Version 24.1
Posted February 8, 2015, 9:02 p.m.

For the last few years now, the automotive industry has been on a roll. Most of the new car introductions have looked great, and one by one the ugliest cars in the market have been discontinued. For 2015, there has been a true bloodbath of ugly cars. Four cars that were on last year’s list have been put to a well-deserved death: Honda Insight, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, and Nissan Cube. And none of the new or redesigned models for 2015 are really ugly enough to make the list.

As such, the four ‘new additions’ at the bottom of the list are cars that have been around for one or more model years, but were edged out in previous lists by uglier (but now-discontinued) cars. The fact that the ‘average ugliness’ across the list is much less than in previous years should be seen as a commentary on the positive direction of modern auto design.

The criteria for inclusion is the same it has always been. I don’t include models that aren’t sold in the United States. I don’t include models that sell in low volume (and volume is defined completely subjectively based on how many I see on the highways in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area). I don’t include exotic, military, or special-purpose vehicles—so no super-cars, tanks, or postal trucks. I also don’t include vehicles reserved exclusively for the commercial market, such as the truly horrific Ram Promaster.

This list is entirely my personal opinion. I encourage your comments—whether they be nominations of ugly cars I may have missed, or impassioned defenses of the ones I didn’t. And if you own one of the cars on this list, well, don’t take it personally. Read More…

Posted in Articles, Products
Posted February 5, 2015, 12:11 p.m.
NNW International

NNW International

Part of why I have been relatively inactive here on Off on a Tangent lately is that I am continuing to devote a good amount of my free time toward developing No-Nonsense Weather. The live version right now is still 0.7.4, but I am hard at work on developing the next big beta: 0.8.0.

In addition to bug-fixes and performance improvements, and support for nautical miles and knots if you prefer them for distance and speed measurements, I am planning two really big feature enhancements for the 0.8.0 beta:

First, No-Nonsense Weather will support international locations (the 0.7.x series only supports U.S. locations). Severe weather watches and warnings will still be U.S.-only, but you’ll be able to get current conditions and a seven-day forecast for pretty much any location in the world. This is feature-complete and working in my testing instance (see screenshot), but I am still working on some performance issues. It turns out that searching a MySQL database of practically every named location in the world takes much longer than searching practically every named location in the United States. I have it optimized to the point where many world-wide location searches are even faster than U.S. searches were in the previous version, but I’m still having performance issues in some cases that I need to resolve before I can roll out a release. In the end though, I expect location finding to be much faster in 0.8.0 than it is today, no matter where you are.

The second big new feature is that I am making major improvements to the weather radar view. Right now, I just grab the appropriate U.S. National Weather Service radar image and pop it into the No-Nonsense Weather interface . . . but this is not particularly flexible. I am going to make it much nicer and easier to use in 0.8.0. You’ll be able to pan around and zoom in and out like you do in Google Maps and other similar services. At the moment I am planning to offer radar world-wide (well, in places that have weather radar, at least) . . . but fair warning, I might reduce the scope to just the U.S. depending on how big a project this ends up being. I’ve just started working on it, so I don’t have a good idea of how much time it will take just yet. If the 0.8.0 radar feature ends up being U.S. only, I’ll still come back (probably in 0.9.0) with world-wide support.

If you have used No-Nonsense Weather and experienced any bugs or problems with the current version, please either submit a bug or use the feedback feature on the site itself. I might have already fixed it in my 0.8.0 development efforts, but if not, there’s still time for me to get fixes in before the next release!

Subjects: ,
Posted in Life, Software
Posted January 2, 2015, 9:31 p.m.


Some time around 2004, I obtained a completely legal ‘educational’ version of the Adobe Video Collection (as a hand-me-down from my then-future wife). The package included Mac versions of Photoshop 7, Illustrator 10, Premiere 6.5, and After Effects 5.5—each of which was then a version or two outdated compared to the newer Creative Suite offerings. I made good use of Photoshop in my web development efforts of the day, but most of the other software sat mostly dormant and unused.

For some reason, in 2005, I decided to start messing around with some of the other products. I used Illustrator to re-create some old characters of mine . . . first, I recreated a hand-drawn cartoon ant named Antzoid. Then I created a new version of an inexplicable character named Peter Spoo, who happened to have been an accidental combination of two royalty-free Microsoft clip-art images (a man with a broken leg and a flower). And once I had nice vector versions of my two characters, I could bring them over into After Effects and animate them. So I did.

I posted a repeating Flash animation of Antzoid dancing, and then later a short Quicktime movie of Peter Spoo walking off a cliff. They were completely stupid, pointless animations that I threw together just to prove that I could make a semi-coherent animation if I ever wanted to. A few months later, I needed to make an ‘easter egg’ (hidden page/joke) for my web site, so I created a third stupid animation . . . an intentionally badly-drawn panda doing an intentionally badly-animated repetitive dance. It appeared on a blank white page that just said, in stark text, “GOD HATES PANDAS.” I figured that was a good explanation for why they are so bad at breeding.

Anyway, eventually my Adobe software stopped working. It was, after all, Mac software from the PowerPC era. Once I upgraded to a Mac with an Intel processor, I couldn’t use it anymore . . . and the cost of a new copy of the Adobe Creative Suite was more than I needed or wanted to spend for software I didn’t really need. Instead, I bought a standalone copy of Adobe Fireworks to do my web design work and went on my merry way. When I switched back to Windows, I transferred that Fireworks license from Mac to Windows and bought the Adobe Photoshop and Premier Elements bundle so I would have some basic photo and video software to do the jobs that iPhoto and iMovie had done on the Mac. Then I started taking a lot more photos, and bought a standalone copy of Adobe Lightroom to manage them. I upgraded those four Adobe products now-and-then in the years following.

Well, Fireworks got discontinued (ugh!) and the two Elements products kept getting more dumbed-down with each ‘upgrade’ . . . so I needed to evaluate my options, and it turned out that the most cost-effective way to get the four products I wanted (Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere) and keep them up-to-date moving forward was to bite the bullet and become a full-fledged Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber. The subscription also includes the final version of Fireworks, which ensures I’ll still be able to open and convert my Fireworks files (at least for now). And because I had current versions of a few Adobe apps, they gave me the discounted ‘Creative Suite users’ price for the first year.

But let’s get to the important part: for the first time in many years, I have a working copy of Adobe After Effects (which I didn’t really care about, but it comes included with the Creative Cloud subscription). So that meant that I could go back and reopen my old animations, tweak them a bit, and remaster them in stunning high resolution for posting to YouTube . . . because . . . why not? Read More…

Posted December 13, 2014, 4:58 p.m.
CIA Torture Report (Cover)

CIA Torture Report (Cover)

Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the pronouncement of the War on Terror, the U.S. government began capturing and detaining members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Under the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and long-standing international law, these detentions were perfectly legitimate. I addressed the question of the legality of these detentions and of military tribunals in The War in Iraq: Ten Myths (see Myth #1). But while the detentions and tribunals were legal in-and-of themselves, torturing those prisoners was not.

While prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere are not protected under the Third Geneva Convention because they do not meet the definition of ‘prisoner of war,’ they are most certainly protected under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment and Punishment. This treaty, commonly known as the United Nations (U.N.) Convention Against Torture, was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1984. It came into force in 1987 after having been ratified by twenty-six nations. Today, 156 nations are party to the treaty.

President Ronald Reagan (R) signed the Convention Against Torture in 1988, and it was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1994. Since then, it has been the ‘law of the land’ under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding” (emphasis added).

So what does the Convention Against Torture entail? Well, you can dig through the full text if you want, but I would like to highlight two important clauses. First, here the legal definition of torture under the treaty:

For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in[,] or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Part I, Article 1.1

And second, here is what the treaty has to say about making exceptions to the rule, and the ‘just following orders’ defense:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability[,] or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

Part I, Article 2.2-2.3

Pretty clear if you ask me. . . . Read More…

Posted November 27, 2014, 2:02 p.m.
President Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln

In 1621, the Puritan Christian pilgrims of the Plymouth Plantation (in modern-day Massachusetts) joined with their American Indian neighbors to celebrate the ‘first Thanksgiving,’ a celebration of thanks for all that God had given them. One particular Indian named Tisquantum, or ‘Squanto,’ was a Baptized Catholic who was fluent in English. Squanto was instrumental in helping the pilgrims establish themselves in the New World and in building the close friendship between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. That friendship would result in over fifty years of peace between the European settlers—including my ancestor, William Bradford—and the American Indians of the American northeast. You can read some more of the details in my 2010 piece, On Thanksgiving.

Many of the northeast colonies continued the tradition and celebrated annual Thanksgiving holidays, but the date of the celebration differed between the different colonies. After the establishment of the United States, the New England states continued to celebrate each fall, but the holiday was largely unknown (or at least uncelebrated) in the rest of the United States.

A magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale had begun advocating for a national, uniform Thanksgiving holiday in the late 1840’s, but the request had fallen on deaf ears in a county that was then on the brink of civil war. And of course the war and all its horrors came in 1861. Before its end in 1865, more than 625,000 Americans were dead, 412,000 were injured, and unmeasurable harm had been done to lives and property all across the United States (and the erstwhile Confederate States).

None of this stopped Hale, who wrote to President Abraham Lincoln (R) in September of 1863—more than a year and a half before the war would end—urging him to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving anyway. She had been advocating it for fifteen years, and had written to several of Lincoln’s predecessors, but none had acted on the request. Lincoln, in the midst of the unspeakable horrors of war, thought that Hale had a good idea. He asked Secretary of State William Seward (R) to draft an appropriate proclamation, which was then issued by the President Lincoln on October 3, 1863. This proclamation, printed below (with minor modernizations of spelling and formatting), established a uniform, national Thanksgiving holiday in the United States for the first time.

In case you have any question of what this holiday is about, or what it means, read on. Read More…

About Scott Bradford

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.