Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Man-Bag Dump, 2024 Edition

I've talked a bit about the philosophy behind what goes into my man-bag, now let's get into the kit itself.

Purse Things

Most of these items are ones that I have carried for years. One new addition is the USB rechargeable dog collar light that gets attached to the outside of my bag. It adds visibility when I'm walking at night and serves as a task light for up-close work. Unlike other small safety lights I've tried in the past, it's USB rechargeable. It's a bit thicker than I'd like, but otherwise, it's just about the perfect marker light.

I've been experimenting with carrying a few compressed towels. I added these because I found myself stepping out of the house too often without grabbing a handkerchief, an item that I find to be absolutely essential. I'm thinking the towels may be able to serve as a field expedient replacement. We'll see if they get any use; if not, they'll be evicted from the bag.

Finally, I'm on the fence about carrying the mini-deck of cards and dice. On one hand, these are great for entertainment and improvisational purposes. They are also quite compact. Yet, I'm still not entirely convinced that their bulk is justified. Time will tell if they prove their worth.

  • Buff
  • Flip & Tumble shopping bag
  • Pepper spray
  • Glasses pouch
  • Peanut M&M's
  • Dice and Cards
  • Marker light
  • Glow in the dark tape
  • Reflective tape
  • Extra cash
  • Backup credit card
  • Fresnel lens
  • Large sewing needle
  • Tissues
  • Res-q-me glass punch
  • Car keys
  • Hair band
  • Nitcore TIP flashlight
  • Compressed towels

Tech Stuff

Recently, I've made a significant improvment in the tech side of things. I replaced three specialized cables, a USB C, USB Micro and Garmin Watch Charger with two USB C cables and teeny tiny adaptors. The adapters turn the USB C cables into the other varieties that I need. My phone makes use of a USB C cable, so having two of those cables is very handy.

I'm still making use of the same relatively small Anker battery. While the battery can only bring my phone to 80% of a charge, I find that's sufficient and allows me to save on the weight that would come with a larger battery.

  • Folding keyboard
  • Anker battery
  • USB C cables
  • Wall adapter
  • Micro SD cards
  • Micro SD to SD card adapter
  • USB C to 3.5mm adapter
  • USB C to USB Micro adapter
  • USB C Micro SD card reader
  • USB A Micro SD card reader
  • USB C Host on the Go adapter
  • SIM tool
  • Backup cell phone
  • Headphones


After a hot glue gun incident, I took the hint and added a couple of packets of burn cream to my kit.

Surprisingly, the cough drops saved the day a number of times last year. Who knew how handy they would be?

Not shown below is a 24-hour supply of meds for both Shira and myself. I think it's pretty essential to always have these on hand, as they simplify being stuck somewhere unexpectedly for the night.

  • Cough drops
  • Claritin D
  • Anti-diarrheal
  • Burn cream
  • Cortisone cream
  • Aspirin
  • Benadryl
  • Dramamine
  • Drip-drop rehydration
  • Crystallized lemon flavoring
  • Melatonin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Band-aids
  • Leuko tape

Outdoors and Emergency

Finally, we come to a few odds and ends, many of which make sense in an outdoor setting. Though the plastic bags are especially handy for when we travel with kids and the threat of car sickness looms.

The tea bag is mainly there for its caffeine, so technically it belongs in the 'drugs' section. Yet, this advice I read nearly 10 years ago still resonates with me, causing me to store it among my outdoor gear.

The trauma kit is detailed here (it's the pocket variety). I keep it vacuum-sealed for easy access.

  • KT, Leuko, and Duct tape
  • Portable Aqua tabs
  • Bic lighter
  • True Liberty bags
  • Quart-sized Ziplock bag
  • KN95 Mask
  • Ear plugs
  • CPR Mask
  • Tea bag
  • Trauma kit

Monday, February 26, 2024

Man-Bag Dump, 2024 Edition: Let's Talk Philosophy

It's been four years since I last posted a bag dump of my man-bag, so I'm overdue to post a fresh snapshot of what's inside. However, before I get into these details, I thought I'd talk a bit about the philosophy behind the gear and its selection.

At a high level, I'm striving to balance the 3P's of gear selection: Preparedness, Practice, and Predictability.


Preparedness is the most straightforward attribute, and here my gear tends to fall into one of four buckets. First, there are convenience items. These tend to be frequently used but low-impact. That is, I use them fairly often, but it would be more of a nuisance than a catastrophe if I went without. This covers things like a reusable shopping bag to avoid accumulating more plastic, a microfiber cloth to clean my glasses, or a dose of Claritin D, which has saved me from a number of annoying allergy attacks due to cat allergies.

Next, there are tech items. Some of these are pretty obvious: ways to charge my cell phone and headphones to turn any space into one where I can get lost in media. Other items may seem over the top, like a folding keyboard and various USB adapters. These items let me turn my phone into a Linux workstation. From there, I can help rescue my customers if their servers go down, or tackle countless other tasks that benefit from having a laptop.

There are also a few outdoorsy items, like a Bic lighter and Aquatabs. I spend enough time outdoors that it's reassuring to always have these items on me. I'm also keenly aware that while I may be planning a day full of indoor activities, I may unexpectedly find myself in nature.

Finally, I carry a few doomsday items. These are on the opposite spectrum of the convenience items: used infrequently, but with high impact. Examples of these items include a trauma kit, a glass punch for escaping or getting into a vehicle, and digital copies of important documents. I'm just as disbelieving as the next person that I will ever need these items, yet there's ample evidence to suggest that nobody is immune from these crises.


Gear is good. But gear plus experience is far superior. But how does one get this experience? One way is through deploying your kit even when it's not entirely necessary. This is what I identify as the goal of practice.

For example, every so often I'll charge my phone from my bag's battery pack even though there's a perfectly usable outlet in front of me. Or I'll use that bag's flashlight when Shira and I go on a winter evening's stroll through our neighborhood even though we could probably forgo a light altogether. Or, I'll grab my folding keyboard and use it and my phone to respond to any work issues that have come up overnight, even though a proper computer is just a few paces away. What these detours lose in efficiency, they more than make up for in experience. I get to learn firsthand if my battery pack is still holding a charge, if the flashlight I intend to depend on in emergencies is as bright as I expect it to be, and if my phone is still on speaking terms with the Bluetooth keyboard I intend to deploy to rescue a customer's server.


Finally, there's predictability. That is, having a very high degree of confidence that your gear is where you expect it to be, and that it is ready to perform. Predictability is key when a situation is stressful. In these conditions, the last thing you want to be worrying about is your equipment.

For example, while on a camping trip with our nieces and nephew, I was separated from Shira and needed to give her a call. I reached for my phone and found, thanks to the heap of photos I'd taken and my neglecting to charge it the night before, that it was dead. Without missing a beat, I pulled out my battery pack and a USB cable, and within a minute or two, I was on the phone with Shira. I didn't need to think: did I pack the battery pack? Did I bring it on our hike? Did I have a working charging cable with me? This was handy for the low-risk scenario of my phone being dead, but I imagine this would make a world of difference should I ever need to deploy one of those doomsday items I mentioned above.

Finding a Balance

The thing about these three goals is that the first one is in direct conflict with the last two. Preparedness can be solved by bringing lots of stuff. But, practice calls for your kit to be as portable as possible, so you'll take it with you and use it as often as possible. Similarly, predictability is optimized when you have fewer items in your kit, as there's less to mentally track and to physically maintain. In short, it can be just as valuable, if not more so, to remove items from my man-bag than it is to add them.

Ultimately, searching for this balance is a game of trial and error. I'm always looking for that sweet spot of having the most effective gear with the fewest items in my kit. Up next is a snapshot of my latest setup.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

A Bit of Burlington

[Composed 10/5/2023. High: 82°F(!)]

Leaf looking.
Snake spotting.
Sunset savoring.
Beach browsing.
Cemetery strolling.
Treehouse Treasuring.
Very Vermont.
Beautiful Burlington.

My brief business trip to Burlington, Vermont was delightful. Meetings kept me busy, but as the photos suggest, Shira and I still found some time for exploration. I especially appreciated the tree house, which is a first of its kind and claims to be universally accessible.

In general, the scenery was gorgeous and the vibe was chill. I'd go back in tourist mode in a hot minute.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Review: Cryptonomicon

Finishing Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon feels like a literary accomplishment nearly 25 years in the making. For as long as I can remember, Cryptonomicon has been recommended as sort of the ultimate Unix geek novel. Finishing it feels like earning a critical nerd merit badge.

The audio version, weighing in at nearly 43 hours, is twice as long as Moby Dick and over three times the length of the last audiobook I listened to. In fairness, it's still shorter than War and Peace, which comes in at a whopping 59 hours.

So, what do you get for all this text? Well, quite a bit. Some of it exceedingly enjoyable, other parts less so. Below, I'll ramble on about what struck me most. But first, a warning.

Cryptonomicon started off strong for me, and for the first half of the text, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it. In many respects, I felt like the novel was written just for me. The text contains both a modern storyline, as well as one that takes place in World War II. The modern storyline includes Randy, a socially awkward nerd who morphs into a Linux guru and becomes involved in various Internet startups. In 1999, when the book was published, this was--in a much, much tamer version--my story. So yeah, I had no problem relating to Randy and his character's growth.

The World War II storyline, because of its focus on obscure topics, is exactly the kind of historical fiction I relish. For example, being a book with a heavy emphasis on cryptography, one might expect it to focus primarily on, say, cracking Enigma. Instead, it focuses on Detachment 2702, an effort to allow the allies to act on intelligence while keeping the enemy oblivious to the fact that their codes have been broken. I haven't yet researched what parts of Cryptonomicon are truth and what parts are fiction, so I'm not entirely sure if there even was a Detachment 2702 in real life. But there must have been efforts like it, and learning about them is a treat.

It was halfway to two-thirds through the Cryptonomicon when I started to get impatient. I was fine with the long story arc, and I was all for the teachable moments throughout the text. But the incredibly detailed yet seemingly tangents to nowhere started to weigh on me.

The chapter titled Phreaking was a quintessential example of this. First, out of the blue, we meet a new character: Pekka. We naturally get Pekka's backstory. I mean, we'll never hear from Pekka again, but sure, why not? And then we get a detailed description of Van Eck phreaking. This is a bit clumsy because it's all seemingly for no reason, but OK, I can live with that. My guess is that Van Eck phreaking will play an important role in the future of the text, so we need to be educated about it (spoiler alert: it does). Then we get a lengthy, completely unrelated education on the topic of hive minds. Unlike Van Eck hacking, what we learn about hive minds doesn't appear to contribute to the story.

Ultimately, the chapter closes out with the setup that Van Eck phreaking is a sort of x-ray vision that allows Randy, Pekka, and Cantrell to see Tom's screen. By the rules of any teen comedy, Tom has to be doing something embarrassing while Randy and his cohorts are watching his screen. Most authors would have gone with porn as that awkward subject, and everyone would have had a good giggle. But Stephenson isn't most authors. He opts to have Randy, Pekka, and Cantrell observe Tom writing about his most secret sexual musings. Fair enough. But this goes on for what seems like 30 minutes of the audiobook. Looking at the ebook version, Stephenson devotes 10 pages to Tom's writing. The writing seems earnest and strives to be as thoughtful as a text on sexual fetishes can be. But why bother? Why subject your readers to this?

So as the second half of the book slowly unwound itself, I found myself trying to crack this puzzle of Stephenson's verbosity.

Did he simply love to write? Where one author would be satisfied by saying Randy was crushing on a girl unlike any he'd ever met, Stephenson gives us an intense 9-page essay on Randy's wisdom teeth. The entire story seems to exist so that Stephenson can write one paragraph about how bad Randy has it for a girl. I can just imagine Stephenson talking to his editor:

Stephenson: I'm thinking about adding

Editor (interrupting): Yes.

For a good chunk of the text, I decided that all this verbosity was a sort of Detachment 2702 style answer to the challenge of keeping the reader informed yet surprised. The approach: bury critical details under a mountain of text. Will Randy's success hinge on Van Eck phreaking, hive minds, Tom's sexual preferences, or the extraction of his wisdom teeth? Through information overload and camouflaging, it's possible to have told the reader the answer and yet still keep the twist a secret.

As the text closed out and gaps in the storyline were filled in, I found myself developing a new theory of Stephenson's insistence on complete detail. As a programmer, I'm vividly aware of the duality of computers. On one hand, they are amazingly powerful, completing complex tasks in milliseconds. On the other hand, without specific instructions—that is, code—they are little more than expensive doorstops. For example, when I type:

 wget -r https://pallas.eruditorium.org/

I'm essentially instructing my computer to download every web page on pallas.eruditorium.org. This task is both tedious (considering there could be thousands of pages to download) and complex (as it involves establishing a secure connection for each page). Nevertheless, the computer handles this task effortlessly. It accomplishes this feat thanks to the thousands, if not millions, of lines of code meticulously crafted to guide it through the process.

In this light, I can see Cryptonomicon as the polar opposite of a short story. With a short story, the author relies on the reader's imagination to fill in gaps in the text. It's a clever bit of mental judo that lets a few fragments of a story be shaped into an entire narrative. Cryptonomicon takes the opposite approach: not only does it describe the characters and circumstances of the text, but it also teaches the reader how all of the technology that these characters and circumstances call for works. In other words, Stephenson has strived to write a fully defined story. You can roll your eyes at the verbosity, but unlike many stories that involve technology, there's no magic being deployed here. Pull on any thread you want; it all holds together (at least the tech side of things does).

With this perspective, I found that I could answer a question that had been baffling me for a good portion of the text: what is Cryptonomicon about? Sure, it involves Detachment 2702, Epiphyte Corp., a data haven, the Battle of Manila, the search for gold, cryptocurrency, and many other topics. But using my computing example, I can see the narrative in a new light. Cryptonomicon is simply all of the supporting material for the final moment of the book: "Randy Waterhouse, sitting on a boulder above a stream flowing with molten gold, is happy." Like the wget command, this statement may look simple, but it calls for 40 hours of audiobook to allow this statement to make sense.

I can also see in Stephenson's verbosity a suggestion for why the book is called Cryptonomicon. The Cryptonomicon that's alluded to in the novel is a collection of resources to help would-be code breakers learn from each other and advance the art of cryptanalysis. Because I haven't researched what parts of the story are true or not, I don't yet know if the Cryptonomicon is a real thing or an idea invented by Stephenson. And while it comes up a few times in the story, it doesn't jump out to me as being pivotal enough to earn its place as the book's title.

However, if I consider Stephenson's side-trips into technology as not just an attempt at being uber-complete or wishing to obscure the plot but instead look at these passages as essential, then a new picture begins to develop. In that case, Cryptonomicon is a sort of Cryptonomicon itself. Instead of being focused solely on cryptography, it takes a wider view. But the result is the same: if you're interested in being a hacker*, then here's your handbook. Sure, it's got a storyline running through it, but don't let that fool you; this is far more guidebook than love story.

Perhaps these theories explain my primary frustration point with the text: the characters never seem to acknowledge how they are connected. For example, how does Goto Dengo never discover or acknowledge that he's connected up with his beloved friend's son and grandson? It's maddening. But, to explain Randy's state of happiness or to create a hacker's bible, this moment of mushiness isn't really needed. So, we don't get it. It kills me, but surely Stephenson had a good reason to not give us this moment of reunion. It certainly wasn't for lack of interest in writing; after all, he's given us vivid descriptions of so much else.

OK, so those are my thoughts and theories. Now it's time to run a few well-placed Google searches and see just how far off the mark they are. This should be fun!

*Hacker in this context refers to a positive definition; not the up-to-no-good definition that you may be thinking of.

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Tasker: Saving Spouses one Profile at a Time.

(Chat GPT's rendering of Shira calling me on her way home from work, and me ignoring her. Nailed it.)

I've been happy keeping my phone on silent and getting notifications via my watch. This simplifies my life; I don't worry about my device's ringer going off at just the wrong moment, or having to overthink setting up ringtones and notification sounds.

Every once in a while, however, I'll miss an important call from Shira and she'll ask me: why don't you put my number on the DnD exception list? This list is the set of contacts who cause the phone to ring even though the device is in Do Not Disturb mode.

I then have to explain that I'm not using Samsung's built-in Do Not Disturb mode, instead, I'm using a custom Tasker Profile that doesn't know anything about this exception list. She then tells me that I should really fix this, and I promise her one day I will. I then forget about the problem until I miss another important call, and the discussion repeats.

But not anymore! Over this past weekend, I took a few minutes and looked into how I could implement an exception list for my always-on-silent Tasker profile. Turns out, it was easy to implement. The magic lies in Tasker's Call Screened Event. Creating a profile linked to this event allows you to run code as a phone call comes in, but before the phone has started ringing.

Using this event, I'm able to detect if the caller is in a special always-ring contact group. If they are, then I disable Force Silent Mode, crank up the volume, and accept the call. I then wait 1 minute and put the phone back into always-on-silent mode. Admittedly, this approach is clumsy: for 1 minute after Shira calls, anyone who calls will result in the ringer sounding. But for now, the simplicity of this approach outweighs its lack of finesse.

Here are the Tasker profiles, feel free to grab and use them: Force Silent Mode, Bypass Silent Mode.

I'm psyched to have learned about the Call Screened event. It seems like this capability could be put to use in all sorts of interesting ways.