On Yahoo and PRISM, and the Art of Playing Chicken

I was reading the New York Times article which reveals that a secret intelligence court threatened to fine Yahoo! $250,000 a day for failing to turn over confidential customer/user data.

Now, one can hardly fault a publicly traded company for not wanting to incur nearly $2,000,000 a week in fines. That’s a hefty chunk of change to play chicken with.

But here’s a take-away for future companies in this position: PLAY CHICKEN. YOU WILL WIN.

First, the only way the government can collect is either by seizing the cash outright (which will expand the number of people who know there’s something going on between the NSA and the company in question).

Second, if they DO, remind them that — as a publicly traded company — you’re going to have to mention this fact in the next quarter’s SEC filings. That’s a material change to cash-flow that it would be a felony to conceal from shareholders, and which would show up in your next annual audit, the results of which are public information, anyway. “Of course, we won’t name you, we’ll simply say, ‘We are being fined based on court orders from an intelligence court which we can’t even confirm the existence of.'”  Let the NSA stew over how they’re going to react to the bad press on that.

Remember that the most important thing to the intelligence community is the cover of darkness. That’s one of the lessons of the Snowden disclosure. If you are willing to stand up to them, chances are, they are not going to take the chance that their bullying tactics, and the reason for those bullying tactics, will be exposed in the light of day.

How I Got Where I Am, A Tribute To Steve

It’s 1981. ish. It’s kind of blurry now as I look back on it.

I’m in 5th grade. I still think that what’s passing for adult contemporary radio is cool, because my parents listen to it, and I’m not nearly hip enough to know that’s actually the kiss of death for coolness. I still spend a whole mess of time playing sports. I’ve got a pretty active circle of friends, and I’m not a social pariah at school. In short, I’m your typical early-80s 5th grader.

And then, for reasons that to this day I still don’t fully understand, I’m selected to be part of an experiment. Mrs. Miller has navigated some sort of grant- or aid-program and acquired a brand new Apple II computer. It’s sitting in one of the lower-grade classrooms, and she is the sole arbiter of who is permitted to touch this magical beast. There’s only two students who are allowed to touch it: her nephew [nepotism FTW!] and me.

To say that I was all over that like white on rice is an understatement that makes “epic proportions” seem small. The two of us are writing programs, playing games (Bobby Miller has apparently acquired an illicit copy of Castle Wolfenstein and we’ll play that from time to time when nobody’s looking).

The next year, the computer has moved to the library, and Bobby and I are put in charge of helping a bunch more, although still relatively few, of the students deemed “Gifted and Talented” by the school learn how to use the computer.  Tron has just come out, and I’m still young and naive enough not to realize that the fictionalized commands Flynn uses in the novelization don’t actually do shit, and I’m really disappointed when I type them into the Apple II when nobody’s around and find that precisely nothing has happened.

When I get to Junior High, I get my first taste of an actual “computer lab”. This is, apparently, what they’ve been prepping us for the past school-year and a half, to have a small core of students who really know what these things are and what to do with them. Over the next six years of Jr. and Sr. High School, it’s here that I’ll meet some of my life-long friends. It’s here that I’ll spend so much time that hanging out with my core “neighborhood friends” will basically go by the wayside, that I don’t really play sports much any more, and that I begin to show all the classic signs of becoming the social pariah that will later simply be called “Computer Geek”.

We can’t afford an Apple computer ourselves at home, so I end up buying a Commodore VIC-20 computer instead. It’s fun, and make no mistake, I have a lot of good times with that computer, and its various Commodore-made successors, but I still secretly wished I could have had an Apple.

It’s in high school that I start entering into computer-programming contests that the school used to run each year. I enter into it every single year (except the year I “went pro” because a computer store in Rhinebeck was having a similar contest the same day, but with cash prizes, baby!). And it’s in high school that I really decide, as any computer-oriented kid in the Hudson Valley in the 80s would, “I want to work for IBM some day,” not knowing that IBM’s own internal troubles are going to make that a pipe dream in about three more years.

When I get out of high-school, I go to college for computer science. But I’m a fuck-up, and basically get kicked out in a scene reminiscent of Animal House (“GPA… Zero. Point. Zero.”)  I then end up going through the usual post-high-school-no-college series of dead-end jobs until I finally end up working part-time for a tiny local Internet Service Provider. This was perfection – I got a free account since I worked there (and my day job wasn’t paying me enough to pay for one) and I got to really get back into computers “for a living”.

I got to enjoy the entire life-cycle of Apple computers, from hot upstart, to the time when I (and everyone else with any sense) abandoned them as completely uncool pieces of crap. Later, once Steve was back, I’d eventually become an “Apple bigot”, refusing to use any computer that didn’t have that familiar fruit-shaped logo on it, because I knew that (once again) it stood for quality hardware that was powerful, easy to use, and stable.

I would climb the entire ladder of IT management, starting off as a help-desk monkey, then working as a Perl programmer, web developer, Linux system administrator, all of which led me through varying levels of responsibility until I got to what I’ve spent the last six years doing, managing great teams of network and systems people at various organizations, a dream that started over thirty years ago.

A dream made possible by – heck, a dream carved out of whole cloth by – a pair of hippies in a garage who decided they should be aggressive about getting cheap Apple II computers into the hands of educators.

So, Steve… Thanks for giving this geeky kid a vision of what he wanted to do for a living, and providing the tools for thirty years (more or less) to help me do it.

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

I started to think the other day, about some of my favorite movies and television shows, and I started to find a pattern, let’s see if you can spot it:

  • Battlestar Galactica
  • The Walking Dead
  • The Postman
  • Jericho
  • Jeremiah
  • Dark Angel
  • Mad Max, et al
  • 28 Days Later
  • Survivors
  • Red Dawn
  • Tomorrow, When The War Began

The pattern that emerged was that they all dealt with some form of “post-apocalyptic” society. The “rules and order of law” have broken down, the government as we know it has basically ceased to exist and function, and a new society is forced to build itself out of the ashes/rubble/etc.

I started to wonder why that was, and it was then that it hit me. There’s a small part of me that thinks the only way we’re going to break free from the shackles of the left and the right to unify on a centrist-libertarian middle-ground is if the entire society is forced into some sort of reboot.

Now, I’m not saying “yeah, let’s go start the Zombiepocalypse so that the libertarian ideals can rule the earth”. However, I’m pragmatic enough to see that the DNC and the GOP have been in power long enough to rig the game so that they can ensure that nobody else really gets a shot at even coming in second place, or if they do, it’s in a manner carefully coordinated by them so that the “damage” to their two-party agenda is relatively minor.

Pretty much the only way their chokehold on American politics could be broken is if a couple zombies started biting the wrist of the choke-holders.

I know, I know, it’s weird. But then again, I read about Burbclaves in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and I think to myself “I want to live in a future of Burbclaves!”

Obama Doesn’t Understand “Zero-Sum Game”

Obama was recently quoted, in a CNN story, as saying:

“That’s why I’ve said we’ve got to have health reform this year — to drive down costs and make health care affordable for American families, businesses and for our government,” said Obama.

If your goal is to “lower the costs for families, businesses and government”, en toto, then you are destined for failure.
Let’s say it costs $500 for an operation, and 1,000,000 people a year get it. That’s $500,000,000 a year in costs for that operation. Let’s assume for round numbers that the population of the US is 10,000,000 (this is not right, but we’ll use it as an example).
Now, in a pure-capitalist society, those 1,000,000 people all pay $500. The rest of the country pays nothing.
In a pure-socialist society, those 1,000,000 patients all pay nothing. The government pays $500,000,000 to the medical providers, and charges everyone in the country taxes totalling $50 per person. Actually more than that, probably about $100 per person, because the government infrastructure for billing, processing, collecting, and then paying out to programs all has to be accounted for.
But at the end of the day, the “total cost to the American people” hasn’t changed. In fact, it’s only gone up (from $500,000,000 to $1,000,000,000 because of government overhead).
So if you want MORE expensive healthcare for the country, … yeah, you should definitely sign up for Obama’s plan….

Who’s Accusing Who Of Spin?

A recent Huffington Post article had the headline:

Nearly 3 In 10 Say Fox News Too Tough On Obama

This just in:

Over 70% Say Fox News NOT Being Too Tough On Obama

I’m not a Fox News fan by any stretch, but with numbers like that, HuffPost shouldn’t have tried to spin it at all. They should’ve just shut their mouths and let the numbers slide, rather than making more readily available the statistics that a vast-majority of people think Fox News is A-OK when it comes to its Obama coverage.

This Has All Happened Before, It Will All Happen Again

Um, yeah, if you haven’t actually watched the finale for BSG, crawl out of your cave and go watch it now….
Last night, I had some friends over (Mark, who doesn’t have a blog with an entry dated within two years of today, and Damion) to watch the series finale. We had some snacks (including an awesome cake), and D played a perfect hostess, allowing us to keep our geek on without having to worry too much about racing out into the kitchen for drink refills.
Overall, I though it was good – a fitting end to the series. I had to lower Damion’s expectations early (telling him I’d read an interview with Ron Moore that the whole “Daniel” thing was a throwaway line he used which suddenly sprang into an Internet-fueled life of its own, so that he shouldn’t expect any great Daniel-related revelations). About the only complaints I had were:

  • I wish we knew for certain what the frak was up with “New Kara”, and what she was
  • I’m not a HUGE fan of “Head Six” and Head Gaius” having such a central role in guiding humanity’s fate
  • Most importantly, I understand the reasons for the capstone ending, to show that definitively “this is our earth”, but I think I would have been happy with the original ending (which was clearly the helicopter shot of the Old Man talking to Roslin’s grave). Something just struck me as “off” about the ending….

I guess it’s interesting that “god”, or who/whatever, was basically explicitly communicating with Gaius over all those years when he questioned his own sanity.
The high points?

  • Old-School Cylons are way more bad-ass than the flimsy modern ones. When they were assaulting the Big G, one or two shots would take down a modern unit, but the old ones…. man they just kept shrugging that shit off.
  • There was just a great shot of a red-stripe holding an old-school Cylon in its hand and executing it, during the assault, that made all three of us spontaneously crack up
  • A nice touching callback to Stu Phillips’ original score from 1978, made during the journey of the (mostly) unmanned fleet ships into the Sun.
  • I love how Galen simply doesn’t care about the future of humanity, or the Cylons. He discovered the bitch who blew his wife out an airlock, and he’s going to snap her neck right then and there, be-damned the consequences… it was totally in-character. I’d actually forgotten about that whole plot line when they mentioned the “knowing everything about one another” aspect of the data-dump… it wasn’t until Tory kept hounding them about “forgiveness for secret sins past” that I was like “oh yeah, she’s so dead… will it be before or after the data-dump is done?”

It’ll be interesting to see “The Plan” when it comes out…. but I’m not sure about “Caprica”… I’ll certainly give it a watch, but it just doesn’t seem to be as “gripping” as BSG was. Part of me wishes “The Plan” had come out already, and that “Caprica” had not been greenlit. Just end it here, without milking the franchise to the point of pain (something BSG-showrunner Ron Moore has constantly complained about when it comes to the Trek franchise).
I do know it’ll be really tough for another show to fill the void BSG has left in my television viewing habits…