Archive for the ‘Incoherent Rambling’ Category

Gender transition announcements: Far from inexcusable, rather unavoidable

Monday, April 30th, 2007

I was surprised to find that the normally quite liberal Digg community tore apart sports commentator Mike Penner when he announced that he is a transsexual and would be henceforth living as a woman.

The complaints seem to take mostly two forms:

This announcement is a childish attention-getting ploy. If transsexuals would just shut up about themselves already, I wouldn’t find them so repulsive.

There is something to be said for tact and using appropriate forums, but how otherwise does one explain to colleagues and viewers that Mike’s position is now occupied by a woman that looks vaguely like Mike did? A fake firing/hiring orchestrated by management?

There is a good argument for a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy when it comes to one’s sexual orientation in the workplace, but not when it comes to gender transition. It’s just too earth shattering a change in terms of how others relate to the person to be possible to avoid discussion.

This announcement is not newsworthy or relevant, therefore Mike must have abused his media access to inappropriately blow his own horn.

We all learn from the challenges people face when nature marginalizes them into a minority. No one learns more than other members of that minority, especially those in more vulnerable positions, those who face a challenge that seems insurmountable.

Perhaps some of these commentators would be better served simply ignoring what they find irrelevant. The fact that they spend time posting about how boring, irrelevant, or infuriating the subject is to them suggests that their expressed ire belies a true interest of some sort, whether it be a personal axe to grind, or possibly even repression.

What this person did is the only sensible approach to his dilemma, and it’s sad to see Digg rip him apart for it.

TSA is useless

Thursday, March 1st, 2007

The TSA (United States Transportation Security Administration) agent at the airport made me throw away an unopened bottle of juice that I had just bought. Amazing.

Seems to me that TSA is a real regression from private security. It has been accused of being “security theater” by notable security experts. There is good reason for this.

  • TSA baggage and body checks do not extend much beyond what was already being done at airports by private security.
  • TSA, by virtue of being a government agency, is almost assuredly more expensive and ineffective than the airlines’ private security.
  • TSA no-fly lists can be easily circumvented with a fake boarding pass and fake ID, because TSA does not refer to the airline’s passenger database, and the airlines do not check ID as the plane is boarded, at which point the real boarding pass would be substituted. In fact, a real ID is never required throughout the screening and boarding process. And an individual on the no-fly list can even fly under their real name, because the no-fly list is considered a state secret, and as such the airlines don’t have access to the list when the suspected individual books his ticket or uses his boarding pass. Airline private security, on the other hand, would be able to verify that the boarding pass is valid and matches the ID at the security checkpoint.
  • TSA has absurd regulations on what can be brought on board, including many items such as containers of liquid that cannot possibly be used to gain control of or to bring down a plane. These regulations are not subject to market forces, meaning that I cannot choose to fly at an airline where I am not assumed to be a criminal until I prove otherwise. Thus, the terrorists have won by removing my freedom of choice.

The lone benefit to the TSA system is that security constraints at airports are now uniform, meaning that another airport can now trust that passengers who are arriving by plane at that location have been subject to the same security screening that is performed on passengers who are entering the terminal by foot.

But is that benefit worth the inefficiency and hassle that will in the end just leave the airlines with more empty seats?

In what way does the TSA dog and pony show make more sense than requiring passenger screening by private security, armed pilots, a cockpit barrier that cannot be penetrated while in the air, and/or a flight crew trained in riot control?

Speaking of useless security measures, you may notice that the instructions that come with the form for obtaining a passport (DS-11) mention the new electronic passports. They make some funny statements:

“Use of the electronic format will provide the traveler the additional security protections inherent in chip technology“.

“The electronic chip must be read using specially formatted readers, and is not susceptible to unauthorized reading.”

What wishful thinking. You have to wonder if some of these people know anything about the technology basket they are putting all their eggs into.

Making Windows XP bearable

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Cmd Here
Task Switch

Third party apps:

Internet Explorer -> Firefox, Opera
Word -> Abiword
Office -> OpenOffice
Outlook -> Thunderbird/Sunbird (unless using shared office calendar and address book)
Windows Media Player -> Media Player Classic, VLC, XP Codec Pack
Windows Messenger -> Gaim, Psi
Paint, Visio -> Inkscape, Dia, GIMP
Acrobat Reader -> Ghostscript & GSview
Notepad/Wordpad -> GVim
WinZip -> 7-Zip
GnuPG -> WinPT

Unixy additions:
Strawberry Perl

Unix interop:
Services for Unix (free from MS)
Xming (X.Org X server)
Cygwin (includes an X server)
mingw32/MSYS (Unix style build environment for Windows)
True X-Mouse (Unix style mouse focus and highlight-copy semantics)
VirtuaWin (Pseudo-virtual desktops)
WinSCP (SCP/SFTP client)
PuTTY (SSH client)
GNU-Win32 (Win32 ports of Unix utilities)
Strawberry Perl (Win32 “Official” Perl port)
coLinux (Linux as Win32 process)
Kerberos for Windows
OpenAFS client (to access AFS fileservers)
LyX (LaTeX technical writing GUI)
TightVNC (VNC client and server for platform independent remote framebuffer access)

gVim (text editor)
AbiWord/OpenOffice (office suites)
Sunbird (Calendar with WebDAV support)
Firefox/Opera (browsers)
ImageMagick (image conversion and viewers)
GIMP (image editing)
GTK for Windows (for Dia/GIMP/etc)
Inkscape/Dia (chart drawing)
Media Player Classic and XP Codec Pack (media player)
7-Zip (file archiver)
Ghostscript/GSview, Foxit Reader (PDF/PS viewer)
Powertoys (enhanced Alt-tab, command line here, TweakUI)
Icon Restore
Psi (Jabber IM client)
Gaim (Multi protocol IM client)
Process Explorer (Task manager replacement)
DAEMON Tools (virtual CD/DVD driver)
Java 2 SE 1.5 or greater (replace Microsoft JVM)
Privoxy (filtering HTTP/HTTPS proxy server)
TortoiseCVS/TortoiseSVN (shell integration for revision control systems)

Protect your SSN, protect your identity

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

Since the Social Security system was established, the SSN (Social Security Number, or just “social” to many clerks and telephone operators) has slowly crept its way into becoming the de facto national ID number in the US. For better or for worse, this means that when the Social Security system is abolished due to insolvency, the SSN system will then be coded into law as the national ID number system.

Since the SSN is unique, it is used as a database key whenever information about an individual needs to be aggregated. Since the SSN is obscure, supposedly known only to the individual, the government, and businesses the individual has done business with, it is also used as a password or as a secondary form of identification.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, businesses are the weak link in this system. State and local governments who have a SSN on file will routinely hand it out to anyone who appears to be a reputable business. Businesses will sell your personal information, including SSN, to anyone who is willing to pay enough, even if you have signed a contract to the contrary. You can sue, but then what? How can you prove damages? How do you prevent further downstream dissemination? Once your SSN is copied beyond your sphere of trust, you can very well assume that it is in the wrong hands, and obtaining a new SSN involves convincing the SSA that you have suffered enough stalking and/or identity theft to justify a new SSN, convincing the three credit bureaus to give you a clean slate, and convincing those that the thief has defrauded that you are in fact not the thief. The SSN and your usual personal information (name, address, phone number) is all that is necessary for an unscrupulous individual to order a credit report from the credit bureaus, and using the information there as a kit he can impersonate and defraud you.

When you are dealing with a government that is not the federal government (the federal government is required by law to obtain your SSN for any transaction), or any business or individual, and they ask for your SSN, you should counter by asking them why they need to know your SSN. This is not suspicious behavior, but it is annoying to many clerks. Ignore their annoyance; you have a right to know why they need your SSN. For example, it is likely that the request is legitimate if the request is pursuant to some federal regulation or subsidy such as federal housing, because the federal government uses your SSN as its internal ID number. If they continue to balk, tell them that your identity has been stolen in the past and you would like to know if there is any way you can avoid giving them your SSN.

Unfortunately, thanks to the PATRIOT Act’s assaults on liberty and privacy, opening a bank account requires you to disclose your SSN along with your date of birth and address of residence, even though non-US citizens can use a passport to establish their identity.

Your state driver’s license bureau may want to put your SSN on your driver’s license. Find out if the SSN is required by law, and if not, don’t give it to them; ask them to generate a driver’s license ID number for you. Sometimes you are in a catch-22 situation here; you are moving to another state, and some utility or rental company in the destination state gives you a choice between SSN or state driver’s license; unfortunately, there is no way for you to obtain a driver’s license in that state until you can supply proof of residence at the supplied address in that state. Ask if they will accept a passport instead.

Your SSN is the key to the credit bureau databases, so it will be required whenever someone needs to do a credit or background check on your behalf.

Your SSN is also used as a key for insurers to perform legal and prior insurer background checks on you.

Using a state driver’s license number or a passport number is advantageous because both of those documents contain other information that cannot be as easily replicated.

When NOT to give out your SSN simply because it is requested:

  • When establishing a new periodically billed account with a business. They will claim that they need to run a credit check. Instead, offer to pay a deposit.
  • When the business needs to be assured that you are who you say you are. Offer to use a state driver’s license instead, or to fax several forms of photo ID including a passport.
  • When the business needs a unique identification number (i.e. for their database). Offer to use a state driver’s license or passport number instead.

If the business insists on obtaining your SSN without a federal regulatory excuse, it is your choice to do business with them or to take your business elsewhere. Unfortunately, certain monopolies such as utilities and cable/telephone companies do not respond to market pressure. And if you are applying for credit, you have to remember that the onus is on you to provide the creditor with a reason why they should lend to you. Remember that it reasonable to ask whether your personal information will ever be transferred to a third party. You can’t record this conversation legally unless the company agrees (which they won’t), so the best thing you can do is get a written assurance that your personal information, including your SSN, will be kept confidential. The company will still share it without your permission when it finds a business case to do so, leading to your SSN being disseminated, but at least this way you can pursue action against the company in small claims, and encourage others to do the same — since it is likely that if your information was shared, then others’ information has also been.

It seems obvious by now that the best way to protect your SSN and still be able to do business in the US is to avoid requiring credit whenever possible.

Unfortunately, using a debit card without being physically present (such as online) is a bad idea. Debit card fraud cannot be reversed. But if you want to obtain a credit card to use for online purchases only, even a “secured” credit card where you pay a deposit up front is still considered credit and will require a credit check. There does not seem to be any way to safely purchase goods online without divulging your SSN to somebody along the line.

  • Maintain a positive cash flow from employment and investment so that a credit check is never required.
  • Use a debit or ATM card instead of credit cards.
  • Write “Check ID” on the back of the debit card. If your bank allows you to, disable using the debit card as an ATM card or getting cash back.
  • Carry the ATM card with you when you need access to more cash than you can safely carry with you. Carry the debit card only when traveling out of your bank’s ATM service area.
  • Even if you don’t drive, obtain a state driver’s license that does not use your SSN as the driver’s license number. To obtain this, you will need an existing passport or birth certificate as well as some proof of residence at the given address, the level of which varies state by state.
  • Use your birth certificate — which should always be stored in a location where the only avenues of access besides through yourself would lead to its destruction — and state driver’s license to obtain a federal passport, the strongest form of photo identification.

When your business is rejected because you refuse to disclose your SSN (whether on grounds of identity protection, philosophical or practical objections to a citizen ID number), you should write a letter to the company letting them know that their policies gave you a choice between putting your identity, finances, and credit at risk by doing business with them, or to do business with a competitor who is respectful of your privacy instead, and that you chose the latter.

Apache filters, gzip, and WordPress

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

Don’t enable WordPress’s gzip function unless:

  • you have a good reason not to use mod_deflate instead, such as wanting to compress RSS files
  • you are not using any filters of type AF_FTYPE_RESOURCE or higher in the Apache filter chain to modify the HTML afterwards.

As soon as WordPress has gzipped the content, it is impossible for any other filter to modify it. It will also be very easy to forget that you have set this option, and then you will go nuts like me trying to figure out why mod_deflate seems to be invoked so early in the filter chain — when in fact the content is being compressed by PHP itself.

Compressed file archives

Monday, January 15th, 2007

Would like all of the following:
– Fast listing of archive contents with file metadata
– Fast retrieval of an individual file
– Fast retreival of a specific address in the input stream

Each compressed block should have metadata such as starting block address, filename and MIME type, and length of block.

Christianity and its patriarchy

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

Christian doctrine asserts that woman was created from man, and therefore concludes woman should be subservient to man.

What if it were pointed out that all egg cells have a XX pair of chromosomes, making every zygote by default female? The only thing that can be done to change this default state is for a male to contribute the Y chromosome that could potentially lead to the embryo becoming male at some indeterminate point after conception.

So, using the same logic that derives patriarchy from the creation myth of Adam and Eve, we can instead utilize known scientific fact to construct an argument for matriarchy!

Sexual Differentiation @ Wikipedia

Comparison of Microsoft Dfs to AFS

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006


  • Both DFS and AFS use a volume location server to present many spatially-disparate server volumes in a single tree
  • Both DFS and AFS support strongly encrypted authentication methods

Benefits of DFS compared to AFS

  • DFS has full incremental snapshot capability instead of AFS’s single backup volumes
  • DFS client support is built in and supported by Microsoft on NT-based Windows; the AFS client must be installed and supported separately
  • DFS management tools are built in to Microsoft server operating systems
  • DFS-compatible SAN appliances are readily available
  • DFS has read-write (multi-master) replication and failover; AFS only has read-only replication (though DCE DFS, a derivative of AFS, has read-write replication)
  • DFS volumes can be manually parsed and checked using standard filesystem check tools; AFS uses its own file storage mechanisms (namei and inode) that require the AFS salvager to recovery and verify, and in which files and directories appear as nonsense to someone attempting data recovery

Drawbacks compared to AFS

  • AFS supports Unix-style symbolic links and same-directory hard links
  • AFS has a unified cross-domain namespace (/afs) and standardized AFSDB record to locate servers in other cells
  • AFS encrypts transmitted file data using ‘fcrypt’, a variant of DES
  • AFS employs a local file cache on the client machine; DFS does not, making it infeasible to run applications or directly manipulate data files that are stored on a network volume
  • AFS employs UNIX filesystem semantics with few exceptions (@sys, cross-directory hard links and device files unsupported); DFS employs Windows filesystem semantics, so UNIX applications cannot create case-differentiated file names, create files corresponding to MS-DOS devices (con, aux, prn, lpt[1-9], com[1-9], nul), or create files with reserved characters in the name (such as a colon character)
  • AFS users can create and manage their own ACL groups; DFS ACL groups can only be created by domain administrators

the pulpit

Thursday, March 31st, 2005

Society is not defined by what is right and wrong, and legislators would be best off leaving that question to the pulpit. When people form a society, they share a set of values which are used to define the rights which that society will protect for its citizens. The legislative concept of right and wrong should have its basis in these rights, not in the subjective morality of individual desires. “What rights are we protecting through this legislation?” “What rights would this legislation potentially impinge upon?” are the questions legislators should be asking, not “How will this promote my agenda” or “What would Jesus do?”


Thursday, March 31st, 2005

What is truth? Truth is a consensus. We can only judge reality through our perceptions, and those perceptions are demonstrably fallible. So truth is only what we can agree on. In the scientific method, evidence is paramount in demonstrating truth. The scientific method is the best mechanism we have for finding truth. It is tempting thus to implicitly accept all information as truth from persons who refer to themselves as scientists. This leads to an argument from authority fallacy. It is possible, after all, for someone who refers to themselves as a scientist to not practice the scientific method. Therefore, we introduce credibility to replace authority as a metric for evaluating a claim. Credibility is determined by examining all past claims of this person and judging whether or not the provided evidence supports their claim.

Credibility is domain specific. Judging a claim includes both judging the individual as being fundamentally intellectually honest and a steward of truth as opposed to one who is subject to biases or who makes exceptions to truth seeking in special cases, and also judging whether the credibility domain of the individual includes the claim they are making.

It is possible for even credible sources to be wrong though. So we cannot just implicitly accept the claims of credible sources, they still must be evaluated ourselves. Using credibility, we can establish an order in which we evaluate claims, since we have no time to evaluate them all. In an instance where two claims are equivalently supported but contradict each other, we will go with the claim of the more credible source until the less credible provides more evidence to overcome the credibility gap.

Information overload is the big problem of this age. We need efficiency in sorting through the barrage of information that bombards us from all angles.Determining a source's overall credibility as well as his domain credibility is the most important thing we can do to ensure that we are not deceived. Weeding out junk claims in this fashion will force people to provide more solid evidence and reasoning to gain our attention, which means less of our time is spent entertaining claims which lack truth.