Being competitive

shooters on the firing line
Bullseye pistol shooters on the firing line at the 2014 National Pistol Championships, Camp Perry, Ohio.

The key to being competitive is to compete.

Last weekend I shot in the National Pistol Matches, specifically the President’s 100 and the National Trophy Individual match. Wow, was I ever not competitive!

My final scores were very nearly middle of the pack, out of the approximately 475 competitors. While I would have liked to have been in the top 50 in both matches, I didn’t earn it. To deepen the point, I also shot worse than I did in 2013.

That is one of the great things about competitive shooting: you reap what you sow.

I had practiced only a little in preparation, perhaps 400 shots in practice during the month and a half before the matches. More importantly, I think, is that I hadn’t competed at all during the preceding 12 months.

Competing in matches is the best preparation for competing in matches.

While this is obvious, I had talked myself out of competition for a year, one match at a time, choosing instead family time and work. Neither is a bad thing, of course, but if I want to be competitive, then I must compete.

My goal for 2015 National Matches: Make the President’s 100 and shoot in the top 50 for the NTI. How? Compete regularly until then as part of training.

In pursuit of paper

I pay attention to paper that I use for printing. Trivial? Maybe, yet I do care.

I care about the paper weight, brightness, dimensions, finish, and sometimes even what the paper fibers feel like. There seems to be a variety of fibers in paper, and, my, isn’t that interesting?

Yet, although I care about these factors, I haven’t found an online purveyor of paper who appears to also care. Sigh!

This has bothered me now for years, but, dear readers, I fear that if I were to share these troubles, you would not know what I’m talking about, or, more likely, simply wouldn’t care.

Apparently, my online search for paper this evening has finally nudged me just outside that zone of tacit disappointment.

So here’s the quixotic-windmill-tilt I’ve given up on this evening.

My goal: buy a ream of white A4 sized paper, reasonably bright, just a little heavier than normal, like 24lb (90 g/m²).

Simple, right?

A Google search led me to trusty Amazon.com where I found a ream of 20lb A4 paper by Hammermill/International Paper. So, so close.

I didn’t see an obvious way of finding 24 lb A4 paper, so I went directly the Hammermill website. Surely, the paper company would present me with a lovely catalog of papers and I would find precisely what I sought, while perhaps also discovering papers that I’d also like. It would be an excellent distraction!

Alas, it wasn’t so.

Really, what I wanted was a faceted classification of papers, so I could quickly filter down the catalog of papers.

Here are some facets that come to mind.

Color: White, Beige, (and so on)

Size: International sizes like A0 to A10, US sizes like Letter (8.5X11), Legal, Tabloid, etc. And so on.

Weight: 20lb, 24lb, 32lb, and so on. These should include weights in g/m².

Brightness: 90, 92, 94, 96, 98, 100, and so on. (I don’t know the range or increments.)

Finish: Matte, Glossy, etc.

Percent recycled: up to 100%

And maybe, uses: photo prints, standard copier or inkjet printer paper, etc.

I’m curious, does anyone know of an online paper vendor who actually has something like this in place?

Until then, I shall persevere with my ream of Staples brand multipurpose paper, 96 bright, 24 lb, letter-sized, 50% recycled.

Will St Charles MI flood in Spring 2014?

I’ve lived in St Charles, MI since 2008. It’s a nice little town, I think. One of the features is the confluence of the North and South branches of the Bad River, pretty much right in the middle of town.

Satellite map of St Charles, MI. Note the two rivers that join up just East of M52.
Satellite map of St Charles, MI. Note the two rivers that join up just East of M52. With so much snow this Winter, and not many warm days to melt much of it, what will the river be like in the Spring?

So, it has been a pretty cold winter with what seems like a higher than typical snowfall. In the past, I’ve seen the Bad River push pretty well at its banks. Last Spring there were a few local roads that were closed because of water spilling up onto them. The storm drains can’t drain a whole lot when they are full.

Snowy street and snowbanks along driveways
A snowy street in St Charles, MI in early February 2014.

So, I don’t think this will be a record-breaking winter for snowfall amounts. My best prediction is that we’ll end up with around 40 inches this season, which is really no big deal. (And I’m no meteorologist, so don’t trust me at all on that prediction.)

But here’s what I’m wondering. If the temperatures stay cold, then not much of the snow will melt. Then, when it warms up, probably in March, a whole lot of snow will melt really quickly, and the Bad River will swell more than we’ve seen in recent years.

Will we have a more serious flooding of the Bad River? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Five Whys, Socratic Method, and Dependent Arising

Root cause analysis—jargon for managers in lean startups and Agile dev shops. In plain language, isn’t it “Well, I hear what you’re saying, but what’s really going on?”

I feel a rambling, messy first draft coming on.

Why in the world do we need jargon for such a common line of reasoning? This is every day stuff, isn’t it?

  • Parents ask each other in whispers at night: “But why is she acting out like this all of a sudden? Is it those kids at school again?”
  • A doctor sees the symptoms and begins to diagnose the cause.
  • Marriage counselors around the country today coached couples to understand their partners a little better.

Yes, and an Agile team somewhere held a 5 whys session to figure out how that persnickety bug made it through testing, so that they could address the root cause.

Oh, pardon my cynicism, I have trouble writing that line with a straight face; if the team didn’t actually discern the root cause (there’s always just one, right?), they will have at least changed something to avoid one of the causes. How else to get better, really?

I’m being too jaded. Of course root cause analysis, the 5 whys method is one tactic for such analysis, is important. I just cringe at the assumption of a single cause for problems. And those technical problems that are found with lean and agile work often end up (or is that start off as) being human problems, and those are rarely so singular.

In design work, I really don’t know that I’ve asked the question, “So, what is the root cause of this problem?” Though I have most often sought to understand and clarify the problem space, the context, the people involved, their desires and motivations, the corporate interests, et cetera—you know, the basic stuff a designer needs to know in order to actually do good work [PDF].

I simply cannot right out of the gate assume I know what I don’t yet know so well that I would presume it, if it is indeed an it, is a singular problem. The result of that kind of simplistic framing would tend towards imprecise assumptions and lack of multiple perspectives. A lack of understanding. And don’t those sound like further problems that could result in errors? Garbage-in, garbage-out.

So, if I can kick the feet out from under Agile’s dumbed down root cause analysis and just stick with something more like defining the problem, or semantics (as Vignelli has used it), I’ll relax on this point.

Can I assume that this better understanding is what we’re all actually after?

I was in a meeting once, asking deeper questions, and a person I was talking with was frustrated and said something like, “I know all about five whys, I know what you’re doing!” The person was asking me to back off, because he wasn’t prepared to answer questions. While that does make the point to me that I was pushing too hard, I wasn’t expecting the five whys remark.

I was actually patterning the discussion more off of Socrates and his dialogues. I’ve heard the term Socratic Method being described as continuing to question, to ask why. Well, yeah, that sounds like a 5 whys, but I’ve read Plato enough that I understand that those dialogues are far more nuanced than a series of whys.

Wasn’t the philosophical discourse of Socrates and his learned colleagues some sort of root cause analysis too? Is a discourse into the nature of the soul and idealized Forms an analysis? Of course, and there is an aspect of Phaedo that suggests that these Forms are in fact causal forces. I’d call that root cause analysis.

So, this type of “what’s really going on here?” question isn’t just for work any more, it’s for philosophy and an understanding of the world itself (yeah, even though we all believe Socrates had it wrong).

And this question of the underlying problem is common too in religion, isn’t it? What’s wrong with the world? With us humans?! I call a five whys for the fallen world!

I joke, but Buddhists might associate this notion of root cause analysis with another bit of jargon: dependent arising.

As I’ve learned, when Gautama sat in profound ascetic meditation under the Bodhi-tree, nourished by an offering of rice milk, and under the gazes of the gods of many world-systems, he finally received enlightenment. In his awakening under that auspicious tree, he knew what are called the four noble truths (knowledge of suffering, cause of suffering, cessation of suffering, and the path that leads to that cessation).

And yes one of those truths, central to a major world religion, is the root cause of suffering! (Oh, if only an Agile 5 whys was so profound!) The cause of suffering is actually described as a nested layering of causes, which finally reach that singular kernel that causes suffering (duhkha). This is the notion of dependent arising, that suffering arises dependent upon all these other links in the chain. When I read the series of links, I still don’t think it comes down to a simple answer, but the answer itself isn’t the single cause, but the whole chain of dependent arising is part of it. You don’t disassemble it so much as sidestep the whole chain. And yes, that’s quite an oversimplification. Here’s a bit of that root cause analysis as dependent arising (there are 12 links/nidana).

Conditioned by (1) ignorance are (2) formations, conditioned by formations is (3) consciousness, conditioned by consciousness is (4) mind-and-body, conditioned by mind-and-body are (5) the six senses, conditioned by the six-senses is (6) sense-contact, conditioned by sense-contact is (7) feeling, conditioned by feeling is (8) craving, conditioned by craving is (9) grasping, conditioned by grasping is (10) becoming, conditioned by becoming is (11) birth, conditioned by birth is (12) old-age and death—grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow, and despair come into being. Thus is the arising of this whole mass of suffering.
(Gethin, The Foundations of Buddhism, 141-142)

This doesn’t strike me as mono-causal, even though it sounds like it at the end of the chain: death results in a whole mass of suffering. Well, how do you get rid of death, then? Will you get rid of birth?

Right, and so the whole tangled up ball of yarn gets pulled along. There are many causes, and there are many results. This strikes me not just as dependent arising, but interdependent arising. Duhkha, I shake my fist at you!

So, again, this root cause analysis thing is all over the place: work, family life, health, philosophy, religion. But doesn’t it tend to not be simply understood as singular causes? (Christianity seems easier to me, until I try to put a finger on where exactly original sin came in: fruit, gullible Adam, Eve, serpent, why was the tree there to begin with? It gets messy too.)

Let me end this rant, I mean blog post, by saying simply, using terms that suggest we think of single causes to complex problems is foolishness and it bugs me.

(Oh, and the 5 whys method looks a lot more like dependent arising to me than the Socratic method.)

Assange, Snowden, and Stallman as, um, heros?


#freedom ?!! YES WE CAN :) #Stallman #Snowden #Assange  on Twitpic

(Photo of Richard Stallman and Julian Assange holding a propaganda photo of Edward Snowden)

Bruce Sterling wrote up a long-winded editorial “The Ecuadorian Library” that covers a lot of ground and ends up posing Richard Stallman, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden as moral heroes against the State Department and NSA as antithetical to democracy.

Here’s a particularly lovely excerpt from the article.

People, you couldn’t trust any of these three guys to go down to the corner grocery for a pack of cigarettes. Stallman would bring you tiny peat-pots of baby tobacco plants, then tell you to grow your own. Assange would buy the cigarettes, but smoke them all himself while coding up something unworkable. And Ed would set fire to himself, to prove to an innocent mankind that tobacco is a monstrous and cancerous evil that must be exposed at all costs.

And yet the three of them together, they look just amazing.

While I’m yet unsure of my position on and generally suspicious of all these parties, I’m sure The Ecuadorian Library by Sterling is worth reading.

This blog is 10 years old

Hey, I just realized that I’ve been blogging for ten years now. That’s some kind of milestone.

From hand-crafted to Blogger to MovableType to WordPress

Back when I started in 2003, it was really a learning experiment on my part. I was a consultant at the time, and felt that I needed to get first hand experience with blogging as a medium in order to really advise my clients when they would bring it up.

So, the options in 2003 were fewer. I started with just writing raw web code. Then I went with Blogger. After a couple of months, I switched over to MovableType and stayed on that platform until the very end of 2008. Really, MovableType was great, and I only reluctantly left it for WordPress, which I’m still on.

Why did I leave MT? Because the upgrade process was a pain. I often had to allocate an entire morning to upgrading the core MT software on my web server, and WordPress allowed me to upgrade in under 1 hour.

Today upgrading WordPress is even faster, typically taking only the click of a button. (I have automated daily database backups, so my content is safe if the install should fail.)

Now, on each platform migration, my blog posts suffered. I have yet to see a clean content export and import, and if you were to look at some of my really old blog posts, you may wonder if you’re not seeing the whole post. You’re not.

So, what are the most viewed posts?

At this time, here are the top 5 blog posts on my site, by views over the past 30 days.

  1. How to Write Release Notes (1577 views, published in March of 2010)
  2. How to Aim with Iron Sights (1379 views, published in October of 2009)
  3. How I use utm_source, utm_medium, utm_campaign from Google Analytics (812 views, published in November of 2011)
  4. Signing and Encrypting E-mail on Mac OS X 10.6 Using Self-Signed Certificates (310 views, published in December of 2010)
  5. Small-caps, web text, and CSS (175 views, published in April of 2011)

One observation: “how to” articles get read more than personal anecdotes. Not surprising, right?

Will there be a 20-year anniversary for this blog?

Presuming I’m still alive and that blogs are still a real medium, probably. Now I probably won’t be posting with any more regularity than I have been for years, and the quality of the posts will continue to be hit-and-miss. And a theme for the blog? Not likely. This is just a personal blog, and remains a bit of an experimental place for me.

What has been my biggest challenge? Not being able to write about what I do at work as openly as I would like. I would have some great material, but the risks of disclosing proprietary information and upsetting my colleagues have stopped me, and will probably continue to do so. Oh well.

My new .22 target pistol, Marvel and Springfield Range Officer

Over the past couple months I’ve worked out the kinks on a new .22 target pistol, and I figured I’d share the details.

The new gun: Marvel Unit 1 conversion on a Springfield Armory Range Officer frame

.22 target pistol: Marvel Precision Unit 1, Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911 frame, and an UltraDot red dot scope.
My new .22 target pistol: Marvel Precision Unit 1, Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911 frame, and an UltraDot red dot scope.

After much consideration, I decided to go with a Marvel Precision Unit 1. That is a conversion unit that you use to turn a 1911 into a .22 pistol by replacing the slide and using different magazines.

The Marvel has a good reputation, it is known to function reliably, and is getting to be famous for its accuracy. Mine came with a 5-shot test target fired at 50 yards. The test group measured 0.81 inches. That really is excellent, considering that to my eye the X-ring on the 50 yard slow fire target looks to be 1 & 11/16 inches. Bottom line: it’ll hold a group tighter than I need it to hold.

I ordered the Marvel unit with an extra magazine, the iron sights, and a scope mount rib. Altogether, including shipping, I paid about $600.

Speaking of shipping, it took a long time for them to get me the unit. I placed the order online on April 5, 2012 and it shipped to me on June 12, 2012. I was definitely not thrilled with waiting that long, but I understand they’re busy.

So, between then and now, here is what I ended up doing.

I shot the gun first with the iron sights. They are good target sights, and I shot fine. However, I’ve been curious about shooting a red dot, so I picked up an UltraDot and put that on top. My 25 yard Timed and Rapid Fire scores didn’t change, but my 50 yard Slow Fire scores seem to have improved. I’ll stick with the dot a little longer and see how it goes (although I’ll continue to shoot iron sights on my .45).

For the lower I’m using a Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911 .45 ACP that I purchased very late in June. Since then I’ve put in a short match trigger from Cylinder and Slide (required some hand-fitting), a reduced-power hammer spring (24 pound ILS spring from Wolff), and tuned the sear spring. The hammer and sear already looked really good.

The stock trigger on the Range Officer was not great. It started at around 5.5 lbs, and had a little bit of creep in it. The break was crisp, which I like. After fitting a new trigger that has a better length for my hand and carefully filing the trigger and a little bit of the trigger channel, the trigger movement is now quite smooth, and down to a nice 2 lbs. I also set the over-travel stop so the trigger won’t move any more than it must.

At Camp Perry during the second week of July I asked at the Marvel table for any tips on reliability and the response was that it should all work fine, but a lighter hammer spring may help if there are issues with loading new cartridges. I did in fact have a few of those issues, and so I put in a lower-powered ILS hammer spring. I fired 80 rounds this afternoon after replacing the spring, and had not a single problem.

So, what’s left? Well, I have a pair of Nill grips on my Clark Heavy Slide 1911, and I like the feel. I may get a pair for this gun too.

Also, I need to pick up another 1911 sear spring so I can tune it to 3.5 lbs for when I put the Range Officer slide back on the gun for shooting .45 ACP. Two pounds is too light for a gun with that kind of recoil, in my opinion.

All-in-all, I’m quite pleased with this set up, and I’m looking forward to competing with it.

Props to my old gun, a Ruger Mk II .22 pistol

I’ve been competing in Bullseye Pistol matches since 1990, and have used the same Ruger Mk II pistol for that entire time. Over half a dozen national pistol matches and many local, state, and regional competitions, not to mention countless hours of practice, I estimate that I’ve put a quarter of a million rounds through the gun.

The Ruger still functions, but after 22 years of heavy use, it’s pretty worn out. I’ve had to replace numerous parts over the years, including two firing pins, a firing pin stop pin, and the recoil spring. The gun is loose, and it feels loose. Could it be tightened? Maybe. Regardless, it’s time for a new gun, and I’ll keep this Ruger as a back up.

The gun has been re-blued, and it is high time for another re-blueing. It is down to bare metal where my fingers and the heel of my hand grip the gun.

Props to the old Ruger though, it will still shoot clean targets (clean means 100 out of 100 points). I’m impressed that it still maintains that precision.

Excluding a site in a Google search

Want to get search results from Google that aren’t from a specific site? Put a minus sign to the left of “site,” as in this search query: “reliability of wikipedia -site:wikipedia.org”

The minus sign in "-site" is the trick to excluding a website from Google search results.
The minus sign in "-site" is the trick to excluding a website from Google search results.

This morning I found myself thinking about that perennial question of the reliability of Wikipedia. This time it is because my older daughter (she’s in junior high) is forbidden to use Wikipedia articles in papers for school, but she wasn’t given any other recommended suggestions from her teacher. So my observation is that she is now more likely to use online sources that are actually less reliable than Wikipedia.

Teacher: Your bias against crowd-sourced and curated knowledge has driven your students to find non-curated “knowledge.” Grade: F.

Better idea? Teach students to evaluate the credibility of online sources, and allow them to use Wikipedia articles if they are deemed sufficiently trustworthy. Mark down the grade if untrustworthy articles are referenced. This would teach a real research skill, and be more educational than just pointing to the Google search box.

But that’s a rant, and not what I learned.

I first did a Google search for “reliability of wikipedia,” and found a whole bunch of results. But they were mostly from Wikipedia. I looked at a few interesting Wikipedia articles on the topic, but wanted to see what websites other than Wikipedia had to say about this.

And there was my challenge. How do I do that same search but exclude results from wikipedia.org?

Well, I already knew that you can type site:domain.com into the search field to just search a specific website, so I tried site:-wikipedia.org. That didn’t return any results. So I tried another approach that did work, putting the minus sign to the left of “site,” and it worked like a charm.

reliability of wikipedia -site:wikipedia.org

There. I learned something new today.