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Book Notes

Book Review: No Country for Old Men

This was my first Cormac McCarthy book. I asked a good friend of mine who is a McCarthy fan to pick one and this was his pick.

Man. What an amazing read. All of the components were there: great story, unfamiliar-sounding yet authentic dialog, characters who you really, really cared about. And then on top of that there is a meta-plot about how the hell one ought to behave when the world around you is falling apart, something that seems especially timely.

The story here seems mostly about choosing to commit and persevere no matter how bad the outcome looks. Doing the right thing in the face of inevitability. But it’s so much more than that. The Sheriff may be one of my favorite characters ever. McCarthy’s dialog partly accounts for that but it is also really compelling to watch his internal struggle reconciling his behaviors, something we all deal with at one level or another. Such a great book. Really grateful to have read it.

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Book Notes

Book Review: Brave New World

The premise of Brave New World is compelling enough to recommend the book. Especially if you’re in high school, which I think is when I first read it. The dytopian future portrayed by Huxley of a world that tries to engineer a better version of itself challenges the reader to pull connections from more modern attempts at these efforts.

Despite the interesting premise, I just didn’t enjoy the writing. The world represented in the book seemed like an academic exercise that Huxley engineered to make a point. It was interesting but only as a thought exercise.

I discovered that Ridley Scott was going to try to make a movie out of the book and seems to have backed away, citing:

I think Brave New World was probably great in nineteen thirty-eight, because it had a very interesting revolutionary idea. Don’t forget it came shortly before or after George Orwell, roughly the same time. When you re-analyze it, maybe it should stay as a book. I don’t know.

I think Scott would have been hard pressed to get an audience to feel real empathy for any of the characters the way he did in Blade Runner.

Huxley apparently was inspired to write the book in response to a trip he made to the US where he observed our obsession with youth and commercialism. That’s easy enough to believe. Out national fixation on self-improvement seems like just the kind of ecosystem that unchecked could eventually yield the kind of attempts to engineer the friction out of life represented in Brave New World.

To me, it’s this thread of the book’s narrative that is so interesting to me. Specifically, what happens when you engineer the suffering out of life. Huxley’s plot seems to fixate on the tools and techniques used to engineer the friction out of life but I think the tools and techniaues are mere disctraction.

Instead, especially relevant and meaningful are the effects of a life devoid of friction or where friction is seen as somehow being different from or seperate from the good life. Huxley fails to really dig into this thread in a satisfying way and perhaps that why it felt a little flat to me.

It certainly seems relevant today where we seem spend so much energy trying to reduce friction, sadness, pain, etc. from our lives. But it occurs to me that those things we try to avoid and minimize (and which have been erradicated in Huxley’s work) are exactly the things that make life worth living.

That is the underlying message of BNW that gets hidden in all of the dystopian engineering: If life is all good, it’s no good. Life is only good to the extent that we are open to the suffering it exposes us to.

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Book Notes

Book Review: The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys was on a lot of “Best of” lists for 2019 so I figured to check it out and I’m glad I did. I haven’t read anything else by Colson Whitehead so not sure if this is true with all of his writing but he got me to feel a degree of empathy for his characters that was so deep that by the end of the book I felt wrung out.

I don’t get that a lot.

Moreover, I’m a middle age white guy and here I am feeling really deep connection and empathy towards these African american boys in Jim Crow south. Whitehead’s ability to connect the reader to these characters is unreal. I found myself highlighting certain passages throughout the book that achieved this effect and by then end I realized that part of his skill lies in what I think of as a casual intimacy with the characters’ inner lives.

Meaning the powerfully brutal scenes built connection and alone they would have probably been sufficient. But certain scenes where the narrator makes these offhanded observations—like when waiting for a table at a restaurant, briefly wondering if the delay is racism or just bad service—reveal the lens through which the characters are viewing the world and by the end of the book you and the character are nearly one and the book is just a powerfully moving experience. Grateful that Whitehead wrote it and that I got to experience it.

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Friday Links for Jan 17, 2020

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.
  • Categories
    Music

    Stereo HomePods for Difficult Rooms and Social Listening

    I’ve seen couple of blogs (Kirkville, BirchTree) recently opining on stereo HomePod configurations and comparing them to a pair of Sonos speakers. I don’t have a pair of Sonos to compare my stereo HomePod configuration to but my experience with the HomePods stereo pair may be useful for some so I am sharing here.

    A few months ago we re-arranged the furniture in several rooms in our house. The net effect was that my Vandersteens (and, as such, my serious listening space) were relocated out of our living room and into a smaller room that has become my now dedicated listening area.

    We spend a lot of time in our living room and–as we have large families–often times with a lot of people. I needed a music solution to replace my traditional HiFi and Vandersteen towers that didn’t take up nearly as much space. (Note: I have in-ceilings in the living room but they just don’t sound as good as regular speakers and really don’t fill up the room without creating two very loud areas underneath that make it impossible to carry on a conversation so we never use them in that room).

    So when the opportunity came to pick up a second HomePod at a discount (I got mine refurb’d from Apple store but they show up new for $200 on sale on occasion), I decided to try a stereo pair of HomePods in the living room.

    For this situation they are absolutely perfect. And by this situation I mean: a large living room area with seating all over the place where you want the music to sound good no matter where you are sitting. The HomePods are amazing at delivering good sound in this environment and I would argue that they are way better than my Vandersteens for this situation.

    Sure, where the Vandersteens (or a pair of Sonos) might give you good sounds with great stereo imaging and a convincing sound stage, the eight speakers in the HomePods give you a really diffuse stereo field instead.

    Yes, you give up a single sweet spot with vivid imaging. That said, about 85% of the seating options in my living room get a really full stereo sound field where you hear a balanced representation of both the right and left speakers.

    The HomePods are strange in this way in that you can be sitting very close to one of the pair but still not sure if what you’re hearing is predominantly coming from the speaker closest to you or the one on the other side of the room.

    Moreover, as you move further and further away from the HomePods, the volume of the music does not seem to fall off quite so rapidly. Meaning it’s easier to have a conversation in the room while music is playing and the music volume always seems just about right now matter where your are sitting.[1]

    NewImage
    Bose 901’s featured multiple speakers for dispersion.

    In this way, the HomePods remind me a lot of the Bose 901s. Say what you want about Bose but it is near impossible to beat the experience that pair of 901s delivers to a roomful of people listing to music outside of the dead center stereo imaging position that most speaker pairs mandate.

    The HomePods, like the 901s before them, are for social music listening (as opposed to the lone experience of sitting dead center between a pair of towers) and they do a terrific job at that.

     

    1.) This volume roll off is similar to the effect that our Bose L1 with an array of 24 speakers has in our live performances where the music seems to be a pretty constant volume no matter how near/far you are from the tower, it’s uncanny

    Categories
    Links

    Friday Link List

    note: forgot to hit publish on this on Friday 🙁 will try to do better this week!

    How To Expand Launchpad

    Hard for me to imagine Launchpad ever being as useful as Alfred for launching apps. That said, this tip for expanding the rows/columns of Launchpad might make a more compelling use case. Via Chris Hannah via @JPEGuin

     

    On being able to write about whatever the hell you are interested in:

    As someone with a bunch of interests, I’m all for a non-directional approach to blogging (via Josh Ginter and Initial Charge). I’m tired of reading commercial sites, have stocked my RSS app with independent publishers and have no regrets, especially when blog authors stray from their usual topics.

     

    Joe Henry – Welcoming Flies at the Picnic. 

    Loved hearing this rebroadcast of Krisa Tippett’s interview with a very articulate songwriter.

     

    Reeder 4 tips

    This old review (from May, 2019) of Reeder 4 has some interesting usage tips/hints that I wasn’t aware of, worth a read if you use Reeder for your feeds.

    Categories
    Photos

    New Fuji X100 soon?

    Love my Fuji X-E2s. It is the best camera I have ever owned, hands down. Whether I’m using an old Pentax lens on it or the pricey but awesome Fuji lenses, the thing is a joy to use.

    That said, I don’t bring it with me nearly as often as I should. I feel awkward carrying it on a camera strap and it’s just a bit too big to fit in any of my jacket pockets. Probably need to get over that.

    DSCF0140
    My MGB shot with my X-E2s and an old Pentax lens.

    Still though, I have coveted the X100 series. I almost bought the X100 instead of the X-E2s but am glad for being able to use interchangeable lenses (something you can’t do with the X100 fixed lens).

    My current camera still feels bleeding edge to me but newer Fuji’s have picked up some new film simulations and I’ve been keeping my eyes opened for a new version of the X100. The latest X100 is from 2017 (the X-E2s is from 2016) but it seems like Fuji may be on the verge of announcing a new X100.

    I noticed a price drop on the latest X100 on camelcamelcamel the other day and now fujirumors is hinting at February.

    Fuji X Weekly has this:

    The X100V has been whispered and rumored across the internet for many months. There’s no surprise that it’s coming soon. What we don’t know is how much different it will be from the X100F. It will certainly have the 26-megapixel X-Trans IV sensor and processor, and probably all of the new JPEG tools of the X-Pro3, but beyond that nobody knows. There’s been speculation for some time that Fujifilm redesigned the lens, but I don’t know if that’s true or not

    It’s not just the new film sims but the variables at play in customizing the built-in film simulations that give me camera envy here. I am a huge fan of Ritchie Roesch’s recipes and on my older camera I usually have to just approximate some of the settings in the receipts.

    Categories
    Automation

    AppleScript for Day One braindump to Things

    Highlighting the truly first-world problem of Mac automation being totally different from iOS automation, I wrote up a simple AppleScript that mirrors the functionality of my iOS shortcut that takes my brain dump list out of Day One and “intelligently” transfers it to Things.

    When I write my morning entry in my Day One journal I sometimes brainstorm a little todo list, and this allows me to copy it and load the todo list into Things. Moreover, it looks for the string “today” in the brain dump and puts those items in the Today list in things.

    set TodayStr to "today"
    set Total to 0
    set listContents to get the clipboard
    set delimitedList to paragraphs of listContents
    
    
    tell application "Things3"
    	repeat with currentTodo in delimitedList
    		if currentTodo as string is not equal to "" then
    			set Total to Total + 1
    			if currentTodo contains TodayStr then
    				set newToDo to make new to do ¬
    					with properties {name:currentTodo, due date:current date} ¬
    					at beginning of list "Today"
    							else
    				set newToDo to make new to do ¬
    					with properties {name:currentTodo} ¬
    												end if
    		end if
    			end repeat
    		end tell
    
    set theDialogText to "Added " & Total & " Todo Items to Things"
    display dialog theDialogText

    I mapped this in Alfred to ⌘T so that when I’m in Day One and finish brainstorming what I need to tackle, I can just highlight the list and hit ⌘T and the list is moved to Things. Not brain surgery but really useful for me.

    Still though it does feel weird to have to automate using AppleScript on the Mac and Shortcuts on iOS.

    Especially now that the automating functionality offered by apps like Day One differs depending on whether you are on a Mac or on iOS. Looking at you Append function that’s available on iOS.

    Categories
    Automation

    Amazon Order History to Markdown table in Day One

    Back in the spring I wrote an automator action that incorporated some Python code to take a downloaded Amazon Order History file and massage it into a nice Markdown table and creates a Day One entry.

    A few months back though the Day One command line tool stopped working and that broke this action. But surprise!!! The command line tool works again (although not as well as it used to). So I modified the automator action to get it working again. 

    So, pop this workflow in your ~/Library/Services folder and you can just right click on the downloaded Amazon order history file to create a Day One entry from the purchases. 

    Screen Shot 2020 01 08 at 7 59 24 AM

     

    This is what the Markdown table looks like as a Day One entry (atypically expensive month, FWIW 🙂

    Screen Shot 2020 01 08 at 8 02 20 AM

    Categories
    Automation Post Tech

    Adding todos to Today list in Things using AppleScript

    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} 
    Categories
    Post Tech

    Shortcut: Day One braindump to Things

    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.

    Categories
    Links

    Friday Links – Jan 3, 2020

    Ambitiously titling this post Friday Links thinking that I may be able to do it again next Friday and the one after that. We’ll see!

    Anyway, some links I’ve enjoyed from around the web over the past few days:

    The rise, fall and resurrection of Flickr – Ferdy Christant

    When you support free, you support billionaires. When you pay, you support sane businesses and real creators. Start paying for things that cost money. If you can’t afford to, use fewer things, which generally make you happier anyway.

    Very long but interesting post about Flickr. Where it is now, where it came from, etc. I haven’t renewed my Flickr Pro account in forever and don’t expect that I will simply because I have no need for it but we will definitely lose an important piece of Internet history if Flickr can’t sustain itself.

    Time Out: We Don’t Give Music Enough Time to Grow on Us Anymore

    A few years ago I started making playlists in iTunes that only contained 3-5 albums and listened to those tracks exclusively for a few weeks before rotating them out. There is something about becoming really familiar with a recording, a whole album preferably, that rewards in a way that superficially skimming the surface of Spotify just doesn’t deliver. Thinking about restarting this practice somehow.

    Genius loci

    Learned this phrase this week. the prevailing character or atmosphere of a place. Love it.

    Categories
    Post Tech

    Could Competition from Private Equity Make Kindle Suck Less?

    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.

    Categories
    HowTo Tech

    Troubleshooting PDF OCR using Python on Mac

    I wrote a script to extract some text from a PDF (image-based text, so pdftotext wouldn’t work).

    Using pdf2image convert_from_path I simply could not get any data out of the pdf. I tried multiple PDFs while testing and convert_from_path just kept returning an empty variable.

    Turned out that my homebrew install of xpdf was interfering with my homebrew install of poppler.

    Uninstalling xpdf (brew uninstall xpdf) and reinstalling poppler (brew install poppler) seemed to fix things up. My suspicion is that they both come with their own versions of pdfinfo which is used by pdf2image. Just a hunch, I don’t know enough about what’s going on under the hood. So, anyway, if pdf2image isn’t working correctly for you and you’re on a Mac, make sure you’ve got poppler installed and that xpdf’s pdfinfo isn’t being used.

    Categories
    Book Notes

    Book Notes: The Alchemist

    The Alchemist by Paula Coelho was recommended to me by the Goodreads algorithm, which apparently stinks as the only thing that kept me turning the pages in this book was the suspense of trying to figure out why the heck this book was recommended to me.

    Not my bag I suppose.

    Have been slowly making my way through Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations this winter and I did enjoy the parallels in some of the ideas in this book and Meditations, especially around the sentiment when Coelho articulates that the timing of death is largely irrelevant if you are truly living in the present.

    Still, maybe Goodreads was suggesting this for the 14 year-old me? I think I might have appreciated it back then. Not sure. But will definitely be more skeptical of future algorithm suggestions.

    Categories
    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.

    Categories
    Music

    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!
    Categories
    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 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
    Categories
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    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.

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    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:

    https://smile.amazon.com/Leviton-128-Light-Socket-Adapter/dp/B000RN19V4

    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.