Minimizing My Blogs (a last post of sorts)

I’ve made the somewhat difficult decision to stop posting at this site.

I’ve had in the back of my head consolidating all of my various writing on my personal site (www.markcrump.com) for a while. I started The Casual Techie as a way to continue the sort of writing I used to do a GigaOM, but it never took off the way I expected. At GigaOM, I wrote about topics that non-power users would find helpful. Hense, the site name The Casual Techie. As I started down the iOS-primary path, the types of stuff I was writing about weren’t really so casual after all. I also found myself not writing about topics that weren’t technical in nature because maintaining two blogs wasn’t optimal.

A few organizations that reached out to me to review products didn’t want to send me review units because I had a personal, and not an “organization” site. I created The Casual Techie to give my own solely tech-oriented site a go. Ironically, the same people didn’t want to send me review units because I didn’t write for one of the established sites. At first I thought I’d try and go after the sponsored content model, but I never felt comfortable pursuing and selling myself that way. My overall readership is still low enough that I’m not affecting many people by making the move now.1

This is not the main reason I’ve stopped writing here, mind you. There are other things I want to write about, and I wanted to have a central site to write about tech, art, writing and whatever crosses my mind. At some point, I’m thinking of moving off the free WordPress host I’m on to a hosted platform where I have more customization options. At that point, I wanted to have only one site anyway. My model for websites has become less Daring Fireball and more Shawn Blanc, Jason Kottke and Ben Brooks. Personal content about matters of interest to me.

I exported the blog posts from this site over to the new home. If you had bookmarked this site, please change your bookmarks.

  1. I’m averaging about 150 vistors per month. Almost all of them from links to my writing I’ve posted in threads at MacRumors.
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Books Read in 2016 — 57 books in 52 weeks

I know I read a ton of books. It’s my primary leisure activity, surpassing even gaming and trains. This year, I thought I’d see just how many books I read in a year and kept a list. The following list is the books I’ve completed. The partial list is a book I got at least 30% into before calling it quits. Not counted are books I read a chapter or two and didn’t go any further. There are some short books in there — the Quarry series are short books. I make up for it with The Historian and The Winds of War and War and Rembrance. Hefty tomes, them.

  1. Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson
  2. Everywhere Mary Went – Lisa Scottoline
  3. Seveneves – Neal Stephenson
  4. Neverwere – Neil Gaiman
  5. Mycroft Holmes – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’
  6. The promise – Robert Crais
  7. The Big Short – Michael Lewis
  8. The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova
  9. Creativity, Inc. – Ed Catmull
  10. Quarry’s Choice – Max Collins
  11. Quarry – Max Collins
  12. Quarry’s list – Max Collins
  13. Quarry’s deal – Max Collins
  14. Quarry’s cut – Max Collins
  15. Quarry’s vote – Max Collins
  16. Last Quarry – Max Collins
  17. Last night in the OR – Bud Shaw
  18. Quarry in the middle – Max Collins
  19. Darknet – Mathew Mather
  20. Dark Disciple – Christie Golden
  21. Friction – Sandra Brown
  22. The Hexed – Heather Graham
  23. Extreme Prey – John Sandford
  24. Rules of Prey- John Sandford
  25. Shadow Prey – John Sandford
  26. Eyes of Prey – John Sandford
  27. Silent Prey – John Sandford
  28. Winter Prey – John Sandford
  29. Night Prey – John Sandford
  30. Illidan – William King
  31. Warcraft: Durotan
  32. End of Watch, Stephen King
  33. Last Guardian, Jeff Grubb
  34. Mind Prey – John Sandford
  35. Fool me once, Harlan Coben
  36. Sudden Prey, John Sandford
  37. Secret Prey – John Sandford
  38. Certain prey – John Sandford
  39. Easy Prey – John Sandford
  40. Chosen prey – John Sandford
  41. Black Widow, – Daniel Silva
  42. Kingpin: How one hacker took over the billion-dollar Cybercrime underground.
  43. Winds of War, Herman Woulk
  44. War and remembrance, Herman Woulk
  45. Every 15 minutes – Lisa Scottoline
  46. Razor Girl – Carl Hiaasen
  47. Temporary Agent – Daniel Judson
  48. Shadow Factory – James Bamford
  49. Silent Sister – Diane Chamberlain
  50. Changer, Matt Gemmell
  51. The Girl in the Spiders Web
  52. The Bat: Jo Nesbo
  53. Escape Clause – John Sandford
  54. Sleep Tight – Rachel Abbot
  55. Night School – Lee Child
  56. Inferno – Dan Brown
  57. Catalyst – James Luceno

Partial Credit (Started but did not finish)

  1. Fireman, Joe Hill
  2. Fatal System Error

The Medicinal Value of Fucking Off

Last week, I wrote about fucking off less. My hope was that by shutting down my Macs and moving the keyboard behind my gaming PC, I’d be more productive with my free time. A friend of mine even jokingly texted me, “Stop fucking off when you get home!”

There’s a saying by Helmuth von Moltke that’s applicable: No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. My week of productivity was sidelined by a bad cold. I got the cold Tuesday and sucked it up all week and went in to work. Saturday my body shut down on me and I was too ill to even play a video game. I did manage to write about my favorite iPad Pro apps, but even that quick post took a lot out of me.

Sunday I felt a lot better. I gave some thought to writing and drawing. I did work on my trains for an hour. I have a set of cars (86′ hi cube) that have proven to be a real challenge to get around the club layout. So, I spent an hour working on adjusting the couplers to try again this weekend.

The rest of the day? I played the new Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion. It was the antithesis of what I preached last week. Fuck off less; create more. It was also exactly what I needed.

Some times, you’ve given, well, adulting, as much of an effort as you can. The week I was sick was rough. I had meetings the made it impossible to call in sick, where even a day off would have meant getting ahead of it enough to stave it off. Alas, I couldn’t even sneak out a little early on Friday since I had a 4:00 meeting.

I needed a day to transition from being sick to being well. While I was capable of cognitive thought, I needed to let my mind and body heal. Some people binge watch a TV series. I chose to bing play a new expansion.

While it’s important to Be All We Be, and Always Give 100%, sometimes it’s also important to Have Zero Fucks to Give.

Just don’t do it every day. Only when used for medicinal purposes.

Creative Goals, 2016: The Accountability Post

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how I set what I felt were achievable creative goals for 2016. The year isn’t over yet, but it’s not too early to view the results. Nothing that will happen for the rest of the year impact the results, and at this point even if I did cram and meet them, it would be like getting some projects done just in time for your annual review at work.

I wanted to get the following done:

  1. Write 22 blog posts: Fail. Now, it’s possible I could write 22 posts before the end of year. I do have some cooking. If I did, though, it would satisfy the requirement, but not the intent which was to consistently deliver content for the site. Instead, there was a nearly 8-month gap between posts.
  2. Finish one piece of art beyond the sketch phase: Success. I likely won’t show it to anyone, and it’s still rougher than I would like. I did sketch and ink it in Procreate. It’s not an original piece of art, though. I saw a drawing someone did online and thought, hey, that’s in a style close to what you can draw, give it a go. It’s not colored as his is. I’m color blind and don’t feel comfortable working in colors yet.
  3. Write 40,000 words of fiction: Epic Fail. I didn’t write one word of fiction. I’m not disappointed since I thought this was the unlikely one to complete. Fiction writing is the hardest form of writing for me to do. I have the basis of a character. In 1999 I started working on a novel set in London. The main character was a bit of a Lisbeth Salander-type, but before Stieg Larsson’s novels came out. I’m still working on what her story is, though.

Extra Credit:

The year wasn’t a total dumpster fire for creativity, though. I got back into model railroading and rejoined the club I was a member of. I’ve been helping them with some scenery projects. I’m also building a module for the Ntrak organization I belong to.

I also did a photo night with a co-worker and have been getting back into some photography.

Sal Soghoian leaves Apple

Apple has eliminated Sal’s position “for business reasons.”

This sucks. Sal was a leader in macOS automation and scripting. His termination is another area where I feel like the Apple I have known and loved just isn’t the same. What’s the future for automation and scripting in Apple? Who the fuck knows at this point.

Sal has an incredible gift of explaining incredibly technical terms with the casualness of explaining how to throw a chili together.

Digital Nomadship and My Personal Relationship with Tech

I am fascinated by digital nomads. The idea of carrying your belongings in a bag and traveling where your heart takes you is appealing to me. I used to be a roadie for rock bands. Family lore has Irish Tinker in my blood. I get wanderlust. I love to travel. I hate the hassle of traveling, but I love seeing new places. I am genetically dichotomous. The gypsy blood wants me to roam; the German pragmaticist wants me to grow roots and be a slave to a routine. The German part of me wins more often. In my mind, the trains always run on time. I don’t like it when the timeframe for a get together is vague.

Every kid has fantasized about joining a circus. We’ll be mad at our parents and want to pack our earthly belongings into a paper sack and take off. Sometimes as adults this feeling never leaves us. We look longingly at a picture of an exotic place and think, “Fuck it. I’m going to quit my job and go live in Caribbean.” This is common in New England in the dead of winter when yet another blizzard drops 2′ of snow on us. Or what’s normally a 30 min commute turns into a 2 hour crapfest because of an accident.

The Boston Globe had a great article about the gig economy. I think if I was in my 20s now, going 100% independent would be what I would strive for. Corporate loyalty only goes in one direction these days, and it’s not towards the worker.

The reality is, I’ll never truly become a digital nomad in my career. I have roots, and I like being surrounded my stuff. Even if I had job that supported a fully-mobile lifestyle, I like having a home in the woods with my people and animals.

In all other regards, I’m a digital nomad. I can’t remember when I used a desktop as my primary computer. The early 2000s, I think. Once I got a hand-me-down Mac laptop at an old job, PowerBooks, and now MacBooks became my daily drivers. My iPad Pro is increasingly becoming the only device I need on the road. Every iOS revision I get closer to only keeping a MacBook on for iCloud sync and using iOS as my Primary OS.

Early last year, I bought a MacBook Air, 11″. We had a sudden failure of a 2009 MacBook Pro 13″, so I handed down my 2011 MacBook Pro 15″ and bought the Air. The 15″ then died so we bought a Chromebook to replace it and I put the 15″ on the shelf. It turned out the 15″ was covered under the Apple extended warranty for GPU failures1 so I was able to get it running again for free.

That 15″ is a laptop I have immense love for. As much as an inanimate object can help, it got me through an incredibly tough period of my life. I was going through a divorce, a job loss, my mom’s successful battle with cancer, and wrapping up my college degree. I wasn’t home more than I was, especially during the divorce. The 15” and eventually the iPad 3 were with me for every step. I bought the version that had the discrete GPU so I could play World of Warcraft when I wasn’t at home. The large screen helped a lot doing my chemistry homework. My only regret 5 years later is I didn’t get the version that had the 1G card. In hindsight, I was foolish to think 256gb on a video card would be enough. I’ve since replaced the hard drive with a 400g SSD and upped the ram to 8gb. Even with the entirety of my OneDrive account still residing on the 15″, I still have a 145g free. I can upgrade to a 1TB drive for short money. A few years after I bought it, Apple started making the MacBook Pros harder to upgrade, so in a lot of ways it feels like the last of the V8s.

Likewise, I have no regrets with the 11″ Air. I could have bought a higher-end version with the 512gb drive, but even with my Lightroom Library on the drive I still have 50 gig free on it (the OneDrive library, obviously isn’t on it). The Great Cloud Storage Consolidation of 2016 let me offload large, infrequently-used files to a cloud storage and never need to store them on my Mac — these are files I primarily read on my iPad. Upgrading the SSD is more expensive than the Pro, but I can update it to 480G or 1TB.

All things being equal, if the 2009 Macbook Pro died a year later I would have bought the iPad Pro, handed down the 15″ and when it had the GPU failure still bought the Chromebook (it’s worked better for her than any other laptop I’ve given her). When it got fixed, it would become my desktop Mac. I have an Alienware Alpha to play games serves as the print and media server for the house, so if I needed desktops-type stuff, I was covered. The 15″ would have become my on-the-road Mac.

Events didn’t unfold that way and I have two laptops that are perfect for me, just in different ways. I’m not going to get rid of either of them. I also can’t use both of them at the same time2.

Day-to-day use, they perform about the same. Geekbench-wise, the Air is a tad faster on single-core, the Pro about 3k higher on multi-core. In my games, the HD5000 on the Air benchmarks close to the 6490M on the Pro, but the Pro doesn’t have the frame rate sags the Air does. That said, the Air takes advantage of Metal. WoW supports Metal so it runs on the Air a little bit better.

What does this have to do with portable computing?

On the recent Upgrade podcast, Myke Hurley and Jason Snell were discussing Jason’s article When traveling, the iPad is essential and my Mac is the add-on. I don’t think in either the article or the podcast discussion Jason defended his thesis well — while he was outlining areas he thought iOS could improve, it came across more of a indictment of working on iOS than supporting why it was essential. However, Myke asked Jason a good question: If you could only bring one device, which would it be? Jason hemmed and hawed and didn’t really answer it because Myke set him up — Jason’s use cases make it more likely than not he would have to bring a Mac with him when he travels; this may not be the case in a couple of years.

I know what the answer would be for me: the iPad Pro in almost every situation. Even if I was traveling through Europe for a year, the only reason I would bring a Mac is if I was doing photography that required the full version of Lightroom. I could live without WoW for a year. Lightroom Mobile even covers most of my basic post needs.

It’s when you ask me to pick one MacBook I have a dilemma.

The Mac leaves the house for very specific purposes. I could be presenting on a screen while I’m working on a document. The iOS version of Excel falls down on some of the data-driven spreadsheets I use.3 In a few weeks I might need to work on an complicated Excel file with a friend. I’ll bring the 15″ so we can work on it together and I don’t have to worry about any issues with iOS Excel. I could be going to a Tableau seminar and need a laptop for their hands-on labs.

The Air is more portable, has better battery life, faster read/write performance, USB 3.0, and weighs a metric shit ton less than the aircraft carrier-sized 15”. The Pro has a larger screen and hard drive, slightly faster multi-core benchmarks, worse battery life by about 2-hours, … and a whole lot of fun memories that come back when I use it. It’s like the ratty pair of slippers you don’t want to throw away because you remember wearing them all the Christmases with the now grown-up kids opening their presents. It even has the hole still in it the now long-dead dog chewed in it.

The Air is not without its memories. My cat, Harrison, died last year and until recently there was still one of his paw prints on the back of the display. I was bummed when I looked for it a few days ago and it had finally rubbed off.

I written a few paragraphs about how I didn’t have the attachment with some of my older Macs and iPads that I do with the iPad pro, the 15″ and the 11″. But that’s not true. The 2006 plastic MacBook I was able to purchase entirely with freelance money — the first time I was able to do it. The scores of articles I wrote for PC Gamer with it on the train in and out of Boston. The 2009 MacBook Pro that shipped with the Nvidia 9400M that actually wasn’t a bad little video card for the time. It also got 7 hours of battery life — a huge improvement over the whitebook. My first interaction with Trish — an email exchange via eHarmony happened on that keyboard. I’ve met a few still-close friends playing online games on that MacBook Pro. My original iPad — handed off without much of a thought to a friend — introduced me to the world of reading electronically and has allowed me to amass a massive library that doesn’t require its own building. iPads have been my constant companion since I got the first one in 2010. Six years seems like a lifetime ago.

These devices, these little soulless pieces of silicons are our windows and doorways into the world. Our fingers touch them very day. They are the devices we share the good news of a newborn child, that she said, “YES!”, and a new job. We type the bad news of a passed family member, an impending divorce, and a job loss. We can drive by a store and remember a happy dinner within the walls. I can remember the keyboards I first talked to a new love and passed on bad news about a marriage. Typing out on Facebook about a death. Musicians mention the instruments they create a memorable song with. Guitar players wax poetic about writing songs on a hunk of wood and wire4; writers remember the keyboards and devices we write on.

What’s nice about light, thin devices is creative people can work wherever the muse strikes us — or we chain her to a chair and make her get to work. Nomads travel to where the work is. Now, my creative endeavors can travel with me.

  1. The moral to this story, kids, is don’t get a Mac with a discrete GPU. Those things have a high failure rate.
  2. I can come close, though. With all of my files in iCloud drive it’s just a syncing issue. One app I use writes a lot of logs that I need to reference. I’ve found the iCloud syncing is a little slow in that regard, so I had to store them in the Documents folder.
  3. I should be working on my work laptop, but at this point I hate the T440 I have so much, I’d rather use our VDI on my Mac than use the T440. I’m in line for an upgrade to a T460 which I understand to have a better trackpad and also is a smaller device.
  4. I play the guitar. Don’t email me.

TotalCon 2016

This year was the 4th year in a row I attended TotalCon. TotalCon is a wonderfully-run board and RPG convention in the Holiday Inn in Mansfield, MA. It’s interesting to see how my tastes have changed since I started coming. Four years ago I solely played D&D. Two years ago I did a mix of RPG and board games. The last two years I have done board game solely. The main reason for this shift is I don’t really like playing role-playing games with people that aren’t my regular gaming group. We tend to approach the source material with a certain irreverence that is hard to match in a convention setting. Board games work great for me at the con. That said, my approach to TotalCon is I make my own fun. Looking through the event listings the last two years, if I didn’t run the board games I did, I wouldn’t have gone to the con. I enjoy teaching people board games so it’s a win. Plus I get to play games that don’t hit my table often.

For this post I’m going to mention the games I ran, how I thought they went, and what I likely do next year.

Arkham Horror – Thursday 1pm and 8 am Friday:
Arkham is one of my favorite games and a game my regular gaming group does not enjoy playing. Four hours as a teaching game means we won’t the defeat the bad guy, but people get to at least play and learn the game. Next year the only difference is if I run it twice I will do it back to back to cut down on the setup and tear down. The system I have for Arkham lets it hit the table fairly fast, but I’d rather do it only once.

Eldritch Horror – Thursday 7pm: This was well-attended. People seemed to have a good time and it was nice playing with a father and his two sons. Even though the game was sold out, it didn’t have that big draggy feeling lots of Eldritch games with a lot of people tend to have. We had 6 people which is really the upper limit of the number of players it supports. That said, even though it was sold out and I love the game, this will be the last year I run it. My gaming group loves Eldritch and I don’t need the convention to get my fix.

Firefly – Friday and Saturday 1pm
Both Firefly games were over attended and I had turn people away both times. We also ended up with 8 people which is way too many. The unfortunate part of this game for me is I own most of the expansions making the board fricking huge. I can’t undo it since a some of the cards from the original game have been replaced by expansion cards. It’s a pain to set up and tear down and it takes up the entire table. I’ve made a few changes already: I ordered this storage solution and I’m going to get some 4x4s cut down to 6″ sections. The game boards will set on these. Next year I will run Firefly back to back. Next year, though I am going to hard stop the number of players at 4 or 5. Eight is just way to much. By a long stretch, this was my most popular game.

Fury of Dracula – Saturday 8am: Oddly, this game was the first of mine to sell out. The table was fantastic. They quickly got the rules and had a blast scheming up ways to try and find Dracula (me) we didn’t end up finishing, but I think I would have run the clock out. This game my Friday night group doesn’t like to play, so I will definitely run it again next year. Maybe even twice.

Spartacus – Friday and Saturday 7pm: The Friday night game has taken on a life of its own. The same group of people have played with me both years. We had a blast last year and almost everyone showed up again. Spartacus is a game of backstabbing and treachery. With the proper group, the game is a complete blast. This year we picked up right where we left off. The game was so exciting I had a hard time sleeping afterwards. That said, the Saturday option wasn’t well-attended and lacked the energy of Friday night. I will be running it one night only next year.

Sons of Anarchy – Thursday 10am
This went ok. The 10am slot on Thursday is tough sell. We had enough people to get a game in, and it was a good time. Next year I don’t think I will run it. The last two years I’ve run it have been sparsely attended and it’s one my gaming group will let hit the table.

For next year, in replacement for Eldtritch horror and Sons of Anarchy I’m thinking running a Small World, Pandemic, or Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters has a hard cap of four players, and four players are required to play the game (although you can run more than one Ghostbuster). My plan for the cons is to either run games my Friday night group won’t play (Arkham, Fury), games that I don’t play enough (Firefly), or are just plain fun at the con (SPARTACUS!).

My chief complaint is the restaurant at the hotel every year feels like they are shocked at how many people show up. The smaller menu isn’t that good, the service is slow, and the food isn’t prepared well. Plus, my GF is a vegetarian and the best they offer is a chicken Caesar salad without the chicken. No protein for vegetarians!

There are rumors that the convention is moving next year. I’m bittersweet if that happens. The new location is convenient to me, and by now I know my way around. I know where to park so I’m close to the board game area. But the convention has outgrown the hotel. The board game area was packed and it felt like a 20-degree difference between the hallway and 10 feet into the room.