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.

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!