I love this Metafoundry piece about the effect of supply chain and manufacturing loss on post-apocalytic clothing:

No supply chain means that, at least in the short term, the local clothing stocks will be a major determinant of what people wear. Where I live (the northeast US), that means cheap and ubiquitous t-shirts patchworked into everything, for a start–making quilts out of a hundred thousand unneeded t-shirts. Notions (zippers, hooks, buttons etc.) will be cannibalized from worn-out clothes–even cheap zippers bring together out-of-reach precision metallurgy and polymers, and reliable YKK zippers will be sought and prized. Speaking of polymers: Patagonia and North Face and Gore-Tex outerwear will be prized heirlooms, the most valuable garments made of durable, functional and irreplaceable technical synthetics (especially needful in New England winters). No supply chains means no polymers, nor much by way of dyes (most of which are derived from petroleum), which means returning to fibres that can be grown (and grown locally, initially). Plants or animal products like wool, as well as leather (probably not black, though) and fur. This was nicely captured in Mad Max: Fury Road: the Vuvalini of Many Mothers, who gardened, wore handwoven-looking scarves and fabrics in colours consistent with vegetable dyes.

This is the most fun I’ve had on the Internet in some time.

Seriously, lots of fun.

Three Moves Ahead has had a couple of shows lately that I’ve really enjoyed. First up was their interview with some of the crew from Klei, makers of Invisible, Inc. and previously of Mark of the Ninja. I really loved Mark of the Ninja, and when I heard this interview I couldn’t resist picking up Invisible, Inc., too.

It’s so great: Turn-based stealth that combines the isometric X-COM perspective and some of its combat elements with bits of the turn-by-turn dynamics of Frozen Synapse and the push your luck action of FTL. Which isn’t to say it feels derivative; it just uses some familiar elements in such a great, fun way.

Also, it’s a tiny bit forgiving, at least while you learn the ropes, unlike FTL or Frozen Synapse: On the beginning difficulty level, you have five “rewinds” that you can use to back up to the beginning of the previous turn, and they come in so handy when you misplan, lose two agents in one round, and need to back up and think about What You’ve Learned.

After a very dry winter, we’ve had cold weather and repeated rounds of snow and rain this month, enough that this May looks to go on record as the 10th wettest in Flagstaff weather history. I complain a little, because I want to ride my bike and sit on the porch, but we do need the moisture. It makes for a spectacular scene, too. Also, I love the view from my twelve-minute commute. (This is when I don’t ride my bike to work.)

Wunderlist is a super application and my wife and I use it for almost everything list-like. But I don’t love adding items to lists using the web app’s interface: I want something non-clicky that I can capture items to from anywhere. So I was quite happy to find that they offer a developer API!

Getting a developer account and openauth key for your own sample application is easy, and with a little tinkering I put together a pair of Alfred workflows for adding items to my inbox and grocery lists.

Add to Wunderlist in Alfred - screenshot

I’d like to improve on the workflow so that it can call an external config file or shell variable instead of having the auth key hardcoded in the workflow as it is now; that will let me share the thing as a package, too. Meanwhile, if you want to try this out, you’ll need your own developer account and sample application with authorization key from Wunderlist. Then you can make an Alfred workflow that runs the following in bash (insert your own CLIENTKEY, ACCESSTOKEN, and LISTID):

curl -s -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -H 'X-Client-ID: CLIENTKEY' -H 'X-Access-Token: ACCESSTOKEN' -d '{"title":"{query}","list_id":LISTID}' -X POST 'https://a.wunderlist.com/api/v1/tasks'

Pretty sweet.

She writes about Adams on the 14th anniversary of his death:

I was honest about one thing, at least: I don’t use that pen for anything besides fiction. I’m not the type of person who collects memorabilia: I lent my signed Mostly Harmless to a friend in high school and never got it back and never really minded. My copies of most of his books are in shambles, read to shreds. But I’m precious about that pen. It won’t be used to write a shopping list while I’m alive. The artifacts of reading are comfortable, disposable; the artifacts of writing are amulets and alchemist’s tools.

Or, trying to be a better man in tech

Notes prompted in part by the scale of inequality offline and abuse online, most specifically against women in technology. I have no illusion that my writing at this personal site has impact, influence, but it’s important to me to write some of this down and toss a small rock in an already-swirling rapid.

  • My race and gender do not complicate my position in my job and the cultural things I spend my time doing, but gender and other statuses profoundly shape the experience of others. Having listened to and read those experiences, I am more aware of my charmed life as a White Guy in Tech, conscientious about the opportunities I might help make real or unintentionally block and why it matters that I try to help: because diversity where I work makes that work better, and because it helps to improve — perhaps by an incremental margin but a difference all the same, if successful — the lives of people facing structural and deeply-entrenched inequality. This by itself is an outcome that I value.
  • My own experience is richer for having a broader perspective on those of others.
    • I am better for it, and I’m trying to say that in a way that sounds as least selfish as possible: having a broader perspective is enriching, not limiting; it is not zero sum, it does not “take away” what is special about me or my life, and it makes more room for others.
    • I acknowledge that I am lucky in many ways that so many others are not: I have a good job, one that I like and which is rewarding; I have a home and supportive family; stability; safety. When I do something online (or in the office, for that matter) that activity is not marked by my race and gender the way it is for many.
    • Just as I want to be able to express myself, so should I help those around me. This is restricted in environments marked by marginalization, where we are uneasy being open and expressive.
  • I wrestle with staying out of the way vs joining some conversations because I recognize that these spaces are fraught with co-optation, risk, and safety concerns – emotional and physical.

    • Flickering the Gaslight by Gersande La Fleche shows how high the stakes are. Posting here is one way to engage without claiming space in one of those ongoing conversations. Lily Benson has written a good primer on how to engage.
    • Justice Points ep# 93, “We’re Already Here” and Episode #38 of Less than or Equal (with Kahlief Adams) have powerful conversations about allies and privilege.
    • Leigh Alexander has a guide to being helpful
    • And I remind myself that whatever solidary benefit to me of participating (“being an ally”) is not the point.
    • Having spent a lot of time getting advanced degrees in a field in which structural inequality is a core tenet underlaid with decades of quantitative findings, the facts of this inequality are something I have long understood. Yet I am still struck when I see it enacted by men so viciously mocking the difficulties of women in technology and culture, so quick to use violent imagery and ugly slurs against those who are outspoken and visible.
    • This is also one reason the “everybody is awful on the internet” argument is so tremendously hollow. This gets trotted out frequently in defense of awful online treatment of women (and all marginalized groups). At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Alisha Karabinus takes apart this “notion that everyone gets threatened in gaming”:

    We cannot conflate targeted harassment of a woman (or all women) with general incivility in online discourse because not only are the bases not the same, but the impacts, too, are vastly different. In other words, we’re not talking about hurt feelings or trash talk here. We’re talking about pervasive, damaging behaviors that can impact an entire culture, and behaviors we rarely address or speak about honestly.

    • Another often-used justification is that all people in geek culture feel abused, marginalized and left out. Not only does this reflect an obvious and staggering lack of empathy (justifying being abusive and awful by claiming to have at one point felt bad yourself), but it’s a weird historical artifact at a time when gaming and once-niche entertainment are multi-billion-dollar industries, and STEM training/jobs are sucking all the air out of most other kinds of education and work. Geeks are inheriting the world, gang, and it’s high time that those of us who had a hard time in school because we were interested in video games|comics|programming|computers understand that so did most everybody else, albeit for different reasons, and so many have it so much worse.
    • I have stinging memories of not feeling like I belong,1 and I am fortunate to have found a community of like-minded BBS nerds (men and women) at a key point in my growing up.
    • Yet: However difficult my experience, it critically is fundamentally different from that of someone truly marginalized by institutional sexism, racism, or other discriminations.
    • I think about things that I can do to change this space positively. I can be conscientious about making opportunities and including voices. I have some opportunity to do that where I work, and I try to do so, conscientious that my impact is greater among those I know than in a twitter conversation. Meanwhile I keep listening, though I know that’s not enough. I’m taking seriously the admonition from that Justice Points episode about amplifying good rather than boosting the conflict.

Better voices

In addition to the links noted above, here are a few starting points for more, from people who are better at this than I, and a couple of recent points of research and culture war intersections that are illustrative of what’s going on.

  • Isometric: This post started out being called “How Isometric Made Me a Better Person” but that seemed too naval-gazing even for a blog post. I got to know Steve Lubitz and Brianna Wu casually back when we all hung out on App.net, and have had a great time as well as learned a lot from everybody on the show. It’s a gateway to a lot more than games; this post and the voices on these issues that I have found stem in large part from listening to it.
  • The Cool Gamer Girlfriend and Permission to Try by Maddy Myers (and a related conversation on Isometric #50)
  • Model View Culture is producing a lot of sharp work on these topics from a bunch of points of view: disability, hacker culture, feminism, race, more.
  • Shanley’s My Statement is a scary illustration of just how bad it can be.
    • It is only one of many, many such stories, from all industries.
  • Not Your Mama’s Gamer, a collective of authors behind such things as the #yesIplay tag and a ton of interesting writing (making super podcast, too).
  • How conservatives took over sci-fi’s most prestigious award, a glimpse into the current culture war that’s particularly emblematic of how regressive and fundamentally politically conservative so much of these attacks are.
  • The 5 Biases Pushing Women Out of STEM, because it’s not as simple as a “pipeline problem.”
  • How Hollywood Keeps out Women, because it’s not as simple as a “tech industry problem.”
  • Mel Chua, On the diversity-readiness of STEM environments: “But I have always wondered what I might have grown up into, if I had learned STEM in an environment that was ready for me — without me having to fix it first.”

  1. Hell, I still struggle with this, but I’m mature enough to know I’m not the only one. [return]

I really like the thinking that Joel Dueck is spinning up around privacy and facilitating payments to make building stuff online economically viable without ads. He proposes some legal and architectural tools, but notes that:

Focusing on the nuts and bolts of the web itself, looking for technical solutions, is not going to be enough to counteract these broader trends. And as I’ve said before, simply appealing to people to change their personal habits of internet usage is insufficient and ineffective. What is needed is a principled re-adjustment of the entire playing field — a political solution to a political problem.

Elsewhere, he remarks that if the economics of blogging do collapse1, he will “feel as though we lost something valuable — a truly democratic chance for people to sustain their lives through the pursuit of literacy and self-expression.” I thought about this same thing this morning, and I contemplated the worth of continuing to write and post here. The “community”, such as it was, of bloggers and readers, is much changed from when I started posting to my old home blog, way back in the pre-social media days. But here I am, all the same, tapping away. For those of us who were into this before services ate everything, it’s kind of a hard habit to break.

I really like this episode of Three Moves Ahead on the 4X Genre. I haven’t played a ton of 4X games myself (my most recent experience being a whole bunch of Endless Legend a few months ago), so I’m only passingly familiar with most of the games they chat about (even Civ! I know, I know!), but this is still a really accessible conversation that touches on a lot of interesting elements of these games: Balance between the different phases of the game, the rare expertise required to build 4X mechanics, and the difficulty of innovating in storytelling within these games. They also talk about the often uncomfortable assumptions made in most 4X games, of an unspoiled world ready for exploitation and civilizing in the service of a conqueror (reflecting on the problematic “explore, exploit, expand, exterminate” label, too), and imagine a game in this style that could really explore things like postcolonial conflict.

It’s a fun and wide-ranging discussion and I’m looking forward to listening to more from Three Moves Ahead and Idle Thumbs.

The One-Minute Test

Via Jeremy Keith, a method of wrapping up a meeting by asking for concrete reactions in just a minute:

  1. What was the big idea? (What was the most important thing you heard at the meeting?)
  2. What was your big surprise? (What was the thing you saw or heard that surprised you the most?)
  3. What’s your big question? (What’s the biggest unanswered question you have at this time?)

I’ve been in meetings that ended in a similar way and found it to be a really positive way to conclude. One spin on that final question that I have liked is to ask “who will you share this question with” or “where do you go next with this idea” — It’s very satisfying to generate a specific kind of next step that’s social and/or active, and it encourages a much more engaged conclusion that might not otherwise come out of some meetings.

The Spark File

Steven Johnson on keeping a bin of ideas, “hunches” and snippets of writing:

But this kind of inventory doesn’t quite convey the most interesting part of the experience, which is the feeling of reading through your own words describing new ideas as they are occurring to you for the first time. In a funny way, it feels a bit like you are brainstorming with past versions of yourself. You see your past self groping for an idea that now seems completely obvious five years later.

I get the same experience from occasionally going back to the scattered output of my years of blogging and notes-file-keeping: at various times using web sites, planner-mode, org-mode, Moleskines, Field Notes, and now here. What Steven has probably done more smartly is keep most of that in one place. In that time I’ve been a number of things, or at least two, having moved out of academics into the work I’m doing now.

Learning Vim in 2014

God help me, I’m learning another text editor. I’m not sure why; seemed like it could be interesting or engaging, which it is. I think it all started when vim was the available default over at tilde.club when I was heavily involved there. Maybe it’s a way to make up for having ditched emacs at work for now?

Ben McCormick’s excellent series is an introduction to the nuts and bolts as well as the philosophy – see his Vim as Art in particular on that score. I’m exploring the whole thing repeatedly as I make my way. I idly trolled on Twitter how learning Vim was like turning your text editor into an RTS. Now I think I really like that idea and the way it makes me think systematically about what I want to do with my editor. It’s cool.

It’s a nice bit of serendipity that I caught up with this piece on newsletters and the new market for specialized writing by Glenn Fleishman on the same day that stellar issues of two favorite subscription newsletters arrived in my inbox: 6 49: Focus Past Infinity by Charlie Loyd, and Metafoundry 30: Confusion Matrices by Deb Chachra.

And as it happens they’re both writing insightful things about clothes and their tight ties to our social and economic worlds: Charlie thinks a bit about supply chains; Deb, the pervasive rules that profoundly shape the meanings of women’s choices of clothing.

Some instability with my web host the past week or so prompted me to think about the state of the backups of my online spaces. I spent some time today getting backup scripts working on the host, and found that, based on the file dates, the last time I worked on this was about a year ago. Yay, me. After troubleshooting them for a little while I now have some functional backup scripts to tar up my web directories and my databases. Then I set about burning most of the morning getting my Synology to grab the backup from the host.1

Because I’ll forget and no doubt have to do this again, I took a few notes:

With passwordless login to the Synology, and from the Synology to my host and backup server working, finally, I could test executing my backup scripts from the shell on the Synology. Lo and behold, it works! In the “Scheduled Tasks” section of the Synology control panel, I set up these scripts to execute the remote backup and periodically download the resulting files:

Runs twice weekly:

/usr/bin/ssh kaizen 'cd ~/backup-scripts; ./backup-mysql-databases; ./backup-files'

Runs weekly:

/usr/syno/bin/rsync -av --progress strongspace:arlington-backup/ /volume1/Archive/backup/kaizengarden

Why not run these daily? Because these sites don’t actually change all that much. Downloading the full backup weekly is plenty, if not outright overkill, since the most frequently-changed part of the site is all markdown files stored in dropbox and synced when I re-publish. Why not schedule the backup to run via cron on my host? Because this works, and I was already in the Synology shell experimenting, so it was easy to not have to log in to the web server. (And last time I worked on the backup scripts at the host, I remember some kind of problem with running them via cron; some kind path or environment thing interacting with tar, I think. So this got around that, too.)

I did the same for my stuff over at tilde.club, too. This didn’t require any backup script, since I just have a single directory there; I just rsync the whole relatively small thing into a backup folder on the synology here.

  1. It’s not actually directly from the host. My scripts pack up the tar archives and rsync them to my backup location at Strongspace. [return]

I’ve previously noted my Huffduffer action extension for Workflow, but it didn’t occur to me at the time to include the link to my profile at Huffduffer. So, there it is. If you’re a fellow duffer of huffs, I’d love to see what you’re saving there, too.

A few weeks ago we had a sudden reappearance of winter, but unseasonably warm weather has returned, and with it, the season for biking in the woods – which happen to be basically across the street.

Life’s pretty good, gang.

Pizzicletta is a Flagstaff gem, serving up some of the best pizza you’ll find anywhere.

And homemade gelato, like this basil and chocolate/sea salt duo.

I don’t get there often enough, but made it in last night to finish off a fine, warm spring day.

Starships, swords, and the faded grandeur of science fantasy

An annotated bibliograpy of sorts, of the role fantasy plays in science fiction. My recollection of ThunderCats, however, doesn’t quite match the author’s:

Surprisingly enough, one of the most successful and fully realized science fantasy properties of the late ‘80s wound up being the ThunderCats cartoon. With supple, vibrant animation, a diverse cast of characters, and a mythos that wasn’t wholly prefabricated, ThunderCats came on strong, reveling in all the possibilities of both technology and magic — even though it served as the last whimper of the silver age of science fantasy.

Not surprisingly, Star Wars is the banner-carrier and ultimate downfall of outright science fantasy.

A different cluetrain

Charlie Stross asserts “some axioms about politics”:

13 - Security services are obeying the iron law of bureaucracy (4) when they metastasize, citing terrorism (6) as a justification for their expansion.

14 - The expansion of the security state is seen as desirable by the government not because of the terrorist threat (which is largely manufactured) but because of (11): the legitimacy of government (9) is becoming increasingly hard to assert in the context of (2), (12) is broadly unpopular with the electorate, but (3) means that the interests of the public (labour) are ignored by states increasingly dominated by capital (because of (1)) unless there’s a threat of civil disorder. So states are tooling up for large-scale civil unrest.


Some folks (especially Americans) seem to think that their AR-15s are a guarantor that they can resist tyranny. But guns are an 18th century response to 18th century threats to democracy. Capital doesn’t need to point a gun at you to remove your democratic rights: it just needs more cameras, more cops, and a legal system that is fair and just and bankrupts you if you are ever charged with public disorder and don’t plead guilty.

Silicon Valley Could Learn a Lot From Skater Culture. Just Not How to Be a Meritocracy

Kathy Sierra responding to the latest cultural model hyped as the savior of silicon valley:

The last time skateboarding was a healthy model, the Macintosh did not exist. Skateboarding was my life. And in 1983 skate culture drove a stake through my heart.

Skateboarding can teach Silicon Valley what not to do, like a message from the future warning, “Here’s what happens when a domain in which women once thrived decides women aren’t worthy.” Yes, it’s complicated and yes, the sport became more extreme, but there’s a world of difference between a sport that says, There aren’t many women and one that adds … we made sure.

In the ‘80s, skate culture devolved from a vibrant, reasonably gender-balanced community into an aggressively narrow demographic of teen boys. If you think tech has sexism issues, skate culture makes tech feel like one big Oprah show.

ISAAC ASIMOV: A lifetime of learning

An illustration of a quote from Isaac Asimov about continuing to learn and create throughout one’s life. I read the Foundation books and everything else I could find by Asimov when I was younger, and recently picked up Foundation again. It’s no exaggeration that those stories about science and science fiction hugely shaped my interests and life story.


Dr. Drang’s response to the report that feeding peanuts to infants may reduce likelihood of developing peanut allergy captures my own mix of interest, encouragement and caution. My son has a number of serious food allergies, including peanut, and it’s not easy to manage. We would certainly wish to have been able to prevent these allergies from developing, and I watch research about potential desensitization very carefully. What people living with life-threatening food allergies need are good strategies and high levels of awareness among the public, and less misunderstanding of the severity of allergies. Dr. Drang writes:

In fact, I don’t believe the reported study turns conventional wisdom on its head at all. Most of the people I’ve met who don’t have a child with peanut allergies were already certain that the problem was, if not entirely in the heads of a group of Munchausen-by-proxy parents, then certainly due to kids being raised in environments that are too clean, too safe, and too antiseptic. For these people, it’s obvious that exposure to peanuts will toughen up a kid’s immune system, and it’s about time doctors recognize that.

A critical part of the study is the screening criteria that included only infants already at a high risk because of existing egg allergy or exczema, and that 76 screened infants were excluded because they already had strong skin test reactions. So this study tells us something, but not the whole story, about one path through which this particular allergy may develop. Unfortunately, just as Dr. Drang predicted, there are already responses like the following (from a self-identified physician) on the NEJM study:

As each of my five children has progressed through school we have seen tighter and tighter policing of what you are allowed to include in your own child’s lunch box. The research of the LEAP study team is wonderful as it may mean, as I have long suspected, that all of this molly coddling of our children’s diet has not only not made things better but has in fact made things which worse.

Not helpful.

This winter in Flagstaff, a summary of some activities and events that come to mind:

  1. Yay, nice snow! Let’s get a season ski rental for the preschooler and we’ll be ski people!
  2. More snow over New Year, too bad, I have bronchitis.
  3. Day off: solo ski day, beautiful and fun.
  4. Six+ weeks of warm, dry weather make it feel like spring (meanwhile the east coast is getting utterly clobbered)
  5. Work, work, work – seriously, I’m getting a lot done around here. Feels good.
  6. Look, there’s hardly any winter going on in this place, so let’s go biking.
  7. Biking is great! My old bike is old, so I got a new one. It’s a thing of beauty, but …
  8. I have to travel back east for work, then come home and get a cold.
  9. Winter is back. New bike waits in the garage.
  10. Sigh. Go for coffee because wife is home from her own work travel and it’s the first day off from work and/or child care in two weeks.
  11. Life is all right, gang. All right.

Update March 17, 2025: minor improvement thanks to Workflow’s recrntly-added action to resolve a shortened URL, allowing the workflow to better find mp3s behind URL shortened.

Workflow is a hot iOS app. (Obligatory Viticci link!) I love what people are doing with it. While I have some tinkery workflows that I experiment with, my favorite daily-use workflow is one I made for Huffduffer, Jeremy Keith’s wonderful podcast collector service.

(What’s Huffduffer? Briefly, it’s a way to grab one-off episodes of podcasts that you’re not subscribed to, watch others’ podcast feeds, and find interesting things related to what you’re listening to. It’s really fantastic, and you should go try it.)

Huffduffer provides a bookmarklet that works very well when you’re already in your browser, but most of the podcasts I want to add to my Huffduffer feed come to my attention via Twitter (currently, Twitterific). There isn’t a full-featured API that could replace this bookmarklet, so I used Workflow to do something sipmle but so valuable to me:

  1. Grab a URL as input
  2. Send URL to the HFDF bookmarklet
  3. Pop the output into Safari (where I’m already authenticated to HFDF)
  4. This comes back as a browser window where the bookmarklet has done its work to identify episode download URL and metadata
  5. I hit go and complete the addition of the episode to my HFDF feed.

The thing that sets this capability into the “whoa” category for me, is that the whole workflow is set up to work as an action extension, so all I have to do to invoke it is long-press a podcast URL in Twitterific to bring up the share menu, then tap “run workflow” and pick HFDF. It’s not quite as clean as it could be if there were a full API and app (in the style of Pinboard and Pushpin), but it feels far native than opening the link in Safari and then locating and running the bookmarklet. It’s one of my favorite things.

Another of my favorite uses (that I forgot to note when I published this the first time) is from within Overcast (and other podcast apps that enable the share extensions), where long-pressing on an episode link in show notes of one podcast can bring up the run workflow share action and then the Huffudffer bookmarklet for that link. It’s really slick, and a super-quick way to grab other shows that are mentioned within one show (assuming the creators post good show notes, of course). The same goes for sharing the now-playing episode to Huffduffer, which adds it to your feed for your HFDF followers to pick up.

You can download and try out my HFDF workflow for yourself. Enjoy!

Since the beginning of the year, work has been busy, very busy, and I find myself in something of a how-do-I-work transformation. I am getting stuff done, and I do mean happily cranking away. And I’m doing it all by scribbling on an array of sticky notes and a couple of pages in a notebook. No “system,” no “toolset,” no “workflow,” just a pencil. It doesn’t even sync!

I know, right? Like a barbarian. A productive-as-heck barbarian. In the office I had a long-running org-mode scheme that was falling into disrepair, and yet it’s hard to leave a system behind. The couple of weeks of being mostly away from work over the Christmas holiday gave me the mind-space I needed to just … walk away from the list of tasks and projects I was not-usefully maintaining and which was not helping me feel effective or organized in my work.

I’ve thought plenty before about this kind of retooling, but almost exclusively in the context of tooling upadding sophistication, building workflow:

This matters because I get a lot of reward from using tools that are interesting, effective, and sophisticated. Doing one’s work is about more than the end deliverable, right? The process matters, too, and if I like doing the work then the product is better for it (not to mention I’ll do it again).

I suppose that all the same thinking still applies: The process still matters; right now that process is just very, very simple. Unlike the recent past, it’s not in my way in the slightest, which makes me quite happy.

But let’s differentiate the productivity-tools-urge from the tinkering-with-stuff urge: While at work I have reverted largely to the bronze age, I remain cheerfully hackerful at home, and spent a couple of happy hours yesterday experimenting with MailMate keybindings (yes, knowing I will be inevitably disappointed when I return to work and lose all of that capability). I expect this back and forth will continue, as I fit tools to current needs and ways of thinking.

Not too long ago, Seth Clifford wrote about a similar productivity revision:

This is about my brain, understanding how it works, and more importantly, coming to grips with the fact that my brain will work differently depending on a variety of ever-shifting factors in my life. I’ve written before about giving up and settling on a trusted system, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that my trusted system is me, and I need to allow myself the flexibility to use the right tool at the right time.

Perhaps this doesn’t mark a long-term shift in how I work, but it’s an interesting and good place to be, at the moment. For now, as long as I have a pencil sharpener and a pile of sticky notes, I’m good to go.

John Foreman on surviving data science hype:

You know what can keep up with a rapidly changing business?

Solid summary analysis of data. Especially when conducted by an analyst who’s paying attention, can identify what’s happening in the business, and can communicate their analysis in that chaotic context.

Yep. We need infrastructure and cool tools to help us get the data we need, when we need it, but just as important is defining what that need is and having a deep understanding of what our information tells us. Without that, at best, we have lots of pretty pictures of trend lines, but no plan.

After trying it out for a month, I pulled the trigger and bought MailMate this morning over a cup of coffee. Gabe Weatherhead has a very good features overview (now a bit dated but still relevant) of this powerful mail client.

Good software is worth paying for. Even though mail on OS X isn’t my hub of productivity that it once was (being that my day job is on Windows and all), I’m convinced that a mail client as good as MailMate is worth the cost. If you try it out, don’t miss the custom keybindings and hidden preferences. You can do a lot with this sucker.

An annotated list of some of the things I used, liked, appreciated, or got particularly good value out of in 2014:

Not Computering (intentionally put at the top)

In February last year I started on some physical therapy for my shoulder, long insulted by climbing accidents and then one particularly embarrassing skiing accident, then ossified by general mis-use. When I started, I couldn’t get that arm much above my head, and when I “finished” the official course, I was comfortable, not tentative, and confident that I wasn’t about to re-injure it. I can’t overstate how much this positively affected me, day-to-day. Picking up my boy, reaching around in the car, getting something off the shelf. I should have done this years ago.

Personal training is probably the other best thing I did for myself this year (critically enabled by having done the PT; I had to learn to fish before I could, something whatever). Seriously, Internets. It feels so good to be active and strong(er).

lightbox2 lightbox2

Good coffee and food and favorite places to share with my family and friends.


Pinboard and Pushpin: I used Instapaper less in 2014, replaced in part by Pinboard. Just about everything I wanted to read or wanted to save for later, ends up in Pinboard, and the great Pushpin app enabled a lot of this — saving via its iOS 8 extension, reading and finding new things in the popular list.

Minimal Reader: I ditched RSS for a while, but picked up an annual subscription to Minimal Reader last January, and have just renewed for another year. I see (via Twitter and Minimal Reader) that Glenn Fleishman has moved away from RSS, and I agree with basically everything he writes … but have nonetheless landed on continuing to use news feeds in addition to the rapid-fire flow and conversation of Twitter. I have a relatively small set of (active) feeds in Minimal Reader, which I put there because they reliably offer something that I don’t want to miss. If I happen to have read something via a twitter conversation before I come across it in Minimal Reader, then I just float past it; and I regularly clip longer items from MR into Pinboard or Instapaper in order to keep the RSS queue as more of an inbox than an actual place to read them.

Synology: I wrote about my Diskstation a handful of months ago. It continues to sit in my media center cabinet, quietly acting as my Time Machine destination and network storage for photos and videos. I’m very pleased with this, but there is one caveat: iTunes turns out to not like an always-on disk location for its media, so I have had some trouble maintaining that part of the solution, and for now have basically reverted to keeping iTunes media locally.

Backblaze: Having now used it for years, Backblaze is one of those things I just don’t really think about. I’ve used it to restore a pre-corruption iTunes library and to recover a bunch of ssh private keys, and I am secure knowing that it’s there putting up all my stuff just in case. The second caveat regarding the NAS comes in here, however: Backblaze doesn’t yet support it. I really want to fill this gap and hope they find a way to handle it soon.

I’m hot and cold on Rdio, but continue to use it just about enough to keep paying for it. When friends or twitter contacts recommend something, it’s so easy to go check it out, and it provides streaming access to most of my library that I ever want to listen to. It’s great. I’m not a big fan of the UI anymore, as it has gone somewhat over the line from minimalist to obtuse, but it’s navigable enough that I can put up with it for the good selection. (I’m thinking I will give iTunes Match a try this year, though, as I continue to want to buy the music I really like, so I won’t lose it as it comes and goes on streaming services. I have a long malformed musing post somewhere about wanting to make the things I listen to and read somehow tangible for discovery by my son, when he’s ready to explore them, and having them all-digital doesn’t yet seem accessible for that.)

(Most of my friends use Spotify, and I use re/spin to import their playlists into Rdio. It’s awesome. Try it!)

1Password: Well geeze. Best software purchase ever? I’ve now bought this multiple times through multiple updates and devices and I never think twice about each paid update. I just make a small invocation and light incense once a week that I will never forget my master password, because I literally know almost none of my passwords anymore. The iOS 8 extension pushes 1Password close to the heart of every activity on my phone and tablet just as it had previously done on the Mac. It’s just indispensable, and if you’re not using it then you are likely doing it wrong.

MailMate: Apple’s Mail app started to misbehave on me this year — possibly some interaction with my mail server and/or ISP, but it was enough for me to start looking at other mail applications. MailMate is fantastically powerful, making my only reservation about it is that I’m not enough of a power user for it. But if you value a quality application, this is just an excellent thing. Custom keybindings, filters and smart mailboxes for the win.

Tilde Club: What a serendipitous thing to happen into, and what a great thing for Paul Ford to start rolling.

cTiVo: Hey, you can download from your TiVo to your Mac, and it’s easy! With my new Mac it’s even pretty fast to transcode them to AppleTV format. I’m routinely downloading shows to either save and make room on the TiVo’s drive, or to put on the iPad for a trip. cTiVo will “subscribe” to shows, too, so you can automatically download and transcode episodes as they come in. Detects commercials, too!

PhotoStream2Folder: I wrote about this recently and it’s still doing exactly what I want: Frictionlessly pull pictures from my iPhone’s photostream and drop them in a folder that’s monitored by Lightroom on my MacBook Pro. It doesn’t solve video, and I’m accumulating some video that I need to download and deal with through the old way, but it’s hugely valuable nonetheless.

Recently I was having a beer with a friend from work and he asked, “So, what’s your thing? What are you really into?” It was a provocative question because he and I have worked together for several years and have a pretty good relationship, so the idea that he wouldn’t know much about what makes me tick sort of took me by surprise. It really made me pause.

He’s a board game guy, like a level 18 board game geek. Once every few months I make it to his place on a Saturday afternoon to play some games with him and a handful of others. I’m mostly casual; they’re pretty hardcore, like the guy with a remarkably elaborate packing system for his Arkham Horror sets,1 which is totally okay, just not so much my thing.

So despite being really into plenty of things, I paused when asked. My coworkers don’t really see that much of my non-work life and interests; despite believing in sharing and celebrating nerdy enthusiasms, turns out I’m not a really big sharer, myself. I’m quiet; it shouldn’t surprise me that having worked with someone for a few years, he wouldn’t really know what I dig.

I might have gushed: I’m into hobby coding, programming tiny things only for myself, blogging and online communities, all things internet and sometimes the internet of things, personal web pages, twitter and tinkering with APIs. I’m an IT guy, and I work with deeply IT people of various kinds, yet many of the things that feel to me to be such natural elements of being into computers for so long, growing up with them and working with/on/around them — like twitter, blogging, and RSS feeds full of nerds — just aren’t resonant with most of them, or at least most of the folks I spend most of my time working with.

I told him about my tilde.club network visualization, which required a brief visit to first principles: Here’s a bunch of people who put up tilde web pages; oh, a tilde page is this convention for home pages; home pages are something I’m into. Then I gave an explanation of what the network graph shows and why I would think it might be cool enough to spend several weekend evenings tinkering with, and a quick demo on the screen of my iPhone. Not sure he got it, though. On a cool exercise in parsing XML to produce a map of beer styles, Gabe Weatherhead nicely sums up the impulse to do this kind of thing: “It’s not super-useful. But, then again, this was never about the problem. It was always about the problem solving.”

Over at But She’s a Girl I find some familiar thoughts about being too much geek (or perhaps, really, about being a different sort of geek among other geeks):

That — in a nutshell — is why this blog is a lifeline for me. Many of you are fellow geeks and share my enthusiasm for ridiculously geeky things like building documents with embedded statistical output. You are my kind of people. Plus, on the internet, I can’t see the eyes of those of you who are not interested in geeky things glazing over with boredom and despair as you read this.

Yes. And while I share the notion that this online space is a lifeline, one of the things I want to do for myself this year2 is to be more open and expressive about the things I enjoy, in order to find more local community and friendship in it.

  1. Spoiler from my Arkham Horror experience: Ninety minutes of setup followed by thirty minutes for the party be wiped out by Nameless Horrors. [return]
  2. And something that I wrote about in an unfinished thing that might still become a blog post, somewhere. [return]

I like this piece by Ben Kuchera about managing one’s leisure time and making goals for play & culture in order to avoid “fun” turning into “homework.” I’ve started aggregating books, comics, games and music into a feed that I can pipe into a thedash dashboard. This helps me keep track of all that stuff and also acts as a check against overpopulating it. 1

Look, Ben notes and I agree that this is like the first worldiest of first worldie dilemmas — oh, my, so many free-time activities! Woe — but pulling back a little bit, this is also about being thoughtful about how I spend my time. Not a bad thing to keep in mind as we careen into one more year.

  1. The exercise advice is also good! I started putting working out on the calendar a few months ago, and the result is that I don’t worry about not getting in my workouts, the time I do spend is much more effective, and I also feel really good. [return]