Cody’s sunflower lab

Cody’s Lab is one of my favourite science YouTube channels. He’s a personable and talented chemist in rural Utah who makes and refines all manner of materials in his home lab. His most famous videos revolve around extracting precious metals, and smelting ore using nothing more than desktop furnaces and crucibles.

The other reason I love his videos is because they comes across as honest and personal. They’re not overproduced with background music and thirty cuts a minute, it’s just a man and his tools. Heavens. It’s perfect for chilling to on the couch in the evenings, while still learning something fun.

Watch Cody make charcoal out of sunflowers

Since May this year he’s been making charcoal out of various materials, so I was keen to catch up on his wild sunflower episode he released last week. It was fascinating, but what I wasn’t expecting was getting a great new desktop background out of it at the end!

Media

Replacing the phone

I’m still on an iPhone 8, and hopefully will be for a long time. Newer or competitor phones, besides their better cameras and batteries that actually hold sufficient charge for a day, don’t offer anything more for me than what this one does. And in some ways it’s better: it doesn’t have a screen inclusion, it has an LCD instead of an OLED, and it’s smaller.

This isn’t an argument against consumerism; a far better one could be made. For me it’s the fact I’ve come to resent this device, and therefore don’t want to spend money on it. It demands my attention with notifications, it’s a constant source of negative reinforcement, it’s a distraction, it’s invasive. It’s a delivery mechanism for unpalatable things.

For all my arguments about minimalism, decluttering, and Alton Brown multi-toolism, I’m thinking I need to decouple functions from this if I want to return a sense of joy to my day. This will invariably require me to carry more things, but I think I’ll be healthier for it.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Learning that my day doesn’t need constant distractions and electronic stimuli in the first place. I’m not there yet.

  • My Kindle for books, everywhere. I use it to read in bed, but maybe my morning commute would be less stressful if I had a purpose built device that can’t have notifications slide over the text I’m reading. Like a real book, only lighter and easier to hold on peak hour trains.

  • A fun, portable camera with Wi-Fi that’s always with me. The phone is decent, but I need to replace the short dopamine hit of adding to Instagram with longer-term album creation and curation. I’ve got a few self-hosted ideas for Clara and I to start using which I think could be fun. This is why I’m leaning towards the Ricoh GR III.

  • Desktop computers for websites and services that have crept into the phone over the years. I don’t need to check how my ETFs are performing this second, or push notifications for my personal email.

  • I used to listen to podcasts on an old iPod, but I’ve become enamoured with being able to download them on the phone as they come out. This might stick on the phone for now.

  • My favourite Fate/Grand Order mobile game is equally tricky, because it needs connectivity and either iOS or Android. I envy people who’s favourite games are tied to a Nintendo Switch or something. Maybe it needs its own dedicated iPod Touch or something.

Having collated those, I’m starting to think a better question would be what the phone is essential for, rather than trying to start with everything and peel stuff off.


16-inch MacBook Pro

I’m relieved the 16-inch MacBook Pro now exists. I wrote in February:

I’ll almost certainly be wrong about this, but I don’t think beefing up a laptop to let it dissipate more heat sounds like Apple. They’d rather sacrifice performance to achieve the best battery life, weight, and thinness. Whether you and I think that’s a good idea is another story.

And:

I’d give up a performance boost for a usable keyboard, mind. I’ve been using this 13” work MacBook Pro for a few months and I’m seriously contemplating carrying an external keyboard around to overcome the dull throbbing in my knuckles and finger joints. The butterfly key mechanism isn’t as much a bad keyboard as it is user hostile.

I wrote this back in May about the then-new 2019 MacBook Pros:

This isn’t the redesign people with keyboard issues were asking for. The user-hostile bufferfly mechanism has fundamental durability and ergonomic issues inherent in its design. Warranty programmes address the symptoms but not the cause; they just need to be replaced. And nobody has delivered a compelling use for the touchbar, not even Apple.

Apple has now shipped a 16-inch MacBook Pro. I summarised it on The Twitters:

Just saw 16-inch MBP specs. Still has useless touch bar, but inverted T-arrows, scissor keys, escape key, 100W battery!

Still think a 15-inch ThinkPad with FreeBSD will be my next personal workstation, but glad to see Apple (finally) responding to years of frustration.

I’m glad I was wrong about the first point above about cooling! Now they just need to bring back the MagSave and an SD card reader, and they’ll be almost back to where they were in 2015 in terms of utility and usability.


Out of stock, now with free shipping

A certain retail site shows these under an item I’m watching:

eBay note: This item is out of stock

eBay note: 12% off + free postage – hurry! Your watched item is now on sale with free postage.

Out of stock, 12% off, and free postage, with free postage! How much will that cost though? Can I customise my out of stock item, or will that impact my free postage with free postage and 12% off the item that’s out of stock?


Australia’s ruling class on bushfires

Huge swaths of Australia’s eastern seaboard are on fire. My dad has evacuated his house. Sydney has been given a catastropic fire warning. The scale and intensity of the conditions are unprecedented. Yet Australia’s slobbering ruling class responded the same way Americans do after a shooting it’s not an appropriate time to discuss it. When is then?

New South Wales state deputy premier John Barilaro was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, without a trace of irony:

“It is an absolute disgrace to be talking about climate change while we have lost lives and assets, and I make no apology for that”

And Australia’s deputy prime minister Michael McCormack, as quoted in SBS News, where irony wasn’t so much absent but beaten into submission with clichés:

“We’ve had fires in Australia since time began, and what people need now is sympathy, understanding, help and shelter … They don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time.”

I’ll have you know, us people concerned for the well-being of rural folk under a changing climate are latte sipping pinkie-up smashed avo-eating champaign socialists as well. It’s why we can’t afford million dollar houses.

Commentators and journalists are ascribing malicious intent or wilful ignorance, but it’s just as likely they’re entirely out of their depth. Either way, we’re beyond merely wishing for introspection or intelligent debate now; these politicians have demonstrated they’re dangerously unqualified.


Ubiquiti’s phoning home issues

Clara and I rent, so I’m happy laying cat-6 cables under skirting boards and behind furniture piping back to a nice pfSense VM router running on a bhyve server, with a separate Wi-Fi hotspot and an NBN modem in bridge mode. And therein lies the sum of my networking knowledge.

But friends and clients who do know what they talk about praise Ubiquiti gear for it’s performance, privacy, and configurability. Unfortunately:

Here’s a thread from 10 days ago asking about the phone-home by APs to trace.svc.ui.com, introduced in a recent firmware release. I’ve seen this question asked in multiple places on the forum but with no response from any UI employee.

The situation is very simple. Either you intentionally added a phone-home, in which case you need to tell us and give us an option to disable it. Or this was unintentional, and you need to release a firmware update without this behavior. But ignoring these questions is totally unacceptable.

Ubiquiti responded:

Hi all- posted an official update here with a detailed explanation, also want to confirm that we are adding an opt-out feature in upcoming versions

It’s a welcome start, not least for their reputational damage and potential GDPR issues. But their formal explanation still leaves open questions.

This goes beyond just Ubiquiti, and I feel like we’re flogging a dead horse by now, but vendors need to understand it’s not just the act of phoning home, or changing licences, or breaking features, or whatever; it’s the attempt to do it on the sly or without consent. Doubly so when we’re talking about fundamental network infrastructure, or core operating systems.

Apologies and fixes are always welcome, but they ring hollow when they routinely explain the former, and ignore the latter. Get enough of these at an industry scale, and you can see why engineers are becoming (more) cynical. In part because we all know another company will do this again, with the same contrition and learned lessons.

This touches on so many things, but the broader issue here remains that as long as there are incentives to be sneaky, product managers will try it.


Mythical Chef Josh

I’m so happy the Good Mythical Morning staff have given Josh his own videos on their channel. The food and processes he comes up with are brilliant, even if in this case I wouldn’t let the end product anywhere near me! He’s like a self-deprecating Heston.

This was from his most recent episode where he mixed a certain energy drink with Gushers.

If you need more aggression in your whisking, drink another Red Bull!
If you have any problems in your life, drink another Red Bull! Stuck in traffic? Drink Red Bull!
God I really want to drink another Red Bull right now. But Jake said I medically shouldn't be able to.
Thanks Jake! ... Nark.

Media

Fitbit and Yahoo Groups

I’m starting to catch up with industry news after I was MIA. I keep almost spelling that as MBA. Today’s post tackles two details buried in press releases.

The first was Fitbit announcing they’re being acquired. I can’t say I’m surprised, they must have been getting squeezed on multiple sides. Their characterisation of “pioneering” the wearables segment rung a bit hollow as a former Jawbone and Pebble user, but we’ll let that slide.

Buried five paragraphs in we got what we’re all interested in, emphasis added. Forgive me quoting the entire thing, I thought it was illustrative of how these press releases are always written:

Consumer trust is paramount to Fitbit. Strong privacy and security guidelines have been part of Fitbit’s DNA since day one, and this will not change. Fitbit will continue to put users in control of their data and will remain transparent about the data it collects and why. The company never sells personal information, and Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads.

The fact they felt that assurance was even neccesary belies their confidence elsewhere in the post. Would they be saying the same thing if they were bought by Apple, or Samsung?

The second example is the email we all got about the fate of Yahoo Groups. It was another wall of text, but at the end of bullet point four, emphasis added:

All Groups will be made private and any content that was previously uploaded via the website will be removed. We believe privacy is critical and made this decision to better align with our overall principles.

I empathise these kinds of announcements are hard, and that businesses can’t always be honest and upfront with the reasons for their decisions. Yahoo Groups can’t exactly be making them money at this stage, or probably for years. And the people writing this copy are usually not the ones behind the decisions for which they have to write justifications.

Here comes the but though, but… obfuscation is rarely a good look either.


Manga swimsuit follow-up post

Long-time Rubenerd reader Rebecca Hales – no relation to Halestrom other than sharing a fabulous name – asked where I’d got up to with the fitness post I’d promised back in June. Her question wasn’t entirely selfless, as she contributed material to it and was obviously getting antsy at seeing it posted on this esteemed publication. I may have performed a little embellishment in the description there, and by that I mean a lot.

(Not alot, that’s an entirely different beast. I feel between that and gotten we’re fighting a losing battle, but one can dream).

I wrote about Clara and I wanting this Arena gear back in April, as part of our push to get more exercise and be healthier:

Little did we know we could have been weeby at the latter as well. Introducing the Arena Manga One Piece! … Arena has a range of manga themed outfits, complete with darumas, seigaiha patterns, maneki cats, and a Great Wave off Kanagawa, among other Japanese motifs.

This is what the ladies outfit looks like, as worn by a model whom the photographer decided to catch sneezing. Gesundheit!

View of the ladies suit

Rebecca commented within a longer email thread that she thought the design was cute, but that it came with a caveat:

I would be careful recommending that swimsuit for Clara because it’s uncomfortable. I like the open back but I’ve worn the same [style] and the shoulder straps are very thin and cut my shoulders quickly when diving :P

I haven’t had to contend with this as a gentleman, but I’ll take it under advisement. Now this has been pointed out, I can see the other people in the image above have more sane straps. Maybe they were causing her to sneeze, who knows?!

Anime

Thanks everyone for your positive thoughts!

I’ve been overwhelmed and happy by the volume of lovely messages people have sent me about my hospital adventures last week. Other people have had far worse and scarier experiences than what I went through, but its good to know that I can be gone for a week and people notice my absence!

Four comments:

  • Jim Kloss of the late Whole Wheat Radio fame indicated that snorting those electrolyte ice poles would be ill advised. While I do appear to be performing this act in the photo, I’m relieved to report I was ingesting them orally.

  • Hales of Haelstrom joked that the nurses must have noticed my predilection obsession with a certain mobile game as the impetus for putting me on an IV. Good thing I’ve given that a break.

  • A classy, anonymous gentleman who may have even figured out how to put on pants this morning said I was blatantly seeking attention, and that I’m no better than an Instagram Influencer.™ Good thing I was already in a ward for that sick burn, though I wonder how it must hurt holding them to dish out all the time.

  • Rebecca commented that I’ll do anything to get out of following up on the fitness post I was supposed to have posted months ago. Touché!