Christmas has come and gone, and we are enjoying a quiet day of doing nothing in our pajamas. the house is quiet after an eight-day visit with my sister in law and her son Scott, who is a cute and very active two-year-old. It was challenging to fit the two of them into our daily schedule, host my folks last weekend (hooray!), host three cats, and prepare for Christmas, but now that everyone is gone I think we’re all quite depressed. The house is silent and we haven’t bothered to pick anything up.
Christmas itself was great. We hosted the Lockards here (there was a slight chance Rob might have joined us Christmas eve but his flight out of Philadelphia took off on time) and Jen outdid herself with milk-braised pork, brussel sprouts, potatoes, and arugula salad. Finley came downstairs to a new bicycle from Santa, as well as a bunch of excellent new books, educational toys, and, most surprising of all, a 3′ Crystle Carrington doll from Dynasty–yes, Dynasty (don’t ask.)
Santa was good enough to bring me an iPad Air two Christmases ago, when I settled into my commute to DC and needed something portable to read and write email. It was great, and I enjoyed using it on a (mostly) daily basis. It has a combination of excellent battery life, portability, and convenience that made my first year on the train an easy one.
When I started teaching, things got more difficult. This past semester, I found myself carrying a ton of extra stuff for each class. I bring a pad of paper to class, along with an attendance sheet that doubles as a notepad. Then I was humping design books, Pantone swatchbooks, paper samples, and other bulky items to show the students each day. Adding all this to a 13″ MacBook Pro, a camera, a Moleskine, and about 5 pounds of other stuff meant that the iPad got left on my desk more often than not. Santa brought me a medium sized Timbuk2 messenger bag, but as I’ve found, the bigger the bag, the more crap you want to cram in it, and the heavier it gets. My intention is to pare the things I carry down to the bare minimum.
On Black Friday I saw that Amazon had discounted the Kindle Fire to a price I couldn’t pass up, so I bought two of them. One for Jen, to complement her phone as an entertainment device, and one to replace my iPad.
I’m impressed with it so far. It’s less than a half the size and weight of my iPad, and it has the main features I was using my iPad for–watching Netflix movies and reading eBooks on the train. It takes time to get used to a non-Apple interface, but overall they’ve done a decent job of laying things out and letting me get to my stuff. I could do without the ads on my home screen, but I didn’t pay extra for that. The browser is responsive and small, but it’s good to have something to check smaller screens with. As with our earlier Kindle (thanks, Linda!) I can dump books on it with Calibre, the ugliest OS X application I’ve used in 20 years.
Meanwhile, my Mom has been using a white MacBook for email and websurfing since we got it for her in 2008. It’s getting very long in the tooth, and even though it’s still working, things have been getting funky with it; the browser chrome is blinking out, and the fan cycles up to “tornado” regularly. It’s running 10.7.4 which is the latest version the processor will support, so she’s way behind the times in terms of security. It only made sense to give her my iPad. During their visit, I wiped it and we got her set up with email, her browser settings, an Apple Store account, and found apps to replace the ones she’d been using on her laptop. She’s thrilled and I’m happy it’s going to a great home.
I’ve been using the Fuji X-E1 for about six months now, and I’m finding its limitations a bit frustrating. My primary complaint is that the shutter lag is maddening. Waiting for it to find focus is irritating, having been spoiled by years of lightning-fast DSLRs. It’s pretty useless in low light even with ISO cranked to the ceiling because the camera can’t find anything to settle on. I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to purchase a used 27mm fixed lens for it to slim it down or to sell it and look for a better camera.
While my sister-in-law and her son were here, I made a conscious effort to use the Fuji as much as I could, which meant daylight and quieter situations to avoid movement and low light. It works great in those environments. However, I needed something that could keep up with an active 2-year-old and his mercurial facial expressions–which led me back to the D7000.
I’ve been noticing that the shots I’ve been taking lately aren’t as crisp as I want them to be. It could be the new 35mm lens I bought isn’t sharp, or that the camera is out of alignment, or that I’m just not using it correctly. Something I’ve got planned for this coming week is to set up a tripod and shoot comparisons of the AI 35mm and 50mm lenses I have as well as both non-AI lenses with both the D7000 and Jen’s D90 to see if I can nail down what’s going on.
I never really understood the lure of Twitter, and only posted there twice. Elon bought the whole thing yesterday, and apparently the tech world is abuzz. I think the best summation of the situation comes from Nilay Patel over at the Verge; the whole thing is one big quotable chunk, but he offers the best summation of what it is I’ve seen, and what the future holds for the platform.
…the tech stack is not the valuable asset. The asset is the user base: hopelessly addicted politicians, reporters, celebrities, and other people who should know better but keep posting anyway. You! You, Elon Musk, are addicted to Twitter. You’re the asset. You just bought yourself for $44 billion dollars.
Have fun with that, buddy.
I upgraded the PHP engine behind idiotking from 7.3 to 8.0 and apparently it made the hamsters mad and they are on strike. One of the key plugins I use for the sidebar is apparently the culprit; the author wrote it 17 years ago and apparently doesn’t want to update it anymore, so it’s officially EOL. I’ll have to spend some time figuring out how to fold the sideblog entries into the main feed, but for now things will be a bit broken.
Update: Got it working again; there was some legacy code I was using to denote the Scout syndicated posts that I need to sort out. For now, all of the sidebar posts are showing up in the main feed, which isn’t a huge problem.
I’ve been using this template for over a decade, partially because it’s not overcomplicated and also because visually it’s very simple. But it’s getting creaky as the years move onward; there are some newer templates that offer the same visual simplicity without featuring a shopping cart, integrated twitter feed, and product carousel (WordPress ceased to be a true blogging platform a decade ago). The idea of refreshing the site makes me tired, but I suppose I need to really consider it.
Polygon is reporting that Bungie may be considering a reboot of Marathon, the seminal mid ’90’s shooter exclusive to the Mac that destroyed my productivity for about five solid years. I have no idea what shape this would take or how they’d design it, but it would be awesome to revisit that world thirty years later.
Way back in early 2000’s I was playing around with home automation and had varying degrees of success. That system was pre-smartphone, so it ran on your computer and used a clever plug that transmitted signals through the wiring in the house to all the connected devices. I ran it off an old iMac I’d salvaged from somewhere and used the latest version of the software, but it was still glitchy (that was the last CRT computer I owned). It worked OK but I was never really able to build a solid case for investing hundreds of dollars into the gear and software, so I gave up on it.
These days Apple has HomeKit, which is an out of the box automation framework that hooks up to a whole fleet of (relatively inexpensive) peripheral gear. I spent $20 on two smart plugs last week and gave them a try. They are simple on/off switches, so they act as slightly smarter versions of the plug-in light timers we already own. They took all of a minute to register with HomeKit, and I quickly had a light in the living room hooked up to one. With one tap on my phone, the light turns on and off. But this kind of sucks, because I can’t just walk into the room and turn on that smart-connected light without a cellphone, and we don’t live the kind of regimented life where timer-controlled lights make sense. They’re great for when we travel, and I’ll probably swap out all of the old mechanical timers this year, but I can’t think of a use case for these plugs other than that. (I’m not buying an Alexa or HomePod to voice-activate anything, before you ask).
Now that I know it works, I’m going to explore some of the more expensive options for automation—maybe a system set up to control the door locks, for example, allowing us to open the door without a key. But what I’d really like is to replace the thermostat with something programmable from somewhere other than the keypad; our Honeywell unit is about 15 years old and takes three hours of button-mashing to program every time the batteries die. The trick is to avoid the larger monopoly ecosystems; Google bought Nest back in the day and Amazon just bought iRobot—so now Bezos knows how much lint is under our couch. A couple of years ago I picked up a cheap Wyze camera for the house to see what Hazel was doing in her spare time but recently found out their system had been hacked and wide open for several years. Glad I only used that camera for the weeklong demo period.
Meanwhile, we bought a Nest doorbell cam for Bob’s house to keep an eye on things remotely, which I installed on Sunday. The physical installation went fine but trying to set it up through his phone revealed that the Verizon rep completely fucked up his account setup, so that they were sending his bills to Pennsylvania and shut his phone off for nonpayment. We’re sorting that mess out now.
Add this to the list of HOLY FUCK TAKE MY MONEY: An engineer figured out how to stuff a tiny computer and display into a LEGO 2-stud sloped brick and power it with the old 9-volt battery system from the 90’s; the displays are proceedurally generated, but he’s found a way to stream DOOM to them (naturally). He’s not ready to sell them yet, but OMG he could make so much money…