Sunday, February 18, 2024

Compy 2024 Edition (Marauder)

It's been 8 years since I built RIFTER, a computer built specifically to power my Oculus CV1. It continues to hold up well despite its age, but I decided it was time to finally catch up to latest generation PC hardware.

So I present: MAURADER.

  • AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D 4.2 GHz 8-Core Processor
  • Thermalright Phantom Spirit 120 SE 66.17 CFM CPU Cooler
  • Gigabyte B650 AORUS ELITE AX ATX AM5 Motherboard
  • Asus DUAL OC GeForce RTX 4070 SUPER 12 GB Video Card
  • G.Skill Flare X5 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR5-6000 CL30 Memory
  • Crucial T700 W/Heatsink 2 TB M.2-2280 PCIe 5.0 X4 NVME Solid State Drive
  • Corsair RM850e (2023) 850 W 80+ Gold Certified Fully Modular ATX Power Supply
  • Lian Li LANCOOL 216 ATX Mid Tower Case
  • Windows 11 Pro

(yes, I switched from EVE Online names to Battletech names)

My build philosophy was to get delightful gaming performance at a reasonable price, while providing a path for future upgrade. That was why I went with AMD - while Intel is competitive in this type of build, an upcoming socket change from LGA1700 would leave me stranded. Conversely, AM5 will have at least one more good generation. The one concession I made was the Crucial PCIe 5.0 drive. I don't really need something that fast, but storage really makes the difference on the day-to-day computing experience. Conversely, while the RTX 4070 Super may seem aggressively mid, video cards have literally doubled in price since my last build, and I wasn't willing to spend $1000 on a GPU no matter how fast.

The build has worked perfectly! Clean post the very first time. Everything was compatible and connected together.

Everything fits! Even that tall Phantom Spirit cooler has plenty of clearance to the tempered glass. The CPU cooler has clearance to the RAM - one of the fans had to be offset slightly, but that turns out to be a benefit of clip-on fans (I was skeptical at first). Good thing I didn't do the RGB RAM! The M.2 drive and it's built-in heatsink had clearance to both the motherboard and the GPU. 

If anything, I wish I had a shallower case. There's a good 4 inches of completely unused space to the front fans.

The bane of my builds has always been shoddy cases. The LANCOOL is definitely the best case I've ever owned,. My only complaint was the complete lack of instructions or labelling. Trying to match up some weird unlabelled ports (eg. this is the first time I've had a USB-C port), or track the connections to a completely undocumented ARGB controller. Also, the thumb screws are garbage, but there's spring-loaded post latches too, so it's not a big deal.

So far I have not made any attempt to optimize or overclock. Everything is running at default settings. Running 3dMark benchmarks:

  • Time Spy (DX11 test): 19157 (CPU 13395)
  • Port Royal (raytracing test): 12879
  • Storage benchmark: 2899

  • Furmark 2160: 6467
Thermals are good. Strangely, the CPU barely breaks a sweat at the maximum Prime95 torture test (temps in mid-50's). However, I can instantly spike CPU temperature into the 80's with World Community Grid jobs ("Mapping Cancer Markers"). I'm still trying to understand this, and I'll have to figure out the right tests before I attempt any kind of overclock.

Reference: RIFTER

Intel Core i5-6600K / NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070

3DMark (Time Spy): 5348 (3396 CPU)

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Why I flag most recruiter emails as spam (Web3 edition)

Remote position for $250k USD base, but their recruiter referenced Web3 in the email, so completely untenable.

(I don't think it's actually a Web3 job...)

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Why you need end-to-end encryption

TL;DR - no matter who you are, you need to set up an end-to-end encrypted communication app for your calls and messages, and start using it for your day to day communication.

Encryption is a technology that allows us to send messages to each other using codes. It's core to how we are able to exist in the digital age: it's why a neighbor with an antenna can't read your emails, it's how you are able to bank online without a hacker rerouting your money, or even how you access your medical records online privately. Encryption is so ubiquitous that you are using it every day and don't even realize it. In fact, most major services on the Internet, even completely public ones, turn on encryption automatically.

The lock icon means my connection to Blogger is encrypted.

When it comes to personal communication, encryption ensures two major things for the people you're talking to:
  • That outsiders won't see or hear your communication.
  • That outsiders won't modify what you're sending.
In the past, we lived happily without any encryption. Gen-X people likely remembered their wireless house phones, where sometimes you'd overhear your neighbor's calls in the background. This was normal at the time, and was mostly safe in an age where technology didn't run so much of our lives. But now privacy is not just a fringe benefit, but a matter of safety and the security of many of the things we hold dear.

What is end-to-end-encryption?

Most communication today is encrypted-in-transit. That means you have protection to and from your service provider. For example, if you send a message on Facebook Messenger, that message is secure between you and Facebook, and then from Facebook to the message recipient. But notably, Meta has access to that message. They can read it. They could edit it in transit. Or filter it if they don't like what you're saying.

Encrypted-in-transit message

End-to-end encryption (E2EE for short) takes the message and puts it in an encryption "envelope". The messages still flow through the communication provider, but the provider can't read or modify the message. It's private "end to end", hence the name.

End-to-end encrypted message

With E2EE, a communication provider:
  • CAN'T see or hear anything that is being said/messaged/shown/etc.
  • CAN'T record your communication.
  • CAN'T meaningfully modify what you say.
  • CAN still see who you're talking to and when.
  • CAN still block you from sending a message (but without any knowledge of what you're about to say.
E2EE is not preferred by many communication providers, because it limits the sort of services you can provide:
  • Can't target advertisements based on what you're saying.
  • Quality, speed, and reliability of group communication tends to be worse than non-E2EE solutions.
  • Some features like camera filters, message search, are more difficult to build and may be of lower quality.

Why do I need this?

"I'm not talking about anything illegal, why would I need encryption?" 

To understand why an upstanding person like yourself might need end-to-end encryption, it can be helpful to think about the many parties that may want to access your communication.
  • The communications provider. How much do you want a big tech firm to know about you, and how comfortable are you with who they will sell this data to? Could a data broker build a profile of you to be targeted or even harassed?
  • Partners. Consider the case of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where Facebook leaked private user data to a company which then used it to interfere in elections in the United States.
  • Hackers. Could a hacker reading your text messages use that information to access your bank or other important accounts?
  • Government. Are you a law-abiding citizen? Okay, sure you are... but are you a law abiding citizen by the past and future laws of every government you'll ever interact with? For example, Facebook was forced to disclose messages under subpoena related related to an abortion case (which became illegal shortly AFTER the subpoena).
What do I do?

The best thing you can do is to get an app that supports end-to-end encryption for messages and video/audio calls, and get in the habit of using the secure mode by default. Encourage your friends and family to use secure options, and make it clear that you're not comfortable with using systems like text messages anymore.

Some options to consider:
  • Signal is the defacto standard for the privacy-conscious. Their app is the gold standard for the privacy conscious, and their technology is so good, their "Signal protocol" is used in many other apps.
  • WhatsApp offers E2EE by default. While many are nervous what ownership by Meta will mean for the future, their track record so far on encryption is pretty good.
  • Telegram is not E2EE by default, but does offer optional "secret chats". While I'd prefer it to be on by default, at least you can choose it for any communication.
Most importantly, get away from daily use of anything where you are not sure you have end-to-end encryption.
  • Text messages from your phone are the WORST! Stop using them, right now, except where absolutely necessary to communicate with businesses. The system is ancient and notoriously insecure. This includes iMessage - while iMessage itself may be E2EE, that only applies to your "blue bubble" contacts, while your "green bubble" contacts still go through insecure SMS.
  • Telephone calls. The security is weak, but also the quality is absolutely terrible compared to even the most mediocre audio calling apps. It's all around a bad experience, and there are way better options, including Facetime and Duo.
  • Facebook Messenger. While they support end-to-end encryption, it's not offered on all clients, so it's difficult to ensure a secure connection.
That's my rant, now go install your new communication app!

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Why I flag most recruiter emails as spam (Amazon edition)

Usually I just flag as spam and move on. But sometimes it's just funny when a company as big as Amazon can get something as basic as a recruiting email so wrong.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Sanders vs Biden

It was good to wait. Voting for a suspended campaign would have been a waste. But now it's Sanders or Biden. Blegh. Not a vote I feel as good about.

Can we solve this on electability?

The conclusions largely appear to be:

  1. The data suggests both candidates beat Trump.
  2. The data currently suggests Biden would have a larger safety margin.
  3. We keep learning that we can't trust the polling numbers, and need large safety margins.

If Biden wins, Bernie's army of young voters don't mobilize. If Sanders wins, swing voters are lost to Trump. Sadly there's no consensus candidate left.

Benefit to Biden, but it's clear that we still don't know enough to be sure.

But Biden was a bit of a shitbag until recently.
He's come down on the wrong side of a LOT of moral arguments over his long and very successful career.

  • War on drugs, marijuana criminalization.
  • Anti-abortion
  • Civil forfeiture.
  • Encryption bans
  • Anti-LGBTQ, marriage equality.
He has admittedly flipped his stance on most of these, a few conveniently for election purposes, but a few where he openly admitted his mistakes (eg. on Roe v Wade). I've applauded others who have legitimately come to evolve their positions (eg. Tulsi Gabbard on LGBTQ issues), but Biden's list is pretty long.

This is a pretty strong warning sign against Biden, but depends on how important history is versus his current advertised platform.

Then the elephant in the room: healthcare.
Medicare for All solves America's healthcare problems. Universal coverage, controlled out of pocket costs. It'll resolve the vast majority of the inefficiencies in the system that are inflicted on the population. But wow is it expensive to start: $34 trillion over 10 years.

An Affordable Care Act public option has the potential to fix a lot of things. A government-run insurer can quickly start taking control of costs, expand coverage, and become a tool of dismantling the profiteering systems in healthcare. On the other hand, it's not clear that it grants universal coverage nor does it eliminate out-of-pocket costs. Wasn't that the point? But at least it's affordable, at a mere $750 billion over 10 years.

Sanders' plan is plainly too expensive to be implemented in current American politics. Biden's plan is an unambiguous substantial improvement in the status quo, but in contrast to the various Democrat healthcare plans, is laughably uninspired.

I'll take Biden's boring but plausible plan, admitting that the USA probably can't reach single payer in a single step.

The personal touch.
Sanders wants to break up the tech companies (where I work). Would this be disasterous? Not entirely. After all, many of these companies merged through acquisitions in the first place, so clearly they can be split. It would just be a very large, very wasteful, completely pointless, spectacle.

Sanders is against most trade agreements, including NAFTA (how I originally arrived in the US). The Trans-Pacific Partnership is more complex - while potentially beneficial on trade, it had some ridiculous intellectual property provisions.

Biden wants to remove tech liability protections for user-generated content. This is a fundamentally terrible idea, essentially forcing corporate moderation on the Internet, which will be a far more chilling effect. Sanders would wade into this too, but is not taking as strong a stance.

A mixed bag, but favors Biden.

Biden. I'm not happy about it, but Biden.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

2020 Washington State Presidential Primary

Washington State has a Presidential Primary this year!

Update 3/1/20: Buttigieg just dropped out.

... well... they always had a Presidential Primary. But we finally have a better one.

Washington State always had a primary for Presidential candidates, but the Democrats completely ignored the results, in favor of their caucus meetings. The Republicans utilized it, but it was held so late in the season that it didn't really matter. Now, our votes are mailed in by March 10th, and the results are honored by both parties.

New this year, we also have to declare party affiliation. This is certainly concerning as a potential source of spam (party affiliation is public record), and it's not like ticking a box would prevent Republicans issuing spoiler votes. But it's a minor issue compared to the benefits of a real primary.

In any case, on to the actual primary.

Party Affiliation: Democrat.

Should be obvious. Trump's Republicans are toxic. But regardless, their primary's outcome is already assured, and I don't vote in pointless elections.

First, we can eliminate candidates that have already dropped out. While a few of these are indeed interesting, trimming them up-front will ease our cognitive load quite a bit.
  • Cory Booker (1/13)
  • John Delaney (1/31)
  • Andrew Yang (2/11)
  • Michael Bennet (2/11)
  • Deval Patrick (2/12)
  • Tom Steyer (2/29)
  • Pete Buttigieg (3/1)
and one who should have dropped out months ago, but didn't.

Tulsi Gabbard. She hasn't even been to a debate in months, and the only media attention she's getting is for her lawsuits, and her stubborn refusal to drop out.

So that leaves six relevant candidates, coming out of the Nevada primaries. 

We can broadly divide the group into the moderates, and the progressives.

For those not in the know (and Canadians): a key divide in the Democratic party is between moderates and progressives. They both have largely the same set of priorities - health care, education debt, the environment to name a few. The difference is in the process. The moderates take an pragmatic incremental approach - reaching party goals while working within existing structures of power and policy. The progressives relish in directly challenging the people and policies that are perceived as being the direct cause of the problems in society.

Note this divide is distinctly not about being a Washington insider or an outsider. This can be clearly seen by contrasting, for example Buttigieg and Biden, or Sanders and Warren.

Bernie Sanders (29%)

The "Democratic Socialist", a title he wears unapologetically, almost militantly. The most progressive of the progressives. A constant Democrat outsider. A billion years old. And the early front runner, much to the party establishment's chagrin.

Bernie fans are fanatically dedicated. This poses an interesting challenge for the primary: Sanders holds a substantial base of voters that are notoriously difficult to rally for other Democratic candidates. Whereas Sanders as a presidential candidate will have the hardest time attracting moderates of either party.

Can a "socialist" win the Presidency? Maybe. If there's one thing we learn from Trump's candidacy, it's that labels, policy, or even ideology don't matter when you have a cult of personality, which Sanders has in spades. If a racist with no experience and a platform built entirely on catchphrases and spray tan can be president, is a socialist so farfetched? Universal health insurance. Free college. Living wage. Crazy talk! Except that most of the developed world already does this and more with varying levels of success.

A Sanders vote is a vote for fundamental change that is desperately needed, and rejecting the very existence of political moderates as a relevant group in America. 

Joe Biden (17%)

The very face of a Democratic insider. Over 30 years in the Senate, and a popular Vice President under Obama.

The most centrist of the moderates. Biden has already been in the White House and doesn't want to change up that formula. Most moves would be incremental changes to Obama-era policy rather than dramatic overhauls.

A Biden vote is a vote for business as usual. A bet on the the current political middle being the force of the future.

Michael Bloomberg (15%)

A billionaire and popular former New York mayor, that is quite obviously trying to buy the nomination with hundreds of millions in ad spending, so much so that he didn't even bother to participate in the first primaries.

He was by many accounts a successful Mayor and clearly a successful businessman, but with a lot of baggage that will be tough for Democrats to support, such as "Stop and Frisk" and disrespect of women.

A Bloomberg vote is a statement that executive experience (both political and corporate) trumps everything, including character, and policy.

Elizabeth Warren (14%)

A law professor turned politician, turned progressive candidate, with a term in the Senate under her belt. A vocal advocate for progressive issues, but with a history of actually working through it.

Warren is known for having many detailed policy plans, released early compared to her peers. While this is unambiguously worthy of great respect, it also puts her policies under intense scrutiny, that many politicians avoid by staying very vague ("We're going to produce phenomenal health care.") in a way that defies actual analysis.

A Warren vote is a vote for a progressive agenda based in deep thought and analysis, rather than hyperbole and philosophy.

Pete Buttigieg (10%)

He's young. He's gay. He's a popular small-town mayor. But more importantly, he's a moderate outsider - a clear contrast to Joe Biden, and has held his own in debates and polling.

A Buttigieg vote is a support for a less progressive but still ambitious policy, while showing that someone other than old white Senators can lead the country.

Amy Klobuchar (6%)

A moderate-ish Senator and Democratic insider. Klobuchar excels at passing bipartisan legislation.

By most measures, Klobuchar has performed amazingly throughout this race, but simply suffers from going up against some huge brand names. Minnesota Nice may struggle to compete in this rough battle of ideologies.

A Klobuchar vote is for a co-operative but liberal approach to policy, backed by an experienced politician.

So how do I vote strategically?

Wait for Super Tuesday on March 3rd! This is a major test for candidates, and we should hopefully see some drop out on Wednesday. Released delegates can vote for anyone, so the best chance of your vote mattering is to vote for someone likely to survive to the convention. Washington's new primary deadline of March 10th is an amazing benefit for this primary season - early enough for the nomination to still be interesting, but late enough to filter out some of the early noise. Use it wisely.

Otherwise, vote for who you like. That message will carry through, in some form or another, to future primaries, to the convention, or even future years. Your support will mean a lot to your chosen candidate.

What about a contested convention? It doesn't really change anything. The popular theory is that a contested convention would be used to block a Sanders nomination. The best way to avoid that is to give Sanders an uncontested nomination by voting for him. Any other candidate, vote for them and deny Sanders the delegates he needs to clinch it.

My Vote

Currently Warren. More than anything, I long for a truly thoughtful President, and that is shown both in her policymaking and her policy statements. I am supportive of progressive ideals, and believe she can build momentum around implementing at least a few of them. 

Still, I'd support many others in this race. Buttigieg would have been a welcome addition to any ticket. Biden, while boring, would be a safe and competent bet. I'd even rally behind Sanders; I see him more as a figurehead of the progressive movement, but it could result in positive change.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Washington General Election 2019

There's direct democracy... and then this ridiculous ballot.

THIRTY THREE separate votes to make. Of these:
  • 12 Advisory Votes. These are decisions that were already made, and the results of the vote has will not change the decision in any way. I'm not being sarcastic, the result of the vote is not used in any way. It's interesting as a forced broadcast mechanism about tax changes, but from a voting standpoint is, literally, pointless.
  • 16 county bureaucrat positions, of which 7 are uncontested. Seriously, you think I have enough opinions about the Commissioner of the wastewater district to write in a new candidate? Only one of the positions is even partisan.
But hidden in the second page, is a full-on constitutional amendment. That's some clever obfuscation

Referendum Measure 88: Bring back affirmative action

The state Democratic party has always liked affirmative action, and was rather miffed when the people passed I-200 to ban preferential treatment. And thus why this is a "Referendum Measure"; this is what happens when the legislature attempts to pass an initiative without a vote. But it got noticed, and a vote was forced.

Objectively, affirmative action is state-sponsored discrimination. If used carefully with the right intent in the right venues, it's discrimination that can be used to remedy historical injustice and support groups that are disadvantaged to this day. But it's still discrimination. In this case, discrimination in the exclusive hands of a "Governor's Commission", a group that has no reason not to apply it's power broadly, indiscriminately, and in a politically biased manner.

The law asserts that it does not allow quotas or preferential treatment:
Under I-1000, quotas and preferential treatment are prohibited, and no one who is unqualified will be selected due to preferential treatment.
However the text seems to rely on a very narrow definition of preferential treatment for this protection, that could be trivially circumvented, and relies on partisan parties to enforce it. It seems like any protections against diversity quotas would be quickly rendered moot.

Proponents argue that something must be done to remedy ongoing discrimination in our society, and I agree wholeheartedly. Where I disagree is in the false dichotomy that the only way to eliminate discrimination is to apply reverse discrimination, and that we have accept this practice without any meaningful safeguards against abuse.


Initiative Measure No. 976: Or why your car tabs are so expensive

Yes, our vehicle registration fees are ridiculously high. I just cracked $1000/yr on the Tesla.

But registration taxes are progressive; they tax owners of newer and more expensive cars far more than older cheaper cars, and direct funds towards infrastructure needed by all citizens (roads and transit). The money has to come from somewhere. If not here, then it's going to be a property tax increase, or *gasp* a state income tax. Want to sign us up for that?

I can support changing the valuation mechanism for vehicles, though realistically it doesn't matter. If they change the appraisal outcomes, the tax rate will just adjust to match.


Senate Joint Resolution 8200: Washington watches too much Designated Survivor.

The continuity of government rules in the State constitution allows government to fill vacancies as necessary in case of an enemy attack. At the time, the concern was Cuban missiles blowing up Olympia. Washington now admits that a giant earthquake or tsunami or volcano is a far more likely disaster than a bunch of us hippies getting nuked, and want to add "catastrophic incidents" to the definition.

Could "catastrophic incidents" be redefined and abused? Maybe. But it's no worse than "enemy attack" (see also: any Jack Ryan movie). Anyways, the powers Section 42 establishes in such cases are specific around continuity of government; the focus on vacancies makes these powers only slightly useful.


County Nonbinding Advisory Proposition No. 1: Ban Fireworks in Urban Areas.

Non-binding because they already know the answer will be no.

I get it, July 4th is miserable for firefighters, because we keep lighting each others' roofs on fire.

But fireworks are fun, and unincorporated county is the last bastion of freedom given how City Councils micromanage the existence of their residents.


Sunday, June 30, 2019

Home Display Setup

Here's my display board. It's in the hallway to the family room. It is currently showing:
  • Daily agenda, including chores list.
  • Multi-week family calendar.
  • Clock.
  • Thermostat.
  • 4-day weather forecast.
This was initially inspired by the DakBoard 24" display, but I figured I could do better than the $349 retail price by building it myself.

Hardware shopping list:
Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

The Pi Zero W is not by any means a powerful device for GUI; if you want to YouTube or use other rich media, it may be time to upgrade to one of the more powerful devices. But it's cheap, and works great for DakBoard.

  • DakBoard. You can do a simple site for free, but for $5.95 a month, you can get a premium account with a lot more customization. Admittedly, with a bit of HTML, one could accomplish the same thing for free, but DakBoard's customization tools are actually pretty cool.
  • Google Calendar. We created two shared calendars - one for family schedule, one for family chores. The separate calendars allow me to show the chores on the agenda without putting it on the calendar view.
  • Google Photos. Because seriously, what else would you use? I have a shared album with my display photos, that goes not only to my large display, but also to all the Google Home smart displays in the house.
  • Nest Thermostat integration.
Setting up a Raspberry Pi is a whole separate topic. I'll share if people have questions.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Good and the Bad of the Tesla Model 3 Performance

My dream car - 2018 Tesla Model 3 AWD Performance:

I've owned the car for a couple of months now, have experienced the reality of EV life, and being bought into the Tesla cult. I still to this day smile every time I drive off in this car

The Great

It's SO fast! Acceleration is immediate, consistent, and intense. An official 3.5s 0-60mph time, but real-world measurements place it closer to 3.2s. It's hard to convey just how amazing the instant power and perfect traction of an EV are for the driving experience.

Phone key. Much maligned in early releases, and rightfully so - many owners had inconsistent results unlocking and driving their car, across popular brands of phone. But I was lucky enough to receive the car almost immediately after a major app update, and it has worked reliably. I walk up to my car: it's unlocked. I walk away, it's locked. I shift to drive, it drives. It feels primitive by comparison to actually have to carry a separate chunk of plastic around.

The phone key has failed maybe twice since I took delivery. In that case, I have the card key in my wallet; which is enough to get me going while I reboot the phone.

Charging at home. My theory was that, between charging at work, and free supercharging for life, I would never spend a single Wh of my own electricity. Well, ownership has taught me something: the $1's a month I'll spend on electricity is worth it for the convenience of just plugging in at home. I don't have to worry about when or where to charge, because I'm full every morning. Whereas, when I end up driving the minivan, I'm invariably looking at "20 miles range" and debating whether I have time to gas up.

Admittedly I'm charging on 120V. It's VERY slow to charge - it would take three days to charge from empty! But since I'm constantly topping up,it's never a problem. For the rare time I'm running under 50%, I'll stop at the local supercharger and get full in under an hour (for free!).

Single-pedal driving. With regenerative braking at max, you very rarely have to actually use the brakes, except to come to a full stop. This is weird for many drivers at first, but within an hour or so I really appreciated it. It makes downhill a far better experience, and takes a lot of effort out of driving in traffic.

Modern conveniences. Hey, I haven't owned a new car in awhile. It's nice that my garage door opens and closes automatically as I approach.That my seat and mirrors remember my position. A full suite of distance sensors, backup camera. USB power.

The OK

It's good, but could be better.

Center touchscreen. It really sold me on the car - the eyeline seemed so perfect. I still love it, but I admit the right-of-driver position adds just a hint of eye fatigue over the front dash. The biggest challenge is blind-spot warnings - those I would have preferred in front of me (like the Model S).

Autopilot. Works as advertised - you can pop onto the freeway, whether stop-and-go or full speed, and it will drive for you. For morning commute, it will probably save my life one day. With a little care, it will even work on city streets (you just have to handle stop signs and lights... for now...). Honestly, with the AI and sensors, it probably handles highway driving better than I do, given it's better perception of acceleration and instant reaction time.

Still, I wish they handled lane splits/merges better. Also, vehicles changing lanes is very much binary - they give no accommodation to a vehicle signaling a lane change until they are at least 50% in the lane. I still find myself taking over in these situations in deference to the drivers around me,

Auto-parking is still not consistently detecting spots, though it parks well when it sees one. Reverse-in parking is just a gimmick.

The Meh

Even I can admit it's not perfect... and not everything can be fixed in a software patch.

Battery Preconditioning and SoC dependence. Certain things behave differently based on the state of the battery. If your battery is cold, regenerative braking is greatly reduced. The "battery preconditioning" available on the Model S is honestly not effective on the Model 3. Regenerative braking is also reduced when the battery is full. Similarly on a low-charge battery, the top end of your power starts dropping off around 20% charge - 5 seconds to highway speed seems entirely reasonable unless you are used to doing it in 3.

Comfort. I'm told by everyone that my car is amazingly comfortable. It looks and feels premium through and through. There's amazing levels of adjustment that let me sit better than any other car. But there is just something about that driver's seat that my butt won't get used to.

I've gotten used to the firm and forward headrest, though from my reading, this is a common design in newer cars. Apparently you're not supposed to actually rest your head on a headrest? Easy for someone without an XL head to say...

The claim that three carseats will fit across the back of a Model 3 seems dubious from my experience.

Automatic wipers. The sensor underestimates the conditions, simple as that. In Seattle weather, you'll have to turn them up manually. Here's hoping to a fix in a software update.

Bluetooth. I've had issues with frequent media subsystem crashes (lose audio for ~5s), though I think a recent update has finally nipped that one in the bud. Still, it isn't always 100% to connect to my phone, or lose connection getting into the car.

Also, seriously, I don't want to use your stupid Tesla voice commands that control almost nothing. Let me trigger my phone assistant from the wheel!

App Control. Great idea, but limited by the "Waking Up" problem. If the car is idle, it can take upwards of one minute to establish a connection. If you want to quickly preheat the car, it can be frustrating to sit staring at a spinner.

On the other hand, a public API! I can (and eventually will) fix this through the power of coding.

Note the wakeup issue does not apply to phone key.

The Real Problem

Hint: all the problems with this car are around the Tesla delivery centers that serve them.

Delivery scheduled last-minute while I was away, then rescheduled for weeks later once they confirmed the delivery.

They didn't process my payment until almost a week after I took delivery (while insisting I had paid weeks earlier) - and support calls to follow up were about 40 minutes hold time on average.

The referral process was a mess; if you're not buying it online, the dealer is liable to skip the step entirely, then manually submit the request into some black box system that might or might not work. My referral bonus (free supercharging) didn't show up online until two months after I took delivery, though to be fair they never actually billed me for supercharging.

They did not even order my license plates for 40 days (out of 45 allowed days in Washington). My tags expired, and I was stuck driving a rental Chevy Impala while they got me plates. I'm no car snob, but I think I'm at the point where I can say with conviction that, as a Tesla driver, that a Chevy Impala is beneath me. It was an awful experience.

There's a (very minor) issue with my steering column; a known issue that should be a quick fix. Great, first service appointment is a month out. But, even then, they cancelled it without telling me, because the part was back-ordered. Seriously, Elon invented Paypal, but can't send me an email notice that my appointment changed?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

2018 Midterm Election

While midterms are hardly the most exciting ballots, we have a few interesting initiatives this time around.

But, the news for me this time around... the lack of news! The major news outlets, in an attempt to retain their integrity and their revenues, have taken to paywalls. Regional news organizations like the Times and the Herald are hiding their articles behind subscriptions, including their endorsements! While I appreciate the need for these organizations to stay afloat in the era of the Internet, their content is over-priced and over-bundled. By hiding their editorial endorsements behind their paywalls, they surrender any credibility as political influencers, or the privilege of acting as trusted intermediaries of voters.

Guess I'll have to rely on Ballotpedia. *sigh*. I'll decline to include any paywall links in this article, no matter the relevance.

As usual, I don't respond to advisory votes because they're pointless, nor positions lower than State Legislature because voting on bureaucrats is ridiculous.

I-1631 - the carbon tax
It's another try at a carbon tax. Unlike last time with I-731, it's not revenue neutral - it's a fee, and the money will be invested in clean energy, and offsetting cost impact in low-income communities. Unlike a tax, the money can't go into the general fund (which Washington's lesiglature would eagerly waste). We give up the sales tax reduction of I-731, but the expected increase in consumer energy costs is also predicted to be much lower (eg. an increase of $0.14/gal for gas vs. $0.25/gal).

Climate change is strongly supported by science, and the recent UN report makes it clear that change is needed urgently to prevent a catastrophic increase in planetary temperatures. A carbon tax may not be the best idea, but appears to be the only idea so far. Presumably why we keep having initiatives on them.

Bill Gates says yes. You know, the billionaire philanthropist trying to cure polio and stuff. He knows a thing or two.

Rob McKenna, our former Attorney General, says no. But he forgot to mention - he works for Chevron now. Skeeze!

I'd have preferred I-731... but I'll accept this.

** YES **

I-1634 - banning a "grocery" tax
They don't want to prevent all tax on "groceries", they just want to make sure no local jurisdiction can pass a tax that unfairly applies to just "groceries".

Oh, and "groceries" is soda. Just soda. This is about nothing more than preventing future soda taxes. They're trying to lock down any local jurisdiction that would dare to copy Seattle.

Diabetes is bad. And sin tax works, as illustrated by every cigarette tax ever. And dishonest campaigns get voted against on principle.

** NO **

I-1639 - gun control
This was a hard one for me. I'm very pro gun control. Guns are fun, and we should all go shoot paper zombies now and then. But it's entirely reasonable to jump through a few hurdles to prove I can do so safely (or at least I will be able to do it safely once I complete the proposed mandatory safety training). I would also have to be realllllllly dumb to store my gun somewhere where an intruder (or my preschooler) could get at it, and I wholeheartedly support prosecuting those that do.

But ugh, some parts of this law are dumb. Gun registries are known almost exclusively for their spectacular failures. Mandating "guns are dangerous, mmkay" language is just... weird... but I suppose harmless. I really don't like the age-based restrictions - if you have proper vetting systems in the first place, rely on them rather than blindly painting every teen as a school shooter waiting to happen.

I could go either way, but the downsides of the bill seem like mostly harmless chaff. Gun control could make us safer, and I will still be able to get assault rifles easy enough, because I'm good at paperwork.


I-940 - police accountability
There's some training in there as a distraction (lol... first aid? really?), but the actual meat of the initiative is removing the "malice" requirement for prosecuting police use of deadly force, and requiring independent investigation into incidents of deadly force.

The new standard seems plenty strong still. There's a two part test - what a reasonable officer would have believed necessary, and a good faith belief by the officer that deadly force was warranted.

Accountability is good in general, especially when it comes to killing people. If police don't want more accountability, they should probably stop killing so many unarmed suspects.


Snohomish County Prop 1 - 911 Tax
This makes me mad. We pay for 911. At least in our wireless bills, probably in a few other hidden places too.

But they want more money... and they want to do it with a sales tax... the most regressive possible way to tax. WHY?

... but 911 needs to work. So, I'll wave the finger of shame firmly at the County, plug my nose, and accept this.


US Senate
Maria Cantwell (D - incumbent) vs Susan Hutchison (R)

Great article on the debate from KING5.

If you're going to warn about "junk science" in the climate change debate, that's a deal breaker.

In housing, Cantwell is advocating to build more supply. Please, do this. Hutchison is blaming government red tape and permitting fees, not nearly as credible.


US Congressional District 2
Rick Larsen (D - incumbent) vs Brian Luke

I say this every two years. Rick Larsen is brilliant and stands for all the right things, and has been doing so since 2001. Healthcare, transportation, education, STEM. Though less publicized this time around (we seem to have bigger problems), he continues to be a strong advocate for campaign finance reform.

Brian Luke seems like a classic Libertarian. Anti-debt, anti-foreign-military-deployment, anti-regulation. Honestly, these are not bad things if executed honestly; but that is unlikely if he has to work with the Republican party.


Washington Senate LD21
Marko Liias (D - incumbent) vs Mario Lotmore (R)

At first, I was actually interested in Lotmore, notably for his statement's support for STEM and multi-family housing.

.. his website fixed that. Anti-transit (he's probably right, but we can't just give up and drive SOVs forever). Support for I-1634 (banning soda tax). General fiscal hawk. A bit too 2nd amendment happy.


Washington House LD21.1
Strom Peterson (D - incumbent) vs Amy Schaper (R)

Social conservatives are generally a hard pass for me, and this is the hardest of the hard passes. Schaper is anti-LGBTQ in as many words, anti Planned Parenthood, anti-contraception. Add standard Republican fiscal conservatism just in case this wasn't already clear boat full of fail tacos.


Washington House LD21.2
Lillian Ortiz-Self (D - incumbent) vs Petra Bigea (R)

Whenever I make notes on Ortiz-Self, the word "boring" ends up being associated with her platform. As far as I can tell, she mostly makes her name supporting teachers' unions.

But Bigea has the classic "taxes are the source of all our woes" so popular with the Republican candidates.

Sometimes I wish Legislative District 21 would actually have something interesting to say...


Thursday, July 26, 2018

What are "Titan keys" and why would I want one?

Google recently announced their "Titan Security Key", that's grabbed some headlines [CNET]. But what is it, and why is it a big deal?

To talk about security keys, one must first understand multi-factor authentication. Each "factor" is a way to prove who I am to somebody who wants to provide me a service.

What I know! I prove who I am because I know a secret that only I should know. Passwords are the common example of this, as well as their cousin, PIN numbers. The weakness is that secrets are hard to keep, and easy to duplicate. Anyone who discovers my password can pretend to be me.

What I have! I prove who I am because I possess something that should belong to me. Credit cards work this way - if I have the card, I can swipe it and make a purchase - sorry, nobody ever looks at the signature. It's usually harder (but not impossible) to copy something I possess, and requires the evil impersonator to be physically close to my possession.

Who I am! I prove who I am because I can be physically identified. This is how a driver's license works - the photo should match how I look. Fingerprints are a popular way to validate people as well. The problem being that physical properties can be hard to verify - is that fingerprint a real finger, or just a piece of tape copying a fingerprint off a door handle?

Two factor authentication systems require TWO of the above factors to prove who I am. These are far more secure, since an impersonator would have to circumvent two different security systems, usually in very different ways. A common example of a two-factor authentication system is a debit card - to use the card I have to have the card in my hand (what I have) and enter a PIN number (what I know). To steal my money, you would have to get both at the same time without my knowledge (or else I'll just change my PIN or replace the card).

Security keys are designed to be a second factor in such a system. Systems that support them require both your password and the presence of the key before they let you log in. This makes my account more secure - if my password is discovered, nobody can use my account because I have the key. If my key is stolen, the thief can't use it for anything without knowing my password.

This does NOT mean you don't need a password anymore. A security key is actually not very secure on its own, because people overall are shockingly good at losing things. A security key's power is specifically in it's use as a second factor.

The Google Titan Security Key is just Google's take on security keys - and are conceptually similar to offerings from other companies (eg. YubiCo).

But why do I need a security key?
Because your password is bad. You used the same password for your bank account as you did on Snapchat, and you told your friend that password so they could continue your streak. But you can't change that password now, because it's the same password you've used since you were 16 years old. It's the password you shared with that Nigerian Prince who needed it to send you your lottery winnings, and entered it accidentally in that response from that email from But really, your password was just your middle name with a 1 on the end, so it was not hard to guess in the first place.

Your password is probably already hacked. If you don't think so, Have I Been Pwned is a fun reality check.

Where can I use it?
There's two variants being offered by Google - one for phones (bluetooth and tap), and one for computers (USB).

The downside is that not many online services support security keys yet, but a few big players do: notably Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

Questions you never asked?
Q: Do I need to use the key every time I use a website?
A: No, most sites will remember you on a particular computer or phone after you use your key once (for 30 days or so).

Q: How does it work with phones?
A: Phone support is still not the greatest, but if you have the right phone and the right security key, you can tap it to the back of the phone.

Q: What if I lose the key?
A: They're made to be cheap enough that you could have more than one. As long as you have one working key left, you can use it to deactivate old keys and add new keys. Generally you can also reset your account through a phone call or other hoops.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Amazon Music

[Update 2/6/17: Don't know if Amazon Music just hit a eureka moment with my data, or the engineers at Amazon made improvements... but stations are noticeably improved in their variety and depth since I first wrote this post. I'm hearing new bands I've never heard before, and not a single Hardwired song hit in days. Good job, Amazon!]

I've been an adherent of Microsoft's music service (no, I never owned a Zune) pretty much from the earliest days of Zune Music on the PC. I've lived through the resulting brands - Xbox Music, and now Groove Music. I saw the birth and death of download song credits, the switch from WMA to MP3, and the embrace of mobile devices. Finally, in 2016, I gave up on the Microsoft music ecosystem.

It was a good service. It had most of the music I wanted to listen to for streaming, and built-in OneDrive coordination in their clients for anything they were missing. "Radio" for continuous streams seeded on a band name. Decent clients for all the major platforms.

There was really only one problem, that I couldn't get over: too often, I would press "Play" and music wouldn't start. Network issue? Backend congestion?  Client bugs? OS faults? Who knows. Probably a combination of these over the years. But it's a fatal issue. This is a clear "bullshit test" - the basic proof of the most important base scenario in a system. It should never fail.

Should I blame Groove? Yes! Because another app has a great bullshit test - Netflix. When I push play on Netflix, video shows up. Every time, on every device, consistently fast. Streaming video is indisputably a much harder problem. If Netflix can stream video, Groove music should be child's play in comparison.

So when Amazon released their unlimited streaming family plan, I jumped on the opportunity. For $5 more a month than Groove, my entire family could jump on the service? Sold! Microsoft never offered a family plan (and we all asked... a lot!). Maybe this service would work better.

A few months in.... how do I feel?
Eh. Not bad. A bit better than Groove.

Amazon Music does everything it needs to. Clients on major platforms - notably a Win32 client, and an Android app. A collection to stream that seems (at least in the metal world) to be even richer than Groove. "Stations" to keep a constant stream of music going. An affordable family plan!

Most importantly, it works! I can play music quite reliably. I can make playlists. Download music to my devices. My most important feature - I can start a station and have music play all day while I work and/or travel.

But it's not perfect.

The clients are not yet mature. I like the clients. They look and feel nice for the most part. However, it's still pretty easy to find bugs in main flows (eg. adding music to collection). I also expect navigation will change as they discover how their apps are used. Finally - yes, occasionally I won't get music when I expect to. But it's rare, and more importantly it's recoverable. The client knows its having trouble, indicates it clearly, and lets you retry as needed.

Stations are not very creative yet. Unlike Groove, there is only a subset of artists for which you can start a station, and there's no good way to predict which artists will be covered. Once you choose a station, the song selection is appropriate but bland much like a physical radio station. A "greatest hits" feel - you'll like what you hear, but probably never hear anything new.

Stations are obsessed with Metallica. Specifically "Hardwired... to Self-Destruct". Sure, this album is popular, but EVERY rock station I generate will disproportionately select songs from this particular album. Never once any other Metallica album. Nor have I seen this treatment with any other album. This seems to be immune to the Thumbs Down. This is so pervasive in the rock genre, that I cannot possibly believe it's an accident.

No social. I have a family plan. Put my family's playlists somewhere, for those rare cases where I let my daughter choose the music in the car.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

US Decision 2016


I admittedly feel a little cheated - a choice between a rich lawyer career politician that is the very definition of "business as usual", or a bumbling psychopath, or a bunch of throwaway candidates. Seriously, I get to spectate on Obama vs McCain, then my first election is on this bunch of jokers?

Still, just in case it's not obvious, vote Clinton. For the love of all that is good in this country, vote Clinton. She may not be perfect, but she's got a proven track record in both the legislature and executive, and is most importantly NOT A PSYCHOPATH!

Moving on. The interesting votes here were the initiatives, and there's a lot to cover.

To clear up one misconception I've heard repeated lately, you DON'T have to vote on every issue. I've used that right, for minor races that I'm neither qualified nor interested in participating in. There's a lot of them.

Will my ballot count if I choose not to vote on certain issues or candidates?Yes, it will. You can choose to skip any measures or offices you don't wish to vote in. All the votes you cast will be counted.
From <>

Initiatives and Propositions

I-1433 - Minimum Wage
Increment the minimum wage from $9.47/hr incrementally to $13.50 by 2020, then return to our inflation-indexed system after that. Requires paid sick leave at 1hr/week worked.

Largely inspired by the success of a similar initiative in Seattle. However, Seattle is not particularly representative of the cost of living east of the Cascades. CNN's Cost of Living Calculator suggests housing prices in Spokane are 50% lower than Seattle, and other costs are lower across the board.

But on the other hand, can an individual really live on less than $20k a year, even in Spokane? According to the MIT living wage calculator... well maybe if you're single, but no, not even close for a family (even with two working parents). Vague threats of the doom of small businesses have very little evidence that stands up to scrutiny. On the other hand, more income in people's pockets translate directly to more sales tax for government, and more spending for all businesses. Sounds like a win.

I-1464 - Voter-financing of Elections
Offers 3 x $50 credits per voter to finance state legislative races, financed by eliminating the out-of-state sales tax exemption. Places further limits on lobbyists.

A short KING5 debate for those who want the TL;DR of both sides.

In an executive summary, it sound great! Cut back corporate money in elections, and instead fund campaigns based on the will of the people. It's what we've all wanted since Citizens United. Sure, that tax exemption might impact some of the border towns with Oregon, but meh, let them pay their share for my Puget Sound sensibilities. ;)

But there was one huge flaw that I just could not get over. This puts significant limits on lobbyists, and increases transparency on "gray money" from nested PACs. However, it explicitly excluded anything to do with "dark money" - contributions from non-profits. This notably includes unions, which are a huge force in Washington. The theory is that specific dark money contributors threatened to use said money to torpedo the initiative.

I sympathize with the problematic position the bill's sponsors are in, but creating a further imbalance in campaign finance is going to make things worse.

I-1491 - Extreme Risk Firearm Ban
Allow household members to petition court to issue 1 year firearm purchase ban against someone at risk to commit violence.

Will it be effective? Probably not, unless the many other loopholes allowing easy acquisition of guns are closed. But that could well happen (Clinton is big proponent). Anyways, the fact that it goes through the judicial system means the system is about as fair as it could hope to be, and if it prevents even a few gun crimes, it's a win.

I-1501 - Identity Theft for Seniors
It's a scam! It's been widely reported that this has nothing to do with identity theft, and everything to do with a powerful union trying to hide it's list of government employee records from its political opponents.

Whether you support the Service Employees International Union or not, the level of deception in play in this initiative is horrifying and should not be rewarded.

I-732 Carbon Taxes
Implement a carbon tax system on polluters. Offset predicted price increases for consumers with a 1% reduction in sales tax plus an additional credit for low income families.

Carbon taxes are one of the popular ways at the moment to try and artificially increase the cost of fossil fuels in comparison to clean energy. If it works, we reduce our impact on the environment! Hey, I like the environment! But it comes with a price: predicted 5-15% increases in utility bills, and $0.25/gal for gas. That's where the sales tax reduction comes in to try and offset that cost. In theory they should exactly offset. Some opponents suggest that, even with the additional credits, it won't entirely offset for low-income families.

The other key opposition is that the money could be better spent supporting clean energy, rather than making it revenue neutral for Washingtonians, and that the impact for environmental protection may be limited.

But really - lower sales tax AND a potential environmental benefit? Sounds like a win-win to me!

I-735 - Overturn Citizens United
Citizens United is the well-known Supreme Court decision that essentially says that corporations spending to independently influence elections is "free speech". Since that's protected by the Bill of Rights, it's impossible to pass laws interfering with it. This then opened the floodgates for the "super PACs" to influence elections through rich donors.

Fixing this requires a constitutional amendment. That requires the states to be on board.

Voting for this just requests that the State back an amendment. So it doesn't really do anything, but on the other hand it's almost free (just a couple hundred dollars in mailing letters). Anything that can make it more likely, no matter how unlikely, to overturn Citizens United, is worth the effort.

Sound Transit Proposition 1 - "ST3" Light Rail
Sound Transit asks for $54B to build a crapton of light rail, and add more express bus routes.

Transit is good. Our highways, as great as they are, are full during rush hour. All the tolling in the world won't change that - there's only so much space for car lanes, and it simply doesn't scale with our population. Transit of some sort is the only way to scale.

It doesn't hurt that the routes they're proposing basically go from my front doorstep to anywhere I would conceivably want to go in Puget Sound.

On the other hand, it's a lot of money for a long-term payout. Proponents predict $169/pp*yr, which is a lot of money. For a family like mine (long in real property and harboring an problematic Amazon addiction), that's on the low end of the price tag. And it's not planned to be done until 2040 - I'll be old and gray before I get to use the full system.

This was a hard one for me. But in the end, I have to look at the fact that I see a lot of recent progress both moving the light rail North, and the initial forays into the Eastside line. This is the right direction for our region, so I have to suck it up and pay my share.

Senate Resolution 8210 - Redistricting Schedule
Move the redistricting deadline to November 15th.

Requires a State Constitutional amendment, but it's pretty simple. Computers make redistricting easier, so they'd prefer to do it a bit earlier, before the Spring election season. Nobody opposed this.

Significant Candidates

United States Senator
Patty Murray (D) the incumbent vs Chris Vance (R).

Patty Murray's been there forever (four terms so far), and has had a great deal of success in politics. Points to her for ending No Child Left Behind. Negative points for supporting TPP fasttrack.

What surprised me was Chris Vance. His website emphasizes his positions that are distinct from what we generally consider Republican values these days. He has a concrete plan to repair Obamacare with a public payer option! Agrees not to contradict the will of Washingtonians on our liberal social issues. Acknowledges climate change (though not a fan of carbon taxes). A solid and positive immigration reform plan.

.. and he immediately denounced Trump.

Realistically, Democrats need the Senate and there's really nothing wrong with Murray, so she has to get the vote. But I felt a bad that there wasn't some way to reward Vance for acting like a Republican that I could have (in another time) supported. Maybe if I get "democracy credits" from I-1464, I'll send one his way. ;)
Patty Murray

United States Representative - District 2
Rick Larsen (D) the incumbant vs Marc Hennemann (R).

I've been a fan of Rick Larsen since I've been able to vote. He's a key player in campaign finance reform, and overall supports a lot of the social issues that are important to me (eg. Planned Parenthood). Also incumbent since forever (eight terms so far), so he must be doing something right.

Hennemann has no notable qualifications, experience, or positions.
Rick Larsen

State Governor
Jay Inslee (D) incumbent vs Bill Bryant (R).

This is where I started to get a bit bored, which is not a good thing when considering a State Governor. Pretty much partisan positions and attack ads from both sides make me uninterested in this race. Bill Bryant hasn't done much to impress, but has avoided some key pitfalls, like finally rejecting Trump.He opposes minimum the minimum wage increase, but only to do a regional system. Still, Inslee did manage a historic college tuition drop, handled the Skagit Bridge collapse well.
Jay Inslee

Lieutenant Governor
Cyrus Habib (D) vs Marty McClendon (R)

A blind laywer, I'm mostly certain Habib is actually Daredevil. He was sharply criticized by the outgoing Lieutenant Governor for several statements made during the primaries, including the assertion that he'd use the position in far more of a partisan activist manner than it is intended.

On the other hand, McClendon is boring and follows the traditional fiscal conservative lines - no new regulation, cut government costs, etc, and his platform talks more about his personal values than his qualifications.
Cyrus Habib

Secretary of State
Kim Wyman (R) incumbent vs Tina Podlodowski (D)

I can't complain about Washington's elections, nor business registration. Vote by mail continues to be epic. It's easy to set up a small business - the websites aren't pretty, but they get the job done.

On the other hand, there are accusations that Wyman is standing in the way of voter registration for minorities, whereas Podlodowski is running on a platform of making voting easier for everyone, including free postage.
Tina Podlodowski

The boring stuff

Advisory votes are dumb. 

Snohomish County had several charter propositions, but they were mostly boring, along the lines of "lets take this already working system, and codify it directly in the charter so it can never evolve". I think they are mistaking rewriting fundamental governmental documents with just everyday county management.
From 1 to 7: R, R, A, A, R, A, R. If anyone ACTUALLY cares, I can explain why.

State Reps are seriously boring for my district. Even in the primaries, it was pretty clear that incumbents already had the 21st district locked up and there weren't really credible contenders. I voted, but it's clear the decision was made years ago.

Voting on secondary executive and judicial positions is ridiculous. I mostly skipped these.