Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Yo Dawg I heard you like blog posts

I really love the evolution of the Xzibit Yo Dawg meme.

It started with simple parodies of Pimp My Ride:
But it quickly became about putting things inside themselves:
Then people stopped even finishing the sentence:
And now it's to the point that you only need the slightest hint of Xzibit's presence to understand that the image is pointing out recursion:
He's become like a symbol in the sign language of the internets.

Or maybe I just like progressions like that. Like awesome nickname evolutions. For instance I know someone named Yotam. Soon after college started his friends started referring to him as "Yotizz." Then it progressed to just "'Tizz." And now his friends will casually refer to him as "'Tizzlet." From Yotam. Awesome.

I digress. Further Yo Dawg internets after the jump.

U.S. performs 1,200 traveler laptop searches per year

TrueCrypt: don't leave home without it.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokeswoman Kelly Ivahnenko:
"Between October 1, 2008 and August 11, 2009 CBP encountered more than 221 million travelers and of these, fewer than 1,050 searches were performed on laptops."
- Wired.com
For those unfamiliar with the border search exception to the fourth amendment, when you are flying internationally, security agents can take you aside and search your belongings without any warrant or reasonable suspicion. Ok, big deal, so I'm going to have to open my bag again, right?

Thing is, this policy has been interpreted to include searching all files on your laptop, phone, USB drive, etc. They'll even confiscate your computer for months, copy the entire hard drive, and mail it back to you.

Now is the first time I've seen numbers on this. That's a rate of about 1,200 searches per year as of last year. And I was already upset about this policy when I thought it was a really rare occurrence.

I remember hearing an explanation for this policy is that they've determined that searching the files on an electronic device is equivalent to searching your current personal effects. This is what gets me upset. I assume that the people who decided on this interpretation of the law imagine the contents of a phone or laptop to be just about the same as the contents of, say, a notepad you bring on a plane.

But many people, especially of my generation, have a good proportion of their lives on their computers. Personally I can't deal with physical things and lose them all the time, so my most personal possessions are files on my hard drive. Search my apartment all you want; there's not much I'd be upset over losing. But on my computer I have personal documents I wrote in 1998 in middle school. I have IM conversations from high school. I have all the texts I've sent since 2006. All emails since 2004. Calendar events since 2008. And 10,000 personal photos.

I know, no one cares about my middle school secrets or the texts I sent to my ex-girlfriend (though I could see them having a good old time back at the office with some of my photos). The point is, it feels as violating as a warrantless search of my home would've felt 20 years ago. Preventing such a violation is the whole point of the fourth amendment.

And it's coming to a laptop near you. So remember kids, if you want to spit in the face of a violation of your rights, TrueCrypt up!

Friday, November 19, 2010

DC crime map - by block!

Ok this should be great, but on closer inspection it actually sucks.

My thoughts on first look: "Wow! I've still been going off this old homicides map because I haven't yet seen anything more precise. But block-by-block is amazing!"

But then I realized it's just a simple count of crimes for each block, not at all taking into account the size or population of the block. Hence universities, whose entire campuses count as one block, seem like the most dangerous places in the city. And then there's more obvious (and just dumb) examples like this pinwheel centered on Thomas Circle.
I don't think I'll be much safer on the small-slice blocks. In fact I think there's a good chance all eight blocks have statistically the same crime rate. If you measure it in a more meaningful way, that is.

So yes, in reality it's not useless. I've seen some interesting things when comparing blocks of similar size. But it's pretty frustrating. Because the DC Crime Policy Institute it comes from gives no info that would help better interpret the data. And because the information they give us is already divided into bins (5-9 crimes/year, 10-25 crimes/year, etc) you can't manually correct for block size with any accuracy.

There's several easy steps they could've taken to produce a better (not perfect) representation of crime in The District. The easiest thing to do would be to simply divide the number of crimes by the area of the block. Then at least they wouldn't have made a map that was near-meaningless.

I guess since that would be so easy, the only conclusion I can come to is that the map was mostly decoration and what they were most interested in was the data in their table showing trends over time. But honestly I found that less interesting than the prospect of seeing the spatial distribution of crime in DC.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

"It was very good humored, and one sensed that the entire crowd loathed Fox, felt queasy about MSNBC, couldn't bring themselves to watch CNN and caught NPR in the commute."

-Andrew Sullivan pegs the mood of the rally

Good photo galleries of the signs (best part of the day) here and here.