Rustic Cyberpunk

Coffee & Cabins

Switching to Digital

3 min read

I got the habit of wearing a watch from my dad. I never saw him without his Hamilton, which I think he got as a gift in the 1970s. When mobiles always had the time, it seemed outdated to continue this cultural holdover, but there were plenty of times when I didn't have have a watch on me and wished I did.

A watch isn't Earth-shatteringly critical in modern civilization, since I can usually ask someone for the time if my phone is dead or unavailable, but I've been away from modern civilization enough times for dedicated portable time to matter.

I dislike most watches. Beyond just the battery headaches, time inconsistency, reliability issues, or inflated prices.

I don't know when it became a rule that men's watches need to approach the diameter of Jupiter or have a face busier than Broadway and 7th Ave in New York. Most of them tend to flop around my tiny wrist, even when adjusted to the lowest strap size, and the faces give me flashbacks to algebra class in high school. I realize this makes me sound even more like Andy Rooney.

Whenever possible, I've been using mechanical watches because I always forget to change batteries in quartz watches. I have no loyalty to any particular brand, but they've been more durable in the kind of situations I find myself having to muddle through, and I wear them often enough that the cheapest automatics are more than sufficient. Solar-powered watches have largely been out of my budget.

I've had my Seiko 5 for years. I liked it immediately because the watch face was clear and it wasn't large enough to distort spacetime. I don't remember exactly when I got it, but it has outlived its original NATO strap by a league and reached almost the end of the metal replacement's life.

I discovered the Seiko had a flaw in its movement that, over time, caused the auto-winder weight to become loose and possibly damage the cam. I've repaired it myself several times, but adjusting it repeatedly became a chore. Mechanical watches tend to gain or lose seconds much more easily. This is true of even high-end watches. My Seiko was routinely slower by several minutes after just a month.

Originally bought for around $35, as I recall, I tried to buy it again, but it now sells for $115 - $140 on Amazon. I've seen the same black version on eBay for nearly $200. I don't believe this is purely due to inflation. And it's far more than I can afford to spend on a convenience at present.

Seiko SNK809 with metal replacement strap and Casio W800HG-9AV with repaired strap loop

I recently bought this Casio for around $12. The resin strap loop got caught on something and snapped, but I managed to make a new one with duct tape I had at home. Buying a new strap, which costs almost as much as a new watch, or spending money on replacement loops felt silly. If the resin strap breaks entirely, I can swap it out with the metal strap, which still has at least a year's worth of life left, from the Seiko. Durability and repairability are my most sought-after traits in physical technologies.

The Casio has everything I need from a watch. I doubt I'd ever need to test its water resistance to anywhere near the stated maximum depth, but it's good to know I don't have to worry too much about a bit of rain or snow, just like the Seiko. It's immediately clear to read, requires no manual to operate for basic functions and I'm not going to be sorry if it's broken, lost, or stolen. Although, I can't imagine why anyone would want to steal a $12 watch.

Despite not being mechanical, I won't need to remember to replace the Casio's, claimed 10-year, battery for a good while. Especially since I don't really use the backlight function.

It's the most mechanical non-mechanical watch I've used so far.

The Wagon Train

2 min read

On a scale of perceived horribleness, between luxury and dysentery, travelling is actually magnificient these days. Which is probably why scurrying across the country on short notice and being held against my will was only marginally contested by most of my colleages.

I'm available for hire.

If anyone wants a reasonably competent woodsman who can start a campfire in torrential rain or a blizzard, I'm your guy. I'm also good at cooking basic meals, won't complain about having to camp outdoors, and I can even bring my own tent and sleeping bag. I'm a tad directionally challenged, but I can read maps reasonably well, I know how to use a compass (this isn't as obvious as most people think it is), and I've successfully navigated at least 50 miles in heavily wooded and rough terrain without GPS.

I'm about to start the second week of a one week trip. I left New York last Tuesday for what I thought was a business trip, but it turned out to be a career-hinging hostage situation. My involuntary, yet comfortable, detention was carefully orchestrated to ensure I couldn't protest until I was in the air.

Now just looking around to expand my horizons beyond what I can see through my empty hotel toilet roll.

Update 11th, 12:45AM:

I've been granted an early reprieve. And just like that, this pointless carbon footprint of an excursion is done and I'm on my way home. I think this was because the powers that be discovered the massacre of brain cells up close was no more significant than when done remotely, however I'd like to imagine someone higher up the food chain came to the realization that all meetings are pointless, considering the inevitable heat death of the universe.

Update 16th:

I just walked into the terminal, more convinced than ever to start my own DIY autogyro venture. There's no way I can do a worse job at transporting myself the length of a year's journey in 1800. And I'll probably have more leg room. The upside is that I have time after dropping off some documents to catch a breather so I'll have more time to write.

That One Tool

4 min read

I have a wire cutter which has a blunted edge, multiple pairs of pliers which grip poorly and have too little leverage, a wrench that is too short. A cornucopia of almost usability. I'm not fond of spending on things for the heck of it, even for short-term dopamine to stave off existential dread, but my situation was approaching a catastrophic handicap.

Functioning within a dwelling of any sort entails some manner of upkeep.

The purpose of tools has been a sore point in my life. Owning "things" is yet another form of personal burden for the most part and having purpose was a key measure of my continued ownership. And yet purpose is often transient while utility, when most needed, can't be bought with aspiration and hope. I really do need to cut things, hold things, remove things, and beget other verbs connected to things in various degrees.

To that end, I decided to set aside most of my almost-tools and for a usable one, both for my own safety and thought hygine.

plier package
Engineer PZ-78

From Engineer Co., Ltd which is also sold in local shops in New York and elsewhere in the U.S., rebranded as "Vampliers". The Japanese version is still significantly cheaper in my neck of the woods. These are part of the "Nejisaurus" line. A play on "neji" for screws or fasteners and "saurus" for dinosaur. The dino-grip does leave every other gripping and cutting tool in my arsenal in the dust.

I'm still not fluent enough in Japanese such that I can read this without great difficulty, but here is the packaging.

front packet
Front packaging.
rear packet
Rear instructions, dimensions and specifications

There's enough leverage here so that I can handle most of my stubborn leftovers from previous jobs. My primary concern was carrying out routine maintenance tasks around my place and the cabin without fighting the tool and causing myself an injury.

closeup
Pivot point. Notice it's close to the edge which gives greater leverage.
side profile
It's also wide enough that I've yet to lose grip on any bolt I've tried it on
cutting edge
Looks like it was just taken off the local shelf in a Japanese hardware store and put into a shipping box

One of the tools this is replacing is my wire cutter. I needed to run some wiring to a closet light and realized I may actually end up hurting myself if I can't easily cut the 12/2 wiring already installed in my apartment. While my future library will not be wired, I will still have some electricity and wired runs in some of the planned shelters and I can hopefully avoid buying another tool to do all of the work.

cut slice
This can cleanly cut a piece of the packaging. It should make short work of every gauge of wire I have.
closed profile
It actually closes flat. This was never a feature on any previous pair of cheap pliers I owned.
crimper
I have a feeling I'll need the crimper more often than I thought. Especially for cabin-related work where soldering isn't always practical.
crimper back
The crimper slot is a nice feature that lets me rest the wire before closing. This reduces guesswork, especially when I'm tired.

I've noticed that a lot of the smaller gauge connections almost never get soldered. Sometimes, soldering isn't necessary and other times, I'd rather have a crimp connection that I can remove from a source later. This is especially true of low-voltage wiring and smaller devices.

grip face
The bolt gripping feature is thanks to the horizontally cut section. While most of the face is dedicated to typical grip, this allows grasping at stubborn fasteners edge-wise. Impossible with any of my previous pliers.
grip closed
The side gripping feature is more obvious when looking at the front face while the pliers are closed.

I've seriously considered swearing off machine screws. They're supposed to be a convenient fastener for metal boxes, but in my experience, they're almost always never worth the pain of future removal. If the box is to be closed permanently, I'd much rather opt for a spot welder or an epoxy product such as J-B Weld.

Aside from the pliers, which will hopefully replace or support the rest of my plier-like tools, I also got a set of short rulers to leave around. I'm amazed at how often I'm reaching for one when I need to quickly measure something and need to fumble in a drawer.

ruler set
A set of short rulers

One stays on the nightstand just so I can visualize something in a hurry. I noticed I'm quite bad at imagining the smaller sizes of things.

ruler closeup
Each ruler is graduated to 6" or 5.5cm. There are submillimeter and 1/64" graduations that doubt will get much use, and I can barely discern with my naked eyes, but they're nice to have. I'm more interested in the overall size of the ruler.
ruler conversion table
There's a conversion table in the back that I doubt I'll use much. Whenever possible, I try to stay with just one measurement system and any conversions take place via calculator or the Internet.
conversion table closeup
This level of precision is unlikely in my cabin plans, but good to have.

The last few months have been involuntarily eventful for me. I hope to return to regular posting in the coming weeks.

On Pain

2 min read

One of my molars committed seppuku in the middle of the pandemic. Sometime after, the broken piece came loose completely and I was supposed to go to the dentist to get it fixed. There were no appointments available at the time, since most offices were closed, and the hospitals were unavailable for non-emergency patients.

The gaping hole eventually lead to an infection.

It was around midnight when the piercing volley started, followed by falling mortars in and around my jaw. I'm not entirely unaccustomed to toothaches, or pain in general, but this particular flavor was an odious blend. The disgraced clan had to be plucked, root and all, immediately.

I only had a short trip to the emergency room. I wasn't terribly thrilled at working on-site again, especially when some of it could have been done remotely, but this particular instance turned out to be fortunate. Or unfortunate as the case may be.

After the event, I decided to walk back all the way to my hotel. It's a curious sensation to walk in freezing temperatures with muted pain. Dull and crisp at the same time. It gave me immense clarity with every step and I believe the cold helped in more ways than numbing my cheeks. It's an interesting experience. I care not to repeat it, but I'm oddly glad the year started this way.

I was prescribed painkillers, but only took the first pill and chose to go with something less strong and off-the-shelf later. I dislike the feeling of having a blanket over my brain.

This involuntary break was an opportunity to catch up to my reading again. I fell behind by the end of December and I promised myself more time for thoughts. I'm coming back to my apartment by the end of February.

Christmas in New York

1 min read

It's almost 2AM and I'm on my way back to my apartment. We had the first white Christmas in quite a while. Going for a walk while it's snowing out has been a bit of a ritual for me and I try to get in as many steps in the snow I can each winter. Unfortunately, I didn't quite get a break yesterday, but there was enough of a pause to appreciate it before the rain starts.

The part that strikes me the most each winter is the sheer volume of silence. It's unusual to have this much peace in an automotive war zone. Having moments of silence to appreciate is harder in my neck of the woods.

I look forward to doing more of it when I build my cabin. I've had that last sentence in my mind more frequently lately since, for the first time, the parts of the cabin life plan are finally coming together. It's a slow journey, but I hope to appreciate all the walks in the snow I get to take along the

Merry Christmas!

Priorities

3 min read

Thanksgiving was excellent. Still the same standard affair with my roommate and I seeing the neighbor and getting treated with her homemade apple pie. It also reminded me of how far I have left to go to become a better cook.

Only a couple of weeks afterward, I made a new discovery; I could have sworn I had a few hundred miles left in these. I didn't realize this was their state until I felt a slight tinge of dampness on an otherwise relatively dry walk.

gap in sole
It's not supposed to do that
sole hole
Soles aren't supposed to have gashes in them either

I'm sure leaks have happened before, but I was just too busy to notice. I already have my pair of winter shoes ready so this isn't exactly the end of the world.

I got this pair of shoes more than a decade ago and have put them through countless textures and probably 10K miles. They already survived a couple of trips to Sri Lanka, which isn't known for the smoothest sidewalks even when those are available. They've been my air-travel shoes for quite some time since I gave up on laces at security screenings.

Most of my clothing tends to be older and I'm of the type to run them to rags before getting new ones. Shoes are generally retired earlier since those are often the first to be noticed when meeting people and it's very easy to hurt yourself in a bad pair. Frugality shouldn't come at the cost of common sense.

I briefly considered what it would take for me to make my own shoes at one point, but it's hard to actually experiment without suitable material. I did see a few hand operated sewing machines used for leather work on eBay, commonly called "Cobbler Sewing Machines" or similar. But those are well outside my budget at the moment and I need to focus on building up my savings again for immediate needs.

My new sewing machine does have a strong enough gear system to make quick work of thicker material, but I don't know how it would fare long-term with that kind of use.

Right now, I'm happy with being able to mend my existing clothes. I ran a few strips of cloth through the new sewing machine as soon as it arrived and I can already tell it's going to get a lot more use in the coming months. I may have a chance to do a proper expansion on it when I have time.

Meanwhile, I'm getting things ready for the winter. One of the great things about getting older is knowing when this machine needs maintenance by just the noises it makes, especially when sitting down or getting out of a chair. I'm about to spend extra time on my winter reading list for that reason and more.

Coffee and Coziness

3 min read

The summer storms came and went.

I was finally able secure a new (old) sewing machine since my ancient Singer Scholastic broke down. I suspect the original owner bought it while being stuck at home, but never got around to it. The new machine is a Janome HD 3000 listed as "gently used", although it showed no real signs of use. It's an addendum to my cabin-life plan of repairing my own clothing as much as possible. Based on the Food, Shelter, Clothing triangle of thriving and not merely surviving.

I'm generally picky about shopping so most of my clothes are fairly old to begin with. Some of my t-shirts and jeans are from my high school days. On the few occasions I do go shopping, it's usually only for the bare essentials like socks. There were even fewer chances for me to shop lately.

I hope to take delivery of the sewing machine in the coming weeks. It was the most expensive purchase of the year and I hope to make it the last such expense until things calm down a bit more. I have no expectation that it will any time soon, but I can't stop moving on in my own life because so much else is at a standstill. Besides, being able to repair my own clothes and possibly make new ones in the future is too important to put off until there's an actual emergency.

It's unfortunate that I didn't get the opportunity to study Home Economics. I feel like my generation missed out on a good foundation for learing these basics like sewing and cooking earlier in life. It would be nice to wear things I've made or repaired myself again. Life is a series of investments. Some dividends are paltry or non-existant in the present, but keep you afloat when you can't swim anymore.

I'm only a beginner at sewing and there's so much I don't know and haven't tried. Aside from clothing, I'd like to try making simple things that I'll find useful, like messenger bags and straps. These were much harder to do on the old machine, which I mostly used for making seams and touching up a few things.

For the past few months, I've been running around the most since the world got sick off of disease and global supply chains. There were a few instances where I was about to lapse into the post-lockdown era of tightened budgets, and I'm still not in the same state as I was before all this, but things are getting better. I missed most of the autumn colors since my head was pointed at my desk and screen, but I may be getting a short break soon. I hope to take it easy before snowfall.

Winter is usually when I enjoy camping, but it doesn't seem like this season would be it for me. I'm fairly content at being home this time. There's a lot more reading for me to catch up to since silence was in short supply for a bit.

I look forward to the winter storms. And now, coffee.

Incoming

1 min read

It's just before 9AM on Sunday as I'm writing this. As I was preparing for cabin life in the before times, I kept looking at what measures I can take against Mother Nature in a small structure. I realized the question was framed with the wrong premise; Anything against nature is doomed to fail, given enough events and years. All defenses are transient and working with nature whenever possible is the more effective approach.

Tropical Storm Henri is about to make landfall in New York and I'm excited and concerned. The concern is for those without the luxury of shelter or a backup plan. Excited because I'm weird.

I'm taking a brief set of measurements while it's safe to do so on some materials I have left exposed for several months on the balcony of my apartment. They're tied down to prevent them from turning into missiles. I'm interested in finalizing the design for my windows of the cabin and support shelters. I will most likely be making them on my own for better control of the quality, aesthetics, and a sense of satisfaction. Actual construction is a long way off, but there's never a bad time to record data.

We'll see how any of this holds up in the real world.

The Strategic Luddite

3 min read

I have a conflicted relationship with chores. On one hand, I love the simplicity of a task allowing me to tune out the world. On the other, this is one more thing occupying my waking moments when the world is already tuned out and I'd rather be doing something else. Most chores for cabin life will be physical in nature.

Certain tasks will benefit a great deal from automation. E.G Closing the windows on a greenhouse during a sudden cold spell, opening them again to manage humidity, turning fans on or off etc....

I'll be avoiding anything "Cloud".

Moreover, if I rely on certain systems to maintain my lifestyle and I don't understand how these systems operate, I won't know how to repair them when they inevitably fail or when I need to make improvements. Opaque boxes hidden behind obscure circuitry and licenses, running programs restricted by the DMCA, is an unpleasant proposition.

Sacrificing my future freedom for convenience in the present feels like an unwise investment.

In that spirit, I'm working on a set of single-role, simple circuits for handling various chores. Task handlers which will still remain sufficiently low-tech, that should actual human intervention be necessary, they can remain on standby as durable conveniences. Not contrivances for the sake of technology, which can fail on command at the behest of a corporation that answers to no one but itself.

Part of my rationale is that a smart device, or similar general purpose programmable machine requiring a network connection, isn't always available or desirable for various reasons. The other is the high scavenge and reuse potential for parts. Hobbyists and professional carpenters alike routinely reuse scrap lumber, of varying textures, hardness, and appearance they have laying around and the principle is the same.

Even in times of stress, plenty of past luxuries get discarded.

Where one would use a specific microcontroller like an ATMega, PIC, or STM series these days, I'm trying to get back to basics with simple transistors and logic gates whenever possible.

I hope to have most of them doing these tasks without any stored programming, which may be susceptible to undesired changes or unexpected failure modes years or decades in the future. The circuit assembly of each will function as hard-wired programming for the most part, tailored to each task, using generic components. Many circuits in older reference books didn't even have labeled transistors. They would sometimes be called "NPN" or "PNP", implying "whatever similar you have on hand will suffice".

Should programming be absolutely necessary, I'll try to use the bare minimum circuitry needed such that most of the operation will draw very little power and can be supplied with a small solar panel and battery combination.

If procuring circuit boards also becomes an issue, I'll likely use narrow copper tape to draw out my traces and mica sheets as the base. These sheets are usually sold as replacement parts for microwave ovens. In the meantime, I'll be experimenting with regular printed circuit boards and prototyping on simple perforated boards. I have enough spares for now so I can manage some failed experiments without too much cost.

Of course, whenever possible, I will forego electronics altogether. Analog task-specific helpers may be even more desirable as they can usually be repaired and improved with locally sourced materials.

There's no guarantee that I'll retain the dexterity, visual clarity, or mental acuity of the present in my future years so the configuration and makeup of my helpers will be well documented and as clear to me as possible for the foreseeable future, in addition to remaining simple.

I'd rather not be burdened with the prospect of a diminishing pool of replacements for these. Nor do I want to be concerned with my relevance in my own upkeep.

End of Summer

1 min read

This was the most interesting launch after a new coat of hull paint in quite some time. The "Return to Normal" was anything but, although some folks in my immediate sphere seem to think so. I'm generally apprehensive of both doom and gloom and unmitigated optimism and I'm looking forward to neither expectation quite panning out the way they think.

Most of past Spring and this Summer was spent getting my affairs back on track. Because I spent a significant chunk of time last year and early this year relying only on my savings, I'm slowly recuperating from that shark bite. The scars will remain for quite some time, but I'm reasonably confident I can now maintain the mortgage payments for my apartment at least until the winter. I'll slowly be rebuilding my savings, as circumstances allow, in the following years.

I've been planning a career shift in the last few months, but I don't know when I'll be able to tack into that wind. I'll try to keep the maps as accurate as possible in the meantime.

There are still cabin designs happening in the background and I don't want to drift too far from my goals, currents of life be damned.

Breadcrumbs

2 min read

There have been, amazingly, only two moments in my life where I was utterly lost in the woods, with no obvious clues as to where I am and where should be going. First time was from my sophmoric overconfidence with technology during my first solo camping trip. The second was when I was too distracted by my own thoughts to take note of the trail.

The realization the first time was disquieting. A cold wall of silence approaching my reality at light speed, as if the universe just discovered the edge of its false vacuum. The second time was oddly humorous, but I took it no less seriously.

GPS is a remarkable invention, but I've paid a heavy price for it. My map reading skills have severely atrophied since GPS came into my life. This is entirely my fault since the convenience of exploring civilization was far too enticing and so, little-by-little, I let go of discovering nature by following drawings of its topology. The last time I actually used a physical map and a magnetic compass while camping was back in 2010.

Since losing my way is always a possibility, even when simply hiking, I've kept handy trail markers with me ever since.

The lesson I learned from Hansel and Gretel, besides not entering suspicious cottages found in the woods, is that any edible substance left behind will quickly be gobbled up by the local fauna. Inedible substances may still be distrubed, but likely found nearby again once the fauna discovers its lack of nutritional value.

I now keep two decks of cards in my pack at all times. One for actual play and is plastic. The other is plain paper with just a glossy coating, which will return to nature when left exposed to the elements.

Two decks of cards
The brands don't really matter as long as they serve their function. I simply like the color red, besides its contrast against a carpet of white snow.

Waterproof cards are a must for actual play. It's physically impossible to keep a deck of cards dry, for any meaningful length of time, while playing outdoors. Even in a dry spell, a drop will manifest from the aether to harrass the ink. A disposable deck, however, must not tolerate water at all in order for it to disappear eventually.

I hope I'll get a chance to go camping again this winter, but financial and world realities are such that it seems a reach. What I miss the most in camping is not just the solitude; It's also the joy of existing in the present.

Spring Happenings

2 min read

I finally managed to set the New Year's affairs in order since there wasn't much of an end to last year.

My Singer sewing machine broke down at the worst possible time and I didn't have the means to repair it anymore. I got it on eBay years ago and it worked well for minor repairs here and there. I'd rather not dip into savings to replace it yet since it's not an immediate need, but it's nice to have one.

There's a glut of sewing machines, old and new, on eBay again. I'm guessing a lot of folks who bought new machines or upgraded during the pandemic are unloading their stocks. I also know at least one other person who tried sewing on his own, but gave up. It's a shame because creating things, like woodworking too, is meditative and, I found, theraputic. There's the added satisfaction of actually using something you've created.

I've been wondering what I would need if I did start making my own clothes. Besides repairs, and the odd curtain, I haven't really made anything substantial. It's a new skill that I think is worth pursuing. I have no immediate plans to turn it into a business. Actually, I'm rather tired of turning pursuits into profit-making endeavors. Hobbies become less fun when there's profit attached and I'd rather make things I enjoy for their own sake. Naturally, bills still need to get paid so I don't mind selling a piece here and there. But I'd rather not lose a hobby to profit.

Working has been from home for the most part still, but there are grumblings of on-site work that may call me away. I'd rather not travel, if it's not absolutely necessary. I don't think this year is a wash yet, but we'll see how summer fares before scoring it. A perfect 10 seems unlikely.

April was supposed to be Spring Cleaning month, but I've had several months to clean already. Last year's whirlwind blew away a decade of detritus. I did rediscover a box of components I've collected for various projects. If I do ever turn a section in one of my planned structures into a lab, I already have at least half the needed pieces.

Reading cabin topics again brought a much needed windbreak to this squall.