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.


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?

Deceptive Use of Statistics in Headlines

I was looking at the Apple stock chart on, and saw two apparently contradictory headlines listed:


I knew that it was likely just a case of using different comparison time frames, but it still looked amusing!

As I looked at the two articles, my suspicions were validated. The article on the left was describing a Q4-Q1 drop of 33%, not all that surprising given the iPhone 5 launch and holiday season. The second article was describing year-over-year Q1 growth of 25%, which seems pretty good.

Isn’t it nice how you carefully select which stats to use in your headline, in order to drive the perception you want?

As Twain said: Lies, damned lies, and statistics!

Don’t Pave Around Your IT Obstacles!

I came across a news story (note the link seems to now be broken) yesterday about a hydro pole in the middle of the road in Quebec. In case the link breaks (they often do on the site) here is the picture:

Apparently, a contract was put out to widen the road, but no one thought to involve Hydro Quebec. The contractor followed his instructions to the letter, and widened the road, paving right around the hydro pole in the process. In fact, it looks from the picture like they did a fine fine to – it looks very professional. The contractor is quoted as saying:

“Everyone knows it looks crazy,” he told QMI Agency. “But the transport department is our client. You must understand, I was somewhat uncomfortable to criticize them.”

We look at this and ask ourselves “How could anyone be so stupid?”

This is a perfect example of “doing things right”, as opposed to “doing the right things”.

How many times have we watched IT projects do the exact same thing?

How many times have we seen projects which followed the exact statement of the new requirements, without always looking at or understanding the surrounding IT terrain? How many new IT projects attempt to simply “pave around” existing infrastructure? How many times have you heard someone say “well, I thought it was kind of stupid, but that is what my client/boss asked for?”

Even worse, what looks stupid in the physical world is often applauded in the IT world. If you jump through hoops to do a very professional job of “paving around the hydro poles” then you are being resourceful, and “responsive to client needs”.

Sorry, stupid is still stupid!

So the next time you see something stupid about to happen –  ask somebody. Maybe it really is as stupid as it looks! And if they still insist on doing something stupid, show them this picture!

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.

Why Google Search Integration with Google+ Sucks

This is a very simple example of something I am seeing more and more on Google Search. I did a very simple search for “.NET 4 launch activity in background thread”. The picture below shows the results:


What’s my issue with this? Well, how about the fact that the number one result has absolutely nothing to do with my search. Google knows it really is not the best result for my search, but puts it there, I assume, because the author is in almost 7000 Google+ circles.

Sorry Google, but I do not give a crap about Google+ circles when I just want relevant results from my search.

Microsoft is evil, lame, and sucks, right?


Give me a freaking break!

I was just reading a post over on TechCrunch. I do not know why I allow myself to get drawn into reading this drivel, but I always seem to.

When are the anti-Microsoft crowd going to grow up and realize that this is a business, and we are all in it to make money and increase the value of that business.

(including, of course, Google and Apple – but it is somehow ok for them)

For those who do not want to waste time and bandwidth reading the actual post, I will summarize a bit:

  • Microsoft participated in the consortium which purchased the “Nortel Patents”, even though MS apparently did not need to
  • Microsoft is pursuing licensing agreements with Android phone vendors based on other IP which MS already had
  • Microsoft stands to make a lot of money from these agreements
  • Microsoft is obviously “lame” for doing this (seriously, who actually uses the term “lame” anymore?)
  • Microsoft is doing this (obviously) because they cannot compete with Android by being innovative.
  • It would be OK if Apple were doing this, since Apple can do no wrong

So lets take a look at this from a more realistic point of view.

  • Microsoft is a business. It is in business to make money, and increase shareholder value. Period.
  • Microsoft owns certain patents. A lot of them. It owned this IP before participating in the Nortel deal.
  • Microsoft felt that participating in the consortium to buy the Nortel patents was valuable in terms of protecting its IP position.

So far so good. Lets look at the Android situation.

  • Android (apparently) infringes upon a number of patents which Microsoft owns. I am not in a position to assess this, but I would suspect there is some validity to the claim or Android phone vendors would not be signing agreements with MS without fighting.
  • If this is the case, Google is making money selling something for which they do not have clear intellectual property rights. And this is somehow Microsoft’s fault?

The statement is made that Android is winning because Google “out-innovates” Microsoft. Lets compare the two:

  • Google has a mobile phone OS named Android, based on an existing open-source OS, using a programming model which some believe they do not have valid IP rights to, and using a UI paradigm which clearly borrows heavily from another famous mobile phone (though I do think Android improves on it).
  • Microsoft, after lagging for a long time, has introduced a new mobile phone OS, written from the ground up, using a unique UI model which is clearly theirs, and with a development environment to which they own the IP, and which is also highly innovative.

Whether WP7 succeeds or fails, and whether you happen to like it or not, from an innovation perspective it is clearly well beyond Android.

So what is Microsoft’s strategy? Well, it appears to be two-pronged.

Having invested heavily in innovation, they are clearly focused on the future of WP7. They intend it to be a success. Whether or not they are successful is more a question of their timing and marketing ability than their level of innovation.

At the same time, Microsoft has quite rightly taken action to preserve the value of its intellectual property. They have also leveraged their ownership of this IP to make money and increase shareholder value.

It seems to me like Microsoft is doing exactly what a business is supposed to do, and doing it well in this case.

Finally, I just have to comment on this little snippet form the post:

“When Apple takes these agressive (sic) approaches on patents, it’s no more right, but at least they can argue that they have a winning product (the iPhone) that they’re trying to protect. Their goal isn’t to get other companies licensing their patents, it’s to run those guys out of the market”

At least he acknowledges that Apple is “no more right” than anyone else in this process. It is the final statement that gets me. So, it is more admirable to crush your competitors and drive them out of business than to license technology to them, allowing both parties to survive and make money?

Of course it is, since we all know it is better to only have one choice in the market, as long as that choice is Apple!

(in case that was too subtle for any of you, that was sarcasm )