Victorinox Mini Champ Alox “Swiss Army” knife feature guide

I’m not really a “knife guy,” but for most of my adult life I have carried some variety of Victorinox “Swiss Army” knife around in my pocket almost everywhere I go. I just find that very often I need the blade to cut open a box, or the small scissors to cut hangnails, or the screwdriver, and having an unobtrusive object in my pocket that can handle these tasks is very convenient.

“Unobtrusive” is key. When I’m not using it, I want to forget it’s even there. It can’t be too heavy or too big, so I really like the smallest knives they make… usually a variety of the Classic SD. But when I (once again) misplaced the latest in a string of those tiny knives, and decided I needed to buy (yet another) replacement, I splurged on the Mini Champ Alox.

Most Victorinox knives have an outer shell made of plastic, but they also make slim profile variants with this “Alox” outer shell… embossed aluminum with anodic oxidation — hence the “Alox” name. Since these are thinner, they usually lose a couple of features — typically the removable toothpick and tweezers (and in some cases, the ballpoint pen or flashlight). I owned a Classic SD Alox that I really liked, but then I realized that with the thinner shell, the Mini Champ Alox was exactly the same size as the Classic SD, but instead of three tools, it had eight. Yes, it also costs 3 times as much, but it was too intriguing not to buy.

I really do love it and would feel lost without it. But I’ve come to realize that I pretty much actually only use the three tools on one side, and almost never touch the five on the other side. In fact, I have trouble even remembering the purpose of some of those tools. So for my own future reference, I’ve checked online sources, and documented their functions in the annotated image below:

So… yeah. Some of these, I really just don’t get. I don’t know how many people use a cuticle pusher; personally it is not something I have ever used or wanted to use (in fact, pushing my cuticles back is something I find so unpleasant that it’s nearly a phobia). And yet, one entire blade of this pocket knife is apparently devoted to that sole function.

Likewise, I don’t ever really need an orange peeler — the only oranges I eat semi-regularly are mandarins, which peel very easily without a tool. That particular blade has two functions; the tip is apparently a “scraper,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. My understanding was that some part of this was supposed to be a fish scaler but again… not something I need. (Update: the flat edge between the hook and the pointy tip is sharpened, so I suppose that edge, not the point, is the scraper.)

Then there’s the tool that is alternately referred to as a “letter opener” and an “emergency blade.” One of those functions sounds extremely banal and the other gives me visions of… well… this:

Dr. Hibbert makes use of his trusty pocket knife. Source:

I do actually use the nail file/cleaner and screwdriver/ruler from time to time. But for sure, it’s those three bottom tools that make this an essential daily “carry” for me. (Yes, I hate the “nouning” of verbs… almost as much as the “verbing” of nouns.) And the funny thing is, two of the three are also on the Classic SD.

That last tool does a lot of heavy lifting for the overall utility of this knife, with its 3-in-1 design. The bottle opener… works. The wire stripper… probably works. I actually do need to use a wire stripper from time to time, but not often enough to remember it’s on here. But the Phillips screwdriver… oh man, is that handy. Except…

Except, the way the flathead screwdriver is designed, it actually works on just about any Phillips screw you may come across. And it’s part of the regular Classic SD. There’s also one problem with the Phillips screwdriver on here. Last night I needed to use it, and I couldn’t open it. Today I investigated, and the issue seems to be that at some point I used it on a screw that must have been made of a harder alloy than the screwdriver itself, and it nicked/bent the tip slightly. That was getting it stuck in the closed position. I was able to pry it open (using, of all things, an iPhone SIM card remover tool), and then I filed down the edges of it using… the file on another, larger (knock-off no-name) Swiss Army knife. Now it works again.

Anyway… my day started off just trying to figure out why the Phillips screwdriver in my Mini Champ Alox was stuck, and now after writing this, I’ve come to realize that this entire tool is kind of a waste of money and a failure of design. In the future, if I lose this knife, I most definitely will not be getting another one. The extra tools are kind of useless and the extra expense is unjustifiable. Stick with the Classic SD, or maybe the Rambler. It’s basically the Classic SD with the 3-in-1 blade added.

Sports commentary quote of the year

“Tadej seems to — along with Eddy Merckx — have torn that script up and tossed it in the bin, and lit the bin on fire and threw the fire into the mouth of a volcano.”

—Bob Roll, during yesterday’s broadcast of La Flèche Wallonne, talking about how Tadej Pogacar seems to be defying all understanding of what’s possible for a rider during the course of a cycling season

WooCommerce code snippet: convert the Order Notes field into an EU VAT ID field

The scenario: My WooCommerce store has no need for the Order Notes field. In fact, up until now I had it hidden on the checkout page. But what my site does need is an EU VAT ID field. The portion of my business that takes place in Europe is, so far, well below the VAT reporting threshold, but I am increasingly being asked by customers to provide an invoice containing their VAT ID.

Well, my site does already produce PDF invoices. But there was no way for customers to include their VAT ID on the invoice. Until now.

A simple code snippet converts the existing WooCommerce Order Notes field into an EU VAT ID field, including changing it from a <textarea> to an <input type="text"> field. Put this in your theme’s functions.php file, or wherever else is appropriate in your setup:

add_filter('woocommerce_checkout_fields', function($fields) {
    $fields['order']['order_comments'] = array_merge(
            'class' => array('eu-only'),
            'label' => 'EU VAT ID',
            'type' => 'text',
    return $fields;
}, 10, 1);

That’s it. You can stop right here. But you may notice a line in there that seems unnecessary: 'class' => array('eu-only')

What’s that all about? Well, I’m using that with a bit of jQuery to enhance the functionality: only showing my new EU VAT ID field when the user’s selected Billing Country is an EU country.

Here’s a JavaScript function you can use to dynamically show/hide elements with an .eu-only CSS class, depending on a given passed-in value:

function showHideEUOnly(val) {
    var eu = ['AT', 'BE', 'BG', 'HR', 'CY', 'CZ', 'DK', 'EE', 'FI', 'FR', 'DE', 'GR', 'HU', 'IE', 'IT', 'LV', 'LT', 'LU', 'MT', 'NL', 'PL', 'PT', 'RO', 'SK', 'ES', 'SE', 'GB'];
    if (eu.indexOf(val) != -1) {
    else {

I obtained the list of EU VAT-applicable countries here, and I decided to include 'GB' (the United Kingdom) in the list, despite… y’know, uh… Brexit, because I have the vague impression that UK customers may still be impacted by VAT policies. (Being a dumb American, I don’t know much about it. I think maybe the UK has its own VAT now? Anyway, suffice to say, you may want to modify your list of 2-digit country codes in the eu array, as applicable to your situation.)

This function isn’t going to do anything unless it’s called though, so let’s do that. Here’s a bit of jQuery that will call it both on the initial page load and any time the Billing Country field changes:

jQuery(function() {
    if (jQuery('body').hasClass('woocommerce-checkout')) {
        jQuery('select[name="billing_country"]').on('change', function() {

Both of these JavaScript snippets can go in a script.js file in your theme, or wherever else is appropriate in your setup.

That’s the end of the story, but there’s more…

Incidentally, there’s more to my custom setup. I’ve significantly modified the layout of my checkout page. I’ve got WooCommerce configured for billing addresses only, with this setting in Shipping Options:

I then used CSS to hide everything else in the second column (including, up until now, the Order Notes field) and moved the product summary and payment information up into that space. Explaining all of that is outside the scope of this post, but one thing you may find useful is my CSS for hiding the “Additional Information” <h3> heading. This selector is a bit of overkill, but it works:

body.woocommerce-checkout .woocommerce > form.checkout .col2-set > .col-2 .woocommerce-additional-fields > h3:first-child { display: none; }

There’s context in my CSS file to justify all of that, but you should be able to accomplish the same with just this:

.woocommerce-additional-fields > h3 { display: none; }

On effective altruism, longtermism, crypto bro billionaires, and the boringness of maintenance

This morning I was reading a Vox article entitled How effective altruism let Sam Bankman-Fried happen, and if that title isn’t enough to scare you off, the first few paragraphs probably will be.

Of course, I am a glutton for punishment, especially when people in their third decade think they have solutions to all of the world’s problems. Not to be a crusty curmudgeon, even though as a “Gen X”er it seems to be my destiny. I just feel like you have to have first-hand memories of the 1980s for proper context on what’s happening today. Or maybe not, but you at least need to be even more cynical about the claimed promise of crypto than the author here. You know, cynical enough to not take the money in the first place.

The problem actually is longtermism

One section of the article begins with the subhead “The problem isn’t longtermism.” But I would argue that, in fact, it is the problem. Or rather, it’s one of a cluster of problems that all come out of the heads of people who think they are smarter than everyone else and somehow have The Answers that are beyond the grasp of mere mortals.

It’s the same mentality that lets a person make the choices (often building on past choices by their forbearers, the ones who allowed them to be “born on third base, thinking they’d hit a triple”) that lead to becoming a billionaire in the first place. It’s a status that can only be achieved on the backs of others.

But whether you’re a billionaire striver, an aspiring Mars colonist, just an ordinary “maker,” or a grandiose philosopher of the distant future, the common thread is that it’s more fun, more inspiring, to invent something — to inhabit a fresh, clean, newly-constructed mental space — than to do the messy, mundane, boring work of maintaining what we already have. Of cleaning up other people’s messes. Of learning how someone else’s invention works, because they’ve moved on to the Next Big Thing and now you’re the one charged with keeping the previous Next Big Thing up and running.

I get it. It’s the same for me, in many ways. I’m a “maker.” I work as a consultant, brought in to create new systems, that then get handed off to internal staff to keep running, while I move on to the next client. But I’m not claiming to solve all of the world’s problems; I’m just making something new that people ask me for when their old thing stops working.

OK, the problem actually is billionaires. Period.

It’s dangerous when the means to solve society’s big problems are concentrated in the hands of a small group of billionaires, and we are left to trust their vision for how that money should be used. These are the guys (and it’s pretty much always guys — bros, if you will) who get that thrill out of grandiose thinking, who don’t want to deal with the messy realities all around us. They don’t want to fix problems. They want to invent something, clean and shiny and new. Don’t clean up Earth; move to Mars. Don’t improve public transportation, distract us with ludicrous promises of tunnels and tubes, so we buy your fancy new cars instead. Don’t do the hard, complicated work to improve the actual lives of the billions of humans who are living in poverty today; concoct some imaginary future event that might kill billions of people, and invent a fancy new high-tech gizmo that will prevent that event from happening.

Later on, the article does get into a lot of the problems with big longtermist philosophy and silver spoon crypto bros who think they understand all of the world’s problems better than anyone who actually has any of those problems in their own lives.

But ultimately, for me, it all simply comes back to the idea that billionaires shouldn’t exist. And since they shouldn’t exist, they shouldn’t be making decisions about how to fund solutions to society’s problems.

On canceling my Minnesota Twins season tickets, and the nature of professional sports

I’ve had Twins season tickets since Target Field opened in 2010. Not a full-season package, mind you. I don’t see how anyone who works for a living has time for 80 baseball games a year. Or even 40. But I’m now in my 13th year of a 20-game package, and most years (minor inconveniences like pandemics aside), I’ve actually managed to make it to 16 or 17 of them.

This year I’ve had a lot going on, and have had to reschedule (ticket exchange is a nice new benefit in the past couple of years) or miss entirely over half of the games in my package. Combine that with increasing concession prices with limited options (especially for someone who doesn’t eat meat), few other season ticket holder perks I find interesting, and the perennial futility of this particular team, and each year it has been harder and harder for me to justify renewing.

Finally over the weekend, when I missed two games in three days due to more schedule conflicts — mixed with a dash of struggling to care about a team that is once again failing to live up to even modest expectations of success — I decided I was done with it, and I emailed my rep to say I want to cancel for next season.

Last night was my first game since canceling. And what a game it was! The Twins had just finished getting swept in a 4-game series by the division rival Cleveland Guardians, a series that knocked the Twins — who had dominated the division in the first half of the season — down to third place, and below .500 for the first time since April.

But they came roaring back in last night’s game against the lowly Kansas City Royals with three home runs, and by the middle of the fifth inning, the crowd was beginning to notice that Joe Ryan also had a — shhh! don’t say it out loud! — no-hitter going.

By the end of the seventh inning, he still had a no-hitter going, and the excitement in the stadium was palpable. We might be witnessing Twins history… their first no-hitter in over a decade! But Kansas City was not making it easy. Pitch after pitch after pitch was fouled off, and by the time the last out was recorded in the seventh, Ryan had already thrown 106 pitches.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli is a serious analytics guy. The whole game is numbers to him, to the detriment of fan excitement or even a moment of unpredictability. And one of the biggest numbers is that magic “100” pitch count. Once your starter hits 100 pitches, he’s done, no matter what. So I knew there was no way he was going to let Ryan come back out in the eighth, no matter how much of a case he might be pleading in the dugout.

So it was… Jovani Moran kept the no-hitter going through the eighth, but with one out in the ninth, he walked two batters, then gave up a double. The no-hitter was gone, as was the shutout. In the end, the Twins won, 6 to 3, but it felt worse than a loss.

I woke up this morning still thinking about the game, and getting philosophical about it, and about my waning enthusiasm for this team I have loved (at least, in fits and starts) since I was in middle school and they won their first World Series.

What is the purpose of professional sports? They are entertainment. That is their only purpose.

Fans pay a great deal of money to be entertained, and the people who comprise the “sports industrial complex” — professional athletes, coaches, staffs, broadcasters, etc. — make their very comfortable livings from the money those fans pay.

But guys like Rocco seem to think sports exist for some other reason unto themselves. That they matter in some way apart from the fans.

They do not.

If you are not making the game entertaining for the fans, you are failing at your job. And if you allow the game to be entertaining for the first 7/9, and then make a decision that ruins the remaining 2/9, you’re still failing… even if you win.

But here’s the thing: even if sports did exist for a reason unto themselves, Rocco’s approach is not going to lead to success. A conservative, risk-averse, analytics-obsessed approach can only take you so far. Baseball needs an element of risk, of surprise. Bold, unexpected, sometimes irrational decisions are what make a good team great, or at least make an average team fun to watch.

The best the Twins will ever be with Rocco’s approach is “good.” Yes they touched greatness in 2019, with their first 100+ win season since 1965, and setting an MLB record for team home runs in a season, but something strange was going on in the entire MLB that season with juiced balls or something. Then, of course, that team that was so dominant in the regular season still instantly fell apart in the postseason, because that’s what the Twins do. And that’s never going to show up in your analytics.