One can build a very good predictive model of government agency behavior if one assumes the main purpose of the agency is to maximize its budget and staff count. Yes, many in the organization are there because they support the agency’s public mission (e.g. protecting the environment at the EPA), but I can tell you from long experience that preservation of their staff and budget will almost always come ahead of their public mission if push comes to shove.
The way, then, to punish an agency is to take away some staff and budget. Nothing else will get their attention. Unfortunately, in most scandals where an agency proves itself to be incompetent or corrupt or both (e.g. IRS, the VA, more recently with OPM and their data breaches) the tendency is to believe the “fix” involves sending the agency more resources. Certainly the agency and its supporters will scream “lack of resources” as an excuse for any problem.
And that is how nearly every failing government agency is rewarded for their failure, rather than punished. Which is why our agencies fail so much.
Warren Meyer, “Congress Almost Always Rewards Failed Government Agencies. Here is Why”, Coyote Blog, 2015-06-17.
February 23, 2017
February 1, 2017
Ace put up some shelves recently. He was not impressed with some of the tools he used:
I thought I had a drill that could drill (and drive screws) through studs. I did not. What I had was two pieces of shit which, combined together, made up a collection of shit that took up more space in my tool drawer than a single piece of shit would.
The things could not even push past the first eighth inch of drywall. The easiest part.
It’s like, “Hey, thanks Tool. Thanks for getting me past that first easy eighth inch. I’ll take it the rest of the way, now that you’ve gotten me off to such a swell start. You take a well-earned break, and get back to napping in that drawer. I’ll power through the rest of this with my forearms and my dinky little ratchet.”
I literally was just pushing on the drill to make a small starter hole for the screw, like it was a poorly-balanced nail with a pistol grip.
It’s a poor workman who blames his tools, but I think you can all agree I am a poor workman in the first place, and these really are shitty, shitty tools.
January 26, 2017
We saw in an earlier story that the government is trying to tighten regulations on private company cyber security practices at the same time its own network security practices have been shown to be a joke. In finance, it can never balance a budget and uses accounting techniques that would get most companies thrown in jail. It almost never fully funds its pensions. Anything it does is generally done more expensively than would be the same task undertaken privately. Its various sites are among the worst superfund environmental messes. Almost all the current threats to water quality in rivers and oceans comes from municipal sewage plants. The government’s Philadelphia naval yard single-handedly accounts for a huge number of the worst asbestos exposure cases to date.
By what alchemy does such a failing organization suddenly become such a good regulator?
January 19, 2017
William G. K. Elphinstone (1782-1842) commanded the British 33rd Regiment of Foot (later the Duke of Wellington’s regiment, and today incorporated in the Yorkshire Regiment), and was almost certainly the worst battalion commander in any of the armies during the campaign. His troops broke at Quatre Bras and lost their colors at Waterloo, which he afterwards tried to cover up by secretly ordering new colors; a deception that failed to retrieve the regimental honor. He went on to prove quite possibly the most inept officer ever to command an army, when, as a major general during the First Afghan War (1839-1842), he dithered on so heroic a scale that, of his 4,000 troops and 10,000 camp followers, only one man escaped death or capture.
Al Nofi, “Al Nofi’s CIC”, Strategy Page, 2015-06-18.
January 16, 2017
John Ringo posted this on Facebook, and while I don’t play the particular games he references, I’m also finding that in-game crafting (which seemed like such a cool idea when I first heard of it) is really just an extended PITA:
January 15, 2017
Megan McArdle on the how the actual effect of Meryl Streep’s anti-Trump speech contrasts with her intent, and why:
Well, yes, celebrities are stupid about policy, often breathtakingly so. On the other hand, so is everyone else. You want to hear some really stupid ideas about policy? Grab a group of whip-smart financial wizards, or neurosurgeons, or nuclear physicists, and sit them down for a nice dinner to debate some policy outside their profession. You will find that they are pretty much just as stupid as anyone else, because policy is not about smart. I mean, smart helps. But policy is fundamentally about domain knowledge, and that knowledge is acquired only by spending a great deal of time thinking about a pretty small set of problems. Funnily enough, this is also how one gets good at finance, or neurosurgery, or nuclear physics.
The problem with Hollywood people making political speeches is not that their political ideas are worse than anyone else’s, or that they enjoy sharing their half-baked ideas. This is a minor and forgivable social sin, like arriving five minutes early for a party. No, the problem with Hollywood people making political speeches is that the speeches themselves are bad, at least at their presumed goal of producing political change.
Take Streep. She’s right that Trump should not have made fun of a disabled reporter. However, she surrounded that point with an extended discussion of how mean everyone was being to actors and journalists.
This was a double mistake. First, it accepted Trump’s frame: it’s a handful of liberal elites against the rest of the country. That’s an argument he just won, so it’s unwise to try for an immediate rematch. And second, there is in this whole world no sight less rhetorically compelling than that of successful people with fun and rewarding jobs, and a decent income, complaining that they’re victims of the unglamorous folks who labor at all the strenuously boring work required to make their lives nice. Even I, who have one of those jobs, am rolling my eyes and saying “Good heavens, suck it up.” The only people who don’t recoil from this sort of vacuous self-pity are those similarly situated in elite liberal institutions — but since those folks already hate Trump, you haven’t actually changed anything.
December 9, 2016
Chris Selley on the (largely self-inflicted) hard times of Justin Trudeau’s government recently:
It has been one hell of a couple of weeks for the Liberal Party of Canada: first Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s bizarre encomium to dearly departed Fidel; then the approval of two pipelines projects, dashing the oil-free dreams of people who hadn’t been paying attention and producing thousands of barrels of fake outrage; and then, the inevitable collapse of the government’s electoral reform agenda.
It was always going to look bad. The Liberals were always going to break their promise to make 2015 the last first-past-the-post election. Perhaps they had even contemplated their members on the electoral reform committee recommending they break it, by adopting a go-slower approach. But no one, surely, anticipated Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef accusing the committee as a whole of not doing the job she had set out for them, which they had; mocking the Gallagher Index, an easily explicable formula for measuring proportionality in election results; and justifying herself with shameless bafflegab that would make Paul Calandra blush.
Monsef later apologized for accusing committee members of slacking, Manon Cornellier notes in Le Devoir, but not for misrepresenting their mandate, mocking mathematics — as an emissary of the party of “evidence-based policy,” no less — and generally behaving like a buffoon.
“(Monsef’s) beef with the Gallagher Index isn’t that it only measures proportionality. Her beef with the Gallagher Index is that it’s math, with its sums of squares and square roots and symbols that are literally Greek,” Fine fumes. It’s a worrying outburst of idiocy, she argues. Monsef and her ilk talk constantly of “engagement,” but that’s a very difficult thing to measure. “At the intersection of ‘affinity for engagement’ and ‘contempt for metrics’ is fertile breeding ground for leaders who wish to make up their own rules,” Fine trenchantly observes.
November 13, 2016
The #gotofail episode will become a text book example of not just poor attention to detail, but moreover, the importance of disciplined logic, rigor, elegance, and fundamental coding theory.
A still deeper lesson in all this is the fragility of software. Prof Arie van Deursen nicely describes the iOS7 routine as “brittle”. I want to suggest that all software is tragically fragile. It takes just one line of silly code to bring security to its knees. The sheer non-linearity of software — the ability for one line of software anywhere in a hundred million lines to have unbounded impact on the rest of the system — is what separates development from conventional engineering practice. Software doesn’t obey the laws of physics. No non-trivial software can ever be fully tested, and we have gone too far for the software we live with to be comprehensively proof read. We have yet to build the sorts of software tools and best practice and habits that would merit the title “engineering”.
I’d like to close with a philosophical musing that might have appealed to my old mentors at Telectronics. Post-modernists today can rejoice that the real world has come to pivot precariously on pure text. It is weird and wonderful that technicians are arguing about the layout of source code — as if they are poetry critics.
We have come to depend daily on great obscure texts, drafted not by people we can truthfully call “engineers” but by a largely anarchic community we would be better of calling playwrights.
Stephan Wilson, “gotofail and a defence of purists”, Lockstep, 2014-02-26.
November 2, 2016
Online security theatre: “We sell biometric authentication systems to people who need a good password manager”
Joey DeVilla linked to this discussion of the Mirai botnet and the distressing failures of online security … not for the brilliance and sophistication of the attack (it was neither), but the failure to address simple common-sense security issues:
I’ve written about 1988’s Morris worm, and I wanted to dig into the source of the Mirai botnet (helpfully published by the author) to see how far we’ve come along in the past 28 years.
Can you guess how Mirai spreads?
Was there new zeroday in the devices? Hey, maybe there was an old, unpatched vulnerability hanging — who has time to apply software updates to their toaster? Maybe it was HeartBleed 👻?
Mirai does one, and only one thing in order to break into new devices: it cycles through a bunch of default username/password combinations over telnet, like “admin/admin” and “root/realtek”. For a laugh, “mother/fucker” is in there too.
Default credentials. Over telnet. That’s how you get hundreds of thousands of devices. The Morris worm from 1988 tried a dictionary password attack too, but only after its buffer overflow and sendmail backdoor exploits failed.
Oh, and Morris’ password dictionary was larger, too.
April 24, 2016
… the point of my book is that failure is inevitable, so you’d better learn to deal with it as best you can. Don’t say “Failure is not an option” the way they do in movies, because I promise you, failure is always an option. Prepare for it. Learn from it. Move on.
The follow-up question I frequently got — and a completely fair one — is “OK, how do you know when it’s time to pack it in? ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ only takes you so far, after all.”
In response, I ended up telling a story. It’s the story of a girl who was destined to be around 6’2″, a fact ascertained during her toddlerhood by the family doctor. (Apparently you can reasonably approximate adult height by measuring a little kid’s leg bones. Or maybe by looking at her 6’7″ dad.)
This little girl briefly wanted to be a gymnast. This was not in her destiny. So she settled on a new ambition. She wanted to be a jockey.
The girl grew very fast. By the time she was in fifth grade, she was over 5′ tall. By seventh grade, she had reached her full height. And it was just around this time that someone pointed out that she was already a foot too tall to be a jockey.
Should this girl — and yes, it was our very own Megan McArdle — have pluckily ignored the critics and the naysayers and dedicated herself to achieving her dream? To answer that, ask yourself another question: Should you try to dislodge a stuck lemon peel from the garbage disposal while it’s still running?
No, no, no. This can only end in disaster.
Sometimes what failure is telling you is “this doesn’t work” or “you don’t have what it takes.” Ignoring those messages is, in fact, how many of the folks I chronicled in my book turned a simple failure into a total disaster.
Megan McArdle, “Will Mitt Romney Know When It’s Time To Quit?”, Bloomberg View, 2015-01-16.
December 6, 2015
Matt Waldman tries to get to the root of the problem … the problem of being a Cleveland Browns fan:
The Seahawks’ exploits have been a thrill, but I’ve never hung on every play with the same passion I did when I watched Steve McNair and company in Tennessee. You see, Titans and Seahawks fans got a taste of Han in those games, but by the time that happened I had already been marinated in it in Cleveland:
Han or Haan is a concept in Korean culture attributed as a unique Korean cultural trait which has resulted from Korea’s frequent exposure to invasions by overwhelming foreign powers. Han denotes a collective feeling of oppression and isolation in the face of insurmountable odds (the overcoming of which is beyond the nation’s capabilities on its own). It connotes aspects of lament and unavenged injustice.
The minjung theologian Suh Nam-dong describes han as a “feeling of unresolved resentment against injustices suffered, a sense of helplessness because of the overwhelming odds against one, a feeling of acute pain in one’s guts and bowels, making the whole body writhe and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and to right the wrong — all these combined.”
Whether they know it or not, the Browns are the unofficial NFL team of Korea. Cleveland embodies Han more than any team – and possibly, city (Detroit gets props) – in American sport.
It’s what happens when your team is this close to it all coming together and its spirit gets kidnapped to Baltimore.
Baltimore Colts great Art Donovan got it right when he said that he had mixed feelings about the Ravens’ arrival in Charm City. He was happy for the fans to get a team, but not at the cost of another great fan base losing theirs.
The Ravens still have the soul and guts of the real Cleveland Browns. They’re Mickey Rourke’s detective Harry Angel from Angel Heart. a war veteran kidnapped by crooner Johnny Favorite, who, to avoid paying up his side of the deal he made with the devil, performs a gruesome ritual on Angel to inhabit the detective’s body and hide from Lucifer – and himself.
I wish I could say Angel Heart only applies to Art Modell performing his satanic ritual on Cleveland and hiding in the Ravens purple and black. Then it could make DeNiro’s Lucifer the collective embodiment of vengeful Browns fans everywhere.
But I experienced my own personal horror of discovering who I was in the wake of the Browns 42nd last-minute loss since 1999: Despite 20 years of trying not deny it, I’m still a Browns fan. I’ll always be a Browns fan.
It’s not a choice. It’s part of who I am.
I had this epiphany last night while watching defeat snatched from the foot of victory against the team that made off with our mojo. Watching my shitty team lose a game to its mortal enemy that’s so deeply wounded that it’s starting an ATM for interceptions, pissed me off more than the Titans and Seahawks’ one-yard debacles in the Super Bowl.
October 20, 2015
Published on 6 Oct 2015
“You can defend an entirely different view of the world using the same data that’s used to defend the standard model. So whenever I can do that, I’m so there,” says Scott Adams. “Because as soon as you realize that the model you’ve been looking at maybe isn’t so firm as you thought… Then you’re free.”
Adams is a man of many talents: Best-selling author behind books such as God’s Debris and How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, serial entrepreneur and creator of the time-management system Calendar Tree, and, of course, the man behind Dilbert.
Reason TV‘s Zach Weissmueller sat down with Adams in his home office to discuss Adams’ obsession with Donald Trump (“I see in Trump a level of persuasion technique that is probably invisible to the public” – 1:18), his resistance to political labels (“As soon as I join a group, suddenly all those things that I thought were crazy, I start convincing myself…” – 2:19), his political philosophy (“My preferred political process would be something like business” – 3:08), what Dilbert can teach us about capitalism (“One of those ideas that’s terribly flawed, but we haven’t figured out anything better yet” – 5:22), and the theme that runs through all of his work (“In all cases, I’m interested in the same thing: Is there a different way to look at the familiar?” – 10:05).
Bonus: Here’s Scott Adams’ view that The Donald is a Master Wizard:
September 21, 2015
At Techdirt, Tim Cushing explains how Xerox is going the extra distance to extort even more money from their customers over toner ink:
Everyone likes buying stuff with a bunch of built-in restrictions, right? The things we “own” often remain the property of the manufacturers, at least in part. That’s the trade-off we never asked for — one pushed on us by everyone from movie studios to makers of high-end cat litter boxes and coffee brewers. DRM prevents backup copies. Proprietary packets brick functions until manufacturer-approved refills are in place.
Here’s another bit of ridiculousness, via Techdirt reader techflaws. German news outlet c’t Magazin is reporting that Xerox printers are going further than the normal restrictions we’ve become accustomed to. For years, printer companies have made sure users’ printers won’t run without every single slot being filled with approved cartridges. This includes such stupidity as disabling every function (including non-ink-related functions like scanning) in all-in-one printers until the printer is fed.
Xerox is going further. Not only do you need to refill the ink, but you have to fill it with local ink. techflaws paraphrases the paywalled, German-language article.
Xerox uses region coding on their toner catridges AND locks the printer to the first type used. So if you use an NA (North America) cartridge you can’t use the cheaper DMO (Eastern Europe) anymore. The printer’s display does NOT show this, nor does the hotline know about it. When c’t reached out to Xerox, the marketing drone claimed, this was done to serve the customer better, I kid you not.
Ah, the old “serve the customer better by limiting his/her options,” as seen everywhere DRM/DRM-esque restrictions are applied.
Nearly every major printer manufacturer is in on the scam. HP saw an opportunity to increase incremental sales and staked out this territory in 2004. This brave new world of customer-screwing was followed by Lexmark, Canon, Epson and Xerox — none of which saw anything wrong with illogically restricting ink cartridges to certain regions.
Region coding for DVDs and videogames makes a certain amount of sense, provided you’re willing to make a small logic buy-in on windowed releases. But ink? It’s not like Australians need to wait six weeks for HP to cut loose ink cartridges so as not to sabotage the US release. The only reason to do this is to tie paying customers into the most expensive ink and toner. This lock-in is cemented by many printers’ refusal to recognize third-party replacement cartridges and/or allow refills of existing manufacturer cartridges.
The excuses made for this mercenary behavior would be hilarious if they weren’t so transparently dismissive of customers. Every flowery ode to customers’ best interests by PR flacks boils down to nothing more than, “Fuck ’em. It’s not like they have a choice.”
August 8, 2015
Published on 5 Aug 2015
As a last birthday surprise, we tried something new and present Indy’s ranking of the 11 most stupid moves of early World War 1. What do you think of our list and who would make it to the top of yours? Tell us in the comments below.
July 13, 2015
Toronto’s Pan Am Games organizers appear to have been living in a cave without an internet connection for the last 15 years:
The organisers of the Pan American Games in Toronto, which start this week, require that people seek formal permission to link to its website at [toronto2015 DOT org].
Links to this Site are not permitted except with the written consent of TO2015™. If you wish to link to the Site, you must submit a written request to TO2015™ to do so. Requests for written consent can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. TO2015™ reserves the right to withhold its consent to link, such right to be exercised in its sole and unfettered discretion.
Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that the $2bn sports event – effectively a mini-Olympics – also appears to have trademarked the term “TO2015.” Which makes about as much sense.
Incredibly, this is not a misreading of the terms, and it doesn’t appear to have been a mistake either. Instead, it’s about the increasingly insane approach that intellectual property lawyers are taking to sponsors – and non-sponsors – of sporting events.
Alongside such gems as forcing people to put tape over their own computers if a computer company is a sponsor, and stopping people for drinking anything that isn’t a sponsor drink (if there is a drinks sponsor), now it seems the Pan Am Games lawyers have decided they need to prevent the internet from entering the hallowed sponsor world.
Strictly speaking, anyone who links to the website or even anyone who uses the games’ own hashtag of [hashtagTO2015] is violating its terms, and could be sued. Although not a court in the land would actually enforce it.
Notice that, as I live in Canada, I’ve carefully obfuscated the URL and the hashtag so you don’t accidentally click on them and violate their intellectual property right claims or anything. I suspect this will be the only actual coverage of the games I’ll be posting, just to be on the safe side. Discussion of the financial side, or the disruption to normal life in Toronto caused by the games, of course, is still fair game.