Tag Archives: Mac

macOS Sierra review: Mixing iOS with OS X to make a better Mac

Roman Loyola, MacWorld

I’m going to hold off on upgrading for a good long time. I’m not seeing anything here that’s compelling.

Siri is the marquee feature. I use Siri when it’s impractical for me to type, which is never when I’m at my Mac.

Well, I can’t type when I’m eating, and I do often eat at my Mac. But I don’t think Siri will be helpful there. When I’m eating my mouth is often full of food, so it’s impractical to type OR speak!

Bruce Schneier: How hackers break passwords, and how to pick good ones

Find a good password management app and let it worry about picking good passwords and remembering them. Schneier recommends Password Safe for Windows, but says he can’t vouch for Password Safe on other platforms because he has not evaluated them. I like 1Password, which supports Mac and iOS, which I am familiar with, and Windows and Android, which I’m not.

Link

Word processing has transformed the way writers work, a transition from typewriters to electronic writing that happened in a  few short years, starting in the mid-70s and ending by 1984 and 1985. The transition has been largely overlooked by literary historians, but now Matthew Kirschenbaum, an English professor at the University of Maryland, has written a history, “Track Changes” (great title!). He talked with Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic: How to Write a History of Writing Software

Writers of genre fiction — particularly science fiction — adopted word processors long before literary writers. That’s not necessarily because science fiction writers are technology focused (I’ve been surprised myself by how Luddite science fiction fans can be in their real-life use of technology), but because genre writers need to work fast, and turn out a lot of work at high volume.

Robinson writes:

[Kirschenbaum’s] new history joins a much larger body of scholarship about other modern writing technologies—specifically, typewriters. For instance, scholars confidently believe that the first book ever written with a typewriter was Life on the Mississippi,by Mark Twain. They have conducted typographical forensics to identify precisely how T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland was composed—which typewriters were used, and when. And they have collected certain important machines for their archives.

One day, a similarly expansive body of work may exist for writing software—and Kirschenbaum will be one of its first builders.

In the interview, Kirschenbaum addresses the question of which author was the first to write a novel with a word processor.

We can’t know with absolute certainty, I don’t think, but there are a couple of different answers.

If we think of a word processor or a computer as something close to what we understand today—essentially a typewriter connected to a TV set—there are a couple of contenders from the mid- to late-1970s. Notably Jerry Pournelle, who was a science fiction author. He is probably the first person to sit and compose at a “typewriter” connected to a “TV screen”—to compose there, to edit, and revise there, and then to send copy to his publisher. That was probably a novella called Spirals.

But there are earlier examples. Len Deighton, a highly successful author of British high-tech espionage thrillers, bought an early IBM word processor in the late 1960s. It wasn’t recognizably related to the word processors of today; the user typed on an IBM Selectric MS/ST typewriter that simultaneously recorded text on magnetic tape and conventional paper.

Kirschenbaum notes that secretaries, usually women, were the first to use word processors. Indeed, I remember that in the 1980s and well into the 1990s, successful men couldn’t type — typing was clerical, menial work, something that most men simply did not do. The transition to personal computers led to a brief bloom of typing classes — although the word “typing” had girl-cooties, so these classes were called “keyboarding,” or even “executive keyboarding.”

Me, I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a writer, and even in the late 70s it was obvious to many of us that personal computing was the future. I taught myself to touch-type when I was about 12 years old, and I took a typing class in high school to brush up on those skills, along with a few male friends who were also active in the computer club.

Back to Kirschenbaum: Even though the MS/ST lacked a screen, he calls it the first word processor because it stored the text electronically.

Your “screen” was the sheet of paper you had in your Selectric typewriter. You did your typing on the Selectric—which is the same typewriter, for example, we see in Mad Men; it’s a famous ’60s-era electric typewriter—and if you made mistakes, you would backspace. You would get a mess on the sheet of paper that was currently on the Selectric, but the correct sequence of character strokes was being stored on the tape. Then you would put a clean sheet of paper into the typewriter and it would automatically print out, sort of player-piano fashion, the text stored on the tape’s storage.

This unit sold in the 1960s for $10,000. That’s obviously quite a lot of money, and IBM used the term word processing as a marketing device.

Deighton wrote on a conventional Selectric, then handed the typescript to his secretary, Ellenor Handey, to retype it using the MS/ST. Therefore, I call shenanigans on Kirschenbaum’s classifying Deighton as the first author to use a word processor, simply because he wasn’t the one using the MS/ST. Still, it’s an interesting anecdote — Deighton was on the edge between non-word-processor users and word-processor users.

And importantly, Kirschenbaum says the essential thing about the word processor isn’t the screen, it’s the fluid, electronic nature of the text.

Microsoft Word is still the gold standard for writing software; even people who write primarily for the Internet — including most of the technology journalists I know — use Word. That absolutely flummoxes me. Even today, Word  seems to me to be software designed primarily to produce printed hardcopy, often ornately formatted in ways that writers don’t care about. It’s not designed for articles, blog posts, or books; it’s designed for corporate annual reports.

Until recently, I preferred to write in text editors designed by and for software developers. Now, there’s a new generation of word processing software developed primarily for people who write electronically; Ulysses for Mac is one of those apps, which is the one I use. Scrivener is a more well-known example.

A lot of writing today gets done in email applications and web browsers — specifically the text entry box of Facebook, Twitter, etc. I’m writing this post in the composition window of WordPress. I’m writing on a plane (Kirschenbaum discusses how word processors have changed WHERE we write, as well as how), and I don’t currently have an Internet connection. I really, really hope I don’t lose my work, but WordPress is pretty good about that.

And of course, writing on mobile phones is hugely popular. Maybe the people who are toddlers today will never learn to keyboard; they’ll just thumb-type.

Kirschenbaum also talks about writers he calls “refuseniks,” who were adults in the 70s and 80s and who refused to use word processors. Harlan Ellison is possibly the most outspoken example, still pounding away at a typewriter. Cormac McCarthy is another example.

Another example, not mentioned by Kirschenbaum in this interview: Our friend the science fiction writer Joe Haldeman, author of “The Forever War” and a couple of dozen other, excellent novels. Joe is no refusenik; last time I talked tech with him he was a user of a Mac, iPad, and iPhone. But he likes writing his first drafts in fountain pen on bound, blank books. He says he just writes better that way.

I’ve added Kirschenbaum’s book to my Amazon Wishlist. And, hey, there’s another idea for a book: How digital technology changes the way we read. When I was a teen-ager back in the 70s, I could easily read two or three books every week. Now, I read a half-dozen books a year, if that. I have to make a conscious effort to set aside some time every day to read books. Most of my reading time is taken up reading articles.

 

WWDC rumor roundup

What to Expect at WWDC 2016

I’d be very interested in a Siri SDK to allow developers to integrate Siri into their apps.

I might be interested in Siri on the Mac, though a keyboard and trackball work very well for me, so it’s hard to imagine switching. It would be more interesting if I could type queries to Siri – which, come to think of it, Apple has already been doing with Spotlight updates.

Proximity unlocking the Mac using the iPhone would be very nice. I’ve tried third-party utilities that did that, but they proved unreliable.

I like very much the idea of Apple implementing security features in iOS and iCloud that are so tough that even Apple can’t break them.

iMessage for Android? Sweet. Would love to bring my Android friends onto my iMessage network. On the other hand, would Android users use an Apple app? Probably not.

[Juli Clover – MacRumors]

Good news about the Apple App Stores

The New App Store: Subscription Pricing, Faster Approvals, and Search Ads [John Gruber – Daring Fireball]

Among the changes: Apple is throwing open the doors to allow developers to charge subscription pricing.

That’s a big step forward for two reasons: It will allow developers to implement a try-before-you-buy model with App Store apps, same as on downloadable Mac or Windows apps.

I’m a guy who likes to try new apps, and that can be an expensive habit when the apps are only available in the App Store. For example, last week I dropped $10 for the Mac version of the Airmail email app, as well as $5 for the iOS version, because you really need to try that app on every device to give it a fair workout. After a few days, I decided Airmail is not for me (performance too slow). $15 down the drain. Ouch. Be nice if I could try it for 30-90 days, then decide whether to pay to keep using it, as is typical for downloadable desktop apps.

Hell, it would be nice if I could try an app for an hour. Or a half-hour. Or 15 minutes. Long enough to give it a workout and decide whether it’s worth staying with.

The other reason to be encouraged by these changes is that it provides developers with a way to get off the creeping-featuritis treadmill. Because the way pricing works now, developers need to come out with a new version every now and then to get users to pay for an upgrade. So the developers start adding useless features to get people to upgrade. Now, developers will have the option to say, “This app is done. Nothing more I need to do with it,” and continue to offer support and minor upgrades for new versions of the OS. I guess developers could have done that before — charge for support and compatibility upgrades separately — but perhaps the market would not have stood for it.

And of course it’s a way for developers to make more money. That’s nice, but honestly I’m not all that concerned with how much money OTHER PEOPLE are making.

Link

Mac Users Reporting Widespread System Freezes With OS X El Capitan 10.11.4 Update

I thought it was just me. I’ve been experiencing occasional freeze-ups for a while now. Everything locks up. The clock stops, and the mouse cursor won’t move. I need to do a cold restart.

This is the first mention I’ve seen that other people have had a problem. I’ve suspected a hardware glitch – which is annoying, because my MacBook Air is about a year old. I’ve been putting off calling AppleCare.

I hadn’t seen freeze-ups on days I reboot, so I rebooted daily.

As I write this, I’ve just updated to 10.11.5. The release notes don’t give any clear indication of fixing the problem I’m having, but you never know.

Link

A handy Keyboard Maestro macro from Federic Viticci, for those of us who have uninstalled Flash from our Macs but need to watch the occasional Flash video. I had an app to do this, but a Keyboard Maestro macro is simpler.

Link

Kyle Plattner’s beautiful home office

Says Kyle:

I work with a really great team in Central Illinois developing an iPad app that maps real-time field data for farmers called FieldView Cab for a company called The Climate Corporation.

My home office, pictured above, was a project taken on to make working from home easier. While the bulk of my time is spent at an office working with a team, I knew I needed time to work outside of the office environment to accomplish what Cal Newton calls “Deep Work.” My early attempts to work from home were quickly rendered ineffective by not having a clear separation between work and family. Trying to focus in the same space where my wife and daughters were going about their daily activities wasn’t working well for anyone. Work and family rarely can both be served effectively in the same time and place.

So, I put together an outdoor office by walling off a room in our garden shed. I added a heating and cooling unit to it so that it could be used throughout the year with Midwest weather. Wood from old palettes were nailed to the walls, a standing desk built right in, and I added some storage and bookshelves. Lastly, I spent effort personalizing the space to make it a place where I’d want to be.

More photos and information about how Plattner uses the Mac and iPhone: Kyle Plattner’s Mac and iPhone setup.

Why TextExpander’s move to subscription pricing was a bad decision

The three-year cost of running TextExpander on the Mac has gone from $20 to $142.56. That puts TextExpander in the price range of Microsoft Office, Adobe Lightroom, and TurboTax.

And more.

As for me: Smile says it will continue to support the current version of TextExpander through the current and next versions of OS X. I’ll stay with it until I get a compelling reason to upgrade or switch.

Ironically timed, just this morning I saw a write-up of an intriguing alternative for large numbers of complex text snippets.

TextExpander 6 and TextExpander.com [Michael Tsai]

TextExpander for Mac is going to a subscription model

TextExpander is a keyboard-shortcut app for the Mac. You configure TextExpander to output a long block of text when you type a short text string. For example, people enter their email signatures in TextExpander and type out the whole long thing by just typing “ssig” or some other short string. I use TextEpander to store a lot of full names of the companies I cover, their Twitter handles for when I tweet out headlines about them, “dts” to type out the current date and time, “mmob” for my mobile phone number, and so on.

Now, TextExpander is going from a paid app to a subscription model.

$60/year seems like a lot of money. The new features outlined in this article don’t interest me all that much – I don’t have a team to share snippets with.

On the other hand, TextExpander is one of my most-used apps, and I do believe in throwing financial support to indy apps I use heavily.

I’ll stay with the current versions on Mac and iOS until some compelling alternative comes along, which could mean upgrading to the new service and could mean switching to a competitor.

Julie and a couple of my Apple-using friends like to give me grief for switching apps so frequently. And that’s true for some apps – text editors, to-do apps, and I haven’t even talked here about my quest for the perfect clipboard manager. But I’ve stuck with TextExpander since a few months after I switched from Windows to Mac in 2007,

TextExpander Updates Focus on New Service [John Voorhees – MacStories]

Which is better: Google Maps or Waze?

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Lifehacker reviewer Thorin Klosowski tests Google Maps and Waze and determines they’re both great for different uses. Waze is good for getting from point A to Point B – it’s particularly good for shaving a few minutes off a commute, or a good chunk of time off a multi-hour drive. Maps is good for finding destinations along your route, and offers a variety of transportation options.

Turn-by-Turn Navigation Showdown: Google Maps vs. Waze / Thorin Klosowski / Lifehacker

That basically confirms my own impressions, obtained by talking to people, using Google Maps, but not trying Waze.

I don’t commute to work; I work from a home office. Which means I’m not taking the same route every day in varying traffic conditions. Nor do I regularly take multi-hour drives. Those are the two best use cases for Waze.

What I do use Maps for are occasional trips where I need a refresher how to get where I’m going. I also use Maps while driving around on business trips in rental cars – different routes every time. I use Maps for walking directions in urban downtowns. And of course I use Maps to get to places where I’ve never been before.  Google Maps is good for all those use cases.

I sometimes use Apple Maps. Directions have gotten good, not like the first days when Apple Maps was justifiably a joke. I like the user interface and integration with iOS and Mac OS X better than Google Maps. But Google Maps still gives better directions, which is the most important thing of course.

Stay on top of Apple Mail using Mail Perspectives

I was pleased to once again have a two-minute audio tip featured on Mac Power Users. In it, I describe Mail Perspectives, software that lets me stay on top of email by displaying a mini-window showing key information about recently arrived messages.

My tip starts here.

Listen to the whole episode here: #309: I Haven't Discounted The Possibility That You're Crazy

Fixing (unrelated) annoying problems with Google Voice and the Mac App Store

The Google Voice problem was that incoming unanswered calls were going to an automated switchboard for some San Diego financial service that I have no relation to. If somebody called me and I picked up, that was fine, but if I didn’t pick up the call got forwarded to this financial service’s switchboard. Frankly, the financial service sounds shady. This was merely annoying rather than a big deal because people would just call back, or send an email or a text. But still it was a problem needing solving.

I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to fix this for months, when yesterday I thought to check which numbers were connected to that Google Voice number. Sure enough, one of the numbers Google Voice was set to ring was a landline number in my home office. But I disconnected that phone when I left my previous employer. Solution: Disconnect that number from Google Voice. And now incoming calls to my Google Voice number correctly go to my Google Voice voicemail. Yay!

For good measure, I configured Google Voice to no longer ring my iPhone when I get an incoming call and instead ring the iPhone Hangouts app. I tested it out and call quality is actually clearer through Hangouts than it is on the native iPhone app. And now I have two phone numbers on my iPhone, which could prove useful.

So I’ve gone from hating Google Voice and wishing I hadn’t signed up to … well, if not loving it then at least enjoying renewed hope for it.

The App Store problem was that I have iMovie installed on this Mac, and it’s due for an update through the App Store, but this is a company-issued Mac, and the iMovie update requires me to enter a password for another account, one that’s not mine. I don’t have a password to that account. This has been going on a couple of years now. Today I finally thought of a solution — I deleted iMovie. I haven’t edited a movie on the Mac in ages.

No big deal but that red 1 by the App Store was driving me crazy. And now it’s gone.

I’m still liking TaskPaper after a day

That’s already a breakthrough. Sometimes I spent a few hours on the weekend configuring a new productivity app and it fails to survive even an hour on a workday.

Here’s a big thing I like about TaskPaper: Because it’s plain text I can just arrange things however I want. Put tags at the beginning of a task. Arrange tasks into projects or not. Change the order however I want. Go crazy.

Two significant drawbacks: It doesn’t automatically support dated tasks. I mean, you can add a date to a task, but it won’t automatically stay hidden until the appointed day and then magically appear in your task list when it’s time. I knew that when I started trying it. There are workarounds, and I can live with it.

The second drawback is more significant: Because my task list is just a text file that syncs with Dropbox, if I walk away from my desk and make a change on my iPhone or iPad, that change will likely result in desktop conflicts. The only workaround is like the old joke: “Doc, it hurts when I do this.” “So don’t do that.” I need to remember to close Taskpaper when I leave my desk. That’s too easy to forget. I can think of a couple of workarounds: Keep a separate “errands and chores” list for things I need to remember to when I’m away from my desk, and keep a separate inbox exclusively as a place to add tasks as they occur to me when I’m out and about.

Day two with TaskPaper is Tuesday.

No good comes of connecting your Facebook account with your Mac

You just get a few annoying notifications every day.

Every few months, I seem to need to remind myself of this.

I think, “Wouldn’t it be a great idea to connect my Facebook account with my Mac?”

Then I do it and remind myself the answer is, “No.”

You get notifications of Facebook updates and messages you’ll see next time you log onto Facebook.

You see events on your calendar that you’re not interested in.

And you get birthday reminders for people you last talked to when you worked with them in the 90s.

You know how much I love birthday reminders.