Sunday, October 25, 2015

Stand-up Paddleboarding!

Off late, we have developed a curious obsession. It's made our weekends much more awesome and active (physically).

Most people here either hike or bike on weekends to keep themselves physically active. I hated hiking mostly because it was sweaty and i just was not physically cut for it. I have tried it a bunch of times in the past and failed to develop any liking towards it whatsoever.

Stand-up Paddleboarding (SUP)!

Gayathri is a huge fan of water related activities. We started out with basic kayak'ing in a near by lake. As we did that, i found that to be super fun. It was literally like sitting on water. We could go at our own pace and it was awesome. As we did that, we started awe'ing at people who did stuff which seemed even more fun - like Stand-up paddleboarding, Wind surfing and Kite boarding.

We decided to give Stand-up Paddleboarding a shot (SUP) as that was the activity that seemed the most fun with the least learning curve. And boy, it was really one of the best decisions we have ever made in life. It was like kayaking, but way better. You were further closer to water, you could stand, sit, kneel, lie down (and even do some yoga while you are at it). You were figuratively walking on water with something easily maneuverable. It was amazing.

Who needs life jackets in the middle of a ~30ft lagoon ...

We are still looking forward to paddleboarding in the pacific ocean (so far did only in lakes and lagoons where the water is fairly still). We are also looking forward to learning the more harder water activites like Wind Surfing and Kite Boarding.

You can literally sleep on water ...

Until then, I highly recommend trying out SUP. Just go to a near by lake this weekend and rent one. I promise you, it will be totally worth it.


-Vignesh

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Arsenal Obsession #COYG

Despite being raised in India, there has pretty much been only one sport which always appealed to me. It's football (ugh, soccer). And ever since I was a kid (before moving to the states), I have been a fan of one team and one team only. Whenever i describe myself (even on online forums like Twitter Bio, etc.), I always take pride in being an Arsenal fan.

So much so that it's part of our living room!

Life on the Pacific Coast

I moved to the states about two and half years ago and the Arsenal fan in me had a very interesting situation ahead. European football games typically happen on weekend and kick-off is usually somewhere between Noon and 5PM local time. For Arsenal, local time happens to be London time, which is 8 hours ahead my local time, thereby making the US west coast to be the worst possible region to live in for a European football fan. For a game starting at noon in London, i have to be up by 4AM. That's right, 4AM!

Because of this, my typical weekend looks like this:

Say the game is on Sunday at 1PM London Time.
  • I'm usually out on Saturday nights pretty late (either a movie or something else).
  • Back home around midnight.
  • Spend some time playing games or watching something on TV.
  • It's around 2PM or so at this point and dilemma ensues. Do i stay awake for 3 more hours and watch the game, or should i get some sleep (and risk missing the game by oversleeping)?
  • More than often, i end up staying awake the whole night.
  • Watch the game.
  • Sudden existential crisis for the rest of Sunday. What now?


Twitter Effect

When i was in school, we watched games as a group. Always as a group. When i moved to the states, I have been meaning to go to a sports bar and enjoy the game with a supporters group. But i have not managed to do so even once (usually because of the ungodly hours).

Twitter came to the rescue. I usually tweet a lot during the game (and annoy the crap out of my non-football friends) and i have made a lot of new friends (living on various parts of the world) because of that. I now really feel that watching the game with Twitter feed open is as good as watching it with friends. And there's always casualties (TV Remote being the worst victim).

Live

I'm slowly getting towards a point where i might be able to afford to fly to London once or twice during a season. I am really looking forward to making it a habit of attending one or two games every season in person.

And by the way, for the uninitiated, #COYG = Come On You Gunners.

Happy February Everyone!

-Vignesh

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Tis The Season - 2014!

Hola!

This is me with another attempt in vain to remind myself that i should write more.

2014 has been wonderful. Lot of memorable moments. First full year as a married person. A wife who loves you more than the world. A job that, well, i really have no words to describe it, it's that good. I could not have imagined a better life.

The year started just like any other. The first big moment was in March where we celebrated our first anniversary.

And then along came a pretty sweet moment at work. I got an opportunity to give a recorded-talk at Google I/O, Google's annual developer conference. It was a big deal as developers from all over Earth tune into it.


Then thanks to my girl we got to spend the summer in Seattle as she was taking up an internship there. It was three awesome months that encompassed a wide range of cool things like living across the street from Space Needle, flying on a sea plane, an awesome trip to the island capital of British Columbia. Not to mention, getting away from the heat of California's summer.



Along came October where there was a really fun filled party for her birthday.


Then came the holidays where we did crazy things like reaching 130ft beneath the Pacific Ocean on a submarine.

126ft beneath the Pacific Ocean!

I am writing this as we pack our stuff headed to celebrate the dawn of 2015 in random parts of the California West Coast.

Until then, Mahalo & Happy new year 2015!

To end this post, a random quote from Phoebe that always makes me laugh - "If you wanna receive email about my upcoming shows, please give me money so that i can buy a computer".

-Vignesh

P.S.: I cheated in this post by including more pictures than words. Although, i really hope that i will write more in 2015!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The story behind Seattle's floating homes!

In Seattle, there are a lot of people who live on the waterfront (in Lake Union). There are two types of floating life shelters: Floating Homes and Houseboats.

Houseboats are one of the most ingenious ways i’ve ever seen of gaming the system. It’s a pretty long but very interesting story. Read on.

Back in the early 1900s, people who could not afford a house on land in Seattle started building simple house-like structures using some logs and put them on Lake Union and started living there. Since the lake was open to the public, anybody was allowed to build such a "floating home" free of cost and live there.

People who lived on such floating homes did not pay any property taxes. On realizing that, a lot of people who lived on land started moving to the lake and naturally it started getting crowded. Since these floating homes did not have proper sewage system, people started to dump all their waste on the lake and hence it started to become a mess.

The City of Seattle then decided enough is enough, and drew up some regulations on how many floating homes will be allowed on the lake and designated certain spots in the lake to be for the exclusive use of floating homes. Since the number of homes were limited and they were always docked, they also decided to hard wire them into the city’s sewer and electricity systems. Thereby, floating homes were started to be considered as regular homes and people needed to pay property taxes on them.


P5230410-300x225.jpg
The floating home used in the movie Sleepless in Seattle

When something becomes “limited edition”, obviously the prices go up. So all of a sudden, what was once the home of people who could not afford a house became a limited edition floating home that started to go for millions of dollars. Also, sewage and electricity were no more an issue.

Now, there were this new class of people who couldn’t afford a home on the land, and obviously not the waterfront as well. So they just started to put a roof on their boats, and started living there. Since they were just regular boats, there was no restriction on how many such boats could be in the lake as long they are registered vessels. It gradually evolved and today’s “boats” look like this:

628x471.jpg

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You see what they did there? It’s a lake and obviously the city cannot put a limit on the number of boats allowed on the lake. These “boats” are registered as vehicles to the DMV and are authorized to be in the lake wherever and whenever they want. The only restriction being, “they should be able to move on their own”. So all they need is to have a motor underneath that will help them achieve that criteria.

628x471 (2).jpg

If you look closely at the above photo, you can see a Honda motor attached to it on the bottom left. It’s very impractical for the city to enforce that rule on a day-to-day basis. So most of these boats, even though they self-propel at the time they are registered to the DMV, they hardly remain so throughout the year.

So today, you can find a lot of such "Houseboats" on the waterfront of Lake Union in Seattle.

P.S.: This was a story that was told to me when i took the Rode The Duck in Seattle. It’s really an awesome tour and i highly recommend taking it if you are visiting Seattle.

P.P.S.: I originally wrote this for this Quora question: "What are the best examples of people gaming the system?"


-Vignesh

Friday, June 27, 2014

Use your Chromecast/Roku on a Hotel WiFi

Chromecast and Roku are really wonderful devices which allow you to take all your media with you where ever you go. Especially, if you travel a lot, it's definitely way better to watch something on your Netflix subscription rather than paying exorbitant rates on the hotel's pay-per-view.

But there's a problem. Hotel WiFi's usually use web based authentication (i.e.) their wireless network is usually open and anyone can connect to it. Only when you try and open a webpage, they send you to an authentication page that asks for a username/password (which the hotel will provide you) and/or asks you to accept the terms and conditions.

The problem is that Chromecast and Roku do not have native support for such authentication. But fear not, in this post, i am going to write about a few ways in which you can work around this limitation to enjoy Roku/Chromecast on the hotel's WiFi network.

Find out your device's MAC Address

2 of the 3 workarounds that i mention requires you to know the MAC Address of your Chromecast/Roku device. Here's how you figure it out:

Roku
  • Switch it on
  • Navigate to Settings->Network->Wireless
  • On the bottom right, you can see the MAC Address of the Roku
Chromecast
  • Switch it on
  • Connect your phone to the hotel WiFi and authenticate it
  • Open the Chromecast Setup app on your android phone
  • Tap on devices and wait for it to scan
  • Tap on your Chromecast device in the list
  • Tap "Set Up"
  • Tap "I see the code"
  • Tap "Set Name"
  • The MAC Address of your chromecast will be displayed on the screen now. 
Workaround 1 - Call the Tech Support

Most hotels give you a small sheet of paper with your WiFi username and password. That sheet usually also has a "tech support" phone number. Here is what you can do: Call the tech support number and tell them exactly this: "I would like to use the roku media player device over the hotel WiFi. I wanted to check if you could whitelist the MAC Address of my device to by-pass the authentication page".

Depending on the mood and knowledge of the tech support person, he/she might say okay. But nevertheless, it's gonna take some time before the whitelist happens. And once the whitelist happens, you can enjoy Chromecast/Roku over the hotel WiFi.

Workaround 2 - Spoof your MAC and authenticate from your laptop

The whole web authentication system works around MAC addresses. Once you enter your username and password, your MAC and IP addresses are going to be whitelisted for a certain amount of time (about 24 hours) and your device will be allowed to access the internet in that time period.

One key weakness about this authentication mechanism is that MAC address is easily spoof'able. So we are going to to assign your Roku/Chromecast's MAC address to your laptop and perform the authentication like usual and then make use of that whitelist to access the internet from your Roku/Chromecast. Here are the steps (follow them precisely to the word):
  • Find the MAC address of your Roku/Chromecast using the steps above. Note it down.
  • Open the terminal (assumes linux).
  • Run "ifconfig" and note down the MAC Address of the laptop. [1]
  • Run this command: "sudo ifconfig wlan0 down".
  • Disconnect from the WiFi network on the laptop.
  • Run this command: "sudo ifconfig wlan0 hw ether <mac address of roku>".
  • IMPORTANT: Turn off the Roku/Chromecast by unplugging it.
  • Run this command: "sudo ifconfig wlan0 up".
  • Connect to the Hotel's WiFi network on the laptop.
  • Open the browser and navigate to google.com (or any other website).
  • It will ask for authentication, provide username/password that the hotel gave you.
  • Type google.com again and verify that you can access Google.
  • Run this command: "sudo ifconfig wlan0 down".
  • Disconnect from the WiFi network on the laptop.
  • Run this command: "sudo ifconfig wlan0 hw ether <mac address of your laptop from step [1] above>".
  • Run this command: "sudo ifconfig wlan0 up".
  • Now you can plug your Chromecast/Roku back in and connect to the Hotel's WiFi network on that. It should now be connected to the internet!
You will have to repeat these steps after the whitelist expires (usually about once a day).

Note: The above two work arounds will connect your Chromecast/Roku directly to the hotel's WiFi 

Workaround 3 - Set up your own WiFi network

Buy a portable WiFi adapter and use that to share your Hotel's WiFi through your own access point.

Hope this helps!

-Vignesh

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Chromecast URL Player

I was annoyed by the fact that the Chromecast SDK has been out for the public for quite a while and yet googling for a simple URL player for Chromecast did not yield satisfactory results. So I sat down to create my own simple web app for playing back any http video or viewing any still image in Chromecast.

URL: http://movies.foamsnet.com

Source Code: https://github.com/vickyg3/UrlPlayer

Would love to hear feedback. Feel free to fork, send pull requests.


-Vignesh

Monday, November 4, 2013

Introducing Super Secure File - One File, Completely Secure, Access Anywhere!

Super Secure File gets you a really secure password protected file that you can access anywhere with an internet connection. Smartphone, Tablet, Laptop, SmartTV, anything!

To cut to the chase and create your Super Secure File, go to: http://secure.foamsnet.com.

How does it work?

Super Secure File basically uses Google Drive to store your encrypted file and does all the encryption and decryption locally in Javascript. The key never ever leaves your computer. Once you close the tab, boom, the key is gone. Nobody knows the key but you (and probably your spouse if you are married).

Motivation

This is not a big feat or anything, this is merely a mashup of a few libraries to prove a point to myself. The motive behind this app is to build a secure mechanism to store my passwords and credit card numbers on the cloud so that I can access it anywhere. I do not trust anyone who links me up to a server when it comes to information like this. Which is why i wanted a completely static HTML page with no server access whatsoever to provide me with this functionality.

Feel free to examine the source code here (and please let me know if you find anything utterly stupid): https://github.com/vickyg3/super-secure-file

Hosting and Links

Since this is a static page, I have not hosted this on my server. This is merely hosted as a github page (if you look at the repo, you'll see the default branch to be gh-pages and not master). Hosting it as a github page also proves that it has no server interaction whatsoever and cannot steal your key by any mean.

So, all you need is to remember your password and one of these URLs (they all redirect to the same Github Page): http://bit.ly/securefile or http://bit.ly/supersecurefile or http://secure.foamsnet.com or http://vickyg3.github.io/super-secure-file/super_secure_file.html

Get your Super Secure File and make your life a little easier! :-)


-Vignesh