The menu key

I was thinking about creating a training presentation to help my coworkers with keyboards shortcuts, but was dismayed to see that our Lenovo laptop keyboards (which I never use, because I work from home and use external peripherals) don’t even have a menu key. Someone decided that Print Screen was more important, which may even be true, but it doesn’t help me make a good presentation for my coworkers. The menu key alternative, Shift+F10 is going to be a very hard sell, especially because F10 on the laptop requires the Fn key to be pressed, too.

I have gone from someone who did not use the menu key on my keyboard for 20+ years (since it was invented in the 1990s) to someone who can’t live without it (on my Windows at least). I made it a point to start using it a few months ago, and now I use it constantly. I recommend that all Windows users with an ANSI or ISO keyboard layout check it out. That key is positioned right underneath your thumb when you use the arrow keys.

🎵 “Canada’s Country”: I’ve been enjoying this laid-back playlist while I work. Honestly, I didn’t know Canada made country music. Unfortunately, there’s nothing particularly Canadian about it. It would be cool if there were.

People on LinkedIn still use a lot of #hashtags non-ironically. Who are they tagging content for?

Does anybody know if scheduled posts, posted from Ulysses, show up in the timeline? I think my 1:00 PM Eastern blog post did not show up in the timeline, but made it to my blog on time.

Zach Snyder’s Justice League

I was not I initially interested at all in the Snyder Cut of Justice League but I ended up watching it anyway, over two nights. I’m glad I did.

I thought the theatrical release of Justice League was pretty bad, but not quite as bad as the professional movie review consensus was. I figured that the Snyder cut must be better, but I was surprised at how much better it is. Granted, it still isn’t good. It doesn’t fix its pacing problems. It still is not as brisk and pleasurable as the best of the Marvel movies. It doesn’t tell a cohesive story, but it also crams in too many story lines for a non-DC fan to keep track of. It still has some dumb script problems, such every single part of the nonsensical museum height/terrorist bombing blot in the opening Wonder Woman scene, that could have been solved by editing a few sentences of dialog. While not exactly good, it is a good bad movie now. Its reach often exceeds its grasp, but it offers a lot of interesting material to people who are already fans. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the kind of movie that would bring a lot new fans in.

It is now very clear to me that Zach Snyder’s vision was dark and wild and weird—definitely too much of all of those things to launch a successful franchise—but Joss Whedon’s contributions were just awful: tasteless, asinine, nonsensical, and insulting to the audience. Whedon’s dialog (notably Superman’s and The Flash’s) and the character moments he created, like the race between The Flash and Superman, are embarrassing to watch and make the characters seem stupid. Snyder’s cut simply had better dialog for them. Simply getting rid of the random people that Whedon put into that nuclear wasteland Russian city—the one that existed in the movie only to be destroyed in a bout of cinematic excess—made the climax bearable. Who needs to worry about a family who shouldn’t be living in a nuclear wasteland anyway when the entire world is already at stake? Whedon really did screw up that movie.

I think that the Snyder Cut works very well for fans of the comics, especially fans of the “what-if” versions of all the famous characters. Some fans, like me, believe that comic book characters are archetypes, and really can be anything, and no representation of them is truly canonical. The grim, dark version of the Justice League is an interesting thought experiment, one of many worth exploring. It is not something I ever felt hung up on as “not the real version” of Superman or whatever. The Snyder Cut isn’t the real version of the DC Universe to me, because nothing is. It’s all just ideas and entertainment anyway.

Alt+F4

I have been using AutoHotKey for many years, and I never thought until today to map Windows+Q to quit the active app and close the active window. That creates something very similar to Mac’s Command+Q shortcut to Windows.

The default Windows keyboard shortcut for quitting an app is Alt+F4, which is a two hand operation for me. Note that in AutoHotKey, you don’t even need to send that key command; you can use the WinClose function instead:

#q::  
WinClose, A  
Return  

One of the best things Apple has ever done with their support of keyboard shortcuts was to pretend that function keys (F1 through F12) don’t exist.

Intel invests $20 billion into new factories, will produce chips for other companies

Chiam Gartenberg reports in The Verge:

At the company’s “Engineering the Future” announcement today, Gelsinger announced plans to outsource more of Intel’s chip production to third-party foundries; a $20 billion investment into two new fabs in Arizona; and a new branch of the company called Intel Foundry Services, which will see Intel’s foundries produce chips for other companies.

Intel has had an awful decade, having missed out on smartphone chips and having stalled out at their 14nm process for years. Still, it is a strategically important company for my country, and I have to ill will toward it, even if I don’t prefer their products right now. I would love to see them become competitive again.

The idea of Intel fabbing chips for other companies is a big deal. Intel has never done that before. It seems to me like it could be the first step of spinning off that part of the business into its own company, and focusing on process shrinks in ways that the fully integrated Intel could not before.

Seven mass shootings in seven days

Josh Berlinger of CNN reports today that the Colorado attack is the 7th mass shooting in 7 days in the US.

It seemed like there were periods in recent years in which we had a deadly mass shooting in the national news at least every week, if not several times each week. There has been something of a pause due to COVID, for understandable reasons. Unfortunately, we seem to be un-pausing now. Sadly, mass shooting rates in the U.S. seem to be getting back to normal.

But what is “normal?” It is actually hard to know what is normal for gun violence in the U.S. Here’s an interesting factoid from the article about my country’s gun problem:

It’s unclear how this number of mass shootings compares to an average week in the US.

Though some official gun violence data is available, the US federal government does not have a centralized system or database to track firearm incidents and mass shootings nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks some gun violence data, nearly 40,000 people were killed in incidents involving firearms in 2019.

The article omits the reason for this: There are actually laws against government agencies, such as the CDC, accurately tracking gun violence. That’s just stupid and self-defeating. While dying due to gun violence is incredibly unlikely, statistically speaking, it is also completely unnecessary. We should treat all gun deaths as preventable and unacceptable. Only then can we have the mental and moral clarity to do something about it.

🎧 on, and getting into the ⌨️ zone now. Maybe I shouldn’t have stayed up till 1:30 last night, but that’s what ☕️ is for, isn’t it? 😅

Ulysses and Micro.blog

It is amazing that Ulysses supports posting to Micro.blog now. I love the functionality, and its inclusion definitely cements Ulysses as my only writing app on iOS and macOS at this point.

Now let’s bug the Ulysses team to do some other cool things:

  1. Implement publishing workflows, by which publishing a sheet can automatically trigger the sheet to be tagged with a keyword, be moved to a particular folder (such as “published”), or call an iOS Shortcut.
  2. Make every command accessible via a hardware keyboard shortcut. (I’m thinking mainly of the iPad version.)
  3. Add a command palette, like Visual Studio Code and Sublime Text have.
  4. Support Mermaid, a text-based markup language for creating flowcharts, in fenced code blocks, like Typora does.

I have been feeling behind at work, even though I am probably no more behind in my work than anyone else I work with. It’s been a struggle the past few days. I think I am pulling out of it now, but I’ve had to work overtime to get here.

Regular Expressions App for macOS

I was bummed to find out that my favorite regular expressions editor for the Mac, Oyster, completely disappeared from the App Store (and it seems, the Internet). I wish I hadn’t deleted it from my old MacBook Pro, because RegEx is hard, even if you have used them off and on for decades. After failing to find something helpful for free, I had to buy another app (Patterns) which did the trick.

I deleted my LastPass account today. I have switched over to Bitwarden and love it.

CDC Says Schools Can Now Space Students 3 Feet Apart, Rather Than 6

As Anya Kamenetz, Cory Turner, and Allison Aubrey report on the NPR website today:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance for schools. On Friday, the agency announced it “now recommends that, with universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classroom settings.”

Previously the guidance stated, “Physical distancing (at least 6 feet) should be maximized to the greatest extent possible.” The new guidelines still call for 6 feet of distance between adults and students as well as in common areas, such as auditoriums, and when masks are off, such as while eating. And the 6-foot distancing rule still applies for the general public in settings such as grocery stores.

This news is causing a good deal of consternation in my family. COVID cases are going up in our local schools right now. There has been an extremely high risk level in the community for several weeks, and in-person instruction is expanding anyway. Our school systems have been flatly stating that they will open even though they cannot conform with some of the requirements. This change in CDC requirements makes it easier for them to comply.

I think the changing of, and complexity in, the distancing rules makes them seem suspect and less likely to be followed at all. This concern is counterbalanced, however, by my belief that distancing helps very little in the classroom, because every classroom I have seen has poor ventilation. My wife and I are keeping our kids remote until the end of the school year. We are still hopeful enough to consider September as the right time to send them back to in-person learning.

🎵 I’m currently listening to Chemtrails over the Country Club by Lana Del Ray for the first time. I have been waiting for this one. Lana Del Ray is one of my favorite artists. It’s too soon for me to tell how much I like it.

Friday is time for Inbox Zero

I have been an Inbox Zero guy since the early 2000s. Now I can’t keep up with my email; it comes in too fast, and I actually have work to do that demands my attention. Consequently, my Inbox is almost never empty.

Now, mostly on Fridays, I just select all my Inbox emails (Ctrl-A) and move them to my Archive folder (Ctrl-Shift-1 thanks to an Outlook Quick Step I created), whether I have processed them or not. The emails aren’t deleted, they are just out of my Inbox, and that’s good enough.

I am investing some time trying to see if I could implement a Johnny Decimal system for my files at work. Some of the constraints are tricky to deal with, but the general idea of it dovetails into what I have been doing for organization, and takes it one or two steps further.

Apple’s new iPad Pro leaks ahead of rumored event

Corinne Reichert and Stephen Shankland report in CNET:

Apple will launch a series of new iPads in April, a report Wednesday said. The new iPad Pros will come with Apple’s homemade M1 chips, a Thunderbolt port, and better cameras and screens, according to Bloomberg. They will reportedly come in 11- and 12.9-inch display sizes.

That’s cool. Maybe I’m not a “Pro” but the iPad Air 4 is just about perfect for me. From my layman’s perspective, the A14-based chip in the iPad Air 4 is very similar to the M1, minus some of the cores. The 2020 iPad Pro’s chip (an A12Z) is a generation or two behind that, though it has more cores than the A14 does. Apple obviously needs to remedy that to help justify the iPad Pro’s greater price.

I am thinking that the “Thunderbolt” port is merely following the direction that everything with a USB-C connector is going in: USB 4 compatibility. That, plus more processor cores, sounds good for videographers, podcasters, photographers, and (I guess) gamers. Unfortunately, if Apple doesn’t fix some problems with the Files app (just try transferring a gigabyte-sized file off your iPad to a network share—I’ll wait…for it to fail), these performance boosts will be hamstrung.

Effective Presentations

When it comes to creating effective PowerPoint presentations for work, my reach still exceeds my grasp.

I know a lot of important concepts, including the following:

  1. The slide deck is a visual aid, not the presentation
  2. Focus on one idea per slide
  3. Focus on very few visual elements/focus points per slide (e.g., five or six, maximum)
  4. Light text on a dark background is easier on the eye

Unfortunately, when I try to apply those ideas, I feel like I’m not getting anywhere. All of my slides look completely conventional: no better than those I created many years ago. I think they are effective, but they are ugly and boring. It does not help that I have to present on topics that are dry and technical in nature. I also feel hamstrung by my company’s PowerPoint template, which is quite busy, focuses attention on the wrong areas of the slide (i.e., the title and the footer), and has (almost completely) black text on a white background.

I think I need to invent a visual style that I can get away with on at least some of my slides:

  • Full-bleed images that cover the entire slide, and obviate the need for titles or footers on my slides.
  • Text boxes that float over the images, or captions that fill in the top title area that is already part of our PowerPoint template.

I just hope, if I do these things, my slides won’t end up looking like tired internet memes.

🎵 The Hold Steady’s latest album, Open Door Policy, is growing on me. I know reviewers love it, because it is a return to form, but I was hoping for something different. It’s hard to say, what, though. Something that’s a mix of fun and depressing, like my favorite Hold Steady lyrics, I guess.

Apple discontinues original HomePod, will focus on mini

Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch reports:

Apple has discontinued its original HomePod after four years. It says that it will continue to produce and focus on the HomePod mini, introduced last year.

I, like many audiophiles, passed on the original HomePod due to its high price and lack of connectivity. I’m sure I would have enjoyed how it sounded, and its size is just right for me, but I would likely have had to buy two of them to be fully satisfied (stereo separation is important to me). At $349 each, that was too expensive.

The smaller, cheaper HomePod mini holds little appeal to me, and seems to be a far less interesting product for the audio engineers at Apple to work on. For all I know, though, it sells in huge numbers, which makes it interesting in and of itself. Maybe a HomePod mini max (ha!) will be released someday, at around $150, which will hit the price/performance sweet spot I am looking for.

The COVID-versary

I guess, based on the occurrence of a President Biden speech, that this week marks the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 in the United States. To me, the baleful presence of COVID-19 has been around for what feels like much, much longer—so long that I can’t even remember it clearly.

My COVID panic started in early January, when we thought the disease was only in Wuhan. In America, for a couple weeks at least, it still seemed likely that the disease would never leave China, much like H1N1 and SARS never made a big impact here. For almost three months my mental state caromed between what I think of now as irrational fear and rational fear. I could see the whole year of 2020 play out in my imagination, way before my friends and family could see what was coming, but I could do nothing to stop it, and I could do almost nothing to protect my family from it. All those feelings felt very real and very debilitating, even when almost no one else around me was feeling them.

I had about two months of angst about COVID before it actually hit around here. The last time I went out with friends and family was, I think, on March 14, 2020. We went to see a musical and when out to eat at a crowded restaurant afterward. It was really hard for me to feel comfortable the entire time, but I didn’t want to let everybody down because I was concerned about a pandemic that hadn’t hit our area yet. Less than a week later, my entire family was on lockdown.

Back in January, February, and early March 2020, it didn’t help me at all to have known about the scope and length and shape of prior pandemics, like the Spanish Flu, which I know, from reading family letters, killed a bunch of people in my extended family about a hundred years ago. It didn’t help me at all to know what I should do and buy to prepare for it. It didn’t help me at all that I am smart enough to think for myself and to scrutinize, with a pretty good understanding of the relevant science and statistics, the information and advice experts were providing to us. All of these things just made me feel more uncertain and more cynical about what was going on.

A year later, I am feeling more hopeful. I have the vaccine after all, and am probably (but not definitely) immune to COVID 18. But my county is still at extremely high risk level. The numbers are still higher than they were last year when all of us were in a panic. Despite that, all the states, even blue states like mine, are reopening rapidly and throwing caution to the wind, when it would be more prudent to do so more gradually. It makes me nervous that we are giving the virus a chance to circulate long enough to adapt resistance to our vaccines.

I was early in being scared of COVID, and I may be late in getting over that fear. I just hope that, when I look forward from today, whatever fear I feel is merely anxiety over things that will not play out, rather than the accurate foresight into the future that I had late last winter.

There was a brush fire yesterday not too far from where I live. Brush fires are incredibly rare where I live, so this is a curiosity to me. We have had dry, windy weather for about two weeks now, which makes wildfire conditions rife. My family was outside yesterday but fortunately we didn’t notice it; we must have been upwind.

I’m probably being a climate-change alarmist right now, but I think we have never had such frequent windstorms in New Jersey as we have had this winter.

I have been well this week, but not in the blogging mood. I am working on gaining momentum now on all my work projects and hope to get back to my personal projects—like programming—soon. I have been so into coding for work the past couple months that I haven’t even turned on my Mac mini (which I almost exclusively use for coding) in two weeks. (Shameful!!😅)

I am at a place where I am feeling more positive about the future (and specifically my future) than I have in quite a long time. I am not euphoric or anything—just hopeful. And I am trying to be more grateful, too, for my family, and for the opportunities I have now to do good things.