Thursday, October 27, 2016

US Decision 2016

MY FIRST UNITED STATES PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION! YEAH!

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 <https://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/faq_vote_by_mail.aspx>


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.
YES

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.
NO

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.
YES

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.
NO

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!
YES

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.
YES

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.
YES

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.
APPROVED

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.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Compy 2016 - Rifter.

It's been five and a half years since I last built a PC for myself, constructing "CORVETTE" on Bloomfield-generation technology. Now, motivated by an overwhelming need to embrace virtual reality, I've built myself a new PC. I've named it "RIFTER", an homage to my favorite Minmatar frigate in EVE, plus a reference to the Oculus Rift headset I hope to own soon.

Specs are:
  • Intel Core I5-6600K + Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
  • G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) 288-Pin SDRAM DDR4 3000 (PC4 24000)
  • EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 SC GAMING ACX 3.0, 8GB GDDR5
  • Gigabyte LGA1151 Intel Z170 ATX DDR4 Motherboards GA-Z170X-Gaming 3
  • Samsung 950 PRO Series - 512GB PCIe NVMe - M.2 Internal SSD  
  • WD Black 1TB Performance Desktop Hard Disk Drive - 7200 RPM SATA 6 Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5 Inch
  • EVGA SuperNOVA 650 GS, 80+ GOLD 650W
  • NZXT Phantom 410 Mid Tower USB 3.0 Gaming Case - Gunmetal with Black Trim
So far I'm thrilled with everything in this build, except maybe the case. The Phantom 410 is great, but has some quirks.
  • Middle drive bays are fully removable, increasing airflow and space for the video card, while still leaving a few full drive bays available.
  • The 3.5" mounting brackets are hokey trash. Cheap plastic with some cheaper tool-free mounting bolts. I got it in, but it was frustrating.
  • Some grommeted paths to backside of the case was a clever addition. However, they're not attached well. And all the inbox cables are zapped to the middle grommet.
  • A pet peeve of mine - the thumbscrews to remove the case sides don't thread all that well.
  • Occasionally a buzzing sound, not sure from where. But you can Fonz
Everything worked perfectly the first time, except for network, which required a special driver. Also there was only one DVI port (vs. three DisplayPort) so I had to pick up some special adaptors for my 10 year old monitors.

As installed, 100MHz x 36 --> 3600MHz on CPU, maxes CPU at about 52'C on a Prime95 Torture Test. RAM at 1066 MHZ.

3DMark:

Also, some good news.

This is in stock configuration on a cleared CMOS. This system, it is not made for stock. I haven't enabled the XMP profile in my RAM. I haven't touched the CPU multiplier. Vcore is untouched. This system is designed to go faster, and with some very simple tweaks in the BIOS, this thing is going to fly. But that is for the next post...

In the meantime, some build pictures.


Preparing motherboard; CPU, cooler, RAM.


It runs! Note the red highlights throughout the case. The GPU glows too.


My case. Looks a bit like a Cylon.


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

ThinkServer

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.