Overheated

So yesterday, the Feds handed down a yuge win for people who’d make firearms using 3D printers.  A settlement with “radical libertarian” Cody Wilson – who first posted 3D printer files for firearms on his website “defcad.com”, was settled on First and Second Amendment grounds.

And Big Left – in this case, through technology site “Wired” – is having the predictable fit:

“This should alarm everyone,” says Po Murray, chairwoman of Newtown Action Alliance, a Connecticut-focused gun control group created in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2013. “We’re passing laws in Connecticut and other states to make sure these weapons of war aren’t getting into the hands of dangerous people. They’re working in the opposite direction.”

When reporters and critics have repeatedly pointed out those potential consequences of Wilson’s work over the last five years, he has argued that he’s not seeking to arm criminals or the insane or to cause the deaths of innocents.

Let’s take a step back for a moment here.

Street criminals don’t have access to 3D printers.  They don’t spend the money for the materials – which are, by the way, still pretty exotic and expensive – to do 3D printer projects.  They don’t have the hobbyist’s drive to do the tinkering that inevitably follows building your own firearm, even from kit parts, much less from parts you “build” yourself using a bleeding-edge technology.  They don’t spend the money on that tinkering (gunsmithing is not a cheap hobby).

The people you need to worry about are the ones who will send their friend or girlfriend or grandma to buy a gun, or steal one of the 400,000,000 that are already out there, in (generally) working order, ready to go.

This reminds me of the “Plastic Gun” controversy 30 years ago, when Glock started marketing polymer-frame guns; “they’ll go through airport security”, Big Gun Control chanted, unaware that the Glock has a barrel, bolt and springs made of enough good ol’-fashioned steel to perhaps even wake up the TSA drone operating the scanner, no matter how hung over they are.

And it reminds me – it’s impossible to have a rational debate about firearms, gun laws, gun crime or the Second Amendment with 99% of the antis – because their entire “knowledge” of the issue comes from erroneous or context-mangled “research”, word-of-mouth gleaned from the ignorant but effusive, dystopian fantasy, and agenda-driven narrative.

 

Ooops

The Air Force loses a box of automatic grenade launcher rounds in western North Dakota:

The box looks something like this.

A 91st Missile Wing Security Forces team from the Minot Air Force Base lost the ammunition container on May 1 while traveling between missile sites in Mountrail County, according to a news release the Air Force issued late Friday.

A Mark 19 Grenade Launcher – basically a machine gun that shoots grenades.

The team was traveling on rough gravel roads about four miles west of Parshall when the back hatch of the vehicle opened, and an ammunition container fell out, the Air Force said.

The USAF helpfully adds:

The ammunition will not operate in any other launching device.

Since the USAF went nearly two weeks before telling the public about this, I’m gonna suggest that those rounds will turn up, expended, during prairie dog season, fired from some contraption ginned up by some Norwegian bachelor machinist.

Well, the cartridge cases will turn up, anyway.

The Scapegoat

The media has found someone to blame for the Minnesota motor vehicle licensing computer system (MNLARS), just in the nick of time:

An outside investigator hired by the state’s information technology department found the official in charge of Minnesota’s troubled vehicle licensing system knew there were numerous defects prior to its launch last summer but failed to address them.

The report says Paul Meekin, who was officially fired from his job at Minnesota IT Services last month, fell short of expectations related to pre-launch testing and several key management responsibilities, including communication and staffing.

The $93 million Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) was rolled out on July 24, 2017, replacing a 30-year-old system. There were immediate problems, including delays in the processing of license and title transactions.

Just in time for the elections!

It’s complete baked wind, of course.  While Meekin may or may not have been a terrible program manager, it’s common knowledge among Twin Cities IT people that Minnesota’s government IT bureaucracy is systemically sclerotic, and largely incapable of delivering software effectively and efficiently.

But it’s government work.  As long as there’s a politically-acceptable scapegoat, nothing will change.

Reader Poll

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails

I like this line:
“if your day has reached the point where you’ve had to pull a gun and start shooting, it’s already taken a statistically unlikely turn and is unlikely to get any more normal from that point. You don’t want to be the one to forfeit for inability to shoot back.”
What’s the consensus at SITD – extra mag, or no?
Joe Doakes

If I owned a gun – which I don’t, because they terrify me and I could never shoot anyone – I’d say “Yes”.

Thoughts?

They Just Keep On Ticking

Nearly six years ago on this blog, we noted the 50th anniversary of the production of the final B52 Stratofortress – a plane whose design processs kicked off as the rubble from World War 2 was still smoking, which first flew in the early fifties, went into series production in 1952, and whose final example rolled off the line before I was born.

The Air Force has been working to replace the B52 – the BUFF Big Ugly Fat Fella) or BMF (Boeng Multirole Flight-platform), as its crews and support staff call it – almost since it first rolled off the production line.

First came the =B58 Hustler – a sleek, fast, incredibly flashy plane that broke all sorts of world records, and lasted maybe five years in front line service due to mechanical and electronic bugs and cost overruns.

The FB-111 was intended to augment the B-52 rather than supplant it; it was part of the strategic bomber fleet for perhaps a decade and a half before being retired.

The B1 and B1A?   After a protracted, costly development dogged by systems issues and a left-leaning Congress that was drunk with pacifistic power after pulling the US out of Vietnam, the plane was downgraded into the more pedestrian but fairly successful B1B, currently gracing the skies of South Dakota from its home base near Rapid City – and will be for another fifteen years, according to the Air Force, retiring a decade or so before the original plan.

Same with the B2 “Spirit” – the first strategic “stealth” bomber, which will also be leaving service in the early 2030s.

But the B52?  It’s going to outlive them all:

“With an adequate sustainment and modernization focus, including new engines, the B-52 has a projected service life through 2050, remaining a key part of the bomber enterprise well into the future,” said Gen. Robin Rand, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, in a statement issued by the Air Force.

But today’s B-52 has evolved from the planes first flown in the ’50s. The Stratofortress has undergone numerous upgrades and modernization over the years, including the addition of an advanced communications system that displays real-time intelligence feeds overlaid on moving maps…The Air Force plan calls for the B-1s and B-2s to be “incrementally retired,” once enough [of the brand new, just-started-design] B-21s are operational. “If the force structure we have proposed is supported by the Congress, bases that have bombers now will have bombers in the future,” Wilson said. “They will be B-52s and B-21s.”

The B21, of course, will run into delays and overruns, and the B52 will (I predict) be in service through the 2070s.

The Human Factor

Background:  I work in User Experience in the software business. Some people think it’s a matter of “making software look pretty”; it’s actually about making software work better, easier to learn, more effectively, more powerfully and – this is the big one today – more error-proof for real people.

Software for government is simultaneously a “target rich environment” of big problems caused by disregarding user-centered design principles.  For example, when a consultant released a seventy page report on MNSure’s problems – which cost the state an extravagant amount of money to solve – a solid third of them were problems that would have never happened had they  had someone on staff minding the store when it came to designing for real people.

Austin Bay’s piece on last weekend’s false alarm in Hawaii shows that the issue is, in part, rooted in User Experience issues:

The Hollywood movie scene has someone pushing a red button on a control console. HawaiiNewsNow.com reports that a rather mundane act generated Hawaii’s false alert: a single HI-EMA employee selected the wrong option on a confusing drop-down computer menu checklist.

That menu is a mess. On the menu, the “drill” is in close proximity with other choices. Moreover, the state civil defense drill and the for real U.S. Pacific Command civil defense warning for Hawaii option (an attack warning) nest among other options, including high surf and tsunami warnings.

Tsunamis and enemy missile attacks are deadly threats. The menu’s miserable clutter reflects sloppy institutional planning.

8:05 a.m. January 13: instead of selecting the state-PACOM civil defense warning drill, the employee clicked the PACOM civil defense warning option. Then he compounded his error by clicking “yes” on “a second (computer) confirmation page.” The false warning was immediately transmitted to the public.

Since emergency messaging is in the news, Channel 4 did a piece on MInnesota’s system.   And it sounds more error proof – although I doubt the typical reporter knows much about analyzing a system’s human factors issues (note to Channel 4 – have your people call my people).

I imagine we’ll find out sooner or later.

 

Plowman’s Holiday

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

A college classmate went on an Alaska cruise.  She loved it.  I look at the advertising photo and think: “Seriously?  You’re all lined up to look at a snowbank?

Where the hell are you from, that a snowbank is a big deal?”

I could make a fortune showiing people snowbanks along rural North Dakota highways…

Rules For Reactionaries

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Rules of telephone courtesy for people who want my help:

Do not leave me a voice mail, throw the handset back on the cradle and dash out of your office. When I call you back 30 seconds later, I don’t want to hear that you’ve just stepped out.  You’ve wasted my time responding to a call that you’re not available to take.  Wait a decent interval – five minutes or so – in case I reply immediately.  Yes, that means thinking ahead a bit: do not leave voice mails while you’re holding your pants to avoid wetting them; go to the can now and call me when you’re done.

Do not call me on the cell phone with your window down, the radio up, right before the tunnel, or when you’re on gravel roads at your lake place where the signal is iffy.  Inaudible and dropped calls waste my time.

Do not call me to discuss a file without having the file number in front of you.  When I have to wait on hold while you paw through the mess on your desk looking for basic information, it wastes my time.  And no, I won’t answer “just a general question” because I’ve been down that road before so I know the facts you recite are never what the facts turn out to be, but you’ll still blame me when general advice doesn’t solve your specific problem.

Do not leave a long message rambling on until you panic that your time is running out, then rattle off your number so fast I can’t make out the words.

When I call you back, do not answer the phone using the speaker phone setting.  Yes, it’s easier for you to shout while you lean back in the chair instead of hanging onto the handset and talking into the mouthpiece, but it’s harder for me to make out your words with the cacophony of paper rustling and chair squeaking and echo distortion.

I’m sure there are more of them, but those are the ones that have come up this morning.  So far.

Joe Doakes

Don’t talk with your mouth full.   Ever.

The Short Answer:  “Heck To The Yeah!”

Employment site Dice asks  “Is Flat Design Actually Awful?”, referring to the new “flat design” user interface fad.

The simple answer is “Usually”:

Jakob Nielsen, a Danish web usability guru, has co-authored a number of books on the subject of design. He is part of the Nielsen Norman group, which sparked quite a stir with a recent article about Flat UI elements causing uncertainty among users—a huge no-no. If that wasn’t damning enough, Nielsen also termed flat design a “threat to tablet usability.”

What does Nielsen mean by “uncertainty”? The firm conducted an experiment in which 71 respondents read nine pages from six different websites (topics ranged from e-commerce and non-profits to technology and finance). With some of these pages, the firm added shadows and gradients to make design elements stand out; with others, they “flattened” the design even more. The respondents found the pages with flatter design more confusing to navigate, taking an average of 22 percent longer to find a specific target.

That’s a pretty miserable result. But is flat design a pretty-looking sham? Has the entire technology industry gone down the wrong path when it comes to UX and design? Others don’t think so.

I design this stuff for a living – and when I find myself trying to guess where it is I’m supposed to “type” thing or what I’m supposed to do (the “uncertainty” mentioned in the article, which is a big black mark when it comes to system usability), I wonder;  if it were an application aimed at someone like my dad, who doesn’t know or care much about computers but is being forced to interact with them more and more, how would this fly?

On the other hand, it’s good to have a mission.  Vanquishing flat design is a good one.

 

A Tale Of Two Customers

Over the past couple of years, the move to legalize “suppressors” – basically mufflers for guns – for civilians, and to remove them from the National Firearms Act registry (regulating them the same as machine guns and sawed off shotguns) was met an amazing deluge of paranoia; “It’ll let murderers kill silently”, “It’ll negate shot-spotters”.

In the hands of agents of the state?   It‘s a matter of health!

Rifles carried by Spokane police on patrol will soon be equipped with suppressors, a move the department says will protect officers and civilians from hearing damage.

“It’s nothing more than like the muffler you put on your car,” said Lt. Rob Boothe, the range master and lead firearms instructor for the department.

Outfitting the department’s 181 service rifles with suppressors will protect the city from the legal costs of worker’s compensation claims filed by officers, as well as from potential lawsuits filed by bystanders whose ears are exposed to firearm blasts. The sound of a fired shot can be louder than the takeoff of jet engines, the department says.

Watch for suppressors to be the latest accessory in your neighborhood patrol car…

…as gun grabber groups continue to babble about “silencers” as they appear in movies.

(New to the discussion?  Here’s a demo of how they actually work)

 


 

Aesthetic Crisis

When I was a kid, a tattoo meant one of two things; you were a veteran (good) or you’d been in prison (bad).

Sometimes, the old ways are the best.

I’m not ever going to tell anyone how to live their life, much less how to decorate themselves.  I will say that there are few thing in the world more depressing that sitting at the beach and watching a tooled saddle in a bikini in roughly the shape of what might have been a breathtakingly attractive 20-something women walking along the beach.

Again – do what you want.

But America’s tattoo fetish is turning into an aesthetic crisis:

If tattoos were once an act of rebellion against cultural norms, now they are a well-established norm. If you want a tattoo, hey, it’s a free country. But it seems many people still get them laboring under the delusion that they’re a hallmark of individualism. The desire to use visual signals on your skin to proclaim yourself unique to people you don’t even know can’t be terribly healthy. It is, in a subtle and penetrating way, kind of selfish. Or maybe my misanthropy is showing, but the omnipresence of people begging to be noticed for such superficial reasons is surely annoying.

At a baseball game last year, I sat a few rows directly behind a woman with a tattoo on the back of her neck in typewritten script that said, “I’m the hero of this story.” She seemed like a perfectly nice woman—from what I observed, she was also a doting mom—but in these circumstances I was all but forced to stare downward at her tattoo. And the more I thought about the sentiment, the more irritating I found it. It took every ounce of patience within me to make it through nine innings without marching down to her and explaining to this self-proclaimed hero of her story that there’s such a thing as an unreliable narrator.

Also, get off my lawn.

Focusing On The Big Picture

Joe Doakes from Como Pak emails:

My office staff person is a millennial who cares about saving the planet.  She doesn’t use K-cups because plastic – ugh.  She insists we must go paperless to save the trees.  So she converted a bunch of paper files to electronic which freed up space in the filing cabinet and exceeded our recycling goal.  Then she set about reorganizing the electronic folders to be more efficient, deleting the ones we don’t need anymore.

Including the one she just created, with all my converted papers.  Deleted.

I.T. won’t guarantee they can recover the data, something about retention cycles, they’ll get back to us.  The data might be gone for good.  She’s crying because she feels awful.  I’m about to start crying because I remember what a gigantic pain in the neck the project was.

But at least the planet is safe.  So we’ve got that going for us.

Joe Doakes

Always back up everything before a millennial enters your office.

Ripped From Social Media – As Far As You Know

Q: “Did you see that episode of “The Office” where…

A: “See it? I don’t even own a TV! All TV is crap!”

Q: “Huh. Oh, I see Chris Cornell died…”

A: “Who? Some singer? I don’t listen to any pop music after 1970. I don’t even own a record, cassette, 8 track, CD or MP3 player!”

Q: “All right. So did you see that talk about…:”

A: “Talk? The English language is so debased. I only communicate in Kings’ Anglo-Saxon…”

(And SCENE)

Your Obligatory Feel Good Story

Fireman catches baby dropped from third-story window:

With heavy smoke billowing from the windows of the apartment building and the size of the fire inside unknown, Knoxville Senior Firefighter Eric “Bo” Merritt said he could only see one option – the father would have to drop the baby from the window.

Merritt made the “once-in-a-lifetime” catch to save the life of the one-month-old boy, who was among dozens of residents inside the Lakewood Building at Magnolia Apartments, 2730 E. Magnolia Ave., in East Knoxville when someone set a fire in the rear stairwell Sunday morning….”So before we even got the ladders set up, I told him to drop it – and hope for the best. He thought about it for a second and I guess he realized, too, that was the best option. I didn’t know how bad it was on the inside, if the fire was growing or not, so I didn’t want to take the chance of the baby staying up there.”

On the one hand, I love a good “saving the baby” story.

On the other – everyone else got out – right?

When Mob Justice Isn’t Good Enough

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Computer hackers got into the hotel’s electronic key system and locked guests out of their rooms until management paid a ransom.

 It’s a variation on the ransom-ware scam being used with other computer users.  Pay up or you won’t get your system back.

 This is modern-day piracy.  There should be world-wide jurisdiction to pursue them, and bounties paid for their scalps.  

 Joe Doakes

No argument here.  In fact, we‘ve touched on this before.

Next Week’s Trivia

Question:  Name a book that Trulbert may have outsold?

Answer:  Chelsea Clinton’s debut tome.

Almost no one is buying the Clinton title, co-authored by Devi Sridhar, a Global Public Health Professor at the University of Edinburgh.  It currently stands at No. 74,374 on the Amazon Bestsellers Chart.

The book profiles global health organizations and the work they do. Chelsea is Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation which prioritizes improving global health.

Published by Oxford University Press, the book is well-intentioned but bland in the extreme. And there is no answer given to the question “Who Runs the World and Why?”

In related news, “the Peter Principle” may soon be re-named “The Chelsea Principle”.