Saturday, July 30, 2016

Washington Primary 2016

The first time was exciting, even if largely meaningless. This time around, a mixed bag. On one hand, an extraordinary 17 Federal Senator candidates, and an amazingly diverse Lieutenant Governor's race. On the other, State Representative races were downright sparse, practically abandoned to incumbents. Then the standard assortment of non-partisan minor offices that who could possibly care about.

Patty Murray: the quintessential D.C. Democrat insider (as much as anyone from Washington State can be anyways), and practically guaranteed a Federal Senate position for the billionth time. But she voted for Trade Promotion Authority - a step towards the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Pretty much every other candidate, no matter their position on trade, gets to blast her on TPP. With so many independents in the race, there are options, at least at the primary stage.

Rick Larsen: incumbent since forever. Notable in that he continues to be a key driver in efforts to reform US campaign finance and overturning Citizens United. This is good.

The Lieutenant Governor's race is very diverse and contested for an essentially bureaucratic role. I'm about 95% sure that Cyrus Habib is actually Daredevil. Unfortunately, also lambasted by the previous long-time incumbent.

Perennial candidate Mike the Mover (now "Uncle Mover") is going for Federal Senate this time, and GoodSpaceGuy wants to be State Governor. Strangely, GoodSpaceGuy's statement no longer mentioning space exploration, but now focused on abolishing the minimum wage. Uncle Mover... well something to do with family values... just read it.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Kerbal Space Program

It's been a long time since I've been genuinely addicted to a game. Sure, I've burned a couple of weeks each revisiting some old GOG favorites (Lands of Lore, Magic Carpet, Dungeon Keeper, Tie Fighter just to name a few), and even ground a League of Legends character to level cap. Still, nothing quite had that enduring quality like those early years poured into World of Warcraft.

Now, I'm looking at 234 hours invested in Kerbal Space Program, and wondering how my next game addiction after WoW ended up as a single-player indie game.

Kerbal Space Program is available on Steam, GOG, their own store and soon on Xbox One. It combines the aspects of a flight simulator with a detailed orbital mechanics simulator. A beautiful planetscape is rendered below you, a starfield above... but you're staring at your calculator in your lap deciding if you have enough delta-V to get back into the atmosphere.

The best way to describe it:
Kerbal Space Program is to Newtonian physics what EVE Online is to macroeconomics.

The primary objective is, as you'd expect, to build a space program. But it's hardly all you can do. Atmospheric planes are first-class citizens, and you can fly around as well as any flight simulator. With some creativity you can get seaplanes built, jetboats, or even submarines. Quadcopters. Even basic vehicles can rove around the landscape.

But it's addictive. Mostly due to the inevitable descent into "Kerbal Engineering". You can piece together some pretty crazy rockets, and they'll mostly fly. Manned. And then invariably they'll get stuck, and you'll need an even crazier approach to rescue your people. With each success, you get more ambitious, build crazier contraptions, get them even more stuck, and the cycle repeats.

The quadricopter. 4 jet engines on a small remote control frame.
Easy to fly. Surprisingly difficult to land.

Seaplane landing near the old hangar.
Capable of landing and taking off again effectively from land or sea.

Assembling an interplanetary mission in space.
A small space station, a lander, and of course tons of gas.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


Lownewulf receives [Lenovo ThinkServer TS140]!

For a long time, I've wanted a NAS, or really, anything that could attach storage that doesn't require my aging gaming rig running Windows insider builds to be the storage hub of my home. But NAS is stupidly expensive (hundreds of dollars, plus disks). So when Corndart told me a whisper-quiet server-grade PC could be had for less than $300, I was skeptical.

Well, one Newegg eBay pre-Black-Friday special and $279.99 later, my server was on its way.

It's a very simple piece of hardware. Single 4GB DIMM, single 500GB 7200RPM HDD. Single onboard NIC, onboard VGA port, and a bunch of USB ports.

My strategy is simple:
  1. Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2012 R2.
    It's free, it'll run VMs, and I can manage it all from my computer using our glorious overlord's clicky UIs.
  2. VM: Ubuntu Server - Wily Werewolf.
    It's also free, boots in seconds, can run just about anything with practically no resource overhead, and I can connect with PuTTY anywhere anytime.
  3. Install Tor, BOINC, Plex, Samba, Transmission.
A few gotchas I hit along the way.
  • Though you'd think OEMs would have caught up by now. The BIOS was set up with everything off: virtualization, TCG, and secure boot to start. I understand why (prevent security or compatibility issues during install), but nothing stings quite like having everything set up for remote desktop then having to get down and plug all the wires back in to launch the BIOS.
  • While 2012 R2 uses Generation 2 VMs, the configuration format for Windows 10 is different, so no export from my desktop. Though, even just pulling the VHD directly, it wouldn't boot, suggesting something is fundamentally different with the guest environment on Windows 10. Thankfully Ubuntu is pretty easy to install.
  • Managing the OS is pretty easy. A physical login --> cmdline manager command to enable Remote Desktop --> Powershell: Enable-NetFirewallRule -DisplayGroup "Remote Desktop" --> I can pull the VGA cable. Same command with "File and Printer Sharing" and I'm able to share
  • In contrast, the absolute hardest thing to get working was remote Hyper-V management. I do this regularly in my day job, so I know it works, but it's nearly impossible to get security right without a domain backing the credentials. In the end, I couldn't figure it out myself; it took a mixture of mystery cmdkey commands and an outdated Hyper-V remote configuration tool, both on the server and my local client, but it now works.
The TS140 is old (I think officially past end of life), and even the several years newer Xeon E3-1225 has trouble keeping up with my desktop workhorse (an i7 920). But it's still plenty powerful as a home server. Even committing two out of four cores full time to BOINC, the thing can serve up .m4v files in Plex while barely pushing the needle on the CPU graph.

Side note - two cores of BOINC costs approximately 32W.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

First REAL Vote

On one hand, the two-party system has made electing representatives boring, compared to my first primary. The resulting two candidates were exclusively the pair of vetted Republican and Democrat candidates. In most cases, the GOP candidates that made it through are so far off the rails of sanity (FairTax, anti-net-neutrality, anti-healthcare) that there's not a lot to talk about. However, that is offset by the initiative process, where Washington residents can throw up for a vote just about any idea for which they can collect a few petition signatures. Lots to engage with there!

Initiative 1351
Mandate reduced class sizes in K-12 though hiring 25k employees, at a price tag of $5B in the first four years, and $2B a year after that. No specific guidance where to come up with the money, though this would authorize the school districts to raise property taxes to collect a subset of this (roughly half?).

My biggest question here was: how big (in context) is $4.7B? For this, we can refer to the FY13 Operating Budget, which operates on a two-year cycle. The total pie is ~$60B, though the "Near General Fund-State" (NGFS) portion is only half that at ~$31B. K-12 education is by far the biggest piece of this historically at about $13.6B. The impact in the first four years would be $2.35B per budget, or a 17% increase to K-12 spending, or a 7.6% overall increase in NGFS spending.

Assuming Democrats will never cut anything ever, call it a 7.6% tax increase spent in education. That's a lot of money, but if it dramatically improves school quality in Washington (which has a poor reputation), the money might be worth it. If nothing else, the increased tax bill would be far less than sending my two kids to private schools.

So the real question is, will this dramatically improve school quality?

Well, the real telling factoid I saw was this: of 25,000 new employees, only 7,400 will be teachers.

Clearly something other than class size is driving this proposal, given that most of the employees are not teachers, and that non-employee issues of class size (notably physical space) are largely ignored.

Initiative 591
Why even describe it? It's a one-page proposal, and only a few lines worth of meaningful directive.
  • It is unlawful for any government agency to confiscate guns or other firearms from citizens without due process. 
  • It is unlawful for any government agency to require background checks on the recipient of a firearm unless a uniform national standard is required.
Libertarians against States' rights. Fun. Also completely insane.

Initiative 594
A much longer bill, which prevents the sale or transfer of guns between non-dealers without a background check; the proposed mechanism being that a licensed dealer acts as an intermediary between private parties.

Yes, this law would be illegal under Initiative 591. If both pass, hilarity ensues.

The crux is that there are currently several (legal) means by which you can buy a gun privately without being vetted, and this law intends to close them all. Opponents are concerned that this criminalizes (what they consider) normal behavior, such as lending their guns to friends.

Most of this concern is around "temporary transfers" (ie. lending a gun). The proposal includes exceptions for this category including: spouses, parent-child, anything at a licensed gun range, anything at a shooting event, and hunting.

Advisory: Senate Bill 6505
Advisory = the law already passed, and they ask if you want to maintain or repeal it. The results are completely ignored either way, but they make interesting reading at least.

This prevented the marijuana industry from being counted as agriculture, which apparently gets significant tax breaks. The argument against this is that the end result of being taxed at every stage brings a roughly 44% government tax on marijuana products by the time it reaches the consumer.

Welcome to Washington. We have no income tax. So we sales tax ALL OF THE THINGS!

Advisory: House Bill 1287
Shifts some tax burden away from off-reservation tribal holdings (a notable example often given was Salish Lodge), similar to the benefits that would be given for a local government. Presumably, this tax burden shifts onto the non-tribal land owners in the community, though there isn't an explicit requirement for this.

Tribes are for this because they avoid taxes, though it's phrased as avoiding discrimination compared to a city government. Impacted cities are against this because they lose a significant revenue stream.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My First US Vote!

... okay, so it's just a primary... for midterm elections... and neither senator is up... but still, DEMOCRACY IS HAPPENING! Don't spoil this for me.

Washington is all vote-by-mail, which takes away a bit of the excitement of going to a polling station. Still, can't argue with the convenience. It is also a top-two open primary state - the process chooses two candidates to go into the general election without any regard for party affiliation.
So far, I have on my plate: Federal Representative, State Representative x 2, State Senator, County Executive, and County Prosecuting Attorney.
From what I can tell, US elections are both more fun and less fun than their Canadian counterparts. The US is a two-party system, while some Canadian federal elections have had as many as five meaningfully represented parties. However, despite the polarization of US politics, I'd argue it's actually less partisan. The legislative process is much more complex here, so legislation can initiate from many sources, and legislators can and do vote against party lines - so one party member is not the equivalent of another.
For now, I'm still building my list of resources. Also, learning about Washington State - my studying for the naturalization test (and TV) helped build my knowledge of Federal civics, but left me clueless when it comes to non-partisan primaries, multi-seat legislative districts, and all the other fun quirks of Washington state government.
My best resource so far has been Project Vote Smart. What differentiated it from others (notably and was the details on non-incumbents, and the details at all level of government including State level. Other sites do very well at tracking current Federal congressmen, but it's hard to judge an incumbent when the challengers are unknowns.
So, I'm taking a lot of notes, and hopefully figure out some sane decisions before the baby comes. In two years, I should have plenty of practice and be ready for the serious elections for President and others.