I’m not all that fond of newsletters; they just add to the crushing pile of email I’ll never get through. For some reason I subscribe to them anyway.
I use a filter to put any email with the word Unsubscribe in its body into a folder called Mailing Lists. This, at least, keeps my newsleters out of spam and out of my Inbox. From time to time I’ll cull through the stack and find something worth reading.
Another issue complicating things is that, for security reasons, I don’t allow my email clients to render HTML or show images. Thus most newsletters look like an unintelligible bunch of cryptic nonsense. This is the start of an email I just received from Walmart exactly as it appears in my Mac mail client Mailmate.
As you might expect, Steven Levy does put that web referral up top in his new Plaintext (paywall) newsletter from Wired. Unfortunately the letter itself is delivered in an image heavy rich text format which means it’s unreadable unless you load images. Shouldn’t a newsletter called Plaintext be written in plain text? I’m sure this isn’t Steven’s choice; it’s probably something Conde Nast does. Worse, you have to pay for Wired to get it. Despite all that, it’s well worth it.
Plaintext is a good example of why newsletters matter. It’s nothing like an article in Wired, or even an opinion piece. It’s like hearing from Levy directly and very much reflects his voice. I like that. Steven offers context, insight, and an intellectual’s perspective on tech news. This week, for example, he likened Facebook’s forbearance toward Donald Trump to Chamberlin’s appeasement at Munich. He says, “It’s time for the internet moguls to stop acting like Chamberlain —- and start channeling Churchill.”
But my post today is inspired by the news that one of the smartest people I know, Cory Doctorow, had left his long time ‘zine, Boing Boing. I love Cory’s insight, taste, and quirky eye, so I instantly subscribed to his daily newsletter, Plura-List (free). You can also read his links on the web at Pluralistic.net. I need my Cory fix.
I guess newsletters aren’t so bad, after all. What newsletters do you recommend? Add them to the comments below.
The widespread use of face masks keeps the coronavirus reproduction number below 1.0, and prevents further waves when combined with lockdowns, new research suggests. A modeling study from the universities of Cambridge and Greenwich indicates that lockdowns alone will not stop the resurgence of COVID-19. Researchers say even homemade masks with limited effectiveness can dramatically reduce transmission rates if worn by enough people, regardless of whether they show symptoms.
I have a blast making my own masks. It makes me feel like I’m doing something to help the fight against Covid-19. I even bought a sewing machine (the inexpensive Bernina Bernette b35, now sold out everywhere!) With a little practice you can make a mask like mine.
It’s taken me a while to perfect this mask, but it’s become my favorite because
it’s relatively easy to make
it’s convenient to wear and take off
the fit is snug and almost airtight
most importantly, it’s comfortable!
I started with this video then made some improvements:
One of the nicest features of this mask is how you tie it. There’s one length of cord that goes around your neck and ties at the top of the head. It’s effectively a drawstring which helps fit the mask snugly as you tie it. The neck loop is handy because you can take off the mask but leave it hanging around your neck for quick donning.
I’ve made some changes to the mask that make it more comfortable and, I believe, more effective.
First the materials. In the video the designer recommends two cotton layers with a filter pocket. I tried this using high-threadcount cotton for the outer layer
and old t-shirts for the inner layer. The t-shirts are soft and comfortable but the pouch opening hits right at the mouth and kind of bothers me. And adding a filter layer (I tried vacuum cleaner bags and paper towels) really reduces breathability. This is key; if it’s not easy to breathe in a mask you won’t wear it.
After reading about research from the American Chemical Society about the effectiveness of various materials for mask making:
One layer of a tightly woven cotton sheet combined with two layers of polyester-spandex chiffon – a sheer fabric often used in evening gowns – filtered out the most aerosol particles (80-99%, depending on particle size), with performance close to that of an N95 mask material. Substituting the chiffon with natural silk or flannel, or simply using a cotton quilt with cotton-polyester batting, produced similar results.
I decided to eliminate the superfluous filter pouch and replace the t-shirt cotton with silk charmeuse. It feels better, it’s simpler to sew, and the breathe-ability is excellent. Come winter, and yes I expect us to still be wearing masks this winter, I’ll replace the silk with flannel. I’ve ordered some chiffon to experiment with, too. I’m going to try using it as a middle layer between the cotton and silk.
To help seal the nose area I use peel and stick tin ties, the kind used to close up coffee bags at the grocery store. I experimented with these by ripping them off all our coffee bags, but it turns out you can buy them by the hundred on Amazon, so no more open coffee bags at the Laporte house.
Sealing the nose well is important for mask effectiveness and to keep my glasses from fogging up. If I’m not wearing glasses I’m wearing protective lab goggles. Keeping the mouth, nose, and eyes protected from aerosolized virus particles is the goal here.
To soften the edges of the mask and block leaks around the outside, I have started folding all four edges in over a narrow strip of cotton quilt batting.
The batting adds some structure and softness to the edges and, as I learned when I used it as a layer in one of my masks, blocks air nicely. The mask on the left is for my mom. At 87-years-old she finds it hard to tie the string behind her head so I replaced it with elastic.
These masks are light, comfortable, and breathable. I don’t have any evidence that they’re more effective than any other mask, but I like to think so.
Want to make your own masks? Here’s what you’ll need:
What a time to be graduating. But then it’s always been a weird old world and lately getting a lot weirder. It’s going to be up to you to make it better. We’re counting on you.
I remember, sort of, what I felt like at my high school graduation. Worse, I remember what I looked like. Talk about innocent.
This is the speech I gave at my daughter, Abby’s, high school graduation in 2010. I send it to you now with love and congratulations. You’ve only just begun.
Thank you, Janet. Parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins, teachers, staff, and administrators. Seniors. How did it come to this?
It seems like only yesterday Jennifer and I were planning to open a college savings account for our newborn daughter, Abby. And now our baby girl is graduating. If you notice me tearing up a little it’s because I really wish we had opened that savings account.
Seniors, today marks the end of four years of hard work for you. That doesn’t mean it’s going to get any easier now. On the contrary, college, work, adult life all will bring many challenges. You will make many new friends but none that you will hold more dear than those you have made here at Sonoma Academy. You may not believe it now, but trust me, you will cherish your time here until the end of your days.
Thanks to SA, I know each of you have the tools to find your special talent, and to make your unique difference in the world. You will achieve happiness and deep satisfaction, and maybe someday you will arrive at a sunny field like this, filled with shining faces like yours, and you will truly know the joy we feel today at your success.
This week, in high schools all over America, we hand over the keys to the planet to you, our seniors. It’s not in great condition. I hope you will pass it along a little cleaner, a little happier, a little healthier than my generation has left it. Sorry about the gas tank. We meant to fill it up before we got here. Maybe you can do better.
I’d like to leave you with a reading from a book your parents know well. It was very popular when we were your age. Written in the 1930s by a Lebanese-American poet named Kahlil Gibran, this admonition to parents matched our feelings, as teenagers, exactly. It’s something we parents often need to struggle to remember.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Parents, teachers, family, and friends, for 18 years, give or take, we have been these graduates stable bow. Now they take flight into their new lives, leaving us behind, waving farewell. It’s sad for us in many ways, but it’s also exactly right. It’s time. Today marks the culmination of everything we have all worked so hard to achieve. We can truly say it is done, and it is good.
Seniors, we send you out into the world, our hearts bursting with pride. We won’t burden you with our hopes and fears, but instead lift you with our love and together we will celebrate a joyous completion and a new beginning. We know you will fly far and high. We can’t wait to see where you land.
Just in case you’re curious, here’s a description of the various hardware and software I use to work and play.
This is a work in progress, but over time should reflect the entirety of my toolset. My hope is to keep this up-to-date because things change regularly. If there’s something you’d like to know and you don’t see it here ask in the comments at the bottom of the page!
I realize that the following is a ridiculously large menagerie of gear. That’s an occupational hazard. I review more gear than the average bear, but I do keep the stuff that suits me best. One small point, I almost always buy all the gear I use. I generally don’t ask for or use review units or loaners. I think it gives me a more realistic idea of what owning this gear is like, and this way I’m not beholden to anyone. Any exceptions are indicated below.
I have a ~300 sq ft office with several book shelves and a built-in desk in the bay window. There’s a comfy armchair and ottoman I’ve had for years, a less comfy chair from the studio, a couple of side tables, and a six-foot standing Duramax rolling workbench that’s currently devoted to my mask making. The red chair is a Capisco by HAG, a gift from our sponsor Fully.com. It’s designed for sitting backwards or forwards and raises to a suitable height for the high workbench.
2018 iMac Pro running a 10-core Xeon W with 64 GB of RAM, 1TB SSD, and a Radeon Pro Vega 64.
Two additional 27” Apple Cinema Displays are connected to the iMac along with considerable external storage including a dual-drive Oyen Digital MiniPro 8TB RAID 0 that backs up to a 5TB Drobo mini USB drive with 4 SSDs. There’s also a 4TB Seagate drive which is used for Apple’s Time Machine backup. The internal drive in the iMac doesn’t contain any data – just the operating system and apps.
Audio from the iMac is sent to a pair of Audioengine 2 wired speakers with an Audioengine S8 subwoofer beneath the desk. I use a Matias Ergo Pro keyboard (Disclaimer: Matias is a sponsor and they gave me the keyboard for the campaign. I refused to give it back.) and a Logitech G900 mouse.
When I’m not sitting at my desk, I primarily use one of my more portable 13” devices:
A 2020 Macbook Air running an i7 with 16 GB RAM and a 1 TB SSD.
A 2020 Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition with a somewhat faster i7, 16 GB RAM and an aftermarket 2TB SSD. It’s running Manjaro Linux with the Gnome DE.
A 2020 iPad Pro 12.9” with the new Magic Keyboard.
There’s also a 2016 17” System76 Oryx Pro i7/32GB/2.5TB/GTX980 laptop. It weighs about 10 pounds but I don’t have the heart to give it away. It’s running, you guessed it, Manjaro Linux Gnome Edition.
All my systems have synced Document, Source Code, and dotfile directories. These are stored on pCloud where I have a lifetime subscription to 2TB storage. The lifetime subscription and full Linux GUI and CLI support were deciding factors in choosing pCloud. I keep the dotfiles in pCloud’s encrypted folder (another nice feature). The synced directories mean I can resume work on any system at any time. It takes me about half-an-hour to spin up a new Linux system with all my programs and files. I keep the instructions and scripts to do this in Notion which I use for all my note-taking. We’re even starting to use Notion in show production.
Because this site is running on a server (cf. The Beast) in the studio. I keep logged into it via a tmux session running over mosh on all the systems (even the iPad using the Blink terminal).
An emacs daemon is always running on the Beast so it’s easy to jump into any post exactly where I left off from any system. This web site runs on hugo, so I simply save the markdown file, rebuild the site (it takes about 200 milliseconds with hugo) and jump back into emacs (^XS ^Z hugo fg – it’s practically muscle memory). If you see any stray XSs in any of the posts you’ll know I accidentally hit the shift key instead of the Control key. To avoid this I always map Caps Lock to the control key. The other tmux panes monitor the five Minecraft instances also running on the server (using Spigot), and our Jitsi videoconferencing server.
My daily carry is an iPhone 11 Pro Max, although it’s in the shop right now due to video issues, so I’m happily using the new iPhone SE that Mint Mobile gave me for their campaign until the 11 Pro is fixed. I also carry a Google Pixel 4XL Android phone. I’m wearing the titanium verion of the Series 5 Apple Watch. For headphones I prefer the Samsung Galaxy Buds.
I also wear an Oura ring for health and sleep monitoring. During the Covid-19 quarantine this ring is particularly useful because it monitors changes in my body temperature. Disclaimer: Oura used to be a sponsor and they gave me the ring.
I use a couple of different camera systems. I have three Sony Alpha cameras with a variety of lenses. I shoot stills with the A7RIV typically with Sony FE 24mm f1.4 GM or Zeiss Planar T* FE 50mm F1.4 FE lenses. My daily carry for street photography is a Leica Q2 with its fixed 28mm F1.7 lens. I carry the Leica in a beautiful case and strap from Angelo Pelle. A beautiful camera deserves a beautiful case.
For shooting video in the office, I use three Sony A7s connected to a Blackmagic Designs ATEM Mini switcher. If I’m not streaming live through the iMac with this setup I can record using a Black Magic Video Assist 1080p monitor and recorder.
I use an inexpensive Bernina b35 Bernette sewing machine from Sewing Arts in Santa Monica. I also get the fabric and tools I use to make Covid-19 masks there.
For Zoom calls and audio recording on the iMac, I use a Heil PR-40 mic. It’s connected via USB using a SoundDevices MixPre-3. As I do in the studio, I use custom-molded in-ear monitors from JH Audio.
When I do radio shows from here, I use the same gear connected to a Comrex Access2 audio codec over IP. We’ve replaced ISDN in the studio with a similar unit. Although these devices use the public Internet instead of direct ISDN lines, they work just as well.
I haven’t yet figured out how I’ll do audio when shooting video in the home studio – but I have a wired Sennheiser lavalier mic and a Sony Digital Shotgun mic so I’ll probably use one of those.
On the other side of the office, there’s a 55” curved Samsung OLED which I bought in 2013 for a ridiculous amount of money. It’s connected to Denon AVR S910W A/V receiver which feeds it signals from the Xfinity X1 box (for cable TV), an Nvidia Shield 2, an Xbox One S, an Apple TV, and Sonos Connect. The 5.1 audio comes from Aperion Audio’s Intimus speakers (L, R, Center, L-R Surrounds, and a sub).
My preferred wired headphones to use with this system are the HiFiMan HE-560s.
Everything is wired to a Comcast Business class connection with a Netgear CM1000 cable modem and Orbi RBR850 Wi-Fi 6 router via a TP-Link 24-port gigabit switch.
There’s a wine closet in the office, which besides wine, houses a Synology DS1019+ 5-bay NAS with 32TB of storage. It runs a Plex server, along with the usual NAS facilities, including backup for the other computers in the house. The Synology syncs to a Synology DS1515+ NAS at the studio using Hyperbackup.
In Studio A at the TWiT Eastside Studios, where we shoot This Week in Tech, MacBreak Weekly, and This Week in Google, I use a Heil PR-40 mic and JH Audio in-ear monitors. The big computer in front of me is a 2019 Lenovo A940 all-in-one with an 8th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-8700 Processor with a 27” 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS display, 32 GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD. It’s running Manjaro Linux with the Gnome desktop.
The TWiT Wiki has a fairly up-to-date description of the hardware we use to stream the shows. The short version is that we use multiple Canon Vixia consumer grade camcorders, switched with a Newtek Tricaster, streaming live via an Amazon Elemental. The shows are recorded using decks from Sound Devices. Editors use Adobe Premiere on Dell Precision Workstations. Our audio uses Telos’s Axia digital over ethernet.
Studio B at the TWiT Eastside Studios doubles as my office. I shoot The Tech Guy radio show there, along with iOS Today, Windows Weekly, Security Now, Ask the Tech Guy, and Hands On Mac. I use a 2016 5K iMac there, as well as a 2017 Lenovo T470s running Manjaro Linux Gnome Edition. I keep my only Windows machine there, too, it’s a tiny 2015 GPD UMPC from Pocket Computers.
When I need to record audio I use Twisted Wave on the iMac. My Heil PR-40 mic is connected, as it is at home, using a Blackmagic Designs MixPre-3. I’m wearing AKG K240 studio headphones.
When the weather’s nice, I ride to work on a Radpower electric bike, the Rad City Step Thru. We own two old-school Segways which we mostly ride for fun. Lisa drives an electric blue 2019 Chevy Bolt and, until the lease runs out later this year, I drive an Audi A8L. I’m hoping to replace the Audi with a Ford Mustang Mach-E. We really like electric vehicles. Maybe that’s because we have 30 solar panels on the roof from Solar City so much of our power comes free from the sun. We’re planning on adding a Tesla Powerwall so that we can be more self-sufficient. Our house is on a well and without electricity we have no water.
It’s time to take stock as the year, and decade, wind to a close. As usual at this time of year we have announced several new shows on TWiT, and, sadly, we decided to say good-bye to an old favorite, Triangulation, a show I started in 2005 with John C. Dvorak and Larry Lessig (those episodes seem lost alas), resumed with Tom Merritt in 2011, and a weekly podcast that in 427 episodes over most of the decade, with a variety of hosts, has brought you interviews with some of the most interesting people in tech and a contemporaneous chronicle of how the world has changed around us. All those episodes will continue to be available at TWiT.tv
But I wanted you to understand why Triangulation was cancelled, and in the process understand why some shows make it and others don’t.
Ad-supported networks, like TWiT, rely on consistent listening. In general, it will take four to seven impressions (listens) before an ad works. On a show that’s listened to every week, an advertiser need only buy four to seven ads to get your attention.
With an interview show like Triangulation, most of the audience only listens to the interviews they’re interested in. Let’s say it’s one in five. That means even though 100,000 people might say they “listen” to Triangulation, any given episode is only going to get 20,000 downloads. An advertiser will have to buy 5x the number of ads to reach the same number of impressions on any given listener. Which makes Triangulation five times more expensive than a show that you listen to every week.
Interview shows are completely viable with subscription models. NPR’s Fresh Air is a fantastic show – the gold standard for interview shows – but it wouldn’t survive on ad-supported network. It does great in a subscription or listener-supported environment because millions of people love it enough to donate, even though they might only listen to a handful of shows a year.
That’s why broadcast media, and podcasts, produce mostly shows that generate consistent weekly listens. It’s why shows like Serial do so well, you have to listen every week. It’s why shows like Triangulation do so poorly. It sad, but it’s true.
We’ve never experimented with the subscription model on TWiT. It’s
hard to get people to pay for shows they’ve been getting for free. And I
worry that our technically sophisticated audience would make a pay-wall
porous pretty quickly.
But I wanted you to understand why you hear one kind of programming on ad-supported networks, and another on listener-supported channels. We carried Triangulation for as long as we could, but we ultimately can’t produce shows that lose money. It breaks my heart, but that’s just the way it is.
Farewell, old friend. It’s been a great decade producing some of the shows I’m most proud of. I’ll miss you.
Our journey is done. Leo was so sad getting off the beautiful Silver Spirit, but touring Dubai over the last three days has lifted the gloom. It was pouring rain when we arrived on Monday, but it’s been balmy and clear ever since. We topped off our visit, literally, with a sunset visit to the tallest building in the world: the Burj Khalifa. These pictures are from the open air balcony on the 153rd floor. From here Dubai looked like the Emerald City, but dusted with gold.
Tonight we fly home and on Thursday we’ll come back down to Earth. We’ve missed you all. See you soon!
Here is Lisa’s picture of the Old Prospector in Petra. The stamp is Lisa, doing her daredevil act on the ramparts of King Herod’s fortress in the desert, Masada.
We’re now sailing south on the Red Sea toward the Gulf of Aden. We’ve completed the “Safe Haven” drill in case of pirates. Apparently the Gulf of Aden is somewhat risky, pirate-wise. We’ve taken on additional “security crew” and the ship will sail lights out for the next few days. If the captain calls “Safe Haven” we have to move away from the windows into the corridor. In “the unlikely event the ship is taken by pirates” we’re advised to do what they say. We will.
Meanwhile the band is playing on the pool deck and we’re enjoying smooth seas and warm sunny days.
Greetings from the Valley of the Queens. We spent the day touring the Eternal Homes of the rulers of Egypt’s “New” Kingdom (1500-1000 BC).
The picture on the reverse is of Nefertari, favorite of Pharaoh Ramesses II. Hers is the best preserved of all the tombs and is considered a masterpiece. The wall paintings were so vivid it felt like they had been done yesterday. We were very lucky to have seen it because access is limited to protect the images.
Petra is something. A 2000 year-old city carved into the sandstone of the Jordan Rift Valley. The ancient Nabataeans who built it are a bit of a mystery but their descendants are still living among the ruins, as the family portrait on the reverse shows. On the stamp, Lisa is riding a camel in front of the best known building, the Treasury.
We’re having a wonderful time on this amazing trip. Tomorrow we visit the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt and the Valley of the Kings.
We miss you all. The fires in Sonoma are headline news even on the other side of the world. We’re glad you’re all safe and sound! Thanks for holding down the fort while we’re away!
We’re about to leave Israel after a whirlwind three days. We visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem (in the PLO controlled West Bank), Masada, and the Dead Sea. We couldn’t stop giggling in the Dead Sea because we were so buoyant that our legs kept popping up.
The picture on the reverse is of the harvest in the Garden of Gethsemane – the place, tradition has it, that Jesus prayed on the night before his crucifixion. The stamp is the scribe at Masada.