Feeling bitter about batteries

I’m not sure when this happened, but lately all the companies that make disc batteries (AKA watch batteries, or coin batteries) are making them bitter. (No, not better, bitter.)

That is, they are coating the batteries with a substance that has an unpleasant taste. The intention, apparently, is to discourage morons and children (now there’s a fine line of distinction) from eating batteries.

I am not making this up. The craze about eating Tide Pods (if it was real, which I’m not so sure) was understandable, to a degree. The pods look edible, but batteries? C’mon. Who looks at that and thinks to themselves, “Mmmm, I’ll put that in my mouth.” (Rhetorical question; see “morons and children,” above.)

Sure, kids don’t know any better. So parents, you should do as generations have done before — keep small non-edible items unreachable until such time your kids can be taught to be less stupid. Problem solved.

Now, if battery embitterment is new to you, you might be thinking “Geez, Gordon, what’s the big deal?” Here’s the issue: The coating prevents the battery from working! You have to wash off the coating — using rubbing alcohol — to allow the battery to make electrical contact with the device in which you’re installing it.

If you’re aware of this, it’s a pain in the ass. But if you’re not aware of it, you’ll think the new battery is dead. And then you’ll discover that every single battery in the expensive package of batteries is also dead. But they’re not, they’re just broken by the coating.

So now you know better. Thank the morons, shitty parents, and nanny politicians for the situation.


A Tempurpedic Remote Control hack

Of all the remote controls that should light up in the dark, the one for the Tempur-pedic bed is a natural. And it does light up, nicely, but unfortunately, there is no way to turn on its light without triggering a command. This is an unfortunate design choice.

The only command that you can quietly activate, without moving the bed’s mechanics, is the under-bed lighting system. But finding this single button in the dark is a challenge, particularly if you’re not fully awake.

My solution comes courtesy of Japanese discount store Daiso. A small adhesive stationery adornment provides the tactile locator that Tempur-pedic forgot.

remote control with small pearl stuck to buttoon, held by gordon meyer

Book Review: The Merry Spinster

gordon meyer holding book

This 2018 short story collection by Mallory Ortberg is subtitled “Tales of Everyday Horror.” While I would quibble with the “everyday” designation (the book is quite otherwordly), I fully agree with “horror.”

Each of the eleven stories is essentially a fairy tale for adults. You may recognize some of them right away, while others draw from a diverse range of influences, which are thoughtfully outlined in an appendix. For example, for “The Thankless Child,” the author cites influences that include Cinderella, King Lear, and Psalm 139. I loved that this appendix is included in the book!

The writing is crisp, clever, and sometimes challenging as Ortberg freely plays with pronouns and genders in several of the stories. This is fun, and contributes to keeping the reader engaged with the unfamiliar. (Talking fish, mermaids, and gender roles by choice not fiat! Where is this is place‽)

I should also mention that, generally speaking, the stories are dark. Ortberg’s take on The Velveteen Rabbit will stick with me for a very long time. As a back-cover blurb observes: “The Merry Spinster will ruin your most-loved fables, in the best possible way.”

Here are just a few of the many phrases and concepts that tickled my fancy:

  • “Humans die,” said the grandmother, “and humans suffer too, for they lead short lives and when they are dead, no one eats them. They are stuffed in boxes and hidden in the dirt, or else set on fire and turned into cinders, so no one else can make any use of them; they are a prodigiously selfish race and consider themselves their own private property even in death
  • A king’s wife is outranked by her belly.
  • The devil’s hour occurs at 3AM, the inverse of Christ’s death on the cross at three o’clock in the afternoon.
  • “… she looks at one as though she disapproves of how one parts one’s hair, or spells one’s name, somehow.”
  • “A whip for a horse,” I said, “a bridle for a donkey, and a rod for the back of fools.” I don’t know why I warned her next, but I did. “I’m going to speak a bible over you now,” I told her. “Brace yourself.”
  • “I did not ask what the frog wanted,” his father said, “I asked if the frog expected to be let in.” All the other daughters had stopped pretending to eat at this point and stared in open excitement at the prospect of watching one of their number get into trouble.

I bought my copy at The Writer’s Block, but of course, it’s also available at the Amazon. Enjoy!

P.S.: For more on fairy tales for adults, see Book Review: The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers and Book Review: The Fairy Tale Review


A reliable keypad door lock from Schlage

I’ve recently installed two Schlage BE365 PLY 626 Plymouth Keypad Deadbolt locks, and I have to say, they’re fantastic. Installation, while intimidating, was quick and simple.

The first lock replaces an Emtek E3020 EMTouch Electronic Keypad Deadbolt that had stopped working. The reason for its failure was its construction, but frankly it never should have been installed where it was. (I didn’t do it.) The lock was installed on a set of French doors, a situation for which a motorized lock is not suited. That’s because the alignment between the doors is too variable and, as anyone who has lived with French doors knows, frequently requires nudging to get them to align for locking. The Emtek lock, with its internal plastic parts, just couldn’t handle the variable resistance of moving the cylinder.

The Schlage model that I replaced it with is a manual lock. The keypad controls engaging the chamber, but you move the cylinder by hand. This allows you to feel when the doors need a little jiggle to align. (Additionally, the Schlage is constructed of metal, so it is sturdier.)

There’s a nine-volt battery that powers the keypad, which I expect to last longer than the one in the Emtek because it’s not running a motor that moves the cylinder. Other advantages of the Schlage, to my thinking anyway, is that it is less expensive, doesn’t suffer from Z-Wave or other home automation hassles, and thus doesn’t have a weird app that you have to deal with. (I’m looking at you, Rachio sprinkler controller.)

Sure, by going with a manual lock, I forgo being able to lock the door with my iPhone and any form of remote control or notifications. Furthermore, the Schlage lock only supports a finite number (19) of passcodes. The appearance of the lock is also a bit dated. But none of that bothers me when the trade-off is a sturdy piece of hardware that “just works.”

I like the Schlage lock so much that I installed a second one in the garage. The benefit of not having to fumble with keys when carrying groceries is heavenly.

I bought mine from Amazon, after checking local hardware stores and discovering a stock of an overwhelming number of connected, motorized locks, but none with the advantages as I’ve outlined.


What YouTubers can learn from Buskers

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After largely dismissing and avoiding YouTube for years, I have begun watching it more often lately. Perhaps I was late to the party, but I think there are finally some good “content providers” that aren’t a complete waste of time.

But I’m still annoyed at how many of them devote excessive time to begging for “likes and subscribes” in every video they produce. Not only is it viewer unfriendly, it’s demeaning and wrongheaded. And, frankly, the hamhandedness with which it’s usually done is worse than a protracted PBS pledge drive.

Because of this phenomenon, most YouTube videos are proof of The Wadsworth Constant: “the first 30% of any video can be skipped because it contains no worthwhile or interesting information.”

The people making the videos believe they’re begging for their own benefit, but the master being served is Google. Sure, by increasing your “likes,” your video might get suggested to more viewers. And if enough of those people decide to subscribe, your video might become eligible for playing ads, but those are literally the crumbs from Google’s table. Make no mistake, you are a serf feeding the King while being allowed to keep a few of the crops for yourself. (I feel the same way about the user recruitment schemes used by Trip Advisor and Yelp.)

But setting that aside, the main issue I have is that video creators are making their pitch at the wrong moment — that is, right up front. How do I know if I “like,” or want to see more, when I haven’t yet watched it? It’s as silly as the NYT website that immediately pops up a subscription offer before I’ve had time to read the first paragraph of an article. The right time to hook me is when I’ve completed watching, and presumably enjoyed, the content.

Street performing, a fine tradition with hundreds of years of experience, has solved the puzzle of when to ask an audience for money. YouTubers should learn from the busking tradition and ask for clicks when attention — and presumably appreciation — has peaked. (YouTubing is essentially digital street performing, right?)

Now sure, not everyone is going to watch all the way to the end (particularly if it’s 30+ minutes long, another sore point for me), but if someone bails out early, are they likely to want more in the future? Letting viewers go who are walking out early is not likely to be hurting your subscription numbers.

I don’t know if YouTube provides statistics to publishers that would help find the best moment for the plea. Do people leave your video in the middle by clicking a suggestion in the sidebar? Are they closing the window? Does the browser lose focus while they watch, implying they are no longer paying attention? All of those measures could be used to pitch “subscribe” to the people who will be your best audience.

There are some YouTubers who get it right. JP Coovert, for example, makes his pitch towards the end of his videos, after he’s provided valuable information. It’s the perfect time to ask for reciprocity. Mary Spender also consistently includes compelling and well-timed pitches. (Not surprisingly, given that she’s also a busker.)

YouTubers, follow their lead, please.

(Photo by Tania Alieksanenko)


A Bigger is Better Shaving Mirror

One of the most popular posts on Kevin Kelley’s “Cool Tools” site is my review of the Shave Well Shaving Mirror. It was also reprinted in the big (and fantastic) Cool Tools Compendium.

After I wrote an addendum to my review, the Shave Well company introduced their travel version, which I immediately bought and have taken on countless trips.

Nine years later, the mirror continues to be extraordinarily useful. Seriously, if you’re a shower shaver (or want to be), it’s a must-have accessory.

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Instead of shuttling my travel-sized mirror between bathrooms at home, I recently decided to buy one for each shower.(Getting lathered up in the shower then realizing your mirror is in the other bathroom is a bummer.) When I looked on Amazon to buy another, I discovered that the success of Shave Well has spawned a host of imitators. Shamefully, an extra-large knockoff caught my eye, and I bought it. Bigger is always better, right?

Well, so far, so good. I am enjoying the larger size, but naturally, it’s also heavier. Too heavy to hang on the wall using the inexpensive suction cups that I use with the smaller Shave Well. And I’m certainly not going to cement a hook to my tile wall!

Instead, I recommend IKEA’s excellent suction cup hooks, such as the Krokfjorden or Tisken. They hold remarkably well.

(Photo by Kevin Baquerizo)


How to easily turn off annoying Ulysses features

The Ulysses app was once a paragon of minimalist, distraction-free writing. But since they have gone to a subscription model (which I don’t begrudge at all), they apparently feel pressure to regularly add features. Many of these additions have degraded the soul of the app and, frankly, will soon drive me to adopt another application.

The two additions that I find most egregiously annoying are the “Markup Bar,” and the “Counter.” The former displays text-formatting shortcuts, the latter shows word count. Both intrude on the writing space and, here’s the shitty part, can’t be permanently turned off.

I have filed bugs with the company that Counter and Markup Bar default to turned on for new documents, and also any new view of an existing document. These bugs were confirmed by Ulysses Tech Support, but after several new versions of the app, they still have not been fixed. I don’t know what’s going on at Ulysses GmbH & Co., but they have lost sight of their north star.

The only workaround is to use the Keyboard Maestro macro that I’m sharing below. The next time you’re writing in Ulysses and one of these stupid features raises its head, run this macro to immediately turn off both of them again. I’ll keep it updated to disable any new annoyances they add in the future. The best way to configure this macro is to have it active only when Ulysses is front-most.

Download from GitHub

Ulysses bs macro


Book Review: Existential Physics

This book by Sabine Hossenfelder is subtitled “A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions.” It’s an interesting and refreshing approach to the seemingly impossible “facts” that others are offering about quantum mechanics. One of the great characteristics about this book is that Hossenfelder fearlessly identifies, and describes in clear detail, situations which science currently does not, and probably never will, prove or disprove. (Which is actually quite a big swath of the assertions you hear about the quantum world.)

Technical writers, of which science writing is a subset, don’t get a lot of love or praise. (Ahem.) But Hossenfelder deserves such, as this book is a gem of the genre. One of her very humane tactics is to include a chapter-concluding section called “The Brief Answer.” Instead of wading through all the details, skipping ahead to this summary makes the Big (but Less Interesting) Questions a lot more approachable. Because, frankly, some of them intrigued me more than others. For example, I devoured “Does the Past Still Exist,” but jumped to the brief answer for “Are You Just a Bag of Atoms.”

Here just a few of the notes I took:

  • Sociologist Steve Fuller claims that academics use incomprehensible terminology to keep insights sparse and thereby more valuable.
  • Science and religion have the same roots, and still today they tackle some of the same questions. (Indeed!)
  • Demarcating the current limits of science helps us recognize that some beliefs are not unscientific, but rather, ascientific.
  • “In the end, I hope you will find comfort in knowing that you do not need to silence rational thought to make space for hope, belief, and faith.”
  • Measurement in quantum mechanics destroys information for good. Other than that, and also black hole evaporation, information can’t be destroyed. Once someone dies, information about their unique ways, wisdom, and kindness becomes irretrievable and disperses quickly. But if you trust the math, the information is still there, somewhere, somehow, spread out over the universe but preserved forever. “It might sound crazy, but it’s compatible with all we currently know.”
  • In an interview with Tim Palmer, he and the author discuss how scientists who ridicule religion might alienate youngsters who would otherwise consider scientific pursuits. Science and belief are not always incompatible.
  • You can find many different diagnoses on death certificates, but those are just details. What really kills us is entropy increase.
  • Penrose’s conformed cyclic cosmology sounds a lot like Vishnu’s cycle of creating and destroying the universe. And Penrose’s theory is compatible with current scientific knowledge.
  • For the first time ever, I feel like I understand why the past, present, and future simultaneously exist, and there is no “now.”
  • Much of the supposed weirdness of quantum mechanics just comes from forcing it into everyday language. (See previous bullet point.)
  • Saying what’s beyond what we can observe is purely a matter of belief. If it cannot be observed, claiming it exists is ascientific, as is claiming it doesn’t exist. Don’t pretend that either of those is science. (Paging James Randi!)
  • Religion matters to people in a way that science does not. The two are “non-overlapping magisteria” and according to many people, science is too cold, technocratic, and unhumanly rational.

I bought my copy of the book at Barbara’s Bookstore, but you can also find it at the Amazon.



A solution for an outdoor speaker sound system

I needed to drive eight outdoor speakers, and clearly, I wanted remote control of their operation, and the ability to stream from Apple Music.

I could have utilized something like an Echo Link, or a Sonos Amp. But I rejected those options due to the cost (Sonos) and obnoxious assistive technology (Alexa).

What I ended up implementing is a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine, but it works well, and it did not break the bank. Here are the details:

  • A Belkin SoundForm Connect adapter acts as an AirPlay 2 receiver. This satisfies the requirement of streaming any music I desire either from my iPhone, HomePod, or Apple TV. The only downside is that the AUX output from the Belkin device is horrible, as many of the reviews on Amazon also note. Luckily, the optical output is OK, so I use that instead.
  • Because of the above-mentioned Belkin flaw, and the lack of optical support on inexpensive amplifiers (see below), a Digital Audio Converter is necessary. I settled on an inexpensive Amazon Basics DAC. It works well, and is USB powered, so I can run it from a power hub instead of using up another outlet in my network closet.
  • Audio amplification is provided by a Nubsound 100W mini-amp. It has built-in Bluetooth, which I turned off, as I prefer to use AirPlay. The amp itself is remarkably small — about the size of a Tarot deck. (You were expecting a less esoteric analogy from me? OK. About the size of two sticks of butter.)
  • Finally, I installed a Pyle Multi-zone Selector so that I can fine-tune the volume of each speaker pair. This also allows me to turn off speakers in unoccupied areas of the yard. (Because I’m a good neighbor.) A fancier solution would let me manage this remotely via my iPhone, but for under $100, this passive, no-power-required switch works well. It’s also small enough to fit, barely, on a shelf in the network closet.

Here’s a block diagram of how it’s all connected:

monodraw illlustration

The system works well, with a total cost that is hundreds less than a Sonos solution. (And cheaper than nosey Alexa, too.) The only downside is that I have to stream from a device to the amplifier. The Sonos can independently connect to Apple Music. But this is a limitation that I can take to the bank.

If you need me, I’ll be outside listening to Poolsuite FM.