Without a hiccup

Astounding anecdote via TiDbits, and definitely out of my budget.

I visited an Apple Store in San Francisco, and made pals with one of the sales guys. He gave me a demo of the Mac Pro. He opened the Applications folder and had me hold my hand over the vent. He then hit Command-A to select everything, then Command-O to open every app, including the pre-installed Adobe Creative Suite. Within 15 seconds, everything was open, without a hiccup, and all I felt was a waft of warm air. Pretty incredible.

Matt Damon as Ranting 13-Year-Old


I would love to see this scene reenacted in costume by Matt Damon (yes, including the Mario backpack). No smile. No breaking the fourth wall with a knowing smirk at the camera. Just a word-for-word reenactment in this exact set.
That, my friends, would be a thing of beauty.

Floors, Pain, and Home Improvement

Smoking the turkey. It's getting there. Looks great. Smells better!Our home improvement has evolved beyond the expensive necessity of maintaining structural integrity to making our house a home that is a joy to live in.
Three years ago on Thanksgiving eve, while checking the progress on a 17-pound turkey smoking in our Big Green Egg, the deck outside our French doors on the second story dropped 6 inches as it separated from the house. We soon pulled it down before it fell down on its own. It sat where it fell until about a week ago when we cut it into manageable chunks with a DeWalt circular saw and a Milwaukee Sawzall so a friend could haul that dreadful memory away for us.
Deck
By the way, the turkey and I survived. It was delicious.
We could not immediately replace the deck because our aging house was afflicted with more serious problems starting with the most pressing, replacing the siding. Next on the list was replacing a leaky roof. In the interim, I had to replace (not repair) my transmission. All expensive, all blocking our way to the improvements we wanted to do rather than those we had to do.
Finally, we are able to replace the deck with one about twice the size that will be properly supported and attached correctly to the house. If the weather cooperates, we should have it by tomorrow night. We are all anxious to return the BGE to it’s rightful throne just a few steps from the kitchen.
New siding
And those few steps will be a lot prettier soon as we finish installing our new flooring. We cleared a path by knocking out a couple of walls that bear no weight and did nothing but break up the room. We lost three electrical outlets that had nowhere to run to as the wall came down. An electrician safely relocated a couple of light switches for us.

Agony

After tearing out the carpet from the living room and hallway, old laminate from the dining room, and linoleum from the kitchen, we spent last weekend on our hands and knees prepping the subflooring to install our new laminate floors.
New floors
My wife and I know is going to be worth it in the end, but it was agonizing work for this sedentary middle-aged couple. I’m not going to speak for Julie, but it took me six days for my bruised knees and aching muscles to recover. That doesn’t count the scabs that are still healing. I’m not sure what curse of the work afflicted my hands, but they felt like they belonged to someone else for days. It still feels weird to make a tight fist.
Mental Note: I’ve never been particularly athletic, but come on. Ironic that athletic nearly rhymes with pathetic. I really need to get back in shape.
Today, we are eager to lounge on the new deck coming our way. If I close my eyes, I can already smell the charcoal and hear the sizzle of filet mignon hitting the grate at 550 degrees. It’s going to be delicious.

Troubleshooting Apple Networks

My home network has been plagued with incredibly frustrating problems with dropped connections and other weirdness that are hard to diagnose. I still haven’t solved it, but found two articles in Apple’s Knowledge Base that are finally pointing me in a better direction.

There is a lot of information there that isn’t obvious at at a glance, so be sure to expand all of the disclosure triangles.

Sorting Out How I Work With Plain Text

My cup runneth over with superb apps for writing, manipulating, and writing text on any Apple device; so much so that it’s hard to pick the one I want to work in right now. A nice problem to have, but still a problem. A post by @macdrifter published on New Year’s Day, Quick Notes with Sublime Text, prodded me think about this.
As a nerd plunked firmly in the “fiddly” class, at least I know one thing. After years of agonizing over which font I want to use and how big the margins should be, I committed a long time ago to working in plain text using Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown (based on John Gruber’s Markdown). All of my files are synced using iCloud or Dropbox for ubiquitous access from my Mac, iPhone, and iPad mini.
On my Mac, most ideas start in Sublime Text 3. It is always open and one of the best text editors on the market (along with BBEdit, of course).1 A bonus to both text editors is the hot exit; all open files are saved and reopened the next time you launch the app. This alleviates my File Naming Anxiety Disorder (FNAD), an affliction that submitted for inclusion in DSM-6.
So from my Mac I may start quickly in Sublime Text, but at some point I freeze and wonder, “Is this really where I want to be working on this?” These are my top three options, all of which recognize variants of Markdown while curating their own unique strengths:

  • MultiMarkdown Composer — This application for writing in MultiMarkdown is designed by Fletcher Penney, the man who designed the markup language. What could be better?
  • Ulysses III — In my memory, Ulysses kicked off the plain text editing revolution on the Mac. The developers completely overhauled the design and it is beautiful (and dovetails perfectly into their iOS app Daedalus Touch).
  • Byword — Another popular app with many writers on the web, Byword’s designers built in capabilities to publish directly to WordPress and Tumblr.

All three are terrific. Though it’s a Mac application, Ulysses III works the most like an iOS app; open a new file, start typing, and it’s just saved somewhere in the app without irritating my FNAD. Byword and MultiMarkdown Composer (MMC) work with standard files that are saved in iCloud or Dropbox, respectively. MMC handles MultiMarkdown metadata better than the other two (as it should coming from the man who wrote the spec).

Another Can of Worms

This has so far focused on the Mac while ignoring two other platforms, the iPhone and iPad. I’m getting bored with this topic for now, so I’m just going to rip out a few points here.

  • Byword is available on all three platforms
  • Ulysses III, coupled with Daedulus Touch, is sort of available on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
  • MultiMarkdown Composer is Mac-only, but being plain text is available for easy editing on any device when synced with Dropbox.

Findings?

The whole purpose for writing this article is to sort through my options and determine a system that works best for me. I don’t think I am quite there yet. If you’re still reading and curious, I chose to write this article in MultiMarkdown Composer. When I nail down something that works for me, I’ll let you know.


  1. BBEdit is still my go to app for cleaning up and reformatting documents using Text Factories. My most common use case is copying the text of meeting agendas sent to me in MS Word, pasting into BBEdit, running a Text Factory that strips weird spaces and characters, converts to Markdown, which is exported into HTML to publish online. 

2013 plus 1

Now, with little light remaining in the last day of 2013, seems like a good time to review the year. Challenges always stick in our memory—money has been too tight for our tastes and we’re all itching for a real vacation away from home—easy painful memories, but I want to focus on the good things we have enjoyed.
My wife has worked a couple of jobs here and there since resigning in July 2011 to earn her master’s degree, but has not enjoyed employment. That changed several weeks ago when she was hired to do work she is passionate about. She makes me proud for sticking to her principles and finding work she loves in a gasping job market. I am ever thankful that she agreed to spend her life with a bum like me.
Our oldest daughter started college in the fall at a balmy south Georgia campus where she is doing great. Her grades are hanging in there after her first semester (which is more than I can say about my own college experience) and she has lots of friends on campus and was invited to join the ΑΣΑ sorority. For now, she has declared a major in criminal justice with some thoughts of going into law.
Our two youngest are still doing great in high school; definitely in the top half (third?) of their respective classes. Great Scott, our sophomore will probably get her driver’s license next month with with her younger brother getting a learner’s permit after his birthday in the spring. They both have a bumpy ride toward learning how to be personally responsible and respectful of others, though they are learning (kicking and screaming the whole way). One of favorite TV characters, Ron Swanson[1] from the show Parks and Recreation, summed up responsibility and respect better than I can.

You know what makes a good person good? When a good person does something bad, they own up to it. They try to learn something from it and move on. Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

They aren’t the only ones with lessons left to learn. I need to find my center and be more patient to be a better parent and husband. My biggest failure as an adult and parent is my broken relationship with my oldest son. It took both of us to reach the point we did while butting heads before he turned 18 and struck out on his own. The last time I saw him was during an awkward visit on my birthday in 2009. I love him and miss him, and want to be a better father to all of my kids.

New Year Rising

My hope is the new year will bring health, hope, and good luck to me and my family. Yours too.
My wife and I will turn 42[2] this year. As a feisty young whippersnapper, 42 sounded ancient. Now, I know I was wrong. While I’m not as spry as my younger self and surely need to lose about a third of my weight, I’m still learning and maturing while accumulating the wisdom that can only come with time.
As an inveterate nerd, I have been poking around in several computer languages.[3] My plan is to become somewhat proficient in a couple of those with a good working knowledge of the rest, because doing so furthers my ultimate, if vague, plans.
You see, for years I wanted to be a Writer. In my early 20s, I played the traditional role of drunk tortured writer, perpetually scribbling bad poetry and nonsense with fancy pens in a journal while writing very little. Then, I was hired as a journalist and wrote a lot, complaining all the while how I was so tired of writing for work that I couldn’t write for me. After my stint with print journalism, I migrated to public communications. There is a lot to love in my current job and I’m pretty good at it; however, I stubbornly remain a computer jockey at heart and want to be a professional nerd when I grow up.
Also, read less news and more books, and *groan* write more.
OK then. So, 2014 is going to be a year of growth and learning for me. Thanks again to my wife’s support for my crazy ideas and steady support so we can enjoy this exciting year coming straight at us. Strap yourself in for a Happy New Year everyone. I hope this is your year to shine.


  1. Swanson’s wisdom goes straight to the point like some amalgamation of the Dalai Lama, Yoda, and Yogi Berra.  ↩
  2. The number 42 is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, and that has to be a good thing. Right?  ↩
  3. LaTeX, Perl, python, and some PHP with a dash of CSS and JavaScript for the web.  ↩

Necessary Distractions

Dr. Drang is fun to read for a lot of reasons and should especially appeal to my fellow nerds in the world. In a recent post titled A Free Distraction about writing and the onslaught of “distraction free writing” apps, this bit about his habits hit close to home.

I’ve tried to change my writing habits. I’ve tried to turn my brain’s internal editor off and just let the words come out, trusting myself to fix them later on. It would make writing much easier, regardless of the text editor I use. But I can’t do it.

Yep. That. I am a fiddly writer and have tried the distraction-free environments. The more designers and developers try to strip away, the harder they are for me to work in. Apps like Byword provide a happy medium, but I most often find myself doing all of my writing in a full-blown text editor (Sublime Text these days, dabbling in MultiMarkdown Composer, never a word processor a la Microsoft’s Word or Apple’s Pages).
Drop Dr. Drang’s news feed in your reader of choice for a few weeks and give it a shot. I think he’ll make the cut.

Life Work Joy

Life. Work. Joy. The three shouldn't be mutually exclusive and the third should be omnipresent. Some seek a sharp divide between life and work and hope joy plays at least a small part in both.

Love what you do, and you will never work a day in your life.

Perks and challenges of being an introvert

Being an introvert does not have to mean living a hermit's life, though that is my tendency. I don't like big groups of people. Crowds don't make me nervous or scared; the din and sea of motion overwhelms my brain. Football games, concerts, and bars are great examples of places where I struggle. What may come across as shyness is probably just my flight instinct kicking in. Because I can't stop trying to focus on everything at once, I struggle to focus on anything at all. I can't understand the person talking right next to me and either nod my head wearing a goofy affirmative look on my face or wave them off with a look that says I can't hear you, which is frustrating for me and the person doing the talking.1
My hearing is fine, too fine at times. In a fairly quiet place my brain picks up the tiny sounds: bumps of someone moving around in adjacent rooms, beeps of random electronics, voices in other parts of the house. Televisions, like crowds, produce a constant flicker of motion. Even if I try to ignore it, the peripheral flashes of noise and sound are like a hynotic narcotic reducing me from creative worker to mindless consumer.
Does that mean I'm cranky when it's loud and cranky when it's nearly quiet? Mostly, yes. Am I sometimes hard to live with? Family members vote "yes." I'm glad we all love each other.
So far this sounds like a bleak existence, but I don't write off my challenges as complete flaws. Given the right environment, I can focus intently on the task at hand and churn out some great work.

Down to brass tacks

My ideal work environment is quiet and flicker-free. Music helps me focus, especially when wearing headphones. I prefer something with a bit of a drone and few to no lyrics. Aphex Twin fits the bill, providing everything from atmospheric soundscapes to intricate digital beats.2 Both have their own place depending on the work I am doing. What I struggle with now is trying to figure out what work I want to do.
My life was challenging from the ages of 17 to 25, that period when people are becoming who they will be. My dad died suddenly when I was in high school. I chose to be a young dad married (the first time) at 22. A poor sense of direction in my first year of college made the remainder more challenging. I shifted from engineering to English and spent much of my time after year one digging myself out of an academic hole. I had no direction, no distinct future in mind, and was just attending college because that's where I was supposed to be. Right?
After years of part-time courses and bumming around a series of low-skill jobs (waiting tables, washing cars, warehouse work, etc.) I landed a job writing for a weekly newspaper. After about seven years of journalism, much of it focused on writing about education, a public school superintendent offered me a job. Growing as a communications specialist helped me shed aspects of newspaper work I didn't like. Covering police and courts is a depressing beat for someone with no stomach for it. In this new role, I get to focus on telling stories, writing to bring clarity and a touch of style to the world of education in spite of its jargon and acronyms. My work also opened doors to discover areas I never knew I would love. Now, happily married (third time's the charm) with four kids and equipped with the budding wisdom of middle age, I am beginning to look at my options again.
Do we ever really figure out what we want to be when we grow up?

Everything comes with a price

With a broad job description, I have been able to define my role as as communications specialist with a focus on designing for print and the web. Like a twist in a fairy tale, my curse was working with the media.3. I can be happily chugging away on the web, working to build relationships through our sites, helping schools, promoting students, and tending to social media, when a discipline issue captures the media's attention and everything else screeches to a halt.
Nota bene: Like medicine and law, much of our work in education is confidential and protected by law. FERPA4 leads the charge in reasons we cannot tell all even when we want to, which leads to much frustrations on both sides of the street.

What now?

With time to focus and a renewed appreciation for clear design, I fell in love with structured text, the code underneath the spit and polish of the web that binds everything together. Code is an endless puzzle I find satisfying because it keeps me engaged as I continue to learn. I get to play5 with CSS, HTML, and a little javascript. Along the way I've picked up some perl and shell scripting skills and look forward to learning python and ruby.
I'm running out of steam on this topic, but I think it boils down to this:

  • I want to continue working with Mac OS X and iOS.
  • I want to teach people how to get the most out of their computers and mobile devices (which are converging quickly).
  • I enjoy researching complex data sets, picking them apart and putting them back together in a way that makes sense to everyone who sees it.

  1. My beautiful wife (bless her heart) is the one who suffers the most from this aspect of my affliction.
  2. As I write, I'm listening to Polynomial-C via Rdio.
  3. Curse is a strong word, but I enjoy the metaphor. Most reporters I work with are good people; most of them.
  4. FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
  5. I chose the word "play," though I could just as easily have chosen "work." This is kind of the point I am trying to make.

Maximize UI for Rdio & Simplify

When I’m in my Fortress of Solitude working on my Mac, it’s a safe bet Rdio (I’m ELBeavers in Rdioland) is feeding my brain a steady stream of rhythms and beats. Brett Terpstra made Sidecar13, a skin for a third-party Rdio controller called Simplify.
Sidecar13desktop
Sidecar13 provides a nice visual interface, but I can’t stand to have anything floating above all windows so I can’t see it in the background.
Then I thought about my shortcut to maximize windows, Keyboard Maestro macro that’s always a quick keystroke away.
First I considered created a Macro Group, but as far as I can tell that only makes actions available based on a selected apps availability. Knowing there had to be a way, I looked at the Maximize Window script again and added an if then else statement.
If Rdio is running, the Maximize… script zooms the front window to 1,116 × 786 (on my MacBook Air) ((This macro’s utility is limited to my screen’s dimensions, but with a little more work someone could tweak the macro to see what size screen it’s dealing with and act accordingly.)) and scoots the window 250 pixels from the left edge of the screen. This fills the space to the right while Brett’s beautiful Sidecar13 languishes gorgeous on the left.
Maximize window macro
Another couple of macros watch Rdio’s status. If it’s active, then Simplify is launched (if it wasn’t already). When Rdio quits, Simplify quits too. When those apps aren’t running, the Maximize Windows macro zooms to fill the entire screen.
2013 10 20 simplify
Check out the macros on Github or just go ahead and download them to use with Keyboard Maestro. Let me know if they’re as helpful for you as they are to me.

Mind. Blown.

I’m going to want to be able to find this again later and you need to get with the watching buddy. Video clocks in at just over five magical minutes.

Labor Day

Labor Day for us meant our daughter came home for her first break from Valdosta State University, which was great. We miss her when she’s gone, which already kicked in after she left earlier today to return to campus.
We watched The Shining together; her first time. During the first half she was rolling her eyes. Second half? Scared out of her wits. She’ll carry that one around for a while. Hey, they don’t call it a psychological thriller for nothing.
On nerdier notes, I sorted out my text files and narrowed my iOS app use to Notesy for quick reference (though I’m still digging into Editorial). I also began migrating to the new Apple Affiliate program. When you click links to apps and make a purchase, you’re supporting this site.
You can learn more about me, this site, and click updated affiliate links on the About page.

Bringhurst's Elements of Typographic Style

Robert Bringhurst’s 20th anniversary edition of The Elements of Typographic Style (version 4.0) is a pleasure to read, breathing life into letterforms with his rumination on typography design principles. The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, describes Bringhurst as one of Canada’s most revered poets, as well as a typographer, translator, cultural historian, and linguist.
On designing a title page:

“Think of the blank page as alpine meadow, or as the purity of undifferentiated being. The typographer enters this space and must change it. The reader will enter it later, to see what the typographer has done. The underlying truth of the blank page must be infringed, but it must never altogether disappear – and whatever displaces it might well aim to be as lively and peaceful as that original blank page. It is not enough, when building a title page, to merely unload some big, prefabricated letters into the center of the space, nor to dig a few holes in the silence with typographic heavy machinery and then move on. Big type, even huge type, can be beautiful and useful. But poise is usually far more important than size – and poise consists primarily of emptiness. Typographically, poise is made of white space. Many fine title pages consist of a modest line or two near the top, and a line or two near the bottom, with little or nothing more than taut, balanced white space in between.” (p 61)

On automation versus the pleasure of kerning by hand:

“Binomial kerning tables are powerful and useful typographic tools, but they eliminate neither the need nor the pleasure of making final adjustments by hand.” (p 34)

And one more quote on bringing a book to life for human readers:

“A book is a flexible mirror of the mind and the body. Its overall size and proportions, the color and texture of the paper, the sound it makes as the pages turn, and the smell of the paper, adhesive and ink, all lend with the size and form and placement of the type to reveal a little about the world in which it was made. If the book appears to be only a paper machine, produced at their own convenience by other machines, only machines will want to read it.” (p 143)

For a book about visual elements, the physical features of the book itself are a joy to any reader’s sense of touch. The archival quality pages are free of acid, produced from sustainable materials, and smooth velvet to the fingertips. The cover, likewise. Bringhurst’s book is a treasure to see, a pleasure to touch, and a joy to read.