Book Notes

Book Notes: To Kill A Mockingbird

We will be seeing the new production of To Kill A Mockingbird in a few weeks so I decided to re-read the book on the kindle I received for Christmas.

Having read nothing but non-fiction for a long time now I forgot how much I enjoy the sensation of getting lost in the atmosphere created by good fiction writing. Lee does a good job evoking the feel, the routine, and the patterns of a neighborhood from a kid’s perspective. I feel like my own feet have worn a path in the ground from the Finch’s to the schoolyard over these past few days.

It’s interesting that the book ends with Scout seeing her neighborhood from Boo’s perspective and really underlines how important that notion of empathy is that runs through the book.

Also I had completely over-simplified the story in my head over time and forgotten just how much this is a story about class structure as it is about race. Such a great and important book and am glad for the experience of having read it again.

The book’s message of empathy, the importance of seeing the world from someone else’s shoes and how most people are nice “when you finally see them” seem more relevant now than ever.


Mac radio nirvana

Setting up my new iMac, I’ve found a nice combination of apps to make listening to radio at my desk a real pleasure.

[update Jan 8, 2020: this setup still works great but I have also purchased the subscription to Triode and also use the Mac desktop version of the app when at my desk]

First up is Triode on my iPhone. A terrific iOS application from a long-time Apple software developer, the iconfactory. On my drive out to Princeton, I lose reception to WBGO* (an NPR jazz radio station out of Newark, NJ) so being able to stream the station over the internet is necessary. Triode makes the whole internet-radio station experience much better by looking up track info and making artwork available, etc.

Paired with Airfoil Satellite (also from a long-time Apple developer, Rogue Amoeba) installed on my iMac, I can send the audio from my iPhone to my iMac as if it were just another Airplay device. I use some combo of Airfoil, Airfoil Satellite and and the Airfoil iOS remote all around my house on Mac hardware of various vintages. It is a fantastic audio utility—my only grudge here is that it doesn’t send stereo output to my pair of HomePods but I think that is an Apple limitation more than an Airfoil limitation.

A few notes:

  • My iMac sends audio output via 1/8” connector to one of these cool Tripath solid state mini-amps. I love this thing and have a few of them around the house. Sounds great. Easily powers a pair of bookshelf speakers.NewImage
  • I can’t get the WQXR Holiday Station to stream on Triode. The app, thoughtfully, has a way to add a new station manually using the stream’s URL but after spending a while inspecting WNYC’s page code/resources, I can’t find the URL. Would love it if anyone can share the actual URL.
  • *I support WBGO with a donation and if you’re a jazz fan, might want to consider the same!
Post Tech

Essential Mac Apps – 2019 edition

This week I’ve been building up my new iMac from a base-install of Mojave. I have a text file that lists all of the apps that I had installed on my dead MacBook Pro (and, good backups, thankfully), but instead of just reinstalling all of the apps I had, in the spirit of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, I’m just installing the apps that are essential to my intentional use. We will see how this goes!

Here’s what I’ve got so far as apps that are absolutely essential for me:

  • Things – best todo list manager ever. Installed on and syncs with all of my iOS devices.
  • DayOne – best journal application ever. Installed on and syncs with all of my iOS devices.
  • Reeder – my RSS Reader of choice. Linked to a Feedly account (but only because that was the free/easy migration path from Google’s RSS days)
  • Byword – my Markdown/editor for the past year or so. I use this on the desktop and iA Writer on my iOS devices. Both editors read from the same iCloud folders.
  • Spark – returning to this email client because I can never get the default to mirror what is going on in my Google Inbox in any relevant, useful way. My fault probably, but I’m tried of futzing with it and Spark, generally, just works.
  • MarsEdit – where I write/edit weblog stuff. Though, notably, my first drafts usually go in Byword or iA Writer depending on what device I’m working on.
  • Pixlemator – been using this forever. you never know when you need some layer-based image manipulation.
  • TextMate – No idea why/how this ended up as my programming tool of choice but I can not remember ever not using it. Always been very happy with its syntax highlighting regardless of what language I’m in.

When I’m remotely working for Princeton University Press:

  • MS Office 365 (Mac versions, including Outlook for mail)
  • Teams, thankfully, runs on my iOS devices, so I don’t really ever have to spend too much time in Windows, but when I do there’s . . .
  • Parallels with . . .
  • SQL Server Management Studio because I need a SQL client.

Sort-of essential/system utilities stuff that I’ve installed in addition to my “essential” apps:

  • Spotify
  • Backblaze (offsite backup for all the Macs in my house)
  • iStat Menus (nerdy, probably unnecessary)
  • Mosaic (nerdy, necessary)
  • SuperDuper (for my local backups. Easiest most-bulletproof backups ever)
  • Alfred (new to me but needed text expansion and a better Spotify interface, so. . . ) and the Alfred Spotify Mini Player
  • Linen background from Initial Charge

Brydge Keyboard vs Studio Neat Canopy for 11-inch iPad Pro

My first immediate inital impression of the Brydge keyboard for the 11-inch iPad Pro is that it feels like the keyboard is too small and it won’t work out, not that I have huge hands or anything but because I am a pretty damn fast touch typist and the size of the keys makes me just a little bit too aware of what key I’m hitting, like I have to be aware of aiming my fingertips just a little bit more than I do on a full size keyboard.

Even though the Apple Magic keyboard, coupled with the Canopy case from Studio Neat has some shortcomings of its own that I detail below, the Brydge is not for me and I am going to send it back.

Keyboards compare


I can still type pretty quickly on the Brydge but make more errors on it and it just feels cramped a bit compared to the Apple Magic keyboard that I usually type on.

That said, with the Brydge I can sit on my couch with my feet up and the whole ipad/Keyboard combination balances great on my lap, way better than the Studio Neat case coupled with the magic keyboard. The Brydge feels so much more stable.

That’s an overall feeling about the Brydge keyboard: it just feels solid and stable. It is much heavier than I expected, which no doubt contributes to its stability on my lap.

And the little clamps on the side that hold the iPad feel much more substantial than i expected and the resistance on the hinge is also really spectacular. Not sure how well/long that resistance will hold up but for now it ‘s great.

Compared to the Studio Neat case, the Brydge feels like a much more solid and stable solution (especially when using it on my lap) and were it not for its cramped size, I would adopt it in a heartbeat. In fact, if you have a 12.9-inch iPad Pro I couldn’t see using it without the Brydge keyboard. But on the 11, it is too cramped.

Here’s a quick photo to show the size comparison:

IMG 0661

Depends on how you use your iPad

If you have an 11-inch iPad Pro, it really comes down to what you mostly use it for. Shopping? Browsing RSS feeds? Quick emails? The Brydge is absolutely your best bet.

But for me the iPad is a portable writing device. I love the distraction-free writing in iA Writer, especially in portrait mode with the Apple Magic keyboard. It is a focus, writing output machine with nothing standing between me and my thoughts.

Downsides of the Studio Neat + Apple Magic Keyboard

The downside of course is that the Studio Neat solution is not nearly as stable on my lap as the Brydge keyboard, but it is stable enough. Over the past few weeks I’ve figured out how to keep it mostly from wobbling off of my legs when I sit on the couch.

The other downside of the Studio Neat setup is that while it protects your keyboard, it does little to provide any protection for your iPad. So I continue to just toss my iPad in my briefcase with the Studio Neat case and hope for the best. That, and when I’m walking around the office at work from meeting to meeting it feels sort of weird to have to undo the case and setup the iPad on it at the start of each meeting.

And, importantly, I need to always remember to turn off the keyboard before I fold it up lest the F8 key gets pressed by the folding case (and it’s always the F8 key) which is, of course, the Play button and The Cars You Might Think starts playing. I’ve ended many a meeting over the past few weeks with my iPad playing that song as folks filter out of the conference room.

My iPad is a portable writing device for me and the difference between writing on the Apple Magic Keyboard and the Brydge keyboard is night and day.


Hue bulbs not quite bright enough

Man, I wish I had thought of this earlier!

I love my Philips Hue setup. If you’re a parent of a kid who gets up every day at, say, 4:50am, there’s nothing better than being able to come downstairs on an early December morning to some very dim orange-hued lights and Windam Hill playing low on the stereo HomePods (thanks iOS automation!)

Keeps everyone chill, right?

But now that it’s winter and dark I’m thinking my hue bulbs are not quite bright enough in the late afternoon. Leave it to reddit to come up with a solution:

Now I can put two Hue bulbs in some of the larger lamps. The dingus is on its way, will try it out tomorrow.

Follow up: awesome! Highly recommended. If you want a brighter setup with your hue bulbs, definitely pick up a couple of these socket adapters, well worth it to help brighten up the long, long nights of winter.