hardscrabble 🍫

By Max Jacobson

Psst. Check out my RubyConf 2017 talk, There are no rules in Ruby.

blog posts

2017 in television

03 Jan 2018

Here’s my favorite shows that aired in 2017. Just sharing because I spent way too much time this year watching television, so maybe this will help you pick the good stuff, as long as your taste is also my taste, which it’s not. I’ll try to avoid spoilers.

10. Mr. Robot (s3)

This show remains a technical wonder. It has a very sharply drawn aesthetic – you know you’re watching this show by the mannered acting and the off-center camera compositions more than anything else. Nothing I saw on television was as cool as the 4th episode, which is presented as one long take, and aired without commercials. It feels like the rules don’t apply to this show. This season was mostly about pain and regret and what to do with them. Anything productive? Maybe it’s possible.

Rami Malek is and has been great, but this season was as much about the constellation of characters around him. This show knows it’s fun to watch smart people do hard things and so it drew up a bunch of them, made you love or fear them, and set them against each other. I particularly liked any scene with Dom, Grant, Darlene, or Angela.

Highlight: eps3.4_runtime-error.r00

9. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (part of s2 / part of s3)

I’ve loved Rachel Bloom since I Steal Pets, a truly brilliant, stupid music video she made in 2011. Somehow she’s made a show that has several hysterical songs in each episode, a cast of lovable gentle Californian weirdos, and a very thoughtful depiction of what it’s like to struggle with mental health. It really feels like an auteur work in the sense that it’s hugely personal and no one else could’ve or would’ve made it. She writes and acts and sings. It’s nuts. I giggled like a child all through “I Go To The Zoo” and “The First Penis I Saw” and felt a swell of an uneasy hope during “My Diagnosis”.

Highlight: Josh Is A Liar

8. Catastrophe (s3)

This show is mostly special beacuse it’s very funny, and there are few pleasures comparable to Sharon and Rob making fun of each other so cruelly that you know they must really love each other or how else could they put up with that? It’s also one of the best, most real-feeling stories of alcoholism that I’ve seen. It reminded me, at times, of a crime drama like Dexter where the anti-hero has a secret and we’re for some reason invested in him not being found out as a serial killer, except here he’s sneaking drinks, and you feel it in the pit of your stomach that this is bad. It’s mostly very funny. But it’s also very dedicated to arguing that we’re better when we step up and be there for each other even when it sucks and I find that helpful to think about. The drama is very ordinary but the characters are so lovable that you care. And Carrie Fisher is great.

Highlight: Episode 6

7. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (s1)

Just watched this one over Christmas break, with my mom, so there may be some recency bias here, but I really loved it. This show entertains on so many levels. It’s hysterical, with great characters, acting, and dialogue. The scenes between the comedian characters in particular feel funny in a way that funny people are with each other, where they want to skip past the norms of what they’re supposed to say, and then also not laugh, and then also act like that was normal. All the scenes with Midge and Lenny Bruce were golden like that. And just watching a show about a person figuring out they want to do some kind of art and that they might be good at it and then realizing it’s going to be a lot of work and maybe not that fun all the time is hugely fun, because each step feels real and earned and satisfying. That that person is a Jewish woman with two kids in the fifties in Manhattan played by someone as charismatic as Rachel Brosnahan makes it feel very unique and alive. Also her parents are hysterical and Joel sucks in such a real and lived in way that it almost brings pleasure how reliably the dude sucks. And that the cinematography is frequently dazzling, with a camera that floats through clubs and apartments and over tables and around Hora dancers, and the soundtrack crackles with sometimes on-the-nose but very charming contemporary songs makes the whole thing just kinda whizz by.

Highlight: Because You Left

6. The Americans (s5)

Maybe I’m a sucker and a fool for things that are just the slightest bit unusual, but the premier’s exhuming sequence, which has no dialog for something like 15 minutes as we just watch these people do their job ultra competently and feel the weight of it on their backs and the amount they’re stuck with the decisions they’ve made and have been made for them growing and growing … is very good … and is enough to make me sit up straight and hold my breath.

This is the penultimate season and it kinda feels like one. This is the TV show version of a clenched jaw. It’s all heading to hell, for sure. I think of it as a show about marriage and parenting, which isn’t really an original way to think about it. But it really makes me feel the painful feeling that maybe for all our/their hard work, the next generation won’t really be better off. On that theme, the new characters of Tuan and Pasha were fascinating and painful to watch.

Highlight: Amber Waves

5. The Leftovers (s3)

The final season! This show was based on a book, but they pretty much covered it in the (pretty good) season one. Seasons two and three veered off and did their own thing and explored grief, mental health, love, religion, and family using some of the most bizarre scenarios with the most committed cast. It’s a really stunning show just to look at even if you don’t have any idea what’s going on, which you mostly don’t. Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon are incredible.

I don’t really need things to stick the landing perfectly; Lost’s ending wasn’t perfect but it was fine IMO. The Leftover’s is another Lindelof joint, and it does feel like Lost is hanging over it a little. He did a better job of managing expectations this time, because I don’t think anyone watching expected the show to start making sense right at the end. Nevertheless, the ending had me spellbound.

Highlight: It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World

(for the submarine sequence if nothing else, but also the rest)

4. Better Call Saul (s4)

I did like Breaking Bad a lot and I didn’t really know what to make of this when it started. It’s a little hard to talk about. It’s really its own show, distinct from Breaking Bad. When I say that the whole show was building to this season, that doesn’t mean what you think it means if all you know is it’s the Breaking Bad prequel show. More than that it’s a family drama about a handful of lawyers, all proud, all brilliant, each kind of broken in their own way. Like Breaking Bad, it’s about how people’s consciences rot and fall away, or don’t, and the effects on other people. It’s pretty heavy, but in a way that feels real and awful. It’s also, frequently, hysterical.

Highlight: Lantern

3. The Carmichael Show (s3)

Really sharp writing and amazing chemistry from the cast. Nothing else made me laugh as often. I loved the sneaky emotional ones, too, which is almost all of them. Each character gets to take their turn being the asshole taking the overly harsh position on whatever the argument of the week is, and actually gets a chance to speak their mind, and then they keep digging until they find some understanding. It’s a very winning formula. I’m sad this one ended.

Highlight: Cynthia’s Birthday

2. Nathan For You (s3)

Nathan For You is audacious and radical and sweet and kind of cruel and depressing. I hope he does more. It’s so unpredictable, but in unpredictable ways. Most of the funniest moments come from Nathan violating some social norm, but the surprising thing is how polite he is as he does it. I often feel terrible for his subjects, except that it’s very hard to find fault in Nathan’s behavior. He’s never really ridiculing anyone. He’s more enabling people to succeed at whatever their dreams are, if only temporarily. That their results are uniformly terrible makes their dreams feel small and unimportant and them seem foolish for even having them. But maybe it’s better to live your dream than to not?

Highlight: Finding Frances

1. Halt and Catch Fire (s4)

This was the fourth and final season and it was just about perfect. The episode called “Goodwill” is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on television. What this show did better than any other is make you really love its characters and care about them and feel for them. That it was about the early days of the internet and felt real and lovely is only extra credit. That it told the story of Cam and Donna struggling and having success as women in tech, also extra credit, and I think not talked about enough, IMO.

Highlight: Goodwill

Honorable mentions (alphabetical ordered)

  • Black Mirror (s4)
  • Bold Type, The (s1)
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine (s5)
  • Fargo (s3)
  • Fresh Off the Boat (s4)
  • Girls (s6)
  • Good Place, The (s2)
  • Master of None (s2)
  • Mindy Project, The (s6)
  • Scandal (s7)
  • Search Party (s2)
  • Sweet/Vicious (s1)

Also enjoyed (alphabetical ordered)

  • Broad City (s4)
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm (s9)
  • Game of Thrones (s7)
  • Glow (s1)
  • Handmaid’s Tale, The (s1)
  • Legion (s1)
  • New Girl (s6)
  • Rick and Morty (s3)
  • Stranger Things (s2)
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (s3)
  • Veep (s6)
  • You’re the Worst (s4)

the hardware and software I use (2017)

21 Dec 2017

I’m an inveterate reader of Uses This style articles and I’ve always wanted someone to ask me to participate in one and no one has, and I have a perfectly fine blog, so here goes nothing (actually something quite self-indulgent and in need of editing and unlikely to be an annual tradition now that I know how weird it feels to write this all out).

I’m borrowing the questions from that website (thanks).

Table of contents, because this got long, but I guess that’s because I really like using hardware and software, which is true, and that’s a good point when you think about it

Who are you, and what do you do?

Yes hello I am Max Jacobson, I’m a software engineer who makes web apps, currently at Code Climate. Occasionally, and not professionally, I write, speak in public, and podcast.

What hardware do you use?

I have too much and want to have fewer but I’m not sure what to not use. I try to make my hardware last as long as I can and avoid indulging the guilty thrill of buying new things, with mixed success. By frequency of use:

I use my iPhone 7 constantly. It’s great. I like the funny vibrating home button and don’t really miss the headphone jack. I got the AirPods for my birthday and they’re great, although they’ve turned me into someone who gets nervous stepping over grates in the sidewalk. I use it in a Smart Battery Case which is fine, although I feel very warped by it because I start feeling a little stressed out as soon as my phone’s battery dips below 100%.

At work, since March 2017, I use a Lenovo ThinkPad P50 which is enormous and heavy and has a numpad built in that I never use and that little red nub for mousing that I never use and a hinge that curiously opens to a full 180 degrees which I never do and a second set of mouse buttons above the track pad which I never use and a fingerprint scanner that I never use. I didn’t exactly pick it out: when someone left the company I took it over and turned in a MacBook Pro so I could try out switching to Linux (more on that later). I do like it: it’s super fast; the keyboard is good; the screen is sharp; it has all the ports you could want; the actual thing feels pretty good; and once your eyes adjust, its stark black and red aesthetic starts to look kind of slick. I’ll probably pick a smaller ThinkPad for my next laptop.

I use it with a WASD V2 87-Key Custom Mechanical Keyboard, which is awesome and a $5 AmazonBasics USB Mouse which is perfectly fine. I’m not in the camp of people who detest wires on a desk. If anything, I’m in the camp of people who detest having to charge things.

Next up is the 2016 9.7” iPad Pro. I mainly use it to do things like watch videos in bed or read Twitter on the couch. Occasionally I’ll take it out to a cafe with the Apple Magic Keyboard so I can do more productive stuff like write emails or research some project, where I appreciate being able to command+tab to switch between apps or command+space to quick-launch apps. I recently bought a Canopy keyboard case to kinda encourage me to do that more, and hopefully I’ll like that. (Edit: I did)

I like having it. It lets me give my phone a break. It’s so light. It has such a nice screen. Its speakers are surprisingly loud and nice-sounding. It’s fun to use and to look at (I have the pink one with the mint green smart cover).

For a personal, non-iPad computer, I used to have a 15-inch, Early 2011 MacBook Pro, but it died in early 2017. My grandma bought it for me after college when I was trying to become a filmmaker. It ended up being the computer where I learned to code instead. I put that machine through hell trying to keep it going, and I struggled for a while figuring out what to replace it with. I probably would’ve gotten a spec’d out MacBook pro except that all signs suggested they were going to release a big new update soon. They ended up doing so, but not until November, and it was kind of a controversial new design which I’m glad I didn’t wait for.

I ended up getting a 2015 Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition in November 2015, actually awhile before the MacBook Pro formally stopped booting. I was looking for a light laptop that I could travel with (by this point the MacBook Pro felt like a brick in my bag and had a few loose screws clattering around in it which left me preferring to keep it at home), and also to experiment with using Linux. It cost $1,370. I like this laptop fine. It’s light and fast and runs Linux and has a decent battery and a nice screen. I think it’s weird to have the webcam positioned below the display instead of above. The keyboard is only fine. It feels so sturdy and compact that it doesn’t feel fragile and I toss it in my bag without a case. This is the laptop I brought to India and studied Rust, and later brought to New Orleans to present at RubyConf. It’s reliable and straight-forward.

But when my MacBook Pro died, I did kind of feel like I needed a Mac. I had salvaged the harddrive from the laptop and bought a drive enclosure. I also had them backed up to another hard drive and to the cloud, via backblaze. All those backups cried out to be restored, somewhere.

I ended up getting a Late 2014 Mac Mini spec’d out with 16GB of RAM, an SSD, and whatever the fastest processor was. It cost $1,399. That’s a weird computer to choose in early 2017. Even in 2014, it was really poorly received because it didn’t offer all the options that the previous generation did and wasn’t as upgradable after purchase. I was kind of thinking it’d be a stop-gap until the new MacBook Pros came out, and then I’d sell it and get one of those, but then those came out and were not very appealing to me. But to be honest, I kind of love it. In my experience, it’s plenty fast and reliable. I almost bought a Mac Pro and it turned out the Mac Mini was enough for me. Lol. I don’t use it a ton: I’m on a computer enough at work and don’t thrill at the idea of spending much more time on one. But I still like to have a Mac somewhere in my life, to serve as a hub for things like my photo library, my music library, and all my old college essays and writing projects. And as much as I’ve come to like Linux, there remain a few things that I need a Mac for (more on this later).

I use it with another AmazonBasics mouse and a Spacesaver M White Buckling Spring keyboard from Unicomp. It’s hilarious and thunderous and retro and great. I love it.

For sound, I use Altec Lansing BXR1220 computer speakers I bought for $15 five and a half years ago which are perfectly fine and look pretty cool IMO.

For a display, I use a Dell U2713HM 27-Inch Screen LED-lit Monitor that The Wirecutter recommended when I bought it in 2014. It’s been really great.

For recording audio, I use a MXL Tempo USB Desktop Cardioid Condenser Microphone. I was going through a phase where I enjoyed red things. It wasn’t a huge investment, is simple to use, and sounds OK.

For Wi-Fi, I switched to Eero in 2016 to get better coverage of my apartment and it worked out great.

I watch TV and Movies using an Apple TV (which is fine) on a TV that my friend Russ handed down to me when his aunt handed hers down to him (which is fine).

When I write longhand, it’s usually on some cheap Gregg-ruled steno pad I picked up at a pharmacy (I like the spiral being at the top so it stays away from my wrists; I like for the margin to be right down the middle so I don’t feel weird writing right up to the edge of the page, and it also gives me a sense of how far across the line I’ve gotten at any given point? Maybe I don’t need the middle margin actually) using a Muji 0.5MM Gel-Ink black pen which my sister recommended to me once, years ago.

For reading books, I use the library.

I have way too much hardware, but at least I don’t have an Apple Watch.

And what software?

I try not to use too much software, because the more things I use the more keyboard shortcuts I have to remember, and the less room in my heart there is for poetry. I try to use built-in software when possible unless it’s really bad.

For programming a computer, I primarily use Ruby or, for simple things, shell scripts. I also like to use Rust.

For writing code, I prefer to use terminal-based tools, primarily: vim for editing text, tmux for terminal multiplexing (creating separate workspaces for separate projects, each consisting of a few related shells, controlling how they’re laid out and which to focus on), zsh for a shell, and git for tracking changes to source code. I like them because they’re free and open source, blazing fast, and have user interfaces that feel like they’re carved from stone. There’s a long tail of unix tools that assist in the process of writing and testing code, but I’m going to consider them out of the scope of this post. Thankfully, those all work pretty much the same on both macOS and Linux.

My dotfiles are available on GitHub. They use thoughtbot’s lovely rcm tool to ease installation and syncing across multiple machines.

On macOS, I use the built-in Terminal terminal emulator and on Linux I use rxvt-unicode.

For an operating system on my two laptops, I initially tried Arch Linux at the recommendation of a few co-workers and I’ve come to quite love it. It has a deserved reputation for being ultra minimalist, which means you have to do more legwork to get it up-and-running, but then you can customize it exactly to your taste. It’s way more bare bones than I could ever have imagined. If you want it to behave in any way at all, you have to tell it to – even for super basic things like locking the screen after a few minutes of inactivity – but it has all the seams in place for you to do just that. I initially set it up using this fabulous tutorial from LearnLinux.tv and have iterated on it via a lot of guidance from my patient co-workers and by copious browsing of the elaborate ArchWiki.

For managing windows on my laptops, I’m using xmonad, a tiling window manager. In the past I’ve tried macOS apps that add keyboard shortcuts for managing windows in a tiling fashion (Spectacle, I think, and others) and never found them to be particularly compelling. I thought things like: I’ve always arranged my windows using my mouse and it’s been fine; I don’t want to learn a bunch of new keyboard shortcuts; etc. But depite those earlier fears and protestations, xmonad is absolutely wonderful. I think I like it more because it’s not a layer on top of a dynamic window manager, it’s the whole system. I set it up so all of my windows get chunky, hot pink outlines. My screen is always 100% filled. Windows get automatically resized to fit as I open and close things. I can re-arrange and navigate the windows without ever using the mouse. It’s cool as hell. It’s also fast as hell.

For browsing the web, I’m a stubborn Firefox apologist and have been for a while. It feels like the internet to me. I even use it on iOS, so my history and bookmarks will sync there. Unfortunately, I end up in Safari for iOS all the time, since that’s the default browser for everyone.

For email, contacts, and calendar I use FastMail. It’s rock solid, has super fast and pleasant web interfaces, and has no ads. I pay $70 per two years for it. I love it.

For email, I use the built-in Mail app on iOS, which works great with FastMail. I’ve tried a handful of alternatives and didn’t really like any of them, and you can’t change the default app to handle email links anyway so I just go with the flow. On macOS and Linux, I just the FastMail web interface, which is great.

For interacting with my personal calendar on macOS and iOS, I use Fantastical which is very delightful.

For buying domains and managing DNS, I use NearlyFreeSpeech.NET. It’s one of my favorite websites. It’s extremely plain and extremely polite and extremely clear.

For lightweight checklists, both long-lived and short lived, I use the Apple Notes app. For example, I have a note called “movies out” which is a checklist of movies that are out or coming out soon that I think I might want to see. I refer to that occasionally when I think “hmm what’s out?” or when I pass a poster and think “Oh, that’s out?” I have another note called “pantry” which has a checklist of the staples I like to keep in my kitchen, and I check things off when I buy them, and uncheck them when they’re running low. I have another note called “Christmas gifts” which lists all the people I need to get gifts for, with checklists for each person of the things I’ve gotten them (checked) or am thinking about getting them (not checked). I’ll delete that one after Christmas. Sometimes I’ll make a note that just has a checklist of all the things I’d like to get to in the day, and I can look at it throughout the day, and then later on delete it.

For being upset and inspired and not-bored and informed about the world, I use Twitter. It’s a big part of my day. I can’t really imagine the world without it. I used to use it exclusively via a third-party app called Tweetbot, but I switched to the official iOS app and it’s honestly fine. I do see ads now, and I lose some neat features and design, but more importantly I get all of the modern twitter features, like polls and group DMs, which aren’t available to third-party apps. On Linux and macOS, I just use the web interface.

For subscribing to websites and newsletters, I use Feedbin. I still love RSS in 2017. It’s a big part of my day. Whenever I read anything I like on the web, I look for a feed so I can subscribe and get more. Also, whenever a newsletter seems interesting, I subscribe via feedbin rather than via my email, which helps me prevent my email inbox from getting cluttered. On iOS and macOS, I read via Reeder, which probably comes second only to Firefox as my favorite and most-used app of all time; I was browsing Google Reader via Reeder on an iPod Touch between classes in college. On Linux, I use the Feedbin web UI, which is actually really nice. On iOS, to detect RSS feeds on web pages and subscribe to them in Feedbin, I use Feed Hawk.

For hosting source code, I use GitHub. It’s great.

For making my blog, I use Jekyll to structure the source code and build the site, GitHub Pages to host the static site, Markdown to make it pleasant to write prose that will become HTML, and Clicky for some traffic analytics.

For creating slides for my one talk I gave in public, I used remark, an open source tool that let me use familiar web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to customize the slides, and let me use my beloved Markdown for writing the actual content, and let me easily host the finished product on my blog.

For editing my podcast, I use … actually I do it so infrequently that each time I basically forget and try something new, and I currently don’t remember.

For listening to music, I use Spotify although I kind of wish I just paid for music again so I didn’t feel a mounting dread about how much money I’ve sunk into something I don’t get to keep. It has good native apps for all the platforms I use. Sometimes I use the Apple Music app for things that aren’t on Spotify, and other times I listen to musicforprogramming.net.

For listening to podcasts, I use the wonderful Overcast. I love to have a podcast app that does server-side polling and sends push notifications when new episodes are available. I generally use the iOS apps, but I’m glad it has a spartan web app I can use on Linux and macOS.

For tracking personal tasks, I use OmniFocus, which is available on all of the Apple platforms. I use it pretty passively. It’s more a thing I write to than read from. If someone recommends something, I’ll put it in OmniFocus. If I see a tweet with a link I want to check out later, I’ll put it in. If I have a random thought I want to explore further, I’ll put it in. If I feel guilty about something, I’ll put it in. Occasionally I’ll go back and look through it and check things off and delete things and organize them into little projects. It helps me remember what are all the things I want to or am supposed to do, which helps me not feel worried all the time, and when I do feel worried I know where to go to remind myself who I am. I used to use Instapaper for saving articles to read later, and this year I stopped, and it’s a relief. But I did make a single action project in OmniFocus called “articles to read later”, and I do occasionally put articles in it. It’s a little deranged. I dearly wish they had a web version so I could check it on Linux.

For tracking work-related personal tasks, I use Todoist, which is pretty similar to OmniFocus, except it feels less reliable to me, has subscription-based pricing, and has a web version so I can check it at work on my Linux computer. I actually kind of like keeping a divide between work stuff and personal stuff. I just wish its syncing engine felt more rock solid.

For keeping files in sync across my goofy amount of computers, and occasionally for sharing files with other people, I use Dropbox. I’m tempted to become more reliant on it. My photo library is currently in Apple’s Photos app, which I can’t access on Linux. That might be a project for next year.

For managing my personal passwords, I use 1Password. I’m very pleased because they recently introduced a web version, which should let me use it on Linux, although I haven’t tried yet. I think I may need to switch over to subscription pricing to use that, which would totally be worth it for that alone. Currently, whenever I need to look up a password on my personal laptop I just look it up on my phone and peck it in, which suuucks when your passwords are super involved. For my work passwords, I use Rooster, a CLI password manager.

For texting I use some combination of iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Twitter DM, Instagram DM, and Slack depending on who I’m talking to. It’s a mess. And I’m just realizing three of those are owned by Facebook. In theory, I prefer Twitter and Slack most, because those are available on all of the operating systems I use. In practice, I use iMessage the most.

For making screencasts, I use QuickTime to record my screen and ScreenFlow if I need to do any editing. I have used recordmydesktop to record my screen on Linux and it works great, but I never really do it. And I have no idea how to edit video on Linux, although I’m sure it’s done.

For remembering where I’m at in which TV shows, I use iShows TV on my phone. I love it.

For figuring out where to go and planning trips, I use Foursquare.

For giving and receiving FOMO, and helping me remember later the names of the places I’ve been, I use Swarm on my phone.

For some twitter analytics, I use Birdbrain on my phone.

For reading comics, with cool panel-by-panel transition animations, I use Comixology, mostly on my iPad.

For tracking the shipping status of packages I use Deliveries on macOS and iOS.

What would be your dream setup?

Hmmmmm.

I wish that all iOS apps I liked had at least spartan web interfaces so I could interact with their data from my Linux computers.

I’m looking at you, iMessage and OmniFocus.

I wish Vimscript were replaced with Ruby.

I wish there were less lock-in.

I wish I could use iOS more like a general-purpose computer. I know some people can, but I don’t think I can until I can do things like:

  • change the default browser to Firefox so I can follow links in, for example, my email, and have them open the Firefox app
  • run a terminal emulator that gives me access to the actual file system and run arbitrary software and have access to a package manager such as Homebrew
  • not rely on a separate Mac to add arbitrary mp3s to the Music app
  • do things like invoke 1Password from Firefox without going into a share menu – using “sharing” as the way for apps to communicate feels like the wrong abstraction
  • probably other stuff

I should probably get better speakers.

I have a kind of allergy to using Google products that I should probably get over, because they do make a lot of good stuff.

I wish more people had blogs and fewer people had newsletters.