Things that delighted me in 2021

Philip Morgan

The world was long on dismay and fatigue in 2021, and perhaps a bit short on delight?

Here's what delighted me in 2021. All of these were surprise delights, which makes them extra delightful.

Obsidian, an open source knowledge-management/note-taking/writing tool: https://obsidian.md

There's a learning curve to it and some rough edges remain in the software, but once I got even partway up Obsidian's learning curve, I felt like I'd found a really wonderful note-taking, knowledge management, and writing tool that works well in a cross-platform environment and, via the theming and plugin ecosystem, fits my needs and preferences like a glove.

I now give the Obsidian project as much money as I reasonably can by subscribing to their paid sync and publishing offerings.

Boox Note Air, a 10" e-ink tablet that runs Android: https://shop.boox.com/products/noteair2

This has been an incredible upgrade to my reading workflow. Interesting stuff pops up all the time in my RSS reader (Inoreader, another delightful tool), and it's easy to pop the article in question over to Pocket (Instapaper doesn't integrate as well with Inoreader unfortunately), and then enjoy reading it on a large-enough-for-aging-eyes, beautiful e-ink device while on the sofa or otherwise AFK.

Amazon's Kindle app works just fine on the Boox Note Air, and my Logitech Spotlight remote happens to function as a page-turner with Kindle (but not with Pocket). Another delightful reading experience!

When I come across stuff I want to share, I can use the share function in Pocket to sent it to Google Keep (also runs fine on the Boox Note Air) and then later, when I'm back at a keyboard, I can process what's accumulated in Keep and share or otherwise take action on it.

The built-in PDF reader app on the Note Air is quite good, and reflows the text of stupid 2-column academic paper PDFs into readable-by-middle-aged-human-men-sized type. This, combined with Zotero and DriveSync, make for a delightful way to learn from research papers and, when I get the occasional book that's not available as Kindle, the same Boox app works just fine with e-pub files.

I've gradually started to make more use of the digital stylus that comes with the Note Air, and there's been yet more surprising delight for me there.

BTW, Substack offers RSS for every newsletter I've tried, and for me this is superior to in-inbox reading.

StableBit DrivePool, a Windows app that lets me combine the random assortment of hard drives I've accumulated over the last 10 years into a single 9-Terabyte fault-tolerant virtual volume: https://stablebit.com/DrivePool/

It's hard to overstate how much delight comes from this $30 piece of software. Microsoft's Storage Spaces feature is a cruel joke; it does extremely badly and illogically what DrivePool does logically, reliably, and near-effortlessly. While drive pooling will never have the performance advantages of a striped approach like RAID, it is a wonderful way to make use of a random bunch of not-the-same-sized drives you have lying around for storing stuff like video files you can't yet get rid of, archived WAV recordings from old podcast episodes, etc.

Said differently, DrivePool makes it easier for me to be a "creator", a recovering packrat, and a cheap-o at the same time. Delight on the cheap!

Micca MB42X, a nearfield speaker that sounds way better than it should: https://amazon.com/dp/B00E7H8GG2

These things look cheap, and while sound quality and price most definitely do not have a 1:1 relationship in the world of consumer audio, at $90 for a pair of speakers you rightly have all kinds of red flags going off. Astonishingly, these sound great in nearfield, on-the-desk usage. They are not self-powered, so you have to use an external amplifier and something that converts digital audio to analog, and an underpowered amplifier will shortchange these speakers. Like any speaker with a 4" or 5" midbass driver, a subwoofer can help, but these sound reasonably full and correct without one.

I have a 6-foot long desk and still manage to feel eternally short on desk space, so the small footprint of these Micca speakers is much appreciated, they sound way bigger than they are, and they sound way better than they cost.

This guy's review is a nice read, and he shares his EQ correction files publicly: http://noaudiophile.com/Micca_MB42x_Bookshelf_Speakers/

Here's how these speakers look next to a 27" display on my desk:

Cheap teleprompter, a cheap and nice prompter you can use with an iPad and webcam to upgrade your video meeting experience: https://amazon.com/dp/B0986HN6LX

Even if the COVID pandemic wasn't an excuse to upgrade your webcam video setup like it was for me, you may find that you enjoy the relatively minor upgrade of mounting your webcam (assuming it's not built into the lid of a laptop of course) to a prompter. The result is that you seem to be making eye contact with those you are speaking to. This happens because you are looking directly at their image and therefore making eye contact, via the magic of a partial mirror.

This particular prompter was cheap enough that I was happy to take a flyer on it, and it's higher quality than you'd think based on the price.

You have to mount it somewhere (I hung an extra arm off the same pole that my displays mount to), and that may add cost, and you have to set it up with some kind of screen, but if you have an iPad or iPad Pro about, you can use Duet Air to make the iPad function as an external display, mirrored appropriately to work with the prompter's mirror. There are probably similar solutions for Android tablets.

Anne Pro 2 keyboard, a 60% mechanical keyboard that gets a lot nicer when you over-lube the keyswitches: https://amazon.com/dp/B07Y4ZVP6J

I'm convinced that the most accidentally-dirty-sounding thing a geek can say is "yeah, I was lubing my keyboard last night", so bear with me here.

Smaller than full-sized keyboards have a bit of a learning curve, with their arcane Ouija board key combinations needed for common characters that don't have an actual key on the board, so I can imagine they're not for everybody, but I've come to really like my modified Anne Pro 2. In stock form it's totally worth the price, but I find that over-lubricating the keyswitches (instructional video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUvwuyKbWlc) makes a good-but-cheap-sounding keyboard into something that sounds and feels way nicer. Now, if you really like a light, springy, clicky feel to your keyswitches, do not do this. You'll feel as if you've ruined the keyboard. But if you like something smoother and softer and more thunk than ping/thwack, over-lubing the keyswitches on the Anne Pro 2 using GPL205 Krytox (https://amazon.com/dp/B00MWLDALQ) makes them feel like a hybrid Topre/Cherry.

You can go further, as I did, and add these o-rings (https://amazon.com/dp/B0761TSWF3) to the stems of the keys that you really whack with a lot of force (Spacebar, CMD, TAB, BACKSPACE, and RETURN in my case) to push things further in this smooth/damped/heavy-feeling direction.

Avacado Toast, a maligned and over-memed snack that is actually very nice.

I'm trying this super low-fat diet to see if it helps with high cholesterol, but I think avocados are OK on this diet? Anyway, Millenials and avocado toast got to be this stupid meme a while back and so I foolishly dismissed trying it.

Big mistake. What a delightful easy-to-make light meal/snack!

Balsamic Glaze, a way to make your mouth love and appreciate you more: https://nonnapias.com/our-products/

One thing that's encouraged on this diet is lowering salt intake, and a suggested substitute is balsamic vinegar. I learned three things:

1: Most grocery store balsamic vinegar is the vinegar equivalent of Bud Light -- thin weaksauce! There are specialty balsamics that are rich, thick, and damn good, and will for the most part will fill the hole left by salad dressing and butter.

2: Balsamic is not really a substitute for salt. Nice try, diet fascists!

3: Balsamic glazes are the sex. Incredible. Most products in this category cheap out by using cornstarch as a thickener, but some are an honest glaze made the hard way, priced accordingly, and worth every dollar.

The Murderbot Diaries, a young adult sci-fi series: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FK8SNWY?searchxofy=true&binding=kindle_edition&ref_=dbs_s_aps_series_rwt_tkin&qid=1640455581&sr=8-1

At the risk of sounding like an insufferable No-TV Guy (here's The Onion's investigative reporting on me: https://www.theonion.com/area-man-constantly-mentioning-he-doesnt-own-a-televisi-1819565469), I'll share that my wife and I watch almost no TV (just The Expanse for me). We read aloud to each other in the evenings instead.

We have enjoyed the crap out of The Murderbot Diaries, a delightful young adult sci-fi series about a remoreseless killing half-human, half-robot hybrid that suffers multiple anxiety disorders and just wants a family.

Protip: if you get into this series, swap the order of the last 2 books (read 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 5 in that order). I strongly suspect the last one was some extra material the author had lying around and finished and released to soak up a bit more fan demand. It's a bad ending to the series, but a decent standalone story, so read it next-to-last instead of last and the whole series will work better.


Finally, I got the opportunity to attempt contributing some kind of value to your business in 2021. That was a delight too, and I thank you for the privilege.

--Philip.