Friday, May 22, 2020

Pholos - Magos Biologis

This Tech-Priest Dominus from 2017 is the first 40K miniature I had done in over 5 years.  My last army were the Heirs of Vulcan, Mega Man-style Space Marines that I never got around to finishing before I sold the lot during spring cleaning.  The new Adeptus Mechanicus minis as well as the hype around 8th Edition finally got me to pull the trigger on more models.

The thing that really hooked me was the change in resources available to hobbyists during my hiatus.  The explosion of high production-quality painting tutorials on YouTube, lead by none other than Duncan Rhodes on Warhammer TV, is what really got me excited to paint.  I assembled miniatures for Blue Table Painting around 2005 which included conversions fed by their huge bitz wall.  But as much as I loved creating a new model, I didn't have the talent for my painting to keep up with my building.  This mini became the gateway to my current hobby enjoyment.  In addition to finding a Bob Rossian Joy of Painting, I have slowed down the rate of purchase, and I have also worked to level up my painting with each mini.  Check out other projects tagged Warhammer 40K for the latest.

The colors reflect the theme of the army.  Verdant green on ripped robes with gold sleeves.  This ragtag assemblage hates the weakness of flesh, and they despise the plants they're turning into war material for the Imperium.  The bottles of unguents keeping them alive are just as sickly green as their robes.

I pushed my skills in terms of layering.  At this point, I was doing no wet blending or even palette mixing.  Following painting tutorials, I applied a base, wash, base again on raised areas, and layers.  The techniques were basic, but seeing the miniature go from grey to painted was transformative.  I settled into a routine of finishing a single color through to highlights with this miniature.  Rather than base-coating everything (and reaching a featureless mini some people call "the ugly stage"), it felt good to practice basic techniques then iterate on the next color.  Before finishing the model, I went back over my novice areas and applied what I had learned.  This one miniature taught me so much about the process of painting.  If you also have a fear of painting, maybe try painting a squad leader before picking up a squad?

The base is a small circular medallion from a craft bin.  The cork and basing material help give it height in the display case without building a whole diorama.  The base is painted with drybrushing.  I finished it with stain after sanding away any stray brown base paint.  The bushes and grass from model railroad supplies.

First Coat

Almost Done

Around and Around

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Learning AWS - Reflections after a Year in the Cloud

In 2018, a new job for me meant a new tech stack: AWS. Regardless of how long you’ve been developing software, new infrastructure can make you feel like you're starting from scratch. Jumping from a company with a cold room full of mainframes to somewhere cloud native was a shock, but I've enjoyed learning this wide world of cloud^h^h^h^h^hsomeone elses computer. If you feel like a cloud n00b, this post collects tips and tricks for learning cloud development from zero.

As with everything, pace yourself when trying to understand AWS and how to use it. If you feel blocked, put down one service and try another. I have found my happy path is a mixture of study, practical labs, poking around company infrastructure, and handling support rotations. Each contribute, in the long-run, to understanding the available services and building effective products upon them.

The Basics - AWS Vocabulary

The Cloud - Someone else’s computer. Keep this in mind when learning about AWS. It’s all just servers in a data center somewhere else. AWS may take care of a large or small portion of managing these computers for us, and they charge a large or small fee for the privilege.

Identity Access Management, IAM - Amazon’s method of controlling access and permissions to AWS resources. Users can have multiple IAM roles. EC2 Instances use IAM roles. Policies rely on IAM roles to allow/deny access so you only make resources available to those that need to access it.

Regions - A set of AWS data centers that are geographically related but operationally separate. Resources, accounts and VPCs can occupy a specific region.

Availability Zones - Each Region has at least three AZs. Each AZ is a data center separated from others within a specific Region. Each have independent power, cooling, and compute resources to enable you to add fault tolerance to your applications. If internet connections or power to one AZ goes down, you should be able to launch resources in the remaining AZs to compensate for the outage.

Fully Managed Service - AWS services that are fully-managed handle scaling, replication, fault-tolerance and latency without you needing to consider it. A big one is managed Elasticsearch clusters. All you need to do is specify a few parameters and AWS configures the rest (for the most part). Though you don't have to do nearly as much management, learning how to tune managed services is still up to you to solve.

EC2, Elastic Compute Cloud - Virtual machines you can launch on a whim, using the OS you desire, configuring them as you please. This is the backbone of AWS's successes. EC2 is the opposite of fully-managed services. AWS gives you the box, and you do the rest.

Learning Resources

AWS has a host of resources available to help you to learn what options are available. If you’ve never worked with a cloud provider before, I suggest taking some of their video training for Cloud Practitioner Essentials. Login with an Amazon (not AWS) account at Some trainings include labs that walk you through how to start your own instances, marshal AWS resources, and build a thing for yourself in the cloud. Pick something that matches your skill and engagement level, or use their workshop syllabus to self-guide training.

One of the best ways to learn cloud infrastructure is by doing. AWS offers a massive amount of services at a free-tier. Small VMs, hours of lambdas, and lots of S3 space can be used to learn a service without paying a dime to Amazon. YouTube tutorials about services often are built specifically to never breach free-tier levels of usage. Take advantage of this if getting your hands dirty helps you learn the best. Various online learning companies have video training and integrated quizzes/tests. Some have labs that rely on the free-tier of AWS so you can learn at basically no charge. If you're learning for work, talk to your manager about supporting a subscription if you have a specific avenue of study you want to go down:

If you’re a book person, AWS sponsors official study guides for each certification they offer. These can go out of date fairly quickly, but even an old version will help you get your feet wet when using a prominent service (DNS is DNS, and a Route 53 study guide will be largely applicable next year as last). Check the public library for a guides that will be applicable even if they aren't current. Find a slack channel at work or speak with experienced engineers. Context from experience can break a logjam of misunderstanding faster than reading the AWS docs for the fifth time.


The AWS certifications are not required to work with cloud resources, but they can be a big boost to your confidence. If certifications and tests are your preferred method of study, here are a few lines that have been recommended:

  • AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials - Good overview of AWS resources, administration, security, and budgeting. Take this if you’ve never used cloud resources before and want to come up to speed fast. Available as a series of videos with a free online test for certification.

  • AWS Solutions Architect - This is another broad level of study that can be useful after studying Practitioner. It offers a good overview of current offerings at AWS. You might use some, others not so much. Sometimes it feels like a sales pitch for their managed services, but the curriculum is useful for determining what is possible during the initial phases of a project. The multi-tiered certifications offer a learning path that can scale to your experience and career trajectory.

  • AWS Certified Developer - A deep dive on developing with AWS, the Developer cert study can be helpful in learning how to build on AWS as a developer. The practical labs and study areas cover some of the same problems you might have to solve every day in taking an idea from concept to supportable, sellable, product. This set of certs is also multi-tiered, and it can scale with your own experience if you feel like you need a fresh challenge.

  • AWS Certified SysOps Administrator - Another deep-dive learning path that can help understand how to configure, secure, and economize cloud resources. Covers management and tooling available to keep a cloud running smoothly and safely without breaking the bank. Also has multiple tiers of certification.

Yarn Pet Mod - Platform for One Pound Cakes

My roomate has been picking up knitting and expanding their crochet skills during the pandemic Stay at Home orders.  As a part of their stimulus, they bought a Yarn Pet from Nancy's Knit Knacks.  They have also acquired a yarn ball winder that claimed to be able to do one pound skeins.  The curlicue tensions the yarn as it unwinds from the outside of the cake.  The platforms that came with it were thin circle platforms afixed to a smooth metal spindle with stops and set screws (you can see the spindle and stops above).  The platform holds the cake above the base at the appropriate height for the curlicue.  Small cakes?  Set it high.  Big cake?  How low can you go!

When they actually tried to use the Yarn Pet with the largest cakes (Caron One Pound FTW!), the little platform circles that came with the pet allowed the cake to slump and sag.  The cake would also rub against the curlicue and made it hard to pull.  They were worried about the yarn slipping below the edge and tangling under the cake.

To fix this, I used a board as wide as I could get and made it a circle:
  1. Found a home depot pine board in my scrap bin that was 5 3/4" wide.  Solid wood is preferable to plywood which can get splintery and snag the yarn.  Avoid knots if at all possible.
  2. Cut length to match width.
  3. Find the center by marking two lines from corner to corner
  4. From center, use a protractor to mark 22.5 degree increments to the edge.
  5. Drill a hole in the center mark.  To fit the Yarn Pet spindle, I needed a bit with a width  7/32".
  6. Using a table saw with miter gauge set to 45 degrees or a miter box, cut your square into an octagon
  7. Test your new platform on the spindle.  My square was about a quarter inch too wide at the widest point, but it had plenty of play between a flat side and the curlicue.  I knew trimming it again would allow it to spin freely.
  8. I trimmed my octagon into a hexadecagon by setting my gauge to 22.5 degrees.  (Towards the end of the piece, the side touching your miter gauge will be incredibly small.  Keep a firm grip, and beware of kickback!)
  9. Sand the tarnation out of every surface with 150 up to 220 grit.  You can see in the picture above that I rounded every edge and corner.  I chose not to finish the wood, but I can always go back and do this between knitting projects.

Things learned:
  • I thought the thickness of the platform might be an issue, but it turned out to be perfect for giant cakes. The added thickness prevents the platform from wiggling on the spindle.  You can plane down your board to match the included platform circles, but then I might be worried about their integrity.  As is, the yarn comes off cleanly with the center-line of the cake coming just above the curlicue.  So smooth...
  • When putting the largest cakes on the pet, use the rubber stoppers for spindle-wound skeins to keep the cake centered on the spindle.  This will prevent wobbling due to a loosening center as it is pulled from side to side.
  • If you have a circle of the appropriate width and thickness already, all you need to do is find the center and drill it.  Couldn't be simpler.

Surviving Dementia - Signs of Trouble

Note: This post is a part of a series detailing my family's fight with dementia and elder abuse.

It took a long time for my family to recognize the changes that were happening to my grandfather because of dementia.  The loss of routine with my grandmother's death caused him to start making questionable decisions.  As we atempted to protect him, we misinterpreted why he was acting the way he was.  This lead to further alienation as his symptoms grew more pronounced.  It is my hope that by sharing these initial stages as we experienced them, we can help others in a similar situation.

My grandparents were always helping someone.  When my father divorced, their house was a place of stability.  As I grew up, I heard of cousins, friends and others that relied on that refuge for themselves.  I never heard of remuneration, there was never a question of space or logistics.  They would open a space for those that needed it.  A cousin we called Aunt treated them like second parents.  Their home was open to my father's friends in his youth, and friends of my brother and me during ours.  When home life was rough, we lived there full-time, and they would cart us all over the US for summer vacation.  When my grandmother died, my bother and I were gone with families of our own.  From our perspective, he lost something he'd always had: a person that needed his help.
For the few months, life seemed to be returning to normal.  I stayed at the house a few nights a week to help keep him company, and other family stepped in to pack up my grandmother's things.  The past few years had left him increasingly isolated.  My grandmother slowed to where she mostly watched TV, and my grandfather noticed this. He would repeat to us his concern about our grandmother with every visit.  Sometimes more than once in the same visit.   We filed it away as odd but not beyond his typical behavior.  A bout with shingles caused my grandfather to stop attending church in about 2010.  His own friend group had aged with him as well.  His closest friend, a gardening columnist in the Las Vegas area, passed in 2014 as well.  He had few visitors outside family.  My brother and I were strategizing on what the future looked like.  Would one of us move in and help out?  What would my grandfather want?  In the middle of this period, we started running up against a wall as his compensations started to crumble.

As I was working full time, my grandfather was helping my family (let alone another) with rides to and from school, doctors, and other family appointments.  We began to notice that he was less punctual than usual.  His driving was less careful. And we would sometimes call him for a pick-up and wait more than an hour while he was unreachable on his phone.  We'd finally reach him to find that he was off on the opposite end of town having completely forgotten about the request.  Eventually, our family was no longer comfortable relying on him, or trusting him behind the wheel.

As a former handyman, my grandfather was the first person I thought of when my father's wooden gate broke.  We loaded it into the back of a truck and set off to see him.  When we got there, we worked mostly in the garage, and I noticed my grandfather was wary of letting us go inside.  Finally, I went in and met a mother and her child.  This was the first time I met Zakeyaha Amacker.  I had never seen these people before in my life, but my grandfather claimed he knew the mom through her mother from way back, and that he was giving the children a ride to school.  I tried to pry, but he shut me down.  They claimed to be Katrina refugees and that they lived close by. I made it a point to increase my presence.  He was being nice and had found a way to help someone in the absence of my grandmother.  They seemed like friendly and temporary personalities in my grandfather's life.  I could not be more wrong.

Starting about 5 months after my grandmother's death, the situation at the house became untenable.  The people I met had moved in.  The house was a mess with dishes, spoiled food, and trash everywhere.  In the preceding months, the only thing I could find on Zakeyaha was an article from the Las Vegas Sun about a double shooting at the Excalibur in 2012, and the only local women that I know of who hang out at the Excalibur in the middle of the day are sex workers.  We were afraid for my grandfather's safety, jewelry was missing, and my grandfather, despite assurances, could not tell us what these people were doing here or when they would be gone.

One night in April 2015, I came to find the house vacant.  I searched it looking for signs as to who these people were.  I found instead stolen credit cards and IDs, cigarette and pot remnants that had clearly been smoked inside the house, and Zakeyaha's things spread throughout my grandfather's bedroom.  I did not have time to address these things that night.  No one was home, I was alone, and I clearly was in over my head.  I took extensive pictures and resolved to talk to my grandfather directly about my concerns.

The whole month of May, I pressed my grandfather on the phone for an explanation to what I had seen.  He denied that he knew about any of it, and he swore they would be gone within the week.  But the weeks dragged on.  I would explain the evidence again, and he would reassure me again.  One night, I found the house to be vacant when I had scheduled a visit with him.  In a fit, I locked every door and called my brother to come over too.  While we were waiting for them to arrive, someone rolled up looking for 'Z' and claiming to sell weed (still illegal in Vegas at the time).  A Call to the cops was Answered with amBivalence.  In the interim, my grandfather eventually arrived home with Zakeyaha in tow, I refused to let her inside without talking to my grandfather, first, alone.  I explained the shady behavior to his face.  Finally, I got my grandfather to agree to have her trespassed.  The cops finally showed up and took away the person selling weed, but wantesd to stay out of the domestic dispute.  Regardless, they did not force us to allow them back into the house.  We bagged up her things and took her to a family member's apartment a few blocks away.  Whew.  What a relief.  That was over.

All of this was absolutely bonkers to me.  I grew up Mormon.  My grandfather took me to church.  Old people were supposed to obsess over their grandkids, not look for an entirely new family.  I had hoped to move into his house with my family and be there as he aged.  Instead, I'm trying to stop strangers from living there.  I felt betrayed.  Maybe she was a prostitute.  Maybe he'd been a patron while my grandmother was still alive.  I didn't know what to think.  Most importantly, I didn't have the tools to even recognize what kind of cognitive impairment that was starting to take hold.

With dementia, it is not uncommon for families to notice a steep decline after major life changes.  Things that seemed fine as they were happening (story repetition, arriving late, and keeping new company, or uncharacteristic anger issues) are signals of damage in their brain, and that damage adds up over time.  Know that none of this is because your loved one no longer loves you or just doesn't care.  As hard as it may be, try to not take their words personally as you help steer them toward help and safety.  In truth, a person suffering from dementia can no longer understand why their anger is misplaced.  The brain is a wonderful and plastic thing, but eventually these cognitive changes and reach a breaking point.  Often, the compensations rely on family and friends that are alienated by the new behavior.  Social deficits creep in but aren't noticed until the spouse passes.  Money trouble manifests only after reserves run dry. Anger spills over when they are overwhelmed with social stimuli they can no longer process. These are all symptoms of dementia, and each affected person walks a different path through them.

Dementia is not a normal part of aging, it is instead a distinct decline separate from the most common changes as we get older.  Even if your family has no history of dementia, it is my recommendation that you get comfortable with the signs as soon as possible.  Begin to take note of behavioral changes as you come across them.  If you are your relative's Medical Power of Attorney, you can speak with their physicians directly.  Your relative may consent to having you tag along at the doctor where you can voice your concerns and begin working on evaluations that will allow you to bring maximum treatment options to bear.

Beyond the signs and symptoms of cognitive impairment like memory and social deficits, dementia can also change the personality and manners of those it affects.  It is common to have a person with dementia alternate between compliance and anger when confronted with difficult topics.  The changes to their brain prevent them from processing social cues or events, and they will sometimes revert to fight or flight behavior as a compensation.  It was this compliance that was used by Z to put off any talk of their departure, and it was this same compliance that allowed us to have Z trespassed.  As my grandfather was more and more affected by dementia, he was angry over perceived slights and chafed at our attempts at seeking help.  This was the hardest for us to deal with, and both my brother and I spent many a night yelling, confronting, and crying over someone we had never seen get actually irate.  Try not to take it personally as it is not them that is doing this to you.  It is the disease.

Through all of this, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was singularly unhelpful.  They will do the bare minimum for you even if there are obvious signs of abuse.  They took the guy with weed away before they considered handling the abuse in the house.  And their referral to Elder Abuse detectives lead to years of disappointment.  They may even prioritize looking at you and what you are trying to do as exploitative and unlawful because they do not know the first thing about dementia or responding to elder abuse. It looks like just one more domestic squabble.  Cops are not your friends.  Avoid calling them if at all possible. Handle things through family attorneys before syptoms appear instead.

Though we won this battle, we did not have a inkling of my grandfather's true condition.  The symptoms were right in front of us if we had been educated enough to see them.  It started with small behaviors that we were reluctant to call him on.  Eventually, we could not rely on him for previously rock-solid tasks.  And this chapter climaxed in discovering how others had begun to manipulate him.  It would still be 5 years until we extricated him from their grasp.