On a Mac? Easily distracted? We’ve got just the thing.

Sometimes, when we’re having productivity issues, we pine for the days when computers weren’t hooked to anything but the power jack and the printer, and could barely run one program at a time, let alone the couple dozen we keep open. There was something nice and pure about a full screen devoted to a single task.

Well, thank God for Merlin Mann yet again, as by combining three small interface hack programs, he’s found a way to emulate full-screen mode on a Mac. The little add-ins (1) hide the menubar unless you hit it with your mouse (MenuShade); (2) automatically hide programs unused for X amount of time (SpiritedAway); and (3) provide a BackDrop to obscure anything else floating around. It sounds basic and silly, but we’ve just tried it on a lark and we’re pretty darn happy with it. Enjoy.

Dept. of Geek Annoyances

Ok. We’ve pretty much given up on the whole anti-Evite thing despite their spammy rep. They have too much mindshare, and people like using them way too much. However, it still bugs the shit out of us that an Evite email doesn’t actually include the basic logistical information for the event in question: when and where. “We’ve invited you to something, but you have to click to find out what it is!” is just kinda dodgy, at least from where we sit. Insist we click through to RSVP, but at least give us the damn basics in the email.

Yet Another Motivational Poster Joke

Bubba’s Ear points out this set of motivational posters based on RPG/MMORPG concepts. Some are pretty damn funny, but only if you’re very, very geeky.

Update: Yes, as Bubba’s Ear notes, the direct links are broken — or, rather, they don’t work because of the (wholly reasonable) way their webmaster has the server configured. Please use this handy guide to see which ones to which we were referring to. At.

  • “Some”: The one about Cthulu on a plane.
  • “are”: The one with a riff on the Aliens line about “taking off and nuking the site from orbit; it’s the only way to be sure.”
  • “damn”: The one with the plush Cthulu and the caption “O r’lyeh?”
  • “funny”: The one with the joke about the Barrens in WoW.
  • “geeky”: The one making fun of Shadowrun’s dependence on huge numbers of six-siders.

This would be funny if it weren’t sad

A decade ago, the GOP pushed through the War Crimes Act of 1996.

That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment.

It seems that the current, torture-lovin’, waterboardin’, enemy-combatant-designatin’ GOP has just recently remembered this law, and as a consequence Attorney General Gonzales has been stumping with Republicans in Congress about creating some sort of loophole for those in power now, since it seems likely that we’ve been gleefully violating the Geneva Conventions for years now. It was Gonzales himself who called them “quaint,” you’ll recall.

Gonzales told the lawmakers that a shield is needed for actions taken by U.S. personnel under a 2002 presidential order, which the Supreme Court declared illegal, and under Justice Department legal opinions that have been withdrawn under fire, the source said. A spokeswoman for Gonzales, Tasia Scolinos, declined to comment on Gonzales’s remarks.

The Justice Department’s top legal adviser, Steven G. Bradbury, separately testified two weeks ago that Congress must give new “definition and certainty” to captors’ risk of prosecution for coercive interrogations that fall short of outright torture.

Language in the administration’s draft, which Bradbury helped prepare in concert with civilian officials at the Defense Department, seeks to protect U.S. personnel by ruling out detainee lawsuits to enforce Geneva protections and by incorporating language making U.S. enforcement of the War Crimes Act subject to U.S. — not foreign — understandings of what the Conventions require.

The aim, Justice Department lawyers say, is also to take advantage of U.S. legal precedents that limit sanctions to conduct that “shocks the conscience.” This phrase allows some consideration by courts of the context in which abusive treatment occurs, such as an urgent need for information, the lawyers say — even though the Geneva prohibitions are absolute.

The Supreme Court, in contrast, has repeatedly said that foreign interpretations of international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions should at least be considered by U.S. courts.

Some human rights groups and independent experts say they oppose undermining the reach of the War Crimes Act, arguing that it deters government misconduct. They say any step back from the Geneva Conventions could provoke mistreatment of captured U.S. military personnel. They also contend that Bush administration anxieties about prosecutions are overblown and should not be used to gain congressional approval for rough interrogations.

“The military has lived with” the Geneva Conventions provisions “for 50 years and applied them to every conflict, even against irregular forces. Why are we suddenly afraid now about the vagueness of its terms?” asked Tom Malinowski, director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch.

It sounds an awful lot like Alberto wants to make “just following orders” a defense. We’re pretty sure that’s a bad idea. That dog didn’t hunt 60 years ago, and it shouldn’t now.

Best Quote on 80s Music EVAR.

Wil Wheaton points us to this choice bit about Journey from Scalzi:

[F]or the vast majority of Suburban Americans between the age of 14 and 24 in the early 80s, when it was time to make out and you put Escape on the turntable, you were automatically spotted two bases. Honestly, if you didn’t have a hand under a bra or massaging a button fly by the end of “Who’s Crying Now,” Steve Perry would stop what he was doing, fly to your house and then beat the crap out of you for blowing a sure thing. God forbid you actually flipped the LP, because then, baby, you were going home.

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have to go to Soundwaves and buy a CD before our wife gets home.

About that wiretapping lawsuit

So, a judge in Chicago dismissed the lawsuit alleging the telco had given improper access to phone records to the Feds, on the nebulous grounds of “state secrets.” Right. Majikthise summarizes:

Here we see a two-pronged attack on the separation of powers. The president claims that he is not bound to respect the laws passed by Congress (i.e., FISA), and furthermore he is the final authority on what court cases might jeopardize national security. The president’s decision is not subject to appeal. He is not accountable to Congress or to the public for his determinations. He doesn’t have to give reasons for his decisions.

The bottom line is that the president can block any court case he wants by claiming that the case might reveal state secrets. That was a nice way to shut down the Illinois citizens who wanted to sue to stop AT&T from giving their private records to the government, or anyone who might want to use the courts to challenge Bush’s authority.

Anybody else see the problem here?

(N.B. that this isn’t the EFF lawsuit, which is proceeding.)

It’s official:

America’s lawyers think Bush’s signing statements are bullshit and an end-run around separation of powers, to which this President is clearly hostile.

WASHINGTON, July 23 — The American Bar Association said Sunday that President Bush was flouting the Constitution and undermining the rule of law by claiming the power to disregard selected provisions of bills that he signed.

In a comprehensive report, a bipartisan 11-member panel of the bar association said Mr. Bush had used such “signing statements” far more than his predecessors, raising constitutional objections to more than 800 provisions in more than 100 laws on the ground that they infringed on his prerogatives.

These broad assertions of presidential power amount to a “line-item veto” and improperly deprive Congress of the opportunity to override the veto, the panel said.

In signing a statutory ban on torture and other national security laws, Mr. Bush reserved the right to disregard them.

The bar association panel said the use of signing statements in this way was “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.” From the dawn of the Republic, it said, presidents have generally understood that, in the words of George Washington, a president “must approve all the parts of a bill, or reject it in toto.”

If the president deems a bill unconstitutional, he can veto it, the panel said, but “signing statements should not be a substitute for a presidential veto.”

Dept. of Undocumented Apple Goodness

For a while, we’ve noticed that occasionally, iChat will stop making noise when people message us. This is bad, since we don’t notice, and sometimes the person in question is the boss. The only action we’ve seen thus far that fixes it, though, is a reboot, which is way overkill for something like this. Searching Apple’s message boards didn’t yield anything for a long time, but today we finally hit pay dirt here, which points us to this blog post from a similarly geeky Mac guy named Dan.

We’ll reproduce his instructions here for posterity:

[UPDATE] Ok, so I found another temporary fix just short of rebooting. If I kill the coreaudiod process and start up iChat again, I get my sound effects a.k.a. alerts back. To do that, I opened up Terminal, ran:

$ ps -aux | grep coreaudio

To get the process ID as can be seen here:

root 32 0.3 0.2 29808 1816 ?? Ss Tue02PM 1:10.80 /usr/sbin/coreaudiod

The process ID is 32. So then I quit iChat, and ran this to kill the coreaudiod process:

$ sudo kill 32

Then start iChat and you should hear the familiar alert sounds again. Yay!

Good *nixheads out there may wonder if doing a kill -HUP might not work; we don’t know, but we’re planning on trying it next time around.

“The Christian Paradox”

Go read this article at Harper’s. The precis is simple: despite some 85% of Americans self-identifying as “Christian,” it is demonstrably true that our actions as a nation are decidedly unChristian. He’s not talking about mideast policy or the War on Terra; he’s talking about domestic policy, about schools, and the poor and hungry, about the sick. Jesus wasn’t about tax cuts; Jesus was about giving it away. That’s the paradox. It’s worth a read.

We don’t know if these are real or not

The legal department doesn’t know, either, as they came to him unattributed as well. However, they’re just creepy enough to distribute anyway. We present the following lawyer ad jingles for “Lawyer T. Flowers”, who is apparently the sort of attorney who uses “Lawyer” as a title:

Hunter would call them greedheads

So, some vile, evil fucks are set to destroy the coolest movie theater in Houston so they can build some anonymous bullshit retail center. People aren’t happy. If you ever loved the River Oaks Theater, go sign this petition. It may not do any good, but at least it’s something.

If you live in town, too, call the Mayor’s office. That may not do any good, either, but it’s sure worth your time to try. The number there is 713-247-2200.

The Greater Houston Preservation Alliance has addresses and such for both the realty people (Weingarten) and the planned tennent (Barnes and Noble); take the time to write a letter if you can.

Techdirt points out truth in BusinessWeek

The reason the Telcos are so opposed to things like net neutrality is because they’re not technology companies. They are essentially opposed to innovation, which is obvious when you look at their research budgets.

Business Week is running a fascinating essay that highlights all the reasons why the telcos hate innovation. They’re not technology companies, which is highlighted by how little they spend on research. They’re in the business of extracting as much money as they can from their network right now — which is a short-sighted and eventually self-destructive plan. They view real innovation as a threat, not an opportunity, because tech innovation is usually about driving down the cost of infrastructure. That doesn’t help them squeeze more money out of it. As the writer of the essay points out, this is evident in the telcos continued fight against things like muni-WiFi, even as they quietly get involved in muni-WiFi projects themselves.

The article also highlights how this lack of technological innovation from within the telcos means that even in areas where they have every opportunity to innovate, such as IPTV, all they’re doing is catching up to what the cable providers already deliver. They’re missing the opportunity to do much more. In fact, this is a great way to view the net neutrality issue. If the telcos were really about promoting innovation (and the author makes fun of AT&T for claiming it needs to merge with BellSouth to be able to innovate), then network neutrality wouldn’t be an issue at all. The company would focus on making its platform (the network) as accessible and as fast as possible — to encourage more innovation and development from third parties. Instead, the telcos focus, not on encouraging innovation, but on setting up roadblocks. The roadblocks give them the power to squeeze more money out of the network — but at the expense of actual innovation that would make their networks that much more valuable.

Arlen Specter Hates America

Or, at least, the Constitution. He’s pushing a bill through the Senate that explicitly allows the Executive branch to undergo warrantless wiretapping with no judicial review, and also transfers the existing suits to secret courts (i.e., not the Federal bench, where they are now).

First, it requires (if the Attorney General requests it, which he will) that all pending cases challenging the legality of the NSA program (which includes the EFF and ACLU cases) be transferred to the secret FISA court. Thus, the insufficiently deferential federal judges would have these cases taken away from them. Second, it would make judicial review of the administration’s behavior virtually impossible, as it specifically prohibits (Sec. 702(b)(2)) the FISA court from “requir(ing) the disclosure of national security information . . . without the approval of the Director of National Intelligence of the Attorney General.” That all but prevents any discovery in these lawsuits. Third, it quite oddly authorizes (Sec. 702(b)(6)) the FISA court to “dismiss a challenge to the legality of an electronic surveillance program for any reason” (emphasis added). Arguably, that provision broadens the authority of the court to dismiss any such lawsuit for the most discretionary of reasons, even beyond the already wide parameters of the “state secrets” doctrine.

There’s more:

  • The Specter bill will gut FISA, a law that whose constitutionality or usefulness has never been challenged in over thirty years since its passage, by allowing less stringent legislation to apply to domestic surveillance.

  • The Specter bill will prevent meaningful review by the judiciary from taking place, including allowing the Attorney General to move all pending cases challenging the legality of Bush’s domestic spying program into secret courts.

  • The Specter bill allows FISA courts to throw out challenges to the legality of the domestic surveillance program for any reason. Americans can’t be expected to cede surveillance powers to the president without adequate congressional and judicial oversight.

This is a very, very, very bad idea. We agree with Atrios that this is the greatest threat to our country today. We do not exaggerate; separation of powers and judicial oversight are cornerstones of our government, and gutting those provisions to create an imperial executive will have very long-lasting and negative consequences.

Call your senator. The link above has a list; Texas’ John Cornyn is a member of the committee in question. If you call 888-355-3588, the Capitol switchboard will transfer you to any Congressional office. Make the call, to Cornyn and others. This bill must be stopped.

Good Baptists

The Times has a story today covering the newest schism in Baptism: the struggle for control of the affiliated colleges. The fundies in the SBC and state conventions would love to turn them all into indoctrination-focused campuses, but the educators think differently.

GEORGETOWN, Ky. — The request seemed simple enough to the Rev. Hershael W. York, then the president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. He asked Georgetown College, a small Baptist liberal arts institution here, to consider hiring for its religion department someone who would teach a literal interpretation of the Bible.

But to William H. Crouch Jr., the president of Georgetown, it was among the last straws in a struggle that had involved issues like who could be on the board of trustees and whether the college encouraged enough freedom of inquiry to qualify for a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

Dr. Crouch and his trustees decided it was time to end the college’s 63-year affiliation with the religious denomination. “From my point of view, it was about academic freedom,” Dr. Crouch said. “I sat for 25 years and watched my denomination become much more narrow and, in terms of education, much more interested in indoctrination.”

Georgetown [College, in Kentucky] is among a half-dozen colleges and universities whose ties with state Baptist conventions have been severed in the last four years, part of a broad realignment in which more than a dozen Southern Baptist universities, including Wake Forest and Furman, have ended affiliations over the last two decades. Georgetown’s parting was ultimately amicable. But many have been tense, even bitter.

Local copy here, since NYT is terrible about aging links.

In which we acknowledge the obvious, and quote our brother

In re: Bush’s stupid inaugural veto: “As if the world needed another reason to prove he is a jack-ass.”

The Rude Pundit of course has more. God love him.

An even more excoriating bit can be had over at Scott Rosenberg’s joint, which points out how completely morally bankrupt the veto is:

On the one hand, Bush argues that the destruction of human embryos (microscopic organisms made up of a few cells) is a kind of killing. His press spokesman, Tony Snow, adopting the supercharged cant of anti-abortion activists, referred to it recently as “murder.” In order to stop such “murder,” Bush agreed in 2001 to limit all federal funding of stem cell research to a handful of pre-existing “lines” of cells — cells that had been created specifically for research. His argument was, let’s not use tax dollars to pay for the destruction of more embryos for the sake of research.

Here is why Bush’s position is a joke: Thousands and thousands of embryos are destroyed every year in fertility clinics. They are created in petri dishes as part of fertility treatments like IVF; then they are discarded.

If Bush and his administration truly believe that destroying an embryo is a kind of murder, they shouldn’t be wasting their time arguing about research funding: They should immediately shut down every fertility clinic in the country, arrest the doctors and staff who operate them, and charge all the wannabe parents who have been wantonly slaughtering legions of the unborn.

But of course they’ll never do such a thing. (Nor, to be absolutely clear, do I think they should.) Bush could not care less about this issue except as far as it helps burnish his pro-life credentials among his “base.” This has been true since the first airing of Bush’s position in 2001, as I said back then. So he finds a purely symbolic way of taking a stand, but won’t follow the logic of his position to the place where it might cause him any political harm — as opposing the family-building dreams of millions of middle-class Americans would doubtless do.


That’s why Bush’s stem cell position isn’t Solomonic — it’s craven. His upcoming veto is an act not of moral leadership but of hypocrisy. And the cost of this hypocrisy, assuming Congress can’t muster the votes for an override, will be borne by everyone who dreams of new cures for awful illnesses.

If you voted for him, you voted for this. Remember this absurd, craven, bullshit behavior in the fall.

If you don’t see what’s wrong with this, we’ve got no time for you

When the Justice department tried to investigate the almost certainly illegal domestic spying program started by Bush after 9/11, it was the President who refused to grant the required security clearances.

Yes. Bush killed an investigation into his own criminality. This the Saturday Night Massacre, but worse. He has no respect for the Constitution, the separation of powers, or the rule of law.

Things that ought to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck

This is remedial, but some of you may not have heard the news:

I heard there was A secret chord That David played, And it pleased the Lord But you don’t really care for music Do ya? It goes like this The 4th the 5th The minor fall and the major lift The baffled King composing Hallelujah…

Mr Cohen via the late Mr Buckley. Go listen. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, go find someone who does.

Dept. of Jackass Tech Companies

So, for this client install we’ve been working on, we procured a pile of network gear to extend their existing setup in order to accommodate our equipment. This is standard operating procedure.

What wasn’t standard was the minimal nature of this client’s infrastructure, and the distance to the desired work site from the office implied cable runs in excess of the limits of ethernet (for the record, about 100m). We thought about fiber — which was, until recently, the only real option — but the costs were high, and throwing that kind of tech at a small firm with no IT employees sounds like a pretty bad idea. But there’s wifi, right?

Right, so we went that route. Knowing they needed a new router anyway, we included some network refitting in the deal, and bought a fancy pre-N Linksys we figured would reach to where we needed to be plus an access point (essentially a wireless ethernet jack) and an 8-port switch. We planned to drop in the router in as a direct replacement for theirs and hang all our gear off either the network in the office or the “extension” network in the work area, connected via the aforementioned access point. Easy!

Well, no. In the interim, they opted to acquire some replacement gear of their own, none of which from identifiable manufacturers. (Seriously: in a world of commodity Linksys/Netgear/DLink gear available in every electronics and office supply shop, whoever they hired to do IT went off-brand.) And they had some ports forwarded to internal resources, none of which was documented, and their IT consultant guy was incommunicado on vacation, both of which mean we couldn’t possibly just do the “drop in our router” plan. Further complicating the picture was the presence of more brick than we initially realized, which shortened the already meager range of the off-brand wireless gear.

Fine. We tried to rejigger our gear into the new world order, but with no success. Finally, we hit upon getting a range extender, and the of using our fancy router (Linksys WRT54GX4) as just an access point (disable its DHCP, etc.). We dropped by Fry’s en route to dinner, and planned on regaining lost time in the morning.

The next day, the “use the Linksys as a wireless only device” plan went off more or less without a hitch. Using the extender — a WRE54G, also from Linksys — however, was a major problem. We could get a much better signal in the far location than before, but we still needed a bit of a boost; the only resource that could connect was my Powerbook. However, no matter what the configuration, the network went south as soon as we powered on the extender. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot?

I called Linksys. After being on hold for half an hour and getting bounced around a bit, I finally got an answer: The extender isn’t compatible with the router.

Um, what?

Right. Two pieces of Linksys kit from the same model year, the same shelf, the same store, will not interoperate despite notionally supporting the same protocols. Now, we acknolwedge that the router is a bit of a hot rot; we assume that they’ve made the call to sacrifice compatibility — even with their own gear — in favor of range and bandwidth. Fine. But it would be a really good idea to note this on the box of the router, which they didn’t bother to do.

So, Linksys? Kiss my ass. You’re jackasses. We do give some recognition to your tech support drone, though. He actually had the stones to start a sentence about “returning the router and getting instead a Linksys blah blah blah….”, whereupon we asked “If we have to go back to the shop and return this, do you really think we’re going to buy MORE Linksys gear after this experience?”

What it’s come to.

Back in the boom, business travelers expensed coke they snorted off the tits of Barbie-proportioned strippers over filets while quaffing whisky older than any three of their entertainers.

Tonight, I’m in the hotel bar with a laptop, sipping gin (a client beverage!) and blogging.

(See earlier post about what we can see from here.)

Dept. of Alarmist Dorks

Some attention-grubbing nutbirds in Europe are whining about RFID virii, saying things like:

“Everyone working on RFID technology has tacitly assumed that the mere act of scanning an RFID tag cannot modify back-end software and certainly not in a malicious way. Unfortunately, they are wrong,” wrote the trio in their research paper.

How many times can you be wrong in ONE sentence?

  1. In fact, simple scans CANNOT modify back-end systems. There’s no way. So-called “SmartLabels” are just data storage devices that respond to radio fields. When a reader hits the tag, the tag echoes back its data. The DoD- and Wal-Mart-mandated tags hold only 96 bits, so we’re not talking about much data, either. By the time a tag read reaches any back-end code, it’s just data.

  2. That said, like any input, RFID input must be validated and examined to prevent overflow attacks, injections, etc. Scanning an RFID tag and naively assuming it’s a safe data source could create trouble — but that’s true of any input. In this regard, RFID is no different than a form on a web page. In many poorly-designed systems, it’s possible to do damage by putting in malicious code in web forms — that’s almost certainly how the old Heathen site got hacked, for example, via a flaw in WordPress. No developer worth a damn will ever assume his inputs are safe, at least in systems like web tools and (yes) RFID. Whole libraries of code exist to isolate data and ensure information gleaned from inputs doesn’t contain exploits. It’s a known problem, and one that all competent people know how to avoid.

That’s why this is a total non-issue. It’s especially stupid that people are saying “virus” here; a virus is actual malicious computer code that knows how to replicate and infect. Here, they’re talking about a system vulnerability and carefully tailored data injection attacks. It’s a security problem (if you’ve hired idiots for your RFID development), but not one that has much at all to do with viruses. You may as well speak of “bar code viruses,” since that makes just as much sense.

In a nutshell, what these fools are whining about — and, apparently, spending a lot of time and money demonstrating — is that under carefully created circumstances, it’s possible for information from a system input (in this case, RFID) to carry a damaging payload if the system assumes the data is known-safe. Way to go! We eagerly anticipate their next study, which probably covers such earthshaking assertions as “you should not give your online banking information to the nice people in Nigera.”

(This isn’t to say there aren’t areas of legitimate concern in the RFID world; just that this story isn’t one of them.)

We’re not there yet, but we can see it from here

Is it middle-aged if, by a quarter to noon on a Saturday, you’ve already:

  • Investigated this (unsuccessfully; it appears to be already gone);
  • Been to Midtown Farmer’s Market for coffee;
  • Picked up dry cleaning;
  • Been to auto parts store;
  • Refilled washer fluid in wife’s car;
  • Replaced wife’s car’s wiper blades;
  • Washed wife’s car;
  • Mowed yard;
  • Watered beginnings of our herb garden; and
  • Taken out the trash?

We will now make up for all this productivity by vacationing in Azeroth for a bit before becoming productive again.

Secret Surveillance Redux

Some of Bush’s lackeys in Congress are trying to do an end run around the FISA laws in order to make sure that the currently illegal domestic spying program becomes legal, and does so retroactively to prevent any embarrassing trials for the felonies being committed daily by the Administration.

The [current] bill also removes the current language language that clearly states that any eavesdropping conducted outside of FISA is illegal.

In its place?

This line: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to limit the constitutional authority of the President to collect intelligence with respect to foreign powers and agents of foreign powers.”