Sunday, April 28, 2013

SS United States, Part 2: The Blue Riband

The grand old ship that's fighting for it's life. I first posted about it here, with a link to a video about the ship. Below is the second of four parts.

SS United States: Made in America (Chapter 2: The Blue Riband)


Ubuntu tablet interface enjoys success

Ubuntu 13.04 Review: Linux for the average Joe or Jane
The new Ubuntu Linux distribution, 13.04, aka Raring Ringtail, is ready to go, and for most users, it may be all the desktop they need.
True, many hard-core Linux users have turned against Ubuntu in recent years. Or, to be more precise, they turned against it when Ubuntu's parent company, Canonical, switched from the GNOME 2.x desktop to its Unity desktop interface. They have a point. Unity doesn't give Linux experts the kind of control over the operating system that they get from desktops such as KDE, MATE, and, my own personal favorite, Cinnamon.

However, Unity is not a user-experience failure like Windows 8's Metro. Instead, it's very good at what it sets out to do: Provide a user-interface (UI) that's easy enough for an 80-year old to use and provide an interface that's designed to work equally well for desktops, tablets, and smartphones. In short, Ubuntu is not for Linux power users, it's for all users.

That's very clear in Ubuntu 13.04. While this new version doesn't offer a lot of new features, it has done a nice job of cleaning and speeding up the ones it had. In particular, I noticed how this works on a review system, a 2008-vintage Gateway DX4710. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor, has 6GBs of RAM, and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100 for graphics. Unity itself was much faster than before on the same box.

That's because Ubuntu spent a lot time making performance improvements to Unity. These include: "reduced memory consumption and a great number of small UI fixes to bring a better overall shell experience. Those are like being typo-tolerant in the dashboard when searching for an application, using the mouse scroll wheel on a launcher icon to switch between applications, or better available third-party device handling."

Of course, if you really want Ubuntu, and you really can't stand Unity, there are a wide variety of Ubuntu 13.04 variants with different desktops. These include: Kubuntu, with KDE; Xubuntu, with Xfce; and Lubuntu, with LXDE. [...]
I personally don't like Ubuntu's Unity Desktop. It's a tablet-like interface, similar to Windows 8. But Unity isn't as hated as Windows 8. Why? Because it wasn't automatically put on most new PCs and forced on people, like Windows 8 was.     

Windows 8 does more than flop

It slides:

Windows 8 blamed as PC sales slide
[...] When the company introduced Windows 8 in October, the operating system was supposed to help a flagging PC market gain — or at least lose less — ground against tablets, with a new touch-based interface. Instead, sales of PCs have dropped faster, and analysts are saying that sales aren’t coming back.

“At this point, unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market,” said Bob O’Donnell of IDC in a press release. “Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market.” [...]
Some people aren't replacing their PC's but are moving to tablets and smart phones. And I suspect that the people who use PCs, don't want the interfaced dumbed down to work like a tablet. At least, that's true for me.

Friday, April 26, 2013

A new kind of sleeping pill: "Dora-22"

A Sleeping Pill Without The Sleepy Head?
[...] DORA-22 is part of a class of new drugs — one of which the Food and Drug Administration is already considering for approval — known as orexin antagonists.

“It’s high quality research,” says Jerome Siegel, professor of psychiatry at University of California Los Angeles, who was not associated with the study.

The authors compared the sleep-inducing effects of DORA-22 to those of three well-known sleeping pills: diazepam (Valium), zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta), which work by slowing down brain activity. Immediately after giving the animals the drugs, the scientists tested the animals’ memory and reaction time. (While most people take sleeping pills before going to bed, such effects are important to document so researchers, and users, can fully understand how their brains and bodies are affected by the medications in case people don’t take the drugs as prescribed.)

“It’s very enticing because there are some clear results that show [that these drugs] differ from old hypnotic drugs in terms of affecting cognition and memory in two animal species,” says Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, director of the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences, who wrote a commentary on the research, which was published in Science.

Rats given high enough doses to cause sleep of the three currently available drugs had difficulty recognizing whether they had seen an object previously presented to them, while those dosed with DORA-22 did not show such compromised recall. Similarly, all of the drugs except DORA-22 reduced rhesus monkeys’ ability to react to a touch screen and correctly choose a colored square associated with a reward. In fact, even at doses 30 times higher than the lowest amount needed to affect sleep, the drug did not impair performance on this task.

What makes this new class of drugs different? Orexins, which are also known as hypocretins, are brain chemicals that promote wakefulness. Of the brain’s billions of neurons, only tens of thousands produce orexins. People with narcolepsy who have difficulty staying awake and are prone to suddenly falling asleep without warning are missing almost all of the neurons that produce these chemicals. DORA-22 and similar drugs work by blocking orexins by essentially producing a brief and reversible bout of narcolepsy. [...]
It's an interesting concept. But how many years till we find out the long term side effects?

The crap that movies "teach" us

I often suspected this:

7 Bullshit Police Myths Everyone Believes (Thanks to Movies)

And if that's not enough, there's more:

6 Life Saving Techniques From the Movies (That Can Kill You)

Real Pharmaceutical Marijuana?

Is it comming? Maybe:

Pot in a pill: All the pain relief without the smoke
[...] Let me introduce you to dronabinol. It turns out that the miracle that is modern psychopharmacology has now shown it IS possible to render pot's analgesic effects into capsule form. And according to a new study, it works just as well as smoked marijuana at tamping down pain. But the capsule's effects last longer, and they come with fewer of the "abuse-related subjected effects" (i.e., feeling high) than does smoked marijuana.

Face it, potheads: You knew it was just a matter of time before "the man" got a hold of weed and snagged all the profits. But who knew he'd suck the fun out of it too?

For the record, dronabinol did induce some of smoked marijuana's other side effects, some of which have medicinal value to certain populations: It did increase appetite, decrease nausea and improve sleep.

The new research appeared Monday in the Nature journal Neuropsychopharmacology. It was authored by a group from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. [...]
The full article goes on with details about how it was tested, which I also found interesting.


Are conspiracy theories always inevitable?

For some people, yes:

What Is a 'False Flag' Attack, and What Does Boston Have to Do with This?

Also see:

Cannabis, Communism and Conspiracy Theory all go Together to make this San Franciso Treat

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Save the S.S. United States from the scrap-heap

I was gonna do a post about this great old ship a few years back, when they were planning to refurbish and relaunch her. But it seems that bringing her up to modern code proved to be too cost prohibitive; those plans all fell through. Now she is in a fight for her life:

Historic Ship Short on Funds and Time
The SS United States is sending out what may be its final distress call.

The 990-foot-long ship could be sold for scrap within two months unless the grass-roots preservation group that's working to secure a home and purpose for it can raise $500,000 immediately, the group told The Associated Press. Talks are under way with developers and investors about the ship's long-term future, but without the emergency funding, its caretakers fear they will run out of money before a deal is inked.

The historic ocean liner carried princes and presidents across the Atlantic in the 1950s and 1960s but has spent decades awaiting a savior at its berth on the Philadelphia waterfront.

"We've made progress on the fundraising side and the redevelopment side," said Susan Gibbs, executive director of the SS United States Conservancy and granddaughter of the ship's Philadelphia-born designer, William Francis Gibbs. "Our immediate goal is to buy some time."

The group has raised $1 million through fundraisers and a website, where contributors can sponsor a piece of the ship for $1 per square foot, but has received no public funding. What is desperately and immediately needed, they said, are donors with deep pockets and high profiles.

"Are we giving up on successfully redeveloping the ship as a self-sustaining entity? Absolutely not," said Dan McSweeney, head of the redevelopment efforts. "We continue to have active discussions with potential partners, we have ideas of potential sites for the ship, but we need more time to get it off the ground ... and we're running out of runway."

It costs $80,000 a month just for mooring, basic maintenance, insurance and security, he said.

The conservancy is exploring potential partnerships with four entities in Philadelphia and New York City to refashion the vessel as a stationary entertainment complex with 500,000 square feet of space for a hotel, theater, restaurants and shopping. The sluggish economy and other factors have slowed negotiations, McSweeney said.

As talks continue, he said, the hope is to convince corporate sponsors, influential politicians and prominent business leaders — are you listening, Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg? — to lend their political and financial capital to the effort.

"Any way you look at it, there is no downside to this project," McSweeney said. "It's an economic and community development project that's going to create jobs."

The SS United States carried more than 1 million passengers at record-breaking trans-Atlantic speeds over the course of 400 round trips from 1952 to 1969, among them President John F. Kennedy, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Salvador Dali and Elizabeth Taylor. A joint venture between the Navy and ship designer Gibbs & Cox, the luxury liner was made with hidden military might: It could have been converted in a single day to transport 14,000 troops for 10,000 miles before refueling.

After being decommissioned it changed hands multiple times, from the Navy and on through a series of restoration-minded investors.

It was towed from Virginia to Turkey to Ukraine, finally arriving in Philadelphia as a gutted hulk in 1996. Another succession of developers and a cruise lines failed to return the ship to service as retrofitting costs proved too great. [...]
I remember reading about this ship when I was a kid, I was a real fan. Our local library had and encyclopedia, that had a three panel color fold-out of a cutaway diagram showing all the inside parts and levels of the ship. I had a model kit of the ship that I built and painted. It was the greatest ocean liner ever.

How ironic that it can't be brought up to "modern" standards. It was not unsinkable, but it was hard to sink. It had five chambers. Even if all 5 chambers were to flood, up to the waterline, it would still not sink. Compare that to modern cruise ships, that have only two chambers. And their "modern" propensity to break down at sea and become floating toilets.

The hope now is to turn the ship into a permanently docked museum/hotel/office space/restaurant/conventions center complex. It seems like a worthy venture. We once visited the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. It had been converted thus, and it was a very enjoyable visit. I would love to see that happen for the S.S. United States, since it can't be allowed to compete with our modern floating toilet bowls.

Here is a video about the ship. It's part of a series, I think I shall try to post one a week, for the next several weeks.

SS United States: Made in America (Chapter 1)

Also see:

Granddaughter of SS United States' designer turns to documentary, social-media campaign to save ship

My Brilliant Career, part II

Previously, I explored Tax Preparer as an additional source of income. This time, I'm going to look at Pharmacy Technician.

It's a better option than Chickenblogging, and it seems that for the foreseeable future, healthcare is where the most jobs are.

I've been taking some accounting courses from, and I was perusing some of the other non-college credit courses, and this looked interesting:

Explore a Career as a Pharmacy Technician
Health care is a booming field these days, and pharmacy technicians are in high demand. In this course, you’ll take a look at the many job settings and career paths open to you if you become a pharmacy technician. In addition, you’ll master the skills you need to get an entry-level position as a pharmacy tech or clerk.

You’ll start by learning basic terms for medical conditions and anatomy, gaining the skills you’ll need to read prescriptions and patient records easily. In addition, you’ll find out how common classes of drugs are made and how they work.

Next, you’ll master the simple math that every pharmacy tech needs to know. You’ll learn how to calculate dosages accurately, practice using simple formulas and math tools, and find out how to translate metric measurements into familiar household measures like teaspoons and tablespoons. Turning to the business side, you’ll look at sales and find out how prescription pricing works.

In addition, you’ll learn about the important laws and regulations that govern pharmacies. You’ll also hone your communication skills, learning how to handle customers courteously and efficiently. And finally, you’ll explore the steps you can take to enhance your career prospects becoming a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT). By the time you’re done, you’ll be prepared to start your career in this popular and rapidly-growing field.

Note: This course is designed to give you an introduction to the profession of pharmacy technician. It will not supply enough information to sit for the national exam. If your goal is to become a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT), then upon completion of this introductory course, enrollment into the advanced course is recommended. The advanced course is located in the online Career Training section of the ed2go catalog:
The Advanced Course is 330 hours, and prepares you to take the State Exam. Both courses are on-line (which allows great flexibility), and offer demos so you can see how they work. The introductory course offer's an entire lesson and quiz free. I think I may take the introductory course, just to see if I have what it takes, and if I can see myself doing it. No point in taking an advanced course till I know that.

Don't want windows 8? Go with "refurbished"

If you aren't ready to deal with Windows 8, but you need a new Windows Machine, you can still get Windows 7 if you buy "refurbished". Here are a few of my favorite places to buy from:
I used laptops as an example in the links, but they both have very good deals on desktop models too.