Tomorrow morning my 15 year old starts Drivers Ed. I figured he could use a little practical experience before to help abstract concepts seem more real. So I had him drive me to the end of the driveway. And then he backed back down. And then he wanted to go again. So we did it twice.

We did not exceed 3MPH. As I was explaining things to him—he is not into cars like I was at his age—I came to realize driving an EV is a lot simpler than a gas car. So first time I get him in the vehicle he’s likely to drive most, I’m going to have to explain a whole ‘nother level of stuff like “when you take your foot off the brake your car typically takes off on its own before you ever press the accelerator.”

One of the things I love in July is waking up and putting the Tour de France on. I haven’t been able to watch it live until today. Unfortunately since NBC shut down NBC Sports, the race is no longer broadcast fully on TV in the US. Apparently only a couple stages will be broadcast on NBC this year. For years now, NBC has been funneling cycling fans to streaming to watch a sport that doesn’t fit with American sports TV norms.

Yesterday, I missed Mark Cavendish capturing the record for most TdF stage wins all time, and even Eddy Merckx himself said “Such a nice guy to break my record”. Of course Merckx himself is not diminished by this at all. The sport has changed a lot since his time. Nowadays an outstanding sprint specialist can achieve such a stage win record, while Merckx is know as the greatest all-around rider, winning many full races. This is not to speak ill of Cavendish.

Something entitled, "Thoughts 2020 Aug 1"

I was digging through my Apple Notes looking for something else, and stumbled into this, in a folder I labeled “Journal” which appears to be a one-entry attempt, while on vacation with my family. Below I’ve pasted the entry in full.

Thoughts 2020 Aug 1

Williams Pond, Bucksport, Maine

There are no great men. Only great deeds. A man should be measured by his deeds.

There are no great nations. Nations may do great things. They should be judged by both the balance of the deeds, but also by the recency of their last great deed.

There are no great religions or mythology. There are only great morals, lessons, stories.

What’s the largest vessel that can be considered great? A novel? A song?

--*

FWIW, I also only logged one entry into Apple’s Journal app for iPhone, as well. I’ve never been able to pick up the habit.

On the aftermath of Joe Biden's less than stellar June 2024 debate.

It’s been several days since the Joe Biden debate debacle. A couple of new crises— aggressive glare in the direction of the Supreme Court of the United States —have even surfaced since. News cycles never seem to slow down. I have been chewing on my reaction to the debate performance.

My current bottom line: anyone who understands what’s going on in the world, even loosely is voting for team and not candidate. No debate will change that. The only people who matter right now are “low-information” undecided, likely voters. Whatever they believe will determine the path forward for our country in this existential election.

Franklin D. Roosevelt is regarded as one of the most successful US Presidents. FDR was in office in a wheelchair for all terms of his presidency, and was in the final days of his life at the end of World War II while in office. The Germans actually surrendered during FDR’s 30-day mourning period. The US government continued to succeed during its most trying periods under his watch, and later the watch of his Vice President Harry Truman.

Joe has been one of the most successful presidents of the modern era. Joe can handle it, and if he can’t, there’s literally a line of succession. The government will be fine. The country will continue to work. There is no world in which an even moderately informed voter who is likely to vote for Biden will instead vote for Trump because they fear for Biden’s health.

It’s the low-information voter whose judgement I fear the most; the both-sidesism people (“They’re all bad!”).

Another scary angle is people who vote for opposite parties for president and congress. A GOP-blocked Congress can do a lot to hem in Biden, because Biden adheres to norms. A Trump presidency with a Democratic-led Congress can do a lot more damage by appointing more SCOTUS justices, and appointing cabinet members who will be tasked with dismantling the departments they head to “give power back to the states”.

Basically, if Trump wins, we no longer need alternative-history fiction to imagine what would have happened if the Confederacy won. We’ll see it in action. Except since it’s not 1865, the US is now the dominant world superpower with nuclear weapons… and “rivals” who also possess such weapons.

How did we get here? Two things coming to confluence at the same time.

Conservatives have been marching in this direction since the 70s. Since the GOP knows demographically they are unlikely to ever again be able to be legitimately voted to power on their policies, they must gerrymander and use other underhanded tactics to retain any power. I genuinely wonder if they will ever again win the popular vote for President? Seeing power slipping, they have surrendered all hope to the momentum of the alt-right, conspiracies, and a cult of personality around a known con-man that has no moral convictions(1) himself, and will tell them anything they want to hear in order to achieve or retain power. He will in turn be their strong man to set up a regime that cannot be overturned at the ballot box. He already made the crucial first step of capturing the Supreme Court, and freeing them to make decisions based on their political beliefs, and not following the traditions of American law.

(1) He does, however, have dozens of felony convictions.

Both parties are under the grip of leaders who are too old, and have not relinquished power early enough to allow the next generations leadership experience. Therefore regardless of which team is your team, the only people with a legitimate path to major party nomination for president are those who have been playing the longest.

This same mindset is what kept Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the bench until her death, allowing DJT to replace her with a right-wing sycophant. Younger generations need the opportunity to experience leadership by doing. Because they have not had that opportunity, there are no legitimate alternatives to Joe Biden in the Democratic Party.

Choices at the ballot box would not be a problem if we implemented Rank Choice Voting for Congressional and Presidential elections as they do in Maine.

Massachusetts both “Best” and “Most Expensive” while “Affordable”?

In a study released in January, Massachusetts was named Best State to raise a family, based on a number of factors, with an affordability rank of “3rd best”.

Massachusetts affordable? According to a different study, a family of 4 living in Massachusetts needs to earn just over $300k (pre-tax, annually) to live comfortably according to the 50/30/20 budget rule.

The catch is Massachusetts has a low unemployment rate while having high-paying jobs so that you can afford all the things, like taxes, that pay for the country’s best K-12 education, for example. Furthermore Mass ranks high or highest in healthcare outcomes, safety for children, and has the best water quality in the country.

Now I’d really like to know how many families in Massachusetts are hitting the “living comfortably” mark. Also, I would like to see it broken down by region. I doubt it costs the same to live in the Berkshires as it does in eastern Massachusetts (Boston Metro).

Surprisingly North Dakota ranks second best?

Broken

I’ve said it before, the Republican Party is completely broken. To get America functioning there is a not-simple formula—if there was simple formula it would have been fixed by now.

First split the GOP into two: moderates and extremists. The Democrats should probably also do this, moderates and Justice Democrats.

Each state should be un-gerrymandered, and only neutral parties should redraw congressional lines. Lastly every state should implement Rank-choice Voting.

It wouldn’t hurt to update the Voting Rights Act, to keep state legislatures from suppressing voters they disagree with.

WatchOS 10 Timer app Feedback

Apple’s feedback form has a character limit. My feedback on the watchOS 10 Timer app was triple the limit. So I am making this into a blog post instead. As a software designer, I can attest this is not an effective way of providing feedback. Since I have to edit this down by 2/3rds, I will try to make it more effective. But for my blog audience, you get my unedited emotion. Apologies in advance.

It took 9 revisions to get a decent Timer app in the Apple Watch. What happened in version 10? I myself design software for a living, so I am incredibly hesitant to write messages like these. I understand the challenges behind the scenes—unseen by users—that some times cause changes that are sub optimal. But in this case, I cannot recall a time when a new Apple product was released that took such a massive step backwards in usability.

Every time I visit the app the only visible timers are shown to me randomly, because they are arranged by most recently used. For people who set timers frequently, this essentially means I have to learn the layout every time I open the app.

In watchOS 9, I could designate “favorite” timers. This finally made the app useful. Why did you take it away? My timer I use most frequently could always be at the top! This is good! Why remove the feature?

Siri can name a timer. This is important, especially when cooking and setting multiple timers that run simultaneously. But the app doesn’t allow you to name a timer. I don’t always want to use my voice—what if I am cooking breakfast while on a call for work? Should I announce to my call “Siri set a 4 minute 15 second tea timer”?

Just bringing back the watchOS 9 app would be an instant improvement. But really—it’s a watch. Do better. — I know this isn’t a headliner app, but do you actually usability test major changes like these? If not, you should. You have enough employees to have under NDA to do this even before the public beta. I recall the Safari UI debacle of a few years back. Did you not have a retrospective after that to improve your process?

I am not the only one that noticed. Noted Apple developer Craig Hockenberry published a blog post about the Timer debacle, from a different standpoint.

Please don’t make us wait for a year for fixes to this core element of the Watch for your millions of daily users. Thank you.

Denmark 2023

Yesterday I returned from a trip with my family to Denmark. My great-grandfather immigrated to the United States around the turn of the century, and no one in our family has been back since, to our knowledge. I’ve wanted to visit since I was a child. We spent 5 days in Copenhagen.

In short, all the flattering things about Denmark are true. You can have a people-centric city that’s clean, safe, and a delight to walk and bicycle around. Clean, quiet, modern buses come every five to ten minutes, and all classes of people use them. You can have harbors and canals so clean that people regularly swim and fish in them. You can have good food sold in a 7-11. You can have a society where they take the environment seriously. They are rightful proud of their city.

No place is perfect. Denmark is not without problems. But on some universal challenges, like urban living, they exemplify that we can have nice things. And perhaps we should.

Silo

My wife and I discovered Silo this week on AppleTV+ when looking for a show we could watch with the kids (teen and pre-teens). We also finished the show this week. If you like dystopian future dramas, this is a good one. My wife and I never had an interest in that as a genre until we stumbled over Jericho in 2006. If that name rings a bell, its because it was the first show where the internet rebelled when CBS cancelled it. The protest involved 40,000 pounds of nuts (a reference to a line from the show) being shipped to CBS’ offices in LA and New York.

Silo is based on a book called Wool which has an interesting backstory itself. The author Hugh Howey is known as one of the first authors to make a living self-publishing on the Amazon Kindle (and later, other eBook platforms). He would later sell the rights to a major publisher, but reportedly took significantly less money in the deal, retaining the worldwide digital rights himself. I stumbled across this interview of Howey with Kobo Writing Life in which he explains the benefits of publishing digitally. Interesting if you like stories behind the scenes with creative professional.

I bought a Kobo eReader last week (which will be the subject of a later post), and checked out Daily Rituals by Mason Currey from the library, it is a pretty amusing coincidence that Kobo’s blog post gave me similar insight into Howey just after I watched his work, and while I’m using their device to learn about the backstories of dozens of other successful creators.

Started reading Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey on a lark today. It’s literally just dozens of short chapters detailing the typical daily habits of successful artists, writers, etc from the past 300 years. Pretty interesting. If anyone wants to tell you there’s a formula to efficiently produce creative work, this book suggests there are many paths to producing notable work.

Some artists get up at dawn and do not stop until 5000 words are written. Others don’t get up until 10 or later, loaf about and then write at night when inspiration strikes, sometimes under the influence of chemicals. Many held pedestrian jobs, such as at the post office or night shift supervisor at a power plant, and stole time here and there outside of work. One person didn’t even learn he was a morning person until a decade into his work!

So the answer seems to be “one size doesn’t fit all” and you should probably experiment.

How I Bought a Tesla When I Said I Wouldn’t

[You wanted 2,500 words on my first 2 weeks of owning my first electric vehicle, right? You’ve been warned, here it is.]

Last summer my family and I experienced a electric vehicle for the first time, by renting a Tesla Model Y on our trip to our nation’s capital. I wrote about that experience previously on this blog, including the conclusion (spoiler alert) that I would not be buying a Tesla.

Fast forward to last week, my family now owns a Tesla. How did we get here?

A lot has happened since last summer. One thing that did not change was that my wife and I very much wanted to trade our 12 year old Honda Odyssey for an electric vehicle. We are on a mission to decarbonize our lives within our means. Our plan was heat pumps, EV, solar panels, in that order. We received quotes last year on heat pumps to replace our oil burner for heat and hot water. Our first estimates were not something we could afford, but we are investigating new options this year.

The plan after our summer EV roadtrip was a Ford Mustang Mach-e. It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t cheap. But it was a nice vehicle and we could pull it off. Then Ford stopped accepting orders for the 2022 model. The while they were accepting orders, the internet was ripe with reports of dealers adding extravagant fees to orders… sometimes right at the point of delivery. This matched my only previous experience with a Ford dealer, where my wife and I investigated a Ford Flex before buying the aforementioned Odyssey. We got out of that dealership as soon as the sharks started circling. Later in 2022 Ford began accepting orders for 2023 models, with long wait times, and a steep price increase. Only the rear-wheel drive model with the small battery would qualify for the federal tax incentive.

We liked the Model Y, but the Long Range AWD model was still roughly $70k. Not doable. Volkswagen had a decent option in the ID.4. We liked our previous VW, and while the vehicle was receiving vanilla reviews, it would have worked fine. But at the time (and I believe this holds true as of this writing), VW had not begun selling ID.4s built in their Chattanooga, Tennessee plant. This means the $7500 federal tax rebate for EVs would not apply to the vehicle. The only other possibility was a Hyundai Ioniq 5, which is appealing in several ways and has solid reviews. But it suffered the same trouble as the VW: assembly outside of the United States (or selected trade partners—the Mach-e is actually assembled in Mexico). We could buy a Chevy Bolt, which is generally regarded as “excellent for the money” but is significantly smaller than the rest of these options, meaning it would really only be an around-town option. Our goal was to be able to make a family trips within a 2-hour radius with in the new vehicle.

There was nothing left to do but wait for something to change. In the meantime, Tesla’s CEO did his best to make buying a Tesla less appealing with his Twitter shenanigans and right-wing provocations.

Then everything changed in January. Tesla dropped the price on the Model Y that worked best for us by nearly 20%. The IRS had declared that the specific requirements of battery assembly that account for half of the federal tax incentive would not be in place until March at the earliest. Sensing an opportunity, Tesla made a bold move, and brought the Model Y down to the neighborhood of its original price. With the potential federal ($7500) and Massachusetts (MOR-EV; $3500) incentives, we could buy the Model Y for only $2k more than we bought our Subaru in 2019.

I ran the numbers with my wife, and we placed a reservation within a few days. Then started the waiting game. Would we receive delivery before the battery rules would be announced?

In mid-March, (it appears) we won that bet. We are pretty sure we will qualify by having taken delivery before the new requirements had been announced.

The catch? I had to retrieve the car during a March nor’easter snow storm. I watched a drive slide right off the road in front of me on my was to the Peabody Tesla Service Center.

We ordered a 5-seat, Midnight Silver, with 19” Gemini wheels and tow kit, January 19. In my previous review, I noted how harsh the ride was over the DC city streets. That vehicle had the gorgeous Induction 20” wheels, and hardly any sidewalls. Low sidewalls mean two things: rough ride quality, and much higher chance of tire damage or wheel damage. So while I find the Gemini wheel covers hideous, I had to get the smallest wheels available. I will buy aftermarket covers in the near future.

We also ordered the Tesla Wall Connector to install in our garage, which arrived a few days after our order. Our electrician installed it, and with permit and inspection, that added $1250 to the $400 for the charger.

I had a pleasant experience once I got to the Tesla Service Center. They had the car in an indoor bay, and when I arrived, it was unlocked and I had “as long as I wanted” to inspect it prior to using my phone to finalize the purchase. I took about 30 minutes, and used this web app checklist for inspecting the Tesla. The bodywork and interior of the Austin, Texas-made vehicle looked good to me. There were three things that are “maybes” on Model Ys. Mud flaps, Paint Protection Film (PPF), and a cargo bay cover. Mine only had the latter… the design of which is not particularly intelligent. The cover is articulated with three fold points. It appears as if you can lift the end straight up, which would be a perfect design. But, due to the design of the trunk/hatch space, the cover can only lift about an inch, making reaching items against the backseats infeasible. You have to arrange the placement of the cover before filling the trunk, and the cover sits awkwardly on top. Next to the lack of Ultrasonic Sensors (USS) for parking and other distance assistance, this is the biggest disappointment.

What about the missing mud flaps and PPF? These are considered “standard” on Model Ys delivering to areas where snow is common. The flaps reduce damage to the body from sand and salt kicked up from the road surface during the winter. The PPF covers a vulnerable area of the rear door bottoms. The service advisor said they were out of the supplies, and they would install them free at a future service appointment. I can understand that, but I wish they had said that upfront. I wonder if they offered this to customers who did not ask. I’m not delighted I have to drive 25 minutes both ways again because they didn’t have all the parts. Lastly, the service advisor should offer a tutorial for using the vehicle, but none was offered to me.

As I write this, it’s been two and a half weeks since we took delivery. What do we think so far? It’s as fun as I remember from the DC trip. My first thought was whether the DC model had the $2,000 acceleration boost option, because while this thing is very aggressive, my memory seems to remember the rental as even more so. It’s probably better for my wife that the pedal is not that eager. I realized what I liked the most. It’s that there’s no gears to shift, the acceleration is buttery smooth delivery of ample torque to all four wheels.

In late 2022, it came out that Tesla had begun shipping a refined suspension on the Y. As I mentioned before, that was the worst part of our experience in DC. Hard to say how much is our smaller wheel diameter, and how much is the new suspension, but it’s meaningfully better over rough roads. That said, it’s not right to think of this vehicle as capable as a Subaru, off-pavement, suspension-wise.

The Tesla delivers bumps to the occupants much more directly than our Subaru Ascent does on the same rough areas. The ground clearance is 2 inches lower than our Subaru, as well. It’s better to think of this vehicle as a spacious hatchback that won’t freak out on a maintained gravel road, or awkward, rutted dirt parking lot. This is fine for our needs. If we lived on rutted dirt roads in Maine, as we aspire to, I would look into aftermarket 18” wheels with even more sidewall space, and possibly metal skid plates, as opposed to the plastic ones that ship with the vehicle. Before winter, I will be considering aftermarket wheels for winter tires.

We love to drive it, and whichever person has the most driving to do takes the Tesla. Most days that’s my wife, because most days I work from home. This dramatically reduces our carbon emissions and gasoline consumption. With our roughly $0.32/kWh electrical rate, we’re not saving huge money over gas. But we are saving. I have the car set to charge only on off-peak hours. One day, generating our own solar electricity will bring this cost to almost nothing.

What don’t we like? Not much. As I noted during the DC experience, the interior is not as refined as I would expect from a $55,000 vehicle. Good, but not great. The lack of parking assistance is my primary complaint. Ultrasonic sensors (USS) were removed from the design, allegedly as a cost saving measure in 2022, with a promise to return the dependent features via a promised future software update. As of today, that update has not arrived for my vehicle. In the past two days, owners online report receiving the update. I reserve my judgement until I receive it.

I did not purchase the $15,000 upgrade for Full-self driving mode. This interests me in an academic sense, but I would never pay more than $1k for that, and it would need to be better than it is today. The progress of autonomous driving software v11, as seen in beta test videos on YouTube appears impressive. I am most interested in that software because it is believed that Autopilot features will run on the same “software stack” and that would improve features I use, such as Autosteer. Right now, Autosteer has disabled itself while in use, or won’t allow itself to be turned on at seemingly random times. I haven’t even driven daily for the past two weeks, and I’ve experienced these at least 4–5 times in clear weather. When it works, it’s pretty great.

In just my first few weeks, I have experienced “phantom braking” while using Traffic-aware Cruise Control (TACC) a few times, although a gentle version, not a full braking episode that could lead to being rear-ended. I use TACC about 90% of the time I’m in the car. Yes, even on town roads, although not on the smallest and twistiest.

I am interested in several features of “Advanced Autopilot”, namely Navigate on Autopilot, Auto Lane Change, and Autopark. I cannot justify $6,000 for these, maybe again $1k. If it could park in, and leave our garage on its own, which is a point of anxiety for my wife in particular, I’d instantly pay $1k.

The remaining qualms are in the infotainment system. To be fair, it’s the best designed, and most performant I’ve ever used in a car. But that’s not a particularly high bar. The primary complaint is how much worse the experience is for phone calls and most importantly, text messages. CarPlay is just so much better here. I wish Apple and Tesla would work something out between them—I have to believe 80% of Tesla owners in the US are iPhone users. I don’t need the full CarPlay experience, but for us, the experience of phone calls, texts, and podcasts (run directly from the phone over Bluetooth) is a large step backward. As a side note, I prefer the design of Apple Maps in CarPlay to Tesla’s Google-backed nav system, by a small margin. The feature I miss the most is Apple Maps allows you to easily toggle the navigation voice between on, off, and alerts-only. Tesla only offers a volume control.

Recently, Apple Music was added as a feature, for “premium connectivity” subscribers. The interface is usable and attractive, very familiar to Apple Music subscribers. But the implementation is buggy. I had to force the infotainment system to reboot within an hour of owning the vehicle because the Apple Music app froze. I’ve had to reboot it a second time when it refused to connect to my phone’s Bluetooth (I troubleshot and rebooted the phone first, of course). At least there is an easy way to reboot the infotainment system (hold both steering wheel buttons until the screen shuts off), even when driving. When our Harmon/Kardon based system in the Subaru takes a nap, the only way to get it back is to pull over and shut off the car.

Premium connectivity includes features that should be included with the car… Apple Music and the ability to view traffic within the nav system maps. These are features on everyone’s phone. I understand having to pay for bandwidth, but if I have unlimited data, I should be able to put that data through my hotspot. I don’t have a problem with having to pay to stream security video from the car, or stream Netflix while the car is parked (for example, while at a public charger). I will ultimately subscribe to Premium Connectivity for $100/year after the complimentary period.

The last thing is the Tesla mobile app. This is easily the best auto-companion app I’ve seen. Featuring many useful controls you can use from anywhere, you also can contact roadside assistance, book any service appointments, and communicate with service via messages through this app. It’s also how you manage the purchase, and you use it as your key to the car. For iOS users, there are home and lock screen widgets, and even limited “Hey Siri” commands, such as asking how much charge your battery has. The control I find most useful is “pre-conditioning”, where you can start the climate controls before you get to the car, and if the weather is hotter or cooler than optimal for battery performance, the car will heat or cool it for maximum efficiency before you depart.

In the end, this is a functional car that makes even short trips fun. Like all vehicles, it is not perfect. It’s a great match for our day-to-day needs. If it offered a usable 3rd row with adult headroom, it would be nearly perfect for our family of five + dog, for local trips and even road trips.

Emulating Processes — How far can it take you?

I came across a tweet about integrating the UX process into the Agile development process. If you’ve done UX with an org that governs product production with Agile processes, I’m sure you’re shocked by the prior sentence.

The author had a nice take, and included a found illustration of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa in various fictional states of iteration. He said that while time for iteration is theoretically encouraged in both UX and Agile development, what people plan for is a single successful iteration.

I shared this tweet with my design teammates at work, in a Slack channel. Our head of design responded,

which (iteration process) do you think Leo used for his creative / creation process?

After my mind darted in a few different directions, I asked myself, “Does it matter? Leonardo is a unique soul who may never be equaled again, could a commoner like me ever expect to adopt a master’s technique and find it useful?”

Randomly, my next thought was of Babe Ruth. To this day, many of his sporting feats remain at the top of the record books. He was fond of hot dogs and whisky. Many men are fond of these things, and are not legends of baseball. Conversely, many of today’s athletes are as physically and mentally trained as any human ever… and while Ruth’s career ended in 1935, and his feats stand.

Both men are exceptional. Are Ruth and Leonardo to be emulated, or merely appreciated?

They are worthy of study, but like many things in life, direct emulation is unlikely to duplicate their success. You are not like these men in nearly any manner.

Consider two other notable men… Bob Dylan and Steph Curry. Have these two men have ever existed in the same sentence together? Regarded as one of the greatest musicians and songwriters of modern times, Bob Dylan’s voice is unique and instantly recognizable. It does not meet the textbook definition of a successful singer.

Steph Curry may be taller than you or me, but at 6’ 2”, he is short for a professional basketball player. That’s particularly notable for a player likely to be remembered as the best shooters to ever play professionally.

What would we gain by examining Dylan and Curry? Both have elements that make them non-traditional prospects for their level of success. Both approached their work aware of their liabilities, and made a point to lean into them. Dylan leans into his vocal toolset, using it to amplify the emotion of his lyrics. You and I may not even be able to understand the poetry he’s singing, and yet, the outcome is formidable. Steph trains relentlessly on skills that help keep him away from players of even lesser talent whose height and reach could block his shots by practicing farther from the hoop. He practices difficult, off-balance or awkward shots, and works on his footwork, to allow him to get away from his opponents.

Emulating either man will not make you into voice of a generation, or lead to your own sneaker line, no more than emulating Leonardo will allow you to approach his heights. Instead, be inspired by how they achieved success by making the best out of who they are.

Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Experiment with ways to leverage your strengths. Ask others whose work you admire about their weaknesses and see how they address them. We can find a process that succeeds for our situation, our mind, our time, our context.

Just a Few Things

Last year, against David Allen’s precept to keep all your to-dos in a single system, I decided after more than 10 years combined, I wanted my work and personal to-do’s in separate systems.

Secondly, my GTD system of choice Cultured Code’s Things, had become overloaded with 100s of items in my inbox alone.

I stopped putting personal items into Things, and began putting them into Apple Reminders. But I never went in and cleaned out the personal bits.

Bit by bit, I’ve been pulling items out of Things and finding them a new home in Reminders, or other places, such as added to an Apple Note.

Tonight, I was trying to move all my blog writing ideas from Things, and put them into my Reminders.app Writing list. I opened one item and found 1,225 words of a post in the notes. Did I write this in Things?

How old are some of these items in Things? One music topic suggests I link to an Rdio playlist.

It’s been a week

I presume it was the flu that had me so miserable for two days, and then recovering the next three plus. I’m taking the final two weeks of December off, but I actually worked Monday morning, as I only got one-and-a-half days of work in last week. I really wanted to close that final Jira ticket, even though I don’t know that anyone’s going to actually develop what I designed before January. Either way, I can now have a guilt-free break.

I spent a couple hours this afternoon starting my Eleventy journey. It’s been almost exactly since I did much web development. Last year, I had to decommission my parents’ business web site, as they were retiring, so I took the site off the server space I permanently borrowed from a friend’s Media Temple account (which I hear this week GoDaddy is finally decommissioning the Media Temple brand after acquiring them several years ago, pour one out). They now have a placeholder one-page site at their URL… which eventually I’ll repurpose for myself, since it is my last name.

When you don’t use a local build environment for a year, you mind as well start from scratch, since things change so frequently. Fortunately, several of my friends are full time web developers and can walk me through the layers of nonsense. If you’re reading this and thinking you should learn how to build a site from scratch, do yourself a favor and start at Glitch and don’t leave until you must. I almost switched over today, if I’m honest. But it’s worth the effort to do my new portfolio site locally, if I am able port much of my Jekyll content to Eleventy, since I found a starter kit that has copied the theme/templates of my Jekyll site. I don’t really need to redesign the site, so much as reconfigure where the content is, and update the content from 2018 to reflect what I am up to now.

This is my winter vacation project.

Spring Cleaning in December

The other day, I opened up Safari and asked myself, what am I doing with these hundred bookmarks that I never use? Poking around, some date back 15 years or more. Now I have like 8. It felt like I imagine spring cleaning might feel like if I ever did that (or perhaps didn’t have a massive allergy to dust).

Inspired, I then went into my RSS news reader, and started removing things I mostly ignore. Was able to pare that down to the basics, maybe one-eighth what it used to be. Then, I looked at my micro.blog feed. I’ve been adding Mastodon accounts of people I’ve followed on Twitter forever. Some of those are relatively high-frequency and from people I don’t typically interact with. Since Mastodon automatically outputs a standard RSS feed, I decided to move those people to my RSS a news reader, and remove them from my micro.blog timeline. But, like most things, this is an experiment to monitor. Right now, several of these feeds are not updating in the news reader. I’m not sure how I’m going to troubleshoot this. 🤔

The Shipping Forecast

My lovely wife occasionally likes to fall asleep listening to a sleep story on the Calm app. Her interest in sleep stories, and my interest in weather crossed paths unexpectedly with Peter Jefferson and his Shipping Forecast for BBC Radio.

The Daily Mail had a nice summary of the BBC Radio Shipping Forecast, which has become such a fixture of British life that it was even referenced in the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics.

The Calm Shipping Forecast Sleep Story is very meta, in that they hired Peter himself to tell the story of the Shipping Forecast, and his decades of reading it into the night. And then, to finish the story, he reads a forecast. While I may understand a little more of jargon than the average joe, I will say, it is quite soothing and poetic to listen to.

“The version of it broadcast last thing at night”, says Jefferson, 71, “has been likened to a meditation, a mantra and a kind of lullaby since for many people it is not just rhythmic, familiar and soothing but also the last thing they listen to at night before falling asleep.”

Functional Music

You should consider using music beyond just listening to your favorite artists. Most people listen to the same few artists over and over, stick to one maybe two genres, and never listen to new music past their 40th birthday. I’m going to write about just one way I use music outside of this standard.

Years ago, in college, I discovered that listening to EDM while working helps me focus and keeps me energized. This is especially helpful since my work involves staring into a display, sedentary, for hours on end. For me, the music needs to have very little vocals. Deep house is a particularly good sub-genre of EDM for this purpose. These days, I’m a big fan of Above & Beyond for this. Their whole music label, Anjunabeats (especially sub-label Anjunadeep) are great for this.

I viewed my Apple Music Replay stats for 2022 today. I listened to nearly 55,000 minutes of music. That’s more than 916hrs. Roughly 38 days of music. Much of that goes through my Sonos Five pair in my office during the work day.

After EDM, I listen to classical and jazz while working, too. Sometimes, some ambient and new age-y piano music. Which brings me to the latest thing I’ve been listening to…

Nuit by Tony Anderson

…a great background music recommendation from Shawn Blanc, who previously suggested the Monument Valley Soundtrack with which I also love working to, and which set me on the path to Todd Baker and then to a band he’s in called Lydian Collective which became my favorite modern jazz quartet.

How does music help get you through your day?

FCC Broadband App allows you to tell the FCC if you’re getting what your provider claims is available.

I learned of the FCC Broadband Map today, which you can help build by downloading the FCC Speed Test iOS app, and running speed tests.

I live in a dark zone where it’s hard to get a signal outside, and impossible inside. Verizon claims on their map that I have perfect 5G, which I’ve never once seen here. And yet, when I stood on my back deck today, the wind must have been strong for me to get the highest numbers I’ve ever seen on my property.

FCC broadband test results 13Mbps down

In my shock, I ran a fast.com test immediately afterwards and got something far more regular. What explains the ten-fold gap in results?

fast.com speed test results 1.8mbps down

Links of Note — 28 November

Trying this type of post again. I always find so many things, and forget to log them here.

Researchers: AI in connected cars eased rush hour congestion | AP News

Researchers find that just a few cars using adaptive cruise control and sharing speed data can alleviate traffic jams that aren’t crash-related.

Where are the Passkeys?

David raises questions I too have… Passkeys could be very good for non-nerd security.

What is Mastodon

Drawn to help you explain Mastodon to non-nerds (originally posted to… Mastodon).

Study companion videos on YouTube

There’s a whole genre on YouTube of long form videos with chill music, video ambience, and…people studying? The internet never ceases…

Director's Commentary

I’ve been thinking about why I took a few months to publish my Tesla review, and I think I figured it out. I had wanted to share it in the Reddit Tesla community. I had spent a few weeks browsing there to prepare myself before my time in the car, and enjoyed it. But since some of the review was critical, I think I was scared I’d get flamed. I think some of that is due to the fandom of Elon. And this was August I was thinking of publishing… it might be even more likely to get flames now, given how defensive some people are being about that man. Oh well, if it gets put on Reddit now, it’ll be because someone else submitted it.

I think another contributor to delay was that draft one was over 2,600 words, and I knew it needed a lot of editing to be readable. You could argue it could use a few more edits. I actually cut a whole section on how horrible the Hertz rental experience was. I’m pretty sure they overcharged me, there was a fiasco with my credit card, and the Union Station DC physical location is an absolute dump (although the person who helped me was actually a really nice guy).

Anyhow, I had an hour and an iPad, Magic Keyboard case, and iA Writer while I waited for my son at his drum lesson, so I plowed through edits, and took another 10 or so minutes later that night and just shipped it. Thanks for listening to my Director’s Commentary for a blog post.

My Long Awaited Summer Road Trip Tesla Model Y Rental Review

This summer, I spent a week in Washington, D.C. with a Tesla Model Y rental from Hertz. I wanted to share what that experience was like. I had never driven any electric car before pulling out of the lot with our rental. (Why did it take me several months to finish editing and publish this post? Anyone’s guess.)

I had my wife and 3 middle-school aged children—in the Model Y’s 5-seat configuration—with me for the trip. The kids all already wanted Mom and Dad to buy a Tesla even before living with one. For background, I consider myself a “car guy”, and I design software for a living, so I have opinions on interfaces.

Our time in the car was a combination of driving from our accommodations in Georgetown into downtown for 3 days, parking in a garage, and walking the sites, and spending two days in the Williamsburg, VA area, about 160 miles south of DC.

Taking an electric car on a road trip is the most difficult test. Personal use from home would be much easier, since we would have a charging point in our garage, whereas here, we could only use public charging stations. Before investing in an electric car ourselves, we wanted to see what is was like to live with one.

TL;DR

  • I liked driving the Tesla a lot. It’s clear that electric cars are better than ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) cars.
  • If you have the means to buy an electric car, unless you have specific reasons not to buy one, you should buy one. If you can find one.
  • Tesla’s biggest advantage is the Supercharger network. I’d like to see a lot more car charging infrastructure—it is challenging to plan out where and how long charging will happen on a long trip.
  • The model we drove sells in the neighborhood of $70k. While I like the car a lot, the build quality and ride does not feel like a $70k car, and I will not personally be buying one.
  • We are leaning towards Ford Mustang Mach-E, with VW ID.4 as a second possibility.

As a side note, it’s awesome you can rent a premium electric car from Hertz. Also, renting from Hertz is a nightmare. I will leave it there.

Car controls come to life as soon as the car is unlocked, AC starts to cool, audio system reconnects. We easily loaded all 5 suitcases in the trunk, without needing the frunk.

One of the elements I was expecting to dislike the most was the single screen to control everything. I’m generally a fan of the minimalist aesthetic and think the design of Teslas inside and out are tasteful and attractive. But I am also aware of the usability advantages of physical (haptic) feedback of physical controls. After a week of living with the car, I disliked the ‘one screen to rule them all’ less than I expected. While the UI design is excellent, it is still a pain to use menus and receive no tactile feedback while focusing on driving.

The navigation system is excellent, although a few times it read directions too late for me to react with turns in close succession. The major reason (I suspect) Tesla doesn’t allow Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is because the Supercharger network roadtrip planning is well integrated into the navigation system. However, the map UI is at times hard to read, and the text is surprisingly small for important information such as exit numbers while traveling on the highway. Apple Maps’ UI in CarPlay is far easier to read while driving. On the Tesla display, you can run in light or dark modes (or have it switch automatically at night). I preferred the light map during the day, but the rest of the UI is easier to use in dark mode. I wish that was an option. And why is there no traffic displayed on the map? This is baffling… I looked for a setting to enable it several times. A web search now led me to a forum post where someone states, “To activate you need to tap on the trafic lights icon on your GPS map.” Why hide something that should be on by default?

While we are talking “infotainment”, let’s talk media playback. The best thing about CarPlay and media is the Apple Music integration. But in a Tesla, Apple Music users are stuck using your phone as a Bluetooth device. It’s frustrating not to be able to select a playlist without picking up your phone, let alone the inability to use any other CarPlay enabled apps such as a podcast player. Spotify and Tidal users can log into their accounts for a native experience and there appear to be other streaming options. This aside, the audio system of the Tesla is rich and enveloping. It is an audio system befitting a $70k car.

Let’s talk about driving. The Tesla handles great, with sports car-like tight steering and low center of gravity. The acceleration with instant torque and AWD is fantastic, even squishing the pedal a third of the way is like launching a rocket ship. This said, the Model Y is supposed to be “an SUV” (the best comparison is “crossover”), and no one passed the memo to the suspension. Feels like a Model 3 sports sedan. You feel every impact on your gut. Many of the streets we took in DC were under construction and we were beaten up on surfaces that would have been smoothed out with little fuss by our Subaru Ascent. Part of this was the beautiful 20” “Induction” (optional) wheels with narrow sidewall tires our vehicle was equipped with, part of it was the suspension tuning. I cannot imagine driving this on rough country roads, let alone rutted gravel roads a CUV should be at home on.

Around town, the instant torque helped merging in traffic and getting around obstacles with less stress. The first thing I had to get used to without practice was “one pedal driving”. For the unaccustomed, an electric motor without current acts as a brake. This braking action regenerates electricity which is added back to the battery, a process fittingly called “Regenerative braking”. This is fantastic, but there is a learning curve. When you stop accelerating, you’re already moderately braking. There is no coasting. In stop and go traffic this takes practice… but once you acclimate, you don’t want to go back. I estimate I touched the brake pedal about 90% less than I do in an ICE vehicle. After a day of use I was a near-expert and a convert. There are settings that simulate coasting, but that costs battery. My advice is to learn, adapt, and save power.

When you say “Tesla” one of the very first things people think about is “Full Self Driving”. The Hertz rental does not come with Tesla’s “Autopilot” driving assistant enabled. You do however get their “Autosteer” and their “Traffic-aware cruise-control”. These are mostly good. Neither, however, are as good as I expected, and my takeaway is that we are not anywhere as near to full-self driving as Elon would claim. Honestly, I prefer my Subaru’s Eyesight cruise and lane keeping systems to Tesla’s. Here are two reasons… if you enable Autosteer in traffic, you must continue to hold the wheel. Despite holding the wheel, you don’t get to have an opinion on where in the highway lane you are driving. In wide-open driving, this doesn’t make too much difference. But on a busier road, you frequently approach vehicles that are very close to your lane. At any speed, an aware driver would move farther in their lane away from an 18-wheeler that’s close to them.

If you try to shy aware from a big rig with Autosteer on, it will fight you, not allowing you to pull away… and then disabling itself with no tension ramp-down, meaning the pressure you’re exerting against the wheel is then freed, which makes you swerve and then you hopeful correct your heading. Furthermore, when you engage Autosteer again, if you’re not perfectly centered in the lane—and you never are—the car will jerk you into line the moment the feature is turned on. Autosteer has no nuance or subtlety. Subaru EyeSight only cares about crossing the line. Otherwise it’s fine with you being a bit to the left or a bit to the right of center. That said, EyeSight does not actively steer. It only encourages you to do the right thing by adjusting how much power steering assist is applied to the wheel. As I browsed the Mustang Mach-e web site the other day, I saw that Ford was advertising that Blue Cruise is aware that other vehicles may get too close. I can’t wait to see how their system works.

I have yet to mention the worst part about Autosteer. If it’s enabled in a lane that has on-ramps besides it, when the dotted line disappears between the on-ramp and your lane, Autosteer will swerve your car towards the ramp, as you are now on the far side of a much wider lane, if only temporarily. Since Autosteer has no subtlety and cannot apparently look ahead 20 yards to see that you will again be centered ahead, it must autocorrect your course immediately. This is unfathomable at this point in Tesla’s existence. How is this that bad?

The cruise control is also subtly flawed. For the most part it is smooth. It can know and automatically adjust your speed based on the speed limit without your intervention. Want to always drive the speed limit on the highway? Easy with one tap on the screen. Always want to drive 5MPH above the speed limit? You can set an “offset” and do this automatically. Very smart. But turning on cruise and autosteer is too awkward. I am used to either only using buttons in Hondas and Subarus, or using very intuitive stalk movements with VWs and Saabs. In the Tesla, you can only turn on and off with the stalk, and then you adjust with a scroll wheel on the steering wheel. It feels like too much movement for too little control.

The first few times, moving the stalk that is also used for selecting forward and reverse is very disconcerting. Imaging using your gear selector in an automatic transmission car to disable cruise control by shifting into reverse! Well, that’s how you do it in a Tesla. In fact, if you hold the stalk upwards to disable cruise and you hold there one second, the car will be placed in Neutral. Disconcerting.

But my biggest complaint about cruise control is also part of its biggest strength. The best cruise control systems make stop-and-go traffic suck less. Tesla takes this to another level. If you have cruise enabled, and you’re stopped for less than 5 minutes, the car will start forward movement again without your input. On my Subaru, I have to tap the accelerator to reenable cruise after the vehicle has come to a complete stop. I prefer the Tesla option. So what’s the downside? Tesla knows only one way to move itself from standstill: rocketship. This is problematic if the car in front of you only gently moves forward a few yards, then stops, because you launch and then immediately decelerate. It’s so bad that I was constantly questioning whether I should tough it out, or manually take over. But it gets worse. Tesla has settings for acceleration! You can choose “Chill” to greatly reduce the sensitivity of the accelerator. But the car does not apply this chill choice when it controls starts itself. Rocketship or nothing.

Moving on to the car body, the roof is tinted glass. This is cool. The back window is a separate pane of glass, but it is all-but unusably small. If given the choice, I’d prefer more usable glass in my rear window than my roof. The car has a myriad of external cameras, and they’re mostly great. But rearward vision is compromised, and best I could tell, there’s no blind spot warning. If a car is in your blind spot, it’s drawn on the center screen, but the part of the screen it’s shown on is partially blocked by your hand on the steering wheel. When you put on your blinker, you are shown a camera shot of your blind spot in the same spot of your center display, but of course, if you’re looking to change lanes, you’re not looking down there, you’re looking at where you’re driving. Not a huge deal, but it feels like they have all the tools while not using them to their fullest potential. Positively, there’s a button on the screen that, at any time will display all the exterior cameras on the display.

In close confines, the car will measure the distance between your car and other objects. This is especially useful during parking. I wish they’d use that same data when using autosteer, to adjust your position in the lanes during traffic. They do use their radar during driving, somehow… 3 or 4 times the car screamed at me to correct what I was doing but I don’t know what I was doing wrong? These alarms are intense.

Lastly, for a car that has such a delivery wait time when you buy, you’d think the build quality would be better. There was one piece in the interior of the driver’s door near the rear view mirror that looked randomly wrapped in cloth and placed. The frunk does not shut well. I understand the car makes use of lightweight materials and the frunk door is likely aluminum, but it’s not too much to ask of a $70k car for the doors to shut well.

If this was a $40k car, I wouldn’t complain, because I know the batteries and the tech are not cheap. But my Subaru was $40k and its build quality is excellent and feels substantial.

Lastly, let’s cover the charging network. It was brilliant for Tesla to build their own network. This could well be 50% of why I see Teslas everywhere. Non-Tesla charging is simply not as seamless. If you want to charge your Tesla at a public charger, you tap a few buttons on the screen, and the map tells you suggested chargers to use, based on availability, how much charge you have, and their distance from you. Prices are displayed, as well as how long you need to charge to get the level of battery you need (which you can further adjust yourself). Once you select a charger, the battery will prep itself so that when you arrive, it will be in an optimal state for a charge. When you arrive, you just plug in. Payments are automatic. There are many chargers in populated areas. I have no complaints beyond I wish every charger could charge at the maximum speed the car can handle.

There is a price I would buy a Model Y for, but $70k is about $20k too high. As Elon Musk gets more and more “eccentric” (let’s just leave the characterization at that), it becomes harder to want to send him money.

If you haven’t seriously looked into electric cars, now is the time. The Federal and many state governments are providing generous rebates, and the cars cost much much less than ICE cars to operate, using one-third the energy to drive, electricity costs less than gas, and you almost never need to service the vehicle. If you can install a charger where you live, every morning you have a full tank, and the car will greet you at a comfortable temperature. For our family, we are sold. The only trouble now is finding one we can buy.

Thinking through my sites

I’ve had a lot of blogs over the years. One I created with my college roommate from the CMS up in the early ‘00s. A WordPress.com, a Tumblr, a self-hosted WP blog about instructional design while I was in grad school, a small one as part of my Jekyll-powered portfolio site (last update 2018, as of this writing), and this Micro.blog which also “doubles” as my Mastodon account. That’s a barrel full of blogs, clearly I never tire of them… even if I haven’t always kept them all current. Now that I have caught the bug again, I’m thinking it’s time for a grand reshuffle.

My primary domain name, briandigital.com is the one I’ve had since… 2000? Sounds a bit like it, too. I’ve always had my portfolio site at that URL, as well as my professional email. When creating various personal and professional accounts on the web, I’d try to sign up with briandigital to “build my brand”. Later I acquired brianchristiansen.net and finally, after its previous owner let it go (he only redirected it to a photo site like SmugMug, if memory serves), I picked up brianchristiansen.com. These latter two point at the portfolio site. I never pointed a custom domain at any of my other personal blogs, excluding the very first, which was self-hosted on a sub-domain of my friend’s personal-brand domain.

My current thinking is that I should associate my briandigital domain to my micro.blog, as I have come to make this my personal home on the web, and publish out from here to Twitter, Mastodon, and I am considering a Medium account to push the occasional design-topic article out to… if I can figure out how to syndicate a single-topic out (could I also syndicate this to LinkedIN?). This would have the side effect of allowing my Mastodon account name to match my email account, I think. I could then could use my other two to point to my low use professional portfolio. This would probably have a beneficial SEO effect with my full name in the URL, as well as updating my LinkedIn to point at a site with my name as the URL.

From there, I need to touch up my micro.blog with a better about page, and perhaps a Now, and Uses page. I hope to get back to some linkblogging. I’d like to make a fresh layout, but I am not sure yet how to do that without a dev site to break over and over, as that is how I write CSS badly.

Next, I need a complete remake of my portfolio to move to a supported platform, and away from the otherwise lovely and simple Jekyll. I have picked out Eleventy (11ty) for this purpose because I have a couple of developer friends who can support me when I break my site over and over trying to build it, and upload to Netlify. Will it have a blog? Will I move my professional writing to a category within my micro.blog? Stay tuned.

Two thoughts on learning

Derek Sivers delivered a speech at The Berklee School of Music in 2008 that I came across the other day. There were two points in the speech I wanted to discuss in brief. You should read/watch the original, it’s thoughtful and concise. He numbered his points, here’s numbers two and three…

#2 : Do not accept their speed limit. Berklee classes set a pace the average student can keep.

If you do the minimum to graduate, you’re leaving so much on the table. I don’t know anything about Derek’s socio-economics pre-college. But not everyone comes into school at the same level. That does not mean these people are lesser than anyone else. If you can test out of half your college courses, that’s great, if your goal is to leave college as fast as possible… and maybe your economic situation necessitates that. Having courses set at the median speed allows less privileged people an on-ramp. If you are one of these people, you can still change the world. Remember plenty of great artists are self-taught, and there are plenty of musicians who succeed with only an innate understanding of arranging, or can’t even read music.

#3 : Nobody will teach you anything. You have to teach yourself.

This is the number one thing no one teaches students. A great teacher can present you with the right information at the right level for you to understand it. But ultimate skill is to teach yourself to learn. Teachers can help, but you are responsible for doing the work. You can learn from almost anything, and very rarely will you come across something that spells out exactly what you need to know. You need to trash about in your own context to learn the material. You have to push through the discomfort to get to the other side.

Have a nice trip, Jason

Jason Kottke is taking a sabbatical from his landmark blog.

Kottkedotorg holds a lot of meaning to me. Jason is probably the first person I regularly followed online, in the late 90s—early 00s… maybe Zeldman was the second. In the last several years, my reading of his site has gone way way down. I’ll pop in only a few times a year, if I’m honest. Right now I have 365 unread RSS items in his feed, with this post as the most recent. Every time I dip back in, I feel as though I never left, and I ask myself, why I did leave?

Funny, I wish I could take a sabbatical from work and blog and create art. He’s taking a sabbatical from something I’d take a sabbatical to do!

Good luck, Jason. Your writing is valued, and important. I hope you find what you are looking for.

RIP Taylor Hawkins, a drummer’s perspective

Devastated to hear of the loss of rock great Taylor Hawkins. My heart goes out to his family and his band.

I’m a drummer and Taylor was the great drummer for a band lead by a another great rock drummer. This one hurts the drum family especially hard.

This picture is an inside joke to drummers of a certain generation. Taylor’s playing a Gretch kit here, probably worth in the neighborhood of $20k. On the front bass drum head, he’s written in Sharpie, “CB 700”. He and I are only separated in age by a few years. If you were a kid drummer of our generation, it’s possible your first drumkit was a CB 700. They were trash drums. But they were the bottom of the range of real instruments.

Seeing this picture today brought me back to that time, being excited to go into music stores and check out the gear…

RIP Taylor. You were one of the good ones.