πŸ‘ Air app

Ever since the Camp fire occurred I’ve been conscious of my local air quality and I recently discovered a handy little app that helps me track readings.

Air

Air is a Mac menu bar app created by a fellow named Gabriel Lewis. The application displays the local air quality index (AQI) reading for my location and automatically refreshes this reading periodically.

The application does not automatically track my location. Rather, it provides me with a field to enter the ZIP code where I am located and uses that information to grab my local air quality reading.

Something I’ve noticed since installing Air is that humans release an enormous amount of pollution, even in the environmentally conscious Bay Area. Nearly every morning the AQI reading rises above 50, which is going from the ‘good’ pollution category into the ‘moderate’ pollution category, and then falls back below 50 in the late evening. This cycle clearly shows that the increase in human activity during the day is noticeably degrading our air quality.

Making this cycle even more impressive is the fact that wind speeds increase during the day. Wind blows away pollution replacing it with clean, unpolluted air, so the fact that pollution readings still rise during the day shows just how much pollution we produce. Seeing this behavior, it comes as no surprise that around 1/3 of all Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. We’re like fish swimming in an ocean of polluted air. But hey, if it makes a few people rich it’s all worth it, right?

Air [GitHub]

πŸ‘ The Death of Stalin

I subscribe to The British Museum’s channel on YouTube and recently watched one of their videos featuringΒ a discussion between a man named Ian Hislop and a writer/director named Armando Iannucci. The talk was amusing but too short, so I looked up more about Armando Iannucci and found his film ‘The Death of Stalin’. The film turned out to be a gem worth sharing.

Based in Moscow in 1953, the Monty Python-esque film is a highly comedic, yet remarkably accurate portrayal of the death of Josef Stalin and the subsequent scramble for power over the Soviet Union. Featuring familiar names such as Steve Buscemi and Jeffrey Tambor, ‘The Death of Stalin’ is a constant procession of good laughs.

Unsurprisingly, the film is banned in Russia.

IMDB
YouTube
Amazon Video

πŸ‘ Temporary Mute for Alfred

If you don’t already use it, Alfred (a.k.a. Alfred app) is a free application launcher and productivity application for macOS. It’s similar to Apple’s Spotlight feature built into all Macs, but it is significantly more powerful. To make a comparison, using Apple’s Spotlight is like watching a high school play in a rural town whereas using Alfred is like watching a multi-million dollar Broadway musical in New York City. The two are nearly incomparable.

This post is not about Alfred though. This post is about a workflow I created for Alfred.

Background

Several years back I got fed up with listening to commercials while watching baseball, basketball, or football games. Sure, I could mute the video player and switch to another window to do something else for a moment, but doing that often caused me to entirely forget about the game I was watching and miss significant portions of play. There had to be a better way.

This got me thinking about what the situation would be like in a perfect world. Well, in a perfect world the commercials would automatically mute when they started and unmute once they were finished playing. Unfortunately, I do not know how to build an audio/video artificial intelligence system that would analyze the incoming stream to determine if a commercial was playing. However, the idea of creating some kind of timer that would automatically unmute the audio on my computer after a set period of time seemed possible. This is what I ended up building.

The Workflow

My finished creation is a workflow for Alfred which I call ‘Temporary Mute’. This workflow allows a user to mute the volume on their computer for a specified duration of time. Once the duration of time has elapsed, the computer’s volume is automatically unmuted to its previous volume. The user can also manually unmute the volume at any time before the define duration is over.

The workflow has two modes which can be used:

Mute for: Using the “mute for” keyword phrase allows the computer to be muted for the exact number of seconds specified. Simply include a number after “mute for” and the volume will remain muted for that number of seconds. [Example: “mute for 145”]

Mute time: Using the “mute time” keyword phase allows the user to select from predefined periods of time for muting the computer. After typing “mute time”, select one of the predefined durations and the computer will be muted for that amount of time.

Limitations

While this workflow is incredibly useful, it is not perfect. As I already mentioned, it does not automatically recognize when commercials end. If you set a mute time that exceeds the duration of the commercial break, you’ll end up missing a few moments of the game when it comes back. Though, over time you will become familiar with the standard break lengths used in each sport. For example, baseball’s commercial breaks tend to be close to 90 seconds whereas basketball’s come in around 120 seconds and football’s can reach 180 seconds or longer.

Additionally, this workflow was built to be used with the default audio device on your Mac. If you use a DAC (digital-to-analog converter) or other external audio playback device, unfortunately this workflow will not function correctly.

Finally, this workflow obviously requires that you use Alfred. You can probably hack at it so that it functions elsewhere, but it won’t work like that out of the box.

Links

Temporary Mute for Alfred app [download link]
Alfred 3 for Mac [website]

πŸ‘ California voting guides for 2018 election

The 2018 mid-term elections are happening in about one month. Do you know how you are going to vote?

Note: Check whether you are currently registered to vote using the California Voter Status page. Additionally, you can use the site to check on the status of your ballot from previous votes.

When I first started voting, like many others I would simply show up at the polls, put a checkmark next to anyone with a D next to their name, and then randomly vote yes or no on the propositions. This form of uneducated voting was unproductive.

One year I encountered a proposition that was so obtusely worded that I could not figure out whether I wanted to support or oppose the effort, even after thoroughly reading the official voting guide provided by my local county. For the first time I decided to go to Google to figure out what the proposition was about and what I found amazed me.

There exist some incredible voter guides on the internet. Not only are they easy to navigate and read, they provide clear descriptions of each candidate and proposition, an explanation of financial implications, and a list of groups supporting and opposing each candidate/proposition. These voter guides are so helpful that they make me wonder whether our government purposefully complicates the wording on the ballot to confuse and discourage voters. Regardless of whether the effect is on purpose, voter participation usually comes in around 35% for any California election and uninterpretable ballot information is one reason that number is so low.

After learning that voter guides exist on the internet, I will never again vote in any election without consulting those guides. Any other approach would leave me underinformed.

Below is a list of the best voter guides I have used:

Voter’s Edge California – Voter’s Edge California is a joint project between MapLight and the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund. VEC provides a comprehensive look at all the available candidates and measures on your ballot.

CALmatters 2018 Voter Guide – CALmatters is a non-profit, non-partisan, member-supported news organization focused on California. In addition to insightful and comprehensive reporting on news matters, CALmatters has put together an excellent guide to the November 2018 election.

Ballotpedia – While not the easiest site to navigate, Ballotpedia contains a true wealth of information about every aspect of voting. This page provides a solid central navigation point for learning about the upcoming November 2018 election. To learn specifically about the November 2018 California ballot propositions, click here.

Ballot.fyi – A non-partisan guide to the ballot propositions on California’s 2018 ballot. This guide is put together by a two person team, an engineer and a journalist with help from The Knight Foundation.

KQED Elections Voter Guide – A guide to the propositions on the California ballot from the reputable KQED organization.

League of Women Voters of California – When looking for voter guides, the League of Women Voters of California voting guide is probably the most referenced guide on the internet. While they do not win the award for the most exhaustive guide, the LWVC have been putting together great information in their voting guides for many years. Their voting guides are easy to use as you can quickly assess whether you agree or disagree with their endorsements.

Green Party of California State Voter Guide – This is a simple list of endorsements from the Green Party of California. It’s nothing special, but if social justice and the environment are important to you, these are probably the votes you want to cast.

πŸ‘ The Staircase

The Staircase is a multi-episode documentary which follows the trial of Michael Peterson after the death of his wife under suspicious circumstances in 2001.

There exists countless murder-mystery documentaries, but what grabs my attention about this film is the fact the even after watching the full series, I am completely torn about whether Michael Peterson is guilty. Throughout episodes 1-8, I was led further and further towards believing that Peterson was guilty. His remarkably odd behavior and lack of remorse, along with quite damning evidence, seem to prove his guilt. However, once the verdict is read in episode 8, my opinion almost immediately flipped. Episodes 9-13 suddenly show Michael Peterson in a completely different light which points towards his innocence.

After finishing the last episode, I have no idea how I should feel about the case. The fact that I could assume such strong feelings of both guilt and innocence is remarkable. In the end, I am left with feelings of sorrow about how the tragedy affected the lives of a family.


IMDB
Netflix

πŸ‘ California Sun email newsletter

California Sun logo

Every morning when I sit down at my computer I engage in the same routine of checking websites and my email to bring myself up to speed with what is occurring in the world around me. Reddit and the Washington Post provide a view of the larger world, but when it comes to California news nothing beats the California Sun email newsletter.

The California Sun is a daily weekday newsletter written by two men, a former correspondent and a former staff editor for the New York Times. They compile a list of the most important news articles about California and provide the list in a format that is easy to quickly digest. Each newsletter follows the same format: The first section is called The Lede and focuses on the most important California story. Next comes statewide news followed by a section with Northern California stories and another section with Southern California stories. The final section usually contains three stories that do not fit neatly into other sections of the newsletter. Several subjects are summarized in each section and each summary comes with a link to a media outlet for the full story. When relevant, subjects will contain links to multiple media outlets which provide different views.

I have a remarkable appreciation of the California Sun because it is comprehensive and well built. The newsletter allows me to both quickly bring my understanding of the news up-to-speed as well as dive deeply into topics I want to know more about. After reading 6 email newsletters and listening to 7 news podcasts every day, I feel that removing the California Sun would have the largest impact on my understanding of current events.

Give the California Sun newsletter a try for one or two weeks. They won’t send you anything except the newsletter and unsubscribing is as simple as a single click if you want the subscription to end. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

The California Sun

UpdateΒ 8/27/18: I stumbled across an episode of the podcast Friends and Citizens which features Mike McPhate, one of the two people behind the California Sun newsletter. The conversation covers news media in California, subscription based journalism, and other interesting topics. It’s worth a listen. [Episode 8 – Newsletters, Journalism, and California Tomorrow with Mike McPhate]

πŸ‘ Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind

Movie poster for Robin Williams: Come Inside My MindThis documentary provides a fantastic look at the life of Robin Williams. I was quite surprised to learn that while he attended the Claremont Men’s College, now renamed to Claremont McKenna College, Williams spent a good portion of his time chasing the girls who attended Pitzer College. This struck me as odd given that CMC is closer to Scripps College, an all-girls school, than it is to Pitzer. I suspect that Pitzer’s drug-loving, hippy reputation had something to do with it.

IMDB
HBO

πŸ‘ Sortem for Amazon – Google Chrome extension

Sortem for Amazon is an extension for Google’s Chrome web browser which provides an additional sorting option when looking at search results on Amazon.com.

To find the best products, one might think that sorting by product rating (avg. customer review) is the best way to find the highest quality products. After all, if people like a product they will rate it highly. However, that sorting method does not consider that products with fewer ratings are more likely to be rated higher than products with many ratings.

For example, if product A has a single 5-star rating, it will be ranked above product B which has 1,000 4 and 5-star reviews. This is because a single perfect 5-star rating is ranked above 1,000 reviews which average out to a 4.5-star rating.

While sorting by the number of reviews doesn’t magically display the absolute best product as the first result, it does provide a useful sorting option that can be used in conjunction with filtering by product rating.

Sortem for Amazon – Chrome Web Store

πŸ‘ The Queen of Versailles and Generation Wealth

The Queen of Versailles

While this documentary film was released all the way back in 2012, I did not learn about its existence until this month. The film introduces the Siegel family and their extravagant billionaire lifestyle as they begin construction on their dream mansion, which is inspired by the Palace of Versailles.

However, their plans soon come to a halt as the timeshare empire they built crumbles during the 2008 financial crisis. The family proceeds to engage in ever more ridiculous behavior as their budget tightens. You will want to tape your mouth shut for this film, otherwise it will spend a lot of time dropping to the floor.


IMDB

YouTube
Amazon Video

 

Generation Wealth

The Baader-Meinhof Syndrome was alive and well this week as I browsed Reddit. Having watched The Queen of Versailles only a few days ago, I found it remarkable to see an image from the film in my Reddit feed. However, instead of taking me to The Queen of Versailles, the post was about a new film and project titled Generation Wealth.

The film comes from Lauren Greenfield who also directed The Queen of Versailles. Her new project consists of multiple mediums: a museum exhibition, a photographic monograph, and a feature documentary film (July 20th, 2018 US & UK theatrical release). This work examines society’s increasing obsession with wealth over the last 25 years.

With her new film, Generation Wealth, she puts the pieces of her life’s work together for in an incendiary investigation into the pathologies that have created the richest society the world has ever seen. Spanning consumerism, beauty, gender, body commodification, aging and more, Greenfield has created a comprehensive cautionary tale about a culture heading straight for the cliff’s edge. Generation Wealth, simultaneously a deeply personal journey, rigorous historical essay, and raucously entertaining expose, bears witness to the global boom-bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of capitalism, narcissism and greed.

I probably won’t get a chance to view this documentary until later this year, but nevertheless I am very much looking forward to it.

 

Generation Wealth website

πŸŽ΅πŸ‘ Dan Deacon and Rat Film

Rat Film posterI learned about Rat Film through my appreciation of Dan Deacon, an American composer and electronic musician. β€œTrippy” is the first word that comes to mind when I listen to his albums.

In addition to producing his own music, Dan Deacon has produced the soundtrack to a few films. The soundtrack to Rat Film popped up in Spotify since I follow Dan Deacon and after hearing the first track, I knew that the film would look intriguing.

The film takes an abstract look at the relationship between rats and humans while exploring Baltimore’s history. I do not have any insights or revelations to share after watching Rat Film. I simply thought it was beautiful and fun to watch, so I recommend the film to you.

 

IMDB
Amazon Video
YouTube