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Morning thoughts

Submitted by John on Sat, 05/20/2023 - 07:56

Wow, I typed up a whole post, and went to add a photo at the end, and the browser on the phone deleted my in-progress post while I went out to get an image to add at the bottom.

ah well. These flowers were my companions this morning as I sat on the landscaping wall across the street while I was waking up and thinking. 

Close up of little purple flowers in morning sunlight

If I tilt my head back, the sunlight can directly hit the back of my skull

Submitted by John on Mon, 01/23/2023 - 09:49

Mom said get some Afrin and use it the day before you’re flying and the day of. Keeps the eustachian tubes from collapsing (I had that problem last time I traveled.) Two puffs in each nostril.

Well I did it. After 15 minutes I turned to my wife and said “my nostrils are so open I can smell God!”


Arduino Micro based sequencer

Submitted by John on Tue, 01/10/2023 - 21:23

A while back I made a "deconstructed sequencer" out of logic chips. Its funny to go back and read that post because the post says the sequencer is "awaiting repairs", and that is definitely still the case.

It's not that I haven't tried, I have, it's just that I get as far as taking off that first clock panel, looking at the big ball of tape holding everything together, and then I kind of retreat back and say hang on a minute. I even re-designed the circuit from scratch (I lost my original schematics, no idea where they are, and it's possible I never wrote them down anyway) and started constructing a new one in its place, but you know, this is one tiny sliver of one of my hobbies and I only got as far as "half of this is wired up on a protoboard", so certainly I don't have anything functional. 

At the moment, however, I would like a sequencer. And when I say "at the moment", I mean, I decided I wanted one a few days ago. It doesn't have to be great, "barely functional" would be fine.

So I figured I would code one into an Arduino Micro. 

I've got a user interface, on paper, I don't think it's going to be very good but all of the features are there. I mean, lets be totally honest, I am far better at building synthesizers and cigar box guitars and other weird instruments than actually using them musically. So I don't know how well it will work, in part because I don't even know what I'm doing.

The deconstructed sequencer has a very big chunky tactile user interface with 16 switches and 16 knobs. This one is not going to have the same kind of physicality. It's going to be a "set a note, advance to the next beat, set the next note", etc. I don't know if I am going to like it, but I suppose I should use it before I knock it. 

However, it occurs to me just now that I could decide to, after I get it mostly up and running, make a couple of quick modifications and then insert the Arduino Micro into the deconstructed sequencer, and kind of bodge them together. Then I could have a functioning sequencer, with the chunky UI for pitches, but the Micro being the brains, then I could extract and remove the original front end of the deconstructed sequencer entirely, and unwind that massive ball of tape, and maybe make some progress on it. 

Anyway, as far as the Arduino Micro Sequencer goes, I've gotten as far as "it has.a free running loop at a fixed tempo, and it advances through all 16 steps and outputs a different control voltage for each step". Next step (ha ha thank you brain for bringing that pun to my attention) is going to be making the LED visualizer for each step. Or maybe I'll do tempo changes next. Also I need to go through my junk pile and find a prototype VCO of some sort (I have a few generations worth of 8-bit VCDO circuits laying around somewhere, I'm sure I can pluck one up and dust it off and get it working). A few months ago I very nearly finished a new cigar box amplifier, so that's ready to go for the most part. 

Then I'll have a working end-to-end synth again! It won't be much but hopefully I can make a lot of beeps with it. 


Submitted by John on Thu, 12/08/2022 - 07:38

Fabrizio Ferri-Benedetti ( posted on Mastodon about how similar the output of ChatGPT is to certain types of technical writing:

The writing bits of my job are not that different from what #ChatGPT does: sometimes I can feel the predictive text popping in my mind while writing, remembering words I didn’t even know I remembered, and I repeat and reinforce certain patterns, especially when speaking in a non-primary language. It’s almost unconscious. What’s different, perhaps, it’s the twist and turns, the organic detours dictated by my fragile, oxygen-hungry brain and the needs of its emergent mind.

I have noticed the same thing when writing. Sometimes there is a part of the brain that is just churning out a template and there are a small handful of actual words or concepts I'm trying to get across. Every now and then I throw one into the paste as I smear it on the page.

So I've invented a new usage of the word paste:

Paste (n): (1) the output of a machine learning algorithm designed for human consumption, especially in the context of generated writing or generated art, or (2) the reflexive output of boilerplate writing

It comes from my realization the other day that ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion and all of these writing and generative art AIs are, on a mathematical level, ingesting all of human culture, grinding it up into a very small paste, and feeding it back to us. 

I've started using it in all sorts of contexts, like the other day when I was googling the top uses for horse chestnut wood, and the top results were all pages that were thick with ads, and the text on them was obviously generated with GPT-3. GPT-3: does good on individual paragraphs and can string a few together, get more than a bunch and the seams start to show; you can see where it loses its train of thought and repeats itself over time, etc. 

But yes, paste. When I google, and get AI thrown back at me, I say oh shit I've been pasted. When I'm churning out words on a deadline I notice myself slipping into generating paste instead of writing. 

Just finished up NDC Minnesota

Submitted by John on Fri, 11/18/2022 - 17:51

Heading home from a two day developer conference. I took a two day security workshop on application security that was very helpful. It was taught by Laura Bell Main from

I was not aware of how many free tools are available from OSWAP.

Anyway, this is me on the bus. I wish I could take the bus to work on a regular basis but it really doesn’t make sense with where the buses are compared to where my office is.

Me on the bus, wearing a mask and a blue hat.


When has it become socially acceptable to yell at people and insult them for wearing a mask?

Submitted by John on Sun, 09/04/2022 - 21:35

The other day I went to the State Fair, and mostly had a good time. I figured I'd pop into the Grandstand. My rule is, I'm going to mask when I go indoors for any extended length of time, but like, especially at the State Fair grandstand. 

I figure, if the grandstand gets too crowded for me, I'm going to turn around and go right back out again. 

As I approach a booth I'm interested in, I hear someone yell "Like this guy over here!" I turned and looked at him. He looked like a dude in his mid thirties, shorts, not intoxicated, and he was with a few other guys. 

"How are you going to eat with that thing your face!?" He then proceeded to berate me for wearing a mask, ending with "Why are you wearing a mask anyway, don't you know you're OUTSIDE!?"

I gave him a funny look. This all happened fast and I wasn't sure yet if he was being sarcastic or serious or kidding or what the hell was going on. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but rather than explain anything, I just pointed up and said "That's a ceiling isn't it? Not exactly outsi-"

"What are you afraid of CATCHING? FUN?!" Him and his friends all started laughing. 

No longer really interested in the booth, I also realized I'm almost surrounded by these guys, so I move to go around them. As I pass one of them he starts screaming but he's screaming literally so loud I don't understand it so I turned around again and I realized he was yelling


and they all join in

"Yeah, how could you do that to him!"

"Don't you know what six feet means?!"

In my head, I'm still thinking "what in the actual fuck is going on" and first guy starts yelling again "OH! You know what! I bet this guy has a booster. I bet he loves boosters. Are you excited for the next booster!? "

Then he pulls out his phone and starts recording

"They should just have a booth at the fair! A booster booth! Do you know where the booster booth at the fair is?"

So his phone is like, right there in my face. I wasn't really sure what to say or what direction to go with this guy. 

But then I realized a few things. 

1. The person holding the camera gets to decide whether or not it even gets posted, and they get to decide how to edit whatever it is you say. 

2. I don't have any desire to be in some shithead's video on YouTube today. 

So I just said "What?"

"I said, do you know where the booster booth is, where I can get a booster here at the fair?"

"Nah man, I don't know anything about that." And I walked off.


I got a new grill!

Submitted by John on Sat, 08/27/2022 - 07:23

A Weber Go-Anywhere small rectangular charcoal grill sitting on top of a public grill

As someone who grew up with a Smokey Joe, I thought that was the only small BBQ to have. Got my own when we got married, of course. Added the tamale pot to make my own smoker out of it. But I never really quite understood why anyone would take it anywhere. It's rather big for a portable grill, gets hot and stays hot forever.

On vacation recently, I was noticing a small red and black rectangular (very cheap) grill. My friend I was staying with said "That's interesting that you are checking that grill out. Do you know whose grill that was? That was your father's grill! I got it when your sister moved, your dad used to take that to the beach all of the time!"

Well that got me thinking. Like a message from Dad beyond the grave. Got back from vacation, started looking around at portable grills. Found the Weber Go Anywhere... 71 dollars new?! There is NO WAY my wife will let me spend 71 bucks on ANOTHER charcoal grill when I already have three (and a blackstone griddle besides).

Checked Craig's list... JACKPOT. Someone was selling one for 20 bucks... the photos didn't look good, but I checked it out anyway. It was in good condition! Brought it home, showed the wife, who rolled her eyes so far in her head it took her three and a half minutes to find them again.

That was Thursday. On Friday I smashed the corner into some steps and took the enamel off one of the corners.

On Saturday for the first cook I planned a fishing outing with the boys. Woke up the four oldest early and brought the WGA. We had scrambled eggs, breakfast steak (on sale, cheaper than the sausages I was going to get so why not), and hash browns.

A folding camping frying pan with perfectly cooked scrambled eggs

I fired it up with 18 coals because I read a lot of reviews and someone said 18 coals is enough to cook a meal on. Looked like a mighty skimpy amount of coals, I'm used to most of a chimney for the Smokey Joe.

The whole time I was cooking, they were complaining. "Ugh. It's raining. I don't know why I bothered to come. I'm bored. I don't even like eggs!" (Or steak (!?), or hash browns -- depending on which kid was saying it, somebody didn't like something!)

Two camping dishes, one with a small breakfast steak and one with partially eaten scrambled eggs

By the time the food started coming off the grill they were hungry enough to eat it whether it was their favorite or not. They each ate their steak, even the one who said he didn't want one (leaving nothing for Dad, how rude).

Then while I cleaned up, they wandered down to the dock. Someone else at the dock had pity on them and gave them a few worms, and they started reeling the fish in (it was sprinkling a bit, and then the sun came out). By the time I got there they were flinging fish out of the water and all having a blast.

Two boys on a dock, one is holding up a small fish with one hand in the foreground

By the end of the trip, on the way home, they all agreed it was the best trip ever. From "I don't even know why I bothered to come" to "best trip ever".

Okay so I'm supposed to be talking about this grill. Here's the thing I love: it fits right in the back of the van. It lives back there full time now. The Smokey Joe does not fit in the back of the van. I have to put it up in with the passengers... and with seven kids and the wife it would have to be just about on someone's lap.

On the fishing trip, I put the WGA on top of a public grill, and when I was done cooking, I dumped the coals into the grill, set it aside, and let it cool down. Easy.

18 coals was barely enough to cook three separate things, one at a time. (I think I added three or four unlit ones, to be honest.) By the time the hashbrowns were on, there was not enough heat to really brown them, but there was enough to get them cooked, and they had plenty of butter and it was raining a bit so they got eaten anyway.

So yes... super happy with my new grill! Now I just have to remember to get it out of the van and pop some high heat spray paint on that corner where I chipped the enamel off.


My kabob marinade recipe

Submitted by John on Sat, 08/13/2022 - 10:47

Get a chuck roast, cut it up in 1 inch chunks. The acid in the marinade works on the proteins in the chuck, tenderizing it wonderfully. This is a modification of a recipe I found online.

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • garlic powder: lots
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ground pepper: some

Put marinade in ziplock bag with the meat, put bag in fridge overnight, 12-24 hours.

I have made this without the vegetable oil by accident. If this happens, you have to brush the kabobs with oil as they cook, it's a pain in the neck but it works. 


Fascinating example of the unseen benefits of government spending

Submitted by John on Tue, 05/17/2022 - 23:00

Check out this story of a career government official thinking about and solving a problem that winds up saving thousands of lives (embedded within a larger interview with Michael Lewis about his latest book):

So I took this list and picked someone at random. It was a guy whose name was on the top of the list: Arthur A. Allen. He won the alphabet contest. So I call him up and asked him if I could come visit him and just see what he’s doing. He had nothing else to do. He was sitting at home with nothing to do.

This is a guy who spent his whole career as the lone oceanographer in the Coast Guard search-and-rescue division, where he’d started in the late ’70s. There was a particular problem he was working on by himself, and the problem was costing a lot of American lives. It was people being lost at sea. The Coast Guard didn’t know how they drifted in the ocean. And Americans have this unbelievable talent for getting lost at sea, which is a whole other thing. On average, every day, the Coast Guard is saving 10 people who are lost in the sea and losing three. So you’re talking about thousands of people who are getting in this situation every year. 

The problem is that if you fall off a boat into the ocean, you’re going to drift differently than if you are in a life raft, or if you’re on top of an overturned sailboat, or if you have a life vest on — you get the point. So if the Coast Guard knows where and when you started, as they often do, they should be able to predict where you are in the ocean four hours later, knowing the currents and the wind and your drift. But they didn’t know the drift, until Arthur A. Allen figured it all out. He spent years of his own free time tossing objects into the Long Island Sound, where he lives, measuring the specific drift of like 80 different categories of objects.

That all sounds boring and tedious, I know. But he reduced the drift to mathematical equations and embedded them in the search-and-rescue software program, and instantly they were able to find people they never would’ve found before. Thousands of Americans are alive because of Arthur A. Allen. And thousands of people are alive around the world because of the work he did here. No one knows who he is. No one pays any attention to him. They furloughed him as if he’s useless.

The punchline to all of this, to your point about the way we treat these experts who save our tails over and over again, is that when I went to go see Arthur to talk to him about what he had done with his life, I spent three days with him, interviewing his family, going to see his old office, going to the Long Island Sound to see where he dropped his objects, asking him every which way the story of his career.

After the three days, I’m going back to the airport to head home and he calls me and says, with real wonder in his voice, “Hey, you’re a published author.” And I said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m a published author.” He says, “You’re like a real deal. You’re a real writer.” And I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Are you going to be writing about me?” And I said, “Yeah, that’s why I spent three days learning how objects drift. Yes. I’m going to be writing about you.” He goes, “Wow. I didn’t expect to get any attention for this.” And I said, “Well, what did you think I was doing for those three days?” He said, “I just thought you were really interested in how objects drift.”

This is the mental world of the government expert. They’re so used to nobody caring about what they do, even when what they do is mission-critical, that they can’t imagine us even taking an interest in them. We so don’t value them that they don’t value themselves.

We're so used to thinking of government spending as zero sum. The government takes from tax payers and gives to people in need (or gives to the undeserving, depending on your rough political beliefs), and this basic framework of taking and giving is so entrenched in basic assumptions of how we even think about the government and how it is run and how it spends money that we never question it. 

One thing I am interested in though is how government spending can expand the pie, so that we wind up with more than what we started with. This is almost never claimed as something that can actually happen, in fact, the first time I've ever heard of anyone saying that government spending can expand the pie is me saying this right here. (I'm sure there are many others who have said similar things, but I have never heard the "expanding the pie" metaphor ever used in the context of government expanding the pie.) 

How can we encourage more of this?