Five Years of tedohara.net

I noticed last month when I renewed my domain registrations that it’s been five years since I first set up this site. I meant to say something on the actual anniversary, but it slipped my mind.

I initially set up the site because I was concerned about my job. I felt uncertain about the company’s prospects, and was unhappy with the commute, and felt that as a web developer, I’d be more credible if I had my own site. I wanted to be able to show off my CSS and JavaScript skills. To my mind the actual content was secondary, though I figured I’d have some web development posts.

I knew from my own browsing that I wanted to use WordPress, but it took me a nearly a year to get to find a host and actually get going. I’d say it took me several months from thinking “I should do this,” to actually starting to look into hosting companies, and then a few months of frustration of looking at hosts casually, to a couple of months of thinking about it more seriously, to a month or so of trying to decide, to actually pulling the trigger on DreamHost.

I requested the domain on a Thursday night, August 11, 2011, and the domain became reachable on the internet the following day, with a ‘parked’ site. I spent Friday night setting up emails and excitedly exploring the DreamHost control panel, and finally that Saturday morning, I downloaded and installed WordPress and made my first post.

My First Post, using the stock Twenty-Eleven theme and imagery.

My first post, using the stock Twenty-Eleven theme and imagery.

I knew I wanted something more custom, so I quickly customized the header images. Still, I knew I wanted something less generic looking, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I also didn’t know how to implement what I wanted once I figured out what I wanted. I initially thought I needed to write my own theme, but stumbled upon child themes, and figured out how to implement what I wanted over the 2011 holidays. The present theme debuted New Years Eve of 2011.

As I said, initially, the content was secondary to simply having a site, though I did want to focus some on web development. Over time, I’ve done fewer work related posts, and it’s become more of a place where I can show off my pictures, talk about things I’ve done, or simply spout off about something. I do try to post something at least once a month, but otherwise, I post when I have something to say.

I’m under no illusions that many people are reading this. I’ve long suspected it’s basically my sister, my mother (hi Mum!) and occasionally my dive buddies, and when I finally installed Jetpack in May, the stats tend to back this up. My post “I Expect My Leaders to be Grownups” did get some notice, chiefly because I @ replied to something Marco Arment posted to Twitter with a link to the post, and he retweeted it to his 100,000 followers.

Still, it’s nice having my own site. It gives me a place to talk about things if I want, and a place to post my photography. It’s also nice owning a domain name, as it allows me to create sub-domains and create email addresses at will. And I agree with Marco Arment that it’s best to own your online identity.

So what’s next? I tinker with things periodically. A few weeks back I switched the sidebar from the right to the left, and I’ve been experimenting with adding Twitter support. I switched over all the imagery to retina quality over the past year. I’m aware that my current theme is getting long in the tooth, but for better or worse, I like the way it looks, so I’m not sure what to do. Right now, I’m leaning towards creating a version that keeps the basic colors and typography, but is more responsive, handling both larger and smaller sizes better.

Stay tuned.

Stick a Fork in It…

Back on May 1st, I scanned a slide of myself with my cousins in front of Old Ironsides. The slide must have come into contact with some darkroom chemicals, as it was heavily stained and spotted, not to mention covered with hairs, fungus and other crap:

Before retouching and cropping

Before retouching and cropping

Obviously, it’s in pretty bad shape, but still… there was something there I wanted to save. So I went to work, and all other scanning work has been on hold (save one other, also difficult, slide) while I worked on this one.

The first step was to adjust color on the unstained parts of the slide, which I did via an adjustment layer. The next step was to go after the fungus in the sky, and all the little blue spots in the black parts of the ship. Those were the easy parts. Next, I had to fix the blue spot over Billy’s eye, and the spots on his shirt. At some point I conceded the right fifth of the image and cropped in much tighter to get rid of most of the blue blob. For the rest, I added a series of masked adjustment layers to remove the blue color and change the tonality, until I was finally able to get the rest of the bow passable.

It’s certainly not perfect. I’ll plead guilty to a certain amount of retouching fatigue on this one. I do admit I like the looser composition of the original better. But still, it’s a damned sight better than what I started with:

After restoration

After Restoration

 

How Did We Get Here?

I. The Candidates

In the years that I’ve been able to vote, I don’t recall disliking both candidates as much as I do these two:

  • I voted enthusiastically for Reagan in both 1980 and 1984.
  • I voted for George Bush, but also respected Dukakis in 1988.
  • In 1992, I voted for George Bush. I really respected his pragmatism, and the way he was able to pull together a bunch of disparate countries during the Gulf War.
  • In 1996, I felt comfortable voting for Bob Dole. I didn’t like Dole’s ‘attack dog’ persona, but felt that at core, he was principled and honest.
  • In 2000, I simply couldn’t decide. I neither liked nor disliked either candidate. In the end, I ended up voting for Gore, rooting for Bush on the way from the poll booth, then rooting against Bush during all the legal maneuvering. I didn’t care for either one, but I didn’t dislike either one either.
  • In 2004, I voted for Kerry.  I wasn’t enthusiastic for Kerry, but I respected him.
  • I voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012. I’m happy with these votes. I don’t think he’s nearly as liberal as his vilifiers make him out to be. He’s pragmatic, and he thinks before reacting.

Which brings us to this year. Ugh. Out of all the people in the country, these two are our choice. A raging racist narcissist/fascist, and a power hungry politician whose only guiding principle appears to be a desire for power.

Trump taps into the anger and frustration– and, let’s be plain– the racism of a lot of white Americans. There are a lot of people who are worried by him, but for a lot of people, he’s talking the kind of trash these people want to hear.

Even worse, I think Hillary Clinton is an incredibly weak candidate. You never get the sense of a set of core values, like you did with Bernie Sanders. You might not agree with Sanders, but it was easy to see that his positions arose out of a consistent set of values and philosophy that drove them. I don’t have a sense that Hillary stands for anything other than Hillary.

She is not an inspiring leader or politician. She can’t work a crowd like her husband, or inspire like Reagan. She can say the lines, but in her mouth, they sound hollow.

There is the sense that both Clintons feel they are above the law; that they are willing to bend the law or facts to suit themselves. The problems with the State Department emails speak for themselves.

Hillary Clinton feels like Martha Coakley writ large; people will find a reason not to vote for her.

Trump really worries me. I do see the parallels to the rise of Nazism in Germany in his campaign.

He doesn’t seem to understand the Constitution. He doesn’t seem to understand what the role of the President is in our system.

He leads with his mouth, and doesn’t appear to think at all.   He’s changed his stands on so many things that I can’t credibly predict how he would react on anything. He is reckless and hateful and doesn’t give a damn who he hurts, or who he provokes.

I think the thing that worries me most about Trump is his lack of understanding or respect for the Constitution. The two main reasons our system of government works are the divided structure of the government, preventing a concentration of power in any branch, and a cultural respect for the institution of the government, instilled by our Founding Fathers.

It’s this respect for the law that fundamentally keeps office holders in bounds. In 1952, in response to a steel mill strike, Harry Truman nationalized the steel mills. The owners sued, won the case, and Truman obeyed the court, returning the mills to their owners. Once this respect for the law breaks down, it’s all over, and we’re in the same boat as any banana republic.

He is incredibly dangerous, and I think he has a decent shot at winning.

II. How Did We Get Here?

So how did we get here? How is it that these two are the choice we’re left with?

Civics

I think the first place to look is the educational system. Instead of teaching history and civics, we teach “social studies”. Kids don’t learn American history — we were playing a game one evening, and none of my nephews knew who George III was — and they don’t have a sense of how things work. They learn the trappings of patriotism — red, white and blue, let’s wave some flags — but they don’t know the meaning. They don’t know of the sacrifices made during the Revolutionary War, or of the service to country made by both the soldiers and the home front during World War II. They have little sense of civic duty; what we owe our country and our countrymen, in return for what it provides us. We’ve come to see voting or serving on a jury as a chore, let alone making sacrifices for the larger good.

Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is the “is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries.” The way it works is you concentrate your political opponents into one or two districts; you may lose that district, but you’ve strengthened your hand in the rest of them. My friend Barbara recently sent me a long an interesting article about how the Republican party gerrymandered its way into Congressional dominance. What you wind up with is long rambling Congressional districts that resemble a salamander on a map, designed to create “safe” districts for incumbents.

Primaries

Once you’ve created safe districts, you’ve moved the electoral action from the general election to the primaries. In a general election, you have to appeal to the full electorate; in a primary, you only have to appeal to party members, and primaries on both sides favor the extremes on both sides, as the more extreme candidates are more likely to fire up their supporters. This is how the Tea Party became a force in Congress, and what explains the radical turn to the right of the Republican party; with safe Republican seats, the battles turned to the primaries, and a number of more moderate Republican congressmen and senators lost their seats in the primaries.

(It also explains the rise of Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts.)

The Media

Coverage of the election by the media has been piss-poor.

It used to be that newscasts were something networks and television stations ran to satisfy the public service obligations of their broadcast license. And then, somewhere along the line, broadcasters realized newscasts could be incredibly profitable, and that’s all she wrote.

It used to be that journalists would report what a candidate said, but then they would also report whether what was said was accurate.  Now, they’re so afraid of looking “partial” that they do not call either side on whether they’re lying or not.

It used to be that reporters would focus on the important stuff. Now they’d rather report on what’s become viral on youTube.

Most pernicious, it used be that the media reported on where the candidates stood. Now, they’d rather report on the polls.

They’d rather broadcast highly stylized “debates” that say nothing, and are more about each candidate scoring off each other, than in-depth interviews explaining how each would govern.

The Electorate

We’ve become an electorate that would rather “send a message” than elect someone to serve us. People don’t take the election seriously enough. Voting is perceived as a nuisance rather than a duty to be taken seriously.

III. What’s to Be Done?

Unfortunately, I think Donald Trump is far too dangerous to risk voting for anyone other than Hillary Clinton. He scares the hell out of me. If he means what he says, a vote for Trump is a vote for repression, for shooting from the hip, of risking war because our president can’t be trusted to think before he acts. And if he doesn’t mean what he says, then what the hell does he stand for?

There are a lot of disaffected Bernie Sanders followers, and a lot of people disaffected by both candidates, who are talking about write in votes, or not voting, or voting for a third party. Normally, I believe in voting for who you want to vote for, but I feel that Trump is such a clear and present danger that there is no choice but to hold one’s nose and vote for Clinton.

But we also need to examine what brought us to this place, and what we can do to prevent ourselves from being in this bind again.

Education

There needs to be more emphasis on history in schools. History does repeat itself,  and if you can recognize the historical patterns, you can act on that recognition. There needs to be more emphasis, both at home and at school, on civics, on duty, on being part of something larger than oneself or one’s family.

Districting

I think the day of manually drawn electoral districts needs to come to a close. One technique that has worked is bipartisan districting commissions; if both sides are part of the process, there is less likelihood of shenanigans. Both sides need to recognize that gerrymandering is a two edged sword. What I would like to see is both sides agree ahead of time to accept a computer generated district map. The algorithms for the mapping software should favor compactness, equal populations, natural boundaries and existing municipal boundaries.

The Media and Us

The media need to stop with the horse race coverage already. I don’t want to know what the percentage points are; I want to know what the candidates stand for, what their biases are, how they plan to run things. How do they plan on dealing with Congress? Do they understand the powers and limitations of the office? Are they honest? Do they tend to parse the truth? What’s their past experience?

I’ve never cared for the debates. I think they’re just theater, and they’re more about scoring points off one’s opponents than communicating what the candidate is about.

What I’d really like to see is a long one-on-one interview with each candidate with a really skilled interviewer. Charlie Rose would be great. I don’t want someone to “nail” the candidate; I want someone who can talk with them about themselves, and dig a little bit and find out what makes them tick.

No president gets to do exactly what they want to do, so for me, individual promises and stands of the moment aren’t particularly important. I want a President who is intellectually honest, has a set of core values that I can generally live with, and the competence to work toward those values.

A lot of the British population voted for the Brexit, hoping to send a message about immigration and the sovereignty of British law, and then, when it won, when the pound dropped, and they saw the prospect of  international markets closing against them, had second thoughts. Elections do have consequences.

What people tend to forget is that a campaign is a long job interview, and at the end of the day, we’re not sending a message, we’re hiring someone. To serve us. Not their own interests, not their career, not their egos. Us. All of us.

July 4th on the Charles

I spent Fourth of July watching the Boston fireworks on the Charles from my kayak. Without a doubt, it’s the best way to see the fireworks.

I’ve done this a couple of times now; Charles River Canoe and Kayak rents boats from their Brighton and Kendall Square locations for the event. The first time couple of times I did it, the atmosphere was very relaxed, and there was a lot less security. I remember one year seeing a couple of guys on on a raft made up of office water cooler bottles, and people on floating rafts; after the marathon bombing, security was tightened up. The last time I did it, in 2013, all boats had to be anchored by 7 and there was a Coast Guard boat with a big black machine gun on the front deck patrolling the river.

This was the first year I did it in my own boat. I put in from Herter Park, just downstream from Charles River Canoe and Kayak, around five-thirty-ish, and got to the Mass Ave bridge a little past 7. There were already a bunch of boats there, some of them fairly large. Boats were required to anchor by 8:15, but I felt like a motorcyclist among a bunch of SUVs with all the boat traffic, so I waited until nearly 8 to anchor. I wanted to be able to move if a boat did something stupid.

Once I was anchored, there was nothing to do but wait. Fortunately, the weather was gorgeous: clear, not humid, not too warm. There was enough wind to raise a little chop, but it kept the bugs away. It was really nice just sitting there in the boat. We were treated to a spectacular sunset:

Sunset, July 4th

Sunset, July 4th

This year, the concert and fireworks were carried on network television. I’ve been to years both with and without the network, and I much prefer it when network TV isn’t calling the shots. This year, they played the 1812 Overture fairly early, with a small display of fireworks, and then there were 90 minutes of filler country music until the main show at 10:30, timed to end just before the 11:00 news.

But, oh, what a show it was. It made the wait worthwhile. Not only did they shoot them from the barge, but they launched sprays of fireworks from the Mass Ave bridge itself, and I was close enough to the bridge to feel the heat from the fireworks. There were jets of fireworks flying up from the length of the bridge, with sprays of light in the sky beyond. It was magnificent.

Finally, though, came the finale, and then it was time to up-anchor and head back. It was kind of cool kayaking in the dark, part of a stream of boats heading upstream. Each boat had at least a light, and several of us were adorned with a number of glow sticks. I’d been worried about pulling out of the river, but I found the exit pretty easily, and was able to get out without a problem. All in all, a wonderful night.

Navigating Files

I’ve been having a really hard time lately at work trying to keep track of the items I need to work with. I’ve been working in the front end with WebStorm for nearly two years, and lately I’ve been starting to do some Java work in Eclipse, and stored procedure work in MySQLWorkbench. Typically, in any of these environments, I may be working on between five and twenty open items at a time. None of these environments make it easy to keep track of the files one has open, or to find the item you’re looking for.

One thing they have in common is that they all use a collapsible tree view as the default means of opening items. When you open a folder, the folder shows its contents, but the other open folders are still visible, as are the contents of any containing items.

This leads to a very broad but shallow decision tree. There can literally be dozens of open items that your eye has to scan through to find find the desired item. It’s even harder with the list of stored procedures, since they are named by convention in ALL_CAPITAL_LETTERS, meaning there are fewer differences in letter forms, and they cannot be organized by folder, or even initial letter… just a long list of capitalized words that look much alike.

By way of contrast, the Mac (and Windows) default standard file picker allows you to drill down into a file hierarchy. You can use disclosure triangles if you want, but you can also double click a file, and only the files in that folder are visible. It’s easier to acquire a target from a list of fifteen files than it is in a list of sixty.

Webstorm disabled the option to use the native file picker because of Java issues, but when I asked about it, their customer service person told me about a hidden registry key to re-enable it. It’s made me much more productive.

All three environments use tabbed windows with the tabs on the top, at least, by default. In Eclipse, is the file names get truncated, and the set of files I’m working with at any one time are all named similarly, so it’s hard to see which tab to jump to. Also, since space is limited, it’s often the case that the file I want is hidden.

I’ve configured Webstorm to show the tabs on the side. This means more of them are visible, and it doesn’t truncate the file names so they’re easier to differentiate. Unfortunately, it sometimes closes files without warning if there are too many open, or if one clicks on the tab in the wrong way.

It would not surprise me to find that Eclipse could be configured the way I want, but I haven’t found it yet. Its preferences are a maze of twisty passages all alike, and I haven’t made myself at home yet.

I find MySQLWorkbench has its own way to be annoying. It’s good about showing the full name of the open file or procedure, but it also doesn’t necessarily scroll the tab set so that the open tab is among the open tabs, making it hard sometimes, to bounce between two pieces of work.

These IDEs do a lot to make things easier for developers. I just wish their UIs were more polished.

Pinkerton Over Timberlane

I took a vacation day today to see my nephew Matt play his last home volleyball game at Pinkerton Academy. The team is in second place, and they were playing the first place Timberlane Athletics. The Astros won 3 games to 1; all four games were very close.

Me being me, I took some pictures. Well, OK, 183 pictures to be exact. Here are a few:

Matt Erb spiking

Matt Erb spiking

DSC_0145

DSC_0085

Matt

DSC_0100 DSC_0106 DSC_0114 DSC_0130 DSC_0131 DSC_0144 DSC_0145

Matt Erb and Matt O'Hara

Matt Erb and Matt O’Hara

Seniors

Seniors

Shirt Banners

Shirt Banners

Focus 40

I attended the Focus 40 event at Northeastern tonight. Sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, it was designed to focus on envisioning the state of transportation in the Greater Boston and 2040. Although a planning session for the T, the panel discussion actually said very little about the MBTA. It was more about what the role of government vs private enterprise should be, how climate change will potentially affect the transportation system, and potentially how new technologies such as Uber or Lyft, or self driving cars are the way of the future.

It was all very interesting, and there were a number of very well known people there. Transportation Secretary Pollack and another state Cabinet officer opened the talk, and I saw the new General Manager of the T there. Former Transportation secretary (and father of the Big Dig) Fred Salvucci spoke from the floor, and former Governor Dukakis was there.

For me though, it was a little too orientated toward transit advocates. A couple of panelists, when asked for a headline from 2040, announced the last of the private automobile. I’m not having it, at least not entirely. I don’t dispute the appeal of on-demand ride sharing programs like Uber, but I’m not as bullish on autonomous vehicles. For one thing, if everyone has their own self driving car, that’s still a ton of congestion on the road. More importantly, though, they overlook how enjoyable and empowering it is to drive oneself.

I like to drive, and I know my brother likes to drive even more than I do. They say things like you could read or relax while on the train or in a self driving car, but I’d much rather be the driver than a passenger.

I’ve been a rail fan since I discovered the subway commuting to BC. But we moved our office from Newton to downtown Boston in December, and I’ve been chafing at riding the commuter rail since. It’s a lot more expensive than driving to Newton, and a lot more inconvenient in many ways. Driving, I could be a few minutes late and not worry; taking the train, if I’m a couple of minutes late, I’ll miss the train, and have to take the next one — and the gaps between trains are long. I used to work late quite often; now I have to drop things in the middle in order to be sure of catching the train — after 6:15, the gaps between trains are even longer. The trains are too crowded to read easily*. And paradoxically, I’m riding my bicycle much less. I used to keep it in the back of the car and go for a ride after work; now, I don’t have the bike with me, and I don’t have the time to go someplace after getting back to the station.

Personally, I suspect transportation in 2040 will be much like transportation now. There will still be people driving themselves, either because they can afford to, or they like to, or are going someplace the system doesn’t easily serve. I think the rapid transit and commuter rail systems will still be vital, simply because of their capacity to move a lot of people at once. I do think ride sharing programs like Uber and Lyft will pick up a lot of the “last mile” traffic, and bleed some usage from the bus system. I suspect buses will be routed much more dynamically than they are now,  and possibly even on demand. I think a bus route could be managed by an autonomous vehicle, but I also believe that the unions will be able to block it from happening for a while. And hanging over all these trends is the risk of catastrophic weather caused by climate change causing heavy damage.

* On the reverse commute to Providence this was not the case.