Another New Year

I missed my usual New Year’s Day post yesterday. There are a few reasons for that, one being that New Year’s Day fell on a Saturday this year, and I decided to treat it like a normal Saturday (mostly) and started the day with my usual Saturday chores and errands (laundry and grocery shopping), then proceeded to spend a bunch of time in front of the computer paying bills and organizing paperwork and stuff. So it was a pretty industrious morning, but after that, I took a nap, and then spent the afternoon in front of the TV, watching Godzilla movies. I didn’t really have the energy left for anything more ambitious.

So today, I’m going to try to spend some time writing a blog post. It’s Sunday morning, I just had a pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich and a strong cup of coffee, and now I’m ready to sit around and ruminate on the year for a bit.

I usually start these posts with links to the last few New Year’s posts, so here are a few:

This past year has certainly been a doozy. It got off to a rough start with the Capitol insurrection and resulting turmoil, which was the subject for my second post of the year. On the bright side, the vaccines arrived, and I got my first shot in April, my second in May, and my booster shot in December. After that second shot, I started feeling better about things and actually made a trip into NYC in June to go to the Met and MoMA. Then, I went in twice in October, once for NYCC, and once to go to the Met and MoMA again. And that was about it for travel. The Omicron variant started showing up around Thanksgiving, and going out started to seem a lot less safe again. Contrast NYCC in October, which felt pretty safe to me, with Anime NYC in November, where one of the earliest cases of Omicron in NYC was identified. So any thoughts I had of going into New York for another Met/MoMA trip went out the window.

At work, we went through a bunch of different “Return To Office” plans through 2021. They kept setting dates and then pushing them back. In the end, we returned to the office on a one day per week schedule in October. My first day back was October 14. My last trip to the office was December 9. I was sick the week after that, and then we were allowed to work from home for the last two weeks of the year. For 2022, we were supposed to move to two days per week in January, but the Omicron variant has put that on hold. Now, we’re allowed to work from home until mid-January. Then, it’s back to 1 day per week for the last two weeks of January, then 2 days per week starting in February. We’ll see if we actually stick to that, or if things get worse and they have to back off again. I’m thankful that I work for a company that’s been more flexible about “work from home” than a lot of other companies. But I’m a little disappointed that they haven’t been more flexible, especially for workers like me who really aren’t any more effective in the office vs. working from home. At this point, I feel like they should just allow folks like me to go 100% remote if we want and give up our cubicles in the office. It would just make things simpler and safer for everybody.

But enough about that. I usually include a section on my general health in these posts, so I’m going to do that now. I started the year at around 135 pounds. I’ve gradually gained some weight this year, ending up at around 140. I’m trying to hold the line there. I set 140 as my goal weight in Lose It, so any time I go over it, my calorie budget is adjusted down a bit and I eat a bit less until I’m back under. I’d dropped down to 130 pounds briefly in 2020, without actually trying. Since then, it’s just been going up though. I guess it’s mostly due to my habit of going out for a cappuccino and a cookie in the afternoon on most weekdays. There are now three good places to get cookies here in downtown Somerville: Lucid Coffee, Blue Sheep Bake Shop, and Epic Cookies. So that’s kind of a problem. But it’s not a huge one. I’m managing to hold the line at 140. And even if I let myself go to 150, that would still leave me with a healthy BMI.

I’ve been doing OK on exercise. I take a walk outside almost every day. I started doing some yoga recently too, though I haven’t stuck with it. I’ve just been doing it on mornings when it’s too cold out for a walk. According to the iOS Health app, I’ve averaged 49 minutes of exercise per day over the last year, and 491 calories on my “move” ring. My move goal was 500 over the summer, when I was doing a lot of walking, and it’s 450 now. I generally hit my exercise goal most days, and the move goal 4 or 5 days each week.

I’ve continued meditating on a fairly regular basis. I’ve been using Calm all year, and generally do one of their 10 minute meditations every weekday, alternating between their two regular features, the Daily Calm and the Daily Trip. I signed up for a lifetime sub with them during their Black Friday sale, as I’ve mentioned previously. I’ve occasionally tried to get a streak going, meditating every day. The longest I’ve managed is 40 days, from November 1 to December 10. I’m not overly concerned with getting to a point where I meditate every single day, as long as I’m doing it more often than not, but it’s fun to try to see how long I can keep a streak going.

Looking at my history on this blog, I can see that I was posting a lot earlier in the year (7 posts in January and 11 in February), but less later in the year (only one post in December). I don’t know if that means anything, really. I still like using the blog as an aid to organizing my thoughts and reflecting on my life and my choices. A lot of my posts last year were all about entertainment though: comics, movies, TV, podcasts, music, and so on. I think I indulged in a lot of escapism in 2021. I do that every year, of course, but more than average in 2021, I think. It was a rough year. I spent a lot of time alone in my apartment. I don’t really feel bad about that. I’m still very engaged in my work, and I keep up with news and politics and make informed decisions about all that stuff.

And on that “escapism” front, I always like to look back at the books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched and so on and so forth in these posts. My Goodreads history last year is mostly comics. I set my goal at 100 books and read 79. I have a few serious books in there, like Americanah and The Picture of Dorian Gray, but it’s mostly comics and Doctor Who audio dramas. A few highlights would be reading through Grant Morrison’s X-Men run, discovering the Hilda books by Luke Pearson, and finally finishing Brian K. Vaughan’s Ex Machina.

I watched quite a few movies this year too, though I never did make it into a theater. (The Spider-Man movie is really tempting, but I’m probably going to wait for that one to hit Blu-ray or Disney+, like I’ve done with all the other Marvel, Disney, or Pixar stuff since the pandemic started.) My Letterboxd stats show that I’ve watched 108 movies in 2021. I started and ended the year with Thin Man movies, which makes me happy. I love those movies. At the start of the year, I would have been watching them on my TiVo from TCM’s New Year’s Eve marathon. I gave up on premium cable in 2021, so for this New Year, I bought a DVD set from Amazon with the first four movies. I watched the third and fourth ones on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Still looking at my Letterboxd stats, I see that Spirited Away is the only movie I gave five stars to in 2021. That was obviously a rewatch for me, part of an effort to watch a bunch of Ghibli films, then listen to the corresponding Ghibliotheque podcast episode. I still have a bunch of movies to go on that front, and I should get back to that effort at some point soon. My other big watch/rewatch project in 2021 was to work my way through the Criterion Godzilla box set, which I wrote about in my last post.

I usually cover “professional development” in these posts, but I’m going to gloss over that this time. I did learn some new stuff last year, and I could list some nice work accomplishments, but honestly I haven’t been terribly ambitious about that stuff lately. This has largely been a “let’s just get through this” kind of year. And I think 2022 will be more of the same. I discontinued my Pluralsight subscription yesterday, since I haven’t been using it much lately. I still have access to LinkedIn Learning through work and O’Reilly through the ACM, and I think that’s more than enough for now.

There’s a lot more I could write here, but I’m going to try to wrap things up. I started writing this around 8 AM, and it’s now 11 AM. I took a half-hour walk at 9 AM, but I’ve just been sitting here ruminating and writing for most of that time. So it’s about time to stop and maybe go out for another walk. It’s 55º out right now, so I should take advantage of that while I can. I know it’s going to start getting cold again later this week.

 

 

more fun with audiobooks, on Presidents Day

Today is Presidents Day, and I have the day off from work. In a normal year, I’d maybe take this opportunity to go into New York and visit some museums, or maybe just go out and see a movie, but this year, between the pandemic and the coming ice storm, I think I’ll just be staying home and doing largely pointless nonsense. (I could maybe look at this Times article, and do something meaningful that ties in to the holiday, but.. nope.)

Pointless activity number one for today has been “messing around with audiobooks”, so this post is going to be a follow-up to my last fun with audiobooks post. Since that post, I’ve finished Charlotte’s Web, borrowed from my local library via OverDrive. And I’ve started The Witch Who Came In From The Cold, via Serial Box.

From an iOS app perspective, I’m realizing that I need to use multiple apps now, depending on where my audiobooks are coming from. Books bought from Apple, and DRM-free books that I’ve dragged into Books on my Mac, can be listened to via the Books app on my phone (or with Undulib or something similar). Audible books need to be listened to via the Audible app. Library books can be listened to with OverDrive or Libby. And Serial Box books probably need to be listened to via the Serial Box app.

I have figured out, though, that it’s possible to save OverDrive audiobooks (if they’re in MP3 format) to my local PC (via the OverDrive Windows app). And it’s probably still possible to export Audible books via OpenAudible or AudibleSync. And I’m pretty sure that it used to be possible to download MP3 files for Serial Box titles, but they seem to have discontinued that and locked it down, so you’re stuck with their app now.

I’ve also been messing around with utilities to combine MP3 files into consolidated audiobook files. I’d been looking at Join Together and Audiobook Builder. Those are both $5 apps available for the Mac. I wound up buying Audiobook Builder, though Join Together would probably have also worked well. I don’t really need to create consolidated audiobook files, but it does allow me to clean things up a bit, specifically for audiobooks that I’ve ripped from CD. I’ve run a few books through Audiobook Builder, and it seems to work fine. I’ve pulled in MP3 files and output M4B files, and the output always comes out smaller than the input, and seems to work fine in Books (on Mac/iPhone) and iTunes (on Windows). I can edit the metadata for the combined file, and for the chapter titles.

Since paying for Audiobook Builder, I noticed Audiobook Binder, which is quite similar, but free, and open source. I probably should have tried that first. The visual similarity between the two programs is kind of suspicious. If Audiobook Builder didn’t have a fairly long history, I’d think it might just be a fork of Audiobook Binder that somebody tweaked a bit, then tossed up in the Mac App Store. But it’s been around since 2006, so that’s unlikely.

It would actually be more convenient for me to have a program like this on my PC, but there doesn’t seem to be much available for Windows. I found something called AAC Audiobook Creator, which might work, but it hasn’t been updated since 2011. So I guess I’ll stick with Audiobook Builder for now, since I’ve paid for it and it works well enough.

Getting back to iOS apps, I haven’t really had any issues with the multiple apps I’m using now, though it would be nice to just have one great one. The Apple Books app works well enough, for both books bought from Apple and DRM-free books synced from my Mac. The OverDrive app works fine for library books. (I’ve also installed Libby, and took a quick look at it, but I don’t think it’s any better than OverDrive.) As I mentioned last time, I think the Audible app is working for me now, though I haven’t actually tried to use it to listen to anything lately. And the Serial Box app is a little clunky, but good enough. All of these apps have the basic controls available, plus multiple speeds (if you’re interested in that) and sleep timers.

Having content spread across multiple apps and providers does make things harder to keep track of, but that’s what Evernote and Goodreads are for. And speaking of content, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy. The current Serial Box book I’m listening to, The Witch Who Came In From The Cold: Season One, is pretty good. I’ve previously listened to the first season of Bookburners, and enjoyed that one too. I thought I’d written a blog post mentioning it, but I can’t find it. I did write a relatively long review on Goodreads, though. I got the first seasons of four different Serial Box serials as part of a Humble bundle back in 2018. Serial Box is a pretty interesting publisher. They publish stuff as serials, in both audio and text format, and use a “season” format similar to the way a TV show would be produced. The “seasons” have individual “episodes.” There’s generally a group of writers working on a season, with individual episodes written by individual writers, but sticking to a consistent voice and style. It works pretty well, for the two serials I’ve tried so far. When they started out, they were doing original stuff, but now they’re also doing serials featuring licensed characters from Marvel, like Black Panther. And they have a subscription service now too, which gets you access to a library of more traditional audiobooks in addition to their own stuff.

Once I’m finished with the serial I’m listening to now, I’m not sure what I’ll listen to next. I’ve got a lot of options. Maybe some of the Neil Gaiman stuff that I haven’t listened to yet. Or maybe I’ll get back to the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas.

 

fun with audiobooks

I have a long history of complaining about audiobook-related issues on this blog. The most recent entry in the saga is here, from November of last year. I’ve been playing around with some audiobook stuff again recently, so I thought I’d write another post.

First, let me say that my issue with the Audible iOS app seems to have resolved itself. The issue started back in June, and was still an issue in November. The app would always crash after about 30 seconds or so. I tried every combination of deleting, reinstalling, rebooting, etc., that I could think of. I guess Audible eventually fixed the issue, or it went away on its own, or something. Either way, I’m pretty sure I could listen to an Audible book now, if I wanted to.

I’ve also been messing around with my library of audiobooks in Apple’s Books app. I mentioned the annoying limitations of the macOS Books app in that November post. Those all still exist. But I spent some time recently cleaning out some old audiobooks that didn’t need to be in the library, and moving some into folders in OneDrive for safekeeping. So now I feel a little better about that.

While looking through the handful of audiobooks that I’d bought from Apple over the years, I discovered that at least one of them was no longer downloadable from them. I still have a copy of it, and it still plays, but if I delete it, I think it’ll be gone forever. So I backed that one up. (Not that I’m ever going to listen to it again. It was a nice mystery novel, but nothing special.) Several of the oldest audiobooks that I have from Apple don’t seem to be available anymore, at least in the same version that I originally bought. They do still show in my purchase history, and seem to be re-downloadable though. These go back to the early days of Apple’s audiobook store, when they were really only reselling stuff from Audible. (I guess that, technically, they’re still reselling a lot of stuff that’s provided by Audible, but they’re not just doing that.)

And I’ve still got a lot of DRM-free audiobooks and audiodramas in my “waiting to read” pile. The next time I want to read one, I might try out Bound, or something similar. Or I might try to create a consolidated audiobook file with something like Join Together or Audiobook Builder, so maybe I can get a cleaner listening experience in Apple’s Books app.

Right now, I’m listening to an abridged version of A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson. I’m pretty sure I’ve listened to it already, but it would have been back before I started assiduously logging everything I read (or listen to). Anyway, I’ve forgotten it all, so it’s good to get a refresher. And listening to Bill Bryson calmly talk about science is a nice way to wind down at the end of the day.

Speaking of which, I’ve gotten back into the habit of listening to a bit of an audiobook near the end of the day, on most days. If I’ve got the right book, I think it helps me wind down a bit. Prior to the Bryson book, I was finishing up a BBC adaptation of War and Peace. That was also pretty good for winding down. I’ve got at least one Harry Potter book in audio form. And I’ve got The Hobbit, and some version of Lord of the Rings around here somewhere. And a few Neil Gaiman books. So I should be OK for end-of-the-day listening for the foreseeable future.

New Year’s Day 2021

I’ve been writing big New Year’s Day posts on this blog every year for the last several years. I might as well do one this year too. Obviously, last year was a doozy, and a lot of stuff has changed, and a lot is still in flux. I’m not even sure where to start. So I’ll start with links to the last few New Year’s posts:

And I guess I’ll follow a format not too different from previous years.

Health, Weight, and Sleep

My weight has been pretty steady at around 135 pounds this year. It dipped a bit in spring & summer, getting down to 130 briefly, but has rebounded back to 135. I dropped some weight at the beginning of the pandemic, probably because I wasn’t eating any take-out food. I’m still logging all of my meals with Lose It, which I’ve been using since 2013.

I’m also still using Sleep Cycle as an alarm clock and to log my sleep. I’ve been having some weird dreams this year, but apparently so has everyone else. My sleep quality has been mixed, I’d say. Some nights I’m fine, and some nights I’m not.

I was pretty good about exercise through the spring and summer. I did a lot of walking. I’ve cut back on the walks now, since it’s been getting colder. If I don’t go out for a morning walk now, I try to do ten minutes on my exercise bike instead. (I’m glad I didn’t get rid of that thing.) I need to be careful about not letting up too much through the rest of the winter.

On the meditation front, I’ve certainly done more meditation this year than I’d usually do. One of the reasons for that is that I’ve been working from home since March, so it’s easy to take a ten minute midday meditation break. Back when I was working in a cubicle, I was too self-conscious to meditate at work. (And, really, the office environment is too noisy for meditation anyway.) I was using Insight Timer for most of this year, but I switched to Calm in December, since I had a deal to get a free year of Calm Premium. I have enough opinions on meditation apps right now that I should probably hold them for another post. But overall, I’d say that meditation helped me get through this crazy year.

I did finally get my hearing checked this year, in March, just before the pandemic lockdown really kicked in. The results were pretty much what I expected: I’ve lost a lot of hearing in my left ear. My right ear is fine. The doctor said that I’m not really at the stage where a hearing aid would make sense. My hearing issues haven’t really much mattered this year, though. If I’m talking to anybody at work, it’s on my computer, and I can just turn up the volume as much as I need. And I’m never in a crowded restaurant with a lot of background noise, so that’s not a problem either.

Work and Professional Development

I’m feeling very lucky to have had a good, steady, job this year, and to be able to work from home. My performance review for 2020 was very good. I didn’t really expect a raise this year, given the general state of the economy, but I got one. So that’s all good. There are going to be a lot of challenges ahead, going into 2021. Again, that’s probably a whole blog post of its own though.

On the professional development front, one nice thing to come out of 2020 was a lot of free virtual conferences. I didn’t participate in as many of those as I would have liked, but I did manage to watch some content from Microsoft Build and Microsoft Ignite. Most of my efforts at learning new stuff this year were centered around SharePoint Framework (SPFx) and Microsoft’s Power Platform stuff. I wasn’t really successful in getting any projects done with any of this new stuff in 2020 though. I have a couple of big projects at work that will really need to get done in 2021. I’m still not even sure if I’ll be using SPFx or Power Platform or something else though.

Looking at last year’s post, I see I was talking about trying to learn maybe Rust or Swift in 2020. I definitely didn’t do that. The one new general thing I tried to learn in 2020 was React. And that was mostly because I needed to learn it for SPFx.

Finance

I’m in pretty good shape, financially. Certainly better than most people, given the state of things. I’ve actually seen my checking account balance grow this year, presumably because I didn’t spend any money on travel, or on day trips to NYC, or even on a lot of little things like restaurant meals and gas for my car and Starbucks coffee. I expect 2021 will be similar. Given how little interest I make on my checking account, I really need to shunt some money over into my Merrill account and buy some more shares in an S&P 500 fund. The stock market (after a brief crash back in March) has done surprisingly well this year. And I probably need to sit down with a financial advisor at some point in 2021 and move some money around. There’s some stuff I want to do to simplify my finances a bit, but I can’t do it without figuring out the tax implications.

I opened two new credit card accounts this year, which is pretty unusual for me. I traded in the AmEx Green card I’d had since college for an AmEx EveryDay card. That was done mostly because the fee on the Green card had gone up to $150, so I wanted to replace it with a fee-free card. And I finally gave in and got an Apple Card. I’ve only used the Apple Card to buy my new Apple Watch, in November. I don’t really anticipate using it for anything other than Apple Store purchases.

I’ve also been thinking about getting an Amazon Prime credit card. I spent nearly $2000 at Amazon this year, so the 5% back could be as much as $100 for me. There’s really no reason for me not to get it, other than not wanting to add yet another card to my wallet.

Subscriptions

I’m always obsessing over subscriptions. The pandemic has caused me to pull the trigger on a few subscriptions that I’ve been holding out on for years. Partially because I have some extra money to spend (as noted above), and partially because I have some extra time to kill at home. So I might as well spend some money and time on nice stuff that’ll distract me from the horrible state of the world right now.

I finally subscribed to Apple Music. I signed up for a six-month free trial in October, so I don’t need to start paying for it until April. But I will likely keep it going when that happens. After years of trying to resist switching from CDs & MP3s to a subscription service, I’ve finally given in and embraced the new way of doing things.

I’ve also signed up for Disney+ and Hulu. I wanted Disney+ for The Mandalorian and Soul. And Hulu had a Black Friday deal where you could get the ad-supported tier for $2/month for a year, so that seemed worthwhile. I’m still resisting HBO Max, but I might give in on that one too eventually. If Wonder Woman 1984 had gotten better reviews, I’d probably have done it by now.

I might also sign up for the Apple One subscription bundle at some point in 2021. I don’t really need Apple TV+ or Apple Arcade, but if the pandemic keeps going, I’ll probably give in on that.

Books and Comics

According to Goodreads, I read 86 books in 2020. I’d set a goal of 100 books, and I didn’t reach it, but I’m OK with that. Most of those were comics, but (again) I’m fine with that.

For my Great American Read group, I didn’t really get through much, but I did finish Gone With The Wind in March, so that was a big one. I also read White Teeth, Invisible Man, and The Outsiders from the TGAR list. I’m still an admin in that group, and we’re still posting monthly group reads, but I’m not sure why I’m still bothering with that. The other admin is doing about half the work, so that’s good. I feel like we’re going to have to wind that group down in 2021, but I’m not in a hurry to do so.

My favorite comics of the year were probably the Resident Alien collections that I read back in May. And the Locke & Key series was also surprisingly good.

I’m still ordering a few titles from Westfield every month, but I think I’m going to wind that down over the next few months. I haven’t gotten on board with DC’s Future State thing, and I’m not reading any Marvel books. So that just leaves a few books from smaller publishers, and it’s probably best if I just switch to digital and/or trades for those. Also, my Comixology backlog is nearly 200 books (mostly collections, not single issues), so just working through that could take me a few years.

Movies

As I mentioned recently, I watched a lot of movies in 2020. Looking at Letterboxd, I see that I watched a total of 73. Probably my favorite film of the year (that actually came out in 2020) was Soul. My second favorite would have been Onward, so the year for me was bookended with solid Pixar films. I did a rewatch of all four Avengers films early in the year, and a rewatch of all the Daniel Craig Bond films just recently. Those were both fun distractions. I also tried to watch a bunch of Kurosawa films, but I only got through four. For 2021, I want to watch some more Kurosawa, and maybe rewatch a bunch of Miyazaki films. (I bought several of them on Blu-ray earlier this year, and haven’t watched any of those discs yet.)

Summary

I am kind of proud of myself for getting through 2020 in one piece, not too much worse for wear. I managed to avoid putting on weight, picking up a drinking habit, getting COVID, and losing my job. I think my mental health is reasonably OK, all things considered. I’m trying not to stress about things I didn’t do. I’d like to have spent more time on “enriching” activities and less on pure distraction, but I’m mostly OK with having watched 73 movies and lots of TV, and having read a lot more comics this year than novels or non-fiction books.

I’m expecting the first couple of months of 2021 to be pretty rough. I think the vaccine rollout will be slow. I don’t expect a change in the status quo on mask wearing and social distancing and working from home. Winter will probably still be in full force through to early March, so we’re not going to be able to do much outdoors. I think the current surge of COVID cases will continue through February, and not start to let up until March. I don’t see us all being able to return to anything like normality until very late in 2021, if at all. But, hopefully, by summer, we’ll have enough folks vaccinated and the political situation will have stabilized enough that we’ll start on the road to “normal.”

I’m thinking a lot about short-term strategies for getting through winter. Things like getting my groceries delivered, watching a lot more “comfort” TV, reading a lot of comics, working out on the exercise bike, meditating, blogging, journaling, whatever helps. I’m not making any resolutions for 2021. I’m going to take it day by day, and I think that’s what we’re all going to have to do.

 

audiobook management madness

Since I recently finished listening to Invisible Man, I thought I’d look into starting a new audiobook. I blogged about my issues with Invisible Man here. In a nutshell: it’s an Audible book, but I couldn’t get the Audible iOS app to work. I wound up listening to it through the Kindle iOS app, which was workable, but not great.

I have a pretty random collection of audiobooks. Some are from Audible, some are from Apple, and some are DRM-free books that I’ve gotten from Humble Bundles, or ripped from CD, or whatever. In trying to organize things a bit today, I wound up stumbling across a number of different issues, so I thought I’d write up some notes.

I started out by trying to get a handle on which audiobooks I have, which I’ve already read, and where they are. I have some notes about that in Evernote, but they were a little out of date. So I pulled up the Books app on my Mac to see what was in there.

I already vaguely knew that, in Catalina, books and audiobooks had been moved out of iTunes (obviously, since iTunes is no more), and into Books, but I guess I hadn’t looked at it too closely and realized how clunky that was and how much functionality has gone missing. First of all, the books are now stored in “~/Library/Containers/com.apple.BKAgentService/Data/Documents/iBooks/Books”. And there’s no right-click “Show in Finder” option like there used to be in iTunes. So finding the actual book files isn’t easy. And the folder doesn’t retain user-friendly names for the books; it just uses numbered folders. So that’s all a bit annoying. And, beyond that, there’s no ability to edit metadata for your books in the Books app the way there was in iTunes. So, overall, I guess Books is OK if you’re only using it to manage books/audiobooks bought from Apple. But if you’re trying to use it to manage random DRM-free files, it’s not optimal. So I spent some time puzzling through that, and realizing that there really isn’t a better alternative for managing audiobooks on the Mac.

I was also wondering if, now that I’m in Apple Music, there was a way to sync my audiobooks up to the cloud the way it works with Music. If I could do that, I’d be pretty close to having no further need to sync my iPhone to my Mac. But there’s really no way to do that. You still need to sync books to your iPhone the old-fashioned way. (That doesn’t really bother me too much, but if you’re going to push everybody to the cloud, maybe add that functionality to the Books app too?)

So, overall, Books on macOS was a bit of a disappointment, but I cleaned things up a little, updated my Evernote notes, and removed a few completed books from my iPhone.

Then, I went over to my PC to see what my iTunes audiobook library looked like over there. Apple hasn’t done much with iTunes on the PC lately, so the audiobook stuff still works fine. I did find one book that somehow accidentally migrated into my music collection, but I got it back into the audiobook section, and everything else seems fine.

Next, I decided to try installing the Audible app on my iPhone again, and see if the issue I was having back in July had sorted itself out yet. And the answer is: nope. I can get as far as launching the app and signing in, but then it just spins for a few seconds and crashes. It’s actually even worse that it was back in July. I tried a few hints and tips I saw online, like trying to launch it with wi-fi turned off, but nothing helped. The app just crashes, no matter what I do. The whole thing is kind of puzzling. There have been a bunch of updates to the Audible app between July and now, so if it was a common bug, they’d have fixed it. And I’ve updated from iOS 13 to iOS 14 since then, so if it was an iOS bug, you’d think that would have been fixed too.

I’ve got some stuff bookmarked related to the idea of keeping audiobooks in Plex and listening to them with an app called Prologue. It sounds promising, but I’m not ready to start messing with Plex again. It would only be useful for the DRM-free stuff, and not for stuff bought through Apple or Audible (unless I stripped the DRM, which is yet another step to go through).

So, around two hours after I started, I still haven’t picked out a new audiobook to start, and I’m more annoyed and depressed about the state of audiobook management and playback on the Mac and iOS that I was to begin with. Oh well.

 

Afternoon Walk

I’ve been going out for walks nearly every day since the pandemic began, and taking photos. I haven’t posted any of the photos to Flickr since May, though. So here are a few photos from a walk I went on this afternoon. It was a nice autumn afternoon walk. (I’m trying an embedded album below, which might or might not look OK here. If it isn’t working, try this link.)

I had my Airpods in, and was listening to Invisible Man, which I started in May, and still haven’t finished yet. (I’m just at the part where he realizes that he can be invisible, so I’m getting near the end.) I don’t usually listen to audiobooks while I’m walking. Usually I go with music or podcasts. But I really felt like making some progress with Invisible Man today, so I gave it a try. It worked out OK. I managed to give enough attention to the book, and also managed to not get hit by a truck while crossing any streets.

afternoon walk 10/24/2020

Audible adventures

I’ve been trying to get through the audiobook of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I bought a copy from Audible several years ago, with Joe Morton narrating. (I don’t remember why I bought it. It might have been free, or on sale for 99 cents or something.) I started listening to it in June, as part of my Great American Read Goodreads group. It was going fine, but some time in mid-June the Audible iOS app started crashing on me. It would work for maybe 30 seconds, then crash. I contacted Audible support about it on Twitter, and they said it was a known issue and they were working on it. A month later, though, the app is still crashing on me. The Audible app on my iPad still works, though, so I’ve been using that to listen to it. It’s a little inconvenient, but not really a problem.

So the point of this blog post isn’t to complain about Audible, but rather to discuss some of the alternative ways of listening to Audible books that I found while trying to work around my little problem. I thought a few of them were interesting, and the whole topic ties back to my post on iOS audiobook players from 2015. That post was mostly about DRM-free audiobooks. For Audible, I assumed that their files would be DRM’d and not really usable outside of the official app, but it turns out that there are a lot of options.

First, there’s a page on the Audible web site listing most of the ways you can listen to their books. One thing I noticed right away is that it’s still possible to link iTunes and Audible and listen to your Audible books in the Apple Books app. (A long time ago, this was the main official way of listening to Audible books. You’d link your iTunes account to Audible, download the books, and then sync them to your iPod. This was before Apple started selling audiobooks themselves, and before iOS apps were a thing.) So I went ahead and did that, but, as you can see in my screenshot, the version that comes down to iTunes is broken up into chapters differently from the Audible version, and the chapters aren’t labelled in any way that would let me figure out where I left off in the official Audible app. (I also brought up the iTunes version in Undulib on my iPhone, and that worked and at least showed the chapter numbers. But there are about 150 “chapters” in the iTunes version and 25 chapters in the actual book, so having those numbers doesn’t really help.) So, anyway, pulling Audible books into iTunes is probably a reasonable thing to do if you haven’t already started the book and need to figure out where you left off. But the Apple Books app is also probably less user-friendly than the Audible app, so there’s no real reason to do that, unless you’re unable to use the Audible app for some reason.

Another possibility I stumbled across is OpenAudible. This is a shareware product that lets you download books from Audible and convert them to MP3 or M4A. I initially thought that this meant that they were working around DRM somehow, but, going back to the Audible site, I see that they do apparently support downloading their books in MP3 format and transferring them to a generic MP3 player, via an app called AudibleSync. So I guess that OpenAudible is probably just taking advantage of whatever mechanism AudibleSync uses. So maybe it’s not doing anything too shady. (I haven’t tried it.)

Finally, I realized today that I also own a Kindle version of Invisible Man, so downloading that to the Kindle app on my iPhone would let me also download the Audible version and listen to it that way, with the Audible Narration feature. I will probably give that a shot, as the Kindle app seems to know where I left off, and I guess that would let me go back to listening to it on my iPhone.

I don’t have an Audible subscription, but I do own about a dozen Audible books, most of which were either free or bought on sale for a buck or two. (And I haven’t listened to most of them.) So if I can’t ever get the Audible app working on my phone again, at least I now have some other options!

War and Peace

This morning, I stumbled across a quote that I’d highlighted in War and Peace, when I was reading it last year. It seems kind of relevant to our current situation, so I thought I’d share it here.

At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal force in the heart of man: one very reasonably tells the man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of avoiding it; the other even more reasonable says that it is too painful and harassing to think of the danger, since it is not a man’s power to provide for everything and escape from the general march of events; and that it is, therefore, better to turn aside from the painful subject till it has come, and to think of what is pleasant. In solitude a man generally yields to the first voice; in society to the second.

(Make of it what you will. I’m not going to editorialize, though its application to current events should be fairly obvious.)

New Year’s Day 2020

It’s almost 8 AM on New Year’s Day, so it’s time for my annual New Year’s self-review post. This has become a tradition for me; here’s a link to last year’s post, which includes links to a few previous years. This year is also the start of a new decade. I had a few thoughts on the past decade that I posted on Christmas, so I won’t rehash all of that here.

Health, Weight, and Sleep

I’ve got a bit of a headache this morning, and I’ve been fighting a cold (or something) since Thanksgiving. So I don’t feel very healthy. I have an appointment with my doctor on Friday, so hopefully he can let me know if I’ve got a big problem or just a stubborn cold. Looking back at last year’s post, I see that very little has changed. My average weight may have gone up by a pound or two. I’m usually coming in at 136 or 137 now, rather than 135, but that’s fine. My doctor would actually like to see me put on a few more pounds.

I’m continuing to track my weight and diet with Lose It every day. And I’m continuing to use my Apple Watch to track my exercise. I manage to fill my exercise ring on most days, and I generally fill my move ring about five days per week, on average. My move goal is currently at 500.

I’m still using Sleep Cycle to track my sleep. I guess I’m doing OK with sleep, but I do have some rough nights. I bought a bottle of melatonin gummies on Amazon a year ago, and I take two before bed occasionally. I think it helps. I don’t use it too often. Taking melatonin is probably safe, in moderation. I thought about getting a new mattress last year, but I’ve held off. I might go ahead with that this year.

I mentioned last year that I’d gotten a prescription for progressive lenses from my eye doctor. I did get that filled and I’ve been wearing those new glasses all year. Honestly, they haven’t helped much. I had my yearly checkup a few weeks back, and he suggested maybe trying computer bifocals, but I didn’t want to have to pay for another pair of glasses so soon, so we decided to wait and maybe try that next year.

I also mentioned last year that I should go get my hearing checked, and I never did that, so that should probably be near the top of my to-do list for this year.

Work and Professional Development

There’s not much to report on this. I’m doing fine at work. I got a very good performance review for 2019. I did a fair bit of work in Azure over the last year, so that was interesting.

Here’s a list of tech books that I read last year, from my Goodreads history:

  • ASP.NET Web API Security Essentials
  • Beginning Azure Functions: Building Scalable and Serverless Apps
  • C# and XML Primer
  • Instant Nancy Web Development
  • Learn Azure in a Month of Lunches
  • Take Control of Catalina
  • Take Control of Photos
  • Take Control of Upgrading to Catalina
  • Take Control of iOS 13 and iPadOS 13
  • The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master

That’s a pretty random list, but there were a few good ones in there. I think that I read all of those via my O’Reilly subscription that I get through my ACM membership, so I’m getting some value out of that.

I’m also still paying for a Pluralsight subscription. Checking my history there, it looks like I’m getting some value out of that too. Here’s the list of courses I watched in 2019:

  • IIS Administration Fundamentals
  • Microsoft Azure Developer: Create Serverless Functions
  • Getting Started with OAuth 2.0
  • Implementing and Managing Microsoft Azure Multi-factor Authentication
  • Microsoft Azure Developer: Securing Data
  • Fiddler
  • Microsoft Azure Developer: Implementing Application Logging with Diagnostic Logs
  • Instrument Application with Azure Monitor Application Insights
  • Microsoft Azure Developer: Monitoring Performance
  • Play by Play: Care and Maintenance of Development VMs
  • Beginning PowerShell Scripting for Developers
  • Managing Azure AD
  • Play by Play: Azure Beyond Websites
  • Play By Play: Azure Deployment with Scott Hanselman

Again, kind of a random list, but I learned some stuff.

For 2020, I’d like to learn a new programming language, but I’m not sure about which one. I’ve considered trying to learn Rust, but I’m not too enthusiastic about it. Maybe I should try to learn Swift? I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.

Finance

I did a year-end financial review last weekend, and I’m in pretty good shape. I still kind of want to do a one-time sanity check with a good financial advisor, but I didn’t get around to that in 2019, so I should really try again in 2020. I also see in last year’s post that I wanted to read this book last year, and didn’t get around to it. So I should probably do that.

Reading

I wrote up a post just a few days ago on my reading plans for 2020, so I won’t rehash that. But I’ll go ahead and post a few book lists that I culled from my Goodreads year in books. I read 115 books this year, according to that. Most of them were comics / graphic novels.

Here’s a list of the stuff I read from The Great American Read list last year:

  • Catch-22
  • Gilead
  • Looking for Alaska
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • The Help
  • The Intuitionist
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • War and Peace

War and Peace took a lot of time to get through, so that was really my main reading accomplishment for 2019. I only read a few fiction books that weren’t related to my TGAR group:

  • Angels and Visitations
  • Pump Six and Other Stories
  • Zoo City

Of those, only Zoo City is actually a novel. So War and Peace, and the other TGAR books, really swallowed up a lot of my reading time. For non-fiction, I did get around to reading 10% Happier and Search Inside Yourself, both of which I’d mentioned in last year’s post as wanting to read. (I can’t say that I really stuck with my meditation practice in 2019 though. That’s something I may want to try again in 2020.)

Hardware

I got an iPhone XR about a year ago, along with a new Apple Watch. And my MacBook Air is only about a year and a half old. I bought a pair of AirPods in November, and they’re working fine. So I’m pretty well set for Apple gear. I’m not planning on giving Apple any more money in 2020, at least for hardware.

And I talked myself into buying an Xbox One back in May. At this point, I’m mostly just using it as a DVD and Blu-ray player. When I bought it, I kind of knew that I was going to be playing games on it for a couple of months, then lose interest, and that’s pretty much what happened. But it’s a decent Blu-ray player, so it’s not like it’s just gathering dust; it’s getting some use.

A friend bought me a new TV for Christmas, so I now have a new 43″ LG TV. That spurred a couple of related purchases, including a stand and a DAC so that I can route the digital audio output to my old analog receiver. It might spur one more purchase: a 4K Apple TV box. My current Apple TV box is the older one, that only outputs 1080p. (It looks like they still sell that one, as the Apple TV HD.) So maybe my earlier statement about not giving Apple any more money for hardware this year isn’t quite correct.

Summary

I have a bunch more stuff I’m thinking about, and that I could include here, but it’s now almost 10 AM. So I should wrap this up and maybe go out for a walk and get a cappuccino and a croissant from Starbucks or something like that.

 

Reading plans for 2020

I’ve been thinking about changes I could make in my life and habits for 2020 lately. Nothing major, though. I’m mostly thinking about what I want to read, watch, and listen to next year. I briefly thought about designating 2020 as a “catch-up year,” where I resolve not to buy any new books, comics, or DVDs and just try to catch up on stuff I already own. My Goodreads want to read list currently has 348 books on it. The way I use Goodreads, this is a list of books that I already own but haven’t read yet. They’re mostly ebooks, and a bunch of them were free ebooks, so many of those may never actually get read, which is fine. But a lot of them are books that I actually paid money for, and really do want to read.

And, on the comic book side, I have almost 200 comics in my Comixology account that I haven’t read yet. Some of those are individual issues, but many are graphic novels. And I’ve got about a two-foot high stack of physical comic book issues, mostly from my Westfield orders. I had pretty much made up my mind to at least stop ordering new books from Westfield in 2020, but there’s still a bunch of good stuff coming out that I want to read. I’m not going crazy with Westfield; I only have 11 items in my January order and I may drop a few. (I’m starting to feel a little burnt out on Batman-related books, so I may drop those.) But if I start ordering less than a dozen books a month, then Westfield isn’t really a good deal, since the shipping costs outweigh the discounts. So I guess I still haven’t made up my mind on Westfield.

Getting back to “regular” books: I’m still the main moderator for a Goodreads group related to The Great American Read, a series that aired on PBS back in 2018. I had been planning to put the group in “maintenance mode” in 2020, discontinuing group reads and just leaving it open for miscellaneous discussion. But another member volunteered to be a co-moderator with me, and I ran a poll to see if people wanted to keep the group reads going, and of course they did, so I’m going to be doing that in 2020 too. We just did our polls for January, and we’ll be reading The Handmaid’s Tale as our standalone group read for January, and Ken Follet’s Kingsbridge series as our series read. The Follett books are all very long, so I’m allocating two months for each of those, so that’ll stretch out from January to June, for the three books.

I’ve already read The Handmaid’s Tale, back in college, so I don’t think I’ll try to read it again. (The Kindle ebook is available for free under the Prime Reading program right now, by the way.) I may read the graphic novel version though. And I’d really like to read The Pillars of the Earth, the first book in the Kingsbridge series. The Kindle version was available for $1.99 last week, as a “deal of the day”, so I went ahead and bought it. (Those $1.99 deals are how a bunch of Kindle ebooks got on my “want to read” list. It’s hard to resist those…) Meanwhile, I’m only about 25% of the way through Gone with the Wind. And 5% through The Stand, which I want to get back to after I finish Gone with the Wind. Sigh. I need to keep reminding myself that having too many good books to read is a good thing!