North Korea and Our Crazy President

Posted: 15th April 2017 by Cheap in Politics

I hate to say it, but perhaps having a rash, unpredictable President is just what the United States needs once in a while — at least where it concerns unshakable foreign policy problems.

North Korea and their nuclear aspirations are one such problem.  The actors have settled into comfortable complacency.  Right now, however, the status quo is in danger.  China is expressing concern, and rightly so.  The fears are instability at their border and the potential for a refugee crisis.  It can be assumed that China is so concerned that they are reconsidering the specifics of their relation with North Korea.  And that’s a good thing, because China is North Korea’s last major ally and trading partner, which means China is the one player with real diplomatic influence with North Korea.  Up to now, China has limited the pressure they have applied, but if they see it is in their own best interest to step up their engagement, the result could be some real change.

And love him or hate him, this change in affairs was caused by nothing more than the loose cannon we elected.

  • I have finally found a good lighting solution for my sound stage.  Lithonia Lighting is now selling linkable LED strips.  The 4-foot ones are 3200 lumens.  You buy a power cord for one and linking cords for the rest, and you only need one outlet.  They are silent, compact, and easily mountable.  They have a color temperature of 4100K.  I’m not sure how many I will end up using, but I will definitely want more than one.  I guess I need to finish the sound stage and start using it.
  • I basically have a new job with my employer.  As expected, I have been assigned full-time to the product group for which I received an emergency knowledge transfer.  Less expected, I have been given the responsibility of leading the other two guys on the team.  This is a good opportunity for me, and I plan to make the best of it.
  • I bought a truck.  It is a 2008 Ford Ranger FX4, a seven year newer version of the Ranger I had before.  Everything works, and it runs significantly better than my last truck.  I can do truck stuff again, and it’s amazing to me how many things I had mentally put on hold for lack of a truck.  Camping, hunting, vacation, cycling, filmmaking, woodworking, and lawn care were all impacted by it.  I look forward to becoming acquainted with the new truck.  I sold the Corolla a couple days later.  That whole episode is now behind me.
  • The electronics work I’m doing has made me realize I’m using the same cheap Radio Shack soldering iron I’ve had since my teens.  It works, but I can afford something better now.  So, I’ve splurged, and I’ve acquired a real soldering iron, a Weller WESD51 digital soldering station.  I can’t wait to use it.
  • I’ve also acquired my first wireless lavalier microphone system, a Sennheiser EW 100 G3 system.  I am really quite happy and impressed with it, and when they say broadcast quality, they seem to mean it.  It came with an ME 2 microphone, which is not very great.  However, when I attach a good dynamic mic to the plug-on transmitter, I can really appreciate the quality of the wireless transmission.  My next purchase will be a Sanken COS-11D lavalier microphone.  Then I’ll want to expand the system to handle two actors.
  • My new role at work is going to expose me to some technologies that are new to me, including Citrix Xen, VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, and Nagios.  Oh, and Globalscape EFT.  There are other technologies I hope I never have to deal with, including Delphi and Modula-2.  I took my first dive into Nagios last weekend, and this weekend I hope to dig into Citrix XenDesktop.  I really should build a crash system at home that I can use to play with different operating systems.

Are Immigration Controls Working?

Posted: 29th March 2017 by Cheap in Politics

Two articles posted by NPR twelves hours apart made me think the same thing: Yes, that was the intent.

NPR: With Fewer Available H-2B Visas, Employers Struggle to Find Seasonal Workers

NPR: Deportation Fears Prompt Immigrants To Cancel Food Stamps

Both of these articles were written from a negative point a view, describing harmful consequences of the Trump administration’s push against immigration, legal and illegal alike.  The authors seem to miss the point that these outcomes were exactly the intent and that Trump voters will see this as vindication of these policies.

What’s truly astonishing is that the populist goals on the left and the populist goals on the right are two sides of the same coin, and neither side seems to notice.

Let’s start with the first one.  The allocation of fewer H-2B visas means that employers will have fewer low-wage workers from which to hire.  Yes, that must be disappointing to the employers, because now they will have to raise their wages to attract workers who already live in the US.  The populists on the left want higher wages, which is why they keep pushing to raise the minimum wage.  The populists on the right want higher wages, which is why they keep pushing to limit foreign competition for US jobs.  However, the populists on the right say they don’t want to raise the minimum wage because it will hurt small businesses, and the populists on the left say they don’t want to curb immigration because they empathize with the people driving wages down.  Neither side can see the irony.

The second article is so obvious, it’s almost ridiculous.  Immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, using food stamps is exactly the sort of problem that the conservatives are up in arms about.  From their perspective, cutting the use of food stamps for any reason is a positive, but especially among immigrants.  If anything, conservatives will be surprised and delighted that these effects have begun so quickly and easily, with merely the looming threat of enforcement yielding results already.

I have to say, I have mixed feeling about illegal immigration, and about immigration controls in general.  On the one hand, immigration controls are a rational form of protectionism to maintain equitable standards of living for the working and middle classes.  Illegal immigration undermines that, and it is a significant factor contributing to the low wages and underemployment we face today.  People who enter this country illegally are knowingly taking a risk, and the fact that enforcement has been intentionally lax means the risk has been low, and that has simply encouraged more of the same.  On the other hand, the standard of living for those living outside of the US is also important, and classifying people as foreigners is just a convenient excuse to disregard their needs and their poverty.

Should we solve the world’s problems by letting them all move here?  Our economy can’t handle it, even if we had room for everyone.  And the argument is not trivial that the world will bring its problems here.

iTunes .m4a and Kenwood

Posted: 25th March 2017 by Cheap in Music, Technology
Tags: ,

Oh, this is frustrating.

I buy my music from iTunes.  This started when I had an iPhone, and even though I no longer have an iPhone, I find iTunes to be the easiest way to find new music and buy it.  Consequently, most of my music is stored in .m4a files, which is an MPEG-4 container with AAC encoded audio.

So when I purchased a new Kenwood system for my truck, I was careful to choose a model that supports AAC files.

It turns out, that is not enough.

The Kenwood DPX502BT that I bought only supports AAC in .aac files.  A file with a .aac extension evidently has no container.  It is just the AAC-encoded audio.  I found an online converter to convert a .m4a file to a .aac file, and the DPX502BT played it.  However, it was missing the metadata (the title and artist).  Why?  Because that was stored in the MPEG-4 container.

I haven’t figured out what to do.

Convert all my iTunes library to MP3?  It may come to that.  Apple has instructions.  Ugh.  It creates a second item in my library for the converted file.  That’s going to be a mess.

  • I just finished watching the last episode of the first season of The OA.  Without spoiling anything, it definitely did not leave me with a sense of closure, but it also wasn’t clearly a cliffhanger.  I couldn’t even tell from that ending whether there would even be a second season.  Fortunately, just twelve hours prior, Netflix announced that there would be one.  Netflix has posted a teaser.  (On a side note, in eight episodes I never did get used to Alice Krige playing someone other than the Borg Queen.  I hadn’t appreciated how sexual the Borg Queen was until I saw the same actor playing a timid, neurotic older woman who was anything but.  I had no such difficulty adjusting to Lucius Malfoy.)
  • I’ve started watching Mad Men.  I’ve been finding it depressing, but I can’t stop watching it.  I’ve been watching three or four episodes in an evening, and I’m already into season three.  Part of the depressing effect seems to be the affairs that Jon Hamm’s character has.  I’m not sure why that would depress me, except that people suck and I’m lonely.  Part of it seems to be all the sexism.  I know that’s supposed to be humorous, but it’s actually making me a little angry.  And after this last election cycle, it is depressing to think that much of the “progress” we have made in this regard has been an illusion.  I think I was expecting more of a comedy, something more lighthearted.
  • A burlesque performer has gotten me interested in the Arduino platform for wearable devices, specifically LED light effects controlled by a microcontroller.  I’m surprised by how mild the learning curve is.  I already know the C++ programming language, the development tools take all the complications out of cross-platform development, and libraries tend to be provided with the available peripherals.  I am building this out of the Adafruit FLORA microcontroller and NeoPixel LED devices.  The performer’s application is very simple, but if this collaboration is successful, I hope to interest her in more elaborate and impressive applications.
  • I have been amazing even myself with my agility to bounce around between technologies.  In the past few days, I have developed in PHP, Ruby, C++, and PowerShell.  For Ruby and PowerShell, it has been a growth experience.  I’ve been learning about Arduino and Blender.  Perhaps most fascinating is the degree to which I have been able to switch from one to another.  The Adruino project is exciting for me because it combines skills I already have, and not just technical skills, because I will also be soldering and sewing.
  • I took an early morning phone call from my boss’s boss.  One of his key people has tendered his resignation.  And by “key,” I mean he is the only person who knows most of the things he knows.  I am being rushed to Denver to soak up as much knowledge transfer as I can.  It is almost a foregone conclusion that I will be more or less assigned to that product indefinitely.  There is plenty of work that needs to be done, beyond simply supporting the systems.  It’s not glamorous, but it seems like it might be a less dysfunctional part of the company.
  • Some of the things I am supposed to learn on this trip have to do with technologies I’ve never gotten into: VMware and Citrix virtualization technologies and Nagios monitoring.  VMware and Nagios are both technologies that I should know to be marketable for infrastructure jobs.  I just bought a hundred bucks worth of e-books to scan through during the next couple of days in preparation for this.  Nagios was already on my list of technologies to learn.  I have a different virtualization technology on that list, but VMware is probably more broadly used, and therefore more valuable for me to learn.
  • I have decided to try working with kydex to make holsters.  I need a good holster for my backpacking gun, and one is just not made.  I’ve thought about making one of synthetic fabrics, and I’ve thought about modifying one that is close.  However, I think kydex will be the best option.  I watched some how-to videos online, and it seems like something I can do.  I’ve ordered a molding press and some materials, and I’ll give it a whirl when it all arrives.

If Suicide is “Violence”

Posted: 2nd March 2017 by Cheap in Firearms, Philosophy, Politics
Tags: , ,

If you can classify suicide as violence*, then we can classify abortion the same way.

(* Two-thirds of “gun deaths” are suicide, and the CDC and all anti-gunners classify suicide as violence.)

Spoiled by Great Presidents

Posted: 1st March 2017 by Cheap in Philosophy, Photography, Uncategorized
Tags:

I just saw a headline (and didn’t bother to read the article), “Betsy DeVos is a Stupid, Stupid Person”. Of course the reason we have her is obvious: we have a stupid president who wants to be the smartest person in the room. And the reason we have him is also obvious: we let stupid people vote.

This is not a post to complain about the voting rights of stupid people. I wholeheartedly believe that everyone should be allowed to vote, and that everyone should be represented.

However, since the full spectrum of people are voting, we should expect to have a full spectrum of presidents.

As far as that goes, we have been very lucky until now. Barack Obama was a great president, and we have been spoiled for the last eight years. For many decades, we have had some good presidents and some bad ones, but relatively speaking, even the bad presidents have been pretty good. All of the presidents in my memory, which goes back to Gerald Ford, have been genuinely diligent leaders who took the task seriously. They have all been above-average people. Even the ones who regularly gaffed in front of the camera were in fact quite capable people.

Which is truly remarkable, given who votes for them. We have been long overdue to receive a leader like Trump. It was only a matter of time.

From that viewpoint, the correct course of action seems to be to suffer through Trump’s presidency. Hopefully we can learn some lessons along the way.

Anti-Trump Politics and Coverage

Posted: 28th February 2017 by Cheap in Philosophy, Politics
Tags: ,

My social media feeds are obsessed with criticizing every little thing that the president does. It’s certainly a natural reaction, but what purpose is served? What action can be taken? What recourse is there?

He has been elected. Convincing your friends that he is a bad choice was a sensible thing to do — back when we had a choice. However, we no longer have a choice. Unless he resigns, is impeached, or dies, he is going to be our president for the next four years — like it or not.

Impeachment won’t happen unless there is a clear violation of criminal law, majority support in the House of Representatives, and a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Theoretically, such support could occur if congresspersons and the electorate radically changed their positions on Trump, but that hasn’t happened yet. It may never happen, because Trump supporters are immune to reason.

That’s ultimately the biggest issue. Trump was elected because his supporters rejected reason. Until we understand why, it will do no good to apply more reason to the problem.

Barnes TAC-XPD .357 Magnum

Posted: 27th February 2017 by Cheap in Firearms
Tags: , ,

I recently read an article entitled Is .40 S&W Dead?  The gist of the article is that manufacturers of defense ammunition have been driven by the FBI test standards, and that has resulted in significant improvements in performance (mainly penetration and reliability of expansion).  This has led me to wonder whether there is better, more modern ammunition available now, to which I should consider switching.

I carry a Smith & Wession M&P 360 “Chief’s Special”, a snubnose J-frame revolver in .357 Magnum with the lightweight scandium alloy frame.  It has a 2″ barrel (1.875″ to be precise).  Five years ago, I tested several types of ammunition.  I evaluated accuracy, recoil, muzzle flash, and velocity.  I settled on Federal 158 grain Hydra-Shok.  What sold it for me was the complete absence of muzzle flash.

I decided to buy a box of Barnes TAC-XPD, which uses a 125 grain copper bullet with a cavernous hollow point.  This design has evidently performed well through all kinds of barriers.  One thing that caught my eye was this claim: “Barnes specially engineered each load using low flash powders to produce almost no muzzle flash, ideal for low-light situations.”  Another thing I noticed was that the advertised velocity (1200 fps) was achieved with a 2″ barrel.  If I’m honest, another big factor was that I liked the look of the cartridges and the packaging.

I took them first to the indoor range to test them side-by-side.  Muzzle flash is much easier to see indoors.  Testing them side-by-side is the only way to judge recoil.  I found that the TAC-XPD had similar accuracy to the Hydra-Shok.  TAC-XPD had a little less recoil, which wasn’t surprising due to the lighter bullet.  However, the TAC-XPD had a fair amount of bright muzzle flash, contrary to the marketing verbiage.  The Hydra-Shok, as I mentioned previously, had none.

Equality or Revenge?

Posted: 10th February 2017 by Cheap in Feminism, Philosophy

If you stand for equality for women, then you are a feminist.

If you just want revenge, then you’re not.

This simple phrase fell out of my mouth when explaining to someone my views on feminism and what’s giving them a bad name.  “To hear her talk, she doesn’t really want equality for women, she just wants revenge.”  The word “revenge” really sums up the problem with feminism.

Women turn to feminism because they have suffered from gender inequality.  They experience a variety of emotions because of this suffering: hurt, low self-esteem, confusion, doubt, bitterness, and occasionally anger.  Intentionally or not, feminists encourage each other to channel all of this into anger.  Theoretically, this anger can be used constructively, motivation to work for change rather than accept the status quo.

Of course, feminists are just people.  It is easy to be angry.  It is not so easy to be constructive.  There is no internal policing among feminists to ensure that their message remains positive.  As a result, there is much negativity coming out of the mouths of feminists.  Most of it, even.

Hence, there are a lot of women who call themselves feminists, and who think they are fighting for equality, but whose words and actions are actually not.  Instead, they are expressing anger at men.  Demonizing men.  Even making threats of what they will do to men, which often includes violence.  None of this is about equality.  It is about revenge.  Technically, it is hate speech.