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Archive for the ‘Bad Product’ Category

a-time-before-time

This is absolutely the worst book I have ever read.

I am not sure how I even came to spend $2.99 for this book. It was listed as a science fiction and time travel novel in my Amazon feed. Once I was a couple of chapters into it, and since it was so short, I kept reading it not because it had my attention, but because it was so bad, I kept reading it just to entertain myself.

I am not sure if the author is writing in English as a second language, but he’d better be. Misspellings and grammar mistakes abound. Sometimes extra words are inserted, and other times words are missing. Nobody seems to have proofread this book, let alone edited it.

I read the entire book, and I honestly don’t know what is going on. An astronaut, who likes aviator glasses (we know this because about 5% of the book talk about his glasses) leaves on a journey. It is not clear where to and why. But he has to say good bye to his wife, who goes into cryogenic sleep while he is gone. Somehow the science goes wrong and he ends up in the 1960s somewhere in the American West, and there are some characters they interact with. The astronaut is also a gambler, and he wins some money in Las Vegas. I am telling you, it is really, really bad.

Just to give you a sense, here is the entire chapter 4, where the three astronauts wake up and discover than one of the three of them is dead. You’d think that would tragic? Check for yourself:

Chapter 4

When Liam came to, the ‘balloon’ had split, slowing the ship. He was the only one of the three that were conscious. He sent some messages back to earth. Orbits of other planets were periodically slowing the ship down. His messages were sporadic. He knew that earth would not receive them for years, now, but he sent them, anyway.

He looked up. They were headed towards a planet at full speed. It was their intended destination. The ship had been knocked off course. Liam attempted to wake up his captain. Captain Stewart woke with a start.

Keats had been thrust back in his chair too forcefully. His belt had broken. His neck had broken. He was dead.

‘Stay calm.’ The captain said. Liam was unsure of who he was talking to. ‘We’re still alive. We can make it back.’ He muttered under his breath, before calmly telling Liam some orders. He immediately obliged. The ship yawed and tilted. It was in the pull of the atmosphere, but it was enough. They orbited it and began heading back in the direction of earth.

‘Let’s sleep.’ The captain said, leaving his chair and painfully making his way back to the quarters. Liam sent one more message before following on. ‘We’re going to make it.’ The captain said before closing his pod and freezing himself.

Liam followed on. For a few years there was nothingness. It was the best he’d ever slept.

My rating scheme does not support negative numbers. If I could, I’d give this book a negative 4. But as it is, zero must suffice.

There are sequels to this book. No thank you.

Rating - Zero Stars

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I didn’t think this would ever happen, but in a year where I have said this many times, I actually have a bit of praise for Trump. Here it is:

I have been an outspoken critic of the F-35 programs and its massive cost overruns over the years. The F-35 is the Pentagon’s largest single program, and is likely to cost the government around $400 billion over the next 22 years.

It has always bothered me that a single F-35 fighter plane costs between $100 and $200 million, and we’re buying 2,443 of them. How can that be? How can nobody in the government stand up to this and deal with it? Obviously, the military industrial lobby is extremely strong, so even Obama in his eight years didn’t stand up to it.

The fact that nobody can even tell us exactly how much each plane costs is alarming. Try to google it! The difference between $100 and $200 million is $100 million. Do you realize how much good $100 million can do for our country? Do you realize how much good $100 million times 2,443 could do? Yet, we have no problem blowing that kind of money on a marginal and highly criticized program that may never even work.

Here is a list of posts I have published over the years to give you some background on the F-35:

February 14, 2016 – The F-35 is an exceptionally bad plane

November 13, 2015 – Trump on the F-35 Boondoggle

May 21, 2015 – Buying the F-35

April 5, 2016 – Government Contracting at its Worst

November 14, 2016 – The Insanity of the Republican Candidates

November 7, 2015 – Giving Foreign Aid to Israel

Trump, with his loose Twitter finger, has been poking and prodding Boeing about the cost of the new Air Force One 747 planes and Lockheed Martin about the F-35 and its incredible cost overruns. The stock of both companies declined immediately after he did that, and sure enough, the CEOs of both companies responded.

Here is a tweet from the CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson:

lockheed-f-35-tweet

Here is Trump commenting on it later:

It’s a little bit of a dance. But we’re going to get the cost down,” he said, calling the F-35 program “very, very—uhhh—expensive.

— Donald Trump

Here is an article that provides a bit more background about the exchange between Trump and Hewson. This concession by Lockheed Martin would never have happened without the brash and bold behavior of Donald Trump. I was hoping over the years that Obama would show backbone and stand up to this boondoggle. He didn’t. Bush before him didn’t. No modern politician did. I would venture to say that the word “F-35” never once got mentioned in any presidential debate by any candidate of either party. Lockheed Martin had (and still has) a steady stream of cash coming to it – a redistribution of wealth from the American taxpayer to the shareholders and executives of Lockheed Martin.

We have been blaming Obama for being a redistributor, and we have pointed to the measly food stamps program that helps destitute Americans to get nourishment for their children. But right in front of our eyes, glaringly in the open, we have tolerated a redistribution program on a much grander scale – and nobody has spoken up.

Enter Donald Trump.

I have nothing but disdain for the man Donald Trump. But this is good.

This little tweet of his might have been worth quite a few billions of dollars of American taxpayer wealth that can now go to more noble causes.

trump-tweat-f-35

Trump is the first politician in my memory that is standing up to the military industrial complex.

And there you have it. I have posted in praise about Trump.

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Gun Rights and Kids

I lifted this from Facebook a few days ago.

gun-rights-and-kids

Seriously?

I don’t agree. This child can’t be more than eight years old. Gun rights have nothing to do with this. I cannot come up with a single reason why a child should be “properly trained” to shoot a lethal weapon.

It’s not time yet. The child is not old enough yet to make responsible decisions. I would not teach an eight year old child to shoot a gun, for the same reason why I would not teach an eight year old child how to use a condom.

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I subscribe to a lot of magazines, and then I lose interest and let the subscriptions lapse. Forbes is one of those that I get tired of quite often. But I must have responded to one of their mail campaigns: Check here if you want to continue your subscription, for only $61 per year, etc.

I truly do not remember doing this, but I am pretty sure that is what happened,  likely many months ago.

I am not getting Forbes magazine now, but I am getting occasional invoices that I owe them $61. Why am I not paying?

As I usually handle such pestering invoices, I ignore them, and they stop. Obviously, I am not getting the magazine, why would I be getting invoices?

Then, a few weeks ago, I got the letter posted below.

Page 1 (click to enlarge)

Forbes 3-1

Page 2:

Forbes 3-2

Unbelievably, these guys are threatening with collection!

For $61.

For a subscription for Forbes!!!

Really?

I didn’t want this to escalate, because if they are serious and are harassing their potential subscribers this way, they are going to continue, and the $61 will quickly start getting larger, and my credit will be affected, and there’ll be paperwork. So I whipped out my credit card and paid.

I haven’t received any confirmation from anyone.

I haven’t received any letters.

I haven’t received any magazines.

Have I fallen for a scam?

No matter what, Forbes, our relationship is done. If that’s what you need to resort to in order to hang on to your subscribers, it’s pretty sad.

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We have all heard about the $600 toilet seats in the military. Here is a $336,413.59 iPad app for you.

Apparently the TSA needed an app to allow random direction for passengers to turn left and right. You can see the app in operation in the video below. That’s all it does.

Apparently, the TSA paid $1.4 million for this project, but over a million was for hardware, presumably devices. $336,000 was for app development. Further research shows that the total development cost for the randomizer app was $47,400, a TSA spokesperson told Mashable, which was part of the $336,413.59 contract. The spokesperson declined to elaborate on what else the contract entailed.

An Android programmer then writes this app in front of our eyes in about 10 minutes. So – the government paid somebody $336,000, to develop an app that took less than an hour to make. How would you like to make a million dollars an hour? Even if only $47,000  went to the developer, it’s still an hourly rate of over $200,000.

Ok, ok, there were endless exchanges about complicated specification, approvals, and all the standard government contracting overhead, which I am used to myself in my own work world. Even at an overhead factor of 90%, we’re now down to $20,000 per hour for the actual work.

If you’re not a programmer and don’t want to learn how to actually write this app, just watch the first minute of this video and then forward to the last 30 seconds. That’s all you need.

And this should make us all think about how our government spends our money. This just happens to be in one area that I understand well. Let’s take a wild guess about how it is that a single F-35 fighter plane costs more than $100 million, and we’re buying 2,443 of them.

Now, true to form for our government, and this is pure satirical speculation on my part, perhaps there are some things in this app that the government is NOT telling us about. What if the arrow is just a ruse for a profiling app. The camera points at the passenger, does it not? Perhaps it is looking for skin color, turbans, and other indicators of religion and directs those passengers “randomly” to one side or the other? Perhaps it is imaging all passengers and running face recognition in the background on some server, so by the time the passenger gets to the scanning station, they have the identity? Features like that – that they are not telling us about – would actually justify an app costing $336,000.

I have no evidence for that. Either our government is insanely incompetent by spending this much money for a trivially simple randomizer app, or it is cunningly smart by making an app that seems benign but has huge implications.

Your guess is as good as mine.

 

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Recently I ran out of Dammar Varnish. This is the stuff oil painters use to varnish and protect their finished paintings. I had bought a seemingly lifetime supply many years ago in a few glass liter bottles. But finally that ran out and I had to buy a new batch.

This stuff is hard to find in any quantities. It’s about $50 for a liter, which is what is in this can.

Dammar Varnish

I opened it to use for the first time today, and I was completely baffled when it was open. As you can see, it has a wide mouth and not much height. It seemed impossible to pour from this into the small saucer-like dishes (kind of like the soy-sauce dishes in sushi restaurants) artists use for varnishing. It was not possible without spilling all over it.

Here I must explain that Dammar Varnish is an absolutely nasty material. It sticks to everything and can never be removed. Obviously, it is designed to protect paintings for centuries. Once it gets on something, that something is pretty much ruined. It’s like pouring superglue over things. So you don’t want to spill a drop, for reasons of avoiding destruction of what’s underneath, and because it’s so expensive.

Eventually I found a larger dish and a plastic funnel I was willing to ruin forever just to get the varnish out of the can. Even then, it spilled all over the rim and I poured way more than I needed, it just came out too fast. It also dripped down into the top rim of the can (see red arrow) and all over the plastic spout. I am pretty sure that in a day or so, the spout and the top will have fused and I’ll never get the can open again.

What were the designers of this package thinking? Clearly, not one of them ever tried to use it for varnish and actually dispense the stuff from that can.

I wish I had saved the old glass bottle. Then I could use the funnel now relegated forever to varnish and pour the whole thing into that bottle. I guess I have to go to a container store and find a suitable bottle I can transfer the stuff into.

Oh, the problems I have.

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Here is a good article by Prog Chik about H-1B visas and their abuse.

We have all heard of the popular H-1B visas. Those are visas given to foreign workers with skills that we don’t have enough of in the United States. Many of the ubiquitous Indian computer professionals in the United States started out that way.

However, in reality, many IT companies abuse this visa to hire lower-cost foreigners to keep their IT overhead down, at the expense of American workers and the jobs they held. Recently this happened at Disney, where they literally let 250 people in IT go, so their jobs could be taken by H-1B workers, which they, ironically, had to train for the first 90 days. See more about this on Keith Barrett’s blog.

Of course, this was never the intent of the H-1B program.

The intent of the H-1B provisions is to help employers who cannot otherwise obtain needed business skills and abilities from the U.S. workforce by authorizing the temporary employment of qualified individuals who are not otherwise authorized to work in the United States.

The law establishes certain standards in order to protect similarly employed U.S. workers from being adversely affected by the employment of the nonimmigrant workers, as well as to protect the H-1B nonimmigrant workers.

Clearly, Disney grossly violated this and the intent of the program. This is an example why run-away capitalism does not work. Corporations are motivated only by the bottom line. They do not care about the welfare of the individual and the common good. Disney basically put 250 highly skilled American professionals on the street and brought in low-cost nonimmigrant foreigners to fill their jobs. They outsourced American jobs.

And they are getting away with it, because we support it by not enforcing the framework of the H-1B program.

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Pulled from the Facebook feed of a friend today. Spirit Airline Sucks. It speaks for itself and it correlates to my reblogged post below.

Spirit Airlines

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Here is a study by the International Monetary Fund analyzing how large global energy subsidies are. This includes coal, oil and gas. The number is staggering: $5.3 trillion in 2015. That amounts to about 6.5% of the global GDP. About half of that is in emerging Asia, which includes China, and is boosted by the heavy use of coal in that part of the world. In the United States alone, the amount estimated for 2015 is $700 billion.

Subsidies are money that our governments take away from citizens in form of taxes and give to private and nationalized large corporations to do with as they please. Those corporations exist to make money by selling their products. They don’t exist to worry about what air our children breathe in 20 years and our grandchildren in 50. They don’t exist to worry about Pacific islands sinking under the sea. They don’t exist to worry about Miami, New York, and Tokyo being under water by 2100. There is no incentive for them to keep the environment clean, the rivers pristine, and wildlife alive. By definition, corporate organizations exist to make money and worry about nothing else. Yet, we give them the people’s money, every day.

How much is $5.3 trillion?

Oil Subsidies Worldwide

You can read the chart, but the bottom line is the most staggering one: The world’s taxpayers spend $168,000 a second, every second, day and night, year after year, to prop up oil companies. Yes, that’s Shell, Exxon, BP and many others. These are the same companies that make unbelievable profits. Shell’s profit alone in 2012 was $26.8 billion.

We are being brainwashed every day by our very own media and politicians to hate the word “redistribution” since it connotes socialism. The entire food stamps budget in the U.S. for 2015 is $84 billion, and it was cut significantly. Everyone seems to hate food stamps, even though is is an impactful and effective program, and has a surprisingly low fraud rate with more than 99% of benefits going to eligible households. In 2013 alone, it lifted nearly 5 million people above the poverty line, including about 2.1 million children.

We don’t like redistribution of tax dollars of $84 billion to the poor and their children. Yet, we seem to have no problem handing $700 billion to the oil companies in the U.S. alone. That’s almost 10 times as much as the entire food stamp program.

Giving tax money to corporations, any corporations, is wrong. Giving it to oil companies is immoral.

Why don’t we just stop this nonsense? Bernie Sanders has proposed an End Polluter Welfare Act, which he says would cut $135 billion of U.S. subsidies for fossil fuel companies over the next decade. It doesn’t seem like a big enough cut to me, but it’s a start.

I think I’ll donate another $35 to Bernie Sanders right now.

 

 

 

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According to the World Wildlife Foundation, in 2014 the total population of African elephants was estimated to be around 700,000, and the Asian elephant population was estimated to be around 32,000. The population of African elephants in Southern Africa is large and expanding, with more than 300,000 within the region; Botswana has 200,000 and Zimbabwe 80,000. Large populations of elephants are confined to well-protected areas. However, conservative estimates were that 23,000 African elephants were killed by poachers in 2013 and less than 20% of the African elephant range was under formal protection.

— Wikipedia

In 2013 alone, over 1,000 park rangers were killed while attempting to defend African elephants from poachers. The elephant is a terribly endangered animal and it may only be a few more decades before there are no more wild elephants left.

Imagine my surprise when I found this advertisement in the October 2015 Robb Report Collection edition:

RobbReport2

RobbReport1This is  a magazine for the very rich. It is full of articles and advertisements for super cars, private jets, 3rd homes in remote islands, art and culture, and – apparently – big game hunting.

It is beyond my comprehension how BigGame.org can position itself as a conservation and education organization, when it’s really just a club for big game hunters – the Dallas Safari Club.

It makes it sound like killing elephants is a noble and worthy endeavor.

Tell me what you will, we can educate and observe completely without shooting a single elephant for sport. Making it sound like hunters are the good guys in this terribly destructive game is simply irresponsible.

Hunting big game for sport is as outdated as slavery. What exactly are “hunters’ rights” that need to be protected? Sounds kind of like protecting the rights of slave owners to me.

Elephants, along with whales and apes, are the most intelligent creatures on this planet, and we’re wiping them out – for sport (in the case of big game hunting) and the relentless greed for ivory in mostly Asian markets.

We humans have a responsibility to protect our fellow intelligences.

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I have come across these shower spouts in hotels from time to time. It’s really frustrating when you’re standing in the shower, the water is on with just the right temperature coming out of the spout, and there is no lever to divert the water to the shower head.

What the heck?

Shower1

Apparently some hotels got tired of naked guests calling the front desk in frustration because they could not figure out how to turn on the water in the shower, so they put up this sign at eye level:

Shower2

Even with this sign, I’d venture to guess that many a patron that does not routinely read engineering blueprints cannot figure out what the drawing means.

The gist is: you pull down the spout ring, which you can’t even see is there when you stand in the shower, to get it to work.

Why? Why? Why?

Did some designer jump up and down and yell:

“Look, Ma, I made something really complicated that used to be simple, trivial and functional! Now everyone is going to need help the first time they use this shower!”

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We live in the Sonata Community in South Escondido, within walking distance to Lake Hodges, a major shopping mall, a large high school and a community park – and unfortunately, to Be Wise Ranch, an organic farm. One would think that’s a good thing. I believe in organic farming. However, organic farms do not allow the use of pesticides, and the result is that our neighborhood is infested with eye gnats.

I have lived in Southern California for 30 years. We have a near perfect climate all year round. We like to enjoy the outdoors, to garden, grow exotic plants, have a glass of wine on the patio, doze in a hammock. But we cannot do any of these things where we live. If I go outside and start washing my car, within 20 seconds I am busy swatting gnats from my face and ears. I cannot spend five minutes planning anything in the yard without being frustrated by constant gnat attacks. I cannot sit outside and read any time of the day. We can never have meals outside on the patio, something we love to do. We cannot entertain guests outside. It’s a nightmare.

I don’t know the exact statistics, but there must be many thousands of houses within a three-mile radius of Be Wise Ranch in all directions. All of these neighbors have this problem. They have petitioned to San Diego County for help. The farmer has provided advice and traps. We have tried to use the traps and they turned out to be useless. Yes, some gnats got caught, but those in my face must have been the smart ones.

Here is a “gnat fence” comprised of traps spaced six feet apart. This is within a few hundred yards of my house.

gnat fence

Traps like this surround much of the farm itself, albeit not as closely spaced. I didn’t see any gnats in any of them. Can you imagine this line of traps stopping a gnat infestation covering many square miles? It seems ludicrous, like a barbed wire fence stopping flying pigs. I predict it will be as effective as building a wall between the United States and Mexico.

But joking aside, I believe this is a placebo, put up by the farmer to make people feel better.

There is no good answer to this. Be Wise Ranch can’t produce its product without its current practices. The neighbors living there are stuck. This isn’t going to change. If you live near an organic farm, you have to deal with flies. The rumor is that Bill Brammer, the owner of the farm, lives nowhere near here. The only solution is zoning. There should not be an organic farm near subdivisions of thousands of houses, a major high school, a major community park, and a huge shopping mall. But zoning requires political will.

The result is an inevitable drop in property values. There is no chance that I would buy an upgraded property in this neighborhood, knowing what I know now.

And now I have to go out and get the mail, swatting my way to the street and back.

Link to Yelp for Be Wise Ranch

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The American Dream has turned into the American Nightmare.

American Dream

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Last week I needed to pick up a group of people and their luggage at the airport, so I rented a passenger van.

Ford Van

Avis gave me a Ford Transit 350 Extended Passenger Van.

I loved driving it. It was peppy, responsive and the visibility was great. The low-slung side windows provided good visibility from inside, and the mirrors were perfectly positioned to eliminate any blind spots. The entire vehicle looked sleek and elegant.

But then I looked at the door hinges (red arrows) on the side.

Steve Jobs would have been disgusted. I cannot believe the designers at Ford spent all this time making the van look elegant, sleek and stylish, and then bolted on doors with huge hinges sticking out several inches. It gave the whole vehicle the look and feel of a school bus. I suspect the opening was designed for a sliding door, since the groove for the door is also still there, and the hinged doors are just afterthoughts.

Nevertheless, I think it was a very poor design decision and it makes the entire vehicle seem cheap and utilitarian.

The designers simply didn’t finish the job. At the end, Ford didn’t care.

Sad.

 

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