Apple Junk

“Raise your hand if you have a folder on your iPhone full of native Apple apps you never use … yup, that’s a lot of you. Now raise your hand if you use iCloud Mail, iCloud Drive or the default iOS Notes or Reminders apps instead of third-party options like Gmail, Dropbox, Wunderlist, Evernote and so on. Not nearly as many of you are raising your hand this time.”

— Nathan Ingraham

Yep, I am one of those. You can see the “Apple Junk” folder on the third or fourth page of my iPhone. That’s where I put all the native Apple apps that I can’t delete off my phone. Either I don’t need them, or I don’t like them, or they are too complicated, or they are too clunky to use, or I have another app that I’d rather use.

One of the most frustrating major apps is the Apple Maps app. I can’t stand how it works. Somehow I can’t use it. Google Maps works fine, is reliable, and is intuitive instead. It galls me that Apple does not allow me to make Google Maps the default navigation tool. So when I navigate from another app, it launches Apple, and then I have to memorize the address and retype it into Google.

Some things about Apple are great, and other things really suck.

Don’t even get me started with iTunes!

China has succeeded in a major experiment in the process of creating a fusion reactor. This happened on the heels of Germany achieving a similar goal, albeit using a different type of technology. China and Germany are pulling ahead of the United States in research and development of a major game-changing technology. If we don’t watch out, we’ll have to buy required technology from China – at whatever price they set – and we’ll be in the same position we’ve been in for the past 100 years, having to buy oil from the Middle East.

All is not lost. Supposedly Lockheed Martin Skunk Works predicts to have a fusion reactor that can fit in a van within 5 years. Hopefully that’s true.

Meanwhile, we in the United States spend billions on things that serve no purpose, like defense equipment the pentagon doesn’t want or need, developing the F-35, a fighter plane not up to facing the current Russian generation of fighters, or oil subsidies to the most profitable companies on planet earth.

Our leaders focus on turning our country into a theocracy. They think it’s important to worry about women’s procreative habits, and they believe that dumbing down our children by religious dogma, conservative propaganda and stifling science on all levels is the way to “make our country great again.”

Meanwhile, we’re missing the boat in the areas that really matter: Revitalizing manufacturing in the United States, keeping prices down and productivity and creativity up, educating our children in science and technology, curbing the insane waste of money on military activities, making progress in renewable energies, and upgrading our infrastructure on all levels.

Try to buy anything at the mall today that is not made in China. Good luck!

In 20 years, we’ll even need to buy our energy in China.

Time to wake up, America!


After a comment by a reader, challenging my statement about the Middle East, I did a little more searching and found that we import far less petroleum products from the Middle East than we think (and our public perceptions indicates) we do. Here are some interesting graphs to illustrate that.



Walking on the Moon

Edgar Mitchell passed away on February 4th at the age of 85.

Edgar Mitchell Quote

Here is another quote from a moon walker about what it was like:

“But sometimes people just want a description of what it was like,” he continued, “The black sky, the brilliantly illuminated slopes of the mountains, the bright sun, and then our Earth as a big blue marble hanging over one of the mountains. The physical feeling of walking on the moon is like walking on a giant trampoline, to some degree.”

— Harrison Schmitt

Only 24 humans ever left earth orbit and flew to the moon and back. Of those 24, three flew to the moon twice, and 12 landed and walked on the moon. So there were only ever, in the history of the world, 24 people who saw the earth as a brilliant blue marble floating in the black sky with their own eyes – and their own emotions.

Of those 24, only 16 are now still alive, the and the youngest is 79.

Apollo Astronauts Orbit and Landing

So there are only 16 humans left alive that ever saw the earth as a blue marble. The last time anyone saw that was in 1972.

The 50th anniversary of the first moon landing will be in 2019. I remember watching it on TV. I was twelve years old. I was sure when “I grew up” I would be traveling to the moon. Little did I realize that not only was I watching the first moon landing in my lifetime. I was likely also watching the last one.

I doubt that we’ll land on the moon within the next ten years. That spirit of “before the decade is out” (Kennedy) is no longer with us. Rather, our scientific and exploratory spirit is much dampened by our lack of enthusiasm for science and progress. Just listen to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, two of our “leaders” of the 21st century. They want to turn the United States into a theocracy. Why don’t they look at Afghanistan and Iran, and see how that worked out for those countries.

Meanwhile, I choose to remain inspired by the look of the blue marble.

So a few weeks ago Trisha brought home a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. She knows I like to do those occasionally.

As the amount of sand in the top of my hourglass of life is becoming much smaller than the bottom, I put more and more value on what I do with my time. Either I am productive and contribute to society (create jobs and goods and services), or I educate myself (reading, studying), or I create art (painting) or I write (blog), or I keep healthy and jazzed about life (hiking, climbing), or I spend time with loved ones, friends or family. All of those activities are producing some kind of lasting and contributing value for myself or society.

Then there are jigsaw puzzles.

This is the puzzle she brought home:


[click to enlarge]

1000 pieces, all white scribbles on black tiles. For the first few days I didn’t even know what it was all about. Then I figured out it’s “I love you” in many different languages, plus love scribbles on the bottom part. I figured it out from the Japanese “I love you” on the board, of all languages. I challenge you to figure out where it is.

This was the hardest puzzle ever. It just sucked away the hours. I don’t know how much time I spent on this, but it took weeks, and sometimes I’d find myself sitting there after many hours at one o’clock in the morning forcing myself to stop and go to bed. I guess it must have taken at least 24 hours total, or more, to finish.

Many times I could have sworn that some pieces were missing, after I had tried every piece left in one slot and not finding the right one. There was much cussing going on. But I kept plugging away, not because I was creating any type of value, but because “it just needed to be done.”

I just finished. Here it is:


Unfortunately, this evidence of my persistence will eventually go back into its box, never to see the light of day again. Sometimes we just do something for no other reason than the pure joy of doing it.

And this is what I have to say about the value of one’s time – today.

For 1,400 years we have been slaughtering one another, just because one of us prays one way and another prays a different way.”

— Shams Bandar

Saudi born singer Shams Bandar announces that she is renouncing her Saudi and Kuwaiti nationalities. She thinks that the Arabs need to stop blaming the west for their problems.



Ted Cruz had his staff fabricate news that Ben Carson had quit the race. Then he had staffers do phone calls to voters spreading that news. I call that outright fraud. Thuggery. Crookstuff. But as he said in his “acceptance speech”: The Glory goes to the Lord. I say Allahu Akbar.

Hillary Clinton asks for a minimum of $225,000 for a speech. That’s what supposedly Goldman Sachs paid her. eBay paid her $315,000. But she does not believe $15/hour minimum wage is justified. A minimum wage worker at $15/hour has to work 7.2 years full time to make $225,000. Currently, the minimum wage is $7.25/hour. At that rate, a worker has to work 14.9 years full time to make $225,000. The Clintons reported income of $28 million for 2014. So we want to choose Hillary because she can identify with the middle class?

Then there are other choices. Donald Trump is a billionaire, who thought it was fine to make money off the deals that go well but file bankruptcy four times when the deals don’t go so well. When you file bankruptcy, you basically screw those that you owe money to, people with whom you entered into a contract so they provided goods or services to you, and you promised to pay them for that. Trump thinks it’s fine to get rich off other people’s misfortunes. He calls it The Art of the Deal.

Yes, we in the middle class can really identify with these people.

And we vote for them!

What is wrong with us?

Often, when arguing with a creationist (or as I might call them more aptly, evolution-denier) I find that while the knowledge is there and obvious, I don’t have all the answers quite readily available without research. This topic is not part of my special expertise. So here I found a good summary of questions from creationists, answered by a scientist with a lot of references that help with the most common questions. It’s a good reference post.

Answers for Creationists

Here is a picture of smog in the U.S.

Smog in the US

[click to enlarge; picture credit: NASA]

The red areas are smog in 2005 and 2011.

It shows nitrogen dioxide, which we produce in gasoline engines in cars and trucks, and by burning coal in power plants. Due to work by the EPA, which first started curbing nitrogen dioxide in 1971, its concentrations have been falling over time.

Power plants have installed scrubbers to remove pollutants from their smokestacks, and car manufacturers have adopted catalytic converters. Since 2005, electric utilities have reduced burning of coal and gone to the cleaner natural gas. Our air is much better today than it was 10 years ago, and much better than 30 years ago.

Do we really believe this would have happened without the EPA?

Yet, there is Ted Cruz who yells he wants to abolish the EPA because it is a “job killer.”

One must wonder about the sanity of these people. During the Obama years, we have added over 14 million jobs in an unprecedented job growth period of 70 uninterrupted months. We have created way more jobs than were destroyed during the Bush years, particularly toward the end, when the economy crashed.

Yet, somehow, the EPA is killing jobs.

Do we really want to remove the EPA, start burning coal again, subsidize petroleum companies, and turn the yellow and blue areas read again on the map above?

Because that’s exactly what would happen.

I vote that we keep the EPA. It’s doing a remarkable job in our country, and with the “job killing” that’s going on (adding 14 million in 70 months) I am fine with it continuing to “kill jobs” at that rate.

A fascinating look at school lunches in Japan.

Here is a little bit of mind-blowing reading. Modern cosmology has a way of distracting me from mundane local matters like
the long-term viability of the Terran fossil fuel industry, or that eventual outcome of the ideological feud between Sunni and Shia Muslims.


Observable_universe_logarithmic_illustration (1) Artist’s logarithmic scale conception of the observable universe with the Solar System at the center, inner and outer planets, Kuiper belt, Oort cloud, Alpha Centauri, Perseus Arm, Milky Way galaxy, Andromeda galaxy, nearby galaxies, Cosmic Web, Cosmic microwave radiation and Big Bang’s invisible plasma on the edge. By Pablo Carlos Budassi

The other day, I was reading a post by Ethan Siegel on his excellent blog, Starts With a Bang, about whether it makes sense to consider the universe to be a giant brain.  (The short answer is no, but read his post for the details.)  Something he mentioned in the post caught my attention.

But these individual large groups will accelerate away from one another thanks to dark energy, and so will never have the opportunity to encounter one another or communicate with one another for very long. For example, if we were to send out signals today…

View original post 1,000 more words

In preparation for a gourmet dinner for 10 that we’ll be hosting next month, serving duck l’orange, we decided for a test run today. We went to Ranch 99, a famous Asian supermarket in town and bought a duck.


Whoa, those Asians like their birds intact.

What to do with the feet and head?


Trim them off, and voilà, a duck becomes a chicken!


Now we can safely proceed and make chicken l’orange, uh, duck l’orange.

This past week, Trump got more press than ever before because the did NOT participate in the last GOP debate. I was staying at a hotel in Springfield, Massachusetts the night of the debates, and  I turned on the TV to watch. Here are my main take-aways:

  1. No Trump – I enjoyed not having Trump there. His inane and inappropriate, and decidedly un-presidential comments never added to the topic before, and not having him there simply gave more time to the other candidates.
  2. Trump Coverage – there seemed to be more post, during and after media coverage for Trump and about Trump than the debate itself. The media should stop giving this buffoon free advertising.
  3. Same Old – Same Old – there was nothing new I found in the debate. Everything the candidates said here they said before in the other debates. I could have created a collage of the candidates’ responses from previous clips myself.  Not an original statement to be found.
  4. Obama is Bad – They kept talking about Obama like they are running against him, rather than against each other. The majority of the “statements” and “facts” about the Obama presidency and its results were purely wrong, or at least misleading. Some call it lies.
  5. Advertisements – These are not debates, they are infomercials of the candidates. They didn’t talk about any issues and debate facts. Kasich has done everything before on Ohio, and that’s why he’ll do it again. Christie is the only “executive” on the stage, and he has ruled New Jersey the way the country should be ruled. Everyone wants to eliminate ISIS, and nobody has a shred of detail on how they are going to accomplish that. This is not debating, this is blustering.
  6. Boring – I literally got bored about half-way through, and nodded off. Nothing new!

I would be embarrassed for our country if any one of the people on that stage were my president. And I would be embarrassed and seriously worried for our country if the person not on the stage were to become president.

320 million people in our country, and those are our choices?

Every year when we get a delivery of telephone books I get angry, since I pick them up at the door and toss them straight into the recycle bin. What a colossal waste! They are printed and then distributed by hand to households. How expensive that must be. But nobody seems to use them anymore. It’s been at least 20 years that I actually opened up a telephone book. But I get them every year.

This year was even worse. The book must have been delivered at our gate on Saturday afternoon. Then it rained overnight. Today, I picked up a soggy phone book and before I tossed it into the recycle bin which is a few feet from our gate, I decided to take a picture:

Telephone Book

I got frustrated about this and checked online. Most of the links are about “recycling” phone books. What the heck? Why recycle. Why not just print stop printing them, and producing them on demand when somebody actually asks for one? Who is paying for this? I am sure we consumers are, somehow.

Here is a site with Opt-Out information. I am registering myself right now.

Definition of: Revenant

— one that returns after death or a long absence


Watching The Revenant was exhausting. 2 hours and 36 minutes long, it didn’t let go. Not for a minute.

It took me into the icy winter of Montana. Inspired by true events that happened to the legendary explorer Hugh Glass in 1823 in Montana and South Dakota, the movie tells a story of betrayal and redemption. Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a member of a hunting and trapping party in the wild west. After they are raided by hostile Indians and decimated, Glass gets surprised and attacked by a female grizzly who is protecting her cubs. Glass was mauled so badly that his friends did not expect him to survive. Three men, including Glass’ half Indian son, stay behind with him until he dies, while the rest of the party moves on. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the most experienced frontiersman, decides to abandon Glass. Against unimaginable odds, Glass survives, and starts his journey of 200 miles through the winter wilderness of Montana, alone, without weapons, only able to crawl, his body covered with festering wounds, driven by sheer willpower and relentless pursuit of redemption.

I have hiked mountains in Montana with a bear can in my pack in case I encountered a grizzly. After watching the grizzly attack in The Revenant, I know just how utterly helpless a modern human would be if attacked by a grizzly. The speed, size and ferocity of an angry bear is unmatched by any other predator in the world. A hardened frontiersman like Glass with a rifle in hand pointed at the bear could do nothing to protect himself. My puny bear spray can in my pack would be totally useless. Oh my, will I ever again have the courage to hike in the great north?

The bear attack in this movie alone is worth watching. Mind you, it’s very challenging and difficult, but it’s the most realistic and graphic animal attack I have ever seen in a movie. It’s so realistic, I felt I was there, I was groaning, gasping, and – I admit – I looked away a few times.

The scenery of the mountains in Montana (actually filmed in Canada and then in Southern Argentina, when they ran out of winter in the north) was breathtaking. As a lover of the outdoors, I enjoyed watching the winter wilderness. This is a movie for “winter people.” The movie constantly shoves the cold and unforgiving brutality of nature into our faces.

It also brings out the battles between the American and French trappers and the various Indian bands. Why did the Indians go after the whites so ferociously? Why did the whites kill, maim, and rape the Indians. Why did one side cheat and steal from the other? The Revenant gives an unadulterated look into a grim and violent period of American history, not so far in the past at all.

Leonardo DiCaprio did the job of his lifetime here. This will get him his Oscar. He not only carries the movie, DiCaprio is the movie. From the first minute, to the last, he overpowers us with the sheer pain, wildness, and ferocious will of the character he plays. It does not seem like he acts. We are watching Hugh Glass, being crushed by his environment, over, and over, and over again – only to stand up and rise next. DiCaprio takes us into the wilderness with him, and into the soul of a frontiersman and trapper, and the father of an Indian child, and the husband of an Indian woman.

The Revenant is not a movie. It’s an experience. And it is hard work to watch.

Rating - Four Stars


To a Russian soldier the Austrians, as well as all non-Russian speakers, were all “Germans.” The word German (Немецкий – pron. nimietzki) in Russian means a “dumb man” — one who cannot speak so that we can understand him.

— translation note by Aylmer Maude in Tolstoy’s War and Peace

War and Peace takes place in Europe in 1805 through 1810. Much has changed in the years since then in Europe. But it makes me think of what so many Americans, xenophobic as we often are, think of foreigners that don’t speak “our language.” The bigotry of people who view those who speak other languages as “dumb” and inferior goes back through the centuries, the times when imperial Russia was a superpower during the Napoleonic wars, and of course far back into the distant reaches of history to the ancient Egyptians.

It reminds me of the quote often attributed to Miriam Ferguson, the first governor of Texas:

“If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.”


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