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 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!


I have paid for Herbalife, Diet Center (where I had to weigh in weekly and eat at least one large salad and one large apple a day), protein shakes, meal-replacement shakes, olive oil to do the Shangri-La Diet, lots of chicken breasts and veg for the South Beach Diet, lots of chicken, beans, and eggs for the Slow-Carb Diet, lots of potatoes for the Potato Hack, and a nutrition consultant, who is the only one who did me any real good – I lost 17 lbs. under her tutelage.

I have always been a fat kid and a plump adult. At one point in my 20s, I joined a gym and weighed in at about 250 lbs. I’m 6’3", so some people were kind enough to say I carried it well, but still…I knew I could look and feel better.

At my lowest, I weighed 195 lbs., but I was so stressed out by the seeming chaos of my life at the time that I could not enjoy it.

I have purchased and read over my adult life maybe 25–40 books and ebooks on diet and eating.

There is always a new twist on old thinking, new takes on old food, and new perspectives on the bizarre problem of a fat society in a starving world. I am convinced now, based on the current science and thinking, that exercise is good for the body and the metabolism, but eating is what controls your weight.

There is a great little formula I picked up from somewhere on the ’Net:

  • When it comes to exercise: more is better than less, faster (or more intense) is better than slower, anything is better than nothing.
  • When it comes to food: less is better than more, eating slower is better than eating faster, nothing is better than anything.

For the last several years, I’ve settled on a few basics:

  • Real food, not packaged food.
  • More protein, more veg and fruit, fewer simple carbs.
  • If I snack, snack on protein.
  • No calories counting or food weighing.
  • Skipping a meal or fasting for 20–24 hours is easier than anything else I can do.
  • Know thyself and thy environment. As the week wears on, I am more susceptible to binging or eating foolishly. Plan for this. If I’m at a buffet or party, plan how I will eat so I don’t overindulge.
  • But sometimes, I’m going to binge. Forgive myself and get back on the horse.
  • Less is better than more, nothing is better than anything.

I sustained a weight of 203 lbs for most of 2017, till we travelled for two weeks through Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, PEI, and Grand Pre. We ate out for most of our meals, like you do.

I weighed 207 lbs when we returned in July and I could never get below that. With the gorgings of the holiday season just past – plus all the foodstuffs given to us and to each other as gifts – my weight has not gone below 210 lbs.

In the next post, I’ll lay out my current plan.


I went to the Y and aerobics classes in the ’80s, used the weight machines with my gym memberships in the ’90s, bought a NordicTrack, went to yoga classes, bought my own set of dumbbells, bought a dozen exercise tapes and DVDs, and I don’t know what all.

Since about 2007 or so, I settled on using kettlebells as my primary resistance and cardio fitness tool. After sustaining a shoulder injury using them in a group class setting, I now meet with a trainer every couple of months so she can correct my form and write out custom routines. While I like classes for some things, I prefer one-on-one coaching with the kettlebells – it’s too easy to hurt myself otherwise.

I had a pretty good kbell routine last fall, but a cold and then a cough that wouldn’t go away stopped me. One of my rules is to not work out when my body is fighting illness.

My method for starting or restarting a new routine is to take it slow. The goal for my current routine is to do 5 sets of exercises with a 35 lb. kettlebell. So tonight I did 2 sets with a 25 lb. bell. Next time I’ll do 3, and so on. When I’ve done a week or two of 5 full sets with 25 lbs. using excellent form, then I’ll start the 35 lb. bell with 1 or 2 sets and work my way up again.

After a six-week layoff, re-establishing the habit and routine of exercise is more important to me than hitting a weight or rep target. Planning which evenings I’ll exercise (I prefer exercising at home after work), setting up the space, doing my warm-ups – getting back into the rhythm of all of that is crucial.

Along with this vigorous exercise, I need to go back to walking more regularly (my FitBit daily goal is 10,000 steps, which I hardly ever hit in winter) and adding some sprints once or twice a week.

I also want to get back to a regular yoga routine. I sit so much during my days while the kettlebell work shortens the muscles. So stretching those muscles and realigning my posture 2–3 times a week is important as I enter my late 50s.

From Safari Back to Chrome

On my iMac, I’ve used the Chrome browser for many many years. This was an artifact of my using a Chromebook immediately after the 2015 break-in; it served as my primary computer for quite a while. Even after I got this here iMac, Chrome remained my preferred browser since I used it on both platforms.

Over that time, I’ve tricked out Chrome with just the extensions I want and I’ve gotten used to how it works.

With the arrival of the iPad Pro, I decided to give Safari on macOS another try. I believe in shaking up my routines now and then, and I wanted to see if using Safari made a difference.

I liked the Handoff of bookmarks between the macOS and iOS, and using Safari on the iPad is a great experience for me. I may try the Chrome iOS browser but feel no great need to do so.

However, Safari and I did not hit it off on the iMac. I was able to roughly reproduce my Speedial setup using Safari bookmark folders, but it felt clumsy to me. I did not notice that Safari was any faster than Chrome.

But what I really missed were the extensions and customizations. I am very used to the bookmarklets lining my Chrome toolbar to email a link to myself, run a site search, add a bookmark to Pinboard, and many other things. I could not reproduce this easily in Safari.

But the killer extension for me on Chrome is Video Speed Controller. Since videos now rule the web, and I tend now to do my at-home tech training via video rather than reading, I like the control of speeding up, slowing down, and skipping through a video with simple keystrokes. Not just on YouTube, either, most any HTML5 video.

I could not reproduce this functionality in Safari. And I did not see the sense in running Safari for everything except video when video is ubiquitous.

So I’ve gone back to Chrome on the iMac and feel much more comfortable. Thus endeth the experiment.

On Making the “Teacher” Video

The course was titled “Make A 5-Minute Documentary in 7 Weeks” but it was almost seven months before I uploaded my Teacher documentary to YouTube.

Here are some notes on the experience.

The People’s Channel

The class was held at The People’s Channel in Chapel Hill, where we learned the basics of using a Panasonic AC90 camera, recording video and sound, using an extra microphone, unpacking and packing the tripod, and so on. The class fee included an Individual Membership to TPC for a year, allowing us to check out the camera and use TPC’s iMacs for video editing.

All TPC asked in return was 1) don’t break anything and 2) the privilege of showing the documentary you made using their equipment. They include many of these short films about people and the community in their program rotations alongside their longer-form programming.

Shooting the Video

I shot all the footage in a single weekend. J. Michael Pope, the subject of the documentary, happened to be performing at a church that Sunday with one of his students. He also arranged lessons in his studio with four of his students that I filmed almost in their entirety. Plus, we did a 30-minute interview.

By the end of that weekend, I had about 8 hours of video. This is where it’s easy to intimidate yourself. How was I going to create a 5-minute video out of all that footage? Where do I even start?

Sage Advice

Local video artist and potter Jason Abide taught the class and passed along some good tips.

  • Just sit and watch all the footage one time through without making any notes.
  • The next time through, watch with a notebook. I gave each clip a name, and noted timings of when songs started or when Michael said or did something I thought illustrative of his teaching style. I also made notes on some themes I saw emerging from the footage.
  • Don’t overthink this. Editing is mainly about cutting things away. Plonk the bits you like best in a row, and start cutting away the stuff you don’t like.
  • Use jump cuts for transitions. Viewers are used to them from newscasts and television generally. You can always change the transitions later.

Final Cut Pro X

Shooting footage is easy; editing it into a product is hard. For the 7-week class, fully 5 weeks were spent coming to grips with Final Cut Pro, a struggle that lasted for months.

Despite Jason’s advice to keep it simple and just cut, “simple” and “Final Cut Pro” do not go together.

The trouble here was that, in addition to figuring out what we wanted to say with our movies, we also struggled with learning the basics of how to make Final Cut Pro X do anything. We could see in our minds’ eye what we wanted the finished product to look like, but FCPX did not make it easy for us to realize them.

Aside from the overwhelmingly busy interface, there’s also the FCPX nomenclature. I still do not know the difference between libraries, events, and projects and those are basic concepts in FCPX.

My Sad Sad Story, Boo-Hoo

I could possibly have bought FCPX for my iMac, but I did not want to pay $300 for an application I did not expect to use again.

This meant using the iMacs at TPC.

Trouble #1: they were only open till 7pm a few nights of the week, and I work first-shift. I could have rearranged my schedule but the work upheavals that drove me to take the class also compelled me to stay close to the office.

Trouble #2: the only other time TPC was open was Saturday from 10am–2pm. So I had a four-hour window once a week during which I would have to relearn how to use FCPX, reacquaint myself with my footage, and try to make some sort of visible progress.

Trouble #3: Sometimes TPC would be closed on Saturday! After the second time this happened, I sent myself an automated reminder every Friday to call TPC and check their Saturday schedule. This saved me wasted trips a couple of times.

So my hands-on time with the footage was limited and there would be some occasions, such as when we went on vacation, where I’d be gone for weeks at a time. Whatever momentum I’d built up would be long gone. Hence the months needed for editing.

Lessons Learned

  • As Jason advised, don’t try to learn everything about FCPX. Search Google for “FCPX 10.3” (include the version number you’re using) to find specific help as you need it. Then write it down in a notebook so you find it faster next time!
  • That said, search on “FCPX cheatsheet” or “FCPX keyboard shortcuts” and bookmark or print the more helpful items. Jason encouraged us to learn and use basic keyboard shortcuts we’d use 98 percent of the time: start, stop, reverse, forward, zoom in to the timeline, etc.
  • I found a few excellent FCP tutorial videos that I returned to often. On Saturdays, I’d start my work session by looking at the tutorials to review and remind myself of the technique or method I would use that day.[1]
  • Dedicate a notebook to the project and use it to collect your notes on timings, themes, learnings, etc. I noted FCP key shortcuts in the back of my pocket Moleskine.
  • I spent weeks simply reviewing the footage, and marking and organizing sections of clips for both the interview and the b-roll (or secondary) footage. This made compiling the first half of the video go more swiftly than I expected.
  • As the video took shape, I’d start each work session by watching it through twice, noting any nips and tucks that were needed, deciding on the next steps, etc.
  • I treated Michael’s interview as if it were recorded for radio. I edited, trimmed, and clipped silences, hesitations, etc. so it sounded tight. I knew I could cover the awkward jump cuts with my b-roll footage illustrating whatever he was talking about.
  • As Faulkner said, “Kill your darlings.” When I got rid of the bits that I really loved, the story fell into place.
  • I saw the movie in layers. Get the interview foundation solid, then add b-roll on top of that to add visual interest and variety, then play with the audio so the music or interview would fade in and out, then add the titles and credits. And then, sit and watch it over and over to tweak as needed till it looked smooth, to my eye.
  • Near the end, I thought I needed three full 8-hour days to finish the thing. But by working on it a little at a time, I discovered to my surprise that I was done after only two Saturday sessions. I was stunned at how quietly it came together.
  • I learned yet again that I can start from a place of zero knowledge and create something. I just have to keep showing up and doing the work.
  • Some creative decisions are ones of necessity, but they can still be really good decisions.
  • Some ideas come to you when you’re looking in the other direction. While I was making the bed one day, it occurred to me to end the movie with Pope saying “Excellent!” at the end of Ron’s solo. You hear him say it throughout the movie, so it’s natural and unforced.
  • When I hit on ending the video with Pope exclaiming “Excellent!”, I thought of it as simply a nice button so we wouldn’t go out on a blank screen. He says this often during a lesson and it’s so expressive of his personality as a teacher. I didn’t realize till later that it could be interpreted on other levels: that he was proclaiming the movie as “Excellent!”, and that he was also saying it to the viewer who just sat through a mini-lesson with him.
  • Be ready for that moment when a big project that has occupied your mindspace for months is now done. Because it will leave a vast echoing space behind and the question, “What next?” Have something waiting.


  1. Unfortunately, removed the best documentary-based FCP course, one that followed a producer making a news piece on enticing CEOs to consider U.S. veterans for jobs. I wish I had noted the producer’s name, because she had lots of great tips and advice that saved me loads of time. Alas, gone without trace.  ↩


I did not start drinking coffee till my mid to late 20s at my first job. My bad nightowl habits, along with the early days of David Letterman’s late night show, meant I was usually sleepy the next day.

My doctor recommended drinking one cup of coffee in the morning and one after lunch to wake me up. “Treat it like a drug,” he said. “Not as a beverage or a dessert.”

That advice lasted for a little while, bless him. It was not long before coffee became my go-to drink of choice.

Herbal teas I never quite got the hang of; too fruity, most of them. And Earl Grey and the other black teas were not that tasty to me, either.

But coffee, that usually hit the spot. Except at night. I could drink decaf in the evening, sure, but even so – I was always a little suspicious that it had a little caffeine in it.

Several years ago, I read some blogger trying to wean himself off caffeine. He touted a product called Teeccino, an "herbal coffee" beverage he was using a coffee-substitute.

The local Whole Foods carried it and I tried it. It has since become one of my favorite hot  evening beverages, along with peppermint or ginger teas (my tastes have expanded, thank you).

Teeccino is made from a blend of chicory, dates, figs, etc. and is totally herbal without caffeine. What I like about Teeccino is that it’s thicker and more flavorful than the usual herbal teas; you brew it, rather like you brew a cup of coffee. I rotate among my preferred favors of Hazelnut, Mocha, and Java. With a splash of half-and-half and a bit of sugar, a cup of Teeccino strikes a very comforting note for me, especially in these dark winter months.

The only trouble with Teeccino is that it’s finely ground, and our tea ball’s mesh did not keep the grounds out of the drink. I’d tried using a gold filter cone, which worked OK but only OK; the water took a while to seep through and the cone was a mess to clean out.

What has taken my Teeccino experience to the next level is a wonderful Christmas gift from Liz: a Finum brewing basket.

The basket sits in the cup, the cover keeps the beverage hot as it steeps, hardly any grounds or sludge seep out into the cup, and cleanup is a breeze.

Teeccino and the Finum brewing basket: Highly Recommended.

Diarizing my life

Sorry for the horrible "diarizing" in the title, but the word fits for now. 

In addition to this blog, on which I'm aiming to make a daily post of some kind, I'm also recording the days in the fifth year of a 5-year diary (many, many gaps of white space in previous years), and am playing with the 1-Second Everyday video app on my iPhone. 

Each medium contains a different message, as it were. The blog is the stuff I clean up and show to people, the diary holds some minutiae of the day (weather, errands done, people met, movies seen), and the video app records a blink of visual time. Two days ago, I shot a second of our still fully lit and decorated Christmas tree from my chair in the living room. Today, I shot a second of the bare tree lying on our snowy curb.

Each medium forces me to think a bit differently about what is worth remembering. They are all, in some way, about paying attention. I wonder what I will see.


Four-Quadrant Movies

In the world's neverending quest to quantify, there is the concept of the "four-quadrant movie." I'm sure there are demographic breakdowns like this for any industry, and this may serve as a simple heuristic for making quck decisions, but geez -- isn't it also a Procrustean bed?

Liz and I recently saw Darkest Hour and The Shape of Water. Neither of which I think would appeal much to quadrants 1 and 2 (men and women under 25 years old). There is no quadrant for "popcorn-worthy movie," which seems to be the basis of our movie-going decisions.


I have tried various technological or mental gizmos over the years to help me fall and stay asleep: white noise machines, small fans, mantras, working my way through the alphabet naming flowers or birds or superheroes, or tensing and relaxing my body from the feet up.

A few months back, I tried something different and I now tend to fall asleep and get back to sleep more quickly.

It's not a new idea by any means: I listen to music through my Bluetooth headset as I go to sleep. If I wake in the night, I simply put the music back on and away I doze.

Two keys that make this work for me: the music and the hardware.

What came first was the music. I don't know why music works for me; it could be that the music distracts the busy analytical part of my mind enough so the sleepy part can shut everything down.

In my iTunes music library, I created a playlist folder called "Zleep" (it sorts to the bottom) and in it, I have playlists for the following:

  • Some time back, Moby released a playlist of slow, droney tracks that he created to help himself relax and sleep. Each track is from 17 to 35 minutes long, so I created playlists holding just 2 or 3 tracks at a time. I usually find myself asleep within a few minutes.
  • If my mind is feeling overactive, I listen to Sharon Isbin's complete Bach lute sonatas. This album is in its own playlist and lasts about an hour. I can't remember ever listening to the whole thing; I think my mind has associated this CD with sleep for so long that I am usually gone by the third or fourth track.
  • Max Richter's From Sleep is a minimal, ambient album, not as electronic or droney as Moby. More rhythmic. There is piano, strings, some vocal chant -- rather melancholy, truth be told. It's an hour long and is excerpted from the much much much longer work Sleep, which is intended to reflect a complete 8-hour sleep cycle. As one Amazon customer puts it, "Playing it a little louder, it also works fairly well as somewhat somber background music for dinner parties." Sold!

And that's it. When I go to bed, I pick whichever playlist stands out and crawl under the covers. If I get up in the night, I'll simply start playing it again.

The other key to making this work for me is my LG HBS-730 Bluetooth headset. I've had these for so long the button locations are in my muscle memory.

I use a bit of black tape to cover up the blinking blue light. Whenever I wake in the night and want to hear the music again, I simply press the Play button and the active playlist starts right up.

I like this "collar" style of headset for sleeping. It does not obstruct my head movement and does not get in my way. I sleep on my side, so it's easy to magnetically dock an earbud when I'm sleeping on that side.

My sleeping problems seem to be 90 percent licked. The waking-up-and-not-raring-to-go-in-the-morning problem is still there, but these things take time.