Archive for December, 2016


Saturday, December 31st, 2016
  • I moved to Berlin in April and spent the year eating ice cream and not doing much else.
  • There was a river and canals and parks. I missed the mountains and the sea though.
  • I didn’t work, and that got boring after a while, and I didn’t end up doing all that much programming either.
  • I got to a very weak conversational level in German. I became keenly aware of privileges of knowing English – I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to move to e.g. Canada while knowing as much English as I know German. It’s definitely reinforced how difficult immigrating, integrating, and learning a language is.
  • I travelled the Trójmiasto—Warszawa—Kraków north-south line in January, and visited Gdynia again in June to see family. I visited Ontario, including the biennial visit to Kitchener-Waterloo in September. On the return flight stopover I took a two-week trip around Iceland, including four days of Westfjords and seals and many geothermal hot pools and it was great seeing the glaciers again. I also went to Nürnberg (for the the Christmas market) and Hamburg (for CCC) for a few days in early and late December respectively. I felt like I should have travelled more around the region.
  • I failed many of the goals I had set out in 2015, including financial, but I can’t bring myself to be really bothered. It’s OK.
  • I read a lot of books, including in particular fiction by Brandon Sanderson and Charles Stross, a series of short simple books for German learners by André Klein, and, earlier in the year, non-fiction about industrial revolution (I have a 4500-word draft sitting since April waiting to be finished up). Many of the books were fairly short, but I still read more pages than last year overall.
  • I didn’t listen to much music at all, both recorded ( and live ( I went to fewest concerts since 2012, again meeting the trend of even-numbered years being slower. I scrobbled less than ever since signing up in 2006, though what I did scrobble was slightly more varied than in 2015 – the result of a few “shuffle all” days. There were a number of reasons – storing music on an external hard drive mostly not plugged in, doing a different kind of work not as suited to background music, lack of good loudspeakers — but I will be trying to change that trend and get back to some of the music I’ve enjoyed in the past.
  • I started keeping a journal, on paper, and late in the year started writing with a fountain pen. How very hipster.
  • Hardware changes: I bought a new lens for my DSLR — a 35 mm f/1.8 — ahead of the Iceland trip as the kit lens was showing its 8 years of being bumped. Unfortunately it was a year of losing things, as I left behind a USB charger in Waterloo (I felt a bit sad, I’ve had it for five years and it worked well) and I lost or was helped to lose the Canon S100 on the last day of the Nürnberg trip (breaking a good trend of 8 years without a camera loss). I then broke the Nexus 5 touchscreen four days later. The screen on my X220 is becoming increasingly wonky and I might need to do something about it next year.
  • The planned data organization and clean-up went meh. I digitized a bit, but there’s still a lot to do. I started using a password manager with stronger passwords, deleted some online accounts and started a Google cleanout – yay to that.
  • I felt not as interested in photography. I still took pictures but I didn’t really care about processing or sharing them. Changing hobbies is a weird feeling.
  • I feel kind of bad about this, but the year wasn’t bad for me. It was quite good.
  • Treasure hiding.

Rescuing data from an Android phone with broken touchscreen and disabled USB debugging

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Last week I dropped my Nexus 5 once again, this time for good. I had cracked and broken the top glass before, but the display and the touchscreen kept on working. This time, the touchscreen no longer registers touches, though luckily the display still works somewhat. On a device with no trackball, touchpad, or keyboard, a broken touchscreen is problematic.

Unfortunately, I had been lazy about keeping my phone properly backed up. There wasn’t that much unique stuff on it, but I always meant to backup apps and app data, and to eventually root and reflash someday — but never got around to it. Consequently I didn’t have USB debugging turned on, or a computer cleared for debugging.

Generally, the way to control and back up Android devices is from your desktop computer, using a USB connection and software called adb (Android Debug Bridge, see adb docs). However, USB debugging must be first turned on in Android settings, and since Android 4.2.2, the phone asks to confirm debugging access from each computer that attempts to connect. Normally the confirmation is done using the phone touchscreen. Oops.

Here are my notes on what I did to eventually gain USB debugging access. I did not require root or fastboot. I needed a computer to act as the adb host and a few accessories: a USB OTG cable, a USB mouse, and a Bluetooth keyboard.

Learning from my trouble, I recommend people running Android 4.4.3 or higher and interested in maintaining access to their device to enable USB debugging ahead of time.


Degooglifying, step 1: Cleaning up

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

I’ve been looking to reduce my dependence on Google for a while (see my posts archive on degooglifying), but so far that amounted to figuring out how dependent I was on Android. I’ve now finally started working on actually reducing my Google footprint a bit. Here’s some notes on my process.

My goal isn’t to never again visit a Google website or service, but I will be happy if they end up collecting less information about me, whether through Analytics (which I already block), Gmail, or Maps.

Steps so far were: take stock (I am unorganized, so by far most important), delete stuff I no longer use, and start archiving things in my actual archives rather than haphazardly in various Google services, particularly Gmail.


Build This Idea: Micro-Grids for Peer-to-Peer Energy

Monday, December 12th, 2016

This is an instalment of Build This Idea, where I write about stuff I want to exist. Treat it like an idea store; if you like something, take it; if you make it, let me know — I’ll be delighted to check it out. Today, a rather big ask for unifying several existing concepts and services.

London has canals. On canals there are moored houseboats. Until recently many houseboats had a diesel generator for their own electricity. Now it is common to see a photovoltaic panel or three supplementing that, and I’ve seen a few wind mini-turbines (though I’m a bit skeptical if they produced more than needed to light a lightbulb).

A thing that is not so great about this is that each boat has their generator, and they aren’t connected. There are many downsides to grids, but if you’re running a heavy load (kettle, oven) and your neighbour isn’t, a grid is a handy thing to have. A grid lets you pool resources, essentially timeshare.

But we don’t always need country-wide grids. Much of the averaging and pooling is feasible on neighbourhood or city scale. Traditional large-scale grids are most useful with centralized generation, and actually have problems with independently operated small-scale generation.

Instead, we should connect the houseboats with micro-grids. This should also be done in other cases where people use electricity in geographically close but off-grid situations, such as parked RVs, camped tents, or clusters of cabins. This would help with temporary heavy loads: your panel or battery might not be able to support a kettle or a vacuum on their own, but together with those of two of your neighbours it might. Then once your kettle is off, your panel can lend electricity to your neighbour. Try to smooth the peaks a little. Keep a running balance of how much electricity was lent and borrowed by everyone to ensure fairness.

To further motivate peak smoothing, have a surge multiplier that rewards providing energy to the grid at peak times by giving out extra credit. During a lower-demand period, the credit can be spent by receiving more energy than lent out at peak. (This is essentially demand management by economic means.)

A rough implementation idea: each houseboat or tent or RV is a system, identified by a unique key (possibly something similar to public/private key). New systems joining a grid (with a new key not previously seen by the grid) are required to lend some energy before being allowed to borrow. This privileges early movers and existing micro-grid members, but also avoids regenerating keys to repeatedly get free energy. Wireless power transfer guided by low-power beacons would make it super cool, but of course there would still be a lot of value in wired connections. Systems can connect and disconnect as they like or need, but will find it advantageous to keep connected as much as possible, to build up credit they can spend later.

Another reason this would be interesting is it sets up a new “edition” of an electrical grid where there was no grid before. If all you had before was your diesel generator, you are more likely to accept limitations on electricity use than if you’re coming from a grid-connected point of view, where this setup might be a downgrade. Further, a secondary grid where the expectations are different can be a good illustration of the concepts of demand management and peak smoothing for people who are used to current constant grids. In software terms, this is a new, rewritten “edition” that doesn’t have some features, as opposed to a new “version” removing features.

The new edition should optimally be built to be a little more resilient and better able to deal with fluctuating supply and demand. Current systems are built assuming 100% reliability, and weird things happen if grid power goes out or voltage drops. However, many of modern household uses of electricity are not particularly time-critical: increasing amounts of electronics have built-in batteries, and in many cases it doesn’t really matter if a fridge or heater turns on five minutes earlier or later. It would then be good to have smaller-scale dispersed generation as well as storage, with house, vehicle, and electronics batteries all capable of being charged or discharged as needed.