In the last year there have been more than 74,000 fires in Brazil which is approx. 80% more fires than the previous year. Eighty percent! Now, it’s true that Brazil is a large place and fires occur. Fair enough. What’s particularly out of the ordinary is that more than 50% of those fires are happening in the Amazon Rainforest. Which is bad. Obviously, the rainforest is of huge import to local inhabitants but also is of significant import to the world as a leading supplier of fish, meat, root vegetables and fruit. And, it’s true that the rainforest does supply oxygen into the atmosphere but it’s not quite the “20% of the world’s oxygen comes from the Amazon,” as many recent new sites and celebrities claim. I’ll let National Geographic explain more about that in their recent, “Why the Amazon doesn’t really produce 20% of the world’s oxygen: Of the many important reasons to worry about the thousands of fires raging in the world’s largest rainforest, oxygen supply is not one of them.”
So … why so many fires this year?
Global warming perhaps, but it does seem that a lot of them are man made. “Slash and burn” deforestation, which is the practice of cutting down forests, drying the area out and then setting the area on fire in order to make room for … other things (but usually pastures for cattle as Brazil is one of, if not THE top exporter of beef) - is the main reason for the fires. And, as anyone with common sense and reason can tell you - sometimes even “controlled fires” get out of control. Hence the mess the Amazon is currently in.
While it’s true that wildfires happen every year, this year there have been SO many wildfires in the Amazon that the G-7 even offered to assist. The G-7 being the Group of Seven, which is the international intergovernmental economic organization consisting of the seven largest IMF-described advanced economies in the world: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
So, the G-7 has the resources to assist but, in a really dumb plot twist, Jair Bolsonaro, the President of Brazil, said he would only accept aid from the G-7 - if the President of France, Emmanuel Macron apologized to him.
“Wait. What? Apologize to him? For what?” - Was my first thought.
Well, I guess there was some social media stupidity that happened and fragile male egos were bruised. You see, on the public Facebook page of President Bolsonaro, a supporter posted a meme comparing the wives of the two men implying that the President of France was jealous that President Bolsonaro’s wife was, basically - younger and hotter, and then claimed Macron (of France) was jealous.
BUT THEN - the Bolsonaro account responded to the post with, “Hah! Don’t humiliate the guy!”
Which led President Macron (of France) to respond with:
"He had extremely disrespectful comments towards my wife. What can I tell you? It's sad. It's sad for him and for Brazilians. I think that Brazilian women are probably ashamed to read that their president has done that. I think that Brazilians, a great people, are a bit ashamed of this behavior. As I have a lot of friendship and respect for the Brazilian people, I hope that they will quickly have a president who is up to the job."
Well, to be honest - that’s a pretty fair response but … as I previously mentioned - it sounds like Brazil’s President had his fragile male ego wounded which led him to turn down G-7 aid to help his burning rainforest unless the President of France apologized!
Do you ever just kind of wish that, I don’t know … adults were in charge?
Well, guess what? There are clearly adults advising the President of Brazil because they convinced him to change his mind - Brazil WILL accept G-7 aid to combat the fires which amounts to $20 million in aid and will not do so on the condition of the President of France apologizing.
This is not the first time Macron and Bolsonaro have clashed and it probably won’t be the last, but at least this time, the good guys one. The "good guys" being, “whomever assists with the Amazon wildfires.” Let’s hope the good guys can now cut those fires down.
Multiple sources (but mostly CNN Business) are reporting that Amazon will offer their Prime customers the option to select “Amazon Day” for their delivery option. An Amazon Day selection means customers may select a specific day of the week to receive all their packages from the company, instead of Amazon delivering packages to them through the week.
This is Amazon’s plan to “reduce its carbon footprint and give customers more control over when they receive their packages.” Seems like a legit idea to me. Especially for folks who order from Amazon multiple times per week. The only minor issue issue I see could be one of storage space. I know Amazon already has many warehouses where they store product but this seems to be slightly different. For example: Let’s say over the course of a week you order ten things from Amazon and want them all delivered the following Monday. And then millions of other folks do the exact same thing. Suddenly, that’s means Amazon has a large amount of things to store until Monday morning. Which, could be an issue. But, I guess the counter argument is that storage is probably only a minor logistical problem - for a company a large as Amazon. Fair enough.
Again, it should be noted that only Prime member will receive the Amazon Day option and you don’t need to select it. If you wish, you can continue to get your shipments daily. I’ve also read that by, “2030, Amazon wants half of its shipments to be carbon neutral.” To me that says that Amazon Day, for now, is optional. But it might suggest that it will become the norm at some time in the future.
I think the once per week delivery option is actually a great idea. Much better then Amazon’s previous “make the delivery process smoother” idea - the Amazon Key. If you are unfamiliar with the idea, Amazon’s Key is a security camera, door lock and Cloud storage for about $250. You instal Amazon’s Security System and Key and that will allow Amazon drivers to unlock your Amazon lock, and deliver your packages inside your home when you are away.
I mean, safe packages - that’s cool. But … allowing strangers into your home - not so much.
And, after a quick Google search for “Amazon Key sales” it appears as if Amazon Key has been wildly unsuccessful and hugely unpopular. And I am not surprised.
Amazon Key. Nope.
Amazon Day. Sign me up!
If you’re a gamer you are already well versed in Twitch and know the name Ninja like the back of your hand, but for most folks, mentioning either will make them say, “What, who?” and “Ninja’s are cool.”
Well, I mean - obviously that’s what they’d say because ninjas are cool (and by cool I mean, totally sweet!). And also, because - Ninja’s have real ultimate power!
But I digress.
So, what is exactly is Twitch and how does one make $10 million dollars on it?
Well, according to Wikipedia:
“Twitch is a live streaming video platform owned by Twitch Interactive, a subsidiary of Amazon. Introduced in June 2011 as a spin-off of the general-interest streaming platform, Justin.tv, the site primarily focuses on video game live streaming, including broadcasts of eSports competitions, in addition to music broadcasts, creative content, and more recently, "in real life" streams. Content on the site can be viewed either live or via video on demand.”
Um, okay. But where exactly did this Twitch thing come from?
Well, Justin.tv used to be a site where anyone could broadcast a video about … well, whatever they wanted. They idea was supposed to be - broadcast about life. And people did. And Justintv kept adding new content, eventually expanding and including all the good and bad content you can expect when you allow anyone to broadcast anything they want. Then, in 2011 Justintv added a “broadcast about your gaming experience” section, called - Twitch.
And Twitch was popular. I mean, hugely, mind bendingly popular. Far more popular than anything else on Justintv. Suddenly, Justintv exploded upwards of 45 million unique monthly viewers. The company saw opportunity and rebranded as Twitch Interactive and most of (if not all of) the content outside gaming - was shut down.
And then, megacorporation Amazon snapped up Twitch Interactive for a measly $970 million. Now, Twitch has about 27 thousand partner channels, approx. 2.5 million broadcasters, approx. 15 million daily users with about 100 million monthly viewers.
Which means it was probably a $1 billion dollars well spent.
Okay. But how does it work?
Well, you or me, or anyone - create an account on Twitch and then you play games and stream them online. And Twitch broadcasts the game. Live. And folks can watch. And then folks can choose to give you money - so you play more games. Online. So that folk can watch. And give you more money. So you can play more games. Online. On Twitch. So folks can watch. And give you more money. So you can play more games. Online - you know what? I think you see where this is going.
Basically, Twitch provides the platform for you to stream games online. And if you’re good enough, or entertaining enough, or cute enough - you can build an audience. And your audiences pays you. Or not.
And you become a success. Or not.
But that’s how you make money (or not). And Ninja (Tyler Blevins) just happens to be the number one earner on Twitch. At one point Ninja had almost 250 thousand subscribers to his Twitch account. Most of which paid him $5. To watch him play games. Some quick math tells me - that’s $1,250,000. After Amazon and Twitch took their fee Ninja still cleared over $800,000.
He’s so popular- he has advertisers. Lots of them. He has merchandise. Lots of it. And he’s sponsored by Red Bull. He’s Red Bull’s official gamer.
Now, Ninja is an extreme example. Not everyone is as popular, or makes as much money as Ninja. But still. There is actually a thing now, that’s out there where you, or me, or your kid - can make $$ - by playing video games. And, I kind of love that.
And that's not ALL because of Twitch. But it mostly is.
From their website:
“Welcome to Twitch. We are a global community of millions who come together each day to create their own entertainment: unique, live, unpredictable, never-to-be repeated experiences created by the magical interactions of the many. With chat built into every stream, you don’t just watch on Twitch, you’re a part of the show.”
On Monday morning sources around the country reported on the Sears bankruptcy. But that doesn’t mean the company is out of business. Well, not yet anyway. It’s a good ol’ fashioned restructuring type of bankruptcy. I don’t believe that many feel the restructuring will work but there it is.
There is blame o’plenty. Current CEO Eddie Lampert blames Sears retirees. Analysts around the globe blame the CEO for his bad decisions not committing to online sales. Common sense and reason suggests that Walmart and Amazon gobbled up Sears customers like an old school game of Pac Man. It might even have been because of that time in 2003 when Sears sold its highly lucrative credit card business to Citigroup. No, seriously, that credit card business was more than 50% of the company’s profits. And they sold it off. *shrugs*
Anyway. It was probably a giant mixture of events that led Sears to inevitable bankruptcy after 130 years in business. CNN interactive made a really nice timeline of the company leading up to Monday’s announcement.
This all seems eerily familiar to my childhood. I grew up in MPLS, MN and we had a huge Sears building on Lake Street, kind of midtown Minneapolis. And I spent many an hour walking those retail halls or getting my keys made there or wondering why we could only shop on floor 1-3 but the building clearly had several stories above those - what was happening there? I even have fond memories of scrolling through the Sears catalog and circling all the toys I wanted for Christmas. Our Sears building closed down in 1994 and was eventually declared a national landmark building. Then in 2006 it was reopened as the Midtown Global Market with apartments and condos above. I’ve also spent many an hour eating and drinking at the Midtown Global Market so it all came full circle for me.
For the Sears company however, it all came down to that $134 million dollar payment they had due on Monday. And they couldn’t afford to make it. Hence the bankruptcy and restructuring.
Everything Sears seems to be fading fast. Even the famous Chicago Sears Tower, at once the tallest building in the US, was eventually bought and renamed the Willis Tower. The only silver lining here for Sears - I’m pretty sure everyone in the world still calls it the Sears Tower.
Again, this isn’t the end for Sears (yet) but the company does plan to close more than a hundred underperforming stores.
A few years back, I embarked on upgrade mission, to swap out the slow hard drive on my 2009 27-inch iMac and replace it with a nice and speedy SSD. With the cooperation of Larry O’Connor of Other World Computing, I got ahold of a 1TB drive and an upgrade kit, consisting of a few tools and suction caps. The latter was used to pry the display from the chassis.
Once the glass is extracted it’s supposed to be placed on a soft surface — I put it on a bed — the rest of the job largely involved carefully unhooking several thin wiring harnesses, easily damaged, and the drive. The manufacturer provides an adapter cable to make the new drive compatible with the iMac.
All told, it took about an hour to get through the process and reassemble the computer. O’Connor’s company offers installation videos on his site to simplify the process.
The reason I bring this up is the result of the first interview on this episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we were joined by tech columnist Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today, Yahoo Finance, Wirecutter and other publications. At the beginning of this segment, Rob explained that he took apart his vintage 27-inch iMac, from 2009, in order to replace the drive with an SSD from Other Word Computing. Gene shared his experiences in upgrading a similar computer several years ago. In later iMacs, it’s held together with an adhesive strip, making the disassembly and reassembly process far more complicated. There was also a discussion about Siri’s voice recognition problems, and a recent report that someone’s Amazon Echo Dot, featuring Alexa, recorded a personal conversation and sent the file to a contact in another city.
Can we trust these digital assistants to respect our privacy? Rob also talked about a meeting with security experts discussing changes and possible improvements in online security over the past 20 years.
The Amazon scandal is also discussed in the next article.
After the interview with Rob was recorded, I contacted two local authorized third-party Apple repair shops as to whether they’d be able to upgrade the drive on a more recent 27-inch iMac and how much it would cost. The process involves removing the adhesive that holds the display to the chassis. It’s not something I’d care to tackle.
Well, the first dealer gave a flat no, saying that even trying would damage the computer. That didn’t sound right to me, since Apple uses a similar process to upgrade memory on the iMac Pro. It can’t be upgraded as simply as the regular large iMac, which has a RAM cover at the bottom. Maybe that particular dealer didn’t want to bother or had a bad experience or two.
A second dealer gave me a detailed quote that included labor, two adapters from Other World Computing, plus backup and restore. It came to $457.93!
When I looked at the numbers, though, it sort of made sense, since they charge $200 for a full backup and restore, $19.99 for the replacement adhesive strip, and $79.99 for the needed OWC and Newer adaptors. The actual labor comes to $150. OWC sells SSDs with the proper adaptors and the customer can always restore the data themselves, so the price could be as “low” as $169.99.
In a special encore presentation, you heard a vintage segment featuring Ben Williams of Adblock Plus. Ad blocking has experienced a lot of activity over the past year, especially since Google entered the fray with its ad filter for Chrome. There are still battles between publishers and ad blockers, and payment systems to publishers from users are being talked about with more frequency. Gene and Ben also engaged in an extended discussion about the value of online advertising, and the long history of making it as offensive as possible. There was also a fun pop culture discussion, about ads that build branding images based on using a well-known personality, such as Oscar winning actor J.K. Simmons, known for Farmers Insurance commercials and loads of movies and TV shows, including the recent comic book film, “Justice League,” where he played Commissioner Gordon. You also learned how ad blockers can be configured to allow ads that have been approved by Adblock Plus.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and guest cohost Goggs Mackay present Dr. Jack Hunter, an anthropologist and author of “Engaging the Anomalous: Collected Essays on Anthropology, the Paranormal, Mediumship, and Extraordinary Experience.” In this book, Dr. Hunter poses serious questions about consciousness, experience, spirits, mediumship, psi, the nature of reality, and how best to investigate and understand them.
In this discussion, Dr. Hunter will present stories of personal experiences, encounters with mediums, and float a wide variety of suggestions as to how various paranormal phenomena might somehow be connected, and that includes the UFO mystery. Dr. Hunter is the founder and editor of a free online journal, Paranthropology.
SSSSHHHH: ALEXA IS LISTENING
Let me start with the Siri follies.
With growing concern that Apple’s Siri digital assistant isn’t capable of matching the competition from Amazon and Google, there are rumors that the next WWDC will feature news of a major refresh. Last year, Apple touted that Siri would receive a new voice and machine learning, but it’s not at all certain there has been much change beyond a smoother conversational tone.
A recent published report featured expressions of sour grapes from former Siri employees who worked at Apple, plus a claim that it worked fine when reporters tested it before it went public. But after it was launched, beginning with the iPhone 4s in 2011, Siri’s bugs were legion. Maybe it just couldn’t cope with massed requests under load.
The Night Owl’s personal experiences are hit or miss. Despite the fact that I have 25 years experience as a broadcaster, and a decade of voice training, Siri is sometimes deaf to me. A simple example is the request for Maps to navigate me to the location of the nearest Walmart. There happen to be several, a few miles apart, but Siri will only produce a list, and rarely does that list display the location I seek. I find it easier to search in Google and manually pick the store to which I want to travel.
But that process hardly makes it hands free. I have to stop somewhere first to make my selection. So I tend to focus on setting alarms or reminders, where Siri is mostly correct.
One excuse given for Siri’s subpar performance is that Apple doesn’t want to infringe on your privacy, so it doesn’t actively collect information about you that is pushed and stored beyond the device itself. The theory goes that, if access to your device and requests were more open, since Siri resides online, you’d achieve more accurate results to more complicated requests.
That takes us to one of the “superior” digital assistants, Alexa, which is featured on the Amazon Echo smart speakers. Indeed, Alexa and the Google Assistant are supposed to represent the cutting edge of voice recognition and response technology.
Apple is often urged to maybe relent on online privacy and deliver a smarter and more dependable Siri. But maybe that’s not the right idea after all.
So there’s a published report of the results of an overeager Alexa, which confirmed the worst fears about such digital voice assistants. The act of recording someone’s private conversation and emailing it to someone, even from their contact lists, is the worst definition of eavesdropping. I suspect intelligence agencies might be salivating over the ease with which this stunt can be pulled off.
As you might expect, the family contacted Amazon “multiple times,” according to a published report, and conversed with one of the Alexa engineers, who looked into the matter to figure out what went wrong. In the end, the existence of a bug was confirmed.
According to Amazon’s statement, “Amazon takes privacy very seriously. We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.”
Well, you can hardly expect them to say anything else.
Now I want to be fair to Amazon, and perhaps it was just a glitch as they claimed, one that they will or have already fixed. But how often has this happened, and had there not been publicity about this particular episode, would anything have been done other than perhaps make some excuses to the victims?
To be blunt: Amazon does a fine job delivering merchandise at affordable prices, but its customer service, largely outsourced, is not easy to deal with. Whether a chat or a phone call, you often have to explain and re-explain the problem several times for the basics to be understood.
That doesn’t mean Amazon is being careless about Alexa and how it works as the frontend to a smart speaker. Again, I am not suggesting this mishap was anything more than a rare system glitch of some sort.
One article I read on Alexa’s inadvertent attempt at spying tried to connect it to Apple and the HomePod, and whether it, too, might accidentally record someone’s personal conversation and email it to someone. But that’s not the province of Apple’s smart speaker; we benefit from the fact that it was not designed to record your random conversations in the course of isolating a request.
Maybe you’d rather not have HomePod laden with too many features after all, however useful it might seem to some users.
A move to the city, any city, can be daunting. You don’t know where to go, what to do, and with whom to do what you don’t know. But you’re a local now, so act like it. These are the apps to make your move to the city easier
Of course Google is tops when it comes to apps. Without it I wouldn’t have discovered some of the apps listed below, and since Google utilizes the microphone you can use it relatively safely while behind the wheel of a car.
Whether you’re searching for the most affordable or best-rated movers, what your income tax rate will be in your new state, how to forward your mail or re-register to vote, or comparing internet and television packages available in your area, Google has the answer. It’s also the best at telling you the best route to your new home in the city.
Google Maps is the king of map apps. Apple’s Maps isn’t even in the same league. With Google Maps you’re given the approximate time it would take to get where you’re going on a train or bus, bicycle or on foot. You also get the approximate price of what an Uber or Lyft would cost and the amount of time it would take to get where you’re going via taxi. You have to enable both the Lyft and Uber apps in Maps to do the same.
With Google Maps you can easily change the method of travel to view a recommended map and it previews the time it would take to get there. Apple’s Maps assumes you’re driving and doesn’t preview the amount of time it would take to walk, take public transit, bicycle or get a taxi. It’s a big mistake for a company that prides itself on ease of use.
While Google Maps still struggles with bicycle routes (it doesn’t take into account that a dead end road is still passable by bicycle), it’s still far better than Maps. Here’s why: when you search “parking near Target Field” in Maps (which you have to type because Maps doesn’t utilize the microphone like Google), the app shows you Target Field. That’s it. When I simply say “parking near Target Field” in Google Maps (a handy feature for use while driving since it’s usually illegal to use your phone and drive in most cities), I get a list and map of parking options near Target Field. The only thing missing is the price of each, which brings me to one of my favorite apps to make your move to the city easier…
While BestParking bids itself the #1 Parking App, Park Whiz had the Google SEO down, which is why I used them first. I fell in love immediately. There’s nothing better than discounted parking.
One of the best things about moving to a city is the increased access to great food and entertainment and the environment of downtown, but finding affordable parking that is near your restaurant or venue can be a hassle. Not anymore. When you search “parking near Target Field” in Park Whiz, you not only get a list and map of parking lots near Target Field, you get the price of each spot and distance from your venue.
It gets better. You ever pull into a parking garage and see an open parking space on the first level next to the exit and pull in to find it reserved? We all have, but now you can park in that primo spot next to the exit. Parking apps like Park Whiz and BestParking resell those reserved parking spaces when they’re not being used. Just hit the assistance button upon exit and give the attendant your confirmation code.
That’s how I ended up paying $7 and change on the first level of a garage right next to the exit a mile from my venue. I don’t mind a nice walk there and back, and I certainly won’t pay $20 to park for three hours. If I can drive a 20-mile, round trip and park for less than $10 between parking and fuel, that’s $5 cheaper than an Uber or Lyft and more convenient than a $5, two-hour round trip on a bus.
I found the place I live now using the Craigslist app. I favorited the only two-bedroom apartment and garage I could find 20 minutes from work for $850, utilities included except for electric, which amounts to heat and air conditioning.
Craigslist would be higher on this list if the community was more thoughtful when it comes to correspondence. I drove 40 miles to score some first-come, first-serve book shelves that were posted that morning. I emailed the person to see if they were available, but since he had the stuff in his driveway, a passerby who got there first scored them just before I arrived. He didn’t send me a message to let me know they were gone until after I had pulled out of his driveway. I did, however, discover two great places downtown to get food and see live music and eat really good ice cream or drink espresso exploring the area with Google Maps .
“Free Stuff” is the best category in the Craigslist app and probably my favorite thing in the world besides Google, Google Maps and Park Whiz. I scored a free wooden, queen-sized bed frame complete with six drawers that slide in underneath and a headboard with three separated shelves for books, alarm clock, smartphone, etc. I scored a cheap entertainment table for my new 4K Ultra HD TV and stereo amplifier from the same folks.
I also scored a Yamaha 5.1 surround sound stereo with subwoofer and 220-watt amplifier for $60. It’s the same amplifier for which I paid $120 and sold for $60 along with the 5.1 surround sound speakers and subwoofer. These speakers aren’t as good as those, but there aren’t many home theater surround sound stereos with 220-watt amplifiers. What results is the loudest home theater system I’ve ever heard. My buddy, who was an aspiring DJ for a while, DJ Make it Rain Coate, was the only person I knew who has ever had a stereo louder than my old Yamaha.
I could have scored a free desk, but got a better, smaller option from a friend. I can still pick up a dresser if I want, but I fear it will shrink my tiny bedroom even further.
My second favorite category on the Craigslist app is “Tickets For Sale.” I’m a big sports fan, so getting a great deal on tickets that impress the scalpers puts a big smile on my face. It rarely happens since Minnesota sports teams have been pretty bad these last few years, but I sense things are turning around.
I’m also a theatre buff and enjoy a good concert, too, and the Craigslist app is the first place I go before Ticketmaster, Vivid Seats, SeatGeek or Gametime. In fact, I’ve only ever used SeatGeek and Gametime to get the discount for signing up for their newsletter.
Generally people on Craigslist are looking to get face value for their tickets. Avoid any of the posts that are in all capital letters or use a generic photo of a logo and not a photo of the view from the seats. If you follow this rule you’ll avoid looking at a bunch of listings meant to redirect you to a reseller’s website.
I didn’t take advantage of the Amazon app until after my move to the city, but I could have had all the essentials to fill my new home waiting for me when I got there. Amazon offers a pantry service to Amazon Prime members, and it really does have the best deals on all your pantry products. When it comes to non-refrigerated food items, cleaning products, garbage bags, toothpaste, etc., I’ll never have to make another trip to the dollar store or Wal-mart. (Amazon and Wal-mart are in quite the price war, which is great for you, the consumer.) I was forced to stand in line at Wal-mart while I could have been simply opening boxes at my house and starting dinner.
Because I didn’t have food sent to my new home ahead of me, I could have taken advantage of Groupon. The discounts are deep, and from now on I probably won’t eat at another restaurant unless I have a Groupon. If you love sushi, Thai, Indian and Italian food like me, you know it can get expensive. Well, I’m seeing up to 45 percent off restaurant food on Groupon.
From comedy tickets to spas and massages to dental care and plastic surgery, you can find a Groupon for it in the city. Even psychic readings are cheaper on Groupon. It’s an app too easy not to use.
Sure you could continue swiping left with the free Tinder and OKCupid apps, but Match is where it’s at whether you’re looking for respectable folks for friendly encounters or searching for your life partner. I appreciate how Match considers political and religious preferences when matching people because that’s what smart people talk about.
While Match is expensive ($25 per month for the three-month package), I can honestly say it works. I haven’t found my life partner yet, but I have met people I enjoy and that’s worth $25 when you’re alone and new to a city. My mother met her husband on Match, and apparently Match is responsible for the most first dates and second dates amongst online dating sites. You can try it for seven days for free and cancel anytime.
So those are the apps to make your move to the city easier. Don’t make the mistake I did and discover them too late. Use the apps early and often.