Tue 2020-06-02 18:18

While I absolutely and without equivocation believe in the need for the immediate and full-scale demilitarization of municipal police departments, I think our lawmakers are missing the point if they think preventing the transfer of military hardware to police is going to address our current problem of widespread police brutality. Derek Chauvin didn't kill George Floyd with a surplus M16 or roll over him with a surplus armored vehicle. He put a knee to Floyd's neck and held it there until the man was dead - while onlookers begged him repeatedly to stop.

Our problem in the United States is that we have police departments across the country hiring and retaining fascists and psychopaths. Officer Friendly has been marginalized and replaced by Officer FuckYou. If we want to solve the problem of police violence, perhaps we need to start with psychological evaluations of every police officer and administrator in every major metropolitan police department. Maybe while we're at it we could quiz them on the Bill of Rights and assess their positions on the subject. Let's find these bad actors and get them out of the police force. We also need to demand a full-scale effort to change the culture in these major police departments, and restore the historical notion of protect and serve.

I want to be clear about something: the problem isn't every cop. There are good cops in our nation's police forces. I've met some and talked to them. And you know something? They are just as pissed about this shit as the average person. But they feel like the current system is rigged against saying or doing anything about the problem. Bad cops watch out for other bad cops. We need to support the good cops by finding and firing the bad ones.

Thu 2020-05-28 16:22

I think the timing may come off as petty, but I'm in support of Trump's move to have the FCC re-assess Section 230 protections for social media companies. I think it's a measure that is long overdue. The online platforms have concentrated huge amounts of social and political power in the hands of a few Silicon Valley executives, and those companies are wielding that power (in my opinion) to the detriment of society at large. I firmly believe that social media has had a net-negative impact on our collective mental health and on the state of modern political discourse. It's clear that something has to be done.

As I've mentioned previously, my preferred solution would be to simply strip Section 230 protections from any ad-supported platform. The algos are the problem and it's not accidental. Divisiveness, fear, anger, conflict - they all drive "engagement" (read: clicks and views) which directly translates to ad revenue for companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The more time a user spends on a social media platform, the more money that platform makes from the user. That model incents the social platforms to use any means (good or bad) to keep their users engaged.

So drop the ads and remove the problem! Force the social media companies to adopt a subscription model with a clear, direct form of payment (currency) rather than their sneaky surveillance-capitalism "pay-by-seeing-ads" model. This creates a dynamic where per-user revenue is fixed at the monthly subscription rate, and the platform has no incentive to manipulate the user (who now becomes the customer). Whether a customer spends five minutes a day or five hours a day on the website or in the app, the platform makes the same revenue. The platform's only incentive at that point is to provide value to their customers to keep people subscribing.

Wed 2020-05-27 13:57

Hmm. New COVID-19 modeling guidelines released by the CDC seem to paint a very different picture from the models presented a couple months ago (you know, the ones saying millions of Americans were expected to die from catching SARS-CoV-2).

TLDR: Based on collected data, a full third of people who catch SARS-CoV-2 won't even know they have it. For those who do develop COVID-19 symptoms, a few will require hospitalization, and almost everybody under 50 will survive. Over 65, your odds of hospitalization increase and your chances of survival drop - a little. Even over 65, COVID-19 is clearly not a death sentence given the CDC's new mortality rates (best case: 0.6%, worst case: 3.2%, best guess based on evidence: 1.3%).

Tue 2020-05-26 16:53

Did fear and groupthink drive unnecessary global lockdowns? Good question. My gut tells me the lockdowns/shutdowns in most areas of the United States were probably an over-reaction to the localized COVID-19 threat.

As of today the entire State of Nevada has had 6,226 cases, 1525 hospitalizations, and 329 deaths attributed to COVID-19. Not to downplay the deaths of 329 people, but Clark County alone had over three times as many accidental deaths in 2019. Apparently, drunks on the Strip walk into traffic a lot. Plus, it's a city in the middle of a desert and heat stroke is a very real thing. So we need to keep the numbers in perspective.

The thing is, in response to what are seemingly modest COVID-19 numbers we've basically destroyed the Las Vegas economy. I had reason to visit the airport recently, and McCarran (LAS) is a ghost town. I expect the impact of this event will last for years, perhaps even a decade or more. And surely Las Vegas is not an isolated case.

So what is the driver here if not irrational fear? Why didn't we shutdown Las Vegas when we had record (non-coronavirus) deaths in 2019? Simply put, because we didn't have a 24/7 media flood of fear mongering driving policy decisions around that particular issue. We didn't have a constant stream of social media posts churning demand for action on those deaths. And ultimately, I think it's because people understand accidental deaths - and they can't really wrap their brain around a virus and how it works.

Perhaps the shutdowns in most States were an overreaction. Perhaps not. I expect that matter will be a subject of study for historians and economists for years to come.

Tue 2020-05-26 04:33

Time for a fresh coat of paint on the old website. Must be a lockdown makeover thing.

Thu 2020-04-09 22:38

  • Note
  • Posted:
  • Edited:

Chris Fisher just announced the cancellation of Linux Action News and the immediate termination of co-host Joe Ressington (of Late Night Linux fame). As someone who has been listening to LAN (and it's preceding show, Linux Action Show) for over a decade - and as a fan of LNL - that news comes as a real kick in the balls.

It seems Joe was fired for use of the word "cunt" in an informal (off-air) conversation between co-workers. One of those co-workers* complained to management at A Cloud Guru, which is apparently now the parent company of Jupiter Broadcasting (when did that happen?). There was an "investigation" and despite the fact that Joe offered to apologize for his remark and attend any required re-education camp sensitivity training, he was summarily terminated by management at A Cloud Guru.

In the United States, the "c-word" is something that is avoided (by most people) even in otherwise vulgar discourse. In situations where one is free to say "shit" and "piss" and punctuate their sentences with f-bombs, use of the "c-word" will still get you a rebuke. Or even a slap in the face if spoken in the presence of a woman, as American women generally regard the term to be an extremely offensive descriptor of female sexual organs (and/or those persons possessing them).

To Americans (who admittedly have a strange cultural hierarchy of "naughty" words), the "c-word" is approximately fuck3 in offensiveness. In fact, you would probably get a less extreme reaction from calling a black man the "n-word" than calling a woman the "c-word" (though, seriously - why would you do either? Don't be an asshole, geez.).

So yeah... poor choice of phrase, Joe.

On the other hand... in the United Kingdom (where Joe is from) they toss the word around like luggage at an airport. If you've watched the hugely popular show The Boys on Amazon, you'll hear Karl Urban's character (who is British and of common class) use the word 4,186 times in a single episode (okay, I didn't count - but he uses the word a lot). I don't recall a big protest of Amazon over that. It's just a Britishism.

So I guess in their mission to enforce rigid political correctness, HR at A Cloud Guru forgot that we're all supposed to be practicing tolerance of cultural diversity? It seems like this situation could have been resolved with a write-up and a reminder that not everybody is from the U.K. and maybe watch what you say around Americans (cause we're sensitive and stuff). And that's probably how it would have been handled if the HR wonks in question hadn't been falling all over themselves in an exhibition of ignorant provincialism just to demonstrate how woke they are.

Regardless, my immediate reaction to the situation has been to unsub all JB feeds. I'm done with them. I'll match their zero tolerance policy with my own. While that might have the short-term side effect of hurting Chris (which is unfortunate), from the tone of the LAN goodbye episode I get the feeling he's already looking for the door anyway. Meanwhile, maybe a drop in their download numbers will send the corporate guys a message that their intolerance of cultural diversity will not be tolerated.

* Joe has not named the rat. I previously threw out an offhand speculation, but I'm retracting that because I realize casting such allegations (even hinted ones) is unfair given my lack of direct knowledge of the situation.

Thu 2020-04-09 05:19

  • Note
  • Posted:
  • Edited:

It seems Paul Jarvis has a problem with targeted advertisements, and his proposed solution is to ban targeted ads immediately. I'm okay with that. Of course, it would mean that companies like Google and Facebook would either go out of business, or likely have to greatly curtail the services they offer to compensate for their much reduced income stream. Ads are targeted, because advertisers will pay more for targeted ads and Google and Facebook garner the lion's share of that ad money.

Personally, I'm not bothered by the prospect of Google or Facebook reducing their service offerings or vanishing entirely. But I'm probably in the minority, since I don't use Facebook and I only use Google as a secondary search option (for the rare occasions that DuckDuckGo comes up short). Probably most people would be a little unhappy if Google or Facebook stopped offering their online services for the low, low price of all of your personal information.

My solution to the privacy problem is different, but perhaps easier to implement than trying to police whether or not a particular ad was in fact targeted, or just by coincidence happened to match that exact thing that a person of your age, race, gender, income bracket, political affiliation, and sexual orientation might want at the exact moment you viewed the ad.

I would propose simply amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 to revoke safe-harbor provisions from any service that is ad-supported. If you show ads (at all) then you enjoy no protection under section 230 for things users post on your platform. Sites and services that are not ad-supported would still enjoy safe-harbor protection as long as they follow the remaining tenets of the Act and uphold their policing responsibilities as platform owners.

This would mean that for example, ad-supported news sites could still exist - sans comment sections (which a lot of news sites are dropping anyway). Community forums and other websites that didn't show ads but existed on patronage or donations would continue to enjoy safe harbor provisions for user content. And services like Google and Facebook would be forced to move to a subscription-based model. At which point, we will find out exactly how much real value people place on those services when they are no longer "free" (hint: they were never free).

The ad-supported model is the fundamental problem, and the "everything on the Internet should be free (as in beer)" mindset is how we've arrived at our current surveillance capitalism dystopia. Let's fix the business paradigm for Internet platform providers, and return to a simple "cash for product" model. It may mean people have to give up one or two lattes a month to pay for their cat videos and rage tweets, but the situation will be a hell of a lot less creepy than the current status quo.

Mon 2020-04-06 19:41

Well, after four years of service my Netgate SG-2440 died yesterday. It rebooted to apply updates and just... never came back. No serial output, just a red status light. Dead.

Total bummer, and it kind of ruined my Sunday morning as I had to scramble around to put a replacement firewall in place, on top of all my usual patching and backup stuff. Luckily, I had a spare NUC in the parts drawer and was able to pull the mini PCIe disk out of the SG-2440 and stick it in the NUC. Recovery time was fairly quick and no need to re-load the OS and config. Though the exercise highlighted some cable management issues and I spent a couple hours yesterday cleaning things up a bit.

I don't know yet what I'll do for a permanent replacement. It looks like the SG-2440 is no longer available, and I'm not sure I'd buy another even if they were (I kind of expected to get more than four years out of what was a $700 box). Still, particularly in these times of equipment shortages and shipping delays, I guess the incident highlights the importance of keeping spares on hand. If I hadn't had that extra NUC I'd have probably been in for a much more painful (and lengthy) recovery.

Thu 2020-03-26 01:31

  • Note
  • Posted:
  • Edited:
Seasonal influenza ("the flu") in the United States

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Season U.S. Population Cases (% pop.)* Deaths (% cases)*
2010 - 2011 309,320,000 21,000,000 (6.8%) 37,000 (0.18%)
2011 - 2012 311,560,000 9,300,000 (3.0%) 12,000 (0.13%)
2012 - 2013 313,830,000 34,000,000 (10.8%) 43,000 (0.13%)
2013 - 2014 315,990,000 30,000,000 (9.5%) 38,000 (0.13%)
2014 - 2015 318,300,000 30,000,000 (9.4%) 51,000 (0.17%)
2015 - 2016 320,640,000 24,000,000 (7.5%) 23,000 (0.1%)
2016 - 2017 322,940,000 29,000,000 (9.0%) 38,000 (0.13%)
2017 - 2018 324,990,000 45,000,000 (13.8%) 61,000 (0.14%)
2018 - 2019 326,690,000 35,521,883 (10.9%) 34,157 (0.1%)

* Estimated, because apparently we aren't bothered enough by these numbers to track them with certainty.

COVID-19 in the United States

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Season U.S. Population Cases (% pop.)* Deaths (% cases)*
2019 - 2020 329,340,000 54,453 (0.02%) 737 (1.4%)**

* Confirmed and presumptive cases reported as of 2020-03-25.

** Only about 95,000 individuals in the U.S. have been tested for SARS CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). In addition, there has been no widespread testing for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in healthy individuals (which would indicate that the person previously had the virus, may or may not have been symptomatic, and later recovered). We don't even have a widely available antibody test, yet. So note that while this mortality rate looks much higher than seasonal flu, it may also be disproportionately high because we don't have accurate case numbers yet. Basically, we probably won't really know just how deadly COVID-19 is/was until after the pandemic runs its course.

I don't put these numbers up to downplay or diminish the seriousness of COVID-19, but rather to try to apply some reasoned perspective to what has become a highly sensationalized disease. One to which (in my opinion) people are assigning a disproportionate level of concern, and a vastly disproportionate response in measures to control it.

During the 2017-2018 flu season almost 14% of Americans caught the disease and 61,000 people in the U.S. died from it. I'm getting older and my memory may not be the best, but I don't recall a nationwide economic shutdown in 2017 or 2018. I don't remember everyone being told to stay home for two weeks, or the federal government spending $2 trillion dollars in stimulus to stave off a recession or depression. I don't recall runs on the grocery store or widespread shortages of toilet paper.

And importantly, I don't remember a 24-hour-a-day media blitz about what was (clearly, objectively) a deadly influenza epidemic. We didn't have a "national conversation" about the disease. In fact, it seems like most peoples' attitudes remain unchanged about influenza - that it's just a common, routine disease. You get sick for a week, feel like crap, and get better. No big deal. If your office is giving them out for free, you get a flu shot (maybe).

Why didn't I have 100 articles a day in my RSS feeds talking about an epidemic that infected 45 million Americans and killed 61,000, and yet today my feeds are flooded with stories about a virus that has (thus far) infected 54,000 Americans and killed 737? It just seems to me like something is really off base here.