Apple TV follow-up

I used my new Apple TV to watch a few older Doctor Who Christmas specials last night, and to watch the new one today, so I thought I’d post a follow-up to my last post about it. I have to say that finding individual episodes of Doctor Who through the Apple TV interface is pretty frustrating. I had hoped that Siri would help, but asking for “Doctor Who Christmas episodes” just gets me the standard “I don’t understand” answer. And even giving the specific episode title doesn’t help. It just doesn’t seem to be very good at exactly the one thing it should be really good at: finding already-purchased iTunes video content in the user’s library.  It can tell me the weather, or what time it is, which is nice, but I could just look at my phone for that. Well, anyway the new Doctor Who special was pretty good, and certainly worth the $5 I paid for it.

Oh, and I’ve stumbled across one interesting app: Pluto TV. It’s a service airing a number of channels, including one that’s showing MST3K 24/7, apparently.

Merry Christmas

Looking at the “On This Day” sidebar on my blog, I see that I don’t normally write a blog post on Christmas day. But, well, I don’t have much to do today, and I woke up at 5:45am, so I might as well write one now and kill some time. So, Merry Christmas!

Due to circumstances beyond my control (as the saying goes), I’ve found myself on my own with no particular plans today. So this is, I think, going to be my first “free-form” Christmas, with no obligations or expectations.

It should be in the low 60s today, and cloudy (but hopefully not raining), for most of the day. So maybe I’ll go out for a walk or two. I’m thinking about hopping on a train into New York, but I’m not sure what I could do in NYC on Christmas day on my own, aside from just wandering around aimlessly.

I think maybe sitting around at home and watching old Doctor Who Christmas specials might be a good way to spend the day.

Apple TV 2015

A friend bought me a new Apple TV for Christmas this year. I was perfectly happy with my old Apple TV box (the previous generation), so I wouldn’t have gone out and bought myself a new one. But it’s a cool new toy, so I’ve been playing around with it. (My friend also bought me a Nimbus game controller, which is kind of nifty, but I haven’t done anything with it yet.)

My main use for the Apple TV has always been to watch iTunes content, specifically Doctor Who. I don’t get BBC America, so I buy Doctor Who from iTunes and watch it through the Apple TV box, usually. For that simple use case, the new Apple TV might actually be a little less convenient than the old one. I’ve found the interface for browsing through purchased content is usable, but slightly less convenient than the old interface.

The new remote is interesting, but so far I don’t find the touch surface to be any more useful than just having buttons like on the old remote. The Siri functionality works well, though I feel weird talking to my remote, and I’m not sure how often I’ll use it. And I’m also not sure how I feel about having a rechargeable battery in it; it’s a nice idea, and maybe necessary to support the touch surface, but I’m wondering how often I’m going to have to recharge it. (And I’m wondering how long before it wears out, since it doesn’t appear to be user-replaceable.) With the old remote, I just had to stick a new watch battery in it once every couple of years.

The app store is a good thing, and I hope to see some interesting apps show up there, but so far, there’s not much I’m interested in, aside from stuff that was already available on the old Apple TV. The Netflix app is fine, and there are apps for the usual networks, like PBS, Disney, Comedy Central, and so on. I did use the Disney XD app yesterday to binge on a bunch of Gravity Falls episodes, and it worked well.

I haven’t tried playing any games on it yet, but I’ll get around to that eventually. I hear that Alto’s Adventure is pretty good, so maybe I’ll pick that up.

Fire follow-up

I thought I’d write a quick follow up on the Amazon Fire I got last week. I knew when I bought it that it would be locked-down to some extent, but I didn’t really research exactly how locked down it is. Out of the box, you can only install software from Amazon’s store, not Google Play, and Amazon’s store is missing a lot of stuff. I installed OneDrive, Evernote, Slacker, and a few other apps, but there’s no (official) Dropbox client (as far as I can tell), Instapaper app, or any alternate web browsers (Firefox or Chrome). I’ve been reading up, and apparently you can “sideload” apps pretty easily, but I haven’t played with that yet. And I’ve read up on how to get the Google Play store installed, but the process for doing that seems a little dicey, so I’m not going to bother with it unless I need to.

In addition to the $15 32 GB MicroSD card I bought for it, I’ve now also bought a $15 case and a $5 USB cable (since the one it came with is too short), so I’ve officially spent as much on accessories as I spent on the Fire itself. I find that pretty amusing.

Blogging tools

I played around with the app for Mac a couple of weeks ago. I used it to write a few recent blog posts, but I’ve mostly gone back to just using the regular WordPress admin. The app is nice, but it’s not really that much better than the regular admin pages.

The app is now also available for Windows. I’ll probably install it on my ThinkPad at some point and give it a try. And, interestly, Windows Live Writer has (finally) been open-sourced and released as Open Live Writer. Windows Live Writer had a really good reputation as a great tool for authoring blog posts, and I know at least one guy who used it with WordPress and liked it. Microsoft pretty much abandoned it in 2012, and there’s been talk about open-sourcing it for quite some time. It’s great that they’ve managed to do it. I know it’s not easy with software like this that comes out of a large company.


My $35 Amazon Fire 7″ tablet arrived in the mail yesterday. It’s a pretty nice little tablet for $35.  (Even at the regular $50 price, it’s a really good deal.)  I bought a $15 32GB MicroSD card with it, and I’m thinking about loading that up with music, and using it primarily as an MP3 player. (My iPhone works perfectly well as an MP3 player, of course, but I’m always running out of room, since I’ve got so many apps and photos and other random stuff on it.)

I imagine that, for many people, it would make a good e-reader, but for me, I’ll stick with my old e-ink Kindle for that. The Fire does have a nice feature that I truly wish iOS devices had: it’s called “Blue Shade,” and it basically does the same thing that f.lux does. It changes the color and adjusts the brightness so that the screen is easier on the eyes. So if I had to choose between reading on the Fire at night, or reading on my iPad, I’d definitely pick the Fire. (Though some apps on iOS do have a useful “night mode” that’s easy on the eyes.)

Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1″ Android tablet that I bought a couple of years ago at Costco is just gathering dust. Since it’s about the same size as the iPad, I really don’t have much use for it. It was useful for learning how to use Android, I guess, but I never really got in the habit of using it for anything in particular. I checked on Gazelle, and it looks like I can sell it to them for $15. Not great, but it’s better than just throwing it out.

I’m hoping that the 7″ Fire might fit into some use cases in between the iPhone and the iPad. Maybe as something to carry around when I need a screen that’s bigger than the iPhone but I don’t want to bring a full-size iPad. It’s small enough to fit into the pocket on my winter jacket, for instance, while the iPad is definitely not pocket-size.


I’ve decided recently to try to work on my sleep. It sounds weird saying that. Sleep doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you can “work on.” I have trouble sleeping occasionally, and I know there are some things I can improve. I’ve read a lot about good sleep habits, and the best things you can do to help get a good night’s sleep. And I’ve already done some of them. I use f.lux on my Mac (and my PCs) to tone down the color on my screen before bedtime. I try to limit my caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening. And I generally go to bed at 10pm and get up at 6am, so I’m in bed for a full eight hours. (Though I’m not always perfect about that. Or the caffeine thing…)

I decided this weekend to make one more change: I started to use an alarm clock app called Sleep Cycle that (supposedly) tracks your sleep so that it can wake you up while you’re in a light sleep phase. I have to admit that I’m a little skeptical about how accurately it can track my sleep; it uses the microphone to pick up the noises you make in bed, and tries to figure out your sleep cycle based on just that. So I’m not sure if it’s really doing anything useful or not. But I’m going to give it a try for a week or two at least. The basic version is free, so there’s no real down side. (Unless it turns out to be buggy, and just doesn’t wake me up at all, and I miss work.) Their FAQ says that it takes a few days to calibrate itself, so we’ll see how it goes.

On another front, I’m starting to think about buying a new mattress. My current mattress is about ten years old, so it’s time. I did a little online mattress shopping this weekend, though, and came away more confused than anything else. There are a lot of options and a lot of opinions out there. I may give up and just go back to Sleepy’s, where I got my last mattress, show them the receipt for it, ask for something similar, and hope for the best.

Jackson Pollock

I went to see the Jackson Pollock exhibit at MoMA today. Pollock has been a favorite of mine since high school. This exhibit is all stuff from MoMA’s collection, so it’s not a huge exhibit, and I’ve already seen all of the major works that are included. But there are a number of minor works and odd bits that usually aren’t out for display, so it was nice to see some of those, and to see so much Pollock work all together in one place.

I was hoping that they would have produced a new book to go along with the exhibit, but they don’t seem to have done that. I have only one book on Pollock, and it would be nice to have a keepsake from this exhibit. In fact, I couldn’t find any books related to Pollock in the museum gift shop. Lots of random Christmas  knick-knacks though. Tis the season, and all that.

I was hoping to do some more stuff in the city today, maybe including a visit to the Met, but I was really tired after I was done with MoMA, and went straight home. This was my first big excursion since my surgery, and I think it went pretty well, but I guess I’m not at 100% yet. Or maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe I’ll try going to the Met next weekend.

stumbling my way into a mostly paperless system

I got a bit restless today and did a bunch of housecleaning, both literally and metaphorically.

For a long time, I’ve been trying to work towards going as paperless as I can. I still receive most of my bills and statements on paper, mostly because, in the past, I’ve been really bad about downloading those statements when I get the email notifications about them. I just let the email notifications pile up, then when I finally get around to following up on them, the statements they reference are no longer available.

So, this year, I’ve been trying to train myself to be better about that. I’ve been keeping my Gmail inbox pretty clean, and I’ve been good about marking actionable emails and then following up on them in a timely fashion. Today, I decided to take the plunge and switch my Merrill statements from paper to email. The Merrill statements have gotten out of hand over the last few years. Each month, I get a combined statement that’s 30 to 40 pages long. It’s printed on both sides, but it’s still a heck of a lot of paper. (And it’s mostly useless. But that’s a whole other discussion.) So turning off the paper on that should make a big difference.

My workflow for downloading and organizing statements has gotten a lot better since I switched to storing them in OneDrive. Now, I have the full folder hierarchy on both my Mac and PC, and can download and organize stuff on either machine. That removes a big stumbling block that I used to have; I had to turn on the desktop PC to do any of this stuff. (It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it definitely does get in the way.) And I can even download and store a statement right from my iPhone, though I’ve found that to be a little clumsy.

I also shredded all my 2014 Merrill statements today, and organized the stack of 2015 statements a bit. Now I’m looking forward to shredding the 2015 statements at some point next year, then not having to worry about that ever again.