Monthly Archives: December 2011

Create and Sell Your Own Calendar Online

Like I did!

It’s no secret that I have a serious photography addiction.  With sunrises and sunsets as beautiful as they are around here it’s hard to resist.  The perils of living in a target rich environment I suppose.  As a result I have all these pictures.  What to do?

Over the last couple of years I have been playing around with Zazzle.com.  I have a little store there with some of my pictures on coffee mugs and mouse pads.  I’ve sold a few and it’s pretty neat to see some of the great scenes I capture around here on a mug.  My favorite is the “God Is Amazing” mug with a great shot of Pusch Peak after a storm.  The other is a mug that screams Valentine’s Day gift.  The, “Life is Better Shared” mug features two hummingbirds enjoying a sunrise lit breakfast together.  Aw.

I’ve had a couple of friends asking when I was going to have a calendar for sale.  Well today I finally went through my pictures and have published two calendars you can buy at my Zazzle store.  The Oro Valley 2012 Calendar and the HummingbirdFeederCam.com 2012 Calendar.  The cost is kinda high though.  Almost $21! and I only make $2 of that.  Calendars are half price today at Zazzle, so you might could grab one for $10.50 plus shipping.  I’ve sold a couple so far today!

Still, $21 is kinda high for a calendar.  I don’t care how much you like me :-)  So, I was looking around for a better solution and I found it.  A quick web search landed me at Lulu.com.  I remember my Mom telling me about it.  A site mainly dedicated to self publishing authors, but they also have a slick tool for creating calendars.  Here’s what I came up with.  My self published TonightsSunset.com 2012 Calendar:

Best part is I can offer it to you for $15.99 and I make almost $3. I call that a win win.  Order up a couple today and tell your friends.  2012 is only a week away!

Here is the HummingbirdFeederCam.com 2012 Calendar:

Sylmar Earthquake

I was born in L.A. at a young age (as I like to say) and we lived in Lawndale, California until I was in 3rd grade.  Spending the first 8 years of my life in south-central L.A. meant I got to experience a lot of things.  I don’t remember it being a particularly rough neighborhood, except I do remember a friend of mine got punched in the face because he had a sissy bar on his bike that said, “Sock it to me!”  I tried to warn him :-)

Anyway, one of the cool things about being in Los Angeles was the earthquakes.  You never knew when they were going to hit, but they were pretty fun.  I remember one afternoon in particular.  The water in the fish tank started to slosh and the light above the dining room table started to sway.  We all rushed outside.  Not because we were in danger, we just did.  What I saw next was so cool.  As I looked down the street, it looked like the whole earth was rolling like the ocean!  It kinda made me dizzy.  It didn’t last very long and it wasn’t particularly strong.  Just a rolling quake gently moving through the neighborhood.

Fast forward to February of 1971.  It was 1 minute after 6am.  I had just gone to the bathroom and was crawling back into the top bunk.  As soon as my head hit the pillow the quake hit L.A.  It started out with a shimmer, but was full on shaking in seconds.  Being on the top bunk, it was quite a ride!  Everything in the room was shaking violently and it was noisy.  Stuff falling off the walls, etc.  Then I noticed something extraordinary and I’ve never experienced it since (and hope I never do again).  There was a dimension of sound.  As far as my ears could hear there was a rumble and a roar.  It must be how Hollywood was inspired to create surround sound, but there’s nothing like the reality!

I don’t know how long the quake lasted and I don’t remember being scared, but chances are I was.  My brother Chris was in the bottom bunk and slept through the whole thing!  As the morning progressed we started hearing the damage reports.  No real damage at our house and minor damage in the neighborhood.  I remember we were upset that we still had school.  Some of the windows were cracked and in our classroom a portable book shelf had slid across the room dumping it’s contents.

Further north closer to the epicenter in Sylmar, California it was a real disaster.  An overpass had collapsed on a truck killing the driver.  The worst of it was a V.A. Hospital had collapsed killing around 50 people.  Governor Reagan declared a state of emergency.  The USGS put the magnitude at a 6.6 on the Richter Scale.  Major quake indeed and one I will never forget.

The small quakes really are fun!  It’s the big ones that will really shake you up and could kill you if you are in the wrong place in the wrong time.

Is Your Cell Phone Company Spying On You?

They say no, but it looks like they have the means to watch and save everything you do, say and surf on a Droid smart phone.  Trevor Eckhart is a developer for Droid phones and found a hidden program on an HTC Droid called Carrier IQ.  What Carrier IQ does is log everything you do on your phone, even if it’s encrypted.  He busted this story wide open by exposing just what Carrier IQ is capable of in this rather lengthy and revealing YouTube video:

As the article in Gizmodo states, start at about 9:00 minutes in to watch Carrier IQ in action.

So who is infected with this intended spyware?  Apparently anyone with a decently modern Droid smart phone.  It appears that some iPhones may have the program, but it is easily neutered.  This appears to be an Android phone issue and it looks like it’s some of the cell phone companies that are asking manufacturers to install Carrier IQ.  Apparently not everyone is affected (more like infected).  From a c/net article:

HTC Android devices have no on-off switch for Carrier IQ, while Samsung devices do, but it is not easily accessible or pointed out to users, he said.

Because customers do not give explicit permission for this data collection and don’t even know this software is on their phones, and they can’t opt out of it, Eckhart says it is a clear privacy violation. He likens Carrier IQ to malware.

“Carrier IQ is rootkit software,” he wrote in his report. “It listens on the phones for commands contained in ‘tasking profiles’ sent a number of ways and returns whatever ‘metric’ was asked for.”

The test Eckhart shows in his video was being done with a phone manufactured by HTC.  Just so happens I bought an HTC Evo 4G just a few weeks ago.  I am not to happy with this at all.  No reasonable person would expect that their cell phone provider would give themselves the secret ability to track every single thing you do on your phone.  To say it is outrageous is an understatement!

My carrier is Sprint.  What do they have to say for themselves?

A Sprint spokesman provided a general statement about the use of Carrier IQ, but did not provide comment to follow-up questions about whether customers know about the data collection and why they can’t opt out. Here is the Sprint statement:

“Carrier IQ provides information that allows Sprint, and other carriers that use it, to analyze our network performance and identify where we should be improving service. We also use the data to understand device performance so we can figure out when issues are occurring. We collect enough information to understand the customer experience with devices on our network and how to address any connection problems, but we do not and cannot look at the contents of messages, photos, videos, etc., using this tool. The information collected is not sold and we don’t provide a direct feed of this data to anyone outside of Sprint.

Sprint maintains a serious commitment to respecting and protecting the privacy and security of each customer’s personally identifiable information and other customer data. A key element of this involves communicating with our customers about our information privacy practices. The Sprint privacy policy makes it clear we collect information that includes how a device is functioning and how it is being used. Carrier IQ is an integral part of the Sprint service.”

Bull-ony.  Eckhart has clearly demonstrated the potential Carrier IQ has to spy on customers.  If it’s no big deal then why install the software in secret and why make it so powerful?  While it may not be practical for Sprint to spy on all of its customers all the time, they certainly have given themselves the ability to track and watch any of their customers they like.  Eckhart asks the questions, what are phone companies doing with this information?  and how long is it being stored?

HTC admits to installing the software for some of their customers like Sprint, and HTC is trying to pass the buck.  From another c/net article:

Smartphone manufacturer HTC went further, telling All Things D that Carrier IQ is “required on devices by a number of U.S. carriers,” and suggesting that users contact carriers directly for more information.

While I guess HTC could claim that they don’t know the specific opt-in or opt-out practices by individual carriers like Sprint and AT&T (both admit to using Carrier IQ, Verizon denies using it) I feel like HTC has some responsibility to its customers here.  HTC should have recognized the power of this software and blown the whistle on this.  While HTC may not have the ability to track customers themselves, they have secretly handed that ability to providers like Sprint and AT&T.  I wonder if someone inside the company raised these issues and was told to be quiet, or work elsewhere?

So.  Now what?  I still need to take the time to call and yell at Sprint and HTC.  I am not happy about this and I feel like an appropriate remedy would be for them to provide me with a “virus” free phone.  Whether that means a new (and “clean”) HTC Evo 4G or an iPhone.  Here’s where it gets messy.  I bought my phone through a promotion at Best Buy.  Sprint and HTC would have to make the proper compensations to Best Buy as well as me, their supposed valued customer.

The other track to justice is perhaps more encouraging.  Senator Al Franken from Minnesota (and Saturday Night Live fame) is already taking up this issue.

Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat who heads a Senate panel on privacy, sent a letter (PDF) today to Carrier IQ asking pointed questions, including what data are logged, what data are transmitted, and whether the company believes its software complies with federal privacy laws that prohibit wiretapping. Franken asked for a response by December 14.

Sprint, AT&T, HTC and others have a lot of answering to do.  If there are millions of Sprint customers who deserve a new phone then I suppose Sprint will wait to be sued and try to minimize their damage.  I’m hoping that Sprint will fix this by providing me a new phone or I guess I’ll have to wait and join the class action lawsuit that is sure to come.

Learning to Be Content

Philippians 4:10-12

10 How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. 11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  (NLT) (emphasis mine)

It has been an exceedingly tough year and a half for me.  I have wrestled with many things and I have wrestled with God about many things.  The biggest challenges for me have been trying to find goals to aim myself toward and the other has been even tougher.  Being broke.  So broke that I was spending even more money that I didn’t have on late fees on late rent and insufficient fund fees to the bank (automatic withdrawals to pay bills is not always wise!).

There have been some extraordinary occurrences in the past 18 months as well.  Successes and challenges in the political arena and extraordinary success with some of my videos.  I even had one story make it on Glenn Beck!  Amazing!  And even though all of that notoriety is fun, it doesn’t pay.  I am trusting that it is all leading somewhere, but in the meantime it was discouraging to be on national TV but at the same time having to walk to work because I couldn’t afford gas for my car.

But God has been showing me some amazing things in the middle of all this struggle for money and goals.  The main message has been, quit struggling, trust and wait.  To say that is not easy is an understatement.  How can you not struggle when you feel like you are a chunk of taffy in a taffy machine?!  The best answer to that has been in the period of my want and need God has shown up in many extraordinary ways.

The biggest and best is the way he has used my friends and family to help support and encourage me!  Especially some dear friends of mine who hired me to do work, fed me when I was hungry and spoke life and encouragement when inside I felt like I was dying.  God Himself is constantly reminding me that He is with me, that He hasn’t forgotten me and that He has a wonderful plan for my life.  Just trust, wait and be thankful.

Lately I feel like I am turning the corner.  I am still struggling with my finances, but at least my rent and car payments are now on time.  I’ll take that victory.  My dear friends are now like family.  Another great gift.  My family is closer then ever.  And I am learning to be content with less.  Granted I still haven’t arrived, but as I struggle less and trust God more I continue to see and feel Him encouraging me.  I have learned so much in the last year and a half.  Lessons that will serve me well in the future.  The blessing of friends and family and God’s Love are more precious then a winning lottery ticket.

“Things” are coming a bit more into focus for me.  I am blessed to be a blessing even if that has nothing to do with cash on hand and for that I am thankful.  Still waiting on some things, but wrestling less with God and trusting Him more.  After all, He has the master plan!