"We have so little time for the mending we must do"

My heart was broken recently and I keep the pieces on the back step in a bucket. A heart can mend but unlike the liver it cannot regenerate. A heart mends but the break line is always visible. Humans are not axolotels; axolotels grow new limbs. A broken heart will mend in time, but one of the contradictions of being human is that we have so little time for the mending we must do. It takes years to know anything, years to achieve anything, years to learn how to love, years to learn how to let love go when it has worn out, years to find that loneliness is the name for the intense secret you can’t share. Years to share what you can share. Years to be hurt. Years to heal.

Jeannette Winterson

Airbnb outsourced a shoddy background check on my account using only two pieces of data – my name and birthdate. This simple and lazy check found four arrest records scattered throughout the US (one to a man of a different race, and two others where the middle name was never given – only an initial). This was enough to trip Airbnb’s algorithms. So, despite my history as a good customer with excellent reviews from our hosts, they deactivated my account 7 days before our leave date. I filed disputes. We pivoted and booked a place with VRBO using my wife’s account. Amazon and Google could just as easily flip a switch and cut me off from services I use and depend on, with no way to dispute or appeal the action. I’m caught in a web I willingly walked into.

Sunday is for Introverting

Friday was spent running errands, Friday night was caroling in Mary Fran and Stefan’s backyard, Saturday lunch and afternoon were spent doing essential catching-up with Sue (recently moved back to NC from Santa Rosa), and Saturday evening spent with our Bull City Commons brethren and cistern with a chummy and cheery happy hour at the Bartlett’s common room/patio. Sitting there and watching the rain come down and wash the streets, smelling that fresh air – who needs TV? Afterward, a post-Happy Hour get-together in Jackie and David’s apartment with some yummy Spaghetti Bolognese.

Much eating, drinking, and socializing over the last two days gifted us with restless sleep and the need to pull the covers around ourselves on Sunday. Given that cohousing attracts introverts, we have a saying after we’ve spent lots of essential energy socializing: “I need to introvert.”

So that’s what today is about: introverting. Puttering about, writing Christmas cards, maybe shopping for groceries. Gathering energy for next week.

Creating a PDF with clickable hyperlinks from a Word 365 file

We’re having trouble creating a PDF with clickable hyperlinks from a Word 365 file. We want to create a PDF with clickable headings in the table of contents, clickable hyperlinks, ckickable cross-references, etc.

Neither Save as PDF nor Exporting to PDF did the trick, though the resulting PDF did have clickable bookmarks in the side pane. Which is OK but not great, and not what we wanted.

Turns out that you need Adobe Acrobat to create a PDF with clickable hyperlinks from a Word file. (I have PDF utilities on my iMac that could do this, probably, but we need this operation to work on a Windows laptop.)

The hackity-hacky-hack way around this situation is to do this:

  1. Upload the Word file to Google Drive.
  2. Open the Word file in Google Docs.
  3. Download the file as a PDF.

We don’t get the bookmarks capability with the resulting PDF, but the hyperlinks work and the Word formatting is unaffected.

Solution grabbed from the last post in this Microsoft support thread.

And I leave the final word to the writer of that support message:

Now the question is, why am i spending xxxxx money for using Office business when it cannot perform an operation as simple as maintaining functioning hyperlinks after a PDF conversion? (When) a simple (free) software such as Docs (Pages for Mac works too) can perform the same operation without any problem? To me, this remains a mystery.

"And they cannot stay"

In downsizing my paper files, I’ve run across pages I’ve saved from various writing classes I’ve taken over the years.

Liz and I took a class at the late, lamented Duke Continuing Education program called “A Passel of Vignettes,” taught by Sharlene Baker, a wonderful writer and teacher.

In the class happened to be a distant cousin of mine, Tim Brown. He wrote a vignette titled “Everything Quiet Like a Church,” about a conversation on a city bus between a young man and an 80+ year old woman. At the end of the scene, he asks if her husband is still with her.

Here’s the last paragraph:

“I’m alone mostly,” she replied. “My husband passed on nine years ago.” She raised her head a little and looked out the window as we rode through the tree-lined street, houses with big yards. The bus was practically empty by now and I felt I was drawn inside her for a moment. All the distractions disappeared and I experienced her silent center. She smiled a grateful smile, and said, “These people we love, who make our lives what they are – they come live with us, love us, change our very chemistry. And they cannot stay.”

Haunted art

From an old notebook I found, from a News & Observer article on a portrait that had slipped out of the NC Museum of Art’s hands and was returned after 30 years.

“No work of art is ever what it seems, at least at first glance,” said John Coffey, the museum’s deputy art director. “All good pictures are haunted.”

Secrets of a professional ghostwriter

Secrets of a professional ghostwriter, from a 1997 editors forum post. I can’t imagine the nuts and bolts have changed much.

Favorite bit of advice:

Do nothing twice except this: Tell the client twice—but not three times—when he is about to slit his own throat. Examples include cluttering the manuscript with political, religious, or ideological diatribes or excessive autobiographical material.

Puttering on the blog

Spent a couple of hours using MarsEdit to do a long-overdue cleaning up of old posts from the mid-2000s. At that time, I used Tumblr as my digital scrapbook, as Evernote was not really on the scene then.

I was embarrassed that many of those old Tumblr posts appeared on this micro.blog as if I’d written them, without proper sourcing or attribution. So I deleted a lot of those posts, plus many many posts where the source links were 404s or when referring to products or sites that simply don’t exist anymore.

I kept lots of posts that were diary entries marking my path through grad school, quotes, random images – a digital scrapbook I’d enjoy just paging through in my anecdotage.

I always harbored the fugitive idea that I kept stuff on the blog so I could find it again. And it’s true, there are a few things I post here that I do often go back. But honestly, not a lot. I remember switching personal information managers one time and marvelling that all the years of stuff I’d saved out into a big text file I never, ever went back for.

It’s all a river, flowing past us. These posts are souvenirs from past times and places, with more coming our way. Be sure to write a nice note to yourself so that you’ll smile in the future when you see it.

Culling and ripping stacks of old CDs is turning out to be – along with reacquainting myself with my long-neglected bookshelves – one of the more pleasurable aspects of downsizing. I wonder a bit whether I’m spending too much time tending old stuff rather than getting to know new stuff – do I even care about this old stuff anymore? I’m finding very few CDs that I want to keep in physical form for the long term. Maybe I’m just clearing out the old to make way for the new.

Alan Moore on who will never be elected

I understand that it may not be considered good form to suggest that class issues are as important as issues of race, gender or sexuality, despite the fact that from my own perspective they seem perhaps even more fundamental and crucially relevant. After all, while in the West after many years of arduous struggle we are now allowed to elect women, non-white people and even, surely at least in theory, people of openly alternative sexualities, I am relatively certain that we will never be allowed to elect a man or woman of any race or persuasion who is poor.

Alan Moore

The Symphonies of the Planets | Daniel Karo

The Symphonies of the Planets | Daniel Karo:

While on their missions Voyager 1 and 2 recorded the electromagnetic vibrations of the planets and moons of our solar system.  Even though space is a virtual vacuum it doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t sound in space.  Although you can’t hear sound in space sound still exists as electronic vibrations.  The scientific instruments on the spacecraft ran experiments to record these vibrations and send them back to Earth through the Deep Space Network.  All of these recordings had vibrations within the human range of hearing and were put together in a five track album by NASA entitles Symphonies of the Planets.  Each track is around 30 minutes long and consists of recordings from the Voyager spacecrafts. Each recording is the sounds from a different planet or moon.  The sounds in the recordings come from a few different sound environments.  Here is a list of them from NASA.

Found via the BandCamp article “Lost in Space Music: Records That Explore the Outer Limits

Doug's AppleScripts: Preserve a Genius Shuffle Playlist

My Apple Music app 1 has 12,000+ tracks, many of which I’ll bet I’ve not heard in a long time. To help reacquaint me with my own collection, I use the Genius Shuffle feature.

Doug Adams, maestro of the essential Doug’s Applescripts for Music, TV, and iTunes, also likes the Genius Shuffle feature in the iTunes and Music apps. If you like Shuffle’s on-the-fly assortment of tracks, his AppleScript code lets you save the tracks to a playlist.

Doug explains how to copy the code into the Script Editor and where to save the script so you can use it.

IMPORTANT: In macOS 10.15 and later, you will need to replace “iTunes” in the code with “Music”.

His code automatically names the playlist “Genius Shuffle.” Doug prefaces that name with the music style or genre – “70’s Funk - Genius Shuffle”, for example. I prefer to preface mine with the playlist’s first track, so “Kathy’s Waltz - Genius Shuffle.” And then I move it to a Genius Playlists folder.

If you spend way too much time lovingly curating your collection of ripped and downloaded music, then get to know Doug’s scripts.

Related links:

  • Apple Support page on Genius Playlists and Genius Shuffle
  • Doug has a great page of Missing Menu Commands: “…a list (a very subjective list) of scripts that perform tasks you may wish were actual iTunes, Music or TV Menu commands”. The “Preserve a Genius Shuffle Playlist” is not among them and deserves to be. Of that list, I use “Open iTunes Script Folder” as a quick way to open a Finder window to the Script folder. “Toggle Checkmarks of Selected” is what I use to deselect all my Christmas tracks so they don’t appear in Genius Shuffle or other non-holiday playlists.

  1. Why, oh why did they get rid of the perfectly good “iTunes” name to go with the blander “Music”? When I’m Googling to troubleshoot issues with the app, I get too many false positives with Apple’s music-streaming service. Infuriating. [return]

Update on my Libib.com graphic novels library

I have been using Libib.com intensively the last several weeks to scan in my graphic novels. I have gone full-nerd on ensuring better cover images are in place, even for books I know I will be shedding.

My Libib.com graphic novel library totals 210 books right now – didn’t know I had that many! The bar-code scanning goes well most of the time, but direct market or older books (25 years+) don’t scan in well, so I manually enter the ISBN and that usually works a treat.

As with many collectors, when I processed a pile of books I was surprised to see things I’d bought and intended to read one day but never did. The classic rubric for getting rid of something is forgetting you had it, yes? It is ruthlessly efficient. But it is not as strong in me as the delight in discovering a book that is ripe for rediscovery.

There are some other graphic novels/comics lovers in our community who would like to plunder the collection; we’re talking about maybe having a lending library bookshelf or three stationed on the various floors of our building. We’ll see.

I’ll likely go through and keep the stuff I really want to tend, find digital equivalents if they exist, and then export a CSV of the rest and shop it around to local comics shops to see if anyone is interested. I’m discovering old editions of things that are listed for rather high prices on Amazon and Ebay, though whether they see for those amounts is a data point for another day. I know that I don’t want to get into the business of being an online bookseller; I’d rather find a good home for the collection where others can enjoy them.

Replacing Otter transcription with Word 365 Online

When I was a reporter, one of the most tedious jobs I had was transcribing my interviews from a handheld cassette recorder. The only way to make the chore a little easier was to use a Radio Shack foot pedal to start and stop the recording. Still, transcribing a 2-hour interview would take at least twice as many hours.

I find that I still have a use for transcribing audio, whether for the interviews I do for the Bull City Commons newsletter or for random podcasts and recordings where I want to keep a specific quote or passage in Evernote.

Thank the Lord for automatic transcription, surely one of the good things that AI has wrought. No more foot pedals!

I was quite happy using Otter.ai, but I maxed out the free tier recently and needed an alternative. I did not want to pay a large subscription fee for an occasional service.

In searching for alternatives I was surprised to discover an automated transcription feature in Microsoft Word 365 online, which I already subscribe to. If you have an Office 365 subscription, then you have access to this really neat feature. (The transcribe feature is for the online version of Word only, not the desktop app. You can dictate into the desktop app, but it cannot transcribe an audio file.)

As the Microsoft support page says:

The transcribe feature converts speech to a text transcript with each speaker individually separated. After your conversation, interview, or meeting, you can revisit parts of the recording by playing back the timestamped audio and edit the transcription to make corrections. You can save the full transcript as a Word document or insert snippets of it into existing documents.

I used Word’s transcription feature recently to transcribe the audio from a Zoom interview with two other people, and also a 90-minute online conference with about six different speakers. The transcription was excellent, certainly on a par with Otter if not a little better. Highly recommended if you need this niche service.

Rethinking Your Personal Library: An Introduction To Quantum And Antilibrary

A fun post by Mumbai-based writer Phorum Dalal.

The Quantum library holds the books you love rereading, while the Antilibrary holds the unread books that you know hold something in store for you – even if you never get around to reading them.

I have far more unread books, and I seem not to reread books as time goes by. So much wonderful new treasure floating my way all the time, I rarely go back, though I do hold on to books that evoke a sharp memory of joy or a time and place. My personal time capsules.

Using DVD Player to play ripped .dvdmedia contents

I use RipIt to rip DVDs to my hard drive. Depending on the DVD, I will tell RipIt to create an MP4 of the movie or contents or I’ll use Handbrake to process the ripped contents. 1

Ripping a DVD to the Mac creates a .dvdmedia file, which is actually a set of subdirectories packaged to look like a file.

DVD Player, though, does not like to play a .dvdmedia file. My usual workaround was to use VLC Player, an open-source video viewing utility that is serviceable, but crashes at the least provocation.

Lots of searching on this issue uncovered the following interesting facts:

  • Although the DVD Player app is not in the Applications folder, it is still on the Mac, albeit well-hidden in System/Library/CoreServices/Applications. (Other apps in this folder include Archive Utility, Wireless Diagnostics, Network Utility, and a few others.)
  • You can make an alias of the DVD Player app and put it in your Applications folder or – more convenient – use Spotlight to call it up.
  • There is, in fact, a way to make DVD Player open and play ripped media.

Thanks to a comment on a years-old Apple discussion thread, here’s the procedure:

  1. In Finder, right-click on the .dvdmedia file and select Show Package Contents.
  2. Select and copy the VIDEO_TS folder.
  3. Elsewhere on your drive, create a new folder with the same name as the .dvdmedia file. (Not necessary, but may help lessen confusion.)
  4. In the new folder, paste the VIDEO_TS folder.
  5. Open DVD Player.
  6. Within DVD Player, navigate to and open the VIDEO_TS folder you just pasted.

The video should play just fine in DVD Player. You can delete the original .dvdmedia file.

  1. In RipIt, select the Compress button to create both a compressed playable file and a .dvdmedia file. [return]

Update Microsoft apps using the Mac App Store

I have been using Microsoft Word since the early ‘90s when it was a DOS-based application. There are areas of the application I never use – mail merge, drawing tools, creating bibliographies.

But there are others I’ve used so heavily I dare call myself expert with them: styles, templates, macros. I’ve been using Word for literally decades to draft large user guides and documents of all kinds, and I continue to collect macro code snippets to help me create products in my $DAYJOB where Microsoft Office is the standard.

In my Bull City Commons Cohousing work, most everyone has used the Microsoft Office products in their previous work lives, so Word, Excel, and PowerPoint still have a place in my toolkit.

As a result, I subscribe to Microsoft Office 365. For a long time, I purchased the products directly from Microsoft and Office’s updater application would check for updates and download them. But the app had the eerie habit of interrupting me with an update notification when I was most busy and its operation became quite erratic: it would tell me there was an update but wouldn’t download it!

I can’t remember where I saw this tip – I think a MacMost video – but the workaround was to delete the Office apps from my hard drive and instead install them through the Mac App Store.

The Mac App Store now handles all the updating chores for me. It works more quietly and efficiently than Office’s own updater app, and it’s a more Mac-like experience. The Mac App Store shows me which apps need updating, their sizes, and I can easily start the update before I go to bed, since they tend to be huge files that clog my bandwidth.