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A chordingly

A little fun fact: on the Mac you can type alternate characters using by holding down the option key while pressing the letter (the use of two or more keys in tandem to send input to the computer is known as a chord—the most common ones obviously being uppercase characters).

Some of my favorites:

  • The em dash—for making asides—is longer than a plain hyphen: opt + SHIFT + -
  • The ellipsis, dot dot dot… can be typed as a single character… opt + ;
  • Degree sign, opt + 0 (that’s the number zero, as in 0º, not a capital o).

Of course there are many other useful ones, such as currency symbols.

Some characters need accent marks. You enter these with a combination of chords. If you enter option + e, your cursor turns into a highlight with the acute accent (´). If the next character you type can take an accent, it will be printed with the accent: á é í ó ú. If it can’t be accented, you’ll just get a the accent all by itself, plus the new character (as above inside parenthesis.

Some combinations I figured out by playing around:

  • Acute ´: opt + e
  • Umlaut ¨: opt + u
  • Circumflex ˆ: opt + i

Finally, there are the ligatures we should see more often: œ and æ. They’re in there, but hiding.

May 21, 2010   Comments Off

Take Note

I’ve been experimenting with some neat apps for the Mac, iPhone/iPod and the iPad. These are apps that are designed to be “as simple as possible,” in opposition to the usual philosophy of “having as many features as possible.”

The following are two note taking apps that are designed to work together, both with and without the Internet. Yes, apps for note taking. Note taking is a big deal. Suppose you’re starting a new position you have to write down a lot of obscure facts. Or you might need to remember the correct temperature for poaching eggs or the name of a set of legos or the title of a book to give as a gift. The Mac has an actual stickies app, which uses a similar approach. The problem is that it does really scale well—you can only have as many notes as will physically fit on your screen.

The first application I started using, for the Mac, is Notational Velocity. This is a free application developed as a non-commercial endeavor by public spirited hackers. It’s tiny and unobtrusive so you can leave it running all day. When something pops into mind, you type a title, hit return, and type your note. As you are typing in your title, the app will also show you other notes you’ve entered that might be relevant.

The second, for the iPad and iPhone, is Simplenote. This is basically the same idea for the iPad and iPhone.

What’s great is that if you create an account at http://simplenoteapp.com/, then the notes that you take with Simplenote on your iDevice are synced automatically to the notes on your computer stored in Notational Velocity.

All free. (Okay, Simplenote has advertisements, and you can pay $8.99 to turn the ads off.)

The idea behind both of these is to make it ridiculously easy to record a short thought, and to make them always available in searchable, wherever you are. They share the idea that good notes do not need to be any longer than a sticky note—one or two sentences (although they certainly let you enter more). You never have to save the notes. Every key you type is recorded to the computer for you. They never get lost and the computer, or iPad, or iPhone, will find it for you.

Pretty cool.

May 4, 2010   1 Comment

Some UNIX Marbles

Some tricks I’ve used recently.

  1. Suppose you want to enable non-interactive (that is, “passwordless”) login to a remote host using ssh. This happens all the time, right? If you follow the usual steps, or the man page, there is a good chance it will fail on you without explanation. This is because ssh silently croaks when it discovers that your ~/.ssh directory is group or globally readable. To fix it, just
    chmod 700 ~/.ssh

    and you’re done. Some helpful links:

  2. File transfer (ftp, scp, http, whatever) interrupted from a known host? Resume file copy using rsync. You just supply the –progress argument point rsync to the source file. Found this tip at a defunct Danish blog. Sample usage:

    rsync --progress --rsh=ssh "joe@joesdiner.com:mydir/myfile" .

    Note that the destination is required, so to resume in the working directory use . as above. rsync will compare the two files and resume copying at the break.

  3. Setting (or spoofing) your Machine Address Code (MAC) on OS X? Use the ifconfig command, passing lladdr with your new, colon-delimited MAC. This needs to be done as root, so sudo is required. Sample usage:

    sudo ifconfig en0 lladdr 00:11:22:33:44:55

    Used on OS X 10.6 but I’m sure it works on any POSIX system. I looked this up for a friend because his, er, off-brand (Iraqi) router insisted that his MAC was invalid, so it couldn’t be entered into the MAC filter table. Odd. Found here.

April 23, 2010   Comments Off

Corrupting your Preferences

There is nothing more insidious than having your preferences corrupted. Of course I’m talking about the file that stores your configuration information from an application running in Mac OS X becoming unreadable to the computer, causing unpredictable results.

Every application stores information about itself in something known as a property list file, or plist file for short. Any well-behaved application will create it for you if it is missing. This happens, for example, the first time you run the program. If this configuration file gets corrupted—for example, if there was a crash while it was being updated—then the program may not be able to read it the next time it starts up. Rather, it may be able to read it, but only partially, yielding strange, incomplete, or undefined options controlling the behavior of your application.

This happened to me recently when iChat refused to start up with the video camera enabled. It would tell me that the computer did not support video conferencing. However, it was able to turn the indicator light for the camera on, and all other programs using the camera worked fine. A bit of Google searching revealed that iChat is particularly susceptible to having its plist file corrupted in a way that has this effect.

Even if you don’t have a reason to suspect the preferences file, it is not a bad troubleshooting technique, when you are up against the wall and everything else has failed. So it’s a good technique to remember.

Most plists will live somewhere in your Home folder’s Library. In my case, I found the .plist for iChat in Home/Library/Preferences. It’s name was com.apple.ichat.plist. Quitting iChat, deleting the file, and restarting iChat solved the problem.

February 25, 2010   Comments Off