Lunaya Pravda

30 June 2006

Think we're free? Just try to get crabs

Over this past weekend, I had the pleasure of playing host to a friend of mine, K., in from the southwest. Good guests make it easy to be a good host, and she's definitely among the best ones I've had stay with me since I bought my first house in September. She denies that she's charming, despite all evidence to the contrary. Excellent conversation, great sense of humor, and though she embarrassed me more than a few times staging pictures of the snow globe accompanying her (like the garden gnome from Amélie), we had a great time.

Some have heard the staying that goes something like "Think you're free? Try buying a cow and selling the milk." After watching what's happening to an Amish man in Ohio who sold raw milk to an undercover government flunkey, it's clear how much freedom has suffered, even in the ironically named nonexistent "free market". I had my own similar moment of clarity this week.

K. and I had planned on trying out crabbing for the first time this weekend, so I hopped on the internet to find out what we needed to do to keep the government thugs at bay. God knows you don't want to get nabbed with an illegal catch when they can seize your car and all your gear over a case of crabs, and being a total newbie at crabbing, I was prepared to jump through the hoops to prevent that very thing. I mean, how many hoops could there be?

Oh, the horror! Buy a 1 to 5-day fishing license and get a dungeness crab stamp affixed to it for an extra fee; be sure to fill out your catch record and send it to the state by next April, complete with personal contact info; crabbing is allowed here, here, or there, except on dates X, Y, and Z; generally the crabbing season starts on this date but may start later in certain zones because of decreased dungeness numbers; crabs must be male and more than six inches across... The rules and regulations and restrictions went on... and on... and on. And not only that, those regs were spread out over pages and pages of information. There wasn't just one web site titled "Crabbing info" that laid out everything we needed to know. All of it is parceled out and hidden in more generalized sites relating to all types of fishing.

In the end, we both decided it'd be better to just get crabs at the docks and skip the bureaucratic bullshit. So if you think we're still truly free, I challenge you to get a case of crabs without the government getting involved.

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22 June 2006

Monkeywrenching the data miners

A great one from the Seattle P-I today.

As threats to privacy grow, many fight back

As more businesses and government agencies hunger for personal data, many people are fighting back.

Sure, there's fancy encryption software and phone scramblers available, but many people prefer to wield an arsenal of low-tech, time-honored gestures: deception, denial, stonewalling and occasional pettiness.

Why not? Big corporations use those tactics every day.

His company used to require people to give their names and e-mail addresses in order to download free trial software. But many people registered their first and last names as "Screw" and "You" -- or something worse -- followed by a bogus address.

"It became an unmanageable system," Sampson said. His company now offers software without registration. While it's lost the ability to track people, it's had a huge increase in downloads.

"It's in our best interest to ask for less information," he said.

Gee, you think? I lie my ass off every time - unless there's a good reason for the company to be able to find me. Fake names, fake phone numbers, fake email addresses. I'm sorry, but Best Buy did NOT need my phone number in order for me to purchase a stand for my DVD player. So, they got a bogus one. And most of these companies accept a lie far more easily than they accept a curt "no, you may not have my phone number." We privacy-minded folk are damn tired of being viewed as aliens or paranoid freaks because we refuse to share that info.

Perhaps one of the biggest targets of ire are the "loyalty" cards groceries use to track shopping habits. The Internet, for example, froths with tips on how to monkey with Safeway's Club Cards, by encouraging shoppers to swap card numbers or punch 800-SAFEWAY on the checkout pad.

One Seattle man, Keith Gormezano, was so incensed about Safeway's eight-year-old program that he posted his card number online for others to use, in an effort to pollute the company's data.

Safeway's weak explanation of using the data to track shopping trends is... well, crap. Stores can track shopping trends by tracking what happens to their inventory. They don't need personal data for that. It's the same ruse Walmart tried to employ to justify putting RFID in their inventory. Exactly how does RFID enable better shelf stocking than, say, the bar codes they scan when you make a purchase?

Good for Mr. Gormezano, and I really do like this idea of sharing club card numbers... sort of a BugMeNot for shoppers. I've generally avoided getting those loyalty cards for that very reason, but I'm wondering if maybe a group of friends and I could just get one of those and share it - preferrably friends in multiple states. Our fake multiple-personality shopper could be visiting a Safeway here in Seattle one minute, and at a safeway register in Los Angeles 20 minutes later. I love it. Anyone else interested in this?

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20 June 2006

Quote of the day

The first idiotic quick fix of the summer that springs to mind is ABC's "How to Get the Guy" (10 p.m. Mondays) -- a show that would more accurately be called "How to Get A Guy, Any Guy" or better yet, "How to Cast a Great, Big, Wide Net Like the Soulless, Whoring Sea Donkey That You Are."

-- Heather Havrilesky (From her article "I Like to Watch")


Some words for an unnamed SUV driver

I'd just like to take this moment to give a shout out to the speeding SUV driver who couldn't be bothered to stop after it hit a cat almost in front of my house. I saw you. While I'm sure you thought that because the cat ran off the road after you squished him, he wasn't seriously injuried, you should know that sometimes adrenaline will allow an injured animal to go a distance before collapsing. And animals bodies don't really stand up well to thousands of pounds of force, no matter how briefly applied. You hadn't even made it to the stoplight and the cat collapsed in my neighbor's driveway. What you missed because of your impatience was me stopping to pick up the cat and drive it to the emergency vet clinic even though I suspected the worst, its soft black body already limp, its pupils dilated and unresponsive.

I can only hope you feel at least some guilt, but the cynic in me wonders if you even noticed the bump. I've seen you speeding up the street during the morning commute before. Sure, the cat ran out in front of you, and yes, no one wants to confess to accidentally killing someone's pet, but you should have been able to avoid the cat had you not been speeding. And no matter what, you should have stopped afterwards. Unless you had someone bleeding to death in your car, I can't see that your haste was justifiable in any way.

You should be the one going house to house searching for the cat's owner. The cat had no collar, and apparently no microchip, so I'll be doing that this evening instead of visiting with my parents, who are in town for just one night. Thanks for all of this - it's really made my day just about as shitty as it could be.

And I just want to thank the incredibly kind staff at the Puget Sound Pet Pavilion for responding quickly when I arrived and for comforting me when it was clear that the cat had died from its injuries. I'm truly grateful that you were so caring and understanding.

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19 June 2006

And educrats wonder why parents homeschool

Looming flip-flop ban creates flap

The board decided to give flip-flops the boot because they consider them dangerous for working in school laboratories and for walking in crowded halls.

"Think about all the kids parading through the halls. You could get your feet stepped on, or a chair run across the edge of your foot," said Ed Barney, a board member who favored the ban in last week’s 3-1 preliminary vote. "Students should wear something that is going to protect their feet."

While I'll agree that wearing safe footwear is essential in a lab, an outright ban is just absurd. I'm willing to bet the board doesn't require students to keep their lab goggles on after leaving the lab, or their welding helmets on after they leave shop. They also can't stop students from wearing flip-flops in the mall where the risk of someone stepping on bare toes is just as great.

Professionalism was discussed at the Federal Way School Board’s meeting, as well. Next year, three middle schools in the district will begin requiring school uniforms. None are planned for the high schools, but officials say banning flip-flops is a middle ground for establishing a dress code that is appropriate. The hope is to prepare the students for higher standards they’ll face in the workplace.

"We want students to start on their professional lives," said Debbie Winskill, a Tacoma School Board member who agrees with the ban. "Flip-flops are not in that plan."

Which is nice, but educators are forgetting that more and more companies are adopting a relaxed and casual dress code, particularly tech companies. A friend of mine recently changed jobs, and while he showed up to an interview professionally dressed, the man asking the questions was wearing a t-shirt, bermuda shorts, and flip-flops. Any educator can stress the importance of professional dress - particularly for those critical first impressions - without an outright ban. And a ban that supposedly teaches "professionalism" looks even more stupid when students are pointing out that their teachers wear flip-flops as well.

Assuming risk of injury is part of growing up. I can't even fathom how a school board would think this was significant enough to consider. And on the heels of the War on Fluffernutter... the educrats have hit the top of the septic tank yet continue to dig.

And now back to my regularly scheduled Stanley Cup game...

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13 June 2006

The corporate borg

A scary thing happened to me today.

There aren't words to describe how much I detest updating my resumé, either the external version used on a personal job search, or the internal copy my company sends out on project proposals.

No secret to me, I wasn't blessed with the gift of bullshit. I have no aptitude for throwing around the corporate-sounding verbs typically found on your average resumé. Every single sentence sounds either like the silly and contrived efforts of some puffed-up scientific bureaucrat or so boring my reader might be inclined to rip his own arm off just for a change of pace.

But today, while updating my internal resumé for some potential future work, it no longer sounded silly and contrived. What I wrote made sense. It didn't make me sound like I was strutting about like a peacock. Yes, I really did the things I wrote down. There was no embellishment other than the use of the hallowed "action verbs" in place of the conjugations of "be" and "do". My work was what I said it was, and I no longer felt that internal knot of embarrassment about writing it down.

But the knot of embarrassment has been replaced with a knot of fear. What frightens me is the not-so-slight possibility that I'm blending in too much with corporate culture, morphing into something I don't want to be, especially when there's so much I detest about the consulting world. The constant searching for new work. The billable goals. The performance reviews, project budgets, and workload projections. That knot of embarrassment meant I was still chiefly a outsider, and I can't escape the nagging suspicion I just achieved some kind of corporate rite of passage, a milestone on the way to Stoogeville. Did I spontaneously pick up Dilbert-esque corporate jargon to the point where my resumé no longer needed to be translated into "everyday human?" I still can't decide if my resumé is a good summary of my work experience or the toilet paper from some corporate borg resumé generator pre-programmed with phrases like "effectively utilized dynamic segmentation" or "to provide a better understanding".

Listening to the clicking of keyboards around me, I suspect most of my fellow borgs would consider such a change an achievement. I'm thinking it might be a step backwards.

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12 June 2006

Not quite on hiatus

I have a busy couple of weeks starting today as I host three different sets of guests, so I'm not likely to have much to say here during that time. But I'm not going on hiatus - I promise.

And note to self: NEVER, EVER, under ANY circumstances allow your lawn to go four weeks unmowed in the spring. Especially after having fed it. And not right before you're having company over.

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09 June 2006


This evening I was engaged in the time-honored tradition of finding the surface of my desk. When mail arrives at my house, my modus operandi is to sort out the important mail (bills) from the unimportant (everything else). The important mail gets dealt with in a timely fashion. The unimportant mail sits on my dining table until motivation strikes me to sift and shred. Because of this shelf time, I missed the following gem from my local post office:

National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 21-28)

Recent statistics indicate that over 4 million people were bitten by dogs last year. Half of them were children and 3,475 were letter carriers!

The test goes on to explain the problems the Post Office (not those 2 million children) experiences with dog bites, from ripped clothing to severe injuries.

So, in addition to paying the salaries, medical expenses, workers comp of the bitten employees, I get the added expense of these stupid mailers, all for letter carriers who account for 0.08% of the total dog bites in a year?

Now, I grew up attending school with a boy whose face had some serious scars from a pit bull attack, and I'm never pleased to read about any animal attack. But give me a break. I'm supposed to get all worked up over 0.08% of dog bites, bites on adults?

Then there's this little nugget at the end:

...we are requesting that if you are a responsible dog owner, you would keep your dog restrained during mail delivery hours. Your letter carrier and your friends and neighbors would appreciate it!

Excuse me, but were I to have a dog, my response would be that the dog lives here. My friends, neighbors, and postman do not. I don't go over to someone's house asking that they keep their children penned up in my presence.

Also, I'd note that because we can never know when the mail will arrive, they're in essence asking us to keep our dogs restrained most of the day - at least until the mail arrives, or we arrive home, whichever comes last.

And last, responsible pet owners will have already taken precautions to make sure their dog won't bite a visitor on the property. So why address this notice to them? Seems to me it would apply to the irresponsible pet owners... you know, the ones who probably binned this card without a second glance.

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Political speech or political advertising?

So where is the line between political speech and political advertising? This pretty much sums up why it's nearly impossible to make that distinction, and makes a mockery of campaign finance reform by pointing out how dangerous it is to First Amendment freedoms of speech and press.

Talk-radio case heard by state high court

But the Institute for Justice argues that, by defining radio talk as campaign contributions, Wickham imposed de facto limits on how much the hosts could say on the air. That's because, under state law, initiative campaigns are barred from accepting donations larger than $5,000 during the final 21 days before an election.

Though Wickham's initial ruling only required disclosure of the KVI hosts' "contributions" during the signature-gathering phase, the I-912 campaign went beyond that. To make a point, any time a media outlet did stories or editorials about the initiative, the campaign assigned dollar values to the news items and listed them as contributors.

And where do political blogs fall in this spectrum? If I were to have written almost exclusively about this initiative, would my time then be accountable as a campaign donation? These questions shouldn't need to be asked, but in today's climate, we can no longer take for granted that court rulings will side with inalienable rights.

Make no mistake, political dissent is just one of the major freedoms targeted for destruction, but I see it in the broader context of an effort to sever and control the flow of information. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Orwell's 1984 knows how critical the flow of information is to any government that wants to retain power over its citizens.

The hood of information deprivation is sliding ever further down over our eyes. Lately I'm beginning to wonder if there ever was a time when liberty WASN'T under assault.


07 June 2006

A 911 story update

I wrote about this before, but here's an update.

Dispatchers Charged After Boy's 911 Call Ignored, Mom Dies

DETROIT — Two 911 dispatchers who authorities say failed to respond when a 5-year-old boy called the emergency line to say his mother had collapsed have been charged with willful neglect of duty, the county prosecutor said Wednesday.

Sharon Nichols, 43, and Terri Sutton, 47, face up to a year in jail if convicted of the misdemeanor.

It says they were both suspended less than a week and have since returned to work. Who wants to bet that if they're both convicted, they'll still be working the 911 call center?

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06 June 2006

Blog wonkiness

As I'm sure you've noticed, some of my changes are resulting in some margin wonkiness over in the sidebar there. I also haven't gotten around to addressing the "comments" portion of my template, but fear not, it's in the offing.

Here's what I don't get. I changed the template today, previewed it before saving the changes, and it looked just fine. I saved the changes, republished, and that funny business on the right is what came out. I've viewed the source info for the published page and nothing has changed, so why does my blog look fine in "preview" and fabulously hosed once published? Any thoughts? I'm at a loss.

Anyway, it won't likely get fixed for a few days, because I've been neglecting many other things in favor of The Blog (it's amazing how much Photoshop can suck a person in). Henceforth, I solemnly swear NOT to work on template until my To Do list shrinks to a more manageable size.

Edited to add: picture (8x10 colored glossy picture with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one...) of said wonkiness.