Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I guess I won't be going to Arizona anytime soon

Due to Arizona's new immigration laws H-1B workers (Which includes myself) are now advised to always keep their papers on them to avoid risk of detention.

For those who doesn't know the papers involved that you need to keep on you include, your passport and also your labor certification. A big letter sized paper that is both important and not in any way protected from wear and tear. All in all pretty hard to keep on your at all times for 3 years without destroying them in the process. How would you go running for instance?

I know the rule that in any argument where you invoke the name of Hitler you automatically lose the argument, but this is pretty scarily close to WW2 Germany isn't it? Land of the free indeed?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Really cool video of how the next Mars rover will land

Check out this awesome video from NASA about how the next rover Curiosity will land on Mars on August 5th. I hope it works and it is a glimpse at what you can do when you get a bunch of really smart people together and tell them to do something virtually impossible! And all of it sound to a thumping soundtrack.

How I saved over $70 per month on my phone bill while increasing service

Today I finally cancelled all of my AT&T service as I am switching to StraightTalk. By doing this switch I am still on the AT&T network. My phone bill went down from $114 to $42 per month and I now have true unlimited calling, texting and data with tethering (Before I only had unlimited data). Another feature with my new account is that, since it is prepaid, I can just stop paying it when I go home to Sweden for 6 weeks and then reactivate it when I get back saving even more money.

I've been increasingly frustrated with AT&T lately. First of all there is the whole issue with throttling unlimited data. I was also upset when I realized that they are effectively condoning theft of phones by refusing to block stolen phones on their network (My iPhone 4S was stolen after I had had it for less than a week).

StraightTalk is an MVNO which means that it is a cell phone operator without their own network. What makes them different than the other MVNO:s in the US is that they allow you to "bring your own device". The devices you can buy that are actually paired with the service are kind of crappy, but since I can buy an unlocked phone and use it on their service that isn't a problem. Granted a good unlocked phone usually costs around $700 instead of the $200 you pay on a normal carrier with a 2 year lock in, but given how much cheaper it is per month I can buy a new phone every 8 months and still come out spending less money on StraightTalk than I did on AT&T upgrading once every two years. The phone you get for $700 is also a much better phone than you would ever get buying it through your carrier since it doesn't have any of the restrictions and bloatware that the carriers always insist is put on the phone before they allow it (For instance free tethering is a standard feature on unlocked phones, something the carrier will usually charge you a lot of money per month for). I also never bought my phones through AT&T anyway except for the iPhone since I generally want to be able to use my phone with my Swedish SIM when I go home, so for me it is just a pure win.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How much water do you use?

Given that fresh water might be one of the most precious commodities we have soon as population growth continues. Check out this really cool site that shows you how much water is needed to make common things you use every day.

Can you imagine in your wildest dream that it takes more than 2000 liters (~500 gallons) of water to make one burger? How much water does it take to make a pair of jeans? Go to the site and find out!

Friday, June 15, 2012

What's wrong with US Politics: Part 5, Filibustering

One thing that is odd about current US politics is that they somehow have moved from needing a majority to make any sort of decisions to needing 60% to pass anything in either chamber in Congress. For those not that interested in politics this is because of something called Filibustering.

Filibustering used to mean that you need a 60% vote to stop somebody from talking in Congress and you can not vote while somebody is still holding the floor so anybody who felt extremely strongly about a subject he (Or she) could simply walk up to the podium and keep talking. For example Strom Thurmond talked for over 24 hours straight in an attempt to stop civil rights legislation in 1957.

This kind of Filibustering kind of makes some sense to me. Not only is it fairly strenuous but you will also look like a complete idiot standing on the floor of Congress reciting the dictionary or your favorite recipes or anything else you can think of to keep talking so it comes with a definite cost and you wouldn't do it unless you were really passionate about something.

These days the rules have changed so now someone just has to say that he is Filibustering and everybody goes home. So unfortunately both Democrats and Republicans have started doing this almost as a rule for everything which means that you now need a 60% Filibuster proof majority to get anything through Congress since doing so really doesn't come with any real cost like it did before.

The fix for this is easy. Just go back to the old system of actually needing to perform the Filibuster and stand up there talking like an idiot. I doubt it will happen though since same as everything I've suggest before it would make the life of the people who needs to pass it slightly harder.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Learning to sail in the Grenadines

I just recently went on a two week vacation/adventure to St. Lucia and the Grenadines during which I also learned how to sail a 40 feet Catamaran.

I went on this trip with my girlfriend Lisa DuMouchel (The whole thing was originally her idea) and also joining us was Omar El-Kikhia. The goal of the trip was to attend a one week long sailing course with Barefoot Offshore Sailing School in St. Vincent (The largest island in the Grenadine island group.

First of all the pictures from the trip is available on my Google+ account (All 655 of them). I'm sorry but you will need to sign up to Google+ to be able to see it (If you want to know why read this previous post explaining why it's a bad idea to keep your photos on Facebook).

We started the trip by spending 2 days in St. Lucia and just relaxing except for one day that we went zip lining in the jungle. After that we continued on a puddle jumper down to St. Vincent where we spent one night before we got on the boat which would be our home during the next week.

With us on the boat was also a couple we did not know before hand and our teacher. Before we got on the boat we also took our first written exam for the ASA-101 certification. After that our days were pretty similar in that we got up, had an hour or two of class and something to eat. Then we sailed for a couple of hours. After putting down anchor and having a refreshing swim (And perhaps a refreshing beverage) we had another hour or two of class and finally went out and had dinner or cooked on the boat. Because of our schedule we didn't have much time to do a lot of other activities like scuba diving or paddle boarding, but now that we can rent our own boat that will just have to be next time!

Some highlights of the trip was the snorkeling in the Tobago Cays, the breakfast on Petite St. Vincent and also the improvised barbecue also in the Tobago Cays. The last barbecue was interesting since it is a nature reserve so there are no houses there. You have to bring your own cutlery and drink and then you buy the food that some guys cook for you there. Also pretty much wherever you went you were greeted with magnificent vistas and views.

Another highlight was of course learning to sail and in the end for me and my friends it went great and we all got our planned certifications (ASA-101, ASA-103, ASA-104, ASA-114). The two people we didn't know before hand it didn't go that great for. In the end they managed to get one certification each, but I have to say that they simply didn't get it and I shudder at the thought of them actually taking a boat out by themselves because they would be a danger to both themselves and others if they did so (But fortunately they didn't get enough certifications to do so, so the oceans are safe for now). I also managed to completely avoid getting sea sick even without taking any medication, although some other people in our company were not so lucky.

If there is one thing to complain about it would be the general level of service that you got anywhere you went. People were not rude or not nice, they were. It is just that everything went so slow. Something that is sort of acceptable when you are on vacation but if not I would have gone ballistic at some point during these weeks. Overall though this has been one of the best vacations I've ever been on and I recommend anybody to do it.

Coming back we spent another 2 days on St Lucia at a working Cocoa plantation which was really relaxing except for the one night when our entire hotel room got invaded by ants (We in the end got a new room fortunately).

Next step is to rent a boat and sail around without a guide with some friends. Let me know if you are interested in joining me! It's going to be a blast.

How I digitized my life

As a follow up to the previous post explaining why it's a good idea to digitize your life I figured I would follow that up with how I've digitized my life.
  • Mail - I just use Google Mail. It's simply the best solution out there as far as I can tell. I now have over 100k emails archived and I can search all of it in the blink of an eye. You just can beat it. Also if you signed up for extra storage before they introduced Google Drive they provided you with 20GB of storage that is shared over all the Google services (Google Drive, Picasa, Google+, Mail, Docs etc...)for $5 a year. As long as you are grand fathered in it seems that you get to keep that price which is quite simply unbeatable.
  • Photos - I use Google+ and Picasa. These are basically just two different interfaces to the same underlying service. First of all since Google already knows everything about me already since they have all my mails I don't think them having my photos will reveal much more about me. It allows me to download full resolution versions of the photos and it also allows you easy access to download the entire blob of all your photos as an archive should I ever want to leave. Finally with the combination of the two online interfaces, the Android Google+ app and the desktop Picasa application any kind of administration of my thousands of photos are always a snap. Finally for the love of god get a phone with a decent camera if you use your phone camera a lot!
  • Computer Backups - As I mentioned in my preivous post I use Crashplan. They are very cheap, have a Linux, OSX & Windows clients and provides unlimited storage (I currently back up around 10TB of storage to them). They also provide backup sets with different priorities so that your important stuff is always up to date if somehow it gets a bit behind on the backup.
  • Password Management - I use Lastpass. It is a really nice solution that also integrates right into the browser even on Android. It is also completely "trust no one" where no unencrypted data ever leaves your system (Lastpass themselves are not able to look at your data at any point during them providing you their service). It's free except for when you want to use it on mobile devices and then I think they charge something like $12 per year. If you are interested in a technical deep dive into how Lastpass works check out this Security Now episode.
  • Books - This is a tricky one because no matter what you chose you will be locked into one vendor and switching to another one will most likely mean that you will no longer have access to your old books. I decided to go with the Amazon Kindle. The reason being that first of all they are really good at being available on any conceivable platform. Doesn't matter if it is PC, Android, iOS, Metro or whatever else you can think of. Chances are there is a Kindle application for it. Their app is also really good on any platform and Amazon seems unlikely to go away anytime soon. They also seem to have the largest catalog of books compared to any of their competitors from what I've seen. Finally their dedicated hardware is dirt cheap and really, really good!
  • International Calling - I use either Google Voice or Skype. Skype I use mainly for it's video calling which is really neat. Google Voice though is a really cool service that integrates seamlessly into your Android phone and provides you free texting to any US phone number and also ridiculously cheap international calling (Way cheaper than Skype when calling real numbers).
  • Address Book I use the one provided by Google. It integrates nicely with GMail, Android & Google Voice. It also works fine with iOS devices for those so inclined.
  • Cloud Storage I use Google Drive. They have all the features I need and with the $5/year for 25GB deal I have nobody will be able to touch them on price. Also this service haven't suffered any of the embarrassing security issues that Dropbox have been plagued with.
  • Blogging - I use Blogger for blogging. It's a nice platform that is still actively developed and since I use Google for my photos it integrates nicely with Blogger. I also find it a lot easier to use than for instance WordPress.
  • Online Presence - I use to catalog all the services that I use and which you can get hold of me on.
  • Music, TV & Movies - I've actually rolled my own. It is based on XBMC and Google Jukebox and has been an ongoing project that I first started working on all the way back in 1995. The one feature that this system has that no other service I have seen has is a unique listening history analysis that is used to generate random play lists based on music that I am currently in to. That is what is used to generate my monthly media charts. It all runs off of a server that I have that runs dual redundancy RAID-6 and for the really important stuff runs mirroring on top of that.
  • Mobile Music - Here I have also rolled my own. Currently I only support Android since that is what I use. It supports both streaming and offline playing with delayed syncing of listening history to my home system and also allows me to stream or play offline all my podcasts, lectures and audio books. I currently don't support streaming my TV & movies, but I am plan on adding that soon.
  • Music Recommendations - I use Last.FM. I have set up my own music system to "scrobble" to Last.FM so that it will give me recommendations on new music based on what I am currently listening to on my own music system. Every once in a while I also listen to Pandora, but it is getting less and less as I am moving over to Last.FM.
  • News Reading - I use Google Reader. This is just a basic RSS reader, but it has a ready nice interface and it's basically the only way I currently read stuff online. I hardly never just open a website and browse it's contents unless I am looking for something specific anymore.
  • Project Management - For my private projects I use Pivotal Tracker. It's an awesome service in general and as long as there is only one collaborator it is free.
  • Revision handling - For source code I use Git in combination with BitBucket. I recently upgraded to this from Subversion and it is so much better, even if in my case I don't have a distributed environment and only have one contributor to my projects.
  • Service Backups - I need these since I don't trust any of the cloud services that I use (Not because they are bad, just because I am paranoid). I have backups of all my important services using Backupify except for Lastpass and Google Drive. They had some problems when I got started with the sheer size of my GMail account, but the problems seem to have been worked out now. Depending on the size of what you want backed up they are either free or relatively cheap.
  • Health & Fitness - First off I have a WiFi enabled Withings Body Scale that automatically graphs your weight and body fat on a web page as you weigh yourself on it. It also has ton of apps to show it (My TV even has an app that can show it). I then use Endomondo to most of my exercise although I am evaluating possibly switching over to RunKeeper. Both services have really nice smart phone apps and they also both integrate with my scale so you can graph your weight and exercise in the same chart. I've also considered using a Bodybugg. It seems really cool but I don't want to sit down and start counting the calories in everything I eat (I also don't really care for having another monthly fee).
  • Personal Finances - I use Mint which is a really nice and easy to use service that allows you to see how much money you are spending and earning and even though I have quite complicated finances I haven't found a single US financial institution that I use that they don't support. It also allows you to set up a budget and has tons of other features that I am not using. Even better the service is completely free. Another nice site is Credit Karma that will give you your credit score as often as you like for free. Also the site Quizzle will give you your complete credit report twice a year for free with no credit card required. Finally I do my taxes using the online version of TurboTax.
  • Online Automation - Something that is becoming more important as there are more and more services you might want to have a presence on for instance Google+, Facebook and Twitter. In my case whenever I post something on my blog I want it to show up everywhere. For this I use the really cool site IFTTT which stands for If This Then That. It's just a simple way of setting up triggers and actions that should happen when they are triggered.

One common thread you might notice is how I have basically signed my life away to Google. This is true, but even if all of Google went down tomorrow due to my service backup I would still keep all of my data even if it would be a serious pain in the ass trying to set everything back up again. The key is that there should never be a single point of failure that can cause any loss of data except for the very recent stuff not yet duplicated.

Also you might notice that Facebook is not in the list for anything. I obviously use Facebook, but because of their tendency to try their best to lock you and your data in I don't really trust it with anything really important. I just don't trust that the data will be there in 20 years from now and they don't provide me with any easy functionality for getting the raw data out of it in case I would need to at some point. Photo's being a perfect example where as far as I know there is no way to get the photo back in the original resolution at all after being posted even for the person who posted the photo.

Also one thing that is important is that you actively use your services so that if something happens to a service you try to move to a new service as fast as possible. Usually there is some sort of migration solution available if a service is sunset, but the longer you wait the less likely it is that this is still available and working if you don't jump on it as soon as possible.

Digitizing your life to protect the things you treasure

Digitizing your life can actually help you protect the things in your life you think is important. I've often found myself to be a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to "going digital". Doesn't really matter in what way you mean this. For music I went digital around 1995, photography 1998, movies around 2000, TV around 2003 and finally books around 2007. I also started archiving all the emails I sent in 1998 and finally all the emails I receive in 2009. There are several advantages to having the things in your life that are important in digital form compared to keeping a book shelf with CD:s, DVD:s, photo albums.

First of all I always have access to everything important wherever I am. I can look at all the photos I've ever taken whenever I want to. Listen to all my music, have access to tons of books I've purchased, look up any correspondence I've had. All I need is my phone and some cell phone coverage. Especially for books this is extremely nice since bringing a couple of books when you travel can fill up your carry on pretty fast.

Assuming you take proper precautions there is no single point of failure that can rob you of your memories. If you have physical items it is hard and expensive to ensure you have two copies of everything and it takes a lot of space to store it. In digital form having backups is virtually free these days. Currently few things less than the entire fall of civilization as we know it would cause me to lose any of my stuff while anything physical I have is in constant danger of even just a simple robbery, earthquake, forest fire or flooding. I use Crashplan to make a full backup of everything I have in digital form that is important. It is very affordable and has a lot of really neat features. I also recommend using some sort of RAID if possible on any kind of server you use (I use RAID6 with dual redundancy). You should probably if possible try to avoid using single external drives to store important stuff since the way these drives are usually moved around seem to cause them to fail more often than regular drives.

Most physical items except for mail, photo albums and books need some sort of technology to play it and lets face it, that hardware is not going to be around forever. Does anybody even have a cassette tape player, VCR or vinyl record player? I don't, and I lost a lot of both music, movies and TV shows with their passing. That said the same problem exists with going digital though unless you take precautions. For instance anything proprietary will most likely not be around in the long run. I seriously doubt that you will be able to play anything you buy today on iTunes in 50 years as an example. However if you keep to open formats or make sure you strip away any DRM from anything you buy you should probably be fine. As long as there is an open source implementation to play the format you can be pretty sure it will still be playable while there is anybody still using it. As an example you can still play SID music (Commodore 64 game soundtracks), I doubt anybody has used that format in the last 20 years.

If you use any internet services (Photos is a good example of where this makes a lot of sense) you definitely have a problem of obsolescence there too but you can mitigate this danger by making sure that you first of all choose a service that allows you to easily export all your data in case you wish to move it. Also make sure you have a backup of your data. As an example I use Google+/Picasa to do all my photos and then use Backupify to back them up in case something goes wrong. A service that you absolutely should not use to handle your photos is Facebook. With this service there is no way to get your photos back in original size after you have posted it. Also you have their questionable track record on privacy to consider.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Private space flight finally takes off

The successful launch, and subsequent docking with the ISS is the starting point of a new era in the human exploration of space. And this week Virgin Galactic got FAA approval to start testing their Spaceship Two for suborbital flights.

Private space flight is finally starting to "get off the ground" and I can't wait for it to start catching on. The prices involved for a private space flight is still out of reach for most, but given that people up until now has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to escape earth the $100k that Virgin Atlantic is charging doesn't seem that bad. And keep in mind that when commercial flight started earlier in the last century it was also only available for the very well off. I would be actually be surprised if the prices hadn't come down to a more reasonable price level that I could afford before I get too old to try the experience and me for one can't wait.

Space exploration is the only way to ensure the long (Granted extremely long) term survival of the human race and I hope that we will get started with more ambitious colonization of our solar system soon. By any luck we'll have both permanent moon & Mars bases before the next century comes along and hopefully a couple of asteroids that we can mine for minerals that are rare on the surface of the earth. I also hope by then we will have a space elevator constructed somewhere which will make leaving the earth gravity well no more complicated than taking a train ride is today.

Even though the first tiny steps taken these last few weeks might seem small I hope for all of ours sake that it is the beginning of a new push for humans to start exploring the world outside our little blue marble that we call home and this time driven by commercial interests instead of national pride because commerce will always be there while national pride comes and goes. It is tragic how it was almost 40 years ago since the last human placed it's feet on another celestial body, let's hope it will not be too many decades before we are aiming outwards again and this time lets hope we don't stop!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Really cool all in one BBQ tool

Check out this simple yet brilliant all in one barbecue tool. All I can say is: Mind blown!

You can get it now from Quirky

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cool visualization about how much water there is on Earth

Did you think most of the Earth was water? Think again!

Check out this really cool visualization of how truly minute amounts of water there is on our little blue green globe. And if we start talking about fresh water there there is so little of it, it might as well be a rounding error.

Source Gozmodo

Sunday, June 3, 2012

How do you fix education when 70% of 4:th graders are failing writing?

How do you fix your education when 70% of your 4:th graders are failing their writing tests? In Florida they decided to make the test easier to pass instead of actually teaching kids how to read and write properly. Even though I am not a parent reading things like this just makes me sad. I'm pretty sure kids today aren't more stupid than previous so something else must have changed, but this is not the way to fix it.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

First step to gene therapy against aging

According to this article researchers at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre has successfully tested a gene therapy on mice that caused the life span of the mice to increase by up to 24% from a single treatment at adult age. I hope this translates to humans soon enough for me to make use of it.

Friday, June 1, 2012

You should be careful collecting rocks on the beach?

If you ever collect rocks from the beach this weird story from Gizmodo. A woman just collected a few rocks from the beach down in San Clemente and as she was walking with them in her pants pocket they spontaneously caught fire.