One app to rule them all

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A story about the future of apps and  user privacy

Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Twitter, Amazon, eBay are just some of the apps we use on a daily basis. These apps assist us on our daily routine of our modern lives. They can provide information, social interaction, and cater to our needs and wants. They know us, almost as well as we know them.

 Because nothing is really free on the world wide web, these apps also need their fair share of our daily exchange. We use these apps for our own purpose and the apps begin to “know us”. More precisely, know more about us. In general the end game is to sell us something. The more it knows about us, about our behavior, desires and needs the easier it is to make us buy something.

Of course, nobody is really making you buy a certain product, if you don’t want it or need it. However, some cases are questionable, or even abusive. A friend was telling me about a TV show which was addressing this topic exactly. She was telling me about how companies make a business out of collecting and selling personal user information. And gave me creepy example of a case where a home security company was using personal user information to target their ads to users who were rape victims. We come to a point where we ask ourselves if our decisions are conscious or if they are the product of our cyber exploitation.

China, is apparently in lead when it comes to “knowing their users”. Due to thesheltered internet dictated by their country’s government they have created their own version of the internet. All the apps that we know and love, have been replicated in China’s internet. At their early stages these apps were regarded as rip-offs, however with the launch of WeChat (or Weixin in Mandarin Chinese) things are taking an interesting turn.

WeChat is a new breed of app that can do what WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Uber, Amazon, Tinder can do, and more. Users can make appointments to hospitals, order & pay for food, invest money, order a cab and my personal favorite, heat maps that show you how crowded a place is. The list can go on. Imagine doing all of the things you normally do on the internet in just one app. Now imagine the amount of data and metadata WeChat is collecting.

In a country where everyone shares everything this is very appealing for the government as well…

Johan Kessel and Paul Mazur of The New York Times talk about this issue in this cool video:

What is interesting to see, is that companies from the US are liking the idea of one app to rule them all. Companies like Facebook, are now starting to copy this concept. It seems like WeChat is a glimpse of the future.

The intention of this article is not to emphasize only on the the negative aspects of what this can bring. I acknowledge the many benefits of having such an app, and it’s needless to say how it can simply our lives. However I think that knowing the bad side of the story, not just what they sell us is important to making a conscious decision. A well informed decision is a conscious decision.

Teen Titans: Boyan Slat and The Ocean Cleanup

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Boyan Slat, a 21 year old Dutch inventor, entrepreneur and aerospace engineering student who, at the age of 19, started the The Ocean Cleanup with the dream of removing all plastic waste from our oceans.

According to their research, every year we produce 300 million tons of plastic, a portion of which enters and accumulates in the oceans. A considerable portion of that gets infiltrated into the water stream and ends up in our oceans. Due to large offshore currents, plastic concentrates in vast areas called gyres, which basically result huge islands of floating micro plastics and garbage.  And I say micro plastics because, due to the harsh conditions of the oceans and sun exposures, plastics are broken into smaller and smaller pieces that are not even that visible. So if you were imagining a giant island of waste floating around, you have the wrong image in your head. The fact that the plastic is broken down in such smaller pieces makes things even worse, in terms of cleaning it and also in terms of the ecosystem. Aside from marine animals dying from it because they confuse it with food and eat it, we also poison ourselves because some of those animals end up on our plates.

Boyan also did a Ted talk about The Ocean Cleanup in 2012 when he first started:

At the time there were a lot of skepticals, thinking that this might worsen the problem and damage maritime life. So, in order to tackle the opposing opinions, The Ocean Cleanup team produced a feasibility study (that you can find here) that demonstrates this project is indeed sustainable and it works. The evolution of the project is documented and captured in The Ocean Cleanup official website where they keep a blog to keep viewers informed. There is also a career section and donations can be made, for people who want to get involved.

Based on their research, Boyan and his team estimates that the oceans can be cleaned of plastics in approximately 5 year times in optimal conditions. Only 2 years after the Ted talk, The Ocean Cleanup published this video on youtube, signaling the feasibility study. This brings a lot of hope and reassurance for the followers but also for the skepticals.

Not many would have thought that the younger generations would give us lessons in environmental problems such as these, already cleaning up our mess that we and our predecessors left behind. This is what I call a Teen Titan, and it’s initiatives like these that build a bright future.

We need more Teen Titans and the wolrd needs to hear about projects such as these. If you know of other Teen Titans that strive to make the world better, please share them with us in the comments section below.

For more information please visit The Ocean Cleanup website.

Be a conscious consumer Part 3. Clicking Clean

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Right now there are more than 3 billion people online. Billions of devices that are glowing in the faces of users hungry for information and entertainment. Devices and machines that are in turn hungry for electricity. If you think that surfing the internet takes only as much energy as to power your laptop, desktop or tablet your are in for a big surprise.

In reality, data centers make up a large percentage of the energy consumption of the Internet as a whole. In fact, if the Internet were a country, its electricity demand would currently rank sixth.

Ok, so this doesn’t consume as much energy as other industries (like the cement industry for example), however looking at the rate the Information Technology and Internet as a whole is growing, makes up a good reason to do something about it now. Experts estimate that by 2017 there will be a half a trillion kilowatt rise in energy consumption for web-based activities. Most of this is derived primarily for streaming video, which is predicted to account for 76 percent of Internet usage by 2018.

Clicking Clean for a green Internet

Through the power of the Internet, many people around the world experienced positive changes in their lives. It is one of the most important breakthroughs in our era and it will certainly facilitate our evolution moving forward. However, if we want to make the switch to a renewable powered society fast enough to avoid catastrophic climate change, the Internet must also be a platform to transition the world toward a renewable energy future. It is a powerful medium for spreading information and thus can educate a lot of people towards sustainable and clean practices.

In addition, leading by example would be one of the most important markers for this change. Having this industry commit to clean and sustainable energy sources can, perhaps inspire morality to other industries and they will follow as well. In the end it all comes down to our collective aspirations and the choices we make, Clicking Clean – or choosing to support  companies that follow this ideology – can be our greatest tool for achieving this goal.

If having the audacity to rely on grid power now puts a company at risk for public shaming, then the day is coming when every company’s energy usage will be viewed through a moral filter – similar to how its labor practices and foreign investments are viewed today.

– David Crane, NRG CEO

See the companies that host much of the Internet in their data centers and how green they are

The good news is that a growing number of companies have begun to create a corner of the internet that is renewably powered and coal free, with over a half dozen major internet companies now committed to being 100% renewably powered. Renewable commitments by internet companies have had a big impact in driving renewable power in several key markets, as a growing number of utilities have begun to shift their investments to renewable energy to meet this new demand.

A Greenpeace report shows the big players are stacking up: [Report Here]

Apple is leading the way with an 100% Clean Energy Index. Since 2012, all of Apple’s data centers have been powered by 100 percent renewable energy sources. That means no matter how much data they handle, there is a zero greenhouse gas impact on the environment from their energy use. These data centers use renewable energy sources like solar, wind, biogas fuel cells, micro‑hydro power, and geothermal power from onsite and locally obtained resources.

On any given day, our data centers will use renewable energy to serve tens of billions of messages, more than a billion photos, and tens of millions of FaceTime video calls. They also run services like Siri, the iTunes Store, the App Store, and Maps. So every time a song is downloaded from iTunes, an app is installed from the Mac App Store, or a book is downloaded from iBooks, the energy Apple uses is provided by nature.

They also have an environment section on their official website, which is really nice to see in a tech giant such as Apple.

Google also has the goal of powering their operations 100% on clean energy. They have committed to purchase nearly 2 gigawatts of renewable energy to date, making them the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world. Google also committed to separately invest $2.5 billion in renewable energy projects, which also makes them one of the largest corporate investors in renewable energy in the world.

We believe that by helping power more of the world with renewable energy through these two initiatives, we’re creating a better future for everyone.

Check out their Google Green webpage and find out more about their efforts in this area.

Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft are also already on their way to achieving this. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and other high-profile entrepreneurs have pledged to spark a “new economic revolution” based around clean energy after launching a new investment drive for renewables.

The Internet of Things has the potential to reduce power consumption to a minimum

For those of you who are not familiar with the concept yet,The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity—that enables these objects to collect and exchange data.

More and more smart devices or things are appearing on the shelves of stores. The most popular ones are regular household items, like smart light-bulbs or thermostats that have motion detection sensors which may only trigger when there is activity in the room. The same principles can apply to cooling appliances. For you it may come as a convenience, maybe even a cost savings. For society and the environment, it’s a precious mouthful of fresh air, decreasing costs and pollution at the same time.

Imagine this on a larger scale like industrial, for companies or even grander to an environment level. The possibilities are endless. Supply chain control, marine pollution, commercial fleet tracking – all of these sectors could be revolutionized with the introduction of simple IoT. Smart sensors could monitor and regulate power consumption, and report in the event of technical issues.

I really believe in the huge potential that technology brings. All the above are very good examples of technology helping the society and the environment, if used properly. It is up to us – the creators, makers, builders, users – to make conscious decisions moving forward, decisions like…. Clicking Clean. 🙂

P.S.: If you want to join the Greenpeace Clicking Clean campaign and make the Internet greener you can sign the petition here.

Water powered cars

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We have entered an era of green energy breakthroughs, water powered cars are now beyond myth. Unfortunately, looking at the huge negative impacts of the fossil fuel industry, this happens more as “a must do or else” than a global collective realization of the grater good for our species. More and more educated opinions warn us about a not so bright future if we do not change our ways now.

Before looking at solutions, I propose we have a better understanding of the problems resulted from this soon to be obsolete energy source, petroleum. This is a very vast subject, but having at least a basic understanding of it’s both morally and socially important for us, as inhabitants of this planet.

  • Toxicity – crude oil (from which you get gasoline or benzine) is known to be very toxic to humans and animals. For humans it is directly linked to lowering the white blood cell count, thus making people more susceptible to infections. It is also a known cause for cancer like leukemia. Oil is also “acutely lethal” to fish – that is, it kills fish quickly in relatively small concentrations.
  • Exhaust – when oil or petroleum derivatives are burned, usually the combustion is not complete. Incompletely burned compounds of oil are very toxic in high concentration. Examples are carbon monoxide, methanol, fine particulates of soot which prove to be carcinogens. These compounds blacken our lungs and cause heart problems or death.
  • Acid rain – is created due to high temperatures by the combustion of petroleum and a chemical reaction created in the atmosphere. Acid rain causes many problems like: killing trees, acidifies rivers, lakes, sees and oceans thus killing fish and coral. Acid rain also causes corrosion in structures or machinery. Archaeological structures are especially damaged.
  • Oil spills – either accidental or on purpose (for financial profit), release liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment, especially marine areas, but not limited to land areas. Aside from killing all fish, oil penetrates into the structure of the plumage of birds and the fur of mammals, reducing its insulating ability, and making them more vulnerable. Clean-ups are very difficult and may take weeks, months or even years. This is one of the worst types of man made pollution.
  • Volatile organic compounds – are gases or vapours emitted by various solids and liquids, many of which have short- and long-term adverse effects on human health and the environment.
  • Waste oil – is used oil containing not only breakdown products but also impurities from use. Some examples of waste oil are used oils such as hydraulic oil, transmission oil, brake fluids, motor oil, crankcase oil, gear box oil and synthetic oil. When waste oil from vehicles drips out engines over streets and roads, the oil travels into the water table. Runoff from storms carries waste oil into rivers and oceans, poisoning them as well.
  • Oil wars – a term that describes a conflict about petroleum resources, or their transportation, consumption, or regulation. It generally happens in regions that contain oil reserves or that are geographically positioned in a location where an entity produces or transports infrastructure for petroleum products. Historically a lot of people died and still die from interests related to oil reserves (see list of oil wars).
  • Climate change – (last but not least) is strongly linked to burning large amounts of petroleum that in turn creates large amounts of CO2 (carbon dioxide) gas that traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.

So now you know and you have a better understanding why the era of petroleum must become obsolete. It has done it’s part in our evolution as a species, it enabled many technological advancements and opened many possibilities for us. However, nowadays, strong side-effects are showing, due to the way we abused it, and due to our massive increase in population and how we all depend upon it.

Many other bright minds have foreseen all the above, and some of them already developed and are still in continuous development of engines that are powered by alternative energy sources that may or may not cater to our ever growing needs for energy. Engineers are trying to harvest nature’s cleanest energy sources like solar, wind, tidal or water. The aim is to avoid the mistakes of the past and tap into theunlimited and clean energies of the earth.

Looking at one of the most important areas of today’s society, which is transportation, engineers have come up with electrical engines that are soon going to be more efficient and powerful than the ones running on gas. The most popular achievements in this area are electric cars, which have now reached a big milestone with flagship products like the Tesla Model S. The main disadvantage is that electric cars rely on batteries that need to be charged more often than you would normally stop for gas. Another disadvantage is the coverage of electric charge stations, which is in a very early stage of development. Due to these reasons, many people will still prefer the gas alternative.

But what about water powered cars?

This is not such a popular subject, which a lot of people avoid and/or dismiss due to the large amount of phony claims or conspiracy related content. Like you, I am not interested in all that, although looking the high stake interests in the petrol area and how many lives have been lost because of that, I can understand why it’s surrounded by so many conspiracy stories and theories.

I myself was very skeptical when first hearing about this, but it is not in my nature to dismiss an idea just because it sounds unrealistic at first. Of course a lot of other people have done a good job at discrediting this so far, so it’s understandable why this isn’t as popular as electric cars. Another reason could be the fact that water is much more abundant and accessible to people, than electricity or petrol for example, which is privately owned. Usually technologies that do not bring at least equal amounts of profit as earlier ones, are very likely to be pushed back by those in power. Ironically enough, even those who push back on this are slowly realizing that necessity will bring us to this change, weather they like it or not. The change is going to happen at some point, and it is up to us to make it either a smooth or bumpy ride.

If you do a search on Google for “water powered engines” or “water powered cars” you will curiously get some amounts of relevant results. Of course, as usual, your common sense would have to filter out all the garbage, but if you are a curious person you will surely find your way.

So what is a water powered car and how do water powered cars work (“in theory”)?

A water-fueled car is an automobile that hypothetically derives its energy directly from water. Most concept vehicles may be claimed to produce fuel from water on board with no other energy input, or may be a hybrid claiming to derive some of its energy from water in addition to a conventional source (such as gasoline). In simple words, the process sounds simple, the hydrogen from water is turned into oxygen which is turned into electricity propulsion.

However, as it turn out, many of these claims are fake, and have been found to be pseudoscience and some were found to be tied to investment frauds. It takes exactly the same amount of energy to pry those hydrogen and oxygen atoms apart inside the electrolysis cell as you get back when they recombine inside the fuel cell. The laws of thermodynamics haven’t changed, in spite of any hype on some blogs or news. Subtract the losses to heat in the engine and alternator and electrolysis cell, and the engine is basically losing energy, not gaining it.

Separating facts from myth?

Of course, out of all that nonsense, you also find concepts that actually work. To prove it, I will share a couple of examples that I found in my research.

A promising example is a concept that runs on bacterial spores that are activated by water. Although this is far from mass production, only the idea of having such a concept work is amazing. See here the full article (link).

To save the best for last, and to answer the big question: Yes, there is a car that actually runs on water. Salt water to be exact. It works just like a hydrogen fuel cell except that the liquid used for storing energy is saltwater. Even more promising after making its debut at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show (pictured) in March, the saltwater technology has now been certified for use on European roads. The main downside for now it’s the price-tag, Nanoflowcell AG is the company behind the design, and they are currently preparing the technology for mass production, and which some experts suggest it could cost more than £1 million ($1.7 million).

The QUANT e-Sportlimousine carries the water in two 200-litre tanks, which in one sitting will allow drivers to travel up to 373 miles (600km). Overall, the four-seater is 5.25 metres (0.4ft) long, 2.2 metres wide (7.2ft), the 1.35 metre (4.4ft).

So, in conclusion although we may not be fueling our cars from the kitchen tap anytime soon, the fact that the “first step on the moon” – in terms of water powered cars – is actually real opens up new interesting possibilities for the future of transportation or even in a greater scheme of things, the future of humanity.

Green energy from cooking grease

967690880The clean energy subject is not a new one on the market and not even on this site, because this thing became a real need these days. What I want to talk about now is the clean energy we can get from used cooking oil, that thing we throw away every time we fry something, because we don’t want the next food to have the taste of the prior. Well, did you know that by throwing away 1L of used cooking oil, one million liters of water are contaminated? Me neither! On contact with water, the used oil forms a thin film which stops oxygen to reach the creatures and plants in water – and this is something we could avoid, if we collect the used cooking oil and recycle it.

A few years ago, a 10 year old girl from Ocean State of Rhode Island learned about the effects fossil fuels could have on the environment and the fact that if we continue that way, her entire state could become an under ocean state. So, she came up with a plan to prevent it.

The little girl and her friends started a project whose purpose was to not let their state go extinct because of what we, people, are doing. They launched TGIF (Turn Grease Into Fuel) with a simple and yet ingenious approach: they asked restaurants for used cooking oil. The restaurant were going to throw it away anyway, so the kids helped them to get rid of that and the environment to get healthy.

Slowly, but surely, the kid’s idea was adopted by local restaurants and by the community, which involved into the project. The biofuel created by the little “company” was used to warm the homes of families in need, because a good deed comes never alone.

Here is the little group who came up with the brilliant idea and how it evolved over the years (because yes, it evolved!).

Well, if a group of children could set up and make work a project that big, involving a community, at least we could start collecting used cooking oil and give it to them (someone near you) to recycle it.

If you live in Romania, you could contact Uleiosul and tell them to come and get the oil you used and want to throw away. So, besides the first benefits like no more clogged pipes, we help the environment to become cleaner and healthier.

Be a conscious consumer Part 2. The Story Of Stuff

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To be a conscious consumer doesn’t only imply to be careful with what we eat, and it’s also not just for our own sake. Consumerism not only relates to all that we eat, drink or ingest but also to all that we buy or use. The footprint of this daily practice is not limited just to ourselves, it affects an entire range of people, animals, and environments. The way in which we choose to do this, changes the outcome of a grander scheme of things. In the end, once you get informed, something which I plan to deliver in this article, it will all come down to making the right choices. The right choices for ourselves, for our loved ones and ultimately the world.

Consumerism as a social and economic order and ideology encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. This is a problem for a world with limited resources that are being drained at an ever alarming rate. We are encouraged to buy in times of crisis, when resources are most scarce. We celebrate holidays by buying stuff, wheather it’s Christmas, a friend’s birthday, Valentine’s or Halloween. And let’s not forget to mention our commercial institutions, the corporations, which have a tendency of doing everything in their power, no matter the cost, to get us to buy even more. In a society driven by all these incentives, it’s very hard to see over the shine of a new gadget. But today we are going to learn the story of our stuff, and I take full responsibility if your new phone won’t be as shiny as it was before.

Have you ever wondered where all the stuff we buy comes from and where it goes when we throw it out? The Story Of Stuff a documentary by Annie Leonard tells the story of material economy: extraction -> production -> distribution -> consumption -> disposal.

What I liked a lot about this documentary was the fact that it’s explained in a very simple way, so that everyone understands the message. It’s also nice to see that they are very transparent with the factual information presented here, the entire script as well as the sources are documented in this document (link here).

Now, don’t get me wrong, my intention is not to make you feel guilty nor to make you live a minimalist lifestyle. After all, to live is to consume and what’s done is done. The past choices will matter very little, if the future ones are the right ones. That’s what being a conscious consumer is all about – if you were to put it simply – making the right choice. Consumerism becomes excessive when it extends beyond what is needed. When we begin consuming more than is needed, boundaries are removed.

Banks trigger us to consume more, by offering personal credit that enable us to make purchases beyond our income level. Advertisements excite us subtly and thus reshape our desires around material possessions, making us wanting “the new” every time. All this in a global society where the only culture that transcends all differences – religion, class, gender, ethnicity and nationality – is consumerism.

In the almost complete absence of other sustained macro-political and social narratives – concern about global climate change notwithstanding – the pursuit of the ‘good life’ through practices of what is known as ‘consumerism’ has become one of the dominant global social forces, cutting across differences of religion, class, gender, ethnicity and nationality. It is the other side of the dominant ideology of market globalism and is central to whatManfred Steger calls the ‘global imaginary’.

– James, Paul; Szeman, Imre (2010). Globalization and Culture, Vol. 3: Global-Local Consumption

This type of living, transforms us into zombie buyers, always in the want for the more, shinier, trendier, bigger, faster. A type of living that promises happiness, but never delivers. A type of living that leaves us in a permanent state of desire for… more. Take control and be(come) a conscious consumer.

Source: storyofstuff.org

Premium education made free

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Knowledge is empowering and information is power. Unfortunately, not too many people can afford to get a university degree and, at the same time, large numbers of students who manage to finish a university are covered in debt from university loans. Until today, not having financial support from your family and not having access to free courses meant that you weren’t probably going to go too far career-wise. Since 1985, the cost of education skyrocketed to a staggering increase in price of 559%. People should not be conditioned by money when it comes to access to knowledge, however the world is not a just place.

Luckily things are starting to change, more and more people are starting to see this injustice and some of them are even taking a stand and did something about it. Through the power of technology and the Internet many online learning platforms start to emerge. Now I know what you are thinking, I was also skeptical at first, but it turn out that online learning can be more effective than classroom learning. If you don’t take my word for it, I invite you to have a look at this TEDx talk:

Of course, there is still the problem of having a proper degree, but looking at how nicely this online trend is growing, mentalities will shift. The job market is an ever evolving industry, which I am sure will keep up with this new game changer. In the end, most employers don’t really care how fancy your degree is, what matters most if your knowledge and skill. That is what directly translates in productivity for the organization.

So if you are ready to start learning, here are some good platforms where you can do that. This is a personal recommendation as well, since I am also using them to improve my skill and knowledge. Here you can find courses from top universities like Stanford, Yale, Columbia, Oxford and many others:

Coding is cool. Unleash the programmer in you

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Whether you are looking to learn a new skill that will open up new opportunities in the IT job market, have a cool idea for an app and want to put in practice yourself, or are just curios to learn what the fuss is all about, you should continue reading. If being a programmer 15 or 20 years ago meant that you were a geek with no social life, today the situation is slightly different. Things change, technology evolves, people’s perception adjusts to the current.

Yesterday’s geeks are today’s superstars, the makers of the apps, portals and technologies that we all love and use today. By now, most of them have already cashed in big time and are still collecting royalties, and many more cool startups are still on the rise. And that’s no wonder, looking at the figures, almost 10% of Fortune 500 companies are tech companies and tech related jobs are expected to grow  22% through 2020 (US).

For those of you who still are unclear what a computer programmer does, in simple words a computer programmers turn concepts into reality. Namely a programmer creates the instructions, or code, to make a software program function. Programmers may create software to be run on personal computers, tablets, smartphones or automated systems used in manufacturing. There are two camps: applications programmers and systems programmers. Applications programmers create and upgrade software applications and customize programs to fit a certain context, whether it is a  taxi app or translation software for a mobile phone. Systems programmers create operating systems, like the ones on your phone or computer. They take a holistic approach to how different applications work with the computer. Applications programmers sometimes bring in systems programmers to make sure their programs will be compatible on an operating system.

So what does it take to be a computer programmer? As it turns out, not that many prerequisites are required, and it all depends on the programming language you choose or career path you want for yourself.  Some people may think that math skills are important, but there are lots of great mathematicians who are mediocre programmers, and lots of great programmers who are certainly not mathematicians (and probably never expected to be).

Many people want to know if they have what it takes to be a good programmer. However, there’s no simple, check-these-boxes answer to the question, but there are some helpful traits that you may have or that you can develop. Programming is more of a designer’s task, to be a good programmer, may imply having an eye for style and good design. I don’t mean the type of style that governs where you put pieces of code. What I really mean by style is that you have to have a good sense for discriminating between “good” and “bad” approaches to attacking problems. It means taking a big problem and breaking it in smaller problems that are easier to crack – “divide and conquer”.

There are also other soft skills that are important in addition to knowing a programming knowledge. Computer programmers must be detail-oriented. When it comes to writing and debugging code, even one misplaced character can cause a program to malfunction. Being a critical thinker is essential, as there are usually multiple ways to approach a programming problem, some more efficient or elegant than others.

Programmers are also focused and patient, since they may be tasked with writing line after line of code for long periods of time or conducting several tests to properly evaluate the quality and performance of a program. Because computer programmers are often required to write code based on a client or employer’s request, it’s important that they be active listeners and strong communicators. Lastly, an understanding of how people typically use computers helps when designing user interfaces.

There are a lot of flavors to choose from and a lot of career paths, each with it’s own difficulty levels, each with it’s advantages and disadvantages. If I were to drill it down to it’s very core, I guess it comes down to how much effort you want to invest into this. Or how much money you want to gain by writing code, the better you are the more money you will make.

The best way is to be your own teacher, and learn everything yourself, but having some external help always helps. Below I have made a short list of free websites that are ideal for getting your code on.

Website Course Feature Difficulty
Codecademy HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, PHP, Ruby, Python, API Code Interpreter, Progress Saver, Project, Forum Easy – Intermediate
Code Avengers HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript Code Interpreter, Progress Saver, Project, Note Easy
Code School HTML5, CSS, CSS3, jQuery, Ruby, Ruby on Rails, iOS Code Interpreter, Screencast, Progress Saver, Forum Intermediate – Hard
Treehouse HTML, CSS, CSS3, JavaScript, jQuery, Ruby, Ruby on Rails, iOS, Android, UX, Database Code Interpreter, Screencast, Progress Saver, Project, Forum Easy – Hard
LearnStreet HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python, Ruby Code Interpreter, Progress Saver, Project, Forum Easy
Udacity Web Development, HTML5, Python, Java, Computer Science, Algorithm, AI Code Interpreter, Screencast, Progress Saver, Forum Intermediate – Nightmare
CodeHS Problem Solving, JavaScript, Animation, Game Programming Code Interpreter, Screencast, Progress Saver Easy – Intermediate
Khan Academy Programming Basics, Canvas Drawing, Animation, User Interaction Code Interpreter, Screencast, Progress Saver, Project, Discussion Easy – Intermediate
Scratch 2.0 Visual Programming Visual Editor, Project, Forum Easy
SQLZOO SQL Code Interpreter Easy – Hard

As a last thing, I think a very important key ingredient is fun. If you don’ have fun while doing it, than it means you are doing it wrong. Even today’s tech superstars started out only by writing the simplest programs, just for fun:

Water in a basket, using condensation to gather drinking water

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A very practical solution, to a serious problem. Water is the most precious resource on earth, something that we take for granted here in the developed parts of the world. However the struggle for drinking water is real, killing millions of people world-wide.  Designer Arturo Vittori believes the solution to this catastrophe lies not in high technology, but in structures that looks like giant-sized baskets. TheWarkaWater towers are conceived for communities in rural areas like Ethiopia, which lack access to safe drinking water.

The WarkaWater towers have a height of 12 meters and can gather up to 100 liters of clean and drinking water per day.  The tower weights around 90kg and consists of 5 modules which can be built and assembled by local villagers without the need of scaffolding or electrical equipment. The conic shape improves stability and the ‘crown’ is designed to keep the birds away.

The architecture of each pillar is comprised of two sections: a semi-rigid exoskeleton constructed by tying stalks of juncus or bamboo together and an internal plastic mesh, similar to the bags oranges come in. The water is collected by harvesting atmospheric water vapor from the air.

The nylon and polypropylene fibers act as a scaffold for condensation, and as the droplets of dew form, they follow the mesh into a basin at the base of the structure. “WarkaWater is designed to provide clean water as well as ensure long-term environmental, financial and social sustainability,” Vittori says. Each tower costs approximately $550 and can be built in under a week with a four-person team and locally available materials. “Once locals have the necessary know how, they will be able to teach other villages and communities to build the WarkaWater towers.”

This model is intended to for larger numbers of people and can also serve as a social gathering point for people in the village. However the villagers can perhaps make their own versions using local materials that they produce themselves. Maybe even create smaller versions that cover the needs of just a family for drinking water.

One may wonder where did the inspiration to create such a beautiful and ingenious design came from. The name and design is inspired from the giant Ethiopian fig tree ‘Warka’ traditionally used for public gatherings. The almost gravity-defying, and dome-shaped tree is native to Ethiopia, sprouts figs, and is usually used as a community gathering space.

Source: www.architectureandvision.com

Kick-ass technologies to save the world

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When you think of technology and new technologies, what are the first things that pass through your head? If I were to take a stab in the dark, I would say that the average folk would think about their phone or laptop, or a big-ass smart TV. And that’s normal in a way, because these are the things that we use on a daily basis, however if one were to think again, I am sure that a more representative image of technology will come to mind. Or at least it should… I know that ignorance is bliss, but this comforting blissful state is and will only bring us trouble in the long run.

We have reached a point in time when we can no longer say the almost cliche saying “Think of your children!” because we have started feeling it ourselves, in this lifetime, and the symptoms are only about to get worse. Unless, we act upon it. Now, I am not saying that we will make the world an utopia in this lifetime nor is this an incentive to make you clean the oceans or invent a way to harness the energy of the Universe. There are plenty other people who are doing just that, let’s take a look at some interesting technologies that will perhaps one day save the world.

Water from poo

Sounds funny. 🙂 But at the same time it is an amazingly useful thing, especially for under-developed regions where clean water is a problem but also for emerging environmental changes, like droughts, that are happening as we speak all around the world, due to climate change.

People like Bill Gates and Manoj Bhargava took this problem into their own hands and came back with and incredibly effective solution. To make it short, what these machines do, is take the most dirtiest water, seawater or even polluted water and turns it into fresh water suitable for drinking and agriculture.

Manoj Bhargava calls it the Rain Maker, Bill didn’t came up with such a fancy name, but this picture of him drinking poo water says more than a thousand words would.

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“It’s water :-)” Said Bill

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Graphene

This wonder material is basically an allotrope of carbon in the form of a two-dimensional, atomic-scale, honey-comb lattice in which one atom forms each vertex. It is the basic structural element of other allotropes, including graphite, charcoal, carbon nanotubes and fullerenes. This technology has the potential to revolutionize green technology and offers us the possibility to build ultra-lightweight vehicles to ultra-efficient solar cells or ultra-effective supercapacitors.  Many of the most exciting graphene research projects are focused on tackling climate change.

Watch this cool educational video that describes most of the amazing properties of Graphene:

Algae

So far, advancements in the Biofuel area have yet to provide a sustainable solution that can cater to all the current needs, something that is required in order to make fossil fuel obsolete. A bio-fuel is a fuel that is produced through contemporary biological processes, such as agriculture and anaerobic digestion, rather than a fuel produced by geological processes such as those involved in the formation of fossil fuels, such as coal and petroleum, from prehistoric biological matter. Biofuels can be derived directly from plants, or indirectly from agricultural, commercial, domestic, and/or industrial wastes.

It has been proven that all transport can run on them, including air travel, which is very high in carbon. So far producing Biofuels consisted in growing vast acres of crops which then can’t be used for food. So then comes the question, how do you get enough energy crops to power the global aviation industry while leaving enough land free for agriculture? The answer may lay in the most common of marine flora, which is algae.

So far US Air Force have already successfully trialed Biofuels containing algae, and wider test flights are imminent.

Solar paint

Solar panels are good enough on their own, however solar paint can be the kicker that can make solar power more popular and accessible. Solar paint is exactly what it sounds like. This technology makes solar power much cheaper and easier to install, almost any surface could be transformed into a cheap solar panel. Roofs, walls, cars, trucks, cell phones, you name it.

You only need to apply a few coats of technologically advanced paint with a light-sensitive dye on top, and you’ve got yourself electricity-generating paint to power your day. This technology is developed by theUniversity of Sheffield – UK, the University of California – San Diego, and Lucelo Technologies in Texas.

“In theory, anyone could do this; it would be almost as straightforward as painting a wall in a house,” says Bill Gates.

Since the list is long and there are a lot of other interesting technologies that are worth mentioning I plan on making a series out of this. I aim to change your perception on how you see technology, and direct attention to technology that can cater to our most current problems and basic needs. You don’t need to be a scientist to change the world, sometimes being informed can prove enough to make a difference.