Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Project Fi, not for me

I really wanted to use Project Fi.  I'll just admit it: I wanted it to work because it's Google and it's different!  And it is both those things, but that was not quite enough reason to stay with it.

I signed up for Fi about a month ago, and bought a nicely cheap Nexus 5x when they were selling them for $200 with sign up.  I think that promotion is over now; however, I got to keep the phone when I cancelled, and I do like the phone a lot.

The real issue is that I'm not doing a lot of international travel right now, and I have the world's cheapest (as far as I know) plan for (non-family) big-data users, T-Mobile's $30/mo "Walmart" plan*, which only provides 100 minutes of talk but 5 GB of data over LTE/4G (after which you are capped at 3G speeds).  T-Mobile's LTE coverage in the Bay area is fine for me, and I hardly ever need to talk to anyone when WiFi isn't available.   It turns out I use most of that 5 GB every month, which would have given me a monthly bill over twice as high using Fi.

If I was doing a lot of international travel, I might change my mind.  I used T-Mobile's Simple plan when I last went to New Zealand ($70/mo) and it more or less worked in most places, but the data rate cap was sooo slow.  I would have been better off buying a local SIM (and pointing my Google Voice number at it!).  Project Fi uses a 256kbps data rate cap internationally which, although also pretty slow, would have been a big step up!

Generally, I was a little disappointed that Fi seemed to use Sprint a lot more than I expected; given that my T-Mobile coverage is generally good I was expecting to use that more than I did.  And Fi's vaunted high-quality WiFi coverage didn't seem to add much to my experience.

Still, it was kind of cool, and I got a cheap 5x out of the experience.  And if my wife starts dragging me to international destinations in the future, I'll give some thought to trying it again.

* The "Walmart" plan is available at Walmart or online at T-Mobile, but nowhere else.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


I have to admit, I've been kind of pissed for a while about RedHat going with systemd as a replacement for init.  I spent a lot of time becoming fluent with init, and all of that is now defunct on the platform I work with the most.

I've spent some time with systemd now, though, and I have changed my mind.  systemd has some really strong advantages over init:

1. The files are so much simpler!  systemd has the most obvious init functions, like stop, restart, status built-in, so you don't have to come up with shell scripts to do them; you only really have to tell systemd where your binary is and what it should be called.  100+ lines of BASH or SH code can be distilled down to about 7 lines of systemd.

2. It's much safer.  Once again, the files are not scripts, they are simply metadata.  It would be difficult to make systemd do something weird and unsafe.

3. init is still supported, mostly.  Not a bad feature!

So, check me off as a reasonably happy systemd user.

Monday, April 18, 2016

More astrophotography ...

Here's a picture I took of Jupiter with the Samyang 800mm lens.  It is about 100% cropped.  You can see a little color and (just barely) you can see a couple of dark bands running almost vertically.

Very difficult to photograph with the Samyang, but it's still a lot of fun to try!

And here's a pic of Saturn; note the space between the rings and the planet!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Astrophotography with Sony a6000

I'm dipping into doing some astrophotography with my Sony a6000, the replacement for the Sony NEX-7 mirrorless.  It works pretty well; my location isn't great (SF Bay Area), but my camera is, arguably, as good as it gets for an APS-C camera (and it's much less expensive than similar DSLR cameras).  It has very good high ISO performance.

I also bought, kind of on a whim, a Samyang 800 mm lens (plus 2X "barlowe" lens, ~$200 for both!).  The lens is very simple, there are no electronics, so focus is a bit of a challenge with it, and it's not exactly a high-quality lens.  But it works.

Here's an example; a shot of the moon, 2X "barlowe" lens (so 1600 mm equivalent), NO cropping, ISO 3200 and slight contrast enhancement.

The Sony has the option to zoom in while framing and focusing the shot, and as long as your camera is very stationary, it works pretty well.  I've got a fairly heavy-duty tripod, but I wish it was even heavier; the camera still shakes quite a bit while I'm focusing.  I've assigned the electronic zoom to one of the buttons on the camera, and it's very easy to fire it while I'm setting up for the shot.

I always use shutter-priority mode.

I am looking forward to trying it on Jupiter and Saturn.  In a couple of weeks I will try this at Yosemite.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


I once dreamed an entire song about a woman I had recently moved in with.  The song was very dark in content; the woman had led a terrible life and we had bonded over music, so this seemed like a very proper response to our relationship.

Are dreams a way to store our feelings in memory, using nonverbal symbols?

It might also be the opposite, that is, you are "storing" a feeling and your brain is building a visual (and in this case, auditory) story around the feeling.  That's kind of art in a nutshell, isn't it?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Using NIS/ypbind with Linuxmint 13 (and probably Ubuntu 13)

I finally got it working, more or less.  I eventually put restart directives for both the ypbind and autofs processes in /etc/rc.local.  It works, as long as I wait about a minute after the machine boots up before trying to log in.  I don't know why it has to be kluged like this; bug reports for problems like this are opened for EVERY Ubuntu release, and no one ever feels any need to fix it.  At least, with Fedora/RHEL, I can be assured that NIS will work out of the box.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


I'm so, so disappointed by "Jobs". It had nothing in it that I wanted to know about; nothing about the visit to Xerox PARC, nothing about his spiritual journeys, nothing about NeXT. Going by the movie, Jobs was nothing but an ungrateful SOB with no talents and nothing interesting in his life. I thought Kutcher did a fine job with the part, so to speak, but surely there was enough to Steve Jobs' existence to make a movie that was worth seeing other than as an hour and a half impression of him by Ashton Kutcher.

All right, I'm a bit of a fanboi, but you know, there was no other personal computer that made your room a little prettier, a little more interesting, just by being in it. I don't think it's overstating it to say that Jobs played a major part in making computers into household appliances. I was getting ready to enter the world of law in 1989; instead, because my boss had several Macintoshes around the office, I'm in tech instead. And now, I'm taking an iPad to band rehearsals and plugging my guitar into it, and then plugging a keyboard into it. This movie barely gives us a hint as to the good things that he was responsible for. Why?