LetsEncrypt / Certbot – Virtualhost vs VirtualHost

Certbot, formerly letsencrypt is a great tool for setting up SSL certificates on websites. I love being able to quickly, easily and for free, setup a HTTPS SSL (TLS) certificate.

I use apache to host lots of WordPress sites, custom sites (e.g Symfony) and the like and Certbot helps keep them secure. Except when it doesn’t understand the <VirtualHost> config.

 

Here is a virtual host entry that works. running /opt/certbot-auto sees it and lets you create an SSL cert for it.

<VirtualHost *:80>
 ServerAdmin kublermdk@gmail.com
 ServerName www.kublermdk.com
 ServerSignature On

 DocumentRoot /var/www/kublermdk/www/
 CustomLog /var/log/apache2/www.kublermdk.com.log vhost_combined
 ErrorLog /var/log/apache2/www.kublermdk.com.error.log
 <Directory /var/www/kublermdk/www/>
 Options Indexes FollowSymLinks
 AllowOverride All
 Require all granted
 </Directory>
</VirtualHost>

 

Here’s a similar virtualhost entry. Apache happily uses it and it looks fine but Certbot can’t see it. See the difference? I’ve bolded the two characters that have changed.

<Virtualhost *:80>
 ServerAdmin kublermdk@gmail.com
 ServerName www.kublermdk.com
 ServerSignature On

 DocumentRoot /var/www/kublermdk/www/
 CustomLog /var/log/apache2/www.kublermdk.com.log vhost_combined
 ErrorLog /var/log/apache2/www.kublermdk.com.error.log
 <Directory /var/www/kublermdk/www/>
 Options Indexes FollowSymLinks
 AllowOverride All
 Require all granted
 </Directory>
</Virtualhost>

That’s right, the certbot apache plugin doesn’t understand <Virtualhost> with a lowercase h, only <VirtualHost> with an uppercase H, but Apache accepts both versions.

It took me 2 hours and lots of struggling to realise this. Hopefully this post saves you some time and maybe Certbot will be updated to work with either.

Also, if you are trying to get it to work with multiple ServerAlias’s that won’t work. So if you have www.kublermdk.com kublermdk.com and resume.kublermdk.com they all need their own site config file and to be configured individually, which is a bit of a pain.

 

More info :

I’m using certbot v0.11.1

https://certbot.eff.org/

https://github.com/certbot/certbot/issues/3545- I got a touch of help reading this and understanding that the apache plugin reads the sites-available folder for the HTTP version of the site not HTTPS and after reading through some of the actual certbot apache plugin code I found out it uses a specific parsing engine and there was a reference to how they parse VirtualHosts needing more work.

https://github.com/certbot/certbot/issues/4183 I posted a bug report about the issue.

Looking Forward to 2017

Looking ahead, it seems like there’s some crucial parts of 2017 that I’m looking forward to. Mainly a 4-6week period around March and April.

Emma my sister’s wedding on the 12th March. Then flying to Brisbane to help organise and also finish prepping my ZDay speech which will be on the 2nd day of ZDay, I’ll be presenting just after Peter Joseph. w00t!

I’ll hang around for a little while with the awesome Brissy geisters, then I’m presenting at the NZ ZDay event in Auckland on the 9th of April. Fk yeah. Hopefully I’ll get to spend a week enjoying the sights. I’ve never been to New Zealand. Then heading home.

Before that big trip I’ll be packing up the place I currently live, putting most of the stuff into storage for a little while. I’ll likely come back from overseas and stay at my Dad’s place for a bit until I can find somewhere I like.

Most of the rest of the year I’ll be working full time at The Distillery. I’m a web dev / sys admin. Working with Symfony PHP, WordPress, Drupal, LAMP stack, Ansible server config, that sort of stuff. I’m also interested in playing with my own ReactJS, Apollo, MongoDB web app for Gather Together a meeting reminder / organising system I had the need for years ago.

The aim is to pay off my remaining credit card debt which is left over from when I tried to work on eMotively full time last year.
I’ve got a backlog of taxes to then start paying off and depending on how things go, my aim is to save up a 3 month runway whereby I can try working on my sci-fi novel The Book of New Eden. It’s meant to be set about 50yrs in the future, but at my current rate when I finally get around to actually writing it the future will already be here.

I know that I’m not going to spontaneously have the spare mental capacity to write an epic heros journey without actually putting the time aside. I’ve got years of ideas, notes, chapter parts and other stuff that needs to be assembled. I have the core framework of the novel, the chapter outlines, small parts of the story, but there’s a lot missing and a lot of work to do.

The first couple of months of the year I’m looking forward to being single. Flik and I were together since just after the Walk for Solar, basically the start of October 2012 so over 4yrs. That’s the longest relationship I’ve been in and before that I’ve always lived in a shared house or with family, never spent more than a couple of weeks living on my own. Hopefully I don’t let the house get too messy.

Talking about the Walk for Solar, the Repower Pt Augusta campaign is getting back into gear with a big, South Australian wide vote for Solar Thermal or Gas. You should vote, it only takes a second.

We know, thanks to BZE the volunteer engineering organisation that Australia can be powered by 100% Renewables using a mixture of over 60% wind, a bunch of Solar Thermal and a touch of biomass backup. Solar Thermal and Wind compliment each other extremely well and SA already has over 30% of it’s power from wind and renewables, with some days wind power produces over 100% of our power.

So yes, I’ll be helping with the Repower Pt Augusta campaign. Getting the first grid connected Solar Thermal power station in Australia would be an amazing first, an epic win. Did I mention it’ll also create a mass of jobs and be good for the economy?

SA Power outage Blackstart in relatively plain English

On Wednesday 28 September 2016 at 4:16pm South Australia had a state wide power outage, a black start event.

I, like most people were still at work and managed to continue working for a couple of hours thanks to laptop batteries and mobile phone internet. Although riding my bike home would have been crazy given the storm and lack of traffic lights. Thankfully I got a lift home. By 11:06pm the power came back on at my place. Having the entire state’s power go out is certainly not something that happens very often, as such it begs the question as to what happened.

The short version

3 main power lines got damaged by the storm, all within less than a minute. The loss of power from them meant an increase in load from Victoria, the load was more than that connection could handle, to protect itself from overloading it disconnected. With such a sudden drop in power the remaining power generators also tripped.

The 3 main connections which were severed by the storm were 275,000 volt transmission lines. The really big ones that usually buzz. It is believed that a Tornado or at least very high wind gust caused the damage.

One of the High Voltage Power Lines Destroyed by the Storm
One of the High Voltage Power Lines Destroyed by the Storm (Source: ABC)

 

The more detailed explanation

It was the storm which caused the outage as it caused 3 high voltage power lines from the North of the state to be damaged with 22 towers damaged or destroyed. The 4th high voltage line also tripped, but was not directly damaged.
They all disconnected within the space of about 40 seconds. South Australia was using about 1,826MW of power at the time and without the 315MW of (wind) power from the connectors the energy needed to come from somewhere. There was increased load on the Heywood Interconnector to Victoria to compensate. This went from delivering 525MW to well over the 600MW maximum rating it was designed to transmit. As a protection measure the connection was dropped, meaning that within less than a minute (and most of it happening within a couple of seconds) the state was now 850MW-900MW short of power.
The unexpected disconnections also caused the frequency of the electricity supply to change to fast. The power in Australia aims to run at 50hz (the US has 60 cycles a second) and the frequency is allowed to change by 1 Hz/second and the power generators don’t run if it’s below 47 Hz. The loss of the link to Victoria caused the frequency to drop by 6 and 7 Hz per second, far more than is tolerable, thus the rest of the power generation, the wind generators and Torrens Island power station were all dropped and the state went black.

To restore power the electricity companies had to initiate a black start procedure. From 5:23pm Electranet went and selectively turned on the Heywood interconnector, trying to get power to Torrens Island. This was important as it’s a gas fired power station able to generate up to 1,280MW of power and thus can help offset the lost power from the disconnected power lines. unfortunately the power station needs a lot of electricity to start and attempts to do that with the backup power didn’t work and storm damage caused the secondary backup to fail. The priority was getting the power from Victoria to Torrens Island. The power station was back up and running at 9pm. Pelican Point power station was also switched on (it hadn’t been running prior to the blackout) and was generating power by 10:05pm
By midnight on Wednesday (28th), 80–90% of electricity that could be reconnected was. Unfortunately due to the power line failures the North was effectively cut off from the rest of the state and it wasn’t until 9pm on Friday (30th September) 2016, that the last remaining transmission line to the southern Eyre Peninsula, was restored.

There’s an interesting part about how the 4th line that tripped but wasn’t destroyed. Because of the damage to the lines it is practice and ElectraNet’s operating procedure to conduct a patrol before reconnecting a line when such a ground fault occurs. Unfortunately the continued rain, poor weather and high winds (with gusts up to 120Km/h) meant the helicopters were grounded. This meant some poor sods had to drive along hundreds of km’s of power lines making sure they were fine. Thankfully the 4th line was confirmed intact and reconnected around noon on Thursday. I would like to thank the people who had to put in heroic efforts to get the power restored. Thank you.

 

Power Generation before Blackstart
Power Generation before Blackstart

Weather

There’s an average of 16 tornadoes we know about a year in Australia and where they occurred is a known higher risk area during a time of higher activity. I’ve been told that whilst the Bureau of Meteorology can identify structures in the radar images that indicate the potential for tornadoes to develop, they can’t directly identify Tornadoes and instead rely on reports, or video from the public, emergency services and the like. Such evidence points to there being 4 tornadoes during the storm around and F1 and F2 in scale, thus it’s certainly possible there was winds up to 140Km/h that likely caused the damage to the towers.

Below is a video of a tornado forming outside Blyth on the day.

 

For those wanting to see a variety of stats related to electricity production check out the AER website.

 

Update :

There was over 200,000+ households without power on the 1st of Dec 2016 after the Heywood Interconnector dropped out the AEMO media statement mentions it was “Due to the need to balance the frequency of the network”, which further strengthens the case for Solar Thermal in Pt Augusta as such a power station would provide not just better energy security but also the Frequency Anxillary Control Services needed in this case.

Personal Weekly Review – 12 item list

If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you are doomed to repeat them.

As such, doing a regular review is important and talked about in plenty of life hacking / self-help books.

The thing is, I’ve had a weekly repeating Google Calendar entry about doing a weekly review for years, but it just said “Weekly Review”. When the reminder would notify me I would look at it, spend 10s thinking about the top of mind events that happened and then get on with the rest of my weekend.

I knew that wasn’t good enough and today, whilst sorting some old documents into a filing cabinet I found a review list I wrote back in April 2014 which I’ve just added to my calendar entry. Hopefully you and I will have better reviews and learnings based on these.

Do a personal review of the week and work out the tasks for the next week thinking about :

Review

  1. Finances
  2. Health and Fitness
  3. Family and Friends
  4. Production vs Production Capacity
  5. Household tasks and general organisation
  6. Recent Short Term Wins
  7. Long Term Vision
  8. Important but not urgent tasks
  9. Learning and Education (what to direct my learning towards next)
  10. Teaching, Training, Writing and sharing my knowledge
  11. Willpower challenges and strength
  12. Food/Nutrition

Further Explanation

Finances used to just cover making sure I’d sent my invoices, that I’d paid my bills and ensured I knew when the next bills are. I would occasionally also do a financial snapshot, working out how much money was in my bank accounts, how much I’d spent and received since the last snapshot and what my estimated runway (weeks without money I can go for) is. But since reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad and also Money, Master the Game, I’m more interested in working out my assets and liabilities and how I can create a passive / portfolio based income stream that will allow me to get to financial thriving not just financial surviving.

Fitness is easily tracked in Runkeeper when I’m doing lots of runs, as I was in the lead up to the City to Bay, although I’m concentrating more on my stomach and core which is harder to track, except to remember how sore my muscles are from exercise, that’s a fairly good indicator to me that I’ve been doing well.

Point 4 about production vs production capacity is explained well in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. In this case I’m taking time to consider if I’ve balanced my time between the two. If you just focus on production (doing things) but not on production capacity (being able to do things better), you’ll get stuck in a rut.

Point 8 about Important but Not Urgent tasks is another one explained in the 7 habits and the fact that you need to focus on them, where as it’s easy to spend way too much time on the Not Important or Urgent and get worked up over the important and urgent.

2016-10-09th-important-but-not-urgent-0316pd-squires-fig1

Point 11 about Willpower challenges is talked about well in The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal but setting challenges is also done well with SuperBetter, the game and the book, by her awesome sister Jane McGonigal. I usually try having a weekly Willpower challenge, sometimes related to ensuring I’m exercising, sleeping well, working on the projects I want, or just ensuring I’ve meditated enough and aren’t getting easily distracted.

PHP5.6 (or higher) on Ubuntu 14.04

Ubuntu 14.04’s official repo isn’t going to support PHP 5.6 or above. I’m currently on v5.5.9-1 and needed to move to a higher version for a Symfony PHP app I’m working on.

Most googling shows you the outdated answer so here’s the commands that worked for me.

sudo apt-get install python-software-properties
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ondrej/php
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install php5.6 libapache2-mod-php5.6 php5.6-mcrypt php5.6-json php5.6-mysql php5.6-curl php5.6-xml php5.6-soap php5.6-zip php5.6-gd php5.6-mbstring php5.6-intl php5.6-bcmath

The old commands on the net suggest using sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ondrej/php5-5.6 but that package is deprecated.

If you run

apt-cache search php | grep -E 'php[0-9\.]+ -'

you’ll see that you can install php5, php5.5, php5.6, php7.0 and php7.1 (as at the time of writing – September 2016).

If you only want to see the php 5.6 packages and modules available you can run  apt-cache search php | grep 5.6  or change the grep to different versions as applicable.

php5-6

Hopefully this helps some people.

Update : I can’t seem to find the xdebug module for any version of PHP in the ppa:ondrej/php repository. Not in php 5.6 nor 7.1 and between. If you want to do local development then you might be best upgrading to Ubuntu 16.04 which comes with php7 by default, although note they only call it php in the apt repo, so you might have to update your Ansible config, assuming you are using Ansible, Puppet, Chef or some other server orchestration system.

Cheers!

Synology NAS – Start with the smaller drives first

When you are setting up a Synology NAS, such as the 8 bay ( DS1815+ ) system I got, you’ll want to start with your smallest drive first and add larger ones over time. If you start with your biggest drive, you won’t be able to make use of the smaller ones.

 

The reason is best explained in the Synology knowledgebase titled What is a Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) and there’s two images that particularly explained it to me :

Synology SHR standard raidSynology SHR smallest first

 

The first explains how a classic RAID setup wouldn’t make use of the different sized drives whilst the Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) would. The thing that isn’t explained until right near the end of the article is that you can’t add smaller drives. Their explanation (with some highlighting from me) is :

Does an already-created SHR volume accept drives of smaller capacity?

Suppose your SHR volume is built on 1TB drives. To replace the old drives or add new ones, you will have to use drives equal or greater than 1TB. A smaller drive (e.g., 500GB) cannot be added to the existing SHR (or Classic RAID) volume. Even if this smaller drive is added, the storage of the smaller drive still cannot be used within the volume.

 

Conclusion

If you are a company setting up a Synology, buy a bunch of identical drives (same size and brand), preferably the NAS rated ones like the WD Red. You’ll be fine, just know that you can’t use smaller sized drives than what you’ve put in.

If you have a collection of different sized drives, put your smallest sized one in first and create a disk group then volume group based off that.

2016-08-28th Synology NAS disk group first, then volume group

 

Backstory

You don’t need to read this, it’s my personal story, not the main learning, but it’s here so you get a better understanding of my circumstances and if they apply to you.

Many years ago I got a Drobo 5n, a nice little 5 bay NAS. To me it’s the Mac version of a NAS, it tries to do everything for you, but when it breaks there’s little you can do, it also seems to focus on form over function when compared to the Synology. It looks nicer, but doesn’t do anywhere near as many things.

Still, I was a budding photographer, occasional film maker and nerd who accumulated terabytes of TV shows and Movies over the years. I used the Drobo as my master datasource for my photography collection. Years of events, portrait photos, wedding photos, videos of local activism events like the 2 week long Walk for Solar or a Climate Change conference I had helped organise. Basically, stuff with great significance that I didn’t want to lose.

I started off using the Drobo with some 500GB and 1TB drives and slowly purchased larger sized drives as I needed, I remember having a full set of 2TB drives, adding a couple of 3TB drives, a couple of 4TB drives and then a 6TB drive. As mentioned, this was over the course of many years and included moving and eventually something gave way. The top bay of the Drobo stopped working. It just didn’t recognise any drives inserted in it. Not new ones, not old ones, not after being cleaned up. This put a stop to me being able to increase the size of the Drobo as the way you increase the size is to pull out a hard drive and put a new, larger one in. But with the default settings it can only deal with a single drive not working and then rebuild the data striping to the newer drive. As it stands the Drobo will lose data if any more drives fail, which they’ll eventually do.

The great thing about slowly replacing the old drives was that I ended up with a large box full of various sized hard drives that I could backup the important photos and videos onto and store as an off-site backup, just in case.

Choosing a Synology was easy, I became jealous of them when a work college at NextFaze got one and showed off it’s features. I later suggested that Svelte Studios (now a part of Jamshop) get one and got to play with it when I was working there. We used it for not just as a file store for designers to edit off, but hosted websites off, I setup a cronjob to Rsync files from our servers as a backup, used it for time machine and all sorts.  It’s effectively a Linux box but built for storage and is much easier for non sys-admin people to use.

Due to a variety of reasons such as moving out and working on a startup company it took me a good 10 months to finally afford to buy the Synology seeing as I’d put it in the Important but not urgent financial category. I also managed to purchase a WD RED 6TB drive to go with it. I figured I could start with that, empty a couple of smaller drives of data onto it and put the drives in.

This is where the problems started. I didn’t know about the need to put the smaller drives in first so I moved the contents of a 3TB drive onto the Synology which only had the 6TB drive in it (so no data integrity backup), popped the 3TB into the Drobo and… Nothing. It wasn’t initialising. It showed the drive there, but it wouldn’t let me expand it. I created a disk group as none existed before, only had the volume for the 6TB drive. I waited for the disk to be initialised with a full bad sector scan, but I couldn’t add the disk group to the volume, only create a new volume based on that disk group.

I’m now in the process of emptying a 1TB drive and want to use that as the starting size for the Disk Group, add the 3TB drive in and create a volume group from it using SHR and Btrfs, then migrate the data off the 6TB volume which I’d used the quick setup wizard to create, then add the 6TB drive to the disk group and expand the volume before adding a bunch of other drives and data. The aim is to do all of this without actually losing any data. Fingers crossed a drive doesn’t die in the middle of an important operation.

 

 

I should also mention that in my investigations I came across a post about how to speed up your Synology volume expansion. It requires you to SSH into the machine and do some stuff on the command line. Something I do daily, but might be a bit too much for others. It’ll also slow down your NAS whilst it’s doing it. It’s also probably not needed as Synology have made some adjustments since 2014 when that blog post was written.

 

Note : I do not in any way work for Drobo nor Synology. This is not a paid post.

Synology DS1815+

 

Lets Treat Violence like a Contagious Disease

A number of years ago I watched Gary Slutkin’s TED talk on treating violence like a contagious disease and it has drastically changed the way I think about terrorist attacks, military war, police brutality, world peace and more.

If you haven’t watched the presentation already I HIGHLY recommend you do. Actually the rest of the article expects that you have.

 

OK I know you haven’t watched the TED talk yet but the crux of it around hiring new categories of workers, the first being violence interrupters. They are hired from the same group for the credibility, trust and access. Just like the health workers in Somalia, but designed for a different category. They are trained in persuasion, cooling people down, buying time and reframing.
Then there’s the outreach workers who to keep people on therapy for six to 24 months. Just like treating Tuberculosis, but the object is behavior change. There is also a bunch of community activities for changing norms.

 

I had that talk in the back of my mind when today I came across an article on Medium titled Some Numbers on Terror by Tom Pollock and whilst I knew that you were far more likely to die of a car crash than a terrorist attack, he explains the point well.

He’s talking about the terrorist attack in Nice, France and a quote from his article :

In France, in the last two years, there have been 8 attacks for which responsibility was claimed by Islamic Extremist Terrorists, killing a total of 247 people. There are 66,000,000 people in France. At the current level of activity, their odds of being killed in a terrorist attack in a given year are less than two ten-thousandths of one per cent. That’s 27 times lower than their odds of dying in a car accident.

Even if the current level of attacks continues for 80 years (which would be unprecedented), a child born today in France would have only one percent of a one percent chance of being killed in one.

In Turkey, the probability is lower. 194 people killed in attacks since the start of 2015, with a population of 80,000,000 gives each one of them a roughly one ten-thousandth of one percent chance of being killed in one, in any given year.

 

Now he does point out how there’s a major difference between being killed by an accident and being murdered. Intent.

Whilst the type of response we need as a civilisation is the type based on Gary’s idea of treating violence like a contagious disease, I fear that we will continue to perpetuate the cycles of violence. We need people who will intervene and prevent the violence from spreading. Similar to the protagonist in Armada by Ernest Cline (I recently finished the audiobook).

 

From a geo-political point of view there is a lot of the hatred against Muslims refugees, especially in Europe but even here in Australia. However from my relatively limited understanding of the situation (I’m glossing over a lot). During the cold war the US indirectly gave Afghanistan Billions in weapons and training to help them fight off the USSR (Russia) who was invading at the time. In part because of the failed invasion and events like Chernobyl around the same time caused the USSR to fall apart.
Fast forward some decades and the US invades Afghanistan basically as revenge against 9/11. Firstly, this is spreading violence back to the very country which the US had already armed and taught how to fight. A rather bad idea.

Think about it, if you are a child when a foreign country invades you and kills your parents destroys your school and slaughters your friends. Are you going to grow up to be a patent lawyer, or are you more likely to be a suicide bomber? Here again the need for intervention to prevent the spread of violence could have helped.

Later, under the guise of some story about weapons of mass destruction, Iraq is invaded, although it’s well known that the main reason for the invasion of the Middle East is to secure access to oil. Later the US and it’s allies and even Russia attack Syria and other middle eastern countries in an attempt to combat a group which formed because of the very violence the ‘allies’ inflicted. There’s a mass exodus with millions of refugees fleeing. As has been done with nearly every armed conflict, there are some violent people within the refugees who have been exposed to large amounts of violence, often with an ideology which promotes it and they then spread this violence.

 

So from a systems perspective I see the primary reason for much of the Western violence inflicted in the Middle East is their dependence on fossil fuels. The black gold that keeps the very tanks and aircraft running and the cogs of the economy spinning. I’m reminded about Endgame by Derrick Jensen and whilst I don’t agree with his conclusion, I agree with a number of his premises the most pertinent being “In a city your life must be based on violence (due to the required importation of resources)“. This doesn’t have to be the case, we COULD have sustainable cities, but they would have to be majorly reworked so they aren’t largely depended on oil and other resources.

However, The US military budget was USD$637 Billion for 2015 (if you include ), that is to say that the US spends more on it’s ‘defence force’, than the next seven countries combined.

USD $598.5 Billion in Military

 

Imagine if the Trillions of dollars spent on just the US Military from the end of the cold war to now was instead spent on renewable energy technologies like solar thermal, wind and the like? The US, Australia and the ‘Allied’ countries could be exporting energy. The great thing about renewable energy is that the price goes down over time, so we would have nearly free electricity and an incredible level of abundance to go with it. Add in a culture that treats violence like a contagious disease and you have the type of world I would prefer to live in.

I would like to point out that one of the common original causes of violence is resource scarcity. Think about it, when you imagine an end of the world scenario where there’s barely any resources left then everyone is fighting over those last resources. However in a more utopian vision you usually see an abundance of resources. There’s no need to fight. As such, we should be pushing towards a post scarcity society. THAT is what is worth working towards and non-violently fighting for.

If you are interested in learning more about how we could transition towards such as society let me know and I’ll post about the Price of Zero transition.

I’m choosing to do what I love

I’d been feeling down for a few months now. My girlfriend was worried I was depressed, I likely was.

My productivity was barely 30% of what it could be. I would work a couple of hours, feel exhausted and go home to play computer games or watch TV shows. There was a whole variety of work that I WANTED to do, but wasn’t doing.

I’d read enough life hacking books, like The Willpower Instinct, to know that the issue was a mindset issue. Actually I haven’t so much read a book, as listened to them. In the last few weeks I’ve cranked through a mass of audiobooks. I knew I needed to make a decision and consciously change my mindset, but I didn’t know what that decision was, nor how to work it out. I love learning and went through a string of biographies, I would marvel at the extreme productiveness of the people around me and my idols, people like Elon Musk, Joss Whedon, Felicia Day, amongst others. really knew how to work hard, but where had my drive gone? Why was I so exhausted all of the time?

Actually, during some of the worse times when I needed excessive amounts of sleep I had some blood tests done just to be sure I was physically fine and the only thing they detected was out of the norm was that my cholesterol was slightly low. Not too shabby.

Then last night I was listening to Mastery, by Robert Greene and he talked about Buckminster Fuller, another one of my idols. Apparently Buckminster had tried helping with a number of entrepreneurial endeavours but had failed in them, causing grief to his family who had been involved. He was looking to commit suicide when he changed his mind. He realised that the things he’d failed at were what other people wanted him to do, not what he wanted to do. He made the choice to do what he was passionate about, instead of doing what other’s wanted him to do, which would provide immediate money. It worked and whilst his family had to scrape by for a while, not only did he become successful and develop a great array of new inventions, including the geodesic dome, he also became quite wealthy.

This really struck me to the core. Something in me went ‘click’. I listened to myself and realised that focusing on what I’m passionate about not what I can get immediately paid for is something I’ve been wanting to do for while, but from now onwards I knew that I would be focusing on my passions first, filling in the gaps with paid work for others, instead of vice versa. The vice versa in reality involved me being too burnt out to do much of anything and wasting way too much time.

Today is the end of that first day since that ‘click’ and I worked over 9hrs on e-Motion the education startup I co-founded with Steve Hall. That’s more than I’ve worked on it in the last 2 months! Bam, suddenly I feel more energetic and excited and I’m working at 90% productivity. I’ve chosen to work on what I want and with that change in mindset I feel like everything has changed. I even look at problems that I haven’t touched in ages and now have a reason to work on them, including cleaning up my room (which is a particularly bad mess) and doing my taxes, which are years overdue. I want to clean up my room, have shorter showers whilst brushing my teeth, to save time, that way I can be working on eMotion and my own passion projects.

e-Motion is where I really feel that my passion and potential is. The work involves using Meteor.js a state of the art Javascript framework that runs on the client and server and is kick ass. It has all the realtime responsiveness that I’ve been wanting to see in my projects since playing with Redis and Node.js / Socket.io many years ago, all built right into the core. So yeah, I’ve chosen some cool tech and I’m enjoying working on the project, but it’s also a startup in the education space which has the potential to change the way many thousands of hours of online content will be created, potentially influencing millions of people, helping them learn much faster. It ticks ✓ Education, ✓ Film and ✓ Web in terms of my interests and abilities. Perfect!

That said, when I review my history of actions I’ve been heading in this direction for ages and planned this many months ago and in fact 2 weeks ago I handed in my 2 weeks notice to Svelte Studios, the digital agency I’ve been doing the majority of my work for over the last 3 years or so. Unfortunately 2 days after I emailed my resignation, my step-dad, Allan had a heart attack and I spent the following week at the Flinders Medical Centre maximising my time with him and the amazing family that come to support him. He made a miraculous recovery and is at home recovering. During this time my girlfriend’s Sassy cat (well the house’s cat) died and Flik also moved out to living just a few doors down from me. Of course, all of this, plus the lack of any real drive means that I’d done barely any coding or handover work for Svelte nor for a number of other clients. Things will be delayed, but that’s OK. I know now that I can fit it around my primary passion which comes first, instead of trying to do the other work as my first priority and burning myself out.

Fingers crossed my revived sense of drive will last for more than a month, as then it’ll be setting new habits and be around to stay. I’ve got too many important things to do, for me not be working on them.

First self-closing Fridges, eventually self refilling fridges.

Why aren’t self-closing fridge doors the default?

At work there’s been a couple of instances of the fridge door being left open overnight.

It’s obviously an accident, but the fridge defrosts and there’s a big puddle of water left, one of the smaller bar fridges opens onto a newly carpeted area, not good. The food also spoils and people’s lunches has to be thrown out, etc..

Because everyone was talking about ensuring that everyone else make sure the fridge door is closed my initial thought was that the fridges should have an alarm system so that they beep when left open for too long. Newer fridges do.

But something I haven’t seen is self-closing fridge doors. We have the technology to automatically close doors and we have fridge doors, but somehow the two haven’t been merged and made a default, like air conditioning in a car is default these days. Surely the cost increase of making that the default is far less than all the spoiled food and cleaning up that happens.

The Future : Self-refilling fridges.

As part of The Book of New Eden, the futuristic sci-fi novel set in a post-scarcity world, I’m interested in what an ideal fridge would be like. Actually, it’s about the entire system. From growing food to transporting it and final usage. When you analyse the system you realise that using 5-10KJ of oil energy per KJ of food consumed is incredibly wasteful. From the fertiliser to pesticides to diesel powered tractors, refrigerated trucks and plastic packaging, to shipping food thousands of km and often between multiple countries, until it ends up in distribution centers, which send the food to supermarkets, which most people drive to, go into, take the food off the shelves, put them into a trolley, take them out to scan them, put them into plastic bags, carry them to their car, drive home, carry them into the kitchen, put them into the fridge or pantry and a few days or weeks later finally use the food to cook. That’s a lot of handling. Obviously the entire system needs a rethink.

In the future I would expect the food to be sent straight to the fridge. You could pull out a tray of tomatoes (or a handful of them from the bio-gel fridge) and before you’ve even finished cutting those up the tray is full of tomatoes again. No going to the store, no unpacking the shopping, seamless refilling of the fridge.

Of course the system behind that would be very different to what we currently have. The tomatoes would be grown in vertical farms which allow for a controlled environment so no pesticides are needed. The almost completely automated growing and harvesting system would pick the tomatoes when they are ripe, or needed. They could be picked directly off the plant and washed as it is transported through a set of maglev tunnels leading into your house (or apartment) and into your fridge. The transport network could also be used for lots of other items. Of course if you ordered a new picture frame it wouldn’t rock up inside your fridge but into somewhere that a robot could then put it on your wall for you.

I haven’t mentioned paying for the food in this future as it’s also a post-monetary world, but the systems behind that is a much bigger topic.

 

In talking about fridge designs, here’s a variety of interesting ideas people have come up with :

fridge-Bio-Robot-Fridge-1fridge-Bio-Robot-Fridge-2fridge-solarfridge-ed01fridge-stackablefridge



Note : I’m not involved with inhabitat.com in any way, they just had some cool articles about fridges which I liked.

  1. http://inhabitat.com/zero-energy-bio-refrigerator-cools-your-food-with-future-gel/ – This seems to be the most high tech, disruptive idea of a fridge. You don’t have a door, instead there’s a gel and you pull items through it.
  2. http://inhabitat.com/the-hot-fridge/ – Put the heat exchanger on the top and turn it into a warm plate.
  3. http://inhabitat.com/solar-powered-fridge-by-emily-cummins/ – A solar powered (evaporation based, not electric) fridge for the developing world, created by 21yr old Emily Cummins.
  4. http://inhabitat.com/how-to-save-food-and-money-with-a-fridge-triage-box/ – To reduce food wastage because you didn’t see the food at the back, simply have a well labeled box that the most perishable items go into.
  5. http://inhabitat.com/groundfridge-lets-you-store-perishables-without-traditional-refrigeration/ – Need to have a bigger fridge but don’t want to pay the electricity costs? How about burying one in the ground. The groundfridge.
  6. http://inhabitat.com/flatshare-fridge-stackable-refrigerator-a-la-legos/ – Stackable compartments in a fridge, making it easier for share houses to allocate fridge area and increase it as needed.
  7. http://www.oddee.com/item_97191.aspx – A list of various fridge ideas. Some aren’t all that amazing.
fridge-eat-me-first-boxfridge-TheGroundFridge-Milan-Design-Week-2-728x485fridge-TheGroundFridge-Milan-Design-Week

Where’s my Drone delivered burrito?

Here’s an autonomous Drone payload delivery concept, I’ve had in my head for a while, although the printing of the landing pad is something that just hit me even if it’s not new.

When will I be able to print out an A4 paper sized QR code code landing pad for drones and have things delivered? You know, like a Burrito or hard drive full of movies or maybe the really urgent replacement battery for my phone.

I envision this :
You’d go online and organise an ID, maybe your email address or something generic enough that multiple delivery providers can use it, but unique to you, it’d also have some cryptographic hash equivalent to a pin number to help prevent people stealing your gear.
You print out the piece of paper which has a square QR code and an outline of the rest of it for where goods are to be placed. This is your delivery pad. People should laminate the paper and then weigh it to the ground or stick it to the top of a table, something that’s easily visible from above.

When you order something you give them your ID, pin and Address (which does a lookup to get the GPS point), this part can be made into the equivalent of Facebook Connect or is simply a saved address type in PayPal.
The drone has your order placed inside it (probably in some lock box that makes it hard for people to steal stuff whilst in transit). The drone heads to the GPS co-ordinates and searches around for your delivery pad.

I’m guessing that most items could be dropped off without anyone there, only special items might need you to unlock the drone’s storage box similar to this april fools day video idea (which is actually a pretty cool idea), using a mobile app, or a pin pad on the drone.

With such a system in place I could have a Zamberero’s Burrito delivered daily. Although that’d probably be a waste, I’d only get it when I’m working from home and was either too busy or too lazy to cook.
A better use would be the Sneakernet hard drive to the cloud system I briefly entertained as a Startup Weekend idea.

Whilst a lot of the requisite technology exists, autonomous drones, the visual scanning, QR codes and the like, one of the biggest infrastructure issues is the lack of a decent battery pack.
With this in mind you’d need a drone hive or more likely, a distributed network of recharge stations. I envision the recharge stations to be a bunch of specialised landing pads around the place, probably on poles or on top of buildings, similar to mobile phone towers. The stations have a bunch of spare batteries which they are charging from the mains and/or hopefully also from solar PV (esp in more rural places). When the drone detects it needs more juice it heads to the nearest on the recharge station and the drones battery is replaced with a freshly charged one. Actually it’s the main battery, there would also be a tiny little secondary battery to keep the drone still on whilst the main battery was being changed.
It would only take a few moments for a robotic arm at the recharge point to physically swap the batteries, assuming the drone was built for it, allowing the drone to be on its way with little delay.
Alternatively the drone could plug itself into a charging point (or be close enough for induction charging) and charge up, although in that case you’d want multiple drones to be able to plug in at the same charging station as it would take a while, although might be a good backup in case the robotic arm is out of commision.
More advanced stations could allow for the automated replacement of rotors and other damaged parts.

A drone hive would be where the drones come to get new packages, get repaired or upgraded, can rest for a while and generally looked after. It’d be their return to home location.

The locations of the the recharge stations and drone hives would be seared into their memory and they should be able to get to the nearest one even if they only have 3 working rotors.
Some great videos on Drones :

Drone can be amazingly agile and can work together rather well

They can also build a wall (although I’m pretty sure those are fairly light bricks).

You can buy a drone for under a grand, or you can pre-order one that will follow you and other semi-autonomous fun

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SP3Dgr9S4pM

 

Project Wing – Deliveries by dropping the cargo… Although the design has been scrapped.

 

Want to fly your own drone? Here’s some deeets about the Phantom 2 Vision

Myth Busters extraordinaire Adam Savage  loves making extra things for his drones, like a pool table, which is very similar to the landing pad idea. He also loves to charge multiple batteries at once and is just great at making his own stuff, but this is more for personal flying than autonomous drones.

 

Don’t like drones? Maybe you’d prefer to play with cubes (this mainly looks cool, doesn’t have super practical use, at least not on their own)