Forget EGOT. The new hotness is MacPEGOT.

What’s EGOT? It’s when you’ve won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. That’s a rarefied group — think Richard Rodgers, or Rita Moreno, or Audrey Hepburn, or Mel Brooks.

What’s a MacPEGOT? It’s an EGOT winner who’s also bagged the MacArthur and the Pulitzer, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is well on his way.

  • Miranda won two Tonys in 2008, for his first musical In the Heights.

  • He picked up his first Grammy the next year, for the show’s soundtrack album, and then got another this year, for the soundtrack to Hamilton.

  • He wrote a song (with Tom Kitt) for the Tony Awards in 2014, and won an Emmy for it.

  • And, of course, this year he’s picked up the MacArthur and the Pulitzer.

Turns out, the only one he doesn’t have is an Oscar. But he’s doing the music for an upcoming Disney animated feature (“Moana”), and a filmed adaptation of Hamilton seems inevitable, so…

Oh, we should probably mention that “MacPEGOT” isn’t actually a thing yet, because no one’s done it. (Only Richard Rodgers and Marvin Hamlisch have added the Pulitzer to their EGOT.)

(There’s obviously a Wikipedia page about the EGOT, which helpfully includes lists of folks with 3 of the 4 EGOT awards.)

Dept. of Turnabout-Is-Fair-Play

You may or may not be aware of the fact that Antoine Fuqua is remaking the 1960 classic The Magnificient Seven; he’s pulled together a hell of a cast for this retread — Denzel, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, D’Onofrio — but at the end of the day it still makes me ask “um, why?”

However, in discussion of this on Facebook, something actually interesting cropped up. I’m assuming anyone reading this is aware that the original Magnificent Seven was itself a US retelling of Akira Kurosawa‘s 1954 film Seven Samurai. Remakes are one thing, but cross-cultural adaptations can actually be interesting.

Such adaptations are mostly east to west, at least heretofore, but turns out, Japanese cinema can do it, too. In 2013, they made an adaptation of Eastwood’s 1992 Oscar-winner. Ken Watanabe stars; it’s also called Unforgiven, at least in English (in Japan, it’s apparently “Yurusarezaru Mono”).

Here’s the trailer:

I think I need to see this.

So, I did a thing again.

In cycling, we talk about the “century” ride, which is 100 miles. The first day of the MS150 has three starting points, so you can choose your own level of difficulty. If you start in Waller, you do 75 miles. If you start in Katy, it’s 85. And if you start at Tully Stadium on the west side of Houston proper, your first day is a century.

When I did my first MS150 in 2013, that’s where I started, and on that day I notched my first century since the Reagan administration. I rode from there in 2014, too, on my second MS; here’s the summary of that ride:

Screen Shot 2016 04 17 at 12 45 51 PM

My time two years ago was better than my time in 2013, but not substantially so. After that ride, I got much more serious about cycling. I started going to regular rides with people who’d kick my ass, and I got strong enough to hang with them. I lost more weight. I even bought a fancy new bicycle to facilitate go-fast behavior. I averaged in excess of 100 miles per week for most of the year.

Then, of course, there was the crash. In November of 2014, I had a little mishap that resulted in pretty serious broken bone, surgery, two hospital stays, and the inability to walk for three months. I was off the bike for six months, and I was weak as hell when I got back on it.

But I kept at it.

And here we are. Yesterday, I rode my first century since day one of the 2014 MS150.

Screen Shot 2016 04 17 at 12 46 08 PM

I’m still not a speed demon, but I’m pretty damn happy about turning in a post-injury time over an hour faster than my 2014 effort. I’m not super excited about yesterday’s performance; I didn’t feel particularly strong, and felt like I was capable of better — maybe it was nutrition, or a failure to taper properly; I dunno. But I’m happy about the trendline. And I couldn’t possibly be more thankful for the people who helped me get here: Erin, first and foremost; my team at Karbach Brewing; and my friends from my Tuesday/Thursday rides.

Now: when’s the next ride?

(PS: If you’d like, it’s still possible to donate to the 2016 MS150; this is my fundraising link — I’d be much obliged!)

Remember my post about Mississippi?

Well, Talking Points Memo has noticed the same thing:

The economy in Mississippi is different from those many other states that have recently addressed legislation impacting the LGBT community. The state, which has one of the lowest GDPs in the country, is not home to any Fortune 500 companies, lacks a significant tech sector, and has no major pro sports teams.

With relatively nascent LGBT movement, Mississippi was not ripe for the kind of backlash the country has seen recently in Georgia and North Carolina, where Atlanta and Charlotte house major national corporations, more established LGBT communities, and cosmopolitan attitudes. Mississippi has no major metropolitan area.

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, a LGBT advocacy group that does work in Mississippi and North Carolina, told TPM that Mississippi lacks the “nexus where the corporate world meets the political world meets the cultural world” that exists in states like Georgia and North Carolina.

[...]

“The political climate in Mississippi remains quite conservative on the whole. We are seeing increasing levels of support for LGBT issues around the kitchen table and anecdotally in families, but when you look at, say the public discourse say around the Confederate flag issue, I think that’s a very accurate barometer of how conservative the rhetoric and discourse in the public square continues to be in Mississippi,” Beach-Ferrara told TPM.

In which I’m nerdy about keyboards

So I have a great keyboard, but it turns out one of the things that I really love about it — fantastic mechanical switches that feel really nice under my fingers — also makes it kind of loud, and even though I work at home, turns out I’m on the phone a LOT. And even though I use a headset most of the time, the Kinesis is clickyclacky enough that people ask me to mute ALL THE DAMN TIME.

Well, since the Kinesis — which was a gift from a pro bono client ten years ago, which shocks the hell out of me; who makes keyboards that last ten years? — really needs some TLC, I figured I’d try out one of the more well-reviewed other ergo keyboards in the interim: the Microsoft Sculpt.

Yeah, I know. But, turns out, lots of Mac nerds love it, and it’s cheap (or, at least, it’s cheap compared to the Kinesis, and so now I’m typing this on one.

It’s true: key feel is, while inferior to the mechanicals on the Kinesis, still far better than I’d expected. But it’s a different beast. All ergo keyboards have some idiosyncrasies; my Kinesis has for years been the functional equivalent of typing on an RPN calculator. Guests just can’t use it. But it’s not just the radical shape of the thing — even though the keys are essentially in a standard Qwerty layout, the modifiers are all over the place. I’ve been hitting enter with my right thumb for a decade.

Space is there, too. Backspace and delete are under your left thumb. Control, command, and alt are thumb keys on the Kinesis layout, too. That’s not all, either; the arrow keys are split between left and right (below the bottom row on the left) and up and down (same position on the right). To describe the Kinesis as eccentric is to understate things rather dramatically, but holy hell is it comfortable once you get the hang of it. (Obviously, all this assumes a pretty complete committement to touch-typing; the last time I checked, I was somewhere north of 90 words per minute.)

Microsoft’s entry here is almost quotidian compared to my Old Reliable. It’s still goofy compared to a flat keyboard, but it’s far closer to the norm than the Kinesis. It’s got a normal (but split) spacebar. The arrows are in an inverted T on the right, as you’d expect. The biggest shocks for me, in terms of adaptation, are doubtless to be

  • The placement of control/command/option on either side of the space bar, which isn’t terribly comfortable, and is especially hostile to the motions I’ve learned on the Kinesis for Cmd-Tab and such; and
  • The utterly baffling choice they’ve made with the number row.

Of the second point, let me explain. On the old keyboard the split was logical: 1-5 on the left and 6-0 on the right. This allows the keyboard to be used just as a traditional touch typist would, and it’s a critical thing.

Microsoft has, once again, gone its own way for no discernible reasons (and have apparently been doing this since their first “Natural” keyboard back in the 1990s). The numbers are unbalanced; the left hand handles 1 through 6, with 7-0 on the right. This might seem like a minor change, but as I noted it’s like nails on a chalkboard for anyone that actually knows how to type.

Plus, numbers aren’t the end of it — obviously, if the number row is shifted left, so too are the shifted versions of those keys; shift-8 is asterisk on most any keyboard, but now the eight and the asterisk are in the wrong spot. Plus the keys to the right of zero are now in the wrong spot, too (hyphen/underscore and plus/equals).

It’s a little thing, but it may well be enough to have me send this thing back. I can’t even fix it with remapping software, because there aren’t enough keys on the top row to shift things right (backspace is to the right of plus/equals).

The tl;dr here is that yeah, once again, I’ve run into a place where Microsoft subverts an agreed-upon standard for no good goddamn reason. What IS it with those guys?

No, YOU’RE a two-rotor wankel

Even people who aren’t gearheads tend to be at least provisionally aware that the Mazda RX-7 and RX-8 used a very different sort of engine than pretty much every other car. While the rest of the auto world had long since settled on a piston-and-cylinder design, the RX cars used something else: the Rotary or Wankel engine.

I knew this, too, and even had a vague idea how it actually worked — just a lot MORE vague than my understanding of conventional cylinder engines. However, if you’re curious, this excellent video runs down exactly how rotaries work by walking you through the actual parts involved (in this case, from a 1985 Rx-7). It’s pretty awesome.

You may have also noticed that, well, not only were the Mazda RX cars the only cars to use these things, but not even Mazda makes them anymore. Why is that? Well, fortunately, the same guy also made a video about why the rotary engine is dead. Again, I knew some of this, but not the underlying causes for them. Great, very accessible work here.

The tl;dr here, though, is kind of simple: because of the way the engine works, there’s an irregularly shaped combustion chamber, and that leads to inefficient combustion. A rotary is absolutely going to end up emitting unburnt fuel, which is terrible for fuel economy and terrible for emissions. The problem is exasperated by the fact that combustion only happens on one side of the chamber, which leads to enormous temperature differentials, which leads to problems in sealing, which means inefficient combustion, which means bad emissions and bad fuel economy again.

But watch the videos. He explains is really well.

Mississippi, Goddamn.

I grew up in Mississippi. It’s not a secret; most people know this about me. It’s also not a secret that I left as soon as I was able. I always knew that I would. I attended college out of state, and have made my home in Texas since soon after college. Mississippi was never an option for me.

I cannot say their governor’s enthusiastic adoption of a discrimination bill surprises me at all; that ship has sailed. Once the issue was raised, there was never any doubt in my mind that Mississippi would lead the pack rushing to adopt such a measure. Sure, other states did it, too, but the Magnolia State was right in the thick of it.

Then some interesting things happened. In Georgia, the governor — realizing just exactly what a shitstorm their bill would produce in terms of litigation costs and lost revenue — vetoed the measure, and reasonable people in that state breathed a sigh of relief.

Not so in North Carolina, where the aggressively retrograde governor beat Mississippi to the punch by approving a law perhaps even worse than Mississippi’s. As anyone with two brain cells could predict, the reactions were swift and furious. The law will absolutely not survive challenge on Constitutional grounds, but they’re already losing millions in tax revenue. PayPal cancelled a planned office there. Film and television productions are relocating. More costs will follow. Eventually, those costs, together with the growing litigation bill, will force the law in North Carolina off the books — perhaps even sooner than later, and perhaps even without a Federal court ruling. There are enough people there who will stand against bigotry. There are enough business interests who realize that hate isn’t a good business plan.

This is exactly why I find the Mississippi development more horrifying than the North Carolina one: North Carolina will reap the whirlwind and likely correct course. Mississippi will not, because they have very little to lose.

They do HAVE some industrial investment — Nissan has a factory north of Jackson, for example — but the kinds of investments that the tarheels are now losing really don’t consider Mississippi very often, and the ones that do aren’t the PayPals of the world because there’s no tech corridor to join.

With no immediate and obvious financial repercussions, it’ll stay on the books until it’s litigated away, which will take years (and millions that state doesn’t have). And when that inevitable happens and the law is struck down, the bigots there will moan and cry about “activist judges” or some shit, and the whole aggrieved idiot class will count themselves martyrs, and in the meantime more and more companies will have investigated Mississippi — land IS cheap, and cost of living IS low — and then passed them over because of the law, the workforce available, the lack of amenities in the metro areas, the more appealing locations in Alabama or Georgia or whatever, etc.

I’ve wondered, ever since I left, what it would take for Mississippi to make a real and substantive recovery, and leave the bottom of every list that matters. I even had hope about it at one point. Not any more, though; the leadership there is aggressively telling every smart kid with options that it is not the place for them, especially if they’re gay or trans or even a little weird. (I mean, good CHRIST I was a white, straight, upper-middle class preppy kid BORN THERE, and I never felt especially welcome 30 years ago. And it’s worse now.)

The Mississippi GOP has decided bigotry is a hill they’re willing to die on — they’re keeping the Treason Flag, and they want EVERYBODY to know how much they hate the queers, and that it’s legally okay to do so. I have no fucking idea how they pull out of this. I really, really don’t. It looks like a death spiral, which breaks my heart because I have family there, many of whom cannot leave for various reasons.

Bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon and bacon.

This excellent commercial for a British film download service stars Kevin Bacon, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Bacon, and Kevin Bacon. Enjoy:

(I think the best part is that the jerk — who turns 58 this summer — has aged so well he can plausibly reprise characters from 1980 (when he was 22), 1984, 1992, 1995, and 2000 in one commercial and have them all be immediately recognizable.)

Whatever else he is, J. J. Abrams is an enthusiastic nerd

He’s been instrumental in getting Don Coscarelli’s late-70s cult horror film Phantasm restored and released on Blu-Ray and DVD, on account of BIG FAN. Coscarelli:

It started a loooong long time ago in a graveyard far, far away. J.J. Abrams called up, oh, about 12 years ago, back when he still doing TV stuff. I didn’t know who he was. He said “I’m a TV producer, and I love Phantasm.” And we started talking about it. In fact, at the time, I think we were finishing up Bubba Ho-Tep. And I got a little trouble with the editing process, and I was having trouble making that movie come together. And I brought it over and showed it to him and we hung out and he was a real cool guy. And, over the years, from time to time we stayed in touch. I introduced him to Angus Scrimm [ed. note: the "Tall Man" villain in Phantasm], and he ended up putting Angus into a recurring role on his Alias TV series. Angus really appreciated that and really enjoyed it.

Flash-forward to about a year and a half ago, I got another call from J.J. and he wanted to screen Phantasm for his workers over at his company Bad Robot. And I told him that the only choice he really had was my scratched-up old 35mm print, or the standard-def DVD. Those weren’t really great choices, so he said “Oh, we gotta fix that!” So he put [me] in touch with their head of post-production, a guy named Ben Rosenblatt, and he came up with this plan as to how to restore the movie efficiently. So that’s how it started.

I’m not really a horror fan, and I’m no fan of Abrams, but this is a cool story.

Just how fucked up IS North Carolina?

The “small government” Republicans in the state legislature have passed an omnibus “hate bill” in response to a Charlotte ordinance protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination that produced whole host of horrors in addition to rolling back those protections:

But the legislation introduced and passed into law by the General Assembly yesterday didn’t simply roll back that ordinance. It implemented a detailed state-wide regulation of public restrooms, and limited a person’s use of those restrooms to only those restrooms that correspond with one’s “biological sex,” defined in the new state law as the sex identified on one’s birth certificate. (So yes, by law in NC now, transgender porn star Buck Angel (look him up) will have to use the women’s room…isn’t that precisely what these lawmakers are actually wanting to prevent?).

But the legislation didn’t stop there. It also expressly pre-empted all municipal and county ordinances or policies broader than the official state anti-discrimination statute, which does not include sexual orientation or gender identity among the list of prohibited bases of discrimination. So that effectively wipes out local LGBT anti-discrimination protections in numerous NC cities (and, ironically, wipes out the protection of discrimination based on “veterans status” in Greensboro and Orange County (Chapel Hill)).

But wait, there’s more. The legislation also expressly states that there can be no statutory or common law private right of action to enforce the state’s anti-discrimination statutes in the state courts. So if a NC resident is the victim of racial discrimination in housing or employment, for example, that person is now entirely barred from going to state court to get an injunction, or to get damages of any kind. The new law completely defangs the state’s anti-discrimination statute, rendering it entirely unenforceable by the citizens of the state.

But wait, there’s more! The legislation also prohibits municipalities and counties from passing a higher minimum wage than the State’s. Not that any municipality or county had done that…but in case any of them were thinking about it, that’s now prohibited, too.

The GOP is, absolutely, the party of discrimination and hate. They don’t even try to hide it anymore.

As if you needed MORE proof that Jerry Jones is a shitstain of a human being

Jerry Jones: Link between CTE and football ‘absurd’.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called the connections between CTE and football “absurd” on Tuesday.

Jones told reporters there was not enough data to establish a relationship between the degenerative brain disease, linked to repeated hits to the head, and the game of football.

Last week, NFL senior vice president for health and safety Jeff Miller said that there was “certainly” a link between football and CTE, which has been found in the brains of numerous former professional football players postmortem.

Look, if you’re behind the fucking NFL on an issue like this, that ought to be a warning, you know?

“Chicken staff meetings, chicken progress reports, chicken analytics, chicken sprint review”

My Well-acquaintance Laura decided to try her hand at making real coq au vin, which, as you may or may not be aware, assumes a mature cock.

The one key thing that is generally understood about traditional Coq au Vin, however, was that it was supposed to be made with a farmyard rooster (hence the “coq” (cock) – and not “poulet” (chicken)).

The chickens we buy in parts in the supermarket today are no more than a couple months old, and they don’t move much in their short lives. That’s why they are so tender. They are still babies.

The traditional coq au vin recipe involves braising a rooster in wine and stock for a really long time to break down the tough meat and connective tissue and to soften it up. That long braising time is how you actually make an old rooster edible. The long braising time also reduces and enriches the wine sauce. The long time to cook is part of the entire point.

As it happened, though, Laura had a big ol’ cock on hand, and so she was off to the races. This is a fun read, but it also makes me want to find a source for mature birds and try it myself.

Here’s something interesting…

Well, to me, anyway.

You’ve all played pool on a coin-op table in a bar, obviously. Did you ever wonder how the table knows which ball is the cue ball? It has to be able to tell somehow, because after every scratch during play it returns the cue instead of trapping it with the object balls.

Turns out, there’s two ways.

One method involves a big-ass magnet and requires the cue contain enough iron for the magnet to pull it to one side and change its pathway inside the table. That’s pretty neat. (Click through; there’s video.)

The other method involves a cue ball that is fractionally bigger (2 and 3/8 inches vs the standard 2 and 1/4) than the object balls, and uses a slightly different mechanism to do the segregation that’s perhaps a bit easier to imagine since it’s size based.

This information has implications, though.

First, it means that home or premium table cue balls won’t work on coin-op tables, because in those sets (a) all the balls are the same size and (b) none of them contain iron.

Second, a bar owner who needs a new cue ball for his table will also need to know which kind of mechanism his table has, because there two types of cue balls and the iron one won’t work on a table that expects an off-size cue, and vice versa.

Interestingly, the first several billiard supply shops I found online didn’t even deal with coin-op cue balls; they were all about the home or premium market. I assume this is because a bar owner (or similar) is dealing with some local amusement vendor and not the Internet most of the time, whereas folks searching for “pool table supplies” online are looking to outfit their own billiard room.

No idea why this information charms me so much, but there it is. (Also: Magnets!)

Maybe you’re confused. It’s everywhere, but what IS it?

Hamilton is pretty much on fire, but I admit I wasn’t really receptive until the JoCoCruise. I had apparently even skipped the New Yorker article last February about Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Off-Broadway production (which you should track down and read, because it’s amazing, too.)

Anyway. That article mentioned the origin of the show: basically, Miranda got obsessed with Hamilton after reading Ron Chernow‘s biography, and started working on material. The first public airing of the work was the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and Spoken Word — in 2009.

Well, dear reader, you’re in luck; the piece then called “The Hamilton Mixtape” was taped. Here you go. First taste is free.

Actually, it’s the first TWO tastes, because for the Grammys they took a live feed from the theater to show the Grammy audience the first number of an actual performance of the show on Broadway. So here’s what that song became five years later. The lyrics are mostly the same; the biggest difference is that instead of all being from Burr, it’s split up between Burr, Laurens, Jefferson, Madison, Eliza, and Washington.

Make Time.

(Seriously, the embedded link is like watching that old footage of Prince playing “Purple Rain” for the first time. It’s amazing.)

My favorite part is the reference to a “Writ of Duh”

Over at the Atlantic, Garrett Epps explains the metric smackdown the tantrum-throwing Alabama Supreme Court was just handed by a unanimous SCOTUS. It’s a thing a beauty:

The Alabama Supreme Court has had a rough week. On Friday, the court issued a one-sentence order admitting that “Erm, um, well, urm, okay, fine! Whatever! We really don’t have the authority to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges. Are you people happy now?” The order came accompanied by 170 pages of bloviation, which read a bit as if Robert E. Lee had tried to spin General Orders No. 9 as a strategic victory.

Monday, in a different but related matter, the U.S. Supreme Court piled on by in effect issuing what I’ll call a Writ of Duh in a same-sex adoption case.

and

[I]n another case, the Alabama court on Friday took 170 pages to discuss the unremarkable proposition that a state court can’t disobey, set aside, ignore, fold, bend, spindle, or mutilate a judgment of the United States Supreme Court. Here’s the entire operative part of the order: “IT IS ORDERED that all pending motions and petitions are DISMISSED.” Most of the other pages are occupied with sour grapes. Chief Justice Roy Moore (who lost his job once before when he defied an order of a federal court in a different case) was, as always, convinced that the world is eager to hear his views on a variety of subjects. He in his wisdom really thinks Justice Anthony Kennedy is a bad, bad judge for writing the Obergefell decision. Justice Tom Parker (founder of the conservative think-tank that brought the challenge) concurred specially to denounce the Supreme Court’s “despotism and tyranny.”

South of the Mason-Dixon Line, “tyranny” usually translates as “making me recognize the rights of people I don’t like.”

Boom.

“This is the downside of building party identity around a package of calculated nonsense and comically unrealizable goals.”

Josh Marshall at TPM explains the GOP’s Trump problem in terms of the idea of technical debt, thereby endearing himself to many geeky Heathen.

The deeper causes of the recent trends in the GOP go deep into the society and culture of the American right and American society generally. But Republican elected officials have increasingly coddled, exploited and in some cases – yes – spurred their voters’ penchant for resentment, perceived persecution, apocalyptic thinking and generic nonsense.

Ever wonder what it’s like to work with Terrence Malick?

Thomas Lennon (The State, Reno 911) got hired as a partygoer in the new film Knight of Cups, and shared his recollections here.

“We’re all standing there and Malick hands out these pieces of paper to all of us,” Lennon said. “And the one he gave me said, ‘There’s no such thing as a fireproof wall.’ And I ask, ‘Is this something I’m supposed to say in the scene?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know.’”

Lennon learned, after talking to the director, that there was no script, just a phrase that might inspire him when cameras started rolling.

“And then Malick goes, ‘Would you like some more? Because I have a whole stack of these.’ And I was like, ‘I think I’m good,’” Lennon said.

Lennon later asked Bale while Malick was away:

Lennon: “Is this how it goes?

Bale: “Yeah.”

Lennon: “Every day?”

Bale: “Yeah.”

Lennon: “How long have you been doing this?”

Bale: “This is, like, day 25.”

In which Erin is Awesome

So, last week we took a cruise, which was awesome.

On of the guests this year was fantasy author and awesome human N. K. Jemisin.

Erin and I attended her reading last Wednesday, which was a port day. During the reading, the crew had a drill that involved overhead announcements — which, unfortunately, also cut off the mic Ms Jemisin was using, interrupting the reading.

Over and over. It got comical, really, but Ms Jemisin persevered and finished the reading.

Well, Erin being Erin, she decided that Ms Jemisin should be rewarded for her grit here, and set about making some sort of trophy for her using materials she could find on the boat. That was somewhat limiting, but since one of the bits of swag for the cruise was a stuffed dolphin in a fez, and extras were available, an amusing and on-topic base was quickly identified. Erin festooned it with shiny things from the gaming room, and we gave it to her after dinner the next night. She was very pleased.

And, as it turns out, remains pleased about it now.

Here’s more on the Apple vs. FBI situation

Security expert Bruce Schneier weighs in. This is a guy who absolutely knows what he’s talking about:

The FBI’s demands are specific to one phone, which might make its request seem reasonable if you don’t consider the technological implications: Authorities have the phone in their lawful possession, and they only need help seeing what’s on it in case it can tell them something about how the San Bernardino shooters operated. But the hacked software the court and the FBI wants Apple to provide would be general. It would work on any phone of the same model. It has to.

Make no mistake; this is what a backdoor looks like. This is an existing vulnerability in iPhone security that could be exploited by anyone.

[...]

What the FBI wants to do would make us less secure, even though it’s in the name of keeping us safe from harm. Powerful governments, democratic and totalitarian alike, want access to user data for both law enforcement and social control. We cannot build a backdoor that only works for a particular type of government, or only in the presence of a particular court order.

Either everyone gets security or no one does.

Seriously.

Hey Chief Heathen: Apple, Encryption, and You

As you’ve probably heard, the FBI really, really wants Apple to help them unlock an iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernadino shooters. A court has actually ordered that Apple do so; in response, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a public reply (in addition to immediate appeals); you can (and should) read that letter in its entirety, because in it Cook lays out very clearly what’s at stake here.

All this is very confusing to lay people, though, I’m sure. We nerds have been up to our asses in crypto for a long time, and understand how critical it is to modern life. You use strong crypto every day, even if you don’t realize it — every time you see that little “lock” icon in your browser, you’re using it, and (to a first approximation) your browser session is locked up tight — otherwise, online commerce wouldn’t be possible, right?

Obviously, a phone is different from your shopping cart at Amazon, but there are lots of points here that are still being obscured by poor media coverage that has, in general, been entirely too deferential to law enforcement and the government. Let me lay out a few things for you, in simple terms, to help you make sense of it all, because whether you realize it or not this case affects you.

First, you need to understand something about encryption itself.

Properly implemented encryption is effectively unbreakable with current technology. (I could explain why, but it would make this post WAAAAY too long.) Not even the NSA can break it; the computing power doesn’t exist yet. It might, in the future (google “quantum computing”), but right now it’s safe and secure.

That’s exactly why law enforcement is so up in arms about wanting back doors built into things: precisely because they can’t break into some systems or data files if they’ve been properly encrypted. Think about it: the cops don’t care how strong your locks are, because they can always break your door. They care about encryption because, done right, they have no recourse.

Second, you need to understand that encryption isn’t the whole picture here.

There’s also device security, and device security at Apple is in an ongoing improvement process. You have probably seen by now stories about how “well, they helped cops BEFORE, why won’t they do it now?” These are wilfully misleading stories authored by deliberately ignorant people who are carrying water for the anti-crypto squad. Just because it was easy or trivial for Apple to unlock a phone in 2008 doesn’t mean it’s just as easy or just as trivial to do so now, because every new iPhone and new version of iOS improves the platform. It is accurate to say that Apple likely views the ease with which a non-owner (Apple) could unlock prior phones as a flaw to be fixed, and are behaving accordingly.

Good, because the only secure device is one that only its owner can unlock.

Third, Cook’s assertion that the FBI’s request would make all similar phones vulnerable is absolutely and unequivocally true.

The cops are demanding, basically, that Apple create a tool that will circumvent the security of the iPhone in question. Such a tool, once created, will almost certainly get leaked and used by other parties — like foreign intelligence people, or criminals, or repressive regimes.

Law enforcement loves to suggest that such bypass tools or (worse) built-in back doors will only ever be used by the “good guys,” but that doesn’t even pass the risibility test. Even supposed “good guys” overstep their authority with astonishing regularity, and law enforcement in the US is absolutely no exception. “Trust us!” is a bullshit argument.

Fourth, don’t give this mouse a cookie.

Iif Apple is forced to do this, now, to this particular generation of iOS and iPhone, then you can be sure that law enforcement will insist they do so (or attempt to do so) for later iterations of the platform. (This is one reason Apple is working so hard to make the devices secure and private, even against attacks from Apple itself.) We cannot let cops — who, let’s be honest, would be happier with a master key to all locks, all phones, all safety deposit boxes, etc., because what do you have to hide? — dictate privacy and security for the rest of us, and Apple realizes this.

Fifth, there is no ticking-time-bomb situation here.

Thus far, terrorist tradecraft is best described as “epically shitty.” The Paris attackers used normal SMS, which is incredibly insecure. They used regular tappable phones. But even if they started using secure methods, signals intelligence isn’t how you track these people. You need to chase them and catch them and prevent attacks through normal police work; you can’t expect an online dragnet of messaging traffic to do much for you (and, indeed, it clearly doesn’t work, even putting aside the privacy concerns). The FBI know who did this. They have reams of other evidence. They’re using this case, and the spectre of TERRORISM TERRORISM TERRORISM, to try and stifle real security for ordinary Americans. There’s no reason to do that.

Stand with Apple, even if you prefer Android. Stand with Apple, even if you hate the walled garden. Stand with Apple, because they are absolutely the only player in this market who have absolutely no interest in analyzing what you do online and selling it to other people. They’ve been increasingly verbal in their commitment to user privacy, and have proved it with the ongoing security improvements in the iPhone. Now they’re putting their money where their mouth is in a big way, on a big stage, in this particular case. Good for Tim Cook, and good for them, and good for US, because it’s a certainty that the Feds would much rather have us insecure.

As security expert Bruce Schneier puts it:

Today I walked by a television showing CNN. The sound was off, but I saw an aerial scene which I presume was from San Bernardino, and the words “Apple privacy vs. national security.” If that’s the framing, we lose. I would have preferred to see “National security vs. FBI access.”

He’s right.

More from Rep. Ted Lieu, and more background on why Apple is so pro-crypto (that bit’s long, but you should read it).

Aaaah, so THAT’S why this week’s X-Files was so much better

The writer and director, Darin Morgan, also wrote for the original series, and was responsible for two of the very best episodes of the show: Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ and the Emmy-winning Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, both of which are brilliant.

In particular, note that both “Chung” and this week’s episode feature retelling of events from multiple perspectives as well as a certain over-arching sardonic and self-aware humor. (Did you notice Mulder’s ringtone is the X-Files’ theme music?)

Wikipedia link; more over at IO9, which also notes a few Easter eggs — the biggest of which is actually in the comments: the character Guy Mann is dressed exactly like Carl Kolchak, from the show that inspired Chris Cater in the 1970s.

Song Exploder’s Bowie Playlist

First, Song Exploder is brilliant, and you should be paying attention to it.

Second, this feature has a number of musicians discussing particular Bowie songs, and includes John Roderick on Space Oddity (reproduced below). This is awesome because, of course, Roderick has a lost-astronaut song of his own that I’ve seen him play live.

Space Oddity is the original and still the best lost astronaut song, released only a few days before the Apollo 11 launch in 1969. It was originally a current events song! Maybe even a novelty song, if the events in question weren’t so solemn. All the more of an accomplishment, then, that it still sounds futuristic and provokes anxiety 47 years later. In 1969 space travel seemed poised to become mundane–we would soon all be living on space stations, wearing jumpsuits and enjoying science drinks–but Bowie sided with Kubrick that, in addition to metaphysical magic, suburbia, celebrity, and product placement and malfunction would follow us to the stars. Like so much of Bowie’s music, Space Oddity has themes and sounds that in less adroit hands would be corny. The countdown at the top of the song and the horn swell “rocket ship taking off” are so literal you almost roll your eyes, but Bowie’s voice is so urgent you lose all desire for detachment. It’s hard for us now to imagine the emotional moment of 1969, with all the war, violence, unrest and upheaval taking place. The world-historical venture into space, armed with science and human confidence, wasn’t yet a fait accompli. We still could have fucked it up, left dead astronauts on the lunar surface, surrendered to the impossibility of Kennedy’s hubristic challenge and Vietnammed ourselves into a death throe. Instead, we succeeded, and Bowie more than any other artist made outer space the dominant theme of his work for many years after. His persona allowed him to comment on contemporary events from a place that felt like objectivity. Bowie saw us like an alien might, but he loved us and got bloody with us because he was trapped here, or emigrated here on his own, so he took our side. Bowie screeched and squawked and filled his music with unearthly noises and we accepted it because we were so flattered that this metallic space Phoenix was interested in talking to us. The appeal of the Rolling Stones was that you were supposed to feel lucky some cool junkies invited you to listen to their sex party through a keyhole, but Bowie had a message about the salvation of humanity. He seemed to be telling us that the looming apocalypse was survivable? Escapable, maybe? Maybe not, though. Maybe we should just quit fighting and have sex a lot until the fire tornados come? Maybe Major Tom experienced a malfunction and his spacecraft was lost, but more likely Major Tom severed his own tether for reasons known only to him. Maybe he saw something, or someone was waiting out there for him, or he realized the futility of our seeking, or he found what we’re all seeking in the eternal quiet.

More Bowie bits you shouldn’t miss

From the RS tribute issue:

  • Trent Reznor’s comments include Bowie helping him get sober: “I knew. I knew you’d do that. I knew you’d come out of that.“. You should absolutely click through to the 1994 tour performance wherein he and Bowie do “Hurt” together. (How the fuck did I miss that tour?)

  • Longtime Bowie bassist Gail Ann Dorsey — who also became his “Under Pressure” duet partner — was more or less plucked from near-obscurity to tour with him; her memories of him are here. On this one, don’t miss the video of “Under Pressure.”

This time, I’m gonna make it to Austin

(tl;dr? Here’s the link. Thanks.)

Here comes the 2016 MS150 Pitch!

Here we go again! It’s time for Chet to ride to Austin — well, almost; it’s in 90 days or so (4/16-17). And that means it’s time for me to hassle you about fundraising again. Many of you have been extremely generous for this cause in the prior three years, and I hope that you’ll feel similarly generous this year.

What the hell are you on about, Heathen?

The MS150 is one of the largest — if not THE largest — charity rides in the country. Come April, something more than 15,000 riders will take off from Houston in a two-day marathon ride to Austin, some 165 miles away. I’ll cover 100 miles on day one, spend the night in La Grange, and then either 65 or 75 on day two, depending on which route I choose.

And when I say big, I mean big: last year, there were 13,000 riders, and we raised over $20 million. Yeah, it’s like that.

Wait. You’re doing this again?

Yep. Here’s why:

I’m sure you all recall that late 2014 and early 2015 kinda sucked here at the Farmer household. I had a bad crash last November, resulting in the dramatic-looking x-ray above, followed by a long period of healing and rehab. I was confined to a walker from November 20 until late February; I used a cane for months after that. And, obviously, I missed the 150 last year.

(Well, let’s be clear: with your help, I actually DID do the most important part of the 150: fundraising. We — all of you plus me — took first place in fundraising on the Karbach Brewing team, and that’s something we should all be proud of. But I didn’t get to ride.)

You’ll be really slow this time, right?

After spending all that time off the bike, I took my first short ride in late March. I was slow and tentative, and had no endurance, and that sucked out loud. I joke that I lost 40 pounds riding bikes and drinking beer, and that’s the truth, but part of that was riding hard and often. I went from a 250 pound guy who could barely get to 18 miles an hour to a 210 pound guy who cruised with the hot rod pack at 28 or 30 down Washington Avenue. Coming back and being slow was hard.

But I did it anyway, and I kept doing it, and by July I was finally able to notch 100 miles a week again, and I’ve never looked back. (Well, except to check for traffic.) All told, I rode nearly 2800 miles in 2015, which I think isn’t too bad for a guy who spent the first quarter unable to walk. I didn’t do it by myself, obviously — I had lots of help and encouragement, and a huge part of that was from my teammates at Karbach.

Now, in January of 2016, I’m a stronger rider now than I was last November. I’m excited about that. After sitting out last year, making it to Austin this time around will be especially meaningful to me.

That’s cool and all, but it’s not the point. This is the point.

I’ve written to you before about MS, and about how it can sneak up on its victims in pernicious and devastating ways, but to be completely honest I don’t think I really appreciated what that could be like until I spent some time with my mobility compromised. My experience wasn’t a perfect analog — I had great care in one of the best medical centers in the world; there was never any real doubt that I’d make a full recovery barring serious complications — but understanding that intellectually is a long way from internalizing it, especially when you can’t do the things you love, or climb the stairs in your house, or help your spouse with the housework, or even walk.

I got better. (Better, stronger, faster…) My life today is more or less just as it was before the accident. I’m lucky. Some MS patients see remission, but some don’t — and even those in remission live with the knowledge that their personal demon could re-emerge and re-imprison them at almost any time.

I said I did this to drink beer and lose weight, and I think in the first couple years that was more true than not. The fundraising part of the event was a minor part. After all, I didn’t know anyone with MS, and had no real understanding of what it could be like. The 150 is just a thing lots of Houston riders do.

Then, in 2013, friends asked me to ride for their sister, or friend, or cousin, or coworker. That makes it more real in a big hurry, but not as real as spending a few months on a walker.

The ride is secondary. I’ll put in the miles anyway, because I love riding, because it’s good for me, and most of all because I know what it’s like not to be able to. The MS150 is about MS, about raising money for MS research, and about helping those people affected by it. Chet riding to Austin is a sideshow; what we do here, with the link above and below, is the main event — and it’s the part I need you for.

Be on my team.

Please give. If you’re able, please increase your gift from last year. We are all of us very, very fortunate — maybe none of as as much as I.

The direct donation link is http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/chetfarmer.

Also, in the past, folks have given me names of those close to them who suffer from MS; I write them on my race bib, and find them particularly inspiring after 50 or 60 miles. If you’d like to add a name to the list, just let me know. I’d be proud to.

Why we still need health care reform

Joe Biden’s son Beau died last year from a brain tumor. He was, at one point, concerned that cognitive damage would force him to resign his office, which would have made him unemployed and uninsured. It is no secret at this point that the Vice President and the President are close friends, and their relationship included frank discussions of Beau’s health, and the challenges that might arise, and how they might meet them, including the idea that they’d sell their house to pay for Beau’s care. (Remember, Biden is probably the poorest man to ever be Vice President.)

President Obama would have none of it, and told Biden he’d pay for it if need be.

So, two things.

First, it’s great that the Vice President has a rich and powerful friend who could have helped his family.

Second, how incredibly fucked up is it that even someone in Beau Biden’s position would have needed this kind of help just to get care?

Single payer. Now.

(h/t: sp0ka.)