The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

And people wonder why I don’t trust the government…

| October 14, 2016

Worth a watch. Bring tissues. Or alcohol. Or both.

Anonymous – The Story of Aaron Swartz Full Documentary

So, I’ve been dark for awhile…

| June 2, 2016

I’ve been away for a bit because I’ve been working on other things; specifically:

Now that I’m finished with those projects, I’ll likely be posting more. Still have a lot of hobby stuff to talk about, pictures to post, and some website maintenance to do. I’ve enabled a markdown plugin, so I can use markdown for my formatting, but that required disabling another plugin I was using, so most of my past 3 years of entries need to be edited to use markdown. Since markdown is a standard, hopefully this is the last time I’ll have to do this.

Once that is all sorted, I’ll likely go through and start converting pages from my old site into WordPress.. This has been outstanding for years, and I really should get around to it at some point.

Anyway, that’s it for now.

And another Kickstarter…

| March 11, 2016

Cubetto, a programming robot for children 3 and up The language is simple, think “flowchart decision blocks”, because it teaches logic, not a language.

The end of an era

| February 17, 2016

So, this weekend, the boys and I decommissioned my last remaining Linux desktop. It hasn’t been powered on for about the past three months. Now, I still have a few low-powered “kiosk” machines – like the one I use to control the 3D printer, but those don’t really count because I only use them for a specific purpose and they’re off most of the time.

Anyway, the history of that machine (or, at least, the big blue case) dates back to June of 2003, when I built a Dual CPU Athlon system (note – not dual-core. This is 2 separate CPUs, so 2 separate sockets. This is what multiprocessing used to look like, folks.) I used that machine largely as it was for 5 years, though I think I might have upgraded the video card and RAM along the way. I think at the end it had 1.5GB RAM and some variety of ATI (now AMD) AGP video card. I know I replaced the heat sinks at some point as well, because one of the original fans failed, so I replaced both while I was in there.

In June of 2008, I rebuilt the box into a Core 2 Quad CPU with 8GB of RAM and a Radeon X850 with 256MB RAM and a 4 bay hot swap cage with 4 1TB drives (in 2 RAID 1 mirrors, so 2 TB of usable space). In the fall of 2010, I upgraded the video card, replacing it with a Radeon 4870 w/ 512MB RAM, because Steam was starting to sell Linux games, and the ATI/AMD drivers now supported the Radeon HD series, so it was worth the upgrade. In July of 2012, I pulled the RAID cage out because we built up a SOHO server with 4 3TB HDDs (in 2 RAID 1 mirrors, so 6TB of usable space) and used it there. Since my desktop was no longer the whole house storage / DLNA server, it lost 2 drives for just a mirrored 1TB RAID 1 configuration. Somewhere in 2013, I upgraded the video card again to a Radeon HD 6870 with 1GB RAM for the same reason as before – more, newer games on Steam. It sat like this, being used for games and remoting into work for the next 3 years.

Now, in parallel to this, for my birthday in 2011, my brother gave me a mid-spec box (which we’ll call the “black box”) explicitly intended to run Windows so he and I could play some of the Battlefield games together over the internet, which we did for a couple of years until kids and such got in the way of that. In the following couple of month I maxed out that box with an AMD Phenom II X4 940, 8GB RAM, and a Radeon HD 6870. (For those paying attention, I liked the card so much in this box that I bought one for the Linux box too). That box came with XP, I installed Windows 7 on it, and then upgraded it to W10, and upgraded it from a 500GB HDD to a 1TB HDD somewhere along the way, mainly because I ended up with 2 surplus 1TB drives after I pulled them from the blue box. And that box sat that way, used to play games that only ran under Windows, until this weekend.

This weekend I took the blue box, put both Radeon HD 6870’s in it, configured them for Crossfire, then proceeded to do a fresh install of Windows 10 on to the blue box, because that box had RAID hardware in it. (As it turns out, the black box did to, but I didn’t know this at the time. Still, I like the blue case better, and the machines are otherwise very similar, so which box got kept came down to the case that the board and CPU happened to be in). After testing that for a bit, and coming to realize that these cards, while still officially supported, are effectively legacy so not all features (like, say, Crossfire) work under Windows 10 with all the games I tested them with (Fallout 4, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II, and L.A. Noire), I pulled out the second card because it wasn’t doing much good. Finally, I realized that Fallout 4 requires a video card with 2GB of RAM, not the 1GB of RAM that I had, so I needed a new video card.

What do to? Well, I had a perfectly good quad core box with 8GB of RAM, and a Radeon HD 6870 w/ 1GB RAM. So I sold it to a guy at work, and used the proceeds to (mostly) fund the acquisition of an ASUS STRIX R9 390 w/ 8GB RAM. The 750W PC Power and Cooling PSU can run it, so we should be good. It came in and I installed it yesterday. It is enormous and barely fits:


I had to remove the lower hard drive bracket (empty except for the fan it was holding) in order to get clearance, and, even then, the GPU heatsink is about 5mm away from the remaining metal bracket.

But, it fits, it’s quiet, and it ran Fallout 4 for 2 hours last night with no crashes.

Still, I’m somewhat saddened by the departure of the Linux desktop, but it does free up some space in my small office. The only thing constant is change, I suppose.

Being fast vs. being correct

| October 28, 2015

I’ve not blogged about my job hunt because it’s largely been unremarkable. However, one firm threw me for a loop recently in that they had me take a skills assessment. This is different than the “normal” type of assessments, which are things like “write me some code which does X”. As a general case, all of these are a waste of the applicant’s time, so I can’t imagine that companies who have such policies have a lot of applicants who are already employed. I only have time to do it because I’m on payroll to be in the office to answer the couple of questions which arise during the day.

Anyway, the test they had me take is supposedly roughly similar to a Wonderlic test. See:

Go take one, they’re fun. I’ll wait.

They remind me as roughly similar to IQ tests and, as I understand it, seem to try to test the same thing. Unsurprisingly, I score similarly on both. Now, I have issues with IQ tests in general (more on this later), but that’s not really my main objection to this test as a pre-screening for an engineering position. My objection is that what it measures (intelligence) is not of primary importance to being a good engineer. I’d argue that your top three qualities for a good engineer are:

  1. Being correct.
  2. Being thorough.
  3. Being smart.

The scoring of both IQ and Wonderlic tests are based on time limits. However, such time limits are not reflective of real-world situations, because, only very rarely do you need to do engineering under extremely short (say, 10 minute) deadlines. And, since lives may depend on it, being correct is more important than being fast. As such, a good engineer will check his work, running the calculation several times over by different methods to ensure the same result. Do this for a couple of decades, and it becomes so automatic, it’s hard to turn off when doing one of the aforementioned speed-based tests. Therefore, such tests likely disadvantage good engineers because the prime requisite is not emphasized in favor of the tertiary requisite.

On top of that, the secondary requisite isn’t tested at all! Now, I don’t know how to test that someone is thorough, excepting to pose a situation with a pile of corner cases which need to be handled. The best vehicle for this is likely a programming problem. But, basically:

  • It doesn’t matter how fast you are, if you’re wrong.
  • It doesn’t matter how fast you are, if you miss corner cases and it all falls apart because of that.

Now, on to my problems with IQ tests (because I’m sure I’ve hooked everyone with the tease and they’ve been waiting). My problem with IQ tests is that they say I’m smart (I consistently score 140 +/- 10), except I do not believe that I’m smart. That’s it. I have no data, just an anecdote with a sample size of 1. (Publish!)

Empirically, and “getting outside my own head” as it were, this is likely a result of selection bias. If you take, as a baseline, the idea that an IQ of 70 and below constitutes “mild mental retardation”, then you’re 30 points below the median score if 100. So, if you have an IQ of 120, and work with a bunch of people with IQ’s of 150, then, compared to them, you’re mildly retarded, despite the fact that you are “superior” relative to the general population. However, since you work with these people on a day to day basis, likely select friends of similar attributes, should definitely select a mate with similar attributes, raise your children similarly, etc. you surround yourself in this bubble of smart people which can lead to a skewed perception of what the world is actually like. (Not unlike how people surround themselves with similar reinforcing viewpoints on politics, social issues, etc – the “echo chamber” effect.)

Now, all that said, even though rationally I realize that the above is likely true, I find it hard to detangle myself from the viscerally emotional feeling of “not being that smart” – likely because I am a perpetually unsatisfied type A control freak.

So, my criticisms of IQ tests are likely all in my head, but one perceives reality through ones own cognitive biases, so that doesn’t make it any less real.

On Facebook and Somalia

| October 6, 2015

So, after listening to such interesting podcasts as EconTalk, The Cato Daily Podcast, FreeDomain Radio, and stuff by Adam Kokesh (I strongly suggest reading or listening to Freedom, as well as conversing with some learned colleagues for several years at this point, I was coming to believe that perhaps the world was progressing to something more productive, beautiful and conducive towards human growth and prosperity.

Then I rejoined Facebook.

Now, I did this to follow an excellent tabletop wargame and my local gaming shop, but pretty much immediately, lots of folks started friending me. If I knew them, I accepted their requests, which means they’re now in my feed, which means that I see all the random political things they post.

The first thing I realized is that I like most of my friends more if we don’t talk politics. The remaining few friends (all of whom I disagree with on pretty major points, BTW), can actually carry on a logical conversation while making decent points which cause me to challenge my thinking and perceptions, and therein lies personal, spiritual, and intellectual growth. The rest of them? Well, it just kind of devolves into trolling, name calling or other such foolishness. I’ve spoken to one of them who never engages in such discussion about this phenomenon, and he’s basically said that’s why he doesn’t talk about anything serious with anyone, ever. That way people don’t get upset and friendships don’t get ruined. While I don’t wholly agree with this approach, it isn’t without merit.

The meme in question

Anyway, there were a few ideas which I feel deserve to be remarked upon in the broader context.

  1. Raising the minimum wage doesn’t price people out of the market.
    • It does.
    • One of the justifications put forth was that places who have raised the minimum wage have experienced record economic growth and prosperity.
    • Firstly, neither growth nor prosperity have to do with employment – raising human costs can easily justify expanded automation which increases both of those things, while reducing employment.
    • Secondly, other places have had increased growth and prosperity too, and have not increased the minimum wage. It’s merely a correllation, not a cause.
    • Finally, it’s actually SUPPOSED TO. See this letter by Don Boudreaux which links to this analysis by Burton Folsom. This is further explained here. Quoting:
    • The minimum wage is really economic protectionism for more expensive, organized labor, because higher-wage workers gain an advantage from government regulations that outlaw competition from cheaper alternatives. This anti-competitiveness is even more significant when considering regional and national market conditions.
    • If the minimum wage was $8 and the union wage was $40, employers give up five hours of low-skilled work for every union worker-hour utilized. But increasing the minimum to $10 means employers give up four hours of low-skilled work for every union worker hour…. Workers and employers in high cost of living areas, where virtually everyone earns above the federal minimum wage, benefit, by raising the cost of production imposed on rivals where wages are lower.
  2. The world would be horrible if the Republicans had their way. People would still be slaves, there would be no labor unions, etc.

Now, when presented with the above, for the first they said that I (and those economists) were just plain wrong. As for the second, they basically said:

No, we meant conservatives, not Republicans. Everyone switched sides after the 60’s. Or 70’s. Or.. something, but the Liberal Democrats are good and the Conservative Republicans are bad!

My reply was essentially that all statists are bad and the negative consequences of coercive government policy leads to a more violent society, and minarchism/anarchism should be our goal. This devolved into a subsequent attack on anarchism, of me for criticizing systems from which I’ve benefited (the logic being that, since I drive on roads, attended a public university and elementary schools, that I’ve benefited from the govan interesting article about Somalia]ernment stealing peoples’ money on my behalf and therefore I cannot criticize the practice that funded the institutions from which I benefited. I called bullshit on that, and they said “no, that’s reality”).

Anyway, the one real gem to take from that was the following question:

Well, if that’s how you feel, why don’t you move to Somalia?

Hmm.. That’s a good point. I actually known nothing about Somalia. Let’s ask the Google. Well, this site has an interesting article about Somalia, and responds to that very statement. (It is well worth the read. I strongly recommend it).

If anyone wants to discuss this, feel free to email me, but I’ll not be arguing on Facebook anytime soon.

If we didn’t have government…

| October 6, 2015

One of the common arguments opposing anarchism is “If we didn’t have the state, then X wouldn’t exist.”. The problem with this is that it’s hard to say what would have been created in the absence of social structures – except when you sometimes get a peek into what might have been.

Take GPS for existence. “If we didn’t have the state, we wouldn’t have GPS” is a fine statement, and likely true. But, what most people really use GPS for is in-vehicle navigation. For that solution, I give you the Etak Navigator. If you take that, chalk it’s failure up to being too far ahead of its time (not unlike it’s contemporary, the Newton, then fast forward to the late ’90’s and early 2000’s where the hardware has finally caught up to ambition (remember, the first iPhone was only released in 2007) and you’d likely have a viable solution.

Heck, you could even use a combination of the existing dead reckoning (accelerometers, gyroscopes and compasses) and use whatever cell towers you can find to triangulate your position more accurately – no need for the tax man to steal money from people to put satellites in orbit so I can find my way to the nearest Panera…

On Carly Fiorina, AKA “HP: Invent”

| August 29, 2015

So, this post by Larry Correia got me thinking about Carly Fiorina. I don’t know how she plays to the mainstream US, because I haven’t talked with people about it, but every nerd over 30 knows the legend of how she came to HP and layed off a ton of folks, destroyed long term R&D all the while changing the slogan to HP:Invent. Now, this may not be a totally accurate characterization of what happened, but it was the perception at the time, and likely persists to this day. Apparently, CNN money says this may be an issue as well. Heck, she leaves and the stock goes up 7% at the news…

Windows 10

| August 29, 2015

So, I’ve upgraded to Windows 10. It’s sort of halfway between Windows 7 and Windows 8 in terms of all the Windows 8 crap they added. The multiple desktops are about the worst I’ve ever found, and dialog boxes raised to the top of the stack tend to disappear as soon as you move your mouse (the “new desktop” button does the same thing). You have to raise the dialogs by clicking their parent app on the taskbar, and you need to click and hold and then release and then click again in order to get to the new desktop button. This may be a bug related to my existing Win 7 install which I upgraded, but who knows.

Aside – Classic Shell is a decent add-on for modern versions of Windows to, most notably, bring back the old start menu. It does other things too.

So, yeah, 10 is worse than 7 as far as UI goes, but who the hell cares? If you’re using Windows to do real work, I’m sorry. It’s still only suitable for video games, and that’s mainly because you just run steam in fullscreen mode.

Updated software

| August 7, 2014

I’ve updated Owncloud (the thing which hosts the galleries and video) and WordPress (the thing which hosts this blog). If anything is busted or doesn’t work, drop me an email or comment here.