On buying a car

It’s finally time. After many years of being a one-car family, with kids and needing to go more and more places, it’s finally time to become a two-car family. Jessi worked very hard and finally got her license (hooray!), so then it was time for me to go car shopping, as she would primarily be driving the minivan with the kids, and I’d get a new (or at least new to me) car for my daily commute. Taking a large vehicle (and thus mediocre gas mileage) with just me in it all the way to work wasn’t making a lot of sense anyway.

So, I go car shopping. I’m pretty overwhelmed with the number of options. New versus Used, different brands, different models, and plenty of trims, packages, and options within each model. It’s a fairly terrible process. I think that Planet Money’s podcast episode on the subject pretty much covers it. For a variety of historical reasons that may have made sense at the time but don’t make as much sense now, one can’t go to a new car retailer, but one has to first select a brand that one likes, and then from there compare the options. Somehow, I can’t just pop onto Amazon, filter by features, select what I want, and put in my credit card number (or send Bitcoin) like buying pretty much anything else works.

There’s no real purpose to this post; I’m mainly just ranting. All the people I’ve worked with have been very friendly and helpful, but as with many sales-related things I feel that upon doing just a little research ahead of times made me more knowledgeable than the sales reps, at least about the parts I care most about. (And it’s likely that what I care most about isn’t what most people care most about.) I don’t think that the sales reps did anything wrong or even that there was anything that they could have done better, I’m just so much more used to being able to buy things without a person involved that it’s jarring to involve one, especially when I’m not sure that they added a whole lot to my experience. Perhaps eventually, the industry will catch up.

Ford Focus Stock PhotoBut I have selected a “2014 Ford Focus SE with SFE”, which is being ordered and I should have “in 4–6 weeks”. I’m sure I’ll be very happy with it, and it should get twice the mileage I get in the van, but I sure wish that the whole car buying experience had been less annoying.

Jelly no Puzzle

I have less time for video gaming than I used to, as I have kids and all, so I’ve been really enjoying puzzle sorts of games. As much as I love sweeping RPGs with tens of hours of plot, it’s a lot easier for me to spend 10–30 minutes here and there on a puzzle or two. That’s part of why I liked Braid, which I recommended when I last posted a year ago (yipes!), and it’s the same way I’ve been really enjoying Jelly no Puzzle. I finally finished it today, and I think it’s taken me months of picking it up off and on for a few minutes at a time.

It is incredibly difficult to solve each puzzle, yet the game has very simple mechanics. Each and every level requires you to think in a new way. It’s a perfect way to unwind, if you like impossibly difficult puzzles, and I highly recommend it.

Braid

Braid is an awesome work of art and game. I know it’s a few years old at this point, but I don’t have the time for much gaming nowadays. But Braid has been on my radar basically since it came out. It made me want to buy a 360, though eventually it came out for PC, and I played the demo and loved it. A couple weeks ago, I finally bought it. It’s the perfect kind of game for me, since I can play for just a few minutes at a time, solve one puzzle, and put it on hold until I next get a few minutes.

I have now completed it (in the sense of getting all the puzzle pieces and getting through the ending), though I wouldn’t say that I’ve beaten it. The plot is… a fascinating statement that I haven’t completely worked though yet. The gameplay is astoundingly good.

Please, no spoilers here. Of any sort whatsoever. Thank you.

Moderation of a different sort

I’ve been the moderator of Charlton’s Town Meeting for the past three years, which has been an enjoyable experience. But I was asked to moderate a meeting of a different sort on this coming Saturday: a candidate debate for the local candidates of the Town of Southbridge. As I told the Southbridge Evening News, “local politics is important,” and I look forward to being an impartial party helping the people of Southbridge choose their leaders.

Adventures in migrating from Opera to Chrome and Firefox

I’ve been a loyal user of Opera since version 5. Back then, they were the innovators of features like tabbed browsing, mouse gestures, and excellent support for web standards. I even paid for it back then (as it was on the “shareware” model) since it was just that awesome. I’ve been using it ever since.

Sadly, over the past couple years, the quality has definitely gone down. It may have started roughly around the time Opera got a new CEO, though I’d be hesitant to place the blame completely there. It crashes much more often. It likes taking up CPU for no discernible reason. The next version, Opera 12, will be removing many features that make Opera distinctive, like built-in BitTorrent support and their awesome Opera Unite idea. Opera just doesn’t seem to be the cutting edge innovator that they used to be. (Or perhaps, they’ve been so busy trying to innovate that they lost their core focus on making an awesome browser.)

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Moving blogging to my own domain

I’ve decided that I finally was sick enough of LiveJournal that I’d move the sporadic blogging I did to my own domain. LiveJournal was fun, but more and more I’m not a fan of having my data on other people’s systems (especially as I have my own), and I haven’t been a fan of the charities that LJ’s been encouraging people to donate too lately. So, now I have WordPress set up here with me having control over my own data, and perhaps it’ll encourage me to post something a little more often. Or maybe not.

Adventures in setting up GPG for home, work, and SHA-256

So, 2011 is the year that really brought home just how broken the modern Certificate Authority system is. Basically, if you have a company whose entire revenue model is taking money from people to say that they are who they say they are, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’ll just take money to say somebody is whoever they want. I’d been using S/MIME with a free certificate to sign my emails (at least when emailing people who wouldn’t be too confused by doing so), but I decided that really I needed to switch to the OpenPGP Web of Trust model for it to really be making any sense.

So, I figured I’d set up GPG. I’ve been reading through the Internet, and there was a lot of stuff scattered about, so I figured I’d collect here what I think is the final result of what I’ve set up. Since I didn’t go through all this quite in this order, and I’m doing this from memory, it’s possible that I’ve missed a step in this writeup, though.

Long writeup instructing people how to set up GPG like I did

On Password Management Programs

The recent high-profile hacking of many sites has brought to my attention that I probably ought to change many of my passwords. While I don’t think any passwords of mine that I use in more than one place have been compromised, it’s only a matter of time, especially as like many people I tend to only use a few passwords and variants thereof, particularly on “low-security-needed” sites like message boards.

So, I want to go through everywhere that I use a password (a daunting task to try to figure out in and of itself), and do things “the best way”, of having my passwords actually be completely random strings, and having the list encrypted in some sort of password management program with only one secure master password needed to get to the list.

I’ve looked into some programs online, as there seem to be a variety of programs out there for this task, but I haven’t found anything that’s exactly what I’m looking for. It’s highly likely that exactly what I’m looking for doesn’t exist, but I figured I’d see if anyone knew of one that did.

My absurd list of probably contradictory requirements:

  • Free.
  • Cross-platform, including Mac OS X, Linux, Windows, iPod Touch, and Android.
  • Syncs between computers/devices automatically (sufficient to be able to use Dropbox for this).
  • Easy to verify that all encryption/decryption happens on the client side, so that the only bits sent over the Internet have already been encrypted with the master password. Being open source is probably the only way to really fulfill this requirement.
  • Able to export all data in case of needing to migrate to another program.
  • Generation of ridiculously secure passwords for you, within whatever the constraints are of the system that the password is being set up for.
  • Integration with Opera for login to web sites.
  • Being able to add arbitrary text to store encrypted with everything else, that isn’t associated with a particular web site.
  • Being able to add arbitrary text to store encrypted with a login for a particular web site (such as the answers to that web site’s multi-factor authentication).
  • Being able to include Client SSL certificates or other X.509 certificates with their private keys.
  • Being able to include private keys/files in other forms, such as Bitcoin wallets or GPG keys.
  • Multi-factor authentication, without it being a huge pain every time I need to use a computer. (I said these requirements were contradictory, after all.)
  • Some way for my wife/heirs to be able to easily access it if “something were to happen to me”.

It’s something I’ve been mulling over for a while, but it may be that I want so low-level control of the system that I really just want a TrueCrypt volume on DropBox or something and deal with it not having everything I want. But I figured I’d at least ask for the world in a public setting, and hope that somehow the world will provide me with everything I ask for.

On tie results in elections

It seems to me that there have been a number of ties in Massachusetts recently. First of all, the 6th Worcester District State Rep. race in November, which after a number of recounts and court challenges was deemed to be a tie. (Whether or not it should have been a tie might be up for debate, but that’s what our legal system seems to have produced.) A new election was held on May 10, and Mr. Durant is scheduled to be sworn in this week.

A “race” for Selectman in Boylston recently ended in a tie, where a write-in candidate who didn’t campaign but said “he would take the seat if elected” got exactly as many votes as the incumbent who was on the ballot. The recount showed the same result.

And in Becket, there was another tie vote for selectman, although presumably a recount may happen there as well.

Massachusetts law calls a tie result a “failure to elect”, which is a rather interesting result. It basically means that nobody won by getting a majority, so a new race would need to be held. I’m baffled why people would expect a new race to have a different result. It seems that it just changes the statistical sample slightly, such that you might get a different result, but it’s not clear to me that the result you get from that represents the people’s will any better than flipping a coin would.

And, it leads to the bizarre thought that if you as a voter didn’t like any candidates on the ballot, you should try to vote and campaign such that it was most likely to result in a tie. That way, you’d get your wish and nobody on the ballot would be elected.

I wish that we used a reasonable voting system. But I don’t know what system would actually be both understandable and most representative of “who people want”, whatever that might mean.

Elections in Charlton 2011 Summary

I’m always a little confused when people call a year an “election year”. Every year is an election year for something. Charlton has quite a bit happening in a short time:

April 12, 2011: 6th Worcester District State Rep. Special Election Primary

May 7, 2011: Charlton Municipal Election

  • Board of Selectmen (seat 4): Incumbent Scott Brown is being challenged by Brent Sellew and Joseph Safarowicz
  • Board of Selectmen (seat 5): Incumbent Kathleen Walker is unopposed.
  • Town Clerk: Darlene Tully, who was appointed to the position after Sue Nichols retired, is being challenged by William Guy.
  • Tree Warden: Incumbent Todd Burlingame is being challenged by Dennis DiPierri
  • Dudley-Charlton School Committee (1 year): A 4-way race between Elaine Rabbitt, Joshua Evans, Deborah Marquis and Robert O’Brien.
  • And running unopposed:
    • Moderator: me
    • Cemetary Commission: Donna Neylon
    • Assessor: Patricia Gill
    • Board of Health: Matt Gagner
    • Planning Board: John McGrath
    • Water-Sewer Commissioners (vote for 2): Robert Lemansky and Joe Haebler
    • Library Trustees (vote for 2): Richard Whitehead and Karen Spiewak
    • Recreation Committee (3 years): Warren Snow
    • Recreation Committee (1 year to fill vacancy): Linda Bellows
    • Housing Authority: Carol Smeltzer
    • Southern Worcester County Regional Vocational School Committee: Olaf Garcia
    • Dudley-Charlton School Committee (3 years): Ray Chalk
  • And there may also be a Prop. 2½ debt exclusion on the ballot, if the selectmen choose to put it on there.

May 10, 2011: 6th Worcester District State Rep. Special Election

There are many, many interesting contests unfolding over the next couple months. Should be fun to watch and participate in.