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Blockchain: A revolution occurring right in front of our eyes

Blockchain is best known as the technology that underpins Bitcoin, but it is so much more than that. Its uses are endless and in the very near future, we can expect all trade to occur on a blockchain, as well as more abstract uses, such as electoral voting.

Over the last few years, if you’re Internet-savvy, you may be aware of blockchains. If you do, you probably know it as the technology that underpins Bitcoin. If you know more than that, you’re in a very small group of people who actually understand what it does and how it’s capable of so much more.

Let’s take a step back. For those who don’t know, Bitcoin is a “cryptocurrency” which is a currency that uses cryptography to handle transactions. Bitcoin is not backed by any central government as most currencies are today (the dollar is backed by the Federal Reserve and so on) and thus, is not subject to the purview of government. It is in this vein that many people have perceptions of Bitcoin being used for illicit activities. And while it does afford a level of anonymity if one so chooses, its uses go far beyond that and the illicit usage is only going to represent an increasingly small percentage of Bitcoin’s users as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies become more prevalent.

The reason that Bitcoin can work without the backing of a central institution like the Bank of England is what is known as triple-entry accounting, made possible by the blockchain. In modern accounting, we use double-entry accounting, which means that for every debit, there has to be a credit somewhere else. This system has been in use since the 1400s and provides error-checking, but doesn’t stop people from falsifying records (think of “cooking the books” a la Enron).  The “third entry” in triple-entry accounting is a cryptographically-secure public record of every transaction so that these transactions can be verified. This is the blockchain. When you make a transaction using Bitcoin, a record is made in the blockchain and now everyone knows that one wallet paid out some Bitcoins to another wallet and so everyone agrees how many Bitcoins are in each wallet. Continue reading “Blockchain: A revolution occurring right in front of our eyes”

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Fees: the death of your brand’s reputation

We’ve all been there: going through the checkout process buying an airline ticket, or a ticket to a concert and at the last possible second: a booking fee or a caredit card fee or any other number of stupid fees that they can concoct. This is awful for business and I encourage you to build your costs into the fees you charge your customers/clients.

I’ve long had thoughts about fees charged by service providers but a recent experience annoyed me enough to want to write about it.

I booked a trip to Boston to be with family up there over the 4th of July (which always gives me mixed emotions). Owing to the holiday, flights were fairly expensive, so I opted for the cheapest ticket which happened to be with Spirit Airlines.

I was happy with Spirit, having nabbed a reasonably-priced flight over the holiday weekend and everything was going well until it came time to check in.

During the check-in process, Spirit let me know that there is a fee for checking a bag. Okay: that’s to be expected given the current climate in the airline industry and the fact that this is a budget airline. However, what I was not prepared for is that aside from a free, small personal item, they also charge you for your carry-ons. And they’re not cheap. Continue reading “Fees: the death of your brand’s reputation”

Becoming an American citizen

I live and die by my to-do list. Anything that needs doing needs to be in there or it won’t get done. So, when I got my permanent green card 12 years ago, I set up a reminder for earlier this year that I would need to renew it.

After taking a look at the situation, I was presented with a choice: renew my green card for 10 years for $540, or become an American citizen and pay $725 one time.

Previously, I’d never given it much thought. I had zero desire to become an American citizen and very much wanted to retain my British citizenship. But after actually thinking about it and asking myself the question, I decided there were definitely some benefits to becoming an American citizen:

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Why I returned my Nest in favour of an Ecobee

I got a Nest thermostat about 18 months ago. I wanted to take advantage of its smart home capabilities and to use that to help reduce our electricity usage (both for its cost benefits and for the good it does the environment).

Nest seemed like a great choice. With all of the great rebates that were on offer to us in the Portland area, we paid very little for it, and we were excited about how we could customise our thermostat to do whatever we wanted.

Except, we couldn’t.

Continue reading “Why I returned my Nest in favour of an Ecobee”

The logistics of a cross-country move in USA

It’s coming up on nearly three years now since our family moved from Florida to Portland, OR. I wish I had written this post a little sooner, but alas, we’ve been out exploring and enjoying our new home!

While this post is mostly about the logistics of a cross-country move, I have a separate post going over the route we took and the places that we saw over here.

Our move was very much a DIY move. We didn’t have any packers, no trucking company, no nothing. We did everything ourselves, and we learned a few things along the way, which I’d like to share with you to help you avoid some of the inconveniences and pitfalls that we hit.

Getting ready to move

Once you know you’re moving, some planning and organising can really help you out and help you to save some money.

We needed to have a good sense of how much this whole thing was going to cost, so we started looking at costs early on. In doing so, some of the bigger expenses were targets for finding savings. The most obvious of these in our case was the moving truck.

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How to get trip data from Automatic into Google Maps

I’ve had Automatic for a few years now and it’s quietly been collecting a wealth of information about my driving habits. Usually, I’ve never had too much reason to want to use it in great detail, but after my cross-country road trip, moving from St. Petersburg, FL to Portland, OR, I really wanted to recall my route and use it to illustrate my travels.

I didn’t know until I started digging into it just how hard that is to do. Automatic stores the paths (routes) that you take as an encoded polyline, which makes sense for them, as it reduces the size of this information considerably, however it makes the data really hard to utilise and manipulate.

Here’s an example of what an encoded polyline looks like:

{[email protected][email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]

Any idea what to do with that? Yeah. Nor did I. But after some perseverance (because I really wanted to use that data from my 4,100-mile trip!), I figured out a solution.

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We need to rethink addictions

For the last century, the world, led by the US and the UK, have treated addictions as criminal acts that need to be punished. But it’s time to stop and consider whether that makes sense and whether that’s right and appropriate.

If you watch the TED talk below, you’ll come to find out that a much more powerful way to overcome addictions is to engage addicts and give them purpose.

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From Just In Time, to Just In Case

Margaret discusses how our automation and efficiencies are making us unprepared for the future as well as having an impact on society as a whole.

Margarent Heffernan gave a great TED talk about how companies and individuals have trended towards automation and efficiency, which to a large extent is a good thing. However, this can unravel quickly when the unexpected happens.

Margaret talks about how forward-thinking companies and agencies are now moving more towards a “just in case” model of management instead of “just in time” where everything is so planned out, that everything is exactly where it needs to be at just the right time. The theory behind “just in case” is that the unexpected will happen and when it does, the consequences can be devastating, unless you’re prepared to handle perfectly plausible situations even if they would be unexpected.

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The current status of the “Hygiene Hypothesis”

The Hygiene Hypothesis says that Western culture is too clean to allow our bodies to build up a strong immune system. It turns out that’s mostly true, but with an important recent update.

I have grown up hearing that being a little bit dirty is good for you and that it helps to build your immune system. It kind of makes sense and it’s been my general approach to my own personal hygiene as well as how I decided to raise my children.

What I didn’t know (thanks to a recent episode of Stuff You Should Know) is just how new that theory is. In fact, it’s younger than me.

Continue reading “The current status of the “Hygiene Hypothesis””

Why experts cost so much

It takes a long time to become an expert in anything, so when a lawyer, accountant, or photographer charges an hourly rate over $100, you’re mostly paying for the years, schooling and equipment purchased that it took them to get where they are, rather than their actual time.

If a task takes me 30 minutes to do, it’s because I spent 10 years learning how to do that in 30 minutes. You owe me for the years, not the minutes.

Unknown

If you’re a consumer, you may get taken aback by how much certain people charge for their services. These might include professionals in well-established fields like lawyers and accountants, but may also extend to people who are professionals in their own right, but in less traditional fields, like photographers, web developers and wedding planners.

The truth is, these people are experts in their fields and it took them a long time to get to where they are. Certain tasks they can do very quickly, not because they are simple (otherwise you would be doing them), but because they spent years (and probably lots of money) learning and perfecting their craft.

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Visualizing bends rolled in 3D

When working with plumbing, or civil yard piping, you might need to roll a bend to some arbitrary angle, which is where the trigonometry can get a bit tricky.

I had an interesting problem come up today, which defeated my Friday afternoon trigonometry skills.

I was laying out some piping today, and it’s easy to figure out how much distance you’ll cover in each direction if the bend is installed completely flat, or completely vertically, but if you roll that bend to achieve a given amount of rise and horizontal offset, it’s harder to figure out the resultant angle in plan view and how much horizontal distance the pipe covers in the other direction.

Continue reading “Visualizing bends rolled in 3D”