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Journal Journal: Chances of being killed by police in the USA

So 104 people were killed by police in the USA during August, 2014. To my eyes, that's an absolutely enormous figure. As a Brit, I compare it to the 1 person killed over 3 years by the UK police. Yes, they're two different countries, yes there's a lot more people in the US, yes they have different cultures, yadda yadda yadda; people are dying here.

Let's do some maths:

  • Population of the USA: 319 million (source:
  • Percentage chance for a person to be shot in August is then: (104 x 100%) / 319,000,000 = 0.000033%

That's a scarily huge percentage, given that it's normalised by population. Bear in mind that police in the USA are not ... shy ... at shooting at suspects, and neither are they 100% accurate. Some of the casualties are in fact bystanders.

Now let's consider extrapolating for the period of time that most shootings occur (i.e.: suspect between the ages of 15 and 40), and see how that changes things:

  • Chance to be shot over 25 year period = (104 x 12 x 25 x 100%) / 319,000,000 = 0.0097%
  • Rounding that, since this is an extrapolation, we get 0.01%

Now that's an amazingly large percentage chance of being shot dead by a policeman. Let's do the same thing for the UK:

  • Population of the UK: 65 million (source:
  • Percentage chance for a person to be shot over last 3 years is then: (1 x 100%) / 65,000,000 = 0.0000015%
  • Therefore percentage chance for a person to be shot in August 2014 is 0.0000015 / 12 / 3 = 0.0000000427%
  • Therefore percentage chance to be shot over 25 year period is 0.0000000427 x 12 x 25 = 0.0000128%

Compare 0.01% and 0.00001% and remember these are normalised by population. Yeah.

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Journal Journal: Dude, where's my comments? 4

Posted a few comments on this Ask Slashdot article yesterday. Come back, and they've disappeared. They've not been deleted - I can still access them, from the recent comments area of my profile - and they've not been downmodded either. Not a Beta issue, as I'm not currently on it.


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Journal Journal: When Did 'Beta' Become A Dirty Word On /. ? 5

Just spotted that people are stuffing comments into various stories here for the sole purpose of complaining about the /. Beta.

Maybe it's because I only occasionally visit here, but are people really that hung up on the current design?

Hell, I can remember when /. didn't even bother with any testing, period, just shoved changes straight onto the production servers. Fun times. (Not)

Having looked at the Beta, it seems to me a damn sight cleaner that some news sites I can think of*. Ok, the comment view controls could use some refining, but that's the whole point of beta-testing, right?

(*I still have nightmares about pre-2000s ZDNet. Makes the current design look almost pleasant by comparison.)

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Journal Journal: Hord Tipton of Talks About Getting into the IT Security Field (Video)

IT Security is an ever-growing field. Every year more hackers and crackers try to steal you bank PIN number, mess up your nuclear fuel centrifuges, jam your attack dronesâ(TM) control signals, steal your company passwords an other secrets andâ¦. it goes on and on, to the point where, Hord says, over two million (2,000,000) new IT security people will be needed in the next few years. Should you be one of them? Do you have the skills to be one of them? If not, can you acquire those skills? Read the rest and see the video

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Journal Journal: Another good use for the Checkpoint Flyer and Super Ego

Earlier this month, I was at CES, looking at cool gadgets and shooting some video for Slashdot, and last week I did the same in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show. Since shooting video is something I'm (let's be kind) inexperienced at, esp. with camera-attached doodads (mixer, shotgun mic, lav mic, tripod), this got a bit awkward at times.

I tried a few different bag configurations on the CES show floor. What I finally settled on was this: In my conventional-looking (but Li-Ion battery-equipped!) PowerBag backpack, I carried very little -- basically, my laptop, some food, and whatever paper goods I picked up in the course of the show, like brochures, etc. For almost everything else, I had my Checkpoint Flyer, sans removable laptop case.*

- Mic packs (one receiver, one transmitter), mics (lavalier, handheld, shotgun) and mixer (and a few associated cords) went into the larger outer pocket
- flexible tripod (a Gorillapod knockoff from Vivitar) stuck, with one leg out, in the flexible side pocket
- camera, well padded, in the central portion; I kept its hotshoe mic-mount attached.
- headphone case fit in the smaller of the outer pockets (one of my favorite uses for that pocket!)
- spare batteries, SD card in the flat inner pockets
- notepaper and such in the large (magazine) pocket; gum and pens in the smaller (boarding pass) one.
(This list is not exhaustive; I was carrying wallet and other small things not here accounted for.)

I realized toward the end that the extra attachment points (sorry, custom work -- thanks, Tom! You really should put them on every Flyer ... ) I have on the Checkpoint Flyer mean I could have attached some other things on the outside, in pouches, if I'd thought to bring pouches of the right size.

In Detroit, I did not carry around the backpack, and I switched from the Checkpoint Flyer to my Super Ego. The Super Ego is bigger, but I'm not sure it was actually any better as a video bag, because it lacks the nice top-zipping outer pockets on the Checkpoint Flyer, and it's not quite as easy to swing easily through a crowd. It still worked well for my purpose, though; I could put the camera away quickly in the central storage space when I wanted to have both hands free, and I stashed most cables and mics in the two outer pockets. (No room for the shotgun mic this way, though, so that went in with the camera itself.)

Upshot: Though neither is a specialized video bag (and I felt it at moments), both the Flyer and the Super Ego did a great job as impromptu production assistants ;)

* Why not carry the laptop there? Because I was carrying a laptop too big for the inner case I have. That's why. Why carry the laptop at all? Because I needed it as a middleman to transfer files from my camera to the guy who put them into a watchable form, from the show's press room.

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Journal Journal: SWTOR

Anyone else enjoying SWTOR as much as I am?

Sith Inquisitor, Sorcerer Heals... the whole game is just amazingly fun.

And no pandas to be seen, at least in the immediate future.

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Journal Journal: in which i am a noob all over again 17

I haven't posted a journal here in almost three years, because I couldn't find the button to start a new entry. ...yeah, it turns out that it's at the bottom of the page.

So... hi, Slashdot. I used to be really active here, but now I mostly lurk and read. I've missed you.

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Journal Journal: A Cure Worse than the Disease: Amending the Constitution vs. Citizens United

Recently a set of six senators have proposed a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the controversial Supreme Court case of Citizens United v. FEC which held that corporations were allowed to make unlimited expenditures with regard to elections provided that those were independent expenditures, not coordinated with candidates.

The Citizens United case overturned two previous Supreme Court cases, McConnel v. FEC (which was a case the court evidently had trouble drawing lines over given the fact that 9 justices produced 8 opinions, and pieces of four of the opinions commanded a majority of the court), and Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Some First Amendment scholars from across the political spectrum have hailed the decision. For example Eugene Volokh, a Republican, has generally felt this was an important protection of Constitutional liberties, and the ACLU played an important role in filing amicus briefs in favor of Citizens United, and has been very much in favor of the decision. Others have seen it as an open invitation to Corporations to meddle in politics.

Before we get into the Constitutional Amendment and why everyone, on both sides of this issue, should be opposed to it, it's worth noting that the questions of first amendment law in election finance cases seeks to balance two competing interests. The first is to ensure that the people can write and publish on political topics surrounding an election, and the second is to ensure the integrity of the elections. Citizens United draws this line by saying that independent expenditures are different from coordinated expenditures (5-4 holding, but the dissent didn't offer an alternative except to wait for another case), and that disclosure laws were entirely Constitutional (8-1 holding). The fundamental problem is that while money is not speech, regulating how people can spend money in order to express themselves regulates a lot of speech. The court correctly noted that the Constitution didn't differentiate between, say, the New York Times and, say, Merke, and therefore, couldn't grant the government the ability to ban Merke from buying television ads without banning the New York Times' right to print editorials in favor or opposed to candidates.

Indeed the concern over freedom of the press was at the core of Citizens United. Surely when Alito asked S. G. Malcolm Stewart if the government could Constitutionally ban books, he had no idea that the only answer S. G. Stewart could give would be "yes" (an answer repeated by S. G. Kagan at rehearing, see the same link above for all oral argument), and hence a question probably intended to address an issue of statutory interpretation set the stage for a Constitutional showdown. To be fair, both Stewart and Kagan tried very hard to avoid giving that answer but both were unable to come up with any alternative that would save the law as written, because the Supreme Court tends to err more on the side of facial challenges (striking down laws) than as-applied challenges (mandating exceptions) when it comes to freedom of expression. The dissent felt the correct decision was to say, in essence, "we don't have sufficient record to make this decision. Declare it as moot and let them bring another case to us through the courts."

Citizens United was hailed as a major First Amendment victory by the ACLU, and many other organizations which work on First Amendment issues, and by major First Amendment scholars such as Eugene Volokh. However, many others have seen it as a doorway to corporate tampering with our elections.

However, for any controversy, there are solutions that are far worse than the cure. This is one of them. The relevant portion of the proposed Amendment is:

SECTION1. Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits onâ" ...
(2) the amount of expenditures that may be made by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.

The omitted paragraph 1 allows the government to regulate gifts and donations to candidates, something already within the power of the government. Section 2 grants identical powers to the states.

Now, it's important to note what is covered under Section 1 paragraph 2. In essence any money spent communicating a message on an election for or against a candidate in any way falls under government power. Presumably this could include purchasing gas to go to a rally, publishing pamphlets, buying Obama's books to give to undecided friends in 2012..... These are all independent expenditures and could fall under government regulation under such an amendment. And nowhere in the amendment does the word 'corporation' appear.

In essence the proposed amendment is that we trust to Congress the ability to arbitrarily limit the freedom of the press not only by corporations but also by natural persons. Such an amendment would prevent a first amendment challenge to some laws already on the books (say, a foreigner here on a student visa publishes a blog posting on a site that he/she pays for hosting on opposing an anti-immigrant candidate. This is already against the text of campaign finance law, but would probably allow either an as-applied or facial challenge to the law even before Citizens United but that would be taken away).

This proposed Constitutional Amendment then goes well beyond repealing Citizens United in that it takes away Constitutional protections that each of us enjoy.

Now, the subject of independent expenditures is a controversial one. However, given that only defenders of Citizens United have offered any data defending their side, I am forced to at least tentatively conclude that the ACLU is right on this one. However for the purpose of the rest of this post, I will assume that this is a serious problem and offer recommendations for changing this proposed amendment so that it does not strip us all of fundamental Constitutional rights.

If the problem is a concentration of power over spending in our elections, it seems to me unwise to further concentrate that power in the hands of the state. Instead it would seem to me that granting power to Congress to curb the worst abuses only, while preserving the power of the common man would be preferable. In this case, if the problem is specifically corporate spending, then allow Congress to limit Expenditures, not part of profit-making goods and services offered at standard prices, on the parts of for-profit corporations only. This would be sufficiently broad enough to ban Corporate donations to Citizens United and the ACLU, but not sufficiently broad to regulate what fliers and pamphlets you or I can print to distribute. It would allow Congress to prevent Corporations from offering special discounts for such material, but would not prevent them from offering standard discounts (such as volume discounts available to everyone else).

In the end, it's easy to get whipped up into a frenzy and believe that because we must do something that this must be done. This is unfortunately common. We see on the other side of our politics, amendments to state Constitutions which forbid state judges from using foreign laws to inform decisions, forgetting that in international contracts or other cases where conflict of laws issues may come up, these foreign laws are extremely relevant to the cases. Like this present proposal, the problem is with being overbroad, and therefore causing a great deal of harm to our basic freedoms in the name of solving problems.

Every American should be opposed to this amendment. Those who oppose Citizens United and seek to overturn it should insist that the amendment to do so be narrow. Those who support it should listen to the others but make sure their concerns are addressed.


Journal Journal: LedgerSMB 1.3.0 -- Why it's cool

LedgerSMB 1.3.0 was released today after several years of development (perhaps nearly joining the ranks of Perl 6 and Duke Nukem Forever). The release offers a number of compelling features, such as separation of duties, far improved payment handling, better cash reconciliation and the like. But what makes LedgerSMB 1.3.0 cool is how we are pushing the envelope technically and attempting to provide a framework for quickly building new programs which re-use our application's functionality.

Simply put, the cool approach we are taking is in making stored procedures discoverable, much like web services. This is done by assigning semantic meaning to argument names, and then using a mapping function to pull argument names from the system catalogs, mapping these to object properties. This offers many of the benefits of web services, such as offering a looser coupling between database and application layers than is traditional, and it facilitates the development of add-ons or even other applications which re-use LedgerSMB functionality.

One key element to making this work is the principle that the database in such an environment should be the centerpiece of the computing environment rather than the bottom tier of a multi-tier architecture. Thus every application user is a database user, the database itself enforces permissions, and can act not only as a data store but also a message queue, possibly routing data to other applications (via queue tables and PostgreSQL's LISTEN/NOTIFY framework). In essence the database does everything that could be done with set functions.

Of course the database doesn't do everything. We don't hand it raw http query strings, or have it output HTML documents assembled from data inside the database. This is the job of the application layer, which is to manage the interaction with the human component. Separating this role off, then allows for more diversity in usage in the future. We are thus no longer tied to a web interface for the long-run, and could allow other client apps to be built on our software in the mean time, all sharing a common security and data logic framework.

In this regard, PostgreSQL takes on traditional middleware roles in LedgerSMB from 1.3 onward. This isn't to say it is an application server in the classical sense, but rather that it takes on many roles of application servers. We've found this approach to be quite scalable because hand-tuned SQL generally performs better (and is easier to troubleshoot) than ORM-generated SQL statements, and yet of course much business logic is not in the db server at all but rather in the application which provides the interface between the db server and the user interface, whatever that may be.

Work has already begun on 1.4 to take this approach to an even higher level, as we re-engineer the financial logic to make use of this approach.

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Journal Journal: Suggestion for 8

It would be nice to have the karma scores on each reply to your posts here, so that you can get a sense if replies are worth reading. Also it would be really nice to have a link to on the masthead.

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"Your stupidity, Allen, is simply not up to par." -- Dave Mack (mack@inco.UUCP) "Yours is." -- Allen Gwinn (, in alt.flame