Thursday, September 23, 2021

Star Wars Legion - Clone Wars Core Set and Commander Rex

 After painting Rex with my son, he convinced me to get the core set (what a fool I am). The kit was good for a first offering for new players and new collectors. And I got to take Citadel Contrast for a spin to add another skill for my painting belt.

The models were decent. ObiWan and Clone Troopers were supplied in bags, basically clean except for mould lines.  Owing to their spindly bits, Grevious, two Droidekas, and the  B-1 Battle Droids were still on sprue. The plastic is definitely different from Games Workshop sprue. It was less solvable than GW plastic when using Testors and Tamiya plastic glue. Parts kept coming unwelded, but a little super glue put it right. Detail was tight and almost always movie/animation accurate, and the extra parts for Grevious even allowed for some simple conversions (see below for an extra surprise; you can blame my son for it). After assembling them, I realized the 28mm accurate scale is so much more fiddly than the 28mm heroics I'm used to.  Hands and guns are smaller.  Weapons are smaller too. But the accurate proportions make for great squads. In a crowd, they look like right even when base to base.

I was not interested in spending months painting these minis.  Especially since my son had lost interest in playing almost immediately after purchase. I was delighted to find Sorastro's painting guides for Legion.  He helped me get from prime to table-ready in less than a month. This was my first adventure with Citadel's Contrast paint, and the advice to thin with medium and how to handle flow was excellent.  His colors were spot on too. After spending the pandemic bemoaning my mistake, it was refreshing to go so fast from concept to finished product.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Militarum Tempestus Start Collecting: Reliquary Squad and Taurox

I bought a Tempestus Scions Start Collecting box from Games Workshop, part of their Adeptus Militarum line, with the intention of painting them in memoriam for my father who passed in 2017. After four years and some tribulation, I completely painted the entire box.

The initial plan for the Scions was a true-to-life Reliquary Guard: I wanted to display them with my father's urn, but it seemed like a little much after ruminating on it for a while. I took several runs at the squad, but my painting was very inconsistent as well. Did I know enought to do them justice? After a move to Washington and the start of the pandemic, I had no more excuses.  I worked a color at a time and taught myself highlighting, wet blending, and how to use a wet palette. I also started managing my paints and color schemes with the Citadel Colour appI seriously skilled up on these minis. I finished the squad in March of 2020. Or so I thought.

After the highlights and before 'ard Coat for the lenses, I needed to seal the minis with matte spray. So on April 1, 2020, I lined them up and hit them with Testors Dullcote. Except something was wrong. It wasn't Dullcote; it was white primer in that tiny can. Some had it worse than others, but all were at least speckled with the brightest of white dots where perfect highlights had shown through only moments earlier. In my desperation, I tried washing them. I tried brushing the primer away with a toothbrush.  I almost tossed them in the trash can. But I couldn't, after buying them in mourning, throw them away in despair. So they sat, dusty white, for the rest of 2020.

It took a year to pull myself together and get the courage to face them again.  Normally, I paint one color at a time from base to highlights. But I knew that looking at the dusty white splotches would demotivate me. So I first blocked in all the colors and eradicated the evidence of my carelessness. Laying down base colors first allowed me to get most borders clean and crisp and clean up any mistakes almost immediately.  If I happened to stray, I did not need to redo the base, layer, and highlights. This worked so well that I would try it again on the Taurox with great success. Another delight was that, in spite of the minis bearing two complete paint jobs, the detail remains crisp on most surfaces. Praise the Lord of Layers, Duncan Rhodes! To remember the mishap in as good a spirit as possible, I added snow to all the bases. They were reborn after almost going in the trash, and I could not have been happier.

As the first vehicle under my brush since my Techmarine army, the Taurox taught me about the mechanics of painting vehicles. It is a ghastly beast of an impractical APC with serious OSHA concerns (laser cannons with a fire line that shoots across the side doors, 4 tracks instead of wheels, brilliant!). I applied all I learned on the squad to their new ride.  I painted and repainted until I could get that perfect pop from highlighting the deep blue-green tones into a brilliant and sharp white corner.  There are no painting handles for these big boys unless you glue one on, so I also learned to be careful with the corners lest you rub off all your hard work flipping the tank every which way in your hands. And I learned to block in the major color on vehicles including the first layer.  Building up the true and main color of the hull before the rest of the base coats allows you to get those most-prevalent colors out of the way fast, and without too much muss or fuss over stray paint. My understanding of how light plays across a geometric surface also improved. I am finally looking forward to painting my Knights and any vehicles I need for my Adeptus Mechanicus force that is taking shape.

Yes, painting miniatures can sometimes be relaxing, but mistakes like mine bring up the possibility for therapy in the creative process of building and painting these miniatures. I took a terrible time in my life and turned out a touchstone for future me. And I have tangible evidence of my stubbornness in the face of things going awry. I would rather not have had it happen, but I'm glad the salvage operation netted a good-looking squad as well as some soul-searching in high-definition.

And so, without further ado, and with the minis safely primed SEALED this time, here are my repainted Tempestus Scions in all their glory.

Taurox Prime

Squad Detail

Citadel Colours Palette 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

PAYEE! at the Disco

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

Navigating the patchwork of pensions and benefits systems available to my grandfather is a challenge, but it’s necessary to help him live comfortably now that he’s safe. If a relation or friend of yours needs help managing their finances, you may be able to help them with most financial transactions through a Power of Attorney, but the US Social Security Administration does not recognize such documents.  Instead, SSA has a separate process for helping someone administer their benefits by being named as a representative payee. It is fairly straightforward for something that feels like it was designed in 1940, but it can take time and be hard to navigate.  Your experience may be more or less complicated depending on the nature of your relationship and who the payee is, but the process to get started should be the same.

When someone you care for needs help with their benefits, you need to be named by SSA as their representative payee.  You can become a payee for a partner, spouse, child, parent, or close friend, and the only power you have is to help this person administer their Social Security Benefits. This means the money is sent to you, but you are merely an administrator for it. You spend it on behalf of the recipient, and it must be used for their care and upkeep. Everyone with a Social Security Number can pick a designated representative payee by logging on to their Social Security Account at and naming them. This might ease the process should something go wrong that prevents you from administrating your own benefits, but the person you name will still have to go through the verification steps that follow.

The payee appointment process starts with an interview (in-person or over the phone, depending on the current pandemic threat level) with the SSA itself.  Your local office should be able to help you directly. At the appointment, they ask you questions about your eligibility, relationship with the beneficiary, and try to tease out if you are taking advantage of the person you want to represent.  Be honest, and if it comes out during the interview that you may not be the best person to take care of them, you and the SSA rep will know. The SSA rep will ask for documentation (sent via fax or mail, blech) of why this person needs a payee due to their disability or incapacitation.  Afterwards, the rep may solicit more documentation from doctors or care facility staff about your relationship with the person receiving benefits.  They will ensure this person is being taken care of now, and that you, as the payee, are working with skilled providers in the patient’s best interest.  The collection/submittal period for this documentation has a strict deadline of 30 days.  You will need to start all over again with another interview if something goes awry.  In my case, the payee appointment coincided with the beginning of the pandemic. Doctors were slow to respond, and the first attempt expired with no decision, so stay on top of it!  If you have any doubts, reach out to the SSA rep that interviewed you.

After a nerve-wracking 30 days, you should receive paperwork in the mail from the SSA that you have been appointed as as representative payee.  It should also explain how much the benefits are, how they will be paid, and where they will be sent. The booklet that comes with this details your responsibilities, so read it, memorize it, and prepare to follow its guidance. It is also possible that you will receive a letter after appointment but before the payment has been sorted out.  It may say something panic-inducing like, "We have chosen you to be NNN's representative payee. However, we cannot pay you benefits at this time." After calling around and finding some threads after the fact, this letter is nothing to panic about.  It is automatically generated by the system, and it indicates that you, personally, are not receiving benefits, even if your payee will be.  This thread helped a lot to assuage my fears. The benefit information pertaining to the person for which you are responsible will be in the letter about your appointment as a payee.

If your are the payee for a relative or friend (not a spouse, child, or institutional relation), the next step is to create a separate bank account for the payee.  This will make managing the flow of money as easy as possible without mingling your funds with theirs. It also gives you is an account for direct deposit so you don’t need to handle paper checks..  Talk to your bank or credit union. Most will understand what you mean when you say you want to open up a "payee account", and the guidebook on payees includes specific language for titling the account.  Talk with your banker to ensure you have chosen an account type with no fees. Having direct deposit means you can usually get one for free, so shop around, and don’t be afraid to take your business elsewhere if the big banks want to charge you a monthly fee. I was able to set up an account and direct deposit the same day. You will need to call the SSA National Line at (800)772-1213 once you have the routing and account numbers. Once this is set up, another letter with a panic-inducing first sentence may arrive.  It may say, "We cannot pay you NNN's regular monthly benefit at this time..." followed by the fact that they are instead sending them to a financial institution.  This is just to warn you that you will no longer be getting paper checks. At this point, the benefits should be flowing securely and with minimal overhead for you.

Your main paperwork duty is the annual Representative Payee Report detailing that funds were spent in the interests of the person receiving the benefits.  Start keeping receipts in a central place, write expenses down in a log book, make copies, and familiarize yourself with the forms ahead of time.  You don't want to panic at the last minute and have to assemble documentation from scraps or jeopardize your appointment as payee. While I haven't had to do the yearly accounting just yet, I have had to do similar steps for trustee paperwork. I'll be sure to update this once I have gone through the process.

Having the payee designation allows me a lot more peace of mind when interacting with SSA on my grandfather's behalf. It's parallel to a Power of Attorney process, and its procedures are a little arcane. I hope this brought you some clarity when doing it for your own loved ones.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Clearing out old dev-certs from `dotnet dev-certs`

 If you are trying to run a dotnet app locally with HTTPS (normalization of which is a good idea for many reasons), you will need to trust the dev cert.  On Windows, this process was made particularly easy with the `dotnet dev-certs` tool.  Simply run `dotnet dev-certs https --trust` to install and trust a cert that your app can use to allow https forwarding.

If the process goes awry (usually because you've installed a bunch of different certs in the past), Chrome might still whine about the cert being bad.  Alternatively, you could get the following errors when you `dotnet run` your app:

Unable to start Kestrel.
System.InvalidOperationException: Unable to configure HTTPS endpoint. No server certificate was specified, and the default developer certificate could not be found or is out of date.

You have a few options to solve this:

  1. Generate certs using the `dotnet dev-certs` tool:
    • Run `dotnet dev-certs https --clean` to clean up old certs
    • Run `dotnet dev-certs https` to generate a new one
    • Run `dotnet dev-certs https --trust` to trust the new cert
    • Build your app.  Et voila!
  2. If this does not work, I found a troubleshooting thread that ended up working for me.
    • Run `certmgr.msc`
    • Go to Personal --> Certificates
    • Delete all localhost certs
    • Run Step 1 to generate and then trust the cert again.
    • You should then be able to build and run your app and see it launch

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Preparing Legally and Medically for Dementia

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

Patterned marble floor at a bank

Most people know about Do Not Resuscitate orders and similar preparations for care should the worst happen, but they may not include in their plans a long goodbye.  As a part of estate and healthcare planning, it is important to prepare for end-of-life scenarios that include dementia.  This includes consultation with a lawyer and those that will have power after you become incapacitated so the path during a crisis is clear.  It also includes keeping family involved in your health planning and interactions.  Options and decisions should also be publicized to your broader family and cleared with the people you plan to rely on for care to reduce their stress and yours.  This preparation is an act of love for your family just as much as it helps you protect yourself.

My grandfather appeared to have done everything right.  He had an estate lawyer with whom he set up a trust; we knew he had a DNR as he would often talk about not wanting to linger should he become a "vegetable"; he had a talk with my father, brother, and I about how we would all split his assets after he was gone.  This preparation assisted him and us when my grandmother passed, and he was able to collect her death benefits and notify pension organizations in fairly short order.  But there was a donut hole in his preparation, and none of us saw it until after he started showing signs of dementia. Alongside a provision that covered his passing included a separate line about incapacity that kicked in once he was declared as such by two doctors.  All of the provisions for taking over his trust were triggered by this provision.  His appointed the successors, my brother and I, could only take over and have the power to manage his assets in his stead if he was so far gone as to be considered incapacitated.  And this line, one that seemed straightforward at first glance, turned out to be an incredibly high bar in the middle of a crisis.

Understandably, doctors are loathe to declare someone as incapacitated based on the word of panicked relatives alone. My grandfather was gregarious, if forgetful, and he seemed collected at times of low stress like after a hospital stay.  Through a steady five year decline, he appeared lucid enough to sow doubt that anything was actually wrong at all!  His dementia made him unable to make and keep regular doctor appointments, so it was impossible to obtain the opinion of a primary care physician capable of a longitudinal assessment of his mental state.

This gradual breakdown of personal interaction also extended to family relationships.  His personal choices to bring in strangers to the house had also alienated his family from his day-to-day health.   He became combative when we tried to intervene in his healthcare or suggest he was being adversely impacted by the people living with him.  He would argue that he was well enough to live independently and that he would rather die than go to a home.  Truthfully, his moments of lucidity caused me to wonder if he was fine, he didn't see anything wrong with the people taking advantage of him, and that maybe I had misjudged his character my entire life. I even had the heartbreaking thing that maybe he was just an asshole in disguise this entire time.  This all brought out one of the most pernicious symptoms of dementia: it can make victims actively antagonistic to caretakers like doctors and family.

Without two statements of incapacity, we could not administer any part of grandfather's estate even if it was obvious to us that he was no longer capable of doing so.  Banks turned us away even while they acknowledged my grandfather was being shadowed by his abusers in and out of the branch.  Without the trust paperwork in order, the bankers could barely acknowledge that he was a customer. Repeated hospitalizations for failing to take his medications properly were met with stonewalling by recovery centers when we set about trying to obtain a psychiatric evaluation.  The doctors had only seen him for a few weeks, and most were used to judging physical, and not mental, fitness.

To counter this wall of professionalism, we built strong ties to his in-home care nurses that began to visit once or twice a week after a particularly egregious health scare.  Luckily, the attending physician at the home health company was also doing rounds at a facility connected with the hospital my grandfather would go to in an emergency.  This created a chain of custody for his medical history that eventually lead to him being declared incapacitated.  After that piece fell into place, the planning of the trust finally worked to his benefit.  And my brother and I were able to manage his healthcare, his finances, and his safety with the full force of the law backing us up.

Preparing early to allow affirmative control of an estate by trustees rather than aging relatives can save time and heartache for both.  Those given control can dispute fraudulent transactions, process evictions for abusive house guests, or allow trustees to deal with police while enjoying the legal backing of the estate's property rights if situations escalate.  Setting up your aging relative to retirees CEO to become Chairperson of the Family allows a family Board of Directors to take on the burden of management, but it also invests capable individuals with the power to react with their full facilities.

If I have advice, it is to protect your assets within a trust or similar legal framework, but make the bar for taking control in the case of your partial mental incapacity be lower than the one for your total incapacity. My grandfather chose to protect his assets with a trust having multiple co-trustees once either he or my grandmother passed. The trust held all assets and property, and appointing multiple co-trustees meant everyone with a stake in my surviving grandfather’s health and well-being had a say. My brother and I, even while living in different states, had to stay informed and consent to any material changes in assets or income. The same attorney that helped draw up the trust also helped with DNR and Medical Power of Attorney documents that were vital in ensuring my grandfather received care even as he stopped being able to advocate for himself. The one part of the trust that made it difficult for us in the case of dementia was the requirement for an assessment of capacity before co-trustees would assume control. The fact that we could not act on his behalf in terms of his property or financial health, meant he lost almost $100,000 through theft, fraud, and property damage.  I am still unsure if estate law has been able to provide a middle ground in this area. Please talk with your estate planner, especially if you have a history of dementia in your family, to find out what your options are in the current legal system for your jurisdiction. Being prepared for dementia can be just as important as prepping for incapacitation from a stroke or an accident.

In the end, everything you do with and for your family will ease the burden of dementia on them.  Talk to an estate planning professional about your options, as a family, to prepare for long-term illnesses that may cause diminished capacity.  Keep in regular contact with your loved-one's doctors or assist your loved ones in obtaining such care.  Discuss options before symptoms start to appear instead of after the difficulties mount.  The interaction of legal and medical preparations will protect both your loved one and you should they decline.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Reducing Oregon Tax Liability for Washington Residents that Work From Home


I am not a CPA, tax specialist, tax attorney, or other skilled professional in the tax space.  I'm just a schmuck with personal experience with the system.  If there is any doubt as to the applicability of my experience to your situation, consult a tax specialist near you.  Throwing a few hundred that them, just in case, could save you thousands in the long-run in audits, refund delays, and headaches.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

AWS Libraries in C# - Hard to Spot Typo in AWS Credentials File

I encountered an error when trying to run a C# command-line utility with `dotnet run`.  The AWS package kept throwing an error, and nothing I did to try to fix it made it work.  Here's the error: 

Unhandled exception. System.TypeInitializationException: The type initializer for 'Amazon.Runtime.Internal.FallbackInternalConfigurationFactory' threw an exception.

 ---> System.IO.InvalidDataException: Line 14:<arn:aws:iam::{{AWS Acct ID}}:role/{{Role Name}}

> in file C:\Users\{{User Name}}\.aws\credentials does not contain a section, property or comment.

After digging into the environment vars on my Windows box, trying to set things in PowerShell, and unsetting whatever I could, a co-worker helped me take a second look at the error.  My credentials file itself had a typo on line 14.  I had chopped off the 'role_arn=' from in front of my developer creds at some time in the past, and this util was the first to try to load it.  Once I fixed up the creds, it ran like a champ.

Preserving this here because googling that exact error didn't help me.