Sunday, October 09, 2016

I Remember the 1950s and 1960s

Having been born in 1953, I have many childhood memories of the late 1950s and early 1960s, a world now far enough removed from the present to merit a memoir. The following is mainly based on my actual memories, and I have done only minimal research.

There were no seat belts or child seats. As little kids we liked to lie in the space above the back seat next to the rear window. I did once hit the dashboard when my father stopped suddenly at a train track, but fortunately I wasn’t hurt. Radial tires and unleaded gas were unheard of. Gas was cheap, and fuel economy wasn’t an issue. We rode in the bed of a pickup truck a few times.

Cars wore out after 60,000 to 70,000 miles. Our first car that I can remember was an old Hudson. One day when we were on a road trip it threw a rod, and my father traded it on the spot for a 1953 two-tone Chevy, cream with dark green trim, which we drove for many years, until we got the red Chevy 2 station wagon in the mid-1960s.

There were no steel plates to cover up street repairs. When workers left holes open overnight, they put kerosene lanterns around them, often shaped like black bowling balls. Later on battery powered flashers were developed. There were no pre-cast concrete road dividers. When lane shifting was needed, they used wood signs on metal stands, like hurdles on a running track. There were single and double yellow lines, but no raised reflective dots or rumble strips. “Gas saving” 55 mile speed limits were unknown, and highway speed limits were 65 or 75.

Telephones were black with a rotary dial and made clicks for each number dialed. If you dialed 9, it made 9 clicks. Upright phones where you jiggled the hook to get an operator were gone, but in rural areas there were still party lines, where you had to wait for your neighbor to get off the phone before you could make a call, or ask them to get off if you had an emergency. Phone numbers had letters in them for the local exchange. My first phone number was MI6-8064, where “MI” stood for Midway, an area in St. Paul, Minn. Later the touch-tone system was invented, and the Princess phone, a more compact and stylish model, was introduced.

There were no zip codes, and state abbreviations were not reduced to 2 letters. Minnesota was Minn, and Pennsylvania was Penna, etc. Postage stamps cost a few cents.

All radio and television sets used tubes, which took a few minutes to warm up. The most common radio (as I recently learned) was the All American Five, a basic radio with 5 tubes of which millions were sold. Around 1960 I got my first 9-transistor pocket radio, made in Japan. This was very cool, and I wish I still had it.

At first there was only AM radio. Then FM radio with better fidelity became common. In the early 1960s my parents bought me a radio with a shortwave band. I strung an antenna wire and listened to it in my room. Mainly I remember listening to an AM station playing Roger Miller’s #1 hit song “King of the Road” (1964).

TV was only black and white and there were only 3 stations (ABC, CBS, and NBC) in the VHF band. Later there was a local educational station in the UHF band, for a total of 4 TV stations. The UHF band was harder to tune, and more boring, so we rarely watched it. We watched “Superman” on TV after school, until its star George Reeves allegedly committed suicide (in 1959) and the show went off the air.

We had a family hi-fi consisting of a monaural tube amplifier, radio tuner, and record player, with one big wooden speaker, through which we played classical 33 RPM LP records such as Beethoven. As kids we also had our own hand cranked 78 RPM record player, on which we played Donald Duck type kid records. Later our family got a stereo turntable to play stereo LP records, but initially played it through our mono system.

My father and his friends liked cool jazz in the 1950s, and new forms of music such Elvis Presley had come along. In the mid-1960s the Beatles revolutionized popular music, creating modern Rock and Roll. I missed the “free love” era, only coming of age in the 1970s after it was over. My younger sisters were much more taken by “Beatlemania” than I was.

Grounded electric plugs didn’t exist. All plugs had 2 prongs with no distinction between hot and neutral. There were no circuit breakers, only fuses. Most lights were incandescent, although fluorescent lights were making their appearance. Energy conservation was unheard of.

Phillips head screws didn’t exist. All screws had straight slot heads. I heard about the metric system, but never saw it. All measurements were in feet and inches, pounds and ounces (as in most cases they still are).

Battery powered quartz watches didn’t exist. All watches were of the wind up type, although some were self-winding and used the energy of your arm movements to twirl a weight around inside to wind them up. Many clocks (such as alarm clocks) were also of the wind up type, although electric clocks were becoming common. There were no clock radios.

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, I was in fourth grade. We watched the funeral procession on TV in our grade school classroom. We were all very sad, and there was an open ended angst, since we didn’t know if some further crisis might occur. I remember wondering why did Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald? Once Johnson was sworn in, things got back on track.

We did some nuclear preparedness drills in school, which as I recall involved trooping to some basement rooms for shelter.

There were almost no overweight people, children or adults. Maybe one child in 50 had a weight problem. Apart from their early growth spurt, girls did not get taller than boys. If a boy was shorter than a girl, he was unusually short. Flat rear ends on men didn't become a desired look until the 1980s or 1990s. Adults smoked everywhere and it was considered normal. Fortunately, my mother was not a smoker, and my father quit the year I was born.

There were no “play dates,” and our parents rarely took us anywhere, let alone to lessons or sport practice. (Maybe to a museum once a year.) After school we hung around and played hide and seek or kick the can. When the street lights came on it was time to go inside. We had a club room in the attic above our garage, where I and my friends played chess and listened to a crystal radio. For adventure I and a friend explored the steam tunnels of the nearby university campus, which I had found a way to sneak into after hours.

At Miller’s Drug Store there was a soda fountain, where you could get a nickel (5 cent) root beer, with a popular option for a “foamy,” meaning the soda jerk injected extra foam into it. You could also get a malt or a banana split. My favorite (then and now) was a marshmallow malt, a vanilla malt with a shot of marshmallow sauce. Soda came in bottles, diet sodas were unheard of, and there were no flip-top cans. All soda and beer bottles were returnable for the deposit. My allowance started at 25 cents per week, and remained below $1 for a long time.

Initially all photos were black and white. Then color prints appeared, and we experimented with Polaroid instant photos. Later on color slides became popular. (I got my first digital camera in 1997, with a cord to connect to my computer.)

Plastic was becoming more common, but far from its current universality. Many things were still made of wood, glass, or metal. Nylon had been invented, and women were wearing “nylons,” but one-piece pantyhose came much later. You could have milk delivered to your home in returnable glass bottles. All grocery bags were brown paper, and often needed double bagging.

Pollution was a problem in areas with heavy industry. When we visited Pittsburgh, capital of the steel industry, the air was reddish brown and reeked of sulfur. When we drove down the freeway, huge flames shot sideways out of the Bessemer converters, which looked like they might reach over and burn up our car! The river was bright green, like antifreeze, from who knows what industrial processes.

Now the steel mills are (mostly) gone, their land converted to shopping centers. The air is pure and the rivers are clean, like Portland, Oregon. When I tell young Pittsburgh residents about the former pollution, they don’t believe it. Even the online archives don’t mention it. Too bad we didn’t make a home movie of driving down that highway with its thick pall of smoke and huge flames!

I got my first cell phone circa 1991 (for company use), and my first dial-up account on the new experimental “Internet” (through Panix) in 1993. Before that, if you needed to make a call outdoors you looked around for a payphone, and if you wanted information, you went to a library or wrote to the company and asked for a brochure.

Okay, that’s enough childhood memories for now. I did NOT walk miles uphill to school in the snow, as our parents made a point of finding homes near our schools. When you reach an age when your past could be in a museum, you can reminisce about it and send me a link.

Friday, October 31, 2014

What to Teach Children About Money


What to Teach Children About Money:
One Version of Picketty's Patrimonial Middle Class
By Frank W. Sudia, FW Sudia Law Office, www.sudialaw.com

Or, one simple, stupid trick to help your child retire rich, and found a dynasty, even if he or she is not exceptionally talented or motivated.

NOTE: This is a philosophical essay on inter-generational economics, which in its current form ignores the tax implications of the proposed scenario. Please contact me or another qualified tax, financial, or estate planning adviser to work through the tax aspects for your personal situation and tax jurisdiction.

A. Introduction

We often hear that we need to “teach our children about money,” for example in advertising from banks and financial advisers. But what are we supposed to tell them? To regularly put money into passbook savings accounts? Is there some meaningful “birds and the bees” financial insight we can give young people?

The recent bestselling book “Capital in the 21st Century” by the French economist Thomas Picketty provides a serious answer. At one point he says, “It is easier to save if you inherited your apartment and don't have to pay rent.”

B. Picketty's Insights

Picketty's overall thesis is that throughout most of history the rich have owned nearly everything there was to own, while everyone else held virtually nothing. The reason for this, he says, is simple. The rate of return on capital has been around 5% per annum (6% in ancient times, possibly trending down to 4% in the future), whereas economic and demographic growth average around 1% (0.1% pre-1700). The inevitable result is that, after a while, the top decile (10%) owns 90% of everything there is to own, within which the top centile (1%) owns 60% of everything there is to own, and most everyone else is just getting by, as we saw from 1700 through 1914.

Once this system gets established, its power to suck up all available gains is so great that almost no amount of individual effort can make a difference, since inherited wealth has become the dominant force. [Unless you are on a new continent with excess cheap land and rapid population and economic growth, which has mostly run its course.]

We saw a brief exceptional period in the 20th century, when as a result of the destruction wrought by two world wars, depression, inflation, bombardment, expropriation, bankruptcy and so on, the Belle Epoch system that prevailed prior to 1914 was struck with a hammer, and the wealth curves were all compressed. These events, followed by record demographic and productivity growth, made it appear that the old rentier system had vanished.

However, the laws of wealth were not repealed. All the curves are U-shaped, and the old system of wealth has bounced back with the power of compounding, especially since 1980, adding 5% to itself every year minus whatever is consumed. The underlying capital base was transformed, with agricultural land being replaced by real estate, industrial and financial assets, but all else has remained the same.

C. Advice to One's Offspring

Armed with the above insights, THIS is what I would tell a child.

Saving does NOT mean putting money into a bank account that pays zero or negative real interest. Such accounts will be used only as concentration accounts, to collect cash prior to placing it into meaningful investments.

The goal is to own assets that yield on average 5% or more per year, risk adjusted, in income and capital appreciation. Any “nominal” asset (whose value is a stated amount of money) is vulnerable to wipe-out by inflation, unless it is an “inflation protected” bond. Hence our goal is to invest wealth in hard capital assets, including real estate, stocks, limited partnerships, timber land, and so on, whose prices will rise in case of any inflation.

For example, Count Otto von Bismarck's personal (Jewish) banker Gerson von Bleichroeder placed much of his wealth into timber land, the value of which held up well despite financial panics, two world wars, hyper-inflation, the Great Depression, etc.

The “return on capital” is not a bonanza, but rather a modest but steady flow. When it reaches a certain point, you no longer need to work, and further along you can withdraw enough for a nice lifestyle, and yet it will continue to grow, albeit at a lesser pace (than if you withdrew nothing). Thus you become a rentier and your money works for you, not you for it.

D. A Suggested Recipe for Action

“It is easier to save if you inherited your apartment and don't have to pay rent.” -- Picketty

Buy your child an apartment, with the proviso that she must deposit its fair market rent into a savings account every month.

Giving such a valuable asset to outright a young person is not a great idea, so instead place it into (e.g.) a grantor trust, with them as the beneficiary upon your death, or whenever you let it vest. This allows you to yank it back if they become a crack addict, join a religious cult, or (more likely) marry the wrong person. The ex-spouse of your child's failed marriage is something every wealthy family needs to plan around (especially to remove them from family partnerships).

Tell your child, “you can live in this apartment, but I want to see bank and/or broker statements showing that you deposited the rent each month, as if you were renting it from a stranger, or I'll boot you out and find a tenant who will pay the going rate.” They will also cover the property taxes, insurance, condo fees, utilities, and so on.

Your child's savings account should start receiving deposits of $1,000 (post tax) per month, or $12,000 per year, which if re-invested at an average yield of 5% compounded annually, will become (in round figures, see table below) $150,000 after 10 years, and $400,000 after 20 years, yielding an annual return of around $20,000 per year, which already is almost enough to live on, and if continued another 10 years, still at only $1,000 per month, will be yielding close to $40,000 income from capital per year, when she reaches age 50.

This is all in constant dollars since as inflation occurs, all the asset values, incomes, rents, and returns will rise accordingly, leaving the basic result unchanged, as long as she stays out of nominal assets, including cash, CDs, and non-inflation protected bonds.

E. Building Out the Investment Plan

None of this can happen if your child pays rent to someone else, in which case these economic factors are working for their landlord, not your child, nor if she keeps savings in a bank account.

Once she concentrates $10,000 or more into a holding account, the next step is to place it into diverse “real” investments, namely index funds, real estate investment trusts (REIT), hedge funds (HF), private equity (PE) funds, venture capital (VC) funds, etc. The goal is to accumulate large enough chunks to meet the high minimum investment requirements of the more serious investment vehicles.

Some REITs allow investments as low as $4,000, and some PE, VC and hedge funds admit partners with as little as $10,000, but the best investments are open only to those with high incomes and/or large amounts to invest – a fact that further concentrates wealth at the top, since only those who are already rich can get into those better yielding deals in the first place.

By the time she is in her 40s, hopefully her income from employment has also gone up, and she has "gotten with the program" and is continuing to contribute 30% of her income, as she would if she were still renting. At this point she now has the resources to get into the better private placements, for which $50-100K chunks are needed.

As the years go by, until you vest her dwelling unit, you can periodically sell the unit in the trust and replace it with another one, possibly bigger, better located, or closer to her next job. 

Throughout this scenario your child is not just "learning" the value of money but living it, since the "rent" that she deposits each month (net of taxes and repairs) represents the return on the "residential capital" you provided for her use, which is first concentrated in a bank account, and then placed into index funds or preferably private partnerships that directly own productive assets, where it continues to earn a risk adjusted 5% per annum, compounded annually, forever.

This is what I suggest you teach your child about money. Many more scenarios can be devised, but this one merely consists of accumulating your child's lifetime rent (or mortgage) payments directly into capital, which she can live on and bequeath to her heirs, in accord with Piketty's scenario of the "patrimonial middle class."

F. Implications of the Plan

Many financial or legal pros will immediately notice the advantages of this plan, however let's "call out" some of the more obvious ones here:

1. At no time is your child given any money, or placed in a situation where they don't need to work. Rather they are required to work a normal career, while becoming comfortably wealthy on the side.

2. It relies on conservative assumptions about your child's lifetime earnings. Walking dogs or working as manager at a MacDonald's could yield enough to pay rent at these levels. If they earned more, and saved more of it, over a longer working life, these numbers could be much higher.

3. Your child should have solid buy-in and strong motivation to get with this "savings program," because her financial results will be striking and immediate, with a clear long term trajectory.

4. We assume a basic level of financial maturity including the ability to evaluate and negotiate investments, however with support from knowledgeable kin and/or financial advisers, this is realistic. She may also acquire financial acumen by joining an investment club or taking finance classes, etc.

5. Direct ownership of rental real estate is another investment option, however this assumes your child has the business skills to select and manage tenants and work with contractors. This is real work and not everyone is cut out for it. For many, shares of REITs or oil and gas master trusts would be better.

6. If contributions are continued until age 60+ the income should provide a comfortable retirement even if she lives to age 120 (now possible) or if anything bad happens to Social Security. Otherwise Social Security will supplement her ongoing return on capital.

7. As our system of wealth becomes more concentrated, and less merit based, now is a good time to secure ongoing middle class status for your descendants.

G. Example Calculation (Crude)

The following table presents a simplified example based on the text above. Each year begins with a Base amount, which Earns 5% and has NewDep added to it, yielding a total Result which then becomes the Base for the next year. THIS is a “savings plan!”


Year Base Earns New Dep Result
1 0 0 12,000 12,000
2 12,000 600 12,000 24,600
3 24,600 1,230 12,000 37,830
4 37,830 1,892 12,000 51,722
5 51,722 2,586 12,000 66,308
6 66,308 3,315 12,000 81,623
7 81,623 4,081 12,000 97,704
8 97,704 4,885 12,000 114,589
9 114,589 5,729 12,000 132,319
10 132,319 6,616 12,000 150,935
11 150,935 7,547 12,000 170,481
12 170,481 8,524 12,000 191,006
13 191,006 9,550 12,000 212,556
14 212,556 10,628 12,000 235,184
15 235,184 11,759 12,000 258,943
16 258,943 12,947 12,000 283,890
17 283,890 14,194 12,000 310,084
18 310,084 15,504 12,000 337,589
19 337,589 16,879 12,000 366,468
20 366,468 18,323 12,000 396,791
21 396,791 19,840 12,000 428,631
22 428,631 21,432 12,000 462,063
23 462,063 23,103 12,000 497,166
24 497,166 24,858 12,000 534,024
25 534,024 26,701 12,000 572,725
26 572,725 28,636 12,000 613,361
27 613,361 30,668 12,000 656,030
28 656,030 32,801 12,000 700,831
29 700,831 35,042 12,000 747,873
30 747,873 37,394 12,000 797,266
31 797,266 39,863 12,000 849,129
32 849,129 42,456 12,000 903,586
33 903,586 45,179 12,000 960,765
34 960,765 48,038 12,000 1,020,804
35 1,020,804 51,040 12,000 1,083,844
36 1,083,844 54,192 12,000 1,150,036
37 1,150,036 57,502 12,000 1,219,538
38 1,219,538 60,977 12,000 1,292,515
39 1,292,515 64,626 12,000 1,369,140
40 1,369,140 68,457 12,000 1,449,597

Note: This table ignores taxes, expenses, and your child's lifetime earnings trajectory.

= = = = =
DISCLAIMER: This is not legal, tax or accounting advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship, which can only be created by a written engagement letter. This information cannot be used to promote any investment or avoid any tax penalty. Please revalidate all these ideas with your legal, tax, accounting, estate, and/or investment advisers in view of your personal financial situation and tax jurisdiction.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Movie / Transcendence (2014)

MOVIE / TRANSCENDENCE (2014) with Johnny Depp

As an AI researcher and ethicist, I found this film an interesting "first stab" at addressing some issues of strong AI, but with enough problems that experts would find it infuriating, while the general public would likely get bored. I hope that other film makers can learn from this initial attempt and make a better, more informative film.

SPOILER ALERT: THIS REVIEW CRITIQUES MOST OF THE PLOT!

The film does a decent job of setting up the basic issues. The AI researcher, an academic divorced from reality, makes a bunch of loose (albeit potentially true) public statements about how strong AI will eclipse humanity, triggering the rise of an anti-AI terror group that kills him and many other researchers. However, as he is taking a while to die, he and his wife decide to "upload" his mind, just as they recently did with a monkey.

Minor nit: Why would the monkey supposedly (as told by the terrorist) have been screaming in pain, from some electrodes sucking up his or her neural impulses? (Maybe it was freaked out to find itself inside the computer. If so they should have waited for it to calm down.)

Problem 1: Is uploading going to be a practical first pathway to strong AI? I doubt it. Uploading remains highly speculative and futuristic. The camera pans over whiteboards of equations, but there is zero insight into how we can effectively mimic the organization of the mind, much less immediately go way beyond it.

Minor nit: Satellite communication speeds are too low to transfer his mind and related software before the terrorists shoot the place up. His wife should have whipped out a credit card and FTP-ed him to the Amazon EC2 cloud!

Problem 2: Once his mind is uploaded and "reorganizes" itself, it immediately begins to display super intelligence, illegally infiltrates the entire Internet, makes millions in the stock market, becomes a master of medical and environmental nanotech, and so on.

But wait, the financial markets already have tons of trading programs, the Internet has some degree of security (and can't just be taken over), and reorganizing a super-AI is a hard problem. Just because our hero has been uploaded doesn't mean he can suddenly solve or break into anything.

Minor nit: Altho there is media coverage of the assassinations, the film punts on trying to depict any further media or public response.

Problem 3: Once he has built his own data center with stock market loot, his wife, who had been his most ardent booster, singing the praises of bright futures from AI, also has (IMHO) some kind of brain change, and turns into a dull witted love interest, with the usual shots of her looks. She should have been saying holy cow, look at all these life affirming miracles, let's get on the road and promote them!

Problem 4: She and everyone else become so dull witted they don't believe what they're seeing, and the super-mind fails to see the storm coming. Now that his mind is way beyond theirs, she starts to feel alienated and uninvolved, and others question whether there's anything left that's really him.

IMHO This is like asking if dogs can really feel pain, while going ahead with torturing them. Of course they can, you moron. But perhaps it is realistic that society will reject anything it perceives as "other," and decide to kill it, no matter how self-defeating that might be.

Finally, despite that the super-mind is literally Jesus Christ, healing the sick, bringing the dead back to life, conferring super abilities, and restoring the planet, just as the wife had extolled in her former life, she and the government (teaming with the terrorists for deniability) decide they've got to terminate him.

There's an homage to "The Day the Earth Stood Still," as he carries her wounded body into the data center, which had me intoning "Gort, klaatu barada nikto."

Problem 5: Another AI scientist takes some of the nano program from one of the healed people and uses it to create a "virus" that can take down the super-mind. a) This conflates biological and computer viruses, and b) if it was based on his own code, why did they need to kill (or even touch) the healed person to get it?

Minor nit: How killing off a rogue AI with a virus will permanently take down the entire US power grid is left as an exercise for the viewer, as there's no justification whatever for such an outcome.

Okay, that's enough criticisms for one review. No doubt other AI and nanotech experts can find many more things to complain about. But if you've ever wondered if Ray Kurzweil might get shot for predicting that AIs will eclipse humanity, we get an exploration of that scenario.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Movie / Oblivion 2013

This newly-released Tom Cruise science fiction movie is much better than it seems at first. I could list off various scientific quibbles, but the cinematography is excellent. I'd put it on par with Looper.

According to the narrative, in 2017 Earth was attacked by aliens, who heavily damaged the Moon, causing earthquakes and tsunamis that destroyed civilization. We won the war by using nukes, and drove off the aliens, but Earth was left uninhabitable due to radiation, while the surviving humans relocated to Titan, a moon of Jupiter.

Now 60 years later, Tom Cruise is one of a few members of a cleanup crew, a drone repairman, who keeps the drones in working order, which in turn defend the giant energy sucking machines, which are sucking up our entire Ocean, what is now left of it, converting it to energy, and beaming it up to Titan.

He lives a "good" life, in a luxury penthouse atop a pole maybe 1,000 feet off the ground, with a lovely female assistant, who acts as both his local mission control officer, when he's out on repair missions, and his bedmate. Both of them report to senior Mission Control on Titan.

But life is marred by the Scavs, surviving aliens who haven't yet been eradicated by the drones, who keep mounting guerrilla attacks on the mission, the drones, and the giant water sucking machines.

To protect the mission, in case of capture by the Scavs, both of them have had a memory wipe. The film's title, Oblivion, refers not only to the desolate state of Earth, but also to their lack of memory of what went before. Tom has dreams and flashbacks, but she is content to ask no questions.

In Tom Cruise fashion, his character is prone to violating the rules and doing crazy stuff, often putting him at odds with Mission Control. At one point I considered walking out; the whole thing seemed too predictable. But actually, his renegade flyboy behavior is critical to what comes next, his breaking out of the narrative, remembering who he is, and discovering what's really going on.

I won't spoil the story, but what's really going on is very complex and totally unlike the previously defined narrative. Don't step out of the theater around the halfway point! Once he figures out the true situation, he then takes heroic Tom Cruise-like actions to fix it.

Access Samsung WB150F Camera from iPad via Remote Viewfinder

Accessing your camera over WiFi from an iPhone or iPad, including remote shutter release, seems like a fantastic idea, especially for family or self-portraits, but can be difficult to figure out.

First, the camera side. When you turn the knob to WiFi, Remote Viewfinder is one of several apps. To access this feature alone, you do NOT need to connect to an existing WiFi network. Most other WiFi enabled features assume you will be connecting to your home network, but not this one. Rather, once you activate this app, it turns your camera into a WiFi hotspot, which you can connect to, out in the field, without a password, from your phone or tablet.

Next, the iPad side. Maybe if you're using a Samsung Android tablet or phone this will be easier, but for some reason, perhaps bad blood between the 2 companies, although the Samsung Remote Viewfinder iOS app is available on iTunes, when accessed from your PC, it's not findable in Apple's App Store from your phone or tablet, which seems nuts for a free helper app. But there is a work around.

Since you can find the iOS app on PC-based iTunes, you can also find its URL, which currently is:

     https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/remote-viewfinder/id507930776?mt=8

Therefore, type the above URL into the browser on your iPhone or iPad, and you will be taken to it. Press Install and soon you will have Remote Viewfinder on your device.

Finally, to get the 2 working together --
  1. On the camera, turn the knob to WiFi, select Remote Viewfinder, and activate it. This turns your camera into an active hotspot, even if you are out in the forest.
  2. On the iPad, go into Settings > WiFi and connect to the new hotspot, and only then
  3. Go back out and activate the Remote Viewfinder app itself, which will now find the camera and connect to it.
After you have completed these steps, you can see through your camera, even if you are in the picture, and press the shutter. But there is one drawback. Apparently you can't go into the mode of your choice, such as Smart. Instead you are stuck in some unknown mode that takes a long time to fire and uses the flash. If you turn the knob to Smart, away from WiFi, your remote connection is lost.

Hopefully these drawbacks will be addressed in future versions, but the pictures come out okay, so this seems like a minor price to pay, for an otherwise free and usable remote control program.

Enable Opera Keyboard Shortcut for Delete Private Data

Despite various forum postings, including a long one from Tamil, an Opera developer with over 110,000 postings, this was surprisingly hard to figure out, which is weird because if you know what you're doing, you could do it in under 1 minute.

Don't try to choose a key combination of your own, because nearly all of them are taken by other shortcuts, or else don't seem to work. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, or know Opera inside and out, stick with the one given in the examples, ctrl-shift-d, which by default means "bookmark this page." A similar result can be had using ctrl-d, or hitting + in the bookmark bar dropdown. Life is tough, and you may need to sacrifice the default action of ctrl-shift-d.

Go into Opera > Settings > Preferences > Advanced > Shortcuts. Ignore the Mouse Setup, and focus on the bottom half of the panel, for Keyboard Setup. You'll see 1 or maybe 2 config files that can be edited, using the buttons at the right. Do not press the Mouse edit buttons! When you edit this file or files, it will be saved as "(Modified)," while the default config file will remain unchanged. There is no concept of deleting the prior config and replacing it. The system uses the modified file, if there is one, and goes back to the default, which cannot be changed, if there is not.

Select a Keyboard config file, click Edit, and expand the Application section. (Or you can Duplicate the file first, and edit the dupe, which I believe gives the exact same result.) You'll see a list of keyboard shortcuts followed by their actions. Scroll down until you find d ctrl shift. The easiest procedure is to just edit this line, leave the shortcut unchanged, delete the action, and input your desired action, which is Delete Private Data. Once you get it part way typed, it will drop down and you can just select it. Why this shortcut isn't enabled by default is a mystery!

If it's not there, which I doubt, you can Add a line for it, or you could delete that line and re-Add it, no problem either way. If there are 2 default config files, do it for both. After you save them, they will say (Modified). Make no effort to delete the prior defaults, which isn't allowed anyway. Don't worry about them, as the system uses your Modified ones, if they exist.

Hit Okay, you're out of there, and press your newly redefined keyboard shortcut. Voila' You no longer need to perform a difficult mouse movement to access this frequently used action.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Circuit Testers Have a Blind Spot!

If you're like me, you keep a set of tools and can perform many home repairs on your own. And one of those tools is probably a 110 volt circuit tester, for use when repairing electrical outlets.

However, I just noticed there's a serious, even possibly fatal wiring misconfiguration that circuit checkers won't detect! So listen up and be on the lookout for this one.

Some time back I noticed that the metal frame of my refrigerator was "hot" and you would get zapped by touching both the exposed metal of the fridge back and the nearby breaker box. Clearly not good.

Upon further investigation I found that the ground pin of the outlet was also hot, which is not what you'd expect. Yet when I inserted a circuit tester in the outlet, it read A-Okay! Something was rotten in Denmark!

How could the circuit tester read OK when the ground was hot?? Very easily, it turns out.

If you're in an old house, maybe the outlets don't have grounds, and the wires are so old and blackened you can't tell which one is white or black. Nor can you easily check. So you mistakenly reverse the hot and neutral when rewiring the  outlet, and to boot you tie the "neutral" to ground, which normally could be an okay idea, since neutral will be tied to ground back at the breaker box.

Now you've got a hot ground. However, due to AC current, in the absence of a true ground, the circuit checker can't tell white from black, the two sides are completely equivalent, and thus it can't tell that the ground is tied to black, creating a dangerous situation!

As long as you've got a true ground, you're okay. The circuit checker can tell white from black, plus tying black to a true ground would immediately short out. But if you have no true ground, and the wires are grubby, don't guess. Do some serious external checking to figure out which one is hot, because the circuit tester won't flag it for you.