Monthly Archive: February 2018

The Delta Airlines NRA mess – the real game

The Lt. Governor of Georgia, Casey Cagle, caused a row 2 days ago by invoking a process to suspend debate on a bill in the State legislature that would have provided a tax concession on aviation fuel for Delta Airlines.
His stated reason was that Delta is discriminating against the NRA.
The stated reason is bullshit.
Delta was granting NRA members certain discounts on its services. These discounts were not available to customers who were not NRA members. The NRA members were therefore enjoying a privilege.
Removal of the discount was therefore removal of a privilege, not discrimination.
It is not clear to me whether the threat to withhold tax concessions to Delta violates any state or federal laws. At best, it is clearly an attempt to punish a corporation for offending political sensibilities. As such, the precedent is a dangerous one.
However, the backdrop to this action is easier to understand. The current Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, is term-limited. There are multiple GOP candidates to replace him. A primary election is scheduled to determine who the Republican candidate will be, and Casey Cagle is one of the primary candidates.
The action to try and derail the tax concession for Delta is therefore almost certainly an attempt to appeal to GOP primary voters. Just to validate that hypothesis, another GOP primary candidate for the Governorship, Michael Williams, claimed on-air today in a CNN interview that Delta grants discounts to Planned Parenthood supporters. (when pressed on the source for the claim, he cited Google as a source, and then ducked and weaved. Well OK then.).
What is going on here, folks, is an attempt by GOP primary candidates to out-crazy each other to appeal to their base. This is because in the current GOP world, winning the primary is all that matters. They expect to win the general election because…the GOP always wins.
The right answer is for them to emerge from the primary process looking like censorious twits, and lose the general. However, that is up to the electorate in the state of Georgia.
In the meantime, Georgia can kiss goodbye to any idea that Amazon might move there, and other states are only too willing to talk to Delta Airlines about moving its HQ and hub from Atlanta. Corporations always have options, and they can probably get a better tax deal from another state, which might leave Georgia with a 30+k job hole if that is the outcome.

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The F1 engine life fiasco for 2018 and beyond

The FIA and LibertyF1 are digging themselves into a hole over their attempts to reduce F1 powerplant development and running costs.
The current generation of F1 powerplants are extremely complex, comprising 6 component sets:
Internal Combustion Engine (ICE)
Motor Generator Unit – Heat (MGU-H)
Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic (MGU-K)
Turbocharger (TC)
Energy Store (ES)
Control Electronics (CE)

Over the last several seasons, the FIA has been reducing the allowed number of sets that any powerplant supplier can use in a season without penalty. In the 2017 season, powerplant suppliers were allowed to use four of each of the six components during the course of a season without incurring penalties. If any car used more than 4 of each component type, penalties were imposed.
Meeting the reliability and life requirements for the component sets proved challenging in 2017 for powerplant suppliers. Honda, in particular, essentially debugged and tested their entire new-specification powerplant in public, chewing through 11 MGU-H units, 9 ICEs…the penalties were enormous. Renault also had numerous reliability issues, especially towards the end of the season when they seemed to deliberately run down their stock of spare components, which led to a public row with Toro Rosso, who at one point suggested that Renault was deliberately supplying them with end-of-life components in order to make it possible for the Renault works team to leapfrog them in the Constructors championship and gain more revenues from the F1 prize pool.
The practical target mileage for an entire powerplant package in 2018 is to be able to run for 7 race weekends – 3 free practice sessions, qualifying (which uses higher-power modes and is harder on the powerplant) and the race. This is reckoned to be around 750kms at nearly all race weekends. That is around 5300 kms for 7 races.
As a comparison, the Porsche 919 that won last year’s Le Man 24 Hours race travelled a total distance of 5000 kms in the race…
So…the ask for F1 powerplants is now for them to be as long-lived and reliable as a Le Mans LMP1 powerplant. Requiring that a 2-hour race powerplant be as reliable as a 24 hours endurance powerplant seems to be a mismatch of expectations vs. function.
Mario Ilien, who should know a wee bit about F1 engine and powerplant design and support, said this in July 2017:

…Next year, having three engines is more expensive than producing four engines.
All the new parts you are developing have to go through testing on the dyno, to make sure you have achieved the mileage for three engines a year. And that is expensive.
I think even four is not enough. We’re half way through this season, and half the field has got a problem.

Well, today, Cyril Abetiboul of Renault effectively admitted that Renault may actually formulate a powerplant usage strategy for its works team based on accepting that they cannot survive on only 3 sets of powerplant components. He appeared to be hinting strongly that Renault may decide to use more than 3 sets of components, and work out how to accept the penalties at the most advantageous points in the season. This is a pretty strong indication that at least one powerplant supplier is not prepared to stick to the 3 component set limit if it feels that exceeding it will allow it to provide a more powerful powerplant package.

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How to spot trollbots on social media

When you look at social media accounts that are not what they claim to be, they fall into one of three general categories:

1. Real Person engaging in impersonation or astroturfing
This is still the most common behavior pattern. On the internet, you can be anybody you want to be, and you can pretend to be anywhere on the planet. Trollbot factories can have hundreds of fake accounts, many of them operated by the same person or group of people.

2. Partly automated trollbot account, sometimes operated by multiple persons
This is becoming more common. It gives trolling and social media subversion organizations the best of both worlds. In off-hours, the account will be set up to automatically post or replicate content from elsewhere. When the operators are awake, they will post and comment manually.

3. Fully automated bot
These are becoming less common, since they can be more easily spotted by tools. These are set up to post previously stored content, or to replicate content posted elsewhere by using keyword triggers to copy and re-post content. Usually, analysis shows that there is no original content from the account, it consists entirely of content copied from elsewhere. Sometimes hundreds of accounts are set up to re-post the same content.

Ways to spot accounts
So here is a base list of the ways in which you can spot accounts that are not what they claim to be. This is not exhaustive, and the trollbot factories are consistently coming up with new variations to try and outflank bot detection algorithms.

Account Names and bios
1. Account name that comprises mostly numeric digits, like Ann2865743. These are usually accounts created by an account mass creation or replication engine. These accounts usually have no picture or avatar and no bio.
2. Bio that consists of a long collection of hashtags or slogans like #MAGA, #TRUMP.
3. Use of a stock photo, or photo of a well-known person as the account avatar. Many fake accounts use stock images lifted from the internet, or images of famous people. (One account on Twitter that I suspected of being a Russian trollbot used an image of what turned out to be a Russian porn actress)

Posting patterns
1. Following huge number of people, but has next to no friends or followers
2. Creating massive numbers of postings or comments in a short time period, far more than a real human could reasonably be expected to type and submit. If you do the math and find that the account is creating 100 postings an hour…that is indicative of an automated bot account.
3. Discrepancy between stated location, time zone and actual posting patterns (this is especially obvious on Twitter accounts). If an account claims to be in Lost Angeles, but seems to be tweeting on Moscow time, that is a bit of a giveaway. (One Twitter account that I monitored claimed to be in the UK, but always posted on Moscow time).
4. Posting patterns point to the account operator residing in a time zone that clearly aligns with a notorious trollbot location (good examples are Moscow and Vladivostok).
5. Daily posting patterns show a spurt of postings over a 1-2 hour period, or constant posting over 24 hours. Neither of these are what you would expect if a real human being was operating the account. Humans do tend to sleep from time to time…

Posting content
6. Poor command of written English. Often the use of Google Translate results in stilted or grammatically incorrect sentences, since the authors link slogans and phrases to form a sentence without understanding the underlying English grammar rules (which are complicated compared to some other languages).
7. Discrepancies between postings concerning where the account is located, the age of the account owner, the account owner’s life etc. etc. When the account owner’s bio keeps changing from day to day, this is a bit of a giveaway.
8. Discrepancy between the dialect of English in use. Classic one is an account pretending to be in the UK, but constantly using spelling and idioms from American English.
9. Discrepancy between expected careabouts and actual careabouts. Example is account pretending to be in the USA but posting about European subjects. Many Russian trollbots constantly post about subjects like the Ukraine, which looks odd if they are claiming to be from Baltimore…
10. Inclusion of markup language tags in postings or comments due to poor software coding or usage skills. This is a real giveaway that this is an account that is (at least part of the time) set up to automatically post content.
11. Analysis of postings on the platform shows that the same content has been posted by dozens (sometimes hundreds) of accounts within a short period of time. A search often reveals identical text posted hundreds of times within a matter of minutes.
12. Analysis of the account shows that it was dormant for a long period of time, but has suddenly been posting massive amounts of content. This is indicative of an account that was created, but parked for later use. Many Twitter trollbot accounts were created as far back as 2009, but have only recently been active
13. Numerous account name changes over time. Real people tend to not change their account names that frequently. Trollbot accounts do it all the time, as they are re-purposed to post on the Latest Hot Topic.

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Bad behavior online (surprise surprise)

Folks, this is where I get upfront, blunt and candid.
I was reminded why I booted a person off of my Facebook last year when I encountered that same person trying to debate on somebody else’s wall today.
I say “trying”, because all of the classic signs of poor online behavior that led to me booting the person last year were still on display.
If your idea of a contribution to a debate is to post one or more of a combination of memes, collections of slogans or juvenile ad hominems,and attempts at diversion, then it will only be a matter of time before I unfriend, mute and/or block you.
You have a right to say and write whatever you like (assuming it does not rise to the level of a clear and present threat to the safety or lives of others). I also have the right to object and argue against it.
When I argue against assertions or propositions, I expect the person making the proposition to bring evidence and facts to support their proposition. That’s how debate and discussion work. Throwing memes, cliches, rhetorical bombs, attempting diversions and whatboutism, and generally behaving like a schoolyard juvenile doesn’t cut it.
I will, after warning you, walk away from that kind of interaction. It is a waste of my time. If you persist in wasting my time across multiple interactions, I will fire you off of my Facebook wall. That is a promise.
No, that is not “censorship” or me being intolerant or a snowflake. If your reaction is to simply hurl more slogans like that, well, what did I just say in a previous paragraph?
Right now, there are several people who are on Mute on my Facebook, either because because they have engaged in those behaviors in the past, or because they have expressed opinions that I find to be toxic or logically ludicrous. At some point i am going to un-Mute them and see if their behavior has improved. If there is no sign of improvement, they will get the heave-ho.
As a general rule I don’t fire people out of my social media world for expressing contrary opinions.Taking people or information sources seriously only if they express views that you totally agree with is a short cut to conformity and groupthink.
I usually fire them for behaving like dicks when discussing those opinions.
Contrary to what some people have claimed in the past, this policy is not me being pompous or condescending, or tuning our or censoring Stuff I Don’t Like. It is my way of using my time effectively. I don’t debate or discuss to “win”. I debate or discuss to gain insight. When people talk or argue in slogans and memes, they are not using their own voice, and they are usually not providing any cogent argument. On two counts, there is no insight likely with that style of communication. That wastes my time, and provides me with no positive RoI from interactions. So I will either not engage, or rapidly disengage, and if people persistently behave like toxic juveniles, they will get booted out of my online sphere.

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Holy flaming peckerballs Batman…

If there really is a deity, may that deity come down from wherever and spare us.
I want us to be spared from the avalanche of intellectually risible, fear-addled ratchet-jawing by fringe media frontmen (and notice, this is all men in my posting) who seem to think that the recently released portrait of former President Obama contains all sorts of pointers and symbols to…
Well…why don’t we take a quick look at what the looney-tunes ratchet-jaws are claiming, shall we?

1. Sean Hannity
A two-fer here, since Hannity, more even than Alex Jones, appears to have come unglued about the portrait. First he wrote this Tweet, but, realizing that maybe the mask had slipped, deleted it:


Then he went on this rant about supposedly hidden detail in the portrait that of course, only he, the great savant, can see:

2. Alex Jones

Whisky Tango Foxtrot. cubed.
This is an effing portrait we are looking at here.
Here we have two commentators who appear to have completely jumped the shark into…who knows where?
I remain consistently amused at the level to which authoritarian dim-bulbs and their wind-up rabble-rousers consistently invoke sexual metaphor and fear trigger-phrases when talking about Other Folks Not Like Them. How many times have we read phrases along the lines of “I don’t want homosexuality rammed down my throat”? A real psychologist would have a field-day analyzing how fearful exclusionary authoritarians use THAT phrase.
And here we have more of the same. “secret sperm”? Perlease.
This isn’t a dog-whistle. It isn’t rooted in reality, or anywhere within 100 fucking light-years of reality. This is the exemplification of fear-addled, racism-soaked fantasy. The umpteenth recycling of the old fear trope that Those People Who Don’t Even Look Like Us are actually a band of marauding, primitive savages, who are in the grip of the caranlistic desire to gang-rape Your Family Members.
If this was part of a fantasy novel plot, literary agents would be laughing at it. You should too. Ridicule is the only appropriate and logical response to these conspiracy-mongering wombats.

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Arthur Jones and what he tells us about our country

By now most of you will have heard that Arthur Jones has managed to get himself on the Republican primary election ballot for the 3rd Congressional District in Illinois.
This is not Arthur Jones’ first attempt to win the GOP nomination for the seat. He put himself on the primary ballot in 2016, and was the only GOP candidate. However, the GOP went to court and succeeded in having him removed from the ballot because of petition signature issues. This left the Democratic nominee to win in an uncontested election. This time around, Jones appears to have ticked all of the boxes for the legality of his primary election submission.
There seems little doubt that Jones is a Nazi. The evidence is fairly compelling. He is a former leader of the American Nazi party, and is on record as claiming up to the present day that the Holocaust is a “racket” i.e. mostly a fabrication. He has a track record of blatantly anti-Jewish remarks.
A lot of people are hot under the collar about Jones’ appearance on any ballot.
We should not be surprised that this has happened.
Really.
Arthur Jones has not suddenly leaped into prominence in the GOP because the GOP has become a party of Nazis. He simply used a feature of the current political system; namely that anybody who can obtain the necessary number of supporter signatures and pay a filing fee can run for office. This is a good feature. We do not want a system where only the wealthy, or those with the right connections, can run for political office.
Personally, I also want Nazis to be public about their odious ideology and ideas. I want to have those ideas demolished in public, so that the entire Nazi movement can once again be consigned to the trash bin of human history.
Is Jones’ entry on the GOP primary ballot the result of a shift in the American political climate towards the normalization of racist and fascist ideology? That is a tempting hypothesis in the current climate, but I doubt its validity.
The real underlying issue is that 90% of Congressional races are not competitive. They are not competitive because over the last 60 years, the two major political parties have, by subtle electoral gerrymandering, slowly reduced the number of truly competitive House seats to a fraction of the total. This has resulted in a an incumbent class of representatives dominating congressional politics.
Most seats are now stacked heavily in favor of one of the parties, to the extent that a dead tree stump could probably get elected from the party that dominates the electoral map of the district.
Because the general election itself is usually a foregone conclusion, this has two consequences, both of them negative:
1. Good prospective candidates from a minority party have no interest in running in the primary election, except possibly as a one-off to show that they have the “right stuff” to later run for election elsewhere. Why invest time and donor money on a lost cause?
2. The primary elections, which are usually dominated by the hardcore support base of the two major parties, decide who will be the elected representative.
Neither of these are good outcomes. For an election system based on universal suffrage to be credible, it must be demonstrably fair in its structure and execution, and enough of the electorate has to participate for the winning candidates to be able to plausibly claim that they were elected by enough of the electorate to give their position and actions credibility. An election determined 6 months in advance by a few hundred primary voters does not meet either of the above criteria.

The GOP clearly understands how toxic Arthur Jones is to their party and their brand image. They want nothing to do with him.
However, one can make the case that it is partly the GOP’s fault that Jones is the GOP nominee. They could have run an “establishment” candidate, but chose to not do so (one suspects that no mainstream GOP person was interested in wasting the time and effort to run), handing him the opening to run for the GOP primary election. So, whether they want him or not, they are stuck with him sailing under the GOP banner for the next few months.
The good news is that Arthur Jones is highly unlikely to win the election in the 3rd Congressional District. This is a solidly Democratic electoral zone. In the 2014 and 2012 elections, the incumbent Democratic congressman won the district by an average of 65% to 35%. So it is long odds-on that Jones will be defeated by a large margin. The GOP will therefore not try the Roy Moore approach of vacillating over supporting him, distancing themselves from him in public while secretly funneling money and support to him in private. The GOP has no chance of winning the seat.
Since he is already disowned by the GOP, Jones will be unconstrained, and we can expect to read more incendiary comments and allegations from him as he seeks to gain attention. To use the old military expression, Jones will therefore cause collateral damage to the GOP by his very appearance on the ballot. The Democratic Party will seek to use his utterances as proof that the GOP supports racists and nazis. That may help them nationally, but, as is usual in the adversarial two party system, it completely ignores the underlying causes of why crackpots like Arthur Jones can even gain any traction.

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Bill is getting ready for Superbowl

Bill hobbles slowly from the kitchen into the living room of his small house. His dog is sprawled, oblivious, on the carpet in front of the television.
Bill looks down at the dog. Damn it, he thinks, I wish I could be my dog. He doesn’t seem to have a dicky back and a creaking knee.
Bill went to see the doctor last week, after months of being nagged by his favorite bar worker Dennis. It cost him money – real money, and resulted in the doctor muttering a string of three letter acronyms, stuff like “ACL”, “PCL”.
Bill hates those medical professionals. They talk all big words and mumbo-jumbo, like they are educated or something. Maybe they’re in practice to become politicians. Whatever. Apparently Bill’s knee is about to fall apart, and he needs surgery. But Bill is not going to get surgery any time soon. After what happened with his back, Bill wants to stay away from those damn doctors for a while. In the meantime, he hobbles.
Bill has a few bar friends coming over for Superbowl. They are all mostly going to be cheering for the Eagles. Hell, why would you want the Patriots to win? With pretty-boy Brady under center, and that scowling guy Belichick running the show from the sideline?
But Bill, being cranky Bill, went out to the store and bought Patriots paper plates and cups. He wants to see the guys’ reaction. Plus, although he doesn’t care for the Patriots, the are Winners. And Bill respects winners. “Winners not whiners”, that was what his buddy Mark used to say at the factory all of those years ago, when they watched sports together.
Bill sometimes wonders how Mark is doing since the factory closed and he lost touch with him. Mark moved to California (of all places) to find work. California! Bill remembers joshing Mark at the bar when he admitted he was moving to the People’s Republic. Bill just hopes that Mark was not indoctrinated by all of those gay-loving Marxists in places like San Francisco. Mark’s daughter was the one that talked him into the move, and you know how devious women and girlfriends can be.
At one time, Bill’s wife would cook all manner of food for Superbowl, and they would even have the wives over. But since Bill’s divorce, he tells his male buddies to “just bring what you want to eat”. Mostly, they just drink and heckle the players, or discuss the female sideline reporters.
Bill still does not know why they have women on the sideline. This is a man’s sport, dammit. Let men be men, that’s what Bill says. All of this equality shit grates on him. If God had intended for women to be equal with men, he wouldn’t have given them tits and a pussy, har har.
Bill told the guys at the bar last night that this will probably be his last Superbowl. The NFL seems to have become a sissy league, with all of those silly rules about catches, pass interference, helmet-to-helmet…what is this shit? In Bill’s high school days, if you had your bell rung, they gave you smelling salts, and you put on the helmet and went out there and got stuck in again. None of this “how many fingers do you see? What is your name?” bullshit from those damn medical guys while the game went on. And then there are all of those guys kneeling for the anthem. How dare they. In my day, Bill would have jumped in the air to salute for the anthem. The NFL needs to clear all of those ungrateful sons of bitches out of the place. Like Donald said. Damn it, why won’t those whiny-ass fake news people shut the fuck up and let Donald take charge? He knows what is needed.
Bill glances across at the picture on the wall behind the sofa. The one that shows a mythical NFL player, like John Wayne, bursting into the end zone, as light shines, seemingly from above. Nice picture. Real Man conquers the world. Bill skates past the rest of the story in his mind. The part where he bought the picture the week after Superbowl, and hung it on the wall to cover a hole in the sheetrock. The hole made where he heaved a wine bottle through the wall after his favorite NFL team lost in overtime to exit the playoffs.
Bill spoke to his son for the first time in months the other day. His son lives in New York with his girlfriend, and they are getting married next year. Bill doesn’t know if he will be invited to the wedding. When he told her to shut up and fuck off back to New York two Thanksgivings ago, after he realized that she was one of those East Coast limousine liberals that Rush talks about, his son didn’t speak to him for a year.
But it matter not matter any way. Bill doesn’t know for sure if he will even be able to walk by that time, at the rate that his knee is going, he will probably be in a wheelchair by then.
Bill sits down gingerly on the sofa, and the dog comes over and puts its head on his leg. Bill looks down at the dog, and suddenly feels sad. Why can’t everybody be like the dog? You know, eager to get along?

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