Thursday, July 2, 2015

July 2015 - Favorite shows.

I stream a lot of shows online, typically via Hulu but sometimes through Viki or some other -- legal -- site. Here are my favorite shows right now:
  • Bitter Blood (Partners by Blood). Just the show's intro is worth it, from its sequencing and the song they used. Love that song; it's totally badass. The show's name, Partner's by Blood, is sort of a bad translation; Bitter Blood is more appropriate because bitter ice coffee is used as a metaphor for blood relations. Hilarious show, but just 11 episodes and one season, sad to say.
  • Doctor X, the second season. If you haven't watched the first season, the second season builds on the first. It's just as entertaining and hilarious as Dr. House, but no cynicism.
  • Assassination Classroom. This anime proved so wildly popular, they've made it into a live action film that debuted earlier this year. Koro-sensei is an extraterrestrial squid, and one that is full of surprises.
  • Empresses in the Palace. A historical piece that is just 6 episodes (each is about 1 1/2 hours), but is absolutely fabulous. The color, the spectacular authenticity and acting makes this show a lot of fun to watch.
This one is on the edge between okay and worth watching:
  • Switch Girl! I love this show because it's absolutely laugh out loud funny and silly. But the problem is, it's a love-story comedy genre that has been well-tread, of late, especially if you watch K-Drama. You know the story line: Girl falls in love with boy, has difficulty getting boy but gets him anyway, and in return boy must fend off other boys from getting his girl. If that sounds familiar, it's because every other love-story comedy coming out of Japan or Korea uses it.
As for shows that I'm not streaming (aka discs in my Netflix queue) this is what I'm watching in July:
  • Rick and Morty, season 1. If you saw their opening sequence during the Simpsons this past year, you might know why this show is worth watching. You can stream some of the episodes for free, but you can't watch the entire season 1 on Adult Swim unless you are able to log in with a cable provider.
  • House of Cards, season 3. Discs start shipping next week...guess what's at the top of my queue?
  • Penny Dreadful, season 1. It's a really disturbing show -- the first two episodes were included in disc 2 of Californication's final season -- nearly X-Files-ish, which of course means that I have to watch it!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Alaska's on fire.

It's July 1st, and there are 297 active fires in Alaska. So far this year, Alaska has had 617 fires with over 1.8M acres burned. How bad is it? It's so bad, they've had to demobilize some active fires, to work on more critical ones. Yikes.

The worst fire year on record, was 2004, with 6.6M acres burned, followed by 2005, with 4.6M acres burned. This year looks like it'll crush that record, seeing as there are 297 active fires right now.

If that wasn't bad enough, Alaska's temperature increase over the last 60 years has doubled the global average; it's a vicious feedback loop.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Got Google Music?

Since last week's move to offer free, ad-supported radio streaming, I've been enjoying dozens of hours of listening of Google Music's radio. After spending about 15 minutes of providing input on musical tastes (selecting artists) Google Music threw out a bunch of curated (from Songza) stations to stream. Here are my favorites that I've added to my personal library:

Jazz for Reading -- Down tempo jazz for chilling out. I use it as background music for doing anything and everything. Seems like it'd be perfect for a cafe, too.

Lazy Summer Radio -- This one features 60s and 70s mellow tunes, but not exclusively. It's perfect for Sunday mornings in the summer.

Celebrate Good Times! Radio -- It's a collection of classic party tunes, centered in the 70s through the 90s.

Bust a Move Radio -- Club dance music classics from the 80s on forward. Skip the DJ and just stream this station into your loudspeaker.

Arthur Lyman Radio -- If I need to explain who Arthur Lyman is, you're not hip enough to appreciate this sort of lounge music that goes well with tiki torches.

The Crystal Method Radio -- Love Crystal Method and electronic.

Bon Bon Radio -- This one is a lot of fun. If you can understand Pitbull, Far East Movement and The Black Eyed Peas mashed up, then you'll appreciate this station. Lots of energy.

If you've noticed, there's no classical radio station in my list. Their classical listings are tougher to figure out. 

I don't really want to listen to a station mixing Debussy and Beethoven -- talk about mixed periods and emotions. If I want symphonic band music and search for Frederick Fennell, I get a hodge podge of stuff from his studio orchestra days mixed in.

Heck, they don't even have a station dedicated to classical music for Halloween; who doesn't want a station with O Fortuna (from Carmina Burana) mixed with Night on Bald Mountain, George Crumb's Black Angels, Bach's Toccata and Fugue and Dream of the Night of the Sabbath from Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique?

Well, I made my own YouTube playlist, called the Classical Halloween. :D

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Aurora watching in Portland.

I probably drove out an hour too late, trying to scrounge up my wireless remote shutter release. I got out to Sauvie Island around 1:45 am; it's all about the adventure, right? Instead of going straight off the bridge, I instead turned left to make a loop, just so that I could drive along the section of the island that was flat and all farmland, hoping to see if the lights were bright enough to view. Instead, I got treated to two deer grazing off to the side of the road and a jack rabbit running across.

Finally, I reached the spot that I more or less figured I'd settle in on, and take some photos. It's normally a bird sanctuary viewing spot, but it happens to be one of the rare areas on the island with an actual area to park your car, when the park section is closed. Never mind that, apparently across the street is a home with three or four dogs, and won't stop barking if they think you're out there.

Anyway, I set up the gear, and settled in to take some photos, only problem is, it was still too bright in the sky to actually see anything. Or so I thought.

You've seen photos of auroras. What I actually experienced while being in an area still too close to town to be really dark, was a handful of shimmering flashes of a tiny wave of light. There was no possible means of capturing that flash of light waves, as they were too short and too dim. Instead, I had to adjust from 1600 ISO to 6400 ISO, and did longer exposures, in the range of a minute to nearly five minutes. It was only then that I could see, that in fact there was a faint aurora visible, in the purple - pink range.

Another cool thing I found out, was that I was pointed towards the north star, as the longest exposure -- 5 minutes -- showed the rotation around it.

Anyway, long story short, I did capture some tiny part of the aurora, and probably could have done better if I had taken the time to drive out to Mt. Hood or Mt. St. Helen areas, but hey, now I know what it takes to capture the aurora on camera.

If you want to see higher resolution photos (medium resolution, not the highest setting) you can check them out in my Flickr album.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Huge opportunity for aurora sighting, June 22, 2015.

In the next few hours, you're definitely going to want to go outside and check out the skies above Portland Oregon, as a very strong geomagnetic storm is in progress and at its peak, at the right time: NOW. And since it's clear, we're talking perfect opportunity!

If you're anywhere in Canada, stick your head out of the window!

Monday, June 15, 2015

The difference between Android Pay and Google Wallet.

Ever since the announcement of Android Pay, it has stuck in my crawl that people somehow think that Android Pay is Google's response to Apple Pay. Even the tech media keeps repeating the same line, that somehow Android Pay is Google's answer to Apple Pay.

Google Wallet has been available for the last three years, and the only differences between Android Pay and Google Wallet, is that Google has decided to change the API to its payment system and isolate fund transfers to its Wallet. Before Android Pay, apps had access to Google Wallet API; take for instance Newegg.

On the desktop, Newegg's checkout allows you to use your Google Wallet.
And on its mobile app from the Play Store, you can use Google Wallet to pay for your cart.
In both cases I'm purchasing a set of 2x8GB DDR3 1600Mhz RAM. With the mobile app, the discount code was automatically applied, whereas the desktop website did not. The takeaway here, is that contrary to any BS you might have read elsewhere, apps and websites alike already had a Google Wallet API to use.

So why the change in the API?

With Apple Pay, your financial institution must support Apple Pay; with Google Wallet, you can add anyone's credit or debit card or bank account, period. It goes back to how Apple Pay is set up to make those wireless payments, via tokenization, whereas Google Wallet issues a temporary card number for each transaction.

In moving from Google Wallet to Android Pay, instead of relying on a temporary card number for each transaction, Android Pay will go the route of Apple Pay, and use tokenization, thus requiring the support of each financial institution.

At this point, I can only offer speculation as to why Google would want to limit its ecosystem to financial institutions who support Android Pay, but it appears that it was a concession of sorts, in order to shut down Isis / Softcard, when Google bought them out. I obviously think that it's a bad idea to require the support of institutions when you can bypass them, and according to the WSJ, those institutions (Visa / MC) are using their heft to block Google from getting a cut in the share of the mobile payment transaction fees.

In other words, Google got PWND by the system, and we're about to get a lame (re: Apple) payment system, where you'll have to wait to participate, if you use a credit union or regional bank.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

10 Thoughts for June 11, 2015

  1. You must absolutely read this story about the independent reporter, whose work and actions were at the center of how the FBI was able to shake the FIFA tree. This is what Journalism really is about. Of course, there's also John Oliver, whose public takedown of FIFA was so impressive and popular, one can't help but give him some credit for Sepp Blatter's resignation.
  2. Test your ears. Out of the six samples, I was able to correctly identify four as the uncompressed track, and the other two were 320Kbps. I can pick out the 128 Kbps samples, fairly easily; it's the 320Kbps and uncompressed ones that are much more difficult to discern. I archived my CDs into uncompressed FLAC, but most of the time I'm streaming my library -- via Google Music -- at 320Kbps.
  3. Stories like this one, are why you can't trust what the news media often says. What the US Office of Personnel Management had was a breach; what the IRS experienced was fraud. The two are not similar. One can be resolved fairly quickly with much fewer repercussions, while the other is going to stick around for a very long time.
  4. Over a month ago, my mother didn't know which was she was going to vote on the NEE buyout of HEI. I told her that either way, she should sell half her stock to lock in the gains that came with the initial buyout announcement. This way, if the buyout failed, she would have realized a profit that could then buy new shares at the lowered price, and if the buyout succeeded, the share price would only increase to roughly the buyout price, allowing her to get buy the shares back with a modest cost. I don't think she paid any attention to my advice, though. Well, the turnout for the vote was poor, and they failed to meet the minimum stock buyout vote required, so they extended the voting period, and finally got shareholder approval. Exactly as I said, there was no jump in the stock price as the buyout offer was pretty much the cap on the stock price.
  5. I saw this one morning this week and thought to myself, why didn't someone locate the overflow downspout at the column? Locating it over a window just seems like asking for trouble. But also, notice how the downspout could have had a chain attached to it, to flow into the hanging basket? Two stones.
  6. Sticking with photos, have you ever seen up close, the flowering dogwood's flower? Very fascinating structure, I think -- it's like a bunch of flowers within a flower.
  7. I thought that I had fixed my Nexus 5 battery issues; apparently not. The camera-battery flaw remains with me, but now, instead of shutting down and showing roughly 4% battery left, it now shuts down and won't allow me to restart without first plugging it into a power source. The other day it just shut down, and when I plugged it back in, I had well over 80% battery left. So you're going to laugh: The makeshift solution is to carry a portable (external) battery pack to plug in, just so that I can reboot while outside. I bought (and received today) a Motorola P893 Portable Battery Pack. It works out fairly well for me, because it means that I can recharge my headset on the go, too.
  8. So, the Mi store finally had things in stock, available for purchase. And so I thought I'd try to put stuff in my cart and see how much the shipping would cost. My eyes nearly popped out. For the two items in my cart which totaled $94, the shipping was $41! I then removed one item -- the Mi headphones -- and kept just the Mi Band, which cost $14.99, but then I checked the shipping and the shipping was *more*, at $15.99! Yikes...I tossed out the Mi Band and logged out. If you're charging more for shipping than the item you're selling, you've got logistics issues and need to open a physical warehouse in the US so that you can ship in bulk.
  9. The USPS main office in downtown Portland has curtailed its PO Box counter hours to standard working hours, which means that if you work normal hours, you have very tiny windows to grab any package they're holding onto. Suddenly, having a PO Box at this branch seems worth a lot less than what I've paid for, yet the prices have increased.
  10. One of the things I bought (and just received) in the past few weeks, was this Aukey Portable Wireless Bluetooth 3.0. It's a receiver you can attach to your car stereo, or speaker, or headphones; in other words, it's versatile. I'm using it to connect my desktop and other devices to my AV stereo, so that I can listen without having to use my Chromecast which would require having the TV on. Less power use, greater flexibility, given that I can do it without an internet connection.