more and more taking place between government subjects and other government subjects. This shift seems most obvious on college campuses:

A coalition of marginalized students at Pomona College are demanding that the president of Pomona (one of the Claremont Colleges) take disciplinary action against student-journalists who write for The Claremont Independent, a conservative paper.

That’s not all. The students’ letter to the president also stridently rejects the very mission of a liberal arts college. The search for truth is little more than an attempt to silence marginalized people, in the view of these students. Accordingly, the campus administration must revise its commitment to free speech such that no one who espouses hateful views—as defined, in incredibly broad terms, by the offended parties themselves—is allowed to speak at Claremont.

“Free speech, a right many freedom movements have fought for, has recently become a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions,” the students wrote in their letter. “It has not just empowered students from marginalized backgrounds to voice their qualms and criticize aspects of the institution, but it has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.”

Let’s consider the claim that free speech has been appropriated. Why do so many people consider free speech a right? Is it so people can express popular opinions? No. Popular opinions usually aren’t the opinions that are being suppressed. The reason so many people consider free speech to be a right because it gives protection to people who are expressing unpopular ideas.

What constitutes an unpopular idea? Generally speaking, an unpopular idea is a minority idea within a particular sphere of influence. For example, expressing anti-war sentiments is an unpopular idea when it is being expressed at a pro-war rally. It is not an unpopular idea when expressed at an anti-war rally. Expressing anti-democratic ideas is an unpopular idea when it is being expressed pretty much anywhere in the United States. It is not an unpopular idea when expressed at an individualist anarchist meeting.

The beauty of the idea of the right to free speech is that it can turn a minority idea into a majority idea. Free speech is why same-sex marriage went from strongly opposed by the majority of people in this society heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian values to being generally accepted, at least within the realm of government marriage. Likewise, cannabis legalization efforts have been made possible because the right to free speech has allowed legalization advocates to inform the public that the government claims about cannabis are false. Within the sphere of United States society these two minority opinions were able to be expressed, which allowed same-sex marriage to be legalized throughout the country and has allowed cannabis legalization advocates to achieve victory in several states.

But free speech, as with any concept developed by humans, is a double-edged sword. It allows minority and majority opinions to be expressed. Free speech is not “appropriated” when people use it to express an opinion that is unpopular within your sphere of influence, it’s exactly what the concept of free speech was created to allow. If that aspect changes then the entire reason for free speech goes out the window because the majority opinion will become the only opinion that will legally expressible. Admittedly, this usually sounds acceptable to people who hold a majority opinion within a sphere of influence but that is only because they fail to realize that their sphere of influence isn’t the only sphere.

The people who submitted the complaint at Pomona College likely hold the majority opinion in the sphere of influence of that college campus. But they may or may not hold the majority opinion within the sphere of influence of California. They most likely don’t hold the majority opinion within the sphere of influence of the United States of America. If their advice were to be followed, if free speech was curtailed in such a way that only majority opinions could be expressed, these people may find themselves silenced within the State of California and almost certainly within the United States of America.

You will likely always hold a minority opinion in several spheres of influence. If you advocate for speech being limited in a sphere you hold a majority opinion in, it will be used as precedence to silence your opinion in spheres you hold a minority opinion in. Free speech can either be a double-edged sword that allows everybody to express their opinions or it can be a single-edged sword that only allows the majority to express their opinions.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 21st, 2017 at 11:00 am

Not Surprising for an Agency with a 95 Precent Failure Rate

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Almost two years ago it was revealed that the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) missed a whopping 95 precent of restricted items. You would think that such a damning report would have lead to a top to bottom rework of the agency’s practices. But the TSA is a government agency, which means it doesn’t suffer consequences for failing, unlike market actors, and therefore has no motivation to improve. That’s what, two years later, we still get to read stories like this:

An off-duty policewoman flew from Los Angeles international airport (LAX) to Taiwan with a gun in her hand luggage.

The weapon was not detected during security screening and Noell Grant only realised she was carrying it as she changed planes in Taipei.

At one point I noted that the TSA exists solely to provide warm and fuzzy feelings to passengers who are too ignorant to realize that the agency isn’t securing anything. But as these stories continue to role out even ignorant fools are likely becoming aware of the fact that the TSA is just as ineffective as every other government agency. When that realization sets in the warm and fuzzy feelings of ignorance vanish, which means the agency serves no purpose whatsoever. The TSA should be completely abolished tomorrow.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 21st, 2017 at 10:00 am

The Hero the Twin Cities Deserves

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I generally believe that the United States education system is a cesspool. But once in a while somebody emerges from the muck and becomes a hero to us all. Beth Elaine Allen is one such person:

According to 12 felony and gross misdemeanor counts filed Friday in Hennepin County District Court, Beth Elaine Allen, 64, is estimated to owe the state more than $50,000 in outstanding taxes, penalties and interest over a five-year period. Charges say Allen failed to pay income taxes since at least 2003, but due to the statute of limitations for tax crimes, charges are limited to years 2010 to 2015.

Five years of denying the State of Minnesota a portion of her revenue. That’s quite a streak! Of course, it could have been longer if she was more intelligent about it. If you’re going to forego paying taxes you should do everything you can to stay off of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) radar. For example, if you can’t pay your mortgage don’t spend lavishly after your home is foreclosed:

Investigators also found that Allen bought a Minneapolis condo in 1992 for $245,000 and made mortgage payments of $1,400 until it was foreclosed in 2011, that she paid $94 a day to live at the Residence Inn in Plymouth and pays $700 a month to store her belongings. Credit card receipts show she spent thousands on travel, restaurants, grocery stores, liquor and wineries.

That’s the kind of thing that raises red flags with revenuers and red flags can lead to investigations. So I commend Beth on refusing to pay money to the State but I think she could have gone about it better.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 18th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Fly the Extremely Hostile Skies

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When you buy a plane ticket you’re renting a seat aboard a particular flight from one airport to another, right? Wrong. You’re buying a chance to use a seat aboard a flight, not a guarantee. Buying a planet ticket is like playing a lottery, albeit with much better odds:

In plain language under Rule 25—on page 35 if you print it out—the agreement says exactly what happens if the flight is oversold. “If there are not enough volunteers, other Passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily,” the language reads. (Of course, the deplaned man was not denied boarding, he was already boarded.)

I’ve been on many overbooked flights. Since I don’t fly very often the fact that I’ve been on many overbooked flights illustrates how prevalent the practice of overbooking is. This mostly works because whenever a flight is overbooked the poor schmuck working at the front desk will offer people who volunteer to take a later flight some kind of compensation and they usually get enough volunteers. However, I’ve often wondered what would happen if they didn’t get enough volunteers. Fortunately, United answered the question:

CHICAGO, IL — A man aboard a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville was forcibly lifted from his seat, dragged down the aisle and removed from the plane as horrified passengers protested and recorded the episode on their smartphones Sunday night at O’Hare International Airport.

The man was among four passengers randomly selected on the full flight to give up their seats for United Airlines employees who needed to be in Louisville by Monday, according to witnesses. Flight 3411 was overbooked, according to the airline.

If a flight is overbooked and the airliner doesn’t get enough volunteers then a few cops are sent aboard to rough up a passenger and forcefully remove them. As an aside, I’ll note that the officers had no problem roughing up and removing that paying passenger. But I’ll leave the moral judgement of that fact for you to make.

I would go so far as to accuse United, and every other airline, of fraud since they’re misrepresenting their product. With the exception of the 3,000 pages of legalese hidden in some dark recess of their websites, every airline strongly implies that when you buy a flight ticket you’re reserving a seat aboard a selected flight. Some airlines even allow you to select a seat. However, you’re not reserving a seat, you’re buying a chance at getting a seat, which is not what is being advertised. What makes matters worse is that the State is willing to subsidize this fraudulent practice by providing the muscle to deal with any customers who are unhappy about getting ripped off.

While other airlines also sell lottery tickets instead of flight tickets, they haven’t been caught sending police aboard when somebody loses. Because of that, I would recommend playing the lottery with another airliner. At least then if you lose you might not get roughed up.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 11th, 2017 at 11:00 am

The Internet of Things Means Not Owning Your Devices

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Every consumer product can be made better by connecting it to the Internet, right? If you prefer licensing your products instead of owning them then that may be the case. However, if you’re like me and believe that you should own the products you buy, then that may not be the best idea.

A poor schmuck purchased an Internet connected garage door opener then later ran afoul with the company’s support has learned a valuable lesson about the difference between licensing and ownership:

Denis Grisak, the man behind the Internet-connected garage opener Garadget, is having a very bad week. Grisak and his Colorado-based company SoftComplex launched Garadget, a device built using Wi-Fi-based cloud connectivity from Particle, on Indiegogo earlier this year, hitting 209 percent of his launch goal in February. But this week, his response to an unhappy customer has gotten Garadget a totally different sort of attention.

On April 1, a customer who purchased Garadget on Amazon using the name R. Martin reported problems with the iPhone application that controls Garadget.

[…]

Grisak then responded by bricking Martin’s product remotely, posting on the support forum:

Martin,
The abusive language here and in your negative Amazon review, submitted minutes after experiencing a technical difficulty, only demonstrates your poor impulse control. I’m happy to provide the technical support to the customers on my Saturday night but I’m not going to tolerate any tantrums.

At this time your only option is return Garadget to Amazon for refund. Your unit ID 2f0036… will be denied server connection.

Welcome to the Internet of Things where any device can be remotely bricked by an angry service provider!

When it comes to Internet connected devices I ask two questions. First, is the device being provided by a company that has a good security track record? Second, what benefits would I derive from connecting that device to the Internet?

The first question is important to ask about any device that will be connected to the Internet because you don’t want your Internet connected coffee pot to become part of a botnet or act as a gateway for a malicious actor to access your network. While the second question is subjective, I believe it’s important to consider. Why, for example, would I want my garage door opener to connect to the Internet? I only want the garage door to open when I’m entering or leaving the garage. For me, there is no value in being able to open my garage door while I’m sitting at work. Furthermore, having to unlock my phone and open an app takes longer than pressing a button on a remote control attached to my vehicle’s visor. So an Internet connected garage door ends up being less convenient for me than a regular one. Answering the second question just saved me a potential security vulnerability in my network and the possibility of having my device bricked by a pissy provider (not to mention it probably saved me some money).

Written by Christopher Burg

April 6th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Looking Dumb When Trying to Look Smart

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Omnia dicta fortiora si dicta Latina. Everything sounds more impressive if said in Latin. While that’s generally true, it only applies when something is said in correct Latin. When something is said in incorrect Latin you just end up looking like a damn fool:

A development of luxury homes in Cambridge has been daubed with graffiti – written in Latin, of course.
Vandals spray-painted the new five-bedroom river-front houses with the words Locus in Domos Loci Populum.

Locals have said the messages, which appear to be a protest against the development, could “only happen” in the university city.

I’m glad that something like this could “only happen” in Cambridge. I’d hate to see a trend of vandals writing “A place on the houses of a place the people,” on houses spread any further.

Today’s lesson is not to rely on Google Translate, especially for Latin. If you really want to use Latin and are unwilling to learn the language, head over to the nearest university’s Latin department and ask for a translation.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 6th, 2017 at 10:00 am

A Dictatorship of the Intelligentsia

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The problem with statists is that they never ask whether or not people should be ruled. All of their time is spent arguing over who should be ruling. Donald Trump’s election has infuriated a lot of statists because they don’t believe it’s the right person to rule us. Now a handful of these statists believe that the only solution is for them to rule us:

There’s a growing trend of scientists and engineers seeking public office, many of whom say they’re reacting to the cabinet picks and policy decisions from the new Trump Administration, which in many cases have been at odds with science.

[…]

Now more people in STEM fields are showing an interest in running for office—and many don’t have any formal experience running a campaign. 314 Action, a nonprofit organization named after the first three digits of the number pi, hopes to help solve that problem. It encourages those in the STEM community to run and offers resources to potential candidates, such as training sessions. Founder Shaughnessy Naughton, a chemist who previously sought a seat in Congress, says that having more science-minded people in Washington “would lead to a more collaborative and fact-based approach to governing.”

“We have a lot of people that never considered running for office before that now feel compelled to step up and try to make a difference in their communities because of this assault on our future,” she told Ars.

More than 3,000 people have reached out to the organization since January. Most of those people are left-leaning and about half of them are women. 314 Action has not officially endorsed any candidates yet, but it’s currently only supporting Democrats because the organization considers the Republican party anti-science, especially on issues like climate change. The training sessions, however, are open to people from all political parties.

A dictatorship of the intelligentsia will solve everything! It’s science!

This is why statism will continue to doom us all. These people are upset about the Trump administration’s track record in regards to science. Instead of learning the obvious lesson, that the State shouldn’t be involved in scientific research in any capacity, they’re repeating the cycle that has lead us here. In fact, their inability to theorized based on observations really makes me question their scientific credentials. Even a cursory examination of the history of the State and its attitude towards scientific research would lead anybody of at least lukewarm intelligence to the conclusion that its attitude changes every time a new group of politicians come into power. If nothing else, allowing the State to involve itself in scientific research inserts unnecessary and undesirable instability.

Instead of running for office or supporting a political action committee that claims to want to put the “right people” in charge, scientists should be working to divorce their fields from the State. That is the only longterm solution.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 5th, 2017 at 11:30 am

Watch a Dying Business Thrash Desperately

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I will go so far as to say that Let’s Encrypt revolutionized the Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificate market. While there were some free sources of certificates, the general rule remained that you had to pay if you wanted to implement a secure connection for you website. Then Let’s Encrypt was released. Now anybody can implement a secure connection for their website for free. On top of that, Let’s Encrypt greatly simplified the process of managing certificates. So it’s no surprise that certificate vendors are feeling the squeeze and responding desperately:

The fact that Let’s Encrypt is now being used to make phishing sites look legit is a total burn for us, and a potential house fire for users who rely on simple cues like the green padlock for assurance. According to certificate reseller The SSL Store, “between January 1st, 2016 and March 6th, 2017, Let’s Encrypt has issued a total of 15,270 SSL certificates containing the word ‘PayPal.'”

Keep in mind that the SSL Store is a provider of those incredibly overpriced certificates, so Let’s Encrypt’s mission isn’t necessarily in their interests. Even still, their post points out that the “vast majority of this issuance has occurred since November — since then Let’s Encrypt has issued nearly 100 ‘PayPal’ certificates per day.” Based on a random sample, SSL Store said, 96.7 percent of these certificates were intended for use on phishing sites.

The reseller added that, while their analysis has focused on fake PayPal sites, the firm’s findings have spotted other SSL phishing fakers, including Bank of America, Apple IDs, and Google.

The SSL Store paints a frightening picture. But the picture requires ignoring two facts.

First, TLS doesn’t verify if a website is legitimate. TLS verifies that the URL you’re connecting to matches the name in the certificate provided by the server and that the certificate was issued by a trusted authority. For example, if you connect to https://paypaltotallyascam.com, TLS will verify that the URL in the certificate is for https://paypaltotallyascam.com and that the certificate was issued by a trusted authority. However, TLS is not magical and cannot determine whether the site is a scam or not.

Second, you can’t even pull a certificate with Let’s Encrypt unless you have a registered URL. So why is Let’s Encrypt getting all of the blame but not the Domain Name System (DNS) registrar that allowed the domain to be registered in the first place? Because DNS registrars aren’t a threat to The SSL Store’s business model, Let’s Encrypt is.

This report by The SSL Store is nothing more than the desperate thrashings of a dying business model.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 4th, 2017 at 10:30 am