You’re a cowboy, what about Bundy Ranch?

I am a unique item in my work place. Silicon Valley does not have a lot folks who show up to work in western boots, wranglers, button down (or snap down) long sleeve shirts and a huge cowboy hat. Everyone at work knows that I would much rather talk about pasture management, heritage breeds and cattle movement techniques than technology. So, I am suddenly a popular guy with the Bundy Ranch issue in the news.

The truth of the matter is that I am not overly qualified to evaluate the Bundy Cattle affair. I am not nor have I ever been a rancher. I have had a life long fascination with cattle, a life long desire to be a cowboy. Not a rancher. Being rancher carries business responsibilities, such as managing grazing rights, water rights and managing the associated permits that I never really wanted any part of. My dream, my focus has always been to own a saddle and a rope so that I could ride remuda horses and tend someone else’s cattle. I would like the opportunity to become good at it.

So, the issues that Cliven Bundy is dealing with are ancillary to my own primary interests. More importantly, my life choices led me to my current day job where I work on computer software. Understanding cattle and cowboy ways has for most of my life been relegated to a pastime, a hobby, a burning passion never satisfied. So, it is from that prespective that I watch with interest the happenings in Gold Butte, Nevada.

The simple version that I hear and read often is Mr. Bundy has refused for twenty years to pay his grazing fees. He is illegally using Federal land. Federal court has found him in violation twice. It is a simple matter and the BLM is doing what it has to to bring a criminal into compliance with the law. This is clean and neat. Easy to digest.

However, to me it does not make sense. Grazing rights is an integral part of ranching. Mr. Bundy is 68 years old and has been a rancher all his life, as was his father before him. Why would he suddenly decide to stop paying his grazing fees after 30 years of paying them? Even to the point of defying a Federal Court order. Twice. And how is it that even after Mr. Bundy stopped paying grazing fees and fought with the Federal government for twenty years, he is still respected by fellow ranchers who are still paying their grazing fees? And why after twenty years of haggling relatively peacefully did BLM suddenly bring in the big guns, literally.

This Las Vegas Sun article is the only source I found that attempted to provide some detailed background on this issue. According to this article, “environmentalists threatened to sue the agency to protect the endangered desert tortoise that lives on the land where Bundy’s cattle grazed. The BLM said Bundy’s cattle trampled the tortoise’s habitat.” If this is true, there is another player on the field. Environmentalists using the Federal government to pursue their agenda. This article further documents environmentalist efforts to force government action against Mr. Bundy.

Already the clean and neat explanation is not quite as clean and neat. The actions of the BLM were brought about by the actions of others. So what then of Mr. Bundy’s actions. A comment left on the Las Vegas Sun article provides some insight from the rancher perspective. According to oneladywriter, there use to be some 50 ranches in the area where Mr. Bundy is. There are now 3 left. So, maybe this is a group of people who fear losing their livelihood and their way of life. And while I have not be able to verify the information provided by oneladywriter it does make a lot more sense given what I know about ranch ownership and the people who choose to live that life.

Life is seldom simple. Life’s situations more often than not have complicated and interwoven stories that require time and patience to fully understand. You may believe that the desert tortoise is worth saving, even at the cost of several families’ livelihoods and an historic way of life. Or you may believe that Mr. Bundy is conducting an act of civil disobedience in defense of his right to pursue livelihood of his family, his tradition. Whichever you happen to believe, we should all at least have the integrity to understand both sides of the issue.

The Bundy Ranch issue is not simple. There are two sides to it. Both sides deserve a hearing.

–Smittie

I’m the village idiot…

It is so obvious that if you do not understand this you are clearly uninformed, uneducated, stupid and possibly evil.

This is the basic argument of all things political in America today. We see it all over social media. The blatant insinuation that if you do not “understand” X, you are stupid. If you don’t understand that Obamacare is bad for America, you are stupid. If you do not understand that the Koch brothers are buying/have bought the American political system, you are stupid. If you do not know that Obama is a Muslim, you are stupid. And on it goes. The naked arrogance in both tone and content makes any civil discourse about the given issue all but impossible. The deep partisan divide is as much a grassroots movement as it is a problem inside the Beltway, in fact what happens inside the Beltway may well be a reflection of this grassroots phenomenon.

There is actually a lot going on in formulation of these arguments. First, a complicated and convoluted issue is reduced to a single component. That single component is then encapsulated in an emotionally loaded statement that is heavily biased. The statement is delivered with righteous indignation, calling into question your intelligence if you do not immediately and unequivocally agree. The ploy is that emotion, ego, and bewilderment will take you down the primrose path before you have a chance to question the original premise. Before long, it feels so good to support such a worthy cause that honestly and openly evaluating the cause in earnest seems almost evil.

One thing I have learned in life is that I am never the smartest guy in the room. Regardless of the topic, no matter how many years I have been doing it, there is a better than even chance that someone in the room knows more about it, has more experience doing it than I do. And if I am not the smartest man in the room, I am definitely not the wisest man in the room. Ever. My greatest moments of wisdom are when I have the presence of mind to shut up. So, I am not really comfortable with idea that I have figured out the answer to any given thing and anyone who does not agree with me is wrong. I have some pretty strong political opinions. I have a preference for how I would like to see government work. I also recognize that very smart, wise people who have studied forms of government and government process most of their lives have arrived at opinions and preferences that are very different from mine. It would be the height of arrogance to assume that they are not as smart is I am. It would be only slightly less arrogant to presume that I am smart enough and wise enough to discern which of two opposing groups of smart people is correct to the extent that I am willing to call everyone who does not agree with my choice stupid.

Life demands that we all make decisions. An old adage says that wisdom comes from making bad choices. I think that is only partially true. We do seem capable of repeatedly making bad choices while never getting any wiser. At least I am so capable. As we go through life we come to conclusions about how life works, why things happen. I think that our choices, conclusions and opinions would benefit from taking the time to fully understand the person who has arrived at a completely different choice, conclusion or opinion. Even after we fully understand how she arrived there we may not agree. I might even think he is not very smart. If I was a wise man, I would also consider the possibility that I am the one who is wrong. Maybe even on both counts.

“I’m the village idiot, I don’t have anything to do with this pathetic little opera, I just felt like passing through!”
A quote from Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice,
an opera in one unnatural act
by PDQ Bach.

System76 Galago UltraPro: Not so much

I finally purchased and received that System76 laptop I was so looking forward to. I wish I could tell you what a wonderful experience it was. I wish that I could advise you all to make System76 your next computer.

I ordered the Galago UltraPro. I chose an 120 gb mSATA SSD drive. I purchased a Western Digital 750 gig, 7200 rpm drive to install myself. I upgraded the RAM to 8 gigs. The system price came to $1,226. I was very excited waiting for it to arrive.

Ubuntu 13.04 came pre-installed and worked as advertised upon arrival. I reformatted the SSD and installed Kubuntu 13.10. Again, without a hitch. I run the boot, swap and root partitions from the SSD, the /home partition is the entire 750 gb WD drive. The Core i7 processor running system software from the SSD makes it extremely fast. The computer cold boots faster than the old MacBook it replaces can wake from sleep. So far, so good. No serious issues with the components.

The problem is the materials and construction of the case. I have carried my computers (all Apple laptops up until now) in a Maxpetion computer bag which is reasonably well padded. I try to be careful but the truth be told I am probably a little rough computers. Having said that, the MacBook is over five years ago and had no damage until recently when it fell from the table and the CD stopped working. The MacBook came through a tour in Iraq without any issues. The Galago UltraPro went into the same case and got the same treatment.

The Galago struck me as a little flimsy when I first got it. The monitor flexes significantly with little pressure and plastic frame holding the screen is very thin. The laptop just does not feel very solid.

About a month after I received the computer, System76 sent emails asking for feedback. One evening I brushed my hand across the edge of the frame of the monitor and the case split into two pieces. It snapped back together but this was a clear indication of the fragile nature of the laptop. I decided to let System76 know via the review they had been requesting that I was not very impressed. System76 advised me to send the laptop in as they thought it should be more robust than my accounts indicated. Cool, I thought. Maybe it should be stronger than I have experienced.

System76 determined that the computer was damaged. They determined that the damage happened under my care and due to my rough treatment of the laptop. System76 replaced the damaged panels on the laptop at a cost to me of $138. I was not charged for labor.

I accept that the damage to the computer happened because I was too rough with it. However, other laptops that I have used for long periods of time have endured the same treatment and have never needed repair or replacement. This includes 3 or 5 Apple laptops which I have owned and 2 or 3 Dell laptops that my employer owns. To be clear, I do not fault System76′s handling of the issue. My point is that System76 laptops are not on par with major computer makers such as Dell or Apple. And that is a pity. I would very much like to purchase computers that are tested and shipped with Linux OS installed. I hope that System76 can bring the quality of construction in line with its competitors. However, my next laptop — which I will be purchasing much sooner than I had expected — will definitely not be from System76.

 

Kubuntu: One Month On…

A month down the road with the System76 computer and Kubuntu. We’ve learned some lessons. I have a stable, usable system but there were some adjustments in getting there. I am still very much looking forward to purchasing a System76 laptop.

The biggest issue was dealing with the instability of Kubuntu 13.04. On a clean install Krita is unstable and unusable. At the time we thought Krita was the focal point of the graphic design system for my wife. I filed KDE bug #320094 which is being worked on. As a software QA professional it was satisfying to be able to file a bug for the issue and contribute to getting the problem fixed. However, the crashing bug made the system usable. So, I had to find something that worked.

My first thought was to install Kubuntu 12.04 LTS which is the long term support release. A more stable release that has had a year of testing and bug fixes. I installed 12.04 and discovered that there was no support for Logitech’s wireless technology. After a brief attempt at finding the software needed to make Logitech work on 12.04, I upgraded to 12.10. I was surprised to find that everything worked. Cool! So now we live on Kubuntu 12.10 which works really quite well.

We added GIMP and Inkscape to the graphics software collection. My wife is finding that GIMP is more capable and robust than Krita with the exception of actual painting type graphics work. She hasn’t yet worked much with Inkscape and there are a few other graphic applications that are probably worth a look.

I have imported about a tenth of the family photos into digiKam. I still find digiKam to be much better than iPhoto. Each account on the system has two repositories, libraries in iPhoto terms, one is user specific and the other is shared among all users. Importing photos into one or the other is easy. Meta-data is written to the image file so it is shared across all users. The images are stored in a standard Linux directory structure and are therefore accessible without digiKam, including all of the meta-data. Now that I have a working infrastructure set up, I will import the rest of the photos.

Still have not quite worked out the music software. I have been trying to make Amarok work. It has a lot of features that I like but the basic playback UI is really clumsy and confusing. You cannot just click on a song and have it play. There is this awkward playlist concept that is not really very intuitive. Clicking on song titles does not do what you expect and oftern you are not really sure what it did at all. So, still looking on that front.

I have found Amazon to be a very viable and capable replacement for iTunes. First, Amazon has a concept they call Auto-RIP. I prefer to own the physical CD. It gives me some security knowing that I have my music on physical media. However, I always rip the CDs as soon as they arrive. With Amazon’s Auto-RIP, once I have purchased the CD I can download the mp3 tracks immediately. The CD arrives later. Very nice, I like it.

Amazon also provides a cloud player service that allows users to upload their own music and then play it through the Amazon Cloud Player (available on most mobile devices and Roku). You can upload 250 songs on the free account. For the same price as iTunes Match, $25 a year, you can upload 250,000 of your own songs. According to my understanding, digital music purchased from Amazon does not count toward that 250,000.

It hasn’t been without its frustration but I am still very pleased with the transition away from Apple and Mac OS X and onto Linux. Ubuntu’s efforts in making a simple, user friendly install and update experience coupled with KDE’s elegant desktop environment really makes a very viable option.

Memorial – Remember the Names of the Fallen

US Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael J. Pernaselli 27, of Monroe, N.Y
KIA 24 April 2004, Northern Arabian Gulf, Operation Iraqi Freedom

US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher E. Watts 28, of Knoxville, Tenn
KIA 24 April 2004, Northern Arabian Gulf, Operation Iraqi Freedom

US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal 24, of Smithtown, N.Y.
KIA 24 April 2004, Northern Arabian Gulf, Operation Iraqi Freedom

I remember these three men because I have a connection to them, albeit a slightly removed one. These men were killed by a suicide bomber who was attempting to attack the Khor Al Amaya Oil Terminal (KAAOT).  These men were about to board the dhow when the suicide bomber detonated his weapon killing these three men and wounding many more.

As a result of these actions, I ended up serving on KAAOT in support of security operations to prevent further attacks.

Petty Officer Bruckenthal was the first Coast Guardsman killed in action since the Vietnam war. He is buried at Arlington Cemetery. When I finally make it to Arlington, his is the first grave I would like to visit.

I will never forget.

System76 & Kubuntu 13.04

My wife and I are 25 year Mac users. We have about 5 or 7 Apple computers in the house. Everyone in the family owns at least one iPhone. Since 1986 I have been a self-confessed Apple Fan Boy.

This week I set up the first non-Apple computer we have had for regular use, a System76 Ratel Performance. Bottom line up front (BLUF): I am surprised at how good the experience has been. I cannot wait to order my laptop from System76.

In addition to the computer I bought a Logitech K360 keyboard, a Logitech M325 mouse, a Wacom intuos 5 touch medium tablet and a Dell U2412M monitor. I also planned to install Kubuntu 13.04, replacing System76′s supported Ubuntu OS. I had everything working in about 90 minutes, including the OS install and updating.

Everything was plug and play. The keyboard, mouse, and tablet worked right out of the box with both Ubuntu as it was installed on the Ratel when it arrived and again on Kubuntu once I completed the install. Additionally, the Epson Workforce 600 that we already had worked without modification, printer and the scanner. When I say everything was plug and play, all of the drivers were already there. I did not install drivers, the OS did not hit the Net to find and install additional software. It was all there.

There are a few things I would do different. The Logitech peripherals use the Logitech Unity wireless protocol. Ubuntu does not appear to provide the software tools need to add devices to a Unity dongle. In the future, I will probably replace the Logitech Unity devices with Bluetooth devices so that I can manage them entirely through Ubuntu. I had to connect the Unity dongle to my MacBook to get the keyboard and mouse working on the same dongle.

I would get the Asus PA246Q instead of the Dell U2412M. They get pretty equal reviews and the Asus has an HDMI connector which should provide a better video signal.

While I am very happy with the System76 computer, System76 sales question responses were not terribly helpful. Their answer to every question I asked started with disclaimers. I asked if the Ratel could be expected to work with the Dell U2412M monitor. “While we do not test individual monitors, I would expect the monitor to work as you’d expect.” However, I have been using a System76 Meerkat NetTop at work for 2 years with excellent performance.

 

I Really Want to Like Nexus 4

Since its inception, I have really wanted to like Google’s Nexus phone. I really like the idea of an affordable smartphone purchased independent of my cellular service provider. This would allow consumers to buy a phone on the merit of its features and subscribe to a cellular service provider based solely on its coverage, service and price. $299 for a top tier smartphone should be awesome but, as always, the devil is in the details.

The Nexus 4 is really a very nice phone. The hardware is made by LG. Hardware geeks can check the specs here. The Google Nexus line of products comes with the latest version of Android unadulterated, exactly as Google intended. The Nexus line is always first up to get the latest Android OS up date. Perfect. Sounds great. Buy a Nexus 4, dump the contract with the cell provider and jump on whoever is offering the best pay as you go service.

The Nexus 4 is effectively limited to two cellular networks; AT&T and T-Mobile. This is due to the transceiver used in the hardware and some peculiarities of one cellular technology. The Nexus 4 supports GSM and HSPA+ (the chip in the phone can do 4G LTE but Google disabled it). Those are the technologies used by T-Mobile and AT&T. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA. Because the Nexus 4 does not support CDMA, it is currently a non-starter on Verizon networks. If Google were to add CDMA support to a future Nexus phone, it would still not be as simple to move it onto the Verizon network.

GSM networks use a SIM card. Insert the SIM card into a GSM phone that supports the appropriate frequencies and the phone joins the network. CDMA requires that the cell provider activate your phone on their network and link it to a phone number. Verizon has a sordid history of disabling hardware and software features that devalue for fee services Verizon provides. Verizon’s trustworthiness notwithstanding, switching an unlocked phone onto their network is not hassle free.

The purchase a Nexus 4 gives me the option T-Mobile or AT&T. T-Mobile coverage is pervasive east of the Mississippi but more restricted to metro areas in the West. This makes T-Mobile pretty unattractive to anyone who does any rural traveling west of the Mississippi. Which leaves AT&T. Which means I will probably stick with iPhone for another rev and AT&T for another two years.

Senator Feinstein: One Soldier’s Response

I sent the following email to Senator Feinstein via Senator Feinstein’s web site response to her statements in this video clip:

Senator Feinstein: Veterans may have PTSD and should not be exempt from assault weapons ban.

Senator Feinstein,

I am a service member in the United States Army Reserves. I have served in the United States military for 15 years. I have done two tours in Iraq. Wearing the uniform of this great nation is one of my greatest privileges.

I want to let you know that I take your categorization of all US military veterans as a risk who should have their second amendment rights abridged as a direct and personal insult. I find it utterly shocking that you actually believe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is something unique to recent conflicts. It has gotten a new name and we understand it better but it is the same disorder that has affected combat veterans for as long as there have been wars. This nation has veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, as well as OIF and OEF who suffer from the affects of PTSD. You should take the time to understand us and make an effort to fight for the services that my brothers and sisters ought to get from the nation they have sacrificed so much for instead trying to take away the rights we fight to defend.

You do the military veterans of the State of California a grave injustice in your failure to represent our interest.

Respectfully,
– Mark G. Smith, SSG United States Army Reserve

The Death of an Apple Fan Boy

I was first introduced to computers in 1986 in Japan. In an odd turn of events that can really only happen in Japan, I got a job that required me to know Macintosh computers. I was given a Mac Plus with a 20 megabyte serial hard drive. Since then I have owned a number of Macs. Through the 90′s when the Apple product line was a complete disaster I bought Macs. In my house today there are four Mac , three iPads, four iPhones (2 of them iPhone 5s) in daily use. For years I have managed my music and video collection in iTunes and my photos in iPhoto. I am the only one in my family that does not still use an @mac.com email address, although smittie@mac.com does still land in my inbox. For twenty five years I have been a proud, self professed Apple fan boy.

Steve Jobs was the visionary and guiding force of Apple. Steve was the reason that Apple products were different. Steve made things insanely great. Without Steve Jobs, Apple needs to find some one else who is crazy enough to provide the vision and design that differentiates Apple products. As evidenced by the Apple Maps debacle and the recent iTunes makeover, Tim Cook is not the man to do that nor has he yet managed to put a team in place that can. Apple Maps is terrible. The new iTunes looks like something Microsoft would release, the user interface now a convoluted mess. Professor Peter Morici very accurately defines the problem that Apple faces in this article.

When I joined Roku (you’ve seen Roku3, right?) two years ago, I asked if I could get a Unix based computer instead of the standard Windows laptop. They told me to pick one out, they would order it. I had used Linux before and wanted to support the Linux community so I looked for a system that came pre-installed with a Linux distro. I discovered System76. I ordered a Meerkat which has worked out really well. It came with Ubuntu 10.04 installed. My computing life was wonderful. With Ubuntu 11.04 and the Unity interface (which I still hate), I switched to Kubuntu. This was a real ah-ha moment. The KDE user interface is elegant, fun and kool. I enjoyed using it. Even more than I enjoyed using Mac OSX.

For a long time Open Source software offered a free alternative to commercial software but it came at a cost. It was typically more complicated to install, never quite completely compatible and always a lot uglier to use. OpenOffice was, and possibly still is, the typical example. It does work. It does offer the basic Office components. The user interface is ugly and under-developed. The functionality offered in the spreadsheet is short of Excel et al. Calligra offers an elegant, functional free open source solution that, so far, seems very plausible as an Office suite replacement. LibreOffice puts an elegant face on OpenOffice and improves the functionality making it a very viable replacement to Microsoft Office. In the graphic design world Inkscape replaces Adobe’s Illustrator. Krita is a digital paint program that replaces Corel Paint or Adobe Photoshop. Open Source software has matured to the point that I think it is completely viable as an alternative to the Apple/Microsoft/Adobe commercial software. The communities that have built up around these open source products are knowledgable, helpful and friendly. And the software is free.

My wife’s next computer will be a System76 Wild Dog Performance. My next computer will be a Lemur Ultra. The cases are not as nice as Apple’s hardware but I like the software better than what Apple has been producing lately and I definitely like the price a lot better. For my next smart phone, I am looking at Google’s Nexus 4. $300 to own an unlocked phone with no contractual obligations to any carrier. And if I get deployed again, it will work there too.