2015-12-30

TV: Childhood's End

(Showcase, December 2015) Coming to it without any familiarity with the source material, I found the story rather slow, like it was trying to move deliberately and gracefully in some direction towards a specific, and then it just... ended. The trip back to the homeworld was, ultimately, pointless. The fact that the whole point of the exercise was to harvest humanity's potential before curiosity could place the future of that potential risk (although to what further end is unclear) -- was muddled and only clear to me on reflection. Overall it was a disappointment.

2015-12-23

Review: Star Wars Episode 7 The Force Awakens

Solidly OK, especially if you don't think about it too much. So don't think about it too much. Not really having the urge to see it again, though.

2015-12-15

Review: In The Heart Of The Sea

A fictional story inspired by the same true story that inspired another piece of fiction you may be familiar with, or, Thor chases whales. Overall pretty good, has the same sort of petering-out ending that real life does.

2015-12-08

What Happens When Automated Pricing Algorithms Go Insane

Sooo.... cruising around looking for cute Christmas gifts, and I stumble on this:


Heh, that's funny. Jenn and I are sort of accumulating Lego Minifigures at the moment, so this might be worth it as a laugher for a stocking stuffer... $16 is a bit stiff for one minifig, but it is Darth Vader and we're not likely to see another one, right? Sure, let's click on it...


That's right, kids, the $16 minifig can be yours for the low, low price of $59.46... PLUS the $5 shipping fee.
Now clearly what's happened is that some automated supply-and-demand algorithm has noticed that there is suddenly a lot of interest in this item, with an increased number of executed sales, and increased pricing accordingly. What's interesting to me is that when I caught it the first time, the offered price was $64.95 -- although the shipping was freely included. So I'm not sure what the algorithm is trying to do to me.
But $60 for a $16 toy?
Ugh.

2015-11-24

Feedly on a 1st Gen iPad Mini

Hi Feedly guys.

I said:


And then you said:


...and while it is great that you've found a problem in general and are working quickly to fix it, that isn't what I'm actually on about. (I think.)

I have a first-gen iPad mini, being an early-adopter and all that. One of the problems with having a first-gen iPad mini is that it is getting a bit old, and applications are starting to get big enough that I can't run them without issues.

I don't think Feedly by itself is the issue. The problem is that something has changed in Feedly, and/or the surrounding environment that Feedly is running in, that the iPad mini can't deal with properly.

What happens is this:

  • I load Feedly. Feedly goes off and collects the latest feed information. I have a lot of feeds and don't read them during the work day, so there's lots and lots of stuff there.
  • I click on something and Feedly shows me the feed item. Most of these items don't have "full feed" functionality, so I only get a little bit plus maybe a picture.
  • I click on the "show me more" (or whatever) and here's where it gets interesting. Sometimes Feedly seems to shell out to what looks like Safari to show me the entire page. Sometimes it shells out to Chrome to show me the entire page.
  • I read my page, and then click "done" or "back to Feedly" as appropriate.
  • Feedly has been swapped out because my iPad only has 512MB and I've just had Safari or Chrome running, so Feedly restarts, goes off and collects the latest feed information, and shows me that list from the newest-first page. Which is fine except that I'm a couple (or couple dozen) pages in to the list, and getting kicked back to the top of that list is annoying.
It doesn't happen on my iPhone 5S, but that's because the 5S has more memory so Feedly doesn't get swapped out, so it doesn't lose my place. However I like my mini, it has a better form-factor than the phone. Plus if I use up the battery on the mini, my phone is still usable.

I suspect the root cause of this is my trying to use an Apple device that's more than two years old at this point, silly me, but while I am an early adopter I'm also not in a place where I can buy something newer at the moment. (And anyways, I suspect my next tablet will be a Windows 10 tablet instead.)

Sure, this is a first-world problem. But it is annoying.

Thanks for reading.

2015-11-23

Legacy Management Pages - A Tragedy In Three Parts

So you want to manage this old voicemail system, do ya?




Remember when Java was write-once, run-everywhere? Yeah, me neither.

2015-11-19

Review: Suffragette

Yes, it is the dreary days of November when the only movies out are Oscar bait. And so, to Oscar-bait we went. Overall I would rate this movie as better than Still Alice, but since it is a parallel-history there is no happy ending for anyone and so I really don't have the inclination to see it again.

2015-11-02

TV: Supergirl Pilot Is Really Bad

We finally watched the pilot. A super hero story with a strong female lead, what could go wrong, right?
Well for starters, the previews made it look like it was some kind of teenager drama, with emphasis on the drama. Not a fan.
Then the pilot actually starts, and we're in some kind of comic-book teen-drama mash-up with The Devil Wears Prada. And I'm not a fan of either genre. And it manages to conflict with the teen-drama aspect too, since our teen lead is not a teenager, she's clearly some kind of young, probably post-college, career woman who behaves like a teenager.
Then the whole episode they manage to go without identifying Superman by name. Did the series not get a license to use that name? It's always "him". And I turn to Jenn and say, why to they refer to Superman that way? He isn't fucking Jesus. Well except at the end of the episode where we hear: "He's proud of you." Maybe he is Jesus! TV rights do strange things.
Then Supergirl's secret identity is the only one to come up with a clear photo of the super hero. A real Peter Parker moment, if you would. And at this point I said to Jenn, have we seen an original idea here yet? And she couldn't think of one.
I'll give the show a pass on how bad the special effects were, too. They were cramming a lot of other bad things into the show and there clearly wasn't the time to design the effects properly.
At the end of it all Jenn didn't want to watch another episode. My view is, we gave Heroes Reborn two episodes before bailing, we should give this at least another episode. 
But on the other hand, Heroes Reborn wasn't this bad.

2015-10-21

Review: The Martian

The book was better.

Now, that may be because the book was really fucking good, but this isn't the kind of movie that works well for me when I know what's coming next even in general terms.

Obligatory relevant XKCD link.

2015-10-15

Breaking K545

All good things come to an end, I suppose, and today I see the impending end of a favourite tool:

Well that's unfortunate

My AKG K545 headset is splitting along one of the plastic housings. I can probably extend the life a bit by trying to exclusively expand from the other side of the band, but usually when plastic splits like that it will break completely pretty soon after that.

The headset lives in my backpack every day and gets taken out constantly, clearly the wear and tear are too much for it. I guess I will have to look into something more collapsible to replace these with.

Pity, I've only had it a little over a year and I have used them, if not daily, then on average several times a week for that year. I might have got my money's worth out of them but as always I am disappointed not to have gotten more.

2015-09-11

I Didn't Last A Week With Fedora

So the constant hanging of Windows 10 finally did it: it drove me away from Windows.

Temporarily. Let me explain.

Last week I finally had it with Windows 10. For those of you tuning in late, my issue was that Windows 10 would just... stop. The CPU widget I kept running would show 100% CPU usage, but I didn't believe it because the laptop fan would never start, and when the CPU is running hard that fan screams like a kid being taken to the dentist. Sometimes, if I left it alone for 45 minutes it would come back. Most of the time, no it wouldn't. The only way to get it back would be to hard reboot it.

So, having finally "had it", I downloaded a Fedora Core 22 Workstation Live CD and spent a day playing with it. Nothing bad happened, so at the end of the day I pulled the trigger on installing it to the laptop's hard drive.

The next day I got started with the patching and installing the things I needed to work. And part of the way through that, I had another system crash.

Over the next day I would have the same problem. When the computer appeared to exhaust RAM and began to reach for swap, I would frequently get a hang. Occasionally it would come back in five minutes, showing a load average of something like 25 when it did so. But again, most of the time -- nothing. Hard reboot.

Then on Wednesday something magical happened. My new laptop arrived. I am the proud user of a HP EliteBook 820 G2. And, since I was now blaming hardware for my woes, I decided what the hell, why not start with Linux on this computer and see how that goes.

I did decide to go with Fedora 21 instead of 22 because I figured maybe 22 was less than fully baked, and since 21 had been out longer maybe it would be less... exciting to use. So I dutifully installed Fedora 21 to the disk.

The install, by the way, was amazing. Just click "install to disk" from the live CD, deal with your partitioning, and that was effectively it. Really fast, too. And Fedora recognized all the hardware in the laptop that I wanted to use. Sleeping and hot-plugging monitors just worked like they were supposed to. Fedora automatically detected and installed drivers for the printer on the local network when I wanted to print -- not even Windows can do that! I could even run my old friend xload as a graphical way to keep an eye on the computer's health.

However, there were issues in paradise.

  • Static IP network device profiles seemed to roam around between the wired, wireless, and virtual (VMware) interfaces.
  • Remmina was hopeless in Fedora 21.
  • Minimized applications sometimes became impossible to find again (Skype, I'm looking at you).
  • The font in gnome-terminal was excruciating to look at.
  • The pop-up bar from the bottom of the Gnome screen usually wouldn't pop up.
  • The Ratpoison rpm didn't yield a usable window manager.
  • There's still no good way to read Exchange mail on Fedora.
  • And there's the problem of having all my work files on OneDrive, which would mean I was stuck using them in a Windows VM. 
The usual mix of stupid minor things and serious work impediments.

Over the labour day weekend, I decided to go back to Fedora 22 in the hopes that some of that stuff would be addressed. And it was. Remmina was (more) usable. The pop-up bar from the bottom was replaced with a clickable pop-out bar in the lower left corner. Other things were not fixed such as the roaming static-IP profile.

On Tuesday I again tried to work productively with a Linux laptop. But at the end of the day it was clear to me that I was being seriously impeded by the lack of a usable mail client and by having all my files trapped in a Windows VM.

See, I use OneDrive as a backup-slash-distribution system, so that all my work files are not uniquely stored on any one computer and can be accessed from multiple computers, right now my laptop and a VM I keep running at the office. There is no substitute in Linux. Rsync might be considered something, but I would have to set it up and remember to deal with it manually.

On the email side, we use Exchange and access it via RPC-over-HTTPS. I use the calendaring features pretty heavily because they synchronize with my phone. I find it very useful to have my calendar with me wherever I am. Evolution doesn't work* with the version of Exchange we have, OWA is pretty clunky -- not to mention frustrating when used through a web browser that pops up windows on random screens so you can't find them -- and frankly if I have to run a VM just for email I might as well just run Windows natively.

Not to mention my distrust of Libre Office's "compatibility" with the Microsoft Office ecosystem. I've been burnt by open source tools compatibility before. I know that's unfair given how far the rest of Linux has come, but that's my instinct.

I was faced with an inevitable conclusion: if my files were trapped in Windows, then Windows was the logical platform for me to use for my business computing.

And so, less than a week after I tried to commit to Linux, I've come full circle. Windows 10 installed on my laptop and was pretty much as uneventful as the Linux installs were. Windows went off and found all the drivers for the hardware, so I have not had to manually download and install any myself.

Going back to Windows feels like I am giving up to a certain extent. And maybe I am. But for the way my work and tools have evolved, I think I'm stuck with it.

*I only played with it for a couple hours. In the old days, that'd be nothing, you couldn't give up on an open source product after *only* a couple of hours. But I don't have time to fuck around with this stuff any more, I have work to do and a life away from it.

2015-09-10

Mon Dieux! Le Reboot!

The reason why we keep getting movie "reboots", "re-imaginings", or the like, is simple: origin stories are both predictable and comforting.

In an origin story, nine times out of ten we know -- or at least have a good idea -- what the end of the movie is going to look like. Tony Stark will be Iron Man. Mad Max will sail off into the sun set. Peter Parker will be Spider Man.

And it is this predictability that we find comforting. We enjoy the details of the road to our ending, and the twists provided in those details are not seriously damaging to the potential of the expected end result.

This even extends to virgin franchises, to movies set in universes we know nothing about. The origin story is about the protagonist discovering himself and his place in that universe, and we go along with that discovery. The discovery is itself an integral part of the story, and of the experience of enjoying that story.

The problem with a sequel is that for the most part the discovery is over. Tony Stark is Iron Man. There isn't really anything new to learn about him. The fact that we know this hero and this universe is itself a trap, because having discovered the universe, we run the risk of not discovering anything worth the time during this second trip through it.

The result of this is one of two things. Firstly, the custodians of the franchise do provide something new for the audience to discover. Stark's poor (and poorly understood) relationship with his father. His father's relationship with the co-inventor of the arc reactor. I'm not saying that these things are themselves worthy items*, but that's what is presented.

The other, far more common result is that the custodians indulge in what I describe as "kicking their characters". They try to crank up the danger that the characters are in, they subject them to harsher trials, all in an attempt to keep the audience engaged. Think Spider-Man 3 with two or three enemy characters. There was so little actual content in the movie, the producers had to fill it with a second bad guy. The problem here is that this is not the trip that the audience signed up for. They wanted another comforting trip through a world of discovery, and constant, amplified peril is something completely different.

(This is also why many TV series "get bad" as they get older; once the majority of the discovery of the characters and universe is complete, cranking up the crisis level is left as a poor substitute.)

So. Based on this, I don't think we're going to see a drop off in the number of series reboots. The movie going public wants something predictable and comforting, and that's what Hollywood is going to give them.

* even though I personally think Iron Man 2 is one of the better movies in the Marvel pantheon.

2015-09-09

Review Hitman Agent 47

Video game violence. Bit more than I expected. But not totally stupid.

2015-08-28

Election 42: Welcome To The End Of The Thought Process

2015-08-27

Election 42: F-35 Fighter Jets

One thing is clear: the current crop of F/A-18 airplanes are rapidly approaching the end of their useful service lives. The time to get moving on replacing them is long since past.

Before we can consider the specifics of their replacement, we have to consider the specific missions that these airplanes would be called upon to perform.

Canada's air force has traditionally carried out the following missions.  First, there is border sovereignty operations, most usually long range interceptions of foreign aircraft approaching Canada over the ocean.

Operationally, Canada's involvement in international affairs has usually been limited to a ground attack role, where our aircraft deliver bombs or missiles against enemy positions. This is, in fact, what Canadian aircraft are doing today in our action against ISIS.

Now we consider the specific replacement currently in the pipeline: the F-35.

Recent leaks in the media suggest that there are specific problems with the F-35 as a close-range dogfighter. The F-35's supporters counter that the F-35 is supposed to be a beyond-visual-range killer, where missiles are launched against enemy aircraft before they have a chance to detect the F-35. However, this supposed strength, and apparent weakness, make the aircraft unsuitable for long-range interceptions where the fighter is required to close with the target for interception purposes. An F-35 performing an interception could be drawn into a close-range engagement using straight-forward deceptive maneuvers.

Secondly, there should be concerns about the F-35's single engine configuration. Much of Canada is uninhabited and there are vast tracts of airspace which will require crossing in order to intercept incoming aircraft. In a single-engine aircraft, an engine problem will more likely lead to the loss of the entire aircraft. Multi-engined aircraft possess a greater ability to limp home, preserving the aircraft for future use.

With regard to the operational missions undertaken by Canada, the nature of a low-observable aircraft is that in order to maintain such a low-observable profile, stores are generally required to be carried internally. This places strong limits on both the nature and quantities of stores that can be carried, either reducing the aircraft's effectiveness as a ground-attack platform, or forces the carrying of external stores which diminish or defeat the purposes of buying a low-observable aircraft.

Finally there is the question of operational quantities. Canada is proposing to buy at most 65 aircraft, and given the history of government procurement we can assume that as unit costs rise this number will only be reduced. This number is half the number of F/A-18 initially purchased, a number which has been reduced by attrition over the following decades.

The F-35 does have a number of (planned) features which are highly desirable. However the aircraft is also burdened with features which both present no operational value to Canada, and present higher technical and mechanical complexity which will lead to increased failure rates when compared to simpler aircraft. A specific example is the VTOL configuration which is baked in to the basic configuration of the aircraft. This increased, unnecessary complexity could well lead to increased vulnerability in combat situations.

Other so-called benefits, such as equipment homogeneity with our traditional allies, are not worth paying extra for. If Canada's force is required in an international operation, our allies will accept our help even if our aircraft are different.

To conclude the examination of the F-35, the proposed aircraft is not suitable to Canada's traditional usage for such aircraft, has unnecessary complexity, and is expensive.

Canada should withdraw from the F-35 program. Although such a withdrawal will be expensive, it will be cheaper than continuing through and buying an aircraft that does not suit Canada's needs.

Instead, Canada should construct a realistic program designed to meet today's needs and roles. Canada does not have a need for a stealth aircraft, as our aircraft are extremely unlikely to be deployed into a seriously hostile theater. Canada will continue to fulfill ground support and attack roles in theaters where air superiority is held by our (probably US) allies, and where serious ground-to-air defenses are dealt with by US assets, such as the F-117.

Based on this, one could seriously argue that Canada has no need for a fifth-generation aircraft. Canada should instead be looking at twin-engined, fourth- or fourth-and-a-half-generation aircraft such as the F/A-18 Super Hornet. This particular aircraft would fit in Canada's air force well, as Canada has extensive experience with our current F/A-18s. And the purchase price is extremely attractive when compared to the price of the F-35.

2015-08-25

I've Just About Had It With Windows 10

So because I'm not afraid1 of new things, I took the immediate opportunity to download and install Windows 10 when it became available. This took the form of two paths, one where I downloaded and installed the VLK image onto my work laptop, and one where I took the over-the-web-provided update service for my home PC.

The two experiences could not have been more different.

Before the update, the home system was running Windows 7-Pro-current, while the office laptop was running 8.1-Pro-current. Updating the home computer went very smoothly with the exception of some hardware issues that I was aware of ahead of time. But pretty much everything has worked out of the box in this environment, and the wife has not been exceptionally vocal with her complaints about the new interface. So that system, anyways, can be counted as a success.

The office laptop, on the other hand, hasn't been a nightmare but it is presenting a steady trickle of stupid little almost problems that might or might not be Windows 10's fault and might not and frankly I'm getting sick of it.

I even did this upgrade "correctly": I formatted the C: drive and installed the OS fresh. No "upgrade", this was more of a "complete fresh installation". All of my applications were then downloaded and freshly installed.

And since then, I have had problems like:
  • The FortiNet VPN doesn't work. Oh unless you reboot, then it works again.
  • VMware VI Client won't install. But if you download it three times, maybe the third try will be successful. If you reboot before trying the download. And this is the case for each of the three or four different versions of the VI Client I need to install.
  • Chrome goes off into space. Yeah, it might be Chrome being Chrome, but Chrome is being Chrome far more frequently under Windows 10 than it did under Window 8.1.
  • Windows key randomly stops working.
  • Windows-key shortcuts randomly stop working. But no worries, a reboot will fix that, right?
  • Dealing with situations where IP addresses are changing back and forth frequently (something I have to do fairly often because part of my job is networking and troubleshooting/verification thereof. If you flip back and forth between two networks, or static and dhcp, then occasionally the networking stack will just go off into space and you are screwed. Yes, the same thing happens under 7/8//8.1. But so far my experience is that W10 at least isn't any better, and might be worse.
What is it with all the rebooting. This isn't Windows 95, this kind of turning-it-off-and-on-again bullshit isn't acceptable any more. It is 2015 for fuck's sake.

I also have the impression that there are more Windows Updates happening that require reboots. I suspect this is due to the newness of the OS, and Microsoft is steadily, if stealthily, rolling out the updates required to fix some of the problems I am complaining about.

Plus the usual Outlook/Outlook confusion which seems even more ingrained in W10 than it was in previous versions.

Part of this is undoubtedly the fact that I use the home system for maybe a couple hours a week, much of that playing Kerbal Space Program, while I use the laptop all day every day and when a problem crops up it is invariably an impediment to something I'm trying to get done right now. I am sure that sense of urgency and stress only adds to the negative view that Windows 10 gets as a result.

It is also entirely possible that my problem isn't that Windows 10 isn't ready for my tools, it is that my tools are not ready for Windows 10. Either way, the immediate solution to the problem is the same: get rid of Windows 10.

I said in a tweet:


And maybe it's true that I've turned into a User rather than being a Super User. But stupid problems like this are going to drive me back to Windows 8.1, because I had things set up there so that they Just Worked.

I don't have time for this any more.

--

1 yes I'm lying, we fear change

2015-08-24

Election 42: Home Delivery

One of the nice parts of an election campaign is that it allegedly provides a brief platform for people to have at least broad-level discussions about important issues facing the future of the country.

And then there are stupid issues like Canada Post Home Delivery.

First, I will be honest. I have not had home delivery since I moved out of my childhood home back in 1996 or so. Since then, I have been an apartment dweller, and a resident in a new subdivision, and as such have been a user of the so-called "Super Mailbox" for well over a decade.

The most important thing about the issue of Canada Post is that it is dying. Canadians just do not send letter mail to each other as much as they used to. And as a result, revenues are falling at Canada Post.

Falling revenues lead to two inevitable things, both of which we have seen in the last year: first, the price of services is going up. I think a stamp is a dollar now? I don't know1. But there was a big jump in the price of stamps last year.

The second result of falling revenues is cutbacks in service. In a practical sense, the cost of having people trudge up and down driveways has long been identified as a major cost center, which is why the Super Mailbox was introduced in the 1980s.

For the most part, the Super Mailbox is a success. Yes, there are security problems, and weather problems, and access problems, and the problems that occur when you have to share space with up to fifty other residences, but there is usually mail in my Super Mailbox and it is usually for my household.

However, if you were to listen to the We Fear Change segment of society, you would think that this was an inhumane burden to be putting on people.

I don't have much sympathy for this outlook. I've been dealing with a Super Mailbox for a decade, and my particular part of society is yet to crumble.

Frankly, if having to go to the corner every day or two to pick up your mail is the one thing that is going to force you out of your home... well maybe you need to think about how secure you really are in your home.

You want to save Canada Post? Start sending large quantities of surface mail.

If Canada Post is to endure and be able to continue providing even rudimentary mail delivery services, they have to find ways of doing things more efficiently. Ending home delivery makes sense from both an economic and fairness standpoint.

1and that should tell you something about how relevant Canada Post is to me.

2015-08-20

Review: Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

I think all you need to know about this is that my wife spent the whole movie rewriting it as an "Agents of Shield" episode. She said it would have worked fairly well.

Election 42: Long Haul Elections

So here we are, two and a half weeks into the longest election period in modern Canadian history. And so far the most interesting thing to come up has been the total lack of interesting things to talk about. The big issue on day two of the election was Mr. Harper referring to the Liberal leader as "Justin". Cutting edge, vital stuff, I tell you. And since then? All Duffy, all the time. The only reprieve from this has been the brief interlude where a conservative supporter went off on a bunch of reporters for blowing Mr. Duffy's "cheating on his tax form" way out of proportion, and frankly everyone hopes this is merely comic relief.

My theory has long been that the only people who really care about elections are the media personalities who get paid to write and talk about them. The media likes to position themselves such that if something of historical importance occurs, they can be seen to have been there, writing the definitive commentary on the issues of the day, speaking to the future. We saw this at its most ridiculous extreme during the so-called Charlottown Accord incident of 1992, when the media was falling over each other to speak to the future in an effort explain why Canadians had, here and now, decided to accept this constitutional accord. Of course they all looked like tools when Canadians decided that they'd rather not.

The only other people who like elections are the political hobbyists who get excited over the cut and thrust of electoral combat.

Most real people don't seem to care. And given the dropping number of people actually getting out and voting, a plurality of voters are not engaged even in the slightest.

As I said up top, to me the most interesting thing to happen so far is what hasn't happened. I don't know if all the political writers are still on summer vacation or what, but there hasn't even been an effort to drum up a sense of drama. It is almost as if even those most invested in the election are admitting that even though the election has been called and the campaign is happening, it isn't really time to get going yet, so why bother.

What if they called an election and nobody cared? Because that is where we are so far with this one. Which makes me wonder what the point of calling it so early was1.

--

1 Just kidding. I know calling the election early was either about getting more of the party's money washed through the election reimbursement process or shutting down annoying third-party anti-government advertising campaigns.

2015-08-17

Election 42: ISIS

What are people doing to keep us safe from ISIS?

Let's back the hype truck up a bit first. Why are we even concerned about ISIS?

ISIS is a few thousand religious fanatic types who have corralled the market for atrocities in the middle east. They've got guns, oil, and money. They are the very definition of small beer. They don't deserve anywhere near the amount of attention they've been getting.

ISIS's threat to Canada and Canadians might as well be zero.

Know how many Canadians were killed by terrorism last year? Even if we expand the definition of "killed by terrorism" to include those service people fighting said war against terrorism? And expand that definition to include the service people who take their own lives when they come home? Neither do I. I am, however, pretty damn sure that it is less than the thousand or so people that MADD estimates are killed by drunk drivers right here in Canada every year.  It is certainly less than the 47000 people estimated to be killed every year in Canada due to drug abuse.

Where's the War On Molson?

And don't give me any of that liberal "Duty To Protect" sanctimonious bullshit either. If we have a duty to protect those poor innocent Iraqi civilians, why are we not in Zimbabwe? Uganda? The Kongo? Somalia? Turkey to protect the Kurds? ... or Ukraine? Why are the Iraqi civilians so special that we spend our resources "protecting" them and risk the lives of our Canadian service people in a way that we don't protect others?

But, you might say, what of Terrorist Cells Here In Canada Plotting Evil Deeds? Well, that's why we have internal police services, to detect and circumvent these things. Such services have even been handed absurdly powerful powers in the form of C51 fear-mongering. And judging from the low number of people killed on Canadian soil as a result of terrorist operations, they seem to be doing a pretty good job.

This also brings up the potential constitutional problems of the military action in in the middle east. If an ISIS terrorist came to Canada and committed a terrorist act, we would catch them and put them on trial. We would probably end up keeping them in prison for a long time, if not for the rest of their lives. So instead, we have sent planes to the middle east to preemptively kill the potential terrorists, the support people for those terrorists, and any civilians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, on the off chance they might engage in terrorist activity against Canada. We are enacting a higher, wider penalty on much flimsier grounds.

The main argument against ISIS seems to be that these people want to come over here and tell us how to live, and we are resistant to that idea. Why is going over there and trying to get them to see how wrong they are at the barrel of a gun any different?

The root causes of the middle eastern issues come down to decades or centuries of western meddling in cultures that were not prepared to deal with such meddling. Continued modern meddling has not proved to fix any of the continuing problems. The west can't sweep in, knock out all the so-called "bad actors" and have democracy suddenly flourish (see Iraq, Afghanistan, et al). The people involved have to want it, and today they don't. All we do is changing the faces at the top of the various organizations.

The problem in the middle east right now is not a national security issue. It is a humanitarian issue, and that is how Canada should engage. Once the locals have come to a point where they are tired of killing each other such that they can control their hot-headed elements1, even at a empty-words level, Canada should get involved as peace keepers.

So what are people doing to keep us safe from ISIS? ISIS is not a threat. Bring our soldiers home.

--
1 And yes, that could take years or decades -- see also the Isreali/Arab situation in general.

2015-08-13

Election 42: Food Marketing Boards

Food marketing boards take a lot of stick these days. They work by artificially controlling supply, thus having a knock-on effect on prices. These boards usually go hand-in-hand with import restrictions, placing heavy penalties on foods imported into the country from elsewhere.

The Americans in particular are not in favor of the marketing board system. Americans see everything through the eyepiece of commerce, and see in Canada a market opportunity for their otherwise cheap food.

The thing is: food supply is not like other commodities like cars or iPhones.  The food supply, and where it comes from, is not a problem of commerce.  It is a problem of national security.

Marketing boards are defended by their benefits:

First, food providers are ensured a revenue stream that will cover costs. This means that consumers are both fully covering the costs of producing their food, and are used to paying those costs.  It also reduces the risk that food providers will go out of business.

The result of this is that food is generated within the borders of Canada. In the event of a food emergency, the supply of food is available to be nationalized, to be redirected where the national interest is -- whether that direction is to specific regions of Canada, or possibly to support our interests internationally.

Without these boards, food producers in Canada would mostly go out of business, and the remainder would probably become part of international conglomerates.  In either case, the amount of food generated within Canadian borders would be reduced, meaning that in a food emergency, Canada would be bidding against other nations for the available supply of food.

Having a domestic food supply does not protect us from failure of that domestic supply.

But if you don't have a domestic supply, you have fewer options should a global food emergency occur.

Which would you rather do: make the tough choices about who gets to eat the food you make -- or try to out-bid other nations for a supply of food?

2015-08-11

Review: Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation

Solidly OK. A nice modern interpretation of the James Bond-esque running-around-the-world-with-ridiculous-sitations. You have to admire Cruise for continuing to do these physical stunts at his age, even if the Ethan Hunt character is starting to get long in the tooth.

Frankly, it was much better than Fantastic Four would have been.

Review: Fantastic Four

Ha ha, just kidding.  Even though it didn't look like the train wreck that Transformers 4 promised to be, it was reviewing incredibly badly and in the end I just couldn't risk it.  We went to see Mission Impossible instead.

2015-08-10

Review: Blade

Awesome action sequences.  Pacing is a little rough, and the story hand-waving is a bit more breezy than would be normally ignored.  Fun for an afternoon with nothing else to do.

2015-08-07

Review: Daredevil

This is the Ben Affleck version, although it was unironically streamed from NetFlix.  I managed to follow what was going on fairly easily but I wonder if that was because I had recently watched the NetFlix version. The Kingpin was perhaps more believable than the NetFlix version, although there is much more room for subtlety in the NetFlix version. Overall it was ok. I understand why the world didn't go wild for it.

2015-08-02

Review: Mr. Holmes

This, I think, was exactly what I wanted from this movie.

2015-07-28

Unusual Opportunity

Something unusual happened last week. On July 19, Show Case aired an episode of Defiance called "The Beauty Of Our Weapons". For the first 34 minutes, there was no dialog -- only music, some effects, and foley. The result was a fascinating way to watch an episode of television, one where you spent more time hearing the music, watching the camera work and appreciating things like the lighting and props. Obviously at some point someone figured out what was wrong, because the dialog came back abruptly 34 minutes in.

Jenn and I PVR'd a later run of the same episode which didn't have the same problem, and that was the episode we watched first. But today I went back and watched the non-dialog version up to the point that the dialog returned.

Maybe not something to do every month, but still an interesting experience, one that makes you appreciate the work that the rest of the production crew does to bring an episode to television.

2015-07-21

Review: Ant Man

This is a simpler member of the MCU, and it shows that simple doesn't need to mean bad.  It has the vibe of the first Iron Man movie where everything was kept pretty light.  I do think that they totally failed to make the Ant Man power believable or even internally consistent, but that's more a problem with the source material than the movie.  Definitely worth the time spent on it.

2015-07-20

Review: Minions

Picking on a kids movie always feels like kicking kittens. Clearly pitched as "Minions -- then hijinks ensue!" and not much development beyond that. Solidly OK, not as good as either Despicable Me movie. Personally I don't think I would be heartbroken to hear that I would never see it again, even though with the Apple TV I am likely to see it a great many times in the future.

2015-07-10

Review: Muppets Most Wanted

Yeah it's a kids movie and one feels like criticizing it as such is like kicking kittens. But frankly even that can't keep me from saying that this wasn't a very good movie.

2015-07-09

Review: Terminator Genesys

I think the one rule of time travel should be: "You can't change your own past, but you can change other people's futures."  In other words, anything that happens in the time loop has to be explainable back to a source event that maybe gets modified into a reinforcing loop, and maybe not.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is that everything starts somewhere.

Let's take Terminator.  In the beginning, man created Skynet.  Skynet fought man, and man fought back.  Skynet sent a Terminator back in time to try to kill the mother of the leader of the resistance, who happens to be Sara Connor, and that leader sent Kyle Reese back to prevent that from happening.

Kyle Reese fathers John Connor after succeeding in defeating the Terminator and then dies.  John Connor grows up, taught by Sarah Connor to prepare for the coming apocalypse.  Man creates Skynet.  Skynet fights man, and man, led by John Connor, fights back.  Skynet sends a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor, and John Connor sends Kyle Reese back to prevent it from happening.

Now you have a tight, self-reinforcing loop:  Kyle Reese -> John Connor -> sends Kyle Reese back in time -> repeat.  You also have a plausible entry into that loop, in that the John Connor we all know about is not necessary to start the loop, only some offspring of Sara Connor.  Maybe trained by a survivalist white supremacist or ex-army-ranger something stupid.

So.  That's all plausible in ways that Genesys isn't.

Let's hand-wave aside that some random person in the future (beyond Reese's departure, after Connor's subjugation by Skynet-II) sent a terminator back in time to prevent another terminator (sent by who?  when?) from killing nine-year-old Sara Connor.

Where does Skynet-II originate?  At what point, during what iteration of the loop, does Skynet-II get created?  It must be through John Connor at some point, because Skynet-II sees Connor as the key to its own birth.  But in the loop iteration where Skynet-II is born, John Connor isn't born when he was the second time through the loop (post-1984).

Similarly, there's no point in old-Reese going back to see his 2017 self because now that the time loop has been exited, there's no reason to propagate the event into the next loop.  All that matters is that it already happened -- which it clearly did.  It doesn't need to happen again.

Time travel affecting the past which affects the future is fine.  You just have to have a plausible entry into the loop for it, and Genesys just doesn't have that.

But if you ignore all that, the movie delivers on blowy-stuff-uppy.

2015-07-08

Bigger Building

So just to be different, I've been building something a little bigger.  I wanted to use diorite, and ended up using redstone because frankly I had a ton of it and no practical use for it.

This is the result:

First Project Building
It is a bit more intricate inside, with a two-story lobby in the front.

Lobby
There's not really anything else in it.  There are some pictures showing the construction deeper in the Minecraft album I have on Google Photos.

Next time I'll probably try to use granite, diorite and stone throughout rather than cobblestone.  I'm already preparing the next site for the next building.

One thing that is (slightly) interesting is that digging for physical resources shows you how scattered they can be.  I dug a fairly deep 9x9 shaft to get cobblestone for this building, and the shaft didn't yield especially much in the way of extra resources (iron, granite, diorite, or even coal).  Meanwhile another shaft dug about 300 blocks over yielded a lot more -- even after accounting for the fact that it was a 11x11 with +4 feathering so it covered a lot more blocks.

Coal really becomes a scarce resource when you are using it to turn cobblestone into stone.  I managed to reduce my torch usage by just using the torch to light the active trail I was on, and then blocking up "finished" tunnel areas with cobblestone.  It does mean I won't have any indication that I've explored a tunnel run if I encounter it with another shaft later until I hit the cobblestone wall.  But one coal unit only gets you 8 units of stone, which means that building with it requires a lot of coal.

Or a willingness to use diorite/granite for stone.  However I like the starker colors that those materials provide so I am reluctant to turn them into stone.

I've also changed to using stone pick axes to conserve iron.  Using iron pick axes was sustainable, in that I would usually find more iron than the cost of the pick axe, but the net collection of iron didn't really get further ahead.

Of course dying with a load of materials either in the bottom of some shaft that I'd wandered to start digging and/or the bottom of a lava pool probably has more to do with my lack of materials.

Well that turned out a lot longer than I intended when I started writing it.

2015-07-07

Migration Contemplation Part 4: Riding The Crazy Train

Previously we discussed possibilities for migrating my work laptop to other platforms, concluding with an idea fresh off the crazy train. Well circumstances arose that let us take a ride on a train that wasn't exactly like the proposed crazy train, but still pretty crazy.

One of our clients has an in with HP, and as a result HP has loaned them a bunch of hardware in order to encourage them to buy more HP gear. And a co-worker saw a piece of hardware that he thought we should be seriously considering instead of the Surface. We called up one of our vendors and asked if we could get a demo unit of our own, and they said yes, so as a result I got to spend a few days with this hardware to see if I liked it and could be productive with it.

The hardware in question is the HP Elite X2 1101 G1, admittedly a mouthful of a name. This is a laptop that sports modern mobile processor technology along with a tablet format. The killer feature, when compared to a Surface, is the optional real keyboard which is about a million times better than the Surface's TypeCover thing. And just to confirm the benefit, the keyboard also sports battery of its own, yielding a combined estimated 11 hours of battery life for this unit.

I had the computer for three days or so. One of those days was a loss because I was at home all day and had left the power adapter at the office, which made it difficult to charge. But the third day I used it exclusively as my mobile computer at two customer sites, so I think I got a good feel for how it would work for me in the real world.

The nature of my job is a systems/network administrator. I use ssh, a RDP multiplexor, VNC, web browsers (I am a heavy browser user -- I have 15 tabs open right now), various VPNs, Office tools like Word/Excel and Outlook, as well as local unix type tools including perl in my day-to-day work.

The form of the computer is, as you'd expect, a bit odd. When docked, the "ultrabook" size format is nice compared to the tank I use now. The device feels heavier than you think it should when you look at it. When it is docked with the keyboard it is decidedly top-heavy, something you'd expect since all the brains are in the tablet/display portion. One button press is all you need to undock the keyboard and go into tablet mode, and re-docking is just as easy. In tablet mode t is big enough that I would prefer to use it in portrait mode; it is too heavy to be comfortably held one-handed in landscape mode. Unfortunately I didn't figure out how to change the computer to portrait mode, as the iPad method of "tilting the tablet sideways" didn't work.

The display is gorgeous, a 1920x1080 display. Naturally the touch-screen attracts fingerprints.

The keyboard is ok to use. It feels a little cramped to me, like it is a 9/10ths scale keyboard. Even so it is totally usable. I missed the proper pgup/pgdn keys almost immediately, and think that I would occasionally miss the numberpad.

I hated the trackpad almost immediately. After a couple of days with it I hated it less, but still hated it. I think I would much rather have real buttons over this "forcepad" thing. Double-click, click-drag, and right-click were all hit-and-miss and made the machine frustrating to use, even after I watched all the introductary videos. For the most part I got around the problem by attaching a wireless USB mouse to the keyboard and using that instead.

The device came with a stylus. I played with it for all of five minutes. My scrawls were pretty incomprehensible, although I'm sure with practice they would get better. I didn't manage to do anything "real" with it, but I see the potential.

Despite having the computer in a real-world situation, I didn't get a genuine opportunity to "go tablet", I ended up using it in Ultrabook format for the entire time I had it. In playing with tablet mode, I reinforced my impression that "tablet mode is for information consumption, not creation." The tablet's on-screen keyboard is predictably terrible.

Speaking of the keyboard, the tablet mode also taught me something about Domain Security. If your tablet is a member of a Windows Domain, when you log in you get to "type" your password on the on-screen keyboard. This is predictably terrible. You might be able to bully your IT department into letting you use a PIN instead of a password, but that does terrible things to your domain's security profile.

Now that said, the keyboard component also has a fingerprint scanner. While fingerprint scanners are not the greatest idea on their own, it would make more sense for the scanner to be on the tablet portion instead of the keyboard portion. That way when you didn't have the keyboard you would at least have the option of a less-insecure method of getting into your tablet.

In general, having a touch screen and a tablet format made the whole Windows 8 Metro interface more reasonable, I probably used it more over the three days than I have in the years I've had a Windows 8/8.1 laptop in front of me.

As far as my experience with the battery life goes, I can only describe it as mixed. The first day I had the device I was not the first one to play with it, and I suspect that another user was still "logged in" and had processes running. So battery life was not what I expected, and since I left the power adapter at the office I knackered my chances for playing with the device further.

Also irritating was the default power plan that the device used, putting the device to sleep after only four minutes of being idle. Since my usage model involves making connections to lots of computers, having them all dumped every time the computer went to sleep was not useful.

The last day with the device, though, I did a long charge (which was slow -- four hours didn't fully charge either the keyboard or the tablet) and then used it all day,and the next morning the combined charge was still over 50%. Changing the power plan to be a more laptop like sleep-after-30-mins-and-never-on-charger made the usage more convenient too.

As far as evaluating this device as suitable to me, I have to say I have new doubts. While doing research on the Surface I took a hard look at the CPU and RAM options available. The options on this device are similar to what is available on the Surface, so the same reluctance applies: will this CPU be suitable three or more years in the future? Will 8GB of RAM be enough, especially since it is non-upgradable in these devices? I do end up doing some virtualization, as some customer environments need to be kept separate from my main one. Now that XP has been end-of-lifed I have to use Win7 and that really isn't usable without 4GB of RAM in a VM.

There is also the issue of connectivity. This device would require a USB-to-GB ethernet dongle, and it is limited in the number of USB connections it has. I'd end up needing a USB-to-dock type thing to connect my monitors and keyboard, and would probably need a bluetooth mouse so that I wasn't using up a valuable USB port.

The fact that I didn't find an opportunity to "go tablet" tells me that I might be better off not going with a device that suffers the tablet trade-offs and get a more traditional ultrabook instead, one with a more powerful CPU and options for RAM up to at least 16GB.

This was a worth-while experience, and I think it may have saved me a whole lot of future trouble. I am definitely off the Surface Pro train for right now.

2015-07-03

Review: Jurassic World

You know, you go to these movies expressly to see dinosaurs eating people, and anything beyond that is merely a bonus or impediment to this end.  And since you know dinosaurs ate people, there is no way that you can't say that the movie absolutely delivered.

The continuing fascination people seem to have with bringing their children to movies like this is beyond me, though.  I wouldn't take Nathan to a movie like this.

2015-06-03

Review: San Andreas

Big, flashy disaster porn.  Surprisingly plausible in places, predictably less so in others.  Mr. The Rock isn't totally unbelievable.  But since it is a summer disaster porn movie, what more do you really expect?

2015-05-26

Review: The Fast And The Furious

I don't understand anything of what I just saw, LEAST of all how this movie became the springboard for ANY sequels, let alone SIX MORE of them.

2015-05-23

Postscript: Mad Max - Furry Road

I couldn't stop thinking this every time I read the title of the movie.  It is unbelievably hard to not type this when reviewing the movie.


Minecraft P/E: Northern Outpost

So this is the second round of Minecraft builds in the same world as the last time. I built a highway from the original mine, then thanks to a decision to build a "skyway" over a pretty flowered glen ended up hovering over the water. Rather than keep going I ended up building a hovering platform, and from there kept adding to it. At this point I think it is pretty much done.

The Northern Outpost
(Probably more intricate than Home Base is right now)

So thanks to the marvel that is gravel, I've added some "legs" to give the illusion of support. I've built a second level where the "workshop" stuff is.  And the third level is a Solar Cathedral.

Dawn in the Solar Cathedral
Glass is a pain to collect in my current world because sand isn't anywhere near where I've been wandering.  Gravel is more common, which is good because it is incredibly useful, but you can't make glass out of it.

The other thing I've been playing with is the idea for a dam made of glass. I have managed to build a prototype using sand and gravel. To be honest, the idea for this arose when I started mining a very shallow beach for sand using a gravel wall that I started progressively pushing outwards.  I figured if I put up a gravel wall, then put glass up against that, I could pull the gravel out from the bottom and end up with water against the glass.

How's that for a view

This particular one is limited because immediately underneith this "floor" is a cavern that would have to be dealt with if we wanted to drop things lower, and we are pretty much at the edge of the sand bar that I was mining.  But the technique is probably sound.

It might be neat to try to use this technique to build a house entirely out of glass under water.  If the top layer of the gravel stays under the water except where the door is, I probably wouldn't get the same edge dropping that I am getting here.

Small dam made of glass

So maybe I'll try to find a place to build a prototype under-water house next.

2015-05-18

Review: Mad Max -- Fury Road

I'm not big on metaphors or anything but this movie is two hours of only barely relenting, marginally incoherent, and unexplained violence. If you understand ahead of time that this is ridiculous and pony up your money anyways you'll do fine. I would file this movie as one of those few which are so terrible they are great.

2015-05-01

Review: Avengers 2 -- Age Of Ultron (3D)

The "Age of Ultron" spanned less than a week. Lots of moving parts which individually are mostly fun but the whole "robot decides to destroy humanity in order to achieve world peace" trope is well-tired. Ultron is a pretty disappointing enemy. Nobody really calls Tony out for trying to correct his mistake with a robotic AI by trying to loose another AI. It makes me think that the "arc" purpose of this movie was to A) introduce The Vision and B) move the Avengers members out so that they can be replaced with (the New?  the Young?  the Uncanny?  the Ultimate?) Avengers. Overall though it was an adequate way to spend two and a half hours.

From a "going to the movies" perspective, this was opening day, and we got neither any teasers nor a post-credits thing (ie like the shwarma thing in the first Avengers). We were disappointed.

The 3D was neither intrusive nor especially noticeable. Frankly I still wonder why people pay for it.

2015-04-16

Review: Furious Seven

First of all, yes I know it is all over the media and elsewhere as "Furious 7", but I did note that the number was spelled as a word in the title card of the actual movie.  So while I be pedantic, why don't the rest of you just pretend you know what I'm talking about.

As far as the franchise goes, I saw the first one, and ma-a-a-a-be the second one.  I knew there had been more, but frankly I had no idea that this was the seventh.  Fortunately, there didn't seem to be any requirement to have seen... well, any of the previous ones because A) I effectively didn't remember anything about the ones I had seen and B) gratuitous flashbacks bring you up to speed on the salient points as required.  (Or as required by the editor's need to fill time slash band-aid over Paul Walker's inclusive exclusion or something.)

Anyways, any complaint about this movie can be explained away with the phrase "Hey, it's a Fast And Furious franchise movie, what do you want?"

For example:
  • The dialogue is terrible. "Hey, it's a Fast And Furious franchise movie, what do you want?"
  • The plot is ridiculous where it exists at all. "Hey, it's a Fast And Furious franchise movie, what do you want?"
  • I don't understand where all these cars that the characters blow up come from.  "Hey, it's a Fast And Furious franchise movie, what do you want?"
  • The attempts to band-aid over the band-aiding of Paul Walker's death made the whole thing seem uneven.  "Hey, it's a Fast And Furious franchise movie, what do you want?"
  • Kinda too shooty-shooty-bang-bang for my tastes.  "Hey, it's a Fast And Furious franchise movie, what do you want?"
  • Why is Furious Seven showing in all four of the large-format theaters at Landmark simultaneously?  "Hey, it's a Fast And Furious franchise movie, what do you want?"
  • My popcorn is kind of stale here.  "Hey, it's a Fast And Furious franchise movie, what do you want?"
See?  So it kind of makes the whole "review" idea superfluous.

Hey, it's a Fast And Furious franchise movie, what do you want?

Burger Time: Five Guys

Overall: it was okay, but it sure wasn't a Vera's.  Make no mistake, it was a very well done burger, lots of food, all of it good, maybe a bit pricier than I might like (although in the same ball park as Vera's).

I think what disappointed me the most was the metal chairs done up to look like wood chairs, and the fact that all the decorations in the room -- plus most of the decorations on things like the cups -- were reminders to you that all these people over all these years had voted Five Guys Most Likely To Succeed or something.  Look, it is fine to be proud of your accomplishments and all, but I don't need to sit in a room with you telling me how much other people like you.  I'm there.  You have my money.  Let your food do the talking for you.

Of course, after listening to the food... maybe that's why they overcompensate a bit.

2015-04-13

Lookie what I found

So it turns out that OwnCloud community RPMs clobber local .htaccess changes when upgrading:

[root@voyager owncloud]# cp .htaccess .htaccess.8.0.2
[root@voyager owncloud]# yum check-update
[...]
owncloud-3rdparty.noarch 8.0.2-16.1 isv_ownCloud_community
owncloud-app-activity.noarch 8.0.2-16.1 isv_ownCloud_community
owncloud-app-external.noarch 8.0.2-16.1 isv_ownCloud_community
[...]
[root@voyager owncloud]# yum -y update
[...]
Updating : owncloud-app-gallery-8.0.2-16.1.noarch 34/92
Updating : owncloud-server-8.0.2-16.1.noarch 35/92
[...]
[root@voyager owncloud]# diff .htaccess*
11,12c11,14
< php_value upload_max_filesize 513M
< php_value post_max_size 513M
---
> php_value upload_max_filesize 16G
> php_value post_max_size 16G
> php_value max_input_time 3600
> php_value max_execution_time 3600
49a52,54
>
> ErrorDocument 403 /owncloud/core/templates/403.php
> ErrorDocument 404 /owncloud/core/templates/404.php

Review: Home

Jim Parsons is going to get typecast as his Big-Bang Theory character Sheldon for the rest of his life. He probably won't mind, because he'll probably end up very rich because of it.  Home is a vehicle for Sheldon-isms without the burden of the rest of TBBT cast or, you know, a plausible plot, and ends up with the predictable Here's The Message at the end that children's movies have to have these days. I got tired of the Sheldon-isms about 15 minutes into the movie, but got past that and it was a pretty good ride.  The Message is the message, but even that doesn't intrude too much.  And they made pretty good attempts to insert references for the adults, the most obvious being the Star Wars hang and the outatime license plate spin.  So yeah, it was OK for a movie, which is a good thing, because we're going to see it again in two weeks as part of a Birthday Party.

2015-03-24

Religious Doctors

So if* Ontario doctors win the right to A) refuse to provide a particular treatment on the grounds of religious freedom AND B) refuse to refer their patients to doctors who will provide said treatment, will patients get the right to interrogate their doctors on their religious beliefs before or during any consultation or treatment planning?

Seems to me they'd have to.  You can't have it both ways -- if you have a religious right that may directly influence a course of treatment you may or may not propose and/or carry out, I as the patient should have the right to be fully informed as to where your influences are coming from.

Alternatively, if some doctors want freedom of religion, and that religion precludes them performing some of the duties of being a doctor, maybe the correct resolution of this conflict is for those people to recognize they can't be doctors in Ontario.

It is one thing to say "I don't believe it is right for me to do this" and quite another to say "I don't believe it is right for anyone to do this".  Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose; in this case the practice of these religions is affecting other, probably non-practitioners, and I think that the right to practice your religion ends at my health care.

* = I don't think it will come to that.

2015-03-20

Migration Contemplation -- An Even Crazier Idea

(Previously.)

So it occurs to me: if a Mac, ie new hardware, is on the table, why not consider doing something really stupid?


I mean, yeah, no half-measures here.  If you want portable, let's get portable.

But exactly how stupid an idea would it be?
  • It has a small display.
  • RAM is limited to 8GB.
  • Storage is limited to 512GB.
  • It is totally non-upgradable.
  • It fails the "too small to be a primary computer test", but does so so convincingly that the lack of heft becomes a virtue, not a liability.
On the positive side:
  • It is ultra-portable.  It is small.  I like small.  My first laptop was an "executive" laptop, something that became one of the first "Ultrabooks" before those started to bloat into whatever they have become.  This would be small.
  • There pretty much isn't anything I do today that I couldn't do with this.  It would pass all my criteria for staying with Windows.  I could even fit all my current storage needs into it, although barely -- and the form factor would mean that most of my VM'ing would be pointless and those things could go.
  • You can get an i7, which should be enough horsepower to get me around for a few years..
  • It has an available docking station with multiple USB ports, a Gb interface, and a video out, and can apparently run two external 1080p monitors at the same time that the main display is running.  So I could probably buy a third monitor and do two monitors natively plus a third through USB, and have the tablet display turned off while it was docked.
But it's probably expensive, right?
Oh.

Oh, my.

Help, this isn't looking like a stupid idea after all.

2015-03-19

Migration Contemplation -- Why No Mac?


So after yesterday's post on migrating to Linux, one of my Twitter followers tosses this at me:


And on paper, the Mac looks attractive.  However, if you start with considerations like:
  • I'll be runnng VMware, so I need CPU
  • I need more than 256GB or 512GB of storage
  • This is my primary computer, so a small 13-inch display probably isn't going to cut it
  • I can be out of my office for long periods of time, so I can't have a baby laptop on the road and a "real" computer at the office
...you end up with something like this:


In other words, I have to go to my boss and tell him I want to spend $4500 on a laptop.  And that's a minimum -- I could probably make an argument for the faster CPU options.  Forget considerations like I'll probably want more than 16GB and 1TB before the end of this proposal's lifetime.

So yeah, that's not going to fly.  Considering my current i7 is almost five years old, I somehow doubt there's budget money for that kind of computer.  Although if I open negotiations with this, I can probably be "talked down" to a i7, 16GB, 1TB-SSD, 1080p that will come in under $3K from HP or Lenovo.

Realistically if I could increase the RAM in this HP from 8GB to 16GB I'd be set for at least a while, but that's not possible with this particular hardware.

Anyways, kids, that is why Macs don't get mentioned by me.

2015-03-18

Considering Migration -- or, Why I Run Windows, 2015

One of the kids at the office is all keen to have me move my primary laptop to Linux.

Linux is where I started at this company, my first laptop ran Mandrake, and a moved through a succession of Fedora Cores over the years.  I did stupid things like runing Ximian Desktop and keeping a bodged set of RPMs of olvwm cobbled together.

Abe speaks the truth
What did it for me was when I started to get into the family way; I lost the time to fiddle with things.  I had other things to do with my life after work hours.  Tools started to get in the way of work, and when the world moved on it inevitably left me behind with broken messes.

When that happens to someone, Windows is the perfect environment because it doesn't change very fast, it is bog-standard, it does a lot of things adequately well despite not having much in the way of customization available, and for the most part one can just bother the helpdesk staff when there is a problem.  I've certainly done that over the past few years.  "This is broken and I can't figure out why", is what I tell them.  Sometimes they can help; sometimes they can't.  But it stops being my problem to solve.

For the most part, the things I said back in 2008 are still true, except that today it is Windows 8.1 Pro instead of Windows 7 Pro.  But still.  One wonders if running Windows is a Socially Responsible Choice or if I am part of the disintegration of society.  And when someone comes along with an alternative, it can be attractive.

So first of all -- why am I considering this?
  • Windows 8.1 on this hardware is less stable than Windows 7 was.  I am stuck with phantom hangs, mysterious refusals to boot, phantom 100%-cpu-usages that don't have any obvious offenders, occasional crashes, and I've already fought with anti-virus.  My perception here is that I'm spending more time than I should fighting my tools when I need to be working.
  • Much of what I actually do day-to-day and hour-to-hour is in terminals to unix systems.  Changing to linux would let me do mosh connections in a much more robust, native way.
  • Plus there's the ability to try different window managers.  I like the idea of ratpoison, I wonder if I would actually like working with it.
On the other hand, why might I not want to do this?
  • I have the boot drive encrypted with BitLocker.  This isn't the most secure thing in the world, but it is an order of magnitude better than the nothing that most people run with.
  • Windows almost certainly handles the hardware use cases better than Linux.  My concerns here are the usual suspend/unsuspend, dock/undock, multiple monitors, and network behaviors including 802.1X wifi authentication.  I shouldn't have to think about any of that, and for the most part, I don't with Windows.  My battery life is pretty poor right now, and I somehow doubt that running Linux will improve it any.
  • Plus the special hell that printing always is on Linux.
  • The Office infrastructure is pretty embedded.  We use Sharepoint, Word, and Outlook corporately.  I use Excel and OneNote pretty heavily and my corporate data is backed up using OneDrive.  I'd be forced into a VM for proper native use of these tools; for some of them I could probably find open-source replacements.
  • I use GoogleDrive to share some files from home with my work system.
  • Our company uses a windows-based online backup tool for backups that wouldn't work with Linux; one way or another I'd have to spend some time re-inventing that particular wheel.
  • Like it or not, there are still some web interfaces that only work properly in IE.
  • I like my desktop environment.  I have all the gadgets I like in a sidebar, and sourcing and configuring Linux replacements would be a pain.  I especially like the countdown gadget that tells me when the pager is coming back to me (or, while I have it, how long until I can get rid of it).
  • This laptop is five years old now and will probably be replaced with something newer.  So while the hardware in this laptop is probably fairly well understood by the linux community, new laptops almost always have terrible hardware support; it would be frustrating to go from Windows to Linux, only to be forced back to Windows when the new computers come.
  • Frankly I don't like the idea of Ubuntu, and that would probably be what I'd be running.  CentOS is more of a server-OS that wouldn't give me as good an experience.
  • And yeah, there's the whole "we fear change" joke that's funny because it is true.
So how viable is this?  Here is what I have open right now:
  • IE for the sharepoint site.  I'd lose the tight integration with Word from Sharepoint if I went to Linux, or I would be forced into a VM.
  • Firefox.  Available on Linux
  • Chrome.  Possibly available on Linux, it seems to vary.  I seem to recall that CentOS 6.x has been declared too old for Chrome.
  • Outlook.  Well it turns out that the OWA interface isn't as terrible as it used to be.  So that might be usable.
  • VisionAPP which I am using as a Remote Desktop Protocol multiplexer.  RDP sessions used to be pretty terrible under Linux, and with the current infestation of Windows servers showing no sign of abating that's a serious concern.
  • Skype.  There is allegedly Linux support for Skype, although I'll bet you that it isn't anywhere near top-tier support.
  • MobaXterm, which I am using for mosh sessions.  No concerns here.
  • tftpd-64.  I'm using it as a syslog target today, but all of its functions are available in Linux much more natively.
  • Excel.  Although I only use this for tables, rarely for calculations or graphing or fancy things like that, I do have to share those excel files with others.  So that'll either be a VM thing or something that I have to have strict compatibility with, which rules out OpenOffice.
  • FortiClient -- for VPNs to FortiGate firewalls.
  • OneNote.  I've been putting notes into this daily for two years now, so at the very least I have to be able to access that information; ideally all that data would be exportable into whatever I chose to replace it with.
  • OneDrive.  This is where my corporate data is stored.  There is no way that there will be a Linux solution for this.
  • Our corporate backup tool.  This is a wheel that would require reinventing.
  • Gadwin PrintScreen.  I presume screen-capture software exists in the linux world...
  • PasswordSafe -- one of my customers distributes passwords with this app, and while I hate it (KeePass is much nicer as an app, and I use LastPass in my web browser), that's the tool they use.  So I'd probably have to run that in a VM.
  • iCloud -- running but not configured.  It would mean that either my iOS devices would have to be managed from a VM or a computer at home instead of this one.
  • GoogleDrive -- don't know what the state of support for that is.
  • Paegent -- native functions are available in Linux.
Things that I run frequently that would have to be dealt with:
  • vSphere client -- since my VMware environments are all 5.1 or older, I'm stuck with the non-flash interface.  So that has to run in a VM.
  • Our helpdesk sharing software is a Bomgar.  Don't know if there is Linux support.
  • Couple of versions of Juniper Network Connect.  However they get run in VMs today.
  • There are other things installed, but for the most part these are tools installed to fake a Linux environment or tools that came from unix originally like ncftp or wireshark.
So, any show-stoppers?  I guess if I wanted to run a VM (or VMs) then there's really no software reason to hold back.  I could even get Workstation running and do the seamless desktop integration thing.  Thing is, I don't run a VM all the time today, and running a VM all the time would feel like a hack.  I would have to commit RAM to the VM that my desktop couldn't use, and once that was exhaused I'd be swapping.  Since my current platform is Windows, then all the RAM is available if needed, and any Linux VM I run will be small -- rarely more than 2GB because I don't need more for what I do locally and if I do need more I have access to bigger machines/VMs to run on.

As far as my hardware/OS complaints go, eventually I'll get a new laptop and the hardware complaints should will go away.  And Windows 10 is supposed to be the shit when it comes out.

I don't actually have time to do anything about this right now because I'm too busy, and I wonder if this mental exercise is more about hiding from the things I should be doing instead.

But really, after writing all this out, I don't see a compelling need to change.  Maybe if we had a second laptop that was similarly powered to this one I could run them both in parallel for a while, but I suspect I'd be continually reaching for the Windows computer to get things done.

The kid at the office is going to be sooooo disappointed.

Review: Run All Night

Shooty shooty bang bang.  Fathers do bad things that they don't want their sons to do, and sons hate their fathers for the choices made beyond their control.  Although a bit gratuitously violent, the number of so-called "innocent" victims is probably very small, except for a number of cops who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.  So it was OK, but I still don't think I liked it because I'm getting old.

Unrelated, the sound of the bass in that particular theater was terrible.  All of the explosions in the previews sounded like they were explosions in the next theater except cranked up to be audible in this one.  Hugely distorted.  Wasn't as bad through the movie, but I think that was more due to the nature of the movie than the sound system.

2015-03-15

Happy 17th Birthday Isa


2015-03-14

TV: Programming Note

What we're watching, winter 2015:
  • Sleepy Hollow
  • Elementary
  • Resurrection (until it finished)
  • Agent Carter (and I assume that's finished too, we just have not caught up yet)
  • Agents of Shield
  • Criminal Minds
  • Big Bang Theory
  • The Odd Couple
  • Gotham
  • The Flash
  • Castle
  • Stalker

2015-03-02

Review: Star Trek 6 The Undiscovered Country

So I said on twitter I knew what I'd be watching this weekend. Sure enough, iTunes had nine Star Trek movies (plus whatever Nemesis counts as) for $50 in HD. I watched The Undiscovered Country on Friday night, and it seems like a comfortable old friend; it is probably my favorite Star Trek movie, flaws aside. Even though I watched it through a download-cache stall-stall-stall problem, it was still a worthwhile way to spend an evening.

2015-02-27

24x7x365

This is confusing to me.  It is usually read as "24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year."

But it occured to me today that it should be 24x7x52, as in "24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year"?  That preserves the flow: hours to days, days to weeks, weeks to years.

"I have been, and always shall be, your friend."

Leonard Nimoy
1931 - 2015
In the words of Captain James T. Kirk (Enterprise):
    "We are assembled here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. And yet it should be noted, in the midst of our sorrow, this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world; a world that our beloved comrade gave his life to protect and nourish. He did not feel this sacrifice a vain or empty one, and we will not debate his profound wisdom at these proceedings. Of my friend, I can only say this: Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most... human."

2015-02-17

Review: Still Alice

Yeah, I'm still not sure how I ended up in this one either, Jenn picked it. It must be Oscar season, when everyone goes to the movie theater to feel bad about something. I thought the sequencing was a bit abrupt in places, it was hard to figure out how much time had passed and what was going on, but I suspect that was a choice to make one feel like the title character does as life, memories and awareness slowly slip away. I seems mean to say bad things about a movie like this, but I really don't like feeling sad at the movies. I have enough sad in my life as it is.

2015-02-11

TV: 12 Monkeys

Two episodes in and it doesn't suck. This Cole is more useful than the one in the movie. It appears to me at this point that the future is busy reinforcing its own past by creating it, just as in the movie. Hopefully the series won't turn into an anti-vaccination screed, that would be unfortunate.

2015-02-09

TV: Resurrection

Finally got to the end of Resurrection. (Our PVR is running about two weeks behind the rest of the world.)

We both did a "What the hell!" to the "One Year Later" bit. That seems a bit much like "don't trouble yourself with the details of the immediate aftermath". Felt like a hand-wavey cheat to me. But overall the story was wrapped up well, leaving enough for a second set of stories with the same characters.

I liked the series. No word yet on if there will be more.

ssh Switches

Dear putty/kitty developers:

If you are trying to make a ssh work-alike, it would be very helpful if your tool took the same command line options as what you are copying does.

To wit:
  • it is ssh -p 2022 user@system
  • and it is kitty -P 2022 user@system
Should you make the mistake of saying kitty -p 2022 user@system, you get a polite dialog box telling you that it doesn't understand what -p means. And if you live with kitty long enough, you start trying to use the -P switch when you go back to unix world. Eventually you start feeling like no matter what you pick it is always wrong the first time, and you have a mental breakdown.

RAGE.

(Aside: the fact that it is scp -P 2002 file user@system:location is a separate problem and doesn't help one's sanity either -- but if Kitty is going to take cues from someone, it should be the direct target of emulation.)

2015-02-08

Rancid 3, Reprise

Oh just a note for posterity's sake that I messed with Rancid 3 for all of 90 minutes after figuring out the last land mine because the Dell switch functionality just wouldn't work. So eventually I just gave up and transplanted a working 2.3.8 instance and reconfigured it.

So much for trying to stay current. I'll check in again once 3.1.x is in progress; maybe by then there will be enough web documentation telling us what the actual differences are and the Dell piece will actually work.

2015-02-03

Greed

Every so often you wonder what is going to happen in the future.

Take the credit card business, for example. To my eyes this is nothing more than a naked, greedy grasp at people's inability to do basic math and plan for the future.

This week I received in the mail one of the inevitable flood of pre-approved credit card applications that flow past a homeowner like a river of sludge. And because sometimes I feel like wallowing, I opened this one.

This is a "premium" card, and it offered me such terms as:

  • $22,000 credit limit
  • travel reward miles
  • other gooey goodness
...and for these benefits it was only going to cost me
  • $120 per year
  • ..+$95 for each other card on the account
  • 19.9% APR on outstanding balances
  • ... unless I miss some payments, in which case it jumps to 21.9%
  • 1% transfer fee for any balance transfers in
  • fees on cash advances plus a higher interest rate of 22.9% on outstanding cash advance balances
  • ... unless I miss some payments, in which case it jumps to 24.9%
I was looking at all these fees and rates, and it occurs to me: this bank shows absolutely no qualms about demanding 20% interest from me when the prime rate is 1% (let's assume the bank didn't see last week's surprise rate cut coming). And back in 1990, a different bank gave me, a university student with no visible means of support, a credit card with an interest rate of 16.9%.

And what was the interest rate when they did that?
Look at 1990
Yeah, between 10 and 14%.

(Graph from here.)

Now I may be the only non-economist alive who remembers in 1988 that the econonomic world was slowly coming to a halt and everyone was hoping for a so-called "soft landing" that would let everyone catch their breath and then let everything move along again -- and by 1991 it was clear that while the landing was "soft", it kept happening ever deeper (picture an ocean liner piling into an iceberg as opposed to a plane hitting a cliff). So while there are larger economic indicators at play behind this picture, the fact remains that a credit card was willing to accept only 6% as a premium for lending to probably one of the biggest credit risks of the time.

Today? For a premium customer, with verifiable assets, measurably low debt levels, and a solid income stream?

18%.

What is going to happen when interest rates go back up to their historical average of 7%? And make no mistake, eventually they will go up. The current economic "emergency" can't last forever.

Will this same credit card company want to charge me a 18% differential? ie: 25% on the best debt you can have?

(Well probably, initially. I'm sure what they'll do is jack the rates and those who stay will keep paying it, while those who bail will be lured to other lower rate products. Why stop people paying for your ridiculously over-priced service if they are willing to?*)

But it all just smacks of naked greed to me.

*== This is why Rogers and Bell jack your rates by $2 to $5 every year, slowly boiling the frog until you snap and they offer you a "special deal" at a lower rate.