These are a few of my favorite things (2015)

This is the obligatory year-end post. Hey, every other blogger is doing it… Here are some of my favorite things in 2015:

  • iPhone 6 Plus – Upgraded from the 5s. The 6 Plus is gigantic. I have hit my face a few times trying to use it while lying down (Ow!). But the battery life is great!
  • AppleWatch – I wasn’t blown away when Apple unveiled this wearable gadget. I received one as a gift, tried it, and been wearing it everyday since I got it (about three months). Apple did not oversell this – it’s a great smartwatch that complements the iPhone.
  • Laptop SSD upgrades – My 2010 MacBook Pro was starting to show its age but still usable. It’d take minutes to reboot and the time it took to launch apps afforded me bathroom or coffee breaks. SSD prices have dropped enough to make it worthwhile as HD replacements. Performing surgery on the MBP wasn’t difficult, either. Now the trusty ol’ MBP is zippy once again with an OWC Mercury Electra 6G SSD (system) and a Samsung 850 EVO (photo library).
  • All-Clad cookware – I’m no chef but you can definitely feel and see the quality of these American-made pots and pans. Too bad they don’t make me a better cook…
  • Portable charger – Fast becoming a must-have in any portable gadget arsenal because there’s not always a power outlet available. The Anker PowerCore 10400 served me well on a few camping trips.
  • Ooma Telo VoIP phone – 2015 was the year we decided not to give AT&T any more money for a landline, although we remain a U-Verse customer. Ooma paid for itself in four months (three if we hadn’t decided to port the number) – should’ve done it sooner for more savings…
  • Third-party fuel cap – What’s worse than the consequence of eating a contaminated bean burrito for lunch? Seeing the “Check Engine” light come on in your car. Word of advice: Save yourself time and gas by just ordering online a cheap 3rd-party fuel cap (Stant makes a few). That’s the most common scenario – it’s happened to me twice with two different automobiles, and each time replacing the fuel cap worked.
  • YouTube – Not for its entertainment value, but for learning how to do stuff. Like replacing the run capacitor on my AC unit to avoid being robbed by the AC technician.
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Read my spoiler-free review here.
  • Alaska – Took a cruise with family to visit Alaska for the first time and loved it. Glad it’s part of the USA!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Behold, the Ninja Lanternshark

Don’t feel ashamed that you, avid Shark Week fan and self-proclaimed shark aficionado, have not even heard of this awesome specimen. It is a new species of black shark that glows in the dark:

The ninja lanternshark’s common and scientific names aren’t the only features that stray into the fantastical; it even looks as if it were designed by children. The small, deep-sea-dwelling sharks have jet-black skin and bulbous eyes, making them a fearsome sight for a fish that only grows to be about a foot-and-a-half long. As Vásquez tells Jason Bittel for Hakai Magazine, the ninja lanternsharks are stealthy, using glowing cells embedded in their skin to blend in with what little light penetrates the deep waters where they make their home, and also rendering them invisible from below.

Quick, somebody name their sports team after this animal!

Christian worship in the smartphone era

The Verge, on the popularity of Christian apps:

The YouVersion Bible app is on 197 million phones and is available in 799 languages. Backed to the tune of $20 million by Oklahoma City-based Life.Church (a megachurch that streams its services online), YouVersion features reading plans, goal-setting abilities, and a built-in social network.

Tamás Kádár, a 26-year-old Hungarian IT consultant living in Sweden, uses YouVersion to follow along in church and “whenever I need to look up something, especially with different translations, in different languages.” Within the app, you can overlay Bible verses on top of nature images and share the resulting meme with your Twitter followers, Facebook friends, or on the app’s home feed. The YouVersion Bible, also comes stocked with hundreds of reading plans, from the devotional to studies for the family to topical studies, like “Find purpose in your work.” These plans often come at the result of partnerships with other apps or publishing houses, which can feel a little sponsored. For instance, the iPhone game Gun Bros once featured YouVersion as an app that players could purchase to gain more in-game currency.

I’m also a YouVersion Bible user. The app is very polished, intuitive, and packed with useful features – on top of all the translations it offers. I’d say the $20 million was put to good use.

Also makes me think of worship service these days. Does your pastor and church leaders encourage social media use during the sermon? Does s/he want to friend you on Facebook and follow you on Twitter or Instagram, and vice versa? There are many churches now that extensively use technology and non-traditional media. Not just having a presence on social networks, but also putting out songs/albums on iTunes (or other online music stores), live streaming worship services, and accepting offerings online or via SMS.

I think it’s great but I’ll admit it’s not for everybody. The most important thing remains: how a church proclaims God’s glory and advances His kingdom, with the latest technology or not.

Microsoft buys Talko, plans to add into Skype

The Verge reports the latest Microsoft acquisition:

Microsoft has been acquiring a number of different mobile apps over the past couple of years, but today’s purchase is particularly interesting. Microsoft is buying Talko, a messaging app that started off life with Ray Ozzie, former Microsoft chief architect. Ozzie created Lotus Notes before joining Microsoft, and was instrumental in focusing Microsoft on the cloud thanks in part to his famous The Internet Services Disruptionmemo. Ozzie won’t be returning to Microsoft as part of the acquisition, but the software giant appears to be acquiring the rest of the team and Talko’s technology as part of the deal.

According to the report, Ozzie won’t be (re)joining Microsoft with the rest of the Talko team.

Talko is like a souped-up conferencing app adapted for mobile, capable of adding rich media to the live conference. Microsoft intends to add these features into Skype.

Crisis at Chipotle: when food integrity is valued over food safety

The whole “food integrity” movement is great. We are what we eat, and consumers should demand foods that are fresh, natural, and without harmful applicants or additives. Companies like Chipotle and Whole Foods  are dear to the hearts of millions of customers because of their “food integrity” message.

But in the recent food contamination outbreak from Chipotle restaurants, it’s becoming clear that its “food integrity” message has suffered because of lapse in food safety protocols.

From Bloomberg:

Almost 500 people around the country have become sick from Chipotle food since July, according to public-health officials. And those are just the ones who went to a doctor, gave a stool sample, and were properly diagnosed. Food-safety experts say they believe with any outbreak the total number of people affected is at least 10 times the reported number. The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans get sick from contaminated food every year.

As much as Chipotle wants to resolve this crisis and cooperate in the investigation, the company doesn’t have a system granular enough to trace ingredients from suppliers:

The CDC says Chipotle has been very cooperative in the E. coli investigation, but that the company is having trouble telling the agency which batches of ingredients went to which stores at which times. “The system they have is not able to solve the problem we have at hand. It’s not granular enough,” says Ian Williams, chief of the CDC’s outbreak response and prevention branch. He notes that “traceability from the farm to the point of service” should be improved throughout the food industry. In recent years, the agency has been able to find the contaminated ingredients in fewer than half of all multistate outbreaks. Without a conclusion to the investigation, some customers’ unease about returning to Chipotle could be prolonged. Ells prefers to see the uncertainty as another opportunity. “The silver lining is that it has forced us—not forced us, caused us—to take a rigorous look at every ingredient.” Couldn’t Chipotle have done that anyway? “Yes, that’s true.”

Food integrity means nothing when you’re health is compromised.

An intimate look at the beginnings of the drone war

After 9/11 the Pentagon and the White House have embraced drone technology and remote warfare. The U.S. has nearly a thousand Predator drone pilots. Drones in the sky have reshaped how the military gathers intelligence and conduct strikes. It has reshaped American foreign policy as well.

It wasn’t always like that. Air Force pilot Scott Swanson will go down in history as America’s first drone pilot, but also first to pull the trigger and kill enemies from a Predator:

When the order came through to take the shot, Swanson pulled a trigger on his joystick. A little more than a second later, a Hellfire missile slid off an aluminum rail on the Predator’s wing and sailed into the Afghan night.

Swanson’s target was a pickup truck parked outside a compound thought to be hiding Mullah Omar, the supreme commander of the Taliban. The missile killed two unidentified men believed to have been his bodyguards. It was the first time a US drone had fired a weapon in combat. It was the first time a modern drone had ever killed a human being.

With nicknames like Big Safari (the secretive Air Force skunkworks) and the Man With Two Brains, how can you resist not reading the whole fascinating story from Wired