Presume Brett Kavanaugh is innocent

Two things are definitely true about the accusation against Brett Kavanaugh:

  1. It is impossible to know if the allegation is true, and
  2. Democrats don’t care, as they’ve presumed it to be true

To the Democrats, the allegation is enough. Someone came forward with a 36 year-old allegation that is allegedly “credible”. I’d call it incredulous, personally, since, again, the claim is unprovable. That means it is, by default, not credible. Since a claim’s provability has a lot do say about its credibility.

Kavanaugh has, of course, vehemently denied the allegations, maintaining not just his innocence, but demanding the presumption thereof. And it seems few are granting him that benefit. Someone came forward and accused him of a crime, so Republicans should… throw him under the bus, claim Democrats.

There’s a reason the Republicans haven’t done that: to avoid setting a precedent. Dirty tactics are not beneath Democrats. We’ve seen that time and again, along with the tantrums they’ll throw when the Republicans spoon-feed them their own medicine. So why should this be any different.

If this tactic is allowed to succeed, it will have a chilling effect unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Letting an unprovable “credible” allegation torpedo any nomination, not just a Supreme Court nomination, sets a dangerous precedent. And it’s one that, you know, Republicans will try in the future.

This is little more than a “Hail Mary” play by Democrats. They’ve tried numerous ploys to stop the confirmation hearings, all of which have thus far failed. And they’re desperate to stop his confirmation because of a threat narrative that has grown up around him, derived from the threat narrative manufactured about Trump. So this is a “Hail Mary”. Democrats are demanding the Senate refuse to confirm Kavanaugh because…. of a 36 year-old, unprovable allegation.

It very well may have happened. But the presumption of innocence demands that evidence be presented proving the allegations. And as evidence at this juncture is now forever impossible to be brought forward, so it seems, Kavanaugh is entitled to be presumed innocent.

After all, Democrats would demand the same of any Democrat nominee against a Republican attempt at the same the Democrats are currently doing.

Revisiting Amethyst – A different look

In building Amethyst, transitioning the build from a green themed system called Absinthe, there were two places I used 16mm OD PETG tubing. First was in front of the pump housing, and the second was in the U-turn from the graphics card to the CPU.

One thing about Absinthe and Amethyst that stand out are the PrimoChill Revolver fittings. Specifically how tall they are. They really stand out. And even the EK fittings I used for the 16mm tubing are quite tall, leaving not much visible for the U-turn.

The dye has also been fading. As in I need to keep adding dye or the purple color eventually drops out of the coolant and it becomes a somewhat UV-reactive clear. In doing some reading, the PETG tubing is the likely issue.

Finding acrylic locally

So the solution is to switch to acrylic. But given the price of acrylic tubing branded by one of the big-name water cooling companies, I decided to try local. Would it be more cost-effective buying from a plastics producer or distributor and cutting out the retailers?

In the Kansas City metro is Regal Plastic. I initially tried e-mailing them for a quote on their 5/8″ OD tubing, but there were some missteps in that communication. So I just called in instead and was able to arrange delivery.

Now I didn’t entirely “cut out the middleman”, since Regal is not actually a manufacturer. Instead they source the plastic and distribute it.

And it was more expensive than similar tubing through Performance-PCs. They charged me about 2.19 USD/ft for 8ft of tubing, plus a 7.50 USD processing fee and 11.75 USD for freight (probably would’ve been cheaper having them send it to me). Regal actually gave me shy of 10ft of tubing – they looked like leftovers they bought back from someone – so it worked out a little better, about 1.75 USD/ft.

What they gave me was also not in the least what I expected. The tubing just really needed to be cleaned and polished, so I decided against using it for Amethyst and set it aside. I may still use it, but likely not for this project.

Another option

Naming a build “Amethyst” implies a deep amethyst purple. Siberian amethyst.

So finding the right color is a major limitation. I thought I’d found it with the purple dye, but not quite. So instead of purple coolant, I decided to go with something a little flashier.

Custom paint.

Only one problem… and it’s the same problem with lighting: finding the right color. Spaz Stix has a color (both aerosol and air) called Amethyst Purple Pearl. Other “candy purple” paints I’ve seen also appear to be close to what I’ve been wanting. There are numerous ways to look at this.

For example courtesy of this video:

I learned about the Rust-Oleum lineup of Universal spray paints. At first I didn’t think purple was an option here, until I visited Michael’s website. More on that in a moment. There is also a pearl clear coat. Half the problem is, again, finding the right shade of purple.

Testing different paint options

Here’s the list of what I tested. All of this was tested on an aluminum panel. Didn’t pay attention to surface preparation, which wouldn’t make a significant difference in the color test.

Base: Rust-Oleum Universal Gloss Black (2 coats)
Color: Spaz Stix Amethyst Purple Pearl

This was probably as good as it was going to get with the Spaz Stix paint. I had a second panel painted with the Black Stainless Steel as the base coat, and the effect wasn’t much less pronounced.

But this isn’t amethyst. This is a sparkly purple. Okay technically it can be amethyst, but this isn’t the color my wife and I are looking for.

Now had I dug a little more through Rust-Oleum’s lineup, I would’ve discovered their Gloss Purple paint and saved myself from buying the Spaz Stix. Home Depot carries the 2x Gloss Purple while Michael’s carries the Universal Gloss Purple. The latter isn’t listed on Rust-Oleum’s website, oddly enough. The former is also a little less expensive, about 4 USD. The Universal lineup will cost about 6 USD at Home Depot, 9 USD at Michael’s. But Michael’s also carries the Frosted Pearl Topcoat, whereas Home Depot carries it online only.

I did two color tests on this: one with a gloss black base coat, and one without. Both tests were, again, on an aluminum sheet. Wasn’t all that concerned about surface prep here.

Base: Rust-Oleum Universal Gloss Black (2 coats)
Color: Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Gloss Grape (2 coats)
Top: Rust-Oleum Universal Frosted Pearl Topcoat (2 coats)

This isn’t nearly the color I’m going for. It certainly is a deeper purple than the Spaz Stix “amethyst”, much closer to the indigo shade I’m looking for, but not quite there. Adding a black base coat didn’t affect the outcome.

Either way, this is as close as I can get going with off-the-shelf spray paint. At least without going custom mixed paint and using something like the Preval system to apply it or, God forbid, brushing it on manually.

Other options

There was one “last resort” option I discovered. I call it “last resort” as it’s $50 for a 12oz can: Alsa Candy Purple “Killer Can”. But that is the color I want. At $50 a can, with the potential of multiple cans being required, I’m not willing to spend that much unless it’s, as described, my last resort.

I did discover a less expensive option. Deep Amethyst Pearl spray paint from Mopar, part no. 04886266AA. Mopar is the parts company behind Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). That part number is not listed on the official Mopar website, meaning it’s likely not available through one of the local dealers.

Deep Amethyst Pearl was an option on three Chrysler body styles: PL, JA, and JX. PL is the 1995 to 2005 Dodge Neon, a very discriminating selection with which I found several color-matching automotive paint makers with that option available. Including one, courtesy of MNPCTech, called ScratchWizard:

And at about 29 USD for a 12oz can for just the paint, it was a better value. And they sell complete kits with primer and clear coat if you don’t want to go with something off the shelf.

Next steps

This isn’t the end of the color tests as I haven’t yet settled on the final color. I really like how the candy purple looks from Alsa, but I don’t want to spend 50 USD on one can of paint. Unfortunately smaller options don’t appear available. I could contact them for a color sample, so we’ll see.

But I’m currently leaning toward the Deep Amethyst Purple from prior Chrylser vehicles. Rather than order a can through ScratchWizard, I’ve ordered a can of the Mopar-brand Deep Amethyst Pearl paint from the supplier linked above. I’ll post the next color test along with the plan of action.

Now I live in an apartment, meaning time in the year is running out for actually doing the paint spray. My other problem, living in an apartment, is setting up for spraying the case. This will require a booth, or something similar, so I’m looking at both DIY and off-the-shelf options. Push comes to shove, I’ll get quotes around town to see if any of the body shops can help me out. In fact, I may just do that in the end, after settling on the specific color.

I do also intend to go with the wider tubing. But with the change to spray painting the chassis, I’m actually considering going with custom sprayed tubing to match.

So that’s it for now.

Paid product or service promotions

I have a business degree. With that came studies in sales and advertising. Part of this involves knowing whether a certain venue will reach your target audience.

A good example of this came four months ago, when I received a solicitation from a small company that makes holsters. I’ve posted two holster reviews (here and here) – likely how they found me – along with being a Second Amendment advocate, so their offer to send me a holster to try out and review is perfectly acceptable. (Ultimately I declined as none of what they had interested me.)

But then there’s this solicitation I received earlier this week, reproduced below:

Hi Kenneth,

I just read Observations? ? ?from an apartment somewhere in Kansas City, I’ve shown it to some colleagues and we think a collaboration between us could work well. I represent a digital marketing agency currently working with a leading home interiors company who operate in the same marketplace as Houzz and Made.com. We would like to feature a unique piece of content on your site on behalf of our client. For the privilege, we’d be happy to pay you somewhere in the region of $65.

Let me know your thoughts.

Best wishes,
Claire

Now there’s a telltale sign that this is an initially-blind e-mail solicitation. Any guesses? It’s the ??? placeholder for the ellipses in the blog title – this is a telltale sign of a character conversion error when my contact information and site name was put into their database. So I know right away they didn’t actually look at the site. For one, this post is #665. And while a heavy amount of my content deals with projects I’ve decided to showcase, and talking about technology, most of the content here is political.

Beyond that, the site is called “Observations from an apartment somewhere in Kansas City”. So posting paid content wouldn’t really fit with the site’s title since I wouldn’t be posting my point of view on something. Beyond that, they offered content regarding… interior decorating. I’ve never written here about interior decorating! Ever!

I really wish companies would do some research before sending out solicitations. I mean, is that really a lot to ask? This was my reply:

Ms Robertson,

With all due respect, I’m not interested in paid content on my blog, as it would defeat the purpose of the site’s title, for one. And given the view statistics for my blog, I’m sure your clients would prefer placing it elsewhere with more exposure. Especially since I can tell you didn’t actually read any of my website or otherwise you’d know that 1. it’s only a personal blog that 2. has a heavy amount of political content that your clients may also find an unsavory place for their content.

Thanks for your inquiry, but, taking your clients’ best interests into consideration, I decline.

There really is no reason for anyone to be talking to me about paid content. This blog gets… about 100 views on a good day, a few hundred on a really good day. A lot of what I discuss is very niche or very disagreeable or both. But that someone would solicit paid content to me for a topic I’ve never discussed on this blog is just…. bizarre.

Now if you want me to review something in line with what I’ve already discussed on this blog, then I’m open to ideas – e.g. the small holster maker mentioned earlier. If you want honest feedback about your product, I can give it – e.g. Black Rifle Coffee’s AK-47 espresso. But before contacting me about product placements or reviews, at least search the site to determine if it’s something I’ve already discussed. I mean that’s just… common sense.

Robert Reich and annulling a presidency

I’ve really got to wonder what is in Robert Reich’s coffee:

Suppose, just suppose, Robert Mueller finds overwhelming and indisputable evidence that Trump conspired with Putin to rig the 2016 election, and the rigging determined the election’s outcome.

Basically what you’re saying here is evidence that Trump “conspired with Putin” to convince the electorate in the right States to vote for Trump to attain the requisite number of Electoral Votes. The fact that Democrats talk about the 2016 election as if it was a machine, and that voters are just cogs in that machine, automatons incapable of making their own decisions, speaks volumes.

Putin didn’t get Trump elected. Russia didn’t get Trump elected.

Voters did.

The votes were cast, counted, and certified. Electoral Votes cast, counted, and certified. Trump was declared the winner in a joint session of the House and Senate. He was sworn in as President.

He was legitimately elected. Accept that and move on.

In other words, Trump’s presidency is not authorized under the United States Constitution.

Again, Trump is the legitimate President of the United States.

Accept that and move on.

The only response to an unconstitutional presidency is to annul it.

There is no such thing as an unconstitutional presidency, and there is no remedy in the Constitution even remotely like annulment.

The Constitution does not specifically provide for annulment of an unconstitutional presidency. But read as a whole, the Constitution leads to the logical conclusion that annulment is the appropriate remedy for one.

Which is about like saying that impeaching and removing the President means, in short, a clean slate. That removing the President via impeachment, or any of his officers, removes everyone. Nope.

Again there is nothing in the Constitution that even alludes to this being a possible remedy.

After all, the Supreme Court declares legislation that doesn’t comport with the Constitution to be null and void, as if it had never been passed.

It would logically follow that the Court could declare all legislation and executive actions of a presidency unauthorized by the Constitution to be null and void, as if Trump had never been elected. (Clearly, any Trump appointee to the Court would have to recuse himself from any such decision.)

Now you’re really reaching. Again, Trump is the duly elected, legitimate President of the United States. Accept that and move on.

The Constitution also gives Congress and the states the power to amend the Constitution, thereby annulling or altering whatever provisions came before. Here, too, it would logically follow that Congress and the states could, through amendment, annul a presidency they determine to be unconstitutional.

It gives only the States that power. Congress can only propose Amendments. The States must ratify them. And do you honestly think 38 States will band together to pass an Amendment that effectively nullifies an entire Presidency and every action that President has taken?

Let’s grant the motion for a moment. Let’s say the States actually did that. For one, what’s to stop them from doing that where a Presidency actually was, without dispute, legitimate. Imagine the chaos that would result. Court appointments nullified as a result, and the decisions in which those appointments participated would be nullified as well. That would wreak havoc with our current judicial precedent at all levels.

And all of that chaos for what?

Mr Reich, you have completely lost your mind at this point. Your judgment is so clouded by your hatred of President Trump that you are now no longer thinking rationally. To even propose “nullification” as even a possible “remedy” to Trump being elected shows this. To even consider, for a moment, that such might even be possible, the ramifications of which be damned, shows this.

As they say on the Internet, go home, Mr Reich, you’re drunk.

The Constitution calls only for removing a President via impeachment and does not include the power to annul a presidency, or anyone’s term in any office of the United States. The reason is simple: to annul anyone’s such term means you’d have to painstakingly go through and act as if every thing that person ever did in the capacity of that office was never done. There is no sane way that can occur.

Again, Donald J. Trump was legitimately elected and sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

Accept that and move on.

Stop blaming the tariffs

From Case Labs’ website:

Text for those with accessibility technologies:

We are very sad to announce that CaseLabs and its parent company will be closing permanently. We have been forced into bankruptcy and liquidation. The tariffs have played a major role raising prices by almost 80% (partly due to associated shortages), which cut deeply into our margins. The default of a large account added greatly to the problem. It hit us at the worst possible time. We reached out for a possible deal that would allow us to continue on and persevere through these difficult times, but in the end, it didn’t happen.

We are doing our best to ship as many orders as we can, but we won’t be able to ship them all. Parts orders should all ship, but we won’t be able to fulfill the full backlog of case orders. We are so incredibly sorry this is happening. Our user community has been very devoted to us and it’s awful to think that we have let any of you down. There are over 20,000 of you out there and we are very grateful for all the support we have received over the years. It was a great journey that we took together and we’re thankful that we got that chance.

We understand that there will likely be a great deal of understandable anger over this and we sincerely apologize. We looked at every option we had. This is certainly not what we envisioned. Some things were just out of our control. We thought we had a way to move forward, but it failed and we disabled the website from taking any more orders.

It was a privilege to serve you and we are so very sorry things turned out this way.

This has been picked up by the mainstream media for obvious reasons: they are blaming the Trump tariffs for their closure.

The only tariff that really significantly affected CaseLabs is that on aluminum. Which only went in place in March 2018. While tariffs certainly are NOT a good thing for the economy, it’s a stretch to blame them for bringing down CaseLabs.

The “default of a large account” is the part few pay attention to. And for CaseLabs to blame the tariffs for their woes is beyond the pale, since they’re looking to shift the blame for their closure to the White House and away from their business practices. And many have taken the bait.

They were already insolvent. The tariffs only sealed their fate.

For the tariffs to cause their closure in the equivalent of one fiscal quarter means they were already in the red. Deep in the red. The large account going into default robbed them of the revenue they needed to keep going. To be “forced” into liquidation – Chapter 7 bankruptcy – means they and their creditors do not foresee CaseLabs (and their parent company) ever having the revenue to recover their losses and pay on their liabilities. Which were already mounting and already getting them in trouble with their creditors (likely long) before the tariffs were enacted.

Even without the tariffs, that large account going into default likely would’ve taken them under anyway, especially if it was a customer who went into bankruptcy. Probably not in August 2018, but they likely would not have survived the year – or barely made it into 2019 – without additional revenue or funding to make up the shortfall.

CaseLabs made great computer chassis, with a massive amount of customization options. But it is not proper to lay even the majority of blame on the tariffs. They were already in trouble before the tariffs were enacted. Being forced into Chapter 7 liquidation, bypassing Chapter 11 reorganization, shows this. That they weren’t able to work out a deal with their creditors also shows this.

But everyone wants to blame the tariffs because that’s convenient and… Trump enacted them.

Combating glare in the daylight

Quick product review here. I have a dashcam in my SUV. And glare is one of the major issues trying to use it, since my dashboard reflects onto the windshield when it’s bright outside.

So to take care of that problem, I ordered a DashMat after seeing it recommended on a couple forums. I don’t have it completely properly installed, but it is still making one hell of a difference otherwise.

As you can tell in teh lower image, the dashboard is not reflecting to nearly the same degree in the windshield. This isn’t great for just the dashcam, as it means being able to see through the windshield better without the glare.

When it’s clean, that is.

You can order a DashMat here. The price will vary based on the make/model of your vehicle. And the dashcam I use is the Yi Smart Dash Camera 2.7″ (silver).

Treason

The United States is unique when it comes to governance in one spectacular way: treason is defined above the government in our Constitution. This means the definition of treason cannot be changed merely by adopting a new statute. Specifically Article III, the same article that defines the Federal judiciary, in section 3:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Treason has been used to describe Trump’s recent activities with regard to Russia and her President Vladimir Putin. Obviously the President is not levying war against the United States. But did he give Russia “aid and comfort” and “adhere” to them? No.

Let me repeat that: Trump’s most recent actions are not treason under the Constitution. Treason is typically only applicable to actions committed during a time of declared war. If Congress hasn’t declared war, treason cannot apply. For reference, the Second World War was the last time the United States was in a declared state of war.

To be clear, Russia isn’t a US ally or “friendly” to the United States. But not being an ally or “friendly” doesn’t make them an enemy by default. A declared state of war by the United States against Russia or vice versa makes them our enemy. And attempting a treason prosecution against someone for providing aid and comfort to Russia would be on par with a declaration of war, or evidence of an intent by the United States to declare war against Russia.

Quoting Carlton F.W. Larson, professor of law at U.C. Davis, in an article for the Washington Post called “Five Myths about Treason“:

It is, in fact, treasonable to aid the “enemies” of the United States.

But enemies are defined very precisely under American treason law. An enemy is a nation or an organization with which the United States is in a declared or open war . Nations with whom we are formally at peace, such as Russia, are not enemies. (Indeed, a treason prosecution naming Russia as an enemy would be tantamount to a declaration of war.) Russia is a strategic adversary whose interests are frequently at odds with those of the United States, but for purposes of treason law it is no different than Canada or France or even the American Red Cross. The details of the alleged connections between Russia and Trump officials are therefore irrelevant to treason law.

The United States is not in an open or declared state of war with… anyone currently. While certain groups, organizations, and even States have been called “enemies”, making them actual enemies of the United States requires a declaration of war. “Enemy” is defined at 50 USC § 2204(2):

any country, government, group, or person that has been engaged in hostilities, whether or not lawfully authorized, with the United States

Note that an enemy combatant is not the same. An enemy combatant against the United States does not automatically make the country from which they came an enemy of the United States. Again that requires a declaration of war.

As such Russia is not an enemy of the United States. Meaning any person who provides any level of “aid or comfort” to Russia, even to the detriment of the United States, cannot be said to be committing treason. They may still be committing any other crimes against the United States, such as espionage – the Rosenbergs were convicted and executed for espionage – but it cannot be called treason.

Quoting an article by Fred Barbash for the Washington Post called “Trump ‘treason’ in Helsinki? It doesn’t hold up.“:

Problem two: There must be an enemy to aid and comfort.

While many may think of Russia as an adversary and even an enemy, it has not been declared so. An “enemy,” Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe said in an email to The Post, “arguably” requires a formal state of war.

“Some commentators,” Tribe writes with co-author Joshua Matz in “To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment,” “have argued that Russia also ranks among our ‘enemies’ ” because of its hacking to influence the 2016 election in Trump’s favor. The argument is “interesting and important,” they write, but “continued legal uncertainty about whether it is treasonous to lend ‘aid and comfort’ to Russia militates against basing an impeachment on this theory.” There are plenty of other potential crimes in the Russia investigation, they write, but probably not treason.

The simple fact we aren’t at war with Russia, and they have not declared war against the United States, means Trump’s recent actions cannot be called treason.

Treason is strictly defined in the Constitution to avoid its definition being diluted by the government – see Federalist No. 43 – as kings and dictators have been known to do. We must resist the urge to dilute its definition by casually throwing around the word. And seeing publications like the Washington Post push back against how the word has been used recently is comforting.

Net Neutrality was never going to work

Your ISP oversells your data rate.

I’ll just say that up front. I’m privileged to have Google Fiber, which is a 1 gigabit per second, full duplex, Internet connection. However if I go to run a speed test, I won’t see that full 1 gigabit. During off-peak hours, my speed will be north of 900 Mb/s both ways, but typically it’s a bit lower than that.

Your actual Internet connection is dependent upon many factors. Again, bear in mind that your ISP oversells your bandwidth plan, and I’ll demonstrate not only why that happens, but why it’s unavoidable, and why it typically was never a problem.

* * * * *

Okay let’s start with why this happens. First, let’s talk about network topologies. Starting with a star network.

Star Topology

Missing from this image is the respective maximum bandwidth available to each device on the network. I’ll presume the switch is Gigabit since that is the most common switch used in business and home networks.

The desktops are (likely) all Gigabit capable, same with the server (for simplicity). For simplicity, I’ll assume the printer is a standard laser printer with only 100Mbs, also called Fast Ethernet. And this switch is going to be connected to the larger network and the Internet via an uplink, which is also Gigabit.

Now in most Gigabit switches, unless you buy a really cheap one, the maximum internal throughput will be about the same as all of the ports combined at full duplex (meaning same bandwidth for upload and download). This means if the switch has 8 ports, it’ll support a maximum throughput of 8Gbps, and 16Gbps if it has 16 ports, and so on. This is to make sure everyone can talk to everyone else at the maximum supported throughput.

But what about that uplink? The port that supports the uplink is no different from any other port. None of the devices on the switch will be able to talk to the rest of the network or the Internet faster than the uplink allows. This means they will be sharing bandwidth with the rest of the devices on the switch. This creates contention.

This is why there are Gigabit switches with one or more 10GbE ports intended to be the uplink to the rest of the network. These switches are typically used in enterprise and medium or large office networks since they are more expensive. They can also be connected to larger 10GbE switches to create a backbone. All with the intent of alleviating contention as much as possible on the internal network.

But no device on the network can talk faster than its connection will allow, regardless of how well you design the network. This means that if you have a file or database server that sees a lot of traffic during the day, no one can to talk to it at full bandwidth since it will be overwhelmed. There are ways to alleviate that contention, but you’re merely kicking the can down the road.

A well-designed network is one in which all devices on the network can access whatever resources they desire without significant delay through a combination of switches and routers. And making sure the resources that will see significant traffic have the most bandwidth available – e.g. multiple 10GbE connections trunked into one pipe, also known as “link aggregation“. Along with being integrated into the network in a way that maximizes throughput and minimizes contention.

* * * * *

So what does all of that have to do with the Internet and Net Neutrality? A lot. In large part because those most advocating for Net Neutrality don’t know why it was never going to actually work the way they desired.

Let’s rewind a bit to show how this problem came about. Twenty (20) years ago, dial-up was still very prevalent and broadband (DSL and cable) weren’t particularly common. Your ISP had a modem pool connected to a few servers that routed Internet connections through to the ISP’s trunk. The modems were very low bandwidth – 56kbps at most, with bandwidth varying based on distance and phone line quality – so ISPs didn’t need a lot of throughput.

That everyone was connecting through a phone line made ISP competition a no-brainer. It wasn’t unusual for a metropolitan area to have a few ISPs along with the phone company offering their own Internet service. Your Internet service wasn’t tied to those providing your phone line. Switching your ISP was as simple as changing the phone number and login details on your home computer.

Broadband and the “always on” Internet connection changed all of that. Now those who provide the connection to your house also provide the Internet service. And there is, unfortunately, no easy way to get away from that.

But the physical connection providing your Internet service is not much different from home phone service with regard to how it is provided in your locale. The line to your home leads to a junction box, which will combine your line along with several other lines into one larger trunk. Either through a higher bandwidth uplink, or through multiplexing – also called “muxing”, the opposite of which is “demuxing”. Multiplexing, by the way, is how audio and video are joined together into one stream of bits.

The signal may jump through additional junction boxes before making it to your ISP’s regional switching center. The fewer the jumps, the higher the bandwidth available since there isn’t nearly as much contention. Your home doesn’t have a direct line to the regional switching center. And as I’ll show in a little bit, it doesn’t need it either.

The switching center routes your connection to the Internet along with any regional services, similar to the uplink from your home network to the ISP. The connection between the regional switching center and your home is referred to as the “last mile”.

Here’s a question: does the regional switching center have enough bandwidth to provide maximum throughput to all the “last mile” lines?

* * * * *

As I said at the top, your ISP oversells your data rate. They do not have enough bandwidth available to provide every household with their maximum throughput 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Almost no one is using their maximum throughput 24 hours a day. Very, very, very few use even close to that. And a majority of households don’t use a majority of their available bandwidth. We overbuy because the ISP oversells. But that bandwidth does come in handy for those times you need it – such as when downloading a large game or updates for your mobile, computer, or game console.

But ISPs do not need enough bandwidth to provide every household with their full throughput around the clock. But there’s another reason why they won’t ever get to that level: idle hardware.

The hardware at the switching stations and junction boxes across the last mile are expensive to acquire, take up space, and consume power. So ISPs won’t acquire more hardware than they require to provide adequate service to their customers. The fact that most households don’t use most of their available bandwidth most of the time is what allows this to work.

Which means, then, that problems can arise when this no longer remains the case. Enter peer-to-peer networking.

* * * * *

Comcast outright blocking BitTorrent is an oft-cited example of why we “need” Net Neutrality. A lot of people do not know how BitTorrent works. Let me put it this way: it’s in the name.

Peer-to-peer protocols like BitTorrent are designed to maximize download speeds by saturating an Internet connection – hence the name, bit torrent. A few people using BitTorrent around the clock isn’t itself enough to create a problem, since ISPs have the bandwidth to allow for a few heavy users. When it becomes quite a bit more than just “a few”, however, their use affects everyone else on the ISP’s network.

Video streaming – e.g. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube – creates similar contention. Most video streaming protocols are designed to stream video up to either a client-selected maximum quality, or whatever the bandwidth will allow. Increasing video quality and resolution only created more contention across available bandwidth.

ISPs engage in “traffic shaping” to mitigate the problem. Traffic shaping is similar to another concept with which all network administrators and engineers are hopefully familiar: Quality of Service, or QoS. It is used to prioritize certain traffic over others – e.g. a business or enterprise will prioritize VoIP traffic and traffic to and from critical cloud-based services over other network traffic. It can also be used deprioritize, limit, or block certain traffic – e.g. businesses throttling YouTube or other video streaming services to avoid contention with critical services.

And that traffic shaping – blocking or limiting certain traffic – was necessary to avoid a few heavy users making it difficult for everyone else to use the Internet service they were paying for. Regulating certain services to ensure a relative few weren’t spoiling it for everyone else.

Yet somehow that detail is often lost in discussions on Net Neutrality. And misconceptions, misrepresentations, and misunderstandings lead to bad policy.

* * * * *

So let’s talk “fast lanes” for a moment.

There has been a lot of baseless speculation, fear mongering, and doomsday predictions around this concept, along with what could happen with Internet service in the United States should Net Neutrality be allowed to completely expire.

While “fast lanes” have been portrayed as ISPs trying to extort money from Netflix, there’s actually a much more benign motive here: getting Netflix and others to help upgrade the infrastructure needed to support their video streaming. Since it was the start of their streaming service, and the eventual consumption of it by millions of people, that led to massive degradation in Internet service for millions of other customers who weren’t streaming Netflix or much else.

As a means of alleviating traffic congestion, many metropolitan areas have built HOV lanes – “high-occupancy vehicle” lanes – to encourage carpooling. The degree to which this is successful being highly debatable. The “fast lane” concept for the Internet was similar. But when the idea was first mentioned, many took it to mean that ISPs were going to artificially throttle websites who don’t pay up, a presumption mirrored in the Net Neutrality policy at the FCC. What it actually means is providing a separate bandwidth route for bandwidth-intense applications. Specifically video streaming.

The reason for this comes down to the structure of the entire Internet. Which is one giant tree network. Recall from above about network design that devices and services that see the most traffic should be integrated into the larger network in a way that maximizes throughput to those services while minimizing contention and bottlenecks for everything else. This can be achieved in multiple ways.

“Fast lanes”, contrary to popular belief, were intended to divert the traffic for the most bandwidth intense services around everyone else. An HOV lane, of sorts. Yet it was portrayed as ISPs trying to extort money from websites by artificially throttling them unless they paid up, or even outright denying that website access from their regional networks.

Yeah, that’s not even close to what was going to happen.

* * * * *

The “fast lanes” were never implemented, though. So what gives? Does that mean the fearmongers were right and ISPs were planning to artificially throttle or block websites to extort money? Not even close. Instead the largest Internet-based companies put into practice another concept: co-location, combined with load balancing.

Let’s go back to Netflix on this.

Before streaming, Netflix was known for their online DVD rentals, and specifically their vast supply. Initially they didn’t have very many warehouses where they stored, shipped, and received the DVDs (and eventually Blu-Rays).

But as their business expanded, they branched out and opened new warehouses across the country, and eventually across the world. They didn’t exactly have a lot of choice in the matter: one warehouse can only ship so many DVDs, in part because there is a ceiling (quite literally, actually) to how many discs can be housed in a warehouse, and how many people can be employed to package and ship them out and process returns.

This opened up new benefits for both Netflix and their customers. By having warehouses elsewhere, more customers were able to receive their movies faster than previous since they were now closer to a Netflix warehouse. More warehouses also meant Netflix could process more customer requests and returns.

Their streaming service was no different. At the start there were not many customers streaming their movies. In large part because there weren’t many options. I think X-Box Live was the only option initially, and you needed a Live Gold subscription (and still do, I think) to stream Netflix.  So having their streaming service coming from one or two data centers wasn’t a major concern.

That changed quickly.

One of the precursor events was Sony announcing support for Netflix streaming on the PlayStation 3 in late 2009. Initially you had to request a software disc as the Netflix app wasn’t available through the PlayStation Store – I still have mine somewhere. And the software did not require an active PlayStation Network subscription.

Alongside the game console support was Roku, made initially just to stream Netflix. I had a first-generation Roku HD-XR. The device wasn’t inexpensive, and you needed a very good Internet connection to use it. Back when I had mine, the highest speed Internet connection available was a 20Mbps cable service through Time Warner. Google Fiber wasn’t even on the horizon yet.

So streaming wasn’t a major problem early on. While YouTube was supporting 720p and higher, most videos weren’t higher than 480p. But as more people bought more bandwidth along with the Roku devices and game consoles, contention started to build. Amazon and Hulu were also becoming major contenders in the streaming market, and additional services were springing up as well, though Netflix was still on top.

So to get the regional ISPs off their back, Netflix set up co-location centers across the country and in other parts of the world. Instead of everything coming from only one or a few locations, Netflix could divide their streaming bandwidth across multiple locations.

Load balancing servers at Netflix’s primary data center determined which regional data center serves your home based on your ISP and location – both of which can be determined via your IP address. Google (YouTube), Amazon, and Hulu do the same. Just as major online retailers aren’t shipping all of their products from just one or a few warehouses, major online content providers aren’t serving their content from just one or a few data centers.

This significantly alleviates bandwidth contention and results in better overall service for everyone.

* * * * *

But let’s get back to the idea of Net Neutrality and why what it’s proponents expect or demand isn’t possible. Though I feel I’ve adequately pointed out how it would never work the way people expect. So now, let’s summarize.

First, ISPs do not have enough bandwidth to give each customer their full bandwidth allocation 24/7. That alone means Net Neutrality is dead in the water, a no-go concept. ISPs have to engage in traffic shaping, along with employing different pricing structures to keep a few customers from interfering with everyone else’s service.

Unfortunately the fearmongering over the concept has crept into the public consciousness. With Net Neutrality now officially dead at the Federal Communications Commission – despite attempts in Congress and at State levels to revive it – a lot of people are going to start accusing ISPs of throttling for, likely, any amount of buffering trying to watch an online video.

Anything that might look like ISPs are throttling anything will likely result in online public statements from customers accusing their ISP of nefarious things. Because people don’t understand the structure of the Internet and how everything actually works. And the structure of the Internet also spells doom for the various demands on ISPs through “Net Neutrality”.

Chicken and egg economics

How many times have you heard this argument with regard to the minimum wage?

If employers pay employees more, then they’ll have more money to spend, and that’ll make the economy better.

What came first: the revenue or the wage?

It sounds good to say paying employees more will stimulate the economy. But it isn’t that simple. For one businesses need to have the money, the revenue, to cover the increased labor expense. In other words, the revenue comes first. This is why chain stores will close or cut back at under-performing locations.

Forcing a higher minimum wage on businesses that don’t have the revenue to cover it will result in lost jobs as a result. Minimum wages are price floors, and the economic effects of price floors are well studied and easily demonstrable. Price floors price out market participants and result in an increased surplus of whatever is effected. Minimum wage hikes, then, result in a greater surplus of labor.

And there’s also wage push inflation, also called cost push inflation, in which companies raise prices to cover higher minimum wages, as opposed to paying more or hiring more people due to increased revenue and demand for their products or services.

A lot of the arguments in favor of hiking the minimum wage presume the business owner can just absorb that new cost. As if all businesses are sitting on bottomless buckets of cash, or have a supply of revenue sufficient to cover a wage hike, and it’s just greed keeping those companies from paying more to their employees. Except as I’ve pointed out, with Wal-Mart of all companies, that’s just not true.

Along with this is another common argument that I also recently rebutted on Twitter in which someone said that, paraphrasing, companies could pay their employees a living wage if every C-level executive took a pay cut. Yet, as I’ve also pointed out with regard to Wal-Mart, the math just doesn’t work out.

The person in question spoke specifically of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the fact he’s worth billions, but Bezos’s cash salary was only $1.6 million in 2017. The rest of his compensation, and the vast majority of his net worth, is stock which has no cash value unless sold. If he took home no cash salary and that was instead divided up against all other employees, how much would they all get? Not even enough to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

So in the riddle above, revenue obviously must come first. Typically a company won’t hire on employees or raise wages unless they can afford it. And they’ll only do so within what they can afford. And the math determines if they can afford it. So if you force it on them by mandate of law, especially by a significant margin over the current minimum wage, you’re going to see diminished hours, layoffs, and businesses shutting down.

Singularity Computers, JayzTwoCents, and a journalistic debacle

Full disclosure: I provide financial support to Singularity Computers through their Patreon.

Singularity Computers is pushing a new case to market called Spectre. Linus Media Group received a custom version of it, and JayzTwoCents is using another custom version in a special build for rapper Post Malone.

Recently Cairns Post published an article featuring Singularity Computers (behind a paywall). So let’s start with the passage from the article that has everyone in an uproar:

All-purpose assistant Sven Meyer said Singularity Computers’ YouTube channels had attracted more than 1 million followers and led American chart topper Post Malone to track the team down.

“He had some issues in one of his videos, all his followers pointed him in our direction because we had the solution,” Mr Meyer said.

“He dropped us an email, telling us every second comment, out of 10,000 comments were telling him we could help him.

“It is a huge opportunity for us and the exposure is great. Post Malone, even though he has no clue about computers, it is a very important deal.”

Sven wasn’t talking about Post Malone. He was actually talking about JayzTwoCents. The mention of Post Malone at the end of the passage certainly provides the allusion, however, that Singularity Computers is trying to seize credit for the Post Malone project.

And the reaction to this has been far beyond reasonable.

Here’s what people are missing: Singularity Computers has never tried to take credit for the build. They have only ever taken credit for the custom Spectre chassis for the build. Given the exposure the project has received on YouTube and elsewhere, there is no way Singularity could even try to take credit for the entire build.

The response they are receiving when the allusion of such was given by a local newspaper is probably a few magnitudes lighter than what they would’ve actually received had they actually tried to take credit for it. Which means the allusion of them seizing credit falls on the journalist who wrote the article. Who obviously didn’t do her due diligence, as I can readily demonstrate.

Back on December 13, 2017, JayzTwoCents published a video showcasing the start of a new personal build:

At the end of the video, he’s trying to think of a good way to mount the pump and reservoir to the front radiator. In the comments to this video, a lot of people recommended Singularity Computers. About two weeks later, JayzTwoCents posted a video continuing the build, and basically saying he got the hint:

Or to again quote Sven from the article: “He [JayzTwoCents] had some issues in one of his videos, and his followers pointed him in our direction because we had the solution.”

But I highly doubt that Sven said the Singularity Computers channel had attracted 1 million followers. He may have been, again, referring to JayzTwoCents, and the statement was taken out of context.

So how did the confusion occur?

This is speculation, but I feel it’s a combination of a need to trim the article without proper diligence to make sure everything was still accurate. And this is apparent given the picture of the article that Daniel shared on his website and linked across social media (though all social media links have since been removed):

If you’ve ever worked for a newspaper, whether as a student journalist or professional, you likely are acutely aware of the need to keep an article within a certain publication space. And if you run long, your editor will require that you trim the article down. But the key is to trim in such a way that it is still accurate.

Clearly Alicia Nally didn’t maintain accuracy, provided the article was accurate to begin with. Her trimming resulted in an article that made it sound like Post Malone sought out Singularity Computers after being directed to them by a lot of comments. And it was actually JayzTwoCents who sought them out. And her failure to maintain accuracy is leading to the implication Singularity Computers is seizing more credit than due for the Post Malone project, when they likely were reserved in what they said.

As of when this article went live, there has yet to be any comment, clarification, correction or retraction published by either Singularity Computers or the Cairns Post, or the article’s author, Alicia Nally. Hopefully such is forthcoming by all parties.

Update (2018-06-20): Singularity Computers issued a statement after pulling all posts related to the article from their website and social media:

It turns out [the article] was not just missing a bunch of facts but half of it was literally made up. Someone from the media spotted one of our team in the hardware store a few weeks ago and started asking him questions. They ended up interviewing him and we told them what we were up to with Jay building a case for the Post Malone build. So they took out half of the story and put up the article the next day without letting us proof read any of it.