Building My 4Runner Sleeping Platform

I chose the 4Runner for many reasons, and in part because I could take it off-road without expensive upgrades. I needed it to do more than just take me to cool places, though: I needed it to support me once I got out there, too. Because I had set my sights on the East Coast, I focused on gear to make that trip safer and more fun first, rather than new tires, bumpers, and recovery tools. As part of that process, I built a storage system and sleeping platform in my trunk. Today I want to talk about its conception, design, and construction.

Growth hacks: coffee with an experienced engineer you don't know

Gergely Orosz has some great advice for professional networking, for people who don’t do networking well.

“A surprisingly efficient networking method I found was doing cold reach-outs to more experienced software engineers, offering to buy them coffee or lunch. In exchange, I asked them to share their advice ... What I did not expect was this approach to be far more valuable than just a one-off networking session. In all cases, I had fascinating conversations on problems they were facing and found myself explaining the biggest challenges on my plate. ... developers buying coffee and having a chat with other, local developers is an underrate hack for professional growth. It is also under-used.”

Outfitting My 4Runner for Adventure

Today I get to spend some more time on one of my favorite topics, the vehicles you use to get the gear you pack to the places you want to go. I outlined the process that led to my 4Runner in Choosing an Adventure Rig, and today I want to talk about its loadout. In the first part of this article, I will talk about the gear that stays in my vehicle full-time; in the second, I will outline a basic packing list for a typical adventure.

How to Boost a Distributed Team

Ɓukasz Zuchowski has some great advice for making better distributed teams. This covers many of the things I have heard elsewhere. Some of these apply to centralized teams, too.

Choosing an Adventure Rig

Out of all the topics I want to tackle here, I feel most excited to talk about adventuring. Although my passion for it all but died out in high school, after seven moves in as many years, it reignited in college: when I had to decide whether my profession would be the anchor that kept me stationary or the means to a nomadic lifestyle down the road, I chose the latter. This choice has informed every major decision I have made since then, and will continue to influence my actions in the future. Today I want to talk about the first choice it touched, my decision to buy a new car, and the journey that led me to a 2018 Toyota 4Runner.

Rethinking Extinction

Stewart Brand, with a fascinating look at the results of conservation efforts amidst cries that the sky is falling:

“The trends are favourable. Conservation efforts often appear in the media like a series of defeats and retreats, but as soon as you look up from the crisis-of-the-month, you realise that, in aggregate, conservation is winning. The ecologist Stuart Pimm at Duke University in North Carolina claims that conservationists have already reduced the rate of extinction by 75 per cent. Getting the world’s extinction rate back down to normal is a reasonable goal for this century. Restoring full natural bioabundance in most of the world will take longer, however. It would mean bringing wildlife populations back up to the marvellous level of ecological richness that existed before human impact. That could be a two-century goal.”

We could all do with a bit less alarmism, and a bit more reality in its place.

Tesla's Autopilot found partly to blame for 2018 crash on the 405

The fact that anyone finds this surprising is mind boggling. The fact that anyone would use this as evidence that Tesla’s Autopilot system is somehow unsafe blows my mind. The authors cited two accidents involving Tesla’s Autopilot system, meanwhile I pass an accident caused by an inattentive driver about once a month on my three mile drive from work back to my house. We would be lucky to have such an “unsafe” system driving our cars.

How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You)

At over 16,000 words, Tim Urban has some good advice for choosing a career. Back in college, I used to shake my head at all the lost students around me. One of my friends said it was unrealistic to expect kids, fresh out of high school, to know what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives. I argued that eighteen years was plenty of time to figure that out, because it’s not that hard:

Start with things you like, narrow your scope to things you do well, then filter based on viable careers. Smack that list with a hard reality check. Take those that managed to hang on, set them aside, and do some introspection. Identify your goals first, so you can rule out paths that will not get you to them. Hopefully a few careers remain. Identify what drives you last, so you can highlight the paths that will make you happy in the long run. Sort the few that remain by the amount of time and effort it would take you to get into that field and then become successful.

High school students should do this before they graduate high school, not after spending years and tens of thousands of dollars on a degree just to to abandon it partway through — or worse, after spending years and tens of thousands of dollars on no degree, in an undeclared major, just to drop out to learn a trade. Choosing a career is not complex, nor even hard. Society does young adults a great disservice by telling them it is, and by allowing them to put off important life decisions until well into their 20s.

The Toyota BXD

Patrick George over at Jalopnik posted a picture of a Toyota BXD20 the other day, and I had to check it out. Kinja had a nice article about the vehicle. I would not say no to a BXD, but given the chance to build on a platform like this, I would just go with a similar AM General Humvee. AM General has built almost 10,000 per year since 1984 for militaries around the world, which has proven the vehicle’s reliability and made it readily available for cheap. With a few modifications, like locking differentials, I would have a similar rig for much less time and money.

Pre-rendering static websites with wget

What a cool idea from TJ Holowaychuk. For a while before I re-released First Crack, my static blog engine, I used a custom Node.js frontend to serve my site. I ended up overhauling the project to build a static website instead, but I could have just used this neat trick instead.

Bollinger to unveil electric off-roaders next month

I first heard about Bollinger’s B1 and B2 electric off-road vehicles back in July. Their simple construction and classic, Land Rover-esq aesthetic sucked me right in. According to electrek, the company plans to unveil prototypes and pricing this month. The Rivian R1T stole the show at Overland Expo earlier this year, but as far as electric overland vehicles go, I am much more excited to see what Bollinger can bring to market. Their platforms will give builders much more freedom to craft the perfect adventure rig than any vehicle we have seen thus far, and no matter what we buy, that’s what we’re all after here.

How to Buy and Import a Rig

A very cool video on a very cool subject: importing one of the awesome adventure rigs available in other parts of the world, to the United States. Bryan Rogala does a nice job breaking this process down, and shows off Brett Wilhelm’s neat Toyota Townace, too.

Pushing to Multiple Repos

Full credit to Alex Armstrong and his helpful article for reminding me how to do this every time I start a new project. So I can better keep track of this, though, these four lines will create a local Git repo, tie GitHub and Bitbucket remote repos to it, and then push to both.

git init
git remote set-url --add --push origin {GitHub repo URL} # Get GitHub repo URL
git remote set-url --add --push origin {Bitbucket repo URL} # Get Bitbucket repo URL
git add .; git commit -m "Initial commit."; git push

These simple commands make sure that for all my projects, I have a local copy, a local backup, a cloud backup, and two more off-site copies of all my work — just in case.

How to Manage Stress as a Developer: Practical Tips

The Valuable Dev has some good tips for stress management. I will write an in-depth article about my own strategies at some point, but in brief:

  • Go home. My job moved me across the country. Going home a few times a year helps keep me grounded, and reminds me about what actually matters.
  • Make friends at work. Love ‘em or hate ’em, you will spend more time with your coworkers than almost anyone else. At least learn to like them.
  • Don’t worry about the things you can’t control. Don’t worry about the things you can, either. You have limited mental bandwidth, so use it well: just act.
  • Have a routine. Especially if you have zero control over your schedule at work, have a routine for those other hours. Save your mental bandwidth for the important things.
  • Eat well. Garbage in, garbage out.
  • Exercise often. Find a way to clear your head: some people like to run or cycle or swim — I like to put a five hundred pound bar on my back.
  • Have a hobby. Find a way to engage your brain for things other than work. I sit at a computer all day, then go home, open my laptop, and write or code all evening. Even this gives me a break from the type of work I do at my job, though, which helps me unwind. For even more of a break, I do something with my hands, like Legos or woodworking.

'Just Enough' Piracy Can Be a Good Thing

A friend of mine used to pirate all sorts of things. He didn’t realize it at the time, but he grew up in the golden age of piracy: Napster had proven the idea just a few years ago, and sites like The Pirate Bay and Kickass Torrents had since stepped in to keep the dream alive and well. Fast-forward to today, though, and most of those sites have shut down. The Pirate Bay still manages to limp along, but copyright laws and watchful Internet Service Providers have made piracy a mere shadow of its former self. As for my friend, now he pays for a basic Netflix subscription each month to watch a few shows — but for the most part, nothing replaced all that content he once pirated. As Antino Kim, Atanu Lahiri, Debabrata Dey, and Gerald Kane point out in MIT’s Sloan Management Review, that may not actually be the clear win most would have you believe.

Building a Better Bug-Out Bag

I used to live in the preparedness space. I found Doomsday Preppers late one night in college, and despite a sensational portrayal of some already sensational people, I got hooked. I spent the next two years reading prepper blogs, listening to their podcasts, stashing supplies, and building a bug-out bag. I even wrote a book about it all. Preparedness fell to the wayside when I left college, though, until nutnfancy’s three part series pulled me back in.

Build your own Command Line with ANSI escape codes

I wanted to add some terminal output styling to a work project, but the ANSI color codes just would not work. A quick search lead me to this awesome article by Li Haoyi, Build your own Command Line with ANSI escape codes. His post gave me just what I needed, and pushed me to make First Crack’s command line interface a bit better by adding support for cursor navigation. It took some fiddling, but thanks to a helpful tip from commenter dkrmr, I got it working.

I did not plan on linking to his article, but after referencing it for two days, I came around. Li pulls off some pretty cool stuff with some pretty basic tools. Very cool.

Sportsmobiles and Expensive Rigs

I have a lot of thoughts about choosing an expedition rig. I went over them before, so I won’t repeat myself here. On the topic of a van for between $100,000 and $200,000, though, I will say this: as prices for these vehicles climb, do not forget to consider the other rigs ever-higher price points make viable. If you plan to spend $60,000 on a cool van but come to terms with shelling out $200,000 for Sportsmobile’s beast, take stock of what else that $200,000 might get you before you pull the trigger. At this point you have gotten into EarthCruiser territory, and as cool as the Sportsmobile Classic may be, I would rather the former.

Exploring a website

I like Elliott Cost’s idea, a lot:

“A feed is based around time, usually sorted reverse chronologically, whereas an explore page reveals the expansiveness of a website by pulling from disparate sources, indifferent to time, allowing one to jump into the depths of something entirely new.”

Look for a new Explore page here over the next few weeks. What a great idea.

A Guide to Choosing an Expedition Rig

I have spent a lot of time thinking about expedition rigs. I started looking for the perfect one to see if I could find something better than the 4Runners and Tacomas Expedition Overland uses. Less than a year later, I bought a 4Runner. I resumed my search a few months later, and almost bought an RV instead of a house. As a home owner I have started searching again — and this time, I decided to talk about my process. I hope this guide will help those looking for adventure choose the right platform for their way of life.