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.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Tax Collection: where to find 3.3 billion

The government's own employees:

Federal workers owe IRS the $3.3 billion
Lots of people haven't paid all their taxes -- including employees of the federal government.
The IRS released data this week showing that roughly 3.3% of federal employees and retirees owed $3.3 billion in unpaid taxes as of Sept. 30.

That means they either couldn't pay the full amount owed when they filed a return, or they got snagged by an IRS audit and were told they owed more than they already paid.

The data, released after USA Today requested it under the Freedom of Information Act, broke down delinquency rates by departments and independent agencies.

At the low end of the scale was the Treasury Department, which had a 1.2% non-compliance rate.

A big part of Treasury is the IRS itself, which had a delinquency rate of 0.9%, according to an agency spokesman.

The rate among the population at large is at least 8.7%, the IRS estimates.

A few weeks ago the IRS found itself in hot water with Congress for having paid $1 million in bonuses to 1,100 IRS employees who were late in paying their taxes or had willfully understated their tax liability or income.

But it turns out the delinquency rate among Congressional staffers is higher -- 4.87% in the House and 3.24% in the Senate -- than those of IRS workers.

The government departments with the highest non-compliance rates were the Department of Housing and Urban Development (5.29%), the Department of Veterans Affairs (4.38%) and the Army (4.28%).

Among large independent federal agencies, which have at least 1,000 employees, the biggest offender was the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (8.05%), followed by the Government Printing Office (7.99%), the Smithsonian Institution (6.7%) and the Federal Reserve's board of governors (6.51%).

On the low end of the scale was the National Credit Union Administration (1.75%), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1.97%) and the Executive Office of the President (2.05%).

     

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Flying Droids a Reality on ISS

Space station's flying droids embrace Google smartphone tech
The free-flying Spheres, inspired by "Star Wars" and now aided by Google's Project Tango, will handle more of the mundane tasks for astronauts.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Imagine you're an astronaut who has just arrived at the International Space Station. You need to assess the supplies on hand, but counting everything demands so much of your limited time.

That's exactly why NASA originally turned to Spheres, autonomous, free-flying robots that take care of mundane tasks and are based on the flying droid that helped teach Luke Skywalker how to fight with a light saber in the original "Star Wars."

Now, Spheres are incorporating Google's Project Tango, cutting-edge tech that is expected to help the space agency increase efficiency.

For some time -- since 2003, to be exact -- space station crews have had access to free-flying robots known as Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites. That ungainly title is best abbreviated to a more palatable acronym: Spheres. Originally designed by aero/astroengineers at MIT, Spheres were meant as a flying test bed for examining the mechanical properties of materials in microgravity. The inspiration for the project, said Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA, "comes from 'Star Wars,' as all good things do."

Now, NASA is bringing an especially innovative commercial tool into the mix. Starting this October, Spheres will incorporate Project Tango -- a smartphone platform built for 3D mapping that also happens to be packed with just the series of sensors and cameras that NASA needs to handle many of the mundane tasks aboard the ISS.

In 2003, Spheres were fairly rudimentary -- at least for flying autonomous robots. They relied on liquid carbon dioxide for propulsion and on an ancient Texas Instruments digital signal processor.

About four years ago, Fong's Intelligent Robotics Group took over the project. Since then, it has been slowly improving Spheres robots by using the small computers better known as smartphones. At first, NASA worked with Nexus S smartphones, which are jammed with cameras, gyroscopes, accelerometers, and modern processors. [...]
I remember reading about these years ago, about how they could fly around the ISS because of the zero gravity. Now they are evolving, using smartphone technology. See the whole article for embedded links, photos and video.
     

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Blast from the Past: "Mountain Music"

It's been described as a warning against too much technology too fast, but I think it can also be interpreted as "where much of modern music went wrong".



source: Classic Will Vinton- Mountian Music

It's not that electronics in music is bad. But how you use it, makes all the difference. If you use technology to increase volume and sound power and generate a lot of inharmonious noise, it ceases to be music, in my opinion. And inharmonious noise CAN be destructive.

I remember seeing this movie by Will Vinton in my film studies class. It made a lasting impression. I even attempted clay animation at school. I sometimes wish I had pursued it further, but the fact is it takes a lot of patience. At least it did in those days, animation was not computerized, and everything had to be done by hand. And claymation was still a very new artform.

Will Vinton, an Oregon native, went on to do a lot of interesting things. He persevered with clay animation when most people were dismissing it as too unwieldy and difficult to work with. He created the term "claymation", and was very active in refining and developing it as an artform. Most people would recognize his work in TV commercials for California Raisins, and M&M's.

Also see:

Wikipedia: Will Vinton

WILL POWER: INTERVIEW WITH CLAYMATION PIONEER WILL VINTON

     

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Walk more, think better?

It seems the answer is "yes":

Steve Jobs, Beethoven knew walking increases creativity; Stanford study says they were right
Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Beethoven knew walking boosted their creativity. Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, held walking meetings. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg keeps meetings on foot. Beethoven created sonatas and symphonies while strolling the Vienna Woods.

A new study confirms that creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a new study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education.

The study found it didn't matter where you walk -- strolling indoors or outdoors similarly boosted creative inspiration. The act of walking itself, and not the environment, was the main factor. Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting.

"Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking. We finally may be taking a step, or two, toward discovering why," Oppezzo and Schwartz wrote in the study published this week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.
See the original article for embedded links. I'm not surprised by the study. I've often found that going for a walk when I have to think over something, helps me to make better decisions and become clearer in my mind.

     

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The Oregon counties the "recovery" forgot

Poverty in Oregon: Interactive maps show food stamps, welfare, Medicaid reliance by county
Nearly five years after the Great Recession officially ended, more than one in five Oregonians continues to rely on food stamps, and nearly 17 percent live in poverty.

Rural Oregon counties continue to fare the worst, with food stamps and Medicaid rates exceeding 30 percent in Jefferson and Josephine counties. In some timber-reliant counties, the poverty rate exceeds 20 percent.

The Oregonian mapped state and county unemployment, poverty, food stamps, welfare and Medicaid rates using January 2014 numbers from the Oregon Department of Human Services. The figures show slight improvements from last summer, when The Oregonian last mapped poverty by county. But it's clear that the state continues to struggle and that rural Oregon continues to be left behind in the recovery. [...]
The article has a link to an Interactive Oregon Poverty map that is quite revealing.
     

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

What South African Taxpayer's Money Buys

Really nice chicken coops, among other things:

Nkandla style – don’t worry, it is for security
In March 2014, public protector Thuli Madonsela found that president Jacob Zuma and his family unduly benefited from upgrades made to his private Nkandla homestead, which cost the taxpayer around R246 million.

According to the public protector’s report titled “Secure in Comfort”, government built a visitors centre, cattle kraal and chicken run, swimming pool and an amphitheatre for the president and his family in his private home.

Madonsela said that this clearly shows that Zuma and his family unduly benefited from the upgrades. However, government had a simple explanation for it all – security.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said that the cattle kraal, fire pool (seen by some as a new swimming pool) and all other features are “essential security features which ensures physical security and effective operation of security equipment.”

Who can dispute Radebe’s argument? Chickens setting off alarms – security risk. Not having a fire pool in case of a large fire – security risk. Not having an amphitheatre and having to travel on South Africa’s pothole ridden roads to visit a place of entertainment – security risk.

In fact, security is such an elegant excuse when explaining questionable decisions that it should not come as any surprise that this excuse has been used by government previously. [...]
Lookit that Chicken Coop. A real work of art, that. Would love to see it close-up.




Also see:

What Nkandla’s millions could have bought South Africans
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released the Nkandla report this week, which showed that the estimated total cost of improvements to President Zuma’s Nkandla home is R246,631,303.

Madonsela’s report found that the total cost of the Nkandla project included:

Total payment to contractors R161,418,824;
Value of contractor payments certificates, certified but not yet paid, R3,672,748;
Total payment to professional consultants R50,352,842; and
Cost estimate for phase three, excluding consultants’ fees R31,186,887.

According to the public protector’s report a critical service delivery program was shelved and money diverted to upgrade Zuma’s homestead.

“Funds were reallocated from the inner city regeneration project and the dolomite risk management programme of the department of public works,” Mandonsela said in her voluminous report.

“Due to lack of proper demand management and planning, service delivery programs of the department of public works were negatively affected.”

The homestead has been at the centre of controversy after it emerged that the public works department had approved upgrades to the President’s KwaZulu-Natal homestead.
What could the Nkandla money have been better used for?

South Africa can benefit tremendously from better IT infrastructure, a more connected society, and better education.

Here is what the money spent on the Nkandla upgrades could have bought South Africans: [...]
Ouch. A long list. I wonder what affect, if any, it will have on the next election?
     

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What does the concept of Private Property mean in San Francisco?

Less, and less:

I Was Assaulted For Wearing Google Glass In The Wrong Part Of San Francisco
[...] If those people hadn't moved to San Francisco, people wouldn't be priced out of their neighborhoods, rental properties wouldn't be purchased by wealthy young millionaires, and tenants wouldn't be evicted from the homes they've lived in for several decades.

My love for gadgets makes me look and sound like one of the people whom residents of the city have come to feel oppressed by.

The individual who smashed my Google Glass on Friday — because of political beliefs or a personal impact that has been made by the tech industry — felt that it was appropriate to destroy my personal property in protest against what I seemed to stand for, based on my appearance; never mind the irony in choosing to assault someone based on their appearance as a way to preserve San Francisco's culture.

It's important to note that not everyone protesting the tech industry's impact on the city has taken such an oppositional stance.

At the march we covered on Friday, teachers, tenant rights activists, and other concerned citizens carried banners and chanted slogans that specifically asked Google to live up to the famous "Don't be evil" motto and step in where its employees were displacing longtime San Franciscans:
[photo]
You don't see a crowd of more than a hundred people go to an investment banker's house when he evicts longtime tenants, to publicly ask his or her employer for help, because of course no investment bank would do something like that.

Google, for all the backlash it's gotten over gentrification, last year's NSA revelations, and personal data collection for ads, still looks like a company that gives a damn.

The company has taken some steps to address concerns of protestors and people's negative reactions to Google Glass. It started paying the city for the use of its bus stops. It has put out guides for Glass users on the behavior that should be avoided so that you don't look like a "Glasshole."

But those don't do anything to address the underlying issues. Something clearly needs to be done to address rising housing costs and gentrification in the city — people on all sides are being forced from their homes and made to feel unsafe on the streets and on their commutes to and from work. [...]
It's delusional for any renter to think they have the same rights as property owners. But then San Francisco is full of delusional people. Many of them think ownership of property is evil.

I lived there for 24 years, as a renter for 14 of those years. After being forced to move several times, we decided we wanted more control over our lives, so we eventually bought a house.

Many people were envious that we were "lucky" enough to buy a house. But luck had nothing to do with it. We scrimped and saved for years, forgoing vacations, eating out in restaurants, nice clothes and cars, gagets, and many of the other things that San Franciscan's typically spend their money on.

It amazes me how easily that those that make no sacrifices to save and buy property complain that other people who buy homes are "lucky", and that it's not fair; they believe that they themselves should somehow have the same thing, without the effort and sacrifice.

People aren't being displaced from THEIR homes. If they don't OWN the home, it isn't THEIRS. That's why it can be sold out from under them. It's not THEIRS. It belongs to someone else.

When renters have the same rights as property owners, then the concept of private property ceases to have any meaning. But of course that's fine with many San Franciscans, it's what they want. And one of many reasons why I left. Too many delusional people, wanting reality to change to suit them.

I thought it was funny that the author thought it was ironic that San Franciscan's would attack someone based on their appearance, as a way of preserving San Francisco. It makes perfect sense. Delusional people often have no sense of irony. It's one of the perks of being delusional.
     

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Sunday, May 04, 2014

Fanless Mini PCs

They are becoming more popular:
5 Silent Fanless Mini PCs That Will Save You Money
Miniaturization continues to shrink the size of the average PC. What once required several rooms can now fit in your pocket. And while most people think of smartphones or tablets as examples of small, modern electronics, desktops also deserve mention.

There’s a new category, the mini-PC, that’s becoming popular. Early variants, like the Apple Mac Mini and Inspiron Zino HD, have been well received, but now the formula has been improved with the introduction of fanless systems. Tiny, silent and often inexpensive, these miniature wonders save space without eating into your bank account. [...]
Several examples are reviewed.

Here is one that seems like a great bargain, on Amazon:

CompuLab Intense PC Value 1.1 GHz Linux
Intel Celeron 847E 1.1 GHz dual-core, 4 GB RAM
5 year warranty
320 GB hard-disk pre-installed with Linux Mint
Dual Gbit Ethernet, WiFi 802.11n, HDMI + DisplayPort, 7.1 channels S/PDIF audio
Fanless aluminum case [...]
There are different configurations available. They seem ideal for people with basic computer needs. This one runs Linux Mint as the operating system. Mint is my favorite Linux.
     

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One Conservative's Understanding of the Real and Genuine Need for Medical Marijuana

My trip to the pot shop
PUEBLO WEST, Colo. — It’s 9 a.m. on a weekday, and I’m at the Marisol Therapeutics pot shop. This is serious business. Security is tight. ID checks are frequent. Merchandise is strictly regulated, labeled, wrapped and controlled. The store is clean, bright and safe. The staffers are courteous and professional. Customers of all ages are here.

There’s a middle-aged woman at the counter nearby who could be your school librarian. On the opposite end of the dispensary, a slender young soldier in a wheelchair with close-cropped hair, dressed in his fatigues, consults with a clerk. There’s a gregarious cowboy and an inquisitive pair of baby boomers looking at edibles. A dude in a hoodie walks in with his backpack.

And then there’s my husband and me. [...]
It's a very compelling story she tells. And as usual, Michelle Malkin has done her homework, like a real journalist should. Read the whole thing for the interesting story and the embedded links.
     

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