Friday, November 25, 2016

I'd say it's just about ready

Tesla shows off its autonomous driving capability yet again. Even drivers trying to cut it off doesn't bother it a bit.

Science attacks!

What Windows should do

I just bought a new computer. It has Windows 10 installed on it. Windows has come a long way. It has a voice assistant now (Cortana). Its features are a bit more automated and they are supposed to be easier to find. I say 'supposed to be' because I still have clients who keep telling me that Windows has gotten harder to figure out, not easier.

Of course part of the problem is that Microsoft decided to change the way the features are accessed somewhat, which really threw the computer challenged users for a loop. But back to my story.

The new computer has two hard drives. One is a smaller capacity SSD, or solid state drive - meaning no moving parts, and considerably faster. The other is a standard disk-based hard drive of very large capacity. When the store sets it up, they put Windows and all the necessary drivers on the smaller, faster SSD drive, which is what you want. Then they turn it over to you. By default, Windows expects you to install your new programs and your created files, in libraries, on that same drive. But anyone with any sense is going to realize that putting everything on the small, fast drive is going to fill it very quickly, and render the other, much bigger drive irrelevant.

Which is why most dual drive computer owners will, as one of the first things they do with their new computer, is to set things up to store everything from here on in (new programs and all data files) on the big hard drive. Games possibly being the exception, for speed. If only it were easy. I tried following online instructions to tweak Windows to put any new program on the bigger hard drive, but these instructions were incomplete at best. Some new programs were still confused on where to go, others wanted no part of being installed on any drive other than the same one Windows is on. Then I tried moving my Documents, Music, Pictures and Video libraries to the bigger drive. That didn't go well either. I had to covertly create new folders on the big drive and make them part of the library structure, which only cooperated fully while resident on the original Windows drive (C:). A complete pain in the ass, and I reckon not something a typical user would figure out on their own.

So I ask you, Microsoft, what the heck? When Windows wakes up post-install to find that it is living on a computer with a small, fast SSD drive, co-habitating with a huge, slower disk drive, why can't it figure out that the user might want to limit what gets put on the smaller drive and offer to work with the bigger drive for everything but system files from here out? It's a logical thing to offer, and a relatively easy concept to explain to the user:

"Windows has detected that it is installed on a smaller SSD drive (C:) and that this computer also has a much larger drive (D:). Windows recommends that you install all future programs on D: and that you move your libraries to D: as well. Would you like Windows to do that for you?"

Make it snow

Things I learned lately - 25 November

  • A 7 meter wave of molasses swept down the streets of Boston on 15 Jan 1919. 21 people died suffocating deaths as the molasses flattened buildings and coated several blocks, making a roaring sound as it moved at speeds of up to 56 km/h. A 15 meter tall tank holding nearly 9 million liters of molasses, destined to be turned into booze, erupted. 150 people were injured.
  • The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock because they had run out of beer. The ship's crew drank beer, a gallon per person, per day, because in those days, water was unsafe to drink.
  • Just Eat, a restaurant delivery business, is trialing 'starship robots', which look like giant Coleman coolers on wheels, to delivery food autonomously. 
  • There are more molecules in a cup of water than there are cups of water in all the oceans of the world. It is theoretically possible that at least one molecule of water in your last serving had also passed through the digestive system of Jesus, or Genghis Kahn.
  • Mickey Mouse was supposed to enter the public domain (no copyright protection) in 1984. But Disney successfully lobbied the US government to extend copyright terms. Mickey was protected until 2003. Then extended again to 2024. Because Disney would collapse if anyone could make their own Mickey stuff, right? Also, much of Disney's money came from adapting works that were in the public domain.
  • Air Canada is the world's 10th largest passenger airline by fleet size and also won Global Traveler magazine's award for the best airline in North America for 10 consecutive years.
  • There's a machine for removing rubber from airport runways.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Stop when it burns

"So protest, but think of your protest like sex. You can be loud and wild and do it all night long. But when something starts to burn, you should probably stop."

~Trevor Noah - The Daily Show (speaking to democratic US protesters)

Nature wanted Bernie

Everything is the truth. Nothing is the truth.

"An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers' payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal — that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.

Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that's what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us. And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That's how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you'd argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don't have that."

~Barack Obama

I am so gonna miss these guys

Things I learned lately - 18 November

  • Russia has banned LinkedIn.
  • The leader of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael Rogers, said "There shouldn't be any doubt in anybody's mind," Rogers said. "This was not something that was done casually. This was not something that was done by chance. This was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily. This was a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect."
  • Denver has passed Initiative 300, a measure that will allow businesses to apply for permits that grant marijuana "consumption areas" onsite. This will allow people to vape and consume edibles in select Denver coffee shops, restaurants, bars, etc. with permits. Until now, public use of marijuana has been banned by state law. Smoking will only be allowed outdoors, in an area hidden from the public, and other customers outside the consumption area.
  • New parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of paid leave per child at 80% their normal salary. They can split the time however they choose, although one parent must take at least 90 days. The days don't expire until the child turns 8. That allows parents to combine vacation days and remaining leave days, to have longer summer trips or extra visits to museums as their children grow up. 
  • There are still a lot of great classic albums in the current top 40 vinyl sales of 2016. Rumours; Legend; Hotel California; Abbey Road; Pet Sounds; Dark Side of the Moon; Led Zeppelin II.
  • The Vatican finally forgave the Beatles in 2010 for the John Lennon remark that they were more popular than Jesus. That same year, the Vatican newspaper named Revolver the best pop album of all time.
  • Barbara Bach and Linda Eastman, two future Beatles wives, were teenagers in the audience at the 1965 Beatles concert at Shea stadium.
  • In 1964, the Beatles were scheduled to play the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. When the lads found out the crowd would be segregated by race, they refused to play, so the audience was allowed to be de-segregated.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Technology break-down

It blows my mind that with all of the tech advances we have, that it's still necessary for a driver to produce a piece of plastic or paper to prove that they have a valid driver's license and valid insurance. If the police can access your driving record and criminal status on their systems, it should be a minor evolution to include an update from the registry office and the insurance company to indicate your license and insurance status and period of coverage.

I acknowledge that this might be difficult to pull off outside of your jurisdiction, but should be doable at least in your home province.

Another option I've recently become aware of is to issue registration or insurance in the form of a chip & PIN card. Imagine this. Your car's registration card is given to you by the previous owner or dealer and when you go to the registry, it is electronically transferred to you and linked to your driver's license record. Plus, you get a PIN. Whenever the police ask to see your registration, you just plug in the card to their reader and enter the PIN number. Your validation is auto-renewed every year and billed to your credit card.

Just my thoughts.

Dinosaur toys

Current favourite hashtag: #explainafilmplotbadly

  • I'm not supposed to talk about it (Fight Club)
  • A conversation about hamburgers leads to violence (Pulp Fiction)
  • A dad has to go pick up his daughter (Taken)
  • A family's first Air BnB experience goes terribly wrong. (The Shining)
  • A young man forcibly binds other men and photographs them for money (Spiderman)
  • Father reunites with his long-lost son. Wants him to take over the family business (Star Wars)
  • A lot of people take the ice bucket challenge. It doesn't end well. (Titanic)
  • Billions of dollars in subsidies for a potato farmer (The Martian)
  • Cancer survivor never loses his sense of humour (Deadpool)
  • American invades foreign land, kills local leadership, struggles to find exit strategy. (The Wizard of Oz)
  • A garbage man takes up gardening to impress a woman (Wall-E)
  • Depressed, widowed father teams up with mentally challenged woman to find his disabled son (Finding Nemo)

LinkedIn offices

In LinkedIn's Manhattan office, they use sliding panels between the rows of workstations to allow for opening or closing the barrier between rows.

Things I learned lately - 11 November

  • The number of chapters of the KKK in the US has increased from 72 in 2015 to 190 in 2016.
  • Producing beef has a huge environmental impact that dwarfs other meat including chicken and pork. Supposedly, eating less beef would be a better way for you to cut carbon emissions than giving up your car. Raising cattle requires 28X more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11X more water and results in 5X more greenhouse gas emissions. Worse, when compared to potatos, wheat, and rice, the impact of beef per calorie is even more extreme, requiring 160X more land and producing 11X more greenhouse gas.
  • Dubai's Mall of the World will be a colossal domed structure nine times bigger than the Mall of America. When it opens in 2029, it will be temperature-controlled, feature thousands of hotel rooms, and have its own transit line.
  • The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge project will link three cities in China's Pearl River Delta, creating one mega-city of 42 million people, when it's completed in 2017. I'm trying to fathom a city with more people than in all of Canada.
  • The Itaipu dam on the border of Brazil and Paraguay provides 75% of Paraguay's power.
  • 30% of households in India do not have electricity.
  • 70% of US farm land is used to grow feed for livestock.
  • Shell thinks peak oil demand could be as soon as 5 years away.
  • Bill Clinton's first job was working in a grocery store. Barack Obama scooped ice cream in a Baskin-Robbins. George W. Bush was a land man for an oil company.
  • LinkedIn's Manhattan office has a small bar-lounge. New hires act as bartenders, allowing them to meet all of the office staff.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Star buddies

They say that the atoms in our bodies were forged in stars. Is it possible that all humans on Earth contain atoms from the same star? Is it possible that when you feel a special bond with someone, it's because both of your atoms came from the same star?

I'm being watched by a strawberry

Can you be completely on your game being watched by a strawberry?

Getting a new high efficiency furnace

Recently, I had the unenviable situation of needing a new furnace, since my original furnace was finally showing its age after 21 years of service. Since you’re not allowed to get a mid-efficiency furnace anymore in Canada, we had to get a high-efficiency model. This change would cause us some issues, forcing us to make some important choices. I’m sharing our experiences with you here in case you find yourself in the same situation in the future.

I’ll get to the actual installation story in a bit, but first I’d like to give you some history. Our original furnace was never completely up to the job. It was under-powered as far as I'm concerned, as is quite possible in new homes, where the basement is undeveloped. I believe that the calculation did not account for a fully developed living area in the basement. That, coupled with the fact that our house is long and narrow, caused our home to be cooler at each end. We tried to make the bedroom warmer using a vent fan, but that just created an imbalance in the system, and we stopped using it after a few days. So, one thing I wanted to be sure of, was that our next furnace was sized correctly for our home. In case you’re wondering why I had to replace the furnace at this point, the symptoms it was exhibiting indicated three possible causes, all of which would be expensive, with no guarantee it would work. We had already replaced pretty much every part in the furnace except for the heat exchanger. For me, that was the point of no return. Furnace issues weren't just limited to us either. We’ve seen a furnace repair truck parked in front of every house on the block over the years more than a few times.

So as you may know, a mid-efficiency (80%) furnace vents the exhaust out a metal chimney, typically to the roof. A high-efficiency furnace does not. Instead, it vents the much cooler exhaust through PVC plastic pipe to an outer wall and out. It also typically requires a separate pipe for combustion air to come in. In some instances, they can use a special 2-in-1 pipe that does both.
It was the venting options that caused me the most confusion and worry. It seems that every time I asked a different professional what my options were, I got different sets of answers. Ultimately, what is possible is limited by local codes. These codes change over time. This worked in my favour apparently, because some options I was told about lately were not even legal five years ago.

Venting out the side of the house presents some challenges in a modern home, because of proximity to your neighbour and your own existing vents, services, windows and doors. You can’t vent exhaust gas anywhere near a door or window. Nor can it be near any fresh air intake vent. Nor can it be near the natural gas inlet pipe. In many houses, that doesn’t leave many options, especially if you’re in a duplex like we are, because one wall is already off limits (the shared wall) and in our case, another wall was off limits because of the porch and another wall is possibly too far from the furnace. Then there’s the combustion intake pipe. It can’t be near any type of exhaust vent, including the dryer vent.

There is another venting option, but it involves the existing chimney space. This is great when the wall(s) just aren’t giving you the clearances you need between vents, windows, etc. They can run pipes up the chimney, but this requires room in the chimney space and it probably requires pipe that can handle the heat from the metal stack. That means more expense. If you’re now only going to be using a hot water heater up the stack, it also probably means putting a liner or a smaller metal stack, because using a full sized metal stack is going to be too big for just one little hot water heater. More money. Never mind that they’ll need access to the chimney space from inside the house, which means cutting holes in the interior walls.

Sometimes the salesman / estimator will tell you some things are possible, making you feel great. Then the installer comes over and tells you the real story, and you have to make some snap decisions.

In my case, I was lucky, but it required some creative manoeuvring. I had space on my side wall for the furnace exhaust vent, but I was also trying not to open up the finished ceiling between the furnace room and the outside wall. Fortunately, there was wide open ceiling in my basement just a few feet over and we followed that route to the outside. The next issue was my combustion air intake pipe. I had no space on the wall other than where I had finished ceiling in the basement. So I asked if they could use the existing fresh air intake that the old furnace used, terminating at the furnace side wall. For the model of furnace I was buying, the answer was ‘yes’. No cutting into the ceiling required!

If I had decided that I also wanted to get a tank-less hot water heater, this would have posed an additional problem, because we would need a vent or two for that as well.

The only thing left to deal with was putting a liner in the existing chimney to reduce the diameter for use only by the hot water heater.

So I guess the moral of the story is that if a high-efficiency furnace is in your future, ask around. Get a few differing opinions. Examine every option that exists under current code and make sure you ask what each option means in terms of extra cost and cutting into walls and ceilings. Be sure to hire a professional that knows code well and arranges to get the permits and book the inspection. If you don’t like what you’re hearing, get another opinion.

Olivia's Halloween costume

Things I learned lately - 4 November

  • Orange Julep, an iconic casse-croute in Montreal, had roller skating servers until 2005. They had to give it up due to WCB concerns.
  • Neptune's existence was predicted purely based on math and orbital mechanics.
  • Iceland has no mosquitoes. Neither do New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and The Seychelles.
  • Jupiter has 67 known moons.
  • Caesar's, Bally's and Harrah's opened casinos in Atlantic City once gambling became legal there. So did Trump, opening 3 casinos of his own. The first three players' casinos are still operating. Trump's 3 Atlantic City casinos are closed. The Taj Mahal lasted a year before filing for bankruptcy.
  • Craters on the planet Mercury are named after artists.
  • The Milk River, empties into the Missouri River, which empties into the Mississippi River. So you could get to the Gulf of Mexico by water from southeastern Alberta.
  • Research indicates that bored children are a good thing. They have more imagination and are motivated to learn and do things they wouldn't otherwise try.
  • According to Deloitte, the retail marijuana market in Canada (once it's legalized) would be worth between $4.9 billion and $8.7 billion annually. The market for products and services — including growers, testing labs, lighting, and security systems increases that number to between $12.7 billion and $22.6 billion. Factor in taxes, licensing fees, and weed-related tourism, the market could even be greater than $22.6 billion.
  • When your fuel warning light comes on, you could have anywhere from 20 to 109 miles (32-175 km) of driving left before the tank is bone dry, depending on the vehicle and your driving.
  • The FDA is vague about what counts as "pumpkin," which allows companies to pack unspecified squashes into their purees and still list pumpkin as the sole ingredient.