From Launchbar to Alfred

I had a long and happy partnership with Launchbar on my iMac. But when I started using my MacBook Pro more intensively recently, and found that Spotlight wasn’t doing everything I wanted, I found that Launchbar has been languishing with hardly any updates, to the consternation of its fans who love its look and operation.

So I turned to Alfred and am really enjoying it. The community and forum are active (unlike Launchbar’s), there are many great tutorials and Youtube videos on setting it up and using its workflows, and I am very much enjoying playing with it. Which is the main thing.

Digital declutter

In searching the web for tips and clues on how others organize their digital files, I ran across this video from Caitlin’s Corner: DIGITAL DECLUTTER | organizing my files, email & hard drives - YouTube.

For whatever reason, watching her dig through her piles of old digital files lit a fire under me to do the same. Her method is a bit Marie Kando: open every file, even if only briefly, consider it, then keep or delete.

I think what inspired me (beyond simple procrastination on my latest project) was her commitment to the job. Her video time-jumps from the morning, when she starts, to late at night when she finally stops looking through at least one of her hard drives. I could see myself doing the same thing. The idea of letting go of this digital baggage, and finally making the decisions I have been putting off, also inspired me.

I started last night with my Google Drive files, of which I did not have many. I’m now viewing GDrive as a temporary holding area for files in progress or for collaboration. I decided that my MacBook Pro and Dropbox would be the FInal Source of Truth for all my files. So the GDrive files I kept are now sitting in my Downloads folder, which I will get to cleaning out … soon.

Poetry gives us the news we did not know we needed

The world’s first known author is widely considered to be Enheduanna, a woman who lived in the 23rd century BCE in ancient Mesopotamia (approximately 2285 – 2250 BCE). Enheduanna is a remarkable figure: an ancient “triple threat”, she was a princess and a priestess as well as a writer and poet.

Source: Hidden women of history: Enheduanna, princess, priestess and the world’s first known author

I learned this fact from today’s poem on Poetry Daily: “forget thee (excerpt)” by Ian Dreiblatt.

How I’m reading books these days

Trinity College Library 1900

6 Breathtaking Libraries

Library Extension for Firefox/Chrome/Edge

Firefox remains my browser of choice on my MacBook mainly because of Library Extension, which does not work in Safari. With this extension, I can go to a book page on Amazon or Audible and see whether the book is available either physically or digitally via the Durham NC public library 

Books, Ebooks, Audiobooks

Both ebooks and audiobooks are available via my library credentials from the library’s own site, Overdrive/Libby (via the Libby app), and Hoopladigital (via the Hoopla app). Checking out an ebook from the library itself delivers it to my Kindle Oasis or Kindle app.

One of the great bonuses of Overdrive/Libby is its access to magazines; Liz loves reading The New Yorker this way on her iPad mini.

Hoopla delivers not only ebooks, but audiobooks, music, and a limited selection of movies/TV series. What continues to astonish me with Hoopla is its deep selection of comics and graphic novels; before buying a graphic novel from Amazon/Comixology, I check Hoopla first and am usually pleasantly surprised. Its comics reader is not as good as Comixology’s, but it’s decent.

I’m an Audible guy, and have been since the late ‘90s; it’s mostly reliable and offers lots of stuff. I’ve used Apple’s Books app now and then, but did not care for the experience. I have an app on my iPhone called Bound Audiobook Player that is useful for playing audiobook files I’ve ripped or created from other sources. And I’ve written before about using Audiobook Builder for “binding” separate MP3 files into consolidated audiobook files.

Devices & Apps for Reading

I have a Kindle Oasis that I am finding myself using less and less. I appreciate that its lighting is probably better on my eyes than the iPad’s, and that it offers only reading with no other app or online distractions, but it feels increasingly clunky to use.

On my iPad, I configure the Kindle app so that I can scroll through a book like a web page (when that is supported) rather than tapping on the side of the screen to advance to the next page. I like to read with my glasses off in the evening, so I can make the font size quite large on the display while still displaying a lot of text.

This article led me to seriously consider reading Kindle books on my iPhone. And it’s actually a pretty good experience, once I’ve adjusted the font and scrolling. I find myself now opening the Kindle rather than a browser when I am fiddling with the phone.

I rarely use Apple’s Books app for anything beyond PDFs, though I have bought a few items from its store that were not available via Amazon. I always forget about the Books app. The ability to organize and manage my collection is limited, though the Kindle’s is really not that much better.

Lately, for “classic” books, I’ve been using the Serial Reader app and am loving it without really knowing why. It delivers chunks of a book daily that can be read in 10-15 minutes; sipping a book rather than gulping it, as it were. I paid for the app so I could load an EPUB book from Gutenberg, and it handled the ebook flawlessly. Right now, I’m reading a book of Wodehouse short stories.

One problem with so many apps and devices is: read the same book on multiple devices? Read different books on different devices? What type of reading works best with each device? How many books can I read at a time without overwhelming myself? I’m still working that out.

Comics Sites & Apps

Comixology remains my favorite comics reader, despite how Amazon has wrenched its UI into a confusing mess to match the Kindle app’s equally frustrating UI. The Comixology reader can only read comics purchased or borrowed from Comixology. Many pixels have been spilled on how Amazon has ruined the Comixology web and digital experience, and the criticism is justified; attempting to discover new work on Amazon’s Comixology sub-site is next to impossible; still, the Comixology app’s comics-reading engine is the best and easiest to use.

Again, check out Hoopla’s deep catalog of comics, including many recent releases. Don’t buy from Comixology if you can borrow from Hoopla.

I check the Humble Bundle site once a month for its book bundles; the bundles are priced so that portions of what you pay go to both charity and the publisher. Most of the book bundles typically deal with programming or gaming, though they sometimes have fiction themes or instructional themes (how-to-write books during NaNoWriMo, for example). They also usually have at least one comics bundle. For a relatively small price, you can sometimes get a couple of dozen (or more) comics/graphic novels in a themed bundle. Some of the themed collections I’ve bought include a Keiron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie Showcase, Ed Brubaker’s Image Comics work (his incredible Criminal series), and titles from One Press and Top Shelf; these bundles helped me catch up on lots of titles I had missed.

The Humble Bundle comics can be downloaded in multiple formats (PDF, CBZ, CBR) though that isn’t consistent; occasionally only one or two formats are offered. I prefer to read these on my iPad. There are many many comics readers out there; I’ve used Chunky Comics Reader for so long on my iPad that I can’t get used to other readers. Chunky is still available and works great, but the last update was 2 years ago, so it’s probably abandonware, alas. A good second choice to try is the Panels comic reader, which is being actively developed.

I’ve tried both the Marvel and DC comics readers; Marvel’s reader is better, but neither are all that great. The main advantage of these services is getting access to nearly the complete catalog offered by each publisher (new issues are delayed by six months, typically). Both services offer monthly and yearly subscriptions; I like paying for one on a monthly basis till I finish reading through whatever is interesting to me, then stopping that subscription and moving to the other. 

Good Lord

Until I wrote this post, I had no idea how convoluted my reading life had become! But it’s not that hard in practice, I think. I use my iPad for most reading: comics, Kindle app, and Serial Reader. On my iPhone, I also have Serial Reader (it syncs progress across all devices, or at least is supposed to), and Kindle (for light non-fiction that is skimmed more than read). 

And yes, I have a chair and lamp reserved for reading good old-fashioned papery codex books. Books are a proven technology that never go out of style. 

New Project

An unusual project: compile, sift, and present several years of photos taken over the course of our cohousing adventure, and then present it as a chronological slideshow at a gala appreciation event for our mentors and architects/designers

This project coincides with me learning Alfred, reinstalling Hazel, and searching for ways to do this in as fun and easy a way as possible, without going overboard.

Other threads coinciding with this project: a revived interest in Johnny Decimal, mainly as inspiration for me to revamp and simplify my folder/file/project management on my MacBook, some coaching and reading on just relaxing and not killing myself to get stuff done, and exploring anew apps and services available on and for macOS.

I must say, pottering about on my MacBook is as relaxing to me as working in the garden is for real people.


North Carolina Cideries Are Seeing a Gentle New Craft Cider Renaissance - INDY Week

I’ve never been able to stand the smell and taste of beer, so I could never see the appeal of it to people. Ciders, though, are really fun. I heard cider described as the alcoholic beverage for people who like soda pop, and that’s not far wrong for me. Berry and citrus ciders are my favorites. I currentlly have two crowlers in the fridge from Bull City Ciderworks: Upcide Down (pineapple cider) and Early Bird (a blend of BCC’s cranberry and ginger ciders).

Zine Machine Fest, Durham NC, 2022-10-16

One of my favorite happy-making, smile-on-my-face-the-whole-time events of the year.

(Relatively) Recent reading

Arnold Bennett: Lost Icon by Patrick Donovan. 📚 An excellent biography of the phenomenally famous and successful British author of the 1910s-20s who is little-known and littler-read today. For a man who tried always to live and behave sensibly, his relationships with the two women in his life showed the limits of his self-satisfied rationality. Still, it was a remarkably busy and industrious life, with his journalism and “pocket philosophies” (such as How to Live on 24 Hours a Day) jostling alongside his fiction and plays. Virginia Woolf bears some of the blame for the eclipse of his reputation, though some responsibility is borne by time and shifting tastes. I remember reading his play The Title and one of his novels, and the mustiness of the atmosphere and archness of the prose turned me off. I should go back and try the novels on which his reputation rest, like The Old Wives Tale and The Card.

Bennett’s friend Frank Swinnerton wrote his own remembrance of Bennett and was a novelist in his own right. I downloaded Nocturne 📚 from Gutenberg (and loaded it into Serial Reader—ah, technology) and skimmed through it rather quickly. An interesting idea, to tell the story of two sisters, both loving and antagonistic, in a single night, with some moments of actual drama and interest. But so much telling. I started to see how parts of the story could work as a play but the dialog was so stilted, the narrative voice so ever-present, and the storytelling itself so stiff (not to mention that I didn’t trust Swinnerton’s psychological portraits of the sisters) that I found this short novel to be pretty forgettable.

In the comics world, I binge-read Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (my favorite artist of the series). So light, clever, funny, and fast; they really brought the joy of reading comics back for me. I also loved that they included the letters pages from the original comics, featuring cosplay photos from readers young and younger. The community that grew up around this positive and—yes, why not—wholesome comic was a delight to read. I felt both satisfaction and sadness when the run reached its end.

I also binge-read Garth Ennis’s The Boys 📚 after hearing about the Amazon show; I really cannot recommend it. It’s a brutal satire of superheroes that is itself really ugly, violent, with only two characters I really cared about; their love story is actually quite warm and tender but, jeez, you do have to wade hip-deep in blood and guts to get to it. Like all these sagas, it’s melodramatic so I kept reading to see what happened next (I also never learned to just quit reading a book I’m not enjoying). But based on my description, you can kind of guess what happens next every time.

Also read Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles 📚, which I guess was a story of its time. Brilliant and bold in so many ways, because Morrison. Morrison is brilliant but—and I will take the blame here—few of his stories have stuck with me.

I also read Chip Zdarsky’s run on Howard the Duck, another funny book with heart, though dug in more to the character’s past and not as light-hearted as Squirrel Girl. I like Zdarsky. He has a sense of humor but he also writes good action/superhero stuff; I’m currently following his Batman run.

Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “Wonder Woman: Historia” is deep-dish, gorgeous artwork, very dense, very myth-laden storytelling on the birth of the Amazons. I hope she’s able to continue the series.

I’m trying out the DC Comics app on my iPad and have been rereading Greg Rucka and JH Williams’ Batwoman run, which Williams eventually took over later as both writer and artist. The story is good, as melodramatic and soap operatic as these things are, but Williams’ layouts are jaw-dropping. It’s worth checking out the physical books from the library to really take in all the detail and the strange way he breaks the panels down, as if he dropped each page from a high window and then reassembled the shards into a new whole.

Notes from a lecture given by Walter Derby Bannard at UNC-CH on November 14, 1984

  • There should be an attention to art for what it is, not what it means
  • Art represents the best of us to us – to get that, you have to give art every chance you can
  • Critics – a critic should have a good eye, good grammar, and nerve. (Clement Greenburg is a good critic)
  • Critics are usually best when they don’t like something. When they do like something, they’re usually off the mark.
  • Curators don’t correct their mistakes, they store them in the basement. Critics operate on the assumption that the public must be educated, instead of the curator.
  • Art declined when innovation became fashionable. The middle class became affluent and bought art for status, for power, rather than for its beauty and its effect on you, which is the purpose of art.
  • Good art is non-verbal, internal and personal.
  • Pleasure is nature’s way of telling you what to like. Denying it means to gobble up obligation.
  • In the 1970s, movements were crxeated instead of improved upon.
  • Beware importance.
  • Good art is puzzling, upsetting, doesn’t pander, crticizes you but doesn’t insult you or put you down or offend you, goes right to the center, hangs on.
  • Pleasure and inspiration first – analysis after.
  • Never suspend your responsibility to judgement. You’ve got to get it yourself and learn to alter your judgements. Have the inner security in being wrong to get it right.

Stoppard on fiddling

At a Tom Stoppard Q&A session at Duke University, a professor noted that Stoppard has said he can’t resist “fiddling” with a play when it’s being revived or restaged. The prof asked what constitutes “fiddling” and how much of it did he do?

Stoppard replied, “How much fiddling I do depends on how much of Rome is burning at the time.”

-from rescued notes made in the 1990s

Japanese Advice for the Elderly

Japanese Advice for the Elderly Aging Hints from Hinohara Shigeaki Born 1911 in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan (translated and adapted from Tanoyaku, Vol 38, June, 2007)

  • Emphasize love, not hate
  • Recognize your imperfection but aim to improve
  • Try something new
  • Focus your attention; don’t waste time thoughtlessly
  • Find a model person to imitate
  • Seek to empathize
  • Value encounters with others
  • Maintain small eating habits
  • But don’t be neurotic about diet; enjoy food
  • Walk; use stairs as much as possible
  • Participate in group sport activities
  • Enjoy leisure; avoid a life with only work
  • Handle stress by exercising; walk, play
  • Take responsibility for your own behavior
  • Change habits when necessary; don’t be obsessed with maintaining habits

Source: ADVICE FOR AGING WELL - Constructive Living 2

New Words

voluntold – Directed by others to do work that needs doing but that no one else wants to do and without compensation

I was voluntold that I would be writing the company newsletter.

sadmin_ – The overhead, administrative work (either office or household) that needs to be done but that you don’t want to do; the administrivia work that you’re sad to have to perform.

When we got back from the trip, we had to do the sadmin of unpacking, washing clothes, and going to the grocery store.

Part of my Friday afternoon sadmin is writing the weekly report to my boss.

"A sort of lovely tension"

“It’s fantastically exciting to discover something that’s been lost all this time, but I do think it is also worth simultaneously holding the thought that actually, the only reason these fragments have survived is because at some point, someone thought the manuscripts in which they appeared were not valuable as anything other than waste. There’s a sort of lovely tension in that, I think.”

Source: Fragment of lost 12th-century epic poem found in another book’s binding | Books | The Guardian

Note: One of the interesting curiosities of history is that most paper has survived by accident. And for all the benefits that digitizing old manuscripts has brought us, there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned hands-on examination of the artifact.

Is plain text best?

CJ Chilvers gently disputes the claim of text files as the best future-proof archival medium.

There’s no magic file format. Most are likely to last long enough for you to convert to something else if need be. It’s more important to find the constraint that works for you…

I wouldn’t worry too much about your archive, though. Nothing digital is of archival quality. There hasn’t been enough time to test any format or storage method.

One of the peculiarities of archival research is that most paper has survived by accident. That’s how durable paper can be. Nowadays, archivists know exactly how to store paper; they know the temperature, humidity, pressure, etc. needed to preserve books, documents, etc. so it can last for a hundred or more years.

But digital media? Forget it. That whole area of preservation is constantly in flux and few archival standards have emerged – apart from maybe PDF-A – to ensure that even this web site will last for the next 20 years. Storage media, file formats, shifting standards, popular uptake: they all play a part.

I agree with Chilvers: old email, PDFs, and Word files work just fine for me, and for most people as well. I also count Evernote, which I’ve been using for 10+ years. Using rich text format (RTF) to capture formatting, bulleted and numbered lists, and images makes note-taking and note-making a more pleasurable and useful process.

Very few things will last forever. If they can last long enough to be of use to us, then that’s long enough.

Ostentatio genitalium

Ostentatio genitalium (the display of the genitals) refers to disparate traditions in Renaissance visual culture of attributing formal, thematic, and theological significance to the penis of Jesus. That these images seem to have been created in good faith, with pious intentions, mystifies art historians, and many refuse to recognize the category as noteworthy or distinct from the nudity of angels and putti. Yet, as examples accrue, the conspicuous attention lent to Christ’s phallus cannot escape even the most disinterested gaze.

Source: Ostentatio Genitalium in Renaissance Art – The Public Domain Review

Rediscovered a great Evernote keyboard combo that v10 recently added back in: press Ctrl+Alt+v to create a new note from the clipboard.