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.

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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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