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The Misadventures of Quinxy von Besiex truths, lies, and everything in between

23Jul/140

No News is Good News – My Boycot of the Unfiltered News

newspaper-glassesBeing well informed about the world around has always been important to me but I think I've reached a point where I realize the bad of being informed outweighs the good.  I can no longer keep tabs on the world and feel joy.  How can one stay positive, optimistic when the news delights in relating the world's most miserable stories?  The news media seems fixated on the doom and gloom, on the miserable problems we collectively can't seem to fix.

I'm old enough now that it feels like I've seen all the headlines before, so many, many times.  A new war, a new plane crash, a new earthquake, a new kidnapped child, a new miracle diet; there is no end to the outrages, brutalities, and scandals, they are all different, yet all the same.  The world is like some terribly unfunny situational comedy, the next week or month or year the show begins again with everyone and everything back as it was, as though we learned nothing from the previous episode.

This week the new stories which did it for me included the renewed struggles of Israelis and Palestinians (and everyone's pointless pontifications about how the problems can be solved, but somehow won't be), horrific stories of dogs being sadistically abused by one person and eaten by others, the grizzly horrors of the recent Malaysian shoot-down over the Ukraine, and yet another announcement heralding some new possible test for Alzheimer's that will let you know what's coming decades before you unavoidably succumb to it (as yet they offer no cures or meaningful treatments).  The news delights in disproportionately reporting the horrors of the world, making us all feel unsafe, uneasy, unwell.  I've had enough.

And so I think I will stop reading the general, unfiltered news.  I'll customize my news feeds to show me only technology stories, stories related to my career, stories matching keywords of importance to me.  I will let the rest of the news and the world worry about itself for a while.  For all my decades of scrutiny and attention, my knowledge of world affairs has not been helping it, and its only been hurting me.

^ Q

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1Jul/140

My Confusion about the U.S. Civil War

civilwarFew things in American history confuse me like the U.S. Civil War.  I have spent time surrounded by its monuments, memorials, and museums, living for a few years outside Gettysburg, PA.  What I can't quite work out is why...?  Why would Northern brother, cousin, uncle be so willing to fight to their death against their Southern brother, cousin, uncle just to keep the United States of America as one nation?  So many questions...

Why is the right to secede not a right core to a democracy?  If a state feels so at odds and unrepresented by their parent nation why should they not be able to withdraw from it?  Is this freedom not one that should be most sacredly preserved when a nation is formed from many states?

In the Civil War the Northerners were certainly not primarily fighting for the freedom of African Americans.  That I could have understood as a reason to go to war, to liberate an oppressed people.  Giving your life for that sort of a cause makes sense to this modern, arguably enlightened man.  But while the North was somewhat more enlightened than the South on this issue, they certainly did not see African Americans as equals and it would be a rare Northerner willing to die for that particular cause.

Why could the North not just let the South go?  I vaguely understand the Northern industrial and free farming folks were in an economic battle with the almost wholly agrarian South and its plantation and cheaper slave labor.  But that's enough for a war, and not just a civilized parting of the union with peacefully signed free trade agreements?

What would it take for me now to be willing to take up arms against my cousin, uncle, or brother?  I can imagine nothing, certainly not a mere secession.  But 750,000 dead soldiers can't be wrong, they must have deeply felt their reasons were the right ones.  I just wish I understood them.

^ Q

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25Apr/140

IT Innovation’s End Game: Eliminating God

In less than a century information technology has moved from crude practice, into systematized theory tested through crude prototypes, into early maturity, becoming a force critical to and ultimately driving every modern scientific endeavor. Every branch of science now relies on IT for such things as research, data collection, modeling, simulation, analysis, and results dissemination; IT can be just as much a part of protein folding simulations as aerodynamic flow simulations as Higgs Boson discovery as exoplanet data study and can help globally distributed teams work as one.

But one cannot help but wonder where it is all going, what is IT innovation’s ultimate end game? Will the forces that have always conspired to drive IT innovation ever be satiated and fade away?

I strongly suspect that the ultimate end game of IT innovation is to unseat God from His heavenly throne, to render Him a kitschy relic of less enlightened days. Belief in Him may linger as a curiosity, a nostalgic comfort from which systems of meaning, value, and ethics can be traced. But His role will be otherwise entirely supplanted. But what has He got to do with IT?

Let us first try and consider the history and forces which have driven information technology to this point. IT has its origin thousands and thousands of years ago in our earliest oral traditions and writings. We were engaged then, as we are now, in the storage, retrieval, and analysis of data. Where once a bard’s tale might have been the medium for passing along valuable life lessons, now it is more likely found on a wiki page. Where once a notch made in stone recorded the position in the sky of an unfamiliar comet for later analysis, now a row in a database is preferred. The means have changed, but the ends which information technology have served have remained the same.

We have used IT to help us understand the world in which we live, used IT to help us improve our situation within the world, and used IT to pass along the progress we have made to contemporaries as well as subsequent generations. Modern IT has not changed our nature, merely granted us the benefits of increased storage capacity, increased analytical power (manifest as computational power and an ever-deepening (and broadening) understanding of related fields such as data analysis, artificial intelligence, and math), and increasing ability to disseminate information.

When we look at our relationship with God (and religions generally) we see that for most of recorded time He has been the source of our understanding of the world in which we live, He has been our ultimate hedge against our inability to improve our situation within it (He gives reason and meaning to death and suffering), and His recorded and disseminated teachings have developed to included not only religious teachings, but also those of a more practical, ethical/moral, socially beneficial nature, that get shared and passed down for others’ benefit.

As IT furthers the progress of all areas of science it seems only natural that He will have increasingly little place left in it. We need only look at a few areas of science to see this. Medicine has as its goal the eradication of disease and improvement of everyone’s quality of life. As gene therapies, stem cell research, cloning, nanotechnology, and the like mature, lifespans will surely be extended further and further until death has been eliminated as a requirement. Furthering this end, it seems inevitable that minds will ultimately become further and further separated from physical bodies. What might begin as nanotechnological repairs of synapses or enhancements to lost memory will likely grow to carry more and more of the load of conscious thought until minds become entirely separable from biological brains. At that point we may choose to linger in the wetware of biological forms or may choose to exist only within virtual worlds built of information matrices. Either way, the question of what happens when we die, a question He has always had a ready answer for, will lose its urgency, lose its criticality, and perhaps lose all meaning. Similarly, quantum mechanics and astronomy may ultimately find its grand unified theory and be able to explain our origins to almost everyone’s satisfaction, rendering His answers effectively irrelevant. And philosophy, often seeming partnered in a dance with religion, will likely find itself emboldened, breaking into a solo, to a tune that now is not bounded by a series of lifespans but by a more comfortable, less angsty, quasi-infinite pondering. And even its most fundamental questions of “What is right?” and “What is wrong?” may not need be answered so much as peoples’ preference would need to be known, so those with compatible beliefs systems could be properly collocated, either in physical or virtual spaces. The domain of God will have yielded to the domain of science. If He retains any value it may be in continuing to supply people with some greater sense of meaning, but it will be a nostalgic group that pines for His comfort, there will be substitutes aplenty without the complexity belief in Him brings.

Through innovation, IT will bring all this, directly and indirectly. God will lose His place. It is time others see this as the natural consequence of IT innovation, either to embrace it or to rebel against it.

^ Quinxy

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2Mar/144

Evernote is the Worst, It’s like Hipster Software

evernote-logo-designThere are few things I hate more than when something barely worthy of note being over-hyped.  Evernote enjoys a popularity and success it has never deserved.  What it does it does only barely, arguably tolerably.  I have been a premium user for 3 years, falling for and into that only because a free premium account came with my LiveScribe pen.  Since that initial period I have stupidly, accidentally been auto-renewed (forgetting  to cancel in time); though to be fair I do not know what alternative I would use.

What has driven me nuts about Evernote is that from its debut until now it has been little more than a painfully buggy and seriously crippled MS WordPad-like app which could sync between your devices and had a web interface.  And it's just never evolved much beyond that.

Evernote is still extremely and horrifically buggy as an editor.  The worst bugs I experience almost daily are:

  • Lossy copying/cutting/pasting
  • Broken undo
  • Unpredictable and lousy content editing.

When I go to edit a note I will routinely cut some content from one place to paste in another location and find that the paste only remembered a small fraction of what I'd cut.  I cut 10 lines and it pastes only 3 of them.  This happens 10-30% of the time (primarily with lines which involve checkboxes).  This bugginess is pretty unforgivable.  You surely do not expect your text editing software to take literary license and make decisions about what content deserves to stay in your documents.

Worse, though, is that in these moments undo doesn't.  Perhaps related to the bug which loses the content the undo feature simply refuses to go back and restore the missing content back to its original location.  The content is just wholly and completely gone, for good.  I've had to resort to resurrecting past saves of the document to find the missing content.  And I now have to try and remember to alter my edit workflow and always copy, never cut, then go back and delete only when I'm sure the content has been faithfully copied.  And, of course this requires me to try and remember exactly what I'm moving within Evernote to be sure it didn't fiddle with it.  Ugh.  If I was not heavily invested in having my content in their stupid system I would surely flee to any competitor at this point.

And as if their system could get worse, editing a note is highly unpredictable.  You might be on a mobile device and find that rather than just let you edit normally it for some reason will not let you edit chunks of your note, or will only let you edit it in chunks.  I use no fancy features, I rarely paste in any photos, it's just text and checkboxes and maybe a URL or two.  And somehow this confuses it.  Formatting can change for no apparent reason, regions refuse to be modified, etc.  And these issues occur if you stick with the same platform or jump between them.

It is all just absolutely awful.  And when I try and find solutions, bug fixes, etc., I find nothing.  And I've always used the latest versions.  It just seems to me that if you can't produce a good, reliable editor then you have no business being in the document management business, and that's why I am forever amazed that Evernote has had any success, let alone the rabid success they've had.  Perhaps everyone else feels as stuck with them as I do.

evernote_crapAnother thing that bugs me, they are always promoting the "Trunk" area of their site, as if it was some sort of app store, or Chrome extension gallery, but for the most part it is just a collection of tangential merchandise, much of it not even that related (e.g., offering pens for sale).  Just a couple hours after writing this rant I received yet another email from Evernote trying to sell me something that arguably has nothing to do with document management. A back pack, seriously? Fix your damn bugs! Improve your OCR! Focus on doing your core business well, not peddling other crap.

And so that's why I feel like Evernote is like a Hipster.  It presents this veneer of cool utility while really, truly being utterly devoid of any real marked specialness or competence.

^ Q

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30Jan/140

Remapping your 101 Key Keyboards (e.g., IBM Model M) to Restore the Windows Key, Menu Key, Media / App Keys on Windows

Thought I'd share this for others using an older 101 key keyboard (like the venerable 1980s/1990s IBM Model M) on Windows.

Using this registry entry I get back my Windows and Menu key:

  • <Shift Lock> is now the <Windows> key
  • <Right Alt> is now the <Menu> key

Just save this code as .reg and double click the file to merge it into the registry, then reboot (or download the file from the link below).

Windows Registry File:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Keyboard Layout]
"Scancode Map"=hex:00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,03,00,00,00,5c,e0,3a,00,5d,e0,38,e0,00,00,00,00

You can add your own remapping by reading this Microsoft document which describes the format of this registry key and using these scan codes.

I also wrote a little Autohotkey script to make my entirely ignored number pad useful again, with media, volume, and app launching keys.

Here are some basics:

  • <Number Pad 5> is Volume Mute
  • <Number Pad 8> is Volume Up
  • <Number Pad 2> is Volume Down
  • <Number Pad 6> is Next Tab (<Ctrl> + <Tab>)
  • <Number Pad 4> is Previous Tab (<Ctrl> + <Shift> + <Tab>)
  • <Number Pad 1> is Previous Media Track (works in Spotify, Winamp, WMP, etc.)
  • <Number Pad 3> is Next Media Track (works in Spotify, Winamp, WMP, etc.)
  • <Number Pad 0> is Play/Pause Media Track (works in Spotify, WMP, etc.)
  • <Number Pad *> launches Task Manager
  • <Number Pad /> launches default browser with http://google.com

AutoHotkey Script:

SetNumLockState, AlwaysOn
Numpad8::Send {Volume_Up 5} ; increase sound level
Numpad2::Send {Volume_Down 5} ; decrease sound level
Numpad5::Send {Volume_Mute} ; Mute sound
Numpad6::Send {LCtrl down}{Tab}{LCtrl up} ; Next tab (ctrl+tab)
Numpad4::Send {Shift down}{LCtrl down}{Tab}{LCtrl up}{Shift up} ; Previous tab (ctrl+tab)
NumpadMult::Send {Shift down}{LCtrl down}{Esc}{LCtrl up}{Shift up} ; Task manager
NumpadDiv::Run, http://google.com ; Browser to Google
Numpad0::Send {Media_Play_Pause} ; Pause/play media track
Numpad1::Send {Media_Prev} ; Previous media track
Numpad3::Send {Media_Next} ; Next media track

You can just paste that into Autohotkey, compile it into an EXE, or download my compiled exe below.

Download remap_keyboard.zip (374 kb).

Instructions for Download:

Download the file, unzip it, double click the registry file to add the registry entry (reboot to activate the change), and then run the common_remaps.exe to start the number pad remapping.  I added it to my Startup folder in the Windows menu.

(The AutoHotkey script forces Num Lock on so that the hotkeys will work, you can remove that line in the script if you don't need this.)

Users on Deskthority alerted me to the tools Key Tweak and Sharp Keys, tools which lets you do much of the above automagically, through a nice GUI!  That said, the advantage of the AutoHotkey script is that you can script complex and even context-dependent interactions, which only matters if you need or want to do it.)

29Jan/140

My Move Away from the Das Keyboard and Back to the IBM Model M

modelm_4My Das Keyboard experiment was short lived.  I sent it back after a week.  The Das Keyboard was good, don't get me wrong, but it just wasn't good enough.  I was looking for something that would feel to me like an improvement over the venerable IBM Model M, and it just wasn't.  The feel of the Cherry MX Blue keyswitches was good, but not quite the same as the buckling spring Model M keys.  And the click of the Cherry MX Blue keys seemed a little higher pitched.  At $140 the Das Keyboard was too expensive to keep when I could get a refurbished IBM Model M off eBay for half the price.  And so I did.  I got a 1991 IBM Model M (1394540).  The guy who did the refurbish job made it like new, truly impressive.  And with a little "blue cube" USB to PS/2 converter it's working great on my Windows box.  The only thing I had to do was to remap some keys so I could add some of the modern functionality we expect from keyboards, restoring the Windows key, menu key, media control keys, and app launching keys.

Ah, the joys of typing on the IBM Model M.

^ Quinxy

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24Jan/140

My Move to the Das Keyboard Ultimate Model S

metadot-das-keyboard-ultimate-i50-800I'm a mostly self-taught typer.  Years of doing it have meant that I do it respectably quickly and without the need to look down (except for very infrequently used keys, e.g., F7), but the problem with being self taught is that I've never kept my fingers over the home row, and that has meant I do two big things wrong: a) if my keys went off the keyboard, perhaps to reach for the mouse or a drink, my initial resumed keystrokes are highly likely to miss unless I look down and re-orient my fingers, meaning at best I slow down and at worst I make typos, and b) my typing is dominated by my index and middle fingers, leaving my ring and pinkie fingers doing relatively little (the ring fingers jump in occasionally, but aside from the right pinky hitting return the pinkies do almost nothing), and this surely causes a slow down.  So, wanting to finally tackle this problem, wanting to boost speed and reduce typos I decided to take action.  Also, I was having nostalgic pangs for the keyboards from the 1980s, like the much loved and wonderfully clickey-clacky IBM Model M keyboard.  As a result, after a little research I went with the Das Keyboard Ultimate Model S keyboard, with the Cherry MX Blue key switch option.  This keyboard setup is pretty well regarded as the most IBM Model M-like (apparently you can also still buy remakes of the original, but the Das Keyboard seemed a better option for me).  What makes this keyboard "ultimate" is the lack of lettering on the keys, they are all, without exception, black.  No hints as to what key represents what letter, beyond your muscle memory (and normal memory).  I first learned of the keyboard about a decade ago, but dismissed it entirely as some sort of joke, seeing it as a novelty keyboard meant primarily for programmers in an office so that they might brag about their l33t typing skills.  With no one to brag to, and now a buyer, I suspect my initial dismissal was hasty.  I'm now only a day into using this keyboard and my greatest relief thus far is that I'm able to type at more or less my normal rate.  The only significant problem I'm encountering is when I switch from writing prose to coding and need to use the keys farthest away from the center, where my accuracy without looking is poor.  I've been trying to force my fingers into the home row and onto their proper keys, but then all my fingers rebel, the pinkies furious that they are being asked to do work they've never done, and my index and middle finger annoyed they're suddenly almost idle.

We'll see what comes, my old speed was 75 wpm...  here's hoping I get up to 85-90 wpm once my fingers get used to this.

^Q

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17Jan/140

Japanese Soldier Stupidly Fought WWII for 30 Extra Years

Today Hiroo Onoda died at 91.  He is famous for having refused to accept that WWII ended in 1945.  He continued to fight the war for 29 more years, living in the jungle, first with a couple of fellow soldiers then alone.  He only accepted it when his commanding officer from 1945 personally delivered his stand down orders in 1974.  Initially my reaction to the story was the same as most people's, likely similar to the feelings of the Japanese who welcomed him back home as a hero.  I was in absolute awe at his unwavering dedication to duty and commitment to honor.  If only more people were like that...

But the more I read about his story and began to think of the reality it represented the more I began to feel like everyone was reading the story wrong.  During his three decades "fighting" a war that no longer existed he killed as many as 30 locals.  He needlessly, senselessly killed almost three dozen fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, etc.   He killed them because he chose to reject reality.  Various efforts were made over those thirty years to contact him and convince him the war was over, but he rejected the evidence every time.  And so he went on killing innocent people.  But not only that, the praise which he roundly receives relates to his commitment to duty, and yet what was he accomplishing?  His final orders were supposedly to stay behind and spy on American forces.  Surely by any measure he must have done a fantastically rotten job of that.  The purpose of spying is to collect and relay information.  What information did he collect in 30 years?  What information did he relay in 30 years?  Presumably almost none.  Perhaps initially (for the first year or so) he was somewhat active in collecting information about troop movements, but clearly he had no one to whom to relay it.  And simply senselessly evading capture and killing innocent people cannot count as good spying or soldiering.  He was simply wasting his life and worse wasting other people's lives, all in the name of some blind, dumb, pig-headed honor.  I can't find anything praise worthy in that.

Why wouldn't his honor require him to make contact with his homeland?  Why wouldn't his honor require him to return to his homeland for new orders?  Why wouldn't his honor force him to realize that he was failing to fulfill his final orders and that he needed to be given new ones?  Those sorts of people we do not need.

I began the day impressed with Hiroo Onoda, and ended it disappointed in him.  Ah well...  So it goes.

^ Q

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4Jan/140

A Happy ACA (Obamacare) Subscriber

The news is filled with people bemoaning the ACA (aka Obamacare).  I am not one of them.  My situation has greatly improved.  I was a single guy, no kids, early forties, paying $650/month for a HIPAA plan with very high copays and $5,000 deductible.  I am now paying $370/month for a platinum plan (10% copay) with $500 deductible.  I couldn't be happier.

I have always been a non-smoker, non-drinker, non-drug user, and reasonably healthy.  But no insurance company would give me an individual healthcare plan, not since I was 25.  I was rejected without explanation by many companies.  Presumably they rejected me based on pre-existing conditions, but my pre-existing conditions were trivial, some mild depression and anxiety, but never hospitalized for that or anything else.  I finally got insurance through work, and was able to transition to an individual HIPAA plan after becoming a consultant.  I could not switch to anything better or cheaper, though, still no company not forced by HIPAA to take me would have me.  And I looked into the "high risk" pool coverage (the only other option) that California offered and was shocked to find it was a) expensive, b) had a long waiting list to get in, c) provided really low and weak coverage.  So, until the ACA rolled out January 1, 2014 I was stuck.

The news reporting of others' experience with ACA plans has me a little confused.  The vast majority of people seem to have had really lousy policies which didn't offer much coverage and they are now complaining that they are forced to buy a more comprehensive policy and thus pay more for it.  I have somewhat limited sympathy for those situations, because I think the reality is that those cheap policies often just wind up shifting the cost to everyone when someone who has one of those policies gets seriously ill, finds their policy doesn't provide adequate coverage, and goes bankrupt or otherwise requires the hospitals and debt agencies to eat the loss when they can't pay their bills.  The people buying those policies may claim that it's the right plan for them, the right price, and that it's just what they need, but I have to believe on a macro scale that's just not born out, that the rest of society takes a financial hit for their stinginess.  If you know that to be false, please correct me.  For the remaining minority of people making the news whose prices have gone up significantly without an increase in coverage, and without any offsetting tax reduction, I do feel very badly, and hope cheaper options become available, or other corrective measures are taken.

If nothing else, I am very glad that the health insurance system was finally forced to move away from the cruel and capricious system of excluding people because of pre-existing conditions, it was a savage system that usually unfairly penalized people who had no hand in their conditions, leaving them to fend for themselves or pay dearly for rotten coverage.  Whatever people may say about the ACA, at least it did away with that...

^ Q

3Jan/140

Why Christians Should Pay for Health Insurance Covered Abortions

I wish that we lived in a world where people could always control what their dollars directly and indirectly funded, but we don't, and Christians only seem to care when it's their money and something they believe is immoral.  Would most Christians support another person's "rights" not to have their income tax fund foreign wars/actions they morally oppose?  The vast majority of Christians would certainly not, and for that reason I cannot support their right to pick and choose their healthcare funding according to their morals.  If they want to broaden the debate, and argue that everyone should be able to refuse to contribute towards things they believe are immoral, then I'll be happy to support their cause.  Until then, we might as well all be stuck in the same boat, until we together pick a course that gets us to a better land.

^ Q

P.S. - Of course beyond issues of morality, there are lots of other purely lifestyle related costs we make others pay for.  If a couple chooses to have 5 children that can incur public schooling costs of $600k (from kindergarten through high school), that burden is disproportionately covered by those who choose to never have any kids or have just one.  As a society we have decided to pool our resources, accepting the many potential inequities, injustices, and betrayals of personal conscience.  We can't have it both ways.