Too radical of a concept? Professional football for college kids

In case you missed it, USA Today recently reported on a new football league, designed for developing players less than four years removed from high school who are currently ineligible to compete in the NFL. The Pacific Pro Football League offers experience in a professional football league while not interfering with college for those who still want to go to college. Key quotes from the article:

The plan: Four teams based in Southern California, each playing an eight-game schedule on Sundays during the sports dead zone of July and August. Roughly 50 players per team making an average salary and benefits package of $50,000 a year, which they’d be free to supplement with endorsements. Rules tweaked to enhance safety and give NFL scouts matchups they want to see. Coaches with NFL experience, who would teach pro-style schemes in an immersive environment unbound by rules regarding classroom time. Any player four years or fewer removed from high school would be eligible, including college underclassmen who’d entered the NFL draft.


If players want to attend school, the summer schedule wouldn’t interfere and there’d be an option to receive one year’s tuition and books at a community college. Training would continue year-round on a similar calendar to that used in the NFL. There also would be development opportunities for coaches and officials, who could come from a program started for military veterans by another advisory board member, former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira.


There are no plans to have traditional roster cuts, Yee said, but for some, taking the new option would mean giving up another. Any player signing a Pac Pro contract would forfeit NCAA eligibility, so the decision would need to be well-informed.

I have been a vocal but infrequent critic of the NCAA, particularly in how they handle football. I wrote a post critical of the NCAA back in 2013 April, in particular its use of the term “student-athlete” and how it came to be. I’m not going to rehash all of that here, but there does need to be at least one viable alternative to NCAA football for developing players in the 18 to 22 age bracket.

I don’t know if Pac Pro (as it’s apparently going to be referred to in short) will be the answer. But it’s encouraging to see this type of alternative being proposed. As far as I know, in the era of widespread college football, we have never had a professional league specifically designed to bridge the gap between high school football and the NFL. I certainly hope this takes off, and grows big enough to take a huge chunk out of the billion-dollar-plus college football industry.

And I do say “industry” on purpose. It shouldn’t be an industry. The college players are essentially unpaid professionals–or at best, paid only in scholarships. The idea that these kids can bring in so much money for their schools, and not only get barely any of it (a scholarship, if that) in order to retain their eligibility and “amateur” status–it’s crazy, and it turns common sense on its head.

On the NFL, the Super Bowl, and living in the host city

So, this is the second time now that Houston has hosted the Super Bowl at the same stadium (originally Reliant Stadium, now called NRG Stadium). Yes, Houston did host Super Bowl VIII at Rice Stadium back in 1974, but this was before my time.

I have been a football fan pretty much my entire life. During the five-year period from 1997 to 2001 when Houston did not have an NFL franchise, that changed a bit. For a while I even followed Arena Football, which unfortunately hasn’t remained popular, with the current incarnation having contracted to a mere five teams down from a one-time high of 19.

That said, once my favorite teams (Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks) get eliminated from the playoffs, I usually quit caring about football for the year and will often either tune out of the Super Bowl or watch only part of it. This year I’m watching from home, mainly because it’s being played here in town. However, next year, unless the Texans or Seahawks are playing in it, I may not watch, for a variety of reasons.

One good thing about having the city you live in host the Super Bowl is a lot of things get fixed and cleaned up that otherwise nobody would really care about. Trash gets picked up off the streets, businesses clean up their exterior and possibly even fix burned-out bulbs in their signage, major streets get repainted months ahead of schedule, burned out streetlights get fixed. This year, it also appears the Super Bowl was the impetus for the completion of the Green Line overpass connecting the final two stations (Cezar Chavez/67th Street and Magnolia Park Transit Center).

Of course there is a flip side to this too where laws are used in unintended ways. While I haven’t heard much about the city (particularly the police department) mistreating the homeless in advance of the Super Bowl, I’m sure it has happened. It’s implausible that the Super Bowl coming up in less than two months and HPD deciding to enforce the homeless feeding ban more aggressively than usual was just a mere coincidence.

While we do get an economic influx, there’s also the extra traffic from everybody coming to town for the game and/or other related festivities. On a personal note, this was part of the reason I cancelled my planned attendance of the 2600 meeting at The Galleria on Friday; it was questionable if I would have attended even if potentially thicker-than-usual crowds were not a factor. I was at The Galleria on Wednesday, and the crowds weren’t terrible then, but who knows how bad it was on Friday night? (If you were there, feel free to comment.) Also, I see many friends on Facebook who can’t wait for the city to “get back to normal.” I don’t blame them.

I don’t mean to throw rain on your parade if you’re a diehard football fan and only care that it’s the NFL and there’s 11 guys on each side of the ball running into each other in the closest thing the USA has to ancient Roman gladiatorial combat. If you enjoy the game no matter who’s playing, that’s great. But some don’t, and some like myself lose interest if the teams are unfamiliar. And honestly, normal life can be chaotic enough without a wildly popular football game and the associated crowds coming to town.

Before the month is over: countersurveillance/anti-stalking tips

I’ve really missed the target on the number of posts I wanted to make for National Stalking Awareness Month, though actually I’ve not made that many posts to this blog period (and I am way behind on my other blog, with a post I need to finish before I can post one that has to be scheduled behind it, but that’s another story).

It’s not that I’ve forgotten, just that blogging has taken a back seat to a few other things lately. So, before the month is over, here are a few basic countersurveillance/anti-stalking tips:

  1. Be very leery of an intimate partner (boyfriend/girlfriend) asking to borrow your phone, your vehicle, etc. “all of a sudden.” It’s one thing to offer a ride, it’s another to just lend the car outright. (It’s the same with phone calls.) Sometimes this is a ploy to install tracking devices (vehicle) or software (phones/computer/tablet).
  2. If something feels wrong, it probably is. If there’s any doubt about a situation that you’re not comfortable with, get out of it.
  3. If you think you are being followed in a vehicle, make a series of turns in the same direction. Ideally, these should be turns that do not have to cross oncoming traffic, i.e. right turns in the US, Canada, and other countries that drive on the right. If you are in the UK or Japan, these will be left turns. You can also try driving much slower than the flow of traffic. If you are still being followed, find a populated and well-lit area (if at night) and call the police.
  4. Know the anti-stalking law in your country, state, or province, and what the legal definition of stalking is. It may not be what you think it is. In Texas, for example, stalking (Penal Code 42.072) is for the most part defined as multiple instances of harassment (Penal Code 42.07) with some additional qualifiers and a couple of criteria which broaden it to conduct which isn’t necessarily against 42.07 per se. There’s also a civil anti-stalking law (Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 85) which is a bit wider than the criminal law. There’s also a federal anti-stalking law but that usually only comes into play when a stalker follows you across state lines.
  5. Running any operating system besides Windows on a PC will do a lot to improve security, if you possibly can stand to make the change. The vast majority of spyware/malware is written for Windows, to the point where it practically does not exist in the wild for anything else. Ubuntu is easy to set up, and there are other GNU/Linux distributions and freely available operating systems focused on user friendliness. It may be worth having two computers: one with Windows to run the bare minimum of proprietary Windows programs, and one running a GNU/Linux distribution (or whatever) for general purpose browsing, email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. (I’m writing this on a used laptop purchased for $200, which I’ve since had to put a $75 solid-state drive in to replace the original failing hard drive. Sure, it had the former user’s Windows install on it, but that was easy to take care of.) If there’s demand for a more in-depth post or series of posts on this, let me know and I’ll write them.
  6. If you don’t need to keep data, get rid of it. Overwrite sensitive data, don’t just delete it using a normal delete command (which only removes a pointer to the data, not the data itself).

I’ll try to come up with something else before Tuesday night. Stay safe out there.

Could you get spied on and ratted out by your computer repair shop?

This post was inspired by the recent widely publicized incident where a Best Buy customer in California was charged with child pornography-related crimes after he dropped his computer off at the local store and it was shipped to the Geek Squad center in Kentucky for the actual repairs. There’s also a tie-in with National Stalking Awareness Month related to privacy and security when it comes to electronic data which I will get to later in the post.

A representative sample of articles about the incident:

I’m not really going to go into quotes of any of the articles here, but simply restate what appear to be the facts in my own words. A Geek Squad staffer was running a data recovery (“file carving”) tool on this particular PC. Part of the assigned work was data recovery, so on its face it would appear to be a valid reason. However, the Geek Squad staffer’s job was just to get the PC running, not recover data. It turns out that he was a paid FBI informant who got $500 for each instance of apparent child porn he found.

To its credit, Best Buy issued this statement (quoted from the Network World article):

“Best Buy and Geek Squad have no relationship with the FBI. From time to time, our repair agents discover material that may be child pornography and we have a legal and moral obligation to turn that material over to law enforcement. We are proud of our policy and share it with our customers before we begin any repair.

“Any circumstances in which an employee received payment from the FBI is the result of extremely poor individual judgment, is not something we tolerate and is certainly not a part of our normal business behavior.

“To be clear, our agents unintentionally find child pornography as they try to make the repairs the customer is paying for. They are not looking for it. Our policies prohibit agents from doing anything other than what is necessary to solve the customer’s problem so that we can maintain their privacy and keep up with the volume of repairs.”

My first reaction to reading this was “looks like more spin than a Steve Mizerak massé”. I have a lot of respect for PR as a profession, but this smacks of trying to close the barn door after the horse has already bolted. Depending on the circumstances, I would even question that there is a moral obligation, even if a legal one is there. That they would be proud of this policy, especially if it goes over and above what the law actually requires (despite what they say), is a bit concerning from a privacy standpoint.

The law in Texas appears to have such a requirement. Without quoting the entire law here, the computer technician has to “view the image” “in the course and scope of employment or business” in order for the reporting requirement to kick in. There’s a criminal penalty of a class B misdemeanor ($4,000 fine and/or 180 days county jail as of this writing) as well as possible civil liability. For the terminally curious, it’s Section 110 of the Business and Commerce Code.

Anyway, whether your threat model is a Best Buy technician, or an intimate partner who may have turned to stalking you, the basic ways to protect yourself are pretty much the same. First, realize that without taking any other steps, “deleted” files aren’t really deleted. Whether one empties the Recycle Bin in Windows, or runs the rm command from a GNU/Linux command line, the only thing that is actually removed is the pointer to the data, not the data itself.

If the true intent is to erase a file, one needs to actually erase it, not just remove the pointer to it. BleachBit contains options for wiping the data in the free space of a hard drive (which I would recommend doing at least once per month, if not more often), as well as overwriting file contents or an entire directory’s contents prior to deletion. There is also the shred command for GNU and related systems if working from the command line. This mainly pertains to mechanical hard drives, as a properly configured solid state drive (SSD) should effectively do this for you: enable TRIM on Windows, or mount with the “discard” option on GNU/Linux (yes, it may affect performance but it’s a small price to pay for knowing that deleted files are actually gone and not just floating around). In fact, not only should one not need to overwrite files on have a solid state drive, doing so can shorten the drive’s lifespan.

Second, consider using encryption to keep your data private. There is a reason most websites (including this blog) use HTTPS (encrypted HTTP) now, and why it’s been recommended since the beginning of the World Wide Web to never submit credit card or banking information over unencrypted plain HTTP. Anyone can read plain HTTP while it’s in transit. It’s the electronic equivalent of writing information on a postcard and mailing it–something most people reserve for the most innocuous of communications. Similarly, data encrypted in storage won’t be readable without a decryption key, usually a passphrase (don’t just use a simple word).

Third, consider keeping particularly sensitive data on external storage devices such as USB hard drives, so that the data is not on the computer if it needs to be repaired. This would also reduce the chance of important data on the internal drive getting “accidentally” erased for whatever reason during a repair–though if it’s important, it should be backed up anyway (see below).

Fourth, don’t keep data that you don’t need. If you don’t need your web browsing history from some months ago, get rid of it. Firefox sorts history by calendar month and lumps sites visited over 6 months ago into their own list; unfortunately, this has to be done manually every so often (again, I would recommend monthly). For stuff that should never go into the history to begin with, Chrome has an “incognito” mode and Firefox has a “private browsing” mode. Firefox, at least, also lets one completely disable keeping browsing history if appropriate for one’s situation (Preferences / Privacy / History then select “Never remember history”) and also includes a “Forget” toolbar button for quickly “disappearing” the last 5 minutes, 2 hours, or day’s worth of history.

Finally, don’t forget to keep adequate backups. Remember, if the main copy of the data is encrypted, it only makes sense for the backups to be encrypted as well (and often the backup copies should be encrypted even if the originals are not). The more important something is, the more backup copies of it should exist (either onsite or offsite).

The morons must really think our public lands are worthless

H.L. Mencken was really on to something when he famously said “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public”. (This quote is frequently misattributed to P.T. Barnum, who may well have repeated it a few times himself.) No more true have those words rung than the present day…

This story from The New Civil Rights Movement is perhaps the single most absurd thing our Congress–or more specifically, our House of Representatives–has done in the entire two centuries and change of its existence. Quoting the article:

The new rule, authored by GOP Rep. Robert Bishop of Utah, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, codifies that any legislation to dispose of federal land and natural resources would have a net sum zero cost to taxpayers.

Basically, the rule short-circuits past the part of the rules which require a discussion of the costs and benefits of any such move, since by definition such a move will not cost the taxpayers anything. According to this USA Today story, the vote was split almost completely across party lines, with only three brave Republicans willing to cross the line and vote with Democrats to oppose this absolutely awful piece of junk.

This rule is dangerous because of how short-sighted it is, as the true cost of selling off public lands, particularly national parks and monuments, cannot be measured strictly in dollars and cents. These parks and monuments belong to all of us, the people who cast the votes. And once we sell off something like a national park, there’s no getting it back. Obviously, this is so the oil companies can drill, frack, and screw up our environment even more than it already is. (Some of the oil companies are starting to call themselves “energy companies” but let’s be honest, oil is still the main reason for their existence, without which they’d be folding like houses of cards in a Category 6 hurricane.)

I’d ask what they were thinking, but I already know the answer, it’s obvious, and it really burns me up. It’s a further indictment of the stupidity of the Citizens United decision, as if we needed another.

To just sell or give away, say, Yellowstone Park would be bad enough. To sell or give it away to an oil company for the purpose of drilling and fracking it beyond recognition is unconscionable, outrageous, and patently devoid of any sense of scruples. I haven’t been a big huge nature buff most of my life, but I am on the e-mail lists for the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and the Audubon Society among others. And I’m sure I’ll be getting emails about this with the accompanying pleas for donations in the coming weeks. In better times I would donate, but right now I’m doing good to keep this blog online. I hope someone out there reading this feels generous and/or needs a tax deduction.