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Posts published in “Thoughts”

A new tool.

About 13 years ago, I wrote about the purchase of a new camera in a series of posts. That was the last camera I purchased and it has been through hell with me. After untold thousands of photos, a complete replacement of the shutter assembly, dings and scratches, and even more miles, I’ve decided to replace that old 5D Mark 2. She’s been a valuable work horse, but the technology is long in the tooth and I’m feeling a touch impulsive.

I have children now. Taking photos of kids is like taking photos of sports (that line is my dad’s, not mine). The 5D2 is no longer up to the task. Honestly, the 5D2 wasn’t up to the task in 2008. The AF performance is all right for adults who know how to sit still or for landscapes or for tables filled with inanimate objects. The astute reader will recognize that children are none of those things. My kids aren’t even really mobile yet and already trying to get them in focus is a chore. Wiggling newborns are beyond the limits of the 5D2’s antiquated AF system. I got pretty good at the old “focus and recompose”, but it’s not the best method and modern technology has solved the problem.

She also never worked well in low-light. Anything above ISO 1250 and the photos displayed easily discernible noise bands. Some noise is, of course, fine. But horizontal lines of noise through an image are not. Maybe I’m particular, but I don’t like stripes through my photos. So that meant fast lenses and long shutter speeds, both of which come with their own attendant issues. It was a problem I ran into when trying to photograph my little Olive in her hospital room. The natural light was mostly insufficient, the artificial light was hideous, and I couldn’t push the camera past ISO 1250 for fear of ruined images, so I shot wide open and long shutter speeds. But wide open and long shutter speeds means tiny focal ranges and motion blur—there was no IBIS in 2008—which also means bad photos. I missed a lot of photos of Livvy that I shouldn’t have because of technical reasons. That was incredibly frustrating. Beyond frustrating. It was heartbreaking.

Now it is time to retire the 5D2. She will live on in my camera bag as a back-up until I find something better to do with her.

Say hello to my new friend, the Canon R5.

My cell phone, though newer than 2008, still doesn’t take great photos.
So cute.

It should come as a surprise to no one that I went all out. It was a terrifying purchase, but thinking of all the cute baby photos it is going to make helps me feel better about the splurge.

First impressions after having for just a few hours? This thing is slick and surprisingly small compared to the 5D2. It makes sense that it would be smaller since it doesn’t need to make room for all the mechanicals that lived inside the older DSLR, but holding it in my hands I still find its size a little weird. Nice, but weird.

The operation of the thing is amazing. The metric of a good tool for me is that it doesn’t stand in the way of translating thought into action. Let my brain tell you what to do and then do it. Don’t erect a bunch of extra steps for me to climb. The R5 feels like it is going to prove itself to be a good tool. Even the test photos I took around the house to familiarize myself with the camera are beautiful. Not good photos, but technically beautiful.

I’m going to take it out for a walk tomorrow while the babysitter is here and will be back with some sample photos to share.

Olive Shields Dillingham 1/20/2021 – 5/09/2021

My dearest Olive,

I am sorry.

I am sorry you spent your brief life sick and hurting. I am sorry for the tinkering and experimentation and discomfort we put you through. All your mom and I wanted was for you to have a shot at a normal life and we were willing to do whatever we could to give that to you. We would have done even more, everything and anything, if we would have thought the pain you lived in was going to be fruitful. But it wasn’t, and suffering for suffering’s sake is no life.

I am sorry you don’t get to grow up with your sisters and your mom and me. I am sorry you never had a chance to leave Johns Hopkins to be warmed by the sun on your face. I am sorry you never felt the wind or saw the moon. I am sorry you only met your sisters a single time. I am sorry you never met so much of your huge family and that they never got to meet you. I am sorry that your stink-eye is something you only ever shared with your nurses, not your siblings. I am sorry I only got to hear your tiny cry a single time. I am sorry for all the onces and nevers, in all their terrible shapes.

I am sorry you will never get to experience all the joys of life, both regular and exceptional. Eating pomegranates outside during the summer. Listening to a great song that connects with your soul for the first time. A perfect cup of coffee on a cold morning. The pride of knowing you did a job as well as you could. A warm blanket and cool feet as you sleep. Falling in love and fighting to keep that love alive and healthy. A visit with a friend on a lazy Sunday. Christmas morning treats. Silly photoshoots. Blankets. Warm fires. Mountain tops. Birthday dinners. Late night karaoke. Chocolate chip cookies. Making art. Hugs. All the silly little and big important happinesses that we take for granted. I’m sorry I cannot share them with you.

And I am sorry for all the sadness and annoyances you will never endure. Heartbreak and loneliness and embarrassment. Being kept awake at night thinking of some stupid thing you said to someone a decade ago. Seeing an ex on the street and quickly deciding if you are going to be polite or pretend you didn’t see them. Annoying work e-mails. Saying something unintentionally rude and having to own up to it. The shame in knowing you failed at something because you half-assed it. Fights with your sisters and your parents and your friends. The feeling that no one understands you. All the stupid little miseries that make all the silly little happinesses so much sweeter. I am sorry I cannot comfort you through them.

I am so, so sorry that I don’t get to know what kind of woman you would have grown up to be. I would give anything to know you as a child and adolescent through your awkward teenage years and into your formative young adulthood. And then as an adult and potentially as a parent. And if you didn’t want to have kids, that would be ok too. I wanted you to have a life that was your own—Olive’s life—to make decisions on how and where and with whom you live it. Olive’s choices and Olive’s mistakes. Olive’s triumphs. Olive’s failures. The tapestry of a life that should have been uniquely yours.

I am sorry you don’t get to grow into the old lady name we gave you. I am sorry you only ever got to experience the little girl version, even if “Livvy” is an especially cute nickname. It was such a perfect plan: strong old lady names with adorable little girl versions. Your mom and I were willing long lives for all three of you to allow you time to make the most of the names we gave you and to become the perfect, distilled versions of yourselves. I am sorry you will miss that.

I am sorry your sisters will grow up without their middle triplet, the filling in their sibling sandwich. Since we learned that there would be three of you, your mom and I had a thousand ideas about what sort of life you girls would have as a trio. We imagined you all growing and learning together, experiencing life as a unit. What would the dynamic have been like between you all? Was Penny going to be the protector and Beatrice the quiet accomplice to Olive’s adventures? Would you all be friends or not? What secrets would you have shared together? What tales would you have told each other? I am sorry they don’t get to have that and that you don’t get to be a participant in our lives. I am sorry that they will only ever know you from photos and stories. I am glad your sisters are spared from our current sadness, but I am still sorry we couldn’t share you with them.

And please know, my little Tapenade, that we did everything we could for you. We pushed you as hard as our hearts, modern medical science, and the counsel of the medical team in the PCICU at Johns Hopkins would allow. We spent every single moment we had with you in the hospital to advocate for you in the busy times and love you in the down times. We thought long and critically about what the best path was for your care. We subjected you to serious risk with some of the things we allowed, some of the things we pushed for. But all of it was with the hope that something would break through and allow you to get better so you could come home to us. So we could be a complete family. Olive, Penny, Bea, mom, and dad. All your mom and I ever wanted was to have all three of you home, together, and safe.

I hope, my heart, that we made your last few days as lovely as we could. We strove to fill your hospital room with as much color, brightness, and love as possible. We wanted every second of that limited time to be free of hurt. Everyone in the hospital who knew you and loved you came by to say goodbye and make a memory with you. There were photos and hugs. Nurses and doctors cried and shared stories with us. We had three days of photos and decorations. We smelled your little head and kissed your cheeks and played with your funny little poof of hair. We held you as much as we could in those final days to try to make up for all the time you were in the hospital when we couldn’t and all the time after the hospital when we wouldn’t be able to.

And I hope, in the end, as you passed away in our arms, that it was gentle. You were surrounded by people who loved you so much and cared for you so hard. I had my hand on your chest and felt your heart slow and then stop. I watched you take your final breath, and then we knew you were gone. I will never know what it was like for you in that moment, but I hope it was as easy for you as it was terrible for us. I would have traded your pain with you in a heartbeat. I would have given everything of myself for you, if I could have.

My sweet little Livvy Bear, I don’t for a second regret the horrible decision your mom and I made to let you go. Given the same set of circumstances, I would make the same decision again. We chose your comfort over our own. But I am forever, forever sorry that you didn’t get the chance you deserved to live, to thrive, and to be. I love you, Olive, and I am so very sorry.

Love always always,

Dad.

ACT I, Scene I

ACT I

SCENE I. A desert place.

Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches

First Witch

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch

When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

Third Witch

That will be ere the set of sun.

First Witch

Where the place?

Second Witch

Upon the heath.

Third Witch

There to meet with Macbeth.

First Witch

I come, Graymalkin!

Second Witch

Paddock calls.

Third Witch

Anon.

ALL

Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

Exeunt

The insufficiency of “I’m sorry”

“I’m sorry” is totally insufficient. I hate it.

But, before you start to think me a monster, let me qualify.

First, I am not saying I hate apologies. Far from it. I am a big fan of apologies. We all screw up from time to time and a sincere apology can go a long way toward making things right. Trust me: I know. We’ve all done and will do stupid things that hurt other people. Apologize. Say, “I’m sorry” and mean it. You can’t travel back to the moment of your transgression and stop it from happening, but you can acknowledge that you screwed up and take steps to correct. And, don’t forget, there are no "buts" in an apology.

Second, I am not saying that I don’t think we should sympathize with other people’s pain. The human is a communal animal and our societies and our lives are better when we try as best we can to understand what other members of our tribe are going through. Stress at work, family strife, feeling unsure about your life path, whatever it is the ability to read the emotions of others and to incorporate that understanding is key to successfully navigating life. Just think how much better things would be if the GOP had a tiny sliver of sympathy for anyone. Right? A lot better.

What I am trying to get at is that I think "I’m sorry" as a phrase to mean, "I see that you are suffering and acknowledge it and sincerely wish I could help in some way to ease that suffering" is not even close to good enough. There is too much opportunity to confuse it with the other meaning, "I have regret for the harm I caused you," particularly in a moment when emotions are heightened. You know, when you might say something like "I’m sorry".

How many times have you said "I’m sorry" to someone the former meaning, for them to say, "You have nothing to be sorry about. It’s not your fault"? And then you have to clarify with something like, "No no, what I meant was that I am sorry your teeth hurt still, not I’m sorry I made your teeth hurt because we both know I had nothing to do at all with the pain level of your teeth. However, I feel sympathy for the aches in your chompers." This is a strong signal that "I’m sorry" is not up the task we’ve set out for it.

You could try something like, "I feel you," but that could just as easily be confused with "I agree". Not good enough. It leaves us with the same lack of clarity "I’m sorry" does. Grandma died? "I feel you." Wrong.

How about "I am pained for you"? Too dramatic. Try listening to less Morrissey.

Maybe "Yeah, sure, ok, yeah, ok, uh-huh"? I’ve performed extensive testing with this option when a plus-one is telling me about some upset they experienced and it didn’t go so well. I should have just used "I’m sorry".

The French have l’esprit de l’escalier to describe that feeling you get when you leave an argument and suddenly have a whole armament of pithy retorts, too late to make use of. The Germans have schadenfreude which describes the malicious enjoyment we take in the misfortunes of others. The Danish have 2016’s hottest word hygge which the OED defines as "a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being; contentment from simple pleasures, such as warmth, food, friends, etc." Damn, that sounds pretty nice.

And we English speakers, what do we have? "I’m sorry".

Not good enough! It’s confusing! It’s imprecise! It’s wholly insufficient for the work it’s meant to do! And, I hate it. There has to be some better, clearer way to express the same sentiment as simply but without the risk of mistaking its meaning.

While we’re all stuck inside the house due to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, I want you to think about what else could take the place of "I’m sorry" and get back to me by Monday. Leave good suggestions in the comments. I believe in you.


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Building a Hackintosh

Have you ever built a computer? It’s pretty easy. You select the parts you want, do a little bit of homework to make sure they work together, purchase the parts, and then put them together. You put the processor in its slot, you put the GPU in that slot, and you put the RAM in those slots. Everything has a place where it fits. From there, you install Windows (also pretty easy) and you’re off to the races, free to do whatever it is people do with computers. Anyone with just a little technical aptitude and some attention to detail can figure out how to build a computer in an afternoon or so. Did you like building legos as a kid, especially those Technics kits with the gears that turned into cars with working steering columns or whatever? Then you can build a computer. It’s actually kind of fun and pretty satisfying.

Now. Have you ever tried building a Hackintosh?

That is an entirely different beast.

A “Hackintosh”, for those not in the know, is a PC built with off-the-shelf parts that runs MacOS.

With a normal PC, all you have to do is make sure your parts work together. There’s quite a lot of wiggle room. With a Hackintosh, you not only have to make sure your parts work together, but also that all your parts can be made to work with an OS that does not natively support them. But that’s not all! After putting it all together, you have to then trick the computer into thinking it’s a Mac running native, supported hardware. You’re right, that does sound hard!

Oh, wow, these Threadripper Hackintoshes look neat! Oh. No. Creative Cloud doesn’t work.

Maybe I’ll go x299 over z390 for the extra juice! Damn. Documentation is sparse.

Do I need to buy a new power supply? Seems like the draw math works, but you don’t really know until everything’s plugged in.

Is it time to replace my ancient Firewire 800 audio interface so I can remove the PCIe card I had to add to make it work? The less stuff plugged in, the less there is to troubleshoot.

Are there native drivers for my chosen GPU? Nope! Nvidia and Apple are in a fight, so AMD is the only choice.

Will the Samsung M.2 SSDs work? Nope! MacOS hates the chipset that runs them. Time to find some M.2 SSDs that don’t use that chipset.

Should I reuse the tower CPU cooler I already have? Maybe, but it’s pretty big and I have no idea if the new RAM will clear. But will MacOS drive the AIO watercooler I am looking at?

What settings do I need to include in my DSDT? My SSDT? ACPI? What kexts? How do I set up the bootloader? OpenCore or Clover? Which UEFI settings? There’s a forum guide for slightly different hardware for the previous OS, so maybe that will help?

And so on and so on and so on. The questions never end. It’s an absolute nightmare.

I bet you’re asking yourself the smart question “Why on Earth would anyone subject themselves to this torture?” Price. The price to build a machine is often just a fraction of what Apple would charge for something roughly equivalent. Of course, with Apple you’re getting reliability, a warranty, and some premium touches. We don’t need those!

However, Apple has a tendency to let hardware languish for years without a refresh. Look at the trashcan Mac Pro. They released it in 2013 and gave it a single, modest spec boost once before the new 2019 Mac Pro was released. One specification update in six years. No good. There was no way to update that little machine either. You were stuck with what you bought. You can update a Hackintosh (if you like opening the gates to Hell).

And I’ve done this before! Back in late 2013 I started down the Hackintosh road. In fact, the computer that resulted from that is the computer I am typing this on right now. I built it to replace an aging Mac Pro that could no longer handle the HD video footage I threw at it as part of my job. This machine, affectionately named “The Dark Tower”, has served me pretty well in that regard these last few years.

It has never worked perfectly, though. I suspect that a lot of that is to do with my inexperience putting it together seven years ago. Maybe I didn’t pick exactly the right parts. Maybe I skipped some crucial, but tiny, step in the install process. Maybe the hardware is slowly dying after all this time. Who knows! I’ve taken it apart, rebuilt it, and reinstalled both Windows and MacOS many times since then. I have learned a lot about what to do and what not to do.

It is also stuck on High Sierra because Nvidia is no longer producing MacOS drivers for the 980 Ti GPU I have. My High Sierra install is crunchy and unstable no matter how much I do to fix it. The Dark Tower has had it’s day and now its time to replace it. I have some potential video work coming up and this machine is not up to the task.

Now I have a few questions to answer.

  • Do I stick with the dual boot Windows/Hackintosh format?

  • Do I go Windows-only? Most of the software I run works on both platforms, though I still prefer the Mac for work.

  • Do I build a 12-core monster or an 8-core smaller-monster? We’re talking about maybe a $600 difference. Significant, but not game-changing.

  • If I go Windows-only, do I build an AMD Threadripper machine? Price is roughly the same as upgrading to the 8-core machine.

  • Do I just buy an actual Macintosh desktop computer?! This is by far the most expensive, but least stressful option.

So much to consider. Wish me luck. I’m diving in. Me and Colonel Panic are going to be getting real intimate.

The Theme for 2020: Wonder

Cynicism is a shackle.

Cynicism is a shackle and being jaded is uncool and dumping on people who are putting themselves out there is a drag.

For too long I have indulged this sort of needless negativity and I feel pretty done with it. It’s a habit I (and many others) developed as a teenager and so thoroughly internalized that it’s become a dominant personality trait. But that sucks! When you have a bad habit, you try to undo it, right? Drinking too much? Cut it out. Get soft around the tum-tum? Go to the gym. Being a cynical jerk about stuff? Embrace wonder. I limit myself and the potential richness of my life by immediately writing things off that maybe aren’t the best. Or things that I perceive might not be the best. How might my life now, as a 37 year old man, be fuller if I hadn’t spent so many years thinking things were stupid because it made me feel cool? It’s terrible, and if that makes me cynical about cynicism, then so be it.

I want to get to a place where I can just be excited about things without tempering that excitement with a bad attitude. I want to go to an open mic night and genuinely think to myself, You know, that was pretty good. I want to see a dad-rock band at a local festival and not roll my eyes. I want to read the clumsy poetry of the world and not dismiss it out of hand. I want to like things because I like things and not justify my tastes. I want to take pleasure in the weird experiences that I find myself in all the time. I want to find the magic in creating things that are not masterpieces. I want to welcome the broken and wonky into my heart. I want to silence that damned voice that says so many terrible things to me. I want to embrace the joy of small, imperfect things because life is full of small, imperfect things and dismissing them robs you of so many chances for happiness.

The theme for 2020 will be:

The Year of Wonder

Maybe I mean something closer to “the year of positive attitude” or “the year of not being a judgy dickhead” or “the year of just giving it a damn rest already with the negativity”, but none of those are as punchy as The Year of Wonder so that is what we are going with.

It seems to me that embracing wonder comes in two distinct flavors: inward and outward. That is, am I directing my bad attitude at myself or am I directing it at others. I think this differentiation is pretty easy to follow.

My struggles with being creative are legendary and well-documented. I have written about it extensively before here on The Black Laser. I am sure all this results from this persistent negative voice inside me. I am sure that the same sense that makes me think someone else’s work is worthless is the same sense that makes me think my work is worthless. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right?

Why beat myself up for the imagined failures of work I am not producing? It is better to produce and release 85% perfect work, than it is to beat myself up forever because the work isn’t 100% perfect and then never release anything at all. Get over it, Joe, and just be happy that the 85% work is out there. If I consider every single thing I’ve ever created professionally, there might be a handful of works that were in the 85% to 90% range. The rest were lower than that for whatever external reality causing issues. And I made a living that way! The world isn’t looking for works that are 100% perfect. That is impossible. Just do your best and people will respond.

And this attitude is never limited to just myself, either. Why can’t I just accept that someone has worked hard on something and is doing their best to share something of themselves? Perhaps they don’t sing with Bing Crosby’s syrupy voice, or perhaps they don’t shred like St Vincent, or perhaps they don’t craft the taught, lurid prose of Shirley Jackson, but so what? The creative drive is within all of us. For the most part, I really believe, people are just doing their best to express their own truths. Why poo-poo that? Encourage people to live their lives. That starts with not being yet another negative voice in a sea of negative voices. Negativity is easy, but negativity is lazy.

It’s a bad behavior it and it needs to stop.

This year is the year I work to stop it. I imagine it will be a difficult path, one from which I will stray regularly. You don’t change 37 years of bad behavior in a single blog post. But, it is something I want to work on. Just getting over the mental hump that kept me away from The Black Laser for so long is the first step. Christ, it’s not like I haven’t had anything stewing in my head the last few years. It’s just that the voice was so loud, so persistent, that I felt stuck.

Well, I’m back. Hi. Missed you too. Let’s be positive this year.

Happy Merry!

I hope you are all enjoying your holiday, even if you don’t get much of a break from work.

Sarah and I are chilling at home with our friend Jor. We’re probably cooking something good and I probably ate too much monkey bread, as tradition dictates. Let the people you love know you love them and put your feet up. You’ve worked hard this year and a little relaxation goes a long way.