Saturday, December 31, 2022

Watching the reservoirs

On rainy winter days, it can be interesting to watch the behavior of the State of California's amazing water reservoir system.

There are hundreds of reservoirs across the state, many of them fairly small and maintained by various regional authorities, but you can watch all of them in various ways using the state's website.

For the big picture, however, it is easiest to look at the big reservoirs, and I generally only look at what I call "the big three": Shasta, Oroville, and Trinity.

Shasta is the most important just because of its size. It can hold a brain-breaking 4.5 million acre feet of water.

Oroville can hold 3.5 million acre feet; Trinity can hold 2.5 million acre feet.

Oroville sits at the base of the Sierra Nevada range, capturing an incredibly productive watershed that spreads many thousands of vertical feet up the western slope of the northern Sierras.

Trinity is quite interesting because the water in this reservoir is captured from watersheds that would ordinarily flow into the Pacific Ocean, but through the efforts of decades of civil engineering, many million acre feet of water every year from the fantastically wet northwest quadrant of the state is redirected eastward and inland, via Whiskeytown, into the Central Valley.

Anyway, back to watching the reservoir behavior. Here you can see Trinity Lake over the past 12 hours, growing by six hundred acre feet per hour.

Here we can see Oroville Reservoir over the past 12 hours; the lake has been capturing an astonishing four thousand acre feet per hour in this week's storms.

And here's Lake Shasta, which hasn't been growing as much, but is still growing by a thousand acre feet an hour. Note that Lake Shasta's outflows never drop to zero. This is partly for reasons of the behavior of the California electric grid, which demands electricity generation from Lake Shasta around the clock, but also partly because Lake Shasta must always release a certain amount of water in order to keep the Sacramento River flowing properly.

Sit inside, listen to the rain, and enjoy watching the reservoir behavior!

Friday, December 30, 2022

What's the linguistic term for ...

... a set of five letter words that all share the same final four letters?

B-U-D-G-E, F-U-D-G-E, N-U-D-G-E, J-U-D-G-E, etc., for example.

I find myself noticing that these are my least favorite Wordle answers, because near the end I always find myself guessing.

Grumble, grumble, moan, complain.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Styx: Shards of Darkness

Styx: Shards of Darkness is the video game that's kept me busy these last few months.

You play as a Goblin who is sort of an adventurer, sort of a scoundrel, and generally just a curmudgeon. Styx lives in this weird underground world full of primitive dwellings built inside watery caves. It's sort of a fantasy steampunk world, with lots of lovely buildings to explore.

Styx is trying to accomplish various quests, with lots of different ways to succeed, so there are lots of ways to play the game, but I find it works best as an ultra-stealthy approach. Styx can crouch down and sneak and hide and avoid all the bad guys who are trying to find and catch him. You have to be patient and wait and watch and learn where the guards are and what routes they are taking and when they pause in their rounds to look the other way or whatever and then you can plan your path to sneak by them and that's fun.

The game play is a little bit platform-y, with various things that you can jump on and hang on to and swing from and so forth, but mostly you end up sneaking around through passageways and windows and rooftops and the like while you figure out where you are trying to go and get there without being detected.

I loved the snarkiness of the game, and the crawling around and exploring, and I loved the overall visual look and feel. The game was easy to understand and learn to play.

Around 2/3 of the way through the game, it started to become all-of-a-sameness, and my attention flagged, but overall I'd recommend Styx: Shards of Darness to anyone who enjoys stealth games such as Dishonored or A Plague Tale or similar.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Slow Horses: a very short review

It turns out that Mick Herron has been writing great fun novels for many years, who knew? Well, lots of people knew, but not me.

Like, I'm sure, most new readers of Herron, I found out about Slow Horses from the world's largest corporation, who are promoting a new television series based on Herron's books.

Anyway, let me join the chorus of new fans praising Herron's work. It's fast-paced, exciting, and humorous, while still managing to be sensitive and humane. The premise is delightful and Herron draws deeply from that premise to find the deeper truths amidst the comedy.

I hope he finds great success amidst the flurry of attention he's currently receiving.

They're definitely not featuring holiday-themed Wordle answers this month.

That is all.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Aqua Alta and Quietly in Their Sleep: two very short reviews

Slowly I am working my way through Donna Leon's marvelous books.

Aqua Alta and Quietly in Their Sleep are the fifth and sixth of the Guido Brunetti series.

Strangely, I had significantly different reactions to these books.

I loved Aqua Alta. I found it fast-paced, exciting, and satisfying. The topic (fine art fraud) is a timeless problem, and so the book seems as fresh and relevant now as it was thirty years ago. Brunetti assists our victim, deals with the criminals, and still has time to spend time with his son's struggles in high school. And I always find the business of art fascinating. I'm much more an art admirer than an art collector, so I've still got lots to learn about how the money side works. Oh, and of course you get to spend those delicious hours with Brunetti enjoying the beauty and charm of Venice.

Quietly in Their Sleep, on the other hand, left me flummoxed. It starts off with the topic area of nursing care facilities, but then transforms into a plot about the church (the nursing homes are run by the church). For the longest time, it's not even clear if there's a crime or not, but it turns out that the crime is much less about the nursing and much more about the church. And then we get into the secret societies. By that point, I was well and thoroughly confused, as was Brunetti. Worse, even though Brunetti eventually figures out the actual crime, he hits a solid wall as it turns out that the church is more powerful than the state in this area, and he must leave the actual dispensation of justice to Paola's father and his mysterious powers. Hmmph! By the end of the book I was feeling tired and a bit cranky.

So I rode a roller-coaster with this two volumes, but overall I've still got enough momentum that I'll be sailing on through some more of Leon's work.

Gadgets series on The Verge

I stumbled across the Hacking gadgets series on The Verge.

  • The HakCat WiFi Nugget is a beginner’s guide to wireless mischief
    It’s really just a tool for learning how to spoof Wi-Fi access points, learn about deauth attacks, and explore the possibilities of what simple microcontrollers can do. And it looks cute, to boot.
  • The Flipper Zero is a Swiss Army knife of antennas
    few devices have captured the imagination of your friend who works in IT quite like the Flipper Zero: a hacking multi-tool shaped like a playful child’s toy and adorned with a friendly dolphin. Packed with a range of sensors, chips, and antennas, the Flipper lets you make playful mischief with all sorts of devices, from security gates to card readers.
  • The new USB Rubber Ducky is more dangerous than ever
    To the human eye, the USB Rubber Ducky looks like an unremarkable USB flash drive. Plug it into a computer, though, and the machine sees it as a USB keyboard — which means it accepts keystroke commands from the device just as if a person was typing them in.

    “Everything it types is trusted to the same degree as the user is trusted,” Kitchen told me, “so it takes advantage of the trust model built in, where computers have been taught to trust a human. And a computer knows that a human typically communicates with it through clicking and typing.”
  • The WiFi Coconut is a router’s evil twin
    Where most routers make do with two to six antennas, the Coconut has 14, one for each channel in the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi spectrum. That lets the coconut listen and log every channel simultaneously, creating a scannable record of everything that happened on the Wi-Fi spectrum within listening range. One of the Coconut’s most basic functions is creating these recordings along with some basic packet analysis — the Wi-Fi equivalent of recording every station on the radio at once.
  • The O․MG Elite cable is a scarily stealthy hacker tool
    “It’s a cable that looks identical to the other cables you already have,” explains MG, the cable’s creator. “But inside each cable, I put an implant that’s got a web server, USB communications, and Wi-Fi access. So it plugs in, powers up, and you can connect to it.”
  • The ChameleonMini is a skeleton key for RFID
    The ChameleonMini is a tool that allows you to emulate and clone high-frequency contactless cards and read RFID tags. It functions as an NFC emulator and RFID reader and can sniff and log radio frequency (RF) data. From a distance, it looks vaguely like a credit card, although there are multiple form factors. You can use it standalone or connect the device to your phone over Bluetooth and use one of the many chameleon apps to conduct penetration tests on your own systems.
  • The Deauther Watch is the world’s most annoying wearable
    The Dstike Deauther watch can knock a device off of its Wi-Fi network, which is very annoying. You can also do a beacon attack, which lets you create a fake access point with names of your choice, or a probe attack, which can be used to confuse Wi-Fi trackers. It lets you monitor Wi-Fi traffic and, of course, also has a clock (with NTP time server synchronization) and a powerful laser pointer because if you are already wearing something that looks like that, you may as well take it to its logical conclusion.
  • The Hunter Cat is a bodyguard for your credit card
    The Hunter Cat is a small device powered by a coin battery and roughly the size and dimensions of (you guessed it) a credit card. It’s pretty simple! You swipe it into the vape shop or gas station ATM in question, check for one of three lights, and if you get a “warning” or “dangerous” light, then consider another location. When you want to try again, just click the reset button. The card even has a sleep function that shuts the device off after 15 seconds to save on battery life.

    The Hunter Cat is produced by Electronic Cats and Salvador Mendoza and powered by a tiny ATMEL SAMD11 Arm Microcontroller. It works by detecting the number of magnetic heads in a given card reader. If everything’s kosher, you’ll only see one magnetic head – the head the ATM uses to read your card. If the Hunter Cat sees multiple devices, it will give you a warning light to let you know something’s off. Most likely, someone has added a second card reader on top of the ATM to steal your credit card information.
  • The Ubertooth One lets you take a bite out of Bluetooth
    The Ubertooth One is a small, open-source USB device with an antenna powered by an ARM Cortex-M3 chip and a CC2400 wireless transceiver. Plug it into your computer’s USB port, and you can sniff and monitor Bluetooth signals from nearby devices.

This is fascinating stuff, simultaneously both compelling and terrifying. It feels like science fiction, but is real.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Scrambling my brain

It's unreasonably annoying when your second Wordle guess gets all five letters...

... but it has them in the wrong order (that is, you guessed the anagram of the answer). Fooey!

Anagrams are definitely part of the fun of Wordle, which is all about re-arranging the letters in different orders and combinations.

But I wish we got some sort of partial credit for getting all the letters, but in the wrong order.

It's kind of related to that annoyance when you've figured out 4 of the 5 letters.

But there are 3 possible other words that share those 4 letters.

And you've only got 2 guesses left.

One of our busts was one of those.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Worker shortages

Here's a good high-level article on one of the more interesting questions of the current US economy: Why Aren't There Enough Workers?

The labor market presents challenges for investors. Consider as an example the downside knee-jerk reaction to last week’s NFP only to see the markets close in the green by the end of the day. But it also matters to policymakers like the Fed; they are concerned that strong labor demand is a driver of upwards wage pressures. My views are it is complex and nuanced, in ways that perhaps the Fed might be overlooking.

There have been many longstanding trends leading to the current problems. I suspect the most underestimated aspect of the Labor puzzle is that the US is suffering a shortage of workers. (there is not a lot that raising rates will do to offset that.) These are prior trends that accelerated during the pandemic.

I rather doubt that the Fed is actually overlooking any of these aspects of the worker shortage, but still the article, written by one of my favorite finance/economy bloggers, makes many good points and has a number of fascinating links to chase.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

We now know four of the final eight.

France look just as you would expect the reigning world champions to look: potent, menacing, confident, serious. Every time they step on the field, electricity crackles and pulses race. You get the feeling that anyone, from any position, could do something startling and memorable at any moment. If you get a chance to watch the French play, do not miss it!

The Dutch and the English look solid. They're not surprised to be here; they're both executing to a plan. Both are led by solid, capable managers, and solid, reliable captains. They field a solid squad, thick through the middle with experience and knowledge. Other teams wind up and take a run at them, and fall, winded and spent, as though they'd run into a solid wall. No pizzazz, no flash, very little that passes for style. They carry the weight of decades of expectations just as you'd expect them to: solidly.

Argentina, though surely no surprise, is clearly the wildcard of these first four. The greatest player of our lifetime, perhaps of all time, Leo Messi, is still at the peak of his powers, having traded the raw talent of 16 years ago for the instinctive mastery of every detail of the modern game. Entire formations of the game are due to his skill.. But this team is far more than Messi: they are young and strong and well-tested, having run the gauntlet of South American football with confidence, most recently by winning last year's Copa America tournament, beating Brazil on Brazilian soil. But wait, you say! What was that loss to Saudi Arabia, then? Yes: Argentina remain a wildcard. They can be the best team in the world, or they can somehow miss the train.

Can't wait to see who will join these four to complete our final eight!