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Westcott Titanium EDC Scissors

I carry the Westcott Sewing Titanium Bonded Fine Cut Scissors, 2.5” everyday. Given the choice between a knife and a pair of scissors I’ll choose the knife, but these scissors are small and light enough that I feel I can carry both.

Westcott Titanium EDC Scissors

Scissors offer some additional utility compared to a knife. They’re useful for rounding the corners of medical tape to discourage peeling. They can clean up the area around a tear before repair with the expedition sewing awl. They can trim your nails. And they can go places a knife cannot. I’ve flown with these scissors in my carry-on. They are diminutive enough as to not frighten TSA agents.

I’ve tried carrying other scissors in the past. The popular Slip-N-Snip Folding Scissors (and the various knock-offs) are, I think, a piece of junk. They’re too stiff, the scissoring is too rough, and the blades too thick. The Nogent Folding Scissors look great, but are way beyond my price range. The Westcott scissors do not fold, but are still easily carried. Despite the product name, the overall length of the scissors is 3 inches. They weigh 5 grams (0.2 ounces). The blades are 1 inch long, agreeably sharp, pointy and thin. The scissors can disappear into a bag. I keep a small piece of heat shrink tubing over the blades of the scissors to prevent them from poking things. They get stored in my small EDC toiletry pouch.

Westcott Titanium EDC Scissors

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Many reusable bags leave something to be desired when transporting bulk rice.

Bags intended for produce are often made of a mesh too coarse to contain granules of rice. Others have a weak drawstring closure that fails to resist a couple pounds of rice pressing against it when the bag gets tossed around. My solution to this problem is to use roll-top dry bags when I’m buying rice from the bulk bins. I’m partial to Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sacks. At home I store these with my other grocery bags, so that I don’t have to remember to dig them out of my backpacking gear before heading to the market.

Rice Run

The cashiers are always impressed with my bags.

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Import Export Snowmobile

Oblique Strategies

Austin Kleon highlighted a Brian Eno quote on why he stopped touring:

What I really like doing is what I call Import and Export. I like taking ideas from one place and putting them into another place and seeing what happens when you do that. I think you could probably sum up nearly everything I’ve done under that umbrella. Understanding something that’s happening in painting, say, and then seeing how that applies to music. Or understanding something that’s happening in experimental music and seeing what that could be like if you used it as a base for popular music. It’s a research job, a lot of it. You spend a lot of time sitting around, fiddling around with things, quite undramatically, and finally something clicks into place and you think, “Oh, thats really worth doing.”

Which is precisely what Boyd was describing in Destruction and Creation. In his biography, Robert Coram illustrates a specific example:

Boyd’s favorite example in “Destruction and Creation” was a thought experiment that took his audience through his exegesis on the nature of creativity. It went something like this: “Imagine four separate images. Let’s call them domains. Each domain can be easily understood by looking at its parts and at the relation among the parts.”

Boyd’s four domains were a skier on a slope, a speedboat, a bicycle, and a toy tank. Under “skier” were the various parts: chair lifts, skis, people, mountain, and chalets. He asked listeners to imagine these were all linked by a web of relations, a matrix of intersecting lines. Under “speedboat” were the categories of sun, boat, outboard motor, water skier, and water. Again, all were linked by the intersecting lines. Under “bicycle” were chain, seat, sidewalk, handle bars, child, and wheels. Under “toy tank” were turret, boy, tank treads, green paint, toy store, and cannon.

The separate ingredients make sense when collected under the respective headings. But then Boyd shattered the relationship between the parts and their respective domains. He took the ingredients in the web of relationships and asked listeners to visualize them scattered at random. He called breaking the domains apart a “destructive deduction.” (Today some refer to such a jump as “thinking outside the box.” But Boyd believed the very existence of a box is limiting. The box must be destroyed before there can be creation.) The deduction was destructive in that the relationship between the parts and the whole was destroyed. Uncertainty and disorder took the place of meaning and order. Boyd’s name for this hodgepodge of disparate elements was a “sea of anarchy.” Then he challenged the audience: “How do we construct order and meaning out of this mess?”

Now Boyd showed how synthesis was the basis of creativity. He asked, “From some of the ingredients in this sea of anarchy, how do we find common qualities and connecting threads to synthesize a new and altogether different domain?” Few people ever found a new way to put them together. Boyd coaxed and wheedled but eventually helped the audience along by emphasizing handle bars, outboard motor, tank treads, and skis.

These, he said, were the ingredients needed to build what he called a “new reality” – a snowmobile.

Sleeping with Silk

While in Yellowstone earlier this month I ripped my Cocoon Silk Mummy Liner. I had originally purchased this in 2005, in an attempt to eek out a little more warmth from the sleeping bag I had at the time (a Snugpak Special Forces 1 purchased from TAD Gear). The claim was that a silk liner would add around 10 degrees Fahrenheit to the sleeping bag rating. My experience was that it may have contributed 10 degrees to the survivability, but closer to 5 degrees to the comfort. Still, I continued to augment my sleeping bags with that same liner for the subsequent 14 years.

I find the primary benefit of a liner is cleanliness. Sleep systems get dirty – dirt, oil, sunblock, etc. all get transferred from your skin to whatever you’re crawling into. It is much easier to clean all of that out of a liner than the sleeping bag itself. A sleeping bag worth purchasing is an expensive investment, and I think liners can help extend the life of that investment. I’ve also carried my liner by itself when travelling internationally. It functions well when the guest house doesn’t provide sheets, or when their cleanliness is questionable (silk resists bed bugs and dust mites), or for a little warmth during unexpected stealth camps.

A liner may be purchased in a number of different materials, but the characteristics of silk make it the only material that interests me. It is easily packable, thanks to its low weight and ability to be compressed. It is breathable, quick drying, and comfortable against the skin. This last property is particularly important in a liner. I find synthetic materials like polyester and microfiber can be scratchy or grabby, which is unpleasant in bedding – especially in subfreezing temperatures when there is no moisture in the air.

So when the Cocoon liner ripped, I knew I would immediately replace it with another silk liner. I would have been happy with an identical replacement from Cocoon, but I decided to look around and see if there was anything new worth considering. I settled upon the Sea to Summit Premium Silk Travel Mummy Liner.

Sea to Summit makes their liner out of a ripstop silk, unlike my original Cocoon liner (though Cocoon does now offer a ripstop variant). It uses a thin shock cord and cord lock to cinch the hood, where my Cocoon liner offered a simple silk drawstring that was annoying to use (causing me to never cinch down the hood). But what I found most intriguing about the Sea to Summit offering is that it featured stretch Lycra panels down each side of the liner. If you move around at night, liners have a tendency to get somewhat twisted up. The silk itself has little stretch. The combination of these two characteristics is what led my liner to finally rip. The rip occurred along one of the side seams while I was turning in my sleep. I think that the Lycra panels on the Sea to Summit liner will reduce the likelihood of this happening again.

My initial impressions of the Sea to Summit liner have been positive. The silk is comfortable, though not as soft as the Cocoon liner. This may partially be due to the 14 years of wear placed on the Cocoon silk, but I suspect the presence of the ripstop grid on the Sea to Summit silk is a more significant factor. The dimensions of the two are pretty much the same. The Sea to Summit footbox and hood are both a little smaller than the Cocoon, but I don’t think this contributes to any practical difference. I’ve tried sleeping in the Sea to Summit liner and so far the stretch Lycra panels do seem effective at reducing the twisting and binding that I’ve come to expect from my silk liner. I purchased the new liner in the eucalyptus green color, which is acceptable, but I much prefer the greenish brown of the old Cocoon. The Sea to Summit liner weighs 142 grams (5 oz). This is slightly more than the 114 grams (4 oz) of the Cocoon, but close enough for me not to care. These weights are for the liners only. Both liners come with small mesh storage bags, which I never use.

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I eat a lot of salmon.

My go to recipe is from Derek on Cast Iron. The only requirements are fish, olive oil, salt, pepper, and cast iron. Sometimes I substitute butter for the olive oil. If I have bacon grease available I’ll use that instead. The whole procedure takes about 10 minutes.

I consider a good piece of salmon and a sourdough baguette to be a complete meal. If the fish is less good, I’ll peel the skin off, dump it on top of a bowl of Single Shot Rice, mash it all together, and sprinkle furikake on top.

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If you have a Snow Peak Trek Titanium Bowl, consider augmenting it with a lid from Four Dog Stove.

The lid costs about as much as the bowl – maybe more if you acquired the bowl on sale – but it is a well made tool that turns my favorite bowl into an eminently practical pot that is equally useful at home or in the backcountry. Throw in a pot lifter, a cozy and there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.

Snow Peak Bowl and Lid

The bowl has a capacity of about 600 milliliters. My bowl and lid weigh in at a combined 82 grams (2.9 oz).

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Experience at the Bitcoin ATM

Recently I had need of Bitcoin. For a thing.

I decided to use this need as an excuse to try a Bitcoin ATM. I’d noticed them appearing throughout town over the past few years but never had a reason to use one.

The liquor store that I chose had a General Bytes BATMTwo. It was simple to use, but slow. After selecting the button to begin, it sat at a loading screen for a good minute. After loading, it showed me the current exchange rate for BTC (there was no option for a different currency) and asked if I wanted to deposit more or less than $1000 USD. I selected less. It then asked me to input a phone number where it could send an SMS. After giving it my number I waited around for about another minute until it sent me a message with a 5 digit number. I entered that number into the ATM, after which it allowed me to proceed.

It next prompted me to scan a QR code for an existing destination wallet, or to hit another button if I did not yet have a wallet created. I didn’t see any option to manually enter an address. I assumed it would want a QR code, so before I embarked on this journey of discovery I had generated a new wallet on my computer, saved its address as both a QR code and as plain text, and copied those files to my phone. Getting it scan the QR code from my phone screen took a few seconds of finagling, but this is typical of reading any barcode from a phone in my experience. After it read the code it took me to the next screen and prompted me to insert bills. This screen also showed the destination address, how much fiat currency I had deposited, and what the amount of Bitcoin received would be. I opened the text file on my phone where I had saved the wallet address and verified that this matched what it had decoded from the QR code.

I wanted to deposit multiple bills, but it did not indicate if I should feed all of them in at once or one at time. I decided to insert them one at a time. As I did this it correctly displayed the amount of money I had deposited. It read all the bills successfully. However, the BTC amount stayed at 0, and it displayed a loading message in one corner of the screen. This began another wait, again of about 60 seconds, until it calculated the amount of BTC I would receive. I suppose it was fetching the current exchange rate, though if it gets an updated rate at this stage I’m not sure why it wasted time fetching the exchange rate back in the initial step.

Once it had showed me the amount of BTC I would receive I hit the button indicating I was done inserting bills. It immediately displayed a confirmation screen that said the transaction was complete, with a confirmation of the USD deposited, the BTC received, and a transaction ID. At this point it asked me if I was done or if I wanted a receipt. I selected the receipt option to see what it would look like. It asked if I would like a receipt via SMS or email. Since it already had my phone number, I selected SMS. It immediately said that the receipt was sent, and then a few seconds later when back to its idling screen for the next customer. About a minute later the SMS receipt arrived. The message included the transaction ID, localized timestamp, USD deposited, BTC purchased, and destination wallet address.

I didn’t get back to my computer until about 45 minutes later. When I checked the funds were in my wallet, but I’m not sure how immediately they appeared.

The ATM claimed to impose no fees, but the exchange rate it offered is substandard. At the time I completed the transaction I believe the price on Coinbase was about $10,123.47. Given the amount of BTC that ended up in my wallet, the price the machine offered me was about $12,208.17.

Still, the process was simple, and the results quick. This is the first time I purchased Bitcoin with cash since circa 2012, when there was a service that would allow you to make a cash deposit into a random Wells Fargo account in exchange for Bitcoin. I used this service half a dozen times or so and never had a bad experience, but the whole transaction took a few hours to complete – and I remember hearing that the person who ran it was later arrested for something or other. The ATM experience certainly felt less shady.

From a privacy standpoint, the only personal information required by the ATM was a phone number that was able to receive a SMS. I’m not sure what General Bytes feels they are accomplishing by going through the steps for the SMS token, but it is a requirement that is easy enough to satisfy.

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Mobile Miso Capsules

Instant miso is appropriate for wilderness travel, where weight is a primary concern and there is a multi-day absence of refrigeration. Outside of activities with those restrictions, I prefer to avoid it. One of the key advantages to miso is that it is a probiotic, containing living cultures. With dry, instant miso that advantage is lost.

When I want miso on the go, I’ll prepare a serving using the same ingredients I’d use to make miso at home. This seems like an obvious solution, but it hadn’t occurred to me until I saw it on Just One Cookbook. The author of that recipe stores the mixture in the container that she plans to eat the soup out of. I didn’t want to carry around a container that large, and I already keep a mug at work for my daily Standard Issue Oatmeal and kukicha. Instead, I store the ingredients in a Sistema Klip It 1520 – the same container I use for my oatmeal capsules.

Mobile Miso Capsule

My Mobile Miso Capsule contains:

  • 1 tablespoon of miso paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dashi powder
  • 6 to 12 pieces of wakame
  • Around 1/4 teaspoon of umeboshi furikake
  • Half a scallion, chopped

I keep things interesting by pedaling over to Nijiya in Japantown and purchasing random tubs of miso paste with labels that I usually cannot read, so I have no particular recommendation there.

The measurements are rough. As a general rule of thumb, a single serving of miso is considered to be 200 milliliters of water and 1 tablespoon of miso paste, but I use a little more water and the amount of miso paste needs to be adjusted based on your tastes and the strength of the particular tub of paste you’re using.

When refrigerated, this preparation will last for a week. It can keep at room temperature for a day. I can make 5 capsules over the weekend, and each weekday morning grab one out of the fridge to throw in my pack before heading out. I do this most weekdays, and end up fueling with the miso mid-afternoon, at around 15:00. None of these ingredients need to be cooked, so the final preparation is simple. It requires only hot water:

  1. Open the capsule and dump the contents into a mug.
  2. Pour about 300 milliliters of hot-but-not-boiling water over the top.
  3. Stir the contents for about 30 seconds.
  4. Let sit for a couple minutes.
  5. Consume.

The end result is predominantly drunk. A utensil (spork, spoon, chopsticks) is useful for transferring the ingredients to the mug, stirring, and for getting the last bits of wakame and scallion into your mouth.

As with my Standard Issue Oatmeal, this recipe makes a good base to which other items can be added. Sliced mushrooms – dried or fresh – are a good addition. The original recipe from Just One Cookbook included aburaage. Thinly sliced and diced carrots are another idea. Between these types of additions and the variety of miso pastes available, it is easy to keep this soup interesting, which is a characteristic I value in a daily fuel.

Dashi

The instant dashi powder used in this recipe is my deference to the mobile nature of the meal. Miso without dashi is blasphemous. I don’t want to carry around a liquid, so fresh dashi is out. Apparently miso paste with premixed dashi is a thing, but I’ve never tried it. I have experimented with a handful of different dashi powders.

Ajinomoto Hondashi is the first powdered dashi I tried. It comes in a jar and is simple to use. It does contain monosodium glutamate (which should go without saying as Ajinomoto is the company Dr. Ikeda created to market his discovery of MSG). This partially explains its deliciousness, but of course the only reason to include monosodium glutamate is because they aren’t using actual kombu and so need to get their glutamate from some other source. The ingredients are: salt, monosodium glutamate, lactose, sugar, dried bonito tuna powder, disodium inosinate, bonito extract, yeast extract, and disodium succinate.

Kayanoya Original Dashi Stock Powder comes in packets that are intended to be placed into 400 milliliters of water, boiled for a couple of minutes, and then discarded. I like the flavor of these packets, but the preparation method isn’t compatible with my capsules: I want to mix all the ingredients beforehand, I’m pouring less-than-boiling water over everything, and I’m only making a single serving with about 300 milliliters of water. I’ve tried opening the packet and adding half of the powder to one of my capsules. The resulting flavor is smooth, but very weak, and the powder does not disolve completely. I think this dashi powder really does need to be boiled briefly to extract its flavor. The ingredients are: raw flavor materials (dried bonito flakes, dried sardine extract powder, roasted flying fish, dried round herring flakes, kelp), starch hydrolysate, yeast extract, salt, soy sauce powder, and fermented seasoning (soy, wheat, vegetable starch, brewer’s yeast).

Nijiya Wafu Dashi is one of the good ones. Like the Kayanoya, it comes in individual packets, but the packets are not intended to be steeped. You rip open the packet and dump out the contents. One packet holds about one teaspoon, which to me is appropriate for two miso servings. I split the packet between two capsules. The ingredients are: sugar, salt, glucose, dried bonito powder, yeast extract powder, bonito extract powder (bonito extract, tuna extract), shiitake mushroom extract powder, and kelp powder.

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