pig-monkey.com

On Toothpowder

After posting about my toothpaste capsules last year, Ze Stuart wrote to ask if I had ever considered toothpowder. He recommended Eco-Dent DailyCare.

I had not brushed with a commercial toothpowder product before, though had tried carrying baking soda on some backpacking trips for this application. I was never happy with the result. Mostly I think it was just that the lack of foaming and mint flavor, both of which I’ve been psychologically conditioned to associate with “clean”.

Eco-Dent was available locally, so I bought a bottle and started using it. Application is easy: wet the brush, squirt out a bit of the powder from the bottle’s flip top lid, and brush like normal. After brushing for a second the powder froths up, and the experience is more or less the same as brushing with toothpaste.

The label claims that the 2 oz bottle can provide “up to 200 brushings”, which I find to be inaccurate. My first bottle lasted me 350 days. I brush twice a day, so that is 700 brushings. That works out to be about $0.01 per use, which is better than any toothpaste can offer. (Perhaps they expect you to use more of the powder per brushing than I do, but I always use enough to generate the same frothy lather I’d expect from toothpaste.)

When travelling, I repackage the powder into a 0.25 oz bottle. That is plenty for a week or two, takes up no space in a toiletry kit, and weighs approximately nothing.

There are plenty of other toothpowders on the market, but I’ve bought another couple bottles of Eco-Dent. Between those, my collection of toothbrush heads, and a stash of floss, I’ll be out of the dental care market for a few years.

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

Link Log 2020-09-19

Built to Last

Indeed, present-day tech could use more of the sort of resilience and accessibility that COBOL brought to computing – especially for systems that have broad impacts, will be widely used, and will be long-term infrastructure that needs to be maintained by many hands in the future. In this sense, COBOL and its scapegoating show us an important aspect of high tech that few in Silicon Valley, or in government, seem to understand. Older systems have value, and constantly building new technological systems for short-term profit at the expense of existing infrastructure is not progress. In fact, it is among the most regressive paths a society can take.

Vocational Awe

Because of our refusal to deal with systemic, societal issues, librarians – much like public school teachers – grapple with a condensation of duties onto their profession. Librarians become technology experts, crowd control specialists, and emergency responders, trained in how to deal with someone in the middle of a mental health crisis. Now they’re custodians of our democracy as well….in addition to being, you know, information scientists and attempting to maintain collections of knowledge. They are working at least three jobs. Five jobs? More? But they’re often only compensated (and often poorly) for that last one.

My PBP Bike: Contact Points

Comfort on a bike really depends on two things. The first is absorbing vibrations through supple, wide tires and a little suspension in the fork. The second is to make the contact points, where your body touches the bike, as anatomical as possible.

A Time Piece

A decent watch is a useful piece of personal equipment. While not a critical item many of use appreciate a rugged, practical timepiece. I thought I would discuss my experience with watches, as it reflects the activities I was involved in at the time.

How Conspiracy Theories Are Shaping the 2020 Election—and Shaking the Foundation of American Democracy

Democracy relies on an informed and engaged public responding in rational ways to the real-life facts and challenges before us. But a growing number of Americans are untethered from that. “They’re not on the same epistemological grounding, they’re not living in the same worlds,” says Whitney Phillips, a professor at Syracuse who studies online disinformation. “You cannot have a functioning democracy when people are not at the very least occupying the same solar system.”

Attack Surface Kickstarter

Fuck Audible.

de Young 2020

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

YubiKey Cleaning

I’ve carried the same YubiKey NEO on my keychain for five years. On average it gets used dozens of times per day, via USB, as an OpenPGP card. The YubiKey looks a little worse for wear, but it almost always works flawlessly.

Occasionally, it requires a few insertions to be read. When this happens I clean the contacts by rubbing them gently with a Pentel Clic Eraser, wiping off the dust, spraying them with isopropyl alcohol, and then wiping them dry. Afterwards, the YubiKey is registered immediately on the first insert. I perform this procedure about once or twice per year.

YubiKey Cleaning

Using the eraser is potentially dangerous, but I’ve had good luck with it over the years. The white vinyl in the Pentel Clic feels very smooth compared to the abrasiveness of the rubber found on the tops of most pencils.

A few years ago, when large wildfires were becoming the norm, I remember hearing that you shouldn't vacuum when the air quality was poor.

The claim was that pollutants would go through the vacuum and out the exhaust, distributing them back into the air, where you then breathe them in. It was better to just let them sit. While this argument made sense, it struck me as primarily being a critique of a poorly designed tool: I vacuum to remove unwanted matter from my living space, not to redistribute it within the space. So I did the obvious thing and bought a Miele vacuum with HEPA exhaust filter from the Germans. For the past four years my vacuum has been effectively the same as my air filter. I can use it regardless of environmental conditions, even during the 36-hour night.

San Francisco Sunrise

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

Link Log 2020-08-25

A clean start for the web

Inside the high-stakes world of clandestine crude shipping

Hygiene Theater Is a Huge Waste of Time

COVID-19 has reawakened America’s spirit of misdirected anxiety, inspiring businesses and families to obsess over risk-reduction rituals that make us feel safer but don’t actually do much to reduce risk-even as more dangerous activities are still allowed. This is hygiene theater.

Elderblog Sutra: 11

Applied to a blog, angkorwatification is a sort of textual equivalent of rewilding. You have a base layer of traditional blog posts that is essentially complete in the sense of having created, over time, an idea space with a clear identity, and a more or less deliberately conceived architecture to it. And you have a secondary organic growth layer that is patiently but relentlessly rewilding the first, inorganic one. That second layer also emerges from the mind of the blogger of course, but does so via surrender to brain entropy rather than via writerly intentions disciplining the flow of words. I’ve seen some other old sites undergo angkorwatification. Some seem to happily surrender to it like I am doing, others seem to fight it, like I won’t.

Bikes of the Bunch: Rob English’s English road bike

I am very excited about this revolutionary bicycle, and look forward to testing it. Look at all the gains – the same braking power, modulation and control, but with less weight, easier-to-remove wheels, no hydraulics, more compliant fork and no rotor-rubbing noises! Yes, there are a couple of downsides – it’s not ideal in the wet, and it can’t use the best shaped aerodynamic (carbon) rims. Still, could this oversized rotor concept be the next big thing in cycling?

Buena Vista Fire Sunset

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

Tracking My Phone Bill with Ledger

Back in 2013 I bought my first smartphone and signed up for a T-Mobile prepaid plan, referred to at the time as the “Walmart Plan”. The plan cost $30 per month, was intended for new customers only, and was supposed to only be available to those who purchased the SIM card at a Walmart. It offered a small amount of voice minutes and a large amount of data, which struck me as what one would want with one of these newfangled computer-phones. I bought a SIM card, figured out how to get T-Mobile to sign me up on the plan despite not stepping foot into a Walmart, and haven’t looked back since.

One of the things that appeals to me about the setup is the level of separation it gives me from the service provider. I purchased the phone from the manufacturer and the SIM card I bought with cash. I fund the plan by purchasing refill cards from third-party vendors. I have never provided T-Mobile with any financial information. They have no ability to take any money from me, except what I give them when trading in the refill cards. Obviously, the primary business of any mobile communications provider is location tracking, so I can’t refer to my relationship with them as “privacy preserving”, but I like to think it does allow me to retain some level of agency that is lost in a more traditional relationship.

If there is a downside to this setup, it is that it can be difficult to understand what I actually pay per month. The plan costs $30. There is some limit to the number of SMS messages, but I have no idea what it is. Data is “unlimited”, which means throttled over 4GB, but I don’t think I’ve ever approached even half that limit. Minutes are limited, and if I go over the allotment I’m charged a higher rate, but the service continues as long as the balance of the account remains positive.

I always want to keep more than $30 in the account, in case I do go over the allotted minutes. So I buy $50 refill cards. They have $50 of value, and are supposed to cost me $50. But the vendor I tend to by them from charges a $1 service fee, offers a points program that sometimes results in a discount being applied, and frequently has sales that offer a couple dollars off. So I end up paying something like $48-51. If I do exceed the limits of the plan, I may end up buying a $50 card one month and the next. More often, I buy a $50 card one month and have enough left over in the account that I do not need to refill it the following month. My plan renews on the 5th of the month, so some months I may end up spending $100 by buying one refill card on the first day of the month and another on the last in anticipation of the following month’s renewal.

All of that is to say that it is difficult to have an intuitive feel for what my average monthly phone expense is, but it’s important that I can get that number so that I can determine if the plan is still working or if I should look for a better offer. Fortunately, this is a thing that Ledger makes extremely simple.

Whenever I purchase a refill card, I log the transaction in the Expenses:Utilities:Phone account. With that done, I can ask Ledger to report on all transactions in that account, grouped by month, with a running average in the final column.

$ ledger register utilities:phone --monthly --average --begin 2019-08
2019-09-01 - 2019-09-30     Expenses:Utilities:Phone    $48.50      $48.50
2019-10-01 - 2019-10-31     <None>                      0           $24.25
2019-11-01 - 2019-11-30     Expenses:Utilities:Phone    $46.50      $31.67
2019-12-01 - 2019-12-31     <None>                      0           $23.75
2020-01-01 - 2020-01-31     Expenses:Utilities:Phone    $51.00      $29.20
2020-02-01 - 2020-02-29     <None>                      0           $24.33
2020-03-01 - 2020-03-31     Expenses:Utilities:Phone    $48.50      $27.79
2020-04-01 - 2020-04-30     <None>                      0           $24.31
2020-05-01 - 2020-05-31     Expenses:Utilities:Phone    $48.50      $27.00
2020-06-01 - 2020-06-30     Expenses:Utilities:Phone    $46.50      $28.95
2020-07-01 - 2020-07-31     <None>                      0           $26.32
2020-08-01 - 2020-08-31     Expenses:Utilities:Phone    $51.00      $28.38

Over the past 12 months, I have spent an average of $28.38 per month on phone service. I’m ok with that.

Adding Metadata to Ledger

As mentioned previously, two of the primary reasons I use Ledger are the intimate awareness it provides of how money is moving, and its timely representation of current balances. The third primary reason I use the tool is for the activity history it provides.

Recording almost every transaction I make (excepting only some small petty cash) allows me to look at years past and build an accurate picture of what I was doing. Most activities leave some sort of financial record, even if the transaction is only tangential to the activity itself. This is the sort of information that I would be extremely uncomfortable providing to a third-party, but is quite useful to have myself.

Storing receipts provides an additional layer of detail to the history created in the Ledger journal. As an intermediate between the full receipt and the basic journal entry, I find it is extremely valuable to use comments and tags within the journal. Almost every transaction in my Ledger journal that is not for food has a comment describing what goods or service was purchased.

In Ledger, comments begin with a semicolon. I store them below the first line of the transaction. When placed here, Ledger refers to these comments as notes. When purchasing goods, I add one comment – or note – for each unique item on the transaction. For instance, I might buy socks:

2018-07-02=2018-07-01 * Socks Addict
    ; Darn Tough Light Cushion No Show Tab, Black/Grey, Large, 2x
    Expenses:Clothing:Footwear                $33.40
    Liabilities:Bank:Visa

The comment tells me exactly what was purchased. More importantly, it tells me the model name, the color, and the size of the item. If I want to purchase another pair of identical socks, I can do so easily. This seems like a minor thing, but when it is applied to everything I buy, it is hard to overstate how greatly this ability has improved my quality of life over the past decade.

In Ledger, comments are searchable. Say I want to list every transaction where I purchased a pair of Darn Tough socks. I buy them from different retailers, so I can’t filter by the payee. All the transactions are in the Expenses:Clothing:Footwear category, but that category includes socks from other manufacturers and well as other things that go on my feet, so I can’t filter by that. But I can query all transactions with a note which includes the string “darn tough”.

$ ledger register note darn tough

A tag is a special kind of comment. Tags are useful if you have the foresight to realize that a particular transaction should be grouped with other transactions, but that transactions within the group will likely have different payees or accounts. Tags start and end with a :. Multiple tags can be chained together.

I use tags for vacations. Expenses related to any vacation are tagged with two tags: a generic :vacation: tag, and a tag specific to the vacation. This allows me to easily see what I spend on vacations in general, or any one vacation specifically. For example, in 2018 I took a 24-hour trip to Las Vegas to see Nine Inch Nails. That trip included numerous transactions in unrelated accounts: concert tickets, airline tickets, accommodations, ground transport, food, etc. All transactions were tagged with :vacation: and :nin-vegas-2018:. As an example, here is the transaction for purchasing the concert tickets:

2018-03-30=2018-03-28 * AXS
    ; Nine Inch Nails at The Joint, Las Vegas
    ; :nin-vegas-2018:vacation:
    Expenses:Entertainment:Performance        $95.50
    Assets:Bank:Checking

Ledger makes it easy to see all the expenses associated with that trip, both in total and broken out into different expense accounts.

$ ledger balance expense and %nin-vegas-2018

I also use tags to indicate transactions that occur via the same merchant system but have different payees. Specifically, things I buy on Etsy are tagged :esty: and things I buy on eBay are tagged :ebay:. Without these tags I would have no way to list all the Etsy purchases I have made, since I send the money to individual sellers and not Etsy itself.

I also use tags to indicate transactions related to keeping my apartment. Rent goes to the Expenses:Rent account. Electricity charges go to Expenses:Utilities:Electric. Gas charges go to Expenses:Utilities:Gas. My cell phone payment goes to Expenses:Utilities:Phone. The first three charges I consider apartment expenses. My cell phone is not. By tagging the first three with :apt: I can easily see the total monthly cost of keeping my apartment, without a bunch of complicated querying to exclude things like the cell phone bill.

My final use for tags is indicating transactions that I think should be deducted from my taxes. Some people do this with accounts, but I find that with the account structure that makes sense to me I often end up with a mix of deductible and non-deductible transactions within a single account. Tagging deductible transactions with :deduct: makes it easy to dump a list of all transactions that should be considered when completing yearly taxes.