Monthly Archives: April 2019

Here comes the screenless internet

This is really interesting: Farhad Manjoo experiments with the “screenless Internet” — doing everything by voice instead of computer or phone. He’s having a lot of success with it.

I love to walk and have sometimes speculated that someday in the future I’d be able to do my whole job just walking around, talking and listening into AirPods. Manjoo seems to be doing just that — today. Or he’s nearly there.


Here’s what I do: Instead of writing, I speak. When a notable thought strikes me — I could be pacing around my home office, washing dishes, driving or, most often recently, taking long, aimless strolls on desolate suburban Silicon Valley sidewalks — I open RecUp, a cloud-connected voice-recording app on my phone. Because I’m pretty much always wearing wireless headphones with a mic — yes, I’m one of those AirPod people — the app records my voice in high fidelity as I walk, while my phone is snug in my pocket or otherwise out of sight.

And so, on foot, wandering about town, I write. I began making voice memos to remember column ideas and short turns of phrases. But as I became comfortable with the practice, I started to compose full sentences, paragraphs and even whole outlines of my columns just by speaking.

Then comes the magical part. Every few days, I load the recordings into Descript, an app that bills itself as a “word processor for audio.” Some of my voice memos are more than an hour long, but Descript quickly (and cheaply) transcribes the text, truncates the silences and renders my speech editable and searchable. Through software, my meandering memos are turned into a skeleton of writing. The text Descript spits out is not by any means ready for publication, but it functions like a pencil sketch: a rough first draft that I then hammer into life the old-fashioned way, on a screen, with a keyboard….

I do the best of my research through interviews — somebody talks to me and I write down what they say. Additionally, I’m often talking with colleagues and writing down to-dos during the conversation. Hard to imagine going screenless for those things.

I recently realized I’ve been wearing my AirPods wrong. Well, I knew they were wrong before; rather than having the stems hanging down, like most people, I screwed the AirPods into my ears and the stems stuck out horizontally. But recently I realized that they were actually more comfortable if I wore them the regular way. They felt like they were going to fall out, but they are pretty secure. And they stay connected to the iPhone better, and respond better to touch controls.

Also, I can hear external sounds very clearly when I wear them properly. For many people, that’s a flaw in the AirPods, but to me it’s a feature. If I want to talk with someone standing in front of me, I can leave the AirPods in and talk with them normally. Indeed, if I have a few phone calls during the day, I sometimes just leave the AirPods in my ears.

So yes I can see the screenless internet coming, not far away. We’ll still use our phones and PCs quite a bit, just a lot less than before, just as we now use our PCs quite a bit but less than we used to since smartphones came along.

A nitpicky note on Manjoo’s column: I don’t understand what this RecUp app does that Voice Memos doesn’t do. I get that it lets you record without having to title your individual recordings, but you can do that with Voice Memos too. Just … don’t title them.

I found Manjoo’s column to be quite exciting, actually. So much so that I wanted to write this response right away. So I reached for the keyboard near the couch, propped up the iPad, and tapped out this post. Nope, we’re not at the screenless internet just yet.

Ramon Novarro

Ramon Novarro was a Mexican-American actor, singer, 1920s-30s Hollywood movie heartthrob, and closeted gay man, who was the victim of a brutal murder in 1968.

This is the last episode of the You Must Remember This podcast as it goes on indefinite hiatus. I’ve listened to every episode and I’ll miss it.

Ed Boyden on Minding your Brain

On Conversations with Tyler, hosted by Tyler Cowen:

Ed Boyden builds the tools and technologies that help researchers think about and treat the brain, an organ we still know surprisingly little about. When it comes to how our brains make decisions, form emotions, and exhibit consciousness, there is still a lot we can learn.

But just as fascinating as the tools Boyden and his team build is the way in which they build them. Boyden employs a number of methods to design more useful tools, such as thinking backwards from the problem, hiring eclectic talent, practicing a particular type of meditation, waking long before dawn, or just trying the opposite of what’s already been attempted.

Would emulating the brain require emulating the entire body? Is consciousness fundamental to the universe, or is it actually just an illusion? Does a certain disharmony in thought lead to creativity? Why don’t people don’t feel comfortable talking about their brains? And why is it so hard for us to be empathetic with one another?

Progressives should worry more about the odds that Joe Biden will win

Progressives assume Biden will fail on his own. But Biden is doing strong in the polls, and it’s not just name recognition.

Most Democrats are not Progressives. They aren’t paying close attention to the primaries yet. And they like Biden. They think of him as a likable Vice President to a President they liked, says Matthew Yglesias in this article.

For what it’s worth, reading my own Facebook feed, I agree. My middle-aged (like me), moderate Democrat and even conservative friends loathe and despise Trump every bit as much as I do. And yet they are disgusted by what they see as a dangerous move to the far left by the Democratic Party. They’d love to see a BIden candidacy.

The problem for progressives is that Biden is conservative. Or, as his supporters — and those rank-and-file Democrats who aren’t paying close attention — would say, Biden is moderate. More conservative than Obama, who has said he hopes his successor would be more progressive than he was. As Yglesias notes, Obama has said if he head healthcare reform to do over again, he’d go for the single payer option.

As for me: Biden is not my first choice, and I have misgivings about his conservative record, and I’ll probably volunteer for one of his opponents in the primary. But if I wake up one morning in Jan. 2021 and Biden is taking the oath of office, I’m OK with that. I’ll be grinning ear to ear.

Lisa Ling & Awkwafina: Shut Up, Let Me Shine

Awkwafina grew up Nora Lum in Queens, and was raised by her father and grandmother after her mother died when she was four years old. Guest host Lisa Ling talks with Awkwafina about how she coped with that loss by developing a sense of humor early on, and about why—despite feeling a lot of money anxiety—she isn’t afraid to turn down high-paying gigs.

New Heinlein

A new Robert A. Heinlein novel is in the pipeline, based on a previously undiscovered edition of “The Number of the Beast.”

I have misgivings. Some Heinlein enthusiasts believe “The Number of the Beast,” published 1980-ish after a long hiatus from writing, was written while Heinlein was cognitively impaired due to circulatory problems in his brain, and rush-edited by Virginia Heinlein, his wife, and sent to publishers because the Heinleins needed the bucks.

Heinlein biographer William Paterson is skeptical about that theory. “Number” is certainly of a piece with the later Heinlein.

“Number” is one of my least favorite Heinleins. If it didn’t have his name on the cover, I don’t know that I would have even gotten through it.

One Heinlein fan — not present here — recently said that when reading Heinlein you should read his early and middle works and stop at “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,” except for maybe you can read “Friday” too.

And stay away from “Stranger in a Strange Land;” it’s crap.

I agree with that, though I’d also add “Job: a Comedy of Justice” to the “maybe” list.

And I’d also say the first third of “Stranger” has its charms if you’re a retro-future fan like me. On the one hand, Heinlein circa 1960 predicts an early 21st Century with self-lighting cigarettes! Flying cars! Mars missions! 3D TV! and picturephones! But no Internet or smartphones, and though there is something like a fax machine it’s rare and expensive and a sign of main character Ben Caxton’s clout as a journalist that he has one for his own private use.)


Of course I will! The day it comes out!

Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

“Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad. Hiro used to feel that way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this is liberating. He no longer has to worry about trying to be the baddest motherfucker in the world. The position is taken.”

A Few More Words from Roger Zelazny: On Ellison, Delany, and Brust

Roger Zelazny, one of my favorite writers, shares funny and interesting anecdotes about Steven Brust and Harlan Ellison — two other favorites — and Samuel Delany, for whom I have enormous respect.

Zelazny and Delany were often confused for each other by fans, because the names are somewhat similar, and they eventually authorized the other to sign each others’ books,.

A Few More Words from Roger Zelazny: On Ellison, Delany, and Brust

Those pants