A few years again I came across an article where the author encouraged one of her readers to exercise for an hour every morning. The author said, “everything you do … is predicated on this step, and skipping it is tantamount to announcing to the world, I prefer misery to joy”. At the time I thought this was a rather unreasonable and somewhat judgmental thing to say to a person, especially someone (the reader) who appeared to be miserable and depressed. But the line stuck in my head, much like the a song that you desperately want to forget, but would require an actual lobotomy to get out.

For the last month I’ve going through streaks of both exercising and not exercising. The days I do exercise go much better than the days I don’t. The weeks I exercise most days go much better than the weeks I don’t. I’ve spent most of my life being sedentary and out of shape. I didn’t start exercising regularly until I turned 25. And in the last few years I’ve come to agree with the author: the days I don’t exercise I am announcing to the world that I prefer misery to joy.

Going ad-free

This blog is now ad-free.

I firmly believe that surveillance capitalism propping up the online ad economy is a scourge and existential threat, both to the open Internet and to civil society in general. We sorely need to come up with economic and business models that allow the creation and distribution of high quality information (new, investigate journalism, peer-reviewed science, cultural artifacts, etc.) without requiring consumers of such information to give up their privacy.

Aside. I have a related rant on why we should start paying for software and services (but also avoid Software-as-a-Service), but I’ll save that for later.

I don’t know how to solve the broader societal and economic version of the problem, but I can take the small personal step of protecting readers of this blog. So I’m paying the $4 a month to upgrade to the Premium version of WordPress.com to get rid of the (increasingly tasteless) ads. That seems to have gotten rid of the annoying cookie disclaimer as well.

Eventually I would like to move off of WordPress.com and transition to a lighter static site completely under my control, but this will do for now.

Happy reading.

I’m excited about technology again

For the first time in a long time (several years), I’m actually excited by the state of consumer technology. This includes both things that are currently available, as well as products that will (hopefully) come out in the near future. And what’s even better, there are actually a lot of such things I’m excited about.

First off: USB-C all the things. My phone is charged by USB-C, so are my headphones, and my tablet. The only holdovers are my Kindle Voyage, which needs to be charged very infrequently, and my laptop (which we will get to in a bit). Be aware though, not all USB-C cables are made the same. Beyond the obvious physical utility of just needing just one kind of connector, USB-C enables other little conveniences. Being able to carry around a single charger (or battery) that can charge all my devices, at high speed (due to high wattage), makes being on the go much more convenient. Furthermore, the Thunderbolt 3 data connection standard uses the same physical format as USB-C. That means it’s actually possible to plug a single cable into a laptop (or tablet) and have it charge and connect to peripherals like external monitors, speakers, input devices, external GPUs and storage at the same time, and at very high speeds (possibly with a Thunderbolt 3 dock in the middle).

Perhaps the only thing better than having one kind of connector, is having no connector at all. I’m not an audiophile, so most of the time I perfectly happy with Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones, especially on long flights (that I am doing more of these days). And while Bluetooth keyboards and mice have been around for a while, we now have decent, semi-portable mechanical Bluetooth keyboards. I’m looking forward to having both wireless data and power in the not-too-distant future, but till then, I can deal with plugging in my things overnight (or every couple nights for most of them) and being untethered the rest of the time.

On the subject of keyboards, I got into mechanical keyboards a few years. The mechanical keyboard market seems to have expanded greatly in the last few years, with innovation in switches, layouts, keycaps, programmability and design. I can’t justify owning more than two (one for work and work from home), but I’m happy to see that there’s something for everybody.

Next: monitors. A 4K resolution at 27″ is absolutely beautiful. I run mine with resolution scaling, which means that every “digital” pixel is mapped to 4 physical pixels on the screen. And that means that text is super crisp. As someone who mostly deals with text, and loves fonts and typography, the experience is wonderful. A lot of 4K monitors can also double up as USB-C hubs, which means one less adapter or connection to worry about.

My current phone is the Pixel 3a, which I think is the best product Google has made in long time. It’s relatively cheap (especially on Black Friday), has decent specs, a clean, straight-from-Google version of Android, and a great camera. The battery currently lasts almost two full days for my moderate usage, which is good for my peace of mind. I don’t super-like the plastic (I’m sorry, polycarbonate) body, but it’s just fine for the price. I’m hoping the multiple cameras from the Pixel 4 come to a future Pixel 4a. It not, I see myself being happy with the 3a for a long time.

Finally, computers, by which I mean both tablets and laptops. Let’s start with the iPad. I have the 11″ iPad Pro from last year. It’s the closest that Apple has come to realizing the device’s potential (though it’s not quite there yet). The stylus is magnetically attached to the side and is charged that way as well. The iPad is USB-C, not Lightning (thankfully),the bezels are slim and uniform, the screen is beautiful and the battery lasts for days. The ARM-based processor in it is very powerful, but since I mostly use it to read and mark up, it’s not something that makes a big difference for me. The software however, still leaves much to be desired. I would love to use it for programming, but I can’t stand the thought of doing that straitjacketed into siloed apps.

On the subject of things Apple is doing right, I hear the new 16″ MacBook Pro is very good. I’m rather proud to say that I’m still using a 13″ MacBook Pro from 2015 (with a battery replacement), but I’m hoping that the improvements of the 16″ are brought to a 13″ or 14″ model in the near future. USB-C, Thunderbolt 3, a top-of-the-line processor, lots of fast memory, an ample SSD, a big trackpad, and a not-terrible keyboard. I will be sad to give up Magsafe, but it’s a price worth paying.

All that being said, the computing devices I find the most exciting are actually Microsoft’s Surface line. The Surface laptops look great, especially in black. The Surface Pro might be the best “ultra-portable” machine on the market, especially for business users. And finally, the Surface Pro X with its ARM processor and LTE chip could be a very interesting device for developers and users alike, assuming Microsoft can provide the developer support it really needs. The only downside is that none of them support Thunderbolt 3 at the moment. Maybe next year?

Most of what I’ve talked about, is on the market right now. As for the future, I am looking forward to more interesting ARM-based devices, and the software support to make proper use of them. A Surface Pro X that can be used to both develop and run ARM applications, and supports Thunderbolt 3, would be an almost perfect portable device. More realistically, a 13″ MacBook Pro is likely in the next few months, which means I can finally upgrade in peace.

And on a final aesthetic note, matte black all the things, except for the MacBook (and no, Space Gray doesn’t cut it).

Sunday Selection 2019-12-01

It’s that time of the year when it gets dark at 4pm where I live. Since it’s cloudy and dreary a lot I am tempted to spend a lot of time in bed curled under the cover. But at the same time, I actually like the snow and the cold and there are Things that must get done.

I spent a couple weeks in Greece at the end of October and into November, mostly away from computers, off my phone and not using the Internet much except for using Google Maps and occasionally checking email. It was good. And I’ve been trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to replicate that feeling of effective disconnection, using the Internet only when necessary for purposes, rather than being used always for its (and by “it” I mean the various profit-maximizing corporations trying to lay claim to and monetize ever increasing portions of my experience and attention).

Today’s Sunday Selection is brought to you mostly by those thoughts.

Stab a Book, the Book Won’t Die

Craig Mod is one of my favorite writers, as he thinks deeply about a lot of things I am interested in: books, publishing, their relation to technology, and how to keep our heads screwed on straight in the face of the attention economy. This post is mostly about the first two things, but touches on the others. I also highly recommend signing up for his newsletters: Roden Explorers and Ridgeline.

Kahlil Gibran on Silence, Solitude, and the Courage to Know Yourself

Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings is another highly recommended reading (though her curatorial style of writing can be a little hard to follow). In any case, I am starting to think that an important step on the way to opting out of the attention economy is becoming comfortable with silence and solitude (the latter of which is particularly hard, as solitude borders so closely on loneliness). And as much as I like living in a Golden Age of Television (and readily available other videos, podcasts and music) it’s perhaps not surprising that being continually surrounded by noise (and always networked) is ultimately not good for the human mind or spirit.

Martin Scorsese: I said Marvel Movies aren’t Cinema. Let me explain.

I love stories about heroes. I love comic books, graphics novels, TV shows, movies, all of it. I went to New York Comicon once (didn’t dress up) and absolutely loved it. And though I will probably continue going to see the Marvel movies for the foreseeable future, the sameness is starting to get to me. Infinity War not withstanding, at the end of the day you know that everything will be (more or less) alright.

Aside: I watched Aquaman on the plane back. It was bad, so bad. Jason Momoa deserved better.

Sunday Selection 2019-09-15

Hope everyone is enjoying a good weekend. By the time you read this, I will probably be attending the Commonwealth Pen Show. Fountain pens (and related stationery) have been the only halfway serious hobby I have been able to maintain in a while, but it can also be a mostly solitary. I’ve enjoyed being a part of some related online groups, I take the chance to meet my fellow pen people whenever I can. While I am off doing that, you can enjoy the results of my various ramblings around the web.

Why I Have a Website and You Should Too

I’ve had some kind of website or blog for over a decade now. The identity that you could with little effort, and no gatekeepers, put your words out on a global network for anyone to read and see has always seemed incredible to me. Over the last few years, I’ve been seduced by the siren song of social networks (as have many of us). I’ve also realized that they have been a double-edged sword that has cut us deeply in more ways than one. I’ve since started experimenting with smaller alternative networks like Mastodon and micro.blog. While they are interesting experiments (and I hope they succeed, for some definition of success) there is really no substitute to having your own website, under your own control.

We’ve Reached Peak Wellness. Most of It Is Nonsense.

In many ways, learning how to become a fully-functioning adult is about how to properly take care of yourself (and eventually those around you). This is something that I’ve been learning mostly the hard way since I left college (where it was possible and socially acceptable) to not take very good care of yourself. I’ve gradually found a combination of regular meals, exercise, meditation, socializing and ample amounts of Netflix and books, that seem to be both necessary and sufficient in keeping my balanced and stable, physically and mentally. And the overlap with what gets sold as “wellness” is also thin at best. This article is also richly linked to references to other articles and studies, as all online writing should be.

How Does A Person Lose Track of their Diary

Continuing the theme of notebooks and journals from last night, this is a delightful read about a writer’s fascination with diaries, both her own and others’. Personally, I’m not entirely sure I find other people’s diaries quite so fascinating, but I have been reading more biographies lately. I think there is something very attractive (and just a little embarrassing) about learning about how other people live their lives, especially in an age where there seems to be no right and stable path on how to go about life.

Penny Dreadful

I told you Netflix as crucial to maintaining my sanity, didn’t I? I’ve been rewatching this short series over the last few weeks. It’s beautiful and terrible and exhilarating and depressing all at once and I love every moment of it. It also makes me want to read Milton’s Paradise Lost, but mainly so that I can pull out random lines from it and look all fancy at parties.