Leon Redbone

I first became acquainted with Mr. Redbone, not through his Saturday Night Live appearance, but when I was caught by the cover of his Double Time album at Reader's Corner in Raleigh, NC. 

I bought the album, liked his sound, and sought out more of his odd blend of old-time Americana parlor songs smattered with long-ago standards of jazz, blues, country, and TIn Pan Alley. And some of the oddest, laziest scat-singing that is not quite singing nor quite scatting.

I was fortunate to see him live on several occasions and his persona onstage was pretty much what one expected from hearing his drawling baritone voice: laid-back to the point of drowsiness, yet capable of playing hot guitar like nobody's business.

That memory is why I was surprised by a video from the Talkin' Blues podcast where Leon talks in a very normal, reasonable tone of voice about...what, I could not really articulate for you. Something about how music captures you, both as musician and listener? Anyway, it ends with Leon entertaining a small live audience, sitting on a chair, riffing, and adding some new flourishes to a song he's played a bazillion times over the last 40 years. He is a master of his craft.

That clip, I think, comes from a documentary said to be in production about this mystery man. The promo video for the documentary has some warm reminiscences from people who saw Leon emerge from Toronto, of all places, in the mid to late '60s. He was a mystery then, and remains a bit of one today.

The video below (from Austin City Limits) is the Leon I remember best, in his youthful prime, with his late-70s sound of a small combo: clarinet, tuba, guitar, maybe a muted trumpet.

Another reason I like this video is that it's a transfer from someone's home VHS recording. Those snowy bands at the top and bottom of the picture, caused by some poor VCR head tracking, are the visual equivalent of the pops and crackles of old 78s which Mr. Redbone must have heard as a young man, building his repertoire. Shades from the past.


Fast Company: "This Is What It’s Like To Not Own A Smartphone In 2018"

Kathleen Davis' "think piece" -- you can read it in under four minutes -- briskly surveys the reasons she and her husband continue to use their flip phones. Ten years ago, the story's angle would have been the exact opposite.

She recaps the familiar arguments -- the smartphone as fidget and distraction device -- and writes about their desire as parents to model for their son relationships with each other rather than with their phones.

At a restaurant one night, I saw a little girl trying to talk to her father, while he hunched over his smartphone, flicking his finger across the screen. She finally sat back, sighed, and resigned herself to the situation. I still feel a mix of sadness and anger when I call up that image in my head.

I had a professor at UNC's School of LIbrary and Information Science who matter-of-factly stated he did not and would not have a smartphone. Liz and I for years eschewed smartphones, sticking with Tracfone through many different dumb phone models -- phones that at one time were, I'm sure, reviewed and touted in the tech press. I think we were more afraid about signing up for one of those expensive contracts we'd heard about than we were about the technology.

I would sometimes make a weak joke when I brought out my little LG 441g flip phone. The people I was with would more often than not respond that they wish they only had a flip phone, which always surprised me. I thought people loved their smartphones. Instead, people felt tethered to these expensive little blocks of glass and aluminum, and their phone contracts, and the notifications, &tc.

My little LG had a lot going for it: cheap, pretty indestructible, a battery I could easily afford and replace, and all it could do really well was make a phone call.

But for both Liz and me, the attractions and convenience of smartphones became too hard to ignore. Simply having a more reliable phone that could reliably reach a cell tower was a big upgrade. I was tired of trying to call or message Liz and being in a spot where the LG could not get a signal. (Probably more Tracfone's fault than the phone's, to be fair.) 

And there are certain conveniences of the modern world -- airplane passes, online maps, text messaging -- for which a smartphone is simply the best tool. Does the smartphone encourage distraction and bad behavior? If you're already prone to distraction and bad behavior, then yes. Using the phone for short-term mood repair is not a life-affirming thing, but then neither was using food or TV 10 years ago to relieve boredom and avoid discomfort.

Yes, I have given up privacy for convenience. Tonight, I drove to a professional meeting at a location new to the group. It was dark and raining and near the end of the rush hour. I had printed out the directions but it was not clear to me exactly where to turn off. When I walked out of the building, I realized I'd left the directions on my desk.

No matter. On my iPhone SE, I looked up the email containing the address. I copied and pasted the address into Waze. I kept my eyes on the road and not on the phone as Waze told me where to turn and when to look out for possible road trouble. After the meeting, I texted Liz I was coming home and listened to a podcast.

For me, that kind of convenience makes my life much easier. That's what it's like for me to own a smartphone in 2018.

Six Movies

 Darkest Hour (2017). Gary Oldman, unrecognizable as usual, as Churchill. I’m unclear, in these historical recreations, on what is real and what is manufactured. But I can tell you the moment of Churchill barging into the Underground was obviously manufactured. Interesting directorial flourishes. It ends on a high note, before the years of privation and many dark hours yet to come. But who was this movie made for? The people who voted for Brexit or who voted against it? Carolina Theatre.

The Shape of Water (2017). I’ve never seen any of Guillermo del Toro’s movies, but I gather most are in this line of fantasy and romance. It’s visually gorgeous, even the drabness looks romantic. Sally Hawkins is luminous, as always, and I was entranced by some of the visual flourishes: the droplets sliding across the window, Hawkins’ character’s reveries. Story-wise, I was most interested in Michael Shannon’s character; I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a bad guy’s private life and I wanted to see more of how his personal American dream soured in his belly. Plot-wise, why does a super-secret facility that has security cameras even on the loading dock not have a single camera where The Creature is locked up? And in a room that is conveniently empty of the security guards, soldiers, and scientists that swarm all over the rest of the building?  Don’t ask questions of a personal wet dream. Carolina Theatre.

The Front Page (1974). Billy Wilder’s take on the venerable chestnut. Blisteringly fast and crackling dialogue; it’s thrilling to see a squadron of top character actors going through their paces with a zesty skill that has no place in today’s Hollywood. At some point, I thought: how long have they all been shouting at each other? It seems like the last 30 minutes is nothing but shouting. And yet the pace, the energy, doesn’t flag and I simply hung on for the ride. It’s a minor movie, but its clockwork plot is finely honed and expertly done. They really did know how to make ‘em. Carolina Theatre.

Phantom Thread (2017). A restrained art piece about an artist, about how the people whose livelihoods depend on him accommodate him, and about the muse who wants more than being a tailor’s dummy. Loved the period detail, the stateliness, the immaculate acting. It’s fun to talk about its themes as if I were writing an essay about it, to show off how clever I was to spot them all. “Cerebral” is a description, not an insult. Still — it remains a rather chilly piece. I was interested the whole time, but I’m not sure what to make of it. Carolina Theatre

Love and Death (1975). I  had seen this years ago and had a hankering to see it again. Woody Allen flexing his considerable comic muscles — I loved his battlefield sight gags — in one of his slighter efforts. Your patience for it depends on how much of his “Woody Allen” comic persona you can stand. Diane Keaton is heart-breakingly beautiful yet she’ll suddenly pull a face that cracks me up. Some jokes inevitably creak, some jokes — particularly the ones said by old men about young girls — made us squirm. Amazon Prime Video

The Post (2017). I almost laughed out loud when John Williams’ spiritedly thrumming, almost martial, music ran under the shot of delivery trucks leaving the Washington Post building with its newspapers; it was like a moment from a mythical gung-ho ‘30s movie where you just knew the delivery of the newspapers was going to bring down the crooked political bosses and all would be well. I shook my head, mystified, watching the back of the pantomime Richard Nixon gesticulating maniacally as he talked on the phone. Good performances all around, a good story briskly told, but ... A vanished time? A manufactured memory? Would the current owner of the Post stand up for the First Amendment or listen to his financial planners? Chelsea Theatre.

Gmail Delay Send

An advantage of some desktop or third-party email clients is their ability to schedule sending an email. Outlook 2016 for Windows can do this, as can the macOS and iOS application Spark. There are also services/plugins you can buy to give you this feature, such as Boomerang.

At work, I sometimes delay sending emails till 7 or 8 pm, after I've left for the day. Some people feel an obligation to respond immediately to an email; I don't want to encourage that obligation, especially for trivia or simple follow-up tasks.

When I volunteered in our neighborhood association, I would have liked to send emails to my fellow volunteers later in the week. I inevitably thought of some other instruction or clarification I should have included after drafting the email, so a delay would have given me time to tweak my draft before it was sent.

My primary email client is Gmail, which does not offer a feature to delay sending outgoing mail. Nor does Apple Mail (the Automator workaround is WAY too fiddly to be useful). I could use Spark on my iMac, but the font it uses is so tiny, I cannot draft emails in it comfortably.

Hackers to the rescue! There is a Google Code project, Gmail Send Delay, that does most of what I want. It's free. It uses Gmail tags, so I could draft emails in Apple Mail or iOS Mail and use those Gmail tags to delay sending. And in my limited testing, it works.

But there are two or three things that make it something you cannot casually adopt and that keep me from embracing it wholeheartedly.

  1. The script requires access to your Google account, as you might expect. I don't mind doing this -- most of the applications I use require Google or Gmail access -- but it's something others may balk at.
  2. You need to remember to enter the time you want it sent in the first line of the email body. And while the time format is flexible, if you don't enter the time correctly, then the mail won't be sent.
  3. In addition to adding the email to specific Gmail label, you have to remember to keep the email in Drafts. Or put another way: you have to remember TO NOT CLICK SEND. While you can recall the message if Undo Send is turned on, the Gmail Delay Send script appears to deliver the mail anyway.

It's that last point that stops me using the feature more often. I've blundered one too many times with an incorrect time format or pressing Send, since that's the button I've been pressing for over a decade. I have to think a little too much to use this capability freely.

It may be time for me to try Boomerang again. It has extra features I'm not interested in, but its primary advantage is a big red Send Later button plus selectable time formats. The application is taking the burden of remembering off of me. I could get by with the free tier of service, since I would rarely schedule sending more than a few emails a month.

Digital Sabbath

I spend my working days at a computer and sometimes whole evenings too. And bits of the weekend. For the most part I enjoy it, and have enjoyed it as a hobby for the last couple of decades. The Internet can be endlessly distracting and enjoyable.

But ergonomically and mentally, it’s also good for me to take a physical break from my devices now and then.

For that reason, I like the idea of the digital sabbath. It’s an idea that’s floated around probably for as long as the Blackberry and iPhone have been with us. [1]

For a time last year I used a free iOS app, Friday, to nudge me into adopting the digital sabbath. About a half hour before Friday sundown, the app displayed a thoughtful message, quote, or anecdote, and then the screen went dark. That was the cue to set the device down – at the time, my iPod – and not pick it up again till sundown on Saturday.

I made my own rules for a digital sabbath. I allowed myself to check my emails for anything urgent that required attention, but set the device down quickly after that.

I tried to avoid adopting the “Blackberry prayer” posture but didn’t (and still don’t) always succeed.

I found that not using a computer from Friday evening to Saturday evening was quite doable. I spent Friday evening reading a physical book or magazine while Saturday was usually a day full of chores anyway. I allowed reading on a Kindle since it’s an ebook and I cannot go online with it.

Of course, there’d be backed-up emails to wade through on Saturday night (or Sunday morning, if I enjoyed the time away). But that also made me think: how much time do I want to spend processing emails? Time away from the computers made me consider how I wanted to spend my time at them.

A friend tried the digital sabbath, but the furious pace of his and his family’s life militated against a no-email-for–24-hours policy.

I did not download Friday to my new iPhone when I got it. Too many things to learn! But I downloaded it again after I started drafting this post. I want to give the digital sabbath another try.


  1. As with any good idea, there are always detractors. For me, the digital sabbath is not about me blaming technology for being addicting. When I fast, it’s not because I blame food for being delicious. It’s about developing a healthier relationship with all things in my life – including myself.  ↩

Three Use Cases

I am debating what I want in a protective case for my iPad Pro. A luxury problem, to be sure.

There are many choices: sleeves, cases, cases that leave the edges open, wraparound cases that leave only essential ports uncovered, cases that include a keyboard, cases that include a strap, cases to cover only the back of the iPad, expensive leather cases, cheap plastic cases, etc.

And if you only want a strap, then there are multiple hand strap options, believe it or not: velcro, silicon rubber bands, magnets, adhesives, full 360-degree swivel, etc.

When I’m in the welter of too many choices related to a product I want to buy, I use the following method for slicing through some of the noise.

I imagine at least three different scenarios, or use cases, where I would use the product. This gives me an idea of the type of experience I’m after. It helps me define what I want from the product and refine my requirements. I don’t always get to an a-ha decision this way, but it does help me discard options that don’t match the scenarios.

In this case (heh), my top three scenarios are:

  1. I drop the iPad or it slides out of a backpack: I want the case to help cushion the fall and generally protect it from collisions with the real world. 
  2. The case should make the iPad easy to hold for long periods of time. Although lots of cases boast their covers fold back so that the iPad can stand up, I will hardly ever use it that way. At home and especially when traveling, I will most often be reading on it.
  3. I don’t have a compelling third scenario, beyond that the case look good.

That I only have 2.5 scenarios may explain why I’m still sorting signal from noise.

Oddly enough, I did not have these mental discussions around my iPhone SE case. I use an Apple leather case and a tempered glass screen protector. That’s it. I even put the phone in my back pocket and sit on it, for heaven’s sake.

But the iPad feels … different. Thinner, more susceptible to damage. I would not dream of sitting on it.

So the search continues. For the time being, I may get a $20 case to protect the back of the iPad while the Smart Cover protects the front.

I continue to search out images and reviews of cases and judge them against my scenarios. I have the feeling, after seeing and pondering so many of these things, that I’ll know it when I see it.

Afterword: I think I got the idea of “3 use cases” from JD Meier’s blogs. He’s a fan of the rule of 3 and has written about scenarios. He has lots of great practical ideas and advice focused on the world of work.

Leaving My Email Alone

The @SaneLater folder in my Gmail account bulges with links to pages, or the text of pages saved via Email This, that I thought interesting enough to read later but not crucial to read now. 

I trolled through the emails tonight looking for ideas on something to post. I deleted some recent emails related to research on a project only recently finished. I deleted some things because the time has passed and I'm no longer interested. I left a couple for me to rediscover later, if and when I want to.

When I started my SaneBox subscription and saw the numbers of undealt-with emails climbing in that @SaneLater folder, I started to stress about it. Surely I need to keep on top of these things? If I committed to receiving them and reading, then surely I needed to do something about them? I prided myself on running a tight ship and staying on top of these little dust devils before they became whirlwinds. I would stay up late reading, processing, giving each item its due.

But at some point I gave myself permission to leave them alone. And to not stress about them. Let them pile up. Will I be docked a letter grade for not keeping a pristine email inbox? Will this come up in my semi-annual performance review? I think not. The important emails get taken care of, the others will rest and compost and I may eventually turn the heap to find something of interest. It's OK if I don't. I have plenty of other demands on my time that are more urgent. Naps are more urgent than email. 

One of the many things I learned from David Burns' Feeling Good was the ways we drive ourselves bananas with our thinking. He identified a long list of "cognitive distortions" and the ones that chimed with me related to all-or-nothing thinking, magnification, and disqualifying the positive.

Keeping my inbox at zero fueled my stress reactions: if I had even one or two emails in that box, I had failed (all-or-nothing). But, no. That's blowing a minuscule situation out of proportion (magnification) and ignoring all the emails I did process (disqualifying the positive). 

The coaches I'm working with, and the mind/spirit path I'm following now, help me see -- sometimes -- that things in life are not light switches marked on or off, black or white, false or true.  They're more like sliders moving along a spectrum, sometimes this, sometimes that. 

Having a clean and neat inbox is admirable. It shows I'm good at handling only the commitments I have time to process, that I am on top of things, that I have good routines and habits to build on to achieve higher things.

Well, not there yet. I have given myself permission to take the slow road. 

Diet Update & Fasting

I weighed 211.0 lbs. a couple days ago, way over the control line.

So I did a 22-hour or so fast. I had last eaten about 8pm the day before, so I did not eat again till after 7pm the day after.

By the next day, my weight had dropped a pretty remarkable 2.5 pounds – almost a pound and half below the control line.

I could drive myself crazy trying to figure out why my weight was up so much and why it went down so fast. Doesn’t really matter. What matters is having tools and techniques I can use to smooth out the curve.

Intermittent fasting (IF) is one of those tools. Most of the information I use for fasting I got from Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat e-book. [1]

Pilon’s book goes in depth on the research behind fasting (the bibliography is long and looks thorough) and his recommendations.

His plan is simple: fast for 22–24 hours one or two days a week. That’s it. Make sure you’re sleeping through 8 of those hours. So what happens is you wind up skipping two meals – either breakfast/lunch or lunch/supper – on those days, You’ll still eat every day, but you’ll also get the benefits of a 20+ hour fast. There are more specifics in his book.

And what do you on the days you don’t fast? Pilon wrote an excellent blog post on Eating Responsibly that I love for its directness and simplicity.

My view is that we’ve all had our turn being kids, which means we’ve had our turn eating like kids.

We’ve had our ice-cream birthday parties and our stomach aches from eating too much candy at the movies.

We’re adults now. Time to eat like it…

Eating responsibly, he says, is how you eat when your plan falls apart and the world is offering a platter of brownies with no parents around to stop you scarfing them up.

I’m the adult here. Time to eat like one.


  1. I’d link to the direct order page for ESE, which may be cheaper than the Kindle book, but unfortunately it’s a long sales page with clipart, misspellings, and generally embarrassing design and presentation. Pilon offers up great information and I value his opinions, but I can’t stand his marketing/promotion choices that I have to filter out to get to the good stuff. So I can’t recommend wading through that page.  ↩


I install a consistent set of bookmarklets across all the browsers I use at work and home. (Except for iOS; haven’t figured out how to install them in Safari.)

The most useful one on a daily basis is for Google Site Search. From the Bookmarks bar, click the bookmarklet – I’ve renamed mine to “GSS” to save space – and then enter a search term. The bookmarklet fires off a Google search for that term on the site you’re browsing.

You could do the same thing by entering in Google “site:brownstudy.info batman,” for example, but simply clicking ”GSS" while I’m at the site is quicker and more useful.

Scroll down this page of Google bookmarklets for the Google Site Search Bookmarklet. Drag it to your bookmarks folder or, preferably, the Links or Bookmarks bar.

You will thank me later.

Update: Dang it! I didn't use the site search on my own blog. If I had, I would have discovered this 2012 post on the same topic


Flixable is a search engine for Netflix-specific streaming video. It features a more open design that lets the page elements breathe, and offers a pleasing way to browse what movies are debuting and leaving.

Fixable’s search function isn’t necessarily better than Netflix’s native search function; it just presents its results in a prettier package. That package would be more useful if I could hover my cursor over a movie and have its star rating, summary, etc. presented in a float-over box, as Netflix does.

On a different plane of reality – functionally and visually – is Instant Watcher.

Instant Watcher used to exist as a very handy iOS app back in the day; its online incarnation explodes onto your browser all manner of content, tools, pictures, keywords, and faceted search functions, all at the same time. When the page opens, my eye is so besieged I don’t know where to look.

But what Instant Watcher lacks in loveliness, it makes up for with sheer brawn.

For one thing, you can search Netflix (the default) or Amazon individually for streaming videos. If you subscribe to one service but not the other, this is useful (particularly for Amazon; its has no functional search and discovery tools to aid users).

Or – and this is the handy part – you can search both services’ combined listing.

Search on “Batman”, for example.

As busy as the results page is (do we really need all of those genre checkboxes? and that sidebar?), it offers a lot of power. Clear the “Amazon Non-Prime” checkbox, for example, to show the Prime-only items. Now, I quickly see that Netflix has the live-action Batman movies for streaming, while Amazon Prime carries the wonderful ’90s animated series.

The Amazon Non-Prime selections include a miscellany, such as the 1940s movie serial, the 1960s TV show, and even what appear to be customer videos reviewing Batman-related products. I mean, what?? You get more results with Non-Prime, but also a lot of junk.

One of Instant Watcher’s big advantages for Netflix searching is its single page listing all genres, with the number of movies in each. We discover, for example, there are four silent movies available for streaming, 128 Britcoms, and all of their International movies helpfully broken out by country. This really is the best way to see what’s available on Netflix.

But even more so Amazon. According to the site, Netflix offers 6,933 titles. That’s a lot, but it’s spread over a fair number of genres and so somewhat easy to grasp.

But there are 112,625 Amazon titles, with Prime alone holding 46,628. Holy crap. Does the world even need this many things to watch as we, to quote Peter Cook, "sink giggling into the sea"? Nevertheless,  if you want to find a needle in these haystacks, then Instant Watcher is the way to do it.


Well, blow me down.

I ran a manual Time Machine backup on Sunday – about 16GB – and it ran without a hitch. No error messages, no stopping. Progress, of a sort, though I have no idea why it suddenly decided to start working again. (Note that I have granted this unholy amalgam of silicon and software independence and agency. I am in its power.)

I have set the iMac to back up to Backblaze every night. I use the Amphetamine app to keep the iMac awake for 10 hours after I go to bed. As of today, about 24,000+ files and 441MB of data still to be uploaded.

I have not plugged in and installed the external drive yet. But there is no hurry. With up-to-date Time Machine and Crashplan backups, and the Backblaze experiment going well, I feel reasonably secure. Creating an additional local backup has a lower priority right now. 

I feel more urgency to step away from this computer for a while, rest up, and let it do its thing.


What began last year as “modernizing” has turned into a bit of a tech tsunami at our house:

  • Got my first smartphone, an iPhone SE, last fall
  • Got an iPad Pro 10.5 for our Christmas trip, to replace the ol’ Acer Chromebook
  • Got a Doxie Go SE wireless scanner
  • Got a new external 4TB hard drive
  • Got the Logitech K811 keyboard
  • Got an Apple TV

Plus, Liz got her first smartphone, an iPhone 7, yesterday.

I’m not quite sure what has been driving the modernization of our household tech. Maybe because we hit hard limits with the old tech and updates were long overdue. Maybe because we have the money and time at this moment to acquire and absorb them into our routines and work lives.

I am not inquiring too deeply into the question. I’m sure the time we spend getting these tools working for us will repay us someday. Waves are cresting, so we’re riding the waves. The tides will ebb soon enough and, if our history is anything to go by, we’ll spend next to nothing on tech for the rest of the year.

Still, since I’m the household’s sysadmin and Head of Technical Support, I now have to up my game. iPhone and iCloud and iEverything can quickly become overwhelming conceptual mindspaces since I have only a patchy understanding of how they are all wired together.

Liz already had a long-beloved iPad Mini 4 that she did not need my help with, both because I never had an iPad until recently – so she was her own tech support for it – and because she hardly ever synched it via iTunes on our iMac.

I had advised that we both wait on upgrading to iOS 11. Apple has had such ill luck with the updates that I did not want to deal with any possible technial snafus, particularly before our Christmas trip.

But there was a selfish reason too: I did not want to deal with the mental overhead of learning the ins and outs of a new OS. Along with all the other new tech I've acquired, my mind is rather a muddle. What do I need to stay on top of next?

Liz’s purchase of her iPhone yesterday changed that delicate balance of competency. It arrived with iOS 11. Having to mentally flip between iOS 11 on the phone and iOS 10 on her iPad would be confusing.

So I’m upgrading all our devices to iOS 11 today, and then we will both settle in to watch the Lynda.com videos on iPhone and iOS 11 basics, iCloud, and other iTopics.

My goal? To have two Heads of Technical Support in the house.


Liz bought her first smartphone today, an iPhone 7. The Apple customer support person we spoke to was great and she passed along this really clever tip.

The iPhone or iPad is on the table and you're eating a sandwich and you need all your fingers to hold the messy thing together and your phone buzzes and you need to open it but it requires a fingerprint and your thumbs are too occupied keeping the damn sandwich from falling apart to deal with that.

But if you have added your pinky fingerprints to the Touch ID, then you can hold on the sandwich and use either pinky to unlock the phone.

I don't use my pinkies much, but I would certainly miss them if they weren't there.

Diet update

Yesterday, I weighed 210.2, about a pound under my control line. This morning, I weighed 211.8, about a pound above my control line.

I could attribute the increase to a bigger than usual lunch, a supper of starchy leftovers, trying to lose weight in the winter is a mug's game, the dates I snacked on in the afternoon (if grapes=candy, then dates=chocolate caramels), a week of consistently poor sleep, or 104 other variables.

No matter the cause, I have to take the scale’s report as truth and act accordingly.

Mark Forster, when he devised his version of the No S diet, defined a set of rules for such occasions. Every day he was over the line, he added a rule. Every day he was on the line, he kept the same rules. Every day he was below the line, he relaxed a rule.

It’s an eminently sensible plan.

I started defining my own set of rules, ranking them by severity, etc. but decided to go easy on myself. I have my own toolkit of techniques; as I mark my weight on the graph, I’m already calculating which ones I will deploy that day.

The techniques are a mix of the following, in no particular order, and as the day allows:

  • No snacking
  • No sweets, though an apple or clementine is allowed
  • Water, coffee, and herbal tea only (no ciders, no diet sodas)
  • Only cold boiled potatoes during the day, with a normal supper
  • No seconds, smaller portions
  • Stop eating by 7pm or thereabouts
  • Extra laps around the parking lot at work, or a workout at home
  • Skipping one or two meals
  • Start eating at 4pm and stop eating by 8 pm

Today, I had 3 meals (cold boiled potatoes at lunch), small portions, no snacks, and walked the parking lot at work. I did have a cider.

If my weight is still over the line tomorrow, then I will aim to have my large meal about midday. I’m scheduled for a workout, so that will help burn some calories. For the rest of the day: eat less, move more.

Although trying to lose weight during winter is like pushing a car out of a ditch.

Update, 1/27/2018: I weighed 209.8 this morning, a little less than a pound under my control line. Success! The goal today is to eat sensibly, have a workout, and continue to stay on or under the line.


Ever since the death of Google Reader, I have avoided finding another RSS reader.

I already have Pocket, which as of today reminds me that I have 1,459 unread web pages. Isn’t that enough? Apparently not for me.

Still, I also am not a tech reporter who needs (or feels he needs) to stay on top of a raft of news sites, blogs, Twitter feeds, and the like.

Perhaps the best advice I got on maanging RSS feeds was from Michael Leddy, who suggested dropping them all. Instead, when you want to or have the time, simply open up the sites in your browser and read as much as you want until you feel caught up. There are only so many inboxes one needs to check in life.

Still, there are a few sites I follow (some belonging to friends) that post infrequently and I do not want to miss them. I wanted to avoid investing time and effort in learning an RSS reader that worked across my Mac and iDevices for only a few feeds.

What works best for me is Blogtrottr, a web service that lets me receive RSS content via email.

I assume we know how to manage our email. Why learn a new app? Skim or read the emailed posts as I have time and then delete or archive them in Gmail, as needed.

Blogtrottr has paid tiers of service, but I find the ad-supported free tier works fine for me.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.
— Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

I am also a supporter of a Kickstarter-backed documentary on Le Guin.

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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.  

J.D. Daniels, "Letter from Devils Tower,"  The Correspondence 


Well, that was interesting.

I logged in to Liz’s account to back up her home directory to my Lacie portable drive.

While there, I thought, “Let’s see if Time Machine will back up to the Time Capsule from here.”

Apparently, it did. Although it reported the copying stopped with an error, it was a different error than the one I’ve been seeing in my account. But the backup was marked as complete and verified.

So – we have a Time Machine backup! Getting one was a top priority, though I thought it would happen on the new external drive first.

(I bought an external drive yesterday but have not unboxed and plugged it in yet. Life. Don’t talk to me about Life.)

The lesson here may be that my account has too much cruft, both on disk and in RAM, that hinders an effective TM backup. My account is due for a scrub-up: deleting unused apps and Library subfolders, mainly. But it’s total guesswork whether this would do any good; magical thinking, more like.

Tonight, I purchased a two-year subscription to Backblaze and installed it. It’s got a more Mac-like UI than Crashplan did and started immediately. I like its default settings so far. It is backing up files as I type.

To be continued!



I had a full-sized wired aluminum Mac keyboard for years. I used it with the MacBook and later with the iMac.

After the 2015 break-in, the police came and did that thing that reassures homeowners but that rarely yields usable results: dusting for fingerprints.

That left me with a Mac keyboard that not only had a few letters (notably the "N" key) wearing off, but that sported coal-dust looking smudges over half the surface.

I got a Bluetooth Magic Keyboard with the new iMac after the burglary. It was OK but I never really got comfy with it. Its connection to the Mac would drop suddenly, or it would have trouble connecting on startup. I also thought the smaller size made typing feel cramped.

So I continued using the smudged, fading full-size keyboard. Which, because it was wired, took up one of the USB slots on the back of my new iMac.

For whatever reason, change is in the air. I heard Merlin Mann talk -- was it on Mac Power Users? -- about using a Bluetooth keyboard that with the touch of a button let him type on his MacBook, his iPad, or his iPhone. I finally tired of seeing this smudgy, fading keyboard. And I realized that I really envied the backlit keyboards; I tend to like having reduced light in my office in the evenings, and a backlit keyboard would make night-time writing and keying much more comfortable.

I went with the Wirecutter's recommendation of the Logitech K811 and it has so far proved an excellent purchase. I had thought about getting a Matias aluminum keyboard with backlighting, but decided to go with the cheaper option first; if I didn't like it, then I could justify spending more money for a demonstrably better keyboard.

Some notes on the K811:

  • It has a built-in rechargeable battery. I can charge it using the same micro-USB plug I use for several of my other devices. But it does not show percentage of remaining battery from the Bluetooth menu bar icon.
  • The backlit keyboard is wonderful. Just moving my hands in place over the keyboard will activate the backlight without my touching a key. I have the brightness set at just the right level to show the letters but not distract.
  • It can pair with three devices. It's very simple to do this. I am running a Time Machine backup on my Mac and typing this on my iPad. With the press of a key, I can switch between the two computers. I'm leaving the third key unassigned for now.
  • I had to download software from the K811 support site to allow me to use some of the function keys (such as Mission Control) as the Mac Gods intended.
  • I had used the Magic Keyboard to write my blog posts on my iPad when we traveled recently. It worked fine, and I was planning to get a travel case for it. Now...I'm not so sure. The K811 has the same approximate dimensions, is lighter, and it's backlit. This may become my travel keyboard.
  • The feel of the K811 is plasticky. It does not have the satisfying mass and density of the full-size keyboard it's replacing. It feels durable enough.
  • I don't like that the K811 lies flatter on the desk, with less tilt, than the Magic Keyboard. If I find this tiring during longer writing stints, I can glue some rubber feet to the bottom of the K811. 
  • The K811 has the chiclet keys that look and feel noticeably smaller than the Magic Keyboard's keys. That said, I can type just as fast on them and the keys' travel feels just right to me. 

I will keep the Magic Keyboard as a backup keyboard in case the K811 goes south for some reason. But for daily use on the iMac and occasional use on the iPad, the K811 has proven its worth. 

BACKUPS (cont'd)

So, backups.

  • On my Time Capsule (ca. 2015) I get the same bland unhelpful error message described on this blog post.
  • I got the same error message when I moved the Time Machine backup to my Western Digital 2TB external drive (ca. 2010). I've been using the latter mainly for miscellaneous photos, DVD rips, and the like. A junk drawer, of sorts, with not many valuables.
  • Is the problem the Time Machine software or the drives it's writing to? I can't tell.
  • I used Disk Utility to 'repair' both drives, which wound up deleting the last good Time Machine backup on the Time Capsule, and I think wrecked the WD2TB. I cannot now write or edit any file on the WD2TB.
  • Most hard drives have an average life span of about 5 years, so it's past time to upgrade the WD2TB, I suppose.
  • I have key folders synced with Dropbox, and my and Liz's user folders backed up to Crashplan. So our really critical stuff is still OK but it would take time to restore all those files. I would feel more comfortable with one or more full local backups.

Here's my plan, such as it is:

  1. First, do no harm. Stop trying to repair these devices. It just seems to bollix them up more.
  2. Focus now on getting one or more reliable local backups of this iMac.
  3. Buy a 4TB external drive and plug it into the iMac. Use Disk Utility to format it and split it into two 2TB partitions.
  4. Use Carbon Copy Cloner to create a bootable backup on one of the partitions.
  5. Use Time Machine to create a versioned backup on the second partition. Cross my fingers that it will work.
  6. STOP! Get two local backups and verify they work before fiddling any further.
  7. Use Disk Utility to wipe and repair the WD2TB. If the drive continues to cause problems, securely wipe it and recycle it.
  8. Document our wifi settings in Time Capsule in case the next step clobbers them.
  9. Perform soft and hard resets on the Time Capsule as necessary to see if that will help kickstart Time Machine backups there.
  10. Take the damn thing to the Apple Store if I can't get it working as I'd like. Has the disk gone bad? Do they need to puff more blue smoke into its inner circuitry?
  11. If it's not the Time Capsule, but the Time Machine application? Lord, I do not want to go there.

I'm using Joe Kissell's Backing Up Your Mac ebook as a guide for planning and thinking through the local backups.


At the start of Awareness, Anthony deMello shares the secret divulged by all mystics of all faiths,

[A]ll is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well. Strange paradox, to be sure. But, tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare.

I started writing a little list of various troubles – not great ones, but small ones – afflicting me at the moment:

  • The looming government shutdown does not bother me as much as the deadend nature of my job. Updating my LinkedIn and resume are dutifully done. There is not much to look forward to.
  • I continue to put off dealing with my long-term finances, a delay that I’m sure will bite me later.
  • My Time Capsule and an external drive have both decided to pack it in – I now have no backups of my iMac.
  • Squarespace promises a lot but in many small ways it disappoints.
  • My office, which I’d tidied just last week, is now a mess.
  • And on and on…

If deMello is right – and let’s assume he is – then all is well.

My job, my computer, my office, my finances, my health – they are my nightmare. They are real and cause anxiety only as long as I am in the dream.

But don’t they call out to me? Don’t I have these serious feelings to let me know that action must be taken?

Maybe. I find myself saying “We’ll see” a lot more lately.

Sometimes the best thing to do in an emergency, is nothing. My external drive is flaking probably because of something I tried without knowing what would happen.

First – particularly when we’re dealing with the physical world – do no harm. Don’t make things worse by taking unnecessary, thoughtless, fearful reactive action. If what looks to be a problem is just a nightmare, I could be making things worse.

One of my coaches, Mary Schiller, posted a video emphasizing one of her basic points: don’t take your thinking seriously. Don’t take your feelings personally. Our experience of life is bigger than our little thoughts, bigger than our overwhelming feelings.

Don’t get stuck there.

As deMello says later in that passage,

Waking up is unpleasant. It’s irritating to be woken up…Even the best psychologist will tell you that, that people don’t really want to be cured. What they want is relief; a cure is painful.

So how am I dealing with these – let’s call them “situations”?

I am copying the files that can be copied from my external drive to my iMac. I will go to work tomorrow. I will put a few things away to keep my office tidy.

When I don’t engage with the nightmare and fret about how awful it is, ideas come to me in the quiet. I try them out. I get more ideas.

I wake up a little before going back to sleep.


After I renewed my Crashplan subscription last August, they announced, bless their hearts, they were leaving the consumer space to focus on business-only plans.

The Crashplan folks have generally been derided and criticized for that, but let’s count our blessings.

  1. They did not just pull the plug on my account so the data is unavailable. That’s happened to me with other vendors.
  2. They are honoring my subscription, so that Crashplan is still backing up my files through August 2018.
  3. This gives me enough time to find another online backup provider and get in a full backup before my account shuts down.
  4. Given Crashplan’s exit from this space, many vendors are offering discounts or plans to transition Crashplan users to their new platform.

Crashplan had a functional, unlovely interface; still, it also sported a few features that other vendors did not have and it was rock-sl. So, moving to a new vendor will involve trade-offs.

My use cases for online backup are few: back up all my key documents (mainly my Documents and Photos folders), always be on in the background to upload new or changed files, and easy download or restoration of files.

Crashplan has worked in the background for the past 5 or so years. Once I set it up, I left it alone and never touched it again. I only really ever needed to recover files using Crashplan one time. But that one time was the Black Swan, the big event no one is expecting that has outsized consequences.

That event was the 2015 burglary of our house where the bad guys stole my MacBook and my wife’s laptop, among other small items.

Yes, I had a Time Machine backup … but we now had no Mac devices of any kind in the house.

I bought a Chromebook and was able to log in through Crashplan’s web interface to download and find information we needed. We were also able to download a zip file of specific files from my wife’s account to her Windows work laptop so she had her most-needed files at her fingertips.

When I bought an iMac as the new home computer, I installed Crashplan immediately and it is running to this day. I’ve never had to open it for any reason.

I’m going with the Wirecutter’s recommendation of Backblaze as my online backup provider.

Based on my use pattern, this is a service I will interact with very little once I have set it up. If I need something right away, then I’ll have Time Machine (if I ever get the blamed Time Capsule working again) or a bootable backup. But I feel more comfortable knowing that, in the case of another Black Swan, I have a safety net.


Liz and I have an informal tradition of going to a local bakery/deli place for
breakfast when there’s a federal holiday. It featured coffee urns in the center of the dining area where patrons could refill their cups. 

As the bakery is across the street from Duke's East Campus, I'm sure people camped out at a table all day with free wi-fi for the price of a single bottomless cup of coffee.

The place just reopened after a few weeks of renovation. On ordering, we discovered that the “bottomless” cup of coffee was gone. Coffees are now refilled by the counter staff -- and refills are $1.

The coffee instantly tasted less good.

I can't say I blame the establishment for the policy change. Were I in their business, I'd probably do the same thing.

Nevertheless, we’re now looking for a new breakfast joint.


Restarting my diet, such as it is - 2

The key tool for me will be a weight-tracking chart made with pen and graph paper.

The chart format is described in the 1975 book Total Fitness in 30 Minutes a Week by Laurence E. Morehouse and Leonard Gross (long out of print). I first heard of this book through Mark Forster’s article.

The goal of the chart is to help you track losing a pound a week. This is a sustainable and non-superhuman rate of loss that should, we hope, prevent feelings of deprivation and will-power stuggles.

Here’s how Morehouse presents the graph in his book:

Weight tracking chart, graphed

  • Dates run along the horizontal axis.
  • Weight is on the vertical axis. Each block on the graph represents a half-pound, so weight amounts are placed on every second line.
  • Starting from the upper left, count down two blocks and over seven. Make a dot. Continue counting down two and over seven, making a dot at each intersection, till you get to the lower right. In the image, those dots are on days 7, 14, and 21.
  • Use a ruler to draw a line from upper left to lower right connecting those dots.

That line determines your weight control program. My graph runs from 1/13 to 2/20, about 5 weeks. Every day I weigh myself, my weight will be above, below, or on the control line. For fractions of a pound, round up or down to the nearest half-pound.

Morehouse describes the protocol:

  • The objective is to always be on the control line.
  • If you’re below the line, eat what you want so you’re on the line tomorrow.
  • If you’re above the line, then reduce the food and increase physical activity so you’re on the line tomorrow. Morehouse recommends eating 200 fewer calories and burning 300 extra calories by physical activity.
  • By the end of the first week, you should know what foods or activity are needed to stay on or below the control line.

Morehouse makes the point that your daily weight will of course fluctuate for any number of reasons; some we can control, some we cannot. But for the purposes of this exercise, treat the weight as true and adjust accordingly. As Morehouse says,

We pay attention to the scale, particularly since it’s such a good source of motivation, but we don’t take it too seriously.

If you’re above the line for several days in a row, then it ain’t the weather; do what you need to do to bring your weight below the line. But if you’re below the line, hooray! Take advantage of the fluctuation.

Keep tracking your weight in this way till you reach your target weight. In my case I’d like to be 195 lbs. So, if all goes well, I’ll get there sometime in mid-May.

There are spreadsheets out there (the Hacker’s Diet being one) that track one’s weight daily and smoothe out the fluctuations. And any app store is lousy with weight trackers.

So why use pen and paper? For one thing, I like looking at the chart and seeing how long this will take. It reminds me that sustainable weight loss is a slow process – slower than I’d like, frankly. But whenever I’ve tried to lose faster than this, I would rebound to some degree. 

Making the chart involves me in the process and updating it every morning is also more active than simply typing my weight into an app. When I record the weight and note its position relative to the control line, I immediately begin planning my day’s eating and activities.

What do I do when I’m over the line? When I figure it out myself, I will post it here!