Feb 23, 2014

Euclidean rhythm generator in Haskell

So, Haskell! After a few days of astonished dabbling, the Euclidean Rhythm exercise had to be repeated. Again, this is beginner level code and we rely entirely on type inference.

The function breakdown is a little different this time. Two helper functions:

  • ezip: a hybrid of zip and outer join, takes two lists of different lengths and concatenates their elements pairwise;
  • efold: repeatedly applies the tail end of the sequence under construction to the head, using ezip, until either there are 3 or fewer subpatterns or the pattern is cyclic.

The entire solution:

euclidean k n = concat . efold $
                (replicate k [1]) ++ (replicate (n - k) [0])

ezip x [] = x
ezip [] x = x
ezip (x:xs) (y:ys) = (x ++ y) : ezip xs ys

efold xs
  | length xs <= 3 = xs
  | a == [] = xs
  | otherwise = efold $ ezip a b
  where (a, b) = partition (/= last xs) xs

And that's it! Notice how concise yet readable this is compared to an already terse Clojure version.

Similar to the Clojure example, it is not immediately obvious why a == [] is a terminal case. Empty a really means this: partition was unable to find different elements because they are identical -- the pattern is cyclic. A less efficient but more explicit way to write this would have been with a allSame function:

euclidean' k n = concat . efold' $
            (replicate k [1]) ++ (replicate (n - k) [0])

ezip' (x, []) = x
ezip' ([], x) = x
ezip' ((x:xs), (y:ys)) = (x ++ y) : ezip' (xs, ys)

allSame [] = True
allSame [x] = True
allSame (x:y:xs) = (x == y) && allSame (y:xs)

efold' xs
  | length xs <= 3 = xs
  | allSame xs = xs
  | otherwise = efold' . ezip' $ partition (/= last xs) xs

And, a test:

*Play> euclidean 3 5
*Play> euclidean 3 8

Jan 26, 2014

Euclidean rhythm generator in Clojure

My first Clojure function is a Euclidean Rhythm generator, and I felt like sharing it. I found a post doing a similar thing, albeit in LISP. They called it "exploratory programming", and so will I.

Why Euclidean rhythms and why Clojure? Well, Overtone! Having played with SuperCollider before and having developed a curiosity towards Clojure, Overtone seemed like a great segway into the latter.

For a while I have been wanting to experiment with quantifying, expressing and generating musically interesting rhythms. After a bit of research a recent paper turned up: The Euclidean Algorithm Generates Traditional Musical Rhythms. How cool is that? So I wanted to have my own implementation, as well as make a Clojure exercise out of it.

Euclidean rhythms, basically

A Euclidean rhythm is loosely defined as a sequence of beats and silences, where the beats are distributed as equidistantly as possible. With discrete and relatively short sequences this produces interestingly sounding results.

The rhythm is described as a function E(k, n) where k is the number of beats and n is the number of divisions (k < n). For example: E(3, 5) := [1 0 1 0 1].

The solution to ER works as follows, with examples:

  1. Start with a sequence of n 1's and (k - n) 0's:

    [1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0]
  2. Remove as many same elements from the tail, and append them to as many other elements in the front as we can:

    [[1 0] [1 0] [1 0] 0 0]
  3. Repeat as many times as is sensible:

    [[1 0 0] [1 0 0] [1 0]]
    [[1 0 0 1 0] [1 0 0]]
  4. When repetitions no longer produce a new flat sequence, stop:

    [1 0 0 1 0 1 0 0]


Using the powers of Clojure as we discover them, we can be a tiny bit more concise than Ruin & Wesen. The entire code is available as a Gist.

It feels like this should be a one-liner in Clojure, and maybe it can be. But for now we start modest (and maintain some early debuggability). This solution was discovered experimentally, better ones must exist out there so please do share.

The starting sequence is easy. This will generate a sequence like [[1] [1] [0] [0] ...].

(concat (repeat k [1]) (repeat (- n k) [0]))

Vectors or lists? So far I don't know! For the exercise it does not matter. Vectors are simpler to type, lists are what the core functions return. Seeing a mix of them seems normal.

We could start by popping elements off the end and so on, but let's not. A better way is to "zip" part of the "tail" with the head of the sequence. Then we need a way to get that "tail":

(defn split-seq [s]
  "Extract a tail of same elements: [1 1 0 0 0] -> [[1 1] [0 0 0]]"
  (let [l (last s)]
    (split-with #(not= l %) s)))

This says: walk the sequence as long as the element is not equal to the last one, then split. Now, the fun part: repeatedly zipping the sequence until we're nice and Euclidean.

I can has zip()?

Clojure has no direct equivalent of Python's zip, but map will accept multiple sequences. If the elements are themselves sequences and the function is concat, we have our zip:

tutorial.core> (map concat [[1] [2] [3]] [[4] [5] [6]])
((1 4) (2 5) (3 6))

If the sequences are of different length, map will stop at the end of the shortest one and ignore the rest (Python's map, on the other hand, will pad the shorter sequences with Nones). Lucky for us, this is exactly the behavior we need to satisfy step 2 of the solution. The length of the merged sequence will equal the number of elements that are being removed from the end.

Let's recurse!

Obviously, once our recombined list is down to 2 or 3 elements no new flat sequences will appear (if they do they will be shifted copies of each other -- prove that if you like). Using Clojure's multiple signatures let's define these as base cases:

(defn recombine
  ([a b] [a b])
  ([a b c] [a b c])

I.e., with only 2 or 3 arguments just return the sequence.

Note that we pass the sequence as unpacked arguments instead of the sequence object itself. The only reason is that we can use the multiple signature mechanism for base cases instead of a far less elegant if statement.

Now, the real work:

  ([a b c & more]
    (let [s (concat [a b c] more)
          [head tail] (split-seq s)
          recombined (map concat head tail)
          r-len (count recombined)]

let's get a little procedural for a moment:

  1. s is the reconstructed sequence in question
  2. tail is the "same element" tail, head is the rest of the sequence
  3. recombined is head and tail zipped together
  4. r-len is the length of the recombined part

There is a third base case: if the sequence becomes purely periodic (i.e. [1 0] [1 0] [1 0] [1 0]). According to our definition of split-seq, split-with will return all tail and no head. Let's account for that:

       (if (empty? head)

Empty head! That does happen. Finally, the recursive step.

         (apply recombine (concat
                           (drop r-len (drop-last r-len s))))))))

In other words, if a sequence is periodic just return it, otherwise construct a single pass of the recombined sequence (recombined plus the middle portion of the original sequence, r-len elements chopped off both ends) and recombine that.

Does it work?

tutorial.core> (recombine [1] [1] [0] [0])
[(1 0) (1 0)]
tutorial.core> (recombine [1] [1] [1] [0] [0])
[(1 0) (1 0) [1]]

Yes, it works.

Wrap up

(defn split-seq [s]
  "Extract a tail of same elements: [1 1 0 0 0] -> [[1 1] [0 0 0]]"
  (let [l (last s)]
    (split-with #(not= l %) s)))

(defn recombine
  ([a b] [a b])
  ([a b c] [a b c])
  ([a b c & more]
     (let [s (concat [a b c] more)
           [head tail] (split-seq s)
           recombined (map concat head tail)
           r-len (count recombined)]
       (if (empty? head)  ;; even pattern
         (apply recombine (concat
                           (drop r-len (drop-last r-len s))))))))

(defn E [k n]
  (let [seed (concat (repeat k [1]) (repeat (- n k) [0]))]
    (flatten (apply recombine seed))))

tutorial.core> (E 3 5)
(1 0 1 0 1)
tutorial.core> (E 3 8)
(1 0 0 1 0 0 1 0)


Jan 13, 2014

Adventurous metaclassing: automatic class splitting

td;dr: I had a problem that could only be solved by splitting a class into two separate superclasses and inheriting from both. This article describes a metaclass that achieves the same effect. Contrive, it's fun.

Let's write a metaclass that splits a superclass of a class in two, while demonstrating a rare legitimate use case for mixins.

Why would you ever want to? My use case arose from an uncooperative dynamic class.

Atom (the problem)

I was building a UI using Enaml, which internally relies on Atom (formerly Traits). Among other things, Atom is an observer framework that provides bindings for Enaml, allowing attribute value changes to automatically update the UI.

To use, you subclass Atom and declare class attributes initialized to field instances, just like an ORM.

from atom.api import Atom, Int

class Model(Atom):
    counter = Int()

The problem is that Atom expects all attributes to be declared fields. If the attribute is not a known field type, Atom will turn it into a read-only field. This means you cannot have a "normal" attribute alongside an "atomic" field, and vice versa.

class MixedModel(Atom):
    counter = Int()
    x = 0  # x is read-only

# subclassing won't help
class Extended(Model):
    x = 0  # ditto

    def __init__(self):
        self.x = 1  # error: object attribute 'x' is read-only
        self.y = 1  # error: object has no attribute 'y'

Well, that's annoying. But what if an atom was a mixin, would that work?

class ModelAtom(Atom):
    counter = Int()

class ModelBase(object):
    x = 0

class Model(ModelBase, ModelAtom):

# fingers crossed...
m = Model()
m.x = 5  # works!

Solution: mixins

So, a pure atom mixin can contain our atomic fields and we can use them in our impure object. We still need a "normal" class to co-inherit from (where the other attributes will live), and it cannot be object.

This frees us from having to make the whole class atomic, but writing new mixins to contain atom fields can get tedious. Assuming that modifying Atom itself is out of the question, what can we do to automate the generation of the necessary classes?

The Metaclass

Naturally, anytime we need to mess with the class creation it's time for metaclasses. In this case, however, we are not just creating a class. We need to create up to two new classes and make our new class inherit from them instead. In other words, we need to rewrite the inheritance tree.

We do this by dynamically creating new classes and injecting them into the class bases. For consistency and reference, we will also inject them into the module as if they were defined there. One of the new classes will get all the atom fields, and subclass Atom. The other class will be optional, in case our target class is a direct subclass of object. The target class will keep all the other attributes.

def split_dict(d, test):
    a, b = {}, {}
    for k, v in d.iteritems():
        if test(k, v):
            a[k] = v
            b[k] = v
    return a, b

from atom.catom import Member
from atom.api import AtomMeta, Atom
import inspect
class AtomizerMeta(type):
    def __new__(meta, class_name, bases, attrs):
        module = inspect.getmodule(inspect.stack()[1][0])

This will the metaclass of our new mixin base, Atomizer. The metaclass will run on Atomizer itself but we only need the magic to happen in its subclasses, so skip it:

        if module.__name__ == meta.__module__ and class_name == 'Atomizer':
            return super(AtomizerMeta, meta).__new__(meta, class_name, bases, attrs)

        # pluck out atom fields
        atom_attrs, basic_attrs = split_dict(attrs, lambda k,v: isinstance(v, Member))

atom_attrs contains only the atomic fields (subclasses of Member) and basic_attrs all the rest.

One of the bases will be Atomizer itself. Because we are replacing it with two new classes, let's remove it from bases:

        new_bases = tuple(b for b in bases if b != Atomizer)
        new_classes = ()

Create the two new classes:

        # allow use as both mixin and a sole superclass
        if not new_bases:
            basic_name = class_name + '_deatomized'
            basic_class = type(basic_name, new_bases, {})
            new_classes += ((basic_name, basic_class), )
            new_bases += (basic_class, )

        if atom_attrs:
            atom_name = class_name + '_atom'
            atom_class = type(atom_name, (Atom,), atom_attrs)
            new_classes += ((atom_name, atom_class), )
            new_bases += (atom_class, )

Later new_bases will become the bases for our target class. Note that we are covering two different cases: inheriting directly from Atomizer or having it as a mixin. In the latter case we already have a "normal" class to contain our "normal" attributes.

Finally, let's populate the module space and finish creating the target class.

        # inject into the containg module
        for n, c in new_classes:
            setattr(module, n, c)
            setattr(c, '__module__', module.__name__)  # just in case

        return type(class_name, new_bases, basic_attrs)

class Atomizer(object):
    '''Smart atomizer'''
    __metaclass__ = AtomizerMeta

we haz a win?

from atom.api import Atom, Int

class A(Atomizer):
    a = Int()
    b = 0

Yep. No need to bother with separate mixin classes.

Jan 05, 2014

Emacs tabbar tuning

I like tabbar-mode and the buffer cycling options it provides. I can cycle between buffers in a single group (especially useful when cycling scope is limited to tabs) and between different groups. This makes it much easier to manage many open buffers within different contexts (such as projects).

(require 'tabbar)
(tabbar-mode t)
(setq tabbar-cycle-scope 'tabs)

(global-set-key (kbd "s-{") 'tabbar-backward-group)
(global-set-key (kbd "s-}") 'tabbar-forward-group)
(global-set-key (kbd "s-[") 'tabbar-backward)
(global-set-key (kbd "s-]") 'tabbar-forward)


The grouping defaults are reasonable (by major mode name), but could be better. We'll use the default tabbar-buffer-groups-function from tabbar.el as a basis. This section contains the entire function budy.

(defun my-tabbar-buffer-groups ()
"Return the list of group names the current buffer belongs to.
Return a list of one element based on major mode."

*Process* group

The default grouping separates "process" buffers into their own group. This is a problem with flycheck, for example. When flycheck does its thing the buffer briefly becomes a "process" buffer, causing tabbar to yank it between groups. This makes for a very jittery tab bar. Let's fix that by removing the "Process" group altogether:

   (setq my-group-by-project nil)
    ;; ((or (get-buffer-process (current-buffer))
    ;;      ;; Check if the major mode derives from `comint-mode' or
    ;;      ;; `compilation-mode'.
    ;;      (tabbar-buffer-mode-derived-p
    ;;       major-mode '(comint-mode compilation-mode)))
    ;;  "Process"
    ;;  )

OK, better. Now our flychecked files stay grouped by major mode.

    ((member (buffer-name)
             '("*scratch*" "*Messages*"))
    ((eq major-mode 'dired-mode)
    ((memq major-mode
           '(help-mode apropos-mode Info-mode Man-mode))
    ((memq major-mode
             rmail-edit-mode vm-summary-mode vm-mode mail-mode
             mh-letter-mode mh-show-mode mh-folder-mode
             gnus-summary-mode message-mode gnus-group-mode
             gnus-article-mode score-mode gnus-browse-killed-mode))

Grouping by project

While working on multiple projects the tab bar quicly becomes unwieldy. I prefer to group mine by "project name:mode name" instead. I use projectile for getting the name of the project.

Also, for small projects I like to be able to group by project name alone. For this I defined a simple toggle variable my-group-by-project.

     ;; Return `mode-name' if not blank, `major-mode' otherwise.
     (let ((group 
            (if (and (stringp mode-name)
                     ;; Take care of preserving the match-data because this
                     ;; function is called when updating the header line.
                     (save-match-data (string-match "[^ ]" mode-name)))
              (symbol-name major-mode))))
       (if (projectile-project-p)
           (if my-group-by-project
             (format "%s:%s" (projectile-project-name) group))

Performance tuning

tabbar-mode calls tabbar-buffer-groups-function A LOT -- for each open buffer for every single keystroke. Since projectile-project-name is not a super fast function this will slow Emacs down. Assuming we never want buffers to change groups, we could quasi-memoize this function and cache group names per every project. We can do this with a pseudo-closure.

(defun my-cached (func)
  "Turn a function into a cache dict."
  (lexical-let ((table (make-hash-table :test 'equal))
                (f func))
    (lambda (key)
      (let ((value (gethash key table)))
        (if value
          (puthash key (funcall f) table))))))

;; evaluate again to clear cache
(setq cached-ppn (my-cached 'my-tabbar-buffer-groups))

(defun my-tabbar-groups-by-project ()
  (funcall cached-ppn (buffer-name)))

(setq tabbar-buffer-groups-function 'my-tabbar-groups-by-project)

Now, tabbar will be fetching a cached group name for existing buffers. To wipe the cache we recreate the closure by reevaluating.

Finally, wire the toggle (we must clear the cache for regrouping to take effect):

(defun my-toggle-group-by-project ()
  (setq my-group-by-project (not my-group-by-project))
  (message "Grouping by project alone: %s"
           (if my-group-by-project "enabled" "disabled"))
  (setq cached-ppn (my-cached 'my-tabbar-buffer-groups)))

Oct 14, 2013

Agentum: moving from ORM to path-based object selectors

Early in the development of Agentum the need for client-server separation became apparent, mostly because of how sucky GUI programming is in Python. I came up with a simple generic protocol to expose the state of the simulation over a web/network socket. The intent was to play around with a browser based UI and to open it up to anyone who wants to write their own GUI client.

A few specific design challenges arose from that:

  1. We need a generic way to describe simulation elements to the client so it knows how to draw them;
  2. We need a generic way to wire control input from the client to simulation elements;
  3. We need to watch the simulation object so we can notify the client when things change, automatically.
  4. In the not-so-distant future, when Agentum is grown up and distributed, we'll need a formal way of packaging and shipping object instances across computation nodes.

Also, this allows API access to a running simulation. You can hook up your own whatever and interact with Agentum!

The ORM way

Since I was already familiar with Django ORM and that pattern can satisfy the design goals easily, replicating it seemed like a good idea.

Starting with a simple example, this is how you might represent a grid square in the Heatbugs simulation:

class Square(object):
    heat = 0

The heat parameter loosely represents the square's temperature. It changes as the square is subject to dissipation forces and the heat radiated by the bugs.

We don't want to ship the entire state of the model to a remote GUI client every time something needs redrawing. Instead, we want to tell the client what changed — and we need to know that ourselves. Two ways of achieving that:

  1. Passive: compare the entire state of the model with a previous snapshot and detect changes.
  2. Active: hook into attribute access and handle changes as they happen.

Of the two, the "active" looks more attractive. Active Record fits the bill perfectly, and Django-style ORM is a great AR implementation.

Add some metaclass magic, and now we have something like this:

from model import Cell
from fields import Float

class Square(Cell):
    heat = Float(0)

The user code looks almost the same, but internally things are different:

  • Cell subclasses Model, Model overrides __setattr__() and has a metaclass that inspects field-type attributes.
  • Now we know Square has a field heat and it's a float. We can send that information to the client.
  • Now we know when square's heat changes whenever the user does square.heat = new_value. Again, we can send that to the client.

Immediate problem solved. But wait, there are more goodies!

A field class is a great place for any value processing code (serializing, validating, thinning, etc.), and we could cram a lot of metadata into the field declaration. We could describe things like:

  • Mapping values to colors
  • Quantization threshold for avoiding taking up bandwidth with insignificant changes
  • Allowable ranges (Django's min/max)
  • Allowable values for enums (Django's choices)
  • Exactly which fields need to propagate upstream
  • etc.

Marshalling values between different formats can be done with some elegance, even with complex types:

class Integer(Field):
    default = 0
    from_string = int

class List(Field):
    default = []

    def __init__(self, field, *args, **kw):
        Field.__init__(self, *args, **kw)
        self.from_string = lambda x: map(field.from_string, x.split())

dimensions = List(Integer, (0, 0))
dimensions = '10 10'

Useful for accepting human input and not having to type JSON by hand, for example.

The dilemma

This is a good pattern, what could go wrong? Not too much, if you only ever deal with top level class attributes of basic types. This is not always the case.

Implementing the Schelling Segregation Model requires agents of the same class but of different attributes, like red and blue turtles. Suppose you want global attributes that control their behavior at runtime. For example, all red turtles would share one tolerance level, and the blue ones another; and you want to be able to set different population densities separately.

With top level attributes you would be limited to something like:

class Schelling(Simulation):
    red_tolerance = 0.5
    red_density = 0.3
    blue_tolerance = 0.1
    blue_density = 0.6

But that's silly. What if '`you wanted to add green turtles? And how do you extract the color as an independent attribute?

class Schelling(Simulation):
    agent_params = {'red': {'tolerance': 0.5, 'density': 0.3},
                    'blue': {'tolerance': 0.1, 'density': 0.6}}

That's how. But now we have a problem: writing field descriptors for arbitrarily nested container objects is a hairy proposition. There is no good way to track internal changes to an object like this, not without Too Much Magic™. Nor there is a good way to use this that does not begin to resemble Java generics. That would be awful.

Thinking about this led me to reexamine the fitness of ORM for Agentum.

ORM is for schemas and databases

Even though the mechanics of Django-style ORM give us useable results, the purposes are quite different. ORM builds representations of database objects and ensures strict adherence to a schema. On the contrary, Agentum objects live in the simulation runtime, the model implementation is entirely up to the user and there is no database backend with which to enforce integrity.

GUI is optional

Agentum makes very few assumptions.

Assumption 1: The primary goal of modeling is writing a model that actually works and computes something interesting.

Our job is to provide an environment where this can be done quickly and cleanly. Where you go from there can vary: some may be content with tweaking parameters in the source and rerunning the simulation while others will want to generate pictures and interact with the simulation in various ways, including programmatically.

Rephrasing that, the communication with the GUI client and the client itself are secondary. Without the client the model will still compute.

We're smart, let's guess

class Square(Cell):
    heat = 0.0

OK, we can tell that Square has an attribute heat, it's a float and its default value is 0. That alone is enough to construct a field descriptor.

Of course, there are still things like metadata and field exclusions, but the base case is covered by simple introspection and guessing. When we do need more metadata we can provide it in addition rather than forcing field declarations everywhere.

In effect, this "additional" metadata will be an optional layer in the model declaration.

Path- and rule-based object selectors

Assumption 2: To the outside world an Agentum object is a data structure composed of plain values.

In other words, something isomorphic to a JSON object. In fact, our entire simulation can be represented this way. Every object has an ID and every attribute, however deeply nested, has a path to it:


Using this, we can describe all the things as well. Where there is a path, there is a wildcard:

agent_params.*.tolerance = 0.1
space.cells.*.friend_ratios_by_color.* = 0.1
# haha, misery

This is powerful stuff. Using selectors, our model objects could look like this:

class Schelling(Simulation):
    agent_params = {'red': {'tolerance': 0.5, 'density': 0.3},
                    'blue': {'tolerance': 0.1, 'density': 0.6}}

    fields = {'agent_params.*.density': Float(min=0, max=1)}

Or even:

    fields['agent_params.*.density'].range = (0,1)

Of course, there is still a question of hooking into value assignments. Stay tuned.

Oct 05, 2013

JavaScript gotcha's for Pythonistas

Someone has to build the UI and today it's you.

In many ways JS is similar to Python. So similar than when it's not, it might surprise you. Below are some things I found intersting in two solid months of javascripting.

Object declarations and attribute access

In JS the closest thing to Python's dicts are Objects.

// this is the same in both JS and Python
mything = {'foo': 1, 'bar': {'x': 5}}

// this is not
mything = {foo: 1, bar: {x: 5}}

// but both are the same in JS!

Python will take your key literals and treat them as variable names. JavaScript will turn them into strings and use them as key names! What's more fun, it only does that for keys, not the values.

            foo = 1
python:     {foo: foo} => {1: 1}
javascript: {foo: foo} => {'foo': 1}

There is an upside to that — you don't have to use quotes so much:

// instead of this
x = {'foo': 1};
x['bar'] = 2;

// just do this
x = {foo: 1};
x.bar = 2;

And a downside — using variables as key names requires a little dance:

mykey = 'foo';

x = {};
x[mykey] = 1;

Attribute access

JS is very relaxed about that, there is the famed dotted notation. Python has no built-in equivalent. The upshot is that any nested attribute can be accessed by a single dotted selector:

// instead of
mything['foo']['bar'][0]['x'] = 5;

// simply do
mything.foo.bar.0.x = 5

Notice this works for array indexes too. Of course, variable key names will still require [].

Unfortunately, this has to be a literal. There is no built-in way to do mything['foo.bar.0.x'].

Missing attributes

(updated 10.13)

Unlike Python, JS always returns attribute values, even the missing ones. The missing attributes miraculously have values, and their value is undefined. This can be handy:

// naively in Python:
value = False
if 'maybe_there' in obj:
    value = obj['maybe_there']
if value == 2: ...

// skillfully in Python:
if obj.get('maybe_there', None) == 2: ...

// in JS:
if (obj.maybe_there == 2) { ... };

Of course, you can only take this one level deep:

> obj = {}
> obj.foo
> obj.foo.bar
TypeError: Cannot read property 'bar' of undefined

Object comparisons

A colleague pointed this out to me, objects do not compare:

> {'a': 1} == {'a': 1}
> {'a': 1} === {'a': 1}


for (var i in things) {

Despite how straightforward and intuitive that looks, it is not.

If things is an Object, i will iterate over key names. Ok, fine.

If things is an Array, i should iterate over elements, right? Wrong. i will iterate over array indexes.

If i iterates over array indexes those should be integers, right? Sometimes. Sometimes it's a string representing an integer!

Handle this however you like, just beware.


JavaScript can't handle the truth

Oh yeah. Your if statements are not doing what you expect and you begin to wonder why.

> Boolean('')

Good, we were expecting that. That means our habit carries over, right?

> Boolean({})
> Boolean([])



Does Underscore have anything handy? isEmpty() looks useful:

> _.isEmpty('')
> _.isEmpty([])
> _.isEmpty({})
> _.isEmpty(false)

Hey, this is good! Something consistent we can use. Or is it?

> _.isEmpty(true)

Sad panda.


And of course: https://www.destroyallsoftware.com/talks/wat

Example git forkflow: branch hopping

I wanted to show my mercurian friends around git, and what better way to do that than by real examples.

This morning I wanted to persist the changes I've been making to pelican-mockingbird theme for use in my own blog. Increased verbosity for illustration purposes.

$ git status
# Not currently on any branch.
# Changes not staged for commit:
#   (use "git add <file>..." to update what will be committed)
#   (use "git checkout -- <file>..." to discard changes in working directory)
#   modified:   static/css/pygments.css
#   modified:   static/css/screen.css
#   modified:   templates/article_stub.html
#   modified:   templates/base.html
# Untracked files:
#   (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed)
#   templates/disqus.html
no changes added to commit (use "git add" and/or "git commit -a")

You may notice I'm "not on any branch" (also called detached head state). This is because I am working inside a submodule of pelican-themes and the submodule is pinned to a particular commit.

First, I fork pelican-mockingbird on Github and add my new forked repo as a remote.

$ git remote add mine git@github.com:unthingable/pelican-mockingbird.git

Since I'm not on a branch I need to get on one. I want it to be the master from my new fork.

First, fetch the state of the new origin:

$ git fetch mine
From github.com:unthingable/pelican-mockingbird
 * [new branch]      master     -> mine/master

It found one remote branch master and fetched it under a local alias mine/master. Now I attempt to checkout the remote branch. This is not the branch I'll be working in, but it is a quick way to bring the working dir into the most current state.

$ git checkout mine/master
error: Your local changes to the following files would be overwritten by checkout:
Please, commit your changes or stash them before you can switch branches.

OK, apparently I was missing some recent commits and now the incoming changes are conflict with my local changes. Before I risk losing my work, it is time for salvation:

$ git stash
Saved working directory and index state WIP on (no branch): 2f4c1b6 update screenshot
HEAD is now at 2f4c1b6 update screenshot

Now I can get current:

$ git checkout mine/master
Previous HEAD position was 2f4c1b6... update screenshot
HEAD is now at fa46a80... Merge pull request #5 from kevmo314/master

So far so good. Let's bring my changes back in:

$ git stash pop
Auto-merging templates/base.html
Auto-merging templates/article_stub.html
CONFLICT (content): Merge conflict in templates/article_stub.html
Auto-merging static/css/screen.css
Auto-merging static/css/pygments.css
CONFLICT (content): Merge conflict in static/css/pygments.css

Even though I popped the stash, the stashed changes is still there. At this point (or any point in the future) I can decide to scrap what I'm doing, go back to the original commit I started working from (2f4c1b6) and reapply my stashed changes conflict-free. This would fully restore the state I had in the beginning of the post.

I decide to keep the new changes and fix the conflicts. Now my changes are in a happy state and I am ready to make a new commit atop fa46a80 (the last commit on remote master).

$ git status
# Not currently on any branch.
# Changes to be committed:
#   (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage)
#   modified:   static/css/screen.css
#   modified:   templates/base.html
# Unmerged paths:
#   (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage)
#   (use "git add/rm <file>..." as appropriate to mark resolution)
#   both modified:      static/css/pygments.css
#   both modified:      templates/article_stub.html
# Untracked files:
#   (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed)
#   templates/disqus.html

Let's tell git my conflicts are resolved, and also add the new template:

$ git add templates/ static/

(channeling Gallagher) Can it be that easy? Yes, it's that easy!

$ git status
# Not currently on any branch.
# Changes to be committed:
#   (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage)
#   modified:   static/css/pygments.css
#   modified:   static/css/screen.css
#   modified:   templates/article_stub.html
#   modified:   templates/base.html
#   new file:   templates/disqus.html

Now we're ready to commit and push. But wait, we're still not on any branch. Let's take our current state and make a new branch out of it. I don't want to touch my master just yet, just in case I bork something — after all, I have been doing mercurial for a few months now...

$ git branch
* (no branch)
$ git checkout -b new-master
M   static/css/pygments.css
M   static/css/screen.css
M   templates/article_stub.html
M   templates/base.html
A   templates/disqus.html
Switched to a new branch 'new-master'
$ git commit -am 'fix.'
[new-master e542d31] fix.
 5 files changed, 125 insertions(+), 82 deletions(-)
 rewrite static/css/pygments.css (98%)
 create mode 100644 templates/disqus.html
$ git log
commit e542d311cf1a6ed318c1807a118a7f4a5ce93f80
Author: unthingable <me@example.com>
Date:   Tue Nov 5 10:08:43 2013 -0800


commit fa46a8024ceb821a8717ed36f7b9d2a6a06d2060
Merge: decd2d4 7ea3637
Author: william light <wrl@illest.net>
Date:   Sun Oct 13 06:02:45 2013 -0700

    Merge pull request #5 from kevmo314/master

    use more standardized strftime formats

Looking good! Now I want to take new-master and push to my github master without renaming. Can it be that easy?

$ git push mine new-master master
Counting objects: 18, done.
Delta compression using up to 2 threads.
Compressing objects: 100% (9/9), done.
Writing objects: 100% (10/10), 2.28 KiB, done.
Total 10 (delta 5), reused 0 (delta 0)
To git@github.com:unthingable/pelican-mockingbird.git
 * [new branch]      new-master -> new-master

Oops, it's been a while and I forgot the proper syntax. Now there is a branch called new-master on github. Let's fix and clean up:

$ git push mine new-master:master
Total 0 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0)
To git@github.com:unthingable/pelican-mockingbird.git
   fa46a80..e542d31  new-master -> master
$ git push mine :new-master
To git@github.com:unthingable/pelican-mockingbird.git
 - [deleted]         new-master

All done. I still have a local master that I don't need anymore, so one more thing to tidy up:

$ git branch -av
  master              fa46a80 Merge pull request #5 from kevmo314/master
* new-master          51e3737 readme
  remotes/mine/master 51e3737 readme
$ git branch -d master
Deleted branch master (was fa46a80).
$ git branch --move master
$ git branch -v
* master 51e3737 readme

Oct 04, 2013

What to expect when you're sidemounting

Not long ago I was a regular open water diver who had just read about sidemounting. If you are curious about the details, here are some things I've learned.

When most people learn to dive, a single tank strapped to their back is enough to see the wonders of the sea. Sidemount involves hanging two separate tanks to from each side. There is no agreement on "the right way" to sidemount and many different opinions around, so I'll do the same and present my own take on it.

Why sidemount?

According to popular sources, sidemounting was developed by cave divers in the UK and later in Florida for reasons of logistics and passing through tight restrictions. But first, lets back up a little.

Double tanks

Doubles are safer than singles.

You may have seen technical divers with paired tanks on their backs (called manifolded doubles or simply doubles or twins). In sport diving a diver is trained to rely on their buddy for alternate air, and that there is always easy access to the surface with survivable odds of decompression sickness. A technical diver is often unable to surface in the event of a problem, usually due to an overhead environment or a decompression obligation. Any problem has to be dealt with right there, including gas supply failures. A failure in a single tank almost certainly means an out-of-gas situation. That is why a technical diver carries at least two of everything.

Redundancy, safety and self-reliance

Doubles mean a diver has twice as much gas. More importantly, each tank has its own regulator. In the even of failure a single tank can be isolated and shut off, and the diver still has one good tank and half the gas to safely finish the dive. In effect, the diver carries his/her own alternate air supply.

Sidemount configuration provides this gas redundancy in a simpler configuration.

Configuration benefits

Sidemount is safer than doubles.

Twin cylinders are not without problems. Out of the water they are heavy, the manifold valves are behind your head and they stick up from your back, making it hard to fit in tight spots.

Sidemount cylinders are completely separate from each other, they hang from your sides by means of boltsnaps and bungees. Each has its own regulator and a pressure gauge, there is no connecting manifold and no isolation valve to think about.

The tanks can be carried individually, not together on your back, and put on or taken off in the water. The tank valves sit just under your armpits, always visible and within easy reach. Finally, there is nothing on your back, allowing you to squeeze through narrower passages. You can even unclip one or both tanks and push them in front of you, making your profile even smaller. Swimming in general is easier because of the reduced drag.

Safety again

Having a valve behind the head makes it not only difficult to operate, but potentially dangerous. You can accidentally bump against something hard and break a burst disk, or roll off the valve. In sidemount protecting the valves is easier since you are much more aware of what's in front of you. Also, correcting a valve rolloff is not an issue.

... and again

Since you cannot see behind your head there is an exercise called a "bubble check", where your buddy checks for any gas leaks from your tanks/regs by watching for bubbles. You can also do it yourself by situating yourself face up and waiting without exhaling — any escaping bubbles should be visible as they float up. Of course, you still can't see exactly where they came from.

But in sidemount you can — the valves and regulators are right in front of you at all times. If a tank fails, you'll immediately know which one and can take action.

Finally, even with a failed regulator you can breathe from it by continuously operating the valve (see feathering below).

Sidemount in practice (combined first impressions)

The theory is great, so how does it work? I wanted to know so I found a local instructor and we scheduled a class. The instructor lent me his BC and brought a couple of steel tanks. Then my own set of sidemount regulators and a harness arrived. I rented a couple of steel tanks and spent some time in the pool, to test out the new harness and to practice diving in sidemount. Then I went to Florida for cave training, all in sidemount — but that itself is another story.

Sidemount takes a little getting used to, but the process is easy and it works. I do not see myself ever needing twin doubles.

The regulators

Regulator configuration is based on the Hogarthian system. You have a pair of identical regulators, each with its own pressure gauge, and at least one long hose for sharing air. The short hose hangs on a necklace (always available as a quickly reachable backup in emergencies), the long hose has a boltsnap for clipping to a shoulder D-ring.

There is a disagreement on which tank gets the long hose. Having been taught both ways I can say this: the hose should be on the side where it attaches to the regulator. Unless your reg is a switchback that side is right. This has to do with the specifics of sharing air while exiting a cave: the donor is directly behind the recipient and you want the hose going along the same side, not across.

Steel tanks

Steel tanks were new to me, before I only dived aluminums. Full aluminum tanks sink a little, half full they are neutral and empty they float.

Steel tanks always sink and they are heavy! In fact, they were heavy enough for me to not need any additional weight in fresh water, both wet and dry suits. With Al tanks you need the additional weight just to counter their positive buoyancy at the end of the dive. That was nice.

Tank attachments

Each tank is attached at three points. First, there is a leash with a boltsnap on the valve, that clips on to your shoulder D-ring. Second, a tank band near the bottom has another leash with another boltsnap, that clips on to your waist or buttplate. Finally, a bungee goes over the valve and pulls the tank up and towards you, under your armpit. The valve boltsnap does not carry load after that.


Getting trim is different in sidemount and mainly involves hanging the tanks in correct position. You want them alongside and parallel to your body, and close. Not below, not at an angle, not too far back.

In my first session the heavy tanks were hanging way too low, the inflated wing was floating above and I was suspended in the middle, unable to neither pitch nor roll. Not even to look up. It was not comfortable and a little frustrating.

The second session went much better — I had my own tank bands with shorter leashes and my own harness with much better bungees. You see, the bungees need to really pull the tank valve up, otherwise it will hang too far down and too far back. Staying horizontal will be difficult, not to mention poor profile and dangling tanks.

Getting there will take time at first. Once there, however, maintaining the proper prone position is effortless, your body will naturally orient itself that way.

The tanks are just hanging there

In backmount the tank is strapped in place. It's not going anywhere, no matter how you flip. With sidemount, facing up means the tank bottoms flop down towards your butt. However, with properly positioned tanks flipping around in the water is really a non issue.

Getting in and out of the water

Diving fresh water you usually put the tanks on in the water. For this you want to be standing and about chest deep, otherwise it's difficult.

If that is not an option, you'll gear up on land or boat. All the usual water entries and exits are doable in sidemount, just more awkward.

Gearing up

Sticking to a sequence makes gearing up faster and less error prone. An example sequence looks like this. Left tank: shoulder clip, bottom clip, inflator hose to BC, regulator in position (necklace on), bungee. Right tank: shoulder clip, bottom clip, inflator to drysuit, regulator in position. The long hose is always the last thing to go on — that's the thing that comes off in an out-of-gas emergency.

Alternating tanks (gas management)

You want to breathe the tanks down evenly, so you switch regulators at predetermined points (usually every 200-300 PSI). If you don't, one tank will start getting noticeably lighter and you'll begin to list to one side. Also, should you lose the fuller tank you'd have less gas left in the remaining one. Also, calculating fractions for gas planning is harder when tank pressures are far apart.

Another upshot of tank switching is that breathing from both regulators ensures that both are working. This mostly eliminates the chance of switching to a non-working regulator in an emergency.

Gas emergencies

As said before, with two separate tanks you have options when dealing with gas emergencies.

Valve shutoff

Most gas supply malfunctions involve gas escaping from some part of the system. The first step in dealing with leaking gas is to immediately shut off the tank to prevent any further gas loss. If that happens to be your current tank, you obviously have to bail to another regulator.

Breathing down the hose

This is an interesting exercise if you have never done it: learning what it actually feels like to breathe from an empty tank. You do this to both familiarize yourself with the feeling and to learn to recognize what's happening.

To do this, you close the valve on the tank you are breathing from. Depending on your depth, the long hose may still have almost a whole breath left in it. After that, a brief moment of rapidly increasing resistance, then a solid nothing. An amazing feeling.

A partially closed valve delivers gas at a reduced but constant rate. If the rate is below your current consumption rate, somewhere in drawing a breath it will get difficult, every time.

Valve feathering

After shutting off a tank with a problem, you have options. For example, a regulator fails by sticking open, never closed — this is called free flow. You can still breathe from it without losing too much gas. To do this, you put your hand on the valve and crack it open as you draw a breath. The regulator will deliver gas, and some of it will escape. As you're almost finished you can close the valve and breathe down the hose, or wait another second.

Bailing and donating in sidemount

In a traditional Hogarthian configuration you always breathe from the long hose, and the short hose reg hangs on a necklace under your chin. The reg in your mouth is always the one you donate (or lose because someone or something ripped it out), and the backup is always on the necklace. One quick reach and you're breathing again, even in total darkness. Burn that into your muscle memory and you're set.

But in sidemount things are different: half the time you are breathing from your short hose, and the long hose reg is clipped to a shoulder D-ring. A number of what-ifs had bothered me. How do you find the right regulator to donate? What if you don't remember which reg is the long hose? Do you waste time fumbling while your buddy is about to start killing you? What if he rips your short reg and now there is no backup under your chin?

In practice things turned out to be simpler:

  1. There is always a spare regulator nearby, either on the necklace or on the shoulder (you can start breathing from it without unclipping). Never let it dangle unclipped.
  2. Remember which hose/tank you're breathing.
  3. If you forget, sweep by checking the shoulder first. The long hose is ether there or in your mouth.
  4. The long hose is attached to the bolt snap by a zip tie. Don't waste time unclipping. Push it away hard and it will break off.

Oct 01, 2013

Diving sounds awesome, where do I start?

A friend recently asked: What is the least I need to spend to start diving? Diving is not a cheap hobby. However, it does not have to be terribly expensive either.

To dive, you need three things: training, equipment and experience. What that will be really depends on what you do and where you do it. Where will you be diving? Truth is, you probably don't know. Diving is such a vast thing that you can only explore it little by little, trying different things, going to different places, tinkering with equipment and so on.

Naturally, my advice is biased towards my own approach — watch for a later post on my take on gear choices.

The first step

Your first step will be to take an Open Water course, and there are two choices: find one nearby or go to a tropical resort. The tropical resort course is likely to be more enjoyable (more on that later), you can get your OW card in 2-3 days and do some more nice tropical dives while you're there. The local course will likely take longer, the training will be harder, the water will be colder, etc.. In both cases expect to spend: $200-400.

Word of advice for the local course: find and join a local dive club. Heavily discounted classes may be available for members.

Word of advice if you go the tropical route: do not put off your training until the end of your vacation. In the likely event that you discover you really like diving you will still have time left for it! Expect to spend $60-80 for every two tank boat dive.

Also, there are such things as "discovery" or "introductory" dives — for $50-$100 you can get a couple of dives with everything provided, no cert required. I don't see a point in those unless you really have no intentions of diving more.


So you've decided to take a class and become an Open Water diver. Maybe you even decided to work a tropical vacation into it. Maybe you are going to a place where buying gear is problematic (ahem, Mexico). You walk into a dive store. What do you get?

First and foremost, remember you have absolutely no idea how a piece of gear will work for you in the water. You may get decent advice if you're lucky, but more often you'll get a salesman wanting to upsell you on crap (more on that later). Either way, you won't know until you try and get some experience! So either hold off on purchases for now, or do serious research and only get the most basic things, starting with a mask.

Therefore, your first best option is to simply wing it and go to a popular diving resort with nothing but cash in your hand. They will have everything for you to rent. Sometimes rent is included in the price of the class and even the regular dives.

Rent or own?

This is not much different from other "equipped" sports like skiing. Renting is fine in the beginning and is a good way to familiarize yourself with all kinds of gear, how it actually works and what you actually need. Once you do, however, you will probably want to kit up. Some things to consider for the future:


I have my own gear and I bring it. It is a huge and heavy bag, but I do it for reasons listed below. Many people travel with nothing but their certification card, some carry only small essential things, like mask and computer. Diving locally you might want to get equipped sooner.

Fit and hassle

This concerns wearables in particular: finding rentals that fit is a game of chance. Suits and jackets are all made differently and some will fit you better than others. Some will have specific features you might like. Being randomly uncomfortable in rentals, getting used to new gear every time, wasting time picking them out — all of that is fine at first, but will get old fast. Once you get that one suit that really fits you'll be set for a long time.

Your gear is your own. You can splurge a little and get the nicer things. For me it's about having my own gear configured, adjusted and set up exactly how I like it.

A fellow diver once said: Diving is so unhygienic — we spit in our masks, we pee in our wetsuits and we throw up in our regulators. All true! While you shouldn't let it deter you from renting or buying a used wetsuit, you may prefer to pee into your own. Not to worry, you will stop caring soon enough.


Dive gear requires maintenance. The rental shop will take care of theirs, that could be a good or a bad thing. If you rent, learn to inspect it. A loose dump valve cap, for example, could be a bad surprise.


Helpful rules to remember:

  • Once it's wet it's yours. No refunds, with very few exceptions.
  • Initial investment will seem high — do not be put off by this. Some of the items listed below are worth it.
  • The price ranges are for new equipment. Used can be had for considerably less.

Mask: $25-$100

This is one thing you can safely buy right away, and the most crucial one to get to fit properly. Few things will make you more miserable than a leaky mask.

Check the fit by gently holding mask to your face, sucking the air out through the nose and closing the back of your throat: the mask should stay on for a while. Still, a mask will fit differently once in the water. See if they let you try it in the pool.

Things look unusual in the water: bigger, closer and not where you expect to find them when turning your head. The BIG masks don't really add anything, because of water-to-air refraction (ever stand in front of a huge aquarium?). If anything, the larger mask confuses me. You think you are seeing more while your field of vision is still just as narrow as with a smaller mask, and much narrower than it appears. That is why, after losing my Hollis M-1 (a great mask), I am now using a tiny Technisub Micromask.

Smaller volume masks are better. Large masks will bounce on your head and are more prone to getting ripped off by the current (or your buddy's fin!).

Black vs. clear silicone: black. With the clear skirt the light spillage from the sides makes it harder to see the things in front you. This is especially noticeable in low light situations. Also, some people say black silicone is softer — I don't know personally.

Framed vs. frameless: I have spent too much time thinking about that, don't. For you it won't matter much. The difference is chiefly that a frameless mask folds flat for storage in a pocket, as a spare (you probably won't need one just yet).

Purge valves: stay away, they are useless.

Bottom line: fit is everything. If the only mask that fits is the most expensive one in the store, get it.

Computer: $200-$1000+

While you might not need one at first (the first few dives will likely be shallow and well within the no decompression limits), this is the thing that tracks your theoretical nitrogen loading/oxygen toxicity and tells you much play time you have left until your theoretical NDL. They also log your dives electronically, nice.

Why do you need a dive computer? If you haven't heard the soda bottle analogy yet, your tissues dissolve gas (mostly nitrogen, oxygen is metabolized) proportional to ambient pressure. As the pressure changes slowly this on-/off-gassing happens gradually. But, should the pressure drop too low too fast, the dissolved gas can form expanding bubbles (otherwise it leaves the body dissolved via the bloodstream and through the lungs). This is Decompression Sickness (DCS). It can cause pain, injury and death; and must be prevented.

Exactly how body tissues behave in changing pressures is the subject of Decompression theory. When divers talk about dive profiles they are describing pressure exposure. The profiles are used to calculate DCS risks. A dive computer constantly monitors the diver's profile and is able to calculate more accurate and longer safe bottom times.

Your computer stays with you and remembers what you did yesterday, and the day before, and the day before. This really starts to matter on consecutive dives, especially deep ones. Your recent dive history and current residual load will be unique and different from everyone in your group — that is why you should not share or borrow them. Do 2 afternoon dives and the next morning blowing past your NDL is not so hard, all on a typical rec dive.

Dive computers come in multiple forms and feature combinations. The most basic one will suffice, a used one can be had for even less. Do your research and start learning about decompression theory and various decompression models available in different units.

Features to consider:

  • Audible/visible warnings: nice features for the entry level diver, but do not rely on them, they are very easy to miss. You will have to learn to monitor your instruments yourself.
  • Wrist or console: wrist.
  • Wireless air pressure monitoring: if you want, I don't. This adds air pressure to your computer's screen (but you already have it on your SPG) and your computer's dive log (can be nice). Some computers can also sound alarms if your pressure gets low or consumption raises too much.
  • Upgrade path: there is a good chance your OW certification is just the beginning. At some point you might need a feature your computer does not have, meaning an upgrade.
  • Nitrox: definitely yes. You will very likely certify for this next.
  • Gas switching: probably not yet. By that time you will probably want a different computer.
  • Gauge/bottom timer mode: yes.
  • Decompression algorithm: yes, you do need to learn this stuff. Some models are more conservative than others — that means shorter bottom times but also lower DCS risk. DCS risk is not to be taken lightly and there are many factors at play which you won't even know right away (and some are still undiscovered!).

I currently dive a Suunto D4i. It's a fantastic machine but if I had to choose again I would have gone with something simpler, cheaper and user serviceable.

Bottom line: nothing wrong with fancier units, but the cheaper/uglier ones work just as well. Also, when you are ready for the next big upgrade you'll probably need a backup. This is where that gauge mode comes in handy.

Exposure: varies

Exposure protection keeps you warm and scratch-free. You may develop a different preference, but I want as much of myself covered as possible.

  • Wetsuit: can't go wrong with 3-5mm for the tropics ($100-$150), thicker for colder waters. Do not be deluded by the warm tropical water: if it's colder than your body it will draw heat away. Full length suit is good — the stuff on the bottom scrapes, cuts and stings. Some people do a thinner suit and a shorty or a hooded vest on top. Much of my early diving has been in +29C water and not once have I regretted having a 5mm suit.

    My first wetsuit was a Cressi Castoro, it was the cheapest thing in the store. It worked well, but after getting in and out 50 times I regretted not spending a little more on a suit with wrist and ankle zippers.

  • Drysuit is a whole other story ($1000-$4000), beyond the scope of this post. If you don't dive cold (below +23C/74F) and/or don't chill easily, you don't need one.

  • Booties: for your open-heel fins to go on to.

  • Hood and gloves. A surprising amount of heat is lost through the head, so a hood makes a world of difference. Also helps soften the bump that boat sometimes gives you. And gloves, did I mention things sting?

Trying it on: it really has to fit tight, possibly tighter than you feel comfortable. The suit especially. Neoprene does loosen up considerably in the water and under pressure.

Regulator: $300-$800+

Regulators deliver breathing gas at ambient pressure. Rental regulators are usually dependable, but they might breathe harder than you'd like. The mouthpiece might not be as comfortable as the one you might pick out out yourself.

If buying, you will need at least one first stage, one or two second stages and a Submersible Pressure Gauge. Lots of variety on the market, do your research. I used to own an Aqualung Legend LX, it was very nice and very expensive. Now I have a pair of HOGs that are even nicer, for 1/3 of the cost. I did my research.

In sport diving the alternate second stage is called an octopus. Many package deals include an octopus of lower quality than the primary first stage, the rationale being that the octopus is something you rarely use, so why spend more. I believe both second stages should be identical. In a real out-of-air emergency switching to a harder breathing regulator will mean additional stress.

Regulators must be serviced annually ($30-$40).

Gas analyzers: $250-$400 each

Yes, they are expensive and yes, you want them. Breathing wrong or bad gas will easily kill you. Chances of getting bad gas are slim, but mistakes and malfunctions do happen. Dying from something entirely preventable because you didn't check what's in your tank is a stupid way to go.

For diving Nitrox you are required to test the oxygen content of your own tanks, for this you need an O2 analyzer. Often the dive shop will have one to lend you, but you cannot always rely on that. Even if you don't dive Nitrox, every gas has a maximum operating depth exceeding which can lead to drowning. You want to always ensure you weren't handed a wrong bottle by accident.

A carbon monoxide analyzer will alert of you of dangerously high CO levels in your gas. There are several ways for CO to end up in your gas, and there is always a chance. Breathing CO causes headaches, confusion and blackouts leading to drowning.

Analyzers will require replacement sensors eventually. Mine are made by Analox.

Fins: $100

Many innovative designs to stay away from. Some classic designs to consider:

  • Mares Avanti Quattro: great all around fin. My first fins with 70 dives on them (I have the Superchannel version). With heavy use the rubber insets can start tearing.
  • DiveRite EXP and XP: stiff and powerful. My next fin, for handling stronger currents (the Mares are a little too floppy in comparison).
  • OMS Slipstream, Turtle fins, Jet fins, etc.: highly regarded fins, don't see these often in recreational diving.

Spring straps are an amazing investment.

BC: $200-$1000+

Buoyancy Compensator Devices (BC or BCD) are one of the tougher choices, and probably the one thing you can put off the longest — until you really know what you want. They are not cheap, the choices are many and their differences are not easy to evaluate.

The common styles are:

  • Jacket BCs are most common, that's what you usually get in rentals. They are the easiest to learn and use. They are bulky, hard to trim and they squeeze you from the sides when inflated. They are designed keep your head above the water on the surface, with zero effort on your part (good if you're unconscious).

  • Back inflate BCs are a crossover between jackets and a proper wing harness. Compared to jackets they offer more freedom in the water, they don't get in the way and they are much easier to swim in. They are easy to trim perfectly, when your center of buoyancy matches your center of gravity and nothing is flipping you into any particular orientation — you are truly weightless. On the surface they will tend to flip you face down, because the lift is in your back. This is easily countered by laying on your back, but it's a task you have to perform.

  • Harness, backplate and wing is a modular and highly configurable system consisting of a rigid backplate, nylon webbing and a wing which provides lift. Used mostly in technical diving. The system is highly adaptable and can support single tanks, doubles, stages, etc.. The components are individually replaceable and the system will last forever. You can put one together on the cheap. It can be very light and compact for travel.

  • Sidemount BC is a soft harness with a wing designed for sidemounting tanks. Some sidemount BCs are hybrid, capable of back-mounting single and double tanks.

If you never ever venture past OW diving, the first two options will work and the choice is determined by your comfort (I would stay away from jackets just because back-inflates dive much nicer). A BP/W system will still dive nicer, last longer and grow with you, but it does take some effort and skill to adapt to and nobody teaches them in OW training. Unless, of course, you decide to sidemount, then a sidemount technical harness is your better option.

After diving rental jackets my first BC was an aluminum backplate with Oxycheq wing with 30 lbs of lift, it's fantastic. Going to sidemount required an upgrade — Hollis SMS100, modified by Edd Sorenson of Cave Adventurers.


There is always more gear to have, but this list should cover the most essential and costly things. If you look for deals and buy used, you could be diving in your own gear for under 1K.

There is nothing wrong with sexy gear, just remember to not make that the deciding factor. DIY has always been the way of diving, and there is still much of that today. The most functional dive gear is usually unsexy and unglamorous: boltsnaps, zipties and scratched up fins.

The setup, part 2

Life has changed a little since the last report.

  • A maxed out MacBook Air has replaced the Pro and I love it. The screen hinge is weak, the screen is reflective — those are annoying, yes. But overall, it weighs nothing, runs a VM effortlessly and I can work unplugged the whole day.
  • sshfs and 10.8 are no longer friends. Sublime cannot reliably detect file changes anymore, so instead the guest OS now mounts a shared folder.
  • Having to use mercurial sucks and may deserve a separate post.
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