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Using Apple TV mute function with a Sonos Playbase

If you have the latest Apple TV Siri Remote (the one with the Mute button) and a Sonos Playbase speaker, you may find that Mute doesn’t work. Briefly, the solution is to set the Apple TV to use the Playbase as an AirPlay speaker. If you use the Playbase as a wired speaker, depending on your TV, the Mute might not be a permitted action. (I have a Sony Bravia TV, which treats the Playbase as an external audio system with immutable volume settings.) Switch to AirPlay, though, and all is well.

Book Review: The Influencing Machine

The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone

Realistically, what can I add about a NY Times Bestseller that’s written by a beloved NPR host? The book is critically acclaimed across the board, and it came out a few years ago, so there are plenty of reviews already published.

gordon meyer with book

Still with me? Thank you. Once up a time, I was studying broadcast communications, so I had a few media studies classes in college. And, as a sociologist, I was exposed to popular culture research, and I became very familiar with books like The Hidden Persuaders, and of course, the works of Marshall McLuhan. To my way of thinking, this book is in the same general orbit.

If you’re a fan of Scott McCloud, you’ll be tickled pink that this book is a triumph of non-fiction sequential art. I have deep admiration for what Gladstone and illustrator Josh Neufeld have accomplished in this regard. The writing, pacing, artwork and,—well, everything—is perfect. For that reason alone it should be required reading for technical writers and instructional designers in every field.

This is a revised edition of the book with an afterword for the Trumpian world in which we all now suffer. Some of what the book decries is now even worse than when it was originally published, and some of the hopefulness it expresses now seems naive. Adding the new material at the end was a smart move, as it’s impossible to read the book without feeling nostalgic for the pre-Trump and pre-FacebookNation era.

Some of the parts that stood out to me include:

  • Referring to the media as a societal mirror, Gladstone writes; “And who doesn’t take guilty pleasure in the refreshing salvia spray of a commentator spouting our views?”
  • For some reasons, 50,000 is commonly used in fearful journalism. Gladstone makes a compelling case for this odd coincidence, citing several headlines that all use the figure, such as “50,000 children die from hunger every year.” From now on, when I don’t know an actual value, I’ll just say 50K.
  • Mark Twain is credited with observing that little lies for money are nothing compared to the big lies upon which society is based. (Now, Twain is credited with many things he didn’t actually say, but Gladstone cites the source. (As she does for many other references, in one of the easiest to use presentation of End Notes that I’ve encountered.)
  • The true sense of the word propaganda is “propagation of faith.”
  • “Likes” and reactions on social media trigger a cocaine-like dopamine bump. And the bump is stronger when we’re talking about ourselves. In real life, we talk about ourselves 30-40 percent of the time. On social media, it’s 80 percent!
  • Harvard’s free online test for implicit bias is interesting and worth checking out.
  • Neuroscientists have detected people make decisions about seven seconds before they become consciously aware of making them. (Conjurors, take note!)

The one bad thing I do have to say about the book is that Gladstone lost me in the final chapter when the story line fractures into a mishmash of bon mots from “visionaries” such as Marshall McLuhan, Ray Kurzweil, and even Douglas Adams. It felt like an attempt to end the book on an optimistic note, but it comes off as Twitter-style exuberance.

I bought my copy at Quimby’s Books in Chicago, but of course, it’s also available at the Amazon.

Rewriting What’s New in Word

The latest version of Microsoft Word is displaying a shockingly poor “what’s new” message at first launch. I worked closely with the user documentation folks at Microsoft when they were first implementing Apple Help, and they were smart and careful folks, so I’m pretty confident this text was written by a junior engineer. But I have no idea how it made it past QA and product marketing.

MS Word screenshot of bad text

In the spirit of Usable Help, here’s a rewrite, which I’m sure could be further improved, but the first pass is free of charge.

View writing suggestions with a click

To see spelling, grammar, and other suggestions for improving your writing, Control-Click on a word. Other options available include Add to Dictionary, Smart Lookup, Synonyms, and more.

Note: I tried to figure out what “show context” meant in the original text, but couldn’t find it. Also, all the functions mentioned are available via the same pop-up menu so not only is their text hard to follow, I’m pretty sure it’s wrong. Personally, I’d drop the second sentence completely as it’s just a laundry list that muddies the water, but I kept it for contrast with the original.

Keep your vaccination card in Notes

Once you have your COVID-19 vaccination card from the CDC (and you do have one, right?) some people are recommending that you take a photo of it, so you have a copy on your iPhone.

That’s not a bad idea, and will probably serve you well until the government comes up with a more uniform (and secure) method of proving your vaccinated. (As a small business owner, I hope they hurry and do so.)

I think a better idea, though, is to use the iPhone scanner feature to save an image of the card in the Notes app. Briefly:

  1. Open Notes, then tap the New Note button.
  2. Enter a heading for the note, such as “COVID Vaccine.”
  3. Tap the Camera button in the Notes app, then tap Scan Document.

When you’re done, you’ll have a nice tidy scan of your vaccination card. (You might as well scan both sides of it, or better yet, scan your loved ones’ cards, so you have them handy if needed.)

This method is better than just snapping a photo because the scanner creates a better copy. Also, thanks to the heading you added to the note, now you can find it a lot faster than if it were just one of a zillion pictures in the Photos app. Just type “covid” or “vaccine” into the iPhone search field, and it pops right up. Easy-peasy.

Covid note in Notes app being searched

Book Review: Tono Monogatari

This is a very unusual book for me. It’s the re-telling of ancient Japanese folk tales using sequential art, and it’s published in the traditional Japanese manner so it’s read “back to front” and “right to left,” compared to other texts. (It took me about 25 pages to get used to this, by the way.)

The stories are illustrated by Shigeru Mizuki, who is apparently a Big F’in Deal in the world of Manga. (I don’t phrase it this way to dismiss him or the claim, but only to highlight the large gap in my knowledge.) The artwork is outstanding, and describing it as “stunning” seems like faint praise. Mizuki also helps bring extra life to the stories by including a few auto-biographical panels that are in reaction to the events being described, which is very charming.

gordon meyer with book

The stories of the Tono Monogatari are essentially the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, of Japan, and in fact, are similarly cataloged and varied. They were documented in 1853 by Kunio Yanagita, a cultural bureaucrat during the period when Japan was opening up to the rest of the world, and its rich and varied regional lore was being rapidly lost or willfully destroyed.

In reading these tales, I felt an immediate affinity for Yanagita, not just for the subject matter, but also for his sparse and first-person writing style. (Apparently known as bungo.)

Of the 119 tales in the book, the ones I enjoyed the most featured fairy-like beings, ghosts, shape-shifting foxes, tricksters, and giants. (The giants are described as humongous creatures who stand more than six feet tall. Who could imagine such a thing‽)

I learned a lot from this book and I greatly enjoyed it. If you’re a fan of lore, incredible ink art, and cultural surprises, I think you’ll like it too. I bought my copy at Quimby’s Books in Chicago, but of course, you can also find it in the Amazon.

Book Review: The Elements of Eloquence

It’s intimidating to write about this book for two reasons:

Firstly, after reading a book subtitled “Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase,” you might have a high expectation for my recap. If the book was so damned good, why isn’t Gordon’s writing any better?

Secondly, when I reached the end of this book, I was surprised at how many of my beloved Redi-Tags that I had used to mark passages that I want to revisit. As you can see in the photo, there was much about this book that intrigued me.

gordon meyer holding a copy of the book with page flags

So, what follows are just a few of the tidbits. But briefly, If you are a person who loves words, and you want to have a better understanding of how the English language can be honed, polished, and wielded, I think you’ll enjoy this book too.

  • The inescapable conclusion for me is that despite having spent much of my career was a writer, almost all the discussion about rhetoric, and some finer points about grammar, were new to me. Was this a part of my college English curriculum that I’ve forgotten, or is this nuts-and-bolts approach to language relegated to senior humanities courses?
  • Perhaps the answer to the above is found in this quote: “Stern people dislike rhetoric, and unfortunately, it’s usually stern people who are in charge: solemn fools who believe that truth is more important than beauty.” I was trained by stern sociologists, so I suppose that might explain the gaps in this part of my knowledge.
  • I’m an admirer of alliteration, but when it’s used too much it’s called paroemion. I wish I had known this word earlier so I could have used it in defending my work from some rather rhadamanthine reviewers.
  • Similarly, I could have also used Hyperbaton, which is the practice of putting words in an odd order. It would have helped to know then when I was trying to explain why a phrase just didn’t sing for me, particularly.
  • Am I making this book sound stuffy? The author, Mark Forsyth, uses humor and contemporary references to illustrate his points. I especially enjoyed his examples from songs by the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. (I also learned a lot about the works of Shakespeare, revealing another apparent gap in my education.)
  • Speaking of Shakespeare, for the first time in my life, I understand the mechanics of verse and pentameter. Suffice to say that chapter twenty-one was a delightful and useful surprise.
  • Not only did the Romans make willy-nilly changes to the Greek pantheon, they also freely renamed (and redefined) rhetoric, making it hard to study. The bastards!
  • I really appreciated how the author, Mark Forsyth, delightfully crafted each chapter to support the technique he’s discussing. This book would be great to read twice, so you could better appreciate its subtle and studied self-application. (However, I won’t read it again, the allure of unread books is too great to resist, and I’m running out of time to read everything I’d like to.)
  • Despite having grown up in Utah, I was unaware of the “Mormon Sex in Chains” case of 1977. (aka The Manacled Mormon) Also, thanks to trying to find info about this after a reference in the book, I discovered that Mormon p0rn is a thing.

I bought my copy of this book at the charming Unabridged Bookstore in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. But, of course, you can also find it in the Amazon.