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.

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.


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.