Friday, December 21, 2012

Why Not Renew the “Assault Weapons” Ban? Well, I’ll Tell You… « Kontradictions

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Facts about Mass Shootings

December 16, 2012 4:00 P.M.

The Facts about Mass Shootings
It’s time to address mental health and gun-free zones.

By John Fund

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Near the Newtown, Conn., school massacre

A few things you won’t hear about from the saturation coverage of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre:

Mass shootings are no more common than they have been in past decades, despite the impression given by the media.

In fact, the high point for mass killings in the U.S. was 1929, according to criminologist Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Incidents of mass murder in the U.S. declined from 42 in the 1990s to 26 in the first decade of this century.

The chances of being killed in a mass shooting are about what they are for being struck by lightning.

Until the Newtown horror, the three worst K–12 school shootings ever had taken place in either Britain or Germany.

Almost all of the public-policy discussion about Newtown has focused on a debate over the need for more gun control. In reality, gun control in a country that already has 200 million privately owned firearms is likely to do little to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals. We would be better off debating two taboo subjects — the laws that make it difficult to control people with mental illness and the growing body of evidence that “gun-free” zones, which ban the carrying of firearms by law-abiding individuals, don’t work.

First, the mental-health issue. A lengthy study by Mother Jones magazine found that at least 38 of the 61 mass shooters in the past three decades “displayed signs of mental health problems prior to the killings.” New York Times columnist David Brooks and Cornell Law School professor William Jacobson have both suggested that the ACLU-inspired laws that make it so difficult to intervene and identify potentially dangerous people should be loosened. “Will we address mental-health and educational-privacy laws, which instill fear of legal liability for reporting potentially violent mentally ill people to law enforcement?” asks Professor Jacobson. “I doubt it.”

Gun-free zones have been the most popular response to previous mass killings. But many law-enforcement officials say they are actually counterproductive. “Guns are already banned in schools. That is why the shootings happen in schools. A school is a ‘helpless-victim zone,’” says Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff. “Preventing any adult at a school from having access to a firearm eliminates any chance the killer can be stopped in time to prevent a rampage,” Jim Kouri, the public-information officer of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, told me earlier this year at the time of the Aurora, Colo., Batman-movie shooting. Indeed, there have been many instances — from the high-school shooting by Luke Woodham in Mississippi, to the New Life Church shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo. — where a killer has been stopped after someone got a gun from a parked car or elsewhere and confronted the shooter.

Economists John Lott and William Landes conducted a groundbreaking study in 1999, and found that a common theme of mass shootings is that they occur in places where guns are banned and killers know everyone will be unarmed, such as shopping malls and schools.

I spoke with Lott after the Newtown shooting, and he confirmed that nothing has changed to alter his findings. He noted that the Aurora shooter, who killed twelve people earlier this year, had a choice of seven movie theaters that were showing the Batman movie he was obsessed with. All were within a 20-minute drive of his home. The Cinemark Theater the killer ultimately chose wasn’t the closest, but it was the only one that posted signs saying it banned concealed handguns carried by law-abiding individuals. All of the other theaters allowed the approximately 4 percent of Colorado adults who have a concealed-handgun permit to enter with their weapons.

“Disarming law-abiding citizens leaves them as sitting ducks,” Lott told me. “A couple hundred people were in the Cinemark Theater when the killer arrived. There is an extremely high probability that one or more of them would have had a legal concealed handgun with him if they had not been banned.”

Lott offers a final damning statistic: “With just one single exception, the attack on congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011, every public shooting since at least 1950 in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns.”

There is no evidence that private holders of concealed-carry permits (which are either easy to obtain or not even required in more than 40 states) are any more irresponsible with firearms than the police. According to a 2005 to 2007 study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Bowling Green State University, police nationwide were convicted of firearms violations at least at a 0.002 percent annual rate. That’s about the same rate as holders of carry permits in the states with “shall issue” laws.

Despite all of this evidence, the magical thinking behind gun-free zones is unlikely to be questioned in the wake of the Newtown killings. Having such zones gives people a false sense of security, and woe to the politician or business owner who now suggests that a “gun-free zone” revert back to what critics would characterize as “a wild, wild West” status. Indeed, shortly after the Cinemark attack in Colorado, the manager of the nearby Northfield Theaters changed its policy and began banning concealed handguns.

In all of the fevered commentary over the Newtown killings, you will hear little discussion of the fact that we may be making our families and neighbors less safe by expanding the places where guns aren’t allowed. But that is precisely what we may be doing. Both criminals and the criminally insane have shown time and time again that those laws are the least of the problems they face as they carry out their evil deeds.

— John Fund is a national-affairs columnist for NRO.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012


I sit here today absolutely crushed and heartbroken.  Tears keep welling and I cannot get my heart away from the pain of the loss in CT.  


I keep seeing the angry, torn, heartfelt and terrified remarks online and in the media.  Many want to lash out at what they seem to think are obvious causes but so few have been able to put rational thought to this most horrible of tragedies.

Here is my attempt at rationality written through the fog of tears the day after:

There is a very tired and overused comparison among law enforcement, military, and others in our society.  It compares the everyday person and a small minority that move among them to sheep and sheepdogs.  This comparison is widely batted around on days like today when the broken, the evil, or “the wolf”, has us all running for safety.

So I offer this simple question.  Why do we take the most precious of us - the “lambs” if you will - and put them in the most open clearing,  at the same time and place each day,  and then take away the sheepdogs?

Friday, December 07, 2012

Pi factory processes

Triumph and disaster: Two migrations to OpenOffice

It must have seemed a sure thing. With costs for Microsoft Office around $75 per seat per year for public administration, the city of Freiburg in Germany embarked on a migration to, figuring it'd save a bundle in license fees. With 2,000 users, the move would amass $150,000 annually. So the city tried.

Five years and at least $600,000 on, with unhappy staff complaining of interoperability problems with Microsoft Office documents, city administrators called in a consultant from a Microsoft partner to support the city council in fixing the problem. The solution proposed: a complete reversal of course, switching back to Microsoft Office for a sum of at least $500,000, with a $360-per-seat cost for licensing Microsoft Office and no firm estimates for undoing the earlier migration.

[ Open source suites go beyond Microsoft Office [1] | Track the latest trends in open source with InfoWorld's Technology: Open Source newsletter [2]. ]

What went wrong? Was it simply that the open source software was incapable of delivering the functions that Freiburg needed? The first hint that the answer to that question would require some digging came when, almost simultaneously, another German city -- Munich -- announced that the success of its open source migration had netted savings around $13 million.

When two almost-simultaneous announcements on the same topic have opposite conclusions, you know complexity awaits, with deeper lessons to be learned. Working out exactly what's been happening has been involved, first because there is an amazing volume of paperwork to digest and because everything beyond the superficial is in German. With help from friends in Germany, I've worked my way through some of the information about both Freiburg and Munich.

Cost cutting, two ways
The contrast between the approach taken in the two cities is striking. Freiburg -- a smaller city administration -- focused on cost cutting. It recognized there would be one-off costs to pay from template and macro migration, as well as user training, but it stuck with Windows desktops, retained certain existing applications, and even allowed some staff to opt out of the migration entirely and keep using Microsoft Office. It seems there was a limited uptake of migration training, too. The result was an environment with both 3.2 and Office 2000 in use throughout the attempted migration.

Because Office 2000 did not support the OpenDocument format standard, this guaranteed a flow of documents in the formats used by both office suites, maximizing opportunities for incompatibility. By all accounts, the city stuck with those old versions of both Office and and allowed the mixed environment to persist throughout. No two word processors can ever be 100 percent compatible with each other's file formats; only a well-defined, standard format implemented by both stands any chance of interoperability. Unsurprisingly, staff ran into problems with document compatibility; equally unsurprising, the crew blamed the "new" software for the problems.

Looking at the numbers (see my article in ComputerworldUK [3] for more details), it appears that the expenditure in Freiburg was dominated by the idea of cutting licensing costs. I may be missing it in the reports, but I couldn't find any sign of investment in the open source software itself. The report -- and the subsequent PR from Freiburg -- talks about the "uncertainty" of the software (forked to create LibreOffice [4], abandoned by Oracle, then repurposed by IBM and others at Apache) but makes no mention of investment in the software.

Investing in empowerment
By contrast, the city of Munich's migration was all in, full on, and nonoptional. The city switched to Linux desktops as well as to It hired staff to work in the open source community, developing features and fixing bugs. The government invested in software, helping develop the comprehensive WollMux [5] tool to manage its usage, as well as the LiMux platform [6]. Administrators stayed up-to-date, switching to LibreOffice once it was obvious it was the vendor-supported and active forward path for the productivity suite. The crew engaged expert vendors to improve the open source software for them [7]. As well as investing in IT and technology, Munich's workers invested in the user community, hiring staff to manage communications inside and outside the organization too.

If your primary assumption is that an open source migration saves money [8], this sounds crazy. Why spend so much money and effort? The reason is Microsoft's desktop environment is largely immune to drop-in replacement. Switching away involves breaking the lock-in and changing the software. This is the big lie of "interoperability." Any time you see that word in the context of a software migration, you can be sure that someone somewhere wants you to believe you can switch suppliers without breaking the lock-in.

Munich realized the importance of open source software came from empowerment rather than license price. Yes, it saved $13 million, with more cash likely to come. But to do so involved using software freedom to break the lock-in holding back the city. Achieving this was a long-term strategy, one that involved learning and course corrections. It also involved investment -- in software, in community, in engagement.

As Munich frees itself from vendor control over its IT architecture, it is increasingly able to prioritize its own decisions and gain greater control over software budgets, eliminating the worry over arbitrary price rises [9] or non-negotiable fees. But that doesn't mean no spending; value always costs money. Freiburg tried to save money in the short term without breaking the lock-in and failed. Munich invested in open source empowerment and created a long-term strategy to break the lock-in. Now it's sitting pretty.

This article, "Triumph and disaster: Two migrations to OpenOffice [10]," was originally published [11]. Read more of the Open Sources blog [12] and follow the latest developments inopen source [13] at For the latest business technology news, on Twitter [14].

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

‘Obama for America’ chose Ubuntu for their systems.

With the Election in the rear-view mirror for Americans we are starting to learn about the tools, assets and people that helped President Barack Obama win re-election.

One of tools that helped give Obama for America an edge was “Ubuntu” due to its cost-savings and the familiarity that members of the team had with it and how well it was supported in the cloud.

I recently had an opportunity to interview Daniel Ryan, who was the Director of Front-End Development for Obama for America, and here’s what he had to say…

Hi Daniel, So you lead front-end development for Obama For America (hereon ‘OFA’), Can you tell me more about this role and what it entailed?

Sure. I led a team of two dozen developers, QA techs and support staff that produced client-side code for the campaign. Additionally I liaised with our server-side and devops teams to coordinate work between everyone.

So there has obviously been quite a bit of buzz surrounding the news that OFA used Ubuntu can you tell me why you guys chose Ubuntu and why it was a valuable piece of the puzzle?

‘Ubuntu was the lowest cost route’

Rather than me telling you what I think, I asked Scott VanDenPlas, our lead DevOps engineer, why we chose Ubuntu:

Sure, it was the lowest cost route. Don’t care what we run in ops necessarily, but engineers have all used Ubuntu on desktop at least. Debian underpinnings are awesome, and we did deploy our apps via apt…

In the end, it keeps a consistent environment for developers and makes it familiar. We always tried to get out of the way. Ubuntu also tends to be updated very aggressively, and is well integrated with ec2. The cloud-init stuff Moser worked on was very helpful early on as well.

‘I’ve been considering installing Ubuntu as my personal OS’

I see you’re quite the Pythonista! What kind of hardware do you develop on and what OS? If not Ubuntu why?

I write my code on a MacBook Air running Mountain Lion and deploy to EC2 running Ubuntu 12.04 server.

I’ve been considering installing Ubuntu as my personal OS for a while, but I’ve never wanted to spend the time learning new tools to make the transition.

What kinds of hobbies do you have outside of technology?

Currently my biggest hobby is sleeping and sitting on a beach. It’s been quite a year and a half. My academic background is in history, so I love reading good history. I got on a big John Adams kick while at the campaign.

‘we’re not in a zero-sum game; everyone can share effort and reap reward.’

What are your thoughts on technology like OpenStack?

It’s absolutely fascinating to me. Thinking of computing on a building or multi-site level is such a mind-bender. It’s great to see so many big players working together to build out standards like this.

I really love the mindset behind open-source that says we’re not in a zero-sum game; everyone can share effort and reap reward.

Where do you go from here now that the re-election was a success?

I’m considering a bunch of offers, thinking about potential start-ups, and mostly enjoying time to catch up with my family and friends. I won’t be making any big decisions before 2013.

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers interested in getting involved in technology within the political realm?

I was chosen by the campaign in large part because of my work in responsive design and big data visualizations.

From a skills standpoint, the work that makes you stand out in any development crowd will apply to the political arena as well.

Get involved with things like Code for America. There’s a finite pool of need for devs in politics, but an infinite need for devs in civic governance.

We would like to thank Daniel Ryan and Scott VenDenPlas for taking time out of their busy schedule to do this interview with us.


You can find Daniel Ryan’s code on GitHub
Daniel Ryan’s Personal Website is at
Daniel Ryan is also on Twitter

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Monday, October 29, 2012

When the phones don't work: How to use amateur radio in emergencies - a short guide for non-ham's.

I've just spent the last few days producing gray hair over both my sons - one lives in the path of hurricane Sandy and the other was just outside of the tsunami evacuation zone this weekend in Honolulu.  Last year during hurricane Irene I lost contact with one son for several days.  So this subject is pretty dear to me - when TSHTF your family and friends will make themselves insane wondering if you are okay.  

You see I am an amateur radio operator so it all seems simple to me but even my close family members are somewhat confused about what to do when the phones don't work.  The simplest answer and what you really need to know can be summed up like this:

Go to the red cross shelter nearest you and ask to talk to an amateur radio operator.  Hams are nearly always attached to shelters and pass information between the various emergency agencies and authorities.  The "ham" will take a message from you and it will be passed outside of the disaster zone and relayed from one operator to another until it is delivered.  Messages are normally delivered in a few hours but, the process can sometimes take a day or two so do this as soon as you are able to safely get to a shelter.  If a shelter isn't an option - ask an emergency responder  or just look for a large antenna array in your neighborhood and knock on the door. 


The long answer:  "Hams" pass messages out of disaster or emergency zones in a couple of ways.  Most generally it's in the form of a "Radiogram".  The operator you talk to will take down information on who to deliver the message to and the specific message text.  He will pass it verbatim either via voice or one of several digital methods on to other operators.  Sometimes via a formal structure called a "net" or possibly just ham to ham.  

Nets are a regular, scheduled, time and frequency that hams agree to meet on.  There are nets specifically for emergencies - like the hurricane net that runs whenever there is an active storm.  It's major purpose is to pass weather observations to the national hurricane center from within the storm track (As the storm moves they tend to knock out phones, power, internet and even satellite communication so amateur radio becomes the only reliable method).  

There are nets for maritime travelers - many boats rely on maritime nets for weather forecasts and report trouble or request assistance on these nets.  There are also emergency nets in almost every state and county in the nation, and of course there are nets for the discussion of everything from politics to certain brands and models of radios. Your message to the folks back home will likely be passed via at least one of these nets.  It will be passed from ham to ham until someone in your area receives it and either calls the recipient on the phone or delivers it in person.  

In the absence of an active net an operator may simply call for other operators in, or close to the message destination to help.  99.9% of amateur radio operators consider this pretty much the highest calling of the hobby and will not only gladly accept the responsibility of handling the message but may go to great lengths and even personal expense to be sure it's delivered.

Passing messages is only one facet of what we do.  During a time of regional or national emergency there will be a more formal assembly and deployment of radio amateurs - for example the fires in Colorado this past summer saw hundreds of hams donating their time, skill, and equipment to aid the firefighters and keep the public safe.  Hams provided services ranging from passing supply and evacuee information from shelter to shelter all the way to live video of fire lines and direct weather telemetry.  

As radio amateurs we practice with drills, nets, and even an entire weekend every spring in which we purposely run our stations on emergency power and make contacts all over the world.  Yes we are a little "touched" as my grandmother would say but we truly love our hobby - not just for the gadgets, which is rewarding and fun enough but for the chance that we may be able to do something in a time when others need our help.

If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being in a disaster zone and having no communication - remember: Red Cross shelter, emergency personnel, or look for that big antenna.  

For more general information on amateur radio please visit the American Radio Relay League.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Katee Sackhoff takes possession of a cycle fit for Starbuck

As if I wasn't in love with her before... She's a biker too. You are pure awesomeness Katee!

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Looks like I'm done with OpenDNS

Here's why:

For some reason they feel it's necessary to proxy/decrypt SSL sessions.  Really dislike it ALLOT when I go to login to my bank or PayPal account and get a warning about the SSL cert belonging not to PayPal but OpenDNS.  Hey OpenDNS - WTF?  What possible rationale do you have for doing this?

If I'm a customer that wants you to scan my outbound traffic for data leaks and authorize this then fine.  Doing it to folks that just want fast reliable DNS is shady at best.  Like a mailbox rental place that opens everyone's letters and packages before sending them.  

Second, I use a certain anonymizing proxy for some things.  Suddenly OpenDNS has decided to just not resolve that FQDN. They aren't openly blocking it. They just refuse to resolve it.  They will tell you the DNS servers responsible for that domain but just refuse to return the actual records - substituting them with one of their own (I suspect another OpenDNS man in the middle attack).  The servers are working, the DNS servers for that domain are working, and looking up that FQDN on any other DNS server that behaves rationally returns the actual address records.  Not OpenDNS - the passive aggressive filtering DNS company...

Annoying.  I had held them out and even recommended them as a respectable, fast and trustworthy company.  Hate it when I get proven wrong.

Air Conditioning the Military Costs More Than NASA's Entire Budget

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Smug IT Security Guy Fail

I write (gripe) about IT security failures all the time on this blog.  Sometimes pointing fingers and laughing.  Well I had one of my own and it points out a couple of really great points.  1. Even IT security pros make dumb mistakes 2. Always follow your own advice.

Here's what happened.  In my home, my sons and I have this little game where we try to grab each other's devices and make a post Facebook - Twitter - G+ etc.  After being owned a few times I locked down my phone.  Turns out this is a PIA.  When I grab my mobile I want instant gratification not a password challenge.  Also on Android you miss out on some pretty nifty lock screen features if you use a passcode/pattern/face.

So I got a cool app (Perfect App Lock) and setup access for the apps that posed a danger.  Done and done.  You'd think.

What I failed to do however was #1 on the list of developing any security policy.  I didn't do a threat assessment before starting.

I installed and configured the app and setup my "forgot pass code" security question.  I selected a question that was not in any way public information and was quite personal.  Pretty normal for me in my day to day security.  This would have prevented any stranger from being able to use my apps.  Someone that knows me intimately - like say, my sons - however, well, not so much.  My brilliant 13 yr old circumvented the app in seconds.

Facepalm.  I fell into my normal security mode and totally failed to consider the "threat" I was trying to protect against.

Do. Your. Threat. Assessment.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Computer analysis brings future of Afghanistan war into focus


A U.S. soldier fires at Taliban positions during a firefight in Afghanistan. (John Cantlie / Getty Images / July 16, 2012)


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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

TSA Should Follow the Law

TSA Should Follow the Law

Posted by Jim Harper

A year ago this coming Sunday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the Transportation Security Administration to do a notice-and-comment rulemaking on its use of Advanced Imaging Technology (aka “body-scanners” or “strip-search machines”) for primary screening at airports. (The alternative for those who refuse such treatment: a prison-style pat-down.) It was a very important ruling, for reasons I discussed in a post back then. The TSA was supposed to publish its policy in the Federal Register, take comments from the public, and issue a final rule that responds to public input.

So far, it hasn’t done any of those things.

The reason for the delay, stated in a filing with the court last year, was the complexity and expense of doing a rulemaking in this area. But CEI’s Ryan Radia, at work on a legal brief in the case, notes that The TSA has devoted substantial resources to the PreCheck program during this time, rolling it out to additional airports. How can an agency pour resources into its latest greatest project yet claim poverty when it comes to complying with the law?

So on Monday, I started a petition on It says the president should “Require the Transportation Security Administration to Follow the Law!

By the end of the day yesterday, the petition had garnered the 150 signatures needed to get it published on The petition says:

Defying the court, the TSA has not satisfied public concerns about privacy, about costs and delays, security weaknesses, and the potential health effects of these machines. If the government is going to “body-scan” Americans at U.S. airports, President Obama should force the TSA to begin the public process the court ordered.

That’s not a huge request. Getting 25,000 signatures requires the administration to supply a response, according to the White House’s petition rules.

The response we want is legal compliance. The public deserves to know where the administration stands on freedom to travel, and the rule of law. While TSA agents bark orders at American travelers, should the agency itself be allowed to flout one of the highest courts in the land? If the petition gets enough signatures, we’ll find out.

Signing the petition requires an email for confirmation, but it does not sign you up for any mailing list unless you volunteer for that. If you’re quite concerned about sharing an email, you can create a throwaway email on AOL or Yahoo! and use it once.

Please pass the word about the petition. If it gets to 25,000 people, the Obama administration will owe the public a response. I’ll report on it, and whether or not it’s satisfactory, right here.

This is important. Sign the petition here:

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Thursday, July 05, 2012

ClassicMenu Indicator Brings Ubuntu's Classic Menu to Unity


Even though I'm in love with Unity's dash and HUD I've missed the menu. This is awesome!

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quick Pontification on the "Health Care" law...

Ok, Gonna say it once here.  I'm disappointed that the Affordable Care Act was upheld.  I know this will surprise my friends that have somehow convinced themselves that I'm a Liberal.  (hint: I'm also not a Conservative - deal with it)

  • First of all lets get something straight.  It's the "Affordable Care Act" NOT "Obamacare".  Stop being children.
  • Second - this is a law architected by Republicans.  Essentially it's the same law that John Boehner and others proposed as an alternative to Hillary Clinton's proposal in the 90's.  It was dumb then and it's dumb now - and it's astronomically hypocritical for the the republicans to have such a conniption over it. 
  • Third - This is not a law about health care.  It's a law that fills the coffers of insurance companies. Companies who's business success depends on NOT paying for your healthcare.  Think about that. 
  • Fourth - And most important.  We have still not had a real debate on healthcare in the US.  I was hoping that the law would be struck down which should actually force some action on health care.  Apparently it takes a 2x4 across the nose to get certain political parties off their fat asses.  With the law standing it will just mean that the republicans have something else to distract in the elections (at least its not the 3Gs for a change *) and the dems - well they will be dems and do not a fucking thing as usual.
* 3Gs = Guns, God, Gays...  

Monday, June 25, 2012

Nvidia Loses a Large GPU Order Due To Closed Source Drivers

And this, boys and girls is why companies should pay attention to open source...

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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

It Evolved Into Birds: Ten Science-Fictional Thinkers On the Past and Future of Cyberpunk | Motherboard

It Evolved Into Birds: Ten Science-Fictional Thinkers On the Past and Future of Cyberpunk

Posted by Claire_Evans on Wednesday, Jun 06, 2012

Check out Part I of Claire Evans’ Cyberpunk series, asking the question “what happened to cyberpunk?,” here.

In the early 1980s, the science fiction sub-genre of cyberpunk seemed like the voice of a generation. Visceral, topical, and nihilistic, cyberpunk aimed to be to the 21st century what punk rock was to the 20th. Today, however, despite our exponentially increased intimacy with technology, it’s more immediately associated with Max Headroom than maximum cultural dissent. Yesterday I asked myself what happened to cyberpunk; for today, I put the question to ten science-fictional thinkers, including a coterie of the O.G. cyberpunks.

William Gibson

William Gibson is the author of Neuromancer. See an interview with him here.

Cyberpunk today is a standard Pantone shade in pop culture. You know it when you see it.

Rudy Rucker

Rudy Rucker is the Philip K. Dick award-winning author of the “Ware” Tetralogy, a computer scientist-cum-philosopher, and one of the founders of cyberpunk as we know it. He presently edits the science fiction webzine Flurb.

Although cyberpunk is now viewed as a successful subgenre of SF, it was indeed controversial when we started. But that’s the way we wanted it. All of us had, and still have, an implacable and unrelenting desire to shatter the limits of consensus reality. If nobody’s pissed off, you’re not trying hard enough. I’ll never stop being a cyberpunk. We started writing cyberpunk because we had a really strong discontent with the status quo in science fiction, and with the state of human society at large. Conventional thinkers even now aren’t yet comfortable with the notion that digital reality and mental reality are points on a continuum. Another cyberpunk teaching that’s not so widely known is that digital things can be squishy, funky, and smooth. Like robots that are made of soft, flickering plastic that’s infested with smelly mold.

Cyberpunk is roadkill on the information superhighway of the 1990s.

Charlie Stross:

Charlie Stross is the Locus and Hugo-winning author of Accelerando and Singularity Sky.

Cyberpunk is roadkill on the information superhighway of the 1990s. No more and no less. Bruce Sterling more or less declared it dead in 1985, and he was right; as a movement within SF it had done its job by then. The world we live in is the future of the 1980s cyberpunks.

This is not necessarily a good thing.

Benjamin Rosenbaum:

Benjamin Rosenbaum is a computer programmer and author of science-fiction short stories that have been published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Harper’s and McSweeney’s.

Cyberpunk is the genre that gave us the lingusitic back-formation “-punk”, meaning, “genre which messes around with”; but unlike its successor “-punk” genres (cypher, steam, etc) cyberpunk was actually related to punk music: raw, gritty, anarchic, rebellious, disgusted with empty conventions and proprieties, obsessed (on a certain level) with authenticity. Just as the innovation of the early rock and rollers and the British Invasion had degenerated (from the punk rock perspective) into the bloated pretensions, the light shows and orchestral follies, of 70s dinosaur bands, so too the authentic speculation of Golden Age SF had degenerated into a series of tropes — FTL galactic empires, humanoid aliens, nefarious AIs, loyal robots — which represented (to the cyberpunks), not thinking about the future, but merely using it as a set dressing. The real future was happening all around them, in waves of privatization and deregulation and postindustrialism and the end of jobs-for-life, in the Apple ][s and 7800 baud modems and BBSs… and the dinosaur bands of SF were ignoring it in favor of the light shows of interstellar colonialist adventure.

Now, of course, cyberpunk itself has suffered the same fate. Noir antiheroes in mirrorshades and black trenchcoats hacking into corporate and government systems, the internet envisioned as an immersive (even physically invasive) world — these are no longer daring speculations: they are Hollywood staples. The internet is here and much of its nomenclature derives from cyberpunk’s visions; the world is full of the real-life successors of Case and Hiro — network manipulators with flexible moralities, independent streaks, and a willingness to hide in the nooks and crannies of the Matrix — from Nigerian scammers to Julian Assange. But of course, now that they’re real, they’re harder to imagine as Keanu Reeves saving the day.

This produces a bifurcation. The tropes and standard moves of cyberpunk are static; the spirit moves on. No true cyberpunk, in 2012, would be caught dead writing “cyberpunk”, any more than a 1980 cyberpunk would have written trope-y planetary romance. The creators of cyberpunk are mostly still active, writing all manner of things, their restless spirit of inquiry still intact. They handed off their famous tropes to the decidedly un-punk factories of standard fiction, and asked new questions.

If nobody’s pissed off, you’re not trying hard enough. I’ll never stop being a cyberpunk.


Pat Cadigan:

One of the few women associated with the early cyberpunk movement, Pat Cadigan is the author of Synners and Fools, both awarded the Arthur C. Clarke award.

Nothing “happened,” it’s just more evenly distributed now.

John Shirley:

John Shirley is a seminal cyberpunk, author of the Song Called Youth trilogy, City Come A-Walkin’, and Black Glass. He is also known for his avant-garde horror novels and stories; critic Larry McCaffery called him a “post-modern Edgar Allen Poe.” He has collaborated with fellow cyberpunks William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, and Bruce Sterling.

There is a new collection of Cyberpunk stories coming from Underland Press, with me and Gibson etc… my cyberpunk novel Black Glass came out just a few years ago. But on the whole what happened to it, is that it was appropriated, co-opted, by other people, into other forms…cannibalized…I’ve done a redrafting and updating of my cyberpunk trilogy A Song Called Youth, in a single volume… And that is brand new and people are paying attention to it.

The world is full of network manipulators with flexible moralities, independent streaks, and a willingness to hide in the nooks and crannies of the Matrix. But of course, now that they’re real, they’re harder to imagine as Keanu Reeves saving the day.


Douglas Rushkoff:

Douglas Rushkoff is a writer and theorist strongly affiliated with the early cyberpunk movement, and author of ten books on media and technology, including Program or Be Programmed and Cyberia. He teaches in the Media Studies department at The New School University.

For most people, it was surrendered to the cloud. For those who understand, it stayed on their hard drives.

Neal Stephenson:

Neal Stephenson is the author of Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon,_ and the_ Diamond Age, all classics of speculative fiction.

It evolved into birds.

Illustration by Julien Pacaud

Cory Doctorow:

Cory Doctorow is a blogger, journalist, and award-winning science fiction author. Co-editor of the blog Boing Boing, he is a global advocate for the liberalization of copyright laws.

Funny thing about the OG cyberpunks is that they all talk slowly. Gibson, Sterling, Cadigan, Rucker, Womack — southerners and midwesterners, all with rather magisterial delivery, all slow. All the c-punky/post-c-punky writers I know — me, Stross, Beukes, Rosenbaum — talk like auctioneers, rattling at high speed like a rickety rollercoaster on the downhill side.

Make of that what you will.

The old guys who built the aerospace industry all grew up reading Heinlein and Clarke, and went into it to turn those crazy things they read as kids into practical realities as adults.


Bruce Bethke:

Bruce Bethke is the author of Headcrash and “Cyberpunk,” the short story that first gave a name to the movement.

As a literary form, what happened was what happens to every successful new thing in any branch of pop culture. Cyberpunk fiction went from being something unexpected, fresh, and original, to being a trendy fashion statement; to being a repeatable commercial formula; to being a hoary trope, complete with a set of stylistic markers and time-honored forms to which obeisance must be paid if one is to write True Cyberpunk. Frankly, as the editor of Stupefying Stories, it cracks me up every time I read a cover letter from some eager young writer gushing about how I of all people should appreciate his or her new cyberpunk story. Yes, there are some bright new talents out there writing some great new cyberpunk-style stories that would be absolutely perfect —

In the pages of Asimov’s, in 1985!

But out here in the larger world time has moved on, and those kinds of stories look as quaint now as did Chesley Bonestell’s beautiful 1950s spaceship art after Apollo landed on the Moon. The cyberpunk trope, as a literary form, is still stuck firmly in the 1980s, with no hope of ever breaking free.

Top: Tokamak Asdex Upgrade Interior 2, Max Planck IPP, Garching, 2009. Thomas Struth. Bottom: Shanghai, Greg Girard, 2007.

But the ideas originally behind that trope — now that’s the cool part. My friends who work in aerospace tell me the old guys who built the industry all grew up reading Heinlein and Clarke, and went into aerospace to turn those crazy things they read as kids into practical realities as adults. Well, I work in supercomputing, and I can assure you that this industry is full of young geniuses who grew up reading Gibson, Vinge, and Rucker — and yes, me — and they went into this field to do the same thing.

We don’t quite live in the world that cyberpunk fiction predicted. But we live in the world that the kids who grew up reading cyberpunk fiction built, and that is a very cool thing indeed.

Jack Womack

Jack Womack is the Philip K. Dick award-winning author of the Dryco series.

Last time I saw cyberpunk I threw 25 cents in its hat.

Follow a discussion on Reddit, and post your own opinions in the comments. Follow Claire at @TheUniverse.


Top: ^Still from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Spoiler (short film) on Vimeo. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

Wow! So good. Rarely (ever?) do you see a short film that has it all. Production, acting, photography, effects and great writing.

These guys (and gals) will go far.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Schneier on Security: The Trouble with Airport Profiling

Schneier on Security

A blog covering security and security technology.

« Friday Squid Blogging: New Book on Squid | Main

May 14, 2012

The Trouble with Airport Profiling

Why do otherwise rational people think it's a good idea to profile people at airports? Recently, neuroscientist and best-selling author Sam Harris related a story of an elderly couple being given the twice-over by the TSA, pointed out how these two were obviously not a threat, and recommended that the TSA focus on the actual threat: "Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim."

This is a bad idea. It doesn’t make us any safer -- and it actually puts us all at risk.

The right way to look at security is in terms of cost-benefit trade-offs. If adding profiling to airport checkpoints allowed us to detect more threats at a lower cost, than we should implement it. If it didn't, we'd be foolish to do so. Sometimes profiling works. Consider a sheep in a meadow, happily munching on grass. When he spies a wolf, he's going to judge that individual wolf based on a bunch of assumptions related to the past behavior of its species. In short, that sheep is going to profile...and then run away. This makes perfect sense, and is why evolution produced sheep -- and other animals -- that react this way. But this sort of profiling doesn't work with humans at airports, for several reasons.

First, in the sheep's case the profile is accurate, in that all wolves are out to eat sheep. Maybe a particular wolf isn't hungry at the moment, but enough wolves are hungry enough of the time to justify the occasional false alarm. However, it isn't true that almost all Muslims are out to blow up airplanes. In fact, almost none of them are. Post 9/11, we’ve had 2 Muslim terrorists on U.S airplanes: the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber. If you assume 0.8% (that’s one estimate of the percentage of Muslim Americans) of the 630 million annual airplane fliers are Muslim and triple it to account for others who look Semitic, then the chances any profiled flier will be a Muslim terrorist is 1 in 80 million. Add the 19 9/11 terrorists -- arguably a singular event -- that number drops to 1 in 8 million. Either way, because the number of actual terrorists is so low, almost everyone selected by the profile will be innocent. This is called the "base rate fallacy," and dooms any type of broad terrorist profiling, including the TSA’s behavioral profiling.

Second, sheep can safely ignore animals that don't look like the few predators they know. On the other hand, to assume that only Arab-appearing people are terrorists is dangerously naive. Muslims are black, white, Asian, and everything else -- most Muslims are not Arab. Recent terrorists have been European, Asian, African, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern; male and female; young and old. Underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was Nigerian. Shoe bomber Richard Reid was British with a Jamaican father. One of the London subway bombers, Germaine Lindsay, was Afro-Caribbean. Dirty bomb suspect Jose Padilla was Hispanic-American. The 2002 Bali terrorists were Indonesian. Both Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber were white Americans. The Chechen terrorists who blew up two Russian planes in 2004 were female. Focusing on a profile increases the risk that TSA agents will miss those who don't match it.

Third, wolves can't deliberately try to evade the profile. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is just a story, but humans are smart and adaptable enough to put the concept into practice. Once the TSA establishes a profile, terrorists will take steps to avoid it. The Chechens deliberately chose female suicide bombers because Russian security was less thorough with women. Al Qaeda has tried to recruit non-Muslims. And terrorists have given bombs to innocent -- and innocent-looking -- travelers. Randomized secondary screening is more effective, especially since the goal isn't to catch every plot but to create enough uncertainty that terrorists don’t even try.

And fourth, sheep don't care if they offend innocent wolves; the two species are never going to be friends. At airports, though, there is an enormous social and political cost to the millions of false alarms. Beyond the societal harms of deliberately harassing a minority group, singling out Muslims alienates the very people who are in the best position to discover and alert authorities about Muslim plots before the terrorists even get to the airport. This alone is reason enough not to profile.

I too am incensed -- but not surprised -- when the TSA manhandles four-year old girls, children with cerebral palsy, pretty women, the elderly, and wheelchair users for humiliation, abuse, and sometimes theft. Any bureaucracy that processes 630 million people per year will generate stories like this. When people propose profiling, they are really asking for a security system that can apply judgment. Unfortunately, that's really hard. Rules are easier to explain and train. Zero tolerance is easier to justify and defend. Judgment requires better-educated, more expert, and much-higher-paid screeners. And the personal career risks to a TSA agent of being wrong when exercising judgment far outweigh any benefits from being sensible.

The proper reaction to screening horror stories isn't to subject only "those people" to it; it's to subject no one to it. (Can anyone even explain what hypothetical terrorist plot could successfully evade normal security, but would be discovered during secondary screening?) Invasive TSA screening is nothing more than security theater. It doesn't make us safer, and it's not worth the cost. Even more strongly, security isn't our society's only value. Do we really want the full power of government to act out our stereotypes and prejudices? Have we Americans ever done something like this and not been ashamed later? This is what we have a Constitution for: to help us live up to our values and not down to our fears.

This essay previously appeared on and Sam Harris's blog.

Posted on May 14, 2012 at 6:19 AM30 Comments

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Welcome to 1995...


Microsoft is a known abuser of its monopolistic position which tries to kill competition by various means. Looking at the declining market share of Internet Explorer, Microsoft is planning to block competitors such as Firefox and Chrome from its RT edition of Windows 8. Microsoft calls the ARM version of Windows 8 as RT.

Mozilla claims that "Windows RT will have two environments, a Windows Classic environment and a Metro environment for apps. However, Windows on ARM prohibits any browser except for Internet Explorer from running in the privileged 'Windows Classic' environment."

Mozilla further says, "What it means that only Internet Explorer will be able to perform many of the advanced computing functions vital to modern browsers in terms of speed, stability, and security to which users have grown accustomed. Given that IE can run in Windows on ARM, there is no technical reason to conclude other browsers can’t do the same."

Microsoft's decision to block competitors will raise antitrust concerns. Mozilla warns, " If Windows on ARM is simply another version of Windows on new hardware, it also runs afoul of the EC browser choice commitments and seems to represent the very behavior the DOJ-Microsoft settlement sought to prohibit."

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

This should make HF propagation "interesting" for a few days...

Ubuntu To Ship on 5% of All PCs Sold Next Year

Ubuntu is on course to ship on 5% of the worlds PCs next year, Canonical’s Chris Kenyon has revealed.

Kenyon, who helps lead sales and business development at Canonical, announced the gains during a plenary discussion at the Ubuntu Developer Summit on the company’s work with OEMs and ODMs.

Between 8 and 10 million Ubuntu units shipped ‘last year’, equating to around 7.5 billion dollars worth of hardware sales. That figure, Kenyon expects, will double to 18 million ‘next year’ which, he says, relates to some 5% of the world-wide PC market.

’200 Million Users’

The last year or so has seen the Vodafone ‘Webbook’ go on sale in South Africa, Dell China taking Ubuntu to the masses, and ASUS equip a handful of new EeePC models with Ubuntu options.

“We sell millions of PCs with HPLenovoDellAsusAcer,” Mark Shuttleworth recently told Bussiness Insider website. ”We expect to ship close to 20 million PCs in the next year.’

Kenyon’s 5% quote is a healthy projection – but is it enough to help Ubuntu reach its goal of ’200 million users’ by 2014/15? Mathematically not, but note the wording; ‘Ubuntu users‘ applies to more than those using traditional PCs.

With Ubuntu TVs, phones and tablets in the works the potential reach to new users grows ever wider, making that 200 million aim not quite so ‘pie in the sky’ as many assumed it to be.

Wow! That's getting into Mac territory! I'm starting to think of Ubuntu not as a Linux distro but as a standalone OS by itself. The #3 OS at that. Way to go Canonical!

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Friday, May 04, 2012

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem. - The Washington Post

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.

Get past the headline and just read the article.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Hulu to Offer Less for Free, Require Authentication, Say Reports - Streaming Media Magazine

That sound might be the gate crashing down on Hulu's open access to new broadcast content. According to a report in the New York Post, the online streaming destination will soon require viewers to authenticate their accounts, offering premium content only to those who have pay TV accounts.

While a sad move for many viewers, it's not all that surprising. Hulu's owners include NBCUniversal, Fox, and Disney-ABC, which not only want to receive more revenue for streamed content, but also want to satisfy pay TV companies that Hulu isn't a tool for cord-cutters.

Hulu co-owner Providence Equity Partners cashed out of the venture last week, which the Post reports was prompted by the upcoming authentication requirement.

While it's easy to understand the cable and satellite company's motivation for requiring authentication, it's hard to see it being effective. Cord-cutters and -shavers who have gotten by with online access and fewer bills are unlikely to return to the fold. More likely, this will cause a rise in casual piracy. Pay TV services could do themselves more good if they finally embraced a la carte pricing and gave consumers more choice for limited channels.

It will be interesting to see what authentication, if adopted, does to Hulu's ad business. Hulu is the online video ad leader, a position that it has occupied for years. According to March 2012, comScore rankings, Hulu streamed 1.8 billion ads that month alone. Certainly that would take a large hit following authentication.

In related news, NBC Sports will require authentication for online viewing of most London Olympics coverage. That could be the incentive many consumers need to sign in to an authentication service. We'll have to wait for viewing numbers after the event to see whether or not it's a success.

Hulu media relations declined to comment.

The most important part of this article: " hard to see it being effective. Cord-cutters and -shavers who have gotten by with online access and fewer bills are unlikely to return to the fold. More likely, this will cause a rise in casual piracy. Pay TV services could do themselves more good if they finally embraced a la carte pricing and gave consumers more choice for limited channels." Couldn't have said it better myself!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

AFP: 'Good chance' for SpaceX April 30 launch to ISS: NASA

'Good chance' for SpaceX April 30 launch to ISS: NASA

By Kerry Sheridan (AFP) – 1 day ago 

WASHINGTON — NASA said Monday said there is a good chance SpaceX will soon become the first private company to attempt to launch its spacecraft to the International Space Station on an unmanned cargo mission.

"Everything looks good as we head toward the April 30 launch date," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, but cautioned more work remains before the launch can be finalized.

"There is a good chance to make the 30th," said Gerstenmaier, adding that a final decision is expected by April 23.

The main goals of SpaceX's flight include a fly-by of the ISS and a berthing operation in which the company's reusable space craft, the Dragon, will approach the ISS and the crew aboard the orbiting outpost will use the ISS robotic arm to help it latch on.

The gumdrop-shaped Dragon capsule will carry 521 kilograms (1,148 pounds) of cargo for the space lab and will also aim to return a 660 kg (1,455 lb) load to Earth, said Michael Suffredini, International Space Station program manager.

Suffredini added that the remaining work includes some verification procedures and coordination of hardware and software, in what he described as "the last little bit of testing."

"We will review those and assuming everything is fine... we will go ahead for the launch," he said.

SpaceX -- owned by Internet entrepreneur and PayPal co-founder Elon Musk -- made history with its Dragon launch in December 2010, becoming the first commercial outfit to send a spacecraft into orbit and back.

The Dragon capsule will have to go through the same maneuvers that Japanese and European cargo ships have had to demonstrate in the past, such as orchestrating a fly-by of the space station no closer than than 2.5 km (1.5 miles).

Then there is the complicated matter of latching on to the space station, which Musk described as moving faster than a speeding bullet.

"I think it is important to appreciate that this is pretty tricky," Musk told reporters.

"The public out there, they may not realize that the space station is zooming around the Earth every 90 minutes, and it is going 17,000 miles (27,000 kilometers) an hour," he added.

"So you have got to launch up there and you've got to rendezvous and be backing into the space station within inches really, and this is something that is going 12 times faster than the bullet from an assault rifle. So it's hard."

Musk voiced cautious optimism that the attempt would work, noting that the company has launched the Falcon 9 rocket twice before and successfully sent its Dragon capsule into orbit and back once.

"I think we have a got a pretty good shot but it is worth emphasizing that there is a lot that can go wrong on a mission like this," Musk said.

If this attempt does not work out, SpaceX will try again, he said.

SpaceX and several other companies are competing to be the first to operate a private capsule that could tote astronauts and cargo to the ISS, after NASA retired its shuttle program last year leaving Russia as the world's sole space taxi for astronauts.

Other companies in the private space race include aerospace giant Boeing, the Nevada-based Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Washington state-based BlueOrigin LLC.

Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved. More »

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