Guy English on iOS 4.3's multitouch multitasking gestures#

[I] think they're a bad idea and shouldn't ship enabled by default. […] The touch screen is now an input into two systems: the application and the operating system. Despite the utility I believe this is a step backwards and certainly a trade off I'd be hesitant to make so early in what will undoubtedly be a long-lived product's life cycle.

Maybe Apple agrees with this multiple-abstractions argument (it's a good one) and this is why the gestures can't yet be enabled easily by the general public, but honestly, at this point I just can't imagine using my iPad without them. For me, the gestures make the overall iPad experience a lot more fun, and a lot less annoying. They're a big deal to me, and I'd be more than a little pissed if they were taken away before a comparable solution was introduced.

Gruber generally agrees with Guy, and then says:

And please, stop with the predictions that these gestures suggest future home-button-less iPads or iPhones. Try explaining to a normal person that they need to use five fingers to get back to the home screen. People love the home button.

I'm pretty sure if my dad read what John wrote above he'd have no problem understanding that five fingers are needed to get back to the home screen. Indeed, I don't see how that's any more difficult to explain/learn than that the button takes you back to the home screen. Frankly, apart from people that have less than five fingers on one hand, I can't understand why anyone wouldn't prefer this method.

Also, I'm not sure people love the home button; they simply haven't been exposed to any other option. As it stands, I use the home button only to wake the iPad when I'm not using the Smart cover (which, obviously, I could do just as easily with the power button on the back), and would be apathetic if it was removed tomorrow.

Guy offers a few alternatives for inputting multitasking signals, and at the very end of his piece mentions "bezel gestures." These I think ultimately will become the standard, because they likely won't break the functionality of any app, and can be made to shift around the bezel relative to the device's orientation, so that, as with on-screen gestures, the controls are consistent no matter how you're holding the device.

(If you'd like to enable the gestures, see this.)

The need to code#

That process, the act of programming, is something that I need to do. Whether to make a living or to be fooling around with some idea, the bug is in my system and I highly doubt that it will ever leave me permanently. I can see myself taking a break, but I can't see myself ever stopping. All I'll end up doing then is to change my mode from work to play and eventually that will lead back to some form of work.

If you can't program yet, or if you think that it is ‘complex', rest assured, there is nothing that can't be learned. Programming is not like playing a musical instrument, and it is not something that you have to have a genetic disposition for. The pay-off is in how much time you spend plugging away at it. Over time you'll get better, and at some point it will click.

Refuting a myth about human origins#

[A]rchaeological evidence now shows that some of the behaviors associated with modern humans, most importantly our capacity for wide behavioral variability, actually did occur among people who lived very long ago, particularly in Africa. And a conviction is growing among some archaeologists that there was no sweeping transformation to "behavioral modernity" in our species' recent past. […]

Documenting and analyzing behavioral variability is a more theoretically sound approach to studying differences among prehistoric people than searching for the transition to behavioral modernity. Nearly everything humans do, we do in more than one identifiably different way.

The Brand#

Authorities had once dismissed the Aryan Brotherhood as a fringe white-supremacist gang; now, however, they concluded that what prisoners had claimed for decades was true--namely, that the gang's hundred or so members, all convicted felons, had gradually taken control of large parts of the nation's maximum-security prisons, ruling over thousands of inmates and transforming themselves into a powerful criminal organization.

An awesomely scary and interesting article (from 2004) describing the formation of the Aryan Brotherhood (which actually took place in prison) and its ascent within the nation's prison systems. The power its members wield both in and out of prison is truly remarkable.

Ben Brooks is now blogging via TextMate (and now I'm not the only one)#

Ben lays out how he's using Keyboard Maestro to draft/publish regular and linked-list posts via TextMate. A little over a year ago I outlined how I draft/publish via TextMate, first describing how I accomplish this when using Safari/WebKit, and then explaining a similar solution for Chrome/Chromium.

The main difference between my methods and his are that I use custom blogging bundle templates, AppleScript, JavaScript and FastScripts, whereas he uses just a single Keyboard Maestro macro. (Also, mine grab the title of the page as well.) I dare say his solution may be a bit more elegant. Hrm.

(All of that said, I've been back in MarsEdit's capable hands for a while now, and rarely blog via TextMate anymore.)

Coffee Joulies#

Coffee Joulies work with your coffee to achieve two goals. First, they absorb extra thermal energy in your coffee when it's served too hot, cooling it down to a drinkable temperature three times faster than normal. Next, they release that stored energy back into your coffee keeping it in the right temperature range twice as long.

Who doesn't want these?! Incredible. And that name—Joulies—is just brilliant. Sure, you'll look a little odd dropping these into your coffee, but hey, I'll do it if you will.

"Creepy" knows where you've been#

When you hit the ‘Geolocate Target' button, Creepy goes off and uses the services' APIs to download every photo or tweet they've ever published, analysing each for that critical piece of information: the user's location at the time. […]

When the software finishes its run, it presents you with a map visualising every location that it found - and that's when the hairs on the back of your neck go up. While the location of an individual tweet might not reveal much, visualising a user's history on a map reveals clusters around their home, their workplace, and the areas they hang out.

Call me crazy, but on my iPhone I always have Location Services set to "off."

Shawn Blanc on Instacast, and why it isn't for me#

The two ways to get a new podcast episode onto your iPhone are either: (a) tap "get more episodes", be taken to the iTunes app and then pick a single episode to download to your iPhone, wait for it to download, return to the iPod app and play the episode; or else (b) sync your iPhone to your computer and transfer any new episodes which have downloaded to your computer onto your iPhone.

Instacast, the podcast app for iOS that can download podcasts over the air (and in a manner that is much less annoying than the way the iPod app does it; see above quote), has seen a lot of positive press these last couple of weeks, and deservedly so, but it just isn't for me.

The main problem is that I listen to podcasts on both my phone and computer, and while Instacast maintains play position within the app, it doesn't (and very likely can't) sync that information with the iPod app. This means that if I want to finish listening to a podcast on my Mac, that I started listening to with Instacast, I have to manually sync positions between them. No thanks.

I charge my iPhone only when sitting at my computer, so syncing via cable, while annoying and, let's face it, a bit anachronistic, really isn't an issue for me.

Another thing that kind of bothered me about Instacast is that I had to manually subscribe to all of my podcasts, and I listen to a ton of them. Yes, it can show me a list of the podcasts I currently am subscribed to (by looking at information maintained by the iPod app), but within that list I still have to subscribe to each one individually. Why not give us a "Subscribe to all" option? (I haven't seen others complain about this, so it's possible I missed the feature, but for the life of me I couldn't figure it out.)

Another great addition to the app would be a 30-second forward skip, so that I can more easily jump over commercials. I really wish you guys could see and hear me when a commercial for Audible starts--it's not a good look.

Other than the niggles above, I have to agree with Shawn that the interface and design are great, and, for what it's worth, I quite like the icon.

Inside deadmau5's helmet#

Even if you don't listen to electronic dance/house music, you likely have heard of deadmau5; he's the one that wears the huge, electronic mouse helmet when performing. Regarding the helmet:

[It weighs over 30 pounds(!), and] there's a camera up front that shows a view of what's going on outside, since the entire helmet is completely solid and there aren't any eye holes. There's a set of color video goggles on the inside that displays whatever the camera sees, so all interaction with knobs and sliders has to be dealt with in a different perspective. Essentially, he appears to be looking straight outward, but sees what's going on below him.

25 Years Later: A RADrospective#

The above is a trailer for a documentary Marc Dewey is creating--with your help--about the making of the 1986 BMX film, Rad.

Rad is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I can't wait to see this documentary. Hopefully Gleaming the Cube is next on this filmmaker's list.

How to set custom field values with WordPress' iOS apps

March 29, 2011

Yesterday I wrote about how my Slugger+ plugin can be used to set a post slug with the official WordPress iOS apps. While that plugin brings those (and similar) apps closer to being full-featured, I still wanted the ability to set custom field values from within the apps.

On this site I use a custom field to control the RSS permalinks of my "link posts"; because the WordPress iOS apps don't let me access custom fields, I can't write and publish "linked list"-type posts from within them. Gah!

Working from the Slugger+ plugin, late last night I hacked up a solution to this problem, and I'm calling it CF Setter. It works in a manner similar to Slugger+, and to use it you simply insert into the body of your draft post, text of the form: [cf]custom-field-value[/cf]. That's it!

The combination of Slugger+ and CF Setter means that blogging with the WordPress iOS apps is now a real alternative for those on the go.

How to set post slugs with WordPress' iOS apps

March 28, 2011

Until someone releases a better iOS app for WordPress, we kind of have to get by with their official offerings. While those apps are mostly OK, they force your slugs to be nothing more than hyphenated versions of the post titles; when your post titles are relatively long, the resulting permalinks can be unsightly and awkward. This shortcoming makes the apps totally unusable for me.

For the last few days I've been thinking about potential solutions to this problem, and then yesterday it dawned on me that I had already solved it with a plugin I wrote four years ago, called Slugger+. The purpose of that plugin was to allow for the management of slugs from within the venerable MarsEdit, which at the time, obviously didn't support such a thing.

Fortuitously for me, and likely for many of you, the plugin can be used, without modification, with the WordPress apps. As explained on the project page, to get it up and running you simply need to enable the plugin and then insert, anywhere within the post body, [slug]slug-to-use[/slug].

Upon publishing the post, the plugin will find that text, set the post's slug to slug-to-use and then remove the slug-defining code from the post. (Given that the WordPress apps don't (yet?) support TextExpander, you may want to modify the plugin to make the matching text shorter (e.g., [s]slug-to-use[/s]).)

Happy (mobile) blogging!

The LaunchBar service I use the most

March 25, 2011

As you all know by now, I'm a huge fan of LaunchBar (and of Quicksilver before it), and use it for an absurd number of tasks. (Some examples of how I've put it to use include: 1) Create a simple timer using LaunchBar and AppleScript; 2) Use FlexTime, LaunchBar, Spaces and AppleScript to get things done; 3) Restart Flash without quitting Safari or Chrome (using AppleScript and LaunchBar); and 4) Use LaunchBar to execute, in the "background," commands via a shell.)

The other day Justin Williams noted that his favorite LaunchBar feature is the clipboard history. I agree that it's a fantastic tool, and implemented well. I use it daily. That said, my use of it pales in comparison to the "Look Up In Dictionary" service, which I probably summon 100 times a day. (Clearly I'm an idiot.)

With LaunchBar you can get to the text field simply by hitting the spacebar once you've highlighted the service you want to set in motion. Thus, when I want to look something up with the built-in dictionary app (which, as you no doubt know, includes a thesaurus and an interface to Wikipedia), I:

  1. Invoke LaunchBar (I use cmd-space).
  2. Start typing out "look…," until the service is highlighted.
  3. Tap the spacebar and bang out whatever word I'm looking up.

The entire process takes 2-3 seconds. It's a beautiful thing. I can't believe I'm crying.

A toothbrush with a built-in toothpaste tube#

The ingenious feature is the handle, which works like a cross between a syringe and a deodorant stick. Fill it up with toothpaste, then when you're ready to brush, twist the bottom a few notches and toothpaste squeezes out the bristles.

Nifty. I link to this here because it reminds me of something I created when I was nine. Each of us in my fourth-grade class was charged with coming up with an idea, any idea, that would make some task simpler or easier. I, being a seeker of efficiency even then, came up with the idea of taping together two toothbrushes back-to-back, so that you could brush your top and bottom teeth simultaneously.

I'm sure at the time I thought it was the greatest idea ever. Hell, I still think it's the greatest idea ever! (OK, fine, so I didn't think it through fully, and trying to brush the sides of your teeth was, well, comical at best.)

I remember a friend's invention from the same project: glow-in-the-dark dog bowls. It was needed because, obviously, dogs otherwise would starve.

The neural mechanisms of insight#

"We propose that the amygdala plays an important role in signaling to different cortical regions that an internal event of significant neural reorganization has occurred," concludes Dr. Nava Rubin.

As is often the case with these sorts of things, I'm as interested in the experiments (and how they decide to test this to determine that) as I am in the findings.

Qatar invents artificial clouds for 2022 World Cup#

[T]he ‘clouds' are made from a lightweight carbon structure carrying a giant envelope of material containing helium gas. Four solar powered engines move the structure via remote control.

Is this for real?

Floating soccer field#

As part of their "Make THE Difference" campaign, TMB Bank shares an inspirational story of a group of kids that didn't let something silly like living on a floating island in the middle of the sea get in the way of their love for soccer.

The sweetest (and best produced) thing you'll watch this week. Truly inspirational.