more on subscriptions

This post is a follow-up to this morning’s post about subscription software and services. First, it turns out that I do have a 7-day trial subscription to Comixology Unlimited. I got an email today telling me that it would expire soon and that I could convert it to a full 30-day trial, if I wanted to. But it looks like it won’t auto-convert into a paid account, so that’s nice. (It would have been even nicer if Comixology was more straightforward about it to begin with, but close enough, I guess.)

On the O’Reilly item, there was a discussion about this on Hacker News today. (And one on Slashdot, though I don’t pay much attention to Slashdot these days. And another on Reddit.)

In the Hacker News discussion, a few people mentioned the Safari subscription that’s included with ACM membership. This has always been a limited subscription, with only a small subset of the full Safari library, and a limit of ten books on your “bookshelf” at a time. Well, it turns out that ACM now offers full access to Safari, starting yesterday. (See this FAQ for details.)

While I’m pretty happy to have found out about this, I’m a little confused. A full Safari subscription costs $400 a year. An ACM membership costs about $100 a year. I’m not sure why O’Reilly would give away full access to Safari like this. ACM is a professional society, but (as far as I know) they don’t enforce any real membership criteria. Most members probably have at least a BS in Comp Sci, but I don’t think it’s a requirement. So I don’t know, now, why anyone would pay $400 for Safari when they could just give $100 to ACM and get Safari, plus the other ACM benefits. Maybe I’m missing something. Either way, I guess I don’t need to worry about buying any computer books any time soon. (I’ve been an ACM member for many years.)

This all gets me thinking about Pluralsight again. I paid for a one-year subscription back at the end of last year. I got some good use out of it for a while, but I honestly haven’t done much with it over the last few months. Part of the reason for that is that I was using it to get up to speed on SharePoint programming; I’m not currently working on any SharePoint stuff, so I really don’t need to finish watching all the SharePoint content I had queued up. Another reason is that they’re cracking down on streaming video at work, due to concerns about bandwidth usage. While Pluralsight is probably OK, I don’t want to risk showing up on any management reports, so I just haven’t watched any videos at all at work recently.

I don’t have any particular area of technology that I need to learn for work right now. I should probably pick something new to work on in my spare time. I could get back to F#, but I’ve read several books on that, and I don’t see much value in getting back to it without having a real project to work on. Or I could get back to Ruby on Rails; I really didn’t get very far with that, the last time I started working on it. I picked up some TypeScript skills on my last SharePoint project, and I can see where there’s a lot I could work on with TypeScript and modern front-end development in general. (There’s a lot I don’t know.) Or I could try to learn more about .NET Core, which would be more in keeping with the career track I was trying to keep myself on before I got side-tracked into my current Dynamics AX position. Oh, and hey, Swift looks interesting!

So I should really pick a topic, then watch some Pluralsight videos and/or read a book or two on Safari, and see where that takes me.

Subscription software, books, and comics

I found out this week that Day One is switching over to a paid subscription model, much like other Mac software has done over the last few years. (TextExpander and 1Password come to mind.)

Day One has said that they’ll continue to support users who have previously purchased the software, and not require that anyone switch over to a subscription, so that’s cool. (1Password did much the same thing. So did TextExpander, though they kind of stumbled into it after some backlash.)

I gave up on TextExpander, for various reasons, not long after they introduced subscriptions. I’m still using the non-subscription 1Password, and I’m pretty happy with it, though I’m thinking about switching over to a subscription. As to Day One, I guess I’ll keep using it for now. I definitely don’t get enough use out of it to justify a subscription. At some point, I may give up on it and just add a “journal” notebook to my Evernote account. I’m already paying for Evernote Premium, so that’s probably a good idea.

Meanwhile, it seems like subscription-based software and services are really getting pushed by a variety of companies. I got an email from O’Reilly today, saying that they’ll no longer be selling books directly, and pushing their Safari subscription instead. It’s still possible to buy their books from Amazon, so that’s good, but their own site was a pretty good place to buy ebooks, since they offered DRM-free ebooks in multiple formats (PDF, Mobi, and ePub). Oh well. It’s not clear from their FAQ if the ebooks you’d get from Amazon are DRM-free or not. Kindle books usually aren’t, but they can be. And I guess there’s no way to buy a DRM-free PDF of an O’Reilly book now. PDF is really the best format to have, if you’re using a book for reference.

Packt still sells DRM-free ebooks, but they also push their Mapt subscription service. The same goes for Apress: they still sell directly, but also push Apress Access, their subscription service.

On a semi-related subject, I think I may have accidentally signed up for a trial of Comixology Unlimited. I was trying to use the Comixology iOS app this weekend, and it was acting a bit funny. At some point, I briefly saw a screen saying that I’d activated a 7-day trial. I hadn’t purposely clicked on anything that should have done that, and I think the app crashed right afterwards. My account page says I don’t have a subscription, but I’ve noticed that eligible titles now have a “borrow” button underneath them, instead of an “add to cart” button. So, who knows? I have enough unread purchased comics in my Comixology account that I can’t really see myself ever needing Comixology Unlimited. I’ll just have to keep an eye on my account and make sure that, if I do actually have a trial, it doesn’t convert to paid.

Speaking of borrowing comics, I’m currently reading a well-worn copy of The Return of Bruce Wayne, borrowed from my local library. They have a pretty nice selection of graphic novels. And the Bridgewater Library (not far from here, and in the same library system) has an even better selection. So I could probably give up on buying comics altogether and just rely on the Somerset County Library System, if I wanted to.

Gmail Privacy

Well, this is typical. Right after I switch from Gmail to FastMail, Google announces that they’re no longer going to read your email. Privacy concerns weren’t the only reason I switched, of course. I also wanted to use my own domain, and do some other stuff that I couldn’t do with the free version of Gmail. But, really, if they announced this a few months ago, I might not have talked myself into giving up Gmail.

On a semi-related note, I’ve had to switch from DuckDuckGo back to Google at work, because we have, for some reason, blocked DuckDuckGo. I switched to DDG at home and work some time ago, partially for privacy reasons, and also because of all the crazy distracting logo graphics that Google uses. Today’s one, celebrating Oskar Fischinger, is nice, but these things are so distracting I get sucked into them and forget what I was going to search for in the first place.


At work today, I decided that I needed to be able to more easily get the shrug symbol into my emails and messages. This probably says something bad about my attitude towards my job, but: (shrug).

I specifically wanted to use the multi-character text symbol, and the not single-character emoji. That symbol is a combination of simple ASCII characters, plus a couple of fancier UNICODE characters. This article has some interesting background on it:

Taking ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ the worldview to its logical conclusion, Foster makes the fatalistic argument that everything is predetermined and space-time is a false construction of the human mind.

Well, OK, maybe I’m not ready for that worldview, but it seemed like a good response to the guy who asked me if I could kill an out-of-control SQL process this morning. (Final determination: I could not.)

So I went to AutoHotKey and tried to define a little macro. My first attempt, which should probably have worked, didn’t. (Probably because my AHK script file is UNICODE, but the wrong kind of UNICODE?) Anyway, changing it so that the UNICODE characters are specified with their hex codes fixes it. So now I can type “backslash backslash shrug” anytime I need a shrug!

; doesn't work right.
; ::\\shrug::¯\_(ツ)_/¯
; works great!

By the way, WordPress is kind of weird about displaying the shruggie too. It sometimes eats the backslash and sometimes doesn’t. It looks OK in the blockquote above, but when I tried using it directly in this post, not in a blockquote and not in a ‘pre’ block, it kept eating the backslash. Even when I entered the escape sequence instead of directly entering the backslash character. I think that’s a mystery for another day though. (Shrug!)


My friend Gloria Zero passed away this morning. She was a good friend to my parents, and she’s been a good friend to me over the last several years.

She almost always ended our phone calls or visits by saying “I love you very much.” We were never big on saying “I love you” in my family, so it took me a little while to get used to that, but eventually I did, and started saying “I love you too” back to her. And I meant it. I’ll miss her company, and her cooking, and her personality and wit.

I have so much more I want to say about her, but I can’t quite organize my thoughts right now, and I don’t want to just ramble on aimlessly. I posted this same message to Facebook earlier, but I wanted to have it here too, for my friends who aren’t on Facebook, and also just for myself. I may write more about her at some point, but for now, this is the best I can do.

The Advocate

I’ve followed Mark Evanier’s blog for a long time, and I’ve been a fan of his writing for even longer, going back to his old CBG column. His blog is always interesting, frequently entertaining, and often informative. He recently wrote a very moving post titled The Advocate, about the role he had to play in helping his friend Carolyn in her last days, and more generally about the role of “the advocate” in general. I’ve been in this position a couple of times myself, and it’s not easy. I honestly think I did a lot of stuff wrong when I had to manage my Mom’s last few months of life. But I know I did a few things right, and I hope those are the things that really mattered. Anyway, his post is great, and very moving, and has some good advice in it. I recommend that everyone read it, though maybe hold off for a bit if you’re someplace where crying would be awkward, because there may be a little crying.

Warren Ellis – a useful quote

I find myself collecting little quotes from Warren Ellis’ Orbital Operations newsletter, as I read through the backlog that I’ve allowed to pile up in my email. Here’s a good one, from July 2016:

Remember – your internet has an off button, and so does your news.  It’s okay to turn the volume down, and even to turn it off. There’s no shame in self care and pausing to take a breath before you re-immerse yourself in the world and its velocity.

…Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t skip work to watch the James Comey testimony today, if you want to.

Mysterious Marvel Kindle Sale

From Bleeding Cool:

A few days ago, unpromoted and for no apparent reason, Marvel titles on Amazon Kindle dropped. Really dropped. To between 70% to 97.5% off.

Very weird. Comics bought from Amazon for the Kindle can also be read through the Comixology app, and I’ve noticed in the past that the Amazon/Kindle price for a given book is often synced to the Comixology price. That’s definitely not the case here as, for instance, Comixology is running a one-day Spectacular Spider-Man sale, where most of their sale prices are more than the current Amazon prices.

I’m not sure what Amazon’s motive is here. It’s not an advertised sale, and the prices are so low, they can’t be making much money off it. Maybe they’re just trying to get more people interested in reading comics on the Kindle?

I bought twelve books on Friday, for a grand total of around $25. (I wasn’t going to buy any more, but I broke down and bought two more today.)

I’ve been trying to control my spending on digital comics. I buy a lot of stuff from Comixology (and Humble and Dark Horse Digital) when it’s on sale, then I just keep a running list in Evernote of what I’ve bought and what I’ve read. My Comixology unread list is at 99 items right now. Most of those entries are collections or runs of single issues, so it’s not 99 comics; it’s more like 999 comics.

But hey, as Dennis the Menace once said, “One thing I’ve learned in life is you can never have too many comic books!”

NY Times Magazine all-comics issue

The NY Times Magazine today is an all-comics issue.

It would have been impossible to imagine them doing something like this when I was a kid. Comics sure have come a long way, in my lifetime, in terms of mainstream acceptability. I haven’t read any of it yet, and the comics are mostly by people I haven’t heard of, but it looks interesting. There’s one story from Francesco Francavilla that looks promising. And one by David Mazzucchelli!

It appears that you can read the whole issue online, but I’m thinking about buying the dead-tree version of the paper today, just to have a physical copy of it. Though, as I look around my apartment, I think maybe the idea of bringing more paper ephemera into it is not a good one.