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Archive for the ‘First World Problems’ Category

Switzerland just ruled that starting mid 2017, all smartphones have to use the same charger, thus minimizing electronic waste. I can see that this is a good idea. I don’t like to have all these chargers lying around.

Yeah, that’s going to get attention. So Apple will change its design to accommodate Switzerland? My guess is that Apple will not care if 8,236,000 Swiss can buy iPhones. The Swiss market is too small to matter for Apple. The Swiss are just going to have to drive over to Austria, Germany, France or Italy to buy those. My guess is that their nearest Apple store is closer in those other countries than some Apple stores in American states like Idaho and Montana will be from many consumers.

Let’s wait and see what happens.

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Recently the open enrollment period for our company’s health plan started. We were not happy with our last plan, so we investigated Kaiser as an alternative. Reviewing the covered benefits, we checked this out on the website:

Kaiser

Outpatient services covered: Starbucks!

Yeah. Thank you, Obamacare.

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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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Breaking Bad 1

I admit, I thought Breaking Bad was one of  the best TV series ever. I was a fan, and I am enjoying Better Call Saul now.

The other day I was browsing at Barnes & Noble, and as I walked through the games and toys section, I noticed this box of three Breaking Bad action figures, obviously Saul, Walt and Jesse. They are little plastic stylized figures about two inches tall. I wondered what would possess people to buy these – and then do what with them? Put them on a shelf or something?

Then I turned over the box and nearly dropped it in shock:

Breaking Bad 2

This is clearly a First World  issue – not only did I ask myself who would buy these and what would they do with them? Now I ask myself who would be insane enough to spend $29.95 on this.

I think our world is Breaking Bad.

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flushable_wipesAre you flushing baby wipes down the toilet? Or – ahem – condoms?

Recently there was some media attention on this, originally triggered by a piece by Matt Flegenheimer in the New York Times. It was also picked up by All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC. Chris visited a New York sewer treatment plat and showed what the workers have to go through, removing the wipes from the sewer. Large containers of unimaginable “trash” fill up every twenty minutes. Workers have to remove the stuff from the works, which get gummed up by the unimaginable “trash.” Fortunately the TV does not transmit the stink.

Flushable in Pipes

Then I saw this article on the blog grist.org talking about flushing condoms down the toilet.

We have this idea that whatever we flush down the toilet magically disappears from the world. That dead fish or mouse may well make it out of our apartment or house. That condom likely slips along, that baby wipe is small enough to be whisked away. But somebody down that long line of pipes will have to remove it from the water and haul it to a landfill.

So rather than throwing things down the toilet – which is not a recycling unit that we see on spaceships in science fiction movies – it would be a lot cheaper for society to put that stuff in the trash. The trash truck is a lot cheaper than the entire chain of events it takes to remove the condom from the water and put it into a – you got it – trash truck to be hauled to the landfill.

I learned a lot from the New York Times article, the MSNBC piece and the Grist blog entry. If you are buying “flushable” wipes, if you are “buying it” that these wipes just disappear in the sewer system, you might be interested in researching these articles I am linking to.

Let’s not flush money down the toilet.

 

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Does Yelp Help?

YelpA few weeks ago I was in Atlanta for a few days, and I spent the last night at a hotel near the airport. I had a rental car, so I was able to go to dinner away from the mediocre hotel restaurant. As I always do, I searched Google Maps for nearby restaurants and found a number of choices. Then I checked out the reviews.

It’s wonderful that we can now read what other people thought about a place of business, like a restaurant, before we actually patronize it and spend our money there. The problem I find I have is that there are always adverse reviews, along with the good ones, and I tend to focus on the one-star ones.

Somebody always hated something – everywhere. And one by one I eliminate my choices, so that out of the 20 restaurants in the immediate vicinity of my hotel, I ended up with no candidates where I wanted to eat.

I have similar experiences with Amazon book reviews. No matter how good the book is, there is always somebody with a one-star review which skews all the other ones.

And hence the question and first world problem:

Does Yelp help?

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One view of airplanes and airports:

Airplanes are cramped, jammed, hectic, noisy, germy, alarming, and boring, and they serve unusually nasty food at utterly unreasonable intervals. Airports, though larger, share the crowding, vile air, noise, and relentless tension, while their food is often even nastier, consisting entirely of fried lumps of something; and the places one has to eat it in are suicidally depressing. On the airplane, everyone is locked into a seat with a belt and can move only during very short periods when they are allowed to stand in line waiting to empty their bladders until, just before they reach the toilet cubicle, a nagging loudspeaker harries them back to belted immobility. In the airport, luggage-laden people rush hither and yon through endless corridors, like souls to each of whom the devil has furnished a different, inaccurate map of the escape route from hell. These rushing people are watched by people who sit in plastic seats bolted to the floor and who might just as well be bolted to the seats. So far, then, the airport and the airplane are equal, in the way that the bottom of one septic tank is equal, all in all, to the bottom of the next septic tank.

If both you and your plane are on time, the airport is merely a diffuse, short, miserable prelude to the intense, long, miserable plane trip. But what if there’s five hours between your arrival and your connecting flight, or your plane is late arriving and you’ve missed your connection, or the connecting flight is late, or the staff of another airline are striking for a wage-benefit package and the government has not yet ordered out the National Guard to control this threat to international capitalism so your airline staff is trying to handle twice as many people as usual, or there are tornadoes or thunderstorms or blizzards or little important bits of the plane missing or any of the thousand other reasons (never under any circumstances the fault of the airlines, and rarely explained at the time) why those who go places on airplanes sit and sit and sit and sit in airports, not going anywhere?

Ursula K. Le Guin in USA Today

Another view of airplanes and airports:

While it took the Mormon handcart teams three and a half months to travel by foot from Iowa to Utah in 1856, I can travel by sitting in an aluminum tube that is heated and pressurized, which rockets almost as fast as the speed of sound, six miles up in the air. I can rest my head back and doze, I can sleep, I can read, I can write a report, I can watch movies, listen to concerts, play games, uninterrupted by anyone, while I sip a drink and eat a snack. On my trip from San Diego to Chicago, I can look out the window and first see the ocean and the bay under me fall away while we soar. I can see the entire Grand Canyon in one field of view. I can look down on the Rockies and the endless Midwestern plains. I can rest my mind and recharge my internal batteries.

When we land after traveling for four hours to cover a distance that used to take six months, and often was deadly, I enter the airport terminal in Chicago. It’s a wonderland of services, with book stores, restaurants, fast food counters and coffee shops abounding. All the people around me came here for a short time, before they all go on other planes and separate again, to be scattered all over the country or the entire world, just twelve hours later. But I bask in the amazing moment when I realize that we are all so fortunate and lucky that we can share this hour of time, at this airport, once only ever for this combination of people, before we all disperse again, stepping into aluminum tubes.

Every human in history, for tens of thousands of generations of humanity, would have given a fortune to once experience the wonder of stepping into an aluminum tube and traveling at the speed of sound, six miles up in the air.

And I get to do it all the time. It does not get any better than that.

— Norbert Haupt

 

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Something happened in my life that had a fatal impact on my book collection.

Ever since I was 14 years old, I have collected books. At times I had to leave some of them behind because I moved and didn’t have any room. Other times I sold a ton of science fiction books at a garage sale for a quarter a piece, only to regret it later when I wanted to read one or the other again. Then I actually bought some of those books a second time retail at the bookstore. I have also given boxes and boxes of books away to the library when I had no more room to keep them.

When I was young, I always dreamed that eventually I’d have a house with a library where I could put all my books on shelves. However, the houses were never big enough, and the extra rooms always had more practical purposes. The dreams of our youth often die. In the end, the majority of my books were always in stacks of boxes in the garage.

A couple of weeks ago I wanted to read James Clavell’s Tai-Pan. I knew I had the book, and over the weekend I opened a couple of my boxes labeled fiction and I was lucky to find Tai-Pan right away. Here is the cover:

Kindle1

I must have bought it twenty years ago. It was spotless, albeit a bit yellowed around the edges. Never read, never really opened. So I started reading it, and there was the surprise.

I didn’t like that the print was too small. Here is the last page in the book and on the Kindle for comparison:

Kindle2

I have gotten used to all books on the Kindle being written in the same font, the same font size, and the pages presented with the same size and number of lines.

I could not comfortably read the hardcopy book, especially while in bed with inadequate light, while traveling, or while eating. The hardcopy book is also heavier than the entire kindle. To read it, I needed two hands, mostly to keep it open. I can read a Kindle with one hand and without straining my eyes.

After working the hardcopy book for about 10 or 15 pages, I gave up. I pulled out my Kindle, searched for Tai-Pan on Amazon, purchased it with one click and within 60 seconds I was reading on the Kindle. I put the hardcopy book away on the nightstand for good.

And that was what happened: I have no business keeping all these books any longer. I will never have a library in the house to display them. I don’t want to move them ever again. If I want to re-read one or the other, I will likely buy it again on Amazon. So am I kidding myself?

Here is an interesting blog post by another writer to the same effect.

I will keep text and reference books that still have value. Art and photography always looks better on paper. Books with charts, tables, text-books and the like are still more readable in hardcopy. But novels?

They need to go. The Tai-Pan experience was the death of my physical books.

Of course, since I made that decision, a colleague of mine recommended Thrice Upon a Time by James P. Hogan. It was not available on Kindle, so a few days ago, a nice little box arrived from Amazon:

Kindle3

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I allowed myself to be duped by the source information for the Drug Money post. One of my readers pointed out that the pile of money shown was not 22 billion dollars. Here is the article in Snopes debunking it.

This got me thinking about visualizing piles of money. So I did the math. A dollar bill is 155.95 mm long, 66.23 mm wide and 0.1 mm high. The volume of a dollar bill therefore is 1032.85 cubic mm. Since that would be a perfectly crisp, brand-new bill, it’s not realistic to expect that I could stack them without some slop for folds, creases, gaps between stacks, rubber bands around stacks, etc. So I factored in a 10% slop, allowing for 10% waste overall in my stacking of the money.

I went to the garage and found my old briefcase that I used to use for business before laptops existed.

Cash-BriefcaseI calculated the volume of the briefcase and came to the conclusion that it would hold 7,763 dollar bills. Of course, if they were all twenty-dollar bills, it would hold $155,262 dollars’ worth. And using hundred-dollar bills, I could fit $776,311 into my briefcase.

Going forward, I decided to just use hundred-dollar bills. Anything less does not make sense for this exercise. How much could I put into my suitcase?

Cash-Suitcase

This medium-sized suitcase is 60 cm by 43 cm by 25 cm – without stretching and cramming. I could put $5.67 million in hundred-dollar bills into this suitcase.

Given those results, Walter White’s money pile in Breaking Bad, supposedly about $80 million, in various denominations, seems somewhat realistic and accurate in comparison to my suitcase here.

breaking-bad-money-pile

Just to complete my reality check, I took a quick look at our microwave:

Cash-Microwave

It is 37 cm by 37 cm by 22 cm and would hold $2.65 million in hundred-dollar bills.

Now let’s go big. The largest U-Haul truck is 26 foot long.

Cash-UHaul

Its cargo hold is 1,611 cubic feet. Therefore, filling it completely with hundred-dollar bills, it would hold just about exactly 4 billion dollars ($4,015,197,438) assuming the 10% slop factor.

Back to my Drug Money post, using all hundred-dollar bills, it would take 5.5 such U-Hauls, stacked to the rafters, to hold 22 billion dollars, not a measly corner in a spare bedroom in a Mexican mansion.

Last time I checked, Bill Gates was worth about $56 billion. If he wanted to cash out and move to the Bahamas with his money in hundred-dollar bills, he would have to pack up 14 large U-Haul trucks. This puts the term “immense wealth” into perspective for me.

Now, to prove I got it right, I’ll go to the bank on Monday, take out $2.65 million and stuff it into my microwave for a picture, just so you can actually see it.

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No SmokingI started traveling on airliners in 1974, when you could still accompany a traveling passenger onto a plane. When it was time to leave, the flight attendant would announce that they were going to close the doors, and any friends not traveling had better leave the plane now.

That was in the days when smoking was also still allowed on airliners. Usually the smoking section was in the back, after row 20 or so. Presumably the canned air in the back of the plane would stay there and not mix with the air in the front. Many a time I sat in row 18 or 19. Oh the joy when the announcement came that it was okay to light up! Everyone in row 20 and behind would immediately start puffing.

Of course, in first class, usually rows 1 to 6, smoking also had to be allowed. So rows 5 and 6 were the smoking rows in first class. I never could figure out how the air from row 5 and 6 knew that it was not allowed to drift forward to row 4 or back to row 7 and beyond.

The most ludicrous arrangement I had ever seen was on the German Air Force Boeing 707 airliners. The old 707 was the workhorse airliner of the 1960s and 1970s, with four massive, polluting and loud engines. It had the standard arrangement of three seats on each side of the aisle, like on most midrange planes today. Since Germans smoke more, they needed more smoking seats. So they came up with the brilliant idea to have the right side of the plane smoking and the left side non-smoking. Seats A, B and C were non-smoking, D, E and F smoking. I don’t have to tell you how well that worked.

I am glad most civilized nations have since outlawed smoking on airliners. Even the Germans have figured that out.

For many years, the use of cell phones has not been permitted in planes. The FAA is now considering lifting that ban, setting the way for people to talk (and text, post and chat) on airliners.

It is one of my personal pet peeves that I don’t like to listen to other people’s phone conversations.

In the American Airlines Admirals Clubs there are often “Quiet Rooms” with signs posted all around that the use of cell phones is not permitted. That’s where I go when I want to read, study or work without the disturbance of other people’s conversations. But as it seems to happen every time I am there, some unwitting passenger pulls out the phone and starts a long phone conversation. Of course the perpetrator does not realize he or she is in a quiet room and is the only one talking. All the people in the room are forced to listen to every word of that person’s private conversation, and everyone is embarrassed to point out the sign “Quiet Room” on the wall.

I also get a kick out of the conversations surging on airplanes when the captain turns off the seatbelt sign after landing. Seemingly two-thirds of the passengers have an urgent need to make a phone call, telling whoever is picking them up that yes, they have landed, and no, they are still on the plane, and yes, they will see each other in a few minutes at the baggage claim, and no, they are still on the plane, and yes, the flight was good. Couldn’t that conversation wait another seven minutes when they faced their friends in person at the baggage claim?

Vector no cellphone signI am horrified about the idea that the people 17.5 inches to either side of me, and 20 inches in front and behind me, all could be chatting about their private business all flight long. I’d rather spend that five hours in jail than be trapped between chit-chatters.

If the restriction on cell phone use in airplanes is lifted, I appeal to the airlines to institute non-talking sections on flights. Rows 20 and beyond are the talking rows. Rows 7 to 19 are for the non-talkers like me. I already pity the people sitting in row 19, because chit-chat is just like smoke. It gets all over the place.

And thus I have coined a new term: Non-talker.

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We thought that we’d all have less devices, not more. I have more and more. Just start with Kindle:

1. My original Kindle was great. It works wherever I have bars on my cell phone. It works fine, but I never use it anymore. It’s just sitting on a shelf.

2. I bought the “New Kindle” because it’s smaller, lighter, has all the same features, but does NOT have cell access. I can only buy when I have WiFi. It’s now my main reading device, mostly because of its small size.

3.  I have a Kindle Fire, where I can read my books on a tablet device. I have that so I can do Android app programming, not really for Kindle reading.

4. I have a Kindle App on my iPad. When I only have my iPad with me,  I can access my books.

5. I have a Kindle App on my iPhone. When I stand in line at Subway or anywhere else, I can read a few pages of the book I am currently working on.

6. I have a Kindle App on my laptop.  This helps when I write book reviews, because I can copy and paste excerpts right into my book reviews, which I usually do on my laptop.

In summary, I have enough Kindles – until they come out with the next one…

When I got my iPad, the idea was that I could leave my computer at home and just work on the iPad. I can process emails, but without a keyboard it’s awkward. So I read emails, but anything requiring more than one-line responses has to wait for the evening when I am at the hotel, where I break out the laptop to do my work. I could bring an iPad keyboard, which I have at home, but that would  be another device to lug with me.

I also travel with my Kindle, because it’s much lighter and more convenient for book reading. Also, the iPad screen is hard to read in sunlight, like outdoors, so the Kindle is my preferred book reading device, and it comes along on trips. Its 3-week battery life is also unbeatable.

Of course, there is my iPhone, which I need for calls. It can do everything else, too, but the screen is too small for most stuff. So I have my iPad and laptop with me in addition.

Let’s not forget about three different chargers that need to come along.

Rather than less devices, I now carry more.

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There is a byproduct of our technological society that nobody could have purposely invented or even foreseen: Autocorrect fails.

Just google “autocorrect fails” and you get pages and pages of hilarious autocorrect disasters. This is just one example. Try to read this and not crack up.

Of course, I wonder how real those are. However, I have, myself, sent some embarrassing messages and received some doozies where I literally didn’t understand what they meant.

Not too many years ago “texting” didn’t exist. Now it has spawned a totally new type of humor, one that depends on one person’s typing mistakes and one machine’s attempt at interpretation. In addition, we have determined that texting in cars causes significantly more accidents than drunk driving does.

<End of Message>

Beginning of marvelous rumination:

If you are over 50 years old, turn the clock in your mind back to 30 years ago. Imagine reading the above message, before my <End of Message> tag, in the year 1983 or before. You wound not even be able to understand what that whole thing was about. Words like autocorrect, google, and texting would have made no sense at all. Concepts like doing something like texting in cars would have been inconceivable. Humor caused by human mistakes and machine interpretation would have been gibberish.

How the world has changed!

We don’t have flying cars and colonies on the moon. But we do have autocorrect fails.

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Google is tying to clean up YouTube comments:

Google’s plan to fix the YouTube comment system was a tacit admission that it has the worst comments in the world

It was about time.

Did you ever scroll down and read the comments of any YouTube video, any at all? They are the most inane, idiotic, imbecile and sometimes outright insulting comments ever. No site, blog, forum, magazine or review site even comes close. Are all YouTube all viewers illiterate thirteen-year-olds? It sure seems so. I am usually embarrassed for the comments, and I don’t even have anything to do with them. If I could turn off comments in YouTube altogether, so I don’t have to see them, even by accident, I would.

Whatever Google can do to clean up this problem is welcome by me.

 

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I love reviews, both reading and writing them. But there is a dark side.

I review every book I read and every movie I watch. You can check my ratings key page for details. I try to be clear, but I know I am subjective. I have watched 4-star movies and didn’t like them, and stated that. I have read classic novels and I didn’t like them.

Before I buy any book, I read the Amazon reviews. There are always many 5-star reviews, some in the middle,  and there are some 1-star reviews. And here is the dark side: No matter how good the author, there are always 1-star reviews that blast the book. I could be looking for a sequel to a series written by one of my favorite writers, and there will be 1-star reviews. And I let myself be persuaded not to buy the book.

It’s the same with restaurants while on business trips. I am not one to splurge during business trips. I am fine with a good food-court meal at the local mall to end a work day on the road. Every now and then, however, I need something decent. So I check the local restaurants on Google Maps and then check the Yelp reviews.

For every excellent review, there are some 1-stars that blast the chef, the food, the prices or the staff. Yelp can really ruin dinner choices. After half and hour of searching the map, hungry in a hotel room, reading Yelp reviews, I have ended up many times with no place to go to eat.

Reviews are great, but the 1-stars that invariably show up represent the Dark Side of Reviews.

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This is not a joke. Who spends $700 for a cable?

HDMI Cable

But it comes with free shipping!

Insanity.

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