Annex Mexico!

 H. Beam PiperI’m in “H. Beam Piper mode.”

If you’ve never heard of H. Beam Piper, you’re not alone. However, if you consider yourself any stripe of libertarian or any level of science fiction fan, go read his body of work on Project Gutenberg. It’s all there — for free.

You’ll find Kindle, EPUB, and HTML formats. Read it via dedicated e-reader, a handheld application, or right in your Web browser.  E-reader formats can be saved to your favorite cloud storage service with a single click.

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The Star Wars Effect

The Star Wars Effect

Part I: How the Press Really Works

Batboy!  I mess the Weekly World News.

I have a long history with the press, having worked with its members off and on since about 1980.

I’ve worked with the Lincoln Journal-Star. I’ve worked with the Chicago Sun-Times. I’ve worked with one-studio TV news. Once (and only once), I worked with a CNN reporter.

And you know what? Not a single one ever got the facts right.

Not one.

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It’s Time To Send the H-1Bs Home

Think this, but more geek.

Think this, but more geek.

My apologies to some of my staunchest libertarian and an-cap friends, but I’m going to have to make a semi-heretical suggestion.

Ordinarily I’d advocate that the Federal Government get out of private business entirely (or disappear completely), and indeed, I’d love to see it do so. However, I’m going to suggest a fairly minor policy change that would instantly rebound the economy.

It’s an entirely practical, easily-implementable idea that’s of benefit to both politicians and voters. Both major parties could have something bi-partisan to do, if they were actually so inclined. It would cost them no votes.

If just one party did it, they could write their own ticket for the next decade.

The one, simple thing that would instantly turn the economy around is this:

Send the H-1B visa-holders home.

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The Other Marty McFly

Stay down and shut up!After watching Confused Matthew‘s review of Back To the Future, I went back and watched the entire trilogy (for roughly the fiftieth time).

This is one of my favorite movie trilogies.  It was tailor-aimed at my generation.  I was a couple of years older than the character of Marty McFly.  A pop-culture trend of 1950s nostalgia that ran from the latter part of the 1970s through the early 1980s was just finishing.

It’s also one of the smartest time-travel movies ever made, though not nearly as smart as the modern incarnation of Doctor Who.

It’s still great.  Part II is rather weak and director Robert Zemeckis has admitted as much: it’s not well-paced, a bit confusing, and frankly a classic “sequel” — and not in a good way.

Old Marty McFlyFurthermore, watching it today as a 47-year-old, I’m aware that the way the young actors portray their older selves is a caricature.  Lea Thompson‘s 2015 Lorraine is particularly painful, as is most of the old-age makeup in Part II.

It’s forgivable when you realize that Zemeckis was shooting Part III in northern California during the day and flying to Los Angeles to edit Part II at night.  It’s a wonder that Part II works at all.  Fortunately, Part III entirely makes up for it.

I don’t generally enjoy Westerns, but Part III is one of the few exceptions.  Its depiction of the American Old West is one of the few realistic attempts to do so.  Having spent the first fifteen summers of my life on my grandparents’ cattle ranch in western South Dakota, I’m aware of what conditions were like.  Most depictions of the Old West are highly-romanticized.  They don’t show the buckshot in the rabbits or the muddy drinking water.  The next time you think to yourself that the American Indians lived an idyllic life, recall the water that Marty drinks at the McFly Farm in Part III.

Furthermore, Part III is really quite astounding from a modern film-making perspective.  There’s an extraordinary amount of stunt-work, much of it performed by Fox and Christopher Lloyd.  Today, a filmmaker would shoot the entire train sequence on a green-screen and use over-the-top CGI.  Part III has the real actors crawling around on a moving train.  It must have been a nightmare to film — and again, Zemeckis was splitting his time between shooting this film and editing Part II.  He must’ve been a complete wreck by the time the production wrapped.

Michael J. FoxThese are classic movies that will be around long after I’m gone.  This is sadly enabled by actor Michael J. Fox‘s Parkinson’s disease. While I would in no way suggest that the actor’s condition is a good thing, it’s responsible for ending the trilogy at its logical closure point.  I have no doubt that if Fox were still healthy, Universal would have made more Back To the Future films.  This would not have been a good thing.

In watching the trilogy again, I was reminded of an article from Starlog Magazine number 108 (July, 1986) entitled, “The Other Marty McFly,” by Bruce Gordon (see below).  Gordon pointed out an oft-overlooked problem with the altered timeline:

In Part I, there are two Marty McFlys.

As Gordon pointed out, there’s the Marty that the movie follows.  His father is a coward, his mother an alcoholic, his siblings are losers, and there’s a Twin Pines Mall.  This Marty goes back in time, prevents his parents from meeting as they did in his history, does some creative match-making, and then goes back to the future.

All well and good, except that when he returns, history has changed.  Marty’s entire family is successful and happy, he owns a Toyota four-by-four pickup, and Twin Pines Mall has become Lone Pine Mall.

This brings us to the other Marty.  We see him for only a few seconds.  He’s the Marty (call him Marty-B) that our Marty (Marty-A) sees leave for 1955 after Doc is shot.

Marty-B has a different history than Marty-A.  Marty-B grew up in a family of success.  His father wasn’t a wimp, his mother wasn’t an alcoholic, his siblings were successful, he owned a four-by-four, and he went to the Lone Pine Mall.

And at the end of the film, Marty-B goes back in time to 1955.

Keep in mind that Marty-A prevented his parents’ meeting by accidentally replacing his father when he was peeping on Lorraine.  It is a key story point.  Marty-A’s parents met when George was hit by Lorraine’s father.

In Marty-B’s timeline, this never occurred.  In Marty-B’s timeline, his parents got together when George prevented Biff from raping Lorraine.

This is the timeline into which Marty-B returns, not the timeline in which his parents met via car accident.

This is a paradox.  If Marty-B goes into the past, he should logically meet Marty-A.  For Marty-B’s timeline to exist, Marty-A must play a key role.  In Marty-B’s timeline, Marty-A was an integral part of the meeting of George and Lorraine.

Indeed, logically, the situation is much worse than this.  Marty-A’s arrival in the past has created an “Infinite Loop Paradox.”

There’s Marty-A, the first Marty.  There’s Marty-B, from the first altered timeline.  The existence of two Martys in 1955 would then produce a third timeline of which the next Marty would be a product.  This Marty would then go back in time, creating a 1955 in which there are three Martys present.  This would result in a timeline producing another Marty, who would go back in time to produce a four-Marty timeine.

In computing, we call this an infinite loop.  It results when a programming error causes a program to repeat the same instructions forever.  The only solution is to kill the offending program.

In time-travel, an “Infinite Loop Paradox” would occur when an infinite number of iterations of the same individual appear at the same time.  This is what should have happened in Back To the Future.  It would have been ended only by some version of Doc Brown becoming horrified by the number of Martys wandering around in 1955 and choosing to never build the DeLorean in the first place.

In computing, killing an infinitely-looping program resolves the issue, returning system resources to the computer.  In time-travel, one would still be stuck with a large number of Martys in 1955.

Bruce Gordon's Other MartyIn his article, Bruce Gordon attempts to explain this away by pointing out that for a brief instant (just as Doc throws away his gun before being shot by the Libyans), there seems to be someone in the background.  Indeed, for a few frames, there’s someone there.  Gordon suggests that this is Marty-B.

Mr. Gordon’s theory relies on parallel universes, which unfortunately isn’t consistent with the sequels.  We see two Marty-A’s in Part II after all:  when Doc and Marty return to 1955, the earlier Marty-A is right where he should be.  Indeed, in Part II, we should have two Marty-A’s and a Marty-B who would have arrived from the end of Part I.

The timeline gets more convoluted still.  In Part III, Marty-A is stranded in 1955 and needs 1955 Doc Brown to fix the DeLorean, which has been hidden in a mine since 1885.

Yet the Doc Brown of 1885 obviously has no memory of helping Marty do this.  In fact, there are now four different Doc Browns:

The first Doc Brown is Doc-A, from Marty-A’s timeline.  He didn’t meet Marty in 1955, built the DeLorean, and was killed by Libyans.

The second Doc Brown, Doc-B, is Marty-B’s Doc.  He met and helped Marty-A in Part I.  He read Marty’s letter, wore a bullet-proof vest, and wasn’t killed by Libyans.  He and Marty-A went to 2015, then 1955, then Doc-B went to 1885 alone.  Doc-B was killed by Buford Tannen in 1885.

This brings us to Doc-C.  This Doc met Marty-A in Part I, then again at the end of Part II.  Doc-C knew a lot about the future.  He knew the DeLorean would get a hover conversion, be powered by Mr. Fusion, and that a future version of himself would wind up in the Old West.

Finally we have Doc-D.  This was Doc-B until Marty returned to rescue him.  This Doc isn’t killed by Buford Tannen, thereby creating the biggest paradox of the timeline.  If Doc-B’s tombstone was erased from existence, then so was Marty-A’s reason for going back in time to save him.

We now have a Marty-C.  This is a Marty who went with Doc-B to 2015 and 1955, received a letter from Doc-D, didn’t need to go back in time to save him, and consequently went home to 1985 as Doc-B instructed in his letter.

There are also multiple Clara Claytons:

Clara-A is from Marty-A’s timeline, in which Doc Brown was killed at the Twin Pines Mall.  Doc never met Clara-A at the train station and thus she was killed in Clayton (nee Shonash) Revene.  Clara-B was Doc-B’s Clara:  Doc-B met her at the station, they fell in love at first sight, and she erected Doc-B’s tombstone.  Clara-C is the version we see in Part III.

Confused yet?  I’ve thought about it a lot, and even I can’t keep the tangle straight.

Bottom line:  this is a very twisted series of timelines.  Fortunately the movies are just so good that your brain suspends its disbelief.

The MultiverseIn reality, time-travel would only work if the Many Worlds Theory is correct.  If we live in a multiverse which is constantly splitting into new ones, then time-travel becomes simple:

A time-traveler creates a new parallel universe the moment they arrive in the past.

This parallel universe is identical to the time-traveler’s orginal — up to the moment the time-traveler appears in it.  The act of arriving creates it, and the time traveler can no longer return to the original universe.  It still exists, but it’s forever lost to the time-traveler.

If the time-traveler sequesters him- or herself and never interacts with anyone or anything, any changes are likely to be minor.  The new alternate universe will be virtually identical to the old.  It will still be an alternate universe, however.

Major changes are possible, but they do not produce paradoxes.  If a time-traveller kills Adolf Hilter as an infant, it has absolutely no impact on the original timeline.  Killing Hitler would occur in an alternate universe and the original will remain unaffected.  The time-traveler will simply live in an alternate universe in which Hitler was killed as an infant.

L. Neil Smith used this to great effect in his novel The Gallatin Divergence.  However, the best time-travel novel of all time, David Gerrold‘s The Man Who Folded Himself, takes it to its logical conclusion.  I won’t even attempt to describe The Man Who Folded Himself:  it would take the novel itself to explain it.  If you’re a fan of time-travel, I highly recommend both novels.


Bruce Gordon’s article, “The Other Marty McFly,” originally appeared in Starlog Magazine. As Starlog ceased publication in 2009, finding a copy is difficult. It exists on the Web, however the URL is so old that there’s some possibility it could disappear.

For historical purposes, I’m including it below, minus figures and diagrams, as I don’t have access to them.

While reading, keep in mind that the article was written well before any of the sequels were produced.  Mr. Gordon no doubt came to different conclusions when the trilogy was complete.

No copyright infringement is intended.

Bruce Gordon passed away in 2007, at the age of 56.


Starlog #108

The Other Marty McFly

by Bruce Gordon
Starlog Magazine number 108 (July, 1986)

Bruce GordonOur mysterious voyager, the tale begins, appears in Back to the Future for just a fleeting second, on screen for only a handful of frames.  Cast your thoughts back to the film … back to the parking lot at Twin Pines Mall. The terrorists have arrived, and they’re aiming their machine guns right at Doc’s heart. Their van is parked at the screen’s left-hand side, and Doc is standing to the right, holding a pistol in his hand. He raises his arms into the air, and then, just behind Doc — between him and the truck — we can see a spot of light from one of the nearby stores. Watch that light.

At the very instant that Doc tosses his pistol to the ground (and all eyes in the audience are following its path across the pavement), a silhouetted figure steps into that light. Less than a second later, the figure is gone, Doc has been shot and the chase is on.

Who was that figure? Where did he come from? Why was he there?

The answer to the first question is easy: The figure was Marty McFly, of course. Where did he come from? He had just returned from 1955. And why was he there? Let’s find out!

Send your thoughts into the past again, this time towards the film’s end. Marty runs to the mall, and arrives just in time to see Doc shot again, and to see another Marty hop into the DeLorean and drive off through time. So, there are two Martys during that climax — one arriving from Town Square, and one departing for 1955.

Logically, then, if there were two Martys in the mall at the film’s end, then there should have been two Martys in the mall at the beginning … one arriving, one departing. The silhouetted figure in the light must be the ‘arriving’ Marty.

Let’s see if we’re right. Taking a look at the accompanying chart, we find two pathways. The pathways represent two parallel worlds — each existing simultaneously in different dimensions of time. Each step in a path is a specific event that’s shown, told, or implied somewhere in the film. The white steps represent the actions of our Marty McFly, and they trace the exact story of the film. The grey steps follow the journey of the other Marty, the mysterious figure we saw — or probably didn’t see — silhouetted by the light. (From here on, let’s call this mysterious figure ‘Marty II’.)

Naturally enough, we begin at “Start,” which is where the movie opens. We’ll call this path “Our Dimension.” The first item we find reads, “The Ledge is Not Broken.” In the scene where Marty and his girl friend Jennifer are sitting on the bench in town square, planning their big weekend, the concrete ledge on the clock tower is intact. Doc’s foot hasn’t broken it off because Doc hasn’t climbed up to fix his cable. Not yet — and in this dimension, not ever.

Following down the chart, we see the terrorists arrive at the mall, followed a moment later by the mysterious Marty II, silhouetted in the light. Then, Doc is shot and our Marty escapes back to 1955. Notice that our Marty not only goes back in time, but it looks as if he switches over into the opposite dimension! Actually, what happens I is this: Our Marty’s leap to 1955 and his interference in history causes the split that creates these parallel dimensions!

Our Marty arrives at Twin Pines Ranch, crashes into the barn, and while escaping in a hail of shotgun fire, runs down one of Peabody’s twin pine trees (more about that later). Marty prevents his parents from meeting, but manages to get them back together just before his rendezvous with Doc at the clock tower.

Marty also gives Doc the all-important note that warns him about the eventual terrorist attack. Doc finds the note and starts tearing it up when a tree branch falls and pulls apart Doc’s cable. Doc sticks the note in his pocket (you weren’t distracted by all the other action, were you?) and climbs up the tower to fix the cable. He slips and breaks the concrete with his foot.

Now, here’s where the plot gets tricky. This is where we leave the movie’s story for a moment, and take a look at the 30 years between 1955 and 1985. Marty and the DeLorean make contact with the lightning and leap over those decades in an instant, but everyone else — including Doc, George, and Lorraine — have to live them out one day at a time.

During those 30 years, George and Lorraine become a popular and successful couple, thanks to our Mary’s involvement. In a few years, they get married, and before long, they have a son. And who is their son? Why, he’s Marty II, of course — the other Marty! After all, our Marty is already 17 years old and leaping through time in the DeLorean.

Over the years, Marty II grows up. He and Doc become friends. But remember — Doc spent a week with our Marty 30 years ago, so Doc already knows everything that’s going to happen. He knows about the DeLorean, time travel, and Marty’s escape back into time. And somewhere along the way, he tapes Marty’s note back together, and finds out about the terrorists.

So that brings us back to October 26, 1985 as our Marty arrives in Town Square and crashed into the theater. He has returned to 1985, all right, but he’s still in the opposite dimension! As the helicopter hovers overhead, we see that the ledge on the clock tower is broken. When our Marty sees the terrorists drive by in their van, remember that we’re in the other dimension, and Marty II is already down at the mall with Doc, testing the DeLorean. Our Marty runs to the mall and grabs onto the big sign … which now reads “Lone Pine Mall.” (Remember how Marty ran down that pine tree in 1955? That was the end of the Twin Pines breeding experiment!)

Our Marty watches in horror as Doc is shot and Marty II drives off in the DeLorean. But Doc is OK — he has taped Marty’s note back together, learned about the terrorists, and put on a bullet-proof vest.

Doc and Marty rescue the stalled DeLorean from Town Square, and Doc drives Marty home. But what does Marty find? He finds new parents, a new brother and sister, and a new 4X4 Toyota truck parked in the garage. How is this possible? This is Marty II’s family! In this opposite dimension, Marty I has traded places and stepped into the life that was being led by Marty II. It’s Marty II’s father, mother, brother and sister — and that’s Marty II’s truck parked in the garage!

Where, then, has Marty II gone? He has time-warped out of the shopping mall and gone back to 1955! Let’s chase after him now, starting at the top of the chart and following the grey steps. Notice that Marty II has also wound up in the opposite dimension — the dimension where Marty I used to be.

Marty II arrives at Peabody’s Twin Pines Ranch, only this time he doesn’t run down one of the pine trees. (Remember, the off-road Toyota 4X4 parked in the garage belonged to this Marty … maybe he drives better than our skateboarding Marty. So, the pine trees survive, Peabody’s Twin Pines breeding experiment continues, and 30 years later, the big sign at the mall reads “Twin Pines Mall” — just like it did at the movie’s beginning.

Marty races out of the Peabody field and stops on the road in front of his home-to-be. He gets out of the DeLorean, reloads the plutonium, and returns to 1985.

“Now, wait just a minute,” everybody moans. “Where did Marty II get the extra plutonium?” That’s easy — Doc loaded it into the DeLorean. Remember that Doc had met our Marty 30 years ago, so he already knew Marty II was going to go back in time, and he knew that Marty II would get stranded without any plutonium for the return trip. Now, Doc may not be willing to alter history by trying to stop Marty II from going back in time, but he is willing to gamble on a little insurance. So, the first thing he does when he takes the DeLorean down to the mall is to load that spare plutonium.

“Well, OK,” someone says. “But why does Marty II turn around right away and return to 1985?”

Remember the speech that Doc gave our Marty when they first met at Doc’s house back in 1955? “You must not see anybody, you must not talk to anybody,” Brown warns. “To do so would have serious repercussions on future events!” Our Marty had already broken that rule, so it was too late for the warning to do any good — but it wasn’t too late to warn Marty II. So, it’s logical that when Doc was showing the time machine to Marty II, he would explain how important it was not to interact with anyone in the past, and to get back to the present as quickly as possible. We know that Marty trusts and respects Doc, and so we can assume he follows the instructions to the letter, reloads the plutonium, and jumps back to 1985 — without meeting anyone.

We’ll also assume that Marty II set the DeLorean controls to return minutes early in an effort to save Doc. Unfortunately, he’s not going to be any more successful than our Marty was.

Now, it’s Marty II who’s jumping over the 30 years between 1955 and 1985, just as our Marty did. And just as before, George, Lorraine, and Doc live those 30 years one day at a time — only this time, it’s without the “benefit” of our Marty’s involvement. Let’s keep following the grey path and see just what happened during the 30 years that Marty II skips over. This part is easy, because the whole story is recited by Lorraine over dinner at the film’s beginning. It goes like this: George gets hit by the car, he and Lorraine fall in love at the dance, get married and have a son named Marty. Our Marty. Marty I.

Over the years, our Marty grows up and becomes friends with Doc. Only in this dimension, Doc never met Marty back in 1955. Doc doesn’t know about the DeLorean, or about time travel. He doesn’t have a note to read, so he doesn’t know to protect himself from the terrorists. When Doc goes to the mall on October 26, 1985, he’s not wearing a bullet-proof vest, just his open shirt and his cotton underwear. And finally, back in Town Square, the clock tower ledge isn’t broken, because no one was ever up there.

You’ll notice by our chart that we’re back to the start of Back to the Future but we’re looking at it from a whole different perspective! When Marty II appears as a silhouette in the light, we know who he is this time, and where he’s coming from.

And while our Marty came running up to the sign because he was coming from Town Square, where the Delorean was stalled in the street, Marty II didn’t reappear in Town Square, because he never went there. He stayed on the highway near his home-to-be. So, when Marty II reappeared in 1985, he was coming from another direction. That’s why he ran in front of the light, instead of over by the sign.

Our next step along the grey path says that Marty II runs to Doc and finds him killed. Doc never had the warning from Marty in 1955. He wasn’t wearing the bullet-proof vest. Doc is dead.

From here on out, believe it or not, things get worse. Marty II heads home alone, and finds he has a brand new family. Just like our Marty, he’s traded places — only now he’s stepped into the life that was being led by our Marty. Now, his father is a failure, his mother is an alcoholic and his brother and sister are nerds. And the Toyota 4X4 that he left parked in the garage the night before has turned into a skateboard, and even that got left in the parking lot back at the mall! (It’s a sad ending. No wonder they filmed the other version!)

Now we’ve finally reached the end of our chart. But wait, our story’s not over. Marty II still has the DeLorean and extra plutonium — maybe he can go back in time again, and try once more to save Doc’s life. What a sequel that would make!

Bruce Gordon, an Imagineer at WED Enterprises, is involved in the future development of Disneyland. He co-authored “Tomorrowland 1986” in Starlog #98-99. Assistance on this essay was provided by Chris Tietz and David Munford, who made substantial contributions to solving and explaining the mystery of Marty II.

Clogging the Drain

The more they over-think the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.

– Montgomery Scott, 2285

It’s really irritating how my key Web sites are starting to make choices about what I see.

I’ve noted elsewhere that I long ago realized a simple truth:

Almost everything one sees in the press is fictional.

I therefore decided that I would choose what I saw and heard rather than having someone else choose for me.

I have no television service. I have cable, but it’s for Internet. My “TV” is an HD monitor on which to watch movies or videos on a larger screen.

Over 95% of my entertainment is via the Internet:

  • My rather vast musical collection is moving to Google Play Music.  I stream the audio, either to my Motorola Droid Bionic or to the Netbook plugged into the “TV” and thence into the stereo system.  The Bionic plugs into the car stereo.  I have almost no local music, and I’ve not had the slightest problem since the original Droid became available.
  • I listen to no radio.  Instead, I used the TuneIn.com Android client or the Web interface on the Netbook.  I even stream local stations:  I primarily listen to talk stations and those are AM.  There’s much clearer sound range on the stream.
  • My “TV” is largely limited to shows that I know I like.  For example, every week I find a torrent of Doctor Who within an hour of it having aired in the U.K.  I watch The Big Bang Theory religiously via WatchSeries.eu links (though make sure your ad-blocker is being very aggressive).YouTube is also a major part of my “TV” viewing.  I don’t quite understand how Google plans to deal with what is surely going to be a massive, ongoing serious of copyright lawsuits.  The reality is that YouTube is filled with copyrighted videos.  I’ve no empirical data, but in my experience at least 95% of YouTube’s content comes from copyrighted material.

    There’s no possible way that DMCA notices can possibly keep up with the upload rate.  You can find first-run movies on YouTube if the Google Fu is strong with you.

  • I’ve gone to a few movies.  Star Trek, The Avengers, the Iron Man movies, the Batman movies, and a few others.  It’s hard to cost-justify the massive expense of movies considering that most of them are poorly-made, clumsy, hack-jobs.Primarily I watch movies on Hulu and YouTube.  The Google Fu is strong with this one.
  • I subscribe to no newspapers nor magazines. Instead, I have created a custom series of RSS feeds in Google Reader that keeps me constantly informed. It’s tailored to me: I receive tech news, current events, politics, etc. It’s my own constantly-evolving newspaper from sources that I like. It’s always on my hip, via the Google Reader Android app.

Now Facebook and YouTube are starting to decide what I should see.

I have subscriptions in YouTube for a reason: there are channels whose videos I always want to see. RedLetterMedia, Blame Society Films, or Reckless Tortuga, anyone? Not to mention the YogsCast.

Well, first YouTube torqed me off by removing the delete button. When I’d watched a video, I’d delete it out of my feed so that I’d only see the new videos. They took that away, and now it takes me three times as long to see the new videos.

Then they put in a a “View” option to let you either view “Highlights” or “Everything.” Naturally its default setting was “Highlights.”

Now it’s gone. The interface has rather radically altered, and not for the better.  In fact, those gorram fraktards have made me start looking at Chrome add-ons rather than visiting the site.

What I want out of YouTube is really simple, and they had it just a couple of years ago:

  1. My subscriptions in chronological order.
  2. A button so that I can remove videos from my timeline, either after I’ve viewed them or if I’m disinterested.
  3. A sidebar showing the top ten most-viewed, with a link to a most-viewed page that continues infinitely.
  4. A search function.

That’s it.  Nothing more.  What they have now is insane. The inmates are running the asylum.   Now I have to go look for browser add-ons to see if anybody’s written something to fix YouTube.

Then there’s Facebook. The dimwits have basically made the thing unusable. Up until the last update, it was usable on the Android — not any more.

There’s a reason Facebook’s stock is tanking.  It’s such a useful idea that most people will actually put up with having their names lent to advertising.  However, they’ve screwed up the interface so badly that it’s unusable.

And I’ll be blunt:  the only reason I’m on Google+ is because Facebook simply sucks so bad.  I’m not overly fond of the Google+ interface, but I can live with it.

I will, however, be extremely displeased if they phase out Picasaweb.  That’s frakking useful.  The Photos in Google+ is not appropriate to keeping track of decades worth of family photos.

The real beauty of today’s Internet is the ability of the user to tailor their media input to suite their own tastes. We each individualize our perspective of the Internet.

“My” Internet is that of a geek: aggressive ad-blockers that produce zero ads, pop-ups, or other annoyances. Ever. I haven’t seen an ad in years. My news is half-geeky and half-libertarian. My “TV” and movies are mostly science fiction with some classic shows thrown in. All for free.

“My” Internet is now over 50% mobile, as well, with the remaining 50% very cloud-dependant. My worst bandwidth is 10MB/s.

“Your” Internet is probably very different. The ads alone … great Ghu, I can’t imagine how horrible it must be.

Tailoring your experience is the best thing about the Internet. Google and Facebook need to stop frakking around with that.

“Airport Security” Is Impossible

“Airport Security” Is Impossible
Ohio Scientific C8P-DF

Ohio Scientific Model C8P-DF

As a boy, when my friends and I played Star Trek in the back yard, I was always Spock.  The character held an “A7 computer expert” rating.  When questioned about his qualifications during Kirk‘s court-martial, he testified simply:  “I know all about them.”  He was an expert with a Tricorder, able to extend its functionality using primitive technology.

In 1979 (I was 14 years old), my father purchased his first business computer.  It was a state-of-the-art Ohio Scientific C8P-DF, notable for its dual 8″ floppy drives capable of storing a massive 275K.

I was hooked.

The first computer I owned was the venerable Commodore 64.  Even today, it remains the best-selling personal computer of all time.  It sold over 17 million units and boasted over 10,000 software titles.

Motorola Droid Tricorder App

Android Tricorder App

My current computer of choice is the Motorola Droid.  Aside from scanning for life forms, it embodies all the functions of the Tricorder — and considerably more.

I eventually made my career in computing.  I have touched IBM mainframes, AS/400s, servers, PCs, Macs, laptops, netbooks, blades, virtual machines, iPod/Phone/Pads, Androids, routers, switches, load-balancers, mass storage devices, and firewalls.

With a career in computing comes degrees (I hold both an Associate and Bachelor of Science in Computer Science) and certifications.

One of these is the CISSP or “Certified Information Systems Security Professional.”  I obtained this in the year 2000 — before the tragic events of 9/11.  I might also add that it is the single most difficult exam I’ve ever taken.  No college exam in any subject, nor any other certification, comes close to the difficulty of the CISSP exam.

A typical data center

A typical data center.

While the CISSP is devoted to security as it relates to information systems, a major part deals with physical security as it relates to data centers.  This is important, as today’s data center can hold exabytes of data.

An exabyte is a million terabytes: roughly one million times the amount of data found on modern commercial hard drives.  Indeed, it’s estimated that Google alone processes about 24 petabytes of data every day (only a thousand times the size of commercial hard drives).

Information stored in modern data centers can include everything from your financial and medical history to the blog you’re reading now.  Obviously, one of the jobs of a qualified CISSP is to make sure that no one can simply walk into a data center and access the data storage hardware.

It was while studying the physical security section of the CISSP that I realized that what’s called “airport security” is nothing of the kind.  In fact, “airport security” is simply impossible.

The concept of “airport security” is actually Access Control.  “Access Control” is a catch-all concept that basically boils down to the idea of controlling who can get into a particular area and who can’t.

The reason that access control is impossible in an airport is very, very simple.  The underpinning of all access control is this concept:

Deny access to everyone but a few individuals.

“Airport security” attempts the reverse:

Allow access to everyone but a few individuals.

This is flatly impossible.

No individual, company, military, or government has ever devised a method to allow everyone in but keep a few out.  Every single individual, company, military, or government in existence implements access control by denying access to everyone but a select few.

Imagine, for a moment, that the Secret Service were to emulate “airport security” as regards access control to the President of the United States.  Starting tomorrow, anyone who wanted access to the President could have it and the Secret Service would concentrate on screening out those individuals bent on doing him harm.

The President could count his life expectancy in hours — perhaps only minutes.

The Secret Service handles access control the only way possible:  by establishing a perimeter around the President.  This perimeter denies access to everyone and only allows through a select few that were screened.

Maintaining this perimeter when the President is in public is what causes Secret Service agents to have nightmares.  It’s why entire freeways close when his motorcade passes.  It’s why Air Force One exists instead of the President flying via commercial jet.

Access control in a public place (such as an airport) is by definition impossible.

I’m rather naturally prone to a certain level of paranoia.  It’s part of what makes me good at information security:  I’m willing to imagine that which the average individual will not.  It’s why I’ve engaged in a now 15-year-long series of mental exercises regarding “airport security.”

TSA Porn

This is not “security”.

Since the Oklahoma City Bombing, every time I’ve been in line at “airport security,” I have amused myself imagining ways to subvert it.  Nothing — I repeat, nothing — the Transportation Security Agency has ever put in place would deter me from causing death and destruction if I so desired.  This includes their most recent institution of invasive X-Ray machines and “pat-downs” that would qualify as sexual assault were it to occur anywhere other than airports.

Indeed, I’m absolutely certain that I could smuggle a small-frame revolver onto any aircraft I liked.  I’ll not go into details unless asked, but there is absolutely no barrier to a determined individual doing so if they wish.

Were airports to institute true access control, their makeup would change radically — and in the process violate every one of the Bill of Rights.

The precepts of physical access control rest on three pillars:

  1. Something you have
  2. Something you are
  3. Something you know

Something you have is usually a magnetic key card issued solely to you.  If lost or stolen, it is immediately reported so that it will invalidated and a new one issued.  Magnetic key cards are swiped or held against a scanner that then checks with a computer database to ensure that this key has access to the area being controlled.

Something you are is biometric data, usually hand or fingerprints (though retinal and other biometric information is becoming more common).  The user places their hand on a scanner which then checks it against a computer database to ensure that this hand/fingerprint has access to the area being controlled.  It’s cross-referenced against the key card to ensure that the individual associated with the key card is also the individual associated with the hand/fingerprint.

Something you know is usually a password or PIN that the user changes at regular intervals.  Password rules are typically enforced as well, so as to prevent the user from choosing one that is easily deduced.  This password is also checked against a database and cross-referenced with both the key card and hand/fingerprint to assure that all three are assigned to the same individual.

Let’s imagine an airport where true access control is implemented:

Firstly, freedom of movement would be restricted.  Anyone who wished to travel by air would be required to undergo an extensive background investigation of the kind usually associated with government security clearances.  This is at best a multi-month process involving reams of paperwork in which the passenger would be required to report everything from their blood type to their credit history.

A handprint.

If the individual passed the background investigation, they would then be issued a permanent air access pass.  Their fingerprints, hand prints, and other biometric information would be collected by the TSA and held permanently.  They would be establish a secure password, which they would be required to change every few weeks, regardless of whether they’ve traveled by air or not.

A "secure" airport

A truly secure airport.

Physically, airports would resemble prisons.  At the least they would be surrounded with high fences (optimally concrete) topped with barbed wire.  Optimally, they would be entirely enclosed, save for jetways, aircraft parking slots, and runways.

Passengers would not have access via car, limousine, or public transportation.  Commercial vehicles of any kind would be restricted to parking areas well outside the airport.

A passenger wishing to enter would swipe their permanently issued pass key, place their palm on a hand-reader, and enter their password.  This would allow them physical access to the airport facility, but not allow access to any boarding area or flight.

Diagram of a Man-Trap

Diagram of a man-trap.

The passenger would then enter a man-trap.  This is a hallway containing two doors.  Only one door will open at a time: the entry door are closed before the exit door open.  The interior consists of concrete walls, floor, and ceiling.

At this point, the passenger would be required to surrender their baggage by leaving it in the man-trap.  There would be no carry-on baggage.  It would be placed on a stand resting in front of the only other exit from the man-trap:  a suitcase-sized 6″-thick steel sliding door operated remotely.

Utilizing the pass-key/handprint/password again, the passenger would leave the man-trap.

Baggage Search

Mandatory baggage search.

An operator would then open the baggage door and baggage would be transported via conveyor to inspectors.  The inspectors would then subject it to a rigorous manual search prior to tagging it with a radio sensor for tracking and appropriate routing.

Meanwhile, the passenger would proceed to the boarding area for their flight, again utilizing the key card, hand/fingerprint, and password to enter the boarding area.  The system would allow entry only to the boarding area of the flight for which the passenger is booked.

When boarding the flight, the passenger would enter the jetway via the same method.  The jetway, however, would be another man-trap, allowing only a single passenger at a time.  Entry to the aircraft would be accomplished using the key card, hand/fingerprint and password.

The same methods would then be used at the passenger’s destination, in reverse.

That would be airport security.

Understand that anyone with training in access control knows that it is impossible to secure a public place.  Every officer in every military in every country knows it.  Every Secret Service agent knows it.  Every FBI or CIA agent knows it.

Every TSA agent knows it.

What is occurring now, with naked x-rays and pat-down-rapes provides absolutely no barrier to terrorists.  Every single individual who has ever had experience with true access control knows this, and that includes every President, Vice-President, Speaker of the House, Congressman, and Senator.

What, then, is the purpose of “airport security” if not to provide a barrier to terrorists?

It’s two-fold:

Firstly, the overwhelming majority of individuals in the United States has no experience with true access control.  Their experience is limited to their workplace, which may issue a magnetic key card.  By itself, a key card offers very limited security, but in the workplace, it’s typically adequate.

After 9/11, passengers realized that airports could be accessed by terrorists and demanded the Federal Government “do something.”  Since there is no way to implement access control at a public place, those in power chose to use the event to establish procedures that offer no barrier to terrorists — but that are mistaken as such by the general public.

Over the next decade, these procedures became increasingly draconian, to the point where we are today:  airports that afford easy access to terrorists while only violating the rights of all passengers in the process.

The second (perhaps unintentional) purpose of “airport security” is far more dangerous and sinister than simply making passengers feel safer:

It has conditioned almost an entire generation of Americans that their rights are taken from them any time government claims it’s for the “common good.”

In short:  it has conditioned us to be sheep.

Is there a solution to the problem of terrorists having access to aircraft?  Indeed there is, and it can be implemented without resorting to the means described above.  It costs nothing, and in fact will allow the TSA to be disbanded and all “airport security” to be torn down.

The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights

The solution is simple:  enforce the Bill of Rights on aircraft.

That is, instead of making sure that every passenger is disarmed, degraded, and treated like criminals, simply allow the Second Amendment to be exercised by anyone who cares to do so.

There is, after all, no wording in the Second Amendment that says “unless the Federal Government says otherwise.”

I’m sure there are readers who will find this an alarming solution, but consider:

Until 1978, any passenger could board any aircraft in America with any form of firearm.

You read that right:  from 1903 until 1978 — a period of 74 years — any American could board any aircraft carrying any weapon of his/her choice.  Knives, handguns, and rifles were permitted; either concealed, carried openly, or packed in a briefcase.

For almost a three-quarters of a century, not a single individual was shot, nor a single cabin depressurized by a stray bullet, nor a single aircraft flown into a building.

It’s true that aircraft were occasionally hijacked.  It should be noted that their success depended on the Federal Aviation Administration’s policy of complying with a hijacker’s demands.

In a post-9/11 world, no would-be terrorist would successfully hijack a plane filled with armed passengers.  They would simply overwhelm the terrorist, even if it meant injury or death to some passengers in the process.

The alternative — another 9/11 or worse — would be unthinkable to armed passengers.

Indeed, there is ample evidence that were aircraft filled with individuals capable of defending themselves with lethal force, a would-be terrorist wouldn’t even make the attempt.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll leave you with the immortal contribution to this subject by the fantastic Scott Beiser.  Even if you place guns in the hands of the would-be terrorists, it makes no difference.

Scott Bieser September 11 Cartoon

What might have happened on 9/11 if this were truly the “Land of the Free”

Mystery Missile Is No Mystery

Mystery Missile Is a Contrail

I’m willing to say without any fear of being eventually disproven:

This is a contrail.

I like to a site below that explains this, but I’ll explain why I’m convinced it’s a contrail:

First, you need to do what I did when you watch this video, which is mute it and ignore the words on the screen. Ignore all the video accompanying it and just watch the footage of the object.

The first thing you notice is that even in 720p, you’re seeing an extreme digital zoom. The image is too pixelated to make out details.

The second thing you notice is … well … it looks exactly like a contrail seen at dusk on the Upper Great Plains, the kind that criss-cross our skies all day long.

We have jet traffic passing overhead at 30K feet all day and all night long. It comes from O’Hare, LAX, NYC, Canada, Texas, everywhere. Sometimes our skies look like a gridwork of parallel and perpendicular lines.

On a clear day in the Upper Great Plains, you really can see to 30K feet and above. Sometimes the sky is so clear you can actually see the glint of the aircraft at the head of the contrail. If the aircraft is at 10K feet or so, you can make out the details of the wings, lights if they’re on, etc.

What we have here is a contrail.

The reason it looks as though it’s going up with its trail billowing behind it is this:

It’s approaching the viewer. The aircraft is at the head of the contrail heading roughly east at about 30K feet. The contrail is behind it, trailing west. The contrail is spreading out and being blown somewhat south by high-altitude winds.

My guess is that the passengers or cargo of the aircraft were probably experiencing some chop from the winds.

I see these things all day. Seriously.

The color is because it’s early evening and the sun is giving a slight reddish tint to the clouds and the contrail.

I have, for almost 46 years, looked up in the sky every day and every night wishing I could boldly go where no man has gone before.

Consequently, I’ve seen a ton of contrails. 😉

You have to understand that apparently, most people just don’t look up very much.

Let me give you an example of why I’m sure that CBS News is a bunch of morons:

In 1991, I took a 100-level astronomy course that met at about 11am. The instructor asked the class if the Moon was ever visible during the day.

The class (with myself being the only exception) agreed that the Moon was never visible in daytime. Indeed, they maintained that the Moon was always on the opposite side of the planet during the day.

The instructor took the class outside and pointed to the clearly-visible moon.

These kids were all 18-20 years old, from suburban Chicago — and had never looked up during the day and noticed the moon.

Similarly, this CBS cameraman had never seen a contrail like this before.

Our news agencies are simply filled with lazy ignorami who don’t know a jet when they see one.

This doesn’t surprise me having debunked no less than three major stories of theirs in one week.

The other two were that Obama took a 11% of the US Navy to India (including an aircraft carrier) and that Jakarta was sending 25% of their cops to guard him while in the city.

In those cases, both were easily debunked. In the first case, I could prove it from easily-Google-able public records. 11% of the US Navy is neither concentrated in the Indian Ocean, nor anywhere else. Further, Jakarta (a city of nine million) could no more afford to throw 25% of their cops at Obama than could the NYPD.

These people are ignorami who no longer perform any verification of any stories. Indeed, the Onion News Network really is probably as accurate as the American press.

Here’s the link:

As they said in Fantastic Four:

“Now imagine that — but everywhere.”

That’s the skies in the Upper Great Plains.

It’s just a contrail, and CBS News are a bunch of ignorami trying to find news all day long and never, ever fact-checking it.

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