U-Pick at Biringer Farm

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Seattle has had unusually good stint of sunny weather.  To take advantage of the sun, my family and I wanted to get outdoors and do a fun activity together.  Instead of going to a farmers market or to a park we decided that it would be fun to go to a u-pick farm and get some berries.  After a little bit of research we decided on Biringer Farm about 45 minutes north of Seattle in Arlington, Wa.  The trip was quick and parking was easy.  There is no entry fee and its fun to walk around the farm.  Along side the barn is a playground with a slide , huge black drainage tube (4′ diameter), and an antique tractor – great for kids.  

Once you are ready to pick berries you can grab a basket and head into the fields.  Depending on the types of berries you are after you may need to take a tracker ride to get to the field.  We decided to check out the strawberries first even though they were at the end of the season and fairly over picked.  After painstaking work of collecting just a few strawberries we decided to ride back to the farm and head out to the raspberry fields.  It was a good choice.  There were tons of raspberries.  In just under an hour we were able to each pick a flat.  

I highly recomend Biringer to anyone who wants to do u-pick.  The only advice is that you should call ahead to make sure the berries you are after are in season and not over picked.

Here are some pictures from our trip:

99 Designs – Crowdsourced Visual Design

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I’m a huge fan of crowdsourcing and have been following and using mechanical turk for years.  Using technology to reach out to workers or experts who can then in turn work when they want.  It is a simple concept but also very powerful and is the way of the future.   It is efficient economically because it is helping suppliers (workers) meet demanders (businesses).  The key to modern crowdsourcing is to define the unit of work property so that it can be executed independently and in parallel.  My fascination with crowdsourcing, design, technology and entrepreneurship made me a fan of 99 designs right from the start.

With 99 Designs has a 200K+ vertical crowd (community) of designers that can work on your tasks.  For example if you need a logo you can create a job then designers can submit their proposals.  One of the cool things is that anyone can “work” on your task often just for the hope of getting select for the next round.  This means that you can get 100+ designers to submit initial proposals then you can start narrowing the field down and do another iteration against the crowd further refining the logo.  At first this does not seem that impressive but it really is quite amazing.

I can’t wait for an opportunity to try it out.

zsh is the shznits

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My brother operates a computer better than anyone else I know.  So when he gives me tips and tricks, I listen.   Not only can he type incredibly fast but he has also gone out of his way to learn tools and shortcuts that lead to superior productivity.  The thought process is that spending one hour now can save tens or hundreds of hours later.  Its somewhat like the “teach a man to fish” attage but for computers.  Once, after watching a two hour tutorial on vim he was showing me completely unintuitive but crazy useful features like programming keystroke macros.

The other day my brother and I met coffee to discuss some projects.  Peering over my screen he said that I really needed to get z-shell (zsh).  I said I hadn’t heard of it and asked why I should get it.   The answer, not surprising, was a demo of it in action.  Nothing revolutionary, but a lot of little subtile things that make using it and developing on mac waaaay better.

Install Instructions, easy just CURL command

https://github.com/robbyrussell/oh-my-zsh

Really easy install.  Just curl command then a few adjustments to your mac terminal preferences to make sure its the default shell.

Solarized theme, again easy

http://ethanschoonover.com/solarized

The theme creator Ethan Schoonover is ridiculous with his rigor.  Just check out his site and you’ll know when i’m talking about.

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Super clean shell, no long paths.  I feel great after typing clear!

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Case insensitive Tab Autocomplete

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Git integration that changes everything!  Repo, branch and status on command line.

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Git Autocomplete.  

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Great color coding and theme support

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Some nice commands that don’t come standard on mac terminal like ‘ll’ for listing files with details.

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The more I use zsh the better I like it, I don’t really understand why everyone doesn’t use this.  I can’t wait to find out more features.

Change default save location of screenshot on Mac OSX

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IMAGE SOURCE: http://www.globaldelight.com/blog/

Mac OSX lets you easily capture screen shots of your entire screen or just a specific window using:

Command + Shift + 4

I use this functionally often and got tired of captures being saved to my desktop (the default). To change you simply run terminal and change the system default:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Pictures/Screenshots/

Make sure the directory exists first or it will not work.  To have the changes take effect, you then must type:

killall SystemUIServer

Another useful trick is to be able to screen cap directly to clipboard and never store the screen shot on your drive. This makes it really easy to paste into documents or e-mails. To do this

Command + Control + Shift + 4 (not f4).

Its a bit hard to execute the keystroke with one hand so you can use two hands then use the mouse to select the area you want to capture.

My @nytimes Dialect Quiz Map

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Image Source: http://bigkingken.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/total-county.gif

The new york times released a fun dialect quiz map that attempts to pin point where you live based on how you talk.  The basic idea is that a combination of things you say and how you say them can uniquely identify where you grew up.  Most questions are coming from a Harvard Dialect Survey started in 2002.

Typical question

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Working in the NLP space I had high hopes that the quiz would work quite well.  Having grown up in Seattle, which does not have a significant amount of dialectic uniqueness, I also had some doubts on its accuracy.  It turns out that I was right.

My results:

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Although it was not totally accurate it does not mean that it isn’t a useful tool.  The accuracy is highly dependent on the individual and their geo-dialectic past.  My wife, for example grew up in an around New York City.  When she took the survey it was able to pin point the exact town that she grew up in.

Real Applications

With this type of dataset there are some really interesting applications that could be used.  For example, marketers could comb social media and simply through the language used in the posts determine demographic information to target adds.  Another interesting idea would be to attempt to uniquely identify a person by the works and phrases that they write.  This could be used as a form of authentication similar to that of examining the canvas of a famous lost work of art.

In order to make this more useful the accuracy has to be better.  I’m especially interested to see if it could be improved by incorporating more mainstream idioms or cultural norms.  For example, if I talk about coffee am I talking about latte’s at Starbucks or a cup of joe at Dunkin.

Take the quiz

Take the quiz and let me know how it went.  Here is the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/12/20/sunday-review/dialect-quiz-map.html?_r=1&

Add Syntax Highlighting to VIM on Mac OS X

It is extremely useful to be able to quickly edit code files inline in the mac terminal.  This post assumes you are at least somewhat familiar with the vim console text editor.  On mac by default you simply get plain text which whatever theme you are in.  For the homebrew theme you will see something like this for a simple ruby on rails controller file:

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It is much easier to look at and edit code if it is color coded.  It is quite simple to enable this on mac.  You just need to edit the .vimrc file to contain a few lines.  The .vimrc is usually located at the user root ~/.vimrc, if it does not exist you can create it using vim.

vim ~/.vimrc

Then add the following lines:

filetype plugin indent on

set term=builtin_ansi

syntax on

After adding these lines you should

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If you run into trouble, here is a link: http://vim.wikia.com/wiki/Turn_on_syntax_coloring_in_Mac_OS_X

Garlic Bread from @jimmyjohns Day Old Bread

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I was at Jimmy Johns (@jimmyjohns) yesterday picking up a sandwich for lunch and I noticed a sign that said “Yesterday’s bread 50 cents”.  Jimmy Johns is known for having exceptional fresh baked bread, its one of the main reasons their sandwiches are so good.  Since we were making Italian for dinner I decided to pick up one day old bread to make Garlic bread.  It turned out to be a great decision. It was some of the best garlic bread I’ve ever had.  Even though the bread was one day old it was still quite fresh.  In the oven the top got slightly crispy but the bread stayed very soft making it really easy to eat.   I highly recommend trying it!  Let me know if you come up with some other ideas on what to do with the bread.

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Updated: June 13th 11:00pm

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A few people asked me for the recipe I used so I decided to share it.  When making garlic bread I don’t typically follow any recipe.  I just follow these steps:

1. Cut the bread in half lengthwise creating two approximately equal pieces

2. Spread butter on each piece of bread.  How much is up to your liking but I usually just put enough to soak the top layer of bread when cooking.  Also I ALWAYS use real butter.  I like the KerryGold Irish butter.

3. Sprinkle Garlic Salt over the top of each piece.

4. Place in toaster oven on 400 or Oven on low broil.  It usually only takes two or three minutes to melt the butter and crisp the top.  Its often a window of 30 seconds between perfect and burned so keep a close watch

5. Remove from oven and apply chopped parsley (Optional)

If i’m feeling ambitious I will sometimes add fresh crushed garlic in addition to garlic salt.  I  pre-cook it on low with a little bit of butter on the stove so that I don’t have to cook it in the oven.  Be careful not to burn the garlic. Keep heat low and take your time.  Once the garlic is cooked I spoon it over the top after removing from the oven.