Saturday, October 28, 2017

Small things - 28 Oct

  • Black holes matter.
  • Has anyone (who isn't trained in physics) ever wondered why (specifically) the 'speed of light squared' is the conversion factor for converting mass to energy? What does the speed of light have to do with it?
  • Next time you cut the grass (with a self-propelled mower), just tie the lawnmower by a string to a post in the middle of the yard and just let it go on its own. It'll just keep mowing smaller and smaller circles.
  • I've never gone under the knife, but if I did, I know that as soon as I woke up, I'd be calling out weakly, asking "What's the wi-fi password?"
  • If it costs an arm and a leg, you can expect severe buyer's remorse down the road.
  • Remember that time when you accidentally set fire to the field across from school while playing hookey? No? Oh, that was just me?
  • Imagine if we watched and commented on cooking shows the same way we watch and comment on televised sporting events.
  • The problem with trying to talk on the phone while on the toilet is that eventually, you're going to have to explain the other noises that will present themselves. Either that, or you'll have to explain the inherent echo that comes from talking in the bathroom.
  • A picture may be worth a thousand words, but good luck finding someone to come up with the thousand words.

All the music you'd want for $10 per month

Many years ago, in the time of Napster and Limewire, I declared, "What the music industry needs to do is offer a service that gives access to every piece of music ever recorded and make it available to everyone for a set fee per month, like maybe $10."

Fast forward to 2017. We have music streaming services Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play, none of which are part of the music industry. Because you know, God forbid that the music industry itself should set this up. No, it took the minds of silicon valley to pull it off. Granted it is not a perfect offering, thanks to big-name artists boycotting these services at one point or another. But I digress. Here's my take on the implementation of one of those music streaming services, in this case - Spotify.

Spotify does indeed offer me the opportunity to access pretty much 80-90% of the whole world's modern music library. Which I have to tell you, I'm just not used to (neither legally or easily). I have a fairly substantial mp3 music library of my own (6500 songs give or take), but I decided not to incorporate my collection into my Spotify Premium account, because quite simply, I'm more interested in this service for the purposes of discovering new music.

Because I expected the discovery process to be long and deliberate, and also because I have become aware that Spotify learns your tastes by what you play, I wanted to get at least some of my musical staples into my Spotify Library, so I created a few playlists to indicate and sample the music I enjoy most often. [updated 4 Apr 2018] I ended up with HyperPopsicle (157+); Eclectic Chair (188+); Acoustically Yours (127 songs and counting); Atmospheric Haze (78+); Soul Terrain (229+ songs); Jazz Jam (197+); Sheer Rock Wall (296+); Growing up in the 70s (211+); Energy Bar (121+); Electric Storm (115+); Canadian Maple (98+); and Spotify New, which I'm using as an inbox to store newly discovered but as yet unclassified and undecided music. I have to say, my 70s playlist is my favourite, as it does a great job of collecting the music I grew up to on the radio. I'm not sure if other Spotify users can find it, but let me know if you can't.
( That's the code allowing other Spotify users to load the playlist)

One thing I noticed right off the bat is that when you're looking for specific songs to listen to or add to playlists, sometimes the song listed is not the actual song. I can't remember what songs I found, but there were a few that were something other than what they were labelled. Annoying. Even more annoying was the lack of easy way to alert Spotify of the mistake. I also found their search to be hit and miss. Sometimes I'd search on a song and it came up empty. But if I searched on the artist and navigated to the album in question, there was the song! There were cases where I knew a specific album existed, but it wasn't listed under that artist. But if I looked for instances of songs on that album, I could find it. Weird. The lesson is don't give up if you can't find something on the first try. Speaking of searching, there were times when I felt compelled to look at the entire list of albums by a certain artist, only to (happily) discover that a more recent, re-mastered version was available. Nice.

A feature of Spotify that took getting used to is 'saving'. You see, you have access to all the music Spotify has, but it doesn't get downloaded to your computer. It's out there in the cloud. But if you don't add the music you like into a playlist, the only way to listen to it again is to search or browse for it. Unless you save it. Is there a particular album you love? Find it and save it. Anything you 'save' is added to your list of albums for instant access.

Once a playlist has been created, if you insist on listening to it on your phone, you're going to use data unless you're only listening to Spotify on wi-fi. Luckily, every playlist (and as I discovered later - even whole albums) can be downloaded to listen to off-line. You definitely want to do this, as long as there's room on your device. For example, these days, I'm giving Beck's new album Color a spin.

But the real treat for me is the discovery. Which can be accomplished so many ways. For starters, if you have some songs in a playlist, you can click the ellipsis next to the title and choose 'Go to Radio'. This will open a spawned list of songs that are similar in style and genre. I was amazed at how many suggestions I was already familiar with, and absolutely delighted to try out pieces I hadn't heard yet. Imagine being at a buffet and as you spoon some delicious food onto your plate, you're shown similar food that you probably want to try. It's frankly overwhelming, but when I'm in the mood to eat at a new music buffet, now I know where to go.

And that's just one way to discover new music in Spotify. You'll also be presented with a playlist called 'Discover Weekly', once it gets a sense of what you like. 30 songs to whet your musical appetite. The only thing they could do better with this feature, is to omit songs you already have in your playlists. These suggestions supposedly get better the more Spotify learns what you like. Never mind the countless playlists created by others and the many musical genres to explore.

This is the future of music I had dreamed of. Made real. OK movie and TV industry, when is it your turn?

Somebody doesn't know how Venn diagrams work

The U2 song isn't 'With AND without you'.........

Things I learned lately - 28 Oct

  • Folks are working on a project that will train crows to pick up and dispose of cigarette butts in exchange for food.
  • Shell gas stations in the UK are rolling out electric 50kW fast charging capability.
  • As part of the new Amazon Key program, Amazon will now allow deliveries inside your home when no one's there. Only for Amazon Prime members who buy a compatible smart lock and security camera, which sell for $250 per kit. It starts November 8 in 37 cities and regions with more to come. Amazon Key can also allow access to your home for other services besides delivery, like the cleaning service Merry Maids. The Amazon Key app will let customers watch their delivery, lock or unlock their door, or watch a clip of the delivery.
  • In September 2017, after the biggest consumer-data breach in American history, the credit-rating agency Equifax tried to briefly fool customers into giving up their right to sue the company. The company designed it so that people who tried to gain access to Equifax's site to check whether their information was stolen would agree — knowingly or, more likely, not — to settle any grievances through arbitration rather than through a class-action lawsuit.
  • Uber has a robot performing parking lot security at their main offices. The K5 Robot, made by Knightscope, features a 360-degree view and facial recognition abilities. It can scan up to 1,500 license plates per minute, and will notify the authorities automatically if it finds a license place registered to a suspected criminal. K5 uses lasers and GPS systems to roll around and avoid obstacles. If K5 spots any potential criminal activity, it will sound an alarm and record what it's seeing for evidence, but has to contact an human to confront the criminal.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Why being greedy can backfire

Florida Power and Light's grid did not fare well under Hurricane Irma, despite the company's assurances that it had spent billions hardening its systems after 90% of its customers lost power to 2005's Hurricane Wilma. But one thing has changed since 2005.

Solar. Many of the FPL customers who are living through dangerous heat without power now have solar panels on their roofs that could keep them going while FPL repairs its infrastructure after a storm. Except that doing so is illegal, thanks to FPL's lobbyists, who literally ghost-wrote much of Florida's dreadfully inane solar rules.

Under these rules, Floridians with solar panels are required to shut them down when the power goes out "In order to prevent dangerous back feed on FPL's grid. This is required to protect FPL employees who may be working on the grid." But the same rules mandate that these homes include a switch that cleanly disconnects their panels from FPL's system while keeping the rest of a home's power lines connected, but Floridians are prohibited from flipping this switch and turning their power on (FPL is allowed to disconnect and padlock the switch at its discretion).

So in conclusion folks, the moral of the story is that when a disruptive technology comes along that threatens your business model, and you choose to put shackles on it, you'll never know what kind of domino effect it will have.

Small things - 21 Oct

  • There may come a day when the highest rated hot dog joint on Yelp will be Costco, if it hasn't come to that already.
  • If you're worried that people are reading your thoughts, every once in a while just think 'I know you can hear me...' then just peer around for looks of shock.
  • "One man's trash is another man's treasure" is NOT a good way to tell your child they're adopted.
  • Toilet: A porcelain device whose purpose depends on whether or not you are really drunk.
  • Whenever you see a tire hanging from a tree, do you think "Poor tire. Didn't he realize that life is worth living?"
  • If you were ever thinking of committing a crime, just remember, there's no Netflix in prison.

Canadian NAFTA demands

Since the US doesn't have a problem trying to derail the NAFTA talks by making outrageous demands that they know we most certainly will say no to, we should have a little fun at their expense too.

  • The US should no longer be allowed to refer to back bacon as 'Canadian bacon'.
  • There should be a 200% duty on guns made in America.
  • Americans should not be allowed to move to Canada just because they want free health care or access to better skiing conditions. OK, we might be willing to allow that. But no OAS for you!
  • Canadian tourists should be able to shop in the US using Canadian dollars at par. We'll be reasonable and only insist on this for a week at most. Twice per year.
  • America must refer to 'Kraft Macaroni & Cheese' as 'Kraft Dinner', or 'KD' from here on in.
  • The Canadian national anthem must be played at all American hockey games, even if there are no Canadian teams playing. We did invent the game after all.
  • A Canadian's health care card (for those 18 years and older) should allow instant access to any legal American marijuana shop without question or restrictions beginning at 4:20 on July 1 2018.
  • You want our water? Then you give us your Netflix. And Hulu. And
  • You want our electricity? Then you buy our oil too. And soft wood. No tariffs. And we make America pay for the pipelines.
  • No more wearing Canada Goose parkas when it's 50F. California, I'm looking at you. We have a severe shortage up here, which is driving up prices, and you're not helping.

Star Wars Lego joke

Things I learned lately - 21 Oct

  • Amazon is adding 1 million square feet of warehouse space a week and not slowing down anytime soon.
  • Dogs like to eat cat poop.
  • There is a new virus that uses Bluetooth enabled devices to spread itself around.
  • German chocolate cake is not named after the country, but rather after Sam German, who patented a baker's chocolate, which was used in a particular cake recipe in a Dallas newspaper.
  • Cybersecurity firm McAfee said Avril Lavigne is the most likely celebrity to land users on websites that carry viruses or malware. Searches for Lavigne have a 14.5% chance of landing on a web page with the potential for online threats.
  • Norway's sovereign wealth fund, which collects money from its offshore oil industry and invests it in stocks and bonds, reached US$1 trillion (C$1.22 trillion) in value in the last month.
  • Your body needs iron, because that's what the oxygen (and CO2) binds to in your blood to get to and from your cells.
  • Every time you inhale, about 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 oxygen molecules enter your lungs.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

No really - it's totally safe!

Small things - 14 Oct

Hygienist: When was the last time you flossed?
Joe Average: Like dude, you were there!

  • In Star Trek, "Have you tried re-configuring the primary power coupling?" is just the future version of "Have you tried turning it off and back on again?"
  • How many Lowes could a Rob Lowe rob if a Rob Lowe could rob Lowes?
  • A girl grows up thinking that all doors open automatically. But in reality, she's haunted by a very polite ghost. Chivalry IS dead.
  • "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle." ~Steve Jobs
  • Sometimes at work, I like to refer to a colleague as 'you kids today', even if they're only like 5 years younger than me.
  • Computer circuits are just carefully organized sand.

A Hyperloop in Canada? One can only hope.....

In 2016, Hyperloop One held a competition to narrow down possible cities where the company could build one of its first routes in the world. Toronto to Montreal is one of the top choices to build the first hyperloop high-speed travel system.

The proposed route would connect Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, creating a Canadian mega region consisting of as much as 1/4 of Canada's population. If built, commuters would be able to travel from Toronto to Montreal (640 km) in 39 minutes (normal driving time of 6 hours); Toronto to Ottawa (450 km) in 27 minutes; and Ottawa to Montreal (190 km) in 12 minutes (normal driving time of 90 minutes). The company is working hard to have 3 production systems in service by 2021.

The element of confusion

Things I learned lately - 14 Oct

  • Under the 25th amendment's fourth stipulation, it would only take 14 people to depose the president — Vice President Mike Pence and 13 of Trump's 24 Cabinet members.
  • Paris authorities plan to banish all petrol- and diesel-fuelled cars from the world's most visited city by 2030.
  • Oil company Shell has signed an agreement to buy electric vehicle charging firm NewMotion, which will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell. It operates over 30,000 private electric charge points for homes and businesses in the Netherlands, Germany, France and the U.K. Shell is planning for the day when demand for oil starts to fade.
  • Hyperloop One just struck a major deal with Richard Branson's Virgin Group. Virgin Group has invested in Hyperloop One, a startup that's working on constructing the high-speed transit system Elon Musk first outlined in a white paper in 2013. Hyperloop One will now be called Virgin Hyperloop.
  • Apple has entered into a deal with Spielberg and NBC Universal to make new episodes of Amazing Stories, an NBC sci-fi show that was cancelled in the 1980s. The show will will have a $5 million per-episode budget.
  • Anything currently paved with asphalt, but coated with CoolSeal, reduces the temperature at ground level around 5C. It also makes it easier to light at night because the surface is so reflective. Los Angeles is testing it and may someday scale it up as a way of cooling the city down.

Friday, October 06, 2017


"Hi, my name is Karl and I'm an Altoids Cinnamon Mint addict."

"Hi, my name is Darlene and so am I."

So in all seriousness, I'm a big lover of all things cinnamon. So when I discovered that Altoids made cinnamon mints, I had to try them. That was my first mistake. They're so good!! My second mistake was letting Darlene try them. Now she's hooked. She eats through my stash and then I discover that I'm out. This used to be no big deal, because I used to be able to find them at most drug stores. Not lately though.

For some reason, places have stopped carrying them. So I've had to resort to candy stores where they have the audacity to charge upwards of $5 to $7 for one tin.

Luckily, we just went to San Diego. I knew they carried them down there, and sure enough, I was able to find them at most drug stores. Luckier still, they were on sale - 2 for $3. So we bought some.

I can only imagine what this looked like in the X-Ray security scanner........