"Yeah, well, you know, that's just like, uh, your opinion, man."

A Fly On The Wall

10:23 Sunday, 25 May 2014

Early Saturday morning (or late Friday night, depending on one’s point of view), I was taking Bodhi out for a walk and happened to notice this guy on the wall. Remained there, calmly, as I captured several images with my phone. Turned out pretty well, I thought.

Photo of a dragonfly on a stucco wall

No Relativity to Wealth

09:48 Sunday, 25 May 2014

“There is no relativity to wealth. It’s all absolutes. It’s either impeccable, the best, the rarest, or it might as well be Walmart.”

This phenomenon isn’t limited to the super-rich. It’s also an affectation of a certain type of personality, wherein an artifact is used as a token of their superior character, a behavior encouraged by marketers for decades. The offense doesn’t lie in the appreciation of a superior artifact; it lies in the disdain and contempt they eagerly, almost compulsively, must exhibit to lesser artifacts and especially their users.

One often sees this when bloggers write about cars, headphones, coffee, compression algorithms, operating systems, cameras, lenses, and keyboards, but you can find it anywhere. Politics, religion, art, anything that can be judged, however superficially, on some basis of “merit”, and then used to divide people from one another on the basis of the “superior” artifact.

It’s a stupid and childish trait we would do well to be rid of. Unfortunately, “markets are conversations,” and it gives competing entities something to talk about.

Love and Doing

08:40 Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A recent piece in The Stone is called, “A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love’.” It’s one of those contrarian works that delights in puncturing some popular notion, in this case the idea that we should all “do what we love.” It’s all nonsense, of course.

The problem arises because big ideas are often distilled into tiny little digestible thought-morsels that can fit into a tweet, or a Hallmark greeting card, or one of those inspirational posters you used to see in the workplace. Which, naturally, makes them easy to shoot down. And there’s nothing we enjoy more than shooting something down — as I am doing here!

In his essay, the author Gordon Marino (And check out the photo at the bottom of the essay! Beret? Check! Reading glasses, jauntily perched on his forehead? Check! Knowing half-smile? Check! Salt-and-pepper goatee? Check! Philosophy professor!) writes, “My father didn’t do what he loved. He labored at a job he detested so that he could send his children to college.”


“He labored at a job he detested.” It sounds so dramatic. “Labored.” Not, “worked.” Labored. “Detested.” Not, “didn’t like.” Detested.

So his son could go to college and get to write essays like this one for the New York Times. I feel sorry for Dad.

My guess is Dad didn’t “detest” his job. He probably didn’t like it very much, but it was a job and he had kids to get through college.

But maybe he did “detest” his job. Some people aren’t happy unless they’re miserable. I’m sure you’ve met some. In which case, he was doing what he “loved.”

No one should ever “have to” do a job they “detest.” If you’re “detesting” what you’re doing, you should probably stop doing it, unless you’re enslaved or imprisoned or something.

Love is a big idea. Life is a big idea. You start cramming big ideas like these in pithy little sayings and some people are going to get the wrong idea. Pithy little sayings are useful as points of departure for further thought or reflection, but you can’t rely on them to be universally “true.” They’re going to have their limitations.

What Mr. Marino might have written about was what role “love” has in what we choose to “do” in our lives. This is an important question, and a difficult one for young people. As you get older, or, well, “old” you get some perspective and some of this seems to make more sense.

So what’s love got to do with it? Ah, Tina Turner. “What is love?” The immortal question posed by Haddaway. (Baby, don’t hurt me.) Well, boys and girls, love is faith in action. Faith. Belief. Acceptance. Embracing something for what it is, not for what you want it to be. All love requires faith. This is agapé, not eros. Unless you’re a porn star, in which case it might be both.

So what do you “do” in your “life?” Is your job your life? Obviously not. Your life is your life. Maybe you’re a lucky person and you have a job that you truly “love” and so that your work is your life, and that’s great. But that’s not, I think, the case for everyone. Your life is much bigger than your job.

You should believe in yourself. You should believe that your life is worth living. If you don’t, well, that’s a problem and it probably needs immediate attention.

You should do those things that make life worth living, whatever they may be. Passion is about suffering. We believe in something so much, we’re willing to endure harsh or difficult circumstances to promote its realization. Maybe Mr. Marino’s father was passionate about his family, his kids’ education. Maybe he didn’t like his job, but it allowed him the opportunity to realize the genuine object of his passion. It’s difficult for me to believe that he would “detest” the thing that afforded him the means to realize his passion. He may not have “liked” it, but it did have value for him, and how does one “detest” something that is valuable?

The “big idea” contained in “do what you love” is perhaps better expressed succinctly as, “love as you do.” If there isn’t love in your life, if you don’t “believe” in what you’re doing, then don’t do it. Find something you do believe in, some part of you that you wish to see more of in the world, and find a way to do that. It may not come with a paycheck. But the thing you do to collect a paycheck is merely a means to do the things you love, to add love to the world.

Hating your job isn’t adding love to the world.

I retired, in part, because I didn’t believe in what I was doing anymore. “Consultants” and “analysts” are the worst sort of jobs. You have no authority, because you have no real responsibility. Boring.

This is all covered very well in Michael Judge’s Office Space. Which is a hell of a lot more fun to watch than Mr. Marino’s essay is to read.

Home Health Care Technology Needs Disruption

08:46 Tuesday, 13 May 2014

I’ve been in upstate New York the past week, visiting my parents. They’re both in their eighties and confronting the challenges of aging. Mom’s got Parkinson’s and Dad’s got diabetes and kidney disease, both conditions requiring fairly complex management efforts. After observing their daily routine first-hand for several days, it’s clear to me that the infrastructure for home health care is unsatisfactory and this field is in dire need of focused attention.

I’ll qualify that statement, noting that there may be better products available in the marketplace, but I believe what my parents are using are likely representative of what the majority of people in their situation are using.

Dad’s struggling with maintaining his potassium levels. Low potassium can lead to confusion. He’s had difficulty with short-term memory for some time. Last night I listened to my parents sort of discuss whether or not he’d gotten his nighttime insulin injection. Mom said she gave it to him, Dad said he didn’t think so. Mom insisted she had. It’s the slow-release form, so taking his blood sugar wouldn’t have necessarily been indicative.

Dad’s glucose was 220 this morning, and the debate continued.

The insulin is administered using a pen. There needs to be a brain-dead simple way to tell if a dose has been administered on a particular day. The product they use is a Lantus® SoloStar® pen injector. The user can dial in a dose, and there’s a button that’s spring-loaded that delivers the dose.

I don’t think this requires an electronic solution, I think a mechanical solution could be devised. I think there should be some part of the device that contains the numbers 1-31. When a new pen is started, the user would dial in the current day of the month, then “set” that date such that it can’t be changed through the dial mechanism. Subsequently, each injection would advance that digit as the dose is delivered, so that you can tell at a glance if that day’s dose had been administered. (Update: Mom says the pen only lasts about a week, so the indicator probably only needs seven positions — M, T, W, Th, F, S and Su. The user would dial in current day, then push the ring down, severing the connection to the indicator. It would use thin plastic threads to make it easy to break. Then the indicator would be geared to the injector mechanism, such that each injection would increment the “day” display. If the display showed “M” and today’s Tuesday, then the dose hasn’t been administered. The only thing to remember is to set the day when you take the pen out of the package. As a safety feature, it could probably configured mechanically such that if the user hasn’t set the day, the injector won’t fire.)

You can argue that the user or their helper should simply write down whether or not the dose was delivered. For a variety of reasons, that’s simply not a reliable method. There are too many distractions, the phone rings, the piece of paper or notebook goes missing, however temporarily, there’s no pen. It only takes a few minutes, and then you’re relying on a fallible memory.

I feed Bodhi in the morning, and thirty minutes later I’m wondering if I fed him. I think Bodhi’s learned to exploit this weakness. He hovers near the bowl and just looks at me, and I can’t remember if I’ve fed him or not.

They have a Honeywell HomMed that takes a daily reading of Dad’s vitals. It has a scale, a blood pressure monitor, an oxygen sensor, and a port to read his glucose meter. The sensors are all hard-cabled to the device, and the device is connected to a phone line. My parents have their phone service through Time-Warner Cable, so the spare phone jack is connected to the cable modem, located in a corner of the living room.

At 8:15 in the morning, the device wakes up and speaks, telling Dad to step on the scale. This requires him to use his walker to get over to the device. For Dad, this is a significant physical effort. Whenever a reading is out of spec, the monitoring service calls and we have to take another reading. This morning, his oxygen reading was low, so we have to take another reading in manual mode.

When the automated process begins, they have 30 minutes to complete the process. This is usually enough time, but Dad sometimes has difficulty getting out of bed and he had a late start this morning. I told him to take his time, worrying that his blood pressure reading would be out of tolerance. Blood pressure was great, maybe a bit low, but oxygen was out of spec. So we got a phone call and we had to do the O2 reading again in manual mode, which entailed another trip to the device.

The sensors need to be wireless, so they can be set up where it’s most convenient to use them and the user isn’t being stressed just getting to them.

The glucose meter is pretty good, but it can be improved. It records a series of readings, I don’t know how many, but Mom doesn’t have to write them down. She tries to, but again, sometimes the piece of paper is missing, the pen is missing, or there’s a distraction. With her Parkinson’s, her handwriting is often illegible anyway.

All of these devices need to be wireless, and the data should flow to a mobile device for storage, display and analysis. The data on the device can be reviewed in the doctor’s office, or with a visiting nurse and used to explain changes in medication or diet.

This is an area where a company like Apple could make a huge contribution to improve home health care. It’s not chic and not strictly “consumer,” but it is desperately, desperately in need of smart, sophisticated, humane user experience design.

It’s sad watching my parents age, and struggle with the infirmities and indignities that accompany aging. It’s harder when many of those struggles are imposed by poor design, lack of empathy or understanding of the user. I would truly love to see someone like Apple step into this area and really begin to make home health technology “user friendly.”

The Old Tech Shuffle

00:20 Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Technology changes so fast these days. The really cool “new shiny” you bought seven years ago, is today’s “old and busted,” even though it still works! It’s hard to part with things that still work, so a lot of times they just end up in the closet.

I have two iPod Hi-Fi speaker systems. I bought them at a discount after they were discontinued by Apple many years ago. I used one of them in connection with an Airport Express as an Airplay speaker system to play music in the main living area of my condo. Yes, I know I don’t get stereo separation, but I’m not that much of an audiophile.

One of the reasons why I used the Hi-Fi was because it had an optical input, and the digital-to-analog converter in the Hi-Fi was much better than the one in the Airport Express (the older model). If you just used a 3.5mm stereo cable to connect the two, the audio from the Express was kind of muddy.

Since the Express and the Hi-Fi offered the option of a digital optical connection, I tried that and the sound was vastly better. I’m not an audiophile, but I know what I like.

I used my other Hi-Fi as portable speaker system. We have power available at the pool in several locations, so I could plug the Hi-Fi in and use either an iPod or, later, an iPhone streaming Pandora as a music source. It was perfect for that because it really put out great sound in an open-air environment, compared to most of the smaller systems people used. I even bought a little extension cable with male and female 30-pin connections so I could connect my iPad to the Hi-Fi.

With my first HDTV, a 2006 50” Panasonic plasma, I used a Zvox sound system. First the 315, later the 325. The 325 offered a front mounted volume control. The 315 assumed you would connect the system to a TV through a headphone port, and control the volume from the TV. I didn’t have a headphone port, so it was inconvenient to change the volume. When the 325 came out, I got that and gave the 315 to a friend of mine.

Time and technology move on, and “legacy” connections are phased out in favor of newer technology and to keep costs low. My new, 2013, HDTV lacked any analog audio out ports, relying on HDMI or an optical connection to a home theater system or sound bar. So I took my other Hi-Fi and connected it to the TV using the optical port, and gave the 325 to the friend who had the 315. I got the 315 back, and into the closet it went.

Where it stayed until yesterday.

About the same time that analog audio connections from TVs began to vanish, Apple switched to the Lightning connector in place of the old 30-pin dock connector, and all the cool kids began using Bluetooth portable speaker systems. Even if I didn’t have both Hi-Fi units tied up doing other duty, it seemed like the days of physically tethering to a portable speaker system were past.

When I was up in Pennsylvania last month, I noticed my friend was streaming Pandora from his iPhone to his old Bose SoundDock. He had this little Bluetooth receiver connected to the docking port.

Genius! I wondered if it might work with the iPod Hi-Fi. It turns out that some do.

It seemed like I might get some use out of that Zvox 315, and get my “portable” Hi-Fi back!

The Zvox 315 doesn’t offer a convenient form of volume control, but Airplay does. I ordered a small external DAC from Amazon, and a CoolStream Bluetooth receiver. For some reason, I already had a Toslink/Optical mini-plug cable. (Apple’s optical ports use the mini-plug design to maintain compatibility with 3.5mm analog connections.)

The Zvox 315 is now connected to my Airport Express. I have the latest 802.11n version of the Express now, and I regret that I didn’t test the analog output before I ordered the DAC. It may have a better DAC than the older model that preceded it. In any event, the DAC I bought works great, and the Zvox sounds as good as the Hi-Fi. A bit different, sure, but just as good to my ears. I control iTunes using Apple’s iOS Remote app, and I can control the volume just fine. I set the physical control on the Zvox to about three quarters of max, and I can shake the walls if I want to.

I tested the Hi-Fi with the CoolStream, and it works as advertised. So I now have an iPod Hi-Fi that I can take with me and use as a Bluetooth speaker, or with any of my three “classic” iPods, and the Zvox is no longer sitting in the closet.

Finally, my very first iPod, a 3G, came with a dock, a device I seldom, well, never actually, use. I found that I can also use the ClearStream connected to the dock, with an iPod USB cable connected to a power adapter, and run the analog output to any audio device with analog inputs. Took it to a friend’s house the other night for a party, and streamed iTunes Radio from my iPod Touch through her Bose stereo. Yes, you could also just use a 3.5mm stereo cable, but hey, Bluetooth!

If you have an old dock laying around, you can give Bluetooth capability to any almost any audio device, it just needs an available analog input.

So that was a bit of fun this past week, nerding out with some old and some (relatively) new tech.

And Let's See If This Works

20:47 Monday, 5 May 2014

Had to make a May page in TB6. Test post.

Let’s see what happens…