Diving the Great Barrier Reef Day 1

We're having a fantastic experience diving the Great Barrier Reef. The water is clear and warm. The fish are abundant. The corals beautiful.

Katrine and I are diving while our sons snorkel. They're full of excitement every time they return from the sea: "We saw this fish", "It was so big", "I saw a nemo fish, but it was black, so it was probably evil" :-)

Pro Dive, the Cairns-based operator we picked has been great so far. One difference with other companies is that we stay on the same boat all the time instead of transferring to a bigger boat moored permanently on the reef. This lets us get to know the crew and other passengers much better.

Biggest fish so far: a large barracuda (1.5m?) was very inquisitive during our night dive. 

Locking down Apple's new Find my iPhone / iPad

Kudos to Apple for making this service free, it's well worth enabling.
However to make sure you're properly protected there are a few changes
you should make in Settings.

Enable Passcode Lock and, optional but recommended, Auto-Lock.

Next enable restrictions and disable deletion of apps and accounts.
This will prevent thieves from nuking your MobileMe account or your
Find my iPhone / iPad app.

Yes! Facebook finally implements Hugs!

Well, no, they didn't. Or rather, they haven't... yet.

Most friends' status updates on Facebook are full of good news, fun stuff, and happy events.

Sadly, not this week:
  • One dear relative is in pain
  • A former colleague & his wife just lost their baby at 23 weeks
  • A friend of my wife's family, and father of two young kids, was tragically killed in a car crash
These aren't friends with statuses you can "Like". These are friends in need of a hug. But Facebook doesn't have a "Hug" button :-(

An obvious alternative is to leave a note for friends, expressing sympathy. However when many people have already replied I often find myself reluctant to do so to avoid triggering an email to a dozen people I may not know. 

And sometimes it's not easy to find the right words. Often, in these situations actions do speak louder than words, even virtual ones.

So Facebook, please add a Hug button to status updates. A hug is pretty much a universal act of friendship, solidarity, and sympathy. It would be easy to implement and understand. In the few countries where a hug might be culturally inappropriate, it could be replaced with its equivalent.

Personally, I'd love a simple way to say "I feel for you".

(Any resemblance to the real Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg is entirely fortuitous :-)

Fractals without a Computer

We often think of fractals as computer-generated but they're all around us, from coastlines to trees. This video shows how a few ingenious people generate some of the most famous "computer fractals" entirely by analog means: a few cameras and a feedback loop. Watch closely and you'll see Julia sets, Sierpinski gaskets, and more! Another way to remember Benoit Mandelbrot's recent passing.

More details here.

External network card: Essential travel equipment

We've traveled extensively in Europe over the past few months, and throughout these trips one of the few constants is the search for Internet connectivity. As soon as we arrive somewhere, the quest for wifi starts. Sometimes we're lucky enough to be staying with friends or at a "wired" hotel. Often though we're renting an apartment, or just in a place that hasn't seen the light yet :-)
One solution is to visit the local Internet cafe, which is seldom practical. For one thing they're rarely close by. For another, spending time in one isn't practical: evenings are when we like to catch up with mail, tweets, blogs, and plan our upcoming activities. Carting the family off to the cafe after a long day of sightseeing is no fun.
Our solution is to look for a generous neighbor with an open wireless access point. But to stand any chance of finding one, your laptop needs help. Its wifi capabilities just don't have the range you need. Prior to our last trip to Europe, I purchased an Alfa external wifi card with extra antenna.
At 1,000 milliwatts and with the larger +9 dB antenna, only once was I unable to find a friendly neighborhood access point (that was in the suburbs of Paris, seems like the Parisians don't like to share, or are just more secure :-) At less than $40, this kit is now one of my "must bring" items.
  • Installing and using one of these cards is a piece of cake on Windows (just follow instructions and use the drivers on the included CD, or download the latest from the web) but getting it to work on OSX takes a little more work, see below
  • Walk around the premises as you look for that open access point, you'll detect different networks as you go from room to room
  • Set your card on a window sill (i.e. with the window open) for even better reception, it will make a noticeable difference
  • Be courteous: don't start downloading huge amounts of data, watching YouTube, etc. You're getting free internet access, don't be a pest
  • Be careful: you never know who else is listening to traffic on this network. Use HTTPS wherever possible. I heartily recommend Firefox with the HTTPS Everywhere extension (which isn't really everywhere, but it's a lot better than not using it)
  • I've passed through airport security with the +9dB antenna and no one's made an issue of it (rightly so but you never know what's going to tweak airport security these days...)
  • Added bonus: this card works great with BackTrack
As I mentioned above getting the RTL8187L (that's the chipset in the card) drivers working on OSX 10.6 is a little more involved than Windows but I've successfully installed them on two MacBook Pros. These instructions come from http://www.insanelymac.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=208763
  1. Download RTL8187L driver for Mac OS X 10.5 fromRealTek
  2. Install it, including restarting. Ignore the error about the kext not being installed poperly
  3. Open /Applications/Utilities/Terminal, and type the following commands in order:
    1. cd /System/Library/Extensions/
    2. sudo chown -R root:wheel RTL8187l.kext/
    3. sudo chmod -R go-rwx RTL8187l.kext/
    4. sudo chmod -R go+rX RTL8187l.kext/
    5. sudo kextutil -t -v /System/Library/Extensions/RTL8187l.kext
  4. Agree when it pops up and tells you that there's a new network interface that's been added.
  5. You should then be able to open the /Applications/Realtek USB WLAN Client Utility and configure it to connect to your network.