Ambling Through the Ambience

A great find, via the ever-essential Open Culture:

For those who think 50 minutes is too short and those piano notes too recognizable, may we suggest this 6-hour, time-stretched version of the album Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, created by YouTube user “Slow Motion TV.”

iPad Pro Observations

I subscribe to Daniel Lemire’s blog. He is a computer science professor at the University of Quebec.

While his posts on optimal sorting and benchmarking bounce harmlessly off of me, I appreciate his take on academe, research, and the state of science and technology. His weekly links of what he considers notable science and technology stories in the news or research journals consistently interests me (example).

In one of his longer posts, he had a few observations on his attempt to use an iPad for his daily work.

His point about focusing on only one application at a time is a good one; it’s not as limited as the old days of using DOS software, but when I’m writing on the iPad, task-switching is a little cumbersome. And I agree that working with text is awkward; I use a clipboard utility that helps a little, but I really prefer a mouse over tapping to select or move text.

I don’t use my 10.5 iPad Pro daily; I use it mostly for web surfing or reading; I can’t say I’ve noticed my reading comprehension or activity to have changed. Perhaps I’m not using it enough. I am one of those readers who remembers the quote is on the bottom of the right page (spatial/geographic memory), an ability frustrated by any e-reader.

I liked his last observation:

My final point is that working with an iPad is more fun than working with a laptop. I cannot tell exact why that is. I’d be really interested in exploring this “fun” angle further. Maybe it is simply because it is different, but it is maybe not so simple. My smartphone is “fun” even if it is old and familiar.

I think one reason an iPad might be more fun to use is that we still haven’t quite unlocked how to work with it effectively. Once it becomes as boringly dependable as a laptop, it will likely lose some of its allure. The fact that it’s still a little difficult to use, that we still have to think about it a little, gives it a little more challenge that makes the experience a little more fun.

"Dearest Liz"

Here, I am shamelessly aping Michael Leddy’s post, which should come as no surprise as I shamelessly steal many ideas and techniques from his blog.

What makes this video from Field Notes particularly dear to me is that 1) my wife’s name is Liz, 2) she is an editor, and 3) she is equally precise, though not as vicious.

[vimeo 317097991 w=640 h=360]

Jeanette Winterson on broken hearts and time

Jeanette Winterson:

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.

Do I Need to Digitize This Album? Or Can I Download it Instead?

I could take the time to record both sides of an album, edit those recordings, create metadata, find the album art, and maybe create a digital booklet to go with it.

But Is there an easier way?

  • Check Amazon for CD or streamable version. If the album is streamable or available as a CD, then I won’t bother recording it. A digital copy will cost some money, yes, but the sound will be good, and the album art and metadata will be in place. Does the record mean so much to me I want to buy the CD? That will be One More Thing to add to my load, when the goal is actually to lighten my load.

  • Check iTunes. Some vendors sell their wares in one place but not the other, so it pays to check both.

  • Check YouTube or Vimeo. I use Replay Media Catcher to capture the audio; there are numerous similar utilities out there.

  • Check archive.org’s Audio collections. This is the court of last resort, but obscure treasures do show up here.

Is This an Album Worth Keeping?

After I finish digitizing a record and putting it in the Donate box, I pluck the next one from the shelf. And then a series of questions present themselves.

  • Am I interested in keeping a digital copy of this record? If I’ve forgotten I had it, if I haven’t thought about it in decades, then maybe I don’t need to keep it. Into the Donate box it goes.

  • Do I want to give it a listen before I Donate it? If so, I may as well record it so I’m not risking damage to the record by playing it twice. On a few occasions, after listening to a few tracks, I know I don’t want to keep it. Into the Donate box it goes.

  • And the question of the moment: would it bring me joy to keep a copy of this album? I am currently stuck in a loop of recording some albums simply because no CD or other form of it exists elsewhere and the collector/hoarder in me is greedy to keep a copy “just in case.” (This one, for example.) Honestly, if that mythical case was going to happen, it would have already happened. Let it go.

If by the end of these questions I decide that I do want a digital copy of the record, I have another little checklist I go through. More tomorrow.

Lovers of Art?

From The Decatur Review, February 24, 1961:

Art lovers are purging the nudes from the Decatur Public Library's art books.

This is the most frequent type of mutilation encountered here, Miss Esther Larimer, chief of center public services, said today...

Magazines are the prime target here, Miss Larimer said, with recipes and other short items being removed by borrowers.

Reference books, usually used in the library or taken out on charge cards, have escaped damage to a large extent.

Something about paintings, however, bring out the clipping instinct...

The thing to do is read them, enjoy them and return them undamaged when due.

As we sift memorabilia from the attic, we find clippings of graduations or job changes and promotions. But it's often the other side of the clipping that is more interesting. (Austin Kleon has referred to this experience, how the little-valued of yesteryear becomes the most-interesting of today.)

   [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320.0"]<img src="http://tempblogfood.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/baefa-loversofart.jpg" alt="  The Decatur Review , February 24, 1961 " />   The Decatur Review , February 24, 1961 [/caption]

Fasting February

Search this blog for "diet" and you'll find many posts on various strategies I've tried.

After many decades of staying in the 210+ range, I got down to the 205 +/- 5 lbs range and stayed there for a couple of years. But I wanted to do better.

Last year, after many years of off-and-on fasting regimens, I tried the One Meal A Day (OMAD) eating plan. I found it to be pretty easy and I got down to 194 lbs., the lowest I've been as an adult in living memory. (Although I think a weekend spent helping a friend move in late-July heat probably sped that loss.)

But I relaxed the diet's constraints over the holidays; being at home during the government shutdown was restful, but it did not stop me from snacking. It’s time for a reset.

A few years ago, Liz and I tried a No-Sugar February; I think I lost 6 pounds. We found February to be a good time to try an extended challenge: it’s a short month, so anything seems possible. Also, it’s a respite between the Festivus excesses and the coming of Spring. February is a good month to hunker down and refocus.

Of course, trying to lose weight when it’s cold outside is a challenge. The body resists losing weight anyway and more so during the cold, dark days of winter.

Nonetheless, I've decided to go back to strict OMAD for February. When I implemented OMAD last year, I ate one meal a day roughly Sunday-Thursday, and relaxed the rules on Friday and Saturday. This time, I will eat only one meal a day from the first day of February through the last.

Per Joe's rules for prep: my chosen weight range is 185-200, my 4-hour eating window is from 6-10pm, with my preferred hour for eating 6-7pm. My weekly weigh-in will be Friday morning.

I know there will be some days this month when I have lunch with a friend or Liz and I may have an early supper -- that's OK. That will still be my only meal and I go back on schedule the next day.

But one OMAD rule I cannot follow at this time: I gotta have cream in my coffee!

If I fall off the wagon (a snack, an extra meal), then I get back on as soon as I can. I appreciate the moment as an opportunity to experience and express gentleness toward myself, and carry on.

Joe's OMAD site and forum have lots of information, and his YouTube channel hosts an impressive number of homemade videos filled with tips on practice and -- what seems most important to him -- mindset. I think Joe considers weight a thinking problem as much as a physical problem. Facing down one’s cravings is an opportunity to wrestle with your ego and your relationship to food. I think that, for Joe, the winner -- or loser -- is your character.

Myself, I want Fasting February to be as non-dramatic, non-struggling, and conflict-free as possible. If I fumble now and then, it’s because I’m human or I’m not working the system right. I have generally had trouble-free days when doing OMAD, and I’m confident most of February will go that way.

My weight this morning was 204.2. Check in on March 1 to see how I did.

Art is What Gets Away With You

Jeanette Winterson, one of my favorite writers on the meaning, experience, and vitalness of art:

Art isn’t what you can get away with … The work tells a different story. Art is what gets away with you. Every encounter with a work of art is an elopement. The seduction of the self, the abandonment of the self to a different kind of experience, is what art offers. Every renewal of the artistic method and process is an attempt to wrestle art out of the marriage and into the love-affair. By which I mean the Keep Out signs of convention, respectability, familiarity, jargon. The high priest cult of ‘art’ is a lie about what art is. Art is feeling and experience and excitement before it hardens into meaning.

The Tomb and the Telephone Box

From The Public Domain Review:

Though Nikolaus Pevsner wrote that the nineteenth century “forgot about Soane”, it was ironically through his funereal-architecture that his spirit was revived. The ruined classical architecture of death had become one of the utilitarian icons of the twentieth century. These boxes are now relics on the streets, preserved by English Heritage and frequented by the occasional tourist … Like their architectural inspiration, these boxes now act as a memorial to a form of life now passed.

R.I.P., Super Dave Osborn

The passing of Bob Einstein also brought the passing of his alter-ego, the heroically ill-fated daredevil stuntman Super Dave Osborn.

I’ve never seen Curb Your Enthusiasm so I missed that phase of Einstein’s career, but through the ‘80s and ‘90s, Super Dave was a regular guest on Johnny Carson and David Letterman’s late night shows. He played his character deadpan straight and bonehead stupid (why did he keep trusting Fuji to mastermind these stunts?? why did he never learn to do a test run first??).

Looking at the videos on the Super Dave Youtube channel, I’m impressed by the bone-dry way he set up the spectacular ending to these bits. The meticulous build up of ridiculous detail, the razor sharp editing of the climactic end of each bit, the sound editing (listen to Super Dave talking up to the microsecond that the axe falls) (and remember this was done back in the analog days of tape and film), and the amount of real-life planning and setup it must have taken to set up the reality of these set-pieces that existed only to be utterly demolished — along with Super Dave.

Here’s a good video to get the flavor of these bits: the deadpan build-up of detail, the stretching-out of the moments leading up to the blink-and-you-miss-it visual punchline, and really, just the sheer silliness of expending all this effort just to watch Super Dave get smashed to pieces.— I love it.

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbUc5nsAPTo&w=640&h=480]

See also

Listening to Records via iMac Speakers

So far, the only way I’ve been able to listen to these records has been when recording them via Audio Hijack. This entails creating a file that has to be deleted. The process felt heavier than it needed to be but I could not figure out how to use AH to simply listen to my records.

Ah, but it takes only a few moments to search on “how to play usb turntable via imac speakers” and I found the very page I needed: ION’s support page on how to listen to records from its USB turntable through computer speakers. Since I’m using an ION TTUSB 10 turntable, it was the perfect page to find.

This will make previewing albums a lot easier.

Lady Posing Naked Behind a Guitar

The Guardian justifiably criticizes Avril Lavigne’s promo shot for her new album (while linking out to other pictures of attractive women hiding behind musical instruments). As the writer, Leonie Cooper, says:

So what does this particular pose mean? A number of things, actually, none of them particularly heartening.

I read an interview with a female classical trumpeter who disliked the princess getup she was photographed in for her CD cover. She said she had fought so many battles with the label to record the music she wanted, that she compromised on the outfit and photo. I’ve not seen Lavigne’s side of the story; it would be interesting to know her take on it.

Dangerous Songs?

Pete Seeger wrote the liner notes to his 1966 release Dangerous Songs?, a collection rather loosely grouped under that theme.

Any work of art, from a Michelangelo painting to a Beethoven symphony to a play by Shaw, has a point to make. If we disagree with its point, we call the art “propaganda.”

A lullaby is a propaganda song, in the opinion of the three-year-old who doesn’t want to be put to sleep.

A hymn is a controversial song. Try singing one in the wrong church.

Even the singer of bawdy songs is protesting — sanctimoniousness.

The author of “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams and Dream Your Troubles Away” penned the most common propaganda of all.

His final paragraph:

You’ll have to decide for yourself about all these songs: who they are dangerous to, and what for, and whether they are dangerous to you. We all know there are two sides to every question. There are two sides to a piece of flypaper, too, but it makes a great difference to the fly which side he lands on.

Yours stickily,

Pete Seeger

I quibble with some of this — not every work of art has a “point”, not all questions have only two sides — but there may be more in common between 1966 and 2019 than I’d like to acknowledge.

The Vinyl Digitizing Project: The First Cull

As part of my winter project to cull/digitize our combined vinyl collection, I’m now handling records I’ve not touched since we moved here 25+ years ago. I’ve learned quite a bit via my experiments and will likely document them here.

It would be crazy-making to digitize everything or to meticulously categorize the records ahead of digitizing. Also, this is meant to be a fun little project not a crazy-making one. So I’m sweeping through our records in waves.

Here’s the first pass:

  1. Take a handful of albums from the shelf.

  2. For each album:

    1. Is it Liz’s? Her albums go to the right of the shelf. She’ll review them and let me know if she wants them digitized or donated. If it’s not Liz’s, it’s mine.

    2. I can usually tell right away if the record is one I want to get rid of: I may have a CD of it already or I’m just not interested in it anymore. Into the donate box it goes.

    3. If there’s the least glimmer of interest — I may just want to listen to the record out of curiosity — I put the record back on the shelf (lean it away from Liz’s records!)

My goal is to record one album a day, edit the recording, import it into iTunes, and then put the album in the donate box. I’m not interested at this point in keeping any albums as artifacts, or maybe a few: the Sgt. Pepper’s album and Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief (more on Matching Tie) come to mind.

After I put an album in the donate box, I pick the first one on my side of the shelf and put it on top of the turntable lid. That’s the next one I work with.

And then, yes, another process kicks in. More on that later.

Learning from Flawed Teachers

Austin Kleon remembers great advice from Jeffrey Tambor (“Worrying is not preparation”) and wonders what we can learn from people we used to admire:

It’s like they say in A.A. and Levon sang in The Band: “Take what you need and leave the rest.”

The need I will take is the teaching. The rest I will leave is the teacher.

In the meantime, I will keep looking for and learning from better men, or better yet, better women.

(Take time to read Austin’s sketchnotes from Tambor’s talks. They’re good.)

Doug Toft, in writing about the possibilities and limits of enlightenment, includes a depressingly long list of spiritual teachers whose destructive behavior wrecked their students’ lives.

Harlan Ellison often cited a quote: “Never meet an artist whose work you admire. The artist is always so much less than the art.” (Ellison is a person whose spirit and work ethic I always admired from my teens to adulthood, but whose work and personality I left behind. As Kleon notes, we’re infatuated by our ideas of the images these people project, but we’re also infatuated by our ideas of who we think these people are.)

I believe that teachers, artists, and those public personalities we admire share with us the best part of themselves. That’s what touches us and that’s what we latch on to. Separate the teaching from the teacher and the art from the artist — the good art and teachings will stand on their own.

Lawns Are an Ecological Disaster

I’ve always hated cutting grass, from my teenage years when it was my only source of income to being a homeowner. And of course, they’re biological and chemical nightmares:

“I’ve heard lawns compared to a biological desert … That’s really unfair, because deserts can be very diverse places.”

Many years ago, I attended an exhibit on American lawns. A few squibs I remember:

  • Lawns are status symbols. A large expanse of lawn shows you’re rich enough to own such a large property and to tend it.

  • Lawns are security buffers. A large expanse of lawn, sans trees or bushes, means no one can sneak up on you without being seen. High-security institutions have big open fields around them.

I cannot wait for the day when I can sell off my lawn mower and never walk behind one of those damned things again.

See also

The American Obsession with Lawns - Scientific American Blog Network

Reading for Information vs Transformation vs ...?

Steve Edwards reads a lot into his bookstore visits:

In my twenties the question was never “What do I want to read?” but rather “Who do I want to be?”—and bookstores were shrines I pilgrimaged to for answers … Now when I wander the aisles, it’s not just some future self I imagine but a past one. There aren’t just books to read but books I’ve already read. Lives I’ve lived. Hopes abandoned. Dreams deferred. The bookstore is still a shrine but more and more what I find aren’t answers to questions but my own unwritten histories.

Later on, he discovers folks in the bookstore who do not seem buffeted by these gales of self-interrogation:

They scan titles and pull books from the shelf and study dust-jackets in deep concentration: older folks in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond. People with far more stories than my meager few. Lifelong readers. Book addicts. I watch them sometimes and wonder what drives their choices. How does reading evolve? Are books to us as leaves are to trees, feeding us while we hold them, then decomposing and feeding us again after we’ve let them go? I’m heartened by my elders. Humbled. I wonder if instead of asking “Who do I want to be?” they ask themselves, “What do I want to read?”

If I read PG Wodehouse to answer the question “Who do I want to be?” then I was definitely asking the wrong question. But I think I was still reading the right book — for me, on that day, at that time.

At 57, my advice to Steve would be to follow Randell Jarrell’s imperative: “Read at whim! read at whim!” And relax, for God’s sake.

And Yet It Fools Everybody

Callow American reporter — and skeptic — Jack Walser ponders “half-woman, half-swan” Sophie Fevvers’ trapeze act and remembers ancient tricks he saw performed when he traveled the world:

In Kathmandu, he saw the fakir on a bed of nails, all complete, soar up until he was level with the painted demons on the eaves of the wooden houses; what, said the old man, heavily bribed, would be the point of the illusion if it looked like an illusion? For, opined the old charlatan to Walser with po-faced solemnity, is not this whole world an illusion? And yet it fools everybody.

Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus (1984) (Penguin reissue, 1993)

Tech Ailments in America

ImagineMD:

Just what tech-induced ailments do we suffer from, and how do we describe them? To answer this question, we conducted an extensive analysis of Google search trends and traditional media to identify how people talk about their conditions and how they search for relief.

A very clean set of infographics and analysis breaking down the search terms related to the most searched-for ailments of the (from most- to least-searched) thumbs, elbows, neck, eyes, and shoulders. Plus, which states searched the most on which type of ailments. North Carolina appears to be all thumbs, which is no surprise if you know our State Legislature.

Honorable mentions: nomophobia, phantom vibration syndrome, and smartphone pinky.

Batched Delivery of Gmails to my Inbox

I am always and forever tweaking how I use Gmail.

I wrote about a script to send an email on a schedule, but I abandoned that. It was too much trouble to use and I found that I had no real need for it. I can use Spark if I really want to schedule the delivery of an email.

I evaluated Boomerang for this option but Boomerang added too much overhead and clutter to my Gmail experience. However, Boomerang had a couple of neat options I’d not run across before: it could pause delivery of email to the inbox for a specified period of time (for when you really don’t want to be bothered by email) and it could deliver batches of email to the inbox at intervals defined by the user.

I’m the classic inbox-checking personality type, so withholding email from me so that I checked it less gave me a nice break.

Search on “pause gmail” and you’ll find a couple of paid options and a couple of free Chrome extensions that can handle that task for you.

I didn’t know about those options before implementing the following free, though techy, approach to roughly the same thing. MIT student Kenneth Friedman wrote a few lines of Google Scripts code that diverts incoming email from the inbox to a new label then, at a specified interval, moves the emails in a batch to the inbox.

Friedman’s code relies on Google Developer Code for the timing trigger, which is not as fine-grained or customizable as the commercial options. The commercial options let you specify specific times of day when email will be moved to the inbox (every 10am and 2pm, for example) and can make it easier to let emails from specific senders slip through the filter.

The Google Developer Code is not that flexible. I need to tweak the Gmail filters myself if I want to be sure to receive emails from specific people. And although timing intervals can vary (by seconds, minutes, hours, and so on), Friedman recommends selecting an interval of every 4 hours. Intervals of 2, 6, 8, 10, and 12 hours could be selected instead; finding the right interval is a personal call.

I chose an interval of every 6 hours; I think the 6-hour intervals began after I saved that choice, but I am not sure. In any case, my emails get delivered four times a day at roughly midnight, 6 am, 12pm, and 6pm. That’s a nice spread for me. (And if I really really need to check email urgently, it’s easy to just click on the All Mail label.)

If you’re not interested in technical challenges and mucking around in Google Scripts code, then don’t bother with Friedman’s process. Go for Boomerang or Inbox When Ready and pay $5/month; it’s easier, more precise, and a little less nerve-wracking.

Update, 2019-02-14: I’ve been involved in some intensive committee work that has been sending lots of emails my way and required me to check and answer my email more often. The way to cheat on this batching Gmail method is simply to view All Mail, which will display all the mail queued in the batch. I still like the system, though, so I’m changing the delivery time from 6 hours to 2 hours. This will allow me to respond in a decent amount of time without subverting the system. More later.

macOS: Ignore Ownership on an External Drive

I bought a 4TB external drive last year. I created two partitions: one to hold a Carbon Copy Cloner backup of my iMac and the other to be a generic external drive.

CCC has been working great but I have had the devil’s own time simply copying files to the external partition.

For security reasons that were a holdover from my MacBook days, I have created an Administrator user account and a Mike user account (which I use all the time). The Mike user does not have all the power of the Administrator, by design: if some bad software wants to write to the drive, it will not have the permission to do so. When installing software or making some changes, I have to enter the Administrator credentials to carry out the operation. It can be tedious sometimes, but it does not happen often and I’m used to it.

I think, too, Apple’s recent emphasis on security in its operating system releases have raised some barriers that weren’t there before. I don’t remember, for example, having this much trouble doing simple file management operations on an external drive. Even simply creating a folder or copying a file required me to enter my Administrator credentials for every single operation.

I finally got fed up this morning, Googled around, tried some things, and discovered the fix.

The first thing I did was follow Apple’s instructions for changing permissions in the Home directory and perform the same procedure for the external drive. No joy.

The second thing I did was so incredibly simple I almost wept: from the partition’s Get Info window in the Finder, check the option “Ignore ownership on this volume.” I checked the box and immediately was able to create folders, move and copy files, etc. O frabjous day! Thanks, Larry Jordan!

See Also

Clearing Automatic Album Ratings in iTunes

I tend to rate songs or tracks in iTunes or iOS Music with stars, as I’ve written about before. As Kirk McElhearn explains, recent versions if iTunes automatically calculate song and album ratings for an entire album even if you’ve manually rated only one song. This totally ruined Kirk’s — and my — smart playlists.

The only surefire way to solve the problem is to use Applescripts to clear the imputed album and track ratings — that appear in iTunes as gray stars — so that the only tracks that are rated are the ones I’ve manually selected — blue stars.

Two good solutions are the Album Rating Reset script from Doug’s Applescripts (I select “None/clear”), or the ClearAlbumAutoRating script from this Apple Support forum thread (scroll down to the post from “turingtest2”, which links to four Applescripts that both clear or restore auto ratings).

When I’m poking around inside iTunes and browsing albums, I find the ClearAlbumAutoRating script to be the easiest and quickest to use. Just select the album or a track, run the script, and the despised album rating disappears.

But for playlists or large selections of multiple albums, I like Doug Adams’ script. The beautiful aspect of Doug’s script is its simplicity. Run the script to display the Album Rating Reset window. Select a playlist or group of albums and the script gathers all the necessary track and album info; it told me, for example, that my 2-star playlist contained 125 albums. I selected an album rating of “None/clear”, clicked Apply, and saw my beloved playlist cleared of those gray-starred blemishes.