May Updates

Posted: 5th June 2017 by Cheap in Fitness, Hiking, Technology, Travel
Tags: , , ,
  • I succumbed to temptation and bought a smart watch.  It is the Samsung Gear S3 frontier, which is really the first one that caught my eye.  It’s gorgeous, full-featured, has good battery life, and integrates well with my phone.  After discovering it, I researched many others, but ultimately I came back to this one.  I avoided this watch at first because it is based on the Tizen OS, rather than Android.  A couple of the apps I’ve wanted to develop for the Android would actually be better suited to a watch, but with Tizen that would mean I would have to learn development for yet another platform.  However, now that I’m getting into it, I’m finding the learning curve is quite easy, and I’m already up and running with my first app (a watch face).  When I first looked into Tizen, I found that app development is generally in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.  I thought that sounded kind of kludgy, but now that I’ve gotten into it I can see that it’s actually quite sensible and even almost elegant.  I’m definitely looking forward to more development.
  • I have a new camera day-pack, which I plan to use primarily at Glacier National Park this summer, and I’ve been planning what I can fit into it.  On my list of things I’d like to pack are binoculars.  I’ve been hiking with binoculars in day-packs for a while, but because half the space of this pack is taken up by camera gear, there is less space available.  My binoculars are full-size 10x42mm binoculars that I use for hunting.  The large objective is useful for low light conditions, which are common when hunting, but I don’t need such massive optics if I’m only using them in daylight.  Compact binoculars are common, and I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me until now to get some for backpacking.  I went to Cabela’s and tried out a few pairs, and I settled on a pair by Nikon, their Trailblazer 10×25.  They are much smaller, 40% of the weight about about that much smaller dimensionally.  They aren’t as bright as my larger binoculars, but in normal light they are plenty bright enough, and the clarity is excellent.
  • I checked out Don Robinson State Park and hiked the longer of the two trails.  It is a new state park, having opened sometime this year.  There’s an old cabin, which looks like it might have been turned into a museum, and a big patio with a scenic view.  However, the hiking trails are the main attraction.  Several little streams that join together to form a deep canyon in the sandstone, and it is both interesting and beautiful.  I went on a wet day, having had storms the previous day and night, and apart from mud on the trail, it was a really gorgeous experience because the streams and waterfalls were fully active.  The longer Sandstone Canyon Trail is a moderate 4-mile loop.  I will have to return sometime to check out the shorter 2.4-mile LaBarque Hills Trail (also moderate).
  • My new favorite grilling food this summer may be meat on a stick.  It appears that my local grocery store has replaced the in-house butcher with some meat packaging company in Canada.  The packaging is rather robust, and I don’t like that it feels that much more industrialized.  However, there are some interesting products, and several of them are meat kabobs: chunks of meat on skewers marinated in various flavors.  However, the interesting thing is that they are individually packaged.  They come in four-packs, but they are packaged in such a way as to seal each kabob individually.  Using scissors, I can cut out just one, peel it open, and place it on grill.  And the purpose of the industrial-strength packaging is to preserve it for a long time, which means I have a couple of weeks to eat them all.
  • Some time ago, I bought Payback on Blu-ray as an upgrade from the DVD.  I either didn’t notice or didn’t think much about the fact that this was a director’s cut.  Recently, I brought it over to a friend’s house to watch, and … ugh.  I’ve never seen a more badly butchered edit of a good film.  The theatrical release includes a really tight montage during the opening credits that is an impressive example of characterization.  Gone in the director’s cut.  The start of the film was all turned around, apparently to avoid the flashback later, and it lost a lot of coherence.  Kris Kristofferson’s character is cut out completely, along with the torture scene and the nice, tidy wrapping up of the conflict.  He is replaced by some woman who we never actually see.  The “fat boy” scene is gone.  The last quarter of the film is a purposeless foot chase where Mel Gibson shoots a couple dozen anonymous bad guys, all footage that never made it to the theatrical release.  The climax is evidently that he ran out of anonymous bad guys to shoot, and he’s not completely dead.
  • If I’m going to Glacier National Park, it seems reasonable that one of my goals should be to see and stand on a glacier.  However, I am beginning to question whether it is even a possibility.  The easiest glacier to reach from a road appears to be Sperry Glacier.  However, it is evidently a 10.7 mile hike (each way), climbing 4800 vertical feet, at altitude.  As a day hike, that would be impossible for me.  To do it practically, I would have to plan to stay at Sperry Chalet and make three days of it.  However, I have only allocated two full days at the park.  I’ll want to see other things than just one valley.  I think I need to go back to the drawing board.  In any case, I need to train harder.  I should start doing some sort of hiking or bicycling every day between now and August.

Like Shooting Hammers at a Bear

Posted: 5th May 2017 by Cheap in Cuisine, Fiction, Firearms
  • There is evidently a release date (November 14) for Oathbringer, the third installment of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive.  The first two were excellent, even if the world is a remarkably weird one, and I am a little sad that I have to wait a couple years between each book.  It’s still seven months away, but it’s nice to have an actual date now.
  • When I was in Denver for a week, I actually suffered Man Men withdrawal.  So now that I have finished watching the series, I am probably going to experience the same thing.  I am still somewhat at a loss to explain why it connected with me so well.  Though I didn’t actually live like that, perhaps I identified with all the cheating because I did think like that.  They started jumping the shark in the last several episodes, so it’s not surprising that the series ended when it did.
  • I finished Hyperion, and I can’t decide how I feel about it.  It’s not very good as a stand-alone novel.  In it, six characters tell their bizarre stories of how they came to this pilgrimage.  All of them are fascinating and inventive, and they all served to increase the mystery and suspense about the overall story goal (one or two were perhaps a little long-winded with unnecessary monologue).  However, having successfully raised the reader’s interest, nothing was done with it.  The story ended at a convenient stopping point, and we’re expected to read the next installment.
  • Primarily in an effort to cut down on my soda intake, I have made a conscious decision to develop a taste for tea.  To that end, I have spent a bit of money at a local Teavana store, buying a few varieties of tea and tea paraphernalia, and picking up a little free advice.  I figure I’m more likely to grow to like tea if I start with a high quality product.  I find it easier to tolerate hot tea than iced tea, so I’ll start there, but ultimately I will want to drink iced tea more often than soda.
  • I read Convergence, C. J. Cherryh’s eighteenth volume in her Foreigner series.  It was really disappointing.  It’s right to say that there are two protagonists in the later books, and this is the first one in which Bren and Cajieri have completely separate stories.  However, Bren’s story was completely uninteresting, because there was never any conflict introduced.  At one point I reflected that I was just reading a depiction of any manager’s routine work.  Cajieri’s story introduced a conflict, but it was missing the pressing danger and urgency I’m accustomed to reading in works by Cherryh and especially in the Foreigner series.  Furthermore, that conflict was not resolved by the end of the book.  The book just ended.  The author has frequently left unresolved problems for later novels, but prior to this there has always been some kind of satisfying resolution at the end of each book.  Not so this time.  It was clear that Cherryh was signalling the end of the series with the fifteenth book, Peacemaker.  Yet more books continued to be published, and I thought maybe the publisher was hoping to exploit a cash cow for as long as they could.  The previous two books were about the kyo, which was a legitimate loose end, but now I’m thinking we should have listened to the author when she was trying to tell us it’s time to stop.
  • I found a .44 Magnum load I’m happy with for brown bear defense.  It is a 320 grain hardcast  WLNGC bullet from Grizzly Cartridge Company.  I bought three boxes and tested with one box at the range.  The accuracy is good, with low muzzle flash.  The bullets have an extremely wide meplat, and if I have to use them, they will be like shooting hammers at a bear.
  • I’m fitting well into my new role at work.  The migration project is making good progress.  I am keeping my head above water, and the team is getting its arms around management of everything.  I haven’t failed at anything serious yet.
  • Flooding again.  The situation is very similar to the flooding 16 months ago.  Water close to the property line.  All the bridges were closed for a couple of days and I was cut off.  My UPS deliveries are delayed.  It doesn’t seem like it took that much rain to make this happen.  I suppose this means the city park will be closed all summer for sterilization.

I had a brilliant idea in the shower this morning. A couple of them, actually. I was thinking about my idea for a robot lawn mower. Think Roomba for your lawn. I was thinking about how there are several components needed, requiring innovation from several areas of expertise: mechanical, motors, energy storage, computing, sensing, etc. The first brilliant idea I had was to enlist the open source community, divide the challenge into separate design tasks and let people volunteer according to their expertise. The reward is obvious: they would contribute a piece of technology and get a full-functional whole for their efforts.

However, as I was thinking about this, about how it would work, and about the impact on society if it were successful, it reminded me of my previous thoughts about the Automated Economy (which I should write about).  In short, an automated economy is one where labor is largely replaced by automation.  Robots, if you will.  People don’t have to earn a living because their needs are provided by the automation.  Instead, people can focus their attention on organization, scientific advancement, academic study, art, or simply leisure.  The problem with the Automated Economy is how to get there from capitalism.  In a capitalist economy, the innovation required to develop automation is regarded as intellectual property.  The innovations are not shared, they are sold.  The economic benefit of automation’s output is channeled back to the owners and creators of the automated systems.  It does not benefit the economy as a whole, except in the sense of contributing to economic production.

Worse, automation replaces jobs.  As automation increases, more people lose jobs, and the people who lose their jobs receive none of the benefit from the automation.  If automation continued unchecked, eventually everyone’s job would be replaced, and the benefit of automation would controlled by a handful of owners.  This is bad for capitalism, because capitalism needs workers to also be consumers (who can pay for what they consume).  We have survived so far because progress toward automation has been very slow, and because the operation of automated systems has created some new jobs.  Finland has begun to experiment with the idea of a basic universal income to offset these job losses.  It remains to be seen whether this will catch on.

Open Source is different from Intellectual Property.  Open Source creates and innovates without expectation of direct compensation.  The reward is the creation itself, and the benefit that the creation provides.  Open source developers derive satisfaction from contributing value to the whole world.  What if open source developers contributed their efforts toward automation?  Automation of the most important necessities, such as food production?  What if, rather than demanding and hording the lion’s share of the reward for their innovation, the automation was free for anyone to adopt and utilize?

Montana, I am told, is a place with bears.  Brown bears.  The big, aggressive kind of bears.  Probably not all of Montana, but certainly the national forests and parks in northwestern Montana.  There are black bears also, but brown bears are literally a whole other animal: bigger, bolder, less likely to back down, and less deterred by injury.  If you’re going to carry a gun for protection from brown bears, it needs to be more than a pea shooter.

That’s why I bought a Ruger Redhawk in .44 Magnum (Model KRH-444, with the 4.2″ barrel).

I had a bullet in mind to use for this purpose, but it didn’t work out.  The Sierra 300 grain JSP is designed “specifically for large bears,” but I didn’t get good accuracy when I tried it.  Perhaps I could if I experimented more.  However, my trip to Montana is getting close, and after my success with factory ammunition for my SP101, I decided to look at factory ammunition in .44 Magnum.

After looking at several options, my first choice was the Grizzly 320 grain WLNGC hardcast.  This brand used to be sold at Cabela’s, but it appears they dropped them.  I ordered three boxes from MidwayUSA.

Grizzly .44 Magnum 320gr WLNGC Hardcast

On paper, it was just what I was looking for.  A heavier bullet: 320 grains is even better than 300.  Hardcast for minimal expansion.  A wide meplat: 0.355″ is wider than any other I’ve seen.  A longer bullet (from nose to cannelure) that takes advantage of the extra length of the Ruger’s cylinder.  Buffalo Bore and HSM both had reasonable options, but they were only 305 grains and had a much smaller meplat.  The offering by Grizzly seemed ideal.

Looking at them, they are far from aerodynamic.  However, I didn’t select them for their ability to travel easily through air.  I selected them for their ability to travel easily through bear.  Bearodynamic.  The minimal expansion will ensure deep penetration, yet the wide meplat is believed to create a large wound channel.  They should pound through bone like a hammer.

I tested a box at the range.  They seem like they could be quite accurate, but it’s difficult for me to know, because I have such a bad flinch.  It seems like, when I didn’t flinch, they left nice crisp holes on my 1″ sticker (at seven yards).  A better handgun shooter than I would have to judge the accuracy.  In any case, they are accurate enough to hit a bear at the distance I would be shooting at one.  They had low muzzle flash and a stiff recoil.

All in all, I am very happy with this load, and I will carry it confidently later this summer when I am camping in Montana.


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.)