Monday, June 21, 2010

GTOW (Geek tip of the week)

Serious tip this week.  What can you do for the oil spill?  Answer:  drive 4.2 less miles per day.

The whole thing is explained in detail in Maggie Koerth-Baker's story on Boing Boing:

In a nutshell: To rid ourselves of the need for offshore drilling we need to reduce our consumption by just 9%.  After the math it works out to 4.2 miles less per day.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Energy-Independent Future

John Stewart lays out the last 8 presidents on our oil addiction. He is once again my hero:

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

GTOW (Geek tip of the week)

Back to simple tips this week...  Shave like a geek.

Here it is:

Save your money - Forget the electric razors - unless you have a specific kind of beard they never shave worth a darn and force you scrape back and forth repeatedly leaving you with red, rashy, skin that everyone thinks is weird but no one tells you about.  Like having that chunk of green stuff in your teeth.

Save your money - Forget the expensive razors with 15 blades and strip of gunk.  They don't work any better than a single or double blade.  Get the cheapest disposable you can find.  I still use the Bic sensitive skin razors that cost about $2 a dozen.

Spend a little - get good shaving cream.  The good stuff comes in a tube like toothpaste (I like the Every Man Jack brand).  If it comes in a can it's foam - or a gel that turns into foam.  Useless.  The entire point of using this stuff is simply to lubricate your skin so the blade doesn't scrape it off.  Foam is just money down the drain.   If you run out - just use a nice layer of whatever soap you've got.  Still better than foam.  Terrific if you have a good shaving brush to froth it up with.

Spend a little more - get a good after shave lotion.  NOT the stinky liquid crap!  A real lotion.  Even with the best cream and a fresh blade you will still scrape off the top layer of skin.  Be nice to the new layer.  For you guys in the audience - I recommend Neutrogena men's after shave lotion.  The Every Man Jack stuff is ok but doesn't seem to be absorbed as well.

The final big tip - shave In the shower.  The girl geeks figured this out a long time ago. 

Guys - Spend a little and get a shower mirror.  I think I put down about $10 for one at Target about 15 years ago and I'm still using it.  This is the real magic.  The water softens your beard and you never make another mess in the sink.  If nothing else this will save you about 10 minutes in your morning routine and your face will thank you.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

GTOW (Geek tip of the week)

Thinking like a geek:  Ideas you can bank on.

Geeks hate the phrase "think outside the box".  We hate it because that's where we live.  By our nature we look for new ways to accomplish a goal.  Telling us to TOTB is like telling us to breathe.  It's annoying.  Being able to think this way however is what gives us whatever advantage we have in this technological world.  For example.  Geeks play this little game.  It's called "did you hear?" or "have you tried?".  We play at one-upping each other by being the first to hear about a new discovery or news item or to be the first to try a new gadget/app/website.  It pretty much means that we are always on the very edge of what's happening in the world 5 minutes ago.

I often hear the words come out of my mouth "did you hear..?" when talking with non-geeks.  Their eyes go wide with wonder that I've heard about the latest news development when it's only 4pm.  How could I know that?  The news hasn't been on yet.  When pressed about how I know - I most often just hold up my Droid.  The non-geek then quickly dismisses me/it.  That's not real news and only freaks think that you can get news on that interweb thing...  6 o clock or the newspaper is the only real news.

Um - if this was a business competition.  I'm at least an hour ahead of you on the latest - plus I probably have read several analysis of the report and maybe even have some inside info via twitter from someone "on the ground" that you won't get.  Because it's my nature to look for more efficient ways of achieving a goal.  Writing off a solution because it's not the way you have always done it is to limit yourself. 

This is like never trying new food.  I've never understood how people will refuse to try new food just because it's not what they normally like.  Why would you limit your life experience like that?  Imagine never trying steak or ice cream simply because it's not fish and sweet rice (or vice versa). Crazy!

I'm going to give you a real world example.  This WILL make your life better.  I guarantee it.  I live this, and it's awesome.  Geeks reading this that aren't (yet) doing what I'm about to present will facepalm simply because they hadn't thought this through yet (or they are married to a non-geek).

I would however bet your house, that a high percentage of the people that read this will simply shake their heads and say "that's crazy" or it would never work for me because... (insert rationalization here).  Tell yourself whatever you want but the real reason will simply be - because it's not the way I've always done it.  You have to live with that. 

Here we go:  (please bear with me as I have a conversation with myself)

I hate dealing with money.  I hate bills. I hate going to the bank.  I really hate wasting my life balancing a checkbook.  It all sucks rocks.  How can this process be made better? 

Lets take this a step at a time.  First, the easy stuff.  I can mostly avoid going to the bank if I sign up for direct deposit.  Wait - how will I know when the deposit is made and for how much?  Simple - my employer still gives me a statement.  Maybe it's electronic at work.  Plus I can see my bank account online.   What if there is a mistake?  Well, what if there's a mistake the way I do it now?  Good point. Ok, Direct deposit it is.

Next - I hate wasting time on that damn checkbook.  How can I deal with that?  What causes the problem... Well really two things.  First, I have to keep two sets of books because it takes time for the checks to clear.  Second there are at least 4 separate possibilities for errors to creep in when humans (myself, the payee, the bank, and myself again) can screw up.  Plus I never really know how much money I've got.  Solution - stop writing checks and just use the debit card and cash.  Everything is automatic.  No humans involved.  But then how do I balance the checkbook?  Oh that's right - I don't have one.  How do I know how much money I've got?   Your bank is online dummy.  What if there's a mistake?  From where?  Humans are the problem with checkbooks.  A debit card is direct with no human hands to hose it up. (except outright fraud and paper makes that even simpler)

Note: I actually find that when I make a purchase - the transaction has posted to my account before I get home.  I have a running, accurate to the minute balance all the time and NEVER waste time balancing my checkbook. (I don't have one anyway)

Now the last one - Bills.  How do I pay bills when I don't have a checkbook?  Use your bank's online bill payment service.  But that costs money!  So do stamps, envelopes, and gas.  Plus what's that Saturday afternoon you spent paying bills and shuffling paper worth to you?   Spend the time that you normally use to pay bills once.  Setup your payees on your bank's system and be done.  From then on paying bills takes a few clicks. 

Note: My bank's system already knows addresses or has electronic connections with almost every possible payee.  In many cases it's possible to receive my bills directly into my banks system and do away with the paper and even emails totally.  I just log in and see what's due.

The final hitch(s).  How do I pay individuals - like friends or my tax accountant without a checkbook?  And more importantly, what about pizza delivery?  The answers are:  Online banking, Cash, PayPal, and online pizza ordering.  First, my bank's online system allows for payment to individuals - they send a paper check but it's immediately reflected in my account.  No waiting for it to clear.  Second you can allways pay your friend in cash, via your bank's system, or via an online system like PayPal (admittedly PayPal is probably more accepted with your geek friends).  Lastly, ordering pizza online is awesome!  Quite possibly the peak of our civilization!  Do it one time and you will never go through repeating your order 16 times to a stoned teenager working 10 lines again.  I promise.

What if I get a check from someone else?  Try to get payment from others via PayPal or in cash.  When that fails you will have to make the trip to the bank.  This is changing though - some banks are now allowing you to deposit checks based on a photo or a scan of the check. At least one bank includes this feature in their iPhone app.  About time.

Lastly - how do I float a check?  A - Don't.  If you have no checkbook you can't anyway.  Honestly - this system will make you an honest person with your money.  It will make you MORE responsible because you will always know how much you have (or don't) in your account.  My only caution here:  You must fully adopt this method.  You cannot partially or mostly do this.  If you keep a checkbook - you will hose yourself.  Get rid of it.  There is no hybrid solution.

This is quite possibly the greatest geek tip.  It will forever change your life for the better.  It's up to you to think like a geek, reason it out and make the change.  Simply dismissing this because "it won't work for me" puts you in the same group with those that dismissed the horseless carriage because it had no horse.

Please don't hesitate to comment or email me about this one.  I guarantee I can answer your questions and "what-if"s.  I've been handling my money this way for 5 years and I still marvel that I ever thought a checkbook was a good idea.

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What's Happened to Apple?

I'm about as far from being an Apple fanboy as you can get and still like and respect the products.  I do think that their version of *nix is pretty nice -if a little dull- and I've always admired the aesthetic design of their hardware (and the ability to charge and get premium buckage for it).  Less the original iMac that looked like vt100 terminals and the Barbie iPurse version of the "iBook" of course.


What I'm really talking about though is that since Apple originally ripped of Xerox they have been pretty constant innovators.  Not in the Microsoft sense of the word (we are inovative because we say so dammit!), but truly bringing something new to the market and doing so repeatedly.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE my android phone - but credit where it's due.  The iPhone broke new ground with the inclusion of multiple sensors and a full face touch screen.  The Mac Mini is at least a clever repackaging, and things like the magnetic power connector on the apple laptops and the way the Airport just plugs in to an outlet - all innovative and some would even say elegant.

Recently however "Think Different" doesn't really apply - unless you think you want a silver computer with exactly the same set of software that Steve Jobs and every other apple owner has.  Apple is pretty much the Harley Davidson of the computer world.  Great brand recognition and owners that espouse their difference from the mainstream.  All the while trying desperately to fit in with all the other folks wearing the same clothes, and buying the same machines and accessories.  Lets just hope that leather chaps never catch on.  Imagine the fat geeks at MacWorld... Shudder!


Case in point.  The last two big announcements from Mr. Jobs.  Take the the iPad.  For one - Apple got beaten into producing this product by it's own fans.  Second - it turns out a big iPod touch is just, well, a big iPod.  I don't care how many they sold it's just not innovative.  The iPad is like this year's big boobed actress that plays her role in the explosions and cleavage formula  for any given summer action movie.  Sure it's sexy and just what you expect, but then it's just what you expect isn't it? You aren't really satisfied but, you don't really feel ripped off - unless there aren't quite enough slow motion, running from the explosion in a tank top scenes.  BTW - Mr. Jobs, We ARE still waiting on those cleavage shots...

Then today.  Not only is the iPhone 4 a dud - it was actually outed weeks ahead of time, to exacting detail, on several blogs.  The big news?  The iPhone hardware has almost caught up to the high end Android phones.  Oh and there is a video chat app.  Triple yawn!!!  Plus it appears that they are outsourcing their industrial design to Microsoft.  Check out the white version (Children and those with weak constitutions might want to shield your eyes).. 

I was hoping that all the blogs were acting on miss-information and that Mr. Jobs had something cool up his sleeve again.  Like a device that really does something with augmented reality.  Put the gyro, a camera and a display in some librarian glasses and have Ms. Bigg Boobs show them off on stage!  Now that would have the fanboys - well, drooling like fanboys...


Ms. Information indeed!  I guess Apple's reign of innovation is over.  It's all up to you now Google!

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

GTOW (Geek tip of the week)

This week we swerve into some deep geek...  Router setup and then content filtering - geek style!    Don't run away - it's not nearly as tough as you might think.  If you are totally freaked out about this topic - at least give the geek squad a call and hand them a copy of this article to make your wishes clear.

First - why should I care?  Well folks, I fear the days of open WiFi are over.  Not because of hackers getting into your secrets on your home network but thanks to stupid ISP policy and even law.

A friend of mine recently got his "first strike" warning from his ISP for downloading a film that he would never have any interest in seeing.   The film in fact was contrary to both his political and religious beliefs.  He is an IT professional and has a good gauge on the technical abilities and proclivities of his children.  When he says he did not download this film - I believe him.  His wireless net had been in existence for some years and was, however setup with some pretty simple security by today's standards.  Plus if I personally were going to do something of  nefarious nature online - well that neighbor with the open SSID of "Netgear" would be my first stop.

Time for a tuneup.  First of all LifeHacker is running a story that goes over the basics of securing your router so I will defer to their article - For security sake, pay particular attention to the section on setting up WPA encryption. If you want to earn the propeller beanie award and continue below with setting up content filtering you will also need to complete the section on dynamic dns... 

Then come back and continue...

Content filtering.  If you have kids in the house and care about what they see online this is the section for you.  Now maybe you are one of those parents that says "no computers in the bedroom"  - well that used to be enough.  These days however iPods, phones and hand held games like PSP's and Gameboy's have wifi capability too. 

Many routers come with paid options to perform content filtering services.  Some actually work.  If you don't mind paying a monthly fee in exchange for clicking that one button.  Well then, click it and stop here.  But no beanie for you.  For those that are cheap bastards (like me) and want a filter that actually works, and doesn't require any maintenance on your part - welcome to geekdom.  Read on. 

Here is the overview of what we are going to do:  Finding sites on the net requires the ability to query DNS servers for the IP address of the site.  If you control DNS - you pretty much control where your little hackers can go*. So. we are going to take control and then use DNS servers that direct queries to sites we don't like, to a page that wags the virtual finger.

Be aware - There are ways around this* but if your kids are smart and determined enough to pull them off - well stop worrying about porn sites and start saving for a Co-Sci degree.  (or lawyer fees)

The first step is to take control of DNS.   Your router should have a setting - probably in the LAN configuration where it asks if it should be the DNS server for your network.  It might also ask if it should be a DNS caching server - answer yes.   You can also tell if this is allready setup by looking at your workstation's settings.  On Windows - type ipconfig /all at a command line.  If your DNS server(s) are the same IP address as your default gateway - your router is already serving DNS for your network.  This is the default setting for most routers.

This is very important, before you go on with any of the steps in this article:  Go to the WAN setup on your router.  Set the DNS servers to and  Let your router re-start.

Next, we need to make sure that your little dears can't just manually set the DNS servers on their iPods and go right around this measure.  This is probably the most technical part of this article.  Go get yourself a bourbon and settle in.  

You will need to setup two rules on your router.  You might want to go download the user/administrators manual for your router and have it handy.  Before doing this you need to know two things.  First - DNS runs on port 53.  Second - firewall rules generally work in a way that is referred to as an ACL (or Access Control List) fashion.  Basically you list the rules in the order you want them evaluated.  I.E.  If you want traffic to go through to a particular site you put that rule before the rule that says "Deny all" working from the top.  When it gets traffic the firewall will work down the list in an IF - THEN - ELSE logic.   IF the traffic meets this criteria THEN do this action, ELSE move on to the next rule. 

Find the rules section in your router and create one that allows traffic from any system on your network, on port 53 to access the servers and  (these are the DNS servers we want to use) On most routers you will probably have to define both of these IP addresses and then put them in a net group that you can reference in your rule.  There may be a section called "definitions" or "rule elements" where you do this. 

Next - right below the rule you just created - make another rule that denies all traffic on port 53 to all sites.  You have just made sure that the only DNS servers that can be used from your network are those that belong to OpenDNS.

Now we need to tell OpenDNS what you do and do not want to be able to access from your net. Unless you are paying for a fixed IP address from your ISP (you would know if you were) you need some way to give OpenDNS a way to identify traffic from YOUR network.  Now is where that dynamic DNS setup from the Lifehacker article comes in handy.  Go to and create an account (it's free).   When OpenDNS asks how to identify your network, use the dynamic DNS host that you setup (eg:  Then set the level of filtering that you think is appropriate for your kiddos.  Save.  Give OpenDNS a little time to complete the changes and you are done.   Test it by attempting to access a site you know should be blocked.  If you blocked Adult/Porn - try 

Now that you have done all this work on your router/firewall - don't forget to BACK UP the settings.  Now go reward yourself in geek style and be proud to wear the propeller beanie!  

*Notes:  Yes, you can get around this type of filtering by knowing the direct IP of a site or by doing something like an SSH tunnel to a proxy but be serious.  You can watch logs and block a hand full of specific IP's if needed and if your kid has the chops to setup an SSH tunnel he's smart enough to know trouble when he sees it.

Recommended reading:  WPA encryptionBad Laws

Recommended sites/services  OpenDNSDynDNS

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