Long Live the Open Web

Yesterday, Daniel Jalkut (maker of the wonderful MarsEdit and FastScripts), entreated:

Everybody, join me in writing just one blog post today, to get that independent feeling back.

What made it even more enjoyable is that he later shared links to the posts people wrote that day. I’ve been missing the feeling of the ‘blogging community’ we had in the 2000s. In the past months I’ve been looking for (and finding) new people’s blogs to follow and this helped me to find a couple more.

This site has been an effort to do my part too, for what it’s worth. I have written something here pretty much every day since I took it in hand a few months ago. This is both surprising and pleasing in equal measure.


Taking his own advice, Mr Jalkut expanded on his tweets by writing a blog post. In it, he considers why posting on social media might be more enticing:

I think people neglect to write blog posts because the feedback loop is not as tangible as the onslaught of (sometimes mechanical) likes or faves that you can receive on a social network.

I don’t know that I’ve ever got an ‘onslaught’ of interaction on Twitter, so this might apply more to others. It seems a likely factor, though. That and how posting to social media is, in most cases, much easier. He goes on:

With blogging, you need a little faith that you will gain an audience.

One thing that I did decide soon after I started this site was that I wasn’t going to care about people reading or subscribing to it. It’s for me. Should anyone read it, of course I shall be pleased, but I don’t want that to be a measure of its success.

This has one other pleasant side effect: I don’t need to rely on Google or other packages to collect analytics. There’s no JavaScript in sight.

Recent Articles

Revelations

LaunchBar offers a peek inside the parcel

Summon and Send

LaunchBar packs, posts and delivers

The Non-Optional Option

I am a key curmudgeon

Linked: A flavour of my corner of Japan

The area known as Oharaimachi extends from near Uji Bridge at Ise Shrine’s Naikū (the Inner Shrine) in the city of Ise, Mie Prefecture. The heart of this area is Okage-yokochō, a recreation of the Ise-ji road as it might have been during the Edo period (1603–1868) and the Meiji era (1868–1912).

I’m lucky enough to live a short walk away from this area. A summer doesn’t really feel complete until I’ve had the Akafuku mochi shaved ice, which is relentlessly cold and sweet, but balanced by the warm tea served with it.

The main attraction of the area is the Grand Ise Shrine, whose grounds are resplendent with green. This and the low mountains in the area are what cemented my desire to live here. Years later I’m still captivated by them every day.

Linked: Playdate

The internet has been incandescent today with the news of Panic’s new handheld gaming system.

My own excitement – and I am very excited about it – comes from the feeling I get looking at the device. The colour alone shouts joy. Joy for gaming and for designing interesting and beautiful hardware to play games on.

Secondly, the crank. It at first smacks of silliness, and then I think back to how silly the idea of swinging a Wiimote around sounded. The innovation it allowed is what made the platform so successful. I don’t know that a crank is quite at the level of responsive motion control, but I have no doubt it will open interesting new interactions. Then you realise it is silly and bound to be fun.

Also: At least one of the initial library of games is by Keita Takahashi, creator of Katamari Damacy, which I love irrationally.

Linked: Brian Warren’s Mac Open Web

A couple weeks ago, Brent Simmons reminisced about small directory web sites for web communities. His gave the example of ScriptWeb, and wanting something like it for iOS. (The solution to that problem is Rose’s Automation Orchard as he later noted.)

Today another such community site was born upon the internet, Mac Open Web:

A collection of open and indie Mac, iOS, and web apps that help promote the open web.

It’s a fantastic idea and taking Brent’s advice, its creator, Brian Warren, has put the project on GitHub so that others can contribute to it.

Isn’t the Internet wonderful.

Linked: Testing dropped actions in OmniFocus 3

OmniFocus has long had the ability to drop projects that are no longer part of your system. Dropping is like deleting, except that the item stays around in the database, should you ever want to find it again. More likely, you may just want to keep a record of not only what you chose to do, but things you chose not to do.

Starting in OmniFocus 3.4 for Mac and 3.3 for iOS, actions will gain the same ability to be dropped. You can sign up to help test the feature.

Linked: Flexbox Froggy

Flexbox Froggy is an interactive tool, ostensibly a game, designed to help you learn how to use CSS Flexbox.

The Flexulator tool I’ve linked to before deals with the flex and grow properties of Flexbox. Froggy on the other hand concentrates on positioning using justification, alignment, wrapping and order.

The twenty-four exercises provide a controlled and increasingly-difficult sandbox in which to learn. I might not call them fun, but they were a helpful challenge.

Linked: World Press Freedom Index 2019

Reporters sans frontières have produced their 2019 index of press freedom:

The RSF Index, which evaluates the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories every year, shows that an intense climate of fear has been triggered — one that is prejudicial to a safe reporting environment. The hostility towards journalists expressed by political leaders in many countries has incited increasingly serious and frequent acts of violence that have fuelled an unprecedented level of fear and danger for journalists.

Along with their evaluations, they produce rankings for the 180 countries. Those two numbers provide a quick understanding of where your, or another’s, country lies on the spectrum of press freedom.

For a visual understanding, RSF produce a colour-coded world map. The range is from white to black – better to worse – with yellows, oranges and red between.

Japan ranks at number 67. This is better than many other Asian nations, but this remains worrying, to say the very least:

Journalists have been complaining of a climate of mistrust toward them ever since Shinzo Abe became prime minister again in 2012. The system of “kisha clubs” (reporters’ clubs) continues to discriminate against freelancers and foreign reporters.

Revelations

The last piece on LaunchBar’s Instant Send feature focused on the actions that could be taken by using LaunchBar as an intermediary between apps or the file system.

In that piece, the right arrow key only got one passing mention. To be fair, it’s worthy of a bit more. This key can reveal information. Specifically, metadata and further data derived from it, based on the data on the bar. It isn’t a feature of Instant Send as such, but that’s when I find I use it most often.

What the key does, as with other situations in LaunchBar, depends on what type of item you’ve got on the bar. At times just pressing the right arrow key bare – with no additional modifier – will reveal plenty. In other cases, holding down the Option key whilst pressing the right arrow will be more useful.

Text Revelations

I find when working with most text, using the Option modifier gives the most useful information. Holding it down whilst and pressing the right arrow key reveals statistics about the text: number of lines, sentences, words and characters. The bare key often gets too granular too quickly for my uses.

One type of text data is treated differently: URLs. LaunchBar can recognise them and use them in relation to data in its index. Pressing the bare right arrow will show the Host line. Using the arrow key on this line, again bare, will use your browser history and list pages you’ve visited at that site.

File and Folder Revelations

Using the right arrow key on a file reveals metadata about the file: name, size and creation and modification dates. The full path to the file is also displayed (copiable with Command-C). Also note that if examining a text file, you can get the same information as detailed in the text section above using the ‘Plain Text Contents’ entry.

As mentioned in the Instant Send article, pressing the right arrow key on a folder will begin browsing its contents. (The left arrow key will show the item of its parent folder.) To get the same information as a file, use the Option key whilst pressing the arrow key.


I would encourage you to explore with the options afforded by using the arrow key and modifiers (try using it with the Command key). There’s so much hidden behind that unassuming interface.

Linked: Better Web Type Blog

Matej Latin, author of Better Web Typography for a Better Web, has started a blog. It is probably no surprise that its focus is to be web typography.

His first post is about fluid web typography, something I’m still struggling with. I attempted to deal with it better in the latest redesign, completed last month. I wouldn’t call my solution complete, but it works acceptably given this is just a personal site.

Summon and Send

Last I wrote about LaunchBar, I explained ways I use it for opening applications on my Mac. Whilst this is something I do frequently, other more applied uses of LaunchBar are what endear it to me most.

Instant Send

Chief amongst these applied uses is Instant Send. It takes advantage of LaunchBar’s core competency of knowing myriad things to do with your Mac. Rather than just getting you to a destination folder or application, though, Instant Send picks up a passenger – files, folders or a bit of text – to take along.

With any of those things selected, invoke Instant Send by pressing a keystroke of your choosing (it’s off by default but I prefer double-Shift). LaunchBar hoovers up what you’ve got selected and places it onto the bar.

Once there, LaunchBar is mostly in the same mode as usual. It’s ready to search at a single keystroke, but with one difference: the Instant Send data on the bar will be passed on to whatever you launch with your search.

LaunchBar indexes so much of what you can do or launch on your Mac: applications, files and folders, Share Menu actions, Automator workflows and Services. It also has its own in-built actions and web search templates, to which you can also add your own.

All of these are options for where your bar item can go. Understandably some actions will only work with one type of input or another. You can’t send a folder to a DuckDuckGo search, for example. Because of these differences, I’ve split further explanation and examples into two groups.

Sending Files and Folders

When sending a file or folder, you’re initiating a virtual click and drag of the items to the destination. Depending on various factors, sometimes the mouse may be faster. Nonetheless, I still use these actions frequently:

File system operations

LaunchBar can do more than send to apps and actions. It can be used to perform tasks you might normally do with Finder or at the command line.

To get started, when you’ve got a file or folder on the bar, type with the intent of searching for a folder on your disk. To get to the root of your drive, type a forward slash (/) or for your home folder, type a tilde (~). You can further navigate through these or any folder by pressing the right arrow key.

Once the target folder is in selected in the bar, press Return to:

Sending Text

Text data on the bar can be more flexible in comparison to files. As a result, the possible destinations for it are numerous:

I’ve also got a few custom actions for searching a specific web site:


I cannot be certain whether I use Instant Send more with text or with files. What is clear, though, is that I use it a lot – 42% of the actions I take in LaunchBar are Instant Send. I shudder to think how lost I’d be without it.

Linked: Poecilonym

As the Wikipedia page for ‘synonym’ notes:

The word poecilonym is a rare synonym of the word synonym. It is not entered in most major dictionaries and is a curiosity or piece of trivia for being an autological word because of its meta quality as a synonym of synonym.

Words, particularly ones like this, delight me to no end.

(Via The Morning News.)

Linked: 1Password for Journalists

We know just how vital journalists are to the fabric of our society and how stretched their resources can be. Journalists often put their reputations and their lives on the line to report stories. This means that they are often targets for doxxing, harassment, hacking, and other security nightmares. …

This is why we offer 1Password for Journalism, which is a 1Password membership for reporters that is completely free.

1Password is a fantastic tool for anyone’s defence on the internet. I can see journalists also using it for secure data storage, too. (Though I have no idea how journalists work, so they may use more appropriate solutions.)

I missed this when it was actually Press Freedom Day, but nonetheless, it’s a kind gesture by Agile Bits.

(Via Jeff Perry.)

The Non-Optional Option

Our beautiful and beloved Option key.

Though it was once called the ‘Closed Apple’ key, since the Macintosh it has been Option. It was given a secondary label of ‘Alt’ in the past but this wasn’t for the Mac. Here it was always Option.

Sometimes I hear it called by the vulgar name and I wince. Pain seems to radiate from my marrow. Such barbarism is unwarranted.

Other key misnomers bother me less. ‘Enter’ for the Return key or ‘Backspace’ for Delete. These don’t stick in my mind.

No, this key is different. Calling it by its true name – Option – is not optional.

Linked: ‘Origins of the Apple human interface’

In 1997, Larry Tesler and Chris Espinosa of Apple gave a lecture called ‘Origins of the Apple human interface’. Fortunately the talk was recorded and recently the Computer History Museum, where the lecture was delivered, have uploaded it to YouTube.

The first part, presented by Tesler, is about the Lisa. He presents memos and shares anecdotes revealing how the Lisa’s interface was designed. What struck me was how many of the ideas they worked through have persisted to today. Espinosa’s second part is shorter and focuses more on the Apple II and Macintosh.

Unbelievably, Riccardo Mori transcribed the two hour-long video. This entry links to that transcription, which also features excellent commentary and highlights from Mori himself. He also provides some additional screenshots of the Lisa.

(Via Michael Tsai, who also shares what he found notable in the talk.)

Linked: The Origins of Amazon Prime

Jason Del Rey put together this oral history of how Amazon Prime came to be and evolved into what we think of today.

This is the story of how the greatest retail innovation of the internet age was created, in the face of sound logic and reason that suggested it might very well be disastrous. It’s also a story of how a frankly bland idea — fast shipping — was powerful enough to alter consumer psychology forever. …

The story is told by the rank-and-file employees and the top company executives who built Prime.

Prime shipping in Japan operates differently as even free shipping often takes only one or two days. Instead, being a Prime subscriber allows you to choose your delivery date and time when you order. Even this is somewhat less useful as the couriers are very accommodating and generally allow you to choose your delivery time in advance.

Despite offering video services here in Japan, I still think of Prime as a shipping service primarily. Though English content is widely available, it is all subtitled in Japanese, and can’t be disabled. They’re distracting so I avoid them at all costs.

Given my lukewarm feelings for the service, I didn’t expect to enjoy this article as much as I did. I think I enjoyed seeing how they were able to make it work and how the gambles they undertook ultimately paid off.

Linked: StopTheNews

Jeff Johnson comes to our collective rescue once more:

Have you ever been annoyed that Safari on macOS 10.14 Mojave wants to open Apple News articles in News app instead of in Safari? Well no more!

I am fortunate enough to not be bothered with these links too often. I haven’t found any value in Apple News and this ensures I never have to encounter it unwillingly.

Linked: Still a Curio

I’ve written about what I think makes ‘The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry’ a special podcast. In short, it has the feeling of an independently-produced podcast, despite being a highly-produced radio programme.

The first and last episodes in this latest series have been two of my favourites. The first, The Mesmerist is especially fun when you know the presenters well. They investigate hypnosis and in the process undergo the procedure to hilarious results. The final episode, Jurassic Squawk, is not only about dinosaurs (cool) but features one of the best Curio of the Week awardees.

The programme generally takes two to three months off for production between series. As Dr Fry will be delivering a baby in the coming weeks, their hiatus will be prolonged. The next series should begin in October, which means now is a great time to get caught up.

Linked: Typefaces*

Owen Earl has lovingly re-drawn three classic typefaces: Bodoni, Clarendon and Futura. The former are aptly titled Bodoni* and Besley* after their creators. Jost* was formerly known as Renner* but had to be renamed to avoid copyright conflicts.

All three typefaces feel true to their origins, but they’re not just reproductions of the old typefaces. Mr Earl goes to great lengths to add features like additional weights and extended character support. In the case of Besley*, because there are no original Clarendon italics, he had to draw his own. For Bodoni*, he has produced seven optical weights (so far) so the type looks right no matter what size it’s used at.

The fonts are licensed under the SIL Open Font License meaning they are entirely free for any use. Fortunately Earl not only accepts payment, but encourages users to pay, but only what it’s worth to them. Doing so is not just generous, but also pragmatic – it must be very difficult to compete against the big type foundries. One hopes that the generosity he shows will be reciprocated by users and help to garner clients in future.

Linked: ‘How to Write’

The iA Writer support site is, to no one’s surprise, full of information about using their app. What did surprise me is that an entire section is on the subject of ‘How to Write’, in four parts.

The first part is on Using Parts of Speech to Improve Your Writing. This is in part marketing for an iA Writer feature – but it’s still full of great advice.

The last three sections are republished essays:

It’s delightful that iA offer these as part of their ‘support package’. They believe that part of using the software effectively is by writing effectively. I admire that. However, they – justly – caution:

Remember: reading How-To tips will not make you a better at anything. Exercise does. The most efficient way to improve your writing skills is to write daily.

Linked: Making Lizzo’s ‘Juice’

I love this song.

Joe Coscarelli has a video interview with the song’s producer, songwriter and Lizzo herself. Watching it, it’s clear that all three had just as much fun making the song as we do listening to it.

‘Juice’ is imminently danceable. I’ve been playing it during Friday afternoon boogie with the children at school for the past few months. It may not be ‘Macarena’, but no one asks to skip over ‘Juice’.

The entire album, ‘Cuz I Love You’, is great. Lizzo’s voice is wonderful to listen to.

Don’t Miss: ‘Juice’ music video

Linked: An interview with Jon Hicks

The makers of Affinity Photo, Designer and Publisher have done an interview profiling Jon Hicks. Notably, it’s not about how he uses their products but rather a bit about his inspiration and history.

I’ve long been a fan of Jon Hicks’ work, so this was nice to read.

Linked: Better typography in 58 bytes of CSS

Josh (no surname given) wanted to find use the smallest amount of CSS needed to make a web page reasonably comfortable to read. The end product was only 58 bytes long.

After posting about this on Reddit, Josh was pointed to the ch unit in CSS. It was new to me too. Reading up on ch, I’m not sure it’s any better than using em, but I’ll be giving it a try.

Linked: Nintendo Switch speeds up with version 8 firmware

Danial Arshad Khan, writing at Gearnuke:

The Nintendo Switch’s latest major update, Switch Firmware 8.0.0, was released last week and it included a ton of additions like a software sorting function and Save Data transferring to another system function. There was another addition however that Nintendo didn’t mention in the patch notes – “boost mode”.

It seems that game software must be updated to take advantage of these performance enhancements.

I was still running version 1.5 of The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild so I conducted a very informal test this afternoon. After updating to the latest version, which takes advantage of the ‘boost mode’, my save file loaded about two seconds faster – a most welcome change.