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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.

This post was published on . It was tagged with gear, sleep.

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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Destruction and Creation

After John Boyd revolutionized aerial combat and aeronautical engineering with his Energy-Manuverability Theory he embarked on a study of the nature of creativity. Boyd’s goal was to understand why he, a curious fighter pilot, was the first to discover E-M Theory. The result was Destruction and Creation. As one of the only pieces of writing Boyd ever published, it provides insight into his mind and offers hints of Boyd’s later work – both his best known (the OODA Loop) and his most important (Patterns of Conflict).

Destruction and Creation is freely available as a PDF, which is useful for printing but not for reading or manipulating. It is included as an appendix in Robert Coram’s Boyd biography, which is available in digital format, but is poorly formatted. I converted the article into Markdown-flavored plain text, with a BibTeX bibliography, suitable for processing via Pandoc. It is available on GitHub.

This post was published on . It was tagged with books, conflict.

Go Juice

I like food. I don’t do diets. I cast a wary eye upon fasting. I don’t subscribe to the idea of “cleansing” the body of “toxins”. Despite all of this, the drink that is central to the Master Cleanse fast is part of my fueling strategy. I learned of the Master Cleanse while attending The Sean Kennedy School of Patrolling and I now use it as an electrolyte drink when my body tells me I am running low.

Go Juice

The components of a single serving of Go Juice are:

  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz maple syrup previously-known-as-grade-B1
  • 14 oz water
  • A dash of cayenne powder

I juice the lemon into a wide mouth pint sized mason jar using a Jarware Stainless Steel Juicer Lid. If I have a small lemon I’ll juice the whole thing. If I have a medium sized lemon I’ll juice half. Either way, the amount of juice is confirmed via the gradations on the side of the mason jar. Next, using the gradations, I pour in an equal amount of maple syrup. The rest of the jar is then filled with water. I add a very small amount of capsicum – enough to get a small kick, not enough so I really taste it. Finally I toss on a leak-proof lid and shake it around for a few seconds.

The result is delicious and the effect immediate. I cannot imagine that anything good would come of trying to fuel the body on maple syrup and lemon juice alone, but as an occasional, supplementary kick it is a tool worth considering.

Notes

  1. A few years ago the cabal of maple syrup producers decided that assigning letter grades to the different types of maple syrup made it too simple to buy what you wanted. Instead they decided to confuse people by moving to wordy, subjective labels. The maple syrup I buy is now labelled "very dark, strong taste". But of course it still has a secondary sticker on it that loudly proclaims "Previously Grade B", because that's how people shop.

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Bicycle Chain Cleaning

I clean my bike chain with odorless mineral spirits.

Drivetrain Cleaning Tools

I’ve been doing this for about eight years now, after a handful of years of using water and dish soap. The disadvantage of a water-based solvent is that you have to be careful to dry the chain thoroughly, including the area between the links. After cleaning a chain with mineral spirits, the chain can be wiped mostly dry. What’s left after that will mostly evaporate. What’s left after that can just be ignored. Mineral spirits are often used as one of the ingredients in home made chain lubricants; the small amount of residue left over after cleaning isn’t going to hurt anything.

The drawback to mineral spirits is that it is usually considered a hazardous material. Disposal must be completed at special facilities, not your kitchen sink. Fortunately, it can be reused for a long time. When I’m done cleaning my chain, I dump the used mineral spirits into a mason jar for storage. The debris settles to the bottom of the jar. The next time I need it, I can easily pour off the clean mineral spirits without disturbing the debris at the bottom. This same cycle can be repeated for years.

I use mineral spirits in a few different ways depending on how dirty the chain is:

  • Sometimes I’ll break the chain at its reusable link, place the chain in a Nalgene jar, and cover it with mineral spirits to soak. The dimensions of the Nalgene jar are superior to those of the Gatorade bottle mentioned in the previous dish soap post. I can cover the chain using less solvent, and it’s easier to fish the chain out.
  • Sometimes I’ll use a chain tool to clean the chain on the bike. These work just as well with mineral spirits as they do with specialized solvents. The Finish Line Pro Chain Cleaner is the only one of these tools that I don’t hate. I think it is a better design than the Park CM-5.2 Cyclone and Pedro’s Chain Pig.
  • Sometimes I’ll soak the bristles of a brush in mineral spirits and scrub with that. The Finish Line Grunge Brush is the best chain cleaning brush I’ve used. (The Park GSC-1 GearClean is great for the cassette and crank.)

During the less rainy part of the year, I often don’t need to use mineral spirits at all. I just wipe the chain clean with a dry rag.

After cleaning, I’ll lubricate the chain and wipe off any excess (unless I only wiped the chain clean without using any solvent, in which case applying more lube is likely not necessary), and pedal off into the sunset with a buttery smooth and silent drivetrain. This system helps keep vehicular maintenance costs very low.

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Elzetta Thoughts

I purchased an Elzetta ZFL-M60-CS2D flashlight in 2013. Elzetta updated their product line later that year, replacing the Malkoff M60 LED unit with their new AVS heads and creating a new naming convention for their products. In this new line, I believe my ZFL-M60-CS2D is equivalent to the Bravo B313 model.

In 2014 Elzetta released the single cell Alpha model, which offered the same build quality as the larger 2-cell in a more pocket friendly size. I was quick to purchase the Alpha A323, and for the past 5 years it has remained a fairly constant part of my EDC.

  • Elzetta Lights
  • Elzetta Lights

There’s plenty of reviews out there focusing on the technical aspects of Elzetta lights – runtime, candela, lumens, etc. I’m not qualified to discuss those aspects, nor do I find them terribly interesting. I’ll just say that I’m happy with the operation of both my lights.

The modularity of the lights requires the user to make some decisions prior to purchasing. I’ve remained happy with the choices I made when ordering the Alpha.

Bezel

I bought the Alpha with the crenellated bezel ring. Elzetta’s crenellations aren’t sharp and pointy, but they do have deep grooves. They’re intended to be used in a twisting motion, thus tearing flesh rather than just puncturing it. I’ve never been convinced one way or the other as to the efficacy of bezel crenellations on flashlights, but I lean in their favor simply because the downside of having them seems limited.

The primary downside the crenellated bezel does have is that it makes some people nervous. I’ve flown domestically with the Alpha in my carry-on baggage plenty of times over the years and it has never been given any attention. But I know that there is the potential for the bezel to make some poor TSA agent nervous, and that possibility in turn makes me nervous. I haven’t traveled internationally with the Elzetta due to this concern.

The modular nature of Elzetta lights solves this problem. Recently I purchased the standard bezel ring. When I fly I now install the harmless looking standard bezel and keep the crenellated bezel separate in my bag. After going through security the bezels can be quickly swapped and I’m back to normal. If the crenellated bezel ring by itself scares someone and is stolen, I’m only out $15.

Lens

I bought the Alpha with the flood lens. The standard lens is more appropriate for long distance, or concentrating a beam of photons in the optical nerve of a ne’er-do-well. But the flood lens is a better solution for my typical flashlight use. I most often use my everyday carry light indoors – lighting up dark rooms, or dark nooks and crannies. Both applications are best solved by the wide, even dispersion of light provided by the flood lens. At these closer ranges – say within 20 feet – the flood lens is definitely bright enough to get a reaction out of anybody it is aimed at. I’m comfortable using it defensively.

I included the standard lens in my recent purchase of the standard bezel ring and forced myself to use it for a while. It confirmed my suspicions about the best lens for me, and I was quick to move back to the flood lens. The modular design once again proves its worth by allowing me to easily switch between the two lenses.

Elzetta Lenses

Tailcap

I bought the Alpha with the high-low tailcap. This is the same interface as on my original ZFL-M60, and I wish it was available on all flashlights. I place a high value on the ability to rapidly turn a light on and off, without that action causing the light to cycle through modes. The high-low tailcap allows me to press the button as much as I want at whatever speed I want. There is no click when pressing the tailcap for momentary on. Applying more pressure results in a near silent click and constant on. The difference between the pressure required for momentary and constant on is great enough that I’ve never accidentally turned the light to constant on when trying for momentary on. A slight counter-clockwise twist in the tailcap switches the light from 415 lumens to 15 lumens. This low output mode is great for close and detailed work in a dark environment (especially with the flood lens) where high output causes too much splash to be comfortable.

Clip

There are a number of pocket clips compatible with Elzetta lights. Elzetta offers their own Speed Clip, which features the typical hallmarks of Elzetta design: simple, eminently functional, and butt-ugly. I keep the Speed Clip on my ZFL-M60, but I think there are better options for carrying the Alpha.

For the first two years I carried the Alpha on my belt with the Prometheus Lights Titanium Pocket Clip. This clip is cool because it is titanium, and everything titanium is cool. Functionally, it works fine, but there’s nothing special about it beyond the material.

Cash Drawer Opened with EDC Tools

Back in 2016 I switched to the Raven Concealment Systems Pocket Clip. This has remained my preferred solution. The clip itself works great. I’ve used it to carry the Alpha on my belt and in my pocket without any problem. The finger O-ring allows the light to be retained while using both hands for a different task – an ability which is particularly practical and should not be limited to the tactical light market. When not in use the finger O-ring lays flat and can be ignored. I’ve never had it snag or get in the way of anything.

Elzetta Alpha w/ RCS Pocket Clip

The Thyrm SwitchBack and Thyrm SwitchBack 2.0 both fit on Elzetta lights, but neither are compatible with the high-low tailcap. They prevent the tailcap from being screwed down all the way, which limits the light to only working in low output mode. I suspect both would work fine with the click tailcap, though possible only in momentary mode.

Durability

One of the factors that initially contributed to my purchasing the ZFL-M60 was Colion Noir’s review. In it he likened the light to a cockroach, joking that after a nuclear blast the only things left would be cockroaches and Elzetta lights. It doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch.

The durability of Elzetta lights has been established. The electronics are fully potted, making them waterproof. The body is made from 6061-T6 aluminum. The lens is solid acrylic.

People have abused Elzetta lights by throwing them out of helicopters, shooting them with buckshot, and using them to assault a defenseless coconut. My lack of a southern accent disqualifies me from attempting this type of abuse, but I have used mine as a hammer.

The downside of this durability is that the body design of these lights isn’t exactly svelte. The Alpha is on the fatter side of what I’m willing to keep in a pocket, but it is within the acceptable range. In it’s normal configuration, including battery and Raven pocket clip, my Alpha tips the scale at 110 grams (3.9 ounces).

Both of my Elzetta lights have scratches and small chips (from altercations with concrete), but both still function like new. I’m confident both will outlast me.

This post was published on . It was tagged with review, gear, edc.

Without an OCR layer, PDF files are of limited use.

OCRmyPDF is a tool that applies optical character recognition to PDFs. It uses Tesseract to perform the OCR, and unpaper to clean, deskew and optimize the input files. It outputs PDF/A files, optimized for long-term storage. This isn’t a tool I use frequently, but it is one I greatly appreciate having when I need it. If you ever find yourself scanning or photographing documents, you want OCRmyPDF.

Date Manipulation

Dateutils is a collection of tools for the quick manipulation of dates. The tool I use most frequently is datediff. This program answers questions like: “How many days has it been since a date?” or “How many days are left in summer?”

$ datediff 2019-03-21 now
131
$ datediff now 2019-09-23
55

My second most frequently used program is dateadd, which is used to add a duration to a date. It can answer questions like: “What will the date be in 3 weeks?”

$ dateadd now +3w
2019-08-20T02:02:23

The tools are much more powerful than these examples, but hardly a week goes by when I don’t use datediff or dateadd for simple tasks like this.

Unit Wrangling

I use GNU Units to convert measurements.

The program knows about many obscure and antiquated units, but I mostly use it for boring things like converting currencies and between metric and imperial units. It can be used directly from the command line, or via a prompted interactive mode.

$ units 57EUR USD
        * 63.526262
        / 0.015741521

$ units
Currency exchange rates from FloatRates (USD base) on 2019-07-24
3460 units, 109 prefixes, 109 nonlinear units

You have: 16 floz
You want: ml
        * 473.17647
        / 0.0021133764
You have: tempC(30)
You want: tempF
        86

GNU Units is picky about its unit definitions, and they are case sensitive. For example, it knows what USD is, but usd is undefined. It supports tab completion of units in interactive mode, which can be helpful. It knows the difference between a US fluid ounce and a British fluid ounce.

$ units "1 usfloz" ml
        * 29.57353
        / 0.033814023

$ units "1 brfloz" ml
        * 28.413063
        / 0.03519508

The unit definitions are stored at /usr/share/units/definitions.units. Occasionally I’ll need to peruse through this file to find the correct formatting for the unit I’m interested in. Sometimes when doing this I’ll run into one of the more obscure definitions, such as beespace. Apparently this unit is used in beekeeping when designing hive boxes. It is described in the definition file thusly: “Bees will fill any space that is smaller than the bee space and leave open spaces that are larger. The size of the space varies with species.”

$ units 12inches beespace
        * 48
        / 0.020833333

Every so often you need to know how many Earth days are in one Martian year. With GNU Units that information is a few keystrokes away.

$ units 1marsyear days
        * 686.97959
        / 0.0014556473

Currency definitions are stored in /var/lib/units/currency.units. They are updated using the units_cur program. In the past I would update currencies whenever I needed them, but recently I setup a systemd timer to update these definitions roughly once per day (depending on network connectivity). This provides me with conversion rates that are current enough for my own use, which I can take advantage of even when offline, and does not require me to let a third party know which currencies or quantities I am interested in.

Astute readers will have noted that I am big on this offline computing thing.

Undertime

Undertime is a simple program that assists in coordinating events across time zones. It prints a table of your system’s local time zone, along with other any other specified zones. The output is colorized based on the start and end hour of the working day. If you want to talk to someone in Paris tomorrow, and you want the conversation to happen at an hour that is reasonable for both parties, Undertime can help.

Undertime Paris Meeting Example

I often find myself converting between local time and UTC. Usually this happens when working with system logs. If I have a specific date and time I want to translate, I’ll use date.

# Convert a time from PDT to UTC:
$ env TZ="UTC" date -d "2016-03-25T11:33 PDT"
# Convert a time from UTC to local:
$ date -d '2016-03-24T12:00 UTC'

If I’m not looking to convert an exact time, but just want to answer a more generalized question like “Approximately when was 14:00 UTC?” without doing the mental math, I find that Undertime is the quickest solution.

$ undertime UTC
╔═══════╦═══════╗
║  PDTUTC  ║
╠═══════╬═══════╣
║ 00:0007:00 ║
║ 01:0008:00 ║
║ 02:0009:00 ║
║ 03:0010:00 ║
║ 04:0011:00 ║
║ 05:0012:00 ║
║ 06:0013:00 ║
║ 07:0014:00 ║
║ 08:0015:00 ║
║ 09:0016:00 ║
║ 10:0017:00 ║
║ 11:0018:00 ║
║ 12:0019:00 ║
║ 13:0020:00 ║
║ 14:0021:00 ║
║ 15:0022:00 ║
║ 16:0023:00 ║
║ 17:0000:00 ║
║ 18:0001:00 ║
║ 19:0002:00 ║
║ 19:0402:04 ║
║ 20:0003:00 ║
║ 21:0004:00 ║
║ 22:0005:00 ║
║ 23:0006:00 ║
╚═══════╩═══════╝
Table generated for time: 2019-07-23 19:04:00-07:00

Music Organization with Beets

I organize my music with Beets.

Beets imports music into my library, warns me if I’m missing tracks, identifies tracks based on their accoustic fingerprint, scrubs extraneous metadata, fetches and stores album art, cleans genres, fetches lyrics, and – most importantly – fetches metadata from MusicBrainz. After some basic configuration, all of this happens automatically when I import new files into my library.

After the files have been imported, beets makes it easy to query my library based on any of the clean, consistent, high quality, crowd-sourced metadata.

$ beet stats genre:ambient
Tracks: 649
Total time: 2.7 days
Approximate total size: 22.4 GiB
Artists: 76
Albums: 53
Album artists: 34

$ beet ls -a 'added:2019-07-01..'
Deathcount in Silicon Valley - Acheron
Dlareme - Compass
The Higher Intelligence Agency & Biosphere - Polar Sequences
JK/47 - Tokyo Empires
Matt Morton - Apollo 11 Soundtrack

$ beet ls -ap albumartist:joplin
/home/pigmonkey/library/audio/music/Janis Joplin/Full Tilt Boogie
/home/pigmonkey/library/audio/music/Janis Joplin/I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!

As regular readers will have surmised, the files themselves are stored in git-annex.

Mirrors on a bike are no different than mirrors on any other vehicle.

They aren’t a replacement for turning your head, but they can be a useful supplement for maintaining 360 degrees of awareness.

Drop Bar Mirrors

I purchased a pair of Sprintech Drop Bar Mirrors last spring. I had never used a bike mirror before, but I’ve grown fond of these over the past three months of use. The viewport is small, but adequate to identify vehicles of any size. I keep the mirrors canted outboard slightly, which means they move if I lean the bike up against a wall. Sometimes I’ll bump one when straddling the bike at a stop light. But they’re easy to move back into place, and I’ve never had them move on their own – rough roads aren’t enough to rattle them – so I don’t mind this. Having never used any other kind of bike (or helmet) mounted mirror, I can’t compare them against their competition, but I think the Swiss are on to something with these. I’d buy them again.

Terminal Countdown

Termdown is a program that provides a countdown timer and stopwatch in the terminal. It uses FIGlet for its display. Its most attractive feature, I think, is the ability to support arbitrary script execution.

I use it most often as a countdown timer. One of my frequent applications is as a meditation timer. For this I want a 11 minute timer, with an alert at 10.5 minutes, 60 seconds, and 1 second. This gives me a 10 minute session with 30 seconds preparation and 30 seconds to return. Termdown makes this easy.

$ termdown --exec-cmd "case {0} in 630|30) mpv ~/library/audio/sounds/bell.mp3;; 1) mpv ~/library/audio/sounds/ring.mp3;; esac" 11m

An Offline Lexicon

dictd is a dictionary database server and client. It can be used to lookup word definitions over a network. I don’t use it for that. I use the program to provide an offline dictionary. Depending on a network connection, web browser and third-party websites just to define a word strikes me as dumb.

To make this go, dictionary files must be installed. I use the GNU Collaborative International Dictionary of English (GCIDE), WordNet, and the Moby Thesaurus. The GCIDE is derived from Noah Webster’s famous American dictionary. WordNet is a more modern (one might say “dry”) resource. The Moby Thesaurus is a public domain thesaurus originally built by Grady Ward. Between these three sources I can have a pretty good grasp on the English language. No network connectivity required.

I use a shell alias to always pipe the definitions through less.

def () {
    dict $1 | less
}

All-Purpose Cleaner

My all-purpose cleaner consists of:

I use this to clean my dishes, my shower, every surface in my apartment, and every part of my bike except the chain. About the only things I can think of that don’t get cleaned with this mixture are my body and my electronics. Previously I used a mixture of Bronner’s castile soap and water for all of these things, but Sal Suds is better at cutting grease. This makes it preferable for kitchen (and bike) duty. I saw no reason to keep two cleaners around, so I phased out the castile soap mix.

I mix this in a recycled 0.5 L glass bottle with a neck that has standard 28-400 threading, allowing me to add a sprayer. The half liter bottle lasts me roughly two weeks. A single batch costs me in the neighborhood of $0.25, meaning I spend somewhere around $6.50 per year to clean my things.

I go back and forth on the vinegar – sometimes I skip it and use 0.5 L of water instead. I don’t notice a difference in the cleaning performance, but I tend to use more of it when I skip the vinegar. Vinegar is an effective bactericide and, unlike with castile soap, there’s no harm in mixing it with the Sal Suds detergent, so I generally opt to put it in.

To measure the detergent I use an OXO Mini Angled Measuring Cup, which has proved a useful thing to keep around.

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I soak produce in a solution of baking soda.

A study from the University of Massachusetts found that a baking soda wash can be effective at removing pesticides from the surface:

Surface pesticide residues were most effectively removed by sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, NaHCO3) solution when compared to either tap water or Clorox bleach. Using a 10 mg/mL NaHCO3 washing solution, it took 12 and 15 min to completely remove thiabendazole or phosmet surface residues, respectively, following a 24 h exposure to these pesticides… This study gives us the information that the standard postharvest washing method using Clorox bleach solution for 2 min is not an effective means to completely remove pesticide residues on the surface of apples. The NaHCO3 method is more effective in removing surface pesticide residues on apples. In the presence of NaHCO3, thiabendazole and phosmet can degrade, which assists the physical removal force of washing. However, the NaHCO3 method was not completely effective in removing residues that have penetrated into the apple peel. The overall effectiveness of the method to remove all pesticide residues diminished as pesticides penetrated deeper into the fruit. In practical application, washing apples with NaHCO3 solution can reduce pesticides mostly from the surface.

I use a dish washing basin with a drain filled with 6 liters of water (I’ve previously placed pieces of tape on the side of the basin to indicate water levels for 2, 4, 6, and 8 liters). The study’s 10 mg/mL NaHCO3 washing solution translates to 60,000 mg of baking soda for this amount of water, or about 4 tablespoons, which I dump in and swirl around a bit. Then in goes the produce. After 15 minutes I can just pull the drain, blast everything with some pressure from the faucet, and let it sit in the basin (with drain open) to dry until I get around to putting everything away. It is most important to perform this process on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen, but the procedure requires such a low amount of effort that I soak any produce which is lacking a thick peel (like oranges) as soon as I get back from the market, regardless of its providence.

Bacteria is a different matter.

It should go without saying that I've sanitized my e-reader.

Trying to inject advertising into the reading experience is sick and sacrilegious. A privacy sticker from N-O-D-E covers the logo on the back of my Kindle, while a piece of tape sanitizes the front. Between this and my offline, DRM-free method of using the device, I enjoy the Kindle without the corporate mindshare.

Kindle at Lunch

Currently reading Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon.

This post was published on . It was tagged with micro, books, gear.

I've found a hand strap to be a useful addition to my e-reader.

I bought the TFY Security Hand Strap for my Kindle Paperwhite 18 months ago. It makes holding the e-reader for long periods of time much more pleasant – especially when reading in bed and holding the device up above my head. No pinch grip required. It doesn’t add noticeable bulk or weight to the Kindle, and I can ignore it completely when I’m not using it. Originally I went looking for some kind of case with a cover that could be folded into a more ergonomic shape to hold, but when this strap appeared in my search results I realized it was a simpler solution to the problem. The strap could probably be made with a wire hanger and some elastic webbing.

Kindle Handstrap at Lunch

Sawyer Squeeze

I’m a satisfied user of the Sawyer Squeeze. My first Sawyer water filter was the Mini Squeeze, which had a terrible flow rate that made it a piece of garbage. If I were buying a new filter today I’d look at the Micro Squeeze, which is supposed to combine the performance of the standard Squeeze with the size and weight of the Mini. For the time being, I am content with my standard Squeeze.

I use a CNOC Vecto 2L for a dirty bag. It’s heavier than the Sawyer pouches or a 2L Evernew Bottle, but I appreciate both the durability and the ease with which it can be filled. It makes it easy to collect water from small trickles through a rock face, and I feel comfortable throwing it around if I’ve climbed up some place to collect water and need both hands to get back down.

I prefer to carry clean water rather than sucking straight on the filter. My preferred drinking vessel for this system is a recycled Smartwater 23.7 oz bottle. The one with the sport lid. It holds an acceptable amount of water, is decently durable for the weight, has threads which are compatible with the Sawyer, and fits easily into a Hill People Gear 3” Bottle Holster.

If I don’t want to squeeze the water through, this setup can easily be suspended to make a gravity filtration system. I carry a Sawyer Cleaning Coupling to attach the bottle to the output of the filter. The bottle will fill in a couple minutes in this setup. Occasionally, when the bottle gets about half full, the flow of water will diminish due to pressure buildup in the bottle. Unscrewing the bottle slightly is enough to burp the excess air out of the bottle and allow the water to continue to flow.

CNOC, Sawyer Squeeze, Smartwater

I always carry my vintage MSR 2L DromLite, primarily as storage for additional clean water. I’m unlikely to use it during the day, but having it allows me to camp away from a water source without any stress. With the DromLite, Smartwater bottle, and CNOC Vecto I can carry just under 3 liters of clean water and an additional 2 liters of dirty water. That’s plenty for drinking, washing, and cooking between water holes.

To integrate the DromLite into the Sawyer filter, I purchased a Sawyer Hydration In-Line Adapter and dug out an old MSR Hydration Kit that I had stopped using. I cut the MSR hose so that I was left with the piece that screws onto the DromLite lid and about 10” of hose. Then I jammed half of the Sawyer adapter into the open end of the hose. Now I have a small, lightweight accessory that I can pull out whenever I want to use the DromLite as part of a gravity system.

CNOC, Sawyer Squeeze, DromLite

The Squeeze does need to be backflushed every now and then. It comes with a syringe for this, but I never carry it.

The Smartwater bottle threads directly onto the input of the filter, allowing me to backflush with that, but doing so is pretty annoying. It’s hard to get enough pressure by squeezing the hard plastic bottle. However, I can also use the cleaning coupling and my hacked together MSR adapter to backflush via the DromLite, and that works great. I can push a full 2 liters at high pressure through the filter element. This takes minimal effort to accomplish (the hardest part is remembering to perform the backflush before you’re out of clean water), and keeps the filter running like new.

I still carry Aquamira chlorine dioxide on some trips. My decision is dependent on the type of trip and the expected water sources, but I find myself leaning towards the Sawyer Squeeze more often than not.

CNOC, Sawyer Squeeze, DromLite

The Squeeze runs about $35 to $41 depending on which package you go with. Given it’s versatility and the claimed unlimited life of the filter element, it’s pretty easy for me to justify that expense.

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Virginia Tech rates bike helmets.

The CPSC standard is of limited practicality. It seeks only to test if a helmet can prevent a skull fracture from a direct impact on the top of the head. It was refreshing to find Virginia Tech’s helmet ratings, backed by a test methodology that actually seems to appropriately model reality. I was pleased to see that my Smith Overtake scored 4/5. The Overtake is four years old and still in fine shape, but whenever it comes time to replace it I’ll use these ratings to make a purchase decision.

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I source my linen from recovering communist states in the remnants of the Soviet Union.

Linen is my preferred material for bedding and towels (except for travel towels, where I still prefer synthetic). When purchased through normal channels, it can be prohibitively expensive. I cut out the middlemen and acquire linen directly from Eastern European makers on Esty, where it is much more affordable. My duvet cover is from Belarus. My sheets and pillow cases also hail from Belarus. My preferred towels are from Lithuania.

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Oster Classic 76

I started buzzing my hair in 2009 after six years of long hair.

Haircut

In the first few years I went through a couple different pair of clippers. They were all cheap, consumer-level models that eventually crapped out. I tried a model that had a shape which claimed to be more ergonomic for self-cutting, but it ended up offering no practical advantage.

At the start of 2015 I bit the bullet and purchased the Oster Classic 76. I had heard great things about this brand and model since I first started looking at clippers, but couldn’t justify the price until I had spent more than their worth on other clippers that failed. The Oster Classic 76 is built like a tank. Oster has been building electric clippers in the US since 1928, and it shows in their product. They also build their products to be serviceable. Unlike cheaper clippers, these can be stripped down to their individual parts and repaired.

As with any other pair of clippers plastic comb sets are available. But one of the things I appreciate about the Oster is that you can also purchase metal blades of the preferred length. I cut my hair to 3/8”, so when I bought the clippers I also purchased the 76918-146 replacement blade. I think this offers a better cut than a short blade with a plastic comb.

I’ve been using this setup for four and a half years and have no complaints. Given my limited and personal use, I expect it should last the rest of my life.

This post was published on . It was tagged with review.

Optical Backups of Financial Archives

Every year I burn an optical archive of my financial documents, similar to how (and why) I create optical backups of photos. I schedule this financial archive for the spring, after the previous year’s taxes have been submitted and accepted. Taskwarrior solves the problem of remembering to complete the archive.

$ task add project:finance due:2019-04-30 recur:yearly wait:due-4weeks "burn optical financial archive with parity"

The archive includes two git-annex repositories.

The first is my ledger repository. Ledger is the double-entry accounting system I began using in 2012 to record the movement of every penny that crosses one of my bank accounts (small cash transactions, less than about $20, are usually-but-not-always except from being recorded). In addition to the plain-text ledger files, this repository also holds PDF or JPG images of receipts.

The second repository holds my tax information. Each tax year gets a ctmg container which contains any documents used to complete my tax returns, the returns themselves, and any notifications of those returns being accepted.

The yearly optical archive that I create holds the entirety of these two repositories – not just the information from the previous year – so really each disc only needs to have a shelf life of 12 months. Keeping the older discs around just provides redundancy for prior years.

Creating the Archive

The process of creating the archive is very similar to the process I outlined six years ago for the photo archives.

The two repositories, combined, are about 2GB (most of that is the directory of receipts from the ledger repository). I burn these to a 25GB BD-R disc, so file size is not a concern. I’ll tar them, but skip any compression, which would just add extra complexity for no gain.

$ mkdir ~/tmp/archive
$ cd ~/library
$ tar cvf ~/tmp/archive/ledger.tar ledger
$ tar cvf ~/tmp/archive/tax.tar tax

The ledger archive will get signed and encrypted with my PGP key. The contents of the tax repository are already encrypted, so I’ll skip encryption and just sign the archive. I like using detached signatures for this.

$ cd ~/tmp/archive
$ gpg -e -r peter@havenaut.net -o ledger.tar.gpg ledger.tar
$ gpg -bo ledger.tar.gpg.sig ledger.tar.gpg
$ gpg -bo tax.tar.sig tax.tar
$ rm ledger.tar

Previously, when creating optical photo archives, I used DVDisaster to create the disc image with parity. DVDisaster no longer exists. The code can still be found, and the program still works, but nobody is developing it and it doesn’t even an official web presence. This makes me uncomfortable for a tool that is part of my long-term archiving plans. As a result, I’ve moved back to using Parchive for parity. Parchive also does not have much in the way of active development around it, but it is still maintained, has been around for a long period of time, is still used by a wide community, and will probably continue to exist as long as people share files on less-than-perfectly-reliable mediums.

As previously mentioned, I’m not worried about the storage space for these files, so I tell par2create to create PAR2 files with 30% redundancy. I suppose I could go even higher, but 30% seems like a good number. By default this process will be allowed to use 16MB of memory, which is cute, but RAM is cheap and I usually have enough to spare so I’ll give it permission to use up to 8GB.

$ par2create -r30 -m8000 recovery.par2 *

Next I’ll use hashdeep to generate message digests for all the files in the archive.

$ hashdeep * > hashes

At this point all the file processing is completed. I’ll put a blank disc in my burner (a Pioneer BDR-XD05B) and burn the directory using growisofs.

$ growisofs -Z /dev/sr0 -V "Finances 2019" -r *

Verification

The final step is to verify the disc. I have a few options on this front. These are the same steps I’d take years down the road if I actually needed to recover data from the archive.

I can use the previous hashes to find any files that do not match, which is a quick way to identify bit rot.

$ hashdeep -x -k hashes *.{gpg,tar,sig,par2}

I can check the integrity of the PGP signatures.

$ gpg --verify tax.tar.gpg{.sig,}
$ gpg --verify tax.tar{.sig,}

I can use the PAR2 files to verify the original data files.

$ par2 verify recovery.par2

Identifying individuals by using a laser to record the vibrations of their heartbeat is a neat idea.

The Pentagon’s new Jetson laser sounds like a simple concept:

A new device, developed for the Pentagon after US Special Forces requested it, can identify people without seeing their face: instead it detects their unique cardiac signature with an infrared laser. While it works at 200 meters (219 yards), longer distances could be possible with a better laser. “I don’t want to say you could do it from space,” says Steward Remaly, of the Pentagon’s Combatting Terrorism Technical Support Office, “but longer ranges should be possible.”

Contact infrared sensors are often used to automatically record a patient’s pulse. They work by detecting the changes in reflection of infrared light caused by blood flow. By contrast, the new device, called Jetson, uses a technique known as laser vibrometry to detect the surface movement caused by the heartbeat. This works though typical clothing like a shirt and a jacket (though not thicker clothing such as a winter coat).

I wonder if they aim center mass, or if they can get a reading off the carotid. If it’s the former, it seems likely to be defeated by wearing plates, which is probably good life advice if the Pentagon is interested in you anyways.

The article also mentions that “[o]ne glaring limitation is the need for a database of cardiac signatures”, but I suspect they can just acquire that data from Apple, Strava, Fitbit, etc.

via Infowarrior

This post was published on . It was tagged with micro, privacy.

Boots Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

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GOESImage

GOESImage is a bash script which downloads the latest imagery from the NOAA Geostationary Operational Environment Satellites and sets it as the desktop background via feh. If you don’t use feh, it should be easy to plug GOESImage into any desktop background control program.

GOESImage Example

I wrote GOESImage after using himawaripy for a few years, which is a program that provides imagery of the Asia-Pacific region from the Himawari 8 Japanese weather satellite. I like seeing the Earth, and I’ve found that real time imagery of my location is actually useful for identifying the approach of large-scale weather systems. NOAA’s nighttime multispectral infrared coloring is pretty neat, too.

This post was published on . It was tagged with code, shell, linux.

Not My Teaching, But My Study

What I write here is not my teaching, but my study; it is not a lesson for others, but for me. And yet it should not be held against me if I publish what I write. What is useful to me may also by accident be useful to another. Moreover, I am not spoiling anything, I am only using what is mine. And if I play the fool, it is at my expense and without harm to anyone. For it is a folly that will die with me, and will have no consequences.

Montaigne

via Old Man Ellis

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Toothpaste Capsule

When travelling, I store toothpaste in a 10 gram round pill container. I bought mine from The Container Store. Depending on the thickness of the toothpaste, I find that I can get 14-20 servings out of this volume of container. I brush my teeth twice per day, so this translates to 7-10 days of travel.

These containers probably wouldn’t be leak-proof if they were used to store a liquid, but they are up to the challenge of securing a higher viscosity substance like toothpaste.

Toothpaste Capsule

After using these for a while I bought a set of 15 gram containers, thinking that this would allow me to carry a two week supply. They accomplish that, but the containers aren’t as nice. They have fewer threads, which make me think it is possible for them to pop open in my bag (though I haven’t experienced this), and their slightly greater height makes them a bit less convenient to pack. I stick with the smaller containers, which are an adequate volume for most of my travel.

I think these toothpaste capsules are superior to travel-sized toothpaste tubes. I can fill my container with whatever toothpaste I prefer, instead of being limited only to those toothpastes for which I can find the elusive travel-sized tube. When I run out, I can refill the container with whatever toothpaste is around, instead of wastefully disposing of a used tube and beginning the hunt for another travel-sized tube. The capsule is easy to fill, unlike other options for repackaging. And they don’t take the time and forethought (and low-humidity environment) that is required for Mike Clelland’s toothpaste dots.

After finding that these toothpaste capsules worked well for me, I began using an identical pill container to carry sunblock. Sunblock can be repackaged more easily than toothpaste into mini dropper bottles, but it’s impossible to clean those bottles out after use. The pill containers are simple to empty and clean, and applying sunblock from them is just as easy as it is out of a dropper or squeeze bottle. Unfortunately the toothpaste capsule and sunblock capsule look identical in my bag. So now I have the habit of sniffing my toothpaste and sunblock before I use it to make sure that I don’t brush my teeth with sunblock or rub toothpaste into my skin. I should probably label them.

This post was published on . It was tagged with ablution, gear.

Wallet Shims

I bought a SlimFold Micro Wallet last year. It does a pretty good job of holding some cash, a few cards, and otherwise staying out of the way. The inside of the cash compartment has little wings of the softshell material that create interior pockets for additional cards. The wings also provide access to the two other materials that make up the wallet: foil shields for RFID blocking, and pieces of plastic that provide structure to the wallet. Both of these materials just sit inside the pockets and are easily removed.

The two pieces of plastic are about 85mm x 73mm. At 0.25mm thick, they’re just thick enough to perform their intended purpose, but aren’t all that useful for more nefarious purposes. At the suggestion of a friend, I replaced these two pieces of plastic with shims.

I ordered a set of Super Mica Door Shims from Red Team Tools, which comes with sheets in two thicknesses: 0.35mm and 0.50mm. Using the wallet’s included plastic as a template, I cut out one piece of each thickness and inserted them into the wallet. They make the wallet a little stiffer, which I haven’t found to be either good nor bad. But more importantly, they allow me to open doors similiar to how you might use a credit card. I think it’s a great modification to the SlimFold. As previously suggested, it’s a good travel option.

This post was published on . It was tagged with lockpicking, edc.

Residual Oil Remover

Late last year I ran out of lens cleaner. In the past I’ve never made an informed purchase of lens cleaner, opting instead for the free bottles given out at optometry offices or whatever generic bottles were presented on the counter of the closest drug store. This time around I thought I’d look to see if there was any specific product worth purchasing. I assumed that there were probably picky photographers who had performed a survey of cleaners for their camera lenses, and that their conclusions would apply to other optical surfaces.

Surprisingly, I found only one useful review: a 2013 post on on the Digital Photography Review Forum, which outlined a testing method for cleaning solutions and concluded:

Three branded cleaners out of about a dozen, after 5 test repetitions, walked away with the honors. They are: Zeiss Lens Cleaning Solution, Nikon Lens Cleaning solution and ROR Lens Cleaning Solution. At the bottom of the list was surprisingly, Purosol, that tied with straight distilled water for having absolutely zero emulsifying properties for removing skin oil in all 5 of our test repetitions. When I spoke with the Purosol folks, and asked “How does NASA use your product and for what cleaning purposes”, I was politely told, “That information is classified, and, we unfortunately don’t know!”

Between the 3 top reviewed products, I flipped a coin and ended up purchasing ROR, or Residual Oil Remover.

ROR certainly works. I use it on my Rudy lenses, my laptop screen and external monitors, as well as the screen of my phone. But because I made the purchase after I was out of my previous cleaner, I wasn’t able to compare it to anything else for a couple months. Later on I found a partially used bottle of generic lens cleaner from my optometrist and was able to do a comparison. ROR cleans better with less rubbing.

I don’t know what the contents were of that last bottle of generic cleaner, or how it compares to the other cheap, generic cleaners that I’ve used in the past. But I am happy enough with ROR that I will continue to use and recommend it. I have three bottles stashed around my frequented areas at home and work, and appreciate its ability to keep the clarity of my optical devices at a maximum.

Houseplants probably don't improve indoor air quality.

In reponse to the oft-quoted NASA Clean Air Study, The Altantic writes:

[T]here’s nothing especially wrong with Wolverton’s 1989 study. Its results “fall right in line with other stuff that’s been measured in the literature.” But taking its results at face value significantly overstates the power of plants, he said. Wolverton measured whether houseplants could remove VOCs from an airtight laboratory environment. But a home is not a hermetic chamber. It has open windows and doors, drafts and leaks, and much more clutter.

Recently, Waring and his colleagues reanalyzed all 195 studies that have examined whether houseplants can filter the air. They found that some types of plants can remove higher amounts of VOCs than others. But once you factor in the effects of working in a large room, none of the plants are able to do much.

Waring told me to imagine a small office, 10 feet by 10 feet by eight feet. “You would have to put 1,000 plants in that office to have the same air-cleaning capacity of just changing over the air once per hour, which is the typical air-exchange rate in an office ventilation system,” he said. That’s 10 plants per square foot of floor space. Even if you chose the most effective type of VOC-filtering plant, you would still need one plant per square foot, Waring said.

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The Tube Roll

I carry a spare tube underneath my saddle.

The Tube Roll: Mounted

  • The Tube Roll: Unrolled
  • The Tube Roll: Rolled

With my Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires I rarely get flats. When I do, I usually prefer to use a patch, but sometimes you need to replace the tube. To protect the spare tube from the elements – UV rays, abrasion from dirt, etc – I wrap it like a burrito in a piece of black Tyvek. This is then stuffed underneath my Brooks B17 and secured to the rails with a 12” nylon buckle Voile Strap.

The package is easy to get to when I need it, doesn’t move until then, and isn’t very visible unless you’re looking at it. When I moved the spare tube from my pack to my bike, I wanted to avoid a noticeable bag like my Revelate Jerry Can. I’ve yet to have anyone steal this setup, but if they do, I’m only out $5 for the Voile strap, $8 for the tube, and a few pennies for the Tyvek. I can live with that.

In the case of a tire blow out, I’ve wondered if a piece of the Tyvek could be cut, folded, and used as an emergency boot like a dollar bill. I have not had the opportunity to test this, because I buy good tires that don’t blow out. The repair kit I carry in my bag also contains a couple actual reifenflicken, more so because carrying them increases the opportunities that I have to say reifenflicken than because I feel I actually need them.

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While I appreciate the resurgence of personal email newsletters as an alternative to the toxic walled-gardens of Social Media™, I much prefer consuming that type of content in my feed reader.

For discussion groups, where I’m going to respond to messages and follow threads, email is great. My relationship with the newsletters I subscribe to is that of a consumer, and for that interaction I want good old HTTP and feed syndication. Kill the Newsletter is a free service that generates Atom feeds from the email sent to an address. I use it to keep newsletters in my feed reader where they belong.

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The Burrito Bag

As a cyclist in San Francisco, one of the great challenges in life is how to carry all the burritos you’ll consume. The quality of a burrito as a fuel source is directly correlated to its slopiness. If placed directly into a backpack, it will inevitably leak through the imperfect foil wrapping and soil neighboring equipment.

To solve this problem I revisited my DIY Tyvek Stuff Sacks from years past and created the Burrito Bag. The burrito is placed into the Burrito Bag for transport, containing any mess, which is later easily rinsed out.

Burrito Bag

The Burrito Bag is constructed from black Tyvek I had from another project, rather than a USPS Priority Mail envelope. I cut out a piece 13” x 16”, folded it in half and used the awl from my Expedition Sewing Kit to close the bottom, side, and create a channel for a piece of Technora (because it’s cool) and cordlock to use as a cinch cord.

The Burrito Bag is strategically engineered to contain dual burritos, or a single burrito with a generous side of chips. Actually it was patterned off of one of my original Tyvek stuff sacks, which I still use to contain my Trail Designs Ti-Tri cook system. It seemed like the right size for this application.

The Burrito Bag weighs in at 8 grams (0.3 oz), and when not in use folds down to a size smaller than that of the napkin you forgot to grab on your way out of the taqueria.

The Burrito Bag is multipurpose. Despite its name, it is also capable of holding a shawarma wrap from the neighborhood Lebanese joint. I even once used it to takeaway a sushi roll.

Burrito Bag

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Tightening the Bedrock Cairn

I bought a pair of Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandals when they were released back in 2016. They are my favorite sandals. In addition to being great everyday and hiking footwear in the warmer months, the Cairns are my preferred running footwear year round.

Bedrock Cairn Running

My only complaint with the Cairns was that the adjustable strap would occasionally slip, loosening the sandal. The webbing would only slip a couple of millimeters over a handful of miles. If walking or pedaling I wouldn’t notice it, but when running this allowed just enough movement of my foot across the bed of the sandal that I would eventually develop a hot spot if I didn’t reach down to tighten the strap every 6 miles or so.

I mentioned this in one of Bedrock’s customer surveys. They reached out to me and suggested that when tightening the strap, rather than keeping the loose end of the webbing inline with the part connected to the wing, I kink the webbing slightly forward. This allows the buckle to get a bit more bite. The added friction from this adjustment has eliminated any loosening of the sandal on my runs.

Bedrock Cairn Webbing Angle

Avian carriers achieved a message delivery rate of 95% in the first World War, and were reported to reach 99% success in an Army study published in 1944.

In an article at At War on the Rocks, Dr. Frank Blazich provides a brief overview of the military use of homing pigeons and argues for their reintroduction as a response to electronic warfare.

Considering the storage capacity of microSD memory cards, a pigeon’s organic characteristics provide front line forces a relatively clandestine mean to transport gigabytes of video, voice, or still imagery and documentation over considerable distance with zero electromagnetic emissions or obvious detectability to radar. These decidedly low-technology options prove difficult to detect and track. Pigeons cannot talk under interrogation, although they are not entirely immune to being held under suspicion of espionage. Within an urban environment, a pigeon has even greater potential to blend into the local avian population, further compounding detection. The latter presumably factored into the use of pigeons to clandestinely smuggle drugs, defeating even the most sophisticated of walls.

Furthermore, pigeons provide an asymmetric tool available for hybrid warfare purposes. The low-cost, low-technology use of pigeons to transport information or potentially small amounts of chemical agents — or even coded cyber weapons — makes them a quick and easy asset to distribute among a civilian population for wider military purposes. During World War II, the British Confidential Pigeon Service of MI14(d) dropped baskets of homing pigeons behind enemy lines for espionage purposes, gathering invaluable military intelligence in the process from a wide array of French, Dutch, and Belgian civilians. Even as a one-way means of communication, the pigeon proved an invaluable military asset.

Via Schneier, who reminds that we have an RFC.

Oatmeal Capsules

When I began mixing my standard issue oatmeal I stored it in Ziploc bags. The thicker freezer bags were reusable for a couple months before they needed to be replaced, but I wanted a longer lasting solution. This led me to the Sistema Klip It 1520. At 200ml this container is the right size for a single serving. The seal and locking clips keep the contents fresh. It is durable enough to last pretty much forever, and the stackable design makes it convenient to store multiple units.

Oatmeal Capsules

I’ve been using these as oatmeal capsules for about a year now. Five of them suffice for my weekday breakfast, but the size is useful enough that I purchased a handful more. I use them to store tea and snacks like umeboshi, dark chocolate covered almonds, and baby carrots.

Tea Storage

Sistema makes a handful of other containers that can be used with the 1520 to build a modular, stackable system that stores well in small spaces. The 1540 has the same footprint as the 1520, but is twice the height. The lids are interchangeable between the two. The 1550 is the same height as the 1520 but twice as wide. The 1600 has the same footprint as the 1550, and shares the same lid, but is the height of the 1540. These four units work well together.

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Delta Drone

Last year BoingBoing linked to a video featuring delta waves produced by the idling engine of an ice breaker in the arctic. I found it to be a useful tool, so downloaded it for offline access. Later, I decided I wanted the audio on my phone. The video is a 10 hour loop, resulting in too large a file for mobile storage. To turn it into something reasonable for a phone, I used ffmpeg to extract the audio, chop it down to 3 hours, and add a 10 second fade on either end.

$ ffmpeg \
    -i ~/library/video/web/White\ Noise\ Sounds\ of\ Frozen\ Arctic\ Ocean\ with\ Polar\ Icebreaker\ Idling\ -\ Creating\ Delta\ Waves-gpW7iYfuGDU.webm \
    -vn \
    -ss 00:00:00 \
    -t 03:00:00 \
    -af afade=in:st=0:d=10,afade=out:st=10790:d=10 \
    ~/library/audio/misc/soundscape/arctic_white_noise.mp3

I then added ID3 tags from the metadata of the original video.

$ id3tag \
    --artist="Relax Sleep ASMR" \
    --song="White Noise Sounds of Frozen Arctic Ocean with Polar Icebreaker Idling - Creating Delta Waves" \
    --year=2017 \
    ~/library/audio/misc/soundscape/arctic_white_noise.mp3

The result is a 165 MB file of loopable delta waves, perfect for drowning out the world.

The original video has since been deleted (a reminder to download any data that you find to be useful), but is available at the Internet Archive.

Delta Waves

The above spectrogram of the file is produced by Spek.

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Isaac Arthur argues that O'Neill Cylinders are a more practical option for space colonization than terraforming.

In his video lecture on the subject he points out that the millions of tons of rock below your house are mostly just used to provide gravity, which can be achieved more efficiently by rotating a megastructure such as the previously mentioned O’Neill cylinder.

At some point someone ran the numbers on mass and came in at around 4-6000 megatons for the model 4 version, and if we assumed that was mostly dirt, steel, and water, that means that the number of cylinders with mass equal to our own planet would total over one quadrillion, or over a million billion, each having an internal area equal to bit over a millionth of Earth’s.

So if someone made a planet’s mass worth of those you would have a couple billion planets’ worth of living space. This happens to be about identical to the amount of sunlight the Sun cranks out relative to what hits Earth, a couple billion times more, and another notion that was gaining popularity at the same time was the Kardashev Scale and the Dyson Sphere or Swarm.

So if you found an Earth mass planet you could terraform it and now have a whole extra planet to live on, or your could turn it all into O’Neill Cylinders in a swarm around a star and have a billion extra planets’ worth of living area. And unlike terraforming a planet, which does require about as much work per bit of new living area as just building it from scratch, when you’re done you have a structure with identical conditions to that of Earth, since you can dial it’s gravity up to whatever you want, and light the thing on whatever schedule or temperature you want. You don’t have to mimic Earth’s conditions, but you have that option.

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NASA Ames Research Center's 1970s-era space settlement project shaped a vision of the future.

Via Artsy:

In 1975, scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, dreamt up ideas for habitats that could house human civilization in space. Rick Guidice was a freelance illustrator with a background in architecture when NASA tasked him with creating the artistic renderings.

While the diagrams Guidice referenced might have envisioned how humans could survive in outer space, his paintings depict a future where humans could thrive. Lush English gardens and glassy ponds fill the floating platforms of cylindrical space colonies. Spherical habitats are flanked by reflective surfaces that mimic sunlight. A cross-section of swirling structures reveal rich layers of agricultural farmland. This was NASA’s modernist fantasy of the future.

NASA Ames Research Center Cylindrical Colony

More on the settlement project.

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On Scouring

Back in 2013 Brian Green published a review of the Lunatec Trekr washcloth. My showers haven’t been the same since.

The Trekr is a simple nylon scouring cloth, measuring 11” x 11”, with an elastic loop for hanging. It’s the same material as a synthetic loofah, but being a flat cloth it doesn’t hold moisture. At the time Brian posted the review I was on a campaign to eliminate sponges and sponge-like things from my life. Any cleaning tool in the bathroom or kitchen that holds water becomes a Petri dish for bacteria, in humid areas especially so. I bought the Trekr to try at home, and it immediately earned a spot in my daily ablutions.

Lunatec’s marketing campaign for the Trekr revolves heavily around the cloth being “self-cleaning”, which just means that the material doesn’t absorb anything, dries quickly, and every time you use it you are cleaning it with soap and water. I think this claim is accurate, though I still throw them into the laundry every couple weeks, more as impetus to rotate the cloths than out of the need to clean them.

Shortly after acquiring the Trekr I learned that it was just a smaller take on the Salux cloth. Hailing from Nippon, the Salux is exactly the same material as the Trekr, but measures in at a longer 33” x 11”. The larger size makes it easy to scour your back, as demonstrated by the naked lady on their packaging.

I now own about half a dozen of the Salux cloths for use at home, and the same number of Trekr cloths. I throw a Trekr cloth in my bag whenever I’m showering away from home – travel, backpacking, at the gym, or after the axolotl tanks.

To use either the Trekr or Salux, I wet the cloth, give it a few gentle swipes across a bar of soap (it also works fine with liquid soap), and then start scrubbing from head to toes. The cloth lathers, cleanses, and exfoliates dead skin – which, as we learned from Gattaca is key to leading a successful life in our future eugenic utopia.

I have also tried the Lunatec Scrubr dishcloth, which is made of a thicker and more abrasive nylon. It is less exciting. I’ll occasionally use it to scrub a surface clean at home, but for backcountry dish cleaning the spatula reigns supreme.

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The score to Blade Runner 2049 failed to live up to the original, and is the only thing that prevented me from scoring the film 10/10.

But as an ambient soundscape, it excels. The soundscape creator wrote about his experience cutting, slowing, and mixing the score. I keep a copy of his audio on my phone and play it whenever I need white noise – concentration, mediation, sleep. It proved excellent on an airplane a couple weeks ago.

Ambiance

Luv loop via reddit.

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Future Social Media Influencer

I ate lunch today at a park. There was a child, probably four or five years old, happily kicking a soccer ball around while his parents sat watching him from a nearby picnic table. Occasionally the parents would stop paying attention to the child and start talking amongst themselves. At this point the child would stop kicking the ball, and begin to scream “Look at me!” while stomping his feet. After a minute or so the parents would look back at the child, who would resume happily kicking the ball around – until the parents began talking again, at which point the cycle would continue.

At first I found myself thinking that the parents might do well to address this behaviour, but then I realized that this was an outmoded way of thinking. The parents were clearly setting the child up for a bright future in social media, where nothing is worth doing unless other people are watching you do it.

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Mobile Weather

Los Angeles is suing The Weather Channel for selling the data of mobile users. This behaviour shouldn’t be surprising. Most mobile software, from the operating system on up, seems to exist primarily to provide some base modicum of functionality in exchange for the privilege of fucking you in new and exciting ways.

There are exceptions to the rule. I starting using Arcus for mobile weather in 2014, and it seems pretty respectable. But it exists solely to display data from the Dark Sky API, which is something that a web browser is also capable of doing, thus raising the question: why install anything?

About a month ago I simply bookmarked Dark Sky‘s website and had Firefox add a shortcut to that bookmark on my home screen. Dark Sky’s website is responsive, so it works fine in any viewport size. I bookmarked the URL for my home location, allowing me to see weather at home in a single tap. Elsewhere, it required two taps: one tap to open the bookmark, and one tap on their geolocation icon to get the correct forecast for my current location.

I find Dark Sky’s data to be great for reporting on the hyper-local now. For reports that are wider in scope – either in terms of time or space – nothing beats the National Weather Service. They provide a mobile specific site that is perfectly usable on small viewports. Annoyingly, they don’t make use of the web geolocation API, instead requiring users to manually enter a location. When travelling I may not know what zip code I’m in or have a nearby address. To work around this I created a shim with a few lines of Javascript that geolocates the user, uses the resulting coordinates to build the proper NWS URL, and redirects the user to that URL. I also added support for building a Dark Sky URL so that I could avoid that second tap when not at home. The resulting HTML page is available on GitHub.

Now I have two URLs bookmarked on my home screen that accomplish everything I need: one for NWS and one for Dark Sky.

Shortly after creating this shim I discovered that the NWS has a beta website that is intended to replace both the current mobile and standard sites with a consistent interface. This site does make use of the geolocation API, requiring the user to click an icon to get the current location. It is unclear why they have yet to deploy this to their main domain. It’s been available since August 2017 and the data on the beta site seems to be the same as the data on the standard site and the data on the mobile site. For now I’m sticking with the officially supported domains in my shim.

A locally installed weather program is useful if your requirements include lock screen widgets or notifications of hazardous conditions. Mine do not. These two bookmarks provide all the weather information I need on my telephone, and do so in a way that does not expand my attack surface in the way installing software does. They are indicative of the usefulness of this World Wide Web thing – an emerging technology that I intend to watch with great interest. I think it’ll go places.

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I don't know anything about, or have much interest in, high-frequency trading.

But some of the technology behind it is fascinating. This past summer the Sniper in Mahwah blog published a four part series investigating the use of shortwave radio as a low latency link in high-frequency trading. I’d call it the best piece of hacker-tourism since Mother Earth Mother Board, but I think it’s probably the only piece of hacker-tourism since Mother Earth Mother Board. It doesn’t have much competition.

The Kindle is a terrible device for reading comics.

It’s the wrong size. The E Ink display is greyscale. Zooming and panning are disruptive. A tablet probably works great, but I don’t know – I’ve never owned one. I solved the problem a while back when I discovered that I could simply rotate my laptop’s display via xrandr.

$ xrandr --output eDP-1 --rotate right --pos 0x0

Adding an autorandr profile for this makes it easy to jump to portrait mode. This is useful for reading any long-form content on the X260. Typing (or mousing) on the rotated device is difficult, so I’ll sometimes plug in my external keyboard if I want to do more than just page through a document.

X260 Portrait Mode

Bruce Sterling is at his best when speaking.

I’ve always found his novels to be underwhelming, but I’ll listen to anything he has to say. When speaking, the lens of his cultural critique is combined with dry wit, a rambling Texan drawl, and a faint sense of bemusement at the weirdness of the world and his place in it. The Long Now Foundation recently released a recording of his talk at The Interval, How to Be Futuristic, which should probably be retitled How to Be Bruce Sterling.

One of my favorite talks by Sterling is The Body in the Virtual World. Recorded in 1994, he was fresh off The Hacker Crackdown, completing Heavy Weather, and at peak cyber-punk.

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