Monday, February 24, 2014

Monday Joke

An attractive young woman on a flight from Ireland asked the priest beside her, "Father, may I ask a favor?"

"Of course child. What may I do for you?"

"Well, I bought my mother an expensive hair dryer for her birthday. It is unopened but well over the customs limits and I'm afraid they'll confiscate it. Is there any way you could carry it through customs for me? Hide it under your robes perhaps?"

"I would love to help you, dear, but I must warn you, I will not lie."

"With your honest face, Father, no one will question you."

When they got to Customs, she let the priest go first. The official asked, "Father, do you have anything to declare?"

"From the top of my head down to my waist I have nothing to declare," said the priest.

The official thought this answer strange, so asked, "And what do you have to declare from your waist to the floor?"

"I have a marvelous instrument designed to be used on a woman, but which is, to date, unused."

Roaring with laughter, the official said, "Go ahead, Father. Next please!"

[H/T Isolde Eleison on g+]

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Armatix "review"

So, the whole internet, it seems, is talking about this new technology that will save countless lives with no down sides. It is the Armatix iP1 pistol. A lot of people are coming out on both sides of the issue. Not surprisingly "anti-gun" people want this to become mandatory safety equipment on all guns. In fact, New Jersey, at least, already has a law on the books requiring that all guns in the state must use this technology within three years of it becoming commercially available. Also not surprisingly, most gun owners do not want this technology.

So who's right and who's wrong? I thought I'd take an unbiased look. Well, to be fair, I should disclose that I do live in New Jersey and I do own a gun. On the other side of the equation I am a computer geek who loves new technology. So let's look at the objective factors and see where it gets us.

I think we can all agree we'd like to make guns safer. So let's look at numbers. There are an estimated 310,000,000 firearms in the US. The number of accidental deaths due to firearms in 2010 (according to the CDC) was 606. That's pretty darn good, considering there were over 35,332 deaths from car accidents that same year (again according to the CDC). That indicates to me that firearms are pretty safe already, much safer than cars.

In addition, legal firearms are used somewhere between 60,000 and 2,500,000 times a year to prevent a violent crime. The reasons for the uncertainty is that it depends on how you define using a gun and preventing a crime. Some would suggest the numbers are higher because if I scare away a would be attacker with a gun I'm not going to go report it. But let's take the lowest possible number, and round it.

Rounding, we have about 600 accidental deaths to avoid and 60,000 potential deaths to avoid. That means that any safety device which prevents a gun from firing unintentionally that also prevents it from firing when intended more than 1% of the time is not making it safer, but resulting in more loss of life. That's a pretty tight tolerance, and a fact which is at the forefront of concerns for people who may have to rely on a firearm to save their lives.

Rather than relying on news articles, I went straight to the Armatix web site to find out what this pistol does, and I discovered that the problems they are trying to solve and have solved are not really relevant to law enforcement or personal defense. Well, sort of.

First off, Armatix makes a whole system of gun security products. Their web site stresses the technological capabilities of their employees, but nowhere is there mention of firearms expertise. Most firearm product companies boast of that kind of experience. Not a problem, but just "odd". So let's look at their products.

The Quicklock is designed for shipping a gun such that it cannot be diverted and used by a third party. The lock consists of a device that inserts through the barrel into the chamber. Pulling it out without unlocking it mars the barrel, making the gun unusable. A very cool and useful product for shipping guns. This could also be used for long term storage, but a gun locked this way would not be in a position to fire in an emergency, as it would not have a round in the chamber. This is not an appropriate solution for a home defense weapon, though.

The Baselock is a similar system designed for multiple guns to be locked in a rack and unlocked simultaneously with a single keypad. I'm not sure what they were trying to achieve with this product, because if you look at the pictures, especially the ones showing it in use, the only exposed part of the gun is the trigger guard, and the gun is removed by pulling on that part of it. Yikes! Talk about dangerous. In most retention situations, the only part of the gun you absolutely want covered is the trigger guard, to prevent accidentally firing the gun when removing it. I would suggest redesigning it to cover the trigger guard area and leave the grip exposed.

The third product is the "Smart System." This consists of the iP1 semi-automatic pistol, iW1 active RFID watch, and TRS targeting system. This appears to be designed for target shooting only. The reason why I say this is that the TRS system is designed so that the gun will only function when aimed at a target. The gun cannot be used against people or other objects. There's no information on what indicates to the gun that it is on target, but there is a gun which cannot be used in self defense.

Assuming we purchase the iP1 gun without the TRS targeting system, we still have a .22LR pistol, which is not generally considered a usable round for self defense, due to its lack of stopping force. The gun costs $1399 and the watch required to operate it is sold separately for $399. So about $1800 for a gun that is nor useful for self defense. End of discussion.

But let's get past that and assume at some point down the road they make a 9mm version, or even a .45 version. Would it be safer?

Let's talk about existing technology. I can, today, buy a biometric or RFID controlled gun safe. With it I can keep my pistol loaded and ready, and with a touch of the RFID chip or finger have it in my hand ready to fire in seconds. While it is in the safe my kids can't get at it. I can program the device with multiple RFID chips or fingerprints so that my wife or adult children, who know how to use it responsibly, can access it.

Cost - This gun safe technology costs $200 and up. The gun safe can be used with any model gun, and a larger one can hold multiple guns. A reliable home defense gun can be had new for $350 and up. So if I want to have firearms available in multiple locations in my house I have to buy a separate gun and safe for each location, at a cost of $550 per location. The iW1 watch can be used with multiple iP1 pistols, so I only have to buy one. However, I have to purchase an iP1 for each location, at a cost of $400 + $1400 per location. But wait, there's more. If I want my wife and adult children to be able to use the gun for self defense in my home I need to buy more watches, at $400 per person in the household.

Access - The gun has safety features which it will take me time to activate, and which make it safe (right?), so this gun is not to be kept in a safe or case. Keeping it in a safe would add yet another layer of security to go through which would take time when seconds count. Therefore I can only assume this gun should be kept in a drawer. My kids will have access to the gun, and I rely 100% on the safety mechanisms built into the gun to keep them safe. The gun is made with sweeping lines and LEDs so it is very attractive to children, and looks somewhat like a toy. Attractive nuisance is the legal term, I believe. I'm sure kids will spend hours playing with the gun, pulling the trigger to watch the red LEDs light up.

Watch - The watch must be within 10" of the gun for it to fire, which means I need to buy wear the watch on my right hand. In fact, given that in a home defense scenario I might need to hold the gun in either hand, I need to wear two watches, so $800 per person, plus the annoyance of wearing a watch on the wrong hand, or wearing two watches. In fact, I'll want to be wearing these watches 24/7 because an intruder isn't going to wait for me to put on my watch. Oh, and if I like my existing watch, perhaps because it is a smart watch or has extra alarms or some feature, I have to wear yet another watch. Perhaps I should duct tape the watch to the grip of the gun...

Not only do I have to wear the watch, but before I use the gun I have to activate it by entering a 5 digit code on the watch. Doing so will enable the gun for 1 to 10 hours (which I can preset somehow). Pressing little buttons on my watch with my left hand is not something that will be easy for me to do in a high stress situation like realizing there is an intruder in my home. So perhaps I need to set an alarm every 10 hours to remind me to re-enable the watch so the gun is ready to go in an emergency.

Visibility - if I haven't made it through all these steps, my gun won't work, but I can still try to scare the bad buy away, since he doesn't know it, right? No, because the gun will have a cheery red LED glowing on it. Red or green, that LED will be shining toward my eyes, by the way, reducing my visibility in the darkened rooms of my house. and giving away my position to the bad guy.

Jammers - RFID jammers can be had for $200 and up. If (as New Jersey State law mandates) every home owner has to have an RFID activated gun, a criminal can buy (or steal) a jammer and walk into a home knowing that he has effectively disarmed the homeowner. The jammer's effective range is 30 meters, which is more than the effective range of the homeowner's handgun.

Hackers - one might assume that if the gun were stolen it would be useless without the watch. I have not seen a schematic of the gun, but I have to assume that, just like the "analog hole" in digital copyright protection, there is a place where one could bypass the circuitry involved and activate the gun directly by applying a voltage to a solenoid (or similar actuator), and then permanently fix the solenoid in the "active" position. After all, the interlock is mechanical at some point.

Disarmed - Now let's examine the other scenario that this gun is supposed to deal with. The bad guy has come into my house, rushed me, and is wrestling the gun away from me. Well, if I try to hold onto the gun, my watch is near it and it could shoot me. My only recourse is to throw the gun away, or give it to the bad guy, and try to stay out of range. At worst he will get close to me and when I raise my hands to defend myself the gun will activate and he will shoot me. At best, I have armed him with a metal club with which he can beat me to death.

Reliability - I haven't talked about the reliability of this technology, because there is no data on it. A lot of people are saying it would make their guns unreliable, and perhaps it will. But I have no knowledge of what kind of stress testing the system has been put through or what the results are, so I won't comment on it.

So in what way does this technology  make (already safe) guns safer than existing technology does? Have I completely missed something? I realize that some of these issues are due not to the technology itself but to a poor implementation. But from every angle I can see, there is no "problem" being solved that isn't already solved in a better way by existing technology. In other words, the technology in its present state would lead to more deaths, not fewer.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday Joke

A priest is driving down to New York and gets stopped for speeding in Connecticut. The state trooper smells alcohol on the priest's breath and then sees an empty wine bottle on the floor of the car.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The second amendment and the fourteenth amendment

This is an interesting time to be living in the state of New Jersey. While almost all of our Constitutional rights are being eroded at the state and federal level, some rights are actually expanding. Recently there have been a spate of cases involving the second amendment which have gone to higher courts.

The 9th circuit court of appeals ruled that San Diego county's standard of "good cause" for carrying a gun was unconstitutional. While this is not in New Jersey, it is promising in that New Jersey's standard for carrying a gun ("justifiable need") is even more restrictive than California's. In local news, New Jersey's restrictive carry laws are being challenged at the Supreme Court level by the Drake case as well as the Pantano brief.

However, given the slow and bumpy progress on restoration of our second amendment rights, Someone asked the question, on facebook, whether the courts' eagerness to step in and immediately crush state laws on marriage (such as in Virginia, Kentucky and California) can be used to advantage for the fight to get courts to recognize actual rights enshrined in the Constitution (specifically the right to keep and bear arms).

Of course, someone had to inject some pro-homosexual "declaration of rights" and I responded with a post that was immediately declared "the stupidest thing" and I was labeled an "asshole." Not the first time, nor the last. But Facebook isn't a good place for making a reasoned argument (a good place for argument, bad place for reason) and so I decided instead of continuing the conversation there I'd put it here where I can write a longer piece (and perhaps be called new names).

And so, "resolved: same sex 'marriage' is not a 'right' in the sense of the second amendment."

First off, let's look at the second amendment [emphasis mine].
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
The Supreme Court has ruled that this is a right of every individual. The state can have a legitimate interest in regulating it, but cannot abolish the right itself. Thus states are free to enact laws that restrict the sale of guns (to minors, for instance) and to ban certain specific models of guns, but not to make arbitrary or sweeping restrictions (such as a ban on all handguns).

Now let's look at section one of the fourteenth amendment (aka the equal protection clause) that allegedly makes marriage a right [emphasis mine].
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The fourteenth amendment was put in place after the civil war and the intention was that you could not make laws that restricted blacks but did not apply to whites. So the claim of same sex marriage supporters is that gays are denied equal protection under the marriage laws because they are not allowed to marry.

But that is clearly not the case. There is no law preventing homosexuals from marrying. They have the same privileges in respect to marriage as every other person, citizen or non-citizen, in the USA and are therefore already treated equally under the law. In fact, may homosexuals are married. The issue is not with the legality marriage, but with the redefinition of marriage.

So the questions to be asked are "what is marriage?" and "does government have a legitimate interest to regulate it?"

Traditional marriage supporters will tell you that marriage is a union of one man and one woman for the benefit of children, and the mutual benefit of the spouses. Same sex marriage supporters will tell you that marriage is a contract between two people who love each other. Both answers re true, but what do they imply in terms of society and government? Let's look at each definition as if it were the true one and examine the ramifications.

If marriage is a union of one man and one woman for the benefit of children and the mutual benefit of the spouses, we have the marital situation as it has existed for at least five thousand years. Civil laws restricting marriage date all the way back to Hammurabi (remember him?) Under this definition the state has a legitimate interest to regulate marriage, because society benefits when children are raised by a father and a mother rather than the state having to support single parent families or feed and house "feral" children. By giving married couples preferential benefits society assures that the next generation of citizens are cared for and educated. This also tends to decrease income disparity and protect women's rights.

If marriage is a contract between two people who love each other, we have a situation where the state regulates love. What interest does the state have in recording whether two people love each other? Is not that their own affair? The argument is often made that the state has an interest in inheritance rights. The inheritance rights of children today does not depend on the marital status of their parents, and why should the state care (other than recording it for tax purposes) about inheritance between two adults? Arguments about medical insurance are specious, since the state has never made a law saying that insurance companies couldn't offer insurance to policy holders' lovers.

So if marriage it truly just a contract two between people who love each other, it should be a matter of contract law, not a matter of civil rights. the government should stay out of the marriage issue altogether. And this is a position that some people take. It's a very libertarian position. But what are the implications of this?

If marriage is a civil right that government shouldn't regulate or restrict in any way, then it should not be restricted in any way. Anyone who wants to enter into this kind of contract should be allowed to do so. Siblings should be allowed to marry, and parents should be allowed to marry their children. There is no legal reason why this should not be allowed, provided the parties give consent. Likewise, married people should be allowed to marry, so polygamy and polyandry must be allowed. Again, there is no reason why more than two people can't be signatories of a contract. Likewise, legal entities such as businesses are capable of entering into contracts, so someone shoudl literally be able to marry their job.

"But Mike," you say "You're being ridiculous!" Am I? Show me a compelling legal argument why. The closest to anything I have seen is for someone to point out that the definition of a marriage is between two people. But it's not actually between two people, it's between one man and one woman. Saying it's between two people is already making an arbitrary expansion of the definition to fit a case you want to include. So who's to say others can't expand it to fit cases they want to include? What makes your definition stand the test of time, when no other one will?

But what about existing case law involving the fourteenth amendment. Wasn't it used to expand marriage to include interracial marriage? And isn't being gay just like being black?

Well, let's assume that being gay is like being black (although the jury is out on scientific evidence). The fourteenth amendment didn't give black people the right to marry. They were already married. And marriages between blacks were not considered inferior or different in any way from marriages between whites. What the court ruled was that interracial marriages were no less marriages because they people didn't like them. But it did not change the definition of marriage or couples. As I pointed out, homosexuals are free to marry other homosexuals. They are free to marry heterosexuals.

I could write so much more on the subject, had I the time, but I think what i have written is sufficient to show that same sex marriage does not fall under the umbrella of a civil right, and certainly not a basic right (like the right to bear arms). I'm open to discussion on the matter, but the only responses I have received was to be called names. I don't consider that to be a cogent argument.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday Joke

A man has three sons who entered three different religious orders: the oldest became a Dominican, the second a Franciscan, and the youngest a Jesuit. On his deathbed, the father tells his sons, "I know you all have vows of poverty, but as a sign of your love for me, I want each of you to place one thousand dollars into my casket to be buried with me."

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

School shocked that student learned - responds by arresting dad

You can't make this up. Apparently, after years of teaching kids that toy guns are the same as real guns, a four year old drew a picture of her dad's "nerf" gun and said it was real. The school promptly had the father arrested for possession of a firearm, and when no "real" gun was found, he was strip searched and left in a cell (I have no idea where they thought he was hiding the gun.)

The father is righteously angry, and the school? Well, they blame the children for learning what they taught them.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Playing with numbers

I recently read this article and this article, which discuss new data on the link between abortion and breast cancer. According to the latter, Women who have had abortions are 6.26 times as likely to have breast cancer than women who did not. The first study is considered statistically "better" and shows a 44% increase in breast cancer rate for women who have had abortions.

Now, abortion supporters have long disregarded "right wing" studies that showed links between abortion and breast cancer. But with lots of new data coming from China (which is hardly a pro-life source) it is becoming harder and harder to deny that there is a link.

This got me to thinking. Without abortion, what would the base rate for beast cancer be? And for those women who've had abortions, what is the expected breast cancer rate? Math to the rescue!

One third of American women will have an abortion at some point in their lives. The breast cancer rate in the US is one in eight. Using these numbers we can arrange an equation to figure out what the chance of breast cancer has to be in the two groups to get the observed combined average:

1/3 * AbortionbreastCancerRate + 2/3 * BaseBreastCancerRate = 1/8
(AbortionbreastCancerRate + 2*BaseBreastCancerRate) / 3 = 1/8

Using the low figures (44%), we can substitute as following:

AbortionBreastCancerRate = 1.44 * BaseBreastCancerRate

(1.44 * BaseBreastCancerRate + 2 * BaseBreastCancerRate) / 3 = 1/8
3.44 * BaseBreastCancerRate / 3 = 1/8
BaseBreastCancerRate = 1/9
AbortionBreastCancerRate = 1/6

Using the higher figures:

AbortionBreastCancerRate = 6.26 * BaseBreastCancerRate

(6.26 * BaseBreastCancerRate + 2 * BaseBreastCancerRate) / 3 = 1/8
8.26 * BaseBreastCancerRate / 3 = 1/8
BaseBreastCancerRate = 1/22
AbortionBreastCancerRate = 2/7

Wow! So if I believe the higher figures,  it's possible that breast cancer is really a much lower probability disease, but abortion is pretty much single-handedly responsible for it being a scourge. Of course, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but it's something to consider, when abortion is being pushed as if it were health care. Would abortion be such a "go to" option if women knew that it was a two in seven chance of developing breast cancer because of it?

Monday Joke

A group of wealthy investors wanted to be able to predict the winner of the Superbowl. So they hired a group of biologists, a group of statisticians, and a group of physicists. Each group was given a year to research the issue. After one year, the groups all reported to the investors.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Makes me sick

A while back a friend of mine wrote a book and wanted to make an "indie" movie out of it. I wound up doing a bunch of research on filming. What I learned changed how I view news. Why? Because one of the things I learned was how to make "good' and "bad" shots. Things like how you choose camera angles, lighting, composition, surroundings.

Red Lentil and Carrot Soup

I know you've all been wondering, "what does Mike eat?" Well, Mike likes to eat, and likes to cook, and so does the rest of the family. This is kind of a mystery, since my parents were not really cooks. Dad could heat up a meal with enough directions, and while mom cooked for us, there was a large amount of canned and frozen "things" which I guess was somewhat of a phase moms went through in that era.

However, given the level if food snobbery to which my family and I have attained, meatless Fridays are still meatless, but much less penitential. Is it really offering up a small sacrifice if you're eating gourmet? Not that I would call my cooking gourmet, but it is yummy stuff.

With Lent coming up in just over a month, I visited Meatless Friday fun at Catholic Mom and decided to post a recipe. The problem is my conscience. You see, as a child, meatless Fridays and days of abstinence were always penitential in terms of food. We ate such scrumptious fare as canned spaghetti (yes, it exists) and scrambled eggs, or tuna fish salad sandwiches.

And so it is with a small amount of guilt I make things like homemade pizza, shrimp stir fry, or red lentil and carrot soup. The last is adapted from a recipe I found on epicurious that we made for a party where we had several vegetarian guests. Everyone liked it so much it's become a dish we make for ourselves as well.

1 pound red lentils
7 cups vegetable stock
1 large onion, chopped1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 small bag of baby carrots, sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon mushroom powder (or 1 cup fresh mushrooms, diced)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon curry powder
Sriracha to taste
Scallions and cilantro for garnish

Bring lentils and stock to a boil, skim off foam. In the meantime saute the vegetables in a little olive oil. Add vegetables and spices. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and Sriracha sauce, and simmer for 15 minutes or so. Serve with chopped scallions and cilantro, and some crusty bread on the side. Yum.

Give it a try this Lent. If you like it, you can feel guilty too.

[Note: I don't typically photograph my food, so the photo above is from Thrifty Living which has a similar, tasty looking recipe, if you don't like all those spices.]