The Core Dump The Core Dump is the online home of Nic Lindh, a Swedish-American man living in the Sonoran desert. 2016-01-24T18:29:55-07:00 http://thecoredump.org/ Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. Space Shuttle Endeavour Nic Lindh http://thecoredump.org/ 2016-01-24T00:00:00-07:00 http://thecoredump.org/2016/01/space-shuttle-endeavour// <p><img src="/images/endeavour-side.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Space Shuttle Endeavour</i></p> <p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Endeavour">Space Shuttle Endeavour</a> has been to space and back to Earth 25 times—it&rsquo;s escaped our gravity well 25 times and brought its crew back safely every time.</p> <p>Now it&rsquo;s retired and sits available for public viewing <a href="http://californiasciencecenter.org/exhibits/air-space/space-shuttle-endeavour">at the California Science Center</a>.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s an enormously powerful artifact, a symbol of a greater vision. It went to space and back, 25 times. Humans built this thing that went to space and back 25 times. America built this thing that went to space and back 25 times.</p> <p></div></div></div> <img src="/images/endeavour-low.jpg" alt="Endeavour" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <div class="container"><div class="row"><div class="col-md-12 contentsmall"> <div class="imgcaption">Endeavour from below.</div></p> <p>A humanity that spends so much time, energy, and blood at Bronze Age disputes about who is worshipping which God and how they&rsquo;re doing it wrong. A humanity ready to commit genocide at any pretense. That humanity built this ship, a ship that&rsquo;s been to space and back 25 times.</p> <p>An America that crossed its arms as it <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flint_water_crisis">poisoned children in a major city</a> once built this ship. </p> <p>Endeavour sits in its retirement, a symbol that humanity is better than this. That America is better than this.</p> <p>Let&rsquo;s be better than this.</p> Review: The Revenant Nic Lindh http://thecoredump.org/ 2016-01-17T00:00:00-07:00 http://thecoredump.org/2016/01/review-the-revenant// <p><img src="/images/the-revenant.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Source: Dailymotion.com</i></p> <p><strong>This is a non-spoiler review.</strong></p> <p><em>The Revenant</em> is the story of an unstoppable bad-ass out for revenge that is hampered by flabby direction and a compulsive need to elevate everybody&rsquo;s motivations beyond the plausible and into some kind of faux spiritual range that is both unnecessary and detracting from the plot. There are some intense battle sequences and some gorgeous nature photography intermingled with people acting like nobody ever would and survive in a northern clime, such as people <em>constantly</em> walking into rivers, getting their crappy mountain-man boots wet. </p> <p>I grew up in Sweden and went through Swedish Army winter survival training, so I know something about winter survival and the prime directive is: Keep your feet dry. Ideally, you&rsquo;ll keep the rest of yourself dry too, but if your feet get wet you are well screwed. But in this movie, it&rsquo;s apparently fine.</p> <p>And it flummoxes me: Why? Clearly they went on location to shoot a lot of the scenes and clearly they survived so they must have had people on location who know how the cold works, so why did they choose to ignore those people? This is extremely problematic when your whole movie is about a man surviving by his wits and skills in, say it with me: The snow.</p> <p>In the movie, it&rsquo;s like the cold is just a visual detail—<em>oh, snow!</em> But no, that kind of cold is <em>a character</em>. It takes on its own life and it affects you. It&rsquo;s not walking on the beach at Santa Monica and thinking the water is a little cold. It&rsquo;s a force.</p> <p>This disrespect or ignorance of the reality of winter is one of the clues the director has no idea whatsoever how things work in the world but is looking for a good shots instead. If you&rsquo;re northern, this will drive you insane.</p> <p>But a bigger problem is that <em>everybody</em> has to have capital-M Motivations. It&rsquo;s not enough that somebody left you for dead and you want them to die for it. Nope. You have to have a backstory. And it&rsquo;s not enough to be native American and having a bunch of white psycopaths take your land. Nope. You have to have a specific reason to be angry.</p> <p>It gets tedious. Tedious and so unnecessary. </p> <p>But all that being said, DiCaprio and Hardy turn in great performances, DiCaprio mostly grunting and straining and Hardy as a mumbly, hateful and hate-able redneck you really want to punch. The problem is that the director doesn&rsquo;t trust the core of the story—and it is based on a real story: Hugh Glass was a real person—and has to insert a backstory, spirituality, and external motivation into a powerful, stripped-down story, which does nothing but dilute it.</p> <p>There&rsquo;s also a fine line between intense and sadistic, and <em>The Revenant</em> crosses that line more times than it needs to. There are perfectly executed fight scenes and then there are fight scenes that go on <em>way</em> too long, rubbing your face in unpleasantness much longer than the story demands, lingering on pain.</p> <p>But again, well shot, well acted, and I really hope in a couple of years we&rsquo;ll see a 90 minute cut that will be an exciting action movie. In the meantime, unless you have a lot of time to kill, skip <em>The Revenant</em>.</p> <p>If you want an enjoyable telling of the Hugh Glass story, <a href="http://thedollop.net/wp/blog/episode-5-dollop/">the podcast <em>The Dollop</em> has you covered</a>. Note that the real story is actually <em>way more hardcore</em> than what&rsquo;s depicted in the movie. There are maggots involved. You should check it out.</p> Thoughts on the 2016 Prius v after a road trip Nic Lindh http://thecoredump.org/ 2016-01-10T00:00:00-07:00 http://thecoredump.org/2016/01/thoughts-on-the-2016-prius-v-after-a-road-trip// <p><img src="/images/prius-side.jpg" /></p> <p><i>2016 Prius v in Sea Glass Pearl.</i></p> <p>I took my new Prius v on a road trip from Phoenix to Los Angeles and back, just shy of 1,000 miles total, and boy do I love this car! I was worried about the lack of power at first, especially since the v (a.k.a. wagon) version has the same power plant as the regular sized Prius but is significantly larger, but it turned out to be fine. Nobody can accuse it of being sporty, but there&rsquo;s enough power—accompanied by howls of pain from the internal combustion engine—to merge on the freeway and to get back up to cruising speed after red lights.</p> <p>Los Angeles, of course, is a great city to figure these kinds of things out. Not that traffic in Phoenix isn&rsquo;t bad and annoying, but LA is next-level. Crumbling streets? <em>Check.</em> Too many cars? <em>Check.</em> Deranged sociopaths in traffic? <em>Check.</em></p> <p>I have no idea how people in LA survive their daily commute.</p> <p>But the point is the Prius v handled it with aplomb.</p> <p>When it comes to the long cruise through the desert, the best thing since sliced bread is what Toyota calls Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. (Every car manufacturer apparently has to name this something different because meetings, but it&rsquo;s about the vehicle adjusting its speed to match vehicles in front of you when on cruise control.) This makes long hauls so much easier! Turn it on and steer. Done. It feels like magic.</p> <p>Unfortunately Toyota decided to only bundle this with the Advanced Technology Package, which is only available on the highest trim line, so you have to purchase the top-of-the-line Prius to get it. Grr. But it&rsquo;s worth it.</p> <p>Another nice feature that comes with the Advanced Technology Package is Lane Departure Alert. This makes the car notice when you&rsquo;re drifting out of your lane. This even worked on LA freeways where the human eye could barely make out the lane indicators, <em>and</em> it&rsquo;s smart enough to not trigger when you&rsquo;re using the blinkers. Nice!</p> <p>But Toyota also made some design choices that flummox me.</p> <p>First and most important, you can&rsquo;t see the hood. Nope. Not at all. You see the front of the dashboard and that&rsquo;s it, so you have no idea where the hood is. This makes parking in tight spaces interesting. Interesting is bad.</p> <p>The garage door openers are located on the rear view mirror and are not lit at night, so you have to learn to find them by feel—this feels chintzy.</p> <p>On the subject of the rear view mirror, another nice future feature is that it auto-dims at night. You can turn this off for whatever reason—I gave it a lot of thought during the long drive, and I can&rsquo;t think of a single reason why you&rsquo;d want to, but you can. So there&rsquo;s a green light to indicate that auto-dimming is on. A light on the rear view mirror. Which you tend to look at a lot. So at night you have this silly green light right in your vision.</p> <p>There&rsquo;s a button on the console to switch between metric and imperial measurements for the car. Right at the top of the console in the most expensive real estate on the entire car. A switch between measurement systems. Who keeps switching back and forth? Why did this particular button earn that place? I&rsquo;d love to know the thinking behind this.</p> <p></div></div></div> <img src="/images/prius-dash.jpg" alt="Prius dash" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <div class="container"><div class="row"><div class="col-md-12 contentsmall"> <div class="imgcaption">The switch between imperial and metric. Why is it so prominent?</div></p> <p>And on the topic of the console, sigh, yes, it&rsquo;s centered. I realize that&rsquo;s a Prius Thing&trade;, but it&rsquo;s a dumb thing. It&rsquo;s different, sure, but it&rsquo;s not better. There&rsquo;s a reason every other car has it in front of the driver: It belongs there. But, sure, whatever, it is what it is.</p> <p>Those niggles being stated, I do love this car and applaud Toyota for their forward-thinking.</p> Apple Watch, six months in Nic Lindh http://thecoredump.org/ 2016-01-01T00:00:00-07:00 http://thecoredump.org/2016/01/apple-watch-six-months-in// <p><img src="/images/apple-watch.jpg" /></p> <p>I ordered mine as soon as they went on sale and have worn it every day since it arrived. It has made me very happy, though there are plenty of things to improve.</p> <p>(For a look at my initial impressions, here&rsquo;s my post on <a href="http://thecoredump.org/2015/07/will-the-apple-watch-be-a-success/">one month with Apple Watch</a>.)</p> <p>First off though, let&rsquo;s keep in focus how amazing and future it is that we now have a computer on our wrists, a computer that lets us communicate with the world and that knows what is happening inside us. It&rsquo;s an amazing thing.</p> <p>Wearable computing is in its infancy, obviously. Right now it&rsquo;s the wrist and wherever you like to strap your fitness tracking device, but as the technology improves it will get smaller and more powerful and go to many places on and inside your body. If you&rsquo;re a diabetic, would you like to have a device that lives inside your bloodstream and tells you your insulin levels? Of course you would. If you have cardiac issues, would you like a device that keeps track of your heart and notifies your doctor if something is going haywire? Of course you would. </p> <p>The possibilities for miniature tech are endless and also quite scary—do you want a bored teenager somewhere to hack your insulin pump?</p> <p>But right now we&rsquo;re talking about the thing on your wrist. Which is, together with the <a href="https://www.pebble.com">Pebble</a> and <a href="http://www.android.com/wear/">Android Wear</a>, in its first generation.</p> <h3>The things that are good</h3> <p>The most concise phrase for what Apple Watch does well is to <a href="http://www.speirs.org/blog/2015/8/25/the-apple-watch-at-work-and-play">call it an awareness amulet</a>. Something happens, it taps on your wrist and you glance at it. <em>Boom. Done.</em></p> <p>The obvious argument is that you could take your phone out of your pocket, you Cheetos-stained lardass, but it truly is a different experience to glance at the information instead of having to pull your phone out of your pocket to see it.</p> <p>Probably this could be related to the reason wrist watches became a thing in the first place, hmmm? Turns out having information on your wrist is really, really handy.</p> <p><strong>Notifications</strong></p> <p>The raison d&#39;être of Apple Watch is to let you see incoming notifications and deal with them. Sending a text message to let someone know, &ldquo;Be there soon&rdquo; or &ldquo;In traffic&rdquo; or simply &ldquo;OK&rdquo; just by pressing a couple of buttons is huge. It&rsquo;s on your wrist. It lets you see what&rsquo;s going on. It lets you respond.</p> <p>If the thing that&rsquo;s turning you off about wearables is that you&rsquo;re the kind of person whose wrist is buzzing all the time, you&rsquo;re doing it wrong. Seriously. It&rsquo;s not a watch thing. It&rsquo;s a you thing. You need to turn off everything that isn&rsquo;t important. Remember, the only arbiter for what&rsquo;s important and what isn&rsquo;t is you. Go through your phone and make those decisions. And really, how many things do you need to get notified about? Be ruthless. You deserve a life of not being interrupted by bullshit.</p> <p><strong>Complications</strong></p> <p>Some of the faces on Apple Watch allow for complications—a term taken from the mechanical watch industry, meaning information nuggets like the date—which lets you put the things that matter to you right there on the watch face. This has huge unfilled potential—if your favorite app provides a complication, you can monitor it right there. Obvious things like calendar and weather are already built in by Apple, but there&rsquo;s room for growth.</p> <p><strong>&ldquo;Hey Siri&rdquo; for reminders and timers</strong></p> <p>Siri is Apple&rsquo;s artificial intelligence and she&rsquo;s ready to help you on Apple Watch.</p> <p>Raising your wrist and saying &ldquo;Hey Siri, remind me to call Fredo when I get home&rdquo; is so handy. You can talk to it and it understands what you say. That&rsquo;s sci-fi.</p> <p>I personally use it all the time to set timers, like when I&rsquo;m cooking: &ldquo;Hey Siri, set a timer for four minutes.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Remote for iPhone</strong></p> <p>This may be the most first-world thing ever, but it&rsquo;s sometimes nice to be able to remote control your phone. For example, I listen to a lot of podcasts but I miss things when I&rsquo;m in the shower. Step in the shower, hit pause, done with shower, hit play.</p> <p>It might sound silly, but remember how people scoffed at the TV remote when it first came out?</p> <h3>The things that need to improve</h3> <p><strong>Exercise monitoring</strong></p> <p>Apple Watch has a heart rate monitor so it can help you track your exercise habits. It generates loads of data about your personal life, always watching you as you go.</p> <p>Unfortunately the heart rate monitor is finicky to say the least, at least for yoga and weightlifting. Pretty much every time I exercise I like to glance at it now and then and it keeps tailspinning—heart rate is 114, 113, 116, 54, 114. <em>What?</em> </p> <p>I do not claim to understand what is happening with the heart rate monitor, and I do appreciate that it even exists and works, but it can&rsquo;t go catatonic whenever it wants to. The heart rate monitor desperately needs to be fixed. </p> <p>At the end of a workout the app shows your average heart rate and if the monitor has soiled itself that average is completely off, which really sucks. I would like to get credit for my work, thank you.</p> <p>And yes, the band is tight and I don&rsquo;t have any tattoos. It just goes into a &ldquo;Hey, let&rsquo;s chill out, man&rdquo; mode.</p> <p><strong>Can&rsquo;t just glance at it</strong></p> <p>Sigh. When you look at Apple Watch at rest you&rsquo;re looking at infinity. Black screen. As a person who&rsquo;s worn a watch my entire life and never considered pulling a phone out of my pocket a replacement, it drives me nuts. This is probably neurotic, but I <em>need</em> to know the time always, and with a regular watch on my wrist, I can always glance at it and know.</p> <p>(Yes, I&rsquo;m the person who shows up on time for everything. There is no excuse for being late unless you got stabbed.)</p> <p>But with Apple Watch I can&rsquo;t do that. I can&rsquo;t glance at my wrist and know what time it is. Sure, I&rsquo;m getting better about turning my wrist forcefully to make the Watch turn on for a few seconds, but that&rsquo;s me altering my behavior to suit technology instead of technology adapting to me, which is completely wrong.</p> <p>Top of the list for Apple Watch, as far as I&rsquo;m concerned, is to <em>be a watch.</em></p> <p><strong>The apps are too damned slow</strong></p> <p>Apple clearly imagined Apple Watch to be an app platform just like iPhone. That doesn&rsquo;t seem to be happening.</p> <p>Turns out you really don&rsquo;t want to stand around and stab at your wrist—Apple Watch is great for handling incoming events, but why would you want to poke at it while you have a much bigger, faster device in your pocket?</p> <p>The poor little processor also really struggles to launch apps, so it takes longer than is feasible to wait. You have to really want to use an app to have the patience to stare at the spinner while it loads. But with some optimization and help from Moore&rsquo;s Law, that will get sorted over time. But the silliness of stabbing at your wrist won&rsquo;t.</p> <p>The one app I&rsquo;ve found myself using on Apple Watch is <a href="http://realmacsoftware.com/clear/">Clear</a>: Having my grocery list on my wrist and checking off things as I buy them is great. But again, that&rsquo;s not really interacting with an app, it&rsquo;s more of remote controlling my phone.</p> <p>And the app launcher. Ouch. I&rsquo;ll be shocked if it survives into watchOS 3. It is truly terrible. Hunting and pecking on that little circle is a ridiculous way to launch apps.</p> <p>Since Apple Watch is not meant to be interacted with for long, apps are a hard sell, so it seems most of the action in that space will be in remotes for iPhone apps.</p> <p><strong>A day should be enough for anybody</strong></p> <p>Yes, you have to charge Apple Watch every night. It&rsquo;s understandable considering all it does, and not that arduous once you get used to it, but it does mean you have to remember to pack the charger if you&rsquo;re staying overnight somewhere, which is a bit tedious.</p> <p>I&rsquo;m not expecting that to change significantly as Apple tends to set a goal for device usage and then err on the side of thin and light rather than increasing the length of time you can use a device.</p> <p>While you usually end up with a lot of battery left at the end of the day, exercise tracking slaughters the battery, so if you&rsquo;re running a marathon you should probably top it up beforehand.</p> <h3>Is Apple Watch better than the competition?</h3> <p>I used to wear a Pebble and liked it. Of course the Pebble was uglier, both physically and user interface-wise, but it performed enough of the awareness amulet functions that are so core to the smart watch experience that if Apple were to discontinue the watch I could go back to the Pebble and be pretty content. And have a week of battery life.</p> <p>Being the platform owner, Apple can do things third parties like Pebble simply can&rsquo;t, so the integration between iPhone and Apple Watch is tighter than between Pebble and iPhone, but at least for now that doesn&rsquo;t matter as much as it probably will in the future.</p> <p>Between Apple Watch and Android Wear, it&rsquo;s mostly a matter of which ecosystem you inhabit.</p> <h3>Conclusion</h3> <p>Apple Watch and its competitors are exciting devices that are forging a new path for electronics, but the category is still in its infancy. Unless you&rsquo;re the kind of person who enjoys bleeding-edge tech or if any of the functionality you can have on your wrist excites you, the smart move is to give the category a few years to mature.</p> It’s upgrade time: 2016 Prius v first impressions Nic Lindh http://thecoredump.org/ 2015-12-19T00:00:00-07:00 http://thecoredump.org/2015/12/its-upgrade-time-2016-prius-v-first-impressions// <p><img src="/images/prius-side.jpg" /></p> <p><i>2016 Prius v in Sea Glass Pearl.</i></p> <p>My former car was a 1997 Honda Accord LX V6 I purchased coming off a lease in 1999. Yes, in the previous century. I know. But it was a good car. Almost 164 thousand miles at this point and still going strong, even though it is getting old and tired and every year something costs $1,000 to fix.</p> <p>It does go to show that modern—in the widest definition of the word—cars are really good as long as they get regular maintenance and care.</p> <p>One of the big reasons I kept the Accord was that most of my interest in cars sits right in front of you in the entertainment system. Apart from reliably and comfortably getting me from point A to point B, of course. Which this vehicle has accomplished competently over the years.</p> <p>But it&rsquo;s getting tired. 164 thousand miles is a lot. It&rsquo;s still a good car, mind you, and it has seen some upgrades, man. From the stock system with a cassette player when I bought it to a head unit that supported a six-CD changer in the trunk, to iPod integration, to Bluetooth, to better Bluetooth, I think it&rsquo;s had five head units total. And it&rsquo;s on its second pair of 10-inch subwoofers in the trunk after the Arizona heat rotted the first pair.</p> <p></div></div></div> <img src="/images/accord-woofers.jpg" alt="Twin 10-inch subwoofers in trunk of Honda Accord" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <div class="container"><div class="row"><div class="col-md-12 contentsmall"> <div class="imgcaption">Twin 10-inch subwoofers will let you feel your music. I guarantee it.</div></p> <p>I&rsquo;m going to miss that sound system. The Prius v has the advanced technology package with the upgraded stereo, and it sounds fine, but factory sound just won&rsquo;t rattle your rear view mirrors.</p> <p>So that&rsquo;s the Accord. On to the Prius. Which, a week in, I love. This is such a nerd car—basically a computer on wheels. And the whole Prius raison d&#39;etre of maxing mileage and the internal combustion engine and the battery working in harmony provides massive nerd happiness as you watch it happen in real-time on a little screen.</p> <p>Adding to the general happiness, the 2016 Prius v I purchased is surprisingly large. It really is a small SUV, which surprised the heck out of me when I first went to look at one. The regular Prius is smaller, though a little bigger than you&rsquo;d expect, but I was not ready for how big the Prius v is. For the record, I&rsquo;m 6&#39;2&quot;, not a small man, and I fit <em>comfortably</em> in this thing. And compared to the Accord, I sit noticeably higher in the Prius.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s not all roses, of course. The Prius is not a good choice for a getaway car for your next bank heist—acceleration is ponderous at best. There&rsquo;s more road noise than I&rsquo;d like, and the internal combustion engine sounds like a Russian tractor when you push it. Though that, somehow, ends up being charming rather than annoying.</p> <p>I heartily applaud how Toyota isn&rsquo;t even pretending the Prius is anything like a regular car. It&rsquo;s all fly-by-wire and they embrace it so much that the PWR mode even resets the sensitivity of the gas pedal! That&rsquo;s pretty next-level and not something a more traditional car company would even think to do.</p> <p></div></div></div> <img src="/images/prius-cockpit.jpg" alt="The cockpit of the 2016 Prius v" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <div class="container"><div class="row"><div class="col-md-12 contentsmall"> <div class="imgcaption">The cockpit of the 2016 Prius v. You want buttons and screens? We got buttons and screens!</div></p> <p>I am now a paid-up member of the Prius cult and shall smug you harder than you&rsquo;ve ever been smugged, as is our way. But coming from a car that was literally made in the last century there are some things I&rsquo;m totally enjoying that aren&rsquo;t Prius things but normal modern-car things, and they are making me so happy. These are the kinds of things that, to me, are like when the remote control came to your TV set. At first it seemed silly and unnecessary, but then you used it and you were like, &ldquo;I&rsquo;m never going back.&rdquo;</p> <p>Here are the big things I&rsquo;ve noticed during my first week, things you should expect from modern cars that will make you happy:</p> <h3>Keyless entry</h3> <p>Here&rsquo;s the science fiction stuff that happens: You walk up to your vehicle with the fob staying <em>in your pocket</em>, you touch the handle and the car unlocks. Then you get in and touch the start button, and the car starts. You have not touched the fob or its key to the car at all. It&rsquo;s just there in your pocket and your car senses it. This is the way and the life, my children. Seriously. </p> <p>After experiencing this for just a few days I have a constant low-grade rage every time I pull out my key to unlock the front door to my house because, why? Why can&rsquo;t I just have it in my pocket and my house unlocks?</p> <p>But it&rsquo;s an adjustment, sure: After all these years of driving, I still want to pull the key out of my pocket and ram it into the ignition. We&rsquo;ll see how long it takes for that reflex to be extinguished.</p> <h3>Automatic headlights</h3> <p>Your car knows how bright it is and knows whether you should be using the daytime running lights or the headlights and turns them on and off at will. This is so brilliant. Why should you have to decide to turn the lights on and off? You have other things to think about. And now your car has a chip whose whole existence in life is to figure out if the lights should be on or not. This is all it does, 24/7, tiny chip brain pondering the information coming to it from the light sensor. </p> <p>Are you spending every waking second figuring out if the headlights should be on or not? No? Then you&rsquo;re probably not as good at it as the chip in your modern car. And above all, it&rsquo;s not something you should have to think about. There&rsquo;s a chip for that.</p> <h3>Automatic climate control</h3> <p>With automatic climate control you tell the car what you would like the temperature in the cabin to be and then it figures out how to get there. You don&rsquo;t tell it the fan speed or anything like that. There&rsquo;s a chip whose job it is to figure this out and, again, that&rsquo;s its whole purpose in life. You don&rsquo;t worry about it. The chip will figure out how to make you comfortable.</p> <h3>Radar-assisted cruise control</h3> <p>Holy crap! This is one of those things you kind of expected because it happened in sci-fi, but to have it happen to you as you drive is fan-freaking-tastic. </p> <p>You set the speed you want and then the car—which has an honest-to-god <em>radar</em> onboard—matches the speed of the car in front of you so you don&rsquo;t have to adjust the cruise control. This means on any long drive on the highway you can just put it in cruise and steer. Sitting there watching your car notice somebody slowing down and matching that speed without you doing anything is so freaking future.</p> <p>A week in and I&rsquo;m super happy with my Prius. If you&rsquo;re on the fence and you have nerdy tendencies, do it! Join us! Don&rsquo;t be afraid!</p> Review: ELAC B6 bookshelf speakers Nic Lindh http://thecoredump.org/ 2015-12-09T00:00:00-07:00 http://thecoredump.org/2015/12/review-elac-b6-bookshelf-speakers// <p><img src="/images/elacb6.jpg" /></p> <p><i>ELAC B6 speakers in their natural habitat.</i></p> <p>It was time to update my living room stereo. My old system, a small Yamaha bookshelf stereo, did provide decent sound, but I wanted a step up without breaking the bank.</p> <p>To set expectations, what you&rsquo;re getting here is the opinion of a person who listens to a lot of music, who <a href="http://thecoredump.org/2015/03/bluebuds-x-and-jabra-revo-bluetooth-headsets-review/">spends a bit more on headphones</a> than he probably should, and who has a decent ear, but not a person who takes out a second mortgage to buy better gear or who runs a test lab in his basement.</p> <p>The first site I recommend checking when looking to purchase pretty much anything to do with electronics is <a href="http://thewirecutter.com">The Wirecutter</a>, and sure enough, they had <a href="http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-bookshelf-speakers/">a comprehensive review of bookshelf speakers</a>, including a link to a <a href="http://www.cnet.com/uk/products/elac-debut-b6/">frothing review of the new offering from ELAC</a> on CNET. Which were a hundred dollars less than their own top pick.</p> <p>So after a bout of audiophile forum skimming I purchased a pair of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B014GSEQ06?sr=8-1&amp;tag=thecoredump-20">ELAC B6 from Amazon</a>.</p> <p>After listening to them for a few weeks, I&rsquo;m impressed! They have a huge soundstage and are very clear and defined, especially in the treble and midrange. The adjective that springs to mind is <em>crisp</em>.</p> <p>That being said, you will not run a rave off of these things. They are bookshelf speakers and the laws of physics are what they are. But they will fill a decent-sized room. Hard to beat for the price ($280 as of this writing).</p> <p>If you like a bit more presence in your music, I highly recommend mating them with a subwoofer. The one I personally use is out of production, but ELAC <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Debut-Powered-Subwoofer-Andrew-Jones/dp/B014GSEQ2O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1449703284">also makes a woofer</a> which should sound great paired with the B6s. The B6s go deep enough you can set the crossover at 80Hz, which is impressive.</p> <p><strong>NOTE:</strong> The Amazon links are affiliate links—if you purchase through them I get a tiny kickback. It doesn&rsquo;t cost you anything. Thanks!</p> Magical thinking about encryption and privacy Nic Lindh http://thecoredump.org/ 2015-11-30T00:00:00-07:00 http://thecoredump.org/2015/11/magical-thinking-about-encryption-and-privacy// <p>Almost as disgusting as the Paris attacks themselves were the responses, horrific Islamophobia and thought short-circuiting fear manifesting all over the <em>I-don&rsquo;t-know-just-do-something-anything</em> spectrum. In other words, exactly what the assholes who committed the atrocity wanted.</p> <p>Waiting in the wings was, of course, calls for an end to privacy so that mass surveillance will work better. It turns out the particular asswipes responsible for the Paris atrocity weren&rsquo;t even using encryption—they did their planning in the clear and moved around under their own identities. But that doesn&rsquo;t matter. In mass surveillance thought space, more surveillance is better and clearly if there had been more surveillance magic would have kept Paris from happening. QED.</p> <p>Which is face palm territory. But these people were allowed their space in the media to push the idea that clearly a terrorist attack means we must have more surveillance to be safe.</p> <p>This is an argument you can make: Terrorist and pedophiles are scary, so we shouldn&rsquo;t have any privacy. I very much disagree, but sure, it&rsquo;s an argument you can make. But recognizing most people don&rsquo;t feel that&rsquo;s a good trade off, the argument these days is that you, solid citizen, can still have your privacy, but the people who protect you will be able to surveil the pedophiles and the terrorists.</p> <p>Which is either a bald-faced lie or industrial-strength disingenuousness.</p> <p>Let&rsquo;s break it down: The current state of the art in Internet privacy is <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public-key_cryptography">public key encryption</a>. Basically a person who wants privacy on the Internet—like you do when you punch your credit card number into Amazon—has a private key and a public key. Through an amazing amount of high-level math concocted by geniuses, only you and Amazon can read the content that goes between your computer and Amazon. And it happens every time you&rsquo;re on a website that&rsquo;s using encryption. It&rsquo;s the foundation for all privacy on the Internet.</p> <p>The only way for the good guys to be able to read the transaction that just happened between you and Amazon is for the encryption to be <em>broken</em>—if somebody planted an extra private key or built a backdoor into the encryption software you were using. The software has to be broken.</p> <p>(There&rsquo;s also <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_analysis">traffic analysis</a> to be concerned about. Even though an eavesdropper may not see your credit card, the fact that your computer and Amazon&rsquo;s are talking is visible.)</p> <p>It&rsquo;s a complete fantasy that there&rsquo;s some way to put in a way for the good guys to read what you wrote but nobody else. Because, again, the software has to be broken. And what happens when the encryption software is broken? Somebody else will <em>find the way it&rsquo;s broken and exploit it</em>.</p> <p>So now it&rsquo;s not just you, Amazon, and Western state surveillance. It&rsquo;s you, Amazon, Western state surveillance, and a crime syndicate reading your credit card information.</p> <p>Breaking encryption is not just something good guys are interested in—there are plenty of terrible, repressive states out there that would just love to read everything citizens are writing so they can throw people into torture chambers. And there are criminals, like the ones who <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/users/2015/11/sony_employees_on_the_hack_one_year_later.html">broke into Sony</a>, who would just love to get any kind of information they can for blackmail purposes.</p> <p>If the public key encryption system works like it should, they can&rsquo;t. But if it&rsquo;s broken on purpose so the good guys can get in, anybody else who figures out the flaw can also get in.</p> <p>That&rsquo;s where the magical thinking comes in: The sheer idea that there&rsquo;s a way to break encryption in such a way that only the right authorities can exploit the flaw is ludicrous. If it&rsquo;s broken, it&rsquo;s broken.</p> <p>As an analogy of the scale we&rsquo;re dealing with, look at the iPhone. Apple locks its phones down so that you can only do certain things with it. For example, you can only purchase software from Apple&rsquo;s App Store. You can&rsquo;t download software from wherever you want. </p> <p>Some people are really annoyed by this and figure out ways to jailbreak their phones. Jailbreaking means finding a flaw in the security of the phone to allow for a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privilege_escalation">privilege escalation</a> so you can do whatever you want. This means that every time somebody figures out a way to jailbreak the iPhone, what they&rsquo;ve actually found is a flaw in the security of the phone.</p> <p>There are <em>always</em> new jailbreaks. This is the most profitable company on the planet, employing some of the best computer engineers money can buy and they can&rsquo;t prevent jailbreaks from happening.</p> <p>Computer security is <em>hard</em>.</p> <p>Jailbreaking iPhones is mostly low-stakes. (Mostly—obviously shady characters who want to surveil people are also extremely interested in ways to circumvent Apple&rsquo;s security so they can load surveillance software.) <iframe style="width:120px;height:240px;float: right;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" src="//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=ss_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=thecoredump-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=0385495323&asins=0385495323&linkId=22EB3LTHOGB4EDPJ&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true"> </iframe> Imagine the lengths state actors and criminal syndicates are going to go to find the vulnerabilities deliberately put into encryption software to provide backdoors for Western governments. That&rsquo;s a James Bond-level game and the resources put in play are unimaginable.</p> <p>So let&rsquo;s stop pretending there&rsquo;s a way to break encryption that only the good guys will be able to access.</p> <p>Vulnerabilities will be exploited.</p> <p>If you&rsquo;d like to learn more about encryption, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0385495323/ref=as_li_tl?linkId=7YIP56QLTMK4TNDC&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=0385495323&amp;creative=390957&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;ie=UTF8">The Code Book</a></em> is a breezy, fun non-technical primer on the history of ciphers and codes. I highly recommend it.</p> Review: Spectre Nic Lindh http://thecoredump.org/ 2015-11-08T00:00:00-07:00 http://thecoredump.org/2015/11/review-spectre// <p><img src="/images/spectre-wallpaper.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Credit: www.007.com</i></p> <p><strong>This review is spoiler-free.</strong></p> <p>Let&rsquo;s get my biases out of the way from the get-go: I&rsquo;m a huge Bond fan and have seen every movie, most of them several times. So reviewing a new Bond outing is tricky, since I look at it both as a movie and as a Bond movie. Different scales, different expectations.</p> <p>As a movie, <em>Spectre</em> earns ★★★★☆. It&rsquo;s a gripping, entertaining spectacle with spectacular visuals and solid acting.</p> <p>As a Bond movie, <em>Spectre</em> earns ★★★☆☆. It&rsquo;s good, don&rsquo;t get me wrong, even has moments of greatness, but like all the Craig movies I&rsquo;m not sure about the direction it wants to take the series.</p> <p>Parenthetically, and these might be fightin&rsquo; words, I&rsquo;ll go on the record as saying Craig is now my favorite Bond, a smidge above Connery. Like Connery, he has the character&rsquo;s sociopathic brutality and menace down cold, but Craig&rsquo;s also a better actor.</p> <p>Which brings us back to the direction of the series. During Craig&rsquo;s run, it&rsquo;s been about Bond coming to terms with the way his life has turned out, the incidents that have made him, and just how emotionally damaged he is. Which is fine and good. But at the same time, the franchise is a spectacle. A glorious, popcorn-chomping cavalcade of beautiful locations, women, and cars guided by the Man You Can Never Be—always cool, always in control, always resourceful.</p> <p>This man is also of course a horrible sociopath and misogynist, but in the past we&rsquo;ve sort of made a deal to shrug that off. Bond was never about realism, to understate the case.</p> <p>The Craig run wants us to focus on the struggles of the man who commits these acts, but it also wants to bring us the spectable. This tension makes the movies weaker.</p> <p>Since <em>Casino Royale</em> I&rsquo;ve wanted them to pick a side, dammit! Go full tortured soul or full &ldquo;Oh, well, that&rsquo;s just how Bond is <em>nudge-wink</em>&rdquo; instead of half-assing it in the middle.</p> <p>The good about <em>Spectre</em>: It&rsquo;s visually stunning and raises the bar for elaborate action sequences yet again. For the die-hard fans there&rsquo;s also a generous helping of inside references and jokes to reward your fandom. And the actors do great work.</p> <p>The bad about <em>Spectre</em>: Two hours and 20 minutes is way too long for the plot. You could trim at least half an hour and make it much more energetic—sometimes the movie seems like it just doesn&rsquo;t want to leave a scene even though it&rsquo;s over.</p> <p>And the tortured-soul bit is getting old. I really don&rsquo;t need that much existential angst in my escapist entertainment.</p> <p>But be that as it may, <em>Spectre</em> delivers a solid installment in the series. And holy smokes, <a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-spectre-aston-martin-db10-20151106-story.html">that Aston Martin DB10</a>&hellip; </p> Book roundup, part 20 Nic Lindh http://thecoredump.org/ 2015-10-18T00:00:00-07:00 http://thecoredump.org/2015/10/book-roundup-part-20// <h2>Non-fiction</h2> <h3><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Antidote-Happiness-People-Positive-Thinking/dp/0865478015/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;sr=1-1&amp;s=books&amp;keywords=the%2Bantidote%2Bhappiness%2Bfor%2Bpeople%2Bwho%2Bcan%2527t%2Bstand%2Bpositive%2Bthinking&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1441142983">The Antidote, by Oliver Burkeman</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>If you find go-go-think-positive self-help books either turn you off or simply don&rsquo;t help, <em>The Antidote</em> is an excellent alternative. Burkeman looks at the philosophy of the ancients like the Stoics and the Buddhists and current research into motivation to find out how we can be happier.</p> <p><em>The Antidote</em> makes the very good point that if the kind of positive thinking espoused by the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Robbins">Tony Robbins</a> of the world actually worked, they wouldn&rsquo;t get much repeat business. Which they most certainly do.</p> <blockquote> <p>The optimism-focused, goal-fixated, positive-thinking approach to happiness is exactly the kind of thing the ego loves. Positive thinking is all about identifying with your thoughts, rather than disidentifying from them. And the ‘cult of optimism’ is all about looking forward to a happy or successful future, thereby reinforcing the message that happiness belongs to some other time than now. Schemes and plans for making things better fuel our dissatisfaction with the only place where happiness can ever be found—the present.</p> </blockquote> <p>Essentially, Burkeman&rsquo;s thesis is that we need to not run away from our negative feelings—which is what the positive thinking mantras suggest—and instead to accept and understand them.</p> <p>Without butchering the argument by compressing it too much, Burkeman suggests we can find a lot of guidance in Buddhism and the Stoics:</p> <blockquote> <p>For the Stoics, the ideal state of mind was tranquility, not the excitable cheer that positive thinkers usually seem to mean when they use the word ‘happiness’. And tranquility was to be achieved not by strenuously chasing after enjoyable experiences, but by cultivating a kind of calm indifference towards one’s circumstances. One way to do this, the Stoics argued, was by turning towards negative emotions and experiences; not shunning them, but examining them closely instead.</p> </blockquote> <p><em>The Antidote</em> is an interesting read and well worth your time.</p> <h3><a href="http://www.amazon.com/One-Nation-Under-Gods-American/dp/031610003X/ref=sr_1_1/179-2233580-3747429?sr=8-1&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=one%2Bnation%2Bunder%2Bgods&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1443302288">One Nation, Under Gods, by Peter Manseau</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>As America heads into election season, rhetoric is heating up and one of the most common conservative tropes is that America was founded as a Christian nation and thus any attempts to limit overt religion in government is a Bad Thing&trade;. In <em>One Nation, Under Gods</em> Manseau provides a religious history of the United States, documenting the influences and thoughts that were a part of the great melting pot from the beginning and up to the present, showing that, in short, the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation is at best a gross oversimplification.</p> <blockquote> <p>Of all the myths associated with the founding of the United States, there is none so stubborn as the notion that the colonists who rose up against the Crown did so mainly because they were a people motivated and sustained by faith. While the religious inclinations of the founding fathers provide fodder for endless contemporary political disputes, the colonial population as a whole—the more telling piece of this puzzle—is less often considered. Historians who have taken the time to tally religious adherents in the colonies have not found the first Americans to have been particularly moved by Christian commitment. One need only look at the statistics of church membership to begin to imagine an alternate scenario. The image of colonists filling chapels before and during the fight for Independence may fit a contemporary narrative—that the United States was formed with the help of the divine. However, in most cases colonists were too busy and too spread out to gather very often for prayer.</p> </blockquote> <p>The Puritans were certainly Protestant zealots of the highest order, but the native Americans who helped them not all starve to death had a rich political and religious history of their own, and the mass of slaves brought over from Africa had their own religious traditions as well. Though hard numbers are difficult to come by, Manseau estimates about 20 percent of slaves were Muslims. </p> <p>There was a lot of handwringing by slave owners over whether slaves should be converted to Christianity since—and this kind of sophistry is pretty difficult to think about without your blood pressure rising dangerously—Christians shouldn&rsquo;t keep other Christians as slaves, so it might be better to have the slaves retain whatever religion they already had, but at the same time it was the duty of all Christians to convert other people, so perhaps it would be better to forcibly convert the slaves to Christianity?</p> <p><em>One Nation, Under Gods</em> does a good job of showing the complicated reality of the religious history of the United States and is well worth reading.</p> <h3><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Losing-Signal-Extraordinary-Spectacular-BlackBerry/dp/1250060176/ref=sr_1_1/184-5404980-3151050?sr=8-1&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=losing%2Bthe%2Bsignal&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1435168044">Losing the Signal, by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>A thoroughly researched and well-written book that chronicles the humble beginnings, meteoric rise and spectacular cratering of BlackBerry, née Research in Motion.</p> <p>Of course, the story of BlackBerry is really the story of its co-CEOs, Balsillie and Lazaridis. <em>Losing the Signal</em> does not paint a flattering portrait, with Balsillie coming across as overbearing and aggressive, and Lazardis as a genius engineer disconnected from everything but engineering. </p> <p>And yes, the obvious Jobs and Woz parallel is thought-provoking.</p> <p>The story of BlackBerry proves the old adage, &ldquo;success hides problems.&rdquo; As when the cracks in the business start to show and outside consultants are brought in to assess the company:</p> <blockquote> <p>Traditional standards for measuring CEO accomplishments didn’t seem to exist at RIM. There were no written job descriptions or performance objectives for Balsillie or Lazaridis—benchmarks used by directors to measure compensation. Also missing was a succession plan. Incredibly, no one was being groomed to grab the reins if something happened to the CEOs. Weak accountability was a problem at other levels. The company set goals for lower-level managers, but Protiviti found employees “were not held accountable for meeting the objectives.”</p> </blockquote> <p><em>Losing the Signal</em> provides a fascinating glimpse into the cut-throat computer business and just how fast circumstances can change, with BlackBerry going from top of the world to ruin in just a few years.</p> <p>While it&rsquo;s hard to root for the flawed characters of Balsillie and Lazardis, this particular Greek tragedy does make you feel for the BlackBerry employees who worked heroically only to have their livelihoods wrecked by the incompetence of those above them.</p> <h3><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Todd_Glass">The Todd Glass Situation, by Todd Glass</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>Stand-up comic <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Todd_Glass">Todd Glass</a> talks about growing up dyslexic, ADD and closeted gay. The book is both funny and touching.</p> <p>As a sample, here&rsquo;s Glass talking about his struggles upon discovering he&rsquo;s gay:</p> <blockquote> <p>I was failing out of school and didn’t know what was wrong with me, met people who hated me for being part of a religion that I hardly practiced, had been to five different schools in eight years leaving me with almost no close friends, and now I was going to have to be gay, too? I must have been a real asshole in my past life to deserve all that in this one.</p> </blockquote> <p><em>The Todd Glass Situation</em> is funny and humane.</p> <h2>Fiction</h2> <h3><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Last-Policeman-Novel-Trilogy/dp/1594746745/ref=sr_1_1/183-4935352-4335320?sr=8-1&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=last%2Bpoliceman&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1444966351">The Last Policeman, by Ben Winters</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Haunting and beautiful story of a literal countdown to end times as an asteroid hurtles toward Earth and will cause an extinction event. Henry Palace is a small-town policeman who becomes obsessed with a murder case as society falls apart around him.</p> <p>Yes, it&rsquo;s a police procedural set at the end of civilization and thanks to Winters&rsquo;s lyrical, sensitive writing and twisty plot, it works.</p> <h3><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Three-Body-Problem-Cixin-Liu/dp/0765377063/ref=sr_1_1/182-2070118-3529402?sr=8-1&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=three-body%2Bproblem&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1442275776">The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Cixin Liu is a massive sci-fi writer in China and his work is starting to be translated to English. It&rsquo;s easy to tell he read <em>a lot</em> of classic Western sci-fi growing up, as <em>The Three-Body Problem</em> is a combination of hard sci-fi—smart scientists doing science things—and Chinese thought and references. The novel starts off during the Cultural Revolution—which seems like it was very much not good times—and moves on to First Contact with an alien species. An <em>alien</em> alien species.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s really hard to do any kind of plot summary without spoilers, so let it just be said that if you like hard sci-fi, <em>The Three-Body Problem</em> should be high on your reading list.</p> <p>As a niggle, Liu does like to have characters do exposition, and I&rsquo;m not sure if that&rsquo;s his style or a Chinese thing, but it does detract a bit from the brilliance of the work.</p> <h3><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Forest-Cixin-Liu/dp/076537708X/ref=sr_1_1/188-2537375-9201862?sr=8-1&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=the%2Bdark%2Bforest&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1442892910">The Dark Forest, by Cixin Liu</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Sequel to <em>The Three-Body Problem</em> and it&rsquo;s a doozy. Somewhat meandering and with some clunky dialogue, but the core idea is so, so good. </p> <p>The basic plot is that humanity is getting ready for the arrival of the alien fleet from <em>The Three-Body Problem</em> and, well, things are difficult.</p> <p>At its core, <em>The Dark Forest</em> provides an answer for the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox">Fermi Paradox</a> that is so crushingly depressing and logical it&rsquo;s devastating. Once you realize what the title refers to, you&rsquo;ll feel sad.</p> <h3><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Beacon-23-Little-Noises-Kindle-ebook/dp/B00ZB8DHC4/ref=sr_1_1/180-8653395-3355436?sr=8-1&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=beacon%2B23&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1441658468">Beacon 23, by Hugh Howey</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p><em>Beacon 23</em> is a collection of five Kindle singles that together form a short novel.</p> <p>Interesting and fun and with some beautiful writing, like &ldquo;When we’re young, every imaginary battle ends with heroics. Finales come with a bang. Then you get older, and you see that life ends in wrinkles and whimpers.&rdquo;</p> <p>Beautiful writing aside, the plot is pretty thin, but it&rsquo;s an enjoyable, breezy read. It also provides a very American take on the same issue as <em>The Three-Body Problem</em>.</p> <h3><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Pretty-Sandman-Slim-Novel/dp/0062373102/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;sr=1-1&amp;s=books&amp;keywords=kadrey%2Bkilling%2Bpretty&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1441142815">Killing Pretty, by Richard Kadrey</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p><em>Killing Pretty</em> is an in-between book in the great Sandman Slim series. It feels like Kadrey has wrapped up his current story arc and is more or less thinking out loud about where to take the series next.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s not bad, but also doesn&rsquo;t go off in any new directions. This one is definitely for the fans.</p> <h3><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Queen-Fire-Ravens-Shadow-Novel/dp/0425265641/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?qid=&amp;sr=&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;_encoding=UTF8">Queen of Fire, by Anthony Ryan</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>A solid conclusion to the Raven&rsquo;s Shadow trilogy that earned an initial batch of terrible reviews on Amazon for some reason I don&rsquo;t understand. <em>Queen of Fire</em> does have problems with way too many characters and a bit of a meandering plot, but it does bring the trilogy home and is an enjoyable, easy read.</p> <p>As with any series, you should start at the beginning, with the outstanding <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Song-Ravens-Shadow-Novel/dp/0425268284/ref=pd_sim_14_2?refRID=177H80K6GHGSJB0T4S2V&amp;dpSrc=sims&amp;dpID=51V6FuJ9NTL&amp;preST=_AC_UL160_SR99%252C160_&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;ie=UTF8">Blood Song</a></em>, one of the best fantasy novels I&rsquo;ve read. And I&rsquo;ve read a lot of fantasy.</p> <p><strong>Note:</strong> Links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through them I get a tiny kickback from Amazon. It doesn&rsquo;t cost you anything. Be a mensch, eh?</p> Building a static site for an investigative journalism project Nic Lindh http://thecoredump.org/ 2015-10-09T00:00:00-07:00 http://thecoredump.org/2015/10/building-a-static-site-for-an-investigative-journalism-project// <p><img src="/images/weedrush-cover.jpg" /></p> <p><i>A marijuana grow house in Nevada. Image from weedrush.news21.com. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone</i></p> <p>I spend my summers helping create the website for an investigative project called <a href="http://news21.com">News21</a>. Each year a team of Fellows from universities around the U.S. dive deep into a topic and the resulting content is then syndicated with major partners like <em>The Washington Post</em>, <em>USA Today</em>, and many others. But the content also needs a permanent home on the Web, so we build a site.</p> <p>The site contains images, video, interactive infographics, and of course the stories themselves. It must be attractive and innovative. It also has to be built on a very compressed schedule, with actual page production limited to a few weeks and the site functionality and design around 10 weeks.</p> <p>And then it needs to stand up to bursts of heavy traffic.</p> <p>And then it needs to remain available for many years to come.</p> <p><em>Easy.</em> Deep breath.</p> <p>If you have your hand up saying, &ldquo;Oh, oh, you should use a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Static_web_page">static site generator for this!</a>&rdquo;, you just earned a cookie.</p> <h3>Static site generator</h3> <p>For the last two projects (<a href="http://gunwars.news21.com">Gun Wars, on gun culture in America</a> and <a href="http://weedrush.news21.com">Weed Rush, on the legalization of marijuana in America</a>) we used the static site generator <a href="http://jekyllrb.com">Jekyll</a> to create the project. There are many static site generators out there, and I think most of them could do the job, but I had familiarity with Jekyll from other projects and since it has the support of and has been battle-tested by <a href="https://pages.github.com">GitHub</a> it&rsquo;s a pretty safe choice.</p> <p>There are several benefits to a static site:</p> <ul> <li><p>The site can be hosted almost anywhere and moved very easily. Going from development server to production is literally a matter of copying files.</p></li> <li><p>There&rsquo;s no admin backend on the site so there&rsquo;s nothing for an attacker to try to break into. This helps server admins sleep better.</p></li> <li><p>Page production is much faster since you&rsquo;re simply manipulating files—there&rsquo;s no backend dashboard to click through to accomplish tasks. Once a producer gets comfortable manipulating files, the production speed increase is remarkable.</p></li> <li><p>Jekyll is much less opinionated than WordPress, so there&rsquo;s less of a feeling of going &ldquo;against the grain&rdquo; when building features.</p></li> </ul> <p>But there&rsquo;s no free lunch, so there are disadvantages:</p> <ul> <li><p>A steep learning curve. For producers who are only used to going through a dashboard like with WordPress, Tumblr and Drupal, it can be forbidding at first, so good training is essential. (Though I&rsquo;d argue that a Web producer <em>should</em> understand the basics of working with SFTP, the command line and Git.)</p></li> <li><p>When several people are in a file system at the same time operating under stress it&rsquo;s easy to accidentally overwrite each others&rsquo; changes, so good communication is crucial. (It would obviously be better to have everybody work in their own Git repo but that introduces a lot of technical and workflow overhead when the producers aren&rsquo;t highly technical.)</p></li> </ul> <h3>Designing the workflow</h3> <p>The site was created with the explicit goal of making production as fast as possible. This meant first off to separate content from presentation. The content—images, videos, story—on each page had to make no assumptions about the final presentation. This way producers could build the pages while designers changed the final look of the site in tandem.</p> <p>This meant creating shortcodes for all multimedia content, so a producer would never insert an image, say, with a raw <code>&lt;img src=&quot;/images/parallax/hello.jpg&quot; /&gt;</code> HTML tag; instead, all multimedia elements were called in through <a href="http://jekyllrb.com/docs/templates/">Jekyll includes</a>. </p> <p>The Jekyll include would then know in which directory parallax images lived and write out the actual code to put the image on the page.</p> <p>This way the actual multimedia presentation could change right up to launch without having to go back and touch any of the stories.</p> <h3>Dont&rsquo;t Repeat Yourself</h3> <p>Any website repeats a lot of content and under deadline pressure it&rsquo;s very easy to forget a spot. So the project was built as much as possible on the principle of DRY (Don&rsquo;t Repeat Yourself).</p> <p>Anything that goes on more than one page should exist in a data file and be read in, never repeated on the site itself.</p> <p>Putting in the thought ahead of time to factor out anything that will repeat on the site and centralizing it will pay off at crunch time. Jekyll&rsquo;s <code>_data</code> <a href="http://jekyllrb.com/docs/datafiles/">directory support</a> makes this easy.</p> <p>Here are some of the things abstracted out for Weed Rush:</p> <ul> <li>Fellow bios for story footers</li> <li>In-page navigation</li> <li>Page URLs. (Since URLs change when—not if—the story&rsquo;s title is edited and stories are linked to from many places, having a central URL repository streamlines the workflow significantly.)</li> <li>Project title</li> <li>Project blurb</li> <li>Publish date</li> <li>Generic social image for Twitter cards and Facebook</li> </ul> <h3>Staying up under load</h3> <p>By its very nature a static site will be able to handle more traffic than one that has to be processed for each request, so there&rsquo;s less risk of the server keeling over. Though enough traffic <em>will</em> choke any server.</p> <p>To help take the load off the server, the server hosting Weed Rush was put behind <a href="http://cloudflare.com">CloudFlare</a>, which, headscratchingly, provides a free Content Delivery Network that is very good.</p> <p>Since the pages on Weed Rush are very heavy with images, we opted to upgrade to Cloudflare&rsquo;s Pro plan which, among other things, provides an extra layer of image optimization for different device sizes and lazy loads images on slow connections. Well worth it to make sure the site felt (reasonably) fast despite all the assets.</p> <h3>Use the source, Luke</h3> <p>If you want to pick apart how the site works, you can <a href="https://github.com/news21/weedrush-public">clone it from GitHub</a> and run it on your own computer. Feedback and constructive criticism is welcome.</p>