Learning to Kayak

As a lifelong paddler of canoes, with the occasional kayak outing here and there, I recently began to think that kayaking is the life for me.  Within 10 minutes of arriving at this decision, I had purchased a couple of kayaks and drained all the cash out of my bank account.  (Unfortunately, I happened to be at an outdoor outfitter when I experienced this epiphany)

NOTE to kayak purchasers:  If you are getting ready to purchase a kayak, definitely work through this blog post.  While putting this together, I discovered that there are two important things that the sales person failed to mention to me:  Kayak skirt (a must-have) and sealed bulk-heads.  I bought my son a kayak that doesn’t have sealed bulkheads, and on mine there is only one.  So, I will be buying the right kind of three-inch foam and doing it myself.  The tricky part for that will be making a template, but I have a trick for that that you will like to see.  I will make a video for that later this summer (2014).

Kayaking has a lot of the same mechanics to it that you’ll find in canoeing, but it pleased me to no end to watch a series of videos and learn that kayaking embraced another discipline that I have had many thousands of hours of experience with as a child and an adult : swimming.  As a child I swam every day – my parents forced me to do it.  I actually kind of hated it, but because my mom had me in the pool when I was two, I was better at it than all the other kids (I had more practice than they did.) So, my parents made the same mistake that many parents make – they thought I was “gifted” at it and so they forced me into it.

OK, back on topic:  Kayaking has a number of paddling strokes that are very similar to swimming.  – think of the kayak like the swimmers body, and the paddle is his arms.  I suppose you could even split the paddles and do a butterfly stroke and a breast stroke, but I don’t recommend trying to do that as a serious paddle.

This morning I embarked on a mission to learn more about paddling, and I am so excited about all the things I learned that I wanted to share them, along with some GREAT videos from paddle TV that really get to the point (better than i am doing here…).  I’m hoping that you will read through this and watch these videos, which will make your next kayaking outing both safer and more enjoyable.

Propelling yourself forward using the Forward stroke

Here is a nice blog post about an efficient stroke: http://www.usawildwater.com/training/fwdstroke.html and here is a great video that you should definitely watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvi7rIlsNRY


There are three parts to this:

  1. Catch – stick your paddle in the water.  Some videos show the paddler stuffing his entire paddle under water – I think that how much of your paddle you stick in is entirely related to how fast you want to go and how much maneuvering power you need, but you should develop your own style and methods.  Don’t think that you have to do it exactly like the pros.
  2. Stroke – rotation – While holding your paddle with a firm but easy grip, use your entire upper body. “Wind up” your body, and plant entire blade. Use your body rotation to power the forward stroke. Real power comes from core and body rotation. If you use just your arms, you will end up with sore shoulders.  Your stomach and sides and back have big muscles on them that can work hard for a long time, once they are conditioned.  One thing I noticed in the videos I watched is that the professional paddlers had a stroke line that followed the wakes of their kayaks.  I look forward to trying that out – my suspicion is that if you follow the wake line with your paddle, you will be far less likely to waddle or fishtail your kayak a lot.  By keeping your kayak tracking in a straight line, you can take longer strokes and get more speed.  This will conserve your energy by delivering more power to your forward motion.
  3. Exit – it looks like the kayakers in these videos are twisting their paddle right before they pull it out.  This will reduce splashing, but it will also reduce the suction effect you get when you pull the paddle out of the water.  Try it both ways and see what I mean.

Exercise: Tilt the boat and paddle forward to turn in the opposite direction you are tilted.  Experiment with this as I saw people doing some things with their kayaks that were pretty impressive.

Turning around using Sweep Strokes


  1. Tilt kayak away from the direction you want to turn (tilt with hips!), brace yourself using the pedals.
  2. Take long, far reaching, sweeping stroke, with paddle completely in water.
  3. Combine alternating forward and reverse sweeps into a “spin turn.”

Sideways with Draw Strokes and Sculling Draws


  1. Reach out, insert paddle, and pull it toward your hipS
  2. Slice or “T” out before you hit the kayak!
  3. sculling is like fish tailing the paddle out to the side to push you – you should watch the video for this and try it out and experiment.

Stabilizing the kayak in a wobbly situation: Getting upright

Low brace, high brace, and sculling brace are techniques for getting your kayak back into an upright position if you have tilted too far over and can help prevent a tip.  They involve reaching out in the direction that you are tipping, reaching out with the flat of your paddle, and pushing down ward and toward the underside of your kayak, drawing the paddle in toward your hip.  As you do this, your head should stay down, and your hip should snap up and toward the upright position.  If you’ve ever seen anyone do that dance move where his arms make a wave as he steps to one side, it kind of is like this.  Again, watch the video from these Paddle TV guys!

Again, another fantastic video from these paddle TV guys:

  1. High brace – hands in a pull-up position..  You can pull weigh more weight with your back than you can push with your shoulders.  First, remember to keep your hands low, even in a high brace.  A high brace is probably better for rougher situations, whereas a low brace is something for calmer situations. Not that any situation is ever a calm one…
  2. Low Brace – hands in push-up position.  In both of these, you are essential using the paddle as a lever.  THe further away from you the paddle is, the more leverage you will get, but it will also be harder to do (it’s a physics thing, which I am actually sort of qualified to talk about, unlike most of this post)

According to this video, the high and low brace moves are kind of a one shot deal.  If it fails, you need to switch into another technique called a sculling brace.  I am not sure if it is wise to attempt consecutive low/high braces.  I’m also not sure which has more power, the high brace or sculling; I suggest you experiment and see what works best for your center of mass, strength, and your own body mass.

Sculling brace

the sculling brace you just sort of have to see to get.  It’s just like sculling when you are upright, only you are using it now in a more powerful way, with the paddle deep in the water, and you combine it with the hip pivot and head roll to get back into an upright position.

Oops!  You aren’t in your kayak any more.

Well, now you know why you should never kayak alone.  This technique requires two people and a second kayak.

re-entering the kayak
Three things that need to be accomplished:

  1. get in the boat
  2. get the water out
  3. get full control

You really need to watch the video on this one, and then practice it on your lawn.  Then, once you have it mastered, try it in the water.  Make sure you don’t forget your pump, and do it only on the nicest, warmest day when you were planning on swimming anyway!


Here are some key takeaways:

  • Never kayak alone – when buying a kayak, if you buy a tandem, it doesn’t count!
  • Sealed rear and forward bulkheads – without them, the kayak can sink
  • Keep a hold of gear (paddles) when you fall in.
  • Kayaks should be positioned upside down kayak bow to rescuer in a ‘T’ configuration during recovery
  • man in water – pushes on stern
  • man in kayak – lifts and rolls bow to empty water.
  • position kayaks kayaks together in parallel, bow to stern, with cockpits offset so that the rescuer can stabilize the bow during reentry
  • There are three reentry techniques:
  1. feet first, using the two kayaks like parallel bars
  2. pull body on deck
  3. Scoop final option – leave kayak in, slide in and then rotate it up. pump out.


Be sure to read training materials and watch lots of videos before you go out onto the water.  Other safety tips include things like wearing a helmet, wearing a wet or semi-dry suit when the water is really cold.  One rul of thumb i ran across in my research is if the air + water temp is less than 100 degrees = trouble, fast.  You literally have minutes to live if you are wearing cotton.  Kayaking can be one of the safest sports, but if you don’t know what you are doing you can easily get yourself into trouble.

That’s it, and don’t forget rule number one:  When in doubt, STAY OUT.  That goes double for river kayaking.  If you hear or see something and it looks like it might be trouble, get your kayak out of the water ASAP and walk up to the trouble site.  Examine it, and if you think it could be trouble, portage around it.


Why self-schooling is the ultimate, and only true school

There is no such thing as public schooling, private schooling, institutionalized schooling, or home-schooling. These are all just artificial realities that we wrap around our children, and serve only as vehicles for blame when we fail to teach our children what the true meaning of school is. There is only self-schooling. Everything I’ve learned that I use in life now I learned because I wanted to learn it. At the core of all my knowledge, at its center, lay just one person: Me.

The self has to take the responsibility to “school” its intellect. Once one accepts this responsibility, there is no obstacle to great, and no atmosphere to restrictive. A child who sits through all his years of institutionalized education, who challenges every thought, every notion, every aspect of it all, this is the child who can learn anywhere. Teach a child to question, and demand and search for answers, and to scientifically test those answers, and you teach a child to learn.

If a child won’t learn this, or refuses to learn it, then all you can do is read to him and wait for him to catch on, and hopefully become a productive member of society. As a parent, teaching my children to question is my responsibility.

I know what you don’t know that you don’t know.

I wrote this in response to a post at this site,  which tries to defend Jimmy John Liautaud’s behavior and habit of hunting and killing big game.  That tagline for this bloggers blog is “You don’t what know what you don’t know.”  I guess he thinks he knows what I don’t know that I don’t know.  It’s always interesting how that sort of thing can backfire on you….

To the author of this post:

In an effort to show exactly what it is that you apparently don’t know that you don’t know, I would like you to answer a few questions:

1. What benefit to the world ecology does having billions of chickens in cages have?

2. If all gulls went extinct, but we had millions of them in captivity, what would happen to the world ecology?

3. Think about the world as an ecosystem that depends upon the ability of animals to migrate and allow each to tend to its own discipline. If this collapses, do you think humanity would survive? Or do you refute that the ecosystem of the world is a highly complex, diverse system with interdependencies that we are only just beginning to fathom?

4. Do we need or require biodiversity in order for the planet to survive and produce oxygen at acceptable levels for human survival?

I  am very curious to see your answers to each of these questions, as each of them, if answered correctly and scientifically, should serve to refute the foundation of your argument – which seems to be that hunting animals that are kept in cages (however large or small) is somehow ok, and somehow contributes to the efforts of conservation. Furthermore, the keeping of animals in cages so that they may be hunted for sport exploits these animals, and inflicts and encourages further damage to an already heavily disrupted, world ecology.

Primarily, I think that before anyone, on either side of the fence, begins to argue in this space, they should be thoroughly educated as to the impact animals play in the world ecology. You don’t know what you don’t know – and we don’t know or fully understand the impact of each extinction that occurs. All we know is that every extinction is a warning sign from nature, and we need to listen. We might not be anywhere close to being next, but we are standing in the same line.

How to run a database: some ground rules

So you think you want to be a database engineer/architect/maintainer/worker? Notice, I didn’t say “DBA.” THis is mostly because I have met so many that are not….Database engineers and architects that are good at what they do get paid well, but the term “DBA” has little meaning because there are many people who have minimal understanding of SQL who claim that title. Don’t claim that title unless you are at least MCSE. For an entry level application/database engineer of a big platform sitting on SQL, the expectation is that your pay may deviate from those who work on the front end of the application.

Depending on the industry and the application, you may expect to get paid slightly more than the people on the front side.  This is because it is expected that you will have the same skills as them, but also have knowledge of infrastructure systems, and also be somewhat more willing to receive calls at strange times of day. For example, someone who has five years experience may get paid $77,000.  Someone with the exact same certifications and industry experience, but who can solve real problems and find and fix a root cause that has dropped the entire system to its knees, may get paid anywhere from $80k to $180k, with $80k being entry level into the database/infrastructure work.

Ok, enough about that.  Here are a few ground rules for good database etiquette:
  1. There are very few, select problems that  necessitate a reboot or restart of SQL server to fix a problem. Don’t do it if you don’t know why you’re doing it.
  2. Know your backup strategy, know that it works, and make sure management knows it, too.
  3. Know your disk IO, and test and retest and have a history of tests of it.
  4. Know what your users are doing and why they are doing it.
  5. Database queries should be fast.
  6. Understand the difference between poor disk I/O and poor file I/O
  7. There are a few blogs that are good, plus a lot of misinformation. Know which ones are best. (Ask around).
  8. Read a book, take notes, make lists, have checklists,blog about your experience.
  9. Never test code in a production environment. Especially never test UPDATE, DELETE, or INSERT SQL.
  10. Key lookups, table valued functions, table scans, and clustered index scans are red flags that a query is not well designed. Understand how to fix them PROPERLY.

That’s all I have on this subject, folks.  Let me know if you have any questions!


How to Care for a Hedgehog Named Sodium

I have a hedgehog.  I have had her for about 3 months. She is an albino.  This means that her body simply does not produce pigment, as opposed to leucism, which is like albinism, only it produces pigment, but lacks the receptors to retain it.  Sodium, much like the element, is very nearly white.

NOTE:  I am not an expert on hedgehogs. I just have one and it seems pretty healthy, so people sometimes ask me about her.   If you see something in here that is factually incorrect, please feel free to let me know.
Why did we get a hedgehog? I’ve always wanted one, and it was a happy compromise for my son and I. He wanted a tiger salamander. Yuck.
Hedgehogs are Mammals. They are members of the subfamily Erinaceomorpha. There are seventeen species of hedgehog in five genera, found through parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and New Zealand (by introduction).
You can find hedgehogs for sale at reptile expos and probably some pet stores too.  Reptile expos are held  all over the place, there are usually several a month in the Chicago area. You may also find them at bird expos.  If you google “bird expo” you will find it. Let me know if you don’t.
The expo  we attended took place in Wheaton, cost about $10 to get in, and was held at a county fair grounds I think. They  had several hedgehog dealers hawking their prickly pets for $100 – $150.
I seem to recall that the seller told us the female hedgehogs were nicer than the males, but you can just google that and find out if it’s true or not.  check with each vendor, and see who has the softest, nicest hedgehog.  The younger hedgehogs will have softer spines anyway, but my understanding is that, through selective breeding, some fancier ones have softer spines, even as adults.
So, you bought a hedgehog
In the beginning, owning a hedgehog was a challenge. it was difficult for a few reasons, both care and owner related. Our first hedgehog, named Yttrium, died very young, and we only had her for a week. It was very sad, because she was very nice and enjoyed being held and was very comfortable with people.
At any rate, what our experience with Yttrium taught us is that a personable, friendly hedgehog can be a very engaging pet. We aren’t certain we know why Yttrium died, we fed her and she ate and played in her cage, and drank from her bottle, but one day she just became listless and unresponsive and passed away shortly after that; we thought she had gone into hibernation because when we warmed her up and heated up the up the house, her condition improved.  The following day she became listless again and died within 2 hours.  The lesson we learned is that if your hedgie becomes listless and unresponsive, it might not be hibernation, and you should get hedgie to a vet immediately. I have another blog post about that experience.
After Yttrium died, I contacted the man who sold her to us. I just wanted him to know. I wasn’t looking for a refund but he seemed like a nice guy and I just thought he would want to know.  He insisted on providing a replacement. Nothing could (or as time would reveal, would) replace Yttrium. She was feisty, full of energy, curious, and just plain fun. Our working theory is that she burned out her entire life in one short burst of everything.
Ok, enough of my lamenting, but I wanted you to understand that perhaps part of our difficulties with Sodium may be related to our mindset.  We really, really missed Yttrium, and still do.
Sodium seemed to be perfectly friendly, very outgoing, and wonderful – at the show. But then I had to go pay, and they held onto her as I paid. She looked identical to three other hedgehogs they had, but we picked her because she was the friendliest. When. Got her home, it was like we had a different hedgehog. This one refused to uncurl.  Eventually, after much holding and coaxing
(Insert how to pet a hedgehog video here)
I got her to come out. This video shows how to do it. Once I got her to come out, it became easier to do it. So, maybe they pulled a bait and switch, it was a different guy at the counter, maybe he was attached to the one we wanted. Maybe we had a different hedgehog, maybe she just needed to get to know us.
Either way, the bond that we formed with Yttrium just didn’t magically appear with Sodium. Perhaps some things just aren’t meant to be, and we just have to accept that the pets we bring into our homes may not be what we expected.  We have to love and care for them anyway. It’s a commitment and a bond that, if you aren’t prepared to make it, then you shouldn’t buy a hedgehog. A) they are expensive and B) they require a lot of care.
What’s that, you ask? Why do they require more care than any other rodent?  Well, for starters, a hedgehog is NOT a rodent. If you look in a hedgehog’s mouth, you will notice immediately one huge difference is their teeth. A hedgie’s mouth is almost exclusively designed for eating bugs. They seem to have a mouthful of molars.  This means that they are not strictly vegetarians, they are bug eaters and have powerful jaws designed for crushing bugs (I’m spitballing here).  We feed Sodium the same food we feed our cats. Hedgies are, essentially, omnivorous.  This means they will eat just about anything. Mostly (in the wild) they like to eat bugs.
Feeding and Water
Meat eaters (omnivores in general) are considerably more difficult to care for than herbivores for pretty much only one reason: their poop is way, way smellier. You know how true this is if you have ever cared for a human toddler when he transitions from milk to meat.
 Some hedgehogs can be trained to use a litterbox, which you could then change nightly (believe me, you will feel deeply motivated to do this job).  Sodium likes to poop and pee in her wheel. Therefore, her wheel needs to be cleaned every morning, WITHOUT FAIL. Otherwise, the poop gets really hard and it is difficult to clean.  I use an old toilet brush and very hot water, with no soap.parts of the wheel are held together with electrical tape to reinforce it.
[place picture of wheel with tape here.]
Yttrium had a lot of trouble with getting water out of her water bottle. We think this may have contributed to her demise, but since I was not the primary care giver, I wasn’t monitoring her water levels so I don’t know.  I am the primary caretaker for Sodium, and as such she lives in my bedroom, and I keep a close eye on her health.  I noticed then, fairly quickly, that her water levels in her bottle did not decrease as fast as it should, and she was going 10 rounds with the bottle every night.  I switched her immediately to a stone water bowl—something heavy enough that she wouldn’t be able to use it as a toy, and bang it around the cage all through the night.  At first she liked to poop in it, but she seems now to have settled for happily shoving litter into it every night.
Handling a hedgehog is fairly easy, once you get them to uncurl. They are fairly smart,  I think she recognizes different people by their scent, so be careful how much hand lotion and soap you use before you hold yours. They don’t like strange new smells and will react by curling up very tightly.
They are easy to redirect, they aren’t fast, and generally have a head for heights. They may nip, but their teeth aren’t sharp. If one bites you, your reaction will be to jerk away which could potentially hurt the hedgehog.  Make certain your hedgie isn’t a biter by asking the seller to hold his fingers up to her nose. Yttrium would bite fingers if encouraged, but not as a matter of general behavior, and she would let go after just a moment and it wouldn’t draw blood. The potential is there, I suppose, but having been bitten HARD I don’t think it is likely.  Children have thinner skin, though. Yttrium only bit me two or three times and Ethan says I probably deserved it. With Sodium, if I am laying down and holding her, she will eventually wander up toward my face, grab a hold of my beard with her teeth, and gently tug at it.  I think she might think my chin is another hedgehog, and she is trying to get it to show its face.  Or, this could be a prelude to a behavior called anointing.
I have never seen Sodium anoint, and I never saw Yttrium do it, either.  It is a very strange behavior, it would be interesting to see. Possibly a sodium would do it, if I let her have her y with my beard, but I usually only let her give it a couple of tugs.  I am of course worried about having the small pair of pliers that is her mouth get a hold of some skin.
A hedgehog will use an exercise wheel. I have been meaning to make a video about how to convert a “silent” running wheel into one that is actually silent, but the bottom line is that you need to construct your own wheel if the sound bothers you.  I built mine out of a large running wheel by drilling out the center axle and replacing it with one I made myself out of bearings and steel pipe. It weighs about a pound and it outlasted our Chilean mountain rat, Selenium, who used the heck out of it for almost 8 years. Sodium uses hers every night, and the only reason it ever makes any noise is if I forgot to clean the wheel and a piece of dried poop has dislodged and is rattling around the wheel. She isot a fast runner, and so the wheel doesn’t have the turbine sound we would hear when Selenium used it.
There are some videos and some instructions on line about how to bathe a hedgehog.  One of them says to use tearless shampoo.  Please don’t do that. Never use human shampoo on animals as their skin is far more sensitive and even baby shampoo will bother them.  Use a very mild cat shampoo, but don’t trust me – contact your veterinarian or ask the seller what he uses. Remember, however, that not all sellers will be certified in animal care and they may not know any better, either.
Night time
There is one more thing about hedgehogs: they are nocturnal.  Sodium actually waits until everyone in the house is in bed, then she gets up and starts to do her thing.  She usually respects others, and keeps to her wheel, but sometimes she figures out how to make some noise, or gets into a situation.  Generally speaking, Sodium likes the quiet, she enjoys midnight runs, and loves to nuzzle my beard. She is a fine little friend, though a little prickly, so be sure to keep a glove around for picking her up.  They are not necessarily difficult to care for, they are just higher maintenance, which is probably the lion’s share of “difficulty” whenever people refer to an animal as difficult. They are smelly, so you need to clean their cage frequently. We use the shredded, recycled paper bedding and she seems to like it just fine.
I hope this helps you in making your decision…frankly, I miss our first hedgehog still.  For a family experience, I think a Degu makes a superior, lower maintenance pet than a hedgehog, and it is about equally priced and lives about as long.  Degu’s are diurnal and herbivorous, and enjoy weeing people and being seen.  However, they require more handling to train and they can get away from you and chase your cats around.

Review of some Canon 1D X Features

I spent this afternoon reviewing some of the problem that people are having with the 1DX.  These problems mostly centered around auto-focus.  I through on my most challenging auto-focus lens, the EF 400mm diffraction optics (DO) image stabilization (IS) lens. I have admittedly had some trouble getting focus lock, but only in situations where I would expect even more difficulty with a less advanced camera.  Ultimately, there are three factors that you need to weigh before purchasing this camera.

1: do you really need 12 fps, and the ability to retain focus throughout continuous shooting?  On the 1D X, with a fast enough CF card (1000X), you can get almost 35 frames – continuous – in RAW mode before the buffer to disk ratio collapses your frame rate. With its second Digic dedicated to metering and AF, you can shoot and maintain focus continuously. In JPG, you can get a lot, lot more (I don’t know how many before it slows down or even if it does ever slow down).  I am reluctant to push this to its upper limit – if you need to shoot more than 100 low quality jpgs in a row, then you should be shooting in video.

2: Do you need the better weather seal?  If you have to shoot the bride and groom running through the rain to the limo, and your 5D gets soaked and you can’t shoot the reception with your best tool … uh oh, sux to be you, right? Or maybe you just stay out of the weather, and you miss what could have been some great, fun shots, you’ll wish you had the 1D X.

3:  The 1D is sturdy,and handles great, but does require some strength to sling with precision. I handhold with the 2X and 400 DO, and have been sore the next day after a 6 hour shoot.

If these three requirements are not important to you, then don’t buy this camera.  It’s not for you.

How to Refinish a Stubborn, Painted, Pine Floor

Years ago, when I was in the military, I had a furniture repair and refinishing sideline.  I grew up in a Victorian home and we rehabbed it, so I had about ten years of refurbishing experience when I graduated High School!

One of the best techniques I ever used to get ALL of the paint off of a piece was a wash.  I would actually take a hose to a piece, and use a softish nylon brush on it.  It raises the grain slightly, but a light sanding with 250 grit takes care of that. My advice to you would be to do the technique I mentioned with the plastic tarp and the remover, covering it for 30 minutes to 2 hours.  (Too long could damage the wood, my recollection it that I would test a piece first to see how much punishment it could bear.  Pine is softer, so tread carefully here.)

After that, squeegee it all up, suck it up with a wet vac, and then hit it with a carpet shampooer. Use a good one, industrial strength, no soap or anything, just the hot eater.  The whole process should go very quickly and not involve being on your hands and knees at all.

At the end of it, if you still have some colored tint left to the wood, I would suggest using a wood dye treatment that matches it.  Wood dye (not stain) will give it a uniform look, it will show off the grain, and it will last forever, and can be done in  a myriad of colors.  It should look really cool.

Woodcraft has an excellent search page that shows off the coloring capabilities of dye : http://www.woodcraft.com/search2/search.aspx?query=dye




How to Quit a Bad Habit

Please pardon any typos. I do this entirely on my iPad, on the train.

The other day I had a conversation with someone about how he never gets anything done.  That sparked a mention of Parkinson’s Law, which reminded me of this essay I wrote quite some time ago….Now, mind you, I’m not an economist, or even that smart about money. I don’t really understand where money comes from, even though it’s been explained to me a hundred times by people smarter than me.

Last year I decided to delete my Facebook app from my iPad. It was a distraction, not because I couldn’t focus on the work I needed to do, but because it was intrusive. I would be typing an email, creating a calendar appointment, or simply browsing the web and there, at the top of the screen, a little thingy would roll over with my friend Douglas saying, “gotta go to the store! Outta beer” or Eric’s status update of, “checking in at the Recliner,” as though I know what “the Recliner” is, and would want to come right over if I did….so I removed it.  The app, not the Recliner.

“Wait, Scorellis!” you say, “Why not just change the settings?”  Because I don’t have time! I find my way around computers OK; it’s just that whenever I try to change anything about how Facebook works, it usually means going down one rabbit hole or another.

I decided that my desire to avoid the complexity of digging into my preferences to prevent the unwanted notifications was greater than my desire to keep facebook on my device.  And the pop-ups werre intolerable. Besides, Zuckerberg would just change my preferences later on without asking, and it would start to do something else equally annoying.  The dude has serious stalker-like issues.  Facebook is like some sort of super-app for stalkers, right?

Later, on my iPhone (which doesn’t constantly annoy me, not with pop-ins), as I struggled with wading through the timeline navigation, my aggravation levels slowly increased.  With its pretty graphics and immense page size, this timeline feature crushed the performance of my iPhone. I am teetering on the edge of deleting the app.  Then, (now. pay attention!) as I browsed facebook I suddenly read a post by a friend of mine.  Oh joy of commiseration! He bears similar anti-timeline angst!

“Aaaaargh! I’ve been timelined!” he posted.

I think about how to respond to him.  I experience a landslide of thoughts in my mind.


I want to express my frustration in a single sentence, as direct and short as his, but I cannot find the words.   I want to suggest that we all delete the app from our devices. I am fairly certain that if we delete the app, the complexity of the task of finding it and reinstalling it will probably be an effective preventative against ever again using Facebook.

This would not be a terrible thing. I went 20 years without talking to most of these people, I can probably go another 20 and if, after reconnecting as we have, they want to maintain the relationship, there are other ways. I have a phone. Perhaps they could send me email messages..?

Or maybe I could make an RSS feed from my facebook newsfeed that filters the spam posts (really, nobody has done this yet?)…besides, 98% of the people that I became friends with never even say anything, they just lurk, like a bunch of creepers.

When I signed up for Facebook, I thought we’d have these amazing conversations, but most of my friends never say anything!  Recently, one of my friends from Facebook who I occasionally see in the physical realm made a comment that he knew something about me because he read it on fb. Deja vu.

Now, all of the wheels in my mind are spinning, like a juggler spinning plates; I wanted to compress this avalanche of thought and empathize with my friend in just a few poignant words. I want this whthin mind-slide of thought to crash.

“Congratulations,” I say sarcastically. “you’ve been timelined.”

But what does that mean?

How do I  calculate the tipping point, the point of no return, when something becomes such a pain in the ass that it becomes obvious I should not be doing it anymore? If i have a certain amount of time allotted to complete a task, then at what point will the expansion of the work by an outside force cause me to abandon the task.  Is it a return on investment (ROI) problem? Certainly the point of no return involves ROI, but clearly people invest time and money in things that have not clear ROI at all! I have more questions than answers now.  I don’t understand how to calculate the coefficient of nuisance. When, exactly, does something become so bothersome that I can no longer be bothered by it? My mind-slide completes, the wheels stop spinning, and I turn to the Internet for answers.

I Google It.

I got to thinking that there must be some inviolate law of economics which would explain my behavior, so I searched the phrase, “complexity of task is so great that people won’t be bothered to do it. They would rather suffer the consequences instead.”

This search yielded lots of hits on how to stop procrastinating, but one link caught my eye: “How to use Parkinson’s Law to Your Advantage.”

(OK, you can stop reading now.  Here is where it gets crazy.)

I had read about Parkinson’s law before, about the Coefficient of Inefficiency, but all my question are not answered. When does an increase in consumption due to an increase in efficiency become less a matter of paradox, and more a matter of poor decision making? For example, as automobiles become more fuel efficient, rather than being responsible and increasing gas mileage, what has Detroit done? They have increased horsepower and in many cases, gas mileage has gotten WORSE!

This is the Paradox, the absurd contradiction. The price of gas hits $5.00 a gallon, but still people can be bothered to buy cars, put gas in them, and do what they always do. They don’t mind the longer hours at work, lower wages, less savings, and more money, more money,  more money being thrown down the rabbit hole. The most exquisite paradox of all is that if everyone is raising prices, then nobody is raising prices! Except the first few people, who experienced a momentary, monetary gain!  Then there is the additional vector of manufacturing and consumers placing visceral pleasure over social responsibility. Is this Parkinson’s law, Jevon’s Pradox, or poor decision making?

Does the amount of pleasure derived from an act have something to do with all of this? (tongue in my cheek, we know it does).  Jevon’s Paradox states that with any increase in technical efficiency, there will be a corresponding increase in demand.  I would add that the demand will always outpace the efficiency.  It’s a paradox because one would expect that as efficiency increase, then the demand for raw materials would decrease.  For example, think of automobiles. Fuel efficiency has improved, yet the demand for gasoline continues to increase.

But is this really a paradox, or mightn’t it just be stupidity?

There must be a theoretical upper limit to how much horsepower an automobile needs, and perhaps there is a theoretical limit to the need for travel, but ultimately, according to my sources (the Internet), the only effective cap that will truly limit demand is cost. An increase in cost from either green incentives or simple taxes will decrease use. Expensive gas, taxed to hell, will, therefore, increase fuel efficiency?  Or will people just drive less?  I sense a conspiracy in all of this! The Internet is wrong, of course (well, actually, after this post it will be right again, won’t it?). If something is a serious, serious pain in the ass to do, people will also stop doing it.  For example, swimming in Lake Michigan is far less popular in February than in July, because there is a very large barrier to doing it. It’s f’ing cold.  You have to buy a thermally insulated, diving dry suit, or you have to be slightly nuts. Like I always say, you aren’t crazy until you start acting on your crazy thoughts.

There are a number of versions of Parkinson’s Law, such as: “Work Expands to fill the time available for its completion.”  Perhaps another would be that “the list of things to do always exceeds the amount of time we have to get it all done,” which naturally begets “if it’s important enough to get done, you’ll find the time to do it.”

My favorite version of Parkinson’s law is, “if you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.” or “if you want something to only take a minute to do, wait until the last minute to do it.” Recently, I wrote a few chapters for a book titled “Network and Computer Security Handbook.” As I approached the deadline, I found that my critical thinking skills improved. What does that mean? I cut, hacked, slashed, wrote and viewed the work with far, far greater decisiveness than I did three months ago when I still had all the time in the world to get it done. I wrote more pages of content in one week than I did in three months. Perhaps I also spent considerably more hours on it in the final few weeks than I probably did in the final three months.

There is another law, too, which relates to this one, called Wirth’s law.  It states that “software is getting slower more rapidly than hardware becomes faster.”  I don’t know what that means.  Maybe this was a 1995 thing.  At one time, I might have thought that this meant that innovations in programming were allowing programmers to perform and code tasks of far greater complexity than there exists computing power to accomplish.  Duh!  For example, “computer, tell me please what is the highest prime number that exists?”  just because I can ask a computer to do something doesn’t mean anything.  I don’t see why this Wirth guy gets a law, but heck, if he gets one then so do I, right? Here is the law of Scorellis:

“The amount of work that some humans will attempt to get their computers to perform will always exceed the capability of the infrastructure to successfully complete it.”

The ability of the software to accept user requests will usually exceed the capacity of the hardware to get it done. This is because people do not want to be told “no” by a machine.  The interface between humans and computers leans strongly towards one of a passive nature. Like watching TV, a user in Seattle of a website in Chicago has no notion of the 10,000 other users across the country hitting the machine at the same time. To her, it is just slow.

Essentially, people will always ask more of the subsystem than the subsystem is capable of delivering. No surprise there, right? We do the same things to ourselves and each other, too.  Software developers are people. ( I think. ) Some software developers are better than others, but computers have a funny affect on psychology.  If I ask a computer to do one thing, should’t it be able to do that one thing, even when I multiply it by a thousand times? And in the same amount of time? I once accidentally opened 20 photos on a PC.  So then I tried to open 200 photos; thinking that it would only take 10 times as long. Ha!  I was young once, too.

Somewhere in here there is a moral…if you want to quit a bad habit, it needs to be excessively cost prohibitive to do so from both a financial and efficiency perspective.  Hmmm. Maybe that could be called “the moral of Scorellis.”


How to Improve Your Canon SLR Performance

What does this mean? Isn’t a camera just a camera?  Is there anything that can be done to make it work better?  Well, it depends.  If it is  real crappy camera, then “no.”  But it you have a halfway decent DSLR, then “Yes.”  Whenever you take a picture, your camera image sensor gets hit by a bunch of photons, the photons get converted to electrons, which get converted to 0’s and 1’s in the camera’s RAM disk, or buffer.  Then, the camera takes the data in the buffer, converts it into an image format, and then loads it onto the camera’s memory card. Or something like that, anyway. the Digic processors may convert it to an image before dumping it in the buffer, or maybe it goes into the buffer, or some sort of L2 cache, and juggles things around…anyway….

Here’s the problem: Images can, typically, load from the sensor to the buffer faster than they can load from the buffer to the flash memory.  Now, you can’t do anything about the sensor-to-buffer speed, but you can do something about the buffer-to-memory speed:  buy  a better card.

I’ve been shooting digital for a long time, and used to swear by the SANdisk cards.  Then, one day, I picked up a Hoodman RAW CF card.  I don’t even remember where I was.  But, it was a great card.  I could shoot more photos, faster, and recover more quickly then ever before from long bursts. SO, i bought a couple of Hoodman STEEL 1000X compact flash (CF) for my Canon 1DX. ANd then I made this stupid video.

I don’t show it in this video, but in large JPG, I can pretty much shoot continuously.  I don’t recommend doing that – it is possible to overheat the camera (So I’ve read).  It’s a good idea to not do the mean things to your camera that you see me doing to mine 🙂  At any rate, higher X numbers mean BETTER performance.  Never buy CF from the brick and mortar retailers- they simply DO NOT carry the good cards – they just don’t (I went all over the place one day, looking!).  It’s not even close.  You’ll pay twice as much for half the card that you’ll get for the price of ONE Hoodman 16 GB 1000X .

I actually found cards out there, for sale on websites, for $200 that are note even half as good as the Hoodman cards.  Anyway, this is not a paid endorsement, I speak my mind.  I have a 675X RAW from hoodman that I have had for a few months, and its been great, so I thought I would post a video about Camera flash memory card performance, to help people understand where the bottlenecks are. One final note – in this video, when I first shoot about 50 images using the crappy card, the camera was shooting in JPG, not raw.  The card still sucks – but the 1DX buffer is so huge it just takes 50 shots before you notice.  Once the buffer is full, you wait. And wait.  And wait!

Take a look.  I apologize for all the annoying interruptions.  I hope you can tolerate sitting through this video….