Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, July 17, 2015 5:57 pm

Odds and ends for July 17

What the hell happened to Sandra Bland? Bland, who was African American, started driving from outside Chicago toward her new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M; she got pulled over in a routine traffic stop; she was charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer; and then was found dead in her cell, supposedly a suicide. The sheriff whose department arrested her was fired from a previous law enforcement job for racism. At least the FBI is now investigating, so maybe we’ll get some answers.

The Planned Parenthood “sting” video was faked (the “undetermined” label is charitable; read the whole item), but that hasn’t stopped opportunistic foes of legal abortion from using it as an excuse for “investigations” of Planned Parenthood anyway. One such opportunistic ass is my personal congresscritter, Mark Walker, who campaigned in part on a platform of not being a right-wing Christianist wackaloon. So much for that.

Jeb Bush, the presidential candidate who thinks America’s workers, who already work more hours than pretty much any other in the industrialized world, should work longer hours. Economists respond: Shame on you.

Microsoft has decided that if you’re a home Windows user, it’s going to upgrade you to Windows 10 whether you want that upgrade or not. Professional/enterprise users at least will get the option. You’ll have to pry Win 7 Pro from my cold, dead hands, though. I completely misread the article. Don’t drink and blog, kids.

In the aftermath of the shootings of four Marines Thursday in Chattanooga, conservatives are resurrecting the canard that then-President Bill Clinton banned firearms on military bases. Sorry, guys; you’re thinking of George H.W. Bush.

Re the faked Planned Parenthood video, a question: Granting for the sake of discussion that it’s perfectly OK to be both anti-abortion and Christian, why would people who consider themselves Christian want to use a faked video — literally, a chunk of false witness — to try to make Planned Parenthood look bad? One would think that the very fact that PP provides abortions would, from these folks’ standpoint, make it look bad enough without having to lie on top of that.

And, finally, a Friday Random 10!

What Goes On – Velvet Underground
Cadillac Walk – Willy DeVille
Burning – Fugazi
Bad Karma – Warren Zevon
You – R.E.M.
Tomorrow Is Such a Long Time – Rod Stewart
Changing of the Guards – Bob Dylan
Splendid Isolation – Warren Zevon
As Long As It Matters – Gin Blossoms
Lonely Planet Boy – New York Dolls

lagniappe: Evelyn – Black Telephone

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Monday, June 1, 2015 7:38 pm

Odds and ends for June 1

So the Orange County (CA) DA’s office handled a slam-dunk murder case so corruptly that all 250 prosecutors in the office have been barred by a judge from having any further to do with the case. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, which is a big ol’ ugly ball of law-enforcement and prosecutor malfeasance so big that all sorts of very bad types may be set free before they should’ve been, or may never face trial, because of it. Coda: If you think that’s the only place this kind of cheating is going on, you’re kidding yourself.

Quasi-relatedly, we don’t just have cops killing unarmed African Americans, we now have repeat offenders.

Some of the most intrusive parts of the Patriot Act expired at midnight last night and ZOMG SHARIA LAW OH NOES!!11!!1!!ELEVENTY!!1! Wait, what? That didn’t happen? Oh. (pause) OK. But this could.

Presented, without snark, some seriously hopeful news about treating cancer.

Microsoft will release Windows 10 — for free — July 29. But you’ll take away my Windows 7 Pro when you pry my cold dead hands from it stop offering security upgrades for it like you stopped for Windows XP, I guess.

Airlines aren’t just greedy, they’re also stupid. Exhibit A: United Airlines.

Gosh, an elected official in North Carolina can’t even engage in a little public bigotry anymore without people complaining about it.

The mayor of Belhaven, N.C., Adam O’Neal, is walking almost 300 miles to Washington, D.C. — again — to — again — try to draw attention to lack of health care in rural areas.

An American tourist visiting a lion preserve in South Africa rolled down her car window just like she’d been told not to do and got mauled to death. Commenters on the article are overwhelmingly in favor of the lion, and I’ve got to say, so am I. Lady, what part of “nature, red in tooth and claw” didn’t you understand?

The News & Record unveiled its newly redesigned website today. It’s still butt-ugly and it still doesn’t have RSS feeds. Bright side: They resurrected the URL Greensboro.com, which they never should have stopped using in the first place.

92-year-old Harriette Thompson of Charlotte finished a marathon Sunday, so I really don’t want to hear about your bad back or your sore feet.

 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 8:14 pm

Odds and ends for May 27

Back from vacation. Let’s get to work, shall we?

The U.S. government is still good for something — in this case, finally taking on the continuing criminal enterprise that is FIFA. (My daughter has been saying for two years that the organization’s leaders were committing fraud and worse. She’s 16.) I suspect the reason we’re doing it instead of, say, Switzerland, is that we can — because soccer’s popularity here is so low that no one will raise much of a defense of the indefensible.

I love this pope. He has been, in the opinion of this outsider, better for the Roman Catholic church than anything since Vatican II. But he still has a couple of enormous moral blind spots.

Paid Microsoft support for the U.K. government’s many computers still running Windows XP ran out in April 2015. The transition to Windows 7 or 8.1 was supposed to be complete by now, but it isn’t for many government agencies, which will have to negotiate their own, much more expensive service deal with Microsoft. Meanwhile, those machines aren’t getting any more security upgrades and thus could become vulnerable to hacking. (I have a perfectly good XP machine that isn’t powerful enough to run Win7, so when Microsoft stopped providing security updates to consumers a year ago, I turned it into a Linux machine. Still works like a charm.)

My heart and some of my money are going out to the victims of Texas tornadoes and flooding. But I’ve got to point out a couple of things. First, the increasing severity of storms such as this is a direct result of increased mean atmospheric temperature. As we learned in school, the warmer air is, the more moisture it can hold, and the more moisture is in the air, the more severe storms are. So global-warming denialists in Texas, particularly in its government, really need to sit down and shut up now. Second, I assume that all the hot air from Texas politicians about the Jade Helm military maneuvers will now cease while those same politicians ask the federal government for millions in disaster relief. Right?

Quasi-relatedly, as H.L. Mencken observed (sort of), it is difficult to make a man understand something when his bonuses depend on his not understanding it. That’s especially true of climate-science deniers and extraction-industry executives. (Note that the market value of remaining extractable carbon fuel runs into the dozens of trillions, and we’d only need to burn another $1 trillion worth to screw ourselves sideways, climate-wise.)

Related to that, crony capitalism continues in Raleigh as extraction interests continue using their bought-and-paid-for legislature to fight solar energy. They have become more vicious because they are more desperate: They know that solar will become economically feasible for replacing more than half of global electricity generation within the next 10 years.

The Supreme Court ruled debtors’ prisons unconstitutional more than 30 years ago, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of places from jailing people just because of fines and/or fees they couldn’t pay.

Pretty much everyone who isn’t working in the White House or Congress understands that the NSA’s vast warrantless data-hoovering surveillance program isn’t worth what it is costing us in liberty. So, of course, N.C.’s senior senator, Richard Burr, is arguing for more of it.

At what point is N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory going to realize that the person running the state Department of Health and Human Services, Aldona Wosis incompetent?

And at what point will N.C. voters realize that McCrory himself is incompetent? He has staked his re-election on two proposed bond issues, one for highways and the other for other infrastructure — and hoping that voters won’t realize that if not for his misguided leadership and that of his legislative pals, much of this work could have been done through the ordinary state budgeting process, rather than sinking the state $2.8 billion into debt.

North Carolina doesn’t want to kill messengers. It only wants to sue and/or imprison them.

State officials (which is to say, mainly, state Republicans) are now into their fifth year of arguing that climate change isn’t really a thing, apparently not realizing or caring that “the Atlantic isn’t waiting to see who wins the argument.

Speaking of resisting the inevitable, N.C. lawmakers are still trying to stop gay marriage by unconstitutional means.

The chairman of the UNC System’s Board of Governors, John Fennebresque, says he wants a “change agent” to replace politically fired UNC System president Tom Ross. But he won’t say what he wants changed and says the board doesn’t have a job description even as it runs a nationwide search for Ross’s successor. Let’s be real clear here: Fennesbresque and the board wouldn’t come out and say they fired Tom Ross for political reasons because they knew the public wouldn’t stand for it. And they aren’t saying what they want Ross’s successor to do for the very same reason.

Steven Long, vice chairman of the academic planning committee of the UNC System’s board of governors, says regarding program eliminations, “We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.” No, schmuck. Education is a public good, and the state university system has a duty to provide benefits to the state as a whole, not just students whose preferred  majors happen to be momentarily popular.

So Charter Communications may buy Time Warner Cable, my personal cable/Internet provider. Is there any reason to think this would mean anything but higher prices and crummier service? Thought not.

Whew. I need another vacation.

 

Sunday, April 13, 2014 10:54 am

Pulling the plug

Filed under: Geek-related issues,Housekeeping — Lex @ 10:54 am
Tags: , , , ,

A little more than 10 years ago, I got a Sony VGC-RA716GY desktop for Christmas. I called it a scream machine, a term used for the world’s fastest roller coasters. Turbocharged dual processor, a practically unheard-of gigabyte of RAM, top-of-the-line video card, hundreds of gigs of hard drive, 23-inch LCD monitor, plus speakers and a subwoofer loud enough to, literally, bother the neighbors. It ran on Windows XP Media Center Edition, meaning that I could, among other things, hook it up to a standard cable wire (as well as cable Internet) and use it as a TV — it even came with a remote for that.

It also came equipped with Adobe Premiere Elements for video editing, Photoshop Elements for image editing, SonicStage for audio editing/ mastering, Click 2 DVD for burning video into a standard-format DVD, slots for every variety of video card that exists, and audio-video input jacks and cables so that I could digitize my LP and VCR collections.

In the past decade I have used the machine for work and personal projects, business, education, and pleasure, from paying bills and doing taxes to watching digitized video of my then-3-year-old daughter’s first ballet recital. (That is, she was 3 when the video was shot; I watched on the computer after I got it a couple of years later.) Because I’m occasionally stupid but not that stupid, I backed up my stuff regularly, and when the original hard drive died five years ago, the reinstallation process for the OS, though lengthy, went without a hitch, and the restoration of settings and data from backup, though also lengthy, went likewise.

Nearly as I can tell, to date the machine has cost me a little more than 50 cents a day to own, and it has been worth every penny.  It could use more memory and a faster video card to keep up with some of the newer apps; with them, it would be as useful as the day I got it. But I don’t do a lot of gaming, and the motherboard won’t support them.

But it has one other problem I can’t fix: On Tuesday, Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP — worldwide. No more updates, not even for security. And because of the security required for some of my data — both personal and for freelance projects — not to mention fending off the day-to-day viruses and other malware floating around, that meant that the machine had to be disconnected from the Internet. So, after migrating secure data to a different machine, I pulled the wireless card and unplugged the network cord.

So is the Sony now a $2,000 paperweight? No, it’s now a $2,000 Minesweeper game.

Kidding. For one thing, it still holds about 20 gigs’ worth of digital photos that I need migrate to another machine and close to 50 gigs’ worth of music, from EMDR recordings for my mental health to Coltrane to the Sex Pistols to the Gap Band to Bach, enough to provide uninterrupted, unrepeated music for weeks. And it doesn’t need Internet to rock the neighbors’ worlds.

And with teenagers in the house, I’m not getting rid of any otherwise functional computer just because they might have to get their school assignments onto and off it with a thumb drive. When I was their age, we didn’t even HAVE thumb drives. And I have games I can install for them that don’t require Internet, like Diner Dash. So the Sony will live on, although I’ll probably be in the market for a new desktop later this year. (And when I am, I’ll definitely be buying a machine with Windows 7 Professional*, NOT Windows 8, although that’s a story for another time.)

I will say this: It bugs the hell out of me that Microsoft is ending even security upgrades for XP. And it’s not just personal. I had no experience with XP Personal (no pun intended), but XP Professional (of which Media Center Edition is a subset) was the most rock-solid OS Microsoft had ever produced to that point. It. Just. Worked. It almost never crashed, which was a huge step up from any previous Microsoft OS; only Win2K had come close to XP’s stability. Particularly after what happened with Vista, a lot of people, including myself, vowed never to change from XP.

But more importantly, a lot of people, and institutions, can’t upgrade (and I use that term loosely) from XP, or at least couldn’t by April 8 of this year. The British and Dutch governments are paying Microsoft a lot of money to continue XP support just for them. And the lack of security upgrades has important implications here at home. Many, many medical facilities continue to use XP machines because the applications they use have not had Win7- or Win8-compatible upgrades approved yet by the FDA. On Tuesday, all those XP machines still in service became noncompliant with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, although, as the linked article shows, CIOs have a number of (not-inexpensive) options for dealing with it.

Oh, and this’ll make you feel good: 95% of ATMs currently in service use XP.

But enough about Microsoft and XP (if you have an XP machine and didn’t know about this, you definitely should Google the subject, though) and back to me.

I don’t normally get sentimental over things, particularly things that are of more practical than personal value. The only thing I’ve ever owned that comes close was my 1987 Volkswagen Golf. But I’ve loved this computer. I don’t love it so much that I would continue to use it without protection, obviously. But it has been inextricably combined with my work, graduate education and life, and the lives, schoolwork, Scouting work, and recreation of my children,  in the Web 2.0 era.

Someday, perhaps soon, something will happen to it that won’t be cost-effective to fix, and that’ll be that. When that day comes, the good people at HandyCapable Network will be getting a donation that will enrich the lives of the people they work with and serve. Until then, the Sony will still be doing plenty of useful things here in our house. It just won’t be doing them anywhere else.

*Suggestions welcome, but so far it looks as if I’ll have to be custom-ordering from Dell. Oh, well.

Sunday, March 23, 2014 9:09 pm

America, land of free markets. … Oh. Wait.

It would appear that up to several dozen tech companies have been conspiring to artificially suppress wages for their employees. In other words, they’ve been stealing from their employees, although because they used email instead of a knife or gun no one will go to prison. At first it was just Apple, Google and Intel that we knew of; now, well …:

Confidential internal Google and Apple memos, buried within piles of court dockets and reviewed by PandoDaily, clearly show that what began as a secret cartel agreement between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt to illegally fix the labor market for hi-tech workers, expanded within a few years to include companies ranging from Dell, IBM, eBay and Microsoft, to Comcast, Clear Channel, Dreamworks, and London-based public relations behemoth WPP. All told, the combined workforces of the companies involved totals well over a million employees.

At the link you can also find embedded court documents bearing out the claims.

This is money that went to a very few officers and directors at these companies. It is money that was taken from hard-working employees and will never be returned. And do not kid yourself that tech is the only sector in which this is happening. One reason the government has been so easygoing on monopolies and near-monopolies the past 30 years is that they make this kind of thing easier. In other words, if you’re a CEO, this is a delightfully profitable feature, not a bug.

Worse, this conspiracy to suppress wages likely is going on in every major sector of American private industry. I can’t prove it, but I’m certain of it right now, because if there’s one thing I learned from investigative reporting, it’s that corrupt organizations are almost never just a little bit corrupt. Indeed, I would not be surprised to find that this phenomenon, along with daisy chains of CEOs sitting on each other’s board compensation committees, is a significant driver behind the fact that the overwhelming majority of profits from productivity gains are going to the top 1 or 2 percent of earners in the work force.

The CEOs involved knew that what they were doing was wrong, that it involved the permanent, unlawful taking of the property of others. They should be doing at least as much time as your run-of-the-mill bank robber, in facilities no more luxurious. But they won’t. And that’s why we can’t have nice things.

Thursday, August 1, 2013 6:32 pm

Why do I oppose a surveillance state? Must be the money.

Because arguing constitutional principles, righteous as they are, is getting us nowhere, we’ll have to argue financial principles. But maybe this argument will succeed where others have failed. James Fallows, prompted by an essay by John Naughton in the Guardian, explains:

In short: because of what the U.S. government assumed it could do with information it had the technological ability to intercept, American companies and American interests are sure to suffer in their efforts to shape and benefit from the Internet’s continued growth.

  • American companies, because no foreigners will believe these firms can guarantee security from U.S. government surveillance;
  • American interests, because the United States has gravely compromised its plausibility as world-wide administrator of the Internet’s standards and advocate for its open, above-politics goals.

Why were U.S. authorities in a position to get at so much of the world’s digital data in the first place? Because so many of the world’s customers have trusted* U.S.-based firms like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, etc with their data; and because so many of the world’s nations have tolerated an info-infrastructure in which an outsized share of data flows at some point through U.S. systems. Those are the conditions of trust and toleration that likely will change.

The problem for the companies, it’s worth emphasizing, is not that they were so unduly eager to cooperate with U.S. government surveillance. Many seem to have done what they could to resist. The problem is what the U.S. government — first under Bush and Cheney, now under Obama and Biden — asked them to do. As long as they operate in U.S. territory and under U.S. laws, companies like Google or Facebook had no choice but to comply. But people around the world who have a choice about where to store their data, may understandably choose to avoid leaving it with companies subject to the way America now defines its security interests.

Other countries will refuse to do business with U.S. tech firms for the same reason they would if the U.S. were mixing corrosive chemicals in with its exported petroleum products: The product is tainted and will damage whoever/whatever uses it.

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