Monday, July 15, 2013

Please Contain the Glee

I recently came back to Pandora after a long break. I cleared out my old stations and built some new ones, trying to make them pretty specific. I seeded only with songs rather than artists. I’ve got a punk/ska station built from songs from Misfits, Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Buck-O-Nine, and others. I’ve got a Metal-ish station with CKY, Disturbed, Alice In Chains, Chevelle, and so on. I’ve also got a slow-ish, station of mostly current artists. I’ve seeded it with songs from Adele, Mumford & Sons, Amy Winehouse, Maroon 5, and that one Gotye song, alongside jazzy vocals and whiney folk rock, this is also where I get my Dire Straits fix.

During the day at work, I play these three stations in a mix and it’s been working well. I feel like I’ve really got Pandora doing what I want. For example, I’ve got the punk station narrow enough that it picks up stripped down 70s and 80s punk alongside Bad Religion, but it doesn’t give me Blink-182. Pandora did get really crazy once and gave me Nickelback on this station, but a quick click of the “thumbs down” button seems to have solved that problem. You have to teach others how to treat you.

Overall, the mix/shuffle of these stations gives me the music I told it I want, and often surprises me with additions that are pretty much what I want. I was happy...and then came the Glee covers.

Apparently, Glee isn’t just a TV show. It’s a media empire. I blame WB aka, The CW for this trend (“Go to to download music by artists featured in this episode!” Of course they’re all signed by Warner Music.) No big deal, if people want to watch Glee and buy Glee albums, go nuts. I’m also not at all against cover versions of songs. Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” is a good song, but the cover by Johnny Cash is a great song. I usually end up playing it a second or third time. “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” has been covered by several people. John Lee Hooker really changed it and George Thorogood blended it and another John Lee Hooker song into the version we usually hear today. Well done all around.

Earlier I said I tried to create pretty narrow stations in an effort to get more of the specific styles I want, without picking up the entire catalog from the artist. Adele can really sing, but I don’t want every version of every Adele song ever recorded. Apparently Pandora has decided that one version of “Rolling in the Deep” is as good as another. Overachieving brunnette from Glee != Adele. Same thing with Amy Winehouse. The Glee version of “Rehab” came up on Monday and it took me a bit to figure out that the chorus of singers was hacking their way thru a song I had apparently asked Pandora to play. Swing and a miss.

I’m less bothered by the Glee cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”, but I still like the original. I really only like that one song from him so I don’t so much want to hear more of his songs as I just want to occasionally hear that exact song. Again, that song, not the Glee version. Last week I swear I heard more Glee covers than songs by the original artists. That’s not entirely true. This Glee-ification is only happening on my sorta slow, sorta current, whiney rock station. Apparently Glee doesn’t cover Melvins, Chevelle, Pantera, Buck-O-Nine, or Dead Kennedys.

Why didn’t I just vote down the cover versions of these songs? I don’t trust the results. If Pandora thought the Glee chorus version of Rehab was at all like the version I used as a seed for the station, what would it do if I thumbed it down? Having spent a bunch of time carefully crafting my Pandora stations, I think of them as fragile little snowflakes. A misplaced “thumbs down” could ruin the entire thing. Please Pandora, give me a “thumbs down, because Glee” button.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Cordless Drills are the Cornerstone of Society

I’m writing this right now to avoid the urge to go hang a bicycle hook in someone else’s garage. A neighbor came over a few minutes ago with her son. The wife and I are pretty introverted around our neighbors so while we have waved at her several times in the last six months, we only really met her last weekend when she came over to say hi while we were doing something in the front yard for a while. Nice lady, she gave us some good local tips on the ‘hood.

A few minutes ago, this same neighbor comes over with her teenage son and asks to borrow a drill. She wants to hang a big hook in her garage and screwing it in by hand would clearly not work. So, I give her the drill and a set of drill bits and off she goes. While I’m fetching my drill I’m thinking to myself “How in the hell does a woman who owns a home and is raising two kids not have a drill and a ⅛” bit?” That is followed by an almost unshakable urge to go do it for her. I mean if she doesn’t have a drill already maybe she’s not mechanically inclined and maybe everyone will be better off if I just go save the day.

Whatever this woman has done in life, she’s clearly made it this far without my help. She owns a house in a neighborhood where I am the sketchy renter that doesn’t talk to anyone. I have some evidence she’s kept at least two people alive from birth to somewhere beyond 14 years old. I’ve seen both kids, they seem reasonably well-dressed, well fed, etc. But of course she doesn’t have a drill so she needs me to come solve all her hook hanging problems. It’s not about me needing to control everything at all. Really.

She appears to be raising the kids on her own. Her son seemed to already understand how to work the chuck on my cordless and he knew roughly what size bit he wanted, so assuming she is head of that household it does seem odd there’s no cordless drill in their house. I consider the cordless drill pretty much the first power tool everyone should own. If you can afford anything beyond basic hand tools, make a cordless drill your first purchase. Many household tasks involve a drilling a pilot hole and it can often serve as a cordless screwdriver. But, it’s not my life so I decided to just give her what she asked for and leave it alone. I seem to have trouble guessing the right thing to do in these situations. I was in a similar situation years ago. When I didn’t react by offering to come do the whole thing, the neighbor hemmed and hawed until it was finally obvious to me I was supposed to go help, which is what I wanted to do all along.

This time, maybe it was all a trick on her part to force some social interaction. If so, good on her. We’re clearly not going to step up and she gave me the opportunity to embarrassingly ask her to repeat her name (I forgot it from last week).  I also got to meet her son, and I suddenly feel like a fairly normal neighbor. Or she really doesn’t have a drill and just needed to hang a hook in her garage.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Repost: Product design, Philz way

I admit it, I'm a Philz fan. It's hard to explain to someone until you take them there.

What Philz Coffee can teach us about product design (via Pando Daily)
I love Philz Coffee. Since I moved to San Francisco nearly three years ago, it’s become part of my routine, my go-to weekend workspace. Hundreds of cups later, I’ve noticed subtle hacks Philz uses to build a successful…

Monday, July 1, 2013


I have used screen for a long time. I recommend it to anyone who is unlucky enough to say something about terminals, ssh, or session disconnects anywhere near me. I’ve never been a screen power user though. I’ve always just got by with the basics for a single use case and haven’t had enough reason to invest in learning any more. I know this isn’t all screen can do, but in my mind, screen was always the thing I ran right away once I ssh’d into another box. Over the last few years, the number of places I kept a screen session waiting for me has dwindled down to a couple. It’s the same use case, a headless Linux box that has a long running screen session. I don’t think I’ve even used more than one window in screen in three years. It provides me with a saved state and I don’t have to think whether I’m running something in the ssh session before I close my laptop.

At my current job, when I run our product in my dev environment, I start three processes at the cmdline. I want all those cmdlines. I want their log output. I want to kill and restart them at particular times. This morning, I got fed up with trying to find a layout of terminal windows or tabs that I liked so I thought I would finally go learn more about screen to see if the solution had been under my nose all the time.

A quick bit of searching led me to to try tmux. It’s new (to me) and shiny and apparently I was looking for a distraction. A few minutes later, I had read a few tips and tricks posts  and had the following setup working.

My ~/.tmux.conf is in the upper left pane. For my debug cycle, the best thing about this is the line ‘bind = setw synchronize-panes’. With that, ‘Ctrl-b =’ toggles synchronized input for all panes. When this is toggled on, Ctrl-C breaks all three processes. Then ‘up-arrow’ followed by ‘enter’ gives me the last command ran in each pane and runs it. Simple. If I want to do more work in a single pane, I just toggle it off and ‘Ctrl-B o’ my way to that pane.

Like screen, If I accidently close the terminal window, the processes don’t die. If I intentionally stop the application processes and close the terminal window to get it out of my way on a Friday and for some reason don’t work again until Monday, I keep all my state, pane layout, etc just by doing ‘tmux attach’. My personal laptop is my main desktop computer and my work development computer. It seems like tmux and a BYOD [LINK: ]  laptop were made for each other.

It’ll take awhile to get the common keyboard shortcuts into muscle memory, but tmux has demonstrated enough value in such a short time that I know I’m going to take the time. I’m a fan.