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Covid-19 Uncategorized

Five days of Mondays…

And two Sundays. Poetic, isn’t it?

taoofmac.com/space/blog/2020/07/26/2045

Categories
recommendations

Ways to get an RSS feed

As I’ve written about before, I use RSS several times a day to keep track of news from hundreds of feeds. A key part of making that work is the underlying question of “Where’s the RSS feed for this?”

Usually the Fever bookmarklet can find it, there’s a defined HTML tag that it can parse from a page. But sometimes the page doesn’t have a feed. Here are a couple of ways to find or create one.

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Photography Watches

Tiny machines

Springs and gears and levers, painstakingly made and finished.

Playing with the Moment macro lens during a long Zoom call.

It’s hard to make these and the fine details add cost. But dang they’re beautiful.

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Site news

Theme changed

I had a couple of complaints about the previous theme, so now you’re looking at the Twenty Twenty (free) theme. I wanted a cleaner page, with full posts and fast page loads. The header is uglier, alas.

Mobile now looks and works properly.

What do you think?

Categories
recommendations Weather

Backyard weather station

I love sensors. Measure all the things! Home power generation/consumption, air quality, CO2, airplanes flying overhead, infrared, ultraviolet, RF… yah.

So here’s the latest, which I’m immediately adding to the “you should buy” list:

Weather station, installed in my back yard.

That’s the WeatherFlow Tempest Weather System, and it’s awesome. Briefly:

  • Smartphone and web-based displays
  • Simple network protocol, so there’s lots of open source to capture data
  • Innovative, clever sensors – ultrasonics for wind speed and direction, piezo for rainfall. No moving parts!
  • Solar powered
  • Works with or without the internet
  • Also has cool stuff like a lightning sensor (useless in San Diego)
  • Calibrated to lux and watts per square meter
  • Reports UV levels too
  • Precise temp/humidity of course.

Here’s a picture from the vendor:

Basically a does-everything solution. I found it via this TechHive review and got one ordered. It took a few weeks to arrive, but having just installed it, like I say, I’m already a fan. You have to pay more ($329) for the better tech, but having bought and had fail any number of $50 to $100 ‘weather stations,’ I’m ready to buy it once and enjoy it.

You can see my data right here on the web. Buy your own from the vendor here.

Categories
recommendations

Inexpensive indoor air quality monitor

These are $38 on Banggood. It measures temperature, humidity and airborne particulates. Laser light scattering technique, the same as in my more expensive Purple Air I wrote about previously. These are display only, two screens, no connectivity but perhaps that’s all you need for something you place on a shelf.

Thanks to my friend Roger for finding these. I bought two and loaned one to our neighbor who promptly used it to check in vs out and verified his AC filters.

Anyway, it’s well made and cheap, so if you want one I say get it.

https://m.banggood.com/PM1_0-PM2_5-PM10-Detector-Module-Air-Quality-Dust-Sensor-Tester-with-2_8-Inch-LCD-Display-for-Monitoring-Home-Office-Car-Tools-p-1588436.html

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Covid-19 Politics recommendations

Domestic surveillance and police riots

San Diego has so far escaped the worst of the 2020 police riots, but I’ve still been keeping an eye out. My primary tool for doing so is ADS-B aircraft broadcasts and the OpenADSB iOS app. Here are some sample traces, showing the police helicopters over the city:

It’s notable that the helicopter probably has unbelievably good cameras (gyro stabilizers with long zoom lenses are better than you think) and could well have infrared also. And yesterday, Timothy Shea brought in the DEA to surveill the protests too. That’s not just human intelligence and AT&T’s massive data; it’s also flying dirt boxes.

What the heck is a dirtbox?

TL;DR – it mimics a cell tower and grabs the unique IDs from a phone. They can also intercept text messages and phone calls, and you should assume that they see all non-encrypted communications. All.

Yesterday, I saw this on the app:

That’s a Cessna 206, owned by the DEA, flying out of Montgomery field and meandering over San Diego. I should have gotten more screenshots, but it flew around for a while and followed the coastline north. I consider this high-probability that they’re flying dirtboxes over our cities and recording who’s at the protests.

Take action

  • If you go to a protest, read this EFF guide before leaving home.
  • The ACLU has a good primer on your legal rights.
  • Then read this Wired guide.
  • If you need a device, consider this one (I got one for Android testing and projects and it’s excellent). Strongly consider not installing a SIM card in it. That flying dirtbox will grab it and link you to it via the cell providers’ database of who’s paying for the account. Maybe keep the SIM card taped to the phone for an emergency or later call?
  • Read this about photography.

Consider donating to the EFF and/or ACLU. Vote when you can.

Categories
Covid-19 essays

Two fantastic posts about coping with covid-19

So I know a couple of guys who are thriving under covid-19: Doing more workouts, seemingly minimally and proportionally worried, getting their jobs done while getting outdoors for their adapted exercise routine. Truly exemplars of adaptability.

Me, I’ve struggled quite a lot. I’ve had a few weeks with two low-grade colds, insomnia, reduced ability to focus and the general sensation of an air raid siren sounding continuously. At the same time, I’m one of the fortunate: I have a job, and I can work from home, and my employer is unlikely to lay off staff in the pandemic. (Online tax software is coping OK.)

I’ve got two long-form essays on the subject that resonated with me and wanted to share. The first is from ex-broker Josh Brown, who I’ve had on my RSS feeds for years now. He’s had it tough and is blunt here, but this is the more relatable section:

I couldn’t sleep. Maybe for weeks. And while there were people risking their lives in hospitals and saying goodbye to their loved ones, we don’t feel our own individual stress on a curve, or in the context of someone else’s. Even acknowledging, out loud, that other people are going through a worse situation doesn’t help us trick our own body into complacence.

Your hypothalamus doesn’t care about your relative safety compared to someone else’s as it sounds the alarm. Your amygdala doesn’t consider other people as it passes on its signals – this is an ancient part of your brain that developed to keep your great grandfather from being eaten by something with sabreteeth. Your pituitary glands don’t feel for others as they pump the adrenocorticotropic hormone which lets the adrenal glands know to pump their epinephrine, and so on. Your whole nervous system is now engaged, the gas pedal is pushed to the floor and held there. It’s not designed to react to your empathy for others, it’s designed for your own survival. And when it remains at this heightened state of vigilance for days on end, you’re in trouble.

Josh brown

That. Just because I’m fortunate doesn’t mean I’m coping. And there’s good reasons for that. Read the whole thing; it’ll rewire what you expect from candor in the CEO of a financial advisor firm.

The second essay is from a blog I just found a week ago, Flashing Palely in the Margins. The post is “Forgiving myself for not being able to focus“.

Over the past few weeks, my ability to focus has completely disappeared. I set my timer for 25 minutes and then stare at it, not doing work, for minutes at a time. I do a burst of work and realize only six minutes have passed. Earlier this week, I fell asleep while reading a book, in the middle of the day. I can’t focus for long enough to figure out how to fix my inability to focus.

The good news is that I’m not alone: since February, there has been a “300 per cent increase in people searching ‘how to get your brain to focus’, an 110 per cent increase in ‘how to focus better’, and 60 per cent rise in ‘how to increase focus’.”

It turns out that this pandemic has weakened our pre-frontal cortexes—the part of the brain that is responsible for higher function—because of higher levels of stress chemicals that dampen the cortex’s effectiveness in order to prioritize more primitive function.

FPINTM

A bit further down it quotes and links to The New Statesman:

There are three major factors that make Covid-19 particularly potent for cutting off our prefrontal cortex: its invisibility; the lack of individual control we have over it; and being forced to go against our normal habits in order to protect ourselves.

The new statesman

He continues:

As disturbing as it may be to think that this inability to focus is hard-wired into our brains, it’s also a bit of a relief to know that this isn’t a personal or moral failing. It makes sense that I’m finding it hard to focus, and that means I can forgive myself for my distracted mind.

That is, after all, the best thing we all can do, in this crisis or not: forgive ourselves for who we are. We can always strive to be better, but we can’t beat ourselves up for being ourselves.

FPITM

Read the whole thing. It’s excellent. He (or is it she?) also includes poetry and well-curated links. A wonderful blog to find.

Anyway, if like me you’re not an exemplar of human adaptability, fortitude, etc, etc, then I encourage you to read the essays and accept why your brain is so wigged out. I’m right there with you.

Categories
recommendations

New cable modem

Maybe it was getting old, or maybe the much-increased traffic from pandemic WFH caused problems, but for whatever reason our Spectrum-provided cable modem has been a problem. I’ve had to power cycle it a few times to clear slowdowns. Symptoms – speed tests dropped down to under 10 megabits, and on reboot would rebound to over 200. (We’re paying for 400/25 and seem to be provisioned for faster.)

Having seen similar problems before, I first narrowed the suspects down by power cycling the (apple) access point and (Mikrotic) backbone switch and (ER-4) router; none sufficed but a modem cycle did. I found the Spectrum supported modems page, did some research and bought the Netgear CM1000v2 direct from the manufacturer and installed it today.

Install was painless. I called Spectrum’s activation line (877-309-5869) and waited for a callback. The tech took the MAC address, waited patiently for the power, sent down an activation packet and waited for reboot and DHCP to the router. Easiest install I’ve ever had with any ISP!

Now things are back at line speed and I’m a lot happier. I’m spending hours a day on Zoom and BlueJeans and now Google Meet, so fast and reliable internet is rapidly becoming essential.

fast.com is a great test
Admin interface is basic

The CM1000v2 isn’t their fastest – they have ones that can gang 2 or 4 gigabit ports together. I decided not to bother, as 1G is the max available locally and going faster than that would cascade to needing a new router and possibly multipoint wireless. I’ll wait.

New gear

I considered the other supported modems, but the Arris ones ran hot and some had the problematic Intel Puma chipset; hard pass. Do your research if you’re thinking of buying an Arris SB8200 Rev 4 or Arris SBG8300.

Categories
Covid-19 recommendations

1080p webcam for Zoom for $40

Fact 1:In the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re all on Zoom et al quite a lot.

Fact 2: Apple webcams are 720p resolution and quite low quality.

Fact 3: Nerds want to be helpful.

Consequence one: Good webcams are sold out universally.

Consequence two: The people behind the cheap and awesome WiFi webcam brand Wyze have written custom firmware to convert a wireless security camera into a very decent USB 1080p webcam. And it’s free.

Hardware requirements

  1. Wyze webcam v2 – vendor, or Amazon. $26 bucks as of today.
  2. 8GB or so micro SD card. You might have one around if you use Raspberry Pi. I bought this two-pack of overkill 32GB cards, since that’s a useful size for Pi project. $14.
  3. USB3 A to A cable. These are unusual and I had to order one. I bought a two pack so I can have a spare. $12, and cheaper versions exist. Note that your computer needs to have a USB3 port with an A plug – I’m using the one on my LG monitor.

Flash the firmware

Instructions are here on their site – TL;DR is to unzip the download and copy demo.bin into the root directory. Power up holding reset for five seconds. Pretty do-able even for the less technical.

Results

There are two Wyze cameras, basic or a $35 pan/tilt/zoom. I already had two of each, because at $20 to $35 each, they’re in my hobby budget and have been delighted with ’em. I chose the base camera as I see no use for PTZ.

Here’s the built-in webcam from my MacBook. It’s the 2018 15″ model, my work computer.

Now here’s the Wyze:

Color is a bit off, but resolution is a huge amount better. it’s also wide-angle, with strong curvature at the edges.

I was just in time for a Zoom birthday party.

Why yes, my family does look sharper than everyone else. And wide angle was perfect for this use. Sometimes you get lucky. You can kinda see my low-rent mounting:

I’ll leave it that way for now, as it makes it quick to move around and try other lighting.

Overall – recommended. Pretty cheap, the parts are versatile, and when this ends you just re-flash the camera to get back to a nice smart camera/IoT device.