Long-Term Real Estate Investing

How long would you be willing to wait for a plot of ocean-front property near Hawaii if you could buy the land starting at $40 US?  Ten years?  Twenty?  Ten Thousand?

Lo'ihi Development Co. will soon start offering oceanview lots that may not be realistically viable for above-surface residential complexes for a few millenia.  This is because the land that's being sold is currently a kilometer (about 3,000 feet) below the surface of the ocean.

Ya know ... I wish I would think of things this crazy once in a while.  Norm Nichols, co-developer of the online venture, assures people this isn't a scam saying "If you really think there's something here that you can't live with, nobody's forcing you to buy it.  It's meant to be fun."  This reminds me of a few other sites where we are enticed to buy entire star systems, or plots of land on various celestial bodies for relatively small amounts of cash.

What I find positively amazing is that some people actually make enough with these ventures that they only need to work part-time, if at all.  Though unlike some of the other sites, Lo'ihi Development lets you know that this is a parody up-front.

Scientists don't know how long it will be until Lo'ihi will break the surface of the Pacific Ocean.  Some say ten thousand years, while others say never.  So if you've ever wanted to leave something worth absolutely nil to family after your passing, perhaps a few acres of land on this submerged volcano would be a nice parting gift.

Dell's Desperation, or Smart Business Plan?

In a move that's viewed as a major departure from their direct sales strategy, Dell will start selling their Dimension-line desktops at Walmart stores in June as part of a "global retail strategy to provide customers with more options."  Keeping with these options, Dell is also giving American buyers the option to have the Linux variant Ubuntu 7.04 pre-installed on some of their systems.

I guess Michael Dell wasn't too happy when he returned to the company earlier this year after a seemingly abysmal fourth-quarter profit.

What I find interesting is this Ubuntu offer.  By having a system configured with this OS, a customer could easily shave a hundred or two off the cost of their PC.  Of course, that said, the OS will only be offered on three Dell products, and only in the US for the time being.  But this could be a pretty big boost for the incredibly user-friendly Linux variant.

I've tried a few Ubuntu flavours over the years.  Not for a primary computer, but mainly as a "where are they now?" kind of test.  Aside from understandably limited hardware support, this is an operating system that I would feel comfortable giving my parents.  But this does make me wonder if Dell is going to make a real effort at the retail market again.

Last year, the company had opened two retail stores in New York as a test to see whether they could compete against other mixed-market (direct and retail) providers such as Hewlett-Packard and Acer.  There was even a time when Dell PCs were sold at Best Buy, Costco and Sam's Club ... though that ended in 1994 with Dell citing low profit margins on the business.  So I wonder how different things will be at Walmart, where commercials show that happy face happily knocking a few bucks off the price of products ....

The only positive factor that I can see with this move is that now potential customers can try before they buy.  One of the biggest issues I've had with Dell products (aside from their shoddy construction and horrible habit of self-destructing 14 days out of warranty) is that we can't really see what we're buying until we get it.  We can't see if the notebook will fit our hands properly.  We can't see just how big and obtrusive that XPS case is.  We can't see that their definition of "Wide Screen XGA" is actually just Wide XGA (give me numbers on your site, Dell.  Your descriptions suck.).

Well ... now we can.

June 10th is the day Walmart officially starts selling these things there.  I wonder if any of the M-series notebooks will be available or on display.  I've always wondered what the M1210 actually looked like.

Not that I'll ever own another Dell.

.NET on Symbian!

Just the other week I was thinking to myself how great it would be if I could write a blog entry on my phone and upload it either through a GPRS connection or an open WiFi connection that I might find.  What a great app this could be for anyone running a Symbian powered mobile phone such as a Nokia N80!

The primary language for Symbian OS is Carbide.c++.  This is a great little language for people that can work in it alot, but unfortunately for me, it's not something I've had the opportunity to really work with.  So it came as a bit of a surprise when I learned that RedFive Labs has made available a .NET mobile framework for the S60 Symbian devices.

For the last few years I've been working extensively in .NET, with most of my work being done in VB and only a few projects requiring C#.  I have worked a bit in Java and some other languages, but my fundamental skillset is with the Microsoft platforms (for now ... I'll likely be using more and more Ruby on Rails as time passes).  This will now provide a great bridge to empower programmers like me to build apps in an ever-growing market.

A large portion of Japan's cell phones use Symbian and I'm always seeing positions for mobile programmers on job sites like GaijinPot.com, so hopefully this can be another avenue of opportunity as I make my way into the Japanese market.

I've yet to test this framework on any S60 devices (since I just downloaded the Community Technology Prefiew of the framework today), but I'm looking forward to what this framework can provide.  According to the RedFive press release, Symbian devices should operate with the same performance under this framework as they would under any other program written in Carbide or J2ME language.

Depending on how my testing goes, I might just have a few applications that can enable people to update their blog from anywhere their mobile phone has signal.

How Much Is the Internet Worth To You?

How much would you pay for a 3.0 Mb/sec DSL connection?  $50?  $100?  $300?

Telus Wants $2 a Gig

This is the question that some families and many net users will be asking shortly as Telus seems about ready to start charging for usage past their monthly limits.  The bandwidth limits are nothing new but, unlike Shaw, Telus has never made a real fuss over people who have excessive amounts of traffic.  In the last three years my monthly transfer has been between 140 and 210 Gigabytes.

Shaw used to suspend my service when I was 10 GB over limit, while the worst Telus has ever done was send me an email asking that I slow down.

I share my internet with a few others and two of us are heavy downloaders.  The situation is the same for two of my neighbours who have kids between the ages of 14 and 20.  The advantage that I have over my neighbours is some centralized network storage that allows the people I share with to enjoy some of the same things that we all download.

So why the sudden change?  Well, after a quick discussion with someone at their customer service centre, it seems that a very high number of users are moving more than their allotted bandwidth.  So, in an effort to both bring usage down to managable levels and make a buck, Telus has decided to start charging for excessive usage.  And to think, I just got my connection issues solved ....

So it looks like many of us will soon be asking ourselves just how much some of our activities are worth.  Come the end of the month, would we really want to risk paying $2 to download episodes of Daily Show or Colbert Report?  Would we be willing to pay that rate to play online games such as Pangya or some MMORPG?  Just how badly do we want to download that new album that's available?

It might be time to start looking for open WiFi connections again ....

200 Posts!

I'm impressed.

After 200 posts, this site has gone from being just a small pet project to something I look forward to updating daily.  In October of last year j2fi.net started on a small Synology DS-106 NAS device, and was replaced by a proper webserver shortly after Google and Yahoo started hammering that little box like a loan-shark teaching a dead-beat why it's good to always pay your debts.

At first this was supposed to be just a small site for family and friends to come and check out the image galleries.  While travelling I would put up posts on my events and pictures from the day.  And, of course, when something in the news bugged me I would try and rationalize it in some form here.

That was the idea, anyways.

While much of this is true, I've also stretched to discuss things like network storage devices (which seems to be the key draw to this site according to my reference data), SQL Server, space technology and other scientific tidbits, interesting documentaries and just about anything else that tends to make this site appear to have no common theme ... something we're warned about when starting a blog.

Regardless of all the rules and suggestions that I've read in the last eight months regarding the do's and don'ts of blogging, I enjoy the diversity of this site.  From educational discussions to complete rants that often make me appear completely irrational (until someone corrects me), j2fi.net has allowed me to express my tiny voice along with the millions of others that grace the internet.  While I doubt there will ever be any great truth written on here, I hope that some people can find value in what I have to offer on various subjects.

But this is what blogs are really for, right?  It's our inherent need to communicate with others that drives us to start these pages.  Some people have multiple blogs, each focused on a particular subject.  These people often have a great deal to offer and share, which explains why their net traffic is so incredibly high.  The remaining millions have sites with no particular focus, but instead covers a range of ideas, thoughts, prejudices, insecurities, and everything else that makes us who and what we are.  This is the power that lies within blogs.

For the last decade, I've been communicating with people all over the world through IRC.  A text-based real-time chat application that allows users to discuss things in channels, or individually.  What's great about this is that I've learned quite a bit about the world around me.  The people that make up the various nations all around the world.  I've learned that people in Germany are no different than in Canada.  People in the middle-east are just the same as you and I.  No matter where we come from, we all have similar fears, needs and desires.

Our blogs are like static pages of who we are at a point in time.  Like the paintings found on cave walls, what we write will be our personal impression on the world.  In a thousand years, our texts will still be found in an archive on some ancient optical disc.  A future generation will look back and identify with what we have to say on some rudimentary level.

We are a social creature with a deep desire to hear and tell stories, be they personal or professional.  So this blog, like the millions of others, is my attempt to tell the world "I am".

Gigabyte Prepares a New Form Factor

DTX, anyone?

Gigabyte mini-DTX MotherboardWith the fast approaching need for networked home storage, and the desire to house these devices in ever-smaller casings so they hide better in the closet, Gigabyte has announced plans to release the first mini DTX motherboard.  Codenamed "Churchill" (after Sir Winston, perhaps?), this motherboard will be catered towards the home server market and acts as a base for AMD's Live! Home Media Server platform.

This board will support AMD's Socket AM2 Athlon 64 and Sempron processors (single and dual-core, no word on the Phenom yet), and makes use of a relatively cheap SiS north and south bridge.  With 8 USB ports and six SATA I spots (5 internal, one external), there's plenty of room for growth.  What I really like about this is that Windows Home Server is going to be a great platform to run on this board.  Other NAS options such as FreeNAS and OpenSolaris would also find many advantages with this tiny little board, and the potential power that it offers (both of these are great solutions for those who might want to share files between Windows, Mac, and Linux).

Mini DTX is roughly the same size as mini ITX.  What makes this board more appealing than the ITX counterparts is the ability to use desktop-PC processors, and the fact that the mounting brackets will work in most cases ranging from mini ATX to full sized ATX.  The single PCI slot is great for people who want to have a real RAID card in place, or perhaps a SATA II card to replace the slower first generation connections.  I would think that since most media streams fine over a 54 MBit connection (802.11g), the first generation SATA connections would be fine for starting users.  People that need a bit more performance from their servers are typically resigned to the fact that they need to spend more to quench their thirst for speed and availability.

Gigabyte expects to release this board sometime in July, and pricing has not yet been determined.  For anyone who's been planning on building a small home storage server in a small form factor box, this could be a pretty good launching point.

Now if they were to make one on an Intel platform ....

Imaging the Man on the Moon

China has set two more ambitious goals for it's space program this with with the announcement of an unmanned lunar orbiter set to fly later this year, and a probe to Mars in 2009.

The lunar orbiter, scheduled to launch in the second half of this year, will take 3-D images of the moon's surface.  This is the first part of China's lunar landing mission which is slated to occur between 2020 and 2025, right around the same time as NASA plans to return.

An unmanned landing on the moon is expected in 2012 by a six-wheeled rover that is currently under development.  This little robot is expected to have a nuclear power source (rather than a rechargable battery like the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity) which means that it will have one heck of an operational time.  Considering the amount of piracy that comes out of that country, I'm wondering if this machine might be little more than an Opportunity with a nuclear reactor.  While this wouldn't surprise me, I would be curious to know NASA's take on such a revelation.

China's mission to Mars is going to be a joint venture with Russia, and is expected to launch in October of 2009 according to the Shanghai Space Agency.  This mission was first signed back in March, with China contributing the probe and Russia providing the landing vehicle (Phobos-Grunt).

Just to add complexity to the mission, Phobos-Grunt is designed to take rock samples from the Martian soil and return them to Earth.  Hopefully the samples will not be contaminated upon entry into the atmosphere, as this could provide a few more clues about the Red Planet's history.  What I find odd, though, is this return to Earth.  If China were to send more nuclear-powered machines to Mars, then these robots could be designed to run semi-autonomous and carry an array of specialized instruments.  This could prevent any unwanted contamination of the samples and allow the scientific community at large more access to the Martian topography.

Perhaps with this undeclared race to learn more about our closest celestial bodies, NASA can be granted more funding in an effort to complete large hurtles before the Chinese.  This could be the next classic battle between East and West.

Should We Mine the Ocean?

Over 70 percent of the Earth is covered in water, leaving just 30 percent solid land for the six billion humans and countless plants, animals and insects to share.  For the past five thousand years, most of the metals and raw materials that we've collected has been from the land.  Gold, silver, iron, zinc, nickel ... all of these have been found in relative abundance in some parts of the world, and all on land.

With the existing quantities found on only 30 percent of the globe, it would only make sense that in the ocean depths there would be more.  However, I am concerned that in exchange for these base metals, we could seriously damage a little-understood ecosystem on the bottom of the oceans.

Nautilus Minerals, a Vancouver-based mining company with a focus on offshore strip-mining, is currently exploring the potential for gold and copper deposits off the coast of Papua New Guinea.  Their Solwara Project is currently only in the "exploratory stages", meaning that the project is still being investigated, and a few core samples will have been collected while the topography of the region is better mapped and studied.  But I'm wondering if we (as a species) should be collecting our resources from the oceans.

Already we've devastated fish stocks, introduced high levels of pollution to the waters, and interfered with the wildlife enough that their world will never be the same.  Should we now strip mine land that we cannot easily see in search of minerals that can be used in manufactured goods?

I really like the fact that Nautilus Minerals is paying attention to the underwater environment as best it can, and even brought several marine biologists from respected institutions such as the University of Toronto and James Cook University, but I fear that despite everyones best intentions, the fragile world down below could be damaged in ways we never envisioned.

The primary location of interest includes several areas rich in hydrothermal vents.  These areas are rich in sulfur and other minerals, and they also contain some of the least understood plant and animal lifeforms on the planet.  Some of the creatures that call this area home live in waters exceeding 350 degrees celcius.  On top of that, the top layer of the ocean floor is typically very nutrient-poor.  Strip mining the land would mean pulling that soil up to the surface, where it would then be sorted.  Minerals of worth would be kept, while the remaining soil and muck would be sent back to the ocean.  With the soil effectively "tilled", quite a bit of nutrient-rich dirt woud be sent down.  This could cause huge amounts of algae-bloom to occur, which would drastically change the environment for local fish stocks.

Mining the ocean in international waters is highly regulated by the UN, but mining in territorial waters is only regulated by the country pertaining to that area.  To what level will these countries go in order to preserve the oceans?  Will some poorer countries even consider the potential ecological damage that could be caused if a mining organization arrives at their door and offers millions for the rights to mine their oceans?

Nautilus Minerals, and other companies like them, are exploring ways to both collect the minerals that are in high demand while also preserving these underwanter ecosystems as best as possible.  My biggest fear is that despite our best intentions, we're going to make a mess that could have very broad unforseen circumstances.

Get Educated, Get a Job

On the front page of Sunday's paper, The Province, was a picture of a man I have grown exceptionally tired of.  Then on page A3, just to give me something to wipe my butt with while doing laundry, was a full page interview with the guy.  The person in question is David Cunningham.  He's been a thorn in the side of every VANOC member and the regional police for years, and now he's uttering threats against the very people who brought him to "fame".

He believes that his confrontational tactics are working for getting his group's message out about the lack of affordable housing in the Vancouver area.  Since this is the second blog topic I've written about these dolts, I'd have to agree that it does get them some attention, albeit negative.

I'll agree that homelessness is a problem in the Vancouver area, but I don't think that uttering threats against the members of the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) will do much good.  Heck, if it wasn't for the coming Olympic Games and the once public VANOC gatherings, David Cunningham would be one of those people known only by the police as a recovering drug addict.

Deeper in the paper, I happened upon an opinion article that comes pretty close to how I feel about the situation:

I am a single parent of three children.  I have endured the hardships of poverty, collected welfare and been a low-income earner, and I know very well what it is like to live in poverty.

I know what it feels like to stand in line at the food bank, not knowing where the next jug of milk is coming from and to have to tell a hungry child that there is nothing more to eat today.

But I have never screamed or whined about it.  I never laid blame, and I certainly never harassed those who had more than me.  Instead, I chose to educate myself, geta  better job and provide a better life for myself and my children.

The best way to fight poverty is to remove yourself from it.  Get educated and get a job.

- Debra Morris, Langley

While I haven't had to go through this dire situation (nor can I even imagine the stresses this woman must have felt), I couldn't agree with her more.

Five years ago I was in a crunch after moving to BC.  I had no friends or family close enough to really help.  I had no work.  I was going anywhere from four to six days without food, all the while looking for work, walking from place to place with an envelope of resumes.  I was past due on rent, and I had lost 70 lbs in five weeks.  I was in a terrible position and wouldn't wish that circumstance on my worst enemies.

But I kept looking, and I kept my head up.  Luckily, I had an understanding landlord who let me pay back my outstanding debt at a later date, and I eventually found work.  To this day, that first paycheque for $173.70 was the largest paycheque I had ever seen in my life, despite the fact that I earned much more before the move to BC, and I earn much more now.

I never blamed others for my lack of work.  Although I had some choice words for the people that said they had hired me before my move, I didn't hold them accountable for my welfare.  I was capable of making my own decisions, my own mistakes, and living with the consequences.  I did have some help from family when the going got really tough, and in the end I made it through.

We're all in control of our own destiny.  Yes, the costs have risen quite a bit in the Vancouver area over the last five to ten years, but we can't expect the government to be held accountable for maintaining our standard of living.  Many of the people that are homeless due to circumstance are dedicated to getting back on their feet and often accomplish it with the help of many help centres throughout the city.  Renting a furnished room in the suburbs of Vancouver will cost anywhere from $100 to $400 a month.  How much would subsidized housing cost?  No doubt the same.

If people are truly upset that they're living in the street, then it's time for them to educate themselves and do something about it.  I'm so sick of hearing people say "they won't give me a chance" or "I'm too old to change".  If you've already given up on yourself, give me one reason why my tax dollars should go to help you.  I paid more in tax last year than I made in the entire 2002 year, and I'll be damned before I give up more of my earnings to people who don't even have the courage to make something better of themselves.

Yes, being poor sucks.  Especially in Vancouver when it seems that everyone has a BMW, 'Benz or Porsche.  But if people aren't willing to help themselves, then I'm not willing to listen to those who scream and shout "not fair" to everyone that's earned what they have.

Forget Orion, NASA

I don't know if it's the latte or the fact that I'm a very opinionated person, but I can't stand NASA's planned Orion Crew Vehicle.

I grew up watching the space shuttle launch into orbit, complete some great missions and return to earth with it's crew safe and ready to share the knowledge learned in space with the world.  The Gemini and Apollo missions using massive multi-stage rockets and a tiny crew capsule with less computing power than a $20 pocket calculator were exciting vehicles from the past generation of space-flight, and was expected to stay in the past as science and technology brought us ever closer to a completely reusable space vehicle.

I understand that it's tragic when a shuttle is lost, but I don't think that going back to fitting humans inside a warhead-like vehicle and ejecting them just to just beyond the Earth's immediate gravity well.  That was okay 30 years ago, but this is the 21st century!

I know my opinions carry very little clout at NASA and even less within the American government's ranks, but we humans are smarter than this.  The idea is to create a vehicle we can take to another celestial body, land, do some stuff, then return.  A noble goal indeed, so why not make use of better technologies that are available for bringing cargo and personnel into low earth orbit, and go from there?

Despite the snickers from skepticle aerospace engineers around the world, space elevator technology has really taken off in the last decade.  In 2004, NASA even requested 2.5 million dollars to conduct more detailed feasibility studies of these elevators and the role of new materials such as carbon nano tubes can play in building them.  The science is there.  The technology is there.  We just need to actually do it!

Of course there are a bunch of challenges that still exist.  Space debris, natural corrosion, the effects of terrestrial and solar weather patterns ... the list is quite extensive.  But despite all these hurtles, we humans are intelligent enough to find the solutions required to make this work.

What I really like about the space elevator idea is that the risks involved with sending payloads and people beyond the relative safety of our planet will be greatly reduced.  No longer would we be using barely controlled explosions, but instead a relatively benign technology.  There would still be perils, sure.  But the same can be said every time we cross the street.

In order for a space elevator to be truly effective for us, the cable would have to be about 100,000 km long.  Using carbon nanotubes, that's one heck of an engineering feat.  Then on the end of this cable there would have to be one heck of a counter-balance.  I would think that a space station would be a great solution.  While I doubt we would be immediately visited by extra-terrestrial visitors in search of trade or vacation, a station would be a great launching point for interplanetary vessels too large to launch from the Earth.

Countries are gearing up to go not only to the moon, but to Mars and perhaps beyond before the end of this century.  So why not have the infrastructure in place to allow massive (by today's standard) vessels to be built?  A space dock, if you will.  Then, instead of building the Orion Crew Vehicle and strapping it to a rocket, NASA (or a commercial organization) can construct a vehicle that only needs to escape the gravity of the moon, Mars, or some other body in the endless expanse of outer space.  With the reduced costs involved in sending material up the elevator we could certainly cut the cost of space travel, and this might just be what the space tourism industry needs.

I fear that with the advent of the Constellation Program, NASA is taking a step back and limiting their future potential.  I know the costs involved with space travel and the technology behind it is not cheap.  NASA has been forced to work with less money every year, and it seems their needs have been set aside even more thanks to the costs involved with America's involvement in the Middle East.  But the International Space Station is a great example of what can happen when several countries work together to solve a problem.  A space elevator can be just as great, and the long-term savings will make its construction all the more worthwhile.

So to this end, I'd really like to see the aging shuttle fleet be granted a small reprieve with their retirement planned extended to 2015.  In the next 8 years elevator technology could be refined even more, and we could have enough of a platform in place to bring people and materials to the ISS, and even send better designed vehicles to the moon and back.

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