Archive for October, 2013

The other night was a late one and I was craving some greasy spoon. As I had not yet experienced the new Denny’s in Santiago, I drove by around 2am to get my Lumberjack Slam. Closed. On a Saturday night. With ads all over the place about it being open 24 hours. Open 24 hours, except when it makes the most sense.

No bacon for you!

Fuck you, Denny’s.

 

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Having experimented with various electronic toys in a search for decent television streaming, I have finally found a decent toy that works: the OUYA open-source video game console.

ouya

Playstation 3 is great for Netflix and Hulu, but to use it in a foreign country requires setting up VPN. And getting it to work with VPN services is sometimes problematic due to its limited internet settings. Having true 100% VPN on a PS3 means getting a specialty router and/or dealing with flashing the ROM on your existing router, if it can take the software and if the compatible software flash even contains the proper guts to put it permanently on VPN. And then what do you do with other internet devices you do not want on VPN all the time? Then you need a second router, of course! Obviously a complete pain in the ass. To top it off, there is no third-party software for generic video streaming on the PS3.

Xbox allows you to do generic video streaming through XBMC, so it’s not a bad toy to have, but $179 retail for the basic model is not cheap compared to the alternatives, and it’s not a small item to drag around with you if you travel a lot.

Raspberry Pi is cheap and small, but it is also limited in the extreme. It does have a passable OS release of XBMC; however the Raspberry Pi’s pickiness on power sources, lack of integrated wifi, and sound problems on HDMI make it undesirable unless you are fairly tech savvy and can fix these issues. And, by the time you have all the accessories you need to make the Pi viable as a TV box, you have spent more than enough to buy an OUYA.

The OUYA is a cheap ($99), tiny (3-inch cube), yet powerful Android-based console which now has a stable official release of XBMC. Through XBMC you can install the Navi-X plugin (among others) which lets you stream just about every channel known to mankind, from all over the world, for free. Sports, movies, tv shows, live cable networks, video-on-demand, and wacky foreign stuff you have never heard of before. Since XBMC/Navi-X uses generic video streaming, there is no need to use a VPN service for it to work. OUYA has a decent selection of indie video games to boot, and it can emulate older Playstation and Nintendo games as well, not to mention your classic arcade favorites.

At that pricepoint, size, and configurability, it pretty much beats out other video streaming toys like Slingbox.

The downside? XBMC can be daunting to set up for the beginner or non-tech-nerd, and it’s disorganized at best even for those of us who know what we are doing. Fortunately there are lots of YouTube videos for dummies that can walk you through setting it up.

Why not just use your laptop? Well, you can, but then you have no remote control from where you plant your arse, and then you have nothing to geek out on when you get those “must check IMDB to see who that actor is or what other movies they were in” moments. Plus all the constant plugging and unplugging of laptops and cables and adapters everywhere becomes another complete pain in the ass. It’s nice to have just one little dedicated box next to your TV with just the power and HDMI cables to hook up.

With some fiddling, you can get OUYA to stream all the music and video from your main computer, too. All in all it’s a good solution not just for international television, but to wirelessly integrate your media sources.

The 3D Printing Witch Hunt begins

Posted: October 25, 2013 in News
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The Manchester Police, as part of a greater anti-gang organized raid operation, siezed a 3d printer and what they call “suspected gun parts.”

Here, you see what they call a gun clip, which is actually a piece that holds the plastic filament spool of the printer… 3d-printed-gun-factory-uk-police-1

And here, a “trigger” which is really just part of a filament extruder assembly…

3d-printed-gun-factory-uk-police-53d-printed-gun-factory-uk-police-3

But oh, they are making the world a safer place! They *could* print weapons, you see. Big deal. Someone with bad intentions *could* kill you with a hammer or a kitchen knife, and anyone can buy those anywhere. Or with bare hands, in which case what are you going to do? Why go through the trouble of 3d printing when any hardware store will get you what you need for far less, far faster?

The police changed their initial statement after online uproar from people who actually know a thing or two about 3d printing pointed out that these “gun parts” they were raiding for were nothing more than upgrade parts for the 3d printer they siezed:

“We need to be absolutely clear that at that this stage, we cannot categorically say we have recovered the component parts for a 3D gun.”

 

El Pais, with information from Euromonitor International and Agencia Nacional de Vivienda, has put together a study of the costs of living in Uruguay vs other countries in Latin America. The results are not shocking to me, however they might be something you want to look at if you are considering making the move to Uruguay. The short story: Uruguay’s cost of living is double that of Chile, which is the second-highest in the study.

Uruguay highest cost of living in Latin America

Uruguay highest cost of living in Latin America (courtesy El Pais)

The information used in the study was cost of rent/mortgage, home maintenance and repair, utilities, fuel, gas, water, sanitation, etc. Some interesting bits follow:

  • Electricity prices rose 21% in the last 12 months.
  • Cost of home repair rose 15.6%
  • Cost of rental maintenance rose 14.2%
  • Water rose 7.5%
  • Sewer rose 8.8%
  • Gas rose 6.9%

 

Thanks to SwingDanceBob for the link.

 

The news about Chase, HSBC, and others stopping international wire transfers has got quite a few businesses in a bind, including my own. The culprit, after investigation, is the Remittance Transfer Rule Amendment to Regulation E, of the Dodd-Frank Act. This regulation, like all of them, is “designed to protect customers” but in reality, fails miserably.

Summarizing the changes brought about by this crippling legislation:

Banks must now hold outgoing transfers for 30 minutes instead of executing them immediately. During this time, they are required to give the  customer disclosure information in regards to:

  • Exchange rate.
  • Fees and taxes collected by the bank.
  • Fees charged by the recipient bank.
  • The final amount expected to be received abroad, including fees, taxes, etc.
  • Disclaimers on foreign taxes and fees.

In addition, banks must now:

  • Provide a receipt with the same information contained in the 30-minute disclosure, for each transaction.
  • Provide said disclosures in multiple languages if necessary.
  • Devote additional resources to investigation of any problems with the outgoing wire.
  • Be held responsible for botched wires instead of employee incompetence.

This applies to all transactions (not just wire transfers) which:

  • Are more than $15.
  • Made by a consumer in the USA.
  • Sent to a person or company in a foreign country.

This applies not just to banks, but credit unions, money transmitters, etc, any business that sends more than 100 transactions per year. This will affect PayPal, Western Union, even ACH transfers.

 

Bitcoin Rampage

Posted: October 19, 2013 in Investing, News
Tags: , ,

Bitcoin is on another bull run, after Baidu, China’s equivalent of Google, started accepting payments for services in Bitcoins a few days ago. This is welcome news, as it shows large-industry posturing to accept the cryptocurrency despite the USDOJ’s crusade to stomp it out at all costs.

Banks everywhere are shutting down their outgoing international wire transfers. It began with an announcement by JP Morgan Chase, followed shortly by HSBC, and then the others began to fall into the pit as well.

The reason?

Onerous new federal legislation.

To make a long story short, banks are now under a new federal law which limits each bank to 100 outgoing business wires per month. If it surpasses that amount, then the bank is required to hold the subsequent wires for 30 minutes and wait for approval of the sender to accept an exchange rate. This makes a process which previously took mere seconds, now take half an hour. Why this makes sense, nobody knows, but it basically puts a giant kink in the hose where there was none before, mountains of new paperwork, and to avoid the idiocy, most banks are simply removing service rather than comply with the regulation.

What this means for us, the business owners, is that unless we can find a mom-and-pop bank which sends out less than 100 business wires per month, we are screwed as it pertains to wiring money out of the country.

Thanks to my friend BankBob for digging into the compliance crap he deals with every day, in getting me this information.