Blogging since 1998. By David Wertheimer

Author: werty (Page 1 of 125)

A redesign

Well, that didn’t take long:

If inspiration strikes again, I may find a whole new template for the blog, too.

So now the Ideapad has a new, modern template, albeit still a work in progress. I seem to have gotten all the elements in place, cleaned up the font displays, and added a few more images to the header.

On some level, not much has changed, but mobile rendering should be nicer now, and I’ve lost the odd gray sidebars on desktop that never served much purpose.

There’s a bunch of work to be done as time permits—lots of extraneous horizontal lines, some odd elements from the template that I will continue to edit or excise (why is my blockquote gray and not indented?)—but in the meantime, we’re fresh and clean around here, and ready for the next decade of publishing.

Virtual office apps and the idea of space

I’m working with a client this winter that is a client of Roam. Still in beta, Roam’s premise is “to bring a whole distributed company together,” which means combining text, voice, video and conferencing functions in one place, with an added UI layer that creates a sense of space.

That last bit is the differentiator, and it’s interesting to experience. The default Roam screen is a grid of employees. There are additional, smaller visual grids off to the side, representing “floors.” Several of them are organized by department, while one floor contains meeting rooms of various sizes and an auditorium.

Each person has an “office” with quick links to booking appointments and sending text messages. An office has two spots in it, one for the employee and one empty. Anyone can click on the empty spot and invite themselves into their coworker’s space. It comes complete with a knock-knock audio ping. If the knockee accepts, two people can then talk voice directly to one another. Text messaging is available everywhere.

The most important feature of this app is that Roam tries to place its users for the benefit of everyone else. If I go into a meeting room, for example, I no longer show as being in my “office”; it’s empty until I exit the other room. When coworkers are in conversation, their icons pulse lightly when they speak. And if a user switches to Roam’s mobile app, it disconnects the desktop app, and vice versa—a person can’t be in two places at once, after all.

The idea is that Roam is replicating in-person office culture. If we’re in a modern, pre-pandemic office, we most likely have open floor plans, low cubicle walls and glass-walled rooms. We know who’s in a meeting, we see who’s doing a 1:1 or a pull-up or even having an idle chat with one another. Wouldn’t it be nice, Roam asks, if we work remotely and still have that?

What’s interesting to me is this sense of place. Roam’s assertion is that what remote offices are missing is the being-there component: looking across the way, knowing your colleague is plugging away at a file, noticing that two peers are in conversation, that a few other folks seem to have stepped away: finding a new level of situational awareness. Being there, as it were.

My colleagues like the Roam app because it feels tangible: they can see the whole company (60-odd employees) at once, and they know who’s around and what’s going on. It’s obvious that they miss in-person office culture despite embracing full remote.

I appreciate the sentiment. I’m a big fan of the Huddle feature in Slack, which I’ve described more than once as the desktop equivalent of, “Hey, got a sec?” And I get why a company or leadership team would want this. It’s nice to know by looking, just like a live office, who’s around. Even if it’s a bit apocryphal—the app doesn’t know, for example, if a user going idle represents a lunch break or an hour deep in code—it feels good to have a pulse on the cadence of the org. The team is actively thinking of ways to leverage that knowledge to improve cross-team communication and camaraderie, which is great.

What remains to be seen is whether this is an advantage, or if it undermines some of the very things that make remote work pleasant. I’m curious to see how the app evolves, and where its founders (who are rapidly iterating, and devouring user feedback) take it.

A light visual refresh

Regular visitors of the Ideapad (hi, Mom) may notice something different: I’ve updated the font. Ideapad now renders in Avenir Next.

I have actually been using this font elsewhere for a number of years. Earlier today, though, I stopped by furbo.org, and the crispness and easy readability of his site literally stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t recognize it at first, so I popped Craig Hockenberry a note, and he kindly told me what font I was looking at. Of course! Avenir Next is gorgeous, and it’s preinstalled on Macs, too (which is why I’ve been able to use it in, say, my old desktop Microsoft apps).

Many years have passed since design was a focus of my work here—this WordPress template is called Twenty Eleven, if that’s any indication—but I’ve been bothered for awhile by the readability of Helvetica Neue, the previous default Ideapad font, which was too thin and narrow for longer form text, at least as your author’s eyes have aged. Upgrading user-friendliness and visual appeal is a win-win.

One thing I noticed upon updating is that Avenir Next has a rather aggressive boldface. I need to explore demibold fonts and relative font weights at some point, but in the meantime, I’ve turned off a lot of the bold on these pages, including the post titles (which, if you’re truly into these sorts of things, have morphed from 26px Helevetica Neue bold to 30px Avenir Next regular).

If inspiration strikes again, I may find a whole new template for the blog, too. But in the meantime, enjoy the font update.

The year in cities 2022

Somehow I’ve been doing this for eighteen years. This past year was a good one, as I got back on an airplane for the first time since the pandemic started, for both work and fun, and took multiple interesting road trips. Away we go:

New City, NY *
New York (home base) *
Richmond, VA (somehow we did that more than once, too) *
Palm Beach Gardens, FL *
Plymouth Meeting, PA
Las Vegas *
Zion National Park, UT *
Bryce National Park, UT *
Grand Canyon Village, AZ *
Sedona, AZ
Scottsdale, AZ
Mexico City
Owls Head, ME
Greenport, NY
Gloucester, MA *
West Tisbury, MA *
Surfside, FL
Boston, MA *

Just quieting my twttr

It it not lost on me that the most recent post in this blog is about two wonderful Twitter feeds that I had the pleasure of crafting for the past decade-plus. If you want to know more about my experience on the platform, read that before you read this.

“Oh Elon” is how business writer Matt Levine titles all his Twitter screeds about the acquisition, and it’s a perfect encapsulation of how those of us who love Twitter have felt the past six months. The now-complete sale and in-progress upheaval of the essential social media platform have been a can’t-look-away event, startling and infuriating and exasperating and, most of all, sad.

In just a few weeks, Elon Musk has fired or encouraged the departure of the majority of Twitter’s staff, run roughshod over many hard-fought conventions, and made its users fearful that the site would, sooner than later, just stop working. It still seems fine, as of this writing, but Musk is showing his libertarian, nihilistic tendencies; he reinstated Donald Trump’s account earlier this evening, for one.

Many people have started avoiding the site in quiet protest and disgust. I suspect there’s no one moment that will push me off Twitter for good, though. It still fills useful holes in my day, from finding friends and colleagues to informing me about breaking news (and memes). Many of my must-read follows are still posting, so I have reason to stick around.

However, I weaned myself off Facebook pretty thoroughly a few years ago, and I will probably do the same with Twitter, too. I’m not a zealot; I have active accounts with Meta, for example, on all three of their platforms, and I’m actually on WhatsApp daily, because who isn’t? But I only check into Facebook occasionally, when an item of note brings me in (I don’t have the app on my phone), and I peek at Instagram just once or twice a month. My life online seems quite fine. And should Twitter continue its suspected arc—more buggy, more sludgy, more prone to boosting extremist political and anti-Semitic perspectives—I will shift my gaze from there, too.

I created a Mastodon account several years ago but didn’t get very far with it. I knew a handful of people with accounts, but there wasn’t much going on. Scaling social is hard! Well, guess what: in the past two weeks, I’ve come across more than 100 members of my Twitter universe on Mastodon, and activity is starting to pick up. If the trend continues, that’s where I’ll be, whenever I’m in the mood for short-form, public social posts and fast-breaking content.

Twitter has had a very long run. It would be lovely if it could continue.

My social media parenting journal

Way back in 2009, I had an idea: I wanted to post my young son’s utterances on Twitter.

At the time, Twitter was a fairly new service, and still open to experimentation. I wasn’t the first person to post his precocious kids’ quotes there, but it was a bit of a novelty nonetheless. I actually started a little too early to be social-media-level interesting; the first few tweets I posted were about individual words.

It wasn’t long, though, before my son got wordy, and clever, and hilarious. I kept grabbing my phone and jotting things down whenever he made me smile. I thought, at the time, that it’d be funny, maybe go viral a bit, or at least give my friends a laugh.

What I got instead was something different. The tweets stayed fun, but also started capturing the sweet, the poignant, and the magical. As he got older, it inadvertently started to chronicle not just his progress, but his personality.

I soon spun up a Twitter feed for my younger son, too, which captured his own distinct character, including his growth (for example, how he went from individual words to full sentences in a matter of weeks) and his own takes on the world.

And so it went, for years and years. My sons got increasingly sophisticated but no less quotable. And I kept tweeting. It got tougher as they got older–we try not to stare at our phones when we’re together as a family, and they didn’t always want to be recorded. But the feeds endured and grew, for more than a decade.

In recent months, I’ve realized we’ve basically outgrown it. My boys are too mature now, their humor contextual and nuanced, and no longer the stuff of pithy short-form text capture. (Indeed, they’re old enough to have their own social media feeds, should they want them.) But once in a while I’ll catch and record a gem. And as it stands, the archive is wonderful. The boys enjoy reading their own histories once in awhile, and each other’s, simply because it’s such a delightful way to revisit the past.

Alongside the photo albums, the videos and the mementos, my children’s Twitter feeds are, unexpectedly, one of the most cherished items of their formative years. 

Best of all, they’re easy to share: https://twitter.com/nathan_says and https://twitter.com/says_eli. Have fun exploring.

Tennis balls and the failures of the Amazon ecommerce model

I played tennis Monday afternoon and noticed our tennis balls were just about through their useful life. After dinner, I started wondering how to replace them, living in my Upper West Side apartment, closer to the tennis courts than anyplace that would sell balls (the courts don’t, although they should).

Offhand, I couldn’t think of anyplace local to run in. Modell’s closed down, taking both local sporting goods stores out of our neighborhood. There’s a Target up here, but it’s way over on Columbus Avenue, and I don’t go over there much. We have some bodegas and 99-cent stores, but I’m not familiar with most of them, and didn’t want to wander around asking who has a sleeve of Pro Penns.

In an attempt to solve my problem immediately, I went, as we have been conditioned, to Amazon. Surely I could get some tennis balls shipped to the apartment before our next court time, on Thursday. (Disclosure: we are Amazon shareholders and Prime members.)

Turns out, yes, I could. But not in any useful way. Because Amazon’s model is cost-effective shipping, there’s no reasonable size worth buying; the site pushes you toward bulk: sacks of 18 balls, packs of 12 sleeves. Not what I’m after.

In addition, because Amazon is a marketplace focused on generating shipments with margin, the prices were awful. A can of tennis balls is $2.99 at retail, give or take. Not on amazon.com: they’re as much as $12, as I write this, for one sleeve of three balls. Even in bulk sizes, the prices don’t budge: I found $27.50 for four sleeves, for example ($6.88 per sleeve), and $59 for twelve ($4.92 per). Sure, you can get tennis balls tomorrow, but only if you’re compelled to leverage the free shipping and ignore the exorbitant prices.

Amazon’s current business model takes 34 cents on the dollar from its vendors. To sell me a four-pack of tennis balls, a reseller on amazon.com feels the need to charge $27.50 (at the time of this writing). After the reported 34% Amazon take, the vendor’s recognized revenue is around $18—still not three bucks a can, but at least not egregious. But Amazon isn’t concerned that the product is overpriced, it has that Prime lock-in. The site thus converts an ignorant shopper, traps a hurried one, or turns off one who’s paying attention. That last one, tonight, was me.

After a detour to the Dick’s Sporting Goods website, where tennis ball prices were fair ($18 for six cans) but free-shipping hurdles were high, I wound up on target.com. They sold me a four-pack of cans for $11.19. And because I have a similar relationship with Target as I do with Amazon, I threw in a few household staples and got free shipping, albeit a day or two slower than amazon.com.

And it turns out that Target on Columbus has individual tennis ball sleeves in stock. Maybe I’ll walk the dog over there and pick some up for Thursday.

My covid

For two-plus years, I have been a model of safety, consistency and restraint in the face of the covid-19 pandemic. I was among the first to stock up on supplies for the lockdowns; one of the first to acquire, and rely on, KN95 masks; one of the most cautious in public spaces. I made my family mask up in the most innocuous of situations and maintained a useful wariness everywhere I went. Everyone in my household was vaccinated and boosted at the earliest eligible moment.

We let our guard down when we could—socializing more during the summer 2021 ebb, throwing my son a mask-free bar mitzvah reception in October (negative tests required)—but to this day I am easily identified as the guy with the mask hanging around his neck, putting it back on as soon as appropriate. Never mind that many people are moving on from masks; never mind that in many parts of the country, covid-19 infection rates are fairly low. Better safe than sorry.

Two weeks ago, when we embarked on eight days of outdoor activity in the national parks of the American Southwest, guess who brought his mask everywhere? Me, that’s who. Stuck on a line? Talking to the hotel concierge? Mask up. My younger son joined me, two lonely beacons of caution in an increasingly carefree world. Covid’s still out there, and we weren’t going to be caught off guard.

Well, guess what.

I woke up Saturday morning in Phoenix with a pesky cough. (I also threw my back out in the shower; I don’t believe it was related, although it made things much more interesting.) I had virtually no appetite but chalked it up to the cough and the backache. I flew home uneventfully, masked in my KN95 all the way.

Sunday morning, my cough was worse, and seemed like a sinus infection was brewing, so I popped across the street to my local urgent care. They took my vitals and swabbed my nose. In came the doctor: “What seems to be the problem today?”

“Well, I sometimes get sinus infections, and I have all the signs of one, so here I am.”

“You don’t have a sinus infection,” he said, with just enough levity, “you have covid.”

The ensuing days have been… tiring. I began isolating immediately, although I’d already spent the evening and morning with my family unawares. Urgent care helpfully pescribed me a course of Paxlovid, which Alto pharmacy unhelpfully delivered three hours late, whereupon I headed to my in-laws’ empty house in suburbia to isolate. Too late: on Monday, my wife tested positive, and on Tuesday, my younger son, he of the diligent masking, got it as well. I brought him out of the city to ride out the virus with me.

It’s Wednesday, and the three of us have experienced a full slate of covid symptoms. I will personally remind you, dear reader, that covid-19 is no joke, no matter how many people tell you it’s “just like the flu” and “not a big deal.” We have coped with fever, chills, achiness, congestion, coughs and substantial amounts of fatigue. I think the Paxlovid made a real difference in reducing my viral load, but it still wiped me out, and I’ve had waves of tiredness all day today, my fifth day of symptoms.

“Covid sucks,” my son keeps saying. He has been a model of perseverance and good-naturedness despite (in adult terms) really feeling like shit. I’m on the mend but there’s a ways to go for us all.

Next week, I look forward to leveraging my brief immunity around New York: I’m going to dine out, get a massage, go to WeWork without unease. But I’ll still have my mask around my neck, ready to wear. Because if the last thing I wanted was to get covid-19, the last thing I want going forward is to get it again.

Sedecordle is the best -rdle

You’ve been playing Wordle the past few months, haven’t you? Who hasn’t? It’s a great little game, a couple of minutes of diversion, deep thought and great satisfaction. I play it almost every day.

To everyone’s delight, Wordle quickly spawned knock-offs, all in the open-source, free-to-play spirit of the original. I play a bunch of them. There are all sorts of variants, from words to maps to songs to movie stills. They all have their charms, and the internet is a little more fun as a result.

As someone who likes word puzzles, I’ve spent most of my -rdle gaming time on the letter games, espeically the spin-offs. Wordle begat Dordle, which is two wordles solved simultaneously; that led to Quordle, and the multiplying went from there: eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four. Many of them even use the same codebase.

You can play them in order, which is fun, or you can just hit the best ones: Wordle, the original, and Sedecordle.

Wordle is a brain teaser, great for all the well-documented reasons. Sedecordle is a puzzle: 16 words, 22 total guesses, each attempt painting in different parts of each grid. It is part word search, part crossword and part jigsaw puzzle, requiring dexterity and clever construction to find every word in time. It takes a few more minutes than Wordle, but like any good word game, the satisfaction that comes from completing it is great.

Sedecordle is inherently solvable, but not easy. I try to crack it in as few as 18 rounds, but I still lose outright maybe once a week. A word with multiple uncommon options (PATCH, MATCH, WATCH) can quickly undermine the day.

The others? All worthy, just not as satisfying. Dordle is a great little trifle, as is Quordle (although their word choices are much more esoteric). The 32- and 64-word options are noble but more of an endurance exercise than a game; they use every single letter, and with patience it’s just a matter of filling in words. Octordle alludes to the promises of Sedecordle, but the eight word grid is not as compelling as sixteen.

So: sedecordle. Enjoy.

The year in cities 2021

Seventeenth year! Despite not getting on a plane, because 2021, we managed to take half a dozen trips out of town, see several new places, and spend a whopping 58 nights sleeping somewhere besides my apartment. (That’s a remarkably high total for me, and is due largely to our pandemic snowbirding in February.)

Richmond, VA
Palm Beach Gardens, FL *
Savannah, GA
New City, NY *
Pittsfield, MA
Asbury Park, NJ
Newport, RI *
Gloucester, MA *
West Tisbury, MA *

Interesting firsts from this year include: throw my son a triumphal bar mitzvah; drive from New York City to Florida (so NBD we almost did it twice); play tennis on grass, in tennis whites, on the showcase court, at the Tennis Hall of Fame; get an entire new sunroof, headliner and carpet for our car at no cost; work 8-4 with daily tennis or golf for an entire month; run errands on a Citibike e-bike, and on a Revel scooter; bring a dog on the beach at the Jersey shore; eat Rhode Island clam chowder; turn a side hustle into a career opportunity; break 100 on a round of golf (for the first time in several years); find a starfish in a Bass Rocks tide pool (first time in at least 20 years); play paintball (first time in 29 years); get a virus vaccination at the Javits Center (first time ever).

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