Tuesday, October 30, 2012

iPhone Hack: Block calls with a silent ringtone

Some poor bugger in India keeps calling me at 5am (my time).

I am not sure why he keeps calling, and why he can't figure out I'm not his relative or whoever he's trying to contact. I don't even think he knows he's calling the US. He does speak some English, but I suspect he thinks I might be his relative and I don't want to to talk to him... and not just that I have no idea who he is and why the crap he's calling me once a week at terrible 'o-clock.

My (baller) iPhone 5 is not helping the situation. Its triumphant speakers blasted my legendary Dave Matthews Band ringtone at 5:15am this morning, as well as buzzing my floor like a champ. I shot out of bed to grab it, only to find out it was my old Indian buddy again. Bah. "My name is Mike, I am in California. You have the wrong number, again. Please stop calling!" I don't think he got it.

So, unless I have time to learn Hindi (and practice it a few times at 5am), I gotta block these calls. Trouble is, I already did.

I found out today that the Verizon block I put on this only holds for 90 days - I don't know why Verizon doesn't make the blocks permanent. So I tried adding his number back in, but it's a weird number of digits so it didn't work. Bah. So... what do I do?

As it turns out, iPhone has a way to assign alert sounds and ringtones to a specific caller. So I added his number as a contact called "Block this" and turned off the buzzer etc. But... there is no silent ringtone! Oh no! Fortunately, this guy hooked it up. You just download this silent tone, and set the contact who you want to "send to voicemail" to this ringtone.

I can almost taste the glorious quiet and solitude. Beautiful!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Blue Bottle Coffee book event at SFMOMA

Yes, this has been the most interesting week of the entire year :) The hits just keep on coming!

Tonight I was at the SFMOMA downtown for the book release party for James and Caitlin Freeman's "The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee" and photographer/writer Todd Selby's new book, "Edible Selby".

They all discussed their books, and the moderator asked a bunch of great questions about the interplay between art and food. Todd Selby quoted someone, "Chefs are the rock stars in the Bay Area" and I definitely think that's true. It's cool to see so many DIY books from amazing restaurants in the city - Miette, Tartine, Blue Bottle... etc. Modern Art and Food really come together in the Blue Bottle rooftop cafe, where former Miette Bakery owner (and James's wife), Caitin Freeman is the pastry chef, specializing in temporary and hilariously fitting food-interpretations of currently on-display SFMOMA art exhibits. Very cool.

James and Caitlin signing books
Panel discussion
James signed my book and said, "You look familiar!" He's served me at the Ferry Building Blue Bottle many times, though I used to have way longer hair and be 35 lbs heavier, as you all may remember :) I told him the story about when we were all Pixar interns in Emeryville with no car, and we'd take the BART over to the city... and it would be 1:50pm and we'd be RUNNING to the Ferry Building to try to catch the Blue Bottle cart before it closed at 2pm... in the days before the permanent Blue Bottle store inside the Ferry Building that stays open later than 2pm :) He laughed and signed my book saying "Thanks for being a regular" :) What an awesome guy.

The theme of this past week and my last 3 posts (this one, Startup School and OLPC) is dedication, passion, and - as the moderator suggested tonight - a bit of obsessiveness in achieving your goal. There really are some truly awesome and amazing people here in the Bay Area, and I am so lucky to be surrounded by such innovation and magic.

Mondrian Cake!
HOLY CRAP there is a TCHO Blue Bottle chocolate flavour. Yes I bought it instantly.
What an amazing week.

Y-Combinator's Startup School 2012

Well, the hits just kept on rollin' this past weekend.

After an awesome start to the weekend, hanging out with a bunch of the people involved in the One Laptop Per Child organization and discussing how I might help contribute to their open source efforts, I spent all of Saturday with my high school bro Alex down at Stanford for Y-Combinator's Startup School 2012 lecture series.

The hit-list of quality speakers was through the roof:

Yes, THE Mark Zuckerberg. Yeah, so that was amazing.

All of the talks were phenomenal, but my favourite speakers were Zuck as well as Tom Preston-Werner from Github and Ben Silbermann from Pinterest.

Mark Zuckerberg and Paul Graham
Zuck was insanely kick ass, cause, well, he's Zuck - an incredibly inspiring figure and has been both absurdly successful as well as obsessively committed to the success of his company. Really awesome. His discussion with Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham was really fantastic, and they covered a lot of ground about his early days starting Facebook and how he "decided to start a business.". It felt like he really wanted to solve a problem, and he designed something to solve it - we was not passionate about starting a business, he was passionate about solving a real-world problem. Great advice.

"Explore what you want to do before committing, and keep yourself flexible." -- Mark Zuckerberg.

This is excellent advice, and very encouraging given my previous post about my interest in contributing to the open source One Laptop Per Child project. Very cool.

The crowd was excited and fun, and we got free Pizza and snacks (score).

Brains, unite!
Tom from Github was just a fascinating and interesting guy, very dedicated and just seemed like he had his priorities in life straight. A great speaker and a guy really committed to a quality product. There were literally a bazillion awesome quotes from him: "Everything you add (to your product) takes something away" - focus on quality and design, not features. "If you have a strong culture, it helps you to attract the kind of people that naturally fit your philosophy".

During the second break, Ron Conway (from SV Angels), the famous Silicon Valley "Angel Investor" was there and we got to shake his hand and tell him we enjoyed his talk. "We're originally from Canada, but we love it here" I said to him. "Oh yeah", he replied, "You're in the epicenter" :)

Ron Conway at Startup School 2012

Ben Horowitz was hilarious and a great speaker. His most memorable joke was, "As a startup CEO I slept like a baby: I woke up every two hours and cried." haha well played :)

I really enjoyed Ben Silbermann from Pinterest, too. His appreciation for his employees was very obvious, talking about how each employee has a stake in the company's future financial success and that it's very important for everyone to be emotionally invested in the success of the company. He seemed like a really nice and kind team leader, rather than the "alpha male" personality I was hoping wasn't going to be too rampant around here (there were a few, though, and it was tiring). He reminded me a bit of Biz Stone, who I saw talk at the JCCSF a couple weeks back. Unlike that hilarious-but-probably-too-often-true Simpsons quote from Mr. Burns... "Family, Religion, Friendship. These are the 3 demons you must slay to succeed in business"... it seems the Ben (like Biz) looks towards a bigger picture of relationship building and friendship online and is not just chasing a payday like some entrepreneurs certainly are. That was refreshing and awesome to see.

Startup School 2012
After a long day of excellent talks, Alex and I headed back to San Francisco with a ton of things to talk about and a head full of inspiration. It was just really, really cool to hear these incredibly successful people talk about their experiences. It's very impressive that they can weather the insane roller-coaster ride of the startup world... it seems pretty epically stressful. It sure is cool to see people this passionate and this dedicated to their chosen craft. As Ron Conway said, we are in the epicenter. I love this city!

OLPC San Francisco weekend

I had the pleasure of attending a couple of OLPC events in San Francisco this weekend with the OLPC San Francisco chapter.

My friend Jenn from wayyyy back in high school is now working with OLPC in Canada and she let me know about the yearly summit here in SF... what an awesome circumstance.

High school reunion after 13 years! (Also, Jenn -- you are tall and/or I am short)
Since seeing this absolutely adorable and very moving clip of Abel, a young Peruvian boy, talking about his OLPC Laptop in Ridley Scott's Life in a Day film, I knew I wanted to learn more about OLPC and get involved in some way or another. When I was in Peru, deep in the Amazon near Iquitos, I met some kids who lived in a very remote area and my thoughts danced back to the OLPC program. It's really amazing and I want to help with their noble (and kick ass) efforts.

Finding time is always hard these days with so many things on the go, but this seems an incredible and very much worthwhile adventure to embark upon. I'm sure I can donate some of my time for some software architecture or design knowledge, but I'm hoping to be able to carve out a larger amount of my time to code a new "Activity" (aka "App") for their Sugar Linux distro (the operating system that runs on the XO laptops, which are deployed to many many developing nations around the world).

I spent some of Friday and again on Sunday chatting with a lot of people involved in OLPC around the world: the guy who writes huge portions of the OS, a guy who is from Chad and was educated in Montreal, Canada... and who is now moving back to Chad to roll out the laptops to 3 schools, the first ever deployment in Chad. I met many dedicated people who live in Kenya, have been to Haiti, live in Nicaragua... all for the noble and awesome aim of sharing technology to the developing world and with that, the power of knowledge. This TOTALLY ROCKS.

So I was definitely blown away by the dedication and excitement of everyone there... that was to be expected. :) But I also wanted to know, more pragmatically, what kind of effect I can personally have from a Software development point-of-view. I asked a lot of technical questions about the operating system, how new applications are distributed to all the deployed laptops in these far-away places, how the laptops are powered, what file format the camera records video in... etc. As it turns out, this is a great setup (to be expected, MIT started this!) - the OS is a Linux distro called Sugar and the Apps are called "Activities" and are built with Python (OMG YES) and GTK (not too shabby!). I have some GTK experience, much more in Qt at this point, but GTK is fine. But I literally program in Python EVERY SINGLE DAY. So this is pretty amazing. The file formats are all open-source as you might suspect - Ogg Vorbis for the video/audio formats. So if I want to do something in the video/animation/editing/film software space, it'll prob need some Ogg Vorbis support. Next step is to get an XO laptop (someone is going to send me one) and to start fiddling. I need to see what kind of Dev tools we have on there, and also what kind of Open Source streaming/playback libraries are already available, so I can work from there. Kick ass.

I've had an item on my personal todo list since the day I saw that OLPC clip in April: "Look into contributing software to OLPC". It was fortuitous to have a personal connection to the organization, and definitely this weekend threw me right into the fast lane re: learning about what they do and how I might personally make the best impact right now given their specific software needs. Seems amazing. Now I gotta get this laptop, start fiddling, and then come up with a development plan. I gotta keep the scope of this reasonable for my intensely packed schedule, but maybe I can find a way to get a team of developers to help me with this... that would rock. Anyhoo. This is pretty amazing, and I gotta find a way to fit this in.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Peru/Brazil/Argentina Day 22: Templo Libertad synagogue and El Ateneo bookstore

May 24, 2012
Argentina Day 22: Templo Libertad synagogue and El Ateneo bookstore

Up at 9-ish, sleeping in today! It is so nice here in our own apartment in Buenos Aires. We really planned the trip well, moving from crazy experience (Inca Trail) to reasonably crazy experience (Amazon) to actually relaxing and having our own non-hostel experience (Buenos Aires) :) We started with some brekkie here, some bread and excellent Kiwi and Mango and coffee. Also some good/weird cheese.

Breakfast at the apartment
From there we walked to Calle Florida (Florida St), the famous pedestrian walkway in BA. We walked by the "Pink House" (a.la "White House" - the Argentinean government building, famous from the time of Eva Peron).

Norma :)
Argentina flags
We did a bit of shopping, and I found some cool Marvel boxers (Iron Man and Hulk) :) Frank tried on some sweet Adidas futbol jerseys. We saw some YSL and Christian Dior suits for only $250 US! This is what we'd heard about BA - and why we'd planned to get a suit at some point while here. We continued up Calle Florida to the Galleria Pacifico mall. It was fun and for lunch I got a Bife de Oro (Ribeye) with salad and Coke Light. It was a bit oily (though amazing for a "mall steak"), and a good flavour.

Some random "Patagonia" burger thing at Burger King
Awesome mall in downtown Buenos Aires
Lunchtime: a steak only restaurant
"Los Vengadores" Ice Cream Sundaes!!!
Steak for lunch, awesome Chimichurri sauce
Jess and some filled pumpkin business
We found a Hugo Boss store there (already looking diligently for our suits!) but it was overpriced. That was enough shopping to hold us for a bit, so off we went to culture it up... and there sure is plenty of culture to be had in BA!

We headed to Teatro Colon and got tickets for the Edipo (Oedipus) Opera!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was so psyched, I really wanted to go while visiting Buenos Aires. This is awesome. It was only 152 Pesos (approx $32 USD) for pretty good seats!! The guy at the ticket desk said something about "Fumare?" and I said, "Oh, no Fumare!" (assuming he meant "Smoking" or "Non-Smoking"?) haha. He laughed and said "No, a Smoking Jacket!" He meant there is a dress code for the opera of at least a Smoking Jacket. Hilarious!! From there we walked around the plaza a bit and it was beautiful.

Awesome architecture
Time for a juice box!
Teatro Colon
Teatro Colon
Interesting building across from Teatro Colon
Turns out it was a coffee shop!

Then we arrived at the Templo Libertad synagogue. I was really excited to go check it out and walk inside for the tour. We started off in the Museo Judia, where the nice lady showed us to a waiting area where a sad minor-key video was playing about the hardships of immigration from Europe to Argentina for the Jewish people. Ooph. It was a bit rough to see the way the immigrant Jews were taken advantage of by some locals. But there were a few cases of noble acts amidst the hardship. As is often the case in life. :)

Templo Libertad, downtown Buenos Aires synagogue
Front door of Templo Libertad
Kohen symbol
Amazing entrance
Inside the Shul it was beautiful. There was stained glass, an organ, byzantine tiling, roman columns. Lots of Kohanim hand images. After spending some time in the main sanctuary, we walked around the tour of historical items and Judaica.

There was a "Jude" yellow star donated by a Holocaust survivor. It felt like this was the first time I had ever seen one, and it was haunting. I suppose I must have seen one at the New York Holocaust Museum, but it was very affecting and surprising to see one in Argentina for some reason. It seemed so far away from it's original wearer's home in Europe... all the way down here in South America. Inside the museum there were also some Sephardic Torahs! I don't think I've ever seen one of those either!! It was a very unusual shape. The lady was very nice, telling us lots of info.

Inside the main sancturary of Templo Libertad
Top of Aron Kodesh and Shema imprint on the ceiling
Cool non-Menorah candle holder light :)
Kohen symbol
Awesome chandelier
Smaller Aron Kodesh downstairs at the Shul
Off we went to the shop, and I got a really cool Hamsa blessing plaque to hang up at my apartment, with a blessing for your home... in Spanish!! Very cool. It also had Argentine-style building colours on it. It took me a while to figure out the denominations of the currency as I was counting out in cash - and when I finally got it right, the lady nodded and sortof-shrugged, "Mazel Tov!" hahahah I burst out laughing. It was the sortof tone you can only understand if you've seen it a million times before, and it was just oh-so Jewish: sarcastic but appreciative at the same time. ("Mazel Tov" means "Congratulations", and would usually be used for a proper Congratulations for someone. In this case, it means something to the effect of, "Well, that sure took a while, didn't it?! But also... thank you." haha) Just hilarious. The lady didn't speak much English understood my appreciation for the sarcastic humour, and she said, "We are Universal!" haha!

After that awesome time of cultural exchange we headed to the El Ateneo bookstore... but first, Ice Cream! My friend from BA had told me Volta was one of the best ones... and oh man... it sure was. I got Maracuya y Naranha creamy ice cream, and Sweet Cookies ice cream. Epic!! It was amazingly good, literally the best Ice Cream I've ever had. They served it in this cool waffle cone bowl with some tasty toppings. It was amazing.

Volta Ice Cream
The best gelato I've ever had

El Ateneo was very interesting, it was an old theatre, converted into a book store. A really fascinating layout and an awesome place to hang out.

El Ateneo Bookstore, built within an old theatre!
Row lighting
Balconies you can sit in and read
Awesome vibe in here!
Cool suit we saw on the way back to the apartment

Back to the apartment, and we started some much-needed laundry. Also time for snacks and journal. Maybe plans to go to the bar tonight? Instead, we started trying out the famous Buenos Aires beverage, Fernet and Coke Zero. My general feeling was: "I love it, I hate it! I can't judge this drink, noooo!" Very weird, unusual, and funny. It starts off gross, then better, then weird, then good... crazy. For dinner, we made some tasty pasta, gnocchi and pesto, then some wine. After all of this and a long day of walking, we decided to stay in. Hopefully we'll plan a nightlife evening for one of the nights soon. This city rocks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

iPhone 5 LTE Bandwidth: Yep, Netflix uses a LOT

I've had my glorious new iPhone 5 for about 24 hours and I put it to the test. I turned off home WiFi (since it seems the LTE is actually faster than WiFi anyway, I think I need a new router!) and did some tests.

Yesterday after upgrading my line to my new iPhone 5 and turning off my old iPhone 4, my data usage for this month was at a miniscule 160Mb.

Tonight, after only 1 day of (albeit, intentionally heavy) usage?


Yes, that's about 700Mb of data in ONE DAY. The 2 Gb/month tiered plan Verizon was trying to sucker me onto is quickly approaching. Even if I don't consistently use an insane amount of data, I am super glad I stayed with unlimited.

Now, I should clarify: this is the standard email and web browsing usage as normal. It goes faster so you definitely do more. I streamed about 20 min of Pandora at the gym today and that was maybe 13Mb or 20Mb. The real data hog was video streaming. I watched one 45 minute episode of Freaks and Geeks, which isn't even in super high-res HD (it's actually not even 16:9 HD ratio)... and that ALONE was 500Mb. Yes... 500Mb!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Insane.

Now I don't expect to be streaming Netflix at my house all the time. But say I am at the airport with 2 hrs and want to watch a whole movie. That would be my entire 2Gb plan (if I switch to that) in one sitting. Sure, there may be WiFi at the airport, but it can be unreliable and sometimes you have to pay for it, and sounds like LTE will probably be better anyway. So this really is quite awesome.

My much more common use case will be 2 things, I think:
  1. Facetime over Cellular
    I am gonna use this like crazy. The main reason I bought a Smartphone in the first place was actually to video-call with family when I am out-and-about. So this is gonna be huge, and since it is essentially 2-way HD Video Streaming, it is gonna use bandwidth like crazy.
  2. GPS apps on iPhone
    I had suspected I'd continue to use my standalone GPS device, but my buddy Cesar just told me about "Waze", a really interesting crowd-sourced GPS map system. It tracks everyone else's car and feeds route information based on how fast/slow people are going along the way. It's really interesting and, of course, requires a bunch of data transfer when you don't have WiFi. I will have to check it out and see how it works, but if I like it, I think I'll be using this instead of my old GPS device... since it has traffic and construction and other live details that are taken into account in your route, it's quite an improvement over the static GPS device that I am currently using.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Peru/Brazil/Argentina Day 21: Arriving in Buenos Aires

May 23, 2012
Argentina Day 21: Arriving in Buenos Aires

Up and a quick breakfast and we said bye to our friends from last night. Frank was sadly still feeling like crap, but he was holding it together enough to fly at least. Poor Frank :( We headed to the airport in Iguazu Falls and it was tiny :) It looks like a little Holiday Inn - light yellowy-brown brick. It was really funny.

As a testament to the casualness of airports that are not in America... great story. Frank in his haze of still being sick forgot to put his really expensive favourite hunting/pocket knife into his luggage, oops. We were already in line for security when he realized it was still in his pocket. He went down to the checkin desk to see if they could check it in a plastic bag or something, and they said, no problem... and walked him OUT TO THE RUNWAY to go drop it into his checked luggage! Even more hilarious and laid-back, they couldn't see his luggage, so he put it into his wife Jess's luggage instead, and they said it was no problem! This was very unexpected given the usual style of airports and how if we were in any other major country it's very likely he would have just lost his favourite knife. So that was pretty lucky!

The usual tasty airplane snack
As usual, the snacks on the plane were super good.

We arrived in Buenos Aires, excited for shopping, some city life... a real city! On the plane we read up in Lonely Planet about food and city stuff to do. We jumped into the taxi cab and the guy was so funny, he loved our excitement for Buenos Aires. He showed us lots of cool stuff along the way, acting as a sort of unofficial tour guide, so excited to show off the city he loves. We stopped at a traffic light, and he bought some local chocolate from a street vendor for us so we could try some Argentinean chocolate!! What a nice guy.

We are renting an apartment in BA for a week and the cab dropped us off there. We met Grisel, a nice lady who was taking the deposit from us. The BA ATM machines said "US $" were an option, but none of them worked at the airport. So we went on a search to go find enough Pesos for the deposit for her... and we had our first (of what was to be many) ATM adventure in Buenos Aires.

Frank and I went to the first ATM, it failed. Another one across the street? No money. A third one... nothing. A forth one... nada. A fifth one... a guy was there repairing the machine and he said that at this time in the afternoon, MOST BANKS IN BUENOS AIRES all empty their ATMs at the SAME TIME and replace the bills?!?!?! So there is no money available in most ATMs in the entire city, and we should just come back in 30 min?!?! Wow. I knew there were many things in Canada and USA and Europe that were sort-of standard expectations, and that those things are not always the same in other countries... sure. But I was very surprised that you couldn't get money out of an ATM! Crazy. I didn't have this issue in any other developing country I've been to so far... this was quite nuts! After 30 min of searching, Frank and I went back to the apartment empty-handed. We felt bad and made plans with Grisel later in the day to come by her apartment with the deposit later.

Frank still felt gross so he went to sleep for a bit and Jess and I headed out for a wander and exploration of the streets of Buenos Aires. As we were walking, we managed to get some money out from a different ATM, and we saw one of the funnies things of the entire trip: a guy holding many Kermit The Frog hand puppets and selling them on the street, saying over and over in a funny deep voice, "Rana Renee!"... "Rana Renee!" hahahaha! Apparently Kermit The Frog's name in Spanish is "Rana Renee!!!!!!!!!!!!" Amazing.

Awesome Pizza spot in Buenos Aires
Jess excited for Pizza
A grocery store that only sold chocolate and booze!
Jess asking someone we met why this place exists - a "Bomboneria", a chocolate and booze-only grocery store

We walked up 9 Julio Ave, and found a good Pizza Napolenato place, it was really good. We also came across a "Bomboneria", a grocery store that literally sold only 2 things: 1) Booze and 2) Chocolate. It was weird and hilarious. While there, we made friends with a very nice Columbian man, who was visiting with a large family. We chatted a bit and he pointed us towards a Supermercado which was very helpful.

Jess and I headed back to the Apt and woke up Frank. We taxi'd to Grisel's apt to sort out the rent and got all sorted. Then we headed along San Telmo area. It was really interesting, lots of exciting shops and things to do. By chance we walked by a Mate shop!!! This was SO COOL because we were very keen to try a "communal mate" - where you go to a mate shop and share a single mate gourd between friends. (Mate is a kind of Argentinean hot tea). The guy was very helpful and showed us how to prepare mate in the mate gourd (cup). Very important is that the tea has to go at a 45 degree angle! He shook it up with some sugar as well and put the metal straw in, as well as wetting the mate with hot water and letting it sit before adding some more hot water. It was strong but tasty. We also had little cheese biscuits with it.

Our kind guide to the intricacies of Yerba Mate
Mate cup!
Trying mate for the first time
It's good!
We checked out the San Telmo Antique Market area, and there was an Empire Strikes Back poster in Spanish! We got some Mango, Kiwi and Maracuya. I also tried on a blue tango hat at a "Haberdashery" - haha!!

Old camera at the market
Awesome fruit market
We got to Plaza Dorrego, a central area inside of San Telmo, meant to bustling and touristy. Dinner is generally eaten at 10 or 11pm in Buenos Aires, and at 8pm it was completely silent in this "busy area". We walked for a bit to bide our time before we could plausibly get dinner anywhere, and finally at 9pm we went to a restaurant. We were the first people in there, in fact as we walked in, the waiter was sleeping!!

I got stuffed pasta with Buffala. We had some great sauce and bread with it too and some nice Malbec wine. Fun!!

Dinner at 9pm, we were so early - the only people there!
Awesome pasta I got
Frank's pasta
Jess is really serious about Gnocchi

We walked back to the hostel after the excellent meal and it was a good 30 min or so, fun times. I Skyped with Mom and Dad and went to sleep by 1ish. It's nice to be on a real normal schedule again. And how nice to sleep in a real bed without insane humidity!! Buenos Aires is awesome.