Alone Together: Socializing through Technology

We’ve already looked at the first half of Alone Together, which focused on how people are increasingly socializing with technology, especially with artificially-intelligent robots. The second half covers how people are increasingly socializing with each other through technology.

Except maybe for those who stay at home all day talking only to robots, it’s obvious that ever-advancing technology has had a huge impact on how we communicate with each other. What might not be obvious is to what extent we are becoming dependent upon technology for communication, and either consciously or subconsciously avoiding traditional in-person conversations, and even telephone conversations, pushing as much as possible into the asynchronous world of electronic messaging.

Many people interviewed delight in constantly receiving messages; every incoming message is something new to look at. Even if the messages in fact interrupt something else they were doing, it doesn’t matter:

“I’m waiting to be interrupted right now,” one says. For him, what I would term “interruption” is the beginning of a connection.

Some not only relish constant communication from others, but rely on it to help shape and determine their own thoughts. When faced with an opportunity to feel upset or sad, sending and receiving text messages with a friend can be used to solidify what exactly is the right emotional response. But there’s no time for a telephone call or an in-person conversation; they feel lost without immediate input over text messages.

Not too many years ago, friends and family routinely chatted with each other over telephone. Now, a telephone call is often viewed as a last resort; emails and text messages are so much more convenient and less intrusive, with a telephone call requiring more personal attention from both parties.

Tara, a fifty-five-year-old lawyer who juggles children, a job, and a new marriage, [says that] “When you ask for a call, the expectation is that you have pumped it up a level. People say to themselves: ‘It’s urgent or she would have sent an email.'” So Tara avoids the telephone. …

Randolph, a forty-six-year-old architect with two jobs, two young children, and a twelve-year-old son from a former marriage … explains, “Now that there is e-mail, people expect that a call will be more complicated. Not about facts. A fuller thing. People expect it to take time — or else you wouldn’t have called. …

A widow of fifty-two grew up on volunteer work and people stopping by for afternoon tea. Now she works full-time as an office manager. Unaccustomed to her new routine, she says she is “somewhat surprised” to find that she has stopped calling her friends. She is content to send e-mails and Facebook messages. She says, “A call feels like an intrusion, as though I would be intruding on my friends … After work — I want to go home, look at some photos from the grandchildren on Facebook, send some e-mails and feel in tough. I’m tired. I’m not ready for people — I mean people in person.”

As convenient as electronic messages may be, people are increasingly consumed by them, giving attention to the incoming notifications on their phone over people that are physically present, regardless of the urgency of the messages. The attention that children receive from parents seems particularly diminished: they may be present physically — pushing the child on a swing, eating dinner at the table, watching a football game on television — but often with one hand firmly grasping a smartphone, and their attention elsewhere.

Audrey complains of her mother’s inattention when she picks her up at school or after sports practice. At these times, Audrey says, her mother is usually focused on her cell phone, either texting or talking to friends. Audrey describes the scene: she comes out of the gym exhausted, carrying heavy gear. Her mother sits in her beaten-up SUV, immersed in her cell, and doesn’t even look up until Audrey opens the car door. Sometimes her mother will make eye contact but remain engrossed with the phone as they begin the drive home. Audrey says, “It gets between us, but it’s hopeless. She’s not going to give it up. Like, it could have been four days since I last spoke to her, then I sit in the car and wait in silence until she’s done.

Audrey has a fantasy of her mother, waiting for her, expectant, without a phone.

A constant barrage of incoming messages not only has an impact on interacting with other people in the room, but on completing work in the room:

“I’m trying to write,” says a professor of economics. “My article is due. But I’m checking my e-mail every two minutes. And then, the worst is when I change the setting so that I don’t have to check the e-mail. It just comes in with a ‘ping.’ So now I’m like Pavlov’s dog. I’m sitting around, waiting for that ping. I should ignore it. But I go right to it.” …

An art critic with a book deadline took drastic measures: “I went away to a cabin. And I left my cell phone in the car. In the trunk. My idea was that maybe I would check it once a day. I kept walking out of the house to open the trunk and check the phone. I felt like an addict, like the people at work who huddle around the outdoor smoking places they keep on campus, the outdoor ashtray places. I kept going to that trunk.”

But shifting conversation to electronic messages is not without clear benefits as well. Children growing up and moving away from home are able to keep in frequent contact with their parents, easing the transition for everyone. While placing dozens of phone calls to your parents might seem excessive, sending dozens of text messages feels perfectly normal.

With so many omnipresent means of communication, we never have to be alone. But on the other hand, we may never learn how to be alone: how to think thoughts entirely of our own, how to occupy ourselves without the input from others. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? While younger people are generally enamored with communications technology, some are starting to feel like maybe life before technology had something better to offer:

Hillary is fond of movies but drawn toward “an Amish life minus certain exceptions [these would be the movies] … but I wouldn’t mind if the Internet went away.” She asks, “What could people be doing if they weren’t on the Internet?” She answers her own question: “There’s piano; there’s drawing; there’s all these things people could be creating.”

The important takeaway here may be that communications technology, like technology in general, can be both used and abused. It’s up to us to use it wisely, and not let it overtake our lives. But, as several interviewees reported, technology has a strong pull to it, often stronger than we are capable of resisting. It takes deliberate thought and action to not be drawn too far in.

With lives lived so much online, does the next generation of technology users have any qualms about privacy? It appears that they are neither in favor of nor dismissing online privacy, preferring to not think about it much:

The media has tended to portray today’s young adults as a generation that no longer cares about privacy. I have found something else, something equally disquieting. High school and college students don’t really understand the rules. Are they being watched? Who is watching? Do you have to do something to provoke surveillance, or is it routine? Is surveillance legal? They don’t really understand the terms of service for Facebook or Gmail, the mail service Google provides. They don’t know what protections they are “entitled” to. They don’t know what objections are reasonable or possible. …

There is an upside to vagueness. What you don’t know won’t make you angry. Julia says, “Facebook and MySpace are my life.” If she learned something too upsetting about what, say, Facebook can do with her information, she would have to justify staying on the site. But Julia admits that whatever she finds out, even if her worst fears of surveillance by high school administrators and local police were true, she would not take action. She cannot imagine her life without Facebook.

The book concludes with some thoughts that purposefully keeping some of our most cherished thoughts and conversations in analog form may be in our own best interest; for example, hand-written letters received from dear friends and family seem to hold more emotional value than text messages, and the very act of writing and sending a letter suggests putting more of yourself into the communique than sending an email.

Whatever your persuasion of communications technology use, taking the time to consider the thoughts and situations chronicled in Alone Together should give some additional perspective from which to more strongly base your opinions. A very enjoyable a thought-provoking read.

String Tokenization in Rust

String manipulation in Rust appears to be fully documented, but, still leaning Rust, it took me a couple of hours of poking around at the documentation and failing to compile things to figure out how to tokenize strings. For anyone else trying to do the same, perhaps this will help:

Use String Slices

Rust offers the types String and &str, with the latter also called string slices. The functions that are involved with string tokenization operate on string slices, so if your string values isn’t already a string slice, then make it one using as_slice:

let stringSliceValue = stringValue.as_slice();

Define Separators

Create a slice of type &[char] to hold the characters that you want to be separators to divide your string into tokens; for example:

let separators : &[char] = &[' ', '.', ','];

Split the String Slice

To split the original string into tokens, use the StrExt::split function:

let mut tokens = StrExt::split (originalString, separators);

This binds tokens to an iterator value, so it will be useful to make it mutable. If you have only one separator, you can use the split_str function instead:

let mut tokens = StrExt::split_str (originalString, ".");

If you want to split tokens only by space characters, you can also use the StrExt::words function, which doesn’t need separators specified at all:

let mut tokens = StrExt:words (originalString);

All of those functions can also be called as methods of the string value:

let mut tokens = originalString.split (separators);
// or
let mut tokens = originalString.split_str (".");
// or
let mut tokens = originalString.words();

Step Through the Tokens

Now our tokens variable is just a normal iterator:

for token in tokens {
    println! ("{}", token);


Alone Together: Socializing with Technology

Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together presents a well-researched look at how technology is changing the way we socialize, both with each other, and with technology itself.

In the first part of the book, we are introduced to an array of increasingly complex robots designed to offer some degree of social interaction with people, and and descriptions of studies of how people react to these robots. Laying the groundwork for these robots, we first get a review of ELIZA, an early artificial intelligence computer program. Fairly well known amongst computer scientists, ELIZA was written to mimic a psychotherapist, accepting text input from the user and responding with meaningless questions formed by trivial rephrasing of the human-supplied sentences.

Even when knowledgeable about how ELIZA worked, many people found it grossly engaging, attributing intellect and emotional involvement to the program that simply was not there. This turns out to be a recurring theme through Turkle’s descriptions of social robots: people are inclined to find attributes of intelligence where there are none, and to interpret any plausible signal of emotional attachment coming from the robot, no matter how slight, as evidence that the robot actually feels something and, on some level, cares for and connects with its human users.


The first actual robot looked at is just slightly more a “robot” than ELIZA was: the small, handheld Tamagotchi, marketed as a “digital pet”. Bestowed by their programmers with algorithms meant to simulate needing care and attention, children worldwide have felt compelled to treat these electronic trinkets with far more compassion than one might expect:

In the presence of a needy Tamagotchi, children become responsible parents: demands translate into care and care into the feeling of caring. …

[One child] says that his Tamagotchi is “like a baby. You can’t just change the baby’s diaper. You have to, like, rub cream on the baby. That is how the baby knows you love it.” …

Three nine-year-olds consider their Tamagotchis. One is excited that his pet requires him to build a castle as its home. “I can do it. I don’t want him to get cold and sick and to die.”

Can a Tamagotchi actually die? Its programming allows it to “pass away” on the screen, but a reset button brings it back to “life”. However, as a Tamagotchi is used, its programming causes it to appear increasingly intelligent, developing one attribute or another based on how the user’s interaction with it. Restarting a “dead” Tamagotchi does not bring it back to the same state it was in, and children are aware of this:

“It’s cheating. Your Tamagotchi is really dead. Your one is really dead. They say you get it back, but it’s not the same one. It hasn’t had the same things happen to it. It’s like they give you a new one. It doesn’t remember the life it had.”

“When my Tamagotchi dies, I don’t want to play with the new one who can pop up. It makes me remember the real one [the first one]. I like to get another [a new egg]…. If you made it die, you should start fresh.”

Good business for the manufacturer, many children interviewed were adept at persuading their parents to buy new Tamagotchis after one “died”, even though restarting the software on the “dead” one was functionally the same as starting with a brand new one. Somehow, the simple electronic toy truly became alive, not by any stunning prowess on the part of its programmers, but by the fervent belief of the children you played with it.

Taking the idea of the Tamagotchi to a new level, the Furby is a similarly-needy collection of algorithms packaged into a furry stuffed toy. Looking more like, feeling more like a living being makes it more compelling than a handheld digital screen. One researcher conducted a test to see where in the spectrum of inanimate things and living creatures the Furby fell:

A person is asked to invert three creates: a Barbie doll, a Furby, and a biological gerbil. [The] question is simple: “How long can you hold the object upside down before your emotions make you turn it back.

While the Barbie doll says nothing, a Furby turned upside down whines and claims to be afraid, and the study finds the Furby somewhere in between alive and not:

“People are willing to be carrying the Barbie around by the feet, slinging it by the hair … no problem. … People are not going to mess around with their gerbil. … [People will] hold the Furby upside down for thirty seconds or so, but when it starts crying and saying it’s scared, most people feel guilty and turn it over.”

While the people in the study knew full well that the Furby was not alive, its somewhat lifelike form and programmed response elicited emotions sufficiently like those brought about by an actual living creature that it was difficult to relate to the Furby strictly as the machine that it is.

Kara, a woman in her fifties, reflects on holding a moaning Furby that says it is scared. She finds it distasteful, “not because I believe that the Furby is really scared, but because I’m not willing to hear anything talk like that and respond by continuing my behavior. It feels to me that I could be hurt if I keep doing this. … In that moment, the Furby comes to represent how I treat creatures.”

As with the Tamagotchis, a Furby undergoes simulated learning as it is played with, making a well-loved Furby different from a brand new one. When, in the course of studying children’s reactions to a Furby, one of them broke, one child was given a replacement:

[He] wants little to do with it. He doesn’t talk to it or try to teach it. His interest is in “his” Furby, the Furby he nurtured, the Furby he taught. He says, “The Furby that I had before could say ‘again’; it could say ‘hungry.'” … The first Furby was never “annoying,” but the second Furby is. His Furby is irreplaceable.


While a Furby may vaguely resemble a living creature, it’s a totally fictitious creature. What happens when a robot is designed to imitate an actual living creature? AIBO was built to behave like a pet dog, and some children found its behavior sufficiently convincing, and then some:

Yolanda … first sees AIBO as a substitute: “AIBO might be a good practice for all children whose parents aren’t ready to take care of a real dog.” But then she takes another step: in some ways AIBO might be better than a real dog. “The AIBO,” says Yolanda, “doesn’t shed, doesn’t bite, doesn’t die.” More than this, a robotic companion can be made as you like it. Yolanda muses about how nice it would be to “keep AIBO at a puppy stage for people who like to have puppies.”

Another child was convinced that AIBO was capable of emotion, even though it was not:

Oliver does not see AIBO’s current lack of emotionality as a fixed thing. On the contrary. “Give him six months,” Oliver says. “That’s how long it took [the biological hamster] to really love. … If it advanced more, if it had more technology, it could certainly love you in the future.”

In the future, he says, or even now:

“AIBO loves me. I love AIBO.” As far as Oliver is concerned, AIBO is alive enough for them to be true companions.

On the other hand, some children found AIBO’s lack of emotional attachment to be a positive thing:

Pets have long been thought good for children because they teach responsibility and commitment. AIBO permits something different: attachment without responsibility. Children love their pets, but at times … they feel burdened by their pets’ demands. … But now children see a future where something different may be available. With robot pets, children can give enough to feel attached, but then they can turn away. They are learning a way of feeling connected in which they have permission to think only of themselves.

Given how many children (and even adults) desire the companionship of a pet, but either cannot or will not accept the responsibility of adequately caring for it, often resulting in animals with warped personalities being dropped off at overbooked shelters, perhaps getting a fraction of the companionship of a real pet in exchange for the ability to put it away whenever you like will be a welcome option for some people.

The Cutting Edge

Moving on from commercialized robot products, a number of children were brought into the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab to [be studied as they] interact with the state of the art of robotic creatures. The robot Kismet was designed with large eyes that appeared to gaze at whatever person or object caught its attention, and with large ears to seemingly listen to what was being said to it, and with a mouth to speak infant-like babbling sounds in response to what it “heard”. Many children found Kismet enjoyable, believing that it understood them, and was trying its best to speak intelligibly back at them. Some children, though, were underwhelmed with Kismet’s ability to talk:

With no prologue, Edward walks up to Kismet and asks, “Can you talk?” When Kismet doesn’t answer, Edward repeats his question at greater volume. Kismet stares into space. Again, Edward asks, “Can you talk?” Now, Kismet speaks in the emotionally layered babble that has delighted other children or puzzled them into inventive games. … He tries to understand Kismet: “What?” “Say that again?” “What exactly?” “Huh? What are you saying?” After a few minutes, Edward decides that Kismet is making no sense. He tells the robot, “Shut up!” And then, Edward picks up objects in the laboratory and forces them into Kismet’s mouth — first a metal pin, then a pencil, then a toy caterpillar. Edward yells, “Chew this! Chew this!” Absorbed by hostility, he remains engaged with the robot.

Children are by no means alone in becoming emotionally attached to robots. Dr. Cynthia Breazeal, Kismet’s creator, accepted a position in another lab at MIT and had to leave Kismet behind:

Breazeal describes a sharp sense of loss. Building a new Kismet will not be the same. This is the Kismet she has “raised” from a “child.” She says she would not be able to part with Kismet if she weren’t sure it would remain with people who would treat it well.

Caring Robots

The attachment between robots and their creators aside, is the only purpose for social robots to be whimsical toys and children’s playthings? Widespread in Japan, and increasingly in the United States, is the use of social robots as companions for the elderly in nursing homes. The robot Paro, for example, has been mass-produced as a “therapeutic robot”:

Miriam’s son has recently broken off his relationship with her. He has a job and family on the West Coast, and when he visits, he and his mother quarrel — he feels she wants more from him than he can give. Now Miriam sits, quietly, stroking Paro, a sociable robot in the shape of a baby harp seal. … [It] has a small working English vocabulary for “understanding” its users … [and] can sense whether it is being stroked gently or with aggression. Now, with Paro, Miriam is lost in her reverie, patting down the robot’s soft fur with care. On this day, she is particularly depressed and believes that the robot is depressed as well. She turns to Paro, strokes him again, and says, “Yes, you’re sad, aren’t you? It’s tough out there. Yes, it’s hard.” Miriam’s tender touch triggers a warm response in Paro: it turns its head toward her and purrs approvingly. Encouraged, Miriam shows yet more affection for the little robot. In attempting to provide the comfort she believes it needs, she comforts herself.

Is this a positive direction to be heading, leaving the elderly to be comforted by robots? Many study participants found the supplementary companionship of robots to be preferable to being alone, and sometimes even preferable to being with someone, as sharing private emotional thoughts with a robot felt easier than with another person.

What about helping the elderly with physical needs? For that there is Nursebot:

… which can help elderly people in their homes, reminding them of their medication schedule and to eat regular meals. Some models can bring medicine or oxygen if needed. In an institutional setting, a hospital or nursing home, it learns the terrain. It knows patients’ schedules and accompanies them where they need to go.

Many people who experienced the care of Nursebot found it appealing. While they would not want to see robots entirely replace human care, they found it perfectly acceptable as a supplement. Some even found it superior, with one person reporting that:

“Robots … will not abuse the elderly like some humans do in convalescent care facilities.”

Others wrote that many of their human care providers kept themselves so emotionally distant that they might as well be replaced by robots.


Going from trivial electronic toys to animatronic creatures to machines for helping people both emotionally and physically, robotics technology is clearly ready for real everyday use, and society seems ready to accept it. The two parties are meeting in the middle; technology has certainly been advancing, but where it still lacks, people are willing to fill in the gaps with their imagination. Robots may not be real living creatures, but for many purposes they are real enough, and for some purposes they are better.

We’ll look at the second half of the book, covering advances in humans interacting with other humans through technology, in a future post. If you’ve found this much interesting, you can pick up a copy of the book for yourself, either in printed or electronic form.

Curbside Incineration-safe Garbage Collection?

Today’s New York Times has an article about new and forthcoming garbage incineration plants, which aim to reduce the amount of garbage simply dumped into ever-accumulating landfills. While toxic emissions from garbage incineration have been reduced with modern technology, there are still concerns from area residents that the air will be filled with enough incinerated garbage fumes to pose a hazard, or at least an undesirable odor.

Living as I do about a five minute drive from our local county landfill, I have driven over numerous car-loads of home remodeling waste and various other containers of garbage beyond our regular weekly curbside pickup. I’ve often wondered how much longer we can keep tossing junk into piles on the ground like this, and the idea of using incinerators does seem to have a certain appeal. Per the laws of physics, the matter of the garbage would not cease to exist, but would be transformed into a combination of ash and gas, the former of which should be much more compact to set aside, and the latter of which being, apparently, the main problem.

What are the toxins released through burning garbage? The heavy hitters seem to be dioxins, mercury, and lead. Perusing some online environmental leaflets, it appears typical to hand-wave about the exact source of these toxins, simply attributing them to coming from “garbage”, with one of the sources implying that the mercury comes from fish. Fishmongers aside, harmful amounts of mercury emanating from household disposal of fish seems hard to believe. Wikipedia comes through for us with some better details, suggesting that gaseous dioxins and lead are the result of hazardous chemical waste in the burnt garbage, while the mercury comes mainly from discarded batteries.

Armed with that knowledge, is there anything useful we as citizens and our municipal governments can do to improve the garbage incineration scene? Here locally, we already separate our recycling materials into one group of glass, and another group of cardboard/paper/plastic. Yard waste is collected separately, and broken down into compost. Curbside, everything else is just deemed “garbage”, though if you take your garbage to the landfill personally, you have opportunity to separate things out more finely, including areas for wood and metal scrap.

Why not then designate some forms of garbage as safe for incineration? Just like how residents use a curbside recycling container for cardboard/paper/plastic, into which glass or other sundry garbage shall not go, establish a mechanism for separating out incineration-safe garbage, into which batteries, hazardous chemicals, and fish shall not go. The vast majority of my non-recycled garbage does not fall into any of those categories, and I suspect the same is true for many people.

This wouldn’t answer the question of what to do with the garbage unsafe to burn, but would this not put a decent dent into the quantity of waste dumped into the landfills? Or am I grossly underestimating the amount of waste that is unfit to burn?

Book Review: Business Secrets from the Bible

Over the recent holidays, I read Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s Business Secrets from the Bible, a compendium of guidelines for conducting one’s work life distilled from the author’s knowledge of traditional Jewish wisdom.

The guidelines are somewhat abstract; the book does not recommend specific business ventures or investment products, but rather focuses on development of character traits and general ways of thinking. Divided into forty short chapters, several themes stood out to me included:

  • Perhaps counter-intuitively, the goal of business is not to make money. The goal is — or should be — to help other people. This doesn’t mean you must resolve to spend all of your time volunteering for non-profit organizations; you can help other people by mowing their lawn, helping them find and close on real estate, preparing their taxes, building computer software, catching and distributing fish, or any other honest business activity, and accepting payment for a job well done. The idea here is not to eschew making money, but to make serving your customer the goal rather than making money; excel at that, and the money will follow.
  • Being that business is about helping other people, it is helpful to build and maintain connections with other people. If I need someone to install a new roof on my house, I can look first to my circle of trusted friends and acquaintances to see if any of them are in the business of helping others with roof work. And likewise, if any of them need custom computer software developed, they can look to me.
  • Wouldn’t, though, my finances be better off if I repaired my own roof instead of hiring someone else to do it? Not necessarily. Another major theme of the book is that specialization is good, going so far as to deliberately seek ways to pay other people to do things for you that you could in theory do yourself, so that you have more time to focus on your own specialization. This is better for you, furthering your own business, and good for them, furthering theirs. Everyone wins.
  • You need not manage your own independent company to be “in business”. If you are an employee at a company, then your customers are the managers and owners of the company. Rather than viewing your 9-5 job as a drudgery endured only to take home a paycheck, look at your role there being to serve and help your customers.
  • Contrary to much popular advice, your business won’t necessarily be in line with “following your passion”. Not everything you enjoy doing is necessarily something that people will pay you for. If you have the talent and skill and opportunity to work at a job that you are thoroughly passionate about, then wonderful, but relegating your favorite activities to unpaid hobbies while you work professionally in another field need not be viewed with contempt. Become passionate about serving other people, in whatever capacity you are able to.
  • Never stop helping people! The author explains that there is no word in biblical Hebrew for “retirement”, which suggests it is something we ought not to do. Retiring from a particular job is one thing, but retiring from serving others altogether is something else completely. Plan to continue help other people, even for pay, for as long as you are able to.

Available in print and for Amazon Kindle, this is a great book to start the year thinking positively about your work and how it relates to making the world a better place. If you’ve already read Rabbi Lapin’s earlier book Thou Shall Prosper, much of the material will look familiar, but alternate presentations of the same ideas can help reenforce learning, and I find both books worth reading.

Hammond XK-3c through Real vs. Simulated Leslie

After incurring the cost of a Leslie rotary speaker and surmounting the challenge of hauling it into your studio, you might start to wonder if it was all worth it. How exactly does a modern Hammond organ sound through an actual Leslie speaker compared to just using the built-in digital Leslie simulation?

To conduct an A/B test, I used one of the MIDI demo songs that comes installed on the Hammond XK-3c. I recorded simultaneously into Pro Tools the direct stereo output from the XK-3c (simulated Leslie), and three audio tracks of the XK-3c through a Leslie 3300. On the real Leslie, the upper rotor was flanked left and right by Shure SM57 microphones plugged into Focusrite ISA preamps, and the lower rotor was picked up by a Shure SM59 microphone plugged into a Universal Audio LA-610 preamp.

The stereo direct tracks were panned hard left and right. The upper Leslie tracks were panned hard left and right, and the lower Leslie track down the center. No equalization or compression was applied.

First, the simulated Leslie:

It really sounds pretty good. Much better than earlier model Hammonds with simulated Leslie, and much much better than a whole lot of other various synthesized Hammond organ sounds.

Next, the same music through the real Leslie:

Comparisons are a matter of opinion, but my thought is that this is significantly better than the sound of the simulated Leslie. Going back to listen to the simulated track again, it sounds excessively fake. The simulated track could probably be made to sound better through application of effects, but there are some subtle Leslie nuances that the simulation just fails to recreate.

How valuable is having a real Leslie? That depends on the user and the setting. Clearly in a solo recorded environment the difference is noticeable, but if you are recording Hammond organ sparingly and keeping it low in the mix, the difference might never be heard. If you use Hammond organ very sparingly, you could likely get by with a decent virtual instrument and bother with neither the actual Hammond organ nor the actual Leslie speaker. For more extensive organ use, I find the addition of the Leslie very helpful in attaining true authenticity of sound, and well-worth adding to the studio.

See also: a convenient SoundCloud playlist with both tracks.

Seagate 2TB Expansion Drive on Mac OS X

A new Seagate 2TB Expansion Drive which I assumed would work just fine on Mac OS X since it connects with standard USB 2 or USB 3 came in a box with bountiful mentions of backing up your “PC” and notes compatibility with several versions of Microsoft Windows.

How does it work on Mac OS X 10.9.5? I plugged it in and was immediately asked if I wanted to use the drive for Time Machine backups, which I did.

Sharing here in case anyone wonders about OS X compatibility. Some Amazon reviews for the 3TB version complain that the drive doesn’t last very long; so far my 2TB unit has lasted fifteen minutes, but I will try to remember to update this post after more extended use.

[July 2017 Update, two and a half years later: the drive is still working flawlessly.]

Making eBooks with Texinfo and Calibre

While I greatly enjoy reading, eBooks have mostly eluded me — I still prefer gazing upon ink printed on processed tree pulp, or when electronic texts are convenient, plain old HTML. But as an author, it seems questionable to ignore the multitudes of people who do favor reading on their Kindles and Nooks and iPads.

But how best to support those? I’ve done most of my serious writing by typing Texinfo word processing commands into GNU Emacs. Fortunately, it appears that I can continue writing with my ancient tools, thanks to file format conversion programs like Calibre.

I experimented using the most recent edition of The GNU C Reference Manual. The GNU Texinfo toolchain already easily produces PDF and HTML output, so I loaded the single-page HTML file into Calibre. From there, Calibre can produce a variety of eBook outputs, including the ubiquitous ePub and Mobi file formats.

The resulting ePub file I could view using Apple iBooks on my Mac laptop; delightfully, it looks like other ePub eBooks that I have seen. I don’t have a Kindle, but I presume that Calibre did an equally good job of converting to the Mobi file format.

So hooray! This toolchain will allow me to use my familiar writing workflow to produce eBook content in formats desired by readers who opt for electronic reading devices.

Deleting Useless Data from an iPhone

As I’ve been using my iPhone more for storing and playing back music to listen to in the 2014 Honda CR-V, I’ve been much more attentive to how much space data is taking up on the phone. My 16GB iPhone 4s has been precariously close to its limit, with the storage summary in iTunes showing that about five gigabytes were consumed by “Documents and Data” and “Other”.

Looking at neither iTunes nor the iPhone interface revealed any clues as to what these categories of data represented. I know that I store applications and audio on the phone, both of which were already accounted for with about three gigabytes each. I had already deleted a bunch of pictures to clear up space. But where was all of this other data and other “other” coming from?

Poking around on the web suggested trying out iMazing, a desktop application for exploring the raw iOS file system. Sometimes, supposedly, voice memos can get repeatedly duplicated, taking up a lot of space, or maybe some other temporary cache files can get out of hand. I didn’t see any obvious waste of stored data on the file system, but I tentatively tried deleting a few files that appeared to be unneeded cache, and synced my phone with iTunes to see if it made any difference at all.

Nearly all of both the “Documents and Data” and “Other” data disappeared, leaving five gigabytes of usable space in their stead.

I have absolutely no idea how the few small cache files that I deleted could have had this large of an impact. The phone seems to still be working as expected. I guess I’m pleased with the results, even though I do not understand how they came to be…

[Update: after several more days of using the iPhone, it became apparent that all was not quite well. When trying to play many songs from the music player, the songs would disappear from view. Sometimes entire albums disappeared. I fixed this by removing all music from the iPhone, and then putting it back on. Along with the repaired music came 3 gigabytes of “Other” data again! I still have 3 gigabytes free, but am puzzled as to why 4 gigabytes of audio files need to be accompanied by 3 gigabytes of “Other” in order to be played back from the iPhone?]

[Update 2: Further web searching suggests the classic method of backing up your iPhone to your computer, erasing the data from the iPhone, and restoring from the computer backup. This resulted in a significant reduction of “Other” data, giving me nearly 6 gigabytes of free space again.]

Major Upgrades on the iOS Application Store

If a software developer releases an iOS application for sale, the Apple-designed progression of future updates to the application is that they are free of charge to users who have already purchased a prior version. But outside of Apple’s ecosystem, while commercial software developers may have released free minor updates to existing customers, major updates — like moving from version 1.x to 2.x — tend to cost money.

Since Apple’s ecosystem doesn’t support this, a recent trend has been to sell (or even give away for free) a basic version of the software, and then sell enhancements by way of in-app purchases. This lets the developer continue adding new features to an already-sold product, with the user paying for whichever additional features they want to enable on their copy.

I noticed Panic, Inc.’s approach today when I ran their terminal application Prompt for the first time since the last update: they have removed the Prompt 1.x series of software (which I had bought) from the iOS store, and have added a brand new Prompt 2.x series (which I haven’t bought). I can continue running the old Prompt 1.x software indefinitely, perhaps until some future iOS operating system update cripples it, but if I want the next major release of Prompt, I have to pay for it.

Just like what-used-to-be-normal.