Why is it always SF?

A few of the blogs I read have mentioned this epic smackdown, in which an actual SF soldier smacks down a wannabe.
Why is it that all the wannabes always claim to be Special Forces, Rangers, Marine Recon, snipers, or some other “elite” subset of the military? They’re never humvee mechanics, radio repairmen, or the like.
Sure, I was in the military. I drove tanks. I needed a break from the hum-drum life of fixing computers and twiddling around in college without knowing what I wanted to do with life, and tanks seemed to be sufficiently different to interest me. I accomplished exactly zero acts of valor in my service, and managed to avoid any dishonorable deeds. I did my job, kept my head down, and stayed out of trouble. When my unit was training up to deploy to Iraq, a medical issue developed (( Bones in my feet started making fun happy grinding sounds. )) that prevented me from deploying. The army and I agreed that, due to this medical issue, it wasn’t in our mutual best interests for me to stay in, and I was discharged (( Honorably, for what it’s worth, though I don’t really think I did anything that justifies such a lofty adjective. )).
After I got out, I went back to college, got my degree, got a job, got married, and am looking to go to grad school (after which I’ll probably end up in a lab for the rest of my life, which is just fine with me). Not terribly exciting, which is why I suppose most of these poseurs never claim to be a lowly PFC who drove tanks around for a few years.

Musings on Telephones

Sebastian’s treatise on the drawbacks of telephones struck a nerve with me; I too tend to be rather taciturn, and so prefer communications by email or IM (mostly email, as I like the fact that an immediate response is often not required, so one can think out one’s response a bit more).
However, when I do need to use the telephone, I prefer that it doesn’t suck. Cellphones are mediocre at best, what with the extensive voice compression and signal processing they utilize. Yes, they can be incredibly convenient (( Though I must say it was quite a relief to be without cellphones for a few weeks whilst on my honeymoon. )), but the lower quality is a big tradeoff.
Fortunately, my work happens to have really nice Cisco IP phones that have outstanding call quality. It’s rather nice to be able to speak to someone and be mutually intelligible.
I’m neither an audiophile nor a luddite, but it rather annoys me to have audible communications go from “so clear you can hear a pin drop” to “can you hear me now?” ((Yes, I know they’re marketing slogans and I’m taking the latter out of context. Deal with it. )) in just a few years. If it’s possible to have high-definition TV broadcast over the air, radio signals beamed in from space, and high-quality movies streamed over the internet, is it too much to ask that cellphone provide a similar level of quality as landline phones?
I’d love to get a landline phone at home, but landline phones plans are absurdly over-priced. They still charge for long-distance service? What the hell? I can use Skype/Google Talk/SIP to call India and have a crystal-clear audio and video chat all day at no cost (( Or use a VoIP phone for mere pennies a minute. )), yet wireline phones charge per-minute rates to call Phoenix from Tucson? Local phone service from Qwest is about $13/month, with no features (e.g. no caller-ID, no voicemail, etc.), but with the absurd amount of taxes and fees they tack on, it ends up being closer to $30/month. Completely not worth it. I wonder if the phone companies ever consider why they’re losing business to mobile devices?

Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object

While perusing the intertubes today, I noticed an advertisement: “Beat Any Martial Arts Master” it claimed.
The advertised site then proclaimed that one could, after an exchange of money, become so skilled at this particular martial art that one could defeat anyone in close combat.
Now, what happens if someone who has completed this program were to get involved in a fight with someone else who has completed the program? I suspect some sort of world-shattering kaboom would ensue.

On Changing Mail Servers

My personal, non-blog-related domain has used Google Apps for email for years. In essence, one gets all the benefits of Google Mail (excellent spam filtering, IMAP/POP/SMTP, huge amount of storage, reliable infrastructure, etc.), but for one’s own domain. Very handy.
One of the advantages of having one’s own domain is that one is not bound to a specific email provider; one can change the back-end provider relatively easily and with essentially no disruption. Over the last 11 years, my personal domain has had probably half a dozen providers handling email, with Google Apps providing service for about the last four years.
While I’ve been quite satisfied with Google Apps (( Although there are a few quirks when using IMAP due to the fact that Gmail uses “labels” instead of “folders”, they’re minor and easily adapted to. )), I always like to check out alternatives at intervals, much like I do with car insurance.
Fortunately, Google makes moving away from their services extremely easy: it’s trivial to move mail to the new server by IMAP, and a few simple changes to my DNS records now direct mail to the new server. Everything was done with about 5 minutes of work.
There’s two quirks with moving away from Google Mail, though.
The first is that Google Mail is primarily web-based, and offers IMAP/POP service as a feature, while the new service is primarily IMAP/POP with webmail as a feature, and so their webmail is pretty basic.
The second is that Google has excellent spam filtering, mostly based on the input of its brazillions of users marking messages as spam or not spam. The filtering takes place on the server side, which keeps spam levels in one’s inbox to a minimum regardless of whether one uses webmail or IMAP/POP. Marking messages as spam or not spam is trivial and totally in-band (click a button on the webmail interface, move the message to an IMAP folder if using a client).
The new provider offers some server-side filtering, but it’s nowhere near as good as Google’s, and using the server-side filtering requires identifying spam or non-spam via out-of-bound methods (clicking a link in the email, which opens a browser window) which is a bit tedious. I can do better filtering on the client side, but that means that accessing my email with the webmail interface (which doesn’t have the filtering ability of my mail client) results in a massive amount of spam polluting the folder.
Slightly frustrating, to say the least.
I’ll give this other provider a few more days to see if their spam filtering can adapt to deal with the onslaught, but for my purposes (mostly webmail, with occasional IMAP use), Google Apps’ service appears to be better. However, in the event that Google turns to the dark side, it’s good to know there’s options.


The recent court ruling in California, which overturned the state’s gay marriage ban (( I agree with the court; banning gay marriage is wrong. )) cited the Heller case thusly:

Tradition alone, however, cannot form a rational basis
for a law. Williams v Illinois, 399 US 235, 239 (1970). The “ancient lineage” of a classification does not make it rational. Heller, 509 US at 327. Rather, the state must have an interest
apart from the fact of the tradition itself.


How Not to Fight

Evidently a small band of Afghan insurgents decided to attack Kandahar Airfield, a military base of about 20,000 people. The Vancouver Sun has more details.
Their dastardly plot consisted of having one of their team sneak behind a nearby tractor, then dart towards the perimeter fence. Upon reaching the fence, he blew himself up, destroying “about $70 worth of fence”, according to Maj. Josh Major (( Yes, his name is Major Major. Really. )) of the Canadian military.
The other insurgents ran through the gap in the fence, and were killed “immediately” by 25mm autocannon ((Ow.)) fire. None survived.
Even if they had managed to get inside the perimeter fence, they were merely a small group of 8-10, in a base of 20,000+ soldiers with a whole lot of whoopass on tap. That would have ended poorly.
Honestly, what were they thinking? Who thinks that attacking a major military airbase with a ragtag band of irregulars is a good idea?

Joe on Mobile Crypto

The Saudi and UAE governments are thinking of banning certain services on BlackBerry phones, as theyare encrypted and communicate to foreign systems.
Joe reminds us that while encrypted communications can be used for nefarious purposes, they can also be used for good. Phil Zimmermann, inventor of the common encryption software PGP feels the same way.
Indeed, they are used for good far more than for evil, and their use is almost ubiquitous: essentially any site that deals with personal or financial information is SSL-encrypted. Gmail uses SSL by default, and now even Google Search is available over SSL. Most instant-messaging clients use SSL between the client and server, and Skype uses transparent, end-to-end encryption for all voice, video, and chat messages, as well as file transfers.
In a way, crypto is not unlike firearms (( Even the government considers certain cryptosystems to be munitions, and restricts their export, although the restrictions have been considerably lessened in my lifetime.)) : it can be used by bad guys plotting dastardly deeds, but its benefits to society are considerably greater than its drawbacks.
In fact, I consider strong crypto to go hand-in-hand with free speech: being able to speak privately (and, on a related note, anonymously) is one of the strongest foundations of liberty. I hold this believe so strongly that I regularly use and encourage others to use strong crypto in their everyday lives. For those wishing to contact me securely, my PGP key is available here. One can also send me an S/MIME-signed message and I will reply with a signed+encrypted message.