Archive for April, 2016

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Aircraft pron

April 30, 2016

Here’s a nice picture of Solar Impulse 2 during its flight between Honolulu, Hawaii and Mountain View, California. The flight is part of its circumnavigation of the globe.

solar-impulse-2

This appeared, with 5 other pix, at Popular Science.

The thing that struck me in the article, though, was that this flight took 62.5 hours. If you look up the distance between Hawaii and California, you get (roughly) 2500 miles. That would make the average speed during the flight about 40 MPH.

What type of craft can stay aloft at that slow speed? Was there a continual headwind that added to its airspeed? Or do its long wings just provide incredible lift?

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The engineering is settled

April 26, 2016

Via Coyoteblog, I came across this post at The Unbroken Window. It piqued my interest, since my first job after engineering school was working at Tucson Electric.

I enjoyed this report from the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, which is a nice nuts and bolts summary of the electricity challenges facing developed nations in the next 30 years. Here is the slide most people would simply reject out of hand:

Ontario-Engineers-dilemma

The engineers’ report is a year old. If you’re interested in reading it, you can find it here. (It’s a PDF that looks to have been made from a slide deck.)

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So what happened to "livin’ right and bein’ free"?

April 26, 2016

Here’s an e-mail I got today from Scott Bullock with the Institute for Justice. You gotta love what the IJ does — and they don’t fool around.

Yesterday, IJ won our fastest victory ever. Just hours after we launched our latest civil forfeiture case with an exclusive feature in The Washington Post, the government agreed to drop all charges against our clients and returned every cent that it had wrongfully seized.

This case involves one of the most outrageous forfeiture actions we’ve seen yet. During a routine traffic stop for a broken tail light, the Muskogee, Oklahoma, sheriff’s department seized more than $53,000 from our clients—a church and a Burmese Christian band on tour in the U.S. trying to raise funds for charity. The full Washington Post story is here, and you can find more information about the case, including IJ’s video, on our website.

Law enforcement nationwide continues to use civil forfeiture to steal property and hard-earned cash from innocent owners. But with your support, we were able to act quickly and marshal resources across time zones—and, in this case, continents—to come to their defense. Despite its short duration, this case involved a great deal of work and hustle by IJ attorneys. Indeed, I suspect this is the first time anyone has had to chase down notaries in Burma, rural Thailand, Omaha, and Dallas all on the same day. This victory brings us one step closer to our goal of abolishing forfeiture, and we are grateful to you for making it possible.

My, what a contrast to Merle Haggard’s song Okie from Muskogee. I wonder what Merle (may he rest in peace) would make of this story?

It sounds to me like some of those Okies aren’t doing right and the rest of ’em may not be too free.

Here’s the IJ’s page about this case: Highway robbery in Muskogee.

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Phones, privacy, and network security

April 23, 2016

Just last night at dinner I was wondering aloud what Apple (and Apple iPhone owners) thought of the FBI’s claims that someone had hacked the phone used by Farook & Malik in San Bernadino. It wasn’t a concern to me since I don’t own an iPhone, but if I did own one I’d be wondering whether (a) the FBI really had hacked the phone and, if so, (b) what that implied about security on my iPhone.

And speak of the Devil… today’s Wall Street Journal ran this article about a newer case. (It’s behind their paywall, of course).

Same stuff, different day.

Federal Prosecutors Drop Court Case to Force Apple to Unlock iPhone

WASHINGTON—The Justice Department on Friday night dropped a court case trying to force Apple Inc. to help authorities open a locked iPhone, adding new uncertainty to the government’s standoff with the technology company over encryption.

In a one-page letter filed with a Brooklyn federal court Friday night, the government said an individual had recently come forward to offer the passcode to the long-locked phone. The filing means that in both of the high-profile cases pitting the Justice Department against Apple, the government first said it couldn’t open the phone, only to suddenly announce it had found a way into the device as the case proceeded in court. […]

The case involves an iPhone 5s that was seized from suspect Jun Feng as part of a 2014 drug investigation in New York. Mr. Feng pleaded guilty last year, but both sides agreed the legal dispute surrounding the phone still needs to be resolved.

After he was arrested, Mr. Feng told agents that he didn’t remember the phone’s passcode, leading investigators eventually to seek Apple’s help. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Mr. Feng only recently learned his phone had become an issue in a high-stakes legal fight between prosecutors and Apple. Mr. Feng, who has pleaded guilty and is due to be sentenced in the coming weeks, is the one who provided the passcode to investigators, according to people familiar with the matter. […]

Earlier this week, James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told a London security conference audience that the government paid more than $1 million for an unidentified third-party to help open the San Bernardino work phone of Syed Rizwan Farook.

Mr. Farook and his wife killed 14 people and wounded 22 in a Dec. 2 shooting rampage at a holiday gathering of county employees, before being killed later that day in a shootout with police.


Earlier this week I ran across this video on Darrell Issa’s Twitter feed.

It makes the point about security on network devices pretty well, I think. The question’s not as simple as people putting their privacy ahead of the common good (as the FBI and politicians would have it). It’s not just about Snapchat and Twitter. It’s about all the data on what have become our personal computers — the bank passwords, or the business data that you don’t want made public, or your Ashley Madison account maybe.

So that makes this an issue about introducing weaknesses in devices on an open network that already has its share of security risks. Anyone work for the OPM? Do you think the Feds should dictate security measures for everyone?


But getting back to what I was wondering about, I couldn’t find that there’d been any answer to that question. Here’s a three-week-old article in the Los Angeles Times.

Apple wants the FBI to reveal how it hacked the San Bernardino killer’s iPhone

Apple Inc. refused to give the FBI software the agency desperately wanted. Now Apple is the one that needs the FBI’s assistance.

The FBI announced Monday that it managed to unlock an iPhone 5c belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters without the help of Apple. And the agency has shown no interest in telling Apple how it skirted the phone’s security features, leaving the tech giant guessing about a vulnerability that could compromise millions of devices.

“One way or another, Apple needs to figure out the details,” said Justin Olsson, product counsel at security software maker AVG Technologies. “The responsible thing for the government to do is privately disclose the vulnerability to Apple so they can continue hardening security on their devices.”

But that’s not how it’s playing out so far. The situation illuminates a process that usually takes place in secret: Governments regularly develop or purchase hacking techniques for law enforcement and counterterrorism efforts, and put them to use without telling affected companies.

I’d be very surprised if Mr. Olsson’s suggestion that the government disclose its method to Apple ever happens.


Update 4/26/16

Well, that easy prediction was quickly confirmed. Here’s more news from today’s Wall Street Journal (and behind its paywall, naturally). My emphasis below.

FBI Plans to Keep Apple iPhone-Hacking Method Secret

The FBI is preparing to send a formal notification to the White House in the coming days saying that while the agency bought a hacking tool from a third party to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, officials aren’t familiar with the underlying code that runs it.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn’t plan to tell Apple Inc. how it cracked a San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist’s phone, said people familiar with the matter, leaving the company in the dark on a security vulnerability on some iPhone models.

The FBI knows how to use the phone-hacking tool it bought to open the iPhone 5c but doesn’t specifically knows how it works, allowing the tool to avoid a White House review, the people said, The FBI plans to notify the White House of this conclusion in the coming days, they added.

Any decision to not share details of the vulnerability with Apple is likely to anger privacy advocates who contend the FBI’s approach to encryption weakens data security for many smartphone and computer owners in order to preserve options for federal investigators to open locked devices. […]

And if you believe the FBI’s claim that it "doesn’t specifically know how it works" then please call me about the bridge I have for sale.

While it’s a Federal crime for us to lie to Federal law enforcement agents, it’s not a crime (of any sort) for them to lie to us.


Update 5/19/16

Here’s probably the most persuasive response to the government’s demands for backdoors in phone security. If a government has access, it will be abuse that access sooner or later.

Apple vs the FBI, a Dispute as Seen From the Cuban Prism

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Washington, 5 March 2016 — When they returned his mobile phone all his contacts had been erased and the card with the photos was gone. Stories like this are repeated among activists who have been detained, over whom an iron vigilance is maintained with the complicity of the Telecommunications Company (ETECSA), the technology arm of repression in Cuba. An entity that should take note of the rebuff Apple has dealt the FBI in the United States, by refusing to access its clients’ data.

For decades, Cuban society has become accustomed to the government’s failing to respect individuals’ private spaces. The state has the power to delve into personal correspondence, to display medical records in front of the cameras, to air private messages on television, and to broadcast phone conversations between critics of the system. In such a framework, intimacy doesn’t exist, one’s personal space has been invaded by power.

People see as “normal” that the phones are tapped and that in the homes of opponents hidden microphones capture even the smallest sigh. It has become common practice for ETECSA to cut off dissidents’ phone service during certain national events or visits from foreign leaders, and to block the reception of messages whose contents upset them. This Orwellian situation has gone on for so long, that few take note any more of the illegality involved and the violation of citizens’ rights it entails.

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It can’t all be bad news, right?

April 22, 2016

I came across a couple of encouraging news items recently. First (via Reason), this news from Florida about a new law governing civil asset forfeiture. (My emphasis below.)

RICK SCOTT SIGNS 14 MORE BILLS INTO LAW

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law another 14 bills from the 2016 Legislative Session. […]

The latest bills include SB 1044, under which law enforcement will have to charge people with a crime before they can seize their money, cars, homes or other property.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, sponsored the measure, which was supported from both sides of the political spectrum.

It’s designed to prevent abuses of the current law, which doesn’t require an arrest before property is seized, but rather law enforcement’s belief that it was likely used in a crime.

“Today is a major win for liberty in the Sunshine State,” Brandes wrote on his Facebook page Friday.

He credited help from fellow Sens. Aaron Bean and Jeff Clemens, and state Reps. Matt Caldwell and Larry Metz, “as well as the wide range of stakeholders from our law enforcement community to civil libertarian organizations.” […]

Now there’s a thought: make the cops stand up in front of God ‘n’ ever’body and charge some people with some crimes if they think crimes were committed.

Amen, Sen. Brandes. It’s a major win indeed. Thank you, Florida! I hope the other states take a lesson.

But, wait, there’s more! And mirabile dictu, it gets even better. The BBC had an article about the State’s Attorney in St. Clair Co., Illinois (which is the next county east of mine).

Could ‘actual innocence’ save the broken US justice system?

In St Clair County, Illinois, the local prosecutor is trying a radical new experiment: admitting his office has charged innocent people with crimes and clearing their names before they spend a day in prison. It’s a unique reform effort as prosecutors around the country face increased scrutiny and diminishing public trust.

Lashonda Moreland’s day had barely begun when the pounding on the front door began. Her husband had already left for work, and she was home with her two children in their second storey apartment in a suburb of St Louis, Missouri.

When a voice barked through the door, Moreland realised the figures outside were police officers.

“He said, ‘You need to open up the door or we’re going to kick it down,'” she recalls. “My kids are scared and they’re crying…I’m upset and I start crying.”

The police arrested Moreland – a 30-year-old home healthcare worker with no criminal history – and she spent the next several days in various jails until she was transferred over the river to St Clair County, Illinois.

“It was scary because I had never been in jail. I never had to be on lockdown,” she says. “I literally cried every day. I was trying to wrap my mind around, ‘Why am I in here?'”

Moreland was accused of shoplifting, evading police and for trying to run down a police officer with her car. […]

All the police had was the licence plate number, which was registered to Lashonda Moreland’s address. When Officer Rutter looked at Moreland’s driver’s licence photo, he immediately identified her as the woman who had tried to run him over.

Moreland didn’t own a Buick, nor did she do her shopping 30 minutes away in a completely different state. She did, however, have a cousin who had registered his maroon Buick LeSabre to her address without telling her. She explained all this to the Fairview Heights police when they first contacted her after the incident, but they didn’t believe her.

Things looked bad for Moreland. She couldn’t prove her alibi and the witness who placed her at the scene was an officer of the law. She was facing up to 11 years in prison.

Instead of getting dragged through a jury trial, something surprising happened. Moreland’s lawyer Kristi Flint told the St Clair County state’s attorney office that her client was innocent. In response, the prosecutor offered Moreland the chance to take a polygraph test. Flint nervously agreed, and Moreland passed. Six months after her arrest, the charges were dropped. Everyone, including the Fairview Heights police department, agrees that Moreland is innocent.

Moreland did not know it at the time, but she was the beneficiary of a new programme created by St Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly: the Actual Innocence Claim Policy and Protocol. It is a unique, pre-conviction intervention which attempts to prevent the “actually innocent” from going through a trial, taking a plea deal, or ending up in prison.

Actual innocence is a legal concept which means, simply, that a defendant did not commit the crime of which he or she is accused. It is usually invoked when a prison inmate is attempting to appeal his sentence, but Kelly wanted to bring the spirit of the concept to the pre-conviction level.

“That’s distinct from ‘I didn’t get treated fairly’,” says Kelly, a Navy veteran who became the county’s top law enforcement officer in 2010 when he was only 34 years old. “It’s not, ‘Some of the evidence was obtained unlawfully, there was an incorrect ruling by the court, on the trial level some error by the defense’ – no, you actually have the wrong person here…they’re actually innocent.”

Since Kelly implemented the policy two years ago, nine defendants – including Lashonda Moreland – have had their charges dropped before trial. Those cases include a reckless homicide by vehicle, four armed robberies and one murder.

To the best of his knowledge, no other prosecutor in the country is attempting anything quite like it. Even the US Department of Justice has taken an interest in what is happening in St Clair County. […]

Kelly does not think being open to admitting law enforcement mistakes makes him soft on crime. He considers himself an “aggressive” prosecutor who believes in law enforcement and its role in bringing about the precipitous decline in crime in the US since the 1990s. […]

“Your local DA is accountable not to some person who appointed them in DC, or some state capitol somewhere, but is accountable to the people that they serve,” he says. “I think the prosecutor has the ability to be uniquely part of the solution, because again, we’re the one entity whose duty is first and foremost to justice.”

Please note that final paragraph. Here’s a State’s Attorney who gets it. (Of course, a cynic might point out that the State of Illinois, in its parlous financial condition, probably can’t afford too many wrongful conviction settlements.)

The only downside to this story is my surprise that the justice system had to come up with the concept of “Actual Innocence” to distinguish how it handles some suspects as compared to how it’s usually handled suspects.

Need I say more about ‘how it’s usually handled suspects’?

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Order yours now

April 20, 2016

Jeff G sent a link to a post at Reason that led me to Liberty Maniacs site, where you’ll find this:

FEELING THE BERNS: BERNIE SANDERS IS ABUSING TRADEMARK LAW TO SUPPRESS MY PARODY

Now Bernie Sanders is trying to abuse trademark law in an attempt to suppress my free speech, in almost the exact way the NSA, DHS, and Hillary Clinton’s Super PAC did.

Yesterday, April 14th, the Bernie Sanders campaign sent a cease and desist letter claiming that I am unlawfully selling my parodies because they used the likeness of the official Bernie Sanders for President logo in this shirt. […]

bernie-is-my-comrade-3001-red-hollowman_grande

I’m hoping the Streisand Effect will kick in and teach at least one lawyer a lesson.

This episode only confirms that your first reaction to any lawyer who sends you a demand letter should be to tell him or her to go piss up a rope. Seriously.

I wish I’d known that 20 years ago when an overzealous legal nitwit at CBS tried to shake me down for a domain name (of all things). I let him off for expenses, which in retrospect was being way too easy on him.

By the way, Liberty Maniacs sells the T-shirt the NSA tried to squash with copyright law.

And is there anything more ridiculous than a publicly funded agency trying to protect a copyright from the very public it’s supposed so serve? Who owns that copyright, anyway? Shouldn’t it be public property since it was funded with public money?

Why does the NSA even have lawyers to write those obnoxious demand letters?

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Heh (3)

April 16, 2016

I found this pretty amusing not only on its face but also because it reminded me of a similar discussion I had in the summer of 2000. At the time, I was managing a small development group in Minneapolis. One of the group members was a fairly hippie cat who wrote Java for the company’s web site. We came to get along fairly well and we spent a few evenings eating pizza (in the office) and discussing his Java and whether it was good object-oriented design.

I recall one day he was telling me about how he disliked American Consumerism (whatever that means) and how cool it would be instead if people could only trade with each other. I asked him if he meant that everyone would be bartering with one another.

No, he told me, it would have to be more flexible than that. So I asked if his "trading" scheme wouldn’t lead to some type of markets. He admitted it would and added that the thought discouraged him. I was a little bemused by that.

A Hippie Discovers Economics, And You’ll Never Guess What Happens Next!
What if we all grew crops and traded with each other? And what if we discovered the science of economics?

A post from Facebook has been making the rounds, where I came across it by way of my Federalist colleague Scott Lincicome.

grow-food-not-lawns

Here’s the mind-blowing argument: “If we each grow a large crop of different food, we could all trade with each other and eat for practically free.”

Where to start?

Well, for one thing, growing your own food isn’t exactly “free,” not even “practically free.” As anyone who has his own vegetable garden knows, it requires seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, weeding, protection from insects and birds and animals, and a lot of work. The cost may not all be measured in monetary terms, but it isn’t free. In fact, it’s notoriously easy for a vegetable garden to end up costing more money than it saves, which is why most of us do it just as a hobby. […]

But let’s not pick this apart. Let’s take the idea seriously. Hey, what if we all became small farmers and traded with each other? As they say on the Internet: you’ll never guess what happened next.

Maybe instead of everybody growing the same things, we could all produce what we’re best at and trade with others for what we need. We could come up with a catchy name for this, like “division of labor.” And we would need somewhere to exchange these goods with each other, which we could call a “market.”

Don’t Stop There!

Maybe we could get even more specialized. Some people could devote themselves just to growing young plants in greenhouses in the spring for others to plant when the weather gets warmer. Or they could provide seeds for other people to use, or breed hybrids with better yields or other desirable characteristics.

And maybe some crops would grow better in different areas, or at different seasons. I’ll bet you can’t grow blackberries in the middle of winter, but there are other areas of the country, or of the world, where these things still grow even when they won’t grow in your front yard. Maybe you could trade with people who live in those places.

Still, crops come ripe at different times, so maybe we need a system where I can trade my spring harvest of peas for somebody else’s fall harvest of pumpkins. Maybe we could write this all down on little pieces of paper which we pass between us to make trades. Has anybody ever thought of that? […]

It’s a tough problem to design a replacement for a system which generates an enormous bounty but which still doesn’t give the results you like. It’s an attitude I hear from Senator Sanders when he says things like, "You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country."

I take Sen. Sanders claim about hungry children as just more political hyperbole. Here’s a fact-checking article about how measures of "food security" have replaced measures of going hungry because, basically, there aren’t many children who actually go hungry. These days, there are just varying amounts of food in the pantry.

I won’t say that children never go hungry or are never poorly nourished but I suspect that when they do (or are), it’s not for lack of food but instead for lack of responsible parents or care-givers.

I’m not sure what the relationship is between "too many" choices in the consumer market and the number of irresponsible parents. I don’t think Sen. Sanders knows that relationship either.

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