Shook | Austin Kleon

A bomb exploded in my neighborhood last night on a sidewalk I walk every morning with my wife and two sons. We’re all okay. The boys are oblivious, thankfully, but my wife and I are a little shook. I wanted to get down a couple thoughts…

Writer-who-draws Austin Kleon lives in a neighborhood where one of the Austin bomber’s devices exploded. He shares a bit of the panic and anxiety he felt about his family, and where to find the best information in an emergency. 

Forget breaking news and even neighborhood listservs. The best information was via the official Twitter feeds of the police and EMS departments.

I also admire his taking of the long view; some information is always there, ready for the taking.

What Exactly Does a Librarian Do? Everything. | Literary Hub

Lots of different types of library work happens everywhere—new jobs crop up daily, thanks to evolving tech and shifting community needs—but there are some standard positions that remain eternal.

Kristen Arnett begins a new bimonthly column on the job that never earns enough to pay back the student loans. It has the punchy humor and wry tone that I associate with literary humor (that’s an observation, not a criticism!).

Because I got my master’s at a library school, I have a soft spot in my heart for librarians. Those who love it, really love it. The young folks coming in to the field are energetic, imaginative, and really pushing the limits of what the local public library can offer. Public service is what it’s all about for them.

If I recall correctly, at the time I was in school (2006-2011) the undergrads were overwhelmingly “library science” whereas the graduate students overwhelmingly “information science.” This was trending to an overproduction of information science faculty nationwide, leading some commentators to wonder who was going to teach the students interested in brick-and-mortar institutions? Most librarians get a Ph.D. to qualify to lead a research library or similar institution, they don’t always come back to teach.

The Portlandia Effect: How Did the Show Change Portland?

After hundreds of voters weighed in, the results came back. Old Portland died on January 21, 2011 — the day Portlandia debuted.

The end of Portlandia is time to look back on a show that opened the door to a type of hipster humor that felt young and fresh until its moment, like all moments, passed.

The Vulture’s article on the death of Old Portland at the hands of Portlandia reminded me of similar stories, particularly how the villagers of Port Isaac are fed up with the Doc Martin series filming in their village

Are the shows really to blame? Austin has long had a hip reputation and old-timers lament the passing of landmarks, but I can’t recall any TV shows set there. Our little town of Durham is growing by leaps and bounds yet there’s no TV show fueling that. Maybe Old Portland would have changed even without the attention the show brought to it. 

But there is such a thing as “buzz”; downtown Durham has it for better and worse, and we visited Portland based on watching Portlandia. The buzz will die away eventually, it has its moment, as humor does. In the meantime? Suffer the tourists and techno-nomads, perhaps, or search out the next Portland or Austin or Durham and stake your claim. More fun to create your own scene than hang out at someone else’s.

Hold On to the Badge

This is a rather silly little hack but when I do it, it solves lots of little problems. 

The situation: 

  • At my workplace, our badges have a chip to unlock the secure doors. 
  • The badge also logs me in to my computer. After inserting the badge into the computer, I enter a PIN and wait a minute or two or three for the login process to finish and Windows to boot up. Once booted, I can pull out the badge. 
  • People forget about their badges and leave them in their computers. This is such a frequent occurrence that a big window will pop up on the screen after 20 minutes or so if the badge is still inserted. 
  • But by the time that window pops up, you have walked out of the locked office area to the bathroom or to get coffee. Returning to the locked door you  realize you left your card in the computer. You are locked out. Much knocking and embarrassed, hushed "thank-yous" follow.  

So, what to do? Here's what I tried:

  • I printed out signs with big red letters screaming BADGE!!! Within days, I'd stopped seeing them. 
  • I moved the signs to places where I'd be sure to see them when standing up or exiting my cube. I walked past them as if they weren't there. 
  • What worked sometimes was simply to sit at the computer while it booted up that boring or what? I would get impatient and walk away, promising myself I'd remember to retrieve my badge but usually I forgot. 

As I've learned from Mark Forster's books and blogs over the years, the first step in plugging a leaky process or system is to not take the failures personally. This is not about correcting perceived character flaws. I didn't fail, my system failed. Failing provides information I can use to tweak my system so it will work with me and not against me.

As I daydreamed about what would help the situation, I remembered a detail from Thomas Limoncelli's time management book. He mentioned that he kept his badge in his hand as he took off his coat because if he ever set it on a desk or shelf, he'd forget he'd done so and walk off without it.  

Hmm. Maybe instead of reminding myself to retrieve the badge, the simpler solution would be to never let the badge leave my hand. 

The following system is what has worked best: After I insert the badge into the computer and enter my PIN, I put my fingers on the badge and I wait for the computer to boot up. After I'm logged in, I whip out the badge, put it into my badge holder, and go about my business.

No need for signs or reminders, no forgetting the badge, no embarrassed knocks on a locked door. It's a pretty leakproof system.

I can't explain why keeping my hand on the badge and waiting works for me while leaning back in my chair and waiting does not. Perhaps the simple act of holding the badge is enough to engage body and mind. I'm actively rather than passively waiting. 

Also, waiting that minute or so teaches me that the pain of boredom is imaginary. Just ignore that feeling and wait, if waiting is what needs to be done.

Teaching the New Testament – A Jewish Professor Looks Back

By 1992, as I approached my 20th year of university teaching, I’d evolved the philosophy that we who taught about religion had two tasks to perform with our students.  One was to shake them up.  The other was to build them up.

David Halperin tells the wonderful story of a Jewish professor teaching a New Testament class in the South to what could be described as a tough crowd.

So many lessons here on the value of shaking things up, yes, and also the responsibility to build something in its place, and the wonderful surprises that can occur when you take a calculated risk. Something alchemical happened between professor, students, subject matter, and dialogue that produced something unique and unattainable elsewhere. 

I had lunch with David recently; he said he had discovered over the years that fundamentalist students were happy to challenge when they were in the opposition, but they shut up when handed the mic. This “interactive method” for teaching a large class neutralized that stance; it also, from his description, called forth from the students resources they did not know they possessed. What they learned they had earned.

He never taught the class again nor deployed that method again. A golden memory, to be sure. 

Productivity Update

I have noticed an interesting change in my attitude about Inbox Zero – basically, I’ve stopped trying to maintain it.

When I get home, my priorities are a workout, supper with Liz, we maybe watch some TV (only until 8pm on school nights), I wash the dishes, and I make our tea. A perfectly pleasant and comforting evening routine.

Then, I go up to my office and the first thing I do is write my blog post for the day or – if I’m really productive – for the next day. Some evenings I cycle through several ongoing drafts of posts in Evernote, adding or editing text (Mark Forster’s continuous revision process), before settling on something I like well enough to finish.

By the time I’ve published the post, it’s 10 or 10:30 p.m. and I need to get ready for bed. 

I will scan the inbox for anything time-sensitive. But by and large, I let most emails wait till I schedule time to deal with them, which may be later in the week or the weekend.

For now I’m content to let my bigger desire (writing and posting daily) overshadow the smaller duty (empty inbox). We’ll see how it goes.

For further reading

Boiling Ourselves to Death

These panels are talking to me about politics, the workplace, life, lots of things. Laugh or get out of the water?

Source: Ruben Bollings' Super-Fun-Pak Comix for March 14, 2018, via Go Comics. 

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For Further Reading

Stuff I wanted to read but didn't get to. Maybe this weekend...? 


Search for: "The Untold Story of *"

In writing yesterday's post, I did one of my cheeky searches in the Audible catalog for "The Untold Story of" and discovered 243 untold stories that, saints be praised, were now told.

A search of Amazon's Books area yielded 5,000+ untold stories.

And a Google search for "the untold story of *" returned over 32 million hits for untold stories.

It seems we love stories. Especially untold ones.


Do Audio Books Count As Reading? | Literary Hub

James Tate Hill's essay is a fascinating memoir of how he went from sighted, sporadic reader to visually impaired omnivorous reader of audiobooks. 

He also examines various facets of the essay's title: do audio books count as reading? Are they instead a performance? Is the physical smell, heft, and tangibility of a book -- beloved by so many sighted writers -- the essential part of the reading experience? We have the same debates about ebooks, he notes.

When I was recovering from a detached retina in the fall and winter of 2003, I was for a couple of weeks unable to watch TV or look at a computer screen comfortably. Reading was out of the question; the page swam in front of me and I experienced vertigo. Audiobooks became my lifeline. I "read" The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance  and Stephen King's On Writing. Many hours of recuperating and resting went by more pleasantly having a good long narrative in my ear, taking my mind away from my troubles. When the reader and the material align, the trance I go into with an audiobook is the same as when I read a physical book. 

For myself, I find that non-fiction audio books go down easier than fiction, and I prefer books read by the author, if possible. They know how they want the story to sound. Alan Bennett's diaries simply have to be read by Alan Bennett to be truly savored.

A satisfying audiobook is made or broken by the reader. I tried recently to listen to The Picture of Dorian Gray and simply had to stop after Chapter 4. Part of it was that this philosophical, talky novel became a closed, airless world I simply did not want to live in anymore. Another was that the reader would read something like, " 'Stop,' he cried," so languidly that I got irritated. The text is telling you how to read it, man! Put some life into it!

I'm trying another novel now: Edward Herrmann reading John Updike's Villages. Herrmann does an excellent job as the omniscient narrator or in close-third person, and manages Updike's stylistic flourishes beautifully. But I have trouble discerning vocal differences between his characters when in conversation. Odd, given Herrmann's skill as an actor.

Despite my occasional ups and downs with audiobooks (and with "real" books; not every papery book is a masterpiece for the ages), I will not give them up. I think we live in a wonderful time when there are so many options for people to take in the stories they need.

For further reading: Hill mentions a book that smells a bit like a Ph.D. dissertation dressed up for the mainstream: The Untold Story of the Talking Book by Matthew Rubery tells the story of audio-recorded literature, including its social impacts and controversies. Available from Amazon and, as one would hope, Audible.




Tom Hardy on The Sanity of Actors

“A performer is asked to do two things,” [the actor Tom Hardy] tells me. “To be disciplined and accountable, communicative and a pleasure to work with. And then, within a split second, they’re asked to be a psychopath. Authentically. It takes a very strong human being to sustain a genuine sense of well-being through that baptism of fire.” Then: “Drama is not known to attract stable types.”


International Eye Test Chart (1907)

Another wonderful discovery from the Public Domain Review: an eye test chart from a 1907 San Francisco optometrist George Mayerle. It not only featured international text and symbols, it had a positive and negative side.

   [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1024.0"]<a href=""><img src="" alt=" George Mayerle’s Eye Test Chart (ca. 1907) " /></a>  George Mayerle’s Eye Test Chart (ca. 1907) [/caption]

Lower your voice to calm down

This is a useful tip I've handed out since it was given to me years ago.

At the time, in my 20s, I was excitable, jabbered on and on when talking to people, and was concerned -- given my job at the time -- about the impression I made on people. 

A mentor advised me to lower my voice when I talked. When we're nervous, our heart rate goes up, we breathe faster and more shallowly, we talk faster, and as we talk faster, our voices rise in pitch.

So when I caught myself talking fast or feeling nervous as I talked, I reminded myself to lower my voice. The change in attitude was almost instant. 

As my pitch fell, I could feel my voice's center move from my head down to my chest. Lowering my voice slowed my speech, which slowed my  breathing. I could feel my shoulders relax (I hold a lot of tension in my shoulders).

And I could feel my mind slow down too. My thinking evened out, I took my time, and I usually felt like I was now consciously participating in the conversation, not flailing like a fire hose.

Notes to Myself

I stand 6'3" (1.91 meters) and wear size 15 shoes.

At the movies today, as I stood to move into the aisle and down the stairs, it hit me again that the world does not quite fit me, or maybe I don't fit into it. 

I unfolded myself, stepped carefully around the seats and railing, arranged my feet on the stair, and then deliberately started down. The little people all around me had no trouble navigating the cramped space.

Left to myself, I stay up late and get up late. But I live in a world where I must go to bed by a specific time so I can get up to go to work by a specific time, leave by a specific time, or otherwise adapt myself to other people's or group's schedules.

What would my own personal world look like, if I were the Dungeon Master?

There would be room. I could move freely without bumping into things. There would be space in my calendar to move freely without crashing into someone else's constraints.

Note: I am aware, of course, that physical reality demands honoring appointments and deadlines, paying our taxes by April 15, etc. I accept that. I just didn't feel like accepting it today.


Eight Books, Audiobooks, Comics

Encounters With an Enlightened Man by Linda Quiring. Of the three books written by Quiring about Sydney Banks, this is probably the best. It misses the freshness of the first two books, which were written in the early 1970s when Banks started sharing his enlightenment experience, but it tells a beginning-middle-end story and paints a more complete picture of the place and time. Of interest mainly to people interested in the history of the Three Principles and Banks' personal history. I am drafting a bigger post that takes a look at all three books.  

Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film by Patton Oswalt, read by Patton Oswalt. A memoir by Oswalt of the movies he compulsively watched during his first years in Los Angeles. It's a story of being in the grip of a mild obsession well-known to those of us with a geeky/nerdy bent. His girlfriend at the time asks him to walk her out to her car from the theatre, and his first, absolutely natural, response is, "But I've never seen the start of the next movie and I don't want to miss it." Exit one relationship. 

Parallel with his obsession is the evolution of his standup, writing, and acting career and how he tries to juggle that with the nightly movies shown at the New Beverly. The most chilling and haunting story to me is of a long-ago standup comrade who imposes on Oswalt for a shot at becoming a star; Oswalt has already become a character of fiction in someone else's movie. He introduces and returns to the idea of special, sometimes dark, moments that propel one forward in life or work. He wrote this before the death of his first wife, so listening to those passages struck me as especially poignant.  

The Correspondence by JD Daniels. A collection of laconic essays and two short stories that originally appeared in The Paris Review. Here's a passage from a short story: 

She'd gone to school for years to study library science. He didn't see how it could be so complicated. It seemed like a hoax. 

All the essays and both stories have that terse, dry flavor; the humor is almost an aftertaste. A rather short book, too -- I read one essay or story a night in about 30 mins or so. 

Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett, read by Simon Vance. Bennett finds a loophole in Dickens' story to spin a tale with 19th-century flavors, coincidences, and voices. It's a clever reworking of the original material that exploits unexplored nooks and crannies, though he does get a bit bogged down as the spirits explain the metaphysical mechanics of the afterlife and what is required for Scrooge's reclamation. Though, if I heard the story right, it's Marley's sacrifice that redeems Scrooge rather than Scrooge's own change of heart. If so, that makes Dickens' story subservient to Bennett's, which does not sit well with me.  

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote, read by Michael C. Hall. I had never seen the movie nor read the book so this was new to me. It is very much a book of the 1950s -- rather gray and  naturalistic, the secondary characters all stagey and one-note -- except when Holly explodes into the narrative with unnatural color and life. Holly is clearly the most interesting character and the mysteries surrounding her are the ones I cared about the most. Hall's reading was fine though I didn't care for his expression of Holly's voice. For further reading: an excellent Open Letters Monthly essay compares and contrasts Sally Bowles and Holly Golightly.

Just Keep Going by Jeanette Stokes. Disclaimer: Jeannette is an acquaintance we run into at random cultural events here in Durham. The book is part of her ongoing memoir series; this one focuses on how her relationship to writing, art, and creativity marked key passages of her life. A compact memoir with a good collection of basic advice and resources for the new writer and timely reminders for the experienced one.  

Tales of the Batman: Alan Brennert, Archie Goodwin (Comixology). Archie Goodwin had a long career in the comics industry and was a much beloved writer, editor, and mentor. His Batman stories in this volume span the years 1973-2000. They tend to the pulpy and the "well-made." He also seemed interested in expanding the canvas on which Batman stories could be told; many of the stories delve into character histories and motivations -- with lots of exposition -- making Batman almost a secondary character.  

They're good meat-and-potatoes Batman stories that color in unnoticed areas of Batman's universe (who did design the Batarang and Batmobile?). The highlights for me are the six or so Manhunter stories that ran as backup to the main Batman series and that I still remembered from when I was a kid; so glad they've been collected at last. Goodwin's updating of the 1940's Manhunter character to the cynical modern-day prefigures work that Alan Moore would take to another level a decade or so later. It's Walt Simonson's artwork that made these stories instant minor classics. 

Alan Brennert has been a successful writer in many media: stories, novels, TV, even the book for a Broadway musical. He only wrote nine stories for DC, his first in 1981 and his last in 2000. Yet they include some of the most interesting takes on the Batman mythos, mixing the pleasure of nostalgia with the character development he used in his scripts and novels. For me, his stories pay the best dividends every time I re-read them. I remember buying these comics back in the day and noticed even then how different his stories were, how he pulled out details or emotional colors that I did not see elsewhere.  

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Brennert had a particular fondness (as do I) for the "golden age" or "Earth-2" Batman and my favorite story of his -- maybe one of my favorites of all time -- is the Earth-2 Batman teaming with Catwoman to hunt down the nefarious Scarecrow ("The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne"). Joe Staton and George Freeman drew the chunky Batman from the '50s, a style that instantly evokes the light-hearted adventures of that era. But Brennert adds a moment that stops that feeling dead in its tracks.  

Batman removes his shirt so Catwoman can attend to his wounds. She gasps at the scar tissue covering his back; it's key that we see only her horrified reaction and Batman's stoic response. That scar-tissue detail is so unexpected in the context of a "retro" Batman story, yet such a common-sense detail considering his life of fighting, that I am still amazed Brennert was the first to conceive of and use it. It's a telling detail that's now accepted as a given and enshrined in the movies.

Brennert had that freedom of approach -- perhaps from his work in other media -- to give his characters time to breathe amid the action and feel the weight of emotional moments. That's not something you see in comics very much, and it's always appreciated when it happens.  

For Further Reading

Stuff I wanted to read but didn't get to. Maybe this weekend...? 


Show Your Work

Inspired by Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work, and my wholesome need to generate a new blog post everyday, here’s what I’m pondering.

  • In Five Pots, I said I was thinking of becoming a time management coach. What would a 3 Principles-based time management coach look like? Rather like any other 3 Principles coach, I guess, except the pain point for the customer is their feeling of overwhelm.

  • I wondered about writing a giveaway PDF – the two things you need to know about time management. The two things idea is something I ran across in Oliver Burkeman’s column.

  • In listening to Mary’s Daily Principles audios, she mentioned a fear she had at one time of being 54 and thinking her job at that time was the best she could hope for, or something like that. That rang a bell with me. I’ve felt the same thing.

  • I thought, waitaminnit – maybe the thing to do is not time management. That’s been an intellectual hobby for decades, but is not so urgent to me now.

  • But … what do I want to do in the next stage/chapter of my life? That’s an interesting, urgent, painful thought right now. And since we teach what we want to learn, then my experiment would be how to gracefully enter that stage myself (a “stage” being only a thought, of course, though we talk about it as though it were real) while coaching others who are making the same transition. In the end, it’s still 3Ps coaching, but the entry point is different.

  • I started this post a week or more ago. I’ve made one “pot” (mock-up of a business card) since then. I made a list of four or five things that felt like good ideas. I notice only now that I’m still thinking about pots instead of making them. I waiting for inspiration, but I know I can create while feeling uninspired. Not berating myself, just waking up a bit.

  • Make four really bad pots, really quick, to meet my quota. Trust that the next five will be better.

Software: Leech, Amphetamine

Leech and Amphetamine are specialized Mac utilities that, when I need them, perform so dependably I thank the software gods for them.

Amphetamine (Free) keeps my Mac awake when I don't want the system to sleep. It has a terrific array of options and preference settings; it can keep the disk alive while letting the display sleep, it will run only when a specific app is running, and it can even run in response to specific system events. 

For the last month or so, I've been uploading files to BackBlaze via our trembling DSL line. Before I close up shop for the night, I'll set Amphetamine to run for 12 Hours so the uploads occur while I'm sleeping. 

Another time I use Amphetamine is when downloading large files, such as system software updates. I don't want the iMac to go to sleep during a big download only to wake back up the next time I log in and resume the download. Amphetamine prevents that annoyance from happening.

And speaking of downloading...I trust Chrome to download most of the middling files I run across or have to download, like PDFs and whatnot.

But when the use cases run to downloading large files or a large number of files, then I want to use a memory-efficient and dependable standalone program. 

Enter Leech ($6) from Many Tricks Software. Leech offers a simple interface: simply drag the download link to the Leech window and the download starts. Drag several links to the window to queue them.

I used Leech recently to download a batch of .CBZ and .EPUB files related to a Humble Bundle comics package I bought. I simply dragged each CBZ download link to Leech, made sure Amphetamine was running, and went to bed. Doing that job in Chrome would have taken hours, maybe many evenings, and resulted in me crying and despairing of my poor life choices.

Like Amphetamine, Leech offers lots of customizations and settings while remaining small, easy-to-use, and utterly reliable.

And be sure to check out Many Tricks Software's other applications, of which I own my fair share.


An Empty Cup

What I have found in the last few years of reading and soaking in The Three Principles -- and it's been a gradual process of understanding -- is that I generally feel and perform better when I do not have a lot on my mind. 

What do I mean by "not a lot on my mind"? 

I mean not talking to myself when I'm walking to my car. 

I mean not carrying on a conversation from decades ago with the person that annoyed me.

I mean not fretting about what I will do this afternoon or tomorrow or next week when I'm standing in line at the grocery store. 

I mean not focusing my mind on solving or figuring out problems that exist only because my mind made them up.

I mean leaving an empty space where worry and anxiety would drive me to distraction.

I mean seeing and understanding that those thoughts are not real, are not really happening to me now, in this moment. They only have power if I choose to pay attention to them.

There is a big meeting at work tomorrow. Four or five years ago, I would have been nervous and anxious about attending and speaking at it. 

I still have a bit of thinking about it. That's normal and human. But I know my thinking isn't real and is telling me only about what I'm feeling in the moment. My thinking cannot predict the future. My well-being does not depend on its outcome, whatever its outcome.

I can hear my inner gremlin wanting to engage in debate with me. You haven't prepared enough! You're not knowledgeable or skilled enough! What will they say about you when the call is over?

Those are thoughts that I find easier now to let drift down the river. I do not need them on my mind. New thought will come along if I wait and if I'm not burdened with that old stale thinking. 

Part of trusting my intuition and my creative spirit is accepting that I do not control my thoughts, when ideas come to me, or even sometimes why I do what I do when I do it. Part of trusting my subconscious includes trusting that the actions I take may not make much sense in the moment, but that they will in the fulness of time. Like seeing only dots on a canvas, only to step back and see them resolve into a beautiful painting

After so many years as a worry wart and a Nervous Nellie, it's odd to not feel the weight of those heavy thoughts in my cup. An empty cup is so much less distracting, so much lighter.

Diet Update

I have described the type of weight tracking chart I'm using. Here's my chart with measurements that ended a few days ago.

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It interests me that most plateaus tend to last two days before dipping back down. I usually do a 20+ hour fast on those days, so I imagine most of the weight loss is water. Still -- it's a pattern and we humans like patterns.

By rights, I should have been at 206 or thereabouts by the end of the period. But my rise in weight from the 20th onward is positively evil. My enemies no doubt learned of my experiment and enlisted an all-too-eager world to derail me. 

What can I say? They succeeded. But let's be grateful: I stayed below 210 so I did achieve and sustain a 2lb. loss. Take our successes where we can.

What next? No judgments, no beatings, no gotta-double-downs. Simply go back to what I know works and eat like a grownup

A new idea that came my way: I don't have an eating problem so much as a thinking problem. That is something to ponder as I make my new chart and carry on measuring.

Civilian Tech Support

Two incidents yesterday consumed lots of investigation and research time. Then, with the right trick, dissolved into nothing. It's finding that "right trick" that's tricky.

Importing Audible Downloads to iTunes

Scott wanted to burn his Audible purchases to CD so he could listen to the books both in his car and on the CD player in his office. He's on Windows 7.

Trying to download purchases from his Audible library page only took us to a generic "how to listen to your audiobooks" page. I poked around the support pages and downloaded the Audible Download Manager (ADM) application--nothing. I authorized his computer to download Audible files--nothing. I installed iTunes because it was clear from the support docs that burning Audible books to CD is really only supported via iTunes. I specified to ADM that we were using iTunes. But again, nothing.

At this point, I contacted tech support via chat and it was escalated up to someone with more divine knowledge. 

She pointed me to an obscure setting on the Accounts page.

  1. Go to in your web browser and log in to your account.
  2. Hover your mouse over where it says, "Hi, Firstname!" at the top of the page and select Account Details.
  3. Log in again.
  4. Click Update Settings in the left column. 
  5. At the bottom of the settings page is a section titled Software Verification with a single checkbox. That setting controls whether Audible will check to see if the Audible Download Manager (ADM) is on the user's computer. Clear that checkbox (that is, turn it OFF -- we did not want Audible to check if ADM was installed).

After clearing that setting, clicking the Download button downloaded a file called "admhelper." I double-clicked the admhelper file and the download instantly started in ADM. It even loaded the file into iTunes' Audiobooks section. (If everything were working as expected, ADM would intercept and run that file.)

I would never have found that setting nor would I have known what to do with it had I found it.

Troubleshooting time: about 90 minutes.

The Case of the Rogue MP3 Tags

I had a 2GB collection of 299 short spoken-word audio files. I'd run them through Audio Book Builder to create a multi-part audio book I could listen to using iBooks on my iPhone.

The files were reasonably named in CamelCase format, like "AMomentIWillNeverForget.mp3," and sorted alphabetically in the Finder.

But when I looked at the audiobook "chapters" (that is, the individual MP3 files) in the iBooks interface, there were no filename titles. Only names like "Recording 413" or "Recording 56." It wasn't a sad sad sad thing, but I would have preferred seeing the filenames instead. 

Looking at a sample file with Get Info, I could see that the Title metadata was "Recording 56." 

OK, so the person's recording software automatically assigned a title to the recording. The original recording may even have been automatically titled "Recording 56." So he renamed the file in the Finder or Windows Explorer rather than using audio-editing software. So while the file had his intended name, the file's metadata carried the original "Recording 56."

Which in the real world may not be an issue, but when you want to play that file in iTunes or on any MP3 device, the software will look at the Title tag and ignore the filename. I tried using Doug Adams' Join Together application and got the same result: it read the Title tag, not the filename.

What to do, what to do. I started searching for "mac application mp3 tag editor" and even added "automator." I did not want to individually edit 299 files; it needed to be a batch operation. And I could tell that even Doug's Applescripts could not help me here; they depended on well-tagged files and would not, I think, scoop up the filename for use as a variable.

I skimmed the various offerings using my "zero grief policy" criteria and passed by those that looked old, too fiddly, or required compiling a command-line app (though a command-line app in a script might have been able to do the job). 

I considered Metadatics and looked at the other projects the guy offers. Where there's one audio program available, there are usually 3 or 4. 

And lo, I found it: a freeware app called Tag Stripper. Its purpose in life was simple: to remove all of a file's metadata.

Tag Stripper will eliminate any non-audio data from an audio file. Some examples of tags that are removed are: ID3v1, ID3v2, Logic Metadata, Garage Band Metadata, and Pro Tools Metadata.

Better: all you needed to do was drop one or many files on the application and it would either output the stripped files to a new directory or overwrite the old files.

So maybe I didn't need to be a cleverboots and find a way to switch a tag with a filename. Maybe clearing the tags was all I needed to do.

I tested Tag Stripper on copies of five files, choosing to overwrite the old ones. The Finder showed that the Title metadata was gone. I dragged the new files into Audio Book Builder and lo! The filenames now appeared.

Success! Heady with excitement, I dragged all 299 files onto the Tag Stripper application and watched in awe and delight as it chewed through all the files, one by one, leaving clean files in their place.

I regenerated the audiobook files with the stripped files and I can now scan the filenames in iBooks. My OCD is satisfied.

Time spent: maybe an hour or two, off and on.


I don't know that there was a method to my troubleshooting beyond: 

  • Know that I can solve the problem, or at least get a result close to what I want.
  • Try stuff. 
  • Ask for help when I don't know what to do next. 
  • Be open to the solution being different from what I expected or wanted.
  • Improvise, dance, adapt to circumstances.

Thing is, I've been futzing with computers since the mid-80s and so this is all a bit of a pastime for me. How do normal people deal with this mess? 


Emptying My Cup

I have been posting lots of stuff since December 25, 2017. Not as much as Seth Godin, of course, but my little share. Why?

I don't know why, precisely, except...I see that I've been posting lots of tips and tricks, advice, things I've learned from years of working with computers, writing, and myself, and a few ideas or curios that seemed worth sharing.

I cannot find a unifying thread to the posts, nor does there need to be one, of course. 

But I had a thought today -- maybe I'm emptying my cup. You've certainly heard some version of the old zen proverb:

Scholar Tokusan, who was full of knowledge and opinions about the dharma, came to Ryutan and asked about Zen.

At one point Ryutan re-filled his guest's teacup but did not stop pouring when the cup was full. Tea spilled out and ran over the table. "Stop! The cup is full!" said Tokusan.

"Exactly," said Master Ryutan. "You are like this cup; you are full of ideas. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can't put anything in. Before I can teach you, you'll have to empty your cup."

As the commentary on that page explains:

By the time we reach adulthood we are so full of stuff that we don't even notice it's there. We might consider ourselves to be open-minded, but in fact, everything we learn is filtered through many assumptions and then classified to fit into the knowledge we already possess.

This blog started out years ago as an online research notebook: a place where I could learn about Wordpress, how to maintain a web site, and take notes on my progress through UNC-CH's Master's of Information Science program.

Later I found that I felt better on days I wrote than on days I didn't. That fueled some writing but my output was irregular, and this blog became more of a mostly blank canvas, with splotches of color here and there.

But on Christmas day last year, for whatever reason, the blog became a vessel into which I started pouring stuff that wanted to come out. It's a hodgepodge and that's OK, that's what is swirling in my mind right now. 

Perhaps the reason I'm posting every day is to empty my mind and see what new knowledge (if any!) will fill that space. I've held on to a lot of this stuff for a long time. Time to share it and learn some new things.


Zero Grief Policy

I evaluated lots of Windows help authoring tools for one of my early freelancing jobs. As I searched various tech writer forums for criteria, one piece of advice stood out.

One of the writers said he adopted a "zero grief policy" when evaluating any software.

  • Was the install process too manual? Chuck it.
  • After the install, did the software drop you into a blank screen and leave you to figure out what to do next? Chuck it.
  • Did the menu items and dialog boxes help you through the process or did they leave you wondering where to start? Chuck it.
  • Was the help authoring tool's model so tough to understand that you got lost in its complexity? Chuck it.

I took that advice seriously. The software I picked was going to be used by developers and non-writers after I left, so it had to be as easy as possible to use.

Now, Windows help authoring tools are not as easy to use as a text editor and never will be. But if I could get the file started, and if the menus and dialogs could help these novice users along the way with the least friction possible, then the project would be a success. (We went with Help & Manual.)

Adopting a "zero grief policy" isn't always possible, of course. But whenever I'm evaluating any purchase -- software, a car, a gadget -- I am looking at it with the typical user mindset of Don't make me think! If it causes me the least amount of grief, I chuck it.

The Malpass Brothers

We spent last evening at Blue Note Grill to watch The Malpass Brothers, a home-grown band from Goldsboro, NC, that loves traditional bluegrass and country & western songs.

Chris and Taylor Malpass are as genuine with their retro Porter Wagoner suits and haircuts as they sound. There were bits of cornpone humor, sure, mainly provided by Taylor, though all six band members had their turn.

But the star of the show was their musicianship. Every member of the band was top-notch and their love for the material was thrilling.

Here's a trailer for a documentary being made on the brothers called Heading Home.

[vimeo 194865747 w=640 h=360]