Dealing with people who won’t stop talking

I wish I had read What I Learned About Interruption from Talk Radio when it was published in 2017. Back then, I was still spending several hours a day on conference calls, and sometimes struggling to get a word in edgewise.

Part of the issue is that telephone conference calls are not full-duplex, by design, so that when one caller is speaking the microphone of all the other callers are ignored. This makes it technically impossible to interrupt a speaker, except during pauses in their speech.

But the situation is greatly exacerbated when a speaker never takes a fucking breath.

Many of my colleagues were guilty of this. Oh, not on purpose, they just had the habit of drawing out their last word (or saying “ummmmm”) between sentences, or while they were thinking. This vocalization prevented others on the call from saying anything (which sometimes, was only me, as everyone else was in the same room). I wish I had a dollar for every time this happened during weekly staff meetings.

I’m hopeful that the pandemic — which put everyone in their own audio space on a conference call — helped teach people to be more polite and allow time for others to speak. But somehow, I doubt it.



Troubleshooting an IR remote control

The other day, my Sonos Playbase speaker stopped responding to the volume control buttons on my Apple TV Siri Remote Control. Here’s how I eventually resolved the problem.

The source of the issue proved difficult to diagnose because infrared is (of course) invisible light. I couldn’t determine if the Sonos was no longer seeing infrared signals, or if the remote was no longer sending them.

  • I quickly determined that I hadn’t added any new nearby electronics or LED light bulbs that might be interfering with IR signals. A lesson I learned from a confounding situation several years ago.
  • Using the Sonos app, I temporarily re-programmed the Playbase to respond to a TV remote it had not been previously trained on. When I was able to successfully do so, this established that the Playbase’s IR receiver was working.
  • The Apple TV remote was still able to control the Apple TV, but that uses an RF connection, not IR. (Sadly, the Playbase is IR-only.) But this confirmed that the remote’s battery wasn’t dead. I recharged it anyway, under the theory that perhaps the light emitter had grown too dim. This didn’t resolve the problem.
  • The next step was to reboot the remote. Yes, that’s a thing. After doing so, the problem was resolved. Yay!

If you have a remote control that suddenly and inexplicably stops working, I hope these steps will help you in solving the problem.


Nevada Political candidate signs

It’s election season in Nevada, and I was surprised to see how many candidate signs were placed in empty lots around Las Vegas. They were all lined up, like rows of corn plants in the Midwest.

But after seeing so many of these strange outcroppings, I began to notice a disturbing similarity. Many of the signs featured portraits of the candidates. (In fact, at first glance, they’re easy to mistake for Realtor advertisements.) However, of the signs that featured a photo, they were almost exclusively showing Caucasians. Mostly men, of course, but also white women.

nevada campaign signs in empty lots

Now, granted, Nevada is about 73% white, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that the message being sent was “Vote for me because I look like you.”



A solution for an outdoor speaker sound system

I needed to drive eight outdoor speakers, and clearly, I wanted remote control of their operation, and the ability to stream from Apple Music.

I could have utilized something like an Echo Link, or a Sonos Amp. But I rejected those options due to the cost (Sonos) and obnoxious assistive technology (Alexa).

What I ended up implementing is a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine, but it works well, and it did not break the bank. Here are the details:

  • A Belkin SoundForm Connect adapter acts as an AirPlay 2 receiver. This satisfies the requirement of streaming any music I desire either from my iPhone, HomePod, or Apple TV. The only downside is that the AUX output from the Belkin device is horrible, as many of the reviews on Amazon also note. Luckily, the optical output is OK, so I use that instead.
  • Because of the above-mentioned Belkin flaw, and the lack of optical support on inexpensive amplifiers (see below), a Digital Audio Converter is necessary. I settled on an inexpensive Amazon Basics DAC. It works well, and is USB powered, so I can run it from a power hub instead of using up another outlet in my network closet.
  • Audio amplification is provided by a Nubsound 100W mini-amp. It has built-in Bluetooth, which I turned off, as I prefer to use AirPlay. The amp itself is remarkably small — about the size of a Tarot deck. (You were expecting a less esoteric analogy from me? OK. About the size of two sticks of butter.)
  • Finally, I installed a Pyle Multi-zone Selector so that I can fine-tune the volume of each speaker pair. This also allows me to turn off speakers in unoccupied areas of the yard. (Because I’m a good neighbor.) A fancier solution would let me manage this remotely via my iPhone, but for under $100, this passive, no-power-required switch works well. It’s also small enough to fit, barely, on a shelf in the network closet.

Here’s a block diagram of how it’s all connected:

monodraw illlustration

The system works well, with a total cost that is hundreds less than a Sonos solution. (And cheaper than nosey Alexa, too.) The only downside is that I have to stream from a device to the amplifier. The Sonos can independently connect to Apple Music. But this is a limitation that I can take to the bank.

If you need me, I’ll be outside listening to Poolsuite FM.



Book Review: More Sneaky Feats

This book by Tom Ferrell and Lee Eisenberg is subtitled “The Art of Showing Off and 49 New Ways to Do It.” Published in 1976, the audience is clearly teenage boys, which I still consider myself to be.

There are several great little stunts described in this book, most of which are accompanied by Eisenberg’s charming illustrations.

a scan by gordon meyer

I was already familiar with many of the stunts (given my lifelong obsession with the subject), but there were many new ones, too. Some of the ones that caught my eye include:

  • Tearing a phone book in half. I already know how to do this, but the method here is slightly different. This is undoubtably a vanishing skill, as finding a phone book to destroy is harder than ripping it.
  • Sticking a card to a wall. I wonder if this also works with beer mats.
  • A “Grandmother’s Necklace” style stunt using thread spools that ends with a dramatic, visual penetration.
  • A cat’s cradle style of buttonhole penetration.
  • A fun sight gag where a loose thread on your lapel or shirt turns out to be many yards of thread. (Spoiler alert: it’s unspooling from inside your pocket.)
  • A fantastic version of the Cartesian Devil, made with an eye-dropper.
  • A coffee can rolling boomerang that I simply must try soon.

This is the second volume in the Sneaky Feats series. The first volume apparently has 53 stunts, so I will keep my eye skinned for a copy of that. I found the present volume on Cherokee Street in St. Louis, inside a delightful used bookstore run by a gruff, pandemic-denying old man. If you want a copy (and you know that you do), I recommend the multi-volume compendium, which is currently available on the Amazon.


Wired backhaul and Linksys Velop Wi-Fi mesh networks

The Linksys Velop MX4200 mesh Wi-Fi router supports wired backhaul between nodes. However, the information you’ll find online about how to set it up is either outdated, or confusing, or both.

When you use Google to find info about it, many of the top hits won’t help you very much. In particular, there is a top-rated reddit post from a few years ago that is filled with incorrect information (maybe it used to be accurate?) And, surprisingly, even the Linksys support site has conflicting advice. (I’m not linking to any of these so as to not reinforce their dominance in search results.)

Here’s what worked for me:

  1. Add the child as a wireless node first. Let the system perform any software updates, etc.
  2. Connect the ethernet cable to the Internet port on the child node. The device will automatically adjust its settings to use wired backhaul to the parent.
  3. It’s OK (if not, perhaps, required) to connect all the children to an unmanaged switch. Daisy-chaining is not necessary. (Apparently some managed switches cause problems, see this support article for things to try.)

You’ll know that each child is set up correctly by the way it is displayed in the Linksys management app. Signal strength will indicate it is connected via ethernet, and “Connected to” will show the parent node. (Called “Master Bedroom,” in the screenshot below.)

linksys screen shot

That’s it, you’re finished. Bravo to Linksys for making this “just work,” now if only we could clean up the bad info lingering around on the internet.

See also: How to lose a customer, the Amazon eero 6e way


Book Review: Creative, Not Famous

This charming and inspirational book by Ayun Halliday is subtitled “The Small Potato Manifesto.” That’s because it’s about pursuing creative endeavors for joy and personal edification, not for mainstream success.

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This book is inspiring, insightful, and clever. It’s filled with stories and advice from like-minded people who create things because they must, not because they have calculated that doing so will let them hit it big. I would have preferred more narrative, but a big part of the message here is that you are not alone. As the prophet Timothy said, “Find the Others.”

Although I never had the vocabulary to talk about it, I now realize that I have long been a “small potato” person. Looking back, this has applied from my earliest books, first software, and my ongoing performances.

In my corporate life, and by observing that of my wife’s, I have witnessed far too many “strategic” moves based solely on growth, with other consequences be damned. Too many good products and people have been ruined in the pursuit of getting bigger.

Halliday isn’t the first to embrace being small, and to be clear, this book is more folksy than philosophical. But if you commit yourself to small potatohood you might also enjoy The Long Tail, The Gift of Obscurity, and The Case for Low-Cost Ambition. (Some of these are by authors who are only small potatoes in spirit, not in distribution, but don’t let facts distract you.)

Just a few of the many tidbits that caught my eye:

  • Think of yourself as one long work-in-progress. A false step leads to something else. Not everything has to last forever. It’s OK to let something run its course, then end it. (A philosophy that I came to embrace with my Usable Help.)
  • “Bask daily in a subject that brings you pleasure. Study it. Leverage whatever tools are within your reach to present your knowledge to a possibly disinterested wider audience.” (This might be the most impactful statement in the book for me.)
  • I particularly enjoyed learning of Ben Snakepit, whose long-running daily diary comics make me think of my Pandemic Drip Dry and 30-word dice tales projects.
  • Let go of moldy old goals. “I am likely to be on my deathbed trying to forgive myself for not having gotten to everything I wanted.” — Liz Mason
  • Freely and generously give small encouragements to others. Even if it feels awkward. Amen! I think trying to do this every day is a good resolution.
  • A small potatoes creative challenge: Practice bibliomancy with a subject that you know little about. Open to a page, point to a paragraph, and create something (in any format or media) that day which reflects what you’ve selected. Sounds fun! (Stay tuned.)
  • Jealousy stems from the fallacy of scarcity.
  • “Crowdfunding is necessary in a country where the arts are so underfunded.” — Meghan Finn. And that’s why we have Patreon, GoFundMe, et al.
  • Do your future self a favor. Preserve and document your work. Keep a copy of everything in multiple, portable formats.

I got my copy of the book from Quimby’s. Failing that, buy one from the book’s indie publisher, Microcosm. Failing that, if you must, the Amazon.

Photo by Franco Antonio Giovanella on Unsplash


Book Review: A Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching

Subtitled “Getting to know the world’s most misunderstood bird,” this book will forever change your perspective on your city’s “flying rats” — and hopefully strike that insult from your vocabulary.

Cleverly written and charmingly illustrated by Rosemary Mosco, this finely produced book covers the surprising history of the birds, how to appreciate their diversity and situation, and how to interpret their behavior.

gordon meyer holding book

Here are just a few of the many tidbits that spoke to me:

  • All pigeons are doves. Why are there two names? “Pigeon” derives from the French language, brought to England by the Normans. “Dove” derives from the Old English of the Celts and other first peoples.
  • Pigeons, like dogs and cattle, are domesticated animals. The ones you see in the wild, around the entire globe (except Antartica), are all descendants of feral birds that escaped captivity.
  • As far back as written records exist, pigeons were raised by humans for a variety of purposes, such as communication, sport, and meat. Their waste provided essential ingredients in gunpowder and fertilizer.
  • Pigeons evolved from the T. rex and emerged as their own species about 60 million years ago.
  • North America had its own local breed, the passenger pigeon, but they were hunted to extinction by hungry expansionists. (Much like the bison were, although those did (barely) survive the onslaught.)
  • Although the finches of the Galápagos were instrumental in Darwin’s work, he raised pigeons in England to solidify his theories.
  • Reuter (Yes, of Reuters news service) used carrier pigeons to span the gaps of where his European telegraph system couldn’t reach.
  • The murky white swirls in pigeon poop are urine. That’s how birds (not just pigeons) pee.

This was such a fun book. Granted, I used to train and raise doves, so I might be slightly biased. But as an unappreciated cohabitant of our urban cities, pigeons deserve some respect. I bought my copy of the book at Barbara’s Bookstore, but you can get it from the Amazon too.


Book Review: Coding Games with Scratch

This book caught my eye because, as a youth, I enjoyed learning LOGO (specifically, SmartLOGO) and Scratch is a modern equivalent of that fundamental gateway drug.

gordon meyer holding book

Scratch seems like an ideal way to introduce OO concepts, and the built-in sprites make it much easier to make a functional game without getting bogged down with pixels. The Scratch runtime is freely distributed; sort of. You must deploy your creation on their website, which automatically makes it eligible for modification (AKA “remixing”) by others. (A sly indoctrination into open source culture.)

Like all DK publications, the book is visually engaging and well-designed. The copy I read was an older edition, but I see that it is regularly updated to keep up with Scratch releases.

I borrowed the book from my favorite neighborhood Little Free Library, but you can get yours at the Amazon.