Tuesday, April 22, 2014

10 Thoughts for April 21, 2014

  1. I've been on a tear lately, ordering small things from Amazon.  US Postal Service has done an excellent job of getting two packages delivered to Hawai'i before Amazon's shipping window even opened up.  DHL, not so much.  Sadly, DHL's shipping protocols required that it send my package to its Auburn, WA facility, then transferred to the USPS, and now on its way down in a truck to Portland.  If the package had been sent directly through USPS it would have arrived Saturday as was the case with the package that arrived in Hawai'i on Saturday.
  2. Make no mistake about it, Russia is trying to undermine Ukraine.  All that Russian subterfuge may eventually result in blowback from China, one might expect.  China, after all, would be upset if the US were using military inside of Hong Kong trying to undermine Beijing, right?
  3. Speaking of which, Crimea is apparently finding the transition a lot tougher and scarier than simply changing countries overnight.  
  4. Portland truly is weird.  Why just the other week people got upset with the City's water manager's decision to dump 38M gallons of water because a guy peed into the reservoir.  So in Portland it's okay to pee in the drinking water, but no way is fluoride allowed.  So of course, I asked the question online at many sites: What concentration of human pee is acceptable?  Extrapolated, the EPA says it's okay for 166,666 people to pee into the reservoir every 40 days.  So maybe the answer is to have 166,665 people pee into the reservoir every 40 days, to save the 1.5 gallons per flush, per pee session, until the 38M gallons are recovered.  Maybe we should allow swimming, too.
  5. Check out these concealed drawer slides.  Way cool stuff.
  6. Seattle Seahawks traded a 2014 7th round pick to Oakland for Terrelle Pryor.  I don't get it.  Carroll beat Pryor's Buckeyes in the Horseshoe in 2009 with a true freshman starting in his first road game in college.  Pryor can sometimes throw ducks under pressure (though nothing as bad as Tim Tebow).  Then there's the way he weaseled his way out of punishment for his NCAA violations, by promising to return for his senior year to sit out the first 5 games in return for being allowed to play in his bowl game, only to make a swift exit thereafter when the full extent of his violations were publicized. And finally, let's not forget that he had to take the Wonderlic score multiple times.
  7. Speaking of USC and Pete Carroll, to this day I still believe that 2008 defense was one of college football's finest: Fili Moala, Christian Tupou, Everson Griffen, Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Kaluka Maiava, Clay Matthews, Taylor Mays, Kevin Ellison, Kevin Thomas, Shareece Wright, Michael Morgan.  That team had 3 shutouts and 3 games with just a field goal allowed.  Quarterbacks feared Maualuga.
  8. The National Science Foundation issued its Science and Engineering Indicators 2014 report, and it has gained some buzz.  Particularly, that just 48% of Americans believe in evolution and that just 39% believe in the Big Bang.  But it turns out, Russians fared worse, with only 44% believing in evolution and just 35% believing in the Big Bang.  It's worth noting that the number of Americans in 1992 who believed in the Big Bang was the same as today, so intellectually we're not getting worse.
  9. One hilarious -- yet extremely sad -- portion of the NSF's report, reveals that just 47% of Americans and EU residents understand that lasers do not utilize sound waves...and that was the highest rate among the group of 8 peers (US, EU, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea)!
  10. Surprisingly not an easy quiz question: How long does it take for the Earth to make one full revolution around the Sun?  In 2000 -- the last year they asked this question -- only about half of Americans polled got this right.
  11. Netflix is going to raise prices in the next few months on new subscribers in the US.  When there is stiff competition, margins shrink and prices drop; when there is limited competition, margins grow and prices increase.  Guess where Netflix is.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

20 Thoughts for April 20, 2014

  1. Again?  Aaron Brothers / Michaels got hit twice in three years by hackers making off with customer data.  Sound familiar?  Target was hit twice, too.  My theory is, that companies which started out as brick and mortar have little understanding or adequate levels of fear of getting hacked and having their data leaked through the internet.  The exception are electronics purveyors whose own employees are thoroughly steeped in the ease by which connectedness leads to leaking data.
  2. German multimedia oligarch complains that Google has too much control; seemingly ignores the vastness of its 230 magazines and newspapers, and 80 online properties it owns and operates.  I chalk this up to old Europe's ego, else Herr Döpfner is going against his own company's corporate ethos of supporting a free social market economy.  Really, here he is complaining about Google's reach, and yet his own company is looking for global expansion to become a "MARKET LEADER".  Hey, nevermind that Axel Springer owns 70% of the publications Germans read, right?
  3. Went to testify before a grand jury on Thursday on what I saw last week at ~12:45am, when I had called 911 to report a break-in and three suspicious people.  I even brought a printed set of timeline notes to give to the prosecutor.  It turns out that the only person they ended up taking into custody (because he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest) admitted that he was responsible for the break-in.  That night when they stopped and questioned him, he was caught in a handful of lies and contradicted himself.  Following his admission, a search of his bag turned up two of the stolen headphones.  Busted.  Only problem is, he's a homeless adult and casually joked about his situation; as soon as he's released he's going to commit the same crimes over and over again.
  4. Success!  I used my Nexus 5 as a WiFi hotspot for my Nexus 7 at LTE speeds!
  5. Speaking of my Nexus 5, the updated camera app's blur function works spectacularly.  It took a moment to get used to the new interface, though.  The camera seems to work better overall, too.
  6. Speaking of my Nexus 5, that night of the lunar eclipse, I tried taking photographs of the moon with my phone, through my telescope.  Didn't work well enough to justify fumbling around with it.
  7. Portland is one step closer to becoming a Google Fiber community.  The City has signed a franchise agreement with "Google Fiber Oregon, LLC". Excited!
  8. Yay, Russia agrees to take things down a notch!  But wait, I thought that Putin told us that they had zero involvement in Ukraine?  How can you agree to do something that involves movement of troops away from the border, if you told us beforehand that you didn't have any troops at the border?  Hmm...
  9. But wait a minute.  Both sides are using the same words -- that property must be returned to rightful owners and illegally armed groups must stand down.  However, Russia thinks the US is referring to Ukrainian national forces and its allies, while the US thinks Russia is referring to Russian troops and pro-Russian militants.  Looks like they're agreeing that the other side has to disarm and stop threats.
  10. I had to laugh hard when I saw that Putin had said that Russia doesn't spy on its own citizens and that it doesn't have the same global spying capabilities as the US.  My eyes rolled back so much, I think I saw my brain.  Lest we forget, Russia covertly released embarrassing recordings of a US ambassador's conversations.  Or how do you suppose Russia knows where US satellites are?
  11. How polluted are Chinese cities?  VERY.  As in 9x as much as the dirtiest US cities.  Cough, cough.
  12. Some great news for Oregon.  Year over year, the unemployment rate in March dropped from 8.0% to 6.9% and 46,300 people were newly employed.  The only other states which performed better (as a percentage of employment gains) were Florida, Nevada and Texas.
  13. I haven't been watching much live TV lately.  Instead, I've been relying on Hulu to catch up.  One great series on Hulu: Cosmos.  The reboot of Carl Sagan's old show is spectacular!
  14. The other week I completed the Breaking Bad marathon, and with time I've been able to gather my thoughts about the show.  I think everyone watching the show expected Heisenberg to become a bad ass.  Every marketing image of Breaking Bad implied it.  But the most accurate image of Walter White would be that of the very first episode, with Walt in his tighty whitey and gas mask, driving the motor home in a panic.  The entirety of the show is about Walt tending to his ego which only gets him into trouble and committing some horrendous act to get out of trouble.  He begins to split into two personas with Heisenberg triggered by his ego then back to Walter White when his son comes into his mind.  If you think about it, we're all Walter White.
  15. Best bread-dipping sauce: a dip of TJ's pesto mixed into a couple of tablespoons of good olive oil -- I used TJ's Sicilian.
  16. Speaking of olive oil, I bought a small bottle of Napoleon olive oil about a month ago while at Safeway...I now understand what high acid olive oil tastes like.  Yuk.  I'm keeping it for cooking only.
  17. In Jackson Hole Wyoming, a creeping landslide is making its way down, having accelerated this past month (although acceleration in this case refers to going from inches to a few feet per day).  Having advanced notice that there's an active landslide, someone -- Tributary Environmental -- has been taking aerial photos for the last few days, showing the movement.  Considering that residents have been ordered evacuated, you should just enjoy the amazing aerial photos of nature having its way.  You're not going to find better photos from anywhere else.
  18. Had a scruffy kid on a cheap red bike with a ribbed white tank top and baby-blue bandanna covering half his face ask if he could use my phone to call his girlfriend.  Uh huh...anything else you want to borrow?  My keys?  Maybe my headphones?
  19. Oh, and Happy Easter!  (Pssst...it's my spring cleaning week.)
  20. Which by the way, happens to be my father's birthday today.  Happy Birthday old guy who doesn't want to learn to use the computer and therefore can't read this!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

10 Thoughts for April 16, 2014 (The Day After)

  1. I'm taking this one with a grain of salt, but after talking with T-Mobile's customer service, it appears that with the shift to zero overages, my grandfathered plan means that I'll have unlimited data, 100% unthrottled!  So if accurate, I'll be paying $15 less per month than T-Mobile's comparable unlimited everything...all at LTE speeds!  HOLY COW!!!
  2. Here's my LTE speed on T-Mobile at 2:45 in the afternoon in Portland:  36.31Mbps download / 11.50Mbps upload.  (At 4:29 am, it was 36.85Mpbs download / 15.29Mbps upload.) I own a fully unlocked Nexus 5 that can be used as a WiFi hotspot for my other devices.  HOLY COW, unlimited LTE data on all my mobile devices via WiFi, anywhere within T-Mo's LTE coverage!!!
  3. I've been sitting on this refurbished Acer C720P Chromebook for a month now.  I thought I'd share it with you, because it's one of the only touch-screen Chromebooks out there, and it's got decent specs under the hood making it worthwhile.  There are just two drawbacks: I know that new Chromebooks with lower power Haswells (good for true, all-day long use) are just on the horizon, and the screen in these Acer Chromebooks are TN, not IPS, which means that you won't have the greatest viewing angles as most tablets these days.
  4. Don't buy those under-$100 film scanners that save images to an SD card.  You will regret wasting the time to scan your film, only to discover that the quality is so bad that you need to spend an extraordinary amount of time retouching them in Photoshop or equivalent photo software and that they're too low of a resolution to be usable for big prints.  Instead, spend a little more and get a flatbed scanner that can do film.  This Epson Perfection V500 is what I have, and it's an older model now (going back 6 years ago when it was first purchased).  The difference in quality is unmistakable.
  5. I've noticed of late, that many items stocked at Amazon (by third-party sellers) have free or cheap shipping that surpasses Amazon's free shipping pricing.  The difference of course is that one doesn't have to meet Amazon's $35 minimum to get those items shipped for free or cheaply.  Why, in just the last 7 days I've already made three separate purchases.
  6. It's already happened: Russia's economy has taken a tumble with GDP shrinking 0.5% from the previous quarter.  Along with Russia's recent actions, it's probably safe to say that Russia will officially enter a recession, with a capital flight ($64B flight in first 3 months of 2014) nearing equal to the 1998 Russian currency crisis.
  7. If Putin invades sovereign land to turn it Russian, a war will break out and Russia will suffer steep consequences for it.  The only country in denial over this is Russia.  An interesting thing I've observed: Russian inflation has been sitting well above 6.0% for the last two years, and was clocked at 6.9% for last month, this despite slowing GDP, an outflow of capital and a 34% decline in Russia's BoP net-surplus.  Stagnant economy with high inflation...where have I seen that before?  In fact, Russia was facing stagflation fears before the Ukraine crisis.  The current and future expansion of economic sanctions should tilt Russia further into stagflation.  Last month Russia's central bank pushed its key rate up from 5.5% to 7.0%, probably as an acknowledgement that stagflation was a threat.
  8. I swear, I will eventually tackle Picketty's tome on 21st century economics and economic disparity.  But the cost and length is pushing me to procrastinate on getting it until Summer or so, when I have more time to casually read.
  9. Construction is nearing an end.  I'll take better pictures when it's done.  Until then, enjoy ... some ... photos.
  10. That landmark deal with Iran to reduce its capacity of near-nuclear weapons grade in exchange for lowering of sanctions, is working. That's not to say that US-Iran relations are free from friction, but that Israel has less to complain about, when it comes to how the US is dealing with Iran as an existential threat.
PS. Technically it's April 17, but the post started on the 16th and was intended to be finished on the 16th.  But I unexpectedly fell asleep early evening and woke up early morning to complete it.

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.