Current

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Firefox Gross Privacy Violation

I typically run Firefox nightlies and noticed that things were getting sluggish again. Last week I discovered the disk cache was no longer working but today I found something entirely shocking. A new "feature" making the rounds in alpha, beta and nightly versions of Firefox appears to be a gross violation of user privacy.

Now in the profile directory is a sqlite database called netpredictions.sqlite. A look into this file shows it to be an NSA like vacuum of your browsing history. Reading it with a sqlite browser displayed records of 1,236 hosts and 5,584 pages visited, with last load times on all!!! There are other keys with even more records.

What on earth is Mozilla thinking? Clearing the browser cache does not empty the database. The only way to make it go away is to manually change the following preference in about:config to

network.seer.enabled FALSE

and then deleting the file from your profile directory.

I'll leave it to someone else to determine if this spy gathers data when in private browsing mode - I would not be at all surprised if it does. I've used Mozilla browsers since Netscape 0.96b but that run may be coming to an end. Opera, can you hear me?

Prior

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Eekonomic Happy Talk

The LA Times yesterday had a headline and lede thus:

Surging retail sales signal an economy on the upswing


Retail sales in March grew at the fastest pace in a year and a half, exceeding expectations and bolstering hopes that the economy would continue to gain momentum.

Tiffany Hsu then wrote:

Americans rushed out to shop as frigid weather lifted in March, propelling retail sales at the fastest pace in a year and a half. The gauge from the Commerce Department surged 1.1% last month from February in its biggest leap since September 2012. Sales boomed 3.8% from March 2013. The strong sales, which beat economists' expectations for a 1% increase, bolstered hopes that the economy would continue to gain momentum after struggling through an especially harsh winter.

Wow! Sales boomed! 3.8%! Year on year! Surged 1.1% in a month! Color us totally underwhelmed. That is the best the economy can do after a five year slump? Later, Hsu feels the need to disclose that:

After removing the effect of vehicles, gas stations and restaurants, sales increased 0.8% month to month and 1.6% from the year-earlier period. Nearly every type of business enjoyed a sales increase, except electronics and appliance retailers, which suffered a 1.6% decline.

Oh.. hmmm. BOOMED! It is only towards the end of her story that Hsu reveals:

A recent report from Retail Metrics found that retailers closed the fourth quarter with a 7.1% plunge in earnings, marking their worst performance since 1999.

Even if the winter had been mild, retailers would still have had to resort to heavy discounting to shed leftover inventory from the holidays, said Standard & Poor's analyst Diya Iyer. "It's a bit early to put too much weight on the retail sales number," she said. "We're hearing from a lot of companies that same-store sales aren't great."

One really has to wonder how much the LA Times and Ms. Hsu get paid by the federal government for propogating this happy horseshit. Rah, rah go team go!

Prior(2)

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The Eich/Mozilla Controversy

This falls under the old adage of just because you can do something does not mean you should. Yes, corporations are within their rights to hire/fire at will. That does not mean they should always avail themself of that opportunity.
Perhaps a few days late on this one but below are our thoughts as recently posted in a forum discussion on this subject:

Eich was a known quantity before being promoted to CEO. That a small but vocal segment of the Mozilla "workforce" and others (outraged tolerant progressives) disagreed was not a reason why Mozilla should have given him the boot.

While they may have placated these vocal critics, they have also established that your personal politics, donations (political or charitable), etc are all fair game now too. Is this really where the country wants to go? Where any employee's job is subject to the whims and whines of any loud critic?

To all who agree that Eich should have been fired, please post here that you have also abandoned all use of javascript. Afterall, Eich created that and thus its bad, m'ok?


Eich was not running around asking that gays be deported, shot or otherwise harmed. He was not suggesting they be fired from their jobs. He only made a private donation which reflected his personal beliefs on the "definition" of marriage in the state of California. What is lost upon the vocal critics is that root cause of this "issue" - that both sides seek to have the government define what is (or be subtraction, is not) "marriage." That is the problem. The only party which has any legitimate, historical interest in conferring marriage upon two parties is the church, what ever one that may be. Government has no place in marriage at all.

Unfortunately, marriage has been woven into many government programs and affects qualifications for benefits, etc. The very easy way around this is to allow two (human) parties to enter into a legally binding contract representing their shared responsibilities. The common name for this is civil union. Replace every occurence of "marriage" in local, state and federal statutes with "civil union" and you immediately eliminate the problem.

Prior(3)

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Ukraine

Events in Ukraine have certainly become interesting the past few days with the use of unmarked Russian troops to secure military and political facilities in Crimea. Some seem to think this is a sudden lurch - the big, bad Russian bear leaping up to sink its claws into an ethnically/politically fractured Ukraine. On the contrary, this has been years, if not decades, in the making. And as recently as 2009, our diplomats in Ukraine knew where things were headed as evidence by this and other cables.

The thought of a seriously pro-Western outpost on its border is a non-starter for Russia and they last took action when Georgia got out of step. While some in the US, on the right in particular, jump up and down and want to revive the cold war, a more sober look shows that a) Russia has real interests in the Crimea, b) this did not just happen over night and was probably inevitable and c) the US probably would not act a lot differently were it in a similar situation.

Ukraine has some very large ethnic Russian provinces, Crimea being one of the most concentrated. This came about as a result of Stalin's forced cleansing of the Tartar/Turk population who historically inhabited Crimea. Since the the Soviet breakup, the muslim Tartars have been returning and are now sizable minority. This may give Putin some pause if Russia is considering a full out occupation and/or annexing of Crimea. It probalby would not take much to ignite a new Checnya and Daghestan. But the fact remains, the large ethnic Russian population prefers to be aligned with Russia than the rest of Ukraine (as do some of the eastern regions which border Russia directly). The political turmoil in Kiev has given them the opportunity to play up to Russian media (and anyone else who will listen) their "fears" of being repressed by the new western leaning central government. That one of the last acts of the Soviet Union was to make Crimea an autonomous republic further fuels the separatist desires.

Russia also leases the Black Sea port at Sevastopol on an agreement due to expire in 2017. What was already a tough sell even when their guy Yanukovych was in power in Kiev, it is hard to see how a western leaning Ukraine would agree to continue the relationship. In fact, this well could be the primary reason Russia is acting, using the humanitarian ethnic Russian story as a cover. Russia no longer has many levers of military power and this is one of the more important regional ones they have left. By grabbing Crimea now while there is turmoil, Russia avoids a more difficult and messier confrontation in 2017 with a Ukraine that may be entrenched with the west. And independent Russia has never been shy about the use of force in its immediate neighborhood - here is a good capsule review. CORRECTION:One of Yanukovych's first acts was to 'negotiate' a deal with Russia for a cut in natural gas prices in exchange for adding 25 years to the basing agreement. The opposition parties were against this deal and it is uncertain if they would/could try to invalidate it.

As to the west and the US in particular, the outrage over Russian actions is typical and reflects a short memory of its own actions, long ago and recent. The French have no hesitation to act in Africa as they see fit, even today. The US has had its share of invited and uninvited forays both near and far from its borders. So there is definitely a bit of hypocrisy here but that is par for the course in global affairs.

Of course, the fact that Ukraine has been independent since 1992 raises the question of what actions the US and its western allies could have taken prior to 2014. There have certainly been opportunites, though some have been stunted by the US own needs. Had the US made a more serious effort in Afghanistan in the 2001-2004 period, it is likely we would not continue to need the blessings of Russia for overflights of our military into Afghanistan. The same can be said of adjoining former republics aligned with Russia who provide air and ground access into Afghanistan. Had the US been out of Afghanistan by 2005 or 2006, what actions could have been taken to support the western leaning Orange coallition who took power from 2005-2010? What reforms would have been possible? Would things be good enough in Ukraine today that even the ethnic Russians would bid a fond farewell to Mother Russia? We will never know.

From a US strategic interest, it is important to remember that Ukraine, in the end, has little if any value. This is not a massive Russian assault on western Europe or soth Asia. Ranked #70, Ukraine is not even an economic interest for the US. And if the US wishes to continue to have flexibility in its own hemisphere (say, in Venezuela or central America), it can't make too much of a stink over Russia adventurism in their own backyard. Russian policy has always been about protecting the homeland (sound familiar?) and having weak neighbors as buffers helps in that goal. While the US need not condone Russia's actions, it should also not allow this to copletely derail US/Russian relations as there are many other areas of greater strategic interest in which we share common goals.

Etcétera

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QDB

If you have ever spent some time on IRC then you will appreciate the Quote Database, qdb.us The site can at times be a bit slow and does toss out the odd php or database error but nothing can bring back your memories of IRC better. QDB is a repository of funny IRC conversation snippets submitted by users and gives viewers the option of rating each one as good or bad. Many of them are a bit off-color (too much so for here!) but here is one example:



(myst) so what about you? anything interesting?
(Joshua) i'm writting a book and i just left a naked lady in her bed seconds before her roommates came home.
(Joshua) it was like *pulls on pants* *roommates walk in*
(myst) what's your book about?
(Joshua) lol!
(Joshua) yup, you're a chick
(myst) lol
(myst) rofl

§

Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics

Just found quite the treasure trove of physics/astronomy related podcasts. The Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at U. California Santa Barbara has a very nice site up including podcasts of many of their conferences, public lectures and colloquia. If the handful of podcasts we have opened so far are any indication, there are a limited number of still photos of blackboards and the like embedded with the audio. Good stuff!

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3D Ski Maps

Here is an interesting site for the snowboard and ski crowd: 3dskimaps.com It is surprising nobody has managed to do something like this before now (maybe they have and we just don't know). 3dskimaps shows the mountain map(s) not just with the trails but in 3d perspective with color coding to indicate trail steepness. This is a great thing to print out and bring with you on your trip and tuck in your jacket pocket to answer the inevitable 'how steep do you think that really is?' Only a limited number of mountains so far but hopefully more soon.

Reading List

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On Scala

Scala In Depth by J. Suereth ISBN 978-1935182702 ©2012
This was purchased after finishing the Coursera class on functional programming taught by Martin Odersky. Odersky developed the Scala language and gives an introduction to this text of 284 pages. If you are new to either Scala or functional programming, this may not be the book for you, and in fact was probably not my best choice either. While some say Odersky's own book is either outdated or could better cover some more recent features, it is most certainly the better choice for the newbie or light intermediate Scala programmer. However, this text is certainly worth having once you have some Scala under your belt. It might be better titled "Scala, a Practioner's Guide" as it really does highlight the many traps and mistakes one can make in Scala development. The advice it gives is also far more real world applicable than that of the typical programming language text. Recommended but for the appropriate audience.

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Iran in Photos

Inside Iran by Mark Edward Harris ISBN 978-0811863308 ©2008
This is a medium sized coffee table photo book which is quite certain to piss off any neocon friends just by its presence. About 200 pages long, it groups the photos by regions within Iran and gives a short introduction at the start of each. Leaving aside the politics, there are some truly stunning images in this book and given its low cost (found in a bargain bin) it is worth picking up.

§

Cold War Intrigue

Spy Wars: Moles, Mysteries, and Deadly Games by Tennent H. Bagley ISBN 978-0300121988

This fascinating book proved great medicine while we were laid up with a cold over the recent holidays. The author was a counterintelligence officer at CIA in the 1950s and 60s, eventually rising to chief of counterintelligence for the Soviet Russia ("SR") Division and Division Deputy Director. While the book looks into many historical Tsarist and Soviet intel operations, the prime focus is on the case of a notorious KGB Soviet defector, Yuri Nosenko which the author was directly involved. The author also spends considerable time on the efforts (cover up?) by the CIA and others to rehabilitate Nosenko's bona fides as a genuine and valuable defector.

The bottom line is this - if you take the author at his word concerning the interviews and documents he was involved in, as well as those of others, there is no way one can see Nosenko as anything but a false defector. However, the question in my mind is why they would willingly send someone so blatantly unprepared - certainly they thought better of CIA than that? I have to wonder if the actual decision to 'defect' was in fact Nosenko's - he was a drunk and womanizer and going no where fast at KGB. His 1962 Geneva trip was probably a real KGB operation, but the subsequent trip could have seen Nosenko go off reservation figuring he had a ticket to a better life (ultimately) in the US if he defected rather than work in place as a 'double' as per KGB orders. This would have put KGB in quite the difficult situation.

Anyone interested in intelligence operations, especially those of the cold war period should read this book. We can only hope now that Nosenko is dead that the CIA will release *all* the files, at least those that were not destroyed in the late 1960s.

Earthquakes

M 4.6, near the south coast of Papua, Indonesia
May 08, 2013 13:34:02 GMT
M 2.8, Northern California
May 08, 2013 13:30:03 GMT
M 4.5, near the east coast of Honshu, Japan
May 08, 2013 11:18:13 GMT
M 2.6, Hawaii region, Hawaii
May 08, 2013 09:12:36 GMT
M 4.5, Fox Islands, Aleutian Islands, Alaska
May 08, 2013 08:08:13 GMT
M 2.5, western Texas
May 08, 2013 07:58:11 GMT
M 4.2, Maug Islands region, Northern Mariana Islands
May 08, 2013 07:28:35 GMT
M 4.2, northern Qinghai, China
May 08, 2013 05:53:40 GMT
M 3.2, Puerto Rico region
May 08, 2013 05:32:39 GMT
M 2.8, Nevada
May 08, 2013 04:24:24 GMT

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