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

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.

  • The “good” titanium plated scissors I was using for cutting fabric were not shaped well for trimming the seam allowance on flat felled seams.  Since I expect to be doing quite a few of those, I looked at the store for a better pair.  I splurged and bought a small pair of knife edge dressmaker’s shears made by Gingher.  Wow!  The difference is night and day.  They cut through fabric like butter, and they operate very smoothly.  I will plan to get a larger pair, and those older scissors can move to my desk drawer for cutting paper.  They also make a nice set of knife edge thread snips.  The ones I have by Fiskars cut very roughly, and their design does nothing to keep the blades together, which means they frequently fail to cut the thread.
  • I just replaced both of the strut/spring/mount assemblies in the front of my car.  This has solved the groaning noise that occurred in the front whenever I would drive across the curb at the end of my driveway, though now I can hear the back doing it a little still.  I’ll get those later.  While I was in there, I noticed one of the CV boots was cracked and spewing grease around in the wheel well, so I replaced the CV axle on that side.  After that, the alignment was so bad that I could hear the tires squealing while simply driving straight, and it was a bit of a battle to keep the car moving in a straight line.  However, I’m finished replacing steering and suspension components in the front, so I had an alignment done and bought some new tires.  I splurged for Michelin Defender tires, not because I think the car is worth it, but because I don’t want to experience unnecessary traction problems in snow or rain.  I took the car to Dobbs for both of these things, and they tried to screw me with some outrageously high add-on fee to do the alignment right.  I declined, and now I have an in-spec but not ideal alignment.  I need to look into ways I can do my own alignment measurements.
  • I need to start making more of an effort about my appearance when I go to the auto parts store.  The manager there is rather cute, and also maybe kind of close to my age.
  • After the car repairs were complete, I tried a sewing technique for the first time called machine darning on a hole in my work pants.  One of the presser feet that came with the assortment I bought is for darning and freehand embroidery.  Singer has a nice video tutorial for each presser foot they sell.  I now have a nice red patch on my blue jeans where the hole used to be.
  • I have started watching The OA, and it really is quite good.  From the people who have raved about it, I was expecting something emotionally intense.  Instead, what’s good about it, aside from the mystery, is the realism that is depicted.  Real people with real life challenges connecting together in a way that is directly applicable to real life.  In that sense, it is inspiring.
  • I have purchased a Zoom F4 digital recorder.  This is the first really great, purpose-built audio recorder I’ve owned for filmmaking.  The H4n is a huge step up from the audio capabilities of any DSLR, but it is nevertheless a cheap consumer recorder made for musicians, with a clunky user-interface, mediocre preamps, and a form-factor that is awkward for filmmaking.  The Roland R-26 was a significant improvement in quality and user-interface, but still in the awkward form-factor.  The F4 has very high quality preamps, has tons of great features specifically tailored for filmmaking, and it’s in the traditional form-factor used in the field by professional film sound recordists.  And it seems really rugged.  All this for a very reasonable price.  I wish Zoom had made this years ago.  I am quite eager to use it on a film project.
  • Kim Harrison’s The Turn arrived today.  I shall be starting it just as soon as I post this.

How to Meet a Great Guy

Posted: 6th February 2017 by Cheap in Humor, Men and Women

Step 1. Learn how to stop wasting so much time on guys who aren’t great.

Step 2. Use your newly freed up time to meet more people.

Step 3. When you do finally find a great guy, sabotage his relationship.

Accepting the Faults in a Democracy

Posted: 29th January 2017 by Cheap in Philosophy, Politics

My first experience managing others was at a small, rapidly growing tech company.  My job became too much for one person to do, and some people were hired to assist me.  They were smart guys, and I spent some time training them.  However, the first months weren’t very productive because I was reluctant to assign them tasks.  The primary reason?  I believed I would perform those tasks correctly, but the new guys would inevitably make mistakes.  Mistakes that would affect our customers and damage the company’s reputation.  It was at this point that I was given the most important management advice I’ve ever received: to delegate responsibilities to others, I must accept that they will make mistakes.  And indeed they did: they made mistakes, they learned from those mistakes, and life went on.  Though the mistakes could have been more serious than they were, the risk was acceptable to the company because the need for productivity was more important than the need for perfection.

So it is with democracy.  The whole point of democracy is that not everyone agrees about the choices the nation must make.  In a democratic republic, such as the United States, not everyone agrees who should be trusted to make those choices.  At any point in time within a democracy, there are a set of issues which do not have broad, majority consensus.  Due to the way the two-party “system” in the United States works, there are many such issues, and the adherents to each position are about evenly split.  What this means is that, over any period of time, about half of the choices made on contentious issues will be wrong (“wrong” being from the point of view of whoever is complaining about it).  This is inherent in the nature of democracy: wrong choices will be made.  (In fact, this is inherent in the nature of any form of government, the only difference being that outside of democracy, you and your opinion don’t matter.)  Through the democratic process, the nation will make mistakes.  The nation might learn from those mistakes.  Life will probably go on.  (Admittedly, the magnitude of the mistakes could have life-ending consequences, such as global thermonuclear war.)  However, these risks are acceptable to the nation because the need for unity and freedom* is more important than the need for perfection.

During these troubling times, I feel that it is important to take a step back and look at the big picture, rather than to engage in hysteria about the direction this nation is suddenly going.  Yes, a slew of wrong (from my perspective) decisions are being enacted.  Yes, they are serious, and the consequences will be significant and often irreversible.  However, part of living in a democratic society is accepting both the mistakes and the consequences.  Accepting.  Yes, resist through the political and legal process, but at the end of the day, when all options have been exhausted, accept the outcome.  (Though, the end of the day is not today.  If the planet survives Trump’s presidency, however long it lasts, there will be opportunity for change.)  Because this is the democracy we live in.

From this perspective, it is fair to say to those suffering hysteria that they are being “sore losers”.  The phrase is inadequate, because in a game there are no real consequences, while in national politics there are.  However, if you are going to participate in democracy — and by voting, you are implying consent to democracy as a form of rule — then you should accept the outcome of that process, just as you would expect others to accept it if the outcome had been different.

(* I hesitate to use the word “freedom” here because the word has multiple meanings, but most people seem to be unaware of the distinctions.  (One of my pet peeves is when someone says, “it’s a free country,” because the country is free in only one sense, and the person saying it is almost always attempting to convey a different sense that is not true.)  Here I mean freedom from tyranny and unrepresented rule.)