Are the oceans “too big to fail”?

Sylvia Alice Earle talks about the misconception that the oceans are too big to fail. With different issues coming to light in today’s world – be it the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, overfishing, the Pacific Trash Vortex, or some other piece of news it would seem that this is not the case but I think a greater illustration of this fact is relating the size of the oceans to our planet in general. David Gallo, Director of Special Projects, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA came up with a simple illustration that everyone on this planet should understand.

Fresh and salt water volumes as compared to the Earth

Fresh and salt water volumes as compared to the Earth

You might need to enlarge the photo above to really understand what you are seeing. The Earth is obvious. The first ball on the right is the total volume of the oceans of the Earth, and the tiny blue speck further to the right is the volume of all the freshwater on the planet. Now imagine if you had a basketball that represented the Earth and a cup of water proportional to the salt water volume. If your task was to spread that around the ball to model the oceans it would not be an easy task.

Now what do you think? (Yes, freshwater might be a problem for the future as well)

If you use Carbonite you might just need a CrashPlan

I do backups regularly. Time Machine, Retrospect, even offsite HD storage. I try to run as paperless as possible and thus I am very protective against disaster in the digital world. The cloud has always been an interesting option but without Google Fiber it is just not going to work for everything and on top of that the ability to restore complete systems is probably not going to be easy. With that said, what is very attractive to me is the idea of having access to all of my laptop files from my iOS devices whether the laptop is turned on or not – or dead or alive for that matter.

So, I dove into the waters of Carbonite. It seemed to work well. I selected a highly mission critical folder and it backed up everything online as advertised and I was able to access everything backed up from my iPhone – and email docs when I was no where near my laptop. I then moved over to Mountain Lion (which probably does not make a difference) and at the same time I thought, “I have unlimited storage with Carbonite, why don’t I just backed my entire home directory?” So I did. It was going to take about a month to upload it but when it dragged on for more than that, never seeming to get any further, I began to wonder. I also could not access my cloud backup from iOS (or even the web for that matter) and the first line of support was to reinstall Carbonite (which they make quite easy to do). That sort of seemed to work for a while but then it got stuck again and I lost all online access as well.

Carbonite Fail

 

Okay, time to make that dreaded call to tech support. The support process at Carbonite is very streamlined. It quickly delivers you to a tech who (with your permission) can take over your computer to check logs, change settings, etc. Okay, this is cool… Then seeing the log (which really did not provide much information) and coming to the conclusion that the program is getting “stuck on something it cannot backup” the tech proceeded to deselect apps and other “troublesome” files in my home directory. What? I began to be amazed as to what Carbonite did not backup by default (the Virtual Machines directory is not even accessible for selection – not that I wanted to back up that monster on the cloud) but also video files were skipped by default too. Then the manual process of hunting down troublesome files – WTF? In a home directory containing 380GB of files – this was going to be a long night. Thus I said goodbye to tech support and tried to simplify the directory tree on my own – in other words still backing up more than my first successful attempt but no where near everything. Running into the same problems almost immediately I gave up.

Doing a little bit of research online I decided to dive into the cloud one more time jumping ship to CrashPlan. What? You really can backup anything you want? What? You can do regular expression exclusions? What? You can back up locally too? …and more, and more, and more. What? It actually works?

The bottom line is you have to be brain dead to be a Carbonite user (at least under Mac OS X). For a program to exclude files (without even telling you), to have trouble with certain kinds of files (that make it get stuck), and to be told (yes, this is a good one) that the program is used under different OSes so they cannot exclude apps on the Mac side without affecting Windows users. What? How about just making it work?

In summary. If you are looking to the cloud for backup avoid Carbonite at all costs. There might be other options but CrashPlan works, works well, and has enough options to find uses beyond a simple cloud backup. The other amazing thing about CrashPlan is the fact that it is cheaper than Carbonite. Your milage might vary but do anything to stay away from the world of hurt I had with Carbonite.

[Update: After posting this article I was pointed to a review of CrashPlan (amongst other solutions). If you are interested in CrashPlan they have a 10% off coupon referenced on their site as of the date of this posting. I wish I could have used it before signing up during the trial period but either way I am happy.]

Diving in Grand Cayman – Cheeseburger Reef and Turtle Reef

I cannot believe it has been three years since I got a new PADI card for diving. I was certified in 1978 by YMCA, yes, I was shorter then, and without diving much in between I have just started to get back into the sport since 2007. The dive master that helped me get my PADI card was Gary Frost from Wall to Wall and he sent the card to me long after I left the islands without charge. (Don’t tell anyone that! Everyone might think they can get a renewed card from him for free!) Anyway, I finally made it back to Grand Cayman in July of 2012 and keeping in touch with Gary I used what is now his own dive shop, “Living the Dream Divers.”

I had three other people join in the on the fun. One had only one resort dive behind him a few years back and two young men who have never tried the sport before. SCUBA Scott (Scott “Happy” Hartwell) took us out to Cheeseburger Reef for a wonderful introduction to the world of diving for the two boys and I certainly did not mind tagging along. I do not know if it has been the years passing that has made the resort experience more professional or just Living the Dream’s approach but they did a great job getting us all into the water.

The second time we went out during our stay on the island we went to Turtle Reef which is short of a mini wall experience. This time we had the honor of Gary himself leading us out to explore the reef. The dive was amazing and, to me, the best part of the whole trip was strangely being able to give Gary the $20 I ‘owed’ him for my PADI card. I guess if I lived in the Game of Thrones world I would be a Lannister for sure. Anyway, enough of the words… take a look of just five minutes out of the nearly two hours in the water.

YouTube Preview Image

Do look up Living the Dream if you find yourself in Grand Cayman. From there own website: “We are a husband and wife team that fell in love with the beauty of Cayman Islands scuba diving many years ago. Living The Dream Divers was built from our desire to provide the absolute best Cayman diving experience. Our concept is simple – we take the smallest groups on the biggest, nicest dive boats and provide outstanding personal service with the friendliest and most qualified crew. Whether it is your first time diving Grand Cayman or you are an experienced scuba diver, we provide safe, fun and relaxed dive trips that showcase the stunning natural beauty of Cayman’s underwater world. We cater to very small groups on board our spacious Newton dive boats and tailor our trips to accommodate the experience levels of our guests onboard. Our small, family owned business, personal service, attention to detail, quality and customer needs reflects in everything we do.” From my experience, everything they say is true and will not be disappointed with their service.

Is Comcast Actively Trying to Get People to Hate Them?

On a recent trip my dive master said an easy way to feel old is to go into an Apple Store. He then went on to describe how when he asked where the cash register is he was told he could just check out by talking to any employee. Then I went on to say how you do not even need to do that anymore – you can actually checkout now with your iPhone after scanning the barcode of something you want to purchase with its camera. Yes, the world is getting cooler everyday…that is, at least in some places…

I am a Cablevision customer and I recently helped a Comcast customer get a cable box (since the cable companies seem to have a thing against unencrypted signals anymore). Getting the box was relatively easy. Although there is only one Comcast service center that comes up on the location finder on the web the place was luckily not a huge distance away. The people there were friendly and I walked out pretty quickly with a box that I was told would be perfect for the HD TV I wanted to connect it to. I was also told that the box should be giving me channels within five minutes but it could take up to 90 minutes to download the full cable guide into the system. Okay, but what year are we living in? Ninety freakin’ minutes?

So, I brought it to the location. Connected it and… the display was saying something cryptic about not being authorized and it was only tuning channels from 1 to 4 and only channel 3 had something on it. After waiting ten minutes I decided to call something Comcast refers to as ‘Customer Service’ but I do not believe they actually know what that means. After a bit on the phone they said they were going to send another activation signal to the box and after a bit of waiting the data light started blinking and some of the now different cryptic things on the screen seemed to indicate good news. Unauthorized went to “channels should be available shortly.” Hmmm… Maybe we are in the 90 minute wait period now? On the downside, no channels were visible now though I could at least get the taunting “available shortly” message on a whole lot more than the original 5. Thus, I decided to leave the box on overnight and see if everything is working tomorrow.

The next day I had high hopes of seeing all the channels coming in again with the beautiful black box, that really does not fit anywhere well, now attached and…well…nothing changed from yesterday. So, I called again. I must say that it has been years since I have witnessed service this dumb before. What I will only describe in snippets is about 30 minutes of my life I wasted on the phone talking to what seemed to be a bad implementation of Jeopardy’s Watson. I do believe I was speaking to a human and not a computer but the complete lack of emotion combined with completely ignoring anything I said that did not fit the script actually made me wonder.

We talked about what I saw on the screen — that is the Comcast message about the channels should be available soon, how I do get a menu when I hit the OnDemand button on the remote — and then she asks me if I am sure the HDMI selection on the TV is the one I connected the box to? WHAT? [In other words -- how would I ever be able to see the Comcast stuff on the TV if it was not connected correctly and in this case with the HDMI cable they were thoughtful enough to provide?]  Then she asks me to try tuning channels less than and more than 100. I said they only have a basic broadcast package and I do not know what channels they are supposed to receive. After I said this the only answer I got back was just tune to any channel over 100. WHAT? [In other words -- am I supposed to psychically pick the channels over 100 that are on the account -- if there even are any on the account?] Then, after they sent a signal to the box that reset it and turned it off she asked me, here is the really hot one, if my box had a cable connecting it to the wall. WHAT? [In other words -- is she just checking if the new Comcast psychic connectivity system reset and turned off the box instead of the coax cable?] I told her at least four times about the Reference Code the message was giving me on the screen and every time it seemed like she did not hear me at all. Where the words really coming out of my mouth? This person, at least what I think was a human, acting like a computer truly made me wonder.

I have a BS in Electrical Engineering from MIT and was able to get absolutely no where on the phone with Comcast support. “We need to send someone out to look at it.” To schedule the appointment we need the last four digits of the account holder’s social security number. WHAT? [In other words -- after thirty minutes on the phone trying to get this to work they need more information to send someone out?]

Who am I doing this for? My aunt who turn 100 years old at the beginning of this year. Did this matter at all to Comcast? Not on this call for sure.

So why the reference to Apple in the beginning? Look I am not a huge fan of Cablevision either, but the Comcast customer service made everyone I have talked to previously at Cablevision look like people sitting behind the Genius Bar at Apple. Oh, and I forgot to mention the punch line. The call ended with, “Thank you for choosing Comcast, have a nice day.” WHAT? I chose to be treated this way? When is Google Fiber coming to push them into the 21st century? Please make it soon.

eMachineShop.com to the Rescue

I had a Canon VIXIA HFM400 and the standard Canon WP-V3 underwater case and wanted to take the next step up in shooting quality underwater video. In other words, I wanted to add lighting to this setup but the question was how. I saw some solutions online, however, I had a pair of Sunray 2000 from Light & Motion that were the desired result in this case. The idea I had was to use the tripod mount on the WP-V3 to create a plate that I could screw the Sunray’s to and in addition have a way to mount the batteries to the plate as well.

To do this I went over to eMachineShop.com for the first time and downloaded their free CAD software to design the idea I had. Though I have seen CAD software in action before I have never designed anything in 3D. I found the software very easy to use and the only problem I could not solve myself was successfully creating the channels that would allow the battery packs to slide in which would be locked by set screws. I could draw them but I was doing it in such a way that the software told me the part could not be made when I tried to place an order. I emailed customer service with the problem I had and within a couple of hours they sent me a revised design that was identical to what I created but now machinable. Exactly what magic they instilled in the design I still do not know but the bottom line I was now on my way. Only after I checked, doubled checked, slept on it, and checked the design and dimensions again I placed the actual order. The custom part would not be cheap and nor would it be delivered quickly so I wanted to be sure everything was set. (The focus was to use the plate for video but to also have the flexibility to use a still camera case I had as well)

Designing the mounting plate with the free CAD software

I think it took about a month to get the part delivered. You can pay a lot more for a faster delivery but I was not in a hurry for this one and as I mentioned previously the service is not cheap to begin with! However, knowing how tool shops and fabricators work on the business side I understand the amount of time that goes into the setup and creation of a one up part like this. Thankfully everything fit on the piece as planned though if I were to do it again I would allow just a little extra room by separating the lights perhaps another inch in total from each other. I purchased a tripod screw from B&H Photo and some stainless steel set screws from a local hardware store and was all set to go.

Tripod screw mount under the plate

Between the battery packs, the lights themselves, and the aluminum plate now putting everything together the unit was now very much negative on buoyancy so I had the further idea to simply throw some swimming noodles I cut onto the arms of the lights. As if it was planned this addition gave the total unit a very slight positive buoyancy in salt water!

Camcorder Front View

Camcorder Top View

All together I was very happy how it all turned out. Sure it would have been easier to get an underwater case that was made for the lights but looking at those bulky options there was not something immediately available that fit the HFM400 and besides — if I thought the custom plate was expensive the pro cases make it look cheap. The bottom line it that it was a fun project that came together well. The eMachineShop was a great experience and as a bonus it was fascinating to see the noodles get crushed at depth from the water pressure and return to normal at the surface!

Diving Abaco with the Camcorder

To see the result of my first dive with the rig see my previous post.