Tip for lazy nomads

Set up some devices, like your ebook reader, using your phone’s hotspot. That way, you don’t have to reconfigure the WiFi network in each new location. 

One reason Oaxaca is so covid-safe is that the restaurants don't have roofs

The old and charming part of Oaxaca where we live right now has a lucky feature, and it's one of the reasons we chose to shelter in place here during the pandemic: Most of the restaurants either have no roof, or, if they do, place the dining on top of the roof. You can go out to dinner to most of the restaurants, and you're still outside. 

Another reason is that nearly everyone wears masks. And there's plenty of space, so everyone can keep their distance. 

Update: I'm still stuck in Oaxaca

Now that we're eligible for vaccines, we're trying to fly to the US for a few days from Oaxaca (the place where we've been sheltering in place) to get our first vaccine shot. 

We had a flight booked for last Tuesday, and got a Covid test for that flight (these are the tests where they shove a long Q-tip through each nostril all the way to the back of your nasal cavity), but when it was time to go to the airport we realized that we had left our passports at our previous residence. 

We re-booked the flight, got a second Covid test, and then realized that we had booked a flight that cost $800 more than it should have. 

So we booked another, cheaper flight for today, got a third Covid test. 

When we went to the airport this morning at 6am, protesters were blocking the airport, not letting anyone in or out. (Our taxi driver says they're students paid by a local politician trying to drum up controversy and support through protests.) We went back to our apartment. 

Then, our flight was rescheduled. We took another taxi to the airport. And it was still blocked. The airline rescheduled our flight for later. 

So later, we took a third taxi back to the airport, and found that it was still blocked. American Airlines didn't update the flight information until 10 minutes after boarding time started, so we spent 45 minutes standing in the hot sun at the entrance to the airport (where I took these photos).

We talked to the protesters, and they made it clear they had no intention of leaving anytime soon. 

Now we're trying to book a flight for next week. We'll need to take a 4th Covid test. 

Each Covid test costs $100. Each round-trip to the airport costs $25. This is getting expensive. 

(We're lucky that we have an apartment to go to. Otherwise we'd been standing outside the airport like hundreds of other travelers right now.)

Canned rocks? Why, Japan? Why?

A privately owned railway in Japan called the Choshi Electric Railway operates on only four miles of tracks. Business is bad, so the company is trying to monetize in part by selling rocks from under the tracks. In cans! Why, Japan? Why? 

Now you can chat with Einstein

A company called UneeQ has created an artificial intelligence (AI) digital version of Albert Einstein. The company's "conversational and experiential" AI enables what the company calls a "meaningful experience with one of history's greatest minds." The software faithfully re-creates Einstein's personality, according to the company. 

Einstein's voice was created by Aflorithmic. His face was created by Goodbye Kansas Studios. And his knowledge comes from WolframAlpha.

Is virtual Albert Einstein believable? It's all relative. 

It's time to get over your block block

People are funny about blocking others on social media.

Both blockers and the blocked act like blocking is at least a rude affront and at worst an act of aggression.

People who block are sometimes accused of being intellectual cowards who can't stand disagreement.

The act of blocking is seen by some as how filter bubbles are created, resulting in a delusional social experience where everyone agrees.

I'm here to tell you that blocking is none of these things.

It helps to embrace my "cocktail party" metaphor for social media. Just like a cocktail party, we use social sites like Twitter or Facebook in order to enjoy the company of others, have stimulating conversations, cultivate relationships among people we want to know better and to learn new things.

Every user's account, in this metaphor, is their home, to which they can invite to their party anyone they choose for any reason they choose.

Anyone invited is free to accept the invitation, or decline it, and for any reason they choose.

The act of blocking someone is akin to choosing to not invite them to your party.

Reticence to block is precisely what makes Twitter uncivil. If you're inviting everyone to your party, including the serial disruptors, jerks and sociopaths, then you shouldn't blame Twitter -- you're the one who invited those people by not blocking them. 

Twitter has 330 million active monthly users. You will never interact with 99.9% of them. Blocking is merely an opportunity to exert a little control over some of the people you will never in the future interact with. It’s the other side of the following coin. Blocking is good. Blocking is right. Blocking improves Twitter. Blocking turns Twitter into a perfect cocktail party. 

So stop complaining about Twitter. And start blocking like it’s a bodily function.

How spending on the Internet of Things saves you money

The IoT revolution comes with many benefits. Chief among these is how inexpensive IoT devices can be. But reaping the benefits of IoT requires that those devices also be small and energy efficient, enabling a great many of them to be deployed. Some of them must also be efficiently battery-powered, which means minimizing on-board processing capabilities.

Many IoT devices are small, inexpensive and good at one or a small number of tasks, including the collection of sensor or location data. They should also be good at offloading that data for further processing. And that's where the power of MEC and 5G come in for the future of IoT.

IoT devices can generate tons of data. Two of the benefits of IoT devices are low power consumption and low cost. By enabling low-latency processing of this data at the edge instead of on the devices or in the cloud, IoT solutions can remain flexible, and the devices themselves can:

  • Remain inexpensive.

  • Operate with minimal maintenance.

  • Use smaller, cheaper and long-lasting batteries.

Ultimately, all that means the whole operation can be made more cost-effective. Here’s everything you need to know.

Google's "face recognition" recognizes more than your face!

You can search your pictures on Google Photos that Google recognizes as you by clicking here. When I do that, I get all the photos that clearly show my face in the picture, but also photos like this one. I took this photo of my nieces, and my arm and hand are visible as a reflection in their sunglasses. Google recognized my hand.

There’s another photo I took of a book sitting on a chair. Part of my foot is visible in the photo, and Google recognized my foot.

It’s not just face recognition anymore, is it?

I love this delicious Oaxacan drink!

Amira picked up this delicious beverage at a local market here in Oaxaca. It's called Tejate and it's made with corn and chocolate.

Locals were drinking this stuff long before the Spanish arrived in the New World.

That stuff on top is made with flor de cacao, which is a local tree. It's really delicious, and has the consistency of butter and the taste of very mild chocolate.

I had it for the first time, and now I'm a huge fan.

How and why to embrace the power of ignorance

While many people know all about consumer products, reality TV stars and pop music, 20% of Americans can't name a single branch of government. 70% can't name a single living scientist. And half of Americans can't name a single Supreme Court Justice.

In the 20th Century and before, knowledge was rare and hard to get. If you didn't read books, seek out information and actively learn, you simply didn't have knowledge. You were generally ignorant.

The absence of good information was no information.

We live in a different world now.

Now, social media, advertising and ubiquitous media push information at us from every direction. It's not information that serves us. It serves the pushers. Just showing up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok means that the information starts flowing. Browsing the web gives you not only what you're searching for, but advertising galore. Same with TV. Driving down the street exposes you to an ever growing amount of advertising content.

Our motivations for seeking knowledge are being hacked in an increasingly asymmetrical battle over our attention. Billions of dollars per year are being poured into science and engineering designed to exploit our brains to make us crave the next nugget of useless content. Year after year, the machines get better at using us. We're the targets of a global effort to grab our attention, and we're often not even aware that it's happening. Even on TV, news has been replaced with polarizing, grand-standing talking heads who grab attention by vilifying those "other people," leading viewers to see politics as good guys vs. bad guys and have no useful information about policy or platform.

Today, the absence of good information results in you learning bad information automatically and by default.

If we do nothing, our heads will be filled with junk content. The amount of time we spend being spoon-fed garbage information will grow. That's why so many people today know all about the TikTok "influencer" of the moment, but can't find China on a map.

We live in a theoretical information utopia. We can read just about any book, take any of thousands of university courses from Harvard and MIT and others, learn how to do anything on YouTube, use Google Search to find out just about anything.

A million years of ignorance caused by the scarcity of information is over. Now, the main barrier to good knowledge is a media and advertising landscape that overwhelms us and consumes our time and attention with bad knowledge.

It's time to realize that blocking junk content, avoiding the algorithms that seek to hook you, is something of an art and a skill to cultivate.

In other words, we have to cultivate ignorance on a wide range of pointless subjects in order to be knowledgeable about useful and interesting subjects.

So how do we remain ignorant of useless information?

Here are my 16 powerful approaches to avoiding, resisting and blocking junk knowledge (link goes to the paid version of my email newsletter, Mike's List)

What you need to know about the amazing, surprising future of remote work

While exploring Mayan ruins and lost cities in the jungles of Guatemala, I emerged from a dense forest one day in search of something truly elusive: a Wi-Fi network.

The year was 2006. I was with my wife and two sons on the trip of a lifetime, going from one Mayan site to another across five countries over six weeks. I wasn’t on vacation. I worked during the entire trip. At the time, I was writing a weekly opinion column for Computerworld, with consulting work on the side.

I decided as an experiment to tell neither my editor nor my clients that I would be traveling. I wanted to conduct an experiment — to see if they would even notice that I was abroad. (Spoiler: They didn’t.)

With a deadline imminent, I really needed that internet connection. After trudging through a forest from the village where we were staying to a small town rumored to have a hotel, I found it: a run-down building with “Hotel” hand-painted on it, with a metal table and two chairs beside the structure more or less in the dirt road. More importantly, I checked my phone and there it was: Wi-Fi! (In that place in those days, Wi-Fi was rare, but if you could find it, there was never a password involved.) I sat down, logged in, sent my column and breathed a sigh of relief.

Sweltering in the Central American humidity and swatting away mosquitos, I didn’t know at the time that I was living in the future.

Why Amazon’s home robot sounds like a terrible idea

Amazon’s working on a robot.

Details about Amazon's home robot project leaked recently. What we learned is that the project, code-named Vesta, is in the "late-prototype stage."

The robot will be "powered" by Amazon's Alexa voice assistant and will feature cameras, a screen and a small compartment for carrying things. It might also come with a camera on the end of a retractable pole for helping users find stuff under the bed.

The company has more than 800 employees working on it.

The publication Insider has seen an internal Vesta document and has spoken to six anonymous sources directly involved in the program.

The robot may cost more than $1,000. Amazon is reportedly considering rolling it out, so to speak, in a limited, invitation-only beta.

The robot is being developed in Amazon's Silicon Valley R&D organization, called Lab126, which also developed the Kindle line, Amazon Echo and other successful Amazon consumer products, plus the Fire Phone.

The Fire Phone was a horrible product and a bad idea. And the company is haunted by its failure.

Amazon staff are reportedly worried about its prospects for success. Sources complained about "shifting strategies and delayed launch dates" and wondered whether Vesta will be a hit.

They’re right to be nervous. Here’s why Amazon’s Vesta is very unlikely to be successful.