I’m building my first new PC in… a really long time. Depending on how you count, about a dozen years. My daily driver for the past half-dozen, since 2014, has been an Intel NUC. Technically I “built” it in the sense that I assembled it, but it was basically a laptop in a fancy square box. I didn’t make many decisions in terms of components that weren’t effectively already made for me. My last build prior to that was in 2008, which was eons ago.

In the interim, I’ve had a good number of laptops. While I don’t remember a lot of the specifics, I’ve had some cheap Asus/Acer laptops I’ve bought myself, and some (comparatively) nicer Thinkpads from work. If I ever buy myself a laptop again, it’ll probably be a Thinkpad.

A dozen years is a long time. Between 2008 and now, a lot has changed, but not nearly as much as had changed in the dozen years before that, when I first got into computers. I remember the changes from PCI to AGP for video cards, quite a few different memory formats, the switch from ATA33 to ATA66 to SATA, the rise of CD-ROMs, then CD-Rs, then DVDs, then DVD-Rs. The disappearance of floppy drives. The disappearance of modems. The disappearance of external sound cards, and later, of external network cards.

By comparison, PCs today are boring. But more to the point, the changes in the last dozen years have been boring. Yes, I’m excited to get a new computer. Benchmarking tells me my new video card will be 30x faster than my old on-chip one, and the CPU will be roughly twice as fast on single-threaded, and 10x as fast on multi-threaded applications. I’ll have twice the memory, not because I need it, but because I might someday. And, only the same amount of local disk space, albeit blazingly faster, with plenty of room to expand.

I’m excited, but Moore’s Law hasn’t borne out. My new computer will be much better, but to what end? In the 90s, and to some extent the 2000s, every time I upgraded my computer, I opened new doors. I got access to things I couldn’t before. I could see more than 256 colors, I could browse the web with images enabled, I could play new games, I could burn CDs, I could hear with surround sound, I could finally store everything I needed to store.

And I spent an embarrassing amount of money for that privilege. Through much of my teens and early twenties, I probably blew the majority of my disposable income on computer parts. Now? It’s a drop in the bucket, relatively speaking. That’s a good thing. It speaks to my privilege to be able to say that, but I’m also glad that others have access under easier terms than I did growing up.

I’ve changed, but so has the world. The last time I built a “real” computer, the iPhone was just a year old, and Android hadn’t yet appeared. People didn’t walk around with a functional computer in their pockets. People didn’t talk to Google Home or Siri or Alexa. Now I have more computing power in the dash of my truck, or heck, in my thermostat, than I built from scratch growing up.

I should try making some dollhouse furniture. Maybe start with a simple table or bookshelf or something. Work my way up to some midcentury modern masterpiece. Let’s start with standard dollhouse scale, 1:12, because it makes a lot of the math pretty simple. Since 1% error is probably better than I’d do at that scale anyway, maybe assume one inch equals 2.5 millimeters, or one foot equals three centimeters.

Along with miniatures at dollhouse scale, I’m sure I’d also have fun producing some H0 railroad models. Although I’m not particularly in love with the early 20th century target date of most of these. What could I do instead? Modern? Retromodern? Steampunk?

And could I design enough of this kind of thing to make a shop printing these things as kits for others? This person has a really nice collection. I probably can’t be price-competitive with a Latvian company, but I could probably market just as well or better.

I’d still like to get a 3D printer sometime. Maybe a Prusa. I’ve been recommended those before, the prices are reasonable, and important to me, it’s open source.

Could I make a version of this Impossible Table out of wood?

Why isn’t there a better source online for free 3D papercraft models? Is there a business model that would allow me to afford the time to build such a site?

I recently finished Weapons of Math Destruction (subtitled, How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy) by Cathy O’Neil.

The one-sentence summary version: It’s a quick and easy read for those looking to understand how algorithms are being used with inappropriate or non-existent feedback loops to affect people’s everyday lives, while especially compounding problems for those on the lower end of the socioeconomic totem pole.

Overall, I agree with the author’s message. The examples given in the book, while occasionally oversimplified, were tangible and easily understood. However, at times I became distracted by the way opinion and description were woven together.

In some cases, it’s clear that an algorithmic method of decision making was broken, because it was flawed and did not actually accomplish the public policy goal it was supposed to accomplish. In other cases, though, the algorithm was described as broken even if it accomplished exactly what it set out to do. You can easily argue that people were harmed in the process, and that in order to prevent people from being harmed, we must regulate the ways in which certain data may be used, but you have to make that argument. You have to show evidence why the rights of the consumers (witting or unwitting) of the algorithm trump the rights of the algorithm’s creators to use it in that way. I think the case is often easy to make, but I feel like there were several times when the author assumed that this was implicit and then left out that argument.

In any case, it’s a fast read, so if this is a topic that interests you, it may be worth your time.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of individuals in determining how organizations are governed. It’s very tempting to describe organizations as if they are persons, to anthropomorphize them as if the organization itself were somehow controlling its own destiny. But that’s an oversimplification in most circumstances, and not a very helpful one. Sure, there is some portion of emergent behavior that we can observe and describe, but that behavior may be better explained by looking at the circumstances experienced by those in control than by some inherent property of the organization itself.

Much of my thought on this has been inspired by my reading of The Dictator’s Handbook, which itself was inspired by watching the short video below.

It’s time to start thinking about how to get the western edge of the Triangle more involved in the growing community of open government events taking place this year. As a past attendee of several of these events, I wanted to make sure these upcoming events are on your radar, and ask you to get involved in the growing collaboration between civically minded citizens and the fast-growing local tech sector. Continue reading

Erin and I traded fortune cookies at Red Lotus tonight. Mine said something about finally being recognized for the work I put in, and hers said this. Given her recent hiring at the agency where she has served as an Americorps member, and my general analytical nature, I think we just grabbed each others destined cookies.

With the start of the new year, many people take this time to resolve to get a better handle on their personal finances. Whether this means making and sticking to a budget, reducing unnecessary expenses, or simply getting a better understanding of their financial situation, pretty much any approach to person finance is dependent on having a good idea of the numbers inside their bank accounts, where they come, and where they go. Continue reading

Do you think music software is only the domain of expensive proprietary software? Think again. There are literally hundreds of applications out there designed by, and for, those with a musical bent. Music projects, including many projects specifically for the Linux operating system, flourish in the open source community as musicians take to coding to produce tools to make their lives easier. Continue reading

Genealogy, the study of family histories, is a popular pastime for millions of people worldwide. Individuals seeking to learn more about their pedigree or simply discover more about their family’s past have built vibrant communities of like-minded (and possibly related) individuals to help each other play historical detective and track down the missing links in their chain of ancestry. Continue reading

LEGO bricks: To a parent, they’re a virtual minefield, hidden away in the carpet to inflict unimaginable pain from a seemly innocent barefoot step. But to a child, they are a tool for creatively engineering anything the mind can imagine. And for many, they are our first foray into open source. The instructions with a LEGO set start out as rigid rules, and become merely guidelines as children learn to remix, adapt, and extend the “code” which defines the object being built, and then be shared with anyone nearby. Continue reading