Maybe I Need One More Habit

California wants to use more facial recognition to solve crimes. Never mind that this is a not-ready-for-prime-time technology, and even license plate readers make mistakes (and come on, there’s only 36 choices per character!). Heck, today I learned first hand that the system used by the Nevada DMV can be stymied by glasses vs. no glasses.

So, I suspect I’ll be in the habit of wearing sunglasses and hats more often. Probably good for my eyes and face anyway.

In Closing: free tour with purchase of car; Gin and Tacos; an idea with ridiculous potential for abuse.


Happy Blogiversary, Judicial Edition

So, I’ve been at this 11 years. My second post was about the new Supreme Court rulings of the day, and as such, it’s only fair to bring you a breath of fresh air from the Supremes: the cops can’t just go browsing through your cell phone, even if you’ve just been arrested. In another surprisingly reasonable ruling from a different Federal court, the No Fly list is unconstitutional because there’s no due process involved.

However, a different court ruled that collecting data on the communications of citizens of the world is just fine (I have to wonder if there’s anything the international courts can do). In the meantime, the NSA debate and the resulting fallout continues vigorously. It’s important to remember that our own government isn’t the only government that thinks suspected criminals (and anyone they may talk to) have limited privacy rights.

Still, the idea that we’re all being spied upon is relatively benign compared to what happens if you are actually suspected of any sort of crime. Yes, I do mean any sort, particularly if you happen to be a person of color. Militarization of our police means more SWAT teams, more no-knock warrants, more wondering if the home invader is government sponsored, and make no mistake it also means more dead cops.

In Closing: girls; your money or your life; modern slavery; prudence; someone got paid to find out that a lot of people have no money saved; logical fallacies; help JP out; and Stay Focused.

Yet More Things I Learned This Semester

Yes, the semester is almost over and that means it’s time to share a few choice thoughts.

In General:

  • There are people who are willing to wait for a spot 100 feet closer to the building, even in nice weather. In the meantime, I’ve parked in the next lot over, locked my car, walked to the building, and made it to the 3rd floor while That Guy is still waiting for an ever-so-slightly closer parking spot.
  • You’d be surprised how many people don’t show up to class regularly and still expect to do well in that class.
  • Sorry, I already knew that time management is important.
  • Cleaning staff never notice graffiti on the back of a bathroom stall door.

In Spanish:

  • Spanish has two verbs that translate “to be.” Use one to ask “What kind of person is Juan” and the other to ask “How is Juan”. Use one to ask “Where is Maria” and the other to ask “Where is Maria from”. Use the wrong one, and you may well say “Teresa is boring” instead of “Teresa is bored.” Teresa would be understandably upset.
  • It’s alarmingly easy to mix up the verbs “to go” and “to see“.
  • You can do a lot with cognates. The one thing you can’t do is be sure you understand the correct thing.

In Microbiology:

  • Not only can viruses infect bacteria, they can accidentally take bacterial genetic material to the next bacterium when they leave.
  • The entire family of Penicillin related drugs works by pulling out the “molecular nails” that bacteria use to build cell walls. Resistant bacteria have an enzyme that breaks up the “nail-puller.” Viruses don’t have cell walls, and that’s why these drugs don’t effect them.
  • Look, you’re never ever going to wash every single germ off your hands. What’s more, you wouldn’t want to. The germs that normally live there help keep “opportunists” — that’s bad-guy germs — from setting up shop. So for pity sake, stop using that damned anti-bacterial soap.

In Anatomy:

  • If you are trying to remember a whole bunch of acronyms (say, hormone names), you are better off memorizing the long version. Otherwise the “alphabet soup” will drive you mad. Besides, often the long version tells you what the darn thing does!
  • How much carbon dioxide you have in your body determines a lot more things than the amount of oxygen. It effects your respiration rate, the pH of your blood, and more.
  • The first thing your body does with any carbohydrate you eat is turn it into a simple sugar. So, should a diabetic be eating a lot of pasta?

There you go. Now let’s have some In Closing: GOP is upset that their Nevada organization doesn’t want to keep fighting a lost battle; on debt; it does at least put a roof over head; I wish I could refute this; even Mitt “Rmoney” thinks that the minimum wage is too low!; death penalty follow up; Subway CEO tosses owner operators under the bus; the ACLU on NSA reform and letting cops hack your computer.

An apology and explanation, of sorts

A few weeks ago, I needed to buy cat food and cat litter. I was in a little bit of a hurry that particular day, so when I found there were no carts inside the pet supply store, I did not return to the parking lot to search for one. I casually picked up a 30 pound bag of cat litter, placed a 5 pound bag of cat food on top, and briskly walked to the check-out stand.

Now, if you like humor, think about this mental image: a 4’11” redhead in full airport-walking mode carrying two heavy, bulky objects.

I didn’t think a thing of it until the cashier asked if I would like help out to my car.

So this is my apology. I’m sorry that I forget not everybody can do that. I forget that not everybody can hike themselves around 6 miles of hilly sidewalks and still be ready to do it again the next day. Unless I have house-guests to remind me, I forget that many people consider my almost-daily workouts to be “extreme” if not “crazy.” I forget that most of my classmates take the elevators up to third floor classrooms — or avoid classes in those rooms altogether! — instead of taking the stairs.

But here’s why I say it’s only an apology of sorts. I firmly believe that most people can get in pretty good shape too. In fact, almost everybody can engage in some new behavior that will at least let them be healthier next year, as long as you are actually conscious. I was not born with somehow superior genetics, I was not thin and athletic as a child. I can do many things today that I could not when I was younger because I worked at it. This is where you might say “oh sure, she must spend 3 hours a day at the gym!” Not true. Sure, I do some workout most days a week, but it does average out to less than an hour a day and most of it is in the comfort of my own home.

New Years is a time when a lot of people make empty promises to themselves to engage in new, healthier habits. I know that the overwhelming majority of these promises are empty and soon to be broken, because if it were really important, you wouldn’t wait until some magic date on the calendar. However, you’ve got a much better shot at a modest goal or three than a huge change of lifestyle so keep that in mind if you want to make changes for the better.

That said, I will still share some items that I hope will help you be healthier at the end of 2014 than you are today:

  • “If you’re a woman who thinks it’s okay to tell a skinny woman that she needs to eat a sandwich, I hope you don’t mind when that skinny woman tells you that you’re a fat ass.  Because that’s exactly the sort of shaming you’re giving her.” Don’t feel so “good” about yourself that you have to put others down.
  • If you’re going to get busy in the gym, don’t forget flexibility training. Even football players benefit from yoga. That’s right, I linked to the sports section and the world didn’t end.
  • You do have the time to cook good food, if you plan ahead.
  • Two from Tom Venuto: on attitude and predictions.
  • I still stand behind these two posts on diet and exercise.

Good luck next year. We could all use it.

In Closing: I didn’t know legless land fish existed; more researchers under the delusion that people can shop around for a hospital; another crappy ruling from another judge who doesn’t understand security vs liberty; that oughta work!; you don’t suppose income inequality and NAFTA could be related, do you?; new crypto; and a few pictures.

But the CEO might not be able to afford a second Bentley!

You’re going to have a hard time convincing me that raising wages a few dollars an hour is going to result in massive inflation in an environment where every fast food joint I can think of is highly profitable and introducing new low-price options on a regular basis. On the other hand, I can see where raising wages a few dollars an hour might relieve strain on the safety net and result in increased spending in general, which will in turn raise GDP without the government having to perform voodoo rituals on the actual economic data or gasp spend money.

That is all.

In Closing: There’s always more room for NSA, spying, privacy, and general stupidity links (go on and sign that ACLU petition like I did this morning); I hope nobody thinks this is good for the flying public; if only the anti-vax morons were the ones reaping the folly of their actions instead of their children and communities; kill it; interesting notion; not buying it; stupid breeder tricks; right on, Dave; and pet tigers turn out to be a bad idea.

What does Google know about me?

I’ve been using Google well over a decade now. That’s how I learned that someone skilled and diligent can find out a surprising amount of information about almost anybody. Google therefore has a detailed history of my searches for as long as they actually keep data. This data is potentially available to law enforcement — maybe. It worries me that they might be tailoring search results to give users what are potentially biased links. This might contribute to various ideological “echo chambers” across the nation. Web history can be turned off in Google, and I recommend you use the settings to do so.

I use Gmail. It is very good at filtering spam, I can access it from computers other than my home computer easily, and emails arrive at my phone (more on that in a bit). Just by keeping track of senders and subject lines of emails, Google knows of several places I shop, what mailing lists I am subscribed to, that I receive some emails in Japanese, what sorts of political views and charities I am likely to support, that I have a Twitter account, that I have historically had an interest in real estate, and what colleges I have attended. Remember, they only know more if they are actually reading my email and analyzing it in any way. I’m not as worried as I probably ought to be about this, because my attitude is “Don’t put anything on the internet you wouldn’t read out loud to your mother, your boss, and a judge.” Hi mom!

Thanks to Google Calendar, they also know the rough outline of my schedule and the first names of friends I routinely meet for lunch. Services like Schedulicity are very good at syncing with Google Calendar, so the mothership also knows of certain service providers, how often I see them, and what services they perform for me.

Via Google+, they know of several people with whom I have personal, familial, or professional relationships.

I also use an Android phone. Here’s another way they know oodles about me. It syncs with all those services above, which is horribly convenient since I don’t have to carry a date book or sit at my computer; my phone has my calendar and contact information for people I know, and I can update things on the spot. My phone also has a GPS in it, and can inform me of weather or even how long it will take me to get home. Is this information relayed to the mothership? I must assume it does until proven otherwise. I have a bunch of apps on my phone, of course. The easiest way to get apps onto an Android phone is of course to get them through the Android store. Therefore Google has a very, very good idea what apps I have and am likely to be using, whether they are productivity apps or little time wasters.

If I used Blogger, they would know even more about me and my views!

And this is all information I have handed over more or less willingly. Even if they are not a CIA front, a surveillance minded government would be looking at how to mine that internet gold.


In Closing: I have a whole bunch of health and diet links today; a few random education links too; ok, here’s some NSA and privacy news, special up-is-down edition; Putin; pro-choice and pro-actual-life; that’s kinda what I thought; at least the White House got one thing right; sure sounds like an excuse to write more prescriptions and make more money to me; gravity and evolution are both theories; keep riding your Congressmouse’s butt on this and that; trolled; on wages and poverty; science fiction; snowplow parents; I doubt the Pope gives a hoot about the views of the “liberal media.”

Just How Much do We Value Privacy?

It has become clear that the United States government is spying on it’s citizens in the name of preventing “terrorism.” Just exactly what they are doing is under debate. Most experts outside the government itself seem to believe it is mathematically impossible for such surveillance to be effective. Many private citizens are asking what they can do (and here are two places to start).

But I’d like to mention a personal security breach that many people overlook: making private phone calls in public places.

Over the weekend, I did some shopping. Naturally, it was in a crowded public place. Nevertheless I heard several people having extremely sensitive phone calls and being really loud about it. The only way I could have avoided listening was to leave the area. Among the topics of conversation:

  • Legal troubles
  • An upcoming divorce (“Oh he doesn’t know it, but it will be good for him!”)
  • Personal health issues
  • Undergarments (No, I won’t be more specific)

Granted, nobody was discussing a hit, bomb, or robbery, but that is beside the point. These same people probably would be outraged that some cop could get a recording of that call, but all the cop has to do is ask random shoppers what they were talking about! No warrant required. I would gladly tell the officer what the obnoxiously loud lady who damn near ran over me with her cart was talking about.

More irony, these people probably use Amazon to buy their “embarrassing” items, the stuff they don’t want some cashier to know about.

Value your privacy? Step one is to STFU.

In Closing: running; facial recognition; jobs; girls on film.

Crazy Talk

So, it seems clear to me that the War on Drugs isn’t even the War On Some Drugs, but rather the War On Brown People Possessing Drugs.

At what point can we confess this and address the problem? At what point do we stop wasting millions of millions of dollars “fighting drugs” and putting people in prison — breaking up families and ruining future economic prospects outside crime — sometimes for simply being too close to a substance that many people find less dangerous than beer? Why are we not regulating and taxing marijuana instead of wasting time and money fighting it?

And don’t give me any crap about how it’s a gateway drug. The reason it seems to be a gateway drug is that the same petty criminal who sells it to you would rather upsell you to something harder.

In Closing: rape; obese patients prefer diet advice from people whose techniques clearly don’t work; control of information; and Dave Johnson is right again.

We don’t want any trouble

Nobody wants to live in a bad neighborhood, right? And certainly nobody wants to live in the kind of place where the police are continually coming around.

But consider this situation. Imagine you get beaten up. As bad luck would have it, it happens a couple more times. The third time, the cops call your landlord and order him to evict you. After all, you’re a troublemaker. Bad things happen around you, and this town doesn’t want your sort here. Sound far fetched? Unfortunately, laws all over the country designed to make it easier to move known drug dealers and pimps into crappier areas evict criminal neighbors are being used to evict crime victims instead:

Last year in Norristown, Pa., Lakisha Briggs’ boyfriend physically assaulted her, and the police arrested him. But in a cruel turn of events, a police officer then told Ms. Briggs, “You are on three strikes. We’re gonna have your landlord evict you.”

Yes, that’s right. The police threatened Ms. Briggs with eviction because she had received their assistance for domestic violence. Under Norristown’s “disorderly behavior ordinance,” the city penalizes landlords and tenants when the police respond to three instances of “disorderly behavior” within a four-month period. The ordinance specifically includes “domestic disturbances” as disorderly behavior that triggers enforcement of the law.

After her first “strike,” Ms. Briggs was terrified of calling the police. She did not want to do anything to risk losing her home. So even when her now ex-boyfriend attacked her with a brick, she did not call. And later, when he stabbed her in the neck, she was still too afraid to reach out. But both times, someone else did call the police. Based on these “strikes,” the city pressured her landlord to evict. After a housing court refused to order an eviction, the city said it planned to condemn the property and forcibly remove Ms. Briggs from her home.

Sure, it’s “domestic assault.” It’s still assault, just as if some random guy beat her up  — except worse! If the cops told her, “Listen, he has to go and we will make sure he does,” that might be understandable. But no, just get out and try not to bleed on anything.

Unfortunately, neighbors that are afraid to call the cops are no better to have around than neighbors that violate the law. If you agree with the ACLU that “Effective law enforcement depends on strong relationships between police and members of the community,” you might consider sending them a couple bucks.

In closing: overdose; problem solving; on real estate, education, and commuting; parking; 15 out of 16 of us lost net worth between 2009 and 2001 (that’s after the real estate bubble popped, for those of you paying attention); one soda a day keeps insulin astray (ok, I strained to make that work); and an internet necessity.

Music Monday: ?

Happy Birthday to both John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness) and Alex Kingston (Melody Pond River Song).


In Closing: let’s just get all the TSA bashing out of the way; hope nobody is surprised that Federal law still says pot businesses aren’t legal; Sir Patrick Stewart; no plan is a plan; I already said this; perspective; and it’s getting worse; and even worse; oh, that’s why; actually, people’s opinions are center-left.