Wednesday, April 16, 2014

10 Thoughts for April 15, 2014

  1. As of noon I haven't yet started my taxes.  Applying for an extension is pointless, because you still have to go through the motions of estimating how much one owes, and if you underpay you have to pay the interest on the amount you fell short, calculated between the Jan 1, 2014 and the day you finally filed your return.
  2. On why I'm not buying Google Glass today (the only day that it is for sale to the general public, in limited quantity): At $1500 for the "explorer" edition, I'm not exactly willing to part that much amount of money to be a beta tester, though I have certainly entertained the idea considerably.
  3. It's nearly impossible to believe, but India's Supreme Court has beaten the US in recognizing transgender as a protected, separate gender, partly because they outlawed homosexuality last year.  This may seem like a flip flop, but Hinduism and Hijra have a long history of cultural importance in India, and technically, if you're a true Hijra you've given up your sexual organs in the process, therefore likely asexual.
  4. Foolish girl from the Netherlands tweeted a fake threat to American Airlines.  Some have come to her defense that it was an obvious joke.  Do these kids remember the Aesop tale of the boy who cried wolf?  Probably not; stuck in their social media, they weren't paying attention.
  5. So, I ended up trying to watch part of the lunar eclipse last night / this morning.  Clouds kept obscuring the moon off and on.  Just as it was reaching full penumbra, the whole sky covered up with clouds.  I gave up completely and went back to procrastinating on getting my taxes done.
  6. Whew!  This was the absolute closest I've ever cut it to the midnight deadline.  At exactly 11:55 p.m. I dropped the state return / estimated tax payment forms off into the box.  About 8 or so years ago, I was there at 11:45 dropping off an extension. Never again!  Until next April, that is.  :D  This part of the blog post signifies that it's after midnight...and I'm still high on adrenaline, by the way.
  7. As always, the most difficult and laborious part of tax season is actually getting things compiled and arranged.  Each year I tell myself to be better prepared and each year I fall off the wagon.  The one thing that bugs me every year, is that H&R Block does not automatically enter depreciation amounts from last year, properly.  They -- the inadequate software -- really screwed me up one year when the IRS changed my returns after I had just left the entire thing alone thinking that they automatically shifted the values within your depreciation schedule.  It's all my fault though...I didn't actually start my returns until...7:30 pm.  :D
  8. Okay, so I might get some penalty for state and federal -- depends because I did actually follow the guidelines given from the forms, and I still ended up owing a ton more.  Let's just say that I had to pay a handful of digits in combined taxes (federal, state) tonight.  For some reason I had a disconnect last year with what I earned, in no small part because it came in just a handful of big chunks in between the vast valleys of nothingness.  
  9. I tried in vain, to lower my taxes for 2013 by establishing a traditional IRA online, following a talk on the phone with my bank that I'd have to either physically go in to establish one or wait for the forms to come in the mail...I thought that this could simply be done online, but it wasn't to be so.  Instead, I tracked down my options and started an application with a fund management group with higher fund rate options.  I thought I had the deadline beat, but perhaps because the company is located on the east coast and it was past midnight their time, the transaction did not get completed.  Or it could be that it had to be business hours for the transaction to be completed in the first place.  Either way, I guess I've made my enormous contribution for the 2014 tax season which should keep me out of the penalty box for sure!  I felt all grown up today.
  10. It's not eloquent, but Google's Project Ara modular phone is expected to be ready by Q1 next year.  Have you seen it?  What a crazy leap Ara is from what we currently have!  Technically speaking, it was a small company that was bought out by Motorola while Motorola was part of Google, and when Google sold off Motorola to Lenovo they kept the Project Ara team and program for itself.  I think it's a great idea and in about 3 years it'll be da bomb.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I need a wider, longer lens.

I still can't get good pictures out of this darn zoom kit lens in low light situations...and even in bright sunlight I'm having trouble.  A 72~77mm wide, ~300mm long lens (or maybe a long zoom with the same aperture) is on my list of things to get in the near-future, not just for photographing the occasional lunar eclipse but to also capture wildlife from afar.

I did get to stare at the eclipse with my telescope, but again, another thing that needs updating...toss out the 4" refractor and get me an 18" reflector. Oh, I stopped photographing as the clouds came back to hide the moon. If only it were one day earlier, there wouldn't be any clouds.

Monday, April 14, 2014

10 Thoughts for April 14, 2014

  1. No, I haven't started my taxes yet.  I will start.  Soon.  Maybe later.  But definitely before Tuesday's midnight deadline.  I have the greatest benefit in the world of living within a few blocks of the post office which stays open until midnight on tax day.  I'll start later today, for sure.  Like, tonight.
  2. Speaking of, despite downloading H&R Tax Cut some 6~8 weeks ago and updating the software at that time, this morning when I opened the software up again, there were updates waiting for me.  Procrastination reinforced.
  3. Every eclipse -- lunar or solar -- turns into some spectacular natural event that is so rare that if you miss it then you're a fool.  And then it turns out it returns.  Again.  And Again.
  4. Every time family visits, it feels like a cumbersome chore to have to clean house and entertain.  But then when they leave it feels like I got punched in the gut and something has gone missing from the heart.
  5. I saw that beef prices had jumped of late.  A month ago I'd gotten 93% lean ground sirloin from Safeway for $2.99/pound and then the other week 80% lean ground beef was being sold at $3.99/pound.  You know what hasn't changed in prices?  Organic ground beef.  Still sold at $5.99/pound.
  6. It occurred to me at the end of a dream, that there is no such thing as "cosmic karma" and that karma isn't a bitch, as is cited and recited in Californication over the years.  Karma is not retribution; rather, it means that you reap what you sow.  Karma is one of those words that has gained a separate meaning from its actual one, much like "irony" has.
  7. Speaking of, I just finished a binge marathon of Californication Season 6.  So thankful that Netflix sent the two discs in the same turn, rather than split them.  So thankful Californication is just a 30-minute-slot show; to do Breaking Bad marathons was much tougher.
  8. T-Mo's been on a roll lately.  Today they've made the move to eliminate overage charges by moving all plans and customers to unlimited minutes / texts /data, with no change in pricing.  Of course the data is not really unlimited, as the caps are still in place, but that your speeds are slowed down.
  9. I logged into My Adobe and was presented with the requirement that I check on the box indicating that I had read the updated terms of agreement.  So I started checking out the terms in the little box, but after scrolling a bit, I realized this was no meager terms.  I copied and pasted it out in a word document and it came out to 20 pages.  I call this the WTF moment: When you realize that a company is trying to throw you off from recognizing major legal changes to their terms by dumping boatloads of legalese on you in hopes that your eyes will glaze over and you'll just hit the "I read these terms and understood them" button, even though you've done no such thing.  Pure evil.
  10. I've had enough of the Heartbleed Bug, how about you?  Well, suck it up junior, because you have to change some of your passwords.  First though, you'll have to check with this SSL / certificate checker.  The key here is to look carefully at the date of when the certificate was issued, despite the site telling you that a given website is safe.  You see, if the certificate hasn't been updated since last week and the domain gets a passing grade, then you truly don't need to update your password, but in all other cases you will.  I don't blame you if your eyes roll to the back of your head...I have 99 passwords to parse through (I track all of my accounts) and my eyeballs rolled 360 degrees before falling out; thankfully my eyeballs are attached.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nearly witnessed breaking and entering in the Pearl.

How strange that on the heels of cleaning up old witness subpoena papers (and writing about it) last week from an incident occurring last year, early this morning -- just before 1:00 am -- I essentially came across a breaking and entering scene downstairs in my building.

I was walking the dog back from a short walk when I thought I saw some odd behavior a block away near my building.  Three people all wearing dark clothes and appearing to carry bags of different sizes, looked like they were jostling around near my building before walking away from my direction.

Sure enough, when I got up to my building, I could plainly see the shattered glass door and a glass mannequin head on the sidewalk.  I was sure that this trio was responsible, and started following them as I called the police.  Not wanting to be a vigilante, I stayed a full block behind them while talking directions and descriptions of the suspects with the 911 operator.  (Of course it's hard to describe what people look like from a block away at night with these lousy HPS lights.  As soon as the City of Portland switches to 4500K LED lights, I won't have to struggle with seeing what's going on a block away at night.)

Oh yeah, these were definitely suspicious people.  They had split up to opposite sides of the street and one had taken an extended look at some parked cars on NW 10th.  They weren't meandering and looking around for nothing.  By the time the police showed up, they cornered two of the people but the third person had split off and it was too late (not enough officers on scene).

Long story short, from what I could gather, these were definitely the people who broke into the business as one offered a lame excuse to the officers -- that they did not see the glass which they walked right through on the sidewalk, but somehow managed to leave an object behind -- and in fact there was evidence left behind.

Now, unfortunately I did not hear or see the break in, but because I was close enough to being there at the right time, and was tracking the trio as they walked away, one of the suspects was arrested on an outstanding warrant.  This fella happened to be carrying a large backpack, and refused to give consent to search his bag.  I'm sure that they're going to find the stolen headphones, once they do get a warrant to open it up, but the issue of probable cause stopped them from holding on to the second suspect, though they did gather that person's information.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Step up silent patrols between 12:30 and 3:30 am and almost all of the property crimes will have been prevented.  This marks THREE TIMES in the last three years that I've come upon a crime while walking the dog or riding my bike, and they've all been within these hours.

20 Thoughts for April 10, 2014

It may look long, but it is not TL; DR; it's all bite-sized, even if a small chunk will fill you up.
  1. Just been too busy with work / (mostly) life to post anything.  
  2. Count on me as your QA tester who will manage to crash the system.  I got to play around with an Oculus Rift last Thursday and, well, someone had to reset it after I found a rift in the time-space continuum.  In my defense, I'd had two free pints of beer by that point and there was zero fear of walking off the cliff and into the water.  In my 
  3. My two cents on how to help the unemployed, especially the long-term unemployed Americans: Let them go to school to boost their skills and bona fides, while paying them to do so.  Despite the rhetoric of conservatives, unemployed folks would prefer to be doing something than doing nothing.
  4. Heartbleed Bug.  It's a significant compromise of Open SSL, allowing anyone with the proper exploitation tool or knowledge to suck and decrypt your data between the server and you / you and the server, which is rather ironic, because if you didn't use https, you wouldn't necessarily be vulnerable directly.  You can sort of test websites if they are currently vulnerable, but the major websites have all generally been rushing to implement fixes and temporary work-arounds, so the test is somewhat less useful at this point.
  5. As a result of the Heartbleed Bug, you're going to have to change nearly all of your passwords, but you must wait until after the service providers have implemented the fixes and updated their digital certificates.  Even with patched up Open SSL, once a hacker has a certificate and the private encryption key for that certificate, they'll be able to read your information.  Therefore new certificates must be issued with new encryption keys before you can reset your passwords.  In the mean time, 2-step authentication prevents hackers from accessing your data from afar.  You have 2-step authentication enabled, don't you?
  6. About cloud storage safety.  You would think that the Heartbleed Bug implies that cloud storage is a bad idea.  In many instances this could be true, but with companies like Tresorit and Spider Oak, there is no practical means of accessing your data without your password, because it relies on client-side encryption.  Therefore, even if Tresorit's / Spider Oak's SSL were compromised for a period of time and unbeknownst to you or them, your data was still safe as the encryption starts and ends on your device.  That's solid shit.
  7. I want to thank my fellow condo neighbors of past, present and future, who have ignored the fact that your oversized vehicles cannot adequately fit within the boundaries of your stalls, and have therefore seized the initiative to ding my doors, bumpers and minimize the clear aisle width of the driveway aisle; without your damage, my otherwise 15,000 mile vehicle would have looked brand new, rather than its 7 years of age.  I want to thank you for your lack of concern for your leaking oil and cooling fluid, and the open flaunting of building rules to keep your shit stored away in the provided lockers, rather than piling them up in the vicinity of your storage locker and stall.  I want to thank you for farting in the elevator and failing to clean up the poop and pee in the hallways and staircases from your lovely dogs.  I want to thank management for not knowing anything about proper construction means and methods, such that you'll schedule painting of doors and frames in the middle of winter and without prepping of the surface, such that after a couple of years the paint is peeling, or schedule concrete sidewalk repairs in the middle of a freezing period, so that we can enjoy the cracked concrete sidewalks in a couple of years.  Truly, a blessing.
  8. This 3D printer's Kickstarter campaign probably blew out some records for achieving goals; initially seeking just $50K, it now sits at $1.4M, and here's why: They propose to make 3D printing about as costly as some higher-end paper home printers, with a remarkable 50 micron minimum print resolution, variable up to 350┬Ám.  I like the proposal, but I'm not sold on filament deposit modeling; I'm still waiting for the wave of laser-sintering 3D printers to come out, following the expiration of some early patents.
  9. I've noticed a major shift at Dell.  Their Dell-branded consumer side laptops no longer have high-end CPUs.  Instead, you either have to buy a Alienware-branded gaming laptop or a business side Precision laptop; either way you're ponying up way more money as a result.  Or you can buy an HP with higher, better specs for less...which is probably where I'm headed for my next laptop.
  10. A GAO audit showed that out of a random selection of 19 tax preparers across the country, 17 made errors.  Which simply goes to show that the tax code is too complicated for even the professionals let alone the average American.
  11. Truly, still the best cookie at Trader Joe's is their Chocolate Hazelnut.  On a slightly similar note, I would like to mourn the passing of a dear cookie: The (~$6 USD) imported maple leaf / syrup cookies from Canada, which used to be stocked at the Dollar Store (and priced at $1 USD) has been MIA for the last several years, now presumed dead; everyone I know misses you.  The ones at TJs really do not compare.
  12. All right, I'll say a few words about Brendan Eich's debacle at Mozilla, makers of Firefox.  All the stuff being written on either side of the issue has apparently forgotten a simple concept: Live and Let Live means tolerance is quid pro quo.  Brendan Eich was actively working to stop his own coworkers from getting married; he didn't have the right to expect others to back off from being critical of his actions.
  13. And no, voting for Barack Obama who was against gay marriage in 2008, does not equate to hypocrisy.  No one gets the perfect candidate; if you understand your own ego, the only perfect candidate is yourself.  Instead, you strategically determine which candidate's values come closest to yours, and what are the consequences for voting for one candidate over the other.  Trying to distill down a vote for Barack Obama in 2008 as hypocrisy is lower than simplistic; it's duality in a pluralistic world.
  14. The rise of the IKEA KALLAX is here; Expedit is truly going buh-bye.  The good news is, all of the accessories for the Expedit works for the KALLAX.
  15. The Portland IKEA is the only place you can get Northwest Clam Chowder in a sourdough bowl; I tried it and love it.  Good only for April, by the way, so get it while it's hot.  At the cafe tables were signs pointing to a really awesome May special: Crab Cakes!  Nom, nom, I'm gettin me some!
  16. Why the heck do touchscreen laptops have touch pads?  I hate touch pads.
  17. Played around with the Chromebooks at Best Buy...there's a tiny Google section set up.  The touch screen on the Acer C720P isn't quite as good as the ones on your tablet,  Chromebooks in general are superbly executed.  Across the line, they're all light in weight, extremely thin, and the basic tools you'd want and need are up front and easily used.  The dream machine however, is not available: A 13"~14" 1920x1080 touch screen.  Cut out the touch pad, to save money.
  18. Every time I handle a Samsung Android tablet, I am impressed with its weight and size.  But the TouchWiz UI, I doth protest.  Having a stock Nexus Android device is truly, the best.
  19. Nope, the ending of Windows XP support does not result in a short-term spike in Windows 8 / 8.1.  Rather, it has resulted in a bump of Windows 7.  You can even see the sudden change the last several days, in GS Statcounter's daily tracking.
  20. Got my hands on a treasure trove of negatives and slides from my pops when he brought them up in a grocery bag, all jumbled.  Sadly, the 6x6 show signs of wear from improper storage, so I dragged him to Pro Photo Supply to grab several hundred archival contact sheet pages to properly store and catalog them.  We're talking photos from the 50s through the 80s...lots of historical photos from my parent's trip to Southern California in the mid-50s.  The plan is to scan them to digital and retouch the best ones, and pop them into a series of photo books and print them onto canvas.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

An Additional 10 Thoughts for April 2, 2014

  1. Amazon took the wraps off its set top all-in-one media box, the Amazon Fire TV.  IDK though, because AIO devices tend to require compromises, and in the case of Amazon, it's once again a curated apps / games ecosystem.  With Chromecast you don't get the same capabilities, but it sure is a lot cheaper over the life of the gadget.
  2. Microsoft just made a major decision to set Windows free in price, for mobile (phones / tablets) and IOT devices.  But the real problem has always been the dang tiles.  I hate those tiles with a passion.  I've mocked them for years as simpleton devices of a more robust information delivery GUI.  You can't turn a Windows Phone / Tablet into a beautiful GUI as you can with Android -- that's what our Windows desktops used to be like.  Well, you can still do that in the W8 desktop environment, but wasn't the point of those tiles UI to drive mobile adoption?  FAIL.
  3. So now, naturally Microsoft brings back the Start button (some 30 months after the first complaints trickled in following the first pre-release), and what do you see in their updated Start menu?  Frigging tiles.  I kid you not, these people are total fools.
  4. CBS 60 Minutes got caught screwing up again.  This time, it's about dubbing in fake motor engine sounds with videos of Tesla's all-electric chassis.  Sad, just sad.
  5. Washington signed DeSean Jackson.  It's a 4-year deal, but the way it was structured, it essentially is a 2-year deal, as dead money = 0 after the second year ($16M total paid out = $16M guaranteed) and clears over $9M in cap space for the remaining two years.  Curious to know what the motivation was, behind this.
  6. More Feds coming to realize that disinflation isn't a good thing.  Slowing of QE may be...slowed.
  7. SCOTUS ruled that Congress cannot limit, in aggregate, how much money one gives to candidates.  Even though this is being played up as a victory by conservatives, as the decision came down to a 5-4 majority split by ideology, past elections have shown that donations and spending is bilateral.  In other words, get ready for the rise of the progressive technie.
  8. I'm wondering why Chromebooks don't have detachable keyboards.  If you think about it, a screen that is a distillation of a browser window, should be usable as a touch-enabled tablet.
  9. That earthquake in Chile triggered a tsunami that reached Hawai'i.  The biggest wave reached Hilo, at 1.9'.  That 1.9' tall wave (above normal surface level and not trough to crest), is not like a tidal wave, as a 1.9' tsunami means that the water just keep coming and coming with very long periods measured in minutes whereas the tidal wave has extremely short periods of just a few seconds
  10. You know, someone really screwed up at the Archdiocese of Portland.  Over a hundred people associated with them have had their personal information stolen and used to file fraudulent IRS returns.  Which brings me back to why I was very upset with my friend the other year, when she used an online service to issue my W-2.  Once a company has your SSN, there is now one more point of vulnerability waiting to be attacked.  EVERYONE says that they have solid security practices.  Bullshit.  The only safe system is one that is fully isolated.

10 Thoughts for April 2, 2014

  1. Over 7 inches of rain in March in Portland, making up for a dismal start of the water calendar.  Mudslides galore.  At least this morning it's nice outside, even if chilly (39F) -- what they would call tropical right now in Buffalo and Toronto.
  2. Now that we've passed the ACA open enrollment deadline, I thought it good to remind ourselves that insurance is a collectivist-based program.  When you hear or read conservatives complain about the cost of health insurance, it makes one wonder why they care at all, since Ayn Rand would have been adamantly against such collectivist programs to share societal costs between the sick and the healthy.
  3. We're not going to know the precise details of how many previously uninsured people signed up for health insurance for a couple of weeks.  Nonetheless, the first words out of conservatives' mouths: the numbers were cooked.  Sure sounds familiar.  Jobs numbers come in good?  Must be cooked!
  4. Speaking of numbers, the ADP Employment Report was released showing 191,000 gain in employment for March.  When the BLS releases their numbers this Friday, we'll have a better idea of what's going on, but right now it looks like we're seeing a surge in hiring following the polar plunge this Winter.
  5. The media is reporting about the IPCC's study and how the narrative includes getting nations prepared for dealing with the effects.  For the last few years I've been thinking that that we've passed the rubicon of climate change and we're well on our way towards some really bad consequences.  CO2 and other certain greenhouse gases stay in the upper atmosphere a very long time, such that we're probably a decade too late.
  6. I read this issue of DMCA searches on your Dropbox files.  Not entirely unexpected, as this is the sort of thing that has been going on for some time now.  But the way you put an end to these types of intrusive searches is to use strong client-side encryption where only you have the key.  No company will be able to preemptively search your files to find potentially illegal content; if a subpoena comes your way, forcing you to provide the key, you'd want to hire a lawyer to dissect the probable cause assertion, since no one would have been able to casually look at your stored content.
  7. I came across this today, and it describes the very thing I've told many people for a very long time: No matter what you think, if you're not on the inside, you're on the outside and are permanently disadvantaged.  That info you read online was released to insiders before you had a chance to read it.  The cute little analysis you've done off financial data was already automated via XML releases, allowing the insiders to know what was going on long before you could sit down in front of your computer.  The advice a broker is giving you, is days or weeks old.  The insiders have their own insiders, and you're just a casual outsider wanting to run with the bulls.  You built your own analysis algorithm that is successful, but guess what, those insiders have quants who earn their money beating your algorithms, then rewriting them over and over to stay ahead of we, outsiders.  It's an arms race and outsiders are permanently disadvantaged; if this wasn't so, then having connections on Wall Street would be a pointless and expensive waste of capital.
  8. Alabama's Nick Saban is either genius or wildly nuts.  Upon hiring Lane Kiffin earlier this year, he's now hired Tosh Lupoi.  Both are considered talented coaches on offense and defense, respectively, though not without controversy.
  9. Blackberry, what art thou thinking, with severing distribution ties to T-Mobile in the US, along with further cost-cutting measures in the distribution channel?  Coming on the heels of selling your own building, factories and slashing payrolls, it almost seems as though you've got your own little Chainsaw Al up there in Toronto, eh?
  10. Finally, Paul Ryan showed off his Sparkling, Neo-New, This Time it's Different Because it's Newish, Path to Prosperity budget plan.  With all of the same devices of deception from his prior budget plans, of course, but doubling down on slashing spending on the poor (Medicaid), elderly (Medicare and Social Security) and the middle class (ACA) coupled with better (re: lower) tax rates for the rich.  Ha.