Tech for Troglodytes: What to do about the Heartbleed Bug

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Bleeding heart in bloom this week, on a computer near you

Shall we take the Heartbleed bug seriously? Yes. We do not want hackers selling our credit card numbers, social security numbers and personalities. Think of it as housekeeping. Nasty but necessary.

Run, don’t walk.

Do these 5 things:

1. Change the passwords for your most important and sensitive sites — banks, credit cards, mortgage payments, utilities, and probably, social media sites. Now. Many sites are getting fixes. Sadly, when fixes are complete, you will have to do this again, and change all of the rest of your passwords too.

2. Use hard-to-crack passwords. See Best Passwords Ever.

3. Sign up for a password manager like Dashlane, LastPass or KeyPass, which will store all your passwords in one place. A manager can speed up the time it takes to generate new passwords with a password generator. Protect your account with a long, goofy password that you can remember, and can’t be cracked. Memorize the password, and store it offline.

4.  Take advantage of two-step sign-in whenever it’s offered. Google offers it. So does WordPress.

5. Check to see if sites you deal frequently with have had their bleeding hearts fixed by going to this site put out by Bruce Schneier: http://filippo.io/Heartbleed/

Good luck!

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Learning the hard way: Scribbler’s Travel Tips

Got any travel tips?  We’re on the road a fair amount, and it would be good to reduce the odds of having to kick myself.  Here are some things learned the hard way:

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Image source: Seeman via Morguefile

1. If you’re at a nice restaurant, and the host or hostess spreads a black napkin on your lap, and a white napkin on your husband/friend/date’s lap, don’t be offended. It doesn’t mean the staff anticipates you spilling red wine on the linen. It’s to prevent the white napkins from getting lint on your black outfit. It’s also grubbing for tips, but don’t be offended by that either. They really are underpaid.

2. Do not pretend to take a picture of your spouse when you’re really taking a picture of a famous actor and his wife sitting behind your spouse. The celebrity couple will not be fooled. The looks they give you, which will show up in your photo, will make you ashamed of yourself. (No picture here. Enough said.)

3. What about purses? Do you carry one? What kind?

For me anyway, it turns out purses aren’t necessary.  Pockets work great. If you don’t believe me, ask any guy. Purses are one more thing to remember, and make you a target for pickpockets. Also, no matter how big your purse is, things still get lost in it. Of course, if you want a purse, that’s fine. Just remember — unless you have a medical condition or a baby, you probably don’t need one.

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Image source: Free Vector Site

4. Your feet are important.  If you pretend they aren’t, they will punish you.

5. If you wouldn’t wear it at home, you won’t want to wear it somewhere else.

On second thought, go for it. No one knows you anyway.

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Image source: Alvimann via Morguefile

Are you a traveler? What’s your favorite place to visit? What’s on your traveling wish list?

What your name says about you.

What does your name mean? Does it suit you? If you’re a blogger, how did you pick your blog title?

If you don’t know the definition of your name, I recommend you drop in to Urban Dictionary, which offers the latest, coolest, most flattering definitions of who your name says you are. For instance, take Julia (ahem):

“a name for girls. Most julia’s are artistic, smart, romantic, beautiful and also very charming. Julia’s can get whatever they want if they try. They can be very sexy so watch out! They are romantics and love old movies, art and books. they love old stuff! They usually aren’t very athletic but if a julia is athletic she’s kick butt! they have great fashion sense and usually look smokin’. A julia will most likely become a mother because they love kids. They are very successful in life and there is just something about them that draws people in. Also they are ah-mazing dancers!
– Julia roberts
– julia stiles
– julia meyerhoff
– julia schneiderman
– julia ormond
– julia de burgo”

Just get me a crown, will ya?

Much better than Dictionary.com, which says Julia is the male form of Julius, then bumps you to this:

“masc. proper name, from L. Julius, name of a Roman gens, perhaps a contraction of *Jovilios “pertaining to or descended from Jove.”

 Ho hum, by jove.

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Thank you wikipedia for your wonderful free photos

From now on, signing my name, Smokin’

Speaking of names, celebrate a new blog name with me! Henceforth, Schrodinger’s Cat is Alive (my former blog name) will remain, alive and dead in it’s box, free for the taking by someone else worthy of such mathematical wonders. In it’s place: Scribbler’s Playhouse. That’s what really goes on here anyway.  Thank you all you writers who drop in and egg me on, providing the impetus to come out as a writer.  Turns out it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

If you’re busy this week and don’t have time to look up the etymology (love that word. Roll it around your tongue. Tastes sweet, doesn’t it?), I’ll look up your name for you. Promise to only tell you the good stuff about yourself, especially if you push the Follow button.

Cheers

Buzz Cut for a Rebel Tree

Ah Spring! The ornamental pear! ImageLambs! Image

Witch hazel, which survived an ice storm!

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Before

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After

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put in a word to the Equinox faeries for this tree, which not only has the misfortune to be located next to a no parking sign, and a fire hydrant, but also, was duly punished for exhibiting  noncompliant brown leaves last summer.

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May you, once again, sprout leaves.

Happy Spring.

Revelstoke, B.C.: 10 tips for non-expert skiers

How’s your ski season going? Where’s your favorite ski area? Are you one of those 55 and over skiers who fly fearlessly between tree wells, leap off cornices, or bounce with liquid knees over moguls the size of boulders. No? You still working work on carving turns and get itchy at high speeds? Does someone like us have any business on the famed powder-snow slopes of Revelstoke, B.C.? YES! If you’ve been there are you going back? If you haven’t read on.

 

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“Mom, Revelstoke is for real skiers,”  – a friend’s son.

Until recently, most alpine skiing at Revelstoke was via Sno-Cat and helicopter. In the early 2000′s, the town decided to plump up the local economy by developing the ski area on local Mt. MacKenzie. The result is a stunning resort, with 5,620 lift-served (1,710 m.) vertical feet, the largest in North America.

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Expect irreverence.

The town shifted almost overnight, according to one local guy who rode up the gondola with us, from a population of retired Italian railroad workers, to 20-something ski jocks.  The place has the feel of ski areas back in the days I learned to ski, full of youngsters who’d do anything — sleep on couches, live in poverty, sling burgers and shovel driveways — to ski. When the snow is good, everybody who can heads to the slopes; and the snow is good on a lot of days. Thirty to forty five feet of snow falls per year.

Every chair has a blue run or green connector, so anybody can get down from anywhere — but, people don’t go all the way to the wilds of British Columbia for runs like you’d find at home. You go for the powder. It is impressive.

CMH Monashees Pastry Chef on the job

This is not me. I wish it was.

The keys to a great visit:

1. If you travel by air to get there, carry on ski essentials.  Our skis didn’t arrive until 36 hours after we did.  A woman in line with those of us whose stuff didn’t make it, was pretty upset that she’d checked her bag with her brand-new ski pants. The airlines will refund purchases and rentals, but it’s a hassle.

2. Build flexibility into your travel schedule. The highways in the area are vulnerable to avalanches and, in the case of sudden thaws, high water. To get to Revelstoke, we flew from Eugene, Oregon, to Seattle, then to Kelowna, B.C., then drove three hours. That went fine, but the return was trickier. The highway from Revelstoke to Kelowna shut down for the 36 hours before our departure. In order to make our flight, we re-routed the drive to the airport, to a 5 hour drive that involved two ferry rides.

3. Speaking of avalanches, ski in bounds. Avalanches on the slopes are a problem whenever there is heavy snow, which is often. The Chairs: Ripper chair is good for (1) beginners, (2) for access to tree runs, which looked too narrow for me, and (3) finishing runs off the North Bowl. It has a long run out at the bottom. We had more fun on Stoke chair. Plenty of access to wide bowls and routes between widely spaced trees, all with deep, snow and light traffic.

4. Accommodations and Food: Sutton Place Lodge at the base of the ski area offers luxury accommodations and ski-in, ski-out convenience. There is, so far, one restaurant, and one bar, so make a reservation. The food is good, and so is the service, but both places can be full of young men, rowdy after a day of double diamond downhill. Alternatively – the town of Revelstoke is a ten minute drive away, charming, offers several hotels for pretty much any budget, restaurants and two well-stocked grocery stores.  Favorite place: The Village Idiot, a local pub with good food, and vintage skis decorating the walls and furniture.

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The Village Idiot Pub logo

5. Get your quads in shape. Chairs are few, and runs are long. Plans are in the works to increase the number of chairs, but for now, one gondola and 2 chairs serve all the runs. Don’t worry, there is more than enough mountain (3,121 acres). If you don’t want to wear yourself out too quickly, pay attention to the directional signs. Missing the bottom of the chair or the mid-mountain gondola means you ski for a long, long way, on terrain that can be relentlessly uneven.  Bottom-to-top-to-bottom can take an hour. Don’t be proud. A ride down the gondola at the end of the day is a godsend if you’re tired, and the view can’t be beat.

6. The terrain lives up to its reputation as “varied,” so polish up skills.  One run can be steep, bumpy, groomed, wide, and narrow — all of the above. Don’t want to take lessons?  The internet is full of useful mini lessons and reviews on how to ski better, like this one (no affiliation with this company):

7.  Equipment: Take advantage of the powder by experimenting with rentals. If you haven’t already, try a “rocker” ski, or an all mountain ski that is longer and fatter than what you are used to. The resort rentals are kind of beat up, but fine for experimenting with. Know your waist size, as in the skinny mid-section of the ski. A narrower waist is easier to turn, fatter is better in powder. Look for a 85 to 100 cm waist for intermediate skiing, 100-110 for advanced skiers.

8. Layer up, dress warmly: with so much vertical, there can be a big difference in temperature at the bottom and the top of the runs, and there can be a lot of time to cool off between runs.

9. Black diamond runs are manageable for most intermediate to advanced skiers — Steep, but not too steep, gentler slopes toward the bottom. The double black diamonds looked intimidating, and I did not attempt any. Maybe for my 60th.

10. Enjoy the show. Serious skiers are everywhere, demonstrating how it’s done.

How’s your ski season going? Where’s your favorite ski area?

Books on the Nightstand: The end of the world as we know it

I’m on a post-apocalypse novel jag.  Maybe it’s because of the weather. Maybe it’s the drumbeat of news about our impending doom from climate change, or pandemic, or what have you. I should be sitting vigils with the Keystone Pipeline protestors, or volunteering to sign people up for flu vaccinations, but baby it’s cold out there.  

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So, instead of making myself useful, I’m curled up with books about what happens after the collapse of civilization.

Here’s what’s on my nightstand:

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The Dog Stars, Peter Heller. Evocative, terse, compelling. I could keep going with the adjectives. This is a gorgeous book.  My husband checked it out of the library, and barely spoke to me for three days while he plowed through it.  I couldn’t put it down, either. The author, Peter Heller, is a contributor to NPR, Outside MagazineMen’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure. He writes like the outdoorsman he is, with spare, almost cryptic prose. Even though the style would ordinarily drive me crazy — no quotation marks, and full of incomplete sentences — somehow, it works. The characters feel utterly genuine. Protagonist Hig flies a small plane across desolate landscapes, hunts, fishes and mourns the loss of trout.  Most people, including his wife, have died from a flu-like plague. His companions are a dog and a gun-toting survivalist who keeps the riffraff, i.e. everyone else, at bay. Everything is more or less limping along in an acceptable balance of survival of the fittest, except that Hig is haunted by a mysterious radio transmission that he is dying to check out.  Where Cornack McCarthy’s The Road  is bleak, Heller’s book balances futility with hope in a way that pulls you almost gently, insidiously, and wonderfully into the story.

***

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Wool, Hugh Howey. Wool is a book for every indie writer’s heart, not just because it was self-published and went on to become a New York Times best seller. It’s gripping. Might as well give up on the chores you’re already putting off and let yourself be sucked in.  Picture a devastated, toxic landscape and a community of people living in an underground shelter, a “silo”, hundreds of stories deep. They’ve adapted pretty well, what with grow lights and a pretty good source of energy. The biggest taboo? To ask to go ‘outside.’ The citizens are loosely guided by a mayor, but it quickly becomes clear that she is not in charge. But who is?

As soon as I finished the book, I went right out and got the second in the series.

***

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The Seneca Scourge, Carrie Rubin. Rubin is another indie author and one of my favorite bloggers. She is self-effacing, kind, supportive — and funny.  I’m sure she won’t mind if I slip in a link to her Elf on a Shelf post from the holidays. Anyway, in this, Rubin’s first novel, a young infectious disease specialist who finds herself on more or less permanent call during a modern-day plague, discovers a potential remedy, and what appears to be a conspiracy to keep the cure secret. Rubin’s background as an MD makes the story all too plausible, and she spins the story out of the medical thriller genre with a twist of — stop here if you don’t want any spoilers — science fiction. Suffice it to say, I got my first flu shot in 15 years after this one, and now give dirty looks to people who cough on planes.  Fire up the tea pot, get out your fleece, put up your feet and settle down to Rubin’s fast-paced thriller.  I’m looking forward to her soon-to-be published second book.

What are you reading these days?

Tech for Troglodytes: Five steps to protect your online privacy

You know what’s creepy? Those ads that show up on the sidebar, which have clearly tapped into topics you’ve searched online.  For instance, type “snow” into your search engine. The next thing you know, your e-mail page and search results are loaded with advertisements for ski resorts.

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This morning, searched ski resorts, and e-mailed with a friend about her application for a massage therapist license. Ta Da! Google is on it.

Welcome to the Filter Bubble, where search engines not only share your personal information with advertisers, but also censor what you read by directing you to sites you are already inclined to agree with.

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The Russians aren’t the only ones who try to ignore people they disagree with.

If you regularly click on Huffington Post and Vanity Fair, you’ll get one kind of result.

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Aristocratic heads on pikes. Photo source: Wikipedia

If you click on the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times, you get different results.

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This can be handy if you’re in a hurry and looking for something specific, say violin strings or orthopedic shoes. But what if you want to make an intimate inquiry about, say, Viagra (for a friendof course), and don’t want sex ads in your sidebar? What if you are looking for unbiased information about a topic that is controversial and complicated, say, genetically modified foods?

Check out alternative search engines, that is, alternatives to the big engines like Google, Yahoo and AOL. There are several which do not collect personal data, are free, do a good job of filtering spam and offer the same results for the same searches, to everyone. Here are four:

  • YaCy allows searches of the entire public internet, with no censorship. Everyone’s content is equal, and search requests are not stored
  • Apache Solr is another stand-alone server, reputed to operate like YaCy. I haven’t done much with this myself, because the language on the website is over my head, but reputable tech websites like Mashable recommend it.
  • Izquick allows you to search several search engines quickly and privately. It bills itself as the most powerful and private search engine in the world.
  • Here’s the one I chose:

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Duck Duck Go (yes, named after the kid’s game Duck, Duck, Goose) does not collect or share personal information.  It uses software that directs internet traffic through a network of 5000 or so relays, helping protect privacy.  Searches are compiled from about 50 secondary sources such as Wikipedia, Yahoo! Search BOSS, Wikipedia, Wolfram AlphaBing and others.

Here’s how to set it up:

  1. Go to the Duck Duck Go website, click on “add to Browser” (lower left corner), click on the downloaded file.
  2. Find the newly installed icon in your toolbar

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    Can you see the Duck? Try squinting

  3. Click on it. You are given the option to have all your searches done by Duck Duck (by default), or not.Screen shot 2014-01-17 at 2.36.09 PM
  4. Note the option to “remember last search” in case you like to retrace your steps; and the “featured bangs,”  which allow you to search particular sites, by putting an exclamation point in front of the listed code, !yt for Youtube, for instance.
  5. The web browser I use, Safari, does not make it easy to install Duck Duck directly, but it does offer it as an extension. To install,  click on Safari >> Preferences >> Extensions >> Get Extensions (button in lower right corner) >> More (button on far right) >> Search tools >> scroll down to the Safari approved Duck Duck version and install.

Warning: the Duck Duck Go search engine does a good job of directing you to unbiased search results, but

  • It does not protect you from government spying.  The NSA can bust through any protective coding (thank you Edward Snowden for getting the word out). If you fill your searches with words like bomb and al Qaeda, you might well become a person of particular interest to shadowy organizations, no matter what search engine you use.
  • Duck Duck Go involves internet searches only, not to e-mail. If you mention something like “massage therapy” in an e-mail (like I did this morning) you will find massage ads in your e-mail sidebar.
  • If you want to do research directly from original sources, look to some of the other alternatives listed above.  Duck Duck is a hybrid that uses other search engines to filter and crowd source information.
  • Historical searches are not saved by Duck Duck.  If you routinely look up old searches, use an engine that collects your data.

That’s it. Do you protect the privacy of your searches?  If so, how? Do you think it’s worth it?

Mini Militants: Five Rules for Feeding Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds can weigh less than a penny, and have heart rates as high as 1200 beats per minute.

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Photo credit: Pslawinski, Wikipedia Commons

How do they stay alive in winter?

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Our hummingbird feeder

They have tricks:

They weave their nests with spider silk, which must be pretty warm.

They sit around most of the time.

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Photo credit: Morguefile

They consume more than their body weight in nectar (or sugar water) every day and supplement with insects.

They fiercely defend their territory from invaders.

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Photo credit: Morguefile

When food is scarce, they slow down their heart rates, as low as 80 beats per minute.

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They respect the flag. Photo credit: Morguefile

They train humans. I recently bragged to friends about single-handedly saving the hummingbirds from a cold spell by thawing out the feeder two or three times a day. My friends confessed they had all done the same.  We’re foot soldiers to one ounce generals.

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Photo Credit: Morguefile

FIVE RULES FOR HELPING HUMMINGBIRDS SURVIVE IN WINTER.

(1) Standard fare: 1 cup white sugar to 4 cups water. Heat to almost boiling so the nectar doesn’t ferment and intoxicate the hummingbirds, although that might be funny. In extreme cold, it’s OK increase the concentration of sugar, maybe 1 1/4 to 4, but return to normal concentration when whether warms. Too much sugar will cause harm to the birds.

(2) Healthy sugars for humans are bad for hummingbirds. Brown, raw and turbinado sugars can be fatal over time. Use white sugar.

(3) When it’s below freezing, take your feeder in at night, or rotate two feeders, allowing one to thaw while the other remains on duty.

(4) Change the food every few days so you don’t start any salmonella epidemics.

(5) Pipe cleaners and old tooth brushes work well to clean black stuff, like mold, off the feeder.

Follow these rules and you are qualified to be a hummingbird slave. The birds will reward you by appearing daily, even when it’s twelve below. The Aztecs believed hummingbirds brought sexual potency and skill at war, but there is no scientific proof, so admire and envy hummingbirds for their amazing metabolism, and wish the same for ourselves, especially at this time of year.

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Let’s MRAP the holidays

Hurry! Get your Mine Resistant Ambush Protection Vehicle today!

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Merry Christmas from Kabul. U.S. Navy photo by Capt. Jane Campbell via Wikimedia Commons

Available now at your local military surplus outlet, this 19 ton vehicle can travel through three feet of water, and is built to withstand ballistic arms fire, minefields, IEDs, nuclear, biological, and chemical environments. Just the thing for the local law enforcement agencies or campus police.  Now available for the unbelievably low price of — FREE!

A hundred and sixty five happy law enforcement customers have already taken advantage of this amazing offer, including the campus police of Ohio State University. OSU campus police chief Paul Denton looks forward to using it for officer rescues, hostage situations and bomb calls. When asked if a bomb-proof, machine gun turreted vehicle might make campus police more like military police, Denton, replied — not at all! Mostly it will be used to drive officers around on game days.  Besides, the gun turret is being removed.

Better hurry! Unclaimed MRAPs are “cost prohibitive to retrograde and reset,” according to an assistant secretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness, and will be dismantled and sold to Afghan scrap metal dealers. Not that the Afghans won’t put the scraps to good use.  They call it ‘gold dust.’ And so will you!  As one OSU,  student mused, “while giving campus police the authority to operate a vehicle designed for war is incredibly intimidating,” the bottom line? “This thing is really cool and I want to drive it.”

This holiday, buy something your favorite law enforcement official will really love. Head down to your local military surplus outlet and get your MRAP today!

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Grab Your Growler: Four Things We Don’t want to Know about Recycling

In 1984 the local garbage hauler launched curbside pick-up of recyclables in our town. We were issued a small blue box for glass, big blue bin for co-mingled recyclables, gray bin for yard waste, green bin for garbage. It’s a good feeling to get everything all sorted out.

How are we doing? Official statistics look good. In 1992, 9 million pounds of material was “repurposed.” This past year, 62 million pounds. Yeah!

Wait. What does “repurposed” mean?

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Saint Lucia and her gouged out eyes. Sometimes I’d rather not see, either. Photo: wikicommons

1. Glass: The machines which sort glass are expensive. Our town doesn’t have one.  Best case: glass is crushed and used as drainage material or for roads. Usually it goes to the dump.

2. Plastic:  Most is sent to China for recycling. Last year China announced a new Green Fence policy, and stopped taking all but the cleanest, tidiest bales of plastic, and only certain types.  If it there is a number 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 on the bottom of a container, China won’t take it, so it’s probably getting dumped in a landfill.

3. Cardboard: Has to be clean.  Greasy pizza boxes with cheese stuck on them? To the dump.

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Not to diss the pie chart, or the efforts, but what this shows is a lot of stuff not recovered. Source: The Portland Mercury, “Oregon Knows Its Garbage”

4. Block styrofoam.  This has never been picked up curbside, but for awhile there were places willing to take it. Not now. Everybody’s storage spaces are full of the stuff.

Luckily, several local breweries offer a waste-free option to drown our sorrows with while we contemplate next moves.

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Beer jug, refillable at local breweries.

How goes the recycling efforts in your town?  Time to lose ourselves in the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch?