The Trump campaign and his braintrust have been very clear and open about their planning for a second presidency, mostly under the umbrella of Project 2025. There’s been a lot of good journalism about it. Some examples:

None of these articles are speculation or alarmist inflation. They are direct reporting of what they themselves are saying they plan to do. Not only does the Trump camp feel free to be so open in their extremism, they see it as an election asset.

  2023-11-11 22:19 Z

I am no longer talking to politicians. I have been aggressively filtering my email, a constant battle. Now I will no longer accept their calls. Unfortunately my home phone number is ruined. Between scams and politicians I never answer my phone unless I recognize the caller ID.

I’m an active political donor, particularly for US Congress. But once you get seen as a mark who is willing to give $$$$ to a candidate, you get a lot of personal communications. Congresspeople call me several times a month. The email is overwhelming. I do not want to talk to people who pretend to be my friend for two minutes and then ask me for $3300.

The worst are the few politicians who’ve succeeded in making a connection with me. They’re personal on the phone, they took good notes, it feels like we have a conversation. But of course it’s all in service to their fundraising campaigns. They’re just good at pretending a polite social connection.

I’ve protected myself from spam by withholding my email address and phone number. But I started too late, that data is already out and widely shared. Candidates buy this information and abuse me. It’s mild corruption but worse it’s obnoxious. I am done with it.

I might still donate based on my own research. Toying with the idea of not donating to anyone who spams me too much.

Bonus: NGP VAN, the company that enables a lot of Democratic Party spam, is collapsing. Ever since Apax Partners bought them they’ve been laying off people and their meagre services are deteriorating. This is terrible for the Democrats, they don’t have a good alternative. It may make the spam problem worse too.

  2023-11-01 15:40 Z

I just finished an extraordinary late-70s TV show, The Sandbaggers. It’s British spy TV. While the show name-checks James Bond frequently the soul of it is more of a Le Carré thing. Intelligence as a series of dismal political battles between underpaid civil servants at the home office. Occasional forays into the field where everything is squalid or ambiguous and nothing grand is ever achieved.

The show hangs on Roy Marsden’s performance as Burnside, the Director of Operations at a British intelligence agency. The titular Sandbaggers are field agents, vaguely like the Bond 00 agents, but there’s never any swashbuckling action or romance. Occasional gritty affairs and some grim minor violence, all done on a low budget and with precious few location shots. If you ever enjoyed Blake's 7 or early Doctor Who the low production values will be familiar. So will the excellent quality of the writing and characters, there’s a lot of complexity and subtlety and more than a few surprises.

Mostly the show has aged well. It’s firmly set in late Cold War, there’s no hint of the extraordinary transition that happens in the 80s as the Soviet Union fell apart. Unfortunately the show is unimaginatively sexist with a lot of “men hitting on women in the workplace” nonsense. There’s one good female character in part of the show and Burnside’s secretaries are both good actresses with some sharp writing. But it feels dated even for its time.

I appreciated watching something at a slower and more thoughtful pace. I think the show is ripe for a reboot. Keep it set in the Cold War with roughly the same stories. But update the show: write better women and modernize the production. Then branch out and tell some new stories in Asia or South America or Africa.

You can watch a licensed copy in the US on britbox.

  2023-10-25 14:07 Z

We recently took the Transcantábrico, a week long luxury train trip across Northern Spain. It was great! Like a cruise but on a train. We did something similar in India in 2015 and it’s an interesting way to travel. Some photos here.

The Transcantábrico goes across a part of Spain a little off the usual tourist track. From Santiago de Compostela through the mountains south of the coast to Donostia / San Sebastián. Along the way we saw towns I never would have gone to on my own: Gijón, Potes, and Santillana del Mar were particularly memorable. Also some beautiful nature including Cathedral beach in Gallegos and Hermida Gorge in the Picos de Europa. The excursions from the train were well organized with a very nice bus and guides.

The hospitality on the train was terrific. Our “cruise director” Cristina was particularly amazing, friendly and knowledgeable. All the staff were great and very accommodating. Maybe 12 people helping 25 guests. Meals on the train were excellent and comfortable. Most days breakfast and dinner were on the train, lunch was out. The restaurants were all high quality but variable and honestly just too much food. The highlight was El Corral del Indianu.

Living on a train has its limitations. The private shower was very nice with lots of hot water but you’re still washing in a telephone booth. The queen size bed was comfortable but in a very tight space, we wished we’d booked two single beds. And getting around the train was difficult (you have to move sideways in the corridor), particularly when the train was moving. After a week I was ready to be back in a normal hotel. OTOH it was beautifully furnished and it was great being unpacked and taken care of so well.

I’d definitely do another luxury train. But maybe fewer days. The key thing is the itinerary, the places to go. That was amazing in India, a week long trip from Delhi to Mumbai. Spain was beautiful and I appreciated going slowly through a place off the beaten track with knowledgeable local guidance. Rewarding trip!

PS: if you want to see more, Mighty Trains S04E02 is about the Transcantábrico.

  2023-10-22 17:16 Z

Do you have an overhead rain shower? Does it drip cold water on you when you’re not using it? It may be water trapped in the pipes. A plunger will temporarily fix it.

We have a fancy shower with an overhead rain shower and a ordinary wall sprayer both controlled by the same thermostatic valve. There’s a diverter to control which head gets the water. Every time we used the sprayer the overhead would drip a tiny bit of cold water on us. Annoying!

We assumed it was a leaky diverter valve, had it replaced. Didn’t help. There’s a zillion websites wanting to sell you plumbing parts that suggest a valve is the problem. But this discussion explained the real culprit.

There’s water trapped in the pipe leading to the overhead shower. Weirdly there’s some water above the tiny holes in the showerhead, held there by air pressure. Running a hot shower in the same area changes the air pressure / flow enough that a little cold water manages to leak out.

You can test this theory by running your finger over the holes in the overhead showerhead; for me that was enough to express 10mL of water or so. To really get the water out I took a plunger to the shower head. No tight seal needed, just want to force air in and water out. I think I got 200+mL out that way.

It’s a temporary fix, next time I use the overhead the pipe will fill again. I wonder if someone sells a showerhead with some sort of permanent fix? A release valve would work but be fiddly.

  2023-09-22 16:20 Z

Obsidian is good software for taking and organizing notes. There are many apps for this task, Obsidian is my current favorite. In the past I’ve used a text file, SimpleNote, Standard Notes, Joplin. I never used emacs org-mode nor Evernote. Obsidian works reliably and is simple yet powerful.

The core Obsidian data model is “a folder of markdown files”. That’s it, really basic, and the files are easily usable as ordinary files. There’s natural support for links between notes. There’s also a metadata option I don’t use. I appreciate it’s easy to move files in and out of Obsidian.

But where Obsidian really shines is the plugin ecosystem. I don’t actually use many plugins, just HTML export and system tray. But I appreciate the power. If you check the reddit you’ll find an enthusiast community that does a lot more complicated stuff, turning their Obsidian archives into 1000+ article infobases. Me, I just write grocery lists and blog posts.

Obsidian is not open source. They’re thoughtful about why not. (Logseq is a popular open source alternative). The core product is free and works great. I am paying $96 per year for syncing. It’s pricy but it works well and I want to support the company. You can do your own free sync but none work as easily.

I want to give a shout-out here to Simplenote, an excellent and venerable free product. And after a brief lull development started again in 2020. Kudos to Matt and Automattic for supporting that tool. I like Obsidian’s fanciness but Simplenote is pretty great.

  2023-09-12 17:28 Z

Recently I switched to a new calorie counting app, Cronometer. I’m quite happy with it. It’s a huge improvement over MyFitnessPal (MFP) or Lose It and is not exploitative like Noom.

The key improvement with Cronometer is accuracy, particularly good data sources for nutrition information. MFP offered obviously wrong entries from random people, sapping my confidence. Also it’s quicker to log things from a trusted database.

And the app works well. Cronometer’s UI is modern and easy to use. It doesn’t display extra distractions. MFP’s insistence on scolding me about things I don’t care about was a bummer. The data sync is fast. And they have a good data export, something MFP won’t do.

I have some minor complaints. Cronometer is very excited to track macros and every single obscure nutrient (threonine, selenium?!). I really only want to track calories. Fortunately the other things don’t take up too much space. They also display ridiculous calorie precision in the diary. But that feels like a rare UI mistake, not a general design ethos.

The free version is pretty complete. The $55/year paid plan adds a bunch of stuff, the one I care about is dividing your diary up into individual meals.

I have a long history with food diaries, more off than on. Having a good app that I trust and is easy to use is important.

  2023-09-10 16:53 Z

I got a fancy bidet toilet seat. It works fairly well and having water for washing is great. But I don’t love some details, see notes below. Mostly I wanted to share how much power the thing uses.

About 80 Watt-hours a day, or an average of 3 watts. Note this is without the seat heater. About ¼ of the power was from using the bidet actively once a day; the rest was just having it plugged in unused.

That’s very little power, like one hour of an old fashioned lightbulb per day. Or about 3 cents a day. Most bidet functions take just a few watts when operating: the pump, the fans. It uses less than a watt on standby. The big power consumption is anything with heat: the water heater, the blow dryer. Those use 200W when active but that’s not very often, the water tank seems well insulated. In theory the device can draw up to 500W but the most I saw was 250W. But then I never used the seat heater.

I don’t like the compromises involved in having the bidet be built into the seat. It’s great for retrofitting an existing toilet but it makes it bulky and the seat is uncomfortable. Having the water supply and bidet sprayer integrated into the toilet bowl must work better. I wish I at least had an elongated toilet; the washlet blocks a fair amount of the bowl.

Toto washlets come in a dizzying array of options; see here for a breakdown. Honestly all I want is warm water and an oscillating spray, the other features don’t seem so important to me. (For awhile I use one of those cheap $30 cold water doodads; it worked pretty well.) I think an instant heater is probably worth the upgrade price though; the C5 tank runs out fast and while it’s well insulated, heating on demand would be better.

  2023-08-26 20:39 Z

Social media businesses should not charge* for APIs. If a company like Reddit or Twitter derives most of its value from content that users write for free then it must provide APIs for anyone to download and manipulate that content. While an interactive API that enables third party applications is desirable, a simple static dump is the bare minimum to fulfill the social contract (see StackOverflow or Metafilter for examples.)

Unfortunately Twitter and Reddit don’t agree. They are both rent seeking with their APIs. Their main intent is to destroy third party apps that no longer aid the company’s business goals. But they’re also trying to make a few million bucks a year licensing access to data, particularly on the back of AI training. It’s wrong.

The key thing here is social media sites don’t produce content. They merely host it. Millions of users create the content expecting it will be widely available. Locking down an API breaks that social contract.

Honestly I don’t care as much about full fledged third party clients like Apollo or Tweetbot; I like them but I understand why the companies want to kill them. What I care about more are analytics sites, things that provide interesting alternative views like a Reddit user profile or Emoji tracking. I also think it is the greater good to let AIs train for free.

*I don’t mind a site charging a nominal fee for API access. Either to cover the cost of API service itself, or more importantly to encourage API developers to be efficient when making API requests. But that's hundreds to thousands of dollars a year, not millions.

The short sighted thing about these API fees is they will harm the company in the long term. If it becomes difficult to use a proper API to get at content folks will simply screen scrape it instead. That’s bad for everyone.

  2023-06-14 16:25 Z

I’ve been listening to the same music every night when I go to sleep 10+ years now. Weird endorsement; I’ve listened to it with more attention plenty of times too. But it’s particularly good for going to sleep; calm, interesting, and comfortably familiar.

That music is GAS, Werner Voigt’s ambient techno project (Bandcamp, Youtube). The primary collection is Nah und Fern, four albums that were made over 1996–2000. In 2017 he released a new GAS album, Narkopop. Followed in 2018 by Rausch and 2021 Die Lange Marsch (a sort of remix). I like the first four most.

Ambient music is pretty hit or miss. For every brilliant work like Music for Airports or Aphex Twin’s early music there’s a zillion gormless electronica and “earth fart” recordings that fail to inspire. Furniture music is supposed to be in the background, sure. But still high enough quality to be appreciated.

GAS succeeds. It has just enough of a beat (sometimes) to make time flow without being overwhelming like regular techno or something rhythmically complex like Autechre. The sounds are richly textured with a bit of fuzz and noise to make it organic. And I like the slightly broody or sinister tone. Not scary, but they make me happy I’m snug in my home under the blankets.

  2023-05-28 19:30 Z