Every day I have about 30-45 minutes to drive to work, and another 30-45 minutes to drive home. That means an hour or more of drive time every day. I’ve had a Spotify account for a long time, but after a while the playlists got boring and stale. I tried podcasts for a bit but beyond a few episodes of Hardcore History (Thanks John for the tip!) , I couldn’t find much I liked.

Late in 2018 I setup an Audible account. Started with the usual free trial and converted after a while. So far I’ve finished the following books:

I’ve heard about Audible for years, constantly peddled via Youtube starts and other Podcasts. I never really thought it was worth it, but having used it for a few months I finally get it. It’s a delicate balance: Finding books interesting enough that you don’t go to sleep, but not so interesting that you wind up sitting in the parking lot waiting for a good place to stop, and not so complex that the few seconds of highway-hypnosis zone-out doesn’t completely trash it. (I wouldn’t recommend doing Lord of the Rings via Audible, for example).

So self-help and management books have so far been a great match (as evidenced from the list above). The new "Audible Originals" program is great too, since I only get 1 free book a month. With the Original’s program, they pick 5 or 6 items every month and you can get 2 of them for free (that’s how I got The Last Days of August and Victorian Secrets).

What’s fascinating is I find something magic happens in your brain afterwards. For example, "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" is the story of a new CEO stepping into a floundering company, and the various interactions with the C-suite team she inherits. The entire book is read by Charles Stransky. However, looking back on it I have memories of distinct voices for each character. I’m honestly not sure how it happened, but the same way you wind up with mental images and mannerisms for characters in your own imagination when you read, the exact same thing happens here.

So In short, I recommend it. It’s a great way to pass otherwise unusable time, and broaden your perspective at the same time with some good reading. If you know of any other books I should put on my wishlist, post them in the comments below!

Netgear R7000N Nighthawk: A later opinion..

So I’ve had the R7000N for about a month now. It’s a pretty good router, but it has some problems. Sadly, they’re the same problems I dealt with constantly on routers prior to my Airport.

The biggest one is 2.4Ghz Reliability. The 5Ghz band is rock solid. The wired ethernet is rock solid. The 2.4Ghz band comes and goes on a regular basis, for no good reason I can find. At first glance you think “Well just use the 2.4Ghz", but it’s not so simple. Ring doorbell, Kuna light, Nucleus Tablets, Echo Dot, wifi-enabled clock/weather station… All of those are 2.4Ghz only.

Apparently this is not a new problem, there are long threads on their support forums for it. I tried a few of the usual things to no avail, but eventually stumbled upon the following combination of things:
  • Upgrade to the new Firmware ( V1.3.1.44_10.1.23 )
  • Disable automatic channel select, just set channel 11
  • Reduce the speed from 600Mbps to 289Mbps
  • Check “Disable Port Scan and DoS Protection"
This combination seems to have fixed it. That last one was a bit disappointing (It means my router is now wide open to port scanning), but it works.

I remember running into similar problem all the time, where the 2.4Ghz would die .. I usually attributed it to overheating or traffic, as it would usually happen when I would sustain a lot of bandwidth for a while. Either BitTorrent of a particularly active torrent (hence a bunch of traffic), or streaming Netflix or Youtube for a long time.

I post this here in hopes that it helps someone else. I’m disappointed that a new $200 router in the year 2018 suffers from the same problems plaguing cheapo routers in 2005, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Netgear R7000N Nighthawk

For the last 10 years, almost exactly, I’ve been using an old 2nd generation AirPort Extreme wireless router. It’s been a fantastic piece of kit. I’ve never had to reboot it from getting confused, it’s worked with dozens of clients and multiple configurations as I’ve changed service providers, iPhones, added and removed network extensions, and more. But after 10 years, and moving into a modern home in South Florida where they use metal studs for the exterior surfaces, some problems have shown up.

Perhaps the biggest problem has been range. Even in our old home, being on the farthest extents of the house meant spotty coverage. In our new home, I can be only 30 or 40 feet away and have trouble getting signal. All of the pipes and metal studs cause worlds of interference. And with the new exterior items I’ve been adding to our network (wifi security cameras, ring doorbells, wifi-enabled garage door openers, etc) I’ve been forced to play games with cheap and flakey wifi extenders. It was finally, after 10 years, time for an upgrade.

After consulting with some friends and reading some reviews, I finally settled on the Netgear R7000N Nighthawk .

The following was important for me:
  • Easy configurability - This has the usual web page, but also an iPhone app that can be (and was) used fully for setup of the device.
  • Long Range and multiple bands - N on 2.4 and 5Ghz, and lots of broadcast power.
  • Multiple ethernet ports - I want my xbox, PS4, and desktop all on wired ethernet.

I’ve only had it up and running for 24 hours, but so far it’s working great. I configured it with the same SSID and password as our existing network, so all of the laptops and iPhones came through without an issue. However, I did have a few glitches to fix:
  • Kuna Toucan Camera - this I had to reconfigure to the new network. Partly my own fault, since the Wifi-extender I was using wouldn’t auto-reconnect to the network, but now I don’t need it! The Toucan now talks directly to the primary router.
  • Ring Doorbell - It failed to auto reconnect, sadly. I tried and failed to manually reconnect this per their instructions, and that never worked either. I wound up power cycling the doorbell (hold the button for 5s to turn it on, press to turn it on) and it worked first time.
  • Vonage & Airport Express - I had an old Airport Express configured as a wireless client to where my Vonage Base station sits. This failed to reconnect (as expected, Apple does some shady stuff inside their own ecosystem). I had to factory reset it to get it back to default, then I could configure it as a Wireless client to the new network. Now it works great!

So I’ll update as time goes by. So far it’s working great. It even has some features I’m still discovering:
  • Integration with "Disney Circle". Some kind of fancy Parental Control app. I haven’t dug into this yet.
  • Bandwidth Monitoring - This will be a great feature, to see how much bandwidth we’re actually using day by day.
  • Remote Monitoring - I haven’t gotten comfortable enough to turn this on yet, but apparently you can enable access to the iPhone app anywhere in the world. This might be useful if I turn on the parental control features, but for not I’m not messing with it.
  • Quality of Service (QoS) - Again, I haven’t played with this yet. I think I can use this to prioritize bandwidth to our AppleTV’s for better Netflix and such, but honestly I’ve never need that before. But if I do, I know where to go.

Remarkable Tablet

A few months ago I saw an ad on Facebook for something called the “Remarkable Tablet".

Looked impressive. I’ve tried various iPad note taking apps over the years, most successfully Notes Plus. Unfortunately, all of the capacitive styluses I tried had lackluster accuracy. It seems like a really obvious thing, to take notes on a digital tablet, but the iPad never quite fit the bill. App developers had some clever tricks, like how NotesPlus does it’s zoomed-in text entry bar, that works pretty well.

However, for me at least, the real “power" of physical note-taking is in the freedom of it all. I can draw stars and lightbulbs in the margins, I can put boxes around text for emphasis, I can draw a big line and arrow connecting two separate paragraphs of text when the conversations pulls a “getting back to the original topic". Sure I can usually do that on iPad apps, but it’s a weird combination of switching tools and modes each time, breaking the flow.

After 2 months of using my Remarkable tablet, all I can say is WOW. They got it right. You create a notebook, select your type of pen (gel, pencil, or fountain) and off you go. It’s as simple as that. The texture feels like real paper, it’s an e-ink display so it looks like real paper, and the response of the pen against the tablet acts like real paper.

I’ve replaced carrying my laptop to meetings and using Evernote for notes-taking, and now I just use this. It’s a fraction of the size and weight, and it’s actually faster to use. I can email the resulting notes to my Evernote Email address as PNG’s, and then Evernote takes care of the rest.

  • Feels and acts like real-paper
  • E-ink display gives amazing battery life (although you need the latest firmware to really get this) and makes it look like paper
  • Easy to connect to wifi and email your notes off-device

  • A bit pricey, $500-$600 brand new.
  • E-ink display means it can be a bit slow sometimes navigating menus.
  • Single color - But let’s be honest, how many people really carry around a collection of pens to take notes in multiple colors.

The software is still under active development, as evidenced by this great new firmware update this week that rearranged the Template system solving one of my biggest complaints with the device. And to be fair, there are still some bugs in the system:
  • Exporting as PNG works pretty well, but a multi-page document I’ve seen many times arrive out-of-order in Evernote. Easy to fix tho.
  • Exporting as PDF I’ve found doesn’t work well at all. The resulting files are MASSIVE (multiple megs per page), and lots of artifacts. Typically erased content “reappears" in the PDF.
  • Documents with many pages (5+) I’ve seen start to exhibit artifacts on the tablet itself. Content from previous pages copying over, odd behavior. I’ve simply worked around this by creating multiple small documents, which works best for Evernote anyway.

Still, it’s quickly become one of my favorite tools and part of my standard workflow in the office.

I give this one a 4.5/5 Stars! I look forward to seeing what Remarkable does next!

New Hobby: Woodworking

For those of you watching my Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook pages you no doubt have already seem most of this.

Of the new hobbies I picked up right at the end of 2017 was Wood Working. Inspired by lots of you tubers and some ideas stuck in my head that I couldn’t find available anywhere else, I finally started collecting up some good tools and dove in. I started with some basic shop furniture and then into smaller things for inside, and then into some big pieces like the end tables and the mudroom rack.

I’m still learning a lot as I go, but I’m loving every minute of it.

Giving up on PGP (Kinda)

Yesterday I read a short piece on PGP from ArsTechnica’s Filippo Alsorda entitled “I’m throwing in the towel on PGP". It’s a great piece on the fact that PGP is still the pinnacle of security, but it’s just failed on everything around use-case and integration. Like him, I use PostBox for email, with EnigMail. I’ve maintained a set of keys for several years, regularly expiring and recreating them, but the only signed email I ever got was an annual notice from validating my domain.

Even doing everything half-right (I never did key-signing parties and all that), it still was mostly “security theater". The keys sat on my laptop hard drive, and I had no way to access them from my phone or tablet. Every time I wanted to expire my key or adjust the expiration to push it out another year, I had to resort to arcane gpg command lines cut-and-paste from StackOverflow. Odds are, I fubar’ed it more than once and I’m nowhere as secure as I thought.

So in short, I’m giving up on it. I’ll keep things enabled for a while, but I’m not going to bother maintaining it like I have. Instead, we have better tools these days. I’ve setup Signal for encrypted instant messaging, and setup a ProtonMail account for email.

So, if you want to reach me via an encrypted channel.. Reach out to me normally (Facebook, twitter DM, email, etc) and I’ll share the details.

Google Hangouts link in Calendar

It was the end of 2013 when I first published the AppleScript hack to put Hangouts Links into Calendar entries. Lots of folks have commented that they’re having problems with it, so I thought it was due for an update.

In short, I’ve quit using it. It was always flakey, even when it did work. Every time someone would update the calendar entry (add a new attendee, update the agenda, change the location) I would get a new Calendar entry and it would undo my changes. Plus, some events it just wouldn’t work with and I never could figure out why. Plus, Apple’s calendar just doesn’t seem to handle some of what Google does so I had events that didn’t synchronize properly. I regularly had events that appeared in my google calendar but not on my OS X Calendar, and vice versa (This seems to be related to complex repeats syntax).

To replace it, I started using Fantastical. They have a great 30-day trial you can try out, and then it’s $40 to buy it. I was hesitant at first to pay the $40, but then they released an update that adds:
  • Support for Google Hangouts links!
  • Support for Google Calendars Availability data!

With those 2 features, I pretty much never have to use the Google Web Calendar again! It synchronizes great (better than what I saw of Apple’s calendar), and it pulls in Apple Calendar data too. All of the data is fully editable, and they have some great hotkeys to let you setup “Calendar Sets". Plus, it integrates with OS X Notification Center and other systems for a great clean use.

So, if you’re looking for me to update my scripts, I have no plan to. If you find a way to get it to work, definitely post in the comments and share your results with others!

Google Sheets - Color by Number of Entries

I had a spreadsheet collecting a long list of dates, and next to it a calendar I manually entered. I wanted to color cells on the calendar, so that the color indicated the Number of dates in a separate list that fell on that date. I wanted green if it was 1 or 2, Yellow if it was 3 or 4, and Red if it was 5.

It took me too long to figure it out, but here’s how you do it:

Create a “Conditional Formatting" with “Custom Formula", like so:
=IF(COUNT(FILTER($L$1:$L$200, $L$1:$L$200=DATE(2016,8,A3) ))<5, if(COUNT(FILTER($L$1:$L$200, $L$1:$L$200=DATE(2016,8,A3) ))>2, 1,0),0)

L1:L200 - The Column of dates.

A3 - The top-left cell containing the calendar (of August 2016 in this case)

This is the comparison for the 3 and 4 case, just change the <5 and >2 to whatever you need.

Hope it helps!

Next step is to get this to work for multiple columns of dates.

Traveling to Tel-Aviv, Israel

So this last week I got the chance to do my first significant out-of-country travel, all the way to Tel-Aviv Israel (via Germany). I already had a passport from some previous trips to Canada, but this was a different league: Different language, different culture, and residents with a decidedly different impression of America.

All in all, it was a great trip. I didn’t get to explore much (busy with work), but it was so different from what I expected.

First off, the geography and terrain. Simply hit google images for “israel landscape" and you’ll get pages of this:

Beautiful, yes, but there’s a common theme: Desert, sand, brown.. While yes there are regions of Israel like this, Tel-aviv and neighboring areas (like Herzliya) in particular are far different. The closest thing I can relate it to is Miami, FL.

It’s surprisingly urban, and there is greenery and palm-trees everywhere.

We were unfortunate in our arrival, as we landed in the middle of a “storm". Storm doesn’t really do it justice, honestly. Minimal visibility, wind strong enough to knock you over (literally, I have the bruises to prove it), and biting cold (55F before wind chill) all combined to make that first day and night rough. After that tho, it was a beautiful trip.

Exploring the area is not much different from an American city. Of course, most of the road-signs are dual-printed in both hebrew and english, but lots of store signs and billboards were in english only. I didn’t see a single hijab the whole trip. Quite the contrary, actually, I kept seeing ads for “skin tight jeans" from a company called “Castro". Malls were full of Victoria Secret’s and Timberland stores. Aside from the sounds of hebrew everywhere, it wasn’t all that different.

That said, there were a few differences worth pointing out, and in that a few pieces of advice to share:
  • Cabs/Taxis - During the entire trip, we couldn’t find a Taxi that would accept American dollars nor credit cards. When we did try to use local currency, we found we were getting ripped off with strange fee’s that couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be explained in English. The solution: Gett . It’s basically Uber for Taxi’s, but it works in Tel-aviv and will directly charge your selected credit card without issue. I used it numerous times. I never waited more than 10 minutes for a ride (usually less than 5), and once you are at your destination you simply say thanks and step out. Easy, simple, and they won’t (or can’t) rip you off.
  • Food - Oh my god the food is amazing. During our stay we ate at several places and each one was more impressive than the last. However, it’s massive and it’s heavy. Apparently it’s an arabian tradition to serve appetizers (without ordering, I think, like chips & salsa at a mexican restaurant) consisting of vegetables. They’ll come in tiny dishes, only 0.5-1 cup each, but you’ll get a dozen or more of things like pickles, coleslaw, carrots, peas, and lots of other things I wasn’t able to identify but tasted great. And when you finish them, they’ll bring more. And they’ll keep bringing more until your real meal arrives. So prepare to be stuffed like a thanksgiving turkey after every meal.
  • Electricity - Of course, Israel runs at a different voltage and uses a different plug adapter than the US. Most “smart" devices (cell phones, computers, game systems, etc) will automatically adapt with a plug adapter, but other dumb devices (like electric shavers, as my traveling companion discovered) will burn up. I recommend getting the Kensington All-in-one Adapter ($13 on Amazon) and a small power strip (I like the Monster Travel Strip for $20), which will then let you turn 1 Israeli outlet into 4 US outlets, suitable for charging all your stuff overnight. And if you plan to use or charge any of the “dumb" devices, buy a transformer (I don’t have one, so I can’t really recommend anything).
  • Coffee - If you’re a big coffee drinker, you might have a rough time. I don’t think I saw a single cup of coffee the whole trip. The big thing there is espresso, available as an after-dinner beverage in every restaurant. In most businesses, the big thing seems to be Nespresso. It’s like the Israeli version of the Keurig: Little disposable capsules that make tiny little cups of espresso. So be wary: It’s only a quarter of the size of your typical american coffee, but it packs the same punch. Don’t overdo it.
  • Driving - Driving in that corner of the globe is very unlike the US. It’s not “aggressive", but traffic laws seems be much more.. umm.. “liberally interpreted" than in the US. I didn’t drive, but in all of the cabs we took you would see people cutting each other off, weaving in lanes, 3-cars wide in 2-lanes, etc. Nobody was upset, or even surprised by it, it’s just normal. And I never witnessed a single accident. However, as someone who has always suffered from motion sickness in cars, I would recommend you prepare for the worst if you’re the same: The sudden stops and stress from the unexpected behavior of it all was rough for me.
  • Airport - Anyone who’s familiar with the history of the region shouldn’t be surprised to find that the security at the airport is tight. Flying into Israel was pretty uneventful: Talk to the passport officers, get a printed Visa, and all done. Returning home was different. Before even entering the airport we were approached by security and quizzed about our bags. Later, we had to repeat the process about twice more before we were even allowed near the x-ray machines. At the machines, they very carefully control the lines so that only 1 person is near it at a time and they require all electronics to be removed from the bags. I misunderstood at first and almost got in trouble, so let me repeat that for you: all electronics. That’s cables, chargers, batteries, plug adapters, electric razors, toothbrushes. All. And it’s slow, they check it all carefully. After talking to some locals and other travelers, I think some of this process may be randomized and customized, changing daily and based on your reaction. So prepare to spend some time when you get ready to return to the US.

And lastly, the safety. Family and friends were afraid I was walking into a war-zone, but not once did I ever feel at risk. The area was completely safe and normal, outside of a few entrepreneurial businessmen trying to take advantage of us with typical exchange rate fiasco’s (trying to convert shekels to USD 1:1 and such).

All said, it was a fantastic trip. Lufthansa Business Class was a great way to get there and back, and the region itself is full of things to explore and do. I hope to get back there again soon with some extra time to see more of the region, now that I have a better understanding of what to expect and how to get around.