Friday, August 10, 2012

A Doctor Who story

Hey BBC! Use this plot for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special and I'll love you forever!

The 11th Doctor and Clara land 300 years and 300 light years off target and end up in the Scottish Highlands in 1800. They run into an elderly Jamie McCrimmon, who, of course, doesn't remember anything about The Doctor. Clara convinces him that he has to do something about restoring Jamie's memory. He decides to take him to a space station where a well known team of biological researchers that specialize in the humanoid central nervous system do their work.

The 10th Doctor and Donna Noble, while trying to get to the planet Barcelona (or the Eye of Orion), land on Earth in the early 22nd century. They run into an elderly Zoe Heriot, who also doesn't remember anything about The Doctor. Donna convinces him that they have to do something about restoring Zoe's memory so they go to the same space station that 11 went to. 

The TARDIS merges with the other TARDIS. Not knowing what to do, the control room reverts to the standard Type 40 pattern with no modifications. Once they get over the shock of meeting, The Doctors step out of the TARDIS to find the researchers and repair the memories of the early companions. 

A mysterious woman (Tamsin Greig would be great) is present for both procedures. She is referred to as the head of the center. While Jamie and Zoe are recovering, she traps both Doctors and takes their sonic screwdrivers. She reveals herself as The Rani. She intends to use the imprint of the Time Lords that she found on the minds of Jamie and Zoe combined with the TARDIS that was used to set the time lock to release Gallifrey back into the universe.

Clara and Donna have to work together to release both Doctors, which does not go well because Donna is very bossy. While they do this, The Rani uses the TARDIS, which she calls primitive, to release Gallifrey. Rassilon beams over to the station to thank The Rani and to declare that the station will be destroyed in order to make sure that the Daleks don't use it to gain knowledge that they could use against the Time Lords. He calls upon The Master to plan the destruction. 

The Doctors have to put Gallifrey back in the time lock. An original Type 40 TARDIS can't do this. They have to separate the TARDIS from itself and restore the modern control rooms. They somehow manage this (I'll leave this part to the writers or fill it in if I ever write a fan fic) without using the sonic screwdrivers. 

The Castellan Guard realize that they are about to get locked away from the universe again. They rescue Rassilon from the station. He transmats out while they look for The Master. He has discovered another tissue compression eliminator. He separates the Guard unit sent after him and one by one uses it on them.

Before the time lock is secure, The Master forces The Rani to use her TARDIS to take him to Gallifrey to steal one of his own. They both escape with their own TARDIS but it is not clear that they got away. 

After locking Gallifrey, The Doctors materialize back on the station, dangerously close to each other. 10 tells 11 to stop landing his TARDIS so close. They pick up Jamie and Zoe from the recovery ward. They have now fully recovered their memories. 

They part ways. 10 takes Zoe home, then says he needs a vacation and promises Donna a world of crystal. 11 is visibly shaken by the thought of Jamie and Zoe getting their memories back but Donna losing hers permanently, as seen previously in Journey's End. He suppresses the emotion and takes Jamie home, then sets off for his original destination.

Alternate ending: 11 tells 10 that he looks like he could use a vacation and offers to take Zoe home. 10 promises Donna a vacation on the planet Midnight. 11, Clara, Jamie, and Zoe go off and have an adventure or two before taking them home.

Friday, August 3, 2012

How we got here and why it isn't going to get any better

America has a problem. We elect jackasses. We elect people because we don't like the alternative or the guy he is replacing. Then, the people who complained about the previous guy don't complain when the new guy is just as bad or worse. He's their guy. He can't be bad.

Four years ago, things were looking good. We had a president who claimed more power than any president before him. He believed in the power of the Unitary Executive. That basically means that the president can do no wrong because he is the president. He invaded other countries. He killed people around the world. He wiretapped our communications. He had protesters caged in Free Speech Zones. That time looked like it was about to end. The leading candidate promised Change.

The Change that was promised was fairly vague. It was accompanied by Hope, which gets you a long way when you don't have much to say. Many of us took it to mean that there would be a change from the ways of the recent past. For those of us concerned with human rights and how our country interacts with the rest of the world, we thought Change might mean an end to the imperial policies of the previous administration. We thought it might bring about an end to some of the death and destruction. We had railed against the abuses of the previous administration. We said they were taking away our rights. They were. Rights that very few people ever use and fewer would notice they had lost were being taken away in the name of security. We thought the Change would fix all of that. We were wrong.

Change did come. Much of it was good. We gained better protections against inequality in the workplace. We set up a whole new regulatory system to make sure that more people had healthcare and it covered them better. The economy that was badly damaged under the previous administration began to recover, though it recovered very slowly because the opposition did everything they could to stop any real recovery effort. What passed was mostly so badly compromised that it was no better than the regulations from the time in which the recession started. There were some big wins and some little wins, but the Change was mostly good.

But the Change was not what many of us expected. The funny thing about change is that the word itself neither directly states nor implies any judgement about the variance it describes. It merely states that there is a point in time after which something is different than before. Changes are sometimes beneficial but they can also be neutral or disastrous. Not all of the Change turned out to be good.

The Change had a dark side. The Change was a beast fed by blood and rights stripped from unsuspecting people. As bad as the previous administration was, there was never a reason to think that hit lists were used. People died because they got into combat with the wrong people at the wrong place and time. After the Change, it wasn't that simple. There was now a hit list. Anyone on that hit list was hunted down and killed. Not hunted down and arrested and sent to a fair trial. They were hunted down by robots piloted by remote operators far from harm's way. They were killed with the push of a button because they were deemed a threat. They were summarily executed by a country that prides itself on its justice and respect for human rights. Some were even American citizens, a class of people usually protected by the government that was now killing them.

Back home, the Change was smashing rights as well. In addition to being able to be identified as a threat and summarily executed in a remote country far from any battlefield, there was a new law that allowed for American citizens to be arrested by the military and detained indefinitely.  This could happen anywhere the United States military was operating, including at home. It relied on the removal of the right to habeus corpus, which was stripped by the previous administration. If you were suspected of doing something that the military didn't like, you could now be imprisoned for life without trial.

Of course, the circumstances to allow an indefinite suspension to occur are very unlikely. It is bad enough that it is possible, even though the likelihood of its use anywhere but on a battlefield is very low. It gets worse, though. Another part of the Change was the loss of the rights to free speech and free assembly. Protesting was banned. They'll say they didn't ban protesting. Technically, it is still possible. They just banned protesting in places where protesting might do some good. Basically, any event large enough to attract Secret Service attention is off limits. This is a huge expansion of the Free Speech Zones that the previous two administrations used. You can't protest at a parade anymore if an important person might see. You can't protest outside a political debate. You can't protest where a presidential candidate can see. You can't speak up when the speaker tells a lie. If you do, you can go to jail for up to a year. Speech and assembly, Constitutionally protected rights, were now reduced to privileges that you don't necessarily have to ask for, but not asking might mean finding out the hard way that you don't actually have them.

Now we're approaching another election. The candidate who became the president who offered and delivered the Change is again a candidate. The supporters who complained about the abuses of power and restrictions on rights of his predecessor continue to support him. This is why things will not get any better.

Due to the way we decide elections, it always comes down to two candidates who have any chance at all of winning the election. The system makes other choices almost mathematically impossible. The two parties that hold power now have entrenched themselves into the system so that they cannot be moved. It would take a radical restructuring of the electoral system to change that. The two major parties control the legislative process, so that isn't going to happen. It always comes down to two choices.

The two choices are not really choices at all. They differ radically on some issues but on others, they are as near to identical as makes no difference. On the human rights and foreign policy issues, they are different enough to make a distinction but similar enough that no major change would be likely should the country switch between them. One wishes to return to the types of abuses of the previous administration (not realizing that they never ended) while the other wishes to maintain the current abuses, which are largely amplifications of the previous administration's policy. I can see little practical difference between these two positions.

The people who supported the previous administration support the challenger now. The people who wanted the Change still want the candidate who promised and delivered the Change, the candidate who now says Forward, presumably to more of the same kinds of things that came with his Change. The people who were against the previous administration when it did terrible things overlook the same abuses just because he's their guy. This factional, two-party thinking is how we got here. Sticking to it is why things will never get any better.

It doesn't have to be this way. We can call for an overhaul of the electoral process. We can demand that they change the law to a more equitable system that allows for the people's views to be represented in government rather than the views and goals of few but the party officials and the donors who pay for the elections. Demanding won't change anything as long as they feel secure in their place running the system. We need to start voting out Congress. Stop reelecting people. Start electing new candidates. Try it within the existing major parties if possible. Organize massive efforts to elect minor party candidates to take their seats if necessary. Cause the status quo in House to be disrupted by massive turnover of membership. Do the same for the Senate. This should destabilize the parties and cause their grip to weaken. Once that happens, we can change the electoral process. Once we have a proportional system, possibly with some kind of weighted preference based ballot, we may just start to get input from more than just the two main parties. We may finally have an actual choice and a voice in the process. We won't have to vote for the lesser evil anymore. We can vote for whomever we actually prefer rather than the candidate who scares us the least.

It is too late for this election. Ballots are closed. State parties have held their nominating conventions. It is too late to collect enough signatures to get on any ballot that may still be open and there is little time left for campaigning. Even if it were not too late, it will take years, possibly decades, for this to work if it ever does. In the mean time, acting like the system is working better won't hurt it any. This year, vote for the candidate you prefer. Don't just look at the Democrat and the Republican. There are lots of other parties. They're not all on the ballot in every state. Most are not even on the ballot in enough states to win the presidency as long as the Electoral College exists. Because of that, don't expect your candidate to win. What you will be doing is contributing to the need for change to a better system. You will be demonstrating that people want more choices that the two guaranteed by the existing system. Doing that may just have a greater effect on the distant future than deciding between the two main candidates now. When it comes to things they can actually control, their difference is small (especially on a historical scale) compared to the wide range of candidates that will be available once the system effectively allows for more than two. This year, throw your vote away. You weren't going to make anything better with it anyway. In the long run, the country may be better for your sacrifice.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Disabling Google 2-step Authentication: Here be dragons.

I just had my first truly bad experience using a Google product. I have used 2-step authentication since it first became available. In the year+ of using it, it hasn't gotten easier. If you try to login using something that doesn't understand 2-step, you have to generate an application specific password. This is a password that is generated for you and shown to you once. It works great for things that remember passwords, but is pretty much unusable for things that don't. Since things remembering passwords is a major security risk, application specific passwords is a very broken way to do it. 

Since very few things that could authenticate against Google have been updated to support 2-step authentication since it came out, I had a long list of application specific passwords, many of which were for Google products, like Chrome Sync and Android system logins. I got tired of this and disabled my 2-step authentication. That's where the problem began.

Immediately, I could no longer sign into Chrome Sync. The one computer I had already signed in with an application specific password was still syncing. Google Drive was still syncing. Everything else was telling me to enter my password rather than the application specific password when I entered the actual password. It would reject anything that wasn't my password as expected. I ended up going to the support forums and asking about it. 

It turns out that the process of turning off 2-step authentication is more complicated than it looks. After turning it off, you have to revoke all application specific passwords, then delete all Google Sync data if you have anything in that encrypted. Only after all that will it work. You would not guess that when you go to turn 2-step off. There is just a little link saying that you click it to turn off 2-step authentication. It provides no warning that you are about to break the entire authentication and sync system for your account.