Book Art Of Learning Delivers

I thoroughly The Art of Learning, particularly the first half that explores the cerebral journey found in learning/discovering/troubleshooting. The backstory to this book is author Josh Waitzkin was thrown into fame as a child prodigy chess player. The book/movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is written by his dad (I just recently watched and also highly recommend). Around age 20 the author grew disenchanted with chess (likely due to the huge popularity of the movie) and made the abnormal shift from chess to martial arts. The book describes this journey, how there are similarities, and his approach to learning and mental tenacity.

Three points stuck out:

  • It’s wrong to tell children “it’s just a game,” when they’re experiencing a loss. This is typical behavior for parents with competitive kids that don’t perform well during big events. If it didn’t matter, then why did they train so much and travel far for something that doesn’t matter? Children know this and it’s disingenuous to tell them their efforts were meaningless. At the time of this writing, Jim Carrey has been making waves saying how “life doesn’t matter.” This is an incomplete statement as it’s not saying who/what is experiencing the matter. Life may not matter TO YOU or TO THE UNIVERSE. But certain things trigger pain and joy– thus some things do matter to people regardless of the significance to others (BTW, I semi agree with Mr. Carrey’s message besides this flaw, maybe I’ll chat about that some other time).
  • Sometimes the subconscious sees something before the conscious mind does. I’ve experienced this when looking at a coding, or logic problem at work. Sometimes there will be a small flicker that you can’t explain, but you get a hunch that there’s something there that should be continued to explore. I’ve had this sensation on many occasions and have grown to listen very carefully to my body whenever I “feel” like there might be a solution hiding right in front of me that I havent’ seen yet.
  • The book details an experiment between two types of learners — Entity and Incremental learners. It explores how some children who believe they are smart by innate ability (entity) are less resilient to problem-solving after they are stumped than incremental learners. The study consists of giving kids a problem beyond their capability to solve, so they all fail. Afterwards, they are tested on a problem within their skillset and, predictably, the incremental learners did better. This study was referenced in the book The Fighter’s Mind which inspired me in to read The Art of Learning. This illustrates the biggest conflict I feel as a parent — forcing your kids to struggle/suffer is the one of the most effective ways to make them resilient, confident and able to live a healthy life. At the same time… what parent wants to allow their kid to suffer?

Regardless, a good read.

Downgrading Utility Of Limitless Chrome New Tab

For about 5 months I have been using a Chrome extension called Limitless as my default “new tab”. During installation, Limitless requested my GMAIL credentials, which I I declined to provide. It works fine without them. However, in light of the recent Equifax data breach, I was curious to see what exactly Limitless was asking for.

As I suspected, the extension wants the ability to have total control of your email. Specifically:

View, manage, and permanently delete your mail in Gmail

At this point, alarm bells should be ringing loudly in people’s heads if they are entering in an active gmail address. Limitless’s privacy policy can loosely be interpreted as, “Even though the NSA, Equifax and Ashley Madison can’t keep their data secure, you can trust us and every employee that works for us now, or in the future, because your privacy is important to us! 🙂 ”

They do state that data is stored locally, and looking at their code, this appears accurate. However, they also state they may change this policy at some point in the future…

Sure, you could use a dummy gmail login, or none at all. However in principle, I’m tired of extensions asking to be trusted with information they simply cannot guarantee to remain secure. So I changed my feedback to negative 2 (out of 5) on chrome store and am going to drop the extension completely.

To be fair, Limitless is just one of MANY extension offenders wanting total access to your email. The point of this post is just to encourage people to drop these extensions, even if you don’t provide or even if they are semi-useful. If Limitless adjusts their policy I’ll change my Chrome extension feedback and followup with this post saying so.

As a side note, I feel like the “new tab” extension market is kind of weak. I may tinker with making my own. Maybe I’ll call it “LIMITED” as in the amount of data I’ll seek to collect from users!

Malcom Gladwell’s Blink a Questionable But Interesting Read

Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, is filled with interesting and well researched stories. These alone made the book worth reading. However, the overall message was a little more difficult for me to accept. I didn’t reject it, but I didn’t buy into it as enthusiastically as the author aimed. Yet once I accepted that I was not totally going to agree with everything the book offered, I found it enjoyable as it has interesting stories and thought-provoking ideas.

Gladwell attempts to add strong merit to “thin sliced” decisions. Translated to laymen terms, the author intends to add tremendous credibility to people’s gut instinct. He provides numerous examples where people’s instincts successfully outperformed well-researched analysis. I had mixed opinions on his examples. His suggestion that too much information during war didn’t sit right with me, but I did think his market analysis with Pepsi and chairs was spot on.

Yet about halfway through the book he flipped the script talking about how incredible amount of data overflow frin people’s faces is critical to “mind reading.” This flies against the message of the first half of the book that told people not to read too much data, but trust your gut instinct.

Again, once I stopped taking it too seriously, I thought this book was interesting and thought-provoking.

Since this is one of several mental books I’ve been reading lately (The Whole Brain Child, The King Within and Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters) I did buy into tapping into your subconscious for answers, and conducted a small experiment on myself. Granted this wasn’t very scientific, but I had a friend ask me a bunch of questions, some important, some not so important. I tried to essentially be “mindless” and give answers that just popped into my head, while trying to maintain eye contact and be present, essentially numbing my right brain (emphasis on not scientific). This was also kind of inspired by this youtube video on split brains.

This took place in October and when I listened to my answers more recently in January I was surprised with the results. It wasn’t conclusively prophetic, but I did nail a copy answers that proved to be true. I asked myself a couple deeper personal questions, so my answers wouldn’t mean anything to readers, but my subconscious did predicted that Donald Trump would be president. My “full brain” would have bet 10:1 odds that he would not have been elected, so that surprised me.

Anyway, in conclusion, the book is interesting, but not life altering. Give it a read if you’re looking for something thought provoking or if you want to talk smrt with people at parties.

Whole Brain Child is a Worthwhile Read On Tips For Developing Kids’ Brains

The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson was a very worthwhile read on brain functionality. It’s geared towards parents dealing with kids, but there’s equally valuable information on how to deal with other adults. The book combs through lots of examples of how to stimulate children’s brain development which I definitely intend to incorporate into my parenting regime.

One example is how kids can get stuck where only their amygdala is controlling their brain functionality due to stressful situations. To get people out of this thought process, you have to appeal to the right (emotional) brain first, then talk to the left (logical) brain.

I actually used the book’s techniques with an adult customer who was having a frustrating experience. This gal was very smart, one of the smartest I’ve worked with, and had just complained that Excel crashed (the software I consult for works as an add-in for Excel). She was pretty emotionally angry, slamming down her pen, and saying, “it’s locked up and going to crash.”

I went and took a look, and I noticed she had at least 20 workbooks open, many with over a dozen tabs and exceeding 5 megabytes in size. Given her machine, this was a colossal amount of memory to be using, and it was not at all surprising that her machine crashed. She was smart enough to know this, but her right brain anger was chocking off her logical thought process.

Had I tried to speak directly with her left brain bu saying something like, “You have way too many files open, silly!” I’m pretty sure she would have gotten more defensive and angry. Instead, I tried to talk with her right brain, so I hit some keys on her keyboard too, expressed frustration, told a small story where I also got upset losing some work and just echoed empathy for her frustrating experience.

Predictably, she calmed down, and eventually her left brain began to function again and she said, “you know, it probably didn’t help that I had 20 workbooks open….” Magic!

My only complaint was that this book was that it could have been condensed. Like many books, it seemed like it was flushed out to be longer just in effort to sell. I also didn’t enjoy this book as an audiobook. Even though it was performed enjoyably by the authors, the book referenced charts and graphs to a point where it became a little annoying to listen to.

Red Rising An Enjoyable Sci-Fi War Book

For people who are enamored with sci-fi, killing, and war tactics, you’ll enjoy Red Rising. To my surprise, I am such a person as I blitzed through the second half in about 2 days.

I almost abandoned the book about about 20% into it. I wasn’t that connected to the main character and author Pierce Brown had just written a ridiculous line implying how capitalism caused the universe to go bad (Side note: this was completely unnecessary for the plot, and the author, like many authors had an  uncontrollable urge to drop scornful views on free markets even though it has nothing to do with the story). Online reviews convinced me to push forward. Fortunately the author didn’t make any future economic oppressive suggestions, and it picked up into an enjoyable story.

The author devises some unpredictable strategies and ways to unravel some difficult situations. I still never really felt that strong of a connection to the main character, but the story was dark and engaging.

This was part one of a three part series. I’m sure I’ll read parts 2 and 3 (Golden Son and Morning Star) soon. Readers have rightfully drawn comparisons to The Hunger Games series. I haven’t read that series, but it’s similar to the first two movies I saw of it.

So for the war enthusiasts like myself, you’ll enjoy this book. If blood, war, death aren’t your thing, this is not a book for you.

 

Don’t Want to Talk On Phone? SLYDIAL!

Slydial is a pretty slick app that everyone should secretly have. Essentially, it’s designed to deceive people into thinking that the user actually called them. The app somehow connects straight to the target’s voicemail, never giving the target the option to pickup Additionally, assuming the targeted caller had service, the target’s phone shows a missed call from the user.

The use case scenarios for this range from convenient to unethical. Mostly I used it when I’m too lazy to text a message and I suspect the other person doesn’t want to talk to me either. I’ve actually never told people close to me about this app, so if they read this post the may have closure on the peculiar times they were sitting right by their phone and all of a sudden they got an alert of a voice mail message from me. Guilty as charged.

There are two versions of the service. The free one which, as one would expect, has advertisements in it which are tolerable, but definitely would be nice to avoid. The paid version skips the adds, costing 10 cents a call or 3 bucks a month (both reasonable but I don’t pay).

According to their adds, there’s even a tool in the paid version where, “you can send the same voice message to multiple people, appearing from any number you prefer.” That last part is interesting. In theory you could leave a voice mail message appearing as someone else? This could definitely lead to unethical activities! I’m thinking I may use this when my daughter is a sophomore in high school and some Senior boy starts calling her. Such boy may receive a message as follows. “This is Sargent Slaughter From the Local Police Department (number matches!). We understand you’ve been talking to a certain young lady. I will personally put my life on hold and kick your ass if you ever call her again! Have a great day!”

One could have less amusing examples involving”The STD clinic”, “A Bail Bondsman,” or “A Senior Auditor from the IRS.”

I suspect political campaigns have used this feature as I received a couple calls that went to voicemail with obscurely personal messages. “Hey it’s the mayor… I … dang… I’m sorry I missed you… I thought this would be a good time to reach you. Well anyway…  blah blah vote for me blah blah”). No mayor would ever call me. Predictably, the message never said my voice, so without the personalized Proof Of Work, I’m pretty sure tens of thousands of other registered voters received the same message.

Anyway, this is indeed a sly little app to have in your arsenal. It’s so easy to use it doesn’t warrant a tutorial.

 

New Uber App — Still Missing A Key Feature It Desperately Needs

I tinkered around with the new Uber App. Overall it seems pretty similar to its predecessor. I personally don’t like the fact that it tries to guess where you’re going on the initial screen. To me, I’m always initially interested in how soon someone can get to me, which I now have to hunt for. I do like having people as a destination. That eliminates the constant texting of “where are you?”

However, my biggest complaint is what is NOT in the app. I’ve complained directly to Uber and Lyft on this particular subject before. They need to have a deposit commitment available for passengers. This is for the benefit of the driver and the passenger.

Example is if I’m 30 miles out in the desert, if a driver gets alerted that I need a ride, he may pass me up for a closer option. This is a rational decision on their part because there’s no guarantee that the ride I will need isn’t going to be a pathetic 2 mile drive, costing the driver time and money.

Easy way to make this better. Give passengers the option to post a guarantee of how much their ride will be. Stranded in the desert, I have no way to communicate to a driver that, “I need a ride all the way back to the other end of the city! It’s 50 miles for sure! It will be a $50 trip, guaranteed!”

Alternatively, if I’m really in a desperate situation, I might be eager to commit to a high amount to get me out of a dire situation. Maybe I do only need to go three miles, but the heat is unbearable, I am out of water, and would be happy to offer “$50 guarantee to pick me up!!”

This method ensures that I get a ride that I need, and the driver doesn’t get shortchanged on compensation.

So far there’s been no sign of this becoming a feature, but maybe in the next release they’ll have the PG CodeRider Passenger Rate Guarantee Feature! Or maybe not. But I’ve traveled well over 3,000 miles as a ride sharing passenger, and on many occasions I’ve felt this was a feature they desperately needed.

A Beautiful Free Time-Stamp Website

I found an amazing website that does a brilliant job of using a a couple simple concepts to combine for an incredibly useful tool. OriginStamp.org is a true gift to the world by developers André Gernandt and Bela Gipp. In conversation with them they told me, “We started this project just for fun and didn’t expect so many people to use it.”

The site’s popularity doesn’t surprise me — it’s awesome! They have created a FREE service that allows anyone to prove they possessed any type of electronic file before a specific date. The electronic file could be as simple as a string of text, or as massive as a movie file.

I’ll dive into the technical details later, but consider a couple basic applications:

  • Someone has written an amazing script and wants to have it logged as their work, before sharing with a publisher.
  • Someone moves into a new rental property, and takes extensive video of the condition of the property, which they want to archive on the day of their move-in. By archiving the footage, the landlord cannot argue that the video was taken on the move out date.
  • Someone wants to log a text prediction. Example would be if I said, in 2015, “I, PG CodeRider, predict the Cubs will win the 2016 World Series in a game 7 thriller against the Indians!” it would be pretty impressive!

Without OriginStamp, creating verifiable proof of a file’s existence, before a certain date is difficult (having a “saved as” date with the file doesn’t count). Users would likely have to defer to a third party to provide proof of ownership. This lends itself to the following problems:

  • The third party site likely costs money.
  • The third party site may disappear.
  • The third party site may not remain credible to the rest of the world.
  • The third party site might experience a server crash, hack, or accidentally delete your file.

OriginStamp avoids all of these problems. The simplicity of their approach, combined with their robust method of validation, makes it truly an elegant creation. The site ingeniously leverages the bitcoin blockchain as a point of reference. Because the blockchain is a decentralized entity with literally thousands of people monitoring its integrity, it is impossible to manipulate historical entries. Additionally, due to this same decentralized nature of the blockchain, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where the Blockchain would suddenly cease to exist. Thus a user can rest assured knowing their claim is verifiable so long as the internet remains functional and Bitcoin continues to have even a small percentage of people using it.

How You Can Use This Tool (without actually understanding it)

For those of you that just want to “trust me” and believe this works, without understanding why, here’s a step by step guide of how you can use it:

1) Create a FINAL VERSION of a file or text that you want to verify. It is critical that not a single change occurs in your file, or it won’t be verifiable in the future. Example is if you write a million word novel, once you submit it, you can only reference that version you submitted. A change to a single character will make the entire file incapable of being proven to be your file at the time of the transaction.

  • I’m going to go through this process by validating a screenshot I created with my 2016 presidential predictions. Again, the “Final Version” is very key, and it’s easy to overlook how it’s possible to accidentally alter. In my case, I cannot simply post a copy of the JPG file of my prediction and maintain the integrity, because when a user downloads the file, certain attributes such as the “saved date” would be different than the original. Thus I have posted a zipped version of my jpg file, which if someone were to download and extract the jpg file, would ultimately be my FINAL VERSION.
  • It’s also important to note that you include something that references you as the creator in the file, so that no one else can claim it as their work. My file has my name in the screenshot.

2) Go to OriginStamp and submit it by clicking the create stamp, and then clicking on the Drop files icon. I’m usually pretty careful with posting private data to sites, but I would have no problem running most of my information through their submission site. What they claim they are doing (and I sincerely believe) is conducting an SHA-256 hash calculation on your file. This will generate a 40-60 digit length of letters and numbers. There are many sites that can conduct this calculation for you that should all result in the same answer. A couple I just found doing 20 seconds of research are Xorbin.com or Filformat.info.

  • In my example, the exact SHA-256 hash of my FINAL VERSION is: 3742fd0fcebd60f38995429e736a1e2f3f040ea367c21ce87cb1b9bcd89e5d89
  • If you aren’t certain you’ve hashed correctly from a 3rd party site, you could cross check with a single letter of text “a” which should result in: ca978112ca1bbdcafac231b39a23dc4da786eff8147c4e72b9807785afee48bb
  • Make sure you have a copy of your hash, as well as the original copy of your file.

3) After submitting your file, you will get a notification saying your hash has successfully been created. Note that OriginStamp will not “submit” it to the blockchain until about 7PM East Coast time. They only submit free submissions once a day, to keep their costs down, and depending on how busy the blockchain is it may take up to 2 days to register. If you’re in a hurry to get your hash submitted, they offer a premium service to accomplish this where they wallop you with a colossal fee of $1 to get it in right away.

4) If you trust OriginStamp to remain in existence forever, you need not do anything further. When you need verify the date of your file, go to their website, click Verify Stamp, and enter your hash, or drag in your file, and the site will tell you when it was submitted. However if you wish to be able to validate your file without the existence of Originstamp, you’ll need to collect a few more pieces of information. After waiting a day or two, you’ll need to revisit OriginStamp, click Verify Stamp, enter your hash or upload file and it will take you to a confirmation page. On this page, it will list of all the hash submissions as well as the Check Sum hash. You should store both of this with your final version file. The list of all hashes can be a somewhat long now as the site gains popularity.

5) When you’re done, you should have either two pieces of data if you trust OriginStamp alone, or 5 pieces of information if you want it under any scenario where Bitcoin exists.

In my example I have:

Hopefully you would never have to defend the legitimacy of your file, but if you did, you should have a pretty convincing case. Of course, I have no idea how a jury would react to this information, or if it would even be admissible as evidence. However, to illustrate what you have, below is how I would argue the authenticity of my Presidential prediction if someone was accusing me of being a fraud in a court of law

Me: “Your honor, I did in fact create this JPG on 10/31/2016. To prove it I used a site called OriginStamp. This site took my file and hashed it using the SHA-256 method. If you go to OriginStamp, they will confirm this transaction.”

Accuser: “What the heck is OriginStamp?!? Judge, objection! I’ve never heard of this site. How can we trust its validity?”

Me: “Okay forget going to OriginStamp, we can walk through what they did. OriginStamp created an SHA-256 hashed text of my file (see above). OriginStamp then took ANOTHER SHA-256 hash (the Check Sum) of all the other records they received that day. I have a list of these and the SHA-256 hash of these can be conducted on numerous sites.

“As is the nature of SHA-256 hashes, they are relatively easy to calculate in one direction, but impossible to conduct in a reverse manner. Stated differently, I can claim with utmost certainty that no one on the planet can produce any SHA-256 pre-calculation string which results in the same final hash output as any of mine, without using my file or text. Such an effort would take far more than millions of years with today’s computing power.”

Accuser: “So what he has a hash that is unique? What does this prove?”

Me: “It doesn’t prove anything yet, but as a final step, Originstamp used the final Check Sum hash along with Base 58 encoding, to find a Bitcoin address to log a small Bitcoin transaction which cleared on 11/3/2016. This process can also be demonstrated on multiple websites, I have a screenshot from Brainwalletx.Github.io. A user simply needs to enter the Check Sum as the Secret Exponent to generate the address that was used. What this means is that this address was specifically used for this purpose we have outlined. The possibility that this address which comprises a hashed connection to my exact file is incredibly unlikely.”

Accuser: “So you’re saying there’s a chance…”

Me: “Technically yes, but the fact that an active address which I found with my specific JPG hash in it is beyond infinitesimal. There are exactly 2^256 possible bitcoin addresses — that’s far more atoms than there are on earth, sun, and other planets, combined. The likeliness of this series of events happening is less  than me playing the Mega Millions Lottery and winning, four times in a row.”

Accuser: “Okay so how do we know you didn’t make the entry after the election?”

Me: “The blockchain’s integrity is maintained by thousands, perhaps millions of computers validating transactions. At the end of Sep 2016, the hash calculation rate per second was 2.6×10^16. This represents far more processing power than any single entity such as the United States government could direct at the blockchain in hopes of manipulating the network. It would be easy for me to find at least a dozen articles on the web, or a computer science professor to testify how unrealistic back-dating entries in the block chain is.”

Accuser: “I still think this is bogus”

Me: “Ok.”

Ultimately your argument would likely hinge on testimony of some math expert, but that’s my best effort to simulate how to defend the legitimacy of the transaction. Note the links in the discussion above for reference on how Base58 encoding is conducted.

Anyway, a great tool. Thanks again developers André Gernandt and Bela Gipp.

More Reading On It:

Developers’ Abstract On Concept

Dashcam Ap (similar tool for time stamping smartphone recordings)

 

The Way of the Superior Man Review

I heard The Way of the Superior Man was a “must read” from several sources. After finishing it, I did think it was good, but fell a little short of the pedestal it had been placed upon.

It did a good job of articulating a lot of things that men know, but we aren’t exactly sure why. An example would be, “don’t be incredibly needy around or offer too much flattery. Have a purpose, be confident, etc.” Most of my generation probably only learned this when watching Vince Vaughn deliver invaluable man advice in the film Swingers!

My biggest takeaway was the author’s perception of the masculine and feminine roles in a relationship. I agreed with his belief that men are at their best when fulfilling their deepest purpose of consciousness — working out, solving a problem, developing a business, getting things done! Ironically he identified a common purpose as “spreading freedom” which I of course felt a special appreciation for.

He took it a step further by noting that the underlying theme of these objectives is men seek to clear things ultimately enjoying moments of true emptiness. He gives all kinds of examples from football to sex. I’d never considered my instincts that way, but I think there is some truth to it.watch The Wolf of Wall Street film online now

His perception of the feminine role which he equated to “light” was more abstract (shocking). He describes how women go around and doing unpredictable things that men shouldn’t even try to understand. He gives good examples of how women may test their men’s deepest purpose and how in reality they do not truly want to be their partner’s “everything”.

Another good takeaway for me was his analysis of the the disconnect in communication. Of course there’s lots of books on this topic, but he did a good job using perception of time as a good constant that often results in improper messaging.

My biggest complaint was that a lot of the writing was not sourced or just listed as fact with no reference. Example (I’m paraphrasing), “You should call your woman vile names in bed… she’ll like it if you mean it in a loving way!” Seems like this statement, which isn’t even some of the more controversial ideas he proposes on intimacy, should have a little more data to support it besides the author just saying so.

However by and large I would recommend it to married men, men about to get married, or even men who are thinking of leaving a marriage.