Halleluiah! (Reprinted from the Metro Spirit 5-30-13)

Halleluiah!  – The lake is full!  Our family spent the weekend up there over Memorial Day.  It brought back memories of the good old days where you didn’t have to worry about lake levels.  Based on the number of folks cruising around, I suspect that we weren’t the only family celebrating a return to the lake.  I hope that you enjoyed it as much as we did.

My contribution to the weekend was disconnecting from all my electronic entanglements.  Well, as many as I could.  The unexpected pop-up occurs from time-to-time, and this weekend was no different in that respect.  But if you are one of those folks that find yourself with one foot perpetually stuck in the Cloud, try taking a step away (is that a mixed metaphor?) and enjoy some home brew.  It’ll do you some good.

At least until the luxury ski boats come down the lake.

Now, I’m for having a good time on the lake just like everyone else.  You can call me old school if you like, but I always believed that my good time shouldn’t create problems for others.  So dude, if you’ve done well enough to afford an expensive ski boat, more power to you.   (Seriously, I hope that we’ve done business together, and that I helped you earn it.)  And if you want to let your teenager take that boat out with their friends unsupervised, I’m cool with that.  Your kid has obviously earned your trust.

But I really don’t think it’s appropriate to crank up a sound system and force the entire lake to partake of melodies celebrating the finer qualities of prostitutes, gangs and the ghetto lifestyle.

Seriously, we were indoors, the boat was on the other side of the lake, and we couldn’t hear the television.

And that was the quiet one.

The whole scenario is ludicrous (no pun intended) to me.  Here’s a group of white teenagers from obviously affluent families blasting gang’sta rap while sitting in a $50,000+ ski boat with a bunch of future sorority co-eds.  Yeah…you guys are down with the brothers.  I totally buy it.

Fortunately, this creates an easy resolution for Columbia County’s finest.  On Sunday, we saw several citations issued.  We assume they were written up against a noise ordinance, although to be honest, I wasn’t aware an ordinance was on the books.  By Monday, the word had gotten out.  Every crew that started blasting tunes was immediately approached by other teens on jet skis, and the music magically disappeared.

Side Note – The rising moon over the lake on Saturday and Sunday nights was a sight to see.  Hope you caught it.  Also, we witnessed the Columbia County Lake Patrol bust a party barge off Wildwood.  Not sure what was going on, but the Blue lights on the nighttime water was another stunning visual effect.  (Although, probably not to the folks on the barge.)

Major Tom – An unknown recording artist named Chris Hadfield recently released a new version of the David Bowie classic, Space Oddity.  Many unknowns have recorded a version of this classic, so what makes this one special?  This is the first one actually recorded in outer space.  International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield recorded the song while living on the space station.  I’ve linked the YouTube site below.  I also recommend that you browse his twitter feed.  Lots and lots of great photography from the ISS.

Space Oddity video:  http://youtu.be/KaOC9danxNo

Chris Hadfieid Twitter: @Cmdr_Hadfield

Until next time, I’ll be floating in my tin can far above the world.  @gregory_a_baker

Oh, So Vine

Oh, So Vine (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 5- 23-13)

 Recently, Twitter released its latest creation.  It’s a social video app called Vine.  The best way to think about it is Instagram for Video.  The app allows users to create and post 6-second videos.  Right now, it’s only available on the iPhone, but since now I’m a happy iPhone user, that wasn’t a problem.  🙂

Just like Twitter’s 140-character limit restricts the literary value of posts, you will find the production quality of the video likewise limited.  But what Vine lacks in production quality, it makes up for in simplicity and ease of use.  To create a post, hit the camera button.  Touch the screen, and Vine begins to record.  Release the screen, and Vine stops.  With a little creativity and patience, changing scenes or creating stop motion action is very straightforward.

Parental Warning: When Vine was first released, the porn industry decided that this would be a great platform for sharing.  Since then, the security is revamped.  Even so, this site is neither kid nor grandparent friendly.   It’s not so much the porn anymore, but just the random profanity from the teenagers.  If you can wade through all that, it’ll be a wonderful new social media outlet for you.

Save the Jellyfish – One of the greatest challenges in operating a modern data center is cooling.  Computers and other electronic devices generate a great deal of heat.  Anyone that has used a substandard laptop knows that too much heat will cause a computer to fail badly.  This problem is multiplied many times in the data center.  Air conditioning is one of the more significant operational costs and one of the areas of innovation.  In a report from geek.com, European data center company Interexion has implemented a novel method using seawater from the nearby Baltic Sea to cool its data center in Stockholm.  The system is very efficient; it reportedly paid for itself within a year.

There is one small problem however.  Last year, Interexion was forced by the government to shut down the cooling system due to environmental issues.  The details weren’t made clear.  When asked about the incident at a recent data center conference, Interexion’s Chief Engineering Officer Lex Coors provided the brief response, “I think it’s to protect the jellyfish.”

In a related story, the inventor of the first water-cooled Raspberry PI, James Couzens, recently announced that he is working on a jellyfish attachment for the Wet Pi.  If the rumors are true, the upgraded mod will include an RSS link to the EPA Invertebrate Protection Alert system.  🙂

Lego’s Can Do Anything – Finally, a note from the Lego’s-Can-Do-Anything file.  Have you ever needed a over-engineered and overly complex method for moving around a bunch of miniature basketballs.  Check out this video of Philip Verbeek’s GBC-6 at http://pv-productions.com/lego-gbc-6-published

Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker




An Obvious Solution

An Obvious Solution (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 5-16-13)


A couple of weeks ago my phone died.  It wasn’t the pixelated-screen or scratchy-sound kind of dead.  It was the ain’t-no-way-I’m-working-ever-again kind of dead.  To their credit, Verizon was wonderful.  I told them (as I told all of you a while back) that I was waiting on the Samsung Galaxy S4, and they did everything they could to get me through the next couple of months.  They tested my old phone.  They sent me a new Droid X.  They told me how to get a new battery.  But after walking out of Verizon for the third time, the solution finally hit me.  So I turned around and walked back in. 

“This is too difficult.  Can I just get an iPhone?”

“Siri, Don’t Talk To Strangers” – The only real glitch with my iPhone turns out to be a default configuration setting.  The issue begins with my wife’s iPhone.  Her iPhone has become community property.  As a matter of fact, my daughters carry the phone around more than my wife.  In order for my iPhone to avoid this fate, I enabled the screen lock.  As an aside…the look on my daughter’s face when she saw the screen lock for the first time…what a precious moment!

Turns out that Siri is still enabled even though the screen is locked.  To test this, lock your screen and then hold down the button.  If Siri answers, ask her the simple question, “Who am I?”  You now see what information is available should your phone get lost or stolen.  Yes, you should be scared.

It’s a simple fix.  Go to Settings, then General, then Passcode Lock.  Change the setting for Allow Access When Locked: Siri to OFF.

Now as long as your children don’t discover you’ve secretly installed Subway Surfer, you should be good.

The Truth About Boob Plates – Never mind Benghazi.  Forget about the IRS targeting the Tea Party.  This past week saw a revelation that set the Fantasy world abuzz and brought disillusionment to millions of adolescent boys (and their fathers).

Yes, of course, I’m talking about the revelation that boob plate armor can be deadly.

No matter how unenlightened you might be, I’m sure you’ve all seen those fantasy drawings of the medieval female warrior dressed in feminine armor with highly exaggerated parts.  (I’m not referring to the metallic lingerie girls a la Princess Leia, but the fully-armored Joan of Arc types.)  In a riveting expose, Tor.Com describes how the features of feminine armor create a death trap for the wearer.

It all starts with the fundamental purpose of armor: protection.  Manly armor is shaped to deflect blows away from the body.  The cone-like protrusions found on boob plate armor not only fail to deflect attacks to the torso, but the armor actually channels the blows toward the center where they can cause the most damage.  In addition, dimpled breast plate creates a pressure point on the sternum that could serve to fracture or crush the chest given a strong enough blow.

So all you ladies, while you’ve grown up being taught that no self-respecting warrior would be caught dead at ComicCon without their boob plates and stilettos, just remember that it’s all for looks.  When not used properly, those things can kill.

Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker


Internet Sales Tax

Internet Sales Tax (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 5-9-13)

Internet Sales Tax – When I was growing up, I always dreamed about how I could help change the world.  I suspect that’s not uncommon.  We all want to make a difference.  The politically correct thing was to go find myself while taking care of the poor in some far off country.  My brain works differently, however, and I always felt my calling (and I still do) was to use engineering and technology to give people more tools to improve their own lives.

As I’ve gotten older, I began to see that most people have good ideas on how to make the world a better place.  A significant number of people actively give time and money in some way to help others.  And most of the time, this service is done with love and humility.  After all, it’s not about rewards.  It’s about making the world a better place, one person at the time.

Then you look at those in elected office, the pinnacle of public service.  It’s like a switch goes off.  All of the sudden, the grass roots charity and serving out of love isn’t good enough.  A government bureaucracy must exist.  I wouldn’t mind so much except that you and I are stuck paying the bill.

So that brings us to Senate Bill S.743, commonly referred to as the Marketplace Fairness Act.  This bill forces out-of-state retailers to collect state sales tax on all Internet purchases.  The argument in support of the bill is that companies that have to collect sales tax are at a competitive disadvantage.  Forcing everyone to pay sales tax will make everything fair.

First of all, the premise is misleading.  Generally speaking, only smaller businesses can benefit as an out-of-state retailer and not collect sales tax.  If the business has a significant presence in the state, like most national online retailers, they are obligated to collect sales tax, even if the online division is located somewhere else. What is rarely mentioned is that large retailers enjoy a volume discount that more than compensates for any sales tax collection.  Even with the sales tax collection, the volume discounts allow the large retailers to drive the market price.

Secondly, only the large retailers have the resources to implement the tax collection.  As it stands now, small businesses and individual sellers would be responsible for integrating as many as 46 state government-supplied software packages into their Web ordering systems.  They will have to figure out how to comply with rules specified by American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and nearly 600 recognized Indian tribes.  They will be subject to audits by one or all of these taxing entities.  And they will be responsible for filing all taxes monthly.

Is it any wonder that national online retails such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Home Depot and Macy’s support this bill?

Earlier this week, the Senate passed this attack on small business.  How did our representatives vote?

  • ·      Saxby Chambliss of Georgia voted to cripple small business.
  • ·      John Hardy Isakson of Georgia voted to cripple small business.
  • ·      Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voted to cripple small    business.

Only Tim Scott of South Carolina stood with small business, innovation, love and charity.

The bill is now going to the House of Representatives.  If you think it makes sense to give big companies more power and raise the price for everyone, stay quiet.  Everyone else, write your congressman.

Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker



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Sales Tax Cometh

Sales Tax Cometh (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 5-2-13)

If you look at American history, I’m sure you could point to a time period and say that was the golden age of innovation and small business.

Whatever that time period is, this ain’t it.

Most of the reason this time period is so bad for small business can be summed up by the antithesis of innovation: regulation.  To be honest, when I read anything that discusses regulation, my eyes roll into the back of my head.  But the increase in regulation is a real problem.  According to the Cato Institute, over the last three years, the number of economically significant regulations have risen by 75 percent.  Additional rules favor big companies – they have the resources to deal with them – and shut out small business.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, last week Congress got serious about passing an Internet Sales Tax.  From the consumer side – yes, you have to pay a sales taxon  items purchased over the Internet.  That’s ugly enough, but take a look at the additional work that online retailers must do.  An Internet Sales Tax would require online retailers to track the tax rates and special provisions in each of the roughly 10,000 counties.  Then at the beginning of every month, each retailer would need to file a sales tax return in as many as 46 different states.  And then there’s the audits.

Now if you have a cracker jack team of accountants like Amazon, you’re probably in good shape.  Otherwise…well, good luck!

Votes on an Internet Sales Tax will be occurring the week of May 6.  The measure has very strong support, so it looks like done deal.  If you don’t want it, you better start yelling now.

Glow in the Dark Sheep – If I were in college today, I would probably major in genetic engineering.  Yes, this field probably presents the greatest amount of potential to change lives.  But that’s not the reason I would want to study genetics.

I would like to discover the next trend in body art that would ultimately replace the tattoo.

Take for instance the fluorescent sheep created by a team of researchers at the Animal Reproduction Institute of Uruguay.  The team genetically modified the sheep to express a peptide known as green fluorescent protein (GFP).  GFP is a protein originally isolated from jellyfish that glows with exposed to ultraviolet light.  It’s become commonplace in genetic research helping to identify expressed molecules.  This proof of concept experiment demonstrates that you can create glow-in-the-dark sheep that are normal in every other way.

Now tell me that you haven’t met anyone that would be willing to pay money so that they can glow in the dark?  Mark my word…the person that learns how to isolate the fluorescents to certain body parts will make billions.

k-bigpic.jpg (link to image)

Photo courtesy Funcación IRAUy/J. Calvelo

Old School – My daughters came home last Friday with the wonderful news that there were only four weeks left of school.  Their smiles made me think back to my elementary school days and the anticipation that came as the school year neared its end.

“So, girls, when we were in school, we used to put the number of days left in the corner of the chalkboard.  Do you still do that?”

The look of amazement in their eyes made me wonder if I had stumbled upon some closely held school secret.  Unfortunately for me, the source of their amazement was a love of history.

“Daddy, did you really have chalkboards when you were in school?”

Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker