I scored a great deal on a NAD receiver/amplifier (with a phono preamp!) recently and finally had a chance to run it through its paces into my KEF Q150s. I primarily listen to vinyl through this setup but also have an older AirPort Express going into an outboard DAC via optical out so that I can stream music from Apple Music and Spotify via AirPlay from my iPad/iPhone.

Which is how I stumbled across the opportunity to check out some of Apple’s new Dolby Atmos versions of albums. First up was a quick run through Rush’s Moving Pictures. The Dolby Atmos logo showed up under the album art and I sent Tom Sawyer over to the NAD via AirPlay ready to have my socks blown off.

And it sounded like garbage. I did some A/B between the Apple version and the Spotify version and the plain old Spotify version sounded way better. So I did some digging and it turns out I was doing it all wrong.

The thing with Atmos-enabled albums is they should only be played on Atmos-capable speakers/headphones (like AirPod Pros or HomePods via Apple TV) not on a pair of regular KEF’s. It took me a while to figure out that it’s important to sanity check the Music settings on your iOS device to make sure everything is all cool before sending music over AirPlay.

When you go to Settings->Music->Dolby Atmos on your iPhone or iPad make sure it’s not set to Always On! If you put it on Automatic what happens is if you are playing through AirPod Pros (or other Atmos-enabled speaker) is that it plays that Atmos-version of the album but if you AirPlay to a regular stereo, it plays the Lossless instead.

I confirmed this and now when I choose to AirPlay to my HiFi system the logo under Moving Pictures changes from “Dolby Atmos” to “Lossless.” Pretty cool.

So, the regular stereo Lossless stuff sounds, as expected, pretty excellent through the NAD->KEF setup. Also, the Atmos stuff sounds pretty cool through the AirPod Pros I have, not sure if it’s anything more than a novelty at this point. Some mixes just sound a little wider but others (I stumbled on I Want You Back by Jackson 5) you can really hear the soundstage way more distinctly in the Atmos version as opposed to the plain stereo version.

I don’t do a lot of serious listening through my AirPods but if you have a pair and want to hear something really cool, click this link and wait about 10 seconds and then start to turn your head from side to side. Pretty cool, right?

So the next step here is to check out some Atmos stuff on my pair of stereo HomePods. I have a pair of the original HomePods and they sound killer as a stereo pair. Unfortunately you can’t airplay right from your phone to the HomePods and get Atmos-enabled sound. Instead you need to send audio from an Apple TV to the HomePods to get the Atmos features. Which isn’t too big of deal since we’ve got an Apple TV in the room with the stereo pair. I’m looking forward to checking that out.

I love my iPad Pro for recording. My current workflow involves laying tracks into GarageBand and then either exporting the stems out to a Google Drive where one of my band mates adds them to our band’s Reaper projects or I dump the project to my Mac and play around with the mix in Logic.

But the best part about the iPad Pro as the nucleus of my recording setup is this:

I can use the portable setup in the early AM with headphones and not disturb anyone . . .
…and then later just bring the iPad into my office for this setup.

This kind of flexibility can’t be beat. I’ve made and recorded more music over the past two weeks with this setup than I’ve made in years. Some of the motivation to record surely comes from Mirror Sound and just thumbing through those pages gave me all sorts of setup ideas.

Being able to just use a USB dongle and a midi keyboard/headphone setup for moving from room to room is very lightweight/portable setup. I am also very happy with my Akai MPK mini even if I don’t totally know how to use it to its full potential.

Using the iPad Pro, I can also plug in an audio interface and do the full microphone recording setup in my office is great. I’ve got a good template setup in GarageBand for the two mic multitrack setup so as soon as I have something to record I can just pop down on my stool, start a new project based on the template and hit record. Takes about 1 minute to get setup and it sounds really damn good.

That said, I’m hoping that Santa brings the new audio interface that I’ve asked for so I can stop using my Zoom H4N as that minute of setup time is due almost solely to how long it takes the zoom to connect as an audio interface. That, and I still haven’t found a really stable USB hub that allows me to run the interface, power and my midi keyboard concurrently in my iPad. But them’s first-world problems.


Kül d’Sack put together a little Christmas present for our listeners. Usually at this time of year we’d be doing our Christmas show at a local bar and cajoling the crowd to join us in the caroling. This year COVID kept that from happening.

Instead we each recorded our parts for Joni Mitchell’s River at home and John, our bass player, did a super pro job editing a video together of us playing at home. I did a write up a while back on my home recording gear, you can read here.

Here’s the thing, at the same time we were all recording our parts at home, I was reading Spencer Tweedy’s book, Mirror Sound. I can’t recommend this book enough. I ultimately ended up buying copies for all the guys in Kül d’Sack and if i had the money, I’d buy it for every one of my musician friends.

Tweedy’s book is useful and inspiring for a few reasons: it dispells the imposter syndrome fallacy that so many home-recorded musicians can suffer from by showing that it doesn’t matter where you make your music, so long as you make it.

It also dispells the falacy that music recorded at home will always sound less-than-pro. Reading these interviews with musicians about their home-recording setups and process makes it clear you can make music at home that sounds just as good as music recorded in an expensive studio. Moreover, so many of these musicians extol the benefits of recording at home over a fancy studio: luxury of time, getting into the zone more easily, being more comfortable, etc.

This book comes at just the right time for me. I know musicians who record at home, a lot. For a bunch of reasons though, I never thought that I could do it. But after reading Mirror Sound cover to cover a few times (it’s that kinds of book) I am seeing that the real limitations presented by recording at home are my inertia and the time constraints of working and having a family. But those are small potatoes compared to the imaginary barriers that Tweedy’s book help me dismantle.

As we head out of summer, the shorter days combined with all of this working from home are going to present some real challenges when it comes to keeping my circadian rhythm chugging along.

Over the years, I’ve had a variety of light boxes that I’ve used to try to keep my mood up and my sleep solid. For the past couple of years, I’ve used the smaller desktop ones that purport to put out the recommended 10k lumens.

This year though, I decided to step it up a bit and picked up one with a much larger surface area. These LED lamps are similar to the models that are typically used in light-therapy studies


This lamp is bright and features a much larger surface area than the the previous (though much cheaper) model that I have used for the past several winters.

As a bonus, I had a couple cheap Gosund wi-fi outlets sitting around so I configured one and created an iOS shortcut to turn the lamp on full blast. I think where I’m headed with this is some kind of trigger to make sure that I have it turned on for at least 30 minutes in the AM and 15 minutes in the afternoon. It’s only September and I can already feel my sleep cycle being interrupted by the shorter days, so here’s hoping.

Someone posted a question about how to do this on the Day One Community site so I thought I’d build up a little iOS shortcut that:

– checks to see if you have an entry for today, if not it creates a blank one and then prompts you to choose a photo, resizes that photo and then appends the photo to today’s journal entry.

Here’s the shortcut, you’ll need to choose which journal to use and how large you want the inserted photo to be.

My new gig at work is keeping me insanely busy and so it’s been a while since I’ve gotten around to updating here. Here’s a few of the links I’ve saved this week. Linking ≠ endorsement. 

  • Free Speech Prevails at Princeton | Robert P. George – This is a time of testing for our nation. We were already in the midst of dealing with a pandemic—trying to protect public health while respecting basic…
  • How to Plan Your Week Like a Boss – If you feel that your productivity has been hitting a slump, I highly recommend planning out your week ahead of time. Getting clear about what you’ll be doing…
  • The American Death Cult – A significant percentage of conservative culture in America defines “freedom” as death. This is causing a lot more problems right now than even its usual…
  • ‘White Fragility’ Is Everywhere. But Does Antiracism Training Work? – Race and America Three Words, 70 Cases George Floyd Transcripts Debate Over Officers’ Protection Lessons from Camden, N.J. Robin DiAngelo at home in Seattle.…
  • Save Them All, Let the Algorithms Sort Em Out – Smartly serving up content amidst information overload M.G. Siegler Follow Jul 16 · 4 min read Every day is exactly the same. Even before the COVID lockdowns,…
  • What Makes Us Happy? – For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage…

  • Dark Mode for Web – Some css tips for making a dark mode version of a website. Putting this on my list of things to tackle.
  • You Are A Strange Loop – YouTube – Was speaking with some friends about Doug Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach the other day and then serendipitously came across this great, short video explainer of the strange loop, key to understanding what he’s getting at in his book. So worth the viewing time.

Other things from this week? I’ve been doing a deep dive on Roon’s audio player as a way to unify my local music catalog with my Qobuz account. Very good so far but I think I need to buy a Mac mini or something to run it as my old MacBook Air isn’t working out so well.

This is somewhat unnecessary right now as I just got in the mail the vinyl LP of Yola’s Walk Through Fire and that has been in heavy rotation on my turntable. Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys plays on/produced this masterpiece. Dude has an incredible ear. Such great stuff.

I implemented this great python script from @micahflee to automatically get rid of my tweets after a specified period of time. Similar to the Chrome extension I use to get rid of my Facebook posts but automated/scheduled so much more convenient.

  • The Death of the Good Internet Was an Inside Job | The New Republic – Another obituary for Google’s RSS reader and how Facebook ruined the Internet.
  • It’s time to change the abortion debate in America – Worthwhile read. This argument could be applied to a host of issues facing Americans.
  • Daring Fireball: Quit Confirmation for Safari on MacOS – Great little Keyboard Maestro script.
  • Really pulled my hair out for a while on this issue so hoping to help someone out here.

    set newToDo to make new to do ¬
    		with properties {name:CurrentTodo} at beginning of list "Today"

    This, despite the Cultured Code documentation using Today as an example list in the AppleScript guide.

    So, if you use that code and replace “Today” with “Someday” it works like a champ but if you pass it the list “Today” the todo item is created in the Inbox and not the Today area of Things. Weird and it was making me crazy.

    Anyway, the easy solution is:

    set newToDo to make new to do ¬
    		with properties {name:CurrentTodo, due date:current date} 

    I use Day One as a journal almost every day. Most mornings start with me doing a bit of a brain dump into Day One, listing anything that’s on my radar that I need to deal with.

    So I wrote a shortcut to help me deal with those brain dumps a bit better.

    This shortcut:

    – takes a list of items from the clipboard (so, I would just select/copy the list in Day One) and creates entries in Things (my todo list app of choice for the past many years).

    – With a bit of a rub: if the tasks contains the word “today” (e.g. I need to call Joe today) the shortcut puts the task in the Today section of Things instead of in the Inbox section.

    Admittedly this is not really wizardry level stuff here and the inability to run a similar procedure on my Mac (shortcuts only working on iOS I mean) limits its use a bit. But anyway, for anyone running Day One on iOS who is interested, here’s the shortcut I use to extract a brain dump from Day One and load the tasks into Things.

    I received a Kindle for Christmas. I love it despite the fact that it feels like Amazon has done little if anything to advance the technology of the ebook reader in the 10 years that have passed since I bought my wife her first Kindle 2.

    Highlighting passages in an ebook on a Kindle still feels janky and broken. The interface, or lack thereof, forces users to hunt and peck around the screen with a fingertip, making wild guesses about what effect various taps will have.

    Much smarter people than I have thought hard about how much better ebook reading could be. Craig Mod is one of those people and has written about this on Medium and his personal site.

    That said, receiving the Kindle for Christmas motivated me to dig out my Princeton University library login and see what kind of books were available on loan for me to read.

    Some background: This was not my first attempt at borrowing digital materials from the library. A few months ago I tried borrowing an audiobook from the PU library and was prompted to download an application on my iPhone called Overdrive to search and borrow materials.

    The Overdrive experience was awful.

    So bad in fact that I immediately shelled out $15/month to audible.com even though the user experience there is only a bit less tedious.

    No doubt part of the friction with my first attempts using the Overdrive application to borrow digital materials from the library was having to jump through Princeton’s dual-factor authentication to validate that I could borrow materials.

    As I switched back and forth from the Overdrive app to Safari, back to Overdrive, my inner-coder could sense just how precarious and failure-prone this authentication process would be.

    This is all to say that I didn’t have very high hopes when on the day after Christmas I grabbed a completely unnecessary plate of Christmas cookies and fired up my iPad to see what ebooks might be available for me to borrow from the library to read on my new Kindle.

    This time though instead of using the Overdrive app to access the library’s materials, I was promted to download an app called Libby.

    Libby is a much better version of the original Overdrive. More polish, less janky. Moreover, it did two things straightaway that indicated it had been completely rewritten from the ground up:

    • it handled the two factor authentication without a hiccup. Library authentication was dumbfoundingly easy and very elegantly integrated into the Libby app. Morevoer, Libby seems to handle multiple libraries with ease.
    • the app asked me right out of the gate if I wanted to read ebooks that I’ve borrowed in the app or on my Kindle. It handled the Kindle integration with ease as well.

    With Libby the friction of borrowing ebooks from the library is barely any more difficult than purchasing an ebook from the Kindle store. [note: When I read something (physical, digital) from a library and I really enjoy it I will in most cases purchase the hardcover version of the book for my bookshelf. Both to support the author and to give me some visual cues of what I’ve read. That’s just me. Judgement-free zone here.]

    I get that borrowing digital materials from the library comes with its own bag of problems around revenue and timing of book sales (publishers now delay making digital versions of their books available to libraries for a few weeks after the hardcover hits to avoid cannibalizing sales, etc.). Throughout my career I’ve worked with libraries in various capacities and experience has taught me that on the whole, librarians are both passionate and vigilant.

    So, when private equity behemoth KKR announced their purchase of Overdrive from Rakuten at 6:30pm on Christmas Eve there was a bit of a stir on twitter about how this spelled the end for Overdrive and its swell Libby application:

    Twitter has me thinking that librarians, who may be our most vocal ambassadors of a freely available commons of knowledge and information, don’t seem to have a lot of love for the folks in private equity. In particular a lot of angst seemed to stem from KKR’s acquisition and dissolving of Toys R Us and there appears to be some expectation that they’ll do the same with Overdrive.

    BoingBoing.net’s Cory Doctorow seems to take a similar view with his coverage of the acquisition noting KKR’s model here is:

    to buy profitable, productive companies, load them up with debt (paying themselves out of the money that was borrowed), cut costs by slashing wages and degrading the quality of their products and services, then allowing the company to go bust, stiffing the creditors, workers, and suppliers (that is, libraries, publishers and writers).

    I am a fan of BoingBoing as well as Doctorow’s fiction but something wasn’t sitting right with the way this acquisition was being portrayed. So I did some Googling and found a few interesting facts about KKR:

    • First off, while I’m sure many Toys R Us employees would have preferred to have kept their jobs instead of seeing their employer go under, KKR and Bain put up $20mil as severance pay for Toys R Us employees who were let go. I thought that was interesting and somewhat overlooked in the Twitter rage-fest about KKR’s evils.
    • Secondly, why buy such a strange, niche company/product as Overdrive/Libby just to drain revenue? Where is the revenue? Did I miss something about the cash cow lurking in libraries and digital media? So then I discovered that KKR has also recently acquired RBMedia, an audiobook publisher that also owns audiobooks.com and RBDigital.
    • Thirdly, I read this paragraph in a Forbes piece on KKR (the whole article is worth reading):

    According to Kravis [one of the K’s in KKR], Japan is littered with cheaply priced conglomerates loaded with underperforming assets. He recalls asking the CEO of one of Japan’s big trading companies how many subsidiaries the company owned. The Japanese executive said 2,000. When Kravis asked how many were core, the answer was still 2,000 . .
    “I’ve been going to Japan since 1978. I always saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Now it’s real,” Kravis says with a youthful glint in his eye. Roberts adds, “Japan today reminds me of the 1960s and 1970s in the United States.”

    Taking these three points together (Rakuten is, of course, a Japanese company with a bunch of subsidiaries) seems to me like KKR may actually have some kind of strategy here to integrate these disparate acquisitions. Maybe they want to make money the old-fashioned way by building something that makes it easier/better to borrow digital materials from the library than what currently exists in the market? Who knows?

    All that said, this whole thing would have been way more interesting if KKR had purchased Rakuten’s Kobo (ebook) subsidiary.

    I don’t know enough about libraries to know who KKR is competing with as it (hopefully) builds out its Libby/audiobook.com/RBDigital integration. But I do know that it they buy Rakuten’s Kobo subsidiary they may have enough resources to wake Amazon from the complacency that has allowed the flaws in the Kindle to exist for so long. Maybe Overdrive was just the first bite at the apple? Who knows. But in contrast to most of the hot takes on Twitter, I’m skeptical that KKR purchased Overdrive just wring out revenue and shut it down.

    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 Mail.app 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

    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.

    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.

    I don’t typically create multiple entries for a given date in Day One. Rather, I just use Markdown and add bullets as things occur throughout the day, usually with a time stamp. e.g.:

    – 8:20AM: made requested modifications to Joe’s SQL query

    This is pretty basic stuff here but I wish that there was some way in Day One to automatically expand a time stamp but there isn’t and there’s no way to do so using iOS built-in keyboard shortcuts, either.

    So this is a basic shortcut that captures the text in a dialog window, adds a bullet and time stamp, copies all of that to the clipboard and then opens Day One.


    • Find a way to programmatically determine today’s Day One entry so that when Day One opens, it opens to the correct entry
    • Modify shortcut so that it can all be done using siri with speech-to-text conversion

    Shortcut Link

    It feels a bit like watching Hendrix play his Strat upside down, but I have really settled into enjoying using my iPad Pro in portrait mode with an external keyboard. There is something about the dimension of the screen being closer to that of a piece of paper that I’m filling with text that is more visually appealing to me than typing with the screen in landscape mode.

    Super-meta, you’re looking at this post in this post!

    The problem here is of course is that it really limits my external keyboard options. Right now I’m using the Apple Magic keyboard in a Canopy case from Studio Neat.



    I have a love/hate relationship with this case:

    – Whenever i forget to turn off the keyboard and fold up the case, inevitably the F8 key gets depressed and my iPad starts playing music.
    – It is only so-so stable when typing on my lap. Not impossible but not like a laptop.
    – It doesn’t protect the iPad Pro, just the keyboard so i always feel a little weird just putting the iPad in my briefcase.

    – it is well-designed and looks nice
    – because the iPad is just sort of balanced in a little slot between the case and the keyboard it is super-easy to just grab the ipad and walk around with it. I don’t have to disconnect anything.
    – I can type in portrait mode or landscape mode, the canopy doesn’t care!

    So I’ve been thinking about getting a Brydge keyboard which would:
    – provide some protection of the iPad when it’s in my briefcase
    – Provide a more stable typing environment when using on my lap

    However it would not allow me to type in portrait mode. Also, I’m not so sure how easy the iPad is to connect/remove from the Brydge keyboard’s connector slots.

    That said, i haven’t ordered the Brydge yet and may still find some kind of solution that allows me to protect the iPad when it’s in travel. And typing in portrait mode (especially in ia Writer and Day One where i do about 80% of my writing) is really so nice, maybe i just stick with what I’ve got here.

    This weekend’s Sunday New York Times magazine featured an article about buying your way into a “cleaner” Internet experience by Kevin Roose. The article’s message that the internet is just furthering the divide between the haves and have-nots is untrue and based entirely on Roose’s limited view of the Internet that completely ignores what is perhaps the most useful piece of the internet: the personal website.

    Roose writes as if the personal website—which arguably is the wellspring of the Internet’s promise of informational equality—either never existed or no longer exists.

    For those too young to remember, in the very early days of the web it felt like HTML was this easy-to-use tool that allowed a whole bunch of people to share their knowledge with the world. Personal websites could be goldmines of really arcane knowledge that, fueled by HTML and web hosting allowed people to make websites and share their knowledge.


    This website, about 20 years ago where I wrote about stuff that I was interested in.

    If you wanted to know how to fix a guitar effects pedal, there was probably a guy who was writing up some HTML with instructions on how he fixed his own pedal complete with lousy digital photos from his cell phone. But that free sharing of knowledge was what filled me with such hope about the internet.

    Roose refers to . . . the ad-based model that powers the free internet . . .

    I think we need some kind of distinction here between the Free Internet and the internet of free stuff. The former is that virtual space where there is a balance of making and taking and it is populated by internet citizens who care deeply about maintaining the personal and individual side of the web.

    The internet of free stuff is what happened when tools like Napster were unleashed on the world. When Roose writes about the Free Internet he’s really talking about the internet of free stuff. They’re two very different things.

    We moved from the Free Internet to the internet of free stuff when sharing by makers got sort of twisted and distorted and the circumference of the circle around what was given away for free kept getting wider and wider.

    Soon it wasn’t just instructions on how to fix guitar effects pedals or replace the speedo in your Volkswagen but it was albums and tv shows and movies.

    And that’s when things got weird.

    Today’s internet is full of premium subscriptions, walled gardens and virtual V.I.P. rooms, all of which promise a cleaner, more pleasant experience than their free counterparts. The pay walls have been rebuilt, and the artists no longer work for tips. Hundreds of millions of people shell out for Netflix accounts, Patreon podcasts, Twitch streams, Spotify and news subscriptions. The average American spent more than $1,300 on digital media last year.

    But like a superhighway that gets built up through an old neighborhood, these two internets live side by side now. These subscription services are not going away, but it doesn’t mean that the old neighborhood of personal webpages is going to go away anytime soon. And just because Roose doesn’t see them from his vantage point along the superhighway doesn’t mean there isn’t real value in them.

    Roose is correct when he writes:

    Billions of people still use the free internet every day, of course. But it feels increasingly like wading into a sludge pit of algorithmically promoted misinformation, privacy-invading apps and subpar user experiences.

    The article’s primary point is that if you want to escape the sludge pit, you need to buy your way out of it. His view from the commercial web’s superhighway is such that buying your way out of the sludge pit is the only solution he can imagine.

    But there’s an alternative. Instead of buying your way out of the sludge you can learn how to build a bridge over it or go around it.

    I and many others have learned how to use the Free Internet every day while minimizing our exposure to “algorithmically promoted misinformation, privacy-invading apps and subpar user experiences.” My primary tool for this, of course, is an RSS reader but that’s not the only way.

    My point is that there still exists a Free Internet that is a wealth of knowledge and community and you don’t need to buy your way —in fact you can not buy your way—into it. It requires mining for personal homepages that exist outside of the algorithms. Wandering through the old neighborhoods of the Internet and learning the locals’ language.

    Shawn Blanc shows that he knows those neighborhoods and speaks the locals’ language when he writes about searching the web for information about cameras:

    You see, I wanted to get some real life, normal-person, story-based reviews of the camera — as opposed to the sterile, press-release regurgitation articles that are on so many of the high-ranking websites that appear on page 1 of Google results.
    And so, in order to get to the good stuff — the articles that were written by normal folks with normal blogs who had been using the camera for a while before they wrote their review — I had to skip past the first page.

    It seems to me that what the web needs now more than ever to guarantee the equal access to information is a search engine for personal websites. A magic tool that somehow ignores all corporate/big-tech content and drills down directly to those sites written mostly for free by people who love a subject so much that they are happy just to write about it in the hopes of helping and connecting with other people who share their interests.

    It took just about over a week of back-and-forth emails with support the support folks from Hyper Drive but we finally found a solution to my iPad not charging while using their 11 port hub with my iPad Pro.


    The first few emails were the “unplug it/replug it, restart your iPad” type. Then the support tech suggested downloading a firmware upgrade for the hub which can only be done from a PC/Mac andnot from an iPad.

    Then, she came back with this:

    We have concluded that the 18W power supply is not sufficient enough to charge your iPad Pro with the HyperDrive plugged in. This is due to the fact that the HyperDrive draws almost half of the wattage of the 18W power supply at 7.5w to be able to output power to the ports it provides such as the HDMI, USB-A, USB-C, and SD cards. We do recommend using Apple’s 30w power adapter as it will provide a normal charge. We are currently working on an FAQ page for our HyperDrive, but once again I do apologize for the issues.

    That sounded about right. So I ordered a refurbished 30W power supply off of Amazon for $25 and, tada, now all of the ports work on the device AND my iPad is charging.

    I’m feeling love/hate towards the whole Amazon/PrimeNow/Whole Foods delivery thing. I’ve used it probably 10 times now and it is super-convenient. And I think it makes me a better shopper from a food-planning perspective.

    That said, when I was getting Whole Foods deliveries this summer the amount of insulated packaging that was being included was insane. Like a whole insulated bag for one yogurt. They definitely use too many bags and moreover too many insulated bags. The latter are not recyclable, by the way.

    For my last few deliveries I’ve added in the “Special Notes” section “Please use as few bags as possible.” The request seemed to fall on deaf ears.

    Getting better. At least there were none of the non-recyclable insulated bags in this order.

    Until yesterday. Perhaps because it is now cooler outside, there were no more of the insulated bags in my order. This, despite ordering a bunch of cold/perishable items. So, that’s a win right there.

    They didn’t minimize the number of paper bags in any meaningful way. If I’d been bagging at the checkout I probably would have used 3 instead of the 8 they sent. But we reuse/recycle the paper ones so that’s another step towards reducing the amount of waste generate by Prime Now.

    What really needs to happen is a rotating/loaner shopping bag type system where Prime Now delivers the groceries in reusable plastic shopping bags (and maybe even charges you for them) and then when you drop them back off again at the local Whole Foods you get a credit for them.

    Hulu recently announced they would be raising their prices come December. We had the Live TV option with Ads and it would be jumping from $45/mo to $55/mo. I was just about to upgrade to the “no ads” plan before they made this announcement.

    But this has been a busy week for streaming services so I did some back of the envelope calculations and here’s what we’ve landed on:

    Yes, we are giving up live tv. But I think in all the time we had hulu Live TV since this summer, I’ve watched a live show exactly 1 time. So not really getting our money’s worth there. (That said, we have an antenna hooked up to our basement TV if we want to watch football on network television).

    Note that by default the Disney/Hulu/ESPN bundle for $12.99 doesn’t give you ad free Hulu, but if you subscribe to ad-free Hulu using the same email you use for your Disney account, Disney refunds $4.99/month to your account. One of the upsides of synergy, yay!


    I’ve been talking to a friend of mine about Disney and what they’ve done to entertainment. I agree that it is a bit dystopian. Not just that a single massive corporation owns Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars but that they also own both Disney streaming AND Hulu streaming. That is an insane amount of media assets under one umbrella.

    The quick downside is that I’m sure we will very soon see some kind of price gouging from Disney. It is inevitable. How long before I’m paying $55 a month for the same bundle with Hulu and ESPN?

    But the larger, long term problem with opening the door to the Disney universe is my implicit support of their dilution of entertainment down to a lowest-common-denominator formula.

    A lot of Disney’s offerings (everything they touch, from Disney cartoons to the Marvel and Star Wars universes) seem to have some sort of diversity punch list that needs to be completed before the picture is released. I’m not arguing against the need for inclusion or diversity in entertainment, but when inclusion becomes predictably formulaic, it makes it more and more difficult to enter that bewitched state of being absorbed into something you know is not real—the very reason we turn to entertainment.

    When creators need to hit some kind of punch list of inclusion metrics, the contrived inclusion pierces the illusion of the entertainment and breaks the spell.

    And I think Disney is just going to get worse and worse with this and contaminate everything they touch with their inclusivity punch lists.

    The Independent Web is the answer.

    But there is a huge upside to this consolidation and watering down of entertainment: there will always be some creators who will rebel against overly-homogenized entertainment.

    The more powerful Disney gets, the more fuel and energy there will be around creating alternatives to that entertainment. And so long as the internet remains free and open (and that’s never guaranteed), this is perhaps the best time in history for creators who want to put something out there and find an audience that is sick of homogenized pablum.

    So, I’ll keep paying my $30 a month, watch some letterboxed Simpson’s but make sure to keep my RSS reader pointed in the direction of the independent web creators who, just like they have for the past 20 years, will help me find the really great stuff on the internet that would never pass through Disney’s homogenizing filters.