Saturday, September 28, 2013

Do you know what you want?

It comes to mind that there are something like 300 million people in America. And by America, I mean the United States of America. And it's truly amazing to me how many people in D.C. "know" what all of America wants. I mean, really, there are six people in my (immediate) family, and sometimes it's just four of us going for lunch after church, and between the four of us we often have six or seven opinions on what we want for lunch. Rarely do we have a unanimous desire, or even a 75% consensus, and yet some guy or another in Washington claims to know "what Americans wants" on numerous issues. I don't know about you, but he didn't call my house to ask. (In fact, the only time I've had a call in the last decade or so asking my opinion on anything, it wasn't the opinion that was later trumpeted as "what America wants" on TV or in the news.) So, instead of saying something is what I want, maybe ask? Or quote a survey or something, and be sure the survey is actually representative of America? Or consider that perhaps the representatives in the House, the ones elected by Americans, have some idea of what Americans want. And, it's probably not a unanimous decision, so don't act like it is.

Take, for instance, this: the US budget is not balanced. We spend more than we bring in. (And I'm not suggesting we should bring in more; we should spend less, much less- our government is too big, way too big!) And what do we spend money on? Well, among other things, Pakistani student scholarships. Now, I have kids in school (two at the time of the events in that article, and I'm talking college here). And I pay taxes. And my taxes, among other things, paid for scholarships for Pakistani students, while the government, and my taxes, didn't give any scholarships to my kids. Loans, yes, we received federal loans, but no scholarships, and the loans didn't even come close to paying the school expenses, not even for the one at South Alabama, one of the least expensive schools in Alabama. So, I pay my taxes, which provide scholarships for foreign students, and I pay for my own kids' college, while the US, which is taking my tax money, goes even more in debt providing those foreign students education.

Something just isn't right here. Let's take care of our own people first, and then, from any excess, offer aid to the rest of the world. Don't give scholarships to foreign students when we can't afford or budget and aren't even offering scholarships to our own students. And that's certainly not how I want my tax money spent.

And don't say that you know what Americans want, especially when there are multiple, conflicting statements of "what Americans want."

So, in other news, I think I need to start keeping my trash in my son's room. The other night he was complaining about its smell, and I suggested we should just keep it in his room so he'll adapt to the smell and the rest of the world will be like a breath of fresh air to him. (I think we had some chicken parts in the trash that night that had started to stink.)

Also, I'm a little less enamored with the Galaxy S4 battery life, which seems to last till about now instead of a day and a half. Not sure if perhaps adding the Android device manager to my system settings has caused it; Google services is the largest culprit outside of the screen for battery consumption. Maybe some additional use of gps for location services is to blame (for the lost or stolen device thing). Whatever, other than that, and sometimes the keyboard (which may be more due to the Zagg screen protector), still pretty much liking the S4.

Later, America!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


A few old vehicle-related posts that I wanted to bring up again:

And, by way of update to the "all my vehicles" post, here are the vehicles owned since that was originally posted, the "all my vehicles addendum":
  • 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan - unused vehicle of my in-laws, I drove for a month or so before trading for the next two cars on the list
  • 2001 Hyundai XG-300 with only 40-something thousand miles on it - originally my daughter's car, I drove it for a while when we got her a new one later
  • 2002 Kia Optima - I drove for a while, then it became my son's first car (which he backed into a brick mailbox at one point, knocking over the mailbox); this later became my car (when we got him a newer one) for a while before it was traded on my wife's current car
  • 1994 Cadillac Deville (multi-way trade, this came from my grandmother, no longer driving, through my brother and parents, where my brother ended up with an older Odyssey and my parents got a newer Odyssey, with the sometime-functional Lexus being traded on the newer Odyssey) - two months into ownership the transmission went out
  • 2003 BMW 525i (5-speed manual) w/ Sport Package - fantastic car I got from my dad (picture here) until it uncharacteristically blew up its engine
  • 2010 Kia Forte (sedan) - bought for my daughter (traded the Deville - with the bad tranny - on it)
  • 2012 Chevy Cruze - bought (w/ help from in-laws) for my oldest son
  • 2012 Kia Forte (hatchback) - wife's current car (she liked the Forte we got my daughter so much she wanted her own when we talked about getting her out of the Sedona, which was getting 16mpg for most of her "one or three people" driving)
I think that's the tally since the "all my vehicles" post went up. We're also looking at a 2001 Civic as a possibility for my 2nd son's first car.  It's being looked at by a mechanic friend of mine at the moment, but there's a very good chance that we'll end up having the major repairs done and buying it from him/his shop. We need to do something, since he has a license but no car to drive him and his brother to/from school, meaning we end up doing transportation duties, with the 67 Mustang being used for after school pickup several days per week (while the wife's working). I don't mind doing that, but it really needs some brake work (and probably suspension refreshing, too)... sometimes it's scary to drive.

Maybe there'll be a more interesting post (like "why I think I need to put all my garbage in my son's bedroom from now on") in the next day or two. Till then... a topato!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Tech and Space Post

Found a nice magazine on Flipboard that's the inspiration for a lot of this post, but before I get to that, check this out: 

That's ... well, it's a little weird, of course, but it's kind of cool in that I didn't actually take "that" photo. I took the several images that comprise that photo, and after Google Plus automatically uploaded my photos after taking them, it also created what it calls "#autoawesome" - that is, it automagically (sorry, I don't really like that word; it automatically, like magic) converted the several static images into a motion GIF version, which made Ronnie look like he's dancing. In fact, the several images weren't even "in a row" - there were two separate sets of images taken, but they were close enough in composition that Google Plus automagically (argh! sorry again!) made them into a motion photo. Kind of cool (if a little scary, sort of like how Picasa photo albums, several years ago, did a pretty decent job of automatically suggesting tags of people for your photos, and got smarter the more you tagged people; Facebook has this sort of functionality now, suggesting tags for photos you upload).

So, onto more of the tech post, with stuff stumbled upon through Flipboard. I still like Flipboard - it's a quick look at things that might interest me, and I can quickly decide whether to look more in depth at an article or not. And it brings up great articles like these:

Star of the week: Fomalhaut had first visible exoplanet. Did you catch that? Visible planet (known as Fomalhaut b). Not just an inferred planet (based on dips in luminosity of the host star when the planet traverses the face of the star, coming between the star and our viewpoint from the earth), but actually visible to the eye in photographic images! Check out this photo, which shows the planet (in the inset image):

I've always been fascinated by space (I was one of those kids who wanted to be an astronaut; my experience at Space Camp was awesome, and somewhere or other I still have a Space Shuttle Operator's Manual, probably in my storage unit with lots of other boxed-up books). This is really cool. And, if you look south in the sky at night, you can actually see the star itself, knowing that it has a planet orbiting it, a planet that's now been seen in photographic evidence.

In other news, a tech breakthrough that parents will rejoice about: you know how when you go to visit family at Christmas or kid's birthday, and someone gets the child an awesome little toy that makes lots of neat noises and quickly gets on your nerves, and then you have to drive hours back home with the toy driving you crazy in the back seat? And you really hate your relatives for that toy? You'll love this idea: rechargeable batteries that are "smart" and remote controllable - you can remotely "turn off" the batteries in that infernal noise-making toy! And it's got a name that could become a great joke in itself: "Batthead." You know, somehow referring to the gifters as a similar sounding thing, and then saying, "but Batthead to the rescue!" Go check out the article for more details (and other useful possibilities, such as battery powered flashlights that turn themselves on when you pick them up by sensing the motion with the built in accelerometers).

If you're looking for life on Mars, though, your search may be fruitless (bad pun slightly intended, haha: fruit is from a plant, which is alive...), as the NASA rover Curiosity can't locate traces of methane that were previously noted in plumes back in 2003. Seems they were hoping that the methane plumes would be indicative of living organisms (the source, apparently, of the majority of earth's methane), but the rover can't find methane (at least not where it's roving). On a positive note, there's a disturbing David Bowie video at the article you can watch.

And, finally, our galaxy is about to explode. Well, the core of it, anyway, the giant black hole that anchors the Milky Way (you do know that the Milky Way spins around a giant black hole, right? that our solar system is orbiting the galactic center much the same way that the earth orbits the sun?). If you search G2 Milky Way, you'll find more articles about it, by the way, such as this one in which explains that the gas cloud, known as G2, will actually be passing near several smaller black holes that are clustered near the galactic center (they've predicted that it should encounter around sixteen of the smaller holes), and there are hopes that it will encounter some as-yet-unobserved "middle-sized" black holes (masses somewhere between the small ones in that cluster and the supermassive one that anchors our galaxy). Either way, we should be in for some spectacular fireworks in the night sky, night will be erased for years, and the galaxy will explode, sending the earth careening off into space and away from the sun. (OK, I made that part up, although, per the Popular Mechanics article, a similar flare up a century ago has left light echoes bouncing around the center of the galaxy to this day.)

Incidentally, some guy's putting together a giant telescope to actually observe the supermassive black hole that anchors our galaxy (which has not been directly observed, only inferred, to this point). His telescope is actually not really a telescope in the classic sense, but rather an array of radio dishes all around the earth that will collect microwave data from the galactic center, feed all that data to a supercomputer at MIT, and the supercomputer will assemble the data into "an image of the shadow of the black hole." Sort of like the auto-awesome that Google Plus assembled of Ronnie dancing, which didn't actually happen. I wonder: does that mean the image of the black hole might be a fictitious representation? Eh, whatever...

Go outside tonight and look south, check out Fomalhaut, and know this: there are other planets in the universe outside our solar system, and now we've even seen them (courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope). And know this: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." What an awesomely creative God!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Missing (a two for one special)

Two for one in more ways than one: first, this is the 2nd post of the day. Second, there are two "missings" here. Well, maybe three.

First, Tiffany Daniels, a 25-year-old female employee of Pensacola State College, is still missing, having not been seen since August 12th when she left PSC a few minutes early. Her story is falling out of the news, but you can get the latest updates at the Help Find Tiffany Facebook page. Her family would like help expanding the search area and getting the word out in neighboring states (hence my sharing here again).

Second, Henry Blackaby, noted author of Experiencing God, is missing since yesterday afternoon. The 78-year-old pastor/author was last seen in his black Lincoln around 4pm on Thursday (the 19th) in the Atlanta area, where he's believed to still be. If you're in the Atlanta area, be on the lookout. He's diabetic and didn't have his meds with him.

Third, common sense is missing. Hasn't been seen in drivers in south Alabama in quite some time. If you're planning to turn, please use your turn signal to indicate to those around you your intentions. For example, if you're turning right, and there's a car waiting to come out at the road where you're planning to turn, your indicating your intentions will allow the person waiting to go ahead and pull out instead of waiting until you've slowed and turned. And don't pull out in front of people, but if you do, please accelerate quickly instead of poking around while the person behind you is screeching to a halt. And if you're picking up your kids from school, and there's no one in the pickup line, don't stop at the very back of the pickup area to pick up your kids while blocking up the pickup line and not letting anyone behind you get in to where the kids are.

OK, three for one missing special. Have a great weekend!

See GTA5 (or anything else) in a new way

Another great Flipboard find: a new kind of lens that combines insect and human vision, promising great new features and capabilities for things as common as mobile phone cameras and as intricate as laparascopy (see the link if you don't know what that is). Basically, the new lens is a gel-fluid-filled elastic polymer that has several dome-like bulbs on it. If I understand it correctly, the bulbs provide the insect-like wide field of view, while the whole device will expand or contract (as the amount of fluid is changed) to alter the focal point. The developer (Yi Zhao) says it gives "a wide-angle lens with depth of field."

One possibility for implementation are mobile phone cameras, which currently typically have a fixed-focus lens; the new lens would offer a dynamically focusing lens, improving the depth of photos. Of course, a gel-fluid in your phone's camera lens could be bad if it cracked; I'd hope the designers would take this into account and seal off the areas around the camera lens. (Maybe the Phoneblocs people could find a great way to make it practical.) Another possibility relates to surgical procedures; the new lens, with a different type of activating mechanism (electrically active polymer instead of gelatinous fluid), would provide surgeons with a wide field of view and, at the same time, the depth perception necessary for judging the distance between the lens and tissue, improving their ability to accurately place instruments or remove tumors.

Cool, but mostly for the idea of human/bug eye lenses.

Maybe the new lens will find some new way of viewing Grand Theft Auto V (GTA5), which has surpassed $1 billion in sales in just three days ("a rate faster than any other video game, film or other entertainment product has ever managed," according to Take Two, or so says that article). First day sales alone were over $800 million. GTA5 is available on XBox 360 and PS3 platforms, of which there are something like 160 million console gamers. Based on a retail price of roughly $60, the $1 billion in sales equates to about 16.7 million copies sold, or 10% of the (XBox 360/PS3) gaming community. 10% of console gamers bought one game. (FYI, I wasn't part of the 10%.)

One guy bought the game, and it turned out badly: he was "stabbed, hit with a brick and robbed as he walked home from the store" just minutes after buying the game. I suppose someone will make some reference to video game violence, kids, etc. After all, this is a fairly violent game, right? Rated M for "Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, and Use of Drugs and Alcohol." Regardless, robbing a guy of his video game? Really? (Three teens, 15, 16, and 18, were taken into custody.) In another situation, three other teens (19, 19, and 20) had bought an unmarked police car at auction, arrived at a game store, got out wearing police uniforms, and tried to use their fake authority to break in the front of the line for the game. Seems like a lot of trouble to go through. Especially since the game can be bought over the Playstation Network online - you didn't even have to wait in line at the store at all!

So, maybe there is something to this "video game promotes violence" thing... since it's causing teens to mug others to get the game (as well as the guy's cell phone & watch) and/or impersonate police officers to try to skip the line. Anyway, I guess I'll go back to playing some Battlefield 3 now.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I think I need this!

If you have a smart phone, check out this product, the Iloome tempered glass screen protector. In this video, you can skip ahead to around 7 minutes to see the good stuff, where she configures a mockup of a Galaxy screen with the screen protector in place, then his it with a hammer. Screen protector destroyed, but screen protected! Like I said, I think I need this! (Not my usual embedded video since I'm composing this short blog entry with my phone; and, sure, not all impacts will be like a hammer hitting the screen dead on on a flat surface, but this probably will help even more than the Zagg Invisible Shield I have on it now, and probably feels better to the hand than the Zagg film, too.)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Print your own toy!

Maybe I'm a geek (OK, that's probably a given, not a possibility), but this is kind of cool: Disney's Software Could Let You 3-D Print Your Own Mechanical Toys. I think this may be where "new tech" meets "old school" and we finally start to see some "reality" out of the "virtual"... and maybe we'll get some kids interested in engineering again. (You know, real engineering, not the soft kind, even though that's the kind that's leading to this.) And where imagination comes back around (instead of it being lost in video games and videos). Designing your own mechanically operated toy, then have it 3D printed and play with it? That's just cool.

Check out the video (note: there's no sound in the vid, so maybe hit your Pink station in the background on Pandora while this is playing; I laughed when Bernie fell over):

It's, in some ways, another step similar to Scratch, the MIT program that teaches kids (or adults) programming by way of "blocks" (similar to Lego bricks) that are assembled to create programs. My 3rd child has a library of works in Scratch, although he hasn't done much recently, and I even used it for animating a video to go over my boring sax music once (warning: that link is probably one of the worst places on the internet; no, really, I mean it - you should probably stay away from it - don't click! don't click!).

In other news, apparently terrorists prefer GMail, and so do I. Does that make me a terrorist? If a=b and b=c, then a=c, right? (I know, it's not really an equality thing in the "if terrorists prefer GMail, and I prefer GMail, then I must be a terrorist" logic train.) Fortunately, based on the definition of terrorism, my subjecting you to bad sax music in and of itself isn't such, as I've not attempted to coerce you into something. So I think I'm not a terrorist (despite possibly causing terror through my music videos). Hopefully the use of the terms terrorism, videos, and GMail all in the same post (along with software, 3D printing, and engineering) won't have the CIA or homeland security knocking at my door in the morning.

And with that, it's time to get some sleep, just in case.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Surprise: we left the solar system (last year)

Voyager 1 has entered interstellar space at last, NASA says. This is a neat article, but I'm a bit miffed at this wording: "the amount of ground it covers" - that spacecraft (Voyager) isn't covering ground, it's covering (now interstellar) space. Perhaps "its velocity" would have been more appropriate wording. Or "its speed." Or "the amount of distance it travels per second." But not the amount of "ground" it covers. That's just silly.

Of course, they are just now determining (for certain) that, in fact, it did leave the solar system (that is, it has crossed through and exited the heliopause, which demarks the edges of our solar system) last year. Granted, the instrument that was supposed to tell them this died back in 1980, leaving the team searching for clever ways to use other instrumentation to determine when it enters interstellar space (and, in fact, one facet of what's been determined as interstellar space has the team puzzled, that there was no change in the direction of the magnetic field between the heliopause and interstellar space of our Milky Way galaxy). And I'm not sure what's more amazing: that they did, in fact, find a way to determine that; that the majority of the instruments are still functional nearly 40 years later (then again, my 1967 Mustang is still functional, but it had a redo back in 87, whereas the Voyager craft haven't been serviced since leaving the earth); or that there is still a team at NASA monitoring the spacecraft! Whatever, just know that human-made devices have now officially left the solar system. Granted, there's probably significantly more computing power in my pocket in the form of the Samsung Galaxy S4, but that one is still well within the confines of our solar system.

Yes, I'm enjoying the Galaxy S4. Got something like 32 hours on a test charge of the battery, where I unplugged it yesterday morning at 100% (fully charged), did not charge it last night, and plugged it in this afternoon around 4 when the charge had dropped to 4%. Not bad, in my opinion. I am still undecided on a case for it: some sort of cover flap case since I put it in my pocket? A waterproof one (or at least splash proof) for great protection? Just leave it caseless and do my best to be careful with it? My last two phones before this one did fine with no cases (but, I admit, they did hit the floor from time to time). All these choices! I'm enjoying Flipboard, too - it's a quick way to catch up on a lot of news all at once, and quickly scan past the items you don't really care about. You can even integrate your social network feeds into the "cover story" section to get a nice flavor of lots of what's going on. Check it out, you may like it, too!

And, in case you missed it, check out my comparison of real and fake Galaxy S4 devices, in case you're in China to adopt a child and someone offers you a really cheap S4, or you see a too-good-to-be-true deal on eBay (hint: that kind of deal usually is). Here it is, enjoy!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Tech update and, well, something else...

I have recently discovered Flipboard. If, like me, you were skeptical, give it a try; it's kind of neat. I've discovered lots of neat stories with it. It was installed as a default app on my new phone, which is why I recently tried it, and I think I like it. You can get quick synopses of various stories, and then focus in and read the ones that interest you. I'm even starting to like the flip interface, which I thought stupid on another app I tried recently, but it actually works fairly well for the flipboard concept. Welcome, me,  to fairly leading edge tech. :)

There are also some other neat features of the new phone (a Samsung Galaxy 4s, which was on sale at Sam's Club mobile in our store). The phone can detect your finger hovering over the screen and react to it (like expanding headlines in the flipboard app), and has features to, for instance, keep the screen on while you're looking at it. Cool. Speaking of Sam's mobile, if you're in need of an upgrade, give them a try; the prices were better than both Verizon and Best Buy Mobile in store prices (and the Galaxy S3 we got for my wife was 96 cents). I hadn't expected to get the Galaxy, and was instead thinking something like the new LG Enact at the Verizon store, a new but low end phone (it does have a full slide out keyboard and is thicker but smaller than the S4), but the price on the S4 at Sam's was too good to pass up. I also (so far, anyway) recommend Invisible Shield screen covers. Looks terrible initially installed, but unlike pet screen protectors I've used in the past, the bubbles worked themselves out after half a day and it looks great, pretty much invisible.

So, anyway, I was reading a story on flipboard about Molly, the street name for a version of ecstasy, and was somewhat flabbergasted by what I read. For instance, a girl with a master's degree in public health with a specialty in habitual substance abuse, who currently works in public health, is a frequent user and thinks we should be focusing on making recreational drugs safer rather than preventing their use. But what really got me was the closing of the article, where it talked about another user's positive experiences with the drug and ends the article with the line, "who wouldn't want to feel like that?" In other words, encouraging use of the drug. Besides briefly mentioning several recent deaths attributed to the drug's use, the article mostly seems to focus on the supposed positives of the drug's use.

And this is where we are today in society. Yay.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Random Saturday Stuff

This is pretty cool (yeah, I tweeted it last night, but it's worth repeating). I like the fact that he is interested in the design implications (designers using "natural methods" to design vs. trying to figure out how to design things with the current state of computer interfaces), as well as the metal powder/laser 3D printing mechanics (very cool). I'm thinking this: imagine the car stylist creating a "virtual" clay model that then becomes the CAD for the part manufacturing (with the body engineers taking the model and slicing it up into stampable pieces). Cool. The article is worth reading, too.

In other tech news, Microsoft has bought Nokia's cell phone business. So, Nokia, the cell phone manufacturer, no longer manufactures cell phones. Instead, it'll maintain its mobile network biz, R&D, and Here, its location & mapping unit, among others. (Because, you know, that's going to be a much better business model: Here, the mapping & location biz, that is going to challenge Google Maps and similar mapping and location services.)

Even better, this: Stephen Elop, the now-former CEO of Nokia, may be the guy to replace Steve Ballmer in leading Microsoft. (Hey, just realized this: there are a lot of "Steves" in the tech world: Steve Jobs, Steve Ballmer, Stephen Elop, Steve Wozniak, Steve Gibson... in fact, there's even a "Steve Rule" stating that, in a random sample of programmers, there will be more named Steve than there will be females; note: I'm not trying to be sexist, that's not my rule, I just found it when searching Google for "tech guys named Steve".) What's so great about the Elop/Ballmer thing? This: Elop was the CEO of Nokia as its cell phone business failed, and now he's (possibly) going to lead Microsoft. Anyone else see it? Using the guy who lead the failure of Nokia's main business to lead all of Microsoft? Awesome! Better get used to Linux if you're not already (or possibly Apple's OSX).

There are plenty of good, easy Linux distros (that's short for distributions) out now. Ubuntu and Mint are both good (here's an article discussing which is better for a beginner). If those aren't enough, here are 10 popular distributions. And if that's not enough, just search "linux distribution" (or similar) and you'll probably find more than you can comfortably review in a short period of time. There are all sorts of distributions, from engineering distributions to audio/video/web distributions (note: some of the ones at that link are mainly audio/video, while some include web stuff). Best of all: Linux is (for the most part) free (there are usually some pay for support options and there are some distributions and/or apps that you may pay for, but generally speaking, you download a distribution, burn a DVD, and run/install it).

OK, driver #3 just returned from his first solo trip... things to do now, cars to check... :) Have a great day!