L.A. Autumn

The L.A. autumn dances in,
Santa Ana in one hand, fogbank in the other,
Bewildering immigrant trees whose forebears
Had grown in climes more orderly,
Where seasons stepped in stately grace
And not in helter-skelter leaps, pliés, and pirouettes,
Where summer, fall, spring, and all
Fell into line, and winter had a place.

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A Sketchy Card for a Sketchy Year

On those occasions when I draw a new cartoon, I spend a lot of time coloring, shading, and cleaning up the lines. For my 2020 holiday card, I liked the rough sketch enough (or was lazy enough) to share it as it was, fresh from my Apple Pencil.

The Knight Before Christmas: a knight on horseback contemplates his holiday shopping list

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Boxing Day 2020

Boxing Day decorations are among the most unattractive of the holiday decorations…

A tower of boxes and packing materials

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The Kugel Joke

[I have heard this joke told a number of times. It is in essence a “shaggy dog” story, a long meandering narrative that is more fun in the telling, in how long one can spin it out and in which absurd directions, than in delivering its punchline, which is not much of a punchline at all. The following is the bare scaffolding of the Kugel Joke; your job is to embellish it as best you can in your own telling.]

Just as the Melish family was sitting down to Hanukkah dinner, the doorbell rang. It was their neighbor Mr. Levitz.

Not wishing to be inhospitable, Mrs. Melish set a place for him at the table beside their youngest son, and invited their visitor to sit down. Levitz sat, saying, “Thank you but I just ate.”

Dishes began to be handed around. When young Fielding Melish passed Levitz the soup, Levitz said, “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly…well, maybe just a little,” and filled his bowl.

Next came the bean salad, and Levitz said, “Really, I’m full…well, maybe just a spoonful or two,” and covered half his plate.

Then came the latkes, and Levitz said, “I really shouldn’t, but maybe one…,” and took three.

And the apple-sauce: “Just a dab,” as he ladled on a large heap.

Next came the brisket: “Oh, maybe a slice…at most!” And he took three thick slices, including the coveted end piece.

And then, finally, Fielding handed him the kugel casserole, and Levitz’s eyes lit up: “KUGEL! Now kugel I could eat!!!”

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Turning and turning

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Apple Park to be born?
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Amusements for Insomniacs

I happened to be awake just before 2AM this morning, so I put on my Apple Watch and watched to see what happened when 2AM rolled around and Daylight Saving Time ended. At exactly 2, as the second hand passed 12 on the watch face, nothing. Then, at 4 seconds past 2, the hour hand jumped back one hour.

How exciting!

(As for why California did the Daylight Saving Time Tango this year, blame politics.)

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My Official 2020 Halloween Portrait

Here it is, such as it is.

The photo

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The Star Spangled Banana

There’s been talk lately about changing the national anthem because the song’s lyricist was a slaveholder. Good enough, but, honestly, it should be replaced on its own lack of merit.

First, the song has four verses, though almost nobody knows verses 2-4, and many of those who only know verse 1 don’t even know it that well.

Second, the first verse says nothing about the country, its values, or anything else, really. In fact, all it is is a long-winded rhetorical question:

Can you see the flag this morning? You know, the one we saw last night at sunset. Yeah, the one with the stripes and stars that we cheered about last night. That’s right, the same one we saw lit up by the rockets and bombs all night: is it still waving this morning?

How inspiring: a vision test! My patriotic heart is all a-flutter.

And then there’s the music, which is an almost un-singable (the melody spans an octave and a half) recycled British club song: “The Anacreontic Song” written by  John Stafford Smith for an 18th-century amateur musician’s club. What says “America” more than a song celebrating a private men’s club?

It took until the early 1930s before it became the anthem. At that time, Prohibition was in effect, so maybe the national ability to make sound judgments was at a low level because of all the bathtub gin people were drinking, but, in any event, it has only been the anthem for less than a century! Ditching it for something with better content and an easier-to-sing melody is hardly a slap at the Founders of this nation, who had all been long-dead before the song was made the anthem in the first place.

Replace the anthem! Your ears and your vocal cords will thank you!

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A Glimpse of Rivendell on My Wrist

I recently replaced my original model Apple Watch (sometimes referred to as a “Series 0” model) with a Series 4. I really liked my old watch, but Apple stopped issuing system updates for that model so I knew its days on my wrist were numbered. When I finished a couple of particularly big projects recently, I decided that my reward would be a new Apple Watch.

The new Series 4 is a worthy replacement. Everything (except, of course, the time) runs much faster on it. It has a much better speaker. It does ECGs. It has great battery life. It can spit water!

But my favorite feature is its slightly larger display, and its ability to run the Kaleidoscope watch face full-screen on it.

On my old watch I had created a Kaleidoscope watch face based on a photo I had taken of some jacaranda tree blossoms. The result was a watch face I nicknamed “Rivendell.”

Rivendell looked lovely on my old watch, and it continues to look lovely on my new one. But when I made a full-screen version of it for my new Apple Watch, it became mesmerizing. In fact, it’s so mesmerizing that I consume much of my new Apple Watch’s extra battery power by keeping my portal into Rivendell running on my wrist for minutes at a time while I gaze at it. It’s very calming—much more so than the Breathe app.

Rivendell Face Full-Screen

A still image cannot convey the stately Elvish grace of this slowly animating watch face.

Now, I don’t know for a fact that jacarandas grew in Rivendell, but Elrond, who ran the place, knew Gandalf, and he knew the Valar queen Yavanna Kementári (the Giver of Fruits)  back in the old country, and she is the one who basically planted all the original foliage on Middle-Earth, so if Elrond had wanted one of those purple-blossomed lovelies in his valley estate, he could probably pull a few strings.…

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Great Moments in Discoverability: Away in Slack

My colleagues at TidBITS and I use the Slack app so we can discuss article ideas and production. Ordinarily, I have Slack open on my Mac when I’m working and, ordinarily, I have my state set to “Active” (the default when Slack is running) so people know they can reach me.

However, sometimes I want to set my state to “Away” while still keeping the app open on my Mac. I do that so rarely, though, that I can never remember how to change my state, and it takes me a minute or so of poking around until I can find the command again. Slack doesn’t make finding it easy.

For starters, there’s no menu command to set the state. In fact, the menus on the Slack menubar don’t offer much at all.

Second, there are a bunch of unlabeled icons atop the Slack window’s content area, each of which might issue the state-setting command, but to find out what each icon does, I have to bring the Slack window to the front and then mouse over each icon, only to find out that none of them offer what I want.

Third, what Slack itself means by Status is not whether you are online or not. In Slack, your Status is a message associated with your username in the current workspace. Slack has no name for your state of being active or away.

Fourth, how Slack indicates your current state doesn’t leap out at you: it’s merely a tiny circle preceding your name at the top of the left sidebar—if it’s green, your state is Active.

That tiny indicator is the key to changing your state: click it and you get a popover with all sorts of settings. Slack, perversely, makes you read down to the fifth item in the list of settings to get to the one that actually displays and allows you to set your state; e.g., “Away Set yourself to active.”

Note that all the users shown in the Direct Messages list in the Slack window’s sidebar have such state indicators, but clicking those indicators does nothing, so one can be excused for assuming wrongly that clicking the indicator by your own name might be fruitless as well.

Sure, one can claim that Slack’s state toggle is discoverable. But such a commonly used toggle should not require three ships and a royal charter to be discovered.

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