William Wallace rolled over in his grave

I forgot to talk, the other day, about Scotland having a referendum on independence.  And I must admit, despite the vast practical problems it would cause, I was a bit surprised at the refusal.

Isn't it better to solve your own problems, rather than let someone else solve yours?

I guess that's a bit facile, as many Scots have been in important positions in the UK government (hmm... would make the marriage of the Queen of England and the Duke of Edinborough a bit awkward, now that I think about it), but it still seems fundamentally true.

I guess it means that the Scottish really are conquered, now.  Took an awfully long time.

Color me disappointed, I guess.


No big surprises

Well, no surprise that all the politicians in Washington thought bombing the Middle East back to the Dark Ages was a swell idea.  Also no surprise that they did it as an amendment to a "must pass" spending bill, with no record of votes for or against the war.  Once again, we see the most cowardly Congress in history, with no courage in their convictions, and plenty of willingness to kill brown people.

Not even a peace treaty between ISIL and other, various Syrian opposition groups (you know, the people we were going to be training to go after ISIL) was enough to get the politicians to rethink their strategy.

"Third time's the charm" for war in/around Iraq, I guess.

I don't understand it.  A pure bombing campaign (which, with the treaty with the Syrian opposition, is all with which we're left) is useless.  It'll kill some people, but also ensure plenty of new recruits.  It might hinder their operations a bit, but won't ever get them to stop what they're doing.

And apparently the killing started today.  I hope they can do a much better job of avoiding killing innocent bystanders than has been the case over the last... many years.

Biking update

Well, this weekend I passed 250 miles on my new bike (I was surprised to see that I only had 183 on my old hybrid this year), and passed 500 miles on the year this morning.  And I'm still having a blast, doing it.

I need to find some more routes to try, though.  I tried one new one this morning, with two disappointments there.  One was that it was only 16 miles, and the other that it spent too much distance on roads where I didn't feel terribly safe (I was never in danger, but I did see a very near miss between two cars when I was only 20-30 yds away.  I wonder if I distracted the driver who was turning, just with my presence).  And I did not like crossing Rt 7, right at I-66, on my bike, traffic light or no.

I'm planning my first century in about a week, and feeling pretty good about that.  I want to do rides the days before and after, but not sure how much.  I'd guess that ten miles at a slow pace would be good, but I'm terrible at keeping a slow pace.

I'm getting a Retül fitting the day before (accidental scheduling); wish I had more time between the two.  Regardless of the timing, I'm hoping to learn quite a bit from that.  I'm getting a bit of a feel for bike fit, but I want to see how it is when things are exactly right.  Wonder if it'll leave me with a bike where I've replaced all of the "don't care about this piece" parts.

One thing I've found fairly interesting is comparing the online forums for biking versus those for photography.  Although both span a wide range of ages, the photography ones certainly skew much older (no surprise).  But the big difference is signal:noise ratio.  Although I've gotten some very valuable info out of biking forums, the ratio seems very low.  Dunno if that really means anything, but I do find it interesting.


Catching up on technology

I watched with some interest, Apple's announcements last week.  I chuckled a bit at how the video, which I'd had on for ten or fifteen minutes without issue, died horribly right at 1300, when the keynote started.  In fact, I wasn't able to bring it up again, and resorted to watching Ars Technica's liveblog of it.

And what do I think?

Eh, I'm skeptical about the larger phones.  My suspicion, without playing with one, is that it's too big.  Even the littler one.  We'll see, I guess.  I did find the adjustments to improve one-handed use interesting, but have no idea how well they'll work.

Outside of that, I loved the camera enhancements, especially on the larger model.  I was surprised that going to phase detect autofocus would only double the speed of focus-finding, but that's still a big deal.  And image stabilization?  That's pretty cool.

ATP had some interesting talk about it, but I wanted to add a couple things to their coverage.  Marcus stated that DSLRs use in-lens stabilization, rather than sensor-based.  That's true for Canon and Nikon, but not for Sony.  In-lens is the only option with long lenses, but doesn't matter much at more normal distances.

I'm curious about how good the stabilization is.  Nikon's best allows four stops of improvements (they only have a couple of lenses with this much), but they have many with three.  I don't really know what Sony's best (on-sensor) stabilization can do, and have no idea with Apple (not that they're likely to talk about it).

They also advertised improvement in panorama capture, and I wonder how that works.  For sure, there's a lot of room for improvement over my 5S.

They also talked about improvements in both CPU and (especially) GPU, although I don't yet see any need for that.  Although I'm looking forward to an iPad Air with that improvement.  I play more games with that, and am much more likely to notice the difference.  Of course, there's also the issue that nothing's being written for the extra cycles yet; maybe that will change.  But I doubt it.

I thought the memory change was weird; moving the base to 32GB would be a lot better, although putting the up-steps to 64GB and 128GB a significant improvement (though a declining benefit with streaming music/movie services improving).  I have yet to get close to 32GB of use on my 5S, but am well over 16GB, without any movies, few photos, and with iTunes Match enabled.  So I agree with the ATP hosts that 16GB is getting to be ridiculously limiting.

The iPad-style layout on the 6+ in landscape is an interesting hybrid.  I can certainly think of situations where I'd like it, but I don't think I'd like it universally.

The other thing that will, I think, be a huge deal in the long run, is Apple payments.  I'm wondering about the security of the whole system (should re-watch the video to get the explanation), as it sounded a bit fragile, but hopefully I'm wrong on that.  If I am (and I hope so), then it should be a really good system, adding a world of convenience.

To facilitate it, there are two completely new pieces in the new iPhones.  A security chip, that will keep your credit card info in some encrypted fashion that is inaccessible to the rest of the system.  If it becomes allowed (it probably won't), don't use any third-party tool to access that.  And an NFC beacon, which will be used at the Point of Sale (POS) to do the payment.  From what I remember, you (in some order) tap the phone and use TouchID, so you pay without pain.

This has incredible potential, although I think it'll be iffy for a while.

But the Apple Watch... wow, has the media been waiting for that for a while.  And boy, do they deserve every bit of pain it has caused them.

I read a review from a watch geek, and it seemed that the watch piece was very, very good.  I haven't worn a watch in decades, personally, and eschew jewelry, so it has no interest to me from that perspective.  Functionally... I don't know.  The only part that seems very appealing to me is the use of Apple Pay.  Basically, touch the watch instead of the phonee, so you don't need to take that out.  Again, some impressive convenience.

As a fitness tracker... dunno.  That's one reason I would consider one, although I wonder how good it will be.  It won't be useful as a sleep tracker for the simple reason that it'll need to be charged at least daily (and I think battery life is going to be a serious limit on the first generation).  The ability to distinguish between running and biking is pretty cool, although I'm not sure how useful it is.  Does it really matter, as long as it tracks both?

The "taptic" vibrations could be cool, although it would take some tuning to figure out how much stuff to filter out for each person.  The idea of twitter or facebook vibrating on every incoming message is pretty horrific.  Especially when driving.

I think, though, the fact that it turns the display on when you bring the watch up to view it is a major saving grace, in terms of battery life.  I assume it also turns itself off after a set period of inactivity.  So, to get back to driving, I would assume it would turn on when putting your hands on the wheel, and turn off again pretty soon.  At least, I hope so, as the alternatives would blow.

All in all, it definitely leaves me curious, although I still wouldn't be able to use its killer app, as I won't have a 6/+ (6-series) iPhone at least until the next generation comes out.  And probably not until the 7 arrives (I'm with Casey, in that I don't think the current numbering scheme will even last until 10.  Although with numbers incrementing every other year, that still gives them quite a while to change it).

So do I want to spend $350+ on an Apple Watch.  Almost certainly not, at least for another year.  But I'm definitely looking forward to seeing where they go with it.

Catching up on politics

In the last week or so, several very important things have been going on that I haven't been talking about.

The most important is the President declaring war on a terrorist group.  Ignoring the fact that declaring war on them is a huge boon to their recruiting efforts, and ignoring (for the moment) that I think Obama's approach to doing so is pretty good, this is still a big mistake.

First, I disbelieve Obama's fundamental assumption that ISIL (or ISIS) is a threat to the US.  It's possible that it's a threat to US interests.  It certainly threatens to destabilize the region.  And that instability might push oil prices up.

But does that justify going to war?  Even if it's "only" an air war?

We've been providing lots of materiel to various regional powers (primarily Israel and the Saudis, but many others as well) for years.  That's a large part of why the US' trade imbalance isn't more severe; the US' biggest export is weaponry.

So, let them own the fight.  It's their region, they can pay for it themselves.  If they want to buy more weapons, great.

But the US has spent way too much of the last forty years being the world's police force.  Too much money and too many brave young men and women have been sacrificed.  The people we're "helping" generally don't like us being there.  The insurgents get a recruiting bonanza out of it.

In the end, I don't at all believe that it advances US interests.  It keeps the cost of oil down, but there are plenty of less-expensive ways to do that.  And the price at the pump needs to go up anyway; the ludicrous national highway tax is absurdly too low.  Letting the price rise will encourage more use of footpower, pedal power, and public transportation, all of which are beneficial to all of society.

And this idea that they're a direct threat to the US?  That's approaching the level of farce.  Maybe they have some agents with some interest in attacking the US.  For sure, they'd be able to hurt some people, but unless they have a way to manufacture WMDs in the US (because they aren't going to import them), then they're a matter for the police to deal with.  Without the SWAT approach, even.

And for them building a real state?  That's basically impossible with their current, nihilist (kill everyone) strategy.  The only way they'd be able to do that is to get the support of the populace.  And they've shown zero inclination to even work in that direction.

Getting back to Obama's strategy, I have to say that I like his slow and careful approach that gets buy-in from allies.  If we're going to go to war anyway, then that's infinitely preferable to Bush's cowboy (or maybe a better term would be "X-games") approach.  But the approach still doesn't justify the end.


Biking thoughts

I started biking again largely inspired by teaching my daughter, and mostly for fitness purposes, but I've got to admit these early morning rides are a blast.  Just flying along the trail (the road riding is only fun when there are few/no cars around)... It's quite a feeling.

We'll see if I keep it up, but I've gotten some cold-weather clothes on sale, lately, so I'm prepared for winter biking.  I must admit to being scared of the possibility of lots of snow, however; I'm not sure how to handle that.

One thing I did see this morning, that was kind of amusing, was someone that had four lights on their bike (three of which were directed... poorly, and the fourth was blinking) and another on their head.  I understand wanting to be seen, but that's just begging to blind people going the other direction.

I'm wondering what to do with my light, actually.  I have it directed only about ten feet in front of the bike, but I still do see a few people covering their eyes.  And I go fast enough that even having it aimed that close can be problematic (I had to slow down several times this morning because I couldn't see far enough ahead).

I wish there was a bike light with some sort of baffle that would allow blocking the light (hopefully redirecting more downwards) that would shine into people's eyes, while allowing a good amount of brightness on the ground.  I'll have to look around, I guess.


New appreciation for pro cyclists

I've switched to a longer bike ride in the mornings, which takes me up a steep hill about a mile from my house.  The hill's only 74 feet tall, according to strava, but at an 8% grade.  One of the segments covering it is called the 'Williamsburg Soulcrusher'; slightly over the top, I'll admit, but I'd call it the Legcrusher without a second thought.

It's made a bit worse by having a quarter-mile or so of slight incline leading up to it, where you can see it coming.  Ugh.

Anyway, it gives me a lot more appreciation for the Tour de France riders, who regularly face inclines that steep that are far, far longer than that.  I certainly don't envy them those climbs.


And not-so-whee

We also went, Tuesday, to a local steakhouse that we've visited several times before (J Gilbert's, in McLean).  The food and drink (they're the second-best lemon drop martinis in the area, I think, behind Cheesecake Factory, of all places) were very good.

But what was most interesting was that, with all the exercise and what-not I've been doing, the rare steak (I'll order rare at nicer places) I ordered didn't sit well with me.  I never got to the point of throwing up (or even close to it), but just didn't feel quite right for most of a day afterward.  Kind of weird; think I'll be avoiding rare steaks from now on.

Whee, the Pizza

On Friday, we were thinking about where to go for dinner, wanting someplace in Crystal City.  There are quite a few options around there, but we chose "We, the Pizza".

It was very convenient, and we've walked by it a number of times, and it smells divine.

I wasn't able to get what would be my first choice (I forget exactly, but it had andouille and caramelized onions), as I'd be the only one to eat it, but we shared a hawaiian, which was very good.  And they had freshly-made sodas (seriously, I watched them make my pineapple soda and the fruity concoction my wife wanted); very unusual, to put it mildly.

Good meal, all the way around.  And I'm still looking forward to that andouille pizza.


Political amusement

Was out in my yard yesterday, picking weeds while my daughter was riding her bike.  A guy walked up, said he was running for Congress, and was going house to house.

I wasn't too terribly sure what to make of that to begin with, as he was walking and looked hot and sweaty.  Shows dedication, for sure, if not the more buttoned up image usually associated with Congressmen.

But he then immediately asked if the hose worked, so he could fill up his water bottle.  Well, no problem there.  No comment beyond a simple "yes" when I asked if he was looking to replace Moran.  Then just said to check out his website, and left me a flyer as he continued on.

Two things of amusement there.  The flier was written like a letter, and the second paragraph said, "I stopped by today to hear your concerns and share my vision...".  If so, it was well-concealed.

The other point was that there's no indication of party affiliation (not even an indication of 'Independent').  That immediately led me to believe 'Republican', this being a very blue district.  And, now, after looking at his website, I think that's probably right, although I don't see any indication there, either.

But his policy positions seem pretty right-leaning.  They're couched in fairly moderate language, but there's some potentially scary stuff there (school vouchers, mention of "clean coal", support for fracking, support for middle east interference (read: war-mongering), and a halt in all government services as all agencies do cost-analysis of all existing regulations).  He also mentions involvement in the Simpson-Bowles Commission, and then pretends that there was a plan that came out of that (a common fallacy, to be sure, but if he was even remotely involved, then he knows that that's a lie).

I'm also amused that he mentions being a senior congressional staffer working towards bi-partisan solutions.  The last ten years have set new records for low levels of bi-partisan effort, simply due to one side having no interest in solutions (it's much easier to work against any solution, and then rail against the ability of the government to deliver solutions.  It astounds me how well that strategy, combined with gerrimandering, has worked).  So if he wants to claim that, it does not redound in his favor.

Anyway, good luck to Mr Edmond, but he certainly does not have my vote.