Uber-X

July 28th, 2014

My neighbor Brian took me to a beer brewery/tasting room in Van Nuys a couple of weeks ago. Instead of driving, because another of our neighbors was there already, he decided to take me on my first uberX ride. I have to say, it was an excellent experience: the car was clean, the driver calm and collected. Last Saturday I did first solo ride and it too was excellent. I wanted to go see a friend play at the Oyster House, perhaps three miles from my house. Been working my butt off and I didn’t feel like riding my bike, and my friend John was gonna meet me there. Surely we’d end up going somewhere else later, so I fired up the app and waiting time was stated as 4 minutes! I could see the car on a map as it was coming my way on Ventura, then turning onto Hazeltine. A Belgian guy in a Prius showed up, and 5 minutes later, for the amazing price of $4.90 I was at my destination!

The best part is that you don’t need to deal with the paying part, it’s fully automatic. No tipping, everything is handled by the app. No need to explain where you are to the driver, the app let’s you put a ‘push pin’ on a map exactly where you are! It’s highly efficient and truly a perfect example of how we can become a much more efficient world. Recommended!

The Choir: Military Wives (Updated!)

July 27th, 2014

It’s summer so in Holland it’s time for “Zomergasten” an iconic yearly TV show, which is perhaps my favorite thing on this medium anywhere. Presented by a different host every year, it has only one guest who, for the three hours the program lasts, has total freedom to discuss any topic, tell any story or share any observation, while showing video clips from any movie/TV show/documentary he wants. Mind you, there are no commercial interruptions! This years presenter is Wilfried de Jong, a very smart and truly interested person, and the first guest was none other than Freek de Jonge, a living legend in the Netherlands. A true artist, de Jonge discusses many many interesting topics and makes it clear that he’s as free as a human can be in this day and age: his one-man theater shows are completely and utterly uncompromised,  not by commerce, or by the desire to be liked by everyone which plagues so many these days.

In this 180 minute journey, we see a young Charlie Chaplin, discovering his talents in a time where close-up shots had not even been considered yet! We witness the most unbelievable put by Tiger Woods: the movement of the ball includes what looks like about a 90 degree turn, and then a teetering on the edge of the hole for literally seconds before it seems like the growing roar of the crowd provides the last little push it needs to go in! There are many more very interesting parts, but where it really got me was when Freek showed us a few minutes of a British program called The Choir: Military Wives.

It’s the fourth season of a show in which conductor Gareth Malone rounds up groups of people to form a singing group. This is no populist BS though, he works them, but more importantly, literally makes them better people. I’ve said many times the we westerners don’t sing together enough! I haven’t seen the whole show, but in the 5 minutes we got to witness on Zomergasten, at first we see a few dozen women whose husbands are away at war; these are ladies who know each other, but in England there’s not much socializing between folks of different ranks so they don’t know each other well. Also, most are not singers and visibly uncomfortable with the whole situation. In addition, military wives are probably in a similarly rigid system as their husbands, not used to the ‘cutting loose and letting go’ that music begs for.

By the time that they perform in front of prince Charles at Royal Albert Hall (!!!!) their faces have completely changed; I get tears in my eyes writing this, I can see the unity, the peace, the togetherness, the confidence. It’s like they were girls and now they are women. Freek makes some very fascinating observations: “when their husbands come back from the war, they’re going to have a problem!” The women have now far surpassed their partners in this journey of discovery we call life, as the latter have probably regressed in their understanding of balance and happiness. Wives who acted like they had never been listened to have now learned to wield the power of their voices, in the best, most selfless way possible.

One final interesting thing: even though most Dutch public TV shows are watchable online these days, for free by the way, most of the time Zomergasten is not, but this episode was! You know why? Because the restrictions always come due to ‘geographic’ license issues in this over-commercialized world; but true art is not run by money managers! There were no Disney clips, no major network Amercian TV…….. and the result was another perfect example of the potential of this Medium!

UPDATE: found out that the entire three part series can be watched on Youtube in perfectly fine quality! I watched it last night and was so moved……. Choir Director Gareth Malone is quite an interesting character, and at points all his judgements of these women (“they literally have no voice!”) seem quite pretentious and almost vulgar, but then the faces don’t lie and the incredible joy and thankfulness they experience moved me to tears. Wow!

Digital Adapter

June 26th, 2014

Time Warner is at it again: in order to “better serve its customers”, analog transmission over its cables will seize, being replaced by all digital methods for “the clearest picture and best sound possible!”. It means that one can no longer use the tuner in a TV to receive even the lower tier channels, something I’ve been doing for many years. For a limited time you can get 2 free ‘Digital Adapters’ from the company loves to hate, so I ordered them and they arrived the next day. So far so good… the package includes a nice HDMI cable, a cool Coax one, the walwart and the unit itself. After hooking it up, it proceeded to update itself for about 15 minutes, after which it says it could not authenticate and to call customer support. Here we go again….the power adapter is rated at 1.5 amps at 5volts, so this is a unit that can potentially add as much as 7.5w to my total power draw. This better be good…

I call the number and get a person on the phone fairly quickly. After explaining to her I properly hooked it up, as evidenced by its communication with their update servers, the lady does some magic at her end and the units starts working. Already, I’m not impressed: ABC7 looks like crap, like SD content upscaled to 720P, not true HD. Through the analog connection, I DO get true HD for all the channels that are broadcast over the air here! Hell, even my rabbit ears antenna gets a really nice picture, and now I have to have 2 remotes, another power sucking box, another thing that can go wrong. This blows. Well, I guess this is the final straw and I will be cancelling my service with them when the changeover takes effect.

 

NET10 AT&T APN settings for MMS on the Moto G (or other android phones!) that really work

June 22nd, 2014

Persistence has paid off! I FINALLY found a way to set up my Moto G so I can use MMS, or texting with pictures. There are countless pages and youtube videos describing the ‘correct’ settings, but all, including the official instructions from NET10 itself are incorrect, or at least incomplete. After trying at least 20 different combos, here are the right ones, for someone using the AT&T compatible SIM that is:

Name – NET10

APN – tfdata

Proxy – Not set

Port – Not set

Username – Not set

Password – Not set

Server – Not set

MMSC – http://mms-tf.net/

MMS proxy – 66.209.11.33

MMS port – 80

MCC – 310

MNC – 410

Authentication type – Not set

APN type – default, mms,wap

APN protocol – IPv4/IPv6

APN roaming protocol – IPv4

Bearer – unspecified

MVNO type – none

——————————————————-

Now, the MMS proxy can also be mms3.tracfone.com

The most important thing missing in so many posts online is the fact that when you make a new APN, at least on my phone which is running Android KitKat 4.4.2, the APN type is not specified. As soon as i put in “default,mms,wap”, which I saw on some Youtube video, it started working! Another thing to keep in mind is that NET10 wants you to use its proxy for data, but you should not as it increases network latency unnecessarily.

 

 

Streaming

June 11th, 2014

The river of nonsense based on misinformation thickens every day! From idiotic videos ‘proving’ that no airplane hit the second tower on 9/11 (2.5 million views ladies and gentlemen!) to diet advice stemming from horribly wrong conclusions drawn from questionable scientific research, we are in danger! You see, humans put a value on information based in large part on how many others they hear state it. We are herd animals after all, and so we follow. Before the information age, in order for you to hear thousands of people say something, a very large percentage of folks directly around you would have to do so. These days, even if only 1% of a population believes something, but they are loud and active, it can seem like everybody believes it.

Here’s something I do know a something about: performance royalties for music. If one were to believe the internet, Spotify is taking advantage of composers and publishers, paying them horribly low amounts. Nothing is further from the truth actually. Two months ago I did an experiment: I signed up for a paid membership for one month, at $10, and then proceeded to put XR7 on loop. In the last few days I’ve been getting my regular payments for that period and they’re actually good: 1.24 cents per play! That means every time ONE person listens to ONE song ONE time, I get paid more than a penny. Contrary to popular belief that is WAY better than any terrestrial radio ever paid! Not all the songs have come through for this period, including The Robot Song, which I played on repeat separately, but already my little experiment has brought in $25, or actually MORE than I paid for my membership. How that is unfair is beyond me……

Now, I don’t know what the pay scale is at Pandora and it probably is worse, but still, whenever these idiotic musicians around here bitch about the new model, I want to slap them. They post stuff on FB, about how someone had a million plays but only made $100. Well guess what, if your song plays on a broadcast radio station and is heard by a million people, how much do you think you get paid? This is part of the problem caused by the idiotic price of 99 cents that iTunes has instilled on us. It’s outrageous……..

Be Right

June 9th, 2014

Here’s the advantage of wanting to be right all the time….no, not winning the argument at all cost, but actually wanting to be right, to be blessed with correct understanding of the problem at hand, and drawing the right conclusion. It means you’re interested in what’s wrong, appreciative of constructive criticism…….. even if you’re sensitive to it…..

Lowest Common Denominator

May 27th, 2014

It seems like Americans’ love for amateur singing hour is waning. Ratings for the finale of Idol have dropped 66 percent in the last 3 years; yes, you read that right, it has lost two thirds of its viewers! I have to say, my interest peaked a while ago, even though particularly Jena Irene was quite something to watch this year. The thing is, when you see contestants from earlier years, winners and runners-up, come on the current show to promote their latest and greatest, you realize they’re pretty much all average at best. They never have good songs, and especially nothing original or memorable. Just another slice of ‘eenheidsworst’, or ‘unity sausage’, with little to no personality. It’s what one can expect in the quest for the lowest common denominator!

So, perhaps people are not good in picking for themselves; maybe they can’t tell what’s best for them. There are a lot of parallels in politics, aren’t there? One only needs to consider the populist tendencies of doling out ever harsher punishments for crimes. At first, jailing more sounds like a great way to keep crime under control, but further analysis always shows that it doesn’t work. Focusing on the symptoms instead of the root of the problem is a great way to only get deeper into trouble. It’s why almost all successful countries have politicians who govern by fiat from the people. If we let the normal man run the show and make the decisions, candy would be free and school optional. I’m exaggerating, but  you get the point. We need to have folks smarter than average doing the heavy thinking; it just makes more sense. At the same time, we need to watch those in power like hawks; they cannot be blindly trusted and we should NEVER expect that. Exactly that is the work we need to do: make sure that decisions get made based on solid ideas, not corruption. We need to be willing to throw out the establishment at any time and start over, of course in a civilized manner if at all possible.  It’s not perfect, but then again nothing is!

Downside

May 21st, 2014

Man, have we been traveling this little old planet of ours! From Massachusetts to Virginia, New York to Maryland, California to Nevada; we’ve been to Indonesia, Taiwain, Malaysia and now Japan too. Every place is different, although only the US calls itself the best country in the world. So, what does that mean? Is it really? How does one define that? It’s clear that every place has its advantages, but how important is the general happiness of the people? By that metric, I’m sad to say America might be dead last on that list strangely enough.

Oftentimes the discussion turns to opportunity, the ability to move up in the world, and that’s an area where the USA has traditionally excelled. A lot of value is placed there on hope, that one can improve his situation, have a better life than his or her parents. But it’s necessary for folks to believe in it for that to be a true possibility, and I don’t see a lot of hope in the people on the lower rungs of the ladder. It’s a little better on the East Coast, but it doesn’t take a lot of time at the airport in Philadelphia to realize those working at the restaurants for instance have all but given up; they don’t give a shit about their jobs, and lots of customers don’t give a shit about them. LAX is similar with a sense of apathy and lack of interest that’s kind of scary. It’s a monster that feeds itself: there’s NO respect for the little guy, so the little guy responds in kind.

How different is it in Japan? Incredibly so! Politeness is a huge part of the culture here, but it truly goes deeper than that and I firmly believe that fair wages are of paramount importance. When you realize exactly how little some people make in the US, working 40 hours a week, not being able to pay for even the most modest life, especially while their customers can afford to light their fireplaces with $100 bills, that resentment makes a lot more sense. The utter disrespect shown to even the generally well qualified and excellent workers at Starbucks proves the terrible situation. Take the crews at the clubs and theaters we’ve played here: I’m almost embarrassed by how helpful and subservient they are! They apologize for making us wait 30 seconds, even when the cause was not their fault. But most of all, everyone seems truly interested and invested and that last word is the key in my opinion.

You see, it’s really that simple and one place I’ve written about on these pages a few times before proves it: In-N-Out Burger! It’s just a simple fast food place, but the demeanor of its employees could NOT be any more different from McDonalds for instance. The food is a lot better, but that has little to do with it. You know what makes its employees care about their job? The fact that they get a piece of the profit of their particular establishment. Mind you, it’s probably a tiny piece, but it means hard work literally pays off, and directly so! It’s an example of something else I’ve written about repeatedly and that’s the ‘feedback loop’, perhaps the most important mechanism in the universe. Living is more than surviving, or at least the human psyche wants to make it more. We have a sense of fairness that seems to be built in to our basic blueprint and there are experiments that show that some animals have it too.

In US politics there’s a lot of talk about people’s sense of entitlement, and while I’m not saying there’s not a problem there, I truly believe very few, if any, would expect that someone making sandwiches deserves to make the same amount of money as someone leading a billion dollar corporation. At the same time, it just doesn’t make sense that anyone in a country as rich would have to bust his balls 40 hours a week and not be able to pay for a small apartment and food, making less a week than his boss makes per hour. The lack of resentment that one clearly sees in the faces of the common Japanese worker is not fake; it’s a result of a country that truly takes care of its people, a pace that’s elevated ALL of its people!

Now, everything has a downside; that’s a law of the universe, isn’t it? I’ve never lived here, but in many ways it seems similar to Holland, and I know that place very well! The first ‘problem’ in a highly organized society is the system of classes it introduces and the US was of course built on the idea of trying to abolish such a rigid structure of social layers. To a large extent, even the way you talk determines the possibilities you have in the rest of your life. It’s a topic for a future piece, but something very important nonetheless.

Something else, that’s very different here from my homeland, is the subservient role of the female. It’s not apparent in everyday life, but I know that traditionally the woman here in Japan has had no right to an opinion. In general, there is less freedom for everyone to do as he pleases, with very strict rules of conduct in every aspect of life. It’s definitely a system which would not work for any people who have tasted freedom, the way we westerners have! At the same time, when I look at the faces of the hundreds passing by the window of the coffee shop here at the train station, I see a level of peace rarely encountered in the US. And why wouldn’t people be peaceful? This place works! The bullet train GOES! And on time I must add! Food everywhere is excellent, affordable too, all the basic necessities are within everyone’s reach. A bottle of water at the airport is $1 or maybe $1.50, even though the drinking water is perfectly potable.

In the end I think the answer lies in togetherness. That’s what’s truly missing in the US and perhaps western civilization in general. We are so obsessed with ourselves, with advancing our personal situation, that we forget we are on this ride together. More importantly, an individual human is nothing, not even the most extraordinary one! Our strength lies in numbers, in teamwork. It’s a lesson we’ve had more opportunities to learn than one can imagine, but somehow it’s not sticking! Think about sports, religion…… it’s something that is so clear in Indonesia, a place that’s been pulling itself up by its bootstraps. Freed from the rule of my people half a century ago, it’s been growing, its economy now the biggest in South East Asia. Even the poor, living on the street next to rivers that smell like sewers are benefitting; food is cheap and quite good, and the waste of the better off is more than they had before the influx of wealth, so things are looking up, if you know what I mean. It’s probably because it’s such a religious place that there’s a sense of togetherness that’s so sorely missing in my neck of the woods, which is probably the most God-less city on this planet. I’m not advocating more religion, and consider myself a true atheist, but if we’re going to move away from it, we MUST find another way to believe in the collective. It seems like the Japanese have found a way, so perhaps we should stop telling ourselves we are the greatest and learn from others.

Medi-Cal

May 13th, 2014

How about this statistic: soon, one in three Californians will be on Medi-Cal, the healthcare system paid for entirely by the state! Because of Obamacare and its expansions, MANY came out of the woodwork, who simply because of their low incomes. The cutoff lies somewhere around $16,000 per year, so it really shows how many folks are relatively poor around here. My 1-bedroom apartment costs me $1100 per month here in L.A., although many parts of the state are far cheaper of course. What it shows, at least in my opinion, is that we’re not just talking about lazy people, not about the problem of people’s sense of entitlement that Republicans always bitch about, but a genuinely large part of the population that simply could not afford to pay for coverage. Now, in case of a disaster, they’re going to be covered; the doctors will get paid and no one will go bankrupt. That’s quite an improvement if you ask me!

So many, including some of my close friends, are so entrenched in politics that they WILL not believe there’s anything good in the ACA; some even say that the system of healthcare in the US was actually great or even the best in the world, and now is ruined! It’s mind-blowing to me, and this polarization is very dangerous. We need to give it a chance, because even a great plan can be brought down by enough people working to take it down. I don’t think anyone thinks Obamacare is perfect, not even the people who designed it, because of all the compromises, but that’s how democracy works. Now, we need to tune it, tweak it, make it work; TOGETHER, for the sake of all of us. We should count our blessings that we now have a system in which a pre-existing condition will NOT affect eligibility or even your premium. I think we’d still be better off with a single-payer system, but time will tell.

Da pope

May 10th, 2014

Boy, the American right has a problem: it’s widely know that religion has been used extensively but Republicans as a source of policy and most true of those touting the ‘free market’ here are also devout Christians. Or at least, they call themselves that. The fact that Jesus specifically chose to hang with the poor, and to eschew wealth and material things, does not seem to interfere with their desires to get filthy rich, while paying the minions as little as possible without re-establishing slavery. That there are people willing to work 40 hours a week without making enough money to live, while the bosses are rolling in dough is just supply-and-demand working, right?

So, in steps the pope! The head of that church they so proudly belong to, the closest to divinity Christians belief there is on earth, saying that the rich west should enact: “legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.” In other words: those with almost all the money are not sharing it, and need to be forced by governments to try to correct some of this disparity! That’s right, he used the R-word! I’ve personally always been amazed at the lack of compassion of  so many ‘christians’ here in the US, using His name all the time, while living in some of the most selfish, unchristian ways.  The death penalty is another bizarre example of contradiction: how can you call yourself  ‘pro-life’, and still support state sponsored killing?

You can say what you want about Bill Maher, and he is a smug ass, but on this weekend’s episode of Real-Tim he had a nun as a guest. Proud atheist that he is, he treated her with great respect, because she deserves it! Here’s sister Simone Campbell who’s giving her life to help others, touring the nation with “Nuns on the Bus” to promote social justice. She details talking to republicans about the food stamp programs, about how taking it away would hurt real, HARD WORKING people, who make so little they need them to simply feed their kids. Even when confronted with real-life cases, the politicians chose to dismiss them, saying ‘that’s not the kind of people this would affect!’. Maher calls it ‘living in the bubble’ and it’s real; these guys are so disconnected from reality, they only know how to argue in the model of reality they have constructed in their collective heads, in which markets are perfect and competition only helps people.