2018-07-19

Redundant quotes in the news

Man scalped by grizzly bear says he's 'lucky' to be alive

OK, in what universe is he 'lucky' to be alive? Would anyone like to propose that the expected result of being scalped by a bear is anything but death? Anyone? Bueller?

He fought back, kicking the bear and punching its face. The bear released him and he ran inside. The bear had bit his abdomen and torn away part of his scalp and his ear, and he was bleeding profusely.
"There's a lot of blood I'm sure up and down the stairs," he said.
Without cell reception or a landline to call for help, Mr Carbery ran to his car as the bear chased him and drove himself to the nearest hospital.

While full of admiration for this gentleman's tenacity and instinct for self preservation (ignoring his questionable decision to approach a pair of grizzly bears without any kind of firearm, let alone one chambered in .700 Nitro express) I don't think we can ascribe his survival to anything other than sheer luck:

...the bear caught up with him at the door, picked him up by the skull and tossed him to the ground, he says.

If an anecdote in your life includes the words "picked me up by the skull", and you're recounting it, you're clearly luckier than the average.

2018-07-09

On politeness, and abuses thereof

Coming out of the supermarket today, I was assailed in the foyer by a lady in her early 30s standing in front of a poster advertising some kind of pet shelter charity, asking me:

"Do you prefer dogs or cats?"

I'm normally quite a polite person, but this lady was clearly exploiting the polite human instinct to respond to a apparently innocuous question as a hook to draw me into some conversation about the terrible conditions dogs/cats would exist in were it not for the sterling work of this shelter. Once you try to exploit my politeness, darling, you lose all your rights to it.

"Depends: roasted, or stewed?" I replied, and strode out to the car park. A sharp intake of breath and "Oh!" from behind me suggested that I'd hit my mark.

I've had it with the attempted exploits on decent behaviour - politeness, courtesy, fear of giving offence - with the aim of using it to further a political or commercial agenda. I've seen enough of it to be able to recognise when someone's trying it on, and they can expect a withering contempt in response. If more of the public took this approach, it might just dissuade the offenders from this abusive anti-social dialogue.

(For the record, I'm a cat person. Wash in my own spit, the whole deal.)

2018-07-08

How to kill Trusteer's Rapport stone dead

If you, like me, have had to wrangle with a slow and balky family member's Mac, you may have found the root cause of the slowness to be Rapport. This is an IBM-branded piece of "security" software, and has all the user friendliness and attention to performance and detail that we expect from Big Blue - to wit, f-all.

I therefore followed the comprehensive instructions on uninstalling Rapport which were fairly easy to step through and complete. Only problem - it didn't work. The rapportd daemon was still running, new programs were still very slow to start, and there was no apparent way forward.

Not dissuaded, I figured out how to drive a stake through its heart. Here's how.

Rapport start-up

Rapport installs a configuration in OS X launchd which ensures its daemon (rapportd) is started up for every user. The files in /Library/LaunchAgents and /Library/LaunchAgents are easy to remove, but the original files are in /System/Library/LaunchAgents and /System/Library/LaunchDaemons and you need to kill those to stop Rapport.

However, System Integrity Protection (SIP) on OS X El Capitan and later prevents you from deleting files under /System - even as root.

Given that, the following instructions will disable SIP on your Mac, remove the Rapport files, and re-enable SIP. You should be left with a Mac that is no longer burdened by Rapport.

Check whether Rapport is running

From a Terminal window, type
ps -eaf | grep -i rapport
If you see one or more lines mentioning rapportd then you have Rapport running and you should keep going; if not, your problems lie elsewhere.

Disable SIP

Reboot your machine, and hold down COMMAND+R as the machine restarts. This brings you into Recovery mode. From the menu bar, choose Utilities → Terminal to open up a Terminal window. Then type
csrutil disable
exit

Now reboot and hold down COMMAND+S as the machine restarts to enter single-user mode (a black background and white text).

Find and delete the Rapport files

You'll need to make your disk writeable, so enter the two commands (which should be suggested in the text displayed when you enter single user mode):
/sbin/fsck -fy
/sbin/mount -uw /

Now
cd /System/Library/LaunchAgents
and look for the Rapport files:
ls *apport*
You can then remove them:
rm com.apple.RapportUI*
rm com.apple.rapport*

Then
cd ../LaunchDaemons
and look for the Rapport files there:
ls *apport*
You can then remove them too:
rm com.apple.rapportd*

Restore SIP

Rapport should now be dead, but you should re-enable SIP. Reboot and hold down COMMAND+R to go back to Recovery mode. From the menu bar, choose Utilities → Terminal to open up a Terminal window. Then type
csrutil enable
exit

Reboot, and you should be done. Open a Terminal window, type
ps -eaf | grep -i rapport
and verify that rapportd no longer appears.

2018-03-24

Any mentions of Peter Wang or Chris Hixson at today's Marches for Gun Control?

I've been watching the gun control march speeches and Twitter today for mentions of Peter Wang or Chris Hixson - I may have blinked and hence missed it, but it's safe to say that Peter's sacrifice saving 15 of his classmates, and Mr. Hixson's sacrifice for his students, have not been prominent in today's discussions.

Might this be because the organizers find distasteful any possibility that there might be glorification of the military in this event? Peter was a JROTC member, posthumously accepted to West Point military academy, and Chris Hixson was a military veteran.

This whole "March for Lives" thing stinks of politics. This is not a spontaneous grassroots reaction to a school shooting. There's a carefully directed message coming from a central organization somewhere, and it ain't from a bunch of Florida high school students.

2018-03-17

Commando - the Russian Remake

I spent most of today trying to my US taxes, and mostly failing. Wrestling with the American Inland Revenue Service's forms is like wrestling with a pack of disgruntled alligators, except that the IRS is much more motivated than your average alligator to keep tearing off your limbs, and then patiently wait for them to regrow before tearing them off again.

I'm sorry, I got distracted in a mini-rant. Anyway, as part of my procrastination I discovered (don't ask how) that the Russian film industry had made an 80%+ shot-for-shot remake of everyone's favourite 1980's Arnie film "Commando" as "День Д" (D-Day), starring a chap called Mikhail Porochenkov who's every bit as manly as 1980's Arnie, but has much more comprehensible dialogue. Even though the film is in Russian without subtitles.

And, glory of glories, the movie is available in its entirety on YouTube:

For burning 90 minutes of your tax-preparation time, it's hard to beat. You can even play it at 1.5x or 2x speed, and not miss any significant dialogue or plot points.

Mr. Porochenkov delivers a very good alternate to Arnie's character, and the girl who plays his daughter isn't Alyssa Milano but she gets the job done. The Bennett (Vernon Wells) equivalent is awful, he's just a hulk of barely-speaking muscle rather than Wells' scarily crazy character, but the climactic fight between the two is, honestly, much more homoerotic than the original. It's quite disturbing.

The Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong) equivalent is a bit short on the emoting front, but is acceptably attractive, and within five minutes you're praying for their version of Sully (David Patrick Kelly) to suffer a long and painful death as long as it's a) soon and b) mostly off-screen. I suspect the Russian director's decision to move the shopping mall scene to a poolside location was strictly to increase the fanservice component of the film - for all sides of the audience,but at least they kept in a version of "This is my weak arm":

It's well worth 90 minutes of your time - or 60 minutes, or 45 minutes, depending on playback speed and your desire to hear the dialogue - to compare with and contrast to the original. Oh, those Russians.

2018-03-11

You can't spell "POLICE" without "ICE"

The shameless pandering of open-borders mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland, CA has really been gripping my chaps. For a weapons-grade bit of trolling, and if I were particularly tired of life, I'd recommend walking the streets of Oakland with a T-shirt:

SUPPORT THE POLICE

Because, let's face it, you can't spell "POLICE" without "ICE".

2018-03-04

Bay Area digital road signs - some new messages

While driving along the freeway today (6 lane divided highway, 65 mph speed limit) there was one of the CalTrans digital information signs mounted on a trailer on the shoulder. These sometimes warn you of local hazards ("SHOULDER CLOSED AHEAD") or maybe more general public information ("SERIOUS DROUGHT HELP SAVE WATER"). This one caused my eyebrows to raise because it said "WATCH OUT FOR PEOPLE IN ALL ROADWAYS". Not the specific "ROAD WORK AHEAD, MEN IN ROAD" but instead an almost completely useless message with no specificity of time or location. And yet, someone had taken the time to add the message and show in on the freeway, so I can only imagine that random people wandering along the freeway is, or has been, a real problem.

This got me thinking about what messages might actually be useful and relevant to Bay Area drivers, based on the past few years of experience driving on their roads. I would suggest:

  • MIRRORS: THEY'RE NOT JUST FOR YOUR MAKE-UP
  • WHEN YOU REVERSE, THINGS COME AT YOU FROM BEHIND
  • INDICATORS: NOT JUST FOR WHEN YOU'RE PARKED IN A FIRE LANE
  • YOUR F-350 TRUCK IS NOT AN ELECTRIC VEHICLE, DON'T PARK IN THOSE BAYS
  • DRIVER WEIGHING 400LBS DOES NOT MAKE YOUR CAR A HIGH OCCUPANCY VEHICLE
  • LOOK FURTHER AHEAD THAN THE CAR IN FRONT ONCE IN A WHILE
  • PUT YOUR FUCKING PHONE DOWN, WE'RE NOT KIDDING
  • DON'T PARK DIRECTLY ON A CORNER
  • LET MERGING TRAFFIC IN AHEAD OF YOU, YOU SELFISH GIT
  • INSURANCE: IT'S NOT OPTIONAL
  • DON'T DRIVE AND EAT TAKEOUT FOOD FROM YOUR LAP
  • THERE'S A TRUCK IN YOUR BLIND SPOT
  • CHECK YOUR DAMN TIRE PRESSURE ONCE IN A WHILE

and let's not forget:

  • VISITING THE DMV? ABANDON ALL HOPE

2018-01-21

Prospects for unionizing in Silicon Valley

A topic I've heard increasing buzz about at parties[1] is the idea that Silicon Valley tech workers should be unionizing. The New York Times was discussing unionization in digital media a month ago:

Daniel Marans, a reporter at HuffPost, said the treatment of employees at digital media companies should not remain stuck in a time when websites were small and scrappy, staffed by younger workers who were happy to see their names in pixels.
"That comes to things like transparency on pay, having a decent pay scale that allows a ladder of sustainability where you can support yourself on such an income, and having due process and a guarantee of severance in the case of layoffs," Mr. Marans said.
Ooh, that looks like a great slate of demands, straight out of the union playbook. Let's unpack it.

The union demands

Transparency on pay
Know what everyone else is paid based on level - no practical scope for varying pay based on the positive or negative impact to the company. Any perceptible skew by race, gender or other minority status gets jumped on. This ties in to the next point very well.
Ladder of sustainability
a.k.a. "pay by seniority". The longer you work here, the more pay you get. No concept of "you haven't materially contributed more - or even as much - this year than you did last year, no rise for you." Per the above point, if you're a mother who's been working short hours to match with your daycare needs then you should be paid as much as a single man who's been employed for the same duration as you but has put in twice the hours. (Also as much as a single woman in the same situation as the man, which is even more invidious, but for some reason the law doesn't care about this situation.) And if you've spent 75% of your working day on Twitter supporting the Resistance Against Trump, or endorsing Chelsea Manning for Senate, that is a perfectly appropriate component of your day job.
Due process
Several states in the USA - including California, home of Silicon Valley - follow employment at will where a company can fire a worker just because they don't like them. They don't have to conduct a specific act of misconduct, it's just "it's not working out between us, goodbye!" There are carefully crafted exceptions in each state's laws, but the basic principle holds true for most employees. This violates one of the fundamental tenets of union laws worldwide - employees should not be fireable except in the most egregious circumstances.
Where you can support yourself on such an income
This refers to the lower-level employees - in practice, contractors - and the minimum wage. The more money union employees earn, the higher the dues that the union can ask for. "You're getting $15/hour? We Fought For Fifteen!" Of course, the employees who lost their jobs because their labor wasn't worth $15/hour don't really benefit from this. But screw them, right?
Guarantee of severance in the case of layoffs
As noted above, unions don't really believe in layoffs unless you're irretrievably conservative or Republican - in which case, fuck you. But if severance is unavoidable, you may be out of luck. I was surprised to learn that even in California, severance pay is not required although in practice it's present in most contracts.

Where is this coming from?

My personal opinion - which you should take with a whole bag of salt - is that this drive is a reaction to the past year's tepid (by Social Justice Warrior standards) reaction by Silicon Valley engineer peons to the cases of "hate speech" by such luminaries as Googler James Damore. The 2014 ousting of Mozilla's Brendon Eich seems to have been a misleading catalyst for social justice organizing: the perception was that the relatively small number of social justice crusaders had disproportionate power to influence media opinions and drive online lynch mobs.

The carefully union-unaffiliated Tech Workers Coalition has been pushing this line for a while:

The Tech Workers Coalition is a home for progressives in tech in the Bay Area. We’re an all-volunteer community organization. Our active participants include workers in the tech industry, members from labor union locals, community organizers, and friends.
"Labor union locals", huh? Why am I not surprised?
And now unions are concerned about the possibility of a nationwide “right-to-work” law which would effectively gut their funding. Tech workers need to stand with service workers in these fights.
Translation: we need tech money to fight the union-gutting right-to-work law. California in particular is not a right to work state - if you want to be a public school teacher, for instance, you're going to pay union dues.
Certain things are safer than others, and safer for different people. An undocumented contract worker is in a very different situation than a salaried citizen worker.
Well, there's the teeny tiny issue that the contract company is clearly breaking the law of the nation, so yes...
For tech, it’d be cool to see the strike weapon on the table. History shows us the tactics that will change the world for the better — the tactics that will not only get rid of Trump, but change the conditions that we’re all forced to live and work under.
Oh, that'll be an interesting one. Tech workers striking - "Facebook will go dark for 24 hours unless FB guarantees contractors the right to employ undocumented workers". How exactly do you expect the tech company leadership to react to this existential threat?

You should also give careful scrutiny to Coworker.org who has been publicly allying with union-oriented Silicon Valley employees. It looks to be funded principally by New Venture Fund (a $315M turnover organization whose turnover doubled from 2014 to 2015, and whose 2016 and 2017 turnover I'd be extremely interested to see. In turn they get "advised" by Arabella Advisors who have a very interesting management team with cited connections to e.g. Barack Obama's secretary of commerce, a company focus on regional food and divestment from fossil fuels.

Will it work?

What do I think? Twitter, Facebook and Google offices in the USA are going to be hit with unionization efforts in the next 12 months, initially as a trial in the most favorable locations but if they succeed then this will be ramped up quickly nationwide. This will be framed as a push to align the companies to approved socially just policies - which their boards mostly favor already - but will be used to leapfrog the activist employees into union-endorsed and -funded positions of influence. That approach neatly nullifies the increasing concern about their lack of material contribution to the company as they spend more time on Twitter and producing social justice memes than actually writing code and making the applications work better.

I wonder, though. The bulk of Silicon Valley engineering employees - who are still the majority of the company - are white, Indian and Chinese males. They are used to ruthless meritocracy from the age of, oh, eight or so. The prospect that some slacker [foreign epithet] could supplant them in promotion or pay just by unfireably hanging around the company while they sweat blood, or block them from a union-favored sinecure by dint of being black / female / transgender / identifying as a dragon is unlikely to be something they'd lie down and accept. I fear that the social justice crusaders are mistaking silence for acceptance, and the settling of accounts after the unionization effort will be (metaphorically) bloody indeed.

I doubt this will get off the ground with Apple. They are notoriously controlling and will both detect and ruthlessly act on any twitches of unionization.

For Amazon, of course, it's much more simple. Any Amazon employee pushing unionization will be deniably but publically killed by an Amazon warehouse robot. I can't imagine Jeff Bezos taking such a challenge to his authority lying down.

TL;DR - there will be a big unionization push for Silicon Valley companies in 2018, and it will go horribly wrong.

[1] You almost certainly don't want to go to the kind of parties I go to. There are no kegs, vol-au-vents, or mini sausage rolls. There's organic Chardonnay, sushi of dubious provenance, and acceptably ethnic cuisine like Vietnamese bánh cuốn and Mexican chilaquiles. I happen to like bánh cuốn, but am under no illusion that the food and beverages are based on what the guests find appealing.

2018-01-13

Prediction for Hawaii in October 2018

Following the ballistic missile false alarm, a surge of babies will appear in Hawaii approximately 9 months from now as men and women clustered together under the bed decide to go out of this world in flagrante and without protection.

There may also be a bunch of unmarried teen pregnancies for those who didn't want to die as virgins...

Good news about Hawaii's ballistic missile warning service

It works!

Watching the 1pm (Hawaii) press conference, the Governor and the Administrator for Emergency Management are going through the expected self-flagellation. The Administrator commented "Our process is to have no more false alarms from now" and that now two people will be required to send out an alert.

The interesting questions, which the journalists don't seem to be asking:

  1. How many false alarms are acceptable - rather, what rate of false alarming is acceptable? Once in 30 years? Once in 10 years? Once a year?
  2. What are the benefits from a false alarm - e.g. testing the alert channel, prompting people to think about their emergency plans - and what are the costs - e.g. mental health events, car accidents, heart attacks, premature consumption of expensive whisky
  3. What actions taken to reduce the risk of false alarms increase the risk of a real alarm being delayed in sending?
Everything comes with a trade-off. The last question is probably the most important. If you only have 10 minutes from alert going out until missile impact (on the current plan), what happens if e.g. your requirement for two people to trigger the alert sending ends up causing a delay because one person isn't around? You just know it's going to happen:
"Hey Akamu, can you watch the console for the next few minutes, I just gotta go to ABC Stores to get some more chocolate macadamias?"
"Sure Alika, I don't want to call in Ula the backup guy if we don't really need to."

I'd like to see a public written postmortem about this incident. Redact names - replace them with roles e.g. "the coming-on-duty emergency alerts worker", "the going-off-duty emergency worker" - and explain:

  • what went wrong,
  • why it went wrong (following the 5 Whys technique),
  • what actions are being taken to remediate the risk, and
  • what do they aim to achieve in terms of the false alarm rate and the failure to alert probability?
Write it in a blameless fashion; assume good faith and basic competence by the people involved. If someone made a bad choice, or slipped and hit the wrong button, the problem isn't with the person - it's the process and technology that let them make that bad choice or press the button in a non-deliberate way.

One interesting question that was raised in the conference: why did some but not all of the sirens trigger? You'd want the process to be that both the sirens team and the alert message should monitor each others' output. If you're the siren operator and get the alert on your phone, the best strategy is to trigger the siren immediately to increase coverage of the alert. The impact of a false siren is much lower than impact of not playing the siren when a missile really is inbound because of the PACOM-to-sirens message channel failing. So maybe this was individual siren operator initiative - reward those folks, and make it standard procedure.

This is a great opportunity for the state government to demonstrate transparency and a commitment to making the systems objectively work better, rather than just playing to the press. Unfortunately, you just know that it's not going to happen like that.