Thursday, September 29, 2016

Behold! Jicama Threatens Thee

My latest misadventure involves jicama, a perishable food item that resembles a turnip. I can't make out whether it's a bean or a vine from the Wiki entry. It's definitely a root. But, other sources online categorize jicama as a sort of morning glory or nightshade.

I had a business idea, which required me to purchase five pounds of jicama. So, how much jicama does five pounds make? About three large jicamas will yield five pounds. Actually, I went over by half a pound. But, it's not like you can resize them to suit you.

So, now I have five pounds of jicama at home to eat. I cut one up and sprinkled Trechas and lime on it to eat. I had a few pieces and put the rest in the refrigerator to cool.

A while later, I started coughing with a familiar sensation that comes from a food allergy. After a little research, sure enough. Jicama is among the foods that triggers a latex allergy.

I had never experienced this reaction with jicama. However, I typically eat a few pieces along with other fruit. Having eaten it alone this time, I have no doubt that it's causing the cough and itching.

I am curious why the information that is available on this . . . vegetable is so sparse and inconsistent? The Internets have let me down.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mr. President - Coco Jambo (1920 x 1080p HD) videoclip

My kids found this song. I had heard it years ago; but, the song wasn't one that I would have remembered. It's catchy and apparently global.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The New Amazon Echo Dot: One step closer to ubiquitous voice control

The Amazon Echo Tap
One thing I love about Star Trek, most of the different series, is the ability to issue voice commands to the ship's computer. The crew is able to use the computer's voice recognition anywhere they go.

Amazon has introduced a new and improved Amazon Echo Dot, which is a smaller, stripped down version of the Amazon Echo. The Echo Dot brings the vision of the Star Trek computer closer to reality.

The Echo devices are always listening for commands to play music, read books, control your IoT (Internet of Things) device, or even place orders on Amazon. However, the Echo sits quietly in one spot of your home waiting for commands within hearing distance. Once you move to another room, the fun is over.

Going back to the Star Trek computer, the characters in the show frequently speak commands to the computer, such as when they enter the turbolift and tell it to take them to the Bridge or Engineering. No buttons needed.

There are episodes on Star Trek: TNG where the Chief Engineer runs database queries with voice commands to figure out some obscure cause of problems on the ship.

The Echo has been very popular for its ease of use and ability to interact with other services and devices in an almost Star Trek fashion. At home, you can turn lights on or off, check if a window is open, lock a door, or even set your oven to preheat with a simple voice command. You can also use the Echo to order a pizza from Domino's or to hail an Uber car to your door.  This is getting very close to the Star Trek vision.

What makes the Echo Dot different from the Echo, or the Echo Tap, is that the Dot is built primarily for listening to commands. The Dot lacks the same speakers that make the Echo and Tap great for listening to music or audio books.

Furthermore, the Dot is only $49.99 when available starting in October. This price point is what makes it much more likely that households will have an Echo interface in every room. You COULD buy a regular Echo for every room; but, it would be a tad expensive. The Echo Dot, on the other hand, not so much.

As if anticipating that people might do exactly that, Amazon is selling the devices in sets where you buy five and get one free. Alternatively, you can buy a bundle set in what seems like you get the Echo Dot free with the purchase of a complementary device.

In our home, we have been playing with home lighting automation through Amazon Echo. We have yet to try other smart devices, such as sensors or receptacles. It is very easy to spend a lot of money on home automation. Granted, it is a one-time cost that would offer years of service. However, you could very easily go overboard in automating things that do not really require automation.

Amazon seems to be leading the way for making technology invisible to the end-user. I think this is the sort of thing, like wearables, that electronics consumers have been waiting for. We want to be able to use technology with a minimum of fuss and anywhere we please.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Bringing Dead Blogs Back To Life

I have been considering the resurrection of RGV Life and recently. These blogs continue to generate a little bit of advertising revenue from Google Adsense every few months despite sitting around without updates. I don't feel any guilt or remorse about leaving the blogs fallow. However, I do wonder, ever so often, if I could have made them viable businesses.

I have been aware of Patreon in the last couple of years. I can't help thinking that it might be a better way to go than depending on advertising. It is easier for me, personally, to ask for patronage than to sell advertising. With advertising, I would have to pull stats, make reports, make sales media, and so much more that is required to process individual customer orders.

Asking for patronage, on the other hand, is simpler. Cleaner. One page. If you like what I do and want to support it, it won't break you. Obviously, bigger supporters would get something more for their patronage. I would have to figure that out.


So, why would I want to bring these blogs back from the dead? Or, is that the undead?

Partly, I would like to quiet that nagging "what if" voice.

Secondly, I want to transition to become a writer. Part of becoming a writer is writing every day. What better way to write every day than to become a writer? Right?

Once the writing habit is reestablished, then it would be easier to churn out novels, especially one that I've been piecing together. I have the characters, the setting, and several adventures. Yes, a series of books. The only thing stopping me is the lack of a writing habit. Instead, I sit around a watch Youtube videos, read books, or do other things instead of write. Certainly entertaining, if not productive.

So, would my work be limited to writing? No, unfortunately no. I also like the podcasting and the video creating. Sorry, they all fit together really well on a blog.

What Kind of Content?

I'm glad you asked this rhetorical question. The content would be local news and information. I don't think I need to break any exclusives. What I lack in timeliness could be spent on thoroughness. In depth interviews would work along with quick announcements of what's going on in the area.

Experience from my site shows me that hyperlocal information is in demand. People want to know what's going on in their community. It would be pretentious for me to equate what I propose to do as any form of journalism. The closest might be a reporter, which seems less . . . formal. I just need to ask what's going on and share it. Simple enough, right?

Sure. Unfortunately, it takes time to get into everybody's business, which is why news organizations pay people to go out and do it. Interviews don't happen by themselves. Blog posts don't write themselves. Somebody has to go out and do all of that.

Perhaps physical newspapers and magazines are suffering the loss of subscribers, but it doesn't mean that what they offer isn't valuable. It's just that consuming news is much easier in digital format than on paper. Plus, you don't have to worry about recycling the paper after it sat around unread a couple of days. That's one reason I stopped reading the paper, that it is relentless in delivery even though I may not have time to peruse its pages.

So, A Selfish Endeavor?

You may be thinking that this is all to selfish purpose. To a degree, yes, it is. However, I would not propose to do this if I did not have an instinct that there is a need for such information in the community. People want recognition for their achievements, for their troubles, for their causes, for their ideas, and especially their work. I believe that I can provide some of that.

The best way to find out is to give it a trial for 30 days. Let's see what I can do. If it works out, and I can increase my readership, then perhaps it may be worthwhile seeking patrons. If I go completely ignored, then I could try harder or hang up the keyboard. But, I won't know until I try, right?

Monday, September 05, 2016

Glacial Financial Growth of my Plan

My financial experiments have so far proven more or less workable, although rather slow. In fact, circumstances have led to diminished cash reserves, to the point where I am slightly nervous.

I've had some big draws on my reserves that in times past would have been impossible to pay. For example, my Prius had some cooling problems and required changing parts to the hybrid system and changing a leaky water pump. With dealer prices, the repairs cost almost $1000. Something like that is still alarmingly pricey on my budget. Still, I was able to take care of it. Prius models are known for their longevity, so I'm hoping that at 145,000 miles, I can count on the car to continue to perform as dependably as it has been.

Another large draw was for a deposit with a builder, which would become earnest money if we qualified for financing, my wife and I. That was another chunk that left the reserves. We expect that money to come back to us soon. The driving reason behind attempting to buy a house, a down payment assistance program for teachers, did not pan out. This means that we would have to come out of pocket that chunk of money. At this point, we are unwilling to do that.

So, the point of my writing today is that the whole purpose of setting up our experimental personal financial system was to help us weather big cash flow problems. Indeed, that is what the system has helped us do. The result is that we are experiencing glacial growth of our reserves as we pay down the draws from the system.

In case you are new to the experiment, here is roughly how it works.


  • Checking account - all income enters here and gets allocated to pay down loans
  • Credit Cards - most spending comes from here, paid by money market as a loan
  • Money market - all loan repayments enter here, except car payments, which existed before the system was set up.
  • Margin account with Bond mutual fund - slowly buying shares every month to increase margin. Principal is untouched, margin credit is the source of cash.
  • Whole Life policies with maxed out paid up additions - another emergency fund for borrowing.

The mechanics are that the checking account offers a feature called Goals. Goals let you create discrete savings targets. So, when I pay my credit card, say $500. I create a Goal for $550. That's the $500 I paid the credit card plus 10% interest. 

When I get a paycheck, I pay off as much as I can of the outstanding loans, which is most of my paycheck. This is using a personal version of paycheck parking. You can watch this video to explain some of my thinking:

Using the Debt Weapons described in the video, I am also using a little bit of Infinite Banking Concept. IBC uses whole life insurance policies as a source of financing. VIP Financial also suggests using IBC as a source of money. Unfortunately, it takes years to build up your policies to a level where your cash value is significant. This is where the margin account comes into play. I can buy shares of a bond fund that pays a very meager return, and use that to borrow back half when needed. It's like IBC, except that I can build the cash value faster by buying more shares. 

A lot of this seems convoluted. I apologize for not being able to explain the setup better. What I do want to convey is that there is a limit to the growth of this system. It's limited by my income. It can only grow as fast as I am able to save money. Thus far, I have not reached the point where my life insurance policies have earned their first dividends. My bond funds are small, and pay very little in interest. I have no other reliable investments that assist me in growing the reserves. This needs to change. 

I have some prospects for additional income; but, they require large investments, which I currently do not possess.  These involve debt instruments that pay interest and use velocity of money over the long term. But, I'm no there yet. 

This plan is a long-term plan. I can see where it is going; although it can be exasperating in the first months. I have a lot of things that I need to resolve before I can make significant gains in my savings. For example, having a car payment to an external bank is less than ideal. I could recapture the interest charges if I were paying myself. However, I am not at a point where I can pay off the car entirely and turn it into a loan to myself. But, that's the goal. So, in time, my reserve balance will slowly grow. And my car loan balance will slowly shrink. They will cross paths at some point so that we can make that leap. 

All I need now is patience and diligence.