Tennessee’s Proposed Gas Tax Reveals Our Lawmakers’ Priorities

This week, many of our senators and representatives are doing their best to pass a large, unnecessary, expensive, and unpopular tax bill, mostly as a favor to our Governor. As usual, Republicans who ran on promises of lower taxes are finding themselves pushing a large tax increase that will damage their constituents. Watching how they respond to this difficulty is very educational, and we should be watching closely when this bill reaches the House floor tonight.

Rather than oppose the bill, which was proposed by Governor Haslam and will add a substantial tax to all gasoline and diesel fuel sold in this state, many have engaged in all kinds of misdirection, chicanery, and nonsense to disguise the bill’s true purpose and intent. For example, last week the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee renamed the bill “The 2017 Tax Cut Act” even though it is the literal, exact, complete opposite of a tax cut.

The bill’s supporters have added and retracted various amendments at strategic times as it sped through its various committees, violated congressional procedure to expedite its passage, and done everything possible to force Republican support. At one point, for example, it contained a small property tax cut for some military veterans, until the CVA demanded that politicians stop using vets to guilt other reps into taxing non-vets.

The events surround this bill are so shady that the kindest and most complimentary thing that can be said about it is that it is completely and totally superfluous. After all, this is a bill to raise taxes when our state is enjoying a $2 Billion surplus, and it’s raising the tax to build roads when Tennessee is ranked second (or third, or fourth, depending on the study) in the nation on our road quality and infrastructure. Of course, some have argued that our $2 Billion surplus was collected for other things, and Tennessee is “too honest” a state to just reallocate that money as we see fit. This sounds like a good and noble argument… until you think about it.

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Build Your Own Real-Time Filesharing and Automatic Backup System

A few months ago, Heidi and I bought a desktop computer. We each have working laptops, and while my trusty old Surface Pro 2 shows no sign of slowing down, I’m doing more with 4K video these days and needed something with a little more power. As fast as today’s laptops are, yesterday’s desktop computers offer considerably more bang for your buck, especially with the ability to cheaply add more RAM, more screens, more hard drives, and more GPUs, which are pretty useful for video production.

Since Heidi and I were going to share this machine, I wanted a way to put all of our laptop files on it, so each of us would have all of our work available, regardless of which computer we were using. The tricky part is keeping all of those files up-to-date, so that any change that Heidi makes to a spreadsheet on her laptop get synchronized to the copy of that spreadsheet sitting on the desktop computer. The easy way to do this is simply to store all the files on the desktop and let the laptop just open them over the network, but then she wouldn’t see any of her files if the desktop computer was off or she wasn’t connected to the network.

Today, most people solve this problem by storing files on Google Drive or Dropbox, or some other file sharing service in The Cloud. In addition to keeping files synchronized between as many computers as you like, it also lets users see those files from any web browser. This is handy, but there are several downsides. Dropbox is not secure, only as fast as your internet connection, and, if you’ve got hundreds of gigabytes of video files for each project, kind of expensive. Even for smaller files, it’s remarkably inefficient. From here in Tennessee, my data usually has to hop through more than a dozen servers just to get to Dropbox in San Francisco. I’d rather not send a sensitive document all the way across the country and then back, especially when I’m just moving it to a laptop sitting five feet away.

The best solution I have found is FreeFileSync. It is, as the name suggests, free, and it’s also open source, and operates without ever needing to connect to the internet. Its main downside is a lack of comprehensive documentation for what I wanted to use it for, so it took me a bit of experimenting to get it set up, and that’s why I’m writing these instructions now. If you want real-time file-syncing between more than two computers, read on.

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New Remembering WWII Painting

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Last year, I created a poster for the annual Remembering WWII event. The 2016 event had an Air Force theme, and I went with an Art-Deco design that had a kind of “Golden Age of Flight” feel to it, like some of the posters from early in the war. This year’s event centers on the Marine Corps, and there is no more visually iconic moment in Marine Corps history than the Iwo Jima flag-raising on February 23 of 1945.

I painted a version of the famous Rosenthal photo, with just a few alterations; opening up the flag, shortening the flagpole, and increasing the height of Mount Suribachi. The painting style should also be more reminiscent of some of the illustrators of the late 40s, but I didn’t really have time to copy anyone specific, unfortunately. The end result does look like fast oil illustrations of the day, though, especially when placed in a poster layout that is much more like the later War Department posters from 1945:

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Joe Rosenthal’s famous photo is actually of the second flag raising. Marines had planted a smaller flag when they captured the mountain earlier that morning, but the larger second flag was visible from the beach and greatly improved morale. Despite the fact that the island of Iwo Jima is only four miles long, it took five days of hard fighting to reach its 500-ft high summit.  Even after Marines captured the mountain, the battle raged for another 20 days, claiming the lives of three of the six flag raisers.

SHOT Show 2017 and New Gun Tech

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Every year at SHOT Show, fun new tools and technologies are launched. The Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade show is a giant event centered on recreational shooting and hunting gear, but it also has become a place for police and military equipment to be demonstrated. And while there are a lot of very cool new gadgets this year, like tiny thermal scopes for less than $2,000, or brand new pistols from brand new manufacturers, the most interesting technologies I read about this week weren’t actually announced at SHOT Show.

Delta P Design has begun selling a brand new titanium suppressor, which is made entirely on a 3D printer. There are other companies, in America and New Zealand, who have been creating suppressors with 3D printers, usually out of titanium or inconel superalloys, but the Brevis II has a new design that makes the most of this manufacturing technique. First, it is extremely small, only 3.7 inches long. DPD is utilizing a mysterious interior design that replaces the traditional baffles with some new structure, probably something that couldn’t be created any way other than 3D printing.

This also makes it extremely light, weighing less than 10 ounces, and made entirely in one piece, with no joins, bolts or welds. Despite the small amount of metal that it is made of, it is able to contain the blast of a high-pressure rifle round. This tiny suppressor isn’t going to set any records for quietest silencer ever made, but it is incredibly impressive how quiet it is considering that it is smaller and lighter than most muzzle brakes. It is so unobtrusive that it’s almost like adding a flash suppressor to a rifle, rather than a fully capable sound suppressor.

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The Big Takeaway from 2016, and What it Means for 2017

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I’m noticing a lot of doom-and-gloom moping in other editorials summing up 2016, mostly because Donald Trump won the election, and a lot of celebrities died. Morbidity and mortality aside, the thing that most vividly stands out to me from 2016 was the ludicrously wild inconsistency. Some of the loudest voices clamoring for subjective morality and tolerance have suddenly become the loudest voices clamoring for absolutism and rejection.

Now, as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve heard relativists insist that there is no absolute truth, and then instantly demand absolute adoption of their viewpoint. I’ve seen radicals insist on total and complete tolerance for everything, and then in the same breath demand that someone else be violently un-tolerated. I’m no stranger to double standards and incoherent oxymorons, but 2016 exceeded all my expectations for such lunacy.

As you might guess, most of it revolved around the presidential election, but things didn’t get really crazy until after the votes were cast. You want some examples? In early December an architectural group floated an idea to hide the Trump Tower logo with giant inflatable pig balloons, in order to protect the sensitive eyes of New Yorkers from that micro-aggression that is the name of their President-Elect.

After calling Trump hateful and illogical, they described their balloon plan as “a gesture in support of those of more rational, optimistic and inclusive minds.” But apparently minds that aren’t optimistic enough to handle reminders of the election results, or inclusive enough to stand the sight of a hated name. This is more a gesture of stopping one’s ears and pretending not to hear.

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How Free Market Economics Gave Us Cheap Digital Camera Technology

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Today I was looking over a few camera accessories that I might want to purchase before the end of the year, and was reminded of how good we videographers and photographers have it, technically speaking. It seems only yesterday that I was wrestling with the almost crippling limitations of tube cameras and tape recorders to try to get images that looked cinematic, decent, or even discernible… and today I take modern camera technology for granted.

In the last 20 years I’ve gone from terrified that I might permanently burn out the pickup tubes of a $30,000 BetaCam camera, to frustrated that a $9,000 HDV camera isn’t compatible with certain broadcast standards, to slightly peeved that I can’t get absolutely every feature I want in a $400 camera (and those numbers, by the way, are not adjusted for inflation).

And in reading through various reviews and blogs and forums today, I noticed that lots of folks are peeved that they can’t get the perfect camera yet; a magical camera that could combine the best features and patents from multiple companies. My perfect camera, for example, would be a small mirrorless body combining Canon’s autofocus technology and color science, Sony’s most sensitive image sensors, Olympus’s in-body stabilization, Panasonic’s wifi remote, and Blackmagic’s high-bitrate recording formats.

Some commenters have complained that this magical camera doesn’t exist because of too much competition in the in the market, not enough government regulation of features, and that darn old capitalism letting greedy camera makers keep the prices too high. This is an odd sentiment, since I can’t think of any product or field of technology that has benefited more from competition, lack of regulation, and free market economics than digital video cameras.

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Things I’m Thankful For This Fall

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This fall, Heidi and I have been reading some books by James Herriot. His memoirs look at the life of a country veterinarian in northern England, during the 1930s and 40s. This is a fascinating but difficult time, before the discovery of antibiotics, and before British farming was really mechanized. However, what really stands out about his books is his tremendous attitude of joyfulness and thankfullness. Despite the incredibly hard work and often harsh weather, Herriot is overflowing with gratitude for the opportunities that he was given, the wonders that God has created, and the blessings that he received, great or small.

I have been convicted by how ungrateful I can be when my life is so much more comfortable than a country vet’s, and so much better than I deserve. For the next couple of weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Heidi and I are trying to be more diligent about marking our blessings and thanking God for them. Because I don’t have James Herriot’s incredible grasp of the English language or storytelling ability, I’m going to rely on pictures to describe a day in my life.

This is who I get to see first, every day:

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…and this is who I get to see second:

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Those two pictures alone prove that I am indescribably, unfathomably, unbelievably blessed. But there’s more. So much more:

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How Bad Economic Theory Helped Trump Win

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In case you hadn’t noticed, America had an election last week. I was looking forward to the hysterical rhetoric settling down after the final count came in, but it doesn’t look like that’s happening anytime soon. Anti-Trump protestors are burning cars, burning products made by pro-Trump companies, and burning up the airwaves blaming everyone they can think of for Hillary’s loss and the end of democracy.

But several commentators that I’ve been listening to on NPR place the blame for our new president-elect squarely on those actually responsible – the voters. The polite ones blame “white working-class voters,” and the less polite ones blame “white uneducated voters,” but they are talking about the same folks: lower-income blue-collar types who have traditionally voted Democrat and were assumed to be Democrat-for-life. Long-time Clinton crony James Carville seemed utterly despondent about the future of the DNC after this treachery, but other democratss are optimistic, since they believe that working-class people will soon be a thing of the past.

After all, they pointed out, we live in the app economy now! The future of America is in super-liberal Silicon Valley, and all future voters are in liberal colleges and universities this very minute, getting the degrees that their idiotic, republican-voting parents never got. Actually, this week those students are demanding a break from studying so they can bemoan the horror of a Trump presidency, but they’ll get back to getting those degrees soon. While everyone else is trying to divide the vote into old and young, hateful and inclusive, uneducated and enlightened, white and unwhite, I’d like to talk about this crazy idea of a future without working-class people.

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How Many Guns are in the United States?

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There are a lot of magic numbers in journalism – numbers that get thrown around so often and are so well known that they simply must be true, even though there are never any citations of research or studies mentioned. One such magic number is “approximately 300 million,” which is apparently how many privately owned firearms are floating around the United States. This number kind of makes sense if you don’t really think about it. After all, there’s “approximately 300 million” Americans in the USA, some of whom own guns and some of whom do not. Seems like that would even out and make that a good estimate. However, I’ve been hearing about “approximately 300 million” guns since I was a kid, and I know that there have been an awful lot of firearms purchased since then. Let’s look at some hard data.

Of course, the United States does not have a central firearm registry database, so there is no hard data on exactly how many guns exist here. But, because NICS background checks are required for all non-private firearm sales (even gun show sales), we could have a pretty good idea of how many guns are being bought and sold… sort of. Not every background check equals a gun sale, because some folks can’t actually pass the background check. This is apparently only about 0.6% of would-be purchasers. On the other hand, one background check often means one person buying multiple firearms, so all we can say for sure is that a lot of background checks must mean a lot of gun sales.

And there have been an awful lot of background checks! From 1999 until 2008 they averaged around 10 million per year, and then began steadily climbing until the 23 million checks we had last year. NICS has run over 225 million background checks in total, and if merely a quarter of those purchases were two guns instead of one, then there have been “approximately 300 million” firearms bought by private citizens in the last 17 years alone!

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The Gospel Map at GISMO NYC

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Ever since Heidi and I made our gospel map, we’ve been really excited to see all the places that it has gone. We’ve shipped it all over the world, the video has been watched millions of times on various social media platforms, and now it’s going to be (briefly) on display in a museum! GISMO NYC is a forum for folks in the geographic information systems industry, and this weekend they have an event at the Queens Museum where our Gospel Map will be included, both in print and animated forms.

It looks like a really neat free event with some great speakers, so if you happen to be in New York this weekend, you can stop by to look in on new mapping techniques and various maps, including ours. If you aren’t able to make it, you can always get the print version of our map from The Western Conservatory, and watch the animated version here:

I really enjoy seeing how other designers are using maps to communicate information, or converting other types of data into maps, and I wish I were going to be there. Also, I just realized that we finished that project over two years ago. I’ve been mostly busy with product design and CNC projects lately, and I find that I am itching to make some new maps or build some new data visualizations. Anyone have any ideas?