Drew Stephens

Serene Night Biking

I have achieved my final form for nighttime biking. In short, it is to emulate a firetruck.

Road biking

Bicycling on roads is dangerous. Cars are a lot bigger than bikes, have a lot less to lose from any sort of interation, and it shows. A lot of drivers are distracted, many are completely absent from the task at hand, and a small number are actively hostile to having anything else on the roads that are built exclusively for them. That’s just during the daytime.

Night biking can be quite a lot more risky, but the tables are turned. If you bike at night without lights or with inadequate lights, then you have no one else to blame. There is a reason cars are required to have numerous lights and reflectors at night. The speeds at which vehicles (both bikes and cars) move on the road only work safely at night when they are well lit.

Basic lights

You need 4 lights on your bike: a pair front & rear, all of which are bright (i.e. made in the past 2-3 years). If your lights were made before 2010, they’re likely just not bright enough to compete with all of the other light sources in even a semi-urban area. The Sweethome has a great simple recommendation, a Cygolite pair consisting of a 350 lumen headlight and a 2 watt tail. While this setup is perfectly adequate for relatively safe night biking to get to the level of serenity you need a second light on each end.

Up front, get one of the brighter Cygolite models (500 or 550 lumens) and for the rear a NiteRider Solas 2W. The idea here is to have a steady-burn light (the Cygoligte 500 up front and the Cygolite Hotshot in rear) to make you visually easy to track and a flashing light (the Cygolite 350 and NiteRider Solas) to attract attention whether cars are coming from front or behind.

Helmet lights

In addition to two pairs of lights on the bike, I also have a pair on my helmet. I use a CatEye Omni 5 on the back, though a CatEye Rapid 5 or other moderately bright, lightweight light would be good in this role. For the front, I have a NiteRider MiNewt USB but any lightweight, 350 lumen or greater helmet-mountable light will work. Having a light on your head is phenomenally useful for getting notice from inattentive drivers, particularly those at cross streets looking to turn.

edit: M’verygoodfriend Marshall pointed out that NiteRider Lumina Flare fills both of the helmet light roles very well.

Daytime use

Having bright-ass lights also makes biking during the day a more pleasurable experiene. Just run all of your brightest lights on flash mode (in this case, just one on each end of the bike) to get drivers attention. Since adopting this practice, particularly with the very bright NiteRider Solas rear, I now have cars that will dutifully slow down behind me and wait for a safe place to overtake.


RevoLights aren’t that bright—I’d guess they put out less than 100 lumens each—but they’re apparent size make them novel and eye catching. They’re expensive at $200 a set but if you ride a lot at night in urban areas, or just want to look very flash, then they’re a good addition to your night biking setup.

More info

If you want to know more or explore all of the bike light options, check out Nathan Hinkle’s Bike Light Database. These reviews started with the detailed headlight and taillight reviews from the Bicycles StackExchange blog which give a lot of information on his methodology and the vast array of options in the bike light world.

Transporter Internals

I recently got a Transporter Sync after having heard about it on Accidental Tech Podcast. The Sync comes without an internal hard drive, and you plug one in via USB. I’m using a Seagate external that was cheap at Costco. Unfortunately, the Transporter and the Seagate use barrel plugs for their power that are nearly the same size. I learned this after having to move the pair and accidentaly pluggin the Seagate’s 12 volt power supply into the Transporter, which only wants 5 volts. Thankfully, Transporter is a super standup company and, despite this being unarguably my fault, sent me a new Sync free-of-charge when I told them of my error. That’s a big check in the customer support column.

While I had the drive that was connected to the Transporter sitting idle, I figured I’d peruse its contents. When you plug a drive into a Transporter Sync it is wiped, and the Transporter puts…well, it uses the drive however it sees fit. Transporter makes this very clear, with a sticker covering the USB port making it clear that whatever drive you plug in will be completely erased.

The disk has four partitions: the first two are 1 GB each, the third is 2 GB, and the last is the remainder fo your disk. Partition 1 is a pretty standard Linux affair:

.rnd    etc/           linuxrc       opt/          sys/         var/
bin/    home/          lost+found/   proc/         tftpboot/
boot/   installation/  mnt/          replicator/   tmp/
dev/    lib/           old-root/     sbin/         usr/

file(1) says that the second is “data”, nothing more (even with the —special-files option); given its size, I’m guessing swap, despite not being metioned in the first partition’s fstab. The third partition is mounted as /opt and contains just a few directories:

core/   log/   lost+found/   ntp/   tmp/   upgrade-manager/

The log dir has logs for network interfaces (ifplugd, eth0-dhcp, wifi) and Samba. The ntp dir just has a drift file, and the upgrade-manager has a logs, presumably about upgrades.

Finally, the big partition is mounted as /replicator and contains the data you store, among other things:

configuration/ diskInfo.log  logs/          samba/         staging/       sys/
directories/   history/      lost+found/    shadowPools/   storagePools/  uuids/

The history and logs directories are sizeable, tens of megabytes, with the former containing some metadata about syncing and the latter containg logs about syncing. Both shadowPools and storagePools contain a directory that is a UUID where your data is stored. df on my Mac doesn’t tell me anything about the partition’s capacity or usage (because it’s mounted using ext4fuse via fuse4x), so I can’t say for sure, but I figure some sort of hard link shenanigans is happening between those two directories.

Descending into either of those UUID-named directories you’ll find the files that you have in the ~/Transporter directory on your computer. There is also a .RootOfNetworkAttached directory, that is the contents of your Transporter Library. The first thing is actually what I was trying to ensure—that the files synced by Transporter à la Dropbox also exist on the Transporter.

Wunderground With the LaCrosse C84612

I got a La Crosse C84612 weather station as a gift. Costco sold this model sometime last year, though now the closest thing they have is a quite expensive Oregon Scientific unit.

The La Crosse has been a great weather station for me: easy to set up, accurate reporting, and no interaction required. One of the features it came with that I was most excited about was internet connetivity. The station comes with a gateway that wirelessly (900MHz, not wifi) links up with the other components of the weather station, which also link wirelessly. Good system in theory, but it’s only set up to send data to La Crosse Alerts™, a website which I can best describe as functional.

Since the output of the gateway is simply data on the wire, I figured it’d be possible to capture the communication between the gateway and the La Crosse Alerts™ server. The first step in such a journey is to look around and see what other folks have found, and what a productive step that was this time.

I stumbled across a thread on WXForum of folks discussing the GW1000U, which is the gateway that is part of the C84612 weather station. If you read through there, you’ll see that skydvrz has put in a ton of effort and reverse engineer the communication. He has written a Windows program that takes the place of the La Crosse Alerts server, collecting data from the gateway and storing it in MySQL. Create an account on the forum and ask skydvrz for the latest code.

The best part about this replacement server is that it sends dtaa to Weather Underground, which has a much better interface for weather stations, providing history & graphs that are far superior to La Crosse’s site.

Making 1080p Timelapses With Lightroom

There are a bunch of tutorials for creating time-lapse videos in Lightroom. All of the ones I found only provide a preset for making 1280x720 (720p) videos. I took one of those presets and updated it to be make a 1920x1080 (1080p) video from stills.

Download this an add it to your Lightroom video presets. On Mac, this is located at ~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Lightroom/Export Presets/Video/. For Windows, see here1.

  1. Seriously not trying to be a dick, I just don’t fucking know and give zero shits

At(1) on Mac OS X

at(1) is a standard command in every Unix-like operating system that I know of, including Mac OS, for scheduling tasks to be run at a later time. Unfortunately, OS X doesn’t run (or even seem to have) atd(8), the daemon responsible for running at(1)-scheduled tasks. Complicating matters is the fact that at(1) is a very difficult to search for, because search engines strip such common words, so figuring out such issues can’t really be done with even the best searching. So here I’ll list other things that one might search for: atq, atrm, and batch, which are all part of the at(1) suite of tools.

My (likely vain) hope is that this post will spread a bit of knowledge and maybe catch searches, if someone’s searches match my description.

Anti-pull Dog Harnesses

I like dogs and recently got a beaglish one of my own from the Lost Dog Foundation. While wonderful, he has the affliction of walking excitement common to hunting hounds—appropriate to his name, Scout wants to lead the way and suss out any squirrels to be found. At only 25 pounds, he won’t drag you down the street, but the constant tugging on the leash is tiring. I’ve tried a number of collars & harnesses to try to combat this problem, and what follows are my opinions on them.

Illusion Collar

My girlfriend had been watching a lot of Caesar Millan before we got our dog and we put a fair bit of stock in his methods. Using a leash in the way that Caesar describes, well up the dog’s neck and close to the ears, allowed us to control Scout, but the leash wouldn’t stay there, so we figured it was worth trying the oddly-named1 Illusion Collar to make this easier.

While the Illusion collar does what it’s supposed to, keeping the operative part of the collar well up the dog’s neck for better control, this did nothing for Scout and he remaiined unruly on walks.

PetSafe Easy Walk Harness

I’ve found this harness to be by far the most effective. The harness has a circle of straps around the dog’s body, just behind their shoulders and a strap across the dog’s chest. The front strap has a cinching portion to which the leash clips, tightening a bit when the dog pulls. More importantly, because the attachment is on the dog’s chest, the force of any pulling turns them sideways, greatly limiting thier ability to pull.

The downside to the Easy Walk is that the strap behind the dog’s front legs can rub their fur-less armpits raw, as I’ve found with Scout and other friends have reported.

Freedom No-Pull Harness

This is set up similarly to the PetSafe Easy Walk mentioned above, but with additional versatility. Like the PetSafe it has an attachment point on the dog’s chest, with all of the noted advantages & disadvantages, though the front attachment on the Freedom No-Pull isn’t cinching. Where it does have a cinching attachment point is on the dog’s back between their shoulder blades. Using this attachment doesn’t provide nearly the pulling prevention of the front attachment, but it does keep from driving the underbody strap into the dog’s armpits and chafing them.

The intended arrangement is to clip a leash into both attachments and use it like a horse’s reins—tug on the front one when the dog pulls to correct the behavior. This is effective, but it does halve the length of your leash.

  1. The Illusion collar is named after his estranged wife Ilusión

GORUCK Challenge

Photo credit: Troy Angrignon

I did the GORUCK Challenge last weekend. The GORUCK Challenge is a 12 hour guided tour of a city, led by special forces guys known as the Cadre. Every challenge, even in the same city, is a different experience, tailored by the Cadre based upon their desires, the folks on the team, and what the city has to offer.

Class 662 Summary

A team of 34 people, each with a 45-55 pound rucksack hiked & ran 20 miles around San Francisco over the course of 12 hours. We were accompanied by two 30 pound bags of quarters, a ~100 pound log, and, for about half of the time, a ~300 pound couch adorned with a 210-230 pound person. In the last few hours, we swapped the couch for a pair of 250 pound logs.


Overall the event was a ton of fun. Having read numerous things in the weeks leading up to this, my first challenge, I had gotten a bit worried. The number of people who listed this as the hardest thing they’d ever done and hinted at the misery they endured made it sound like a rough, “Well, I’m glad I did that. Once.” sort of thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you’re physically capable, you’ll have a good time until the end.

What do I mean by capable? I don’t think a single test other than the Challenge itself (or perhaps doing a Light and saying it was easy) could make it clear, but I can put it in CrossFit terms. CrossFit + weight lifting is my main regimen, 3-4 days a week at Patriot CrossFit in Arlington if you want to get an idea of the programming. I’m certainly no firebreather, but I manage to do a majority of the workouts as prescribed and in fairly good time. If you can follow the main site, doing half of the workouts as prescribed without being horribly slow, you’ll be fine. You need not be Jason Kaplan to be in good enough shape—my 7 minute Fran is enough to make the Challenge a non-killer event.

Notes on Preparation


I say hydration here because I think something more than water is important. I used a low-profile SOURCE bladder which fit well in the main compartment between my bricks and the main flap. I filled it with water and 6 Nuun tablets initially, and tossed in a few more tablets when I refilled at around 0300. We didn’t stop for water again and I was out near the end of the challenge, along with most of the team. If my next Challenge is anywhere warmer, I’ll find a way to have a second bladder or even a couple of Nalgenes.


I often deride cyclists for their obsession with fast carbs, thinking that without sucking down maltodextrin every 20 minutes they might just go from being a world-class überathelete on their Yellow Polkadot Single Baller Edition Cervélo to a prole riding a Mongoose. But it is to cyclists whom I turned when gathering supplies for this challenge. In the end, I downed seven gels and two packs of chewie jobbies throughout the 12 hours. Are those absolutely necessary? Not at all, I could have gotten through without any of that and gone strict paleo with some bananas or some such. But it would have sucked. Having good blood sugar support after glycogen stores are depleted increases your ability to perform for sure; more importantly, the carbohydrate combined with caffeine improves mood, keeping the event from being a gruelling death march.

So hit up your local bike shop and get some of those goofy fast acting carbohydrate sources. I had a couple of Honey Stingers (which are mostly honey) but most of what I brought were caffeinated (35mg or 70mg depending on the flavor) Gu Roctane energy gels. I drink tea regularly, so I think the regular-strength (35mg) ones were best for me. Next time I’ll probably bring 10 gels along with a bunch of the chewie versions. The chewies are amazingly delightful after you’ve speed marched across the city. If you’re the prepared sort, it’d be good to bring some extra. Even amongst such a rarefied group there are knuckleheads who bring little to no food. If someone’s performance falls off, a caffeinated gel is a great way to bring them back.

I also brought a few bars (Luna or UberFood, I think) but only ate one. It’s nice to have something different during a long break (5 minutes).


This challenge was during June in San Francisco. For those who don’t know, that’s winter. Paradoxically, it wasn’t windy or foggy that night, but it was a bit cold.

I wore Under Armour leggings, some Champion workout shorts, Drymax socks, a padded football shirt, a long-sleeve Under Armour Cold Gear top, and a workout shirt over that.

Unsure of my shoe choice up until the day of The Challenge, I settled on Inov8 F-Lite 195s. I’ve been wearing minimalist shoes (Merrel Trail Gloves are my favorites) exclusively for a few years now, but I was concerned that the extra weight on my back would lead to a Bad Time for my feet & knees. I had bought some F-Lite 230s which were what I had planed on until the day of, but I settled on the 195s because my feet feel better in them. They were just fine, despite the weight and surfaces we were walking on.

The other thing you need to do is tie your shoes properly. If you can slip your shoes off without untying them, they aren’t tied properly. We had to stop multiple times during our first time hack in which we needed to cover 3.5 miles in 35 minutes due to shoes that came untied or got flat tired. Properly tying your shoes completely prevents both of these and will keep your teammates from thinking you’re incompetent from the beginning.

Pockets. You want pockets. Movements are often an hour or more, during which time you don’t have opportunity to dig around your pack for the aforementioned sugary delights. Every time you stop, ensure your pockets have a gel or two in them. Pockets are also where you’ll shove the trash after you down one of those as cadre are strict about littering, rightly so.

Your Ruck

Do something to your ruck so that you can differentiate it from everyone elses. All cadre are different, but you’ll end up taking your ruck off and passing it to teammates at some point in the night, and if they all look the same, it’s impossible to find your own. I had a light-colored War Stories & Free Beer patch so that I could identify my GR1 from the back; the loops of cord that I use to hold my hydration tube makes it notable from the front.

Having a black Omega carabiner clipped through three MOLLE sure does look cool, but it’s not particularly funcitonal. I have one on my ruck and it’s nice for briefly attaching a water bottle or my bike helmet, but it’s really difficult to remove for other uses. When your ruck is jammed full of bricks, water, and yoga blocks, you can’t manipulate the fabric enough to remove the ‘biner easily, so save yourself the hassle and have it only clipped through two loops so that it’s faster to get at.

Other Junk

Minimize it, but don’t go crazy. There are endless words written to the effect of “if you’re not sure, don’t bring it”. I largely subscribe to this mentality, as you most likely aren’t going to need things, but there’s a dose of realism that is needed here. Between the 30 pounds of bricks and the 10 pounds of water and misc that are the minimum weight, you aren’t going to notice a few extra food bars, gels, or a windbreaker, so don’t sweat it. If the weather is on the edge of being cold, bring the windbreaker. I always carry a Sharpie & a pen in my ruck day to day and was sad that I didn’t have them when we needed to write things down.

Things to certainly not bring are those that will absorb water. Carrying around a small portion of your local body of water is a bad time.

Packing Bricks for the GORUCK Challenge

I have finally signed up for a GORUCK Challenge. The event is 6 months off, but thanks to Jason posting Wrapping Bricks Explained I’ve been playing around with packing bricks in my rucks.

I followed the instructions on the above mentioned post for wrapping the bricks in pairs and took Asha Wagner’s advice for securing the bricks in a GORUCK pack using Sea to Summit ¾” straps to secure them on the ruck’s internal PALS webbing. To the right are two pairs of bricks (4 total) in a GR Echo.

I’m pretty light, just under 150 most days, so 4 bricks is the prescription. A yoga block is the perfect thing to fill the extra space—dense but soft and about the size of two bricks. One note is that you can indeed fit 6 bricks into a GR Echo, with just a bit of room to spare. The third package of bricks takes the place of the yoga block, with a bit of space on either side. Unfortunately, there isn’t nearly enough space for a hydration bladder along with them. If you’re taking 6 bricks to the Challenge, get a GR1 or Radio Ruck.

Tough Mudder Mid-Atlantic 2012

After not doing Tough Mudder since 2010, I signed up for the Mid-Atlantic event this year. Here’s my advice for folks looking for tips before running.

Over the past few years I’ve exercised almost exclusively in Vibram FiveFingers mainly because I feel so much more stable when running & jumping. Since switching to minimalist street shoes for everyday wear (Merrell Trail Gloves and New Balance Minimus) my knees, hips, and back seem happier. Last time I did Tough Mudder, I wore some old cross-trainer style tennis shoes, but by this point I’ve gotten rid of all the thick-soled tennis shoes I once had. I ended up wearing my New Balance MT20s for the run and they worked very well. Clearning them after the race was just a few minutes of hosing them off outside and then tossing them in the washing machine.

I wore some Mechanix gloves (the basic velcro cuff model) the first time I did Tough Mudder. This time I brought some along but chose not to wear them. There are only a couple of obstacles for which you might want them, and I don’t think those are sufficiently abrasive or splintery to extra mudweight you carry in gloves. Focus on wearing as little clothing as possible—the first time you hit a mud pit your shirt & shorts carry a lot of it with you.

Training is another big question that people have. Mine is pretty much the same as previously: I do CrossFit 2-3 times a week and 1-2 days a week of Olympic lifting. In the 6 months prior to doing Tough Mudder I went on a couple of ~3.5 mile runs. The only other running I did was the occasional CrossFit WOD that involved a 400 or 800 meter run. I think that pretty well drives home my admonition that you don’t need to run a lot to be a competent runner and perform well in endurance running events.

Having said that, this Tough Mudder was the same as last—85% of the people walk the majority of the event; another 10% run between half of the obstacles. Running the whole way easily puts you in the top 5% of participants. Aside from being well prepared physically and highly self motivated, the best way to run the whole way is to do it with a group of friends.

Crumpler Haven With Canon 40D

I recently picked up a Crumpler Haven to use for carrying my Canon 40D. I purchased the medium size with some trepadation, as their size recommendations sugges that it won’t fit anything larger than a compact SLR (Canon Rebel, Nikon D3x00). It seems that th suggestions are too conservative—my 40D fits just fine with the Canon 10-22mm or 17-55mm affixed and leaves enough room for a 50mm alongside. You can’t fit two big lenses, like the aforementioned zooms, in the bag simultaneously, but you can reverse my setup (50mm on the camera, bigger lens beside it).

The Haven has proved quite nice. It’s enough on its own to toss in the car if I don’t plan on walking much in my journey. More importantly, it fits perfectly in a GR1 beside a liter of water.