The Rational Security Podcast and Lawfare

July 5, 2019

The Rational Security podcast has some very intelligent people who act childishly and mean.  There are moments of thoughtful rationality, punctuated by hysterical giggles of derision.  This approach seems to be increasingly popular, on both sides.  Thoughtful analysis and precise explanations of missteps must be moderated with cruelty and dismissiveness.

But the thing that prompted me to write this pieces is that they do not accept comments on their podcasts.  Never have. Never will.

So, here is a comment for them.

In this podcast:

they cheerfully make fun of the White House when it said “There is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms.”  That is fair: the White House statement is ridiculous.  Deals do not have terms before they are made.

But then, just moments later, they decry the impending 4th of July celebration that Trump’s administration is about to have.

It is one thing to criticize something that has happened; it is another to attempt to criticize something that is about to happen.  They projected their guesses at what might happen, and pounced on that imagined event.

These clueless twits first laugh at the White House because it does not understand the arrow of time, and then immediately make the same mistake themselves.

I have unsubscribed from this podcast. I would have commented directly to them, but they appear to be uninterested in thoughtful commentary, even while venting their commentary on others.

Why You Should Avoid Meetup and WePay

June 21, 2019

I have been a member of Meetup for almost 10 years. I have run a Meetup group that has scheduled almost 500 events, about one a week.

Meetup has a great idea (creating topical groups [hiking, dancing, meditation, music, etc] and then help people locate and attend events in order to enjoy themselves and meet people). What they have lacked, for almost a decade, is a technical and support staff that functions. They have literally the worst app and worst web site I have ever encountered. They have failed to fix bugs for year after year. For example, their initial delivery of their app lacked the messaging feature that all of us relied upon. They are clueless in almost every regard. They never fail to disappoint me.

In an attempt to help monetize their web site, they coordinated with the WePay service. A group organizer can specify that group members must pay (say) $5 per year to support the group. That helps cover the $180/year that Meetup takes from the group organizers. Meetup ensure that the fees are collected, and WePay manages moving the money from the members to Meetup. And, of course, both Meetup and WePay take a cut.

The Meetup/WePay system worked well for a year or so, with a few quirks, but inevitably something went wrong. One of my members (who never attended any events) paid $5 for his first year, and then was automatically billed $5 for his second year. I imagine that he did not want to pay the second $5. Had he contacted me and asked for a refund, I could have, and would have, arranged for that. But he did not do anything that polite or reasonable. Instead, he went to his bank and disputed the charge.

Now, the charge was valid. He signed up and agreed to the charge. When I was notified of the disputed charge, I assumed that he would get his $5 back (fine with me) but that I would not be charged the $15 penalty. Wrong. Neither his bank nor WePay nor Meetup were willing to listen to reason. So, I lost $15 (to his bank) for doing nothing wrong. The bank stole $15 from me.

I have contacted WePay and Meetup since this incident, and they do not see what the problem is. I made a constructive suggestion: that Meetup require that a member ask for a refund before they are allowed to file a dispute over a charge. Meetup wanted nothing to do with this recommended improvement.

The bottom line is this. If you use Meeup and WePay, you can, at any moment, be charged fees that you did not agree to and that are not fair. And you cannot expect either Meetup or WePay to care at all.

Proceed at your own risk.

Rotary sight lines

July 26, 2017

The State of Vermont has installed quite a few rotarys in the past few years, mostly because federal funding is available and we love that federal money.  The rotarys take intersections that were working just fine and make them more difficult to navigate.  This is due, in part, to the fact that they have very small diameters (because not much room was available). Larger rotaries work much better.

One of new rotarys, in Waterbury, has “pretty” plantings in the center.  I drive a sports car most of the time, and I sit low, so that those plantings make it very difficult to see oncoming traffic at the rotary.

I complained to the State, saying that sight lines needed to be assessed with an eye height of about 42 inches, so that people driving sports cars could see safely.  My guess was that most road crew personnel drive huge trucks, and do not consider what it is like to drive lower vehicles.

The first surprise was that the State does not maintain the rotary on a State highway; the town of Waterbury does.  Really?!?

The second, and more amazing surprise, was the following from the State:

“The main objective of a roundabout is to keep traffic moving at a very SLOW rate of speed. There are many factors utilized to make this happen. One of which is the inability to see through the roundabout. This tool forces our road users to only focus on their entrance/exit strategy. I’ve attached the exact language that dictates this standard.  In essence this strategy forces people to slow down and prevent serious crashes. Many studies have been conducted on crash data within a roundabout. All of which have concluded that the slow rate of speed and angle of traveling vehicle significantly reduce serious injuries.  Note that ISD=Intersection Sight Distance.

NCHRP 672 (Roundabout Guide, Second Edition) Section 6.2 which says: “…to provide no more than the minimum required ISD on each approach to the roundabout … excessive ISD can lead to higher vehicle speeds that reduce the safety of the intersection for all road users (motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians).  Landscaping within the central island is effective in restricting sight distance to the minimum requirements while creating a terminal vista on the approach to improve visibility of the central island.”

So, the objective of a rotary is to prevent drivers from seeing oncoming traffic.  We spend so much time trying to ensure sight lines everywhere else, but here we give up on that notion?  It simply makes no sense at all.

First off, it they really want to eliminate sight lines, why not put up 10 foot walls around the center of the rotary?  No one does that, so the claim that they want to limit sight distance seems unfounded.

But, more importantly, the sight lines for truck drivers remains unimpeded.  They are only making it difficult for car drivers (especially sports cars) and not for the more dangerous vehicles (large trucks and buses).  So, dangerous vehicles drive faster, while cars drive slower.

Again, federal guidelines with bogus logic dictate local requirements.

Federally mandated road signs are way too reflective

July 26, 2017

I live out in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest street light perhaps 5 miles away.  When I drive at night, the only illumination comes from my headlights, usually on high beam.

Over the past 5 or 10 years, new federal regulations have mandated that road signs be replaced with “newer and better” sign technology.  In particular, the signs are much more reflective (brighter) than the older ones.  This is not simply because an old and worn-out sign has been replaced by a newer one: the signs are designed to be much brighter.

When driving in a city, with lots of street lights, the brighter signs are useful, but out in the country, the new signs are dazzling.  They are too bright to be read (other than as a dazzling blob) and they make it very difficult to spot people or animals near the sight line of the signs.    They are unsafe.

This seems to be another example of stupid bureaucracy run amok.  What is good for the city is good for the country.  This is simply not true.

But the levels of bureaucracy that need to be penetrated to even get heard is beyond my level of stamina.  So, new signs will be installed in town this year, and they will not only be a huge waste of money, but they will make driving more difficult and dangerous.

Credit Card Disputes

June 13, 2017

I recently disputed a large (almost $4K) credit card charge, for a 3D printer.  I had gone back and forth with the manufacturer, and eventually returned it when it failed to work properly.

After I disputed the charge, the manufacturer was given an opportunity to respond to my dispute.  They did so, with 35 pages containing all of the emails that we had traded back and forth.  They also said that they agreed to refund my money.

The credit card company (Citi Bank’s AT&T Universal MasterCard) then reversed the credit that they had given me.  They did this after their “investigators” had “investigated”.  I guess their investigators cannot read English.

The credit card company claims that if a merchant responds to a disputed charge at all, that the credit card company is required, BY LAW, to reverse the credit.

This is beyond my belief.  I can understanding a reversal of credit if there are facts in dispute, but in this case, the merchant agrees with me: give me the credit.

Perhaps the people at Citi Bank were lying to me.  Or perhaps some legislators created this unwise and bizarre situation.

In any event, at this point I want the refund, the merchant has agreed to the refund, and Citi Bank is sitting in the middle, denying me the refund.

Salty Ear Buds Make Samsung Phones Go Crazy

June 7, 2017

I took my Etymotic ear buds and Samsung S6 phone out with me while I cut brush.  It was a warm day, and I was sweating quite a bit.  When I got home, the audio volume started to increase and decrease erratically.  Spontaneous clicks in various places caused applications to start spontaneously.  The phone was almost impossible to use.

I moved the ear buds to another similar phone, but that phone also went crazy.  Rebooting the phones did not help. But swapping to a different set of ear buds fixed the problem.

I’m only writing this up because I could find nothing about this problem when I did a Google search.  I hope this helps someone else who finds themselves with “broken” phones and no idea what is going wrong.

The Dayton Audio Epique (CBT24K) Linear Array Speaker System Kit from Parts Express

May 29, 2017

I purchased the Eqique speaker kit from Dayton Audio.  The kit arrived in two boxes.  The larger box (16″ by 19″ by 67″) contains the speaker cabinet, stand, wiring harness, and miscellaneous parts; the smaller box contains the 48 drivers.

The packaging was spectacular: the larger box contained a second box which contained the speaker cabinets themselves.  The outer box had a hole in it, as did the inner box, but the speaker cabinets were perfect.  They each come wrapped in a cloth bag.  I felt as if an enormous amount of care was taken to ensure a quality product arrived at my home.

The speaker cabinets are made from MDF.  The joints were perfect.  MDF can be a challenging surface to finish, and there were some spots that needed attention before a primer could be applied.  I put on two coats of primer.

Finishing the speaker cabinet was challenging.  I chose a Rust-Oleum hammered paint using a small roller.  The instructions on the can are insufficient to allow you to get good results.  If you try to apply a second coat at the recommended 30 minutes, you may dissolve  some of the first coat, leaving white patches.  Better to wait 4 hours before applying the next coat.  Also, you need to apply a LOT of paint, and then work with it quickly: if you come back a few minutes later, the roller will leave stringy hairs of paint as the paint thickens. The way around this is to finish each section and then move on, or to use the roller very slowly if you need to return later.  I needed 3 or more coats before it looked uniform.

The assembled cabinet has a floor stand, and there are gaps between the speaker and the stand.  You may wish to assemble the speaker to the stand, fill in the gaps, and then finish the entire structure, in order to eliminate the gaps.  If you choose to finish the cabinet and stand separately, be sure to finish inside the stand, since it will show via the gap.


The wiring harness and drivers are polarized, which eliminates many potential problems. Good attention to detail.


A word about the hex drivers (Allen wrench) used to mount the drivers.  You will be screwing in a LOT of screws (almost 200).  If you allow the hex driver to spin in the screws, you will round off the tip of the driver.  Best practice seems to be to use an electric drill or electric screw driver to get the hex head screws in about 80% of the way, and then tighten them by hand later.  This minimizes the chance that you will round off the driver and/or round off the hex sockets.  I used an electric drill on low speed.

Note that the hex screws are not uniform, and some of the hex sockets will not work.  Out of the 200 or so that I used, I found about 4 that were unusable because the sockets were too large.  You are better off discarding those screws than trying to make them work.

When you remove the drivers from their boxes, do so a few inches over a flat surface.  The plastic bag around one of the speakers was attached to the label on the box, and the driver did not fall out of the box as expected.

The following procedure may serve you better than the instructions from the manufacturer

  1. After finishing the speaker cabinet and mounting the cabinet to the base, place it on a 20″ stand.  Do NOT install the rear connection cup yet; it is easier to connect the wiring harness to the cup before you mount the cup to the speaker cabinet.
  2. Drop the wiring harness in through the top driver hole and pull all of the numbered driver wires out of each driver hole.  I did not need to tape the driver wires to the side of the cabinet.  Be sure to put driver 24 at the top of the cabinet (that is, feed the wires for driver #1 in first).
  3. Pull the two input wires out the back of the cabinet and attach to the rear connection cup.  Then attach the rear connection cup to the cabinet using screws from the big packet of speaker mounting screws.
  4. The instructions say to install the drivers with the cabinet on its back, but I installed the drivers with the cabinet vertically.  Push one of the polyfill damping pads into the #2 driver hole, and distribute it behind drivers #1, #2, and #3.  Then connect the bottom 3 drivers to the wiring harness and mount them to the cabinet, from the bottom up.  Be careful to ensure that the spade connections are made properly: if the spade slips between the connector and the enclosing plastic insulator, it can feel as if it is properly inserted, but it is not.  Only tighten the screws 80% of the way, using an electric drill or screw driver. Be careful to support the cabinet with one hand while you screw with the other: the stand is not designed for pressure from a screw driver (which may be why the manufacturer recommended that the drivers be installed with the cabinet on its back).  The drivers are a tight press fit into the cabinet, so you could install all of the screws after the drivers are in place
  5. Work up from the bottom of the cabinet toward the top, three drivers at a time; they are boxed in rows of 3, which is convenient.  If you do this, it is impossible to drop a screw into the cabinet.  When finished with the first 12 drivers, go back and tighten all of the screws by hand.
  6. When you get half way up the speaker cabinet, place the speaker cabinet on the floor and continue with the remainder of the drivers

Here are some pictures of the speakers during the build process.

Wiring harness installed and ready for batting and drivers


Drivers partially installed


Drivers installed


From the side


FedEx Really Screws Up

May 27, 2017

I ordered a product from “Amazon” (and I say “Amazon” because it was actually sold by a third party) on the 10th of May.  That package left Georgia via FedEx on the 12th of May, and arrived in Williston, VT, on the Tuesday the 16th of May.  Williston, VT, is about a 40 minute drive from my house.  FedEx delivers packages to my home regularly, from Williston.

FedEx attempted to deliver the package on Saturday the 20th of May. That is, no attempt was made to deliver the package on Wednesday the 17th or Thursday the 18th or Friday the 19th. The package just sat in Williston for 3 days.

They said that they would attempt to deliver the package again on the “next business day”, which for them is Tuesday.  They failed to attempt to deliver the package on Tuesday the 23rd, but promised (on their web site) to deliver on Wednesday the 24th.

They failed to deliver on Wednesday the 24th, but promised to deliver on Thursday the 25th.  I called FedEx.  They said that this was puzzling, and promised to fix things and that they would call me back on Thursday. They never did call me back.

They failed to deliver on Thursday the 25th, so I called FedEx again.  This time I asked to speak to a manager.  They said that Williston had failed to respond to requests for information about the package.  And then, suddenly, the FedEx web site announced that the package had been transferred to the USPS for delivery sometime in the next week.

The package was actually delivered by Priority couriers on Friday the 26th.  It took 16 days for FedEx to move the package from Georgia to Vermont.

It turns out that the local FedEx location is short of drivers, but that fact had been hidden from upper FedEx management.  And FedEx management apparently has no mechanism in place to detect and highlight package delivery problems.  FedEx central should have seen this problem when no attempt was made to deliver the package on the 17th, 18th, and 19th.

What could FedEx have done to improve the situation:

  1. FedEx central should have been aware of the problem more than a week before I called; they were clueless
  2. FedEx Williston should have passed the package off to Priority as soon as it became clear that they lacked the drivers to deliver the package in a timely manner; they did not
  3. FedEx Williston should have been honest with FedEx central about what was going on.  Instead, Williston tried to cover up what was going on locally.

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

November 7, 2016

The guys from Freakonomics teamed up with a guy from FiveThirtyEight to create this podcast.  If you have lots of free time, and are looking for a way to distract yourself; or if you don’t really care if what you listen to is relevant or amusing; or if you are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, then this is the show for you.  Light, breezy, and virtually content-free, with lots of banter and ads, and with essentially no focus.  There was no need, at all, for this show to have been created.  It demonstrates that we have so much content available for free that the new content can be pretty much useless.  Go listen to a podcast that will inform you, educate you, or amaze you.  There is nothing to be seen here.  Move on to something interesting.  They even had the gall to use a name that was already taken.

The Planet Money Podcast – a Review

September 1, 2016

Promotions for Planet Money, and their Oil series, have been relentless for the last six weeks.  I did not start listening to PM because of that, but rather because a friend recommended the podcast.

PM is a very cute production, giddy with giggles and lots of laughs.  But the information density is extraordinarily low.  I imagine that the actual facts related in a typical 20 minute PM podcast could be read in just a few minutes.  The rest is fluff.

And they mixed up diesel vs gasoline as a fuel.  That is, they cannot keep their facts straight.

It seems that these light and breezy podcasts are all the rage, but I  do not have the time to waste on them.