MarsEdit v2.0

September 03, 2007

Daniel Jalkut has just released the second version of the world's best blog-publishing application, MarsEdit. In the hierarchy of my favorite Mac programs, this one sits near the top — I can't imagine writing and/or publishing without it. I've been beta-testing v2.0 for a few months now, and can genuinely say that Daniel has put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this release — he truly cares about the application and its users.

I've a feeling current users will jump at the chance to upgrade (it's only $10), but if you're a prospective customer still on the fence, let me assure you that $30 is a steal if you spend more than a trivial amount of time writing and editing weblog entries.

Seth Godin on Labor Day#

None of the people who are racking up amazing success stories and creating cool stuff are doing it just by working more hours than you are. And I hate to say it, but they're not smarter than you either. They're succeeding by doing hard work.

SuperDuper! automatically mounts/unmounts external drives

September 03, 2007

As many are aware, external drives tend to spin up even when they aren't necessarily needed. For example, on Mac OS X, they start whizzing away whenever you try to save something locally, even if you've made no indication that you wish to save that something to the external drive. If you are like me, and only use your external drive(s) to mirror the hard drive(s) in your machine during the wee hours of the morning, you likely find this spin-up process very annoying, not least because it always takes a few machine-immobilizing seconds.

After having been irritated by this nonsense one too many times, I set out to solve the "problem." My first thought was to crontab a couple of shell scripts to run just before and after SuperDuper! did its thing; the shell scripts would mount and unmount the drive. Soon after I started whipping up the scripts, I noticed that SuperDuper! had the native ability to launch scripts before and after a scheduled backup — no crontab needed. Nice.

With this little bit of fortuitous knowledge bouncing around in my head, I decided to go a step further and see what would happen if a scheduled backup began while my external drive was unmounted and no scripts were defined. I'll tell you what happened — SuperDuper! didn't miss a beat. It mounted the drive, did its backup thing, and then unmounted the drive. Very nice.

Now, did I half-expect it to do that? Yes, because it's so obvious. But, let's be honest, how often do you expect something to work a certain way (because it's the only logical way to do it) and it doesn't? Yeah, all the time.

Anyway, I guess this is just a long-winded way of acknowledging that even though SuperDuper! and I have had our issues1, it's nevertheless a great program to which I still entrust my data.

  1. Knock on wood, that particular problem hasn't reared its ugly head since I wrote about it.   

Goodbye, cruel Word#

I weep at all the innocent electrons I wastefully killed over the years, sending those massive, lumbering Word documents through the internet. I apologise for my particle profligacy. I have learned my lesson. Goodbye, cruel Word.


Spy plane employed to shame owners of heat-loss homes#

Thermal images of homes have been taken by a light aircraft fitted with military spy technology to record the heat escaping from people’s houses. Maps identifying individual homes have now been placed on the Internet to encourage occupiers to reduce their wastage and carbon emissions by fitting insulation and turning the thermostat down.

A week with the new Apple keyboard

September 01, 2007

I take keyboards very seriously and have been known to religiously stick by the models I like. I previously expounded on my efforts to find a good keyboard for the Mac after having used Apple's previous model for a couple of days (I had just purchased a new Apple monitor and needed a keyboard for the PowerBook). I hated that keyboard:

Anyone who thinks this is a good keyboard has never typed on a good keyboard. Period. Every time I use this thing for more than 5-10 minutes my fingers start to hurt. I constantly feel like I’m pressing the keys harder than I should have to — they’re much too “mushy.” It’s very tiring. The only thing I can say I really like about it are the USB slots on the back, but a lot of keyboards come with these now.

After that post, and after having tried both the Matias Tactile Pro, and the macally iceKey, I wrote another post discussing my experiences with both. Regarding the iceKey, the model I've been using for the last year and a half, I said the following:

I’m not going to sit here and say that the iceKey is the greatest keyboard I’ve ever used, because it’s not, but it is a good keyboard and one that I plan on using for a while. It’s relatively cheap (~$50), really well-built, and a joy to type on. It reminds me a lot of my aluminum PowerBook’s keyboard, with its low-profile, short-travel “scissor” switches. I highly recommend it, especially if you like typing on a PowerBook.

What I failed to mention in both the above-referenced posts is how great the aluminum PowerBook G4's keyboard was. At this point I can confidently say that it's the best keyboard I've ever used. In fact, after I purchased the Mac Pro, I had more than half a mind to tear the display off the PowerBook and do some hardware hacking to enable it to function as just a keyboard for the new machine.

All of this finally brings me to the very simple point of this post, namely that the new Apple keyboard is wonderful. It obviously looks great and now matches my tower and monitor (as ever, make it out of metal or carbon fiber and I'll likely want it), but it feels even better than it looks and were it not for the spacing between the keys, I could probably mistake it for the PowerBook's keyboard if I closed my eyes (not sure I can give it a better compliment than that). I like it so much in fact, that a few days ago I bought another one for my office. Moreover, I've recommended it to a few friends of mine over the last week, and everyone agrees — it's awesome.

Now that Apple has finally figured out the [non-notebook] keyboard, I'm hoping they can fix their mouse sometime this decade, but then again I don't really care so long as Razer continues to give me what I want.

Daniel Dennett looks back on Big Blue's defeat of Kasparov#

Kasparov's brain is made of organic materials and has an architecture notably unlike that of Deep Blue, but it is still, so far as we know, a massively parallel search engine that has an outstanding array of heuristic pruning techniques that keep it from wasting time on unlikely branches.

A Mother's Journey#

This is an incredibly powerful photo essay from Renée C. Byer, and very quickly had me in tears. Be sure to click the "caption" link before scrolling through the piece.

Useful mutants, bred with radiation#

Spontaneous mutations are the motor of evolution. We are mimicking nature in this. We’re concentrating time and space for the breeder so he can do the job in his lifetime.

From plasma crystals and helical structures towards inorganic living matter#

We examine the salient features of this new complex `state of soft matter' in light of the autonomy, evolution, progenity and autopoiesis principles used to define life. It is concluded that complex self-organized plasma structures exhibit all the necessary properties to qualify them as candidates for inorganic living matter that may exist in space provided certain conditions allow them to evolve naturally.

HTML Entity Character Lookup#

HTML Entity Character Lookup "allows you to quickly find the entity based on how it looks, e.g. like an < or the letter c."

Martian soil may contain life#

[E]xperiments carried out by the Viking spacecraft suggest that 0.1 percent of the Martian soil could be of biological origin. That is roughly comparable to biomass levels found in some Antarctic permafrost, home to a range of hardy bacteria and lichen.