Mac productivity software bundle--a steal at $30#

I've never linked to any of the Mac "bundle" offers before, but this one is a bit different as it makes available--for just $30--three of my must-have apps: TextExpander ($35 on its own), Path Finder ($40 on its own) and Keyboard Maestro ($36 on its own).

I use each of these programs countless times every single day, and couldn't imagine sitting in front of my Mac without them at my disposal.

(The bundle also includes five other applications: Socialite, Today, Blast, HoudahSpot and Mail Act-On (I no longer use, but when I did, Mail Act-On was a must).)

"Shine," a new weather app for the iPhone#

Yesterday, Ryan Gomba, the developer of Shine, asked if I'd like to give it a go. Never being one to turn down the chance to save $1, I jumped at the opportunity.

It's a nice app, and probably the fastest-updating weather app I've seen. I think it's pretty (there's a slight Tapbots vibe to it, which I like), smart (e.g., flick up to see hourly forecasts, flick left to see daily forecasts) and, thankfully, simple (e.g., it shows just current temp, high/low temps, chance of rain and wind speed). Also, I'm a fan of the icon.

I, of course, did have some problems with the app and relayed those to Ryan, who said that some of the things I mentioned would be resolved in v1.1, which will be available soon.

A couple of things I would like to see, and which I haven't mentioned to Ryan are 1) a "feels like" option (see the bottom of this post if you've no idea what I'm talking about); and 2) the option to display the current temperature as a badge on the icon (a la Fahrenheit, and now WeatherSnitch too).

I can't wait to see how this app progresses.

"Delivereads," a new Kindle service from Dave Pell#

I've been talking to my friend, Dave Pell, about Delivereads since before he came up with the (perfect!) name, and have been beta-testing the service from jump.

The idea is that Dave (and potentially other folk to whom he may hand over the curation reins from time to time) continuously culls the net for great content, and a few times a week packages the best stuff into small digests delivered directly to your Kindle. It's a great service, especially for those of you that don't subscribe to every damn feed on the net, and wouldn't mind a little extra reading material thrown onto your Kindle every now and then.

It's free, dead simple to subscribe to and going forward requires ZERO effort from you (apart from reading the articles you want to read). Check it out.

The technological singularity as religious ideology#

A long and fantastic read that makes some great technical points, but ultimately does nothing to influence me in either direction. (I've long found this sort of discussion to be a bit silly (especially at this early juncture), not to mention that it tends to reflect poorly the general opinions and concerns of those scientists and philosophers on the front lines of the still-nascent field of AGI.)

[The previous discussion] has accomplished the goal of laying out how the Singularity might be confused with a religion and how or why these points don't necessarily make it a religion. Now we need to look at some specific examples of people treating the Singularity as a religious ideology or alternately, just look at some of the insane things people talk about in relation to it that tend to make the uninitiated think, "This is some fucking crazy cult." [...]

The Singularity is not magic; it is not the savior of humanity, nor a harbinger of doom. Preaching the Singularity is only going to cause others to see it as nothing but a shroud of delusion pulled over the eyes of its followers, a techno-cult preaching the Rapture of the Nerds, when this is absolutely not the case. The Singularity is a serious thing, and it demands serious study. Promoting the Singularity is difficult enough without accusations that it is a religion, which some plainly treat it as, either knowingly or unknowingly. [...]

To wrap all of these things together, there are people who are either promoting or preaching a religious-ideological conception of the Singularity where either humanity or an AI is seen as godlike. These people have taken the instruction and details about the hypothesis of the Singularity and used it as a mode of instruction in a system of faith they have constructed (either explicitly or implicitly). [...]

This does not mean that most of these people are out there trying to create a religion surrounding the Singularity, but that most of these people are preaching an ideology rather than promoting a science. People have a tendency to run away with their passions, especially when those passions concern something that really could allow us to transcend our biology and form a completely new way of living based upon a new paradigm...

"Nitti Light" is almost the perfect font for writing

May 13, 2011

I'm obsessed with coming up with the perfect font for long-form writing (for me). Some may say that this, as with my hunt for the perfect color scheme (relatedly, I've been loving Solarized), is not only a pipe dream, but also just another way of procrastinating. They may be right on both points, but that's not going to deter me.

One of the many writing apps I tried on the original iPad was Writer, by Information Architects. The thing that stuck out for me immediately was its font. I of course loved that it was monospaced, but what really pulled me in was its tracking; it just seemed perfect to me, and quite unlike anything else I'd seen on the iPad.

I read somewhere that the font was a customized version of Nitti Light, from Bold Monday, and so a few months ago I did a little digging and found out that the font was available for general purchase, albeit without whatever iPad-specific modifications were made to it. Naturally, I bought it. (It's ~$75.)

It's beautiful on the Mac, and I dare say it's the best font for writing I've found (especially with a medium-contrast, dark-on-light color scheme). However, there is, of course, a problem: it's got ligatures that I can't seem to shake, no matter what I do.

As you can imagine, this is terribly frustrating, because it means that any time I type, e.g., "fi," the sequence is replaced with a ligature that throws everything off balance. As far as I can tell (and I've done a ton of searching), there's no way to disable, system wide, ligatures in Mac OS X. In fact, many apps appear to not respect the "Common Ligatures" checkbox; it doesn't matter if it's checked or unchecked, the ligatures remain in most of the programs I've used. (If they do respect the setting, it seems sporadic at best; I can't make heads or tails of it.)

I wrote the company a few weeks ago and asked if there was a solution. I've yet to hear back from them. If there is no system-wide solution for Mac OS X, surely they can just send me a version of the font that doesn't contain ligatures, right? If not, I'd like my money back, because frankly, it's unusable for me. (Update: They've just sent me a ligature-free version of the font! Now that that issue's been resolved, I can't recommend it highly enough for all you writers out there. Go grab it.)

Story of the Tokelau teenagers lost in the ocean for 51 days#

It's just happenstance that I'm linking to two lost-at-sea stories back-to-back, but trust me, they're both worth it. Read the previous story about the Mexican fishermen before you read this one.

As the author here notes, these kids probably experienced the most arduous and trying trip in recorded history (and he does take into account the tale of the Mexican fishermen, among other dire stories).

What makes the Tokelaun narrative particularly terrifying is the utter lack of food and other necessities, and their young ages (one was 14 and two were 15). It truly is the stuff of nightmares, and kudos to the author for helping us to even attempt to imagine the horror.

Anyway, throw this and the earlier article onto your Kindle, grab a nice Scotch, fall into your favorite reading chair and be thankful you're warm, dry and (hopefully) not thinking about eating your best friend for breakfast.

By the next morning--day six--the three were well aware that they'd made a terrible mistake. But what could they do? They sat on the benches, facing each other. They had no watch. Nothing to read. No pen or paper. They tried to distract themselves with conversation, but they had little to say. […]

In anguish, Samu clamped his jaw on one of the boat's wooden benches. It was two inches thick. Eventually he gnawed a piece off. He chewed for many minutes. He swallowed. They all joined in. The front bench was slightly softer than the rear one--it got wetter--so that was the one they ate. They ate lots of it. They ate some of the hair that fell off their heads. They ate bits of their fingernails. They were dying.

When rescued:

They were naked and emaciated. Their skin was covered with blisters. Their tongues were swollen. They had no food, no water, no clothing, no fishing gear, no life vests, and no first-aid kit. They were close to death. They had been missing for fifty-one days.

The castaways#

An incredibly harrowing story of five fishermen lost at sea, in a small, open boat, for over nine months. Three survived.

Think you might complain today, about anything? Read this article. Read it twice.

Remarking on the first turtle they caught (by jumping out of the boat and riding on its back):

"I remember we said, 'How are we going to eat that meat?' It's not like a normal meal. All you can see is the meat. Pure red. I was thinking, how is it possible that I'm going to eat that? In November, we ate only two times. I'd never been hungry like that, with a desperateness that can't be expressed. I don't know how to explain that this is something that one feels. It's desperateness, hunger, thirst, cold."

Describing the second death:

On the coldest nights, they all slept in the bow side by side, in the fetal position, an intimate arrangement that would have made them self-conscious on land. It was crowded, but they succeeded in staying warm. Then it became less crowded: one morning in February, El Farsero didn't wake up.

Lucio: "He died at my side, asleep. We all lay down, and when the sun rose he had already died. That's the prettiest death, I think. To go to bed and die in your dream."

The fishermen gave him the same valedictory that they had given Señor Juan: a three-day wake; prayers and hymns courtesy of Salvador; then a ritual lowering into the water, feet first, with El Farsero's head cupped in their hands, facing the setting sun.

Hypertext on Twitter, sometimes

May 10, 2011

I've long struggled with deciding which posts from this site to link to from my Twitter account. In the beginning I linked to nothing, but gradually, as more and more of my friends seemed to be using Twitter instead of RSS (weirdos!), I started to tweet my non-linked-list articles. I got no complaints (and no one yelled at me for doing something I previously had derided quite a bit), and actually it turned out to have a benefit I hadn't previously thought of, namely instant feedback.

I don't offer comments on my site (for a number of reasons, all of which I've covered many times over), and so before Twitter the only way to give me any feedback was via email. Not only is feedback via Twitter less formal (in my eyes anyway), it's generally more convenient than email (for both parties), not to mention that tweets are much easier for me to respond to because I'm severely length-constrained and don't feel guilty for being as concise as possible, or for not exploring every caveat.

For the last few months I've tweeted some of the linked-list posts to which I felt I added value to the link. For example, a couple of weeks ago I tweeted a linked-list post titled "Where does good come from?," because I felt that the two paragraphs I added to the link were worth something.

As a general guideline going forward, I'm going to tweet linked-list stuff only when I accompany the link with 50+ words of commentary (and sometimes not even then). Accordingly, nearly all linked-list posts with sarcastic one-liners or otherwise relatively short quips never will make it to Twitter. Given that those sorts of posts occur frequently with respect to the longer-form stuff, I think (hope?) it strikes just the right balance between annoying and useful.

(And no, I'm not creating a separate Twitter account for just my site. Not yet anyway.)

What will happen to us?#

Humans have been interested in the future for millennia, mostly as a subject for theologians. But theologians were, along with everyone else, thinking small. Most humans who have ever lived have died in conditions almost exactly like the ones into which they were born, and without written history had no way to grasp that the future might be different at all. Only now have we gained the scientific knowledge necessary to appreciate how exactly how deep a rabbit-hole the future really is: not just long enough to see empires rise and crumble, but long enough to make all human history so far seem like a sneeze of the gods.

While an essential part of the toolkit of a futurologist is knowledge of the past, science is now crossing a line where the past may be less helpful as a guide: It has moved beyond replicating the work of nature, and begun introducing eventualities never before seen on earth.

WeatherSnitch removes the ads and adds an icon temperature badge#

Last week I wrote about weather apps on the iPhone and noted that WeatherSnitch had long been my favorite, at least until the penultimate update forced ads on us.

Well, version 1.0.5 was released yesterday, and as I speculated would happen, they've added an option to remove the ads. Also, following Fahrenheit's lead, they now offer the option to display the current temperature as a badge on the icon. (I should note that this doesn't seem to be working quite right for me; the badge updates only when I jump into the app, instead of continuously throughout the day.)

Thinking better with depression#

Depression may have an analytical upside. People hospitalized for this mood disorder display a flair for making good choices when many options must be considered one at a time, a new study finds.

Andrews hypothesizes that depression evolved as an emotional response that induces people to isolate themselves and single-mindedly resolve painful personal problems.

TipToe iPhone app#

TipToe was created to make web search easier while on the go. Instead of using the built-in Google search of Safari, you can just search the web from TipToe, with a few advantages: the engine is based on Bing and Blekko, with a bit of artificial intelligence on top. It should remove all aggregated results of server farms, and the interface is free of ads. One more point: TipToe does NOT track your searches, and respects your privacy.

I've been enjoying this app for a couple of weeks, and especially like the ability to jump quickly back to the original search results, no matter how deep I drill into a particular result.

What's rather annoying though is the shifting state of the "Share" menu. While you can customize it to show only those services you want available, it displays just three at a time. What's more annoying still is that you can't fully control the three that are shown--it's simply the three you've most recently used.

(Also, worst icon ever.)

Your taste is why your own work disappoints you#

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take awhile. It's normal to take awhile. You've just gotta fight your way through.

So incredibly spot-on. I've nothing to add. (Via Kottke.)

Unthinking machines#

Some of the founders and leading lights in the fields of artificial intelligence and cognitive science gave a harsh assessment last night of the lack of progress in AI over the last few decades.

Marvin Minsky:

You might wonder why aren't there any robots that you can send in to fix the Japanese reactors. The answer is that there was a lot of progress in the 1960s and 1970s. Then something went wrong. [Today] you'll find students excited over robots that play basketball or soccer or dance or make funny faces at you. [But] they're not making them smarter.