Friday, August 26, 2016

Happy end of summer / vacation / beginning of school year

I am on vacation through September 6.

I hope all of my blog readers have a great end of summer [or winter for those of you at the bottom of the Earth] and/or a great beginning of the school year, or whatever you are celebrating at this time of year.

Please tell me in the comments what you did for your vacation in 2016.

See you in September!


Monday, August 22, 2016

First world problems

A small farmhouse in central Kansas, occupied by tenants, was a hotbed of a digital age horror story.

"... the little house in the center of the country became the crossroads of the Internet, with unimaginable consequences ..."

The first hint occurred in 2011 when the home's owner received a call from a small business owner in Connecticut who angrily blamed her for his customers' email problems.

In May 2011, law enforcement officers knocked on the door, looking for a stolen truck.

Over the next five years, officers would show up to rescue potential suicidal persons, or accusing the tenants of harboring runaway children or keeping girls in the house to make pornographic films.  FBI agents, federal marshals, and IRS collectors have all appeared on their doorstep. So have angry Internet users.

At least once, hackers posted the tenants' names and personal details across the Internet.

One day, a broken toilet was left in the driveway without explanation.

Neither the tenants nor the owner had any idea what was happening.

What actually happened -- in 2002, a company called MaxMind was founded to map IP addresses. Many could not be directly linked to a physical address, only a state or sometimes only a country.

Many times, MaxMind could only determine that an IP address was in the U.S.  In those cases, the company mapped that address to 38°N 97°W, the rounded-off coordinates of the geographic center of the U.S.

Which just happens to be the front yard of the small farmhouse in Kansas.

More than 600 million IP addresses were mapped to that yard.

After this "problem" was discovered, MaxMind shifted its default United States location to the center of a lake, west of Wichita Kansas.

That wasn't quite enough for the tenants, though, who filed a lawsuit seeking compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000, plus their costs.

I wish them much success in that lawsuit.
Digital age horror story

Friday, August 19, 2016

IN THE CLEARING by Robert Dugoni [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library New Books shelf, audio book

Description: Detective Tracy Crosswhite helps a friend investigate the suspicious suicide of a high school senior 40 years ago.

Plot:  Tracy investigates the alleged suicide of a Native American girl.  The book has chapters in the present day, and occasionally a chapter set 40 years ago when the incident occurred.  The townspeople seemed to accept that this girl killed herself, and didn't want someone stirring the waters 40 years later, because they were unwilling to learn the truth.

Characterization: All the characters are reasonably well-developed.  At about the 3/4 mark, there was a scene where I didn't remember who someone was, and it took several paragraphs before I remembered.  Otherwise I was able to keep everyone differentiated.

Setting:  Klickitat County, Washington.  Nicely described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  The author did a little too much telling and exposition, explaining things instead of dramatizing them.  The book was narrated by Emily Sutton-Smith and she did a very nice job.

Overall:  The book switched to 1976 and back to 2016 easily.  Interesting story.

Grade: B+

Monday, August 15, 2016

What happens if you don't pay your court-imposed fine?

For misdemeanors, violations of local ordinances, and civil infractions, usually the defendant is ordered to pay a fee or fine instead of going to jail.  If the person cannot afford to pay the fine, many times it is converted to community service or another option.

In some cities and counties, the failure to pay fees and/or fines is punished [the fees/fines are "enforced"] by sentencing the offender to serve some jail time.

The US Department of Justice recently sent a "dear colleague" letter, indicating that the practice of converting unpaid fees and fines into jail time may run afoul of "basic constitutional principles".  Individuals required to serve that jail time may "confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.”

The letter outlined “basic constitutional principles” regarding fee and fine enforcement, including:

1) Don't put a person in jail for nonpayment without first determining whether the person is indigent and whether the failure to pay is willful.

2) Consider alternatives to jail for indigent defendants unable to pay, including community service, classes, reducing the amount owed, or extending the time for payment.

3) Do not condition access to a judicial hearing on the prepayment of fees and fines.

4) Do not use practices that keep indigent defendants in jail because they can’t afford to pay for their release.

In my local jurisdiction, I've seen judges implement all of the above practices, giving defendants lots of chances to pay rather than sending a person to jail.  Sometimes, however, I've actually seen defendants voluntarily request jail time, because either they are already going to jail on another issue, or it's easier for them to spend a few days in jail rather than come up with the money.

Bottom line:  if you can't afford to pay your fine, ask the court for alternatives.  Don't just decide not to pay.  Because if that's what you do, you might end up in jail.

Friday, August 12, 2016

EL DEAFO by Cece Bell [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library, e-book

Description:  This is a middle grade memoir in graphic novel format.  The author, Cece, lost her hearing at age 4 from meningitis.  The book describes her efforts to fit in and find friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid.

Plot:  At age 4, Cece has meningitis and loses her hearing.  In kindergarten, she attends a school where all the students have hearing loss.  Then in first grade, she is mainstreamed into a regular school where she reads lips and uses a bulky but effective hearing aid.  She tries to keep up with her studies and make friends.

Characterization: All the characters are drawn as rabbits, which made me think of the series Arthur by Marc Brown.  Arthur is an aardvark, but these rabbits were similar.  I was somewhat disappointed in that the characters weren't as developed as I would have preferred.  I'm not sure whether this is a function of the graphic novel format or not, because this is the only graphic novel I've read.  But I did think the plot moved a bit too fast, it didn't give much time for development.

Setting:  Roanoke Virginia.  Not much description in the text, but it is a graphic novel, so scenes were drawn.

Other:  Newbery Honor Book.  Gives kids an insight into the thoughts of other children who are living with a disability.

Overall:  I enjoyed this story, even tho I'm not the intended demographic.

Grade: B

Monday, August 8, 2016

Is an alligator a deadly weapon?

As we know from recent news and common sense, an alligator is a deadly animal.
Last October 2015 in Orlando Florida, a young man named Joshua James stopped outside the drive-up window at a Wendy's fast-food restaurant and threw a 3-1/2 foot long alligator through the window. 

He faces three charges related to the incident: aggravated assault with a deadly weapon; unlawful sale, possession or transporting of an alligator; and petty theft.

Taking those charges in reverse order:

(1) petty theft -- Mr. James [took leave of his senses and] allegedly picked up the alligator at the side of the road.  Alligators are an endangered species, [despite the fact there are over one million alligators in Florida alone].  I'm not sure of the exact requirements under Florida law to be guilty of petty theft, but I do know it must require (a) a theft, and (b) less than a specified dollar amount.  Presumably this must include proving the alligator was the personal property of someone other than Mr. James, and it was worth less than the Florida dollar amount for a grand theft.

(2) Unlawful sale, possession or transporting of an alligator -- Mr. James possessed and transported the alligator in his car, which was presumably unlawful because it was not his alligator and/or it is an endangered species.

(3) Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon -- the main question presented: is a 3-1/2 foot alligator a deadly weapon?

This site gives a very good analysis of this question under Florida law.  And, as all good legal analyses conclude, the answer is – drumroll – it depends.

It depends on the alligator.

I definitely encourage all of my blog readers to read the full analysis in that link, because it is (1) thorough, and (2) funny, but if you just want the final PROBABLE answer –


Because Joshua James was able to collect the alligator from the side of the road without injury, transport it in his car without injury, and throw it into the drive-up window without injury, it is likely that this particular alligator will not be considered a deadly weapon, at least under Florida law.  Therefore, it is likely he will be found guilty of a misdemeanor (the other two charges), but not a felony.

But, a larger and/or more aggressive alligator would have resulted in a different conclusion.

And presumably also a different end result for the health of Mr. James.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Robert B. Parker's Slow Burn by Ace Atkins [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library New Books shelf, audio book

Description:  The previous year, a fire at a boarded-up Catholic church killed three firefighters.  Now, at the one-year anniversary, a surviving firefighter not satisfied with the official conclusion asks Boston PI Spenser to investigate.

Plot:  Spenser investigates the church fire at the same time as a series of arson fires plagues the city.  As Spenser gets closer to the truth, the arson fires increase in number and intensity.  The author includes several chapters in the villain's POV, so the reader knows the answer, but it is still interesting to learn how Spenser figures it out.

Characterization:  This appears to be a book written by an author using the characters and setting created by an original author who is now deceased.  Amazon indicates it is book 44 in the series.  There were a few places where characters were not well-developed, like the author expected the reader to know who these people were because they had read previous books.  I haven't read any previous books in this series, so in those places it took a few pages before I figured out what was going on.  Readers who have read the original author's books will presumably know these characters from the previous books.

Setting:  Boston.  Nicely described.

Other:  There was quite a bit of foul language in this book, some of which I don't believe was necessary to the story.  The book was narrated by Joe Mantegna and he was really good.

Overall:  Good story.  It's always interesting when the reader knows who the “bad guys” are, to learn how the main character figures it out.

Grade: B+

Monday, August 1, 2016

Who owns the moon?

According to Article II of the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (thankfully known as simply the “Outer Space Treaty”): 
Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.

Of course, this treaty only binds those countries who have signed it.  And it appears to bind only nations and countries, not individuals.

Several of those enterprising individuals sell “deeds” to property on the moon, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and Io (one of the moons of Jupiter).  A single acre on any of these “properties” costs about $20.

As  anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of a “good deal to buy the Brooklyn bridge” knows, a person can't sell something unless he owns it.  And he can't own something unless he obtained it from someone who owned it before him, either by purchase or by other means, including conquest.

But a person can't simply file a document and claim ownership.

How does that explain the proliferation of websites purporting to sell outer-space real estate?

So, yes, you can intend to own the moon, you can even “buy” land on the moon and receive a deed in the mail to commemorate your purchase. But it does not mean the deed is worth anything other than the paper it’s written on—or that you, as holder of the deed, actually own a piece of the moon. You don’t. After all, written in small print on each of the Lunar Embassy deeds is a copyright and the notation “Novel Gift.”