Thursday, January 31, 2013

Kentucky man sentenced to attend church
Go to jail or go to church. That was the choice for a Kentucky man arrested in a theft case.

As part of his plea deal, a judge sentenced 23-year-old James Talbot Nickell to attend Sunday services for six weeks at the First Baptist Church in Sandy Hook.
Well this is certainly interesting.  Unfortunately, all the articles are very short local news, so we don't know the details.  From the phrasing of one report it made it seem like the church agreed to not press charges if he attended church, and I'm not really sure if that would make it legal or not.

I also don't know if we'll hear anything else about it, as I don't know if anyone else could challenge it without standing.  Clearly, he won't challenge it.

In the comments on that site 90% of the people are defending the choice, since "he had a choice".  As a quick rebuttal, what if he had been convicted of armed robbery and the judge gave him the choice of 1 year in prison or 50 lashes?  Or if the judge gave him the choice of the guy paying the judge $10k on the side or go to jail?  Or if it had been a girl and the judge gave the choice of jail or sex?

Or as one of the commenters pointed out, I wonder how the people that think this is ok would feel if the choice had been between jail or attending a mosque.

A choice doesn't make it legal.  I think people are just being blinded to that by the fact that they personally feel that attending church is a positive thing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Due Process When Everything is a Crime
Overall, the problem stems from a dynamic in which those charged with crimes have a lot at risk, while those doing the charging have very little skin in the game.  One source of imbalance is prosecutorial immunity.  The absolute immunity of prosecutors – like the absolute immunity of judges – is a judicial invention, a species of judicial activism that gets less attention than many other less egregious examples.  Although such immunity no doubt prevents significant mischief, it also enables significant mischief by eliminating one major avenue of accountability.  Even a shift to qualified, good-­faith immunity for prosecutors would change the calculus significantly.

Another remedy might be a "loser pays" rule for criminal defense costs.  After all, when a person is charged with a crime, the defense – for which non-­indigent defendants bear the cost – is an integral part of the criminal justice process.10  For guilty defendants, one might view this cost as part of the punishment.   But for those found not guilty, it looks more like a taking:  Spend this money in the public interest, to support a public endeavor, or go to jail.  To further discipline the process, we might pro‐rate things:  Charge a defendant with 20 offenses, but convict on only one, and the prosecution must bear 95% of the defendant’s legal fees.  This would certainly discourage overcharging.

Monday, January 21, 2013

How one man escaped from a North Korean prison camp
“By the way,” Shin asked, “where is Pyongyang?”

Shin’s question stunned Park. He explained that Pyongyang, located about 50 miles south of Camp 14, was the capital of North Korea, the city where the country’s powerful people lived. Park said he had grown up there, studying in East Germany and the Soviet Union. After returning home, he had become chief of a taekwondo training centre. Park explained what life was like outside Camp 14. He told Shin about money, television, computers and mobile phones. He explained that the world was round.

Much of what Park talked about was difficult for Shin to understand, believe or care about. What delighted him – what he kept begging for – were stories about eating. Park described chicken, pork and beef in China, Hong Kong, Germany, England and the former Soviet Union. Intoxicated, Shin made perhaps the first free decision of his life. He chose not to snitch.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Raccoon Pizza Party

Marathon Man
Kursh had a blog, and on August 6, 2010, he posted a blind item about Litton titled “Another Rosie Ruiz?”—a reference to the scammer who was briefly heralded as the winner of the women’s division of the 1980 Boston Marathon, before it was determined that she’d jumped onto the course less than a mile from the finish. Kursh wrote in a follow-up that he had been exchanging concerns with other race directors, adding, “I smell a rat.”

In an e-mail exchange initiated by Kursh, Litton claimed that photographs of him would be hard to find, because his shirt had covered his racing bib. He added, “Wasn’t there a timing mat at the turnaround?” Kursh ultimately decided to disqualify him, explaining, “From your comment here it is pretty obvious that you have NO idea where the timing mats were on route. They definitely were not at this turn-around point.”

On occasions when Litton responded to such pointed challenges, he never did so in a hostile or nakedly defensive manner. After a disqualification, he simply deleted the result and the recap from his Web site, as if he had never registered for the race. His default demeanor was equable mystification.

Monday, January 14, 2013

On the Evolution of Memes

Here on the internet, we have things called memes.  They are essentially insides jokes that separate those of us that live in the internet from those of you that don't.

However, every once in an while a ornery old man will come along and point out that memes don't just mean 'stupid internet joke'.  The term meme was actually coined by Richard Dawkins in his book the Selfish Gene in 1976.

The meme was a type of memory gene (hence the name).  The idea being that ideas spread through a culture and evolve over time to more persistent forms.  I seem to recall he gave as an example some song that he sang at his school as a kid that his father had known from his time as a kid and that was still sung, perhaps with minor changes. 

The key point was that in any system where things are copied, but with occasional mistakes, 'better' forms will tend to replace other forms.  Here, 'better' simply means more likely to be copied for whatever reason.  This is frankly, pretty obvious in retrospect, and is the central idea of evolution.

As another example I like to use the line "Luke, I am your father." from Star Wars.  If you are a pedantic nerd like me, you likely know that line never appears in the movies.  This is the exchange:
Darth Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke Skywalker: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Darth Vader: No. I am your father.

If you examine the actual dialogue it should be clear why the modified version is more well known.  Simply saying "No. I am your father." might not be a clear enough reference to Star Wars, and people might not get the joke.  By replacing 'no' with 'luke' it makes it clear that it's the Star Wars quote.

Another example is the line "Beam me up, Scotty", which never appears in the original Star Trek Series.  Similar version were used on the show, and I won't speculate as to why that one become most prevalent.  Regardless, the wiki page has this interesting set of examples:
"Beam me up, Scotty" is similar to the phrase, "Just the facts, ma'am", attributed to Jack Webb's character of Joe Friday on Dragnet, "It's elementary, my dear Watson", attributed to Sherlock Holmes, "Luke, I am your father", attributed to Darth Vader, or "Play it again, Sam", attributed to Ilsa Lund in Casablanca and "We don't need no stinkin' badges!" attributed to Gold Hat in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. All five lines are the best known quotations from these works for many viewers, but not one is an actual, direct quotation.
It doesn't matter why any of these are used instead of the originals.  What matters is that they are all examples of ideas evolving to more persistent forms.

If you were alive prior to 5 years ago, you are probably aware that the word meme is a recent addition to most people's vocabularies.  This, despite the fact that we know it has existed for close to 40 years.

The point I'm getting at here, is that the word meme itself is a perfect example of memes in action.  Originally it had a specific meaning with respect to this idea of cultural evolution, but now it has evolved to simply mean 'repeated, sometimes modified joke'.  This form is clearly better adapted to flourish in culture.  Those who oppose it in favor of the original meaning clearly never understood the point.

Ancient Roman Graffiti

"Weep, you girls.  My penis has given you up.  Now it penetrates men’s behinds.  Goodbye, wondrous femininity!"

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mailinator Inbox Generator

Yesterday, I wrote about Mailinator.  This was spurred by my writing a simple page to help generate random Mailinator inboxes.

Mailinator is super useful for websites that force you to register just to see content.  Usually I just use the same simple username/pass combo on all these.  Sometimes, that is already taken so I have to use a random one.  The mailinator homepage gives a random inbox name, but it's annoying to select it, and to select just the username part.  I made a page that uses the 1000 most common first and last names and generates a random combo and gives all the fields you would need to register in easy to copy fashion.

Some notes:  It generates the password based on the md5 hash of the username, limited to whatever password requirements you give it.  Nice for sites that force digits or upper case letters.  It also means you can find the password in the future if you need it by recalculating the md5 hash yourself.  If you find out the requirements after putting in the other info you can change the parameters without it updating new random info.

There is also a checkbox to add a random 3 digit number to the end of the usernames.  This is nice for sites where every username is taken.  I tested the gmail registration and every single combo given was taken, none of the ones with random numbers were though.

It also gives an alternative domain to use if is blocked.  If the alternative is blocked as well it lets you get another one without changing all the other info.


Apparently, I've never written here about Mailinator before.  It is a great service for those websites that force you to register to see content.  The idea is simple.  Enter any random email address in the registration, and then any emails sent to it are publicly viewable for 24 hours, allowing you to click to confirmation link.  For example here are some inboxes:

Just to be clear, you don't have to set up anything before hand.  Just enter anything you want and end it with and then you (or anyone else) can check the mail.

There are some additional useful features.  First, it has alternate domain names, which still go to the same inboxes, but allow you got get around admins who block  For example will go to the same inbox as  Here is an amusing story about how the guy who runs mailinator handled people trying to scrape all the alternate domains to block them.

Another interesting feature is that you can point the mx record of any domain you own to mailinator, and it will function the same as the above alternative domains.  In other words, I could set up's mx record such that emails to go to the same inbox as above.

Lastly, there are alternative inbox names.  This means that every inbox has an alternative "secret" name, which is displayed on the inbox's page.  For example the alternative for is  Emails sent there will go to the same inbox that I've been using as an example.  The point of this is to allow you to think up a somewhat long and random inbox name, and then only give out the alternate one.  This, in effect, makes your inbox name a password, and gives you some privacy.