Friday, December 21, 2018

Some products need to have very different labelling from each other

Welcoming Google Home into our home

So, unlike my next door neighbour, who bought an Amazon Echo Plus, I decided to try the competition, Google Home. I made this decision based on the fact that I’m already fairly heavily invested in Google things. Not completely, but I use a lot of Google online services. I just hadn't yet bought any Google hardware. And I bought two Google Homes, one for each floor of the house.

Once you unbox the thing, you have to get and install the Google Home app on your phone. Yes, it works on the iPhone too. On the app is where you’re going to set up Google Home and configure it. The process was simple, at least to set up one account for one person. You show it how to connect to your wi-fi, train it to recognize your voice, then you’re off and running. Since I bought two of these things, I set the other one up on a different floor.

I wasn’t satisfied leaving it at that, as there are two people living in our house, so I wanted to add Darlene to the device so it could also respond to her. I thought this would be a simple process, but it was not. I tried to follow some instructions from various sources online and got nowhere. One of the unfortunate things about a technology that is evolving very quickly, is that there’s a lot of documentation and articles out there that are already obsolete due to updates and changes to the user interface. So I had to call in the big guns and chat with Google support. I had already figured out that I needed to add my wife’s Google account to the device, but I couldn’t find the link to train the device to her voice. I guess I just didn’t wait long enough, because after I switched the app back to her account, I was offered to train the device to her voice.

Lesson learned: If more than one person is using Google Home, each person has to have their account linked to the device / app / service. Any changes that need to be made to that person’s interactions with Google Home require that that person’s account be selected while making those configuration changes, because of Voice Match.

The distinction between which features and commands require Voice Match and which ones don't makes sense overall. But it's baffling that certain actions aren't universal and applied to everyone. At least there wasn't any option to make them available to other validated users. For example, Shortcuts and linked Assistant apps should be easily transferable from one account to another, but for now you have to manually set them up for each user. That's kind of lame.

I confirmed that Google Home (GH) could understand our voice commands by asking “Hey Google, what’s my name?” If it recognizes your voice, it will tell you your name. I got my wife to do the same thing, and it worked. I have noticed that GH has more learning to do, as it didn’t always recognize me, but did respond when I spoke more clearly and slightly louder.

So I tried some rudimentary commands. “Hey Google, what’s the weather?” “Hey Google, tell me a joke.” I had heard that you could set a timer. I wanted to see how useful that was, because my wife is setting timers all the time, for laundry and baking and just helpful reminders of when things need to get done. I commanded “Hey Google, set a timer for laundry for 20 seconds.” I set it for a short period so that I could see the end result a lot sooner. I discovered that I could stop the timer alarm both with a voice command, or tapping the top of GH. But when I asked what the timer was for, it said that there were no timers set. So I tried it again and while the alarm bells were going off, I asked GH what the timer was for. It told me it was for the laundry. Brilliant. So the key was to ask before the timer expired. Then I tried to set a timer and see if it would go off on my second GH. It did not. I am unable to find a way to move a timer to another GH device. Most importantly though, is that you can set different timers just by naming them. So you could set a laundry timer for an hour, set a baking timer for 45 minutes, etc.

I had read that unlike the Amazon Echo, which has ‘skills’ that allow it to control other electronic home devices, GH has to ‘link’ to, or ‘partner’ with other devices. For example, I have a Logitech Harmony remote and hub that I use to operate my home theatre. I read that you can use GH to turn your cable TV or Blu-Ray or Apple TV on using the command “Hey Google, tell Harmony to turn on the TV.”, etc. But first, you have to link them together. That was a bit easier than I thought it would be. I tried giving it a ‘tell Harmony’ command prior to set up and it was smart enough to tell me this needed to be linked and in the GH app on my phone, offered a tile to begin the setup. Even nicer, as part of the process, it gave me a chance to give friendly names to the various ‘activities’ that Harmony could do, so that I could just say “Hey Google, tell Harmony to turn on Apple” rather than the longer, official name of ‘Apple TV 4’. Plus, if I took the time to program favourite channel names into Harmony, I could theoretically command “Hey Google, tell Harmony to switch to CBC”. But it did understand “switch to channel 6”. The only bad part of the Harmony to GH linking that went bad is that there is one last button you have to press on the phone to link the accounts and it’s off the bottom of the phone app screen, out of sight, so I kept missing it and wondering why nothing worked. Thank goodness that there was a step by step manual online, or I probably would have never figured it out. GH seems to forget the account link to Harmony sometimes and you have to link it again. Not cool.

The next thing I wanted to try was managing my Google shopping list. Prior to GH, I had been using the Google shopping list on my phone with great results. I was looking forward to adding things to the list at home by voice command, and hopefully my wife’s voice too. The first time I tried it, it claimed that there was no shopping list, which is obviously wrong. There was a deeper problem, which took a while to figure out. Somehow, Google got confused as to who was training their voice each time. This resulted in Google thinking my voice was Darlene and her voice was me. So when I asked it to add things to the ‘shopping list’, it did, but to hers, not to mine. This is the crux of the Google Home setup. When you’re training your voice, you need to be sure that the app has YOU logged in, not another person. It doesn’t switch on its own until the voices are trained and recognized. Once we realized what was wrong, we re-trained GH to recognize our actual voices. To do the final fix on the shopping list configuration, I had to log in to the app as me, and share my shopping list with Darlene. Then I had to log in to the app as Darlene, and make my list her ‘primary list’. After all that - it works. She can now say “Hey Google, add eggs to the list” and eggs gets added to my shopping list. Apparently GH doesn’t let you delete items from a shopping list. But you can ask it to read to you what’s currently on the list.

I discovered that although GH can speak in different voices, changing voices is not even listed as a feature in the settings if you’re not set to the language English US. So, you can supposedly change the voice by changing the language to English US, then change the voice, then change the language back to English Canadian (or whatever you originally had). But come on!

In another example of the lack of consistency in GH apps, I was reading a site talking about various apps you can add that make GH more functional. One of those apps was called ‘Calgary Bus’. Do you think I could find it following Google’s instructions? Nope. In fact, the app interface doesn’t match the most easily found instructions set online and within Google Assistant (GA) I could not explore beyond music apps. I don’t know if this has anything to do with being in Canada, but I don’t think so. I may have to call in the Google support gurus for this one too.

I had heard that a recent feature added to GH was the ability to broadcast announcements to all the GH in your home. Supposedly you can say things like “Broadcast that supper is ready,” and it will chime on the other GHs and say "It's time for supper, come and get it." I need to try this. I’ve read that you can broadcast things like “It’s time to leave,” or movie time, TV time, bedtime, etc. You can even have it repeat a phrase. But it’s one way. You can’t use the separate GHs as an intercom system, yet. I’m hoping that becomes possible soon. It should be simple to implement. Also, broadcasting anything will do it on every GH you have.

GH can be used as a hands free phone. It works best if your contact list in your Google account is stocked with all of your favourite phone numbers. I primarily use my iPhone contact list, but I added a few important numbers into my Google contacts. You can also just tell it to call a particular phone number and it will. The first time you try to call someone on your contact list, you get a pop-up on Google Assistant on your phone asking permission to use the contacts list. You also need to make sure that ‘personal results’ is enabled on any device you want to be able to do things like “Call Mom.”

You can ask GH for directions to a particular address and then command it to send it to your phone. This actually works. BUT, you have to tap the notification to see the directions. It doesn’t send directly to Google Assistant app on the phone. Not very intuitive.

One thing I thought was cool had to do with news. I said “Hey Google, what are the top news stories on CBC?” It then proceeded to play (not speak) the web / mobile news summary from CBC News.

If you see one of your Google Home's white lights on, it means it wants your attention and has a reminder or warning for you. The first time I saw this in action I asked, “Hey Google, why is that light on?” and it told me that it was a visual notification of an outstanding reminder and said what the reminder was for. It also told me that from now on, just ask “What’s up?” to find out what the single white light is trying to notify you of. Probably a set reminder. I was suitably impressed that GH was able to explain to me what the deal was with the light.

If you tell Google what your favourite team is, you can then ask "how did my team do?" without having to specify the name each time.

You can ask Google Home to remember anything for you. This is a game changer as far as I’m concerned. Darlene has been saying for a few years now, “It would be great if there was a gadget that you could ask to remember stuff for you, like where you put a certain item you don’t use very often, things like that.” Well, now GH can do that. The first thing I asked it to remember was my 2nd granddaughter’s birthday, because we’ve been having trouble remembering it. I said, “Hey Google, remember that Hannah’s birthday is the 16th of August.” And then GH said it would remember that for me. The problem, again, is that it will only remember this fact for me. When my wife asked what Hannah’s birthday is, it couldn’t provide an answer.

There are some GH features that only exist in certain countries, sometimes only the US. Case in point is “Tell me something good.” In a world where the news outlets tend to focus on bad news, we can often get bombarded with negativity to the point where it has a lasting effect on us, or makes us just stop listening to the news. The “Tell me something good” feature only gives you examples of good things happening in the world. But it doesn’t work in Canada yet.

I’ve always been fascinated by web sites or phone apps that will play soothing recorded (or simulated) environmental sound effects to help you relax. GH can do this too. You can say things like “Hey Google, help me relax.” or “Play (river / beach / fireplace) sounds.”

Supposedly, GH can play 20 questions, it’s just not called 20 questions. It’s called Akinator. To get going, say, “Hey Google, start Akinator.” Akinator will guide you through how to play it. You think of a character, real or fictional, and then answer a series of yes-or-no questions until Akinator guesses who you’re thinking of. It’s fun.

You don’t have to settle for your normal name when your GH addresses you. You can be “Your Majesty” or “My Master” if you like. Just say, “Hey Google, change my name.” Home will respond with “Alright. What would you like to change it to?” Choose your new nickname and Home will confirm it. I didn’t bother with this one, but some of you might find it fun to do.

Other commands I thought were neat:

“Hey Google, what does a moose sound like?”
“Hey Google, how do you say thank you in Arabic?”
“Hey Google, find my phone”
“Hey Google, play lucky trivia.”
“Hey Google, play space trivia.”

Small things 21 Dec

  • I love the way the earth rotates. It makes my day.....
  • What happens in a black hole stays in a black hole (so far as we know).
  • Resistance begins at ohm.
  • 'You can't hurry love' should be the theme song for Viagra.
  • Dear boyfriend: I can make your girlfriend scream louder than you can. Signed: The spider.
  • Cruel: A thief breaks into your home and just steals the remote. Then they drive by every night and change the channel on you.

In Russia, pedestrians hit car [said with Russian accent]

Things I learned lately 21 Dec

  • American Eagle have started using some models on their website that look like real people, with varying body styles. Looks like very little photo retouching too.
  • KFC made a fire log that smells like fried chicken (pictured).
  • It costs about USD$200,000 an hour to operate Air Force One.
  • As of 2014, 40% ($75 billion) of the global gold trade flowed through Dubai.
  • Iran produces 85% of the world's saffron (pictured).
  • Immigrants are not the reason you're poor. The 1% are the reason you're poor. They have the power to get everyone above the poverty line, including the immigrants. But they'd rather that you believe it's their fault, because then you won't notice how rich they are compared to everyone else.
  • "Nationalism is an infantile sickness. It is the measles of the human race." ~Albert Einstein
  • People who are keeping track have registered US President Trump uttering 6,420 lies. And counting. You would think that someone who has told 100 lies would no longer have the trust of Americans. Nope. 6,420 and counting. [Update - there are various lie counters operating, so just in case you think the one claiming 6,420 is biased, the Toronto Star is only claiming 3,924 lies and counting]
  • The Dubai Mall sees 80,000,000 visitors every year.
  • The Dubai Mall is over 13 million square feet in total size. For comparison, West Edmonton Mall is 3.8 million square feet.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Made up job titles

  • Stay at home astronaut
  • Butterfly therapist
  • Breathing instructor
  • Shark whisperer
  • Back hair stylist
  • Turtle waxer
  • Cat herder
  • Roomba trainer
  • Decaffeinator
  • Dominoe painter
  • Cat walker

Tapping into the subconscious

Before the Ouija board, would-be ghost communicators used talking boards, which first became popular in mid-19th-century America. That's because millions of people suddenly wanted to talk to their dead family members who died in the Civil War. Their popularity meant scientists started studying the ideomotor effect well before Ouija boards were patented in 1890.

Research has determined that the ideomotor effect is closely tied to subconscious awareness, and that its effect is maximized when the subject believes he has no control of his movements. Paradoxically, the less control you think you have, the more control your subconscious mind is actually exerting.

This is where the Ouija board’s triangular pointer comes in. The planchette makes it easier to subconsciously control your muscle movements, because it focuses and directs them even while you believe you aren't in control of them. It's also why the planchette seems to move even more effectively when multiple people are using it at once. It frees everyone's minds to subconsciously generate creepy Ouija board answers together.

The effect might also make the Ouija board an effective tool to help you tap into your own subconscious. In one study published in 2012, scientists found that using the Ouija board allowed subjects to recall factual information with more accuracy than if they weren't using the board. Participants were instructed to answer a series of yes/no questions and to rate whether they were confident in their answers or merely guessing. Later, they were subjected to another round of questions but used a Ouija board to indicate "yes" or "no", once again rating their confidence level in their answers. In cases where participants believed they didn't know an answer, they were able to give more correct answers, more often, when using the Ouija board than when they believed they were only guessing on their own.

The researchers speculate that using the Ouija board as a technique to unlock subconscious knowledge could lead to insights about the early onset of Alzheimer's and other neuro-degenerative diseases.

In other words, the Ouija board is potentially a very powerful communication tool — just not in the way most people think.

If not now.....

Small things 14 Dec

  • Cell division explained:

o      0      8      oo

  • Never make snow angels in a dog park.
  • Pay attention to the smell of your home when you return from a trip. That's what it smells like to guests all the time.
  • Snowmen may seem a bit obese, but they're mostly retaining water
  • Things not to say to your child: "You were a test-tube baby. The test failed."
  • Deforest Kelley..... the real McCoy.
  • Time travellers. Whenever you are, we're already then.

Hey Alberta! You don't know snow.......

Things I learned lately 14 Dec

  • The CEO of McDonald's earned 3,101 times the median worker in 2017 ($21,761,052 versus $7,017). Bear in mind that McDonald's runs stores around the world and in many places where the cost of living is very low.
  • Amazon's CEO - 59 times the median worker. Johnson & Johnson's CEO - 452x. Marathon Petroleum's CEO - 935x. Skecher's CEO - 1512x. Mattel's CEO - 4987x.
  • Keep the holiday greeting cards that you receive, and next year, cut up their covers to use as gift tags.
  • All 10 of the world's fastest growing cities between 2019 and 2035 will be in India.
  • Facial recognition cameras were used at a Taylor Swift's concert, in a bid to identify her stalkers. A camera was hidden inside a display kiosk and sent images of anyone who stopped to look at the display to a "command post" in Nashville, where they were cross-referenced with other photos of Swift's known stalkers.
  • Modern kevlar body armour was first created by a pizza delivery guy who was tired of getting shot at in Detroit.
  • The top 25 highest paid NHL players make a combined 267 million dollars per year.
  • Before creating film classics like "The Shining," Stanley Kubrick was working as a photographer for Look magazine (pictured).
  • A soccer match in Argentina was interrupted when a dog invaded the pitch and made a goal-line save like a good boy.
  • In 2016, KFC gave away 3,000 free bottles of Colonel Sanders' Extra Crispy Sunscreen. KFC CMO Kevin Hochman said, "Why not make it smell like fried chicken?"

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Green home request

This is just a request I'm making of any of my Calgary readers or anyone from Calgary that has stumbled across this blog.

As you may know, I'm really passionate about green technology and in particular, I'm quite interested in writing about homes that are built to a more efficient standard than what is typical. So if you know of, or are yourself living in a net-zero or high efficiency home, I would definitely like to speak with you to learn about your experiences with your efficient home.

You can contact me by either leaving a comment to this post, or in confidence at kplesz at hotmail.

Small things 8 Dec

  • Ariana Grande sounds like a font.
  • I have 2 questions about America's new planned 'space force'. When will Puerto Rico have electricity? When will Flint have clean water?
  • How to take the last donut at work: Hold the donut aloft and announce, "This is the last one. Does anyone want to split it with me?" Touch as much of the donut's surface area as possible before they answer.
  • If the multiverse theory is true, then there's a universe where it isn't true. So multiverse theory doesn't cover paradoxical situations. Except in the universe where it does. Ugh. This is why I never studied theoretical physics.
  • Never do anything at break-neck speed. Potential consequences are indicated in the phrase.
  • What I hate about censorship is that it XXXXXXXX your XXXXXXXX.
  • Sick of getting shocked on your carpet? Reverse the polarity by walking backwards.
  • Alcohol and irony - getting hammered with screwdrivers.
  • Engineering. Like math, with noise.
  • Add some excitement to your life. Stop the microwave with one second to go to feel the rush of a bomb defuser technician.....
  • The Beatles said "All you need is love". I still get cravings for ice cream...
  • What stays in Vegas is mostly your money

How to make tea

How the CRA scam goes

You may have heard about those CRA scammers who call trying to scare you with an announcement that your account is suddenly in arrears and that you're going to be arrested unless you deal with it right now.

But what you may not have heard is how the scam proceeds for someone who falls for the bait. This real story was passed on to me from a friend of a friend. I have scrubbed the story of specific details to protect the victim.

"Wow! My afternoon was eventful. Voicemail left on my cell with a message that sounded like a robocall, but the message had started playing before my voicemail kicked on, so I only got part of the message. Here's what I heard:
"...for a Federal criminal offence. This is the final attempt to reach you. To resolve this issue immediately, and to speak to a Federal agent, call back number 226-721-1239."

"226 area code is Kitchener, Ontario. Seemed legit. So I called them back. They told me that there had been a miscalculation in my taxes, and I was in arrears $8,998.00. They told me an arrest warrant had been issued for me by the RCMP and asked did I have a lawyer to represent me in the court case.
I said I didn't have a lawyer, but was really confused about the urgency of this call as it seemed like it had come out of the blue. I'd had no prior warning and all of a sudden we're talking about a court case.

"They suggested that they could conference me in with my accountant so I could ask them what to do, and they asked for my accountant's phone number. I gave them my accountant's phone number. They confirmed the name of the firm. Then they placed a call to my accountant and had my accountant call me. I answered the call. My phone registered the call as coming from my accountant. I asked for my accountant by name and was told he wasn't there right now.

"CRA guy was conferenced on the line and asked to speak with a certified accountant at the firm, who could pull up my file. Someone with what sounded like a Chinese accent took the call on behalf of the firm. It was a name I didn't recognize.

"Red flag #1 - CRA guy asked Chinese guy to pull up my file. As far as I understood, files are not centralized at my accountant's office. One accountant; one file. But, who am I? I don't know everything. Maybe they got a new system. So I let that one go.

"Red flag #2 - The guy posing as the CRA rep referenced a tax form I had never heard of...a WO2 something or other, and asked if they could see the amount in arrears, and confirm it. Also, could they confirm accountability.

"Red flag #3 - Chinese guy confirmed the amount, but within seconds knew it was all their fault. Talk about quick math skills, or report reading skills, or the WO2 somethingorother was just such an awesomely clear report that this guy *knew* it was completely an accounting error and they took full responsibility. But, again, self-doubt. I'm not an accountant. I don't know all the forms or exchanges between accountants and government that go on. Could be a legit thing. I let it go.

"Red flag #4 - Which didn't occur to me until later in this process - CRA guy was controlling all of the calls. I was never dialing out. CRA and the accountant were always dialing in to my phone.

"Red flag #5 - My phone initially identified the caller as "Fraud Alert" and not the CRA. When I mentioned this, CRA guy said "We have other lines. Would you feel more comfortable if I called you back on one of our 1-800 lines?" I said yes, and he called me back. My phone now identified the caller as the CRA.

"CRA guy said that he was going to have the accountant call me so we could talk about strategies, but that the option for payment was closed so the only thing left was to retain a lawyer and go to court.
At this point, I was confused and scared.

"When my accountant (though I never did speak with my actual accountant...just Chinese guy) called back, I told him what CRA guy had said, and how the option to pay was closed so I'd have to go to court. He said that I would have to pay today, but that because it was 100% the firm's error, I'd be fully reimbursed on Monday.

Red flag #6 - We're totally at fault, but you have to pay. But we'll pay you back right away, so you won't have lost anything. No negotiating with the government. No garnisheeing of wages. No installment plan. No correction of paperwork, or refiling suggested. But one doesn't think of that when one believes that one's arrest is imminent. I was fully in 'how do I solve this problem?' mode.

"I asked Chinese guy what my next step was, since the option to pay was closed. He said that he would talk to the CRA agent, and convince him to let me pay immediately through a bitcoin ATM machine. According to Chinese guy, bitcoin machine was a way to send money directly to CRA. He said CRA, if they let me pay this way, would have to clear the arrears and would immediately issue a payment receipt.

"Hung up with the accountant and took CRA guy back off hold. Told him what Chinese guy had said about the bitcoin machine (and that I'd never heard of a bitcoin machine) and asked if this was an option. CRA guy said he'd call my accountant and then call me back.

Note: throughout all of this, I'm in the hallway at work, an hour or so from where I live. Most of this so far has taken place in a few minutes.

Red flag #7 - Urgency! Now, now, now, now, now. No time to think. Just take action.

"CRA guy calls me back and, because my accountant has taken full responsibility, they're going to let me pay, and then let me work it out for reimbursement after the arrears payment has been covered.

Red flag# 8 - The RCMP are monitoring/listening to/recording this call, in case it has to be used as evidence. If the call gets dropped, we will call you back. Please keep this call active.
I could not hang up. They were going to listen to everything I did until the problem was solved.

"CRA Guy: Ok Ms. XXXXXXXXX, you have to leave work. You have to resolve this right now. But let me first ask you, do you wish this issue to be public, with a press release or statement to the media, or do you wish this to be private and confidential?
Me: Who ever opts for this stuff to be made public?
CRA Guy: So I understand you to mean that you'd like this to be handled privately and confidentially. In which case, you're not permitted to disclose to anyone that the money you're withdrawing will be used to pay taxes. You are not allowed to discuss this case with anyone. If the bank asks you what the money is for, just tell them it's to pay a worker who needs to be paid in cash.

"Long story short, I claimed an emergency at work, packed up and left early. I went to 3 banks and hit the withdrawal limit in 3 locations before I got the total amount withdrawn. This with the phone line still open and CRA guy asking for regular progress updates the whole time. Twice the signal dropped because I drove through a signal hole. But both times CRA guy called me right back.

"CRA guy directed me to a bitcoin machine in XXXXXXXXXXXX. [address withheld]. Seedy side of town.

Red flag #9 - To get from where I work to seedy side, took 2 hours...two hours of silence and thinking and brain started piecing together the flags. No calls out, no familiar voices, non-disclosure...can't tell anyone what the money is for, threats, urgency, weird CRA approach, no opportunity to check out anything he was telling me, strange forms, using this mysterious bitcoin machine to make a CRA payment, no online options, and government tax officials who work past 5 pm.

"I asked CRA Guy if bitcoin machine was used for other types of transactions besides sending money to CRA. He seemed to get confused about how to answer that question and tried to gloss it over by restating that they were making an exception for me and letting me pay this way because my accountant had taken full responsibility for the arrears.

Red flag #10 - The bitcoin machine is located at XXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Next to a [pizza joint]. Open 24 hours. Not in a government building. Not in a bank.

Red flag #11 - The straw that broke the scam... This sign was on the bitcoin machine:
"STOP! The CRA and RCMP DO NOT demand payment through Bitcoin ATMs. You are a target of fraud. Unsure? Call us at 1-877-412-2646." (Just like in the picture)

"So I said to myself "Screw this. I'm calling." I hung up on CRA guy. He promptly called back. I disconnected. I called the number on the alert sign. They confirmed their message. CRA don't ask for money this way. It's a scam. In the background, call waiting was beeping CRA Guy's number continuously.

"I called my accountant's office and left him a detailed message on his voicemail. Their offices were closed.

"CRA Guy kept calling the whole time, making it really difficult to dial any other number. Then my "accountant" called back. Still Chinese guy. I told him I had called the office and they were closed. He's now mad at me. Sounds desperate. Can't I see that he's calling from a personal line. My phone says he's calling from BC now. I'm not buying his BS anymore. I hung up.

"CRA guy calls again. I finally picked up, and told him that I knew this was a scam and that I had confirmed that CRA doesn't accept payments on bitcoin machines. That their call was being monitored and that I WOULD like to consult with a lawyer.
CRA Guy: "Ok, you're fine with being arrested. The RCMP will be in touch with you."
Me: "Fine. Have the RCMP call me. Arrest away."
I hung up.

"I called the police and reported it. Then reported all the numbers to Telus as fraud numbers.

"Got a call from 'RCMP Airport'. Disconnected. Got 6 more from the same number. Blocked the number. Blocked all the numbers.

"Acknowledged that my lack of self confidence, not asking enough questions, allowing myself to be bullied and rushed, not checking things out from my end, and not listening to my niggling inner red-flag-o-meter almost got me into a really bad situation today.
I learned a very valuable lesson and narrowly averted disaster.

"Hopefully, posting this will help others avoid the same.

Now after reading all of this, you might be thinking, "How in the world could that person fall for this? All those red flags." 

The thing is, when someone puts you on the spot with a situation where you appear to be in a lot of trouble, your brain plays tricks on you. You don't think logically when in distress, you react with emotion. It's just how it is.

Had this person actually gone through with depositing the money in the bitcoin machine, the likely thing that would have happened next is they would have called back in an hour and said that they had made a mistake or something and that you still owed another large amount of money.

Crocodile tears

Things I learned lately 8 Dec

  • Guns kill more US kids than cancer.
  • Apple pie isn't actually very American. Pie was invented in Medieval England, while the modern recipe for apple pie with a lattice crust was created and perfected by the Dutch.
  • Grapes will explode if you put them in the microwave. If you split a grape almost in half and put it in the microwave, it will create an explosive fireball of plasma and lighting.
  • Chicken wings were considered throwaway parts before Buffalo wings were invented..
  • If you're trying to reduce your carbon footprint via the food you eat, it's not just meat you should think about. Greenhouse tomatoes and lettuce have a big footprint. Worse, lettuce has little nutritional value for the amount of effort it takes to grow, transport and store.
  • Most people think plastics are made from oil and this is one reason why we can't stop using oil. In 2017, only 14% of the hydrocarbon gas liquids used to make plastic were derived from the byproducts of crude oil refineries. 86% were byproducts of natural gas processing. So we could still make plastics just from natural gas.
  • 75% of the crude oil used in the US in 2017 was used to produce fuels (gasoline, diesel, ethanol, heating oil, jet fuel). Which means that once you remove the need for fossil fuels, you remove the need for 75% of the oil we produce.
  • Doctors ate Lego heads to see how long it takes to poop them out.
  • You can get fined for eating, drinking, or chewing gum on the Dubai Metro. Needless to say, it's very clean.
  • Music artist Enya's real name is Eithne Pádraigin Ni Bhraonáin.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Small things 1 Dec

  • For what it's worth, I'll never get E. coli from eating chocolate.
  • Some people I went to high school with, their yearbook motto should have been: "You can retake a class, but you can't retake a party..."
  • Your fingers have fingertips, but your toes don't have toetips. Yet you can tiptoe, but not tipfinger........
  • When someone tries to suggest that people these days are too sensitive, just remind them that there was a time when if you called someone a coward, that was grounds for them to challenge you to a duel with pistols.
  • When people put their wash out on the clothesline, does the washer taunt the dryer that it's not good enough?
  • Airports are the only places where you're treated like a prisoner. You can't go anywhere you want. There's security everywhere. People ask you a lot of questions and try to make you uncomfortable (customs / immigration). The food is terrible. The furniture is hard as a rock. But if you have money, you can at least wait in a place with better everything (priority lounge).  
  • Nighttime is the natural state of the universe. Daytime is only the result of a nearby radiating ball of nuclear fusion.
  • Kids today will never know the reality of navigating by car before digital devices and GPS. We had road maps. On paper. With intricate folds you could never duplicate once you opened them. So you used them as floor mats too. And they were obsolete the day you bought them. And your passenger didn't know how to read them, if they could even see those tiny lines and print. So, basically, every trip you got lost.
  • When your car has a dent, you don't take it to the dentist.........

Overly dramatic air

The real story behind the GM closures

General Motors (GM) announced in November 2018 that they would be closing 4 auto assembly plants, one of them in Canada. Both the unions and the US and Canadian governments are acting shocked and disappointed at this announcement. I hope they're kidding.

The official reason GM said they are closing plants is because they are restructuring their operations to make way for the future of automobiles. GM said they need to get ready for the imminent reality of autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles. So why does that require fewer assembly plants?

To answer that question, you have to look at recent automotive trends. Ford just announced that it is no longer cost effective for them to make sedans, so they won't. Sedans just aren't selling as much as they used to. Now, the money is in SUVs and trucks, at least for Ford. The reason GM is closing the 4 assembly plants is because they're the ones producing primarily sedans.

From a bigger picture perspective though, fewer people are choosing to buy a personal vehicle at all. The youngest generation are shunning car ownership in growing numbers, and it's not surprising, considering that a typical young consumer has to make wiser choices on how to spend their money. Do I buy a house, or do I buy a car? Do I buy a car, or do I have children? These questions may seem ridiculous to anyone over the age of 40, because it had almost always been possible to do all three. But for many young people who are not earning $60,000+ salaries, you might be able to have one of those 3, or maybe even 2, but perhaps not all 3.

The fact is, with car sharing services popping up all over the continent, you can still use a car when you need one without the hassle of ownership. For example, if you're a paid member of Car2Go, you can essentially rent a Mercedes or Smart car by the minute and never have to deal with the separate costs of gas, insurance, oil changes, maintenance, tires, nothing. This is a very attractive alternative to ownership, because if you can train yourself to be disciplined enough to only use a car 3 times a week at an hour each, that's around $230 per month, all in. Driving a new Mercedes! Try getting that kind of price for a car loan, insurance, gas, maintenance, etc. In fact, try renting a Mercedes for a week for $230.

So, car companies, not being stupid, they see the writing on the wall. Although Mercedes is only partnered with Car2Go, other car manufacturers are either already partnered with ride sharing services, or are planning to very soon. Some of these ride sharing services will feature vehicles that drive themselves. Waymo is already full swing into a major public trial in Phoenix, driving more than 10,000 collective autonomous miles every day. Tesla has indicated that it intends to create a car sharing service for its Tesla owners to rent out their cars when they're not using them.

Because the truth is, in a typical week, the average consumer car is only being driven 6 out of 168 hours, or 3.5% of the time. As soon as a critical mass of consumers realize that they're paying upwards of a thousand dollars a month to park a vehicle for 96% of the time, vehicle sales are more likely to free fall.

And that's why all the disappointment and shock in the world isn't going to make an iota of difference going forward. The days of outright car ownership for many people are numbered. And car companies have to get ready for that.

Professional barber saves face

Things I learned lately 1 Dec

  • The polka dot could have just as easily been called the jive dot, the disco dot, the watusi dot, or the hula dot. It was named the polka dot because the polka was very popular at the time. Seriously.
  • The ISS has now been orbiting earth for 20 years.
  • There are nearly four times as many jihadist militants today than on 9/11.
  • Thanks to overwhelming poaching of elephant tusks, natural selection seems to be favouring elephants with shorter tusks.
  • The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway (pictured) is designed to protect a variety of plant seeds in case of a global catastrophe. Each sample pack contains 500 seeds and there are 983,524 individual samples stored there. The vault is inside a mountain and was designed to withstand the melting of the polar ice caps.
  • Compared to the Grand Canyon on Earth, Valles Marineris on Mars is nearly five times deeper, about four times longer, and 20 times wider.
  • Olympus Mons (on Mars) is more than twice as high as Hawaii's Mauna Loa, the tallest mountain on Earth from top to bottom.
  • A South Sudanese family auctioned off their 16-year-old daughter to marry the highest bidder on Facebook, which didn't notice until 2 weeks later.