Category Archives: Things

Things Mitch Wagner Saw

Our first full day home

It was quite a trip home. We started in Sossusvlei in Namibia. Took a chartered flight to Windhoek, which is the capital of Namibia, and then a commercial flight from Windhoek to JoBurg. That was something like seven hours, including drive time. Chartered flight means a small plane; we were the only two passengers. Took me some getting used to but now I think it’s the only way to fly! Impractical for anything but short hops, alas.

We spent the night at an airport hotel in Joburg, and then spent about four hours touring the city. I am not impressed by Joburg. It seems to me the only reason to go there is economic. Maybe you’re a poor black African from a rural village, looking to get onto the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Maybe you’re a millionaire looking to become a billionaire. I hear parts of South Africa are wonderful, particularly Cape Town. JoBurg does not seem to me to be one of those places.

Then 28.5 hours from JoBurg to home. And I can’t sleep on planes

My routine when traveling to Europe on business is to arrive a day early, in the morning, and force myself to stay up all day until past 7 pm and get out and walk around the city in sunlight Then I crash for about 10-12 hours. This goes a long way to mitigating the worst of jet lag. I had hoped to do something similar yesterday. Instead I slept from 1-7 pm, woke up for 2-3 hours, showered, shaved ate, and went back to sleep until about 5 am. Still, I’m feeling like adjustment to local time is well under way.


Julie and I are back from a wonderful, 25-day safari through Botswana and Namibia, with brief stops in Johannesburg.

We bounced along dirt paths in African jungles for hours every day, and navigated rivers in small boats, viewing exotic animals, birds and plants with local guides.

We visited a rural school, and a tribal village where people live much as they have for thousands of years.

We flew in smalll planes with spectacular views of the mountains and deserts.

We saw lions and leopards devour their prey, as well as baboons, giraffes, monkeys, cheetahs, hippos, rhinoceroses, and elephants. So many elephants. Never got tired of the elephants.

We slept in comfortable tents on full beds, with showers and toilets open to the beautiful landscape outdoors. We woke up and were out on the trail before dawn, with temperatures in the low 40s – all but one of those tents and cabins were unheated – and temperatures climbed above 100 some days. This was in African winter.

We ate copious quantities of delicious food, much of it as good as you would find in any fine dining restaurant. I developed quite a fondness for African porridge with dried fruit. Also, my pants, which fit fine when we left, are now snug; I think it’s because they use metric measurements there.

And now we’re happy to be home.

I hated the most recent episode of Game of Thrones but it has stayed with me all week

Now I’ve completely changed my mind. It’s great TV.

All the flaws are still there but, I can’t shake the image of Dany, who we thought would be a kind and wise Queen, cruelly and unnecessarily firebombing King’s Landing, either on whim or as a strategic decision.

It doesn’t matter why she did it, because that’s not what the episode was about. It was about putting yourself in the position of an average citizen of King’s Landing, a baker or blacksmith, watching your home and children burn because an orphan from across the sea decided she deserved to be queen and has a dragon to back her up.

Think that’s just fantasy? Ask someone who lived in Hiroshima or Syria or the Ukraine or Dresden or a Muslim who lives in China.

The central theme of Game of Thrones has always been that you don’t know who is going to win the game, but you surely know who loses, and those are the regular people unfortunate enough to be caught on the board when the gameplay starts.

Question about Facebook Live video for Pages

I volunteer for the local Democratic club. Part of my responsibility for them has been to stream meetings live over Facebook, on our Facebook page. I use my iPhone XS for that. I want to stream it in landscape mode, of course, holding the phone horizontally.

My problem is I have not been able to do that. Facebook will only stream the video in portrait mode. It looks terrible.

I’ve done some googling on this subject, and found you have to start Facebook with the phone in landscape mode before starting the video; but even when I do that, the video insists on going in portrait mode. Have you encountered this problem and found a fix for it?

Separately but related: which do you find the best video platform for live video, Facebook or YouTube? I would prefer to switch to YouTube, but really I need to be where most of the community is.

Tricks for getting more hours from a MacBook Pro battery

My job often requires me to work for many hours at an unplugged laptop. I’ve picked up a few tricks for making the battery last longer. None of these are particularly brilliant, but they’re very helpful:

  • Turn off WiFi. That’s a big battery suck right there. In practice, I end up turning it on again briefly if I need to check something, then turning it right off again.
  • Likewise, dim the screen as far as I can still read it. That’s one or two ticks up from completely dark.
  • When I’m not typing, I shut the screen off manually. I close the lid if I think it’s going to be a while, and for short periods I have a hot corner set up to shut off the screen when I move the mouse to the bottom right corner.
  • Use Activity Monitor to find which apps are using the most energy and shut them down. For me, that’s Google Chrome and Microsoft Teams.

By taking these four measures, I was able to get about nine hours’ usage out of my MacBook Pro on Monday.

Do you have any tricks for getting more out of a laptop battery? I’m told shutting off Bluetooth helps, but in practice I haven’t found it to matter much. And I’m also told that Chromebooks can easily get 10+ hours of battery life without having to do any tricks at all.


I am reading Shaft. I did not even know until recently that it was a novel instead of a movie.

When I read an old genre novel like that, I often have difficulty falling into it. I find myself thinking about the world the writer lived in, and the assumptions he makes, and the world and assumptions of the novel’s target audience. In this case, a lot of that is tied up with race and ethnicity of course — not just blacks but also Italians, and a little bit Jews. And there’s casual homophobia and the novel is sexist as hell. I’m not trying to see these things, they jump out at me and won’t get out of the way so I can just enjoy the story. Perhaps because the story is rather thin.

I’m making the novel sound worse than it is. It’s actually pretty good.

I had the same problem when I tried to read “The Skylark of Space” recently. “Skylark,” by E.E. Smith Ph.D. (that’s how the magazines always ran his byline), was the prototypical space opera, ancestor to Star Trek and Star Wars and the Expanse and all the rest. It was written in 1915-21, and published in 1929.

I was unable to stop marveling at a fully formed space opera written so long ago.

For example, the novel gets around relativity by simply having a character say that “Professor Einstein” was, of course, a genius, but he was wrong. And why not? The theory of relativity was still new and unproved then!

DevonThink maintenance

DevonThink is a great app, but it’s not set-and-forget. You need to do a little maintenance to keep your data safe.

Run Tools, Verify & Repair occasionally to clean out the cruft.

And backup is more important than ever; unlike Evernote or Google Keep, you’re not syncing your data to someone else’s server. Continuously updated backup services, like the very popular and otherwise excellent BackBlaze, can create problems. Arq seems to be OK. More on the DevonThink blog.

Bear parser

The Bear note-taking app has a new parser that downloads web pages, converts them to markdown, and strips out the clutter. It works quite well.

The DevonThink parser is, on the other hand, horrible. Worst part of an otherwise fine program. Unable to process an uncluttered view.

Devon Technologies needs to get to work on this; it’s a solved problem. Safari Reader, Instapaper, Pocket and the Mercury Parser are all great — no comparison to DevonThink at all.

I am breaking this blog in two (again)

Short version: Instead of posting everything to… first and syndicating to…, I’m going to start posting most of that stuff to… directly. I’ll save… for more infrequent, important updates.

I’m not making any changes, for now, to Twitter/@mitchwagner and Facebook/Groups/ThingsMitchWagnerSaw, and hopefully people who subscribe to my daily newsletter won’t see a change either.

Longer version:

I’m moving my ephemeral activity to…. That’s the vast quantity of links to news articles, memes, retro-ads, photos and illustrations, and other items of interest that until now I’ve posted daily to….… is going to be a low-frequency blog, containing only content I’ve created — posts I’ve written, and photos and videos I’ve taken. Those tings will also be shared automatically to Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and my daily newsletter.

And I’ll continue to post the ephemera to Twitter/@mitchwagner and Facebook/Groups/ThingsMitchWagnerSaw, as I have been, as well as to my daily newsletter. Nothing there changes.

What this means to you, dear reader

Nothing changes if you follow me on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, or the email newsletter.

If you follow me on… and you like all the ephemera, you’ll need to add… (or Twitter, Facebook or the email newsletter). For Tumblr, you don’t need to register, just bookmark that page. There’s also an RSS feed.

I post all the same content to all four places, but not always at the same time. So if you want to be sure to see everything, pick any one of those four places and you’ll be fine.

If you want to follow me in more than one place, well, have at it.

How long will this situation remain stable?

Forever, or until I get tired of it. I seem to enjoy fiddling with my social media setup as much as I do actually using it. I’ve switched to and away from Tumblr as my primary blogging platform several times over the years. It seems likely I will switch away again when I get distracted by something newer and shinier.

As for you, my dear readers; if you follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or the newsletter, just keep doing what you’ve been doing and you’ll be fine. If you follow me on…, and you want to keep seeing the ephemera, switch to one of those other platforms, and you’ll be fine.

How to Tip…

I only skimmed the recent Twitter controversy about tipping, but it has led me to resolve to get more conscientious about tipping. I’ve gotten sloppy.

I’ve gotten in the bad habit of stiffing chambermaids if I don’t have singles in my wallet. I need to get singles when I check in to the hotel and put those singles aside to tip the chambermaid.

I’m already routinely tipping 20% at restaurants, but I tip on the card rather than cash – time to go back to tipping in cash, though I do hate to use cash.

Also, I’ve read elsewhere you should tip take-out and counter service restaurants 10%, and I’ve been doing that for the past few months. On the card, rather than cash.

Gah, I’m going to have to make a habit of carrying around singles, aren’t I? Feh.