Get PJ Media on your Apple

PJM Lifestyle

What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - by Aaron C. Smith

batman-batman-vs-superman-vote-for-your-favorite-batman-costume-a2525f6d-50ea-4216-8e55-6d7fbd9f5d7eSpider-Man_07
Comic books, and the pop culture that have grown around them, serve as morality plays about power and its uses. No trope is more common, and more tired, than the absurd lengths most heroes go to in order to keep from killing villains. This serves to show heroes responsibly using their power, keeping their humanity.

It’s a bunch of crap.

Batman and Spiderman, princes of the respective DC and Marvel universes, are famous for this. By keeping from killing, in their minds, they keep themselves from becoming bad guys. They go to sleep, consciences clear that they are not killers.

Tell that to the citizens of New York and Gotham who die whenever the Green Goblin, Carnage or the Joker go on a rampage.

Spiderman is famous for saying that with great power comes great responsibility. That philosophy led him to wear tights and protect the Big Apple. Bruce Wayne wanted to clean up the city to which his family dedicated their lives.

But these heroes exercise their power in half-measures.

They’re fighting villains with incredibly destructive powers, that police can’t stop and super prisons can’t contain. In letting them live to fight another day, superheroes engage in the equivalent of leaving live hand grenades in a playground.

Dead supervillains can’t kill citizens.

By choosing to let their enemies live to fight another day, the superheroes share some measure of blame for the ensuing deaths. Indulging their sentimentality is a narcissistic cowardice.

Failing to look at this guilt serves as a major flaw in the morality tales and serves a terrible lesson in the use of power, though it’s one the authors don’t intend.

Real life gives us a counter-example to the facile comic book morality in Chris Kyle. America’s most successful sniper killed in one of the most intimate ways, hunting individuals and seeing them through the scope before he pulled the trigger. A patriot and hero, Kyle used his amazing skill to protect his fellow American servicemen.

That meant killing the enemy. He had to take the shot on men, women and children.

Kyle brought the psychic scars home with him. He suffered for his efforts to protect others. And in that protection, he not only saved the lives of those to whom he acted as overwatch but the terrorists’ future victims.

And given that Al Qaeda in Iraq became ISIS, we know that there would be future victims.

Unfortunately, we have a political class that takes the Batman view of fighting rather than the Kyle method when it comes to fighting Islamic jihadists.

We are at war.

We know that because ISIS has declared its war and bragged about showing up in New York.

State Department spokesman Marie Harf talks about responding to this threat with Tweets and a jobs program. She might as well have quoted the Green Arrow, saying that we can’t win a war by killing the enemy – I think she misses the actual definition of war here – but we need jobs programs.

We’ve played by comic book rules for over a decade in the War on Terror.

Our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan looked like they’d been planned by sophomoric moral philosophy of Peter Parker, not the hard realities of war we’ve known since Sun Tzu and Clausewitz.

President George W. Bush’s use of force showed tied hands. Just look at the looting of Baghdad in the initial days of the Iraq invasion. For all of the vaunted “shock and awe” of military planners, the failure to use necessary force presaged a war focused on winning hearts and mind. He wanted the enemy to love us and in turn created an insurgency that mocked and despised us.

A decade later, ISIS has established a caliphate, something the world had not seen in a century. The Joker and Doctor Octopus are back, cutting off heads off Christians.

Yet President Barack Obama will not even speak our enemy’s name and the upshot of his “terror summit” is that we’ll work harder to make Muslims feel better. That, along with some judicious #HashtagActivism, will make things right.

Half-measures in fighting our enemies might allow Presidents Bush and Obama to sleep easier at night, thinking that their hands are cleaner than they might otherwise be if they called for the sort of wars America saw in the past. They console themselves that they have not ordered Sherman’s March to the Sea or the burnings of Dresden and Tokyo.

They should find no consolation in these facts but condemnation. They should be Lady Macbeth, seeking to wash away the blood on their hands.

Here’s the thing. With the great power of the Presidency comes the responsibility of losing sleep.

The Civil War and Second World War share two characteristics.

One is that they were savage, bloody conflict.

The second is that America won clear and unambiguous victories. The South has not risen again. The Axis powers have spent seven decades without threatening world peace.

Our enemies knew they were beaten. The methods that brought them to that conclusion were harsh, unspeakably harsh.

But they were effective and in their effectiveness, they saved lives. In ending World War II with the atomic bombs, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of lives were saved.

Our grandfathers fought a hero’s war with its attendant nightmares. We rightly look at them with gratitude for the victories they forged.

What will our grandchildren say about the Comic Book Wars?

*******

Join the discussion on Twitter. And submit your answer to Aaron’s question for publication at PJ Lifestyle: DaveSwindlePJM [AT] Gmail.com

The essay above is the second in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism.

Volume II

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

Image illustrations via here and here.

Read bullet | 8 Comments »

What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - by Frank J. Fleming

Imagine it’s the future. You have your jet pack, your laser gun, your robot butler, your much smaller or much bigger phone (I don’t really get what direction phones are going right now). The music of kids these days is awful beyond all human comprehension. No one celebrates Earth Day anymore because we’ve found much better planets more worth celebrating and live on those. So do you see yourself there, in the future? Now I want you to answer one question: What does your tax bill look like?

That’s my question today: What is the future of government? Hi, I’m Frank J. Fleming. You might remember me from a bunch of political humor writing and a great peace plan that involves nuking only one natural satellite, but now I’m also a science fiction author. Liberty Island has published my first novel, Superego, which is a heartwarming story about a genetically engineered psychotic hitman who accidentally becomes a hero, falls in love, and, of course, kills lots of people. My intention in writing the novel was for it to be a fun action-adventure, but I explore a lot of themes in the novel that seem worth discussing. And one of the themes is what could happen to government in the future.

Now, anyone who knows how to use a calculator does not predict a great future for the U.S. government, but I’m not talking about specific governments here (like whether a thousand years from now there will still inexplicably be a Canada). I’m talking about the nature of government in general and how that might evolve.

When you think of a future government, probably the first thing that pops into your mind is the Federation in Star Trek. Another might be the Empire from Star Wars, but I said we’re talking about government in the future, and the Empire is from a long time ago. Anyway, the Federation is a more left-wing, highly organized type of government. And what do all the ships in the Federation have? Phasers and proton torpedos — because if you’re going to go around the galaxy telling people what to do, you’re going to need them.

The Federation reflects a problem with our current model of government and why it might not last into the future. That’s because it’s still based on a rather primitive notion: I’m bigger than you, so you have to do what I say. The first government was probably the largest guy in the tribe ruthlessly enforcing the rule that no one could make fun of his fancy leader hat, and then things escalated from there.  In a way, government is a more civilized way of putting a gun to someone’s head to make them do something — whether those edicts come from a democratically elected government or a single guy with a fancy leader hat. The reason most people obey laws — even really asinine ones — is that they know the government is big and can hurt them if they don’t. We don’t see something like passing a tax on cigarettes as a violent act, but that’s what Eric Garner got killed over. If the government is interested in enforcing a law, it will have to resort to using violence if someone does not comply. And the progressive vision of the future of government is that we will be threatened with violence over more and more things, like if we don’t buy health insurance or if our soda is too large.

In Superego, man has spread out to countless planets and interacts with numerous other sentient species, all with their own laws and customs. There are also spaceships that allow nearly instantaneous travel across the galaxy, which means someone could commit a crime on one planet and quickly get to some place where the government has no jurisdiction. The scope of the universe’s population has basically gotten too big for a traditional centralized government, meaning government can’t enforce much and thus becomes rather feckless — like a space Europe. This leaves a vacuum that is filled by ruthless criminal syndicates — organizations that don’t worry about borders or jurisdiction and rule wherever they’re strong enough to enforce their will. Which leads to an interesting side question about government: How is an organization like a mafia different from a traditional government, if at all?

So that’s what I see: Government just won’t work in the future. Eventually the scope of humanity (and perhaps alien-ity) will get so big that governments will either become irrelevant or will have to become extremely ruthless to keep enforcing their will. And, anyway, is our vision of the future really that the only way people can live together is if we have this big entity threatening us with fines and imprisonment over millions and millions of different things? Instead I think our future  — at least the one we should aim for — is using our advances in technology and our knowledge to find more ways people can work together voluntarily. We’ll always need punishments for theft and violence, but perhaps we can find ways to work together and provide for the poor and needy without all the threats over non-violent actions, such as how we choose to run our own lives or our own businesses. It does seem like a nicer, more peaceful future than our current arc.

So along with my rocket ships and genetically engineered miniature T. rex, I see little to no tax bill at all.

What do you think is the future of government?

Join the discussion on Twitter. And submit your answer to Frank’s question for publication at PJ Lifestyle: DaveSwindlePJM [AT] Gmail.com

*****

The essay above is the beginning of the second volume in the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014

January 2015

February 2015

Read bullet | 42 Comments »

This is Honestly One of the Scariest News Items I’ve Read in a Long Time…

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

Via StrategyPage.com:

In early 2014 U.S. Navy submarine detection experts got a scare when a Russian Vishnya class AGI (Auxiliary General Intelligence, or electronic reconnaissance) ship was seen several times off the east coast of Florida, in the vicinity of naval air and submarine bases. The Vishnya spotted off Florida was accompanied by a sea going tug. Both ships used Cuban ports for resupply. The two ships apparently first showed up in Cuba in February. What scared the submarine detection crowd was the recent realization that computers had become cheap and powerful enough to make it possible to detect submarines via the faint signs (like disturbance of the surface waters above them) that they leave. It has been known for decades that these telltale signs existed and that with sufficient computing power and sensitive enough sensors you could use this method to track submarines in real time. In other words, it no longer mattered how quiet a sub was, just whether it was there or not and moving. U.S. Navy experts had been doing the math and realized that the time was rapidly approaching, if not already here, when the sensors were sensitive enough and the computers fast enough to unmask all current subs.

“All current subs” would of course include our 14 Ohio-class nuclear missile boats, carrying over half the deployed warheads of our nuclear deterrent.

******

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | 6 Comments »

So Does Samsung Just Not Want Anyone To Buy Their TVs Anymore?

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

shutterstock_240743233

but this story is filled with ouch:

Thought you could watch that video on your local hard drive without ads? Think again: A number of owners of Samsung’s smart TVs are reporting this week that their TV sets started to interrupt their movie viewing with Pepsi ads, which seem to be dynamically inserted into third-party content.

“Every movie I play 20-30 minutes in it plays the pepsi ad, no audio but crisp clear ad. It has happened on 6 movies today,” a user reported on Reddit, where a number of others were struggling with the same problem.

Reports for the unwelcome ad interruption first surfaced on a Subreddit dedicated to Plex, the media center app that is available on a variety of connected devices, including Samsung smart TVs. Plex users typically use the app to stream local content from their computer or a network-attached storage drive to their TV, which is why many were very surprised to see an online video ad being inserted into their videos.

Putting ads into movies you own? Yep:

It looks like the ad insertion was accidentally turned on by default for apps that it wasn’t actually meant for, but the faux pas points to a bigger issue: Device makers like Samsung have long tried to figure out how to monetize their platforms and generate additional revenue in a time where margins on hardware are slim at best.

Back in the ’60s when color TV was introduced, Sony almost went broke by refusing to put out a color model. The reason for that was Sony founder Akio Morita didn’t want to sell a “me-too” color TV. The company’s B&W sets were the best money could buy, and he was going to make damn sure the same was true when the company finally put out color sets.

The result was the innovative Trinitron color tube, which went on to define the best color screens money could buy — for the next 35 or more years.

Today, everybody is using pretty much the exact same LCD screens, printed in massive sheets by inexpensive Asian suppliers. That’s sucked all the profit out of the big screen market, which is why TV makers are instead competing on how many software functions they can cram into your set.

Of course, none of these manufacturers know squat about good software or what might actually be a smart way to make TVs “smart,” and so consumers are stuck paying more for a lot of crap they mostly don’t use, and which barely works when they try.

Ideally, a TV set should be a dumb screen like it always was, and consumers would each add the “smart” their own way — through the set-top box of their choice. But then companies like Samsung are stuck selling zero-margin dumb screens, and they don’t like that.

If TV makers really want to earn fatter profits on smarter hardware, then they’d better get a whole let better at writing software. To date however, they show zero talent for it.

*”Trinitron” is Sony branding for “three in one electron.” The Trinitron CRT electron gun combined a typical color tube’s three electron guns into one, giving the beam a greater depth of field. As a result, a Trinitron screen could be made flat in the vertical plane. All other screens curved back towards all four corners, like a rectangular section cut out of a sphere. A Trinitron screen was like a rectangular section cut out of a cylinder. That shape allowed for fine wires (the “aperture grill”) to be used behind the glass, instead of the bulkier mesh (“shadow mask”) used by standard color sets. As a result, more of the electron beam hit each color phosphor, transferring more energy to the screen and creating a sharper and more vivid picture.

So now you know that.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit, image illustration via shutterstock

Read bullet | Comments »

How Apple’s Going to Fix The Next iOS Update

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

9to5Mac has the story:

For 2015, iOS 9 is going to include a collection of under-the-hood improvements. Sources tell us that iOS 9 engineers are putting a “huge” focus on fixing bugs, maintaining stability, and boosting performance for the new operating system, rather than solely focusing on delivering major new feature additions. Apple will also continue to make efforts to keep the size of the OS and updates manageable, especially for the many millions of iOS device owners with 16GB devices.

It’s unclear whether this might be accomplished by limiting iOS 9 support to relatively recent devices. If the iPhone 5c, original iPad mini, and fifth-generation iPod touch are discontinued by the end of 2015, all of Apple’s “currently available” iOS devices would be using 64-bit A7, A8, and A9 processors. This could simplify iOS development for both Apple and third-party app developers.

Like Snow Leopard, iOS 9 will be pitched with stability as a tentpole component, but under-the-hood enhancements will not be the only feature.

All I can say is: It’s time — and I hope the do the same thing for this year’s OS X 10.11 release.

Apple’s annual release schedule makes for a great big splash, debuting new iPhones and iPads each fall, running the very latest version of iOS. But that schedule has taken its toll on the operating system, which still “just works,” but really needs the latest and greatest hardware to just work well in some cases. My iPhone 5S never even ha a hiccup, but my early-2012 iPad with Retina Display chokes on Javascript-heavy webpages.* You can turn off Javascript, and I usually do, although that limits the functionality of many sites.

The annual release schedule could easily take a breather for Macs, which are slaves to Intel’s schedule, rather than to the autumn iDevice reveal. As the story notes, Apple kinda-sorta took a release cycle off with Snow Leopard. Instead of introducing big new features, Snow Leopard focused on stability and bug fixes, as well as completing the move to 64-bit architecture. Much as I love Yosemite, something like “Snow Yosemite” would be welcome.

Operating systems, even mobile ones, are big, complex beasts. Apple would be smart — Microsoft and Google, too — by moving to a “tick-tock” release schedule like Intel does with CPUs. The “tock” generation of chips introduces a new architecture, but the next “tick” generation is just a die-shrink. Some automakers do much the same thing. An all-new model might come with an existing engine, then two or three year later, an all-new engine goes into the mid-model refresh. Engines and models are each on, say, a six-year replacement cycle, but staggered. This year’s iOS/OS X/Android/Windows has big new features, next year’s version concentrates on making it “just work.”

It would be bad for the sales brochures, but better for Apple, Windows, and Android users to get off the annual BIG NEW FEATURES annual cycle and on to a “tick-tock” biannual cycle.

Read bullet | Comments »

Would Christians Object to Living Indefinitely Through Technology?

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

We want to live forever. We seek immortality through a variety of means, living vicariously through our children, leaving a legacy in our community, and embracing the claims of religion.

But what if we could actually live indefinitely here on Earth? What if we could elect to live for centuries or even millennia? Would we want to?

Zoltan Istvan thinks so. Reason TV’s Zach Weissmueller interviews the author of The Transhumanist Wager in the video above. They come to an interesting aside when Weissmueller inquires about cultural resistance to the idea of technological immortality. Aren’t some people actually revolted by the idea? Istvan answers:

America and many places around the world are quite religious, especially America…a poll said 83% are still declaring themselves Christian. That makes it hard to want to take death out of the equation, because a natural part of the Christian ideology is to die and to eventually reach an afterlife with God…

While Istvan may anticipate the reaction of some, the Christian faith doesn’t necessarily preclude an embrace of transhumanist technology. It depends on the particular nature of the tech. There’s nothing in mainstream Christian doctrine which would forbid something like artificial organs, for instance. And if replacing organs could extend life by decades or more, why not?

… it’s not as though wanting to live indefinitely is something that’s going to intrude and conflict with one’s religion. It’s just something that’s kind of the evolving nature of the species. And if you can get people to think like that, and not see it in conflict with their own ideologies, then I think they’re going to be more on board with saying, “Yeah, it’s good to live 150, 200 years.” And again, I’m not saying let’s live forever. I don’t think any transhumanists are saying that. I think what we want is the choice to be able to live indefinitely. That might be 10,000 years. That might only be 170 years.

The line might be drawn at technology which changes one’s nature to something non-human. When we look at something like uploading one’s consciousness to a computer, the question must be asked: would you still be “you?” Or would you be essentially committing suicide?

The notion of living indefinitely, unto itself, should actually appeal to the Christian. After all, everlasting life is the promise of Christian salvation, and lifespans greatly surpassing those common today are recorded throughout scripture. Adam lived to 930. Noah made it to 950. Enoch was “taken” before his time at the tender young age of 365. For the believer who takes scripture literally, the notion of living for centuries has precedence.

Read bullet | 22 Comments »

What Is Apple’s Next Big Move?

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

Before we get to that the cutesy headline to this post would have been “iHealth,” but with the introduction of Apple Watch last year, it’s clear that Tim Cook is moving away from Jobsian “i” branding of its products. The i moniker will likely stick to existing products, but the direction is clear. iPhoto is being replaced with the new cross-platform Photos app, and the iWork branding is rarely used to describe the company’s productivity suite. Also note that it’s “Apple Pay” and not “iPay,” which sounds tacky. What I’d really like to see is the iMac name dropped from the next redesign of the all-in-one Macintosh. A fresh design with a name hearkening back to 1984: “The Mac.” (“Mac Pro” would remain for the Xeon-class workstation.)

Anyway — what’s the Next Big Thing for Apple? Matt Richman says it’s health care:

Though we’re still in the early stages of Apple Pay, I think Apple is planning to leverage those same strengths to create another uncopyable billion-dollar service. Consider what else Tim Cook mentioned during his prepared statement on last week’s earnings call:

There’s also been incredible interest in HealthKit, with over 600 developers now integrating it into their apps. Consumers can now choose to securely share their health and wellness metrics with these apps, and this has led to some great new and innovative experiences in fitness and wellness, food and nutrition, and healthcare. For example, with apps such as American Well, users can securely share data such as blood pressure, weight, or activity directly with physicians. And leading hospitals such as Duke Medicine, Stanford Children’s, and Penn Medicine are integrating data from HealthKit into their electronic medical records so that physicians can reach out to patients proactively when they see a problem that needs attention. With HealthKit and the iOS Health app, we believe we’re just at the beginning of amazing new health and wellness solutions for our customers.

In other words, Apple is laying the requisite foundations today to announce a healthcare service tomorrow. It’s building relationships with key players, enabling third party hardware innovation through HealthKit, getting people comfortable with iPhones as health repositories, and in the secure enclave and Touch ID, Apple already has a method to store and share healthcare data securely.

Over the next few years, Apple will add more sensors to the iPhone and Apple Watch that can be used to measure your health, and third-party medical accessories designed for use with iOS devices will continue to grow in popularity. The healthcare industry will salivate for the resulting data.

As Richman notes, healthcare is a $2,900,000,000,000 industry. Anyone who can make a device to function as the front man and facilitator for that industry stands to make a lot of money.

******

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | Comments »

I Wouldn’t Have One of These Things in My House if Samsung Paid Me…

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

TELESCREEN

Introducing the full 1080p Samsung Telescreen:

The potential privacy intrusion of voice-activated services is massive. Samsung, which makes a series of Internet connected TVs, has a supplementary privacy policy covering its Smart TVs which includes the following section on voice recognition (emphasis mine):

You can control your SmartTV, and use many of its features, with voice commands. If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you. In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.

As an Electronic Frontier Foundation activist pointed out earlier today, via Twitter, the concept of a TV screen that might be snooping on your private conversations — and thus broadcasting a chilling effect by inculcating self-censorship within its viewers — is straight out of George Orwell’s 1984.

I’ve been happily using “Hey, Siri” to give instructions to my iPhone since the feature debuted last year, having it do everything from change music playlists to send messages to my wife. So maybe you think I’m the wrong guy to criticize Samsung’s voice commands.

But: iOS devices listen for spoken commands only when plugged in to a power source, and each command must be prefaced with “Hey, Siri.” From there, iOS anonymizes and encrypts your voice command before sending it only to a first party — Apple’s Siri servers. Apple never receives any personal data directly, much less some unnamed third party.

To recap: Siri only listens when plugged in, you must wake her with a specific voice command, no third party is given your data, and your data is sent anonymously and protected by encryption. That’s a whole lot of protection going on.

According to the company’s own privacy policy, Samsung offers zero such protections. And yet it gets even worse:

If the SmartTV owner does realize how ridiculous this is, Samsung does at least allow them to disable the eavesdropping voice recognition ‘feature’, and instead use a more limited set of predefined ‘voice commands’ — and in that instance says it does not harvest their spoken words.

However it will still gather usage info and any other text-based inputs for data mining purposes, as it also notes further down in the policy. So an entire opt-out of being tracked is not part of this very expensive package. [Emphasis added]

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | 29 Comments »

The Death of Radio Shack

Friday, February 6th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

SHACK

… Here it comes:

RadioShack Corp. is preparing to shut down the almost-century-old retail chain in a bankruptcy deal that would sell about half its store leases to Sprint Corp. and close the rest, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

The locations sold to Sprint would operate under the wireless carrier’s name, meaning RadioShack would cease to exist as a stand-alone retailer, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks aren’t public.

The negotiations could still break down without a deal being reached, or the terms could change. Sprint and RadioShack also have discussed co-branding the stores, two of the people said. It’s also possible that another bidder could emerge that would buy RadioShack and keep it operating, the people said.

RadioShack had its time, and served millions of us (me included) very well during that time. It had a great mix of nerdy products and nerdy expertise — at a location usually not very far from you. But now I can get an even wider selection of nerdy stuff, and even nerdier expertise, without ever leaving the comfort of my desk chair. With one exception of when I just had to have a headphone minijack-to-RCA-left-right-splitter, I don’t think I’ve set foot inside a RadioShack since the end of the 20th century. And it just isn’t possible to keep a retail chain going on once-in-a-decade purchases of $2 cables.

Radio Shack — even the name shouts “1933!” — was the 20th century’s nerd shopping Mecca, but the 20th century is long over.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | 11 Comments »

Why Are People So Crazy About E-Cigarettes?

Thursday, February 5th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

VAPING

The California Department of Public Health has decided — no joke here — that e-cigarets are “a community health threat.” Reason’s Jacob Sullum reports:

The report includes the same lame claims that people who hate vaping for subrational reasons tend to offer when they try to justify their gut reactions to products that offend them mainly because they look too much like the real thing. There is the purported epidemic of poisonings involving children whose parents fail to keep e-cigarette fluid out of reach, the absurd insistence that candy or fruit flavors must be aimed at children because they could not possibly appeal to adults, the worry that vaping will encourage teenagers to smoke by making it seem cool again or by getting them hooked on nicotine (even though smoking among teenagers has reached record lows as experimentation with e-cigarettes has risen dramatically), and the warning that e-cigarette vapor, despite very low levels of just a few problematic substances, may pose a threat to bystanders because no one has conclusively proven that it doesn’t. Generally speaking, these claims amount to unsubstantiated speculation or an alarmist spin on actual facts. But at least one crucial statement in the report is simply false: “There is no scientific evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers successfully quit traditional cigarettes.”

It would be fair to say there is not a lot of scientific evidence that e-cigarettes are effective in helping smokers quit (although the testimony of former smokers surely should count for something). But there is some evidence.

Read the whole thing.

My only experience with e-cigarettes is my friend Matt, who had tried and failed in every attempt to quit smoking. Now he vapes instead of smokes, and enjoys the pleasures nicotine provides but without all the lung damage, coughing, cancer risk, etc. To me, that’s a big plus. And as a former smoker myself, the only reason I’ve never tried vaping is that I’m afraid the busybodies like those in California will eventually succeed in getting e-smokes banned. But it sure is tempting, because there’s nothing like a mild nicotine buzz with that first morning cup of coffee, or with a snifter of brandy after a big meal.

So why all the fuss from the busybodies? My best guess is that people are enjoying themselves doing something which the busybodies didn’t pre-approve — a major stumbling block on the road to that happy place where everything which isn’t compulsory is forbidden.

Read bullet | 36 Comments »

Apple is Certain, Once Again, to Garner the Biggest Quarterly Profits in Corporate History

Saturday, January 31st, 2015 - by Stephen Green

rev-eps-q1-15-copy

Apple reports last quarter’s profits at market close today, but Fortune says the company will surpass even the most optimistic forecasts:

Apple told Wall Street to expect total sales somewhere in the range of $63.5 to $66.5 billion — representing, at the midpoint, 15% growth from fiscal Q1 2014.

Analysts aren’t buying it. They saw the lines for the new iPhones. They’ve seen IDC’s Mac numbers. They know iPad sales haven’t totally died. They watched Apple shift production to meet demand for the larger — and higher margin — iPhone 6 Plus.

They’re expecting a big quarter.

The consensus among the analysts Fortune polled — 20 professionals and 15 amateurs — is that Apple’s total sales for fiscal Q1 2015 will come in at about $68.3 billion, up 21% year over year.

*******

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | Comments »

Why Some Cops Are Worried About the Waze App

Friday, January 30th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

waze-logo

Are you familiar with Waze? It’s a smartphone app, which my wife turned me on to a year or two ago, which crowdsources traffic information. There’s not much use for it here in Monument, Colorado (“Teeming city of tens!”), but I keep it installed for shopping & drinking excursions to Denver, or for road trips to anywhere. It’s well designed, it works in realtime, and I’ve avoided some serious snarls with small kids in car — which by itself elevates Waze to “priceless.” Google, which is pretty smart about these kinds of products, bought the company in 2013 — but it’s handy enough that I don’t mind occasionally letting Google data-mine me about my driving habits.

Of course, users can and do crowdsource information about speed traps, and that has some cops up in arms:

Sheriffs are campaigning to pressure Google Inc. to turn off a feature on its Waze traffic software that warns drivers when police are nearby. They say one of the technology industry’s most popular mobile apps could put officers’ lives in danger from would-be police killers who can find where their targets are parked.

Waze, which Google purchased for $966 million in 2013, is a combination of GPS navigation and social networking. Fifty million users in 200 countries turn to the free service for real-time traffic guidance and warnings about nearby congestion, car accidents, speed traps or traffic cameras, construction zones, potholes, stalled vehicles or unsafe weather conditions.

To Sergio Kopelev, a reserve deputy sheriff in Southern California, Waze is also a stalking app for law enforcement.

There are no known connections between any attack on police and Waze, but law enforcers such as Kopelev are concerned it’s only a matter of time.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | Comments »

Would Your Life Be Better Without Facebook?

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 - by David Solway

After long and determined resistance, I was recently persuaded to open a Facebook account. I did so for two reasons: to see what the fuss was all about; and as a means of publicizing my books, articles and music. I have been on Facebook for a month or so and have come to regret my decision. It is a snare and a delusion, a pseudo-world we mistake for an actual community, and, for the most part, a waste of time. What’s more, for a brief period, it became a source of nuptial contention.

I rarely quarrel with my wife, but the other evening found us embroiled in a heated donnybrook about the value of Facebook. I had watched her growing increasingly more absorbed in an exchange with a shadowy and irritating figure by the name of Michael over the war between the West and an insurgent Islam. Neither could persuade the other. Janice’s argument was logical, evidence-based, and limpidly expressed, demonstrating that Islam was the scourge of the contemporary world. “Michael” fell back on the usual pabulum regarding Western colonial depredations and “root causes,” to the utter exclusion of historical fact and theological compulsion. There was nothing to be gained by this collision of intractables, but I could see post leading to counter-post leading to counter-counter-post ad vomitatum while the clock ticked on and evening darkened into night.

Janice is a scholar, teacher and writer with far more serious desiderata to attend to than devoting time to the fruitless commerce of incompatible ideas, while a host of flitting cyber-migrants weigh in with approvals and disapprovals. After yet another burst of keyboard clatter, I told her so. Why was she allowing an unknown acquaintance to invade our evening? What was he to us that he should monopolize our time with his all-too predictable blather? She contended that Facebook offered certain advantages, enabling one to connect with others in often useful relationships; and besides, she was honing her rhetorical skills—skills, be it said, which she already owned in abundance. (Some PJM readers may recall her lucid articles on the state of modern education.)

I responded that she was behaving like an Avon lady trying to justify a cosmetic lotion as a spiritual balm and could surely use her time more productively. Worse than that, Facebook involved an actual cheapening of discourse, a vulgarizing of the notion of debate or conversation that was detrimental both intellectually and personally. She thought my rhetoric inflated; I thought her incomprehension disconcerting. After some bickering that threatened to get out of hand, I eventually conceded, like an imperial but benevolent phallocrat, that she might spend a maximum of 15 minutes a day facing that benthic leviathan and matrimonial rival called Facebook. Sensibly, she agreed and domestic spats over Facebook are now a thing of the past. Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment.

In the course of our dispute, I was forced to articulate my objections. The following three seemed to me comprehensive:

First, Facebook is essentially a marketing instrument masking as a communal network. It is especially useful to authors and others who wish to promote their work to an ever-growing population of subscribers; in this function it clearly excels. But it does not comprise a genuine fellowship of individuals in a socially intimate relationship. It flatters us with the shared illusion of being part of an extended family, of keeping in touch with humanity at large, of participating in a great conversation with our fellow man. In reality, genuine intimacy is rare, occurring in personal encounters and privileged correspondence, and generally on a modest scale.

Facebook consists of a colony of lay pietists who exchange, in many if not most cases, mere trifles and ephemerae—photos of self or pets, jokes and videos, transient notions prior to evaporation, bulletins of recent events, plans for the future, and so on—in short, items of negligible significance. At a somewhat more elevated level, postulants engage in debate over the critical issues of the day or post articles or meditations dealing with cherished themes, on the assumption that a series of desultory posts will effect positive change in the world. In fact, though, Facebook’s community is not even skin deep and is far less influential than its communicants seem to think.

Facebook is an indulgence, the higher ham radio. Apart from klatching with acquaintances, for which email, texting and phone serve more discreetly, we come away with the conviction that something of importance has happened, bosom contact with a stranger, leaving us with the consoling impression that we are now members of a viable community when, in truth, we know next to nothing of each other. With every post, the concentric circle of confidential strangers ripples outward in Facebook-space, forming a society of interlopers and ghostly outriders relieving themselves of their infatuations and riding their hobby-horses. It operates rather in the manner of anonymous sex, with much excited congress yielding no abiding or meaningful bond.

Which brings me to my second reason for disliking Facebook. The hours poured into a spectral traffic of largely reciprocal inanities—or, at best, an open correspondence in which we insert ourselves into one another’s phantom lives as semiotic pseudopods and screenal projections—could be far more profitably invested in elaborating our ideas, to quote Milton’s Areopagitica, “in the still and quiet air of delightful studies,” that is, in real thought and disciplined practice with a view to their propagation in reputable outlets. Nor should we delude ourselves into believing that Facebook is only a pleasant diversion, a form of relaxation or entertainment requiring only a few minutes a day between household tasks and intellectual demands. Far from it. The hours accumulate like bad debts. Facebook resembles a giant kraken or monstrous squid out of Jules Verne, rising from the murky depths to grapple, crush and devour an unsuspecting frigate with somewhere else to go.

The third reason for my skepticism is the Facebook lexicon. Where is the “face” in Facebook, since an immediate affinity of persons is face to face and not to be found in fleeting affectations of proximity, of “faceness”? And where is the “book” in a concatenation of volatile posts? Again, to cite the Areopagitca, “A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on a purpose to a life beyond life.” A good book, to be sure, but a book nevertheless, for books “contain a potency of life in them [preserving] the living intellect that bred them.” Facebook’s book, however, is mainly a diary of expendable observations or, say, a Moleskine jotter that does not, tant pis, transform a tourist into a Hemingway or Chatwin.

Moreover, Facebook is literally crawling with “friends” who “like” one another, “like” various posts and utterances, and even invite one another to “like” their pages or organizations. This use of language is absurd, irresponsible and, indeed, misleading. In my experience, friends don’t come cheaply or often, and I use the word with great circumspection. Of course, one can employ the word as a phatic interjection, as when one writes “friend” or “my friend” in a line of text or a song, but this is intended as rhetorical packing to fill out a beat or cadence, or to convey a sense of poetic, discursive or ironic address. And turning the noun into a verb—“to friend” or “to unfriend”—is certainly an interesting quirk of grammar to which the English language is flexibly prone, which poet e.e. cummings famously exploited in developing his trademark syntax and diction. But to bandy the word about as if it meant something that it doesn’t, reminiscent of the character Jack Hodgins in the TV series Bones who enthusiastically celebrated his 500th “friend,” is both ludicrous and demeaning. “Friend” is a word we should use sparingly, just as a friend is someone we should honor.

Something similar applies to the word “like.” Obviously, as a conjunction or preposition, it runs through caverns measureless to man, in particular punctuating the speech of functional illiterates. But as a verb, it betokens an affection or considered endorsement or mark of esteem; as a mere click on a key to indicate reception of a message or an empty gesture of pro forma recognition, it is just plain silly. Indeed, social media on the whole trade in vacuous phraseology. What self-respecting person would want to be part of Twitter—is that where twits hang out?—  hunt for hashtags and chirp truncated “tweets” into the world, as if one were a pea-brained chickadee pecking at the feeder rather than a reflective human being in possession of a mind? (No offence intended to the chickadees on my deck, who are quite friendly and likeable.)

In summation, I dislike Facebook because it trades in false intimacy, is chronophagous, and is a serial perverter of language. Even 15 minutes a day can be excessive, leading by increments to a dangerous addiction. Its sporadic use for the purpose of cyber-marketing in a worthy cause cannot be entirely faulted, but on the whole: caveat internettor.

admiral_ackbar_obama_parody

Read bullet | 42 Comments »

How Many iPhones Did Apple Sell Last Quarter?

Monday, January 26th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

iphone-ipad-iphab-phablet

Best estimate is “lots.” Read:

Expectations for the iPhone on Wall Street are high, as hardly a day goes by without another sign that Tim Cook made the right call when he decided to go after the oversized phone market that Samsung once owned.

On Wednesday, for example, Counterpoint Research reported that Apple’s market share in November grew to 12% in China, 51% in Japan and 33% in Korea — Samsung’s home turf.

“No foreign brand has gone beyond the 20% market share mark in the history of Korea’s smartphone industry,” said Counterpoint’s Tom Kang in the company blog.

So it really is true that everybody loves the big phones other than me. But not once when I was slipping my phone into my pocket did I think, “You know what? This could be bigger, maybe even lots bigger.” And don’t get me started on phablets, which seem like either buying a Subaru Brat when you need a full-size pickup truck, or like strapping a grandfather clock on your wrist to tell the time.

What’s the appeal of these beasts?

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | Comments »

The Surprising Place Where Apple Is Succeeding

Thursday, January 15th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

AIR

There’s one place where Apple is kinda-sorta-nearly competing somewhere adjacent to the low end, and that’s in the market for sub-$1000 laptops. The company’s 11″ MacBook Air got a price cut last year to “just” $899 retail, and that seems to be paying off:

Apple sold a record 5.75 million Macs in the quarter that ended Dec. 31, an increase of 19% that beat the overall industry by a wide margin, IDC said Monday.

In a preliminary estimate, IDC pegged Apple’s sales for 2014′s fourth quarter at 5.75 million, a record for a three-month period. According to IDC, Apple sold 4% more Macs than the previous quarter, currently the record.

If U.S. retail sales are any guide, the Mac’s jump came primarily from its lower-priced laptop, the MacBook Air. “Apple had about a third of all notebook sales below $1,000 in the 14 weeks of the fourth quarter,” said Stephen Baker, analyst with the NPD Group, another research firm. “That number was only 8% in 2013.”

When a company can swoop into the highest-price segment of the low-price market and immediately grab a third of it, then they must be doing something right.

*****

cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | Comments »

The Next Microsoft Is…

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

GOOGLE

…Google? Let’s read what Katie Benner has to say about that:

For all of its innovation, best captured by Eric Schmidt’s “How Google Works,” Google is a 55,000-person behemoth, and it’s nearly impossible for any company to move quickly and creatively at that size. Among tech giants, only Apple has managed to innovate after becoming so big. Hewlett Packard? Nope. IBM? No way.

Despite all the talk about Google’s much vaunted moonshots – self-driving cars and Google Glass, internet-connected balloons and drone deliveries – the company is still basically a purveyor of cheap online ads that it sells at massive volume against the things that we search for online. Advertising accounted for $51 billion of the company’s $56 billion in revenue last year.

The most valuable thing that the official moonshot incubator, Google X, has produced isn’t innovative products that will maintain Google’s search dominance. It’s good PR. It codified the idea that Google is always trying new stuff and failing because that’s what true, crazy, bountiful innovation looks like.

There’s much more to Benner’s argument, so you might just want to read the whole thing.

I’d argue that’s what Benner describes at Google is exactly what innovation doesn’t look like. Successful innovators imagine and iterate new products with exactly one thing in mind: Pleasing their customers with something new which they might not have even known they wanted. It’s a focused approach to creativity.

Wireless communications are one example. It turns out, hardly anybody really wanted a large and expensive satellite phone which could only be used outdoors, and which required a constellation of multimillion dollar satellites in orbit in order to function. It also turns out that almost everybody wants a touchscreen computer which they can fit in their pocket and access most any kind of data from most anywhere. Iridium is still around, focused on a very few, very special customers — but its parent company Motorola has since been twice orphaned. Meanwhile, perhaps more than 1.5 billion-with-a-b people own an iPhone or an Android lookalike.

Google’s approach might very well produce a gem — someday. But the way they go about “innovating” makes the next Iridium much more likely than the next iPhone, and worst of all, doesn’t allow Google to tell the difference in advance.

See: Google Glass.

******

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | 7 Comments »

Why Samsung’s Profits Fell Last Year

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

S5

Via Ibtimes.com:

The Samsung Group announced Thursday that its yearly profit fell for the first time since 2011. The electronics giant still beat analysts’ expectations as its slowing smartphone sales were buoyed by demand for its computer chips.

Sales of Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones made up two-thirds of its profit for the last two years, but they will be eclipsed by its semiconductor business in 2015, according to analyst Lee Sei-cheol from Woori Investment & Securities. The company announced that its 2014 operating profits were expected to reach 24.9 trillion won, or $22.6 billion, down 32 percent from a year earlier.

Samsung is feeling the squeeze from Apple on the high end, especially now that the iPhone comes in two new sizes — “Extra Large” and “Waffle Iron.” (I know, I know — everybody loves the big smartphones but me.) Worse for Samsung is that they’re having the floor eaten out of their massive low-end sales by even lower-cost copycats like China’s Xiaomi. (Somewhere, Jony Ive and the ghost of Steve Jobs are doing the Happy Dance together as they watch their copycat get consumed by copycats.)

The point to remember here is that Samsung was literally — and I’m not abusing that word — literally the only Android phonemaker generating any profits worth mentioning. What Samsung’s troubles mean for Android going forward is anyone’s guess, although it took the Android market a comparatively short time, maybe even a shockingly short time, to become just as commoditized as the Windows PC market. Over the course of decades, Windows generated billions and billions for Microsoft and for PC makers before commoditization (and OS X) sucked all the profits out of the Wintel business model. Android went down that same road in just three or four years.

The key difference is that Android doesn’t have to generate profits for Google — but what happens to the OEMs who at some point are going to have to generate a profit or two?

Read bullet | Comments »

Why Amazon’s Fire Phone Failed

Saturday, January 10th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

FIRE

The best tech article I’ve read in weeks is Fast Company’s behind-the-scenes report on the development of Amazon’s Fire Phone — which was thoroughly rejected by consumers and caused an embarrassing $170,000,000 write-down for the retailing giant. So what went so wrong?

The short version might be: Jeff Bezos thought he was Steve Jobs.

Read:

Bezos drove the team hard on one particular feature: Dynamic Perspective, the 3-D effects engine that is perhaps most representative of what went wrong with the Fire Phone. Dynamic Perspective presented the team with a challenge: Create a 3-D display that requires no glasses and is visible from multiple angles. The key would be facial recognition, which would allow the phone’s cameras to track a user’s gaze and adjust the 3-D effect accordingly. After a first set of leaders assigned to the project failed to deliver, their replacements went on a hiring spree. One team even set up a room that they essentially turned into a costume store, filling it with wigs, sunglasses, fake moustaches, and earrings that they donned for the cameras in order to improve facial recognition. “I want this feature,” Bezos said, telling the team he didn’t care how long it took or how much it cost. Eventually, a solution was discovered: Four cameras had to be mounted at the corners of the phone, each capable of identifying facial features, whether in total darkness or obscured by sunglasses. But adding that to the phone created a serious battery drain.

And team members simply could not imagine truly useful applications for Dynamic Perspective.

On the Fire Phone, Bezos forgot all about his laser-like focus on the customer’s needs, to pursue a feature his own design team didn’t know what to do with. Has Bezos reached that point of success where nobody can tell him No anymore? As a happy Amazon customer, I certainly hope not, although Amazon could fiddle around with more failures like the Fire Phone for years before it negatively impacted its retail operations. But here’s the bit which should have investors worried:

Bezos has said that his job is to encourage more “bold bets” and to embrace failure inside the company in pursuit of the big successes that “compensate for dozens and dozens of things that [don’t] work.” That drive and willingness to experiment has made Amazon a formidable competitor; Google chairman Eric Schmidt, for one, has said he considers Amazon to be the search giant’s most dangerous rival. For Apple, too, its ambitions with e-commerce, iCloud, and now, even devices, all run headlong into Amazon’s initiatives. But will all of Bezos’s risk-taking ultimately pay off? “They make no money!” former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer exclaimed in a recent TV interview. “In my world, [that’s] not a real business. I get it if you don’t make money for two or three years, but Amazon is, what, 21 years old?”

You get the feeling the profits just aren’t a part of Amazon’s business model?

UPDATE: An unfair thought just occurred to me. If you want to expand an existing business into profitable new fields, Ballmer is not the person you call on to help. But if you want to squeeze extra billions out of existing products and services, there might not be anyone better than Ballmer. Maybe Bezos should make him an offer he can’t refuse…

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | Comments »

15 Things Back to the Future II Predicted for 2015

Friday, January 2nd, 2015 - by Paul Cooper

Back in 1989, Americans marveled at what the year 2015 might look like in the popular film Back to the Future II.  The second installment in the time-traveling trilogy focused heavily on Marty McFly and his girlfriend being taken by their pal Doc Brown 30 years into the future and seeing what life was going to be like.

Well, 2015 has arrived. What predictions did the filmmakers get right? What did they get wrong? Here are 15 things Back to the Future II predicted would happen by 2015. You’ll find some predictions were eerily accurate while many others were way off.

Read bullet | 7 Comments »

This Isn’t Quite Picard’s Replicator, But It’s Closer…

Thursday, December 25th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

FOODINI

Via CNN:

The “Foodini,” as it’s called, isn’t too different from a regular 3D printer, but instead of printing with plastics, it deploys edible ingredients squeezed out of stainless steel capsules: “It’s the same technology,” says Lynette Kucsma, co-founder of Natural Machines, “but with plastics there’s just one melting point, whereas with food it’s different temperatures, consistencies and textures. Also, gravity works a little bit against us, as food doesn’t hold the shape as well as plastic.”

The Barcelona-based startup behind the machine says it’s the only one of its kind capable of printing a wide range of dishes, from sweet to savory.

“In essence, this is a mini food manufacturing plant shrunk down to the size of an oven,” Kucsma said, pointing out that at least in the initial stage the printer will be targeted mostly at professional kitchen users, with a consumer version to follow, at a projected retail price of around $1,000.

If you need me, I’ll be standing over my charcoal grill with a couple of ribeyes cut from an actual cow.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | Comments »

Ships with Frickin Laser Beams

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

LAWS

The Navy’s ship-deployed laser we talked about last month has been deployed on the USS Ponce — and tested, too. And it works:

The Navy announced that it had deployed and fired a laser weapon this fall aboard a warship in the Persian Gulf. During a series of test shots, the laser hit and destroyed targets mounted atop a small boat, blasted a six-foot drone from the sky, and destroyed other moving targets.

“This is the first time in recorded history that a directed energy weapons system has ever deployed on anything,” Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, told reporters at the Pentagon. “A lot of people talk about it—we decided to go do it.”

It was built cheap, using lots of COTS parts — a rare instance of our procurement system working as advertised.

******

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | 5 Comments »

A Big Advance in Solar

Monday, December 15th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

PLANTS

With a tip of the hat to Charlie Martin, a team of Australian scientists just blew away the previous record for solar conversion efficiency:

A team from the University of New South Wales, Australia, just set a new world record for solar energy efficiency by successfully converting 40.4% of available sunlight into electricity. And what’s even more remarkable is the fact that the record was achieved by using commercially available solar cells in a new way – which means, as the team explains, “these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry.”

The efficiency record was first set outdoors in Sydney, and was then independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Lab in the United States. The photovoltaic technology used by the UNSW team differs from conventional solar cell technology in one key way: it utilizes triple-junction solar cells. These cells, as Motherboard explains, “are basically a sandwich of differently tuned semiconductors with each one able to capture a different wavelength of sunlight.”

As the innerweb saying goes — faster, please.

Casa Verde has some excellent southern exposure, and my part of the state is famous for averaging 300 days of sunny skies each year. Melissa and I have looked just a little into adding enough solar panels to our electrical system to take the edge off those rising electricity prices.

If the Aussies really can deliver those efficiencies at affordable prices with COTS materials, then we might be able to make a decision sooner than we thought.

Or are we dreaming?

*******
Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | 8 Comments »

The Truth About Uber

Thursday, December 11th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

UBER

The controversial app-based taxi company is taking some heat — justified in one ugly incident — for various things, but I did get my first Uber experience last weekend and thought I’d share it with you.

I flew into LA on Friday for a quickie overnight to attend Kurt Schlichter’s surprise 50th birthday roast. The Hilton’s airport shuttle wasn’t available, and I didn’t have a whole lot of time to clean up and enjoy a pre-party cocktail, so I marched down to the taxi stand and hopped in.

You probably know the drill from here, but just in case, here you go.

The curb attendee shoved a receipt at me. The cabbie told me three times, in broken English, of the $19 minimum to leave the airport, even though my hotel was only five minutes away. That price wasn’t his fault of course, but it did serve to focus my attention on trying Uber ASAP. Upon arrival at the hotel, I whipped out my ATM card to pay, but the cabbie raised his hands, shrugged his shoulders in a childish way, and made an unpleasant “muh” sound at my card.

It’s not that his cab didn’t take plastic; it’s that he just didn’t want to. To make matters worse, I overtipped the guy because I didn’t want to deal with him long enough to get change back from a fiver. Total paid: $25.

Read bullet | 15 Comments »

E-Warfare

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 - by Stephen Green

WARGAMES

Robert Fox says the counterattack may have already begun:

Last week the Financial Times reported that the computer security specialists Symantec had identified one of the most powerful attack viruses, code named ‘Regin’. It appears to have been aimed at Russian and Gulf banking networks; it gets in, does its work, then disappears in days leaving no trace.

Because of Regin’s targeting pattern, Symantec suspects it came from the US and/or the UK and could not have happened without the foreknowledge, at least, of the NSA and GCHQ and/or the intelligence services, the CIA and MI6.

But here’s where it really gets interesting:

The first overt sign that a new era of virtual war is upon us came at the recent G20 summit in Australia.

Vladimir Putin turned up in Brisbane with his pocket flotilla of warships offshore and had a public contretemps with David Cameron over Ukraine. This was plain for all to see. But what went on behind the scenes before Putin’s early departure was far more interesting: there it is believed that Cameron and President Obama’s teams sent the Russians a clear message – “stop the escalation” of cyber attacks before things get out of hand.

The Russian and Chinese hackers seem to generate most of the headlines, but our people are scary good at this stuff. It also plays into one of President Obama’s few strengths as a war leader, which is to direct from on high some very sneaky and deadly actions.

If I were Vlad Putin, I’d have taken the message directly to heart.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Read bullet | Comments »