LaunchBar and simple math

January 18, 2015

This is another of those super simple LaunchBar features that, it seems, most people don’t know exists. Once you invoke LaunchBar, if you start your command with a number and a mathematical operator, LaunchBar will do the math. For example, if you punch in “2+2”, LaunchBar will present “4” without any further input.

If you press return, the equation will disappear from the input bar and just the result will show there; if you then start typing an operator, the “saved” result acts as the first operand.

It’s great.

Humans drink alcohol because of evolution and bad fruit#

The results suggested there was a single genetic mutation 10 million years ago that endowed human ancestors with an enhanced ability to break down ethanol. The scientists noted that the timing of this mutation coincided with a shift to a terrestrial lifestyle. The ability to consume ethanol may have helped human ancestors dine on rotting fruit that fell on the forest floor when other food was scarce.

So, um, hrm, I, uh, put a case on my iPhone 6 Plus

January 13, 2015

I’ve owned 50+ phones since 1999 and I’ve never used a case. Not once. The iPhone 6 Plus has forced my hand.

It will surprise no one to hear that I’m not a “case guy”. They offend me, and surely they offend the designers of the device they’re meant to protect. But, every once in a while, a product comes along that requires a case, and unfortunately, the iPhone 6 Plus falls into this category.

The issue is that this phone is SLIPPERY. It’s like a wet fish. It feels like Teflon. Seriously, it’s uncomfortable to hold the phone a lot of the time—especially if your hands are dry at all (and you live in dry-ass California, like me)—for fear that it’s just going to fly off and slice someone open, or worse, hit the ground.

So, what did I buy? It’s called The Scarf (ugh), and it’s great. It’s .3mm thin (you read that right), weighs next to nothing (0.2 ounces), and fits the 6 Plus like a glove; in other words, it hardly exists at all (especially in the clear/white color I got). Moreover, it’s just  $9.99 at Amazon.

It’s finished with a slightly rough texture that provides a nice amount of friction when you hold it. Is it going to protect your phone from a 10-foot drop? Probably not, but that’s not why I bought it. I bought it to make the phone more comfortable to hold and use, and it does that exceedingly well. Plus—and maybe this is the strongest endorsement I can give—I’m not embarrassed by it.

If you’re an aesthete and a minimalist, this probably is the case for you.

The books I read in 2014

January 02, 2015

Below is a list of the books I managed to power through in 2014, and below that is a list of the books I’m currently reading.




Currently, I’m reading the following books:

The dominant "life form" in the cosmos is probably superintelligent robots#

The reason for all this has to do, primarily, with timescales. For starters, when it comes to alien intelligence, there’s what Schneider calls the “short window observation”—the notion that, by the time any society learns to transmit radio signals, they’re probably a hop-skip away from upgrading their own biology. […]

“As soon as a civilization invents radio, they’re within fifty years of computers, then, probably, only another fifty to a hundred years from inventing AI,” Shostak said. “At that point, soft, squishy brains become an outdated model.” […]

Most of the radio-hot civilizations out there are probably thousands to millions of years older than us. […] “The way you reach this conclusion is very straightforward,” said Shostak. “Consider the fact that any signal we pick up has to come from a civilization at least as advanced as we are. Now, let’s say, conservatively, the average civilization will use radio for 10,000 years. From a purely probabilistic point of view, the chance of encountering a society far older than ourselves is quite high.”

SKEYE Nano Drone#

Meet the SKEYE Nano Drone, the world’s smallest quadcopter measuring just 4.0 x 4.0 centimer (or 1.57 x 1.57 inch)!


How to reset OmniFocus WebDAV logins

December 26, 2014

A few months ago I wrote about using Box’s WebDAV to sync OmniFocus across devices, and have since decided to move my OmniFocus database from my corporate Box account to my personal one. This wasn’t as easy as it should have been, and frankly, I was starting to think that the only solution was to delete and reinstall OmniFocus on OS X and iOS.

The gist of the problem is that, bizarrely, neither version of OmniFocus lets you reset the login credentials for a WebDAV account, and the WebDAV URL for Box accounts is the same no matter the login/pass. (I found just one mention of this issue on the official support forum, but there’s been no response.) In fact, even if you change the URL to something nonsensical and let the app fail when trying to sync, it will still use the old credentials when you revert back to the correct URL (i.e., it never prompts you to re-enter your credentials).

Before I started digging into system and support files to look for where the credentials might be stored (so I could delete them), I wondered if, because WebDAV was just an extension of HTTPS, I could simply inject my new credentials into the URL, like so: http://login:pass@domain. Turns out you can…sometimes, but with OmniFocus that didn’t work. In various combinations, the scheme either broke completely, or was just flat-out ignored, and the sync progressed as usual, with the old credentials.

As I was flailing around I tried using just http://:@domain (i.e., no credentials at all), and on OS X this forced the user/pass prompt! I plugged in my new credentials and it started syncing to the new account. Whew.

Unfortunately, this didn’t work on iOS. :@ is simply ignored like every other combination. Short of deleting and reinstalling the app, I was at a loss as to how to resolve this on iOS. The only solution I could come up with was resetting the database (SettingsDatabaseReset). Once you do that, you’ll finally be prompted for a login/pass when you go to the WebDAV settings. It’s not a perfect solution, but gets around you having to delete/reinstall the app and rejigger all of your settings.

Working: A Podcast#

David Plotz:

I interviewed 17 Americans about their jobs. My mission was slightly different than Terkel’s (or Scarry’s). Terkel dug into how people feel about their jobs. But I wanted to know exactly how they do their jobs. What’s the first thing she does when she gets to work in the morning? What tools does she use? How does she talk to her boss? What are the peculiar customs or lingo in her profession?

This may be my favorite new podcast of the past year (apart from Serial, of course). I’ve listened to most of the episodes and especially enjoyed the one about being a waiter.

State of the species#

Charles Mann:

Why and how did humankind become “unusually successful”? And what, to an evolutionary biologist, does “success” mean, if self-destruction is part of the definition? Does that self-destruction include the rest of the biosphere? What are human beings in the grand scheme of things anyway, and where are we headed? […]

If we follow [Georgii] Gause’s pattern, growth will continue at a delirious speed until we hit the second inflection point. At that time we will have exhausted the resources of the global petri dish, or effectively made the atmosphere toxic with our carbon-dioxide waste, or both. After that, human life will be, briefly, a Hobbesian nightmare, the living overwhelmed by the dead. When the king falls, so do his minions; it is possible that our fall might also take down most mammals and many plants. Possibly sooner, quite likely later, in this scenario, the earth will again be a choir of bacteria, fungi, and insects, as it has been through most of its history.

It would be foolish to expect anything else, [Lynn] Margulis thought. More than that, it would be unnatural.

Drone racing in the woods evokes more than a few Star Wars memories#

France’s Airgonay club recently raced flying drones through a forest using a combination of cameras and wearable displays to immerse pilots in the action. As you’ll see in the highlight video below, it’s both thrilling and more than a little challenging – racers have to both dodge around trees and other drones that could come from virtually any direction.

Getting to system-level app settings in iOS 8

November 09, 2014

One thing I don’t think I’ve seen anyone mention regarding iOS 8 is how easy it now is to get to the various system-level settings for each app. In earlier versions of iOS, when you wanted to, for example, change the notification settings for a particular app, you had to jump into Settings > Notifications and then scroll, scroll, scroll until you found the app whose settings you wanted to modify. The incredibly frustrating thing was that this list wasn’t (and still isn’t) sorted alphabetically, and so if you had a ton of apps installed it could take you forever to find the one you wanted.

With iOS 8, all of an app's system-level settings and permissions (e.g., Location, Photos, Notifications, etc.) are bundled together in an alpha-sorted list of apps that begins at the bottom of the main Settings screen. For someone like me, who changes these settings fairly often, this is a huge improvement.

NIGHT Cable from Native Union#

None of us enjoy fumbling around for dropped cables or straining to use our devices when they’re recharging. NIGHT Cable gives you a 3 metre range to comfortably charge anywhere. Its weighted knot can be anchored to any flat surface, so it’s there when you need it next.

Ordered × 2.

Omnifocus syncing with Box

October 25, 2014

A couple of years ago I outlined my frustration regarding the dearth of secure syncing options for Omnifocus, and offered a solution in the way of a company called CloudSafe, which provides WebDAV syncing that encrypts the data both in transit and at rest.

Lately my syncs have been timing out, or returning malformed data that Omnifocus couldn’t read. This seemed to happen more often at work than at home, but it was always incredibly frustrating—sometimes a full day would go by without a successful sync while at the office.

Fast-forward to earlier this week when I had just about had it with the timeouts, and started looking for another solution. I knew from my previous research into this that very few companies offered a fully-secure WebDAV service, but I was hoping at least one more had popped up in the interim.

The company I work for uses Box a fair amount (which encrypts everywhere) and on a whim I started digging into their documentation to see if they offered a WebDAV service, and, well, they do! Not only that, but I’m pretty sure it's available to users of the “Personal” (read: free) plan. (I can’t confirm this because I’m using my corporate plan, but I’ve seen nothing that makes me think otherwise. Worst case, I suspect WebDAV is available with the $5/month plan.)

I set it up a few days ago and my syncs have been smooth sailing—fast and error-free.

(And yes, this was just a very long-winded way of saying that Box has a secure WebDAV option. You’re right, I probably should have just tweeted it.)

Cloak VPN for OS X and iOS#

One of the coolest features of this VPN service is that it will auto-secure networks that aren’t in a whitelist you create. For example, let’s say you try to get on a WiFi network that’s not the one at your house or office (which you would have previously whitelisted); Cloak will automatically pop into action and secure your data. Additionally, these settings are sync’d across your Mac and iOS devices.

Cloak is the best kind of service–one that just works, and that you don’t have to think about at all. Set it and forget it.

For my money and peace of mind, their $99/year unlimited data plan is a steal.

Climendo iOS app#

It’s been a long time since I wrote about a weather app, and for good reason—Dark Sky came out, and it’s great. That said, and as with any weather app, you have to have a little faith in its forecasts; you kind of have to make a deal with yourself that this service’s data is going to be your canonical data. If you don’t make that deal, then you’re constantly going to be questioning the app’s data.

The problem for me is that I question the data no matter what, and I’ve said for a long time that I’d like an app that “averages” the data from all of the competing providers, which is exactly what Climendo does.

The presentation isn’t great (and in fact, it’s a little confusing), but the sentiment is there, and I think with a little polish this app could become a daily driver. The name is hideous and the icon is even worse, but the idea is a great one and I hope to see them iterate on it (though I’m not too confident on that front as it hasn’t been updated since July).