A family makes a trip

A family makes a trip of hundreds of miles, buying off and bribing who they need to, to escape violence and abuse and tyranny in their home country. They put themselves through incredible danger because the danger they’re leaving behind is undoubtedly worse.

They get to the border of our land, and they’re treated like criminals or worse; shouted at, turned away, abused. When they do get through the border, sometimes they get caught later, and are kicked out of the country. Many of them do it all over again and come back.

They come back because they believe in America. They know that in America, they will find more opportunity and a more peaceful life than where they came from. They believe in an America so bright that it shines through every ounce of the hate and fear that causes many of our people and certainly our President to censure, bully, and blame them. They believe in America’s promise more than many of us do.

Let them in. They deserve to be here. The great question of this moment is whether the rest of us do.

Giving Thanks

There are many things for which I’m thankful this year. Chief among them is the health of our son, who’s been growing well in utero and whom we’re expecting at the end of this month. After that is our health, our family, our parish community, and all of our great friends.

While my thankfulness for all of these things is more important than anything else I have to write, I still feel compelled to bring up some bigger, broader reasons to feel thankful in this year. Spoiler alert: we’re returning to politics in full form for this post.

For Journalism

It was only last year when I realized the magnitude of the error that I had made in thinking that news wasn’t worth money. Why pay when so much news was available online for free? My whole generation missed that memo, and we were so wrong.

Real journalism, i.e. following leads, doing interviews, getting the facts, and reporting them in the face of power, are more important than they’ve ever been. You are not entitled to your own facts, nor even to your own uninformed opinions. You’re entitled only to be informed, and the press provides that. Hypocrisy, cynicism, corruption, and outright criminality happen in the halls of power, as do acts of honest nobility. The press is how you know of all of this.

There have been real problems with the media. The obsession with ratings and advertising dollars has led to sensationalism and a tendency to treat everything as spectacle rather than with the gravity that situations deserve. This led many in our country to feel that a qualified, experienced candidate with a policy idea for every issue was no different from a C-minus racist wannabe autocrat with no understanding of policy at all. That said, the Washington Post’s tagline is true – democracy dies in darkness. No matter how imperfect or dim the light.

It’s journalism, in fact, that produced the next thing that I’m thankful for.

For #MeToo

I went to a birthing class recently. While I know what happens during birth, seeing a recording of it caused me to immediately think one clear thought; how can our society possibly tolerate treat women the way that we do, when they do so much?

I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of this topic, but it’s a watershed moment for our society. While it might sting to see popular or beloved figures be punished for their treatment of women, it’s necessary for our growth that victims continue to speak out. It pains me to see how widespread the harassment has been, but it’s vital that I feel that pain. As a man, I have had the privilege of nearly never having to confront it or bear witness to it. If women can endure harassment for years on end with no consequence for their harassers, I can assuredly deal with the discomfort of knowing how many men are tainted by this behavior.

For the 2016 Election

Not because 45 is a good President or a good person. He’s neither of those things.

The fact is, though, I can’t say that either of the above two things would have happened if Donald Trump hadn’t been elected President (well, “elected”). We’re confronted with the fact that the election of a rapacious charlatan who is dangerously unfit for office seems to have provided the spark that our society needed to look up and say “enough”. Would women have marched on Washington in January? Would so many powerful men, abusing women in the shadows, have been cast down from power? Would so many women, minorities, and young people be running for office? Would journalism have recovered that sense of vitality that it had lost?

This is why I’m thankful for last year’s election. The unimaginable destruction being wrought on our institutions and norms will have to be the sacrifice that pays for the awakening happening amongst many everyday Americans. A friend asked me recently if I thought it likely that America could slide into a fascist dictatorship. I said no purely due to these positive signs that I see. I’m reminded of a protest in New York in 2011 following a production of Philip Glass’s opera Satyagraha, at which the composer himself read out the libretto’s closing lines:

When righteousness withers away
and evil rules the land,
we come into being,
age after age,
and take visible shape,
and move, a man among men,
for the protection of good,
thrusting back evil
and setting virtue on her seat again.

No rest for the wicked.


What We All Want On the Fourth

In this great country today, we celebrate the heroic actions of our nation’s birth. We celebrate the words and deeds of the great Founders of liberal democracy. Along with the other luminaries of the Enlightenment, they saw the path forward out of regressive, authoritarian monarchy. They saw a world governed by autocrats and said, “No more”.

Leaders of both of our political parties sometimes forget that they’re answerable to the people. The people, no matter who they’ve recently voted for, all seem to be aligned around some pretty basic things:

  • We all want to not go bankrupt paying medical bills, and to pay as little as possible for medical care.
  • We all want to be able to save for our own retirements in addition to our children’s educations.
  • We all want to be able to have the time we need with our newborn children when they are born without worrying about running out of money.
  • We all want to get raises in good times, and in fact in all times, just like CEOs do.
  • We all want to welcome anyone who comes to our country and works hard to get ahead, take care of themselves, and help make our country great.
  • We all want good jobs in places where the good jobs have left, and for the government to help bring them in.
  • We all want stable, loving communities free of the threats of violence, drugs, depravation, and fear.

Right now, there is a health care bill floating around out there that either works against or doesn’t address these common wants. We recently elected a President who said in some way or another that he supported all these things. Politicians who support these cruel bills that don’t drive us towards our mutual goals should be told, “No more.”

Go here to contact your Senator. Happy Fourth of July.

One Year Review of Wellness Stuff

Those who know me closely know that I’ve lost a fair bit of weight in the past year. Truthfully, the motivation for doing this didn’t initially come from within, and I didn’t expect that donating almost all of my clothes would be the end result. Rather, I have a few simple tools (both hardware and software) to thank. This is a short review of those couple of things that made the biggest difference, in order of importance.

Apple Watch

First and foremost, my Watch.

The Apple Watch is easily my favorite product that I’ve gotten in the last couple of years, and it’s what started me down the path of running more. Since I got the stainless steel Apple Watch, I wanted to make sure that I took maximum advantage of as many features as I could. I like getting my money’s worth from things.

I had had fitness trackers in the preceding years (several Jawbone ones), but none of them were ever as motivating as the Apple Watch. Something about having the three activity rings right on my Watch face just made me want to fill them every day. It helps you summarize your day like the photo below. More details here: http://brez.link/2bBIiAY

The Activity app on Apple Watch

I’m now at the point where I’m taking brisk walks every time I have a break at work, and telling my Watch to start an walk in the Workout app beforehand.

I didn’t expect the wellness features of the Apple Watch to be my favorite thing about it, but that’s how it ended up. I’m excited about the Activity watch faces and the new Breathe app coming in watchOS 3 this fall.

If you’ve been on the fence about an Apple Watch, consider this my recommendation.

Withings Body Scale

As it turns out, there is an entire ecosystem of health devices that can feed data to an iPhone, all communicating with the phone using a framework called HealthKit. Withings makes a whole slew of them, but the most important one for me is their scale. They make a few models, and I actually have an older one, but that’s okay. The main thing that it does is transmit my weight every morning over to the Health app on my iPhone.

The Withings body scale and its app

Since getting the scale in January, I’ve got a graph of my weight that gets updated every day that I’m at home. It also measures my body fat percentage through my feet via some voodoo whose explanation I haven’t researched, and records my body mass index.

Smart scales are absurdly expensive compared to the $35 scale from Amazon, but heck if they’re not useful. Once you have one, you can’t go back. Recommended.

A Treadmill

The treadmills in my apartment’s clubhouse are my exercise command center. Due to having been treated for melanoma in the past, my dermatologist would hit me with a brick if I regularly went running outside. Or at least, I’d have to do a whole bunch of prep work with mineral sunscreen, find a hat appropriate to working out, and trust that the armband I have for my enormous iPhone 6s Plus will actually keep my phone on me. And then in the winter I would, you know, do nothing.

The treadmill has grown on me to the point that I like it though. I can control my exact pace and time on it (I run for 30 minutes, or about 4 miles, a few times a week). I also have a workout playlist (which I change only very infrequently) that I have timed to the exact points when I typically increase my pace.

My cavemen ancestors ran from freaking leopards and stuff every other day to stay fit. I run on a machine in an air conditioned basement. Modern living.

Lose It!

The last tool is a software based one. I have a bit of a problem with an app centering itself (and even naming itself) primarily around the concept of weight loss specifically instead of wellness generally. That said, my workplace periodically does wellness challenges in which we have to record things, and this is the app we use. I also have almost a year’s worth of food habits built up in it, and don’t want to change.

This app lets me track what I eat. I now do this so habitually that almost everything I even semi-regularly eat has an entry that I can add almost instantly. There is also a bar code scanner in the app, so I can add many new foods quickly. I use this information mainly to keep myself more honest than I was in the past about portion sizes. I think it’s the least scientific part of my setup in terms of real data, but setting a weight goal in here and then eating fewer calories than it suggested seemed to help.

I usually skip days when we travel or have some kind of family celebration. A billion kinds of food set up buffet style is a pain to track. My scale usually tells me that I’ve temporarily gained 2 pounds after days like this, but it always goes down again, so I don’t mind.

Wrapping it up

One doesn’t necessarily need all of these things to lose weight, or maintain weight, or even to exercise. It’s funny that in the developed world, staying fit is more easily done when we construct an environment around ourselves to do so. That said, these are the tools that have helped me get into the best shape I’ve been in in years, probably since high school, and I recommended any one of them.

Remember, remember

People in rich countries like the United Kingdom and the United States seem to have forgotten what the majority of human history has been. That is, the history of ceaseless conflict, war, and death. Sure, there were periods of relative peace, given grand names like Pax Romana and Pax Mongolica. However, the spread of humanity around the globe generally led to the spread of human conflict.

One hundred years ago, after centuries of conflict, civilizations had built themselves up to become immensely powerful and wealthy empires. They did this not just via the fine accomplishments of their arts, their learning, and their exploration, but also via colonialism, invasion, and exploitation. Rich, modern civilization had emerged, but it was sustained by yet more human conflict. Empires built in this way, all based on the same Continent, inevitably came into conflict themselves, and the Great War bloodied the world. We have forgotten.

People were sure at the time that World War I would end war. Surely humanity had just learned a great lesson, and the mistakes of the past would not be repeated. Meanwhile, the victors of that war imposed great penalty on the losers, and the stage was set for more conflict.

Seventy years ago, one of those losing nations was led by a sociopathic demagogue into believing that one group of people was particularly responsible for their troubles. “This group is not like us, and they are undermining and destroying us and our society,” they thought. To further “protect” themselves, they invaded and subjugated their neighbors, rather than joining with them in peace. We have forgotten.

The United Kingdom was all alone. They looked across the Channel, and saw nothing but invaded lands, controlled by the enemy. They could have asserted their own independence, and sued for peace with Germany. Sure, Hitler probably would have passed on that, but Britain could have tried to make a deal to remain free. Instead, Churchill said:

We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

They fought, and we fought with them. And they bent the great arc of human history away from conflict and towards enduring peace. I’m overly glorifying the victory, I know. Things haven’t been perfect since that time; conflict has still happened. However, we are now in an era of unprecedented peace, where fewer and fewer people per decade die by war, terrorism, or violence of any kind, despite what the media would have you believe. Those people who fought on the beaches and the landing grounds gave their lives so that we could have such peace. Our present world is the greatest achievement in human history so far, and it was built by Allies making a common cause. We have forgotten.

Institutions built since the War (especially the EU) have not just immeasurably enriched their country and most others as well. They have also stood as a bulwark against the senseless urges that led to the deaths of countless millions; not just in the last World War, but in all the long centuries of the past. The people of the UK have not just simply rejected a political arrangement. They have looked their forebears straight in the eye, and spit in their faces. It’s made even worse by the fact that many of those who voted this way are older voters. Their parents fought and continued fighting against all odds not just for themselves, but for free people everywhere who were not British.

These voters cast all of this aside, just because they’re afraid that someone with a different skin color is going to come and take their job. They have forgotten.


We must walk without fear

I only wish I could understand those who say that the solution to all of our problems is to close ourselves off from the world. Or, rather, to close the rest of the world out from us. I don’t rightly know where I first developed the aversion to such thinking. Perhaps during my Catholic education growing up, or perhaps realizing in college that there are so many valid philosophical viewpoints. Perhaps it came from traveling to another country for a time and really appreciating another culture.

Should we slip so easily into abject fear, even in the midst of loss? Surely our great society, and all sympathetic societies, are immune to collapse due to the crazed actions of fanatic zealots. They are the weak, the simple minded who cannot tolerate the idea that the world is not black and white. They lash out at us with their simple minded tools, their guns and bullets. These things cannot destroy the society built by Washington, Lincoln, Emerson, Hawthorne, Whitman, Roosevelt, Kennedy. Why should we react in a way that suggests that they have any real power?

The frightened in our midst want to close our borders, not realizing that the answer is not to reject others, but to embrace them. Foreigners do not pollute our culture; they enrich it. Every Syrian refugee who dreams of getting to America should be able to dream of becoming American. The more who come to add to and share in our culture, the stronger that culture becomes and the weaker the culture of the zealots. Together, we are complete. Edward R. Murrow said that “we will not walk in fear, one of another”. It is more true now than ever.

The burden of a free society with liberty and justice for all is heavy. It’s heavier than just a strong national defense. It includes a burden of spirit, of optimism, that we all must share even in the face of all of our society’s flaws and problems. It has to include a belief that no darkness can overcome the light. Do we have cold slime in our veins, or hot red blood? Do we believe the words on the Statue in the harbor?

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

When the towers burned and fell, the Statue remained there with her words, defiant, a symbol of us all. She is only as brave as all of us.

Chrome for Mac – Thoughts

I’ll start out saying that I really want to like Chrome on the Mac. After seeing it blow away the competition on the PC, I looked forward for months to having a fully baked version on OS X. Even though I’m an unabashed Apple partisan, I’m eager to see Google competing with Apple on so many fronts. Even though Chrome and its open source foundation, Chromium, are based on Apple’s pioneering WebKit project, I think Chrome has admirably differentiated itself from Safari. Unfortunately, I cannot acclimate myself to daily use of Chrome, for several reasons. First, however, I should mention some strengths that Chrome has going for it.

The Good

The big thing that Chrome offers on the PC, its speed, is its strength on the Mac as well. While I did not do any actual measurements, pseudo-scientific or otherwise, to compare the performance of Chrome versus that of Safari, Chrome just feels faster. Actual numbers have been crunched by others, but these results may be significantly changed now that Safari 5 is in the wild. Numbers aside, Google has managed to craft a browser that feels lighter and faster than the already minimalist Safari – no small feat.

The other great thing about Chrome is its search bar. This thing is a fantastic innovation, and yet it’s also no surprise that Google would implement such a feature. The ability to search from Google right within the search bar is very nice and convenient. Also, until last week, the ability to search one’s history in a natural way (i.e. not depending on URL syntax) was a major win for Google as well. Fortunately, this ability is now baked into Safari 5. We’ll therefore call this but a narrow win for Chrome.

The Bad

Now then, despite these positives from Chrome, I can’t make myself switch to it for everyday use. After using it regularly for about a week, there were too many little annoyances that kept getting in the way of my browsing workflow (leisure-flow?). Here are all the deficiencies that I found annoying:

  • Zero support for AppleScript. This is a major sticking point. I use AppleScripts all the time to send bookmarks and archives to Yojimbo. Not supporting AppleScript means that Chrome is not a fully fledged OS X citizen. Google has got to fix that.
  • No ClickToFlash. This is such an integral part of my Safari browsing sessions that I barely remember that it’s an add-on. I know that there are ways to partially block Flash in Chrome as well, but ClickToFlash is the whole enchilada, it works fantastically, and it’s only for Safari.
  • Speaking of add-ons, I find that Chrome extensions are a bit pokey in general. More in line with my actual usage, though, is the lack of a good 1Password implementation in Chrome. I know that Agile is working hard on getting this fantastic product to work with Chrome, but I’m spoiled by how flawlessly it works in Safari.
  • Lastly, the Find dialogue in Chrome. You know, the standard Command-F shortcut. While it sometimes works just fine, there have been times when I’m looking for a word on a site, and Chrome refuses to show me a Find dialogue, no matter how many times I try to invoke it. This is a bug that will be fixed, I’m confident, but Safari wins here.
  • No Readability-like feature. This is a recent addition, but I have to mention the amazing utility of the newly-added Safari Reader feature in Safari 5. While I had the Readability bookmarklet installed before having Safari 5, I never used it. Building this ability into the browser and having it just a shortcut away was a great move on Apple’s part.

I admit that two of these issue stem from my use of particular add-ons in Safari, so I’m not trying to claim that Chrome is useless by any means. These are simply the things that kept me from keeping Chrome as my daily browser. With that said, I’m leaving it installed, and will periodically update it. I’m very confident that Google will keep making Chrome for Mac better and better.

You’d think Apple broke up with Adobe

Much has been made in recent weeks about Flash, Adobe, Apple, and the iPhone OS. Collating a list of links here pertaining to the debate would take all day, and it seems like everyone has their two cents to throw in. This is not even accounting for the protracted geek debates that I’ve seen on Twitter on the subject.

My opinion is this: Flash gives me nothing, as a user of the Internet. Actually, I take that back: Flash gives me crappy ads that have a good chance at crashing my browser, even on the relatively crash-proof OS X. Even with an add-on like Click2Flash installed, Flash gives me ugly, randomly sized gray boxes in the middle of websites. The Internet didn’t always have this shabby look that many sites have taken on due to Flash.

Think back 10-15 years, to a much earlier Internet. Sites specializing in displaying text (a vast majority of sites at that time) did not have anywhere near as many obtrusive animated ads that brought one’s computer to its knees. Yes, I admit the era’s animated .gifs were annoying, but it was nothing like today, where I can’t even read a newspaper article without Flash ads being shoved in my face in three different sections of the text. Google might be an evil empire trying to seed its ads to the all the ends of the Earth, but at least their text ads don’t bother me and don’t crash my browser.

The flip side is that on that same early Internet, online video was essentially limited to playing in RealPlayer, usually at convenient postage stamp resolution. Yes, Flash eventually allowed better solutions to this problem, and yes, we should remember Flash fondly for that. However, HTML5 has solved this issue. Go to YouTube and turn on the experimental HTML5 feature – the videos are no different, except now you won’t have to engage in an aural battle with the din of your laptop’s fans, since Flash won’t be busy kicking your computer in the CPU.

The real issue is that developers have invested time in using Flash. I’m not saying that Flash is completely useless, but it certainly has no relevance on a platform like the iPad, whereupon a developer can write a native app that looks, feels, and functions ten times better than a Flash equivalent would. Cross-platform development tools, speaking from a user’s point of view, are rubbish. Have you ever preferred using a Java-based app on your Mac (or PC, for that matter) over using a native application?

The iPad and the iPhone present an environment on which we can finally start leaving a dated development model and tool behind us.

Steam for Mac cannot…

  • minimize properly and on command using command-M
  • close properly all the time, giving crash notices
  • have a “Start when I log in” item that is not checked by default
  • download reliably, for some reason liking to pause active downloads
  • avoid installing game data in my ~/Documents folder as though that makes sense

I know it’s just a version 1.0 for the Mac, and I’m really excited about having access to my games, but heavens. It feels like a Windows app with a Halloween costume on.