Bump stocks

The Supreme Court issued a ruling that invalidates a 2018 ban on “bump stocks”. These are designed to increase the rate of fire of semiautomatic rifles using the recoil to mechanically “bump” the trigger against the user’s finger.

Is there any kind of practical use for this, other than having fun or possibly mowing down people? Not really. It’s not like there’s a need for anything of the sort while hunting or target shooting. Of course, the Second Amendment has nothing to do with either hunting or target shooting, so that isn’t really pertinent. There are a lot of guns out there that are essentially useless during peacetime other than for pure entertainment. Never underestimate the childlike glee of emptying a 20- or 30-round magazine downrange, safely, in a brief period. If anyone ever offers you the chance to run a few dozen (or a few hundred) rounds through anything on full auto, take it. No question. I’ve fired an M60 machine gun, an M16 on full auto, and a charming little .22 submachine gun that looks like the love child of a Thompson and a Lewis gun. That one was suppressed, for even more fun. I highly recommend it if you get the chance.

Don’t take this to mean that I’m in favor of bump stocks, or in favor of banning them. My opinion on that subject honestly doesn’t matter one bit. What does matter is how this whole drama has played and is playing out.

In 2018, the BATFE issued a ruling that they considered bump stocks to be included in the definition of a “machine gun”. Machine guns are, to a degree, legal to own, as long as the gun was manufactured prior to 1986 and the owner has the gun registered with BATFE and has paid a tax. Since supply is very limited and getting smaller all the time, owning a machinegun is beyond the reach of most gun enthusiasts. Even the cheapest full-auto gun will set you back well over $10K, plus a long slog of paperwork. Of course since bump stocks were developed after 1986, if they’re ruled to be machine guns — they’re illegal.

But there’s a specific definition of a “machine gun” in the National Firearms Act. The BATF had issued several letters in the years prior to 2018 stating that bump stocks were not considered machine guns, and were legal. In 2018, they reversed that and declared them to be machine guns. This kind of semi-random rulemaking is not unusual for the BATFE, nor is it unique to them — plenty of agencies do the same kind of thing.

The minority dissenting opinion from the Supreme Court, written by Justice Sotomayor for herself, Kagan, and Jackson, said this:

“When I see a bird that walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck. A bump-stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle fires ‘automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger,’ I, like Congress, call that a machinegun.”

Well, there’s the problem. You see a duck, someone else sees a loon or a goose or whatever. A bump stock does not technically allow the gun to keep firing “by a single function of the trigger”. It just allows the shooter to activate the trigger quite a bit faster than most of us could do manually. That’s according to all those BATFE issued letters saying that they were not machine guns.

Congress did, in 1934, write a definition, and the BATFE has been interpreting and re-interpreting it ever since. If Congress wants to impose some improved or additional clarity, or if they want to expand or change the definition, then Congress should do so rather than allowing the BATFE to do what they lack the will or the motivation or the intestinal fortitude to do. Updating a law every 90 years or so might not be the worst thing that could happen.

A year’s worth of updates

Time flies when you’re ignoring a blog, right? I’ll catch up.

  • The Mercedes is gone. After everything I’d fixed on it, when the transmission decided it didn’t want to work reliably any more — screw it, I was done. It was an awesome car to drive, but not so much fun to own. I replaced it with a much newer 2018 BMW 540i Xdrive, which has been wonderful.
  • Still flying occasionally, but nowhere near as much as I should or want to.
  • Nothing’s happened with the Mustang, other than getting the engine put back together.
  • We’ve picked up a couple more rental houses; that enterprise is going pretty well overall.
  • We switched from Visible to T-Mobile. Visible had great service when we signed up; it slowly degraded to barely usable. TMO has been better, but not great.
  • I just dumped CenturyLink. Our CenturyLink fiber service has been down since Wednesday morning (it’s Friday now). It took me three hours to get through to a human there, on the phone, who told me they could have someone out Saturday morning. Absolutely appalling service. We were up and running on Cox within an hour of leaving the house to go pick up their equipment.
  • Now I remember why I didn’t like Cox’s equipment… zero flexibility, no control over your own local network at all. You can’t even set your own DNS, so my Pi-Hole is not functional. I’ve got new equipment coming this afternoon. New cable modem, router, and mesh wifi.
  • I left my long time employer (a bank) a little over a year ago and now work for another bank.

Too bad about comments…

I have had to go through every WordPress site I run and completely disable comments and responses on every post and page on all of them. The penalty for not doing so is a non-stop stream of assholes (both live and bot scripts) posting spam responses to nearly every one of them. So, if you have anything to say, sorry — you can’t say it here. I do accept email, though.

Disassembly and discovery

Tonight I checked on the state of the heater, since the hoses are disconnected and bypassed. As it turns out, the heater box is broken. It’s a $180+ fiberglass box. I’m debating whether to just buy new, or repair this one. A good little chunk is missing, but I have the fiberglass and epoxy here from some wheel pant repair I did. I’ll sleep on that for a day or two before deciding. It would take me a couple of evenings to lay up new glass, clean it up and shoot some paint on it. It’s not like it’s going to show, it just needs to be functional and not too ugly.

I also found one of the most ghetto examples of defect hiding I’ve ever seen. I mean, I saw the telltale globs of pink putty and knew there was some crap work done up front, but this… holy crap. A nice big rust hole under the hood was filled with a great big glob of clear RTV silicone, smoothed out and painted over. I’m not making this up. I have no idea what else I’m going to find up there, but it’s getting a little ominous. Oh well… I did budget for nasty surprises and outside labor for welding. It will just take a fender apron and some labor to cut out the old and weld in the new. If I’m lucky, maybe even just an extension piece. That was the passenger side, I haven’t checked out the driver side yet. Gotta make a run to the hangar before the snow gets too deep… it seems ALL of my 3/8 ratchets have migrated there. I’m not taking the rest of those fender bolts out with nothing but a flex handle.

On the bright side, the more I dig into the interior, the better things look. It’s looking like two people attacked this car at different times. One did the absolute worst job imaginable, and all his stuff needs to be ripped out and re-done — plus fixing the additional damage his work caused. The other tried to do it right, even if kind of cheap, and it just needs to be cleaned up and fixed a little. The dash just needs a new bezel for the instrument cluster. The original AM radio works (the speaker is toast, of course). All the controls seem to be operational and looking OK — I can run them through the brass tumbler and polish them up with some walnut shell media.

I started chipping and scraping away all the primer and filler and caulk and gunk and other crap around the windshield and rear window. I was afraid I’d find rust in the A pillars or around the rear window; aside from surface rust there’s very little. So far, all of the “seriously wrong” seems to be concentrated in one little corner of the car. I’m beginning to suspect a botched collision repair in the distant past, but it’s really too early to tell until I get those fenders off. For that, I’ll need more room in the garage so I can swing the doors fully open. Another day.

Dumping Hulu

Hulu was more or less OK, but we’re switching to DirecTV Now. Same price, but they have AMC AND a program guide. How did I ever miss the fact that Hulu doesn’t carry AMC?? I have no idea, but that’s a deal breaker. And I got really freakimg tired of no program guide, and being forced to scroll through the crap networks we don’t EVER watch, every time I wanted to see what’s on.

DirecTV Now isn’t perfect but so far it beats Hulu for streaming live TV. We may pick up basic Hulu from time to time if we want to catch up on some of their series, but I’m not keeping them on the payroll any more.

Hulu Support contacted me via Twitter to say they do have a program guide. Let’s just say their idea of what qualifies as a program guide differs from mine. You can get a listing of what is on RIGHT NOW, and the next show on each channel. No indication of whether a show is new or a rerun. No time grid to see what’s on later. No way to filter the channel list other than very recently viewed channels, or scroll through all of them whether you want to or not. Don’t ever care what’s on BET, MTV, Cartoon Network or whatever? Too bad. Oh, and whatever you were watching is gone while you’re looking — no audio or background video, like with cable or DTV.

At this point we’re new to streaming our live TV, so my loyalty to any vendor is zero. We’ll switch until we find something we like, and if I find something better we’re gone.

More on cord cutting

We’re a couple more weeks in now, and so far we’re not really missing the cable TV much. It would be better — much better — if Hulu would just offer a damned program guide. The data is there, why not offer it in the app? Not doing so is just stupid and obstinate. It has my customer loyalty at zero, and I’m looking at alternatives like YouTube TV. Unfortunately, they do not offer a couple of cable networks that we consider “must-haves”: History Channel and Discovery.

I’ve now got 4K Fire TV Sticks on the big family room TV and the one upstairs. The Fire Cube will go on the basement TV, to get it away from the Echo device in the kitchen so those two aren’t always getting confused. I only bought the 4K sticks to get the remote with volume controls… any 4K TV we may buy in the future will have apps built in, so we won’t need the sticks for them anyway.

Ooma service has been rock solid, and it’s nice to be able to answer a call with my cell phone if Lisa is on another call on the cordless phone. I just power cycle the box once a week. I’d love it if Ooma would fix whatever causes the POTS port on the Telo to die weekly, but they don’t seem that interested in troubleshooting it. Meh. For the money we’re saving, I guess I’ll live with it.

New year, new way

Well, we are further down the “cord cutting” path as of 12/31. Friday night I got my billing notification from Cox… over double the amount I had expected, and well over $400. There was an unexplained “equipment” charge of $122, and some other new stuff. Apparently when we ported the phone number to Ooma, they canceled the phone service… along with a bunch of “package discounts” that significantly increased the cable TV costs.

I spent half an hour Monday gathering up all the Cox equipment. One Contour TV box, two mini boxes, a CableCard, the phone modem box, and a “tuning resolver” of some sort that was connected to the HDHomeRun box that had the CableCard. Took it all up to the Cox store, and returned it all. I told the nice woman there that I wanted to drop everything except Internet. She did not seem surprised at all, and much to my surprise didn’t even try to talk me out of it. I suspect it’s pretty common now.

I’d been seeing a persistent nag box on the Cox web site for the past few weeks, telling me I could upgrade to “GigaBlast” 1 Gbps Internet service for $99.99 per month — for the first year, anyway, with no indication of the cost after that period. That’s what they have been charging me for 300 Mbps, but it requires a new DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem. I just bought a nice DOCSIS 3.0 less than two years ago, so I wasn’t wild about that since 300 Mbps is more than adequate for our needs. The GB service is normally $119.99, not that they disclose that anywhere I could find. I asked her what the next step down in Internet access would cost — she said 100 Mbps for $87.95. That’s not much of a discount for a 2/3 reduction in speed, so I passed. However, that caused her to look at my other options. She said we qualified for a special deal on GigaBlast. $65.99 for two years, $85.99 after that, AND a free new cable modem with wifi. Cox calls it “Panoramic Wifi” for some reason. How could I pass that up? Another $34 off my monthly bill? Sure, let’s do that.

I wasn’t expecting this new twist, so I hadn’t given any thought to how to make this new equipment work in our network. I spent an hour or two getting things set up. I thought I’d keep the existing wifi router, so I created a new wifi network. As it turns out I could have saved myself a lot of extra work, because I ended up just using the Cox router and unplugging the old Netgear box. I may use it to set up a guest network, I don’t know. Anyway, we now have fairly good wifi coverage and really good speeds. At some point I’ll drag coax up to the shelf on the main floor where the Netgear router lived, so we will have better coverage. Sure wish I’d thought of that when we did the remodel and it would have been easy. I’m just glad those two Ethernet runs aren’t stapled down to the studs; I’ll be able to use one as a pull line to pull the coax through.

The new hardware and service solutions are still not perfect, but we’re living with it. That’s a subject for another blog post. If you’re looking for a seamless transition or a totally trouble-free experience, we’re not there yet and may never be. Some of us remember when you could pick up a telephone and make a call to anyone, always know for sure you’re going to get a dial tone, calls virtually never got disconnected for no reason, and the voice quality — while not stellar — was always the same. With simplicity comes reliability, I guess. Now, I will grant that we are a little bit of an edge case. I could have gone out and bought a new TV for the family room and used its built-in Amazon/Hulu/whatever apps. That means it all gets power cycled at least once a day. I could have gone with a Fire TV Stick, same deal. I didn’t, because of our specific hardware limitations. After dealing with the Cube for a while, though, I’m going to try the 4K Stick and see if that works for us. Long story, but the Fire TV Stick (or anything else) would have required a second remote. Or so I thought. As it turns out, the newest remote does have an IR emitter to control the soundbar.

So here’s the score so far… our monthly Cox bill, back before our “special deal” ran out, was $210 per month for Internet, TV and phone. We weren’t paying anything extra for streaming services — no Netflix, Hulu, etc. We have Amazon Prime, but I treat that separately because it pays for itself between shipping and credit card discounts. That amount had been gradually creeping upward for over a year as little additions were made to fees and surcharges. After the special deal expired, we were paying $241 monthly. That did include HBO and Showtime — utterly worthless wastes of money, and I just hadn’t gotten around to canceling them both. That would have dropped the bill to roughly $215.

Our total monthly spend now works out as follows:

  • Ooma Premiere phone service $17.64/month
  • Hulu with Live TV $42.77 per month
  • GigaBlast Internet $65.99 per month

Total new monthly spend: $126.40. Total savings: Between $86 and $114 per month, depending on how you look at it. Is over $1K to nearly $1400 a year worth the incremental amount of button pushing to watch TV? I think yes.

Can we save more? I don’t know, but I rather doubt it. We’re paying Hulu quite a bit for the live TV portion. Can we cut that down? Not really. Apps for several networks we watch require a cable TV sign-on to use. Ooma Premiere is costing us about 1/3 what Cox was charging us, and for more and better features. Honestly I don’t know that we can do a lot better. I was paying more when I was running my own Asterisk VOIP PBX and connecting directly to a VOIP backbone provider. We pay about $11.50 per month for “enhanced” caller ID, and some call blocking features that have been moderately effective at reducing the number of robocalls and scammers ringing the house phones. Worth it.

Oh, and when I got home from the Cox store I received an email begging me to stay. They’d cut my rates by 40% if I came back, they said. For a while, anyway. Sorry, too little too late. If you wanted to keep me as a customer, then why were you screwing us by overcharging? If you’ll sell it to me for $144 per month, then why were we paying $240? I don’t want a vendor that I have to call every few months and threaten to leave, then re-negotiate our deal. I don’t enjoy doing it, and I don’t enjoy being taken for granted. We don’t hate Cox, but quite frankly they are pricing themselves out of the market.

Re-lighting the basement

Our basement has a bunch of recessed can lights in the ceiling.  Like, 16 of them total, if you count the two in the stairwell.  Originally they were all populated with 65 W incandescent flood lamps.  Quite a while ago, I replaced them with CFL bulbs that only required 15 W each.  Since I was using the basement as my home office, that was quite a savings.  Assuming the lights were on around 12 hours a day, it saved roughly 9.6 kWH of electricity daily.  Those CFL lamps were not cheap, about $14 each as I recall…  but they paid for themselves in under a year, if I remember the math right.

Of course CFL lamps don’t turn on at full brightness immediately.  They took a few seconds to get up to snuff, maybe half a minute or so after they were installed.  It was OK, not great, but not bad at all considering the energy saved.  Over time, though, they took longer and longer to turn on.  They were also getting dimmer and dimmer over time.  Lately it’s been turn on the lights, then go do something else for five minutes or so — and the light is still not great.  It was time to replace them.

I ordered a batch of Feit 90+ CRI 75 W replacement, dimmable LED retrofit kits.  These replace the lamp and trim, and give substantially more light for roughly the same power consumption.  They’re rated at 14 W and 850 lumens.  So far I’ve installed 10 of the 16, and the difference is striking.  Of course they reach full brightness as soon as you flip the switch, which is nice.  They’re also quite a bit brighter than the CFLs ever were, so the amount of available light as gone from inadequate or barely adequate to “plenty”.  And these were cheap, at an average of less than $7.50 per fixture after shipping. 

The real surprise was how long those CFLs had been in place.  I didn’t realize it, but I found a notation on one that it was installed in mid-2007.  I’m pretty sure that was a replacement for one of the failed original lamps, because they were supposedly warrantied for a few years.  I’ll say this — after eleven years, those CFL bulbs owe me nothing.  If I get the same life out of the LEDs I’ll be a happy guy.

Now to figure out how we’re supposed to dispose of CFL bulbs.  I’m pretty sure they’re not supposed to go in the garbage, and I’ve got a pile of them now.

Sorry, but it’s never right. Ever.

Seeing ads pop up everywhere for the Oscars reminded me of the night Lisa and I watched “Get Out”, the movie that was popular a few months back and will hopefully slide into well-deserved obscurity.

I have not seen such an appallingly and blatantly bigoted, racist movie in I don’t know how long.  Let’s take a moment to recap the themes of this piece of trash:  White people are evil and not to be trusted.  You will very likely have to kill them.  They (whites, and especially rich whites) only want to use blacks for their (far superior) physical abilities and talent.  Women are similarly not to be trusted; they will probably sell you into slavery.  Black people are weak minded and easily manipulated, especially if you dangle a white chick.

I could go on, but if you’ve seen the movie you had to have gotten the point.  It was like something out of Germany in the 30s colorized a little differently.

People like to harp on the violence and glorification of drug culture in rap (or R&B or whatever it’s called this year) music.  It’s certainly not my style, I don’t listen to it — ever — and so could not tell you just how prevalent the themes are.  About as polar opposite as you can get, though, is the current crop of country stars.  Of course in country music it’s OK to murder your husband, at least according to Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert.  And drug use is OK, according to — well, just about every country singer.  Just imagine, though, Luke Bryan or Blake Shelton singing about beating or murdering their girlfriend or wife.

So why do some people seem to think it’s OK to be bigoted and racist — as long as you’re not white?  Or it’s fine to talk about shooting or poisoning your abusive spouse — as long as you’re a woman?  Rioting and destruction is fine — as long as you’re a minority?  And drug use is OK, no matter who you are?

We can and should be better than this.  Murder, destruction, racism, bigotry, drug abuse — it doesn’t matter who you are.  It’s not OK.


A stock market bloodbath? Meh… maybe.

Looks like the Dow dropped over 1100 points today.  Part of me wants to be shocked and a little panicky — that’s a big-ass hit, and for us personally it means a significant hit to our retirement savings.  I mean, that’s a lot of dollars gone in one day.

Looking at it a little more calmly, though, what we lost is about what we had gained in the past few weeks of ridiculously over-optimistic frenzy.  Berkshire, for example (BRK.B, not the hoity-toity flavor) dropped to its early January price.  AAPL dropped a little more, down to where it spent the majority of the second half of last year.  The index funds, like QQQ, DIA and SPY, have all dropped to about where I’d have normally expected to see them about now.  In other words, if you look at the chart for the past year, and extend the trend line — there you are.  We just erased a very anomalous growth bump that just reeked of a near-hysterical speculative bubble.

Now, if we can just go a few days without continued hysteria we’ll be in good shape.