Brandon's Articles, Page 5 of 32
The cause Change.org wanted me to vote on seemed straightforward enough. The photo displayed a beautiful landscape from a national forrest in Alaska, and the message was about preventing mining in the area. I could just picture trucks clearing away large sections of the mountain top. What a pity that would be!
But, wait a minute. Did I read that right? It actually says land “adjacent to Lake Clark and Katmai national parks” was threatened (emphasis added). Well, that’s a different story. I mean, where in the pretty little photo was this land, exactly? Would I even be able to see it while swimming in the lake or hiking to the top of the mountain?
Music I purchased in July 2009:
- AFI – The Art of Drowning – Even their early stuff is good.
- Alexisonfire – Old Crows / Young Cardinals – Ho. Lee. Crap. Just when you think these guys can’t get any better, they do this.
- Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Lives up to the hype.
- Dinosaur Jr – Farm – Very welcome return, and they didn’t miss a beat. (Actually, they may sound “fresher” because of the break.)
- Mars Volta, The – Octahedron – MV is really finding their sound. Truly excellent album, but I wish they had a few more up-tempo songs.
Years ago, in the early nineties, a position in our Product Engineering department opened up due to someone leaving. One day my boss said to us, “Let’s go to lunch, I have something to tell all of you about a new person I’m thinking about hiring.” At this time, our group was only made up of me, in my late 20’s and another man in his early 30’s. In fact, the entire management group for the corporate division consisted of younger college educated men of similar culture, attitude and social background. Over lunch, my boss explained that he was thinking of hiring an older woman who had performed more or less the same job description for a nearby company that had recently closed. His discomfort was not with whether she could do the job (she had more combined experience than all of us put together!), but with whether or not she would “fit in” with the rest of the group socially. The closest way I can describe this person now would be as an older version of Phyllis from The Office (with static-laden polyester blouses and all). We assured our boss that everything would work out (we were all nice guys, after all), but in the backs of our minds we were wondering just how that would really happen on a daily basis.
I’ve run across two new search engines recently, both of which share a new take on Internet searching: fewer, but more useful results.
The first is Bing, the new search engine from Microsoft. Although often caught playing catch up, some say Microsoft may actually have something that does the competition “one better” here. Why? Because it makes assumptions and provides slimmed-down, allegedly more useful information. For example, searching for a band name provides automatic links to information on tours, lyrics, albums, etc. Or, searching for a city name has links to attractions, travel, hotels, etc. Yes, Google has some of this functionality (and even some Bing doesn’t, like the ability to automatically see showtimes in your area when searching for a movie name), but Bing makes it almost the centerpiece of search—not an afterthought.
Somehow I missed the announcement of the Moblin OS, but I caught the Google Chrome unveiling earlier this week. With Windows 7 due later this year, it seems there is a full-on OS war a’brewin’ (even if some say they just want world peace).
The new kids on the block appear to be gearing up for casual computing. Google presumably isn’t concerned about the ability to install MS Office or iPhoto; they’d prefer users switched over to using Google Docs and Picasa (both online). Moblin, as the name suggests, is focusing heavily on activities typical on mobile computing – whether it be netbooks or handhelds – particularly social networking.
It was interesting to read about the regulation of “non-commercial commodity futures” in a recent NY Times article. As it discusses oil investment limitations being considered by regulators, the article describes the difference between commercial and non-commercial traders as follows:
“[S]peculative” traders were primarily those that the agency defines as “non-commercial,” which are essentially financial investors who are not users or producers of the commodities and are primarily interested in betting on the direction of prices. “Commercial users,” by contrast, include farmers, airlines and oil companies that want to hedge against the risk of rapid price changes.
Music I purchased in June 2009:
- Emery – In Shallow Seas We Sail – I expected big, big things of this album. I’m not sure it’s fulfilled them, yet.
- Joan of Arc – Flowers
- Lemonheads, The – The Lemonheads – Yes, I just realized they’re back … and they’re as awesome as ever.
- Paper Chase, The – Hide the Kitchen Knives – Ever wondered how a band could be as weird as Joan of Arc, but still catchy?
- Taking Back Sunday – New Again – Well, I wouldn’t say new… but they are a little different. Still good, though.
I get the Change.org e-mailed newsletter. I don’t often share its sentiments, but that’s actually what makes it fun to read. I open the emails expecting a little silliness, so I’m entertained when it’s as expected, and impressed when it’s not. It’s a totally different experience than reading, say, Mitt Romney’s newsletters (that typically contain sound political thoughts and/or requests for donations), and I enjoy the change of pace.
The June 8-14 2009 Change.org newsletter contained a story heralding the website’s recent success in convincing Diner’s Club to end its relationship with a mail-order bride service. In a nutshell: Diner’s Club previously announced the relationship, Change.org reacted, and DC backed down. The newsletter claimed this success demonstrated, “the power that all of us can have on matters that impact the lives of others” – and this is one of those times I end up impressed, as I agree with them. Change.org went about changing things as democracy intends—not by pushing for legislation from the bench, but by rallying people to influence the company directly. Good for them.
A Shell service station in Ottawa, Canada became “the first place in the world to buy gasoline blended with advanced biofuel.” The pilot program is slotted to last for a month and will use a 90% petroleum, 10% cellulosic ethanol mix brewed at a local demonstration plant.
Shell claims the cellulosic biofuel, which was produced from non-food raw materials, has 90% less lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline, but thinks “cost-competitive advanced biofuels in substantial quantities … are five to ten years away.” Shell and Iogen, who share ownership of the 40,000-liter-a-month demo plant, plan to make a final investment decision on a 70-million-liter-a-year plant within the next eight to twelve months.
Albums I purchased in May 2009:
- Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs
- Brandston – Send Us a Signal
- Fightstar – Be Human
- Koufax – Strugglers
- M.I.J. – Radio Goodnight
- Propagandhi – Supporting Caste
- Secret and Whisper – Great White Whale
- Shearwater – Winged Life
- Strung Out – Prototypes and Painkillers
The recent poll concerning capital punishment has me thinking about the nature of the U.S. penal system.
The threat of punishment is an integral part of U.S. society. On the roads, speeding, drinking, and running red lights all could result in fines or other penalties. These punishments exist to make the streets safer, but there are only semi-effective at doing so. There is wasted effort when following laws doesn’t translate into safer streets (e.g., not running a red light when no one is around), and there is a false sense of security in only following what is enforced (a set that doesn’t typically include laws against following too close—at least not in a way that would improve street safety).
Although I’ve publicly wondered about non-retirement ways to invest in the past, I’ve now made a decision: LendingClub. Sure, my wife was skeptical at first (“You want to lend money to complete strangers?”), but LendingClub’s founder and CEO was able to persuade her.
It’s not the first time I’ve invested with LC. About a year ago I signed up for an account and received $25 as a promotion. I invested that money in one note as a test. The borrower had a good credit rating (B) and the interest rate was good (over 10%, if I remember correctly)—and, most importantly, all I had to lose was $25 of “free” money.
Music I purchased in April 2009:
- Cursive – Mama, I’m Swollen – Combining the best elements of Cursive and The Good Life, I think this is Tim Kasher’s best album yet.
- Dag Nasty – Minority of One – Decent punk-pop. Think more Pennywise and less Fall Out Boy.
- Dismemberment Plan, The – Change – Same brand of experimental indie rock as on Emergency & I (purchased last month).
- Over It – Step Outside Yourself – Seriously excellent. Much better than their previous album. Perhaps one of the most defining punk-pop albums out there.
- Paint It Black – New Lexicon – Not your run-of-the-mill hardcore punk. It’s as if (dare I say) a bit of emo is mixed into the writing. (Don’t worry, the vocals are anything buy whiney.)
At the urging of the Obama administration, General Motors announced an increase in the speed and magnitude of cost cutting measures Monday. A Wall Street Journal article also explained, “The U.S. Treasury will extend an additional $11.6 billion to GM, in addition to $15.4 billion in existing loans. The government will forgive half the debt in exchange for equity in a restructured GM.” Later, the article quotes a statement by President Obama’s automotive task force: “We will continue to work with GM’s management as it refines and finalizes this plan and with all of GM’s stakeholders to help GM restructure consistent with the President’s commitment to a strong, vibrant American auto industry.”