Comments from our Houston, Texas dealer: “I’ve been a technician & service manager for over 40 years and have extensive experience with construction lasers. The Pro Shot line by Laser Reference is the best instrument for the money, available today”                  -  Ron McCuen, Service manager    Read the rest of what Ron said here:
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8/2/13  •  I Would Like to Meet this Young Woman                   From Laughing Squid Olek Covers Entire Locomotive in Crocheted Yarn By EDW Lynch on August 2, 2013 Back in July prolific Polish yarn bomber Olek returned to her homeland to cover an entire locomotive in crocheted yarn. The massive undertaking took Olek and four assistants two days to complete. The yarn-bombed locomotive is on display in Lodz, Poland through August 19, 2013.
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Pro Shot home Decision guide Lasers Receivers Accessories Blog Alpha video Tech info Contact Links Click to email Laser Reference Click to email Laser Reference Laser Reference, Inc.  •  USA Toll Free 1.800.238.0685 Laser excellence since 1991 4/25/13  •  Parasite Blogging    Remember the original Star Trek episode where there were these plastic vomit parasites that could attach themselves to people and control them? Well, life imitates art, at least in the insect world. Evidently, there is a parasite that can turn a cricket into a suicidal zombie lemming. At the point when the parasite has developed and is ready to leave its host, it requires a watery environment. The parasite causes the cricket to find a body of water and drown itself. The worm emerges from the cricket and swims to the next phase of the life cycle. See it here.  4/2/13  •  Who Is Feeling the Sequestration?  Who is getting hurt by the sequestration? It wasn’t hard to find 100 instances. Read it for yourself.  “The Huffington Post set out to do an extensive review of sequestration stories from the past week, with the goal of finding 100. What seemed like a daunting task was completed in hours. No one region of the country has been immune. Rural towns in Alaska, missile test sites in the Marshall Islands, military bases in Virginia, university towns across the country, and housing agencies in inner cities are all beginning to feel the cuts.”    4/12/13  •  There is No Explosion of Government Spending and the Deficit is Falling  Contrary to some commonly held notions, the federal deficit is shrinking rapidly. Don’t take my word for it, click the link as see for yourself. Bill McBride at Calculated Risk.  “It shocks people when I tell them the deficit as a percent of GDP is already close to being cut in half (this doesn't seem to ever make headlines). As Hatzius notes, the deficit is currently running under half the peak of the fiscal 2009 budget and will probably decline further over the next few years with no additional policy changes.”  Furthermore, Jared Bernstein points out government spending has actually risen very little.  “I pointed out that contrary to the talking point that government spending is spiraling out of control, it in fact went up only 0.6%, 2009-2012.”    5/7/13  •  Is Big Brother Watching?  Maybe not watching, but Glenn Greenwald says there are indications that Big Brother is listening, to every digital communication on the planet.  “Over the past couple days, cable news tabloid shows such as CNN's Out Front with Erin Burnett have been excitingly focused on the possible involvement in the Boston Marathon attack of Katherine Russell, the 24-year-old American widow of the deceased suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. As part of their relentless stream of leaks uncritically disseminated by our Adversarial Press Corps, anonymous government officials are claiming that they are now focused on telephone calls between Russell and Tsarnaev that took place both before and after the attack to determine if she had prior knowledge of the plot or participated in any way. On Wednesday night, Burnett interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, about whether the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations between the two. He quite clearly insisted that they could:”  These allegations are nothing new. 60 Minutes did a piece on the Echelon global surveillance way back in 2000 where it was claimed that virtually every electronic communication in the world was being recorded.   “If you made a phone call today or sent an e-mail to a friend, there's a good chance what you said or wrote was captured and screened by the country's largest intelligence agency. The top-secret Global Surveillance Network is called Echelon, and it's run by the National Security Agency and four English-speaking allies: Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.  The mission is to eavesdrop on enemies of the state: foreign countries, terrorist groups and drug cartels. But in the process, Echelon's computers capture virtually every electronic conversation around the world.”  “While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a--a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, 'Oh, Danny really bombed last night,' just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.”  For the record, I would like to state that if someone comes across my mention of a “Giant Mentos and Diet Coke Doomsday Device”, I WAS ONLY KIDDING!  5/10/13  •  For Your Viewing Pleasure  If you haven’t been to the Hubble website, check out the glorious visual feast the universe has prepared for you.  Some samples:   In Mexico, they say there are three deaths. The first is when your heart stops beating. The second is when they lower you into the ground away from your family. The third and final death is when everyone has forgotten you.  Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits is a spirited horror story about a ghost searching for her family during the festival of the Day of the Dead, while dodging ambitious exorcist apprentices. Vera Greentea (Recipes for the Dead, To Stop Dreaming of Goddesses) and talented artist Laura Müller (Mega Man Tribute, Subway to Sally Storybook) collaborate to create an autumn-friendly tale of skulls and hope. The first issue introduces the vivacious but forgotten ghost girl, Nena, as she explores the labyrinthine streets of Mexico during its most eerily evocative celebration and Bastian, the first of the exorcists speeding after her – completely for the wrong reason.  Nenetl is an indie graphic novel funded by a Kickstarter project.    6/27/13  •  Homebuilders Waiting for Recovery & Debt Observations  Barry Ritholtz points out that homebuilders are still waiting to feel the economic recovery.  Existing single-family homes sold at about the same pace in May as they did in January 2000, according to data compiled by the National Association of Realtors. New home sales are running a full 45% lower. One new home was sold last month for every 9.7 resales.  Click the link to see the chart.  *****************  Way back when I worked for a market research firm, there was a saying, “Forecast well and forecast often.” Everyone trying to read the economic tea leaves is going to be wrong, sometimes quite a bit. Circumstances may be misread or misinterpreted, sometimes necessary data is not available, sometimes situations change. Here’s a new chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing their greatly reduced projections for the debt to GDP ratio.     This doesn’t mean everything is hunky dory; there is still a lot of work to be done on debt reduction. What’s different is the scary debt explosion has gone away.
7/24/13  •  Big Brother is Listening With all the consternation about Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s massive data collection of communications data, it was comforting to hear various administration officials tell us that no one was listening in on our phone calls. However, I’ve begun to wonder about that. Here is a transcript of a conversation LR had just last week. LR: Hey Paulo, it’s LR. Just wanted to go down a food list for our shindig next week. Paulo: We made a run to Costco for beer and soda. Annie’s bringing 7 layer dip and I’m gonna do some guacamole. Only trouble is, you have to make it at the last minute otherwise it turns brown. Male Voice: That’s oxidation. Adding a bit of acidity with lime juice and pressing plastic wrap right against your guacamole will prevent browning. It will keep for several days this way. LR: Who the hell is this? P: Maybe it’s Martha Stewart. LR: Shut up Paulo. Who is this? Male Voice: This is James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence. LR: I thought you guys weren’t supposed to be eavesdropping on American’s conversations. JC: I’m not eavesdropping; I’m participating in the conversation. There’s a difference. P: How did you learn about keeping guacamole from turning brown? JC: I heard it when participating in a conversation with Martha Stewart. P: It’ll go great with a tray of taquitos from El Charro. They’re da bomb! JC in muffled voice: Unit 1 move in. Unit 2 proceed to El Charro. P: Hey! What are you guys doing here? (Line goes dead) LR: Paulo? JC: I’m sure your friend had to run out for some last minute item he just remembered. Keep in mind that your national security is always our top concern. Now, I’d like to hear more about your “shindig”. Paulo never did show up at the party and when I went to El Charro, the whole staff was wearing dark glasses and black suits. Maybe a hybrid Mexican / Men in Black theme? Fortunately, James Clapper brought guacamole. It’s da b…delicious!
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5/22/13  •  Interesting Diversions Blog On the day when a young man’s life has reached rock bottom, about to flat line, he receives a call from his long estranged sister asking if he can look after his niece Sophia during a crisis. Indie film “Curfew” won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film at the 85th Academy Awards. Here’s a surreal scene  where Richie and Sophia have become friends in a bowling alley.   ---------------------------------------------------------------------   -------------------------------------------------------------------- How interesting could music be when played on such a limited instrument as a ukulele? That’s what I was thinking when I read the description. I recently saw the piece on Jake Shimabukuro called “Life on Four Strings”. Boy was I ever wrong. Trailer is here. “Jake is taking the instrument to a place that I can’t see anybody else catching up with.” – Eddie Vedder
Horsehead Nebula
Barred Spiral Galaxy
3/20/13  •  The Real Security Threat  Lots of fear peddling these days. NPR had a piece about the chorus of voices being raised about cybersecurity. It was asserted before the Senate Intelligence Committee that:  “the prospect of a computer attack on the nation's critical infrastructure is now the top security threat facing the country, surpassing terrorism.”  After stating that a cyber attack had the potential to inflict more damage than the 9-11 attacks, it was admitted that:  “Clapper (Director of National Intelligence), in an assessment representing the views of the entire U.S. intelligence community, characterized the chance of a major cyberattack against U.S. infrastructure in the next two years as "remote."”  Furthermore, when one of the “leading hypers” of cyberthreat was pressed by cyber expert James Lewis:  "I said, 'Oh, come on, you know it's not going to be Pearl Harbor,' " Lewis says. "And he said, 'Yeah.' But he wants people to pay attention. And nobody is doing anything."  Yes, computers get hacked, identities get stolen, and industrial secrets fall into the wrong hands. It’s not Pearl Harbor.  What really constitute security threats?         Security Consultant George Smith blogging as Dick Destiny:  Can you see the shaded area where cyberwar and Chinese hacking created the greatest loss of wealth in US history?   My 2 cents: I’d say the mortgage, credit rating, and investment banking industries have a proven track record of being a major league threat to security. Or perhaps this: “The head of the US Navy’s Pacific fleet has declared climate change as the biggest long-term security threat in the region. Anticipating severe typhoons and rising sea levels that will displace nations, he emphasized a weather crisis few had foreseen.” That Pacific threat is short term. In the long term, failure to slow climate change leaves most of the equatorial parts of the world uninhabitable, (given several hundred years). That gets my nomination for global security threat.   3/15/13  •  PsychoSandra is Ready for the Zombie Apocalypse  Swedish makeup artist Sandra Holmbom shows her stuff at PsychoSandra.                   I’ve had my face painted along with my last pony ride, but never anything like this.  2/13/13  •  Very Cool Images of a Freezing Rain  40 Pics from Crack Two. The proper landscape coated with ice followed by a clear and sunny day can provide the most spectacular visual treats one can imagine. Click the link to see them all.  2/22/13  •  Google Searches; You Got Some Explainin to Do  Felix Salmon points out that law enforcement agencies are using their access to Google search history information to lead them to people who may have been researching crimes.   Salmon: I first came across this idea back in November, when Bloomberg Markets profiled Jeff Gundlach, who was hit by art thieves in September: The cerebral Gundlach also gave investigators a tip for solving the crime. He says that while he was at home in his family room, it dawned on him that thieves would do a Google search using his grandmother’s name to find out more about the paintings and how much they might be worth. Gundlach told the authorities that they should check the Internet to see who might have googled the name Helen Fuchs. He says exactly two such searches were executed: one by him and one by the thieves. Which is a great excuse to trot out this hilarious piece by the late, great blogger Jon Swift, who wanted to make sure no one got the wrong idea about his Google searches. Excerpt from January 2006:  So in case Google does lose its case, I would like to take this opportunity to explain some of the searches I did so that no one in the Justice Department gets the wrong idea. As you can see there are innocent explanations for all of them:paris hilton video - I was planning a vacation and looking for a video travelogue about hotels in Paris.nude teens - This was a typo. I was looking for "rude teens" to research a piece on the decline of manners in American young people, which is a very big problem.growing marijuana - I was researching the problem of growing marijuana use in the U.S. I must have left off the word "use."  3/14/13  •  IPO Shenanigans  If you have ever harbored the suspicion that the investment game is rigged against you, this New York Times article by Joe Nocera shows that sometimes financial institutions are the evil, scum sucking entities they have been portrayed as. In this case, the investment bank Goldman Sachs deliberately set the initial public offering price of eToys at a low level, sold the shares to favored clients, and when the price surged, (those were the heady dot com days of the late 90’s before the internet frenzy crashed and burned), went back to their clients and essentially demanded part of the profits be returned to them in the form of increased business.  “The offering price had been set at $20, but investors in that frenzied era were so eager for eToys shares that the stock immediately shot up to $78. It ended its first day of trading at $77 a share.” “The eToys initial public offering raised $164 million, a nice chunk of change for a two-year-old company. But it wasn’t even close to the $600 million-plus the company could have raised if the offering price had more realistically reflected the intense demand for eToys shares.” “Goldman carefully calculated the first-day gains reaped by its investment clients. After compiling the numbers in something it called a trade-up report, the Goldman sales force would call on clients, show them how much they had made from Goldman’s I.P.O.’s and demand that they reward Goldman with increased business. It was not unusual for Goldman sales representatives to ask that 30 to 50 percent of the first-day profits be returned to Goldman via commissions, according to depositions given in the case.”  So much for the self regulatory property of the free market and enterprise system.   2/8/13  •  How’s That Austerity Working for You?  Ethan Pollock points out that austerity, which had been promoted in the U.K. as a remedy to a depressed economy, has done the exact opposite. He compares the economic progress of the U.K., which adopted a policy of government austerity and the U.S., which choose a policy of modest stimulus.   “This austerity package caused the British economy to stall and contract by an annualized 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter, which was predicted by textbook macroeconomics but totally contrary to those who claimed that simply announcing fiscal consolidation would boost the economy. Meanwhile, the U.S. sustained positive trend growth of 2.4 percent—inadequate to rapidly restore full employment but fast enough to prevent a slide into a deeper depression. Fast-forward to today: with the news that the U.K. economy contracted at an annualized 1.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, this means that its economy has shrunk in five of the last nine quarters (since the third quarter of 2010), while the U.S. economy has grown in each of the last nine quarters except the most recent. In fact, over this time period the U.S. economy has grown over nine times as fast as the U.K. economy, which has for the most part totally flat-lined.”  Furthermore, austerity hasn’t decreased the U.K.’s debt:  “In fact, since mid-2010 public debt (excluding financial assets held by the government) as a share of the economy has risen, from 55 percent to 69 percent at the end of 2012.”  Despite evidence from the UK and other EU nations, (Spain, Ireland, and Greece) that austerity depresses economies, the discussion in Washington about an alternative to the “Sequestration”, (real bad across the board spending cuts), is not an argument about stimulus vs. austerity, but what to cut. Wrong argument, but too many politicians seem to believe that the cure for bleeding is leeching.  1/28/13  •  Household Formation and New Home Sales are Up, But...  From the New York Times Economix blog.  Floyd Norris notes that new home sales rose 20% in 2012 over 2011. This is very strong improvement. The downside is that 2012 is the 3rd worst year on record and less than 30% of the best year, (2005), on record.  Catherine Rampell reports that household formation is trending up and is an important part of strengthening the economy.  “Under normal circumstances, each time a household is formed it adds about $145,000 to output that year as the spending ripples through the economy, according to an estimate last year from Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.”  This is why you’ve seen the tongue in cheek tirade about how it is time to show the door to adult offspring still living with the parents. It’s that tough love for their sake and for the economy.   The downside:  “Mr. Zandi said that while household formation has picked up, it’s still below what the demographics suggest it should be, meaning that the “household gap” — the difference between how many households exist and how many there should be based on demographics — is widening.”  This is the crux of understanding the deep economic hole we fell into. We landed, which was very painful, are climbing out, and still have a long way to go.   1/23/13  •  Better Get Out Your Galoshes  The New York Times reports on a scientific study to determine just how high the tides could go in response to climate change. It seems more and more unlikely that world governments will get their collective acts in gear to limit the planet to a 2 degree Celsius temperature increase, which is by some accounts, too much.  At any rate, scientists are searching for Pliocene era beaches, the Pliocene being a time period about 3 million years ago when CO2 levels were about where we will again be in a few years, after 200 years of mankind burning fossil fuels.  Key takeaways:  In previous research, scientists have determined that when the earth warms by only a couple of degrees Fahrenheit, enough polar ice melts, over time, to raise the global sea level by about 25 to 30 feet. But in the coming century, the earth is expected to warm more than that, perhaps four or five degrees, because of human emissions of greenhouse gases.  In most of the previous warm periods, some ice remained near the poles, in Greenland and Antarctica. Today, enough water is stored as ice in those regions to raise the level of the ocean roughly 220 feet, should all of it melt.  The team located suspected Pliocene beaches, (in South Africa), as low as 38 feet and as high as 111 feet above modern sea level. In similar work in Australia and on the East Coast of the United States, the researchers have found Pliocene beaches as low as 33 feet and as high as 295 feet above sea level.  Some of this could be explained by upheaval of the earth itself. The study will evaluate the evidence and try to come up with the maximum global sea level rise during the Pliocene. This is no reason to go out and grab water wings, current estimates of sea level rise for the year 2100 vary from 3-6 feet, which is bad enough. However, combining Pliocene era levels of CO2 with enough time could eventually produce sea levels that are now only contemplated in sci fi movies.  2/14/13  •  Economic Contraction Plagues Europe  New York Times:  “FRANKFURT — European economies shrank in the fourth quarter at their fastest rate since the depth of the financial crisis in 2009, new data showed Thursday, with both strong and weak countries falling short of expectations and raising anxieties of a longer, deeper recession.  Germany and France are now caught up in a slump that was already well underway in other big euro zone economies like Spain and Italy.”  Maybe they need a bit more austerity?