Open their eyes with Live Photos

After the initial novelty of iOS’ “Live Photos” wore off — several years ago — I’ve mostly ignored it. To me, it’s too gimmicky, and because it also records audio, I’m always a little worried that it’s going to leak information if I share the photo with someone else (“…smile for your evil Aunt!”).

But I’ve recently stumbled upon a new use for it that is making me reconsider.

Earlier in the day, I was taking a photo of a waterfall, which Live Photo really is good at, and had left the feature turned on. Later, I had snapped a selfie with a group of friends. When I reviewed the photos later, I was sad to discover that the selfie sucked because one person had their eyes closed. Because Live Photos was still enabled, I was able to pick a new key frame where their eyes were open, rescuing my only snapshot of the evening.

An afternoon scene in Walsh Park

Walsh Park photo by Gordon Meyer

I’m cutting through the park, as I usually do on the final leg of my daily walk when I notice something unusual. The exercise station that the city installed a few years ago is being utilized! Standing underneath the pull-up bar is a man and a woman. Both white, probably mid-20s in age. They didn’t seem to be dressed for exercise, but then, neither am I in my jean jacket and Dr. Martens, so that observation doesn’t register with me right away. As I round the gentle curve of the approaching sidewalk and get closer to them, I come to understand that they aren’t exercising. The pungent smell of marijuana fills my nose. Ah, well, good for them. At least the station is finally getting used for something.

Book Review: Apocrypha Now

This 2016 book, by Mark Russell and Shannon Wheeler, is a fresh look at writings that were omitted from the Bible in AD 325. Additionally, the book offers many tales that were included, and from related sources such as the Talmud, but are often overlooked in today’s world.

Comic from book

The stories are retold in contemporary style and language. This makes them more relatable than usual, and the writing is sharp and often laugh out loud funny. Shannon’s clever comics add to the fun, too. (Such as the story of when God turned Abraham into a giant to fight the Elamites. By the way, I call dibs on “Seventy Foot Abraham” as a band name.)

The book even provided me with some unexpected clarity, particularly the Epilogue, which summarizes that history and tribulations of the Jewish people under Greek, Roman, and Christian rule. (It seems like Jared Kushner could have benefited from reading this, too.)

A small selection of other tidbits that I particularly enjoyed:

  • There is a 400-year gap between the Old and New Testaments. Despite two years of religious training as a young man, somehow this fundamental fact was never communicated to me, nor did I notice it.
  • The proper form of “Mary Magdalene” would be “Mary the Magdalene.” Magdalene is not, of course, her surname. It means “reformed prostitute.” So omitting the article is rather disrespectful. Changing the culture to use “Mary the Virgin” when referring to the other Mary would be nicely parallel, but I’m confident that ship has sailed.
  • A lost book, The Gospel of Judas, is a rather contemporary discovery (1990s) and it wasn’t translated into English until 2005. It shockingly states that Judas was secretly asked by Jesus to turn him over to the Romans. It was not a betrayal at all.
  • The great sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were their greed and xenophobia, not buggering. It was for these acts that these (and other) cities of the Jordan Plain were destroyed. Republicans, take note.

The Bible, for better or for worse (mostly the latter) permeates society in both subtle and obvious ways. It’s a good idea to remind yourself what’s in it, what used to be in it, and how just how crazily selective some adherents are to its details. I bought my copy of this highly recommended book at Quimby’s, but of course, it’s also found on the Amazon.

Two millennials at the post office

Here I am again, waiting in a long line at the local post office. I can’t help but listen to two millennial women ahead of me when they approach the counter.

pile of enevelopes

The first is carrying an armload of loose merchandise. It looks like cosmetics, and maybe some socks. Perhaps it’s a gift she’s sending to someone. She dumps it all on the counter when it’s her turn at the window. “I need to mail these.” With no visible reaction, the clerk directs her to buy a box from the kiosk across the room, then to get back in line. “You’ll put the address on it?” The clerk blinks and explains that, no, she’ll have to write the address herself and that there are pens at the nearby counters.

The second young lady approaches, holding in her hand about five envelopes. They appear to be standard greeting cards. They’re addressed, but lack stamps. “I guess I need stamps to send these?” Yes, she is told, and the clerk asks how many she needs. “How many stamps do they each take?” The clerk blinks, and answers, “one for each.” The woman acts as if this answer surprises her. She purchases the stamps, then before leaving the counter asks where to put them on the envelope. “Upper-right corner,” then adds, after a beat, “on the front.”

Then it was my turn, so I don’t know how either of these scenarios concluded.

For another tale from this post office, see: Five people at the post office

Photo by Alexander Grey.

Book Review: The Hooked X

This 2009 book by Scott F. Wolter is subtitled “Key to the secret history of North America.” It covers a number of anomalous archeological findings that suggest history is not as it is commonly taught.

gprdon meyer holding book

Briefly, there are plenty of examples of Europeans knowing about, and visiting, North American more than a hundred years before its “discovery” by Columbus. One piece of this evidence is the Kensington Rune Stone, which was found in the late 1800s, in Minnesota. The 200 lb stone is carved with ancient Swedish runes, including an “X” with an extra stroke, or “hook” as it is come to be known.

Initially, the unusual rune led many to conclude the stone was a hoax, but as the book lays out, there is evidence that the stone is authentic. (The Hooked X was eventually authenticated, long after the stone was found, as a legitimate and ancient rune.)

The book seems to largely be a follow-up to another of the author’s publications, and as such it makes many assumptions about the knowledge of the reader. The first 3/4 of the book sometimes feels as if you are joining into the middle of a lengthy and technical conversation about a topic you’ve never heard. Oh, there are plenty of interesting tidbits you can wrap your head around, but there are also many things that were, for me, presented without context or clarity. There isn’t an Editor credited in the book, and I suspect it didn’t have one. It would have benefited from an outsider’s perspective.

But the last part of the book is much better. This is where evidence beyond the Kensington Stone is correlated to create a convincing argument about an alternative historical record.

A couple of the additional bits that stood out for me are:

  • The fleur-de-lis is a stylized bumblebee, used by Charlemagne. The bee is a symbol of royalty and the Muses.
  • I am very likely related to one of the first witnesses to the discovery of the Kensington Rune Stone.
  • Pentadic numerals are a thing.
  • Christopher Columbus’ real name was Cristobal Colon, and he was likely a Knight Templar. He was also Portuguese, so all the Italians upset about Chicago’s Columbus memorial being moved have misplaced nationalistic ire.
  • Newport Tower, connected to the Sinclair family (of Rosslyn Chapel fame) may very well be an ancient Templar structure. (It’s in Rhode Island.)
  • Venus traces a horn pattern across the sky over the course of a year, and this may be the origin of the Catholic Church putting horns on the devil. (To literally demonize Goddess worship associated with the planet.) The book also states that the pattern followed by the planet creates a pentagram, but the description of this is muddied. I found a clearer explanation here.
  • The tablet held by the Statue of Liberty is in the shape of a Masonic keystone.
  • In its Hebrew form, Yahweh is a feminine word.

If this is your first exposure to the milieu of the bloodline of Jesus Christ, the conspiracies and practices of the Knights Templar and Masons, and pre-Columbian archeology, then there are better books for you. If you’re already hip, you’ll find numerous bits to enjoy, despite the work you have to do to find them among the meandering organization of the book. I bought my copy a few years ago — I don’t recall where — but it’s still available at the Amazon.

Book Review: Over My Dead Body

This 2022 book by Greg Melville is subtitled “Unearthing the Hidden History of America’s Cemeteries.” It’s both a travelogue and a history of burial practices. Overall, it provides a fascinating look into the culture and the American-style business of corpse disposal and, if you’ll pardon the expression, it really tickled my sociology bone. It’s also a beautifully designed book with a handful of nice photos, many from the author. Before digging into the details, suffice to say, I enjoyed and recommend it.

gordon meyer holding book

I learned a lot from this book, and there are too many salient points for me to list here, but this sample should give you a flavor of what stood out for me:

  • The practice of burying a body “six feet under” arose during the plague as an attempt to prevent animals from digging up the bodies and further spreading the disease.
  • While the Donner Party gets all the scorn for cannibalism, the settlers at Jamestown also ate their mates.
  • Speaking of pilgrims, the corn that got them through the harsh winter was largely stolen from Native American graves, where it was buried for use by the deceased in the afterlife.
  • By tradition, bodies are buried with their feet facing East so that they can stand and face Jesus when he returns.
  • It was (and remains) common practice for cemeteries to seek celebrity bodies in order to increase sales of nearby plots. Daniel Boone, for example, was disinterred and moved for promotional purposes. Moreover, Arlington National Cemetery wasn’t nearly so popular until Kennedy was buried there.
  • Mausolus, an ancient leader of what is now Turkey, was buried in an ostentatious tomb and that is where the word mausoleum comes from.
  • An obelisk at Green-Wood cemetery (Brooklyn, NY) is inscribed “Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors.” It features a slot where people can slip written confessions inside, which are emptied and burned regularly.
  • Modern US-style embalming was popularized by the actions of Abraham Lincoln, who had the new technology applied to Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, the first Union officer killed in the Civil War. Ellsworth’s body was preserved, so it could be taken on tour to Northern cities as a fundraiser to pay for the war. (10,000 people came to see it in Manhattan.) And yes, there is a US-style of embalming to this day.
  • The magazine Ladies Home Journal coined “living room” to describe a home’s parlor, after the practice of displaying the dead in their house stopped being common.
  • Despite the hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrants who built the country, there are very few of their dead (still) buried in the United States. That’s because their remains were disinterred and recovered by the Chinese government.

Those of you who know me or follow this blog won’t be too surprised at my enthusiasm for this book, as evidenced in A Cat at Begraafplaats Huis de Vraag , my review of Grave Plots, and my delight over a book of Cemetery Maps.

I bought my copy of Over My Dead Body at Quimby’s in Chicago, but you can also uncover one by searching on the Amazon.

Siri won’t speak in Shortcuts

There are a handful of Shortcuts that I use, a few of which trigger speech as part of their output. At some point, Apple made a couple of changes in this area, one of which had me quite puzzled.

But first, the pleasant surprise change. You can now specify “Siri Voice #3” as the voice to use when speaking your output. This oddly named selection is the traditional Siri voice that we all know and love. This eliminates the jarring sensation of having a usual voice emanate from your Mac or iOS device. (Depending on your platform and OS version, you may have different and additional Siri selections, too. Including my favorite, the Female Irish voice.)

The second, puzzling change, is the necessity to include a “Continue Execution” (Or, “Dismiss Siri and Continue”) action to allow the speech to happen during automated Shortcut execution.

So, if you have a speaking Shortcut where spoken output fails when it’s executed outside the development environment, try including a Continue action to make it work again.

None of Us is as Dumb as All of Us: Goodbye Auto-Correct

I’m giving up on the macOS autocorrect feature. It makes too many inappropriate substitutions, and I don’t always notice they’ve happened. (I’m keeping it turned on my iOS devices, where assistance with thumb-typing is crucial for maintaining my sanity.)

Autocorrect used to be great, and much more accurate. It started going downhill when Apple incorporated crowdsourced machine intelligence into the algorithm. With this highly questionable change, if enough of my fellow monkeys bang out a word and leave it uncorrected, it becomes an acceptable substitution to make on everyone else’s computer. Sadly, as the Trump era has shown us, the world (even Mac users) consists of many ignorant people.

In addition to the problem of “garbage in – garbage out,” there are inevitable software bugs. Several years ago, the vulnerability of a machine-based intelligence became evident when iOS started substituting “⍰” for a lower-case “i.” Apple had to retrain the AI to stop making the mistake. (See this report from New Yorker, and this one from TechCrunch.)

Here are a couple of examples of the maddening behavior that finally drove me to disable the feature:

gordon meyer screenshot of off

I assure you that “off” is not misspelled. And neither is “here,” below.

gordon meyer here mispelled

In addition to the spelling AI, the grammar checker feature must also use mistrained machine intelligence, as I’ve often gotten numerous ridiculous suggestions similar to this one:

gordon meyer

And, ironically, a suggestion about replacing this correctly spelled word with a misspelling, while I was writing the paragraph above.

gordon meyer

Fortunately for me, aside from email, these days most of my Mac-based writing is done in Ulysses, which offers suggestions that are more reliable than those proffered by macOS. Although, I still wonder about the backend privacy of what the Ulysses app is doing to analyze my writing. (I take some comfort that, as a German company, they are likely adhering to stricter EU laws in this regard.)

I’ve been humbled by how much turning autocorrect off has slowed my typing. I’ve clearly grown dependent upon the computer interpreting my fast, sloppy keypresses. Now that I have to deliberately enter words, I’m slower, but I’d like to believe that I’m a little more thoughtful, too.

Book Review: Blah Blah Blah

This 2011 book by Dan Roam is subtitled “What to do when words won’t work.” It’s essentially a primer, a justification, and a tutorial for incorporating sketching into your notes and presentations. For the purpose of increasing clarity, improving focus, and utilizing “both halves” of your brain.

gordon meyer holding book

It’s a big book; about 350 pages. And while the design and illustrations are very engaging and unique, most of the large-format pages are, inevitably, filled with words. Ironically, too many words. There are a lot of redundant and tangential paragraphs that an editor should have pared down or eliminated.

I was given this book by a friend. And I enjoyed it. I also learned a few things, and I thought quite a bit about its methods and arguments. But those of you who know me professionally will attest that I am an avowed minimalist when it comes to instructional design and writing. This book uses, almost literally, the proverbial “thousand words” to describe the “pictures” it prescribes. I had a hard time not slipping into critique mode as I read its meandering and overwritten advice.

That said, there are a few points of particular interest:

  • Words have become our default thinking tool but cannot alone “detect, describe, and defuse the multifaceted problems of today.”
  • “Words can be used to describe anything, but that does not mean words are the best way to describe everything.” (The author should consider using “depict” in this sentence for clarity and snappiness.)
  • Dr. Suess wrote Green Eggs and Ham to win a $50 bet from his publisher. The challenge was to write a book using only 50 words, including “Sam,” “Ham,” and “am.” (Constraints breed creativity!)
  • “Language is the single most sophisticated, finely developed, and important technology humanity has ever created. Using words is what makes us human. … it is also our easiest technology to mess up.”
  • School children spend year after year learning how to express themselves using words. But visual education stops at the preschool level, and for most, never develops past that.
  • Too much emphasis on words and language has reduced most thinking to using just “halve our minds” — our visual thinking side takes a back seat too often. The author includes a useful chart that relates simple drawing methods to common categories of information. For example, when dealing with a list, try a map instead.

Despite its length, this book can be a quick read. That’s because pretty much all the salient points are covered in the first three chapters and the two appendices. (One of which is based on the author’s Back of the Napkin business book.)

I recommend this book as a tool for exploring a different way of presenting information. I just wish it were more focused and not quite so gimmicky. You can get a copy from Amazon, of course, or borrow it from the library and skim the front and back portions — after that you’ll know if you want to dive into the blah blah blah of the middle sections.