Friday, August 13, 2010

Why does gov't law enforcement have to be secret?

In this Wired article, we are reminded that one of the neat things the FBI has been involved in has been the abuse of National Security Letters:
A national security letter is an informal administrative letter the FBI can use to secretly demand customer records from ISPs, financial institutions, libraries, insurance companies, travel agencies, stockbrokers, car dealerships and others. NSLs have been used since the 1980s, but the Patriot Act, passed after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and a subsequent revision in 2003 expanded the kinds of records that could be obtained with an NSL.
There are a couple of really fun parts to this story. First, it took six years for the courts to decide to lift part of the "no telling anyone" ban, EVEN THOUGH the FBI dropped it's demand for some of the information.

Seriously, go read the article and find out what kind of crap our government is allowed to pull on us mere citizens.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Off the grid

First, The News: I've suffered multiple catastrophic hardware failures, and am uncertain when I will be able to resume quasi-regular posting. I hope it'll be in a week or so when a friend is able to let me borrow an (old, antique) laptop, but no promises express or implied.

Since my last post, however, I've had the adventure of making one of my infrequent (and very reluctant) forays into Wal*Mars. While there, I was tooling down one of the aisles when a couple of standard hippo-hipped Wal*Martians pulled out in front of me and opted to simply STOP in the aisle so they could exchange weight-gaining tips. I, trying to be polite, said "Excuse me...", only to be ignored. A second, louder, attempt got one of them to turn her head and suggest "Why don't you just go around?"

Annoyed, I responded with "Going around that ass of yours would put me in a different time zone, and it's too much trouble to adjust my watch..."

That earned me a Hateful Look (hurt my feelings terribly), and an outraged snort (I swear I could feel the air move) before the two of them lumbered down a sub-aisle. As I went by, one of them muttered something about rude assholes. Must've been talking to herself, I guess....

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Healthcare Max"

For those that didn't see it the other night, it seems that our esteemed Max Baucus played a significant role in the Obama administrations healthcare reform plan.

Not all of it was necessarily beneficial, however: there's reason to believe that Max was instrumental in killing the nomination of Tom Daschle, among other things.

For anyone interested in what the hell happened that got us the "reform" plan is encouraged to go have a look at it yourself (it's viewable online), and see what transpired. It'll take less than an hour of your time, and you'll see how our government really "works".

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bringin' home da pork

Seems our esteemed Denny Rehburg is tops (in a way) of "bringing home the bacon" to Montana.

According to this CNN Politics news story, Denny is Number 1 in the number of pork-barrel projects he directs back to Montana - at 88 of them.

Way to go, Denny! Woo-hoo!

If you're interested to see the full details of the "Pig Book" that reports on pork-barrel projects, you can find them HERE. I promise, you'll never look at a pig the same again...

The site has a nifty "search by" feature that lets you hunt down what projects a Congressrodent has earmarked. Denny? Here's what he was involved in:
--->88 record(s) for a total of $100,514,200
ID State Cost Description Status Appropriation Fiscal Year Party House Senate
10198 * $650,000 Greater Yellowstone Interagency Brucellosis Committee, MT, ID, WY (Animal Plant Health Inspection Service: Salaries and Expenses) AG 10 M Rehberg; Simpson Barrasso; Baucus; Crapo; Enzi; Risch; Tester
10420 MT $3,654,000 Animal Bioscience Facility, Bozeman (Agricultural Research Service: Buildings and Facilities) AG 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
10421 MT $682,000 Sustainable Beef Supply (National Institute of Food and Agriculture: Special Research Grants) AG 10 D Rehberg Baucus
10422 MT $270,000 Invasive Plant Management (National Institute of Food and Agriculture: Special Research Grants) AG 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
10423 MT $305,000 Brucellosis Vaccine (National Institute of Food and Agriculture: Special Research Grants) AG 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
11410 MT $100,000 Montana State University Billings, Billings, Academic & Workforce Development Program at the Montana Women’s Prison (Byrne Discretionary Grants) COM 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
11411 MT $600,000 Montana Youth and District Court Services Bureau, Helena, MT MONTS-Juvenile Justice System (Juvenile Justice) COM 10 R Rehberg
11415 MT $250,000 City of Kalispell, Public Safety Building Modernization (Byrne Discretionary Grants) COM 10 M Rehberg Tester
11417 MT $147,000 Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office, Billings, Yellowstone County Mobile Digital Video Camera (COPS - Law Enforcement Technology) COM 10 R Rehberg
11418 MT $185,000 Gallatin County, Bozeman, Gallatin County Treatment Court (Byrne Discretionary Grants) COM 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
11419 MT $400,000 Missoula County, Missoula, Missoula Public Safety Operations & Training Center (COPS - Law Enforcement Technology) COM 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
11420 MT $250,000 Billings Clinic, Billings Clinic Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (Byrne Discretionary Grants) COM 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
11422 MT $60,000 East Helena Police Department, East Helena, East Helena Community Policing Hiring Effort (Byrne Discretionary Grants) COM 10 R Rehberg
11427 MT $250,000 University of Montana, Missoula, Montana Safe Schools (Juvenile Justice) COM 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
11428 MT $500,000 Montana Meth Project, Missoula, Montana Meth Project (COPS - Methamphetamine) COM 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
11429 MT $500,000 Watson Children’s Shelter, Missoula, Western Montana Children’s Safety Initiative (Juvenile Justice) COM 10 R Rehberg
11431 MT $300,000 Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, Helena, Montana Offender Notification and Tracking System—Juvenile Justice System (MONTS-JJS) (Byrne Discretionary Grants) COM 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
12356 $4,800,000 Titanium Extraction, Mining and Process Engineering Research (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Army) DEF 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
12383 $4,000,000 SOVAS-Hand Held Imager / Long Range (Procurement - Defense Wide) DEF 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Kerry; Kirk; Tester
12494 $2,400,000 NAVAIR High Fidelity Oceanographic Library (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Navy) DEF 10 R Rehberg
12584 * $800,000 Compliance Tools Development for Metals in Antifouling Paints (MT, NY) (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Navy) DEF 10 M Bishop (UT); Rehberg Tester
13241 MT $2,000,000 Defense-Critical Languages and Cultures Program (Operation and Maintenance - Defense Wide) DEF 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
13243 MT $2,400,000 Materials Technology for LED Lighting Applications (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Army) DEF 10 M Rehberg Tester
13244 MT $2,400,000 Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad Reconfigurable Vehicle Simulator (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Navy) DEF 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
13245 MT $6,400,000 Cryofracture / Plasma Arc Demilitarization Program (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Army) DEF 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
13246 MT $1,600,000 Next Generation Simulation Training for Pararescue Forces (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Air Force) DEF 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
13247 MT $2,800,000 Adelos Program: Nuclear Security Sensor System (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Navy) DEF 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
13248 MT $3,200,000 Low Acoustic and Thermal Signature Battlefield Power Source (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Navy) DEF 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
13249 MT $7,600,000 Mariah Hypersonic Wind Tunnel Development Program (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Army) DEF 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
13250 MT $1,600,000 Watchkeeper (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Air Force) DEF 10 R Rehberg
13251 MT $3,200,000 Adaptive Lightweight Materials Technology for Missile Defense (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Army) DEF 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
13252 MT $1,600,000 US Army Vascular Graft Research Project (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Army) DEF 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
13253 MT $1,600,000 MilTech Expansion Program (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Defense Wide) DEF 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
13254 MT $800,000 Advanced Helicopter Landing Aid (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation - Navy) DEF 10 M Rehberg Tester
13941 $491,000 Geothermal development in Hot Springs Valley (Department of Energy: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) ENERGY 10 R Rehberg
13966 $3,000,000 Center for Zero Emissions Reseach and Technology (Department of Energy: Fossil Energy R&D) ENERGY 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
13986 $500,000 Synthesis of renewable biofuels from biomass (Department of Energy: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) ENERGY 10 M Rehberg Tester
14439 MT $4,844,000 Rural Montana (Corps of Engineers: Construction) ENERGY 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
14440 MT $500,000 Montana algal biodiesel initiative (Department of Energy: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) ENERGY 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
14444 MT $1,000,000 Wind turbine development (Department of Energy: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) ENERGY 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
14950 MT $137,500 Great Falls Development Authority, to support the administrative costs of the Central Montana Growth Fund, Great Falls (Small Business Administration) FINSER 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
14952 MT $134,000 Montana World Trade Center, Missoula, for Montana Growth Through Trade (Small Business Administration) FINSER 10 R Rehberg
14953 MT $137,500 Montana Technology Venture Center, Bozeman, for expansion and operations of the TechRanch next step program (Small Business Administration) FINSER 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
14954 MT $133,000 Montana State University, Bozeman, HTAP: High-Technology Assistance Program (Small Business Administration) FINSER 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
15177 MT $800,000 Emergency Operations Center, Butte-Silver Bow (FEMA: State and Local Programs) HS 10 M Dennis Rehberg Jon Tester
15360 CO $1,700,000 Water Research Foundation (EPA - Science & Technology) INT 10 M Kissell; Rehberg; Moran (VA) Kennedy; Kerry; Reid
15400 GA $1,000,000 Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research (EPA - Science & Technology) INT 10 M Towns; Rogers (MI); Rehberg; Stupak; Conyers; Price (NC); Abercrombie; Lewis (GA); Rogers (KY) Hagan; Levin; McConnell; Murray; Stabenow
15540 MT $1,500,000 Lewis and Clark National Forest (US Forest Service - Land Acquisition) INT 10 M Rehberg Tester, Baucus
15541 MT $200,000 City of Missoula for wastewater facility improvements (EPA - State and Tribal Assistance Grants - Water and Wastewater Infrastructure) INT 10 M Rehberg Tester
15543 MT $150,000 City of Bozeman Main Street Historic District Restoration (National Park Service - Save America's Treasures) INT 10 R Rehberg
15544 MT $500,000 Butte-Silver Bow Consolidated Government for drinking water improvements for the City of Butte (EPA - State and Tribal Assistance Grants - Water and Wastewater Infrastructure) INT 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
15545 MT $290,600 Em-Kayan County Water and Sewer District for infrastructure improvements (EPA - State and Tribal Assistance Grants - Water and Wastewater Infrastructure) INT 10 R Rehberg
15546 MT $500,000 City of Bozeman for water treatment facility improvements (EPA - State and Tribal Assistance Grants - Water and Wastewater Infrastructure) INT 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
16784 MT $250,000 Billings Clinic, Billings, MT for a rural health outreach program, including facilities and equipment (HHS - HRSA Health Facilities and Services) LABHHS 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
16785 MT $400,000 Daniels Memorial Hospital Association, Scobey, MT for facilities and equipment (HHS - HRSA Health Facilities and Services) LABHHS 10 R Rehberg
16786 MT $200,000 University of Montana—Mike & Maureen Mansfield Center, Missoula, MT, to establish the Institute for Leadership and Public Service to fulfill the purposes of the Mansfield Center, including the creation of an endowment (Education: Higher Education) LABHHS 10 M Rehberg Tester
16787 MT $500,000 Community Medical Center, Missoula, MT for facilities and equipment (HHS - HRSA Health Facilities and Services) LABHHS 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
16788 MT $550,000 CARD Clinic, Libby, MT, for facilities and equipment related to an asbestos surveillance initiative (HHS - HRSA Health Facilities and Services) LABHHS 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
16789 MT $500,000 Benefis Health System, Great Falls, MT for facilities and equipment (HHS - HRSA Health Facilities and Services) LABHHS 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
16791 MT $500,000 Easter Seals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain, Inc., Great Falls, MT for facilities and equipment (HHS - HRSA Health Facilities and Services) LABHHS 10 R Rehberg
16792 MT $300,000 Northern Rockies Educational Services (NRES), Missoula, MT for the Taking Technology to the Classroom initiative, including purchase of equipment (Education: Elementary and Secondary Education) LABHHS 10 R Rehberg
16793 MT $100,000 Lewis and Clark County, Helena, MT, for facilities and equipment at the City-County Health Department (HHS - HRSA Health Facilities and Services) LABHHS 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
16794 MT $400,000 St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation, Billings, MT for facilities and equipment (HHS - HRSA Health Facilities and Services) LABHHS 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
16795 MT $100,000 Flathead Valley Community College, Kalispell, MT, Career Opportunities through Retraining and Education (Labor - Employment and Training Administration) LABHHS 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
16797 MT $100,000 Youth Dynamics, Inc, Billings, MT, for a training program to help meet the mental health needs of those living in rural or frontier States (HHS - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) LABHHS 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
16798 MT $100,000 Youth Dynamics, Inc., Billings, MT for facilities and equipment (HHS - HRSA Health Facilities and Services) LABHHS 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
16800 MT $300,000 Saint Patrick Hospital, Missoula, MT, to implement an electronic health record system (HHS - HRSA Health Facilities and Services) LABHHS 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
16801 MT $100,000 Montana Tech, Butte, MT, to expand health informatics training, including equipment (HHS - HRSA Health Facilities and Services) LABHHS 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
16802 MT $100,000 Montana Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, Billings, MT for facilities and equipment (HHS - HRSA Health Facilities and Services) LABHHS 10 D Rehberg Baucus
16803 MT $100,000 Montana State University, Billings, MT, for job training (Labor - Employment and Training Administration) LABHHS 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
17688 MT $10,600,000 Malmstrom Air Force Base to upgrade weapons storage area (Air Force) MILCON 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
17689 MT $1,750,000 Fort Harrison to add alter a troop medical facility (Army National Guard) MILCON 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
17778 $200,000 Pantry Partners Food Bank for a building project (Economic Development Initiative) TRANS 10 D Rehberg Baucus
18573 MT $292,200 High Bridge Renovation (Surface Transportation Priorities) TRANS 10 M Rehberg Tester
18574 MT $500,000 Mill Creek Highway, Anaconda- Deer Lodge County (Transportation, Community, and System Preservation) TRANS 10 R Rehberg
18577 MT $487,000 homeWORD, Missoula, for development of rental housing that is affordable to working families (Neighborhood Initiatives) TRANS 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
18579 MT $1,461,000 I-90 Belgrade East Interchange (Interstate Maintenance Discretionary) TRANS 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
18580 MT $300,000 Great Falls Development Authority for Great Falls Industrial Park infrastructure improvements (Economic Development Initiative) TRANS 10 R Rehberg
18581 MT $200,000 City of Shelby for Shelby Downtown District Revitalization Project building renovation (Economic Development Initiative) TRANS 10 R Rehberg
18582 MT $584,400 Livingston Railroad Grade Separation Undercrossing (Surface Transportation Priorities) TRANS 10 D Rehberg Baucus
18583 MT $974,000 Shelby Intermodal Hub (Rail Line Relocation and Improvement Program) TRANS 10 D Rehberg Baucus; Tester
18584 MT $200,000 Rocky Mountain Development Council for Caird Iron Works Redevelopment (Economic Development Initiative) TRANS 10 R Rehberg
18585 MT $450,000 Billings Food Bank for the Billings Food Bank Montana Harvest Kitchens Project building expansion (Economic Development Initiative) TRANS 10 R Rehberg
18586 MT $500,000 Black Eagle Road Reconstruction (Surface Transportation Priorities) TRANS 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
18588 MT $323,000 City of Billings for Business Consortium Project for the Homeless building purchase and renovation (Economic Development Initiative) TRANS 10 R Rehberg
18589 MT $100,000 Yellowstone Boys and Girls for ranch building renovation Ranch (Economic Development Initiative) TRANS 10 R Rehberg
18591 MT $625,000 Western Montana Children’s Safety Initiative for construction of a children's shelter facility (Economic Development Initiative) TRANS 10 M Rehberg Tester; Baucus
19278 * $547,000 Barley for rural development (ID, MT) (National Institute of Food and Agriculture: Special Research Grants) AG 10 M Rehberg; Simpson Baucus; Crapo; Risch; Tester

© Citizens Against Government Waste | 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Suite 1075, Washington, DC 20004 | 1-800-BE-ANGRY

'Nuff Said

Friday, April 9, 2010

Top 10 reasons why Beer is better than Religion...

10. No one will kill you for not drinking Beer.
9. Beer doesn't tell you how to have sex.
8. Beer has never caused a major war.
7. They don't force Beer on minors who can't think for themselves.
6. When you have a Beer, you don't knock on people's doors trying to give it away.
5. Nobody's ever been burned at the stake, hanged, or tortured over his brand of Beer.
4. You don't have to wait 2000+ years for a second Beer.
3. There are laws saying Beer labels can't lie to you.
2. You can prove you have a Beer.
1. If you've devoted your life to Beer, there are groups to help you stop.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Welcome, Aliens!

If, by chance, you're ever the one to come into first contact with space aliens arriving on Earth for the first time, please be prepared to greet them properly by reviewing the following materials.

Make with the clicky to Biggie-size

Monday, April 5, 2010

Reporting from a war zone

You may have heard about the Reuters team that was killed by a gunship in Iraq, and that the video from the helicopter is available. I've got my own opinion about what happened, but for those that want to decide for themselves, here it is.



10) "Get in there you big furry oaf, I don't care what you smell!"
9) "Luke, at that speed do you think you'll be able to pull out in time?"
8) "Put that thing away before you get us all killed."
7) "You've got something jammed in here real good."
6) "Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?"
5) "You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought."
4) "Sorry about the mess..."
3) "Look at the size of that thing!"
2) "Curse my metal body, I wasn't fast enough!"
1) "She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Giant Noisy Cat-Eater

I haven't been happy with my "old" vacuum cleaner (isn't "vacuum cleaner" a misnomer? I mean, by definition, isn't a vacuum already clean?), and got a shiny new one with a couple of additional features some time ago. It isn't a heavy-duty industrial strength job, but that's okay - my apartment is less that 500 square feet, and only a little more than half of that is carpeted.

Today, I took it out on its maiden voyage and commenced to discover that the old machine had left behind enough cat hair that I could easily make a whole new cat if I wanted to. The spiffy attachments for it also made short work of previously troublesome areas. For the price, I'm rather pleased with it.

The cats, however, were considerably less than impressed with it. Elf took station at the farthest point in my apartment from it, while Radar sought refuge in the bathtub (!). It took a good twenty minutes before either of them was willing to see if the Giant Noisy Cat-Eater had gone away, and both of them are still a bit skittish.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Top 10 Things You Don't Want To Hear From Tech Support

10.) "So... what are you wearing?"
9.) "Duuuuude! Bummer!"
8.) "Looks like you're gonna need some new dilythium crystals, Cap'n."
7.) "Press 1 for Support. Press 2 if you're with 60 Minutes. Press 3 if you're with the FTC."
6.) "We can fix this, but you're gonna need a butter knife, a roll of duct tape and a car battery."
5.) "I'm sorry Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
4.) "In layman's terms, we call that the Hindenburg Effect."
3.) "Hold on a second... Mom! Timmy's hitting me!"
2.) "Okay, turn to page 523 in your copy of Dianetics."
1.) "Please hold for Mr. Gates' attorney."

Where the fuck is Max?

During the current recess for Congress (bearing an uncanny resemblance to recess for grade-schoolers), half of our Senatorial allotment is actually out among the public, actively soliciting input from the folks that voted him into office.

The other half -- HMFIC of the Finance Committee, Max Baucus -- has yet to turn up at any similar kind of venue. After all the sturm und drang of the healthcare reform process, a body might think he'd have some interest in knowing what his constituents have to say -- but it's tough to tell, since we haven't heard anything from or about him.

Thus, my question above...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I think America is screwed.

Since even before the Presidential elections, I've been thinking off and on about politicians, the political system, the parties, voters and non-voters, and a bunch of other related stuff.
I'm still trying to get it all neatly organized and arranged in my mind, but thought I'd take this opportunity to toss out a few of the things that seem most pertinent to me.
  • We don't seem to have a whole lot of political involvement by the teeming masses of citizens. The ones most likely to consistently vote are those of advanced years, with a significant drop in percentage of active voters as one goes down the age scale. The way I see it, this is perfectly reasonable: older citizens are still of the mind that their votes actually count for something, because they were raised to believe in the government (they're the ones that the old "We're from the government, and we're here to help" was effective on). However, as the years have passed since those folks were young, the American public has been treated to innumerable reports of government ineptitude, incompetence, malfeasance, outright chicanery of different kinds, and generally been given plenty of reason to be suspicious and mistrustful of our elected officials. Amusingly, it's a Catch-22: people don't vote because nothing changes, and nothing changes because people don't vote.
  • Another reason that things don't change is because too many people have gotten too damn lazy to maintain the kind of on-going pressure needed to effect change. This year's Teabaggers? See how many of them are still around after this coming November. Or February next year.
  • Related to the above is the fact that we have what amounts to a professional politician class. Does anybody really believe that some putz that has spent the last 20+ years in Congress has any concept of what it's like for an ordinary citizen? Particularly when those politicians grant themselves perquisites that distance them even more from real Americans? It's funny that damn near every poll on the subject comes back with the result that most folks think all the rascals in Congress need to be voted out of office - except for their own, of course. Um... people? Everybody in the other 49 states feels the same way about YOUR Concresscritters, too. If we really believed in "majority rule", then in every state, it's 49-to-1 that your Congressrodents need to go... so how about it, huh?
  • There's also a growing sense of entitlement among the American people. Part of this is from our professional politicians enacting giveaways in an effort to stay in office, but it's also the fault of those that are all too willing to make demands of the government instead of taking responsibility for themselves and their actions. And as long as they CAN get their demands met, they'll keep at it; unfortunately, there's a hell of a lot more people (mostly younger ones) that are willing to claim what they haven't earned than there are ones willing to tell them "no".
  • Our election process is seriously skewed due (in part) to the insistence on continuing to use the Electoral College system, where a few states with high E.C. vote counts can essentially take control of how an election turns out. Sure, the E.C. made great sense when the fastest and most efficient means of communicating and tallying election results for a large area was a hand-written page carried by someone riding a good horse; these days, we've got the means and methods to make truly representative and popular vote possible. How about if we drag our voting system into the technology age?
  • Something else that screws up the election process is those incompetent jackasses that are referred to as "single-issue voters": the ones that vote a candidate or party for just ONE reason, instead of taking the time and making the effort to consider a broader range of matters and integrating them as a WHOLE. Screw the budget, screw the deficit, screw too much government involvement in our lives, screw too-high taxes, screw anything except the one, single thing that matters to a particular voter the most. Look, if someone is going to vote just to make themselves heard on one issue in particular? Do the country a favor and chain them to something immovable. Preferably heavy, and in the middle of a deep body of water.
  • The political process is being seriously fucked up by the limitation of having just two political parties - every single issue boils down to "us" or "them", which is steadily polarizing them more and more. I genuinely believe that the country needs at least one or two additional political entities so as to allow a more diverse and nuanced response to various issues. Speaking for myself, for example, I'm neither Republican nor Democrat, but bits of both: I'm socially liberal (Gay marriage? Knock yourselves out. Abortion? Sorry, I don't have a dog in that fight; but I'm in favor of leaving it up to those that CAN get pregnant to decide for themselves), but fiscally and politically conservative (Government should be as small as we can possibly manage, kept on a DAMN short leash, and made to pay as it goes along - NO DEFICITS!).
The reason I'm so pessimistic about America's future is really pretty simple: to effect ANY changes in the above will require a sustained interest and effort - and I don't think there enough people in the country able and willing to do it. Sure, there's plenty to cheer at the rallies, but damn few that will stick around afterwards to help clean up. Simply put, there aren't many people left that are interested in taking on a long-term project and capable of engaging in the day-to-day grind needed to make the changes happen.

What happens, then?

The way I figure it, most likely to happen is that the country will just collapse. There will be more and more people demanding (and getting) benefits from fewer and fewer people able and willing to provide them; the government will step in to make up the difference. Except that sooner or later, somebody (most likely a foreign government [*cough*china*cough*] that has bought our T-Bills or other "stock") is going to decide that it's time to get paid what they're owed - and when they don't get it (because the government doesn't have it), the whole bread-and-circuses deal will fall apart - with much anguish, furor, and unseemliness when our economy and political institutions come to a literal halt.

There is a chance that some group(s) of people will decide that enough is enough and attempt some dramatic change in how government operates - and it might even be big and soon enough to have the desired impact. Otherwise, it's only going to be a relatively minor event that won't appreciably change things.

I just hope it doesn't happen until after I'm dead and buried - it's bad enough just watching this much of it happen.

Spare Time

Think some people have too much time on their hands? You ain't seen nothin' yet - check out the Sashimi Tabernacle Choir, courtesy of the Presurfer:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Problem solving

Just finished watching "Die Hard With a Vengeance" (the one with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson), and noticed that the director did a piss-poor job of showing how McCain and Zeus got the 4 gallons of water into a 5 gallon jug when the only other container was a 3 gallon jug. So for the benefit of any math- or logic-impaired out there, here's how it works:
  1. Fill 3-gallon container.
  2. Empty 3-gallon into 5-gallon
  3. Refill 3-gallon
  4. Pour into 5-gallon until it's full.
  5. [3-g now contains 1 gallon: filled twice with 3 gallons (steps 1 and 3), emptied of 3 gallons once (step 2), then emptied of 2 gallons (step 4)]
  6. Empty 5-gallon.
  7. Pour rest of 3-gallon into 5-gallon.
  8. Fill 3-gallon, empty into 5-gallon
  9. [5-g now contains 4 gallons: 1 gallon (step 7) + 3 gallons (step 8)]
Simple, no?

Monday, March 15, 2010


Got my 2010 Census form in today's mail. Thankfully for all concerned, it was the short form. Still, there were a few troubling things that I dealt with appropriately:
  • They wanted my phone number: "We may call if we don't understand an answer". Tough shit; should've made the question clearer.
  • Last and first names. Pbbbbbbbbbbbt! Don't need this to count me.
  • My race. I'm not White (more of a pale tan), Black/African Am./Negro (um... aren't those all the same thing?), American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian Indian, Japanese, Native Hawaiian (last time I checked, even the original inhabitants were imported. No?), Chinese, Korean, Guamanian or Chamorro, Filipino, Vietnamese, Other Pacific Islander (to be specified), Other Asian (to be specified), or some other race. Screw it - I'm Human.
Other than space for an additional 11 people the might be in the household, that was it.

Oh, and here's something amusing: the FIRST question was the number of people in the place; question TWO was if there were any additional people not included in question one. WTF?

It's not pr0n, otherwise...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

PayPal update

Oh, goody, goody, goody. After reading a couple of documents about PayPal that I retrieved from Cryptome, I've got some more good news for anyone with a PayPal account.

Per official PayPal doctrine, PayPal cheerfully helps law enforcement retrieve information about PayPal users:
B. eBay User Contact Details and limited transaction history (12 months maximum)
Please submit a signed fax (non-subpoena) on department letterhead stating specifically what you require.
eBay can provide the following information for users under investigation of illegal activity only:
• Contact Name, City, State, Zip, and Telephone Number
• All email addresses and eBay User ID's added to account with date/time stamps
• eBay Fraud complaints (*lf Requested)
• Account listing/bid history dating back one year (*lf Requested)
To assist us in searching for records, the following data must be included in your data request (if available):
- All known names, aliases, street addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers
- Known eBay ID(s) and Item Numbers
- Statement relating to the illegal nature of the activities being investigated
Please fax data request to: Fax: 408.967.9915 Turnaround Time: Typically within 15 business days
It's worth noting that PayPal doesn't require any actual proof or evidence of any wrongdoing; it's enough for them that whatever law enforcement organization that's making the request says there is.

It's even worse if the cops actually take the time and trouble to get a subpoena.

If you're so inclined, you can read the whole document on how PayPal interfaces with cops in this document.

If you want to see what you agreed to when you set up an account with them, this is what you're looking for.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

PayPal - Stupid or Criminal?

I haven't been exactly overjoyed with PayPal, even from the time I first signed up with them. It hasn't been any one thing in particular, but more of a general we're-too-big-to-have-to-pay-attention-to-you attitude almost any really large organization eventually takes on.

Over the years, I've also heard (and read about) the stories of PayPal summarily and somewhat arbitrarily freezing accounts without ever providing any real explanation as to why, how it could be resolved, when it would be resolved, or other actual details. Recently, however, I ran across this story, and something about it just set my teeth on edge.

Since the only thing I really used PayPal for was buying stuff on eBay, and eBay has finally managed to aggravate me sufficiently enough to close my account with them, it seemed like as good a time (and reason) as any to close my PayPal account, too. A couple of days ago, I tried to do just that - only to be told by PayPal that there was some kind of activity still unfinished with my bank.

Fine, whatever. The last eBay purchase I made was on the 6th, and I've already received the item, so I figured PayPal would get caught up in the next couple of days. This evening, when I logged in and tried to close the account, I still got the same message. After carefully checking that all my transactions showed as "completed", I called PayPal support.

For the love of God, Cthulu, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Allah, or anything else you hold dear, don't ever do that. Their automated voice response system is seriously fucked up. After telling me that it couldn't understand me (despite my speaking carefully and clearly) after too-brief response periods, it insisted on trying to foist me off to departments that were completely irrelevant to what I wanted to discuss. Having no other alternative, I simply started pressing "O" until it concluded I wasn't playing nice and handed me off to the generic WTF line. Cindy, or Sue, or whatever the hell her name was kept saying "Bayble" for PayPal (among other language and accent defects), necessitating I ask for someone that actually spoke English.

The young fellow I ended up with was actually helpful, and tried to explain to me how, although PayPal was telling ME that everything was "completed", it really wasn't: that the requisite time (3 to 5 business days) hadn't passed between my last PayPal-based purchase, and the removal of funds from my bank. Strictly speaking, "completed" on MY end actually sometimes meant "still processing" on THEIR end. In response to that, I suggested that if that was the case, then either PayPal didn't know what it was doing by telling me that the transaction was complete, or it was deliberately lying to me - and asked which it was. He was unable to answer that question, and elected to explain the situation again. Just as he did when I asked additional questions that he didn't have answers for.

The bottom line is that I'm likely to have to wait until Saturday before their computer decides that it has received the $2.25 in question, and it's okay for me to close my account.

I would suggest that anyone with a PayPal account have a look at the things that PayPal has done, and decide if they really want to entrust their money with such an operation.

Oh, and just to make SURE everyone understands: PayPal is not a bank, it is a "payment processor". In other words, they are not subject to all those nifty banking regulations about access to your money, business practises, and the like. Caveat Emptor!

eBay is teh suxx0r

11 March, 2010

eBay – Customer Service
2145 Hamilton Ave.
San Jose, CA 95125


A few days ago, I began the process of closing my eBay account. As I have received no inquiry to date as to why I would choose to take such an action, I am taking the liberty of writing this letter to advise you as to my reasons.

When I first started using eBay nearly fifteen years ago, it was a wonderful resource for anyone wishing to save money on items they wished to purchase. For a number of reasons, I've been obliged to establish and use several different log-ins on eBay, but have been a fairly frequent buyer.

The last few years, however, the eBay experience has become progressively less pleasant. Recently, I found myself sufficiently annoyed and aggravated with it to come to the conclusion that it simply wasn't worth the bother using eBay any longer:
  • Sniping has become a much greater problem on eBay as time has passed; it's now at the point that there are actually Firefox web browser plugins to facilitate the process. This, despite the fact that I offered a simple and direct suggestion that would make sniping an untenable activity: if a bid is received within some small time (I suggested 30 seconds, as I recall) before an auction ends, then extend the auction time by some small fixed amount of time to give the non-sniper time to respond. While my suggestion was acknowledged with a generic platitude, I doubt that it was ever given the consideration that I believe it should have. I can only wonder at how many people have given up on using eBay when an item they had legitimately bid on and “won” went to someone that “sniped” them in the last two seconds without them having an opportunity to re-bid.
  • Mis-listed items are now a much greater problem than they were when I first started using eBay. Some weeks ago, I reported a grossly mis-listed item and (again) got a generic non-committal response. Annoyed, I then took the time to submit roughly a hundred such instances in an effort to get somebody at eBay to realize how aggravating it is for us users to have to try and wade through all the inappropriate items in a category. I wasn't surprised in the slightest when absolutely nothing happened regarding the items that I reported; they remained in a patently wrong category for the entire duration of their respective auctions. Clearly, I can't know how many warnings a seller may get before being penalized for mis-categorizing items; what seems fairly apparent is that the number is too high to be effective, and that the actions taken by eBay lack sufficient impact to prevent recurrences. I would think that if eBay were to implement a graduated scale of punishment, such violations would drop dramatically: a first offense simply has the item de-listed with a warning to the seller. A second offense, and the item is not only de-listed, but not allowed to be auctioned again for some fixed period of time (a few days, perhaps). If there should be a third violation, ALL listings by a seller are removed. A fourth results in all listings being removed and the seller being blocked from posting new items for several days. Finally, a seller that commits a fifth offense could have all listings removed and banned from eBay completely. Please note that such a progression gives sellers ample opportunity to learn from honest mistakes, and greatly discourages DIShonest activities.
  • The ability to customize my eBay activities is something that I greatly miss. For example, I refuse to purchase items sold out of China and Hong Kong; each time I search for a tech or computer item, I have to explicitly go into an “advanced” search and indicate a maximum distance for sellers to try and block results from those areas. Sadly, eBay does not provide any mechanism by which I can set any kind of baseline criteria to be used for all my searches.
The above is not an exhaustive list of my reasons for closing my eBay account, but rather just examples of the most egregious.

I don't have any reason to think that eBay will change any of the above just for me; all I hope to accomplish with this letter is to bring the matter to the attention of someone that might accidentally have the power and authority to see that the issues are looked into, and perhaps even addressed.

In addition, I will be closing my PayPal account, as well. My reasons for taking such action is simply that I wish to express my objections to the gross lack of openness, fair play, and responsibility demonstrated by the mishandling of the situation that cropped up with Cryptome.

Finally, I would like to say that while established policies and procedures are good things to have, they are best supplemented with common sense and good judgment.


David K. Merriman

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Laundry Day

It was, as the title of this post might lead you to believe, Laundry Day here at The Hovel.

Three loads were run, with the usual Whites and Colors (that's as discriminatory as I get), plus a Miscellaneous category that consisted of some towels, cleaning (shop) rags, and a light blanket that I use when the temperature is only close to Winter.

Of course, this was all met with considerable interest by the cats -- as long as nothing got actually tossed ON them during the sorting process, they felt obliged to make sure the dirty clothes didn't float up to the ceiling. Radar DID develop a fixation on one of my socks, making it necessary for me to mount a rescue operation when she ran off with it.

After I brought the dry stuff back, it was obligatory to lay on the warm piles while I hung and folded, then put things away.

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


First, I've neglected to mention that I do have the GIS data that the City of Billings promised me. First thing I noticed was that there wasn't anywhere near as much as the GIS manager tried to tell me there was; second, it didn't take anywhere near as long for them to provide it as he suggested it might. I've had the chance to go through and have a look at it, and I'm actually somewhat impressed with the attention to detail and thoroughness the city is showing.

Second, as regards my Good Deed, I got a letter in the mail a few days afterwards -- from the pastor of the church the lady goes to. In it, he thanked and congratulated me on being a decent human being (my words), and wished me well. Apparently, she told pretty much everybody in the congregation about what happened.

Finally, my blitzkreig of eBay doesn't seem to have done the slightest bit of good; not only did the stuff remain listed until the respective auctions ended, but even MORE unrelated crap turned up. Between eBay's unresponsiveness and PayPal's willingness to summarily freeze accounts without explanation, I'm about this far from telling both of them to get stuffed.

So, it's been a mixed bag since my last post. :-)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Suicide Tourist

That's the name of the PBS Frontline program that I watched (you can watch it online) tonight.

You can probably figure out that it had something to do with suicide, but are somewhat baffled about the "tourist" part. Well, Switzerland has laws in effect that allow assisted suicide for non-Swiss residents. It isn't that simple, of course, but do-able without being overly difficult.

This particular program was about a man that was in the advanced stages of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease); he needed assistance even with breathing. Rather than wait for the disease to play out "naturally", he (after discussing it with his wife of 37 years) decided to end his life. It began shortly before he actually travelled to Switzerland, and ended shortly after his death. It does an exemplary job of presenting HIS views and reasons for making such a choice, and how it affected his wife and two grown kids.

I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that the man opted to end his own life by taking the voluntary action of sucking an overdose of a prescription sleeping compound through a straw; it was not "dispensed" or "given" TO him. Great care was taken to ensure that HE was the one that took the actions that would end his life, and that he was free to change his mind at any point for any reason,

For a long time, there has been an ongoing debate regarding the subject of assisted suicide, with side arguments regarding the morals, ethics, and legality of the matter.

Myself, I'm of the opinion (and do my very best to live that way) that people should be free to do pretty much any damn thing they want, so long as they don't cause harm to those unwilling to accept it. That is, each of us has to make our own decisions for our own reasons, and accept the consequences of our choices -- and that we should be free of interference from those that disagree with our choices.

What this program did was to remind me of some of the questions that I've never heard properly addressed amid all the other discussion on suicide (assisted or otherwise).
  • Why, exactly, are so many so ready to automatically and universally decide that suicide is absolutely wrong for everyone, all the time?
  • What makes the above individuals think that they have the right/obligation to make such a decision for someone else?
  • If a person's physical body isn't theirs as the most basic and fundamental example of "property rights", making them the ultimate arbiter of what to do with it, then who the hell DOES it belong to?

Time is running out

Well, kind of.
The recent earthquake in Chile shifted the planet's axis by about 8 cm and shortened days by 1.26 microseconds

Saturday, February 27, 2010

"Safety" is just another word in the dictionary

This YouTube vid is in German, but you won't need the English subtitles to get the idea of what's involved in forklift safety...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The one where I do a Good Deed

When I went to check my mail about 8:30 this evening, I found a violin sitting on top of the mailboxes for the apartment building I live in.

I gave it a couple minutes in case somebody remembered they'd forgotten it before taking it into my apartment. I found a label on the case with a phone number, and called that; no one was home, so I left a message on the answering machine.

Shortly after 9, I got a call back; the violin belongs to a lady that had lent it several years ago to a kid who's parents were musicians. The kid kept promising to return it, but never quite got around to it, so when she learned that I had her violin, the lady was rather pleased. Not 15 minutes later, she came by to collect it, driving a fairly new Jeep Cherokee-looking vehicle.

I didn't ask for any kind of reward, and wouldn't have accepted one -- except that she didn't even suggest it. Nothing. Zero. Bupkis.

Now, I don't know what a violin goes for (it patently wasn't anything like a Stradivarius or anything), but it certainly SEEMED like a nice enough musical instrument. Along with it having been missing for several years, you might think that she'd have at least offered something to the person that got it back to her -- but no.

Well, it's her karma...

Why eBay sucks

I just finished cruising through eBay while checking on general prices for a few things I'm considering getting, and realized that some of what I was seeing didn't quite fit under their category (I didn't "search" for anything, that is).

In a lot (if not most) of the technology categories, there doesn't seem to be any restriction against (or correction of) people listing items in the wrong category. For example, I went looking for a Blu-ray drive for my main computer (specifically, I'm after a reader/writer); stuff that turned up in the listing included:
eBay doesn't seem to give a happy damn about the folks actually buying stuff. Either that, or eBay computers aren't doing a particularly good job at limiting what's displayed to the appropriate catergory (which suggests that there's probably stuff NOT being shown, that should be).

Complained to eBay, they sent me a generic mealy-mouthed response. Aggravated me, so I went into a different category and reported every single violation I found on the first 20 (of 134) pages. Turned out to be over a hundred items. The last report I sent, I suggested that maybe they were getting the idea of what it was like for buyers...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cuteness overload

Damn, I almost got diabetes just from watching this.

The Philly Post-Gazette has a puppy that's being raised to go into the Seeing Eye dog program -- and they've got a live camera on the little guy (?) during the day. Even if the cam isn't "live", you can still watch what was recorded during the day.

Go look -- you'll be glad you did. :-)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Vista... DRM... Who the f*ck cares?

I've actually had a couple of people email me with something along the lines of "Why should I give a rodent's rear-end about Vista and the DRM crap? I'm still using XP, and will for as long as I can. Besides, I don't watch movies on my computer, anyway -- that's what the TV is for!"

My initial tendency is to suggest that folks actually go read the nice article. But since I know I'm a geek and most folks aren't, I'll address a few issues here.

  1. Don't care about Vista, I'm still using XP.
    That's all well and good... for as long as your XP lasts, and Microsoft doesn't fuck with it. Some may remember the "adventure" when MS went full-tilt with their Windows Genuine Advantage that they passed off as a vital security update. Do you SERIOUSLY believe that Microsoft isn't going to figure out how to start applying all of the nifty new "content protection" measures retroactively? Not only that, but XP itself contains some of the initial efforts at DRM that MS came up with (that's those "getting license" things that turn up); they've added even more to Vista, and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that they'll get even MORE enthusiastic with the next version -- and XP isn't being sold any more, if you hadn't noticed, so if you have to get a new computer, chances are that it's going to have whatever Microsofts latest offering is on it... at which point I reckon you will care.
  2. DRM only affects the "premium content", not the computer itself.
    Well, no, that's not correct. All the stuff the computer has to do to "protect" that premium content is always laying there in wait for it show up. Regardless of whatever else you might be doing, the "content protection" stuff is still checking your video and other digital outputs every 30mS (that's 120 times a second, roughly), and analog outputs like sound every 150mS (24 times/second). Sure, you've got this powerful sexy high-end processor... but don't you think that it would work a little faster if it wasn't off playing with itself so much?
  3. Feh. It doesn't cost anything, anyway, so why bother?
    Strictly speaking, that isn't entirely correct. Implementing all that "content protection" means having to add more computer code (hint: Vista comes on a DVD, not CD), and more computer code means more places for software bugs to rear their ugly little heads. But then, Microsoft is SO good about fixing those rare mistakes they make, aren't they? The other side of that is there's an added expense for all the hardware that goes IN to the computer. You don't seriously think that the companies that make video cards, sound cards, motherboards, and all the rest are just going to eat the added cost of all that nonsense, do you (download this PowerPoint presentation by ATI, the video card maker, and see how often the phrase "cost is passed on" shows up)? On top of that, because of the way the "content protection" works, companies that make add-in cards are going to have every reason in the world to offer FEWER choices. The way it works now, they essentially start out by designing a high-end card, then figure out what stuff they can leave off to make progressively less expensive versions (i.e. no TV OUT, no digital video out, etc). The restrictions put on them by the hardware requirements of DRM means that they can't do that any more (lest their product not be accepted at all); the only "reasonable" solution is to minimize the number of genuinely original designs -- which they'll have to charge more for to make the same money.
  4. Meh. I only have to worry if there's a problem.
    Again, that's not strictly true. You see, it depends on what your definition of "problem" is -- and how different that definition might be from that used by the DRM (Microsofts software AND the hardware manufacturers). Mentioned in the referenced article is something called "tilt bits", and the description is entirely appropriate. Just like you could "tilt" the old pinball games and shut them down, the "tilt bits" in the DRM can shut down parts of your computer: software and hardware both are obliged to check for anything suspicious, and "tilt" if they find it. What's suspicious? Could be a slightly out-of-specification voltage (maybe someone is trying to "spy" on the signal!), a little bit of electrical noise at the wrong time (more spying!), a strange code due to a hiccup of some kind (spies!), a weird reading (SPIES!), or whatever the hell somebody thought needed to be included (they're out to get me, I tell you!). In such cases, the offending/offended part of the computer system will be re-started. Repeatedly, if necessary. Just what you need in the middle of a romance or horror movie, yes?
I'm not just bullshitting people, here. If you don't believe me, go read the article. Then read (with a sceptical eye) the drivel Microsoft posted in "response", and the comments.

“I've just had my first experience with HD content being blocked. I purchased an HP Media Center PC with a built-in HD DVD player, together with a 24″ 'high definition' 1920 × 1200 HP flat panel display (HP LP2465). They even included an HD movie, 'The Bourne Supremacy'. Sure enough, the movie won't play because while the video card supports HDCP content protection, the monitor doesn't. (It plays if I connect an old 14″ VGA CRT using a DVI-to-VGA connector)” — Roger Strong.
“[Vista] refuses to send content through the component output for my plain jane video files. So the content system disables all content through the non protected output. Its listed in the nvida vista driver news that vista's content protection disables this output [See “NVIDIA Features No Longer Supported towards the end of the page ”]. Many forum posts, search engine results for problem. Content protection is active in some form, as I can attest. The mere disabling of UNPROTECTED output while playing UNPROTECTED content is proof enough as far as im concerned.” — Kevin Cripe.
“By any standard, Vista's new DRM capabilities hardly qualify as a selling point; after all, it's hard to sing the praises of technology designed to make life harder for its users” — Matt McKenzie, Computerworld.
“The net effect of these concerns may constitute the real Vista revolution as they point to an unprecedented loss of consumer control over their own personal computers […] Vista seemingly wrestles control of the 'user experience' from the user ” — Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law.
“DRM causes too much pain for legitimate buyers […] There are huge problems with DRM” — Bill Gates (reported by blogger Michael Arrington).

Ummmm... whoops?

Golly-gee willikers.

It seems that the school district accused of spying on students was just misunderstood.


Is true.

What actually happened is that the laptop was reported stolen. They haven't bothered to produce any documentation of that; we should just trust them, apparently. Besides that:
The image that brought this whole thing out? Whoever it was that told the webcam to take a picture managed to catch the kid while he was involved with the notorious gateway drug of... Mike and Ike candies.

This whole thing is looking more and more like the school district made an abysmal choice in installing the remote-monitoring software, shot themselves in the foot by trying to punish the kid for consuming what they thought (but didn't bother to verify) was illicit drugs, and are now doing a singularly bad job of trying to justify what they've done and put the best possible face on it -- instead of just standing up and admitting that they screwed the pooch all along the way.

Damn fine way to set an example, folks...

Dear MPAA:

If you want to start making more money from movie sales, fix this (click = bigger):

HINT: The answer is a whole lot closer to the first choice than the second; and no, trying to make customers buy more copies of the movie isn't the answer, either. Kthnxbai.

Via the Presurfer

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How to start a riot

It's a nice, quiet Sunday afternoon, and it's intermittently attempting to snow (we've had snow on the ground for almost 90 straight days).

In the interest of passing time (as opposed to passing gas), I got the ol' laser pointer out and started aggravating exercising the cats.

Being the older of the two, Elf has mostly caught on that the damn laser dot can't be caught -- though she can't resist trying every so often.

Radar, on the other hand, still thinks that she can catch it with enough stalking, sneaking up on it, and pure enthusiasm.

Consequently, there comes a point where Elf gives up on the chase, and just lays down while Radar is still in full catch-it-kill-it mode.

Being Evil, I today I ran Radar around for a little while by frequently enticing her into thinking she almost managed to catch the dot. When she finally began to get tired and lose interest, I simply HAD to try one last thing: easing the dot over to where Elf was stretched out and wiggling it around ON ELF.

Normally, Radar would have enough sense not to annoy Elf to excess; after all, Elf is roughly 3X her size. But after coming so close to actually catching the dot, having it wiggling around and tormenting her proved to be too much: she just had to try to pounce on it. Being the unwilling and unwitting pouncee didn't sit well with Elf, and she commenced to giving Radar a sound thrashing. Apparently feeling she was being unjustly penalized for her actions, Radar began to fight back. While neither of them used claws or bit, there was still enough wrestling, slapping, jumping-on, and other combat to last a good five minutes, followed by another ten worth of getting in the "last word" via exchanging ambushes.

Peeves - I've got a pet one

I can kinda-sorta tolerate poor spelling (I think it's essentially laziness, not wanting to bother to get something right), but it sets my teeth on edge when someone either uses a word incorrectly or gets words "backwards".

These are my biggest two, but there are others:
  • loose (not properly contained or improper fit) vs lose (lost or misplaced)
  • insure (warrant against damage, i.e. get paid if it breaks) vs ensure (take action before an event, i.e. keep it from breaking in the first place)
Okay, they MIGHT be spelling errors -- which just means that they should receive more attention so as to get them right.

Another thing that annoys me is the folks that tsk-tsk over crimes, but can't/won't take the time to get involved in stopping or preventing them. A couple of years ago, I was leaving the public library when I heard some guy yelling a block away. As I got closer, I could see that he was directing his ire at a young woman -- and more, that he was physically intimidating her (getting in her way when she wanted to leave, etc). I didn't witness any actual physical contact, but it sure sounded likely. When I got close enough to see what was going on, I set aside the other things I had to do in favor of keeping myself available in case the guy DID start any physical abuse; I also got a passer-by to call the situation in on their cell phone. The cops showed up, and it turned out that there were actually a couple of us ready to intercede if the guy had started anything -- out of the several dozens of people that simply stood around watching, and looking stupid. The other person and I both gave statements to the cops, and indicated that we were willing to testify in court if necessary. Nobody else could be bothered, or wanted to get involved. As far as I'm concerned, it's a lot like the political process: if you aren't ready and willing to be an active participant, you don't have any right to bitch about the results.

Some people's kids...

I've had several instances of some Chinese-speaking dildo leaving bullshit comments in Chinese on some of my posts. Rather than having to go in and delete the crap, I've marginally increased the security on comments here - you'll either have to be registered (BTFOM what that means, right now) or have an "OpenID".

If you comment, but don't see it right away, be patient - I'll register you (if necessary) so you won't have to fart around with it in the future.

You'll also notice some Chinese writing on the leave-a-comment section; basically, it tells the little fuckwad Commie assmunches to stop leaving their bullshit in my comments.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Like movies at home? You're screwed!

Oh, here's a goodie, courtesy of the entertainment industry. It seems that at the end of this year, entertainment gear (TVs, receivers, Blu-ray players, etc.) will no longer be allowed to make products that output HD signals unless those outputs meet the AACS (Advanced Access Content System) -- which amounts to the ability to limit them to the "old" low-res analog TV quality if the folks that put the movie out choose to do so. No high-definition for you unless your player complies with their desire to control how their movies are viewed. The movie studios want to be able to charge you for every single way you want to watch the movies you buy.

Yes, this applies to current HD-capable devices such as Blu-ray players.

No, you may NOT take the one disk you BOUGHT and PAID FOR and use it whenever and wherever the hell you want. Nor may you make a backup copy in case the dog chews the store-bought one.

Watch it at home? That's one copy.
Want to watch it on a portable while on the road? That's another copy.
Want to watch it on your computer? There's copy #3.
Watch it on something else, or a different place? Guess what...

In other words, the movie industry is finally at the point where they can (try to) enforce their wish to control how you watch the movies YOU bought, using the players that YOU paid for.

As a Linux user, I don't doubt that somebody is going to figure a way around this, since Linux doesn't spread it's legs for the MPAA/RIAA the way Microsoft does. You Windows users... well, you're pretty much screwed.

Conversation at the grocery store

My local Albertson's is doing what they call a "reset" -- that is, shuffling pretty much everything in the store around to a New! Improved! location. To give you an idea just how fucked up the place is right now, they've got all the greeting cards lined up on pallets in the middle of the frozen foods section.

I went in a while ago to buy a few things, and couldn't find half the stuff I was looking for. Not being inclined to go on a scavenger hunt just to buy groceries, I just collected the shit I could find and made my way to the register. There I had the following conversation with the checker:

Checker: "Thank you for shopping Albertson's. Did you find everything you were looking for?"

Me: "Well, as a matter of fact, no, I didn't. I've only got about half of what I came in for."

C: "I'm sorry. Can I get someone to help you find things?"

M: "Only if they're going to put it back where it was."

C: "..."

M: "Look, I know y'all are doing this because some pinhead marketing drone at corporate told you to, figuring people would buy more on impulse when they see stuff they hadn't noticed before. That probably even works on some folks. For the rest of us, shuffling stuff around like you are just aggravates us, and makes us go someplace where we can find what we're looking for."

C: "Well it also reminds people of things that they meant to buy, but forgot until they see it on the shelves."

M: "Good for them... but I'm still annoyed that I couldn't find what I was after -- so I'll be going to Wal*Mart from here 'cause I know where stuff is there."

C: "I hear that Wal*Mart is going to be redecorating, too -- a lot of stores are, now."

M: "Maybe so -- but I'll bet that when they're done, the stuff will still be in the same places; they don't rearrange things just for the hell of it like Albertson's does."

C: "..."

By that point, she'd rung up my (single) bag of stuff; I paid for it and left. For Wal*Mart, where I easily found the rest of the groceries I was after.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pointless bitching

Just a few things that have drifted through my mind on their way to somewhere else...
  • "Common" courtesy -- I've been racking my brain trying to see if I can figure out when parents stopped trying to instil some measure of this trait in their kids. When I was but a wee lad, people were generally willing to make at least SOME small effort to show courtesy to others; nowadays, not so much.
  • Thinking and planning ahead -- When the hell did THIS go out of fashion? Do people really not grasp the concept of actually choosing to take deliberate actions to bring about some future result? Don't they realize that if doing "A" results in "B" happening, then NOT doing "A" produces a different result? The honcho types at a lot of financial institutions that jumped on the marginally-legitimate default-swap deals, high-risk investments, and other dubious deals without thinking "what if..." fall into this category, too -- except that the rest of the country got strong-armed into bailing THEIR dumb asses out of the jam they got themselves into.
  • Honesty/integrity -- By now, I expect that all of us have seen ample evidence of the folks that somehow misplaced theirs. They'd be the ones that "overstated" their income to get a home loan, and ended up getting foreclosed on. As an added bonus attraction, a fair number of them failed the "planning" test, too, and are now living in conditions that they could avoided easily enough.
  • Personal responsibility -- Again, when I was just a little guy running around, I was taught that I was responsible for my own actions (or lack thereof). Nowadays, it seems like anyone and everyone in or with any kind of trouble immediately starts demanding protection or compensation or salvation for whatever ails them. Taking an example from the "healthcare reform" situation: does no one realize that insisting an insurance company cover a pre-existing condition (yes, that's something that needs to be more narrowly defined) bears an uncanny resemblance to trying to buy auto insurance for your vehicle AFTER you've gotten into an accident?
  • Congress -- they've steadily gotten more and more polarized over the years, and less and less willing to play nice. Whichever one has the majority is more than willing to try and bully the other into doing things their way; then when the situation is reversed, get payback-plus-interest. And THEN the dumb fucks wonder why their approval rating is the lowest it has been in decades. Here's a clue, shitheads: neither of the major parties has a hammerlock on the One True Way™. You dumbasses need to stop thinking "my state/district/party" and do what you were elected for -- imagine that you're there to do work for the whole freakin' country. 'kay?

Okay, THIS isn't good...

BoingBoing is reporting that a Merion, PA school district has been remotely monitoring school-issued laptops -- even in the child's home. From the fine article:
According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools' administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the Robbins's child was disciplined for "improper behavior in his home" and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. [emphasis added]
For further scary details, have a look at the class-action suit being brought against the school district.

If you're not inclined to go through the comments to find it, a PBS "Digital Nation" piece showed it being done inside a Bronx school (at about 4:39 in).

Me, I can see something like that being done in the classroom during school hours -- but anywhere else, not so much. Here's hoping the sub-geniuses that came up with this idea (and the morons that didn't object, and the asshats that actually implemented it) all find themselves doing serious time and being sued for everything but their underwear...