Friday, September 26, 2008

Philadelphia's Gun Laws Struck Down

A victory for the rule of law:

Commonwealth Court on Friday dismissed a lawsuit against the legislature filed last year by two members of Philadelphia's City Council (related stories).  The court says several gun ordinances the council passed last year include language saying they can't take effect unless the legislature allows municipalities to enact stricter laws. That hasn't happened.
Those measures would have limited gun purchases to one a month and banned assault weapons....

Full story.

Pennsylvania law is clear to anyone who can read on a 6th grade level.  Only the state government is allowed to regulate firearms, localities are not.  I just heard on KYW-1060 AM that the city will probably appeal to the state supreme court.  Thankfully, the last time Philadelphia tried to enact its own assault weapons ban, the state supreme court smacked it down hard.

The law is so clear that Philadelphia should be forced to pay the attorneys' fees and costs of the parties challenging their patently illegal ordinance.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Got to Meet Alan Gura Today

This afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting Alan Gura, Dick Anthony Heller's attorney in the Supreme Court's landmark case, District of Columbia vs. Heller.  This was at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute's continuing legal education program, "The Right to Bear Arms."

The program today consisted of a debate between Mr. Gura and Brian Siebel from the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun violence.  The general topic of the debate was over the meaning of the Heller decision.  For example, now that the Supreme Court has declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms, what exactly does this mean?  What arms are protected?  Is the right limited to the home or does it extend to carrying arms in public?  Will the Second Amendment be incorporated against the states?  Assuming that the Second Amendment is incorporated, what state laws might be struck down as unconstitutional?

Based on Heller, Gura believes that some gun control laws will be held constitutional, but that outright bans -- including any "assault weapons bans" -- will be struck down.  It's his opinion that it will eventually lead to a right to carry in some manner, maybe concealed, maybe open carry.  E.g., it might be permissible for a state to bar concealed carry so long as open carry was legal (or the reverse).

Regarding machineguns, Gura does not believe that Heller will lead to getting rid of the NFA, but not because that the Second Amendment doesn't protect machineguns, but rather because he doesn't believe that we can get judges to rule that it protects machineguns.  In other words, regardless of how gun rights activist view the issue, he feels that it's a loosing argument in the courts.  I tend to agree with him.

Gura also feels that laws requiring background checks will probably pass consititutional muster, as long as they are instant.  Waiting periods will likely be struck down.

I asked Gura was whether he thought that Heller could lead to a loosening of restrictions on lesser arms, namely switchblade knives.  He thinks it may, and mentioned that in fact, some state courts have struck down laws banning certain kinds of knives and clubs based on RKBA provisions.  He didn't list any specific cases, however.  Siebel, in contrast, mentioned that this was the first time he'd heard of anyone applying the Second Amendment to knives, and didn't really opine either way.

I thought that Gura did a fine job of explaining the case and its potential implications.  He also said a couple of times that we're in the beginning of this fight (paraphrasing here).  On the other hand, Siebel did little more than rehash old, discredited prohibitionist arguments in favor of gun control, including statistics purporting to show that having a handgun in the home is more dangerous to the occupants than a potential burglar.  He also placed a lot of emphasis on Scalia's wording referring to the Second Amendment protecting the right to bear arms in defense of one's home.  This of course ignores the fact that in the case what was at issue was whether Heller could get a gun permit from D.C. to keep a self defense gun at home.  Carrying a gun outside the home was not at issue in the case, so the court did not rule on that particular question.

As an aside, at one point in the session Siebel asked for a show of hands from the attendees indicating support for background checks as being reasonable.  Of the twenty or thirty attendees, only one or two raised their hands.  Heh.

After the class was over I went up to Gura and thanked him for the job he's done on our behalf.  Kudos to the PBI for hosting this class.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sony Shipping Rootkits Again

A couple of years ago, Sony BMG got caught shipping music CDs with "rootkits" on them, which installed software onto PCs when the buyer put the CD in to play it.  A rootkit is software which allows a hacker to remotely take over a system.

Sony is AGAIN shipping products with rootkits installed.  This time it's USB drives.  Here's the story at Computer World, an IT industry journal.

It is not specified in the article what systems are vulnerable.  Windows PCs certainly, Macs unlikely but possible based on the limited information that's been publicly released.

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  I regard buying Sony technology products as too risky.

EDIT 9/24/08: I had a brainfart and misread the date on the article to which I linked.  It's from August 2007, not last month as I originally thought.  That said, Sony still won't be getting any of my business.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New Server Is Up

Friday morning I took the old IBM 2 GHz P4 at my desk, added a second disk drive, and installed CentOS 5.  My disk layout is as follows:

/hda - ~18 GB for / and ~2 GB swap
/hdb - ~ 40 GB for /home, with /home/dave shared using Samba

I'd like to have a ginormous hard disk in there and use it as a Time Machine backup destination but I'm using scrounged parts.

My original plan was to use Samba running on the Linux box to share out my home directory and use Cronosync to syncronize them.  After futzing with it for far too long, and hitting Google quite a bit, I've discovered that Leopard's implementation of Samba is broken to the point where I haven't been able to get it to work with Samba running on Linux.  Bah.

Rather than wasting any more time trying to get it working, I decided to sync the Documents folder on Rohan with /home/dave/Documents on the Linux box over SFTP, using Transmit's built-in syncronize function.  Over my 100 Mb network, it took the better part of an hour to transfer 8.79 GB.  Future syncs should be much faster since only those files which have changed will need to be copied over.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Follow up on why we make backups

After I got home I was able to retrieve a backup of the TrueCrypt volume from my Time Machine disk.  Unfortunately, the backup was from 9/11.  Time Machine does its differential backups based on the time a file was last modified.  Strangely, when decrypting a TrueCrypt volume (and this one is accessed at least five days per week), the "Date Modified" for the file is not changed.

So, to ensure that the volume is backed up every time I connect my Time Machine disk, I wrote an AppleScript to run the UNIX "touch" command, then placed that script in my login items.  Thus, everytime I login the volume's Date Modified attribute will be updated.  The AppleScript is one line:

do shell script "touch /Users/davemarkowitz/Documents/"

In my previous post I mentioned that I may implement an online backup system.  Instead of doing that, I think I'll setup a backup routine to copy the volume to a Linux box at my office, saving me a few bucks but still allowing me to have an easily accessed backup at work.

That may be an interim solution, though.  Yesterday I received two Apple XServes, each of which will be connected to an XServe RAID with over a terabyte of disk space.  One of the intended uses for them is to create workgroups storage space and backing up Rohan fits into that perfectly.

And this is why we make backups

I keep confidential data on my MacBook Pro inside of a 4GB TrueCrypt volume.  This morning after getting into the office, I launched TrueCrypt, attempted to open the volume, and got a file not found error.

Thinking that I may have accidentally dragged it into a different folder, using Spotlight I ran a search for the volume's name on the entire hard disk.  It's gone, nowhere to be found.

{Insert sinking feeling here.}

I do have a couple backup copies of the file, the oldest dating to no older than Sunday night.   So, while I've lost some data, I haven't lost much.

My backup regimen includes using Time Machine several times a week when I use Rohan at my desk at home, and a file sync every Thursday night using Cronosync.  Time Machine backs up to a LaCie 320 GB FireWire drive, while Cronosync backs up to a 160 GB portable disk from Otherworld Computing.  Periodically, I also copy the TrueCrypt volume to a flash drive that I always keep in my pocket.

I've been considering a fourth, online backup and this may put me over the edge.  I'm leaning towards Amazon's S3 service using Jungledisk.  Both my external hard disks are located at home, which means (a) I cannot access them from work, and (b) I'm SOL if the house burns down.  Online backup means I'll be able to access my files from the office or anywhere with an Internet connection.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Friday, September 05, 2008