Your phone is spying on you

No, really. CarrierIQ is installed on most Android, Blackberry, and Nokia phones, and reports everything you do upstream to CIQ and, presumably, the carrier. You cannot turn it off, and there is no opt-out provision short of rooting the phone and installing a new OS.

Dept. of Menacing Cuteness

Go check out this MeFi post; it’s video of a guy being sorta played with, sorta stalked by a coyote. Being Canadian, the videographer is unfailingly polite, which is kind of adorable.

It’s not 100% clear to me that this is predation behavior — a man is way bigger than a coyote, so a lone individual probably wouldn’t try to take him down — and the animal’s body language is very, very similar to domestic dog “play” behavior, but it’s still a neat nature encounter.

OOPS!

Alabama is reportedly reconsidering its anti-immigrant law after it resulted in a white German manager for Mercedes getting the third degree instead of, you know, brown people.

Ah, Alabama.

On bullshit rules, and what that means for overall compliance

We are all now quite used to turning off our gadgets during takeoff and landing on airplanes, and most people just plain comply. But it turns out nobody really knows the reason for this rule; it’s still a rule because it’s always been a rule, which is a pretty stupid reason for a rule to persist.

As the linked article points out, it’s completely laughable to think that, on board nearly every flight, there’s not someone who forgot or refused to turn off their Kindle or phone or iPod or tablet during take-off and landing. And yet, as the article also notes, there are ZERO reported incidents related to passenger electronics. None. Nada.

When we have rules that are widely ignored, or that can be ignored because of the essentially zero chance of being caught and suffering reprisals, we weaken the power of rules that actually matter to protect us. Rules need to have good reasons, and those good reasons need to be available for review. Rules without good reasons just breed noncompliance and contempt, which is what is happening with the rules surrounding onboard electronics during takeoff and landing.

What’s hilarious is that despite a growing number of folks pointing out that this rule is bullshit, the airlines are doubling down. In the last year or so, I’ve started hearing the stewardesses insist that the devices be turned ALL THE WAY OFF, as opposed to laptop hibernation or iPhone “airplane mode.” Seriously? Do they really think people will do this? I’ve never ONCE turned my laptop off to fly; sleep’s all they get. My phone and iPad go into airplane mode, not off. My Kindle? You’ve got to be joking. Why bother? Remember, these are the same airlines that have wifi onboard.

On weekends with lots of amateur travelers, I’m sure compliance is high — but among serious road warriors, my guess is that these rules in general are widely ignored — or, if not ignored, then certainly not carefully followed. When it’s obvious there’s no point, why worry about whether or not your tablet is off? My guess is that essentially no frequent traveler bothers with the “completely off” variant at all despite the shrill insistance of the attendants.

Someday, I’ll tell my nieces about how air travel used to be an experience that folks enjoyed, and where the companies involved made everyone feel valued, and where the security measures made sense and had some chance of catching a motivated bad guy. And they, being intelligent young women, won’t believe a word of it.

And here we go

BCS is out, and it is just as we predicted: LSU (1.000) and Alabama (0.9551) are comfortably at the top of the heap, followed by Okie State (0.8712). The Cowboys still have to play the Sooners, which will give them a chance at another statement win, but I’m still kinda looking for OU to win than one; they’re still #10 despite losses to Texas Tech and, hilariously, Baylor.

For their part, LSU still has to play Georgia in the SEC title game, but virtually no one thinks the Bulldogs will be as much of a threat as the Razorbacks were. LSU wins here, they’re in the game. Frankly, their lead is such that they could LOSE the SEC title game and still play for the title.

Alabama has no more games, so the Tide’s fate is in the hands of pollsters — but those pollsters have given them enough of a lead over OSU that even a commanding win over Oklahoma probably won’t be enough to push the Cowboys into the top two. Note that they only moved up this week because of LSU destroying Arkansas, the previous #3.

Bonus: There is a scenario where the SEC gets not only both title game slots but also the traditional Sugar Bowl slot. Sugar gets the SEC champ unless the conference winner is in the title game. If Georgia somehow beats LSU, they’ll go to the Sugar Bowl as the SEC champ — but LSU probably won’t drop below #2, behind (presumably) Alabama, and we’re right back where we started. Heh.

Finally, if all this DOES come to pass, it’ll be the SEC’s sixth straight BCS title, and seventh total:

  • 1998 Season: Tennessee over Florida State
  • 2003: LSU over Oklahoma
  • 2006: Florida over Ohio State
  • 2007: LSU over Ohio State
  • 2008: Florida over Oklahoma
  • 2009: Alabama over Texas
  • 2010: Auburn over Oregon

An LSU-Alabama title game will blow one SEC stat, though: heretofore, it’s been the only conference to never play in and lose the title game — every year it’s sent a contendor, it’s won. If you send both teams, well, them’s the breaks.

Matt Taibbi Explains UC Davis

[...] the frenzied dissolution of due process and individual rights that took took place under George Bush’s watch, and continued uncorrected even when supposed liberal constitutional lawyer Barack Obama took office, has now come full circle and become an important element to the newer political controversy involving domestic/financial corruption and economic injustice.

[...] when we militarized our society in response to the global terrorist threat, we created a new psychological atmosphere in which the use of force and military technology became a favored method for dealing with dissent of any kind.

Glenn Greenwald wrote this week that “when we militarized our society in response to the global terrorist threat, we created a new psychological atmosphere in which the use of force and military technology became a favored method for dealing with dissent of any kind.” Taibbi continues:

Why did that step turn out to be so small? Because of the countless decisions we made in years past to undermine our own attitudes toward the rule of law and individual rights. Every time we looked the other way when the president asked for the right to detain people without trials, to engage in warrantless searches, to eavesdrop on private citizens without even a judge knowing about it, we made it harder to answer the question: What is it we’re actually defending?

In another time, maybe, we might have been able to argue that we were using force to defend the principles of modern Western civilization, that we were “spreading democracy.”

Instead, we completely shat upon every principle we ever stood for, stooping to torture and assassination and extrajudicial detention.

From the very start we unleashed those despotic practices on foreigners, whom large pluralities of the population agreed had no rights at all. But then as time went on we started to hear about rendition and extralegal detention cases involving American citizens, too, though a lot of those Americans turned out to be Muslims or Muslim-sympathizers, people with funny names.

And people mostly shrugged at that, of course, just as they shrugged for years at the insane erosion of due process in the world of drug enforcement. People yawned at the no-knock warrants and the devastating parade of new consequences for people with drug convictions (depending on the state, losing the right to vote, to receive educational aid, to live in public housing, to use food stamps, and so on).

They didn’t even care much about the too-innocuously-named new practice of “civil asset forfeiture,” in which the state can legally seize the property of anyone, guilty or innocent, who is implicated in a drug investigation – a law that permits the state to unilaterally deem property to be guilty of a crime.

Finally:

The UC Davis incident crystallized all of this in one horrifying image. Anyone who commits violence against a defenseless person is lost. And the powers that be in this country are lost. They’ve been going down this road for years now, and they no longer stand for anything.

Just go read the whole thing.

A Friendly Holiday Reminder

There is no such thing as an airline that cares what you think of them as long as your opinion isn’t bad enough to make you go elsewhere. If you don’t fly much at all, they flat don’t care. If you fly a lot, they’re still counting on the fact that many serious travelers live in hubs where shifting carriers is logistical nonstarter even if the service is abominable.

The execs don’t give a shit, and it filters aaaaalllll the way down. Count on it, and assume they’re out to fuck you, and you’ll be much better prepared. There was a time when companies like Continental and Southwest actually did give a shit about customer service, but those days are long gone. Behave, and book, accordingly.

(N.B. that if you work for an organization that shifts from “how can we excel?” to “what will our customer base put up with?”, you’re working for shitheads. CC: The entire banking industry; the entire cell phone industry; the entire consumer electronics retail industry; etc.)

Stay Classy, NASCAR

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden were booed over the weekend when they appeared at a NASCAR function as part of a campaign for military veterans.

Really, you knuckledragging jokers? Booing people working for veterans because they’re married to Democrats? Awesome. Way to confirm all sorts of stereotypes.

The sweet taste of BCS Bedlam

Since before they even played, there’s been talk of Alabama and LSU meeting in the title game for a rematch. Their contest was tight, at least by the numbers — no Alabama fan can be happy with the Tide’s performance and missed opportunities, but the final score of 9-6 in OT is a pretty shocking difference from the numbers either team racked up in the rest of their games.

BCS noticed, and didn’t punish Alabama much for the loss: they fell from #2 to #3, with Oklahoma State in the middle, and it stayed that way after last week. Oregon was at 4, and Oklahoma at 5.

Smart money said Bob Stoops and the Sooners would beat the Cowboys and push Alabama back to #2, but Christmas came early this week in the form of the unranked Iowa State Cyclones — who, even after their upset win, still have a losing record in the Big XII.

Previously 0-56-2 against teams in the top 6 of the AP, the Cyclones managed to push the game into double overtime before winning 37 to 31 in an unusual Friday night game.

But the weirdness wasn’t over yet, not by a long shot.

Earlier today, contender Oregon — who might’ve floated into #2 by a BCS unwilling to entertain an All-SEC title game — got bagged by USC. USC has no BCS rank, since they’re on probation, but AP ranks them at all of #18. In other words, it’s another pretty serious upset, and down go the Ducks because two-loss teams don’t play for championships. (Recall, of course, they lost to LSU in their opener.)

But the best is last: moments ago, #22 Baylor shocked the aforementioned Sooners with their second loss — the first ever win over Oklahoma for Baylor. They join Oregon in the two-loss-loser club, and the pool of legitimate title contenders gets that much smaller.

Who was behind Oklahoma, you ask? Why, the one-loss Arkansas team, naturally — who put a whipping on Mississippi State today, and will be rewarded for it.

Adding to the fun, Clemson collapsed vs. North Carolina State, to the tune of 37 to 13, which drops both Clemson and Virginia Tech, who lost to the Tigers back in October.

Just to lay it out more clearly, then, here’s the BCS going into this week, winners in bold and losers crossed out:

  1. LSU (undefeated)
  2. Oklahoma State (first loss)
  3. Alabama (only loss was to LSU)
  4. Oregon (second loss)
  5. Oklahoma (second loss)
  6. Arkansas (only loss was to Alabama)
  7. Clemson (second loss today)
  8. Virginia Tech (only loss was Clemson on 10/1)
  9. Stanford (still playing Cal, but likely to win)
  10. Boise State (only loss was to then-unranked TCU)

This strongly implies that tomorrow’s BCS standings will start with LSU first, Alabama second, and Arkansas third (followed, I guess, by Stanford, Va. Tech, Boise, and Houston, but it hardly matters at this point).

It’s hard to see any other scenario unless someone puts their thumb on the scale. All three teams have one regular game left: Alabama plays Auburn next week, and Arkansas and LSU play each other. If Alabama and LSU both win — which is the most likely scenario — LSU plays for the SEC title against Georgia or South Carolina, and will win in a walk, but #2 will still be Alabama.

There’s too big of a gap between these three and the rest of the pack to see an easy path to anything but an all-SEC title matchup, which will doubtless send lots of non-Southerners into complete apoplexy. However, this might get us one step closer to a proper playoff in D-1 college football. Finally.

Roll Tide.

Police Power, the Press, and Protests

If you weren’t already enraged about the way police in multiple cities responded to nonviolent protests, then maybe the ongoing and very disturbing approach these cities and police departments are employing to reduce press coverage — and therefore oversight — will be enough to get your attention.

Finally, on the subject of the cops themselves, as always Fred has wise words:

When your actions are lawful, honorable and just, you perform them in the light of day. You have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide. You don’t need to seek out publicity and the camera’s eye, but you have no cause to avoid them because you can be proud of your actions, knowing them to be lawful, honorable and just.

If your actions are such that you perform them in the dark of night, avoiding cameras and witnesses or even employing the threat of force to ensure secrecy, then it is obvious to all — to you and to everyone else — that your actions are not lawful, not honorable and not just.

Black Rapid can pound sand

A couple years ago, I discovered the cross-body sliding-loop camera straps from Black Rapid. It was a mildly novel but obvious riff on the idea of a camera strap, and lots of simliar products have graced the marketplace over the years, but the BR version was well made and well-reviewed. I bought one, and have enjoyed it.

But I will never buy another one, and I encourage everyone in the sound of my voice who is considering a Black Rapid purchase to look elsewhere, too, because they are aggressively using patent chicanery to shut down similar products despite the obviously invalid nature of their “patent”.

Luma Labs, maker of a similar product, document the sad situation, complete with citations of prior art, in an open letter to their customers.

Posted in Pix

The TSA Is Risking Your Health

Nobody likes the pornoscanners. We’ve heard plenty of evidence so far that the TSA has lied or mislead us about their safety, either for travelers OR for their own employees, and the security experts not in the employ of the DHS have repeated pointed out that the scanners don’t actually do much for us — for example, they probably wouldn’t have caught the underwear bomber, and would not catch anyone with C4 stored in the back door area.

Well, now this:

The EU has prohibited their use in European airports.

Opt out. Every time.

Who? Who.

So I’m finally catching up on the Doctor Who revival, and I’ve really, really enjoyed it . . . so far. And by “so far” I mean up through the end of Season 3. I took a bit to warm to David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor after the solid performance Christopher Eccleston gave as the Ninth, but soon enough I realized he was just about the best Doctor ever. (Sorry, Tom).

As long as we’re talking about superlatives, I’ll sign on with everyone else who believes Billie Piper‘s Rose made the best companion since Elisabeth Sladen‘s Sarah Jane Smith — though I’m also very fond of Martha (Freema Agyeman) perhaps the first young female companion with professional training (Martha is, of course, a medical student).

So anyway: one area of serious weakness for me was the Runaway Bride special between series 2 and 3, post-Rose and pre-Martha. The special had the apparently-huge-in-Britain Catherine Tate as Donna Noble, a sort of one-off companion, and holy CRAP was she ever annoying. Frankly, she’s an awful screeching harpy, and I was very, very happy to see her go away at the end of the special.

Except, of course, as more up to date Who fans know, she came back and stayed, and will apparently hang out for the whole of season 4, Tennant’s last run. Two episodes into Season 4 (absolutely the weakest writing yet (the Pompeii episode was particularly awful)) and Donna is still a screaming, awful drag on the entire affair. I love Tennant’s Doctor, but the prospect of ELEVEN more episodes with her is seriously daunting. Wikipedia tells me that we get some parallel, returning companions as part of this season (including the beloved and sadly departed Sladen), which is welcome, but any Donna at all still constitutes Yoko tracks on a perfectly good John Lennon record.

(And yes, I know Pond is coming, but she can’t get here soon enough. I resent Noble’s drag on my Who enjoyment, dammit; there’s a limited amount of this stuff, and making me wish part of it away is really annoying.)

Microsoft: Still Part of the Malware Problem

For years, it was a truism that MSFT operating systems were almost criminally broken when it came to security. There was no point in even arguing it; they just were.

They’ve gotten much, much better. A full up to date installation of XP, even, is reasonably safe if you’re behind a firewall, and Windows 7 is a genuinely nice OS. But in the interim, a whole industry of protection software exploded, most of which sucked.

As part of their ongoing improvement, I guess, Microsoft decided to enter this market themselves with a free tool called Microsoft Security Essentials, and I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the absolute best options on the market. It’s relatively lightweight, doesn’t get in the way of real work (I’m looking at you, Symantec — what you’ve done to Peter Norton’s name should be a crime), and is free. So that’s what my users have at work, and it’s what I use on my Windows 7 VM.

Well, I had to do some modifications of my VM last week, and that ended up convincing my copy of Windows that it’s not genuine. Not sure how that happened, because it completely is, but when I try to “Resolve this online now,” it takes me to an online store at Microsoft.com. Cute.

Even cuter is this:

Screen shot 2011-11-12 at 6.08.21 PM.png

Read that carefully. Apparently, if Windows decides it’s not “genuine” (read: legal), then the security product refuses to protect you. Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot.

Seriously, people, you think THIS is how you’ll quash malware in the Windows world? By not giving a shit what happens to people running pirated versions? Here’s a hint, Redmond: there’s probably more pirated copies than genuine ones, so if you want to generate some herd immunity against viruses, you need to try to cover them all.

Christ.

Holy Crap! Sanity from Texas AND Mississippi in the same week!

Obviously everyone’s aware that my ancestral state voted down a “personhood” amendment on Tuesday, but what kinda snuck in this week in Texas is that we’ve apparently rejected the notion of having any Confederate flag plates available.

This is, predictably, irritating to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which is just fine by me because I’m pretty sure most things that irritate them are good ideas. The flag in question is a symbol of treason, slavery, and postwar terror.

More than you ever wanted to know about the McRib

Seriously, though go read this. It’s fascinating, in a morbid and awful way. Put short, it’s perhaps the apotheosis of the weird logrolling aspect of American food business, wherein perfectly usable food — like fruit, or meat — is processed beyond all recognition to be resold as something much less healthy, useful, or cost-effective so that an entity like McDonald’s can suck more dollars from the consumer. A taste:

Barbecue, while not an American invention, holds a special place in American culinary tradition. Each barbecue region has its own style, its own cuts of meat, sauces, techniques, all of which achieve the same goal: turning tough, chewy cuts of meat into falling-off-the-bone tender, spicy and delicious meat, completely transformed by indirect heat and smoke. It’s hard work, too. Smoking a pork shoulder, for instance, requires two hours of smoking per pound–you can spend damn near 24 hours making the Carolina style pulled pork that the McRib almost sort of imitates.

And for its part, the McRib makes a mockery of this whole terribly labor-intensive system of barbecue, turning it into a capital-intensive one. The patty is assembled by machinery probably babysat by some lone sadsack, and it is shipped to distribution centers by black-beauty-addicted truckers, to be shipped again to franchises by different truckers, to be assembled at the point of sale by someone who McDonald’s corporate hopes can soon be replaced by a robot, and paid for using some form of electronic payment that will eventually render the cashier obsolete.

There is no skilled labor involved anywhere along the McRib’s Dickensian journey from hog to tray, and certainly no regional variety, except for the binary sort–Yes, the McRib is available/No, it is not–that McDonald’s uses to promote the product. And while it hasn’t replaced barbecue, it does make a mockery of it.

The fake rib bones, those porky railroad ties that give the McRib its name, are a big middle finger to American labor and ingenuity–and worse, they’re the logical result of all that hard work. They don’t need a pitmaster to make the meat tender, and they don’t need bones for the meat to fall off–they can make their tender meat slurry into the bones they didn’t need in the first place.

Reached for comment, Nazi Pope Ratz said…

… “Hey, at least we’re not Penn State.”

According to the attorney general’s office, in 2002 a graduate student assistant went to Paterno’s home the day after he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the shower late at night at Lasch Football Building on the Penn State campus. Paterno told Curley the next day.

About 10 days after the incident, Curley and Schultz met with the graduate assistant who had witnessed the abuse. Their executive action, according to the grand jury report: They told Sandusky that he could not bring any children from his foundation into the football building any more.

No one from Penn State — not Paterno, not the human neckties, no one — ever reported the alleged incident to law enforcement, which the grand jury report says is required under Pennsylvania law

The Michigan GOP is objectively pro-bully

No, seriously. They insisted on what amounts to a “safe harbor” provision in an anti-bullying law that protects bullying based on religious beliefs.

[S]ocial conservatives believe that efforts to protect gays from assault, discrimination or bullying impinge on their religious freedom to express and act on their belief that homosexuality is an abomination. That’s stating it harshly, but it is the underlying belief.

What. The. Actual. Fuck.