Archive: January, 2024

One year into my Mac reboot

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 26, 2024, 10:57 PM | comments: 0

As I was preparing my tax documentation, I noticed that I ordered my 16" M2 MacBook Pro a year ago today. I wrote some thoughts about it a month after that. I was so sold on it that I bought a Mac Mini with the same silicon in it by the end of March, for my desk. Obviously I was pretty confident that it was the right move.

I suppose the most important thing to talk about is the "important" thing, that it's amazing for software development. The nuttiest thing about this is that I'm a Microsoft stack guy, mostly, but the primary runtime and framework, .Net, has been relatively platform neutral now for years. So add in JetBrains' Rider development environment, and all of the stuff you can run in a Docker container, and rest assured that it's super easy to write code on the Mac. And honestly, after years of Visual Studio with ReSharper (which is the refactoring plugin that's also part of Rider), and the terrible performance associated with it, this is a breath of fresh air. That's probably less about the Mac than it is the software, but it makes me wonder why I wasn't using the Windows version of Rider.

My previous laptop was a Surface Laptop 4. I ended up having it less than two years, and that included a service return because it stopped charging through the Surface connector. I labored over the decision to buy that, with its sweet Alcantera keyboard and "ice blue" color, but it disappointed me. Part of it was the mushy keyboard, but also I hoped for better than 7-ish hours of battery life. The IPS screen was fine, and touch, but not as deep even as the screen I had on my previous HP.

The MacBook Pro doesn't have an OLED screen either, but with the high pixel density and whatever else is going on, it's obviously a really great panel. The lack of touch screen still annoys the shit out of me (I'll get back to that), but it sure is pretty. And while it's not light, the bigger screen is welcome. Apple also went back to the things they abandoned with their dumb changes in 2016. That's when they started putting that stupid touch bar instead of function keys over the mushy-ass keyboard, and stopped putting useful ports on the machines. That's why my 2014 13" MBP was my last and I went back to Windows machines, for the first time in 12 years, in 2018. But with the return of the smart MagSafe power connector, three Thunderbolt 4 ports, one regular USB and an SD card slot, there are no constraints, no dongles. The keyboard is solid and comfortable and responsive, and the weird haptic touchpad that feels like it moves when you "click" it but doesn't fantastic. I also put a hexagonal "Swarm" dbrand skin on it, which I'm obsessed with. Having that texture on the touchpad appeals to my sensory needs. It never gets oily gross either. Oh, and the realistic battery time is 12 hours with a development load. That's not even an exaggeration or best case, that's average. It's unreal. But that's the promise of ARM processors, the low power requirement. The thing never even gets warm (with one notable exception).

Video editing has been a longer journey than I expected, but both the MBP and the Mini I bought with only 500 gig SSD's. There isn't a lot of room inside for video footage. If I wanted to get the appropriate 4 TB of storage in either one, that's an extra $1,200, which is insane. I was already feeling weird about the extra $300 on the Mini for more CPU and GPU cores to match the MBP. I bought a cheap enclosure for the hard drives I had in my Windows computer, but they largely topped out around read speeds of 850 MB/s, which ain't great for 4K video editing. Eventually I bought a proper USB4/Thunderbolt 4 enclosure and a loose 4 TB SSD to put in it, and I got 2,800 MB/s. Having 3x the speed is obviously a big deal (or 7x the speed of the SATA drive I had in the Windows computer), and it makes editing useful.

I've talked about gaming a ton in the last year, and where I am with that is, I guess, feeling in a weird limbo place. Apple released a game porting kit that acts as a bridge between Windows' Direct3D and Apple's Metal, and with the open source Wine that acts as a bridge between various other Windows API's and the Mac, you can essentially run many Windows games through this translation layer. Some work, others don't, but I've been using it for Against The Storm for some time, and it works flawlessly. The problem is that, since there's all that computationally heavy translation going on, the 12-hour battery lasts at best two hours. There has been this chicken and egg situation that developers believe is a thing, where they don't port games because they don't believe there's enough market share, but if 1 in 4 new computers is a Mac, I don't see how that's not a huge opportunity. The base hardware is so capable, compared to needing a Windows rig with expensive Nvidia or AMD hardware.

Anyway, to solve this, I relented and replaced our aging Xbox One with a Series X, and I'm really enjoying the Lenovo Legion Go, despite its quirks when using it on a TV. But I still have these insanely powerful and energy efficient Macs that could theoretically be great gaming computers. It's annoying. One possible solution: If Microsoft would allow the Xbox app to run on ARM Windows, which I've tried on my Mini in a VM, even with the translation layer, it could be excellent for many, many games on Game Pass.

Also, I want to get back to the touch screen thing. Admittedly, this is probably not important in most cases, except for one really important one: My lighting thing. I want to buy a lighting console, I've committed to it, but because I'm pursuing the "on PC" variety, because it's cheaper, that means the computer and touch screens are a "bring your own" affair. Well, Macs are not touch screens. This is such a drag. I have a portable external touch screen, and it does work with the Mac, but you need at least two screens to pair with the console, so it's not ideal. Amazingly, Asus announced what is probably the ultimate solution to this, as in, it changes the usefulness and value of these PC-based consoles, and it's not super expensive (relative to the console), so I'll probably end up getting one of those. There's a side benefit of this shortcoming though... it solves the gaming problem.

The short story though is that going back to Macs as my daily drivers has been great. They're honestly overkill even, although I suppose they should be given the cost (the laptop at the time was $2,500, the Mini was $1,600). They're still not the most expensive computers I've bought (the $3,000 Sony in 2001 still wins), and that's saying something given what people often call the "Apple tax." But the math is different because these machines have abandoned Intel. If ARM computing on Windows ever really takes off, and to be clear, ARM Windows does exist and I've tried it in a VM on the Mac, it could be a game changer for Windows and a very bad situation for Intel. Regardless, I'm super happy with the switch back. Even just the smaller scope experience with the Legion Go and Windows (drivers, firmware, game incompatibility) has made me appreciate the relative simplicity and "just works" nature of Macs. So glad that the hardware no longer sucks.

Barbie and the Oscars

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 24, 2024, 7:29 PM | comments: 0

When I heard that a Barbie movie was going to be made, I fully expected it to be one of those things that came and went. But then I heard who was writing it, directing it, and in it, and I was pretty certain that my initial impressions were wrong. I was not surprised that it was as big of a deal as the prestige historical drama Oppenheimer. I haven't see that yet, but look forward to it, despite that fact that it appears to be emotionally taxing given its subject matter.

When it comes to the Oscars, I'm sure that Oppenheimer is justifiably recognized not just for best film, but also director and actors. I don't think anyone finds that controversial. In fact, it's kind of the point... if the movie itself is in the top tier, it stands to reason that the work of the people who made it are as well. Barbie did what I didn't think any movie could. It took one of the most commercial and economically staggering toys in all of history, if not the biggest ever, and used it as the subject of a well-crafted, deeply stylized art film that also addressed some of the very cultural negatives that the toy helped influence. If that's not a magic trick, I don't know what is. And with the blessing of the IP's owner, no less!

So it's reasonable then to ask how it's even possible that this best film nominee could not also recognize its female director and its lead female actor. Worse, that it could nominate its supporting male, who was great by the way, and not recognize the women, well, it's literally what the movie is about. It's as if it preemptively called out the academy.

Greta Gerwig is an extraordinary writer and director, even if I only previously base it on Ladybird. (Disclaimer: I love coming-of-age movies.) And Margot Robbie has been nailing everything she's in, whether it be characters like I,Tonya or straight roles like Bombshell. I don't think that Barbie is a one-off achievement for either woman, but it also shouldn't matter. If the work is recognized as elite, so too should be the people who made it.

I know that there's this bizarre "conservative" backlash to diversity, despite the fact that research shows that diversity makes everything better, more profitable, etc., but this isn't even about that. Women are slightly more than half of the population. Expecting them to be represented and recognized as equals is not a huge lift. I mean, Hollywood as an industry knows this, because its "girl power" movies sell very well. But it's still a white male dominated industry in a world where they represent only 30% of Americans and only 2% of the entire world. (White American males also include 7 of the 10 richest humans, so it's pretty dumb to suggest that the world is free of any kind of racism or sexism.)

It's getting better, there's no denying that. But as someone born in the 70's, with the civil rights movement fresh on minds and first in school, it's just staggering that we aren't "there" yet. If you're one of those people who "don't see color" or gender or sexuality, cool, high-five, be one of the people who calls it out when they see inequality.

The wave of YouTuber quitting, the cost to make stuff

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 19, 2024, 2:00 PM | comments: 0

Marques Brownlee, who I think represents the gold standard in tech reviews on YouTube, posted some thoughts about a recent rash of very successful YouTubers who are either leaving the platform or taking an indefinite break from it. He generalizes that at a certain scale, producing video for YouTube is a large and complex business, and that's probably not what the founder of the channel wanted to manage. I get that, but also wonder why it is that, if they can afford to hire people, they don't hire said manager. I mean, Leo Laporte built an enormous podcasting business (before it was cool), but he doesn't run it, he makes podcasts. He hired a manager (and then apparently married her after divorcing his wife, yikes).

Regardless, there is a lot of very good video on YouTube that looks every bit as good as what you used to find on cable, before it all turned into cheap reality shows. As it turns out, despite massively lower barriers to entry in terms of technology and cost, making this stuff at that level is not free. You can call it a dream job or whatever, but that doesn't mean it isn't work, and that you often need others to help. This goes back to my comments that "content" is bullshit, and if what you have is really valuable, it's a show. You're a director, editor and personality. Well, until you're managing an enterprise.

I've honestly felt this in the process of making what is clearly going to be a short (not feature length) film. I can't do it all. I need help. The best footage I have was when I had Diana and Simon helping me. I needed animation to tell a story, so I had to hire a guy to do animation. I need the right tools. Despite Apple's claim to the contrary, you can't make something of higher quality with a phone. (Yes, I know, they did the announcement video on an iPhone... which was attached to a crane, Steadicam, with hundreds of thousands of dollars of lighting and other production gear around it.) Fortunately for me, this is a passion project, and since it's self-funded, there is no deadline to deliver it. These top-tier cats on the YouTube, they need help.

They're also tying their well-being to a platform that could cut them off at any time, which would make me deeply uncomfortable. Ugh, I have to resist another rant against platforms. I hate that you have to play in someone else's sandbox now to successfully make things for the Internet. Indie publishers can't make money anymore. Heck, media properties owned by conglomerates can't make money anymore.

And this gets me eventually back to thinking about what I do, what I make. I've had these community sites now for more than two decades. There was a time when I could pay my mortgage with the ad revenue. Now, I have to borrow from myself to keep the lights on, and the costs aren't even that high. It wouldn't be so frustrating if it weren't for traffic actually trending significantly up. Unlike the YouTubers, I don't risk the burnout or management burden, because the reality is that I'm not writing original stuff or making video anymore. But what am I doing? It feels like I only do it now to validate that the software I write in my spare time works as expected. And the occasional off-topic conversation about some peripheral interest.

The joy of making things, and art, seems like the thing that makes us human. But the machine works against you.

On seeking validation

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 19, 2024, 12:00 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that stands out as a parent of a teenager is that they require a lot of validation. A lot. This is not a new discovery by any means, more of a reminder to me. It makes me aware that I'm not great at it, for a lot of reasons. But it also got me to thinking about the role of validation in my own life. I think I'm mildly angry about it.

Like any teen, I desperately wanted to be validated, recognized and seen. I think that's pretty normal at that age. I've never been one to keep score in life, but looking back at those days, I did not get a lot of validation from anyone really, including the people who should have been doing it. There were two adults at school who regularly got involved with me (and a number of volleyball coaches), and I think that's why I turned out OK. But mostly, I waited for validation that never came.

In college, I think I transitioned to a place where I just didn't seek validation, because I still wasn't getting it. I made up in my mind that I wasn't going to get it, so just do all the things and let the outcomes be my validation. For example, I did a lot of stuff outside of regular class work my first year, and I did get an award for that, but the more I did after that, the less it seemed to matter to anyone. (This is where another autism retrospect indicates that a lot of me feeling like a flawed personality was hitched to my wiring, and it's regrettable that it involved a lot of self-loathing.) When I got into the professional world, I just pushed ahead to get where I wanted to be. Those arrival points were my validation, despite hearing nary a "good job."

In my middle-age reflection stage, I'm looking back and thinking, wait... I've accomplished a lot of things. I've done really great jobs at stuff. Why have I so infrequently been validated by others for this? Does it matter? Depends on the context.

I think this sort of depends. For my hobby and leisure things, I am deeply uncomfortable about getting any recognition. I was in a social situation some years ago where a few people credited the online communities I started for bringing them together. While I'm happy to hear that, for some reason it's uncomfortable to receive that message. But in terms of jobs, and I've had a lot of them, I have rarely been validated for the work that I've done. That's a little odd seeing as how jobs are transactional; I get paid for what I achieve. But when I think about how I operate as a leader, I'm constantly giving positive feedback for achievement. I'm a goddam cheerleader in that role. Unfortunately, I don't feel like I've had that for me.

Professional validation comes in many forms, but the most basic are verbal acknowledgment and monetary reward. The industry that I work in is weird, because people are very much treated like cogs, interchangeable at any time, but also paid relatively well. But from a satisfaction standpoint, not getting either form of validation is a bummer. I haven't really thought about it until more recently. It bothers me.

There's another post at some point about motivation and intent. I'm not going to claim any typicality here, being neuroatypical. Not seeking validation as an adult could be environmental for me, but it could also be related to ASD. Validation has never been the primary reason for doing much of anything for me, as I intend to lean on intrinsic motivators.

AI used when coding is like magic

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 17, 2024, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

There is a lot of speculation, some fear, some excitement about the role of generative AI in software development. I haven't been writing a ton of code lately, but I recently finished the demo code for my Code Camp talk this year (still need to do the deck). With that in mind, and my GitHub Copilot subscription that I keep paying ten bucks a month for but don't use much, I started to ask it some questions. The talk is about using code to manipulate moving lights. The basic knowledge is easy, it's just changing numbers in an array. But what if I wanted to do cross fades between lights? What if I wanted them to be log or exponential instead of linear? What if I wanted to spread the fade evenly across 10 lights?

It knew how to answer every single question. Then it started suggesting questions that led to better answers.

I couldn't believe it. Because that's math, it would have taken me a long time to figure that stuff out on my own. I've used AI before to generate some markup and style sheets before to get layouts I described with words, but this was something else.

So what does this actually mean? Well, there's context I would add. First off, most people don't write a lot of code that requires algorithms. If I had to guess, most coding is pretty boring and routine. More to the point, it's usually about composition, making different blocks work together for some outcome. This stuff is super easy for AI to do, and I've done it quite a bit in what little experience I have with it. At the moment, that's where the real value is.

The bigger question is usually about how much code it can write to reach those bigger outcomes. That's not a thing yet, but even if it could, it depends entirely on the human input. There are always rules that govern the outcomes, and you have to be as explicit about as many of those as possible. So yes, it could get to a point where product managers could write enough requirements to get the outcomes, but then they also have to figure out where the edge cases are, and test to make sure stuff still works.

I think that long before anyone will be "replaced," people will be needed to learn the best way to use the tools, and that will still be a special and well developed skillset. I would also assume that there will be some kind of regulation, or at least ethical standard, about how the machines write and deploy code, because, you know Terminator. The tech may move fast, but as we know, humans do not. We have the technology to end poverty, racism and such, but we're not there.

I'm kind of excited though about using this more to try things that I may not otherwise be confident enough to try.

What it's like in my head, most of the time

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 16, 2024, 4:22 PM | comments: 0

A few years ago, the play adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time came through town. It's a story about an autistic kid's interactions with others over a, well, curious incident. The author of the novel insists that it's not about autism or any specific disorder, and that it's more about being an outsider and seeing the world in a different way. Regardless, what I found great about the play was the way that they tried to represent the character's perceptions. Through lighting, video projection and sound, they did a brilliant job of simulating the intensity of sensory input. It was also another point at which I suspected that this was me, though decades of experience taught me to compensate, filter and adjust, to varying degrees of success.

I was having one of my "shower thinks" this morning, and the topic of screenwriting popped in there. I thought about various writer's comments in various interviews about how they write what they know. I've always thought that what I know isn't interesting, so I've written so little because I won't write the things I know. But what if I did? What would it look like? One of the things I know is a very busy thought stream, that rarely stops.

In trying to deal with insomnia and anxiety, mostly in the evening, I know that it is chemically possible to give my brain a break. Lorazepam, which I have a very small supply of for the infrequent and relatively mild panic attack, absolutely does the trick. I describe it as getting off the freeway and on to a slower road with no other cars and few things to look at. Experiencing that difference is yet another recent mental health discovery for me. And when I share it with others, it's another thing that is not typical, I suspect.

If I feel mentally tired a lot, most of my life, really, how would I write that for a screenplay? When I sat at my desk, I recalled how the previous few minutes went since leaving the shower. It's something like this.

[After carefully drying off with just one side of the towel] The towel goes wet side out. Leave it a little longer on the outside so it dries better and doesn't stink. I wonder if Diana sees that I do this, and if it annoys her. She wouldn't tell me if it did, I think. Someone must have studied bacteria growth in towels. Every time I search for scientific articles they're behind a paywall. There's a puddle on the floor. Stupid Remy. How would I use one of these racing mind situations in a film? Close up on the eyes? Looks like our palm tree needs trimming again. Wow, this landscaper is the longest lasting of the three that we've had since I was on the HOA board. I wonder if we'll be able to negotiate a good renewal rate since Kyle left the neighborhood. I could make the scene black-and-white, but that's so cliche. I hate this bathtub. I hope we can afford to renovate the bathroom this year. Our neighbor Nicole gashed her leg on that sharp corner in her house. I can't believe we were in Jamaica with her at the same time but on different boats. Blue! Maybe tint the scene blue. Cut-cut-cut-cut with shots matching the rapid-fire thoughts. We could game out the renovation with a spreadsheet. All of the materials are online. I bet a GC would get better pricing though. I wonder if he'd think I was a dick or high maintenance if I did that as a starting point. Couldn't do the scene red, because that would look like Hunt For Red October. I'm going to avoid the scale until I get more morning walking done. How many days have I worn those shorts? I wish I could crack the secret to cat hair landing on black shirts in the dryer. I really don't want to be on the HOA board anymore. Was it the hotel in Sanibel that had the decor we liked? It was a blue wall, big 2x1 tiles. Where would we shoot that scene? I wonder if I can network my way to local actors that would work for cheap. It should be Pei Wei for lunch, and since I'll be out there, I'll see if Staples has any good office chairs. That IKEA chair lasted a dozen years. Oh, I love that Facebook memory of Simon pushing the cart around in IKEA. I hated having to mess with furniture at CompUSA. I can't believe I did that almost for a year after college, if you don't count the radio time. Ken liked my pandemic radio show, I wonder if anyone else did. It did air in Guam. I can't think about writing a screenplay when I haven't edited my rum doc. I'm disappointed with the external drive I have, the editing isn't as smooth as it could be, but if it was Thunderbolt 4 it would be better. My work computer was my first experience with that, that's why I bought mine. I've had that almost a year. I love the dbrand skin on it. I remember that was still new when we shot in Cape Coral. Shit, that was last spring. Bonuses are coming up, I wonder if we'll get one this year, or how close it will be to the target. I think my most recent thing on my LinkedIn page is "HOA Board Member." Who even uses that? Oh, the clock on the sink that would be a great way to show the passage of time if I did the scene as internal thoughts in the shower.

This is the best I could do writing about ten minutes after this point. It was approximately between the time I turned off the water to the time I started to shave. Maybe two minutes? There was probably more, but that's all I could remember. That's more of an oral interpretation, too, because I think a lot of it is some kind of intermediate "code" that my brain uses, separate from English.

It's like that in my head. Almost all of the time.

Add in stimuli from any environment not home. It's probably why I get so anxious in airports, busy shopping locations and such. Even theme parks, which I roll with by moving quickly, can get to me.

Hyper-focus events are also effective at helping quiet all of that noise, but it's hard to predict what those are. I think it's why I've plugged into Against The Storm so much lately, because it's a reprieve from all of that. I can do it with coding, but only if I'm really into whatever it is.

So this is a topic for my doctor next month, and I know she has some approaches for this. My therapist knows this is a thing, too, and she believes that maybe the thought stream is overwhelming my coping strategies. There are some studies that suggest the pandemic changed brains, not from Covid, but from the radical changes in habit. I buy that.

Against The Storm

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 7, 2024, 7:39 PM | comments: 0

I've mentioned it a bunch of times, but I've been playing this game called Against The Storm. It's kind of a combination of city builder and management game. There's no fighting, but the story is that you go out into the world and establish these settlements, where the weather is mostly terrible, and every few years, the storm wipes everything off of the map and you have to start over. But by closing these ancient "seals," you can extend the cycle to be longer. Each game tends to take between an hour and two.

It's been a little crack-like for me. I'm not sure I completely understand the appeal for me, so it's certainly difficult to explain why someone else might like it. All I can really say is that it requires my brain to be fully engaged, and I don't think much about anything going on in the real world. I mean that in the best way. It's disappointing when I lose, probably 1 in 8, but when I win, I often find myself wanting to keep going to establish another thing that makes the settlement work better. There's a complex relationship between everything going on.

The first thing is that you'll have three species of critters, and they have different needs to keep up their "resolve." If their resolve is too low, they leave. You can affect it by way of them having a place to live, give them jobs that they prefer, supplying the food that they prefer, or give them the services they prefer. The land itself provides different basic resources, depending on the map, and those can be used to make other materials, that in turn can be used for services or other outcomes. All the while, you need to make sure you have fuel to keep the fire burning, and food so no one starves. You can trade goods with merchants who periodically drop by, and sell some of your stuff to folks from other towns in exchange for amber, which is used for currency.

You win if you get the required number of reputation points before the queen's impatience points fill up. Getting yours reduced hers. They come from a bunch of different things, including her orders, completing certain tasks that you find as you keep cutting down trees and exploring, trading certain thresholds with other town, and from your residents having high resolve. The orders can be simple, like produce 20 herbs, build a certain kind of building or complete 3 tasks.

Eventually you might get to a place on the map with one of the seals, and it will throw three different thresholds, like the orders, and when you reach one of them, you're one-fourth the way to closing the seal, and you get three more conditions. Having the full reputation doesn't matter, you just have to beat the queen's impatience.

The problem is that you don't get everything up front. The land may lack certain resources, or you might not have the right kind of "camp" to mine those resources. The same is true for the buildings, where you might need to produce jerky (the lizards love it), but you don't have any easy way to get the meat required to make it. And you start out with none of the service buildings, like a market that provides "treatment," requiring tea, and "luxury" which requires wine. And of course, the three species don't need all of the same things. I rarely get to the point of service buildings, which is a bummer, because it drives resolve very high, which generates "free" reputation points over time.

The challenge then, which I haven't entirely figured out, is to assess early what the right combination of things is based on the species you have and what the land can provide. Every few reputation points, you have to choose one of four buildings to enable, so you have to decide based on what they produce. You also get modifiers once a year that can do different things, like every settler arrives with a pack of provisions, or +3 grain every minute.

And on top of all of that, there are other things that change how everything behaves. There are three seasons, the worst of which tends to tank the critters' resolve. You can use different kinds of rains to power engines in your buildings that boost production and resolve of the workers. But doing that causes these cysts to appear that you have to burn off in the storm with stuff from yet another building.

So basically, you're juggling shit non-stop. You have to pay attention to it all. As you unlock more and more stuff, the complexity increases, but you also get more things to counteract the bad stuff. When you just start out, for example, you don't have all of the species-specific kind of houses, but eventually you'll start with all of them, and don't need to choose them as they're offered.

I'm digging it. The game is murder on my Mac's battery, because it's a Windows game (running via Wine and Apple's game porting kit), so it has to translate everything to something the Mac understands. The game runs on the Unity engine, so I imagine they could port it, but they haven't as of yet. But maybe this is good, because if I have to charge the battery, it usually means walking away from it for awhile and talking to my family.

Right, wrong and January 6

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 6, 2024, 5:51 PM | comments: 2

I don't write much about politics anymore, because what am I really adding to the conversation. I'm still guilty of the ocassional drive-by Facebook link, but seeing as how no one uses it anymore, and I mostly post for my own historical record, whatever. But today is a pretty dark anniversary. Three years ago, we watched on TV as criminals stormed the Capitol in protest of a legitimate election outcome, encouraged by the lame duck president of the United States. Maybe we got used to the dismemberment of institutional norms over the prior four years, but this was something completely different.

This comes to mind in part because today I read a story where NPR details what happened that day, and Trump's role in it. But they also detail how he's willing to trade votes for pardons for the people convicted of their crimes on that day.

Let me just keep it brief. There's a difference between right and wrong. The people supporting this fascist believe that votes for pardons, for people convicted, deserves precedence over illegal immigrants trying to find work and escape subhuman conditions. Violent, convicted criminals rank higher than people trying to make a better life for themselves.

Is Joe Biden a "good" president? He's, at best, mediocre. I can't understand why our system can't do better than two ancient white men. But even if you believe that Biden has shitty policy, shitty policy is not illegal, and it's not treason. Fomenting an insurrection is illegal. Trying to invalidate a legitimate election is illegal. Racketeering is illegal. Stealing top secret government documents is illegal. Defrauding the banks with false property valuations is illegal. There's a long list of things that are immoral as well, including the obvious racism, misogyny and such. But so is offering pardons for votes. So is admiring dictators and leaders of nations who are not our friends. So is declaring that we should throw out the Constitution. These aren't what-ifs, these are demonstrable facts, not shitty policy.

We need to stop pretending that moral equivalence has anything to do with this. One man is a fascist, criminal defendant, the other is, at worst, someone with shitty policy.

We should not discount SAD

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 6, 2024, 12:49 PM | comments: 0

I try to talk about mental health because people don't talk about mental health. I generally feel pretty good these days, and as I've said before, bupropion has a lot to do with that. This winter though, it's clearer than ever that seasonal affective disorder is real. I'm tired of it being written off as a personality flaw or a choice.

We've had a lot of gray sky days here in Orange County this winter. I can quantify it, because our solar production for December was about 15% below average, and we had five days in single digit kWh production. That's insane when you consider the output on a sunny day is in the high 30's for us in December (March and April are typically our best months). I've felt it. It's already difficult because of shorter days and the time change, but then turn off the sun, and I just want to hibernate. I disengage and just passively watch TV. I don't feel "well."

And as with so many other midlife reflections, I look back and wonder if I really understood the situation at the time. I can clearly identify being depressed most winters growing up in Cleveland, where that flat, gray sky can persist for weeks. And as was the case for ADHD and ASD related challenges back then, I hated myself for not "sucking it up" and getting off the couch.

So it makes me angry that this sort of thing isn't talked about, and back then even fewer doctors ever considered the subject, or mental health in general. It literally alters quality of life when we don't consider our mental health along with physical health. And if you're the type of motivational poster waving person who suggests people just don't choose to be "better," stay the fuck away from me. You're part of the problem.

If you don't feel right, most of the time, it doesn't mean you have a shitty personality. Ask your doctor about ways to get help.

Bring me back to light

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 5, 2024, 11:44 PM | comments: 0

Much as I expected, my lazy gamer habit with Against The Storm would lead me to focus on other things. Especially after I failed last night, by about two minutes, to close a silver seal (if you know, you know). Naturally I turned back to lighting.

My MA Lighting dealer is still putting delivery of new MA3 onPC consoles in late March, which seems like a long time. Yes, technically I can program anything in the software right now, and view it in 3D in the app, but designing a rig is a lot easier in other software intended to do that sort of thing. That's an interesting thing, because the pro-est of pros use some CAD software that costs hundreds of dollars per month to use, so that's a non-starter for someone learning. There's an alternative that seems easier to use that starts at 395€, which isn't terrible, but it limits you to just one universe of lights (512 channels). That's probably fine for learning use, though the console I'm getting supports 8-ish universes (4,096 parameters). To get more than four, it costs 2195€. None of it's necessary for me to learn, fortunately, and there's a free version that won't export lights, but it will export stage objects.

What's cool about the MA and ETC consoles is that almost everything in the interface, including everything outside of the core buttons, is customizable. The high-end ETC consoles actually have buttons that have tiny screens in them, assignable to anything. Both have screens of various sizes next to buttons, faders and the encoders so you can see what they're doing contextually. The more expensive they are, the more parameters they can control (they're kinda like DMX channels, but the tilt on a moving light technically uses two channels, but it's one parameter). That's why the top end of the range of those products are so expensive. It breaks down like this:

  • Both platforms top out around $80,000+ and can run 20,480 parameters or more with external processors. They have many, many touch screens integrated into the console, and non-trivial computers inside.
  • There are in-between models that have fewer screens, fewer faders, around $30,000, and run fewer parameters.
  • There are versions with no screens, but still have computers in them, and they're between $10k and $14k.
  • Then there are the "bring your own computer" solutions that plug into control surfaces via USB. The strategies are a little different.
    • At the lowest end for ETC, you can run 1,024 parameters with just the software on your computer for about $550, but that includes no output hardware. If you want a programming wing, that's another $4k, and if you also want faders, that's at least $1,800 more. If you want 6,144 parameters instead of 1,024, spend $1,700 instead of $550.
    • MA's cheapest option is about $2k to run 4,096 parameters (you can see the competitive math there) on your computer, and that includes a box with two DMX outputs. Instead of the $2k box, you can get a fader wing with 10 faders for about $4k, or if you want all of the buttons and the faders, that's about $7k (that's what I'm saving/waiting for).

So what are the compromises? If you're worried about portability, it's certainly a little goofy to have the console, which is really just a control surface, plus a computer, plus at least one touch screen. You also don't get all of that contextual stuff right in the console on the little screens and screen-backed buttons. What I've seen in photos and videos is that people will position at least one touch screen over the console, so that the rotary encoders at the top line up with the four graphical representations at the bottom of the screen. If you have a large screen or multiple, you can put one over the faders so you can see what they're assigned to. Beyond that, you can organize any of the windows any way you want on various screens, just as you would on the "real" consoles. It's a little hacky, but if it's between $7k and $80k with the same software under the hood, I imagine you figure out how to make it work.

It's cumbersome to program on a laptop, though I think if I could remember the keyboard shortcuts, it might be easier. Certainly a real control surface, which is the thing is that I'm getting, is a lot easier with dedicated buttons. There's basically a language that MA3 (as well as the ETC EOS line) uses, where you form sentences to do stuff. So "Fixture 1 Thru 5" selects fixtures 1 through 5, as you might expect. But what's really tactile is the rotary encoders, the wheels on the console that contextually change attributes like dimming, panning and tilting, color values, etc. Mouse dragging or scrolling on just the right thing is clumsy. Certainly running a show would feel more natural with physical buttons and faders.

My frustration now, even when I'm using a touch screen, is that you have to constantly push the "buttons" button on screen to show the virtual buttons ordinarily found on the console. It's awkward because you fill the screen temporarily with buttons and can't see the thing that you were doing.

But now that I'm getting a feel for how to get around, I'm starting to go back and read more of the manual. I can't always apply what I read, but when I'm messing around I end up with little gaps and it doesn't behave the way that I think it should. I will say that if I had to program a show on MA3 for basic theater, i.e., not with moving lights, I'd be totally comfortable doing that. Heck, I did that on far cruder equipment in community theater in the late 90's! It was still DMX back then. Still, looking forward to real hardware, even if it is the junior varsity version.