Love Actually celebrates a Christmas for the rest of us

When I was in high school, I gave up on the idea of Christmas, bitter at my discovery that going through the motions doesn’t actually result in initiation into the dominant culture. Yet Christmas remained an unavoidable holiday, and I found it was best spent watching movies and ignoring one’s parents for as long as possible. That’s when Love Actually came into my life.

Every time it ends, I wish it wouldn’t. I want the music to keep playing. I want the stories to keep unfolding. I want to live inside the warm, loving, and occasionally tragic world of the film, where not everyone gets a happy ending. Love Actually is the only film that brings me Christmas spirit—a modern, urban kind of festivity, but one that makes my heart warm like no stories of Santa or nutcrackers really can.

This is a great reflective review of a movie that I like a lot. Sonia Saraiya captures something about the about the way the film is mostly about moods and a collective excitement and mostly-gentleness.

A few inches of snow and very cold temps mean a two-hour delay for the start of school this morning, so I have some extra time to have coffee and hang out with my son this morning. He’s excitedly running through the living room in his snow boots, so I’m taking a few minutes to make note of a few things that have interested me lately.

Six-fifteen AM, coffee in hand, I’m watching the Mavericks download progress bar on my mid-2009 MacBook Pro, my home PC. I skipped Mountain Lion on this Mac, so I imagined as this process began that I’d have quite a bit to get used to. Coffee finished, I went for a nice run at the gym (morning temp here was 22º F and I’m not crazy) and came home to find the upgrade ready to install; clicked go and went out to breakfast; came home and logged in to my new Mavericks install. So far, so seamless!

I’m not really a Mac power user anymore. Time was, I had a finely tuned academic Mac productivity toolchain; contributed lots of code to TextMate bundles; knew the guts of my LaTeX configuration inside and out; was all up in GTD’s grill. But now that the Mac is my home-not-work machine, there’s actually not so much to catch up with when I upgrade, and there’s less to be had from the carefully crafted Mac Productivity Workflows I used to invest in. While I still do plenty of stuff at home, the volume of information I’m organizing and working with is just so substantially smaller than in the course of my Day Job, that the return, for example, on re-tooling my To-Do list system in Alfred is pretty low.

Much of this is attributable to mobile: The slick workflow for posting to this site is based in Editorial now, as opposed to the Mac desktop, and if I want a reminder of something (bills due), my iPhone works far better at that than my MacBook Pro simply because it’s always there, while I spend much less time on the actual computer than when I was a stay-at-home grad student. Meanwhile, BYOD at work has concentrated even more information and interaction on my iPhone than before — but unlike the home Mac desktop, it’s relatively hard to bring the sophistication of iOS (say, OmniFocus) into the tools I spend most of my time on during my day job.

Aside: So I started this post early on a weekend morning a few weeks ago, and so far Mavericks is just a very nice experience. I’ve read The Siracusa Review and it’s a good example of the detail that I love to read but may not actually need: Back in the day, tags would have been revelatory — TAGS! — but now, no project living on my home Mac is so big that I need them. I’m not sure how to feel about that.

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). Now, in my work environment there’s only so much room to explore process because enterprise environments aren’t as flexible as start ups or academia (see recent episodes of ATP on enterprise software for much more; I have a few draft thoughts about this, too perhaps forthcoming). But in that space I find a great deal of energy and frequently recharge my productivity batteries.

By way of example, I have for a while used emacs’ org-mode for note taking, but have felt it getting cumbersome as a place to do actual writing in, so I retooled a little bit, picked up MikTeX and a Tufte-style LaTeX template and started drafting ideas related to some emerging projects. I can write in markdown and build a beautiful document, and it’s fun so I enjoy the thinking more.

$ pandoc -o work-thing.pdf --latex-engine=xelatex --template=template-tufte-handout.tex

Just feels good. Now, sharing that work (at least in a format that my co-workers can revise instead of simply admire) requires further transformation, but that’s okay; I’m getting what I need out of it at the right point in the process. To be clear, this work is rewarding all by itself because I have interesting problems and great colleagues; but there’s always room for a nicer toolkit of ways in which to work.

Since buying the VSCO Film Pack 04 I’ve been post processing a lot of photos, and I am starting to get a feel for what I like and what seems to work well with the kinds of photos I enjoy shooting — and liking the results enough that I sprung for Film Pack 02 when it was on sale recently.



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Working on some photo books over the weekend, I revisited some photos I made with my previous “big” camera, a now almost seven years-old DSLR that was my starting point for all of this hobbyist interest in photography. I have a shelf full of lenses and am deeply fond of many of the photos that came from them over the years, and proud of some of them, too. I picked up that camera for the first time in a while this weekend, organizing and cleaning up some bookshelves — It’s heavy. I had forgotten. I am so used to the weight and heft of the X100s, the feel of the shutter, and that big optical viewfinder, I think it would be hard to go back. I love its output and I love to use it.

A good tool encourages its user to explore its capabilities, to learn to be most effective or creative or (day I say) productive. This camera rewards my efforts to get better. I don’t have illusions about being a good photographer because I have a nice camera, but having a camera that makes even my hobby shooting feel like something that approaches a craft gives me a great incentive to learn and improve — and it’s a real kick.

Everpix was great. This is how it died.

I won’t get to try Everpix after all. It’s too bad — it really appears to hit that niche for finding and using photos, as opposed to just dropping them in a, well, box. The Everpix team sold their technology to enable an orderly close of business (which I think shows a lot of respect for their customers), so I hope it resurfaces somewhere.

Khoi Vinh also has some thoughts. Perhaps emblematic of the problems that Everpix faced is that he describes Everpix primarily in terms of a backup service, when in fact the core of the experience the team designed was by all accounts much more than than.

Drive Nacho Drive

Brad and Sheena van Orden are a local pair who have been on the road for nearly two years in a custom VW camper van (I grew up vacationing in the back of one of those all over the Western US and get a little dreamy when I see one for sale). From Flagstaff, they’ve made it through South America, shipped the van (Nacho) to southeast Asia to continue through Thailand and Cambodia, and are now headed to India and the Himalayas. Their travelogue is full of fantastic photography and stories, and they have a book, too. Follow along!

Making the leap to Mavericks on my home MacBook Pro prompted me to think some about the dramatically different computing environments between my home and work. But that’s still a drafty post, so here are some autumn timey photos that I like, including the seasonally-required autumn leaves photos.

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We also have a good new coffee shop in town that I quite enjoy:

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Buca Boot: Flexible, Secure Storage for the Urban Biker

Alas, I’m not much of a bike commuter right now due to the road to my son’s daycare being a blind-corner no-shoulder nightmare. But this just looks cool:

I started thinking … wouldn’t it be great if I could treat my bike the way that everyone treats a car trunk (or ‘boot,’ as they call it in Britain), where you can just toss a gym bag or an extra pair of shoes in the trunk, no problem?

Over the last four years, I’ve enlisted various designers and engineers to realize my vision. We worked through iteration after iteration just trying to nail the combination of features that make the Buca Boot different: security, weather resistance, and a flexible lid system. In 2013, the final team came together and made something we wanted to share with the world.

Launch Center Pro 2.0 Review

Detailed review as always by Federico Viticci. I have a bunch of frequently-used Launch Center Pro actions: I use it to replace the phone dialer, quickly text certain contacts, enter mileage logs, and add items to calendar to to Due. This is a nice update, worth paying for, but offered as a free upgrade.

All week I crib things into pinboard, instapaper, and left-open browser tabs, thinking “oh, this is good — I’ll use|blog|THINK about it later.” Seeing as how it’s not actually my job to do those things, and I have an active life of making lunches, making dinners, and pre-schooler lecturing at home, it feels like I never get to give any of those things the attention that I want.

Baby steps though, right?

Stack this

Reading this about management at Valve I was struck by the difference in tone between discussions of stack ranking at Valve versus at Microsoft — the latter being one off the things said to doom the company:

In the end, the stack-ranking system crippled the ability to innovate at Microsoft, executives said. “I wanted to build a team of people who would work together and whose only focus would be on making great software,” said Bill Hill, the former manager. “But you can’t do that at Microsoft.”

To be sure, the implementation matters a great deal, and the actual ranking practices and cultures at Valve and Microsoft differ, but the public perception of each company undoubtedly shapes our view, too. At Valve this practice is daring and egalitarian (also anarchic and nigh socialism, we are told by internet commenters) while at Microsoft it’s stifling and bureaucratic.

If you haven’t seen it, the “leaked” Valve employee handbook originally circulated about a year ago and is an interesting depiction of a company culture.

Point and click

I spent a lot of time playing games from Lucasarts back in the day. So How LucasArts Fell Apart is an intriguing read. We can on only daydream about all those projects that never made it out the door.

Relatedly, I am eager to see how Steam’s new adventure in living room gaming will work out. I’m interested in being able to move away from requiring a high-specced desktop or laptop machine for gaming, while maintaining the library of stuff on Steam that I really enjoy. For that reason, the streaming to the TV route isn’t ideal at all for me, but with a new Mac on my roadmap it could be a nice intermediate step.

(The most recent game I have really enjoyed is Mark of the Ninja, which recently launched for the Mac. It hits the sweet spot for sneaking around in the dark action.)

My First 100 Days With Google Glass

Many articles have already covered the Glass hardware; simply put, Google has done a good job designing the device. Glass is light and unobtrusive. The screen looks great, even in broad daylight, and the camera and processor are excellent for such a small form factor. Battery life, though, is the bottleneck: with heavy usage, I can discharge the entire battery in half an hour. I expect this to improve over time; it has to, for Glass to be viable.

Thirty-minutes of battery life? That’s just nuts for any kind of consumer electronic, and it seems like lunacy for something that is supposed to be worn and integrated into daily experience.

XOXO Talk Notes

Maciej Ceglowski is among the most honest and insightful guys on the internet.

A few things I stashed in pinboard to read or re-read the past week or so. You might like them, too.

The end of kindness: weev and the cult of the angry young man

Stories like this makes me seriously, seriously question the value of participating in any kind of online dialogue, weighed against the risk of one’s whole life being exposed and attacked by malicious and misguided vigilantes. (See also crazy, off-the-charts hostility in response to any of a number of situations where — primarily — women have made sensible remarks about misogyny at PAX or in GTAV. It’s a loony bin out there.)

Using Editorial to streamline posting to this site as well as my other writing is just so satisfying. As always, check out what’s going on at Macdrifter and MacStories for the true state of the art (because, dang, Gabe and Federico have it going on), but I thought I’d briefly note a couple of things that have made me happy lately.

I’m using Koken more and more for serving images, because it has such a great integration with Lightroom. Combined with Lightview it makes a nice system for flexible display of images here. Koken can serve cropped images, as in the Rt66 post below, that are blown up to full-size pop ups easily by Lightview. (I do need to tinker with the display size, and of course it’s not responsive, and so but.)

So, for posting using the iPad, I built a small Editorial workflow to help place the combination Koken/Lightview calls. Koken has an easy to use embed option, but it produces an HTML snippet that I usually want to convert to markdown and wrap in a Lightview class; with a Koken image embed link on the clipboard, I can call this workflow, tap the selection for the type of link I want, and it removes the unwanted code, adds my specific parameters and then pastes into the document the properly-formatted markdown image tag and link. Nothing too complicated or sophisticated, but like I said, it’s just very satisfying to be able to so quickly build something Iike that.

Some photos from a jaunt around this year’s Route 66 Days car show. We picked a good time to explore it; our monsoon weather returned early in the afternoon and kept us bottled up inside for most of the rest of the day.



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Seahorse on Line One

This is a fun conversation on The Incomparable about Saga, hitting almost all the things that I really like about it. There’s an ease to the dialogue that is almost always at odds with the apparent otherworldliness of the scene, which cuts through the mostly-calamitous, everybody-is-in-peril story, and reminds me of Aaron Sorkin and Joss Whedon. And almost invariably those scenes close with something beautiful or poignant. It’s good.



We’re in the middle of a long weekend and I’m out and about with the camera quite a bit, including on a very rainy — strike that, absolutely soaking wet — adventure to the county fair.





Loving Pencils

People love pencils. They love them. It’s partly childhood nostalgia, partly how a craftsman comes to care for her tools, and partly the tactile experience. It’s also a blend of appreciation for both their aesthetic and functional qualities, and (especially these days, but not only these days), a soupçon of the disruptive passion that comes from willfully embracing what poses as the technologically obsolete.

Great set of notes and links about pencils, from Tim Carmody filling in at Kottke this week.

70Decibels - Generational - 049 - Journaling with Paul Mayne

As a big user of Day One (and a tinkerer of some plugins for it), I really enjoyed this conversation.

Some Stuff from Amazon that Wasn’t Crap

One thing I like about Gabe’s list is that it’s not entirely tech stuff. Nice wheelbarrow!

On leaving academic life – Rethinking Markets

I haven’t really remarked here, or anywhere for that matter, on my transition from academia. Maybe one of these days, but for now Peter Levin pretty aptly describes the why:

Some years ago, for the Columbia pro-seminar, I produced a year-by-year ‘getting through graduate school’ handout. In my little pitch to 1st years, I told them that each year, including your terminal, job-hunting year, you should take stock of your sunk costs, and ask yourself if you still want to be an academic. For me, the answer became no. And for me, like many of graduate students, as well as tenured and untenured faculty, the biggest question was, if not academia, then what else?

Peter has landed what sounds like a fantastic gig with Intel, as a “sociologist in the wild,” and I’m looking forward to hearing about his acclimatization to Portland’s environs. Happy trails!

This week’s episode of Accidental Tech Podcast continues discussion that I have really appreciated, motivated in part by Bradley Chambers’ post on the state of photo management in iOS. The followup conversation this week begins with John Siracuasa’s good-so-far experience with Everpix, and focuses mostly on the dilemma of reliable and accessible backups of one’s photo collection.

Over the years I have accumulated a series of increasingly-large external hard drives that perform both backup of my active data as well as offline storage and its backup (offline storage being for the stuff, almost exclusively photos, that I moved from primary storage to free up more space). I have had an array of backup regimes including wirelessly mounting these external drives for incremental backup using a terribly fiddly launchd+ unison and later rsync script, which turned out to be fiddly enough and require enough babysitting that I stopped doing it altogether and now rely on somewhat randomly scheduled cabled backups. In addition to these, I have backups from various points in time to cloud destinations like Strongspace and and utterly gobs of pictures at Flickr and Facebook. (Also Trovebox where I spent some time last year. You get the point.)

I have and will continue to pay good money for the desk- and cloud-based boxes that hold my stuff. Problem is, perhaps in contrast to the ATP conversation, the boxes might be too easy. I’m not suggesting that making Time Machine/Capsule work flawlessly is easy, or that most upload bandwidth allows for efficient creation of comprehensive cloud backups; but what’s easy is filling up platter after platter with data. To be sure, as a general area of computing, not having backups, or not having backups that work are substantial problems (how many of us have tested our backups or could actually perform a restore from them to rebuild a working boot disk?).

But as space gets cheaper and services proliferate, the boxes of disks become for me a minority concern and even exacerbates the problem of retrievability. More important is knowing what I have, and perhaps this is the difference between backup and archiving. I think the real problem in twenty years probably won’t be having my stuff around but using it well, by which I mean:

  • that serendipitous rediscovery of a memory
  • my son could use pictures of mom and dad for a surprise anniversary party
  • not sorting through dozens or hundreds of photos from the same event to find a good one
  • the video I shoot is discoverable
  • it’s possible to find a photo of a person from a location even though I don’t exactly remember when I took it
  • browsing photos is pleasant despite there being gigabytes and gigabytes and gigabytes of them, from different catalogs and sources

Some of this is a problem of discipline: and if I were just more diligent about keywording and filing taxonomy then perhaps this would be easier. But it’s also a problem of scale: Files not only keep getting bigger but we are making massively more of them every year. And unlike the storage element, the problem of scale isn’t getting easier, and won’t get easier without next-gen advances in tools that help with navigating and understanding the content of our photos.

In short, finding what I’ve stored is hard, and it’s made harder by the passage of time, the shifting of things offline as new content gets bigger than always-on capacity, and the arrival of new platforms and devices.

Going back to the beginning, I’m considering Everpix myself not for backup purposes but because they seem to take this quite seriously

It has become easier and easier to take pictures of everything, but technology to manage them has not progressed much. Photographs capture precious memories and emotions, yet a computer stores them as files and bits. Effectively, we, the users, are the only ones for whom these images still have a meaning. Maybe not for long: as photos accumulate by the hundreds, or thousands, on our phones, memory cards, hard drives or social networks, the cost of collecting, organizing, and managing them becomes so high that we also lose touch with these captured memories. Our memories could, ultimately, end up forgotten on some computer memory.

So why am I holding back? My primary reservation is about having Yet Another Service holding my stuff. Everpix would be an easy, no-brainer buy for me if it could do what they offer on my desktop — or my own storage, wherever it is — without requiring me to send them all my stuff. But at the moment maybe that’s the price for (part of) what I ultimately really want.

Editorial Workflow — Insert browser URL as link

Okay, it’s my second workflow, but the first (which rebuilds this site) is not really publish-ready.

Grab the current URL from the Editorial browser and insert as a markdown link in the current document. Opens a prompt for the link text with the default set to the current editor selection.

I sprung for the VSCO slide film pack while it was on sale for its recent launch, and I’m enjoying experimenting with it. Having not grown up shooting film I don’t have expectations for certain looks from the presets, and the sheer number of options is somewhat overwhelming. There’s a huge amount of variety in the array of film styles. Below are a few I’ve liked so far, compared to an out of camera JPG from the X100S:


clockwise from top left: Fuji Velvia 100F Landscape; Fuji Provia 100F +; Pro Neg. Hi SOOC; Agfa Scala 200 ++

Patrick La Roque has a bunch of inspiring examples of VSCO Film 04 in use.