Smart Guns in the LA Times

I did a condensed version of the TechCrunch piece linked earlier for the LA Times Sunday Edition.

The gun control movement’s latest hobby horse is the smart gun. President Obama included federal support for smart gun research in his recent executive orders, delighting activists who insist that a locking mechanism capable of preventing criminals from firing stolen weapons would surely be popular with gun buyers — if only the gun industry would drop its opposition.

The bad news for anyone looking to the smart gun as a technological quick fix for gun violence is that, absent a government mandate requiring all guns to be “smart,” a robust market is unlikely to materialize. And even if new laws were to require that all new firearms include smart gun tech, many proposed smart systems would actually make us less safe.

Given the word counts I’m used to on the web, the 850-word limit felt like writing for Twitter. But it was a fun exercise, and maybe I’ll do the op-ed thing again at some point.

HOWTO: Uploadcare and Rails

Over on the Collective Idea blog I posted a little how-to for integrating Uploadcare and Rails.

Uploadcare is a really handy service that provides a combination of a CDN and a convenient, configurable JavaScript upload dialog that lets your app’s users easily put images onto your CDN. Each Uploadcare image has a unique UUID, which means that if your Rails app is also using UUIDs as database identifiers, then Uploadcare will fit right in.

This post will show you how to easily integrate Uploadcare into an existing Rails app, in a way that gives your users the ability to create, read, and delete the images that they’ve uploaded to your account on the CDN. In this app, we’ll look specifically at the case of a user with a profile photo, but you can easily generalize this to any type of model with a user-uploaded image, or even an array of user-uploaded images.

Go check it out if you’ve been looking for a good way to do this.

The AR-15: It’s a Gadget

In cleaning up and updating this site this afternoon, I realized that I’ve never linked my big piece for Wired on the AR-15. I had a ton of fun writing that, and since then I’ve gotten into the AR platform myself.

In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the AR-15 has gone from the most popular rifle in America to the most scrutinized and, in some quarters, vilified. Also known in its fully automatic, military incarnation as the M16, the rifle was racking up record sales in the years before Sandy Hook, but now, in the midst of a renewed effort to ban this weapon and others like it from civilian hands, the AR-15 market has gone nuclear, with some gun outlets rumored to have done three years’ worth of sales in the three weeks after Newtown.

Now that the post-Newtown nation has suddenly woken up to the breakout popularity of the AR-15, a host of questions are being asked, especially about who is buying these rifles, and why. Why would normal, law-abiding Americans want to own a deadly weapon that was clearly designed for military use? Why are existing AR-15 owners buying as many of these rifles as they can get their hands on? Are these people Doomsday preppers? Militia types, arming for a second American Civil War? Or are they young military fantasists whose minds have been warped by way too much Call of Duty?

Preppers, militia types, and SEAL Team 6 wannabes are certainly represented in the AR-15′s customer base. But fringe groups don’t adequately explain the roughly 5 million “black rifles” (as fans of the gun tend to call it) that are now in the hands of the public. No, the real secret to the AR-15′s incredible success is that this rifle is the “personal computer” of the gun world.

You can keep up with more of my AR-related work on

Fallkniven’s Northern Lights Idun

I used to write about microprocessors, but now I write about knives (and sometimes guns). I actually like knives better than CPUs. Here’s a recent one of mine on a really nice Fallkniven offering. Look for a writeup soon on a much larger knife from the same line.

I recently got a big shipment of Fallkniven knives in for testing, but before I get into the cutting and chopping, I’d like to post some pictures and first impressions of the blades. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at Fallkniven’s Idun (NL5) model and comparing it to the venerable and widely loved Fallkniven F1.

Why compare the NL5 to the F1? A lot of people either have the F1, know someone who has the F1, or are considering the F1. It’s an extremely popular, premium bushcraft and survival blade, up there with the Bark River Bravo 1, Spyderco Bushcrafter, and ESEE-5 in terms of popularity in the $130 to $200 price range. I’ll be comparing my two F1s with the NL5, which is in their same size and weight category.

While the F1 is itself a bit of a premium production fixed blade, at $130 street price in its standard configuration, the Northern Lights series is Fallkniven’s attempt to elevate the fit and finish of their line to near-custom levels. Most of the knives in the NL series have a counterpart in Fallkniven’s regular blade lineup that function as a bit of an upgrade, if that’s what you’re looking for.

The Idun reviewed here lists for $460 and change, but you can find it around $300 if you look hard enough online. This price puts it into custom territory, so let’s see if the fit and finish warrant the premium.

Next up is the Falkniven Thor, which is so large it’s basically a short sword. Stay tuned.

I’ve been doing some coding on AWS for a side project, and I ended up developing something that’s more generally useful so I’ve released it as open-source. Behold, SuperQueue!

SuperQueue is a thread-safe, SQS- and S3-backed queue structure for ruby that works just like a normal queue, except it’s essentially infinite because it uses SQS (and S3 optionally) on the back end.

To install, just “gem install super_queue”.

To create a new SuperQueue, pass it an options hash. Some options are required, and some are optional. When you’re done with it, you should ideally call “shutdown” on it to shut it down gracefully and preserve any data. Or, if you want to delete the SQS queue and any lingering data, call “destroy.”

I’m using this code in production, and it actually works. I’m actually about to increase my reliance on it by putting it in an even more sensitive role in my app, so we’ll see what happens.

The Partisans Will Never Find Us Here: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and the Art of Getting Shit Done

The Partisans Will Never Find Us Here: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and the Art of Getting Shit Done

To most Americans, Minneapolis is a stranger. There are exceptions, moments when the city percolates up—the first time a kid somewhere hears the Replacements, say, or when a bridge falls into the Mississippi. But to most people most of the time, Minneapolis is a place with no real shape or texture.

Perhaps the city is to blame for its anonymity. Maybe the people hard at work in this laboratory for progressive culture should worry more about outsiders taking notice. The attention, when it comes, is certainly appreciated.

Minneapolitans relish the steady drumbeat of “best city” rankings: No. 1 Bike City (Bicycling magazine, 2011), Gayest City in America (The Advocate, 2011), Most Literate City (America’s Most Literate Cities study, 2007-08). In 2008, Minneapolis was one of only two American cities to make the British Monocle magazine’s list of the most livable cities in the world.

Sure, these are sometimes frivolous and arbitrary contests. But for a city that lives in the imaginations of Americans as a culturally isolated outpost of extreme and permanent cold, they are small but significant triumphs—and evidence that something is going right in Minneapolis.

Civic achievement, banal as it sounds, can be found without following a flow chart during a public meeting at City Hall. It is a buzzing park, a painter turning a street corner utility box into art, block after block of thriving independent businesses, a festival for every obsession and persuasion—it’s growing, engaged immigrant communities. Minneapolis is all of these things. It is not a utopia, not by any stretch. It’s just a city that works.

via Tim O’Reilly

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and Americans feel fine

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and Americans feel fine:

When I was young, we would be assigned to read books like 1984 in high school.  These were viewed as dystopian novels, as cautionary tales.  We would have the usual earnest class discussions.  Some feared the outcome, some thought it unlikely.  But everyone agreed that it would be a really bad thing.

Robin Hanson points out that 1984 has arrived, albeit 27 years late.  And what’s interesting is that no one seems to care:

Soon the police will always be watching every public move you make:

“A vast system that tracks the comings and goings of anyone driving around the District. … More than 250 cameras in the District and its suburbs scan license plates in real time. ..

With virtually no public debate, police agencies have begun storing the information from the cameras, building databases that document the travels of millions of vehicles. … The District [of Columbia] … has more than one plate-reader per square mile, the highest concentration in the nation. Police in the Washington suburbs have dozens of them as well … creating a comprehensive dragnet that will include all the approaches into the District. … The data are kept for three years in the District. … Police can also plug any license plate number into the database and, as long as it passed a camera, determine where that vehicle has been and when. …”

As prices rapidly fall, this will be widely deployed. Unless there is a public outcry, which seems unlikely at the moment, within twenty years most traffic intersections will probably have tag readers, neighboring jurisdictions will share databases, and so police will basically track all cars all the time. With this precedent, cameras that track pedestrians and people in cars via their faces and gaits will follow within another decade or two…

(Via TheMoneyIllusion)

Who is against individual responsibility?

Good points from Tyler Cowen:

Who is against individual responsibility?:

I agree with most of Matt’s recent post, but one sentence struck me as noteworthy.  Matt writes:

I suppose I agree with Will Wilkinson about the importance of “an ethos of initiative, hard work, and individual responsibility” though I have no real idea why he thinks most progressives are against such an ethos.

I could write that sentence without the “I suppose”!  The final clause of the sentence I see as showing just how broad the perceptual gulf between progressives and conservatives/libertarians can be.

I would not quite say that progressives are “against such an ethos,” but where does it stand in their pecking order?  Look at fiction, such as famous left-wing or progressive novels, or for that matter famous left-wing and progressive movies.  How many of them celebrate “an ethos of initiative, hard work, and individual responsibility”?

(Via Marginal Revolution)

Tea Party vs. OWS: The psychology and ideology of responsibility

I think what’s interesting in this Will Wilkinson piece is that all parties—conservatives, libertarians, liberals—are so focused on explaining what causes people to fail or “fall behind.” I’m much more interested in the success outliers, i.e. the top 0.1%, than the bottom 50% or so. This is because I think that the difference between being in the top 5% and being in the top 1%, is mostly luck, and the difference between being in the top 1% and being in the top 0.1% is entirely luck.

This isn’t to say that hard work and individual initiative don’t matter—they’re essential for entry into a new global elite that’s no longer based on inheritance. My point is that these virtues aren’t sufficient in and of themselves to get you into the elite. You also need a large dose of luck. In this respect, I’m in complete agreement with Taleb’s famous quote: “Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.”

The main place where I’m in agreement with #OWS is that I do not want to live in a “winner take all” society, where the winners who are taking it all have lucked their way into that winning spot (despite what they tell themselves about how much they deserve their spoils due to their brains and hard work). I’d be happy with something like “hardworking winners take most,” “lucky winners take some extra,” and both types of winners make sure that hardworking and unlucky losers have the basics (healthcare, affordable housing, food, etc.).

Tea Party vs. OWS: The psychology and ideology of responsibility | The Moral Sciences Club | Big Think:

One of the most robust finding in political psychology is that liberals tend to explain both poverty and wealth in terms of luck and the influence of social forces while conservatives tend to explain poverty and wealth in terms of effort and individual initiative…

…But, having lived most of my adult life among them, experience tells me that when it comes to the explanation of poverty and wealth libertarians are close cousins to conservatives. It’s my view that this shared sense of robust agency and individual responsibility for success and failure is the psychological linchpin of “fusionism”–that this commonality in disposition has made the long-time alliance between conservatives and libertarians possible, despite the fact that libertarians are almost identical to liberals in their unconcern for the conservative binding foundations. That’s why controversial “social issues” like abortion and gay marriage are generally pushed to the side when libertarians and conservatives get together. As long as they stick to complaining about handouts for poor people sitting on their asses and praising rich people working hard to make civilization possible, libertarians and conservatives get along fine.


A Tale of two customer bases: Amazon and Ebay

Fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the differences between these two popular retail platforms.

A Tale of two customer bases: Amazon and Ebay:

My company is four years old this week, and while we do have our own web site where we sell from, we need to be on Amazon and Ebay as well to make sure we get the largest audience possible for our products. Going through the data over the last year, and over the last four years some interesting if trivial data points are showing up in terms of how successful someone can be on someone else’s system. Admitted there is no way I could spend the money on advertising to reach 88 million visitors a month like Ebay or Amazon, what is interesting though is the customer behavior exhibited by buyers on both of these systems…

(Via CloudAve)