Saturday, November 27, 2021

you should have been more specific.

If the three humans of the household had grown up now, we would all be labeled what is now called "twice exceptional" ("EE" or "2E" for short). I know that I've always been super smart, and also I get over-stimulated or overwhelmed and I shut down and retreat inward. And I have ADHD, and it turns out the old joke isn't actually a joke.

"Knock, knock."

"Who's there?"

"ADHD kid."

"ADHD kid wh—"


Anyway. I have to keep learning things, not from any kind of principle, but because it's who and what I am, and I could no more stop learning than you could stop breathing. I once sought out boring podcasts I could fall asleep to: histories of Byzantium and philosophy, two topics I find extremely dumb and boring. They stopped putting me to sleep after one or two dozen episodes, because my brain adapted and started the process of enthusiastic learning. It's who I am. I have to roll with it, or suffer needlessly.

Luckily, the world has more stuff than I could learn in a thousand lifetimes! I've long thought it would be fun to know (at least a little bit) how to fly a plane, but I do not want to actually fly a plane. It's grotesquely expensive, the radio protocols are not friendly to my brain which often blips on audio, and the noise, vibration, and sickening motion of small plans hit me pretty hard. The most intensive flight simulation rigs can have VR, an eye tracker, and several monitors, enough to qualify for real-world training, and still be a fraction of an actual plane. So I bought the best-cheapest flying hardware (a Logitech joystick) and X-Plane, the biggest simulator for Macs, famous both for being cross-platform, and for having a physics engine enabling users to create the Space Shuttle, or the enormous wings of an airplane on Mars. Maybe someday I'll upgrade to more complex hardware, but for now I'm enjoying a light involvement, at the Indiana Jones level.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

the haps.

I keep starting blog posts, thinking about Tim, and I'm not finding much to say that isn't private for one reason or another; it never stops being weird to miss someone even if you never saw or talked to them.

It's a big month: our anniversary, Tim's birthday, my friend J.D.'s yahrzeit, a niece's birthday, Dad's birthday.

I hit my 4-year anniversary of picking up the violin. If I were out in playing in the world, I would be enjoying the looks I get when I tell people I started when I was 40. It is an idiotically awkward instrument, and I think folks have trouble imagining that anyone could learn it without the plasticity and parent-enforcement of childhood. But no, I just wanted to play cool Scandinavian tunes.

We have momentarily discouraged the Oriental cockroaches—who much prefer to stay outside–by the simple expedient of having a bunch of guys demolish the concrete behind the house. Looking at the underside of the concrete, which of course is as uneven as the ground it was poured over (and obviously not flattened beforehand) I think they actually don't live as far underground as I'd thought, and as the ground settled over the years, they had the underside of the concrete to live and travel in. Maybe shared with the ants, when those are around.

The boy is doing well, if "boy" can describe someone several inches taller than me, and with considerably more facial hair. He's back in person at school, vaccinated. Learning stuff, occasionally talking to other teenagers, and generally being a delight to have around.

My previous company filed for an IPO this week! So that's a new experience. The date and price are kept under SEC-enforced lock and key, and then there's usually a 6-month lockout period for current and former employees (or something). 

My current company remains a big ship to steer, self-encumbered in new and exciting ways, but it's moving along. The tech job market is nuts, though. My former minions departing my former company are scoring absurd levels of compensation at new jobs. It's unreal.

And, finally, I've been reading a lot about machining, out of curiosity. I've been watching machining videos for a long time, mostly Clickspring and This Old Tony, and wanted to know how it worked. How do you take the messy, uneven, nonlinear materials of the world, and make flat surfaces? How do you create something accurate to within 0.0001 inches? (About the thickness the ink a Sharpie dispenses.) The answer, it turns out, is "kind of a pain in the ass, actually," but mostly it starts with somebody rubbing 3 plates of material (granite or cast iron, usually) against each other, and scraping down the high spots. When each is perfectly flat against the other two, they're all flat, because the surface common to them all is a flat plane. Few people do that themselves, and instead you usually acquire a "surface plate" for your shop, and use it to calibrate the more complicated gear that absorbs daily wear and tear.

Dunno. Could be worse.

Monday, October 11, 2021

house and home.

It can be harder to practice Bach when the wildfire smoke hits, because the fireplace room is less airtight, and if we have to pick between 2 of 3 air conditioners, we'll sacrifice that one if I don't need it for work. There's electrical work coming, because it'd be good to have a better A/C solution, and also our gas furnace and ducts are installed stupid. The new shiny thing is "ductless mini-splits," which are indeed shiny, and I wonder if a technology evolved to make them be more practical and popular, or if I'm just accustomed to dilapidated heating systems and no air conditioning. If I understand it correctly, some genius figured out how to use the same liquid for both heating and cooling, so you can stick the big compressor thing outside the house, and the inside-outside connection is limited to electricity and a fluid hose, both more energy-efficient than air and its ductwork.

Splits take 240V circuits, though, and our house also has an adorable 100A service that will need a lot of help, and there are other uses waiting for 240V circuits, etc. etc. and it will just be a whole thing, although hopefully less of a thing than the foundation work. That went really well, I think, and it is bizarre and pleasing that the floorboards in our 1938 house didn't creak at all for a couple months. It's not natural. There are wall and ceiling cracks all over the place, but the important part is that the house is no longer collapsing inward.

Our electric bills this summer were, for lack of a better word, absolutely adorable. I think we're paying about $20 for a month with a lot of A/C use. As far as the Sun is concerned, we live in a desert, so usually the solar panels spend the day generating enough power to run the house, and enough to charge the PowerWall house battery, and to sell surplus power to the grid precisely during the hours it's most expensive. Sunrun, who owns and maintains the equipment, handles all the accounting and makes the money. The safest bet in the country, that PG&E will only get more expensive and less reliable, is paying off, rates already having gone up over the year of the solar installation process.

Anna made a scale diagram of the property on graph paper, so we can take the various possibilities and see how to arrange them. The next step is a good shed, to put tools and stuff in, and get rid of the U-Haul container currently holding an improbable quantity of stuff in the yard. Then a shade structure, which then gives us a year-round workshop space, which we'll then use to somehow roll bench tools in and out of the shed. (The only things less fun to move around than the bench grinder are the drill press, and then the winner for Most Awkward is the chopsaw, an absolute monster of a thing that I got for five or ten bucks when I passed a contractor's retirement yard sale, and has lots of cast iron in it.)

Then there's an inflatable hot tub waiting for installation, and the dusty backyard crying out to be covered with something that's not dust.

To some extent all this home improvement stuff feels weird, when we'd like to move somewhere with more water; but we don't really know if we'll move, or when, or even if we'll sell the house if we do. We own the place outright, now, so just walking away into foreclosure isn't an option. It's more like car repairs: if your car breaks down, and you need the car, and you're not willing or able to replace the car, then your remaining option is to fix the car. High school graduation is on the horizon, but we don't know what the kid will need after that. At this point, I can't really imagine a post-pandemic era, but we can't shelter in place for decades. Whether or not we go out to concerts again, there will be colleges or job opportunities, or a simple desire for change, and we'll want to migrate.

To somewhere with clouds, and rain.

Thursday, September 16, 2021


“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

(If you haven't read The Wind In The Willows...why not?)

If you have Amazon Prime, you have access to the profoundly uneven and weird selection of Prime streaming video. One of its more rewarding options is Cruising The Cut, a homebrewed docuseries by a guy who appears to be some sort of video-making professional, who decides to buy a narrowboat and go spend long stretches traveling England's canal system. It's incredibly soothing (and also seems to be available on YouTube).

I'm not unfamiliar with England, and I grew up around boats, but this whole thing is absolutely wild. I barely know where to start.

  • Britain's canal system had 4,000 miles of canal at its peak. There's 2,000 miles of it still.
  • His boat is steel, 56 feet  (~17 meters) long. That is a damn big boat. It steers like my high school friend's 1977 Cadillac, which one would ordinarily say "steers like a boat," but.
  • Like all narrowboats, it's 6-7 feet wide, and the narrow canals and locks can almost all handle 2 boats at once.
    • My sailing adventure was in a boat 42' long, 14' at its widest.
  • They run on adorable diesel engines with a usual max speed of 4-6 mph, but the correct speed is 3 mph or less. In the boats I know, this is essentially idling forward.
Navigating open water is a question of compasses, charts, lighthouses, foghorns, island contours, water towers (and GPS, if you're into that sort of thing). There's...not really navigation. It's a canal. It's a highway for boats. There are simple maps, but also posted signs with arrows.

The idea that there's 2,000 miles of waterway that you don't have to navigate and is generally 6' deep or less is just...some idea from another planet.

Much like with a train (at least in the U.S.), the canals are often in a secret world inaccessible or invisible by road. There are quite a lot of sheep, farms, and houses, and in one stretch, downtown London.

An aqueduct that carries a canal over a roadway is not at all a new idea, but it never stops looking weird to me. And then this thing, which is just amazing.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021


The wildfire smoke finally turned around and hit us for a few days. I bought a couple PurpleAir sensors, which was useful, but awkward: they have built-in webservers, but the outdoor sensor actually has two sensors for some reason. And it was a pain to look at the two side-by-side, when that's actually an important comparison.

One of the many nice things about being a computer programmer is that I know how to find the data made available for computer programs to read and process. And one thing that makes me an expert is knowing that while I could go through the work of creating an authorization key to fetch the data from PurpleAir's service, that's silly, because the sensors are right here on the house network.

   "Adc" : 0,

   "DateTime" : "2021/09/01T06:26:33z",

   "Geo" : "PurpleAir-c882",

   "Mem" : 14200,

   "SensorId" : "10:52:1c:44:c0:87",

   "current_dewpoint_f" : 53,

   "current_humidity" : 35,

   "current_temp_f" : 84,

This is quite civilized: the sensor provides this in plain text, and the fields aren't rocket science to figure out. I don't know what Adc is, but I also don't care, because I want temperature, humidity, and the Air Quality Index, which the sensors label pm2.5_aqi. (PM 2.5 overwhelmingly dominates the AQI calculation for our purposes.)

We have data! But data is not information; information comes when you take your data and apply your questions. You can see that just in the screenshots up there: because I'm not an expert, 759 particles/deciliter is not a number that tells me if I should go outside or turn on another air filter. I need the user-friendly AQI for that. Next technical challenge, is that I would like to know...

  • when the AQI goes above one or more threshold values,
  • when it goes back down,
  • the relationship between inside and outside AQI,
  • and temperature/humidity/atmospheric pressure, just for fun.
If you've ever done any data processing or visualization—for which you probably used Excel and/or Google Sheets—you have a hint of the challenges, if you want to collect 10 data points, every 2 minutes, store them somewhere, do calculations on them, make them available via a web server, graph them, show the graphs next to each's a pain in the ass. For businesses, it can be thousands or millions of data points, every few seconds. It's so hard that there are many companies you can pay to do it for you. DataDog is one of those. I wrote a 37-line script to send the sensor data out to DataDog, which also lets me set up alerts on it.

If you look at the live version of the charts, you can change the time window, and moving the mouse pointer along any of the charts shows a cursor at the same moment on each other chart, so you can correlate events.

So that's been useful. The wind has turned back for the moment, sending the smoke back to the rest of North America. But it will be back.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021


Content Warnings: death, suicide.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

the zoo.

I just got another entry in my endless quest for a travel violin. I wouldn't take it gigging, but I'm always on the lookout for something lightweight and durable, easier to, yannow. Travel with. On airplanes particularly. One challenge is getting annoyed with an instrument that has less expressive range than I do; the ultimate answer to that is just to put up with the inconvenience and bring the real violin. It's not like it's a cello or a bass: it fits fine in the overhead compartment. Still, I dream.

The Cricket shows promise, though. Pretty much any violin made specifically for traveling–and there are not many–is based on the pochette, which dance teachers would carry around for accompanying their students. As that article shows, they sounded awful, as a rule, so people have put a little bit of modern knowledge and technology into making them nicer to play and to listen to. You can see this guy's travel and pochette fiddles, and the traveler models have eye-watering prices for something I'd expect to be tramping around with, or even just tossing into cars. (I think he just does them for fun, and for his day job he's a hydrologist or something.)

Magic Fluke is primarily a ukulele company, and this bears some signs of being built for fun by people who don't set up violins for a living, in particular a sharp corner at the top of the fingerboard, right where the hand will hit it every time. I also thought it was sounding quiet, so I repositioned the bridge closer to where it's supposed to be, which was a 10-15x volume increase; but I will bring it to an actual violin guy, who will make it sound its thin, reedy best, and can sand down that corner in a way that will not make it worse (he can even do it symmetrically on each side). I have an extra set of somewhat nicer violin strings, too, which will probably help.

(Solid-body electric violins sound more or less the same no matter the size, free of the heartless physics of sound waves in air; for the same reason, they're better able to sound good across a wider range of frequencies, so 5 or 6 strings require no fancy engineering adaptations. But, like electric guitars, their musical power without their extremely heavy support systems is pretty much zero.)

Here's my current list of instruments:

  • Dahlia 5-string violin.
  • Cricket Violin by Magic Fluke.
  • Cecilio Sparkly Blue Electric Violin. (Marked for deaccession.)
  • Fiddlerman Artist Viola.
  • Unsatisfactory travel violin, built by a random guy on the Internet.  (Marked for deaccession.)
  • 1970s patent-infringing Japanese copy of the classic Martin D-18 guitar.
  • Blueridge tenor guitar (4 strings).
  • Line 6 Variax Standard. (Electric guitar that emulates the sound of many other guitars.)
  • Eastman MD505 mandolin.
  • J. Bovier solid-body electric mandolin.
  • Large octave mandolin/small Irish bouzouki, by Bigleaf Mandolins. (Marked for replacement.)
I ordered a weird Swedish thing from Sweden, but the guy won't start building it until November, so I really don't think it should count...