In Praise of the Small Town Library | Literary Hub

If you don’t happen to live near a college or a bookstore, if your relatives aren’t bookish, the public library is literary culture in its entirety.

Steven Kurutz’s longish memory piece (about 12-15 minutes to read) is a love letter to his small-town Pennsylvania library and how it made him the person and writer he became. 

The first public library I remember visiting was the one-room Garner Public Library on Main Street, with I think a smallish room to the side where the magazines were. I remember it as large, though that is probably childhood memory playing a trick.

I remember first seeing The Maltese Falcon at a movie night there, with one of those loud reel-to-reel monstrosities on a small white screen. It was wonderful. When I got into the Doc Savage pulp adventure novels in my early teens, this little library – incredibly – had Philip Jose Farmer’s strangely uber-serious fictional biography of Doc Savage. How did those small-town librarians know what I wanted when I wanted it?

A tiny place, but a dear one. They moved into a much nicer metal-and-glass building beside Town Hall, with more room for more books and a community room, and it became a place for the bookish and introverted among us to hang out. But it was never as cozy. 


This headless robotic cat pillow will wag its way into your heart - The Verge

Susan Weinschenk’s talk at TriUXPA the other night on the future of human-technology interaction surfaced some intoxicating ideas.

One of them was that, as humans, we anthropomorphize our devices and machines. We build relationships with them (i.e., Eliza), even name them. As Alexa and Siri devices proliferate, we should expect devices to encourage more relationship-building. (We should also expect voice-control to be the interface of the near-future, so start practicing now.)

The technology will get better at anticipating or reacting to human expressions and actions. But as these devices get better, we can expect those people who have difficulty maintaining person-to-person relationships to prefer programmed familiarity.

Susan demoed the video for Qoobo – “the headless robotic cat pillow” – that I hope is an evolutionary path leading off a high cliff and deep into a bottomless crater of dark. It is one of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen – surely its makers are having a laugh?

I shared this Verge article with Liz, who said this about the video: 

Love that they say “hate the unconditional love?” - there’s irony for you. Also, I can’t fathom why they couldn’t have included a head too. Creepy and unnatural! 

Photo: Cafeteria Menu Board

On my way to tonight's TriUXPA event, I grabbed an early supper at my favorite place to eat in Raleigh: the one and only K&W Cafeteria in Cameron Village. There are other K&Ws around, but this one is the homiest and the sweetest. Look at those choices -- what's not to like??

Backups update

With the network problems seemingly taken care, we were still plagued with occasional, maddening slowdowns when watching Netflix or even just browsing on our devices.

But when I shut down the iMac or put it to sleep, the network would suddenly leap to life or become more stable. Hmmm.

I’ve been running Backblaze since mid-January and it’s still doing its initial backup, so it says. I noticed I had its performance to Faster Backup, which meant a slower network. My ignorance of Backblaze preference settings comes to the fore. Some Googling around clued me in to what I needed to do so the uploads would not affect us while we are trying to get stuff done online.

So I have set Backblaze to back up from 11pm-6am, when we’re sleeping. And while it’s backing up, I set it to perform faster backups – this will saturate our little DSL line but that’s OK, we’re not using it at night. We have a minuscule upload rate, but I’m hoping these new settings help finish the job while not inconveniencing us.


If you move a meeting forward, what does that really mean? | Oliver Burkeman | The Guardian

All of which is a reminder of how odd it is that we think of time using spatial metaphors at all – indeed, that it seems virtually impossible not to. Ask me about the coming month and I can’t help picturing a sequence of little boxes, like a calendar; ask me what I did yesterday and my eyes shoot upwards, as I consult a “space” somewhere behind my head. Your specific images may not match mine, but anthropologists suggest that the basic metaphor – “time is space” – is a cultural universal. Which is a pity, in a way, because I’m pretty sure it makes our experience of time more anguished than it needs to be.

Mark Forster wrote in one of his books about “spaciousness” being a quality of life he valued. When talking of how we move through the day, “spaciousness” evokes a different feeling than “cramped.”

As Burkeman says, time as space is a useful metaphor. Time is money, is another. An academic uses time the way a sculptor uses clay is another metaphor I’ve heard.

At this point in my development, metaphors are useful until they’re not. They’re fun to talk about and they can lead to insights sometimes, but it’s useful also to know when to let them go. And to know that they’re momentary thoughts.

“Time” does not really exist, the way trees and cars and physical bodies do. It’s a concept humans have made up because it’s useful to keep the trains running and we know when to celebrate birthdays, but time and its passing is a thought we create for ourselves. The way time can pass quickly or slowly to us – and differently for someone else in the same circumstance – is a clue that time is a thought we’re paying attention to (or not) in the moment.

As the mystics tell us, there is no past and no future. There is only now. What happens to the time-management industrial complex when there is only now? As someone for whom time management has been my shadow religion for nearly 30 years, this is something I’m pondering quite a bit.

Emergency funds

The Two Cents column on emergency funds has the good, standard advice offered by financial planners and investors. 

There's a 1-3-6 guideline for deciding how much to save, with a link on the page to a different article offering a 3-6-9 guideline

Of course, this assumes you have enough money to squirrel away to being with. Most of my adult life was spent at interesting but lower-paying jobs and paying off credit card debt racked up during periods of unemployment. If I had enough cash to contribute to my 401K and cover my bills, anything extra went to paying off the credit card.

It is only fairly recently that I reached a certain comfort level with how much I have in the bank, but I will always feel I started too late and saved too little.

The YNAB blog has its own take on do you really need an emergency fund. YNAB, an online budgeting application, stands for "You Need a Budget"; I started using it about 1.5 years ago and wish I'd known about it years earlier. It changed my financial life (but that's a story for another blog post).

I thought the YNAB article more applicable to my situation than the Two Cents piece. As the YNAB writer notes, and I've seen in my own finances, the more I'm tuned in to my priorities and budget categories, the less need I have of a line item for emergencies. 

If an emergency car repair or dermatology visit results in a surprise bill in the hundreds of dollars, I now have enough saved in those categories to cover the expense.  So emergencies are covered by my "true expenses" categories, where expenses are variable, hard to predict, but tend to be outsized.

Having enough money to cover an unexpected expense is a good feeling, one I've not had for most of my adult life, and I savor it.

"I need to figure that out..."

Over the years, I have set a few mental triggers for myself that let me know my thinking is revved up and running away with me. 

One of them is when I notice I'm talking to myself, either letting my in-my-head voice loose or carrying on my side of an argument that either has happened or has yet to happen.

Another is when I hear myself say "I need to figure that out..." This is usually a signal to me that I am in my head, my thinking is revved up, and I need to take a step back from the situation.

Saying "I need to figure it out" is like saying "I need to think about it more," which is usually the last thing I need to do. When my mood is low, thinking about the problem just makes me feel worse. In fact, my feelings are an indicator that I should avoid actively thinking about the problem. 

I like the description of thinking as a power tool, like a drill. A drill is useful for specific tasks, but it's not something to be used every day, as we would use a hammer or a screwdriver. Thinking is useful for planning a trip, troubleshooting a DSL connection -- practical stuff. But thinking about concepts like my career, my life, my place in the world -- the thinking there gets dicey and not to be trusted. 

Now, when I hear myself say that trigger phrase, it's my cue to stand up, walk around, breathe deeply, get some blood flowing, change up what I'm focusing on -- distract myself, in other words. Later on, an insight or next step may pop into my head when there is less thinking on my mind, and then I'm over the hump. 

Update: Dr. Amy Johnson, author of The Little Book of Big Change, posted a video circling around this question of "figuring things out."  


Can a Male Artist Still Paint a Female Nude? | The Cut

While feminist art critics have for decades pointed out the shortcomings of the “male gaze,” the post-#MeToo reckoning with the art world’s systemic sexism, its finger-on-the-scale preference for male genius, has given that critique a newly powerful force. And the question of the moment has become: Is it still an artistically justifiable pursuit for a man to paint a naked woman?

I remember some 30-odd years ago reading John Berger's Ways of Seeing and the two pages displaying female nudes, looking back at the viewer who is looking at them. Male nudes have never figured as much, except, as one of the quoted artists observes, Jesus naked on the cross.

The article, by Michael Slenske and Molly Langmuir, is in two parts. The first interviews male painters who continue to paint female nudes while the second enlists seven female artists to talk about men and women painting nude women and the effects of current -- or in the case of Judy Chicago, past -- events. 

But before you read, scroll down to the third part, titled "Duelling Gazes," and study the gallery of female nudes. No artist names are attributed to the pictures. Instead, you are asked to guess who created each image: a man or a woman? Most all of the paintings are discussed in the article so you will eventually puzzle out who painted what. I wish I had done that before reading this article, to see how my own biases are calibrated.

I liked this quote from Marilyn Minter, whose paintings ran afoul of anti-pornography feminists in the last decades of the last century:

“I was a traitor to feminism, but my side won,” she says. “Now it’s the return of all that.” Her larger point? “There are no safe places: This is the world, it’s pretty awful, and it’s pretty great at the same time. But the minute you try to pin down sexuality, it’s going to spit in your face. It’s totally personal, it’s fluid. Trying to make rules is a waste of energy. Progressives can take each other apart — we do it all the time — when the bigger enemy is these neo-Nazis. That’s where the energy should be, not trying to police fucking paintings.”

The Guiding Greene Light of Harry Crews

“Graham Greene—you’ve probably heard me quote before, because god knows, it’s true—’The writer is doomed to live in an atmosphere of perpetual failure.’ There it is. There it is. Nah, you write things and write things—write a book for instance—and write and write and write and write and write, and you know, it’s not—every writer writes with the knowledge that nothing he writes is as good as it could be,” Crews told Dangerous Minds in 2010.


Sometimes the Best Way to Read is to Mark Up the Book | Literary Hub

In order to understand writing, I have to annotate it. I started with Hopkins. I bought a used edition of his selected poetry and prose, and started writing in the margins of the beige pages. This wasn’t defacing; this was an act of communion.

One of the joys for me of second hand books is reading the marginalia. It’s not always clever or profound, but sometimes I see the conversation, the interrogation, the connections made, between a reader and the text and it can be thrilling. I remember reading somewhere that Coleridge’s annotations and marginalia were so impressive that friends and patrons would pay him to read and annotate books that they would then keep as cherished keepsakes in their personal libraries.

I have a few books that so captured me I had to create my own index in the back of the book and underlined or scribbled in the margins beside a line or paragraph that unsettled me or caused me to see things in a different light. Guy Claxton’s Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind is one such book that leaps to mind. 

But Nick Ripatrazone is not so much in dialogue with the text he’s reading; instead, he’s making marks on the page to understand how the words make poetry. It’s a sign of my own ignorance and innocence that it never occurred to me to annotate a poem this way, but of course it makes perfect sense.

Fiction writers are advised to do the same thing: copy out by hand or keyboard a short story or even a novel that means something to you. (Harry Crews meticulously studied and typed out the whole of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.) By feeling every comma and period under your fingers, you’re engaging with the text not as a dreamer, but as a student, an apprentice.

The nearest thing I’ve done to what Ripatrazone describes is when I used to act. My script would be marked with blocking, underlined emphases, and – whenever I got a speech – breaking the long passage down into smaller passages with hash marks, finding a rhythm both musically and emotionally that the words could travel on. 

As pretty as a pristine edition of a book can be, there’s something about a book that’s been argued with, pored over, and written in that makes that book way more interesting.

Nancy for a new age

Orange Crate Art's ongoing coverage of the Nancy comic strip -- from the acclaimed Fantagraphics book on how to read Nancy to the recent changeover of the daily strips to artist Olivia Jaimes -- convinced me to start reading the strip. (See all his Nancy posts on his Pinboard page.)

I read this week's strips and also like what he praises: its dryness, its cleverness, its hipness to what a kid and an audience would know about the current world. Tom the Dancing Bug's sarcastic awareness of comics tropes seems an influence, also.

OCA also alerted me to the AVClub article on the controversy surrounding the changeover to Jaimes from the former daily artist Guy Gilchrist, who is still doing the Sunday strip. Fans tend to the conservative, so it's understandable that those who knew what to expect from a daily Nancy strip now don't know what they're going to get. But that's what I find exciting.



Soviet film posters of the '50s and '60s

The Guardian web site runs an online gallery of pictures or images on a theme. The movie posters here reflect the thaw under Khrushchev, though some of the movies themselves continued the East vs. West propaganda struggle and the rightness of the Soviet path. A few evoke Socialist Party poster images but you can see the designers straining for a bolder, more experimental style.

They don't quite shake a literalism to the human figure and most lack a strong central image to anchor the composition. By contrast, Saul Bass's striking poster designs for Vertigo and Anatomy of a Murder make bold statements that stop you dead and evoke a sense of the movie without directly illustrating an event. The Soviet posters feel more tentative, yet there is a quiet mood and craft to some of them that invite the eye to stop and linger. 

I love the red and black contrasts of 25 Baku Commissars, the scratchboard effect of Black Sunglasses, and the leaf-print/snowflake designs surrounding the couple in Young and Green.

But if I had to pick one to take home with me and put on a wall, I think it would be Black Seagull: the image's woodcut nature, the contrasting black-and-yellow palette, the stiff lines of the dress folds indicating movement, the primacy of the female image as the plane draws near -- they all get my attention.

Black seagull

Don't fight the system -- create a new one

You never change anything by fighting the existing. To change something, build a new model and make the existing obsolete.
— Buckminster Fuller

A friend of a friend is a priest in a progressive area. He is very innovative in his methods to help people in his community who are in need. 

In cases of injustice, his attitude is to not fight the system, because that just causes the system to entrench further and – worse – it defines what you’re doing in terms of the system. The established system controls the terms of the debate.

Instead, he prefers to create his own system, with its own approaches and strategies. If you create a new system that is in integrity with your values, and it produces better results than the old system, then you (and maybe others) will use the better system more often. The new system takes over without a struggle and the old system loses its authority. No battles are needed, only preferences expressed.

It takes more creativity and courage to work this way. You are deliberately stepping outside everyone’s boundaries of certainty into the chaos of uncertainty. Yet, it’s from that chaos that new, creative thinking arises.

Bringing this down to the level of my obsessions, I see old systems at work in the self-improvement realm with established diets, fitness regimens, productivity, etc. New systems come along – like the Bullet Journal – to become established systems in their own right. 

I have tended to follow established systems due to the lure of the “sure thing,” only to often experience mixed results. I’m glad I did them, because I learned more about the domain and how I operate within those rules. And sometimes, that system produced exactly the results I wanted.

But in other areas, I think I may be better off walking in uncertainty and seeing what new thinking emerges.

DSL woes v -- The End (...for now?...)

I made a few changes a week ago when the connectivity was poor. I basically reset everything to zero -- no customizations, no trying to tweak performance. I did this so that, if I called Frontier tech support after the weekend, I could tell them the system was running as specified by them. I did not want anything in place that they could object to.

  • On the modem, I reverted the DNS server URLs to the ISP defaults.
  • On the Airport, I cleared the custom DNS server URLs (going to CloudFlare and Google Public DNS). The Airport is now using the ISP defaults.
  • On the Airport, I reverted the wifi channels back to Automatic.
  • I unplugged the Airport, then unplugged the modem, let them sit idle for a while, plugged in the modem, let it boot up and connect, and then plugged in the Airport. (Not sure I got the order right there, but that's what I think I did.)
  • I also got a 1-foot cable to connect the modem to the DSL jack. I had a 10-foot cable before. I don't believe the length of the cable has anything to do with connection speed, but again, I wanted to remove any objections that Frontier tech support might have had to my setup. In my magical-thinking mode, the long looped cable may have picked up interference from the ancient power strip I use or maybe other cables it rubbed against. Anyway -- no problems with old, long cords.

Within a day or so, the connection stabilized. I still check Speedtest and and the speeds are variable, but I more often see 1.5-2.5 Mbps than not. That's better than before, believe or not. Liz reports experiencing slowdowns when she works from home but the system does not fall over.

Network Logger Pro has recorded no total outages and far fewer DNS outages.

Did all my spells and incantations help? Or was it just the Frontier network going through a little crisis of faith and now it's back on its feet thanks to the love and support of its family and friends? We may never know. 

I do know that this latest round of self-reflection and meditation forced a few beneficial changes to our physical netowkr setup, and the connection is back to "good enough" (i.e., no more than two pauses, if any, while streaming Netflix to the Apple TV). 

I will continue to run Network Logger Pro for another week and Speedtest when I am suspicious.   But no more active tweaking of the system unless I encounter a real problem.


Alan Ayckbourn: Advice from Harold Pinter

I think Norman’s background is deliberately sketchy - I’m less interested in his genesis than his impact. Blame my mentor at the time, one Harold Pinter, who directed me early on when I was playing Stanley in his deliberately opaque The Birthday Party. I too was mystified as to where my character had come from or even, after the play had ended, where on earth he went. So I asked him. Harold looked at me for a second and then gave me the immortal note, “Mind your own fucking business.” I sort of knew what he meant and, after over 40 years of directing, it’s one I rather wish I’d had the courage to give at times!

We recently finished a rewatch of the 1977 TV adaptation of The Norman Conquests by Alan Ayckbourn. The three plays make a great weekend of viewing for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. We watch them every 5 or 6 years; the familiarity is there, but the details have been forgotten so there are always fun little surprises. The acting and comic timing is crystal-perfection.

How to Clean Your Gmail Autocomplete List • Productivity Portfolio

When I was at UNC for a couple years I sent and received emails from my Gmail account to lots and lots of people I will never see or hear from again. 

This was annoying me recently, when I had to ignore lots of obviously irrelevant-to-me-now email addresses. Where was Gmail finding this stuff -- from my old emails?

In a way, yes. The Productivity Portfolio explains that Gmail creates a new Contact record for every email you receive from or send to someone. The workaround is to find the Contact record and delete it. 

Very handy to know, particularly for when friends change work addresses.

Creating random passphrases for stronger passwords

At home on my iMac, when I need to create a strong password, I use 1Password's generator, specifically where it generates a string of random words. The longer the passphrase, generally, the harder it is to crack.

But I don't have 1Password on my Windows computer at work. And I like to mix things up also. 

Prior to using 1Password, I used a Diceware passphrase. Throw five dice to generate a totally random 5-digit number. Match the number to the list of 7,776 short words or word-tokens, and you have a long password that is easier to remember and type, while harder to crack. 

Since I don't have five dice, I used's dice-throwing routine, either from its website or iPhone app.  

So throwing 15152 gives you "brawl," 26232 is "fork," and so on. Separate five or six words with a non-alphabetic character, begin or end with a number or !@#$^*(), and I have a strong password that's also easy to type on a mobile keyboard. 

Diceware's was admittedly an odd list, with some obscure words, numbers, single letters (g), single letters with apostrophes (g's), or very short "words" (fy) that do not add to the passphrase complexity and are hard to remember on their own. 

Into the breach steps the Electronic Freedom Foundation's new wordlists to create random passphrases. The long word list is now composed of full recognizable words, without apostrophes, and that are easy to remember and spell. 

The EFF's page has all the information on the reasoning behind the new list along with shorter lists that use only four dice. It also links to the classic XKCD comic explaining the benefit of long passphrases.


Windows: My startup.bat file

@echo off
:: source: :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.
@echo off
:: source: :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.
@echo off
:: source: :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.
@echo off
:: source: :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.
@echo off
:: source: :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.
@echo off
:: source: :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.

8.htm :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.

:: evernote start “C:UsersuseridAppDataLocalAppsEvernoteEvernote” Evernote.exe


:: firefox start “C:UsersuseridAppDataLocalMozilla Firefox” firefox.exe


:: outlook start “C:Program Files (x86)Microsoft OfficerootOffice16” OUTLOOK.EXE


:: workrave start C:UsersuseridDocumentsApplicationsWorkravelibWorkrave.exe


Surviving the Ordinary: Why We Need Memoirs of Regular Lives | Literary Hub

So why do we need this book?

Mary Laura Philpott’s article looks at books of the ordinary lives that most of us lead: birth (or not), love (or not), marriage (or not), and death (oh yes). As much as the sensational books grab our attention, it’s the quieter books about quieter lives that can speak more loudly to us.

I have read to Liz before her bedtime for many years, and we’ve found that the best books for that are memoirs of ordinary people, but with a twist of some kind.

 Philpott worries for her own book of memoirish essays and whether its normality will speak to readers. Her hope for why readers may find it of interest rests on the concept of “relatability.”  

People come in all the time seeking not just an entertaining read, but (sorry, here comes that word) a relatable one. They pull down books in which they find some version of themselves as they are now or were in the past or hope to be one day. They start out seeing themselves in others; then they see the other in themselves; then they’re able to see themselves and their own futures differently. I’d say these books transform people, but it’s more that the books help people along while they are already transforming.

Perhaps. I would say instead that way down deep, in a place before words are formed, we know that we are all connected, we are all One Self. A good ordinary memoir cracks open the door to that place and reminds us of that truth.  

DSL woes iv

Still getting frequent, brief DNS outages. The speed is noticeably slower for long periods, but with a few periods where we get close to our provisioned speed. The connection is more stable than it was before Saturday's visit. We have not had any periods of complete downtime.

I am close to saying that this is about as good as it will get.

So, as my friend Peter is fond of saying after a grinding life event: What have we learned from this? 

Do as much work as I can to define the problem before I call tech support

I'm fortunate that our setup is simple: a DSL jack, a modem, the Airport Time Capsule. It was easy for me to directly hook the iMac to the modem so that I could tell tech support it was not the wifi. I left them no room to argue about wifi settings; when we deal with a wired connection, the troubleshooting is much simpler.

Use tools to gather evidence

Using Network Logger Pro, I collected a week's worth of outage data to prove to Frontier that we had a problem and that it was not my equipment causing it. 

Also, using Speedtest (the web site or the app) to do spot checks helped because that's what Frontier tech support uses. 

I like having logs and data showing that I'm getting x number of outages and only y mbps at specific times of day. Anecdotal "It just feels a lot slower" evidence does not help anyone.

The modem itself has its own stats and logs, also, but they're way more technical and I'm not sure they'd do me much good.

Accept that what I can do is limited

Rebooting the modem and/or router is the universal antidote because it solves most common ills. But for us, rebooting worked until it didn't. Getting rid of an ancient DSL filter and upgrading to a new modem helped. Hardware-wise, that was about it.

Of course, you can input different DSL addresses but that's no guarantee that the situation will change (and if you don't flush the DNS cache, then it may take a day or a reboot for the changes to take effect). I've also read that your ISP's default DNS servers may even be faster sometimes.

For wifi, you could use some tools to maybe find some less-crowded channels or change the router's DNS addresses, but again -- that's about it. The change in speed could be noticeable, but I think most likely the bump will be slight.

Beyond these simple tactics, I believe what I can physically do to improve a connectivity or outage problem is limited. Networking is arcane, dark-magic stuff; I chose to stop my research with SN ratios and Line Attenuations because it was clear to me that going deeper was not helping my understanding or the situation.

Call the ISP's tech support and get a trouble ticket

In the end, it came down to me calling the ISP, being persistent in making my case, and getting a trouble ticket. Once I had that trouble ticket, I was reassured that I'd get attention focused on the problem.

This takes time; maybe an hour on the phone with the first call, maybe a couple of hours with the technicians. I don't believe there's another way.

In all, we had three visits by four different Frontier technicians. And the final resolution was ... to replace the modem. So it goes.

All the guys who came to look at the problem were knowledgeable and each advanced the game a little at a time (changing the DSL filter, rewiring the box, double-checking the modem's settings). They have more sophisticated tools than I do to check the lines and they troubleshoot these problems all the time. So I relied on their experiences and instincts.

But ...

Run Speedtest several times before the technician leaves

This was a great piece of advice I picked up in my researches and I kicked myself when I forgot to do this.

The technicians need to see for themselves whether their work made a difference. And until we agree there's a positive change, then the ticket remains open.

In the end, it's up to the ISP (and me)

The ISP controls all the hardware from the street to my house and they're even responsible for the modem. 

My physical location from the switch, the wiring in my house -- some things are beyond my control. But the things I can influence, I want to influence.

So the next time I start experiencing problems, I will gather evidence and then call them: Here's what my logs are showing. What speeds should I expect, given our provisioning? What are Frontier's parameters for acceptable performance, using Speedtest as a guide? How many outages, and for how long, does Frontier consider acceptable? Are there any settings I can tweak on my modem that would help?

It's the ISP's responsibility to ensure I get the speed and service I'm paying for. It's my responsibility to be a partner in helping to solve the problem and to make sure the ISP does not stop focusing on the problem till it's solved to my satisfaction.

How To Access The WiFi Scanner In macOS Sierra - Let's Talk Tech

I was looking for a wifi scanner to check whether there were less cluttered wifi channels in our area. Specifying a less-populated channel can reduce interference and provide a more pleasing experience.

Lo, there is a Wireless Diagnostic utility included with macOS. It takes an Option key press on the wifi icon in the menubar to get to it, so it is definitely non-obvious -- why does Apple hide this kind of thing? 

The instructions on Let's Talk Tech page are clear and short. The utility told me the best 2.4 and 5 GHz channels to specify, and we're trying them out now. So far, so good, though the 5 GHz recommendations seem to change whenever I check them. 

   [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1382.0"]<img src="" alt=" The panel on the right shows all the wifi networks in our neighborhood, the wireless protocol they're using, the band (2.4 or 5 GHz) and, most important, their channels. The summary in the left panel recommends the best channels that&nbsp; take advantage of less-populated bands. " />  The panel on the right shows all the wifi networks in our neighborhood, the wireless protocol they're using, the band (2.4 or 5 GHz) and, most important, their channels. The summary in the left panel recommends the best channels that&nbsp; take advantage of less-populated bands. [/caption]