Winter gives us hope

spring

This winter in Austin has been much colder than any I can remember growing up in Texas.  I’m not a cold weather person.  I was just thinking the other day as I dream of the day when I can wear shorts again, that winter gives us hope.  Maybe the reason we are meant to suffer through long winters is because it teaches us to hope for the future.  Hope for a brighter, warmer spring.  Hope for sunshine and flowers and green.  Hope that the pain of today will be replaced with the joy of tomorrow.  Hope that our current suffering is temporary, and will end soon.  I have hope. Do you?

Image credit Ninz of the Wild

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Why I love mornings

Mornings are hands down my favorite part of the day.  Mornings are full of promise, full of potential.  Today is an adventure about to unfold.  On the brink of excitement.  The thrill of the unknown and the smell of possibility.  Mornings are a fresh start.  All of the mistakes and regrets from yesterday are gone.  Today is a new change to make a difference, to make wise decisions, to use my time for good.  The chance to do something useful and helpful to the world, to you.

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Not all miles are created equal

I’m a big fan of airline miles – I feel like its one case where I’m essentially getting something for nothing, or at least almost.  By using one credit card over another (the only difference being an annual fee of $95, which is more than made up for by the at least one free flight I get per year.  I also don’t pay interest since I pay off the card every month) I get thousands of miles that I turn into free flight tickets.  Just two weeks ago I purchased a $1000 ticket to DC for a total of $10, plus $75 fee, and 37,500 miles.    Of course I felt good because this was a good deal.

However, I noticed something crucial when speaking with a friend about him doing the same thing.  For his system, for an $1800 dollar flight, it cost him 185,000 miles – basically 100miles/dollar.  I realized that that airlines’ mileage system is based on price, whereas mine is not.  So for example, if he wants to book a more expensive flight, be it last minute or non-stop or whatever, it will cost him more miles.

But in my system, the mileage is irregardless of price.  So if I had purchased my ticket months before when the price was only $400, it still would have cost me the same 37,500 miles.  However, if I had been using a price based system, then it would have cost me almost three times more miles to purchase the higher fare.  I never understood this before, but it hit me how much of a better system is the one not based on price.  And I was very thankful thats the system I use, which happens to be United.  I use the Mileage Plus Explorer card, which I highly recommend.

By the way, I highly recommend Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Hacking blog and Cartel, for all things airlines miles.

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Is dreaming better than realizing your dream?

dreamI was contemplating this the other day.  Dreaming is fun.  It gives you hope.  It takes you to a better place.  It lets you escape your current reality to what you think is a better one.  But what happens if I accomplish my dream?  Will my dreaming then be crushed?  I mean if I realize my dreams, then what would I dream about?  What would I hope for?  What would I long for?  What would motivate me?

Does realizing my dreams crush them?

(image credit here)

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The Greatest Game Ever Invented

I dislike the government.  I would like to use a stronger word, but I might get in trouble, since the government is reading everything I write.  With the Edward Snowden releasing details about the government’s PRISM program of spying on its citizens, now we all know that everything we do or say is being recorded.  My phone calls, emails, skype messages, texts, etc are being monitored by the government.

I just got a raise at work.  Very exciting, right?  Yes.  Until I realized that the government is taking almost half of it.  So now it turns out I’m paying my own government to monitor all my communications.

Isn’t America grand?

government-cloak-of-secrecy-open-government

 

(image credit here)

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News is not a Game Show

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I guess you could say I’m a fan of the Daily Show with John Stewart (or John Oliver).  Quite often when watching I find myself laughing out loud.  Today I heard a quote that elicited that exact response, and I also thought it was quite poignant, so I thought I’d share it.

While doing a segment on Edward Snowden and the recent PRISM leaks (starting about 11min into this episode) , John Oliver is poking fun at the news media, which the show often does, and he says “News is not a game show.  You don’t win a car if you happen to be right.” (about 14:10 into the episode)

This is exactly the problem (well one of them anyway) with modern news channels in America.  They are constantly competing and treating the news like a game, rather than just reporting facts.  Watching live news coverage is often painful; like watching a kids talent show, without all the cuteness.  People trying to look like they know what they are doing, but they have no idea.

Hope you got a laugh like I did.

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I don’t wanna go home

Everybody loves vacation.  I just got back from one.  It was great.  But what’s not great is that “I just got back”.  Coming back from vacation sucks.  Last Friday when I was leaving work, ready to leave for my vacation, I was very happy.  “Let’s hit the road! Can’t wait to get on the plane to get to the beach!”

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Everyone knows that feeling when you are about to leave on a fun trip.  Is there a way to keep that feeling even when we are returning from a trip?  Everyone also knows the feeling of getting on the plane or car to come back from a vacation, with that sinking feeling that “I’ve got to go back to work on Monday.”

I’ve been trying to think of ways to counteract this.  I’m not saying that the negative feeling at the end of vacation outweighs the positive feeling at the beginning and during, but perhaps we can be smart to find a way to enjoy returning from vacation too.  Maybe we can use some of Dan Ariely’s behavioral economics studies to help us out.

Maybe its planning the next vacation the day we get back from the last one?  If I knew that as soon as I got home I would book the flights for my next trip, would that make it more fun to come home after this trip?  Or maybe its planning a special night out with a spouse or friends for the day after coming back.  I’ll have to try these on coming back from my next trip.

Anybody have any ideas of how to avoid the dread feeling when returning from a holiday?

(image credit: here)

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Siri, can I have fries with that?

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Voice recognition is getting better and better. From Google Now and Siri to Microsoft’s new futuristic voice translator, we are able to use our voices for more and more things, and computers can understand our speech better and better.

So it hit me yesterday while at (insert your favorite fast food chain here),  why can’t drive-thrus (I actually prefer this spelling because it reduces ambiguity) at fast food restaurants use voice recognition to save money?  From my experience with the accuracy of Google Now, it is more than capable of recognizing what I’m saying, and this would even be easier if trained to listen for specific words from a menu.  It could even handle special orders such as “no onions”, etc.

Now I know this would eliminate jobs, specifically of the drive thru worker, but I think thats generally a good thing.  As Steve Levitt, of my favorite podcast, Freakonomics, says, if a job is eliminated by created more efficiency in the system, than that is a good thing for the overall economy.  That improved efficiency means there is now more time/energy/money/resources to be used on something else.  So in my opinion, this would be a case where eliminating a human job for a much cheaper and more efficient computer is good for our economy.

In fact, better yet, why not have a tablet with the voice app run the entire drive through?  You could use voice to order, and the screen would show you each item and its price as it is added to the order.  And then if for some reason the voice recognition didn’t work or you dont like talking to a machine, you can simple touch the tablet to order – a touch screen picture menu.

What do you think?  Would you feel comfortable ordering from Siri or Google Now?  Or would you prefer to talk to a human?  Do you think that voice recognition would be able to understand your order?  Would you feel comfortable ordering from a tablet?  Or do you think we should preserve the jobs of drive thru workers? Or do you prefer the ‘human touch’ of a real person?

(image credit: here)

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The Google you don’t even know

Screen Shot 2013-06-01 at 4.41.39 PMRead this article on GigaOM the other day, and totally agree.  Google is quietly and subtly building its own platform on top of platforms.  Eventually, everything you do on your computer can be done through the Chrome browser and Chrome apps.  The ‘future of cloud computing’ will have arrived, and everything can be done through the cloud.  (Well, almost everything.  Not sure about heaving video editing or 3D CAD, but I’m sure they’ll eventually come around too.)

I wonder if when I’ll be ready to purchase a Chromebook instead of a Macbook, and feel confident that I’m able to do everything I want with the machine.

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Is my phone better than my computer?

phone > computer

Which do you find more useful, your phone or your computer?  An interesting question, that probably depends on the context and what you are trying to do.

One annoying thing I’ve found is that my Android phone does some things better than my computer.  For example, I can set profiles on my phone based on my location – so certain settings can change depending on if I’m at work or home.  I can have my phone automatically silence while I’m at work.  I can have it turn on or off wifi, change the home screen, launch certain apps, etc. (This is done with various automation apps, like Tasker, Atooma, Llama, Profile Flow, etc. Some tips from LifeHacker here.

But my computer? No such luck.  Because my computer is not aware of its location the way my phone is.  Since I take my personal computer to work with me, I would like it to change my screensaver when it knows I’m at work.  Or when I’m using google maps, can’t it automatically know where my current location is?  How hard would it be to put GPS into a computer?  Or better yet, GPS plus 4G?  Here’s to hoping my next laptop has both.

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