Monthly Archives: January 2022

How to Make Your Home Smell Like a Williams Sonoma Store


Now here’s an unusual recipe. Instead of it being to cook something to eat, you use the ingredients to make your house smell better!  To see what I mean, check this out: How to Make Your Home Smell Like a Williams Sonoma Store – Williams-Sonoma Taste

If you ever have been into a Williams Sonoma store, you know how good they smell. Especially around Christmastime. You might think you have to buy some expensive product to make them smell good but you don’t. Just get some simple ingredients.

How would you like a cube of titanium, or copper, or even uranium? With the Luciteria web site, you can!

How cool is this Luciteria web site? Well if you are a geek like me, very cool indeed. Among other things they sell are cubes of each of the elements in the periodic table. As they say:

Cubes of each of the elements are our most popular sellers. And it’s not hard to see why. Precision machined and labeled each one is a self-contained ambassador of the periodic table. From the small cubic centimeter up to the hefty 5cm these cubes practically define the ideal desktop gadget for anyone who loves to nerd out on science. So get one as a conversation starter, a few as a clever means to spell out a name or phrase or go for broke and get as many as possible to make your own “real life” periodic table!

Some of them, like copper above, are pretty harmless and common. Others, like the uranium cube below, not so much.
I think these would be a great gift for anyone into science, or for teachers teaching the elements.

My first thought when I went there was that they would only have a few of the elements, but no, they have pretty much all of them. (With some reasonable exceptions.) Very much worth checking out.

On the sorry state of printers, 2021

What does the Verge think of printers?

Printers are the worst. They’re unreliable, they guzzle reportedly $12,000-a-gallon ink, and their manufacturers have been known to use dirty tricks, scare tactics, and DRM to strongly encourage you to buy cartridges exclusively from them.

Whoa! Strong but true. What prompted this? Well it seems…

Some of Canon’s own toner cartridges are now being detected as fakes — and they’re forcing the company to teach customers how to bypass its own DRM (via Techdirt).

Wild. You can read more about that here: Canon printers now think Canon’s own toner is fake – The Verge.

I have always wondered why printers are in the sorry state they are. While they are common, they are almost seen as a dead end technology. People don’t write about new printers the way the write about new smartphones. They are seen as a necessary evil in many cases. No one in Silicon Valley is coming along to disrupt the printer business.

I remember when IBM spun off their printer division into a company called Lexmark. And I can remember over a decade ago Kodak made printers with cheap ink. Now when I go into a computer store, those brands aren’t there. It’s the Canon’s and HP’s of the world that are making printers and presumably making money from them. Perhaps the only way to make a go of printers is to make them poorly. Which is sad.

On the five different levels of hype

In tech we often talk about the hype curve. When we do, we don’t distinguish the degree of hype we are talking about. This piece does exactly that: The five Levels of Hype. I hadn’t thought about it before, but the hype of marketing a new product is a different thing than the hype of a new technology. To see what I mean, see this chart from the article:

Much of the hype we are seeing around cryptocurrencies are up there in level 4 and 5. But this isn’t restricted to just that technology.

A good piece. Anyone familiar or referencing with the Gartner Hype Curve should read it.

New New York: the plan to expand Manhattan

One thing I like about Americans is their desire to dream big. This is easily demonstrated in this New York Times piece about expanding Manhattan.

It’s a smart idea. Is it doable? I don’t know. I do know that the cost of shoring up Manhattan to deal with global warming is going to be a big one. Why not use real estate and additional taxes to do that? Read the article and see what you think.

1980s me would have laughed at the idea of expanding Manhattan, since so much of the existing island was unlivable. Amazing how much has changed.

On twitter and MLK Day

So yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US. I think it is great Americans celebrate the life and work of Dr. King, and I hope all Americans take the day to reflect and work towards a more perfect union inspired by his ideals and vision.

It’s always a weird day on Twitter, though. I think this Wesley Yang quote hits the nail on the head:

MLK said some stuff that radicals like to quote and other stuff that conservatives and moderates like to quote, and of course what made him what he was is the ability to hold these contrasting impulses in balance

It’s true: MLK did say some radical things and he also said some moderate things. Moderate people want to claim him for his own and ignore the radical things, and radicals do the reverse. He was trying to bring people together and to move civil rights forward. There was no one way to do that. So was he moderate or radical? It depended on the context.

It’s also a weird thing when someone or some organization references Dr. King and someone quote tweets that and says “oh by the way, they are hypocritical to says that for reasons A, B, and C”. It’s the nature of people to dunk on others on twitter: I feel it just feels like petty squabbling on a day we should aspire to better.

The other thing that seems to happen on twitter every year on MLK day are tweets stating how unpopular he was at one point.  As Gallup states:

in 1966 — the last Gallup measure of King using this scalometer procedure — it was 32% positive and 63% negative.

Which is not false. It’s also not the whole picture. As CNNPolitics shows, “Black Americans” saw things differently:

 The vast majority in 1963 thought his work for equal rights was moving at the right speed (71%) or not fast enough (21%) compared to 8% who believed it was happening too fast. In 1966, 84% of Black adults had a favorable view of him, while 4% had an unfavorable view.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was an active political figure trying to effect major change. It is not surprising that his popularity was not high like it is now. That’s fairly common of political figures.  For additional context, he was listed as one of the top ten admired men in the nation in 1964 and 1965 but not 1966, according to that Gallup piece.

Popularity is a complex thing to measure. People trying to say King was unpopular back in his time are being highly selective in their selection of data, to say the least.

Anyway, I hope people’s tweets are aspirational versus petty when the holiday arrives.  I think Dr. King would want that.

What programming language should you learn? (2022 edition)

The best programming languages to learn in 2022, according to TechRepublic are these:

It’s interesting to see how things have changed. Back in 2015 when I wrote about this, Java was 1st and Python was in 4th. Javascript was 8th! I am not surprised by this.

Java and the C languages will always be good to know. But if you want to be marketable, learn some Python and Javascript.

Here’s 100 ways to improve your life by tweaking it slightly


I love this: 100 ways to slightly improve your life without really trying | Life and style | The Guardian. While it’s great to tackle big resolutions in the new year, sometimes small changes are fine.

Here’s a few of the 100 to give you a sense of what they recommend:

24 Start a Saturday morning with some classical music – it sets the tone for a calm weekend.
25 Look closely.
27 If possible, take the stairs.
30 Be polite to rude strangers – it’s oddly thrilling.

I especially like 30!

While the Guardian says they are slight, I think some of them take a bit of work. But see for yourself. Look closely. 🙂

On cravenness

Cravenness:

noun. Ignoble lack of courage: chicken-heartedness, cowardice, cowardliness, dastardliness, faint-heartedness, funk, pusillanimity, unmanliness.

For more examples of it in action, read: ‘Weakness and surrender’: Ted Cruz seeks to move on from Tucker Carlson mauling | Ted Cruz | The Guardian

I was going to reference Pyrrhic Victory, but it doesn’t cover an event where so much is given up and nothing is gained.

On Seneca, or good advice is good advice, regardless of whom it comes from

500

I’ve always thought highly of the wisdom dispensed by Seneca. Many do. However, I started to think about it more after reading this: Lucius Annaeus Seneca | Daily Philosophy.

Seneca’s advice is admirable and worthwhile. His life, less so. Read that piece and you will see what I mean.Which is once again why I will conclude that good advice is good advice, regardless of whom it comes from. Not everyone is as consistent in life and thought as Diogenes. 🙂

 

It’s Friday. A good day to tidy up, workwise. Start with your inbox


It’s Friday, a good day to tidy up, workwise. That way it’ll be easier to start things fresh on Monday.

Sure you can tidy up your Downloads folder, your desktop, maybe delete some really big files that have been hanging around forever. Those are all good, but I recommend you clean up your inbox.

If you need a tool to do this, I know some really smart people who have recommended this: Mailstrom: Clean Up Your Inbox Now.

Your Monday self will thank you.

Billie Eilish, or what’s no longer new in social media

Social media is in a funny period these days. For one thing, the “old” social media seems to have plateaued and is not yielding big results. For example, Ms Ellish’s Millions of Followers did not result in big book sales. Nor did Mr. Timberlake’s social media fans. No doubt their books suffered for many reasons, but one time social media could be the thing to propel them to success. Not any more.

It’s been long known that Facebook has been struggling to maintain its young users. It seems the same is now true for another part of Facebook/Meta: Instagram. It’s not that people have given up on social media. For example, there are new contenders, like Twitch and Discord. Perhaps Meta will buy them to stay fresh, just like they bought Instagram and WhatsApp. Meanwhile, Meta plans to remove thousands of sensitive ad-targeting categories. The more things change….

Before I close, if you still use RSS like I do (with the Feedly app), here are the  Top Toronto RSS Feeds.

(Image from NYTimes)

 

Money is not fake or abstract or unreal if you are poor

Or so I thought when I was read this piece, From crypto to meme stocks to NFTs, money has never felt more fake – Vox, especially this:

… NFTs — non-fungible tokens, little digital assets that exist on a blockchain — are having a moment. What’s not really clear is why. Then again, everything about money feels a little strange at the moment. Between NFTs, crypto, and GameStop, AMC, and other meme stocks, money has rarely felt more fake. Or, at the very least, value has rarely felt so disconnected from reality.

Two thoughts on that. First thought: money does seem fake for many these days. In times where there is a surfeit of capital and assets have highly inflated valuations, money can seem unreal.

Second thought: it’s important to backup and define what money is. Money is a medium of exchange. That’s it. If you are well off, and you are using money to exchange one abstract good for another, it can see fake and unreal.

If you are poor, then it is a different story. If you are poor,  the things you need your hard earned money to exchange for are very concrete goods and services. Concrete things like food and shelter and medicine and transportation. All those things are denied you without money. For poor people, money is not abstract at all, and the absence of it makes life difficult.

The richer you are, the higher in abstraction the medium you call Money is. But for poor people, it is not an abstract thing at all.

The New Space Race!

I was a young boy for the first space race in the 1960s and 1970s. After that the pace of space exploration seem to decrease. Recently, though, that pace has picked up, as the Times shows, here: Big Rockets, Massive Asteroids and More Space Highlights for 2022 – The New York Times.

So much happened in 2021, and 2022 seems to be just as busy. We have the James Webb Space Telescope,  China building the Tiangong Space Station, NASA’s attempt to deflect an asteroid and much more. If you go to that article, you can subscribe to The Times Space and Astronomy Calendar and keep up to date of everything going on.

Sure billionaires jaunting into space grabs our attention, but there is so much more going on than that, and unlike much in the news, space exploration is fun and exciting to follow. Join the new Space Race!

Notes from having COVID last week

Last Monday (Jan 3) my daughter had a sore throat. She got tested later that evening and was positive for COVID. No one in my house/bubble had symptoms before that, but by Wednesday morning, all but one of us had them.

Our experience with the disease was similar to Liz Renzetti and her family, described here: Opinion: Lessons from the COVID not-so-sick bed – The Globe and Mail.

All of us felt tired and exhibited symptoms associated with COVID. I had a incessant cough, runny nose, stuffy head, and at one point fever then chills. I also slept a lot. Normally I am restless so if I am sleeping that much then I am sick.

We all isolated from each other as much as we could. We had a hepa filter going, and we were all vaccinated (and in some cases boosted). We did what we could to minimize the impact. As it was, the course of the disease took under a week (at least in terms of present symptoms).

People were great in offering us well wishes and close friends offering to bring us food. We were lucky to be able to have food delivered and appreciative of the people who did so.

We only had one rapid antigen test between us. (Good luck getting one of those anywhere.) We were all pretty sick, but we used it and the results were negative. My doctor friend tells me the false negative percentage is 30% (vs 1% false positive).  We acted all we all had COVID anyway and we likely did.

I don’t have any great insights into the disease. Get as vaccinated as you can as soon as you can. Follow local public health guidelines. Take care of yourself and others. Hang in there.

(Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash )

 

What did you learn in 2021? What will you learn in 2022?


Well if you are Tom Whitwell, quite a lot, as he shows here: 52 things I learned in 2021 by Tom Whitwell from Fluxx | Fluxx Studio Notes

His piece is fascinating. Even better, it makes me think I might like to keep a similar log for 2022. Maybe you want to as well! Meanwhile read Tom.

(Photo by Andrea De Santis on Unsplash )

A better dock for your Apple Watch

I love this! Not only can you charge your Apple Watch easily, but you can also use this device to easily see the time and your alarm. Brilliant. More on it, here:
Nightwatch Magnifying Clock Dock.

On TV, the 90s and me


I stopped watching TV in the 90s.  The last three TV series I watched were Northern Exposure (1990-1995), Seinfeld (1989-1998) and Friends (1994-2004).

I thought of that when I recently started rewatching Friends clips weirdly via Instagram. It is full of them. This Vanity Fair piece hits on something that Seinfeld and Friends and to some degree Northern Exposure had in common:

It was the ’90s; oh, was it ever the ’90s. The show’s anxieties are inextricably tied to the that decade—answering machines, VCRs, the discomfort its straight characters feel upon encountering queer people.

Yep, all that. The discomfort (or whatever you want to call it) in Friends is particularly painful to watch.

You notice other things too. No smart phones (obviously). No internet. Also suits and ties. Chandler and Ross in the early episodes are often in business attire of the time and it seems as dated as tuxedos and top hats now.

In the end, I gave up on each of those shows for different reasons. Northern Exposure lost its bearing and became some sort of Alaskan fantasy land. Friends seemed to become a landing place for cameos of famous actors. As for Seinfeld, I have to agree with the Vanity Fair piece, who said:

… for more than a few episodes at a time, these people and their concerns—so self-absorbed, so entitled, so stupid—are a little deadening to watch.

Seinfeld’s leads are a tiresome quartet; in the show, everyone who meets them ends up deeply regretting it.

I skipped the golden age of TV with the Wire and the Sopranos and all that. None of it appealed to me. I’m trying to get back into watching things via streaming, but even that is a struggle. I don’t think I am superior for not watching it. I just find it is something I can’t watch on my own.

For now I’ll watch clips via Instagram and maybe that is enough TV for me. 🙂

On the things parents tell their kids and the things kids remember

Vihos Sweets

This is a picture of a street in downtown Glace Bay. Next to the Dominion is a small place called Vihos Sweets. It didn’t exist when I was growing up, but it did when my mom was a teen. She worked there for a time, and she occasionally talked about it.

Though she didn’t talk about it a lot, it stuck in my mind and I often thought about it. I don’t know why. Maybe I liked the sound of it. Maybe the way she described it made it seem special. Perhaps I was trying to imagine having my own job someday. I am not sure.

I wonder of the many things I’ve told my kids what they remember. You hope that the big lessons you try and impart to your kids are the things that stick. But often times it is the little things. Things like the name of a place you worked at for a short time when you were younger.

Try and be comfortable with the notion that  you have less control than you think.  You can only live and speak as best as you can, and hope that is enough to send them in the right direction. They may recall the important things you passed on. They may recall something you said in passing. They are their own person, and they will absorb and recall what they need.

(Image via http://capermemories.blogspot.com/)

 

Why beach robots are good

While I am not a fan of most popular robots these days, I will make an exception for this one: This Microsoft-powered AI-enabled robot cleans up cigarette butts littered on the beach! – Yanko Design

It’s sad we need such a robot, but if this problem is going to exist, I am all for such technology. It’s a great project and not unlike a Roomba for the beach. Nice.

A good reminder that the large social media sites are bad because they choose to be

You might think that there is nothing to be done with the the people who spread lies and misinformation (and worse) on social media. But I believe that there is nothing inevitable about it and it is not impossible to fix.

For a case study of this, see this piece: Vaccine misinformation has run rampant on pregnancy apps in The Washington Post. The What to Expect app was being overrun with misinformation until they decided to clamp down. The result?

The experience of What to Expect shows that, when smaller apps do explicitly prioritize content moderation, the results can be striking.

The Post backed off a bit, but I would not. I think that if bigger apps did this too, the results would also be striking. I think the bigger apps like YouTube and Facebook and TikTok and Twitter only do it when things get too extreme. Otherwise they are happy to have the engagement, even if people think their sites stink.

(Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash )

A worthwhile goal for the new year is a different form of extremism


It’s hard to do anything extreme these days in the middle of a pandemic. Even if you want to do extreme events, you might not be able to find any that aren’t cancelled.

So consider extreme moderation. A life that is in balance. Chances are you find a lot of imbalance in your life already, two years into the pandemic. If so, read this: In Praise of Extreme Moderation.

It might just give you the goal you need for 2022.

On families and loved ones

I hope you had a chance to spend time with your family over the holidays. Here’s two pieces on families I thought are worth reading: Visiting My English Grandmother and How I wish my old diary held more detail of the night I met my husband.

How I track my goals and my year using spreadsheets: my 2021 review. (Maybe you can steal this approach)

I’ve used a number of ways to track my goals and my year, and I have found spreadsheets the best way to do it.

Below are snapshots of the two worksheets I used in my spreadsheet. The first image is the worksheet I use for the goals I have regarding my responsibility for people and other things. The second image is the worksheet I use for the goals I have regarding myself. Each row is a week in the year. If I did nothing to advance the goal that week, I colour the cell red. If I did something but fell short, I use yellow. If I had a good week, the cell is green, and if I had a great week the cell is purple.

What’s nice about using colour like this is that I can zoom out and see how I am progressing over the year.

In the first two columns above I track how much I do for my son and daughter. Pretty good there. The next column is what I do for my brother and sister: I started weak but picked up throughout the year. It was good, and better than last year, but it can be better still. Next column is for keeping in touch with friends. It’s tough in a pandemic but I could email and use social media. The last three columns are my home, my finances, and my involvement in politics.  I was much better with political engagement last year: this year the pandemic wore me down. Likewise I did ok managing my home and finances this year but it could be better. All in all too much red and yellow in those last 2 columns. (Part of the problem is I find them thankless tasks that provide little or no good feedback.)

After my responsibility to others,  my goals are managing myself. I found I did poorly on the hard parts of this but better on the soft parts. lol! The first two columns above are fitness (do more exercising) and reading (do more reading). I get a D to an F grade for much of the year there. The third column tracks how much I draw and do other art. Again, D or maybe a C-. I did well writing (column 4): I wrote every week in my main blog, and sometimes elsewhere.  After that comes column 5 and IT skills development: I got maybe a B- there. Often that takes a backseat to other things. In terms of cooking (column 6) that was easy in a pandemic! I did a lot of cooking and cooked hundreds of different recipes. (I track all the meals separately because I am a nut.)

For a long time I felt homebound and never did things for myself, so I tried to improve that and make them goals. So the last three columns are Treats, Restaurants I’ve tried, and new and good things I have done. Mostly I’ve done well there, compared to reading and fitness. Sigh. Ah well. (Those are easy to do, since the feedback you get once you do them is really good.)

The colour coding is subjective, of course, and in a pandemic the bar to green and purple is lower. But as a consultant, I quite like this way of tracking my goals.

Now I have a lot of goals, I admit. One thing nice about that is that I usually feel like I am accomplishing something. So if I am not getting in shape, at least I am keeping in touch with people and taking care of other things.

I also don’t track everything in a spreadsheet: I have some goals I track elsewhere, for example for some relationships and responsibilities. Likewise I sometimes have goals that are in a limited time window of weeks instead of months: they don’t go here.

It may seem like a lot to track, but I find I spent a few minutes each day then I can get it done. Plus I can course correct this way too and shift my priorities around.

If you struggle with goals and tracking them and moving forward, I recommend this approach. It’s fast and painless.

Here’s to achieving your goals, small and big, in 2022.

Happy 2022!

Happy New Year! Maybe this year will be year we finally see the end of the pandemic!

One of my resolutions this year is to do more with less. In that vein, I am going to share some of my old posts on the new year, rather than recreate another. You can find them here. I think they are still good and still worth revisiting, both by me and you.

All the best to you in 2022.