Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ubuntu Linux Aims to "Do It All"


Ubuntu Linux enters the smartphone wars
Instead of going after both the tablet and smartphone with a newly-improved touch-enabled version of Ubuntu Linux, Canonical will be focusing its efforts in 2013 on smartphones.

While the smartphone interface is clearly based on Ubuntu's Unity interface, it's not just the same old desktop shrunk down to a smartphone. According to Canonical, the smartphone Ubuntu will use "all four edges of the screen for a more immersive experience. Ubuntu uniquely gives handset OEMs and mobile operators the ability to converge phone, PC and thin client into a single enterprise superphone."

[...]

This new version of Ubuntu will be "aimed at two core mobile segments: the high-end superphone, and the entry-level basic smartphone, helping operators grow the use of data amongst consumers who typically use only the phone and messaging but who might embrace the use of web and email on their phone. Ubuntu also appeals to aspirational prosumers who want a fresh experience with faster, richer performance on a lower bill-of-materials device."

At the same time, this isn't just a smartphone operating system. Jono Bacon, Ubuntu's community manager, added on his blog. that "Ubuntu for phones is not just limited to just the Operating System on the phone screen itself. Ubuntu also has the technology, as demonstrated with Ubuntu For Android, to boot a full Ubuntu desktop from the phone when it is docked with a screen. This provides a complete Ubuntu experience in your pocket, for both your phone and your desktop, with a clean consistent look across both screens, and with all your content available on your phone and desktop using Ubuntu One. This is revolutionary."

[...]

Shuttleworth also believes that "Canonical is uniquely placed with a single operating system for client, server and cloud, and a unified family of interfaces for the phone, the PC and the TV." And that, “We are defining a new era of convergence in technology, with one unified operating system that underpins cloud computing, data centers, PCs and consumer electronics." Specifically, Shuttleworth, in a press conference, said that eventually "a single Ubuntu image will be able to run with a smartphones, tablet, TV, or desktop face." He hopes that this universal version will be available in April 2014 with Ubuntu 14.04. [...]

Shuttleworth certainly seems to have his eye on the ball. Read the whole thing for embedded links and more.





Also see:

Ubuntu operating system comes to Android smartphones
     

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The best ways to study, and the worst ways

I've been taking on line courses, which have final exams at the end. So I found this article interesting:

Highlighting Is a Waste of Time: The Best and Worst Learning Techniques
In a world as fast-changing and full of information as our own, every one of us — from schoolchildren to college students to working adults — needs to know how to learn well. Yet evidence suggests that most of us don’t use the learning techniques that science has proved most effective. Worse, research finds that learning strategies we do commonly employ, like rereading and highlighting, are among the least effective.

The scientific literature evaluating these techniques stretches back decades and across thousands of articles. It’s far too extensive and complex for the average parent, teacher or employer to sift through. Fortunately, a team of five leading psychologists have now done the job for us. In a comprehensive report released on Jan. 9 by the Association for Psychological Science, the authors, led by Kent State University professor John Dunlosky, closely examine 10 learning tactics and rate each from high to low utility on the basis of the evidence they’ve amassed. Here is a quick guide to the report’s conclusions:

The Worst
Highlighting and underlining led the authors’ list of ineffective learning strategies. Although they are common practices, studies show they offer no benefit beyond simply reading the text. Some research even indicates that highlighting can get in the way of learning; because it draws attention to individual facts, it may hamper the process of making connections and drawing inferences. Nearly as bad is the practice of rereading, a common exercise that is much less effective than some of the better techniques you can use. Lastly, summarizing, or writing down the main points contained in a text, can be helpful for those who are skilled at it, but again, there are far better ways to spend your study time. Highlighting, underlining, rereading and summarizing were all rated by the authors as being of “low utility.”

The Best
In contrast to familiar practices like highlighting and rereading, the learning strategies with the most evidence to support them aren’t well known outside the psych lab. Take distributed practice, for example. This tactic involves spreading out your study sessions, rather than engaging in one marathon. Cramming information at the last minute may allow you to get through that test or meeting, but the material will quickly disappear from memory. It’s much more effective to dip into the material at intervals over time. And the longer you want to remember the information, whether it’s two weeks or two years, the longer the intervals should be. [...]
It goes on to mention other effective techniques too, like "practice testing". I used that technique extensively when I was studying for my Ham radio exams, and it was really helpful. Studying is so much more productive when you study smart, by using techniques that are proven to work.


Also see:

The Benefits of a "non-credit" Education
     

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"A person should not go to sleep at night until the debits equal the credits"

Luca Pacioli: The Father of Accounting
In 1494, the first book on double-entry accounting was published. The author was an Italian friar, Luca Pacioli. His impact on accounting was so great that five centuries later, accountants from around the world gathered in the Italian village of San Sepulcro to celebrate the anniversary of the book's publication.The first accounting book actually was one of five sections in Pacioli's mathematics book titled "Everything about Arithmetic, Geometry, and Proportions." This section on accounting served as the world's only accounting textbook until well into the 16th century.

Since Pacioli was a Franciscan friar, he might be referred to simply as Friar Luca. While Friar Luca is often called the "Father of Accounting," he did not invent the system. Instead, he simply described a method used by merchants in Venice during the Italian Renaissance period. His system included most of the accounting cycle as we know it today. For example, he described the use journals and ledgers, and he warned that a person should not go to sleep at night until the debits equalled the credits! His ledger included assets (including receivables and inventories), liabilities, capital, income, and expense accounts. Friar Luca demonstrated year-end closing entries and proposed that a trial balance be used to prove a balanced ledger. Also, his treatise alludes to a wide range of topics from accounting ethics to cost accounting.

Pacioli was about 49 years old in 1494 - just two years after Columbus discovered America - when he returned to Venice for the publication of his fifth book, Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita (Everything About Arithmetic, Geometry and Proportion). It was written as a digest and guide to existing mathematical knowledge, and bookkeeping was only one of five topics covered. The Summa's 36 short chapters on bookkeeping, entitled De Computis et Scripturis (Of Reckonings and Writings) were added "in order that the subjects of the most gracious Duke of Urbino may have complete instructions in the conduct of business," and to "give the trader without delay information as to his assets and liabilities" (All quotes from the translation by J.B. Geijsbeek, Ancient Double Entry Bookkeeping: Lucas Pacioli's Treatise, 1914).

Numerous tiny details of bookkeeping technique set forth by Pacioli were followed in texts and the profession for at least the next four centuries, as accounting historian Henry Rand Hatfield put it, "persisting like buttons on our coat sleeves, long after their significance had disappeared." Perhaps the best proof that Pacioli's work was considered potentially significant even at the time of publication was the very fact that it was printed on November 10, 1494. Guttenberg had just a quarter-century earlier invented metal type, and it was still an extremely expensive proposition to print a book.[...]
Follow the link above for references. I'm just about to complete an online course about using the Double-entry bookkeeping system, and I think the system is brilliant. So I found this history interesting. More historical facts from Wikipedia:
[...] The earliest extant accounting records that follow the modern double-entry form are those of Amatino Manucci, a Florentine merchant at the end of the 13th century.[1] Another old extant evidence of full double-entry bookkeeping is the Farolfi ledger of 1299-1300. Giovanino Farolfi & Company were a firm of Florentine merchants whose head office was in Nîmes who also acted as moneylenders to the Archbishop of Arles, their most important customer.[2] Some sources suggest that Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici introduced this method for the Medici bank in the 14th century.

However, the oldest discovered record of a complete double-entry system is the Messari (Italian: Treasurer's) accounts of the Republic of Genoa in 1340. The Messari accounts contain debits and credits journalised in a bilateral form, and contains balances carried forward from the preceding year, and therefore enjoy general recognition as a double-entry system.[3] By the end of the 15th century, the bankers and merchants of Florence, Genoa, Venice and Lübeck used this system widely.

Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar and collaborator of Leonardo da Vinci, first codified the system in his mathematics textbook Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalità published in Venice in 1494.[4] Pacioli is often called the "father of accounting" because he was the first to publish a detailed description of the double-entry system, thus enabling others to study and use it.[5][6] There is however controversy among scholars lately that Benedetto Cotrugli wrote the first manual on a double-entry bookkeeping system in his 1458 treatise Della mercatura e del mercante perfetto.[7][8][9][9][1 [...]
So perhaps it was the Florentine Merchants who invented the system? Well whoever it was, I'm a fan!

Follow the link for embedded links and more information.

     

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Solve Financial Crisis with a single coin?

Yeah, sure. Geithner's just gotta mint one before he leaves the Treasury Department:

A Trillion-Dollar Coin Brings a Jackpot of Jests
[...] WASHINGTON — A bizarre but seemingly legal idea to get around the country’s debt ceiling using a trillion-dollar coin is having its day in Washington.

The proposal, which originated in economics and business blogs and has a vanishingly remote chance of happening, has won ample attention and garnered new controversy as Republicans and the White House seem to be headed for yet another standoff over a legal limit on the country’s debt — a fight that may come as soon as next month.

[...]

The workaround would come from exploiting a 1997 law that allows the Treasury to “mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the secretary, in the secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.”

The idea was that a secretary might authorize the creation of a commemorative eagle coin, for instance, to be put on sale for collectors. But the law inadvertently gave the Treasury secretary the power to mint, say, a $1 trillion coin, or even a $5 trillion coin, or even a $1 quadrillion coin.

Rather than selling it, he might deposit it at the Federal Reserve. Presto! The shiny new asset would erase a trillion dollars in debt liabilities. Then, the Treasury could carry out its spending — including disbursing Social Security checks and Medicare payments — without hitting the ceiling, a cap on total debt issuance that currently stands at about $16.4 trillion.

When Congress raised the ceiling again, the administration could then take the platinum coin and destroy it. With a token the size of a penny, the White House could head off another round of Congressional brinkmanship and another run at a fiscal cliff.

Blog commentators came up with the idea in 2010, and it gained some attention from financial writers and monetary policy followers during the 2011 debt ceiling standoff. Now, with Republicans and the White House again at odds, the country is expected to run out of spare cash sometime between mid-February and early March. [...]
I find it unbelievable that ADULTS can even talk like this. Talk about clueless. And people wonder why we're in sh*t street.

How about a REAL solution:

Reforming a Congress that spends like teenagers

It used to be called common sense. Remember common sense? I do. And I say, bring it back!
   

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Goodbye to Herbie, Last of the Spice Dogs

We took our 17 year old Chihuahua, Herbie, to the vet today, to be euthanized. His health had been steadily deteriorating, and this last week, rapidly so. He was in much pain, so it was the only kind choice, to end his suffering.

We had a group of dogs when we owned our restaurant many years ago. The first four were females, and we gave them all the names of spices, so we called them "The Spice Girls". Then we added one more dog, the only male. We named him Herbie (as in "herbs and spices"). Thereafter, the group was "Herbie and the Spice Girls". Here they are, at the height of their glory days:


In the above photo, Herbie is standing at the forefront. In the back, from left to right, is: Coriander, Saffron, Rosemary, and Marjoram.

Marjoram and Rosemary died while we were still living in San Francisco. The rest came to Oregon with us to live here on the farm.

Saffron died in 2007. Coriander died in 2011. Herbie, the last of the group, was also the last to go. We did a toast to him and the Spice Girls at dinner. It was the end of an era, and the end of a group that was (is and always will be) close to our hearts.

They are survived by our farm dog Digby, and our siamese cat, Smudgie, and 23 chickens and three ducks.

Here is how I'll always remember Herbie: leading Corrie and Digby in a charge attack on the Evil Vacuum cleaner:




Here is a photo of Herbie, when we adopted him from a dog rescue organization:
Here is probably the last photo I have of him, taken last summer:
He had a good long life. R.I.P. Herbie. May all of our Spice Dogs R.I.P.

Thanks for all your love. The world was a better place for having you here. And now Heaven is a better place for having you there.


   

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Thursday, January 03, 2013

Russian Shopping, in the Western Style


Malls Blossom in Russia, With a Middle Class
MOSCOW — Shoppers who find that 250 stores aren’t enough can go ice skating, watch movies or even ride a carousel, all under a single roof.

While it sounds like the Mall of America, this mall is outside Moscow, not Minneapolis.

“I feel like I’m in Disneyland,” Vartyan E. Sarkisov, a shopper toting an Adidas bag, said recently while making the rounds of the Mega Belaya Dacha mall.

Instead of bread lines, Russia is known these days for malls. They are booming businesses, drawing investments from sovereign wealth funds and Wall Street banks, most recently Morgan Stanley, which paid $1.1 billion a year ago for a single mall in St. Petersburg.

One mall, called Vegas, rose out of a cucumber field on the edge of Moscow and became, its owners say, larger than the Mall of America if the American mall’s seven-acre amusement park is not counted in the calculation of floor space.

A few offramps away on the Moscow beltway, another mall scored a different kind of victory: the Mega Tyoply Stan shopping center drew 57 million visitors at its peak in 2007, well ahead of the 40 million annual visits reported by the Mall of America.

As American malls dodder into old age, gaptoothed with vacancies, Russia’s shopping centers are just now blossoming into their boom years, nourished by oil exports that are lifting wages.

“It’s 1982 all over again in Russia,” said Lee Timmins, the country representative of Hines, a Texas-based real estate group that is opening three outlet malls in Russia, referring to the heyday of the American mall experience. Russians, he said, love malls.

The mall boom illustrates an extraordinarily important theme in Russian economics these days. The growing crowds at malls, and the keen interest in Russian malls on the part of Wall Street banks, are signs that the emerging middle class that made up the street protests against Vladimir V. Putin in Moscow last winter is becoming a force in business as well as politics. [...]
Moscow alone has 82 malls, two of them the largest in Europe. The article goes on to explain how the growth of malls is paralleling the growth of a large middle class with disposable income, and how and why it's happening. And the political ramifications. Interesting stuff.

Russia has a long history of mall-like structures, like their traditional GUM (department store). But the modern malls are the next generation, being driven by modern considerations and modern capitalism, with a Russian flavor.
     

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Oregon: The Best Tax Preparing State

Oregon: Land of many well-prepared tax preparers
A few years ago, Congressional investigators issued a report that should've caused Oregonians to swell with pride. And irritation.

Oregon's tax returns, the investigators found, were more likely to be accurate than the rest of the country's -- about $250 more accurate as of 2001, the Government Accountability Office found.

Unfortunately, that meant 1.56 million individual Oregon taxpayers paid $390 million more in federal taxes than they would have if they lived elsewhere, the report said.

Oregon: We do our taxes right. And we pay for it.

Last year, I reviewed online tax prep sites. This year, I figured I'd help those wanting live person helping.

As you see, you're in good hands in Oregon.

Still, you can overpay for your service. Not everyone needs to pay a Certified Public Accountant by the hour to do their returns. [...]
It goes on to give some good definitions of what LTPs, LTCs, EAs and CPAs are and what they do.

His follow-up column was also instructive:

Selecting a tax professional? It's OK to be picky
[...] So, where to start looking for a tax pro? Ask a friend or someone whose judgment you trust whom he uses. If you shop around, interview more than one in person. You'll get a better feel for pedigree, fees, specialties and personality.

"Some tax pros are not great communicators," said Joseph Anthony, a licensed tax consultant with Joseph Anthony & Associates Inc. in Portland. "You should know going in what you should expect from your tax pro." [...]
It goes on to offer advice, including questions you should ask.

     

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Are We Becoming Argentina?

We're now one step closer to America's coming civil war
[...] Since 1970, America’s public sector has exploded as a percentage of GDP, rising to almost 25% last year. While the national unemployment rate hovers at the 8% mark, government worker unemployment rate is a cozy 3.8%. Sixteen percent of America’s workforce now work for government. By the time the Obama administration ends, we won’t be that far away from Argentina’s 21 percent.

Yet as an economic and social enterprise, government creates nothing.

Far from adding to people’s standard of living, government is the number one cause of poverty in this country. It forces those who depend on its largesse to live hand to mouth, with no time or money to plan for the future. They become unable to fend for themselves---and increasingly resentful of those who can.

When the economy tanks and the government checks have to shrink, their only alternative is to take to the streets. That’s what happening in Argentina, and in Greece; and that’s where the growth of government is taking us here, as this current budget deal increases handouts–and more and more Americans are finding that an unemployment or Social Security disability check is their only life line.

Washington’s Republicans and Democrats alike have become the toll collectors on the road to serfdom–and the road to Rosario. [...]
"Rosario" is the name of the Argentine city the author speaks about at the beginning of the article. Read what he says about it. Is that where we are heading? God forbid.

     

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