Having finished the terrace, I'm on to the next childproofing/renovation project. I replaced a rotting wood deck railing with adult-spaced steel cable years ago. I spaced them at 6" so that adding another set of wires would bring the gap down to the prescribed 3".
While steel cable opens the view, I like the look of redwood better.
$2k of redwood fence planks that took Blue Home Depot more than a month to assemble/deliver.
There's (already) a noticeable texture difference between the oiled and unoiled section of the recently-completed terrace structure. Since the deck railing gets blasted by the sun all day, I'm doing everything I can to keep it from deteriorating.
I dunked the boards in linseed oil using a crude bath. The crudeness (4 mil painter plastic) made itself evident quickly as the assembly formed a slow leak. It got the job done, but I could have probably used less oil and stain. Speaking of:
200 8' redwood fence planks
12 gallons boiled linseed oil
2 gallons sedona red oil-based interior stain
Will the linseed oil keep termites out? I'm not sure, but a pincher bug that happened upon one of the oil planks perished in minutes, so I'm hoping more invasive wood stowaways will meet the same fate. And yeah, like with all SoCal lumber, the termites are free with purchase. Anecdotally, I saw termites in 4x6es survive rolled-on copper green (by later cutting the wood) but these planks are considerably thinner.
The assembly line:
Vigorously brush and leaf-blower each board
Soak in the oil/stain bath for a few minutes (because 200 boards)
Prop against the deck to drain excess
Move the last-propped board to a secondary drying location
With all the boards in one place, I think my next step will be to fire up the paint sprayer and hit them with water-based sealer left over from the last project.
Since the deck supports will soon have planks on their sunny side, I threw on some joist tape.
What is a recession? While some maintain that two consecutive quarters of falling real GDP constitute a recession, that is neither the official definition nor the way economists evaluate the state of the business cycle. Instead, both official determinations of recessions and economists' assessment of economic activity are based on a holistic look at the data...
The top stories of the week should have been dominated by earnings and interest rates announcements, instead it was that the White House doublethinked the word 'recession'. If I had to guess, when people think 'recession' they think breadlines and that's not good for midterms.
Out of the frying pan: Printing money to fulfill campaign promises like "I'm going to make you all very rich" while sock puppeting "we don't expect inflation" through the FOMC.
Into the fryer: "Recession? Depends on what your definition of 'is' is."
I'm (naively) a lot more bothered by inflation than recession. What's the harm in having our country's economic activity be about the same as last year? Yeah, okay, per-capita GDP matters and population is always growing. GDP has to pace with inflation and national debt. Etc. Etc. Maybe those things should be addressed without the crutch of economic growth?
Trying to deflate speculation and keep inflation in check, the Bank of Japan sharply raised inter-bank lending rates in late 1989. This sharp policy caused the bursting of the bubble, and the Japanese stock market crashed. Equity and asset prices fell, leaving overly-leveraged Japanese banks and insurance companies with books full of bad debt. The financial institutions were bailed out through capital infusions from the government, loans and cheap credit from the central bank, and the ability to postpone the recognition of losses, ultimately turning them into zombie banks.
Adventuring has been a bit light with travel but we're still stabbing drakes and throwing rocks at vermlings.
The Lingering Swamp (personal quest)
Apparently my quartermaster pulled one of the most difficult personal quests: complete two scenarios in the Lingering Swamp. I looked it up and here's what I found:
Main scenarios: 19, 32, 45, 49. Random/event scenarios: 68, 79.
19 can be unlocked via 3->8->14->19 or 4->6->8->14->19.
We'd completed 19 so we decided to pursue 45, 4->5->10->22->35->45. Temple of the Elements (22) unlocked scenarios Battlements A (evil) and B (good). I didn't realize evil was the only path to Rebel Swamp (45), but probably would have gone good anyway. I guess that's blocked.
Since 49 is after 45, the only path to retirement other than a lucky event/scenario draw is 3->9->11/12->16->24->32 or 3->8->14->7/13->20->16->24->32.
Having sided with the merchants in the tabletop version, the Battlements scenario was new to me. It was fun to have archers on our side, even if it's to defend against endless waves of enemies...
... followed by the Prime Demon. It wasn't pretty, but we did it.
I finally got around to experimenting with concatenate layers. The only things that make them different from a normal sequential model:
You use the input parameter to the layer constructor to specify its input, e.g. my_conv_layer = Conv2D(16)(my_dense_layer).
You have to wire your model inputs/dimensions up differently.
For convolutional layers, concatenation simply stacks the output feature maps together (so they have to be the same height/width).
Left to right: brightness input, hue/saturation input, output (really bad), brightness input with hue/saturation set to output values (what I would expect the model to produce).
I experimented with trying to recolor images: hue/saturation as one input, brightness as the other. You know, so I could create hdr-like images without all that photoshop or dragging the hue slider. More charitably:
This'd be like a Hello World for concatenating input images.
A good model might creatively apply recoloring.
My models failed miserably, of course. The hue/saturation branch of the model couldn't forget its geography and the entire thing seemed really bad at minimizing loss. I need to take another pass at it. Sometimes these things are total failures until the right thing clicks.
As suggested in the caption above, one way I cheated (extracted desired results from crappy output) was to simply use hue/saturation from the output and apply it to the input brightness. Even if the model managed to spit out something recognizable, I might still want to use this technique to maintain the sharpness that is always lost when a network tries to reconstruct an image.
Source. Dall-e drawing PUBG coffin dance, demonstrating the lack of sharpness in images produced by small models.
On the subject of sharpness, I stumbled on this discussion of losses for image generation:
MSE is not a good indication of quality in image enhancement.
Why Mean Squared Error (MSE) is not a good indication of quality in image enhancement.
Using MSE or a metric based on MSE is likely to result in training finding a deep learning based blur filter, as that is likely to have the lowest loss and the easiest solution to converge to minimising the loss.
A loss function that minimises MSE encourages finding pixel averages of plausible solutions that are typically overly smoothed and although minimising the loss, the generated images will have poor perceptual quality from a perspective of appealing to a human viewer.
Eventually I'm going to bite the bullet and figure out how to write a good custom loss function that penalizes blurry output.
Fun and games
The Exploration Society visited Harlan, home to a very tasty rice lager.
Shane and I got into a very pretty UAZ chase in the red zone. Both jeeps and all three players got nuked.
Here's why this housing downturn is nothing like the last one, or so CNBC says. Let's check it out:
Is today's housing market in the same predicament that it was over a decade ago, when the 2007-08 crash caused the Great Recession?
The short answer is: no. America's housing market is in far better health today. That's thanks, in part, to new lending regulations that resulted from that meltdown. Those rules put today's borrowers on far firmer footing.
Regulations are written in blood, as they say. But I'm not sure tighter lending regulations will have me sleeping soundly. From May:
There is not a repeat of the 2008 sub-prime debacle with NINJA (No Income, No Job, no Assets) loans. What is new - and whenever you get a financial crisis it's always, ALWAYS driven in large part by a "new" type of financial instrument (read debt)
The simple fact SPACs exist after the RTO scandals of the early teens leads me to believe that home lending regulations may not be airtight. It would, at least, be foolish to underestimate the inventiveness of financial institutions.
/u/catbulliesdog suggested that the margin borrowing is the phenomenon that will lead to another crisis (and would undercut CNBC's warm fuzzy), so I looked into it a little more.
Roughly 1 in 15 current home borrowers—around 7 million U.S. adults-currently use alternative financing.
- Among borrowers with active home financing debt, those with annual household incomes below $50,000 were more likely to use alternative financing.
It's difficult to find stats on asset-backed home loans, but 'alternative financing' is pretty well documented. I presume this covers margin borrowing as well as a host of other financing instruments. From last September:
So [the example family] turned to Flyhomes Inc., which helps buyers with less cash on hand make all-cash offers. The Seattle-based startup bought a three-bedroom house in San Ramon, Calif., for $1.525 million in May on the Eugenios' behalf, then sold it to them at the same price a few weeks later when their mortgage closed.
Cash-offer companies are paid through commissions, fees or both. In some cases, the companies act as the buyer's real-estate agent or mortgage lender and are paid through sales commissions or origination fees. Other companies charge a flat fee, often between 1% and 3% of the purchase price.
Apparently realtors and lenders solved the cash-offer problem they helped create. Now there's another entity collecting 3% on your home purchase. Snark aside, this form alternative financing doesn't seem particularly risky since it's more or less a flat fee on the transaction.
So what about actual mortgages?
Americans took out more mortgages than ever before in 2020. Most of them didn't come from banks.
Nonbank mortgage lenders in the U.S. issued 68.1% of all mortgages originated in 2020, up from 58.9% in 2019, according to industry research firm Inside Mortgage Finance. That is their highest market share on record and their biggest yearly gain since 2014.
'Nonbank mortgages' refers to companies like Rocket Mortgage that are smaller and less regulated than banks but still probably resilient to the occasional default.
So what's the verdict on alternative financing and asset-backed home loans? I have no idea, but I will keep tabs on it.
Back to the CNBC article
Home prices have soared, as well, due to pandemic-fueled demand over the past two years. That gives today's homeowners record amounts of home equity. So-called tappable equity... hit a record high of $11 trillion collectively this year... That's a 34% increase from a year ago.
I'm not sure a spike in anything is particularly reassuring. If it weren't for slightly more analysis below, I'd think this was written by a CNBC 'affiliate' pushing HELOCs.
Total mortgage debt in the United States is now less than 43% of current home values, the lowest on record... Compare that to the more than 1 in 4 borrowers who were under water in 2011. Just 2.5% of borrowers have less than 10% equity in their homes. All of this provides a huge cushion should home prices actually fall.
While the distribution of mortgage debt could be skewed, it's hard to complain about record-low debt. Having equity runway in the case of a pullback sounds nice, but borrowing our way out of trouble isn't particularly appealing. And, well, the 2011 stat for underwater mortgages is three years later than where we should be looking.
There are currently 2.5 million adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, outstanding today, or about 8% of active mortgages. That is the lowest volume on record.
In 2007, just before the housing market crash, there were 13.1 million ARMs, representing 36% of all mortgages.
This is good news with QT happening.
There are, however, about 300,000 borrowers who have exhausted pandemic-related forbearance programs and are still delinquent. In addition, while mortgage delinquencies are still historically low, they have been trending higher lately, especially for more recent loan originations.
"We'll want to keep an eye on this population moving forward," Walden said.
Housing in China
The real estate story across the Pacific is also interesting, though it's difficult to find reliable information. The most dire portrait of the investment property market in China is basically Celsius with unbuilt apartments.
You owe the bank $100 billion, the bank has a problem.
But in all seriousness. EG was just early to the party and they had lots of problems. In addition to outright fraud, EG also had a lot of $ denominated debts, but nearly all assets were Yuan denominated. Similar to the S&L crisis in the 80s, there was an asset/liability mismatch for EG.
This isn't actually about flight simulators but rather Switch games I picked up for the Hawaii downtime.
In searching the Switch store I came across an unofficial follow-up to 1994's SimTower. The tldr: it's a faithful recreation of the original game but about as inventive as StarCraft II was. PH was released 22 years after SimTower but is only an incremental upgrade on the original.
The classic SimTower elements are there: happiness, noise, foot traffic. Well, while one of the big elements in SimTower was elevator management, it's not all that important in this game. Somewhat disappointingly, Project Highrise feels more like a budget simulator with design constraints rather than a design sandbox with budget constraints.
I made the mistake of trying a run without clicking through all of the menus. One of the main sources of early income is City Contracts - incentives to focus on apartments/offices/hotel rooms/etc.
PH allows you to pick your tenants. It's not too micromanagey at first, or even later as long as you keep your sims happy. One of the thoughtful features for late game/large building is that some tedious tasks can be automated (not sure if choosing tenants falls in this category). Notably missing: dragging utilities to each tile of a new floor.
PH lets you invest in mega-attractions - like art galleries - to draw in visitors and increase your prestige. Upkeep on them is no joke so it's easy to get excited and front the contruction costs but then find your balance sheet in the red.
The ability to relocate most units is a nice way to fix your layout or support new construction that has restrictions (e.g. underground or first floor only).
As mentioned, there aren't a ton of innovations on the SimTower formula, but one new thing is Buzz. It's a passively-accruing currency that you can spend on perks.
Similarly, Influence unlocks consultants that enable new buildables.
I got to forty floors and didn't see any interesting objectives to stretch for, so I put the game down. But I was hooked for the the first playthrough.
NP has a neat artistic style and is set in a Horizon/Mad Max-like postapocalypse.
Much like MTG, there's both an active player character and a battlefield full of summons. There is a fixed number of spaces on the board where front and back lines have different attacking/defending rules. The spatial tactics unfortunately stop there.
Having minions on the board adds some complexity to the game format and lets you do more than simply play 1-3 cards per turn. There are synergies and power combos to be found, but minmaxing is nowhere near the level of Slay the Spire or Magic.
As I mentioned, the player character has actions as well. These typically consist of minion buffs and enemy removal.
And there's equipment; guns and armor with special effects. Excess inventory can be disassembled into leader cards or sold to a merchant.
Characters have a variety of abilities, the most important being Taunt. Taunt (if on the front row) means that character must be the target of enemy attacks. This can keep the glass cannon minions alive and, more importantly, the player character. Like many of these roguelike deckbuilders, HP doesn't regenerate after each battle.
Zooming out a level, a run consists of traversing a series of battles and more than a few dungeon crawler-like encounters that have rewards, penalties, and player checks. The encounters/storytelling is one of my favorite parts of this game.
One more zoom out. A run is broken into a handful of maps with their own landmarks and bosses.
One of the complaints I read in the reviews was that the game is too hard. I disagree. Easy mode is totally doable (got to the final boss on my first run nbd) and while medium introduces some gnarly enemy boss decks, it's winnable. I didn't try hard. As far as I can tell, though, none of the unlockables are gated by difficulty.
Variety and replay value fall short with the fact the various starting decks/leaders aren't especially different. In contrast, the Slay the Spire characters each have their own unique meta. Regardless, for me Nowhere Prophet was good for a half-dozen runs.
Permadeath for minions might seem annoying on its face but it suits the Thunderdome vibe and doesn't typically have a major impact on the run. That said, it's yet another force against synergy so it would be nice if follower deaths had some positive (you inherit their cash or something).
I followed the template that worked for Europe; pins and routes and offline maps. I was somewhat familiar with the Kona side but had to do research for the rest. The key thing was splitting up east-west trip and Volcanos National Park visit by getting a rental on the Hilo side.
The plan worked well; checkout times aligned with nap time, so Danielle slept through the major driving legs.
We started with a couple of nights near a snorkel spot in Keauhou.
The manta dive was challenging both from a diving and photography perspective:
The current was strong enough to occasionally lift an overweighted diver with nothing in his bc kneeling on the bottom.
Likewise, there was (relatively) low vis with tons of particulates to reflect flash.
TTL didn't work and I couldn't dial the flash manual setting down enough. So I wore the batteries down as quickly as possible.
Even with a dive light attached, there frequently wasn't enough light/contrast to focus.
Though it seemed like a business largely propped up by volcano tourists, Volcano Winery is just across the highway from the park so we stopped in for a tasting. Yeah, not the best wines, though the fruity ones are okay in small quantities.
The stop was entirely worthwhile though. Dani got to eat some Ritz and chase birds, Jes and I sipped and looked at the awesome lava/water photography.
On the plus side, the Kehena rental had an amazing panoramic view of the Pacific. On the minus side, it simply was not going to work with a toddler.
Since we'd later be at the Hilton mega-resort, I was hoping that the Kehena portion would be remote and relaxing. I know that backwater Hawaii can be somewhat hit-or-miss, so I leaned heavily on price point and reviews. They failed me.
Aside: the surrounding neighborhood was interesting to walk around. The house next door was an unexpected specimen of brutalist concrete. The exterior somehow looked simultaneously new and dilapidated - probably due to being rain-streaked. The updated windows and nice landscaping led me to believe it is actually quite nice.
As it turns out, the concrete house is in the gmaps inset for "Kehena, HI".
Other houses in the area run the gamut in architectural style and state of repair. One of the houses looked straight out of a stuccoed Southern California tract home development and was falling apart everywhere. Others were set back from polished gates.
Anyway, as great as the locale and view were, it simply wasn't going to work with a toddler that could bump over a shakily-affixed 60" television. There's a big difference between having a child at arm's reach (closely-supervised) and having one at literal arm's reach.
Even more spectacular than the lanai view was the nearby black sand beach.
After keeping the little Meatball at non-figurative arm's reach for a night, we headed into Hilo to stay at the waterfront Double Tree. Well, kind of. We needed to find something to do until 4pm check-in, which I assume is a product of covid-era deep cleaning. I also assume 4pm check-in is going to become the new normal even when the deep cleaning goes away.
So while vacation rentals weren't looking so good at this point, it was nice that the Keauhou place had let us check in as soon as the cleaning crew departed.
Where was I? Oh yes, we had some time to kill. It turns out Hilo's Panaewa Zoo is between Kehena and Hilo. The zoo shows up on a lot of travel guides but Jes and I weren't sure if it was worth a stop. From the marketing material, it seemed like the whole thing is showcase for their white tiger, Namaste.
Other info seemed to cast the welfare of Namaste into doubt, and so we wondered if something had happened to their star attraction. That is, we'd be kind of tilted if Panaewa had no Namaste and was just a bunch of zoological also-rans.
In the same way that Horizon Zero Dawn is enormous and really good but The Last of Us is small but also really good, the Panaewa Zoo is a great experience for even zoo-smug San Diegans. The zoo won't eat up your whole day, leaving you with blisters and sore quads. It's a short and sweet walk through the park. And the animal enclosures are also close enough to the visitors that there are signs everwhere reminding your to keep your fingers out of the cages.
But what of Namaste?
We found the tiger enclosure.
It even had a bonus kitty.
We found Namaste, right? We couldn't access the tiger enclosure placard because the main viewing area was cordoned off for some VIP who needed to ruin a bunch of schoolkids' days.
We weren't going to be deterred. On the walk out we looked it up. Namaste had indeed passed on. We were looking at Tzatziki and Sriracha.
Akaka and Kahuna Falls
Since we had a napping kid and hours til check-in, we drove north of Hilo to Akaka Falls. I'm not a big waterfall guy, so I was happy that the short walking loop went through an impressive patch of rainforest.
Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots
The following day we made the short drive to Rainbow Falls, Pee'pee Falls, and Boiling Pots. Like Akaka (but much nearer to Hilo), you basically drive up, park, and look at the waterfall. It's easy enough that it's not too bad even for those who aren't really into waterfalls.
Once again, the waterfall-adjacent rainforest was easily as cool as the column of descending water. But neither this spot nor the nearby Boiling Pots had a sanctioned trail through the trees or down to the water. The Eagle Scout demographic has lost out to the selfie demographic. Alas.
Hilo's downtown is small and worth a visit. There's plenty of non-touristy things like memeing hookah lounges and board game lofts. We got some touristy smoothies and touristy-but-local shirts from a farmer's market.
The Japanese-style Liliuokalani Gardens and banyan (tree) walk near the waterfront were pleasant for strolling.
After two nights in Hilo, we drove the rainy saddle road back over to the Kona side.
The Mauna Kea summit is a short drive up from the saddle and a great way to break up the journey. Disappointingly, however, everything past the (currently closed) visitor center is only accessible to 4wd. Pretty sure we had 2wd last time. I would guess it's either dumb tourists or abs/tcs messing up their gravel road.
And so it came to pass that after all the snickering I did at the "rugged" tourists who rent Wranglers with bald street tires, they got the last laugh. We did the short hike at the visitor center parking lot.