Every flush counts

I just moved into a new place and along with the usual pains of unboxing, cleaning, and organizing, I also have a few energy saving things I must check or fix before I can call myself settled.  The first couple are pretty obvious – replace each light bulb with a compact fluorescent, inspect all the windows and doors for leaks, hang a clothesline, and replace any air filters.  The last is less obvious, but probably the easiest. I convert my normal toilets to ultra-low flush toilets.

The conversion starts with some extra milk jugs, juice containers, or anything denser than water – I used a juice container.

1. Fill the container with water.

Pick an appropriate water bottle

2. Place the container into the tank of the toilet.

Inside the toilet reservoir

3. Enjoy saving water and money.

This will work for any toilet, but is especially helpful for toilets that use more than 1.6 gallons per flush. My previous house had 3 gallon per flush toilets and by using multiple containers, I was able to bring the usage down to 1.5 gallons per flush.  At this residence, I have newer 1.6 gallon per flush toilets and I used a single half-gallon jug to lower that to 1.1 gallons per flush.

I can also report that lowering the toilets usage doesn’t result in clogged toilets.  You might need to experiment a bit to find the right ratio of savings to flushing power, but I personally have had no trouble, even with the toilet only using 1.1 gallons per flush.

Another great thing about this technique – it’s free and allows renters to be more efficient immediately rather than waiting on their landlord.  Give it a shot and happy flushing.

Written by John in: Environment,Ramble | Tags: , , , , ,

Location, Location, Location

Hold Steady - Almost Killed Me

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I’m starting the post with a positive jam (thanks Hold Steady).  This post might be scary to some and I figured you might want the mental reinforcement.  Ever since mobile phones became connected to the Internet, the ability of “the man” to track us has become easier and easier.  Ironically, this power was given freely by most netizens.

It’s not wiretaps, email snooping, or cell phone tracking that give them (and your grandparents) the ability to know what you are doing minute to minute, but instead twitter posts, facebook status updates, yelp/foursquare/gowalla check-ins, and something I wanted to talk about in this post – geolocation.

Geolocation for those unaware, is the adding of real world address or GPS information to a virtual object like a picture or post.  The reason I wanted to call attention to geolocation is that compared to status updates, twitter posts, etc., it often happens unknowingly or accidentally for the average user.  When you post to twitter that you are eating at such and such restaurant, you’re actively telling the world where you are.  When you post/email an interesting photo for your friends to see, you may not realize that you could give out your home address.

This is because newer cameras and most smart phones can now use their built-in GPS units to tag photos with where they were taken, including your home or anywhere you take pictures.  The problem for the average user is that the picture doesn’t appear to hold this information and so there is seemingly nothing to fear.

The location information is there, I promise

For those that know where to look though, it’s quite simple.  I took the picture above with my iPhone this summer while at the Very Large Array and as I will show you, it recorded exactly where I was standing.  Viewing the information involves something called EXIF. You can think of EXIF information as the writing on the back of the photo.  In the past, EXIF information included what type of camera took the picture, when it was taken, what the aperture of the camera was, etc., but now it can also include information like GPS coordinates.

On a Mac, the process involves opening the photo in Preview, viewing the inspector, and going to the GPS tab.  Apple conveniently put a “Locate” button that shows me on Google Maps exactly where the photo was taken.

Screenshot showing GPS information lookup

On Windows, the process almost as simple.  Just right-click the picture and click properties.  Under the “Details” tab if you scroll down, you might see a GPS section like the one pictured.  I should note that this is only for Vista and Windows 7.  Windows XP will not show the GPS section even if the photo contains one.  For XP users you can download a program called KUSO to see this information.

Example using Windows 7

Now that you’ve seen it done, it seems pretty simple. Most people have never opened the “Inspector/Properties” and thus never realized just how much data is there beyond just the picture.

You can relax slightly because common places photos are posted to: facebook, twitpic, and flickr clear out this information automatically.  While they may be removing it from public viewing, they still are able to see this information themselves and they could change their policy about sharing that information at any time, so I still recommend removing the data yourself before uploading.

When using less reputable websites, forums, or emailing attachments is when you are most vulnerable.  In these scenarios, the photo is sent unaltered and thus containing all the EXIF information.  In these cases, you will need to remove the information yourself before sending.

So how do we get rid of this information?  There are many programs, and many operating systems, so I can’t go into all the ways, but I’ll cover a couple very common scenarios for Mac and Windows.

When using iPhoto on a Mac, whenever you export a photo or share a photo, there is a little checkbox for including location information.  Just make sure the it’s unchecked and you are ready.

Exporting in iPhoto

A program called SmallImage for the Mac is another good option if you prefer to remove all EXIF information in addition to the GPS data.

For windows you can download a program called Easy EXIF Delete.  For Adobe Photoshop users, on either OS X or Windows, use the “Save for Web…” command and this will remove any extra data.

There is of course one way to avoid all of this hassle – don’t use the location services of your phone or camera.  I have an iPhone, so I can show you how to disable it on iPhone/iPod Touch devices, but for other manufacturers you’ll need to check with Google or your nearest geek.

Location Settings

On the iPhone, click Settings ->General ->Location Services. Here you can disable all location services at the top, or pick which individual applications are allowed to know where you are.  Find the Camera and slide it to “OFF” and now all your photos will be geolocation free.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but Google is your friend and I mainly wanted to bring the idea of geolocation to your attention.  There are plenty of good reasons to have your photos geotagged, but knowing when to use it, when not to use it, and how to remove it, will keep this feature from turning into a liability.

Written by John in: Photos,Ramble,Travel | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Attribution please

I am by no means a professional photographer, but I’m proud of the images I capture.  That’s why I was shocked and irritated when going through website logs to discover that several of the photos I have posted here and other places are being used without my permission on other websites.

Now, this is nothing new, and I suppose I should take it as a backhanded complement, but it’s still irritating.  It’s especially irritating when the particular thief doesn’t even take the time to download the photo and re-upload it to their own servers, thereby wasting my bandwidth.  This laziness does, however, allow me to do certain things for retribution.  When a photo is referenced from another person’s website it means that if I change the photo on my site, it also changes the photo on any site that referenced that photo.

I should note that before changing the photo in the example below, I did try to contact the administrator to get an attribution, but that failed, so I made a slight edit to my photo that affected their homepage.

If you are too lazy to take your own photos, let me offer you some pointers.  If you find something on the Google Image Search or similar services and want to use it, contact the creator.  If that’s too much, after stealing the photo simply give a link showing where you got the photo from.


Bike in Marfa, TX

Photo Courtesy of

Still asking to much?  Stop the Google Image Search and head over to and search the Creative Commons photos.  They have a little checkbox for “” and you can take all that your heart desires.

Lesson over…you’re welcome.

-The Management

Written by John in: Photos,Ramble | Tags: , , ,

Buy local, save local, debt local

Late at night, Meaghan and I sit over cups of coffee and try to solve the world’s problems.  The topics vary greatly.  Recent topics have been healthcare, capital investment in emerging markets, and the implications of treating corporations as individuals.  I’ve come to the realization that late night chats, occasional political status updates, and biannual voting are not a significant enough contribution to my role as citizen in our representative democracy.  The problem is how to affect change and to what policies.

The rhetoric in the US has become so divided that inaction and maintaining the status quo almost sound favorable compared to some of proposed solutions, and yet that isn’t what I want either. We must come to some common ground. Fortunately, I believe there’s one area of life we can start to work together on whether you are a Tea Party supporter or a Socialist – local community prosperity.

For the Right, going local takes power away from centralized government, multinational corporations, and Wall Street fat cats.  For the Left, going local is environmentally sound, anti-corporate, and promotes community.  People and politicians can argue all day long about which policies will stimulate local initiatives, but nothing is preventing people from changing their buying habits other than well-crafted marketing campaigns and a perceived convenience of big box retailers.

Long ago, my father told me that “every dollar spent is a vote.”  It’s a philosophy that I’ve mentioned before, but an idea that has stuck with me and also one I believe is the most powerful in our current “free-market.”  Whether it’s spent on various products, charitable donations, or campaign contributions, these “votes” decide what products, services, and policies the private market and public figures will focus their attention on.

Going local can mean many things.  In recent history the focus has been on where you shop and what you eat.  Those choices are very important, but I want to call attention to an area little talked about – how you purchase.

The average consumer is probably unaware that the switch from using cash to credit has hurt businesses of all kinds greatly. Every swipe of the card deducts anywhere from 2% to 3% of the sale away from the business and to the credit card company and issuing bank. To put that in perspective, if a business does $30,000 in sales for a given month, they are losing up to $900 for the month or $10,800 for the year. That’s money that a lot of small businesses do not have or could use to pay their employees more.

Other countries have passed regulations that have curbed the excessive fees that credit card companies charge.  In the case of Australia, transaction fees have been lowered to 0.5% (a 600% reduction). Of course lobbying congress to fight the credit card companies could take a while, so it might be best to take matters into your own hands.

The most apparent way to do this is always pay in cash. I highly recommend cash because it’s simple and limits your likelihood of going into debt. For many people this is not possible or practical, either for financial reasons or just convenience. A possible compromise exists by switching your national credit and debit cards to a local credit union.

The switch helps mitigate the problem of high transaction fees by keeping money the hands of the local community.  While the transaction fee will still be charged, the majority of the fee goes to the issuing bank and in this case, your credit union.  Rather than the money leaving your community for Wall Street, it goes to your local credit union and is used for loans within the community.

The same is true for the interest you will pay on that debt to the credit card company.  Rather than interest payments bolstering stock values, they will instead be bolstering your local economy.

The whole idea of “going local” is to improve the economy and sustainability of the community you live in, and the more money you can keep in that community, the better it will do.  I am personally in the middle of such a transition and will post more about the pros and cons as I come across them.

There’s more to local credit unions than just changing the way you purchase.  The benefits are several fold and for more information, you can read these articles here and here.

Written by John in: Politics,Ramble | Tags: , , , , ,

Poor person’s software treasure chest

For those that don’t know, there is a category of software known as open source where programmers donate their time and talent to various software projects.  I say donate because they will never be compensated for their contributions.  I question their sanity, but I appreciate their work.

The Internet, and technology in general, would look very different today if not for their contributions.  Without open source software it becomes cost prohibitive for most people and even smaller companies to take part in the new information age.  Behind most sites (including this one) is a very powerful, free, and feature-rich set of software called LAMP – Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP.  There are alternatives to these of course, but LAMP is the de facto standard for web hosting/development and with it you can accomplish anything Microsoft and Oracle products can.  Did I mention it’s free.

Hopefully I haven’t lost you at this point because here is why you should care.  Not only are open source projects the backbone of serving Internet content, but they are increasing becoming feature-rich and stable replacements for much of the software average users pay for.  The most common example is Firefox and other Gecko engine derivatives.  Open source on the desktop goes further than just web browsers.

With very few exceptions, for any paid software product, there is an open source equivalent.  While a few google searches can help you find these options, (Open Source as Alternative) simplifies the process.  Just type in the paid application’s name and the site returns results of the open source equivalents.  For example, want to edit images but don’t want to shell out $699 for Adobe Photoshop CS4.  OSAlt recommends 5 alternatives broken down by operating system with ratings and reviews for each.

Remember that while some software is free, that doesn’t mean it’s open source.  Programs like AIM, Quicktime, and Acrobat Reader might be free, but they often include ads or adware, and are bloated pieces of software hogging memory and resources.  Open source software exists to replace all of these.

Here of some of my favorites that I recommend:

  • Firefox (Replaces Internet Explorer/Safari)
  • VLC Media Player (Replaces Windows Media Player, Quicktime, RealOne, DVD player)
  • Gimp GimpShop (Replaces Adobe Photoshop)
  • Pidgin[win] or Adium[os x] (Replaces AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo, MySpaceIM, etc)
  • InfraRecorder[win] or Burn[os x] (Replaces Nero, Toast, CD/DVD Burning)
  • LibreOffice OpenOffice (Replaces Microsoft Office, iWork)
  • TrueCrypt (Replaces PGP, better than win/mac built-in encryption)
  • Handbrake (Replaces video transcoders.  DVD->MP4, MOV->AVI, etc)
  • Audacity (Replaces SoundForge, Audition)
  • Ubuntu (Replaces Windows, OS X)
  • DOSBox (Run old-school DOS on new computers, play old games, etc)

There are many many more, but these are the ones I find myself using on a daily basis.  Enjoy and please feel free to comment/send me your favorites.

Written by John in: Ramble | Tags: , ,

What are you doing?

I don’t need your response in 140 characters or less.  The last post got me curious though.  What platforms are most of you using and what are you using them for?  If I were to take a screen shot of your desktop, what would typically be running?  Here’s what mine looks like most of the time.

Working Hard ThumbnailTake a screen shot and send it to me or post a link in the comments.

  • Macs: Press Command+Shift+3 and that will make a file on your desktop to send/post.
  • PCs: Press PrintScreen and then open Paint and then Ctrl+v, now save as a JPEG and send/post.
Written by John in: Photos,Ramble | Tags: , ,

I’m a mac…and a pc…and a penquin…and a beastie

First of all let me say that I hate Apple fanboys and I am a staunch supporter of DIY computing and avoiding the Apple tax.  All throughout the 90’s and into the 00’s I could see no reason to pay extra for a platform with limited software and hardware choices of blue or pink.  Since then however, Apple has made a transition from simple and pretty to useful and elegant.  The Apple tax is still there, but now there is some value behind it, and I’m not referring to the enhanced use value of carrying smug on your shoulder.

I am a huge nerd.  Just need to get that out there.  I search for the appropriate reasoning and rationale that will enable me to purchase new pieces of technology.  Thus, a little over two years ago, I decided that my aging Toshiba could no longer keep up with my need for running multiple virtual machines or compressing media and the search for a replacement began.  Previously I would have dismissed any Apple product, but with the recent transition to the x86 architecture and Vista’s crashiness, I was forced to consider the switch.

I’m an IT professional and I feel compelled to know something about everything and OS X was something I knew very little about.  At that time Apple was the only place to find a machine that would run all operating systems compiled for x86.  Benchmarks had also found that the fastest stock laptop running XP was the MacBook Pro.  To make a long story short, after a lot of research, I made the mac switch.  What really pushed me over the edge was a combination of bootcamp and the VMs from VMWare and Parallels.

Since then OS X has become more and more my main environment.  Developers have embraced the platform and there are fewer and fewer times I find myself launching my XP or Ubuntu virtual machines.  XP only gets launched to organize mp3s with MediaMonkey or play the occasional game of Counter Strike.  I realize that at this point my first statement of “I hate Apple fanboys” might be sound a tad hypocritical, and allow me to retort.

Currently I believe that Apple has the best lineup for consumers assuming you can afford the entry price.  There was definitely a point when I felt much like Tyco and Gabe, but what it really boils down to is competition is good for the consumer, and currently Apple is winning.  Things that Windows users are just now getting – indexed system-wide search, decent media management, LED displays, multi-touch surfaces, and user account controls – were on the mac first and arguably implemented better.

I have a feeling that the battle between Apple and Microsoft is going to mirror the competition between AMD and Intel.  In that situation, a smaller company (AMD) brought about new technologies and features (3D Now, 64-bit, integrated memory controllers, multiple cores, low-power cpus) and debunked the myth that more MHz/GHz is better.  These innovations allowed them to gain market share and profits, but awakened a sleeping giant (Intel) which promptly put its much larger budget and marketing behind including all of those features into its next products (Core2 and i7) thus relegating AMD back to its small niche market.

My current beta testing of Window 7 seems to confirm some of this.  Microsoft’s next release takes dead aim at OS X and will definitely provide enough features and stability to keep the masses from switching.  What remains to be seen is how secure Windows 7 will be.  The fact that “Patch Tuesday” exists and that remote code executions are still being patched is appalling.  Especially from a company that 88% of the market and our own government rely on.  It’s a sad but true joke, “How do you make Windows more secure…install Firefox.”

So far this has been a fairly pro-Apple rant, but you will never catch me saying “I’m a mac”.  I might say “I use a mac”, because it’s absurd to define one’s self by the computer you use…if you use one at all (I also use a Tower typewriter).  There is no need to draw lines between PCs and Macs, because if you do, you might miss out on something more functional and useful while trying to remain brand loyal.  Also, different platforms have better uses depending on environment.  I’m not going to install Windows on my router/firewall just because “I’m a PC” – that’s what BSD is for.  I’m not going to install Slackware on my parents computer no matter how secure/l337 it might be.

Now listen up Microsoft and Apple, stop trying to create a culture with ads.  Spend that money on developing new products, paying your staff, and limiting layoffs.  Trust me, word of mouth will do more than “I’m a (blank)” ever could.  Besides, it probably won’t matter what platform you are using once cloud computing reaches its full potential.

Written by John in: Ramble | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Photo of the Week

Migratory birds beware

Migratory birds beware

Once again I find myself travelling to Austin.  This makes 3 times in the last month.  For whatever reason I decided that I should drive this time, which means taking a two hour nap at 10PM, waking up at 12AM and then driving 17 hours.  As I was driving on I-20, the sheer number of wind generators is astounding.  For about 15 miles around Sweetwater, TX, as far as you can see north and south is nothing but a sea of windmills.  I was lucky enough to grap this shot by holding my camera out the passenger side window.  Hopefully “green” companies are friendlier about leasing the land and royalties than oil speculators of the past.

Written by John in: Photos,Ramble,Travel | Tags: , , , , ,

From WKFB Internet, it’s This American Wannabe

It’s no secret to say that I listen to a lot of talk media.  Anyone who has bothered to look at my profile has noticed a fair number of podcasts mixed in with the music.  Take into account that this only represents the time spent sitting by a device that “scrobbles” to that site.  Not connected are my mp3 player, Meaghan’s mp3 player, and the holy grail of analog – NPR.

At first NPR was a diversion from typical radio.  I grew tired of flipping between 7 clear channel stations trying to locate a song, any song, worth listening to.  As long as I was listening to bad radio,  I figured I might as well catch up on local and world news.

I had listened to public radio before, but this time it was different.  I stumbled into the appropriate demographic unknowingly.  Suddenly the problems or Uganda, or the droning music of John Ailey, or the happenings in Lake Wobegon became interesting to me.  Now I prefer to listen to NPR over anything else on the radio.  I find myself yelling answers at Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, or solving the puzzler of Car Talk.

One particular show resides above all the rest.  I must credit Meaghan with forcing her love of This American Life upon me, and I must thank her for it.  My attraction cannot compare to the almost obsessive love Meaghan has for this hour of radio, but I do love it.  I often fantasize about having Ira Glass introduce a story of mine on his show.  This is followed by public acclaim and having my memoirs reach the top of the New York Times bestsellers list.

So after many years of only being a passive listener, I am now going to assume the roll of storyteller.  If I were to have a story told on This American Life, it would go a little something like this:

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Written by John in: Audio,Ramble | Tags: , , , , , ,

The daily grind…

It seems that in life we always strive for stability and routine.  Of course too much of anything is said to be negative, therefore stability and routine cannot be allowed to become complacency.  Ironically however, some attempt to rebel against these ideas to the point of making chaos their routine.  I would love to tell you that I am the latter.  A romantic figure worthy of a Palahniuk novel, but my mind and body are constantly imposing their will.

A few days, maybe a week will go by and suddenly I’ll realize that a new pattern in behaviors had emerged.  Occasionally I place a wrench on the cogs, spinning the machine out of control, but invariably elves or nanobots or some other inner Mr. Fixit puts the machine back in working order and I’m back to my daily grind.

It sounds like I might think of this as a problem, but there is a certain amount of routine and stability that I enjoy and wish to maintain.  As long my routines don’t turn into hackneyed phrases like “I woke up one day and I was forty.”

As I’ve been pondering my current routines I find that I keep landing on only things I do before noon.  A good poop, making coffee, catching up on my personal email and favorite websites, and the series of events in which I groom myself.  Rarely, I think, do people put much emphasis on evening routines.  There may be a just got home from work routine, or a just before bed routine, but these are often skipped, and little discussed.  The fulfillment of an evening routine is dependent on the previous days actions.  Was it a good day, or a bad day?  Do you have more work waiting for you at home, or a dinner to go to?  The morning however always starts out the same way – wake up and get out of bed and therefore is itself part of the morning routine.

All that said, here is a little peak at my first and favorite routine of the day – making and consuming coffee.

Written by John in: Ramble,Video | Tags: , ,

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