Still Here

“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
– Mark Twain

Ceteris

Jess and I buy a lot of our stuff from Amazon, as it’s far cheaper than neighborhood stores here in NYC. And, more broadly, we tend to do most of our shopping online, which is usually faster, more convenient and less expensive than our brick-and-mortar options.

Online prices change frequently, and sales and coupons have a Murphy’s Law-esque way of popping up the day after you need them. Fortunately, most sites will retroactively match lowered prices or sales and discounts if you email to ask. But, in reality, it’s almost impossible to keep up with deals on future purchases, much less past ones.

Enter Paribus, a great new site that chases those potential discounts for you. Connect Paribus with your email account, and it will catalogue your purchases, then keep an eye on whether they qualify for partial refunds down the line. If they do, Paribus’ team will follow up on your behalf. Paribus gets paid only if they find you refunds (they takes 25%, and send the other 75% your way), so there’s only upside to trying it out.

Sign up for Paribus, and get what you’re owed.

[I discovered Paribus through today’s Product Hunt email. If you like cool new stuff, head on over and sign up for their daily newsletter. Each morning, they send along a crowdsourced list of the coolest new software, hardware, books and courses in the tech world. It’s a fast way to stay on the bleeding edge.]

Frieze

Friday evening, Jess and I drove out to Randall’s Island, the little patch under the Triborough bridge that houses the Manhattan Psychiatric Center and the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center for the criminally insane. This past weekend, appropriately enough, it also housed Frieze, New York’s largest contemporary art fair.

For three days, nearly 200 galleries from around the world set up shop in a long, serpentine, tent-like building, displaying their priciest, most inscrutable pieces on white pop-up gallery walls. A few of the pieces were spectacular (we coveted a pair of large Alex Katz’s in particular), and a handful were disturbing, thought-provoking or funny in memorable ways.

But, by and large, the art was eclipsed by the crowd. Collect the arterati from New York, Berlin, Tokyo and beyond, and you have an amazing array of people all trying their hardest to look like they’re not trying hard at all. The ennui was palpable, and I spent most of the time with the Ben Folds Five’s Battle of Who Could Care Less stuck in my head. “Do you not hear me anymore / I know it’s cool to be so bored / I know it’s not your thing to care.”

Jess spent most of the time marveling at the clothing worn, most of it a far throw from the carefully-proscribed strictures of Fashion Week cool that she’s used to seeing. The dominant Frieze style appeared to be “expensive basics assembled mismatchingly by blind drunk”, though at least a few people also seemed to be wearing stuff pulled from Zoolander’s Derelicte.

Then, of course, there were the Milanese and Roman galleries, instead full of young men wearing impeccable suits with sprezzatura. Proving, as ever, that an excellent suit is never out of place. Or, at least, that we should all wish we were Italian.

Mac Tools: Satellite Eyes

This is a small one, though triggered by yesterday’s post. A handful of folks emailed to ask about the background behind the Alfred command bar, which is actually just a slice of my larger desktop background:

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 1.29.17 PM

It’s courtesy of Satellite Eyes, a small, fun piece of software that automatically sets your desktop to a map of wherever you are at the time. Thus, my background looks different all throughout the day, depending on whether I’m at home, work, or somewhere else in or out of NYC.

With a bunch of different map styles and levels of zoom, you can widely customize the exact look; I’m partial to ‘MapBox Terrain’ at ‘Neighborhood’ zoom, though your mileage may vary.

No a big one, but definitely a worthwhile bit of fun.

Mac Tools: Alfred

A recent study by Brainscape has shown that just learning keyboard shortcuts instead of mousing around the screen would save most computer users almost two full weeks of work time each year. I’m a big shortcut user (per my previous Gmail shortcuts post), though I also depend on a slew of free or cheap tools that similarly make my Mac far more pleasant and efficient. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be cataloguing the best of the bunch.

I spend that vast majority of my computer time in my web browser. But I also regularly dip into a number of other apps, as projects demand. Launching them the traditional way – going to the Finder, then opening the Applications folder, and double-clicking the app – is painfully slow. And Spotlight, the built in search functionality in OS X that also can launch apps, is underpowered and not much quicker.

Enter Alfred, a small app with a big impact. Once loaded, you can launch Alfred with a keystroke (by default, ‘command-space’), which loads an empty command bar, like this:

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 3.15.49 PM

Launching an app with Alfred is ridiculously easy. Just start typing the app’s name, then click enter once it appears:

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 3.16.26 PM

You can also use Alfred to quickly open files the same way:

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 3.17.05 PM

It works as a calculator, too. Just start typing an expression, and it automatically calculates the result:

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 3.18.12 PM

Alfred does far more than that, pulling info from contacts, managing iTunes, or saving prior cut-and-pastes from your clipboard. With custom workflows, you can add even more powerful behaviors – with just a few keystrokes, I can add a song on the current Spotify playlist to my saved files, for example.

In short, it’s a pretty deep rabbit hole. But in my experience, even if you never use it for anything more than app launcher, file-finder and quick calculator, it will already make your Mac wildly easier to use; enough so that you’ll chafe with irritation borrowing somebody else’s Mac that doesn’t have Alfred already enabled.

You can download Alfred free directly from creator Running with Crayons’ site.

Good Day Sunshine

A weekend of summery weather, and suddenly New Yorkers are outside in droves getting skin cancer.

Or at least that’s what my mom (and much of the US health establishment) would have you believe. UV rays are carcinogenic, so you should slather on sunscreen, wear a hat and stay inside. But like many health questions, the full story of sun exposure is more complicated than the basic soundbite.

For example, on the one hand, childhood severe sunburns are associated with an increased risk of melanoma. On the other, people who work outside with a lot of sun exposure (like farmers or fishermen) actually have lower melanoma rates than indoor workers, and better prognoses when they do have melanomas.

You can find a bunch of similar evidence in both directions, because there’s an inherent trade-off in staying out of the sun. UV rays damage skin cells’ DNA, making cancers more likely. But they also help your body create vitamin D, which protects against cancer, and is hugely important to your health in a slew of other ways.

Being healthy, then, involves a Goldilocks approach to sun: not too much, but not too little, either. And in recent years, the pendulum has swung far into the shade. Enough so that scientists behind a recent literature review concluded that we need more UV:

“The overall health benefit of an improved vitamin D status may be more important than the possibly increased [melanoma] risk resulting from carefully increasing UV exposure.”

So what should we do? According to the research, being tan is healthy, but getting tan is less so, and getting sunburned is terrible. So ease yourself into the summer. You want small, regular doses of sun initially, so you can begin to tan slowly and as safely as possible. Then make sure you’re out in the sun consistently throughout the summer. Use sunscreen and cover-ups sufficient to make sure you never burn, but not so much that you reach fall as pasty-white as you doubtless are right now.

It’s Alive!

Jess and her colleagues (plus me as web-design intern and fabric-carrying gopher) just launched Dobbin’s Spring / Summer ’15 line.

They’ve built a hugely loyal customer-base, and have been growing quickly from one season to the next. If you want to try them out, head on over today; shipping is free both ways, and popular sizes sell out fast.

SS2015

Living

“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.”
– Joan Didion

Keep Lifting

Every night, I do the dishes. And every night, I think about the Sisyphean nature of the task: no matter how well I scrub the current pile, by tomorrow a whole new stack will have accumulated nonetheless.

A lot of things in life have that ‘treading water’ quality. You do them consistently, in part to make things better, but in equal part just to keep them from getting worse. And, indeed, working out sometimes feels that way. Even as you hit a consistent streak of attendance, start to see real results, you know it’s just a matter of time until life and work and family and whatever else rages out of control, forcing you to take weeks or months off, backsliding to where you started.

Except that’s incorrect. According to some awesome new scientific findings, coming back to the gym after a hiatus is far easier than starting from scratch. Working out generates new nuclei in your muscles (called myonuclei) that help coordinate repair and growth. The new research indicates that, even if those muscles atrophy, the new myonuclei stick around for an extended period. So when you do return to the gym, you can regain strength faster than when you started out, back when you had fewer myonuclei.

Combine that with what we already know about the durability of neurologically-driven strength gains, and you have a pretty good argument for hitting the gym, as hard and as consistently as you can, even if you know you might end up with unexpected breaks in your future.

Kingmaker

When I was a little kid, my parents would occasionally take me to the Boston Whaler, a New England seafood restaurant located on the San Francisco Bay Area’s southern peninsula.   I suspect they were there because, East Coasters at heart, they were craving lobster. But, on the west coast of the 1980’s, with imported lobster far overpriced and even farther under quality, Alaskan King Crab legs was the closest they could get.

I’ve always been a big eater, despite my relatively small (5’6″, 145#) size; enough so that my family has long referred to me as the ‘garbage disposal’, willing to eat the leftovers off any of their plates. But I hadn’t yet garnered that reputation when, at the Boston Whaler, me all of two years old, my parents ordered a full additional adult serving of King Crab legs, and the entire waitstaff of the restaurant gathered round to watch this tiny tot siglehandedly polish off the whole thing. 

Back then, I certainly wouldn’t have paired those legs with shrimp, oysters and a stiff martini. But, in today’s world, there’s no better way to fix an afternoon that’s otherwise off to a terrible start.