Jon's ramblings


It's not every year that a hummingbird decides to set up home in your yard...

[Momma hummingbird]

Technology is so much fun

Getting to the airport is a hassle in the best of times, but it seems that, with the help of modern technology, it can be worse.

Gergely Orosz makes explicit something I've felt for a long time: the ability to write well is a crucial part of an engineer's skill set. Writing has helped me in all phases of my career, even before I ended up doing it most of the time. I've never regretted the effort it took to get (relatively) good at it.

Here's another Google Fi horror story. I remain a happy user of Fi, but this kind of story highlights my biggest worry with the whole thing: Google never has figured out this whole “customer service” thing, and life gets miserable any time that you have to deal with a real human being. I sure hope to never find myself in such a situation.

(Why do I like Fi, you may ask? It's cheap, especially for somebody like me who can't run up a lot of data usage even when doing all of my work tethering through the phone. But mostly I'm there for the international roaming, which still seems to beat every other offer out there. Now if they would only fix data service in that especially remote place where I often end up going: Wyoming).

The BBC looks at John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar with an eye toward the many things it predicted, 50 years ago. It's great to see Brunner getting some attention; his work was greatly influential on young pre-nerds like me, but it has kind of faded into obscurity over the years.

The Shockwave Rider helped to redirect my life. It predicted much of what we see on the Internet now, including privacy issues, governmental control attempts, and worms — all in 1975. Many years later, I can confess that a desire to emulate its super-hacker hero helped to push me toward a career in software all those many years ago. Good stuff.

The view from my San Juan, Puerto Rico hotel room. Not quite the ocean vista I might have been hoping for...

[hotel-room view]

The “regional transportation district” (RTD) is a special tax district for the provision of transportation services to the larger Front Range urban area. In my part of the world, it has often been seen as a way of taxing Boulder to pay for transportation services in Denver. No part of that has been more overt than the “fast tracks” program, voted into existence in 2004. It is there to provide rail service — to Denver. Boulder was promised a rail line, but such promises were obviously hollow at the time and have not improved since; no such line has been built with all that tax money we have paid.

(For the curious, this line was going to be built using an existing freight line. Somehow they were going to create regular passenger service on a single track, owned by Burlington Northern, where freight trains will have priority. It's hard to see how that would ever work well.)

Last week, we are informed, RTD “recommitted” to completing the northwest corridor through to Boulder and beyond. But one need only read to the end of the article to see what that is worth:

“Our current financial plan reaches out to 2040,” Jaquez said. “We don't have a (Northwest Rail) construction date identified within that timeframe because we don't have funds identified. If funds become available we will reassess the situation.”

It doesn't take a whole lot of cynicism to conclude that, in fact, nothing has changed and they have no intention of creating this line we were promised in 2004.

In Colorado, it takes a month or two for the bureaucratic gears to turn far enough to allow permanent registration of a new car, so the Bolt EV's turn came up recently. Like all new cars, it was expensive to register, but there was one component of the cost that was a surprise: Colorado adds a $50 annual surcharge to EV registrations.

The reasoning perhaps makes sense: since we're no longer buying gas, we're not paying gas taxes. But the car still definitely uses the roads, and the roads have to be paid for. This charge, it is argued, is just making up for what is lost in gasoline taxes. Colorado charges $0.22/gallon in taxes, so that's like charging us for 227 gallons of gas. We work from home, and so didn't use a whole lot of gasoline in the first place. So this looks like a tax increase over here.

Governments become dependent on revenues from cigarette taxes as well. Perhaps they should start taxing non-smokers, who are selfishly avoiding paying those taxes?

The EV tipping point

Meanwhile, it seems that falling battery prices mean that EVs will be price-competitive with internal-combustion cars (without tax credits) by 2022, at least in some markets. Given how much nicer EVs are in many ways, even without considering things like carbon footprints, that suggests that a big tipping point is coming fairly soon.

It can't happen too soon.

Range anxiety

One last thing about EV range... Mileage numbers for gasoline-powered cars always come in pairs: city and highway. The city mileage is always worse, due to the start/stop nature of city driving.

EVs turn that around. Regenerative breaking and lower speeds mean that they are at their most efficient in the city. It's when you get out onto the open road that the car loses efficiency and the range drops. That is something one has to take into account when planning road trips.

Cooking Indian food has long been a hobby of mine. The alchemy of the spices is fun, and the results are delicious (when I don't screw it up). But it can also be a lot of fun visually:

Bese bele powder

This is an early stage in the creation of bese bele powder, from which many good meals can result.

It appears that Microsoft is giving up on the electronic book business. As part of that, they tell their customers: “Unfortunately, this means that starting July 2019 your ebooks will no longer be available to read, but you'll get a full refund for all book purchases.” Nice.

I buy a lot of books, but I refuse to buy books that can simply evaporate on me like this. So I still buy a lot of actual dead-trees books (I find I prefer them anyway); if I get something electronic, I make sure that, one way or another, it's not something that will be taken away from me in the future. I honestly don't understand why people tolerate the idea of a world where vast numbers of books can simply vanish at a corporation's whim.

But, then, I guess I'm weird.