Sunday, December 8, 2013

A review of 'Masterworks of Man & Nature: Preserving our world heritage'

I came across this book in my collection and was reading through it when I came across page 41 with the header "An Urgent Call to Replenish the Earth". It is a statement or a call to action from the late Charles Birch, Emeritus Professor at the University of Sydney and a winner of the Templeton award. I'm not a fan of that foundation but the things Professor Birch points out on this page are hard ignore. Below are some excerpts:

"The sort of society we are building with the aid of science and technology has built-in, self-destructive features." 

"That there are limits to the resources of the Earth and the capacity of the Earth to cope with pollution of its water and atmosphere, has led to what is known as the 'impossibility theorem'. This states that the high rates of consumption and pollution of the rich nations would be impossible for all the peoples of the earth."

The most compelling section started with the following statement. 

"The rich must live more simply so that the poor may simply live." 

We are seeing the problems of a world where the goal is capitalism for all nations in the images this weekend from China and the severe pollution problem starting to engulf their cities. Professor Birch asks the question of whether we can morally justify a way of life that would be impossible for the rest of the world to enjoy without destroying the resources we all need for survival. He continues on to posit that the rest of nature has intrinsic value beyond its use to us or to our ecosystems survival and that we have a moral obligation to preserve the world around us. 

"It is not ony the basis of human life that is being destroyed by our activities. We are annihilating at least one thousand species who share the planet with us each year. This is nothing less than a holocaust of nature."

Professor Birch continues on to compare the period of the Enlightenment and the development of a theory for human rights and advances toward social justice to a hope for a new enlightenment of our age extending those concepts to all living things. 

"Every nation desperately needs to discover a vision of the future. Is all that matters increased GNP, reduced inflation and reduced overseas debt? Instead of measuring national health in terms of economic growth we could set our eyes on a more worthy goal. There is indeed such a goal that all could aspire to. It is for healthy people in a healthy environment with healthy relations to that environment, which includes the non-human creatures who share the earth with us." 

The question that comes next is the one I most wish to pose to all of us in all nations. Unfortunately this post will most likely pass into anominity like most things on the internet except videos of kittens and puppies. So I will leave you with this picture and say spread the word for the kittens and puppies. 

20120710 Kitten Winking 005 by cygnus921, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  cygnus921 

"Are we willing to pay the price of the redemption of that part of the earth we inhabit in terms of a revolution in values, in life styles, in economic and political goals and even in the nature of the science and technology we practise? The stage is set. Whether the play can be performed before the theatre burns down remains to be seen." - Charles Birch

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Switching from iOS or Android, to Firefox OS has never been cheaper!

With the iOS 7 update, the iPhone and iPad have adopted a look and feel much more in line with the Android OS. If you were afraid of the learning curve leaving the iPhone and haven't yet updated to iOS 7 you might just consider an switch to an Android device instead. If you're already using iOS 7 then congratulations you will already be familiar with the Android interface. The main difference between Android and iOS is that with Android you can get a lot deeper into the OS and customizing your experience with the phone on Android. If that sort of thing scares you then stick with Apple's highly predictable products that make it easy for me to hand an iPad over to my grandma or a 4 year old and have them downloading apps or shopping online in no time. I enjoy my iPhone for the simple reason it requires no intelligence or technology background to operate the phone and get as much out of it as can possibly be done.

I've tried several Android devices and OS releases over the years and while they had some perks I liked, I found myself fiddling with the phone a lot more than I ever do on the iPhone. Fortunately for me Google has been releasing apps for the iPhone and finally just gave us the Google Music app which allows me to connect to and download or stream my entire music collection that is now stored on Google Play. Before I had to use a third party app that worked most of the time but had frequent issues whenever Google or Apple changed something. When Google Maps got booted out of Apple in favor of their awful (but beautiful) maps I switched to Android. When Google Maps came back to Apple I switched back to the iPhone. Basically the Google products and services beat anything on iTunes, iWork, iBook hands down.

Take the music collection for instance, 12,000 songs I uploaded to the Google Play site and it got the Album, Artist, Song Title info correct along with the album artwork and all they got from me was the mp3 file. I'm still trying to get my iTunes cleaned up, and when using their new streaming option I've found numerous errors in the file names, artwork, album titles and even the artist info wrong in my iTunes. Why is it Google can get this right so much easier than Apple and they just got into the Music scene relatively recently in comparison to Apple? Bottom line I hate iTunes, I hate that I have to use iTunes to get content on and off my phone (or I can delete one track at a time from the phone), and I've found ways to work around Apple and use Google services on my iPhone. Those services run better on an Android device and so I'll probably switch someday, but as this article points out (thanks to Trevor for sharing this article) there are a couple issues with that move. Only two of slides here are even valid or legitimate arguments against switching but they are good concerns to raise. Slide 9 raises the issue of apps you may have on your iPhone for which you'll have to find either the same app or a replacement app on the Android market. Slide 10 raises the issue of malware in the Android market and the plethora of anti-virus and malware apps you can get on the marketplace is at least a testament to the concern being somewhat founded. I've certainly never seen an anti-malware app on the Apple marketplace.

One thing the article doesn't really get into is battery life, data usage and other things that on an Android you can really dig into and see where your battery life is going (what apps are eating it up) and where your data usage is heaviest (what apps are using the most data) which can be an interesting thing to review. On an iPhone the closest you get to anything like that is just how much space on your phone an app and it's data is taking up, beyond that you just have to experiment with shutting things off or uninstalling them from your phone to see if that improves battery life or reduces data usage.  All this to say that with these two competing markets with their devices and services are fairly similar and have pros and cons on either side. The argument continues and I don't think either is a clear winner at the point of this writing.

Enter a new and unlikely challenger... the non-profit Mozilla Foundation!

Firefox has entered the game and strangely enough they are largely funded by Google, and before that AOL (through Netscape as a subsidiary of AOL). Firefox now has their own marketplace with apps and everything else you find in Apple or Google devices. They have their own admittedly lower end device, but it comes free of any bloatware or contract or carrier. All the apps are basically web based so they take up very little space on the phone itself if any. The phone supports up to a 32GB MicroSD card and a standard MicroUSB charging port so it can be plugged in just about anywhere and you probably have a few MicroUSB cables around the house already. For a more thorough review of the Firefox ZTE Open phone and Firefox OS reviews you can check out this article or Google around. It's definitely not an iPhone or Android device and it has a lot of catching up to do but for a phone you can build your own apps for and has a 3-4 day battery life it is a good start for Firefox. Add to that the $80 price tag out the door with no contracts and the ability to select any carrier you desire also makes it a good entry level smartphone for anyone wanting to test out different carriers without making any commitments.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The only solution to wealth inequality in America

The only real solution to wealth inequality is to cut the top level executives pay dramatically to reduce the inequality between their pay and their average employees pay. This would give more money to the poor and the middle class directly. Funneling it through the government via taxes never works out well for anyone especially the middle class. If the poor and middle class earn more they will in turn pay more tax to the government and thus solve all our economic problems. We just need the top 10% to let go of some of their money and stop being so greedy and selfish. 

This approach of paying the worker more has worked in the past to make fortunes for the auto companies. 

 "$5 a Day – the famous $5/day wage, instituted in 1914, was approached by few workers, but it helped limit the turnover of 300%; the higher overall wage also allowed workers to purchase the product that they were manufacturing (analogy to Bush directives for Americans to do their “patriotic duty” and purchase stuff in reaction to Sept. 11)"

Creating charity organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is just another way they can avoid be taxed and look like they actually are doing something to help the world, when the employees in their production stream are the ones who could benefit the most from their help and in turn the businesses and people in their communities would benefit. 

When you have more than even your children can spend in a lifetime isn't it time to rethink how you're paying your employees and your supply chain partners and their employees? 

Now I don't think any executive is going to willingly take a pay cut so my solution is that we all walk out of our jobs on Thanksgiving and no one goes back to work until the wealth is redistributed properly. We the people have the power, but fear keeps us from doing the one thing that could change the situation. This was the power of unions, they got us the 40 hour work week and safe work environments, things other countries still don't have (garment workers still dying in sweatshops in Bangladesh, those sweatshops used to be here in America before unions). Why do you think the capitalists and politicians worked so hard to bust the unions? Why do you think union workers still have decent wages and retirement plans that are actually funded? 

We need to adapt the Big Bill Haywood approach to equality, start a revolution and get this greed back under control. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Walmart and McDonald's just don't make sense

They need to pay their employees a living wage. While we could sit around waiting for the Federal Government to raise the minimum wage again to a level that will still leave most folks at the poverty level, we should push the corporations who really run this country into paying their workers more. With record profits for most corporations despite the recession, we've let the media lull us all into the idea that the economy has been so terrible and let's blame the President for unemployment. We've watched companies lay people off, while stock prices are soaring to record highs and somehow we've thought that makes sense?

Well it doesn't make sense, when at the same time these corporations are paying their executives record high salaries. It doesn't make sense when the CEO's retirement plan is 6200 times higher than his employees.

This isn't a new problem it's been trending this way for since the 90's and at the risk of sounding like a socialist it's time for workers that allow these CEO's these incredible salaries to do something about it. Take a look at the data below from the Economic Policy Institute in 2006.

"In 2005, the average CEO in the United States earned 262 times the pay of the average worker, the second-highest level of this ratio in the 40 years for which there are data. In 2005, a CEO earned more in one workday (there are 260 in a year) than an average worker earned in 52 weeks." [emphasis is mine]
Figure A: Ratio of CEO to average worker pay, 1965-2005
The trend has continued and here we are with the 2011 data and nothing has changed! 9/11 set it back a bit but for less than a year and still at a record high, the 2008 recession barely made a dent in it. 
"...the ratio bounced back during the recovery and stood at 243-to-1 in 2010. At this rate, it likely will not take long for the gap to reach its prior peak."

Is there something wrong with this picture, you're god damn right there is, it just doesn't make sense!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013 - highlights and random thoughts

For a great write up on the highlights go to the SFWeekly Blog and for my take just keep reading. For my playlist for the festival check it out on Hope you were there and enjoyed the show as much as I did.

Just had a great weekend at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco. What always amazes me about the festival is the number of people that show up for some great music and how well behaved they all are. The whole scene is so mellow and perfect it always is a good time. I've been going since 2008, driving up from LA and finding some place to stay for the weekend in town. I've stayed at the Civic Center Inn three times, a friends house in Walnut Creek, and this trip I stayed at the Aida Plaza Hotel on Market Street. Very reasonable rates and a lot of young European visitors staying at this hotel. Hostel like set up for most of the rooms with a shared toilet and shower in the hallway. The view from my room was spectacular!
View from room 409
Aida Plaza Hotel on Market

Crowd gathered for Bonnie Raitt
Most importantly though I discovered a lot of new music this time around. I ended up at stages where I had never heard of any of the bands and spent the days at those stages. This year the Porch stage really delivered and for the first time I actually visited the merchandise tent to pick up some CDs. The highlights for me were of course Bonnie Raitt on Friday night (crowd shot to the right), but First Aid Kit at the Rooster stage before that was also amazing and totally unexpected since I hadn't heard them before. Also discovered for the first time the live webcast streaming #HSB13 which was really cool and once I figured out the major acts were ending up in the Web Archive it let me explore more bands I hadn't heard before. So this year I skipped Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers hoping it would end up in the archive so I could watch it later and sure enough it did. Best line from that performance, Steve Martin says "We're honored to be here at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, performing for your cell phones today."

80's Man
Not to rant on a subject, but man it really is sort unreal to go to shows these days, you look around and all you see are screens held in the air or flashes from phones. I have to admit I've shot a few videos at shows to capture the moment and savor it later, I even queue them up to play back while I'm driving home so I can make the night last a little longer or even relive it on the way to work the next morning. At most I'll shoot one or two videos and if I'm really close I may snap a picture or two, but most of the concert I'm trying to enjoy the moment and music and remember it with my head. Half those photos end up being crap anyway (except the one of 80's man to the left here) and the video isn't usually that great either, but I still post it to YouTube for memory sake. I end up shooting mostly videos for my friend's band which is different, they ask me to do it and they like to see how the show sounded to the audience and where they made mistakes to improve on. I don't think most artists want you sitting there fiddling with your phone the whole show and that's why I think it's important for the professionals to record the show and share the media with the band so they can disperse it on their sites or on social media channels and it looks and sounds great. Then maybe people will stop shooting their own crap (I know I would) and just relive it through the artists channels. Great way to drive traffic back to your site and get people to see what upcoming shows or albums you have and possible show them your latest album or merchandise that they didn't get to pick up at the show.

All that to say that I think an announcement during the show that it is being recorded and will be available at something something dot com later along with photos from the event would free everyone up to relax and enjoy the show. This year's HSB festival is a good example of that, they promoted the livestream on Twitter @HSBFest and noted the video archive would be available as well so you could see the shows you missed. They also mentioned this at the stages (at least at the stages I went to) in between acts. I think it encouraged people to stick around and hear an act they may have skipped in favor of an act at a different stage. That's what it did for me pictured here are two bands I stayed to hear at the Porch stage like Sturgill SimpsonDella Mae and Evolfo Doofeht who were really entertaining. I missed Steve Earle and The Dukes but watched it later, same thing for Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers because I knew I could stream them later. The Porch stage didn't get archived that I can tell so I'm really glad I hung out there to catch some amazing new acts for me. Also seeing the professional photos being tweeted out and on the website and shared around made me just sit back in the grass and enjoy the shows. I can get better media and enjoy it there. If you want a sample of all the photos taken at HSB 2013 check out their instagram feed or just search the #hsb13 hashtag on your social media channels and you're bound to pick up some stuff.
Della Mae on the Porch Stage 
Evolfo Doofeht on the Porch Stage

Another satisfied Bluegrass customer
I think it's safe to say that by Sunday afternoon I was feeling pretty satisfied like the lady to the right here, with the whole event and already excited about getting to next year's. Save the date folks October 3rd, 4th and 5th 2014!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Barnes & Noble NOOK HD+ is really a great deal

If you're looking for a full size Android tablet with expandable memory and now access to the entire Google Play store of apps, movies, music and yes even books and magazines, then you really can't go wrong with the NOOK HD+. Here are the cons, no data plan available so it is a wi-fi only device, but that said you can tether it with your smartphone and use that data plan you're already paying for. 

I've had mine for a few weeks now and haven't come up with a down side yet, it even has multiple profiles you can set up and make apps and even your library unique to each profile. Great for sharing your tablet and not having to worry about the book you were just reading disappearing from the home screen because the person you shared it with decided to read something else.

I will definitely update this post if I come up with some more cons, and at the moment I'm comparing it to my iPad 2 that I use and haven't signed up for the data plan on it so it is just a wi-fi device for me as well. The iPad has 16GB max capacity and really only about 13GB of that is usable to load up with books, movies and music. The NOOK HD+ came with 16GB at a price of $149, and expandable memory. I happen to have a couple micro SD cards around (8GB, 16GB, and 32GB) not doing anything since I switched to the iPhone and I dropped the 32GB in the NOOK HD+ making it a 48GB device. Total price out the door with a custom cover from B&N was $192 with tax and a recycling fee in California. Even if you buy a micro SD card it would put you at $225 do what I did most likely.

Compare that to the price of an iPad 2 with 32GB or 64GB of memory and I'm sure you'll see the deal I'm talking about. Even the Google Nexus tablet isn't much of deal since you can't expand the memory and it will cost you $200.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Between Man and Beast - by Monte Reel

An excellent book, from start to finish. Don't let the size of it daunt you, half the bulk of the book is the exhaustive acknowledgements and references for the incredible amount of research that Monte Reel put into this book. From the moment I picked it up I was entranced, yes there may be some lengthy historical side trips and details, but that is what really puts in you the place and time of this novel. I say novel even though it is superb piece of non-fiction work, but it truly reads like an adventure novel and dramatic tale of discovery and loss. A glimpse into the world in the Victorian period of great scientific advances and a fair amount of the compelling back story to the drama that occurred with Darwin's release of Origin. The book is at once entertaining, informative, educational, and heartbreaking. Truly should be working it's way into a screenplay for those unwilling to lift a book these days.