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paragliding, software, bitcoin…

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Energy consumption vs time saving

on Apr 18, 2019 ·
1 comments

There is a construction site at the feeway exit for my work place. Because of that, it takes about ten minutes more to commute. That triggered me to drive along the other site of lake Zug. It is the shorter route. But since it is a small road that goes through all the villages, it usually takes about ten minutes longer. What is more interesting, is the energy consumption.
On the freeway route the car usually consumes between 15 and 23 kWh per daily commute. The actual value depends mainly on temperature and weather conditions. The highest consumption values are with freezing temperatures and snow storms. This results in bad aero-dynamics and high rolling resistance combined with energy used for heating the cabin.
On the alternative route the car only consumed about 11kWh the other day. That was with moderate temperature and a short part of freeway. And this was still with winter tires, which usually lead to higher consumption.
The massive difference is not explained by the shorter distance, but by the slower speed. Hence by driving the shorter route, I could reduce the energy cost per daily commute from an average CHF 2.7 to CHF 1.7 but is this worth enlarging the commute from 2x30 to 2x40 minutes? Not really!
Oh and BTW, the daily commute by train would be CHF 25 and take on the order of 2x50 minutes.

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Bitcoin Advanced Course by 21lectures

on Mar 12, 2019

Last week I attended a Bitcoin Advanced Course that was hosted by 21lectures. Lucas who is also the president of the Bitcoin Association Switzerland initially wanted Jimmy Song to teach his Bitcoin courses also in Switzerland. But when that didn't work out, he decided to build the classes himself, with the help of great quality teachers and developers from the local community.
To guarantee fruitful interaction, the groups are kept small. But when I arrived, the group was even smaller than I expected. What surprised me even more, was that a good portion of the students came to Zurich from other countries especially for this course.
The biggest part of the course was taught by James Chiang. He is preparing a bigger course that he will host online. It consisted of theory and practical excercises.
Setting up the environment for the exercises proved to be almost as challenging as the hardcore crypto theory.
For me, the most interesting part was the last day, which was about the Lightning Network. As it is still new technology that is in heavy development, there is not a lot of learning material around. All the more valuable was the first hand information we received from Christian Decker.
An important part of the whole experience were the lunches. Most of the times, the teachers joined, so that we could ask additional questions and have interesting discussions.
If you are interested in Bitcoin and programming, I can definitely recommend this course.

A somewhat interesting aspect was also how to get to Zurich. Downtown parking during office hours is really expensive, and there can be traffic jams. The venue was very close to the main train station. So it would appear to be reasonable to get there by train. But a return ticket for one day costs CHF 56. Lots of Swiss people have a half price card for public transport. They changed their terms a couple of years ago. I made the mistake of reading the new terms and discovered that they are really not acceptable. So I drove there by car, which cost CHF 4.15 for the electricity and CHF 36 for the parking. Still a lot, but also a lot cheaper then by train.

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CppOnSea

on Mar 07, 2019

I meant to write about CppOnSea for a while. The event is already a month in the past. So I better write down my impressions as long as I can remember anything. My comments will probably be shorter than had I written it down earlier.
Last year I learned from a podcast about a new C++ conference in Great Britain. It made a good first impression. As the details trickled in over the course of the ensuing months, I started to think it would be worth visiting.
When I asked around in the office who would join, I got only one positive answer. Reaching the venue by plane would not only be impractical, but I also didn't really want to pollute the atmosphere. So I proposed to drive there with my electric car.
I checked the weather in advance, since what I wanted the least, was driving through a snow storm for a whole day. Exactly the night before we left, we had a good portion of fresh snow. As it was even on the highway, we made rather slow progress in the first two hours. The rest of the trip was uneventful, with the exception of having to drive over a small pass because a tunnel was closed in the Elsass. We took the tunnel below the channel. It is different than riding through the Swiss mountains on the back of a train, but not too much different. We arrived late in the evening at a nice old hotel on the cliff right next to the event hall where the conference was going to be. The breakfast was a lot better than what I remembered from previous stays in the UK.
A baroque event hall built right into the cliff served as the venue for the conference. During the breaks we had a nice view onto the sea, and sometimes we had the impression we could see France on the other side.

Opening Keynote: Oh The Humanity


The opening keynote was funny and entertaining. That is all I remember.

Postmodern immutable data structures


The speaker presented his library for immutable data structures. They enable a more functional style. It sure has something to it, but I don't see a use case in anything that I am currently involved.

What I Talk about When I Talk about Cross Platform Development


He had a much broader scope than what I considered so far. It is interesting to know, but I don't think I will use any of it in the foreseeable future. But it triggered me to think about using emscripten again.

Better Tools in Your Clang Toolbox: Extending clang-tidy With Your Custom Checks


I have known and sporadically used clang on linux for some years. But even though it is a great compiler I didn't use it too much because you would have to compile everything yourself, rather than using dependencies from the apt repository. Also I knew that clang is shipped with VisualStudio, but only for cross compiling to ARM. What was new to me, is that you can also compile (but not link) regular desktop applications on Windows, with some work even MFC applications. This in turn allows the usage of clang tidy, which a good portion of this talk was about. What was also new to me, is that the MSVC compiler switch /permissive- causes VisualStudio to use a completely new compiler that is no longer built with YACC, but is much more standards compliant. This better compiler introduces breaking changes to old code. That is why we didn't use the flag so far. But I think it would be good to slowly introduce it module by module. This way we could sanitize the codebase, and maybe later start using the clang tools.

Deconstructing Privilege


This one was in the main hall, and for all attendees. It had nothing to do with C++ or with programming per se. It was more about social interactions with minorities. I still don't know why there was such an emphasis on this topic. But it seems to be a phenomenon at lots of IT conferences lately.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Faster Builds


Building the CAD I am working on can take up to an hour if I build only locally. Over the years we optimize the pre compiled headers from time to time, but also the linker takes a lot of time. So this was especially interesting for me.
The speaker ran through an extensive list of approaches to reduce build times. Lots of it was not applicable for us, or too esoteric. But one main takeaway was that I should look into union builds. He mentioned cotire to help with that. When we switched to cmake a couple of years ago, I tried to use cotire to simplify the handling of pre compiled headers, but couldn't really get it to work. Maybe it is time to re-visit it.

Diffuse your way out of a paper bag


This one was entertaining, but I didn't learn much from it, except for the British humor.

A linear algebra library for C++23


In a way it is surprising that C++ has no linear algebra library standardized by now. Because of this many independent libraries exist, and many companies wrote their own implementations. This could lead to the conclusion that it comes too late. But I was delighted to learn, that the proposed library mixes well with existing libraries and data structures. So we will see how much of it we end up using when it is finally released.

Sailing from 4 to 7 Cs: just keep swimming


This one was about tooling. Nothing that I think will be applicable for us.

Keynote: What Everyone Should Know About How Amazing Compilers Are


This one was informative and entertaining. He had many good examples of how amazingly good modern compilers are at optimizing our code, and work around bugs in certain CPUs. This video is worth watching even if you don't work with C++.

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How I wrecked the new glider by flying into a cable

on Mar 05, 2019 ·
1 comments

We went skiing to Stoos lately. From time to time I went up to the Fronalpstock with the kids. Every time we were up there, I checked the conditions for paragliding. Every time, the wind was blowing from the back. Not very strong, but if it is from the wrong direction, it can be too much rather quickly.
When the day was almost over, I figured that I could also go to the Klingenstock, which is better shielded from southerly winds. When I reached the summit, there was virtually no wind at all. As the sun was already quite low, I could not spot some cables that I knew from the past. I knew I had to be especially careful.
I don't fly at the Klingenstock very often, only once in a couple of years. The last time was with the speed wing, and I started close to the top on the west side. With the speed wing, I just glide with the skis and the glider comes up pretty quickly. I didn't want to stretch the lines that quickly with the fragile single skin glider. That is why I descended a bit to a more flat area. I took off from there with a regular paraglider many years ago.
Now the single skin has a worse glide ratio compared to a regular glider. This is why after take off and flying straight for a while, I realized that it would get tight with clearing a small hill in front. My first reaction was to avoid it by flying left. But then I would cross the ski slope with very little ground clearance or possibly even having to land. This is not only forbidden, it can also be dangerous in some cases. So I decided to fly around the small hill on the right hand side. Thus I made a right turn of approximately 90 degrees.
And there it was. All of a sudden I saw a cable right in front of me frighteningly close. I had no time to think. Call it instinct or muscle memory, I immediately continued the right hand turn as hard as I could, to fly back to the slope. For a moment it looked almost as if I could clear the cable and perform a slope landing. But when I was only about 5 meters above ground, the upper left part of the lines connecting the glider to the harness collided with the cable. My forward movement came to a halt, and I slid down gently into the soft snow. Along the way down I could hear lines snapping and the fabric ripping. I was not injured or even hurt, but the glider looked like a wreck. I sent it for repair. But it turned out that it was a total loss. The glider was only two months old and had less than ten flights. Bad things always happen when the equipment is new! Like when I was ground handling a brand new glider 15 years ago, and a RC airplane hit it.
This was the most severe incident in my 17 years of flying with more than 2'200 flights.
In the aftermath it is always important to analyze what went wrong, and what I should have done better.
The first and most important thing is that I was not hurt. But could I have saved the glider?
To save the glider after I saw the cable, I could stall or spin it. That way I would hit the ground before the cable or slip under it. But these procedures induce a pendulum moment and/or spin movement. This is not what you want close to the ground. The risk of injuries would be way too high. In school we learned that some people overreact in this sort of situation, and involuntarily stall or spin the glider. This often results in injuries. So I am relieved that my instinct reaction was just right. I would act the same way if I had the time to fully evaluate the situation.
If my reaction was correct after the fact, what could or should I do better that it couldn't happen in the first place?
The easiest answer would be to look out carefully for any sort of obstacles. The bad part about this, is that I actually did that.
The next would be to inform about a flying area before going there. When leaving home, I expected to fly from Fronalpstock which I know fairly well. And even if I considered flying from Klingenstock, I don't think I would look up the map with aerial obstacles, since I was flying there before. But maybe I should. Another advice might be not to fly with dim light in areas that you don't know very well. For when it is darker, I strictly follow this rule. And I might have to adjust the threshold here.
Cables can be dangerous also for other aerial vehicles like helicopters. There are efforts to remove cables that are no longer in use. So I asked the corporation that owns the land about the cable.
In the meantime I already received the replacement, which is the exact same model of single skin paraglider. Last weekend I used the new glider for the purpose that I bought it for : run and fly. I ran halfway up the Urmiberg an flew down.

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Run and fly with the XXLite2

on Dec 11, 2018 ·
6 comments

Before I participated in the rollibock trophy in Fiesch last October, I thought my paraglider equipment was fairly lightweight. The glider is a regular Mac Para Marvel, but the Advance Lightness 2 harness is optimized for weight as the name implies, as well as the accompanying backpack. With helmet, gloves, sun glasses, flight computer and clothes, the equipment is slightly less than 14.5kg. When I started paragliding in 2002, a normal equipment was about 20kg. For reference, my tandem equipment is around 30kg, and my competition equipment also was in that ballpark.
When I looked around the participants at the rollibock, I was astonished by the small and light backpacks they had. They were literally running up the mountain. When single skin gliders were first released, it didn't spark my interest. They were a strange appearance, and the flight characteristics looked slightly frightening to me. But a lot has improved since then. Some models have tubes along the leading edge, others from front to back. They have a lot better characteristics and performance than the first models. I started my research in the internet. Some models weight only 1kg.
Best of all, I started thinking how cool it would be to combine hill running with paragliding. I try to run once a week from Brunnen to Morschach and back. Depending on my daily condition, I make it up to the cable car, or I turn around shortly before I reach Morschach. I always prefer running uphill. Especially since I started getting cramps in my forearms on the descent, sometimes even extending from there. It only happened on longer tours, and only on the descent. After a while I found out that it was caused by dehydration, and I took detours to water sources. I didn't want to carry any water when I go running. But carrying an ultra light paraglider is something entirely different.
So I asked the loal flying school for an Ozone XXLite 2 glider for a test flight. November is the worst month for flying in Switzerland. The weather is mostly bad with lots of fog, and most cable cars are closed for revision. When the weather was finally flyable, somebody else grabbed the wing already a couple of times. In early December, I finally got to try it. I didn't really know what to expect. Some people I talked to, praised single skin gliders as great and fun, while others dismissed them as falling out of the sky like a stone. I completed two flights from the Rothenflue. Take off was very nice both times. With the slightest blow of light wind, you can bring it above the head and maintain it there. Also without wind it was easy to get airborne. The handling was surprisingly similar to a regular paraglider. It doesn't flare as well as a regular wing, but it does flare somewhat. I didn't know beforehand, but most single skin gliders apparently don't flare at all. Appart from the handling, I was mostly interested in the performance of the glider. Of course it was not made for performance, and is far from regular gliders in that respect. The teacher from the school providing the glider told me to expect something in the range of a school glider at the time I started flying. When I checked my XCTrainer in the air, I mostly saw glide ratios between 6.5 and 7 with speeds around 35km/h. For comparison, my regular glider has a glide ratio of around 9 and a current high end comp glider is slightly above 10. The trim speed again seems to be different from other single skin gliders that apparently mostly fly less than 30km/h.
My resume after the first two flights was that the flying characteristics are good enough, and the small and ultra light package is just astonishing. In short, I ordered one on the same day. Luckily the forecasted delivery time was much shorter than I expected.
A week after ordering, I picked up the new wing including the super light harness that I didn't see before. Of course I bought the glider at the flying school where I can pay with Bitcoin. At home, I installed the special lightweight carabiners and the speed system. But the weather really didn't look good. We had occasional rain and very strong wind for days. I added a ribcap and gloves to the kit. With this addition, the backpack now weights 1.8kg.
As the first chance of getting good enough weather, I went to the Zugerberg. Instead of the usual walking to the takeoff, I ran. The light backpack really doesn't bother at all. Even with light wind from behind, the glider took off flwalessly. The gliding ratio was enough to clear the trees halfway down. When I started paragliding, some school gliders had to land before the trees here because they didn't glide good enoug. Also the landing was smooth. The only thing that was strange was the cold wind flowing around my butt. Usually it is very comfy in my cocoon harness. The equipment is packed rather quickly into the backpack, and I was ready to run up to the train. From the train of course I ran again to the car. So my first flight with the new kit was not a pure "run and fly", but I can say that it works as I envisioned. Now I'm ready for the real "run and fly" adventures.

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inconvenient chat about odor

on Nov 30, 2018 ·
2 comments

About a year ago we reorganized some seats in the company I work for. To be closer to the people I work with most of the time, I moved into another small office. Every time I walked into that office before, there was a predominant smell of sweat. I didn't know where it came from, but it was the only office that had it. I hesitated, couldn't come up with a good excuse, and hoped I would get used to it. When I grew up, my father had sheep and goats. I often had to help dispose their shit. Thus I thought my nose could handle a lot.
Some days it was less, some days it was more, but it was always there. So I started to look out for the source. I had my suspicions, but it was difficult for me to tell them. So I started researching the internet for how to tell coworkers about their sweat odor. It is a really uncomfortable situation. I didn't want to ruin our good working relationship by offending them. But quite frankly I was offended by that smell.
It was obvious to me that it has to do with the fact that they often come to work by bicycle. But other people also cycle to work, and don't emit that smell.
They are really nice guys to talk to, and brilliant on the job. I couldn't believe that one does not notice their own odor, especially if it is that strong. On days where it was most intense, I started burning scent candles to ease the pain. My hope was that this would be a subtle hint, but the message didn't go through. On the internet and in newspapers, there were stories of people who put soap or deodorants on other people's desks. But other people called this procedure gutless, and detrimental to the working relationship.
My wive constantly tells me how her nose can pick up many more smells than mine, and even goes as far as calling my nose deaf. This is why I can't imagine I was the only one noticing the smell in our office. So why would I have to be the guy telling them? But since I was closest in the office, I was suffering the most. Some times I would breathe through the mouth for a whole day.
Some times I noticed a synthetic sports shirt being worn for a whole week, smelling stronger day by day. I had the impression one guy washes every day, but sometimes starts to emit pungent sweat in the afternoon. Maybe he uses an inefficient deodorant or none at all. I don't know how often the other guy showers, but sometimes I had the impression it was only once a week. Maybe it is just a cultural difference. Seeing the same clothes being worn for the whole week for cycling and working just reinforced that impression. Also if I see the same shirt being worn for two months straight, I start wondering. Don't get me wrong, I sometimes wear trousers or pullovers for a week, but only if it is cold enough, and I don't engage in high pulse activities. But I change underwear and shirts every day. Especially when I do sports, the sweat soaked clothes go straight to the laundry. Even more important with synthetic fabric.
Other behaviors started to disturb me. For example I didn't want to have fingers on my mouse and keyboard, that I saw just minutes before in somebody's nose or mouth, or scratching balls or but cracks. But again, how to tell them? I just held on to my mouse and didn't let go.
When we are having lunch, and somebody wants to chime in on a conversation before he swallowed everything, that's no big deal. It happens to me also from time to time. Even though we try hard to train our kids not to do that. But I don't want to see somebodies half chewed food while in a work related conversation. I didn't eat a banana in months, because it was so disguisting to see.
The situation started affecting my work. I would wait with functional reviews in the hope that the smell would be gone tomorrow. Wednesday is usually the best day, but not always. I started not to ask for advice in areas where somebody else had more experience. Instead looking for the information myself. When I was unsure about the direction, I started to commit half baked code to get feedback through the review process. Sometimes I even researched devices to clean the air. More and more I started to think about just how I would best tell them without offending. Even this thinking started to consume time, that I could better spend coding. I knew it would be best to get over with it, but it is just something I was not comfortable with. Something had to happen.
Today I finally had the courage. I told them that there was something which bothered me for a while, and that it was the strong sweat odor in our office. They said they can't notice anything. But they could hang their cycling clothes in another room and see if that helps. I didn't say that the odor moves around with the body, as I wanted them to keep their dignity. One guy argued that maybe what my nose picked up was from rotten fruits in the bin, and that we should dispose them in the kitchen. I'm nonetheless hopeful that the situation is going to change for the better.
Please comment if you had similar experiences, or good advice.

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Generating solar electricity at home

on Oct 21, 2018

After I switched to an electric car, I started to care much more about where the energy we consume comes from. With petrol and diesel you don't really have that choice. We are in a comfortable situation that we have some small hydro electric dams nearby. Thus all the electricity we use at home and for driving around, comes from 100% renewable, local production. When you meet with other E.V. drivers, renewable energy production is always an interesting topic. Lots of these folks have their own solar panels on the roof. Solar is especially interesting as it has no moving parts, and can be employed by private people. It becomes more problematic however if you don't own a house. We live in a rented apartment, thus we have no option to put our own solar panels on the roof. Not all is lost fortunately. Recently I learned about panels with an integrated micro inverter that can be plugged directly into a regular plug on your balcony. According to Swiss law, up to 600W can be installed by private individuals. They only have to notify their power provider.
So I ordered an ADE Geranium from Energiegenossenschaft that I could pay with Bitcoin. Last week it arrived, and I immediately installed it in our garden. It can feed up to 250W into the plug. I don't expect to feed a lot of this into the grid. It is more to reduce the standby consumption by refrigerators and computers. 250W is peak anyway and not often reached. In the first week after installation, it only produced 3.5 kWh. So it will likely take 10 years for it to amortize. But it comes with a 25 year warranty.

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Bye bye Jaguar

on Aug 08, 2018

In my former Job, I visited customers from time to time. One day in 2001 on a parking lot accross the street of a customer, I saw a gorgeous Jaguar XJ. It was from the second series, painted in british racing green and had a vynil roof. It didn't have a price tag, and I thought I would never be able to afford a Jaguar anyway. But out of curiosity I asked what it would cost. The answer was CHF 6'000 from the inspection or CHF 4'000 as is. I was blown away. Never would I have thought that this car could be that affordable. A friend warned me by telling a story of somebody bringing his Jag for a repair and asking for the price. The answer was that if you drive a Jag, you don't ask how much it costs. Nevertheless I was hooked. That is how my love for Jaguar cars started. Before that, I viewed them as beautiful, expensive old men cars. Of course I wanted to buy the car with a valid inspection. I called the mechanic many times, and he always told me that he didn't have time to look at it. Until one day he told me that he wanted to take the car on the lift, and the lift went right through the rust. So this one was not worth it, but there must be others. Hence I started to look for other XJ cars from the early 80ies. On customer visits, occasionally I drove detours to Dealers that specialized on vintage British cars. That is how I learned about the XJS, and henceforth included it in my search.
In the summer of 2002 I found an XJS that I liked. It was from 1984, in very good condition, had 75'000 km on the clock and should cost CHF 10k. On the test drive I heared a strange milling noise when driving around corners. The owner agreed to give it cheaper, and I took the risk of the repair for that noise. Luckily it turned out to be just a faulty rubber part on the mounting of the transmission.
I drove many pleasant trips with the Jag in the past Years. The mighty V12 5.3l engine runs incredibly smooth. And the car was always very reliable. Of course I had some repairs, but nothing to complain about. It always consumed a lot of gasoline, and leaked some oil. That was just part of it.
Most trips were within Switzerland, often with the Jaguar Drivers Club. Only in the last few years, we drove to the Lego Land in Germany and to Elba island in Italy. We wanted to drive to Elba with the Camper, but after too many coolant pipes bursted, we used the much smaller, but more reliable Jaguar instead. Unfortunately this had an unpleasant side effect.
When the car turned 30, I registered it as a veteran. You can only get that status if the vehicle is in very good and original condition. It is basically classified as worthy of conservation. But that status was later revoked, because I drove too many kilometers (the Elba trip).
After 16 Jears of ownership, I sold my Jaguar XJS. It was not as easy as I anticipated, and in the end I gave it for much cheaper than I wanted to. But after switching to an electric car, I simply lost interest in polluting vehicles. When I sold it, it had a little more than 135'000km on the clock. So I drove it for about 60'000km in 16 years. The bulk of it was in the first few years.
If Jaguar delivered the I-Pace two years earlier, I would probably stayed with the brand. But a recent article just reminded me that I am very well served with Tesla:
https://www.topgear.com/car-news/electric/top-gears-big-jaguar-i-pace-test-journey-back

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Charging at a strangers house

on Jul 22, 2018 ·
1 comments

We spent the last week in an alpine Chalet and had to leave the car in a public parking halfway down the mountain. Upon arrival, the battery was down to 20% SOC. I read that leaving it below 20% or above 80% for extended periods of time was not too healthy. So I asked at a house next to the parking, if I could plug in the car for a while. They seemed friendly and agreed immediately. I told the man that I would need about 40kWh, and asked how much the electricity costs. He said he had no clue and I would have to know.
When I came to pick up the car, I gave him about twice as much as the electricity would cost at the most expensive rate known to me, and about three times as much as I pay at home. That was when he started complaining. He said when he goes to the gas pump with his ICE car, he wouldn't get a lot of gas for this price. And if he knew that I was going to pay so little, he wouldn't let me charge. Same for me, if I knew he would be discontent, I would rather drive 20 minutes to the next Supercharger, get free electricity, and still be welcome.
I never paid so much for a charge as I gave him. Usually if the electricity is too expensive at a public charging station, I just drive on to find something reasonable. But I paid him more than I usually would, because I wanted it to be a good experience for him.
I read about mostly good experiences when asking strangers for a plug. But after this incident, I will think twice next time.
What were your experiences with charging at a stranger's house?

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Spending Bitcoin while charging the car

on May 02, 2018

When I go some place new, I always check out what Bitcoin accepting venues there are. I usually try to prioritize shops that accept crypto currency.
When I drive some place far away, I have to charge the car on the way. No big deal, usually I can eat, drink or go to the toilet. All those activities, I prefer not to perform in the car while driving anyway. When I'm done, the battery is charged enough to continue the journey.
But how cool would it be to combine the two. If there was a restaurant that accepts BTC next to a supercharger, I would eat there for sure. Unfortunately finding this information manually is a hassle. That is how the idea was born to write a simple script to correlate charging stations and Bitcoin shops. I did it only quick and dirty. It could be improved a lot, but I'm not sure that is necessary.
You can visit a map with the correlated locations on ZeroNet: Bitcoin shops at car charging stations
If you want to have a look at the script that compiles the list or improve it, you can do so at: bitcoin_supercharger.py

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Green Technology Tour

on Apr 10, 2018

Charles and I are going to participate in the WAVE (world advanced vehicle expedition) along the Grand Tour of Switzerland. This years tour will take place from June 8th to 16th and is titled "Green Technology Tour".
We enter the trophy as Team Bitcoin with a big BTC logo on the frunk.
The tour will have well publicized stops at approx 40 cities. I'm very excited to spread the word about decentralized payments, and that Bitcoin is so much more than speculation...

You can follow our team blog directly on ZeroNet:
zero://wavebtc.bit
or through a proxy:
https://zero.acelewis.com/#wavebtc.bit

General info about the WAVE is at:
wavetrophy.com

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Why I deactivated Tesla app access

on Jan 19, 2018 ·
3 comments

The official Tesla App is unfortunately not available for Ubuntu Phone. And there is no indication that it will be on my next phone, the Librem5 from Purism. On the bright side, from the computer I can control my car using the VisibleTesla desktop app running inside a docker container. But the best part about remotely controlling the car is that the API is publicly documented. Bindings are available for most scripting languages. That allows me to control the car from my Ubuntu phone at the command line. It also allows me to run a cron job to pre heat the car before I drive to and from work. It also allows me to precisely track how much electricity I charge, and where. It also allowed us to open the doors directly from an ethereum smart contract at Hack4Climate. And it allowed me to implement a cool live tracking for our summer holiday road trip. The possibilities are endless.

All my scripts authenticate using a token that is said to expire after 90 days. I set up my scripts so that I can enter my password to get a new token. And then the new token is used from there. Usually I enter the password on a maximally secured system, and then copy the file containing the access token to the other systems. That is because I saw in the API documentation, that remote starting the car requires the password explicitly. So if a hacker gained root access to my server or my phone, he could open the doors, but not drive away with my car.

When I first discovered that the Tesla account is secured only with a password, I was bewildered. I mean, this account is essentially a virtual key to my car. Everything that secures something with a value above a few hundred bucks, has used two factor authentication for many years. Having been in the Bitcoin space for some time, cyber security is very important for me. I refuse to use software based 2FA, instead I insist on hardware solutions. I have used a USB dongle with a secure element to manage my GPG keys for a long time. I use FIDO U2FA wherever I can. Most of my crypto currency holdings are secured by multiple hardware wallets. I switched my bank, because the former used text messages as second factor. And now, I find out that the most expensive thing that I bought in my entire live, is secured with only one factor. Wow! That was shocker No 1! So I picked a very long and hard to guess password. I didn't store it anywhere. I am very cautious on which devices I even type it. But still I was uneasy about it all along.

Last week some of my scripts started reporting errors. As expected, an access token was expired. But I failed to get a new one by entering the password. So I tried logging in on the Tesla website. What I got to see, was a message that my account was blocked due to too many invalid login attempts. There was a button to reset the password. The result of that reset request was an eMail in my inbox with a link to a web form, where I can enter a new password. Hey, but wait a second. That eMail was NOT encrypted! Even if the link is only valid for a few minutes, everybody who sees it could take over my Tesla account, and steal my car. Seriously? That was shocker No 2!!! If a hacker gained access to my eMail account, he could even delete the mail, and I had no idea what's going on.

I have regarded unencrypted eMails as an insecure means of communication for many years. And I thought that was common sense. For increased security, I run my own mail server. But my ISP added all the dynamic IP addresses to a spam list, and wants me to pay for an expensive business account in order to have self hosted eMail work well. Hence I use an externally hosted eMail address for most of the time, also for my Tesla account. So I wanted to quickly verify the security of that mail account. And while I'm at it, change the password to a more secure one. But the first surprise came in the form of the customer login to the management system. It was http only. No way to enter the password without running the risk of it being eavesdropped on. Seriously? That was shocker No 3!!!

Sure, it's easy to blame my eMail provider, or me for selecting it. In reality it used to be hosted with another company that was later acquired. That just highlights the fact, that it is outside of your control. Email is not secure, and should not be used to transmit sensitive information, unless it's encrypted - Period! I read about hacked eMail accounts and account takeovers every week. Lots of websites require some security questions in order to unlock an account. That's better than nothing, if there is not a lot at stake. But if an account controls anything of value, solid 2 factor authentication is a must. Even if the mail account offers FIDO U2FA, I wouldn't trust it with my car. For example gmail offers U2FA. But guess what happens when you log in with a browser that has no support for it. Yes right, convenience gets priority over security.

Account Recovery Exploitation is a known problem. Let me quote a paragraph from an article by yubico: 5 Surprisingly Easy Ways Your Online Account Credentials Can Be Stolen

Due to the large scale of users for many services and the general desire to keep support costs low everywhere, account recovery flows can be much weaker than the primary authentication channel. For example, it’s common for companies deploying strong two-factor authentication (2FA) solutions as their primary method to leave SMS as a backup. Alternatively, companies may simply allow help desk personnel to reset credentials or set temporary bypass codes with just a phone call and little to no identity verification requirements.
Services implementing 2FA need to strengthen both the primary and the recovery login flow so that users aren’t compromised by the weaker path.

Unfortunately, both the primary and the recovery login flow of the Tesla account are incredibly weak. As much as I love the cool and convenient features from remotely controlling my car, I disabled app access in the settings screen of the car. I would like to re-enable it very much. But only once I can trust the security of it again.

I read many times how important security is for Tesla. And how fast they respond to fix vulnerabilities. But then I found numerous reports of people complaining about the very same problems from FOUR years ago: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12. Sure, security means different things to different people. I'm grateful to the engineers who make sure, I don't get killed in the car. But I also don't want my car to get stolen or broken into so easily. When discussing this topic on a forum, one guy stated he doesn't want to carry a secure hardware device the size of a key, and that he doesn't care if his car is stolen. He has insurance. I have insurance too, but still don't want to go through that experience.

Now, if you read this far and have a Twitter account, may I ask you to visit https://www.dongleauth.info/#iot, and click the button next to Tesla?

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The mother of all hackathons

on Nov 19, 2017

I just returned from #hack4climate. Even if it was just my third hackathon, I can state with certainty that this one was unlike any other. None of the 100 hackers from 33 countries experienced anything remotely comparable before.

The topic of the event was to develop solutions how blockchain technology can help fighting climate change.

First let me explore how the event differentiated from other hackathons. The hacking session was 24 hours, but the whole event lasted four full days. There were pre-workshops around the world. 100 participants were selected and invited to Bonn. Travel expenses were covered. We stayed on a five star hotel ship. It was adjacent to the UN climate conference. We had balcony suites on the ship. The food was appropriate for a 5 star ship, complete with wine to every dinner. The days before and after the hacking session were filled with interesting talks, a guided city tour, interesting discussions and lots of networking. There were so many interesting people and so much to talk about. At the last day they wanted to make a photo of us on the boat in front of the UN building. Drones were forbidden in the security zone, so the photographer rented a crane to get the perfect shot.

I knew nobody from the event in advance. But I knew that out of the sub topics, I was most interested in "sustainable transportation". At the team building session, I headed straight to the guy with the most interesting pitch that contained something about cars. Our team was formed son after, and I had a good feeling from the start. Two were from Singapore who already knew each other. Two were from India one living in San Francisco and the other in China. And one was also from Switzerland, but we didn't know each other before.

When the hack session started at Tuesday noon, we shaped our rough ideas into a project that we could realize in the short amount of time. Then everybody stated what he would like to do. It all seemed to fit together wonderfully. I wanted to implement the smart contract. I didn't have much experience in that area, and was grateful that the others could help me and answer my questions. Rather than drawing large diagrams, we collaborated on the interfaces, and then worked towards these. We didn't hit mayor roadblocks or problems, everything seemed to flow in place. Most of us agreed that we are not productive after 2AM and that is is better to get some hours of sleep. In the morning we went out to shoot a video of our product in action. The guys from SBB (who was a sponsor of the event) were around us most of the time. They helped where they could, and were generally very interested and engaged. We had many great discussions with them.

Our project was about end to end transportation. On the mobile app, you select a destination, and it identifies legs to use different means of transportation. We focused on car sharing, but other options include trains, bikes or buses. Our smart contract abstracts a car that can be rented over the ethereum blockchain. The owner of the car registers it by creating an instance of the smart contract. A person who wants to rent it can do so by sending ether. The required amount is determined by the price per km the owner wants, times the number of km the renter wants. If he doesn't use up the credit, the rest is reimbursed at the end of the trip. But if he drives too far, the cars performance is degraded by the smart contract. The car was represented by a RaspberryPi running an ethereum node and our backend running on nodejs. Initially opening the car was indicated by an LED attached to the RPI. But to make it more realistic, the RPI then called the Tesla API to open a real car. At the end of the trip the RPI collected information about the car such as odometer and battery level as well as firmware version, stored it on the IPFS and registered the IPFS address with the smart contract to form an unfalsifiable audit trail. Last but not least, one of our team members used data from moving cars and turned it into an appealing 3D animation that highlights the hot spots in a city.

We were thrilled all along, even more after all the positive reactions to our presentation. And hooray, we made it into the finalists! That meant, we could present our project at the COP. That's the fair for NGO's which is attached to the UN climate conference. The team that won the hackathon, did so deservedly. Their project was about incentivizing land owners not to cut their trees. They used blockchain and game theory for the monetary part. In addition they trained a neuronal network to predict areas which are endangered most of deforestation, and need special attention.

A first official video appeared here, and I'm sure others will follow on the official website.

Update Dec 16 2017


The official after movie of #hack4climate was released:
https://youtu.be/UOANny6i0QM

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Road trip to Norway with the Tesla

on Aug 07, 2017 ·
4 comments

Our last road trip was a while back. After we returned from South America, we planned that our next big trip with the Büssli would be to Scandinavia. But we figured that family holidays with small kids are better stationary at one camp ground. Now that the kids are old enough, we didn't trust the Büssli enough for such a big trip. Reliability of the vehicle becomes more important the more people are traveling. Since we have now a very new (for our terms) vehicle, we figured it was time for our next road trip. Let's drive to Norway with the Tesla!
Many people still think electric cars are not suited for long trips. That might be true for some, but a Tesla is up to everything!
First the important facts:
Duration: 15 days
Distance covered: 5'000 km
Electricity charged: 1'088 kWh
Waiting time for charges: ZERO
Cost for charges: CHF 41
Our route on a map

Transit


We knew that it would be a long trip from Switzerland to Norway and back. The kids need to be able to run around every day. So driving it in one go was out of the question. Also my wive is not comfortable enough to drive the new car in a foreign country yet, hence I had to drive it all by myself. She also didn't want to drive during the night. So we had to expect some traffic jams, and split the distance roughly in half. Both ways we slept in the Hanover area. We chose not do drive all the way around trough Sweden, but take the fairy from Denmark to Norway. To make the route in Norway more like a one way, we took the fairy back from Bergen to Denmark. Spending the night on the boat, we were ready to drive trough Denmark in the early morning.

Charging


While on the road, we mostly charged at the Tesla Superchargers. The navigation system does a great job, planning the required charges. The Superchargers once again proved to be just great. If possible we also charged over the night. But we didn't stay in the fancy hotels that have destination chargers. Instead, all we got on the camp grounds were Schuko outlets. Not only is the charging slow, but more than once, the charge stopped in the middle of the night because a fuse blew. It was always enough to reach the next Supercharger. In Bergen the main parking provided 54 free type2 chargers with 30A one phase. The only two other charges were in the Stavanger area. We stayed at the Lysse Fjord for a few days, and the next supercharger would have been more than half an hour away. Stavanger is Norway's offshore oil industry center. So it is not such a big surprise that there were less EV's in that area. I ordered a free RFID tag from Fortum before the trip. They have a decent charging network in Norway. So I charged twice with Chademo.
We tried to charge while having our meals, when shopping, and when somebody needed to go to the toilet. When we came back, the car had always enough energy to continue the trip. We NEVER had to wait for it to charge. I think this is a big takeaway from our trip.

Environment


Obviously an E.V. has no emissions. But this is only fully true, if the electricity doesn't come from a coal plant. We have a reasonably clean electricity mix in Switzerland. Mostly hydro power, some nuclear and a tiny rest. Tesla promised that on the Swiss Superchargers, they only use energy from renewable sources. I recently confirmed that the electricity we use and charge at home comes exclusively from hydro, mostly local.
Norway has a massive amount of hydro power plants, and considerable wind power. I would be surprised if they had any electricity at all from non renewable sources.
But Germany has a dirty energy mix in general. They burn lots of coal. In the past decades they made huge progress in efficiency and reducing pollution. But that can't do away the CO2. I read an article from 2015 that Tesla Germany was in the process of migrating all the sources of the electricity for their Superchargers to renewable. So I assume that they should be complete by now. In fact I saw massive solar arrays adjacent to many Superchargers and wondered if they were related. I assume the same holds true for Denmark.
That leaves me with the 10kWh that I charged over night from a regular German power outlet, which probably contained some coal energy. This equates to 1% of the electricity of the entire holiday trip. Plus the fairy boats burned some form of oil. Their use per passenger is difficult for me to quantify.

climate neutral


A few days later by coincidence I found MyClimate where you can compensate the CO2 pollution of a variety of activities. That brought me to the idea, that I could make our holiday climate neutral. They have calculators for different types of emissions. Although not exactly the ones I was looking for. For the fairies I used the cruise ship calculator, and for the brown electricity the house heating calculator, that allowed me to specify German electricity and how much. The calculated sum was 0.966 metric tons of CO2. To compensate, I donated CHF 27 for climate protection projects. What really surprised me was how much pollution a cruise ship emits, even compared to a gasoline car.

Kragero


The first destination in Norway was Kragero. It has some nice islands in front that are part of a nature protection area. The flat that we booked over AirBnb had a nice view over the sea. We visited a small island that was connected with a bridge and hosted the remains of an old fortress.

Dalen


There is not a lot of Bitcoin activity in Norway. But on coinmap.org I found a camp ground. It is run by Dutch people. My wive was pleased by the clean toilets. As chance would have it, Dalen also has the most beautiful hotel in Norway. We didn't stay there, but we had a drink in comfortable leather seats while listening to the piano in the big hall.

Farsund


After the shower facility of the cabin we booked didn't meet my wives expectations, we drove on to Kristiansand. All the way we tried to find a place to spend the night. In the rural areas there were many signs for cabins. But we saw none of them when we got closer to the sea. We ended up in a camp site with a beautiful beach. The sanitary installations were far worse than what we dissed before. But it was too late to search something else. When we arrived a 9pm, I set up our tent. The night was too cold for my wife, even though she was the only one with a sleeping bag for sub zero temperatures. So this was to be our only night in the tent. The next morning we went to the beach, but the sea was just too cold for us to swim.

LandaLand


The famous Lyssefjord is a very touristic area. Thousands of people walk up to the Preikestolen every day. We had a small room at the LandaLand for three nights. The first day we drove around the fjord trough the mountains and down the 27 steep curves. From there we took the fairy trough the fjord.
On the second day we hiked to the Preikestolen. We started early through the well prepared trail in light rain. There were lots of people, but not nearly as many as in the stories of other people.
The third day there was a nice event in LandaLand. The kids could shoot with bow and arrow, cast some tin and cook pancakes over the open fire. Later we drove to Stavanger and visited the oil museum. It was very interesting. They seemed to be open to all the questions about the environment. But of course their angle is slightly different than ours, driving an E.V. I was mainly interested in the technical aspects of the drilling platforms, deep sea exploration and submarines. These parts were very informative. Finally we had a delicious dinner at the food festival.

Voss


Norwegians love outdoor sports, and Voss is most known for it. On the way there we saw some more beautiful fjords and waterfalls. Every camp ground and every hotel and every holiday flat in the vicinity of Voss seemed to be fully booked. After a long search, we found a family room in the youth hostel. I could finally make the first flight with my paraglider in Norway. Since all the cable cars were closed, I had to walk up. This marked the 20th country for me to paraglide. Numer 19 was Korea in 2009. Initially we planned to stay some days in Voss, but the weather was getting worse and the city center was not that great. Since we saw lots of fjords already we thought the Sognefjord couldn't be that much different. So we decided to spend the last few days in Bergen.

Bergen


We were very lucky with the accommodation that we found on AirBnb. We spent two nights in a nicely prepared basement apartment hosted by a lovely retired lady. Also the city was nice. In Bergen we saw way more electric cars than in the regions visited so far.

Payments


One strange thing was that the restaurant where we had lunch in Bergen didn't have a toilet. So we went the the shopping mall. But the toilet had a card reader attached. It wouldn't work with a regular Maestro card. And I had to try multiple times to figure out how to open the door with my Xapo Visa debit card. Even the toy cars where the kids can ride in the shopping mall are card operated. In Norway almost everything is payed by card. Some might call it progress, to me this is completely derailed.

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Driving the Tesla

on Apr 18, 2017 ·
1 comments

It is now almost three months and 7'000 kilometers. So I thought, I write a small review for my Tesla S85.

Silence


The immediate most notable difference when driving an electric car is the absence of the engine noise. People who drive big engine gasoline cars often assure how essential this is to their driving experience. I was curious how I would feel about that myself. The V12 has a distinctive sound, but in the Jaguar it is not amplified at all. Instead it is running very silently. I also had my "hey look, my ride can produce louder noises than yours" days when tuning mopeds. But that ended when puberty was over.
People coming from diesel engines don't seem to miss the sound as much as the petrol heads. After all, most diesel cars still sound like tractors.
Turns out, it is incredibly peaceful to drive along in complete silence. I missed the engine noise not a single time. There are occasions where pedestrians or cyclists didn't expect a car to be so close, but that is just something to be a bit more alert. And there is the occasional awkward situation when somebody clearly never saw an electric car before and stares at it in disbelieve.

Controls


The most notable difference when you enter the car is the absence of any controls other than what is around the steering wheel. Instead there is the gigantic touch screen in the center. It controls everything from the navigation system to the music to the suspension to the sun roof to the interior and exterior lights and almost everything else. After reading books about haptic user interface design, I expected this to have occasional disadvantages. There is obviously something to it, to have the switch for the sun roof located next to the sun roof and being able to operate it blindly. But I got used to managing everything with the touch screen quicker than I anticipated. And it has many advantages of its own. It gives much more control, and can be changed with over the air software updates. And it is generally easier to learn. Let's not forget that the car does most of these things automatically anyway.
Another notable control that is absent is the gear selector lever. There is a handle to switch between "D", "N", "R" and "P" attached to the steering wheel column. But it doesn't allow to restrict the (not present) transmission to lower gears. If you like to drive curvy mountain roads in a sporty manner, you may think you'd miss that. But think about it for a moment longer. The only two reasons you shift to a lower gear before a curve is to decelerate and have more torque available for acceleration. The Tesla not only decelerates when you lift your foot before the turn, it converts the kinetic energy back into electricity and stores it in the battery. And when you hit it again, the torque is immediately available without any special manipulation. In effect, the only reason for wanting a gear stick back is nostalgia.

Software


As cars get more and more computerized, and as I read stories of cars getting equipped with mainstream mobile operating systems, I started to worry. I never wanted a car running iOS, Android or god beware Windows. So I was relieved big time when I learned that the Tesla cars run on Linux and have a Qt interface. This is absolutely the best choice and I salute the engineers to it. Tesla is often described as a technology company, rather than a car company. That certainly shows in their technology decisions. As a software developer, I can attest them that they are all very sound. This trend continues with the later models, and how they react to problems with the older autopilot hardware. One further instance where I can applaud them is how they handled reports of a security vulnerability in their mobile app. They acknowledged it and were very quick to push an improved version. This is in stark contrast to other car manufacturers who try to neglect for as long as they possibly can.

Security


Tesla stated many times that security is their single most important concern. This was mainly about safety on the road. But also their security practices with regard to the computer systems seems to be sound. Except for one thing. To gain control through means of the remote app, only an eMail address and a password is required. This in turn allows you to open the doors, start the car and drive it. Adding two factor authentication would be much preferred. And if you are at it, make is solid hardware based like FIDO U2FA.

Mechanics


Other car companies (especially from Germany) moan about lower quality, but so far I found nothing that would back that claim. They also badmouthed Jaguar for that, while I had many more problems with German cars than with English ones. They go to great lengths explaining how their gap dimensions are tighter, giving them better aerodynamics. But hey, go on priding yourselves with efficiency improvements from 35 to 36% while the electric drive train starts above 90%.
With petrol engine and gearbox transmissions out, there are far fewer parts that can break and that need maintenance. One common meme is that a Tesla has exactly six consumable parts: 4 tires and 2 windshield wipers. No oil, and a much smaller and easier coolant circulation also put an end to smeary puddles on the parking lot.

Improvements


Nothing is perfect. The one thing that worries me and many other Tesla owners is the maintenance cost after they run out of warranty. Yes there is less stuff that can break. And reports from what I read so far attest that the prices for spare parts were reasonable. Further, Elon promised that they don't want to make too much money with repairs. But the repair manuals are very hard to get. And there are reports where they denied to deliver spare parts. So in essence we are very dependent on their goodwill. More so than I like. One thing I already found out is that the hourly rates are much higher than what the company charges, where I had my cars fixed so far. I'm looking forward for a haynes manual at least.

Environment


One thing that I didn't expect to make such a big difference, is the good feeling from caring about the environment. Of course there are people who try to discredit all the benefits. The biggest part is CO2, but also apart from that, ICE cars emit lots of other toxic gases and dust. Even if coal was used to produce the electricity, the plants would have far better filters an no cheating software. If you look at the whole chain, there are no oil tankers, no exploding oil drilling platforms and no enormous pipelines required to power an electric car. The metric to look at the whole value chain is called "well to wheel". The difference in overall efficiency is gigantic. Gasoline cars are at 12% while electric cars are somewhere between 32% and 70% depending on the source of the electricity.
There is still a lot of education to do.

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