Category Archives: *not* impressed

Why I can’t vote for Hillary

I recently got a well-meaning email from a friend, exhorting me to vote for Hillary in the upcoming election. Sadly, I cannot, in good conscience, oblige him. Why? Let me count the ways:

1: Too many questions

  • Her conduct regarding the Benghazi situation — It appears that she was unable/unwilling or unavailable to authorize reinforcements and as a result, four Americans died. Then she blamed it on a video.
  • The Email scandal: There is nothing wrong with using a separate email address for strictly personal content. However, the fact that she was discussing Government business using her private email is negligent at best. At worst, it is treason.
  • Potential health issues: She has been seen falling over, collapsing and having a seizure in public. She passed out on 9/11, initially claiming that she was “overheated” (it was early in the day, not that hot, and she was the only one in the crowd who passed out). Then she claimed that she had Pneumonia, a claim that, if true, means that she has no respect for the health and well-being of others. The fact that she refuses to give clear answers to questions and refuses to even discuss her health until after the election is alarming
  • Allegations of corruption/Financial irregularities: People donate to the Clinton Foundation, then later get appointed ambassador later in the same day. Coincidence? I choose to believe otherwise.

I do not dispute that one of more of these bones of contention may not be valid, but there are too many of them to ignore.

2: Abysmal track record

For someone who has walked the corridors of power for 26 years (First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State), she has a poor record for original thought or real change. But if you vote for her, everything will be just fine. Right…

3: Nothing New

I’ve said before that Elections are not won, they are lost. Gore lost in 2000 (yes, he lost, get over it) because of Bill Clinton. Kerry Lost in 2004 because people who knew him doubted his fitness to command. McCain lost in 2008 because he couldn’t prove that he wasn’t George W. Bush. Romney lost in 2012 because he wasn’t offering anything new. Ironically, Barack Obama offered “Hope and Change” and… well… he disappointed us. The only question in my mind is whether Hillary’s presidency will be Bill Clinton’s Third Term or Barack Obama’s.

4: Too much media bias

The media’s pro-Hillary stance is obvious and palpable. In their minds, She can do no wrong, and her opponent can do nothing right. The mass media are even refusing to ask the hard questions about her health. This is hardly surprising, as the oligarchs who own the media are the same ones who have bought and paid for all of the candidates on both sides of the aisle… with one notable exception.
There is also evidence that Twitter and Google are censoring Dissenting voices, but only those on the right. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is Milo Yiannopolous, about whom I have already posted. A more recent example is the sad case of David Seaman, a liberal journalist, who was fired from and erased from the Huffington Post for daring to ask questions about Hillary’s health. This is the very definition of the “Useful Idiot” described by Stalin. The trouble with Useful Idiots is that once they realize that they become disillusioned and realize that they have been duped, they become your most dangerous enemies.

Boldly going… nowhere

Star Trek: Beyond Review

I am an old-time star Trek fan. My childhood was filled with re-runs of the original series (Kirk, Spock, Bones and the ever-expendableEnsign Ricky Redshirt), and I grew up “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. So I decided to pay out good money to see “Star Trek Beyond” (shouldn’t there be a semi-colon in there somewhere?) in the theater.

Beyond Star Trek

I can’t say that I was that impressed. Star Trek was all about the future of humanity. About Optimism. About where we are headed. And if this is where we are headed, then the future looks disappointing indeed. The Star Trek universe used to be filled with adventurers, and explorers, and feats of derring-do. Aside from the few “hero” characters in the movie, most of the crew and almost all civilians have become hedonistic sheep, wandering about, having a good time, and doing the 24th-century equivalent of staring at their iPhones every thirty seconds. It is no surprise that the Bridge of the Enterprise looks a lot like an Apple store.

Having said all that, this is a great action movie, and a fun enough romp for grown-ups. But it is not really a Star Trek movie: there are more fistfights than starship battles, and the philosophical moments resemble an infomercial for a “let’s-all-be-friends” brand of pacifistic globalism. The stunts are “oh-come-on” unrealistic, and the characters are “oh-come-on” invincible. And Dr McCoy still has a potty mouth. Physician, heal thyself.

Perhaps the most poignant moment for me was right at the end. This movie was dedicated to Leonard Nimoy – the original Spock – who passed away earlier this year, and “For Anton“, which I later found out was Anton Yelchin, the actor who played Ensign Pavel “Wictor-Wictor” Chekhov, who died in an accident shortly after the movie was completed. Chekhov, the word is given. Warp Speed.

The Final Final Frontier

The Star Trek reboot has been a jolly enough jape, but at fifty years of age, it is time to put the franchise out to pasture. I don’t think that I will be seeing another Star Trek movie, and I will be avoiding Paramount in future. Not only because this movie fails to live up to the true spirit of Star Trek, but because the Executives at Paramount have gone back on the creator’s word. Gene Roddenberry used to say that “Star Trek belongs to the fans“; he welcomed Fan fiction. But Paramount recently issued a directive that said, among other things, that Fan films should not be more than fifteen minutes in length, and cannot include any known Star Trek actors), and their suing of the creators of the fan film “Star Trek: Axanar” has left a bad taste in my mouth.

And for that reason, if nothing else, I regret seeing “Star Trek Beyond”

 

 

 

Vega Conflict: Finding the Pattern

For the past week or so I have been farming the new Level-60 Iron Star Deserter Supply Run fleets. They come in 5 flavors that yield boxes for Iron Star ships: Hunters (Python Cutter), Raiders (Heretic Cruiser), Battalion (Vigilante Battleship), Artillery (Machete Destroyer) and Scouts (Hurricane Frigate).

Although the fleets are technically different, they are actually precisely the same, consisting of four Python Cutters, Two Vigilante Battleships, Two Machete Destroyers and one Freyja Carrier. Various strategies exist to crush these fleets, and I have my own; you are welcome to peek into my battles and see how I do it. I can usually farm an entire hour-long supply run usually without losing a ship (the Cutters are the only real challenge, the rest is easy to kite), followed by a 1-6 hour repair cycle.

Any road up, the subject of this post is neither the makeup of the enemy fleet nor the strategy required to defeat it; my purpose here is to examine the “prizes” contained in the boxes.

Screenshot_2016-08-25-19-08-37Each box contains:

  1. Either a Tier-5 core, a Tier-4 core (I wish Kixeye wouldn’t give out sub-standard cores!) or a pattern (Mk II, III, IV or V)
  2. Ship Parts
  3. Iron Star Armaments

To mark up a single Hurricane Frigate to Mk V, you need:

  • 2048-2560+3200+4000=6688 Iron Star Armaments
  • 10+30+90+270=400 Hurricane Frigate Parts
  • 5+5+5+5=20 Tier-5 Frigate Cores
  • One each of Mk II, Mk III, Mk IV and Mk V Patterns

So, how much farming would that entail?

As an experiment, I collected a whole lot of Hurricane Boxes. When I opened them, I got the following results:

Screenshot_2016-08-25-19-09-08Screenshot_2016-08-26-04-10-12Screenshot_2016-08-26-22-07-48

This means that after after opening a total of 49 Hurricane boxes, I got:

  • Countless Iron Star Armaments (once so hard to find, now as common as muck)
  • 150+42+102=294 Hurricane Frigate Parts
  • 10+1=11 Tier-5 Frigate Cores
  • 13+4+12=29 Tier-4 Frigate Cores
  • 8 Mk II Hurricane Patterns
  • 1 Mk III Hurricane Patterns
  • NO Mk IV Hurricane Patterns
  • NO Mk V Hurricane Patterns

What does this tell us?

  • Tier-4 Cores (useless) outnumber Tier-5 (the ones you really want) by about six-to-one
  • Only one in four drops contain a Pattern.
  • Most of those patterns are Mk II.
  • You will have to farm fifty fleets to get one ship to Mk III
  • Mk IV and V? Forget it.
  • It is almost like Kixeye wants us to spend coins to get the pattern boxes ($4 per ship to get all four patterns)

Dear Kixeye, stop giving with one hand and taking with the other. Stop giving out sub-standard cores and stop playing silly buggers with the higher level patterns!

Hobson’s Choice

An oldie but a goodie: I no longer have the phone but I found this screenshot:

Screenshot_2014-01-07-07-39-47

So where’s the “Cancel” Button?

SSA? SOL!

Or: When Security Isn’t.

I recently got an email from the good folks at the Social Security Administration (SSA). They have added a feature that requires you to type in a Security code that they text to your phone every time you want to log in to your “My Social Security” account.

SSA SOL

On the face of it, this sounds like a good thing. But it isn’t. Let me count the ways…

  1. Texts are inherently insecure. They can be read by your network operator and phone provider. Due to the sheer number of texts passing through the system, this is not such a problem when a one-off secret is transmitted via text (say to validate a new device), but requiring this every time you want to log in is ridiculous.
  2. Not everyone has free texts. In order to keep my unlimited data plan (Thanks Verizon!) I have to pay for every text I send or receive. As a result I have texts disabled and use data-based chat apps (like Signal and Threema) to text with friends and family. This means that I cannot use any text-based system.
  3. It’s a cheap solution. Texting codes is not security done right, it is security done cheap. There are better ways to do this; one is to use a code generator like Google Authenticator. Another is to use a hardware token like a Yubikey.
  4. You have no choice: “If you do not have a text-enabled cell phone or you do not wish to provide your cell phone number, you will not be able to access your my Social Security account.” Translation: Do it our way or leave. Email or voice notification would work fine… but they aren’t offered.

Only the Government could get away with something like this; any private organization that had such a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude would soon find themselves shuttered. Some other options would be a good idea. Even the option to eschew two-factor authentication entirely is a valid choice if the user is advised of the risks.

Where’s the “Give-me-my-money-back” button?

Light Bulb Moment

20140507_191008

May 2014

 

October 2015

October 2015

 

Microsoft breaks Hotmail. Again.

As they are wont to do from time to time, Microsoft made a change to its Hotmail web email service today. As part of their never-ending quest to make all of their products look like all of their other products, they completely overhauled the UI. Again.

This would not be an issue if not for the fact that this change also broke all Android apps that access Hotmail, Including Microsoft’s own Hotmail App.

This is hardly surprising, the app has been deprecated for over a year. In 2013 they released a version that claimed to have “minor bug fixes” but broke the application entirely, replacing it with one button exhorting the user to “upgrade”. Only the upgrade was a completely different application — the Outlook app — which starts its life by staging a a blatant and brazen attempt to scarf all of your contact data.

This ‘upgrade” is different. More than just cosmetic, it replaces the web UI — yet again — with something that looks awful, and is slow and prone to barfing (throwing random errors) at every opportunity. It also finally puts a final nail in the coffin of the long-deprecated-but-still-functional Hotmail App, along with every other application that checks your email.

Smart move, Microsoft.

Open letter to Verizon: It’s *my* phone

Dear Verizon

I have had a love-hate relationship with you for well over a decade.#In that time I have gone through several varieties of flip phones and two smart phones — and am about to move to my third. I have found your service to be first-rate — I can drive from my house to Florida, a journey of nearly a thousand miles — without losing voice or data connectivity. Bravo.

When I started with you many years ago, I found you to be both reasonable and proactive. Your Customer Service was matchless; when you made a billing error on your favor, you refunded me twice the difference. I have not seen that before or since. Bravo.

However, my recent experiences with you have left me wondering if you are suffering from some form of corporate form of megalomania.

My first Smartphone was a Motorola Droid X2. I had opted for an Android-powered phone as I knew that Android was an “open” system. Unlike most others, which are shrouded in secrecy, the Android Operating System is “open-source” which means that the source code for the operating system was freely available for download, which means that members of the public can access the source code and “roll their own” operating systems — and before long, communities of folks appeared on the internet who love to do just that. As a tinkerer, this appealed to me. As a consumer, I saw that this made it possible to extend the life of a phone beyond the date at which the manufacturer will support it.

This was particularly important in the case of the Droid X2: while on paper, this was an excellent piece of kit (it was one of the earliest phones to have a dual-core processor), it suffered from reliability/heat problems. One of its favorite party pieces was to freeze/lock-up/reboot while on the road while I was using it for navigation.#Being the adventurous type, I looked around for the solution to this problem, and I found it in the form of “rooting”. I have already written on this subject of rooting, so I will not bore you with the details. Any road up, with a little research, a lot of reading and a bit of work, I was able to “root” the phone and disable or remove unnecessary software. This made the phone run faster, more reliably and with less overheating and fewer freezes.

But time marches on, and so does Android; The phone went through several updates, from Android version 2.2 (“Froyo”) to 2.3.5 (“Gingerbred). Like all Android updated, these changes originated from Google, but went through you before they got to your phone. And you could not resist the temptation to add little “gifts” in the form of “security enhancements” — and it seems that the removal of root access was always at the top of your list. As a result, every time an Over-The-Air update (“OTA”) became available, I had to avoid, delay or turn off the update mechanism until some bright spark could figure out if this update broke root, and how to get the useful Android updates that I wanted without losing the control of the phone that I had worked so hard to obtain.

Time went by, and I outgrew the DX2; it was no longer man enough for some of the tasks that it was being called upon to perform. So I upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S3. This one started at Android 4.0.4 (“Ice Cream Sandwich”), and this time you saw fit to “lock” the bootloader in an attempt to prevent S3 owners like me from actually doing what they wanted with their phones. But thanks to some innovative hackery, the bootloader was speedily unlocked, and the phone was liberated from your shackles. Naturally, I rooted it right out of the box. Further updates came — Android 4.3 (“Jellybean”) and 4.4 (“Kitkat”), and at every turn you kept finding new and innovative ways to lock down my phone and make it ever more unhackable — all in the name of “security”.

Eventually I tired of fighting with your destructive updates and installed a Custom ROM. Yes, you don’t approve. I get that. Yes, that means that you won’t support it; I guess that’s the price of freedom.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 is now three years old, and one of the best-selling Android phones in history. But time marches on, and newer, faster phones have become available. I just purchased a used S4, and this will be my third smartphone. It will be placed into service in a few weeks, as soon as:

  1. I have a case for it, and
  2. I have found way to root it and remove all of your shovelware.

I am not your typical user. I understand that 99% of your user base neither need nor want rooted phones; I get that. For the majority of users, rooting is giving them more power than they need. And I understand that your Customer Support folks do not want to deal with a thousand hacked variants of every phone on the market. It is not unrealistic to insist that these phones be tamper-proofed while under warranty, and it is not unreasonable to deny support for tampered phones if the tampering is the cause of the problem. I get that. But this is a problem that can be solved to everyone’s satisfaction.

This is not without precedent. Until recently, you, like all cell phone carriers, locked your phones to prevent them from being connected to other carriers; nobody wanted to be the first to find their phones being connected to competing services. But Congress has recently ruled that all cell phone companies should unlock phones on demand. This has the effect of making phones more useful and extending their lives, rather then becoming expensive doorstops.

Yours is the only major cellphone company in the world that goes to such extraordinary lengths to lock down your phones. For the vast majority of your users, this is understandable, but for the 1% of technically competent users who wish to exercise control of their phones at the expense of warranty support, you should allow unlocking of bootloaders and allow those of us who wish to tinker with our phones the freedom to do so.

After all. It’s my phone.

The Smell of Desperation

I recently had occasion to rent a car at a nearby car rental establishment. I noticed something in a corner of the contract that I had never seen before:

20150807_142152

When I asked about this, I was told that this was new; they were instructed that if the customer had recently arrived by plane, they would have to charge them an airport tax, as if they had rented the car at the airport location. Since it is the state, not the rental company, that profits from these taxes, we can safely assume that this was the Government’s doing.

The logic behind this “new tax” is tenuous indeed. I had always thought that Airport taxes were charged at airport locations, and whether or not you just got off a plane was irrelevant. Apparently I was mistaken. So by this logic, if I drive to the airport and rent a car there, I should not have to pay airport taxes, since I did not just get off a plane. Somehow, I doubt that I would get out of paying that tax.

You can almost smell the State’s desperation to find some new untapped stream of revenue. I can just imagine some bright spark in Frankfort probably said something like “Hey, sometimes people fly in and rent cars elsewhere to get out of paying airport tax! We need to do something about this!“. Oh no you don’t: Last time I looked, tax avoidance was not the same as tax evasion, and it was completely legal.

So this is not an extension of an existing tax, this is a new tax – and one that the prospective purchaser can avoid paying by simply initialing “True“.

Given that this it a tax that can be easily avoided by lying, I wonder how much additional revenue it will generate?

Godless and Kingsley

Hollywood, it appears, has an aversion to God. Or originality. Or both.

The Smart Money refused to have anything to do with Mel Gibson, only to find itself flummoxed by the runaway success of “The Passion of the Christ”. Since then there have been many “Christian” movies to grace our screens lately. including offerings such as Fireproof (not impressed), Courageous (Very good) and God’s not Dead (OK, but faintly nonsensical in places). Most of these were small/medium budget movies, and all made a health profit at the box office.

I recently had occasion to watch “Exodus: Gods and Kings”. This film billed itself as a fictionalized account of the Book of Exodus, but it took a lot of liberties with scriptures that are considered fundamental to three of the world’s major religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam:

  • Moses was reputedly about eighty years old when he returned to Egypt to liberate the children of Israel. The Directors chose to cast him as a young man.
  • Moses’ brother Aaron, who acts as the speaker for the reticent Moses, is not mentioned at all.
  • The producers went to great lengths to attempt to explain the plagues of Egypt as natural phenomena wherever possible
  • Moses’ repeated warnings and entreaties to Ramses — and the Pharaoh’s hardness of heart — are not mentioned at all.
  • Most of the top-billing cast were played by white Americans. Wassup wid dat?
  • When God finally showed up in person, it was in the form of a petulant, vindictive little boy, constantly sneering and plotting revenge, that I found fundamentally unbelievable and incompatible with the scriptural character of God. There is nowhere in scripture that God takes joy in killing.

I came away feeling like I had watched a big-budget historical documentary that was trying to prove the non-existence of God. I wasn’t offended in the least, I just didn’t get the impression that I had come face-to-face with the living God of the bible. Whether this is a due  to an error of the filmmakers or a fault in my theology I cannot say.

What I can say is that the producers of this film have taken a diabolical (no pun intended) liberty with the source material that seems almost like a calculated insult to the world’s three biggest faiths. The result fell between two stools, and ended up being neither accurate nor particularly enjoyable.

The best thing that I can say about this movie is that I didn’t pay a penny to see it — it was an in-flight movie. Afterwards I watched the “Shaun the Sheep” movie, wonderful chuckle-fest that was just what I needed to wipe the ghastly taste of this truly bad excuse of a biblical tale from my mind.