Summer Updates!

Summer came rushing in, and while we swelter, I have a few updates:

  • The New Disruptors podcast crowdfunding campaign met its goal! I'll be producing new episodes starting in August. When the first new episode launches, there will be more ways to help keep it going beyond the 12 episode/1 year schedule I used Kickstarter to fund. It was a nail biter: a very generous supporter came in during the last five minutes to bring the campaign home!
  • My London Kerning book is available in London itself from Magma Books. If you visit London, you can pick up a copy in person, but the company also offers inexpensive shipping across the UK, Ireland, and the rest of Europe.
  • Speaking of London, I visited my books and other sites with the family earlier this month. You can read briefly about that trip and some thoughts about stone lettercarving I saw throughout London at this Patreon post. (Did you know you could pledge a recurring amount as low as $1 a month to help support my typographic and related writing?)
  • Next week, I'll be at TypeCon, a typographic event, held this year in Portland, OR. I'm giving a talk on, what else, typographic archives in London! Do you sense a theme?
  • A few copies remain of my letterpress-printed book, Not To Put Too Fine a Point on It. These are artists' proofs identical to the original numbered edition, except not numbered. They are signed and can be inscribed.
  • In September, I'll be giving a talk at Ada's Books on Johnston Sans, the typeface that's been used for London transportation since 1916. More details to follow. (Ticket will be $5; 21+ venue with soft and hard drinks, plus food, for sale; London Kerning books available.)
  • Since mid-June, I've been writing news every afternoon for Fortune magazine's Briefings section. These are short items about breaking news written to provide quick analysis into what's happening at the moment. It's different than other writing I've done, and invigorating!
Note the mix of new (top) and old (middle) signs. One of the few places in London that retains older signs.

Note the mix of new (top) and old (middle) signs. One of the few places in London that retains older signs.

Get Rid of the Google Earth Updater Dialog in Mac OS X

Did you mysteriously start getting what look like a malware popup in Mac OS X for Google Earth—software you might have forgotten you ever installed? 

Updated: I‘ve written a more detailed article about this that’s now up at Macworld. The tl;dr—if you‘re comfortable with the Terminal—copy and paste the following line, and enter your password when prompted to get rid of the Google software update without affecting any installed Google: software. (Note that's two hyphens before “nuke.”)

./Library/Google/GoogleSoftwareUpdate/GoogleSoftwareUpdate.bundle/Contents/Resources/ksinstall --nuke

Take Control of Slack Basics! First Chapters Free

Read Chapter 1, Introducing Slack, and Chapter 2, Getting Started with Slack, at TidBITS, free.

I've been using Slack for a year, and fell in love with it right away. It's part of my flow of communication with publications with which I work and part of the social fabric I share with fellow nerds on a podcast network and other writers. Slack is group chat with searchable history, plus a lot more.

This love led me to write Take Control of Slack Basics, a book that arose from my interest in understanding the details of Slack, which has a very nice Web app and well-designed native apps for all major platforms. I kept learning new tricks and discovering them, and thought that I could pull this all together for people whose workplaces, social groups, academic institutions, or other organizations had decided to use Slack—and they felt lost or undertrained in making the most of it. (By the way: This book was written independently of Slack, which didn't influence or endorse its contents.)

This book is for people who want to use Slack better, want to get started in Slack and aren't sure it's for them or their group, or have been told at work that they will use Slack and want to get up to speed.

One of the most important things about Slack is keeping it quiet. It's got a lot of features to help notify you of messages and conversations, but it also increasingly has options that keep it less talky, including a "do not disturb" mode introduced towards the end of 2015.

You can read the first two chapters of my book free at TidBITS, the publishers of the Take Control series. I've finished writing the book, and we're working through technical edits (checking details) and regular editing, and syndicating the remaining 10 chapters to TidBITS subscribing members. (Members get syndicated book chapters plus discounts on all sorts of Mac and iPhone/iPad-related products.)

I'll make an announcement when the book ships in a few weeks, but, for now, you can read the first two chapters!

Here's the full table of contents:

Chapter 1, Introducing Slack
Chapter 2, Getting Started with Slack
Chapter 3, Master the Interface
Chapter 4, Post Basic Messages
Chapter 5, Go Beyond Basic Messages
Chapter 6, Work with Channels
Chapter 7, Message Directly
Chapter 8, Configure Notifications
Chapter 9, Search Effectively
Chapter 10, Manage Bots and Integrations
Chapter 11, Be Productive in Slack
Chapter 12, Start a Team

Twitter tips for those who already use Twitter

Even long-term Twitter users are sometimes unaware of a few useful conventions and features. I’ve compiled several into this short post.

Thread multiple tweets of your own

I had been on Twitter since the stone ages—2007!—before I realized I could thread my own tweets. That is, make them appear as a series of messages in a sequence of my choosing. While by the time I learned this (from Ed Bott), Twitter had offered conversation threading for years, I hadn’t realized my own tweets could likewise be put in sequence.

It’s easy to do:

  1. Post a tweet.
  2. Reply to that tweet in whatever software you use.
  3. If the reply includes your handle, remove your handle. (Twitter.com and many third-party clients remove or select your handle to avoid this.)
  4. For your next message, reply to the tweet you just posted in reply.
  5. Repeat.

You can still number your tweetstorms, but you don’t have to—people can read in sequence just by selecting any tweet in the thread.

Don’t start with an @ to reach everyone

The @-mention convention was invented by users, like so much in Twitter. But Twitter incorporated it in a particular way. If you start a tweet with an @, only the recipient and all common followers between you see it by default. That is, “@jcenters You, my friend, are a genius” will only reach @jcenters and anyone who follows both Josh and me.

This can be confusing if you’re trying to “hat tip” someone (see below) and want to put their handle first. Better to put handles at the end of a message, or precede the message with a period or a tilde (~), which allows everyone who follows you to see the message.

Disable retweets from prolific retweeters

People who retweet a lot, like yours truly, can be annoying. But while you can use Twitter and third-party client mute features to suppress someone’s handle (and with third-party software keywords and other things) and block to disable them on your timeline entirely, Twitter also includes a function to stop seeing retweets made by a given user.

The most reliable place to manage this from is Twitter.com:

  1. Go to the profile page of a user.
  2. Click the gear icon next to the Follow/Following/Unfollow button at right.
  3. Select Turn Off Retweets.

It can reduce the seeming volume you get from someone who you want in your timeline, without their stream of including other people’s tweets.

Common Twitter abbreviations you may not know

Many of these are also used in texting, but if you’re not a frequent texter, Twitter may be the first place you encounter them.

TIL: That TIL means “Today I Learned”—it’s a shortcut to introduce something you discovered. (It comes from Reddit, I’ve been told.)

tbh, tfw, idk: to be honest, that feel when (how you feel when something happened), I don’t know

H/T or HT: Hat tip—a credit to someone who inspired or referred you to the resource you’re tweeting about.

MT: Modified tweet, used when you rewrite a tweet slightly to fit into the 140-character limit when trying to retweet it and comment on it at the same time. The new Twitter quote feature is better: you can reference a tweet and have that full tweet show along with your own message.

Glow Little Forge, Glimmer, Glimmer

I'm long past the point in my life where I want more stuff. My goal is less stuff and more creativity—more exploration of making ideas and things without accruing more material objects. This comes after watching my parents shed their house and pare down and do more paring over time; my mother passing away, leading to my dad going through her stuff; then my dad finding a new partner and marrying and helping her comb through her house, bring her stuff west, and then move to a smaller house they bought together. And my in-laws going through a move a few years ago that required sorting through decades of meaningful possessions.

Lynn and I probably own less, even with two kids in the house, than we have at any point in the last decade. I no longer even need much office furniture, because most of the stuff I had used to be for filing and managing paper in some form.

Which is why it may be odd that I'm about to buy a relatively large object that costs a few thousand bucks.

Glowforge white background.jpg

My friends at Glowforge (Dan Shapiro, a founder, and Dean Putney, our mutual friend, who is a programmer) just announced something they've been working on for months. It's a relatively inexpensive laser cutter. While computer-controlled laser cutters have been around for years, there's never been one at the price point they're offering it—starting at $4,000 list, and 50% off that during a pre-order stage right now. (It ships in December.)

They used software to substitute for hardware, which is increasingly common. Instead of expensive parts, a camera and cleverness can produce results to the desired degree of precision. They also are offering a very high degree of control over beam intensity, which allows engraving and etching all the way down to cutting. The camera in the unit automatically recognizes lots of materials, and streams a picture of what it's doing while it's engaged in its task. (It also takes a picture of you when you open the bay when it's done!)

It can cut and engrave a huge range of materials: paper, metal, stone, acrylic, leather…and chocolate, nori, and other foods. Watch the video and browse the site. It's amazing.

When Dan first showed me a video months ago of what Glowforge would do, I was genuinely blown away. I'm an old, cynical, grizzled tech veteran. I've seen so many useless products that are hammers in search of nails. There's little I've seen introduced in recent years that I feel is truly useful. It may be more efficient, more fun, smaller, and so forth. But Glowforge falls into a different category: it's a creativity amplifier, whether for personal hobbies or for professional purposes.

Many hand crafts involve a lot of drudgery. I've learned many of them earlier in life. I made houses for my model railroad. I did shop class and theater arts, and can sew and build sets. I was a typesetter (both hand and digital), and letterpress printer. I was an art major in graphic design and spent a lot of time working with my hands to create things.

Many of the things I've been interested in, and many parts of arts and crafts, involve repetitive cutting from templates or precise placement of holes or removals. This work often requires enormous training, but the point is to produce a precisely, often identical result. The work represents typically taking and working with those repetitive elements.

I found my aptitude lies in digital things. My hand and eye coordination are such that I put tens of thousands of hours into working on computer-aided design, compared to thousands on hand work.

Glowforge is a glue between my digital and analog interests. It's an amplifier, in that it lets me focus my hand abilities on the stuff that's most interesting, while using a digitally connected tool to bypass the frustrating part that I never mastered or don't have the time (and, honestly, often the interest) in mastering—because the outcome is making something that's better made by a machine. It removes none of the creativity for the kinds of things I'm interested in.

I'm getting one and I can't wait to start taking half-formed ideas in my head and turn them into meaningful work. This is the same feeling I had when I bought a mirrorless digital camera a few years ago: it recaptured so much of the joy and control I had with analog, but bolstered me up, too.

(If you use my referral URL, you get $100 off on the pre-order price, and I get a $100 rebate, too.)

How Air Conditioning Works

On the occasion three years ago of the 110th anniversary of the recognized invention of the modern form of air conditioning, I wrote this little historical/modern explainer about how heat-exchange and air-conditioning systems work for the Economist. Yes, the terrible title, "It's the Humidity," is all mine.

But I was trying to explain to Rex, age 8, this morning how air conditioning worked. I tried a bunch of explanations and metaphors, but this one stuck.

Imagine you have a pool that's 90°F. There is an endless line of swimmers who have a natural resting temperature of 60°F waiting to jump in. Each time one jumps in, they warm up to the pool temperature, and the pool, by necessity, gives up some of its energy to each swimmer, becoming cooler. The swimmer is then shot out through a chute, the friction of which warms them up even more. They stand in front of fan that cools them back to 60°F. Then they get back in the pool.

This is more or less it. A heat-exchange system has a coolant that has a low boiling point, so it's easy to manipulate it to absorb heat and shift from a liquid to a gas and vice versa, as well as varying pressure in gaseous and liquid states. The idea is that a fan takes in hot air, runs it across coils that absorb the heat, cooling the air, while circulating the heated coolant to an outside radiator or with a fan that helps vent the heat outside.

As with most things related to temperature change, it's a funny thing. Is "cold air" something real or is it reducing the temperature of air in its vicinity?

 

Over the Air, PVR, with a Rube Goldberg on Top

I can watch live and recorded TV on my Apple TV! It's very simple.

I installed an Ethernet-connected TV tuner from SiliconDust called HDHomeRun. It's plugged into a digital TV antenna on our roof. Then I use Elgato's eyeTV software on a Mac on the network to schedule and record over-the-air (OTA) programming.

That Mac is downstairs; our TV is upstairs. When I want to watch TV, I just:

The bizarre thing is this whole sequence works.

Giant towers broadcast digital signals that we capture a time slice of and convert into another digital format which are stored on a drive and then streamed over a Wi-Fi network to a mobile device that pushes it over Wi-Fi to tiny box that's connected to an HDTV.

It's as easy as 1, 2, 3…4, 5, 6, 7…8, 9, uh, 10, 11.

Everything Is Mildly Broken, Part X of Many

Working on my new Mac mini, everything froze. Moments passed. The mouse resumed action. The screen went black. Then a login screen appeared. At least it didn't fully crash, but it took a good 20 minutes before all the apps had recovered—longer than a reboot for whatever internal reason.

I'm working on my iPhone and the screen goes blank and then the Apple logo appears. The springboard crashed. This happens every couple of days.

My Apple Watch won't show apps that appear as installed via the Watch app. I installed 1.0.1. A bunch of icon previews (the outlines) show up on the Watch. Time passes. Everything rights itself.

In the morning, I pick up my watch and try to unlock it via my phone. It doesn't work. I tap in the Watch unlock code on its face, and it's lost the connection with the phone. Again. Even though the phone is right there

This isn't how it was supposed to be. It isn't how it was.

Comcasterrific: Bills, Plans, and Caps

A few months ago, I noticed that Comcast had raised its $5/month modem rental fee to $13/month. Normally, I don't rent hardware of any kind, but when I started with this one, it was at least a couple hundred dollars, and cheaper to rent. Plus, Comcast guaranteed it would work. So I called Comcast to find out what modems were compatible, bought one for $80 and had someone there activate it for me and remove the rental charge. My wife returned the modem for me and got a receipt.

And then the charge appeared the next month and the one after. Comcast doesn't do email-based support, and their phone tree is terrible. I am disconnected after choosing options more times than not. Maybe 90% of the time I call. So I complain on Twitter, where they're responsive. Someone apologized, took the charges off, and credited me $20. Fine.

I just checked my bill in the process of looking at speed options. I'm tired of getting 3 Mbps upstream as I do now, as I have a lot of data to ship to the cloud. 3 Mbps is absurd in a developed country. Other lands have 20 Mbps or 100 Mbps symmetrical at rates lower than I pay for 16/3 Mbps, even when the overall cost of living is substantially higher.

And Comcast had charged me a rental again. I also found that I'm paying $60/month, but my account said for $62/month I should be getting 25/5.

I again went to Twitter, and someone there took care of the charge. I'll have to check again next month because Comcast. (Comcast's brand promise: Our bill is never right and there's no consequence of any kind for us being wrong.)

I have "business-class" Comcast, because I moved an office a few years ago, and Comcast has a 75% cancellation penalties on unused parts of a contract. This should probably be illegal, and if challenged, maybe it would be thrown out. But at the time, Comcast had a 300GB/month usage limited, and I'd exceeded it in testing backup services.

I was able to bring the business service home, and only pay about $10/month more. It was a good tradeoff for having no cap on usage. When I did the transition, I routinely saw 15 to 25 Mbps downstream and 5 to 15 up. Now they are much more careful at shaping traffic, even though their overall capacity can mostly allow much higher usage during non-peak hours.

The customer rep I was talking with on Twitter noted I could switch to residential service and get much higher speeds for the same money. I said, yes, but you're testing overage fees in some markets, and I don't have those now. The person agreed if I were concerned about that, I had the best service for now.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Missouri, where Google Fiber has one of its few operations, 1 Gbps up and down—symmetrical service—is $70 per month, no limits. Elsewhere in Seattle, where our telco is lightly building out gigabit service, it's $80 with a bundle and has no caps. In my neighborhood, they promise "up to" 40 Mbps downstream DSL for $30/month, but other neighbors report getting below 10 Mbps.

Comcast said before the FCC announced its regulatory change for Internet service earlier this year that such a change would affect its investment plans. Then a few weeks later (before its merger with Time-Warner Cable was called off days ago), Comcast said it will push 2 Gbps service to be available to 18 million households by the end of 2015 and 1 Gbps to almost all its service territory by the end of 2016.

I'll soon be paying less, getting more, or both. But all of this just demonstrates the necessity of competition, the broken nature of Internet service in America, and why other countries got it right before we did.

For now, I think I'll find a gigabit café to upload my photos.