Saturday, November 18, 2023

A little bit of Oakland sports history

As we watch the completion of the winding down of "Big Four" professional sports in Oakland ...

(The NBA Warriors moved to San Francisco in 2019, the NFL Raiders moved to Las Vegas in 2020, and the MLB Athletics move to Las Vegas next year. And, yes, I know about the Oakland Roots)

... let's take a moment to admire a lovely bit of tying past to present.

Here's the backstory, if that link made you go "huh?"

Monday, October 23, 2023

Stormputer reborn!

Amazingly, seven years have passed since Dan built Stormputer. At that moment, it was certainly state of the art and astonishingly powerful, and in the intervening time, it's been everything I wanted, and completely reliable.

But anyone who's not been living in a cave knows that the last 10 years have seen enormous innovation in computer technology, most significantly in the area of GPUs. Computer graphics is of course one of the oldest areas in the world of computing, but the recent innovation in GPUs has been driven by people who have found new uses for these specialized and extraordinarily powerful devices. Cryptography, blockchains, neural networks, and other non-video applications have catapaulted companies such as nVidia to the top of the computing world's leaders.

And during the seven years of Stormputer's existence, nVidia released a vast number of new GPUs. The GeForce 10 series which we used in Stormputer was succeeded by the GeForce 20 series in 2018, by the GeForce 30 series in 2020, and by the GeForce 40 series in 2022.

So, it being 2023, I asked Dan if he thought it was possible to replace the 1070 GPU that I was using with a GeForce RTX 4070 Ti.

Dan, bless his heart, replied "Sure!", and so we set about figuring out the details.

Which turned out to be a lot!

The 4070 Ti is a very large piece of equipment, so to start with you need to have a full size case to mount it. Moreover, due to its size and weight, that graphics card comes with a special additional steel brace to allow it to be supported fully by the case, rather than imposing too much stress on my motherboard's PCI slot. It also needs special power cables (supplied by Gigabyte as part of the 4070 Ti).

Those special power cables, in turn, needed to be connected to a modern, more powerful, and more sophisticated Power Supply, so we upgraded to a wonderful EVGA 1000w G5 SuperNova 80Plus Gold power supply, which comes with its own new 15Amp-rated power code to the house power.

As long as we had the case open, and were re-wiring everything with new power cables etc., it was a good time for a general tuneup, so we also added:

Not only do we use every inch of the lovely Stormputer full size case, when we seated the new GPU in the motherboard slot, we discovered that one of the case fans no longer fit, as it physically had no room left in that part of the case.

So far, so great! The control software confirms that all the temperatures are running well, and we aren't seeing any alarms in the Event Viewer.

Hopefully I'll get seven more years of great PC performance out of Stormputer!

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

SFGate shows Semifreddi's some love

My favorite bakery is a local outfit that's been in business for nearly 40 years. Here's a great article about a great local business: This 40-year old Bay Area bakery makes 190,000 loaves every week

At the center of the active bread-making operation is Semifreddi’s CEO Tom Frainier, who prefers to be called the “chief bootlicker,” and chief creative officer Mike Rose, who is best known by his 126 employees as Semifeddi’s “mad scientist.” Among the many hats they wear, the co-owners are Semifreddi’s official taste-testers for the 45 breads and baked goods the 39-year-old bakery produces.

The story has great details of how a business gets created.

By 1988, Barbara gained two new business partners with unconventional backgrounds: her husband and Frainier (her brother). Unlike Barbara, Rose and Frainier’s professional backgrounds couldn’t be further from the culinary world. For the previous 10 years, Rose had worked as a sales representative at import company Albert Kessler. He said Barbara helped him learn the ropes at the bakery while he devoured the fundamentals of baking in cookbooks in his spare time. Nevertheless, it was no piece of cake.

“It was a learning process,” Rose recalls of his early days. “Bread is simple yet challenging and complicated. I had some beginner’s luck but not enough humility at first.”

A crucial observation was that the owners deliberately decided not to grow beyond the size they felt they could handle.

Around the bakery’s 20th anniversary in 2004, Rose and Frainier turned down an investor who urged them to open a Semifreddi’s outpost in Los Angeles. Years later, they don’t regret the decision. They preferred to err on the side of caution to keep Semifreddi’s a local treasure and avoid the route of becoming a frozen food aisle item.

Friday, September 15, 2023

There are FAQs, and then there are FAQs

Simple and yet at the same time clear and precise, may I (without permission) share with you the FAQ with which closes its doors after 25 years and says goodbye.

Our Final Season

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. When is the last day you'll ship out discs?
A. On April 18th, we announced that after 25 years of shipping DVDs, this will be our Final Season, and we'll ship our last disc on September 29th, 2023.

Q. Do I need to return any remaining discs after the last shipping day?
A. You will not be charged for any unreturned discs - please enjoy them for as long as you like! If you do choose to return the disc, we will continue to accept returns until October 27th, 2023.

Q. Can I purchase discs from DVD Netflix?
A. We are unable to sell discs from our rental inventory.

Q. What if my last disc shipment gets lost or has an issue?
A. September 29th is our last day of shipping operations, so we will not be able to ship replacement discs after September 29th. Make sure you prioritize your must-watch titles in your queue so they can ship with some time to spare.

Q. When will I stop being billed?
A. Your last bill was in August. After your August payment, you will continue to receive service until our final shipping day, September 29th.

Q. Can I keep a copy of the data related to my DVD subscription?
A. Many of our members have years of movie-watching memories with DVD Netflix, so we are providing a downloadable PDF copy of your data with information about your queue, rental history, ratings, and reviews in our Data Download.

At any time up until Oct 27, 2023 a current DVD subscriber or former DVD customer whose DVD subscription was canceled within the past 9 months may download their data, via our Data Download (, which includes:

  • Your queue
  • Your rental history
  • Your ratings
  • Your reviews

Per our privacy policy, you may request a report of your personal data currently stored by Netflix via:

Q. What if I have both streaming and DVD subscriptions?
A. Your current streaming subscription will not be impacted. Your DVD subscription will automatically be canceled on the last shipping day.

Q. If I keep my account active until you shut down, is there anything special I have to do to close out my account?
A. You do not need to take any action. After the final shipping date, your DVD subscription will be automatically canceled.

Q. What will happen to my personal information related to my DVD subscription?
A. Most personal information related to DVD subscriptions will be deleted at the end of the DVD subscription service, no earlier than Oct 27, 2023 and no later than Jan 1, 2024. The data include:

Mailing address(es)

  • Queue
  • Rental/shipping history
  • Ratings
  • Reviews
  • Taste preferences / genre ratings

Data which will be preserved after that time include:

  • Name and login information
  • DVD billing history (including tax data)
  • Charges for unreturned discs (including tax data)
Data related to your streaming subscription will not be impacted.

Q. When is the last day I can sign up for a DVD plan?
A. You are no longer able to sign up for a DVD plan.

Q. When is the last day I can change my plan?
A. You are no longer able to change your DVD plan.

Q. Why are you closing?
A. After an incredible 25 year run, we've made the difficult decision to wind down at the end of September. Our goal has always been to provide the best service for our members, but as the DVD business continues to shrink, that's going to become increasingly difficult. Making 2023 our Final Season allows us to maintain our quality of service through the last day and go out on a high note.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Fascinating food chain safety article from Undark Magazine

I happened upon this Undark Magazine article about food safety challenges in turmeric markets in Bangladesh: The Vice of Spice: Confronting Lead-Tainted Turmeric.

It discusses a problem I was wholly unfamiliar with.

The article talks about a practice of some turmeric traders: they can make their product sell better if the spice looks better.

While processing raw turmeric to powder, he added a chemical called lead chromate to get the tubers to glow yellow. Sheikh and the locals refer to the compound as peuri — and nearly all the farmers and traders at the market are familiar with it. Lead chromate is a chemical used in paints to, for instance, make school buses yellow, and it can enhance the radiance of turmeric roots, making them more attractive to buyers.

This is a nearly universal fact of buying and selling food: food that looks better sells better.

But lead, of course, is a horrible poison when ingested, and so this was resulting in terrible consequences, both within Bangladesh and even beyond.

Studies conducted in Boston, New York City, North Carolina, Colorado, and Washington have all found a connection between consumption of lead-tainted turmeric (mostly procured from markets overseas) and elevated blood-lead levels.

The article notes that the problem may even spread beyond just turmeric to other food products.

Many of the turmeric wholesalers selling in Shyambazar have been at it for more than 30 years. Law enforcement, they said, had only showed up for the turmeric. No other spices, they noted, have ever come under scrutiny.

The article also points out that this is a global problem, and extremely challenging:

Ending food fraud entirely for any commodity is a huge challenge, said Roberts, the food fraud expert from UCLA. Regulatory agencies in different countries need to set clear standards, enable constant testing and surveillance, and be willing to enforce penalties when someone has committed fraud.

It's a well-written article, and worth reading the entire thing.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Gloomhaven Cragheart rules question (warning some spoilers)

So we were playing Gloomhaven (digital edition) and we were playing scenario 43, Drake Nest.

I was playing Cragheart at a fairly high level, and I had the level 3 card Clear the Way equipped.

We were in the mid- to late-scenario, and I felt it was a good time to use the bottom of Clear the Way. (It was the first time I'd ever activated the bottom half of Clear the Way, so this was a new experience for me.)

Time for some pictures!

First, here's "Clear the Way".

And here's the Drake Nest map.

I want you to focus on the top room in the map, the one with the treasure chest in it.

The entrance door to that room is at the bottom center of the treasure chest room, and it connects to the top center of the main central room in the map. And that entrance door, as you can clearly see in the picture, is ringed by 3 STUN traps, arranged in a semi-circle just before you reach the door.

My Cragheart character started the round standing in the doorway at the top left of the main central room, the door which connects to the narrow left-hand-side room with the 3 gold piles and the 6 drakes. That door was open; in fact Cragheart had just finished motoring through that left-hand-side room, together with one of the other characters in our party, having dealt with the 6 drakes.

As I said, it was mid- to late-scenario, and we'd cleared most of the rooms, and we felt it was time to enter the treasure chest room and engage those 5 monsters in battle.

But those traps were annoying! We knew that if any of our weakened, late-game characters triggered one of those traps, and was then stunned until the end of the next round, it'd be a sitting duck!

So here's where I came up with a plan to use the bottom half of Clear the Way. Notice that Clear the Way's bottom half reads:

  • Move 5
  • Jump
  • Destroy all obstacles and disarm all traps moved through.

So when my turn came, I revealed Clear the Way and began my movement. I moved 3 hexes, and on the third hex I moved into the left-most of the three traps. But of course the trap did nothing because my card caused me to disarm it.

Then for my 4th hex of movement, I moved onto the closed door and opened it. This revealed the treasure chest room and all its monsters, and it drew cards for those monsters.

Then I took my 5th hex of movement, and I moved into the rightmost of the three traps.

At that point, the game sprung the trap, and told me I was now STUN-ned, and ended my turn at that point.

And Cragheart was stunned, and all those 5 monsters immediately came and attacked Cragheart, and then Cragheart was still stunned the next round, and had to long rest, and it was only by the narrowest of margins that the Tinkerer was able to race over and use 3 healing actions in a row to keep Cragheart alive through the deluge of monster attacks.

So now here's the rules question:

I don't understand! Why didn't my card disarm the second trap, the one that I moved through with my 5th movement point?

Is it because when I opened the door, and revealed the monsters, the positive effects on Clear the Way ceased to operate?

Or is it a bug in the digital version of the game, did it misinterpret the powers of the bottom half of the Clear the Way card?

Or was it because I was misunderstanding what it meant to move through a trap, and hence I only moved "through" a trap on my 3rd hex of movement; on my 5th hex of movement I instead moved "into" to a trap, but not "through" it? That is, ending my turn on a trap didn't benefit from the power of the card, but traps in movement hexes 1-4 did. (If that's the case, that was a subtle use of the word "through", a word which is not used anywhere in the "Traps" section of the rulebook, and one that would have benefited from some extra clarity in the card.)

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Why is the bridge there?

Oh, you surely must go read this lovely citizen history report about an (apparently) useless pedestrian bridge built in 1959 in suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota: The Mystery of the Bloomfield Bridge

Come for the initial mystery; stay for the great presentation and lovely old pictures and documents; enjoy the patient dedication of our historian; and celebrate the climax:

The best search terms were not road names, they were people's names.