400,000th Tweet for Charity

I'm about to hit 400,000 messages posted on Twitter since I joined in August 2007. While a terrifying number, that includes retweets (those made by others that I repost), article tweets from news sites I'm reading, and the like. I've also long used Twitter as a kind of public chat room, so many of my tweets are conversations, not posted statements for everyone to read.

But I'd like to redeem the time spent by turning my run-up to 400,000 into a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood—you can contribute here.

It's been under attack for years, most significantly with an allegedly criminal effort (two perpetrators have been charged) to mislead about both its purpose (abortion is a small portion of what PP does) and the way in which fetal body parts were transferred (it happened at a few facilities under tight controls). And, hey, even Nancy Reagan supports fetal tissue research.

PP does so much good for so many women who otherwise have no access to healthcare that includes and goes beyond reproductive medicine. I hope they will work to better explain how they help women and non-gender-binary people across so many aspects of medicine tailored to the particular issues of female bodies.

What I'd like to do is raise at least 400,000 cents ($4,000) for PP, and make my 400,000th tweet be something picked by the highest-dollar donor. I'll thank everyone who wants to be thanked by name and handle after 400,000 tweets, but I'll use some of the run-up of the next 150 or so tweets to promote the fundraiser, and that big 400K to reward someone who goes the extra mile. This is in honor of the brave people who work at Planned Parenthood every day.

Not everyone feels like Planned Parenthood is the best place to give money right now, and so I'd also like to encourage people to donate to Flint to help people obtain water (via The Flint Water Fund), and to Black Lives Matter, which has brought to America's attention problems that have plagued America and can no longer be ignored. I'll honor donors to those causes, too.

I'll update this post with more detail as I set up the fundraiser and get closer. I have to set a deadline on PP's site to raise money with a goal, and I'm not sure how far off to set it at the moment.

Happy Birthday Song Settlement

A 1922 book that contained the (unauthorized?) lyrics.

It took years of litigation, but the "Happy Birthday" copyright issues could finally be settled. The song's musical component long ago entered the public domain, but the "Happy Birthday To You" lyrics have remained ostensibly under copyright—until an intrepid filmmaker sued the group that claimed to own the rights.

I've written about the details several times, which included an 11th-hour addition to the suit by a foundation funded by the Hill sisters, one of whom was credited with the lyrics, as that foundation belatedly asserted that it inherited all the rights, not just a share of royalties. (See my August coverage of the suit, then a September update, and a November surprise update.)

The settlement, if approved by a judge who should weep tears of bitter joy to sign off on it, wipes away decades of copyright ownership. Any fees collected since 1949—up to $14 million minus millions in lawyer fees—could be refunded under the settlement by Warner-Chappell! All the parties, including the foundation, have agreed to the terms. (In the settlement agreement, attorneys suggest that from 1949 to 2009, relatively few parties will come forward to claim refunds, but the 2009-to-present group will be more likely.)

"Happy Birthday" was one of the three stickiest extended copyright situations. Another, relating to the "characteristics" of Sherlock Holmes in 10 stories that remain under copyright, was conclusively settled last November, after the Supreme Court denied an appeal.

Some Favorite Podcasts, 2015 Edition

I admit I have a very uneven podcast listening habit. I work from home and travel rarely, so I don't have an opportunity to listen to much or a lot of new stuff. I can't listen to podcasts and do most of the kind of work I do, either (writing, editing, audio editing, and podcasting!). But then I'll wind up with a slough of appointments or slack time in the evenings, and catch up. I seem to prefer to binge listen to podcasts than binge watch TV series.

These are shows I think a lot of other geeky people or damned intellectuals will enjoy, not just with my niche interests and quirky tastes. (For instance, while I like listening to Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten, a weekday 10-minute podcast of German news spoken slowly and clearly to aid in learning (or re-learning), I doubt many will.)

  • Hello from the Magic Tavern. I'd heard about this for months, but I hadn't dipped my toes in, and I'm now I'm just obsessively listening to the dozens of episodes produced so far—it's hilarious and fascinating. Magic Tavern is podcast by a guy named Arnie (true) who fell through some kind of gateway to the magical land of Foon (not true?), from whence he podcasts in a tavern. It's an improv show combined with light scripting, so every week they build canon and remember it. So in episode 40, there will absolutely be a callback to something said in passing in Episode 1. It's really an extraordinary bit of mythmaking and incredibly funny.
  • Answer Me This: A podcast by Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann (with interjections from producer Martin the Sound Man, Helen's husband). They answer listener questions with humor, obscenity, and sometimes great moral reasoning. The show's been around since 2007 and is now fortnightly. Helen launched a great podcast in 2015 called The Allusionist, which does deep clever dives into the meanings of words.
  • The Flophouse Podcast: Three hosts, including the former head writer of the Daily Show, bring a mix of absurd intellectualism and intentional poop/sex humor to dissecting terrible movies. They watch a bad movie and then discuss it, and improv off into hilarious tangents.
  • Thrilling Adventure Hour: After a decade of continuous production of freshly scripted radio plays—performed and recorded live as readings—I only tuned in as it was going "off the air." The back catalog is enormous, and they promise more limited future additions to the canon. The live show was structured into segments, which typically appear as individual episodes. It's a combination of parody, homage, and truly original work.

(Of course, you should also tune into The Incomparable Network, which now has a huge array of shows about geeky and nerdy stuff, including our main podcast, a radio theater show, a rotating gameshow format, and much more.)

Updated Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network (and a Discounted Bundle!)

In collaboration with my good friends at TidBITS Publishing, we've updated my long-running ebook about making good use of Apple Wi-Fi equipment, from setting up a network to optimizing placement to troubleshooting problems. The book is now up to date for iOS 9 and El Capitan. It's $20, although you can get 30% off an entire cart by buying a bundle of three or more ebooks at once. (Previous owners should check their email or write to Take Control Books for a significant discount and special bundles.)

You can purchase Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network for $20. All Take Control books are DRM-free and a single purchase gets you three formats: PDF, EPUB, and Kindle-compatible MOBI.

But you can also get a bundle of that book and my self-published A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy & Security in iOS 9 from Take Control for 20% off ($7 off) by following this link, which includes the coupon. (Buy a total of three books, and you get 30% off the entire order—no coupon required.)

In the revision, we also added some new elements and updated others to reflect how people are using their networks with a greater number of platforms—like Android—and some features we never documented before, but the time was right to add:

  • I found two great tools for graphically mapping Wi-Fi networks and for visualizing a network environment—NetSpot and WiFi Explorer—so I added a run-through of each product. NetSpot helps you sort out network signal strength against a map of the physical layout. It's very cool, and comes in a limited personal version that's enough for most households. WiFi Explorer is a more sophisticated (but not expensive) program that you can use to sort out all the networks around you and better manage your own base stations as a result.

  • I’ve made several small revisions about 802.11ac waves. Previously, when I discussed the latest flavor of Wi-Fi, 802.11ac, it was as a single thing; however, the standard is being rolled out progressively in waves, each with new features. Apple’s two 802.11ac base stations and nearly all the adapters in Macs and iOS devices currently use wave 1. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus support wave 2, and more equipment that does is coming.

  • I added details about iOS 9’s new Wi-Fi Assist feature, which is enabled by default. Because this feature can burn through cellular data, iOS 9 users should keep it on only if they are aware of this risk.

  • I added steps for connecting to an Apple Wi-Fi network from Android (5, and steps are the same for 6), Windows 10, and Chrome OS. With so many mixed-platform networks, I hope this helps! There's also detail about file sharing and printing from Windows 10 via an Apple base station.

  • Because you may want to buy a base station without paying a premium for an Apple product—or you may want to try a different feature set than what Apple is currently offering—I added information about the TP-Link Archer C7 and Google's OnHub routers.

For those interested in buying a new router, I'll be writing an article soon for TidBITS with advice on that subject. I suggest waiting until March 2016 to see if Apple introduces updated Wi-Fi base stations, because the units are now falling far behind comparably priced or much cheaper units from other companies.

There's No Back in the Amazon Store, Only Front

I visited the Amazon Store today, its first permanent bricks-and-mortar rollout. The store falls under the purview of a former Amazon co-worker from back in the day who I admired very much. It's really a lovely place. It seems to have captured a lot of the charm of what Barnes & Noble used to be like, before they lost their way, with a very strong whiff of Seattle and a sense of appreciation of the book as a form. That, even with Kindles, Fires, an Echo, and much more centrally located and throughout the store. This is a book bookstore that happens to have some electronic gear and electronic aids.

Prices are omitted almost everywhere. I spotted a handful on electronics. Books have no prices on the shelf tags. There are omnipresent Kindles to look up the price, but it's odd to my eye that even though the books are heavily discounted off list, one has to look at the book to find the list price and then ask or look up the retail price in the store. It's inconvenient, but it bypasses having SKU (stock-keeping unit) tags on the books. (Having used Amazon for fulfillment of a book I published, they insist on every book being tagged, even though books have UPC codes on them.)

I couldn't put my finger on what it was about the store that seemed off until after I left. It was this:

The entire store feels like the front part of a bookstore. There is no back crammed with spine-out books and remainders and weird stuff—and even used books in various conditions.

The back of the bookstore is the Amazon ecommerce operation. Amazon is self-showrooming.

Amazon Store


Podcast, Podcast, Podcast! I'm Talking All over the Place

I had a spate of podcasts (some taped weeks ago) go up recently:

  • Clockwise #112: A 30-minute dash through four tech topics and one bonus question! I frighten everyone in this episode. (Yes, I am available to wash your dishes.)
  • Low Definition: Space Blobs: The Game Show podcast that's part of the Incomparable Network did a game that is absolutely not a popular word game in which you provide meanings to words. It was hilarious, and raccoons were not harmed, I swear. Seriously. Maybe squirrels, though.
  • Afoot: a mystery-genre podcast: I just launched this at the Incomparable. This was our introductory episode, and we'll be putting out new episodes every few weeks.
  • Doctor Who S9E8 review: “The Zygon Inversion”: A "flashcast" at the Incomparable, recorded just after watching the episode (with Jason Snell).
  • Love Blooms Naturally on a Vespa: A Rocket Surgery sub-podcast outing on the Incomparable in which we talk about Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster. You can also watch the movie at no cost, if you dare.
  • Every week, you can catch me on the Macworld podcast, too.