Differential Tuition in Florida vs Differential Tuition in Washington

Interesting, Florida is considering “a proposal to lower tuition for STEM majors”:http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2012/10/tuition-by-major.html.

It is surprising and interesting that the issues are so different between Florida and Washington.

STEM programs in key fields at UW are oversubscribed and are turning way students every year. Stimulating demand would be pointless as the programs are capacity limited. The University and the legislature are trying to address capacity limits — the legislature this year has “redirected funds from liberal arts programs to engineering”:http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2018251983_admissions21m.html permitting growth in enrollments.

The Washington tuition discussion has been completely opposite the Florida discussion. A differential tuition proposal, charging higher fees for STEM degrees, has been approved. The justification is the unfilled demand, and the higher cost of STEM programs (labs, etc). As I understand it, the differential tuition proposal is on hold, due to legal challenges. I am not sure of the exact claims of the opposition, but I know those parents who purchased prepaid GET tuition vouchers have some legitimate concerns — which programs do these vouchers cover?

Again, interesting that the states see the issue so differently. The intent in Florida is good, encourage more STEM majors. I wonder if they are pulling on the right lever though.

Tracking your Surface shipment

MSFT hasn’t explained this very well — all the first day orders are on their way, but MSFT didn’t explain the tracking process to anyone. To track your shipment, find your Microsoft Store order number (format MS1234567890), strip the MS off the front, go to fedex.com, choose “track by reference”, enter this code as a reference number along with your destination country and zip, and voila, there is your ship status.

Mine shipped the 23rd out of Suzhou, China and arrived in Seattle today. Should be delivered tomorrow.

Hat tip to @OhCompNetworks who got me started in the right direction. I tried calling the MS Store earlier in the day, that was a waste of time, they didn’t seem to have a clue.

Why I don’t care about economics issues this election

I recently posted “my thoughts on the upcoming presidential election”:http://theludwigs.com/2012/10/why-i-will-vote-for-obama-in-the-presidential-election/, and a couple people mentioned how concerned they were about economic issues. Hey, me too! They aren’t the most important issues for me this election, but I worry about deficits, taxes, government expenditures, economic growth.

The only viable path out of our economic problems is growth:

* We are running large budget deficits. These deficits lead to even more interest payments in the future, compounding the deficit problem. Someday this will all come home to roost, we would be well advised to get our own house in order now.
* We run large deficits in part because of excessive government expenditures. Our governments (federal, state, local) spend an unimaginable amount of money, much of it on entitlements and interest payments that have proven to be pretty much politically untouchable. We can try to cut discretionary expenses, but there just isn’t enough we can cut to make a dent. And we are already underfunding education among other things.
* The other reason for our large deficits is that we just don’t bring in enough tax revenue. We could raise tax revenues via dramatic tax increases but the levels necessary to wipe out the deficits would be staggering and this is also politically impossible.
* We could print money freely to address our shortfalls, we are pretty much already doing that, and massive inflation is not appealing. This is not a sustainable approach.
* So we are left with increasing tax receipts not via tax increases but via economic growth — more sales, more exports, more employers, more jobs. Economic growth is the best way (and only politically viable way) to address the budget shortfalls and to generate the job growth we need.

Improving our growth rate is not a one-time issue. A single dose of government intervention dollars doesn’t lead to sustained growth over 30-40 years. Creating a bunch of public sector government-financed jobs doesn’t result in real economic growth. We need policies that will result in enduring growth in the private sector. Instead, our politicians largely focus on short term moves — job growth next year, short term tax policies, relatively short term accelerants — bailouts, rate cuts, cash infusions, goosing the housing market, etc. This all seems mostly like noise, a lot of the benefits are temporary or get sucked up by cronies and insiders. How much did the bank bailouts help the man on the street? I’ve yet to meet an individual who has said to me “thank goodness for those bank bailouts, they really made a difference in my life.” Maybe if I lived in New York.

I don’t understand all the levers for growth. I am not an economist or public policy expert, I am just a guy who has lived for a while, has been employed in various roles in the tech industry, and has tried to be observant and thoughtful. I have spent my career in the tech industry, which has grown dramatically, and provided a lot of great jobs. My sense is we need to focus on education, and the commons.

Education is kind of the obvious point. We need better K-6 education so that everyone has a solid basis in reading and basic arithmetic. Great public high schools and colleges so that everyone can build out the skills they need to start their careers. Mid-life re-education of adults as industries change. STEM education of course, but also design and arts education. Our country made a dramatic investment in education early on with public schools, this bore great fruit. We’ve made further dramatic investments over the centuries — land-grant colleges, ongoing federal support of research. We need new dramatic programs, something that creates the world-class education system for the next century. I don’t know what the “Apollo” program for education should be, but we need one. If we expect to have sustainable job growth greater than the developed country average, and particularly growth in high-paying “good” jobs, then we probably need to have the best-equipped populace in the world.

The other area of policy focus should be the “commons”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commons. Our investment in common, public domain systems and knowledge has resulted in massive economic growth. The design of the “transistor was thrown in public domain by att”:http://money.howstuffworks.com/att4.htm which allowed thousands of firms to innovate around the transistor and integrated circuits, causing the explosion of the electronics industry. Unix was put into the public domain, resulting in the explosion of much of the software and services industry. The internet was put into the public domain by early federal government funding, and the (public domain) world wide web was layered on top of the internet, resulting in the explosion of internet companies. PC design was basically thrown in public domain by the cloners with support of Microsoft and Intel, resulting in the massive expansion of the PC industry. Imagine if any one of these events had not happened — we would have seen a dramatic reduction in the number of tech companies and innovation. So, where is the next commons, what is the next huge piece of public domain technology or infrastructure, what is the government doing to encourage the creation of this?

I have some thoughts for the next great piece of commons, I am sure there are other equally good or better ideas:

* spectrum access. Today the government grants fixed licenses to corporations who pay large prices for the spectrum, and who then do their best to mine the value of that spectrum for their own corporate wellbeing. As a result, a few large corporations have a choke hold on how most of the spectrum is used. In a few cases (WiFi), spectrum use is a little more wide open, and these have been areas of great ferment and innovation. We should look at mechanisms and technologies that would get fixed spectrum allocation out of the hands of large corporate entities, and instead allow more dynamic and innovative use. There are plenty of smart people who have already thought hard about software radios, dynamic spectrum access, ultra wideband spectrum use, and many other topics involved, we should throw our government weight behind some of this thinking.
* healthcare and life sciences. I am not very smart about things biological, but I wonder what the transistor analog is in life sciences. I wonder what the IP/internet equivalent is in healthcare. Information sharing in healthcare seems absolutely primitive — in 2012, I am still faxing in requests for test results to one of the largest hospitals on the west coast, and getting results back by fax or physical mail.
* 3D printing. This is a nascent technology for geeks only now. But very soon it seems like nearly anyone will be able to make, cost-effectively, almost any small part out of a huge variety of materials. This has dramatic implications for so many industries. However, people are already trying to lock up patents around this technology, we are not clearly on a path to an open environment where people can easily share designs, improve designs, iterate quickly on designs, all in an open web-like environment.
* Energy. What if battery technology was 10x and 10x more open for everyone’s use? If someone invents the next great battery, is it really good for our economy if this invention is locked up in one product?

Cutting across all these areas is the operation of the patent system. It has become ungainly and largely misapplied. Originally designed for the advancement of science and arts by putting designs into the public domain after some time, the focus now seems to be on locking up inventions and preventing the movement of knowledge into the public domain. Count me among those campaigning for a dramatic rethink.

I think these issues cut right to the heart of trade deficits too. If we can have the most educated populace, with the richest commons infrastructure on which to build new industries, then I am pretty sure we can create things that the rest of the world wants.

So: Education, Commons Investment, Patent Reform, all leading to long-term sustained economic growth, which will allow us to grow out of current deficit and budget issues. Important issues, but as far as this election goes, I don’t feel like either candidate is doing anything distinctive. I’ve read some nice things about Obama’s “Race to the top” program, but that is a drop on the bucket of the things we need to do in the education area. I don’t see any leadership on patent or commons issues from either of them. I hear a bunch of frothing about marginal tax rates which I think is largely irrelevant (and I hear nothing about the massive money printing operation at the Fed, apparently the candidates feel that is too complicated for us to understand). So pretty much a yawner of an election on economics issues in my view.

Great evening at Metrix Create Space last night

Rich and I had a great evening geeking out at “Metrix Create Space”:http://metrixcreatespace.com/ in Capitol Hill last night. We attended the Intro to Arduino class and had a blast wiring things up, playing with the Arduino IDE, and absorbing the maker vibe. I’d love to follow up and take the E-textiles course they have coming up, because that just sounds cool, what could go wrong with electricity and computers embedded in your clothing?

I totally love the maker revolution. My desk right now is covered with Arduinos, sensors, Raspberry Pis, LEDs, and all the other desiderata of modern hobbyist electronics. Awesome stuff.

Why I will vote for Obama in the presidential election.

I am pretty apolitical. I view government as a necessary evil. The political process seems horribly compromised, most politicians seem hopelessly compromised. The campaign ads make me barf. I will be happy when election season is over. Usually I just keep my head down during the season and try to keep my views to myself.

But Facebook has made me increasingly uncomfortable with that policy. I get a flood of political traffic in my timeline every day. Many of these postings espouse positions that I don’t agree with, and I worry that my silence implies my assent. And I feel like the “new normal” is to share your political views, and that perhaps this might even be a good thing, leading to more citizen participation in politics. So I am going to try to be a more involved participant, starting by explaining my vote for Obama in the presidential election.

In considering my vote, I take the long view. What is the impact of my vote on the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years — the remainder of my life, and the heart of my children’s life. The issues of the moment will pass — no one will remember the fine points of the debates this month. The exact marginal tax rate doesn’t matter that much, we have survived adequately as a nation with rates as low as 15% and as high as 90%. The foreign policy crises of the moment will be forgotten. What matters are the structural policy decisions we make that will create enduring change in our society.

For me, fairness and openness are at the heart of our society, the uncompromisable core. Do we treat everyone equally? Does everyone feel like they have a fair shot at the good things in life? Can we talk openly about our society and its problems without fear of reprisal? Can we be critical of our institutions and practices? Do we embrace the diversity in our society and the richness it brings? Does everyone feel valued, and is everyone engaged positively in building a better society? Is everyone’s voice heard? Do we have open processes to make changes in our society?

If we break openness and fairness in our society, then it is very hard to move on and work on any other set of issues. Without openness and fairness, people disengage in productive activities. They engage in civil disobedience or worse. The nation loses its moral authority and leadership abroad.

There are three current openness/fairness issues in front of us, and Obama is in the right on two of them:

* A significant portion of our population feels discriminated against today, due to the same-sex marriage issue. They face discrimination in the tax code. In adoption and guardianship issues. In access to health insurance and benefits. In times of critical health issues. And in many more ways. We need to fix this, and fix it at the federal level, it is wrong to have variation in this basic civil right state by state. After some dithering, Obama is moving to the right position on this issue.
* Healthcare is another fairness issue. It is hard to pursue happiness if you are fighting health problems or can’t even get basic healthcare. It is terrible that kids don’t have access to uniform care, it is terrible that young mothers can’t get basic healthcare. It is bad that you have to work for a large corporation to get decent coverage. Obamacare is a tepid and compromised first step to addressing our healthcare issues, and not every aspect of it is right. But it is an attempt to address the issues, and we need to be moving ahead, not stepping backwards.
* Campaign finance is a threat to the openness of our society. The lack of any limits on corporate giving is bizarre, we are letting our political process be corrupted by corporations and organizations. This hits right at the “of the people, by the people, for the people” principle. I am a believer in a simple rule — if you can vote, you can give money. If you can’t vote, you shouldn’t be able to donate. Neither party is doing us any favors here, they both have their snouts in the campaign finance trough.

These are not the only openness and fairness issues — we have many more we need to work on. Access to quality education. Transparency in banking and finance. Privacy rights. Women’s rights. But these 3 are on my mind and on 2 of them, there are material differences between the candidates.

These issues trump everything else in the long run. Yes we need to work on economic growth, but to what end if our society and values are compromised? Yes we need to work on the budget and deficits. Yes we have foreign policy issues. But these will all be easier to work on if all our citizenry is valued and engaged, if we can talk openly about our issues, and if our institutions are not compromised.

Why FB is worth just a fraction of GOOG

“Privacy Fix”:https://www.privacyfix.com/start is instructive. Who knows how accurate it is, but I bet it is directionally correct. And it says that FB makes about 5 cents a year off ads delivered to me, whereas GOOG makes about $32. I have most of my privacy settings cranked up (on both GOOG and FB), so maybe FB does a lot better with other people, but that is a factor of a 1000.

And when you consider that GOOG has other emergent revenue streams (mobile, enterprise), well I am surprised the gap in valuation isn’t even greater.

I’d love to see more features from Privacy Fix. Who exactly is paying GOOG $32? When I visit a particular page, say SI.COM, who is paying for my eyeballs there? WHat exactly does GOOG know about me and are they telling people about me?

I may have too many computers…

I’m doing some dev work on an ASUS Zenbook running Ubuntu that I am carrying around. I have a Macbook Pro that I carry around for productivity and photography apps. A hand-built WIndows box at home for Steam (tho it has been frightfully long since I played a game). A Raspberry Pi, another ARM sbc, and an Arduino that I am dorking around with. Of course an IPad and a smartphone.

I thank the lucky stars for:

* Cloud services — evernote, github, spotify, bitbucket, smugmug, dropbox, skydrive, google reader, twitter, various mail and cal systems — so that I can get to my content from any of these machines
* USB switches and HDMI switches — so that I can share keyboards, mice, and displays, or I would be awash in them
* SSH, RDP, and other remote shell/remote desktop solutions — I would die without them

One tool that doesn’t help me much, surprisingly, is good old-fashioned file sharing. I have struggled with getting Windows 7, OSX, and Samba SMB sharing systems to be happy with each other but it is a security and rights morass. I long for the days of password–protected file shares, that would be so much easier in the home.

ASUS Zenbook UX31a and Ubuntu — seem like a fine pairing

I need to be able to do some Linux-based dev work while mobile. I’ve limped along using OSX and also using VirtualBox, but neither of them are really optimal, notably for ARM-targeted work. For instance, building a Raspberry Pi kernel and then emulating it under OSX is very very tricky, and doing it in a VM is slooooow. So I decided I need a real Linux laptop to carry around.

I’m trying out the ASUS ultrabook — the Zenbook UX31a. Awesome name, but whatever. Some tips on Ubuntu install on this machine:

* Turn off Bluetooth in the BIOS. Under Ubuntu, Bluetooth seems to interfere with WIFI. You can find several solutions. One is to turn off Bluetooth which is no loss in my book. The other is to turn of 802.11n which seems like a poorer choice. With Bluetooth off, everything seems to work swimmingly.
* I tried to install Ubuntu beside Win7 and use multiboot. It seemed problematic as the Zenbook already comes with a multiboot config for Windows, system restore, and some bag of Intel utilities. Attempting to install Ubuntu next to all this just seemed to piss the machine off, it persisted in firing up chkdsk and “fixing” the disk. There is probably some smart way to reconfig the multiboot but I gave up (oh and I see that I might have needed to use the 64bit version of Ubuntu for this to work). I ended up creating a “System Rescue CD”:http://www.sysresccd.org/SystemRescueCd_Homepage, backed up all the factory installed partitions to a USB drive, and then had Ubuntu install slam the whole disk. I wanted to keep the factory installed images in case I ever wanted to drop back to Windows for any reason (for instance if I need to get warranty service).
* The “Ubuntu forums”:https://help.ubuntu.com/community/AsusZenbookPrime have a fine list of tweaks to apply to get the system fully working. I did the SSD changes, the webcam utility install, the power management tips, and the “highly experimental” touchpad support. Nothing seems to have exploded.

So, up and running. All seems well. The machine is lightweight and seems like it will serve well. I am a little annoyed with the ugly intel and windows decals slammed on the machine that seem impossible to remove, they mar the lines of the machine.

Recent Fiction — Adiga, Child, Ignatius, Stein, Abercrombie, Flynn, Simonson

* “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand”:amazon by Helen Simonson. An aging British major finds love unexpectedly across race and class boundaries. Awkwardness, tragedy, loss, redemption all ensue. An excellent tale.
* “The Blade Itself: The First Law: Book One”:amazon by Joe Abercrombie, and the two following books in the series. Does a great job of creating empathy for an unloveable set of main characters — a torturer, a foppish young swordfighter, two savage killers, an amoral wizard, a drunkard.
* “Gone Girl”:amazon by Gillian Flynn. Twisty and fun tale about a missing woman and her husband, the leading suspect. Lots of twists and turns.
* “The Art of Racing in the Rain”:amazon by Garth Stein. A story featuring a dying dog dying, a dying spouse, and a terrible custody battle is going to be a downer. But a couple of really interesting characters and some redemption at the end manage to lighten the tale just enough.
* “The White Tiger”:amazon by Aravind Adiga. Very engaging novel set in modern India, provides a lot of insight into the many cultures and contradictions of the nation.
* “A Wanted Man”:amazon by Lee Child. Reacher novels are always fun, looking forward to the movie. The plot doesn’t make a lot of sense but that is not why one reads Reacher.
* “Bloodmoney”:amazon by David Ignatius. Now this plot makes a lot of sense and one can totally imagine that some form of this chicanery has taken place. Good characters and good pace.

Recent nonfiction — Quantum Universe, Disrupting Class

* “The Quantum Universe”:amazon by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. An attempt to explain quantum mechanics. Some good elements but the authors wed themselves to an analogy using clocks that I think just confuses the matter. I gave up 30% in.
* “Disrupting Class”:amazon by Clayton Christensen, Curtis Johnson, Michael Horn. Like most nonfiction books, this should be a pamphlet. Good stuff but overly drawn out. Kids have different types of IQ and learning styles, technology can be used to create custom targeted learning experiences.

If you are coming from the PC universe, the Raspberry Pi boot sequence is funky

Read the “RPIforum”:http://elinux.org/RPi_Software outline carefully. No boot rom, no boot loader. Instead:

The boards do not include NAND or NOR storage – everything is on the SD card, which has a FAT32 partition with GPU firmware and a kernel image, and an EXT2 partition with the rootfs.
We’re not currently using a bootloader – we actually boot via the GPU, which contains a proprietary RISC core (wacky architecture). The GPU mounts the SD card, loads GPU firmware and brings up display/video/3d, loads a kernel image, resets the SD card host and starts the ARM.

I was hopelessly confused as to why I needed a kernel image and a system disk image until I read this. It is no goofier than the PC BIOS but is just different.

Raspberry Pi Dev Environment on OSX, round 2

OK I am still “stymied by a linker problem”:http://theludwigs.com/2012/09/trying-to-get-set-up-a-raspberry-pi-dev-environment-on-osx/ in getting a native OSX Raspberry Pi dev environment set up. Stymied might be a strong word, I haven’t looked the make file nor have I spent any time cruising the various forums to see if there is an answer to my problem.

That is because I have moved on to another approach — a vm-based approach. And I am successfully compiling now. The setup:

* Install the “Virtual Box”:https://www.virtualbox.org OSX software, and create a new Ubuntu VM.
* Download the latest “Ubuntu image”:http://www.ubuntu.com/download
* Bring up the VM, and then follow the recipe at “elinux”:http://elinux.org/RPi_Kernel_Compilation for a foreign Ubuntu machine. Note that these instructions assume you are transferring the image over to a raspberry pi and have a lot of extra steps. I am just trying to get to an image I can run in an emulator, and so once the kernel is compiled, I can flip over to the instructions at…
* …”RPIForum”:http://www.rpiforum.net/forum/tutorials/article/16-a-raspberry-pi-emulated-environment-on-osx-lion/. I could run the QEMU emulator inside Virtual Box at this point, but running an emulator inside a vm seems a little nutty. So at this point I can pull the zImage image out of the VM and run the native osx qemu emulator.

So still a little Rube-Goldbergian, but working and viable. And since most of the work is done in a VM, I can move the setup over to a Windows machine or a Linux machine or wherever.

Trying to get set up a Raspberry Pi dev environment on OSX

I’ve been trying to get a Raspberry Pi dev environment set up on OSX. I’d like to have a cross compiler, a full linux build, an emulator all operational.

There is a pretty clear outline at “RPIforum from earlier this summer”:http://www.rpiforum.net/forum/tutorials/article/16-a-raspberry-pi-emulated-environment-on-osx-lion/. I’ve had partial success:

* Install Xcode and Xcode command line tools. No problem, I had these around anyway
* Install “homebrew”:http://mxcl.github.com/homebrew/. A package manager for OSX, a good thing to have. Installing this is what finally “broke my existing flawed OSX install”:http://theludwigs.com/2012/09/beware-the-osx-migration-assistant/ and drove me to reinstall OSX. But installed super cleanly once I had a fresh OSX
* Install the dependencies for ARM toolchain: brew install mpfr gmp libmpc libelf texinfo. There is a known error with mpfr compilation, so reinstall that with flags “per homewbrew wiki”:https://github.com/mxcl/homebrew/issues/15061.
* Then install the Arm tools. BTW, you can’t just copy and past the script from the RPI forum page because of the damn smart quotes — echo “export PATH=$HOME/rpi/arm-cs-tools/bin:$PATH” » ~/.bash_profile will utterly fail
* Then compile kernel. This step is unfortunately failing late in the process, I think at the linking stage. Still digging into. I have tried an alternative recipe at “the elinux site”:elinux.org/RPi_Kernel_Compilation, it fails as well, in both cases unhappy with the vmlinux file.
* Then install the qemu emulator. the rpi forum recipe is missing a dash, should be a double dash in front of the use-gcc flag i believe. works fine with that change

So I feel close. Just need to dig into the kernel compile problem. Here are the details, I need to study the make file to figure out exactly where this occurs:

==> make ARCH=arm CROSS_COMPILE=~/rpi/arm-cs-tools/bin/arm-none-eabi- -k > compile.txt
size: file: arch/arm/boot/compressed/../../../../vmlinux is not an object file
size: file: arch/arm/boot/compressed/../../../../vmlinux is not an object file
size: file: arch/arm/boot/compressed/../../../../vmlinux is not an object file
size: file: arch/arm/boot/compressed/../../../../vmlinux is not an object file
arch/arm/boot/compressed/vmlinux.lds:77: undefined symbol `__OBJC' referenced in expression
make[2]: *** [arch/arm/boot/compressed/vmlinux] Error 1
make[1]: *** [arch/arm/boot/compressed/vmlinux] Error 2
make[1]: Target `arch/arm/boot/zImage' not remade because of errors.
make: *** [zImage] Error 2
make: Target `_all' not remade because of errors.

Tip of the day — toggle hidden files in finder

Great “recipe for setting up an automator script”:http://www.macosxtips.co.uk/index_files/quickly-show-hidden-files.php to toggle hidden file display on and off in the finder.

Also the Command-Shift-. keyboard shortcut for open/save dialogs is a huge win, I had no idea that existed.

Nice time savers.

Beware the OSX Migration Assistant

When I got my Retina Macbook Pro, I used the migration assistant to transfer over all my docs and apps. I had used it in the past and it had worked fine.

But this time, my experience was different. First, it struggled with the amount of picture and music content I tried to transfer over, something about 200G+ of data didn’t make it happy. I ultimately just copied over my iTunes and Aperture libraries manually.

But the bigger problem is that the migration utility refused to copy apps and docs from the “John” account on my old macbook pro to the “John” account on the new machine. It mumbled about the account already existing and demanded I used a new account.

And this ended up being a disaster. I’ve suffered thru a couple months of a constant chown/chmod fest and I have given up. Nothing wants to run, and sudo doesn’t even reliably solve.

So yesterday I nuked the whole SSD and put a fresh install of Mountain Lion on the machine. I downloaded Mountain Lion from the app store, used “Lion Diskmaker”:http://blog.gete.net/lion-diskmaker-us/ to put it on a usb key, rebooted in rescue mode, formatted the SSD, and reinstalled Mountain Lion. And then reinstalled the 50 or os apps, reconnected mail/cal/contacts to all my accounts, reinstalled plugins for xcode, aperture, safari, etc, copied over my Aperture and iTunes library and docs from a network store, and am pretty much back up and running.

Lesson learned. I’m not the only person in the world that has hit this, here is a “good description of the core problem”:http://pondini.org/OSX/MigrationProblems.html and the many ways you can try to solve. One wonders why anyone thought this was a reasonable way for the migration assistnat to act.

Too bad Fisker didn’t use Kickstarter

So a longish time ago I got all excited about the “Fisker Karma”:http://onward.fiskerautomotive.com/en-us/karma/overview/ and put a $1000 deposit down.

Then the car was super late. And the interior was very tight. And the performance wasn’t that outstanding. And I loved my Audi. And I couldn’t justify the expense.

To my surprise they called me last month and offered me my deposit back, I figured that money was long gone.

Is healthcare the greatest limiter on startups?

@shanselman has been sharing a lot of tweets today on the topic of healthcare and startups. For example:

* https://twitter.com/lobrien/status/247408555651645440
* https://twitter.com/doozerblake/status/247407834130690048
* https://twitter.com/shanselman/status/247403381012975616
* https://twitter.com/timsonofsteve/status/247413105750077440

The shared assertion is — the lack of easily available health insurance is preventing a lot of people from joining or creating startups. Nothing scientific about this data, it is all anecdotal, but I certainly empathize with the view. Health insurance has certainly been a factor in my personal career decisions over the last decade. I know a half dozen people who have wrestled with the issue as they have considered startup opportunities. My sense is that people are willing to take a lot of salary and equity risk, but they can’t put their family’s healthcare at risk, particularly if they are starting young families.

The current US system is certainly biased towards employment with large established employers. I wonder if the upcoming legislated changes will help to create more movement to small businesses and startups. I wonder if we couldn’t do even more to a) make movement to startups easy, and b) provide coverage in the event of startup failure, so that personal risk is minimized.

There is a lot of wailing and teeth gnashing about our patent system and how that is an impediment to entrepreneurs, but I can’t help but wonder if access to healthcare and health insurance is an even greater impediment.

Update: Marcello wrote a “very reasoned piece”:http://www.geekwire.com/2012/healthcare-reform-todays-ruling-great-news-startups/ on this topic in June, worth a look.

Recent Books — Master and his Emissary, Where’d You Go Bernadette, and others

* “The Snow Whale”:amazon by John Minichillo. Don’t know why I picked this up, exactly the kind of satirical farce I hate. Gave up on, blah.
* “The Master and his Emissary”:amazon by Iain McGilchrist. Get your pith helmet and machete, this is a deep jungle to fight your way thru. Deep exploration of brain function, psychology, philosophy, history, art, culture. The sections on philosophy just about killed me (which given the thesis I find very intriguing and perhaps even a bit concerning.). Fascinating but set aside a long time to read and ponder. I don’t buy the arguments completely but an interesting and well-detailed articulation of a theory of human culture and how it relates to brain function. One area where the argument rings hollow to me is the discussion of modern music. The author attempts to support his core argument with evidence of the emotionless nature of modern classical music, but gives only one sentence to jazz and completely ignores the music that people actually listen to, pop and rock. I don’t think removing this one support point damages his argument, but it does make me wonder about the overall quality of the argument. But still, a very well thought out discussion and worth reading and thinking about.
* “The Prophet”:amazon by Michael Koryta. Needed some light fare to recover from the previous slog. A solid mystery set in smalltown northern Ohio with some character complexity. Fun but not remarkable.
* “Where’d you go, Bernadette”:amazon by Maria Semple. OK at first this seemed like light farce and I kind of hated it. I stuck with it just for the Seattle setting but thought “Wow, if you are not in the Seattle/Microsoft network, you will get nothing out of this.” And then the book took a left turn when Bernadette opened up and revealed herself, and became a terrific tale of self discovery, of a mother and a daughter, of love, loss, and reunion. Really enjoyed it, it has been optioned for a movie, hope they pull this one together.

Fun with propane

We have a new firepit at our house fed by a propane tank. It is a very simple design — tank, firepit, burner. Light it and go. It has been many years since we have dealt with propane, and I have forgotten most of hard-won knowledge. I am reminded of my all-time favorite camping joke:

A novice skydiver was taking his first jump. The instructor was reminding him in the plane “When it is time to deploy your chute, pull the ring on the left. If for any reason that doesn’t work, don’t worry, count to ten and pull the ring on the right. And if for some unlikely reason that doesn’t work, reach behind you and pull this tab, the chute is guaranteed to come out.”.

So the novice leapt out of the plane, counted to ten, and pulled the ring on the left. Nothing. No need to panic, the skydiver thought, I know what to do, I’ll pull the right ring in ten.

He counted to ten, and then pulled the right ring. Again nothing. Again he thought, no need to panic, I’ll pull the rear tab. And he did, and again nothing.

So there he was, plummeting to the earth, wondering what to do. And he noticed, down and to his left, a man skyrocketing upward from the earth. Well, the skydiver thought, he must know what he is doing. And so he yelled over to the man, “Hey, do you know anything about parachutes?”

And the man yelled back “No, do you know anything about propane stoves?”

In case you haven’t used propane, unlike a lot of gases, it is heavier than air, and it likes to invisibly pool in every nook and cranny, and then ignite all at once. Which is exciting in a “you didn’t really want those eyebrows” kind of way.

A modest bit of research on the web reveals that our simple firepit probably needs a bit more complexity in its “burner design”:http://www.moderustic.com/Propane-Burners.html if we would like to have less exciting evening fires. In my defense, I didn’t design this firepit, but I probably should have asked a few more questions about it as it was being built.

Stuff I’ve been dorking around with — Halloween, SBCs, IPFire, Cliplet, TFA

* Halloween is soon, and “MonsterGuts”:http://monsterguts.com/index.php always has great props and prop controllers if you just want to buy something and get it working right away. Their thunder and lighting controllers are great, I’ve used for years. I don’t know if I am doing any Halloween display this year but I do love all the stuff up here. But sometimes you just want to build your own effects from the ground up, so…
* “Raspberry Pi”:http://www.raspberrypi.org/. A $25 linx SBC, very cool. But you can’t get one of the damn things, they are as rare as hen’s teeth. So I’ve been reading, but not actually playing with one. So in the meantime
* “Arduino”:http://www.arduino.cc/. You can get these by the bushel, and there are a ton of accessories — sensors, actuators, add on boards, you name it. “Adafruit”:http://adafruit.com/ and “Sparkfun”:http://www.sparkfun.com/ both have all kinds of addons and kits. I could spend thousands here. The LED and EL lighting products are kind of amazing.
* Atom motherboards. You can’t find a Raspberry Pi and the Arduino is too underpowered? Well there are a ton of Atom motherboards with great prices, case or caseless, etc. I’m building a couple different appliances.
* Starting to play with “KVM”:http://www.linux-kvm.org/page/Main_Page a little too, some of the Atom motherboards support. No strong reason, just to learn.
* “IPFire”:http://www.ipfire.org/. One of my boxes is running IPFire so I can monitor and control net traffic at a finegrained level. “pfsense”:http://www.pfsense.org/ is another way to go but I found it be much more finicky to install (probably due to BSD roots).
* “Cinemagraphs using the MSFT Cliplet tool”:http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/projects/cliplets/. These are kind of fun. Opens your eyes to the future of photo taking and photo postprocessing. Increasingly I think our cameras will just capture a continuous high res data stream and then smart software will extract the interesting views.
* I’ve gone 2 factor authentication nuts, turning it on everywhere I can. It does make stuff a little more painful to use but probably worth it. Facebook does seem a little confused, I can’t get it to remember machines I’ve used, and so it keeps asking me to name new machines so it can remember them. I have 37 login machines on facebook now, 🙁