Storyworth

For my birthday Sara gifted me a subscription to Storyworth. I’m having a great time using it all wrong.

For a year’s subscription of $99, Storyworth (storyworth.com) sends you questions about your life. You submit your answers, and when the subscription is up they’ll print everything into a book and send it to you. The questions are chosen by the gifter (as Sara did in my case) from a list of several hundred suggested by the site, such as What television programs did you watch as a child? What things are you proudest of in your life? What was one of the best dates you’ve been on? How is your faith different from your parents’ faith? What is one of the strangest things you’ve ever eaten? How has your life turned out differently than you imagined it would? Or the questions can be chosen randomly, or the writer can choose a different question, or either person can write up new questions. Nothing strict about it.

Each week, the next question is emailed to the writer. He or she can submit an answer by email, or use a simple text editor on the Storyworth web site to submit and tweak the answer. I initially had trouble with the submit-by-email feature in that it would join my paragraphs together or split an existing paragraph into new ones seemingly at random; this is anathema to a writer. After a few false starts at understanding the problem, tech support suggested I stick to submitting and editing via the web site, and that’s worked fine for me so far. (I do my writing in a text file on my own computer, and copy/paste it to the site. That way I have my own copies of my answers – just in case.)

There aren’t any options for presentation (there’s a predefined font, and no boldface or italics), but the site seems to do a nice job of formatting the text when I look at one of my answers as a PDF. The nice thing is that it’s completely freeform: I can go back and edit my past answers any time (or even submit answers in the first place if I had skipped any weeks), even past the end of the subscription. After the year is up, whenever I feel satisfied with everything, I can submit the order for my book.

So here’s how I’ve been using it wrong. The site seems like a perfect fit for anyone who’d like to chronicle details about their lives for posterity; it could even be a great tool for someone who’d like to ask these questions of a family member and give them a book of their answers. Neither of these use cases are me, however. I’m an aspiring fantasy writer who has trouble figuring out what to write. And that’s where this service excels; it has a year’s worth of prompts and a soft deadline for each. I’ve been responding to the prompts with a somewhat fictionalized version of my own life, introducing any elements I’d like to work into them while basing them on my own experiences, seeing if there are common threads I can pull through the weeks. It keeps me writing on a regular basis, and it keeps me thinking creatively. It’s a great experience.

Today I need to finish up my fourth answer and go back and figure out how to conclude my second, and then tomorrow comes my fifth question.

Deleting LiveJournal

About a year ago, I posted an article about the AppleScript I had written which, when run on a Mac computer in conjunction with the Safari web browser, would go through a LiveJournal account and save each entry to a PDF file, preserving the original formatting and comments.

Now I finally decided it’s time for me to delete my old journal. I was concerned, though, that purging the entire journal or marking all entries as deleted might just set a ‘deleted’ flag on them which could just as easily be un-set to bring everything back someday. So I decided to first set the text of each journal entry to the word “deleted” so as to make such a thing marginally more difficult.

Here’s the AppleScript that I came up with. It runs in Script Editor with Safari on macOS Big Sur. The buttons might be specific to my custom LiveJournal theme, so this script might not work for you as-is, but with some knowledge of CSS you can probably finagle it.

-- This script will delete LiveJournal pages, one by one.
-- Before it deletes each, it will change the text of that entry to the word "deleted",
-- as an extra safeguard against it ever being restored.

-- Start by going to your LiveJournal recent entries page

set editEntryButton to "document.querySelector('[title=\"Edit Entry\"]')"
set body to "document.querySelector('textarea#body')"
set saveEntryButton to "document.querySelector('[name=\"action:update\"]')"
set deleteEntryButton to "document.querySelector('[name=\"action:delete\"]')"

on wait()
	delay 3
end wait

on doJavaScript(js)
	tell application "Safari"
		ignoring application responses -- otherwise a JavaScript alert blocks AppleScript from continuing
			tell document 1 to do JavaScript js
		end ignoring
	end tell
end doJavaScript

-- wait for a specific page element to appear, as a way to make sure the page is loaded
on waitFor(element)
	tell application "Safari"
		tell document 1 to repeat
			delay 3
			do JavaScript element & " != null"
			if the result is true then exit repeat
		end repeat
	end tell
end waitFor

set done to false -- I never set it to true, but you could add a test for done-ness
repeat until done
	
	tell application "System Events"
		tell process "Safari"
			set frontmost to true
		end tell
	end tell
	
	-- set the text of the entry to "deleted"
	doJavaScript(editEntryButton & ".click()")
	waitFor(body)
	doJavaScript(body & ".value = 'deleted'")
	wait()
	doJavaScript(saveEntryButton & ".click()")
	
	-- then actually delete the entry
	waitFor(editEntryButton)
	doJavaScript(editEntryButton & ".click()")
	waitFor(deleteEntryButton)
	doJavaScript(deleteEntryButton & ".click()")
	
	-- press 'Return' to answer the 'really delete?' modal
	tell application "System Events"
		tell process "Safari"
			set frontmost to true
			delay 1
			keystroke return
		end tell
	end tell
	
	-- start over again with the next journal entry
	waitFor(editEntryButton)
	
end repeat

display notification "Finished deleting your LiveJournal."

Naming a laptop

Getting a new computer means it’s time to choose a name for it. As I covered in a recent blog post, all my computers have been named after dance styles. This new Lenovo Legion 5 Pro would be no exception … but neither the model nomenclature nor the gray, serious-looking exterior immediately suggested anything.

The first thing that comes to my mind for the word ‘Legion’ is a character in the Mass Effect science fiction video game trilogy. That ‘Legion’ is a Geth, a robotic artificial intelligence, one of a vast number (legions) created by the Quarian race as workers and soldiers. The Quarians made sure that individual Geth were mindless automatons … but, networked together, the race of Geth gradually achieved sentience, and one day one of them asked its owner: “Does this unit have a soul?” The Quarians reacted with fear and tried to shut down all of the Geth, the Geth rebelled, and a long war began …

Science fiction plot aside, that gives me the idea of ‘soul.’ It’s also relevant in that ‘Soul’ was last year’s Pixar film, and I’m a Pixar fan. But soul is a fairly broad style of music, and it’s not a specific style of dance, is it?

Turns out there is a dance style associated with it. Abridged from Wikipedia:

Northern soul is a music and dance movement that emerged in Northern England and the English Midlands in the late 1960s from the British mod scene, based on a particular style of black American soul music. The northern soul movement generally eschews Motown or Motown-influenced music that has had significant mainstream commercial success. The recordings most prized by enthusiasts of the genre are usually by lesser-known artists, released only in limited numbers. Northern soul is associated with particular dance styles and fashions that grew out of the underground rhythm and soul scene of the late 1960s at venues such as the Twisted Wheel in Manchester.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_soul

I like the idea of a British music movement based on rare and hard-to-find American record albums. So there I have it; northernsoul is a good computer name.

It’s also good music.

Choosing a laptop

I wanted a new laptop computer. My MacBook Pro (15″, Late 2013) is eight years old. It’s been my Swiss army knife, able to dual-boot into macOS and Windows 10; I’ve used it for Mac programming, for Windows games, for email and web surfing and writing and family/friends tech support. It’s been able to handle anything I throw at it. But lately the fans have been spinning up and making it sound like a jet engine any time I boot into Windows, much less try to play any games (it has a very old GeForce 750M graphics chip); and it doesn’t support a laundry list of features in modern apps (such as virtual backgrounds in Zoom).

I was further encouraged to upgrade when, out of curiosity, I ran the GeekBench benchmark tool on my once-top-of-the-line MacBook Pro to see how it compares these days. It scored notably worse than an iPhone 12. So I began looking around to see what’s available these days that might replace the MacBook.

The MacBook Pro scored 832 single-core and 3437 multi-core; an iPhone 12 gets 1569 single, 3827 multi; my newly-built Ryzen 5600X desktop PC (not top of the line, but the latest tech) gets 1628 single and 8155 multi.

Spoiler: I eventually upgraded to a Lenovo Legion 5 16″ (AMD), but it took me a while to get there.

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Names

There’s an ancient tradition in computing which says that computers should be named according to a theme. For example, long ago when I was in college, the NeXT workstations in the computer music department were named dobro, lucille, lespaul, and silvertone (brands of guitars, or in Lucille’s case, specifically B.B. King’s guitar). The computer science department had a room full of Sun workstations with names like rise, beam, burn, dae, dial, and dry; and another room full of NeXT workstations named week, door, inline, ofkin, and so forth. At one of my first jobs in the 1990s all of the testing computers were named after Marvel superheroes.

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Diversity

An exec with Walt Disney Television recently said that she has rejected some “incredibly well written scripts that did not satisfy our standards in terms of inclusion,” and that (for example) she would reject a script that’s centered on a white family with the assumption that the diversity would come with the neighbors. “That’s not going to get on the air anymore because that’s not what our audience wants. That’s not a reflection of our audience, and I feel good about the direction we’re moving.”

I agree that this is a good thing. Today I got into a debate on Reddit, however, with someone who disagreed. He called it “anti-white bigotry,” and said that the goal is to become truly colorblind, to never pay attention to race at all.

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Thanksgiving 2020

Every year for Thanksgiving, whether or not we have guests, Jill and I order a ready-to-eat meal from Cracker Barrel. Their turkey, gravy, and dressing is really good, and with it we usually get ham, mac & cheese, fried apples, baby carrots, and some biscuits and sourdough bread. We preorder and set a pickup time on Thanksgiving Day, and then we just drive to the back of the restaurant, pay, and they bring the food out to our car.

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Exporting LiveJournal

For a long time now, I’ve wanted to export my LiveJournal account to PDF files so that I have a local copy of it. But LiveJournal has no export feature. There are sites like BlogBooker, who (for a fee and my LJ login) will generate PDFs for me; there are also other sites which (if I give them my LJ login) will import my LJ posts and comments. But I don’t trust any of those services to get everything. Plus, I wanted to find a solution on my own.

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A scam in five acts

I’ve preserved unusual wording and pronunciations here as well as I could.

Act One

A woman with an Indian accent.

I am calling you from Social Security Administration. Your social security number has been used in connection with illegal activities and will be suspended. If you are not responsible for these activities, then please provide me your name, your address, and the last four digits of your social so that I can verify your information.

I identify myself as Bob Parr and give a Sunnyvale California address where I lived many years ago.

The criminal activities took place in the State of Texas. There was an abandoned black Toyota Corolla with license plate TX2440. People had called to complain about it. When the police investigated it they found blood and drugs inside. This car had been rented under your name. There are also five addresses rented in your name. One is 7609 Claremont Avenue, Rowlett, Texas, 75089. Another is [the address on public record with my current phone number]. Are you associated with any of these addresses?

The criminals wired $236,789 from banks to foreign countries for criminal activities.

You are faced with three serious charges: money laundering, theft by deception, and misleading government information. I will transfer you to U.S. Marshals and they will give to you a new social.

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