In the interest of efficient news-spreading

  1. Yes, I’m in the hospital. I’ll probably go home tomorrow (Monday).

  2. I took an unfeasibly hard fall on my bike on Thursday night.

  3. Riding in a group, the person in front of me lost control. In an effort to avoid hitting her, I went down myself. In efforts to avoid hitting me and the first person, several other people also went down.

  4. I took the full force of the fall on my hip joint, which was apparently enough to break it. No one else, to my knowledge, required medical help, but I was a bit out of it at the time from the pain (I didn’t hit my head at all, though).

  5. Yes, this is precisely as unpleasant as it sounds.

  6. Yes, the bike is fine.

  7. In this one event, I started down a path wherein I achieved many personal firsts: first bike fall, first broken bone ever, first ambulance ride, first oxygen cannula, first IV, first experience with opiods, first actual hospital stay, first CAT scan, etc.

  8. Oh, and first surgery. You can’t just put a cast on this, so they patched me up with a plate and some pins.

  9. No, it is not clear if I’m going to be setting off metal detectors going forward. I should probably ask about that. My bet is yes.

  10. All things considered, I’m doing fine. Despite the pain of the initial injury, there’s nothing like being in the ER around people with actually no-shit life threatening problems to put your plight in perspective. Plus, most of you people are on Facebook and have been commenting and messaging me with all manner of support, so I’ll repeat what I said there: I’m a lucky, lucky man to have you all in my corner.

Turns out, being on the wrong side of history costs a lot of money

The gay-hatin’ National Organization for Marriage is drowning in debt after their donations dropped by half from 2012 to 2013.

An between 2012 and 2013, NOM saw a staggering 50 percent drop in donations. The group raised $5.1 million in 2013, and two donors accounted for more than half the money raised by the group, according to HRC.

Emphasis added. That’s some grassroots org you’ve got there, bigots.

Dept. of Oceangoing Gadgets

Longtime Heathen watchers will recall that Mrs Heathen and I take an annual rejuvenating nerd cruise with Royal Caribbean every winter. Each time has been aboard one of RCI’s Freedom class ships, which are sort of amazing and shocking in their size and scope — 154,000 gross tons and 339 meters long. To put this in context, a Nimitz class supercarrier is “only” about 333 meters long, and has a lower displacement, and they land planes on it. Regularly, apparently. At one point, these boats were the biggest cruise ships afloat, but that’s no longer true.

Because, I guess, they thought bigger was always better, RCI eclipsed this class in 2009 with the Oasis class, at over 225,000 gross tons and 360 meters long. Given the sheer size and scope of the ships we’ve been on, I find that hard to wrap my head around, but there it is.

Perhaps because of issues of gravity or fear of hubris or something, though, RCI’s absolute newest ship is actually smaller. The Quantum of the Seas isn’t bigger than the Oasis boats, but it’s materially more advanced in every other way. Gizmodo writer Adam Estes took a ride on one and wrote about it. If you ignore his utter lack of fact checking re: the boat’s size, it’s a fun read. (He states it’s the third largest ship in the world, but a host of tankers and transport ships dwarf it; it is, however, the third biggest cruise ship in the world, behind the two Oasis boats that preceded it; the Freedom boats are in 5th place.)

“To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked.”

This piece is very, very spot on, and it makes clear something I’ve been trying to articulate for years: People like Mitch McConnell are not Americans. They are Republicans, concerned first and foremost with the good of their party, not the nation, and certainly not those whom they purport to represent.

Edit: Messages like this one from the National Review just make this point even clearer: don’t do things; people will start to expect that. Keep your eyes on 2016.

I mean, seriously. WTF?

Everything Old Is New Again

Almost 30 years ago, my friend Rob had a laptop-like device made by Tandy called a TRS-80 Model 100.

500px Radio Shack TRS 80 Model 100

It’s very much a sort of proto-laptop, and was widely used by non-geeks as a portable writing platform when similarly robust and functional laptops were still years away. There’s no hinge; it’s just a flat device with a small LCD screen. You could, if memory served, run programs (i.e., a simple word processor / text editor) or boot the thing to BASIC like every other TRS-80. I remember Rob using it backstage at the all-school production to catch up on a paper for AP English in about 1987.

(A few years later, Radio Shack was selling a descendent product called the WP-2; I bought one to take notes with in college, since (then as now) I can type much more quickly (and legibly) than I can write longhand.)

In the intervening years, laptops have gotten much, much more capable, to the point that for most folks there’s no reason to use a desktop at all. However, if you have a full computer with you, it’s easy to get distracted by other activities — especially if there’s a network connection. What if you just want to write without distractions?

Enter Hemmingwrite. It’s a little precious — the prototype is styled to look like a portable typewriter — but inside it’s reasonably clever:

The Hemingwrite is-a single purpose, distraction-free writing composition device. It combines the simplicity of a 90s era word processor with the modern tech we all require like cloud backups and integration into our favorite document editors like Google docs and Evernote.

They’re planning a 6-week battery life, internal memory for a million pages, and a proper, mechanical-switch keyboard.

I’m not sure I have a need for one, but it sure is neat.

Dept. of Alarming Stats, SEC Edition

I’m paying a lot less attention to football this year, but I couldn’t help but notice Ole Miss getting upset by LSU yesterday. That’s a weird sentence to type, because for a long time Ole Miss has been pretty miserable, and LSU has been a threat in the conference since Saban coached there, but here it is: Ole Miss was undefeated going into yesterday’s game against a two-loss LSU, and couldn’t get the job done.

In the wake of the loss, though, this stat got my attention, as presented by ESPN on Twitter:

LSU is 24-23 under Les Miles when trailing in the 4th quarter, the only FBS team with a record over .500 in that scenario since 2005.

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 26, 2014

Holy. Fucking. Shit. That’s some serious voodoo right there.

Books of 2014, #17: A World of Trouble, by Ben Winters

A World of Trouble concludes perhaps the most melancholy detective trilogy ever: as documented previously in the first volume (The Last Policeman, which was also the first book of 2013) and its followup (Countdown City, also last year), the world of Detective Hank Palace is about to come to an end. This is not a metaphor: a world-ending object is on a collision course with the earth, and its impact will probably kill everyone.

Instead of telling a big-hero story, or a big-science story, though, Winters does something completely novel: he focuses on the life of his protagonist and those around him as the world slowly comes apart over the course of the year. This final volume’s ending is no secret, given the setup, but getting there is where the story really lives.

It’s hard to discuss the third book in a trilogy without spoiling anything, so I won’t beyond saying the books are generally worth your time. I think my favorite is still the first one, which establishes Palace’s world, but the followups are rewarding in their own right even as the world gets bleaker and bleaker.

Books of 2014, #16: A Most Wanted Man, by John LeCarre

Finished 23 July

I’ll be brief: LeCarre is clearly not pleased with what passes for intelligence work in the post-9/11 world. Here, he paints a picture of barely functional agencies pursuing someone who is almost certainly NOT a terrorist. I won’t bother with the film, but Hoffman is perfect for the character he plays.

The Edge of A Whole Bunch Of Other Movies

So, Mrs Heathen and I just decided to take in the Edge of Tomorrow which, surprisingly, isn’t a soap opera but is instead a big Hollywood Tom Cruise movie.

I’ll state at the getgo that it filled our need for “big dumb movie,” but holy FUCK the entire thing is completely devoid of any original content. It’s amazing.

  1. The plot is a straight rip of Source Code replacing “terror attack” with “alien invasion,” which is itself a national-security/action-movie retread of Groundhog Day. At least Groundhog Day was an actually decent film.

  2. Oh, we fight in armor? Imagine that.

  3. Wait, the unit includes a foul-mouthed vaguely-hispanic woman? Well, at least her name wasn’t Vasquez.

  4. It’s a goddamn shame they didn’t have the sergeant say “game over” at any point.

  5. There’s multi-tentacled bad guys attacking aircraft? You mean, like the ones in The Matrix?

  6. We have a lovely blonde character who fights with an anime-scale sword? Seriously?

  7. You put the bad guy, for much of the movie, in a giant concrete well with tentacles going everywhere? Gosh, where have I seen that before?

  8. And because the filmmakers have NO SHAME AT ALL, the end credits are a straight rip-off of the first Iron Man film.

So yeah, now I know what it’s like to watch a movie made entirely of shameless ripoffs. It is, of course, no surprise that it made tons of money. Sigh.

Oh, marketers

The surest way to communicate to me that you know nothing is to mention the “[Brand X] Technology” included in the product in question, where “Brand X” is clearly a meaningless, made-up term, and then be unable to describe to me what that means, and then insist that “no, it’s not a made up term.”

You may also opt to compound your error by offering to show me Gartner “magic quadrant” graphs favorable to the product in question.

You may complete the trifecta by getting huffy when I poke you about the fundamental fecklessness of both points.

What Civil Forfeiture Law Means

From the Economist:

WHEN the state accuses you of a crime and seizes your assets before trial, thus preventing you from hiring the counsel of your choice, what recourse do you have? That question is at the heart of Kaley v United States, a case the United States Supreme Court issued its decision on this week. The answer, worryingly, seems to be: None.

Go read the whole thing.

“The President has nothing but free time, Toby.”

Empire Online has an exhaustive and delightful retrospective up on The West Wing which is worth your time.

The closing quote is from Sorkin:

During one of our monthly cast lunches in the first season, Brad Whitford said, “No matter what we do from here on out, this show is the first line of our obits.” Martin, who was in Apocalypse Now, said, “I’m good with that”. Me too.

If you don’t have time for the whole thing (it’s long), DO make time for the 15 Things You Didn’t Know, which is fun despite the clickbaity headline.

Dept. of Coding Abominations

So, it turns out you can comment out comment characters in SQL.

-- /*
update resource
set IsDeleted=0, ExternalID=@externalID
where Code=@resCode
and ResourceSetID=@resSetID
-- */

Top Nine Awesome Nines

9. Revolution 9, because if it’s not included some superannuated Beatlemania holdout somewhere will bitch about it.

8. 9mm, that most democratic of calibers.

7. The 9 Rings of Power given to men, and their bearers the Nazgul.

6. The number of times Ferris Bueller was absent, which should be a lesson to us all.

5. The number of planets there REALLY are, at least for old folks like me, dammit.

4. Beethoven’s Ninth, which we all know by heart.

3. The best of the appeals courts, the Ninth.

2. i, the first person pronoun, square root of negative one, and NINTH LETTER.

1. NINE YEARS WITH MRS HEATHEN. Best nine of all, ever. I love you, Erin.

Hey Chief Heathen! Where’d them header images come from?

Glad you asked.

tl;dr: They’re all mine, and before today were mostly all on my Flickr. I selected, obviously, for pics that might look interesting when cropped to the window available above. WordPress randomly selects one when the page is built, so you get a different one nearly every time.

This link is to a gallery of the full-size images, in the event you’re curious to see them, or their context. The oldest of them are from 2005, and were taken with a point-and-shoot.

Dear Marriott: Bite me, you money-grubbing jackasses

Check this shit out. They’ve been smacked by the FCC to the tune of $600,000 for blocking personal wifi devices in a conference center in order to force people to use their overpriced service.

A spokesman for the hotel, Jeff Flaherty, had this bullshit to add:

“Marriott has a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft,” he wrote in a statement without responding to Ars’ direct questions.

Yeah, right.

Dept. of Cycling Milestones

Midway through my ride tonight, I stopped to snap this:

5000 miles

That’s total miles on my Surly, which attentive readers will recall is actually my SECOND Surly, purchased in August of 2012.

Fun fact: According to Strava, 2,575 of those miles are since April of this year.

I’m sure the cops would also rather we not have safes. Or locks. Or rights.

Eric Holder is upset that Apple and Google have gone to encryption-by-default, and would prefer they provide law enforcement back doors that I’m SURE would NEVER be compromised. He’s even relying on the “won’t someone think of the children” line, which is more or less a tell that a cop is overreaching.

Fuck. That. If people trusted the government not to snoop inappropriately, encryption like this wouldn’t be nearly as much of a hot-button topic. It’s the Feds’ own heavy-handed, extralegal, unconscionable tactics that have led companies like Apple and Google to employ encryption that they can’t circumvent.

Reap what you sow, jackass.


If you have not seen last Sunday’s Simpsons Couch Gag, well, here’s your chance. It’s very, very weird and wonderful:

The onscreen text is brilliant:







What Hobby Lobby Gets Us

Ginsburg was right:

One such matter is Perez v. Paragon Contractors, a case that arose out of a Department of Labor investigation into the use of child labor by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (The F.L.D.S. church is an exiled offshoot of the Mormon Church.) In the case, Vernon Steed, a leader of the F.L.D.S. church, refused to answer questions by federal investigators, asserting that he made a religious vow not to discuss church matters. Applying Hobby Lobby, David Sam, a district-court judge in Utah, agreed with Steed, holding that his testimony would amount to a “substantial burden” on his religious beliefs—a standard used in Hobby Lobby—and excused him from testifying. The judge, also echoing Hobby Lobby, said that he needed only to determine that Steed’s views were “sincere” in order to uphold his claim. Judge Sam further noted that the government had failed to prove that demanding Steed’s testimony was not, in the words of the R.F.R.A., “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” That burden seems increasingly difficult for the government to meet.

Yeah, you read that right. A witness was excused from testifying about the possibly illegal practices of his church because it was against his religious beliefs to discuss internal church matters with outsiders.

The Roberts court has given us legally protected Omerta, without so much as pinprick or a burning saint card.

Books of 2014, #15: No Place to HIde, by Glenn Greenwald

(Finished July 30; I’m stupid behind on these posts.)

By now, everyone knows the name Edward Snowden, and what he did, and what he gave up to do what he did — and what challenges he may still face if the US government ever gets their hands on him. But do yourself a favor and read this book, because you really don’t know the whole story, and you really — still — have no idea how egregious the NSA’s behavior has been.

No Place to Hide is equal parts expose and thriller; the initial chapters detail how Greenwald was contacted by Snowden, and the tradecraft he had to learn in order to communicate with him. Snowden was very, very careful, and for good reason: as we’ve seen, his disclosures have been pretty explosive.

The second part of the story is Greenwald’s analysis of what’s been released so far: explaining the absurd, illegal, unconstitutional overreach of the surveillance in terms anyone can understand (and therefore be outraged by). These programs are ongoing, and are likely to remain issues in campaigns for some time to come, but we wouldn’t even know about them if it weren’t for Snowden.

The intelligence community is, obviously, totally bananas for all these programs, and why wouldn’t they be — it’s a spy’s wet dream to have access to this kind of data. But letting intelligence operatives decide where the line between “reasonable surveillance” and “criminally dangerous big brother shit” is a recipe for disaster.

Greenwald also gives us a pretty exhaustive history of surveillance, including a discussion of the effect this kind of “total information awareness” has on free (and not-so-free) societies. (Hint: it’s not good.)

Of course, the NSA isn’t acting in a vacuum here; there’s been a general failure of the press to act as a real check on government for a long, long time. Today, they so love their access that they’re completely unwilling to call out lies and bullshit. It’s much safer to regurgitate press releases without challenging anything. N.B. that it’s absolutely, unequivocally true that the Times knew about the wiretapping in 2004, before the election, and failed to tell anyone; something this explosive could have easily changed the election results.

But this is where we are: we have a powerful and craven intelligence (and law enforcement) community that views even dissent as unAmerican and dangerous even in the absence of actual wrongdoing or lawbreaking. This leads to a malignant expansion of state power, and cries out for someone to say something and at least begin the conversation in public about how much we’ll put up with. The press wasn’t doing it. Snowden and Greenwald have, and for that we all owe them a debt.

Castle Doctrine? Only for white people.

Say you’re asleep in your house. Say you’re awoken by some goon breaking into your home through a window, so you reach for your pistol to defend your home, property, and family. It is, after all, Texas; if a kid in a hoodie is threatening enough in Florida, then surely someone breaking into your house is threatening.

Gotcha! It was actually a no-knock marijuana raid (that found no drugs, and certainly found nothing to suggest the resident was a kingpin), and you just killed a cop! (A cop who has, posthumously, been awarded a Star of Texas by the governor.)

Oh, you’re also black, so it should come as no surprise that the prosecutor wants to kill you for having the unmitigated gall to defend your home against unknown intruders.

N.B. that nothing found in the raid was actionable at all. They’re trying to execute this guy for shooting at intruders. Which, of course, sounds a lot like another case I remember.

Oh, and further note that the Killeen cops were executing a no-knock, surprise warrant — basically, the most violent sort of raid — in pursuit of a drug now legal for personal use in two states. Whether or not this kind of violent, retrograde enforcement of pot prohibition is a good idea or good use of resources is left as an exercise to the reader.

Police be accountable for murdering black people? Don’t be silly.

An Ohio grand jury has refused to indict the (white) cops who gunned down an unarmed, unthreatening shopper in a Wal-Mart for committed the crime of “holding a toy gun while black.”

There is video evidence that he was doing absolutely nothing that could be construed as a threat. This was straight up murder, and it should surprise absolutely none of you that the cops will get off scott free.

Be aware of what events like this, with no actual consequences for the muderers, mean to a significant portion of the country. Recognize that displays like this and actions like this in the wake of such crimes make it very, very clear that a huge chunk of law enforcement think they’re doing absolutely nothing wrong.

This must change. The longer we allow this to go on, the more we fundamentally damage our society. Hold violent cops accountable, personally and criminally. Limit the powers of police to use force for no good reason. Create real consequences for overreach. End asset forfeiture. And stop recruiting ignorant bullies into LEOs.