Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tilt Shift manipulation in GIMP

I've been messing around with the image editing software GIMP recently, and thought I'd post a before/after sample of trying to simulate tilt/shift type photography using GIMP tutorial from Daniel Veazey's website. It's kindof neat for making things look somewhat minituarized.



Money Markets

Here's an interesting article about an upcoming SEC vote that would reduce or eliminate the government backstop of money market funds and require the money market funds to set aside reserves for unexpected runs/withdrawals when securities may be down in value.  According to the article several large money market funds' values had fallen below the $1.00 mark during the financial crisis of 2008.  I guess bottom line:  this is worth paying attention to.  If it happens it will place more emphasis on safety - probably driving me to pay more attention to what my money market invests in.  I don't get hardly interest from my existing money markets anyway (I think 0.1% apr anyway on most of them), so maybe just leaving it all in cash makes more sense anyhow.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cancelling Home phone service

Well, a short while ago I got off the phone with my home phone provider (the big American telephone company), and found the experience both humorous and frustrating.

First off: All I was wanting to do was cancel my home phone service.

I spoke to no fewer than 4 people over the course of about a 20 minute call to accomplish this task. (23 minutes if you count me dialing customer service twice because I mis-input my phone number into the robot that answered the phone the first time and this put me on hold so I redialed). I'm aware of the times because I made the call at the beginning of riding my exercise bike and I was into the 24th minute of the ride when the call was finally completed.

While waiting on hold between all of my transfers I found out repeatedly from the automated attendant that it would be very simple to pay my phone bill if I went to att.com/pay, but unfortunately I had to wait on hold and be transferred around for the privilege of not paying.

So at the beginning of the call the automated attendant asks me to input the phone number on my phone bill. I do so. I'm not sure why they wanted that, because I think each of the four people that finally talked to me asked me for both my name and all that information again, 3 of whom would only transfer me to someone else who would ask me the same information again.

I may be getting the order of conversation wrong and have generalized and embellished, but it went something like this:

1st customer service rep: After waiting on hold for a long time - maybe about 8 minutes listening to how I could conveniently pay my bill online at att.com/pay - the first customer service rep picked up. I told them I wanted to cancel my home phone line. No problem, they said - let me transfer you to the people that do that. They'll be right with you.

2nd customer service rep: This rep again asked who I was and asked for my name and phone. I said I just put it into the system, it should be on your screen. He may have asked for the last digits of my social to just to make sure I hadn't changed who I was sense I talked to the last person.

After confirming my name, phone, and that I was someone who knew the last four digits of my social security number - they also confirmed that what I indeed had told the first rep was true - that I wanted to cancel my home phone.

I think they wanted to try to give me some secret deal that nobody else ever gets unless you win the lotto, but I told them I already had my new line and wanted to cut my bills. I'd already looked online on the att.com website to try and find a way to keep my home phone at a lower cost, but all their plans were way too costly compared to alternatives. Anyhow, they said, OK, let me transfer you to someone who'll take care of your cancellation for you. It'll be just a minute. I'm like why can't you do this, but I'm like whatever, let's just get this over with.

I wait on hold for a while longer listening to more exciting advertising and information on how to pay my bill online. I'm a pretty good way into my bike ride now, getting kindof sweaty, and have flipped the TV and ESPN to listen to Skip Bayless and others talk about Chad Johnson's problems and Rex Ryan/Tim Tebow.

3rd customer service rep: This rep again starts by asking my name and phone number, and surprisingly asks what I'm calling about. I'm beginning to think the reps at this company don't talk to one another or know who they transferring me to or why. Surprise, I'm trying to cancel my home phone. This rep is very friendly and in the nicest voice possible says, OK, let me transfer you to someone who will take care of that for you. I kind of laugh and ask if they were sure.

At this point I'm increasingly glad they're monitoring this call for quality control, because I'm having difficulty imagining how much better customer service quality might be if they weren't paying attention to it.

4th customer service rep:
When I got to the 4th person he again asked for my name, phone number and again confirmed the last digits of my social. He also wondered what I was calling about. I told him I heard mythological tales of one who could process the cancellation of my home phone - and that I was on a quest to find the one who could fulfill my wishes. I also made him promise that he was the last person I had to talk to. Luckily I'd found the elusive person in the company with the great power to fulfill my request. He really was a nice guy - I just wish I didn't have to spend 20 minutes to do something simple like tell them to stop sending me bills.

Yeah, all done with that. According to my exercise bike's readout I'd burned nearly 180 calories while cancelling my phone, so it wasn't all bad.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Perseid Meteor shower

Went outside between Saturday/Sunday to view the Perseid meteor shower. Stayed out about an hour or so from about 2:30 to 3:30 - saw a few good ones, but I think the city lights obscure most of them except for the really bright ones. Was kindof disappointed but just need to find a darker spot to watch I guess.

Sculpture looks like cartoon drawing on hillside

Look at this. I couldn't believe the picture when I saw it. It's a sculpture that produces a very cool effect.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

More Mars Curiosity images

images from orbit and from the ground of the Curiosity landing site and descent, as well as the first low res color image they've downloaded. From Space.com .

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mars Curiosity Image

I'm watching a NASA press conference on the Mars Curiosity landing right now, and just checked the web for the most recent image. It landed near crater rim near what they have called "Mount Sharp."

Look at this very cool photo

Sunday, August 5, 2012

History of bringing foreign auto manufacturing to U.S.

This NY Times article gives an interesting history of the past 30 years and what happened to bring so much of the growing foreign auto manufacturing (like Nissan/Toyota) to the U.S. I vaguely remember some of this as I grew up in KY around where a large Toyota plant was built, and now live near the large Nissan plant in Smyrna TN mentioned in the article.

Here's a quote from former TN governor and now Senator Lamar Alexander:
“We were the third-poorest state in the nation back then,” Mr. Alexander said. “President Carter had told all the U.S. governors to go to Japan and persuade the Japanese to make in the U.S. what they sell in the U.S.”

The article states that TN now has around 60,000 jobs related to automotive and parts supply manufacturing.

The article goes on to discuss if some of the more aggressive tactics used to bring automotive jobs to the US (diplomacy, arm-twisting, quotas, legislation, tariffs, tax-incentives - by the way - aren't tariffs and/or tax incentives the same thing by different names?) could/should be use used to bring some tech manufacturing jobs to U.S. Essentially- it's a discussion if the U.S. should have a manufacturing policy (or not).

One of the final quotes of the article makes a distinction:
"But consumer electronics are different. Though some jobs have moved to Asia, many were never here to begin with. And the biggest technology importers — like Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Microsoft — are American companies."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Two creatures in one body?

Here's an interesting hypothesis I've never heard. Could Caterpillars and Butterflies be two separate creatures in a single body? Again, I've never heard of this, but it's one of those type of ideas that gets in your head and makes you think. Conventional thinking makes it difficult for me to believe, but then again I've never thought about it much either. The key idea here is that the explanation involves the caterpillar actually "dying" and the moth or butterfly constructing itself from the dead organic material left over from the dead caterpillar - not a continuous life cycle. Fun thought anyway.