Jachin's Blog

Articles in "Technology"

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I've had my eye on OpenBazaar for quite a while now and at the start of April of this year (2016) it went live.

You should check it out, but a short summary would be that it's a distributed on-line marketplace. It uses bitcoin for it's currency. Anyone can join the network and sell their products on-line for free. The software is free, setting up a shop is free, accepting payments are free. All you need is an Internet connection and a computer.

To run a shop (not just be a shopper) you'd probably want your shop available all the time, and that will require running OpenBazaar on server. However hosting a shop would be very inexpensive. I've already seen hosting companies offering OpenBazaar hosting packages. I'm sure OpenBazaar hosting will be commoditized and very easy to setup very soon (if it isn't already).

I was chomping at the bit to try out OpenBazaar, so I figured I should buy something. There wasn't a whole lot of sale right when it launched, so my options were limited. I wanted something physical, costing more then $10 but less then $50. Eventually I settled on a 1 ounce silver bar.

I'm afraid I probably over paid. With shipping I paid 0.06178382 BTC ($28.11). At the time I'm writing this, silver is worth about $17.46 an ounce. I'm sure if I had ordered more, the shipping would have been a lot smaller percentage. This is actually the first time I've bought precious metals in something other then jewelry form. Maybe it's normal to pay that much of premium for this sort of thing.

Aside from feeling like the price was a little high, the whole process could not have been smoother. Shortly after I placed my order I got a confirmation from the seller that my order had been received and shipped. A few days later, the silver bar showed up in my mailbox.

The way OpenBazaar is setup now, you can tell they are targeting people who'd be selling on Etsy or maybe eBay or Craigslist. There's a 'search' feature that looks like it has potential but I'm not sure what would happen if someone hooked up an e-commerce system with 10,000 products. I don't know how people would find what they were looking for.

If you want to just browse what's for sale without having to download the software, there's a site called BazaarBay that works pretty well.

Here's my page on OpenBazaar. It probably won't work because I'm not running the software most of the time. My next OpenBazaar project will be to setup a server. Then, maybe, try selling something.

OpenBazaar still feels a little buggy and slow, but some of that might just be the distributed nature of it. One thing I haven't been able to get to work, even after some trying, is OpenBazaar's address system. They are using something called OneName. It's pretty cool idea, basically a distributed DNS system on a …

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At this point I've bought lots of things on-line with Bitcoin, but I have not been able to buy anything locally (in Minneapolis MN) until now. I was surprised to find one of my "go to" Thai restaurants Krungthep got a new (to me) website, that accepts Bitcoin.

It looks like they use Menufy and it looks like there are several restaurants in the area I can also order from using Bitcoin.

The whole experience was great. The Menufy interface was super slick and made ordering easy. Paying with Bitcoin was also super easy. 20 minutes later the delivery guy brought delicious Thai food to our door.

The one 'question' I have left is that I think they are only accepting Bitcoin for on-line, takeout/delivery orders. I'm guessing Menufy is making the experience for restaurant owners so seamless they don't have to know or care what Bitcoin is.

Hopefully the next thing I'll get to try soon is to an actual store/restaurant that accepts Bitcoin for in person (POS) transactions.

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How to Setup a Soundboard

This article will show you how to map a set of sound effects (I'll show you how to do 10) to keyboard shortcuts that will be ready any time you need a rim shot, or sad horns or whatever else.

You need to be running OS X. I've set this up on a 10.10 and 10.11. I do not know how far back into older versions of OS X this will work (or how far forward).

tl;dr We are going to use Automator to make some Services that know how to play 1 sound each and then assign those services keyboard shortcuts. You can download a set of sample sound and the services from the SimpleSoundboardForMac repo on GitHub.

Step 1 - Get Some Sounds

Obviously there is a lot of room here for personalization, but here are some classic choices.

You probably want pretty short sounds because stopping them will be difficult.

You need to save your files in /Users/<your username>/Music/SoundBoard. Like a lot of these instructions you can change this path but you'll need to make sure you change it everywhere it's referenced.

The sound files should all be named using the following pattern. <number>-<description>.<extension>. For instance a sad trombone sound effect could be name like so 1-sad-trombones.mp3.

The numbers should go from 0-9. You can feel free to leave some out. If you want to swap out some sounds just rename the file so the number is gone from the front of the file name, and put the number in the new sound effects file name. Old: sad-trombones.mp3 New: 1-crickets.wav.

The following file extension will work:

  • mp3
  • mp4
  • wav
  • aiff
  • aac

Step 2 - Build the Services

Start up Automator. Make a new "Service" that accepts no input and can run in any Application.

Add a "Run Shell Script" action to it. The script can be /bin/bash and it should be as follows:

find ~/Music/SoundBoard -maxdepth 1 -type f \( -name "1-*mp3" -o -name "1-*wav" -o -name "1-*aiff" -o -name "1-*mp4" -o -name "1-*aac" \) -exec afplay {} >/dev/null 2>&1 \; &
Automator window.

Save the service as Sound Board 1 in /Users/<your username>/Library/Services.

Test it out by going to the services menu and running it.

Step 3 - Setup the Keyboard Shortcuts

Go to "System Preferences..." -> "Keyboard" -> "Shortcuts" (tab) -> "Services" (from the list on the left) then scroll all the way to the bottom and you should find "Sound Board 1". Double click on the faded out "none" and punch in your keyboard shortcut. For sound #1 I recommend using "⌥⇧⌘1". It seems like a shortcut other programs aren't using.

Automator menu.

Try it out, once it's setup hit the keyboard shortcut, you should hear the sound effect.

Keyboard system preference pane.

Step 4 - Repeat

Now that we have it working for '1', we need to set it up for the other 9 number keys.

This …

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For various reasons I'm not going to be able to "quit Facebook" any time in the foreseeable future.

However I've found something that works pretty well and has a future I'm much more excited about: Ello

Feature wise, it does not match Facebook, and probably won't have all the features I really want in a social network for at least a couple years.

However it has something else going for it, it's a public benefit corporation.

I've been thinking a lot about Ello in the past couple of weeks and I think it's fair to compare what they are doing to Wikipedia or Craigslist. If Ello can marshal just enough resources and users, with the goal of making the world a better place I think it will allows Ello to make fewer compromises and build a better experience that will ultimately attract a greater and greater share of users.

It's possible of course that social networking is too different from other web applications like Wikipeida and Craigslist. Maybe it's inherently more expensive. Maybe it is too expensive now, but someone day the future it won't be.

Maybe all the money Facebook and it's ilk have, will allow them to innovate so quickly no one will be able to create a compelling alternative. I doubt this though. I'm excited about Ello as it exists today and their ideas for the future. If Ello fails I think a similar non-profit-ish model will eventually succeed at becoming the dominate social networking platform.

If you're interested, here's how Ello describes what they are doing.

My personal plan is to become a Facebook lurker even more then I already am. If you've noticed I didn't wish you happy birthday on Facebook, don't be offended, it's not personal. Maybe every now and then I'll post a link to something I posted on Ello, just to remind people that's where I am.

Right now Ello is invite only but I have some invites, let me know if you want one.

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It's been a few years since one of my personal projects has been ready for prime time, but the Como Barber Shop site finally is, at least, I hope it is, it's live at least.

Craig's Como Barber Shop has been my favorite place to get my hair cut for many years (it used to be Pete's Barber Shop, Pete's still there, but Craig is running the show now). I've always enjoyed going there but there's been one minor issue. They do not take reservations and they tend to be very busy (probably because they're so good at cutting hair). So sometimes I walk down there, and the wait is too long (of course I could always have just called, but I do not usually think of that, plus it's just not my style). I should point out, that waiting for a hair cut at the Como Barber shop is usually a pretty good time, I just don't always have the time.

This project began when, after waiting a while to get my hair cut, I finally got on the chair and I was chatting with Craig about what I do at Clockwork, which is just a couple of block's from the barber shop. He told me he had a plan for a web site to solve the problem of not knowing how long the wait was going to be. His idea was actually a pretty good; he was going to put together a phisical model that represented the shop and use a webcam to create an over head view of the shop and he could put that on a website. As people came in the shop he could put down checkers or chess pieces (or something like that) so someone could look at the website and see how busy the shop was. This is exactly what I wanted. I told Craig it was a good idea.

A few days later I was working on learning the Meteor framework and I realized I could make a site like Craig describe pretty easily and it would probably be a good learning exercise. Of course, I was just going to use basic shapes to represent the barber and waiting chairs. I figured I'd probably make a little bit of progress, learn a bit and then move on to something else with out ever really getting that close to finishing.

A couple free evenings later I had most of the site built and a much better understanding of meteor, bootstrap and meteor-kitchen (which is a great tool for getting a meteor project off the ground quickly). I thought about showing Craig right away, but I got distracted and kinda forgot about it. Eventually though, I went back for my next haircut. I told him about it and he was pretty excited. I warned him it was not going to look that great and was not done yet, but I was going to be on a plane that next week and I'd see if …

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When I tell people about bitcoin and I want to give an example of something bitcoins are good for today I usually use the example of international money transfers. Recently I successfully transferred some money to my sister (about $50), who is currently living in South Korea. It was not exactly the smoothest experience ever but I think it demonstrates a real opportunity.

Here's how we did it.

About a month and half ago I asked my sister if she'd be willing to give this a try. Using CoinMap.org I found a bitcoin ATM in Seoul. It was kinda far away from where she lived but she said she goes to that part of the city every so often. We figured it was worth a shot.

My sister has an iPhone, so I showed her ¢oinpunk which is a web based on-line wallet that works on iPhones. As of the writing of this post Apple has not been allowing cryptocurrency wallets in their App Store but there's hope that this will change soon. Coinpunk is really well designed and it even lets you use the phone's camera to scan QR codes, which is a pretty key feature. I sent her about $50 worth of bitcoins.

Over the next month in a half she tried to use the ATM once on a Sunday, and the coffee shop where the ATM is, was closed. She tried again, and it was down for the day because the people who were running the ATM were updating the software. During this visit she asked around at the coffee shop and got the contact information for the group that was running the ATM. They had a phone number, she called and they were pretty helpful and explained what was going on. The ATM is operated by a company called Coin Plug.

Third time was the charm, she finally made it on a day when the coffee shop was open and she said the ATM worked really well. She was able to exchange the Bitcoins I sent her for South Korean Won.

Given the volatility of bitcoin holding on to them for a month was a risky move on our part. If we really did not want to be exposed to the risks of a big price change we could have arranged a time in advance where she would be at the ATM. I'd buy some BTC using credit card on CoinBase (or many other such services). I'd transfer her some Bitcoins, she'd order a coffee, a couple minutes later she'd have the Bitcoins and be able to sell them through the ATM for KRW before she was done with her drink. I'll bet we could complete a transfer in 15 minutes or less.

I did a quick (back of the envelope) calculation on how much we were charged in fees. I don't think it was very much (less then $4, maybe less then $2). If I had used a credit card to buy Bitcoins immediately …

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It's been over a year since I last write about my experiences with bit coins. I have not been able to explore the world of crypto currency as much as I would have liked but I have managed a few things.

Overall though, it's been very interesting to see how Bitcoin is becoming more and more mainstream all the time. If you watch closely it seems super slow but if you take a step back, it's pretty amazing how fast it's been.

Hive

It's been very interesting to watch the evolution of wallet software. My favorite right now is Hive. I run it on my Mac. When I want to pay for something with bitcoin I just click on a link, it opens Hive, with a confirmation screen. I click 'OK', put my password in and it's done.

New Egg

NewEgg.com recently started accepting bitcoin. I needed to place a small electronics order and I figured I'd give their bitcoin payment method a try. The only hiccup was I initially had items in my cart that were supplied by one of their "partners" (or something like that) and the bitcoin option was not there. I changed out the items in my cart for similar ones that NewEgg supplied and it worked great.

Coin Base

Even though I've been spending bitcoins I have yet to replenish my supply. I've been meaning to do that and I figured I'd replace the the ones I spent at NewEgg. I've had a Coin Base account for a while but I never set it up to buy and sell bit coins. I went ahead and did that. It worked great. It reminded me a lot of setting up a PayPal account, but they seemed to have smoothed the process out even more. I actually had a verified account in less then an hour (and only about 5 minutes of filling in information). That included 2-factor authentication, verifying my checking account and a credit card. I won't get my bitcoins for about 3 businesses. It will be interesting to see if that works faster in the future or if that's just the speed at which banks work. It takes about the same amount of time (maybe a little longer) to get money into my PayPal account.

Over all I was impressed with how 'pro' everything from New Egg, to Hive to Coin Base feels. I see that Hive has a Coin Base app, it will be interesting to see what that does.

Speaking of which, if you are thinking about setting up a Coin Base account you should let me refer you.

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The Zombie Translator (Zombietranslator.net) is back and better then ever. Not only does it "work" but there are now more example phrases not to mention vast improvements to the zombie linguistic engine.

My brother Derek is also involved as a writer.

There's also a "social" element to the Zombie Translator. You can follow it on Twitter @ZTranslator, Tumblr and Google+. There you will find useful phrases to memorize. Some phrases are things you might like to communicate to a zombie and others are things zombies might be trying to tell you.

You are more then welcome to "like" the zombie translator on Facebook, but I'm not sure I'll be posting much there.

What follows is mostly for my fellow software developers. If you do not care about such details you can stop reading.

I built the zombie translator on Google App Engine in python. It has been a pretty good experience so far. I've been playing around with Google App Engine for a few years now and they seem to be making it steadily better.

If it's not obvious, the front end is all written in Bootstrap. I've learned a lot about bootstrap building this. It's very handy. Getting the site looking half way decent and functional was much easier with Bootstrap then starting from the HTML5 Boilerplate (where I used to start) although it looks like they've added some more stuff recently. It's also got the whole "responsive" thing too, which I pretty much got for free (you should try the site on your smart phones, it works pretty well).

I'm also hopefully that if I ever want to give it a face lift to make it look more like a zombie translator and less like a bootstrap site, that should be an 'easy' process.

For the "zombie linguistic engine" I actually am using the "natural language library" NLTK, which sounds like it should be a translation of the Bible, but it's not, it's a python library for determining meaning from "natural language". It has a bunch of cool tools and hopefully in the future I can spend more time exploring it.

In the future I'm planning on using this as a 'toy' project. There are several javascript front-end libraries I'd like to learn, including Angular and React. I figure this is just the right size of an app to build after I've done the obligatory "TODO" app.

I've also spend a little bit of time trying to automate the process of posting the translations to the various social networks. I'd like to keep things going as long as I can. However I want to spend as little time on it as possible, so I'm trying to automate the process. So far the only social network I have automated to my liking is tumblr. They have a great API and a really nice post queuing system. I can see why they are so popular, if only I could get all my friends on Facebook to switch to tumblr …

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I just recently finished a series of videos from the Khan Academy on how Bitcoin works. This is now my favorite explanation of how bitcoin works. It takes about an hour to get through it but it is hard to imagine a useful explanation being much shorter. It is also the first lesson series I've actually done on Khan Academy, I can see why people like it so much it's a great way to learn.

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I've had some interesting conversations about Bitcoins over the past few days. If you interested in a more detailed explanation of how they work, the episode of Security Now about Bitcoin is the best one I've heard so far.

Also, the folks at BitcoinStore.com went above and beyond what I expected, not only did they return the extra Bitcoins I accidentally sent them, they returned them relative to their value in USD. So they actually returned more bitcoins then I overpaid (because the value has changed so much since I made my purchase). I was not expecting that and it was a very pleasant surprise.

So, thanks, BitcoinStore, I will be making more purchases there.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/mrlgw5KpkXM

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