All posts by Benjamin Vulpes

Rocket Stove

I built a rocket stove. Tallulah helped me cram it full of firewood.

I’m not super pleased with how little flame it produces but that’s the efficiency/vroom tradeoff at work.

The perfect cup of coffe

The perfect cup of coffee is perfectly repeatable. Variables are constrained, and you enter a regime of hunting local maxima. Small and controlled changes to understand their impact on your brew.

There is no perfect cup, everyone has their own preferences on oils and particulate matter and so on. Some folks love the rich mouth-feel of a cup from the French press, other folks like it strong out of the Aeropress, some folks won’t touch it unless it came from a ten-thousand dollar espresso machine lovingly kept in tune all day by a barista with a Master’s of Social Work.

Here’s how I make coffee, in the most repeatable and reliable fashion. Minimal tooling, minimal overhead, minimal complexity, maximal repeatability.

Tools:

  • burr grinder
  • Clever coffee dripper

Instructions:

  1. Measure out and boil 12 ounces of water.
  2. As soon as the water boils, turn the kettle off, weigh out and grind 20 grams of fresh beans.
  3. Line the Clever with a paper filter
  4. Dump ground beans into the Clever
  5. Pour in just enough water to soak the grounds (this allows the CO2 to “bloom” off, and prevents the grounds from floating and not soaking fully in the brewing medium)
  6. Bloom the grounds for 1 minute
  7. Pour the rest of the water into the Clever
  8. Soak grounds for another 3 minutes
  9. Decant

Simply, perfectly, fool-proof-edly repeatable.

Get 3 Clevers, because they’re guaranteed to go out of production in the next decade, and then you’ll be stuck doing pour-overs again, with all the asinine variance that imposes on the process.

Sleep training (cues, backoff, kindness)

The child misses you, her constant companion. One of you is always there. Close in physical touch, near at hand for a fall or a fear or to laugh at a fart. Night comes (sweet one, for us all, sooner than we wish, but prepare thyself for it to take everyone and everything you love; you before them if not them before you. Death comes for us all, oh tiny love, remember that and dance!) and it is dark. So dark. Dark because “dark helps me sleep”, we say, for in truth light regulates the circadian, and oh my sweet thou needst it bright in the morning and dark in the evening. These environmental cues, these rhythms to the day, this is what life is made of. To wake, to see the light, to play and run and fight and scream, to watch the sun descend, to clear the table and prep to eat. To sit with family, to cherish thirty minutes of dedicated togetherness before, yes, before we brush our teeth and hair and go to bed.

But surely we are not just to stay abed, are we? I simply cannot! And you cannot make me!

Yes sweet one, we are to stay abed. Canst thou not lie quietly and go to sleep? This is our mandate from heaven; or at the very least your mandate from me: go the fuck to sleep.

I know, I know. Should I chastise thee? No, anger is no tone on which to bed down sweetly. Entering the dark of the night, from which we cannot know that we are who we were before we closed our eyes, is not something that anyone should ask anyone else to do with heightened emotions. How are we to square this circle? Sweet one, full unknowing of the joys of  uninterrupted sleep, why should you sleep? Why should you stay abed? Why not pile out full of sunbeams and comical utterances, demanding more of the love and attention that otherwise defines every moment of your life?

Because we all must sleep, beloved. We all must build a practice for ourselves (I for you, as with so many things) of winding down to a mood where sleep comes quickly, and where rest carries us deeply through the night. I must sleep. And before I can sleep, you must sleep (motherfucker). Cleaving you from me, and I from you is pain and sorrow. A distance unbearable for flesh of my flesh. I killed alternate selves and sunk ghost ships of my own life to be here for you, in the interstices of other obligations. And to part? To sleep? Intolerable, I know.

How about this, child of mine, love unparalleled: you lie in your bed for a bare thirty seconds, and I’ll come back. I always come back. Watch! I’ll be back in a mere half minute.

Oh dear, you emerged. “Didn’t make it”, did you? It’s fine, expected. In what world, and at what cruel hand would we ever willingly spend time apart? (I tell you, you know it not now, but even our love, tiny one, does not extend to your intruding upon my personal time after you go the fuck to sleep). Come, let me carry you back to bed, tuck you in again. I love you so much! May I kiss your cheek? Hum the refrain to your bedtime song again? Darling, I’ll return oh so soon. Five seconds this time. Something achievable, something you can do. An easy victory, all I ever want for you (at least when we’re working on hard things together…).

Good night my love! I’ll check on you again in, shall we say, seven seconds? Seven arduous, agonizing seconds? Agonizing for you, fraction enormous of your life. No sense of time, it must weigh upon you like a blanket of eternity itself. When will he return? Will he? I hope he does. Will he? Will…he?

Of course I do. See? Goodnight, little one. I love you more than the moon and the stars, more powerfully than the thermocline and the jetstream. I’ll come back and check in on you in thirty seconds this time, do you think you can make it?

And so it goes. Greater gaps every time. If someone has trouble staying in their bed, reduce the gap until you find what they can handle. Sometimes check-ins happen at 5 second intervals while you build trust with the little one that you will return to check in on them.

The gaps naturally extend. They want to build these muscles. As much of a trap as it is, they want to please you (they also want to please themselves, and salve their own anxiety, so love them when they pop out to say hello before your timer goes off). You will get to the point where that first check-in after the door closes is 2 minutes, then 3, then 5, and then ultimately the door closes and they go to sleep on their own.

No tears, no fear, no anger, no yelling, no shame. Just love and sympathy and caring. We always come back, don’t we? It’s a foundational message, and trust never comes for free but is earned through sweat and always following through.

Flatland Skateboard Training Program

Here’s the training program that I’m currently working. I believe that it’s about on the money for someone with 3-5 years of dedicated practice and 95th-percentile core physical fitness. This is not meant to get you oodles of new tricks, it’s the drill-and-mastery oriented practice practice practice approach to emulating the endless time and unswerving focus of the 15-year old.

In addition to a minimum of 1 hour skateboarding every day:

  • Alternate daily between (40 minutes):
    • lower body (squats, heel raises, weighted vertical jumps, weighted lateral jumps, weighted single-leg jumps, weighted 180º jump-rotations)
      AND
    • upper body (exclusively on the olympic rings: push up, plank, mountain climbers, dips, pull up progressing to full muscle up, lower leg-raise progressing to full pike)
  • minimum 30 minutes of yoga per day (it’s pretty hard to beat Yoga with Adrienne)

Skate routine (everything rolling. don’t drill tricks not rolling, you’ll handicap yourself brutally. Ask how I know):

  • Ollies.
  • Shuvits, frontside and backside. Progress to pop shuvits. Progress to tre flips.
  • 180s, frontside and backside. Progress to bigspin. Progress to biggerspin.
  • Kickflips
  • Heelflips
  • Tailslides and noseslides, frontside and backside. Progress to shuv out. Progress to kickflip in. Progress to kickflip out.
  • 5050s. Progress to kickflip in. Progress to kickflip out.

Full-routine progressions:

  • Do everything over a parking bumper.
  • Do everything over 2 stacked parking bumpers.

Nothing in life is free, nothing worth having is easily got. Get out there and motherfucking drill.

Rubric for Rating Short-Term Rentals

Unfortunately, I travel every other month or so for work. I tend to rent AirBNBs or VRBO properties, as they’re less sterile than the hotel alternative, and I can save the company a pile of money on food (and myself a pile of time) by making breakfast and coffee and dinners (if I’m not scheduled for dinners with other folks at the company) in the short-term rental.

Here is my rubric for evaluating these places. Each section enumerates the bare minimum a host must provide in order to achieve that number of stars. Enjoy.

PS: This is more of a running list than a definitive guide; I’ll be adding more criteria here as I’m variously disappointed.

5 stars

  • Bidet
  • Enough coffee (pre-fabricated for included machine) for guests * 2 * days of servings

4 stars

3 stars

  • Guests * days rolls of paper towels
  • Provided towels
  • Washer/dryer
  • Air conditioning

2 stars

  • Coffeemaker of some kind
  • Fully equipped kitchen
  • Dishwasher

1 star

  • Enough toilet paper for guests * days

Things to do instead of staring at your phone

  • build an effigy of a phone and light it on fire
  • laboriously drag a bike up a hill and then ride it back down REALLY FAST well out of cell service
  • read a child a book
  • build something beautiful and pointless
  • hang signs from a nearby overpass that say “THIS SIGN IS NOT MONITORING ANY OF YOU”
  • go outside and scream until you’re hoarse. when people at work ask how you lost your voice, tell them “attempting to steal my soul back from Mark Zuckerberg’s vampiric horde”
  • paint a mandala on an intersection near your house
  • make a human-scale sandwich board that says “have a great day!” and stand near an on ramp with a good diversity of political signage, waving cheerfully to people
  • walk through your local downtown, and interview people with a paper-towel-roll microphone. ask them what they’re grateful for. then ask them what’s the pettiest thing they’ve done all week was. bonus points if you enlist a friend to film you with a shoebox
  • sew a beanbag, fill it with rice you haven’t made in your instant pot, and throw it at the wall. harder.

I’m going to go light something on fire. Have a good night! Stay off your phone!

Make water wet again! The (personal) case for non-aerating faucets

Have you ever noticed that when you pull a mouthful of water directly from the bathroom faucet, you have to let the bubbles collect and exhaust them from your mouth before you can get a good rinse? Conservationists have added air to your water (making it less wet per unit volume, the sacrilege) in order to reduce your water usage and hide the fact. My wife and I are both a bit sensitive to white noise, so I’ve crusaded around the house replacing all of the obviously noisy faucet attachments most annoyingly loud. In addition to making life just generally quieter, having streams of water that are more densely wet helps get hands and teeth and dishes and everything else cleaner faster than if the water is constantly interrupted from wiping the surface with eco-friendly bubbles of air.

Before:

After:

Continue reading Make water wet again! The (personal) case for non-aerating faucets

Foreign sovereigns unchecked on US soil for years

The FBI finally walked into the front door of what’s being called a “Chinese police station in Manhattan”, nearly four months after the NGO Safeguard Defenders first reported the global operation to police Chinese citizens no matter where they live in the world.

I don’t find myself particularly astonished that our borders and national security apparatus is so flimsily operated that foreign governments are operating their own police stations and rendering their own citizens back home with nary a care for extradition treaties, rule of law, or what have you, not after the very obvious influence peddling and mind-control wielded by pretty much anyone with a bank account and the ability to operate AdWords over the past three years.

If anything, it should be a nice reminder to my fellow subjectscitizens of just how little our governmental operators care about the mechanisms of government that a citizen might care about when instead they can spend their time monitoring and influencing our politicians instead.

So although Safeguard Defenders parades around as an independent organization, you gotta conceive of it as just another arm of the unified security state. One whose job is to make sure that the FBI every now and again is seen to Do The Right Thing. Instead of whatever else it is they do all day, smear journalists and file content takedown requests with Twitter and Facebook.