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North Carolina Republicans create "secret police force"

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North Carolina’s new $30 billion state budget contains a provision that gives extraordinary investigative powers to a partisan oversight committee co-chaired by Senate Leader Phil Berger (R) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R).

The Joint Legislative Committee on Government Operations — or Gov Ops for short — is empowered to seize “any document or system of record” from anyone who works in or with state and local government during its investigations. The rule applies to contractors, subcontractors, and any other non-state entity “receiving, directly and indirectly, public funds,” including charities and state universities. 

Moreover, Gov Ops staff will be authorized to enter “any building or facility” owned or leased by a state or non-state entity without a judicial warrant. This includes the private residences of subcontractors and contractors who run businesses out of their homes, lawmakers say.

Alarmingly, public employees under investigation will be required to keep all communication and requests “confidential.” They cannot alert their supervisor of the investigation nor consult with legal counsel. Violating this rule “shall be grounds for disciplinary action, including dismissal,” the law reads. Those who refuse to cooperate face jail time and fines of up to $1,000. In the event that Gov Ops searches a person’s home, these rules mean that the person 1) must keep the entry a secret, 2) cannot seek outside help (unless necessary for fulfilling the request, the law says), and 3) could face criminal charges if Gov Ops deems them uncooperative. 

Moore and Berger claim these new rules are benign and necessary to exercise oversight of state funds. But Democrats and other critics say the changes turn Gov Ops into a “secret police force,” warning that the new policies have far-reaching implications.

During a legislative debate, State Senator Graig Meyer (D) asked lawmakers to consider a hypothetical scenario in which Gov Ops accesses personal health records like ultrasounds, which are required by the state to receive abortion pills. The Commission, Meyer said, could release these documents “to the public in a hearing.” 

Gov Ops could also potentially enter and search “a law firm that receives state funding for court-appointed lawyers,” compromising “the sanctity of the attorney-client privilege,” State Representative Allison Dahle (D) said. Dahle added that these new powers will allow Gov Ops members to carry out grudges, empowering them to target political enemies as “backlash for previous actions.” 

“I don’t think I have ever publicly called the GOP leadership ‘authoritarian’ because that’s not a term I take lightly, but their approach to seizing power and cover up their tracks now fits the bill,” Meyer told Popular Information. “The hypotheticals of how Gov Ops power could be abused are endless. Verbal assurances of restraint are inadequate; we need clear guardrails in law.” Meyer added that he “hope[s] that members of both parties can see what's happening before it's too late."

The legislature created the Gov Ops committee years ago to increase ”governmental accountability by ensuring that governmental institutions operate efficiently, effectively, and in compliance with the law.” But unlike other types of government watchdog groups, GovOps is partisan. Republicans dominate the body, and the group’s politics greatly influence the types of investigations it carries out. For example, Gov Ops launched an inquiry into diversity training programs at the University of North Carolina earlier this year.

This wasn’t always the norm in North Carolina – the state used to have a nonpartisan division “tasked with evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of public services.” Known as the Program Evaluation Division (PED), the unit was created in 2007 after receiving unanimous approval from state lawmakers. PED was “said to have saved the state millions,” the News & Observer reported. But, in 2021, Moore and Berger shuttered the unit. A spokesperson for Berger at the time noted that Gov Ops had a “similar mandate” to PED.

The Republican leaders who pushed to dramatically expand Gov Ops' power say it will enhance government accountability. The same leaders, however, pushed through several provisions in the budget that restrict access to legislative public records, eliminating a critical tool for accountability — including for Gov Ops itself.

One provision repeals a law that required “communications regarding redistricting” be made publicly available when new legislative maps were adopted. As one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation, public records have been instrumental in challenging North Carolina’s redistricting maps. In 2022, a gerrymandering trial exposed a top Republican redistricting official for using “secret maps to help draft the state’s redistricting plan.” 

This fall, Republican lawmakers are set to redraw voting maps after the new conservative majority on the state’s Supreme Court overturned a ruling and legalized partisan gerrymandering. Under the new budget, "lawmakers responding to public records requests will have no obligation to share any drafts or materials that guided their redistricting decisions."

Another provision allows North Carolina lawmakers to exempt themselves from public records requests. Current and former legislators, the law says, ”shall not be required to reveal or to consent to reveal any document, supporting document, drafting request, or information request made or received by that legislator while a legislator.” Under the state’s previous law, legislators were recognized as the custodians of their own records, but had to file a “specific exemption” to withhold records. 

A third provision will allow legislators to “determine…whether a record is a public record.” Legislators can now decide to “retain, destroy, sell, loan, or otherwise dispose of'' their documents. 

Moore claims that the change to public records requests seeks to “clarify the ambiguity in current statute and broadens the purview of what constitutes a public record, increasing transparency and efficiency in responsiveness from legislators.” Meanwhile, Berger alleges the provision was needed to “settle a dispute between the legislative services office and the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, which archives public records.” But the Department, through a spokesperson, said it was “not aware of any dispute,” the News & Observer reported. “This new provision appears to be the legislature entirely exempting themselves from the public records law and the archiving process that has retained government records throughout the state’s history,” the spokesperson told the local outlet.

Opponents say that these new rules will make it harder to uncover corruption and create accountability. In a letter to Berger and Moore, the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters expressed concerns that the changes will “permit the General Assembly to operate in secrecy,  shielded from public view and accountability to those whom the members of the Assembly were elected to serve.” The North Carolina Press Association also objected to the new privileges, calling them a “significant threat to the public’s right to see public record.”

CORRECTION: This article has been updated with the correct total dollar amount of the North Carolina budget; it is $30 billion, not $300 billion.

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Photo Scout: An Excellent Photographer’s Companion for iPhone and iPad

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Taking a great photo requires a lot of variables to fall into place. It’s amazing when this happens by happenstance, but what if you could stack the odds in your favor? That’s the question Photo Scout by Cascable answers.

Photo Scout, available for the iPhone and iPad, combines location data with weather conditions, date and time information, sunlight, and night sky variables to recommend when you should grab your camera or drone and head out for a photo shoot. The app can account for many variables, but what’s best about Photo Scout is that it makes managing them simple.

Something tells me Photo Scout won't be able to help find Crisp Winter Days in North Carolina.

Something tells me Photo Scout won’t be able to help find Crisp Winter Days in North Carolina.

To help get you started, Photo Scout offers templates for common scenes like:

  • Dramatic Sunsets
  • Crisp Winter Days
  • Calm, Clear Skies
  • Rainy Streets at Night
  • and more

In all, there are seven preset scenes, which are accessible from the ‘+’ button in the app’s top right corner. When you pick one, you’ll be prompted to use your current location or search for another, which is perfect for planning a trip in advance. That’s all there is to setting up a template-based scene unless you want to edit it further. When you return to the app’s main view, you’ll see that your scene has been added as a card that includes its name, when it will occur next, and location.

Setting up a scene from scratch.

Setting up a scene from scratch.

Scenes can be built from scratch by choosing ‘New Empty Scene,’ too. Like using a template, you’ll be prompted to pick a location. However, you’ll also be able to set each of the app’s tracking variables individually. There are multiple options for day, date, and time options, plus weather, sunlight, and night sky conditions.

Using AR to plan shots based on the position of the sun or moon.

Using AR to plan shots based on the position of the sun or moon.

Photo Scout also includes augmented reality modes for the sun and moon positions that use the iPhone’s camera viewfinder to let you point at a spot in the sky, tap it, and see when the sun or moon will be in that position next. That position becomes the basis for its own scene so you know when to return to that spot to get the shot you want.

Photo Scout running on the iPad mini and synced via iCloud.

Photo Scout running on the iPad mini and synced via iCloud.

After your scenes have been created, Photo Scout will send you notifications in advance of whatever event you’re tracking, so you know when to head out with your camera. You can also track events from the app’s small and medium-sized widgets, of which there are three types. ‘Up Next for Scene’ will show you when one of your scenes will happen next, ‘Up Next Near Me’ will display your next scene opportunity based on where you are, and ‘Upcoming Near Me’ does the same but as a list of multiple upcoming scenes.

Instant Inspiration offers ideas for the next few days.

Instant Inspiration offers ideas for the next few days.

Photo Scout also includes a feature called Instant Inspiration that I love. It’s entirely automatic, offering suggestions based on the conditions over the next few days for a location you pick. Looking ahead to the weekend, it looks like Saturday will be a good day for drone photography with clear skies and low wind, and there will be a full moon that night. What’s great about Instant Inspiration is that it’s entirely frictionless.

Photo Scout's alternative icons and notification sounds.

Photo Scout’s alternative icons and notification sounds.

It’s worth noting that Photo Scout also features eight alternative icons and a long list of customizable notification sounds.

I’m slowly getting back into taking more pictures now that my life has settled down, and I’ve really enjoyed using Photo Scout as part of that. There’s still plenty of room to stumble upon an interesting shot as you move through your day, but with Photo Scout, you can increase the odds of capturing a great sunset and much more, which is fantastic.

Photo Scout is available on the App Store as a free download with a one-week free trial. After that, you must subscribe to either its Hobbyist subscription for $3.99/month or $24.99/year or its Professional subscription for $4.99/month or $39.99/year, which includes more features than the Hobbyist plan.

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UX designers who eliminated the filesystem from user consciousness in name of si...


UX designers who eliminated the filesystem from user consciousness in name of simplicity ruined the world and are morally culpable for shriveling minds of children who are unable to tackle the challenges of today thanks to a choice sold as advocacy for the user but was ultimately motivated by control of a disempowered customer.

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Callsheet 2023.4

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Callsheet’s release has been a whirlwind. I’m completely overjoyed by the response. I am incredibly thankful to anyone who has tried Callsheet, purchased it, or told their friends about it. Y’all are the best. 💙

Yesterday I pushed a new version to the App Store, and it is rolling out slowly over the next week or so. I wanted to highlight some of the changes I think are pretty fun.

Short-short Version

  • TV spoiler settings are now honored when viewing a person’s filmography
  • When viewing a person, their age is shown on their filmography
  • Mid- and post-credit scenes are now shown for movies
  • Now shows what you’re actively playing in Channels and, experimentally, Plex

Honoring TV Spoiler Settings in Filmographies

Probably the most often requested feature right now is something that I’ve been planning to do for a while. However, it was — at least at first glance — far more complicated than you’d expect.

From the start, Callsheet would let you optionally hide spoilers for individual TV shows — things like character names, the number of episodes they’re in, episode titles, episode thumbnails, etc. In Callsheet 2023.3, I added the ability to set a global default for these same settings.

In Callsheet 2023.4, those settings are now honored when viewing a person’s filmography. There is also a button to toggle between hiding and showing the spoilers. Naturally, it defaults to hiding.

GIF showing Jared Keeso's filmography, with spoilers being toggled on and off.

People’s Ages

When looking at an actor or crew’s filmography, I often want to know how old they were when they worked on a film or TV show. Before, this was some reasonably easy mental arithmetic: the person’s birth year is prominently displayed at the top of their screen on the app:

Screenshot showing Jared Keeso, his birthday of 1 July 1984, and his age (at the time of writing), 39 years old.

However, our devices are, at their core, arithmetic machines. Why not make them do this math, so I don’t have to? So, for people, you can see their ages in the year header:

Screenshot showing the filmography of Jared Keeso, with his ages shown on the right-hand side, peer with the year headers. For example, 2022 shows "37-38 years old"

I’m noodling on the best way to represent this information on cast/crew lists for movies and TV shows. 🤔

Mid- and Post-Credits Scenes

Something else I’ve been asked for a lot is the ability to know if a movie — particularly one currently in theatres — has a bonus scene during or after the credits. I didn’t think The Movie Database had this information, but I was wrong. As it turns out, there is a de facto standard for this!

Next, I turned to my friend Ben McCarthy, the author of the excellent Obscura — and the creative force behind a lot of the Callsheet UI. Ben and I went back-and-forth on some SF Symbols-style icons to represent mid-credits and post-credits scenes. You can see them both here. I’m quite pleased with what they came up with. 😎

Screenshot showing The Super Mario Bros Movie with a section "Credits" showing icons for mid- and post-credits scenes


One of my tenets when designing Callsheet was to meet users where they are. This is not a particular revelation, but it is a nice “north star” to guide my decisions and priorities. This is evidenced in simple ways, like tapping on the runtime for a movie to see when it would end, if you start it right now:

Screenshot showing the movie Sneakers, runtime 2 hours and six minutes. The screenshot was taken at 4:32 and a popover shows that it will end at 6:38

The most obvious way to meet a user where they are is to offer to show them information about the thing they’re currently watching. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t offer any sort of API for this on the Apple TV. There are allegedly ways to get that information anyway, but it’s extremely convoluted, and prone to break at any time.

Naturally, Callsheet is an app written by me… for me. And for me, the two primary ways I consume content are Plex and Channels. Callsheet 2023.4 includes Channels integration, as well as an experimental Plex integration.

Both of these integrations are opt-in. In order to enable them, you must go into the in-app settings, and turn on integrations. Both the Channels and Plex integrations work by polling, which means your device will ping away at the network asking “Is anyone here? Are you playing anything?” over and over again. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not the sort of thing I want your average user to be opted into without their knowledge.

Screenshot of the integrations switch in settings


When everything is turned on, you should see something like this when Channels is playing on a local Apple TV:

Screenshot of Callsheet's Discover screen, showing Channels playing Motorweek

Channels uses Bonjour under the hood, which is — naturally — extremely well-supported in the Apple ecosystem. In my experience, the integration with Channels is pretty robust and reliable.

However, Channels doesn’t always provide The Movie Database ID to me — in fact, generally speaking, it doesn’t. This means tapping on an item will usually perform a search, rather than jumping you directly to the show in question. When Channels does provide Callsheet the TMDB ID, you’ll jump directly to the media in question.


⚠️ The Plex integration should be considered experimental at this time. ⚠️

If you squint, Plex uses a similar scheme to Bonjour in order to discover players on the same network. However, Plex is old enough that it actually predates Bonjour. As such, the implementation is… rickety. Plex’s implementation works for Plex, but it was never really designed for use by other software. Like Callsheet.

That said, it… kinda works? When it does, like the Channels integration, it’s pretty damned magical:

Screenshot of Callsheet's Discover screen, showing Plex playing Hamilton

Many thanks to my pals Alex and Hugo; without their combined efforts, there is literally zero chance this would have shipped.

Unfortunately, there’s not really any levers that I’m aware of that I can pull in order to improve Plex integration. It seems to depend on the “weather” in your local network. So, uh, no promises. 🫣

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Starter Villain is OUT + Starter Villain Theme Song by DESSA!

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The waiting is over! Starter Villain, my latest novel, is out today in North America (Sept. 21 in the UK), and is available in print, ebook and audio. However you want it, you can get it! It’s available at your local bookstore, and I encourage you to get it there, but here are some additional sales links, just in case:

Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Powells|Apple Books|Google Play|Kobo

And for the audiobook, follow this link to Audible.

I’m happy to say Starter Villain is starting out with some great reviews, including two starred reviews from Booklist (“Scalzi’s latest will appeal to his legion of fans and draw in new ones”) and Library Journal (“Readers of humorous fantasy are sure to love Scalzi’s latest”), with raves from Entertainment Weekly (“Scalzi’s unique, hilarious, and oddly relatable story is the perfect fall read”), Publishers Weekly (“subverts classic supervillain tropes with equal measures of tongue-in-cheek humor and common sense”) and Polygon (“Following in the footsteps of sci-fi greats like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams… John Scalzi is truly a must-read”), among others. I hope you will dig it as well. I had a ball writing it.

Remember that I am on tour for Starter Villain, which actually began last night in Scottsdale, and now has stops in San Diego, San Francisco, Wichita, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Chapel Hill, Cincinnati and Nashville. Please come see me! I’ll also be at New York City Comic Con, the Wisconsin Book Festival and the Texas Book Festival and on October 6th I have an event with VE Schwab in Bexley, Ohio. Oh, and I’m the Guest of Honor at the Budapest International Book Festival, if you happen to be in Hungary the last week of September. Come see me at those as well!

And now, for something really cool. As many of you know, I occasionally commission theme songs for my books from musicians I like. Previous songs have come from Jonathan Coulton (Redshirts), Ted Leo (The Dispatcher series), William Beckett (the Lock In series) and Paul and Storm (Fuzzy Nation). For Starter Villain, I asked the fabulous Dessa to do a song for the book, and, oh boy, did she deliver:

If you like the song — and you should, because it’s amazing you can get it from Dessa through her Bandcamp page. Dessa also has her own new album coming out on September 29, Bury the Lede, which you can also get at her Bandcamp page, or, you can get one of several deluxe LP/CD packages from her site. Support her, she’s awesome and she made an incredible song for my book.

There’s more to come with Starter Villain and other news to share when I can — but for now, it’s out, it’s in the world, and you can get it. The run-up to the release has been amazing, but honestly the best thing is to see it in the hands of readers, and to have them enjoy it. I hope you have as much fun reading Starter Villain as I had writing it. If you do, you’re going to love it.

— JS

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Just thinking about how republicans are going after normie sex shit like “internet porn” and…








Just thinking about how republicans are going after normie sex shit like “internet porn” and “dildos” now

we fucking told y'all

to be clear: the right views any sex that isn’t purely procreative as deviant. it’s not just kink, or queer sex they find abhorrent. And they genuinely believe that the better educated you are about sex in general, including about gender shit, the more deviant you are. they’re legitimately trying to claw everyone down to hell with them.

Now? Before 2003 it was legit technically illegal in some states for even straight couples to have oral or anal sex, and there are still laws in some states restricting how many dildos you can own etc.

I don’t really know what the goal is with putting a numerical limit on dildos, but with republicans the answer is usually “There isn’t one. Die.”

This is your periodic reminder that it is currently right now illegal in the united states to own porn that the average person in your community would be offended by. That’s the legal definition of obscenity (a piece of media that 1. Exists to turn people on 2. has no other “redeeming” purpose and 3. would be offensive to most people in your jurisdiction) and you can theoretically be arrested and go to jail for owning “obscene” media or giving it to other people.

“But that’s ridiculous,” you say, “porn that the average taxpayer would think was ~offensive~ is absolutely fuckin’ everywhere, on the internet and in real life, and nobody gets in trouble for it.” And you’d be right about that. Realistically, this is a law that cannot be enforced: it is way too easy to break, way too hard to track, and way too many people are interested in breaking it.

Same with the pre-Lawrence v. Texas laws against “sodomy” that headspace-hotel is talking about. Yeah, it was illegal to give a blowjob in the privacy of your own home. But of course most people who like blowjobs never even thought twice about those laws, because it’s usually pretty easy to Not tell a cop what you do in the privacy of your bedroom with your spouse.

“So if laws like this don’t actually stop people from doing whatever sexual things they want to do, why are you concerned about it? You just said these laws don’t hurt anybody, right?” Here’s the thing. The purpose of laws like this is to create an atmosphere where you can get away with doing “"deviant”“ things… if you hide it from polite society, if you keep it secret, if you know your place.

What you can’t do is go out in public and say that actually gay people can have happy relationships, or that masturbating sometimes doesn’t make you a depraved sex addict, or that it’s okay to want to enjoy having sex and not just do it as your Duty To Your Husband.

You can get away with doing what you want in private if you never challenge the dominant cultural message that what you’re doing is gross and immoral and people who do it are disgusting freaks. If you dare to speak up and point out that your ”“shameful secret”“ is actually normal, off you go to jail.

That’s the purpose of laws like this. To make it impossible to challenge the rhetorical stranglehold of conservative christianity on society. To shift the Overton window once and for all to the right. And that’s why we need to fight laws like this with all our strength, every time the right tries to push them forward, even when the specifics are stuff like "you can’t own more than five dildoes” that might seem like a silly thing to go to war over. It’s not about the specifics. It’s about limiting everyone’s speech to things a conservative preacher would say from the pulpit.

The other thing laws like this are good for is giving the police excuses

Younger Americans NEED to understand why Lawrence vs Texas went to the Supreme Court.

In 2003, police raided the private home of two gay men and charged them with sodomy. I cannot emphasize enough that THEY WERE NOT CURRENTLY HAVING SEX AT ALL when the police raided them. But the cops had “probable cause” to believe that they had, at some point, had non-procreative sex, which was illegal under Texas’s sodomy law, so they were charged with a crime.

Ultimately, the SCOTUS ruled that sodomy laws are unconstitutional because US citizens have a right to privacy: what consenting adults do in their own homes is their own business.

What you need to know is that in four states, including Texas and. Missouri, sodomy laws are still on the books. That means that if SCOTUS strikes down Lawrence vs Texas, these laws immediately go back into effect, and more states can add their own.

What would that look like?

If you’re on Tinder and your profile says you’re gay or bi, the police can subpoena your profile and use it to arrest you.

If you’re on Scruff or Grindr, the police can subpoena your location data and messages and use them to track down and arrest you and all your hookups.

If you’re in a same-sex marriage, the police can subpoena a list of same-sex marriage certificates and arrest every single couple—even if they’re widowed or divorced.

If your school has an LGBTQ club, the police can subpoena a list of members and arrest kids & college students.

They could subpoena data from FetLife and Facebook and Twitter and, yes, if they thought to do so, Tumblr. Rainbow flag in your profile? They’re drawing up charges.

And all of these people getting arrested and charged with sodomy, when convicted, will not only have their lives ruined by jail time, but will also likely be labeled sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

This is not ancient history. This was not “back in the day.” I WAS IN COLLEGE WHEN THIS HAPPENED.

And the Republicans are frothing at the fucking mouth to bring these horrors back.

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