NFA on Gun Control: Bad Taste, Bad Timing, and Bad Logic

I actually wrote this on the evening of Thursday, June 5, 2014 after reading the press release by the National Firearms Association. However, I refrained from posting it, as I felt that the timing was in appropriate.

After reading this article, I felt that I could now post it.

I (and others, it seems) were not particularly impressed with the NFA’s decision to make a political statement regarding gun control at the height of the recent crisis in Moncton. Many felt that the press release issued by the NFA demonstrated tremendously bad taste, bad timing, and bad judgement.

However, we do have free speech in Canada (unless you are a government scientist), so the NFA is free to say what they want to on the subject.

Free speech is a good thing. I like free speech. Especially because it also permits me to point out how horrendously, absurdly bad is the logic of both the NFA’s statement and their associated position.

The fundamental argument by the NFA (beyond “laws interfere with our fun”) is that even with all or Canada’s gun control efforts, someone with a gun has killed three RCMP officers. Thus, all gun control laws should be abandoned. The basic shape of this argument is this:

  1. We do X to prevent Y
  2. Sometimes, in spite of doing X, Y still happens
  3. Therefore, we should stop doing X because it is a waste of time

Lets try this argument in a few other situations, and see how it works…

We put locks on our doors, and install security systems in order to prevent our homes and business from being robbed. Sometimes, even with locks and security systems, we do get robbed. Therefore we should stop using locks and security systems.

Hmmmmm. That doesn’t seem quite right. Lets try another one…

We put in place traffic laws in order to prevent accidents and death. Sometimes, in spite of these laws, traffic accidents and deaths still occur. Therefore we should not bother with traffic laws.

Well, that doesn’t seem quite right either. How about one from personal health…

We eat healthy in order to prevent (among other things) heart disease. Sometimes, people who eat healthy still have heart attacks and die. Therefore, we should not bother eating healthy.

Still doesn’t sound right. Could it be that problem is that the structure of the argument is fundamentally flawed?

I had planned to go into the absurdity of the fact that people view gun ownership as some sort of “fundamental human right”, or the idea that the “right to bear arms” really means “the right to bear any kind of weapon (even those not invented yet) at any time in any situation without any rules or constraints”, or the silliness of believing that owners of dangerous weapons should be subject to lower licensing and registration requirements than car owners or ham radio operators.

Instead, I will just leave it at pointing out the bad timing, bad taste and bad logic of the NFA’s press release.

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The 3 Most Annoying Attention-grabbing Blog Post Headlines

Have you ever noticed that there are several headlines used repeatedly by bloggers and other digital writers, all of which are designed for nothing else than to try to grab traffic? Not that there is anything wrong with trying to grab traffic, but more often than not these posts are nothing but fluff, and simply play off public opinion regarding some polarizing topic.

The three which annoy me most are:

  1. Technology is Dead! – applied most commonly to the PC, and anything to do with Microsoft
  2. 10 Reasons Company  X got everything wrong!
  3. 10 Things you MUST do today or your career will DIE!

Note that it is not always 10 things – some of us can only count to 3.

Those are my favourites – what are yours?

Immigration: The new Off-Shoring?

I was just reading an article over one The Atlantic, entitled The Myth of America’s Tech-Talent Shortage

I think “myth” is too polite a term here. Complete and utter bullshit would seem to be more appropriate, both for the situation in Canada, and in the United States.

On the one hand, there is constant whining on the part or the tech industry that they cannot find enough qualified people. Their solution: allow in more immigrants who, while qualified, will often work for less money in order to get here and get established. This is, in effect, absolutely no different than off-shoring the jobs in order to get them done more cheaply. Whether they hire people off-shore, or bring people from off-shore here, it amounts to the same thing.

On the other hand, we have stories like this one on age discrimination, this one Companies won’t even look at resumes of the long-term unemployed. Then there are the many, many articles regarding the challenges of new grads finding work in their fields, including many in STEM fields.

So lets look at these points:

  • Tech companies claim they cannot find qualified staff;
  • These same companies do not hire new grads because they “lack experience”;
  • These same companies will not look at long-term unemployed (assuming 6 months is “long term”), because there must be something wrong with them, or because all of their skills have become obsolete in 6 months;
  • These same companies do want to hire over 50s because their skills much be out-of-date

Does anyone else see the bullshit in this situation? The reality is that

  1. Companies want experience, but they do not want to pay for it. 
  2. Companies can get experience for less by importing it, because many people want to come to North America.
  3. Companies are not interested in investing in building the experience base by hiring the inexperienced and growing them.

I have worked for many companies that did hire new grads, did invest in growing that talent, and did hire experienced people (even though they were more expensive) to mentor that junior staff. And you know what, those companies were successful. 

Do not get me wrong, I am not “anti-immigration”. I think that immigration adds a great deal to our country.

Just don’t try to feed me some bullshit line that it is the only way to get the technical talent you need.

Samsung ATIV SmartPC: Be very careful when buying in Canada

Among the Windows 8 devices I have been very anxious to see are Samsung’s ATIV SmartPC line. There are two main versions, the 500T, powered by an Atom processor, and the 700T powered by a Core I5 processor (note there is also a Windows RT version of the ATIV).

In particular, I was really looking forward to seeing the 500T. With the Atom processor, it runs a full version of Windows 8, rather than running Windows RT. The Atom processor would also seem to give better battery life, and keeps the price more in line with what people want to pay for this type of device. And the kicker (for me, anyway) is the inclusion of the S-PEN and an active digitizer to support note-taking, a big bonus in my books.

Based reviews like this, I was pretty excited.

Well, now comes the problem…I live in Canada.

As in the US, there are two different SKUs for the 500T in Canada (XE500T1C-A01CA  and XE500T1C-A02CA). The first does not include the keyboard dock, the second does.

But…

The versions being sold in the US (for slightly cheaper) both include the S-PEN/active digitizer. Not so for the versions in Canada. Samsung Canada has confirmed to me via Twitter that the Canadian versions do not have the pen, and reviews I have seen indicate that they will not even work with other Active Digitizer pens.

Others may not place quite as much important on the pen as I do, but this makes the device a non-starter for me.

I have received no justification from Samsung as to why Canadians should pay more for reduced capability. I would love to see their reasoning.

Usability: Are “Stupid Users” really just a symptom of lazy software?

Any conversation with programmers or technical support people regarding users will often lead to many stories about “can you believe how stupid users are?” But how often is it really the software that is stupid, rather than the users?

Users frequently make some very simplistic assumptions about software (or computerized devices in general):

  • Simple things will work
  • If it lets me do it, everything must be ok.

These are not really bad assumptions. Many of the things the mere users try to do only sound stupid to those “in the know” – those who have been suitably trained and conditioned by software to know that the perfectly reasonable things the user wants to do are indeed stupid.

Take an example. A user has an MP3 file, and they really want a WAV file. Naively, the user renames the file from a .mp3 extension to a .wav extension, and is baffled that the file does not behave as a WAV file. We all know that this is not how software works, right? This user then becomes another story for some tech support person.

However, there was nothing wrong with the user. The user wanted a WAV. The OS let him rename the file from .mp3 to .wav, so everything must be ok, right?

I would suggest that it is the software here that is stupid, not the user. Or more correctly, the software is just lazy. It cannot be bothered preventing the user from doing things that don’t make sense. It cannot be bothered acting in an intuitive manner, or at least informing the user that it is not acting so. Hey, maybe the software could actually do something useful, like convert the MP3 file to a WAV file, which is what the user wants in the first place. Or at the very least, tell the user how to do it.

In general, users are not stupid. They just want to do stuff, and they expect software to allow them to do it in an intuitive manner. So if your tech support logs are filled with stories of “stupid users”, maybe you should have a long, hard look at your software.

Windows 8 is for the Right Handed?

As I have played with Windows 8 (both the Developer Preview and the Consumer Preview), I have gotten the distinct feeling that it has been developed assuming a right-handed user. For example, access the system charms works much more consistently with my right thumb as opposed to reaching across with my left hand.

Tonight, while reading through some of the developer documentation for the consumer preview, I came across the following statement:

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Apparently it is ok to ignore 10% of the population when designing your user experience.

What’s up with WordAds?

I am wondering what is up with WordPress.com’s WordAds, announced last November. I submitted a request for the program in December, and received a confirmation stating it would be “a few weeks” before they could respond.

Well, it is closing in on three months now (which is, I guess, still “a few weeks”), but I am wondering what is going on with this program?