Noticing Stuff

Some years ago I directed the play version of M*A*S*H. It was really excellent and if you didn’t see it, you have to live with that fact. You missed a great show. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. In getting myself into a M*A*S*H*Y state of mind, I binged up to Season six (then I ran out of gas and time). I noticed things that I had never seen before when I watched as a child on TV (leave my age out of it). For example, I had no idea that Radar in so many of the early season episodes, was seen eating a ton of food. It was a running gag I’d never noticed before. But because I was watching 3-6 episodes a day, every day for a few weeks, I noticed it.

For the last half year or so, I’ve been working on a daily streak of doing the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. It’s partly to honor my mother who did it all the time (she died last summer) but also because I just really enjoy doing the puzzle. But when you do it every day, you really notice the clues that get reused over and over and over. A few examples. One day last fall or so there was a clue for which the answer was OREOTHINS. In the NYT’s blog about the puzzle, the author pointed out that this was a debut in the puzzle. It had never appeared in it before. Over the next three weeks or so, it showed up again one or two more times. More recently, clues about parabolas being an ARC have been prevelent. And who knew there were so many ways to clue OGRE/OGRES?

This is apropos of nothing, really. I just thought it was interesting the stuff you notice when you do a lot of something vs. dipping in and out every once and a while. Makes me wonder what else I am missing…

Advertisements

Day 1

I am an Automattician. That is to say that today is my first day working at Automattic. It’s been a long road getting here and I’m thrilled it’s finally arrived.

Automattic is the company behind WordPress. WordPress itself is an open source project but there are a lot of services behind it and that’s where Automattic comes in. My role, specifically, is Technical Account Engineer on the Special Projects team. It’s like a Project Manager but more. If you follow the link just above, you will see that they we work on some pretty amazing sites for some pretty amazing people. (And if you know what sites I’ve managed the last four years you will know how desperately I need to work on positive sites like these!)

I have known about Automattic for years as I have worked with WordPress in one form or another for over a decade now. They were always on my radar as a place I would love to work. And when I was laid off from my last job in October, I took a look at it again. And got encouragement from someone I met at a WordPress Meetup here in Rhode Island who works there. And the rest is history.

Today I train for my first two weeks working as part of the support team as a “Happiness Engineer” and then, two weeks from today, I begin my new role.

These last four months have been rough. Job searching is never fun and doing it around the holidays is a terrible time of year as no one really hires then. But my family has been fantastically supportive and we got through it and I have not only landed on my feet, but I feel like I landed with style.

2019

I think I am done with the whole, 201x was awful, let’s make 201x + 1 better, trope. It hasn’t been working. So I am going to shift my focus to making life better regardless of the date. There are only so many things within my control but I have to keep reminding myself that I have more control than I give myself credit for.

I’m still working on the job search. I have a few promising leads and am hoping that hiring will pick up in general now that it’s a new budget year for many places. Meanwhile, there’s always client work to keep the lights on and occasional stints hosting Geeks Who Drink (though I have nothing on the calendar until late February at this point).

The big thing this year is on May 15, Ann and I will celebrate our 20th anniversary. We’ve not been able to do anything major for either of our recent milestone birthdays so maybe we will be able to to for this anniversary? We haven’t been to Italy since our honeymoon 20 years ago… I’m just saying…

Anyway, like I said, I’m not going to say 2019 will be a good year or that I have x and y resolutions. Instead, I am going to say that there are improvements I want to make and changes that need changing in general and it’s time to get to work on all of it.

A Smattering of Short Takes

I am trying to get better about blogging and I’ll have more to say about why I’ve been reluctant to blog a lot in the last few years soon. But suffice it to say that I’m over it and want to get back to this.

Geeks Who Drink Pub Quiz

On October 1st, the company I worked for laid off somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of the company, myself included. So my life has largely been consumed with the parallel paths of finding full-time work and finding clients to keep money coming in during this period. We’re still alive so that’s something.

Because I needed some fun in my life amid the understandable stress of the current situation, I decided that after three years of playing Geeks Who Drink Pub Quizzes at local restaurants every week, it was time to try my hand at hosting the quizzes instead. So, I threw my hat in the ring, did my training and have been QuizMaster a few times already. It’s a lot of fun and if you like public speaking, it’s worth trying out. (And if you are local and want to check it out, I am hosting the next two Wednesdays at Pizza J in Providence at 7PM both nights!)

The less amusing part is that the RI Unemployment people got notified that I had become employed by Geeks Who Drink and sent me a letter telling me that I was done with collecting unemployment. Oops. I need to explain to them this is a part-time job and an inconsistent one at that (as I am a sub for the local regular hosts, not a regular host myself).

TV Recommendations (that you didn’t ask me for but get anyway)

I got curious one night and checked out the first episode of Broadchurch (the British original) and got hooked. I’m now two episodes into the third season. It’s a dark show, to say the least, and it sets up some serious cognitive dissonance if you are a Doctor Who fan with Jodie Whittaker, David Tennant, and Arthur Darvill as regulars and a smattering of other actors who have passed through Doctor Who here and there (David Bradley, for example). If you really want to blow your mind, watch any current Doctor Who episode with Jodie Whittaker and then watch the Season 2 episode of Broadchurch where her character gives birth immediately afterwards. I did that. I’m still haunted.

Last night the third of four “Short Treks” “aired” on the CBS App. These 15-minute episodes are little short stories set in and around Star Trek Discovery. (The second one, Calypso, was brilliant and a beautiful bit of story-telling, highly recommended). The most recent one, The Brightest Star, was also very good and featured Saru, played by the wonderful Doug Jones, and how he ended up getting mixed up with Starfleet despite coming from a pre-warp civilization. I need to watch it again because there is something I think I must have missed. They are a pre-warp civilization but there’s clearly some high tech there and it is doing something… weird. I don’t want to spoil anything and since I am pretty sure I must have missed some critical detail, I will stop here lest I spoil something or make a complete fool out of myself.

Swamp Meadow Community Theater

A ways back a colleague of mine in Swamp Meadow Community Theater (based in Foster, RI), which I have been involved with for 9 years, died. Kail Rubin was one of the really good ones. She was kind and generous and an all around wonderful person. We have performed on stage together and we have also worked the tech booth together. And I got to direct her in MASH back in 2016 when she played one of the nurses.

Her passing opened up her position as Executive Director of Swamp Meadow and I went and got myself elected to fill out the remaining six-seven months of her term. I hope I do right by Kaila and by Swamp Meadow.

Working from Home

If you work from home, you will appreciate Things I Learned by Working from Home.

Siri Shortcuts and Workflow

Siri Shortcuts & Workflow

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) kicked off today and most of what was announced is interesting but nothing felt terribly revolutionary. Except for Siri Shortcuts. Siri Shortcuts is clearly what Apple has done with Workflow, which they purchased last year. I’ve used Workflow for iOS for some time now, but only recently have I started doing more and more with it. It has the ability to speak to various apps using URL schemes supported by the various apps (and using the x-callback scheme to get data back from them). It’s amazingly powerful and I have workflows that replicate an iTunes Playlist to my Spotify account or vice verse, alert my wife when I am on my way home complete with map and an ETA, to move items between Things, Trello, and Ulysses (it’s complicated), and so forth. (For the best collection of cool workflows and excellent descriptions of same, see the writings of Frederico Vittici at MacStories.net especially in their weekly newsletter, Club MacStories.

A workflow to set a slack reminder for myself
A workflow to set a slack reminder for myself

Sometime in the last while they also added the ability for Workflow to be able to talk to APIs using GET or POST. This is especially interesting to me as I work with a number of APIs in my day job, both external services we talk to and our own web applications. I use Paw on my Mac to test these APIs out but in my ever-ongoing quest to do more and more on my iPad Pro, having a tool that can do this there is gold to me. I haven’t started playing with it yet but I did push off the reminder in Slack all day today (hopefully I’ll get time to check it out tomorrow).

My great fear is that Apple’s reimagining of Workflow into Siri Suggestions, while adding all the power of Siri to control the shortcuts themselves, will also include a significant reduction in capabilities. Apple has had a track record of taking complex solutions and paring them down to, presumably, make them simpler, easier, and more elegant for their end users. But Workflow is a power tool and I would hate to lose any of the amazing functionality it currently offers.

Unfortunately, the new Siri Shortcuts app is not included in the initial beta 1 release of iOS 12 (and before my developer friends give me crap for installing it while not actually developing anything currently let me point out that I am using a work iPad Mini 4 that I have mostly stopped using in favor of my own personal iPad Pro. So it can be safely destroyed by a beta operating system and rebuilt from scratch with no ill effects to me or my current workflow). Since it is not included, I cannot test it out or see whether it is missing the features I consider essential.

That’s the only feature of iOS that jumped out at me as it is something that pertains to my own work. Most of the rest of the features look fun and I am looking forward to playing with them.

Update: Apple didn’t nerf it!

A Good Cuppa

This is the first cup of coffee where I do not feel the need to add sweetener. I’ve been using Sucralose or Aspartame for years but I’ve also been drinking Keurig-brewed coffees. For too long, I’ve been fine with that. The coffee had superficial flavorings (scents, really) that made them somewhat interesting and I never really thought much about it. However, lately, something shifted inside me and I decided that so-so coffee was no longer good enough.

I first tried coffee for real after college when I was working at my first job in the computer center at Dartmouth College. It was your standard Bunn affair, standard office coffee made from old grounds in a giant filter in industrial quantities. It was ok and I made it better by adding a packet of Swiss Miss to it. I wanted better (and there were no coffee houses in the area yet) and I couldn’t afford a coffee machine, so I got a plastic drip thingy for my mug. Over the years, I’ve experimented with various coffee machines (I still miss the Capresso combination drip coffee maker and espresso machine that we got as a wedding present) with varying results. When my mother-in-law moved in with us, we got the Keurig so she could make herself coffee (she was too old and frail to do anything more complicated than that) and we made do. If I wanted something stronger or better tasting, I would head out to Starbucks (yes, I actually like Starbucks coffee) or Brewed Awakenings, where you can get personal French Press coffee at your table. My wife doesn’t put sweetener in her coffee and is always on me to break the habit. But every time I try it, I just can’t do it and give up before too long.

Out with the old…

Yesterday, I bought a Chemex and some of their square, brown paper filters and began experimenting. The first cup was good. Certainly better tasting than anything the Keurig ever made, but I knew it could be better. So today, I did some googling and found http://Ineedcoffee.com and followed the instructions I found there for using a scale and weighing things more precisely. With a 17:1 water-to-coffee ratio, I ended up with this amazing cup of coffee. And I tried some without sweetener and it tasted good. It was interesting and had some flavor notes I had never detected before. I didn’t feel the need to put sweetener in. Just some half and half and that was it (I did try a sip black but I think cream brings out some flavors and takes the edge off the coffee).

Ignore the sriracha in the background…

Maybe using a Chemex, scale, thermometer, and kettle to make my coffee makes me a hipster. But I got into it long after it was cool so I doubt it. All I know is that I needed my coffee to be better. And now it is.

Best. Voicemail. Ever.

I don’t know why it took me 3+ years to get this recording off my phone (thanks iMazing!) but here it is: the greatest voicemail I ever received from a wrong number. Enjoy!

Catching Up

MASH-flyerSo, I should probably have posted about M*A*S*H before, you know, the show opened. At least I posted it while it still has three performances to go… not that I expect this site will generate audience for the show.

Anyway, I directed M*A*S*H and have a wonderfully talented cast and crew. It’s been a fantastic experience and I will be sad when it is over.

In other news, we’re having the BIG tree in our back yard taken down today. It has rot visible high up at the site of where an old branch was removed years ago and we were thinking its was local to that spot until a piece of bark right at the ground level blew off in a wind storm two weeks ago and we could see the rot underneath. So, rather than wait for it to fall on our house, we called the tree peeps to take it down. This makes me incredibly sad as this was a huge, beautiful tree, a swamp maple, and losing it means a lot less shade in our yard. A lot less.

We’ll plant some new trees to make up for it but it will be years before they give us real shade in the summer.

And that’s all the news to report today.

Pop Overs

I saw an article about new relatively inexpensive alternative bands for the Apple Watch and I wanted to check them out. So I clicked on the link taking me to the website. Before the page had finished loading, I was confronted by a pop-over asking me if I wanted to sign up for their newsletter/email/whatever. I had only just arrived. I had not even yet seen what they had to offer or if I was even interested in their stuff.

Imagine if you were walking by a store and thought the window display was interesting so you stopped to look. Suddenly, a man with a clipboard runs out and stands in front of you asking if you want to be on their mailing list. Dude, I’m just looking at your window to see if I am even interested in walking into your store. Slow down.

I see pop-overs with greater frequency and they have to be the most irritating trend on the web today. Sure, pop-unders and pop-ups were annoying too but at least it’s easy to have a quick CMD/DNTRL-W ready to make them go away. This new trend requires me to figure out where the close button is (upper left? upper right? in the body of the ad?) And you can make a case that the intent is working: I have no choice but to look at the ad in order to just get rid of it.

But it’s not working. First off, I refuse to read them. When they pop up, I concentrate only on getting rid of it as fast as I can. If it takes me more than 1-2 seconds to figure that out, I will, more often than not, close the page and never return to that website.

Yeah, I know, these sites need ads to survive. But ads that are interesting, entertaining, informative, or in some way relevant to my life will get my attention. Those that are pushy, annoying, or irrelevant to me will get ignored.

And don’t get me started on Amazon’s piss-poor ads. I, like many people, use Amazon to research purchases. For example, I needed a cordless screw driver and I read reviews of various options on Amazon. I needed it that day so I then went and bought the winner at the local Home Depot. And then for the next few weeks, all I saw were ads for cordless drills. (Once, for a play I was in, I needed a prop deck of girlie playing cards. My ads for the next long while were… interesting to say the least.)

I do like that in Gmail, Google gives me some options to customize the ads I see and I do make use of that. Same with Facebook. I will turn off ads and provide Facebook with the whys of my decision. But the rest of the world needs to catch up. And everyone needs to stop using pop-overs. Seriously.

A Modest Rant

For me, the joy of any theatrical experience, be it a play, tv show, or movie, is immersing myself in what is being presented. Acting works because the audience willfully suspends their disbelief and says, “OK, we will buy that you are trapped in a submarine with your ex-wife” or whatever the scenario is. And in that one act of mutual agreement between actor and audience, magic is created. That’s how I approach all such entertainment. And it is very rare that a movie is so bad that I cannot suspend any disbelief at all and enjoy the movie (Kenneth Brannagh’s Frankenstein was one such movie. Yeesh!)

So, I have grow ever more frustrated with audiences in recent years. And before you roll your eyes and say that this is another one of those, “Damn these kids today!” old man posts, stay with me a moment. It’s not the damn kids (well, it sometimes is, but they are not the only problem.) It is people in general. People are far more selfish today than they were in the past. I remember movie experiences where the loud moron in the theater was the exception, not the rule. People generally enjoyed a production and respected the wishes of their fellow audience members to enjoy it as well. Collectively, we laughed, cried, cheered, booed, and otherwise enjoyed something together. When we needed to ask a question, we whispered so as to not disturb others.

But more and more people have become more selfish and self-centered. They don’t care about anyone else in the theater just their own selves. If they want to talk, they talk. They make no effort to be quiet about it. They use their phones or even throw popcorn at each other. Even parents of kids make no effort to teach their kids to whisper and be quiet in movies. If the kids ask a question or make a comment, the parents don’t quiet them and often answer just as loudly as their kids.

And it frustrates me to no end. Suspension of disbelief needs immersion. And while I can ignore a lot of things (popcorn chewing, wrapper crlnkling, coughing, etc. A conversation between people or other such behavior is too much. And that ruins the experience for me.

I go to movies far more rarely than I used to. It’s just too expensive to be that tense waiting for some inconsiderate jerk to ruin it. And when I go, I am generally not let down. Usually if the problem people are not near me, I can tune them out and enjoy myself. But if they are close by, I either have to move or do the one thing I hate doing: shush them. I’m non-confrontational by nature. I don’t like getting in people’s faces about anything. So, shushing someone is something I rarely ever do and is saved for the most obnoxious of cases.

Twice in recent memory, I have had incredible experiences. The first was in Traverse City, MI at the gorgeous movie theater there in town where I saw The Artist. The audience was silent through the whole movie and we all had an amazing time watching a gorgeous movie. The other was tonight when we went to see The Martian.The audience was quiet and really into the movie. All except one person. And she just happened to be sitting next to me.

She sat to my left and was older than I am by at least a decade if not two. She and the man she was with came in during the previews and plopped down right next to me in the only open two seats left in our row. I politely let her have the arm rest and leaned a bit closer to Ann. Throughout the whole movie, she kept a running dialog with the man next to her. Generally in the form of questions. It was clear to me that she did not really understand a lot of what was going on. In one scene, something really bad happens to Matt Damon’s character and when he is upset and having a bit of a tantrum about it, she asked aloud, “What’s the matter with him?” Twice during the movie (both after the half-way mark when I just couldn’t take it anymore) I shushed her. The first time was a quiet “Shh.” The second time was a more annoyed, “SHHH.” Followed either by a “Please” or a “C’mon” or something similar. Neither time worked. She kept right on asking her inane questions. I never heard what the guy she was with said in reply. He clearly knew how to whisper. But it was enough to pull me out of a fantastic movie (and it was a fantastic movie) and be annoyed at her.

Ultimately, the movie won out and I put her out of my mind as best I could. But the kicker is what happened when the movie ended. She got up and I could see out of the corner of my eye while I read the cast list that she was staring daggers at me. I began saying something to Ann about the movie when I heard her say (while still looking at me), “…piece of shit.” I had to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation. So I turned partially to Ann and said loud enough for her to hear, “She talks through the whole movie and I’m the bad guy.” She walked out of the row, down the stairs, and then across the front of the section to the exit, never taking her eyes off of me. I made a point of ignoring her until finally I acted like I just noticed her, pointed, and laughed because it was so inane.

What did we learn from this? Too many people today are just too selfish. She did not care for anyone around her and spoke loud enough to be heard by everyone nearby and was offended when I called her out on it. It’s like when someone runs a stop sign, you honk at them, and they flip you off for honking at them.

I have no solutions except to wish that people could be more considerate of one another. I think things would be considerably better in virtually every aspect of life if we could collectively do that. But instead, I save my trips to the movies only for the movies I cannot wait to hit iTunes (or whatever) or that are loud enough that I can’t hear anything nearby anyway. As for that woman, I wish that there was some way she could see herself from another perspective; that she could see that her disruptive behavior was the problem, not my asking her to be quiet. But seeing ourselves from another’s perspective is hard work and our too-fragile egos make that far too difficult much of the time. Oh well. Hopefully the audience at Star Wars VII this December will be fans and we can all have fun together.

Webcrumbs

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: