Dispatch from the Trenches #9

Michael Salisbury’s Images of Apocalyptic Fog Over Chicago


Though the Polar Vortex reared its ugly head across Chicago this past winter, it brought with it something incredibly beautiful if not apocalyptic–lots of fog. Fog can always make for great images, and that’s what photographer Michael Salisbury was able to do. According to a Chicago Tribune article, the fog that was over Chicago back in June of this year was a direct result of the Polar Vortex. Lake Michigan was frozen over for much of the vortex and as a result the water temperature was much cooler than normal. When you combine this with warm air above, it creates lots of fog.

It reminds me of some foggy days we have in Richmond, VA years ago.

Vanishing Point

DuckTales Theme Song With Real Ducks

This is adorable.

I’m Good – Curious Rat

I’m trying to be less reachable. I enjoy checking Twitter throughout the day, but on my schedule. I love that I have numerous ways to communicate with people all over the world, but only when I want to. When I come home, I like to leave my phone on my desk and spend time with my wife and son. Let the notifications chime. Let the calls buzz. I can’t hear them and I love it that way.

I know I’m in the minority when it comes to tech. I want just enough to get my work done without it getting in my way.

I love this perspective and agree with it. Tech is a tool. It should work for me. As I step away from it, I don’t want it to follow me. I want to dip in and interact on my terms.

In my life, it should not be always-on. If that’s what you want, great. Do it! It’s not for me. So I’ve taken steps to turn it off or ignore it.

NYC through a window

Hello, and welcome to “Yes, I Remember and I Don’t Need to Relive It” day

Cut to Carl, bleary-eyed, on the 6th (top) floor of the Department of Labor.

Walking to the café there, I glanced out the window to see the Washington Monument in the distance. With a plane flying across the horizon line. The sun was hidden by clouds but desperately trying to come out.

I noticed of the half-dozen flags flying atop nearby building. They were all at half mast. And I was confused.

I knew the president made an address last night. I didn’t hear of anything new on Twitter this morning. No attacks. I couldn’t think of this as a holiday. Or a special observance for anyone famous.

Metro was a ghost town this morning.

I got my breakfast and caffeine and returned to my desk. Logging in and looking over my calendar, I saw 9/11. And thought. Oh. Really? Is this what all that’s about?

If you were affected personally by the events of that terrible day, I feel for you. And I am sorry. I am sorry you lost someone. I am sorry you have to relive it every moment when they’re not around.

When it happened, I was in college. I was awaken by a roommate pounding on my door and yelling to turn on CNN. I did just as the second plane crashed into the tower.

I spent the rest of the day in shock. Missing class to attend events on campus and try to deal with my feelings.

My dad’s office is right next to Dulles airport. I was afraid for him. If a plane went down short of the airport, it could very easily crash on/near his building.

Thankfully, it did not. My mother and brother were in Virginia Beach, far away from it. I was in Richmond, VA.

Today doesn’t hold a special place in my heart personally. I knew and know people who lost friends, family members and others either in the Pentagon or in New York. It’s a terrible thing.

I have no room to tell you how to feel or how to act. How to remember or commemorate this day. But for me, it’s a Thursday. I don’t say this to take anything away from those who lost people, responded, or fight in the military. You are strong and brave people. Braver and stronger than I.

I love you and I thank you.


Tiny: A Review About Living Small

Tiny: A Story About Living Small

Rating: ★

I’m interested in the tiny house movement. I think the idea of casting away most of the junk that fills our homes and storage units is admirable and pleasant. This may be taking it to an extreme but I thought this would be a good intro and look into the world.

It wasn’t.

photo of the tiny house from tine-themovie.com

I enjoyed hearing about the motivations and desires of the tiny house dwellers interviewed. However, the main person in the story built a house because. Because he was bored? Because he had nothing better to do? Because he wanted to?

I don’t really know. It came off as I built this house because I had nothing better to do and it sounded like a good challenge. It’s a DYI Project Turned Documentary. It would have been better if it were a series of interview clips with people about the hows and why of their tiny homes. I wish the main person would have gone into detail at all about his tiny house.

  • What challenges did he face?
  • How did he overcome them?
  • Did he overcome them?
  • Is living in the tiny house all he hoped it would/could be?
  • Is he happy he worked on the project?
  • Does he live in the house full-time?

I don’t feel like I learned anything watching the documentary. It was a story of a bored man who wanted to build something and film it.

Since I was interested, I did visit the film’s website and saw an update about them two years later. This was written in May 2014.

Christopher, the main person in the documentary lived there full-time for 10 months.

Christopher lived in the Tiny House full-time from June 2013 through March 2014 (minus the month of January, when we was in Los Angeles helping a friend with a film project). When asked whether it’s what he expected, he always laughs and says it was surprisingly easy to live in such a small space. The only big challenge was living without running water. Because the land in Hartsel didn’t have access to water, we didn’t build plumbing into the house and hauled water in. So he showered mostly at the gym (an excellent motivation to work out!) The house is still located in this spot, in a very generous friend’s backyard on a rise just east of Boulder, Colorado, with an incredible view of the Continental Divide. Though my life is mostly rooted in New York these days, I’ve been back to visit quite a few times and stayed in the house for a few weeks when Christopher was out of town this winter.

Now, the house sit empty in the backyard of a very generous friend.

So as I suspected, this was a one-off project and not a lifestyle choice. It was more about the film than about the house or the lifestyle. Which is fine. That was his goal and he’s happy with it. But it’s not what I wanted when I sat down to watch the documentary.

If you want to watch it, you can stream it from Netflix.

For more information, check out the official website.

Update: My friend Reesa pointed me to Small is Beautiful: A Tiny House Documentary. It’s another documentary about tiny houses that’s now in-production and looking for money to finish. While I have no finished product to judge, this appears to be a documentary from people who want to build a tiny house and live there. I’m hoping it will be what I didn’t get out of Tiny.

If you’re in the Washington DC area, you can RSVP to visit Boneyard Studios. A tiny house community. I missed the most recent open house the weekend I moved. But there is a form to RSVP for their next open house.


Mark Down will make you a great deal on formatted text

New Rule For the Internet: Let’s not get overly worked up over things that won’t matter in 24 hours.

It’s a rule I’m trying to live by more. It is very easy to get pulled into the Internet Outrage Machine™. Everyday there is something absurd to get all worked up over. Then, the next day, it won’t matter to anyone. This is also why I do not cover tech news on this site. There is no point in speculating over upcoming hardware. We’ll see what it is when it’s released. I stay out of petty internet drama.

The latest drama took over Twitter yesterday. And within the course of the day, the cause of the drama was resolved. It would have been much quieter if the two people involved would have worked things out privately. But that’s not how the internet works.

I tease my wife for watching The Real Housewives of ______ or Keeping Up With The Kardashians. But this week I was reminded, nerds are no better when it comes to drama. One guy invented Markdown, a way to style plain text. He made it a decade ago and hasn’t done much with it since.

As a result, there are a number of implementations of it. Adding or changing different parts of it to suit the needs of the different groups of people.

Well, a group of well-meaning people got together and decided to create a version called Standard Markdown. This made the creator, John Gruber, unhappy and got a lot of nerds up in a tizzy. Many words were written. Sides were taken

I summed it up like this.

Joe Rosensteel has a nice piece about what this is all about.

Standard – This is like telling everyone you’re cool. “Hi everyone, I’m Cool Joe! Come hang out with me!” Congratulations on jinxing yourself? The iPhone is not called “Standard Phone”. Also, as I’ve established above, this is only standard in name only. A few guys made this in secret to scratch their own itch.
Markdown – Lots of things use “Markdown” as part of the name of their implementation of Markdown. The Python library I’m using does this. It’s usually not paired with “Standard”, “Official”, “One and Only”, or “Legal” to imply it holds some special place. This is, after-all, a fork.

As he notes, the name has already been changed from Standard to Common Markdown to comply with the creator’s wishes.

Joe makes a great point.

For someone that says he loves Markdown, Jeff doesn’t seem to understand anything about why it is popular. Or why attempts to rein in the wild sprawl are bound to fail.

See how silly all of this already has gotten? Did you follow this?

The problem is one group of people wanted to do something. They asked the creator’s opinion on it. Since they didn’t get a response, they assumed no response was an OK to move forward. The creator, John Gruber, asked for three things.

  • Rename the project.
  • Shut down the standardmarkdown.com domain, and don’t redirect it.
  • Apologize.

All three have been done. No harm, no foul. At the end of the day, adults were adult about the situation.

But I have to ask, why did this become a public spectacle? Jeff Atwood and John Gruber could have sorted things out behind closed email clients.

But it was public.

I would absolutely be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention Sid O’Neill‘s post on the topic.

A Tale of Two Markdowns

“Oh, Sir Knight,” said she, “I am come bearing sad tidings from the fair Lady Markdown. Her Lord, the evil giant Gruber, has kept her imprisoned for ten years, to great lament. She wishes her freedom, and calls for a brave knight to rescue her.”

Then did Sir Atwood take heart, for he saw that here was a quest deserving of his mettle. Turning to his companions he bade them prepare themselves for the journey. With them as they travelled they took a cart filled with Standards, pulled by two white palfreys. They would need these if they were to defeat the giant.

The troubles that Sir Atwood and his noble band suffered as they journeyed are too many to set down here, but suffice to say that at length they arrived at the castle wherein the evil Gruber made his abode.

Tech drama as medieval tale should be the new standard for tech drama reporting.

Reality TV has nothing on the drama nerds can create on Twitter about something like plain text formatting. Yes, this is the kind of thing nerds get upset about. Insane, isn’t it?


Dispatch from the Trenches #8

XKCD is the only web comic I’ve managed to be continually challenged and delighted by every single time I read it. Today’s is no exception.


When you’re finished reading, hold your mouse over the screen and wait for the alt text to appear. It adds to the comic.

Read the Alt Text.

Josh Ginter’s reviews are like tasty roast chicken for the eyes. The photography is beautiful and the writing thoughtful. His latest review of Overcast is one such experience. His views on Overcast mirror my own. I’ve used it since it was released and haven’t looked back. The Smart Speed and Voice Boost features are as indispensable as they are seamless.

Overcast 1

Smart Speed analyzes the downloaded episode and shortens areas of downtime or pauses in speech to speed up listening time. This is handled brilliantly. Conversations sound smoother and less robotic than a generic speed boost option. There is even an indicator in the settings menu to indicate how much time you have saved by using Smart Speed. I would wager Smart Speed alone is worth the in-app purchase.

Voice Boost is equally impressive. Voice Boost also analyzes the downloaded file and boosts areas where speech is quieter. This eliminates the need to manually up the volume when a quiet speaker takes the mic and, generally speaking, makes the whole listening experience easier on the ears.

These two hallmark features are what sell Overcast for me. They are so well executed and act so invisibly that I usually forget I have them turned on.

Overcast 2

Another feature I love is the Twitter-based recommendations.

y recommending a show, Overcast can use your Twitter account to send your recommendations to your followers. Overcast doesn’t tweet on your behalf, but rather reads the recommendations of the people you follow and shoots the results into the “Recommendations from Twitter” section in the podcast directory.

I’ve found some great new podcasts I’d never heard of based on the recommendations from Twitter. I love this app and you’d be nuts not to read Josh’s review. If podcasts aren’t your thing, he takes equal care with the same spectacular photos on his reviews of pens like the TWSBI Diamond 580AL and paper like the Field Notes: Night Sky edition.

So That’s It Then

I was turning right onto James, from Broadway, in Seattle. And I said it, as if I felt like I just pulled off some great heist as I mumbled under my breath: “So, that’s it?”

I struggled with what to say about this piece. Just go read it. It’s a beautiful story.