One part of our smart home setup is our Philips Hue lighting system. Over the years I’ve replaced many of our old light bulbs with Hue smart bulbs in various fixtures, which allows us not only to control the lights with automation and schedules, but also with our voices using Alexa and Siri. We can also group control of them through compatible switches without having to rewire what’s in the walls.
Philips also makes a motion sensor, which is great for rooms that don’t get a lot of traffic during the day, meaning that the lights go off when no one’s using them or where people often forget to turn them off. I have one of these sensors in my office and another in the pantry/laundry room. What’s nice is that these sensors also have thermometers in them, which means I can track the temperature in the rooms. Unfortunately, to find out out what the temp is, you have to open either the Home app or the Hue app to find out. Unless you do a little home programming.
I wanted to have the current ambient temperature of both rooms to be constantly updated and displayed on my desktop and, also, to get notifications if the temperature gets too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer and I might want to turn on the heater or the air conditioner to adjust the temperature.1
As you may know, I produce about a dozen different podcasts, most of them weekly, and keeping track of all the tasks of pre-production, recording, editing, distributing, and promoting them is challenging for a one-man operation like myself. Some shows I host, while others have their own hosts. Some shows I edit, while some have their own editors. It’s a lot of moving parts and if I don’t track every step, it could quickly fall apart.
I use Omnifocus, a Mac-based application, as my project management tool of choice and that’s where I keep all of the individual tasks that need to be checked off. Meanwhile, I use AirTable, a web-based database, to keep track of the shows, their episodes, who’s involved, and what stage of production they’re at, among other things. Since the steps to produce an episode of each podcast is pretty much the same every time, that means this process is ripe for automation. What was missing was a way to connect the AirTable and Omnifocus parts of the process because I was finding that I’d enter an upcoming episode of a show in AirTable and forget to setup the Omnifocus project. I needed some way to trigger the project creation from the first step of a new episode. Enter Zapier. Read More and Comment
I wrote a long post last year about our saga getting solar panels installed on our house and approved for activation by the local electrical utility.1 While the panels were installed in the spring of 2018, we weren’t able to turn them on until August 2018. So one year later, how is it going?
Pretty awesome, to be blunt. In July 2018, our last full month on the grid, we used about 1 ,200 kWh of electricity from the utility, costing us about $286 in charges2.
This July 2019, our solar panels covered all of our electricity usage (in a massive heat wave) and generated an excess of 500 kWh to put back in the grid, generating a credit of $100. The Tesla solar panel lease is about $130, meaning we paid about 1/10th the amount for electricity this July over last.
Our current total credit balance for the year is about $450 so far and if current trends match last year’s, we should be on track to cover most, if not all, of our winter usage.3 I am very, very happy with this.
Does that seem dramatic? But it’s the truth. Facebook has repeatedly banned a quote from St. Augustine every time I’ve posted it. And it’s not some fire and brimstone “Sinners are going to hell!” quote, but in fact, quite the opposite.
Earlier this week, I saw my friend, Fr. Matt Wescott, post the quote from St. Augustine on his wall. It’s a quote from a homily by St. Augustine of Hippo, a sermon that is contained in the official liturgical books of the Catholic Church because it is part of the Office of Readings for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Liturgy of the Hours (the Divine Office).
Here is the quote:
“Let us never assume that if we live good lives we will be without sin; our lives should be praised only when we continue to beg for pardon. But men are hopeless creatures, and the less they concentrate on their own sins, the more interested they become in the sins of others. They seek to criticize, not to correct. Unable to excuse themselves, they are ready to accuse others.”
As Fr. Matt said to me, he never received an explanation from Facebook, but that he’s “virtually certain it’s still the algorithm” taking it down because, as he says, the quote itself is challenging but inoffensive.
Then our friend, Fr. Chip Hines, posted it on his wall because he thought Facebook was being ridiculous and wanted to see if the same thing happened and it did. He has requested human review of the takedown and is still waiting.
So being the kind of guy who knows a bit about these things and curious about why it was happening I posted it too. Some friends saw my post and re-shared it. Then this happened. Read More and Comment
I’ve long been a crossword puzzle fan. When we were first married, Melanie and I would do the puzzle at dinner together as a fun couple activity. But as children came along that became impossible to continue at dinner. And then when I quit getting the physical newspaper in favor of a digital version, I gave it up entirely. But last year, when I started working from home, I decided to start doing the crossword during lunch during the week and on Sundays during brunch. At first, I printed them out from the digital newspaper and used a pencil, but that used too much paper and ink and seemed wasteful. But what if I could do the puzzle with my Apple Pencil on iPad?
Sure, there are plenty of crossword puzzle apps for iPad, from ones of questionable value up to the New York Times daily puzzle, but they all seemed overkill since I already had a newspaper subscription and they all used frustrating keyboard interfaces for completing them instead of the natural writing of the Pencil. So here’s what I did, first in my description of the steps and then with a video to illustrate.
First, I subscribe to the Boston Globe e-Paper1. Yes, the Globe website has a puzzle, but it’s not downloadable; it’s the same “complete it in a window” as the ones I didn’t want. However, the e-Paper is available both as an app in a web browser and as iOS and Android apps.2
Second, you should own the GoodNotes app for iOS (and an Apple Pencil). This is an excellent writing and notetaking app that is useful for a lot more than just this puzzle function, but it’s part of my workflow here.
Second, I open the app each day, go into today’s edition and go to the comics section.
Third, I tap on the crossword itself, which opens it in Article view, which is a full-page view.
Fourth, I hit the Print icon in the top right, but I don’t print it. This part is key: Do a reverse-pinch3 in the print preview window in the middle of the screen. This will open another screen that will have a Share icon in the top right.
Fifth, tap the Share icon and the Share sheet will open. If you do not see an option to “Copy to GoodNotes” on the top line here, keep scrolling to the right until you do. Tap on “Copy to GoodNotes.”
Sixth, GoodNotes should now open. If this is the first time doing this, you can import the puzzle as a new document. On subsequent imports, you can choose to import into the same notebook. If that notebook is open, you can append it right to the end or you can “Change Location” and select the correct notebook to append to.
Seventh, you are now ready to complete your puzzle. Obviously, unless you have a very large iPad, you will need to pinch and zoom to read the clues and write in the little boxes, but that’s what iPads are good at. Frankly, it’s superior to pencil and paper puzzles since when I erase, it never smudges and I can always ensure it’s at least legible as my handwriting allows.
Obviously, this can work with any puzzle (or any document that you want to write on really) as long as you have a way to print it on iOS. Once you have it in the print dialog, then turning it into a PDF that gets sent to GoodNotes is the key.
This is the first caveat: You have to be a paying subscriber. Support local journalism. Read the paper. ↩
Second caveat: the iOS app is of spotty quality. Sometimes they forget to format it correctly so one of these steps doesn’t work. In that case, I have to use the website to “print the PDF”. ↩
Reverse-pinch: Place two fingers (thumb and forefinger usually) together on the screen and then move them apart, like you’ve got some taffy on your fingers and you’re stretching it. ↩
I’m sometimes asked about my podcasting workflow, how SQPN goes about recording, editing, distributing, and promoting our shows. This is the second in a series of posts that explain the multiple steps that take me from the beginning to the end of the process for each show we produce. The first post described my hardware setup.
Before I record a podcast, there’s a certain amount of work that needs to be done. I keep track of all our shows and the individual episodes and where they are in the process using the relational database tool AirTable. The database is broken down into a series of views either by show title or specific filters like “In the edit queue” or “in the release queue”.1
Each record has the episode title, episode number, the date and time that the recording is scheduled (if any), the release date of the show, current status (i.e. idea, scheduling guests, recording scheduled, edit queue, posting scheduled, posted), series title, assigned editor, host, guests/co-hosts, episode description, editorial notes, link to the episode on the SQPN site, and then specialized fields related to particular shows (e.g. which Doctor is it, the Doctor Who season, Doctor Who or Star Trek original air date; the Mysterious World category; the Star Trek series and season, etc.) There’s also a database of the podcast panelists and guests and their contact information as well as databases for tracking the picks of the week for The Secrets of Technology and Let’s Talk.2
Sorry for the clickbait headline, but this does encapsulate some of the frustration I’ve been feeling lately. I listen to a lot of Mac/iOS/tech podcasts and read a lot of blogs in that space as well and one of the common trends I’ve seen lately is how many people have declared that the age of the PC is over and that the new touchscreen tablet era has begun.
Time and again, I see these pundits exclaim that they have eschewed their Macs, with their clunky keyboards and massive screens in favor of the simplicity of a touch interface and Apple Pencil, which has simplified their workflows and allows them to focus on getting their work done. Sure. Perhaps. But it sounds like a lot of hipster baloney to me.
I’m no neophyte with technology, but whenever I try to do my work on an iPad instead of my Macs, I feel like I’m trying to swim through a pool of pudding with one arm tied behind my back. It’s not that I can’t do my work there (although there are some things that are still not possible on an iPad), but that trying to do it there takes longer and is harder. So why do it? To prove a point? Read More and Comment
I’m sometimes asked about my podcasting workflow, how SQPN goes about recording, editing, distributing, and promoting our shows. Right now, for the most part, this is a one-man operation. However, we’re growing to the point where I’m going to need to start bringing on some help and handing off some of these elements to other people. So what follows is a series of posts that explain the multiple steps that take me from the beginning to the end of the process for each show we produce. The first step involves the hardware setup.
My office at home is where I do my podcasting. I have a big Ikea desk on which sits my computer and a second monitor and microphone. Actually “sit” isn’t technically true. Both the 27″ iMac and the 27″ secondary display are on separate swing arms that allow me to move and reposition them independently as needed. On a small rolling cart to my right sits my Mackie ProFX8 mixer. It’s a bit overkill for a single microphone setup, but I anticipate doing multiple microphone recordings in my office in the future and this will work well for that. The Mackie is connected to my Mac via USB.
I’ve written before about my history with Apple computers, and I would love to go back and see some of those great early computers we had. I would love to have that Apple //c or Apple IIGS again and all that great software. Pfaff plays with some of the software I used back in the day, including Olympic Decathlon. Happily, you don’t need to find an ancient, still running Apple II computer to revisit that old software as the Internet Archive has a lot of it online and usable in a browser-based emulator. However, it won’t uncover the old personal files, like the letter from his late father that Pfaff found.
But it can still be a fun walk down memory lane. I do wish I had that Apple IIGS though.
As someone who has been involved in podcasting for almost a decade and who podcasts as a full-time job now, I often get asked for recommendations for podcasting equipment for beginners. I wish I had a good quick answer for that, but I don’t. That’s because there is a lot to consider first.1 But before we get into the equipment, first dispose of any ideas that podcasting is like what you see on TV shows like God Friended Me. Just no.
What kind of podcast?
Is this going to be informal for a few friends? Are you going for a wide audience? Are you planning on commercializing it? Are you podcasting for your business or organization?
Where will you record it?
At your desk? In the car? On the go? Coffee shops? At a podium or lectern? In a lot of different places?
Who will you record it with?
Are you making a solo podcast? Are you doing a podcast with a co-host? A group of people? The same people or a changing panel?
How will you record it with them?
If you’re recording with other people, will they be joining you in your office? Via Skype or other remote service? In a car? Outside? On the road?
How much is your budget?
You can spend almost nothing up to thousands of dollars, although a decent setup that can last you through several advances in expertise can be had for a couple hundred dollars.
How long do you think you’ll be doing this?
Are you not sure if you want to make a commitment? Are you looking to experiment? Or do you plan on doing this years with a regularly scheduled show?