Monday, July 17, 2006

Showcase for Open-Source Movement - Blender3D

I have written a few blog postings over the prior months about the state of the Open Source Software (OSS) movement, and have tried to demonstrate just how far along projects like Linux, OpenOffice, and others have come.

One really amazing OSS package is Blender3D, a 3D modeling, rendering, and animation tool. To showcase just how powerful this OSS package is, an entire short movie has been created using Blender3D and other Open Source Software. The movie, Elephants Dream, is even available in full 1920x1200 High-Definition. I downloaded the 800MB HD version using BitTorrent the other day in only half an hour over my Cable connection. And, once I watched the movie, I was completely and totally impressed by the capabilities of the Blender3D software (not to mention the talent of the various volunteer artists and such that made the movie!) To me, it was something I would expect to see coming out of a large studio like Pixar or such, though the movie is only 10 or so minutes long.

Check it out! If you ever had aspirations of creating your own animated 3D movie, but did not want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on commercial software just to see if you could accomplish anything, Blender3D is for you -- it is FREE. I find the user-interface generally intuitive, and as least as intuitive as some of the commercial modeling software I have tried over the years. It is quite powerful (as the movie demonstrates), and should give you all you need to get started in 3D modeling and animation if you choose.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Income is NOT Wealth

This posting goes along with some other posts I have done about saving money in order to invest and plan for the future. America as a whole needs extra encouragement to consider saving money, and I hope this posting helps motivate you.

Perhaps you make a great income in your current job. Well then, you must be wealthy! Wrong! Granted, you are good at making money, but unless you are equally good at being an accumulator of wealth (i.e. Savings!), you will forever remain income-rich and wealth-poor.

Perhaps you see your friends with new cars, homes, flashy clothes and accessories, and so on, and you presume them to be wealthy or rich. Well, unless they have inherited a large sum of money to begin with, or have been prodigious accumulators of wealth prior to spending money on these easily observed signs of spent cash, chances are they are not wealthy at all. First of all, most self-made wealthy people don't spend money on all sorts of flashy things - it goes against their entire formula for having accumulated their wealth to begin with, and furthermore, it would jeopardize their ability to remain wealthy. Chances are, the persons you perceive as wealthy are either (or both) good at producing income or even better at using credit, and their appearance of wealth is just that - appearance. As soon as their income slows or they can no longer service the credit they've taken on, it's all over for them; this may take many years to catch up with them, and if they are one of the lucky ones, they will maintain or increase their incomes over the years to keep up with, or further expand, their spending and perceived wealth.

Even those celebrities with all their flash and "Bling" are primarily dependent upon their income and not wealth. Certainly there are some famous people with plenty of wealth, but many of the "star of the moment" type have little going for them beyond their income, since many can not imagine being anything but famous and rich once the cash has started flowing, and likewise they don't prepare for the time where it no longer runs like water. And, many end up with very little in the end - consider famed performer MC Hammer, who even though making $33,000,000 in a year, was able to outspend his income with the help of his 40+ member entourage (for this any many more examples, see: What you see in the actions of these very public displays of income and cash-disposal is not how the average wealthy person lives, since most self-made wealthy persons know what it takes to accumulate wealth to begin with, and do not want to jeopardize their way of life so hard earned.

I know it will be very difficult to live a life based on saving and investing when everyone around you exhibits a life based on spending and debt, and demonstrates their purchasing power everyday through their flashy cars, daily restaurant dining, and so forth. Trying to mimic this behavior will be quite costly, and very addictive. Leo Tolstoy described this type of situation perfectly in his book Anna Karenina - when the character Levin, who was never in debt and always saved money, found himself surrounded by persons that spent much money on all sorts of goods and services, and soon found himself doing the same, whether he could afford to or not, as this quote describes: "There are no conditions to which a man cannot get accustomed, especially if he sees that everyone around him lives in the same way." This is a timeless condition and threat to your wealth: just consider that Tolstoy's book containing this quote was written in 1877 in Russia. Some things never change, and the desire to spend and consume first, and worry about saving later, is just human nature, and something that you will have to, and can, overcome by following advice to constrain spending and save money.

Why worry about accumulating wealth when you make enough income to support your desired standard of living, and, why reduce your standard of living in order to save and invest more? Well, consider the following:
  • Income can go away quickly - your job, no matter how "safe" you feel in it, may not be here in the future. Your business may encounter massive overseas competition, or technology may render your current service obsolete. Another possibility none of us wants to consider is that we may no longer be able to perform our job due to illness or injury or even age.
  • Reduced Stress: think about how less stress you would have in your everyday life if you knew you could quit that job you hate so much, knowing you could afford to live without any wage income for 6 months, 12 months, or more without additional income.
  • Income tends to make you do things you otherwise wouldn't do - like taking a less-than exciting job, just because you have to, because you need the cash-flow to feed your expense-habits, and because you have no savings to fall back on and no income from investments to offset any loss of wages. Start reducing your expenses now, and attempt to save as much as possible. I always have considered savings / wealth a tool that gives you the power to say "I Quit" when you should; and, oh how good it would feel to know that if a situation is intolerable, you can simply leave. And, even more so, perhaps you'll soon find out that with the ability to "Quit" on your terms if necessary, you become more bold and take more chances, and end up securing more responsibility and more income in your career because the fear of job-loss does not constantly weigh you down.
  • I also see income-dependence, and lack of savings (i.e., wealth) as why most people will not even consider starting their own business for (justifiable) fear that they will not be able to instantly replace their existing income. Starting a business requires proper capitalization so you can get up and running. Starting your own business is a risk, but keep in mind that employers would not pay you what they do (in general) unless your value to them is more than what they pay you. So, if you can find a way to capitalize on your skills directly, you may find the risk returns equal rewards; but, it will likely take time to become established, and time requires savings to cover your expenses (side note: for this reason, I highly recommend starting a "side business" while employed full time in order to gain business experience and get a footing, or jump-start, prior to quitting your job -- it should reduce the savings required to make the leap to self-employment should you choose this route).
Saving, and wealth-building, is a long-term-plan approach to living; and a marked difference from an earn-and-spend approach to living. It takes commitment, and progress is slow. But, progress will also be noticeable within a few years when you start seeing noteworthy income being produced from the money you have saved and invested. And, you will feel a sense of accomplishment as your efforts progress. Worst case: you save, save, save, and feel no different -- well, at least you will have a chunk of money to spend on something when you cave in and return to the spending-path :)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Please, stop using your cell phone while driving!

A new study really sheds light on how great of (negative) impact cell phone usage while driving will have on your overall driving performance. The bottom line is that you are much more likely to be involved in an accident while using your cell phone that if you were legally drunk!

Some of the statistics, and why you need to immediatly STOP using that cellphone (while driving) include:
  • Drivers on cell phones were 5.36 times more likely to get in an accident than non-distracted drivers! WOW! Nothing like handicapping yourself, and begging to wreck your car and cause bodily harm to yourself and/or others!
  • Reduced reaction time - slowed breaking and slowed acceleration; leading to accidents and slowed traffic flow in general. And yet, everyone complains about traffic jams. I'm sure many complain over their phones while in a traffic jam!
  • 50% of visual information is not processed while talking on the phone... e.g., things like red-lights, cars stopping in front of you, a child (perhaps yours) running into the street to get a ball, and so forth. Thus, the driver doesn't even "see" what is going on around them and likewise does not react.
  • 75% of all accidents are preceded by some driver distraction (so, why would you want to jeopardize your car, health, and life over the distraction of a phone-call?)
  • There is no difference between "hands-free" devices or others -- it is the conversation that is the problem. A conversation simply requires too much attention.
The sad thing about all this is that everyone will blow it off as they always do. I have heard so many (of what I consider otherwise intelligent) people tell me how "It doesn't affect me". Everyone wants to believe that somehow they have the parallel-processing capability that makes them far superior to those "average" folks who just can't talk and drive at the same time. But, they do not. They just have yet to be faced with a need for instantaneous reaction to an unforeseen traffic problem like a crash immediately in front of them, or someone's pet running out in front of their car to chase the mail-truck, etc.

I take issue with all these ego-centric cell-phone using drivers that think they are above the statistics for the simple fact that I have nearly been wiped out by them over a dozen times now. Within the past year, I have had 3 cars left-turn (where no right-of-way would allow) right in front of my moving car. One was a girl that was so caught up in her cell-phone conversation that when my being in the other lane finally registered in her brain, she stopped right in front of me (thankfully I had applied heavy braking already), looked at me with cell-phone in hand with a look of shock and awe on her face, and then went back to her conversation and continued her turn into her driveway. Another was a 40-ish guy in his beautiful Audi TT convertible... same situation, his left turning in front of me while busy in conversation; I screeched the tires on that occasion, and the noise must have snapped him out of his cell-phone lapse, at which point he looked at me after nearly joining his car with mine, and smiled, threw his hands up as if to say "oops... sorry", and went on his merry way. This is ridiculous!

I refuse to ride in cars with people that persist in talking on the phone as we drive. A former co-worker told me that whole thing about how "it doesn't affect me", even as he talked on the phone riding 30 feet off the bumper of the car he was following at 60MPH. That was the last time I ever went in the car with him, because he just would not stop this phone-usage. Sorry, but my life is more important than your cell-phone call. Pull over and use the thing (though, we may get rear-ended by another cell-phone user that is driving and not paying attention either!).

The sad thing is that for all of us that do not use the phones while driving, there will be many that do, and no matter how vigilant we are in our watch for those that left-turn in front of us, or do other ridiculous traffic rules violations and threaten our lives, and our safety and well being (and that of our family and children) are at risk. Please, everyone, accept the fact that we are all the same, and all subject to reduced reaction time (and thus, more likely to have or cause accidents) while using cell-phones at the same time we are driving -- and, STOP doing it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Good news for Celiac sufferers

I just came accross a news item that is worth checking out:
New Enzyme Efficiently Degrades Gluten In 'Human Stomach' Environment

Basically, the article talks about how, at least in a laboratory setting, scientists have developed an Enzyme that is effective at breaking down Gluten even in a highly acidic environment (read: your stomach perhaps). Neat! Now, if only they can perfect it and produce a pill (or food additive) for celiacs to process gluten as they eat, they will really have something. Looks like Clinical-Trials are coming soon, which could be good news, though I can not say I want to volunteer for that :)

There are also some really interesting gluten intolerance / celiac statistics cited in the article. One I found really wild was how, in Sweden, when gluten was introduced into the baby food supply, the incidence of Celiac disease went up five-fold in the country, and returned to normal levels after the gluten was removed. That critical period in early life where the immune response develops "immuno-memory" seems to play a large role in things.

One thing not mentioned, that I have heard from a few persons, is how (supposedly) consuming gluten during a period of taking Antibiotics can cause this same "immuno-memory" issue and lead to Celiac disease (though something like "leaky gut" syndrome). Anyone know of where there is any scientific study info on such a thing?