Categories
Books Libraries Reading

Reading Books in 2022

In a post last week, David Sparks (MacSparky) wrote about his book purchasing and consuming choices. David’s post motivated me to share some of my approaches to reading – which I’ve been doing a lot of during this Covid era. Here we go…

  • eBooks make highlighting easy – Like David, I prefer reading most books on either my Kindle Paperwhite or in the Kindle app on my iPhone or iPad rather than reading a paper book. Amazon has made the Kindle “ecosystem” seamlessly available on all of my devices. I’m a big fan of using highlighting on Kindle and I can move from device to device continuing to read the same book while my highlights are captured online in the Amazon cloud. I have found that highlighting in a digital book is so much better than the old school way of highlighting paper books.
  • After finishing a book – When I finish a book, I can easily download my highlights from the Amazon cloud and save them in my digital journal where they’re easily searchable – along with my comments on the book. Highlights made in a paper book aren’t nearly as useful as those highlights are left buried on the paper pages of the book and not readily searchable or re-discoverable. There are also services like Readwise which can make use of your highlights and remind you of them on a daily basis.
  • Text vs Audio – Sometimes, but not often, I’ll use Audible to get an audio book version of a title I think I’ll want to “read” in the car or in my headphones while traveling, etc. Since I like to highlight, audio can be problematic for that so much of the time I’m actually reading and not listening to books.
  • Libraries not booksellers – With the Libby app on my iPhone I can checkout an eBook from a local library and then download it to my Kindle. A few years ago I made some trips around the Bay Area to pickup library cards from various local libraries. In California, you can get a library card if you’re a California resident – even if you’re not a resident in the local area of the library. Having multiple library cards is especially useful when using the Libby app to search for books in electronic form. Libby makes it easy to see which local library might have a particular book available or, if not immediately available, where the hold time might be shortest. I’ve found that some local libraries are much more responsive to eBook requests than others with my holds often being satisfied very quickly – especially for the most popular titles.
  • Downsides – While there are a lot of pros to my approach but it’s not without downsides. The biggest is that by relying primarily on reading eBooks rather than paper books I’m not often supporting my local bookseller with book purchases. I also frequently used to donate physical books after reading them to local libraries – something that’s not possible with eBooks.

I have some similar processes for managing the rest of my daily reading. At some point, I’ll share what I’ve learned from doing so.

Categories
Musings

Electricity

Electricity – just flip a switch and the light comes on. Is that battery on your mobile phone running low? Plug it into a charger. Such a simple thing – electricity – we’ve come to just assume it’s there and it works.

But sometimes I wonder whether we as a country can get our electricity act together – or not. I’m not suggesting government actions are the desired solution – but we’re clearly lacking something and paying a price as a result – and likely to pay an even bigger price given the forecasts.

Two recent examples from this morning’s press:

  • In California, the Independent System Operator (responsible for managing all of California’s electricity market), is warning that “it anticipates a shortfall in supplies this summer, especially if extreme heat, wildfires or delays in bringing new power sources online exacerbate the constraints.” In a Wall St. Journal story headlined “Electricity Shortage Warnings Grow Across U.S.”, writer Katherine Blunt notes that “the risk of electricity shortages is rising throughout the U.S. as traditional power plants are being retired more quickly than they can be replaced by renewable energy and battery storage.” Beyond California, grid operators in the midwest and Texas have also recently warned about supply issues expected when summer demand kicks up. Ironically, another headline on the same page as Blunt’s story reads “High Winds Fuel Spring Wildfires in New Mexico.” High winds, how about that?
  • In a story in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle titled “California wants more electric cars. But many public chargers don’t work“, writer Julie Johnson writes that “more than a quarter of public charging stations in the Bay Area don’t work…” The survey she cites didn’t include Tesla charging stations “because those are only available to Tesla drivers.” Apparently the issues aren’t just broken kiosks but other problems like kiosks “blocked by a parked car with a sleeping man inside.” Good grief.

In a society that can’t function without electricity – and which is transitioning toward even more reliance on electricity for electric cars, trains and even airplanes – these problems with electricity supply and distribution are important issues that can’t be ignored.

Categories
Applications Drafts iOS iPad iPadOS iPhone Mac Productivity Tools Utilities

Drafts – a tool for idea capture

I’ve been using this handy utility for a few years now – but increasingly so over the last year. It’s kind of magical in the functionality it provides. While there are other good note taking apps – including Apple’s Notes app – Drafts is especially useful for capturing spur of the moment ideas for later processing. The developer describes Drafts as “where text starts. Quickly capture text and send it almost anywhere.”

Because Drafts is available everywhere in the Apple ecosystem – Mac, iPad, iPhone and Watch – it’s universally available whenever you need it. Apple Notes is mostly everywhere – but weirdly not on the Watch.

The way that Drafts works is simple but takes a bit of learning to grow accustomed to using it regularly. When you open Drafts on the Mac or iOS/iPadOS, it opens as a blank note – waiting for you to enter something. It’s designed for that quick capture – type in some text – or dictate it – and away you go. Sometime later you can come back to Drafts and review all of the notes you’ve captured – and decide what you want to do with each one.

I’ve put a complication for Drafts on my Apple Watch face so that with one tap I can open Drafts and begin capturing an idea using dictation on the Watch. After I’ve captured my idea, Drafts on the Watch will sync the note containing my new idea via iCloud and make it available to Drafts apps running on my other devices – Mac, iPhone, or iPad – where I can open it later and decide what to do with it. For example, if I have an idea for an email I need to send or a blog post I want to write, I can capture those initial thoughts using Drafts and later go back and “revise and extend” those thoughts as I choose – and then send that final version of the text out via email or into my blog application. It doesn’t get any handier.

Drafts has a number of additional features that continue to evolve as the developer releases new versions and as members of the Drafts community contribute actions and themes which extend the functionality of the app.

Drafts is no youngster – this month the developer is celebrating the app’s 10th anniversary. The app is available for free – but the advanced features require a Pro subscription which is available on a special deal this month (through April 2022) for $4.99 for the first year.

I’m a big fan of Drafts – and a Pro subscriber. It’s become a regular part of my daily tech life. I’m such a fan that I just wanted to highlight how useful it is to me – thus this post – which itself began on Drafts! Perhaps you’ll find Drafts a useful tool as well if you’re an Apple user.

Categories
Books Living Musings

Turning Off the Braindead Megaphone

Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Way back in 2007, author George Saunders published his first book of essays with the curious title of The Braindead Megaphone. In the title essay, he describes going to a very enjoyable party where the guests are all having a great time – until another guy shows up with a megaphone in his hands and starts talking about random stuff – like how the flowers bloom in early springtime and more. The megaphone guy’s stupid voice drowns out the many otherwise enjoyable conversations being had among the guests.

I read that essay for the first time a few weeks ago – and found it to be a beautiful reminder of the influence that loud voices can have on us and on how we feel. For me, TV news has become that megaphone guy ruining the party. Who needs that?

In his latest book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, Saunders writes about how a writer can be likened to a music producer sitting in front of one of those big mixing boards connected to many different microphones picking up the sounds of the many instruments and voices. The mixing board has rows of fader switches to adjust the sound coming from those many different sources – the music producer uses those faders to “mix” those sounds into the final production.

Photo by Drew Patrick Miller on Unsplash

Saunders writes that “a story can be thought of as a version of that mixing board, only with thousands of fader switches on it—thousands of decision points.” The author’s role is to adjust the levels of those faders to create the best story. Doing so, Saunders counsels, involves a repetitive revision process – “going through a story again and again, microtuning the adjustment of the existing fader switches…” to make the story the best it can be.

Saunders’ mixing board is a metaphor for life – for how we go through our days, constantly adjusting up or down the many inputs that make up our daily experiences. Choosing to play a video game involves cranking up that fader switch while turning down other activities competing for our time. Taking a photowalk to help refocus and experience the world differently is another mixing board adjustment. So many other inputs are part of that big mixing board of our life.

Each day our mixing board gets tweaked – hopefully producing pleasing “music” that’s delightful to us. But some days there may be a cacophony of sounds (experiences) instead – with our mixing board somehow mis-adjusted and out of whack. That’s when it’s time to step back and re-examine our inputs and re-adjust them – or to find new ones to add to our mix or to eliminate others.

About a year ago I made a choice for my life mixing board – choosing to eliminate the input of television news. I turned the volume completely down on my mental mixing board, choosing to eliminate that input from my life. My choice to do so resulted mostly from my frustrations with the events occurring in our country during that time – events that I couldn’t influence and which I didn’t need to have repeated over and over again. So I flipped that switch and the TV news was gone.

One other thought. Many years ago I remember the book titled Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson. While the content of the book was a bit over my head, that title has always stuck with me. What are the steps that might lead to an improved ecology of my mind? A year ago eliminating television news as a regular input in my life was one of those steps. One that has worked out very well for me.

Categories
Books Living Music Photography

Life is a Contact Sheet

Happy New Year! Let’s work towards better outcomes in 2022 than we had in 2021! Like most I’m looking forward to leaving 2021 behind and excited about what the future could bring! Now onward to my first post of this new year!

While away for the Thanksgiving holiday I started watching the Beatles’ Get Back documentary on Disney+ while in a garage in Sonoma county. We had gone away with family and this spot was a great escape for the Thanksgiving weekend. Sometimes the place where you watch a TV show or read a book becomes it’s own memory riding alongside the show or the book in your mind.

Get Back is the remastered version by Peter Jackson that looks and sounds really good – especially given the vintage of the film that it’s based on.

Recently I was on a morning walk listening to the Holiday Special edition of the In The Hive podcast with Joe Hagen and Emily Jane Fox. Joe hosts a great segment talking to Don Was of Bluenote Records about the therapeutic beauty of listening to jazz music (especially in these Covid times). Don commented about the Beatles’ Get Back documentary – about how fascinating it was to see the Beatles working through their creative process – oh so many takes! – before they get to their final result. It was quite interesting to see them working and collaborating together – and just how much time and effort was involved in their creative process.

While I was listening to Joe and Don talking about Get Back, their comments brought to mind that Get Back is really just another metaphor for what photographers know as a contact sheet – the capture of all of the images which are winnowed down to get to a final image choice or two – or sometimes none at all.

Here’s an example of a photographer’s contact sheet:

Magnum has a wonderful book of contact sheets from many of its great photographers. When you leaf through that book you realize just how the creative process takes to work and image and reach the photographer’s ideal result.

But isn’t that process of iteration fundamental to any creative pursuit? Writing, photography, music, you name it. And, isn’t that iteration process what living itself involves? Once in a while we see the iterative steps in action when artists like the Beatles or the Magnum photographers share a behind the scenes look at how they got to their final work product. Those are special learning opportunities worth paying attention to!

Watch Get Back and you’ll find it fascinating but also a bit frustrating to see just how many steps can be required! You can see the same kind of process when you browse through Magnum’s Contact Sheets!

Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.

Dale Carnegie

Science seldom proceeds in the straightforward logical manner imagined by outsiders.

James D. Watson
Categories
Family Living Memories

Carl J. Loftesness – 100 years

My Dad was born on Dec 31, 1921 – exactly 100 years ago today. He passed away at the age of 88 but left us with so many great memories of good times shared with all our family. It’s a great day to remember all he did for us along the way as we keep him in our hearts.

This photo is one of my favorites. I was too young to remember the moment but I will always remember the bike and my Dad’s joy in getting me to ride it so many years ago!

Carl and Scott Loftesness

Categories
Christmas Main Dishes Pork Recipes

Merry Christmas 2021!

Christmas Morning – Sharon Park

Merry Christmas! Even in these Covid times in late 2021 we celebrate this special holiday – although with a much, much smaller get together of family and friends!

This morning’s walk at Sharon Park was beautiful with low clouds, early morning sun and still air. A restful respite in between recent rains with more rolling in later today.

For today’s Christmas dinner we are making one of our favorite recipes: Scott’s Favorite Slow Roasted Chipotle Pork. I first posted this recipe back in 2005 – over 15 years ago. We’ve made it many times over the years since. Slow roasting is perfect for those days when you just want a dinner that’s very tasty but super easy to prepare. It’s always been a hit with our guests too. This year pork prices have spiked (what inflation?) but even so pork shoulder is perhaps the least expensive main meat course you can make.

Last night for Christmas Eve we had cracked Dungeness crab (from Cook’s Seafood) with sourdough bread and melted butter. A real San Francisco Bay Area holiday treat!

Best wishes for a wonderful Christmas!

Categories
Blogs/Weblogs

Happy Anniversary -and- Thanksgiving!

Today is the 20th anniversary of the start of my personal blog here using the sjl.us domain. It all began on November 25, 2001.

In my first post, I wrote about Amazon having free U.S. shipping on orders over $99 (that’s changed since then!). In a second post that day, I wrote about an article in the San Francisco Chronicle talking about why writers enjoy living in the San Francisco Bay Area (I wonder whether that’s changed – given the current cost of living, etc. in this area!).

I had played around earlier creating a personal web page (using an early Microsoft web page editor named Front Page) but when I started this edition on November 25, 2001 I was using Radio Userland (built on Dave Winer’s Frontier). Sometime later I migrated it to TypePad and later again to WordPress.

It’s somehow appropriate that this 20th anniversary is also Thanksgiving Day here I. The United States!

Categories
iPhone 12 Pro Max Photography Photography Workflow

Mornings at Sharon Park

During these hopefully late stages of pandemic life I’ve been doing a regular morning walk around Sharon Park and the pond.

Last week the City of Menlo Park drained and cleaned the pond. It’s looking fresh again after a summer with some algae growth.

The last couple of early mornings have been foggy which adds a moodiness to the scene. And it’s usually pretty quiet early in the morning!

I’ve recently shared on Instagram a couple of photos taken on these recent morning walks. These photos have been post-processed using the iPhone Photos app along with DistressedFX+ and Snapseed. These apps have become my usual workflow for processing on my iPhone. These tools are quick and easy to use plus they help add some drama and a painterly effect to the images.

Categories
Books Living

Life in these United States

woman in white long sleeve shirt standing near white and gray house during daytime
Photo by Julian Jagtenberg on Pexels.com

A couple of commentaries I read today really brought home to me some of what’s happening to life in these United States. Both of these articles strike me as like the other:

Zen and the Art of #VanLife Influencing

The problem of getting old is an old problem, which means there are plenty of established ways of coping. The new problem, the one harder to deal with, is the diminishing possibilities for our species. Settling down means something different now, because there is no long term. The best one can hope for is a temporary pocket of equilibrium, to be enjoyed while it lasts, and then mercilessly abandoned. …

I grew up in Portland, and I love it. Here’s why I’m never moving back, even though I can work from anywhere.

…what links the vanlifers, the influencers and the get-rich-quick kids isn’t laziness or dreams of going viral, but rather a sense of precarity that they see all around them, whether in campgrounds filled with the homeless, in the ongoing climate disasters and now in a pandemic that has isolated them from their friends. …

In other news, I’ve recently discovered Ted Kooser (thanks to the By the Book profile of author William Kent Krueger in last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review). Kooser’s known for his plainsong poetry about the Great Plains. I’m really enjoying his prose – in particular his great memoir about life in rural Nebraska: Local Wonders. Highly recommended – his evocative sentences are a real delight to read!

Contrary to what out-of-state tourists might tell you, Nebraska isn’t  flat but slightly tilted, like a long church basement table with the legs on one end not perfectly snapped in place, not quite enough of a slant for the tuna-and-potato-chip casserole to slide off into the Missouri River. The high end is closest to the Rockies, and the entire state is made up of gravel, sand, and silt that ran off the front range over millions of years. …