• But mammoth is my favorite color

    I’m still loving my Kindle Scribe, but I thought maybe I could get a different case. I was glad to see this case is offered in most people’s top three colors.

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    Treacle Walker by Alan Garner ****

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    My journey of reading all the Booker (2022) nominated books continues, lest you thought I gave up.

    “Treacle Walker” by Alan Garner is super short, super impressive, and super strange. It is a metafictional fable about a boy (?) who lives in house, likes comic books, and meets a rag and bone man, the titular Treacle Walker, and then very strange things start to happen.

    Does anyone else live in the house? I don’t know! What does Joe (the boy) look like? Not sure, but I know he has a lazy eye (which becomes much less lazy as the book progresses).

    I don’t want to say much more about the plot because it is both straightforward and bonkers at the same time.

    Considering how short this book is, I’d recommend it to folks who like fairy tales, experimental writing, and marbles.

    Very few places have it in stock, so I’m only including an Amazon link. But do support your Indie bookstores!

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  • The Yoga and Yoda house

    I like to look at real estate listings in Philadelphia. I’m not in the market for a house, but sometimes you come across interesting things. Sometimes those interesting things are in the pictures of the listing and not the listing itself.

    Take, for example, the “Yoga and Yoda” house.

    The first picture is innocent enough. A nice, airy, and bright living room with some particular wall art.

    It starts simply enough. You think, “Is that a tiny Yoda on the TV console?”

    Note to nerds: Yes, I know most, if not all, of the examples here, feature Grogu but “Yoga and Grogu” isn’t a thing.

    People like baby Yoda, so that’s not too strange. Oh, look! A little yoga setup. That’s nice… and are those two more Yodas? Yes, yes they are.

    Let’s check out the kitchen, and there he is!

    Let’s head upstairs. This would be a nice office, though I think I’d like a closet door instead of a giant baby Yoda.

    Oh, let’s be quiet. Don’t want to wake the baby!

    Oh, having outdoor space is nice. As is a ledge for statuary.

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  • Are we still in a COVID-19 emergency?

    Given this, I agree that we are not in an emergency phase in the U.S. An emergency declaration was appropriate when we had rational hope that transmission could be interrupted on a population level and when we needed extreme measures to prevent collapse of healthcare systems. We are past this. Continuing the emergency would not be constructive given public sentiment and lack of funding anyway. As one epidemiologist told me, “If it’s always an emergency, nothing’s an emergency.”

    Are we still in a COVID-19 emergency?

    I’m not smart enough to have an informed opinion about the end of the COVID emergency in the US, but Katelyn Jetelina is… and she thinks it is appropriate. That makes me feel better, though the rest of her newsletter makes me feel worse about society’s reaction to this sort of emergency.

    Anyway, you should subscribe to her “Your Local Epidemiologist” newsletter.

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  • I read what the Locusts tell me to – 2022 Locus Online Recommended Reading List –

    Ok, so I don’t read them all because it is a large list, but I’m always excited when the Locus Online Recommended Reading List gets published.

    If you’re unfamiliar, I’ll let them explain:

    We are so pleased to share this list of excellent fiction! Published in Locus magazine’s February 2023 issue, the list is assembled by Locus editors, columnists, outside reviewers, and other professionals and well-known critics of genre fiction and non-fiction. We looked at 982 titles from 2022 in short fiction and long fiction. The final recommendations, trimmed down to a somewhat reasonable-length list, are our best recommendations for your consideration.

    Lots of books on that list, and I’ve even read a handful.

    Here are the ones I’ve already read:

    • The Spare Man, Mary Robinette Kowal: I read this book and then I watched “The Thin Man,” which partly inspired the novel. The movie was very good!
    • Eversion, Alastair Reynolds: This book is great. So great that I suggested people gift it for Christmas.
    • The Kaiju Preservation Society, John Scalzi: A fun popcorn read. Won’t take you long, and you won’t have to think much.
    • The Grief of Stones, Katherine Addison: I love this series so much and would like more right now.
    • Babel, R.F. Kuang: We’re going to talk about this on an Incomparable podcast (reading tomorrow as I write this). I really enjoyed this book, and it does make you think (subtle it is not).
    • The Cartographers, Peng Shepherd: As I said in my review, I enjoyed this book though the mystery is laughable.
    • Legends & Lattes, Travis Baldree: I just finished reading this the other day! It is very cozy and very sweet.
    • The Genesis of Misery, Neon Yang: I had no idea where this book was going, but I enjoyed the ride.
    • Goliath, Tochi Onyebuchi: This was well written and depressingly plausible.
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    From “Fellowship of Fear” by Aaron Elkins

    “Gideon made sympathetic noises and asked interested questions, but in his heart he sighed a quiet “Oh no.” He liked women, really liked them, more than men, and respected them at least as much. In his own field, the cultural anthropologists whom he most respected were Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. Yet feminists often bored and sometimes irritated him with their grim, contentious rhetoric. He hoped that wouldn’t happen with Janet.”

    — Aaron Elkins, “Fellowship of Fear

    Sometimes when you’re reading a book published in 1982 it becomes very obvious that you’re reading a book published in 1982.

    Sheesh! And a few hours before I came across this passage I was telling Marisa the book I was reading was pretty dated.

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  • Don’t stand on top of bus shelters, even if your team wins a game

    “The structural load of people standing on the shelter roof is not commonly factored into shelter designs here in Philadelphia, or as far I can determine in any other city,” said Mike Carroll, the city’s deputy managing director for transportation. “Standing on the shelters is dangerous, particularly on our newer-design shelters, which have a glass roof.”

    Carroll said he strongly discouraged standing on the shelters, and asked fans “to use good judgment as we celebrate the Eagles and all of our teams’ successes.”

    A Philadelphia bus shelter collapsed under the weight of celebrating Eagles fans. One of them shares her story.
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    Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt ****

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    I don’t know much about Jenna Bush, but I have to imagine we have very few things in common:

    • She likes to read.
    • Her father’s an alcoholic.
    • We both liked “Remarkably Bright Creatures.”

    That might be the whole list. And even then, our enjoyment of this book couldn’t be more different. I like it and maybe a few people reading might pick it up. Jenna likes it and she adds it to her “Read with Jenna” bookclub. Boom, it is a bestseller.

    She picked a good one here, folks. And this is the second book in a row that made me tear up. Darn friendly octopuses.

    The plot of the book does rather depend on a very high amount of coincidences and silly misunderstandings. It was almost to the point of annoying me when I realized if that was the part of the book I was annoyed with and not the fact that one of the narrators was an octopus in an aquarium tank then something in this book was working for me.

    Sure, the overall plot doesn’t include any real surprises but it does tug on the heart strings and resolves itself in a very satisfying way. And sometimes, darn it, that’s what you want!

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  • I have some questions about this anti-aging guy

    He wants to have the brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, tendons, teeth, skin, hair, bladder, penis and rectum of an 18-year-old.

    Anti-Aging Techniques Taken to Extreme by Bryan Johnson – Bloomberg

    Mostly, I’m wondering if this list, which seems very specific, is in order of importance.

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    Mike Pompeo’s book is about what I expected

    Pompeo also makes room to advocate for waterboarding.

    NEVER GIVE AN INCH | Kirkus Reviews

    I didn’t read it, and I won’t be reading it (as I assume is true of most people in the world). I did read the Kirkus Review quoted above, and I think that’s worth your time.

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  • ,

    Hopeland by Ian McDonald *****

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Given we’re only 22 days into the new year, it seems to be very faint praise indeed to call “Hopeland” by Ian McDonald my favorite book of the year, though it certainly is. I think it also beats out anything I read in 2022, and I read a lot of great stuff in 2022!

    Ian McDonald is one of my favorite authors, and as I’ve said before, I feel like he’s been trying to figure out a way to break into the cultural zeitgeist with his last several books. He wrote a YA series (which I read and liked, though I felt like it was missing the complexity I want in an McDonald novel), and he wrote his “Game of Domes” series (which I enjoyed greatly, but it felt a bit rushed at the end). I liked all of it, but none hit me over the head and dazzled me like “The Dervish House.”

    “Hopeland” is a return to form, in my opinion. It is just so good. A generational love story set in the near past, present, and near future. It is also a story of climate change (cli-fi, I guess… though that term grates on my ears), Tesla coils, a large manor house, and magic. Maybe magic? Is it really magic? Could be!

    The final chapters made me tear up three times, as did the author’s acknowledgement (the book is dedicated to his partner, Enid, who died of cancer).

    I can’t say enough glowing things about this book. I hope that I read a book that tops it this year, but it seems doubtful to me.

    “Hopeland” comes out on 2/14/23, and you should read it.

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  • Cheap dice (and books) with a side of ennui

    A bookstore closing is a sad thing, but it often means there are deals to be had!

    The Barnes and Noble on Rittenhouse Square here in Philadelphia is closing their iconic location and picking up sticks and moving to Chestnut Street. While I’m sad to see the store close, I’m happy that they are just moving. Especially since it seems they don’t want to take everything with them which means they are having a big old sale.

    I got this stack of books for 40% off cover price, which isn’t too shabby:

    But, as frequent Barnes and Noble visitors know, they carry all manner of non-book materials. Amongst the board games, books, and other random stuff you’ll find dice. More importantly, you’ll find Chessex’s pound of dice!

    I grabbed one thinking it wouldn’t be included in the sale, and I was sort of right. It wasn’t 40% off, but rather 50% off. That’s a very good deal, my friends.

    And it included this neat set of dice that remind me of funfetti cake:

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    HomePod, viral success

    Apple has a new HomePod, that’s their smart speaker, out today.

    Now, I don’t know anything about this HomePod, but I have some thoughts about the ad.

    I appreciate that it is difficult to visualize how anything sounds. You have to decide how you’ll get across that this thing can pump out some sick beats (that’s cool talk for “sounds good”). The creative team decided that having the HomePod seem to spew out lots of little particles into the air was the way to go. Then they said, “Let’s add a room full of maskless people dancing elbow to elbow in the middle of a funky cloud of particles. People will love it!”

    Am I the only one that finds it kind of… gross?

    Just talking about the ad, I’m sure the HomePod itself isn’t gross at all (though this is an Alexa household).

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    More Replacements for Dark Sky

    One of the great things about writing a blog post looking at 12 different possible replacements for Dark Sky (that late and beloved weather app on iOS) is that several people will say, “Why didn’t you include this app I love, and you’ve never heard of?”

    My little roundup wasn’t meant to be comprehensive, but some of the apps suggested were intriguing. Could they be the Dark Sky replacement of my dreams? Would they replace my new beloved weather app, Hello Weather?

    Spoilers: No, they aren’t, and they didn’t. I’m still a Hello Weather stan, as the kids say (do they say that?). However, I do like a few very much and will be keeping one or two on my iPhone.

    Which ones? Read on!

    Here are the apps I’ve considered for this round:

    Before we jump in, I’m going to quote myself so you know what I’m looking for in a Dark Sky replacement:

    It is important to know what I’m looking for in a weather app, so you can figure out if this blog post will be helpful to you. Here’s what I need in my weather app:

    • An easy-to-read hourly forecast for the day.
    • A little bit of personality, but not too much personality.
    • An attractive design.
    • A reasonable price, and if it is free not too many ads.

    WTForecast

    Oh, another sassy weather app! The design of WTForecast is fine and places a premium on the conditions as they are right now, along with a funny little text summary of the weather. Actually, the text gets center stage which for some folks is great. I am not one of those folks.

    I like the widgets more than the app itself, though not enough to keep the app on my iPhone.

    Price: Free, with ads. $1.99 to remove the ads (cheap!) and $.99 to get additional voices.

    Weathergraph

    Weathergraph’s developer realized that people liked Dark Sky’s linear layout and so they added one of their own! On the left, you’ll see Weathergraph’s default layout and on the right is the new linear “Dark Sky” option. The best part? This layout is available in the free version of the app. The app does, however, remind you fairly often that you can opt-in for “Weathergraph Pro” to unlock more features.

    I think Weathergraph is a nice-looking app, but it isn’t for me. While I like the new linear layout, something about it is a little off to me (yes, that’s the worst kind of feedback, but what can I say?). I think it might have to do with the fact that it defaults to showing you multiple days in the line. Sometimes less is more.

    However, if you’re in the market for a free app that looks almost exactly like Dark Sky, this is the app for you (CARROT weather also has a linear mode, but you have to pay for the pro version to get it).

    The app includes several widgets which get extra features when you spring for Weathergraph Pro. I find them to be almost for me. The interface design is slightly too dense for me.

    Price: The app is free, but you can unlock more features with the Pro version at various price points: Yearly – $19.99, Monthly – $3.99, Forever – $59.99, Quarterly – $9.99, Weekly – $1.99.

    Weather+

    I don’t even know, man. Weather+ seems like an app from another time (it reminds me of Konfabulator if anyone else remembers that). It is a weather widget that floats above a video background reflecting the current conditions. You can change the background to a few free choices and spend some money to get more options. Why would anyone use this app? I have no idea.

    Since the app is basically a widget, you’d be forgiven for thinking it includes actual widgets. It does not.

    Price: You can get “Premium” Weather+ for $8.49 a year, $5.49 for 6 months, or $1.49 monthly. What do you get? No ads, access to all the background videos, and somewhat inexplicably “premium customer support.”

    Wunderground

    I’ve always thought of Weather Underground as the hip weather website that the man doesn’t want you to know about. That’s mostly because of the name, I reckon.

    The app is fine. It doesn’t include a widget, and while the hourly forecast is just a one-screen scroll away, I don’t feel like it offers enough detail for my needs.

    Pricing: Free with ads, which you can remove for $1.99 a year (not too bad!). You can also get more features with WU Premium for either $19.99 a year or $3.99 a month. The App Store listing includes a yearly ad-free in-app purchase but it seems that’s not actually an option in the app!

    Weather Strip

    Weather Strip is probably the most interesting weather app I’ve come across thus far. It is like the developer said, “What if I made the hourly forecast the entire app?” And then did just that!

    The main interface of the app packs in a lot of information in a very small space. And as you can see below, the widgets basically replicate that on your home screen.

    One super cool feature is that little funky arrow icon on the map screen. Tap that, and you’ll be taken somewhere with interesting weather. Pretty neat!

    This app is a very dense weather data visualization and one that almost knocks the crown off of Hello Weather’s cute little icon in my heart. However, I find it hard to use at a glance. It feels a bit overwhelming, but that’s just me. I really do like it, and I can tell you that it will stay on my iPhone while the other 18 apps will be deleted.

    Price: The basic plan, which doesn’t include widgets, will cost you $8.99 a year or $1.99 a month. You can spring for Premium, which includes widgets, for $16.99 a year or $3.99 a month.

    Snowflake

    I should say that Snowflake’s developer reached out to me and gave me a free copy of the app. Now, I know what you’re going to say, “Isn’t that going to make you like the app, Scott?” It certainly isn’t going to make me not like the app. However, it was given to me with no expectations or strings, so my opinion is still trustworthy.. or at least as trustworthy as it usually is.

    I like that the hourly forecast is right there under the current conditions and that it is easy to read. I also really dig the “wordy” summaries of what you should expect for the coming days.

    It just feels a little “generic” to me. I want a little more personality in my weather app (though, annoyingly, I don’t want too much of it!).

    The widgets are pretty straightforward, which is a good thing for a widget. You want to just glance at the thing and see what’s happening.

    Pricing: $4.99 for the app and $4.99 a year for Snowflake Plus or $.99 a month.

    Overlook

    Another app that just says, “Screw it! Let’s make the whole thing an hourly forecast.” I do like the design of Overlook. It isn’t as overwhelming as Weather Strip, though that means it isn’t as detailed (which is the whole point of the app!).

    I do feel like you might be able to squeeze a little more data onto the screen, especially since I’m using this on a giant iPhone Pro Plus.

    Overlook only offers small and medium widgets, but they are pretty nice – if minimal.

    Price: Something else that is pretty minimal about Overlook is the price: it is free. No ads, and no upsells whatsoever. Why? I don’t know!

    Mercury

    Now, I’m sure neither developer will like this when I say it, but Mercury feels like Snowflake with some personality. I’m not suggesting that either app has influenced the other but let’s face it – there are only so many ways to present the weather. They highlight similar data points, and Mercury does it with a bit more flair (and I think the name is pretty clever too).

    I like the highlighting of current conditions and the iconography on the Hourly and Daily forecast lines. That iconography is carried through to the widgets as well (which you don’t get with the free version, but you can see demo versions which I appreciate).

    Sadly, for me, the hourly forecast just isn’t as detailed as I want.

    Those are some nice-looking widgets, though.

    Price: $1.99 a month, $9.99 a year, or $34.99 for a lifetime.

    Conclusion

    Hello Weather is still the champion weather app, as far as I’m concerned. However, I’m also going to spring for a copy of Weather Strip because now that my eyes are used to the widget layout, I really do like it.

    I expect that this post will generate another handful of apps for me to evaluate, so if you have a favorite weather app that I didn’t cover, let me know in the comments! I should mention that I won’t install Weatherbug on my phone, so if that’s one you like, you’re out of luck!

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  • Daring Fireball: Was Salesforce’s Acquisition of Slack a Bust?

    I’ll go to the mat arguing that Slack is better-designed and better-implemented than Microsoft Teams. But to make a very broad analogy, I think Slack is to Teams today where Mac OS was to Windows in the mid-1990s: better designed, for sure, but not in a way that makes a difference to the corporate IT decision makers and bean counters who are making the call on which platform to use.

    Daring Fireball: Was Salesforce’s Acquisition of Slack a Bust?

    I love Slack. I’m a Slack Enterprise Grid admin, for goodness sake! But Teams is good enough for most people and already included in the O365 subscription that lots of big (and small) companies are already paying for.

    You can say lots of glowing things about Slack, but it certainly isn’t cheap. It is tough to win the argument that “I know we’re already paying for Teams but hear me out. We could continue to pay for Teams AND pay a lot more for Slack!”

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    iOS Tip: Photo Selector Zoom In

    I’ve been using an iPhone since just about the time they were introduced and I just figured this out. 

    For years I’ve been frustrated by the iOS photo picker. Even on these gigantic iPhones, I have trouble telling very similar shots from one another in the 3 across grid. 

    If you “pinch out” in the photo picker you can make a photo take up the full width of the phone. And then, you can scroll through photos one by one. 

    Need to pick a photo from months and months before the current selection? Pinch in, and you’ll zoom out to see way too many photos at once. 

    Did everyone know about this?

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