Version 24.0
Posted September 1, 2014, 12:28 p.m.

As I have said many times before, I have the deepest respect for public safety officials—police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMT’s), and so on. Most of the people who choose to work in these fields are heroes. They are willing to risk their lives day-in and day-out to serve and protect the ‘regular folks’ in their communities . . . you know, people like me, who wouldn’t have the guts to do what they do.

They are, however, human beings . . . which means they make mistakes. Because of the nature of their work, sometimes those mistakes cost lives. There are times when police officers use deadly force, believing they or others are at serious risk of harm, and it turns out that the kid was wielding a toy gun or some other innocuous object. I understand these realities, and tend to defend law enforcement officers’ actions except when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing on their part.

But I also have little sympathy for those officers who abuse or overstep their authorities—and there are far too many of them. In my own very limited dealings with law enforcement, I have been the victim of [minor] police abuse two times. Once, Officer Graham Buck of the Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) called my high school principal and told her that I was a dangerous anarchist (what?). Another time, Officer George Lopez (of the same department) verbally abused and threatened me because I misinterpreted his vague hand gestures. Neither Buck nor Lopez were formally reprimanded for their actions against me.

This lack of official response highlights the ‘good ol’ boys’ network—that strange brotherhood within the law enforcement community that leads even good cops to defend their peers at all costs, no matter how badly they have overstepped their authorities.

Another time, one of my neighbors yelled, “Asshole!” at a driver who decided to drive through a neighborhood block party. The driver abruptly stopped his car and confronted my neighbor. He was aggressive enough that, if I had done it, I probably would have been carted off to jail for disorderly conduct or assault. He was aggressive enough that I had my hand in my pocket, gripping a can of pepper-spray, worried that I was about to have to use it to protect myself and my neighbors. If I had been carrying a firearm at the time, I likely would have had my hand on it instead. Read More…

Posted August 25, 2014, 11:01 a.m.
No-Nonsense Weather

No-Nonsense Weather

Well, as you can see, Off on a Tangent kind of ground to a halt for a while there. There are a few reasons, but the big one is that most of the time I’ve been sitting in front of the computer I’ve been working on No-Nonsense Weather—the weather web application I mentioned back in June.

I’m happy to report that I (quietly) launched a publicly available beta (version 0.7.0) last week and solicited some of my friends to test it out. Between their testing and mine, I was able to identify a number of bugs and issues and resolve most of them. I made two small bug fix releases last week and the live version is now 0.7.2. In general, it is working great.

Now, having said that, it is still a beta. It still has some known issues, and probably a bunch of unknown issues too. Please don’t rely on it as your sole source of weather information (yet). But I hope you will give it a try and let me know what you think. You can use the ‘feedback’ link on the site to send your comments and bug reports, and if you’re technically inclined you can log in to the Intersanity bug tracker and file bugs yourself.

Right now, it only supports weather for locations in the United States. International support is in the plans for the next major beta release (not sure when yet).

You can find No-Nonsense Weather at https://www.no-nonsense-weather.com/.

Posted July 17, 2014, 12:08 p.m.
Last Updated July 18, 2014, 12:15 p.m.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (cross-listed as KLM Flight 4103), a Boeing 777 carrying 298 passengers and crew, has been shot down over eastern Ukraine. There are no survivors. The plane was en-route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and was struck by a Russian-built Buk surface-to-air missile while flying at its 33,000 foot cruise altitude. It crashed thirty miles from the Russian border near the village of Hrabove. The crash site is in a contested region claimed by both Ukraine and the Donetsk People’s Republic, an independent state proclaimed by separatists in the region allied with Russia.

Leaders of the Ukrainian government, the Russian government, and the Donetsk separatists have all denied responsibility for the attack, but it now appears that the separatists—with or without Russian support—downed the plane. Separatists have shot down several Ukrainian cargo planes and fighters in recent weeks, and are also known to have obtained a Buk missile launcher following the capture of a military base in the region. Both Russia and Ukraine also operate Buk missile launchers. Around the same time that Flight 17 went down, separatists claimed to have shot down a cargo plane nearby, but that claim was quickly retracted when it became clear that a civilian airliner had been hit.

It has been reported that Donetsk officials have so-far refused to allow Ukraine or international investigators access to the crash site. There are also unconfirmed reports that the plane’s voice and data recorders will be transported to Moscow, Russia.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has prohibited U.S. airlines from flying through certain areas of Ukraine’s airspace since April due to concerns about violence and instability (FDC NOTAM 4/7667). The same FAA notice recommended that pilots exercise ‘extreme caution’ if they choose to fly elsewhere in Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia have been embroiled in a military crisis since Russian troops invaded and occupied the Crimean peninsula earlier this year. Russia has since annexed Crimea, but most of the international community does not recognize the legitimacy of the annexation. Fighting continues in other areas between separatists who desire to join with Russia and the Ukrainian military.

In March of this year, another Boeing 777 operated by Malaysia Airlines—Flight 370—disappeared shortly after departing from Kuala Lumpur en-route to Beijing, China. There were 239 passengers and crew aboard. That plane is presumed crashed in the Indian Ocean with all lives lost. Despite the most expansive search in history, no crash site or debris has yet been found.

There have been a number of airline shoot-down incidents in the past. In three notable incidents, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by Soviet (Russian) forces in 1983, Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down by the U.S. Navy in 1988, and Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 was shot down during a Ukrainian missile exercise in 2001.

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Posted June 30, 2014, 10:45 a.m.
Last Updated June 30, 2014, 12:20 p.m.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that First Amendment religious liberty rights apply to certain closely-held businesses as specified under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Companies like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, two of the businesses that brought the case, may not be forced to provide contraceptive and abortion services in violation of company leaders’ conscience. The majority opinion states, in part, that, “Protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations . . . protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.”

Under RFRA, the federal government may not take any action that ‘substantially burdens’ the exercise of religion unless it is the least restrictive means of serving a ‘compelling government interest.’ The law was intentionally crafted in a way that included for-profit corporations.

The majority opinion points to the ‘accommodation’ that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has made for religious non-profits, whereby the organizations are permitted to opt-out of providing insurance coverage for morally objectionable services, but the government then provides those services through other means. “HHS has provided no reason why the same system cannot be made available when the owners of for-profit corporations have similar religious objections.”

Typical of the Roberts court, the ruling is narrowly crafted and leaves many broader questions about the contraceptive mandate and collective religious liberty unanswered. For example, having found that the HHS mandate violates RFRA, the court did not even address the underlying First Amendment issues in play. Thus, Congress need only repeal or amend the RFRA if they wish to send this all back into the courts again. In addition, the ruling applies only to ‘closely held’ corporations owned by religious individuals, specifically excluding large, publicly held corporations. And finally, the court does not address the constitutionality of the aforementioned ‘accommodation,’ which is being challenged in other cases working their way through the system.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas. Kennedy also filed a separate concurring opinion. A dissenting opinion was filed by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan concurred with all but one part of Ginsburg’s opinion.

Posted June 26, 2014, 10:28 p.m.
No-Nonsense Weather

No-Nonsense Weather

You may remember No-Nonsense Weather, the weather application that I built for the defunct Palm WebOS mobile platform. I discontinued it when Hewlett-Packard announced that they were killing WebOS, but I had always planned on bringing it back someday for other platforms. I even worked up a proof-of-concept in early 2011, bringing the bulk of the code of the WebOS app straight over into a jQuery Mobile framework that would let it run in the browser (locally). The plan was to port that into an app for iOS, Android, and whatever else.

Not long after I got that proof-of-concept running—and even got it running as an Android app on the Motorola Droid 2 I had at the time—I decided to shelve the project. Web-based apps performed pretty poorly at the time, and I began to realize that the app also had some serious technical shortcomings. First, the app’s JavaScript code needed to communicate directly with U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) data sources. This worked fine when it was running as an app, but meant it couldn’t be easily ported to a web-based system (due to cross-site scripting issues). It also meant the app would crash and burn if the NWS systems were having downtime.

The whole idea of No-Nonsense Weather was to give users all of the important weather information they wanted with none of the extraneous crap. No blogs, no clutter, no giant, pretty pictures . . . just the weather. And although there are a million sites out there that provide weather information, and a million apps on Android and iOS to do the same, I still haven’t found any that I like as much as I liked my old weather app (but maybe I’m biased). Many of these apps are really pretty to look at, but require you to tap or click all over the place to get the info you’re looking for. Some have really obnoxious, in-your-face advertising. Some have so much information and clutter that you can’t find what you really want. And some go to the opposite extreme, clean and simple but with so little actual weather information that it’s practically worthless. Read More…

Scott Bradford has been building web sites and using them to say what he thinks since 1995, which tended to get him in trouble with power-tripping assistant principals at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, but has spent most of his career (so far) working on public- and private-sector web sites. He is not a member of any political party, and brands himself an ‘independent constitutional conservative.’ In addition to holding down a day job and blogging about challenging subjects like politics, religion, and technology, Scott is also a devout Catholic, gun-owner, bike rider, and music lover with a wife, two cats, and a dog.