Category Archives: Commentary

Italy’s Army Wants to Grow More Powerful Pot for it Citizens

Italy can’t keep up with its citizen’s demand for marijuana. Perhaps getting high is the one way Italians can cope with all the immigrants? Actually, it’s for “medical marijuana”. And the army has a monopoly on growing it. Also, the EU won’t let citizens grow their own pot. Maybe they’re afraid the Italians will take long afternoon naps? ?

Interestingly, Italy started buying pot from Holland for its citizens, and then everyone realized how much better Dutch pot was than Italy’s army pot. So now they Italian army is upping their game and growing a new strain that promises to be “3 times as powerful”.

There’s talk they may start buying from Canada. Now that would be an improvement. But, nothing as good as Washington State pot. Let me know when you want to talk, Mr. Italy uniform big-boys. We’ll make you an offer… ?

Source: PBS News Hour Report: Italy’s only medical marijuana producer can’t keep up with demand

The Seattle Corporate Head Tax – Social Justice and Reality Combine

Seattle City Hall
Seattle City Hall – Basetti Architects

Seattle has a growing homeless population. In the greater King County area, around 70% of the homeless live in Seattle. The county saw a 4% increase in 2017 to 12,112 homeless out of about 2,200,000 people, which represents about 0.55% of the population being homeless.

This is consistent with national averages, not abnormally high. Many news reports have suggested there has been a recent spike in homelessness greater than ever before, such as The Guardian article America’s homeless population rises for the first time since the Great Recession. This is not true – the homeless rate last spiked in the 1980’s after large cuts to federal social programs, and homelessness has been trending slowly downward since. But not in all places, like Seattle, where homelessness has trended upward.

There are several possible reasons why homelessness is increasing in Seattle. The reason gaining most traction recently is a result of both property prices and rent prices rapidly rising, which in turn is a result of Seattle’s highly successful businesses that draw in affluent workers from around the world.

It is true that property values are increasing remarkably. And landlords, as a natural course of market forces, raise rents accordingly by what the housing market will support. This can displace tenants. And if these tenants do not find higher paying jobs, they are displaced from their current residence. And if they then do not leave King County for less expensive places, they are then counted among the homeless.

Seattle has increased its spending on the homelessness issue at a much greater rate than the increase in the homeless population, spending large sums from housing tax levy funds as well as the general fund, to create a sprawling set of decentralized social programs and services for the homeless, including 5,312 housing units, at a cost of over $120 million, plus ongoing expenses.

In addition to this, the shelter program budget alone in 2017 was $13.8 million and is increasing to $16.8 million in 2018.

Seattle has adopted the approach of “housing first” – making permanent housing available at a low qualification barrier, without preconditions or time limits on how long an individual can stay. This is, of course, a sought-after commodity.

Talk of placing rent control on landlords to keep rents artificially lower than the market would support might help some tenants, but it does nothing to stop the property values from increasing, which causes property taxes to increase, which the landlords must pay. So far this approach has not been given much serious consideration.

The most recent approach was championed by Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant under the banner of social justice. She pressed very hard for a “head tax” to be levied upon any business making more than $10 million annually of around $500 per employee. Her justification, and the justification of those who rallied behind her, was that these companies who were succeeding where the very reason Seattle has a homeless problem – they make the value of the property go up, which increases rent, which people can’t pay, and so they are thrown out into the street.

The so-called “social justice warriors” were very vocal in their support of this head tax, while the loudest adversaries of the head tax were surprisingly the construction workers who were worried they would be out of a job if the head tax were passed, because they believed companies would no longer want to be in Seattle with that much larger tax burden.

This head tax became known as the “Amazon Tax”, and gave both sides on the issue a focal point to argue their case – for the construction workers, Amazon is always building, giving us jobs, and we want that to continue, so drop this head tax talk. And for Sawant, Amazon has done well, and are therefore morally obligated to pay for the homelessness they have created.

Sawant ended up getting enough support on the Seattle City Council through crowds and megaphones to pass the measure creating a head tax, and the mayor of Seattle, Jenny Durkan, after Amazon said they would stop all new construction if the head tax passed at $500/head, managed to get the tax reduced to $275/head instead, mollifying both sides.

Oddly, one of loudest companies against the head tax was Dick’s Burgers, a locally-famous burger joint known for paying their worker exceptionally well and offering excellent benefits.

Seattle may seem to many from the outside to be a bastion of unthinking and rabid liberalism. And there is a lot, admittedly. But the people of Seattle are also pretty smart, and most do not subscribe blindly to any ideology, and are almost always open to reason.

It became clear to some that Sawant’s reasoning was faulty – there is no directly causal link between the success of Seattle’s companies and homelessness. They were not the cause. But they were a factor in Seattle’s success, and subsequent increase in value that has displaced so many. And the link between this displacement and going directly to the street is also not established.

Seattle also came under greater scrutiny for their current spending on the homeless issue, and whether or not their approach was the best. One such example is, why sell off an expensive piece of city property in a central location to a developer when you can use it to create the housing you want to buy?

This scrutiny and the fact that a citizen’s ballot was started to gain signatures to place a people’s referendum up for vote, to revoke the city council’s actions, and the fact that this citizen’s referendum was gaining signatures ridiculously fast, and that citizen polls showed that almost nobody wanted this new head tax, was enough to convince the Seattle City council to rescind the head tax just today.

Sawant and her followers are trying to frame this as corporate greed with their “unlimited funds” being victorious again over social justice. But the fact, instead of this propaganda, is that the people of Seattle decided they did not want this tax.

And the city council listened. Many speculate that the council listened because later this year they want a tax that will give free college tuition to residents. So they question is, offer free housing to a growing number of people, indefinitely, without any other plan, or give people free college tuition? I think I agree.

References:

 

Now, Airbus A380’s Only Wanted for Spare Parts

Singapore Airlines Airbus A380
Image by https://www.flickr.com/photos/aero_icarus/

Gosh, Airbus A380’s aren’t even wanted on secondhand markets or even for lease. They’re starting to scrap them for spare parts. After so many illegal EU subsidies!

I’ve tried several times to find out the real costs of A380 development, and you just can’t. What’s even harder is finding out who paid for it.

“In 2000, the originally projected development cost was €9.5 billion. In 2004 Airbus estimated 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) would be added for a €10.3 Bn ($12.7 Bn) total. In 2006 at €10.2 Billion, Airbus stopped publishing its reported cost and then provisioned €4.9 Bn after the difficulties in electric cabling and two years delay for an estimated total of €18 Bn”.

Hehe. Airbus stopped publishing the cost ?

“In 2014, the aircraft was estimated to have cost $25bn (£16bn – €18.9bn) to develop. In 2015, Airbus said development costs were €15bn (£11.4bn – $16.95 Bn), though analysts believe the figure is likely to be at least €5bn ($5.65 Bn) more for a €20 Bn ($22.6 Bn) total. In 2016, The A380 development costs were estimated at $25 billion for 15 years, $25–30 billion, or 25 billion euros ($28 billion).”

The quotes there were taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_A380

That’s just development costs. Production costs are completely different, and they are hoping to maybe break even. An absolute disaster though.

If you look at the company’s financials… well, there’s just no room for a blunder like this. And what’s VERY interesting is looking at how much tax deferment they get — Boeing is practically $0 in comparison.

This just makes me incredibly proud of Boeing for having such foresight, breaking into new frontiers with the Dreamliner while Airbus was so sure of themselves on things that would never be. But even more than that, I’m proud of Boeing for realizing that, even though it’s our only major commercial airplane company, they still must take full responsibility for their decisions and actions. Unlike some banks and car manufacturers (not Ford though). And Airbus.

Source article: How the Airbus A380 superjumbo went from an airline status symbol to being sold for spare parts in just 10 years

Impressions of My New Motorola Moto X (not really a review)

Sadly late last week my much loved Nexus 4 phone died. After much testing, it turned out to be a failure of the flash memory on which the system lives, and so the device is fairly well dead.

I’m pretty well determined to keep as close to the stock Android experience as possible. LG is pretty good at that, and they manufactured the Nexus 4, and it was a great price. However, it concerns me when an manufacturer sells me a product that dies less than six months past its warranty. So I am skeptical of LG right now.

That left me considering the Google devices and the Motorola devices. The Nexus 5 looks wonderful, and the price is excellent. I’ve heard many good things about it. And looking through the Motorola lineup, the Moto X stood out as the best option, even above their new “budget” models.

Between the Nexus 5 and the Moto X I was hard-pressed to decide. The Nexus 5 certainly had much better system specifications on paper, but the Moto X was incredibly well-engineered, and creatively so as well.

In the end, the creativity and engineering of the Moto X won out for me, even above the base system specifications. This decision was the more premium, price-wise as well, though not by a wide margin, considering a free bumper case was being included and Google charged a ridiculous price for shipping last time.

When all was said and done, I ended up with a new phone from Motorola, the Moto X, 32 GB of flash memory, a bumper case, an NFC clip that acts as an unlock, and a real walnut wood case, for $475, including tax.

Most satisfactory, except for the fact that I have to buy it at all, because my Google/LG Nexus 4 failed, and I was forced to. I think the main reason I chose the Moto X was because Motorola is the manufacturer, and every Motorola device I have ever owned has worked flawlessly, never dying, and survived everything I dished out to it. In my mind, Motorola has a reputation of reliability and durability, as well as engineering — and they are a company that takes pride in making a solid product as well. But I have to admit, having a real wood case was also a nice selling point.

Anyway, I ordered it, custom made, with walnut, gold metallic highlighting, orange bumpers, my name engraved on it (I never resell), and all sorts of little custom details about the software innards. It arrived before a week was out, and they were excellent about keeping me informed of the billing, build and shipping progress along the way. A completely satisfactory experience.

The Experience

This Moto X, first of all, is much more fluid than my Nexus 4. And the screen, even though it is less resolution, looks better. And best of all, this is the first of the smartphones I’ve owned that actually felt very natural and comfortable to hold in the hand.

Of course, being a Google Android device, it synced itself up all quick and nicely with my contacts once I connected my Google account. And the phone was great at pointing out things you should consider activating or doing as your started to break the phone in, customizing it even further toward your tastes.

I really was surprised at how fast and smooth this phone was. I was imagining that, despite what others had said, I would run into the occasional performance stutter, especially when all the apps were installing themselves as I was trying to do other things. But it didn’t. I don’t know what these Motorola engineers did, but they did something very, very right.

For a while now, I’ve slowly been getting myself used to dictating messages to my Android devices rather than typing them out. Always there is the occasional annoying glitch in its interpretation than you must awkwardly return to manually fix. Happily, one of the first things I noticed was that this Moto X was noticeably superior at voice recognition than my Nexus 4 was, and my Nexus 4 was damn good!

I think I remember reading somewhere that Motorola engineers added a small CPU whose sole purpose was to perform voice recognition. I suppose I should verify this before even mentioning it, but I’ll leave that for you to do, if you doubt my memory as much as I do. If they did, it certainly shows.

I remember thinking, when I first heard of it, how unsettling it would be to have a device that was going to be listening to you at all times. Particularly in an age when so many “true Americans” with “American values” have such a fetish for voyeurism and disdain for any privacy. But my Moto X is sitting right next to me, on the right. I know it hears my clicking keyboards, and maybe a fart. And of course, all the lies I tell myself when nobody is around. But it’s not looming there, like I imagined it might, with its own disturbing gravity of ears. Though perhaps it should. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I love being able to yell out to it from across the room and have it answer or do something for me. Before, I thought, what a silly feature really. I can just hit the microphone button on the search bar and get the same thing. But there is something very different about it just being there, knowing you can just tell it something, at any time, or ask it something, as if it were actually something… in the room with you.

I think it’s impossible to describe. Just like how it feels in the hand. And just like how things move within the screens. And how it knows when you’re in the car driving, and will read out messages to you if you like, instead. These guys as Motorola thought of a lot of things, and they really did an amazing job bringing those things together into an actual working device.

I suppose it all boils down to, I like this phone. I like the Moto X so much that I’m even a little happy that my LG Nexus 4 died, just so that we could be together now. And I don’t have even the slightest hint of regret that I might be missing something, having chose the Moto X over the Nexus 5. In fact, I’m happy that I did.

Oh, I should also mention the camera. I like taking pictures. From what I was reading earlier, neither then Nexus 5 or the Moto X supposedly have the greatest camera. But I do like this camera better than the one I had on my Nexus 4. It takes beautiful pictures, to me. And the camera app is very fast. In another very clever design decision, Motorola engineers thought to make the camera start when you flick your wrist. I thought, how silly, really. But the thing is, it’s very useful! And it happens fast!

The thing I don’t like about the camera is that it seems very easy to blur the pictures. I think it must not have any image stabilization, or maybe I just haven’t found it to enable yet. So you have to be aware of your hand and body motion as you snap. This is a little bothersome, being so sensitive. Then again, for years with cameras, I had to worry about the same thing – always using the trick of holding your breath when you shoot to keep the lens from any distorting motions.

I would still say that is a minus of the camera. And really, that’s the only minus I’ve found – amongst so many pluses! The most peculiar and delightful thing about this phone is the pluses you never even thought would be there. The biggest being; the Moto X is just so damn comfortable to be around!

This device really is a truly wonderful dollop of engineering and design baked into a sweet package. It is understated, elegant, and intelligent, at all levels, and at any angle. I honestly don’t think I could be happier with a phone. I could just eat it!

My new Moto X with a walnut back! Picture was taken with my no-good Nexus 7 front-facing camera though, with lots of unsightly reflection from the plant's artificial sun.
My new Moto X with a walnut back! Picture was taken with my no-good Nexus 7 front-facing camera though, with lots of unsightly reflection from the plant’s artificial sun.

Overclock Experience on AMD FX-8350 CPU on ASRock 990FX Extreme9 Mobo Using 2400 Speed Memory

A few months ago I decided to sacrifice my AMD FX-8150 – re-purposing it as a decent 8-core virtual server instead. In its place I purchased one of the new AMD 7850K Kaveri APU’s. My former FX-8150 workstation had an Nvidia 670 graphics card and the system consumed a lot of power, even when barely being used for anything. The thought of a 95w Kaveri sounded great.

And it was – with the new Kaveri 7850K chip as my CPU/GPU (APU) and the Nvidia card removed, the system rarely consumed more than 65w (including an LCD 24″ monitor)! When I played the occasional game on it, or the odd video encode, the power would spike up to 150w easily enough, since I had it overclocked a bit. I love this little system and still keep it. But I found that there are times when I really need the raw horsepower I gave up with the FX-8150.

So I decided to purchase the newer AMD FX-8350 instead. Of course, this chip isn’t all that new, really. But after looking at various “not-just-mainstream-talking-head” benchmarks, and see it compared reasonably well with the much more expensive Intel offerings, even their latest and greatest, I decided to go with it. My old FX-8150 was so solid. I was hoping the FX-8350 would be the same, and give me a little more performance as well.

The Kaveri APU’s benefit greatly from very fast memory. The talking heads out there claim that the FX-series processors don’t benefit that much from faster memory, and many claim that the AMD memory controller can’t even handle faster memory speeds well, past 1866 MHz. I decided to purchase faster memory nevertheless, thinking I could always use it in the APU system, since I wasn’t that thrilled with the more bargain Team Group memory I purchased for it. So I bought the AMD Radeon Gamer series memory, 2 sticks of 8 gigabytes rated for 2400 MHz speed at a CAS latency of 11. Expensive, but I didn’t want to mess around this time, wondering.

I also bought the obligatory aftermarket CPU cooler: a Hyper 212 Evo. It’s a beast of a hunk of metal, but I kinda like that. And no matter what, I’m not putting water inside my computer. I’ll just keep the clock speeds down (and power consumption).

For the motherboard, I decided upon the ASRock 990FX Extreme9. I was going to go with the ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z, but it was always out of stock at Newegg, and I’ve recently become more skeptical of ASUS’s quality. I only ever used ASRock boards one other time, for a router I was building, and the thing was a good price, and very solid. So why not? The Extreme9 even had the Intel NIC on it, and a 12x power phase, which is unheard of. So anyway, that’s the board I chose, and it was only $169 – while the FX-8350 I got for $179. 🙂 The 16G of 2400 memory was the most expensive of all at $199!

Anyway, to the point. That’s what I have, and why I got it. In this machine is also a Bluray SATA drive, 2 3T SATA hard drives, and 2 120G SSD’s. All of that, and one ASUS LCD monitor are plugged into a UPS to draw power. So I can see my power utilization. Not uber scientific accuracy of course, but close enough just to have a look-see. Oh and the big power draw (supposedly), I splurged on a new graphics card as well, an R9 290 OC – just to keep it in the family.

I shelled out the $100 to Microsoft as well to get a Windows 8.1 Pro OEM license. That always makes me happy.

This AMD FX-8350 machine does run very solid. Like a tank. Just like me FX-8150, I never can seem to bog it down in its responsiveness, no matter what I’m doing, including virtualization.

I don’t overclock that often, and don’t know a ton about it. However, I was surprised that I could easily get the AMD FX-8350 CPU up to 4.4 GHz and the memory up to the full 2400 MHz speed, all while just using the air cooling of the Hyper 212 Evo! It honestly shocked me.

Of course, that’s no big deal unless you are running the CPU at full throttle for a long period of time. And what better way to do that, than to encode HD video using Handbrake – which maxxes out every single core for hours on end. It was my test, both of thermals and voltages, as I fine-tuned things.

People get confused about CPU temperatures. There are 2 different kinds. There is the CPU temperature at the socket, and there is the CPU temperature of the CPU cores themselves, within the chip. Both temperatures have different manufacturer suggestions/limits.

Using the ASRock motherboard’s automatic overclocking setting to reach 4.4 GHz on the CPU and 2400 MHz memory speeds, with handbrake running continuously my CPU core temperature maxxed out at 80c, and the thermal thresholds of the CPU cores reached AMD’s predefined limits, and the voltage automatically dropped at brief intervals to keep the temperatures below the supposed damage threshold.

So I thought, well, I should be able to lower the CPU voltage some, and the Northbridge voltage as well, and still be stable — and this should lower both my temperatures and power consumption. My thinking was, the motherboard manufacturer would want to pick voltages that were on the more greedy side to make sure the overclocks were more likely to work.

This proved to be a good move. I managed to lower the voltage on both the CPU and northbridge without sacrificing any performance, bringing the thermals down well below thresholds, and decreasing the power consumption by about 30 watts.

I’ll show you some screenshots I took while I was in the middle of running those Handbrake video encodes that kept the FX-8350 CPU cores pegged at full. The power draw you’ll see is reported from the UPS the system is plugged into. So here is a list of devices that are currently drawing power on that device:

  1. AMD FX-8350 CPU
  2. 2x8G AMD Radeon Gamer series memory @ 2400
  3. 6 120MM case fans
  4. Seasonic Gold something power supply 😉
  5. AMD R9 290 OC (MSI)
  6. Yeti microphone
  7. ASUS Bluray SATA drive (not actively spinning)
  8. 2 3T Seagate Barracuda hard drives
  9. 2 120G SSD drives (Samsung and OCZ V4)
  10. ASUS VN247 LCD monitor

All of that, with the CPU pegged out and overclocked to 4.4GHz, the system was drawing 307 watts! Of course, if the graphics card were going like crazy, it would be significantly more. But that just amazes me how little that graphics card will draw, too, when it’s not being used except for dual-monitor 1080p (one monitor is plugged into that UPS while the other isn’t).

When the system is idle but awake, just doing its normal system-y things in the background, all those things draw 121 watts with the CPU at 4.4 GHz still. Absolutely nuts! That’s some amazingly good power-awareness work, in both the CPU and video card.

As you can see from those screenshots, there is the idle power draw and the fully loaded CPU power draw running maxed-out FX-8350 on all 8 cores. Also, the AMD Overdrive screenshot shows those cores all maxed out, along with the “thermal margin”. This “thermal margin” value is often confusing to people it seems. It represents the number of degrees you have left to heat up before you reach AMD’s predefined maximum safe temperature per core. By lowering voltages I was able to give myself a comfortable thermal margin while still maintaining a completely stable 4.4 GHz overclock that ran and ran and ran.

The “ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility” screenshot shows ASRock’s included software overclock utility that came with this 990FX Extreme9 motherboard. It’s not the greatest utility – but it’s ok for tweaking some things. The BIOS is the place to do it, and the boot-to-UEFI feature is great. I am incredibly pleased with this motherboard. The ASUS stuff has seemed so buggy lately. I am convince that there is no way I could have gotten such a stable overclock with such low voltages were it not for this fine board (and perhaps the silicon dye god’s favor).

The last screenshot above is the CPUZ utility showing the memory speed and timings, in case someone doesn’t believe that an FX-8350 can run with 2400 speed memory. There it is! It’s using those AMD memory modules, though.  And if you look at the northbridge speeds in the ASRock utility screenshot, you’ll see that the bandwidth is there. I could probably even press it further. Haven’t tried yet, though. It most certainly increased my AIDA64 scores below. The AMD chips, even the FX ones, actually do seem to benefit from fast memory.

All in all, I’m extremely happy and surprised by this system. I’m also impressed with the memory bandwidth AMD has provided even on the FX series processors. I had an evaluation copy of the AIDA64 test suite, and included the benchmark results below.

What astonishes me is that there are cases where this FX-8350 CPU greatly outperforms even the i7-4770k from Intel. Of course, there are cases where the Intel i7-4770k CPUs outperform the AMD FX-8350 as well. The price difference between the two is huge, though, especially when you take into account motherboards with comparable features.

I used to run i7’s several years ago, but switched to the FX processors after experiencing how much better the AMD chips handled virtualization. I have no benchmarks, but using the systems I could certainly feel the difference. And virtualization is a lot of what I do. Playing games, I can never tell the difference. But if I’m playing a game on a system that’s running some load in a virtualized environment at the same time, the AMD system runs smooth, while the i7 system acts choppy. That’s why I switched.

But all silly Intel vs. AMD stuff aside, if I look at just this chip, and even the small overclocking up to 4.4 GHz, I can certainly notice a huge performance gain while transcoding video with Handbrake. I have also noticed that running the memory at 2400 MHz most definitely improves the responsiveness of the system, such that I can’t even tell when I’m running with all the cores maxxed out.

Honestly, I was a little hesitant about going with the FX-8350 chips, since they are older than the newest releases from Intel. But right now, I have absolutely no regrets. They are still amazingly great performing workhorses and absolutely rock solid. Especially if you invest in the quality components.

AIDA64 Extreme benchmark test results:

Anyway, I hope you have found something useful in all this. It’s hard finding any more detailed information out there related to specific use cases and experiences.

I’m so pleased with this purchase and have absolutely no regrets about spending the money for the quality components. And no regrets about not spending twice even that much for an Intel-based system.

Besides the incredible solidity of this system, the thing I’m most impressed with is how well it utilizes power. Although the FX-8350 chip isn’t the most power-efficient chip, it’s not bad for an 8-core! And it seems like AMD has gone to some great lengths to only draw power when you really need it, whether it’s a CPU or a GPU. I swear that R9 290 isn’t drawing any power it seems. You do see it when you’re gaming though.

Oh, and I should mention, I overclocked this while leaving Cool and Quiety enabled in the UEFI, and also C6 state on the CPU, which gives it the ability to save lots of power. This has not impacted the stability of the overclock at all. Then again, I’m hardly pushing this chip to anything close to what it’s capable of, either.

Anyway, just thought I’d share my happiness and enthusiasm in case you might be questioning similarly.

BTW – the hardware support for AES encryption on this chip is phenomenal. Encrypted disks and folders? No worries. 😉