Category Archives: Long post

In which I go on at great length

They imbue you with super powers. IMBUE!

Origin story – The Penguin

(Repost from 2014)

A friend on the social medias asked about the origin of the Penguin character. Here’s one.

The Penguin was originally Oswald Olsin, a child prodigy who had made billions in business, despite being born with the inability to smell toast, due to his parents’ both working on the Manhattan Project, though as we found out later, they were not his real parents, as his real parents lived on a super-advanced planet of super-science superhumans whose only weakness was that they could build really good rockets, but not very big ones.

When he was 18, Oswald was away training in the Marine Special Delta Force SEAL Astronaut Ninja Assassin Cyber-Ops Squirrel Suit Sniper Gourmet Corps (in a special Nuclear Black Ops unit of it that was kept secret from everyone except General Carborundum and somehow, a mole within the team). Oswald’s parents, wife, child, neighbors, sainted aunt, high school shop teacher, the kid who bagged his groceries, 4 missed connections on Craigslist and the kindly uncle who had taught him kung-fu, metallurgy, knife-throwing, hapkido, circus acrobatics and rope-swallowing had been killed by “The Pants”—the head of a secret underwear-smuggling cabal called “The Cabal.”

Oswald came home on sympathy leave for the funerals, an unthinkably difficult 8 weeks of dark suits, potato salad and tears. As each funeral passed, he noticed something strange: All the corpses were going commando. It was through his investigation of this that he uncovered evidence of “The Pants” and the Cabal. Oswald swore his revenge, and used his training to go AWOL, disappear and take on a new identity.

He created the new identity of Oswald Olson, a mild-mannered 98-pound billionaire reporter for the Gotham Grit, who appeared to have a severe hairlip and a pompadour. Secretly, he was also Trunksman, who fought crime wearing a mask and his underwear over his pants, and DIDN’T have a hairlip and a pompadour. By using his own greatest fear as the weapon to fight the thing he hated the most, Oswald became more powerful.  Think of an arachnophobe who hates paying tax having spiders thrown at him by a tax-collector. THAT kind of powerful.

The Cabal—and The Pants in particular—was in contact with the world’s most sensitive areas, and would often work their way into places where it was difficult to get at them discretely, so Oswald’s fight took him all over the world, where he often had to depend on the enormous clandestine network of buddies and contacts he had developed during his military career.

Oswald was flying his prototype rocket motorcycle one evening when he was teleported aboard the spaceship of a dying intergalactic superhero named Mm’m Mmm’ Ghu’d, who told Oswald that he was the Chosen Human to become the Guardian of This Part of The Galaxay (including parts of Burnaby). Oswald was given a Galactic Earring, which granted him the ability to create almost anything out of energy, though the preferred method of using it was to make really detailed models of things like guns and giant Hot Wheels cars and really big fists. The earring had to be recharged every 8.5 hours, including a half-hour lunch, and was powerless against anything yellow. This meant Oswald was pretty much powerless during the day, because he lived on a planet with a yellow sun, so the earring mostly just sat in Oswald’s sock drawer. Sometimes he would take it out at night for party tricks, or if he needed to reach something up high and had remembered to charge it up, but it mostly just sat there, because cleaning your gutters at night kinda sucks. Who has time for that?

Oswald took part in The Marketing War, a giant battle in which every superhero fought side-by-side against something or other, sponsored by caffeine and sugar in water, and happened to be on a planet with a red sun. At the time, Earth was being targeted by Anaphlaxus, who roams the universe destroying planets he’s allergic to. Anaphlaxus had watched “The War Behind the Marketing War” (a reality show on Nat Geo) and was impressed with Oswald, who had taken advantage of a rare opportunity to use the mostly useless earring and distinguished himself in The Marketing Wars. Anaphlaxus agreed to spare Earth in return for Oswald’s pledge to become Anaphlaxus’ herald, gave Oswald incredible powers, a nigh-invulnerable shiny crimson skin, and a wobbly metal plank with a handle and needlessly small wheels. Thus, the Red Razor was born.

As the Red Razor, Oswald traveled to thousands of worlds, passing the time by reciting huge portions of the journal he kept during his second year at community college, where he couldn’t decide whether to major in philosophy or English, so he took both but didn’t really finish the textbook and mostly just smoked weed. It was inevitable that that almost limitless power and the ability to meet pretty much all the sentient beings in the universe, while never being afraid of anything, aging or dying would become just too much of a burden to bear, so one day The Red Razor turned on Anaphlaxus and tried to fight him in order to save one of these hundreds of thousands of worlds that had bored Oswald so much. Gosh, people sure are funny that way, eh?

Oswald learned a valuable lesson about picking a fight with the infinitely powerful guy who gave you your scooter, and found himself exiled back to Earth, about 20 minutes before the beginning of The Marketing War, which was this time known as The Marketing WarS, and went pretty much the same way as the previous Marketing War, except on thicker paper, and for some reason, everybody said a lot more and it was harder to follow who was saying what.

After the Marketing Wars, Oswald tried having a girlfriend who didn’t know his secret identity, then a sidekick who didn’t know his real identity, then a girlfriend who was an enemy of his secret identity, then a girlfriend who was a sidekick, then a boyfriend who knew his secret identity, then an intelligence-enhanced robot monkey who had a secret identity, and then marketing decided he should be a penguin.

Review: Satechi Slim X1 Bluetooth Backlit Keyboard

What it is

  • It’s a wireless (Bluetooth) keyboard.
  • It’s a “compact” design, meaning that it’s smaller than a standard keyboard you might get with your computer. It doesn’t have a keypad or separate home/end/pg up/pg down keys.
  • It has LED backlighting under the keys so you can read it in the dark.

Why I needed this

When I don’t need all the power/options/monitors of my desktop for computering, I like to use an iPad with a keyboard. It’s my favorite way to work, because you can move the keyboard and screen however you want, or wherever you are comfortable.1

Is this product good/would I recommend it?

Yes, and yes.

…If you are using Apple products. I have not tested this on Winders or Linux.

Short list of why it’s good

  • It’s good to type on (for a chiclet keyboard). Despite the compact overall size, the keys are a good size, and nicely spaced.
  • The key action is pretty good: firm enough that you can tell you pressed a key and keys don’t press by accident, soft enough that you don’t end up hammering things.
  • It has all the function keys you need—and a few that you might want—for Apple stuff.
  • It can connect to—and swap between—up to three Bluetooth devices just by using keystrokes. You do not have to disconnect this from say, your Mac before you can use it with your iPad.

Inevitable comparisons to the incumbent

If you are looking for a wireless keyboard for your Apple device, the first thing you are going to see is the Apple Magic keyboard. I have one. It’s pretty good, and I have used it a bunch. Here’s how the Satechi compares to the Apple Magic Keyboard.

The Satechi X1 is very slightly bigger

The Satechi Slim X1 is 2mm wider than the Apple Magic Keyboard, and weighs a bit more (10.25oz vs 8.20oz on my cheap kitchen scale). The Magic keyboard is also about two hairs thinner.2

The Satechi X1 has a better key layout.

On the Magic keyboard, all the keys are the same size—including the function keys along the top row. You don’t use those keys very much, and when you do, you probably don’t touch type them—you look for the key/function you want, and then poke it.

On the X1, the top row of function keys are about half as tall as the other keys. This allows them to make all the other keys—the keys you use all the time—a bit bigger than they are on the Magic Keyboard. This makes the X1 much better to type on. It also explains that extra 2mm in width.

The Satechi X1 is backlit, so you can use it in the dark.

You can ALSO use it in the light! The Magic Keyboard is not backlit, so you can use it in the light, but you have to be a pretty confident touch-typist to use it at night.

And no, the light from an iPad screen will NOT illuminate a Magic Keyboard very well in a dark room, even if you hold it right over the keyboard so that you can no longer read the screen. 3

The Satechi X1 is easier to touch-type on.

The nubs on the F and J keys on are easier to feel, on the X1 than on the Magic keyboard. which makes it a lot easier to touch-type on the X1 without one hand or the other seidring odd homw eoq drifting off home row. This is a tiny detail, but it can be a huge time-wasting annoyance.

You can pair the Satechi X1 with up to three devices

You can also easily switch to whichever of those three devices you want to use by pressing a simple, well-labelled key combination.

The Apple Magic Keyboard only pairs with one device at a time, so you have to disconnect/connect it if you switch between devices. 4

I’ve also found that the X1 actually connects to my iPad more quickly and reliably than the Magic Keyboard. Sometimes, the Magic keyboard will not wake my older iPad Pro—I have to tap the Home button in order to wake it, and then the Magic keyboard continues to work just fine.

This might be specific to my model of iPad, specific Magic keyboard, barometric pressure and shampoo choice, but I have never had the same problem with the X1.


I bought the X1 a few months ago and continue to use both it and the Apple Magic keyboard daily. Either keyboard is just fine, but the Satechi X1 is preferable in every way that matters to me.

I would recommend the X1 whether the Apple Magic keyboard existed or not. It’s a well-designed, well-made thing.

At time of wrtiting, the Satechi X1 Slim Bluetooth Backlit Keyboard is listed at $69.95 (US) on the Satechi site. The Apple Magic Keyboard is listed at $99.95 (US) on the Apple site.

1 It’s what using a laptop (or Apple Smart Keyboard+iPad Pro) would be like if they were designed to be used by people.

2 If you are an Apple design engineer, you can stop reading here, and do your happy dance. Your device is physically smaller and lighter than this device. That’s your job done!

3 Honestly, the Magic Keyboard is not great to read in bright light either. On the upside, they DID pull that “thin typeface in light-grey on glaring white” aesthetic right through the hardware AND on-screen UI. And who are we to judge? This is personal computing UX, where it’s perfectly normal that one person’s “unflagging dedication to the design concept” is another few millions’ “uncomfortable, less-useful interface.”

4 It’s worth noting that Satechi, who make money selling keyboards, thought it would be good to be able to connect a keyboard to three devices. Apple, who make money selling keyboards AND those three devices, did not.

Apple Mac Mini (2018) is bad at waking up

Updated July 11/’22: The trick described here does NOT allow the Mac itself to sleep. There is apparently no way to disable the (screwed-up) way that the Mac tells the the displays to sleep/wake up AND have the Mac itself sleep automatically.

This post describes a way to make your MONITORS sleep and wake up properly, and lists some things that MIGHT help you with display problems on Macs.

As far as the actual “Energy Saver settings on your Mac go, it seems you can either put up with the annoyance of having your monitors screw up every time the Mac wakes up, or you can never let your Mac sleep.


Displays attached to my Mac Mini (2018) are quite slow and annoying when coming out of sleep. 

  • Mac Mini (2018), 16 Gigs RAM, MacOS 11.6.6 (Big Sur)
  • LG 27’” 4K monitor plugged into the Mini’s HDMI port
  • Dell 23” 1080p monitor plugged into HDMI port of a hub off of the Mini’s Lightning port

After sleepytines, the 4K monitor would come on for about 2 secs, then go black, then there would be a 7-10 second pause, then both monitors would come on.

This problem also seems to manifest on some Macbooks with some external monitors.  Dunno about iMacs.

What I did that actually fixed this:

  •  System Preferences—> Energy Saver
  • Set “Turn display off after…” to “Never”

Why this works (for me):

Everything works the way it’s supposed to. Normal wake time (~2 seconds) and  power saving accomplished! 

My completely unsupported theory about this:

I suspect that there is something in the way that the Mini behaves when it is trying to control when the monitors sleep and wake up that causes this problem. Specifically, It’s probably sending a “Wake up” command to the monitor on the HDMI port, and expecting a response. The monitor does not recognise/respond to that command, but detects it as video signal, and wakes up. That’s when the monitor first lights up.

The Mac does not get the response it is expecting from the monitor (even though the monitor has come on) and falls back to what it does when when it doesn’t if a monitor is connected: It probes for/sets up the monitors. That’s when everything goes dark for 7-10 seconds.

Telling the Mac to never turn off the display removes this (unneeded) procedure.

I could probably check if I’m right about this by reading logs or something, but I’m not going to. If you do, I would love to know what you find out.

Other things that people say fix issues like this:

 1) If you have a 4K monitor, try  NOT plugging it into the HDMI port on the Mac.

Some people have had problems connecting a 4K monitor directly to their Mac via the HDMI port. 1 Connect an adapter/hub to a Lightning/Type C port and then plug the 4K monitor into that.

Note: I tried this, and got the same results as before except the 1080 monitor came on first instead of the 4K.  In other words, this had no effect on my problem, BUT it might fix other problems with Macs and 4K monitors. I left my monitors plugged in this way (HDMI port–>1080p monitor, Lightning port –>hub/adapter–>4K monitor).

2) Download new drivers for your monitor

I mean, this is always a swell place to start, but there are no specific drivers or other software for LG monitors on Mac that touch on anything that could affect my issue. 

3) Disable FileVault

I am not even kidding. There are people on Apple support boards who swear this it true (or maybe was on earlier version of MacOS). I have to believe that something they did in the course of disabling FileVault (rebooting or something) actually fixed their issue, because I can’t live in a world where people make software that causes these two things to affect each other.

4) Reinstall MacOS

Seriously?  I’m using a mainstream monitor on a major operating system in (checks phone) 2022 and we’re going full-wrench to fix a SLEEP ISSUE?


5) Obviously, change2 your operating system to the newest version, because WORKS FINE ON MY MACHINE.

ALWAYS a great idea.  I will put this last on this list, and type it ONLY with two upraised middle digits.

1) I KNOW!

2) I don’t always refer to installing  newer versions of operating systems as “upgrading” any more,  because words mean things. For example, “making a basic function that previously worked and then was broken now work again” is not an “upgrade.” 

Using the Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 with Linux Mint

If you found this page by searching, then you, like me, are trying to figure out a problem with your Focusrite Saffire Pro 14, a Firewire audio device which you are trying to use with Linux. I will cut to the chase. After quite a few hours of reading (mostly old) posts and articles and trying different solutions on and off over the course of a few weeks, here is how I arrived at a workable Linux recording machine with the Pro 14:

Cat not required, but recommended

In a nutshell:

  • Air-gap the Saffire Pro 14
  • Add an audio interface that works with Linux and is not terrible.

Yep, I just gave up.

If you are just trying to get some recording done and have the option of giving up on the Pro 14, I really recommend you do so, and stop reading here. If you are determined/have to make this thing work with Linux, maybe the rest of this will be helpful in some way.

First, I have to be clear about something: I hate wasting stuff. I hate replacing things that still work perfectly well. Which means I usually hate audio interfaces for computers.

Or maybe just the companies that make them.

Most audio interfaces themselves are fundamentally cool pieces of gear. When you consider how many different bits you need to fit into one of these things, and how well most of them do all the things they need to do, they really are wonderful, powerful, useful things. Or at least, the hardware part of them is.

Audio interfaces have a lifespan imposed on them by the people who make them. If they didn’t, I would still be using the UA-100 I got in 1998 or so, which could do everything I wanted the Pro 14 to do (and more). Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the Pro 14.

But at some point, your interface will no longer be supported for the computer you want to use it with, and the countdown will begin to the day you will need to discard this perfectly functional, mostly non-recyclable piece of equipment and buy pretty much the same thing, hardware-wise, again.

Sometimes, you can work around this by using Linux. I’m not going to get into the details of that here–if you’re reading this, you probably already know what I mean–but in the case of the Pro 14, it’s juuust annoyingly not worth doing. Really close, but not worth it.

There are three main obstacles to running the Pro 14 on Linux:

  1. It’s a Firewire device
  2. It’s an audio device on Linux
  3. A bunch of its cooler functionality is tied up in proprietary controller software

There are also fundamental issues with the Pro 14

  • The input preamps are really weak, and kinda noisy
  • And so are most of the outputs

Cumulatively, these issues just make running away a great option. I’ll go through them in order.

At time of writing, I was trying to use the Pro 14 with LInux Mint 20.3 Cinnamon on a Late 2008 Mac Pro.

1 There was no problem running Firewire. I added Jackd2, Jackd2-firewire and QJackctl when I was installing/setting up the machine, and those made it easy to get the Pro 14 set up as my input and output device in Audacity and then other DAWs just by mashing buttons in QJAckctl and then in the application’s preferences.

2 That meant that the “audio device on Linux” part was taken care of as well. It all pretty much Just Worked. Over the last 20+ years or so, I have developed a really solid repertoire of rants about audio on Linux, and I didn’t get to use a single one. I was really impressed (and disappointed) with how easy this part was.

But seriously, when I was your age, we made our own .conf files–out of dirt and bits of our hair–and we were HAPPY!

I’d go into more detail about the settings/routing, but that would all be specific to my setup, and you’ll be better served if you search for information about settings for your stuff. Also, by the time you read this, you might be using Pipewire or something. These kids, with their fancy audio on Linux, amirite?

3 All the cool routing stuff you could do with the Pro 14, including the ability to use all the inputs and outputs, was controlled by some proprietary software that Focusrite made. It was not made very well, never made for Linux, support was dropped at some point due to some unforeseeable, insurmountable issue like an operating system being upgraded or a new product being released.

Thanks to the work of [not the manufacturer], your Saffire Pro 14 will work on Linux, but it will never be able to do all the things it’s capable of. It won’t work at all on most other current operating systems I guess, so uh, yay for us. But you still have to do deal with issues. If there isn’t a switch right on the box to turn something on or off, you might not be able to turn it on or off.

For example, in my last attempt to use this thing, I noticed that the “inst” light was lit on the channel 2 input, and was out on the channel 1 input. Basically, I had one channel locked at each input type. I have no idea whether there is some way to switch the input type without the software, but the next two points made me quit before that fight even started.

The Pro 14 is just not very good to use its own. The preamps are really weak, and they get noisy and start to clip if you turn them up. I don’t know if an external preamp would help, or if it would just make the clipping worse. It might also help to use a separate (15VDC) power supply. But adding more gear in order to save bad gear doesn’t make much sense.

The outputs seem to suffer from the same problem: Very low output, and they get uglier as you turn them up. You can fix this problem by turning up whatever you are using to monitor, and the power supply might also help. But again, you’re throwing more gear after bad.

I have gear lying around that might fix these issues (not the power supply, I’d have to get one), and I was almost ready to try them, but I did a test recording with the Pro 14 and noticed some regularly-spaced sizzling noises in some tracks, with no common source (sometimes in a mic recording, sometimes line, sometimes channel 1, sometimes channel 2).

It’s just not worth trying to troubleshoot that (Firewire? Interface? Buffer? Power supply? Random electromagnetic something? New shampoo?) in order toend up with a device with limited functionality. Not to me, anyway.

I hope someone can find a use for this thing. It could have been cool.

If you have solutions to any of the problems I found, or tips to get the Pro 14 working with Linux, please comment. I will add anything helpful to this post. I would love to keep these things working if we can.

Too Big Not To Fail

A while ago, we received a pretty nice Delta kitchen faucet via UPS. It was addressed to us, and had a UPS tracking number. We had not ordered it.

This was not brushing—it’s Costco, not GriftAsInfrastructure, and nobody’s going to brush with $190 items. But we hadn’t ordered or paid for it, so the right thing to do was return it. That is what I tried–really tried–to do. I could not.

It can be difficult to find out what company sent you something if it is sent via courier. There was a return address on this package, but the company name was Frederick Ecommerce. That’s a fulfillment center for Costco in Maryland. You can find that out by using a search engine, but you’d have to want to.

I spent 30 minutes on the phone with Costco, trying to figure out what should be done with this thing. Mostly, I was on hold, working on other stuff and enjoying the 35 second music loop, while the extremely helpful and polite support person and I waited to hear back from someone higher up.

This was the third time in 12 months that I’ve tried to do this, with three different companies. It’s pretty obvious that none of these companies have a procedure in place for dealing with orders that get sent to the wrong person. At the volume that online sales work at, especially right now, there should be. These mistakes are inevitable.

As with every other time I received stuff I wasn’t supposed to, the answer was “we can’t really trace where that item was supposed to go.” I was told that, if I wanted to, I could drop this thing off at a Costco. The implication there is that if I wouldn’t like to do that, I just got a new faucet.

This means that, for Costco and at least three other companies (I got some other stuff a couple years ago the same way) the only way these errors can be dealt with is by either just shipping another product to the customer who didn’t receive it, or spending time arguing with the customer about whether they DID receive it. Both of these are expensive options, which are added on to the cost of giving me a faucet AND shipping it to me.

I’ve worked in retail, and in warehouses, and I knew that, if I took this item to my local Costco, it would just create a huge headache for whoever ends up having to deal with it. They don’t stock this item in-store and would have no record of how it got there. It’s going to end costing them more time, and probably end up getting junked or sitting somewhere forever.

I understand that, when you work at high volume, this might be the least expensive way to deal with problems like this. I will bet you a nickel that if you run the numbers on fixing this, it is more cost-effective for companies to just keep giving away stuff when these mistakes get made than it is to add the tracking (and more expensively, people) and whatever else would be required to resolve these issues. It’s much more wasteful, but it costs less.

So on one side, profitability and speed, on the other, less waste, more cost, lower efficiency. It’s all a matter of what you value more.

I gave the faucet to someone who could use it.

Bonus tip: If you should ever have a kitchen faucet sent to you by mistake, it is perfectly reasonable to try to think of which of your friends and family members may have sent it to you. But I don’t recommend you pursue that line of inquiry too strenuously. It is remarkable how fast a conversation dies when you start it with “Hey—did you send me a faucet?”