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...



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wednesday Weekly Bits and Pieces - 13 Nov 2013

My children roll their eyes when they see I put up my weekly post. Yes, they are all links that I found interesting during the week. I either want to comment on the article or I don't want to lose the link. So I share.
This one is a bit long, so here's a short list of contents:
Rumble about health care
We left AT&T for T-Mobile. See our savings.
Other potential cost cuts
Fourier transforms
Liz Taylor (and more)
What makes men happy
I left Mac and I'm back to the PC
More on DNA testing
Entertainment! Doctor Who, Thor and World of Warcraft

Three twenty year old programmers built a health care web site in three days. It probably doesn't do everything that people need for the actual Affordable Care Act web site, but neither does the official one yet.
The Affordable Health Care Act is complicated law so it's not surprising that the official web site is difficult. This is the time of year at my (Fortune 500) company when we all have to sign up for health care. My old plan is no longer supported by the company and costs have gone up significantly. Everyone is seeing something similar, I think. This was the reason behind Obamacare, after all: provide health care for everyone at a reasonable cost.
Sadly, quite a few of us will see costs go up for this, but it will work itself out over the next few years. (Just don't get too sick in the meantime!)
Nicaragua has nationalized health care that works well for them, but maybe they aren't as picky as we are. These folks love being retired in Nicaragua. Perhaps I should add that little Central American company back to my list of possibilities. Of course, phone service might be an issue for me in Central America. It's a bit of an issue for me here, but we're working on it.
We finally dumped AT&T when our contract with them ended. Given an option I won't go back to a phone contract again. We switched to the base plan for T-mobile. There were a few hiccups but we'll line them out. Also, I'll get my company discount as soon as I finish the paperwork, which will save us fifteen percent. Darling got a new phone last week to go with the new plan. She's struggling to learn all the cool stuff it does. Yup, she went Android. How much did we save - let's talk numbers. We were paying almost $150/month for both lines with AT&T. With the new plan (admittedly less data, but we don't need it) we pay a bit less than $90/month. With the 15% discount it will be less than that. So we saved over $60/month by switching. The call clarity is just as good. I notice that when we are home our cell phones use the Wi-Fi to make calls. That's cool.
Now we can cancel our VOIP land line, can't we? That's a little more monthly savings.
This guy switches between iOS (iPhone 5) and Android (Nexus 5). It's worth a read if you're thinking of doing the same, and I am. After all, once I get back into development I'll be working on both platforms again.
The Playstation 4 is coming soon and ars Technica has a pre-release version. I won't be upgrading. First of all, I'm content with my PS3 and I have quite a few games for it. Secondly, used games for the PS3 will just get less expensive. Thirdly, we're all about cutting costs. Everyone is, aren't they?
We're still thinking of dumping cable TV, now that our contract is up. We're pondering the move. One of the articles I'll study harder is this one on TiVo. I don't know about everyone else, but we're finding less shows on cable that interest us, and I'm willing to let them go. We have Netflix, so we can view most of the older shows we like to watch.  So maybe an antenna, TiVo, Netflix and my Apple TV and we're good. That should reduce our monthly costs by a bit.
We probably won't save enough to buy this little yacht, though. I have to admit I really like this Italian mini-yacht. I think I'll put it on my Amazon wish list when they finally announce a price and availability. If I get one, maybe I can sail to Nicaragua.
My Organic Chemistry teacher at CMU was brilliant and the best thinker I'd ever met. In one class he discussed "activation energy" for chemical reactions and Professor Howell pointed out that if we could find a catalyst to lower the activation energy of electrolysis, hydrogen could become a viable fuel source. I never forgot that lecture. Now Toyota has a new hydrogen car. Perhaps we're going in the right direction now?
I both love and hate math. I loved learning about Fourier transforms and Laplace transforms. I never really got the hang of them (thus my hate relationship with math). Fourier transforms are the basis for much of the data compression techniques in programming. Ever wonder how the Shazam™ app manages to capture a clip of a song and match it? (Well, I have). Fourier transforms! In the clip they even draw Homer Simpson with a Fourier transform algorithm.
Forbes has an article that shows the whitest jobs in America. Almost 97% of veterinarians are white. I don't know what any of it means, but I didn't want to lose the link.
There was also an article showing the analysis of how young American adults are more likely to be poor. I blinked at that one. I was poor when I was young too, so I'm not sure what point is. It takes a while to save money, and even longer if you keep buying new things on credit.
The Onion stopped its print version is Chicago. Fortunately this bizarre magazine will continue on the internet.
Audrey Hepburn in color
Colorizing old photos is its own artwork now. Some of the pictures shows are iconic. Liz Taylor is stunning in the colorized 1956 photo. The Hindenburg disaster (1937) shows the cruel flames illuminating the running people in the foreground. Oh, the humanity! 
Want to know what makes men happy? (You thought I was going to say Liz Taylor, didn't you?) This 75 year study by Harvard gives some clues. One of the bits that made my eyes cross was that conservative men shut down their sex lives around age 68 and liberal men had healthy sex lives into their 80s. Yeah, now you want to know more, don't you? And all you conservative guys are now re-thinking your allegiances…
PC Magazine has a list of the top 10 interactive games for people who love stories. I probably won't buy any of them, but they are fun to look at.

I've migrated from the Mac world back to the PC world with my MSI GE70 i765M287 Notebook, a gaming portable. I'm still working at cleaning up all the start files, and I didn't realize the sheer number of start files that Windows 7 needs to operate. Of immense help to me is a site that is dedicated to identifying what's needed, and what isn't. I'm doing my research, studying the automatically running programs and closing the ones that can be done manually instead. Some appeared to be viruses; a bit more research showed they aren't. It takes some time, but when I'm done my new laptop will run cleanly.

Most Futurists are pretty sane about the future of government, but tend to be pessimistic. In fact, to some the current political and social climate in the USA indicates the end of the rapidly increasing lifestyle of our citizens will soon come to an end. You'll need to be a WFS member to read the entire article.
My buddy Verne Wheelwright is one of the finest Futurists out there.  He mentions that he just sent his DNA to be tested by 23andMe. Now I have to wait for his post about the results! This article is visible to everyone, since it's Verne's blog at WFS.
I got the results of my Ancestry DNA testing and I mentioned it a few weeks ago.  Since that post, Ancestry refined the results. Now it shows: Great Britain-80%, Europe West-8%, Europe East-5%, Ireland-2%, Iberian Peninsula-2%, Scandinavia-2% and Italy/Greece <1%.  On a genealogy forum I belong to, the genealogists told me this type of testing only does the Male or Female line, depending on your sex. So this is just me - my dad - his dad - his dad's dad , etc.
In order to get results from my Mom's line I'd need to get my Aunt to do a test, and that still wouldn't get her Dad, the Cherokee. I really wanted to confirm the Chippewa on my mother's, mother's, father's side of the family that legend says we have in our lineage... I don't know how DNA can help me there.
One benefit is that a third cousin contacted me based on these results. She suggested I use the services at gedmatch.com but their site is so overwhelmed it won't be back up until January. It will probably crash again then, because I am certainly not the only one waiting in line with my raw data file.
Yeah, I'll update that when I get it.

Saturday, 23 November is the date the Doctor returns in the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor. We'll see the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant, my second favorite) and Eleventh Doctor together. I'm hoping Rose Tyler returns, and am certainly looking forward to Clara Oswald. Will Amy Pond show up with Rory? I hope so. I want it all! I'm not sure what time the show will be available here in Houston, though.
Who was my favorite Doctor? Why, the Fourth Doctor (1974-1981), Tom Baker, of course.
As an aside, the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston was amazing as the Dark Lord Malekith in Thor: The Dark World. Sadly, I read that some of the best bits were left on the cutting room floor. They used the minutes for Loki's parts. I think Loki is my favorite character now.
Review of Thor: The Dark World. Let's face it, this is a classic Marvel superhero movie. Good guy vs bad guy. Bad guy wins. Good guy hurt. Bad guy almost succeeds in his ultimate plot for evil. Good guy wins. There are not one, but TWO ending sequences. One comes right before the credits. I waited for that one and it was good and I left the theater quite content. I found out there was a second one after the credits! Grrr.
Worth seeing at the movies? Yes, if you're a Marvel fan. You could wait for the DVD. So it only gets a 6/10 from me. There were some twists that might push it up a bit, but they were predictable.
Not only was the Ninth Doctor in the movie, so was Chuck! In the first movie, actor Josh Dallas (Charming in Once Upon a Time) played Fandral. In this one we see Zachary Levi step into the role of Fandral. I barely noticed the discrepancy; they each did so well with the part. Apparently the producers wanted Zachary Levi in the first film but he was busy filming Chuck. In Thor: The Dark World, Josh Dallas was busy in Once Upon a Time. They are almost the same age, and Levi is a few inches taller at 6'3".
There's a new WoW expansion coming in 2014. As a form of atonement (or overkill, I'm not sure) Blizzard will gives us an entire compound with followers instead of simply a house. Oh. Boy. I might even renew my subscription (which is their plan, of course), but they'll have to change the cost a bit.
I was able to participate in a WoW Former Player Study conducted by Blizzard. That lasted two weeks and the discussions were good. I'm quite happy with how inquisitive they were. Yeah, it was totally our idea for the houses…
We can't see ourselves in the dark. We think we can.
A study finds that a decline in brain function as you age is genetic. Darling won't have a problem; her mother was sharp as a tack up until she died. So was my Dad, for that matter.
The Kepler telescope indicates that about one in five stars like our own in the galaxy have Earth-sized planets. That doesn't mean they are habitable, but it sure gives us a large group of planets to look at. That would make the closest one only twelve light-years away.
Everyone knows that Tennyson wrote The Charge of the Light Brigade. Apparently some British soldiers survived that charge, retiring to England destitute. Kipling wrote a poem about them called The Last of the Light Brigade. Thank you, all you veterans, for your service to us, your fellow countrymen. You gave us our freedom.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Unlearn These Lessons

In May of 2010, Martha Beck of the Oprah Magazine wrote a great article, titled "10 life lessons you should unlearn." You should be able to find the original at this CNN Link. That was the inspiration for this post, along with the realization that some people I know and love need to know these lessons, because a learned lesson is an earned lesson.

We all seek joy in life, though sometimes we don't realize that's what we're doing. We think a pain-free, conflict-free existence will lift us up in our minds and relieve us from the daily toils that plague us. I hate to point this out, but you will not reach that nirvana while you're alive. (A discussion of whether you reach this state after death is an entirely different topic.)

It might be possible if people were perfect. One of my favorite movies is based on James Hilton's book Lost Horizon. The movie is called Lost Horizon and was made twice in the US (according to IMDB). The first was directed by Frank Capra and starred Ronald Colman as Robert Conway with the incomparable Jane Wyatt as Sondra. The second was directed by Charles Jarrott and starred Peter Finch as Richard Conway and Olivia Hussey as Maria. I'm most familiar with the second; it had a significant impact on my thinking when I first saw it.

I imagined a world like the Shangri-La valley, where the desires of others were weighed against your own desires. If the desires of two people conflict, the one with the greater desire wins and life moves forward with no regrets and no recriminations. I wanted to live in that valley. This theory takes perfect people and I don't know any.

Martha Beck gives ten lessons we should unlearn:
1. Problems are bad
2. It's important to stay happy
3. I'm irreparably damaged by my past
4. Working hard leads to success
5. Success is the opposite of failure
6. It matters what people think of me
7. We should think rationally about our decisions
8. The pretty girls get all the good stuff
9. If all my wishes came true right now, life would be perfect
10. Loss is terrible

I read the list and nodded my head at most of these points. Of course problems are bad! We all know working hard leads to success! Loss IS terrible. You probably did the same thing.

Change the perspective a little and these can mean something more positive.

1. Problems are bad. Well, problems are lessons, challenges that we face and overcome. I'd agree that the problems we cannot overcome are bad, but look a little harder if you're stuck. A bad relationship teaches you to recognize real love. A health problem can force you to change your habits and become healthier. Some problems are very, very hard and you should seek others to help you find new solutions, solutions you would not even think of. I'd say problems can be bad, but might not. I'd also say you are never given more than you can handle.
2. It's important to stay happy. This one confused me, then I realized almost every commercial and television show sells this thought. I don't know anyone who is happy all the time. I know a lot of people who have hard lives and refuse to be mired in misery, though. They give themselves the freedom to feel down and then they move on. So many people think they must be happy all the time - and that is a big lie. No wonder the drug companies make so much money selling encapsulated happiness. Psychologists benefit from this one too.
3. I'm irreparably damaged by my past. This one just isn't true and never has been. The damage is done when you dwell on the past as if you cannot escape it. Really, you can't escape it, but you can let it go. Try to look at it differently, from different angles. Take that past issue and consciously envision three reasons it has no hold on you. You can almost always start with "Now I'm aware of it, and I'm a stronger person." You cannot remove the past incident, but you can refuse to give it power over you. Let it go.
4. Working hard leads to success. I think there is truth to this, but the point is that it doesn't have to be, and shouldn't be, work for you. Are you doing accounting work and you hate it? What do you really want to do? Okay, seriously. Millionaire is not a job title. You'd rather garden? Look for ways to make work into play. Let someone else do the accounting; for them it is play!
5. Success is the opposite of failure. Actually this one is true, but Martha Beck tricks you because failure is not the opposite of success. Everyone I know, myself included, achieves successes through multiple failures. Each failure taught me something to build on so that success was one step closer. Look at Edison. It took hundreds of tries before the light went on for him.
6. It matters what people think of me. Well, for close relatives it matters a little. Not really. What used to bother me was thinking about what people thought of me. After some research and probing questions ("What do you think of me?") I found out that most people don't think of me at all. When they do think of me it is rarely as bad as I imagined. Even if it is bad, I can choose to let it go (see the bit about my sister-in-law's review of my book).What people think of you should not drive your behavior and actions. 
Bear in mind, though, each action does have a consequence, and each consequence ripples through your relationships. Consequences of your own actions should have impact on what you do.
7. We should think rationally about our decisions. I think this is true to a point, but never go against your gut. If it feels like the wrong thing to do, reconsider carefully. Something about your decision affects your body and your body is trying to give you a clue.
8. The pretty girls get all the good stuff. Pretty girls do get good stuff, but I haven't any first-hand knowledge of this. I'm a guy. Tall guys get all the good stuff. That's true. Really, I don't have anything to say on this. Read the article.
9. If all my wishes came true right now, life would be perfect. Oooh. Even I know this one is a lie. Garth Brooks has a song called "Unanswered Prayers" where he sings "Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers." Here's a key point, though. Life is never perfect. It never will be. And it isn't fair. But you can be as good as possible, and as fair as possible. Leave the world a better place than you found it, as my Mom used to say.
10. Loss is terrible. This is true, but loss cannot be feared so much that you stop living. Your heart will break, but it will also heal if you let it. Some losses are forever, as long as this life lasts. The pain hurts with every breath at first. Keep breathing. Eventually the pain hurts a little less, perhaps not noticeably, but the tightness will ease. Your breathing will be easier, just a bit at a time. The pain is still there, and always will be, but eventually you will only notice it when you look at it. I promise.

Perspective is the key issue in life. Years ago I had a friend who was sad because his bank account was low and he couldn't see the profit from any of his investments. His broken down car was in the shop, so he was sitting on the bus, on the way home from work when a man boarded the bus and sat next to him. "Hey," says the guy. "It's me. You gave me some money a few years ago and I managed to get out of the slump I was in. I have a job and a house now, and it's all because you helped me out. Thanks, man." My friend later told his wife, "We're looking at the wrong bank account."

Please unlearn the bad life lessons. The Shangri-La is just over the hill...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wednesday Weekly Bits and Pieces - 06 Nov 2013


CNN listed five things we learned from yesterday's elections. I'm glad we're learning something. I wish the politicians would.
I'm going to paraphrase the five points, though.
1. Elections are bought. The more money, the more votes. Like we didn't know that.
2. The Affordable Health Care Act is hated more every week, regardless of political party. Change is hard.
3. Chris Christie is probably aiming for the White House. And he's the best the GOP has to offer right now. That's what they're saying, not what I'm saying.
4. New York wants change. We all want change - that's me saying that. Half of the USA voted for change. The problem is we want positive changes for everyone. Shangri-La, anyone?
5. The Tea Party lost in Alabama. I suspect it won't be the last time, and I like some of what they say. I try to always find something nice…
There, now you only need to read the article to see how snarky I was about the five points.


Well, I mentioned the Affordable Health Care Act, so let's go with that. It does seem to be an Act, and we are all the players. There are current points of contention, with four of them pointed out in this CNN article.

"If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period." Obviously Mr. Obama was only referring to the individually owned plans. For instance, even though I work with a large corporation and select a health care plan through what they offer, the provider I used for the last sixteen years is no longer available as an option. Was that a casualty of Obamacare? I don't know. Does it matter? I have to choose something else. I'd like to keep the Doctor I've had for sixteen years, but we'll see what happens. I'm not blaming it on Obamacare (well, not directly - my Doctor had a different opinion).
Everyone's health insurance costs will rise because of Obamacare.  Well, some will and some won't. We all share the overall cost burden. More will rise if people opt out and pay the penalty. People will opt out if the cost gets too high. Does anyone else see a systemic failure here?
"The web site is broken, so Obamacare is a failure." Oh, please, people. Nobody likes version 1 of any piece of software. We all wait for version 3 before buying it. Really, how many of you bought the first Windows? Or even knew it existed when it came out? In the case of Obamacare, we don't get a choice. We buy it because we must and we all become beta testers.
That's life.


History is clear that the Nazi regime stole art and hid it or destroyed it. The German government found some hidden art a few years ago and are now letting everyone know. CNN talks about it here, and the NY Times here. I don't like any of the pieces they showed, but I'm a classical art lover, not modernist or post-modernist. Yeah, I don't have a clue what I'm talking about. I'll go back to looking at cat pictures on the web.

Speaking of cats, Dell finally found the source of the cat pee smell in their laptops, after four months of research. They aren't telling, but they do offer replacement parts now. I'm guessing those are cat-free (or cat-pee-free, I suppose).

I love this article about a virus that essentially owns the infected machines - and it can infect machines that are isolated. It's a real-world mystery thriller about a high-frequency rootkit.

You know all those comics you stored away and expect to sell so you can fund the purchase of your tropical island getaway? It probably isn't going to happen. Prices for used comics are plummeting.

I loved this article on how to get an A- in chemistry. I don't think it's quite this simple, but it's a good read. Organic (they call it organo) was one of my most-hated, most-loved classes. Hard, but rewarding. And I don't recall any of it after thirty-five years.

Africa is actually making great strides in the technological world. I was pleased to see a young Rwandan woman get an award for her startup company HeHe.  They are based in Kigali, capital of Rwanda. We stayed there during part of our mission trip years ago.

Fox has an article titled "How to erase yourself from the Internet." Lately I've been tempted to simply erase myself and disappear, so I took a look. It's nonsense, sadly. They simply advocate erasing your access to input sites like Facebook and Twitter. Your information will still be out there in cyberspace. Don't bother reading the article, but if you must, here it is.

I used to love the Seven Habits series of books by Stephen Covey. The man was a genius, mostly in marketing.  The Fool has a good article on the 7 Simple Habits of the World's Best Investors. Want me to sum up? Read. Be humble. Fail. Build on the success of others. Be your best self. Be patient. Be decisive.
Sounds like the advice would work for more than simply investments…

Since we're on the number seven, here are seven quotes that people often attribute to the wrong speaker. I know I was wrong on all of them. 
And the picture of Marilyn Monroe is nice too.

As a futurist I love to see predictions and love it even more when they call them trends. Here are seven top trends for future technology, according to Forbes. I don't agree with all of them. For instance, I don't think smart watches will make it, unless they do something along the lines of the suggestions I provided in a previous post. Still, we'll know in about a year…
I might reconsider my smartwatch opinion when this Pebble app comes out though. This one is useful.

These guys made a nanotube computer. Nanotubes are so small that thousands can fit in inside a human hair. We won't see these computers in the next year, but this is an interesting trend.

Toyota is a pretty innovative company. They created a vehicle that you bond with like a horse. I don't even know that that means, but I'd rather have the horse.

I don't expect horses in the next Hunger Games, but I'm looking forward to Catching Fire. Here's an article on designing the costumes.

 
Here's the weird category for the week. Ten fun facts about Caecilians. They look like worms to me and the facts are fun, but a bit creepy.


Our garden grew bounteous and green this year - although we only had a decent crop of cucumbers. Toward the end of summer our luffa vine decided to take over part of the back yard. We harvested the first of the large luffas last Saturday. Here's me peeling off the skin of the luffa fruit.


Thanks for reading. Have a blessed week!