I have successfully completed “Introduction to Sustainability”!

After 8 weeks of learning and doing quizzes, I have successfully completed “Introduction to Sustainability”. I have also earned a badge!

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Hello Chow,

Congratulations on earning the Quiz Acheivement Badge for your efforts in the Introduction to Sustainability course offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign! Your average quiz score of 70% or higher on the quizzes in this course qualified you for this badge. Thank you for your active participation in this course. I wish you the best!

Jonathan Tomkin

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Intro to sustainability

Google stops Free Google Apps service

With Google’s decision to stop the free version of Google Apps service what is there still free for a person, NGO or a small business to get free hosting and those easy to use Google Apps?

Since the removal of the free Microsoft Small Business webapps, the only choice left for free web hosting and web apps to host business sites that is relatively easy to use has been Google Apps Free Edition. Now that even this is gone. It will cost at least US$50 per year to have one user for a small business to start with Google Apps. So where are the alternatives?

I think people will have to start looking at buying cheap webhosting from now on. Luckily for those who have already registered for Google Apps will not be affected (for now).

Introduction to Sustainability Starts Next Monday (27 Aug 2012)

Front page of Intro to Sustainability

Anyone wishing to learn more about sustainability and sustainable lifestyle is encouraged to sign up for this free course from University of illinois Urbana-Champaign by Professor Jonathan Tomkin.

This 10-weeks course will introduce key concepts and aspects of sustainability to learner. If you complete all the assignments and the final assessment, there is a certificate of completion for you!

I have signed up and although I have some background in this area, it is good to keep learning!

I have good experience with Coursera which have a lot of good and free online learning courses.

Be prepared to allocate at least 5 hours per week to view/listen to the lectures and do the assignment.

Happy Learning!

Update: 15Sep2012

I have been studying this course for the past 3 years and enjoying every bit of it. Prof Jonathan Tomkin has a way to explain complicated concepts and theory and back these up with good but simple illustrations.

The quizzes are not easy and need the students to have read the readings assigned and be very attentive watching the lectures. It would have helped if we know the answers to the assignment questions!

I did not take on the project (optional) as I am a little pushed for time.

One grouse I have: there are too many categories of attainment for learners.

Aside from this, the learning is very enjoyable.

Maximize Your Free Cloud Storage & Manage it “All-in-one” fashion via Otixo

Many of us, especially yours truly, have experienced the anguish of having a PC hard-disk crashing or Pendrive missing and thus losing lots and lots of data. With the coming of cloud computing a few years back, things have improved where one can store important files online as backup. But the use of cloud computing really come to solving the problem of backing up data when various providers provided sync option where folders (or even entire drive) can be automatically sync with your cloud storage.

When it comes to cloud storage, most of us will think of Dropbox. It has by far the best sync apps that cut through all platforms. As a Linux user, I appreciate this very much as most other providers do not bother to cater to the Linux crowd like me. However there is one main flaw regarding Dropbox….its free version does not provide much storage (although this has somewhat changed a little where you can easily get up to 4 –  5 Gb on a free account without doing too much).

Other cloud storage providers, notably Skydrive, Sugarsync and Box are a lot more generous, especially Box. If you can still get Box’s  free 25 Gb personal account (still available at the time of writing of this article) please go and grab it before it is changed!

I, for instance started up my cloud computing with Humyo (which is now taken over by Trendmicro and no longer free), Skydrive, Google Doc (I have a very low cost paid version of US$5 for 20 Gb before the days of Google Drive). But there are always these 2 lingering issues:  (1) How do I maximize my free cloud storage?  (2) How do I link various accounts and apps from different providers?

Issues (1) and (2) are in fact linked. To maximize your free cloud storage you will need to have a way of not only signing on to all your cloud storage accounts and services from different providers from one site, you will indeed need to move stuff freely from one account to the next and across different providers.

Most of the free cloud storage providers do offer some features for you to collaborate and share files with your co-workers, friends and family with different degree of success and user-friendliness. But there again, what happens if you have a project to run that involves a team of guys/gals but none of you use the same cloud storage. How are you going to work efficiently?

Not long ago, I was introduced to Otixo (via Lifehacker) and have been testing this service out extensively for the past few months. As far as I am concern, Otixo rocks!

With Otixo, now I can:

1. Link all my different Skydrive accounts (yeah, I have several hotmail accounts for different purposes) and I was fortunate enough to still get the 25Gb storage per account!

2. Link all my Box accounts (some are for private use and some for work)

3. Link all my various Google Docs accounts…this goes beyond Google Docs and hit Picasa as well!

4. Link my Sugarsync account with the above (but sadly only one account can be signed in via Otixo at one time!)

5. Integrate all my cloud storage into one! To copy files or move files across different accounts of the same providers and more importantly, across different providers!

6. I can now create a Workspace under Otixo and share files I want to (and from different accounts and also from different cloud storage providers) with friends or co-workers etc. This perhaps, after the integration of (5) above, present the 2nd most useful and success factor for Otixo.

You can sign up for Otixo using my link (hint! hint!)….Otixo gives me more bandwidth if you sign up via this! Thanks.

My Wishlist for Otixo is not huge:

1. Solve the issue of only one-account-at-a-time with Sugarsync which presents a good desktop sync (but only for Windows…..wish it can do something for Linux too).

2. Allow a little more bandwidth (or at least show users their bandwidth usage more prominently). So far I have not breech the limit of 2Gb per month limit but I should be breeching this very easily soon once I go full scale on Otixo.

3. Add more cloud storage providers into the supported list.

4. Have a cross platform desktop version that allows sync of files (to cater for sync of folders/drive for storage providers that do not provide us with a desktop interface…especially those people using Linux like me!)

Home Composting: Sharing of experience on the most basic method

Fruit peelings before being buried in a hole dug in the garden that is 15 cm deep & 10 cm in diameter. The composting process should be fully completed in about 2 weeks.

A recent report on composting of food waste by a team from University Malaya provides a lot of insights into the technical and non-technical

issues relating to composting food related waste to reduce the volume of landfill. While this is a great effort, it does entail the investment of lots of time and work.

For those of us who just want to do this in a very low-cost and low effort way, is there anything out there? In fact a lot can be found about home composting.

All one has to do is to Google “home composting” you will see a long list of relevant information. Most however, involves a little more elaborate methodologies that

may not be so easily done in many urban settings. What we want to do in this article is to share our own experience on one of the most basic methods of these.

What do we need?

  1. Fruit peeling such as your apples, oranges, lemon and lime (any citrus will be great), banana peel. Do NOT include vegetable, meat, bones etc. In short just fruit peelings of all kinds.
  2. Used tea bags, tea leaves, coffee powder of all kinds.
  3. A water proof container (old plastic bin or if your waste is “small” volume, old ice-cream tubs will do) to hold these waste.
  4. Small holes dug in the garden, near to your trees or shrubs to be filled with the waste. 20 cm deep, diameter (round holes are best) of 15 cm or so. If you stay in an apartment or do not have access to a “landed” garden, you can use a standard flow pot (but plug the holes at the base with dry leaves or best, a cut out cardboard to hold the materials), but make sure you have the saucer at the base of the pot to collect any run off.
  5. Simple gardening tool such as a small spade and mini-shovel.
What we need to do?

1.  Sorting out the waste – You will need to be selective of what you want.

A plastic collection bin (32cm ht * 20 cm diameter) with a biodegradable plastic liner is good to collect fruit peeling waste for a family of four for at least 7 days. The swivel lid makes it easy to place waste into the bin and shut tight enough to keep well.

  • All fruit peels (banana peel, citrus fruits peel, apple, watermelon etc.) are great.
  • Used tea bags, tea leaves, coffee beans, coffee bags adds to the diversity.
  • A little of your garden waste such as dried leaves, cut leaves etc.
  • DO NOT include –  meat, bones, dairy products …these will attract vermin & pets
  • DO NOT include – vegetable waste ….this will easily “foul” up the mixture
2. Keep your waste well covered.
We used ice cream tubs with lids for a while and “graduated” to a dedicated plastic bin now. We line the bind with biodegradable plastic bag to keep the liquid from the waste. The plastic bin has a swivel lid that makes it easy to dump the waste and still keep a cover over the waste.
3. Keep collecting waste and keep these for about 1 week.
This will give time for some partial fermentation to occur, especially if you have very sugary stuff like dragon fruit peels in your waste. But even freshly peeled stuff are good to be used if you need to go on the next step which has 2 options, one for those with a garden where holes can be dug and the other for those not able to dig anything or are living in apartments.
4a. Put your waste in the ground.
Dig a hole about 20 cm deep (8″) and about 15 cm in diameter (6″). Keep as much of the top soil as possible for later use. The hole dug should be relatively dry. For ground option, we are trying to make as much use of worms and other flora & fauna to help and speed up the waste conversation. Put in your waste from the container. Use the gardening spade and fork to break as much of the larger pieces and mesh them together. You can fill the hole up to about 80% full and cover the rest with the top soil you have dug up. If you have ready-made compost, add some with the top soil. You will want to make use of whatever microbes that these compost has to help to work on your waste. The filled hole should also be covered using one of your flower pots placed on top of it. This should stop some of the rain water from directly soaking the hole and also allow you to stop pets and vermin getting into the content of the hole. You just have to leave this hole alone for about 2  – 3 weeks. Most of the content, barring a small portion at the bottom of the hole should be fully decomposed into compost and if your garden soil is good, there should be signs of some earthworms moving around. The compost is ready to be used. Take out all the compost from the ground and put in the next lot of waste. Re-use your own compost from the top / middle  part of the hole to cover the hole. The process should repeat for you.
4b. Put your waste in a flower pot.

This flower pot has its basal holes blocked by dried leaves and a small layer of compost (either ready-made or from previous curing session) placed as the bottom layer. Fruit peels etc are filled in till about 80% of the pot. The top layer (2-3 cm was covered with soil or ready-made compost.

Use a clay flower pot if possible for this job. You will need to plug the holes (usually 3 of these) at the bottom of the pot. Use dried leaves or shreded paper / newspaper. Fill

This assembly has proven to be good. This was left in the open and hence at occasions when the plastic cover or the upper-inverted pot was mis-aligned, water managed to seep through and resulted in soggy compost and foul smell. Thus keep the assembly “waterproof” is essential!

about 2 cm deep of the bottom layer of the pot with your ready-made compost. Pre-chopped the waste to a mesh and carefully layer this into the flower pot. You can use up to 80% of the volume of the pot for the waste. Cover the top layer with ready-made compost. Cover the top of the pot well. You may make use of another flower pot of the same size (inverted, off course) but if possible, use a thick piece of plastic to cover the top of the flower pot with waste as well. Put the entire assembly on a flower pot saucer of suitable size. This saucer is important to catch liquid seeping through the base of the pot. Store this assembly (if possible) away from direct exposure to rain. As you may not have earthworm and other microorganisms as readily found in the ground version, it may take a little longer for the compost to be ready. 3 – 4 weeks is the normal time required. For people without access to a garden or are not able to dig holes in one, this is the option. But we have been having mixed success with this and all because we were not able to cover our pots well in a few instances.

Ready compost can be directly apply to plants in flower pots

 

Our simple / most basic method of treating fruit peels and other food waste will not fully stop us from sending organic / biological waste to the landfill. To do that we will need to use the more complicated methods highlighted above (if you want to know more about these more holistic methods please read the references below). However anything we do to reduce the volume of landfill for rubbish is a good thing. The bonus for doing this are:

  • You will get at least some regular exercise treating and sorting out the waste
  • Your plants and garden (if you have one) will look a lot better. Fertilisers from organic sources such as freshly decomposed compost are released over a longer period and in small doses that plants are able to absorb more readily. Our garden looks a lot “healthier” especially the trees, grass and even flower pots close to the 2 composting holes that we have prepared.
  • You will reduced the need of artificial fertilisers by at least 80%. You still may need to put in some artificial fertilisers especially if you have plants ready to flower / fruit. But by reducing this need to only 20% of inputs, you are helping the environment by reducing leaching of nutrients from the soil which artificial fertilisers are prone to do.
Try it! You will surely like to have this little routine once you see the benefits!

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References

1. http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2012/8/21/lifefocus/11050578&sec=lifefocus

2. http://thestar.com.my/metro/story.asp?file=/2011/12/8/north/10053820&sec=north

3. http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2011/5/3/lifefocus/8556755&sec=lifefocus

4. http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2011/5/3/lifefocus/8556753&sec=lifefocus

5. http://thestar.com.my/metro/story.asp?file=/2012/6/7/north/11431290&sec=north

6. http://starstorage.blob.core.windows.net/archives/2010/1/5/lifefocus/home_composting.pdf

7. http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?sec=nation&file=/2011/6/10/nation/8876846

Get 25Gb Cloud Storage Free from Box! (Limited Offer)

A couple of weeks ago, I learnt of Box.com’s special offer to new registered users via a special offer in collaboration with Hellosign.

All you have to do is to sign up using the link provided and instead of the usual 5 Gb storage, you will be given 25 Gb!

This is much more generous than Dropbox. With the PC & Mac version of Box Desktop Sync apps being available for personal use, this looks

like a good bet to compete with Dropbox. User-friendly wise, Box is still a long way away to pose any threat to Dropbox. But seasoned users

like yours truly can live with that and welcome the 25 Gb storage!

https://www.box.com/signup/o/hellosign_25

In the next post, I will share with readers a very neat way to maximize all your free Cloud storage.

Great Learning Opportunity: Coursera’s Introduction to Sustainability

I have enrolled in this free online course: Introduction to Sustainability by Dr. Jonathan Tomkin who is the Associate Director of the School of Earth, Society and Environment and a research Associate Professor in the department of Geology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Based on my current experience with Coursera, where I am working on the course Introduction to Finance by Professor Gautum Kaul, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan (yes, another free online course), this will be a great course for those who wants to learn about sustainability. The added bonus is, if you are keen to complete all the assignments, there will be a certificate of completion!

I heard from online forum that some universities and colleges are even giving credits to those who are awarded these certificates of completion! So it does give you a great incentive to learn.

This course starts on 27 August 2012….you have not much time to decide!

https://www.coursera.org/course/sustain

I will post comments on this course via this post.

Maximizing the potential of Google Apps: Google Calendar


This posting from Lifehacker gives perhaps one of the best explanation on how we can best maximize the use of Google Calendar in a multitude of ways.

Perhaps one thing missing from here is that:

1. You can attached files on your Google Docs / Drive folder associated with each event.

2. You can make use of the “Description” section as your note taking tool to put in relevant information about the particular event.

The fact that the key information is available across any platform where Google Apps can be used is a great plus to use Google Calendar.

Google Drive is finally in Malaysia…4 times more expensive than old plan!

Email from Google on activation of G-driveGoogle Drive is finally here in Malaysia! I received an email inviting me to try Google Drive today. But unlike other Google’s products which had a very exciting and much anticipated debut, Google Drive’s launch is not good news to consumers.

But those like me with the old Google storage plan of US$5 for 20 Gb / year (or US$0.25/Gb/year) will be short-chained if we “upgrade” our plan to G-Drive’s US$29.88 for 25Gb/year (or US$1.00/Gb/year). I’ve spent US$1 to update my credit card record at Google Wallet so that I can keep the old storage plan alive for as long as possible (Google pledged they’ll honour this indefinitely). This is not good news for consumers…new, innovative services are supposed to let consumers do things more efficiently & effectively at lower and lower cost per task.

Just when I thought that I have a very economical cloud storage system and was looking forward to better things from Google…..this 4 fold increase in pricing came and hit us!

I urge Google to reconsider the pricing strategy. If they want to have a slice or create a bigger cake with Google Drive, they will need to entice more users. Having your loyal users in the old plan spooked will not win you more new customers. In fact, I will seriously be looking at Sky Drive again as a possible alternative. But I’m hooked on Google Documents which is tied to Google Drive and my options may be limited….Google, you’ve got me there! I may have to find ways to “unhook” myself!

If you want to know more about Google Drive (especially the pricing structure) you can visit Google’s own site or a well written piece of work in Android Police .

Getting Puppy Linux to work in a Pendrive


After using Puppy Linux on my 2004 edition of Dell PC for last few months, I have learned a few small tricks here and there. I now know how to get .sfs files loaded and used and hence has LibreOffice working. I have also found out how, using Puppy Package Manager to install more software.

The downside is, the more you install, the more you have to increase the personal file size, which I had to do a few times and to delete or move some downloaded files to other harddisk partitions.

Then it struck me that I have not learned how to upgrade my harddisk installed Puppy Linux (and the solutions provided from a website looked too scary to try!). The next option: to make Puppy Linux boot from a Pendrive and I read that it is easier to upgrade. So what start as a thought became my “weekend project” on 21 April 2012.

This article provide an account of what I had to do to get Puppy Linux LuPu 5.2.8 Ubuntu-Compatible) into a 4Gb Pendrive. This is purely my experience and may not be the most effective or correct way of doing things but it worked for me and I am sharing this. If you observe the image above, you would know that the current version of Puppy Linux is Slacko 5.3.1. But in my case, since I am very familiar with Ubuntu which has tons of software (most can be made to work in Puppy), it is in fact a no brainer choice to get LuPu 5.2.8.

So how did I go about it in the first place?

Of course checking the internet for Puppy centric sites are a must and the most effective and easy to understand site is Puppylinux.org, which is where I obtained most of my instructions on how to work on this project. You will preferably need to have 2 Pendrives, one could be and old one with at least 250 mb space left (“Pendrive 1”), the other will be reformatted and preferable a new one (“Pendrive 2”).

Step 1:

Get an iso (image of all the required software as packed in a CD-ROM) from the correct site. The latest version for me was in fact Lucid Puppy (Ubuntu-Compatible Build). Copy the ISO file into Pendrive 1.

Step 2:

You will need to have software that can read / extract and burn the CD image to a CD-ROM. I used Basero Disk Burner that came with my Ubuntu OS in my laptop to do this. If you have already had an older version of Puppy, it has Burniso2cd which does the same job.


Step 3:

Reboot your PC / laptop but with one of your fingers covering the F12 function key. Hit F12 as soon as the screen showing it is rebooting. You will be faced with a screen with choices of boot sequence. Use the down arrow to select CD-ROM (assuming you have done Step 2 correctly & had kept the CD-ROM inside). Be patient…Puppy will load in about 2 minutes. If your PC’s configuration is not too complicated, you will hear a bark from Puppy when it is fully loaded. Bear in mind that Puppy is operating from RAM (that is directly from your PC’s memory where it is loaded), the speed of its operation after loading is very high!

Step 4:

You need to prepare your Pendrive 2 to be a “bootable” flash drive. So go to Menu (bottom left of screen), select Setup–> BootFlash install Puppy to USB.

BootFlash will open a window. Select USB-HDD and follow the rest of the instructions. Do not plug in Pendrive 2 till you are instructed to do so by BootFlash. Once you have plugged in Pendrive 2, it will be recognised by BootFlash, do not click on the icon such as “sdb1” on the main PC screen as this will mount it and pause the formatting process.  BootFlash will format Pendrive 2….so make sure you have all important stuff in it copied to somewhere else! Best of all, do like me, buy a new Pendrive to play with!


Step 5:

BootFlash will then ask you if you want to install Puppy. Select “Install Puppy” and you are on the last step of this process. But there is a problem. You are asked to locate the iso file with Puppy that you have downloaded and the selection from BootFlash is not too intuitive. Insert Pendrive 1 with the ISO file copied in Step 1 into your PC. You will see on your main PC screen that it is registered as something like “sdc1”. Click on “sdc1” to mount it. Then go back to BootFlash’s screen. At the top-middle, you can select which folder to access. Select “/” (that is the root drive), and select the folder “mnt”. When you are in /mnt you will see “sdc1” and click on it. All the files in “sdc1” will be shown on the right panel, including your Puppy ISO. Select this file. BootFlash will copy everything you need to your Pendrive 2. You are done!


Step 6:

Now remove Pendrive 1 and reboot (with Pendrive 2 inserted). Do not forget to hit F12 as soon as the PC screen shows it is rebooting. Select USB-HDD drive and hit enter. You will see Puppy is loading.


It is essential that in the first boot up you pay attention to the instructions on the screen. And always allow time for Puppy to save your personal sfs file etc. at shutdown. If not your installation is wasted.

Why would one wants to use Puppy in a Pendrive? In fact Puppy is written to be operated from a Pendrive or CD-ROM / DVD-ROM. It’s most important feature is that you now can carry a low foot print / low resource system with most of the software you usually use (Libreoffice, Skype, Google Chrome, GIMP, etc.) in a USB-flashdrive that you can insert into any PC and work on it. If my 2004 vintage Dell can be re-invigorated there are many old PC in internet cafe etc. that will be Puppy-friendly! Thus, if you have 2 Pendrives, one to carry Puppy (and associated sfs files etc.) and one to carry your data, you can travel and work without carrying a laptop!

In fact, I would strongly suggest to the Puppy user community to work on a USB-Pendrive version of all releases in the future to make life a lot easier for Puppy users. Imagine if you can just spend less than RM20 to get a Pendrive (4Gb) and just download a zip file and unzip this to the Pendrive…next reboot…zoom…you have your Puppy working!