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Public Accommodation Laws

I wrote the following comment in response to a Facebook post about religious freedom laws, which have been in the news lately.

I appreciate the argument that people should not be forced into conducting business with others, but I’m not sure if any bright line rule works well here. Some things to contemplate:

Is it the right balance to allow a gas station owner to refuse to sell gas to gay people, black people, members of another religion, etc.? Does your answer change if all the gas station owners in the same town feel the same way? (For example, if the result is Muslims can’t buy gas in a town.) What if we scale up to the vast majority of the gas station owners in a county, half a state, or more?

Should the threshold should be different for “essentials” (food, fuel, housing, etc.) than for optional things (wedding cakes)? If so, what’s essential? Is Internet access essential? What about cable TV? Maybe they’re separately special because they tend to be natural monopolies? What about the one formal wear business for a hundred miles?

In regards to the cake examples… One possible answer is that speech is different than products. For example, we might say: yes, we should prohibit the black baker from refusing to sell a cake solely because the buyer is a KKK member, but we will not compel him to write a message on it with which he disagrees.

If so, is the baker’s free speech right absolute? Or if he is willing to write “Congratulations!” on a cake for some customers, can he be compelled to use the same text for anyone (including for gay weddings, graduating from seminary of another religion, etc.)?

What about pharmacists and various types of birth control? Or doctors and abortions? Or doctors refusing patients on (non-religious, public health grounds) who are anti-vaccine for non-medical reasons?

To come full circle, can the gas station owner refuse to sell to people with tattoos for non-religious reasons (because he associates tattoos with gangs)? What if he just thinks tattoos are stupid? If religious reasons are special, who decides what is a legitimate religious interest and what is a legitimate religion?

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Thoughts on Antivirus

I get this question a fair amount. Here is the latest version from someone on Facebook: “To all the computer wizards out there: Which antivirus do you suggest putting on a computer?” My response…

Short version: Spend your money on backups instead.

I think I am in the minority in the industry on this, but I tend to recommend “none”. Antivirus software is a bit like insurance. You are going to pay something (dollars, at least some slowdown, and potential problems) all the time to potentially avoid paying a big something later.

No antivirus software can completely protect you from reckless behavior, and if you’re responsible, the risk is probably acceptably low. By “responsible”, I mean things like: don’t open attachments or click on links you were not expecting, regularly apply updates to your OS and browser, and only install software from trustworthy sources.

For the typical home user, the cost of recovering from a virus is pretty minimal, if you have backups. That is where you should focus your energy and/or money. And always test your backup method to make sure you can actually get your files off of it!

Update: Running Microsoft Security Essentials is probably reasonable. It’s free; you get it as part of Windows Updates.

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My tcpdump Idiom

This is how I like to run tcpdump these days:
sudo tcpdump -U -s 0 -w - port 80 | tee DESCRIPTION-$(date +%s).pcap | tcpdump -lvvnr -

This dumps out a .pcap file I can open in Wireshark later, but also shows the tcpdump human-readable representation in real-time.

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Wiktel is Hiring

We’re looking to hire a system administrator:

Email me a resume:

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“Past Due”

Dear banks: if someone has automatic payments setup, it is impossible for them to ever be past due, unless a payment bounces. Please get your programmers to ensure that your websites never show such inaccuracies. I’m really sick of things showing as “past due” randomly and then clearing up and “customer service” treating it like it is okay that it ever showed that way because it cleared up in the end.

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