The Misadventures of Quinxy truths, lies, and everything in between!


A Chew Too Far : When Gum’s Polymers Unravel

I learned a very interesting lesson in 1995 or so, sitting in a materials engineering class in college.  We'd recently learned about polymers and how the long chains of entwined molecules worked, from a mechanical and chemical standpoint.  I happened to be chewing on a piece of gum.  I had been chewing on that piece of gum for probably half the day; I began in one long lecture and just continued into the next long lecture, either forgetting to spit it out or finding no appropriate place to do so in the limited time between or during classes.  And then, seated in class, thousands of chews and hundreds of minutes in, the gum I was gnawing on disintegrated, going from a resilient rubbery mass to a foul liquiform mess.  Any solidity was gone, it was just suddenly simply everywhere in my mouth, clinging to everything and nothing, desperately needing to be spit out.  I quickly excused myself to the bathroom and did so.  I had no idea what had happened at first, it being such an unexpected and seemingly unlikely event.  But as I sat through the remainder of class it became clear to me, the gum had undergone some sort of spontaneous depolymerization, presumably as a result of prolonged contact with saliva and not chewing.  The long and entwined molecules had suddenly come apart.  That this happened during a materials class in which we'd recently studied polymers was a delicious coincidence.

^ Q


Moments of Clever – The Joy of Overcoming Minor Crises

There are too few moments when I feel like I get to apply anything like cleverness. With programming you certainly can, but it is always 1% extreme cleverness and 99% tedious plodding. This past Monday I got to be a little clever in the real world... It wasn't the extreme type, just a bit of very minor but satisfying cleverness. I was driving back from New England. About six hours from home the battery light comes on, indicating under-voltage. It was instantly clear the alternator was almost certainly the problem (or the rectifier/regulator within the alternator). The battery was losing charge. A car runs fine without an alternator, since the battery alone can power the spark plugs, fuel pump, lights, A/C, etc. while it still has charge. The car would run until the battery fell below 8-10v (at which point the spark plugs or fuel pump would stop working). So it was a race to see if I could make it home before the battery voltage dropped too low. Sadly by the time I saw the voltage problem it was already well below normal.

Now my car has a rather unusual device that I installed when I thought I was going to get into off roading more than I ultimately did. It has two full sized batteries rather than one, and they are controlled by a switch next to the steering wheel. I can run off one battery, the other battery, or both batteries. It was in the both position when the problem occurred, which meant that both batteries had been depleted before I knew there was a problem. But it still meant I had twice the watt-hours compared to a single battery. First thing I did was switch to the main battery only. That way I could keep going towards home and when that battery died I would know it and be able to switch to the other which would have enough to get me off the road and to a hotel or service station. A few miles later I realized I needed to conserve electricity to extend my range, so I pulled over and pulled all the most draining and unnecessary relays/fuses under the hood.  I killed my daytime running lights (which would be the biggest avoidable draw of current), killed my interior (door triggered) lights, killed the heating/ac, etc. Sadly I did a stupid thing and shut off the engine not knowing how long I was going to stop and forgetting that cranking the engine would use more energy than just idling for a few minutes. So when I go to restart I find the main battery doesn't have enough juice to start it up. I switch to the second battery, start the car, then back to the main battery to run until it dies (since the main could still power things once it was running).

About an hour later the battery needle has dropped well below 50% and the dash warning lights all illuminate, the battery is effectively dead. I quickly switch to the second and keep going. I realize I'm probably not going to make it but now I've only got about 3.5 hours left. I then come up with another solution to extend my range, I keep myself under-shifted, so that the engine is always revving ~30% higher than normal. I keep it in 4th gear doing 80 to keep the RPM up (but still far below redline), and keep in 3rd or 2nd when the speed drops for construction/traffic. Usually a failing alternator is still putting out something, albeit way too little, but keeping higher RPMs will help it put out more and slow though not reverse the battery drain. And on I went. The battery drain was non-linear, so I was doing fantastically well until I got within about an hour from home and then the voltage started to plummet. But, somehow I managed to make it home. I don't think I would have made it even five or ten more miles. The voltage was right where the voltage had been when the other battery stopped being able to keep the car going. The windows would barely roll up after I shut off the engine.

I love non-life threatening crises, they sharpen the mind wonderfully.  Whether it's car trouble, being locked out of your home, or what have you.

^ Q


My Love Hate Relationship with Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K)

Once every few months I head over to YouTube and binge watch 3-5 episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K).  But I'm watching it for the wrong reason.  I'm watching it to enjoy the movies they've chosen to poke fun at, and I'm desperately trying to ignore the "riff track" the MST3K crew has injected into the movie.  I've probably watched 30-50 MST3K episodes and I don't think I've audibly (or even internally) laughed once at the MST3K commentary.  I find their running commentary every bit as annoying as I would if it was coming from a couple of anonymous strangers sitting in front of me at a movie I paid $15 to see.  And I'm a bit sad about that.  Presumably most viewers find that to be the best part of the experience with MST3K.  Ah well...  I don't think I've ever in real life sat around watching movies at home with friends who made comments during a movie, so perhaps what I find funny is just different and I'm not used to the jarring need to listen to two scripts playing out at the same time.

Still, I like the movies they pick, and the show's popularity ensures the movies are available for viewing on the internet.

^ Q

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US Bans Import of Drozd Blackbird BB Guns from Russia over Ukraine Situation

I just learned the Drozd Blackbird BB gun is soon to be banned from import to the US because it is produced by the IMZ Corp. which also makes the Russian AK47.  This is the result of the July 16th executive order forbidding Americans from doing business with IMZ Corp which manufacturers not only the Drozd Blackbird but also the Russian AK47 assault rifle.  Here's hoping the Russian sanctions do something...  can't imagine they will, though.

Get yours from Ray at DrozdMax before they are all gone!

^ Q

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The Unsporting Life of Deer Hunting

hunting-deer-designI understand many of the aspects of what makes hunting appealing. I like guns. I like the outdoors, and experiencing it through hiking and camping. But where I begin to lose my understanding is with the selection of deer as targets. Deer are pretty inoffensive creatures. From my contact with them, in my backyard, on hikes, on roads, at parks, they seem fairly sweet, fairly trusting, and fairly stupid. A few times a year they wander into my back yard and even with me or my dog outside they don't immediately take flight. The only real danger they represent to man is of the jumping in front of the car variety; and while that is a problem, and does take human lives, the deer are as innocent as can be in the matter. So, why pick on deer? Making matters worse is the way in which many people choose to hunt deer.  Today begins deer hunting season where I live and I just read a news article which included interviews from people about their kills and this one woman said, "The deer had just bedded down for a rest, right in front of me, and I got it!"  Umm.... That just seems so unsporting. The deer doesn't have a chance. It's not moving, it's not afraid, it's not on guard, it's just lying down to relax after a hard day of deer-ing, and this woman sees that as the perfect moment to end its life?

I knew a guy who owned a large piece of land on which he ran a hang gliding school during the summer months. Someone approached him one fall to see if the property could be used for hunting. The guy I knew politely declined, saying he didn't think deer hunting was very sporting. The man then revealed that his method of hunting was to use only a large knife, and to leap from a tree to kill the deer. The property owner changed his mind, and gave the other man the go ahead. And apparently the guy was legit and did in fact kill a deer this way. Now, I'm not sure what was involved in that hunt, I imagine some bait was used to get the deer to stray under the tree where the man was. But, still, it seems a hell of a lot better than safely dropping a sleepy buck from fifty feet away with a scope.

I can make some sense of people killing lions, tigers, sharks, (perhaps) bears, creatures that seem to possess some cunning, that require some skill to take, involve some element of personal risk, etc. But killing a friendly, curious, inoffensive deer just does not make much sense to me. And of course when hunters use automated feeders to bait and lure the animals, providing them feed for weeks or months ahead of the hunt to ensure they will be easy, docile, trusting, available prey when the day comes, I completely lose the plot.

I don't get it. Clearly I don't. I must be using the wrong yardstick to try and measure the sporting-ness and enjoyment of deer hunting. Perhaps a more realistic understanding of deer hunting is to see it as a mix of a plinker doing some backyard target shooting and a farmer killing a penned animal. It's not about giving the animal a fair chance, or any chance at all, it's about the conversion of a deer into meat and/or a trophy, with the added enjoyment of firing a gun and relatively easy target shooting. Still, it doesn't sound like fun to me. Even if the deer was animatronic, and any moral questions were suspended, I just can't imagine myself finding much delight in this type of hunting, against what seems relatively easy prey. My only experience of anything close to "hunting" is playing paintball, against witting humans, and for me the enjoyment is the challenge of getting inside the mind of the opponent, trying to do battle with his strategy, and in the skill involved in the shooting, and selecting, tuning the equipment.  If you replaced my human opponents in the paintball park with some deer wearing goggles and face masks I think I'd feel rather embarrassed to take a shot at them, least of all because they were wearing goggles and a mask; it just wouldn't seem sporting.

^ Q


My Treadmill Desk: Week 1

treadmill_deskLast week I set up a treadmill desk.  I've gained more pounds than I'd like to admit over the last couple of years, trying to eat my way out of unhappiness, combined with a move that placed me far away from the healthier eating-out food options I used to enjoy (and far closer to the sinister ones).

I had years ago heard about people using treadmill desks and had always meant to give it a try.   As I am at my computer 14 hours a day or so the ability to turn some of that time into a workout was very appealing.  For my recent birthday I bought myself a LifeSpan TR 1200i Folding Treadmill with the goal of using it in a treadmill desk setup.  A few companies now make treadmills specifically for use with a desk, some even include the desk, and LifeSpan does in fact make a treadmill for these purposes, the LifeSpan TR1200-DT3 Standing Desk Treadmill (no desk included).  As I compared the features of LifeSpan's desk-flavored treadmill with their regular treadmill I became convinced that I'd be far better off converting their traditional treadmill to desk use.  The non-desk version costs the exact same amount ($999) but includes a number of really powerful features: a) variable incline 0 - 15 degrees), b) pulse rate monitor (in handrails or via chest strap), c) fancier programs (since it uses incline and pulse monitor), and d) it includes running speeds (0.5 - 10 mph, instead of 0.4 - 4 mph). The only feature you seem to lose is some sort of bluetooth ability, which I didn't really investigate.  Otherwise they appear identical in terms of specs.

All I had to do to convert the non-desk version to one I could use with my desk was remove the vertical portion of the treadmill, which involved removing a few bolts and pulling the console's cable out so I could re-run the cable to the console which I had now mounted on my desk with double sided foam tape.  Easy-peasy.  And I bought the chest strap ($40) so I could get constant heart rate monitoring without needing to hold onto hand rails; originally I was going to remount the hand rails to my desk, but the chest strap is a far more elegant solution.

For the desk I use my much loved Ikea Jerker, a design Ikea never should have retired (anyone who wants one and lives near a major metropolitan area can find one on Craigslist for $75 - 100).  I set up a second Ikea Jerker desk to the left of my treadmill desk with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse so when I want to sit in a normal chair I can just work there (using RDP).  The idea was to virtually force myself to use the treadmill desk as I would do almost anything to avoid using this tiny single monitor and less familiar keyboard when I could be using my three monitor setup with my normal keyboard/mouse, but to permit me a fallback when I needed it.  The other side of that is that I actually would rather walk than stand, I find standing less comfortable, so as long as I'm standing, I'm highly likely to walk.

After the first few days I discovered that my fall back desk with tiny monitor really wasn't such a brilliant idea.  I need to be on my computer 14 or so hours every day and it's just never going to be realistic for me to walk all 14 hours.  And since I was just starting back into an exercise routine and needed time for my body to adjust I'm doing about 2 - 3 hours walking a day, and using that tiny little monitor and unfamiliar keyboard just wasn't cutting it, my productivity plummeted.  I would either work slowly or completely avoid doing things on the computer, suddenly wanting to organize, clean things, etc.  I needed another solution...  and this is when I made my treadmill chair!

SONY DSCYears ago I bought a pair of those fantastic aluminum stools that Crate and Barrel was kind enough to knock off.  I bought it for my MAME arcade machine, which is currently in storage.  It was the perfect height to place on top of the treadmill so that I could use my regular setup without standing.  The problem was, I didn't want to damage the treadmill belt, and it seemed inevitable that distributing my weight down to those four thin aluminum legs was a recipe for disaster.  I'm sure the belt would have been fine for a while, but it certainly would have accelerated its deterioration.  But what material would be safe to use against a treadmill belt, to allow me to distribute the weight better?  Wood?  Metal?  Cardboard?  Shoes!  If there's anything that a treadmill was meant to have on it, it's shoes!  So I ran down to Walmart and bought two pairs of fake converse shoes for $12 a pair and made wooden inserts for the shoes onto which I attached the stool legs (via hot glue gun).  And it works perfectly!

Now I can use my treadmill for walking and whenever I need take a break on my treadmill chair.

I've been using the setup for about a week now and I must say I am encouraged. The first couple of days I walked about 2 hours, then I took a day off because my legs were hurting, and the next couple of days I've been doing about 2.5 - 3 hours a day. One issue has been trying to figure out what the right speed is. For the first few days I was at 1.5 mph, then I bumped it up to about 2.0 to 2.5 mph for the last few days, and am finding the speed I can do relates quite a bit to the work I need to do. Trying to operate a mouse with precision in a graphic design package at 2.5 mph isn't something I can yet do. This is where the incline is particularly nice, and why I'm very happy I got a treadmill with incline. If I need to dial down the speed I can always increase the incline to make sure I'm still getting a good workout. Right now to write this I'm doing 1.8 mph and a 5 degree incline, instead of 2.8 mph and a 0 degree incline. The CDC says you need to be going at least 3 mph for a healthy fast walking exercise, but that is still a little beyond my abilities to do while using my computer.

Only time will tell if this is a lasting solution to my problem of being too sedentary.

^ Quinxy


The Journey of the M820

I picked up my 1971 AMC M820 Expansible Van from Mt. Vernon, IL this past week.  It turned out to be quite the little naive odyssey.

The outbound journey went relatively uneventfully, got a one-way rental to drive myself, Francine, and Osita (the dog) from Pennsylvania to Illinois.  After a thirteen hour drive spread across two days we met the seller, Wade, got to test drive the vehicle, bought it, and retired to the hotel to contemplate our next move.

Luxury It Ain't

Three major obstacles became immediately clear when I saw the vehicle and got to drive it.  The first problem was that the vehicle's cab was tiny.  There was arguably room enough for three lean soldiers with little to no gear and little to no leg room.  But two average folks and a dog would not fit easily.  The second problem was that the engine was deafeningly loud, the Army having made no effort to provide a quiet cabin.  The third and most serious was that Illinois happened to be in the middle of a record breaking heat wave and daily temperatures were reaching 107 degrees Fahrenheit.  An un-air-conditioned cab combined with a heat radiating engine and transmission was a recipe for disaster.  The fact that my dog is super fluffy and inappropriately keeps her winter coat on until September didn't help.  I knew I had to solve all three issues before we could start for home.

Where Does a Dog Fit?

There was only one place Osita would fit and that was on the floor board.   I put down a furniture moving pad and a dog bed to cushion the harsh metal floor and cover up sharp edges.  The difficulty was that she is a large dog and her body took up all the room of the passenger's floor as well as all the room in the middle floor.  Her upper body was wedged between the transmission's stick shift and the high-low transfer case shifter.  She had to keep her head up and out of the way whenever I needed to shift gears, which involved quite a lot of work on Francine's part.

Osita was a real trooper.  She would instantly find her place whenever I had to lift her back in, and she didn't move around at all once she settled.  I think it was all the practice in the motorcycle sidecar that touch her such patience for us humans.

Francine was an amazingly good sport for having to put up with very limited leg room and the constant need to keep Osita out of the way.

Silencing the Deafening Roar

For us humans the solution to the engine noise was easy.  We wore ear plugs.  Protecting Osita's hearing proved a little more challenging, and in retrospect I'm not sure how much good it did.

I bought Francine and Osita two pairs of the best headphones Lowe's had to sell.  Francine could wear hers without modification, but Osita's pair required some changes.  I removed the adjustable metal band at the top and replaced it with two straps which could be tightened or loosened with Velcro.  I also added a chin strap whose length could also be adjusted.  The system worked, but only sort of.  My primary concern was that her ears are vastly bigger than ours, and while I could (barely) fit her folded up ear into the headphone ear cup I couldn't imagine that it was pleasant, and I couldn't be sure that the seal was all that effective in terms of loudness protection.  I abandoned this solution in the end after a few short trials on the road.  They came off too easily and I was just too afraid it would hurt her ear cartilage if left on too long.  The only fallback I had available was to use human foam earplugs.  I did some Googling and saw people specifically recommending against their use, since human earplugs are smaller than what dogs would need.  Without any alternatives I decided to give it a try anyway, but instead of using just one per ear I would use two together in each.  This approach seemed to work and would stay put.  To what degree it eliminated the sound I can't be absolutely sure.  I know when I use a pair they can be finicky; they may seem to be in right and yet need adjustment to block out all the noise.   I felt somewhat comfortable, hopefully not foolishly, that her hearing would be protected because I had just a few days earlier read a passage in a book, How Dogs Think?, that mentioned  dogs having a biological mechanism by which they can protect their hearing from loud noises (environmental ones that they can expect, versus isolated and unexpected ones like gun shots).  If the ear plugs didn't do enough presumably her biology would.

Cooling the Air

Finding a solution for the 107 (and higher) degree heat was the big problem.  On the route down I'd tried to improve upon our rental car's poor A/C by buying a few bags of ice and putting some inside zip lock bags distributed in the passenger compartment and some in disposable aluminum pans on the floor board.  That did nothing to cool the interior.  I knew that the complete lack of space in the cab made it impossible to improve upon this crude method by simply adding more ice.  Instead I decided to do the only thing I could think of, create a rudimentary air conditioning system that was powered by ice, with the ice located outside the cab.  And that's what I built.

The key components of an air-conditioner related to the design I was going to employ were a refrigerated liquid, some cold coils that would transfer the cab's heat into the refrigerated liquid, an electric fan to accelerate that heat transfer, a pump to facilitate the circulation of the refrigerated liquid, an insulated container to hold said liquid, and hoses to carry the liquid to and fro.  I went to the local Pep Boys auto supply store and bought a third-party automatic transmission oil cooler to use as my cold coils, an electronic radiator fan to use as my fan, and fuel line to use as my hose.  At the local Walmart I found the bilge pump and large insulated cooler I needed.  And a quick trip to Radio Shack got me the switches and wires I'd use to allow me to turn everything on and off at will.

Retreating into the hotel room and out of the heat's insanity I assembled all the parts.  At this point I really wasn't sure how efficient the system would be, just how well it could remove heat from the cab, assuming a sufficient quantity of ice.  Once I'd installed everything in the vehicle and got a chance to test the system I was very pleased to discover that the system was very efficient at removing heat (that is, blowing cold air).  Even so, I wasn't sure if it would be cold enough, the hottest part of the day had already passed.  Remembering something from my high school earth science class I went back to Walmart to buy four big boxes of rock salt, which I knew would dramatically lower the freezing point of water and thereby drop temperature of the ice/water even further.  I brought along a big bag of tools for this trip and in it my infrared thermometer (it's a useful tool for motorcycle carburetor tuning).  I found that adding the rock salt dropped the temperature of the ice/water slush from about 32 degrees to about 3 degrees, which significantly improved the cooling in the cab.

Everything was very nearly a marvelous success, though it didn't take long for several mostly fatal flaws to emerge.  Thus, I'm not sure I can recommend this system to others facing similar circumstances.

This system runs through ice very, very quickly.  The air conditioning effect of my system would only last for about 45 to 60 minutes, after which the four to five bags of ice would be reduced to warm cabin temperature brine.  And as it doesn't make sense to break a 13 hour trip into 45 minute ice refilling segments we only had cool air for the first hour of every three or so.   Not to mention that the rate of ice consumption meant the system cost $5-8 an hour to operate, which is just pricey enough to make you think twice.  Worse luck, the fundamental resource without which the entire system wouldn't work (ice!) was magically unavailable at all the highway stops in West Virginia; WV was recovering from a serious storm that knocked out power to tens of thousands of residents who had bought up all the ice to save their refrigerated groceries.  And the final problem was that an automatic transmission oil cooler was not designed to be used as a cold coil for an air conditioner.  The honeycomb lattice of aluminum that does the heat transfer, through which air passes and becomes cold, seemed exactly the wrong size to rid itself of condensation that would form.  Cooling hot oil would create no condensation, but cooling hot air does.  My cooling system was so efficient that within mere seconds all the honeycomb elements of the oil cooler would be plugged up with water causing making the fan to send much of its uncooled air spilling out wherever it could escape the blocked holes.  To keep things working I had to keep running my hand across the face of the cooler to break the surface tension of the water so that it could all run off and allow the fan to work again.  This had to be done every minute or so.  I tried using some fabric to wick away the water from the honeycomb and re-evaporate it, but that didn't work.  And I planned to try introducing a light solution of soap to  the radiator surface to see if that might be enough to let it shed its own water, but I never quite got around to it before we got home.

Journey's End

I think the truck survived the trip better than the humans (and the dog).

On the first day of our return journey we only made it an hour before the ice ran out and the oppressive heat was just too much.  We paused for a few hours in the shade of a tree off the interstate.  Once the afternoon had set in and the ice was refilled we made it only another hour or so before a violent storm came upon us and we took shelter in the lobby of a hotel.  And when the storm lingered we called it a day.  At that rate I began to fear it would be 3-5 days before we'd make it home.

The next day became an unexpectedly long one, and we ended up completing the remaining 640 miles without stopping to sleep.  It was not our choice, however. We had planned to stop four hours away from home, but not only was West Virginia out of ice (because of the aforementioned storm), every hotel was full up. We called more than twenty, all the ones that took dogs and a few that didn't.  In the end we were left with no option but to drive until we reached home.

While I can't claim to be an expert at driving five ton trucks, but the fact that I didn't hit anything, and had no problems surely says something.  I was actually amazed at how well it drove, aside from the miserable uphill speed.  I wasn't able to do more than 30 mph on many of the hills coming back.  Going only 30 mph when other vehicles are doing 75 mph is certainly not an ideal situation, but the advantage of driving through the night was that the bulk of the hills we encountered were climbed when few others were on the road.  The top speed of the vehicle on level ground is only about 57 or so, which meant that in the entire 720 mile trip I don't think I passed a single vehicle.

In the end the toll on man and dog was high.  The stress from the drive left us humans bickering through out the next couple of days, and Osita ended up with a vet trip to treat vomiting and mild dehydration.

But all of us restored, my focus will now be on turning the M820 into a mobile gentleman's study (and my office).

^ Quinxy

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Secure Anonymity with JonDo Live and VMware (or VMware Player)

If you're like me you're a decent law-abiding citizen who feels that privacy is a fundamental right, not merely something we enjoyed by default because technology had not yet found a way to eliminate it.  Fortuntely, technology brings us both problems and solutions.  One such solution is JonDo, a popular and somewhat proven anonymous proxy service.  This article will show you how to create a secure, anonymous browsing platform to ensure your right to free thought and inquiry preserved.

Create the Virtual Machine

First we need to take the ISO of the JonDo Live CD and turn it into a virtual machine.  I'll walk you through those steps.  It's important to note that we are not creating a persistent install here, that's beyond the scope of this article and with JonDo still being beta I'm not sure I'd recommend it.  The install we are building will let you make changes to the file system but those changes would be lost when the virtual machine is rebooted.  We're going to cheat a little and use VMware's snapshot feature to lock in any file system changes we want, and use VMware's host-guest shared folders to let us make some file system changes effectively persistent.  But all that is to come after we do the basics!

  1. Download the latest JonDo Live CD
  2. Verify the hash of the file you downloaded with the MD5 hash listed on the download page.  I recommend Hash Tab for Windows or Mac users.
  3. Create a new virtual machine in VMware.
    1. Choose Typical
    2. Set the "Installer disc image file (iso)" as the JonDo Live ISO file you downloaded. Click Next.
    3. Choose Linux as the guest operating system and Debian 5 as the version.  Click Next.
    4. Choose the name of your virtual machine (e.g., "JonDo Live")
    5. Choose the location where you want the files to be.  Click Next.
    6. Choose a small maximum disk size, I choose 1 GB.  With my current setup I don't even use it.  Click Next.
    7. Click "Customize Hardware".
      • I increased the memory to 1 GB
      • I added a second CD ROM drive, defined as an ISO pointing to the VMware Tools (e.g., C:\Program Files (x86)\VMware\VMware Workstation\linux.iso (if you do this you may need to set the drive as initially not connected otherwise VMware might try to boot off this cdrom device instead of the one with the live image, depending on how VMware orders the drives, you will then just need to connect the drive from the VMware lower toolbar once you've booted into the OS)
      • I removed the floppy drive
      • I set the Network Adapter as Bridged with replicate physical network connection state.
    8. After leaving the customize hardware screen, uncheck the power on after finishing option.
    9. (Optional) I now "Edit Virtual Machine Settings" and on the Options tab I go to "Shared Folders" and create a share which is "Always enabled"; I called my share "shared".  Reminder, this Live CD VM is not a persistent install, so this is where you can keep files/settings/etc. you don't want to risk losing.
  4. Power on this Virtual Machine
  5. When you get to the boot menu choose the "486" option (not failsafe, not 686, and not anything with PAE)
  6. When you boot it may say you have no network connection, click the network icon in the task bar and choose "Auto Ethernet".  You should now have a network connection.

Begin Using JonDo

Your JonDo Live VMware virtual machine is now ready to use!

If you've never used JonDo before the most basic thing you need to know is that you need to start up the JonDo proxy before you can start your web browsing.  To do that just click on the "JonDo" icon.  This will connect you to the JonDo servers.  If you don't have a premium account you'll be given free access, but be warned the free service is extremely slow, and anonymity protection is slightly reduced because your data travels through only two mix servers instead of three.  I strongly recommend you upgrade to premium, because otherwise you will become so frustrated waiting for pages to load that you will abandon anonymous browsing.  Once JonDo has successfully connected you can start Firefox.  The version of Firefox included here is configured with plugins that enhance your privacy by controlling the use of things like JavaScript, Java, Flash, Ads, and Cookies.  Many sites will not work without allowing features such as cookies and JavaScript for those sites, so be warned you may need to adjust these settings as you browse and discover things aren't working.  It is important to allow as little as possible!

Before you go and do a lot of anonymous browsing you really should install the VMware Tools, it will greatly enhance your overall experience of this virtual JonDo machine.

Install VMware Tools (optional)

You are perfectly free at this point to use your JonDo Live virtual machine, but the beauty of VMware is its ability to allow you to flit between host and guest operating systems, effortlessly moving your mouse, sharing your clipboard, exchanging files, and resizing the display.

These steps are a little annoying but a few hours of my working through the issues will hopefully make it easy enough for you.  The reason we can't just directly install the VMware Tools is because it has dependencies which are not fulfilled by the JonDo Live image as delivered.

  1. Go to a terminal window (click the terminal icon on the bottom task bar).
  2. Type "sudo bash" to get a root shell.
  3. Type "apt-get install make"
  4. Type "apt-get install gcc-4.1"
  5. Type "apt-get install linux-headers-`uname -r`".  If you get the error "can't find any package" then the linux headers for your kernel version may no longer be in the repository, you'll need to find a repository that has it and add that to the /etc/apt/sources.list.  If you got an error related to not finding something needed for the install then run "apt-get update" to update its list of packages and re-run the install of linux headers. (See below for more info if you are having trouble with finding the appropriate kernel header sources.)
  6. Type "apt-get install psmisc"
  7. On the Desktop right click the "VMware Tools" CD icon and select "Mount".  Its contents will now be located as "/media/VMware Tools"
  8. Type "cp /media/VMware Tools/VMwareTools-8.4.8-491717.tar.gz /tmp" to copy the tools archive to the /tmp directory (modify the file name as needed to accommodate future versions)
  9. Type "cd /tmp"
  10. Type "gunzip VMwareTools-8.4.8-491717.tar.gz"
  11. Type "tar xvf VMwareTools-8.4.8-491717.tar"
  12. Type "cd VMwareTools-8.4.8-491717"
  13. Type "./" to begin the installer
  14. Choose the defaults for everything they ask (just hit enter/return each time)
  15. When it is finished type "/usr/bin/vmware-user" to start up the VMware Tools

Congratulations!  You now have the VMware Tools installed.

Your shared folder is available inside the JonDo VM at "/mnt/hgfs/shared".

Additional Kernel Header Sources

On a recent update of my JonDo Live environment I found that the kernel headers were removed from the default repository and I couldn't seem to find it anywhere...  After some hours I figured out how to solve the problem.  You can manually find the Debian packages for linux headers and then manually install them.  The site which has these archived repositories, which you can use to see into the past by specifying a date/time combination to navigate the archive.

The way I located the files I needed probably isn't the best, but here's what I did.  First, I navigate to the root of the dated repository.  For example, shows the repository state on August 6th, 2012.  This date was soon after the release of the kernel version I had (found with uname -a).  There are two Debian packages for Linux headers, the "common" and then the architecture specific one.  You will need to manually download both of those files and then manually install them.

First I found the Packages.bz2 file which lists all the various packages.  You'll need to download, uncompress, and view this file.  My dated one was located here:  Manually search that file for a package called linux-headers-3.2.0-3-486 (substitute your `uname -r` entry for the OS version I mention).  You will see a path there that corresponds to a location off the root (e.g.,  That package has a dependency on the "common" header library, so we now need to find that one.  Looking again in Packages.bz2 I found the entry for "linux-headers-3.2.0-3-common" (modify for the version you have) and then download the package from the location indicated.  Once you have them downloaded you manually install them.  Install each by running the "dpkg -i PACKAGENAME.DEB" command, start with the "common" package.

Once you install both packages you can proceed to step 6 above!


Making your Environment Persistent (Optional)

After you've gotten everything configured, including importing your existing JonDo account info or creating your premium account, you want to save the configuration work you've done so you won't lose it if the virtual machine reboots.  All you need to do is use the "VM" menu, click the "Snapshot" menu item, then choose "Take Snapshot".  As you likely know, this allows you to return to this exact state of the machine at any future time, complete with the file system, memory, display, etc. exactly as it was at this moment.  Instead of booting or rebooting your JonDo VM you can just revert to this snapshot.  Any files you wish to be persistent and not see reverted or erased you should put in the shared folder you could have optionally created.  For example, I keep things like downloaded files, bookmarks, my JonDo exported credentials, etc. in this shared location (e.g., /mnt/hgfs/shared).

Securing your Data Locally (Optional)

To further ensure your privacy you can (and probably should) make sure your virtual machine files (the files VMware uses to store your VM data) are encrypted, either the files themselves (using Windows built-in encryption option) or, better still, by placing the entire directory inside an encrypted virtual drive, with such products as the free TrueCrypt. Be aware, however, that when you use your virtual machine its RAM will be held in your real, physical RAM and as such it can and will be stored in the host's Windows pagefile.sys, where it could potentially be recovered much later, having been written to disk.  The solution in this case is to encrypt your entire system disk with TrueCrypt, such that the swap file is also encrypted or to use an encryption product like Jetico's container encryption which includes swap file encryption as an option.


It is sad that it's come to this, that we honorable, law-abiding citizens must defend ourselves against the unreasonable invasion of our thoughts and study of our activities, but wishing it was not so accomplishes little.  Hopefully this little guide will have helped you take back some of your privacy.

^ Quinxy


The Drozd Blackbird Fully Automatic BB Machine Gun & Its Many Modifications

With my 40th birthday fast approaching and my recent move from urban Los Angeles back to rural Pennsylvania, I found myself nostalgically yearning for the playthings of my early teens in the acreage of my dad's old farm house: a bb gun. And while I had loved my Crosman 1377 pistol, and before it my Daisy Model 105 rifle, what I had always really wanted was the 4,000 rounds per minute insanity of the freon-powered Lark International M-19A machine gun, featured routinely in the advertisement section of Popular Mechanics. I knew at the time I would never be able to talk my parents into letting me buy such a thing, and I don't think I even knew how to talk myself into buying such a thing; it just didn't seem to have a lot of arguably positive qualities. A regular bb gun was about marksmanship and having responsible fun. A fully automatic bb gun capable of shredding a newspaper in under a second from 100 feet away just seemed inherently wrong. On the eve of turning 40, though, I think I finally understood just how right it really was, and I wanted one.

Drozd Blackbird

It turned out the Lark M-19A was old news, long outmoded by other superior alternatives.  I Googled my way through the small but impressive handful of commercially available bb machine guns and ultimately decided on the Russian made Drozd Blackbird. Where the Lark M-19A was little more than a crude mechanical device for throwing gravity-fed bbs in front of a stream of escaping freon, the Drozd is a modern marvel, using a circuit board to coordinate the ballet of motor-fed bb delivery system and solenoid actuated CO2 valve, firing each bb as it is delivered to the gun barrel.

But the stock Drozd Blackbird marks only the starting point of a long and winding path of mods one can purchase and/or create to make this good thing better.

Modding the Drozd

There are a number of amazing mods for the Drozd and Drozd Blackbird, with some very intelligent, creative, and skillful modders producing prototypes as well as commercial products.  The options include chips to add features to the existing circuit board, replacement barrels and stocks, and alternate air systems.

The de facto home for the Drozd modding (and user) community is Drozd MP661K BB Machinegun Owners Group.  The forum is extremely helpful and the best modders and mods are all to be found there.  Sadly the forum software is painfully antiquated, poorly configured, and buggy.  Particularly frustrating, the posts are in reverse order (relative to the norm), so "Page 1" is the most recent page of posts and the posts are listed in reverse chronological order.  Also, pages are often outdated after a recent post and you need to click around various page features to trigger the forum software's display of the latest.  Still, the people and information can't be beat.

Publicly Available Mods

Full Auto Mod Chip

The Drozd as it comes from the factory is not actually continuous fire; a selector allows it to fire 1, 3, or 6 bbs with every trigger press. Most people who buy the Drozd immediately replace a chip on the controlling circuit board to make the 6 bb per shot firing mode a continuous fire mode. That chip comes in several flavors which can increase the selectable firing rate, replacing the 300, 450, and 600 shots per minute default options with 600, 900, and 1200 shots per minute options.

CO2 and High Pressure Air (HPA) / Nitrogen Systems

The Drozd Blackbird can use several types of propellant, which can come from several different sources, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

As it is shipped the Drozd is only set up to use three 12g CO2 cartridges (three at a time) or one Crossman AirSource 88g CO2 cartridge (the JT 90g CO2 works perfectly fine, and is actually priced 35% lower than the Crossman, at least at Walmart which sells the JT for $5.50 a piece versus $7.50 a piece for the Crossman). Optional accessories allow remote paint ball CO2 canisters (such as the common 20 oz CO2 bottles) and even the increasingly popular High Pressure Air (HPA).

In the chilly conditions of late October I begin to understand why the HPA option is so popular. CO2 is greatly affected by temperature. Colder temperatures mean fewer shots and weaker shots. And not only is the ambient temperature important, there is the more serious problem that with each shot the CO2 vessel itself becomes colder. Firing multiple times in a row drops the CO2 canister temperature dramatically, lowering its pressure sharply. The temperature becomes so low that guns can literally freeze up. HPA is free of these issues, at least to any serious degree.

It didn't take me long to realize the 12g CO2 option is laughably unworkable. The three 12g cartridges were only providing me about 20 decent shots, with a handful of anemic ones after that. Replacing the cartridges is not hard but requires unscrewing the three canister holder, replacing the spent ones, installing the new ones, screwing in the holder, and then screwing in the cartridge holder to puncture the CO2 seals. The procedure becomes almost immediately tiresome. I quickly switched to using the 88g CO2 canisters (actually the JT 90g canisters, since they are 30% cheaper than the Crosman 88g ones). Not only are there more shots per canister, the replacement is quicker; unscrew the old CO2 canister and just screw in the new one. It only took a few more hours shooting to realize that this, too, is a bit tedious. Despite websites saying I could expect 400 - 500 shots per 88g cartridge (with the Drozd Blackbird) I doubt I was getting any more than 100, with a dozen or so after that that could barely make it to the target. And none of this includes much of any automatic firing, most of this was me firing single shots a few seconds apart. At ~$6 per 90g JT cartridge, with so few shots, it doesn't take long to see the folly of using this form of CO2, at least with my usage and in my climate.

While I could upgrade to HPA, I opted instead for the remote CO2 option, using 20 oz CO2 bottles. HPA is a very expensive initial investment. Each large HPA bottle (~1000 shots) costs $170. While you can refill it yourself from a larger tank, such as a SCUBA tank, it'll cost $400 - 600 for the tank and adapter. HPA may be more popular now, but it's still a bit harder to come by than CO2. Going with CO2 means that I get more shots (in theory) per equivalently sized tank, and at only $40/bottle, I can buy two or three and shoot far longer before needing to travel somewhere for a refill. And as I don't expect to do that much full auto firing, the problems with CO2 won't impact me as much as they do others who generally opt for HPA. If my interest keeps up I'll likely go the HPA route as well.

Weaver / Picatinny Rail Options

For those that don't know (like myself only a few days ago), there is a mounting standard for modern gun accessories. The standard has two main variations, Weaver and Picatinny. The only meaningful difference between them is that Picatinny accessories expect larger "recoil grooves", grooves cut transverse into the rail to prevent the scope, laser, light, etc. from sliding forward or back as the gun recoils. For this reason accessories for a Weaver system will usually fit on Picatinny rails, but not the other way around.

The Drozd has one Weaver / Picatinny rail mounted on top of the gun.  For many, one rail is not enough to hold all their intended accessories.  To solve this problem you could add something like the flat top Weaver tri-rail mount which essentially adds vertical Picatinny rails on either side of a Weaver rail, or you can install a short Weaver / Picatinny rail underneath or on the sides of the handguard.  Placing one underneath the handguard is particularly useful if you want to install a bipod.  While installing the rails is not particularly technically difficult, it requires little more than picking a rail of appropriate length and using adhesive or screws to secure them, all your efforts will be for nought if you don't mount them straight.

Wanting both scope and laser, and not wanting (at this moment) to install a rail or worry about whether the scope I might choose would clear the laser I might choose, I opted instead for the NcStar 4x32mm Mark III Tactical Scope with Laser.  It does a decent job, though I'm sure separate lasers are much brighter, and I've heard the green ones particularly visible during the day.

Barrel Replacements

If you want to ditch the original barrel and the cheesy fake plastic suppressor, your best option is one of JimC's barrels. You can pick between his Tactical Rifle Kit, the SMG kit, the Carbine Kit, or the SMG Fake Suppressor Kit. All of the highest quality.

I went with the Tactical Rifle Barrel replacement in an effort to improve the already decent accuracy and boost the already decent bb fps.  Admittedly the purchase was also an aesthetic one, as I think the cheap plastic fake suppressor diminishes what is otherwise a quality airgun.

Sergey's Amazing Replacement Board

While the generally available replacement chips can get you full auto and higher firing rates they can't get you 2,000 rounds per minute and they don't let you adjust the fps of your projectiles. An ingenious Russian named Sergey Pismensky has made and is selling a board that lets you do all these things. The board is a bargain at $120, but installation isn't easy.  Unlike the other electronic mods to the Drozd, this one has three buttons and one LED, all of which require careful, clean CNC (or other) cuts in the handguard.   I've heard that Ray at DrozdMax will do a great job for you, but I'm not sure what it costs.

For details on the board (including talking to and buying from the man himself), follow this thread (and the one that preceeded it). And check out this great video with explanation of its features and use.

It should be noted that while the board can deliver 2,000 rounds per minute the stock magazine motor can't keep up for long. Modders have identified some replacement motors, including the Nichibo motor, but you'd better read the threads to see where research currently stands.

Barrel Attachment Adapters

While it's not my thing, modder Netstamp has made available an adapter which lets you connect 14 mm (paintball) barrel accessories (such as mock suppressors and muzzle brakes) to the end of the stock Drozd barrel.  You can read more here.

Notable Prototypes and Ideas for Prototypes

High Capacity / Drum Magazines

A few people have done some amazing work creating drum (or at least drum-looking) magazines for the Drozd. One of the nicest looking is by "Camracer". Unless I'm mistaken it's not a drum magazine in a functional sense, it just stores the bbs in a drum-like holder where bbs can be fed into a semi-traditional hopper. Camracer has a great YouTube channel to show off all his Drozd creations and setups.

Airgun Silencers

I had hoped to avoid annoying the neighbors by adding a genuine suppressor/silencer, perhaps even make my own, but within a few dozen Google searches I realized just how bad an idea an airgun silencer would be.  The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms does not regulate airguns, but they do regulate silencers for use on firearms, and the BATF considers any silencer, regardless of actual use, as requiring a firearm license if it could be made to work, even once, on a firearm.  Any silencer made for an airgun could arguably be adapted for use on powder based firearm, and the punishment for that crime is potentially 10 years in jail and $250,000 fine for manufacturing a silencer and an additional 10 years and $250,000 for possession of an unlicensed silencer.  And these are not idle threats, a recent case sent a person to prison for at least 15 years for having mailed an airgun which included a silencer built specifically for that airgun (the sound dampening material would not survive the shot of a firearm).  It should be noted, though, that the individual in this case had a prior felony and as such was not allowed to possess a firearm.  Airguns are not firearms but in the view of the jury (and the BATF) the silencer is a firearm.  I have seen no mention of whether his sentence was based in any part on his status as a previously convicted felon.

While it is possible to legally own/operate a silencer (in 47 out of our 50 states), the process is not guaranteed to work and can take 3-4 months and $200; you also need to get your local police chief to sign off on the form (I believe there is some other alternative to this).  If silence was a greater issue for me, perhaps I'd explore it just for the curiosity factor.


A bb machine gun is a somewhat purposeless device.  It exists in that space between a firearm capable of defending your home/family/country and an orange-tipped toy suitable for a 10 year old.  Within that space, however, is the potential for wild, but tempered and costly, amusement.

The costs do add up quickly.  A $299 semi-automatic (technically fully-automatic but in bursts of 3 or 6 bbs) gun suddenly becomes a $375 truly fully-automatic gun with your choice of basic mod chip installed.  That gun suddenly becomes a $550 fully-automatic bb machine gun with a tactical barrel.  And that gun becomes a $660 full-auto tactical machine gun with laser and scope.  And that gun becomes a $735 full-auto tactical machine gun with laser, scope, and a 20 oz remote CO2 supply.  And there is ample room to invest even more in something whose only dividends will be smiles and the confetti of shredded targets.

My standard justification for all such costly habits, "Well, it's cheaper and better for me than crack cocaine would probably be." as if in each situation crack cocaine was the only other available option. There's something to be said in favor of the straw man argument when you're trying to talk yourself into something. 🙂

So, if you're looking to join we fools who own and enjoy a Drozd, I can heartily recommend Ray at DrozdMax for sales/service and the aforementioned Drozd MP661K BB Machinegun Owners Group for all your questions, chat, and ideas.  Hope to see you over there.

My own Drozd Blackbird, as of 11/5/2011, includes the following:

^ Quinxy


Leaving Los Angeles

For the last 10 years Los Angeles has been home to me, well, never quite a home, more a city of residence.  And that emotional disconnect explains the ultimate necessity of the move.  I moved here twice, following promising job opportunities both times, living in this terraformed desert land, this city of perpetual summer, this city tinged with smiley superficiality.  It has much to recommend it, don't get me wrong, but most of what it offers is utterly lost on me.  The omnipresent sun and the lack of treed canopy here in Los Angeles keeps me a prisoner indoors.  The city scenes and social venues in abundance here beckon me not.  I crave a simpler, quieter existence.  I crave a Fall of crisp mornings and the smell of decaying leaves, I crave a Spring in which the landscape seems truly reborn, I crave weather as unpredictable as life itself.

I will miss many people in Los Angeles, but few things.  If you are one of those people, thank you for having made this place beautiful in so many moments.

Where exactly I am going, and what exactly I am doing remains to be seen.  I am at present embarking on a journey with an origin but no specific destination.  I expect I might ultimately nestle in the lakes region of New Hampshire, perhaps one day opening up or taking over a very modest bed and breakfast; having that be an avocation rather than a career, continuing with software development/consulting as my day job.  But there is quite a bit of modest trial and error required to settle on a region then settle on a specific piece of property.  I expect to travel quite a bit over the next few months, sampling New England.

^ Quinxy