Dept. of Obvious Realizations That Escaped Us

Via TechDirt: The RIAA hates webcasters, and doesn’t mind if they die, because webcasters don’t play much RIAA music at all. The RIAA would much rather this distribution channel, containing as it does mostly music created outside its cabal, simply vanish. They have no interest in its continued existence.

Traditional radio, of course, is dominated by a few similarly formated stations that all play RIAA-backed music. 87% of the music you hear on the radio is from an RIAA-member record label. However, when it comes to music on webcasts, the story is quite different. Jon Healy, at the LA Times, points out that only 44% of music on webcasts are from RIAA labels. This, at least, based on the findings of Live365, one of the larger webcasting services out there. So, with more than half the songs coming from non-RIAA labels, no wonder they’re less interested in keeping webcasts alive. And, of course, the situation really is a win-win for the RIAA (in the short-term). It either kills off those webcasters who don’t contribute to the homogenization of music, or it forces them to pay large sums even if they only play non-RIAA music. Of course, this is a strategy guaranteed to backfire in the long run, as it simply pisses off even more music fans who will simply look elsewhere for music.

HOWTO: Slip past your company’s IT drones

Chances are, if you work for a company or organization big enough to think filtering your net access is a good idea, your local IT people are about as bright as bags of hair. Fortunately, Lifehacker has some advice on how to deal with clueless but powermad local admins. You know the type.

(Don’t start with me if you read this and think I’m casting aspersions on your technical skills; if you read this, you’re almost certainly not an idiot.)

The War on Prescription Drugs

For some reason, some bureaucrats think they know more about pain management than doctors.

This is a story about a Florida man imprisoned for two years because he possessed pain medication for which he had a prescription. Fortunately, he’s been released:

Tampa’s Mark O’Hara was released from prison this week. He was serving a 25-year sentence for possession of 58 Vicodin tablets. Prosecutors acknowledge he wasn’t selling the drug. They acknowledge that he had a prescription for it. At his trial, two doctors testified they’d been treating O’Hara since the early 1990s for pain related to gout and an automobile accident.

But prosecutors inexplicably brought drug trafficking charges anyway, because as the article explains, “Under the law, simply possessing the quantity of pills he had constitutes trafficking.”

This is simply stunning. The man was sentenced to 25 years for possessing 58 pills for which he had a legal prescription.

Fortunately, the appeals court called the trial “absurd” and tossed the verdict. Now we’ll see what recourse this man has; from the St Pete times:

He sold two condos, his car and his bread business to pay for the appeal. But the state took the proceeds, according to family friend Eric Mastro, to pay toward the $500,000 fine that came with his conviction.

So, the state ruined him on a bullshit charge AND took 2 years of his life because they think his doctor gave him too many Vicodin. Nice. What goatfuckers.

Today’s Medical News

Because, presumably, the original equipment had long since collapsed into a dried, blackened husk, form which neither blood nor emotion could escape.

Things we’re disappointed about

Today, the usually-pretty-savvy LifeHacker covered some very dubious services that purport to give you the ability to edit, recall, or even set expiration/self-destruction dates for your email.

The short answer here, dear Heathen, is that absolutely NONE of these will EVER work in a reliable way on the open Internet. It’s possible, within some corporate email systems (Exchange, Notes) to do this, but that’s because those servers and clients all speak the same proprietary language. On the Internet, you have to play by the global standard rules, and most mail servers see no reason to honor the requests of mail senders to edit, remove, expire, or otherwise molest emails — largely because once you hit send and the mail finds its way to our mailbox, we consider it OURS, not YOURS, and our systems aren’t interested in deleting our stuff on your say-so.

This is the right answer. This is the way these things SHOULD work. Anything else is a security nightmare and shady besides.

We took a look at one such system today: BigString. Note their initials; it’s prophetic. They claim to be able to “un-send” a message, delete a message after the fact, set expiration/auto-deletion dates, track how often a message is read, and a myriad of other things that, in all honesty, cannot be done with Internet email. Curious, we signed up to see how it worked.

As expected, they’re doing this by:

  1. Turning your email text into a graphic;
  2. Hosting that graphic on their server;
  3. Sending a mail message that references, but does not enclose, that graphic.

At this point, you’re reading a web page, not an email. This means that non-graphic-friendly email clients (Windows Mobile, perhaps Treos and Blackberries, etc) won’t be able to read the mail at all, and people with sane security settings on their desktops will have to adjust their mail configuration before they can see anything. That’s charming, right? Anyway, while they claim they can keep recipients from saving or printing these messages, we had no trouble at all dragging the graphic to our desktop to save for later, printing the file, or forwarding the graphic to someone else. (Also, they’re treading into the same dodgy territory as DidTheyReadIt and their ilk, covered previously.)

It’s just not possible to control, and here’s why: your computer has to make a copy of the file to show it to you. You’re not reading it off their server. You’re reading it locally, and once you have it locally, it’s beyond their control.

Put not your trust in these foolish things. Be careful what you put in a mail, and forget giving bozos like BS time or money. Email is as it always was, and attempts to make it jump through hoops like this are doomed to failure.

(Oh, another thing about Big String: it took them nearly and hour to deliver my test message to me, and test messages sent to my test account at BS have yet to arrive, more than an hour later. This suggests they may have bigger issues than a snake-oil product.)

Queen’s Brian May is Smarter Than You

30 years after dropping out of grad school to become a rock and roll star, he’s completing his doctorate in astrophysics at Imperial College London.

LONDON (AP) — Brian May is completing his doctorate in astrophysics, more than 30 years after he abandoned his studies to form the rock group Queen.

The 60-year-old guitarist and songwriter said he plans to submit his thesis, ”Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud,” to supervisors at Imperial College London within the next two weeks.

May was an astrophysics student at Imperial College when Queen, which included Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor, was formed in 1970. He dropped his doctorate as the glam rock band became successful.

Queen were one of Britain’s biggest music groups in the 1970s, with hits including ”Bohemian Rhapsody” and ”We Will Rock You.”

After Mercury’s death in 1991, May recorded several solo albums, including 1998′s ”Another World.” But his interest in astronomy continued, and he co-wrote ”Bang! The Complete History of the Universe,” which was published last year.

He was due to finish carrying out astronomical observations at an observatory on the island of La Palma, in Spain’s Canary Islands, on Tuesday, the observatory said.

May told the British Broadcasting Corp. that he had always wanted to complete his degree.

”It was unfinished business,” he said. ”I didn’t want an honorary Ph.D. I wanted the real thing that I worked for.”

(NYT link, but the full text of the wire story is above.)

Where is the love for Central Time? Or Houston, for that matter?

So, we’re confused by something.

Just now, we’re installing Fedora on a test box in Heathen Labs, and it wanted to know what zone we were in. ZERO US cities in the Central time zone were listed.

This is closely related to an Apple phenomenon, wherein the largest city in Texas (Houston) isn’t listed in their city-picker for anything — though Dallas and Austin are. WTF, people? Do you not look at population data?

John Yoo: Another Lying, Disingenuous Sack of Shit

Over at Salon, Glenn Greenwald takes note of Yoo’s WSJ editorial insisting Bush’s exercise of Executive Privilege is justified, normal, and Constitutional.

First, n.b. who Yoo is:

Yoo is not only willing — but intensely eager — to defend literally anything George W. Bush does or would want to do, including — literally — torturing people and crushing the testicles of children if the Leader decreed that doing so was necessary to fight Terrorists. Yoo, of course, is a principal author of most of the radical executive power theories which have eroded our constitutional framework over the last six years.

So, clearly, he’s a guy with a lot of credibility, right? Well, it gets better. Turns out, this isn’t the first time he’s written publicly on Executive Privilege. Back in 1998, when Clinton attempted to use it during the Lewinsky matter, Yoo wrote another editorial with the exact opposite thesis.

John Yoo, you’d be today’s Official Heathen Douchebag if it weren’t for Gonzales. Maybe Abu will share his prize with you.

Abu Gonzales Is Lying Sack of Shit

Don’t take our word for it. Just go look here, where he quite simply refuses to answer questions. His utter contempt for Congressional oversight is absurd and borderline criminal. Josh lays it out:

It really requires stepping back in this case to take stock of this exchange. Testifying before Congress is like being called to testify in court. You have to answer every question. Every question. You can fudge and say you don’t remember something and see how far you get. Or you can invoke various privileges. And it up to the courts to decide if the invocations are valid. But it’s simply not permitted to refuse to answer the question. It is quite literally contempt of Congress. (Emph. added)

It doesn’t stop there. See more here.

More Secrecy Bullshit

There exist, apparently, buildings you are prohibited from photographing.

The list itself, knowledge of which is a necessary precondition to following the (bullshit) law, is also secret.

We are not making this up.

The bottom line is that McCammon was caught in a classic logical trap. If he had only known the building was off-limits to photographers, he would have avoided it. But he was not allowed to know that fact. “Reasonable, law-abiding people tend to avoid these types of things when it can be helped,” McCammon wrote. “Thus, my request for a list of locations within Arlington County that are unmarked, but at which photography is either prohibited or discouraged according to some (public or private) policy. Of course, such a list does not exist. Catch-22.”

The only antidote to this security mania is sunshine. Only when more and more Americans do as McCammon has done and take the time and effort to chronicle these excesses and insist on answers from authorities will we stand a chance of restoring balance and sanity to the blend of liberty and security that we are madly remixing in these confused times.

Look, people: any time there are secret laws, or secret evidence, or secret trials, you’re fucked. The whole idea of any of those things is blatantly anti-American, anti-freedom, and anti-democracy. Governments MUST exist in an inspect-able, transparent state.

(Via BB.)

Dept. of Excellent Summarizing Metaphors

This has apparently been around for a long, long time, but it’s new to us. The author, one Jeff Bigler, attempts to explain the sort of weird apparent courtesy mismatch that sometimes happens between nerds and regular people. His theory is that everyone has a tact filter; it’s just that regular people use theirs when they speak, and nerds use theirs when they listen. Here’s the whole text, reproduced in accordance with the copyright notice on his page.

All people have a “tact filter”, which applies tact in one direction to everything that passes through it. Most “normal people” have the tact filter positioned to apply tact in the outgoing direction. Thus whatever normal people say gets the appropriate amount of tact applied to it before they say it. This is because when they were growing up, their parents continually drilled into their heads statements like, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!”

“Nerds,” on the other hand, have their tact filter positioned to apply tact in the incoming direction. Thus, whatever anyone says to them gets the appropriate amount of tact added when they hear it. This is because when nerds were growing up, they continually got picked on, and their parents continually drilled into their heads statements like, “They’re just saying those mean things because they’re jealous. They don’t really mean it.”

When normal people talk to each other, both people usually apply the appropriate amount of tact to everything they say, and no one’s feelings get hurt. When nerds talk to each other, both people usually apply the appropriate amount of tact to everything they hear, and no one’s feelings get hurt. However, when normal people talk to nerds, the nerds often get frustrated because the normal people seem to be dodging the real issues and not saying what they really mean. Worse yet, when nerds talk to normal people, the normal people’s feelings often get hurt because the nerds don’t apply tact, assuming the normal person will take their blunt statements and apply whatever tact is necessary.

So, nerds need to understand that normal people have to apply tact to everything they say; they become really uncomfortable if they can’t do this. Normal people need to understand that despite the fact that nerds are usually tactless, things they say are almost never meant personally and shouldn’t be taken that way. Both types of people need to be extra patient when dealing with someone whose tact filter is backwards relative to their own.

(Text copyright © 1996, 2006 Jeff Bigler.)

Your Friday Dose of Surreal Redneckism

From a discussion on a mailing list regarding the construction of parabolic microphones:

Well first, you gots ta get yerself a parabola. Parabolas mostly come out at night. Mostly. Try putting some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches under the shrubbery and then when you hear them rustling around under there, start beating those bushes real hard with a broom and screamin’ “Hoo Waaaaa! Hoo Waaaa!” The parabola will keel over from fright then you can grab it and wring it’s neck. Don’t wring it too hard, though, cause then you’ll have a hyperbola on your hands, and they ain’t really good for nothing. Then you’re gonna want to take a good knife and carefully peel off the outer layer. Now most people would throw that away, but if you want some real good eating, take it and deep fry it in some hot peanut oil with a few jalapano peppers thrown in. Mmmm, mmmm, that’s good stuff right there. After that, all you have to do is jam a microphone up the parabola’s ass and point it at what you want to listen to. Just last week I turnt mine on and heard my brother and his wife three trailers over doing the weekly deed, if you know what I mean…

This, dear readers, is what happens to smart people in the South. The good ones, anyway. Inshallah.

George, you’re not a king. Get over it.

From WaPo, as reported in TPM:

Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.

In other words, he’s asserting that he can short-circuit any such investigation on his own say-so, and that, essentially, he and his branch are not answerable to Congress. More:

Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University who has written a book on executive-privilege issues, called the administration’s stance “astonishing.”

“That’s a breathtakingly broad view of the president’s role in this system of separation of powers,” Rozell said. “What this statement is saying is the president’s claim of executive privilege trumps all.”

Somebody needs to smack this crap down with a quickness. That just won’t do. Harry Reid, we’re looking at you.

Open Source Runs the World

Joey makes some great points over at GlobalNerdy. He starts with this Paul Graham quote:

At this point, anyone proposing to run Windows on servers should be prepared to explain what they know about servers that Google, Yahoo, and Amazon don’t.

It’s still very true. The balance of his post is a rundown of named “Web 2.0″ firms, together with their apparent server choices. It is Linux, not Windows, that runs Reddit, Digg, Del.icio.us, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube, Photobucket, Wikipedia, and a long list of others. The only top-tier site surveyed on Windows is MySpace, which explains the site’s legendary instability.

If you’re a geek, you should know all of these

Global Nerdy summarizes the major Laws of Software Development. Yes, Greg, Brooks is there.

(Brooks, for the nonnerdy among you, is Fred Brooks, who wrote (in 1975!) The Mythical Man Month, one of the seminal texts on software development. In it, he formalized his eponymous law: Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. It is counterintuitive, disturbing to management, and absolutely true.)

Bush: More evil than previously thought

Check out this Executive Order, and note how the words “5th Amendment” and “due process” do not occur despite the fact that the order purports to give the Secretary of the Treasury authority to freeze the assets of anyone who “undermines” efforts in Iraq. This determination may be made secretly, and need not happen before the freeze. (Really. See Section 6.)

N.B. that “undermines” is not defined.

More coverage at The Guardian; that it’s nowhere in the American press is, of course, due to our “liberal” media.

Dear Jackoff Legislators Promulgating the Meth Menace Idea: Fuck off

From MeFi, find this charming bit of news:

Detective Brian Lewis returns to his desk after lunch, scanning e-mails he missed.

One catches his eye: It says a suspected member of a methamphetamine ring bought a box of Sudafed at

Minutes later, Lewis is in his truck, circling the parking lot, searching for the woman.

Frankly, as one MeFi poster put it, we consider the lack of Sudafed worse than the presence of meth. There will always be drugs. Period. Back before Dennis Miller became a douchebag neocon, he noted well that if all drugs vanished tomorrow, people would spin in circles in their front yard trying to see God. There’s a drug problem IN PRISONS, for the love of Mike (hi, Mike), so what makes anyone with half a brain think that annoying millions of allergy sufferers is going to have any meaningful impact on the ability of the motivated to create meth? Even the clerks know it’s bullshit: we’ve had them suggest that Mrs Heathen buy one of our boxes when we’ve been over the daily limit.

Now, in addition to the bullshit at the pharmacy, we find that cops — and cops NEVER misuse their power — are apparently able to track individual purchases, literally inspecting our sundries before we’ve even left the fucking parking lot. That’s unacceptable.

At least we know who the bad guys are:

CVS, the nation’s largest pharmacy chain, is participating in the voluntary Kentucky program and plans to install MethCheck in most of its 6,200 stores across the country by the fall.

We plan to do as much shopping as possible in venues that do not “voluntarily” comply with state efforts to track the legal purchases of private citizens. You should, too.

Dept. of mildly disturbing developments

There’s a small story on the net this week about the FBI cracking a bomb-threat hoaxer over the Internet. The kid made false threats about bombs in his high school and got caught, and is now serving 90 days in juvie.

None of that is disturbing. Stupid kid, stupid idea, but mild sentence because, well, he’s a kid. In this climate, he’s lucky he didn’t get sent to Gitmo, given that the Executive has made clear it believes it can do anything it wants to anybody it wants, but that’s not what this post was about.

The kid was taken up in what’s been called the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, which basically means online anonymity makes people act like assholes sometimes. He’d managed to get access to a compromised computer in Italy, which is where he was sending his threat mails from. This implies he was using a botnet, or at least had access to one. Again, not surprising. However, here’s where the story gets weird, and raises some legitimate questions.

The FBI sought and got permission to install, via messaging, a virus on the kid’s computer to aid their sleuthing. It was this virus that allowed them to find the kid. The questions this raises are interesting:

  • How’d they get their virus on his computer?
  • Why didn’t the kid’s anti-virus/anti-spyware tools catch the Feds’ virus?

The first answer is more or less apparent in the article; it got there via some messaging protocol, probably email. Everybody knows Windows is a joke security-wise, but most folks — even kids — have the message at this point that clicking weird shit you get in email is a bad idea. So there’s still some mystery here. Perhaps the Feds did just assume he’d be running IE and Outlook; it’s not out of the question.

The second answer is scarier. We can assume the kid had at least some technical knowledge, since he was using a botnet, so why didn’t his AV software catch the Feds? The possibilities are that either the Feds know about a Windows exploit nobody else knows about (either because they found it and are mum, or because someone built them a back door), or they’ve strong-armed AV makers into whitelisting their pet virus.

In the first case, they’re compromising everyone’s security by sitting on an exploit they think is theirs alone. It’s the responsibility of everyone in computing to alert software makers when flaws are found; the stakes on nefarious intrusion get higher every day, and the notion that this exploit will remain the exclusive province of law enforcement is simply laughable.

In the second case, it’s much creepier. If we paid Norton for a package to protect our machine from malware, we don’t want them to be in the business of whitelisting spybots just because the government says they’re ok. Either detect everything we might not want on the PC, or don’t represent yourself as protection. “Trust the government not to misbehave” is a nonstarter, as is the old “nothing to hide” argument.

Anyway, News.com surveyed several AV makers this week, and all said it was their “general policy to detect police spyware. Some, however, indicated they would obey a court order to ignore policeware, and neither McAfee nor Microsoft would say whether they’d received such a court order.”

The implications are clear: You cannot trust commercial malware-detection vendors. We know trusting governments is a bad idea. The only real option is to use a real secure OS — something Unix-based — and seek open-source solutions to security problems. We doubt the Open Source community will be particularly compliant when the cops come calling for backdoors or whitelists.

Our “liberal” media

So, if you’ve been paying attention, you know that there’s been some fun in the Senate in the last 24 hours. Basically, the GOP signaled its intent to prevent a vote on a measure calling for troop withdrawal with a filibuster. In modern times, the filibuster is usually not carried through a la Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; the intent is usually enough, the outcome assumed, and the next move made by the non-filibustering party.

Well, this time it’s different. Reid stated he’d hold the Senate open all night, forcing Republicans to actually DO the filibuster in order to prevent a vote on the troop measure. This is well within the playbook, and is in no way an underhanded move. However, the press is utterly failing to report this accurately, and has on more than one occasion suggested it was the Democrats who were filibustering. Diane Sawyer even claimed that it was Reid who “vowed to filibuster.” Reid can’t filibuster, since he’s in the majority here. Let’s set the record straight.

From MediaMatters:

On July 11, Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) proposed an amendment to the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2008 (H.R. 1585) calling for troop redeployment from Iraq to begin within 120 days. On July 16, Senate Republicans blocked the Democratic leadership’s effort to schedule an up-or-down vote on the amendment. In response, Reid scheduled a July 18 cloture vote on the amendment, which would require a 60-vote supermajority to cut off debate on the measure. On the Senate floor, Reid criticized the Republicans for “using a filibuster to block us from even voting on” the amendment and announced his intention to extend the debate on the measure through the night on July 17 in order to “highlight Republican obstruction.” From his statement:

REID: But now, Republicans are using a filibuster to block us from even voting on an amendment that could bring the war to a responsible end. They are protecting the President rather than protecting our troops. They are denying us an up or down — yes or no — vote on the most important issue our country faces.

I would like to inform the Republican leadership and all my colleagues that we have no intention of backing down. If Republicans do not allow a vote on Levin-Reed today or tomorrow, we will work straight through the night on Tuesday. The American people deserve an open and honest debate on this war, and they deserve an up-or-down vote on this amendment to end it.

Given the Republican leadership’s decision to block the amendment, we have no choice but to do everything we can in the coming days to highlight Republican obstruction. We do this in hopes of ultimately getting a simple up-or-down vote on this and other important amendments that could change the direction of the war.

A 2003 Congressional Research Service report on “Filibusters and Cloture in the Senate” defined filibustering as “any use of dilatory or obstructive tactics to block a measure by preventing it from coming to a vote.” While senators once routinely mounted filibusters by holding extended debates on the Senate floor, it is more common now for the Senate to recognize filibusters merely through cloture votes. If a cloture motion fails to get 60 votes, debate continues and the measure does not move to the floor for an up-or-down vote. By calling an all-night session, Reid is forcing opponents of the withdrawal plan to sustain the filibuster by actually speaking on the floor.

So, bottom line: The Democrats want to vote on a troop withdrawal measure favored by wide margins, if poll after poll is to be believed, and the GOP minority are hell-bent on keeping this measure from reaching a vote, because it will PASS. They planned to filibuster, and Reid made them actually execute on it rather than just threaten.

Moral: Stock up on batteries. And shotguns.

We may have covered this before, but Mrs Heathen was wondering “how long will the power last in the event of a catastrophic mankind-eliminating event?”

Well, this is awful close to Straight Dope’s answer to “When the zombies take over, how long ’til the electricity fails?” Cecil covers both sudden and gradual zombification. Sadly, the answer in both cases is “not very long,” though obviously we do rather better in a gradual scenario. Coal plants require nearly constant activity to keep creating power[1], and they form a big chunk of the grid. Add to this the inter-relatedness of the whole affair, and you can see how the failure of a few coal-fired plants could bring down entire regions, if not more.

[1. Yes, we know they're not "creating power." They're actually converting matter to energy. Shut up.]

More TSA Stupidity

BoingBoing points us to the story of the Menacing Battery Charger. Briefly, a man used a kit to build a two-D-cell charger for his iPod so he could watch more videos on his iPod when flying. TSA goons freak out because “it looks like an IED,” despite thorough checks yielding no trace of explosive residue. They also attempt to confiscate his laser pointer. Police are called, TSA is smacked down, and the writer notes the terrible truth of the situation:

They wouldn’t have grasped that the spare battery for my laptop was far more dangerous than the iPod charger. A dead short of the MintyBoost! would produce a little heat (maybe 4 watts total), a dead short of the laptop battery would likely cause an explosion of the battery…. and I had two of them fully charged.

He continues:

A handful of people with no knowledge of physics, engineering, or pyrotechnics are responsible for determining what is and what is not safe to bring on a plane. They’re paid minimum wage and told to panic if they see something they don’t recognize. Does this make me feel safer?

(We need to get one of these chargers, TSA trouble or no. Sounds like a great device.)