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Monday 25 October 2004

WP: Supremes Sent Bush ‘instead of’ Gore to White House

The Washington Post today writes on page A6 about Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer:

Breyer — named to the court 10 years ago by President Bill Clinton — cast one of the dissenting votes in the 5 to 4 decision that canceled a controversial recount in Florida, sending Republican George W. Bush to the White House instead of Democrat Al Gore.

But of course this isn’t what happened at all. The Supreme Court did stop further recounts in Florida, which — from my layman’s perspective, at least, it shouldn’t have — but it’s hardly a foregone conclusion that a failure to stop those recounts would have resulted in Al Gore winning the state and being elected president.

Post and the New York Times, both of which endorsed Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004, declined to print the results of their independent recount in September 2001, with the excuse that they did not want to undermine the legitimacy of the Bush presidency in the wake of September 11. The Miami Herald, however, did publicize the results of their recount, and they concluded that Bush would have won Florida anyway. Their story is hard to find in the original, but this BBC report from February 2001 gives the meat.

Plenty of people on the left have attacked the
Herald’s count, but no matter what you believe, the Supreme Court certainly did not ‘send’ Bush ‘instead of’ Gore to the White House. Does the Washington Post even employ editors any more?

Posted by tino at 16:30 25.10.04
Saturday 23 October 2004

Riots and ‘Non-Lethal’ Force

Two points:

1. Interesting that in Boston, when their team wins, they riot. Meanwhile, in the ‘unsophisticated’ Midwest, there are no reports of unrest. Some of this might be put down to the fact that the Red Sox stink, and the Cardinals are, historically speaking, the second-most-successful team in baseball (behind only the Yankees). St. Louis fans are used to success, and they know how to handle it.

On the other hand, Chicagoans were known for rioting following NBA victories, despite being Midwesterners and having a reliably good team in the Bulls.

I can understand that you might have public-safety problems with large, drunk crowds. I don’t understand why the problem isn’t the possibility of people getting trampled, or fights breaking out, or random accidental propery damage, or things like that. But what motivates people to light fires and tip over cars? What on earth? This is a way of celebrating? The people who own those tipped-over cars are probably Sox fans, too.

2. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: ‘non-lethal force’ is a boondoggle. It’s unusual that the police are actually accepting responsibility in the case of Victoria Snelgrove, who died on Thursday after being hit in the eye with a ‘non-lethal’ projectile fired by police. The normal police tack in this kind of situation would be to blame everyone in the universe except the police for ‘creating a dangerous situation’ — all the while ignoring that situations tend to become much more dangerous when some fool starts firing projectiles, non-lethal or not, into a crowd.

The big problem comes from the police being much more willing to use force at all when they have ‘non-lethal’ options at their disposal, particularly when these ‘non-lethal’ options don’t look at all menacing. A billy-club can certainly be lethal if you’re hit with it in the wrong way: but a line of cops brandishing clubs is inherently threatening, and likely to have an effect without anyone being hit over the head. A cop loading a pepper-sauce gun doesn’t have the same menacing aspect: he’s going to have to fire that thing before he has any effect.

Posted by tino at 00:16 23.10.04
Thursday 21 October 2004

Panera Proxy

As I have mentioned before, Panera Bread’s free wireless network blocks Tinotopia on the grounds that it is an ‘adult’ website. If you enter the URL here, you can see that in addition to being ‘adult/mature content’ and ‘society and lifestyle’ — I assume this group exists in the list for people who like to micro-manage, and who are afraid tha their employees might be doing something non-work-related during working hours — Tinotopia is also listed as ‘Usenet News Groups’. I have no idea what the hell this is supposed to mean in this context. It does help to confirm that these lists are put together more or less at random, though.

Tinotopia isn’t meant for children, and I try to keep the fart jokes to a minimum. In that, I suppose that the content here is relatively ‘adult’ and ‘mature’. I believe that the block-list people are using those terms as euphemisms for pornography, though. (Or maybe not; they also have a ‘pornography’ category!)

So you might say that, in some senses of the terms, Tinotopia is an ‘adult’ and ‘mature’ site, even though there are no skin pics here. It’s certainly a ‘society and lifestyle’ website, as the whole point of it is to allow you, the reader, to experience a bit of the Tino lifestyle, and to imagine what it might be for you to live in such high society yourself.

But Usenet newsgroups is just wrong, no matter how you look at it.

Anyway, earlier this week I set up a proxy server on tinotopia.com that I figured would allow me to do whatever I wanted, independent of the block list — the Sonicwall blocker only acts on http traffic, so you can still get to other things on Tinotopia. I figured out all of Panera’s networks (they have a whole raft of /29s) and told that proxy to accept connections from them, and tested the lot from home.

Today when I got here — I’m at Panera as I write this — I tried things out, and was astonished to see that, despite the fact that my requests were indeed going through the proxy (I was watching the proxy activity log), I was still being blocked! The Panera firewall was actually looking at what was being transferred and not just at the host it was being transferred from!

I quickly established an SSH tunnel back to Tinotopia and started encrypting the traffic — something I suppose I should be doing on a public wireless network anyway — and it all started working.

Posted by tino at 17:25 21.10.04
Monday 18 October 2004

Gun-Control Fantasies from the WP

I don’t have any particular love for guns, or for shooting, myself. A lot of people do: my dad, for instance, is utterly fascinated by guns as objects. The machining, the engraving, the finish, the carving of the handle or stock — he loves it to the point where many of his guns aren’t even operational; he buys antiques purely for their physical attributes, and never bothers to get them put back into working order. Me, I don’t get it.

But what I get even less is the reasoning behind gun control. There is a particularly silly editorial in today’s Washington Post about this.

The background is this: in the Commonwealth of Virginia, you — assuming you’re not a felon, feebleminded, etc. — are free to openly carry a firearm pretty much anywhere. Private property-owners can restrict you from carrying a gun onto their property, but the government can’t tell you that you can’t carry your weapon onto public property — property that is, after all, yours in some small proportion.

This has recently become something of an Issue in the Washington suburbs, half of which are in Virginia. Local gun activists have recently made a point of openly carrying guns around, because, amazingly enough, many cops didn’t seem to understand that openly carrying weapons was and is perfectly legal in Virginia.

So now we get to the silly Washington Post editorial. It has come to the attention of the Post editorial-page people that while airport terminals are gun-free zones by federal diktat, the parking lots and roads at airports are not. Washington’s two main airports are in Virginia.

Though Ronald Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport don’t — and still won’t — allow weapons inside the terminals, on the airfields or in buildings adjacent to the airfields without prior arrangements, people will be free, as of Dec. 1, to transport their arsenals right onto the grounds and leave them stashed in their cars at the parking lots.

In the post-Sept. 11 world, that’s irresponsible and dangerous.

We will ignore the September 11 reference, but we will note that no guns were involved in the September 11 attacks.

The Post goes on:

So now, outside the security check areas in terminals — where at least some people have to step out of their shoes and undergo pat-downs and other safety checks — the parking lots may be loaded with deadly weapons. How comforting is that?

The Post goes on to recommend that the federal ‘protections’ (against guns, presumably) that apply to the terminal buildings should be extended to the entire property.

Which leaves me with this question: if a law is all that’s needed to keep a given place ‘safe from guns’, then why is it not sufficient that there’s a law that says that you can’t carry a gun into the airport itself? Do they honestly think that there’s a risk from guns that law-abiding gun owners leave locked in their trunks in the parking lot?

This is the big problem with gun-control laws; they are laws. They will only have an effect on that portion of the population who obeys the law — which portion of the population is not, by definition, the big problem when it comes to gun or any other type of crime.

The Post, like most anti-gun-nut organizations, seems to be mistaking legislation with incantation. They seem to think that laws are some kind of magic spells that are effective just because the Washington Post wishes hard enough for it. Nowhere in the editorial is a statement about this being window-dressing, or to ‘send a message’ or anything like that; to all appearances, they actually think that simply banning guns from the airport parking lots would have some actual effect in the real world, that such a ban would cut down on the large number of airport shootings we see now. (Note: there have not actually been any such shootings, to the best of my knowledge, in the nine years or so that I’ve lived in Washingtonia.)

Yes, if only the government would ban guns from the airport parking lots, then the airport parking lots would be as orderly as the streets of D.C., where they have an almost total ban on guns. What a happy day that will be.

Posted by tino at 15:18 18.10.04
Friday 15 October 2004

OQO and customer service

The OQO is a little pocket computer, a thing scarcely larger than a short stack of index cards, but that runs Windows XP. It went on sale yesterday. It’s a hotly-anticipated product, and it was reviewed in yesterday’s New York Times and Wall Street Journal, along with, I’m sure, a lot of other publications.

In terms of capabilities, it’s like a very low-end notebook computer, with a 1 GHz Transmeta processor, 256 MB of RAM (which can’t be expanded), and a 20 GB hard disk. These are all weak, to put it mildly, but this particular low-end laptop weighs under a pound and has the ability to fit into your pocket. So many people are willing to pay $2000 for this thing that the company’s website was kaput for most of yesterday.

I am one of these people. To a certain extent, I like gadgets for their own sake; and specifically I think a gadget of this sort would be useful for me.

Anyway, I tried to buy one of these today, and I failed.

Since the OQO website conspicuously says nothing about shipping costs or times, I called them on the phone, and I was told that it was $50 for ‘two-day’ shipping — this is the only shipping option — and that in any case they wouldn’t be shipping orders from today for at least two weeks.

This doesn’t exactly make me happy, but I can understand that they’ll have a lot of demand at first. It doesn’t pay to staff for a spurt of demand that they won’t see again soon if ever, so there will be a delay at first. Fine.

My mistake was in not attempting to order the thing over the phone there and then. Reasoning that it would be easier to enter my address, credit card details, etc. online, I headed back to their website, and filled out the form. $2,049.00 for the computer and shipping, American Express, billing address, shipping address.

I wanted the thing shipped to my dad’s house, because I’m not going to be home in two weeks; I expect to be visiting family. Should the thing not show up until after I’ve left, it wouldn’t be too hard for my dad to express-mail it back to Tino Manor.

Failure. After entering the credit card number, I’m told:

We are sorry, but your order cannot be processed at this time.

Mind you, this is after I had submitted my credit card information. I called OQO on the phone again, and this time waited on hold for 50 minutes — after which I was told that OQO would not ship an order to anything other than the credit card’s billing address. No, they said, they don’t know why this is an option on their website. They would ‘escalate this to corporate’, though. Oh, joy.

Mind you, this shipping BS wouldn’t be an issue if OQO actually had enough of these things on hand; I’d have it shipped to my home address and get it some time next week. And the usual fraud-prevention arguments don’t hold much water any more; a few years ago, getting products shipped to different addresses was a problem, but this problem has been solved by now with card verification numbers (as well as asking for the billing address in the first place, not to mention in this case running the authorization two weeks before anything is shipped); but OQO doesn’t give a damn. They’re selling computers as fast as they can make them right now, and they don’t care that they’re throwing some segment of their business away by simply not having it together enough to properly sell their products.

I had formerly been eager to get one of these things, but now I’m not so sure. I already have an Apple computer, an excellent product from a terrible company. No matter how desirable the pocket computer might be, I don’t think I need to start doing business with another company that shows such contempt for its customers.

UPDATE: Eventually things were sorted out after defining the other address as a ‘billing address’ with American Express. The bills will still be sent to the same place, but Amex will verify my dad’s address as the card’s billing address, should anyone inquire. This is still nuts, though; the credit-card people need to implement some kind of anti-fraud system that will result in them being willing to indemnify merchants. And as for the merchants, well, they just need to get it together all around. I’m Mr. Gadget, right? I just spent $2000 on a pocket computer, right? Yet when I have the choice, I buy things in person and not online because very few of the online merchants I’ve dealt with leave me feeling confident.

UPDATE 2: OQO have reportedly seen the light and are now taking orders for shipment to something other than the billing address. I don’t know whether their web order system is working any better, though.

Posted by tino at 07:48 15.10.04
Monday 04 October 2004

Racist Economic Development

The Washington Post reports today:

Gordon W. Gerald, president of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, said he thinks white entrepreneurs have more opportunities in the white majority county. “The Board of Supervisors places a priority on white investors participating in the growth of the county,” Gerald said.

A federal investigation into this racist practice is, of course, coming. The NAACP is describes this as an example of the widespread hatred of minorities found in the hearts of white suburbanites.

Just kidding. Nobody at the Fairfax County EDA said anything of the kind; in fact, their website goes out of its way to talk about the importance of diversity, minority-owned businesses, and so forth.

What the Post actually reported is this:

Kwasi G. Holman, president of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp., said he thinks African American entrepreneurs think they may have more opportunities in the black majority county. “The county executive places a priority on minority investors participating in the renaissance of the county,” Holman said.

Of course, no investigation is forthcoming. The one statement is hate speech, and the other you can print on the front page of the Washington Post business section without comment or outrage.

Posted by tino at 16:06 4.10.04
Friday 01 October 2004

Yet More Problems At Panera

T-Mobile uses ‘Hotspot’ as the brand name for their paid-subscription wireless networks in Starbuckseses, airport lounges, and other such places. The name seems to be catching on as a term for public 802.11x networks in general.

But what do you call a public wireless network that’s not particularly useful? A coldspot perhaps, though Sears might sue. Last night Nicole and I were hanging out in the Reston Town Center Panera again, and at first we couldn’t get a connection at all, again. The wireless network was there, but the authentication server wasn’t, so nothing could happen.

After a short while, the wireless network went away all together and then came back, and the authentication server was back in the land of the living: someone had rebooted the access point, solving the problem. Score one for Panera.

But our enthusiasm — or my enthusiasm, anyway — soon waned:


That’s right, Tinotopia was unreachable from that network. To say that this limits the usefulness of the network for me is something of an understatement. Note also that there’s no way to lodge a complaint about this, no ‘I think you must be mistaken’ button. And there doesn’t appear to be any place on Sonicwall’s own corporate website to complain, either. They’re just not interested.

Strictly speaking, I suppose they’re accurate. Tinotopia is meant for adults, if only because most children are not interested in urban planning, Chinese ‘markets’, and what Tino thinks of various hotels. (Honestly, it’s a bit amazing that anyone is interested, but there you are.) I discuss ‘mature’ topics here if ‘mature’ is the opposite of ‘juvenile’. It’s just that I can’t see how this should be a ‘Forbidden Category’. I tried to figure out what might have tripped their sensors, as it were, but the Sonicwall website doesn’t list a category called “Adult/Mature Content”. Just Violence/Profanity, Partial Nudity, Full Nudity, Sexual Acts, Gross Depictions, Intolerance, Satanic/Cult, Drugs/Drug Culture, Militant/Extremist, Sex Education, Questionable/Illegal Gambling, and Alcohol & Tobacco. All the sites that I found blocked, though, were because of “Adult/Mature Content” or “Pornography”. ‘Pornography’ I can figure out on my own. Of course none of the sites I was trying to visit were actually pornographic in any sense of the word; the only thing close was Fark, which, among other things, offers links to other sites that might be thought of a pornographic.

Anyway, Tinotopia being blocked was the big problem. I have a proxy server set up to get around problems like this, but guess where it is? I’ll have to re-jigger the system to encrypt my proxy traffic. I would have done this last night while I was sitting there, but — you guessed it — a good number of websites with information having to do with proxy server configuration are also considered ‘pornographic’ etc. so I couldn’t get at a lot of documentation.

Panera is a private company, and of course they’re free to offer whatever kind of wireless network service they like. Most places take the option of not providing any wireless network service at all, so I suppose that Panera is still doing better than average. But then providing no wireless network doesn’t cost anything; Panera’s approach both costs them money and, if these filters don’t improve, don’t really offer their customers all that much utility. I can work around this with minimal trouble, but most people can’t. Panera’s free network is a significant competitive advantage in attracting the kind of people who would use it. But once someone runs up against a blocked website, it’s going to plant a seed of doubt in his mind for the future about the potential usefulness of the network. I’m sure that only a tiny fraction of things are actually blocked, but because a few things that I wanted to read happen to be from that tiny fraction, to me the network appears to have huge holes in it. I don’t think of Panera as offering free wireless Internet service any more; I think of them as offering a shiny toy that can be used by some people for some things.

Posted by tino at 20:41 1.10.04