I recently decided to install Ubuntu Focal Fossa (currently in beta) and test it out. I use my computer(s) a lot – both home and professionally – and I enjoy getting new software installed. It is always exciting to discover new features (and bugs 😖 ) and see what’s been changed.
One of the new features in Focal Fossa is improved ZFS support; it is now possible to use it / enable it right from the installation of Ubuntu. Great ✋. I wanted to give it a go (looking forward to features such as built-in raid support and snapshots) but unfortunately it clashed a little bit with my wish to encrypt my home directory.
While this post is about home directory encryption in a setting of ZFS (and its built-in support of encryption), the general approach may also be of interest to you if you run ext4 and/or other disk encryption tools.
Why would you want to encrypt your home directory? Do you have something to hide? Why go through the troubles?
Well… there are a couple of reasons why I chose to do it1And I am sure there are more…:
The main challenge is two fold:
Ubuntu 20.04 did not provide an option to encrypt your home directory when using ZFS
Ubuntu did previously provide this option, but it used eCryptfs which was considered buggy, under-maintained, [and] not fit for main anymore and has thus been removed.
When enabling encryption manually (after installation) the decrypt action is performed before user login
The issue arises because ZFS is configured (on Ubuntu 20.04) to automatically mount all file systems on the system at boot time – including encrypted home directories. GDM has support for asking for passwords, and hence a prompt appears at boot time. This is great for system wide storage, but not so great for user directories.
PAM is a authentication system that allows programs that rely on authentication to be written independent of the underlying authentication scheme. I.e. if GDM need to authenticate me as a user, it (GDM) can be agnostic about whether my password is in a file on the hard drive or is validated against an AD on the network.
PAM is the Pluggable Authentication Module system in *nix world. If you don’t know it, don’t worry. Neither do I. It is a complex system and I have not had the time (or urge) to really dig in to it other than what I needed here:
We can use PAM to get a hold of the user password when logging in, and in turn use the password to unlock our home directory storage.
So… what we are going to do is:
This is the computer-nerdiest post I have written on this site up until now, so if you have not heard of ZFS before, nor are you considering encrypting your home directory, then I am surprised that you got this far in the text 😀
If you continue on this journey with me, then I will assume that you
Here Be Monsters. Messing around your filesystem may lead to data loss. Do back up your data. Proceed at own risk.
It is not possible to encrypt an existing dataset (filesystem) in ZFS once it has been created. Instead one has to make a little (fairly straight-forward) dance to create a new dataset (encrypted right from the beginning) and then move the data.
The command snippets below are examples from my own system; remember that you need to adapt the paths as you go.
sudo zfs set mountpoint=/home/jvc_nonenc rpool/USERDATA/jvc_tdssc
rpool/USERDATA/jvc_tdsscis the existing un-encrypted dataset for my home directory, created by the Ubuntu installation.
sudo zfs create -o encryption=aes-256-gcm -o keyformat=passphrase -o keylocation=prompt rpool/USERDATA/jvc_enc -o mountpoint=/home/jvc
sudo chown jvc:jvc /home/jvc
sudo -u jvc rsync -ar /home/jvc_noenc/ /home/jvc/
I did the dance and rebooted my computer, and got (as expected) this:
So yes, my home directory was encrypted. Great. But as expected, I now have to enter my password twice: Once during boot for unlocking the storage, and then once more for logging in to the system. This is an issue for me in two ways:
Fair enough… most of the time I don’t shut down my computer but only suspends it (like everyone else)… but still…
I will just show the script I use here. Assuming that you know how to read Bash, the content is fairly clear (and comments are provided in the code). The properties
dk.talldanestale.automount:user will be explained in step 4.
Save the script to
/sbin/mount-zfs-homedir and remember to set the executable bit:
#!/bin/bash set -eu # Password is given to us via stdin, save it in a variable for later PASS=$(cat -) # List all zfs volumes, listing the *local* value of the property canmount. zfs get canmount -s local -H -o name,value | while read volname canmount; do # Filter on canmount == 'noauto'. Filesystems marked 'noauto' can be mounted, # but is not done so automatically during boot. [[ $canmount = 'noauto' ]] || continue # Filter on user property dk.talldanestale.automount:user. It should match # the user that we are logging in as ($PAM_USER) user=$(zfs get dk.talldanestale.automount:user -s local -H -o value $volname) [[ $user = $PAM_USER ]] || continue # Unlock and mount the volume zfs load-key "$volname" <<< "$PASS" || continue zfs mount "$volname" || true # ignore erros done
Debug tip: You can change
set -eu to
set -eux to make Bash print out all commands as it is executing the script. In order to see the output, you also need to enable debug output in PAM. See next step.
Note: The use of here-string (the
<<< operator) instead of
echo "$PASS" | ... prevents your password from being written to the log.
The approach is to use the PAM module
pam_exec.so to pass on the user password to an unlock-script.
The PAM configuration is a set of files residing in
/etc/pam.d/. Some files are service specific3i.e. named after the service it is relevant to while others are shared (included) by the other files. On my Ubuntu system there is a file named
/etc/pam.d/common-auth that is included from other services that enable users to login4console login, gdm, ssh etc.. This is the place to add the
auth optional pam_exec.so expose_authtok /sbin/mount-zfs-homedir
This line can be read as:
That is it for PAM configuration.
Debug tip: If you need to debug things, then adding
debug log=/tmp/file.log will help you. Example:
auth optional pam_exec.so expose_authtok debug log=/tmp/file.log /sbin/mount-zfs-homedir
The unlock script used two properties, which we will explain and configure here:
The first (substantial) line of the script lists datasets in the zfs pool along with the
canmount property. We filter on values
noauto value indicates to the system that it should not be auto-mounted during boot (which is the trigger for the password prompt at boot).
In other words: We need to mark our home directory not to be auto-mounted at boot:
sudo zfs set canmount=noauto rpool/USERDATA/jvc_enc
Next, the script is filtering on a custom property
dk.talldanestale.automount:user which I use to indicate to which user this dataset (filesystem) belongs. I do not want to attempt to mount my girlfriend’s home directory using my password.
The property is one I created. The ZFS states that user properties must contain a ‘:’, but otherwise is free to choose. I like the concept of prepending (semi) global properties with organization identifier. Hence the
To set the property, execute:
sudo zfs set dk.talldanestale.automount:user=jvc rpool/USERDATA/jvc_enc
That’s it. I hope it helps you on your journey.
One of the really nice features of ZFS is the snapshot feature. It enables you to, well, take a snapshot on the fly of the filesystem for later use. Later use could be…
On Ubuntu there is a hook set up in the apt/dpkg configuration that (via zsys) creates a snapshot of the machine just before installing packages. Unfortunately something broke when I created my new home directory and now I would get the error
Couldn't find any association for the user dataset ....
Not knowing anything about zsys or how this was set up on Ubuntu I went spelunking and found the property
com.ubuntu.zsys:bootfs-datasets that was set on my old home dataset but (of course) not on my new. So… copying this property fixed the issue:
VAL=$(zfs get com.ubuntu.zsys:bootfs-datasets rpool/USERDATA/jvc_tdssc -H -ovalue) sudo zfs set com.ubuntu.zsys:bootfs-datasets=$VAL rpool/USERDATA/jvc_enc
All done. Hope it helped you as well 🙂
I was planning a small hiking trip with my girlfriend and a couple of friends when I got a little bit frustrated with the availability of map data for Danish hiking routes and sleeping facilities. Yes! We have great resources, but they all (two I will mention here) have some limitations.
Ud-i-naturen is a great overview of *everything* you could need going out into nature. The trouble is: It is a webpage and as such is not a great user experience on a small touch screen (phone) when you are hiking.
The Shelter App fixes that by being a native app, but it has another problem: It is only showing sleeping facilities and thus you need to correlate the map in the app with either another hiking map app, or a paper map.
Well, I have been enjoying Skåneleden for some years while living in Copenhagen. At that time, it was possible to download a KML file with all the tracks and shelters. This, I could import in my Locus Map app and vupti, I would have everything I needed in one view, offline (including map tiles).
Today, Skåneleden has changed strategy a bit. Instead of downloading all of the data, they created an online hiking trip planner – including planning of public transportation out and home. Impressive. You select the tracks you plan to hike, can see distances of each track, filter on difficult level and more. And in the end, you download it as a gpsx file to whatever device you like.
I still prefer the “raw” kml file (or gpsx or ???); anything better than a heavy and clumsy webpage. Yes I know… Smartphones are getting more… powerful (not smart) and internet is more ubiquitous, but still… when hiking, I like the idea of being offline – if nothing else, just to save battery life 😉
So, as I said… I was planning my hiking trip and got frustrated with the situation. I stumbled upon Book-en-shelter where you can get a map of hiking routes on Southern Fyn along with mapping of shelters (across all of Fyn) – but again… no download.
The itchy part for we was… the data is there. You can show/hide tracks and click on shelter locations.
So I took a look at the source and extracted the data into two gpx-files. One for the tracks, and one for the shelters. So… if you like me, like to carry your tracks offline, here is to you:
Note: The data was extracted April 2020. They are not updated here on this site. Please check Book-en-shelter for latest info.
Ps.: If you would like more detailed descriptions of the routes, you can find it on VisitFyn.
I was browsing through Pete Egoscue’s book Pain Free before lending it out to a friend. I feel upon his non-disclaimer and it just resonated with me (again) that I had to share it 🙂
As he writes:
Health care starts with personal responsibility. Any disclaimer that suggests otherwise does a great disservice.Pete Egoscue – Pain Free
As a small bonus, here is his Eight Laws of Physical Health:
It is a beautiful beautiful frosty day in Copenhagen. I am biking to my garage in Vanløse and thinking… What the båt am I doing?
I am on my way to Thailand and the butterflies are flapping their wings in my stomach, giving me doubts to whether to go forward or not. Since last time we “talked” together, I have completed the Teacher Training at Partner Acrobatics (it was awesome), completed the sale of my apartment, and travelled a bit around Europe. Time has passed by really quick and there has seldom been a boring moment. All good! Looking back, there are lots of great stuff to remember…
But it still… people have been curious and have asked What are you going to Thailand for? And I have not quite been able to answer them. It has always been a bit vague and this has also made me doubt myself. Is it the right thing I am doing? Being in this transition phase of breaking up my life to go travelling (or set down in Århus later) has opened my eyes (even more) for all the good things and friends I am leaving behind in Copenhagen.
So… here comes a wish list for my up-coming months… putting them in writing may help me keep a focus on them as I continue my travels. They are in no particular order; I think I will try to keep an open mind as opportunities present themselves 🙂
Recently I heard a podcast starring Tim Ferris1. It was an hour long podcast about (elements of) his life, his depressions, and how he handled them. Some half-way through the podcast, he presented a tool he called fear setting (as opposed to goal setting). Whenever he would run into a situation where he was contemplating doing some action (such as me quitting my job and leaving Cph) but he had fears of doing it, he would use this tool. The basic idea is to
The last point is important and is what resonated with me.
It is not that I have used the tool as such, but it is actually what gave me the courage to start this journey. When I moved to Copenhagen (Lyngy) it was to get an education and then go back (?) to Jutland. Surprise… didn’t happen. Long story short; I stayed here, got a job and a (busy) life.
Last spring (when I made the decision) I was at a point where I felt a bit stuck in my life. Without going into details with my life here, I realised that I had been in the Copenhagen area for 14 years and barely realising it! I had heaps of good experiences and memories in Copenhagen and there is lots of stuff that I do like about Copenhagen – I just don’t want to stay here forever. My job was starting a new project (with me as one of the main architects) and I felt that I should stay at least 3 years for it to make sense for me. Adding the 3 years to my (then) recent realisation of 14 years in Copenhagen made me feel that if I did not move now, then I would never move. And that was a scary thought.
When I listened to Tim Ferris talking about Fear Setting, I realised that this was my 3rd page of the tool. The cost of staying in Copenhagen was so big that I could not do nothing. And that is why I have to go.
How long will I be in Thailand? When will I return to Dk? Good questions. I just hope that I will be seeing all my friends in Copenhagen (and the rest of the world) when the time comes. An old quote got stuck in my mind….
How lucky I am to have known someone and something that saying goodbye is so damned awful.
Take care 🙂
I’m dreaming of a car free Copenhagen.
I don’t believe in New Year resolutions or waiting for “right moments” to change your life. If you feel something in your life needs a change, the right moment is often now. Now, while you have the thought and the motivation. Take the first step, make a resolution Stick to it. And also, seek help and support from your friends.
But still, I would like to take this opportunity of going into the year 2018 to make a daring proposition:
Make central Copenhagen completely car free!
Well… except for a few minor exceptions – but let’s take that later.
I have been living in Copenhagen (Nørrebro) for 7 years, and (before that) in the area (Lyngby / Holte) for another 7. It has been fun. It has also been a mixed blessing. When I moved to Lyngby it was to get an education and then back to Jutland, but then something kept me here. At first, there was a girl who’s big blue eyes got wet if I mentioned myself and Jutland in the same sentence1. Then there was work. Lastly (and most importantly) my climbing, acroyoga, and friends. I like it a lot.
But there is also something that was always a bit off for me. I never felt completely home. I missed the open space. I missed the clean air. When I bike through Copenhagen (I bike to almost everything) the dirt in the air and the smell of the fumes are not a pleasant experience. State of Green will tell you that “Copenhagen no. [is] 2 in Europe for Air Quality” (2015) – but then again, State of Green is founded by (among others) the Danish government, so of course they will tell you the good story. Clean Air Europe had in 2014 a number of recommendations for Denmark which (on one hand) is not so unusual but (on the other hand) disagrees a bit with the rosy image provided by State of Green.
So humour me a bit and join on this thought experiment of making Copenhagen a really green city2. First question would be…
Short answer: Bicycles.
I would argue that Copenhagen is such a small city, that most people (not all) would be able to get around in their day to day business using bicycles. The Christiana bike and its competitors has been around long and proved themselves useful for transportation of a various of things. With the “new” electric bikes, it makes biking more accessible also to the group people not so eager to get the daily exercise while commuting – or just don’t have the capabilities for it any-more.
Other alternatives is (of course) walking 🙂 and public transportation. I will touch a bit on the later topic later in this essay.
Now, let’s have a look at some of the benefits of having a car free city. There are a few that immediately come to my mind…
Imagine big 4 lane (2 in each direction) roads being reduced to a single one way lane (for necessity traffic) and the rest given out to bicycles. Traffic lights timed for bicycles so that you could stroll with 25km/h through the inner city on your way to work – not stopping for any red light.
Imagine small gardens (with clean air so you could actually eat the stuff you grow3) at every street corner. Green areas to relax on. Petanque courts. Areas for slackline, parkour, skating, basketball, etc. Barbecue grills, hammocks, stages for live music and dancing. I kind of feel my imagination is a little bit limited right now… but the essential idea is… why restrict our social life to parks? Why not have it just outside our front door where we can meet our neighbours and connect with each-other.
What is your favourite outdoor activity? Why not have that outside your front door?
Imagine running through the city passing by local communal gardens with flowers and vegetables, and small patches of green with kids and dogs playing, and actually feel refreshed by the air that you breathe in.
In reality, the picture is a bit more complicated, though. Some of the air pollution also comes externally, from the environment outside Copenhagen. How much? I don’t know. And I would not know where to find such data. Also, some traffic need to be allowed in the city… see later in this essay for thoughts on that.
Secondly, the exercise itself will increase the health of the population (for those choosing the bike to work). This is a statement with modification to the individual. If it is a marathon runner that takes daily runs and other physical activity, and he/she has only 5 minutes to work, then it may not matter so much. But if it is otherwise an inactive person and he/she has perhaps 15 minutes to work (by bike), then the daily exercise will most likely increase that person’s health. The WHO recommends a 150 minutes of physical activity per week – corresponding to e.g. 5 times half an hour a week.
I also imagine that this silence will also contribute to lower stress levels of the general population – but that’s purely speculation on my side 😉
While lots of the space in Copenhagen will be taken away from car roads and given to bicycle roads, I think that the space preserved to motorised traffic (such as buses) will be much less congested. The result will be that more buses can be instated and they can move quicker around. I have personally experienced (more than once) walking down Vesterbrogade and still be faster than the 4A bus servicing that street.
Another example is that I over the years have developed a saying – a small paraphrase of the saying misfortune seldom comes alone:
An A-bus seldom comes alone.
A-buses are the inner city buses in Copenhagen and are usually scheduled to arrive every 5th or 10th minute (depending on time of day) but with no fixed timetable as such. You would just know, that when you go down to the bus stop, you would maximum have to wait 5 minutes. What I often would see was (biking in the city) 2 or 3 A-buses (same line) driving head to tail of each-other. I would not pretend to understand it fully, but I presume that the traffic congestion in some city parts combined with bus-only lanes in other city parts make the buses tail up together.
That is current the state of central Copenhagen traffic situation – at least at certain hours.
Yes… how would it be done?
I personally prefer the solution where cars (with exceptions) are banned from the city. It should be equal to everybody that you are not allowed to drive your car in the city… CEOs as well as cleaning ladies (and men), doctors as well as nurses, engineers as well as kindergarten teachers, politicians as well grass root activists.
When people (politicians?) talk about solutions such as a payment ring or (artificial) high parking fees, or other solutions, I can’t help but see the same characteristic in them: They all allow people that are better off with money to continue their habits, while people with less strong income must adapt.
Especially the member of the parliament should go first and skip their cars to work. I believe in dogfooding and find it absolutely toe-curling when people don’t use their own product or don’t follow the laws they vote for (or add convenient exceptions to it). You can say it is a good sign that it fails me (at the writing moment) to find good examples of non-doogfooding in Danish politics (or maybe just bad memory) but I still think it would suit the parliament to be in the front line 🙂
So, we would ban (most) cars in Copenhagen. Reduce all roads to either one way (one lane) streets (for cars only) or to “pedestrian streets” where (the excepted) cars could drive – but with pedestrians and bicycles having the right of way. In its basic idea, it is that simple!
But as I have mentioned a couple of times, there are some (obvious) exceptions to this simple rule. The number of exceptions should be kept at a minimal (again, dogfooding), but to list the ones I can think of…
One could note, though, that perhaps while most cars are banned from the city, the need for police cars could perhaps be swapped out by police on motorbikes or, dare I suggest, on push bikes as well 🙂
Some might even get nostalgic and eye an opportunity for having the police riding horses again 😀
While my personal impression is that there are a lot fewer trucks in Copenhagen (goods delivery) than private cars it also feels a bit, hm, broad to just exempt all trucks from the ban. So perhaps exempted trucks are trucks that have a specific delivery or pick-up appointment, and then only on weekdays from 10am to 2pm. I think there are already similar rules in Copenhagen, so perhaps the idea is not so foreign.
How about delivery services for private addresses? Don’t quite know… on one hand the postage system has (for many years) shown that small packages clearly can be delivered using bicycles. On the other hand, it should be possible to get that double bed or washing machine delivered without overloading the cargo bike you borrowed from your neighbour.
There are still a lot of open questions… one that immediately comes to mind is…
How about long distance commuters? People that either live in Copenhagen and work outside, or live outside and work inside. I kind of imagined that the latter would perhaps drive to the “no car barrier”, park their car there, and then take the public transportation into the city. I think that was actually part of the original 5 finger plan for Copenhagen. For the former, I would imagine the opposite pattern… you take the public transportation out of town, then find your car in your garage or, even better, use one of cars from the “incoming” people in a car sharing form.
Long distance travels? Say you have family in Jutlan but live in Copenhagen. You would like to have a car and use it to go visit your family. You could have it parked in a garage outside the car-free zone, but perhaps you need a bit of luggage with you when you go? Perhaps you have kids and suddenly the situation kind of requires a car. So clearly, in some cases, it should be possible to enter the car free zone with your car.
How would that work? Just thinking out loud… perhaps if the first 3 entries (per year) into Copenhagen were for free. The next 3 entries would then cost a low fee, say 100kr. The next 3 entries would be doubled in price to 200kr each. For each 3rd entry into Copenhagen the price would be doubled. If the family trip was done once a month, the family would pay 2100kr in fees. Reasonable? Perhaps the fees need to be adjusted. But it is only to illustrate that the careless driver who drives into Copenhagen once each week (using this scheme) would get to pay 26,214,100kr in fees. Ok, so this sounds like a lot, but the idea is that nobody need to drive their car into Copenhagen every week – and if they do, there probably need to be an exception for them.
Long distance visits? Probably same as above. Drive to the car free zone border, take the public transportation from there. Or you get the same 3 first time free scheme as above.
And oh… Electric cars! To make this plan even more green, and for me to accept the necessary cars more easily in Copenhagen, it would be awesome if it were so that all regular motorised traffic in Copenhagen should be electric. Less noise and cleaner for the environment.
By “regular motorised traffic”, I mean all the exempt cases (infrastructure services, buses, goods delivery) mentioned in the previous section. The irregular traffic (e.g. long distance visits in the previous paragraphs) could be exempt from the electric-car requirement. At least for the time being 😉
The last point I’m going to touch upon is… where is the zone going to be?
Well… A good start, I think, could be to take offset in the current environmental zone of Copenhagen:
Perhaps some would argue that the active harbour areas should be excluded from the car free zone in order for it to function properly. Perhaps. Like so many other points in this dream… there are lots of issues that need to be worked out and I don’t have many answers.
But I can always dream, can’t I?
As I am writing this, I am sitting in a bus from Madrid to Torvizcón venturing out to new adventures. The trip started yesterday evening with my plane being an hour delayed and before that: My last working day at 3Shape.
Wait, what? You quit your job at 3Shape?
Yes. And am in the process of selling my apartment in Copenhagen as well.
It has been a process for some months now to get this started, and already I have had a number of Wows, Amazing, Wish it was me, and I admire your courage.
My journey to where I am right now actually begun some time back. I mean; the actual decision to quit my job was done late April, start May, but before that I had been contemplating a bit on my life, trying to figure out if I was where I wanted to be. And before that, of course, was my trip to South America which may be seen as the place where I got time to think those thoughts, or just a different reaction to the same desire (already there before the South American trip) – depending on how you view it. So where do you draw the actual line in the sand? I don’t know.
But as I said; it has been a work in progress for some time. Coming back from South America I had a number of dreams and projects that I would like to find time to do in my day to day life. I definitely wanted to do more acroyoga and also teach it – to share the joy that it has brought me. I also wanted to teach climbing again, and planned a fall training course that unfortunately did not fan out. Getting more and more pressed on time (and sleep) with all the things I wanted to do, I also realized that I had not moved out of Copenhagen as I had promised myself (multiple times).
Realizing all this, it became clear to me that if I did not move now, then I might never move, and that was a scary thought. So when people compliment me on the courage to break up, to me it is more a kind of lack of courage to stay1.
So my plans right now are quite slim. I am participating in the Partner Acrobatics Teacher Training here in Spain (hence the bus trip) and after that I am returning to Copenhagen to complete the sale of my apartment. From there on, I have no plans. I do have some vague ideas and hopes for opportunities to arise, perhaps travel a bit, and other “usual” stuff that free birds do. But actual planning…? No.
This, I think, will be the first time in my life where I do not have a plan for my (immediate) future – and that is also an adventure in itself 🙂
When I left you last, I had to some extend come to and end of my travels — at least in the sense that there was nothing left that I had to see or do. And hence, the rest of the trip has been more relaxed and nothing “big” has really happened. But looking through my photos, something has happened anyway 😮
The trip from Cuzco down to Chile was beautiful. Colca Canyon and Arequipa was beautiful. Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa was sooo nice. I loved walking around in there… People say it is a city within a city — and it really is! Lovely garden and so peaceful 🙂
In Chile, I spend 2 weeks in Iquique. I tried to take para-gliding lessons, but I only had one lesson and then the weather changed. So I spend my time relaxing, slacklining on the beach, and working on an old hobby project of mine: Up Next DJ. I guess an open question here would be why would you use your time in South America working on your computer? Well… I guess that was kind of the plan from the beginning. It has been a project that I have wanted to work on for a couple of years — but never found the time. Now, with 6 months out of the calendar, I thought I might find time.
Anyway… Lots of pit stops down along the coastline of Chile: I visited Kat in Antofagasta again. La Serena, Vicuña, and Pisco Elqui was really beautiful as well. I really enjoyed coming out of the desert. It may have it’s beautiful moments, the desert, but I am not so marveled by it as (some) other travelers seem to be. I like the green part more 😉
I had 2½ weeks in Santiago and Viña del Mar / Valparaíso1 catching up with the acroyoga community and selling my bike. I loved Valparaíso; relaxed atmosphere, cozy cafés, beautiful street art — a very colorful city.
And now, I am sitting in the airplane somewhere over Argentina contemplating on my journey. I am so happy that I took the time of to live out this adventure! Would I do it again? Yes and no. Right now I feel that I have lived out my desire for traveling solo. On a motorbike. It is just hard to pack up your things every day, or every 2 or 3 days, and move on to the next place. I do like my alone time, but I also like to be able to share experiences with people. You know, a travel buddy with whom you can connect and remember small funny things from your adventure.
And it is difficult really to connect with people when you are on the go. You may find a “long lost friend” and establish strong bonds in a day or two, yes, but most often I think it is something that is build up over time — over shared experiences and beautiful moments. And when you are on the go, it just is difficult to find this time and to commit to this when you think Oh, I will be leaving tomorrow. Or the day after. Also, doesn’t help if you are a bit introvert and a bit picky with whom you spend your time… 😉
And also… The language. I knew almost nothing of Spanish when I embarked, and now…? Well… a bit more, but still not enough to have an interesting (and fluent!) conversation. Was it a problem? Hm… no… I survived! 🙂 Did I miss out? Yes! There were several occasions were I wished I knew more Spanish. On the other hand, I did find it difficult to motivate myself to sit down (in a school) and learn it. Traveling alone, and in hostels, Spanish was not really needed, and there was just so many other interesting options for me to do 🙂
Hm… what else? I am both looking forward to come home, but also sad. There are many people that I wished I had more time to connect to. So many where I want to say “See you again” instead of Goodbye. But I also miss my family and friends in Copenhagen. Lots of fun stuff going on in Denmark as well! And who knows… perhaps some new adventure will pop up 😉
Until then… Take care 🙂
Oh… oh… oh… I almost forgot! During my travels I found time to read the book Thinking — Fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman. An absolute recommendable book to read. Read my review of it and see if it inspires you 😉
So, a couple of years back I was having a great summer in Copenhagen with lots of good parties and good friends. To make the parties really really great, the organizers of the parties also thought Hey, let’s have a DJ! One that will keep the party filled with good music and prevent (drunk) skipping of songs 🙂, and so they hired / invited local DJs in the community to come and play. Great, right?
Well… for me not so great. I did not like the music that much, and my impression from talking with other (potential dancing partner) friends I was not the only one. So I remember walking home, disappointed, from one particular party with two main questions on my mind:
Result — at least as I saw it — a great party with great friends, but with music too crappy to dance to, and too loud to have good conversations. And hence, the idea of Up Next DJ was born 🙂
I actually made a prototype of Up Next DJ back then — at that time I called it Virtual DJ — but I did not have the time to develop it further and it stayed dormant a few years. Now, while traveling in South America, I took my time to develop it a bit further. The plan (at least initially) is to get it to be a semi-mature service that people is able to use. Where it goes from there, I do not know 🙂
If you would like to know more, or just be kept updated, please visit Up Next DJ or write me a mail at contact – at – upnext – dot – dj.
Note: At the time of writing this, the current state of the project is still in development. If you want to become a beta tester (when time comes) or if you want to join the project (really appreciated skills would be Android or iOS app development, web UI design, graphics design) please also write to the above mentioned address.
And now to something completely different…
Have you ever wondered why you make the choices in life you do — e.g. not learning from bad experiences?
Or why it is difficult for people to make good decisions about future — say, not saving up for retirement?
Or why people seem to make contradictory choices — e.g. valuing same things different in different contexts?
If so, then this book may be something for you…
Lying on my desk for almost a year, I finally found time to read it while traveling. And I loved it. Daniel Kahneman takes us through 30+ years of research that he and Amos Tversky have made since the 70s. It is a story about the two systems (the fast and the slow) in our brains, how they interact, and the mistakes they give rise to. It is engaging, surprising, and I had so many eureka-moments reding it… I have made so many notes and references to things I want to remember. Just to showcase a little bit of what it holds, here are some subjects that it handles. See also the TED-talk by Kahneman below for an introduction to his two selves — the experiencing self, and the remembering self — and what impact it (should) have on our choices for the future.
Before presenting a few topics from the book, I have to introduce to you System 1 and System 2. To make it very brief here, one could characterize the two systems as
The details of these two systems are, of course, much much more complex — these are just to give you a brief sense of what we are talking about.
Not to be confused with WYSIWYG, the What You See Is All There Is is a concept that Kahneman introduces early on in the book and uses in so many contexts that it deserves its own acronym: WYSIATI. It basically means that when you evaluate a story, a set of facts, or impressions of people, etc., you only evaluate what is presented to you, and you often fail to counter in other facts that are not readily available to your System 1. Your System 2 fails to stop up and ask what is missing from the story. An example from the book1:
The measure of success for System 1 is the coherence of the story it manages to create. The amount and quality of the data on which the story is based are largely irrelevant. When information is scarce, which is a common occurrence, System 1 operates as a machine for jumping to conclusions. Consider the following: “Will Mindik be a good leader? She is intelligent and strong …”. An answer quickly came to your mind, and it was yes. You picked the best answer based on the very limited information available, but you jumped the gun. What if the next two adjectives were corrupt and cruel?
Take note of what you did not do as you briefly thought of Mindik as a leader: You did not start by asking, “What would I need to know before I formed an opinion about the quality of someones leadership?”
In short, after hearing the two first adjectives, System 1 immediately jumped to the conclusion that Mindik is a good leader, and even-though the two next adjectives may be negative, there will remain a bias favoring the first impression.
One of the features of System 1 is overconfidence. Kahneman argues that it can be tamed but not vanquished, and that it arises from the fact that the validity of a story is based on it’s coherence — not by the quality or amount of data. WYSIATI. He draws out the premortem procedure, actually contributed by Gary Klein2:
The procedure is simple: when the organization has almost come to an important decision but has not formally committed itself, Klein proposes gathering for a brief session a group of individuals who are knowledgeable about the decision. The premise of the session is a short speech: “Imagine that we are a year into the future. We implemented the plan as it now exists. The outcome was a disaster. Please take 5 to 10 minutes to write a brief history of that disaster.”
I immediately found myself thinking of several scenarios where this exercise might have come in handy 😮
Anchors are quite impressive as well — and can be (and most likely is) used in the advertisement industry. It is therefore a critical subject to know about in your daily life. I think I will just bring a small excerpt from the book, kicking off the subject3:
Amos and I once rigged a wheel of fortune. It was marked from 0 to 100, but we had it built so that it would stop only at 10 or 65. We recruited students of the University of Oregon as participants in our experiment. One of us would stand in front of a small group, spin the wheel, and ask them to write down the number on which the wheel stopped, which of course was either 10 or 65. We then asked them two questions:
Is the percentage of African nations among UN members larger or smaller than the number you just wrote?
What is your best guess of the percentage of African nations in the UN?
The spin of a wheel of fortune — even one that is not rigged — cannot possible yield useful information about anything, and the participants in our experiment should simply have ignored it. But they did not ignore it. The average estimates of those who saw 10 and 65 were 25% and 45%, respectively.
What is in effect here is the anchoring effect and seen from a logical standpoint it should not exist. Yet, it is one of the most reliable and robust effects documented in experimental psychology. An effect that you should be aware of, and (to some extend) can counter.
Other subjects in the book are
While reading it, I also came to think of a life lesson from my dad. I was in my teenage years and had just starting teaching badminton to kids younger than me. I remember, while preparing my teaching, my dad gave me this advice (recalled loosely from memory):
It does not matter how awful or uninspiring you session has been. Just make sure that the ending is good and fun, and your students will return.
While I (and probably not my dad himself) never thought it to be 100% true, it does hold a lot of truth in it, and it coincides with what Kahneman calls the duration neglect of memories. In short, you do not remember episodes by how long they are, but what the peak pleasure (or pain) was, combined with the end pleasure (or pain) of the event. He talks more about this and the notion of the two selves (the experiencing and remembering selves) here in his TED talk:
If I have to say one negative thing about the book, it is that I found the later chapters in the book less founded and less intuitive correct than the rest of the book. In contrast to the rest of the book where I found myself either immediately convinced by his statements, or later, convinced by the following descriptions of his research, the later chapters presented points that I could not quite convince myself of was true. But perhaps I was just tired while reading those chapters, and I will definitely try to read the book again — if for nothing else, then just to absorb his good knowledge even more.
A final note is a reference to something I in my mind dubbed Death by Pleasure:4
Other classic studies showed that electrical stimulation of specific areas in the rat brain (and of corresponding areas in the human brain) produce a sensation of intense pleasure, so intense in some cases that rats who can stimulate their brain by pressing a lever will die of starvation without taking a break to feed themselves.
Has anybody else read the book Infinite Jest? If so, they know what reference I am making here…
Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu had been one of the few must-do things I had on my todo list when leaving Denmark – and now, here in July, I got to visit both 🙂
Lake Titicaca… what to say…? On one hand great to finally be at the famous lake – on the other hand… it is just another lake. I think I had envisioned a much lush green environment than it actually was. Something with forests and flowery bushes – a bit junglely – down to the shore of the lake, while instead it was this stony mountain landscape with yellow-brownish grass all over – not many green green colours to see :-/ But ok – it is also in 3850m height and it is winter down here.
Anyway… it was a great experience none the less. The community out there1 is real rural Peruvian culture. Not many tourists come there (yet) and so the landscape you drive through feels really authentic. I had sought out a hostel run by Felix Turpo with good recommendations, but first challenge was to get there, though… Felix’s hostal is located 100m away from the main (dirt/gravel) road – 100m down a steep hill side with only a pedestrian’s pathway to drive on. At the bottom you turn a 90 degree corner, and drive along the edge of a cliff. I have been talking about driving along exposed roads before, but this, I think, is a worthy contender for the exposed-road prize:
There is actually not much to do out there, so Felix offered to arrange a trip to the floating islands. I had vaguely heard about them, but really… I had no clue of what they were, so I said yes, and before I knew of it (the next day, actually) I was on my way to one of the smaller islands, named Uros Titino.
Arriving to the island made some alarm bells ring, though. I was greeted by the President which sat me down to explain me how the island was made out of rush; it took a year or so to build their island and it will last… was it 15 years? Anyway… it immediately became clear to me that I had walked into a (smaller) tourist trap – just the kind of thing that gives me red goose bumps. They live of inviting tourists to their island (a small donation of 10 soles is appreciated) and selling them artesanal stuff (souvenirs). But I did get a trip in their boat of rush and it was a nice relaxing trip out there. So ok… not so bad 🙂
Machu Picchu… Before we actually go to the Machu Picchu section, we will take a small de-tour to Llactapata. In an attempt to avoid the big tourist crowds, I had searched a bit on the internet to find alternatives for Machu Picchu – and up pops Llactapata.
Llactapata is (yet) another site with Inca ruins and is located up another mountain ridge about 5km west of Machu Picchu. It has yet to be fully adopted by the Peruvian government as an important Inca site, but people are working on it. The uptake is slow, however, and there was not much information on the net about Llactapata. So I packed my camping gear and trudged up the hill in hope of a great solo experience – and perhaps a great sunrise picture over Machu Picchu 🙂
Reality of the Llactapata experience… not a solo experience 🙁 Apparently the trail I was hiking up the mountain on, was one of the old Inca trails that tours guide tourists down (towards Agues Calientes2) at the end of a 4 day trek. I met several groups going the opposite direction of me and about 15 minutes before the actual Inca ruins is little hostal/restaurant/camping site. I had actually seen it on one of the on-line maps – but did not dare to trust the information. Who would put up a lodge there? And there was also a little shop marked on the map – which also turned out to be true. Although, all they seemed to have was bananas, mandarins, and bottled water.
Anyway… my plan was to walk on up to the ruins and camp there – alone. Unfortunately, when I got there, there was a sign with camping prohibited (of course) and instructions to go to the camp site. Damn. So me back to the camp site to join the 7-tourists group camping there already. But… the view was great. Open landscape over to Machu Picchu – and with that a little thematic follow-up… We have had breakfast with a view. We have had lunch with a view. Here it is… Evening dinner with a view:
Unfortunately Machu Picchu is completely surrounded by higher mountains all around. Hence, the sunrise picture went awash… when the sun peeked over the mountains, it had already shed its colours 🙁
So… Machu Picchu. You can either pay 12 USD to take the bus up from Agues Calientes3 or take the stairs. I choose the latter option:
About Machu Picchu itself… It was great. If you look at just a single building… then not so big a deal. But the city as a whole… that is an amazing piece of work and art. And of course, the most sacred buildings do really have amazing stone craftsman ship. Big big boulders, cut and polished into a perfect a fit, and then mounted on top of each other in roughly 2500m altitude. Amazing!
The area is actually an earth quake zone – and Machu Picchu is (of course) build to endure that. The Incas did not use mortar. The stones are just placed on top of each other, tilting slightly inwards. When an earth quake hits Machu Picchu, it is said that the stones dances on top of each other, and then just fall back into their intended positions. Simply amazing!
Cusco… At first I loved it really much. As a tourist, you of course only walks around the old city part. It is amazing! The old city part is protected such that the owner of a building must maintain the outer appearance of the building in the old style. Hence you can see lots of old buildings (both Inca and Spanish) that is kept in really good condition. Western companies such as Star-bucks and KFC are of course present, but they are not allowed to put up big neon signs. Instead they are limited to a neat little logo that fit into the environment. Me gusta 🙂
On the funny side… Nobody seem to take notice of the traffic lights. This is no news for me as I experienced this in La Paz6 as well, where everybody just seemed to drive where-ever they could. What is news is that the (local) authorities seems to have acknowledged this problem. But… instead of educating the public and/or handing out fines to traffic light violators, their solution is to station one or two traffic wardens (women) in the light crossing. Not to keep order per se, but to look at the traffic light, and indicating go go go to the direction with green while blowing their whistles. Pretty silly.
And while speaking of whistles… here comes the not so fun part of Cusco. Tourist police (to keep tourists safe) walking around near the square, doing nothing but blowing their whistles from time to time. Apparently this is to create awareness of their presence (yes, I can see you clearly in your neon green west, thank you). Cars honking all the time to get attention because they also function as a taxi (but with no sign). Locals trying to get your attention to sell you sun glasses, polish your shoes, “free” massages, and souvenirs. There is never a second of peace and quiet in the city, and after 3 days with this, I felt that I had seen what I needed to see of Cusco.
Arequipa – I think. With my visit to Machu Picchu, I have reached my second big goal I had with this trip (Patagonia being the first) and I will now slowly drive southwards to be in Chile in August.
Thank you for reading… take care.