DIY Dehydrator

It is done! The homemade dehydrator project got put on hold for a while, but finally finished it yesterday, marinated thin-cut flank steak overnight (Alton Brown recipe) and just put them in for a 6-hour cook at 120 deg. Settled on a 200W halogen bulb (halogen is not very efficient and turns a lot of energy into heat rather than light, which is what we want for this). The build was… wonky in lots of ways – couldn’t get a friend’s words out of my head: “You know you can buy a dehydrator on amazon for like $36, right?” “But then it wouldn’t be homemade!” No idea what to expect – hoping for the best.

Update: First round of jerky was amazing. It’s going to be tough to keep it in stock.

Round 2, a month later: Cinnamon apples and banana slices. This one will be a 10-hour cook.

 

Dehydrator

Dehydrator

Dehydrator

Dehydrator

 

The Ethics of Modern Web Ad-Blocking

For years, I’ve resisted – and argued against – using web ad blockers of any kind. After spending a decade working at a journalism school and watching publishers large and small struggle (and mostly fail) to find a way to be paid for their essential efforts, it felt like bearing a certain amount of advertising was the very least we-the-public could do to support quality journalism. Paywalls don’t work for almost any publications – what else is there?

But the rise of the mobile web tipped the scales – the “social contract” around advertising was no longer a fair one. The mobile experience is far less tolerant of intrusion, and network speeds are slower. But because monetization is more difficult, publishers were “forced” to insert more, and more intrusive advertising. The cumulative effect has been a steady decline in the quality of mobile browsing. Today, many news sites are close to unusable on a smart phone, having become choked out by network and screen-stealing crap.
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Sane Password Strength Validation for Django with zxcvbn

While many admins and blog posts tell users that length is by far the most important factor in creating strong passwords/passphrases, the majority of password input fields are giving them a set of hide-bound rules: Eight characters, at least one upper- and one lowercase letter, some digits and punctuation marks, etc.

Even though it includes dictionary words, a passphrase like:

Sgt. Pepper's Mr. Kite

is far stronger than:

js72(.Tb8

(there’s a world of difference between 22 characters and 9, from a cracking perspective). But many password input fields would reject the first one. No wonder users are confused by the process of creating strong passwords!
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What Is Code?

I’ve been thinking recently about how some people have jobs that most everyone can “understand” more or less – we all know kinda sorta what a teacher or a policeman does – while others work in areas that are virtually inaccessible to the general public. I’m often reminded how little my family and closest friends understand about how I spend my days.

So Paul Ford of Businessweek has written this colossal, 38,000-word article “What Is Code” that attempts to bridge that gap. I’m not sure it succeeds (or that any article could) but it’s a fine attempt and a damn good read. Even for coders. It took hours to get through, and reading is not generally how I like to spend my weekend time, but it was time very well spent. Super recommend.

What Is Code

Sheldon the Corn Snake

We raised a gorgeous orange/yellow corn snake up from a 6″ pup to a 4′ adult reptile in about three years. Sheldon, named after the character from The Big Bang Theory, became a reliable companion in our family, coming out occasionally to wander through our fingers, and often to consume mice and rats. We’ve let him move on to another family now, but he’ll always have a warm place in our hearts for our cold-blooded friend!

More images in the Flickr Set

Natural Medicine vs. Homeopathic Sugar Pills

Many people confuse the terms “homeopathic” and “naturopathic,” or think that all natural medicines are homeopathic. Not true! Homeopathic medicines are, by definition, diluted past the point of chemical detectability. In a typical homeopathic pill, not a single molecule of the original substance is present. They don’t work because it is not even conceptually possible that they could work (beyond their placebo effect of course). This is why you can swallow a whole bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills without dying from an overdose – you’ve swallowed nothing but lactose.

On the other hand, many natural medicines are perfectly effective in their recommended doses, and often preferable to their laboratory counterparts.

So if you want to take natural medicines but don’t want to waste your money supporting the scumbag snake-oil hucksters who sell homeopathics, how do you tell the difference? The issue gets especially cloudy when you have a single manufacturer selling both variants. Case in point: One of the world’s biggest homeopathic/naturopathic vendors, Boiron, sells Arnica as both a cream and as a homeopathic pill. But there’s a huge difference: The topical cream contains 7% actual Arnica, whereas the pill is a true homeopathic, therefore containing 0% Arnica. Consumers who don’t want to waste their money must read the label to know they’re getting a product that might actually help them.

How to tell the difference? It’s simple once you know the “code”.

Homeopathic “potency” is described with a “C” or an “X” – the more diluted the ingredient, the more potency it’s considered to have (which is of course absurd). For point of comparison, “one third of a drop of some original substance diluted into all the water on earth would produce a remedy with a concentration of about 13C.” Boiron’s Arnica pellets are sold at a dilution of 30C.

So:

1) Sugar pills (i.e. “diluted” homeopathics) will list their “potency” (which is really ​the opposite of their potency) as C or X, whereas actual natural medicine will list the active ingredient as a PERCENTAGE (i.e. 7% actual arnica root).

2) If there is an active ingredient, as with the cream, there will be an “Active Ingredients” section on the back label, listing those active ingredients and their percentages. But with sugar pills, you’ll often see only an “Inactive Ingredients” section (mentioning lactose, etc.) but NO “Active Ingredients” section (because there aren’t any and they can’t legally claim that there are any). So a missing “active ingredients” section on the label can be interpreted as code for “sugar pills.” In some cases, homeopathic pills will have an Active Ingredients section, but with a footnote pointing out in small print that **C, K, CK, and X are homeopathic dilutions.

bargain

Maker Faire 2015

More images in the Flickr Set.

This year was the 10th birthday of “The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth” – that Rainbow Gathering of robot makers, sculptors, hackers, welders, Burning Man attendees with kids, benders of light, food artisans, bicycle tweakers, DJs and artistic misfits.

Watches

I’m proud to be able to say I’ve taken my child to Maker Faire @ San Mateo every single year since 2006, meaning we haven’t missed a single event.

Iris

Light Sculpture

Despite the annoying aspect of the ever-growing crowds, it’s become a father-son tradition we look forward to every year, and we can’t imagine ever skipping it at this point. Every year is both “more of the same” and completely different.

Creature Quad

Certain exhibits seem almost perennial, but there are always tons of new surprises. It was especially nice to have cooler temperatures this year – low 60s meant we were able to do a full eight hours on the fairgrounds without missing a beat.

More fire-breathing giant beastie sculptures than ever before:

Robot sculpture fire

Riding Cyclecide’s collection of hacked bicycles is always our favorite part of the day. Bikes with hinges in the middle of the frame are almost impossible to ride, but you do kind of get the hang of it after a while.

Cyclecide

Same with the reverse-steering-gear bike that turns the opposite of the direction you turn the wheels. Our fave this time was the bike with off-center axles, making it feel like it’s navigating bumpy terrain even on flat ground.

Cyclecide

The “dark room” seemed better than ever, with more sophisticated interactives, plus a truly gorgeous wall-sized mixed-materials glowing sculpture reminiscent of a time tunnel receding into space.

Light Sculpture

We’ve admired the masking tape cities and gardens every year (now represening 10,000 hours of work and more than 27 miles of tape!), and for the first time this year we actually sat down for a 30-minute lesson on masking tape “origami.”

Masking Tape Art

And Miles had his first opportunity to sit at the helm of an original Apple IIe, just like the ones we used in high school in the early 80s:

Apple IIe

Totally loved the “junk” drumming of John F. King:

More images in the Flickr Set.

Notes on Organizing Digital Image Collections

I’ve spent the past few months going through and organizing my entire iPhoto -> Photos.app collection. It’s been a tedious but wonderful process. I’ve come to a few conclusions:

Snoopy mud flats

  • Everyone is sitting on tens of thousands of digital images.
  • No one can find a damn thing in that giant pile.
  • If you can’t find it five or ten years from now you may as well have not taken it in the first place.
  • The time to deal with your images is the day you shot them.
  • Delete the duds. Bad exposure. Out of focus. Not the best of the set. Delete delete delete. Delete heaps and you’ll still have more keepers than you’ll ever be able to enjoy. Don’t be a hoarder.
  • For the keepers, the key is findability.
    • Image titles. Album titles. Faces. Keywords. Doesn’t matter. Just make sure one or more keyword exists for search.
    • When adding titles, imagine a future version of yourself searching for this image.
  • Be disciplined. The longer you wait, the more daunting the task.
  • Chip away. Do it now.

Trix.py – Metadata/Converter for Hunter’s Trix

Hunter’s Trix is an incredible (and very large) collection of “matrix” recordings of some of the best Grateful Dead shows. The series is produced and mixed by Jubal Hunter Seamons and includes CD cover artwork for each volume/show.

trix1

A “matrix” involves taking a high-quality soundboard recording and merging (matrixing) it with one or more audience recordings (Auds) of the same show. The resulting matrix brings you the maximum fidelity of the soundboard source and the ambience/electricity of being in the audience at the same time.

There are more than 100 Hunter matrixes being traded as legal torrents on etree.org.

Unfortunately, there are two problems: 1) They’re all in FLAC format, instead of Apple Lossleess (ALAC). Since most people use iTunes, this means most people must go through a manual transcoding process; 2) The first 94 shows are missing embedded metadata and cover art (the cover art is beautiful). I’m obsessive about having perfect metadata and cover art in every single track in my collection, which meant manually copying and pasting metadata (including track and disc numbers, show dates and venues, track and album titles, etc.) from text files in the download directory into individual track files. It was taking 20+ minutes to process each album. So I decided to automate the process with this python script.

trix2

I had originally planned to share the completed ALAC versions of the collection back to the community, but Hunter talked me out of it. So I’m doing the next best thing here and sharing the conversion script. With everything installed and working, I was able to cut the processing time down from ~20 minutes per recording to 1 minute. The final results are added to your iTunes collection automagically.

trix3

Git it here: https://github.com/shacker/trix