Georgia school board bans 'theory of math'#

The Cogdell School Board banned the teaching of the controversial "Theory Of Math" in its schools Monday. "We are simply not confident of this mysterious process by which numbers turn, as if by magic, into other numbers," board member Gus Reese said. "Those mathematicians are free to believe 3 times 4 equals 12, but that dun [sic] give them the right to force it on our children." Under the new ruling, all math textbooks will carry a disclaimer noting that math is only one of many valid theories of number-manipulation.

LaunchBar 5.1, now with "native" tweeting#

LaunchBar 5.1 just launched with a slew of new features, including automatic updates (finally!), maintaining your "Hide Dock Icon" preference across updates (finally!) and support for third-party event-creation utilities (e.g., Fantastical).

Another new feature is the ability to invoke--out of the box--an application's text-based service. For example, if you want to tweet with the Twitter app, you simply select the app from within LaunchBar, hit the space bar and bang out your tweet.

The hangup for me though is that you still are routed to the Twitter app (it just uses the system's Services functionality), where you finally can publish the tweet. It effectively is no different than selecting text in a document and choosing "Tweet" from the Services menu, or just using Twitter's "Global new tweet" shortcut, and actually is a bit slower than the latter.

If you want to tweet via LaunchBar, I think my solution still is the quickest, most elegant way to go about it.

Science, the cruel stranger#

The research suggests that what we believe typically depends on who gets to us first and how the issue is framed, which is why Christians typically come from Christian households, Muslims from Muslim households, and so on. Once we commit to this or that belief, our myriad biases and the complexity of the world assure that we can always convince ourselves of our rectitude. Not only do we game ambiguities, cherry-pick evidence and make inferences where none exist, we even rewrite our memories to bolster our cherished convictions. Our feeling of certainty, that sense of lucid, "but-it-has-to-be!" clarity you get when you think about God or economic justice or what have you, typically has little or no connection to the cogency, let alone the truth of the claims that trigger it. […]

And this is what makes the present science-religion debates seem so old-fashioned: They are literally several [unnerving revelations] behind the times. Evolution? Please. Believe it or not, the burning question now isn't whether God exists, but whether we exist - at least in any way that conforms to our traditional and intuitive assumptions. Just as physics showed us that solids are primarily empty space, cognitive science seems to be showing us that selfhood is a kind of user illusion.

Human mutation rate slower than thought#

Combined with the results of three similar recent studies, the rate indicates that, on average, about one DNA chemical letter in every 85 million gets mutated per generation through copying mistakes made during sperm and egg production. The new rate means each child inherits somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 to 50 new mutations.

Previous measurements based on genetic comparisons between humans and chimpanzees had estimated the rate to be more than twice as fast. The discrepancy could mean that chimps and humans shared a common ancestor longer ago than many had thought.

Wren#

Wren effectively is Birdhouse for the Mac, except that it lets you keep just three drafts. Regarding this limit, the FAQ says:

We like the idea of constraining the number of drafts. It helps keep focus on tweeting and not managing a huge list of potential tweets. We may eventually change our perspective, but we're pretty set on this.

OK, but I still don't get it. Why shouldn't the user be left to decide how many drafts they want to manage?

Also in the FAQ they entertain the idea of making an iPhone equivalent. Yes, please! But, I hope they don't stop there. What they should do--especially if they like making money--is remove the draft limit, create the iPhone app and have the two apps sync drafts via Dropbox (or similar). (I, and countless others, have long expressed our desire for Birdhouse to sync to anything, but it seems that request will forever go unfulfilled.) There's serious money to be made here.

Relatedly, if you use LaunchBar, you might consider the script I cobbled together for tweeting via LaunchBar. It's not as pretty (and wow, Wren definitely is pretty), but it is free.

The origin of the word "daemon"#

Our use of the word daemon was inspired by the Maxwell's daemon of physics and thermodynamics. Maxwell's daemon was an imaginary agent which helped sort molecules of different speeds and worked tirelessly in the background. We fancifully began to use the word daemon to describe background processes which worked tirelessly to perform system chores.

Toward better "master passwords"#

A great post from the 1Password team regarding your "master password"--i.e., your "one" password--that controls access to all of your other passwords. It's good advice that's applicable to passwords in general.

While on the topic, if you're not using 1Password (or similar)--and you can afford it--then you're an idiot. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but there just isn't any excuse. (Same goes for not backing up your data. It's effectively free these days.)

If you're on the fence because of the price ($40), be sure to check out the Freelance Mac App Bundle, which includes 1Password and seven other great apps, for just $49. (This offer ends in four days, so move quick.)

The HTTP Archive#

The HTTP Archive provides [a record of how the content of web pages is digitized and served]. It is a permanent repository of web performance information such as size of pages, failed requests, and technologies utilized. This performance information allows us to see trends in how the Web is built and provides a common data set from which to conduct web performance research.

This is pretty damn neat.

How to make any app look like iA Writer

June 20, 2011

I'm kind of obsessed with iA Writer for Mac. (If you haven't already, you might want to read my initial impressions of the app, which I penned soon after it was released last month.) The more I use it, the more I like it.

In fact, I've become so enamored with its aesthetic that I've spent a ton of time trying to replicate it across a few of my most-used apps--including the Readable bookmarklet I use for reading (long) web articles in a browser--and, I think it's safe to say, I've succeeded.

The three variables

Font

This was the easiest part, and required no real work from me given that I had purchased Nitti Light--the font used by Writer for Mac and iPad--well before the Mac app was released. I fell in love with the font when I first saw it in iA's iPad app, and when I realized it was available for purchase, it was a no-brainer for me. For my money, Nitti Light is the perfect font for long-form writing and reading.

Font color

I spent forever trying to suss out the font color from the application's bundle, but ultimately came up empty. I looked in all the NIB and PLIST files, but couldn't find where they were defining the font color.

Finally, I decided I would just fire up the DigitalColor Meter and see if I could grab it that way. The reason I didn't go this route from jump is because I was worried about the anti-aliasing throwing me off from the true color (especially given that Writer doesn't let you modify the font size).

Then, it dawned on me that even at its set font size, I could just paste in a unicode glyph with a "large" solid area and see what the meter gave me. I tried multiple glyphs, and while the anti-aliasing still was a mild hindrance, there was no doubt I had determined the font's specified color: #424242 (rgb(66,66,66)).

Background image/color

It was fairly trivial to get a copy of the image Writer uses to tile the background; I simply scoured its application package looking for images appropriately named. You can find the image here:

.../iA Writer.app/Contents/Resources/English.lproj/backgroundPattern.png

Great, so we have the actual image, but what about the most likely scenario where we can't use an image for a background, and instead must specify a solid color?

As you can tell by just looking at the image (especially if you zoom in a fair amount), it basically is just white/grey ‘noise.' Given that the color range of the small blocks that make up the image isn't terribly large, I figured I could get the ‘general' color of the image via Photoshop using Filter > Blur > Average, and sure enough the calculated color is pretty spot-on: #f5f6f6 (rgb(245,246,246)).

How to use this information

Armed with the above information, you obviously can simply change the font/document settings of your favorite app to match the values I determined. (I, for example, have done this for both nvALT and MarsEdit.)

However, you, like me, may want to use this setup for long-form reading, as well as writing. I recently wrote about an uber-configurable bookmarklet called Readable--that sanitizes web pages and makes them infinitely more, well, readable--and noted that I had configured it to use Nitti Light and the Solarized color scheme, which scheme I've written about before.

While Readable offers more configuration options than any other bookmarklet of its type, it doesn't explicitly allow for the defining of a background image (though, of course, it does let you define the background color); however, it does provide a simple mechanism by which you can use your own custom CSS. Realizing this, I set out to determine what CSS would be needed to make Readable render web pages to look like Writer.

It took quite a bit of work to figure out which element's background needed to be styled for the image to take, and as it turned out it actually was more than one, namely box and background. Once I had determined this, the resulting CSS1 was rather trivial:

#box, #background { background: url(path/to/file) repeat; }

So, when configuring Readable, set the font to Nitti Light, set its color to #424242, set the leading to 1.5, and then drop the above CSS into the "More CSS" box. Size to taste.

That's it. Now everything you write and read on your Mac can be made to look almost identical to Writer.


  1. I believe there is some rule in Chrome--my browser of choice--that forbids you to reference local files within an iframe (I could be completely wrong about this, and spent no time researching it), and I'm not sure at all about other browsers; the easiest thing to do is to just put the file on a web server somewhere and reference it via HTTP, like you would any other image.  

Mitigating the risks of artificial superintelligence#

Ben Goertzel:

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions regarding existential risk -- both among individuals in the futurist community broadly conceived; and among the general public?

Michael Anissimov:

Underestimating the significance of superintelligence. People have a delusion that humanity is some theoretically optimum plateau of intelligence (due to brainwashing from Judeo-Christian theological ideas, which also permeate so-called "secular humanism"), which is the opposite of the truth. We're actually among the stupidest possible species smart enough to launch a civilization.

Human brain may be hardwired for hope#

Much of this fascinating article reminds me of Sex, Time, and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution, by Leonard Shalin, which probably was the book I most enjoyed reading last year, and from which I learned the most.

There's a lot in the book about humans' initial correlations of sex with the birth of a child nine months later, and with that connection, the ability to travel mentally into the future, and ultimately, to envisage mortality.

As this piece notes, optimism has evolved in part in an effort to counter what otherwise could prevent us from endeavoring to move the species forward, namely the awareness of our own inexorable deaths.

We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures. We watch our backs, weigh the odds, pack an umbrella. But both neuroscience and social science suggest that we are more optimistic than realistic. On average, we expect things to turn out better than they wind up being. […]

But the [optimism] bias also protects and inspires us: it keeps us moving forward rather than to the nearest high-rise ledge. Without optimism, our ancestors might never have ventured far from their tribes and we might all be cave dwellers, still huddled together and dreaming of light and heat. […]

Scientists who study memory proposed an intriguing answer [to the prevalence of brains creating false or wildly innacurate memories]: memories are susceptible to inaccuracies partly because the neural system responsible for remembering episodes from our past might not have evolved for memory alone. Rather, the core function of the memory system could in fact be to imagine the future -- to enable us to prepare for what has yet to come. The system is not designed to perfectly replay past events, the researchers claimed. It is designed to flexibly construct future scenarios in our minds. […]

It is easy to see why cognitive time travel was naturally selected for over the course of evolution. It allows us to plan ahead, to save food and resources for times of scarcity and to endure hard work in anticipation of a future reward. […]

I think the following also may apply to the more pessimistic among us. Ahem.

People with mild depression are relatively accurate when predicting future events. They see the world as it is. In other words, in the absence of a neural mechanism that generates unrealistic optimism, it is possible all humans would be mildly depressed.

(Via Delivereads.)

Why more Americans are turning to "fake" news#

At the Fast Company Most Creative People in Business event last week, Onion editor Baratunde Thurston said that today's real news is farcical, and the lack of trust is so great that the audience has decided to cut out the middle man (aka the mainstream media), and go straight to the source.