Rabbits of Mind

Always Multiplying

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Summer Entertainment Minute

One of the great things about summer is that TV and film premiers give us something to look forward to. I need that sort of break, whether it is in the great storytelling that is to be found on TV these days or the mostly vacuous visual and action spectacles of the big screen. 

So, here are some quick entertainment notes from early-mid summer.

AMC’s The Killing has been good. Heartbreaking, but good. This Salon article focuses some deserved attention on Bullet, played by the talented Bex Taylor-Klaus. It was the portrayal of kids on the street that immediately drew me into the story after wondering “what are they going to do to get me to care about a new season of ‘The Killing’ after the original mystery was solved?” What they did was make me worry about these homeless kids. Typical of this dark show, even if they catch this season’s perpetrator, all will still not be right with the world.

Dexter and True Blood are back. Maybe I’m just too busy, but they haven’t really captured my attention.

TNT’s Falling Skies is in its third season, and has been a reasonably watchable TV drama with a sci fi premise. This story of a Massachusetts group of rebels trying to fight an alien invasion resonates, but it’s still the sort of show that, most days, you can watch while you’re reading something.

Maggie and I watch TNT’s Major Crimes together, one of the few shows she watches. The central story of a young witness looked after by Lt. Sharon Raydor takes the place of the personal quirkiness of Kyra Sedgewick’s character from when this show used to be The Closer. This is the second season for Major Crimes, and it has made a successful transition to a show that provides compelling weekly cases as a backdrop for the ongoing challenges of this small group of police who specialize in delivering an open and shut case to the DA.

Maggie and I saw The Heat — I think it was the first film we have seen in the theater together in a year. It was a hilarious comedy of crude characters, crude language, and crude treatment of violence. They essentially took a Sandra Bullock vehicle comedy you might be familiar with and added a successful Melissa McCarthy shtick. If you’re not offended by the violence, it’s a successful female version of the usually male buddy cop film. Judging by the laughter in the theater, this one is a crowd pleaser. You might miss half the lines if the theater is packed, or if a third of your audience did not stop at two drinks with dinner. Would see again. At home. Where I can hear it. Still, we laughed a lot because both Bullock and McCarthy have great timing and deliver silly dialogue well.

Under the Dome is “eh” so far. However, my younger daughter is mildly interested and it may be a gateway to other Stephen King or horror. She has good taste in characters, so we will see where this one goes.

Saw Man of Steel with Katherine. I don’t have much to add to what has been said elsewhere other than we enjoyed ourselves and I liked that Russel Crowe turned Jor El into a worthwhile character. For superhero films, Iron Man 3 was more entertaining, but Man of Steel was certainly worth the time.

We also saw Star Trek Into Darkness. Moving on.

Maggie and I rented I Give it a Year through the cable company’s “See it at before it hits theaters” feature that sometimes comes up. It was a great reversal of the typical romance story, but it couldn’t help sort of copping out in a couple of ways. While part of the premise here is to poke fun at unrealistic love stories (and they come at the appropriate tropes from many directions) don’t look here for a bigger message. As far as I can tell, they’re just playing it to get laughs out of our expectations. If you like comedy borne from awkward social situations, this will tickle your funny bone.

NEXT UP:

I haven’t seen and doubt I have time to see:

World War Z, The Conjuring, … wait. I’m not going to list all the movies I don’t have time to see. The truth is, I don’t even want to see all the films that interest me at the theater. Apart from a few films that I jsut can’t wait for, or that the big screen is a definite improvement on, I prefer to see movies at home where I can make as much popcorn as I want, pause the movie if necessary, and talk about it with my kids.

What are we looking forward to?

AMC’s Breaking Bad is presenting its last 8 hours this summer, beginning in August. I will be there. AMC is following it with a new police drama about revenge: Low Winter Sun based (of course) on a British series. Not sure I’ll be picking up a new show.

Pacific Rim opens this week. A film about giant monsters fighting giant robots. if you have to ask whether I will see this film, you don’t know me very well. I love the trailers, the attitude, the director, the actors, and the buzz I’m starting to hear about this film. 

And I love what Del Toro says here in this Salon article

The other sort of big summer movies often feel to me like it’s about one race, one credo and one country saving the world, and I wanted to make it about the world saving the world, no matter what skin color you have, what race you have, what belief you have – everybody in the movie saves the world, and we created a very equal structure where Charlie Day’s scientist has the same weight that Charlie Hunnam’s character has or Idris Elba’s or Rinko Kinkuchi, you know?

Speaking of Idris Elba, when do I get more Luther. Huh? Elba is one of my most favoritest actors ever.

OK, my minute is up. 

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Evils of Facebook Public Posts

(or: You Ought to be Allowed to Change Your Mind)

Just a quick note on why I shy away from commenting and liking Facebook public posts and why you ought to as well.

First, Facebook will, in real time, notify every person with even the slightest possible interest that you have made a comment on a public post. Yes, notifications of this kind of activity always end up in the Facebook Ticker So, if you comment on a post in the “Rabid Fans of Silver Spoons’ Ricky Schroeder” group, your friends will see what you said. Regardless of whether they share that interest. Whether you or they want that or not.


But worse, two years down the road you will have forgotten about that public post. You may no longer feel the same way. And even though you have the power to delete comments, it would not be easy for you to find those comments you made way back when. Yet someone searching your name might well stumble across the comment, and it will still be associated with your Facebook account.

If you have no problem with this, have at it. However, if you value privacy at all, maybe you don’t want to have all your conversations both in public and in a place where they could pop up again long after you have changed your mind, in a way that does not allow you to defend yourself or clarify.

For FB to fix this, they ought to allow you to purge old, public comments. But they see comments on public posts to kind of belong to the person who made the original post. So, you should think that, too. A comment on a public post is something you give up control of, but keep being held responsible for. That seems a little lopsided.

I, personally, have stopped making public posts except in cases of a very public announcement. You might consider it as well. And, check before you comment. If it has a little picture of an Earth, it’s public.

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BEEP BEEP BEEP

A woman who looked to be in her 60’s at the market the other day carried one of the handheld scanners out of the store (unintentionally, I assume). There is apparently some sort of mechanism that sets off an alarm when you do this; the device starts making an annoying alert sound.

Everyone makes mistakes. So, the woman came back into the store to return the scanner.

Considering that she was 5 feet away from the charging cradles where she (presumably) acquired the scanner in the first place, I assumed she was going to replace the scanner there. And that the scanner would realize it was home and stop screaming at us.

Nope. She kind of snuck back in and gingerly placed the device on the belt of one of the checkout lanes, as if it was about to explode. Then she hurried out of the store into the relatively quiet relief of the parking lot, leaving the thing there, still screaming at us. 

A minute or so later, a store manager came by and walked the device the five feet to the charging station, which ceased the audio assault. Had I not been four lanes away and trying to finish bagging so the next person in line could check out, I would have done it myself.

The alert obviously serves the purpose of preventing the removal of the devices, but I think it embarrassed the woman and flustered her. Initially, I was annoyed that she left us with the screaming scanner. As she left, did she think we would enjoy listening to that? No, she probably didn’t think about us at all and was just happy to escape.

Is this rude, or was she put into an unusual situation that flustered her? People don’t have a lot of experience of what to do when an electronic device is screaming at you. It’s a strange situation.

I’m still wondering how to process this incident, but my initial annoyance has given way to some amusement that we now live with devices that become the cause of weird social situation dilemmas.

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Blue Suede Cat

In the tradition of James Bond’s “Vesper”, I have named a drink for the love of my life. She requested I use an old online nickname, and it works because it matches the drink. 

It’s pretty much as strong as a Vesper, although I have scaled the size here. It resembles a kind of Gimlet because, well, I love drinks based on the gimlet. Here you go.

Blue Suede Cat Cocktail

Shake over ice, as you would with all cloudy drinks.

SUBSTITUTIONS: Use Tanqueray Rangpur instead of Plymouth. I know it’s completely different, but it’s my drink and I get to say how you can make it. So there. If you don’t have blue curaçao and decide, instead, to use some good quality triple sec like Cointreau. Please.

Always drink responsibly.

Scaling ounces up to shots will give you 50% more and I recommend a glass of water afterwards.

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Securing Data with KeePass

I finally got to the point where I was sick of trying to remember all of the passwords I no longer use very often, bit the bullet, and installed a password management system. As briefly as possible, here are the reasons why, what I get out of it, the software I use, and a final observation about passwords. To keep this short I have not made this a discussion about the importance of secure passwords. That can be found elsewhere.

Why?

Having gone through life changes, I realized that it becomes very difficult to remember passwords you no longer use often, even when they are important. While I could just write them down, I wanted them to be secure.

What do I get out of a password manager?

  • My passwords are protected by one very strong password
  • I can access the database from anywhere using computers or a smartphone
  • I can integrate the software with my browser so I don’t even have to type usernames and passwords anymore
  • I can clear my browser data completely without fear of losing the ability to log in to sites I may have forgotten
  • I can store credit card and any other sensitive data in a secure way. (Having my data in a database is more secure, even, than carrying the credit card itself)

What software do I use?

I use the free KeePass 2.0 and store the database on DropBox.

Here is a step-by-step guide for using the classic version of KeePass. The instructions on the KeePass website are good, too. I use 2.0. 

I use ChromeIPass to integrate my browser with KeePass. I use KeePassDroid to access my database on my phone. I use iKeePass for iOS devices. For tons of other options, look at the KeePass plugins page. Also, just search Google for keepass and ios, or android to find other tools.

I am using Windows 7 to run KeePass 2.0. If you’re on MacOS, I know you can run KeePass 2.0, but you need to read this.

Or, you can just run KeePass 1.0 (classic) using something called KeePassX

DropBox is what makes it portable, simply because you store your database in DropBox so you can get to it anywhere. Nothing special there; the database is just a file in your DropBox folder. You point your software to it and go. It’s encrypted with your password, so even if DrobBox is compromised, it’s secure.

What Password Should I Use?

You’re going to have to choose a password for your KeePass database. I will defer to XKCD for that  Choose something really hard to guess and really easy to remember. That is the essence of it.

To all you sysadmins who set password restrictions that enforce difficult-to-remember conditions on passwords: that’s not security and please stop requiring punctuation and capitals or whatever.

You can test the strength of passwords you use here. Please, don’t enter actual passwords you’re using there. Only use that to get an idea of what is a secure password. Never enter a real password anywhere except to log in or to store it in your secure database.

Cheers.

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I haven’t had a chance to see this documentary yet, but I’ve heard bits about this case here and there, and it is fascinating. From a scientific standpoint, this raises many questions about social contributions to development. From a purely human emotional standpoint, Genie’s case affected many people immediately.

Putting this here so I will remember to watch it later. It’s also on this website which is full of other documentaries.

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Friendly Fact-Checking Fire

If you believed anything Romney said last night, please check this out.

OK, sure. Romney’s getting slammed on accuracy for last night’s debate performance. [Some are saying “outright lies” but you can be the judge.]  I have a slightly different point, although it does involve fact-checking. [This is amid many reports that he won, leading us to question what it means to win a debate.]

Romney was quick to repeatedly say "that’s not my plan" whenever the president mentioned anything negative and "my plan does that" whenever the president mentioned anything positive. And, yes, fact-checkers have torn many of those claims apart. But what about when the fact checkers are your own campaign?

Romney embraced what is perhaps the most popular provision of Obamacare last night. The pre-existing condition guarantee. Exact words: "preexisting conditions are covered under my plan." As you may know, this popular provision is extremely important to people who have ever been sick, or who have chronic illnesses. You may know some people like this. You may be one, even. People have gotten denied coverage just for admitting they had acne. In the past. Obamacare made that the past.

Romney

But after Romney claimed he would reinstate something like that after erasing Obamacare on his first day in office, this claim was immediately disputed not by the mainstream press, not by liberals, not by the president, and not by independent fact checkers. Romney’s campaign clarified that there would no longer be protection for folks with pre-existing conditions. You can read the details here, but essentially:

  • Folks who have insurance would probably get to stay with their insurers
  • Folks seeking coverage would be allowed to be denied based on pre-existing conditions.
  • You could lose your job and quickly fall into that second category.
  • Romney’s campaign says that the states could go on to enact laws protecting consumers, but that has always been true in the decades before Obamacare, and that approach left people without access to healthcare. That is the non-solution we started with.
I could go on to tell you how “Let the states decide” is not a plan, it is precisely what we had before Obamacare. That is not a replacement for Obamacare. But I’m not writing this to poke through the tissue-thin Romney “plan.”

This is not a back-and-forth about Romney lying. This is a law that is important to a hundred thousand Americans. Possibly half of all Americans 65 or under. This is something Obama did that is undeniably popular, ethical, necessary. This is a contrast between Obama and Romney that ought to have been presented at the debate so that Americans can simply decide based on the contrast.

Lying in the debate on something like this prevents people from having the information to choose. If you like Romney’s ideas, that’s your decision. But a debate isn’t supposed to be about a candidate hiding his ideas so that his campaign has to correct him when primetime is over.

If you’re a supporter of Romney’s approach, I wonder what you think about Romney’s 90 minute reprieve from the details of his idea. I wonder why anyone would support it if its biggest proponent is unwilling to cop to it on camera.

If you’re an undecided who likes protection from rejection based on pre-existing conditions, the particular issue is probably important to you. And you should probably wonder how much you can trust a candidate who is fact-checked by his own campaign.

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Betteridge's Law of Headlines

Betteridge’s Law of Headlines is an adage that states, “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no’”.

One thing though: This story is a great demonstration of my maxim that any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word “no”. The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it. - Ian Betteridge [1]

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Combat ridiculous email disclaimers

Are you as annoyed as I am at annoying email disclaimers that don’t mean anything. I like this parody.


Disclaimer:

By sending an email to ANY of my addresses you are agreeing that:
  1. I am by definition, “the intended recipient”
  2. All information in the email is mine to do with as I see fit and make such financial profit, political mileage, or good joke as it lends itself to. In particular, I may quote it on usenet.
  3. I may take the contents as representing the views of your company.
  4. This overrides any disclaimer or statement of confidentiality that may be included on your message.

Found here.

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Checking Facebook access and adding Login Approvals.

A couple of friends recently had their Facebook passwords compromised. And recently I have seen some strange activity in my Facebook account (not the usual strange activity). If your password has been guessed, or discovered in a brute force attack, you’d never know until the hacker spams your friends. But there are ways to see if you have unauthorized logins and prevent it from happening in the future.

Here’s how. 

Go into your Facebook Account Settings.

Account Settings

Open the Active Sessions to see where your logins are coming from. If you see any suspicious ones, you can stop them from right there by clicking “End Activity.”

Facebook Security

[Click the image to see a bigger, more readable version]

While you’re there, you can also turn on “Login Approvals.” This feature will send a text to your phone every time you try to login on a new device. The text contains a code you’ll need to enter to complete the login. If a hacker gets your password he still won’t be able to login unless he also has your phone.

While you’re there, it might not be a bad idea to delete any suspicious or old “recognized devices” and change your Facebook password.

Here are a couple of additional sources of more information about how login approvals work. 

Stay safe!

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Unsub Month

I don’t know how I accumulate so many email subscriptions, but most seem to be marketing related. January and August are the two months I spend time actually unsubscribing from lists rather than just deleting the email.

And if I continue to get emails after unsubscribing, I start sending them to GMail’s spam folder. I don’t care if the unsubscribe robot warned me that I might still get a message or two. A warning is not the same as having my permission to spam me. Off to the spam folder you go.

Truly, it is such a pain in the neck to delete all the useless email I get every day. I could just ignore the mail I get that gmail tells me is unimportant (it’s pretty accurate) but it bugs me to have a bunch of unread mail lying around.

So I slog through these unsubscribes, which usually last at least a couple of weeks before I start to see a drop in the flow of garbage. In the end, it’s worth it to have more useful email again.

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A Nation's Education Left Behind

In a book published last year, I said that I was wrong. I was wrong on every count. Testing should be used for diagnostic purposes, to help students and teachers, but it has turned into a blunt instrument that is used to reward and punish teachers and schools. Charters should serve the neediest, but, with some notable exceptions, they have become aggressive and entrepreneurial. Instead of seeking out the neediest students, many of them exclude the neediest students and skim the best. In some states, like Michigan, most of the charters are for-profit, with big dividends to the investors; their profits come right out of the public school budget and into the pockets of shareholders. In some states, like Ohio, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, virtual charter schools are making millions of dollars for their owners, while children sit home alone in front of a computer. These cyber charters get full state tuition, but they have no buildings, no playgrounds, no library, no custodian, no nurse, and few teachers. They often have one teacher to monitor 100 screens. For investors, it’s a great business, but the educational results are awful. In Colorado, for example, only 12% graduate from the Virtual Academy, compared to a statewide graduation rate of 78%.

We have had a full decade of No Child Left Behind, and we now know that the law has been a disaster. True, it has documented the shocking gaps in passing rates between different groups of children, but it has done nothing to change the conditions that cause those gaps. We know the gaps are there; actually, we knew about the gaps long before NCLB was passed. Yet Congress is still patting itself on the back for identifying a problem and doing nothing meaningful to solve it.

Many children are still left behind. We know who they are.

(Source: azspot)

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To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: ‘You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’ We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves. To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.
Jean Vanier (via azspot)

(via azspot)