Photography

Re: Optimized US National Parks Trip

Friends and family (who know my wife and I are nearing the end of a decade project to visit the 59 National Parks) have sent me interesting links like this, where some enterprising map nerd (God bless us every one) made a beautiful route on Google Maps, taking you to 47 National Parks in the 48 states (the rest are in Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, and US Virgin Islands):

It is interesting from a mathematical theory point of view, but one of the shortcomings is all of the other scenic places they miss along the way. We have seen at least as many National Monuments / Rec. Areas, etc. as National Parks and many of them are just as amazing, and most of the National Parks are surrounded by scenic wilderness, forest, etc. (Also, Pinnacles NM became Pinnacles NP after we visited it. NPs are not created out of nothing so we saw it before it was 'famous'.)

A few nitpicks: the map takes the longer boat trip from Michigan to Isle Royale instead of the shorter one from Grand Portage, MN. Also, there is no concessioner (boat) from Dry Tortugas to western Florida, just back to Key West.

They miss that some of the Parks have multiple districts that require their own driving. The Parks are not 'points' on a map but are really multiple points, like Voyageurs, Everglades, Theodore Roosevelt, Canyonlands, Black Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. (Yellowstone is bigger than two states, Rhode Island and Connecticut, combined.) If the map makers are 'ticking boxes', collecting passport stamps, you would think they would want to get multiple stamps per Park (multiple visitor centers with different stamps).

Also, assuming they are trying to minimize driving and avoiding flying home in the middle of the trip, I take it that they want to spend at most one or two seasons doing this (3-6 months), if not less time. And if we are assuming they want to enjoy the Parks and not just hop out of the car to stamp a Passport, then they are visiting and hiking a lot of desert Parks in the summer (Grand Canyon, Arches, Big Bend, Saguaro in Tucson -- it says it in the name), or if they are not doing it in summer, they are ignoring high altitude winters which are typically October through May at other Parks, such as Rocky Mountain in Colorado and Glacier in Montana.

In other words, the logistics of this are not as simple as points on a map. Armchair travel is not the same as real world travel. More power to you if you make the journey, just be safe and have fun, and try to set realistic expectations. Also, try not spend all of your time driving interstate highways between Parks. And don't miss out on some of the lesser State Parks, National Monuments, and man-made stuff like world-class cities, restaurants, and National Historic Sites too.

As a wise individual once said the point is not to make good time, but to have a good time.

Life

Yours Truly Appears on Ep. 12 of the Voice of the Patient Podcast

Voice of the Patient Podcast, Episode 12

Zach Stearns spent some time interviewing me and I tell my story of dealing with persistent pain on his podcast. If you have about an hour, give it a listen in your favorite podcast app.

Here is the blog post we mention, where I go into too much detail about all of the treatments I tried and link to places where you can learn more about modern pain science research:

Apple

Music: BeatsX Review

My new Gray BeatsX wireless in-ear headphones arrived on Saturday, March 11. The black and white BeatsX headphones were available several weeks ago, but the new gray and blue colors just started shipping out this week. Yes, the unboxing experience is very Apple-like and I will not torture you with details about all the pull-tabs, lift-outs, lovely textures, etc.

Pictured: gray BeatsX wireless (Bluetooth) earbuds next to gray iPhone 6s silicon case, for shade comparison. They are a hair lighter than the case on my Space Gray iPhone 6s (Space Gray metal itself looks darker in person than this, depending on the angle). Note back-to-back magnetic snapping, a very cool and useful feature (see: Portability, below.) Weird but pleasant-to-the-touch, black silicon BeatsX carrying case that almost fits the headphones they ship with. Actual black silicon absorbs all light and all dust in the vicinity. Short, stubby black charging cable is the only charging apparatus in the box.

(Not pictured: ships with more sizes of silicon in-ear pieces, as well as wing tips that I have not tried on nor needed.)

Three-Way Comparison

I am comparing these to my trusty old Apple In-Ear Headphones (I have bought several pairs of these in a row, with good reason), and to the new Apple AirPods, which I was able to try in an Apple Store (yes they spray them off with disinfectant every time). BeatsX are not available to try out in store. The support rep said my best bet was to read reviews and/or just buy them, try them out, and return them if they were not up to snuff (my words, not hers).

This table is trying to make the point that there are a lot tradeoffs in creating actual purchasable devices and the fact that it depends on what you are looking for and what is non-negotiable for you. (For me, the AirPods did not block out enough outside noise because they did not fit; and they just stabbed my left ear, which means I would never have been able to wear them. If they fit you and you don't need to block out your surroundings (and you like the sound quality) then you should consider trying the AirPods out at the store.)

  Apple's fancy new wireless AirPods New BeatsX In-Ear Wireless Headphones Apple's (ten years old?) In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic
Price $159 $149.95 $79
Sound Quality (hardware, speaker drivers + conduction, clarity; richness) 6 (surprisingly not terrible; good even; not great) 7 (surprisingly rich (<60 Hz) bass; unsurprisingly thin, tinny, feverish, Beats-"missing-mids" sound -- this was my biggest worry and the biggest strike against the BeatsX, and combined with software encoding (bandwidth) limitations, make me want to listen to certain types of music less; mids can be partially corrected with EQ, which is a small plus -- should not need to: maybe Trent Reznor and Dr. Dre have sustained some heavy hearing loss? or have not ever used good sounding headphones? or are cynical and are selling what people want -- the Escalade / SUV of the headphones world?) 9 (there are loads of high-end over-ear headphones that are better but these are amazing; astonishingly good, at least to me; full, rich, deep, warm, clear (flat) sound, sets a high bar)
Sound Quality (software encoding) 7 (ditto →) 7 (the quality is actually pretty good overall; no noise or pops since it is digital, not analog; highs (cymbals, strings) are just a bit better than ear-grating, but pretty noticeable on certain types of music; podcasts sound great; yes, I tested these with high bitrate (320KB/s) MP3s that are not already compressed to hell, and sound fabulous in the first place, at least on →) 10 (no software/digital reëncoding)
Background Isolation / Lack of (Headphone) Sound Leakage 3 (or a high score if you need to hear your environment, for safety; also, these leak sound to your neighbors since they are not in-ear) 10 (if you are working and are trying to block out your surroundings, and safety is not an issue) 10 (ditto)
Comfort 3 (this has to do with my ears, but the sharp edges of the AirPod make no sense to me and do not make a good fit -- your ears may vary) 9 (less cord noise than → and do not catch on clothing, the world, etc.; not over-ear so do not make outer ear (pinnae) hot and sweaty and tired like big earphones; ear canals get a little tired and irritated after a few hours, but not that bad) 7 (see: Wires)
Controls / Convenience 4 ("tap" (stab) your ear twice -- fun! volume, tracks: use Siri... are you kidding... what a trainwreck; rating would be worse, but the 'take one out and auto-pause' solves 40% of use cases) 10 (real controls available: volume up/down, play/pause, back, forward) -- important to me; so good I forget if I am connected to my Mac or my iPhone, and I forget where I set down my phone; Siri is supported, as on ←) 10 (ditto)
Wirelessness (low score = Wiry) 10 (futuristic alien technology) 8 (yes, they are wired, but they give you 95% benefit of wirelessly walking around the room, exercising, etc.) 1 (tangly-ness in my bag/pocket and electrocution (when wearing a fleece or shorts with pockets made of the wrong material), cable catching on things, etc.; score could be worse because you can stick the wire under your shirt and that mitigates many of the problems, so you can do stuff like shoot hoops without injuring yourself)
Portability 7 (must keep track of carrying case; see Battery Life) 9 (just pause or power down and unplug from ears, then magnets snap and create a small lanyard so you won't lose them; I lost a pair of → when I thought I had them in my shirt but not in my ears; little BeatsX gobbler silicon case should help keep them from tangling in bag; weird but practical case -- if only they fit slightly better in the case) 5 (fit great in pocket when wound up, but annoying to unwind to use them; see Wirelessness / Wiry)
Durability 6-8? (depends on if you drop or lose them but no cables to bend, catch, snap, fray, and break) 5-7? (have not owned them long enough to determine how long the cable strain relief will last) 1 (I have gone through many pairs and they fray at the clicker on the right ear cable after a year or so of heavy use)
Battery Life 5 (must keep track of carrying case and keep inserting them to recharge) 8 (battery sipping technology: just pause (or easy to power down) since power management is really good; easy to charge via lightning cable -- at my desk this will not be a problem; also, 5 minutes charging for two hours (out of a total of 8 hours) of charge (when low) is wondrous, or 15 minutes for 4 hours) 10 (never an issue and does not get worse with age; also, better for iPhone battery life)
Pairing 9 (Apple's custom W1 chip plus macOS and iOS integration makes switching devices a pleasant experience) 9 (same technology as ← is on the BeatsX / other parts of the Beats line; kudos; a few hiccups here and there but very good in practice) 10 (just plug in to... the... oh, you have a headphone jack, right?)
Average Score 6.1 (and they cost more) 8.3 (not cheap, but if they last then not bad; wireless is really nice) 7.3 (good starting place but still not cheap; replacing often is expensive)

Conclusion

This is all very arbitrary and subjective, but I think I will keep the BeatsX and see how I like them a year from now. Wireless is really nice: now I can connect to my work laptop without the cable (1) hitting the keys of my keyboard, making it hard to type or (2) yanking my laptop off its stand if I forget that I am tethered. And I can stay connected to my Mac and walk around the office. Nice.

Programming

Announcing TSVG

I finally published my first NPM (JavaScript) package, TSVG. It is for designers and web publishers who write SVG by hand, or are willing to edit SVG files by hand after creating them in something like Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer. TSVG embeds JavaScript into SVG and allows you to create JavaScript templates (like Handlebars or Eco do for HTML) that create SVG, in Node.js or in a browser. It also provides advanced typography (available in the generated JS) to bake out text to <path> outlines (just use SVG fonts and <TextPath> instead of <text>). You can read more about it on Github.

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