Everything Old Is New Again

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

500px Radio Shack TRS 80 Model 100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dept. of Alarming Stats, SEC Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Edge of A Whole Bunch Of Other Movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, marketers

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

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

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

What Civil Forfeiture Law Means

From the Economist:

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

Go read the whole thing.

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

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

The closing quote is from Sorkin:

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

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

Dept. of Coding Abominations

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

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

Top Nine Awesome Nines

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

8. 9mm, that most democratic of calibers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glad you asked.

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

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

Dear Marriott: Bite me, you money-grubbing jackasses

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

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

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

Yeah, right.

Dept. of Cycling Milestones

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

5000 miles

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

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

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

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

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

Reap what you sow, jackass.

VIGOROUSLY TOUCH FLIPPERS

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

The onscreen text is brilliant:

AMUSEMENT IS CONTROL

HAIL HAIL MOON GOD WATCH WATCH YES YES

PUT IN THE EYE HOLE GROW LIKE PLANT

BEAM EPASODE NOW INTO EXO-SKULLS AND VIGOROUSLY TOUCH FLIPPERS

CONSUME NOW CONSUME IT RUB IT ON YOUR FLIPPERS

ALL ANIMALS CAN SCREAM

What Hobby Lobby Gets Us

Ginsburg was right:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castle Doctrine? Only for white people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now a word on Whiskey

As I noted before, there’s been a bit of an explosion in the bourbon and American whiskey market in the last few years. As a consequence, there’s lots of bullshit on the shelves — bottles made by marketers, full of sourced juice, with utterly fictional histories and backgrounds, positioned in such a way as to ABSOLUTELY mislead customers.

This is shitty behavior.

Fortunately, the liquor world is one of the first places to have gotten actual truth-in-labeling laws, and so the words on a liquor bottle actually MEAN something if you know what to look for.

Probably the most egregious label bullshit is hiding the provenance of the whiskey. N.B. that the word “produced” really just means “bottled.” If the bottle doesn’t say where it was distilled, then the odds are the marketers don’t want you to know. Pick another bottle; good whiskey is proud of where it comes from.

The next thing to look for is what the bottle claims it contains. The truly shitty operations will sell things like “spirit whiskey,” which is basically grain alcohol with some flavorings designed to mimic actual aged whiskey. This stuff is bullshit, and you should not buy it. Look for things that actually claim to be bourbon whiskey or rye whiskey.

But that doesn’t solve much; the “bourbon” name doesn’t mean as much as you think it does (for example, it doesn’t have to be from Kentucky). To be called bourbon, according to the Feds:

  • Produced in the US
  • The mash bill (mix of grain) must be 51% or more corn
  • It must be distilled at less than 160 proof
  • It must be age at 125 proof or below
  • It must be aged in new, charred oak barrels

Note that there is no minimum aging required, nor is there anything about additives and flavorings. Adding shit to bourbon is completely legal, and shitty distillers and “producers” do it all the time.

The next step is what you need to look for: if it says “straight bourbon,” it can contain no additives and must be aged in those barrels for at least 2 years. Realistically, there’s no reason to buy something that isn’t straight.

A straight bourbon with no age statement on the bottle must be aged more than 4 years. (Oh, and the age statement must be the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle; blending is okay, and is done all the time to produce a consistent product.)

A bourbon labeled “blended” may have coloring, flavoring, and other spirits (i.e., grain alcohol) added, but at least 51% of the product must be straight bourbon.

“Bottled in Bond” is an even more serious distinction. You won’t find a lot of marketing whiskey done this way, but (hilariously) the 1897 Bottled in Bond act was passed to regulate unscrupulous whiskey sellers who used coloring and flavoring and whatnot to dupe customers. Sound familiar?

BIB bourbon must meet all the requirements of straight bourbon, plus:

  • It must be aged in a federally bonded warehouse for at least 4 years
  • It must be bottled at 100 proof
  • It must clearly state the identity of the distillery and, if different, the bottling location
  • It must be the product of a single distilling season and one distiller at one distillery

Wisdom from Vonnegut

Found over at Merlin’s joint:

[When Vonnegut tells his wife he’s going out to buy an envelope] Oh, she says, well, you’re not a poor man. You know, why don’t you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don’t know. The moral of the story is, is we’re here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.