Sure was a year, 2019. Let’s get into it.
- New Job
- Raspberry Pi
- Baking (Plus a Granola Recipe)
- Awesome Buffalo
- Ugh, Twitter
- Pictures of Pets
I left Wirecutter and started writing at iFixit in April 2019. It’s been a fun ride so far. I’m researching copyright legislation, touring recycling plants, cultivating sources and tipsters, interviewing Pebble hackers, and messing with all kinds of terminal apps, circuit diagrams, and PDFs I shouldn’t have.
Working at iFixit has changed my understanding of consumerism, recycling, product design, the legislative process, and, of course, what people can fix. As such, I tried to fix more things than I normally do.
Helping a friend replace the battery in a Big Jambox at Community Beer Works, because neither of our wives wanted us drinking and scattering parts in the dining room that night.
Here’s everything I can remember trying to fix in 2019. I think it’s important to be honest about expectations with DIY repairs. Some things you can fix yourself, and should try. Some things make you wish for the days of repair shops, which are only gone because we let them go.
- Replace battery in 2014 Chromebook Pixel: Success
- Replace water-damaged Pixel C tablet screen with screen from bricked parts-only Pixel C bought on eBay, clean corrosion on logic board: Success
- Replace battery on Big Jambox: Mixed (Battery was replaced, but something else may have been wrong with it: wouldn’t take a charge after working once, then wouldn’t even work plugged in.)
- Replace battery in MacBook Air: Success
- Replace headlamp on Ford C-Max with used $150 junkyard part, instead of $550 dealer part: Success
- Replace battery in friend’s iPhone 6s,7 Plus phones: Success
- Replace screen on iPad Mini 2nd gen: Mixed (Had to order new LCD panel after prying out an obscene amount of sticky glass)
- Replace keyboard in Chromebook Pixel 2013: Gruesome failure (Killed display, probably because battery was connected while re-attaching, and because of frustration. Next time I read that the keys are riveted to the case, I’ll think twice!)
- Replace battery in Pixel 2: Success
- iPad 2 screen separated, unreliable charging port: Success (fixed with Sugru and pliers)
- Galaxy S8 Plus battery and screen replacement: Success
- Replace battery in Pixel 2: Mixed/Failure (Why did the screen die on this Pixel 2 during a battery replacement, when I had pulled off the same exact fix with less experience a few months prior? Do not know. Fragile OLED displays under fragile curved glass are not my favorite technology. The battery replacement worked, though.)
- Remove write-protect screw from Chromebook Pixel 2013, Toshiba Chromebook 2, various other Chromebooks: Success (Long-term project, for myself and for work).
Raspberry Pi Nonsense
I owned zero Raspberry Pi devices in 2018. By the end of 2019, I had two. They’re addictive. They’re tiny Linux computers that use very little power. They’re a workshop that’s always open if you have SSH or VNC access, even if it’s freezing outside or you’re trapped in a waiting room.
Anyways, I now have a Pi 3B+ running RetroPie, inside this wonderful tiny NES case, hooked up to the TV, waiting for a life where I have lots of time to play old games. The other Pi, a version 4 with 4 GB RAM, is in my office, always on and doing weird stuff. Network stuff, downloading stuff, firewall stuff. In some ways, it’s like a learning box for Linux, remote sysadmin, and stuff like that. I love it.
I didn’t buy any bikes this year. But I did buy new tires, cables, housings, and a few other components for the 1985-ish Peugeot mountain bike. I had once used it as a winter beater; after seeing it up-close again, I don’t think anyone should have to deal with Buffalo’s roads in winter, ever. Humans included.
I spent a good chunk of a vacation week scraping the salt and rust off with steel wool, cleaning and greasing everything, repacking the bearings, and trying to make it all fit again. But I’m stuck on the rear wheel. I had to dismantle it to get the freewheel off and get at the bearings, but I didn’t do a good enough job keeping track of the original hardware and spacings. Part of me wants to give in and just buy entirely new wheels with sealed bearings, but they don’t even make 26-inch wheels in that width anymore. Time to scavenge the vintage parts at the co-op and see what can be done.
Baking (Plus a Granola Recipe)
Me, King Arthur Flour, Domino Sugar, and Organic Valley Cultured Butter: we got even closer this year.
Clockwise, from top left, and then ending in the middle:
- Lemon meringue pie
- Giant chocolate cake
- Sobble Pokemon (sculpted by Matt Taylor) on a fondant-covered chocolate cake
- Millionaire’s Shortbread (NYT)
- Guinness Cake (NYT)
- Bakewell Tart (Great British Baking Show/BBC)
- Thick & Chewy cookies (Cook’s)
- Chocolate Beet Cake (Good Housekeeping)
- Almost-No-Knead bread (Cook’s)
Normally the thing I bake most is cookies for my Ride for Roswell patrons (email me if you want in for 2020!). This year, granola was king.
It started with this recipe in NYT Cooking, pulled from the cookbook of modernist restaurant Eleven Madison Park. It is the granola given to guests at the end of their meal, intended for breakfast the next morning. It’s a nice gesture, for people who paid nearly $350 per person for a no-menu dinner.
I made it once because I had a bunch of the ingredients taking up space in the cupboard. My in-laws were over, and I offered it with some Fage yogurt for breakfast. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard such praise for something I made. Something about the olive oil and salt as a backing, the varied textures, the good amount of protein amongst the maple-covered carbs. I kept making it, for ourselves and for friends. Ever make something really simple that gets more praise than the really complex stuff you sweat over? Like the kitchen equivalent of a pet picture.
Here’s an annotated version of that granola recipe. By all means, though, subscribe to NYT Cooking, where I found the original, and which my house finds invaluable for meal inspiration.
Kevin Madison Park Granola
- Half-sheet (regular size) baking sheet
- Parchment paper or silicone baking mat
- Large bowl
- Small saucepan
- 2 3/4 cups rolled oats (i.e. not instant oats)
- 1 cup shelled pistachios
- Or almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, chopped about as fine as pistachios
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut chips
- Flakes/strands are okay, but chips add a lot of crunch and texture. Don’t use sweetened, whatever you do.
- 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
- Or sunflower seeds, squash seeds, or even hemp seeds, rough-ground flax, or chia seeds, if you wanna roll that way.
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- A supposedly controversial aspect of the original recipe, but nobody has really complained about this amount.
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- Or dark brown, or other kinds of funky sugars. You’ve got maple syrup to lean on, no need to be strict.
- I usually go lighter on this in my recipes, either not packing the cup or going scant. It’s fine as-is, but I feel like it’s not necessary.
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- You could probably do some soft/easy-flowing, or thinned-out honey instead, but maple syrup does a lot of work in this granola. As with sugar, I go a bit scant.
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- I don’t mess with this, usually. If you didn’t have EVOO on-hand, maybe coconut or avocado or other oils would suffice, but the flavor of roasted olive oil sings.
- 3/4 cup dried sour cherries
- They’re great, but they’re expensive and not always easy to find. Any kind of dried, sweet, but tangy/sour fruit works here: dried blueberries, currants, cranberries, or (if you chop them up) dates, apricots, etc. Raisins, obviously, can work, but they’re kind of a bog-standard granola ingredient.
Directions Set the oven to 300F. In a small saucepan, pour in the sugar, syrup, and oil, and start on low heat.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together dry non-sweet ingredients (oats, nuts, chips, seeds, salt). Watch the saucepan, and pull it off the heat when the sugar has dissolved into the liquids (or a very slight boil is starting). Stir the liquids good, then fold into the dry ingredients with a spatula, until everything is evenly coated.
On a rimmed baking sheet, lined with parchment or a silpat, spread out the granola, as even as you can get it. Place in the oven (I use a lower rack, probably doesn’t matter). Bake 35-40 minutes. I take it out every 12 minutes and stir it with a spatula, for a total of 36 minutes. After 36 minutes, it’s up to you how much longer you want to keep going for a deeper brown toastiness.
When it’s ready, remove from the oven and immediately mix in the dried fruit. In my head, this softens the fruit up and causes it to trade sweet/bitter flavors with the still-warm roasted stuff, but who knows. Wait until the granola is cool to store it.
Other than this post you’re reading, the previous post about my job change, and some odd press releases or text contributions? No real writing outside work. No judgement from me, just how it is lately.
This year really taught me that you have to be in it for the long haul. I had some extended periods where I had to step back and watch my numbers go down: travel, injuries, mallet finger, the holidays.
Much like you develop core strength, accessory muscles, and good form for weights, you can build resilient mental strength for setbacks. I’ve had so many now that it’s exhausting to throw a small tantrum every time I get back to work. There’s no shame in not being able to maintain a pro-am exercise schedule while you live your life. Just walk up to the weight, pick it up, and realize that doing something, anything, is better than walking out.
That previous graf doesn’t quite sound like me, but in a good way. The work is paying dividends.
It happened again! I’m impressed every year, and deeply thankful that people dedicate their time to keep it going.
I turn over money to the local Awesome group, and they gave that money out to projects like
- Neighborhood benches
- Free workshops to make DIY TV antennas
- Reusable bags for food pantries
- Homemade scarves and blankets placed at bus shelters
- Birthday parties for kids in residential shelters
If you want to give some money and vote on which great projects it should go to, get in touch with Jessica
These are some of the tweets that people (or bots) most liked. Linked and screen-captured, because embedding tweets is misplaced optimism.
I deleted my Goodreads account, because I didn’t like the idea of Amazon knowing what, when, and where I read, or which books my friends like. Weird, right?
Here’s what I do remember reading. (And, yes, some of these are Amazon links, where I can’t find a proper book/author page. If you’re going to buy through Amazon, please consider buying used, especially from a non-profit or independent bookstore).
Beastie Boys Book: The Beastie Boys’ music, starting with Paul’s Boutique, had a major influence on me. This is a big, pricey book, but worth it to me. Horovitz and Diamond are funny, self-effacing, honest about their luck and privilege, and gracious in naming influences and collaborators. If you’re the type who’s ever wanted to know what it was like to hang around the studios while they were making Check Your Head, read this book. RIP Adam Yauch.
Elmore Leonard (Road Dogs, Killshot): Late-period Elmore Leonard, mid-period Elmore Leonard: he’s one of the few writers who got more efficient at characters and plot as he aged. Buying used Leonard books from libraries and charities is going to be a lifelong habit.
Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times: I read in some review of this book that it started out as an expansion of Leibovich’s interviews with Tom Brady and Robert Kraft, but he couldn’t get enough material out of two people who can’t or won’t express anything remotely profound about their lives and stations. So he went big-picture and anecdotal, in the style of the D.C. tour This Town and … I didn’t really dig it. I have a voracious appetite for material about the shitty NFL (see above tweet), but none of this felt revelatory, and the arch tone made it hard to sit with.
What If This Were Enough? & How to Do Nothing: Unsettling books, in the good way. You can read an essay-length version of How To Do Nothing on Medium
The Mastermind: I admire Evan Ratliff and his Atavist long-form journalism project immensely. This book is a work of dogged reporting and passion, through and through. You can feel him working way harder than any editor ever wanted him to, beyond what even makes sense commercially, to piece together the unknowable aspects of a guy who was as close as they get to a supervillain.
Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun: I know a bit more about guns now, and I know a lot more about how guns get into people’s hands.
Boss Fight Books series (Star Wars: KOTOR, NBA Jam): I didn’t finish the KOTOR book, in part because I tried playing the game halfway through and was defeated in my efforts at enthusiasm (see below!).
Now, NBA Jam: this is my favorite kind of Boss Fight Book, one that tells the story of a bigger thing (the arcade industry at its late-‘90s/early-‘00s nadir) through one crystalline example. Real heavy research and great editing.
The 33 1/3 B-Sides: New Essays by 33 1/3 Authors on Beloved and Underrated Albums: A mixed bag, kind of like the used bin at a record store. Some gems, some oddities, mostly enjoyable.
Bike Snob Abroad: Not an inspiring rant like the first Bike Snob book, but useful for … feeling bad about the bike culture of my country, I guess? Still, humorous and worth the time.
Stardew Valley: I stopped working on my first single-player farm in late 2018, after 100 hours of enjoyable farming. All year long, I saw the game pop up on lists of stress-relieving, low-key games, for people who aren’t really into games, or just need a break from the endless news of how helpless we all are. After a mutiplayer update arrived on the Switch, I nudged my wife to try it, with the idea that I could jump in and help when needed.
Nearly 30 hours later, I am a happy tenant worker on my wife’s farm. I’m learning how to just go along with someone else’s plans, not optimize everything just for the sake of it, and divide up work on a day-to-day basis.
It’s really a remarkable game, exponentially so if you know it was mostly made by one person. For $15, it’s a steal.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: I’d already played through Witcher 3 once on PC. The graphics on the Switch are a far cry from that. Sometimes you can feel the Switch trudging like it’s on mile 18 of a marathon. I don’t care; I don’t think tri-linear filtering or water ripple effects are why this game is one of my all-time favorites. I’m trying out different decisions, new character builds and strategies, reliving old favorite moments, and I’m doing it while stuck in an airport terminal, or while rice is cooking for dinner.
Wargroove: Dug it, well worth the tiny price and time commitment. I really like the idea of asynchronous games you can play turn by turn with friends, remotely.
Night in the Woods: Sasha at Wirecutter told me that I would love this game, over and over. I grew up in a past-its-glory upstate NY town, and if I didn’t like the vibe of this game, well, she doubted whether she knew anything about me. Sasha, you were right! This game was wonderful, and lasted exactly as long as it should, and made a real impact on my brain-feels.
My Friend Pedro: Neat core mechanics, but I didn’t love the vibe or plot, however thin they were intended to be. Games that mock your score to make you redo levels? They make it easy to decide that you’re done.
Untitled Goose Game: I bought it before a 5-hour flight, and it was just perfect for it. Like the good person tweeted:
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening: The art style is slick, the music is top-notch, and the nostalgia kicks were fun. But this is one of many Nintendo first-party games that I’ve bought, played immediately, then re-sold to recoup about 2/3 the cost. Not a ton of replay value, but glad to hang with an old friend for a while. Speaking of old friends!
Super Metroid: The minute I saw that Super Metroid was coming to the Switch’s free NES/SNES game library, I knew I would be playing through it, yet again. And I did. With maybe 10 years distance since my last play-through (maybe?), I notice how some of the puzzles and secrets are seemingly impossible to intuit without a quick Google search, or the kind of time kids have. Or maybe the web has made me lazy. Or both!
Dragon Quest Builders 1/2: Based entirely on Jason Schreier’s review, I tried out a demo of “Minecraft with actual tasks.” One week later, I had a used copy from eBay and was building little towns. It’s got weird humor that feels like all the mistranslated humor of my JRPG youth (but intentional?), interesting tasks, and solid performance on the Switch.
DQ Builders 2 contained lots of fixes and upgrades for the systems, controls, and gameplay loops. I’m maybe halfway through it, but I dropped it for something else, and I’ve yet to get back, months later.
Into the Breach: I have never really stopped playing this game. It’s installed on every computer I own (even this Pixelbook, via Linux/Steam), it’s on my Switch. God help me if they released a mobile version. I also hope never release DLC for it. I’ve never been so driven to 100% a game. UNLIKE …
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: I ended up selling this. Too demanding of my time to learn, advance, or just be able to enjoy. The menus are truly some kind of teachable course in hostile interface design. I did enjoy playing against friends online, whenever the lag wasn’t bad.
However! I went to a local Smash tournament, big-screened inside a historic theater, and watching that and feeling the cohesion and camaraderie of the competitors and crowd was honestly thrilling. It was one of the most diverse events I’ve ever attended in Buffalo. And way more fun than endlessly changing controller settings or fighting AI opponents to unlock characters.
Slay the Spire: Magic: The Gathering is off-putting to me, in card and computer form, because it feels like I could never catch up with its immense history, or ever stop spending money. Ditto Hearthstone. But a contained, single-player deckbuilding game with rogue-ish progression? Oh heck yes. I have installed this on three different computers, have different progress on each of them, and I don’t even care that it’s inefficient. I’d be happy to have to win on all three of them.
Baldur’s Gate II / Knights of the Old Republic I/II: Maybe it was the Switch release of BioWare’s classic CRPGs, or the endless Star Wars discussions, but it felt like every game critic personally emailed me this year to remind me that these are among the most well-regarded RPGs of all time, and, as an enthusiast of the form, I should play them.
I … cannot play them. I’ve put a few hours into each one. The pause-and-correct battle system gives me low-grade agita. The potato-ish graphics on KOTOR are hard to stomach now, which is not LucasArts’ fault per se (although the company’s burn-the-ships move to 3D seems tragic, in retrospect). Baldur’s Gate II is just a lot of interface to deal with; I can’t imagine it on the Switch. I’ve heard nothing but praise for the writing in these games, but I can’t find my way in.
Dishonored 2: Speaking of great writing! Dug this game a whole bunch. Improved on its predecessor, provided just the right mix of open exploration and guideposting, and the voice acting! Voice acting in open-world games often gets extremely old. I could listen to the NPCs in Dishonored talk forever.
Wolfenstein: The New Order: What a fun ride. I am very sad that killing Nazis—really, just killing lots of Nazis, and wanting more of them to be killed—has even more real-world context now than when this was released in 2014. But it wouldn’t work if the mechanics, the feel, the voice acting, and (most of) the plotting and dialogue didn’t sing and glide.
Pictures of pets