I finally did build it. Here are the parts (more for my benefit than yours). It was mostly based on what Logical Increments recommended for an excellent/outstanding tier. I bought up on the processor, doubled the memory, and got a much faster/bigger SSD because of deals I found plus wanting something that would be a good workstation in addition to a gaming machine.

All in all, I paid a little under $1,500 for everything including tax and shipping (about a hundred bucks less if you ignore tax and shipping). Was it worth it? Eh, probably.

  • Processor: The Ryzen has been more than fast enough for anything I’ve thrown at it so far, and I’ve yet to even really test it with video encoding or something that would really test having all of those cores. Usually, I’ve got 8 cores (16 threads) sitting around running mostly idle Chrome processes. Given how warm it gets, I’m glad I didn’t get something with an even higher thermal displacement.
  • Motherboard: The motherboard was literally the only X570 motherboard I could find in stock that hadn’t been marked up double or more. It was back out of stock minutes after I nabbed it. Everybody is building a PC during the pandemic, it turns out. I wish I had found one with onboard WiFi and BlueTooth but really it’s fine, and the X570 chipset will support the next generation of AMD chips should I ever upgrade (which might be doubtful.
  • Memory: 32GB was really about future-proofing since I’ve never gotten close to really needing more than the 16GB I had on my previous system. But it was pretty cheap and I might try some things with virtualization where the memory will be a limiting factor.
  • Video card: This was way more video card than I needed, it turns out. What I failed to account for was just how old the games that were struggling on my old onboard video card were. It turns out if you mostly play titles published 10 or 15 years ago, pretty much any discrete video card would have worked. Oh well, let’s call this more future-proofing in case I pick up a new game. The thermal displacement is also less than some older cards with approximately the same performance (or even some cheaper / lower performance alternatives I considered), so that was a factor too.
  • Storage: This feels like a pretty big upgrade. My last computer had an NVMe SSD, but only for the system drive. Somehow this one is much faster; big updates take seconds instead of minutes.
  • Power supply: I was worried that 550W was not going to be enough given the recommendation for 650W for the range of parts I was ordering. But when I measure the actual power usage, it turns out even this was massive overkill. Chok that up to a low TDP processor and very few peripherals. Power supplies were also very hard to find at the time I built this, and by opting for a hundred watts less than I was looking for I got a much higher quality and more efficient power supply than I would have gotten, and at a lower price. My actual system usage? 60W idle, in the mid-100W range under the load of a “demanding” (by my standards) game.
  • Case: This case was fine; it’s not as nice as the Fractal case I bought a decade ago, but it was reasonably easy to work with and fades into the room. I did not want a window on my case, but the few LEDs on my CPU fan that I didn’t care about actually look kind of cool through the mesh.

Overall, I’m happy with the purchase. If I did it again, I might change some things, but give how many hours it took to pick everything out (and how many times previous to this year I had also considered doing this), I’m just glad to be done. It’s been about a month now since putting everything together, and I’ve had no major issues.

The biggest upgrade I wasn’t counting on? Since my motherboard lacked a WiFi card, I actually had to move where the cable modem is (and where the cable comes into the house) in order to get it in the same room as my computer without running Ethernet the entire length of the house (and I’m not about to get up in the attic to do it the “right” way, either). I did not realize how slow my WiFi connection was versus a wired connection. Honestly, I’m not sure I had ever experienced “fast” broadband in my entire life, outside of an institutional setting. It’s pretty dang fast, and it would have made using my mom’s DSL when I go visit even more painful than it was before (fortunately she recently was able to upgrade to cable).

Next question: Would I rather switch to a different monitor? 1080p is starting to feel a little bit dated at this point. Granted, I’ve got two of them. But I’m using dual monitors for doing things that are useful to do with two monitors less and less. Honestly, when the new machine was done and I realized the motherboard HDMI port wasn’t working when the video card was in use, I just didn’t worry too much about it and started using a single monitor until I could dig out an HDMI to DP adapter. Except, that’s gone on for weeks now.

I think a larger 4k or similar resolution monitor might be a better fit for me. Roughly the same number of horizontal pixels, but with more total vertical pixels. The one thing you lose that I’ll be a little sad about is the hard denotation between the two monitors in certain situations where software segmentation of your screen just isn’t good enough. Mostly when you want to do something you’re sharing on one screen, and control the sharing on another screen. But honestly, that’s a pretty small percentage of my time at the computer.

So, probably yes, but that can be another day.

Officially, I’ve been a marketer for most of my professional career. Which is tough to say, because I abhor most marketing. The way I sleep at night is by sticking to and advocating for what I consider to be ethical marketing. That means, only tracking with consent, only tracking what I need, and focusing on using data to improve the quality of what I produce instead of selling something to you in increasingly finer granuality.

For me, ethical marketing also means staying off of platforms that don’t respect these rights. I deactivated my Facebook account over a year ago. For me, I prefer email marketing. The relationship is clear cut, between you and me. No third party owns the platform. In my day job, I try to do it right. I let you opt in, and if you later opt out, I respect that.

But I’m not an email marketing expert. I do try to pay attention to what other organizations do with their email lists, but that’s a little hard, because I intentionally opt-out of most brands and corporate email campaigns in my personal life. So when I do see some that I like, I’ll try to make a note of them here.

Recently I ordered a poster for my wife’s birthday. Here are the emails I got from the vendor.

  • Thanks for letting us add you to our email list, here’s 10% off.
  • Your order is confirmed
  • Did you know if you bought just a little more you’d get free shipping? Order more in the next six hours and we’ll wave the shipping on both orders with this code.
  • Your order is ready and being shipped, here’s the invoice and where to track it.
  • Hey did you know about our rewards program?
  • We’ve got a new poster, it’s 20% off for you
  • We’re making another poster, here’s a sneak peek.
  • Here’s a related product we offer for hanging posters that you can use with your new poster.
  • Our new poster is here! Here are random facts about it and a discount code.

All of these felt okay to me. Not obnoxious, not “here’s our catalog, please buy more,” not creepy personalized. Maybe people wouldn’t hate marketing and marketers so much if we all held ourselves to higher ethical standards, and focused on what customers want instead of what we want.

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