2020-11-18

Unrest expected - the firearms indicator

I was at my local gunsmith on Monday - they do exist in California, you may be surprised to learn - and mentioned that I was thinking about acquiring a handgun, so I could practice short-range target shooting. Even in California it eventually gets cold and wet, and outside ranges are less attractive.
"Ah," he said, "are you in a rush for it?"
Well, not break-neck speed; something in the next 3-4 weeks would be good (allowing for the usual - and pointless - California 10 day waiting period). Not looking for anything special or custom, do you have something utilitarian in 9mm? My aim really isn't good enough to justify anything more.
"At the moment, Glock is telling me 6-8 months for a California-legal 9x19."
Wuh? Is this some issue with California's steadily increasingly insane gun restrictions?
"Not even that; I went to Las Vegas the other week, and the Nevada dealers there were having the same problem."
Ah, it must be because of the election, presumably there's a bump every 4 years?
"No man, not like this. Sure, you get a bit of a bump as a Presidential election approaches, but I've never seen anything like this. You can't get a gun anywhere except the ones that no-one with any knowledge wants."

It seems that the combination of civil unrest over the summer, the general abandonment of cities by police chiefs, and the potential election of Joe Biden with gun-grabbing Beta O'Rourke as his stooge, has soured the population on relying on the police force to defend their homes.

To give you some context, even in one of the gun-grabbiest states in the Union, the estimate in 2018 is that 4.2 million California people were gun owners, out of a population of 37 million or so, or about 1 in 7 adults. There were about 20 million firearms - so clearly the average number of firearms owned would be about 4 per owner. One can only imagine what it looks like now - and what it will look like in mid-2021 when the current order backlog is complete.

This is not peculiar to California:

Ammunition sales blew up in March because of COVID-19, said Gary's Gun Shop assistant manager Nick Meyer. But increased sales stayed steady after riots started in May in response to the death of George Floyd and ahead of the presidential election.
"Firearms and ammunition and the Second Amendment are all hot topics for election times," Meyer said, "and it always spurs a little bit of a spree."
But this year is different.
The gun shop only has 20% of its normal ammunition supply on its shelves, Meyer said.
Can confirm: ammunition is increasingly expensive, assuming you can find it. As this gentleman on YouTube notes, it started in March and has gotten increasingly bad over the year. ("Federal" in this video refers to a manufacturer name, not the federal government).

This all signals something, and it's not good for the prospect of peace in the United States.

2020-11-12

Kamala's Cornish roots

It occurred to me today that our friend Kamala Harris must feel a strong connection to Cornwall. After all, she got her political start from Willie Brown's "mound", and the largest mound in Cornwall is Brown Willie - a short distance from Camelford, as it happens.

2020-11-08

Kamala the cuckoo

I was having lunch with one of my right-wing friends today - such creatures do exist, even in the Bay Area. It was not socially distanced, of course, neither of us believes it makes a difference at this point. At some point she was commenting (of course) on the current US political situation. Specifically, Kamala Harris. "She's a cuckoo!", she remarked, disdainfully.

I misheard initially, and ventured a contrary opinion that she actually seemed pretty sane and intelligent, albeit rather lacking in morals.

"The bird, not the adjective. You must know about them, you're from the UK, you're all into birds aren't you?" I agreed that I was familiar with the avian in question. "Okay, so it sticks its egg into the nest of another unsuspecting bird, a baby cuckoo hatches and is a giant compared to the other baby birds, it progressively kicks the others out of the nest and takes over. Kamala Harris, right?"

She has a point. I don't know if I agree with her assertion that Kammie will infect Sleepy Joe with COVID-19 the first chance that she gets, but I don't give Joe that long in office. Cuck-oo. Cuck-oo.

[1] I wondered how she was acquainted with the bird in question, but it turns out that California does have some cuckoo species, though they're fairly rare and may be endangered. You learn something new every day.

2020-11-07

Never waste a crisis: COVID-19 infringes 2nd Amendment

Living in the Bay Area has its upsides and downsides, but California's general hostility towards the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution is a source of frequent amusement. Sometimes the hypocrisy can be breathtaking, such as the Santa Clara Sherriff's department apparently only approving concealed carry permits if the application came with a contribution to a political campaign. Still, the basics of 2nd amendment are there: you can apply for and own one or more guns, as long as you clear appropriate hurdles; some important (federal background check) and some completely pointless (10 day waiting period for the gun, 10 round magazine size, no "scary" rifles).

Or so I thought.

You may have seen 2020 news reports about rioting in Oakland (the disambiguation items on that page speak for themselves); these events caused your humble correspondent to re-evaluate their laziness on the matters of household protection, and go looking to acquire a firearm for household defence. Gun shops are generally open, your correspondent is an allegedly upstanding citizen, so this shouldn't have been hard. Except... California requires all firearm purchasers to hold a Firearm Safety Certificate. These tests can be performed at any suitable location, so I contacted one to kick this process off.

No dice, per the instructor:

All courses have been suspended until further notice. The store is open by appointment only, the range has limited use, but the classroom is not available. That won't change until Santa Clara County relaxes the regulations.
I have so many people waiting for courses, I am not taking any more names at this time.
Sounds like the Bay Area politicos are making good use of COVID, by keeping down those activities - such as gun acquisition, church attendance - which they find threatening. Bet the diversity training courses are at full throttle, though.

2020-10-09

Asian-American Lives Matter - and SF Supervisor Matt Haney is medacious

Reprising my post in May about Chinese Lives Mattering, in the context of assaults on elderly Asian folk in San Francisco, readers will not be surprised that this has continued to happen, and in fact worsen:

Now community leaders are saying the area is facing a new challenge; racially motivated violence, with a number of elderly Asian American victims the targets of unprovoked physical attacks.
"I am upset and appalled at the recent incident of an attack on a Vietnamese elder two weeks ago," said Judy Young from the Southeast Asian Community Development Center. "This should not happen."
Police say that was one of two victims, one 71-years-old, the other 78. The son of one of the victims posting photos of his mother's bruised face on Instagram.
This is, clearly, awful.

Fortunately, Supervisor for SF's Tenderloin District, Matt Haney, is on the case:

Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the Tenderloin, says racially charged rhetoric from the Whitehouse has helped fuel anti-Asian Pacific Islander bias and ultimately anti-Asian Pacific Islander attacks.
"There's been that type of hatred that has come from people at the top of this country, national leadership which has sent a message of hatred that has been felt by API members of our community," said Supervisor Haney.
This is... an interesting assertion. Let's break it down. Is the President beating down on Koreans? Filipinos? Hawaiians? Samoans? Vietnamese? Taiwanese? No, Matt Haney clearly means the rhetoric against ... the Chinese Communist Party and its singularly deplorable actions with regard to the Wuhan Flu.

So, clearly the miscreants assaulting Vietnamese Americans in SFO are completely separate from those assaulting Chinese Americans in SFO last year, and are in fact the MAGA-hat wearing white supremacists who are known to be endemic in SF. Right, Matty babe?

I Googled for photos of 34-year-old Michael Turner and it turns out that he is not the phenotype you would normally associate with White Supremacy. In fact, he bears a remarkable resemblance in ethnic origin to the perps of the 2019 attacks I described previously. Who knew? He also has a history of violence and larceny which indicates this might not be an out-of-character moment for him.

Entertainingly, SF's radical left District Attorney, Chesa Boudin - the son of two murdering radical left-wing terrorists - tried to play tough on this case:

"Just yesterday one of my [assistant district attorneys] convinced a judge to detain that man in jail pending trial and we will not release him until we are confident he can safely be released," said San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
With Chesa having done such a sterling job to date of protecting the SF citizenship from scumballs, I'm sure we can all sleep more soundly in our beds.

I repeat my previous assertion. The Asian-American community are worried about one specific ethnic group commiting violence against them. It's not Caucasians. The fact that the local news are strenously avoiding providing any coverage of what's actually happening should not be surprising, but continues to be very depressing.

2020-10-07

NHS Track+Trace - what went wrong

By now, you've presumably seen how Public Health England screwed up spectacularly in their testing-to-identification pipeline, such that they dropped thousands of cases - because they hit an internal row limit in Excel.

Oops.

Still, how could anyone have predicted that Public Health England - who were founded in 2013 with responsibility for public health in England - could have screwed up so badly? Well, anyone with any experience of government IT in the past... 40 years, let's say. Or anyone who observed that the single most important job of a public health agency is to prepare for pandemics, which roll around every 10 years or so - remember SaRS 2003? H1N1? And that duty, as illustrated in their 2020 performance, is one that PHE could not have failed at any more badly if they'd put their best minds to it.

Simply, there's no incentive for them to be any good at what they do.

It's tempting to simply roll out the PHE leadership and have them hung from the nearest lamp post - or at least, claw back all they payments they received as a result of being associated with Public Health England. For reference, the latest page shows this list as:

  • Duncan Selbie
  • Prof Dr Julia Goodfellow
  • Sir Derek Myers
  • George Griffin
  • Sian Griffiths
  • Paul Cosford
  • Yvonne Doyle
  • Richard Gleave
  • Donald Shepherd
  • Rashmi Shukla
However, this misses the point; there's plenty more where they came from. Many of these people are actually smart, or at least cunning. None of them actively wanted tens of thousands of people in the UK to die, or the UK's coronavirus response to become an absolute laughing-stock. Yet, here we are.

When you set up a data processing pipeline like this, your working assumptions should be that:

  1. The data you ingest is often crap in accuracy, completeness and even syntax;
  2. At every stage of processing, you're going to lose some of it;
  3. Your computations are probably incorrect in several infrequent but crucial circumstances; and
  4. When you spit out your end result, the system you send it to will be frequently partially down, so drop or reject some or all of the (hopefully) valid data you're sending to it.
Given all these risks, one is tempted to give up managing data pipelines for a living and change to an easier mode of life such as a career civil servant in the Department for Education where nothing you do will have the slightest effect, yet you'll still get pay and pension. Still, there's a way forward for intrepid souls.

The insight you need is that you accept that your pipeline is going to be decrepit, leaky and contaminate your data. That's OK as long as you know when it's happening, and approximately how bad it is.

Let's look at the original problem. From the BBC article:

The issue was caused by the way the agency brought together logs produced by commercial firms paid to analyse swab tests of the public, to discover who has the virus. They filed their results in the form of text-based lists - known as CSV files - without issue.
We want to have a good estimate, for each agency, whether all the records have been received. Therefore we supplement the list of records with some of our own - which have characteristics which we expect to survive through processing. Assuming each record is a list of numerical values (say, number of virus particles per mL - IDK, I'm not a biologist) a simple way to do this is to make one or more fields in our artificial records have values that are 100x higher or lower than practically feasible. Then for a list of N records, you add one artifical record to the start, one at the end and one in the middle, so you ship N+3 records to central processing. For extra style, change the invalidity characteristic of each of these records - so e.g. you know that an excessively high viral load signals the start of a records list, and excessively low load signals the end.

The next stage:

PHE had set up an automatic process to pull this data together into Excel templates so that it could then be uploaded to a central system and made available to the NHS Test and Trace team, as well as other government computer dashboards.
First check: this is not a lot of data. Really, it isn't. Every record represents the test of a human, there's a very finite testing capacity (humans per day), and the amount of core data produced should easily fit in 1KB - 100 or more double-precision floating point numbers. It's not like they're uploading e.g. digital images of mammograms.

So the first step, if you're competent, is for Firm A to read-back the data from PHE:

  • Firm A has records R1 ... R10. It computes a checksum for each record - a number which is a "summary" of the record, rather like feeding the record through a sausage machine and taking a picture of the sausage it produces.
  • Firm A stores checksums C1, C2, ..., C10 corresponding to each record.
  • Firm A sends records R1, R2, ..., R10 to PHE, tagged with origin 'Firm A' and date '2020-10-06'
  • Firm A asks PHE to send it checksums of all records tagged 'Firm A', '2020-10-06'
  • PHE reads its internal records, identifies 10 records, sends checksums D1, D2, ... D10
  • Firm A checks that the number of checksums match, and each checksum is the same: if there's a discrepancy, it loudly flags this to a human.
This at least assures Firm A that its data has been received, is complete, and is safely stored.

If PHE wants to be really cunning then one time in 50 it will deliberately omit a checksum in its response, or change one bit of a checksum, and expect the firm to flag an error. If no error is raised, we know that Firm A isn't doing read-backs properly.

Now, PHE wants to aggregate its records. It has (say) 40 firms supplying data to it. So it does processing over all the records and for each record produces a result: one of "Y" (positive test), "N" (negative test), "E" (record invalid), "I" (record implausible). Because of our fake record injection, if 40 firms send 1000 records in total, we should expect zero "E" results, 120 "I" results, and the total of "Y" and "N" results should equal 880. If we calculate anything different, the system should complain loudly, and we send a human to figure out what went wrong.

The system isn't perfect - the aggregation function might accidentally skip 1 in 100 results, for instance, and through bad luck it might not skip an erroneous record. But it's still a good start.

I just pulled this process out of my posterior, and I guarantee it's more robust than what PHE had in place. So why are we paying the Test+Trace system £12 billion or more to implement a system that isn't even as good as a compsci grad would put in place in return for free home gigabit Ethernet, with an incentive scheme based around Xena tapes and Hot Pockets?

Nobody really cared if the system worked well. They just wanted to get it out of the door. No-one - at least, at the higher levels of project management - was going to be held accountable for even a failure such as this. "Lessons will be learned" platitudes will be trotted out, the company will find one or two individuals at the lower level and fire them for negligence, but any project manager not actually asleep on the job would have known this was coming. And they know it will happen again, and again, as long as the organisation implementing systems like this has no direct incentive for it to work. Indeed, the client (UK Government) probably didn't even define what "work" actually meant in terms of effective processing - and how they would measure it.

2020-09-10

Black Lives Matter - CBS News edition

CBS News states that Police in the U.S. killed 164 Black people in the first 8 months of 2020. Helpfully, they provide a list of their names. Let's look at the circumstances of a random selection of ten names, shall we?

Had it coming

Dreasjon Reed
High speed chase, ran away, had gun in waistband, gun was discharged twice, police shot him after Taser didn't work.
Zyon Romeir Wyche
Actually seems to have killed himself, after firing rounds at officers after a traffic stop and running away
Dominique Atwon Anderson
Attacked his brother with a machete, charged a police officer, was shot.
Malcolm Xavier Ray Williams
Grabbed a gun and shot at an officer after a routine traffic stop with his heavily pregnant partner (the driver).
Lewis Ruffin, Jr
Didn't want to go back to jail after domestic violence and weapons charges; shot at deputies, who killed him

Accident / Medical issue

Tina Marie Davis
Officers attempted to detain Davis after responding to a call about a woman breaking car windows and found her chasing one of the 911 callers with a stick; officers tasered her, she subsequently died.
Devan Austin Twilley
Car chased by police after apparently forcing his way into a house and threatening the occupants, crashed fatally.

Apparent police misconduct

Breonna Taylor
(The famous no-knock shooting case). Maybe the police didn't violate the law, but something still really needs to change in these kind of heavily armed home entries.

Seems excessive but not unjustified

Tommie Gale McGlothen
Died apparently from stimulent use / severe mental health episode, but police should have checked on him when in patrol car after he'd been tasered and mace'd.
Maurice S Gordon
Mental health episode, struggled with officer and might have gone for his gun. Needed mental health help, but it wasn't recognized.

Summary

It would be nice if CBS News actually did some journalism to highlight the specific cases that indicate a need for changes in police behavior, rather than bulking out the list with a) people who clearly had it coming and b) essentially random deaths which nothing could really prevent other than not arresting anyone who did violent things.

But I guess they're too busy shilling...

2020-07-22

Derek Chauvin did not murder George Floyd

How do I know that Minneapolis Derek Chauvin did not murder George Floyd? Don't trust me, trust Washington County prosecutor Imran Ali:

Mr Chauvin and his estranged wife, Kellie Chauvin, were each charged in Washington County on Wednesday with six counts of aiding and abetting filing false or fraudulent tax returns and three counts of aiding and abetting failing to file state tax returns.
They are accused of underreporting their joint income by $464,433 from 2014 to 2019. This includes money Mr Chauvin made doing off-duty security work and weekend shifts at a restaurant.
Let's see: over 5 years that's $90K per year underreported. Note that this is a state prosecution, not federal. For some reason the federal tax agency (IRS) is not - yet - prosecuting Mr. Chauvin and his wife, but the state feels lucky. Minnesota's state income tax peaks at 9.85% for filing jointly, so we're talking about just short of $9k per year, or $45K for the full 5 years. Federal tax rate is much higher, but presumably the IRS is very relaxed about leaving $150K of back tax on the table, they're famous for their generosity.

Digest this: the BBC is running an entire article about a Minnesota citizen being chased for $45K back taxes, plus interest. Why, exactly are they doing this?

Rampant speculation: this is part of the prosecution strategy for the murder of George Floyd. Chauvin's defense attorney has no doubt pointed out the serious problems with trying to prosecute second-degree murder and manslaughter. The prosecution can't spontaneously downgrade the charges without causing riots, so needs to come to an acceptably harsh plea bargain. What's their leverage? Now, it's potential prosecution of Chauvin and his wife for tax evasion. I have no idea if the evasion charges are justified, but it doesn't really matter. If Chauvin rolls over and agrees to a reasonably harsh charge, these tax evasion charges will be downgraded. If he holds out, they will be ramped up and the prosecution will possibly go after other members of his family or friends.

Of course I could be wrong, there may be an alternate explanation of why this is featured on the BBC. It would be nice to see some actual analysis by the BBC of stories like these, but they seem happy to uncritically report whatever their preferred client organisations tell them, rather than perform journalism.

2020-07-02

God rest Lady Ghislane (in advance)

I sincerely hope that Ghislane Maxwell had the foresight to cash in all her investments and have a rollicking good time over the past year; vintage champagne, expensive escorts, finest Siberian caviar, etc. I don't think she will have to be concerned about her long-term asset performance. I give her a 30% chance of surviving to testify, and <5% chance of surviving 1 year in the general prison population - being seen as a pimp of young girls will not endear her to Big Bertha et al in Bedford Hills or a similar establishment - and I don't see a socialite doing well in protective solitary.

I'd have been more dismissive of the "Epstein didn't kill himself" conspiracy theorists had they not loudly and publicly predicted his "suicide" in advance. Hence, I think they start with the advantage with regard to predicting the future of the soon-to-be-late Ms Maxwell.

2020-06-28

Master/slave terminology - bears repeating

Two years ago I made fun of the effort to remove the terms "master", "slave", "whitelist" and "blacklist" from tech vocabulary, and made the assertion:

I don't have any intrinsic objection to using alternative terminology for master/slave, or for blacklist/whitelist. But I've scrutinised the people calling for this change, and I'm going to keep using the original terminology because civilised people should not yield an inch to these totalitarian fuckers.
With the developments in crimethink in the past two months, I stand by this more strongly than ever.