Home Ownership

I had the ultimate yak shaving homeowner day. My wife left the mower outside on Thursday. I went to move it Friday morning and it was out of gas. So, I went and got the gas can. Then, someone pulled up to the house and I got distracted. Completely forgot about it. She tried to move it Saturday morning. The battery was dead.

So, this morning, I went to see about it. Well, she had put gas in it but left the gas cap off. It rained a LOT last night. There was likely water in the gas tank. Now, I need to drain it and refill it with clean gas. Off to the store to get a siphon pump. No idea if we ever had one. Get the pump, come home and get it drained. I look and there’s a good bit of water in the fuel. Back to the store to get some fuel treatment to hopefully bind to the rest of the water that’s likely still in the tank. I do remember to get more gas just in case.

I come home, get the fuel treatment and the gas in. Now I’m ready to jumpstart the mower. Well, the battery was too dead to jump off. We used to have a 12v battery charger. That was 3 or 4 moves ago and it’s nowhere to be found. Back to the store for the battery charger.

Meanwhile, I see a storm is coming. I have to get the dead lawnmower into the shed. It takes me 30 minutes to figure out how to disengage the transmission to get it into neutral. I get it into the shed just as the rain starts. I wipe things down, put away some tools, shovel a clean spot out in the shed so there’s no hay or shavings in case I need to lie down and get under the lawnmower.

I get everything set up to charge the battery. The power outlets in the shed don’t work. I flip the breaker and it trips immediately. No time to figure that out today. I get the tools back out. I take the seat off the lawnmower and it takes 8 screws/bolts to get the battery out. I put the tools up. Take the battery, the new charger, the new extension cord, the tools, etc, etc back to the workbench. I get it all set up and it appears to be charging.

That was 5 hours of work in the sun and on the ground. Three or four trips to the store. Absolutely nothing accomplished.

The Truth of Work

People think programming is cool and fun. I spent 30 minutes pondering the nature of truth while typing this inanity:


iex(15)> true and false

false

iex(16)> not (true and false)

true

iex(17)> true or false

true

iex(18)> not (true or false)

false

iex(19)> not (true or true)

false

iex(20)> not (false or false)

true

Rediscovering Silence

I think about this a lot when running or hiking in the woods. It’s one of the main reasons I’ve never been a music listener while outdoors. I’ve even recently started working in silence. No podcast or music or any sound. Just me in my office with the window open when the weather cooperates.

This silence was a great discovery. Without the foreground of other people’s words, I realized that the glorious beauty of nature was in its silence. I looked at the stars and heard their silence; the moon made no sound; the sun rose and set without a whisper. In the end even the noise of the waterfall, the bird calls, the rustle of the wind in the trees, seemed part of a stupendous, living, cosmic silence which I loved and in which I found peace. It seemed that this silence was a natural right of every man, and that this right had been taken from us. I thought with horror of how for so much of our lives we are pounded by the cacophony we have invented, imagining that it pleases us, or keeps us company. Everyone, now and then, should reaffirm this right to silence and allow himself a pause, some days of silence in which to feel himself again, to reflect and regain a degree of health.

From A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East by Tiziano Terzani

Defining Irony

This profile of Michael Stipe goes on to explain why the author likes this story that Stipe shares. It touches a nerve because there was a time in my life where it might have been me in that Jeep. I don’t think I was ever that actively hostile to anyone but in the depths of a drunken night out, who knows? My time in Athens contains some of the brightest days and some of the darkest nights of my life. I was a person town in two and self-medicating to hide it all from the people around me and from myself.

Late one night, in the early 1990s, Stipe was in Athens, hanging out with Todd McBride, who was then the lead singer of a great bar band called the Dashboard Saviors, and the wonderfully eccentric singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt. The three were at The Grit, a cheap, vegetarian restaurant that has become one of the college town’s more iconic downtown eateries but which at the time was in a different building, closer to the edge of town. As McBride explained when he told me this story more than a decade ago, “The Grit was in this depot kind of building then — it was down at one end and this frat bar was down at the other. The place was closing up, we were getting ready to leave, and we were kind of hanging around outside The Grit, when this jeep full of frat boys comes by, throws a beer can at us, and screams, ‘Fuck you, faggots!’ Then they crank up the stereo” — at this point in his telling of the story, McBride began to sing the indelible song that was pumping from the jeep’s stereo — “It’s the end of the world as we know it / It’s the end of the …”

From “Michael Stipe is Present” in The Bitter Southerner.

There’s a reason that R.E.M. is my favorite band. Their music was a life raft I tried desperately to hang on to. Living in the town where they came to prominence made it all the more important to get lost in Swan Swan Hummingbird on repeat and spill my darkness into the chorus of Cuyahoga.

I’m pleased to have left a large part of myself behind in that place and time. But, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded occasionally of how close I might be to slipping back into the mindset, the actions, and the consequences of a life lived with little regard for others or myself. There’s nothing wrong with being humbled and being humble.

Elvis Lives On

I just saw the new Elvis movie. It was excellent. Even if you don’t care for his music, it’s still a well made and well acted movie.

Baz Luhrmann has a distinctive style that lends itself to Elvis’s story. He also has a great sense of the motion and rhythm of music and interprets that through his direction in a compelling way.

The casting was perfect even if the Hanks role is a bit stunty. His performance has a few layers to unpack which work well with the less nuanced and more instinctual performance of Austin Butler’s Elvis.

Permanent Record

We’ve long told young people that one of the dangers of being extremely online is that anything you post is permanent. That stuff will follow you. It will be found if someone decides to look hard enough. And now, this Senate candidate is finding that out.

Fireworks are Dumb

I know many folks have dogs that hate the sound of fireworks. Ours do too but the 20+ horses on our farm were surrounded on 4 sides by massive fireworks tonight. We’ve already counted 6 shoes we will have to replace and a dozen fence boards that will need to be replaced or repaired.

So, we are looking at around $500 worth of repairs, plus the danger of a scared running loose horse, and it’s not even the Fourth yet.

Not a fan of this holiday.

It can’t always get worse

I went to visit my mom down in Georgia last weekend and got home Wednesday. I have accomplished exactly nothing in the three days since. Haven’t worked. Haven’t read a book. Haven’t cut the grass, done the laundry, or washed the dishes. I’ve barely been able to get my teeth brushed and shower.

I did do a self-tape audition for a film. But that took two hours of psyching myself up.

Even with therapy and medicine, sometimes I have to almost hibernate so I can emerge more like the person I need and want to be.

Why would I write this here? One, to document it for myself so I know that, sometimes, these periods happen and I always make it through. Two, in case you or someone you know might struggle in similar ways. You should know that you are not alone and that this time will pass.

Rest up and I’ll see you on the other side.

The Flesh

A Mongol legend told to Ossendowski via Terzani. Some prophecies become fact.

Thirty years before, the King of the World had made a brief visit to a monastery near Urga. When he arrived all the altar candles had lit spontaneously, all the braziers had begun burning incense; and he, the mythical King of Agharti, described for centuries in the sacred texts, had sat on his throne before an assembly of the most important lamas of the time and forecast the future of the world. He began with the words: ‘More and more shall men forget their souls, and care only for their bodies …’

From A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East by Tiziano Terzani

Traveling Alone

Here, Terzani nails one of the joys of traveling alone. It seems a shame that our constant connection via our devices makes this release nearly impossible.

the sense of relief that always fills me when I know that I cannot be reached, that I am not booked or expected anywhere, that I have no commitments except those created by chance. How wonderful it is to mix with a crowd as an ordinary traveller, free from one’s own role, from one’s self-image, which at times can be a cage as tight as that of the body; to be sure you won’t meet anyone with whom you will have to make conversation, and to feel free to send to the devil the first person who tries to start one.

From A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East by Tiziano Terzani

Money for Nothing

I’ve never beheld the appeal of gambling. Sure, you never know what could happen but the possibilities are highly proscribed. I was always drawn to those vices where true serendipity and the unknown might meet. Something that teetered at the edge of oblivion where even the Fates dared not venture.

Gambling always seemed stupid to me. If winning a one. off handful of cash will change your life, then you really can’t afford to be losing any. If you can afford to lose, winning won’t matter so why bother at all?

From Dead Man in a Ditch (The Fetch Phillips Archives Book 2) by Luke Arnold

A Changed Tune

Interesting to compare this to what Terzani wrote in Giai Phong which was dismissive of “the rumors coming out of Phnom Penh. He doesn’t reflect on that oversight here but he surely felt it.

What had happened in Cambodia between 197 and 1979 under the Khmer Rouge regime defies any fantasy of horror - it was more frightful than anything a man could imagine. The whole society was turned upside down, cities were abandoned, pagodas destroyed, religion abolished, and people regularly massacred in a continuous purificatory orgy. A million and a half, perhaps two million Cambodians, a third of the population, were eliminated. I looked for those I had known and found no one. They had all ended up as “manure for the fields' - because, as the Khmer Rouge said, even the ‘counter-revolutionaries’, or at least their corpses, must serve some purpose.

From A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East by Tiziano Terzani

Stay Busy

I don’t know if we can pin this ever-vibrating busyness for all the depression in the world but it sure isn’t helping. The thing that sounds so nice here is the idea of time to reflect on what has happened throughout the day. That is something I should find more of.

My gaze lost in infinity, I felt as if thanks to that Hong Kong fortune-teller I was rediscovering not only the pleasure of travel but that of life itself. Gone was the anxiety; no longer did I feel the passing of the days to be fraught with drama. I listened to those who spoke to me and enjoyed what was happening around me; I had leisure to put my impressions in order, to reflect. Time and silence - so necessary, so natural - have by now become luxuries which only a few can afford. That is why depression is on the increase.

From A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East by Tiziano Terzani

Something Lost

He’s writing about Singapore in 1993 and the question is even more prescient here and now. We focus on STEM and software boot camps and “hour of code” and all the ways we are trying to force kids to be better inputs for the machine. We are making a trade for which the cost is as yet unclear.

Once upon a time, even in Singapore, schools taught children how to think. Now they mainly teach them how to programme. But what happens to a society that grows up like this, without learning to make distinctions, with only the computer’s logic of ‘yes’ and ‘no’? What happens in the heads of children who grow up with the impression that every problem has a solution, and that everything is at most a question of software?

From A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East by Tiziano Terzani

Out of Our Element

This was written in the early 1990s. How much more true must this be now? Even as we separate ourselves from nature, nature comes roaring in at the barricades with ever more fury.

Never in his history has man drifted so far from nature as now, and this has been perhaps the worst of our mistakes.

From A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East by Tiziano Terzani

There are probably several remedies. We’ve seen the horrible outcomes of those societies that have tried a forced return to some agrarian ideal. History is soaked in the blood of those “great ideas.” Even so, there must be some third way which we can connect to and, more importantly, be grounded in nature.

Get Rid of Carpenter Bees

For you homeowners out there with carpenter bee problems: We get carpenter bees in our barn really bad. Last year, we paid an exterminator about $300 to fill all the holes and treat the wood to keep them away. It worked for about a year. They started coming back this spring.

My wife’s employee said, “I know how to stop them.” She bought this rubbing oil, soaked some cotton in it, and stuffed it into some of the bigger holes the bees had made. I haven’t seen a single bee since. She said it would last until next spring. Amazing.

Cost about $20 plus about $2 in cotton balls and a couple hours of work. Plus, it doesn’t kill them and instead drives them away.

Shortcut to blog a book excerpt to Micro.blog

I still like to read a printed book. Often, I’ll come across a passage that I want to comment on or just save. In the past, I’ve used my phone to take photos of the text. That has obvious problems. Now, with iOS 15, the phone camera has a built-in OCR tool that can extract text from a photo. And it works pretty well.

Now, I’d like to make it easy to make a Micro.blog post with that text and add whatever commentary I’d like to add. Since I use M.b’s Bookshelves feature, I wanted to incorporate some information about the book in the post.

So, I created a Shortcut that makes this easier to do. You can install the shortcut here. You’ll need to provide an API token from Micro.blog when installing the Shortcut.

Here’s how it works. First, use the camera’s OCR tool: An iPhone screenshot showing text highlighted in the photo being taken using the phone camera's 'LiveText' feature.

If you tap the “Share…” button, you’ll then see the iOS share sheet with the Shortcut listed as “Blog book excerpt to MB”: An iPhone screenshot showing the installed Shortcut as an option in the share sheet.

Next, the Shortcut will grab the Bookshelves you have configured in Micro.blog: An iPhone screenshot showing a list of the user's bookshelves pulled from the Micro.blog API.

Then, you’ll see a list of the books you have stored on that shelf: An iPhone screenshot showing a list of the books kept on that user's bookshelves.

Lastly, the Shortcut will format some of the text retrieved and open the Micro.blog app which you have installed on your phone (right?). You’ll see the excerpt you selected from the photo. It will be combined with the book title and the book author with links to that book on your shelf. You can then edit the post in any way you like and post it. It looks like this: An iPhone screenshot showing the new post interface of the Micro.blog app pre-filled with the book excerpt and other details you can post.

If you don’t use M.b’s bookshelves, it should be easy to edit the shortcut to remove those steps that talk to the Micro.blog API. You might also want the Shortcut to prompt you for other details like a page number or whatever you like. One of the nice things about Shortcuts is that you can start with this one and make it into something that fits your workflow even better.

Vapor1994 in Swedish

I received a report from @ndreas that my Vapor1994 theme wasn’t working with some characters in the Swedish alphabet. My initial instinct was that the fonts I chose simply didn’t have those characters.

I made a test post on my test blog using what I think is a review of a grill which I copied from Aftonbladet. Those Swedish characters seem to be working correctly as shown in the screenshot below. I think something else must be wrong.

A screenshot showing Swedish text displaying correctly in a test post using the Vapor1994 theme.

One thing any Vapor1994 user should confirm is that your blog is using Hugo version 0.91. This is set on the “Design” page as shown in the screenshot below.

A screenshot of Micro.blog's Design settings page with the Hugo version selection field highlighted with version 0.91 selected.

If anyone has any ideas what might be causing problems for @ndreas, please let us know.

The Joy in a Broken Heart

A million years ago, I was living and working in Switzerland at a startup called Singularis. One of the first things I worked on was a set of icons for our rating system. We decided to use thumbs up and thumbs down with some thumbs tilted at various angles for ratings in between. I drew them all in Adobe Illustrator and animated them in Macromedia Fireworks.

I was reminded of this today when I noticed the animated heart icon in Qobuz (seen above) which indicates that you are going to unfavorite a song. It’s a nice little touch to the UI that is completely unnecessary. They certainly didn’t have to animate it. They didn’t even need to make it a broken heart. They could have just flipped back to the unfilled heart outline that is the default unfavorited state.

I miss this part of creativity and details in my work in the last few years. We are so focused on features and rolling out new ways to handle data and smart AI and machine learning. These touches that have personality have all but disappeared from most of the apps we use.

Portals and MUI and Maps

I’m posting this in case Google finds it and it helps someone else. I’m building some mapping functionality using Leaflet, react-leaflet, and MUI components. To add custom controls to the map, I took advantage of this react-leaflet-custom-control library. It worked great. Until I tried to use a MUI Autocomplete component.

I was having an issue where the custom control wasn’t stopping click propagation. I saw that the custom control library was using L.DomEvent.disableClickPropagation(portalRoot) so I assumed it would work. In my case, it did not.

This was the original setup of my code (generalized for public consumption):

const Search = () => {
  const map = useMap()
  const goTo = (place) => {
    map.setView([place.latitude, place.longitude], 13)
  }
  return (
    <>
      <Autocomplete
        disablePortal
        id='combo-box-search'
        options={places}
        onChange={(e, value) => {
          goTo(value)
        }}
        renderInput={(params) => <TextField {...params} label='Search' />}
       />
    </>
  )
}

<MapContainer
  center={[userPosition.latitude, userPosition.longitude]}
  zoom={12}
  scrollWheelZoom={false}
>
  <Control prepend position='topright'>
    <Search />
  </Control>
  <TileLayer
    url='https://{s}.tile.openstreetmap.org/{z}/{x}/{y}.png'
    attribution='&copy; <a href="http://osm.org/copyright">OpenStreetMap</a> contributors'
   />
</MapContainer>

The key was that disablePortal prop that I was passing to Autocomplete. Since the custom control uses the portal functionality to target the correct divs and such, that disablePortal in my MUI component was breaking the functionality.

So, word to the wise, you should try understand, better than I do, when a library is telling you that the way it uses portals is potentially tricky. I still don’t fully understand all of this but I did get it working. That basically summarizes my whole engineering career.

Great Writing Finds a Way

After writing about baseball, I have stumbled into the world that is amazing sports writing. I’ve always read about sports but seldom baseball. With the news of Roger Angell’s passing, I think it’s time to dive into some high quality writing about baseball.

From the New Yorker, here’s what Roger wrote in a recent book of more personal writing:

“Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love,” he wrote in “This Old Man.” “I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach.”

If a passage like this is anything like what Roger brought to his baseball writing, I’m excited to check it out. I imagine there’s a Frank Deford book that could stand a little attention as well.

On Baseball

I’ve been watching a lot of baseball lately. I was never much of a fan but something about it has grabbed me now that I’m older.

I started watching last season. It was a way to connect with my Mom who is a Braves fan. It was a way to find some grounds on which to connect with random people in my life who are fans. It was about connection.

Now that I’ve been watching for a year or so, my appreciation has deepened. There are a few things about baseball that have hooked me.

The pace means you can have a conversation or flip through a magazine or other stuff while it’s on. Not that the game is background but it’s a pace that lets the humanity of the game breathe out. There’s no breathless constant commentary. There’s often a silence broken only by the pop of the ball in the catchers mitt.

The storylines that continue from game to game and series to series are a drama amidst the larger story of success or defeat for the team. Each player has an ebb and flow to their season, their series, their game, or even their at bat. The announcers have their stories. Even the stadiums are full of history and ghosts whispering beneath the bleachers.

The strategy that exists in all the corners of the game often lies hidden. The small nod of a manager to tell a batter to swing away is like the thumbs up of a Roman emperor. The merest flinch of the base runner to tip off that he might steal is a ruse or not. A decision to let a pitcher move past 100 pitches into the 8th inning might bring the game to its knees. Everything that happens has multiple layers of meaning.

It’s the numbers, my god, the numbers.

There are layers upon layers of narrative that combined resemble something more like an epic novel than anything else.

This what I have come to love about baseball. It can be something you detest in one moment, cry at in another, and clutch to your chest in hope or despair.

I’m certainly not saying anything about baseball that hasn’t been said by much better writers than I. But, baseball has an answer for that because the story it tells each of us is unique. It can be ours alone and yet connect us to the multitude at the same time. What a bit of magic in this fractured world.

Vapor1994 v1.1.0 Released

Vapor1994 v1.1.0 is now available.

It seems like the Vapor1994 theme hit a chord with a few folks. Even within that praise, some didn’t care for the garish colors, or what I called “neubrutalist”. They wanted to adapt the theme to their color preferences. For some users of Micro.blog, that means editing, or adding, CSS and they are comfortable with that. For other users, that’s a barrier.

I decided to make all the colors of the theme configurable via Micro.blog’s plugin settings. There you can configure a couple dozen or more colors. Every color used in the theme is there and you could make them all different. Or you could just change one or two. This still requires some CSS knowledge but the barrier feels a good bit lower for the less technical user.

The defaults provided are my preferred synthwave-inspired colors. So, if you were using the theme with no customizations, this upgrade shouldn’t change anything for you. I did not change any CSS selectors or HTML classes, so if you do have customizations, they should still effectively override these new defaulted settings.

Below is a screenshot of some of the settings. There are many more.

A screenshot of the Micro.blog plugin settings for the Vapor1994 plugin. It shows a sampling of the CSS settings that a user can set which would change the colors used in a site using this plugin.

Modern Penpals

I’ve recently signed up with Postcrossing which reminds me of the very best of the early Internet. The service connects you with other users by sending postcards to random people in other countries than your own. I love the idea of using technology to empower something as old as postcards via mail.

Screenshot of the Postcrossing website which describes how the service works

I’ve just sent my first postcard this week (to Germany!) and I’ll be curious to see when it gets registered as having been received. I made the postcards myself. I have some ideas about how to make them even higher quality but still very much handmade. I’ve long harbored a secret passion for stationery. It’s not a hobby I get to indulge often so my discovery of Postcrossing was a happy accident.

There are a couple of ways one can find enjoyment in this service. It tickles the sheer joy of random mail arriving at your home. It adds a bit of trivia that’s lovely to noodle around looking up the locations of folks you swap correspondence with. It can be an opportunity for craft. And maybe, just maybe, it becomes a way to make a connection with someone in an entirely different walk of life from yourself.

All it costs is a stamp!

The New Search

I don’t write a lot about tech stuff on here. However, that is my day job and I spend a lot of time using apps, sites, and machines. There’s a lot to be concerned about online. But, one of the more pernicious challenges has been Google’s near-monopoly on search.

For better or worse, search is the front door to the Internet for the vast majority of users and workflows. For many years, that door has been guarded, or controlled might be more apt, by Google. Everything you might see or hear or read is based on what they think you should see or hear or read.

That’s scary.

Microsoft tried to fight this with Bing. Yahoo was sort of in that game early on. But, neither of them have been able to make a dent. Perhaps technology has held them back or perhaps the fact is that they would have the same instincts about controlling their results as Google does. Because in the end, it’s the ad dollars they are working for, not a quality search experience.

Recently, a few competitors have cropped up. Two of them seem to be rising above the others.

Brave, a company which makes a browser and some associated tools, has announced their Brave Search which is detailed nicely over on DKB’s blog.

A screenshot of the Brave Search engine showing results for the author's name: Alex Ezell

The other is Kagi, which makes the Orion browser, was also detailed in another DKB blog post.

A screenshot of the Kagi Search engine showing results for the author's name: Alex Ezell

You’ll have to try them for yourselves to see what you think of the results and the experience. Both are focused on privacy and results that aren’t colored by commercial concerns. That’s not to say there isn’t bias in the results. They are absolutely making decisions about what is relevant, of high quality, and meaningful. But, they are claiming that those decisions aren’t based around who is paying them the most or which might garner them a few cents when you click.

I don’t know if either of these particular projects will last. Their models are similar with some key technical differences. Their value right now is in showing that it is possible to have quality search without using Google and giving away your free will and privacy just to find a recipe.

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