A Geek With Guns

Discount security adviser to the proles.

At AgoraFest

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I’m at AgoraFest. Come back next week.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 22nd, 2016 at 10:00 am

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Why Police Hate Being Recorded

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Many police officers have negative reactions towards being filmed. Why is this? They obviously have something to hide since they always tell us people with nothing to hide shouldn’t oppose surveillance. But what are they hiding? Perhaps instances where they fabricate charges against protesters?

The ACLU of Connecticut is suing state police for fabricating retaliatory criminal charges against a protester after troopers were recorded discussing how to trump up charges against him. In what seems like an unlikely stroke of cosmic karma, the recording came about after a camera belonging to the protester, Michael Picard, was illegally seized by a trooper who didn’t know that it was recording and carried it back to his patrol car, where it then captured the troopers’ plotting.

“Let’s give him something,” one trooper declared. Another suggested, “we can hit him with creating a public disturbance.” “Gotta cover our ass,” remarked a third.

That’s embarrassing!

Notice how the recorded footage came from the protesters camera and not the dashcam in the police car or body cameras? Recently many police officers have expressed a willingness to wear body cameras. This change of heart seems to indicate that officers are willing to be monitored. In reality the officers know that the departments control that footage and can disappear it “accidentally” at any time. It’s public recordings that really body them because they can’t conveniently toss the footage down the memory hole. This is why I encourage everybody to film any police encounter they are either a party to or come across even if the officers are wearing body cameras. Don’t let shit like what these officers pulled go unnoticed.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 21st, 2016 at 10:30 am

Have an Offsite Backup of Your Data

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It’s a good idea to have a bug out bag in case there’s an emergency such as a house fire where you have to evacuate immediately. For the same reason it’s a good idea to have an offsite backup of your important data. You don’t want to be the guy who has to run into a burning building to save the only copy of his novel:

A fire inside a blighted house in Broadmoor quickly spread to a nearby multiplex Thursday, sending residents rushing to safety and one — a novelist worried about losing his life’s work — back inside to save his laptop.

[…]

Gideon Hodge, 35, describes himself as a playwright, novelist and actor. When his fiancée told him that their apartment was on fire, he left work in Mid-City and rushed to the scene. That’s when he realized that his only copies of two completed novels were on a laptop inside.

Clad in a T-shirt that said #photobomb next to an illustration of the Joker photobombing Batman and Robin, Hodge dashed into the building. He ran past the smoke and the firefighters yelling at him to stop and managed to grab the precious laptop.

I backup my important data to Amazon Glacier with Arq. What I like about Amazon Glacier is the price: $0.007 per gigabyte in the Ireland region. What I like about Arq is that it encrypts the data before uploading it Amazon Glacier.

Amazon Glacier starts costing you real money when you want to retrieve your backups. But that’s a price I’m willing to pay because the chances of me needing those offsite backups is slim so I don’t want to pay a sizable storage fee. In addition to having cheap storage, Amazon Glacier also allows me to select the region I backup to. You probably noticed that I mentioned the Ireland region. Your offsite backups should be geographically separated from you. An earthquake that takes out your home could also take out nearby data centers. If your offsite is stored in a nearby data center you might lose both your local and offsite backups. Few things short of full scale nuclear war are likely to wipe out both my local and offsite backups and if something that bad happens I don’t think my data will be terribly important to me.

If you’re prepared enough to assemble a bug out bag you should also setup an offsite backup plane as part of your disaster preparedness.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 21st, 2016 at 10:00 am

My Biggest Concern with Smart Guns

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The subject of smart guns, that is introducing electronics into firearms to boost their capabilities, is a touchy one. A lot of capabilities could be added to firearms but one side sees the introduction of electronics as a way to forward the goals of gun control while the other side has legitimate concerns about reliability. Me? My biggest concern is a smart gun manufacturer pulling a stunt like HP:

On September 13, owners of HP OfficeJet, OfficeJet Pro and OfficeJet Pro X began contacting third-party ink vendors by the thousand, reporting that their HP printers no longer accepted third-party ink.

The last HP printer firmware update was pushed in March 2016, and it appears that with that update (or possibly an earlier one), HP had set a time-bomb ticking in its customers’ printers counting down to the date when they’d begin refusing to follow their owners’ orders.

With a simple software update HP locked third-party ink providers out of its platform. This isn’t new. HP has had a long history of trying to stop consumers from using their ink of choice in HP printers. Hell, HP isn’t even alone in this pursuit. Lexmark was nailed to the wall for attempting the same shit in 2003.

It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine firearms manufacturers pulling a similar stunt. Can you imagine, for example, a Remington smart gun that disabled the use of third-party ammunition with a simple firmware update? With software copyright laws as they are and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act what it is, this is the kind of thing that really worries me about introducing more electronics into firearm.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 20th, 2016 at 10:30 am

First World Police Problems

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How much wealth has the New York City Police Department (NYPD) stolen through civil forfeiture? Nobody knows but it’s enough that if calculated it would apparently crash NYPD’s computers:

The New York City Police Department takes in millions of dollars in cash each year as evidence, often keeping the money through a procedure called civil forfeiture. But as New York City lawmakers pressed for greater transparency into how much was being seized and from whom, a department official claimed providing that information would be nearly impossible—because querying the 4-year old computer system that tracks evidence and property for the data would “lead to system crashes.”

I’m not sure if that means NYPD has a really shitty computer system, has stolen a mind boggling amount of stuff, or is lying to us. The worst part? All three possibilities are equally likely.

And can you imagine the public relations meeting where this excuse was considered acceptable enough to release? Who in their right mind thought admitting that their computer system cannot calculate the amount of stuff that has been stolen was a good idea? That just illustrates the sheer scope of the problem to the public, it doesn’t make NYPD look justified.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 20th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Looks Can Be Deceiving

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Saturday evening there was a multiple stabbing incident at the St. Cloud Center here in Minnesota. Although tragic there are some lessons that can be learned these kinds of situations and this incident is no different:

In a media briefing after midnight Sunday, St. Cloud police chief William Blair Anderson said an off-duty officer from another jurisdiction confronted and killed the suspect. He said the suspect — who was dressed in a private security uniform — reportedly asked at least one victim whether they were Muslim before assaulting them, and referred to Allah during the attacks.

Here lies our most important lesson. The attacker was dressed in a security uniform. This probably allowed him to get close to his victims without raising any red flags, which is important if you’re relying a knife. So the lesson here is that not everybody is exactly as they appear. Just because somebody is dressed like a cop or a security guard doesn’t mean they actually are one. Don’t let your guard down just because somebody is in a specific uniform.

One of my friends pointed out another lesson to be learned from this:

The mall remained on lockdown after the incident, but authorities expected those remaining inside to be released early Sunday. Photos and video of the mall taken hours after the incident showed groups of shoppers waiting to be released, including some huddled together near a food court entrance.

The officers trapped people inside the mall with the attacker. When the police arrived it wasn’t yet known if there were multiple attackers so the mall goers were potentially locked in a building with multiple people meaning to cause them harm. Being confined in an area with an unknown number of assailants is not a good place to be. If you hear that there’s an attacker in the building find the nearest fire exit and go through it. If you’re luck the police won’t see you leave. If you’re unlucky they’ll catch you but in that case you’ll likely be held in the back of a squad car, which is still a safer place than being confined in an area with and unknown number of potential assailants.

Keep your guard up when you’re out and about. Listen to your gut instinct. If that little voice in the back of your head is telling you something is wrong then you should listen to it. We’ve all been doing this human thing for our entire lives so we’re pretty good at subconsciously reading very subtle signs from one another. Anybody can put on any uniform they please but a uniform isn’t going to conceal all those subtle signs we use to judge one another’s intentions. If that voice is telling you the approaching security guard means you harm take heed and book it.

Be aware of all the potential exits. Fire exits are especially good in these kinds of situations because they usually trip a fire alarm. If it’s an audible alarm it will alert other people in the building to get out. If it’s a silent alarm it will still involve a response from the local authorities.

Finally, have a plan to defend yourself if escape isn’t an option. I recommend that people carry a firearm because they give you the best fighting chance. But even if you’re not willing or are unable to carry a firearm you should have some defensive response that you’ve trained thoroughly enough to be instinctual. Be it martial arts, mace, a baton, or even a knife. While you might not win a violent encounter even if you have a means of self-defense, you will certainly lose one if your response is to freeze up.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 19th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Monday Metal: More Human Than Human by White Zombie

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This week we’re going back to the 1990’s. Although the ’90’s were pretty abysmal as far as music goes, what with the introduction of grunge and other similarly shitty genres, there was some decent metal. White Zombie, for example, put out a lot of good sounds during that time period. One of my favorite songs from that bad is More Human Than Human:

Written by Christopher Burg

September 19th, 2016 at 10:00 am

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The Unofficial AgoraFest Shoot

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For those of your planning to attend AgoraFest this year I am going to host an unofficial shooting event on Friday.

There’s a public range near the new AgoraFest venue. From what I can gather from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ website, a single news article, and satellite images courtesy of Google Maps the range exists and the facilities are decent. I will check the range out on Thursday to verify it can be used and give the go/no-go notice at the planned shooters meeting after lunch on Friday.

If you’re interested in attending the event the details are available at the link.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 16th, 2016 at 10:30 am

That’s a Good Racket

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Civil forfeiture is often used to rob large amounts of cash, cars, and other valuable items from the public. It’s a nice racket because the victim has to prove that their assets weren’t tied to a drug crime and since proving a negative is very difficult civil forfeiture rakes in a ton of cash for the State. But what about poorer people? Not everybody is cruising around with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash or drives a nice car. Fortunately, for the State, civil forfeiture is a versatile theft mechanism and can be adapted to meet the needs of the thief:

After the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office sued New Jersey resident Jermaine Mitchell to keep $171 dollars seized from him during a drug arrest earlier this year, it sent him a notice in jail of his right to challenge the seizure. The catch? It would cost him $175 just to file the challenge.

Mitchell’s is one of 21 civil asset forfeiture cases that the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office combined together in a what the ACLU of New Jersey said in a court filing last week is an unlawful scheme that deprived Mitchell and the other defendants of their due process rights under the Constitution.

I know how Mitchell feels. I received a parking ticket in St. Paul a few years ago. Normally I’d be all gung ho about fighting such a ticket but the cost of fighting it was higher than the ticket itself. Had I fought the ticket I’d have actually lost money on the deal.

It must be nice to have a monopoly on the legal system. You can create the rules, set the fines, and set the amount it will cost the peasantry to get their day in court. If you just set the fines lower than the price of accessing the courts you can rake in a ton of cash without much worry of being challenged.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 16th, 2016 at 10:00 am

TANSTAAFL

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One of the most important things for anybody to know is that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Everything comes at a cost, even “free” things. Consider public Wi-Fi networks. Companies seemingly provide free Wi-Fi to customers as a courtesy. But those free Wi-Fi networks are revenue generator:

According to an article, which mall officials say they co-wrote, “while being an attractive guest feature, the (Wi-Fi) service simultaneously provides the mall with enough data to fill digital warehouses with information about what people do both online and in the real world while on the property.”

“This type of tracking can happen at any business, any location, any place that there’s any Wi-Fi networks,” Schulte said.

He explained that when your phone connects to Wi-Fi, it’s actually exchanging information with the network.

“You’re telling the Mall of America when you go to the mall, what door you go in, what stores you visit, what level you’re on, as well as what you’re doing on your phone.”

Asked if that means that mall officials could potentially know about it if someone logs onto Facebook while using the mall’s Wi-Fi network, Shulte answered, “Absolutely they know that you’re going to Facebook.”

This is the same paradigm used by websites that rely on ad networks for revenue. Instead of charging the user directly the provider simply snoops on the user and sells the information it collects to advertisers. In this way the advertiser becomes the customer and the user becomes the product.

I recommend against using public Wi-Fi networks. If you have to use one I recommend doing so through a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts your traffic from your device to the VPN provider’s server. That means your data isn’t visible to the local Wi-Fi network and therefore cannot be snooped on by local network surveillance. Tor can work to a lesser extent in that you can conceal traffic that can be run through the Tor network but it’s not as effective in this case since most systems, with the exception of specially designed operating systems such as Tails, don’t route all traffic through Tor.

Whenever anybody offers you something for free you should try to figure out what the catch is because there is one.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 15th, 2016 at 11:00 am