Material ep. 180: “Fuschia” (Podcast)

This week on Material: Google is Naughty (not treating contract workers with respect, trying to patent an MIT Media Lab researcher’s ideas after interviewing her for a job) and Nice (giving Santa a digital place to hang out and mingle).

Also: the correct pronunciation of the word “Fuschia” does not come naturally to me.

Download ep. 82: “Oh, No! This Is Terrible!” (Podcast)

I’m on this week’s Download with my old friend Jason Snell, Rose Orchard, and Jeremy Burge. The weeks’ nerd news in review, in which I am so very relived to learn that I’m not the only one who has to mute the TV whenever I’m navigating Netflix.

What is it about those auto-rolling trailers that stresses me out? It’s as though my brain has only one input channel for formal language. I’m reading the descriptive text to see if I’m interested in this show but then audio dialogue begins and GRRRT! I’m jerked violently into another brainmode.

Providence Roller Derby 4/7/18 Photos

A photo project for a waiting audience doesn’t ship when it’s done. It ships when…okay, I hadn’t really thought the rest of this sentence out. I know it involves wanting people to see your photos while they’re still relevant. Self-loathing certainly factors in there somewhere, too, but then again doesn’t it always?

Here are my photos from Providence Roller Derby‘s Spring opener on April 7. Check ’em out on Flickr.

Providence Roller Derby 4/7/18

Continue reading “Providence Roller Derby 4/7/18 Photos”

Mac Moving To ARM?

There’s a fresh rumor about Apple selling Macs that use custom ARM CPUs instead of Intel silicon as early as 2020. I wrote a breezy 1600 words about it for Fast Company.

Here are some highlights, to entice you to read the whole thing:

  • I like this rumor a lot. Apple making custom CPUs for Macs makes perfect sense.
  • The timing is interesting, too. WWDC is two months away. If Apple has committed to this kind of move and planned to announce it on June 4, they would have recently expanded the group of “people who need to know” to include “possible blabbermouths.”
  • I don’t think Apple would drop Intel completely. It’s easier for me to imagine them using custom CPUs for their consumer-grade Macs and sticking with Intel for the high-horsepower Pro desktops and notebooks. At least for starters.
  • Remember that iOS and MacOS are built on the same foundation. During my very first briefing on the iPhone, Apple told me that the iPhone’s OS is OS X with none of the stuff the Mac needs and all of the things a phone needs.
  • ARM is such a huge move — and presents such a big opportunity for change — that I would expect it to accompany a whole new historical age for the Mac. Either Apple would do radical (and long-overdue) modern rethink, akin to what Microsoft did with Windows 10…or they would effectively transform MacOS into an enhanced version of iOS, in function if not in name.

As much as I like this rumor, I’m still cautious. Apple tries lots of ideas and builds lots of ready-for-market hardware before they commit to anything big. I’ve no doubts whatsoever that there are a whole bunch of ARM-based Mac laptops inside the Apple campus, and that an ARM version of MacOS is done and dusted and has been for some time. But even if someone leaked Apple’s entire WWDC keynote slide deck to me a week before, I refuse to believe any rumor until Apple formally announces.

Do read my whole Fast Company piece.

Ihnatko In Exile, Journal Entry 1

Dark times, ladies and gentlemen. My thin war-surplus blanket does little to protect me from the wailing brittle winds that lash against the windows and are even less effective against the pervasive doom that marinates our souls. I’m also out of Diet Dr Pepper and Plex failed to record “Bob’s Burgers” last night, citing some sort of transcoding error.

No, actually, it’s been a great week! I just thought I needed a cracker of a lede paragraph.

 

Tim Cook at Apple's Education Event

 

The trip to Chicago for Apple’s big education event went swell. It started off with a 5 AM flight from Logan. It was the only time I ever regretted the fact that no friend has never asked me to help him remove a dead body from a crime scene. As it was, nobody owed me such a big favor that I could get a lift straight to the airport at 3 AM, which meant leaving the house at 10 the previous night to catch the last commuter rail train to the city.

But the early departure did have me on the sidewalks of Chicago at what would otherwise be the time I’d be shutting off my alarm and snoozing for another hour. I didn’t get more than two hours’ sleep, but I did get to have breakfast with a good friend and former Sun-Times editor, lunch with another Chicago friend I hadn’t seen in a few years, drinks with Rene Ritchie (whom I almost never get to hang out with), and then dinner with another jorno pal who was in town for the event.

I can’t recall another business trip that was so devoid of any kind of downtime, actually. Tuesday started off at the Apple event, from which I went straight to a PBS studio to record MacBreak Weekly from a conference room, then I went into their studios to tape an interview about the event for the evening news show, then back to the hotel for some writing, tea with a cool Chicago cousin of mine and her squeeze, more writing, another quick two hours of sleep, a 6 AM flight home, three hours of more writing at the airport, then off to the WGBH radio studios to be a pundit for another half an hour, more writing in the public library, file my event coverage, commuter train home, record the Material podcast…

Well. It was quite a hectic few days for one of delicate constitution such as I. But also productive and fun.

My main writeup of the event is up at Fast Company. Here’s video of my chat on WTTW. And my Wednesday appearance on WGBH Boston Public Radio (it’s the last half hour of the show…we didn’t talk all that much about Apple). Oh, and: I was on This Week In Tech, which was a gas.

Suffice to say that I’ve been busy. :)

 

If Fast Company and all of these shows can no longer cite me as “Chicago Sun-Times tech columnist,” then how should they describe me? Whoops, I hadn’t given it much thought until they asked me.

I didn’t give it much more thought afterward, either: “Just call me a ‘veteran tech journalist’.” Less is more, I think. I also believe that I’ve earned it. :)

I haven’t found a new Forever Home for my regular tech column yet. But I’ve decided that I’ll definitely be starting some sort of reader-supported outlet for my writing alongside whatever else I do.

I’ve always admired the businesses that friends of mine like John Gruber and Jason Snell and Adam & Tonya Engst have created, along with their writing. And it’s much easier to do reader- or sponsor-supported writing today than it was when any of them got started. Thank Heavens…because I just don’t have the mental bandwidth. I mean, writing this paragraph reminded me that I still haven’t invoiced Fast Company for my work. So God help me if I were in charge of both writing this stuff and greasing the gears of commerce.

So definitely stay tuned! I plan to have everything set up so that I can start dancing on the street corner for thrown nickels before WWDC.

Formerly Of The Chicago Sun-Times

Quick update: I was informed today that I am no longer a Chicago Sun-Times columnist or contributor. So let’s spread the word on that. Sure, because I’d love for another publication to snap me up as the immensely hot property I am in time for me to debut with my coverage of next week’s Apple Event, but mostly because I’m certain that the Sun-Times would appreciate my doing that.

Where to, next? I dunno!

But here’s how I would describe my Dream Date:

  • I’m kind of a fan of being part of a larger outfit. I loved being a Sun-Times columnist (and will always be proud of the work I’d done there since 1999) and part of the fun was living up to the legacy of the great writers who came before me and were being published beside me.
  • I like health insurance and stuff, but freelancing is fine. I was freelance for the Sun-Times during my whole tenure.
  • Ability to publish with great agility. One of my few troubles with the Sun-Times was associated with understaffing. The editors are great folks who work very hard and are stretched quite thin, which often meant that my columns would take days to appear on the site. I’d love to be able to just write something quick and timely and have it in front of people shortly after I pressed a button on the CMS.
  • Willingness to publish long, thoughtful stuff, too. I’m only just now getting around to writing about this year’s smart speakers because (a) I didn’t want to be part of the initial marketing scrum and (b) it’s actually taken me a good while to figure out what I think. I have huge respect for my friends at iMore and other sites, whose skills are well-suited towards getting valuable coverage out there almost simultaneously with the events unfolding. My skills are elsewhere.
  • Nonetheless, I’m battle-hardened for getting out something quick in response to breaking news, and I would have published SO many quick 200-300 word bits for the Sun-Times if I had publishing privileges on the CMS. But! Honestly, I don’t want to have to know how many clicks something is getting, or be raked over the coals for not getting more of them.
  • I reserve the right to make up a word if I can’t fromate one that suits the immediate need of a sentence. This is where heroes step in and fix the inadequacies of the English Language.
  • And I’d like to receive enough trust that I can just provide X columns per week or month. I hate pitching. By the time I’ve convinced somebody that a thing is worth publishing, I could have already written it, and if I’m writing it, I want to get paid for it somehow. It’s a vicious circle.

I got my first regular magazine column in 1989. Ever since, my professional goal has been to do for tech what Roger Ebert did for movies. Yes, that was his beat, but what made Roger indispensable was his point of view. When the cast of an upcoming movie is announced, hundreds of sites scramble to post 300 copies of the same information. That’s fine. Roger wasn’t part of that land rush, though. Roger’s take on something was always worth reading, and there was only one writer who was posting it: Roger Ebert.

To do anything as well as Roger did is impossible. But my aspiration to consistently write with that kind of purpose, and to deliver that kind of value, will always be there.

The Sun-Times isn’t — wasn’t — my only source of income. I’m fine. So if I can’t find another columnist-type gig…who knows. Maybe I’ll just post stuff right here. It’s a solution that ticks all of the above boxes except for the first one. Maybe if I establish a routine here, I’ll look for sponsors. Or maybe I’ll give Patreon a go.

Or maybe I’ll become a ronin, honing my skills and purifying my spirit as I work for a series of outfits that need my swords for a specific task.

In any event! I send my thanks to all of my former editors at the Sun-Times over the past fifteen to twenty years. And I’m still tech contributor to WGBH public radio here in Boston, and I’m still co-hosting podcasts with my friends on MacBreak and Material.

And, yeah, if someone with a checkbook would like to step in before I do the unthinkable — publish my Chicago Apple Event coverage here, where I won’t get paid for it — please do get in touch:

(my last name) at gmail.com.

Letting Go Of The Sable

My old Mercury Sable, no virgin when it came to riding on the back of a flatbed truck, took its last such journey this afternoon: it left my driveway for good at around 2 PM. She carried me faithfully and reliably for over 90,000 miles until a few years ago, when those three jerks at two separate garages told me the front suspension could one day collapse while taking an offramp at speed. Or some other such nonsense.

The Sable was my Dad’s car. That’s probably why I kept it for so long after I took off the plates.

(Well, that, plus I didn’t have to shovel that part of the driveway for a couple of years. Also, the oil and coolant stains it had left on the driveway over the years were much harder to see with the car parked over them.)

Every time I’d arrive home and see “his” car in my driveway, I’d think “Oh! Dad’s come to visit!” Even though, of course, Dad only ever saw my driveway in pictures and videos. I bought it from his estate after his stroke, when he’d moved to the care facility where he died a year or two later.

Dad’s car helped me heal. I felt pride in taking as good care of “his” car as he would have. Through careful driving, and regular maintenance, I rolled its odometer to nearly 180,000 miles and the engine was healthy right to the end. During that time, the only damage it ever incurred was due to a careless parker (broken mirror, deep crease to driver’s side door and front fender) and a lady who merged into my lane without looking (more damage to the front fender, including front headlight).

(Plus: lots and lots of rust to the frame. Because, New England.)

There was a certain correctness, too, in the fact that (as a journalist who works out of a home office) the only period of my life when I had a long, regular commute and I truly needed a car was when Dad was in that care facility. It was about a ninety minute drive from my house and I made that roundtrip two to five times a week for more than a year. I was still processing my Mom’s death during Dad’s illness. Dad’s stroke had left me with plenty to process on its own. I did a lot of thinking about my parents during those commutes. It was ages before I even chose to move any of Dad’s stuff from the back seat or trunk.

I suppose it’s now safe to admit that during the week when we knew that Dad was in his final days on this earth and we were spending every hour either in his room or in the lounge across the hall, I set a career-best land speed record in the Sable. At a certain point I desperately needed to go home for a shower and a change of clothes, you see. I zipped home and zipped right back, praying all the while that I wouldn’t miss anything horrible while I was gone. I-95 was totally deserted at 2 AM and I felt like I wasn’t endangering myself or others. I also figured that if worse came to worst, the excuse I was carrying was strong enough to convince a state trooper to end our roadside transaction with a scolding and a ticket instead of Miranda rights and handcuffs.

If I’m honest, I also needed to blow off some of the week’s tension. Suffice to say that the speedometer needle went places that I’d never taken it before; after rotating past a certain point, the needle began creaking like the spine of a brand-new book being opened. It indicated just how much tension I’d accumulated after three days in a room with my family, keeping myself together while supporting my sole remaining parent’s transition into death.

I loved Dad’s Sable. Alas, two or three years ago, I saw the writing on the wall. As well as the writing on the report from its final, failed safety inspection, parts of which had been underscored urgently in ballpoint.

Still, its sentimental connection to Dad forced me to at least think about fixing its rusty suspension. The old car had already surprised me by starting up and running reliably even after 175,000 miles, even after a week in an airport parking lot at subfreezing temps. And, thanks to some new driving techniques I picked up after installing a dashboard fuel economy meter, that old Sable consistently got 25 to 30 MPG…well above what the factory sticker promised. What a coup if it made it to 200,000 miles!

But…that would’ve been the second time I’d kept the Sable going by phoning around junkyards to locate an old part that my bless-his-soul mechanic couldn’t find in any conventional inventory or catalog. All of the bits of the Sable that were meant to be replaced every 75,000 and 100,000 miles had already been replaced at least once and were probably going to fail again soon. The underbody rust wasn’t limited to just that one part of the suspension, either. No, it was time for the Sable to go. And it was time for me to let it go.

Of course, if I’d let it go within a year of parking it, before its quarter tank of remaining gas had turned to shellac and its engine compartment had become a winter shelter for various neighborhood critters, I probably could have gotten at least five times as much money for it. But it’s not as if I didn’t get any joy out of the Sable during its final two or three years as a driveway art installation.

Today, I watched it go. I felt a deep sense of nostalgia, but no sadness.

I’ll use this check to buy opera tickets. I’ll wear one of Dad’s ties when I go.

Right at this moment, writing that sentence, I realized that the production I want to see is running right around the week of Dad’s birthday, too.

Flogrolling In Our Time: “Andy Wants A 4K HDR TV” Edition

Well! Yesterday I had the prototypical Thanksgivin’ Dinner That Couldn’t Be Beat. This time it was with my family and it was up there with the greatest.

Holidays are a teensy bit weird when you have lots of siblings and then both of your parents have passed away. We grow up, we move out, we start our own families, but the folks remain the sun around which our planets orbit. On holidays, Mom and Dad become like the Olympic site selection committee. Whether it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas or National Poached Egg On A Waffle Day, the house where they choose to spend the holiday becomes the location of The Family Holiday.

So what happens when that center goes away? Do the planets spin off in directions that take them farther and farther away from each other? Does one of them become the new center?

It’s been several years since we lost our parents, and we seem to have settled into a good system: “it’ll all work out.” There are plenty of siblings to go around and nobody feels pressured into getting locked into a non-negotiable tradition, whether as a host or as a guest. This year, I spent Thanksgiving with two sisters and their accompanying retinues of spouses and kids. I was looking forward to it and the experience delivered. Other years, I’ve done Thanksgiving with friends, or even spent it alone, and the siblings never interpreted it as a middle finger extended heartily in their direction, no more than I did when they had plans that didn’t include Andy at the table.

(Note: Your Mileage May Vary. Some of you are saddled with families that play those kind of games. And some of you have made the choice that if absence doesn’t precisely make the heart grow fonder, it at least prevents you from heeding that little voice that says “Do it. At most they can charge you with misdemeanor battery and holy cow, does your brother deserve it after what he just said about you.”)

(Note(2): If you’ve never done “Thanksgiving alone/Thanksgiving with just your partner” oh wow yes try it at least once. It’s never been a sad and lonely experience for me. On the contrary! I get to cook a full Thanksgiving dinner with all of the sides and desserts, exactly the way I like them. I get to stay in my pajamas. I can take seconds and thirds without doing that bit of polite math about how many rolls are left in the basket and how far it’s gone around the table so far. If I want to eat a bit later, I can eat a bit later. And all the while, I’ve got my iPad at hand, enjoying friends’ and family’s Thanksgiving in something akin to realtime.)

Overall, I have the luxury of making my own choices for the holidays. I know that not everybody has that kind of freedom and I’m grateful for it.

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Is it appropriate to say “Happy Black Friday”? Probably not. Big business has done what it does best: they’ve taken a tradition that grew organically out of a collective semi-pleasurable desire, and turned it into a giant Nerf gun of stress-darts.

Before Black Friday became a thing, my own tradition was to head to the big mall at 6 or 7 AM — hours before any of the stores were open — and get a great parking space. Sure, I’d spend the day Christmas shopping, but the best part of the day was always walking out with my bags, immediately attracting a long line of cars trailing me to what would be the only available parking space within five acres of Radio Shack, tossing my bags in the trunk…

…And then closing the trunk and returning to the mall.

I was younger and much less mature.

Also, Massachusetts has strict gun laws.

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Anyway, I’ve a new Black Friday tradition: I tweet out links to Amazon deals I find for products I can recommend, and I do it like a madman.

Yes, I have an affiliate account on Amazon. Every time someone clicks on one of those links and buys something — anything, not even the thing I linked to — I get a little kickback in the form of Amazon store credits. I never use affiliate links for tech items. I don’t think it’s unethical to use affiliate links that way. The Wirecutter has done that since the beginning, and there’s no reviews/recommendations site that I respect more.

I just don’t think it’s the right choice for me. I’m not a website with a whole editorial board and other staff. I’m just this one guy, and I’m trying to do good tech journalism and reviews in a world where (and I wish I was kidding about this) a guy on a YouTube tech site gets a freebie $800 video gadget and he’s so grateful and so excited about how superawesomesaucewonderful the thing is that he licks it.

In such an environment, it pleases me if I’ve given my readers/listeners as few reasons as possible to suspect my motives. And not accepting affiliate money for anything tech-related falls under that umbrella.

(Which isn’t to say that my hands are as clean as they could possibly be. That would mean buying everything I write about, just for starters. But at least everything I do goes through a basic smell test. “Would I be comfortable defending this choice in public, in person?” cuts to the heart of the matter quickly, I find.)

But books? Movies? Music? The awesome razor I bought a few years ago that I utterly love? Sure! Fair game.

So I apologize to anybody who (correctly) thinks that my Twitter feed is cluttered with material goods for the next week or so.

Would it help if I told you that it’s all towards a higher purpose?

Yes: an awesome new TV for my living room.

(Oh, sorry: I bet you thought I was going to say something like “Puerto Rico hurricane relief.” No. But that’s still a great cause. Maria hit the island months ago and your fellow Americans are still soldiering on to rebuild. Charity Navigator can help you find honest charities that put the most of your money to the best use. Operation USA has received four stars and they do great work, spending more than 96% of the money they raise on their actual charitable mission as opposed to salaries, offices, and the cost of fundraising.)

See, usually, my Amazon Affiliates bucks don’t amount to much. It’s not a business. I don’t even consider it a sideline. Generally speaking, the monthly credits mean that if a book or a movie catches my eye, I don’t have to think too much about buying it. But in January, when the Black Friday credits are applied to my account…YAHOOO CLEMENTINE!!!! IT’S BISCUITS AND GRAVY FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY!!!!!

(ahem.)

(smoothing hair back into place as I put the chair I was sitting in back on its legs.)

(continuing.)

When I need a new laptop, I spend the money and don’t think twice. It’s a tool I need for my livelihood. But when (say) the backlighting on the good TV in the living room is starting to go south and “Blade Runner” looks like it’s had a not-good Instagram filter applied to every frame…well, I mean, it’s still working, right? It’s in 1080 HD and color, isn’t it? Is it smart to blow a lot of cash on a new one?

And so it goes. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking “if it’s still annoying me at the end of the year, then that’s what I’ll buy with my holiday Amazon associate credits in January or February.”

Yeah, it’s still annoying me. I want a new TV.

And I want one that will serve the role of “The Good TV In the Living Room” for close to ten years, as this one did. Which means: 4K! HDR! A wireless remote control! The whole nine yards.

I’m sorry and not sorry for having so many Amazon links in my Twitter feed. If it helps, imagine me in a few months, watching a movie that you deeply approve of, on a bitchin’ cinema screen without a grey halo around it for the first time in almost a whole year.

If you’ve been moved to tears by the tale of this poor orphan boy, here’s an Amazon link to one of my favorite books. Anything you buy after clicking that link will count toward Andy’s Bitchin’ TV Amazon Kickback Fund.

#MeToo

I’m going to put this here, for all of my Twitter and Facebook friends:

I’ve been reading your #MeToo posts. This is one of a great many situations in which the standard set of social media buttons seem glib and inadequate. I’m Sad that this the reality of your industry and your society. I’m Angry on your behalf. I Like (support) that you posted your truth. I also 100% respect anyone who’s had one or more experiences on this horrible spectrum from Harassment to Criminal and has decided that, for them, keeping such things private is the right choice.

And any adult with any level of awareness would have foreseen that there’d be too many of these posts for me to respond uniquely to each one. My intellectual and emotional reactions are sincere, and I can’t find enough words for each of you. Each of you deserves the strongest expression of support I can summon.

Over the term of my adulthood, I’ve been graced by the generosity of women and men who’ve helped me to glimpse how large the world is, beyond the claustrophobia of my personal experiences. I entered adulthood with only a nodding understanding of the crap that women are forced to contend with. But that was nothing compared to the stories that friends have shared with me in response to the simple question “So how are things at work?” Well, Andy, a huge percentage of things at work are needlessly horrible. And they’ve been horrible since long before you started asking the question. These stories are so shocking that Teenage Andy wouldn’t have believed them without additional corroboration. They’ve come so frequently that Grownup Andy has almost lost the ability to be shocked by them. “Surprised” went away before I turned 30.

A while ago, I began to appreciate how different my world is. Two incidents from my childhood stand out. A carload of teens ambushed me on a dark road late one night, and they would’ve beaten me nearly to death if the amount of beer they’d drank plus my intimacy with the dense forest near that road hadn’t let me blaze a path to safety that they couldn’t follow. But I never felt like I lived in a world where strangers wanted to beat me up just because of who and what I am. And there was a Creepy Scoutmaster whom I steered well clear of, thanks to a mysterious gut instinct that I would later learn was spot-on. But I never felt like I lived in a world where “what if someone I trust tries to assault me?” needed to be a foreground process.

I don’t feel a trace of guilt for being a White Dude who (as of this writing) has exclusively dug women.

BUT.

I fully appreciate that the backpack of daily burdens I was made to wear when I began my tour of duty on this world contained far fewer bricks than the one issued to the women. It was far lighter than the one given to the men and the women for whom a relationship-appropriate wedding cake topper was not commercially available until very recently. It was lighter than the backpack issued to the men and the women who are transgender; and the one given to the people who aren’t white; and the one given to anyone who doesn’t mutter an instinctive refrain whenever they hear the words “May the Lord be with you…”; and…it’s a very long list.

So, to all of the women and men who posted #MeToo, and to everyone who might have but couldn’t: this is why I’m not clicking those Like buttons on Twitter and Facebook.

But please know that I respect you, and I believe you, and I will be deeply disappointed in myself if I should ever fail to be an active ally when you need one.

“We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Twitter Question: Favorite Phone Tripod Mount?

Matt Bushby asks:

I love, love, LOVE the RetiCAM. I love it so much I own two or three copies.

It has two features that no other phone tripod mount I’ve seen can touch. Its jaws are wide enough to hold any phone, not just whatever the current iPhone was when this thing was designed in China. And more importantly, it grabs the hell out of your phone.

That’s the fail point of almost all of the others. They’re usually made like little spring clamps and their philosophical mode is to just keep the phone there on the tripod, as opposed to holding it securely. Not this one. The phone slides into a V-shaped channel and then you turn a thumbscrew until its padded jaws are locked around the thing. It is not coming out until you undo the screw.

I’m so confident about the safety of my phone in a RetiCAM that I sometimes even wear my phone on a sling, like an SLR:

A post shared by Andy Ihnatko (@ihnatko) on

…Which is super-handy when I’m at a conference or at a press event and I don’t want to keep holstering and un-holstering my phone, or worry that I’m going to set my phone down somewhere to free my hands for something else and then someone says hi and by the time I look down again, it’s gone.

Anyway. With the RetiCAM, I can slap the phone on a tripod, sure, but I also feel confident enough to stick it on the end of a monopod and wave it over the side of a bridge at an angle that might be described as “irresponsibly jaunty” given the cost of a phone that (a) retails at $800 and (b) I’m supposed to return to the manufacturer at the end of 30 days.

Question from Instagram: Roadcasting

I posted this to Instagram on Tuesday morning, as I awaited my train to New York City. I was heading in for a press event and then heading home after an early dinner with a friend. I’ve done previous trips like this one carrying what’s basically a small purse: a bag just big enough to hold an iPad Mini and a compact keyboard. But Tuesday is MacBreak Weekly show day, so I needed to lug around podcasting gear all day.

@loose_ship wants to know what I was carrying.

First off, I could have carried a lot less. All I need for MacBreak is a computer that can run Skype, a camera, and some kind of external mic. I participated  in the live coverage of Apple’s intro of the iPad Pro using just my phone and the mic built into my earbuds, but that was only because I’d chosen to spend that afternoon on Broadway waiting to get in to see Steven Colbert’s second “Late Night.”

More realistically, I could have just plugged a USB mic into my iPad Mini and called it a day. But choosing hardware for podcasting with video away from my studio navigates two variables:

  1. How good do I want the video and audio to be?
  2. What kind of risks are acceptable?

With a show like MacBreak, which records from a professional studio with two other hosts who’ll be recording from well-kitted-out home studios of their own, I’ll look like a dope if I try to cut corners. Also, though I’d lined up a quite office in midtown to record in, I wanted to board my train knowing that I’d solved any possible connection or quality issue before I’d even left the house.

Hence, the following armaments:

A real laptop. My MacBook Pro. I’m writing this blog post with a Lenovo Carbon laptop that I’ve been trying out for a few weeks, and I considered taking it instead. My MacBook is my primary desktop, and it was tethered to all kinds of screens and drives. But I’ve never run Skype on it or plugged a mic in. I doubt it would have been any kind of issue. But I quickly recognized that I could reduce “a slight chance” of failure to “zero chance” through just five minutes of inconvenience. So out came the MacBook.

A decent USB mic. My current weapon of choice is Blue’s “Raspberry” mic. It’s the right balance between “compact” and “great sound.” It runs off of USB (and it even works with an iPad) and folds into a nice, non-lumpy bundle. Another nice touch: its folding stand attaches through a standard tripod screw. I can attach it to any tripod I own.

An external camera. The ability to place the camera where you need it to be is a subtle thing that makes a livestream look professional. Using the FaceTime camera on my MacBook means either video aimed straight up my nose, or having to rummage around the room for a little trash can or something that I can perch my MacBook on top of…which itself would cost me access to the keyboard and the ability to navigate my notes during the show. If I throw my usual Logitech C920 into a drawstring bag, all problems go away. It’s doesn’t fold or flatten for travel, but it’s worth the bulk.

Tripods for both. I have a Joby Gorillapod for the mic and the camera is supported by some kind of 1970s telescoping travel tripod I bought at the MIT Flea Market eons ago. They’re annoyingly bulky but they bring peace of mind: I know there’ll be no need whatsoever to jury-rig a solution. My microphone is inches from my mouth and the camera is where it needs to be. Problems solved.

Power stuff. Obviously I’m not going to risk running the MacBook on battery. But I also need my power brick’s long, heavy-duty power cord, or an extension cord. Otherwise I’ll have to record from a six-foot radius of a wall outlet.

Networking stuff. When I’m not podcasting from my office, I’ll take whatever broadband I can get, so long as it’s STABLE and reasonably fast. Wifi is far from ideal, though, so I’m carrying a gigabit Ethernet dongle and at least six meters of CAT6 cable. As with the power cord, I don’t want my seating choices to be limited to a six-foot radius of a wall jack.

All of these things add up. And I haven’t mentioned the USB battery and other things I normally have in my bag whenever I leave the house.

It’s tempting to bring some sort of video light. I have a few battery-operated ones, ranging from the size of a large marshmallow to that of a small book. They don’t help out enough to justify their bulk. Even the smallest one would require another tabletop tripod.

The bag is a Tenba that isn’t being made any more. I chose the color so that I can say “The orange one” to the people who manage bag check rooms. It’s bigger than what I strictly needed for this trip, actually. But the extra space is a big time saver when I’m rummaging around looking for a cable…I don’t have to take things out to get to something else.

We all dream of owning the One True Bag To Rule Them All. I’m old enough to know that it’s a fantasy. I have maybe a half-dozen bags in routine service, and I choose the right one for each job (often after initially choosing the wrong one, and then repacking everything). This big Tenba bag is WAY too heavy to carry on my shoulder all day when it’s stuffed with hardware. I usually reserve it for all-day adventures where the weather keeps changing and I need to deposit and withdraw layers as needed.

Via Twitter: What about the Mac Mini?

I get lots of interesting questions via Twitter and I want to try to remember to answer them here, too.

I love the quick interactivity of Twitter. Sure, I could enable comments here on the blog. But over the years I’ve found that my brain doesn’t work that way. When I write in a format longer than 140 characters, it’s with the idea that I’ve said what I wanted to say and I just want to move to something new; I feel as if the time I spent responding to comments is time I should have spent writing something new.

(Plus: jerks using comment systems to game Google search results.)

I’ve just had another one of those “I ought to take this to the blog” moments and, probably because I’ve just finished a big ol’ hunk of perfectly-cooked red meat, I’m actually doing something with that thought instead of just moving on.

KEVIN asks:

I honestly have no idea. Mentions of the Mini have been alarmingly absent, even as Apple has been reassuring us all that the largely indifferent upgrades that should have been applied to other machines in the Mac line years ago are coming soon, they promise, for real.

A year or two ago, I would have followed this up with “But I’d be surprised if Apple discontinued the MacMini. It’s not a big revenue-maker, but it’s an important part of the Mac line that keeps the whole ecosystem relevant.

Today? Those things are still true. But Apple’s attitude towards the Mac has DEF-in-itely changed. At this point, I don’t think anyone should count on anything.

It’s weird how quickly some things can change, isn’t it? If Tim Cook were to respond in an interview that “We’ve got WONDERFUL plans for the Mac Mini,” it’d send a chill racing from my brain to my butt. In the past few years, this has meant that they’re doing something radical that totally changes the traditional mission of a Mac and to my eye, it’s never been for the better.

The mission of the Mac Mini has always been to be boring, affordable, and practical. The fact that my Mac Mini is all three of those things instead of just one or two makes it a great computer. If Apple tampers with it, they’ll be cutting off one of the three legs of the stool I sit on.

What It Feels Like, Sometimes

I’m making a ham and cheese sandwich. I finish by squeezing a little hot mustard on it. Bottle just beeps and flashes a numerical code on the label. I take my phone out of my pocket and Google the error code. “Bottle cannot dispense mustard until it connects to a Gulden’s server.” I have no idea why it needs to connect to the Internet to perform such a simple, non-Internet-needing task, but whatever. I check the Wifi. The wifi is down. I fix the wifi. Mustard bottle still won’t dispense, online troubleshooting suggests I perform a soft-reset. I hold down the cap for five seconds until the mustard bottle reboots. Now it needs me to re-authenticate. I set up this mustard bottle ages ago so I don’t remember the password. I fetch it from 1Pass. Bottle authenticates successfully, but it notes that my password hasn’t been changed in a long time and for the safety of my mustard, the bottle won’t allow me to proceed until I create a new one. I create a new password. The bottle completes its startup process, notices there’s a system update, downloads it, installs it, and reboots. Because of the new OS, it needs to authenticate again. I’ve been just standing here the whole time and I can’t remember the password that I created in anger twenty minutes ago. I tap a link on the label to reset my password. I go to my Mac to open the verification email, click the link, and create ANOTHER new password, which I write down this time. I return to the kitchen, the new password fails a few times because the servers’ databases needed five or ten minutes to update each other. Finally, the bottle of mustard completes its startup process and dispenses mustard…all over the kitchen cabinets, because that’s where the bottle happened to be pointed when the firmware discovered a cache file in the system from before the OS update, and processed the leftover “dispense mustard” command that was sitting there.

Frustrated beyond measure, I clean the mess and that’s when I wonder where the ham and cheese sandwich I made an hour ago went. I look outside the window and see a raccoon pushing the last corner of it into its mouth, staring back at me with the expression of someone bingewatching a show they don’t really understand but which they nonetheless find engrossing.

This story is WAY more entertaining than the story of how my morning actually went. But yes, blow by blow, that was the jist.

This is the name of my pain. I want to do something bang-on-simple that ought to take maybe a minute. But it seems like step one of anything is always “diagnose and fix a problem that has inexplicably disabled something that was working fine yesterday, and then solve the problems created by what had to be done to solve the previous problem in the chain.”

It occasionally makes me question why I ever even try to watch something on TV, or write something, or put mustard on anything, ever.

The Doggie Poop Emotional Maturity Test

God  is wise. God knows that it can’t just call us in for a routine performance evaluation because we’d be scared spitless. We wouldn’t show up, unless maybe our job had called an all-morning, all-staff meeting for that day and we needed an excuse.

So instead, He or She or Whatever does these little spot checks on us without warning us in advance. It’s not judgment, H/S/W would like to know how the hardware and software are performing in the real world (which, need I remind, H/S/W also created. God’s Q/A operation alone is a bigger single line-item than Hell’s entire operating budget).

Essentially: if Andy’s goal is to achieve contentment and inner peace through ongoing spiritual refinement, then what level has Andy reached thus far? Continue reading “The Doggie Poop Emotional Maturity Test”

Pivoting the Groundhog

The backyard groundhogs are back! Or, at least, we begin that part of the year where they choose to dine al fresco. It’s never so many of them as to cause the word “infestation” to float through my consciousness and I would like to think that the neighborhood groundhog community respects my integrity too much to ever worry that I’ll pander for votes by railing against the property’s loose borders and promising mass-deportations.

Yesterday I spotted a young adult, in fine fettle, from my kitchen window. Those are the ones who turn into aerodynamic little ground-hugging torpedoes when they run. The youngsters haven’t nailed that movement technique and the oldsters’ hips and shoulders force them to rumble a bit. A groundhog at the peak or his or her powers, however, tracks a straight line and moves like a duck, with all of the frenzied legwork completely hidden under a shell of placid resolve and emphatic velocity.

Perhaps this points to a successful 21st-century rebranding for groundhog? The “ground” part plays, no worries there. But I don’t see the connection between the hog and the creature I see through my office windows. Hogs are snowplow-like in build and method, and Porky Pig is the only one I’ve ever seen raise himself up on his hind legs. Hogs don’t seem alert enough to invest in situational awareness, anyway.

Whereas yesterday, my merely turning on the kitchen faucet from behind a closed window caused the aforementioned specimen to stop what it was doing, raise periscope, and then decide that the treeline represented the better part of valor.

So how did we wind up with “groundhog?” Surely, “Land Duck” is closer to the mark.

If nothing else, a flashy renaming campaign will get marmota monax a burst of fresh publicity. At the top end of expectations, it could encourage people to toss them food and offer them welcome sanctuary in public parks. That’d be a real boon for economically-stressed communities who have parks, but can no longer afford the upkeep on their water features.

I wonder who’s handling their PR? Are they happy with their current representation?