• Narrated: a podcast about audiobooks

    The best thing about blogging in 2019 is that nobody seems to care when you don’t post for two years at a time. But it can give a somewhat misleading impression of what is happening in your absence. Looking back through these admittedly sparse archives, I was surprised to remember that I haven’t written about the podcast I tricked my friend Scott Ullery into hosting.

    Narrated is a biweekly podcast about audiobooks. If you haven’t listened, here are a couple of good recent episodes to start with:

    I originally started Narrated in December 2017 after several years of being tempted to try podcasting. The initial idea was to have a mostly solo show that occasionally brought in guests. I quickly realized that conversational episodes are way more fun, which was pretty obvious in hindsight since that’s also the format for all of my favorite shows.

    Those guest episodes led to bringing on Scott as a cohost and ultimately passing the baton to him to keep hosting the show. I’ve been glad to return often as a frequent guest and have really been enjoying how Scott has made the podcast his own thing (even though I had to trick him into hosting it).

  • A secret plan to fight inflation

    Tomorrow I’m starting a five-year plan. No, it’s not about blogging more. And no, it’s just a coincidence that today is March 31.

    The five-year plan was inspired by reading the book Designing Your Life with my friend Linus. The core of the book is a set of exercises that walk you through envisioning and investigating several possible life paths for yourself, particularly over the next five years. These exercises can be very helpful for moving beyond the counterproductive mindset that each person only has one true answer to the question of what to do with their life to be happy. That’s a valuable point to remember even if, like me, you came out of the book with more or less the same answer that you brought into it.

    As with any business or self-help book, Designing Your Life will be most useful if you’re willing to skim over parts that don’t speak to your current needs and ignore the trope where the authors imply that their book contains the universal solution to every problem.

    Here are a few highlights from writing my plan:

    • In five years, my wife and I will have been married for 18 years. Our marriage will be old enough to vote and go off to college.
    • My plan is about writing novels. I might go into more specifics eventually, but for now I don’t want to jinx anything. Perhaps I’ve already said too much.
    • When you put it down in a five-year plan, 2022 really seems like the far future.
  • Cardboard boxes full of memories

    Marie Kondo on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:

    The things we own are real. They exist here and now as a result of choices made in the past by no one other than ourselves. It is dangerous to ignore them or to discard them indiscriminately as if denying the choices we made. This is why I am against both letting things pile up and dumping things indiscriminately. It is only when we face the things we own one by one and experience the emotions they evoke that we can truly appreciate our relationship with them.

    There are three approaches we can take toward our possessions: face them now, face them sometime, or avoid them until the day we die. The choice is ours. But I personally believe it is far better to face them now. If we acknowledge our attachment to the past and our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us.

  • New Horizons

    Alice Bowman, the Mission Operations Manager for New Horizons, after confirmation of the spacecraft’s successful Pluto flyby:

    Well, gee. I’m not sure how to follow that. I haven’t had a lot of sleep. It is truly — we’ve been using this word a lot — amazing, because it’s the one that just pops to the tip of our tongue to say. An awesome team. The recovery was flawless, and it had to be flawless. We were up to the challenge. We met it.

    And on a personal note, I can’t express how I’m feeling to have achieved a childhood dream of space exploration. I’m pretty overwhelmed at this moment, and I just want to say thank you to everyone. And please tell your children and anybody out there: Do what you’re passionate about. Don’t do something because it’s easy. Do something because you want to do it. Give yourself that challenge, and you will not be sorry for it. So here we go. Out to the solar system.

  • Of course this post would be meta

    Manton Reece on blogging every day:

    Whenever I get out of the habit of writing daily, it creates friction to get anything published. When you post every day, there’s no expectation that all posts have to be great. But when you wait too long, there’s an increasing feeling that the next post has to be perfect.

    In the nearly 15 months since my last blog post, I have accumulated some of those counterproductive expectations. No single topic or epiphany merits coming back here after so long. That mindset helped to justify letting this place stay defunct.

    During that time, however, I’ve also been frustrated by Twitter as a replacement for blogging. My needs are straightforward, but they exceed the 140-character limitations of a tweet. I’ve repeatedly tried linking to posts on Twitter and been disappointed when I couldn’t find the perfect sentence or two to quote while still leaving room for the URL. When I started reading similar thoughts from Marco Arment, Jason Snell, and Gina Trapani, I felt ready to give blogging another try.

    I won’t post something every day. Maybe I won’t post something every year. But I’m glad to be back.

  • What a lovely season finale

    Jason Snell on how the TiVo Season Pass list makes him feel like a TV executive (The Incomparable episode 152, around 24:30):

    Because you can cancel shows yourself — so, The Office, they had that episode where Jim and Pam got married, and I said, “What a lovely season finale this is.” And my wife said, “No, no, they’re still going to make episodes.” And I said, “No, what a lovely season finale this is.” And I canceled the show, and I moved on. Apparently there was a big hubbub about how there was a final episode of The Office this spring. But the final episode of The Office aired in my house — as far as I’m concerned — three years ago, four years ago. It was very nice, and then that was the end.

    I strongly endorse this attitude. The metaphor I use is poorly written fanfic. If a series has lingered beyond the point of negative returns, I imagine that those ongoing episodes or movies or books are just non-canonical fanfic written by someone else. This trick helps protect my affection for the parts I loved.

    The Office is a great example. My version of the show also ended with that wedding episode, more or less. I came back for the delivery of their baby, half a season later, and consider it a denouement to the series. But even that is being generous, since my wife was pregnant when the episode first aired. The remaining three and a half seasons are all fanfic to me.

    Canonical is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Open letter to my 14 subscribers on Google Reader

    By the time you find this post — if you end up finding it at all — Google Reader will probably be gone. Perhaps you’ve already transitioned to another RSS solution and taken along this somewhat quiet feed. Or perhaps you saw the link on Twitter.

    There is much I could say about Google Reader shutting down. Most of it has already been said by others.

    For now, I just wanted to thank you for subscribing. Our time together on this platform has been fleeting. I started writing here less than a year ago, during what turned out to be the lame duck session of the Google Reader era. Thanks for letting me watch that subscriber count inch up toward respectability.

  • About “About Gilbert Tang, Jr.”

    As a huge fan of all things meta, I may have found my new favorite About page:

    Then I sent my funny-to-my-sweet-wife, boring, generic, for-the-people bio to one of my close friends, a real, working writer in fancy New York City, which is a nice way of saying Queens. She’s still mad at me because I sold her my old 11” MacBook Air that gives her minor but emotionally challenging problems.

    The bio’s framing device really works for me. I should also mention that Gilbert showed me his new site before it launched, but I didn’t suggest changes to this page.

    Fear stops many writers — aspiring, professional, and everything in between — from writing often enough to achieve their goals. Gilbert’s blog and self-aware About page reflect a commitment to sidestep that fear. They set the tone for a journey that I’m excited to see unfold.1

    And be sure to check out his first post, a review of Chris Higgins’s excellent book The Blogger Abides.

    1. In addition, it’s been great to watch similar journeys among other writers at various stages of their freelancing careers, such as Steven Aquino, Josh Centers, and the aforementioned Chris Higgins.2 

    2. Can a footnote say “aforementioned” when referring to anything in the entire piece or just statements from before the footnote? Does the answer change if nested footnotes are involved? 

  • The Magazine: Code Dependency

    Code Dependency, a piece I wrote about the Kryptos sculpture at CIA headquarters, was published this week in The Magazine.

    Since they ran Fits You to a T three months ago, The Magazine has expanded beyond the iOS app to allow web subscriptions — my personal favorite — as well as Kindle subscriptions. Anybody can also read one free article each month, which is great for sharing links among family and friends.

    A handful of pieces are freely available without counting toward the monthly limit, such as this Editor’s Note describing my latest article:

    Nestled on the CIA campus sits a remarkable sculpture that contains a cryptographic cipher so fiendish that decades after its dedication only part of it has been decoded. Visitors outside of government are rarely allowed within the CIA’s confines, and few have seen the sculpture in person. Mark Siegal has been doing his modest part to crack the remaining encrypted text since 2005, and he takes us into the world of Kryptos and explores why it continues to fascinate.

    In addition, they’ve posted details on how to submit article pitches. If you’re someone who loves writing, I highly recommend sending in a pitch yourself.

    My thanks again to Glenn and Marco for publishing both of these pieces. And thank you for reading.

  • A field guide to Twitter

    For a tech nerd, I joined Twitter relatively late. It’s been less than three years since my first tweet. And it’s just within the past year or so that Twitter has become a central part of my online workflow.

    Because I am unapologetically meta, this is my contribution toward identifying, labeling, and celebrating some of Twitter’s more interesting usage patterns.1 If only it could all fit in a single tweet.

    • Conversation-ending favorite: Favoriting a tweet as a way to acknowledge that you’ve run out of clever responses.

    • Passive-aggressive mention: Mentioning someone to express disdain for that person’s app, blog, tweets, etc.

    • Profile photo fatigue: Mental tiredness caused by another person changing their profile photo.

    • Retweet fishing: Mentioning someone in the hope that they’ll retweet you.

    • Retweet nibble: A failed attempt at retweet fishing that only gets your tweet favorited.

    • Self-deprecating retweet: Retweeting a passive-aggressive mention.

    • Timeline leveling: The game-like improvement of your timeline as you follow more people, partly by revealing conversations that had been hidden.

    • Triple crown: A tweet so good that it prompts someone to retweet it, favorite it, and reply to it.

    • Typographic shibboleth: Using smart quotes or em-dashes to signal that you’re tweeting from an app like Instapaper or Tweetbot, whether or not you really are.