The incredible rarity of falsifying data about changing your mind

Episode 555 of This American Life has a very cool story about a study on how a group of canvassers were able to influence people who were against gay marriage to change their mind:

Curious, but kinda logically, people appeared to change their mind once the canvasser, a member of the LGBT community, told their story.

Sadly, apparently the data was falsified. What’s really surprising it’s the amount of work dumped into forging the data:

Green today told me if there was no survey data, what’s incredible is that LaCour produced all sorts of conclusions and evaluations of data that didn’t exist. For instance, he had “a finding comparing what people said at the door to canvassers to what they said on the survey,” according to Green. “This is the thing I want to convey somehow. There was an incredible mountain of fabrications with the most baroque and ornate ornamentation. There were stories, there were anecdotes, my dropbox is filled with graphs and charts, you’d think no one would do this except to explore a very real data set.”

You can hear the episode here.

You can read more about the forging of the data here and here.

How to travel with your phone without paying for roaming charges

#walterwhiting

#walterwhiting

The majority of globalized phone companies don’t pay a dime for cellphone roaming connections. They shouldn’t charge for it, but continue to do. Roaming charges are an insolent vestige of the past. It’s a way for phone companies to steal our money.

So the only way we have to avoid these charges –save from leaving our phones at home– is to buy a prepaid SIM card as soon as we get to our destination.

Each time I travel to a new country, I check the list of operators in PepaidGSM.net and their forum, in order to know which are my best options for calls and data while I’m traveling.

The majority of airports have cell phone shops. So, after going though customs, the first thing I do is go and buy a SIM. Since the shop is in the airport, I can make myself understood even if I don’t speak the language. Your first hours in a new place change radically if you have Google Translate and Tripadvisor!

Curiously, the two times I stayed to live in my destination, the prepaid carrier I selected ended up being my main carrier and plan in the long term. The prepaid market is more competitive and the offers are generally very good. They don’t give you phones “for free” every two years, but they don’t rob you blind, either.

PrepaidGSM.net

Software tools to avoid Repetitive Strain Injury

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) can be defined as a painful condition linked to performing a repetitive activity for long periods of time. If your work depends on that you sit all day at a computer –like mine– it’s crucial that you find a way to take periodic breaks to do some stretching exercises.

desk-exercises-for-repetitive-stress-injury

 

But there are days that I’m in the zone, you know? I sit down to work and suddenly is lunch time and I’ve spent 3 hours straight without even looking up. That’s a recipe for pain. I need some kind of reminder to change my position, stretch, stand up, go to the toilet, etc.

Fortunately, there’s software for that!

I use a time out timer, an app that’s constantly running in the background and reminds you from time to time to take a break. I’ve found on for Mac and one for PC:

micro-pause

Workrave

For PC there’s Workrave (http://www.workrave.org). When it’s time for a break, a popup window appears asking you to take a break. It automatically disappears if you keep working. But if you ignore it too often, it gets more adamant and pops up a break window that can be configured to completely block your computer during the break.

overview

Time Out

For Mac there’s Time Out (http://www.dejal.com/timeout). From time to time it fades your screen to gray and displays a timer reminding you to take a micro-break for a few seconds, or a full, longer break.

 

Both apps are configurable and the time between breaks and micro-breaks can be adjusted to your preferences or working habits.

A constant periodic reminder that you have to take a break can get really annoying really fast. It takes a little to get used to, but it surely beats being killed by your computer!

 

sitting-is-killing-you

 

I’ve also looked into buying a standing desk. The categorial review of standing desks is at The Wirecutter. But you might not want to invest $500-$1000 on a desk, so there are two other, cheaper alternatives:

  • The $22 IKEA do-it-yourself standing desk it’s a great option to try out a standing desk and not having to build it with beer cans.
  • Varidesk sits atop your current desk and transforms it into a fully adjustable standing desk. Some colleagues have it at work and it’s definitely not gimmicky. It’s pretty cool actually.

 

If you want to read more about RSI, I found two good resources in the UK’s NHS website: tips on how to avoid RSI and a guide on how to sit correctly.

Two Dropbox alternatives

Screen-Shot-2013-05-16-at-12.50.39-PM

Like everyone else, I’ve run out of space in my Dropbox and my Google Drive.

Besides, I’m low on space in my hard drive, so I’ve been looking for a solution that enables me to do manual backups, to have some mp3 and video files in an off-site and relatively safe place.

So, I’ve been browsing and testing different alternatives, with four specific conditions:

  1. Has to be free (initially).
  2. Has to offer 5GB or more.
  3. Has to allow automatic sync of a folder and at the same time it has to let you manually copy files.
  4. It mustn’t have file-size limits. Most of the popular cloud storage services, like Box or MEGA, impose a 200MB (or so) limit per file.

Turns out it’s not so easy to find a service with these characteristics. But I managed to find two:

 

bitcasa
Bitcasa offers 5GB to start with and 1GB for each friend that you invite, up to 20GB.

 

copy

But I think Copy is the best one. They offer 20GB to start and 5GB per invite. Yes, 5GB. Besides, that friend who you invite also receives an extra 5GB for the invitation. So everybody wins. Another cool thing about Copy is that if you share a 3GB folder with 3 friends, each one consumes only 1GB of their cuota. Which is genius and completely logical.

Both services work the same way as Dropbox: you install an app which creates a special folder in your hard drive which syncs automatically with the cloud. But also they let you manually upload files to free up some space in your hard drive.

Bitcasa

Copy

 

The stories behind Halt And Catch Fire

halt-and-catch-fire

Like every other geek, I’m watching AMC’s Halt And Catch Fire and profiting of all the buzz surrounding it.

Over at The Internet History Podcast there was a really cool interview with Rod Canion, one of the co-founders of Compaq, one of the guys who did in real life what the actors in Halt And Catch Fire pretend to do every Sunday. Like jumping through the legal hoops:

What our lawyers told us was that, not only can you not use it [the copyrighted code] anybody that’s even looked at it–glanced at it–could taint the whole project. (…) We had two software people. One guy read the code and generated the functional specifications. So, it was like, reading hieroglyphics. Figuring out what it does, then writing the specification for what it does. Then, once he’s got that specification completed, he sort of hands it through a doorway or a window to another person who’s never seen IBM’s code, and he takes that spec and starts from scratch and writes our own code to be able to do the exact same function.

Canion is also the author of Open: How Compaq Ended IBM’s PC Domination and Helped Invent Modern Computing, one of the many books about the cloning of the IBM PC.

One of the themes of Halt And Catch Fire is the rush to be the first to disrupt a market. I thought the series would make me remember the Macintosh stories of folklore.org, but the book that I’ve thought about the most while watching the series is The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder.

soul-of-a-new-machine

It’s about a team of engineers in a race to build a new type of minicomputer in the 70s. It reads like a novel:

Computer engineers, like poets, usually blossom early, and Ed Rasala was at thirty-five an old and experienced tradesman. He was the captain of “the Hardy Boys,” a dozen or so engineers who worked on Eagle’s hardware. When the debugging began, Rasala’s Hardy Boys virtually went to live with the prototype Eagles, in a small and windowless laboratory, behind locked doors, at Data General’s headquarters in Westborough, Massachusetts. Soon most of the crew were spending the majority of their waking hours in the lab, for six days of every week, and even when they went elsewhere, in their minds they continued to grope around inside the new, still defective machine. For the people who were building it, the incipient computer defined a small world. Rasala was the leader of the debugging; it was, in effect; his job to see that this little world was rid of uncertainty.

Innovation is a tricky game and most of the people set out to do something different fail along the way. Even those who work for big, well-funded companies. Like the guys in Fumbling the Future, the story on how Xerox invented the first true user-friendly personal computer and then went to extremes in order not to profit from it.

Another good read is the History of the Amiga series over at Arstechnica. The Amiga team is where a hacker like Cameron in the series would prefer to work, they were trailblazers… underfunded and understaffed trailblazers. The story of how they clawed to create the awesomest machine of the 80s is fascinating.

Amiga, Inc. didn’t have a lot of money left over for shipping its prototype to the show, and the engineers were understandably nervous about putting such a delicate device through the rigors of commercial package transport. Instead, RJ Mical and Dale Luck purchased an extra airline seat between the two of them and wrapped the fledgling Amiga in pillows for extra security. According to airline regulations, the extra “passenger” required a name on the ticket, so the Lorraine became “Joe Pillow,” and the engineers drew a happy face on the front pillowcase and added a tie! They even tried to get an extra meal for Joe, but the flight attendants refused to feed the already-stuffed passenger.

In any case, the first few episodes of Halt and Catch Fire have been a thrill to watch. It’s well written (although sometimes unnecessarily dramatic), the period tech is accurate and almost none of the technical terms are out of place. Also, the title sequence is pure awesomeness. Here’s a feature on the making of by The Art of The Title.