The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Current Affairs ... Photo ...

It seems that a coffee crisis is brewing these days. A drought in Brazil has caused wholesale coffee prices to jump significantly in the past month or two. And obviously, that means that retail prices at supermarkets, restaurants, fast food joints and coffee shops will follow their lead (they already have, actually; in my local supermarket, decaf beans can’t be had for under $9 a pound, whereas last year you could get the store brand for about $6.75). Brazil farmers still have some reserve bean supplies that they are releasing, which is temporarily keeping prices from spiking even further. But if the drought goes on, the legions of coffee junkies around the globe are going to really feel the pinch in the wallet.

Is this an early sign of the effects of global warming? Well, some people are saying that. I think we might need a few more years before making such a conclusion.

I myself was never a true coffee hound (I’m very sensitive to caffeine,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:53 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Technology ... Web Site/Blog ... Zen ...

I’ve been away lately from this obscure little corner of the “world wide web”, so I thought I’d check in tonight with a quick thought or two. [Correction upon posting: it’s gonna be more than two, and they won’t be all that quick after all – so I will split this essay and post it in three bits].

I’ve been involved in two projects over the past two weeks that have demanded most of my spare time. First, I promised my Zen group that I would set up a discussion forum for their web site. So I installed the phpBB machine on the host, and then started learning how it works and how to customize it for our particular needs. Turns out that phpBB is not as easy and cut-and-dried as they advertise. There are plenty of options, plenty of different features, and plenty of different ways to do things with it. I was surprised by just how complex the phpBB system is; on the plus side, it has a lot of capacity and functionality; on the con side, that makes it hard to set up and manage if you disagree in any way with the basic settings and design features. And it turns out that I have a lot of disagreements, based on what I know about the people who will be moderating and using this forum.

You might want to ask, so why didn’t you just use Facebook as a place for discussion and interaction? Well . . . to be honest, I have my problems with “the Book”. I’m an aging Baby Boomer, and I’m not sure that I like the way that site is set up and how it works. With Facebook, you don’t get as many design options as  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:30 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Current Affairs ... Technology ...

OK, so I just told you (Part I, above) about the PHPBB web site forum that I’ve been working on. The other “project” soaking up all of my time for the past 10 or 11 days was a damage control effort, following an unanticipated internet identity fraud incident.

Yes, it finally happened to me. I realize that internet identity fraud is rampant, but of course I never thought it would happen to me. I am a careful user of the net, I don’t give away sensitive personal and financial information casually, I keep my computer clean with with anti-virus and anti-malware scans, I’m using Windows 8.1, my passwords are pretty good . . . but sorry, it was finally my turn. Somehow, someone got onto my PayPal account and wired a fairly large sum of money to an e-mail address in Europe. At first I blamed the Heartbleed security vulnerability, as it was being exposed right about when I got hacked. But no, PayPal claims it was never vulnerable to Heartbleed.

To be honest, I may have gotten fooled into giving away my PayPal credentials during an eBay purchase. I made several eBay purchases in February and early March, all using PayPal (not many payment options these days on eBay, given that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:59 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Current Affairs ... Religion ... Science ...

In my second post for tonight, above, I pondered how someone could be totally rejected by every computer and ATM and web site that they depend upon for the transactions of daily life. Perhaps an episode or two of on-line identity fraud (such as I recently experienced) could get you banned from all forms of computer-mediated transactions. For now, though, I think (and hope) that I still exist within the e-commerce / e-finance netherworld. So, let me proceed to offer some follow-up thoughts on a recent news item.

Which news item? Lots to choose from!!! The Ukraine crisis is still hot, flight 370 still has not been found, and since that incident another Asian transportation disaster happened (the South Korean ferryboat sinking). The US economy is getting better, perhaps; although new-home sales were still troublingly slow in March. (This could be partly the hang-over effect of a tough winter, but more ominously, it reflects the impact of slightly rising mortgage rates). President Obama, “new world man” that he is, is doing his best to ignore the 20th century leftover problems in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and thus continues his “pivot to Asia” with a visit to Japan. Obamacare is finally working . . . maybe, but maybe not. Stay tuned. The US FDA is finally going after E-cigarettes, and the FTC is finally weighing in on net-neutrality. Global warming has been in a “pause” over the past 12 to 15 years, but most scientists are adamant that the worst of climate change is yet to come. So what important human event do I wish to comment on at this time?

Given my love for modern physics and my fascination with the inter-twined worlds of the tiny (quantum particles and fundamental forces) and the vastly large (cosmology), I want to retro back to the announcement made last month  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:50 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, April 14, 2014
Spirituality ...

There’s been a bit of buzz recently in the “pop-intellgensia” press about Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book “Living With A Wild God”. Ms. Ehrenreich (author of several policy-oriented works including the well-received “Nickeled and Dimed” about the modern American economy’s exploitation of lower-income service workers) decided to write a “looking back on my past” account of the strong and memorable spiritual experiences that she had as a teenager and young adult.

I assume that she was not using any mind altering recreational substances at the time, which would make such experiences entirely uninteresting, given that a lot of young people were having similar chemically-induced episodes at the time (i.e. the late 1960s). And her experiences in and of themselves weren’t all that extraordinary; similar things have been happening to people since the dawn of recorded history. You can read an interesting analysis of such experiences in William James’s classic “Varieties of Religious Experience”, written in 1902; see especially lectures 9 and 16. James quotes a Vendantic yogi’s description of such states as “superconsciousness”, a fairly apt summary of what Ms. Ehrenreich seems to have experienced.

What makes Ms. Ehrenreich’s reflections more noteworthy is her ongoing lifetime commitment to atheism and positivistic rationalism. Ms. Ehrenreich trained in her youth as a scientist, receiving a doctorate in  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:39 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, April 6, 2014
Society ...

There was an interesting comment on the Bloomberg web site this past week in an article about the US Supreme Court’s decision allowing rich political donors to give campaign contributions to as many incumbent or wannabe Congressional representatives and senators as they want, despite previous restrictions under the Federal Election Campaign Law of 1971. The previous cap on how much can be given to any one candidate remains ($2,600 per candidate); but the campaign contribution law also had a provision limiting the total amount that any person can give to all federal-level candidates in a year to $123,200. The decision in this case (McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, brought against the government by an Alabama businessman and GOP official), “deal[s] a fresh blow to efforts to curb the role of money in American politics” according to Bloomberg. The Court vote was a close one, though, at 5 to 4.

As to the interesting comment in the article: Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributers and a longtime Republican fundraiser, felt that the Court’s decision was good because it strengthens the political parties. Well, that isn’t very surprising given that Mr. Van Dongen is a Republican and stands to benefit from the decision. But Mr. Van Dongen also said that “[c]ampaign-finance reforms and Citizens United have weakened the party committees such that they are often the caboose of contribution-consideration sequencing,”

Again, the meaning of Mr. Van Dongen’s words aren’t all that interesting – i.e. that the national Republican and Democratic parties had previously lost power and influence because of the individual donation limits and the Supreme Court’s recent  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:46 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Current Affairs ... Public Policy ... Science ...

Does it make any sense to talk about an ice age at a time when global warming makes all the headlines? According to the patterns of cold and warm eras over the past million years or so of earth history, we may be due for an new ice age. The general pattern for the past few million years of earth history has been 100,000 years of ice age followed by 12,000 years of temperate climate (an “interglacial” period).

We have been in an “interglacial” now for about that number of years, and thus could be due for the start of a new ice age. There are patterns called “Milankovich cycles” that are thought by some to trigger the warm and cold spells; these cycles involve the overall tilt of the earth relative to the sun (which varies over a 41,000 year period), the shape of the earth’s orbit (which changes over a period of 100,000 years) and the Earth’s ‘spin wobble’ (which varies the direction of the earth’s axis over a period of 26,000 years). Arguably our planet is re-entering a tilt / orbit / wobble combo where cold, dry conditions become the norm; the warm inter-glacial periods that we are used to have been more of an exception to the general rule of an ice-ball planet.

Recall that in the 1970s, the climate change articles were talking about the prospect of global cooling, along with the threats to human existence that it would pose. There were global cooling articles in both Time and Newsweek in the mid-70s. (However, that trend may have been driven by media bias for  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:23 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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