There’s foil in my wallet

But I’m not crazy. The foil is only there to block the scanners. The bank sent out the new credit card a while ago, and it has a chip in it. After reading about the potential risks, it seemed like some shielding wouldn’t hurt anything. But how to know if the shielding worked?

At one work site, I get access to the facility by putting my id card against a scanner. This works even if I just hold my wallet up to the scanner. This seems like a reasonable basis for testing. The first thing I put in my wallet was a piece of what seemed to be metalized paper from a coffee package. Holding up my wallet still activated the door, so a coffee bag probably will not block the scanners the men in black would carry if there were men in black following me.

Next time I went out to that site, I folded up four layers of regular aluminum foil and put that in my wallet. The scanner didn’t work. A week or so later I tried it again, and this time scanner did read my card through the foil. Thinking it might be because the foil had compressed, I opened up the foil and interleaved a piece of paper. My knowledge of electricity and magnetism is close to the cargo-cult level, you see. Anyway, this seemed to work, but I’ll test it again from time to time.

If I come across some sheet copper I’ll try that too. A couple of business-card size pieces of copper with the Lord’s Prayer engraved on it would probably excite less interest than a packet of aluminum foil.

What Lenovo did

“We’ve trained ourselves to think we’re safe if we see that little lock in our browser window, but what Lenovo did was load software that does an end-run around your web browser, making it impossible to tell if someone else had subverted HTTPS. Very few people check that, but that doesn’t make it right to take the option away. As long as Superfish is running, it’s impossible to tell if anyone has gotten between Superfish and your bank, or Amazon. So someone could empty your bank account while serving up a web page that shows you still have money, or hijack your Amazon purchase, running off with your money while Amazon never gets your order and you never get your product, and it will be next to impossible for you to even know what happened.” — Lenovo’s preinstalled Superfish spyware: A post-mortem, by David L. Farquhar

I’d rather build my own (difficult if you want a laptop), and install the OS myself, but sometimes you need something right now — I’m typing this on an off-the-shelf Dell, and there’s certainly software on it that’s useless and a nuisance. There’s nothing malign – as far as I know.

Tangentially, this Chromebox sounds interesting.

Terrorism and law enforcement

They weren’t running away.

“It turns out that the media have misunderstood what was going on since the initial attack by the Kouachi brothers and their accomplice on the Charlie Hebdo offices.

“The elusive Kouachis have not been fleeing from the police, in the manner of the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston. They were fighting their way around Paris to the scene of their next attack — and apparently being assisted by others in a terrorist cell.”

It’s not a job for the police, because it’s not law enforcement. We should not be militarizing the police and curtailing civil liberties. That’s fighting the enemy with his own weapons. We should fight the enemy with our weapons.

“In the last century, we have been preparing ourselves to accept sharia, by insisting on centrally supervised uniformity of thought and vision about all public and moral issues. We have forgotten the strength that comes with decentralization, true tolerance, and the moral dignity of the individual.”

“We must cease using our governments to harass people into conformity on disputable matters.”

There are a few other points, and J.E. Dyer’s Paris attack: The West’s time for choosing is well worth reading. The only problem I can see with the authors recommendations is we would need a population of grown-up citizens to implement them.

Oh! the Humanity

NSA Spied on Prominent Muslim Americans“!

Well yeah, but then the NSA also spied on obscure Baptist Americans, famous Journalist Americans, infamous Nigerian witchdoctors, reclusive Italo-German lexicographers, the College of Cardinals, and people who read BoingBoing. But hey, if spying on Muslims is what it takes to get people’s attention, then preach it.

Windows 8.1

Initial impressions

For a while Alt-F4 was getting a real workout; I couldn’t find any other way to quit some programs. One of the updates seems to have fixed this, and most everything again has an X at the top right. There’s no Start menu, but I never used it much. The menu that comes up from WindowsKey-X is good enough. Most of the keyboard shortcuts still work. WindowsKey toggles back and forth between the desktop and that useless Start screen. Speaking of useless, Bing weather is that.

Powershell is good.

The computer is a generic Dell, bought off the shelf. So far I haven’t been able to get it to boot from anything but the hard drive, even though other options are there. They really don’t want you booting anything but Windows. It looks like it can be done if I turn off SecureBoot, but there are dire warnings. I want to read a bit more. Windows 8 Hacks by Preston Gralla has been helpful, though nothing there about SecureBoot; not that there needs to be, since that isn’t unique to Windows 8.

The whole environment does feel very intrusive and pushy. Give us your phone number; buy this; link that with your email account; is that your cellphone I’m detecting? You’ll want to link that to your email, right?

They’ve managed to screw up solitaire, which is now an over-animated mess that wants me to buy an X-box and subscribe to something.

But overall, it’s mostly harmless. Read a less favorable impression here. I understand if you pay more you can have Windows 7.

UPDATE: An update added window controls to “apps” like solitaire, mail, and the Kindle reader so they can be closed with the mouse by clicking on the X in the upper right corner of the window. But it turns out that clicking the X makes it disappear, but it’s still running according to the task manager. Alt-f4 does kill it. I don’t care for this. The computer belongs to me, not to Microsoft, or some consortium of corporate partners. If close a program, I want it to stop running, not to go hide behind a curtain. So, back to Alt-f4.

Having it all

So the government is getting banks to suspend the accounts of pornographers, and that might be okay with me, though probably it would be simpler for the government to just make pornography illegal, or at least stop subsidizing its production with tax breaks for Hollywood. But anyway, today the Department of Justice is going after some pornographers. Who will these laws and precedents be used against in twenty years? Or after the next election?

If the government is given power to do good, it will first use that power to get more power, then use it to do some good, and then use it to do a lot of evil. What it will not do, ever, is willingly give up any power. So power given to the government to stop discrimination – to keep people from refusing to rent hotel rooms or sell food to African-Americans – That power is now being used so sustain a system of racial preferences, to punish thoughtcrime, and to force people to decorate cakes for “gay marriage ceremonies.” Because this is America! The debate is over. Cake is a public accommodation, and bigotry equals hate, you hateful bigot!

One might think, “on the other hand, if the government can’t act against vice, or terrorism, or payday lenders, what’s the point of having a government?” But this is America in the twenty-first century! We can injure ourselves with both too much and too little government. We can have a government that is both repressive and unable to solve any significant problems.

Chesterton wrote in the early twentieth century that the ruling class had looked at socialism and capitalism, and then given the people of England the worst of both: all the intrusive state control of every aspect of life, with all the insecurity of dog-eat-dog economics.

“In short, people decided that it was impossible to achieve any of the good of Socialism, but they comforted themselves by achieving all the bad. All that official discipline, about which the Socialists themselves were in doubt or at least on the defensive, was taken over bodily by the Capitalists. They have now added all the bureaucratic tyrannies of a Socialist state to the old plutocratic tyrannies of a Capitalist State. For the vital point is that it did not in the smallest degree diminish the inequalities of a Capitalist State. It simply destroyed such individual liberties as remained among its victims. It did not enable any man to build a better house; it only limited the houses he might live in – or how he might manage to live there; forbidding him to keep pigs or poultry or to sell beer or cider. It did not even add anything to a man’s wages; it only took away something from a man’s wages and locked it up, whether he liked it or not, in a sort of money-box which was regarded as a medicine-chest. It does not send food into the house to feed the children; it only sends an inspector into the house to punish the parents for having no food to feed them. It does not see that they have got a fire; it only punishes them for not having a fireguard. It does not even occur to it to provide the fireguard.” Eugenics and Other Evils, by G.K. Chesterton, 1917

But somehow, it doesn’t bother me that much. Look at the Jumblies. They went to sea in a seive:

The water it soon came in, it did,
The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In pinky paper all folded neat,
And they fastened it down with a pin.

And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, ‘How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
While round in our Sieve we spin!’

from The Jumblies, by Edward Lear

And you know, it worked out okay for the Jumblies in the end.