Sunday, September 30, 2012

Safety Knives

I have a vague recollection of seeing a type of knife that might be considered a safety knife: it has a sharp blade, but it is enclosed so that it can only be used for cutting through seat belts, or ropes, and it is impossible (or pretty much impossible) to use it as a stabbing or slicing weapon.  I would think EMTs would find it useful because you don't have to worry about a bad guy getting hold of it and using against you.

In case you are wondering: this is an example of a type of knife that could be constitutionally banned, post-Heller, because it useful only as a tool, and does not qualify as a weapon of offense or defense.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

I Knew Cell Phones Were a Necessity of Life...

After all, no one could live before cell phones were invented about 45,000 BC.  From the August 17, 2012 Dayton Daily News:
A program that provides subsidized phone service to low-income individuals has nearly doubled in size in Ohio in the past year — now covering more than a million people. At the same time, federal officials say they’re reining in waste, fraud and abuse in the program.
Hey, cell phones are a convenience, no question.  But necessity?
Growth in the program is fed by the 2008 decision to extend it to prepaid cellphone companies, which get up to $10 every month that someone is subscribed. The number of cellphone companies offering the service in Ohio grew from four in 2011 to nine currently, with seven more awaiting approval from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
Advocates for the poor say this growth is to be expected; eligibility is dependent on having a low income or being in a program such as food stamps or heating assistance, and that population is ballooning, they say.
“I am unable to have a cellphone and I need one for emergencies,” said Aliesa Azbill of Dayton, who is in a work training program at Community Action Partnership. She said the 250 free minutes she gets per month through SafeLink isn’t enough to use it for much more than emergencies.
Yes, I have 250 minutes of emergencies a month.  Don't you?

No Surprise On This One, Either

From the September 29, 2012 Winona Daily News, concerning the mass shooting yesterday:

Andrew Engeldinger's parents were worried about their son's growing paranoia. In 2010, they sought help, enrolling in a 12-week class for families of the mentally ill.
For the last 21 months, the family said they reached out in hopes he would seek treatment. It was to no avail, as Engeldinger spurned their attempts at contact.
On Thursday night, they learned he was the gunman in Minnesota's deadliest workplace shooting. Police say Engeldinger fatally shot five people and injured three at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis before turning the gun on himself....
But, upon hearing of the shooting, Lawrence said he had a gut reaction.
"To tell you the truth, my first thought was Andy," said Lawrence, who left Accent in 2003. "He was pleasant enough to work around, but he just seemed a little off all the time. You get a feeling about people, nothing you can put your finger on."
No surprise.  Just needless tragedy.

Cheapest New Firearm Available?

I'm finishing an article about knives as Second Amendment arms.  (Sharpening it, perhaps?)  One of my points is that knives are used really quite rarely for violent crime, especially when you consider how darn cheap and unregulated they are.  I searched for "combat knife" and found 114 matches below $10--and some of these actually look like they would be relatively fearsome weapons.  Where could I search to get the lowest priced new firearms for sale today?

Answer: Cabela's.

UPDATE: Thanks all for the suggestions.  They pretty much establish the point that I am trying to make: you can buy some really scary (if that sort of thing scares you) "combat knives" for less than 10% of the price of a cheapest new firearm (and ones that might qualify as the most dangerous gun that gun control advocates believe anyone should be allowed to own)--and yet knives and all other cutting instruments are an astonishingly small fraction of our crime problem in the U.S.

Fauxcahontas Again

Elizabeth Warren, the "Cherokee" running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, turns out to be Indian only in spirit.  The latest scandal is the discovery that while she has been practicing law on behalf of various big evil corporations (or at least, that's what all corporations must be in Warren's World) for many years in Massachusetts--she isn't actually licensed to practice law in Massachusetts.  (How could a Harvard law professor not know that attorneys have to be licensed to practice law?)  Anyway, an amusing comment over at Legal Insurrection's coverage of the licensing scandal:
Before we execute the prisoner, and in the interest of fairness and thoroughness before taking irreversible action, do you suppose there is any possibility whatsoever that Warren meant she was descended from Jeep Cherokees?
That must be it!

Friday, September 28, 2012

How Los Angeles Has Changed

From the April 20, 1897 Los Angeles Herald:

Crime Against Nature
At 10:30 oclock last night Walter Parter, an old man, was brought in from Ballona township by Deputy Constable Hughes and placed in the county jail, charged with having committed a crime against nature. The details of his infamous crime are too revolting for publication.
These days, I suppose he would have to make a film badly attacking Islam to get that kind of attention.

Java RMI

I've been looking at various strategies for rearchitecting our current system.  The architecture of our current system reminds me of the Winchester Mystery House: astonishing, amazing, incoherent, and unsuitable to a sane inhabitant.  It is well worth visiting, but it is not a preferred method of building a home.

The current system consists of:

1. Thin client: Internet Explorer 7 loads JavaServer Pages (JSPs) from a server.  The JSPs use Struts to communicate with the server.  

2. The server consists of a vast swarm (think: angry wasps) of classes running under Tomcat that accept requests to load data for display, and insert, update, or delete particular rows from the database.  The requests from the JSP call various methods in what are called Action classes.  Typically, there is an Action method called list which loads rows of data by calling an Implementer class for this data type.  The Implementer has a load method that communicates this load request via JDBC to an Informix database.  The Implementer load method feeds the rows coming back from the database into an ArrayList of objects, which are displayed to the user as a list of rows.  This again is done by loading a JSP for displaying the list.  The user may edit or add a row, which sends a request to the Action edit or add method, which stores the object into a Form specific to that class, and loads a JSP on the browser that displays this object.  When the user hits Save in this screen on the client, the Action save method is called, which in turn calls the Implementer save method, to send a request to the Informix database.

3. The Informix database has thousands of tables (many of which seem to be unused), some of which have hundreds of thousands of rows of data.

This thin client model by which a server feeds JSPs makes a lot of sense in a conventional enterprise level system, where you may have hundreds of thousands of customers, many of whom contact you once to order something, and you do not want them to have to download and install anything complicated.  For security reasons, a customer should be wary of downloading and installing anything just to order a widget.  Even for customers that regularly order from you, having to do a fresh download of client software even weekly is obnoxious, and consumes a lot of resources for the server.

This is not that situation.  We have a limited number of PCs that need to access this system.  They are all guaranteed return customers; no one makes a one-time connection to our system.  If they did, it would likely be a security breach!  Regularly pushing new thick client applications every week or so won't cost much.

Browser-based clients lead to several annoying problems.  The most obvious is that users hit Back and Forward, leading to interesting and unexpected transactions.  Yes, you can disable that toolbar in most browsers, but there is still right mouse click available to go Back.

A second problem is that browser compatibility is still surprisingly complicated, and Javascript, jQuery, and similar really clever tools reveal such headaches with surprising frequency.  An upgrade from IE7 to IE8 means a substantial amount of testing.  (And don't even think about Chrome or Firefox.  Nothing wrong with them--but too many things work differently from IE7.)

A third problem is that the JSP approach using Struts is a flaming nuisance to debug.  If you misspell methods or members on the JSP, you will not get a useful error message in IE7.  Sometimes, you will just get a blank screen.  Chrome has some very cool debugging facilities for this--but there are many features that we use that Chrome does not support, so some pages can't be debugged except by deleting stuff until the page starts working again.

A fourth problem is that while Javascript in a JSP gives you the ability to do considerable validation of input data, it is a somewhat limited environment.  You can execute server-side Java to validate input data, but each such action involves a bit of traffic back and forth--as the description at 2 above shows.

One possible solution is to use Java RMI (Remote Method Invocation), which allows a Java client to make RPC (Remote Procedure Calls) to methods located in the server.  The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to reuse existing server classes without having to start from scratch (and in a system with more than a million lines of Java, you don't want to do that).

Any thoughts from my readers?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Session Management Between Java Client and Java Servlet

For a variety of reasons, I am looking at what would be involved in writing a Java application to talk to a Java servlet.  Currently, the client side is a Javascript/struts page that loads from a server.  While this is a fine model if you had hundreds of thousands of potential clients, and the costs and security risks of pushing new client software, when the number of clients is small, and the cost of pushing new versions is trivial, there are some advantages to a thicker client with improved error checking and simplified debugging.

There is no shortage of examples of writing browser-based clients.  What I am hoping to find is an example with a Java application that opens a session with a Java servlet and exchanges data with that servlet.  

Armageddon Armory Took Care of the Rifle

I ended up having Armageddon Armory in Nampa install a Double Star ambidextrous end plate on the AR-15 (it looks rather like this one made by GRG), and a front sight sling adapter that looks like this one by ProMag (although I think it was another maker).  It was just over $50 and they were happy to install it while I waited.  I could have done this myself, and probably saved a few dollars (because the parts are slightly cheaper online), but it's always nice to have someone do the job who doesn't have to look up the sequence, and I don't mind paying a bit more to have a local business do the job.

I now have to decide whether or not to return this armorer's tool for which I really don't have any pressing need.  I only needed it to deal with the castle nut that isn't an issue, since I have the fixed stock, not the collapsible stock.  I hate to return it, because the company that sold it was very fast at filling my order, and I hate to return an order that was really because of my stupidity.  On the other hand, $37.55 is a bit of money.  Perhaps I will just keep it.

Britain Used To Exile Criminals to Australia

Now they exile decent people there.  A couple of career criminals broke into a couple's home.  The husband had a shotgun, and shot them.  Of course, he was arrested first for causing great bodily harm, then the charge was raised to attempted murder--and finally, shockingly enough, the prosecutors decided to drop the charges and even more shockingly, the judge sentencing the robbers told them that they would not get leniency because of what happened.  From the September 26, 2012 Telegraph:
O’Gorman and Mansell appeared at Leicester Crown Court where they were both jailed for four years after admitting burglary.
In a move welcomed by justice campaigners, Judge Michael Pert QC, told the pair they could not expect any leniency simply because they had been wounded in the incident.
He told them: “If you burgle a house in the country where the householder owns a legally-held shotgun, that is the chance you take. You cannot come to court and ask for a lighter sentence because of it.”
Wonderful, right?  Not quite.  The victims concluded that it was no longer safe to stay in Britain.  From the September 26, 2012 Telegraph:
Andy Ferrie, a businessman, and wife Tracey have left Britain to escape the “living nightmare” which has haunted them since their arrest a month ago.
Today two men were jailed for four years each for the burglary.
Hazel Towell, mother of Mrs Ferrie, said goodbye to her daughter on Saturday before the couple left the country.
She said: "The burglary was the final straw. They’ve just packed up and moved as far away as possible.”
Mrs Towell, 63, a retired shop worker from Burton-on-Trent, Staffs, said: “They feared for their safety and revenge attacks from the burglars and their families if they stuck around.”...
Mr Ferrie's step-father Andy Spilner from Uppingham, Leics, said yesterday: “Andy and Tracey have gone to Australia. They went at the beginning of the week and won’t be coming back after what happened.”
Mr Spilner s told how his other son had received threatening phone calls, which he has reported to police, just moments after the court case ended.
I can't say that I blame them.  He spent 40 hours in custody for shooting people who broke into his home, and briefly had to worry about attempted murder charges.

Monday, September 24, 2012

PHP Is The Way To Go; Not CGI ksh

I still haven't a clue why I can't get CGI scripts written in ksh to work on HostRocket's web hosting server, but I do have a PHP script written pretty painlessly.  I have actually reached the point where the last part of the problem remains to be solved--which is a puzzle akin to an IQ test.  No surprise there.

If I don't get an interview out of this, I will be very upset.

UPDATE: I am most of the way solved on this, but it would sure help if there was a way to run a debugger for PHP on Unix.  Even being able to execute my PHP script from the shell, instead this indirect method by having someone else send an HTTP GET request would help.  My guess is that $_GET["q"] and $_GET["d"] in PHP are retrieving variables that can be set from the shell, so that I can debug this in a more natural way.  Any ideas?

I figured out the puzzle, by the way.  It would make a fine Mensa entrance test, and not one of the easy ones, either.  Now it's just a matter of debugging the PHP script.

UPDATE 2: Silly me.  I just need to change the two lines at the beginning that retrieve the GET variables to retrieve environment variables instead, and then I can execute it in the shell.

UPDATE 3: The puzzle part of the script was a bit more complicated than I first thought, but I did finally finish it, and was able to submit my resume.  If this isn't actually a front organization for the NSA, I can't imagine a persuasive argument for such a demanding test.  I learned a bit about HTTP GET requests and how they work, learned to program in PHP (which is always good) and found an easy way to debug PHP server scripts from the command line in Unix.

Startling Discoveries At Wal-Mart

My wife and went to Wal-Mart yesterday to get nail repair on a tire.  The tires were down to 2/32" tread remaining (federal standard; Idaho standard is only 1/32") so they couldn't repair it.  Instead, we had four new tires put on.  While waiting, I wandered through electronics, and bought socks made in the USA, and priced pretty close to stuff made in the Third World.  At Wal-Mart?  What's the world coming to when China-Mart starts selling American-made clothes?

Then I walked past the gun counter, and I was shocked to see my picture on the front cover of Shotgun News.  I was shocked because this was the September 10 edition, and I am only published in the edition published first of each month (or so I thought).  Anyway, it isn't everyday that you walk through a store and see your image there.  I picked it up, and mentioned it to the guy behind the counter, and a customer who was standing there turns out to be a regular reader of my columns.  "I mean, I know that the Shotgun News columnists have to live somewhere, but it didn't occur to me that you lived in this state."

I also noticed that in the glass were a bunch of AR-15s from various makers--which would have been unimaginable in a Wal-Mart in 1990.  Hunting guns, sure, and in some Wal-Marts, handguns, but AR-15s?  Wow.  Even more wow was the pricing.  I handled (and tried not to drool on) a DPMS collapsible stock, 16" barrel, flattop with the Picatinny rail mount--priced at $549.  They apparently had at least one of these in .308 Win. in the warehouse for $895.  Those are spectacular deals, probably driven by Wal-Mart's ability to buy 10,000 at a time--and be sure of selling of them in a few months through their national network.  The temptation to reach into my wallet was very strong, but this has been an expensive month (emergency room visit bills showing up, paying the last semester of tuition for my son, my wife having to give up classes because of illness, four new tires), so I exercised great self-restraint.

UPDATE: I noticed that the DPMS rifles had no forward assist.  I'm curious to hear from my readers who have been serving our nation: how often is forward assist actually necessary anymore?  As I understand it, the combination of stuff (I'm being polite) that made the forward assist necessary on the M16 was:

1. Change of powder in the ammunition shortly before mass production, altering timing characteristics.

2. Use of existing cleaning supplies and tools that the Army had, some of which were inappropriate to the M16.

3. Failure of soldiers to clean them as regularly as the M16's gas system required.

4. My cousin, who was a first lieutenant in 1st Air Calvary in Vietnam, also tells me that soldiers would drop M16s in mud, fail to clean them, and then be surprised by jams.

I can recall one occasion in my entire life where I needed the forward assist--and that was on a Colt AR-15 SP1 that had not been cleaned after new sale--and of course the SP1 did not have a forward assist.

Blogger Has Been Acting Up...

for me, and many others.  I am hoping that I can get in a post something is a sign that they fixed it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Experiments in Cooking

It has been a very eclectic day.  Part of was spent manufacturing orders for ScopeRoller; part of it was spent preparing for my presentation about non-legal sources for lawyers for this event in Philadelphia next month; part of it was spent reading 1860s and 1870s California newspapers, where editorials explained the reasons for repeal of the 1863-4 concealed carry ban: questionable constitutionality, and it reduced murder at the expense of increasing robbery.

But today's great experiment was, instead of frying a grilled cheese sandwich (as almost everyone does): I put it under the broiler instead, next to my wife's chicken breasts.  Not only was it a bit lighter tasting (in spite of still being cooked with butter), but it was more a consistent melting of the cheese.  I suppose that I could use less butter next time, since the butter is only flavoring in this cooking mode, not lubrication (or at least, not much lubrication).

Friday, September 21, 2012

Carter II

Sure enough, Obama is reprising the Carter Administration, right down to Three Mile Island nuclear power plant shutting down and releasing steam.

Talk About Self-Centered

From the September 21, 2012 Pakistani newspaper The Nation:

UN, West should not test patience of Islamic world: PML
The PML is the Pakistan Muslim League.  They explain:
Pakistan Muslim League President Senator Ch Shujat Hussain and senior central leader and Deputy Prime Minister Ch Parvez Elahi have asked the United Nations and the West not to put Islamic world's patience to more test and pay immediate attention to the protests of the Muslims over blasphemy, the culprits should not only be given exemplary punishment for committing blasphemy but also effective legislation should be done on international level to prevent such heinous acts in future.
Let's see.  After 9/11--an act of war that caused thousands of deaths, a few Americans got all worked up, and there was a murder or two and a few other criminal acts against Muslims and foreigners mistaken for Muslims.  And our response in America to these criminal acts was not to make excuses for these stupid hotheads, but to punish them for their crimes.

By comparison, what must be the most amateurish film ever made has provoked murders all over the Islamic world, making Islam look like a bunch of toddlers screaming and throwing things because they don't get their way.  And we're told that we "should not test patience of Islamic world."  So far, I'm not seeing much sign of patience there.

Those With Experience Removing AR-15 Stocks

I am thinking of putting one of these sling adapters on my AR-15 to do a combat carry double point sling.  To do that requires removing the castle nut that holds the fixed stock to the upper receiver.  I am mildly concerned about the number of comments that I see indicating that manufacturers have staked or had gorillas tighten the castle nuts in place--suggesting that just buying a wrench like this isn't going to be sufficient.  I could go to my local assault weapon specialist store (we have at least two stores in Boise that are almost exclusively sell and service weapons for Zombieageddon) and have them charge me about $50 to do something that only involves about $20 in parts and tools (and it's nice to be able to handle stuff like this myself).

What's your experience with castle nuts on factory rifles?  Am I am being scared without reason?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

This Is Just A Bad Day

Some months back, someone in Australia ordered some ScopeRollers for a Losmandy G11 mount. Immediately on arrival, he claimed that they weren't stable enough for astrophotography, and demanded a refund.  I said, "Sure."  This was in early July.  But rather than trust me to issue a refund, he went through PayPal's Dispute Resolution system, which should have been a tipoff.

I of course agreed to a refund pending return of the ScopeRollers.  I waited.  And waited.  When I asked him for a tracking number, he told me that he shipped it the cheapest way, and there was no tracking number.  But I figured that I would see them soon enough.  Then I asked again--and found out that his "partner" shipped them the 29th or 30th of July.  And I just realized: no matter how he shipped them, he would have a copy of the customs declaration to prove that the ScopeRollers were shipped.

But of course, past 45 days, PayPal makes the pending refund final.  This is the first fraudulent behavior I have experienced after more than 400 orders.  But it still leaves a pretty foul taste in my mouth, because it is apparent that from his immediate movement to the Dispute Resolution system, that this guy had no intention of paying for the product, or returning it.  I have contacted Dispute Resolution, not because I expect to get my money, but in the hopes that they will drop him as a customer.  This is so obviously fraud on his part.

ScopeRoller is not a particularly vigorous business, and perhaps December 31 will be the end of it.  I might put all remaining items on an inventory clearance basis, just to get rid of the dozen or so sets that are complete, or most of the way there.

Installing Apache on My Linux Box

HostRocket still hasn't responded to the problem with permissions preventing my CGI script from running, so I am trying to get Apache installed and running correctly on my Linux box.

So far, it works, but the $QUERY_STRING method of fetching the parameters from the request does not work the same under Ubuntu 12.04 as whatever version of Unix HostRocket is running.  This is most odd.

There are days that this seems to be too much work to apply for a job that I probably won't even get an interview for, anyway.

UPDATE: Just to clarify: the permissions issues with Apache on HostRocket's servers are not the problem that I am having with Apache on Ubuntu.  On Ubuntu, Apache throws the remarkably unspecific 500 Internal Server Error message.  Worse, where CGI scripts are supposed to receive the query parameters (everything after the ? on a GET request) in environment variable QUERY_STRING (and seem to do so on HostRocket's servers), QUERY_STRING is not defined on Ubuntu.  This is probably some sort of misconfiguration of Apache, although I have taken a very standard set of configuration parameters there.

I have other things to do this weekend--stuff that has a greater prospect of generating some money--so perhaps HostRocket will figure out the permissions issues.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Setting Up A Server Somewhere Else

HostRocket is having trouble figuring out why HTTP request logging for my web pages isn't working.  (Yes, I find myself mystified why a server company is finding this so darn difficult.)

I really don't want to hassle with setting up Apache behind a firewall to see the requests being sent.  But perhaps if HostRocket can't figure out how to enable HTTP logging by tomorrow, I may not have any choice.

UPDATE: HostRocket has logging working.  I can see the GET requests--but my ksh CGI script doesn't work the same when called by their web page as when I feed the logged GET request directly into it.  I'm guessing that there is something about a ksh script that runs differently as a CGI from when run on the server.  I can see why this is a demanding test--you have to work around lots of obstacles doing something that is a bit unusual.

I am increasingly mystified by this.  I'm not sure if something needs to be turned on to run CGI scripts or what.  The only example that I can find of a ksh CGI script starts out like this:

PARM_PASSED=$(< /dev/stdin)

This works from the shell, but not when sending a request of the form

Nothing comes through.  Any ideas?  I took the day off work to get a number of things working--including what should be a trivial task like this.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that this simply doesn't work in a CGI setting.  I need to interrogate QUERY_STRING instead.

UPDATE 2: Yup, don't believe everything you find on the Internet, I tell my students, and that's true for technical solutions too.  I'm getting there.

UPDATE 3: There seem to be some quirks built-in their webpage specifically to make it inconsistent and hard.  For example, the first GET request is named Ping and expects you to return OK--but it there can't be a trailing line feed.  I've determined this with a trivial script named that is as simple as it gets:

print "Content-type: text/plain"
print ""
print -n "OK"

This gets past the first GET request, and sends the request of the GET requests through.  I can see all of them in my log file, and I can feed them into the actual server script--and they work perfectly.  However: if I give that server script to their test page, it does not get past that first Ping, even though it produces exactly the same response:

Content-type: text/plain
OK(with no closing line feed).

Instead, it complains that it was expecting OK but got ".

The period after the quote is probably a line feed.  I am temporarily stumped by this: a trivial server script at least gets me past the first GET, but another one that produces the same output from the same input does not work.  All I can think is that they have something that is timing dependent.  Perhaps I will put in a sleep into the script to prevent it from running too fast.  I'm grasping at straws here, because I just don't see what else could cause the same data sent back to produce such different results.

UPDATE 4: I can reproduce the problem on my own by using as the request. which returns Internal Server Error, while actually works.  Perhaps I will be able to find the server error log.

UPDATE 5: So much work just to submit a resume to a company that probably won't bring me in for an interview.  It turns out that when I try to run the full server script, I get an error in the server log:

ModSecurity: Audit log: Failed to create subdirectories: /var/asl/data/audit/20120920/20120920-1531 (Permission denied)

I am guessing that CGI scripts require some permission turned on to run on HostRocket's servers, and I may not have that permission.  My script may actually work--but not with how the server it is running on is configured.

One of the theories behind making it so difficult to submit a resume is that an employer only wants to hire the best of the best--those with both the technical skills and patience to fight their way through all these sort of questions.  (The position for which I am applying is Java developer--not server guru.)  Doubtless, this prevents a number of less than brilliant sorts form applying--but I find myself wondering if applicants who have ten positions to which they can apply might look at the amount of work involved applying for this position and decide that they have better things to do with a day than apply for one position.  Perhaps Balihoo is actually getting not the best of the best, but just those members of the "best of the best" who don't have other options.  They may be getting not the "best of the best of the best" but "the worst of the best of the best."

5:45 AM Radio Talk Show Again...

WJRW 1340 AM, 6:45 AM in whatever time zone that is.  The show that I was supposed to do tomorrow at 10:25 AM Mountain Time out of Montana actually ended up today at 10:25 AM.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Things That Drive Me Crazy

I needed to write a stupid CGI script in order to submit my resume for a position--but I need to see what HTTP requests are being sent when I click the test button so that the CGI script can respond appropriately to the requests.  Unfortunately, logging of HTTP traffic seems to be turned off for my website.  

I submitted a help request to my ISP asking why I couldn't see the HTTP traffic logs.  The response was, "This is where the raw access logs are" but they immediately closed the request without giving me a chance to respond, "Yes, and they are zero length."

I suspect that there is some control in HostRocket's control panel for my domain that controls whether logging is turned on or not, but I sure can't find it, and their customer support is running astonishingly slow this evening.  I really won't have the time to do this tomorrow evening.

Kindle 3 Software Upgrade

There is a software upgrade to version 3.4 for Kindle 3 owners.  (I was at version 3.3.)  Among the most obvious advantages of the upgrade is the fonts seem a little higher contrast.  I am hoping (and that's all it is) that the web browser will be compatible with

A Certain Amount of Political Preference In The Classroom is Inevitable

But normally, it is a bit more subtle than this.  From September 17, 2012
A college professor has been placed on leave after she allegedly forced her class to sign a pledge to vote for President Obama in the upcoming elections.
Early last week Professor Sharon Sweet at Brevard Community College (BCC) allegedly told students to sign a pledge that reads: “I pledge to vote for President Obama and Democrats up and down the ticket.”
What is it about Democrats?  Can you imagine a Republican professor (yes, there are a couple of them, I think) doing this?  And Professor Sweet teaches math.

I tried to confirm this elsewhere, but there seems to be no news coverage of this event (unsurprisingly).  And the Brevard Community College news releases is broken:

BCC News Releases for 2012

    The web site you are accessing has experienced an unexpected error.Please contact the website administrator. 
    • Enable Robust Exception Information to provide greater detail about the source of errors. In the Administrator, click Debugging & Logging > Debug Output Settings, and select the Robust Exception Information option.
    • Check the ColdFusion documentation to verify that you are using the correct syntax.
    • Search the Knowledge Base to find a solution to your problem.
    Browser  Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 5.1) AppleWebKit/537.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/21.0.1180.89 Safari/537.1Remote Address  Date/Time  18-Sep-12 11:25 AM
    The following information is meant for the website developer for debugging purposes.
    Error Occurred While Processing Request

    Element TITLE.XMLTEXT is undefined in a Java object of type class coldfusion.xml.XmlNodeMap referenced as ''

    Upcoming Interviews for My Brother Ron

    KXLO 106.9 FM and KLCM 95.9 FM in Lewistown, Montana, Thursday morning at 10:20 AM Mountain Time.  Apparently you can listen online here.

    At 4:45 PM Mountain Time on Thursday afternoon:

    Host:  James Lowe
    KJAG Radio (AZ)
    TALK RADIO X 1650 AM (TX)
    KTRX 92.9 FM (KS)
    KGGG (KS)
    KVOB (KS)
    KZUH (KS)

    It appears that you can listen online here.

    Monday, September 17, 2012


    It wasn't that many centuries ago that blasphemy was a criminal offense in the Christian world.  When I was young, it was still considered a pretty serious matter, and even television and movies would stay away from something that might be considered offensive to Christians.  Now, there is only one religion who seems to enjoy all this special sensitivity.  This September 14, 2012 Denver Post opinion piece captures the stinking hypocrisy of the left on this well:
    Did you hear about the movie in which a Catholic woman masturbates with a crucifix?
    You didn't? "Paradise: Faith" won a special jury prize at this year's Venice Film Festival.
    Suffice it to say this movie about a "self-flagellating Roman Catholic woman married to a paraplegic Muslim," as The New York Times described it, may be as much of a provocation to some Catholics as the anti-Muhammad film by the mysterious "Sam Bacile" is to Muslims.
    And in fact some Catholics have complained, including a group in Italy that accused the Austrian director of blasphemy.
    Needless to say, however, they didn't riot, light street fires or storm the Austrian embassy. They didn't promise to hunt down the filmmakers and execute them. And not to belabor the obvious, but you can bet that when "Paradise: Faith" is released next year in the U.S., the reaction will be equally tame.
    Read more: Carroll: A double standard on hurt religious feelings - The Denver Post
    When Serrano's crucifix in urine generated upset from Christians, the left told us to get over it--free speech and all that.  No one was killed by angry Christian mobs.  As severe as the reaction became was...Christians argued that they shouldn't be required to subsidize art like this.

    When The Last Temptation of Christ was made into a movie, there were boycotts, protests, upset letters, and some very hard words for the movie maker and the studio.  But no one was killed.  Nor would any person involved in the making of that film have to worry about his safety.  Nor would the government have asked anyone to consider making this film unavailable.  Or asked the maker to come in for questioning, as happened to the sleazy character behind this crime against film making that has upset the crowd with their turbans wound too tight.

    There's a clear message here: if you want your religion taken seriously by the left...kill people if you are offended.

    There's another clear message here: Islamists are behaving like spoiled children.  If you aren't prepared to live in the current age, you are invited to return to the seventh century.  And give up this century's technology while you are at it.  If we have to go back to fighting men on horseback with swords, I suspect that it will be a short battle of the civilizations.

    The fact that the ACLU hasn't filed a suit against the Obama Administration for its actions with respect to YouTube and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs calling Terry Jones tells me that they are, as usual, just hypocrites.  They don't support free speech, of freedom of religion.  They are just the Anti-Christian Litigation Unit, and not a civil liberties union at all.

    All These Things I Miss In Popular Culture--And I Don't Miss That I Miss Them

    Shall Not Be Questioned was discussing the problem of low information (and worse, low interest) voters: people who know almost nothing about what is going on, and barely care.  These are the sorts that "You ought to get out and vote!" advertising is aimed at by the Democrats.  He pointed to this disturbing piece by Zombie at PJMedia:
    Honey Boo Boos is a term I just made up for the last remaining undecided voters in America. As you may have read at the time, the infantile and atrocious reality TV show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo either surpassed or tied the viewership totals of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. That means millions of people are so tuned out of politics and so uninterested in current affairs that they’d rather watch a family of obese rednecks abusing their young daughter than learn even the most basic facts about the next president of the United States. These Honey Boo Boo viewers are what pollsters like to call “low information voters,” but that descriptor is not complete: Honey Boo Boos are also low interest voters whose political ideology is either easily malleable or absent altogether.
    I was not aware of this show, but what I can find describing it makes me glad that I was not aware of it.  It sounds the sort of show that regular watching of it (except, perhaps, as part of your cultural anthropology dissertation) should disqualify from voting, and perhaps driving, too.  The fact is that many Americans should  not vote.  They don't care enough, or know enough about what is going on, to have a meaningful input into important decisions.  You think I exaggerate. As I commented over at Shall Not Be Questioned

    Americans show an astonishing low level of interest in voting. If only Americans cared as much as Germans did in 1933! Of registered voters, 88.8% actually voted in that election–a record not improved on for many years. And look how well that turned out.

    Headed To Philadelphia Next Month

    In many states (all states?) lawyers are supposed to continue their legal education by completing a certain amount of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes each year, rather like some states require teachers to engage in Continuing Education Units (CEU). NRA arranges a CLE class on firearms law each year coincident with one of the conventions that law professors attend.  This year it is October 13 in Philadelphia.

    Generally, people doing these presentations are law professors or practicing lawyers, because there are standards that these have to meet to qualify for CLE credit.  Being one of a very small number of non-lawyers who get asked to present at these events could swell my head, I suppose.  I'll be presenting on the use of non-legal sources in Second Amendment cases.  By "non-legal," I don't mean illegal, but sources outside of statutes, court decisions, legislative journals, and the like which, unsurprisingly, tend to be the primary focus of most lawyers.

    UPDATE: It turns out that they have applied for CLE credit for it, but it remains uncertain--but seats are filling up fast and it's free:

    2012 Firearms Law & The Second Amendment Symposium
    The 2012 NRA "Firearms Law & The Second Amendment Symposium" will be held on Saturday, October 13, 2012, in Philadelphia, PA.
    Focusing on recent developments in our nation's courts and legislatures regarding the Second Amendment, speakers will discuss and debate current Second Amendment scholarship and related issues.  The symposium will feature top Second Amendment scholars and attorneys discussing topics that range from the history of the Second Amendment to current Second Amendment litigation in Pennsylvania and across the nation, to the nuts and bolts of legal practice in both defending and advancing gun owners' civil rights.
    This event promises to present a thought-provoking discussion of one of the most relevant and important freedoms in the Bill of Rights.  Each Symposium registrant will receive important information including panelists' written materials on their respective subjects- an excellent source for future reference.  For guests who are attorneys, this year’s event may once again meet state requirements for continuing legal education. The event, including all materials, food and beverages, is free.
    The Symposium will be held:
    Saturday, October 13, 2012
    Hilton Doubletree Philadelphia City Center
    237 South Broad St .
    Philadelphia, PA 19107
    9:00 AM - 3:00 PM

    (Registration and continental breakfast from 9:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.)

    Discounted parking at the hotel parking structure is available for $10 
    Click Here to RSVP!

    To register, please click the RSVP link above or contact the NRA-ILA Grassroots Division at (800) 392-8683. Space is limited.

    Write your RepsGet InvolvedRegister to VoteContibute
    Please do not reply to this email as you will not receive a response. This email is a broadcast email generated by an automated system. To contact NRA-ILA call 800-392-8683. Address: 11250 Waples Mill Road Fairfax, Virginia 22030 In order to ensure you receive NRA-ILA email alerts in a timely manner, please adjust your SPAM settings to accept bulk emails from and domains. Otherwise, there is a possibility that our email alerts will not make it to your inbox.

    Did An Interview on WLTP AM 910 This Morning

    First a ten minute segment for immediate broadcast (I think) then another 20 minutes for a podcast version.  The podcast version does not seem to be up yet.

    Saturday, September 15, 2012

    The World Without Us (2011)

    I saw this on Netflix last night, but you can watch it online as well.  It is essentially an examination of what the world would be like if the most doctrinaire libertarian view of foreign policy were implemented: the U.S. withdraws all of its military forces from abroad, and no longer engages in foreign intervention, anywhere.

    It presents a fair and accurate representation of the non-interventionist perspective--not a strawman, and not a cartoon version of it.  It points out why even the Europeans couldn't, or more accurately wouldn't, intervene to stop the genocidal war in Bosnia, or the attempt at it in Kosovo, until the U.S. did so.  It points out what the likely consequences would be of U.S. withdrawal of forces from South Korea, and the withdrawal of the Seventh Fleet from the Asia Pacific Rim area.

    Niall Ferguson is one of the more prominent experts that they interview, and to Ferguson's credit, he admits that he completely blew it in the 1990s in his view of U.S. intervention in the Balkans.  He points out that peace is not the natural state of mankind, and in many parts of the world, as much as America gets a lot of hatred for its actions, the situation would be a lot worse without our involvement.  America is effectively paying a heavy price in treasure and blood for the fact that much of the rest of the world lacks the maturity to behave like adults.  Even after driving Israel into the sea, the Muslim nations of the Middle East would rapidly turn to destroying each other, because there are cultural problems there that are far larger than Israel.  Countries that have moved beyond the "me against my brother, my brothers against my cousins, my cousins against the rest of the world" idiocy, like most of Europe, unfortunately, seem to have fallen into a pacifism that makes them unwilling to defend themselves, or to defend innocents in genocidal wars.

    I was also pleased to see them point out something that I keep trying to get across: very little Middle Eastern oil goes to the U.S.  It primarily goes to Europe and Asia.  Our interest in Middle Eastern stability (it's a bit much to expect sanity in that region) is driven not by our direct interest in oil, but our interest in protecting the economies of our principal trading partners.

    Innocence of Muslims

    I had seen this described as amateurish, but this doesn't even begin to describe how badly it is done.  I had assumed from the level of rage that Muslims are exhibiting about this that it was a reasonably well-done attack on Islam.  It's not.  It is actually unintentionally funny in places.

    UPDATE: There are hysterically funny or at least brilliantly witty comments below:
    The real problem with be film school riots in California.

    How anyone could take this ninth-rate attempt at a Monty Python treatment, seriously enough to be incited to violence, is beyond me.
    If there is any value in the work, it is as a massively risible counterexample to be dissected in a film class. The green screen work alone is an anti-marvel of ineptitude. 

    Friday, September 14, 2012

    For Christians Who Are Reluctant to Vote for a Mormon

    I've never had a problem voting for a Mormon.  Especially in a society where the establishment of religion is strictly prohibited, there is really no strong argument against a Christian voting for a Mormon.  There might be an argument for voting for a Christian, but voting against a Mormon does not seem very sensible.  Ravi Zacharias is a well known Christian evangelist who makes the argument part way through this nine minute video for why no Christian should feel afraid to vote for a Mormon--and he makes the point that I have often felt--a lot of people attending Mormon churches are actually Christians who, for reasons of family tradition, are reluctant to leave a church that has a lot of rather non-Christian doctrines attached to it.

    Guerrilla Marketing, or Something A Lot Worse?

    I have a niece who does music among other artistic things.  She noticed a sudden increase in hits on a YouTube video of hers, and when she tracked it down, she found this ad on Craigslist here in Boise:

    She doesn't live in Boise.  She lives in California.  And you can be quite sure that she would never be interested in getting together with others to form a band with the same goal as Tim Hawkins (the second video linked in this posting).  I think Hawkins' song is pretty funny, and of course, you know who I participated in the Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day.  

    As you might expect, she was upset that someone was using her video to promote right wing stuff.  Her perception is that someone is posting ads like this to promote Tim Hawkins's comedy act.  

    I read the ad above, and I see something a lot scarier: someone in the North End of Boise (sort of the Berkeley of Idaho) is trying to find social conservative women.  Whoever is posting these ads is clearly not my niece, and I am a bit concerned that the ad poster may be looking for what he perceives as naive sorts to meet somewhere that might be quite dangerous for them.

    How do you read the ad above?

    UPDATE: Dawn emphasizes her lack of political engagement.

    Thursday, September 13, 2012

    The Hunting Turnaround

    The September 13, 2012 Idaho Statesman reports that after decades of decline, hunting seems to be coming back again, partly because it is a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment, and because it puts food on the table.  But along with hunters who grew up hunting, there are some real surprises showing up, too:
    This new breed of hunter/writers are much different critters.
    One is Lily Raff McCaulou, who wrote “Call of the Mild.” She was a 20-something, East Coast, city gal who moved to Bend, Ore., and took up hunting.
    To call her an unlikely hunter would be an understatement. Her nervous “coming out” as a hunter to her liberal, Washington D.C. parents showed how far she was raised from a traditional hunting family.
    But McCaulou’s story is about more than hunting, it’s about crossing the cultural divide between rural and urban and their often-polarized attitudes about wildlife and guns.
    She also does what few lifelong hunters are capable of doing — look inward and articulate why she hunts and how she feels when she kills an animal and later eats it.
    Another book is “The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Deer for Food” by Jackson Lander.
    Lander writes that he was born into a vegetarian household and “never tasted a cheeseburger until age 10.”
    He decided to take up hunting as a way to provide food for his family.
    So much of politics and culture is about reaction.  You grew up in a Christian home?  Why wouldn't you become a Buddhist, or an atheist.  Mom and Dad were liberals?   Remember the TV show Family Ties? There were a lot of Alex Keatons in the 1980s and 1990s.  Hunting as a way of distancing yourself from your anti-gun, urban sophistcate parents makes a lot of sense.

    Read more here:

    I Did A Ten Minute Interview on WOCM This Morning...

    at 5:40 AM Mountain Time.  That's a real sign of my commitment to this cause.  I fancy that I actually sounded intelligent, which would seem almost impossible at such an hour.

    My PR firm has so far arranged a total of four radio interviews, two of them only ten minutes.  I fear that the publishers who said that Americans really don't care about mental illness, homelessness, and mass murder, were right.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2012

    Another Of Those, "What Party Is She?" News Stories

    Let me emphasize that I don't think her gambling addiction and misuse of campaign funds problem is specific to her being a Democrat.  But does anyone doubt that this news story would have left you in the dark if she had been a Republican?  From the September 12, 2012 Houston Chronicle:

    OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska state senator has agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges stemming from allegations that she misused campaign cash at casinos and filed false reports concealing that.
    Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning announced the charges Wednesday against state Sen. Brenda Council. He says Council has agreed to plead guilty.
    Bruning says it's clear Council has a problem with gambling. She withdrew $63,000 at casinos over the last several years and deposited $36,000 in cash.
    Yet her Wikipedia page describes her political affiliation as "non-partisan."

    Am I Turning Into a Liberal?

    From September 11, 2012 Washington Post:

    The assistant anthropology professor at American University was about to begin teaching “Sex, Gender & Culture,” but her baby daughter woke up in the morning with a fever. The single mother worried that she had no good child-care options.
    So Pine brought her sick baby to class. The baby, in a blue onesie, crawled on the floor of the lecture hall during part of the 75-minute class two weeks ago, according to the professor’s account. The mother extracted a paper clip from the girl’s mouth at one point and shooed her away from an electrical outlet. A teaching assistant held the baby and rocked her at times, volunteering to help even though Pine stressed that she didn’t have to. When the baby grew restless, Pine breast-fed her while continuing her lecture in front of 40 students.
    There might have been some legitimate concerns about allowing her sick baby to crawl around a classroom (and trust me, there are no antiseptic classrooms, and it sounds like there are serious safety concerns), it appears that the major upset was that she was breast-feeding her baby while lecturing.

    Look, if this was a regular practice, I might see some upset about it being "unprofessional" as some students called it.  But it was the first day of class; she didn't have anywhere to dump the kid; and the class title alone should make you wonder if this could have been a demonstration of the enduring problems of sex, gender, and culture.  I can see how this might have been a problem in an uptight, sexually repressive society--but is there any society anywhere more loose and casual about sex than a college campus?

    KBSU Will Run An Interview About My Brother Ron...

    tomorrow at 6:50 AM and 8:50 AM.  For those not in the Boise area (which is most of you), there will be a version on the their website.  My efforts to interest any of the conservative talk radio shows (of which we have two in the Boise area): absolutely worthless.

    UPDATE: The print version of what they ran on the radio.

    The Upset That Led To The Murder of U.S. Diplomats

    It appears to be primarily because something that has long been acknowledged by Muslims (until it became Politically Incorrect) was mentioned in the video: that Mohammed married a girl of nine.  And I don't mean betrothed; that happened at age six. From Muhammad Abdul-Rauf's The Islamic View of Women and the Family (1993):
    But he was also kind and tender with Aisha, who lived with him nine years before she was widowed at the age of eighteen.
    Fawzy Al Ghoudairy's Why Did Prophet Muhammed Marry Aisha, the Young Girl  is entirely devoted to establishing
    that such marriage in such age in such era was a natural matter, therefore it is clear that they not criticizing the early marriage of a nine-year-old girl to a fifty-year-old man as much as they are keen to criticize and distort the picture of the Prophet of Islam.
    The older a book is, the more likely it is to point out this inconvenient truth, such as J.D. Bate, "The Wives of Muhammad," Indian Antiquary 7:93-94 (April, 1878):
    Muhammad's third wife was 'Aisha, usually written A y e s h a, and less frequently A s h a. 'Aisha was the daughter of 'Abdu-1-lah binUthmiin Abu Qahafa, better known in Moslim history under the name Abu Bakr (lit. ' the spinster's father'),—a title which was bestowed upon him in allusion, apparently, to the fact that he was the father of the only spinster whom ' the prophet of God' had taken into his haram. It is not ascertainable at what period this name was given to the father of 'Aisha; most probably it was not given till after the Hajira, when the marriage toMuhammad of such a large number of widows would give distinction to the circumstance of 'Aisha being the only one among all his wives who had been married to him in her virginity,—a circumstance of which 'Aisha never failed to boast. She was the most youthful of his wives, having been married to him at the age of six years, and Muhammadan historians relate that 'the prophet of God' consummated his marriage with the child when she reached her ninth year (Arab, sulibut, ijtima',)
    Recently published books also treat this rather matter-of-factly, such Kecia Ali's Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam (2010), 76:
    Rather than having a strict age-based limit, or one dependent on menarche, the determination of female readiness for sex (and thus cohabitation and support) hinged on physical sturdiness and appeal to men.  Appeal is occasionally mentioned, however.  The age of nine appears sporadically as a minimum for consummation, majority, or both.  This is presumably tied to the hadith, quoted by Shafi'i, that Aisha's age at nine when Muhammad consummated their marriage.  It is possible, though I think highly unlikely, that the causal link goes the other way--that is, that the hadith are an attempt to justify consummation from the age of nine.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012

    U.S. Government Suppressed Knowledge of Katyn Forest Massacre

    Well, this isn't exactly news, but the National Archives are releasing lots of documents showing that first the FDR Administration, and many subsequent ones, chose to keep our knowledge of the Soviets role in the murder of 22,000 Polish Army officers a secret.  During World War II, because Stalin was our ally, and during the Cold War...because we didn't want to upset them.  What?

    The September 10, 2012 Washington Post points out the more likely explanation:
    1952: The Congressional committee concludes there is no question that the Soviets bear blame for the massacre. It faults Roosevelt’s administration for suppressing public knowledge of the truth. The report also says it suspects pro-Soviet sympathizers within government agencies buried knowledge about Katyn. It expresses anger at the disappearance of the first Van Vliet report and says: “This committee believes that had the Van Vliet report been made immediately available to the Dept. of State and to the American public, the course of our governmental policy toward Soviet Russia might have been more realistic with more fortunate post-war results.”
    Unfortunately, wild enthusiasm for the murderous thugs of the Soviet Union was and remains strong among intellectuals in the U.S. and throughout the West. After all, their hearts were in the right place: socialism.

    It's 1980 Again

    Fortunately, no hostages were taken this time.  From September 11, 2012 BBC:
    Protesters have breached the wall of the US embassy in Cairo and torn down a US flag over a US-made film which they say is insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.
    I keep hoping that Carter II goes the same way in November that Carter I did.

    Monday, September 10, 2012

    Chicago Teachers On Strike

    But will anyone notice?  
    ( - Seventy-nine percent of the 8th graders in the Chicago Public Schools are not grade-level proficient in reading, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and 80 percent are not grade-level proficient in math.
    I'm not blaming the teachers for this.  Most of what makes some students proficient at reading is what value the parents (okay, in most homes now, the "parent," singular) put on reading.  Math is a bit more complicated.  Still, when you have a place that is something of anti-Lake Wobegon, where most kids are below average, where random acts of murder take place with distressing frequency in spite of restrictive gun control laws, I'm guessing that the teachers really aren't the core problem.

    Still, there comes a certain point where you have to wonder what is going to fix this problem, short of some sort of ferocious cultural imperialism, along the lines of the original Operation Head Start, where for practical purposes, middle class specialists took over parenting of ghetto kids for the first few years.  (And yes, there are some white subcultures in America that probably need an equivalent cultural imperialism to give their kids any chance of not ending up poor or in prison.)

    California, Joining The Third World

    Small Dead Animals pointed me to this terribly scary article about what happens a tapeworm manages to move from your intestines to your brain:
    But you are considered lucky if you have a live tapeworm in your body. "While it's alive, it's a problem, but when it starts to die it's a bigger problem," a source said to Scientific American. When the tapeworm arrives in the brain, and dies, the brain calcifies around it. To make matters worse, when the tapeworm dies, the body's immune system recognizes the foreign object and attacks it, causing symptoms like seizures, headaches and paralysis.Read more at
    What does this have to do with California and the Third World?  Tapeworms are primarily a Third World problem, but because the U.S. works aggressively at encouraging people to move here from the Third World (and how many physical exams take place across the open border?), the parts of the U.S. that are most interested in being Third World are getting their wish:
    The CDC estimates that there are 1,900 diagnosed cases every year, 386 annual cases in California alone which can cost upwards of $66,000. Often it is paid through Medicare - costing taxpayers thousands.Read more at 

    Gun-Free Zones

    Dr. John Lott has an article published September 10, 2012 at Fox News pointing out that the alleged shooter in the Aurora Batman murders did not go to the nearest theater showing the movie, nor the largest theater showing the movie--but the theater with a most unusual policy:
    So why did the killer pick the Cinemark theater? You might think that it was the one closest to the killer’s apartment. Or, that it was the one with the largest audience.
    Yet, neither explanation is right. Instead, out of all the movie theaters within 20 minutes of his apartment showing the new Batman movie that night, it was the only one where guns were banned. In Colorado, individuals with permits can carry concealed handgun in most malls, stores, movie theaters, and restaurants. But private businesses can determine whether permit holders can carry guns on their private property.
    Most movie theaters allow permit holders carrying guns. But the Cinemark movie theater was the only one with a sign posted at the theater’s entrance.

    Read more:
    Perhaps there was some other reason that the shooter picked this particular theater--but this was a perfectly logical reason to pick the Cinemark, if your goal was to maximize deaths while minimizing your own risk of getting shot.  As Dr. Lott points out, with 4% of the adult Colorado population having a concealed carry license, a theater with 200 people in it (if licensees were allowed to be armed) means a very highly likelihood of someone being able to fire back.

    Saturday, September 8, 2012

    Beast From The Sea

    This is the first novel from the daughter of a friend, and I was pleasantly surprised by it: sort of a supernatural horror detective novel.  It is better written than I was expecting.  As my review on Amazon explains:
    Henry James is responsible for the idea of "show, don't tell": that instead of a narrator telling you what is happening, and why, the author gives you clues, hints, and information from which you can figure out what is happening. It demands a bit more from the reader than just telling you, but it can also be a more satisfying read.
    This is a tale of the supernatural--but also a detective story, and a political thriller--a combination that you do not normally expect to find. The writing is more evocative of place and conditions than I would expect from a starting novelist. The description of people trying to make their way in a society that is just authoritarian enough to be unnerving, but just close enough to a society in which we live that it makes it more unnerving, is also surprisingly sophisticated. It also shows the author has knowledge of areas such as archaeology, geology, and practical politics in authoritarian societies.
    If you need something to read on your Kindle on the airplane, you could do worse.  I generally don't get much out of H.P. Lovecraft sort of novels, but as I said, it actually crosses several genres quite effectively.

    Captcha Turned Off Again

    It is apparently getting more and more difficult to figure out those weird letters that appear when you want to comment.  I have turned that off again, although the quantity of spam comments is pretty horrible.

    Why I Don't Think I Am Too Old To Be Of Value

    One of my frustrations with the world is the assumption that employers make that because I have more than 30 years of experience as a software engineer, there is nothing useful that I can do for their organization (or at least that my experience makes me worth less than a fresh college graduate).  Let me give you a couple of recent examples of what I am doing, and why the "you are too old to be of value" assumption seems questionable to me.

    1. The project that I am working on right now uses JSPs for the user interface, and Struts to connect the JSPs to Java classes running on the server.  The Java classes use JDBC to query an Informix database through Stored Procedure Language (SPLs), which is an extension of SQL.

    I have noticed in the almost three years that I have been working on this project that the SPLs never use boolean type parameters.  Instead, we pass CHAR(1) parameters that are usually "Y" or "N".  In addition, the vast majority of the tables defined in the Informix database that should be boolean are declared CHAR(1).  

    Why?  It turns out that the JDBC class responsible for converting parameters in Java to the string to send to Informix did not translate Java boolean objects correctly; it was converting them to a SQL BIT type, and Informix apparently does not know about that type.  It appears that the software engineers (and I use that term loosely) who hacked our current mess together could not figure out how to pass boolean types to SPLs, so they used CHAR(1) for boolean parameters--and did likewise in defining the tables in the database.  It was a one line change to tell the class that formats the strings to convert Java boolean values to something that SPLs could recognize as a boolean parameter.  Now I can pass Java boolean values to SPLs as BOOLEAN parameters.

    Our database administrator tells me that Informix is more efficient in both storage space and processing time using booleans rather that CHAR(1).  Every place that we use a CHAR(1) instead of a boolean means that Informix has to do a separate check to make sure that the field is "Y" or "N" (or whatever variant this particular table uses).  These suboptimal uses of CHAR(1) occur in many hundreds of tables, and many of these tables have hundreds of thousands of rows, with vast numbers of transactions on a daily basis.  (A user of our system accesses dozens of tables each time he or she loads an offender's records.)  Pretty obviously, this is an area where changing the existing tables and SPLs to use booleans instead of CHAR(1) is likely to be a big gain for throughput.

    2. I have spent much of the last year and a half working on something called the PreSentence Investigation module (PSI).  After an offender has been convicted, Corrections does something called a PreSentence Investigation, which produces a report showing an offender's employment history, family history, previous criminal history, substance abuse history, medical history.  The PSI report is provided to the judge so that he determine the appropriate sentence for this offender.  

    You read these reports and it is often quite difficult not to get angry at the bad parenting that clearly set some of these offenders up to fail.  That doesn't mean that they don't need to be locked up--but it makes you realize that a society that cares not at all about values is destined for failure.

    Anyway, a recurring problem is that there are dates associated with various events.  When did you start using meth?  When did you start using alcohol?  When did you start using heroin?  And the answers on many of these questions are pretty appalling.  But these are necessarily approximations.  The investigators are asking people to give them a date for events that happened ten or twenty years earlier, and these must necessarily be estimates.

    The problem, unfortunately, is that the people who threw together the database definition some years ago assumed that all the dates in our system would be precisely known.  For obvious reasons, the courts need to know which dates are dates, and which are guesses.  But there's no easy way to specify this in an SQL DATE field.  

    So I came up with a very clever scheme for solving this problem, without redesigning all the tables: add a column called precision next to each date column in every table where there might be uncertainty.  This value would be an enumeration identifying the precision of the corresponding DATE field: 0=precise date; 1 means, to the month; 2=year; 3=decade.  On the input screens, the investigator can enter a date, and then select how precise this date is.  When it comes time to print the PSI report, we can print various strings, depending on precision: 


    I think this is a very elegant solution to the problem of already having vast quantities of data in the system which you can't discard.