Dr. Boli Opines…


Here he sings the praises of ink, in the course of which he reminds us of the clear history of US constitutional law and points out that computers are not the answer:

“Let us ignore the facts of history for a moment. Let us simply forget that constitutional law in the United States is largely a record of successful abridgments of the Bill of Rights. Let us forget how many men and women went to prison for saying war was wrong in 1917.”

“The days are long past when a computer was a tool, like a pen or a hammer, that is manipulated by its purchaser. Now your computer is a branch office of the company that made the operating system. It is always in communication with general headquarters, and it is always doing things behind your back to make your life better, often with the result that functions you relied on have vanished. So there is no reason in principle why your computer could not simply lock your keyboard if it thought you were writing things you shouldn’t write. And if it can happen, simple prudence, informed by long experience, teaches us to assume that it will happen.”

Dr. Boli is an oasis of wit, clear thinking, and sanity. He is required daily reading.

We Interrupt Our Coverage of the End Times…

For this important announcement:

Yesterday, we all went to see and ride this, the subsequent and much larger rollercoaster designed and built by the same people over the last 6 months (I imagine they will put up a video of the finished project; this is the latest on their channel, and as you can see the cosmetics are not there yet):

Here’s the thing: a bunch of 20-somethings decided during lockdown last year that they were going to build a functioning rollercoaster in the the backyard of the parents of the ringleader. Because why not? Sean LaRochelle, an impressive young man who, at age 29, has married a beautiful woman, fathered 4 children and built his own house, is now finishing up his master’s in architecture, decided if he was going to be locked down, he was going to do something fun.

I had met Sean before, but just barely – our oldest daughter had rented a room from him and his family in the house he had designed and built in Napa. The reason we got invited is that our son in law did all the music – very much Disney-ride-quality music, as you can hear on the videos.

The team of young people involved were equally impressive. Sean’s sister did a whole Old West town in the staging/line area. The team did design, acquiring the materials, bending pipes into rails, welding it up, building frames to hold it into place, then creating a whole Arizona desert look with sheets of foam, spray foam, and paint. They designed and built a launch mechanism; there were waterworks and a light show; they had a booster mechanism halfway through the ride that sped up the car for the final loop; they designed and built the car itself, as well as a system of safety sensors along the key parts of the track to make sure everything was in working order.

My wife spoke to a woman who was cajoled by Sean into doing wiring. Seems she had once swapped out a light fixture – good enough! She told of watching YouTube videos while in the ride’s caves, trying to figure out how to wire something up. Sean is evidently very convincing.

And just the nicest people! Sean’s family threw a big catered dinner just so people could come and ride the rollercoaster and hang out. So while we are justifiably bemoaning the sorry state of Kids These Days, nice to see a bunch of young people any parent should be proud of doing something cool and outrageous in a spirit of fun and cooperation. Rock on!

(There’s also, it seems, a huge overlap, perhaps their circle is completely within the larger circle in the Venn diagram, between this crowd and the Napa TLM crowd.)

Linux Laptop Hunt: Update

Thanks to everyone who commented on this morning’s post regarding my desire to go with Linux for my next laptop. I really appreciate the input, but couldn’t help thinking of this scene:

I know, it’s not *that* bad. Just a few drivers and possible hardware conflicts, nothing a smart, patient person can’t handle. The computer world seems to fall into roughly two camps, and I’m not talking MS vs Apple: those for whom spending an hour or two punching in stuff on the command line and rebooting repeatedly seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to expect a user to do, and sane people.

Kidding! Just kidding! A little, anyway. Since my first computer dates back to something like 1990, a sweet little DOS machine with 256K RAM (upgraded!) and a whopping 20M of disk storage, I am familiar with typing things into command lines and watching the results on a ugly amber monitor. (aside: adjusting for inflation, that puppy ran me about $2,500. Yikes.) Ah, those were the days! I was taking the mandatory accounting classes in business school at the time, and I thought to myself, I did, that, heck, I could use the macro function on QuatroPro (anybody remember them?) to write a little accounting system. Whiled away quite a few hours getting that all set up, using spreadsheets as tables, using little macro loops to move stuff around, until I had the skeleton of a home-level accounting system. After about 6 entries, it ran out of resources and hung up. But it worked, I tell you! No, really! All I needed to do was invest several thousand 1990 dollars into a much bigger box, and, heck, probably could have got dozens! hundreds, even! of entries punched in before it bogged into petrification.

(another aside: probably the maddest I’ve ever made my wife was trying to explain double-entry accounting to her. It was weird – like the very idea of double entry accounting offended her to the heart. We’d only been married a few years at the time, so I took her obvious frustration as a sign I wasn’t explaining it right, and so kept trying. Wrong. Nod, say ‘yes dear’ and back slowly out of the room. But I didn’t know that at the time. I still have no idea what about the concepts was so wrong, but it’s pretty clear you don’t need both spouses to sign on to use GAAP to have a successful marriage.)

(Aside to the another aside: there is probably a really tiny set of readers who find the above freaking hilarious. For the rest of you, for convenience called ‘normal people’: it’s freaking hilarious. You’ll have to just trust me on this.)

Another story: my last serious foray into hardware was around 2000, when I decided I needed a home recording studio. We had bought our one and only house, the one we still live in, and I had decided I needed someplace to play the piano. 1600 sq ft suburban track house containing 4 kids under 10 and an exhausted mother (is there any other kind, when it comes to small children?) is no place to be pounding out the blues. So, in my usual overreacting manner, I converted the garage into a sound room. This does not mean: throw some carpet on the floor and egg cartons on the walls, or even maybe another layer of sheetrock on the walls. No, no, no – we’re talking the middle half of the garage (front quarter: laundry room; out by the big door: storage). Started by putting in multi-layered floating floor – rubber under 2X3s, layer of plywood, layers of hardboard, then ultimately padding and carpet. Somewhat isolated from ground vibrations, and it doesn’t creak. On top of that floor, build frame walls separating the laundry room and the front storage – layer of sheetrock, studs and insulation, layer of sheet rock, furring strips to create an air gap, then another layer of sheetrock, then layers of carpet hanging over the walls. The existing walls merely got studs & insulation, sheetrock, air gap, sheetrock, carpet.

I wussed out on the ceiling. Just taped and textured it, after putting in new light fixtures. Think I was getting tired out by that point – working, helping with the kids, then staying up half the night mudding, painting, flooring….

Epic overkill. First extended experience finishing sheetrock – parts of it are pretty good, which is to say: parts of it suck. But it works – I can pound on the piano in the middle of the night, and not wake anybody in the house or neighborhood.

Then I said: wait! DAWs are now coming down in price such that I could put one in my music room! Circa 2000, a good home DAW consisted of:

  • a pretty good computer
  • a digital audio/MIDI program
  • a digital audio converter (DAC) to turn sound into 1s and 0s
  • a variety of input devices – keyboards, guitars
  • studio monitors, a mixing board, microphones, mike stands, cables, etc. and etc.

After much research, got a Mac tower:

Something like this

…because you could just open the side, plug in your DAC board, and be ready to go. The thought of disassembling a Windows box in order to hook up hardware that might or might not work without serious effort was too much. The Mac stuff at the time was pretty rock solid, nearly plug and play. There was an internal board to handle the DAC, an external rack unit to take the various physical inputs and feed them to the DAC, a mixing board to enable fiddling with the routing, and nice set of monitor speakers – KRK V8s:

הבזאר- לוח יד שניה, דרושים | אוזניות, מוניטורים | למכירה ...
Still have these. They’re wonderful, producing sound quality beyond what my elderly hearing can appreciate.

Anyway: as you can imagine (maybe), there is quite a bit of work involved in getting all these pieces to play nice together. Ah, the painful, frustrating memories! The dream: walk into my nice studio, turn all the many components on, and just make music – was never fully realized. It was always something, something on the board got switched wrong, some nob or slider got turned off, some plug somewhere wasn’t quite right, and on and on and on. Those nights where I was recording stuff in under 15 minutes were the exception; nights where I gave up after an hour were not uncommon.

By the time kid #5 arrived in 2004, I’d about had it. We had the house remodeled, in the process of which the contractors messed with the (admittedly pretty slapdash and no doubt non-code-compliant) wiring I’d put in that powered everything in the sound room, and so, after fiddling and fiddling just trying to turn stuff on, and failing, I, without really meaning to, gave up.

Nail in the coffin of my studio: got my 1926 restored Steinway M back from the technician – after the remodel, finally had a place to put it in the house. That was that: found I would much MUCH rather make music on a nice piano than spend another frustrating minute on my DAW.

Anyway, all this is simply to say: yes, I can handle hardware/software issues up to a point – drivers, weird configuration issues, mystery problems. But I really, really want to keep them to a minimum. That’s what’s kept me off Linux so far. My late son, may he rest in peace, was the kind of kid who, at 16, built his tower up from scratch, component by component, and then installed Linux on it, and then downloaded a ton of free, open source CGI software, and then wrote his own ray tracing program – for fun. (1) He is not here now. I’m the ranking tech support in this house, and I’m not within an order of magnitude of my son’s level of expertise.

Anyway, please keep up the helpful comments, I really do appreciate any guidance or anecdotes you’d like to share. Onward!

  1. His wanting to write his own ray tracing program was also the occasion for him to teach himself vector algebra by googling around on the web. Kid was the nicest, kindest kid you’d ever want to meet, who happened to be an off-the-charts genius as well.

The Next Laptop: Don’t Give $$ to People Who Hate You

For years, maybe decades by now, I’ve been following, however weakly, the thinking expressed in Brian Niemeier’s highly recommended book Don’t Give Money to People Who Hate You. Which can be summed up as: don’t give money to people who hate you. Hollywood movies? Out. Professional. Olympic, and major college sports? Out. Books from the big publishers? Find ’em used. Streaming services of any kind? Nope. Nicely dovetailing with this is a desire to waste less time. Video games? Out years ago. I’ve never watched much broadcast TV, never paid for cable, so dodged a bullet there.

But don’t get the impression I’m some sort of disciplined hermit. Hardly. Rather, I seem to have something like a genius ability to find other ways to waste time…

What I want to do is write and make music. On a typical day since I lost my job, I waste as much or more – almost certainly more – time online as I spend on those two activities combined. I have plenty of legit reasons to be surfing around but – mostly not.

The biggest sink by far is YouTube. I watch independent short sci fi movies, check in on what’s going on at SpaceX, follow a number of people who work on boat and housebuilding projects, watch a couple makers make things, watch a history guy, check out a bunch of musicians, look at recipes, and dive headfirst into the ubiquitous rabbit holes. There’s this volcano erupting in Iceland, and – so on and so forth.

YouTube is owned by Google. Google most definitely hates me.

I’ve been thinking I want to continue until a couple of the boat builders set sail, or at least get their boats in the water (half the work on a boat is done after the boat is afloat). That should be happening within the next couple months. Then – well, the recipes and music instruction is good. Don’t know if/how I can replace those things with non-Google stuff… I can at least cut way, way back.

This brings us to the next gigantic corporation owned and run by people who hate me: Microsoft. I’m going to need a new laptop here shortly. What I want to do: keep Microsoft, and all its works, and all its empty promises, off it. I would like to be as anonymous as possible as well – don’t give information to people who hate you is a solid principle as well. This means Linux and some sort of VPN, last I checked. To do so, I will need the following:

  • Browser – Brave.
  • Writing – Open Office.
  • Email – Protonmail.
  • VPN- ? Or do I even need one? Brave has that Tor functionality. Not sure how all this works.

Then comes a digital audio workstation (DAW). Looks like Reaper, which is highly recommended by my son-in-law, is available for Linux.

Can’t think of anything else I need. Seems like, if there turns out to be some Windows only thing I need, I could use an emulator , which (legend has it) have gotten much better and more seamless. I’ve heard that story about tech before – sometimes true, sometimes not so true. Unfortunately, I have tons of stuff for my history classes on Googledocs. Short and probably mid term, I’ll keep nursing one of my current aging laptops along to use them.

Any of the Regular Reader do anything like this?