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Breville Infuser espresso maker

Breville Infuser

It’s been about 18 months that I’ve owned my Breville Infuser espresso maker. At $500, it’s a great mid-range option for home espresso. It is more capable than the lower-tier options from DeLonghi and Saeco, but not quite up there with options from companies like Rancilio, Nuovo Simonelli, and Rocket — oh how I wish I could own a Rocket espresso maker…

But similar to my review on the DeLonghi EC-155 (a great low-budget option, especially when you pair it with the steam wand and basket mods), I’m going to go over some of the things to keep in mind, some points that are good to know if you decide to go with this espresso maker. One thing to note up front is that the user manual is available from Breville’s website, so if you’re considering this machine, definitely give it a read.

1. No warm-up time.

That’s right, there is no warm-up time with this espresso maker. Okay, not 100% true as there is an initialization cycle that runs when you turn the machine, but it’s brief.

This is due in part to the Infuser’s thermocoil — the initialization cycle is for an initial warm-up on this. For those not in the know, a thermocoil is where water is passed through a coil (duh!) which has a heating element running alongside it to heat it. The cold water going into the coil should be the desired temperature coming out. A thermocoil can also be used to chill liquids, as Adam Savage demonstrated on an episode of Mythbusters. Thermocoils and thermoblocks are typically used in full-automatic espresso machines, and the Infuser is one of only a handful of semi-automatic espresso machines using one.

Contrast this with the many boiler espresso makers out there. The larger the boiler, the longer the warm-up time. A machine as small as the DeLonghi EC-155 has a 10 to 15 minute warm-up, while a machine like the Rancilio Silvia is looking at 30 to 45 minutes. Yikes! At least the EC-155 could warm up while you’re in the shower. If there’s a lot of metal in the machine — i.e. Rancilio Silvia and virtually everything in the prosumer lines — then the warm-up time is increased as well so all of that metal can come up to temperature. While there are “short cuts” you might be able to take to get the machine warmed up faster, there are trade-offs to doing this.

But again, the Infuser’s thermocoil means there is virtually no warm-up time. This is significant if you typically make espresso or a latte/cappuccino in the morning before work. For me it was the main selling point that pulled me away from the Rancilio Silvia and toward the Breville Infuser.

2. Automatic clean cycle

There is a nagging light that comes on to remind you to run the clean cycle on the machine. This is actually a good thing, as regular cleaning (and the reminder to regularly clean it) helps keep the brewhead clean and free of crap that an accumulate over time.

The machine comes with a couple Breville cleaning tablets and a special insert for using them. The insert creates back pressure simulating a loose espresso puck, which helps the cleaning tablets do their job. The Breville tablets are expensive though, and the more coffee you make, the more often you’ll need them. But you can save a little money and go with the Carfiza cleaning tablets instead. I typically use three of those tablets for a cleaning cycle — even with using that many you’re still coming out ahead.

The cleaning cycle typically uses about 16 fl.oz. (~473 mL) of water, so it’s not necessary to have the tank completely full, but make sure it’s at least half full when doing the clean cycle and you’ll be fine.

3. Portafilter and baskets

The double basket that comes with this machine is tapered. For most machines this isn’t the case and I’m actually looking around to see if there’s a basket from another machine I can substitute into this. I also wish there was a bottomless portafilter available like the one for the Breville Double Boiler.

This machine comes with two sets of baskets: pressurized and non-pressurized. This is great for beginners to espresso, as you can go from the pressurized baskets to the non-pressurized baskets as you progress. The single-cup pressurized basket is used for the cleaning cycle, though.

The non-pressurized baskets do mean you need a separate grinder, and you need to grind for each shot. The Breville Smart Grinder line-up is about perfect for this one, but if you can go higher-end, then certainly do so. The grinder actually matters more than the machine anyway, so you should be putting more of your money toward a good grinder. I currently use the Breville Smart Grinder, but I’m looking at upgrading to something better later this year.

4. Descaling and water quality

The cleaning cycle is relatively automatic. Descaling the machine, on the other hand, is far from. Like with all coffee makers, espresso included, you will need to descale this machine on regular intervals. The manual recommends once per month. This will vary based on water quality — harder water = more frequent descaling.

Now in my setup I have been using a Brita pitcher to filter water. The water tank in the machine is filtered as well. So I’m basically using dual-filtered water. This can cut down on how often you need to descale the machine, but not by much.

Vinegar is what is recommended in the manual, and that is all I’ve been using to descale the machine, though I have considered other options. The descaling does include the steam wand as well, but hot water does not come out the steam wand like it would on the Rancilio Silvia. This makes de-scaling a little more time consuming, not to mention it makes the rinse cycle a little more involved. Basically prepare for your home to smell like vinegar when you descale it — on the plus side, if you’re having sinus problems, this could help alleviate congestion.

I typically buy coffee in 2lb bags, and that lasts about 5 or 6 weeks with how often I typically make espresso. So I time the descaling with each new bag. It’s just easier to remember.

5. Included milk pitcher

The included pitcher is about 16 oz, which is perfect for a larger latte with a double-shot of espresso. If you typically make single-shot lattes or cappuccinos, I’d recommend picking up a 12oz pitcher. If you’re upgrading from another espresso machine and already have a 16oz or 20oz pitcher, the extra can be helpful if you typically make lattes or cappuccinos for multiple people — a little more to clean, but less preparation time.

6. Programmability and dialing in the machine

Espresso machines, of course, need to be dialed in with your grinder. It’s just the nature of the beast. The beauty of this machine is the fact you can program it, but it’s both a blessing and a curse. You program the machine by starting and stopping a shot, but what it records is the water volume, not the timing. Water volume is only one variable in the entire espresso shot. The coffee mass and grind plus the tamp make the other parts. So while the machine is removing one particular variable from the equation for you to consider, consistency falls entirely on your shoulders.

Again, a blessing and a curse.

This basically means that variances in your grind or tamp could alter the fluid volume of the shot and/or the timing of it. The coffee in the puck will absorb some of the water. A looser grind or lighter tamp will allow more water through faster. Tighter grind or harder tamp will cause the puck to retain more water and travel through slower.

So this can be great for learning how to be consistent with each shot, but can be a pain if you’re not experienced with making espresso. Weighing your beans with each shot will help you keep things consistent.

To get the best result dialing in your machine, you need to brew espresso the way you intend to do so regularly. This means that if you typically have a hot basket when brewing espresso, you need to have a hot basket dialing it in. You basically need to maintain as much consistency on all applicable variables while dialing in to avoid variances during routine use after you program it.

7. Steam wand

The Infuser has a traditional steam wand, but you can buy a “froth enhancer” to turn it into a panarello-type wand.

When you first turn the machine to steam, there will probably be water squirting through the steam wand, so make sure it’s pointed toward the drip tray to avoid having a little clean up. As the light is blinking it’s going to be coming up to steam temperature, and you’ll start hearing steam coming out of the steam wand. When it reaches temperature, you’ll hear the tell-tale marching steps as water is pushed through the thermocoil — this is so it can maintain a level of pressure through the steam wand. When you turn the machine back off of steam, it will auto-fill the thermocoil with water as the temperature on it is brought back down — meaning you don’t need to go through any kind of “temperature surfing” like on other single-boiler espresso makers.

As water can come out of the steam wand before steam, you don’t want the steam wand in your milk from the outset. Now some would suggest letting it come up to steam, turning off the steam, letting the auto-fill happen, then turning the steam right back on. That’s not necessary.

Here’s what to do instead. Let the water push through the steam wand and come up to temperature. When the steps start, count about 10 of them and turn off the steam. The machine should not go through it’s auto-fill at this point, allowing you to put the wand into the milk, turn the steam back on and steam the milk. If you let the stepping go for too long, the machine will do it’s auto-fill, which means you’ll need to wait longer to steam your milk.

Can you get latte art from this machine? I don’t really try for it, but I think you should still be able to do so.

Now one thing to bear in mind is that this machine is slower than other mid-range machines for steaming milk. But this also allows you to gain a bit of control over it as well, making it a lot easier to learn — and if you want to practice steaming milk without going through a ton of milk, use soapy water.

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Rack mount server project, revisited

It’s been some time since I wrote about the rack mount server I put together. There’ve been a couple modest changes to it that I should point out to anyone looking to build such a server.

First is the CPU cooler. The fan that came with the ThermalTake CPU cooler I purchased was loud. Prohibitively so. ThermalTake rates it at over 34 dB/A — note the threshold for what is considered a “silent” fan is 20 dB/A. Add into this the low-profile chassis and it actually made the problem worse. But I wasn’t entirely sure what other options were out there. Then somehow a Noctua low-profile cooler was in my Amazon recommendations.

Specifically it’s the Noctua NH-L9a, which is 37mm tall (about 1½”) and uses Noctua’s 92mmx14mm fan — this one is made specifically for AMD processors, but they do make one for Socket 115x Intel processors as well. It’s designed for a 65W maximum TDP (such as the Athlon X2 being used), meaning it cannot be used for any kind of overclocking. And given the total height is 37mm tall, it is perfect for a 2U chassis as it leaves nearly an inch of clearance above the cooler which should allow for much better airflow compared to the ThermalTake cooler while remaining reasonably silent.

Running Prime95 from the command line for almost a half hour, the reported temperature on the CPU cores topped out in the upper-40s C, and the CPU temperature dropped off pretty quickly after ending the torture test. Not bad for a low-profile CPU cooler with a relatively silent fan. I may have to try with the low-noise adapter.

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Next up were the front fans. The case comes with two 60mm fans. That wasn’t enough for me so I originally added two more 60mm fans to the case, “attached” to the 5¼” drive bays. Those turned out to also be prohibitively loud, so I changed them out for a single 80mm fan. But I didn’t like how I was attaching that, so I purchased an Evercool Armor HDD cooler. Getting it fitting in the chassis with a full-size ATX mainboard was interesting as I had to remove the HDD bracket from it, along with the front fan filter (which I planned to do anyway since the server chassis has a front filter anyway). But I also had to mount it upside down.

I bought the bracket intending to move the HDD over to it as well, but that’d require chopping it down, and I didn’t feel like doing that right now. Perhaps in the future.

I also didn’t use the stock fan that came with it. I instead opted for the 80mm Enermax TB-Silence fan that had been mounted in place of the dual 60mm fans originally used. It’ll just be a little more silent in the long run, plus it’s rated to provide better airflow. I also mounted it to the bracket using anti-vibration mounts, which should further reduce any potential for noise.

The fan controller that comes with the chassis isn’t that great either. It’ll kick the fans on when a certain internal temperature is reached, then turn them back off when the temperature falls just below the trigger temperature — meaning the fans were kicking on and off, on and off continuously. That’s not good for the fan motors. Ideally what it should be doing is turning the fans back off when the temperatures are several degrees below their threshold temperature — by default they turn on at 38C, and should kick off at 32C or even 30C instead of turning off at 37C only to turn back on at 38C.

Alleviating that was pretty simple: disconnect the fans from the controller and power them straight from the power supply. I still kept the fan controller as well since it has a temperature display — something that actually would’ve been a “nice to have” on the HDD enclosure project.

Having the front fans on full-blast though certainly produces a loud system. The 60mm fans in the front are Yate Loon DB60SM-12 fans, which are rated at 3200RPM and 18 ft³/min, with 30 dB/A of noise. The Noctua 60mm fans I ordered for the HDD enclosure project are rated at 3000 RPM and 17 ft³/min, but a little under 20 dB/A, about the same noise level as the Enermax fan. And the low noise adapter will cut the airflow to about 14 ft³/min, but cut the noise pressure to 14.5 dB/A.

So I think it’s quite obvious what I did next — ordered more Noctua fans for the front.

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Unfortunately this didn’t quiet things down as much as I would’ve liked as I discovered as well that the northbridge fan was making a hell of a lot of noise — a telltale sign that it’s dying or in need of repair — and so will be replaced. I actually needed to do something similar on a previous mainboard I owned, so I’m glad that my current mainboard doesn’t have any active cooling on the mainboard.

So now I need to order in a new heatsink for the northbridge since my local Micro Center doesn’t carry one right now — and the one they do carry would interfere with the graphics card. I ordered this one from Enzotech, along with another Noctua 40mm fan to again have a quiet fan. That’ll mean that all but 2 of the fans in this system will be Noctua — the 80mm fan in the 5¼” drive bays and the 40mm fan on the power supply (and I’m not going after that one). And the 80mm fan I’m likely not going to change over to a Noctua fan since it won’t be much better than the Enermax fan I currently have.

Speaking of the graphics card, originally I had a full-size PCI-Express x16 card on a riser, and it was practically touching the northbridge heatsink and fan. But I recalled that I had another graphics card lying around, one that used to be in my wife’s system, and was also a low-profile PCB — a Radeon HD5450. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the main low-profile bracket — I found the one for the VGA connector but not the DVI and HDMI connectors.

I did discover that XFX actually makes low profile brackets — an entire kit that can be had for about $5, and my local Micro Center carries it. Problem solved. And then later in the evening I found the missing bracket that originally came with the card — after the card had already been installed in the server.

Oh well…

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So that’s basically it. The server is running Fedora 21, and will be used for various things to be determined later. Well one of the things is a Minecraft server, but whether it’ll be used for anything else beyond that we’ll have to see.

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Holmes and Tsarnaev – revisiting due process

Watch the comments to any article detailing the trials of James Holmes — the accused in the Aurora theatre shooting — and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — convicted for the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. You will see some rather disgusting statements that pretty much boil down to “Why aren’t they dead yet?” In short, I think most have forgotten that in the United States we don’t execute the “obviously” guilty without trial.

Another thing often forgotten: due process.

Stemming from the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, the Constitution of the United States requires that any person who is accused of a crime have a day in Court — even the “obviously” guilty Tsarnaev and Holmes. It is rather sickening how easily others are willing to completely abrogate due process rights… for people other than themselves. Numerous times, in the case of both Holmes and Tsarnaev, many have said the equivalent of “Don’t waste taxpayer money on a trial. Just take ‘em out back and shoot ‘em now.”

Wow…

I’ve made it no secret that I defend due process and the right to a trial by jury, even for those many seem to believe don’t “deserve” it, as if your due process rights are earned or abrogated by your actions. Due process is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and must be provided to everyone. But due process can be problematic, which is why I feel it is coming under attack. After all it is due process that led to the high-profile acquittals of OJ Simpson, Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman.

And many seemed to fear the prospect that Tsarnaev or Holmes would walk. So they demand that we avoid that possibility by… executing them without trial. On Yahoo! I said this to someone advocating exactly that:

So if you were to get a speeding ticket, we should just lock you in jail rather than giving you the chance to plead on it? The interesting thing about rights is how willing people are to throw them aside for *someone else* but still demand them for themselves. Either we all have the right to due process, including Holmes, or none of us do. Which would you have?

Some months later, to another article on Tsarnaev, I wrote this:

Another article about Tsarnaev, and once again, people are willing to just throw their own rights out the window. If you’re so willing to just ignore Tsarnaev’s rights, why do your rights deserve any protection? If you want your rights protected, you must be willing to protect his, meaning if you take seriously this whole idea of executing him without trial and executing his family and acquaintances without trial, then should the same apply to you, regardless of whether you are actually provably guilty of anything?

The assertion that Tsarnaev is “obviously guilty” does not nullify his right to due process, yet many assert such should be the case. The assertion that Holmes is also “obviously guilty” does not nullify his right to due process either, yet, again, many assert such. In instances like these, it is rather disgusting how easily many enter the mob mentality, the “torches and pitchforks” mindset.

And the fact that individuals many have asserted are “obviously guilty” have walked out of Court acquitted on charges has led many to attack due process and the jury system, and assert that there exist situations in which the system should be bypassed.

Let’s make this clear. Even the “obviously guilty” enjoy the right to be presumed innocent. They enjoy the right of due process, to have the accusation against them and the supporting evidence heard in a Court of Law by an impartial jury. To so easily abrogate such rights for others, for the “obviously guilty”, is to jeopardize that right for everyone.

If you are unwilling to defend those rights for those who you feel don’t deserve them, then you don’t deserve those rights either.

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Disputing a debt

One topic that gets intermittent discussion with regard to debt collections is debt validation. And lesser discussed still is how to exercise this statutory right. Well it comes down to the letter you send. When you receive first contact through the mail of an alleged debt, you have 30 days to fire off a letter disputing the debt and requesting they validate it. To aid you in this, here is the template I have used previously for this:

[Date]

[Name and address of collection agency]

Dear [Name of collection agency],

Re:    [Debt account information provided in the letter]

NOTICE OF DISPUTED DEBT

On [date letter received], I received the first communication regarding this alleged debt. In accordance with 15 USC § 1692g(b), part of the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you are hereby notified that this debt is disputed in its entirety.

Thus in accordance with Federal law, you are required to cease any collection attempts or efforts with regard to this alleged debt until you can obtain and forward to me documentation that shows that I have any legal obligation to pay you the amount you have alleged as quoted above. In accordance with the above-quoted Federal statute, I also request that you provide to me the name and address of the original creditor.

Further, in accordance with 15 USC § 1692c(a), you may not contact me at my place of employment as my employer does not permit such communications to take place, and you may not contact me at any other time or any other place, except in writing, as no time or place can be considered convenient.

Any attempt to collect on this debt without first satisfying this validation request is a violation of Federal law that may subject you to civil penalties in accordance with 15 USC § 1692k. Your cooperation on this matter is anticipated and appreciated.

Thank you,

[Your signature]

And when you send the letter, use a service that provides tracking and/or delivery confirmation — return receipts are recommended as well. If you are currently unemployed, remove the statements regarding an employer.

I highly recommend against using the letter template provided by the United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For one, it says “Please supply the information below so that I can be fully informed” instead of outright stating that you dispute the debt, which the statute requires [15 § USC 1692g(b)]: “If the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing … that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed…” Requesting information about the debt is not the same as disputing it, in whole nor in part, and unless you say you are disputing the debt, they may presume you are not disputing the debt and do not intend to dispute the debt.

Whenever you are invoking statutory rights, you need to stick with the statutory language so there is no doubt what you are doing.

The CFPB template also demands a lot more information than creditors are required to provide. The creditor is required to provide you evidence that the debt is valid, the amount claimed is accurate (itemized details are not required to fulfill this), they have the authority to collect it, and the name and address of the originating creditor if you request it. That’s it!

The disclosure with the CFPB template even says this:

A debt collector may not have a legal obligation to provide some or all of the information you seek, even if you request it within the 30-day period. If the collector doesn’t give you what you request, that doesn’t necessarily mean the debt collector has broken any laws or has given up a legal right to collect from you.

Amazing how many people think that one misstep by a debt collector and the debt is no longer collectable. In the case of the CFPB’s template, though, the letter requests information that should be readily available with the first contact, such as:

  • whether they are contacting you from out of state (check the addresses on the letter you receive)
  • name of the original creditor — virtually every initial contact I’ve received from a collector included at least the name, with the address provided through a validation request
  • name of the current creditor — again, typically given in the initial letter if different from original creditor

along with details that they are not required to provide you, such as the details regarding their license. If the matter goes to Court, that’s a different scenario, and an attorney should be able to provide the specifics.

And one question that is asked in the CFPB template that should never be asked directly to a debt collector is with regard to the statute of limitations.

If you are certain the debt is beyond the statutory time limit, wait for them to return with validation materials, and write back stating you refuse to pay the debt and leave it at that. Do not mention the statute of limitations. When you do that, under 15 USC § 1692c(c), the collector is barred from contacting you except to say they are ceasing collection attempts, to advise you that a specific “remedy” will be sought, or that they are seeking a specific “remedy” — i.e. they may or will sue.

Only if they sue do you counter with the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations applies only to legal actions through the Court — i.e. it is grounds to immediately dismiss with prejudice any lawsuit they do file against you. It doesn’t stop them from continuing collection attempts unless you tell them in writing to not contact you — again, see 15 USC § 1692c(c) — and it doesn’t stop them from assigning the debt to someone else.

So again, keep the letter short and sweet, like the template I have above, and you should be golden on exercising your statutory right of validation. If you have any reason to believe the information they provided you is inaccurate, you can dispute it further, but never bring up the statute of limitations in any communication with a debt collector. The only time to mention the statute of limitations, if applicable, is with regard to Court actions.

Bear in mind, however, once they satisfy validation, they can file a lawsuit against you.

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Who is actually racist?

Anyone who tries to tout that the NRA doesn’t like the idea of blacks carrying guns is absolutely ignorant. For one, the NRA News has a commentator by the name of Colion Noir. He’s black. And he’s had a YouTube channel since before he joined up with the NRA as a commentator. And in one of his videos, he stomped over the idea of the NRA picking him as the “token black guy” (or in one case, he was called the NRA’s “porch monkey“):

Beyond that, the NRA is about defending everyone’s right to carry a firearm. It’s the anti-gunners who seem to have a problem with blacks being armed. So let’s play a game.

Who is the real racist: the NRA and other gun rights organizations who readily welcome black and other minority members, or the law enforcement agents who deny the issuance of a concealed carry permit to black persons with clean records, while issuing to whites with less than clean records?

Who is the real racist: the biracial president who says that “Saturday night specials” are a problem, or the gun rights advocates who say that such firearms allow our poorest people to arm themselves and defend themselves in some of the more crime-ridden parts of the country — i.e. the “inner cities”? Now contrary to the President’s assertion, “cheap handguns” aren’t being used in crimes. The FBI’s own statistics and studies contradict that notion.

Who is the real racist: the gun rights advocates who fight hard for ammunition availability, even going so far as to “rally the troops” against the ATF’s attempted ban on a popular rifle round, or the people who call for banning bullets and like seeing prices go up and availability go down, apparently not realizing that the poorest people who need inexpensive guns will be the first affected when that happens? After all, if you have to choose between buying food and buying the ammo to keep up practice at the firing range on the off chance you have to defend yourself with your pistol, I think all of us would choose buying food. And so the economically disadvantaged are the ones who are first affected when ammo prices go up with increased demand and decreasing supplies and availability. This is known as “being priced out of a market”.

Not everyone can afford to pay $10 for a box of 50 9mm rounds. .22LR ammo used to be very inexpensive and very available. A lot of people use it for self defense because the ammo and pistols were both inexpensive, affordable even for the poor. Now, not so much thanks to the ammo scares following Sandy Hook.

Just like free speech means that messages with which you disagree are still protected, the right to keep and bear arms means those who you don’t want owning guns (excluding those convicted of felonies or involuntarily held in a mental hospital) also have the right to own them. And the entire history of gun control in the United States has very racist overtones. Indeed the Gun Control Act of 1968, which established the FFL system, implemented a points system regarding the importation of firearms. Some of the firearms excluded under this new system were firearms owned primarily by lower-income minorities.

Back in 1999 the NRA-ILA posted a set of bullet points regarding “Saturday night specials”. One point is rather key:

A law against “Saturday Night Specials” would disproportionately affect poor citizens by reducing the availability of defensive handguns to low income Americans. (Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns, 1997.) The violent crime victimization rate is highest among people in households with annual incomes below $7,500. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Criminal Victimization 1997, Changes 1996-97 with Trends 1993-97, Dec. 1998)

And the poverty rate is highest among blacks, meaning blacks would be affected at a far greater rate than whites. And in larger urban areas, the need for firearms for self defense is even more acute. Detroit’s police chief even openly advocated for it, knowing that public confidence in the police to actually respond when people dial 911 just isn’t there.

Yet anti-gun advocates, like the late Sarah and James Brady, have routinely said that firearms for home defense are unnecessary because… police. What they fail to forget is that the Courts have also routinely said that you are not entitled to police protection. Law enforcement is about enforcing laws, apprehending those who break them and providing evidence a prosecutor can use against the apprehended in Court. If they get there in time to stop a crime in progress, great. But that is not their job.

So who are the real racists: those who support gun rights, or those who target them?

What is even more sickening is the willingness to abrogate due process, especially when it comes to anti-gun advocates. After Tuscon, Aurora and Sandy Hook, many asked the same question: how did these “obviously” mentally ill people get their guns? What they probably realize behind the scenes is that the only way someone can be stripped of their right to a firearm is to first put them through the system. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments require this. Setting aside Adam Lanza, since he didn’t actually legally acquire the firearms he used, the only way Jared Loughner and James Holmes could’ve been blocked through an NICS background check is if they were first adjudicated through the system and their information provided to the NICS system.

Without the Court record, any attempt to block them from acquiring a firearm would’ve been a violation of the Second, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Suspecting a person should not be able to acquire a firearm is quite different from proving it, and the Constitution requires proving it.

And the fact that blacks are more likely to end up in the system also shows that blacks are very, very disproportionately targeted by gun laws. So who’s the real racist? In trying to answer that question, bear in mind that Otis McDonald, the lead plaintiff in the McDonald v. Chicago case at the Supreme Court, is also black.

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Wal-Mart is not censoring Ronda Rousey

MMA champion Ronda Rousey apparently fancies herself an author enough to have written a book called “My Fight/Your Fight“. And apparently Wal-Mart is deciding they will not carry the book at their stores. Now this decision is quite significant, as that means none of Wal-Mart’s 5,163 locations (as of January 31, 2015) just in the US alone will carry it.

And in response to it, the book’s publisher, Judith Regan, is calling it “censorship”. I wish I was joking.

Let’s make this clear: one retailer deciding to not carry a particular book is NOT censorship. I mean there are a shit-ton of books, literally, that Wal-Mart does not carry on their store shelves. Have you been seen the book section at a Wal-Mart Supercenter? It’s tiny! They typically decide on the basis of projected and actual sales which books they’ll carry — and in this age where getting a book is as easy as clicking a button on an e-book store and having it within minutes without the need to go to brick-and-mortar store, that’s something that’s becoming more difficult.

Censorship is when the government says no one can sell copies of the book. Amazon is carrying the book. Barnes & Noble will likely carry it in their stores. Same with Target and other retailers. And the government of the United States cannot, under the First Amendment, ban any book for any reason — contrary to what Senator Feinstein wants to assert with regard to the Anarchist Cookbook. The same applies to the States and territories under the “incorporation doctrine”.

Regan is complaining and accusing Wal-Mart of censorship because Wal-Mart the largest retailer in the world. This means revenues from the book could be significantly lower than expected. But that’s not censorship. She’s only saying it is censorship as a means of trying to push Wal-Mart to reverse their decision. People don’t like the idea of censorship, but Regan’s assertion is also a symptom of a greater problem.

And that problem is this sense of entitlement.

Recently with Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (IN-RFRA), a lot of people acted like it was a license for discrimination. Indeed when a pizza parlor announced that they will not host gay weddings, they received a lot of harsh feedback, harsh enough that they decided to temporarily close up shop. And we’re all familiar with the stories of bakeries refusing to make cakes for gay weddings, and the various lawsuits that have resulted from those — and recently there was a bakery that refused to put an anti-gay message on a cake, and was also sued.

The idea seems to be that if a service exists, the service must be provided to anyone and cannot be denied for any reason except, perhaps, availability (not every shop can accommodate everyone who comes calling) or the ability of the patron to pay. And that is the case in greater than 99% of instances, something many seem to not realize. It’s only the outliers that draw attention.

And now add to this the sentiment given by Judith Regan: if a retailer exists, they must sell my book, or it’s censorship. Seriously?

Ms Regan, if you happen across this article, let this be the takeaway: you are not entitled to Wal-Mart’s shelf space. You are not entitled to any retailer’s shelf space. You aren’t entitled to a listing on Amazon or any other online retailer. Their decision to provide a space for you to sell the book does not mean you are entitled to anyone’s space for the purpose of selling the book. Stop acting like that is the case.

You are not being censored by Wal-Mart. The fact you are accusing them of censorship, likely in an attempt to goad them into giving you shelf space, is despicable. As such you should publicly retract your statement and also apologize to Wal-Mart for accusing them of censorship.

But I’m not going to hold my breath on you doing that.

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Corsair AX860: Giving up on it

First let’s talk specifications: I have an AMD FX-8350 overclocked to 4.4GHz with an ASRock 990FX Extreme6 mainboard and two PNY GTX 770 4GB graphics cards in SLI. My system is also watercooled. If you were to evaluate how much wattage this configuration draws, most evaluations will put it in the ballpark of 650W to 700W maximum draw, something an 860W power supply should be able to handle.

The first AX860 unit, the one I bought through Amazon, was RMA’d in November 2014, about two months after purchase. Corsair sent back a full retail packaged replacement unit — with a cable kit and everything. That power supply lasted another 3½ months before I replaced it.

The concern? The system wasn’t remaining stable under any significant load. With the first unit, the system would randomly power down — not power off, but just power down such that the monitors would go blank but the fans, lights and keyboard and mouse would still be on. The reset button wouldn’t work in such a situation. The only option is to hard power off the system with the switch on the back.

With the second unit, the problem was a little more subtle: graphics would freeze, the sound would go all weird, and eventually the system could completely lock up and I’d have to press the reset button to get things working again. It actually got to the point where it wouldn’t remain stable under *any* load — merely browsing the web for a few minutes off a cold boot caused the system to lock up completely. In both instances I had to hook up a spare power supply to run my system — a Corsair GS800 that had no problem keeping the system stable, meaning the power supply was certainly the problem.

In the interim I also changed out the mainboard — original was a Gigabyte 990FXA-UD3 — due to not liking how it functioned with overclocking enabled. That still could not keep the system stable with this power supply.

I have no idea what happened, but I’m done with it. When one unit goes bad, you blame the unit. When two units go bad, you blame the design, especially when it is the only common denominator in the problems you have. When an 800W power supply can better keep a system stable than an 860W power supply, there’s a problem with the power supply, especially when it cannot keep the system stable under the kind of load every online evaluation says it should be able to sustain.

I replaced it with a unit from a different brand — only been running that new unit a few days as of this writing — so now it’s a matter of what to do with the unit I currently have.

Note: This review has also been published to Amazon.com where I purchased the original unit.

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No, Christine, your daughter didn’t see angels

Gotta love what comes out of the mouths of children at times. Some of it is comedic, some of it is sickening. And some of it is just deserving of a facepalm. A lot of it we don’t question.

So what should be the response when a child says she saw angels in her room?

Mommy! Guess what happened last night? I saw three ANGELS!!! I woke up last night and there they were…watching me! One was tall and skinny and she was up on the curtains, another was on the other side of the curtains and she was smiling like the skinny angel. Then there was a little one that was kind of chubby sitting with her legs criss-cross applesauce on my stuffed animal bin! She was so cute, mom! She had a little look like she was going to giggle. They were all white but you could see through them. They were all looking at me and kept smiling, and I smiled back. Then, when I woke up this morning, the angels were gone.

This is from a piece by Christine Carter over on the Huffington Post called “For those who don’t believe“. She initially shared it on her own blog a pinch over three years ago.

Children can have wild imaginations at times. Their minds are very malleable, to say the least, to the point where children can be coached to say things as truth that never actually happened. The reasons behind it are many, but in Carter’s case, the reasons are quite clear:

My daughter has been told countless times, how her Father in Heaven loves and cherishes His beloved children. Much of her life has been immersed in learning of His Grace and His Glory. I have shared precious details of His Hand guiding every step of her glorious and miraculous journey. She has grown to believe.

She has grown to believe. And the statement following this paragraph is quite simply, “And how she has seen his Angels”.

No, Christine, your daughter did not see angels. Children’s imaginations run wild at times, and they will eventually learn to tell the difference between what is real and what their minds manufactured. You assert toward the end of your article that “There will come a time, when she will remember that night long ago, when she saw three angels smiling at her.” And what will she say? You hope that she will look back upon it as a reminder about her former faith. Or she may look back upon it and think “I was a child then and I had a wild imagination”.

Depending on how old she was when this happened, she may not remember it at all. And as memories are imperfect, wildly so at times, your attempt to get her to write down her experience was only step 1 of many to not remembering what she saw accurately. For example, I know that you didn’t reproduce what your daughter said completely accurately as well. You were in the ballpark, but unless you have an audio or video recording, those aren’t her words, but what you thought were her words.

One other thing to bear in mind: the angels your daughter describes aren’t the angels that are described in the Bible. Instead what your daughter imagined, and what many imagine angels to be, is an anthropomorphized version conjured during the Middle Ages and reinforced in mainstream productions including, but not limited to, Touched by an Angel. Personally I prefer the representation of angels in the Diablo series — cloaked warrior figures with celestial wings instead of what you’d normally see on a bird. If angels are real, that’s how I’d like to imagine they look. After all, if that’s actually how angels appear, God’s one hell of a bad-ass.

Instead it sounds like what your daughter described came from a cartoon — in fact, given the description, they actually sound familiar but I can’t quite place it right now.

Here’s a question that I don’t believe you’ve answered: what has your pastor or congregation said about this? Sightings of angels have made entire cities places for pilgrimage by those seeking miraculous transformations in their lives. Has the Vatican or any official of any church visited to talk to you and your daughter and see her bedroom, the place where the sighting supposedly took place? I’m guessing not. Which tells me you don’t sincerely believe your daughter saw angels. Instead you just want to believe she has.

Your daughter “seeing” angels is not the same as angels actually visiting her. A child’s imagination can be quite active at times, manufacturing things the child initially believes to be real. This has been demonstrated numerous times and in numerous ways. I recall a 20/20 special I saw some years back where a group of children were told there was a fox in a box, though there wasn’t, yet the children believe it so much that a child opened the box and said he saw the fox. Again, there was not actually one there. But the children believed it so much that they were afraid of the box and, when one child opened it, claimed to have seen it.

I don’t believe for a moment your daughter saw angels. She thinks she did. You think she did. But that doesn’t mean she actually did.

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Beta Orionis – Part XVII: The AX860

Contents: All articles in this series

I am now thoroughly pissed off at the AX860. I have no fucking clue as to what is going on with this power supply, but when an 800W 80+ rated (not even bronze-rated) power supply is more stable at operating my system than an 860W Platinum-rated power supply, there’s a major problem. And the sad thing: this is the second AX860 unit I’m now replacing.

The 800W power supply to which I’m referring is the Corsair GS800, also known as the “heart lung machine”. And yes, again, the unit I’m now replacing is a replacement itself of my original AX860.

So here’s the setup: overclocked FX-8350 (voltage untouched) to 4.4GHz, two PNY GTX 770s in SLI, pump, 6x120mm and 3x140mm fans, and two 12″ CCFLs. Every evaluation I’ve tried said that 750W should be the bare minimum for what I have, with power ratings for the hardware coming in at about 650W to 675W. The AX860 is an 860W power supply, so it shouldn’t have any problems handling my system. Back in November I wrote about the first power supply that, for some reason, just started acting up, and caused me to replace the power supply and my SATA RAID card. A retail-packaged replacement unit came back on RMA and was not a problem initially.

A couple months later, it started acting up. Somewhat similar symptoms as well to the first, and this would happen randomly: under load the graphics would freeze, the sound would go haywire, and the system would just completely lock up a few seconds later — reset button to the rescue! So first thing I did was change out the PCI-Express cables as initially I had them using the dongled cables to power the graphics cards, so I changed it so each of the power connectors on the graphics cards had a direct line to the power supply. That was sporadic as well. Then I realized that one of the power cables wasn’t entirely seated, but that didn’t completely correct the problem.

Then over this preceding weekend, the system could not remain stable at all. I disconnected the AX860 and hooked up the GS800, and the system has been running completely stable ever since.

Now this is on top of the mainboard also already being replaced. Originally it was the Gigabyte 990FXA-UD3, and now it’s the ASRock 990FX Extreme6. So that makes the power supply the common denominator in the system’s instability. Pretty fucking sad, too, that a platinum-rated 860W power supply couldn’t keep the system stable.

Why not just hook up the GS800 and call it a day since it seems to have no problem remaining stable? I want something with a better efficiency rating and quieter fan for my primary system.

There were two potential replacements in mind: the Fractal Design Newton R3 1000W, which is also a platinum rated power supply, or the gold-rated EVGA Supernova GS 1050W. The latter had the lower price tag and a stellar 9.7/10 rating on JonnyGuru, (the Newton R3 received a 9.4/10) so I ordered one from NewEgg. Until I learned of the Supernova GS, I was going to buy the Newton R3. The radiator on the floor of the case is the reason for that: 180mm is the longest I can go on the power supply, and the shorter the better. The AX860 is 160mm long, the Newton R3 is 165mm, and the Supernova GS is 170mm.

The only way I’d be able to get shorter still would be to go with the 160mm long, bronze-rated Corsair CX850M, or even the CX750M but that’d be cutting it close on the power ceiling. But given that neither PSU has enough PCI-Express connectors to put two separate connectors on each graphics card, neither would be a good option.

But depending on which of the Newton or Supernova I selected, it would mean redoing the entirety of the cable management in my system. I think I’m going to save that for the weekend after it arrives.

Now what to do with the AX860… If anyone from Corsair comes across this, I wouldn’t mind exchanging it for a memory kit or an SSD.

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Reply to Dave Ramsey: “4 practical ways to save on pet care”

A couple day ago, Dave Ramsey’s blog (not sure if it’s Ramsey himself) published an article called “Pricey Pets: 4 Practical Ways to Save on Pet Care“. I tried leaving a comment, but it’s still in limbo. Note to blog owners: don’t have a comment section if you’re going to leave comments in moderation limbo.

Anyway, let’s get into this.

1. Pet Food

Just buy a bulk bag of dry dog food and pour it into a bowl. Your dog or cat doesn’t need a fancy feast. They just need food.

While it’s not necessary to go with the most premium pet food available, there is still “junk food” for pets, and going a little premium can pay dividends with the long-term health of your pet. This is especially true when it comes to your pet’s teeth — some of the more premium foods are better at tartar prevention, which can save you from having dental work later or having to use a specialty (read: expensive) food for their teeth and gums. You don’t need to go all-out, but don’t get the cheapest food on the shelf either.

For example, I buy Purina One SmartBlend Indoor Advantage for my 9 1/2 year-old feline.

2. Supplies & Medicine

Dogs don’t require parkas in the winter and sunhats in the summer. God has equipped them with everything they need to enjoy the Great Outdoors au natural—unless of course we’re talking hairless cats.

Sorry, but no. And a cursory glance at the variety of breeds shows how wrong this statement is. For one, winters can be harsh, and if you have a breed that originated from a predominantly warmer climate, that can be problematic. One of my parents’ dogs, Angel, is a blue Australian Cattle dog, Basenji mix. The former came, obviously, from Australia, the latter from central Africa. Both are obviously warm climates. So she gets jacketed in the winter when the temperature or wind chill plummets to the single digits or lower, primarily because she doesn’t have a thick coat.

But that means she can better handle hot summers, unlike my parent’s oldest dog, Rolli. Not only does she have a thick coat, but it’s mostly black. She can handle lower temperatures without a jacket (to an extent). In the summer, though, she’s mostly in the shade.

And while it’s perfectly okay to buy pet toys, don’t get sucked into making your furry friend more comfortable with a memory foam mattress or a deluxe cat tree. That’s what your lap is for.

I’m guessing whoever wrote this doesn’t have cats. Like with food, you don’t need to go all-out, but you need to bear in mind that cats love to perch. So give them plenty of sturdy places to perch and they’ll be happy. I have two shelves in my apartment made purely so my cat has other places to perch up and out of the way, but still be close by. I built them myself, too, so if you do something like that, definitely go that route instead of buying something pre-fab, and buy scrap carpeting from your local home improvement store as well. They sell off the leftovers from the end of carpet rolls at steep discounts — only downside being you might end up with a lot more than you need.

3. Grooming

And when it comes to grooming, skip the overpriced Puppy Palace and shop around. While an occasional summer trim may be in order, there’s no need for specialty ‘dos and luxurious bath products. This is one category where mutts have it made.

Talk to your pet’s veterinarian. Many offer grooming specials, and there may be a discount on grooming if you bundle with your annual or semi-annual exam. Definitely price shop, but also be sure to ask around for recommendations and check reviews online.

4. Vet Care

When it comes to your pet’s health, it’s hard to separate your emotions from your wallet. We all want our animals to be active and healthy, but does that mean prolonging their lives until it bankrupts us? We say no.

If Fluffy has a tumor, get a second opinion and then ask some hard questions. Is surgery absolutely necessary? Will it really help your animal’s quality of life? Or will it just cause her more pain?

If she does require an expensive operation, ask for paid-in-cash discounts, save up for a few months first, or make the tough decision to enjoy the time you have left together. Even if it’s heartbreaking, you must put the well-being of your human family first.

One thing a lot of people don’t realize is that there are people lined up with deep pockets who are willing to fund expensive veterinary care — if it’s worth it in the end. Pet got hit by a car and has a broken leg? Chances are your vet, or a little research on Google, can find a charity or sponsor who can cover the cost in its entirety or on top of what you can reasonably afford.

Also pet insurance is becoming more widespread now, so definitely consider it, especially if you have an older pet. Your veterinarian will likely have details.

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