Review: Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve

Infernal Devices is book three in the Hungry Cities Chronicles. The first book was set in Europe and the sky. The second book was set on the polar ice cap. This third book is set at sea. It’s an exciting adventure which is still very sociological. We explore themes of power and oppression dynamics with lots of action and explosions.

Check out my reviews of Mortal Engines and Predator’s Gold!

Infernal Devices By Philip Reeve

Making WordPress Static

WordPress can be a nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, WordPress is great. BUT, there are often zero-day exploits, and a universe of complex security concerns which WILL come up. Combine that with the often ballooning resource requirements of templates, plugins, etc, and you get a recipe for a website that becomes a lot more complicated and expensive than it should be.

The solution is actually quite simple; static.

Many cache plugins exist which attempt to nudge WordPress in that direction, but they don’t really solve any of these problems.

On the advice of Pieter Levels, I decided to split up my server architecture. The production sites such as blog.cjtrowbridge.com, cjtrowbridge.com, trowbridge.house, etc are all using static html running simply on apache with nothing else. Take a moment to really consider that. Apache is some of the fastest code ever written. A production server running just Apache has nearly unlimited capacity, especially when it’s on an SSD in a datacenter somewhere. Most limitations and resource considerations are moot at that point, even for extremely high demand applications.

A second server hosts wordpress installations for each corresponding site. These have a different url than the production sites. Whenever a change is made to a page, I simply deploy a new static version of the site onto the production server. This gives me all the benefits of wordpress with none of the security or resource concerns.

Simply Static

Simply Static is a free WordPress plugin. This will create a static copy of your entire wordpress site using relative paths for all links and resources. You just get an archive file which contains the whole site. You can also map the output to a directory which will automatically deploy directly to your production environment. (This would be a little more complicated.)

Handling Bad URLs

The best solution I have found for handling bad URLs is simply to redirect any errors to the homepage via an htaccess file in the webroot. This still runs completely on apache while handling a complex task which wordpress would normally do.

It might be more elegant to create a custom page for each error type. Then redirect each type of error to its own page. This sounds like a lot of unnecessary work in my case, but it would be great to include that kind of detail for a more complex or customer-facing site.

Fascinating Case Study: Pay-What-You-Want Cafes

Pay-what-you-want cafes are a super fascinating case study at the intersection of many issues related to modern urbanism. Implementing this mission started with food security and grew to touch many other issues from racial sensitivity to consumer behaviors and our deep ethical dissonance around living differently than we believe we should.

This story includes themes ranging from utopian socialism to the discordant relationship between capitalism and philanthropy.

I highly, highly recommend listening!

 

Homo Deus by Yuval Harari

Yuval’s previous book, Sapiens, covers the history of humanity. This book, Homo Deus, covers the future of humanity. His next book after this covers today.

Homo Deus was an interesting look at many of the forces which are shaping the world. Starting at the beginning is the right way to think about the future. Sapiens really dives into the cognitive, agricultural, and industrial revolutions. This book looks at the future from that historical perspective. What has changed, and what does it mean? What is therefore likely to happen moving forward?

Homo Deus by Yuval Harari

In particular, I found his perspective on what he calls “Dataism” fascinating. I think this is the right lens through which to view the modern world, and the right way to think about what is coming next. This concept promises to unite all the various disparate sciences under a single universal paradigm which also extends to nearly every part of humanity, as well as all our technology and the rest of the universe around us.

It’s a very exciting read!

Plan: Salesforce Consulting

This is the biggest and most exciting part of the open startups challenge for me. I have a great deal of experience with CRM administration and development, and specifically with certain niches around clienteling, marketing automation, and audit automation. These niches are currently exploding as multibillion dollar international markets while CRM companies are posting enormous gains. These markets are targeted primarily by large conglomerates who focus on large customers. As the old saying goes, 90% of businesses target less than 10% of a market.

I want to focus on small players. There is a virtually limitless supply of crm administration and development work already be sought after on platforms like Upwork by these small players. A quick job search shows countless open positions in this field in Northern California alone. Clearly there is a huge demand for this.

I have spent the last five years of my career working on launching a free crm product which leverages these niches to monetize itself by adding value for customers. This has proven extremely challenging. So I am pivoting to focusing on adding value for customers who are using paid platforms like Salesforce. Later, I can come back to my project of trying to offer a Free Gmail-type alternative to Salesforce’s paid Outlook-type CRM.

Pipeline

I have already set up a pipeline which pulls all salesforce and crm development or administration jobs posted on Upwork and puts them into a trello board. This will allow me to aggressively target the most valuable work and build initial relationships from the perspective of this new consulting business.

Plan: Content Platform

My blog receives a decent amount of traffic, and I have a consistent ability to generate organic traffic for certain niche topics. I have experimented in the past with monetizing posts via affiliate links, and I was surprised by how easy it was to make some revenue with just organic traffic and no ad spend.

I have seen a lot of promoted posts on social media with simple top ten lists for things like “Cheap last minute gifts” or “Best office gadgets under $10.”

I often click on these ads with genuine interest, and always realize that whenever I do, I am generating affiliate revenue for the sites.

This seems like a super easy gig to get into. It’s very straightforward. The ROI is easy to measure, and I already have a great deal of experience with every part of this business.

I have compiled a list of these types of sites and used automation tools to integrate all their posts into a to-do list which I can go through searching for content for my posts. Then, I will publish the posts on social media and boost them so lots of people see the posts and click through to my site. If even a few of them click through to affiliate sales sites and make purchases, then the project will be profitable.

Data

It will be critical to develop a small, focused set of content types and to aggressively measure results for each post. Important metrics include traffic, engagements, clicks, and of course affiliate link conversions.

From there, each niche will need to have its own reporting about the time spent developing content and its cost, the amount of ad spend, and the revenue generated. This will enable clear and concise business analysis of each niche.

Predator’s Gold by Philip Reeve

Predator’s Gold was an amazing sequel to Mortal Engines.I hope they continue the film franchise, because this book gets into even more interesting sociological perspectives on potential dystopian futures. We see a deeper dive into issues of classism and nepotism within social darwinism, and we also touch on the reality that people will always cheat systems; that social darwinism becomes a competition to see who can cheat, not who has the most merit. The idea of natural meritocratic orders are thoroughly and effectively criticised.

Predator's Gold

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes science fiction, or anyone interested in sociology and futurism. This is a proud and worthy addition to the ideological lexicon of the cyberpunk genre!

2019 Gear List: Shiftpod Alternatives

Last year, I took way too much stuff. This year, I am taking far less stuff and focusing on a smaller and more efficient footprint. Home v3 has about a quarter the footprint of Home v2. It’s not just about bringing less stuff, it’s about being more effective. Aluminet stretched over a small light-proof shelter combined with an evaporative cooler should provide the best tent experience I’ve had at the Burn. It should be darker, cooler, and quieter than my past burns. Here’s how I’m planning to do it;

Home Sweet Home v3.1

I have decided to go with this blue knockoff Shiftpod 2 for my tent this year. It’s a bit roomier than the shiftpod mini or its knockoffs. That means I can bring a queen-size mattress and an evaporative air conditioner. This is still much smaller than my ridiculously enormous tent from last year.

Blue Shiftpod

My original plan for this year was to use this knockoff Shiftpod mini which goes for just $50 on Amazon, but with my decision to bring a queen-size mattress and swamp cooler after all, the shiftpod mini (knockoff) didn’t make sense for this year. This would still be a great decision for someone bringing less stuff. But for just a hundred dollars more, you can get 60% more floor space with the blue one above.

Knockoff Shiftpod Mini

I will cover the tent with a cheap sheet of 12′ x 18′ 80% Aluminet which should stretch tightly over the whole tent, except the entrance side which faces north. This will block almost all light from reaching the tent’s walls. This aluminet covering idea would also work well with a real Shiftpod 2 . A smaller piece of aluminet would work perfectly on a Shiftpod mini (or knockoff). Aluminet is something I just learned about last year, and it seems like a magic bullet for issues relating to light and heat in the mornings on playa.Aluminet

 

Tent Orientation

Last year, I intended to orient north. I set up my enormous dome-tent facing north, but there were some logistical changes in the camp after I had set up. This put another structure essentially right in front of my entrance. Luckily I had a back door too, but this meant I ended up facing south and getting direct light essentially all day. This meant a lot of unnecessary light. This year, I will make a special effort to have my front door facing north, and to have every other side covered completely in aluminet to prevent as much heat and light from reaching the tent as possible. I will test this Aluminet + tent design during my beta burn this summer and update this post with my results.

Folding Camp Table

I am also replacing my 4′ x 8′ table with this much smaller folding table. I will again bring two folding camp chairs which I found for just $4/each at Walmart several years ago. There is just no reason to have such a large table, and this one will fit perfectly inside my new tent alongside the mattress and A/C unit.

Intex Self-Inflating Queen-Size Mattress

I am again bringing an Intex self-inflating queen-size mattress. This is very comfortable for single or double occupancy depending on the night. It works perfectly with the power bank and microgrid. I had considered bringing a folding cot instead, but I would rather luxuriate a little and get as much rest as possible.

Realistic Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is a contentious subject. I am a member of the Facebook group, “Burning Man Generators and Electrical Systems.” You would not believe how many people think they can run a large home air conditioner off a single battery all week or a single solar panel. It’s hilarious.

A far better solution is evaporative cooling. This can be done with almost zero electricity, and at the extremely low humidity of the Black Rock Desert, there is a potential for up to 40 degree temperature drop inside the Shiftpod. There are a few pitfalls which many people fall into but are easily avoided. The biggest thing is that there must be constant airflow both into the space and out of the space.

Evaporative cooling works by adding humidity to dry air which causes it to get much cooler. That air is pumped into a space, cooling the surfaces. Then the now-warm air in the space must be pumped outside while new cool air is pumped in. I have seen many failed evaporative cooling implementations which simply humidify a space without exchanging the air. This does nothing to cool the space, it just makes the space hot and sweaty.

I plan to adapt the many burner evaporative cooling designs. I will integrate the cooler into the single tote which holds all my stuff for the burn. When I arrive and empty the tote, it will function as the body of an evaporative cooler. A section of ducting will draw dry air in through a vent in the tent and pump it into the space. Then an exhaust vent at the top of the tent will allow the old air to escape.

Once this is done, I will update the post and do one just about this.

Power

I love this power bank. It is cheap, powerful, and reliable. At under $200, it has essentially the same functionality of the Yeti 400 Lithium which costs three times as much. It provides all that power through USB and a 120 volt outlet. This is an excellent option for a small camping set up or essentially anyone who isn’t trying to refrigerate anything. This power bank allows me to run my evaporative air conditioner, charge my phone over a hundred times, and power the lights inside and outside my tent for over a week!

I found this great set of USB powered lights which worked out great last year. They will be the main light source for inside the tent.

This is really overkill since my camp has its own microgrid, but this will make a great backup. Also, our microgrid is under constant development and growth, and sometimes it may not be completely in place during placement. Having this just eliminates any electric uncertainty.

Food

I bought all this food for last year, but didn’t end up eating any of it because my camp provides food. I included the list here because it may be helpful for people who want suggestions! I will probably bring one of two in case I get hungry or miss a meal.

Breakfast:

Lunch/ Dinner:

Bike v2.1

My bike from last year worked out really well. I am going to use the same design this year with some minor tweaks. I got rid of all batteries and switched everything to run off of USB instead!

Roadmaster 26: This is the same model bike I have taken to each burn. They have proven very versatile and reliable. And they go back to Walmart after!

USB Bike Lights: Two strings of these lights run to a dust-proof power bank in the basket. This is able to run the lights for weeks on a single charge, and it recharges via built in solar panel. This technically makes the bike a microgrid in its own right!

Shelf: I added this shelf to the back of the roadmaster. It allows a milk crate to rest comfortable on the back. This makes it a lot easier to bring beer and snacks around with me on the playa.

Front Basket: I added this basket to the front of the bike. While the back basket is great for food and drinks, the front is great for thinks like the power bank, the lock, spare tubes, tools, etc. You don’t want to find yourself in need of these things and not have them handy!

Other Accessories: I found a kit for under $20 at Walmart which contained a lock, pump, bicycle bottle, headlamp, tail light, and a bell. These kinds of kits are usually available and well worth the $20.

Don’t Forget…

One last thing which I suggest is Mack’s silicone earplugs. These are one of the best products I’ve ever spent a few dollars on. I can’t overstate the importance of some kind of sound protection for sleep. There is just no way you are going to sleep at Burning Man without earplugs, and these are absolutely the best option. I have tried many solutions to this problem and I can’t recommend these enough.

Mack's Earplugs

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Mortal Engines is the first book in a series which has long been on my radar. After seeing the movie, I decided to check out the books. It was an instant favorite. I think of this book as a very sociological form of cyberpunk.

I would define cyberpunk as literature which contains technology being used in unintended ways in the pursuit of power. This book is essentially entirely that theme, and set in a distant future dystopia. The characters remember the “sixty minute war” a thousand years ago where the ancients destroyed themselves. Those ancients are our contemporary near-future.

The book also has many sociological themes. It attacks head-on social and “municipal” darwinism and its many inherent flaws. I understand that this argument is expanded in the following books in the series. I can’t wait to read them!