April 6, 2014

You’re doing it wrong, Mr. Fireman

Filed under: Humour, Railways — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 08:29

"It's always good to read the ENTIRE instruction manual first ..."

“It’s always good to read the ENTIRE instruction manual first …”

H/T to André and Eric for the photo and caption, respectively.

February 26, 2014

“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success” (featuring the author, Megan McArdle)

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Published on 25 Feb 2014

Featuring the author Megan McArdle, Columnist, Bloomberg View; with comments by Brink Lindsey, Vice President for Research, Cato Institute; moderated by Dalibor Rohac, Policy Analyst, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, Cato Institute.

Nobody likes to fail, yet failure is a ubiquitous element of our lives. According to Megan McArdle, failing often — and well — is an important source of learning for individuals, organizations, and governments. Although failure is critical in coping with complex environments, our cognitive biases often keep us from drawing the correct lessons and adjusting our behavior. Our psychological aversion to failure can compound its undesirable effects, McArdle argues, and transform failures into catastrophes.

Video produced by Blair Gwaltney.

January 4, 2014

Tim Bray wants you to go “content-free”

Filed under: Business, Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:13

Tim Bray despises the word “content”:

I’m thinking about successful new communication channels, and how we talk about what’s in them. On Twitter, we say tweets. In the blogosphere and on Facebook, posts; also rants, reviews, and flames. Facebook has likes and now everything has links.

But I note the entire absence of “content”; the word, I mean. Yay! I’ve loathed it ever since its first powerpoint-pitch appearance, meaning “shit we don’t actually care about but will attract eyeballs and make people click on ads”. Except for they don’t say “people”, they say “users”, a symptom of another attitude problem.

With every year that passes, it’s increasingly clear that the appearance of “content” in any business plan is a symptom of (likely fatal) infection by cluelessness; and a good predictor of failure.

H/T to Charles Stross for the link.

August 5, 2013

Blundering into a “fragile country” can make things much worse

Filed under: Government, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Ted Galen Carpenter on a big blind spot in US policy:

U.S. officials too often succumb to the temptation to try to impose order and justice in unstable or misgoverned societies around the world. The temptation is understandable. It is hard to learn about — much less watch on the nightly news — brutality, bloodshed, and gross injustice and not want to do something about it. Some foreign policy intellectuals, including the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, have become strident lobbyists for the notion of a “responsibility to protect” vulnerable populations.

But it is a temptation that wise policy makers should avoid. U.S. meddling has frequently caused already bad situations to deteriorate further — especially when Washington has based its humanitarian interventions on the false premise that the subject of our attentions is, or at least ought to be, a coherent nation state. As I point out in an article over at The National Interest, U.S. administrations have made that blunder in Bosnia, Iraq, Libya, and other places.

In many parts of the world, the Western concept of a nation state is quite weak, and the concepts of democracy and individual rights are even less developed. The primary loyalty of an inhabitant is likely to be to a clan, tribe, ethnic group or religion. U.S. officials appear to have difficulty grasping that point, and as a result, the United States barges into fragile societies, disrupting what modest order may exist. Washington’s military interventions flail about, shattering delicate political and social connections and disrupting domestic balances of power.

April 4, 2013

April 1st meets scientific illiteracy in Florida

Filed under: Humour, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Did you know that there is dihydrogen monoxide streaming out of the water taps in Fort Myers, Florida? Apparently a lot of radio listeners thought this was a very bad thing:

Florida country radio morning-show hosts Val St. John and Scott Fish are currently serving indefinite suspensions and possibly worse over a successful April Fools’ Day prank. They told their listeners that “dihydrogen monoxide” was coming out of the taps throughout the Fort Myers area. Dihydrogen monoxide is water.

The popular deejays are mainly in all this trouble (potentially of a felony level) because their listeners panicked so much — about the molecular makeup of their drinking water, however unwittingly — that Lee County utility officials had to issue a county-wide statement calming the fears of chemistry challenged Floridians.

March 14, 2013

Google Reader to be scrapped

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:23

I started using Google Reader about a year and a half ago. It quickly became an invaluable part of my online toolkit. Yesterday, Google announced that it was going to be dropping the service. Charles Stross posted this as his reaction to the awful news, and I feel very much the same way:

November 1, 2012

The art of (bad) customer service

Filed under: Business, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:02

James Lileks had to do the leg work himself to track down a part to fix his stove. After finally getting it, he wanted to express his frustration to the company that sold the stove (but didn’t carry the replacement part he needed):

So. I called Centerpoint, asked to speak to a manager, and had a nice friendly conversation about the fact that I found the part with elementary googling, and I had to pay for it and wait to be reimbursed.

Manager: we have supply channels and have to set up payment contracts and we can’t find anything, and what’s more blah, blah, blah.

To which I said I understood, but the fact of that matter was: I found the part in seconds, which means someone entered the part number into your system, it came up null, and that was it. They’d done their job. They’d checked the box. Move on to the next. So what I get as a customer of your service is that you don’t really look for the part. You search one closet and call it quits. Apparently there’s no leeway for your people to look elsewhere.

She understood my dissatisfaction, of course, but



Lie to me. Lie to me over and over: I understand your dissatisfaction AND I will be adding this company to our database. I understand your dissatisfaction AND I will be sending my boss a letter about expanding our searches and allowing for more individual initiative on the part of the part-procuring people. I understand your dissatisfaction AND apologize you’ll have to carry a $476 charge on your card while we process your request. I don’t care if none of that’s true. Just say it.

I still think they’re going to try to wiggle out of this somehow. I think my wife was right: they don’t want to fix it. They don’t want to pay for it.

All it took for me to be that cynical was a manager invested too deeply in company policy. I would have trusted them more if they’d lied.

October 27, 2012

Chemophobia, “a fear so rampant that it has infected an entire generation of women”

Filed under: Environment, Health, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:13

Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail:

Ms. Williams is right that our bodies contain trace amounts of pretty much everything that’s in our environment. But toxicity is a matter of degree. And technology is so advanced that we can measure trace amounts in parts per trillion. As yet, research has found no trace of harm. For example, after a comprehensive review of environmental causes and risk factors for breast cancer, the U.S. Institute of Medicine found no conclusive link between any of these chemicals and an increased risk of breast cancer. According to Scientific American, “some research shows the toxic load in breast milk to be smaller than that in the air most city dwellers breathe inside their homes.”

[. . .]

This is not to say there’s no impact from environmental factors. But these effects are small and uncertain. To eliminate them all, we’d have to eliminate modernity and return to being hunter-gatherers again.

But I’m afraid chemophobia is here to stay. Fear sells. Fear of chemicals manufactured by rapacious, greedy, money-sucking capitalist enterprises sells even better. Fear is is the main product peddled by interest groups such as the Environmental Defence Fund, which has been quite successful at marketing the notion that invisible dangers lurk all around us. The media love this stuff because it makes for easy headlines: If your shampoo doesn’t kill you, your lipstick will! Fear is a staple of celebrity experts like Dr. Oz, who has advised readers to avoid toxic sales receipts from fast-food restaurants and gas stations.

Do you use a stupidly easy-to-guess password?

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:15

SplashData has released an updated list of the top 25 passwords gleaned by hackers from stolen password files:

# Password Change from 2011
1 password Unchanged
2 123456 Unchanged
3 12345678 Unchanged
4 abc123 Up 1
5 qwerty Down 1
6 monkey Unchanged
7 letmein Up 1
8 dragon Up 2
9 111111 Up 3
10 baseball Up 1
11 iloveyou Up 2
12 trustno1 Down 3
13 1234567 Down 6
14 sunshine Up 1
15 master Down 1
16 123123 Up 4
17 welcome New
18 shadow Up 1
19 ashley Down 3
20 football Up 5
21 jesus New
22 michael Up 2
23 ninja New
24 mustang New
25 password1 New

If you recognize any password on this list … do yourself a favour and change it to something not on the list, preferably using more characters (including upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols). And don’t use the same password on multiple sites! SplashData sells a password keeper application that is quite useful (I’ve been using it for years now), and is available for multiple platforms.

October 14, 2012

We’ve got to move these deer crossing signs to less heavily travelled roads!

Filed under: Humour, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:47

H/T to Jon, my former virtual landlord, who sent me the link to this item at Ace of Spades HQ, suggesting it was a former co-worker calling in.

October 9, 2012

Gewirtz: The Windows 8 user interface

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:19

David Gewirtz is unimpressed with the Windows 8 user interface. To understate the case a wee bit:

… And that’s why, in pure analytical terms, one has to wonder what went through the (fill-in-the-blank) (fill-in-the-blank) misguided brains of Microsoft’s managers, analysts, and strategists when they decided to ditch the Start menu.

I finally decided to load the preview edition of Windows 8 and use it. And, despite the operating itself being a marvel of engineering, ease of use, speed, and underlyng functionality — I’m forced to say that it’s unusable for desktops out of the box. Un-frakin’-usable.

[. . .]

Microsoft, on the other hand, has decided that — rather than make some very minor interface nods to the billion or so users it has — it’s going to force everyone to change how they use their machines.

This is not change in a good way. It’d be as if Ford decided to yank out the typical comfortable interior of a car, and replace it with a motorcycle seat, handlebars, and control interface. One day, grandma would get up to go to work, get in her trusty Ford (which she’s been happily driving for decades) — and not know how to do anything!

Worse, since the motorcycle UI isn’t designed for the inside of a car, using it there would suck. People have tried it, and it’s amusing as an exercise, but it doesn’t really work.

Windows 8′s change to the Start menu is not amusing as an exercise. It’s an insult to all the billions of Windows users the world wide.

Here’s the thing. You get into Windows and it’s Metro. You click the desktop tile because you have real work to do — and you’re stuck. How do you launch apps? There’s no launcher or Start menu. If you don’t know to click in the corner of the screen, you ain’t doin’ nothin’. There’s no hint, no cue, no application, no Start menu. There’s nothing there, there.

September 25, 2012

QotD: Replacement NFL referees

Filed under: Football, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:30

The replacement officials are a mockery wrapped in a travesty, dunked in a vat of incompetence, glazed with WTF and set to the Benny Hill theme song.

Scott Feschuk, “In defence of the replacement officials (Kidding: they’re terrible)”, Maclean’s, 2012-09-25

September 8, 2012

QotD: The European Project

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:22

Like all people with bad habits, politicians and bureaucrats are infinitely inventive when it comes to rationalizing the European Project, though they’re inventive in nothing else. Without the Union, they say, there would be no peace; when it’s pointed out that the Union is the consequence of peace, not its cause, they say that no small country can survive on its own. When it is pointed out that Singapore, Switzerland, and Norway seem to have no difficulties in that regard, they say that pan-European regulations create economies of scale that promote productive efficiency. When it is pointed out that European productivity lags behind the rest of the world’s, they say that European social protections are more generous than anywhere else. If it is then noted that long-term unemployment rates in Europe are higher than elsewhere, another apology follows. The fact is that for European politicians and bureaucrats, the European Project is like God — good by definition, which means that they have subsequently to work out a theodicy to explain, or explain away, its manifest and manifold deficiencies.

[. . .]

The personal interests of European politicians and bureaucrats, with their grossly inflated, tax-free salaries, are perfectly obvious. For politicians who have fallen out of favor at home, or grown bored with the political process, Brussels acts as a vast and luxurious retirement home, with the additional gratification of the retention of power. The name of a man such as European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, whose charisma makes Hillary Clinton look like Mata Hari, would, without the existence of the European Union, have reached most of the continent’s newspapers only if he had paid for a classified advertisement in them. Instead of which, he bestrides the European stage if not like a colossus exactly, at least like the spread of fungus on a damp wall.

Corporate interests, ever anxious to suppress competition, approve of European Union regulations because they render next to impossible the entry of competitors into any market in which they already enjoy a dominant position, while also allowing them to extend their domination into new markets. That is why the CAC40 of today (the index of the largest 40 companies on the French stock exchange) will have more or less the same names 100 years hence.

More interestingly, perhaps, Hannan explains the European Union’s corruption of so-called civil society. Suppose you have an association for the protection of hedgehogs because you love hedgehogs. The European Union then offers your association money to expand its activities, which of course it accepts. The Union then proposes a measure allegedly for the protection of hedgehogs, but actually intended to promote a large agrarian or industrial interest over a small one, first asking the association’s opinion about the proposed measure. Naturally, your association supports the Union because it has become dependent on the Union’s subsidy. The Union then claims that it enjoys the support of those who want to protect hedgehogs. The best description of this process is fascist corporatism, which so far (and it is of course a crucial difference) lacks the paramilitary and repressive paraphernalia of real fascism.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Rejecting the European Project”, City Journal, 2012-09-07

September 4, 2012

US Army’s JTRS program a poster child for development failure

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:35

Strategy Page has the details:

It’s been eleven months now since the U.S. Army cancelled its 15 year effort to develop the JTRS (Joint Tactical Radio System). This program cost over $6 billion and has been a major embarrassment for the U.S. Department of Defense. Actually, JTRS still exists, on paper, but its goal, to provide better combat radios, has been accomplished by adopting civilian radios that do what the troops needed done and calling it JTRS. In the time the army spent working on JTRS some $11 billion was spent on buying more radios using existing designs, and a lot of off-the-shelf equipment incorporating stuff JTRS was supposed to do.

JTRS was yet another example of a military development project that got distracted, and bloated, trying to please everyone. There was, in a word, no focus. There’s been a lot of this in the last decade. That’s what killed the Comanche light attack helicopter, the Crusader self-propelled howitzer, FCS (Future Combat System), the Seawolf SSN, the DDG-1000 destroyer, B-2 bomber, F-22 fighters and several military space satellite projects. In all cases some of the technology developed was put to use in cheaper systems and sometimes a few of the cancelled systems were built (three Seawolfs, three DDG-1000s, 21 B-2s and 187 F-22s). These cancellations and cutbacks saved over half a trillion dollars. That goes a long way towards paying for projects that were not cancelled and are nearly half a trillion dollars over budget. But overall these failures were expensive and embarrassing.

JTRS, however, was the poster child of what usually goes wrong and how it impacts the combat troops. After all, radios are something personnel in all services use a lot. The main problem with JTRS was that the troops needed digital (for computer stuff) and analog (traditional radio) communications in one box and it had to be programmable, in order to handle new applications and the need to communicate with other radio types. That’s what JTRS was supposed to do but it never happened. The procurement bureaucracy and government contractors consumed over six billion dollars but never quite got anything useful out the door.

July 12, 2012

Säkerhetsbloggen does some preliminary analysis of Yahoo’s 453,000 leaked passwords

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:01

As we’ve noticed before, there are lots of really, really bad passwords in use:

Recently, Ars Technica reported about a leak by “D33ds Company” of more than 450.000 plain-text accounts from a Yahoo service, which is suspected to be Yahoo Voice.

Since all the accounts are in plain-text, anyone with an account present in the leak which also has the same password on other sites (e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc), should assume that someone has accessed their account.

[. . .]

Total entries = 442773
Total unique entries = 342478

Top 10 passwords
123456 = 1666 (0.38%)
password = 780 (0.18%)
welcome = 436 (0.1%)
ninja = 333 (0.08%)
abc123 = 250 (0.06%)
123456789 = 222 (0.05%)
12345678 = 208 (0.05%)
sunshine = 205 (0.05%)
princess = 202 (0.05%)
qwerty = 172 (0.04%)

Other bits of password-related idiocy are here.

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