Sturdley's Magical Mystical Blog

Musings on life, liberty, and the pursuit of derpiness.

Tales of the Lawn Nazi

You might have heard mention once before of the lawn nazi.  I will admit the man is meticulous, but that is entirely unrelated to tonight’s little distraction.  A bit of necessary background: the lawn nazi is surrounded on two sides by driveways, one to his house, the other to the neighbors behind me in addition to the back door to the lawn nazi’s garage.  That’s right, both his and his neighbor’s driveways actually go to his house/property.  This bit will be important later.

Tonight the lawn nazi ordered pizza.  I know this because just outside my desk window is the aforementioned rear-lot neighbor’s driveway and just beyond, Mr. Nazi’s house.  The pizza dude (clearly a high school student of average everyness) made the dastardly mistake of pulling into rear-lot neighbor’s driveway.  As he was getting out of the beat-up old pile he drove up in, I hear Mr. Nazi yelling from his front porch, “you’re in the wrong driveway.”  Pizza dude responded with something unintelligible, possibly because he had just scarfed one of Mr. Nazi’s breadsticks*, then proceeds to walk across the lawn to the front door of the clearly appropriate house.  I go back to my computer assuming the show is over.

Mere moments later I hear raised voices.  Quickly muting the perfectly cromulent light classical background music, I am just in time to hear pizza dude’s raised voice saying, “so you want me to move my car and waste my gas?!?”  The response was muffled by dense cedar foliage, but it was all too clear the answer was a resounding, “Fuck, YES!”  Pizza dude strode angrily across the lawn, empty thermal food luggage in one hand, two boxes of pizza in the other.  He entered his vehicle, reversed gear, backed out of the driveway, and drove 100 feet down the road to the next driveway.  Alas, the shining white visage of Mr. Nazi’s impeccably clean siding, and presumably equally clean inner house-guts, blocked all but a single brief muffled shout.

Pizza dude backed out of the driveway, clearly defeated.  He backed down the street to the front-center of Mr. Nazi’s house, I assume to capture the picture as a warning to his colleagues.

All this because the pizza guy had the “wrong” driveway, a driveway that technically enters the property of the entirely douche-tastic lawn nazi.  Yes, this really just happened.

 

*This is an entirely unfounded guess based entirely on the pizza dude’s sketchy appearance and clear fondness of junky foodstuffs.  No actual ganking of breadsticks was observed.

Libertarian Genealogists

I count genealogy among my hobbies.  One crucial element of this hobby is the collection and study of government records: census, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses/registers, land ownership records, social security death indexes, etc.  As a person who studies my own ancestry and even recent (by genealogy standards) family history, these records are invaluable to the effort.  There is a strange happy/victorious feeling when you’ve found a record you’ve never seen before for an ancestor.  As a person with strong libertarian leanings, these same records are a reminder that the government is always interested in many details of your life, often to a disturbing degree.  I suppose I have rationalized this in two ways: 1) the records can give you knowledge about your forebearers, and 2) the records can show some of the unpleasant realities that existed for them.

I wonder if in a hundred years one of my descendants will be surfing through long-since-declassified NSA databases on ancestry.com in search of something interesting about me.  What types of government data collection that today I view as oppressive and outrageous will my descendants be grateful for?  I wonder what other libertarian genealogists think about using these types of records in their own research?  Perhaps at some point, the government will have cataloged the full genetic information of the entire human race and have worked out our ancestry in detail.  Get your entire family history just by filling out three confusing forms and paying a modest extortionate fee.

Sometimes my brain throws weird thoughts at me.

Using Yer Noggin’

My wife is fond of teasing that I don’t read any more.  This isn’t exactly true – I read a good deal, but my consumption of books, particularly fiction, is nowhere near the level it was before children, homeownership, and a growing list of hobbies gradually took over my free time.  The majority of my reading is now online: blogs, twitter, news, doctor who spoilers, a song of ice and fire theories, etc.  I have around forty blogs in my RSS feed plus a few others that I will pop in to read once in a while.  I don’t keep those in my feed simply because their enthusiasm about the subject matter results in prolific writing and I simply can’t keep up.  While I admit I don’t give all blogs in my feed the same level of attention, my lack of interest in some chosen topics is more to blame for this than the ability of the writer.

Here I am talking about my reading habits, but that’s not really the focus of this post, rather it is a setup for my main point: how we all select sources of our information, particularly related to contentious issues or topics with many alternative viewpoints.  As a student of science and practicing engineer, I have for years used the scientific method and the philosophy of challenging ideas from multiple directions as tools to solve problems.  A healthy level of skepticism in your thinking is useful in nearly all areas of life, and particularly important in the realm of politics where actual thinking is often is short supply.  This is a challenging notion for human beings, given the variety of quirks built into our minds.  I believe the saying goes, “the first step is recognizing you have a problem.”  Successfully assessing your position on any subject requires an honest and thorough evaluation of information that challenges your current thinking.

While I do read a good deal of blogs and news sources that comport with my worldview, I find it very useful to include some that do not.  There is always a danger in staying too close to your own ideological comfort zone.  Venturing outward is where new ideas are found and where existing ideas are refined.  Star Trek introduced the concept of the IDIC (infinite diversity in infinite combinations) as the basis for the Vulcan belief system based on logic.  The simplified premise is that true knowledge only comes through the understanding of the infinite variables of the universe.  There is wisdom in this idea, even if it is an impossible exercise for a limited mortal being.

 

Going Outside Your Comfort Zone

Some of my family, friends, and acquaintances are perfectly willing to receive virtually all their information from a small set of partisan or heavily biased sources.  These same individuals are as dismissive of sources outside their small trusted group as they are accepting of those within.  Folks that go too far into this realm become intensely distrustful of anyone that does not meet their standard.  Often their own comfort zone must eventually shrink in order to remain a member of their preferred group.  Some can break out of this cycle, but not always.

Much like the muscles in your body, your brain will also atrophy if not properly exercised.  If you wish to maintain your mind at a high level of performance, it must be constantly challenged with problems and new ideas.  You might be surprised what you can learn about your views by analyzing a well-formed argument against them.  It’s not enough to simply go through the motions of listening to the opposition; you must attempt to understand the position and reasoning in detail.  This can be a particularly galling experience at first, after all, why would you consider the ideas of someone who is so obviously wrong?  It can also be tricky when opposing tribes use different language.  It is crucially important for this exercise to understand how their words are being used, and not to superimpose your own biases on their language.

By far the most important thing you must do is to endeavor to select a strong opposing argument to analyze.  Selecting a weak opposing argument does not challenge you because it can be easily deflected.  Selecting a weak opposing argument is intellectually dishonest because you are not responding to the most rational opponent.  If the purpose of the exercise is to bolster your own argument, then it is to your advantage to be able to respond to the strongest opposing argument.  If the purpose of the exercise is to objectively evaluate your own position, then it is to your advantage to consider the counter-argument most likely to refute your own.  You wouldn’t (shouldn’t – I’m certain there are assholes who would) play Monopoly with a 3-year old just so you can win, so why on earth would you approach a challenge to your political views this way?  Being right ultimately isn’t about winning the argument, fun as that may be, it is about having a fuller understanding of the issue in debate.

 

Fallacious Forms of Thinking

I’m a big fan of using reason and logic to arrive at conclusions, even if I’m not always successful in applying them to my own thinking.  It’s harder than it would seem, so much that there are groups dedicated to improving themselves through better thinking.  When it comes to evaluating sources of supporting and opposing arguments, it is essential to apply the same standard to all.  Above I mentioned the choice between selecting a strong versus weak argument in opposition to your own views.  The separation between strong and weak is more than simply being convincing or consisting of compelling written form.  For an argument to be strong, it must attempt to refute all principal opposing points using logic and reason.  This is a tall order in most circumstances, even more so in the realm of politics where there are sometimes no truly right answers.

There are a number of sites dedicated to the understanding of various types of fallacies.  I suggest reading them at your leisure.  If you are particularly adventurous, go back through your writings, tweets, etc. and attempt to identify where you have employed fallacies.  Understanding fallacies is important not just in evaluating the content of someone’s argument; it also plays a role in the consideration of that person as a reasonable source of information.

A few weeks back, I saw a tweet linking to an interview by Ron Paul of Glenn Greenwald regarding his reporting on the NSA.  One individual responded to the tweet asking why he should listen to Greenwald, who recently spoke at a socialist event.  The implied argument here is that if a person has any socialist leanings then anything and everything they might think or say is wrong or not worth considering.  Depending on your interpretation, you might call this Ad Hominem or Guilt by Association.  Regardless, I call it wrong.  It completely ignores the content of Greenwald’s answers, and instead attempts to use an unrelated bit of Greenwald’s views to dismiss him entirely.  I called him on it, as did one other individual, and we were naturally ignored (and I presume at least one more person in this world now views me as a socialist – I giggle at the irony).

The intent of telling this little story is to point out that in the quest for finding a strong opposing argument, you may need to read or listen to someone who holds some views you find to be odious or repugnant.  All too often, people view this as a negative.  It is certainly easier to be dismissive of folks on the opposing side of whatever issue is at hand, but it is not conducive to understanding the other side, and it is certainly not an effective way to form a rational counterargument.  While I admit to being guilty of this myself, I nonetheless view it as a failure in critical thinking and an opportunity for self-improvement.  As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.  The trick sometimes lies in determining the right time to listen.

 

I’ve rambled and meandered a bit in this post, a clear indication that I should write more often (yes, it has been more than a month since my last post – bad, bad blogger).  Still, I hope there are some small gems of good ideas in there for you to pick out, and I promise to attempt to be a bit more coherent next time.

Now in 3D (Part 4)

This is the fourth and final installment of Sturdley’s misadventures in building a 3D printer.  See here for the entire series.  Last time I was experiencing power supply-related shenanigans and awaiting arrival of a 12V supply from the internets.  The new supply was delayed several days due to weather.  During the wait, I took the opportunity to measure the extruder rate and level the print bed.  Once the supply was delivered, I took a brief 10 minutes to wire it up to the printer only to run into more problems with the electrical outlet near my workbench.  Now I have had a new circuit installed just for the workbench, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that the power lines running to my house do not spontaneously combust.

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Once the power situation was resolved, I loaded up the test cube for printing.  The 1 inch cube took about an hour and 45 minutes.  I followed this up with a different test pattern, a stair-step pattern that ran for about an hour.  Both objects came out quite nicely.  The stair-step pattern measurements were quite close to the 3D model.  I printed a standard Lego block, but there were issues fitting with the real thing, and it lost one of the “round things” (studs – I had to look it up) on top after separating the pieces.  I have since printed several other items: a squirrel, some brackets for a wall-mounted filament holder (they were insufficiently strong for the job), a knob for the printer, some spacers for the Z-axis threaded rods (no more vibrating against the wood frame!), a copy of Greg’s accessible extruder, a tardis, a star trek communicator, and more test patterns.  Most of these objects are available on Thingiverse, by the way.

In the process of printing stuff, I noticed some printer issues that required attention.  The Y-axis belt was skewed resulting in the edge rubbing against the pulley on one end and the wood frame on the other end.  It was also a bit too tight.  Reversing the pulley on the motor and loosening the belt tension drastically reduced the friction and noise.  The stepper motors are running quite hot, and the extruder gears seem to be wearing a good deal faster than I expected (good thing I already have a backup printed).  These things are rather minor, however, and easily fixed.

Then last night I ran into a new issue with – you guessed it – the power supply.  The 12V supply that had been working so well for 2 weeks developed a slight buzzing sound and an inability to hold a voltage.  It’s still within the return period (and unlike the ATX supply did not necessitate cutting parts off, voiding the warranty) so it is on its way back to whence it came and a new one scheduled to arrive later this week.  At this time, I would like to request that if any of my readers have influence with the gods of electromagnetism that you please intervene on my behalf.  My sanity is at stake.

All told, I am exceedingly happy with this printer.   The prints were coming out great from day one, and almost every problem I encountered was the result of my own actions or simple bad luck.

We Don’t Serve Your Kind Here

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The Kansas and Arizona legislatures recently made national news by passing bills allowing for individuals, businesses, and (in the Kansas case) government employees to decline service to other individuals based on religious objections.  Sponsors have said these bills are a response to recent legal decisions in favor of gay plaintiffs in discrimination suits.  Religious individuals are concerned they might be forced by the government to serve people that engage in behavior that is perceived by them as abominable.  The gay community is outraged that businesses in these states might be closed to their patronage if these bills become law, and are making comparisons to last century’s Jim Crow laws.  Ultimately both bills fizzled: the Kansas bill was effectively stopped in the senate and the Arizona bill was vetoed by the governor, though some other states have similar bills in the works.

I think these particular bills are awful because they are focused in attempting to target specific groups for either protection (the religious) or discrimination (teh gays).  I found the Kansas bill particularly troubling because it permitted even government employees to engage in discrimination, a definite no-no.  Nevertheless, there remains in my mind a niggling notion that using the full force of government to require a private business owner/operator to associate, however fleetingly, with a person or entity with whom they morally object can be wrong.  If you think long and hard enough, I am certain there is a class of people that you would refuse service if they arrived in your business.  (Hint: think beyond the classes who currently enjoy legal protections.)

The fundamental question here is whether a business has the right to engage in commerce with absolute freedom of association.  US law says no, providing anti-discrimination protections for race, religion, and gender, among other protected characteristics.  Other forms of discrimination are perfectly legal and sometimes even socially acceptable.  Consider the high falutin restaurant that bans kids or the convenience store owner that refuses to hire a highly qualified individual who happens to have a 20-year old felony conviction.

So what is the principled position behind anti-discrimination laws?  It certainly isn’t limited to characteristics an individual involuntarily inherits as a result of their birth such as race or gender (worth noting that gender is not a binary state as many previously understood or accepted it).  Religion is a protected class under law, but individuals are free to choose or change their religion as they see fit.  Pregnancy is protected despite being a voluntary (with rare exceptions) condition.  Likewise, not all involuntarily inherited characteristics are protected.  Perhaps I could open a store and serve only those customers that have an “innie” belly button or only those that are right-handed or people named Steve.  I suspect if I opened such a store, it would be viewed with equal parts bemusement and confusion as opposed to the visceral reaction that would be received for refusing service to homosexuals or Latinos.

My only conclusion is that there is no fundamental principle that forms the basis of current anti-discrimination law.  It is a piece-meal construct built a bit at a time, and only once a particular class has achieved sufficient economic and political power to demand action can they achieve some level of government protection.  At that point, the need for said protection is already in decline, so the action becomes more about vindication than true protection.  With such a patchwork some groups are protected, some are unprotected, and yet some others may be actively repressed.  This seems to me to be a hazardous approach to public policy.  If there is no principle behind a policy, then it becomes extraordinarily difficult to apply the policy consistently and impartially.

Winding back to that niggle in my brain; I still have not resolved my conflicting thoughts on this subject.  I can think of many scenarios where the principle of non-discrimination would force me to associate with people I find to be detestable.  For example, I would not want to sell a Sturdley’s Magical Mystical Blog coffee mug (note: no such product exists…yet) to Fred Phelps for the simple reason that I do not want to be even remotely associated with such a disgusting example of humanity.  The reality is that in the right circumstances I could be forced to do so by the government because it is currently illegal to discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs.  If my hand were forced in this manner, what are my options?  Grudgingly accept the decision?  Close up shop rather than comply?  Go in the back room and find that mug with a chipped rim and give it to him hoping he won’t notice?  Maybe I could come up with some other pretense for refusing service, basing it on something unlikely to result in a devastating lawsuit against my (very) small business, and hoping to hell my true motives are never revealed.  This last strategy is likely being employed by many as a means to continue their discriminatory practices under the radar.

As can be easily demonstrated with anti-drug, anti-gun, and anti-sex-work laws, making a “thing” illegal is often an ineffective method of preventing people doing the “thing.”  Making a thing illegal drives people doing that thing underground where the behavior is obfuscated and more difficult to detect.  My personal preference is to live in a society where the bigots, racists, chauvinists, etc. are free to make their beliefs known rather than to hide them out of fear of being sued or jailed.  Whether they’re just an average jerk spouting idiotic speech or a business owner turning away customers, I want to know who these people are.  I want to be able to call them out, from the rooftops if necessary, for their asshattery.  I want to be able to stand outside their business and say to people, “if you go in there, you’re supporting a business run by a twat-waffle that fires women when they get pregnant.”  I want to bring my friends along so we can all pour our collective contempt upon their front door and anyone that passes through them.  I don’t want to live in a society where I cannot tell which store is hiding these disgusting people and policies behind a veneer of phony tolerance because that means I may inadvertently support them.

This line of thinking leads away from supporting anti-discrimination legislation, and though I have not adopted this position, I do have a significant number of doubts about the effectiveness and reasonableness of such legislation.  There are a number of situations where I would be inclined to side with the discriminatory party, and many where I would not.  Consider the following hypothetical situations:

  • Should a Christian baker be obligated to produce a cake for Gillian’s post-abortion celebration?
  • Should a pro-choice baker be obligated to produce a cake for Joe’s pro-life rally, including a graphic representation of an abortion in red icing?
  • Should a Catholic printer be obligated to produce invitations to Bob’s 8th divorce party?
  • Should a Baptist sign-maker be obligated to produce signs saying, “Allahu Akbar” for a mosque?
  • Should a Sunni Muslim graphic artist be obligated to produce an advertisement containing a visual representation of the prophet Muhammad?
  • Should a Jewish photographer be obligated to photograph Ahmadinejad’s 2015 Holocaust Denier’s Expo?
  • Should an atheist plastic-maker be obligated to produce Christian-themed toys?
  • Should a black tailor be obligated to sew hoods and cloaks for the local KKK chapter?
  • Should a gay photographer be obligated to take photographs of a wedding held at the Westboro Baptist Church?
  • Should a liberal restaurateur be obligated to serve food for a table seated by a group of hardcore (from the owner’s point of view) conservatives?

Did you answer the same for all items?  I admit I answered no to every last item, yet I still struggle with reaching a principled conclusion that lies firmly on one side of the issue.  Time to do some more thinking.

Now in 3D (Part 3)

This is part 3 of my MakerFarm 8” Prusa i3 build progress, see here for previous posts.  Last time I covered the final frame assembly.  This update is focused on the electronics installation and testing.  As an aside, I went to the local Home Depot to pick up my glass only to find out that they will not cut it for me.  Derp.  I bought a few 8×10 pieces anyway; I’ll only need to lop off one side.

Before I start running wires, I need to assemble the hot end and extruder.  These will then be installed on the X Carriage.

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Hot End

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Extruder with Hot End

Next up, I need to do a quick solder job on the three end-stop switches.  I will also attach the thermistor to the underside of the heated bed, and then attach the bed to the frame.  The last electronic component to install is the RAMPS board, which mounts onto the right side of the frame.  So I will run all the wiring over to this location using the convenient wire guides, and after checking that everything works I can gather up all the loose wires with some strategically placed cable ties.

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RAMPS

With all the wiring hooked up, it is time to test.  Aside from a little user error with the end stop switches, everything seems to function properly.  The motors move when instructed and in the correct direction, the switches are detected properly, and the extruder extrudes!

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Complete Printer

Here you see the fully assembled printer with cables tied back and loaded with a bit of filament for testing the extruder.  My plan was to follow up the extruder test with a test print, but the electrical demands of the printer (along with who knows what else on the same circuit in my 90-year old house) were too great and I tripped a breaker.  Since this was at 10:15 PM on a weeknight, it was a clear signal that it was time to stop for the night.  Added to the to-do list: put in a dedicated breaker and outlet for my workbench.

My plans were foiled again the next evening when I encountered some issues with the power supply.  Specifically that it is not able to provide sufficient current without tripping an internal shutdown.  Rather than messing with it (I’ll shelve it for use on a less demanding project), I ordered a real 12V supply, which should arrive in a few days.  In the meantime, I will work on some of the calibrations that can be done under limited power.

Next time I will have an update on the calibration and test print(s), possibly with some video of the machine in action.

Now in 3D (Part 2)

This is part two of my build progress.  See part one here.

Last time I finished the X-Axis.  Next up is the Y-Axis, which includes the frame.

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Y Idler

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LCD Interface

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Frame

The frame is the first part to give me any real trouble.  I had to adjust the backplate on the bottom of the frame three times, mainly because I kept not paying close enough attention each time I changed it.  Eventually I got it right…

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Y Bed 

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Frame with X, Y, Z axis installed

This last photo is my current progress.  I still have all of the electronics to wire up, followed by testing and calibration.  I have to say that so far assembly has gone quite smoothly.  A few spots where things fit a bit tight, but nothing that a little appropriately-placed squeezing couldn’t fix.  I also need to take the time to stop at the hardware store for my glass.

More to come…

Now in 3D

The latest gizmo that has captured my attention is the 3D printer.  For those that are absolutely clueless, it is a machine that “prints” small objects, usually plastic, by depositing layer upon layer of extruded material.  Some of the objects that can be created are quite complex.

I started looking at commercially produced units, which are quite nice, but the price tag is too steep.  Then I found RepRap.  Thank you open source movement!  I spent a few days reading through the material and forums, until I settled on building a Prusa Mendel model.  The main advantage with this model is the low cost; estimates put the price tag from $400 to $600 depending on how you source parts and what is included in the build.

I was not looking forward to the time-consuming effort of hunting down parts myself so I decided to buy an assemble-it-yourself kit.  I’ll get the satisfaction of building the printer without the headache of supply chain logistics (I’ve dealt with enough of that at work, thank you very much.)  Based on a plethora of good reviews and praise for the company owner, I decided on a kit from MakerFarm, the 8” Prusa i3.

The box arrived the other day.  Unpacked and sorted a bit, the kit looks like this:

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MakerFarm 8″ Prusa i3 Kit (power supply not included)

I am following the MakerFarm build instructions and videos.  The X Carriage and X Idler assemblies went together quite easily.  After assembling the X Motor assembly and started on connecting these parts into the X Axis, I noticed my allen wrenches were somewhere I could not find.  I did the best I could with the available tools and called it a night.  Tomorrow will include a quick trip to the shop before continuing the build.

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X Carriage

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X Idler

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X Motor

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X Axis Assembly

To be continued…

The Day We Fight Back

Today many websites have organized together to send a message to those once charged with our protection:

You exceeded the authority granted you by the people.  You lied and obfuscated when your actions were exposed.  You have displayed no outward intention of making any meaningful changes to your behavior.  You are able to monitor who/what/where/when we call/text/e-mail/browse with minimal oversight and virtually no true accountability.  The true extent of these invasions is yet to be revealed, but every new detail to emerge is terrifying and disturbing.

Today we are standing up together to say no more.

These sites are joining together to send a message but to also ask you for support.  For the rest of the day, somewhere on this page you will see a “TODAY WE FIGHT BACK” banner that will give you quick and easy access to contact your legislators in support of new laws to curtail mass surveillance.  I encourage you to do so.

Artificial Demand

Some news from a previous topic:

Under the terms of the settlement, police admit no wrongdoing.

That’s right, because it is A-Okay to drag an unwilling innocent man across the county for an unwanted anal cavity cleansing for absolutely no reason.  At least if you pay him the going rate anyway.  Hell, at that price Hidalgo county might just find itself with some willing customers lined up outside their doors.