The amazing power of Comcast

A week ago or so I received a robo call from Comcast/Xfinity saying that my current cable modem as too old and it will not support the speed improvements that they were doing with their network. But I was eligible for a free upgrade and I had to reply to some mail that I was going to receive or go to some website for more information.

When you receive a message implying that my internet could be faster, of course I complied and requested a new cable modem. And that cable modem arrived yesterday.

Before I installed it, I decided to do a speed check and then compare with the speed of the new modem. Surprise: nothing changed! I still have 30Mbps down and 6Mbps up after installing the new modem (which, by the way, is about double the size of the old one). So, besides the size, what is new? A couple of "Trojan Horse" things:

  1. Support for their phone service: if I decide to use the Xfinity phone service, I don't need a new box, they just need to activate it and I connect a phone to the back of it and I'm good to go.
  2. Expansion of their "free" WiFi system: basically everybody that has their router receive the ability to have an "xfinitywifi" network. I actually don't care too much about it. I do believe that they could have gotten the technology right and create an isolated network that does not use the same IP that I have and will not affect my bandwidth much. My concern with it is:
    1. It adds even more WiFi networks around me - see the list below
    2. It's not trivial to turn it off. I can't even turn off the WiFi that comes with it to use internally. I already have WiFi at home and I spent a lot of time having to expand my network to put the WiFi in a place that the whole house is able to work, and that's not anywhere close to where the cable modem is.
IMG_0763.PNG

Thanks, Comcast...

Thinking of the new Squarespace 7

It's actually interesting what is going on with user interfaces... Basically little by little, everything migrates to WYSIWYG-style. Squarespace 6 was a step in that direction but created a very strange environment in which you could edit the site "inline" or on a different UI. And some things would be editable in one place, others in another (e.g. sidebars would be configured in one place (show/hide/left-right), and populated in another). It was very strange, but, at the same time, it would make it cleaner to see the preview without a lot of menus appearing when you mouse over things, etc.

Now Squarespace moved to their version 7 and pretty much got rid of the non-inline editing mode. Now all my edits happen directly on the preview. It's pretty cool as a technology, but it does bring an interesting set of challenges. For example, on the SJC website if I hover on the menu on top in edit mode, there is an overlay of "Navigation | Edit" that actually covers part of my menu! Also sometimes my mouse is hovering on something and I don't notice and suddenly there is "extra content" on my page that I didn't expect.

But it does streamline editing. I haven't played with it that much, but I think it's a step on the right direction. The most important thing that they did right this time, that they couldn't do with the Squarepace 5 to 6 transition is that it's a feature that I can turn on for my website and not a matter of redoing the whole website as they required for the previous transition. Great job, Squarespace!

New year!

It's now 5775, huh? That's amazing how an year can go by that quickly. 5776 was an amazing year. A lot of stress, a lot of learning, a lot of changes. 5775 is likely to be completely different from any other year. Work will still be there and still be busy. Outside that, nothing will stay the same. But that's a good thing! Looking forward to it.

Besides that, I don't really have anything new to report. A lot of ideas going through my head right now, but no way to actually act on any of them. It's probably the sleep deprivation causing my brain to go into an overdrive of sorts. Probably they are all really bad ideas, which is something that also happens when you are sleep-deprived. Anyway, Shanah Tovah everybody! And ready for a week of reflecting about my past year. I think this one is going to be easier than the last couple.

Funny blog comment spam

Apparently I still have old blogs laying around out there that allow people to spam the comments. Most of the time those spam messages are boring. I get things like "I really like your post. You should check my blog". But this one, while in the same class, was funny because of a number of things. Before I enumerate them, though, let me paste the comment (links removed to not drive people to and from their site, as I don't know what it is):

 

Thai recipes commented on Challenged by real-world ontologies - recipes

One of my apparently never-ending projects that I've spent a lot of time thinking about lately is how to build a system to …

Have you ever thought about creating an ebook or guest authoring on other blogs?
I have a blog based on the same topics yoou discuss and would love tto have you share some stories/information. I know
my readers would apprecioate yiur work. If you're even remotely interested, feel free to shoott me an e mail.

So, what makes it funny in my opinion:

  1. Spelling: if you want to try to get somebody to guest author in your blog, or something like that, make sure you are a good writer so that people want to be "seen" with your posts.
  2. Topic: my blog post is about ontologies about recipes and not recipes themselves. The "person" that commented comes from a blog called "Thai recipes", which doesn't seem to be very related.
  3. Lack of specificity: if you are trying to convince somebody to join you, you should be a little bit more specific what you think can be the help on both directions.
  4. ebook? I didn't get the reference to writing one. Why would I be flattered if somebody asks me if I want to create an ebook?

Anyway, I don't even know my password to access that blog anymore (probably I could recover it if I really wanted to), so I don't plan on doing anything else about it.

I should get back to thinking about recipe ontologies, thought. It was a great source of entertainment. I just need to first get to having time. Today I did have time, but was spent dealing with my backlog at work from my 3-week paternity leave/vacation.

I'm a father now, huh?

My first son, Elan, was born last week, on the 11th of August at 2:51 in the morning. Everything went well, even though it was a pretty long process. And now I'm a father!

It's an interesting transition. You get 9 months of heads-up and you try to prepare yourself, but in the end the preparations end up being only physical (buy most of the things that you need - there is always something that you forget, fortunately all minor), and theoretical (I think I'm ready because I think I can delay my projects, or do less of some things so that I have more time for him). But only when he is actually born you realize that there is a practical side to this. Yes, it's hard to do anything else (well, at least for now that he is very inconsistent on how much he sleeps and when he will decide to do things). And because I'm not taking the brunt of the work, as I don't have to do the feeding itself, the rest of my time is to make sure that the other people, especially my wife, are well taken care of. Also, with my parents in town for another week or so, there is some extra work that I need to do to make sure that more people are being taken care of.

But how are things going in practice? Actually pretty well. I'm not as affected by having broken up sleep, so that part has been alright. And he does sleep in 2 hour chunks all the way through the night which is good (except for last night, but the exception proves the rule).

Changing diapers is not too bad yet. Things are not too smelly or terrible-looking. They can be explosive and I've seen multiple events of "spontaneous water fountains", but nothing that I've been too disgusted or annoyed by yet. Having a Brit Mila does add some extra effort on diaper changing, but that's temporary.

So in general things have been good. I'm sane and people here are generally happy, so on with it and let's wait until I can start to tell things that he likes and doesn't like. Right now, he likes to feed and doesn't like to be cold. Easy.

Owning michelgoldstein.com

So I just bought michelgoldstein.com mostly because it was available. The problem is that I don't know exactly what I want to do about it. Right now it points to this website. Three options go through my mind, in order of amount of work required:

  1. Do nothing (i.e. let it continue just pointing to this website)
  2. Move this website there and kill movingdownstream.com
  3. Create a whole new website that is more focused on personal things (basically this website) and transform movingdownstream.com into something else (like a projects blog)
  4. Transform michelgoldstein.com into a disambiguation page for all Michel Goldsteins out there. I "know" one (that added me as his friend on Facebook just randomly) and I know others exist out there.

What I really want to do is #3, but the problem is that I don't think people really care about something like that. I'll spend a good amount of time working on it and in the end I won't get any other Michel Goldstein to actually be interested in being listed there.

Anyway, as I mentioned in the previous post, probably I won't have time to think about it for a few months. Maybe after that time I'll have a better idea of what to do with it.

Life happens

It's funny that the last post was on a 2013 retrospective.

Anyway, lots of things this year so far. But the most important is the very soon life will be much changed. It's hard to quantify what "very soon" means here, but it's very likely in less than a week, and could even be today. Am I ready for it? Nah, but I guess I'm almost as ready as I could be.

What's next after this? What about my projects that have been mostly abandoned anyway? Well, they certainly won't see much difference for some time. But my hope is that this transition will make me be home more, and by being home more, I'll do my projects more. Not for the next few months, but after that (if work doesn't ramp up being crazy again).

Talking about work, how is that doing, you might be wondering. It's all going well. Still excited about what I'm building, but still building something I can't talk about. I'm interviewing a lot also as my team is still growing. I'm going through bar raiser training too, which makes me be involved even more on interviewing. Always reasons to learn new things.

Hope to be here more!

2013 Retrospective

I don't know if I'm really ready for a 2013 retrospective... It has been a very interesting year, indeed. At the same time, not a lot of "resolutions" happened. So it feels like a year that lacked achievement. And that takes us to theme 1:

Theme 1: effort, but unresolved achievements

One thing it didn't lack was effort. I've worked hard for those "non-resolved achievements" and they are still underway. I'm still working on a secret project at Amazon that hasn't launched yet. I can't really talk about when it's supposed to launch (even if I knew that answer), but I can say that we are working hard on it and the team is still growing.

Now that we've gone through theme one, even if very vague and hand-wavy, let's move on.

Theme 2: board games

This year I played and bought a lot of board games. But that trend did fizzle out towards the end of the year, as some internal intrigue started happening with my gaming group. But I did play a lot of really interesting games. Hard to list them all, though... So I'll leave some highlights of games I've played more than once:

  • King of Tokyo: easy to play, a little too luck-driven for my taste. Always fun, though.
  • Ticket to Ride: well, I had to add this one as it's pretty much the only game that I've been able to play lately with Amy. It's fun, though. There is some luck involved, but strategy and being able to read your opponent's goals sometimes helps on offsetting that luck component. Does play better with more than 2 players, which is something I don't have a lot of opportunity to do.

There are a lot of games that I've played only once and I wished I had played more, like Guildhall, Flash Point, X-wing... And some games that I bought and I haven't played yet.

Another game-related thing that I did was organizing a Magic: The Gathering tournament at work. It was quite a lot of fun, even though attendance was lower than I was hoping for.

Theme 3: tech news

Well, that's my industry, but I have to admit that this year I was paying more attention to what was happening in the tech world than around the rest of the world. Multiple times I was surprised by people asking me if I had seen what happened in some place in the world and I had no idea what they were talking about. Maybe I'm in the US for too long and starting to not pay attention to what is going on outside my world. I hope to revert this tendency for next year.

Theme 4: woodworking

I can't really leave out one of the things that occupied most of my weekends for a good part of the year: the big living room furniture project. Phase 1 is over and I think that's all I'm going to do (at least for some time). It was an interesting experience, but there are a few things that I learned are harder than I thought (and made things not work as well as I was hoping):

  • The world is not square! So the wood might not be square, or the floor that you are trying to place the furniture on might not be square.
  • Large pieces of furniture are hard! That's for multiple reasons:
    • They make non-square things just even more out of alignment
    • It's hard to find good-looking wood in large pieces
    • It's hard to make good-looking joints if you don't have good looking wood pieces
  • If you don't know the "fundamentals" of the furniture hardware that is available out there, it's hard to make the right design decisions.
    • There are lots of parameters around a door hinge or drawer rollers that are not evident when you buy the piece. Only when you try to install you notice that things don't really work the way you thought they would. Fortunately my 3D printer helped me a lot on making small adjustments to things.

And I think that mostly sums up what I think was different this year compared to previous years. Some things are still the same, like cooking (and I've been potentially cooking more lately because Amy has been through some challenging food restrictions that limit what we can eat out), playing computer games, watching Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV shows and reading books (even though I have done less of the latter than average). My electronics projects have been moving slowly.

I do have to mention a couple of important events this year (not in any particular order) before I finish this post:

  1. The birth of my first nephew (I already have a niece), Luiz Felipe, in March
  2. Going to Brazil and hanging out with family and some friends in end of August/early September.
  3. Trip to Utah to go around taking pictures of red rocks
  4. Participated in Movember, even though I didn't raise much money on it. In any way, I'm very grateful for all my friends that did contribute to it.

Not a huge year, but at least there were things that were put in motion for next year to be at least as interesting. So far it seems like I'll be going again to Brazil towards the end of the year to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday. No tickets booked yet, but it's the current plan. Hopefully I'll have time to see more of my friends this time!

 

Got my Poppy today

And it's pretty cool! What is it? Ah, well, let's start with their website:

http://www.poppy3d.com/

It's basically an adapter to the iPhone to allow it to shoot and view 3D videos & pictures through image splitting. Basically they split the camera into a left and right, and then split the screen between a left and right and the device has a viewfinder that makes you see each eye separately. It's pretty ingeniously simple. No electronic parts, just plastic, mirrors and lenses.

So what is interesting about 3D pictures/videos anyway? 3D on TVs is pretty much dead. Sorry for you people out there that bought one and now are dealing with the dropoff on new content for it. It's still an interesting technology, but it's just hard to convince people that watching TV is "serious" enough that it's worth getting special glasses and paying attention in a certain way. For those active glasses you need to make sure the battery is charged, and pay $20-$50 for a new pair to let more people watch your content. It's a pretty steep convenience fee.

So if I'm so down on 3D technologies that are not convenient, why am I so excited about Poppy? Not an easy answer here. First, I'm still interested about the technology and what 3D data can add to a scene. It's odd that if you look at each image individually, it doesn't seem to have as much quality of details as you can see on the combined 3D image. It's all perception. And perception is everything when talking about vision.

It's not the best thing since my first DSLR, for sure. It's bulky, not the most comfortable viewfinder, having to remove the phone from the device to unlock it is problematic. But it requires no batteries, no new place to store my pictures (even though looking at the pictures without their app is a little "boring"), and, hey, I helped them launch! I was even an early bird backer!

Anyway, here is an example of a picture taken with Poppy:

poppy_photo.JPG

As I said, it doesn't look that clear. But if you had a way to see it split into two eyes you'd suddenly notice the details.

Anyway, there it is and I'm excited about it. Will let you know if I find some way for other people to see it. They said that I can build wigglegifs, but I cannot find how to do it in their app yet. Maybe it's a beta feature that hasn't been approved by Apple yet. Will post it when available.

2013's best books list

End of the year you get always those "best of" lists. And unfortunately I always get sucked into them. This year the one that was the most fascinating was Amazon's Best 2013 books. What is fascinating about them? Well, it's the difference between:

2013 Best Adult Print Books

2013 Best Adult Kindle Books

One might think that they would either be pretty similar, or their difference would represent books that are still not available in Kindle format. I found actually that it's not true (and I've heard about this trend before): Kindle books are flooded by romance books. It almost feels like 50% of all the top 100 books are romance novels! That's not a real number. I thought of counting them, but I actually can't tell by just looking at the cover and title what the books are about. And I didn't have the time to go one by one and see what they were about to generate a count. Just go and look. It will be quite evident.

The conclusion for me is that if I want to see what the interesting books are according to Amazon customers, I should look at the print ones.

There are some that you won't find in Kindle edition, or that don't sell very well on that format. Namely cookbooks and diet books. I have a few in Kindle and I have to admit they are hard to use. I'm sure people have thought about it, and have tried to work on it in the past (and are probably still working on it right now). It's a tough one to figure out. If you want a searchable book, the internet is so much better and more comprehensive. Cookbooks are books you browse to be inspired, and going a page at a time, or jumping through well-defined paths makes this "browsing" hard.

Anyway, if you hoped you were going to see my list of best books of 2013, sorry to disappoint. I'm not sure my 2013 list is very good. I actually haven't read too many books. Perhaps because some of the books that I read took a long time to finish (like A Dance With Dragons or The Curse of Chalion). Or maybe I just have been reading more papers trying to catch up with what has been going on in the world of research while I was focused on other things. Next year so far doesn't look like it's going to be much better, but things can change. Perhaps I'll choose shorter books!

Movember time

This year I decided to stretch my comfort zone for a good cause. I'm doing Movember , What does that mean, you might ask. A few of things:

  1. I'm trying to raise awareness to men's health issues.
  2. I'm trying to help to raise money to support research and programs around men's health issues. 
  3. I'm growing a mustache!

What do I look like with a mustache? Well, that's an interesting question... I'll be posting pictures as it develops. One of the things is that you are not supposed to start growing the mustache until Movember starts. Being the third day of the month, it means that it's not that "in your face" yet. But here is a first picture. Be scared! :-)

Movember day 3

Movember day 3

Anyway, if you want to help the cause and donate, my donation page is:

http://mobro.co/7323557 

And I'm open for suggestions of what to do with my mustache. Whoever donates (even if it's just $1) can post a vote (in the comments on the above page) on where I should go with it. Note that I don't have that much time to grow crazy things like handlebar mustaches, so I don't even go there. And Amy will always have the ability to veto whatever is suggested.

When all computers fail...

Suddenly this week both my computers decided to give me some grief. First was my Mac that is running low on disk space (it's all those pictures that I keep taking and filling my hard disk). It's interesting that when I'm below 8 GB of hard disk free things can get quite weird. Part of it is because I have 8 GB of RAM on my computer and that creates 8 GB of swap/restore space. And that space is not always taken, so at some point I could have 5 GB free and a few minutes later I only have 44 MB free. At that time is when all software in the computer freezes and I have to drop to terminal to do anything. Solution: free more space (which is not straight-forward, but I'm trying).

Then comes to my windows machine... As I mentioned before, I have a Windows 8 machine that has been working reasonably well. Then Windows 8.1 came out and I thought: well, I heard good things about this upgrade, so maybe I should do it. Oh, if only Microsoft agreed with me! I download it and start installing. After it reboots I get a very quick blue screen with a sad face and after rebooting again I get an error after I log in saying that the upgrade failed and it rolled back to Windows 8 with a cryptic error code (0xC1900101-0x20017). There are lots of conflicting reports about what could be happening, but none of the solutions that I've heard (forcing install of all driver updates, running disabling the network) worked for me. I did try to find the log and look for information on what is going on, but I couldn't find anything useful yet. Very frustrating!

But fortunately there are "workarounds"  for both my problems:

  1. Mac: free disk space
  2. Windows: don't upgrade

And that's what I've done. Boo...

I'll report again if I'm able to upgrade Windows one of these days. As for my Mac, maybe it's a sign that I should upgrade my now 4.5-year-old laptop...  New MacBook Pros have just been released, so it's a great time to upgrade..

 

Doubly secure Windows Store

I was looking around the Windows 8 App Store just to consider whether I was going to upgrade to 8.1, and then I came across this very strange "security" category

win_store_security.png

See that all other categories seem to highlight 2 (and sometimes even 5) different programs? Well, what it looks like is that security is "locked" and I can't add any security apps to my computer. Isn't this strange? Yes, it's Windows...

Enjoying La Conner, WA

Today I decided to take the day off and skip town with Amy. After some debating of where to go, considering that we have an event to attend tonight in Downtown Seattle, we decided to go to La Conner. A nice small town about an hour North of Seattle. It was a beautiful day (probably one of the last ones this year). 

IMG_7428.jpg

And we had a great time. Lots of art galleries, and even two weird things: 

  1. Apparently lots of people are Gluten Free out there, so quite a few places we went to had Gluten Free things for Amy.
  2. And we ended up going to a bakery run by Trever McGhee, who currently has the Guinness World Record of the longest firewalk. And he owns a bakery and is "specialized" in making scones (and donating part of his profit to different charity organizations - today was the Boys & Girls Club). Very interesting person, but I guess that's required if part of what you do is walking on hot coals, huh? 

Anyway, didn't take many pictures there. For some reason I didn't quite find many picture-worthy things. 

9 years at Amazon, huh?

I forgot to mention one thing on my last post: today I celebrated 9 years at Amazon... Who would have thought I would still be around? But I'm having fun (most of the days). Still learning. I've had some quite successful projects, and some that didn't last for as long as I was expecting. I can't talk about my current project, but I can talk about some highlights about previous projects: 

  • Adding semantics to how products are defined at Amazon, supporting easier category expansion.
  • Auto-classification of products
  • Richer rules for cleaning up structured attributes in data, including handling crazy (and I really mean crazy) apparel sizing
  • Embedded and sandboxed HTML5 application environment

There were lots of other things that I've worked on. But these were probably the ones that had the biggest longer term business impact (even though the HTML5 app project was canceled not long after I left it - but it planted a seed onto different systems that hopefully will continue making Kindle products more innovative). 

Who knows, one of these days I might talk about what I'm working on right now. If everything works as planned, it will certainly feature on my list of accomplishments above. There is just so much left to do... 

So the trip is gone... Life has just been speeding away

So, yes, I have been in Brazil. A long time ago! And I barely met anybody besides my family. At least that part was successful. I had a good time hanging out with my sister and my niece and nephew. Then I came back missing my friends more than when I left. But I guess that's how it works. I just need to figure out how to go back more often than once every 3+ years.

And how has Seattle been since I've arrived? Quite busy, unfortunately. Work has been a little crazy (7 days a week, many hours a day crazy), but hopefully things will quiet down a little soon (hope is the only thing left for me). Building some really interesting things, but I wished I had more time to be home and work on my projects at home. They now include:

  1. Finishing my entertainment center phase 1B (it's missing a door that I messed up when I made a hole on it, and I need to fix the drawers that don't open and close very smoothly)
  2. Work on a replacement alarm clock for the bedroom: I'm very frustrated by not being able to find an alarm clock that has all the features that I want, so I decided to build one. 
  3. Managing the Seattle Jewish Chorale website.  It uses GoDaddy's website builder tool, which is quite challenging to work with. That's why it's very hard to make the design work (besides the fact that I'm a terrible designer). But I'm slowly trying to clean it up and streamline the maintenance of it. My next project is to support a way for choir member to post events for other members to be aware of. The most challenging features of this is the need for privacy, but not require new login. So it's going to be a lot of pseudo-secure Javascript code. I hope it works well enough.

And, yes, I still have a wife with her projects, like her Turkorah . It's been quite busy in our household.

 

Preparation for the next trip

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Brazil, I finally finished organizing (mostly) my pictures from my last "bigger" trip: to Utah to visit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Both very interesting in their own way (with their own red rocks): 

SmugMug Album: Utah Trip

I don't really expect to take too many pictures in Brazil, though, as it's mostly going to be around hanging out with family. Things are quite chaotic at work and I'm actually glad that I was able to take two weeks off (mostly because I planned this before things got this chaotic). And part of these two weeks is going to be Rosh Hashanah, which also limits the amount of time I'll have to hang out with friends. But hopefully I'll be able to do some if it too. What I probably won't be able to do is to be a tourist. Oh, well... Next time!

Salt consumption numbers

Today I was reading an article that said that Brazilian salt consumpion is high (twice what is recommended by the WHO) mostly because Brazilians add too much salt to their food. According to them, 70% of the salt consumed in Brazil is added by the consumer. The US also has a lot of problems due to salt consumption, so I decided to compare. Apparently the numbers are quite different here [source] [source]:

  • Brazilians consume about 4,460 mg of salt a day, Americans consume 3,400 mg. The recommended is between 1,500 and 2,300 mg a day.
  • 70% of the salt consumed in Brazil is added by the consumer. 75% of the salt consumed in the US is from packaged foods.  (the packaged food number in Brazil seems to be 23.8%)

What do we learn from this? Well, first is that Americans eat a lot of packaged food. Here is an infographic for you . Based on weight, Americans eat 57% of their total food intake from packaged sources (787 vs. 602 lb). Brazilians each 37% from packaged foods (392 vs 677 lb). So, if we focus on how much actual salt there is in packaged foods in US vs. Brazil, we get:

  • In BR, 0.2 % of packaged foods is salt
  • In US, 0.26% of packaged foods is salt

Not that different, huh? Now for fresh foods:

  • BR:  0.4% of fresh foods is salt
  • US: 0.11%  of fresh foods is salt

A much different story, huh? Hopefully my math is right here...