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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

It Feels Different this Year

May 20th, 2016

I’m a hockey fan, and if you insist that I be more specific I will tell you that I’m a fan of the local NHL franchise, the San Jose Sharks. Almost every year this team makes it to the playoffs. Almost every year they exit early.

Which is mostly just math. Half the teams in the playoffs are eliminated in the first round. By the end of the second round, only four remain. So MOST of the teams that make the playoffs go home early. But you do that too many years in a row, you get a reputation. Even if you go home because of a bizarre bounce in an overtime that shouldn’t have happened except the ref blew a call with 33 seconds to go in regulation.

Right now San Jose is skating agains St. Louis in a titan battle of saints in which God must be careful not to take sides. Like Joseph, Louis has earned a reputation for early exits. One of the two will reach the finals.

Three games in, it’s pretty easy to see that my team is the better of the two. Nashville took it to San Jose a couple of times in the previous round, but the Sharks answered by playing really good hockey. That good hockey has carried into the semifinal round with the Blues.

The Blues deserve to be here. They are a very good team, and they beat powerhouse Dallas fair and square. They beat the Stars by beating on them, and getting under their skin, and making Dallas do stupid things. They came out against the Sharks with the same strategy — and it failed utterly. A dude friggin’ pulled Joe Thornton’s beard and the Sharks laughed it off and scored on the power play. The Sharks, under the leadership of captain Joe Pavelski, just don’t take the bait.

Last game, Newt Gingrich Ken Hitchcock pulled his bullies and agitators and tried to match the Sharks with speed and skill. For a while, it seemed to be working. But nobody plays Sharks hockey better than the Sharks do.

And there’s the thing. Some time around the start of 2016 Joe Thornton started backchecking with energy and the rest of the team stepped up and Burns stopped making stupidly overoptimistic passes and it feels different this year. This isn’t a team getting by, it’s a team offering both an unstoppable offense and a disciplined defense (3 shutouts in the last 4 playoff games) and exposing no weaknesses to exploit. A team like that can laugh when an agitator on the other side tries to lure them into mistakes. Even people on the East Coast are waking up to what a good team this is.

It feels different this year. The Sharks aren’t looking for answers, they aren’t looking for the weakness of the other team. They’re playing their game, and they’re doing it well. It’s up to their opponents to solve the Sharks, and so far none has. Man, it’s been fun to watch.

It’s sports, and anything can happen. I felt confident two years ago when the Sharks went up 3-0 on the Kings only to choke away the playoffs. But this year the Sharks handled the Kings pretty easily, and while Nashville gave them a run for their money the way the Sharks emerged from that series has carried over.

What’s different this year? Maybe the most important thing is the C on Pavelski’s sweater. But don’t forget Wardo, and Donkey, and Jones. Don’t forget old man Zubrus making the fourth line a disciplined unit and a legitimate threat. Hertl’s lovely slap shot to open the scoring last night is now a rarity; under the new management the Czech kid is expected to be a complete player, not just a sniper but a stout defender and a guy willing to mix it up down near the goal. He has embraced the role and thrives on the chaos around the net. “Now I go to net, get rebound and score. Is better.”

The team knows: this is their chance. The older players, Thornton and Marleau in particular, know that time is running out, and this year they’re playing like their legacies are on the line. The new kids are hungry, and skilled, but they are inheriting discipline from the old-timers. It really is a joy to watch. At this time they are still six wins from their first championship, but no matter what happens I thank the Sharks for making it different this year.

Rumblings from the Secret Labs Rumblings from the Secret Labs

Could Someone Do a Quick Test for Me?

May 13th, 2016
Oh, Microsoft, I thought you were the standards-compliant one now.

I wonder if any Microsoft IE/Edge browser users out there would mind taking five seconds to pop over to http://knives-the-novel.net and check the little red thermometer-thingie on the left. It should do an animation to show partial progress toward a goal. I’ll be trying to test it myself, but we don’t call our Windows machine “The Anger Box” for nothing.

Thanks!

It should end up looking like this.

It should end up looking like this.


A little more background for the curious:

It’s easy to put simple animations directly into SVG images, to scoot things around and whatnot. The embedded-in-SVG style of animation is based on SMIL. Microsoft has taken the position “we’re not going to support that, because there are better ways to do animations, like with CSS.” They’re right, for certain definitions of “better”, but to take full advantage of the better aspects of CSS animation one must jump through some hoops — especially if you want to adjust the animation at run-time. So, if “better” means “simpler”, then not so much.

But now my plugin’s hoops are through-jumped, and to my eye, animations are smoother in all browsers (hardware acceleration is more consistently available to CSS-based animations), so it’s a win all-round. Safari still leaves annoying trails in some circumstances, but overall things look pretty sweet in the mainstream browsers. Although, as mentioned above, to date I have no idea how it looks on Microsoft’s IE/Edge browsers. Any help in that regard would be welcome.

Stories Stories

Miami, 2049

May 11th, 2016
A setting you are free to use - just be sure to do it quickly while it's still fiction.

A setting for a story: Miami 2049. Shining towers rise from the sea, a glass archipelago. On the lower stories, buffeted by the sea, glass has been replaced with stout timber, purchased from the mainland, but higher up the old glass still gleams. If you look closely you will see missing panes here and there; in Miami, breaking a window isn’t just bad luck, it’s reason for exile.

Some of Miami’s towers have have fallen in the storms; others still stand tall, each a city-state.

All around them, the sea. Once teeming with fish, perpetual algae blooms have robbed the water of oxygen. All that’s left is algae and whales that eat algae. Suddenly-prosperous whales seem more organized than they used to be.

Algae is the blood of this place. Each building has a small fleet of algae harvesters, plying seas once rich with fish to provide protein for the starving masses on the mainland, now 100 miles away and receding. Protein is worth a premium, and what is left of Miami is prosperous.

Below the surface are streets still clogged with cars, and drowned shopfronts where once was sold for a premium things which have no value now. Gadgets and fancy clothes. Two stories up, piers extend from the glittering city-buildings, providing a place to load cargo, but offering no shelter from the all-too-frequent storms. It is widely accepted that once ocean temperatures find a new equilibrium that the storms will return to the relatively benign level of fury known in the 20th century and before, but the people of Miami have learned not to wait for that to happen.

The buildings’ bosses can efficiently control access, both at the piers and in the stairwells. Socially, building-states are insular, with two exceptions: There is a complex system of taboos governing sex and enforcing the exchange of women between buildings, and there are some tradesmen, primarily doctors and merchants, who can move between the buildings relatively freely. Of course, wherever they go, they are quizzed about the other buildings, but the smart ones know that those who tell tales won’t be in business long.

Out on the sea the algae harvesters have their own society, quite distinct from the structure in the archipelago. While the harvesters are not completely separate from the building-state rivalries back home, they have their own ethical code while out on the sea. Because of the wealth they bring, they have a level of autonomy other citizens do not.

There is still enough tech that they know when storms are coming. It has been a couple of years since a building toppled, but the possibility is real – though the greatest risk was when the surf lapped at the buildings’ foundations.

When a building falls, the city pulls together to save the victims. And if your building rescues particularly valuable citizens, all the better. Spoken out loud is a strict ethical code regarding helping a drowning neighbor, but some building-states might not honor the intent, even while they honor the letter.

So there’s a setting, one I rather like. If someone were inspired to use that setting for a story, I’d be right pleased.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Security Questions and Ankle-Pants

May 8th, 2016

I’m that guy on Facebook, the party-pooper who, when faced with a fun quiz about personal trivia, rather than answer in kind reminds everyone that personal trivia has become a horrifyingly terrible cornerstone of personal security.

The whole concept is pure madness. Access to your most personal information (and bank account) is gated by questions about your life that may seem private, but are now entirely discoverable on the Internet — and by filling in those fun quizzes you’re helping the discovery process. Wanna guess how many of those Facebook quizzes are started by criminals? I’m going to err on the side to paranoia and say “lots”. Some are event tailored to specific bank sites and the like. Elementary school, pet’s name, first job. All that stuff is out there. Even if you don’t blab it to the world yourself, someone else will, and some innocuous question you answer about who your best friend is will lead the bad guy to that nugget.

There is nothing about you the Internet doesn’t already know. NOTHING. Security questions are simply an official invitation to steal all your stuff by people willing to do the legwork. Set up a security question with an honest answer, and you’re done for, buddy.

On the other hand, security questions become your friend if you treat them like the passwords they are. Whatever you type in as an answer should have nothing to do with the question. Otherwise, as my title suggests, you may as well drop ’em, bend over, and start whistlin’ dixie.

My computer offers me a random password generator and secure place to keep my passwords, FBI-annoying secure as long as I’m careful, but no such facility for security questions. I think there’s an opportunity there.

In the meantime, don’t ever answer a security question honestly. Where were you born? My!Father789Likes2GoFishin. Yeah? I’m from there, too! Never forget that some of those seemingly innocent questions out there on the Internet were carefully crafted to crack your personal egg. But if you never use personal facts to protect your identity, you can play along with those fun Facebook games, and not worry about first-tier evil.

2
Politics Politics

But I DO Blame You

May 5th, 2016
Stupid people like Trump.

In a few months the “Don’t blame me, I voted for Trump” bumper stickers will start appearing. The implication is that a Democrat is in the White House despite the efforts of the Trump faithful. Well guess what, Sunshine: you and all your pals who endorsed the clown-car politics of the Republican party are entirely to blame for the coming election outcome. You nominated a toddler to be President of the Unites States; what did you expect?

In the process, you robbed the electorate of any sort of grown-up conversation about the future of our nation (outside the debate among the Democrats), and utterly silenced the rational conservative voices who have valuable contributions to make regarding the governance of our nation. You put Trump in the election and you not only screwed your party, you screwed the United States.

Ok, I have to grant that “Republican” and “conservative” have nothing to do with each other any longer, but wow. The only people who want Trump to be president are stupid people. I’m going to say that a second time, to give you a chance to reflect on the Buddha-like wisdom: The only people who want Trump to be president are stupid people. Intelligent conservatives are wondering where they can go to be heard. Intelligent middle-of-the-road folks have had their minds made up for them.

Trump voter, you have kicked your own party in the balls. And while it might have seemed fun at the time, you have left yourself with no voice. You’re an idiot, Trump voter, so you losing your voice doesn’t bother me much, but you also robbed the rest of us of a chance to hear a clear conservative argument in what promises to be a watershed election.

I do blame you, Trump voter. This is your fault.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Requiem for my Crappy Little Office Chair

May 1st, 2016
Appreciate where you sit.

At work, I have a fancy chair, adjustable forty-seven different ways, and after a week of increasing back pain a trained professional was dispatched to get things just right for me. (The back pain was more about keyboard height than it was about the chair, but still…)

It’s a mighty comfy chair.

IMG_0395At home, I have a little piece of crap chair that apparently came from Big Lots and cost $16. It has no arms, the back rest is fixed and there’s no padding to speak of. Yet, I can sit in that chair indefinitely. I have fallen asleep in the spartan little-more-than-a-bench-with-wheels many times, whether watching bittersweet Japanese cartoons deep into the night or playing some stupid computer game.

For you, perhaps for everyone else on the planet Earth, this chair might be torture. But for me, it just fits. Also, when sharing a small office, a chair that doesn’t take up a lot of space is beneficial.

That chair and I have been friends for many years now. It’s the place I sit when it hurts to sit anywhere else. Only now, it’s breaking. The center post has pushed down through the ring that attaches it to the wheels, so that it sits up on the post instead of resting on the wheels. Today I tried, with steadily increasing force, to reverse the slippage. No success, but a wheel flew off in the process, even though that leg was not involved in my percussive maintenance. Like I said, increasing force.

Even if I force the stem back, the connection relies on friction, and once things start moving, that’s the end of the story. New slippage is pretty much guaranteed in the near future. And as you can see in the picture, the fabric won’t be holding on much longer, either. Pretty soon I’ll be getting a new chair. Big Lots apparently doesn’t carry this chair anymore; my new chair is likely to be fancier, but will it be better? Unlikely. And there’s no way to know in the store; it won’t be until my next research project based on Revolutionary Girl Utena that I discover whether the new chair is friend or foe.

So let’s raise a toast to all the simple things in life that just work, beyond all reasonable expectation. Not the fancy, glitzy things, but the spartan chairs that fit right and the stapler that never gives up and the bargain-store shoes you wear until they completely fall apart. Those things go beyond value, to become part of you.

1
Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Dreamtime

April 19th, 2016

You know how sometimes you have a dream in the morning that you get up and start your day, then you wake up and have to do it all over again? I had one of those dreams this morning. In my dream, I went back to bed. It was a good dream.

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Bike Bike

A Slow Ride

April 15th, 2016
Some commutes are easier than others.

As I passed through Campbell park today, I wondered which was more depressing: that I was only halfway through my morning ride, or only a quarter of the way through my riding for the day. I seem to have misplaced a lung somewhere.

I bet it’s tire pressure. Yeah, that’s it. I got lazy and didn’t check it this morning.

On the other hand, I’m really glad I rode. It would only be worse if I waited until Monday. Next week: 90 miles! I can do it! (If I go slowly enough, that is…)

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Observations Observations

Why the phrase ‘Zero-Emissions’ Irks me So.

April 6th, 2016

A few days ago I made a comment on a Facebook post that rather cheesed some Tesla drivers. I said zero emissions was a lie. (I also said that if Tesla made a convertible on their new platform, I’d buy it.)

I linked to an article here on my Blog about that lie, and about the even bigger lie concerning the emissions of gasoline-powered vehicles. Whether they read it or not before rebutting me is debatable, but I’m going to spend a little time comparing the two lies in a different way. My goal is to have the drivers of electric cars reject the zero-emissions label, and insist on a full reckoning of emissions for all vehicles.

Teslas come out looking pretty good in that comparison.

Let’s talk for a minute about gasoline. It comes from oil. Oil comes from the ground. Those rocking-horse pumps scattered around our nation run on electricity. How much? In California, the energy to pull enough crude from the ground to make a gallon of gasoline is about 17kWh[1]. That’s actually quite a bit. Enough to send a Tesla about 40 miles.

So while I’m standing next to a pump with a bucket full of smelly goo, my Tesla-driving friends are forty miles down the road, thinking that the day would be perfect if they could only put the top down. Meanwhile, my Leaf-driving friends are more like fifty miles down the road, and are made even happier because from inside they don’t have to look at their hideously ugly car.

Meanwhile, my bucket of goo has to be transported, refined (a very energy-intensive process), augmented with various chemicals, and transported again. By the time that gallon of gas reaches my tank, my Tesla friends could be well over 100 miles away, all for a similar amount of environmental harm.

Yet, up to this point, nothing has come out of my tail pipe. The tailpipe emissions from burning the gasoline are dwarfed by the environmental harm getting the gas into my tank. Optimistically 60% or more[2] of the energy consumed by a gas-powered car is not reflected in the tailpipe emissions.

“I had no idea!” you say! To which I say, “EXACTLY!” The numbers I cite aren’t easy to come by, and as long as all cars were gas-powered, the film-flam didn’t matter much. But now we have electrics, and tailpipe emissions are a terrible way to compare the two.

And we’re not even talking about babies dying as a result of fracking-related pollution, or the cost of keeping our oil coming in from other countries, or mitigating climate change. We are just comparing the energy consumed to drive a mile.

Taking into account the inefficiencies of power generation and the electric grid[3], ‘zero emissions’ hides the impact of generating about 1kWh for every mile a Tesla is driven. And it lets the gasoline junkies have it both ways. “Those electric guys ignore their own pollution!” they say, while simultaneously ignoring almost all their own emissions. Focusing on tailpipe emissions allows Miata drivers like me to ignore the impact of at least 3kWh for every mile driven. And that big-ass pick-em-up truck? It’s not pretty.

So come on, electrics! DEMAND an even reckoning. Mark your Tesla 30MPGe (due to the inefficiencies above), and insist that my Miata be rated at 8MPG[4]. Tops. Probably less. It’s a more honest number.

Even out the reckoning and watch your favorite electric vehicle flourish like never before. Say NO to ‘zero emissions’!

______
[1] State of California

[2] I backed these numbers way off from my previous post, as the sources I found back then have dried up, and 4-7kWh/gallon seems to be the consensus for electricity used in refining. That ignores very large amounts of fossil fuels (mostly natural gas) used alongside the electricity, but if the numbers are out there for that, I can’t find them anymore. Energy companies aren’t terribly motivated to make that easy to find.

Just know that I might be making things look way better for gasoline than they actually are. This is partially offset because I’m ignoring the other useful products of the refining process.

Updated to add: I tried, I really did, to get the answer from energy.gov. Unfortunately I could not make numbers that jive with other sources that seem trustworthy-ish, so I suspect my math and interpretation of the data are off. On the one hand, I came up with about 4.6 kWh/gallon strictly for the gasoline product of the refining process, much better than I expected. On the other hand, according to that document fossil fuels used in the energy mix during refining dwarf the electrical component, so if the electric estimates I use above are even remotely accurate, then my analysis of that PDF is way off. The latter seems more likely to me.

[3] American Physical Society

[4] Yeah, I know it will never happen. Both for political reasons and because the number varies wildly depending on where your gasoline comes from.

1
Bike Bike

An Open Letter to the Drivers Sharing the Road with Me on my Ride Home

April 5th, 2016
An exceptional commute that left me doubting my sanity.

Let’s start with the guy driving the faded red pickup truck, tires caked with mud, a skull wearing a german helmet adorning the back window, mariachi music blasting into the heavy traffic. You know who you are.

Thank you.

You went out of your way to make my journey home safer — not once, but twice, protecting me not only from yourself but from other assholes as well. The world needs more folks like you.

As for the minivan driver and the woman driving the beat-up sedan, I’d like to thank you as well. Also the woman who waved me through the four-way stop.

Toward the end of my ride I realized how out of shape I was when I started hallucinating. I could have sworn the guy who slowed down way before he needed to, specifically to give me a safe space to pass a moving van parked in the bike lane some distance ahead, and who leaned over to make eye contact with me and wave me ahead, a kind and courteous gentleman, was driving a big, shiny, new BMW.

But that’s just not possible, is it?

Still, hallucinations aside, it was a good ride home, and I’d like to thank all the courteous drivers out there who made it happen. I hope to see you all again soon.

Writing Writing

All I want for my birthday…

April 2nd, 2016

… is patrons.

And macaroni and cheese, but that’s been covered already.

While I’m at it, thanks for all the well-wishes sent my way via various social media and even good old-fashioned email. I now have a pirate song sung by dogs stuck in my head. The song said I was supposed to drink beer; I better get on that.



1
Politics Politics

Open Letter to Matt and Trey

April 1st, 2016

I first saw your work as a dup-of-a-dup-of-a-dup video of Spirit of Christmas. Sweeet. What would Brian Boitano do? Since then, you’ve managed to make a pretty big name for yourselves. You now have a chance to become legendary.

One of the things that makes your show a hit is your ability to respond to events in a very short time. When the world is being stupid, you are there to mock it.

According to the internet, there will be no new episodes of South Park ready to go until September. That’s cool. I respect that as artists you need time to step back from the cash cow and maybe make another broadway hit musical.

But.

Were I you, I’d have my animators standing by. The major party national conventions are coming up, and chances are things will happen that you will have a take on. The fact you have no planned episodes is perfect.

After the Republican national convention, announce that you have created a special out-of-season episode. The network will happily find a place for you, and the ratings will blow out the roof, as people gobble up your take on the whole dog and pony show. When the Democratic National Convention comes round, play it coy, get people all lathered up accusing you of being partisan for not mocking the Democrats, and then do a Mr. Hankey episode to tidal wave ratings, followed by tidal wave anger.

You guys are in a position to define a new realm in political satire. Don’t let me down.


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