Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thursday Thimble-full of Thoughts

I know I do my links on Wednesdays, but these were so good I just needed to do an update. Yeah, they are all from Wired. I might have to change my Wednesdays to Thursdays if they keep this up.

No, this isn't it.
Not only did he (or she) make a virtual 3D printer in Minecraft, the video explains in detail how he did it. That's almost as amazing. AND he has a link to download the Minecraft world. How awesome is that?

Here's the direct link to the YouTube video where the download is. There seem to be quite a few Minecraft 3D printers on YouTube now. I'll have to peruse them later.


Foot fins - even better than flippers. These allow you to swim like Aquaman, but you won't be able to psychically control fish, so don't try that.


A Lego Hot Rod that actually runs. Remember the amazing thing about the dancing bear is not that he dances so gracefully, but that he dances at all. There are two amazing things about this hot rod: it's made of legos and it actually runs. Oh, and it was made by two guys in two countries that don't even know each other. And it was crowd-funded. I guess that's four things. It's awesome.




Whistleblowing: The disclosure by a person, usually an employee in a government agency or private enterprise, to the public or to those in authority, of mismanagement, corruption, illegality, or some other wrongdoing.
I'd say by that definition Snowden is a whistle-blower, not a traitor. The government will never let him come back here, though.




Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wednesday Weekly Bits and Pieces - 18 Dec 2013


This is a pretty slim week, and I might skip next week (since it will be Christmas Day and I'll probably be exhausted from those three spirits who always visit me the night before Christmas).

Today, three years ago, Darling's Mother passed away in the hospital. She was an amazing woman, though she and I had some tough interactions. That happens when you live with someone so hard-headed for a decade (you decide who I mean). If you're short of Christmas presents, you could give that special someone a copy of my book, My Mother-in-law Misadventures. You can buy the Kindle or get the paperback (and thanks! Let's get sales into double digits!).


China landed on the moon. I think that's a most important story. It's all over the internet, but here's one link to the story. China is now the third country to make a soft landing on our natural satellite, the first soft Moon landing in 37 years.

You'll read about it anyway, so I might as well add it. Two people won the MegaMillions lottery, one in San Jose, CA and one in Atlanta, GA. Merry Christmas to both of them! I won't even put a link - just logon to CNN or something.

Ross Eisenbrey has a theory of why Detroit went bankrupt. I no longer live in MI but this one interests me. He says it wasn't the pension payments, which is what is widely advertised. It seems to be a combination of three factors (a system, people!):
Depleted tax base.
Detroit took a lot of loans.
Corporate loopholes and subsidies.

He says the "dynamics at play in Detroit are the same dynamics creating the growing wealth gap and keeping our economy from making a lasting and sustainable economic recovery. While Wall Street and corporations profit handsomely from a city's decline, public workers—the city's middle class—have sacrificed time and again."

People don't want to live in Detroit any more. Because of onerous tax burdens on retirees, many people no longer want to live in Michigan. Not to mention the other stupid things the State government is doing to drive people away. Are you listening to me, Governor Snyder?

DNA just got more complicated. Our genetic code has a second set of instructions embedded in it. I'm not surprised. There are probably more layers we don't even know about yet.

Esquire listed the ten essential books for life (for guys).
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Dino by Nick Tosches, U.S.A by John Dos Passos, The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams, The Professional by W. C. Heinz, A Sense of Where You Are by John McPhee, Advise and Consent by Allen Drury, What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer, Women by Charles Bukowski, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality by Sigmund Freud

I read The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells when I was younger, but that's not the same. I've not read any of this list. I'm not sure I will, but maybe some of you have? Let me know in the comments.

Bill Gates has seven books he thinks everyone should read, too. None are fiction, and I noticed my book wasn't on his list. The Box by Marc Levinson, The Most Powerful Idea in the World by William Rosen, Harvesting the Biosphere by Vaclav Smil, The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond, Poor Numbers by Morten Jerven, Why Does College Cost So Much? by Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman and The Bet by Paul Sabin. Yeah, I haven't read ANY of those books either.

Who says Harlem is a bad place to be lost in New York? Oh, that was me. It was close to three in the morning, I was exhausted and we made a wrong turn. A very wrong turn… But that's a different story. The Nation's Largest, Free Public Wi-Fi Network is Coming to Harlem and will be complete by May 2014. I think that's awesome.

On a more cautious technology note, "Bot traffic was on the rise in 2013, with approximately 61.5 percent" of website traffic generated by bots. A third of those, though, are search engines and other legitimate bots. Bad bots were up only about 8 percent over last year. Bad Robot. Keep your anti-virus updated, folks.

Tim Bajarin lists his top tech trends for 2014. We'll visit this list again next year.
Google Will Spin Off Motorola (probably)
Apple Will Release a Groundbreaking Productivity Device (hopefully)
Smartphones and Beacon-Based Sensors Become a Very Big Deal (not quite this quickly)
Smartwatches Die in 2014 (yeah, I think so)
The PC Market Could Actually Grow in 2014 (probably)
He was right last year when he predicted that seven inch tablets would dominate that market niche. Sort of.

If you want forecasts (Futurists like to use that term, since "prediction" is misleading), go straight to The Futurist, the magazine of The World Future Society.  

To get a pretty good idea what makes a good Futurist, read this article by Alf Rehn about annoying Futurists! He lists nine that he dislikes. The Obfuscator/Obscurantist, The Shock-Jock, The Mindless Optimist/Pessimist, The Pseudo-Academic, The Trendster, The Neologizer, The Cookie-Cutter, The Proselytizer, The Mystic. Chances are, even if you don't know any Futurists, you know some people like these.

Michael Lee also writes a good article extolling the virtues of Al Gore's latest book. I personally think Gore falls into one of those previously mentioned annoying categories (you decide), but I like Lee's article.

I noticed this a few months ago - the number of "schools" offering classes to jump-start your education in coding and advertising exceptional salaries for those who take the courses. Here's something closer to the truth. I have invested some hundreds (and hundreds) of dollars into training for doing apps and publishing. The bottom line is that the information is available for much less than I spent and considerably less than the tens of thousands of dollars these courses cost. If you want more information, leave me a note and I'll try to respond with some direction.

I'm just going to leave this in as links to the series of articles that ARS Technica has on the new Steam OS. I still have to digest them to make sense of them, so I won't even pretend to understand it all yet.
http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2013/12/valve-releases-steamos-beta-early-build-your-own-system-requirements/
http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2013/12/sticking-windows-on-your-steambox-turns-out-to-be-pretty-straight-forward/
http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2013/12/video-tour-the-ins-and-outs-of-the-steamos-beta-release/


FUNNER STUFF
Oculus Rift is one to keep an eye on - or both eyes, actually. Oculus Rift raised more money to bring their VR to market. I think this technology is the forerunner of what will change the world. Combined with Google glass… well, let your imagination take you to the Holo-deck.

Bethesda is more than a cool city in Israel or a city in Maryland with Bethesda Naval Hospital (my Dad was stationed there for a couple years when I was in my teens). Bethesda is also the company that brings us fantastic games, like Skyrim, which I am playing again. They put out a Christmas card. Sadly, it doesn't look like we'll get a Fallout 4 next year, but I still have to finish Fallout 3 and the DLCs that go with it.

The Holderness family put out a Christmas video, and it has gone viral. As it should. Awesome jammies. I thought it was good, but…

… I really thought this one was fantastic, too! Go watch the "Les Miserables" Flash Mob video. I dare you to get the tune out of your head after.

For the cute picture of the day, I have to go with Kerri Pajutee's miniature sculptures.


Thanks for reading. God bless you and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wednesday Weekly Bits and Pieces - 11 Dec 2013



Pope Francis was named Time's 2013 Person of the Year, and it's even top news on CNN. Rightly so. I have to admit I like the guy. Maybe I should invite him over to dinner on Christmas. I wonder where I should send the Christmas card?

It seems that Curiosity found evidence of an ancient freshwater lake on Mars. A little terra-forming and we could turn the Red Planet into a Green Planet. And people are already volunteering to migrate to the new world!
About 200,000 people applied to live on Mars, and I guess the application cost about $40 USD apiece. Crowd-funding a trip to Mars… What a good idea. You can look at some of the profiles of people who applied.
Technical and funding problems abound. There will be a two year delay, though, at a minimum. So the first few humans could be on Mars as early as 2025 - but don't hold your breath on that one.

This is one of the better financial planning pages on the Internet, in my opinion. Put in your data and you receive calculations to help make major financial decisions, like whether to rent or buy a house (sometimes it makes more sense to rent) or whether it makes sense to go to college (it almost always does). I'd keep this link handy. The results are graphical, which helps me get a better grip on them. Make sure you read the assumptions made for the calculations, though.

These folks do weekly technology links better than I do, but with less attitude. One of my favorites on this page, though, is the one that says you can learn to code in one hour. Like fast food for your brain, I guess. Hello World!

I fly on planes occasionally. When I do, I certainly sleep on planes. But I never woke up in a plane that was already locked and shut down. Ouch.
I don't know much about WestJet, but if this WestJet YouTube video doesn't bring a few tears of holiday joy to your eyes, well, I don't know. Go watch The Grinch - again. Darling says it was a brilliant promotional move on the part of WestJet, and that's true since I'll sure make them my first airline stop now when I'm looking for flights. But beyond that, the fact that anyone - especially a large company - <spoiler> would take holiday wishes and fulfill them is a wonderful testimony to how good people can be. I'll bet the guy who said he wanted socks and underwear (and got them) is really wishing he said he wanted a 50 inch television though!

Two thousand mice were dropped on Guam by parachute to kill snakes. They used little cardboard parachutes. I don't know how they trained them to pull the little ripcords. Now Guam is trying to find a solution to cardboard pollution.

Male and female brains are built differently, and now science backs that up. I've said it for years and nobody listens to me. I even posted about it a few times (one of my favorites was last December).

Not only are scientists developing shots that don't require needles (hello, Star Trek), but now they are also developing nanoparticles that can deliver the medicines. Brilliant! I can see the warning label now: Please avoid all EMPs when taking this medication.



Ray Kurzweil isn't the only Futurist out there; I know quite a few others personally. He is, however, one of the most widely read, and it's because he writes articles for CNN that say things like This is Your Future. As far as I know, Ray's techniques are sound, but forecasting the future is always iffy business. I'll give my opinions, too. I was trained as a Futurist, but I'm not a professional. Even so, here's what he forecasts:

Within five years, search engines will be based on an understanding of natural language. (Very Likely -- but only because language is changing also. Siri is a good example, but even Siri doesn't do that well right now. Still, five years can bring a lot of positive changes.)

By the early 2020s, we will have the means to program our biology away from disease and aging. (Unlikely -- it might be technically possible to retard aging more and to fight some diseases, but it won't be practically available to everyone. Eternal youth just won't happen, but I'm a pessimistic Futurist.)
By the early 2020s we will print out a significant fraction of the products we use including clothing as well as replacement organs. (Very Likely -- and we're seeing some of this already, even if it is just wings on a Victoria's Secret model or just scanning feet to make shoes. Organs, probably not, because of the internal complexities, but I hope I'm wrong.)

By the early 2020s we will be routinely working and playing with each other in full immersion visual-auditory virtual environments. By the 2030s, we will add the tactile sense to full immersion virtual reality. (Likely -- we see much of this already in on-line gaming. There might even be a faction who rebels against this technological/social change, and violently so. The tactile stuff is making huge advances.)

By 2030 solar energy will have the capacity to meet all of our energy needs. The production of food and clean water will also be revolutionized. (Unlikely - I just don't see the social changes needed to back this one up, and I hope that I'm wrong. I guess it might be true for a subset of the world's population, but not for the entire world. There's also a significant cost/ROI factor that works against this one.)



If you're wondering what to get your favorite person for Christmas, and they own a tablet, here are some nice ideas! And the Chromecast is one of them! Ha!
I mentioned before that I really like the Chromecast device. More services are jumping on board, so it looks better all the time. It doesn't replace cable television yet, but we're getting closer.


Gamers come in different flavors, but we all have some addiction to gaming. Why is that? Because we are immersed in an environment where we have some control over the results, unlike real life. The New Yorker posted a good article on the psychology of gamers who prefer of first-person shooters.

It's hard for me to believe but Doom, the first First-Person Shooter, is now twenty years old. Ars editors remember their first taste of Doom, 20 years later. Wired interviewed Doom's creator, John Carmack. He's a funny guy, but if you played Doom, you already knew that.

Apparently the government decided that on-line games were the place to catch terrorists. That might explain why some of the folks in my pick-up-groups (PUGS) in World of Warcraft were such terrible players.

Google is releasing a method to download a copy of your Gmail and Google Calendar data. The calendar is available now and the mail will be released over the next few weeks/months. I don't know, but it might be nice to have a backup of all my gmail… No, no it wouldn't.

Right after Darling and I switched to T-Mobile, AT&T unveiled cheaper, no-contract plans. I'm sure it's because we left them. You're welcome.

You can download Apple’s “12 Days of Gifts” app and get free stuff later this month. Apparently BlackBerry had been doing 25 days of Christmas and has been giving away a freebie a day since the first of December.

PC Magazine has a review of the best anti-virus software for the year. They chose AVG AntiVirus FREE 2014 as their Editors' Choice for free antivirus. I agreed with that a few posts ago.

If you're like me, you have dozens, maybe hundreds, of old photos all around the house. A lot of those are holiday photos. At some point I need to scan them into a digital format. Here's a good article on how to digitize holiday photos and videos. I sent the old 16mm film out to get it digitized and they did a great job. Pictures I can do myself. One interesting bit was that they say for a typical snapshot, a scan at 300 dpi will suffice. That should save a lot of computer time and space!


I'll just end with an article that says they captured the Best TV Shows of 2013, and how to watch them now. Well, you have to have something to watch over the holidays!

Thanks for reading, and God bless you!


Monday, December 9, 2013

Routine Maintenance


I like routine. Doing the same things in the same order at the same time every day is soothing to me, and almost vital to being functional and productive.

That's one of the reasons that thoughts of retirement frighten me a little. It's one of the main reasons that I have such a hard time going on vacation. I'm much more comfortable in a vacation tour, like the trip we took to Israel. Everything was scheduled.

If I can't have routine, a schedule is a nice substitute.

Current society celebrates spontaneity. I have a tough time with spontaneity, unless it's scheduled in advance.

Here's my morning routine:

Wake up about 5AM. That can vary, but usually not by more than fifteen minutes. I don't set my alarm clock any more. Even my subconscious likes routine.

Take care of bodily necessities. (You figure that one out.)

In this order: apply deodorant, brush my teeth, fill a glass with water, take my pills with a few swallows of water, pour the water over my unruly morning hair, apply some sort of sticky stuff to my hair, brush my hair, put on shirt, put on pants, put on belt, tip-toe to the dresser to get my phone off the charger, put phone in right front pocket, grab some socks from the drawer, turn off the bathroom light, quietly open the bedroom door, slip through, quietly close the door, turn on the left kitchen light, put on socks, wallet in left front pocket, pick up car keys, gather lunch, turn off kitchen light, turn on foyer light, put on boots, turn off foyer light, get in car, take one of two routes to work (depending on how the lights fall).

Get any of those out of order and I struggle a bit.

On Thursday morning I stop and get gas in the car, whether it needs it or not.

There are a few variables, but they are situational. Get a coat and scarf if it's cold. Stop by McDonald's if I'm really hungry and/or want coffee.

They key things here, of course, are applicable to everyone.

Put the deodorant on. Nobody wants to smell your sweat. It just isn't attractive.

That's doubly true for your breath. Brush your teeth. If you have a problem with bad breath, use mouthwash as well. Chew gum.

Brush your hair. Do something with it! That tousled look goes well with your spouse in certain situations, but when you're facing the world, do it with neat hair.

Oh, and don't go naked into the world. There's a reason we all have that naked/in your underwear nightmare dream. (What? That's only me?)

So be clean, smell nice and look neat. Those are good rules and my routine helps me do all that with a minimum of brain activity.

Do you have a routine?

Should you?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wednesday Weekly Bits and Pieces - 04 Dec 2013

How do I gather these links? They are the ones I find most interesting during the previous week, and I don't want to lose them. So - I share!
Incoming package!

The technology is available to deliver packages by drone, and that is certainly a much better use for drones than seek and destroy missions. However, the procedural problems might hinder the expansion of this idea into the realm of reality. We'll see. Amazon says they are committed to having this ready as early as 2015. I can wait that long to see if it works. I'm more interested in drones that can save lives.

Some bits of the comet ISON might have survived the close encounter with the sun. Scientists don't have enough data yet, but we'll keep an eye on that.
Three is the charmed number! SpaceX now has a satellite in geosynchronous orbit on its third try.

I love this one. Years ago I read a book called Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, a classic Futurist book where a society defeated poverty by paying everyone the same amount. That won't happen, but the "Swiss are set to vote on whether their country should introduce a basic national income of 2,500 Swiss Francs ($2,800) a month for every adult, regardless of their salary or net worth." In the United States, "the Census Bureau estimates that our total welfare spending is four times the amount that would be needed to lift all Americans currently living in poverty above the poverty line by giving them cash." You can make a lot of arguments about how that will encourage people to not work, but I think that's hogwash. Most people want better than a subsidized minimum lifestyle. So it would cost taxpayers 25% of the current costs to do this in the United State? Is anyone looking at it? (Of course not.)

As much as we like to bash governmental inadequacies (who doesn't?) the website for the Affordable Care Act was just designed to fail. I've designed a few things in my lifetime and I learned very early to start simple and work my way up to more complex programming solutions. It's like the government hired a bunch of beginners to do the job. Sad, really, but I'm not surprised.
It will get better. Even version 1.0 of Microsoft DOS was bad. Let's not even talk about version 1.0 of anything Apple…
CNN Says there are three questions the current administration won't answer about the Affordable Health Care Act. "How many people are on the website?" (I get a metric like this every month for the database I work on.) "How many people are signing up?" (I get one of these numbers, too.) "How broken is the back end?" That's a poorly worded question that usually can't be answered. I think they want to know "how much work remains?" That's tough question for any software system.
Senator Reid allowed some of his staff to keep their federal employee insurance plans instead of switching to the new Affordable Health Care Act. This shouldn't be a big deal, but I promise it will become a political hot potato, because our leaders are like a bunch of school kids fighting on the playground. They forget why they are there.

I can't say much about this interactive chart. It shows the disparity in incomes between the wealthy and less-wealthy. Much as I hate to admit it, the gap widens over the years, especially in the last twenty years or so. However, one point to consider is that US citizens are still among the wealthiest people in the world. For now. Be thankful if you live in the USA. Give back. It's the season, after all!

There's the story of John and Jen Palmer who wrote a negative review of a company after not receiving a product they ordered. Due to a small-print "non-disparagement clause" the company demanded $3,500 from the couple - five years after the original post. Without the means to hire an attorney, the Palmer's credit report plummeted. The non-profit advocacy group Public Citizen took the case and is counter-suing KlearGear. We'll see how this one ends  up. I guarantee one thing, though - I won't buy anything from KlearGear and it isn't the original negative review that impacts that choice.

It might soon be possible to print batteries, pretty much on any surface. How cool is that?
I missed this one when it was published in October, but MIT is working on a low-cost, high-capacity fuel cell that runs on natural gas.
You can make your own cell phone. My buddy is getting his 3D printer soon. Maybe I'll try it.

Pyramids were discovered in Antarctica, though I couldn't find independent confirmation of this. Scientists need to do further study to determine whether the pyramids are man-made or natural.
Archaeologists have uncovered ruins in Jerusalem from a building from the Hasmonean period, the first find of its kind. That's the historical period when the Macabees ruled the city.
Scientists are trying to map the tunnels under Rome.
Underwater researchers in Hawaii found a WWII Japanese sub, scuttled in 1946.

A consortium started building a solar-powered plane in 2003. The plane has 11,628 solar cells and two pilots plan to fly it around the world in 2015, during the day and night. I wonder how much the batteries on the plane weigh.
I have friends who work on stand-alone machines because of the sensitive nature of what they do for the government. Until now, that was enough to keep the machines protected from the nearby networked machines. Now scientists have developed malware that uses the built-in microphones and speakers of standard computers to transmit small amounts of data, including passwords.

PC magazine released their 2013 Holiday Gaming Guide. It's a fun read and includes some PC games as well as console games. I'm not surprised to see Bioshock Infinite and Skyrim. Both are amazing games.

I'm less than an enthusiastic Facebook fan. I started my page simply to post the WWII documents that accompany my book, My Mother-in-law Misadventures. In fact, one of my nieces recently deleted her Facebook page. Now you can un-friend someone and still stay linked. I sort of like that. I might actually change my page to a fan page, though.

You don't need to click. The eagle looks like this.
I don't usually post links to videos, but this eagle in Australia stole a park ranger's camera and flew it for hundreds of miles - filming the journey. How cool is that? Wait for the end of the flight and you'll see the eagle looking at the camera. National Geographic, eat your heart out. I have no idea how they got the camera back, though.
No ugly creature pictures this week. Isn't that nice?

Personal notes:
Thanksgiving was nice. The kitchen sink was clogged and even with the excellent assistance of the Lad and my buddy Rex we couldn't get it clear. The plumber came Friday.
A Doctor had a plumbing problem and the plumber showed up to fix it. After fifteen minutes the problem was solved and the plumber gave the man a bill for $250.
"Two hundred and fifty dollars?" shouted the man. "That's a thousand dollars an hour. I'm a Doctor and I don't even make that much!"
The plumber smiled. "I didn't either when I was a Doctor."

I did buy something on Friday, but I ordered it on-line. I ordered something on Monday, too - a push lawn mower (no motor) and a new cover for my phone. Both will be delivered by Friday. I think I can use the mower for our grass in the winter since it grows so slowly and I don't have to do the hard work of edging and weed-eating.

I do need to get a compost thingy working in the back yard soon. The luffas are almost all ready for harvest. I'll post pictures of them soon! (Really, our only crop of the year. I think I'll just stick with the Farmer's market next year.)

The Lad's car needed repairs over the holiday and he needed to have it back in time to go back to school. Thanks to the mechanics that worked to do that. It cost a lot, but everything does.

My Darling Daughter, the youngest, is struggling a bit with her thesis paper. I understand. We have differing points of view on that. When I did mine I just wanted it good enough to get me out of school. She wants hers to astound and amaze, and it could. Drop a prayer her way if you have a minute.

Send some prayers up for the prisoners in jail and prison during the holidays. It's a tough time for them, too.

Today is our eldest daughter's birthday. She doesn't read my blog, but Happy Birthday anyway! I'd post a picture, but then all the guys who read my blog would want her phone number.

Our second daughter is doing well in Colorado. That's pretty good for a girl who thought you had to travel to see snow. Now snow comes to her! Her hubby has a new motorcycle. Can you drive those in the snow? I have no idea!

Thanks for reading! Have a blessed week!



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wednesday Weekly Bits and Pieces - 27 Nov 2013

I have a story, but I'll save it...
Thursday is Thanksgiving Day here in the USA. Happy Thanksgiving to all my family and friends, to everyone celebrating the holiday, and to everyone in the world. I'm thankful for all the good people I know, the good times I've shared with others and the quiet times with my God.

Oh, and for Turkey dinner. Sorry, Turkey.

Friday is Native American Heritage Day. That's a mouthful, but here are some pictures from the early 1900s of Native Americans. All of them were taken by Edward S. Curtis.
Some Native Americans say Thanksgiving reminds them of the genocide of the Native Americans. Actually, it was one of the first recorded times when the Native Americans and settlers worked together for mutual benefit. What ravaged the entire Native American culture, even before the colonizing of the country, was disease. The fantastic book 1491 by Charles C. Mann delves into the Americas before the coming of the Europeans and how the populous and integrated society was devastated by plagues.

I'm thankful I don't do any shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday. I do still read the sales sheets, though. PC Magazine lists the top ten tech toys at Best Buy.  They also list their favorites of the top ten tech deals at Target. I really might go get an iPad mini since Target is tossing in a $75 gift card. How nice. It isn't the newest mini, though, so I probably won't. I just like pretend shop on Black Friday. You know how it goes: "I should buy that. And that. And that. The turkey made me tired. I'm going to take a nap now."

Even Apple has some Black Friday deals, which astounds me.  That's a first, to the best of my knowledge.
And, of course, Amazon has Black Friday deals all week, including today.

Catching Fire did well at the box office last weekend - very well. And it should have. I won't write a review, but the bottom line is that it's worth seeing. If you liked the first one, you'll like this one. If you read the books, like we did, you'll wonder how they can possibly manage to convey the PTSD of Katniss on the big screen. Jennifer Lawrence nails it. If you're a fan, it's a must-see at the theaters. I'd give it a 7.5/10 (but I'm a hard grader).

If you've read my blogs, you know I'm a big fan of Doctor Who and have been for decades. I love the reboot. With the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who they did a mental reboot as well. The Fiftieth was excellent; that's all I'll say. I watched it twice. I'll probably watch it again. It wasn't a continuation of the season finale, though. I'll have to wait for that.

Tech Crunch is keeping an eye on Bitcoins so I don't have to. Thanks folks! I'm glad they're watching Bitcoins, because the Bitcoin exchanges are getting robbed. That's probably the biggest problem I see with the online currency. There's a world of smart software people out there.

Forty-two bodies were found in a mass grave outside the town of La Barca in Jalisco, Mexico. Many have bullet wounds and show signs of torture. There is so much violence in the world.

Pope Francis is not taking the quiet road. He's encouraging the Catholic Church to change, to be "bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security." I like this Pope!
He tells the rich that it is time to share the wealth, that the gap between rich and poor is a blight in our world. Most of the truly wealthy people I know worked hard for their wealth - and they share it liberally.

Our legal system usually works. I choose to believe that. Then I read stories like the one about Kalief Browder who spent three years in Rikers for a robbery he didn't commit. I don't normally believe in lawsuits, but there needs to be some accountability for this miscarriage of justice (that's the first time I wrote those words, ever). Money is how it's measured. 

The FDA is telling 23andme to quit selling their genetic testing kits. They are concerned that people will use the information to make life-altering health decisions. Really? From the results of spitting in a tube? Well, I guess that's not such a stretch from peeing in a bottle…

The NSA has infected over 50,000 computers with sleeper agents, or bots. Perhaps even your machine is infected with code that simply awaits commands from the NSA to spy on us. Hey, maybe my machine is infecte...
The NSA wants only good things for everyone in the world. Trust the NSA. (For the record, that's a joke.)
The NSA apparently also spied on porn habits. I can just see that conversation at headquarters. "Hey, Bill, come look at what this guy is watching!"

A mile under the Chesapeake Bay floor, scientists found ancient seawater - about 100 million year old water. I have no idea what they plan to do with it. Bottle it? Pollute it?
Archaeologists did it again. They stuck a shovel in the dirt in Israel and unearthed another ancient structure. This time it was a 10,000 year old house and a 6.000 year old temple.

Ison
Comet Ison is gaining lots of attention from astronomers, professional and otherwise. Sadly, it may be disintegrating so fast it might not make it to the sun on November 28th (tomorrow, folks!). This series of photos shows the comet Ison approaching the sun. Here's the question: what's taking the photos?


I think Arduino is one of the coolest DIY programming modules out there, even though I don't do any Arduino project. Still, this Kickstarter project is sort of the One-Ring-That-Rules-Them-All for Arduino shields, or special-purpose project boards. Shoot, I even had to go back them. Brilliant!
Another Kickstarter entrepreneur was looking for $25,000 to develop an Arduino-based toy that teaches programming logic to children. He raised more than $630,000!
Here are some cool Arduino projects, including a laser harp. Here's a comic that explains what Arduino is. Yes, Raspberry Pi is cool, too.
Laser harp!


I don't know if this matters, but the Google Play Edition of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is getting the Android 4.4 KitKat OTA Update. Okay, I don't even know what all that means. Darling has an S4. Do I have to do something? Never mind. It doesn't matter.


From the world of strange creatures, this is another. It's actually a creature that looks like a rock. It lives in the ocean. I'm rethinking going barefoot when I swim.
Honestly, I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't find odd creature pictures for the blog.
Well, yes I do. I'd find prettier pictures.

And, finally, here are the answers to all those tech questions the family asks at Thanksgiving. Thanks Wired!

Thanks for reading and God bless you all!



Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Fritters

We all know that JFK was assassinated fifty years ago (I won't even put a link - stories abound). It makes me feel old. Anyone alive can tell you where they were when they heard of the assassination, much like 9-11. I was a barely six and the lady who took care of me after kindergarten cried while she watched television. "The President died. Someone shot him." That's all we watched for days on our tiny television, in black and white.
"A second plane crashed into the Twin Towers." My company set a TV up in the lobby. We all watched, in color.
Some incidents shape our world.
Hug the ones you love.


PS4 or Xbox One? That's the current game console debate. I was wrong in my Wednesday post when I said they were both available. They are now, though. Bottom line? Wait a while if you can; prices will eventually go down for the consoles and the number of good games will go up. If you can't wait then you probably already have a preference. Wired has some good advice to help you decide if you need it.
I don't know much about Disney Infinite. Disney plans to release a sandbox designer tool for the iPad, if I read this article right. Since the app is free I might pick it up. I'll post more if I think it's worth the time.
Games that changed everything, at least according to Wired. Minecraft, of course - groundbreaking design idea. Bioshock - arguably the best (if not first) of the story-telling games. Angry Birds - an entire franchise. Braid? I've had Braid for years now and not played it. I guess I should. There are others listed here as well: Geometry Wars, Monster Hunters, Wii Sports (??), Portal, and Call of Duty 4. When it gets right down to it, though, it's a matter of taste. I would have listed Wasteland or the original Bard's Tale, but I'm much older than most of the Wired staff.
Speaking of taste, this one is just too gross. Really. I didn't even want to put the picture in the blog (but I did, didn't I?). This parasite crawls into the fish's mouth, and replaces the fish's tongue after eating it. Then they live harmoniously for a while. I couldn't even finish the article. It's breakfast time after all.
If you like numbers, there's been some buzz lately in the world of prime numbers. That's okay, it's a tough read.
I love these paintings that are so real they seem like photos. Amazing and awesome. I liked the one of Venice.

Just after work today Darling and I will go see the second movie in the Hunger Games trilogy. Catching Fire is getting rave reviews so far, even from people that don't usually like this type of show. May the odds be ever in your favor…

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, and I'm pretty happy about it. We've waited half a year for this. In the meantime, there were some ideas for Doctor Who that never fully materialized. If you're a fan of the Doctor, take a look.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Twelve Years

Dad, Mom and me in 1958.

On 12/12/12 I wrote a post about the number twelve. Suddenly the number twelve has another meaning.

I think of my Mom often, but there are two dates that I think of her especially and miss her. As I said in a post a few years ago, some pains never really go away. You just get used to them. A little bit. Maybe.

One date I think fondly of Mom is her birthday, January 17.

The other date is today, November 21. Twelve years is a long time to miss you, Mom, but it went pretty fast.

Twelve years ago today I was laughing and talking with my Darling and my two youngest children. The phone rang. My brother Barry was on the line.

"Vince, you need to sit down," he said. I didn't hear the tremor in his voice.

"Okay," I replied, moving toward a chair in the dining area. "I'm sitting. What's up?"

"Mom died."

I really should have been sitting. I dropped into the chair.

"You're sh*ing me." I wasn't poetic. I wish I had said something memorable, something less stupid. I was hoping, oh, so hoping that my brother had developed a really bad sense of humor.

Mom was making a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner before her fatal trip to the ER. She planned to have "her boys" over. That's what she called my brothers when she talked to me on the phone. She'd beam about how her boys were doing, catching me up on their life adventures with their wives and families. She'd enthrall me with tales of her grandchildren. I could see her eyes twinkle as she spoke.

I can still see her eyes twinkle as I write this.

I miss you, Mom.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesday Weekly Bits and Pieces - 20 Nov 2013

Zarya
Well, the last fifteen years have been a wild ride in orbit around the Earth. Fifteen years ago NASA successfully out the Zarya module to the International Space Station into permanent orbit. NASA completed the ISS a few years ago and it now houses six astronauts full-time.

Congratulations to everyone involved! Go have some cake!

NASA has a new spacecraft, MAVEN, heading to Mars, too. It launched on November 18.
CNN has a nice video for the MAVEN mission.

NASA also transmitted an image of the Mona Lisa to a satellite orbiting the moon using a laser. The transmission rate was only 300 bits per second, but I remember using that speed when I was starting graduate classes a few decades ago. You have to start somewhere.

President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address a hundred and fifty years ago. His original manuscript is still preserved, using modern technologies to keep it from degrading.

Darling's new phone is Android. After years of using an iPhone, it will take time to be comfortable with the new OS. There are Android Launchers that mimic an iPhone, though. That might help for a while!

Forbes published the results of a new study by the Cato Institute showing that welfare pays more than a minimum-wage job in 35 states. They do state that "not all of these benefits apply to every welfare beneficiary, and some are time-limited." I know some people on welfare and they are barely getting by. Without help from family members, their children would be very, very hungry. (And they also have no medical insurance, so they are part of the forty-five million people who will be helped by the Affordable Health Care Act, assuming the government starts working that program like a company would and get it fixed and in place for use.) The USA seems to have some problems with welfare, though.

I don't really want to talk about Bitcoin, mostly because I just can't figure out how it is real currency. As far as I know there is nothing backing the value of the Bitcoin. Wait, what is backing the USD now? I give up on all this financial stuff.

I guess the Bitcoin is a fiat currency designed to be used outside of governmental regulations. I'll have to think about that.

If I was Warren Buffet I might understand money better, but maybe not. Three of his Berkshire Hathaway holdings lost him over $1.4 billion in value from the second to third quarters: Coca-cola, IBM and Proctor and Gamble.

I hope he at least has some Boeing stock. Boeing just got more than $95 billion in new orders at the Dubai airshow.

I wish I had more Boeing stock in my 401K. I sold it all just before the government shutdown. Silly me. That buy high-sell low strategy never seems to work for me at all. Here's how John Maxfield is investing his IRA. Maybe I should follow his lead.

I'm a big fan of 3D printing technology. Right now most of the home versions use plastics, but metal is certainly on the horizon. Here is a home version that uses metal clay to print an object, which then must be put in a kiln. "So once the kiln process is complete, the end result of the 3D printer's output is a very durable metal object built to a specified digital file's standard."

There is already a company that uses 3D printing to print organic tissues. Organovo can't print complicated organs, but they can print tissues that are usable in labs. What a crazy world we live in!

If you're not familiar with Brain Pickings, it's a weekly digest of cool things each week (like this, right?). Maria Popova reflects on seven years of her weekly postings in this article. Her seven insights are so good and so well-written that I can't even summarize them. It's worth a look.

Maria also printed some of Hemingway's advice to aspiring authors in this article.

This guy writes about his travels for a living - and he doesn't ever plan to return to Singapore. No offense to Singapore, but I never planned to travel there in the first place.

In the X-Men they had a 3D display to plan their assault on the Statue of Liberty. It's closer to reality than ever!

Microsoft plans to offer some good deals on Black Friday this year on their Surface tablet and maybe their new Xbox One.

Apple doesn't seem to be offering any good deals, but they do expect a holiday blowout for their iPads. The article makes it sound like a bad thing; I guess Apple doesn't have enough inventory to handle projected orders.

The head-to-head contest between gaming systems is reaching a current crescendo. The PS4 and Xbox One are both in stores now.  The Xbox One is much larger than the PS4. Over 1 million PS4s sold in the first 24 hours after the release. The Xbox One is a full-fledged entertainment device, too, and it responds to voice commands. According to ars Technica (they have an awesome and thorough review), the Xbox One has a rough time with local television channels right now. They also used the Xbox One successfully to make Skype calls. I'm not sure I want people to see a full-body view of me sitting on the couch, though.
Computer vision is getting better all the time. Look at your computer. Is it looking back yet? The Xbox One apparently listens all the time when on standby. Soon…

I like this guy. He has modern computers and still uses the old IBM keyboard. I loved that keyboard!

There will be a new smartwatch on the market soon. I gave up on mine, but the Toq smart watch from Qualcomm still looks pretty.

Wired came to the same conclusion about smart watches that I did a few weeks ago. Smart watches won't be popular until they are useful instead of a gimmick.

This guy decided to make a useful microwave using the raspberry pi mini-computer. It is remote controlled, the clock syncs with the internet and the microwave can follow multiple cooking instructions at once, for instance "heat on low for a minute, wait thirty seconds, heat on high for ten seconds."

According to experts, you should have seven things in your schedule every week. You don't need to read the article. Create a schedule, Finish a project, Devise a priority list, Don't try to do too much, Dedicate time to a personal project, Don't work more than eight hours a day and Use the waste basket or recycle bin liberally. I'm good with a couple of those, like not working too much. Does that count?

I really like the looks of the new twelvesouth BookBook Travel Journal for iPad. I'm not getting one - I'm just sharing.

I also really like the looks of the new FiftyThree stylus, but don't plan to get one (yet).

King, the company that made Candy Crush (darn you, Candy Crush!) topped $1 billion in earnings this year, just in time for their IPO.

If you have a few minutes, scroll through these "65 Amazing Facts." They might not be amazing, but they are interesting - and there are 65 of them.

If you love puns, try this site. There are only 46 of them on this page. Here's a seasonal one: "Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses."

I'm playing Skyrim again, this time as a mage. I didn't know about the hidden chests in the game when I first played a few years ago. You just have to know they are there, though you need to exploit game glitches for a few of them. I won't use those, but the invisible ones are fair game as far as I'm concerned.

This weekend is the second part of The Hunger Games. Darling and I are both looking forward to it, but we read the books.

And lest I forget (and I almost did!) THREE DAYS until the Doctor...



Thanks for reading and God bless!

ISS now



Friday, November 15, 2013

Computers on Friday

Computer Virus Discussion, Computer Bits and Pieces

I used to teach Advanced DOS classes at a local community college. For you young folks, that's "Disk Operating System" not "Denial of Service." One of the main topics I always had to cover was viruses (there is no plural for the Latin word virus).

Computer viruses are just as bad now. The computing power of all the machines on the planet is astounding, so it doesn't surprise me that there are internet viruses infecting machines and installing zombies. Zombies are small programs that allow the virus master to use his bevy of machines to do simple tasks, like send messages to a particular web site to crash it (that's a Denial of Service attack).

The really bad part is that many of the viruses can be installed as a drive-by. What that means is that you can visit a web site that will install the virus without any input from the user at all.

A better explanation is in this article, where they talk about a drive-by that infected Cracked.com. One of the scary things about the drive-by is that only 24 of 47 major anti-virus programs detected the malware, although many now have updates to do so.

These drive-by viruses are especially prevalent on gaming sites and porn sites, since the traffic to these sites is so high. I suppose the web sites with funny cat pictures are dangerous too.

Macs have virus problems, too, but not nearly as many. Now that I'm back in the PC world I need to be vigilant about computer viruses.

It's a personal thing, but I'm not fond of McAfee or Norton. Norton is one of the better rated ones now, but it bothers me when a program is so entrenched in your computer system that you have to go through hoops to remove it. I uninstalled the version that came with my machine and still had to edit the registry to clean it all out.

I downloaded and ran the free version of Malwarebytes to identify and remove any malware on my new machine. I was fortunate; my machine was clean.

I like and use Lavasoft's Ad-Aware which got a pretty good review from CNet for the latest version. Right now I use the free version, but I might upgrade. If you download it - be careful. I've noticed a lot of sites that have links to download the program and they download something that looks similar but is a form of malware, or at least bloatware. I also got a copy of their registry cleaner, which cleaned a lot of pre-loaded crap from my registry. It's a lot better than trying to do it by hand.

Stupid registry.

Now I just need to stay away from dangerous sites. I'm using the Lavasoft add-in for IE to protect me for now. I'll move to a different browser sometime soon.


Yes, it is possible to build apps with no programming skills. I've used Conduit, mentioned in this article, but there are a lot I've not heard of or used. It's easy, but it is still work. Most designers will tell you that the coding isn't the part that makes an app great - it's the design. Most people make no money on their home-built apps.

Speaking of making money, I still don't understand the on-line currency bitcoin, but one company is launching a bitcoin trading exchange. It doesn't matter. I still don't get it.

It's the sales time of year again, so here are some current Black Friday computer deals. These won't last long, but I'm sure more will pop up.

The PS4 is out now. These developers tell why it is such a good gaming platform. Some folks think the realism is getting too much in the gaming world, and I might actually agree with that.

I admit I'm a gamer, but I wasn't much into Zelda back in the 90s. I do still have a couple Game Boys and probably have a Zelda game around the house somewhere. Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds will be out soon on the on the Nintendo 3DS and 2DS (it is a Nintendo game, after all). The ars Technica folks liked the nostalgia, but were really disappointed in the boss battles. The Wired review was better.

Some smart folks finally gave me a list of reasons that I like Candy Crush so much. Yeah, sure it taps my inner child, but what I really wanted was to get off level 147 (which I did on Monday, after weeks of being stuck!). I'm not addicted, though… Wait a second! There are over 500 levels! I still have a few lives left this morning...
Darn you, Candy Crush!

Not strictly computers, but CNN has a list of their top 10 inventions - and most of them rely on computers! I really like the Oculus Rift.

What they didn't list was the Nimbus personal dashboard, which is controlled from your smart phone -four programmable gauges to track your connected life. It looks cool, but most of my gauges would hover around zero. Email traffic? Social media activity? FitBit stats?

It isn't computers, but Russell Crowe as Noah. I didn't even know they were making a movie about Noah. This should be pretty good.


Yeah, I didn't want to lose these links. All things Doctor Who from Wired. I really like the Prologue...