July 29, 2008

NYPD Security Theater

Nothing new here, but I ran into it personally. When I arrived at the 14th St. A/C/E/L subway station on the way home from work, I joined a sparse crowd of folks heading down into the station. As I reached the bottom of the stairs and moved towards the turnstiles, however, an NYPD officer approached me and said "Excuse me sir, random bag check." He gestured towards a card table set up with three other officers standing at it (all were in uniform).

I stopped and said "No. I'm going to walk to another station." (Because, you see, I have cleverly been following this whole debacle online).

The officer who stopped me looked at me in puzzlement and said "It's just a random bag search." (Note that 'check' has become 'search.' Oh the lies our subconscious weaves.)

I responded, "I don't like the idea of random bag searches. I'm leaving and going to another entrance." With that, I turned and walked back up the stairs to 14th St.

I then walked uptown two blocks and descended into the uptown end of the same station concourse, past a turnstile area with no bag check, down to the platforms and hence onto an uptown A train.

This is a point that others have made wonderfully well before I, but what precisely was the point of that? If the NYPD is allowing me to decline searches and then simply walk to the next station entrance where I can enter the subway unmolested, then how does this protect anyone against anything? If I had a dangerous device in my man-purse shoulder bag, well, it still got on the train.

I'm perfectly willing to believe that I was selected randomly (I've been past that station when the search table was up dozens of times, and this is the first time I've been fingered) but to what purpose? If they were performing behavioral profiling (good on them if so) then I'm even more confused. Either they should have stopped me from leaving, or (if their profiling is based on my response to the search announcement) there should be provision in the regulation that I can be prevented from leaving and then arrested or otherwise examined against my will.

There might be such a provision, I don't know, but these officers were quite happy to let me toodle off to the next uptown entrance (not even station).

All I can think of is that wonderful series of videos of a law professor and a cop explaining why you should never, ever talk to the police without your lawyer present (they both agree on this, by the way). Why? Because essentially the police have one job - and that's to find suspects, and then produce evidence for the DA to make a case that those suspects are guilty. The system is set up such that once it starts to examine you, any information it collects is usable against you (and they're supposed to warn you of that). But there's no corollary right for you to use any of that information in your defense. In fact, the very fact that it's been collected by the prosecution or their agents means you can't use it in your defense.

Don't believe me? Watch the video.

Anyway, the only thing I can think of that bag search being good for is to get unwary and otherwise complacent citizens to open their bags so that any illicit materials therein can be located and used as evidence. Why would they do this? Well, the bag check is carefully presented as a 'safety measure.' So if you know you're not a terrorist, and the police are 'looking for terrorists,' why wouldn't you open your bag?

Know what you just did? You just waived your Fifth Amendment rights. If there's anything in there incriminating, too bad; you voluntarily showed it to them and gave consent by not walking away. Know what else you just did? You just waived your right to privacy. They're going to paw over the contents of your bag, and whatever we 'agree' on in terms of policies, they're going to read the book titles. They're going to look at your emergency underwear. They're going to wonder about the little things, because they're human. While it might be possible to set up procedures and rules by which such intrusions do not legally incriminate, our human nature means that there's no way to set up procedures such that they do not violate our privacy. And you let them.

Well, now they know what you're reading. They know who you are. If you have any marijuana in your bag, you've just voluntarily shown it to them (by not walking out of the station, remember? You consented to the search). And guess what? If you think they're not going to use that information against you, you're wrong. Probably dead wrong.

In other words, the 'random bag check' has absolutely nothing to do with safety. It's like the state trooper who comes up to your car and asks 'do you know how fast you were going?' Warning: never answer 'yes.' Never give a number. As the cop in the videos notes, the usual response of the driver who knows that they were speeding but isn't a habitual speeder to to try to admit to a 'lesser speed,' still illegal so they don't think you were lying.

Guess what? You just confessed to speeding. End of story. No way out. Doesn't matter if you confessed to 57 in a 55 when you were going 68; you confessed to speeding. They'll happily give you a 57 in a 55 citation if you're willing to give them a confession. Their job is easier.

So yeah. Random bag check. For your safety.

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Fours galore

Damn and blast my brother, who showed me this puzzle. Careful, the solutions are on the same page, so don't scroll down.


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July 26, 2008

Nothing is sacred anymore.

Fucking heresy. For Griffith's sake.

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July 25, 2008

My Hero.


Mo. Mo? MO.

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July 22, 2008

BMW, The NY Times, and the money quote

Thanks to verbal for the following. The New York Times has a mini-review of the BMW Hydrogen 7 sedan, which they were testing in the New York metro area. They did note, however, that
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would not permit the car to be driven through the Lincoln or Holland Tunnels or on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge.

It seems that BMW drew the Port Authority’s attention when it began pumping liquid hydrogen into its small test fleet of dual-fuel sedans in Port Jersey, not far from the docks where BMWs disembark after their voyage from Germany.

The money quote:
And historically speaking, it’s fair to say that the last hydrogen-dependent German flagship that docked in New Jersey left a lasting impression.


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July 18, 2008


Annoying. So I peruse Skype's website trying to find which offering I need to fulfill my 'forward a VOIP phone # to my iPhone' plan. They offer subscription plans such as the 'US/Canada unlimited calling' plan for $2.95/month. They also offer the 'Online number' subscription plan for $60/year which gives you a 'real phone number.' The former just lets you call real phones from Skype. Aha, I say, I see here that they're offering the Online phone number for half off! Excellent! So I go to buy the Online number. Oh, no they're not - as soon as I go to check out, it comes up at the full price of $60/yr. I go back and hunt around the site - now there's no mention of the deal. Sigh. Whatever. I buy it and set it up, have a friend test it, and sure enough he can call this number and it's forwarded to the iPhone with callerID info intact. I get his message on my iPhone voice mail with proper ID info. Great!

The next day I try it again. Nope. Now callers get a surly female voice saying that the person at this number is not available, leave message after beep. However, the Skype client does show these incoming calls in my history. I try making sure that I have a Skype client running on my Mac while calling, in case they're dumb enough to make that a requirement. Nope, same deal.

So I go back over the website. Yeah, see, when they say 'subscription' for the Online number, they *just* mean the number. No calling plan. So forwarding won't work because of 'insufficient funds' for call out. I'm not sure why it worked the night before. In I go to purchase the unlimited USA/Canada plan for $2.95 a month.

And now it says if I buy a new online number, it'll give me half off. But no way to apply the savings to the one I bought. Fucking bait and switchers.

On the other hand, once I did that, everything worked as expected. So the moral of the story is that when you assemble your services from Skype, make sure you do everything in the right order.

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Telephony, iPhone, and work

Now that my iPhone works with Exchange, the only reason I have to keep my work Blackberry is so that I don't have to give out my private cell number to everybody at work and clients and the like. This is especially true given that I don't have a landline phone, so my cell is all I have for personal use.

New plan, though: I'm gonna get a Skype Online Number and see if I can forward it directly to my iPhone. If so, then the only thing I give up with the Blackberry is company paid long-distance. I don't travel all that much, though, so I'm cool with submitting for my long distance on the road if it gets too crazy. I don't know if the forward from online number direct to a Real Phone thing works with Skype, but I guess I'll find out.

One really annoying update. I downloaded Skype, and apparently I still had the prefs from the last time I tried it a bunch of years ago. It happily recovered my password and let me log in. When I did, it offered me a 'special deal' of half-off a year of subscription, which sounded just the damn ticket. I realized in the middle of paying that I'd signed up for that account using an online pseudonym, though, so I logged off, created a new account with my 'real' info and started again - and the offer vanished. Figuring it was because I was a new user, I logged back on as my old account, and...nope, gone. Phantom deals.


Still, $60/year isn't too bad, especially if I can expense it (which I can if a) this works and b) I hand the Blackberry back in).

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July 16, 2008

Entourage/Exchange II

Bleah. So it works from his other computer. Looks like it's the local store on his Macbook Air, so time to nuke and rebuild. Oy. I was hoping it'd be a more fun answer.

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July 15, 2008

A Diverting Entourage/Exchange problem

A user here at work ambled into the geek cave with a problem. We use Exchange here at work, and several people (myself included) access our Exchange using Entourage, the Mac OS X client. His problem was as follows.

He has a Macbook Air which he uses as his primary computer. In addition, he'd just gotten his original iPhone upgraded to firmware 2.0 and set it to talk to our Exchange server. As a result, he realized that the calender information he could see on the iPhone wasn't the same as that on his Macbook. He logged onto the server using our Outlook Web Access (OWA) URL, and found that the iPhone and the OWA system (hence, the server) agreed on his calendar information - but that changes that had been made on his Macbook weren't syncing up to the server.

We began to test.

If I sent him an invitation to a meeting and he accepted it using OWA, it would appear on his OWA calendar and after short delay appear on his Macbook and iPhone.

If I sent him an invitation and he accepted it on his Macbook, it would immediately appear on the Macbook's Entourage calendar but not appear on the OWA (or iPhone) calendars.

If I sent him an invitation and he checked his iPhone, the iPhone would immediately put in a 'tentative' meeting at the proper time. If he then 'accepted' the meeting from the iPhone, it would change to 'confirmed' - but if we checked on the iPhone again after a few minutes, it would have changed back to 'tentative' but the invitation was still gone. It would not show up in OWA.

He can send and receive mail from any of the three clients - Macbook Air, iPhone or OWA. That works fine.

If he sent an invitation to me using OWA and I accepted it using my Mac (and Entourage) it showed up in my OWA and on my Mac.

If he sent an invitation to me using his Macbook and I accepted it using my Mac it would show up in my OWA and on my Mac.

So at this point, it appeared there was something different about his Entourage setup or his Macbook or his Exchange store. Note that I had changed my Entourage account settings to mirror his, and made sure my Mac was on the same wireless network as his prior to the above tests.

Next we created an account for me on his Entourage on his Macbook Air, using my account information. It took around 20 minutes to sync initially (arg) but eventually everything was there. I accepted an invitation using his Macbook Air and his Entourage but my account configuration - and lo and behold, it showed up on my OWA and on my own Macintosh.

At this point, we seem to have narrowed the problem down to either his local datastore on his Macbook Air or his Exchange store on the servers. We discovered that his store was 1.7 GB in size, and that the store that it was residing in has a policy set such that over 1.5 GB it 'blocks send and receive.' However, he can still send and receive mail fine either via WebDAV (Entourage/iPhone) or via OWA.

His store has a large number of items in it, and we noticed that although the appointments did show up on my account (which has many many fewer items, but still several hundred to a thousand) it took some twenty to thirty seconds to sync. We're going to see if his appointments have properly synced by tomorrow. If they have, the next step will be to try to prune his account and see if they sync faster. If they haven't shown up tomorrow, we're going to try to prune his store below 1.5 GB (the limit observed on the server) and see if that allows calendaring as well as mail to work.

Confused, but making progress.

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Hellboy II - The Golden Army

Hellboy was a great deal of fun, and cast extremely well. I went to see the sequel with high hopes.

They weren't rewarded. I think I enjoyed this movie more than my compatriots with me did, but it wasn't a great movie, and barely failed to be a good one. If I had to pick the single factor that hurt this movie the most vis-a-vis the first, it would simply be the loss of Professor Broom (which happened in the first movie, so don't scream SPOILER at me).

John Hurt, as Broom, brought a central anchor to the constructive madness that was the BPRD and crew. His father figure counterbalanced all of the inanity; or at least, each inane component of the movie seemed to lean away from him in a separate direction, making a circle of nuttiness. At the center, though, counterbalanced by all of it, he stood in benevolent control.

Not so in this one.

Tom Manning, Jeffrey Tambor's annoying but basically worthy FBI front man, had enjoyed a vindication of sorts in the prior movie. He and Hellboy, initially completely adversarial, had bonded by the end in a satisfying close to the movie's relationship plots. In this one, however, he's back to being ineffectual and almost contemptible, and there's no explanation as to why. It feels all wrong.

On the plus side, Ron Perlman is doing his usual excellent job as Red. Selma Blair is back as Liz, and despite getting a bit of a second-tier role, she's working hard at it and pulls it off. Abe Sapien is now both acted and voiced by Doug Jones, and it's better than the David Hyde Pierce voice-over from the first due to the better coordination. The monsters (trust Guillermo del Toro) are excellent.

The problem is the plot is not handled well (the plot itself is well built and could have provided all the requisite chases, escapes, successes, failures and dramatic tension required) as its timing seems off. The BPRD, rather than being a team chasing down a resolution, is more a chaotic soap opera worrying about its own self and only incidentally giving a crap about the whole saving the world schtick.

Anyway, that's as far as I'll go. I don't think I wasted my money, but Iron Man, The Hulk and WALL•E were all better than this movie.

Posted by jbz at 11:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

iPhone 2.0 annoyances

Since upgrading to the new firmware, my iPhone has annoyed me in a couple of ways that it didn't before. Specifically:

The phone now occasionally 'freezes' for a few seconds during operations, much like iTunes will freeze and give you the spinning beachball. When this happens, it won't scroll or take screen input at all, and gives no indication of activity - no WiFi or EDGE progress spinner. Sometimes the Home button will kick it back to the Home screen, but not always. In every case, it's recovered on its own after 15 to 30 seconds.

When entering passwords, the 'hide entry' function is broken. As I enter a password, the most recent character is visible until I hit the next character, at which point the previous one changes to the normal bullet. But it's slow and jerky, and in any case *does* display all the letters of my password, if not all at once.

Battery life is noticeably worse. I'm going to try turning off 'push' and seeing if that helps.

Note: This is on an original iPhone 8GB with the 2.0 release firmware acquired via iTunes update, nuked during update, no jailbreak/hacks, and these problems all showed up before I installed any app store apps.

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July 13, 2008

iPhone 2.0 firmware

Bit the bullet and ran the update on my original 8GB, mostly because I wanted to see if MobileMe and Exchange support were worth the whole deal.

The update process said it couldn't back up my iPhone, error -94 (likely because it was jailbroken). I said go ahead and nuke it. iTunes cheerfully did so, then took 15 minutes or so to run the upgrade procedure. Following that, it dutifully asked me if I wanted to configure a new phone or restore from a backup of (my phone). I told it to restore.

It synced all my metadata (contacts/calendars/etc) and then started syncing iTunes content. After about 20 more minutes, it was done, and I picked it up to have a look.

The Good:

  • Exchange push email works as advertised, on EDGE or on WiFi. My work server is happily pushing emails to my phone. I can browse contacts from MobileMe and from my work Exchange server in the same lists, and can specify which to look at using the 'Categories' screen in the Contacts miniapp.
  • The App Store works, downloads relatively quickly, and seems solid. Apps drop happily onto the phone. Caveat: I've only downloaded free ones so far, because I might nuke the phone again so don't want to spend money yet.

The Bad:

  • There is, of course, no way to get a shell or a POSIX layer. Hence...
  • No SSH.
  • No VNC.
  • No filesystem access.
  • No patch for Safari that lets it read file:// URLS.
  • Everybody with a NY Subway map app seems to want money for it, despite the fact that the map isn't theirs. I'm hoping iWalk shows back up, it was dead useful.
  • A lot of the game companies seem to have inflated ideas of what an iPhone game is worth.

This sort of sucks for me, because I realized that over the past few months probably 90% of my non-phone iPhone use was reading local storage HTML format ebooks (I spend a lot of money at Baen Books' Webscriptions site. Check them out, they have a nice free library). I can no longer do this, at least until someone figures out a way for me to patch Safari to read local files and then download the files to the phone. I could of course just put it up on a webserver that I own, but then I have to have network access to read books - and most of this reading is done while commuting on the subway.


I don't know...this might be enough of a motive to try to downgrade to 1.1.4 Jailbroken, if that's even possible. If it's not, well, I have faith that I'll be able to do all this once more - the Pwnage app sounds really promising.

I am glad I didn't spend money on a new phone. The one feature that sounds like I really want it is...drum roll...apparently there's much improved reception and call quality on the new one. Oh well.

Posted by jbz at 11:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 9, 2008

At least I have a goal in life

My new short-to-mid-term life goal is this:

I will fly myself across Australia in a Cessna (or other light plane). Aiming to do this within the next three years.

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Eye Give Up

Warning, personal problems and associated whining follow this notice.

No, really.

So I've been going to see an opthalmologist due to the recent unpleasantness. He has been pleased with how my subepithelial infiltrates have responded to steroid treatment, and today declared me 'cured!' and fully weaned from my corticosteroidal eyebaths.

The problem is that, as I told him when I first went to see him, my right eye is (still) blurry.

I am (or was) nearsighted. This meant that typically I would read with my glasses off; closer than about twenty inches, both eyes would focus almost perfectly with no correction. This is still true for my left eye. As my vision has changed, it has changed entirely at the 'far end' - in other words, the correction required to give me 20/20 distance vision has shifted. Up until a few months ago, this was still true.

Now, however, my right eye is blurry all the way in to contact. This has been true since I had the damn pink eye in the first place. It's gotten better since the inflammation went away, but it isn't gone. The opthalmologist told me that he doesn't refract people (determine their prescription) anymore, because it's just not worth his time; looking at the cosmetic surgery ads in his office, I could understand that if not agree. He told me that my prescription (which was twenty months old at this point, true) needed to be redone and advised me to go to an optometrist.

I did that. Twice today, two different ones.

Neither was able to fully correct my right eye, no matter what combination of magic optics they had at their disposal. No matter what, I was unable to focus both eyes on a subject without at least slight double vision. Individually, my eyes seemed mostly sharp, but together - nope. My left eye was exactly as expected - very slightly worse off than twenty months ago. It takes slight but noticeable effort to focus so as to eliminate the doubled vision (i.e. even wearing the test specs in the office) and my eyes quickly tire. I can't do it all the time, either.

So now what the hell do I do?

I mean, I know, get another opthalmologist. But still. Fuck.

Then to make matters worse, when I came out to the front of the store that I presently use to get my glasses (the first optometrist was theirs) they said that to make the lenses he was able to recommend would cost $589 (no frames, mind you, reusing mine) and when I said "okay, file my prescription for a while then please" the woman helping me got narrow-eyed and said "well how much of a deposit can you leave now?"

When I explained that I wasn't going to make a $600 purchase without carefully checking my monthly budget, she got more insistent about leaving a deposit. Finally she relented, but only after charging me $50 for the eye exam "which would have been waived."

I mean, I had no problem paying for the exam, but man, her manner just lost that store a sale. I really hope they give me shit about handing me the prescription when I go get it.

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July 7, 2008


First things first: this is not a movie you need to see on a big screen. Period.

Having said that...

I enjoyed it because Will Smith is doing his usual good job. I just wish they hadn't handed him such a crappy movie to do it in. The upshot is that Hancock is divided into thirds. The first third is the 'drunken superhero bum' third, completely foretold by the trailer. The second third is the 'cliched redemption story' which the trailer also gives us the basics of. The final third? That's where everything comes apart. Completely.

I'll just say this: I enjoyed the first two thirds of the movie enough to not feel like I wasted my money, but honestly...the final third feels like it was pulled wholesale out of someone (not a writer)'s fundament during a panicky eleventh-hour rewrite. It's that incoherently bad.

I'll try to do this without spoilers. Basically, either adroitly avoid a backstory for a character like Hancock, or give us a consistent one - i.e. one we can believe in within the context of the movie. Don't just...Jesus, I don't know how to put it...wave your hands around weakly and mumble buzzwords that make no sense even if we extrapolate.

How about having villains that are within the context? As it stands, the final villains are too weak to be thrilling or scary, too grim to be funny, and have too little screen time for me to give half a shit. This is exemplary of the movie - where some movies are an 'action comedy' or 'dramatic comedy' or even an 'action drama' and pull it off by sprinkling scenes of both types throughout, Hancock tries something...different. Namely, the first third is 'comedy,' the second third is 'action,' and the final third is 'drama.' Er, well, the second and final thirds are a bit mixed. But there's complete ham-handedness when it comes to switching gears here; we can usually tell from the framing shot if a scene will be (check one, please) Drama, Comedy or Action. And just determining where we are in the runtime will be usually enough of a shortcut.

The characters? Well, other than the aforementioned villain problem, they all make sense for what they are - with one ENORMOUS exception, which I won't tell you but will be so obvious you'll retch. Ask yourself: what is this person's motivation? For anything they do? If you can figure it out, tell me - I want to know. I honestly couldn't figure out why they do anything they do, *or* why I'm supposed to be sympathetic.


Will Smith is funny.

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July 3, 2008


zOMG. That was quite probably the best movie I've seen all year. Including Iron Man. I can't begin to explain how much fun that flick was. I strongly recommend that you borrow kids to take with you, or to see it during the day when kids are there - not because you need them, but because the only thing that could have been better would have been to see kids laughing and responding to it rather than the smattering of adults in the theatre late on a weekday night.

I caught the following tropes/references on the first time through, and this is just a smattering of the total I'm sure (some minor spoilers):

  • Cockroaches and Twinkies will survive us.
  • Macintosh II boot chord.
  • Almost all of 2001, including:
    • Red-lit camera lens on:
    • Potentially hostile ship control computer
    • Also Sprach Zarathustra all over da place
    • Secret Orders to the computer
    • Open the Pod Bay Doors, Hal
  • Possibly a Silent Running homage
  • All kinds of Apple references besides the boot chime (an iPod, Macintalk, etc.)
  • Galaxy Quest (hint: ship's computer)
  • Classic Star Wars scene (hint: I had everything under control until...)
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home reference (hint: "Computer...?")
...and these, as I said, are but a few.

Wow. Just...wow. And the short beforehand? As close to a Looney Toon as anything I've seen since the originals.

That was a good night at the movies.

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