ImageOptim and iPhoto

ImageOptim is a simple Mac app that bundles a few image optimization tools to reduce the file size of your images by 10–20%. Handy, but not a big deal, right?

I ran it against my 40GB iPhoto library (lots of people have even bigger libraries). There are 3 folders in your iPhoto Library that have images:

  • Masters/Originals
  • Thumbnails
  • Previews

It took me about a day of crunching images (just moving back and forth to the computer dragging folders over into the application). I could have scripted it, but I was lazy and walking over to the computer every hour or so was easier.

When finished, it saved about 1.5GB of useless information from my library. That’s not a ton, but that’s basically “free” free space. It’s incremental, and the nice thing about how iPhoto stores your pictures is that you can grab a folder each month and drag it in, and it’ll take about an hour a month or so. It his, however, diminishing returns if you’re using something like an iPhone as a camera. It seems that images generated by the iPhone are already reasonably well optimized, only maybe saving 8–10%.

Anyway—if you’re looking to squeeze a little bit more space out of your disk (maybe you’ve got an SSD), you’ll probably find a free GB or two in optimizing your image collection.

A Perfect Joke

I recently started reading The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey of SNL fame. It’s a really light read, less of a story and more of an excuse to string some jokes and puns together. I’m only a quarter of the way through the book but I came across this gem:

“I had dreams once. Once I wanted to build the world’s longest suspension bridge. But then I found out someone else had already done it.”

That’s just about as perfect a joke as could be written.

True Inbox Zero

Want to know the simplest way to get to Inbox Zero?

Make it so people can’t send you mail.

The other day I updated the SSL cert I have for my site. I use it on my own mail server so that most mail servers can talk over TLS and exchange mail securely.

When I updated my cert, I was an idiot. I didn’t properly update my postfix config. Postfix would still run and accept mail, but anyone trying to connect via TLS would fail. It turns out that Google (understandably) tries to connect via TLS. When they can’t connect, they don’t try to reconnect using plain SMTP. They just bail out.

So, short version: I’m an idiot. But, for about 12 hours, I didn’t get any mail. It was glorious.

An Actual Senator Said This

I meant to post this a while back, but even a couple of weeks later, it still deserves comment.

An actual Senator, Senator Thom Tillis from North Carolina, said:

I was having this discussion with someone, and we were at a Starbucks in my district, and we were talking about certain regulations where I felt like maybe you should allow businesses to opt out,” Tillis said, in remarks first reported by the District Sentinel. “Let an industry or business opt out as long as they indicate through proper disclosure, through advertising, through employment, literature, whatever else. There’s this level of regulations that maybe they’re on the books, but maybe you can make a market-based decision as to whether or not they should apply to you.

The idiocy of this statement knows no bounds. First, he’s suggesting that we replace the regulation that businesses require their employees to wash their hands with another regulation that says businesses post a sign about whether or not they require their employees to wash their hands.

I’m not sure that’s the type of savings the Tea Party folks in North Carolina were planning on.

Second—and granted, his statement was just stupid point scoring—this is where you draw the line? Hand washing? This occurred just a few weeks after the big measles outbreak in California. Hand washing wouldn’t have stopped that, but it’s probably not the best timing to talk about making it a market decision as to whether or not a restaurant requires its employees to wash their hands1.

  1. Let’s be honest, nothing really requires it today. But the threat of losing your job as a worker, and both the civil (being sued into bankruptcy) and criminal (ending up in jail) threat to owners for harming customers with poorly managed food, give us some hope that it’s happening. 

The Relativity of Winter

Going to school in Virginia, I built up this impression of myself, an image that coming from the brutal winters of New England, handling winter in the Blue Ridge Mountains was nothing. To be clear, winter in Blacksburg was rough. The Drillfield in the middle of campus was a giant wind tunnel, making the trek across campus to class an exercise in trying to get up a short, icy slope with massive wind bursts blowing you the other way. The temperature, often hovering around freezing, lead to mixes of snow and rain that changed rapidly to slush and ice.

Winter in Blacksburg was tough, but it was short and it was, definitively, nothing like a New England winter.

Or so I told myself.

Then I came back to live just north of Boston and, in the years since, rapidly began to wonder if I was ever that tough. The cold ate at me in ways I never remembered. Whereas I used to love the prospect of snow, and having a day off from school, I now dreaded the idea that my city would declare a snow emergency, leaving me to have to find a place to park my car, and then trudge back and forth to it to shovel it out and make my way to work.

The occasional light winters with only a couple of snow storms that melted away rapidly were a joy, and made me wonder if I had lost my New England seasonal toughness. Maybe I was better equipped for warmer climates.

Everything is relative.

The winter of 2015 is going to go down in history as probably the snowiest on record for the Boston area. It’s rarely been above freezing for the last 4 weeks, and there’s only been a handful of days that didn’t contain some snow. Navigating the city by car or on foot is treacherous and takes three times as long as normal, simply because there’s nowhere for the snow to go.

The difference is none of us seem to care any more. Or don’t care about the precipitaton and cold, at least. More snow? I just need to figure out where I’m going to put it. Only in the single digits today? Ok, I guess I’ll put on some gloves when I shovel. As the winter has worn on, I’ve realized that I never lost that toughness necessary to handle a New England winter. I just hadn’t faced a tough New England winter in a while.

Our big complaints now? That aforementioned traffic due to streets that are 60% their normal size. The T not running because the snow has come so fast and furious that the tracks aren’t even clear in some places. Are they going to have ice melt at the hardware store since they’ve run out for three days in a row. Are parking space savers ok?

My memory of being a kid and facing down winter head on doesn’t include the six layers of clothing topped by full snow pants, or coming inside and standing next to the wood stove, which in hindsight, is how we survived winter. No, I just remember winter not being a big deal.

30 years later, six feet of snow later, watching as a near blizzard drops another ten inches of snow onto our yard, already swelling with mounds of shoveled snow, winter isn’t a big deal. My hearty New England soul can handle it just fine.

It’s just a pain in the ass.

Handy Travel Technology

I’m expecting I’ll be traveling a bit more for work this year and, in preparation for that, I asked for a couple of things for Christmas to help make that a bit easier. There are three devices that I think have become integral to my travel, just in terms of making life a little bit easier.

When you travel, iPhone batteries seem to take a beating. You tend to move around places with weak cell coverage and intermittent wi-fi coverage that keep your phone radios fired up and burning battery. There’s lots of downtime where you’re using your phone to check on fight status, or read the news, or just entertain yourself while waiting for a flight. A couple of years ago I picked up a Mophie Powerstation battery pack. It’s 4000 mAh, which basically means it can charge an iPhone full more than two times, and can also charge an iPad. I charge it, throw it in my bag, and then if I feel like my phone might die that day, it’s small enough to keep in my pocket. One recommendation: get a small cable so that you don’t have to carry the traditional long Lightning cable around with you.

Hotel wifi is notoriously bad. In some hotels, you either pay for each device, or logging one device on bumps another device off. When listening to an episode of Mac Power Users, I heard about the Edimax N150 Travel Router. Basically, it’s a little USB powered wifi router. Once you set it up (it’s not the most straightforward thing), you hook it either into the hotel’s ethernet or wifi. That way, you have one device that’s always connected to the hotel’s internet, and then you connect to it. Since it’s not moving around (the way you often are when using an iPad or iPhone), you don’t worry about losing signal. And, it’s advanced enough to broadcast a hidden (and protected) network so that other folks won’t jump on your connection.

Since it’s USB powered, it fits perfectly right into the Belkin BST300bg. This is a surge protector, USB charger, and outlet expander all in one. So many hotels have only a couple of power outlets, and they’re usually located in the most horrible place possible. You plug the Belkin into any outlet, and it’ll give you 3 surge protected outlets (great for your laptop) and two USB ports. Use one to charge your device, and plug your little Edimax wifi router into the other. Even better at the airport when you need to charge your gear and you’re fighting over one of those airport outlets. Throw this in and share the love.

If you shop smartly (and the links above are to Amazon, so I’ll get a tiny kickback if you buy one), you can pretty much get all three of these for less than $100. That’s $100 well spent, and it’ll make your travel much, much happier.

Quick Review: Sonos Playbar

Thanks to my wonderful future in-laws, we found ourselves in possession of a really awesome Sonos Playbar. In our new living room, we had been using the TV speakers of our new Samsung HDTV for our audio, whether via the TV or when playing music via the Apple TV or Pandora on the TV.

It was fine. Or maybe slightly less than fine. Not nearly as good as the surround sound setup we had in our condo (which isn’t a good fit for our living room). Certainly not good enough to use to play music while making food in the kitchen, or having a little party on the first floor.

We had jokingly asked for a Playbar, mostly since I had convinced myself that I would get one for myself for my birthday. Well, Merry Christmas, we got one six months early.

Let’s start with the handful of cons:

  • The price. It’s expensive. It’s really nice, but that doesn’t make it not expensive.
  • It doesn’t come with a mount. I was sort of astounding it doesn’t come with a mount. Now, the mount isn’t all that expensive, but for what you pay, you’d expect that to be included.
  • No Apple Airplay support. It’d be awesome if it acted as an Airplay receiver so you could throw any old iOS/Mac audio right at it without having to turn on the Apple TV.

There are a lot of pros:

  • Integrated apps. For things like Pandora, or SiriusXM, or Amazon music, or Spotify, you just plug in your info and then you can manage the thing via the Sonos app. And it works quite well. You can control it from almost anywhere in the house.
  • The sound. It sounds great. Really great. Much better than TV speakers, and good enough that I’m not sure we’ll rush to add surround sound to our living room. It’s been great watching movies and Netflix and listening to music.
  • It looks good. Our TV is mounted on a corner mount, so mounting the Sonos wasn’t easy. I had to buy a soundbar mount that mounts to the TV mount, and then mount the Sonos mount to it. It took a bit of work to get it working, and I think we nearly dropped our TV, but in the end, it looks really nice mounted right below the TV.
  • It’s expandable. We like the Sonos enough that I may get another speaker (like a Play:1) and be able to control them all simultaneously.

For the Sonos, you’re paying a premium, and there’s not a lot of discounts available. So you need to really want one (or have some really nice family members). But, so far, it feels like it’s been worth the money.