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The real reason Americans don't have passports

The real reason Americans don't have passports

Less than half of Americans have passports compared to around 75% in the UK. Brits often use this statistic to mock Americans for being uncurious provincial stay-at-homes.

I've always felt this was unfair though. As an American you might have visited all 50 states, all of the National Parks and maybe thrown in Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico without having ever bothered with a fully fledged passport.

A Brit on the other hand might have spent a few days eating fish and chips at a British pub in Benidorm and is suddenly a sophisticated world traveler. I don't think so. There is simply more to see and experience in the US without needing to cross a border.

After I moved to America I realized that maybe there was another reason. Americans for some reason don't bother taking vacations. You get massively less vacation time over here and even then a huge number of people don't even manage to take off their paltry few days. There is no effective way to have a holiday overseas if you never take a holiday.

Now I realize that neither of these factors is as important as the United States Postal Service if you have a kid.

In the UK to get a passport you mail in an application and get back a passport. It's pretty easy. Even for children.

In the US you need to go to a Passport Acceptance Facility and that probably means a post office. There is a handy website that lists the 10 closest facilities together with their phone numbers so you can call to make an appointment. These phone numbers are not answered. It's less like a basic government service and more like trying to bag a ticket to Glastonbury.

I gave up and delegated to Fancy Hands (a personal assistant service). They have spent two days on the phone trying and failing to get an appointment.

I was going to do my best to vote my principles this year but at this point any presidential candidate who would force USPS to put in a web scheduling system might just get my vote.

Updated 2016-04-18 23:23:

After I posted this a friend pointed me at the United States Digital Service (via this Ted Video) and basically said why bitch and moan when you could help fix it. Which I don't have a great answer to. Except this.

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Clouds Over The Farallones

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Book reviews for March 2016

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

2/5

I found it hard to care for anyone in this book. Pedestrian mystery.

 

Half Way Home by Hugh Howey

Half Way Home by Hugh Howey

3/5

Getting into diminishing returns here. Good, but not Silo/Sand good.

 

Beacon 23: The Complete Novel (Beacon 23 #1-5) by Hugh Howey

Beacon 23: The Complete Novel (Beacon 23 #1-5) by Hugh Howey

3/5

 

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West Portal Mosaic Timelapse

West Portal Mosaic Timelapse

A mosaic timelapse looking over the Pacific from West Portal, San Francisco (a simultaneous timelapse of 225 days from mid 2015 to early 2016).

This is the second in a series of videos made from frames I captured from a Nest cam using  Google Apps Script. Music from JukeDeck.

(Previously)

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Google Cloud Vision Sightings

Google Cloud Vision Sightings

I've been feeding webcam images into the Google Cloud Vision API for a few weeks now so I thought I'd take a look at what it thinks it can see. The image above shows every label returned from the API with my confidence going from the bottom to the top and Google's confidence going from left to right (so the top right hand corner contains labels that we both agree on).

Google is super-confident that it has seen a location. Can't really argue with it there.

It's more confident that it has seen an ice hotel than a sunrise (and it has seen a lot of sunrises at this point). Maybe I need to explore the Outer Sunset more.

Google is 60.96% confident that it has seen a ballistic missile submarine. I suppose that's plausible, I do have an ocean view but it's rather far away and unless there was an emergency blow that didn't make the news I'm going to have to call bullshit on that one. It's 72.66% confident that an Aston Martin DB9 went past which is pretty specific. Possibly a helicopter slung delivery?

Maybe I'm sending basically the same image in too many times and the poor system is going quietly mad and throwing out increasingly desperate guesses. Probably I've just learned that I should use 80%+ as my confidence threshold before triggering an email...

(Previously)

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Vernal Equinox 2016

Vernal Equinox 2016

It's the start of Spring, unless you're equatorially challenged in which case welcome to Autumn.

Rendered in Catfood Earth (Windows, Android).

(Previously, Previously)

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Catfood Software Support

Catfood Software Support

Need help with a Catfood Software product? Please leave a comment below.

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Chromecast won't connect to wifi - finally found the fix

Chromecast won't connect to wifi - finally found the fix

I've struggled for a while with Chromecast. The idea is great. I love using my phone rather than a remote. I like the idea of being able to cast any screen or browser tab in principle (in practice I think I've only done this once). I like the nice curated background pictures and that I could get round to using my own photos one day.

But here is how it works in practice. Fire up app. Select Chromecast icon and watch it go through the motions of connecting. Nothing streams. Reboot Chromecast, phone and router. Hard reset Chromecast and configure from scratch again. Reboot everything some more. Disconnect house from grid for ten minutes and switch off gas mains as well to be on the safe side. Finally, streaming! Repeat.

It's miserable. With both a Chromecast and a Chromecast 2 (which I really hoped might fix the problem). I've been through two different routers and I've tried a bunch of different settings but nothing seems to make the thing work. I even renamed the device to remove spaces.

For a while I considered buying an OnHub. Maybe Google's router would work with Chromecast? But it can't be bothered with Ethernet ports for some reason and so I'd need a new switch and then I'd probably need another power port and how important is John Oliver right now anyway (very)?

As much as I want Chromecast to work I've binned the wretched thing and bought an Amazon Fire TV Stick. Same basic principle but with apps on the device rather than your phone and a remote control.

I'd rather not have another remote, but it works instantly and without risking an aneurysm. It's also available with voice control which lets you both search for programs and trigger Alexa (my typical morning is asking Alexa for a flash briefing and then sobbing quietly when a daughter yells 'Alexa, stop... Alexa, play Gangnam Style').

My only gripe so far is that the voice search doesn't search inside non-Amazon apps (Netflix, HBO, etc).

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Get ITHCWY By Email

I'm over social media - the Facebook page for this blog is a hopeless way to reach people and I removed the slow horrible sharing widgets a while ago. But I have this nagging suspicion that RSS is a super-niche activity for techno-libertarians harking back to the good old days of the Internet with open protocols and wall-free gardens and isn't entirely up to snuff either. So I'm going to experiment for a monthly email list for people who vaguely follow the blog or use Catfood Software products but don't quite manage to come back here every day to check for updates. Sign up here.

Why? Excellent question. The rules for blogs are to pick a narrow topic of interest, know your audience and do keyword research and drop SEO honeypot bombs to draw that audience in. I did that for Catfood Software but this isn't that kind of blog. It's a random collection of my hobbies and interests. So if you're not sure read through the Featured section in the side bar to get a preview.

I write a lot of code so what you'll get for sure is updates from Catfood Software and other occasional side projects. When I struggle with the process or discover something I write about that as well - these posts are more interesting to other developers and less exciting if you just want your desktop wallpaper (or Android phone) to look awesome. I love to make videos that don't have me in as well, mainly complicated time-lapses so you'll find a lot of those too. Also hikes in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. Occasionally politics.

If that works for you and you're not an RSS type then please join and let me know how I'm doing.

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News: California may end tyrannical daylight savings

California may end tyrannical daylight savings

Yes, I'd vote for this. Please do it.

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