Do you wear a watch?

Sitting in a bus, or a train, or even walking about the streets is always a good opportunity to take a look at other people and to see if they are wearing a wrist watch. Ok, I don’t actually do that often, but it is always an interesting experiment to perform. I’ve recently heard arguments that [wrist] watches are no longer needed, that they are a thing of the past. People will now take a look at their phones to see what time it is, or glance at a clock on the wall. However, I think watches are still relevant in these modern days. Here’s why.

My watch!

Sitting in a bus, or a train, or even walking about the streets is always a good opportunity to take a look at other people and to see if they are wearing a wrist watch. Ok, I don’t actually do that often, but it is always an interesting experiment to perform.

I’ve recently heard arguments that [wrist] watches are no longer needed, that they are a thing of the past. People will now take a look at their phones to see what time it is, or glance at a clock on the wall. Granted, those are both reasonable ways to get the time, but to me, they compliment wearing a watch, rather than replacing it.

I myself have gone through various phases – I remember that I would wear my watch compulsively as a child, and set it every day to the radio. I would then know exactly to the second when the school bell would go off. Perhaps this was to know when I would be done with a boring class, or be free to go home, and in a way, it was pretty fun! In my teens, though, I stopped wearing a watch, although I can’t remember the reason. Perhaps it was because I lost my watch.

However, at some point or other, one will always need to know the time. When I went traveling for 2 months in 2008, I decided to start wearing a watch again. At first, it was actually annoying to wear it, and I always couldn’t wait to take it off. However, I decided to keep wearing it. After a while, I got used to it and since then, always wear one.

In the Fall 2010 semester, I decided to take a class on Celestial Navigation, and it was here that I really realized the advantage of using a wrist watch. I decided to make a list of why one should wear a wrist watch (My points generally refer to a digital wrist watch, but analog wristwatches still have uses), and here it is:

  • A watch is a simple device which won’t fail easily. If you kept up with the news, you may have heard about various glitches in the iPhone which caused its alarms to go haywire during the DST change and the New Year. Now, there are basic watches and fancy watches, but the vast majority of them are simple devices which perform a few tasks, and perform them well.
  • A watch will last a long time. How often do you change your computer, or your phone? Probably a lot more often than you’ll change your watch (as long as you don’t lose it). A watch will continue to do its task 10 years from now the same as it does it right now. That’s real value!
  • A watch is durable. Even the cheapest of watches can last a long time, and most of them can survive being dunked in water, taken for a swim, or a fall to the ground. You can’t say the same of most phones.
  • A watch has a long battery life. Ever gotten frustrated because your phone ran out of juice? While phone battery life is generally measured in hours or rarely, days, a watch has its battery life generally measured in years! For example, my cheap watch is supposed to last 10 years.
  • A watch is convenient to look at. You don’t have to take something out of your pocket, but you just glance at your arm. There are situations when the usage of phones is frowned upon, since people may not know you’re just checking the time. Further more, you don’t have to press a button to turn on / light up the screen to see the time (unless it is dark, of course)
  • A watch has a known accuracy. If you use your watch often, you will eventually know whether it’s fast or slow. For example, I know my watch gets fasts by one second every week, but anyway, I set it every week. Meanwhile, if you rely on some clock on the wall, you don’t know if it’s accurate! (Of course, most phones are able to synchronize themselves, which can be an advantage or disadvantage) There are cases where you need to know the time very accurately, especially if you are using it for navigation. (A watch which is 4 seconds off can result in your navigation being a mile off!)
  • A watch immediately tells you the seconds. Most phones won’t tell you the seconds, unless you launch a dedicated application to show it.
  • Cheap watches function arguably just as well as more expensive ones

Given the cheapness of watches these days, personally, I feel that there’s no reason not to wear one. Perhaps some people think it’s ugly, and I can’t say anything about that, but I know that there are a lot of fancy “fashion” watches around. Others feel that it’s uncomfortable, and that’s fair enough – it can be weird having something around your wrist all the time, but I say – try it for at least 2 weeks and only then if it’s still uncomfortable, take it off.

I don’t know, maybe there are valid reasons for not wearing a watch. Please feel free to let me know if you have one!

Network File Server using FreeNAS (Part 1)

Juggling around files can be a nightmare when you have multiple computers, especially when you use multiple operating systems. Trying to back up files can easily turn into a mess once you have multiple copies of files here and there, and you may constantly worry about hard drive failure.

By building a NAS yourself, you can solve these issues and save a lot of money compared to buying a commercial NAS product!

Juggling around files can be a nightmare when you have multiple computers, especially when you use multiple operating systems. Trying to back up files can easily turn into a mess once you have multiple copies of files here and there, and you may constantly worry about hard drive failure.

These are some of the reason which drove me to set up a NAS (Network Attached Storage) server to serve my files across my network. My requirements were the following:

  • At least 2TB of storage
  • Able to serve Windows, Mac OS, and Linux (SMB, AFP, NFS) at gigabit speeds
  • Low power consumption for 24×7 usage
  • Protected against hard drive failure
  • Protected against accidental file deletion
  • As cheap as possible

There are various companies which provide NAS solutions – for example, Synology and QNAP, as well as regular hard drive / network device manufacturers like Western Digital and Buffalo. However, as I looked through their products, I realized that while they looked very nice, they tended to be expensive and limited (depending on how deep your pockets are). For example, the Synology DS411J and QNAP TS-410 (both 4-bays) both cost around USD360, and once you’ve got them, they don’t tend to be that flexible.

So, I decided to DIY a server. Firstly, I looked at OS solutions, and settled on FreeNAS 8 (Using something like Solaris/FreeBSD would be even more flexible, but for simplicity, I went for FreeNAS which is small and has a decent web interface). The main attraction I was looking for was ZFS, a file system built to ensure data integrity. It can be thought as a marriage between hardware & software RAID, which is very beneficial because it avoids many of the write hole problems with a RAID system, and can self-heal your data. I won’t go into the details of ZFS, which can be found elsewhere, but it is clearly a very capable file system.

ZFS would provide me the following:

  • RAID-Z1: By using one of the drives in a pool for parity, I would be safe from a single hard drive failure.
  • Dataset quotas: Ability to limit datasets (or to effect, the shares) to a certain size.
  • Snapshots: You can think of this like Time Machine for Mac OS, although, to me, even better, because snapshots are instantaneous, and provide me safety against accidental file deletion, etc. They don’t take up any extra space, and allow me to roll back my file server to a particular state. Here’s how to use snapshots with Windows & Mac OS [Coming soon]
  • On-the-fly compression: Using fast compression algorithms (You can actually choose from a range – Gzip/LZJB), data can be compressed when written to the hard drive, saving space and in some cases, enabling even faster speeds on the hard drive. This is because most reading/writing is limited by hard drive speed and not CPU compression speed (At least with a modern CPU).

And having a DIY NAS server would give me the following:

  • A fast CPU for on-the-fly compression/transcoding – which I can upgrade in the future if needed
  • Flexible amount of RAM
  • Up to 6x SATA HDDs, plus with PCI-E expansion, I could easily put up to 15 Hard drives in total, for a LOT less cost than a commercial NAS
  • Ability to upgrade to 2x1Gbps network interfaces (or more), to double my network bandwidth
  • USB3.0 support

Of course, a DIY solution would tend to consume a bit more power than a NAS solution, given that it has a lot more CPU/RAM, and a lot depends on the power supply efficiency.

Parts & Build

In the end, I decided to go with the following:

  • Intel G620 2.6GHz Processor: The cheapest Socket 1155 CPU I could find at the time. It’s already a lot faster than needed, although if you do use on-the-fly encryption or compression, you can saturate it
  • Intel DH67BL-B3 microATX Motherboard: One of the cheapest boards I could find with at least 5x SATA ports. I decided to go with this because it had an Intel network controller, and according to some reviews I read, the lowest power consumption. It also gives me USB3.0 support which could be useful in the future.
  • 2x4GB Kingston DDR3-1333MHz RAM: Since RAM is cheap, and ZFS benefits from higher levels of RAM, 8GB made sense. The motherboard, supporting up to 32GB of RAM, can be easily upgraded in the future
  • 3x2TB Western Digital WD20EARX “EcoGreen” Hard drives: Not nearly the fastest drives around, but from tests (at least of the earlier generation WD20EARS), they appear to have the lowest power consumption
  • Corsair 4GB Flash Voyager USB flashdrive: One I had lying around to install FreeNAS on

All this added up to a grand total of USD422, hard drives included (USD196 without). I didn’t have a free case lying around at the time, so I just built it open:

After updating the BIOS, adjusting fan speeds, etc., I installed FreeNAS 8.0.1-RC1 onto my flash drive and booted up. Everything was detected without problems and the web interface was accessible. I created a RAIDZ1 array using the 3 drives, resulting in 3.56TB of usable space.

(Note: I had to use the wdidle3 tool to ensure my drives wouldn’t load/unload their heads so often, which could lead to premature failure)

Performance

Using the linux dd tool, I did a quick benchmark of the hard drives, which gave 217.7MB/s writing and 226.1MB/s reading. More than fast enough for me, given that gigabit LAN maxes out well before that anyway.

Next, I tested the network performance using iperf, and with 2 clients connected, the interface managed to push 950Mbps (119MB/s). All was looking well, so I quickly set up a CIFS/SMB (Windows) share and copied a file over. Both ways, I was getting 112MB/s. I also set up an AFP (Apple) share which got me the same 112MB/s.

Conclusion

I managed to get a file server which has great data integrity features, and can serve all my network clients. In addition to the regular network shares, I also use it as a “Time Capsule” of sorts for the two Mac OS machines on my network. In particular, for much less than what it would cost to buy an equivalent NAS or Time Capsule!

FreeNAS is still a work in progress, and isn’t perfect right now (still waiting for them to add VPN and torrent support), but it’s definitely on its way.

Further

FreeNAS: Simultaneous AFP/CIFS shares done neatly

Home network setup

Recently, I made the change to fiber optic for internet, boosting my download/upload speeds to 5Mbps/5Mbps. At the same time, I decided that it was time to do some upgrades to the network in my house, in particular a gigabit network and having all computers on a domain. In terms of complexity, of course this is a very small network setup compared to those you get in large companies and campuses, but for a home network, it’s probably more than an average user may have.

Recently, I made the change to fiber optic for internet, boosting my download/upload speeds to 5Mbps/5Mbps. At the same time, I decided that it was time to do some upgrades to the network in my house, in particular a gigabit network and having all computers on a domain. In terms of complexity, of course this is a very small network setup compared to those you get in large companies and campuses, but for a home network, it’s probably more than an average user may have.

Unifi, the service I’m using, provides a combination of Internet, VOIP (Phone), and IPTV in one package. This is achieved through VLAN tagging, in which various services are assigned a VLAN Tag ID so that the packets coming in can be differentiated from one another.

The fiber modem is provided with the service. This is then connected to a provided D-Link DIR615 router. Initially, the router is setup to handle all routing and connections, but since I prefer DD-WRT, I decided to use it solely as a VLAN Bridge (i.e. it removes the VLAN tags from incoming packets, and sends internet packets to Port 3, and IPTV packets to Port 4). In addition, I changed its IP/Subnet to the same subnet as the rest of my network and disabled its DHCP server, so that I can manage it from any computers on my network.

All routing is handled by my main router (a WRT54GL 1.1 running DD-WRT, overclocked to 250MHz with a heatsink mod), and is setup on a 10.0.0.0/255.0.0.0 (Class A) subnet. I made this decision after my previous Class C (255.255.255.0) network became a mess. Now, all IP addresses are nicely organized into the following pools:

10.0.0.1-10.0.0.100: Routers and bridges
10.0.0.100-10.0.0.150: DHCP clients
10.1.0.1-10.1.0.255: Static LAN clients
10.1.1.1-10.1.1.255: Static WLAN clients
10.1.2.1-10.1.2.255: Static clients with Virtual/Other Interfaces
10.2.0.1-10.2.0.255: VPN clients

Thus, for a computer which has both LAN & WLAN, the last digit [octet] of the IP address is the same. It’s LAN address would be 10.1.0.34 while its WLAN address would be 10.1.1.34. If it had a 3rd interface, it would be 10.1.2.34, etc. This makes it much neater. Of course, not wanting to memorize all the IP addresses, I decided to use DNSMasq for DNS services, with the following settings:

strict-order
domain=lan
local=/lan/
expand-hosts
address=/router.lan/10.0.0.1
address=/vpn.lan/10.0.0.2
address=/vlan615.lan/10.0.0.3

This allows me to access other machines by simply adding their hostnames to DNSMasq. This helps a lot for my machines running Web interfaces, so I can just go to http://router.lan/, etc. Provided that all clients use the router for DNS queries, it all works. Also, strict-order was required because I use Google DNS for my other DNS queries but also keep an ISP DNS server as backup – and this ensures that it uses DNS servers in the order I specified, rather than randomly (?) selecting one or the other.

A 2nd WRT54g router (running DD-WRT) adds OpenVPN support in my network, allowing me to access my network from all over the world. Ideally, my main router would run this VPN service, but as the WRT54g is an old router, it doesn’t have enough RAM (only 16MB) and processing power to achieve all this. In the future, I hope to offload this to my NAS Server.

Finally, my wired ethernet devices are mostly plugged into the last device – an 8 port gigabit switch (HP Procurve 1410-8g). This required the most work, including climbing in the attic to lay Cat-5e cable to various parts of the house (upstairs), as well as plastic channels carrying Cat-5e downstairs. Originally, I was going to get a managed switch (HP Procurve 1810-8g) so that my NAS (File) server would use an aggregated link for 2Gbps of bandwidth, but due to the extra price, I decided to just go with the unmanaged switch.

Having gigabit makes a world of difference – transferring data between various computers is much faster, a feature especially useful when I built my NAS/File server.

Some may say that my routers (WRT54g) are fairly old, and yes, that’s very true. However, in all my internet usage, I haven’t encountered any issues with them, or any internet slowdowns. I was thinking of upgrading to wireless-N, but since most of my devices are already on the wired gigabit network and most clients are only G-capable, I decided that for now, it’s not worth it.

For those wanting to setup unifi, do check out rizvanrp’s Unifi handbook.

Here’s a basic network map of my setup:

Facelift

I’ve been tired of the look of my site for a long time now – so it’s time to welcome a new look, even though the content is still very old.

I probably still won’t be posting to this blog as much as I used to back in the old days, but hopefully for anyone visiting, it won’t be as much of an eyesore as it used to be!

Enjoy!

I’ve been tired of the look of my site for a long time now – so it’s time to welcome a new look, even though the content is still very old.

I probably still won’t be posting to this blog as much as I used to back in the old days, but hopefully for anyone visiting, it won’t be as much of an eyesore as it used to be!

Enjoy!

Mac OSX Lion not sleeping

While using a brand new 2011 iMac (21″), I noticed that putting it to sleep (Apple Menu > Sleep) would not work – the screen would turn off, but the computer itself would still remain on.

Here’s the solution – including an application which you can use!

While using a brand new 2011 iMac (21″), I noticed that putting it to sleep (Apple Menu > Sleep) would not work – the screen would turn off, but the computer itself would still remain on.

I decided to do a bit of research and found that running the command pmset -g assertions from the terminal would list any conditions currently active which are preventing the OS from sleeping. In my case, it was file sharing as well as remote TTY sessions (via SSH), which were solved by issuing the command sudo pmset -a ttyskeepawake 0.

Now, Apple should really be informing users if there are any issues preventing a computer from sleeping. It makes it even more annoying since the iMac has no status LEDs, so it’s almost impossible to tell if it’s gone to sleep, except by listening very carefully for the fans/HDD spinning down.

I decided to write a very quick application, which, when launched, tries to sleep the computer, and if there are any conditions preventing it from doing so, it will list them out.

You can download it here along with the source code (which is messy and perhaps buggy, since I did it very fast). For me, it works perfectly. I can’t claim any responsibility for running it, although I don’t see how it could cause any issues.

(I also found another application here which seems like a better/longer term solution, although I have not tried it out myself and so claim no responsibility. You may want to try it instead, if you’re interested!)

Sleep Checker.dmg, 98KB
(SOURCE CODE)
Requires OSX 10.7 Lion and Python 2.7 (Already installed by default on Lion)

Screenshots

If there are conditions preventing sleep:

Once it’s ready to sleep:

Apple, please fix this by letting users know if there are conditions preventing system sleep, and providing a “force sleep” option, perhaps?

Interpreting pmset

If you’re interested in what’s actually causing the problem, here’s a quick rundown on the output of pmset -g assertions:

$ pmset -g assertions
9/30/11 2:48:44 PM GMT+ 
Assertion status system-wide:
   ChargeInhibit                           0
   PreventUserIdleDisplaySleep             0
   PreventUserIdleSystemSleep              1
   NoRealPowerSources_debug                0
   CPUBoundAssertion                       0
   EnableIdleSleep                         1
   PreventSystemSleep                      1
   DisableInflow                           0
   DisableLowPowerBatteryWarnings          0
   ExternalMedia                           0

Listed by owning process:
  pid 42096: [0x0000012c0000a470] PreventSystemSleep named: "com.apple.AppleFileServer" 
  pid 19: [0x0000012c00000013] PreventUserIdleSystemSleep named: "com.apple.powermanagement.ttyassertion" 
        Details: /dev/ttys000
        Localized=A remote user is connected. That prevents system sleep.

...

You can see that there are 2 conditions which are preventing sleep in this case (PreventSystemSleep and PreventUserIdleSystemSleep). One of them is a process (basically, like a program/application) which has the ID 42096 and is called “com.apple.AppleFileServer”. This happens to be file sharing. The other process (PID19) happens to be a condition which is asserted when remote users are connected via SSH.

You have to manually terminate these processes or remove their assertions, but do be careful when doing so because not all processes can be killed neatly – you may end up crashing your system if you’re not careful!

For more information on pmset, you can issue the command “man pmset” to get help on how to use it.

DIY Headlamp holder with nylon/paracord

Along the same lines as my DIY concealed belt, I realized that I don’t carry a headlamp with me all the time, but I have come across situations in which a headlamp would have come in useful. Since I already carry nylon cord and a flashlight, I made some DIY headlamp holder plans to help me out in those situations!

Along the same lines as my DIY concealed belt, I realized that I don’t carry a headlamp with me all the time, but I have come across situations in which a headlamp would have come in useful. Since I already carry nylon cord and a flashlight, I made some DIY headlamp holder plans to help me out in those situations!

1) Take a length of nylon cord / paracord (Of course, longer than the size of your head).

2) On one end, tie a bowline knot.

* In the next step, you will have to tie a loop whose name I have completely forgotten (If you know it, please let me know its name!). It is very similar to the Alpine butterfly, but with one less loop. Here’s a picture demonstrating how to tie it:


a) Loop the string 3 times around your fingers
b) Take the 3rd (right) loop and bring it across to the 1st loop…
c) …and push it under the 2 loops
d) Holding the loop, take the string off your fingers and tighten it

3) Just after the bowline knot, tie two of the above knots consecutively. Your string should now look like this:

4) Take the two loops, and place them around your flashlight, then pull them TIGHT.

5) Take the other untied end of the string, pull it through the bowline loop, and tie a taut-line hitch.

6) You’re done! Place the entire contraption over your head, and slide the taut-line hitch back and forth to adjust the size of the head lamp band. By adjusting the position of the 2 loops, you can, to some extent, change the angle at which the flashlight points. Don’t overdo it though – you may risk having your flashlight fall out from the loops! Additionally, you could probably make 2 more loops on the other side and mount a 2nd flashlight!

Here’s a picture of a CD/DVD container wearing a headlamp (This is my 4Sevens Quark AA flashlight):

And with a smaller flashlight (My Liteflux LF2XT):

I find that smaller flashlights tend to work better as they are lighter. However, there’s no rule against big flashlights! So, how’s a heavily modified Maglite 2D look as a “headlamp”?

Granted, my head started to tilt to one side with that huge behemoth attached!

Now, I don’t consider this to be a permanent solution for a headlamp – a real headlamp which is on the front of the head is still better, and can be angled up and down much more easily. However, if you ever happen to have only a hand-held flashlight and some cord, hopefully this guide comes in useful!

EDC while exercising – DIY concealed belt

If you have read my post on things I carry every day (EDC), you may be left wondering what I carry when I go exercising. Recently, I came up with a solution to carry my basic, essential items while jogging, without looking weird or weighing down my pockets.

If you have read my post on things I carry every day (EDC), you may be left wondering what I carry when I go exercising. Recently, I came up with a solution to carry my basic, essential items while jogging, without looking weird or weighing down my pockets.

I decided to make use of a length of string and some well known knots to make my own adjustable belt which I wear when I exercise, on which I can hang a number of items. In fact, after I made it, I found that it doesn’t bother me at all, and so I never take off my “belt” – I even wear it to sleep! (Of course, I do take off a couple items) So, I have decided to share this creation here!

1) Take a length of string. Preferably, you should use paracord, but any type of relatively durable/thick nylon cord should work. The length of the string depends on how many ‘hanging loops’ you want, but of course needs to be fairly longer than the circumference of your waist.

2) On one end, tie a bowline, double bowline, or figure-8 loop. In this example, I used a bowline because it’s a relatively simple and reliable knot, and I haven’t had issues with it.

3) Using the Alpine Butterfly knot, fashion as many loops as you want, in whatever positions you want them in. In this example, I made 4 loops, 2 for the left side of the waist, 2 for the right side.

4) Take the other (untied) end of the string, and pass it through the loop you made in step 2. You may want to wear your belt now to adjust the length as needed.

5) Tie a taut-line hitch. You can slide this knot back and forth to adjust the size of the belt to suit your waist. In my example, I used a slight variation (#1856) of the taut-line hitch, which is slightly less secure but easier to adjust.

Your belt is completed! Now, go ahead and hang items on it:

On my belt, I chose to hang the following items:

1) A small plastic namecard holder which holds my Malaysian National ID card, driving license, and some spare cash.
2) Swiss army knife
3) Whistle
4) Small flashlight

You can easily modify your belt to your needs! It’s simple, cheap and easy to make!

Now, when I go jogging, I don’t have to bother keeping my wallet with me because I have my ID & driving license. In addition, the spare cash can come in useful if needed.

Things I EDC (Everyday Carry), 2010

Sometimes, when I pull out something weird from my pockets, people ask me what kind of things I carry. Now, wonder no more – because this post will give you insight to the items I carry with me daily.
All items

Note: This list is outdated, and what I carry now is pretty different. Take a look at what I carry when hiking (not strictly EDC though).

Sometimes, when I pull out something weird from my pockets, people ask me what kind of things I carry. Now, wonder no more – because this post will give you insight to the items I carry with me daily. The term EDC (Every Day Carry) is often used to describe these kind of items, and you can google it to find out what kind of things people carry.

The items I personally carry are finely honed over years of carrying items, and so they may not be the best for other people. I continually change the items I carry, so what I will list is only effective at this current time. You can divide my EDC items into 2 categories:

1) Items I carry on myself
2) Items I carry in my backpack

Items I carry on myself

I generally try to conceal these items, as I don’t want to look like a person gone crazy – so when I am carrying these things, you probably wouldn’t even know, until I started taking things out of my pockets! These items tend to be small, and consist of things which have come in useful over time.

Here is a picture of all my on-person EDC items:
All items

From left to right:

[Top row]

  • Packet of tissues. This probably doesn’t need to be explained, it comes in handy all the time.
  • Phone. Again, doesn’t need to be explained.
  • Flashlight (Liteflux LF2XT). This one goes around my neck on a paracord lanyard, and is one of my favorite flashlights – it is fully programmable (various brightness levels which can be set), waterproof, and brighter than most of those big Maglights.
  • Concealed waist pouch. When I wear this, it is completely unnoticeable, which is great! Items inside shown later.
  • Flashlight (4Sevens Quark AA Tactical). My “main duty” flashlight, goes from really dim to really bright. It is tied to my waist pouch using a very useful quick release knot (The slipped lap knot), which prevents it from falling out, but at the same time provides quick & easy access. It is also clipped to my pants.
  • Swiss army Deluxe Tinker knife. This particular one comes with pliers in the middle.
  • Secondary wallet, with various items to be explained later.

[2nd row]

  • Wallet, which contains various items which will be shown later.
  • Keychain, which will be explained later.

[Not in picture] Clip-on sunglasses.

Concealable pouch

This contains items which will probably confuse you as to why I carry such random stuff, but here goes. It consists of a large back compartment, a medium middle compartment, and 2 small front (left and right) compartments. On the left and right are carabiners, to which are attached the swiss army knife, flashlight (Quark AA) and wallet (using nylon) [and not in picture, a 1 meter tape measure].


In the back compartment, from left to right:

  • A small 2 pronged fork. I have taped up the top to ensure it doesn’t poke anything
  • A small plastic spoon. I used to have a steel one, but it started rusting, and it was a bit heavy.
  • Comb. Self explanatory.
  • Extra ziplock bag (4″x6″). I’ve used this to store various items (I just used it to pack some leftover peanuts from a restaurant), as well as a waterproof container for my phone if it is raining.
  • Some tissues in a ziplock.
  • Guitar pick. It’s a Dunlop gator .71mm for strumming
  • Nylon fishing line
  • [Not in picture – several feet of copper wire]
  • Several rubber bands in a small ziplock
  • Foam earplugs (for nighttime use) in a ziplock
  • A twisty tie


In the middle compartment, left to right:

  • A small contact card with my details on it
  • Some paper and cotton buds in a ziplock
  • Extra plastic bag
  • A sealed plastic bag containing a surgical mask and star charts


In the front left compartment, left to right:

  • A tripled ziplocked bag (to keep out humidity) containing various meds like:
    • Carbon pills
    • Panadol/Tylenol
    • Piriton (antihistamine)
    • Buscopan
  • A ziplock bag containing:
    • A small lens (works as a magnifying lens)
    • 2 bandages
    • [not visible] some spare cash
  • A lighter
  • Small marker pen


In the front right compartment, left to right:

  • A signalling mirror in a ziplock, for use as a regular mirror as well as emergency signalling
  • A ziplock bag containing:
    • 2 rolls of masking tape
    • 1 roll of scotch tape
    • Nail clipper
    • Small and powerful magnet
    • Several paper clips
    • Several safety pins
  • A small vial of hand sanitizer (77% ethanol – also useful for cleaning)

Secondary wallet


I may not always carry this, depending on if I have enough pockets. Has 3 compartments, and contains the following, left to right, top to bottom:
[Top row]

  • Small plastic bag in small ziplock
  • One sad looking bandage
  • Some fishing line

[Middle row]

  • Chapstick (lip balm) for dry weather
  • 2 rubber bands
  • Err, silica gel to absorb humidity. I think it’s no longer working.
  • 2 batteries – A rechargeable Ni-Mh AA (Eneloop) and an Energizer Lithium AAA. (Sometimes, I carry a 3rd lithium ion battery)
  • A small black pen
  • Triple ziplock containing:
    • Safety pins
    • Rolled masking tape
    • Panadol/Tylenol and piriton (antihistamine)

[Bottom row]

  • Ziplock containing some paper, alcohol wipe and bandage
  • 2 toothpicks

Wallet


Besides the usual (some cards, id, cash, emergency contacts), I carry:

  • A ziplock containing an alcohol wipe, band aid, and a personal card
  • Picture of my college CF (HRAACF)
  • Some paper
  • A homemade chart of [music] notes and their frequencies, as well as my flashlight (Liteflux LF2XT) operation manual cheatsheet
  • Band-aid
  • A homemade chart containing various knots, in case I forget how to tie them

Keychain


Besides my keys:

That ends the list of all the things I carry with me at all times. I am, of course, missing some items which I wouldn’t mind adding, and some items which I should add. But I’m already at the limit of what I can carry without it becoming noticeable.

In general, if I were to recommend some items which EVERYONE should ALWAYS have, it would be these:

  • Tissue – I shouldn’t need to mention why
  • Small flashlight – Something which most people lack, but I have been in situations when the power went out, and I would have been trapped in a building if not for this. (Actually, it was because I got trapped in a dark building that I started to carry one) If you frequent the underground or buildings with sealed stairwells, THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT! Your cellphone screen does not count. You can get a simple coin flashlight for just $1 in most places, and it could save your life!
  • Whistle – If you get trapped, or if you are in a place out of sight
  • Small utility knife, if you can

Items I carry in my backpack

On longer trips or car trips, I will take my backpack with me. Now, this is where the ridiculousness starts, with the crazy amount of things I have in my backpack. Over time, I will probably streamline things a bit more, and take out some things which I don’t need.

Here’s my backpack:

It has 4 compartments and 2 side pockets.
Shown are the items in the side pockets: A small water bottle, emergency poncho, and emergency [mylar] “space” blanket.

The 1st back compartment is usually empty, and contains whatever I may need to carry. However, it does contain this flashlight:

which may look like your average Maglite 2D. However, looks can be deceiving – it is actually a VERY heavily modified maglite which puts out more lights than your car headlamps and can shine up to 200 meters away! It can even start newspaper on fire if you try…

The 2nd back compartment is also relatively empty for whatever goods I may need to place inside. However, it does contain these items:

  • Pack of tissue
  • In-Ear headphones (Etymotic er4p)
  • Spare socks & spare t-shirt, for emergencies if I need to change (both inside a plastic bag)

Here is where things get crazy:

3rd compartment (near the front):

This compartment contains several sub compartments, but I will just show everything in the 3rd compartment:
From left to right:
[Top row]

  • Umbrella
  • Ziplock containing notepad and pen
  • A couple meters of nylon rope (waiting to change this to paracord)
  • Small philips screwdriver
  • Large philips screwdriver
  • Long tipped pliers
  • Red decorative string in ziplock

[Middle row]

  • A couple CDs used for troubleshooting computers
  • Small swiss army knife
  • Lighter
  • Double sealed, small tube of superglue
  • Short stick of hot glue
  • Self winding Mini-USB cord
  • Ziplock containing contact treatment (for electrical contacts) – DeOxit Red & Gold
  • Ziplock containing 2 Energizer Lithium AAAs

[Bottom row]

  • Big plastic bag
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Mini Card reader – a very popular item!
  • 3.5mm -> 6.5mm TRS converter (for headphones etc)

[Not in picture] 4GB USB flash drive


4th (front) compartment:
Left to right:
[Top row]

  • Metal chopsticks. They’ve come in more useful than chopsticks before, as they’re strong
  • Big ziplock containing:
    • Syringe
    • Surgical Gloves
    • Surgical Masks (2x)
    • Various 1st aid items such as:
      • Cotton buds
      • Antiseptic wipes
      • Bandages
      • Various pills
  • Tissue in ziplock
  • Ziplock containing various vials of:
    • Heavy grease/lubricant
    • Lighter fluid
    • Cleaning Alcohol (Isopropyl)
    • Detergent
    • Light oil
  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste

[Middle row]

  • Sealed bag of pemmican (Ground beef jerky & rendered beef fat) – Courtesy Shannon Wong who made this batch!
  • Two cereal bars
  • Small spray can containing water
  • Ziplock containing fork & spoon, teabags and aluminum foil

[Bottom row]

  • Tin can, in which I keep the remaining items on the bottom row. The tin can comes in useful as a bowl/cup, and it can also be put on a fire if needed (I did cook an egg in it once)
  • Ziplock containing roll of duct tape and masking tape
  • Ziplock containing soap
  • Ziplock containing eyemask

Practical ORTF recording project

Called to do a recording of the Shostakovich Piano Trio no. 2 performed by the Millfield Trio (Amy Yuan – Violin, Andrew Li – Piano, Mike Strahlman – Cello), here are my experiences on the research and technique and outcome of the project.

This project took me a bit by suprise, because my music tech teacher recommended me to do the recording for them. I agreed because it would give me some ambient recording experience, which I have never done before (at least, not seriously).

Recording would be done in a high noise-floor reverbrant music lodge (lots of traffic passing by). The look of the recording venue looked not too great, with the 7ft Steinway Grand piano very close to the brick wall behind and hardly any stage space. Musicians would be in close proximity and therefore reduce the stereo field.

The easiest technique would be the X-Y (crossed) pair cardiod mics, probably being AKG C1000s small-diaphragm condensers. Unfortunately, this teachnique has a narrow soundfield, and in the already narrow stereo field, it wouldn’t make it sound any better. In fact, we were in lack of a stereo bar.

After doing some research, I came across this technique called ORTF where cardiod mics are placed 17cm apart, with their capsules angled 110° apart. Any slight error in the placement could cause horrific phasing problems. Therefore, it would be necessary that a stereo bar be used. Sounded too troublesome, but more reasearch showed that ORTF yielded a better stereo field. So ORTF became my 1st preference.

I checked what choice of microphones I had access to, and I finally decided on taking a pair of AKG C414 B-ULS wide diaphragm condenser microphones as the main stereo pair. I also decided that spot miking could improve it, so I chose 2 AKG C3000S wide-diaphragm condensers (on hypercardiod) to spot the violin and cello. At first I was contemplating putting a spot (perhaps SM57) on the bass strings of the piano, but I decided that it would sound unnatural, and anyway the bass level of the grand piano sounded decent from my listening point. Frequency response was set to full (no filters) as I could filter what I needed later on.

The problem of aquiring a stereo bar was solved by my trombone teacher lending his stereo bar to me.

All this would be put through a Soundcraft Spirit Studio 16 track analogue mixer (I really needed preamps, but we didn’t have any suited for the job) into a M-Audio Delta 1010 Soundcard on a computer in a seperate control room. It would be recorded on to Cubase SX 2.01 .

I was originally planning to put some acoustic foam behind the piano on the wall, but later on we discovered that the trio was being filmed as well, and as the foam would look ugly, that idea had to be scraped.

Recording day arrived, and it took me about 1 1/2 to set up the equipment. The main stereo pair ended up about 3/4 metres away from the trio about 3 metres up, with spots coming in from behind the player’s shoulders, about a metre away from their instruments. The piano was dragged as far as it could be from the wall (which was about 30cm!) and was put on half-lid.

Timing for recording was timed around the school bell ringing, which made life a bit tough, but we got through the 1st movement without too much hassle. The 2nd and 3rd movements had to be redone (the trio was unsatisfied with their performance). Indeed, the high noise floor and sound leakage caused MAJOR problems in movement 4 when suddenly a police car zoomed by, it’s siren being picked up by the sensitive stereo pair. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to redo it, so it remained.

Draft processing, mixing, and mastering was complete by the next day (done on Yamaha MSP5 near-field stereo monitors). Considering the lack of equipment and the state of the venue, initial results were decent. The stereo field was quite wide, and the sound coming from the stereo pair was such that only a bit of spots were added on, for definition. The excellent AKG 414s did their job well, as no equalization was applied. Of course, the control room couldn’t have worse acoustics, so I might be mistaken about that. Some problems included traffic rumbling here and there, the police siren, and the mid-lows were slightly muddy (probably because of the acoustics).

For a first time ambient project, I think things went quite well, and has been quite an experience. Just be sure to set up your ORTF properly and try different positions in the room to get a good sound.

Useful sources

Liszt Piano Sonata in B minor – Introduction

Well known for it’s great virtuostic sections, how about its unique structure? Also it’s contrasts and it’s musicality

Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886), well known to the world as one who portrayed the ‘devil’, shows much struggle of character within his pieces. An accomplished piano virtuoso, many of his pieces require much technical skill to be played. Don’t forget about the music which lies underneath this show-work, though.

His Piano Sonata in B minor is something special. Normally Piano Sonatas come in the form of 3 movements (sometimes 4), different in character. Here, Liszt has decided to roll up everything into a half-hour long 1 movement piece. One can’t get bored listening to it, though.

His piece shows great struggle between two opposite characters, one angry, and the other calm. A bit like Schumann’s “Florestan” and “Eusebius”, I guess. So, excitement, tension, resolve is very much a part of this piece.

The piece may be divided up into a few sections (Opinions differ, but I would say 4 sections). The piece may be looked at as a fusion of the sonata form and 4 movements. The sonata form consists of – 1st theme – bridge – 2nd theme – codetta – development – 1st theme – bridge – 2nd theme (in tonic) – coda.

In this particular work, Liszt reveals the 1st theme and the bridge, both fast and virtuostic, and moving on through a slowing bridge before coming to what you could call BOTH the 2nd theme, and also the 2nd movement. In fact, it looks like the 2nd theme is a variation of the 1st theme.

Later, Liszt moves into a ‘development’-like section, before a ‘scherzo-like’ section which turns back into our 1st theme (hence recapitulation), and also like the 3rd movement. The bridge and 2nd theme come back again, before moving into a coda (or somewhat like a 4th movement).

Frankly, I think Liszt was a genius at coming up with this work. It’s a sonata form, it’s a few movements in one, and may be called a work on variations.

And thus the end of the introduction to this piece, and the wonderful world of music.