Ben Tasker's Blog

Sparkler Bombs...

Firstly, to deal with the obvious: the term sparkler bomb is a bit of a misnomer, the burst isn't contained -  there's no explosion, just a large woosh. There are, of course, ways to contain them and make a bang, but doing so is (frankly) twattish and far, far less fun (even before it goes wrong and puts you in A&E).

Secondly: this post is offered as a bit of fun, not as an instructable - if you're silly enough to try and recreate (or better) my mischief, then the consequences lie with you and you alone.

Anyway, moving on...

One of my earlier memories of being on the internet, was delight at finding pages talking about creating sparkler bombs. Pages much like this post (in fact, I'm all but certain that was one of them, I remember the humour and definitely remember the imagery).

Much like any obsession on the earlier web, I only had photos to go on (Youtube wouldn't be created, let alone mainstream, for years - even where videos were recorded, they were shared as framegrabs).

The photos, though, showed some fairly spectacular results:

Sparkler Bomb Picture from www.dansdata.com

That blue line is an artefact of the CCD in the camera the image was captured on (i.e. it's not really there), but it does nothing but add to the effect.


At the time, I couldn't possibly have built a sparkler bomb myself - being too young to buy the things was a surmountable obstacle, but not having the funds to buy them in the first place was not. And so, some things that should not have been forgotten were lost - at least for a time.

Actually, I have periodically thought about them - usually when handed a sparkler - but the thought's slipped from my mind well before being able to act on it.

Recently though, I had need for a couple of small sparklers (think of things you put on a cake), and had the rest of the pack left over. Being mini sparklers it was never going to be anything near as spectacular as the image above, but nowadays we do have an availability of cheap video cameras to watch things in slow-mo so I figured it'd still be interesting to try.

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Making my books freely available

Nearly a decade ago, I self-published a couple of books on the Kindle store: Linux for Business People and A Linux Sysadmin's guide to mischief.

Since then, I'd largely forgotten about them, until sorting through some files today.

They're pretty outdated (and weren't that great back then), but I figured as they've served their original purpose, I'd make them freely available:

 

Linux for Business People A Linux Sysadmin's guide to Mischief

Both come from those happy, happy days before SystemD inserted itself onto our systems...

Removing Ads from my Sites

(It occurs to me that publishing this on 1 Apr isn't the best move - rest assured this is genuine)

I've long felt uncomfortable with the privacy trade-offs of having advertising on my sites.

Shortly before GDPR came into effect, I wrote a post detailing how I was, once again, revisiting the decision of having ads on my site.

The decision then, as before, was that the ads were a necessary evil as the revenue they generate contributes something to the running costs of this site, helping keep over a decade's worth of work online.

Today, however, I'm changing that decision and removing Google's Adsense from all of my sites

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FLoC disabled on my sites

Cookies have been viewed as the enemy for quite some time, with the result that 3rd party cookies are (quite rightly) being treated with high levels of suspicion.

Unfortunately, the focus being on cookies rather than the tracking/profiling that they enable has left an opening for the unscrupulous to offer a cookie-less alternative.

Enter Google, who a while back announced they were building something called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) into Chrome. The basic underlying idea of FLoC is that it assigns the browser a cohort ID - grouping it in with other browsers who have a similar browsing history.

The browser's history never leaves the browser, with the cohort ID being calculated locally (updating once per week, based on the previous week's browsing), websites can then query the browser for it's cohort ID (by calling document.interestCohort()) and serve appropriate ads based on the ID returned.

However, deeper inspection has shown that rather than solving privacy issues, FLoC simply presents new ones - in fact there's an obvious vector in the paragraph above - your cohort ID is the same across all sites you visit...

Plus, although I say new, some of these issues were highlighted in 2019 and remain unaddressed.

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Automating Our Heating

A little while ago, I wrote some musings on Home Automation and made reference to our heating setup.

As it's had a bit of time (and some poor weather) to run and be improved upon, I thought it might be helpful/interesting to lay out a bit more detail on the setup I'm now using.

We got a NEST thermostat during an unexpected boiler replacement, unfortunately it's smart features didn't live up to expectations, trying to overcome that led me down the path that I'll describe in this post.

Requirements

My intention was that the eventual system should meet a few basic requirements

  • Certain rooms should be able to call for heat when needed (not supported by the NEST product line as they don't currently have radiator heads)
  • Boiler/Heating usage should be minimised where comfortably possible
  • Decisions should be auditable - ok, the heating came on, but why?

 

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