Captain Mitch’s Whiz-Bang PR Tips! (a continuing series)

Note to my friends in PR: One of the best ways you can enhance my chances of writing about your news is to tell me about it before it’s announced. This is called an “embargo,” and it’s common between PR people and business journalists. (An embargo is an agreement though – don’t just send me your news and assume I’ll sit on it. Ask first.)

When I see an email from a PR person that says their client announced a thing this morning – i.e. it was already public by the time I got the email – my pinky finger is starting to move to the DELETE key.

If Apple Mail performance is slow, uncheck “Load Remote Content” in preferences

My work mail is Microsoft Office 365, which I access using Mail.app on the Mac. Recently, I noticed performance had become so slow as to become painful. Mail downloaded just fine, but when I clicked on a message it took forever to open, and when I marked a message as read it took forever for the message status to change.

The solution: Go into “Preferences” and make sure “Load remote content in messages” is unchecked. Loading remote content means the Mac has to go out to the Internet and download images, which takes time.

It’s probably a good idea to uncheck that for security reasons as well as for performance.

I don’t recall whether that box is checked or unchecked by default. Previously, I had it checked – messages set to download remote content automatically. And that’s what was slowing down my Mail performance. I unchecked it, and mail performs just fine for me now.

If I want to see remote content, such as images, for a particular message, I can click a button on the top of each individual message, and the remote content downloads quickly enough.

Most of the time I don’t bother. I don’t bother reading about 99% of the email I receive anymore.

A note to my PR friends

Your pitch needs to fit in the length of a tweet. I am not kidding about this. I have 2,400 unread emails now, mostly PR pitches. I give a pitch one sentence to get my attention. If it hasn’t grabbed me by then, I just hit delete and move on. (signed) A Cranky Editor

Overheating MacBook Air problem solved (I think)

I think I resolved my problem with the MacBook Air overheating. A gentleman on Reddit said the keyboard cover I’d bought to keep the MBA clean was suffocating the machine. It’s running cool as a cucumber now.

I may try again to move the MacBook Air in front of the big display, which is where I like it. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for having it off to one side and out of harm’s way.

The problem with using the Internet for work

The problem with using the Internet for work is you start in one place, and end up in another, bewildering, and clearly not-work-related place, and have no idea how you got there.

This is particularly true when you’re a journalist, as I am. It is even more true when you’re using Facebook.

I started out doing this legitimate work thing and ended up reading about the Riverworld series of science fiction novels, which I love, and which begat not one but two TV series pilots. Which is odd, because after a TV pilot fails once it’s surprising to see someone try it again seven years later.

I have absolutely no idea how I got from where I started to Riverworld.

Although if the novels are correct, we are all going to Riverworld eventually.

The novels are fantastic – or at least the first three are – and I’d love to see somebody do them right for TV.

Troubleshooting my overheating MacBook Air

For nearly the last 20 years I’ve been working on a laptop configuration with the laptop off to one side, propped open, and attached to a big external display. The external display is my main desktop, and the open laptop is secondary. I use an external keyboard and trackball to drive the thing.

A month or so ago I moved the laptop — currently a 2015 MacBook Air, which I bought new — to the FRONT of the display. That meant the laptop screen was below the big monitor, and I was typing on the laptop’s built-in keyboard and using its built-in trackpad. I LOVED that. I got much better use out of the laptop display.

But I noticed it was running slow. I opened Activity Monitor and found a process called kernel_task was using up a ton of memory and CPU. What the hell is kernel_task, I asked myself. Google to the rescue.

kernel_task is a fake process — it intentionally soaks up processor resources to slow your Mac down and keep it cool.

I could hear the fan running loud.

Aha, I said to myself.

Elsewhere on the Internet (I’ve lost the link) I saw a suggestion that using a big external display and the onboard display together could make a MacBook Air overheat. That’s lots of pixels for the Air’s relatively wee processor to draw.

Another potential cause of overheating: Running the MacBook Air on a surface that does not provide adequate ventilation.

I was doing all of that. So I moved the MacBook back to its stand, and kept working.

This morning, I noticed the MacBook was running slow and hot again, even while I had it on a stand with adequate ventilation. So I closed the clamshell on the MacBook and am just using the big display as my only monitor. The MacBook performance improved a little right away, and now the fans are off and the MacBook is running pretty well.

I’m about to take my exercise break. I’m going to shut down the Mac and let it cool completely while I’m out. Then I’m going to try one other thing: I bought a keyboard condom back when I was using the MacBook keyboard as my primary input; it’s possible that the condom is blocking air flow and causing the MacBook to overheat. I’ll try getting rid of that and see if I can at least get the two-display benefits by keeping the MacBook open and to one side while I work.

Although on the other hand there’s something to be said for the focus of having just one display.

Update Sunday 4/8: Problem solved (I think).

Next time will be different

Me every six months:

“I hear DevonThink is a great app. I have never given it a good workout. I need to give it a fair try!”

[opens DevonThink]

[overcome by confusion]

[closes DevonThink]

At this rate my eval period will last 40 years and I’ll never have to buy it.

TARDIS in my bathroom

When we remodeled the bathrooms last year, I asked Julie for something Tardis-like in mine bathroom, because I am such a Doctor Who fan. But (I said) I don’t want it to be weird and fannish and obvious – make it discreet, I said.

She had this pattern of very small tiles put in next to the shower control, which is just perfect.

Mildly interesting encounter with a possible paid Russian troll

A few months ago, I was still getting drive-bys writing random pro-Trump inflammatory slogans on some of my political posts on various social media sites. These seemed to be cut-and-paste comments, insulting liberals and only tangentially related to anything I actually wrote.

To amuse myself, I started replying with comments like, “Greetings comrade! Do you get paid in rubles or dollars?” “How is the benefits program for pro-Russia trolling?” “Is it very cold in Moscow this time of year?” and so on. I really had no idea whether these were actually paid Russian trolls or garden-variety American trolls. I was just amusing myself at the expense of random rude strangers.

I was thinking last night about this one guy who showed up a few months ago. He left the usual “Libtards die! Trump rules! MAGA!” rubbish, and I replied in kind and I figured we were done. But then he started turning up on other posts – and he was just posting regular comments there. I’d post a cat video and he’d make a comment, “Cute!” I’d post a car ad from the 1950s and he’d comment “Great car!” And then after a couple of days of that I never heard from him again.

I was thinking about this exchange the other night. Imagine you’re a guy working for a Russian troll farm. You work in an open office somewhere in Moscow. You sit at your computer, running searches on keywords in social media and leaving inflammatory comments on American social media posts. It’s a job, like any other, and you take breaks from work like everybody else. You notice this one guy “Mitch Wagner” – you left one of your troll-comments on one of his posts the other day, and noticed that most of this guy Mitch’s posts aren’t political. Many are, but Mitch also posts a lot of cute animal videos and retro ads from the 70s and stuff. They’re mildly entertaining so you check out his page every once in a while and when you see something you like you leave a nice comment. Then after a couple of days of that you lose interest and move on.

I saw this written on the sidewalk near home.

Startup idea: Google competitor called “Giggle,” a search engine for kitten GIFs. 

It’s exciting to get a delivery from Amazon, even if it’s a bullshit purchase. “OMG my toothpaste is here! I’m so excited!”

Telemarketing

I’ve been getting several robo-spam phone calls daily for the last few weeks. They seem to be coming from my area code and exchange, (619) 402-XXXX.

On the one hand, it’s a pain in the ass.

On the other hand, as robocalls go these are easily filtered. If I see a call coming in from (619) 402, I just reject it.

Telemarketing is a perfect microcosm of the failure of our current system of government and economy. The only people who like telemarketing are the very small segment of the population that makes money off it. These people are basically stealing other people’s property, same as if I came into your house and borrowed your car for a while without your permission. Everybody else in the world hates telemarketers. In a functional democracy, telemarketing would have been banned instantaneously, the moment it began – but we do not live in a functional democracy, and so telemarketing has lingered and festered for 25 years.

Related: For the past few years, when strangers start a conversation with me, I generally assume they want money from me, so I greet them with a cold, hostile face. So maybe telemarketing isn’t such a trivial issue after all, in that it contributes to alienation from each other.

Same for email. I just got an email from a stranger commenting about a blog post I did on weight loss. I got a warm feeling for a second, but then I saw it was a robo-generated message from someone who wanted me to add a link to their report on dieting – SEVEN SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN TIPS! When I get email from strangers, I assume it’s someone who wants me to send them money, or do something that will help them make money. If I get an email from a stranger, my finger is hovering over the delete key before I even start to read it.

Things vs. Omnifocus for managing to-dos on the Mac, iPad and iPhone

I switched from Things to OmniFocus a month ago, but now I have gone back to Things.

Omnifocus is too fussy. It really, really wants you to add tasks to projects and areas, and that’s extra work.

Many of the tasks I create in a to-do list come from email, and on OmniFocus, adding tasks from email on Mac is broken. On the other hand, Things handles that easily.

Both Things and OmniFocus will let you forward email to the app – which is great when reviewing email on your phone – but Things adds a nice touch to that process. Things adds a link back to the original mail. So when I’m back at my Mac, I can just click a link in the Things task and I’m back to the email I want to deal with.

Things is a better-looking app than Omnifocus. Reviewers often use words like “gorgeous” and “breathtaking” to describe Things, which makes me roll my eyes so hard I might strain something. It’s an app, not a painting or sunset. Still, Things is a nice-looking app, nicer looking than OmniFocus, and that’s something.

Things makes it easier than OmniFocus to just add all your to-dos to one long list, while also breaking out additional projects and areas where needed. Like I said, OmniFocus really, really wants everything neatly sorted out into projects and areas and stuff, and that’s an unnecessary hassle for the way I work.

Things supports tags, and you can assign keyboard shortcuts to tags, which makes it easy to prioritize tasks.

Because organizing tasks on OmniFocus requires thought, I was letting them stack up in a disorganized pile and therefore I stopped trusting Omnifocus, which is fatal for to-do list software. Friday, I started out the day by writing a note in Apple Notes of what I needed to do. That’s exactly what I need to-do list software for. At that moment, OmniFocus had become effectively useless.

One area where I do like Omnifocus better: You can attach images to tasks. Things does not support attachments, though you can link to items, such as docs stored in Evernote or Dropbox, which is an ok workaround.

I am writing this so the next time I am tempted to try this silly time-wasting experiment I will hopefully just check this note and save myself the hassle.

Tricking myself

There’s a productivity trick that almost always works and I don’t use it anywhere near often enough. 

For the past couple of days, I’ve been worrying about a report I need to create at work – not an article, an internal report, which I’m not accustomed to doing. The deadline is approaching, and my stress is ratcheting up. It’d take a few hours to do – not a lot of time, but I didn’t feel like I had that time to spare. 

Today I said to myself, “Look, just open a Microsoft Word document, pick a template, put your name at the top and then you’ll have started it at least.” It’d only take five minutes (I thought) but it’s five minutes less work I’d have to do later. 

And I did that and then I figured, well, might as well do the first paragraph. And having done the first paragraph, I figured why not do the second. And having done the second….

And now the document is nearly done. It will probably need just a half-hour to polish and then I can send it on its way. 

Why don’t I do that trick more often? Because it works every goddamn time. 

So this happened

I went to the doctor for a checkup (strong like bull). He wants me to get a flushot in the pharmacy in the lobby – not our usual pharmacy but alrighty that’s fine. At the pharmacy, we run into an insurance problem – insurance company says it’s expired though I know it is not because we get prescriptions filled (at our regular pharmacy). I go through my wallet and give the desk person other insurance cards – I do not throw out insurance cards because they confuse me, but apparently pharmacies are not impressed by the number of insurance cards you have; you need to have the right one. I text Julie and now she is looking for insurance cards too. 

As this is going on I get a phone call from an unidentified 800 number. Usually I ignore phone calls from unidentified 800-numbers; I figure they are either spam or scams. But I think this one might be insurance-related, so I take it. It is not insurance-related; it is my credit card company letting me know they detected fraudulent activity. 

So now I’m dealing with that, while Julie is looking for a functional insurance card, and the woman at the pharmacist is waiting for the whole thing to be resolved. 

And I’m thinking, have I died and gone to the Beetlejuice afterlife?

Courting controversy

In 2017, I’ve had to realize some of my beliefs that I took for granted are in fact controversial — they even mark me as some kind of far-left radical.

These beliefs include:

  • All people deserve equal treatment, regardless of race or religion. (I also think those things about gender and sexual orientation, but I knew those beliefs were controversial in some quarters.)

  • Russia is not America’s friend.

  • Don’t show your weiner to somebody without their permission.

  • Don’t touch other people’s butts, boobs, thighs or crotch without their permission either.

  • Grown men dating teen-age girls? Not cool.

  • Adolf Hilter was a bad man.

Our neighborhood Little Free Library

I ended up this summer with one spare copy each of “Walkaway” by Cory Doctorow, and “The Collapsing Empire,” by John Scalzi. I put them on my bedroom bureau, intending to donate them to the local public library, but I never got around to it.

Then one night walking the dog with Julie this week, she commented that one of the neighbors had put up a Little Free Library. Oho, I said, and next time I was walking the dog I brought the books and dropped the books in the box.

And now here is why I had those spare copies: Over the course of the beginning of the year, I started wondering if I would enjoy reading paper books. I’ve been an ebook-only guy since 2010. I just plain like ebooks – they’re portable, and because I can read them on my phone, they are literally always with me. But I hear my book-reading friends raving about the pleasures of print books, and I figured I wanted to give them another try.

And I did, and read about five pages and said do – not – want. Later, I read the ebook edition of “Walkaway” and enjoyed it, and I expect I will soon enough read “The Collapsing Empire” and enjoy that too.

But that left me with two print books to dispose of, and now I finally have, in a way that will not go to waste. And I will have the pleasure of checking on them every day on our walks to see if they’ve gone anywhere.

P.S. MONTHS after buying the two hardcover books, it occurred to me that I could have experimented with print books by TAKING ONE OUT OF THE LIBRARY, thus saving myself some coin. But instead I put some money in the pocket of authors I like, and donated to a Little Free Library, so it’s all good.

Star Trek Continues

“Pilgrim of Eternity” is the delightful first episode of “Star Trek Continues,” a fan-produced Star Trek series that picks up the original TV show where it left off, reproducing the visual and storytelling style. The script plays as if Gene Roddenberry himself had commissioned and revised it. The sets look the same, the Enterprise looks the same, the costumes and props look the same, the lighting is the same. It’s even got the same music.

Watching it is like seeing the first episode of a fourth season of Star Trek, where for some reason the characters had been recast with actors who look and act sort of like the original.

This episode is a sequel to “Who Mourns for Adonais,” where the Enterprise meets the Greek god Apollo. In the timeline of the show, it’s just two years later, and the Enterprise encounters Apollo again, only now the godlike alien has been aged many decades because of an accident involving the technology that gave Apollo his powers. The artificial aging gimmick creates an opportunity for Michael Forrest, the original actor who played Apollo nearly 50 years ago, to recreate the role in a 2013 production.

The mastermind behind “Star Trek Continues” is Vic Mignogna, who also plays Captain Kirk in a William Shatnerian fashion. Appearing as Mr. Scott is Chris Doohan, whose father was James Doohan, the actor who originated the role. And Marina Sirtis, who played Counselor Troi on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” does the voice of the ships computer.

The episode is a lot of fun. It’s great to see a new episode of something that looks and plays like the original Star Trek. There are 10 more episodes and I plan to watch them all.