web: frictionless writing corrections

When people rite rong, I can’t help correcting them, it’s the former tech writer/Edna Krabapple in me. If they have a Twitter account I’ll tweet a correction, but even if they notice and acknowledge the misteak they have to locate the original text, edit it, find the errors, and make my suggested corrections. For simple typos this is mindless busywork; I’ve done the work, just apply it to the original.

Meanwhile, in a distributed version control system like Git, I can “fork” someone’s code, fix a bug, and offer my fix (called a pull request or a merge request). So… if someone published their writing using git, they could accept corrections with a single click, as if their document was a program with bugs. Well, some people do, and it works very well!

Software developers are so adept at creating tools to automate and improve their work. Every other occupation and endeavor can learn a lot from them.

Here’s another low-friction fix I made:

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eco: hydrogen home fantasy

Right now you can put up solar panels, attach them to a battery, and live off-grid. The problem is in winter you need a lot of panels and a big battery for cloudy days, or you “cheat” and get heat energy by burning something.

Cue the hydrogen proponents, saying e.g. “Solar+hydrogen = self-sufficient/self-sustaining.” People run their houses off propane tanks, and some off-grid survivalists don’t just burn propane for heat but also to power generators for appliances; therefore, swap the propane for hydrogen made by electrolysis, and you’re green and sustainable.

But you can’t buy this green solution. Nobody sells a home system that combines solar and hydrogen. The commercial home fuel cells that are supposedly “big in Japan” run off natural gas piped to the home to make some electricity together with heat. That’s not decarbonization! Meanwhile the company HdF-Energy (Hydrogène de France) touts its Renewstable® “Multi-MW power plants supplying firm power 24/7” using hydrogen storage, but it seems to be a big industrial system for remote industrial operations and islands that aren’t connected to the grid (that as of January 2020 doesn’t seem to actually be in production).

It seems plausible that you could shrink the Hydrogen Economy™ down to some panels on your roof and a tank of hydrogen. Why not? Because physics affects economics! Here’s HdF-Energy’s schematic:

Renewstable hydrogen diagram
Why bother with the dashed-line part?

It’s intuitively obvious the electrolyzer, compressor, tanks, and fuel cell add a lot of cost and complexity over using only a battery to store the electricity. And the inefficiency of using electricity to make hydrogen, then compressing and storing the hydrogen, then running it through a fuel cell to make electricity (or for even worse efficiency, burning it in a generator to make electricity) means you have to put up 2.5 times as many solar panels. Note the dotted line around the middle: just cut it out to massively save on capital costs!

Despite all the downsides, it turns out someone has done this, Mike Strizki with his “Hydrogen House”. I can’t find prices for his Gencore Plug Power fuel cell and Proton Energy electrolyzer, or 11 big propane tanks, but they’re probably a lot more than a Tesla PowerPack battery. Call him with a big check in hand, ignore The Man in local goverment who wants to make you get approval and permits to make and store explosive hydrogen on your property, and live the green dream! Note that even in his hydrogen house “[solar PV electricity] is collected in a relatively small battery bank used to run a low-pressure electrolyzer,” so we’re back to the question why bother turning electricity into hydrogen when you could just increase the battery size. (Similarly, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles all have a lithium-ion battery in them.) The practical benefit for a DIYer is she already has a propane stove, hot water tank, and central heating. The theoretical benefit is a propane tank is a lot cheaper than a bigger battery, so at some point a far more complicated system with cheaper storage per kWh than a big battery must surely end up cheaper. If you fill your yard with used propane tanks, maybe it does. At grid scale, some kind of enormous hydrogen storage tank or underground cavern must surely end up cheaper than shipping containers packed with batteries.

All this is more proof of spage’s law:

In a world of cheap renewable electricity, the inefficient detour into hydrogen is always at risk of getting optimized away.

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web: how to link to a Facebook post?

Someone I follow asked “How does one copy the link of a Facebook post?”

So you want to get a link to your Facebook post (e.g. send it in an e-mail). Facebook makes this stupidly hard! I wrote a long explanation of how to extract this from the “< / > Embed” item that sometimes appears in the three-dot menu next to a post title, before I realized it’s much simpler! In a desktop web browser, simply right-click the gray timestamp of a post or comment and copy the link. That gets you https://www.facebook.com/skierpage/posts/10159326615869478. Ta-da!

Of course if your post is not public, a link to it should not display its content to people who aren’t logged into Facebook or aren’t your friend (I think Facebook will just show them your post’s title together with an invitation to [Log In] or [Create New Account and Submit to Facebook Tyranny]).

Also I don’t know how long a URL to a Facebook post will continue to work. With literally a trillion posts from a billion users, there’s no guarantee Facebook will still display it in 2025 if there’s no money to be made. I don’t think the wonderful Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine” (donate today!) archives Facebook posts by default. Another reason to also post your screeds of wisdom to a web site that you control.

(For grins, the dumb hard way follows to end)

In a browser, click the three dots next to a post’s title, click “< / > Embed” (which isn’t always present in the three-dot menu), then copy the stupid iframe src=blahblah chunk of HTML that Facebook produces:

<iframe src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fskierpage%2Fposts%2F10159326615869478&width=500" width="500" height="332" style="border:none;overflow:hidden" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowTransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe>

That lets you embed a Facebook post into another web page (so Facebook’s code runs, so f***er Zucker can spy on that page as well), in a 500×332 “frame.” Instead paste the stupid chunk of HTML into an editor, and then search for the part after href= , in this case https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fskierpage%2Fposts%2F10159326615869478. If you squint that looks like a mucked-up URL; it’s been encoded to work inside that stupid chunk of HTML. So now you have to convert the %3A and %2F encodings into ‘:’ and ‘/’, and possibly other stuff. There are online tools for this transformation, e.g. paste the HTML for embedding into http://www.utilities-online.info/urlencode/ and click [decode–>]; or if you know how to bring up your browser’s developer console, use window.unescape("paste the %3A%2F nonsense here"). That should get you https://www.facebook.com/skierpage/posts/10159326615869478. Ta-da!

Again, this is stupidly hard. The whole basis of the web is easily linking from one piece of information to another. But ^%$#@! social networks want to suck you in and make it really hard to go back to an open web; Sir Tim Berners-Lee is sobbing in the corner over the debasement of his genius creation. One answer is to simultaneously post everything you write to your own web site, but it doesn’t have the same friction-free liking and sharing that the walled gardens provide. I intend to do this, but I haven’t found a great tool to automate it; any online tool that will post your thoughts to multiple social networks probably knows all your logins and is doing its own privacy-sucking surveillance. It has to be something I run entirely locally in my browser.

Having done all this detective work, there’s probably an easier way to get the long numeric ID of a Facebook post and simply append it to https://www.facebook.com/your_facebook_id/posts/. There is, just click the timestamp of a post or comment!

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cars: Toyota fumbles the future

Old-line car companies mangle the English language and engage in doublespeak when they talk about how they are leaders in “electrification” and that soon all their cars will be “electrified.” All “electrified” means is their cars will have something more than the 100-year-old 12-Volt battery.

Let’s look at Toyota. All its “electrified” cars all have gas engines! It does not sell a single car without an engine. Its upcoming true Battery Electric Vehicle is for Japan only; it is a laughable kei car (mini car) with a top speed of 37 miles per hour. And it’s tragic when you remember how Toyota earlier made two generations of fine RAV4 EVs, the second in conjunction with Tesla. Toyota squandered that expertise and instead made a massively stupid bet on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, despite hydrogen’s cost, inefficiency, and lack of infrastructure. It’s the only car company left pushing HFCVs over BEVs, so no country other than Japan will install the thousands of hydrogen refueling stations required. Honda and Mazda have balked at the dumb industrial policy of The Hydrogen Economy™ and are releasing good BEVs, so we’ll see how much longer Toyota and the Japanese government waltz together into this abyss. Toyota does make a decent plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, the Prius Prime. But consumers aren’t excited by half-measures with a tailpipe. VW is gearing up to sell BEVs in large volumes; Toyota is talking up the weasel-word “electrification” and clearly hoping BEVs will be a small slice, environment and livable planet be damned. Hence its mind-blowingly stupid decision to side with the Trump animation in opposing California’s fuel/emissions regulations. That was a great way to tattoo “We are no longer the leader in environmentally responsible cars” on your forehead.

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music: questions for Cory Wong

I paid for a VIP pass to Corey Wong’s upcoming show so I could spend more time with such a great musician. Part of it includes a master class, but I hope I can just ask him questions, including:

What’s the relationship between Starks and Ewing, Frogville, and the greatest damn rhythm guitar break in the last 20 years that you play in Frogville // Airplane Mode live?

A: the bit is “Airplane Mode,” he’s yet to record a version he likes. Cory played that break for us to start, which blew my fragile little mind

Two-part question: Do you ever sing along with your guitar like smooth jazz king George Benson and Theo , and is it true that the only difference between a lead guitar player and a rhythm guitarist is the former sings along with their guitar?

A: (didn’t get a chance to ask)

What is so good about being Pat Metheny, and what’s your favorite Pat Metheny track?

A: His favorite jazz musician. I forgot what Cory said was his favorite track!

Did the scratches on your blue Strat get there because of some Wolverine-type incident where you went into beast mode?

A: (didn’t get a chance to ask)

Are you going to play Even/Uneven in full, and what were you doing between that in 200 and MSP Pt. 1 in 2016?

A: (didn’t get a chance to ask)

When you release on streaming services only, there are no liner notes for tracks unless you release a YouTube video (e.g. who plays trombone in Roll Over?)! Is there a list of credits anywhere on your site?

A: (didn’t get a chance to ask)

What is you favorite Nile Rodgers/ Chic song, and how can it not be “Thinking of You”?

A: (didn’t get a chance to ask)

Did you join Stay Human?

A: He played with Jon Batiste on Minnesota Public Radio’s Live from Here show early this year and they hit it off; he might play with the Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s house band a week each month or so. (And today I learned mandolinist Chris Thile is the host of that radio show, and you can watch Cory Wong collapse to the floor in total fan admiration of Chris Thile and Dave Koz soloing on “Smile Meditation” during Vulfpeck’s triumphant Madison Square Garden’s show.)

Do you always compose songs on guitar, or sometimes on piano?

A: (didn’t get a chance to ask)


He loves Emily King recordings.

He talked about playing quarter-notes to a 120bpm metronome to lock in the rhythm, then switching to 60bpm metronome so it tocks on the 2nd and 4th beat, then down to 30bpm so it tocks only on the 4th beat. So I asked:

Do you ever play three notes to the beat? Do you ever write songs in waltz time?

He’s done a few 12/8 songs, but thinks neither he nor Vulfpeck does a lot of 3/4 6/8 songs.

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music to which it’s easy to make hand gestures

Jia Tolentino writes in The New Yorker about TikTok, an app/platform on which people record themselves goofing around to music. ‘A twenty-six-year-old Australian producer … told me that he was now concentrating on lyrics that you could act out with your hands. “I write hooks, and I try it in the mirror—how many hand movements can I fit into fifteen seconds?”’ And lo, the craft of songwriting morphs a lot and dies a little.

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Hamilton musical beyond outstanding

Before seeing “Hamilton” I listened to its soundtrack while reading through most of its lyrics and some of the excellent annotations on the Genius site, stopping before I learned too many of the reveals in Act 2. So I knew going in that clever lyrics, great storytelling, and creative rap presentation are a given; but some of the music, particularly for women, is very “Broadway Musical!” (why the high nasal singing?) and nowhere near as inventive as Sondheim. Will it be a Broadway musical with a rap twist, similar to “The Lion King”‘s puppetry+masks innovation?

Well. Add stagecraft, choreography, the headlong pace, and generally outstanding performers and this was the greatest damn musical I’ve seen.

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music: more Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio Hour classics

A friend urged me to listen to this show, preserved on a Web site. Open an episode in Chrome, Play in Popup, send to Chromecast Audio, and enjoy Bob nattering away on interesting collections of songs. I Shazam all the uncredited instrumental fragments (always related to the theme of each show) that play in the background; I used to submit the additions to the extended episode notes at The Bob Dylan Fanclub, then I realized anyone who cares can do the same.

I’m up to episode 72 (of 101). I admire more than love the expected blues, country, and folk originals that Dylan favors, but many of the unfamiliar soul and R&B cuts are good. One early shock was Ry Cooder, I knew his movie scores and love of American music but had no idea he had that craggy nasal singing voice. On the Baseball episode he sings a marvelous sad song “Third Base, Dodgers Stadium” from his album Chávez Ravine.

The Birds episode has a great joke about knowing Roger McGuinn (… of the Byrds) and reminded me of Buffalo Springfield’s fantastic “Bluebird” with its hot-mic’d steel string sound and division into movements (developed by the Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young iteration of the band into explicit “Suite Judy Blue Eyes”). I had access to some compilation with the classic “For What It’s Worth” as a kid but never listened to their second album Buffalo Springfield Again, yet another top album from the incredible 1967-1968 time period in which it seems every band on Earth aimed for greatness and most hit it.

The overflow Birds episode has a weirdly compelling obscure track by Bobby Paunetto, “Why Is Woody Sad?” Latin Jazz with vibes and strange lyrics.

The backstory of the show is interesting. Fans have figured out that a lot of the lore Dylan pours out is merely cribbed from Wikipedia, and the building, the studio, the diner across the street, and much of the production staff are made up. E.g. announcer “Pierre Mancini” is actually TV writer Eddie Gorodetsky who is clearly central to the show. His Christmas compilation album, Christmas Party with Eddie G, sounds like a hoot. Most of the time obscure records are obscure for a reason, but sometimes you strike gold.

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music: Cory Wong, rhythm guitar ace

YouTube recommended Vulfpeck to me, mid-West funky players with a killer bassist Joe Dart, but a bit too whitey-tighty. They occasionally play with rhythm guitarist Cory Wong, who is just great. The love child of Nile Rodgers, Prince, John Mayer, and an unnamed percussionist.

In the opening to “Companion Pass” he unleashes a machine gun triplet chickata-chickita-chickita which had every other guitarist going back to school to learn how he does it[*]. Video below (stick around for his hallway meeting with ZZ Top’s guitarist) or on his new album Motivational Music For The Syncopated Soul.

His home-town return concert Live in Mpls is a lot of fun, stuffed with music in-jokes. In the middle of the middle song in the show (“Frogville // Airplane Mode”), he plays the greatest rhythm guitar solo break I’ve heard this millennium. It actually starts at 50:28 but it’s worth hearing the weak instrumental before it just for “Alright Kev, let’s show them we went to music school.”

I bought a VIP pass to see him on tour to meet in person before the show, can’t wait!

Vulfpeck’s best song, “It Gets Funkier”, is up to version IV (with Cory Wong), video below or on the album Hillclimber. Someone made a video tracking its evolution and BPM increase.

* Cory Wong slows and steps through “The Wong Triplet Rhythm Porcaro Paul Jackson Jr. Ripoff Lick” in this lesson, how hard can it be 🙂 You know there’s some kid watching who is going to play it twice as fast while solving a Rubik’s cube and playing Rock Band drums on hardest difficulty with his feet.

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music: PBS Soundbreaking embarrassingly wrong

I should like the Soundbreaking documentary series more than I did. A bunch of musicians talking about recorded music, sign me up! But it’s a crazily scattershot as struggles to edit brief comments by musicians and pretentious journalists into a somewhat coherent story about each topic (there’s no omniscient narrator). The enthusiasm comes across, but it doesn’t dig deep.

And in many parts it gets the details wrong. It shows clips from the wrong time period or ones that don’t feature what the talking heads are saying. For example, in episode 4 “Going Electric” the interviewees talk about the breakthrough of the synthesizer. It shows Pete Townshend with his massive Arp synthesizer and an EMS synthesizer, but then it features two The Who songs with an analog organ part. “Baba O’Riley” uses the “Marimba Repeat” feature of a Lowrey organ and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is an organ through a filter. Pete Townshend is a certified genius for coaxing those complex sound patterns from a home organ, but they aren’t synthesizer parts. (I don’t understand how The Who producer Glyn Johns doesn’t know this, maybe he just accepted Pete’s demo tapes of his organ and mixed them into the studio recordings.) Watch someone reproduce the Baba O’Riley sound at 3:56, no synthesizer, sequencer, or sampler required:

The same episode talks about Stevie Wonder’s incredible five-year run after he he hears the album Zero Time and invites synth wizards Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff and their multi-timbral behemoth synthesizer TONTO to work with him. Great point, great work. But in the background plays “Superstition” (not a synthesizer but a Hohner clavinet going through analog effects, though it does have a Moog bassline and supposedly other sounds from TONTO) and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” (a Fender Rhodes, no synthesizers at all). The episode could have used Stevie Wonder’s “Creepin’ for actual incredible lead synthesizer sounds.

No one is credited as the writer of the series, so I have to blame producers and directors Jeff Dupre and Maro Chermayeff.

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