Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sepia hell-scape

Wind-harvesting tree

Imagine a wind powered generator. But it's not big, or unsightly, or loud, or dangerous to wildlife. It's small, shaped like a tree, its leaves are mini windmills that can capture energy from the lightest breeze (7 km/h), and it can power a house with up to 4kW of electricity.

It's called NewWind. Video in French.

Classic Deadpool

Things I learned lately - 18 February

  • Gene Simmons on behalf of KISS, creates as many types of KISS themed merchandise as possible. One of their latest releases - KISS air guitar strings. It's a bag of air with a KISS header card on top, for $3.99.
  • The waiting list for season's tickets to the Green Bay Packers is 30 years long. Parents typically put their kids on the waiting list as soon as they're born.
  • Michigan's highway 185 is actually a bike path. So it's the only highway cars cannot drive on.
  • El Paso, Texas, is closer to Los Angeles than it is to Houston.
  • The tallest building in Vermont is only 11 stories.
  • Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont ban outdoor billboards.
  • Maine is the closest state to Africa.
  • Peachtree, a suburb of Atlanta, has 90 miles of roads just for golf carts. 9000 families there have golf carts as their second cars. Kids from the age of 12 drive to school in their golf carts.
  • There are 2 sets of escalators in the entire state of Wyoming.
  • Pelee Island, Ontario, is farther south than the border between Oregon and California.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Rainbow Tesla

Automation's impact on the work force

The subject of conversations lately is turning toward the workplace and economy of the near future. More and more people are starting to wonder how automation, robots and self-driving vehicles will impact the workforce. They also want to know what we should do about it.

The simple answer is that automation is going to eliminate certain types of jobs. Robots can already make cars. Pretty soon, they'll make other robots and build factories. They'll serve food. They'll build houses and roads. They'll load aircraft with baggage. Cars will have computers capable of driving themselves better than a human. And so much more. The domino effect of these things will eliminate even more jobs.

I think what this will finally require is a complete overhaul of our economy and the evolution of our careers. It will start with education. Far too few people currently can afford to get a higher education, and those that borrow for it find themselves unable to repay their loan when they can't get work in the career they've trained for. This results in an overabundance of unskilled and skilled baristas, restaurant servers and retail workers. All of which are easily replaceable with robots. Never mind the currently employed workers whose jobs can and will be replaced by technology.

I think this points out the obvious conclusion that nobody will make it through their career anymore on one track, or a couple sets of skills. Successful careers will require constant retraining, resetting. Careers will require higher degrees of learning to enter a job market requiring programmers, database specialists, etc. In fact, it has already been predicted that the blue collar job of the near future is the garden variety coder. Our current system doesn't allow for equal access to higher degrees of learning, at least not in North America. Other jurisdictions have already figured out that making education accessible to the masses for free, not only elevates the overall capability of the population, but it also gives them the freedom to switch tracks at any time. It's a future-proof strategy, and we better adopt it soon, before the jobs of the future migrate to those jurisdictions, where the workforce is highly trained and have career mobility.

Another element of education that will need to change, is the willingness of institutions to offer curriculum that has no chance of obtaining work upon completion. I not only find this practise irresponsible, it smacks of borderline fraud. Institutions will need to partner much more closely with industry, to ensure that education tracks only run when there is a job waiting for it at its conclusion. This will require both fast-tracking the curriculum and finishing it on-the-job, just in time. These partnerships could even help fund the education in the first place, by offering to subsidize institutions or student cost of living, on the condition that graduates agree to work for the sponsoring company for a fixed term.


Things I learned lately - 10 February

  • The population density of Paris is more than double that of New York City.
  • Iran has 22 ski resorts.
  • Rwanda was the first country to ban the plastic bag.
  • In 1480, Sri Lanka was still connected to India via a land bridge, which has since eroded away. You can see remnants of it on Google Maps.
  • There are no bridges crossing the Amazon river.
  • There are no roads connecting Panama to Columbia. So you can't drive from North to South America (on a road).
  • San Jose Costa Rica, only allows car owners to drive 6 days a week, to fight pollution and congestion.
  • In Bulgaria, their nods mean the opposite from ours. Up and down means no and side to side means yes.
  • The longest fence in the world, at 5600 km can be found in Australia. It was built to keep wild dogs out of the fertile SE region.
  • In Denmark, you're never more than 48 km from the ocean.
  • The easternmost part of Canada is closer to Croatia than to Vancouver.
  • There are no commercial flights in or out of Delaware.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

It's a shame

I wasn't sure I wanted to or needed to weigh in on the decisions being made in America lately, but I feel compelled to say something.

It really saddens me that decisions are being made for political effect, with no consideration for the real effects those decisions will have on innocent people.

A person in charge of education who doesn't even believe in the public education system? A person in charge of the EPA who never believed in the EPA? The elimination of financial regulations that only aim to protect those who Wall Street would readily take advantage of? Judicial hacks who deny women the right to decisions on their own bodies?

The 90 day ban against travellers from select countries is a real doozer. Especially when you consider that all the terrorists that come out of the middle east to inflict harm on America came from countries not even on the list. Saudi Arabia anyone? What strikes me though is the sheer cruelty of this ban. Families broken apart because a member can't come to America to be reunited with the rest of their family. Where's the compassion? Professionals who already work for big corporations in America, green card or visa in hand, no longer allowed to enter the country. Does this government not realize how much this could damage the economy in the long term, when you can't even hire the best of the best globally (like the rest of the world can)?

One can only reason that these policies do not result in the 'great America' so often touted by this narcissist.


The quintessential American dream - car ownership - is taking its last breaths

Futurist Thomas Frey believes that driver-less cars will be a major disruptive force on a variety of jobs.

For example, airports won't be able to make money from parking fees and taxi contracts, because eventually, most people will just hire a car to the airport. This will also affect the taxi, rental car, shuttle bus, and limo services.

But the effects reach even farther than we imagine. Without human drivers, insurance becomes an unlikely necessity, as do traffic cops, meter maids, driving schools, etc.

Cars slowly evolve from 'just in case' ownership to 'just in time' hire. Since most of these cars will be electric, most maintenance jobs will disappear. Goodbye Jiffy Lube. Goodbye emissions test garages.

But that's the tip of the iceberg. Read about the 128 things that will reduce or disappear in the complete article here.

New York artist pretends to read fake book titles, he created himself, on subway, for effect. Photographs reactions.

Things I learned lately - 4 February

  • Expatriates comprise about 92% of Dubai's population.
  • The median age of Dubai is 27 years old.
  • Oslo plans to permanently ban all cars from its city centre by 2019. The Norwegian capital will invest heavily in public transportation and replace 56 kilometres of roads previously dominated by cars with bike lanes.
  • Based on the results of recent trials, psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, may eventually be used to help treat severe depression.
  • It's a myth that storing batteries in the fridge or freezer will make them last longer. Cold temperatures can actually shorten the life span of your batteries. Also, condensation can cause corrosion or seal damage.
  • From 15 June 2017, mobile roaming charges within the EU won't exist anymore (for people with an EU based mobile company's SIM card).
  • If apple juice is coloured orange, our brain will be convinced that the taste will be of something that is orange in colour. This explains how drink makers can put a lot of juice types other than what the drink is called and get away with it. Colour influences what we taste. 
  • Unlimited refills of sugary drinks have officially been banned in France.
  • Tim Hortons will be expanding into Mexico, the UK and the Philippines.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Awesome snow family the kids next door made

Bias in journalism

It's always about the profits and investors

Great article explaining the high price of pharmaceuticals in the US compared to other countries and how it affects the industry.


"The United States is exceptional in that it does not regulate or negotiate the prices of new prescription drugs when they come onto market. Other countries will task a government agency to meet with pharmaceutical companies and haggle over an appropriate price. These agencies will typically make decisions about whether these new drugs represent any improvement over the old drugs — whether they’re even worth bringing onto the market in the first place. They’ll pore over reams of evidence about drugs’ risks and benefits.

The United States allows drug makers to set their own prices for a given product — and allows every drug that's proven to be safe come onto market. And the problems that causes are easy to see, from the high co-pays at the drugstore to the people who can’t afford lifesaving medications."

My fave pic from the women's march

Things I learned lately - 28 January

  • 3D TV is officially dead. No manufacturers are making them anymore.
  • California Edison is the first power company to start using Tesla's Powerpack storage batteries. A substation has 400 of them installed, which will accumulate power during off-peak hours and provide it back to the grid during peak hours. Message to all utility companies that say the grid can't store electricity: Not anymore, sunshine....
  • iOS has a built in magnifier feature, which can be enabled in settings > general > accessibility > magnifier. Triple click the home button to access it.
  • 70% of Germans can speak English, as can 89% of people from Malta, 82% of people from Belize, 80% of folks from Singapore, 59% of Slovenians and 40% of Armenians.
  • The Mattel electronic Barbie Typewriter, available in 1998, had a secret. It was based on an older model made by Mehano in Slovenia, made pink and purple for Mattel. It had a wonderful secret capability that was never included in Mattel's marketing or manual. It was capable of encoding and decoding secret messages, using one of 4 built-in cipher modes, activated by entering a special key sequence. It was probably thought that secret writing would not appeal to girls, so the coding/decoding instructions were omitted from the manual. Nevertheless, the crypto capabilities can be accessed if you know how to activate them. 
  • On the sidewalks of London, there are tactile patterns for people with sight problems to know where crossings are and to avoid certain hazards, based on the raised shapes. 
  • The Francisco is the world's first high-speed ferry that uses liquefied natural gas as primary fuel. The ship can carry 1,000 passengers and 150 cars while surpassing 58 knots.
  • Aqilokoq is the Inuit word for 'softly falling snow'.
  • The UK spends almost double what Canada does on its military.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Just paying attention

(Regarding people taking on their first leadership positions)

"Pay attention to what's happening around you. Don't think there's just one way to do things — context is everything. I'd also say work to reduce the stress of the people around you. If you walk in the room and the stress levels go up, you're doing it all wrong — and vice versa. It's amazing how quickly just about anyone can learn leadership qualities by just paying attention to what works and what doesn't work."

~Mark Cuban

Is he dead?

Perspective shaping reality

This Minute Physics video does an amazing job explaining how our perception of the universe shapes how we explain it.

And most especially how multiple competing theories can plausibly explain how something works until you find out more, which spawns yet another perfectly plausible theory.

Pokemon tongue

Well I'll be damned.  A Pokemon tongue looks just like a hand!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Things I learned lately - 19 January

  • In the 1400s, we used to write with pure graphite. But it was expensive stuff, so it was mixed with clay. A #2 pencil has less graphite than a #1, but is a good compromise. The more graphite, the darker the line.
  • Artists who have declined to perform at the inauguration (so far): R. Kelly; Elton John; Celine Dion; Kiss; Andrea Bocelli; Kanye West; Garth Brooks; David Foster; Paul Anka; Charlotte Church; Moby; Justin Timberlake; Bruno Mars; Katy Perry.
  • The CMHC says about 1,500 newly-built housing units sat vacant across Calgary in December 2016 and more than 800 were apartment-style condos.
  • While the song Bobby Brown by Frank Zappa never got played on American radio, Norwegian kids would slow dance to it like it was Stairway to Heaven.
  • Google was originally called BackRub. Thankfully that changed, because using it as a verb, as in "you should 'back rub' that" sounds pretty awkward.
  • SpongeBob was originally called Spongeboy. They couldn't use that name because it was copyrighted by a mop company.
  • The people involved in making tetra-ethyl lead (for leaded gasoline) knew it was poisonous way back in 1922, but they made TEL it anyway. "A colourless liquid of sweetish odor, very poisonous if absorbed through the skin, resulting in lead poisoning almost immediately." 
  • Monks made the first pretzels, either in Northern Italy or Germany, around 600 CE. The holy men reportedly took scraps of dough, twisted them to depict arms folded in prayer, and awarded them to children for memorizing Bible verses. Since the Catholic Church banned eggs and bread during Lent, the pretzel became a go-to snack, and it migrated to Austria and Belgium.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Nebulas are big

You have no idea how big a nebula is. No, I'm serious, you could try to guess, but you'd likely be wrong every time.

But you need to see for yourself. They're beyond huge.

Don't look down

If you're afraid of heights, you definitely don't want to watch this video of a guy changing the light bulb at the top of a 1500' television broadcast tower.

Make sure to watch this full screen and at 1080p for maximum effect.

For people who think they get a lot of snow...

Quebec, in case you were wondering.

Things I learned lately - 13 January

  • According to Gallup, an incoming presidential approval rating has never been this low before.
  • The little handles on a glass bottle of syrup are an example of what's referred to as a skeumorph. The handle is a leftover relic of when syrup was stored in much larger 5 pound jugs (with a proportionally larger handle), but now serve no real practical purpose other than to identify the bottle's contents. Other skeumorphs include the floppy disk symbol for saving files, and the online shopping cart symbol. 
  • We may get to see a supernova with the naked eye in 2022, although it will just look like a bright star where there once was nothing.
  • Bell Telephone started rolling out dial telephones in 1919. New York got them in 1922. The last holdout was Catalina Island, off California, which didn't go dial until 1978. In case you're wondering, prior to dial, you asked an operator to connect you to the other person manually.
  • Panasonic now has a Countertop Induction Oven, a microwave-sized appliance that cooks like a full-size oven. It uses infrared heat and induction to quickly and evenly cook your food. It can cook a full meal of chicken cutlets and potatoes in 23 minutes. 
  • A new law that came into force on January 1, 2017, gives French workers a right to disconnect that will let them ignore email outside of working hours. Companies with 50+ employees have to negotiate with their employees over when they can ignore their smartphones and emails. The aim is to improve workers' work-life balance, and to prevent burn-out.
  • The word 'never' is a contraction of the words 'not ever'.
  • Holding your coffee cup from above in a claw-like grip is the best way to prevent it from spilling.
  • Cotton candy was originally called fairy floss.

Friday, January 06, 2017

This was the front page of the Montreal Gazette on the day I was born

Simon Sinek talks Millennials

Simon Sinek has an interesting viewpoint about Millennials' needs in the workplace and how management needs to address those needs.

% of population able to speak English (EU)