Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hi, We're the Replacements

Here are the replacements for almost all the items I've managed to lose recently (save for my mind and possibly my dignity):


Stolen from my car in Baltimore (in April):

* Garmin Nuvi 200 GPS, $88 (refurbished) from NewEgg.com. Same model, so a straight-across replacement.

* iPod Nano 8 gb, $104 (refurbished), from Apple. Same amount of memory, but an upgrade to the next generation. I'd been debating getting the iPod touch, but decided to see what Apple (and Sprint) decide to do next month.

Lost (possibly stolen, in January):

* Skagen 105LTX watch, $27 (used), on eBay. I blogged about this watch before. It's got a grey dial face, not a blue one, but it's the same thing. It's in good shape -- the scratches in the crystal are almost the same as mine, too. Plus, I saved $10 by resizing the band myself, using a push pin.

Lost (a few months back):

* Nitecore Defender Infinity flashlight, $70, off eBay. Probably fell out of my pocket in a parking lot somewhere as I was doing errands. Yes, $70 is a lot for a flashlight (even if it's really cool, with infinite adjustability and throwing 130 lumens on a AA battery), and I don't really need a tactical flashlight... where was I going with this?

Anyway, I'll try not to lose these. For a while, anyway.

[The headline, of course, refers to the TMBG song]

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Galactitags: Quite Possibly the Geekiest Thing I Own

Way back in the mid- to late-'80s, I was reading a copy of Omni magazine in the school media center (the high-falutin' successor to the term "library", the place we now know as "where students update their MySpace pages away from home or the Apple store.")

Omni was a pop science magazine that looked as if it were published by a softcore pornographer, because it was. (Bob Guccione of Penthouse, et al.)

Anyway, there was a blurb for a product: "Galactitags" -- dog tags stamped with the pulsar map that's on the Pioneer plaque. The gimmick was that, in the event you were abducted by aliens, if you managed to escape and flag down a Good Samaritan alien, the pulsar map would be enough to guide you back to Earth. (Additional gimmick: Money-back guarantee if the tags couldn't get you back to earth.More in a 1987 NYT article about various gimmicky things.)

It was peace of mind of sorts, for only $11.95 (or so) plus shipping and handling. Also available in gold or silver plate.

Also naturally, I had to have them:


Now, the clinking and rattling got annoying after a while, so I put some rubber silencers on them. Also, because of metal allergies, I had to swap chains and cut some clear plastic report covers to keep the tags off my skin. It got very complicated.


Anyway, I still have them.

The Galactitags.com domain isn't active right now, so I don't know if you can still get the originals, but there's at least one, similar knockoff: Location Earth Dog Tags.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Falling off the Flashlight Geekery Wagon (NiteCore Defender Infinity and Extreme)

It's been a while since I bought a new flashlight, mostly because I haven't been active over at CandlePower Forums for the past few years. (The keychain cow with mooing action doesn't count, since I got that at a Books-a-Million. And neither does the Princeton Tec headlamp combo, since that was a closeout that I got from Sports Authority when I was just looking for a folding camp chair.)

Last week, I fell off that wagon in a big way. I'd been browsing TADGear (a staple for gadget types) and saw that they were liquidating their stock of NiteCore lights.

NiteCore is a relative newcomer to the tactical pocket light market (a field dominated by Surefire). I'd missed out on a lot of developments, and the CPF folks have been salivating over NiteCore, who seem to be doing things right.

Of course, I don't need any new lights, let alone tactical lights. So naturally, I ended up buying two of them -- a NiteCore NDI (Defender Infinity, which runs off a single AA battery), and a NiteCore Extreme (which runs on a CR123 3v lithium battery, which looks like a shorter, fatter AA battery and can go for 6 or 7 bucks a pop if you're silly enough to buy it in a store -- you can get them for a buck or two online):
NiteCore Extreme (standing) and Defender Infinity.

When it comes to reviews, I'm not that much of a flashlight geek, so I'm not going to do any runtime graphs or beamshots (go to CPF or CPFReviews for that sort of thing).

They're both LED lights, so there are no bulbs to replace or break; they're really solidly built, hard anodized, with push button tailcap switches (the Infinity also has a lockout tailcap, which prevents it from turning on accidentally.)

The neat feature is the electronic control -- by momentarily twisting the head, you can switch from High to Strobe and back. And by loosening the head slightly, you can pick any brightness setting in between the highest and lowest (this YouTube video demonstrates the interface and the different modes).

Have I mentioned that they're amazingly bright? (Up to 130 lumens for the NDI and 190 for the Extreme.) You don't get a lot of runtime at the max, though, and they run pretty darn hot, which is where the user settings come in. If you don't do a lot of low-light, SWAT-style room clearing (and I don't), the low modes are a lot more useful.

Here's the Defender Infinity compared to my previous pocket light, a Fenix L1 (an older version -- current models here):

It's about the same size (slightly bigger than the AA battery that powers it). I didn't do the paracord koppo wrap that you see on the L1 -- the loop makes it more secure to hold, but it's a bit too small on the NDI, and might interfere with heat dissipation. So I took a pocket clip off an old Gerber Infinity, which seems to do the trick.

Here it is in hand:

Eyeballing the brightness, the NDI at somewhere between low-to-medium is about the same as the L1, but the high setting just blows it away.

Here's the Extreme. It has cooling fins:

Both of them have the uber-tactical scalloped edge at the front of the light. Nominally, it's supposed to hurt more if you have to clobber someone with it, but really it just means you'll wear holes in your pockets faster.

When it comes to lights and other devices, I prefer to stick to commonly available batteries like the AA. And for most applications, 130 lumens is overkill, let alone 190. So the Extreme is more in the nature of a cool toy (though I consider it a substitute for a more expensive Surefire, which means that by buying the Extreme, I'm actually saving money).

Check out my Flickr set for more size comparisons, including the Extreme compared to my ARC LSL (which is also obsolete).

Besides being darn useful things to have around, carrying a flashlight on your person marks you as part of the gadget enthusiast tribe (as typified by any number of Web-based discussion forums out there). Which means that if you've got a light, it's a safe bet that you're also carrying a fancy lighter, a knife, a nice pen, and a bunch of miscellaneous pocket or keychain tools (as well as collections of each at home) -- collectively known as your Every Day Carry (EDC).

(Camera buffs and gun nuts are related, though specialized, branches of the gadgeteer family.)

I'll talk more about the flashlight, EDC, and gadget cultures online at some point.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

A Delayed Entry Into the Land of the GPS-Enabled

Over the weekend, I had the chance to play around with Garmin Nuvi 200 (an entry-level car GPS unit), and I have to say that I was pretty impressed with its simplicity and ease-of-use.

Thus far, I'd managed to stay outside of that particular realm of gadgetry, which makes no sense, as I've been living down here for over a decade, yet when I drive to a new place in DC, it's even money that I'll somehow end up near the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

So, I was pretty psyched to see an offer that was theoretically too good to pass up on bargain/coupon aggregator site Mother of All Deals: Best Buy had the Garmin Nuvi 200 on sale for $149, with an additional printable $50 off coupon, bringing the total down to $99 and change (lest you think I was being selfish with the scoop, I posted it to my del.icio.us this morning). So I went to my local Reston Best Buy.

Now, I'm not a Best Buy basher -- I go in, swoop down on their loss-leader items, politely say "no" to anything the salesperson or cashier offers me, and get out. This time, though, wasn't so easy, as the GPS units were locked in a cage and required a manager's key.

I'm not exaggerating -- it took nearly 20 minutes and talking to four different sales associates before I was allowed to give them my money. (I was willing to wait, as they only had two units left and that $50 coupon wouldn't work with rainchecks. It was somewhat amusing -- the sales associates were more annoyed than me that we couldn't track down a manager.)

While I was waiting, I looked down in the Wii section -- just as I twittered, there were six Wii consoles just sitting there:
You gotta get yours, but fool I gotta get mine.

Apparently, though, the hotter item was the Wii Fit pad, which sold out as I watched (there were still four Wii consoles left when I finally got out of there).

Eventually, the key was found and I got my $99 GPS. I set it up tonight, but I'll give it its first real try tomorrow.

Oh, and I did a stair stepper workout tonight and nearly left my keys at the gym. That would have been annoying.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Self-Contained Watch Band Watch Stand

I wear a Skagen 105LTX watch. It's thin, titanium, and Danish, and I bought it on eBay a few years ago.

It also has a metal link band with one of those flip buckle things, so it's not the most comfortable thing to wear while typing. I usually take it off and put it on the desk.

Purely by accident (I'm guessing I was bored during a meeting and fiddling with my watch), I discovered that I could arrange the watch band and buckle to make a self-contained, self-standing watch stand, that also served as an impromptu desk clock:

If you're ever sitting across the table from me during a meeting, there's a good chance you'll see this.

As a bonus, it makes checking the time a little more discreet than glancing down at your watch (especially if you put it next to your notepad).

Side view.

Now, I haven't determined whether this is a universal application, or if it's unique to my watch band, which is sized for my slender (in a very manly, steel-rod kind of way) wrists.

Rear view, for good measure.

A silly little thing, but I find it useful.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

I Walked into Target to Get a Can Opener...

...and I walked out $134 bucks lighter. On the plus side, I got most of the rest of my Christmas shopping done.

I had Christmas gifts on the mind, since the can opener is for Mom (she's hard to shop for). But while I was in there, I walked by a display with a few copies of Guitar Hero III for Wii, so I picked one up for for my sister and her guy.

Also, (if you are my sister, please stop reading now) I got her a Hello Kitty toaster, which, besides being pink, also burns a picture of Hello Kitty into each piece of toast.

Actually, I'd get one for myself, except:

1. It would be, well, totally gay.
2. I already have a perfectly functional toaster.
3. I don't make toast very often, and when I do, it's usually an English muffin, which would look pretty disturbing.

I have to thank the giggling college girls in the next aisle for calling it to my attention, or else I would have missed it.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Things I Learned This Thanksgiving

* Our family has pretty much always carved the turkey as if we were butchers (NYT video, via Metafilter).

* ICBM silo launch crews ("Turn your key, sir!") have had Internet connections since August. (One hopes they don't confuse the "really nuking people" computers with the "hackable/playing DEFCON" computers.)

* Lest we forget: Viral video marketing people are really evil. ("Shilling, friend-spamming, sockpuppets: We guarantee 100K views on YouTube or your campaign is free!")

This is not to be confused with record company viral video marketing people, who are also really evil, only in a different way.

* That Haier-built MP3 player that AOL announced at CES earlier this year? (You know, the industrial steel-looking one that looked kind of ugly in the few press photos, the one we all scratched our heads and asked "Why are we doing an MP3 player?" -- AOL never really did hardware very well.) Silicon Alley Insider looked at it, and made it sound like it... doesn't suck. (Former CTO John McKinley also popped up in the comments.)

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Making an iPod nano Carrying Case From an ID Badge Holder

After annoying my friends with incessant "nano... nano" IMs, I finally rejoined the iPod nation (I've been without since I lost my Shuffle for the second time) -- I picked up a black 8 gig iPod fat nano at the Apple store in Tyson's Corner last night:


Leaving aside the fact that it was a repackaged return -- complete with fingerprints, fully-charged, formatted for PC, and identified as "Bill's iPod" (I decided not to care and just reformatted it, renaming it "JoelogoNano") -- I'm now playing with it.

Carrying Case: Free Is Better Than Cheap

I don't have any accessories, save for an all-purpose car charger I picked up for future need, so I did something I'd done with my old shuffle: I took an extra ID badge holder (the clear vinyl kind with the zip-lock top and clip -- any good cubicle dweller will have some) and used it as a carrying case:

Show the screen through the back side of the case, which is clearer -- the front side has kind of a matte finish.

It fits perfectly. Note that it's upside down -- this is because the nano headphone jack is at the bottom. This actually works out, which I'll get to in a moment.

I also looped the headphone cord through the lanyard holes, to provide wire stress relief.

Here's what it looks like, clipped to my cargo pants pocket:


"Hey dumbass, it's upside down!", right? Ever wear a wristwatch on your belt? (I did for a while. Nickel allergies.) Same principle -- when you lift it to look down at it, it'll be right-side up:

Down is up.

The scroll wheel and buttons works fine. You can see the screen perfectly -- the vinyl actually sticks to it (I don't think it'll leave any residue), so it doesn't slide around (which was a problem with the old shuffle).

The clip is secure enough, though I'll put a rubber band around the snap loop so it can't come loose by accident. You can also run a lanyard through the holes if you want to wear it around your neck, or maybe put it on a retractable reel.

Now, I don't know that I'll be wearing it too much this way, since I mostly just got it for car use, and you have to take it out to dock it, but it works as-is, with no modifications. And what more do you want for free?

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Liquid False Alarm Almost Leads to TSA Trouble

I just got back from the social media conference in Colorado. I'll probably write up most of my notes in my work blogs, but I'll mention some of my personal observations from the trip here, since I still insist on compartmentalizing these kinds of things.

On the way back though security in DIA (which is in the middle of a huge tract of land -- it took a lot longer to get from the airport boundary to the terminal than it did to get from Reston to Dulles), the TSA screener saw something in my laptop bag as it was going through x-ray.

I don't know what he saw, though it apparently looked like a container of liquid or gel (it might have been an old prescription pill bottle that I carry Tylenol in -- it's stuffed with cotton so it doesn't rattle -- or possibly a plastic tube I keep some foam earplugs in).

Either way, they pulled my bag off the belt for a hand-search, and as the TSA person was looking through my bag, she came across something that, um, should not have been in there.

Now, it's not otherwise illegal, and it's just a piece of plastic (it's not even sharp or pointy), but it's conceivable that it could possibly be interpreted as a prohibited item. Maybe.

"What's this?" she asked.

"Keychain," I instantly replied, "It's an ankh." (Close enough.)

She handled it briefly (including in the fashion it's supposed to be held), threw it back in the bag, and finding nothing else, sent me on my way.

It could have been unpleasant.

Now, I do have a lot of useful junk in my bag (even after taking out the sharp and excessively heavy things before the trip), including a Craftsman 12-in-1 screwdriver and a Pocketwrench II,
any of which could be used in a pinch to klonk someone with.

I also have a few different flashlights (a 2AA mini-Maglight with an LED drop-in module, and an Inova T3 that has a much brighter, focused beam, at cost of a shorter runtime and requiring less-common lithium batteries that are super expensive if you don't buy them online).

However, this time around, one of the lights did actually come in handy.

When I turned off my phone, I'd put it in my bag, which proceeded to tip over during takeoff.

After we landed, I couldn't find my phone, even after I turned my bag inside out several times and looked under the seat.

It was only until I shone a bright light under the seat that I saw it had slid back by a seat strut (it had been hidden by their shoes of the people behind me).

Of course, it would have given me an excuse to get a new phone, but whatever.

Other than that, the flight was pretty uneventful. Well, it ended up taking an hour longer, since we had to take on more fuel so we could route around some bad weather, but at least I had a row of seats all to myself.

So while it was an older 757 and not the 777 I had westbound, it was a pretty good flight, and not at all jail-like.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

My Keychain Is Prepared For Disaster

Here's a photo of my current primary keychain, which I will warrant is more prepared for disaster (both man-made and natural) than most people's pockets, purses and man-bags:

My Keychain

First, holding it all together in the middle is a flat wire gate carabiner from Bison designs. (It was originally blue.) Because it's a biner, I can add and remove individual items pretty easily; I can also clip it to the top of my pocket. It's pretty secure, though I still have to make sure everything stays together, lest disaster happen.

Then, starting at the top and going clockwise, I've got:
  • My car keys and remote; they're together on their own split ring. Also on that section is an orange Photon II keychain light. For fun, there's a now-obsolete NYC subway token.
  • An ARC AAA LED flashlight. It looks a lot like a Maglite Solitaire, but it's not -- it costs 3 times as much (so, about 30 bucks) and it is worth every penny. It's incredibly reliable, practically indestructible, and it doesn't have a bulb to blow out -- the LED will last thousands of hours.
  • A Swiss Army Knife Rally, which has a blade, bottle opener, phillips screwdriver, nail file/flat screwdriver, tweezers and toothpick.
  • A Spyderco Ladybug knife; it's on a quick-release plunger so I can detach it if I need to go somewhere where knives aren't allowed. It's got a partially-serrated blade that's a smidge under two inches.
  • A safety pin. Useful things, those.
  • My housekey (The cuts are photoshopped so you can't dupe it from the photo, though if you were going to break in, it would be easier to just make a bump key.)
  • A green Traser Glowring -- it will glow in the dark for about 10 years, because it has a little vial of Tritium gas, which is radioactive (but perfectly safe). If you want one in the US, you need to find someone abroad who can send you one, since they're not available here and can't be shipped in.
  • A storage capsule, also by Bison Designs; I keep a rolled-up twenty and some Pepcid AC antacid tablets (critically important, for reasons I've mentioned before).
So why carry all this crap on my keychain? It's not just "be prepared" stuff -- I use a lot of what's on it pretty much every day.

The lights are probably the most useful things. Lights are incredibly handy to have even if you're not worried about blackouts or being stuck in elevators or on the Metro. (Flashlight geeks like to say that there's a 100% chance of darkness every night -- what more reason do you need?)

On any given day, I'll use the ARC for looking under my desk, poking in the dark corners of my laptop bag, or checking inside my mailbox.

The knives I use less often, but only because I usually have a handier knife or multitool available.

Now, there's other stuff that gadget and personal preparedness types might carry that I think is overkill, at least for a primary keychain -- whistles, magnifying lenses, hotspark fire starters, pens, mini-compasses, mini-prybars, small multitools, GI can openers, etc.

Plus, I try to avoid any other keychain junk: USB drives, SecureID tokens, buyers club cards, wifi hotspot detectors, coin purses, condom holders, laser pointers, and the like.

(Besides, if I need to carry any of that other stuff, it'll usually be in another pocket or my laptop bag.)

Short legs = short pants = small pockets, so I don't want too much stuff dangling from my keychain.

As it is right now, it's fairly discreet, with no jingling. Everything goes in my pocket except the car remote, which I let drape over the edge of my pocket.

I guess it also helps that I only need to carry two keys.

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