April 5, 2013
iOS 6 Notification Sounds w/out Notification
For the past few days I'd been experiencing a strange phenomenon on my iPhone 5 running iOS 6. Every so often the notification sound would play, but there would be no notification displayed. The timing was seemingly random and could happen at any time of the day, no matter what I might be running (or not running) on my iPhone at the time.
I figured it might be related to disabling notifications as I recently turned some off for a few apps. Turns out that's what it was. I had disabled notifications in the Notification Center from the Slickdeals app, but that app was still sending out notifications. When I turned notifications back on for the Slickdeals app in the Notification Center, a whole list of them was displayed in the iOS pull-down menu. Notifications that were previously hidden but still occurring. These notifications were being issued even with the Slickdeals supposedly app force-quit.
To fix this, I had to change my notification settings within the Slickdeals app itself.
November 12, 2011
Intuit GoPayment's Invasive Signup Procedure
There are some minor differences in the general fee schedule with GoPayment offering slightly better rates for those who pay a recurring monthly fee but slightly worse rates than SquareUp for those who do not. GoPayment's American Express fee is also higher than that of SquareUp. In terms of fees, I think businesses with more volume that primarily this as their payment method would come out ahead with GoPayment.
However I strongly advise against any business actually signing up with GoPayment.
The GoPayment web site has a signup flow but it only works for individuals. It will ask for your personal social security number. I wanted to open a business account with them using my Federal EIN and business banking accounts. That's when things got ugly.
In order to sign up my business with my EIN there were two primary requirements which were that I own at least 50% of the business and that I am over 18 years of age. I'm not entirely sure how Intuit will handle some businesses where there are multiple owners. Maybe it won't be a problem as long as a majority stake signs some paperwork and they use the business' EIN. However that turned out to only be the tip of the iceberg.
First, even though I was opening a business account, they wanted my personal SSN. To do a credit check. Sorry, that's not okay. I told them I wanted to use my EIN and not my SSN for tax purposes. After the customer rep spoke to someone else he came back and said okay, but instead they would need additional documentation. That additional documentation turned out to be my profit and loss statements and tax returns for the past two years (or how long the business had been operational whichever is shorter). Sorry, that's even more not okay. I am not handing over my private company's P&L statements or tax returns to a merchant processing company.
I should close by saying I am so far very happy with SquareUp and it was extremely easy to sign up with them. I was able to do it from their web site, and I did not have to provide sensitive personal or business financial information to do so. And I have never had to provide that sort of information to any of the other merchant processing companies I have used in the past or for Google Checkout, PayPal, or Amazon Payments.
May 15, 2010
Not Everyone Gets A House
I found this article The Mad Scramble for Chinese Real Estate to be an interesting commentary on the large discrepancy between what new workers expect and what the market provides when it comes to housing. What I find particularly interesting is how closely it mirrors expectations of some of the people I've met in the San Francisco Bay Area.
For the majority of residential locations in the United States, housing prices are inline with average salaries. Meaning that a single person who makes an above average salary or a couple that individually make an average salary can easily afford the down payment and mortgage on a nice and relatively spacious home. No one expects the same from downtown New York City or San Francisco. Yet most people seem to expect it from the San Francisco suburbs. Especially if they grew up in another part of the country or moved here for work.
I can understand why. Things aren't that different, superficially. The area seems slightly more populated. The houses are relatively smaller and older. So logically these homes shouldn't cost as much as they do. But that is just a superficial view of things.
The wealth disparity in the Bay Area is significant. The median household income is only slightly higher than the rest the country. In other words, your typical clerk or service industry worker in Mountain View probably makes about $10k more than somewhere in the Mid-West. The difference between $40k/yr. and $50k/yr. is three months. But there's a much higher concentration of IT workers who are making significantly more money. And many of them are dual income. The difference between a single income of $50k/yr. and dual income of $250k/yr. is four years. This means the housing market has a higher percentage of customers (out of all residents) that can afford to pay more. The spread is too large for the people with lower salaries to compete.
In addition, there isn't really more room to expand within the existing cities. That means you won't see additional homes being added to Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Redwood City, Milpitas, etc. There is a bit of room left in San Jose, but not much. The population continues to increase. These cities are job centers. So prices on old small homes go up as demand increases but supply remains constrained.
Given this, I think it's easy to see why a 1200 square foot home might cost $500k. Even though the same home in your hometown might only cost $60k - $80k. You can't simply look at the size of a house and the overall look of its neighborhood and say the cost is wrong. Prices are no longer being artificially buoyed. This is just what things cost due to scarcity of land and the desirability of central housing locations.
(N.B. I haven't done any particular research into this area. This is just what I've concluded based on my own observations and through deductive reasoning.)
December 29, 2007
Why Hot Songs Are Crap
Rolling Stone has an excellent article about why compressed songs sound bad. The practice of compressing music is also referred to as mixing "hot", because all of the sounds are boosted until they all measure close to the max decibel level which is usually displayed as red and white on a spectral analysis graph. This can also result in a form of clipping when a frequency is boosted such that its amplitude hits the ceiling for too long. Imagine a sine wave that has a peak of -0dB. To the left and right of the peak, the amplitude drops. But if the entire signal is boosted, the areas to the left and right of the peak will also be at -0dB.
This is one of the most annoying aspects of music produced today because really high end gear will expose these problems. But on the other hand, it does mean that for lots of music, you won't hear much difference if you listen on high end gear or mass market gear. In other words, if that's the sort of music that you listen to, you don't need to spend time or money on good speakers or electronics. Things may actually sound better to you if you don't, because a high-frequency roll off will make it less fatiguing to listen.
Well mastered audio on good gear will sound loads better though. I've remarked before about an album from Tosca, classical music, and other well mastered CDs that let you hear the instruments and performers. Wide dynamic range adds a lot of depth and captures the meanings behind a passage that is supposed to be done with fortissimo instead of pianissimo.
November 19, 2007
Goodwill Silicon Valley's E-Waste Ignorance
You'd expect the people supporting California's E-Waste initiative would make it as easy as possible to get rid of your old, broken electronics so they don't go into landfills and pollute our environment or make people sick. But I had quite a hard time trying to get rid of some broken cameras, an old vacuum, electric phone, etc. Goodwill, and in particular my local branch, Goodwill of Silicon Valley participate in the program. However, it doesn't seem like anyone at the store is aware of this, even though the donation receipts you get mention E-Waste right on them.
I couldn't get any of the employees to accept my broken electronics. I had to call the number on the back of the receipt, and get the person there (thankfully someone is there to answer calls on the weekend) to call the store manager, who then had to call the store and tell the employees to take my broken electronics. Quite a hassle, and I had to stand there for a while waiting for everyone to get their ducks in a row. But at least I was finally able to unload all those broken electronics safely and properly.
November 9, 2007
Beyond The Blue Event Horizon
For some stupid reason, a bunch of the books in the Heechee saga by Frederik Pohl are out of print. And the ones that appear to be in print are expensive paperbacks. This is exactly the reason things like the Project Gutenberg and Google Books are so important, although in this case the books aren't that old and Pohl is still alive. Still, it should not be so difficult for someone to find copies of a book they want to read. Eventually, I was able to find them from various small bookstores across the country using AbeBooks.
Anyway, the second in the series is Beyond the Blue Event Horizon. Despite the title, this book is more about Robinette Broadhead's hope of crossing the Schwarzschild Radius that has tormented him. In fact, the majority of the book focuses instead on a family that has been sent out to a Heechee food factory, in hopes of ending the food shortages on Earth. What they find, in addition to the food factory, surpasses their wildest dreams.
This chapter of the Heechee Saga is a little different than Gateway. Whereas the first novel was heavily focused upon the mental state of Robin, Beyond the Blue Event Horizon is more about exploring the Heechee's technology and providing some background on their motivations. A lot of new ideas are put forward as the foundation for the novels that will come afterwards. I found myself really looking forward to finding out what would happen next, and trying to put together the puzzle pieces, but I was a little disappointed with the ending. The last chapter wraps everything up very quickly, and lays things out instead of letting things unfold over time. I felt like it was doing some clean up in preparation for the next novel.
September 29, 2007
GameStop Ratings Advisories
Luna and I stopped in at GameStop today, and while we were browsing through the games I heard something interesting. There was a mother in, buying a game for her son who was not there with her, and as she was paying for the game, the GameStop employee was informing her of the ESRB rating and description. I suppose this is normal policy now, when selling games to parents or grandparents, because of all the public outcry, lawsuits, and legislation attempts over children ending up with violent or sexual games.
Of course, I'm in the camp that believes the responsibility for making sure your children play games that you think are suitable belongs entirely with the parents/purchaser. But since computer and video games are something the majority of that generation don't understand, they want a ratings board and laws to do that for them.
September 25, 2007
Making a Difficult Decision
I had to make a very difficult decision recently, between two different choices. I could keep things the same, or take a risk and make a change. I won't go into details, because the nature of this decision involves things that shouldn't be said in public, and people impacted on both sides of the decision may read this. But I do want to capture my thoughts on the matter.
I like very much the way things are. Things are wonderful, and if anyone asks I tell them I'm happy and wouldn't change a thing. But recently, I guess I've been having some doubts as to whether or not it really matters if I'm still doing this. I wouldn't have thought it before, but when the opportunity to try something new came up, those doubts in the back of my head seem to have come rushing to the forefront.
This new choice would have been great in its own way, and I'd know for sure that what I'd be doing would matter. There's some excitement in trying something new, and this opportunity carried a little more risk in hope of a little more reward. Reward that I do believe to be there. I'd missed out on similar rewards in the past, for different reasons, and thought maybe it was time to take a risk. (I don't regret the decisions that made me miss out before.) At the same time, I wasn't entirely sure it was something I wanted to do, because it would mean abandoning what I was currently doing in favor of something that might not be as good, long-term.
Trying to decide between these two choices has left me feeling very thin, over these past few days. People on both sides have been trying to convince me to go one way or the other, and in the end it came down to two things.
I said above I wasn't really sure if it mattered that I continue doing what I was doing. But when the people involved learned I might be making a change, they really showed me just how much it means to them that I stay the course. I have some loyalty to these people, and their actions and words made it clear to me that I am providing real value to them. It's important to me that I stick by the people who have chosen to stick by me.
That, coupled with my strong desire to keep doing what I am doing, to see it through, and challenge myself by doing it, far outweighed any possible reward from choosing the other direction or trying something new. Once I'd come to this decision, a huge weight was lifted from me and I feel a lot better about things and just how wonderful it is to keep doing what I'm doing.
September 23, 2007
Automated Targeting System is Big Brother
The Washington Post put up a very scary story yesterday. It turns out that the information collected by the DHS on travelers is much more extensive than previously expected. The first paragraph summarizes very well just how much traveling has become a threat to our expectations of civil liberties and to our rights as guaranteed under the Bill of Rights (depending upon interpretation):
The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.
The last time I took a flight, I carried almost nothing. I did, however, carry my iPod and a couple of books. I don't believe there was any time at which the contents of my iPod or the titles of those books would have been seen by an employee of the TSA but they would certainly have known where I was going, whom I was going to see, and my purpose for travel. The fact this is all recorded and will remain on record for at least fifteen years is very disconcerting to me.
I can understand the arguments for such high degrees of surveillance. I simply don't accept them. This is not the society I want to live in, and I do not trust human beings to be free of corruption or vice. The latter is probably the most important lesson to be drawn from the efforts and writings of this nation's founding fathers.
September 9, 2007
Not Moving to the U.K.
If there's any other country that is possibly worse than the United States when it comes to Orwellian fear, it's the United Kingdom. The BBC is reporting that a four-year-old girl could not wear her hoodie at an amusement arcade. Because she might be a terrorist. The girl, Karen Lewis, was playing a game when one of the employees of the Les Harker's Amusements arcade said she could not wear her hoodie up, because it's against policy and they want everyone's faces to be on the CCTV cameras.
I'm okay with things like CCTV cameras in passive use, as long as there's nothing that says I can't do whatever I want to avoid being seen on them. I'm talking about public areas, of course. Private areas I think it's okay to have whatever policies that owner might want, so long as they don't infringe upon the rights of the individual.
August 27, 2007
Alberto Gonzales Forced Out
It took long enough, but Alberto Gonzales finally gave his resignation as Attorney General after such a pitiful struggle against congressional oversight, with such disillusioning support from the Bush administration. I'm sure most people are aware of the situation, but the whole debacle can be summarized as cronyism and hubris. Gonzales is supposed to represent the judicial branch of the U.S. government, yet was a willing puppet to the personal agendas of the executive branch. And since the executive branch considers itself above the law in so many different ways, not to mention illegal ways, I truly believe that the damage to these two branches of government is close to be irreparable. Unless something very improbable occurs such as the election of Ron Paul for President.
At the same time though, this does show that the system of checks and balances can work. Sort of. Congress brought Alberto Gonzales to task, and through public political pressure and repeated calls for his resignation, ended up removing him from office. However, the truth is it should not have been so difficult to remove him or taken so long. There should have been inquiries much earlier, for things that he had a hand in, and it should not take cajoling and rhetoric to remove someone who either had knowledge of illegal activity, or was so ignorant as to be incompetent for the job. It's such a waste of resources to have to deal with things this way. The law is the law, and the government should be run by competent and intelligent people, not yes-men with low IQs.
August 25, 2007
MSNBC is reporting on how the U.S. military and current administration is actively punishing whistleblowers of fraud and corruption in the rebuilding of Iraq. Putting aside the entire question as to whether or not Iraq should be in a position where it needs to be rebuilt, the fact this is going on just points further as to how the current administration and its "military-industrial complex" is trying to use propaganda and information control to guide the American citizen towards a neo-conservative and far-right political view. (I hate the fact I used the term "military-industrial complex" but unfortunately that's the correct term for it right now. Companies like Halliburton, Fox News Corp., AT&T, and the the U.S. military are actively supporting the administration's illegal or unconstitutional activities.) What can we do when there are no police to arrest and hold accountable these people and organizations? If a regular citizen had committed these crimes, he'd be arrested and in jail, pending trial. When is Congress or the FBI going to enforce the same on the Executive branch and the executives of these companies?
July 16, 2007
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
This Film Is Not Yet Rated is an independent documentary that looks at how the Motion Picture Association of America rates movies for theatrical release. They have a secret review board whose job it is to evaluate submitted films and make an "average parent" judgement as to its rating. The creater of the documentary, Kirby Dick, makes a pretty good case that the MPAA is applying the personal morals of the people in charge to films, in ways which are sure to please some particular groups, but also hurt the public at large. And because of how those ratings are used, the morals of those individuals really do dictate what can be made and what cannot.
I think really that this film is a good start at exposing how movies (as well as television and video games) are not considered equal intellectual pursuits as books. The same sort of judgemental activity applied towards books is the motivation for Banned Books Week. People seem to recognize that you can't just classify violence as categorically bad, or sex as categorically bad, or even pedophilia as categorically bad. Yet the same intellectual truth disappears when applied to other "relatively young" media.
One great example of this, as pointed out in the film, is the movie Boys Don't Cry. The original submitted version received an NC-17 rating for the sex scene between Brandon Teena and Lara Tisdel. However, the film as a whole is an extremely important film that portrays a real story and discusses a sensitive but timely subject in a very grown up and intellectual way.
Another example is the documentary Gunner Palace, which is a documentary about the soldiers in Baghdad that uses real footage taken as interviews with soldiers and as operational documentation. Of course, given the subject matter, violence, language, and other realities of life and war are fully exposed. This film was given an NC-17 as well, but really is exactly the sort of thing the American public, including children as they are paying attention to world events and politics, should see. The director made a very lucid comment about the silliness of trying to put a rating on reality.
In fact, one thing critics of violence and sex in popular media never allow for is the difference between fantasy and reality. It's always a blanket statement that all children cannot distinguish between the two, when of course it's all individual. Plus, there is the argument that fantasy violence desensitizes people towards real violence. But there are ten-year-olds who can go on gory and realistic frag-fests for hours a day, then get grossed out by a dead rat. While there are fourty-year-olds who can't tell the difference between the two (i.e. they find the fantasy frag-fest as disgusting as the dead rat).
I guess my overal rant is simply about individuals, or groups of people, trying to impose their personal morality upon others. This applies not only toward movie ratings, but also towards other personal moral beliefs like homosexuality or polygamy/polyandry or even less controversial things like social mores. And just as much towards fantasy (as a depiction) violence and sex, the two big flags when it comes time for the MPAA to assign a rating to a movie.
July 13, 2007
Discover Card's Horrible Rewards Program
I finally managed to cancel my Discover Card after trying to get my last $20 rebate check. I'm never going to sign up with Discover again; they have the absolute worst rebate program I've ever had to go through. I originally signed up because they were offering 5% back on purchses at home improvement stores, which for me is an excellent deal. I buy things from The Home Depot and Orchard Supply Hardware pretty often, and the 5% back really added up. But then they decided to switch to a crazy quarterly rotating rebate system. Which resulted in me spending a year working on reaching that last $20.
Under this new rebate system, the category of purchases changes every fiscal quarter. So for three months of the year, you might get 5% back on travel purchases like airline tickets or cruises. Then it'll switch to bookstore purchases. And then maybe clothing stores. This is incredibly annoying. You have to keep track of the current quarter's cashback categories, and you even have to keep track of specific stores. For example, when the category is books, you might get 5% back at Barnes and Noble but not at Borders. All other cards I've used apply cash rebates to the category as a whole, without exception.
Discover Card also has a tiered system of how much percent a purchase is worth in cashback points. So you may not always get the cashback you expect on a purchase. This effectively reduces your cashback rate below 5% or 1%, depending on the purchase category and your current expenses that year. You might notice the wording in all their documentation is "up to 1%". In contrast, all other cards I've used with cash rebates apply a flat percentage to all purchases, so I always know what I'm going to get back.
I also discovered a nasty little surprise, that may be in the fine print, but took me a few months to figure out. You don't get any cashback points for purchases you make if you pay off your balance before receiving a statement. In fact, Discover Card didn't even send me statements for those billing periods where I'd paid off my balance in full, before the period ending date. So, even though I might have bought something eligible for some cash back, I didn't get anything. People who do carry a balance, but might pay multiple times per billing period, or pay in advance, might never even notice this, especially since it's so hard to be sure exactly what amount of cashback you're supposed to get.
May 18, 2007
Can't Get Driver's License
Luna went to take the driver's license written test today, so she could get her learner's permit. But as it turns out, she can't take the test and get the permit because she doesn't have her green card yet. Which makes sense, since in a lot of ways a driver's license represents the fact you live in the U.S. with legal status. But this whole process is very annoying because it's so slow and Luna can't do so many things until the process is finished.
There's also that new proposal for legalization of illegal immigrants. But as I read it, applicants would get a new Z visa under the plan that would require them to leave the country for at least eight years, and as much as thirteen. I suspect even if this passes, there is absolutely no incentive for illegal immigrants to apply. The primary reason many such people left their native country (at great financial hardship, endangering their health, and risking incarceration) was to get away from horrible conditions. Like no education, lack of health care, physical danger, etc. Having to go back for eight years, essentially starting over in their native country, and then coming back to the U.S. again, to start over a third time, seems like exactly what someone will not want to do. Especially if children are involved.
May 13, 2007
An Inconvenient Truth
I finally got around to watching An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary about global warming focusing on the personal crusade of former Vice-President Al Gore to educate people about this "climate crisis". A real quick presentation about the issue was given at the 2006 TED conference, which you might want to check out. I greatly respect Gore as one of the very few really educated and contemporarily-savvy politicians of our time. And the global warming problem is one that I have believed in for a long time now.
I think one of the primary reasons I really liked this documentary is because it feels less like an opinionated exposé or personal agenda and much more like the sort of presentation or lecture you might find in academia. Of course, due to the nature of the presentation, the actual research and science involved is glossed over, but it's important to note that the scientific results and their projected impact on our world are presented. Which is where things change from opinion and subjective points of view or conjecture into real scientific data, interpreted in a scientific manner, and presented for public consumption.
One thing of note about the DVD is there's a 30 minute extension in the extras that half rehashes the existing talking points of the presentation in the documentary, and half brings in new information about the topic that is related to those talking points that have come out of research since the movie was produced. It's probably of interest to some people, but if you've already accepted the situation then it's probably not worth the time. Might be better to find newer information on the web.
April 6, 2007
Luna had her biometrics appointment this morning, at a small unassuming USCIS office building near downtown San Jose. The procedure was simple but a little time consuming. We had to fill out a form containing some biographical information (a little strange, considering that is information they should already have) and present her passport as ID along with the appointment notice. Then she waited a while to get fingerprinted. I'm not entirely sure what the next step is, but Luna said we should be receiving something in the mail soon. I believe we just need to wait for her residency card.
I understand why the government wants immigrants to be fingerprinted; it's a simple way of getting immigrants into their identification databases for whatever reason they may need in the future. Criminal activity being a good example. People are also willing to do things like this as part of this sort of process without becoming upset.
But if you really think about it, it's somewhat unfair. In the same way that it's unfair that naturalization requires knowledge of U.S. laws and facts that the majority of people born as U.S. citizens do not know. Since I was born in the United States it is easier for me to get away with a crime than Luna, since my fingerprints are not in any database. Being born within the political map line also means I don't need to speak English to live here. While there are pressures and even some requirements being talked about for immigrants to become fairly proficient at speaking and reading English.
I guess this sort of thing is some burden upon the immigrant to be an intelligent and integrated member of society. But I'm of the mind that people should be treated equally, whereas in this sort of situation they are not. But immigrants have no real say in legal proceedings, politics, or law since they are not citizens. And once they become citizens, it's over with and there's no real motivation for change. Plus there is always the threat of unofficial punishment for anyone who might try to rock the boat.
October 25, 2006
A Netflix Blog?
Gary showed me today a post on Netflix Fan asking Why no corporate blog for Netflix? and, as it happens, including a link to my Work & Research blog category. I'm not particularly surprised, as I've received a few emails at my work address from Netflix customers asking various questions. The poster at Netflix Fan, Becky, asks if there is a company policy regarding our blogs.
Well, for starters, this is my personal blog, where I happen to have a work category. So anything I post on here is not something said on behalf of Netflix. My blog also includes posts from when I worked at IBM and also lots of entries concerning research I conducted while attending UNC Chapel Hill. If I worked for company XYZ, you'd also see posts on there that are my personal statements and opinions (e.g. I had fun at the company celebration) and don't in any way represent the company in an official capacity.
With that in mind....
When you ask about official policy, I don't think it's any secret that Netflix is a company that heavily trusts its employees.
At IBM, there were corporate policies that I didn't like because I felt they had a negative impact on the culture. I won't go into details because I don't know if those policies are considered secret or not, although I don't think they are. Other people I talked to about those policies found them perfectly reasonable, especially given the large size of the company where you don't know everyone else and where there are a fair number of contractors moving in and out.
In comparison, Netflix is a small company. A few hundred employees, and each of us can pretty much recognize by sight the other people that work at headquarters (maybe not by name). It's a company that emphasizes personal judgement and mutual trust. You are trusted to exercise good judgement in what you do. So I can have this blog, and it's my responsibility not to reveal secrets or information that might be harmful to the company (assuming it is ethical to withhold that information), and to make it clear that this is my personal opinion and not a company statement.
What I think is really important is that I can trust everyone else at Netflix. I'm not worrying about leaving my iPod out on my desk while I attend meetings, or that someone might try to get ahead at my expense. And it's equally important that this trust extends between all employees, from the CEO to the code monkey (me).
On a technical note, it appears the trackback server used by Netflix Fan doesn't support pings from sites that begin with https:// instead of http://. I couldn't find any contact info for Becky, and didn't want to sign up for an account, and their comment system didn't like my Google account even though it claims to support it. So maybe someone who reads this can let them know all those things aren't working. :P
July 26, 2006
The past week or two has been extremely hot. It's making national news, and also a little global news as well, because this heat wave has been the hottest California has been in recorded history (which is admitedly a short period of time). Daytime temperatures are consistently hitting 40°C or higher, and nighttime temperatures are still in the high 20°C's. Plus, there's almost no pressure gradient so the air is very still.
At the beginning of the heat wave, I was coming home to 27°C downstairs, and 36°C upstairs. And now the downstairs has been 35°C and upstairs 41°C. Rolling blackouts have started, and today I came home to find my /home disk had suffered corruption most likely from the power outage in extreme heat and I had to reformat and restore from a two-week-old backup.
So during this entire time, I've been basically walking around naked and sitting and sleeping on towels because of the sweat. I'm also making sure to drink a lot of water. Fans aren't helping a whole lot because it's just blowing the hot air around. Sleeping next to the open windows isn't much better than what you'd expect if you slept outside during the day in a normal summer.
I also haven't been able to watch any movies because the projector will simply shutdown to prevent damage due to overheating. So I've been trying to play video games instead to pass the time, although even that's hard to do with such heat. The cats have been lying on the ground with their tummies facing up most of the time.
March 28, 2006
BusinessWeek 50 - Gougers
I noticed something strange about the top performers in the BusinessWeek 50. The vast majority of the top companies are in health insurance and energy. (Halliburton is also listed, but their growth is even more ethically questionable.) But shouldn't health insurance and energy companies be making minor profits, and not huge ones?
If health costs are so high, or the insurance prices need to be high to cover things like malpractice, why are the health insurance companies actually making lots of extra money? And energy should not be priced at whatever the market can bear, since they are legalized monopolies due to infrastructure limitations. All of these consolidations are not good for consumers and I'd be interested to see how pricing is determined. When there's only one supplier, or a few suppliers with close ties to each other as well as high-ranking members of the federal government, things should smell fishy.
March 22, 2006
Luna told me that Huo Zhe is the only movie by Yimou Zhang to have been banned in China. I can understand why, as it paints the rise and social condition of Communism under Chairman Mao in a less than flattering light. In fact, I believe there are hints of "disappearances" but this is not obviously stated. Regardless, it is an excellent movie about how a husband and wife continue with their lives, finding happiness and meaning in family no matter all the hardships they have to go through.
I did really like the way things changed over the years, as the movie spans about three decades. The acting by Li Gong and You Ge is really good, and it was interesting to see how they have to adapt to the changing times when the people they've known all their lives are affected by the revolution. There are some really tragic situations, and a constant condition of tension that is still present in China today.
Unfortunately, I see the United States falling into that same situation today, with ultra-conservative religious and big brother observation/control becoming more common. Hopefully the Constitutional protections will eventually revert the damage done so far. However, I'm not too optimistic based on how the judicial branch at all levels is starting to involve personal opinions more instead of relying upon the Constitution and law.
January 21, 2006
Netflix Used Movies
Sometime last year, Netflix made it possible to purchase used movies off their web site, but for members only. I ordered three used movies Wednesday night, and they shipped out yesterday to arrive today. All three of the movies came in their original cases with original cover art, and amazingly two of them have discs that look brand new. The third movie is clearly used, but nowhere near as bad as I expected it to be based on my used purchases from Blockbuster. And of course the cases are in perfect condition since they were stored while the movies were circulated. The pricing is also very competitive, otherwise I wouldn't have ordered them.
November 22, 2005
Jose Padilla Finally Charged
After being held for three years, U.S. Citizen Jose Padilla has finally been charged with conspiring to murder, maim, and kidnap people in countries other than the U.S. Maybe one day I too can look forward to being held in solitary, treated as an enemy combatant (subject to torture), and denied my Constitutional rights until some charges can be discovered. By my own country, which proclaims to be the freest nation on Earth.
November 15, 2005
U.S. Torture Debate
Newsweek's latest issue has on its cover The Truth about Torture with a photo of Senator John McCain. Everyone should read the title article "The Debate Over Torture" which goes into detail about some of the political changes that have occurred with regards to the treatment of prisoners, detainees, foreign militants, or even random U.S. citizens (i.e. people without rights, according to the current administration).
I am still of the firm belief that you should strive to maintain your own ethical standards and apply them equally without exception. If you must make an exception, then you must also acknowledge this breach and accept the consequences. I would not treat foreigners any less humanely than I would U.S. citizens, as I value each of them equally. The U.S. government should not take such a stance either. It is a decision which I consider unconstitutional and unethical.
Specifically, I imagine the decision makers are not following the golden rule when they exercise their power. I also think it is wrong for the legislative branch to have granted such wide discretion in these matters to the executive branch. Lately, I feel as though the system of checks-and-balances has been compromised in exchange for a system of manuevering so as to accomplish the goals of a single entity.
October 19, 2005
October 3, 2005
Stupid Religous People
I was reading some comments posted in response to a recent Sony print advertisement mocking Jesus. And it really makes me unhappy to see just how stupid some religious people are. The casual attitude towards a separation of "us" and "them" is quite disheartening. The human race has started making progress towards racial blindness. But I guess being blind to belief systems is still too hard.
September 17, 2005
800 Pound Gorilla Has No Coordination
I ran across an article today that I think is very important and very interesting. The information presented within is very close to my sentiments towards IBM but the company in question is instead Microsoft. This article was published in reaction to some of the information that has been revealed in the recent Kai-Fu Lee case involving Google. I think everyone should take a look at this to understand how things can get bad at a large company.
August 4, 2005
Online Prices == GOOD
I just got back from Fry's where I picked up two DVDs, four CDs, and one DVD video. Total price at Fry's came out to about $100. Adding 30 miles of driving, at 40.5¢ (as of today's date), and the same items purchased from Overstock would have saved me ~$26.46. So, was there any advantage to visiting Fry's? It gave me something to do and I wouldn't have picked up Mark Farina's Air Farina album otherwise.
July 3, 2005
I found out a charge was put on my credit card for AOL, so I called them to get my charges reversed and to have the account closed. The stupid AOL rep in the cancellation department then tried to sell me service to AOL. How stupid is that? I had to repeatedly tell him that I was not interested in any AOL services.
April 22, 2005
So I ordered an amplifier from Outlaw Audio that was scheduled for delivery today via FedEx. However, I was not able to be at home to receive this package, which the drivers are instructed not to leave at the house when there is a signature required. Even if a note is left at the house asking them to do so. I called FedEx a number of times to see how I can get my package, and I never got the same answer.
So I call up the first time and ask some things like if I can pick up the package tonight at the terminal because I am flying out tomorrow morning. They said that I would not be able to because the truck will not get back until after it is closed. They won't hold it long enough for when I get back from my business trip because that is more than the 10 days maximum. That my best solution is to get Outlaw to tell FedEx it is okay to leave it without a signature. Otherwise it will get sent back. But Outlaw is closed, so I can only leave them a message.
So I call back again, and ask if I can just wait there after it is closed for the truck and get it from the driver if I show my driver's license. This lady is a little more helpful and calls and finds out that I could do this, but the truck is not scheduled to return until 8pm or later, and the terminal closes at 6pm. She gives me the address of the terminal. I would have to wait there and just see if I can grab it from the driver.
Szu-Huey asks if I can pick it up tomorrow morning. I call FedEx again and get a man this time who thinks I am in Virginia so first gives me the opening hour for a terminal in Virginia. After I give him my tracking number, he tells me that it is a residential delivery and I cannot under any circumstances pick up the package from the San Jose terminal because it is not a customer pickup place.
I call again to get a different person and a woman tells me that what I heard from the first two women are wrong because: 1) FedEx drivers are contractors. The drivers will not even return to the terminals at night but just take the trucks home with all the packages in them. 2) They will not hold packages at the terminal for customer pickup unless three delivery attempts have already been made.
But, after I explain my situation, she says she will call the terminal and leave notes asking that the package be made available for pickup tomorrow morning (but she cannot guarantee it because the driver is a contractor and the package may not even be there) and if I am unable to pick it up tomorrow morning, then to hold the package until the 5th so I can pick it up. I tell her that I really appreciate this.
So, the short story is that if FedEx actually uses contractors, that is not very good. And their customer service representatives all had a different story/different information. The male customer rep was not helpful at all. The female customer reps tried to help me but I guess it depends on what they try to do as to how effective their helping will be.
At least UPS has all their trucks return to their delivery terminal. I was always able to drive over to the North Carolina terminal later on and pick up my package. Even late. But this FedEx terminal closes at 6pm and is only open Tuesday through Saturday. A number of years ago, I was disappointed that UPS destroyed my two monitors and were arguing over the insurance. I was happier with FedEx because one time I talked to the local dispatcher and he was willing to deliver on a Saturday anyway, and also because another time they were willing to make a second attempt the same day when I didn't hear the doorbell or knock. But apparently FedEx won't do that sort of stuff anymore.