I am Joshua Poehls. Say hello Archives (not so) silent thoughts

Drone Strike Terrorism

Have you read The Intercept’s article on US drone strikes and the media’s coverage of them in the US? If you are an American, you should.

Let me be clear; I’m horrified. There is so much that is completely wrong here that it is hard to begin.

Read the article. Read it twice.

On Target Selection

It has been more than two years since The New York Times revealed that “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties” of his drone strikes which “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … . unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”

Shoot first, ask questions later. Except nobody is asking questions.

… targeting decisions can even be made by nothing more than metadata analysis and SIM card use.

We don’t want the NSA even storing our own metadata. How would you like them to assassinate based solely on that metadata? Oh, and if they do that by blowing up your whole family, so be it.

Remember, “targeting decisions” means capital punishment. And not just for the intended target but also for a wide margin of collateral damage. Far less than half of drone casualities are confirmed militants.

The tactic of drone-killing first responders and rescuers who come to the scene of drone attacks or even mourners at funerals of drone victims…

Read that again.

On Public Perception

…if a drone missile killed an innocent adult male civilian, such as a vegetable vender or a fruit seller, the victim’s long hair and beard would be enough to stereotype him as a militant.

Sorry, we’re too busy being offended by the t-shirts people wear.

On Psychological Effects

A 2012 report from Stanford and NYU Law School clinics, “Living Under Drones,” documented that “US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted-for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury” – specifically, they “hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.”

Being attacked by a drone is not the same as being bombed by a jet. With drones, there is typically a much longer prelude to violence. Above North Waziristan, drones circled for hours, or even days, before striking. People below looked up to watch the machines, hovering at about twenty thousand feet, capable of unleashing fire at any moment, like dragon’s breath. “Drones may kill relatively few, but they terrify many more,” Malik Jalal, a tribal leader in North Waziristan, told me. “They turned the people into psychiatric patients.”

On Terrorism

The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff just released their annual “counterterrorism” report and it defined “terrorism” this way:

Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence or threat of violence, often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs, to instill fear and coerce governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are usually political.

Given their intended effects - both physical and psychological - on entire populations, is there any serious doubt that continual, sustained drone warfare in places such as Pakistan and Yemen meet the U.S.’s formal definition of “terrorism” found in its latest strategy document?

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The MMA Hour - 249 - Renzo Gracie

Renzo Gracie on MMA Hour Episode 249

Renzo Gracie on MMA Hour Episode 249

I listened to the Renzo interview on MMA Hour this morning; an amazing interview. Renzo seems like a great person and several of his comments really touched me. Lots of great stories and true respect as he talks about various people and competitors. Getting exposed to people like this is one of the reasons I love BJJ. There is a strong sense of honor and respect in the community that I don’t see in my own everyday life. It’s an inspiring influence.

Just stop reading and go listen to it.

One part that stood out the most to me was when he talked about how in this country (America), “nobody wants to do.”1 He referenced a story about a woman who was raped in New York. “Fifty-two people heard her scream.” Nobody helped. “Everybody assumed, you gonna take care, not me.”

In contrast, he told about a time when he was in Brazil driving with his wife and kids and saw a guy hit a woman.

When he hit her I stopped and I jumped to beat him up. When I get there I had to save him because the mob was lynching him. And this was in the space of ten seconds.

People jumped out of their cars to get this guy. Just because he hit a woman. Renzo’s wife said, “I can’t believe, you get out to hit him and you drive him home now!” Renzo replied, “you gotta do what is right.”

When I look at myself I see more of the guy who would drive on by. I want to become the guy who stops to help.


  1. Skip to around 52 minutes into the interview for this story.
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Languages Are Beautiful

If you ever see me doodling, odds are that I’m drawing letters and numbers of some kind. I’ve always found alphabets, notations, and writing systems in general to be facinating. Typography is beautiful. Typography in foreign languages, even more so.

Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God

Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God

Hebrew Alphabet Poster - Red Blocks

Hebrew Alphabet Poster - Red Blocks

Hebrew Alphabet Poster - Classic Blue

Hebrew Alphabet Poster - Classic Blue

See the World by John Yunker

See the World by John Yunker

Hebrew Calligraphy

Hebrew Calligraphy

Writing Systems Poster by Emily Law

Writing Systems Poster by Emily Law

Hebrew Lettering by Tal Maimon - הגיעו מים עד גועל נפש

Hebrew Lettering by Tal Maimon - הגיעו מים עד גועל נפש

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The NSA Reaches Out

Anne Neuberger is Special Assistant to NSA Director Michael Rogers and also the Director of the NSA’s Commercial Solutions Center.

The NSA, Neuberger said, has suffered a particularly “long and challenging year” dealing with the public loss of trust following the Snowden revelations. The agency is reviewing all of its activities to determine how to regain that trust. One change is more open engagement with the public. “This presentation is a starting point.”

Anne has a pretty potent family history and she used it to help build sympathy for her position.

Of her eight great-grandparents, seven were murdered at Auschwitz. “So my family’s history burned into me a fear of what occurs when the power of a state is turned against its people or other people.”

“My family history,” she said, “instilled in me almost parallel value systems – fear of potential for overreach by government, and belief that sometimes only government, with its military and intelligence, can keep civilians safe. Those tensions shape the way I approach my work each day. I fully believe that the two seemingly contradictory factors can be held in balance. And with your help I think we can define a future where they are.”

The seminar was worth listening to if for no other reason than the novelty of hearing a secretive organization talk publicly about itself. Anne certainly spoke well.

“My call to action for everyone in this audience is get our innovative minds focussed on the full set of problems.”

How? Anne encouraged people to get involved by attending public hearings that the NSA holds.

We’ve heard time and again that even our senators and representatives don’t have access to enough information to inform NSA policies, or even be aware of what those policies are. How can we take an invitation to a public hearing seriously?

The seminar ended with a fun question and answer segment. One of the questions:

What is the NSA doing to make the scope of its data collection efforts as transparent as possible, while still achieving its goals w.r.t. national security?

The room erupted in laughter when Anne replied that the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) was a solution to this.

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Earth's Water is Older Than the Sun

Astronomers have discovered that much of the water on Earth—and the solar system—predates the Sun.

This isn’t really surprising, right? I mean, it lines right up with the Genesis creation. Still, thinking about things like this blows my mind.

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 1

Genesis 1:1-3 (KJV)

  1. I’m no scholar but I read this as, “Let there be light: and there was the Sun.”
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Starting Sentences With I.E. or E.G.

A parenthetical statement that is a complete sentence should begin with a capital.

I used to debate this everytime I’d use i.e. or e.g. in my writing. Not anymore!

Right way:

E.g., this is a proper example.

I.e., something like this is correct.

Wrong way: 1

e.g., This is a bad example.

Apparently it is also good practice to include the comma.


  1. Sadly this is how I’ve usually written it, except I almost always left off the comma.
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Hello World

Welcome to my new blog! 1 All of my blogging in the past has been in the form of longer articles, mostly technology related, and mostly trying to teach a tip or trick.

I’m taking a different approach this time. I’ll be posting more random thoughts. Sharing articles I find interesting. Overall I expect this to feel more like reading my Facebook wall and that’s what I’m going for. 2

Here goes nothing!

Hello World! Hallo Welt! שלום עולם

  1. This is no longer the first post as I’ve started migrating older content from my blog at zduck.com.
  2. This is my plan to take control of my public content. I’ll still share on Facebook and Twitter, but I want to own the canonical version.
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Go 101: String or Byte Slice?

One of the first things you’ll notice in Go is that two different types are commonly used for representing text. string and []byte. A quick example is the regexp package which has functions for both string and []byte.

What is the difference?

string is immutable and []byte is mutable. Both can contain arbitrary bytes.

The name “string” implies unicode text but this is not enforced. Operating on string is like operating on []byte. You are working with bytes not characters.

They are nearly identical and differ only in mutability. The strings and bytes packages are nearly identical apart from the type that they use.

Q: If strings are just arbitrary bytes, then how do you work with characters?

A: What you are thinking of as a character, Go calls a rune. One way to iterate the characters in a string is to use the for...range loop. Range will parse the string as UTF-8 and iterate the runes. Read the for loop section of Effective Go for more information.

When to use string?

Ask not when to use string but rather, when to use []byte. Always start with string and switch to []byte when justified.

When to use []byte?

Use []byte when you need to make many changes to a string. Since string is immutable, any change will allocate a new string. You can get better performance by using []byte and avoiding the allocations.

C# perspective: []byte is to System.StringBuilder as string is to System.String when it comes to performance.

Even if your code isn’t directly manipulating the string, you may want to use []byte if you are using packages which require it so you can avoid the conversion.

Converting to and from []byte is easy. Just remember that each conversion creates a copy of the value.

s := "some string"
b := []byte(s) // convert string -> []byte
s2 := string(b) // convert []byte -> string

Converting to/from string and []byte copies the entire value. Using lots of type conversions in your code is typically a warning sign that you need to reevaluate the types you are using. You want to minimize conversions both for performance and clean code.

More about strings

The Go blog has posted in detail about strings, bytes, runes, and characters in Go. You should definitely read that post to fully understand the topic.

Update: Thanks to @mholt6 for reviewing the post and helping improve it!

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