In Praise of the News on Paper - WSJ

Barton Swaim, WSJ:

The newspaper brings a kind of epistemological definition to the everyday work of being literate. You can hold the day’s knowledge with two ink-stained hands, and when you’re done with it, you can throw it away. It won’t update and demand to be read in a few hours, and it won’t follow you around on your smartphone.

I’m convinced that reading the news “in the paper” is the best way to stay informed without losing one’s mind or dying of anxiety in the process. It feels great to be done with the news for the day.

The Roon Music Player is Awesome

My local music library as shown by Roon

After a recent two-day internet outage I started looking for something better than iTunes for managing and playing my local music library. Streaming music doesn’t work very well without internet access, and iTunes doesn’t work very well for anything.

First, I tried Audirvana. Audirvana is “The Audiophile Music Player for Mac” and is aptly named. I don’t have an audiophile’s ears, but even I could tell the difference in sound between it and iTunes. As an app, though, it’s pretty basic. Functional, not fancy.

While poking around I learned about another app called Roon. Roon is “The music player for music lovers” and is also aptly named. Very aptly named.

Roon is my new favorite thing. It’s been surfacing music from my library in a way that I’ve never experienced. I find the experience of browsing music with Roon far better than that of either Spotify or iTunes/Apple Music. It makes finding something to listen to a fun thing to do rather than a chore.

Roon’s “Core” component basically just sits there and deals with your audio files, whether they’re on a NAS, Mac, external drives, wherever. It’s the brains of the system. Then you install the “Controller” on all your devices. The iOS/iPad controller app is very nice. From each device, you can choose to stream to one or more “Outputs” (“Outputs are devices that make noise.”) You can read more about Roon’s Architecture. Currently I’m running both Core and Controller on my iMac but I may get fancy and spin off Core onto a Synology or some other headless device.

Roon sees all of my Sonos devices and both of my HomePods (via Airplay). No configuration or setup process was necessary.

Roon device list

You can see in the screenshot that I have both HomePods linked. No need to wait for Apple to enable this with Airplay2.

The elephant in the room here is that I recently purchased two HomePods. I love how they sound, but I almost never use the “smart” features. I’m finding that I prefer to choose music visually, so asking Siri to play music is just not something I take advantage of. This is fine, since Siri isn’t great at it anyway. It’s possible I should have just stuck with just my Sonos speakers. Time will tell.

For access to more than just a local music library, Roon works seamlessly with the Tidal service. Tidal offers both “Premium” and “HiFi” subscriptions. The Premium subscription ($9.99/month) uses “standard sound quality” which is basically the equivalent of Spotify. There’s also the HiFi option, which streams Lossless FLAC files. While FLAC does sound a little better, to my ears it’s not yet worth the increase in price ($19.99/month) or bandwidth.

It was a no-brainer to replace my Apple Music subscription with one for Tidal.

A subscription to Roon costs $119/year, putting the combination of Roon and Tidal at just shy of $20/month. I am still in the free trial periods, but I expect to subscribe to both. I may even opt for the lifetime subscription to roon for $499. That sounds like a lot of money, but if I think of it as just another audio component of my system it doesn’t seem expensive at all, comparatively.

The combination of Roon and Tidal is a fantastic way to manage, discover, and listen to music.

Getting the GTD Band Back Together

My doc

This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but I’m stepping away from my text-only, Org-mode/Emacs/Filesystem based setup.

Sigh.

Why did I do this? Honestly, it might be that I just get bored. Changing up my systems is my version of playing video games…it wastes a lot of time but it’s just so much fun. The same thing happend last year. It happens most years. I’m used to it.

I have been trying to reduce the number of apps I use. To this end, I’d gone all-in with Emacs and Org-mode for writing, GTD, publishing, coding, and email. For file management, I’ve tried weaning myself from DEVONthink and just keeping things in folders and using Finder to deal with them and Spotlight to find things.

It’s actually worked quite well, but I must admit that it is more “cool” than it is “easy”. By that I mean that I can do some nifty and clever things with email and tasks and text in Emacs. I’m attracted to nifty and clever. The problem is that doing those clever things takes me hours of searching and trial-and-error and documenting the steps because none of it is easily discoverable. This also makes things fragile.

I also fall into the “But only text is future proof!” trap, forgetting that most of the things that I would like preserved “forever” are already text-based enough. The rest is raw material for things that end up in future-safe formats anyway.

So here I am, back with the old gang of reliable, wonderful apps that I’ve used on and off for many years.

Mailmate for email, Things for tasks, DEVONthink for document management, Tinderbox for notes, The Brain for linking everything together.

I’ll let you know when I change my mind again.

Update 2018-06-09: I changed my mind again. I still cannot find a good way to get long without org-mode.

The Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2

HHKB

I don’t want to write a review of the Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2 but I do want to mention that I love it. I’ve been using it for a week, which means I’ve gotten past most of the getting-used-to-it process. Before getting the HHKB I had no idea what Topre switches were, but they’re awesome.

I’m not a keyboard expert, but I am fussy about how a keyboard feels. I prefer mechanical keyboards1. I used an Apple Extended Keyboard II for years but it’s huge and clumsy and I was looking for something smaller. Also, the physical Caps Lock button on the AEKII made it impossible to use Caps Lock as a Control key.

I used the first version of Das Keyboard liked it very much. It eventually failed and I started using the Apple Magic keyboard instead in an attempt to make my desktop experience closer to the iPad keyboard. The Apple keyboard is fine, but I wanted to go back to something mechanical, something better.

The HHKB though, wow. It’s way better. It feels nearly perfect to me. I haven’t measured, but it feels as though I’m very fast and accurate with it. I like the feel of the keys so much that I wouldn’t care even if I wasn’t fast and accurate.

I opted for the white version because I was worried that the dark grey one, as cool as it looks, would be hard to read. I’m not cool enough to have a keyboard I can’t read.

I’m still getting used to having the tilde key at the top right rather than top left. And the Delete (or Backspace, depending on the configuration) key is almost-but-not-quite close enough to reach with my right pinky. I’m trying to train myself to use the pinky because that would mean even less arm movement, but it’s slow going.

The hardest thing to get used to is that the arrow keys are on the function layer. Not having dedicated arrow keys is challenging. The idea is that I can easily reach the function key with my right pinky, then use the first two fingers to manipulate the arrow keys. It’s a fine idea, but it’s not coming naturally to me yet. Whenever I need to use an arrow key, I have to stop, look at my hands, and reposition them carefully. I’ll get it, but it may take a while before it’s comfortable.

The only complaint I have is that the thing slips around on the desk too easily. There are rubber feet on the front side of the bottom but they aren’t sticky enough. I stuck a couple of thin plastic feet on the rear of the bottom and that’s solved the problem.

I was a little worried about spending so much money on a keyboard that I had never tried, but the HHKB exceeded my expectations. I love typing on this thing.


  1. There’s some debate about whether the HHKB is truly a “mechanical” keyboard, as it uses rubber dome switches, but whatever. Close enough. [return]

Headlines making you anxious? Delay reading them - Oliver Burkeman

Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian:

Of the 45 troubling things you saw on Twitter this morning, two or three may prove to be signs of the rise of fascism/the destruction of the environment/the collapse of Brexit Britain. Yet the rest won’t. Once, it was the media’s job to sift stories of lasting significance from the rest; today, any publication that sat on a story for a week, to see if it had legs, would get screamed at for suppressing the truth. The passage of time is the best filter for determining what matters. But being late is the one thing no social network, or modern news organisation, can afford.

Since canceling Facebook, pruning Twitter followers, disabling retweets, and limiting my news intake to The Economist and NYT (print edition), my headline anxiety has dropped to nearly zero.

Baron Schwartz's Twitter Strategy

Baron Schwartz:

Why go to all this trouble myself, instead of letting Twitter’s algorithms do it for me? Isn’t that what Big Data and Machine Learning is for? Ostensibly, yes, but as we’ve seen, absolutely no. There’s a deeper point here: I either take responsibility for my own consumption and learning, or I abdicate it to machines. And I believe that abdication to machines is amongst the most pressing dangers facing our society today.

Curating our own feeds has become a means of survival. I use a similar strategy as Schwartz, except mine also includes disabling all retweets.

A Weekend Back With the iPhone SE

iPhone X and iPhone SE

I spent the weekend with my old iPhone SE and I’ve decided I like it better than the iPhone X.

The iPhone X is a beautiful device. Smooth, sleek, powerful, and the screen is just gorgeous. The iPhone SE, by comparison, is tiny, slow, and practically blurry.

However, the iPhone SE is also easier to carry, easier to hold, and easier to use.

Face ID is clever and it works pretty well, but sometimes having to either pick up or lean over the phone to read notifications is less than ideal. And frequently when I pick it up to read notifications it just opens up to the home screen instead. Haven’t figured out why yet, but I don’t enjoy it. Face ID can be super convenient but I’m not convinced it’s always better than Touch ID.

I don’t like putting cases on things. The iPhone X feels so nice that putting a case on it takes away one of the great things about it. Feeling nice isn’t the same as being easy to hold, and using a $1,000+ bar of soap without a case is just asking for trouble. The SE, on the other hand, is much easier to hold. Also, it’s not nearly as precious so even if I do drop it I’m not out that much.

I find the iPhone SE easier to use than the iPhone X. I’m still not used to the contortions required to unlock or swich apps on the X. I must have small hands because getting to the the control panel one-handed on the X is an exercise fraught with peril. Holding the phone securely and actually using it can feel like mutually exclusive activities.

Here’s something I can’t explain; I type much faster and more accurately on the SE. I can’t seem to type three words in a row correctly on the X.

Oh, and the SE has a real headphone jack. I hate not having a standard headphone jack on my phone.

There are of course downsides to the SE.

The camera on the SE is not as good as the one on the X. Especially the front-facing camera. Selfies look terrible in anything but broad daylight.

The SE’s screen is small. This obviously can be less useful than the big, bright iPhone X screen. Thing is, I don’t use my phone for doing much. I don’t read anything longer than tweets or short blog posts. I avoid writing on it as much as possible. I certainly never use it for watching movies. I do miss the larger screen of the X while using Maps, and I really miss it for viewing photos.

The SE is definitely slower, but not by as much as you’d think.

All in all, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed using the iPhone SE again over the past couple of days. It’s still the perfect form factor for me. If Apple introduces the rumoured SE 2 with upgraded internals and camera, I’ll have a decision to make.

Facebook Is Why We Need a Digital Protection Agency - Paul Ford, Bloomberg

Paul Ford, Bloomberg:

I know that when you think of a Superfund site, you think of bad things, like piles of dead wildlife or stretches of fenced-off, chemical-infused land or hospital wings filled with poisoned families. No one thinks about all the great chemicals that get produced, or the amazing consumer products we all enjoy. Nobody sets out to destroy the environment; they just want to make synthetic fibers or produce industrial chemicals. The same goes for our giant tech platforms. Facebook never expected to be an engine that destroys America. Lots of nice people work there. Twitter didn’t expect to become the megaphone of despots and white nationalists. But the simple principles of “more communication is better” and “let’s build community” and “we take your privacy seriously” didn’t stand a chance under the pressure of hypergrowth and unbelievable wealth creation.

Paul is about as level-headed as they come, and he understands that the problems we’re facing weren’t necessarily premeditated by a bunch of evildoers. But here we are, and we can’t rely on the same people and policies that got us here to fix anything. Maybe it will take something like a “Digital Protection Agency”.

Using Less-Precious Things

Less Precious Things

In recent months I’ve noticed a trend away from using precious things. By “precious” I mean “Affectedly dainty or overrefined.”

I first noticed this after I bought an inexpensive ThinkPad for playing with Linux. I now bring the ThinkPad to meetings and when traveling instead of the expensive MacBook Pro. I can toss the ThinkPad around without worrying about damaging it. I don’t worry as much about it being stolen. Also, if something does break I can probably fix it myself, cheaply.

The same thing has happened with cameras. I own a couple of wonderful Leica bodies and a fine Fuji digital camera, but I’ve been using the Nikon F3 or Olympus Stylus Epic almost exclusively. The F3 is a tank. It also cost many times less than the Leica or Fuji. I don’t worry much about damaging the F3, partly because it’s so inexpensive, but also because it’s harder to damage in the first place. And the little Olympus? Ten bucks. I just use them without worrying.

When I first saw the Freewrite Kickstarter I lost my head and backed it. I thought I’d use it for journaling or whatever, and I did for a few weeks. The Freewrite is cool, but it’s way too precious. Using it is a bit fussy and battery life is ok but unpredictable. Instead, I’ve been using the old, trustworthy AlphaSmart Neo2. The batteries last for years, and if I break it (although I’m not sure that’s even possible), I can replace it for around $25. I just press one button and start typing.

I have some nice fountain pens. I love them. They’re beautiful and a pleasure to write with. I’ve been using pencils instead. A pencil, at worst, needs sharpening. If a pencil can be picked up, it can be written with. Grab one and write. If I lose one, so what?

My Apple Watch sits unused on the charger most days. Instead, I wear a simple automatic analog watch. In this case, the simple watch cost much more than the Apple Watch, but it’s less precious. It never needs charging or updates. I don’t worry about scratching or damaging it. I’ve beat the crap out of it for nearly ten years and it still looks new. It’s not just water resistent, it’s water proof to 300 meters. Again, I just put it on and go.

As for that Nokia phone in the photo? I’m not that crazy…yet.

Testing the Re-released Kodak T-MAX P3200 Film

When Kodak discontinued T-MAX P3200 film back in 2012, I had never shot any so didn’t really miss it. They recently brought it back so I thought I’d give it a try.

KODAK PROFESSIONAL T-MAX P3200 Black & White Negative Film is a multi-speed continuous-tone panchromatic black-and-white negative film that combines high to ultra-high film speeds with finer grain than that of other fast black-and-white films

Here’s a link to the T-MAX P3200 Data Sheet (pdf)

I shoot mostly indoors and that means using faster film whenever possible. T-MAX P3200 is rated at EI 800 when exposed and processed normally, but they claim that “Because of its great latitude, you can expose this film at EI 1600 and yield negatives of high quality…with only a small loss of shadow detail.” I like high-contrast, grainy photos so I decided to go for it and try shooting it at 3200.

I put a roll in the Nikon F3, set the ISO to 3200 and just plinked a few shots around the house. I processed it in HC-110 (dilution B) for 9 minutes at 70 degrees (F). I scanned it on the Pakon, then imported into Lightroom and applied minor contrast adjustments only.

At first glance, I like it. Of course it’s quite grainy but that’s expected and actually desirable to me. It’s wild being able to shoot indoors with very low light and still get the shutter speed up to 160 or more, even at F4.

Here are a few from my first roll.

Tea Kettle (2018). Nikon F3. T-MAX P3200. HC-110

Shoes. Nikon F3. T-MAX P3200. HC-110

Selfie. Nikon F3. T-MAX P3200. HC-110

Polaroid SX-70. Nikon F3. T-MAX P3200. HC-110