Clean Install of OS X El Capitan

General

I switched to using OS X in 2007. I continued using OS X for personal use even while I worked for years at Microsoft.I had probably last started with a clean install back in 2011. Over the last 4-5 years I had installed and uninstalled many things. I had messed around with the shell. I had created symbolic links, implemented complicated workarounds to support the various edge cases that I needed to work with at different points in my life.

OS X has come a long way in the last 5yrs. The App Store was announced and I had started installing/updating my apps using it. Many tweaks and workarounds I had gotten used to became core features of the OS. Setting up development enviroments became a breeze with things like Docker and sophisticated package managers like Node/NPM.

I decided it was time to have a clean break and start over again. See, it’s easy to migrate/re-install and get back to where you were before. But I wanted to start clean for real. Make new decisions for my new workflows to reflect how both me and the tools I use had evolved.

I started on a Friday evening. Made a USB installer. Made a full backup of all my data files. I didn’t backup any configurations and settings on purpose. The thing that took the longest time was getting my pictures back up. I have a 1TB SSD drive (astronomical cost component on my laptop) which is mainly filled with pictures and videos.

So now I have a clean, wiped, brand new, fresh off the press copy of El Capitan with no baggage from the past. I install software as I need it and here’s where I am after a week.

Apple Watch & Boarding Passes

General

So I checked in to my Lufthansa flight last night on my iPhone which ended with the boarding passes being added to my Wallet on my phone. This morning, when I arrived at the airport and swiped up on my Apple Watch screen, the boarding pass was already there!.When I swiped into it I could also have the QR code show up. I didn’t do anything to make it happen. The Apple Watch is just an extension of my phone, which is an extension of my life. Due things like these, I can just leave my phone in my bag and not have to take it out as often as I did before I got my Apple Watch.

  

 I get asked a lot, is an Apple Watch worth it? It all depends on your use case and how much value you put on what it enables. In 2007 when the iPhone was launched, people asked the same question. 8 yrs later today, a lot of people have smartphones that never thought they ever would. In the same way, eventually humans do pay for increasing their capabilities and capacity (ever buy paper, or a notebook to write on?), and they pay for things that reduce friction in their lives (when was the last time you milked a cow?), and they pay for improving the quality of their lives (are shoes worth it?).

The Apple Watch is nice hardware, feels great, has a beautiful display, tracks my steps, my heart rate, my sleep, and it feels way more naturally integrated into my life than holding a phone – the trade-off being the depth of interaction.  

How to get a SIM card with data in Amsterdam

General

If you are visiting Amsterdam, it’s convenient to have data on your phone so you can use Google Maps and find your way around. Yes, there’s wifi in many places, but there’s also a lack of wifi in many places. I have split a lot of hair and lost a lot of Euros experimenting with the different services available to visitors and I’ve finally figured out the best way to do this right. This post assumes you have an unlocked phone and you already know why you need to get data on your phone.

The most common card that people go for is Lebara. They are the easiest to get started with. You can find Lebara folks at the airport, at the railway stations, on the street etc. They do a good job marketing, have the best prices, are easy to recharge and have the best customer service. Yet, Lebara didn’t work for me. Why? The internet speeds are very slow. And Skype/Facetime calls are blocked on them. Lebara resells bandwidth from KPN, but it caps it at a speed that’s just barely enough to use Google Maps and to load pages very slowly. It was always between 0.2MBPS – 0.9MBPS. Everything is very slow, things time out. If your internet needs aren’t heavy, then sure, go wit Lebara. If you need more, read on.

The only real alternative is to go with KPN directly. Now, KPN has a larger set of resident customers and they haven’t yet figured out how to make things really work well with transient/visitors. Amsterdam, outside of the very touristy central area, is like the rest of Europe when it comes to customer service. To an American, “appalling” or “severely lacking” are the nicest words to use for the customer service in Europe. I think it’s a cultural thing, the expectations are just very different. And yet, KPN does have the best speeds and the best network in Amsterdam. So here’s how to go about it:

  1. Find a KPN store – they are a few in the centre and also in most neighborhoods
  2. Get a new SIM and ask them you also want to get a dataplan with it. They will inform you that the max package is for 1GB for a month. That’s the one I usually get. But now, pay special attention to the next part.
  3. Most KPN staffers are actually clueless about what actually happens when you activate a new SIM and try to get data on it.
  4. $10 is the cost of a new SIM. $16 is the cost of the 1GB data plan. So you basically pay $30 to get a new card and data.
  5. Before you put the SIM card in, make sure you go into Settings>Cellular and turn off Cellular Data. This is super super important.
  6. Now put the SIM in and see that it works, finds the KPN network and you may get a few welcome text messages. You can now use the phone to make phone calls etc. But keep your cellular data turned off until you activate the internet bundle
  7. You have to dial *147# to enable the data bundle.
  8. You will get a message back in Dutch confirming that your request was received. This is a very misleading looking message. If you have ever done this before, you might think it’s already active at this point. But it is not.
  9. No one will tell you this, but it actually takes more than 24hrs for the data bundle to be active. You have to keep cellular data turned off until that happens.
  10. Wait until you get one more message from KPN about the 1GB data plan.
  11. If you don’t get a message, try again after 24hrs with the *147# call.
  12. While you wait, install the MyKPN app from the app store. Create an account, sign-in, and associate your new SIM card and phone number with that account.
  13. I have found this to be the only reliable way to know what’s going on with your account. Here, you will see your balance, and if the data plan is truly active or not.
  14. Only once you have verified that the data plan here is active, you can now go ahead and turn on cellular data. If the settings are missing, use these below
    1. APN: portalmmm.nl
    2. Username: <blank>
    3. Password: <blank>
  15. Now you are set

It takes longer to get a new KPN connection, but if you are planning to be in Amsterdam for more than 3-4 days, and do need a faster connection, I recommend this approach.

Fix for Wifi issues on a Mac (Yosemite)

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Since the Yosemite upgrade to OS X, I have been facing lots of WiFi issues on my Mac. As I go from home, to cafe, to airport, to train, to cafe etc I notice that my connection just stops working. I kept blaming the public wifi routers until I realized that many times the issue is with OS X. This is not a comprehensive guide on how to fix WiFi issues on a Mac. But this one thing does work, so try it and good luck!

Launch “Terminal”

Now this may appear a little scary. But it’s quite easy. On every Mac, there’s a “command line interface” which lets you type instructions to your computer. This lets you do more advanced things that are not always possible by clicking with a mouse on buttons.

To do this,

  1. Press the “COMMAND” and ”SPACE” keys at the same time.
  2. This will open “Spotlight Search” in the middle of the screen.
  3. In that search box, type “Terminal” and hit “Enter/Return” to launch it

It will look something like this:


Find “discoveryd

Discoveryd is a tool introduced by Apple in Yosemite which is quite buggy and has been the main reason behind the issues. We won’t go into details but you first need to find it on your laptop. You do this by typing the following command in the terminal window:

ps -ax | grep discoveryd

Note that the vertical line is a “pipe”, the key above the return key.

This will show you all the processes running on your laptop with the name discoveryd. In the above example, on my laptop, it is the first result with an ID of 1169. Find the corresponding number on your laptop and note it.

Kill discoveryd

Now, all you have to do is “kill” discoveryd which will force it to start again and magically fix everything. You do this by typing:

sudo kill <process id number>

Sudo tells the terminal to run this command as an administrator. This may prompt you to type the password for your account. It’s safe to enter it here.

Replace 1169 with whatever was the number that you found in the previous step.

Conclusion

That’s it. This should fix the issue. If it doesn’t then you may have o resort to a more comprehensive troubleshooting guide.

Alpine Climbing Equipment

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Alpine Climbing Equipment

When going out into the backcountry, one has to be prepared for all kinds of weather. The goal is to read the weather and understand the conditions in advance and avoid running into a bad weather window to begin with. But it’s all a probability and everything helps in making sure you stay safe. Here’s the climbing gear between two climbers:

Starting from the bottom is the insulation pads to protect from the cold snow on which you sleep. The crampons attach to the climbing boots and provide traction in icy terrain. The helmets are a must to protect from rock-fall caused by other climbers or melting snow. These boots have a 3’4th shank of metal in the sole which is very useful for kicking steps in the snow and for getting strong levarage when trying to step on 1” ledges on rocks.

The best way to carry water in the cold, freezing conditions is these wide mouth ones. Easy to put fresh snow into as you sip from it. At night it also doubles up as a warm water bottle that you slip into your sleeping bag. The rope here is not the actual climbing rope we used – the purpose of rope in alpine climbing is also for traversing on glaciers and rescuing from crevasses. The ice-axe is the hiking stick, gives you support when going up, helps you arrest a fall when you slip, can be used as a quick belay, as a deadweight anchor etc. The gaiters are worn on the boots to prevent any snow from creeping into the feet. Climbing harness, carabiners, rescue pulley

Sleeping bags, down summit jacket, extra fleece layer – when in doubt, throw in an extra layer. Gloves, hats, mittens, redundancy is very useful. If you lose a glove, and that’s all you have, you will eventually lose your hand or have to turn around. Tent, tent poles and tent snow stakes. All 3. If you forget one, you are screwed. We learned it a very very hard way.

We carry a fancy GPS, but also carry old school compass and maps. Sophisticated technology is more likely to fail. Redundancy, and proficiency helps.

Glacier glasses. When you are exposed to bright snow for 16hours, your eyes get fried. It can take a day or two to be able to use them again. Glacier glasses are a must. They prevent light from entering from anywhere. On that note, you have to protect even the inside of your nostrils from the sun. Anything exposed to light will get sunburned and it’s painful.

Pickets to create quick anchors when you end up in tricky spots or to rescue someone. A quick showel to create a platform for the tent, or to dig out a teammate from an avalanche (can’t really joke about this).

Stove, firestarter, fuel. Duct tape. Be safe.

Understanding Variances based on Sample Sizes

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Every now and then you read something that really furthers your understanding of the world around us. I read this fascinating piece in the book by Howard Wainer: Picturing the Uncertain World. The specific chapter I read was called “The Most Dangerous Equation” where he discusses De Moivre’s equation. It’s quite a bite to chew on and I tried explaining it to my team using just words and that just didn’t cut it. So I put together a quick graphic visualizing some of the basis of it. This may not be academically super accurate, but gets the gist across, so bear with me and I welcome you to follow along 🙂

Below are 32 hypothetical students’ heights, each represented by one vertical bar. They are grouped by color into individual classrooms A, B, C, D … H making it 8 classrooms in all.

In the first row at the top, the solid green horizontal line shows the average of the heights of all the individual students across all 32 individual measurements. The rightmost section shows the average height and also shows the maximum height and the minimum height for this sample of all students.

In the second part, we first calculate the average height of each classroom separately e.g. instead of looking at each yellow bar separately, we are now only looking at the single green line across those yellow bars that represents the average height of that classroom. And we do that for each cluster of colors. So now we only have 8 measurements that reflect the average height of each classroom. Taking an average of those 8 averages results in the exact same average height. However, the variance in this sample is much lower i.e. it’s more likely that the tallest kid in a class gets balanced out by other short kids in a class so the average height of a classroom will show less variation than the average height of the kids individually.

Also, a large classroom is always closer to the mean than the average height of smaller classrooms which will have more outliers as it’s easy for a single tall student to throw off the average of a small classroom. But in a large class room, a single tall student has less impact on the average height.

The third section shows that distribution. Classrooms with the tallest average height tends to be smaller classrooms. Similarly, classrooms with the shortest average height also tend to be the smaller classrooms.

It would be erronous to just look at the top of the distribution and conclude that smaller classrooms have taller students compared to large classrooms. However, now replace height with grades. And that’s exactly the premise of the “small schools” movement. Without understanding the underlying real world distribution of data and how sample sizes affect variance, small school lobbying centers around the belief that small schools have better grades. This is true. But due to statistics and how data is distributed and measured. Not because small schools actually do something different. Also, the worst performing schools are also small schools by the same distribution.

Understanding this relationship between sample sizes and variances observed in them is very important when making sense of data. Yet, the chapter states, many examples of large policy decisions have been made by incorrect understanding of the datasets or by looking at just one side of the distribution.

Soylent – Food as a Service (FaaS)

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Soylent. I am calling it Food as a Service (FaaS). Because you pay $9 for 2000 calories of full nutrition, no compromise food with no prep time, planning needed. Absolutely beats resorting to fast food, ramen noodles etc. Also, it can potentially help address global malnutrition by at least playing a complementary role to other efforts.

I got my pre-order delivered while I was out of the country, so just tried it. Tastes like a healthy smoothie with a cake batter flavor. Has to be consumed cold for the best taste. I do like a hot soup and more flavor so clearly this is not going to replace all meals. But I love how it can fill in some meals so you don’t have to always keep planning. Also, you can easily measure calories so it helps stick to diets etc. Will see how my body reacts to it and see if I am getting all the nutrition I need.

Verdict for now is that I am quite excited by it and curious to see how this pans out.