Our Overlords

I was stuck on a paragraph so I asked ChatGPT for help:

Write a paragraph detailing what two characters experience while walking through the forest.

As the two characters, Alice and Bob, walked through the dense forest, they couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe and wonder. The tall trees towering overhead created a natural canopy that filtered the sunlight, casting a warm and peaceful glow on the forest floor. They could hear the gentle rustling of leaves and the chirping of birds all around them, adding to the serene atmosphere. Suddenly, a rabbit scurried across their path, breaking the stillness and making them jump. Laughing at their own reactions, they continued on, admiring the diverse array of flora and fauna that surrounded them. As they walked, they also couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched, causing them to stick close together. Despite the eerie sensation, they were both grateful for this chance to explore the beauty of the forest together.

As Sarah and Jack walk through the dense forest, they feel a sense of wonder and tranquility wash over them. The rustling of leaves and chirping of birds create a symphony that fills the air. Sunbeams peek through the treetops and dance across the forest floor, creating an ethereal glow. The smell of damp earth and pine is strong and invigorating. As they wander deeper into the forest, they come across a small stream that winds its way through the trees. They stop to listen to the gentle trickle of water and take in the peaceful surroundings. They continue on, feeling refreshed and at one with nature.

The character I was writing about was sitting at a table doing some math homework. I don’t really know what a child his age does for math. Normally finding this out would require the annoying experience of filtering through the garbage from paid placement or content farms on Google search, but ChatGPT provided a clean and good enough answer for the purpose at hand.

Describe a math problem that a student would study in grade 6.

In grade 6, students often study a wide range of mathematical concepts and problem-solving strategies. One example of a math problem that a grade 6 student might encounter is:

A rectangle has a length of 12 meters and a width of 8 meters. What is the area of the rectangle?

To solve this problem, a grade 6 student would use their knowledge of basic arithmetic and the formula for finding the area of a rectangle (length times width). In this case, the student would multiply 12 by 8 to find the answer, which is 96 square meters. This type of problem helps students practice their computational skills, as well as their understanding of basic geometry concepts such as area and perimeter.

I’ve heard people discuss this topic ad nauseum, but I haven’t had the opportunity to try it for myself until now.

Disabling Focus Mode Syncing

Apples Focus mode is useful if not overcomplicated feature which I use frequently. I find it useful when I am working to set do not disturb on my Mac so that I can respond to messages and notifications when I feel it’s appropriate. And at night so that annoying email messages are not coming through on my phone. Unfortunately, “Share Across Devices” located in Settings > Focus is enabled by default, which has meant numerous missed calls on my phone (our doorbell rings my phone so that I can speak to whoever is at the door, usually a courier).

To stop this syncing

Open the Settings app
Just above Screen Time, tap Focus
“Share Across Devices” — tap the toggle to turn it off

Spark mail

I recently switched back to using Spark mail for Mac and iOS. It was always a toss up between it and Outlook on mobile, but I had decided to stop using it due to privacy concerns. So I tried to settle with Apple’s built-in mail clients but their iOS versions astonishing lack of proper “swipe to delete” made that impossible. Outlook’s Mac UI follows the Office heavy handed approach which make using software a chore.

After the recent server intrusion and the resetting of all passwords related to mail, db, WordPress, and accounts at Pair. I decided to get all our email in order – Mail.app was always finicky about smtp and Apples handling on adding mail accounts is confusing. You can add it in Mail or in control panel, but my experience is that one does not always influence the other.

What prompted the change back was that after finally getting all our email addresses working in Mail, I found out that I would have to repeat this exact same process on each device that I use. Mail login information is not synced across devices.

Spark does sync, but they aren’t Apple which is in part why they elicit concern about privacy.

The Spark UI on Mac is a mess. It’s heavily influenced by mobile interfaces which place major actions where the hand can easily reach them. With a mouse and a large screen we are more concerned with hierarchy – major actions should be at the top on the window. Spark puts them everywhere.

Spam handling is lacklustre, and there is no ability to filter mail or perform certain actions.

I do like the shared templates and delegating of email. That makes it a (very) lightweight CRM, perhaps good enough until we can graduate to a tool like Daylight.

I’ll give it a month to see if I can get used to the UI on Mac.

Website Using Camera And Microphone

I’ve had my head down and haven’t been generally aware of what is running on my Mac. I also treat some browser tabs as a todo list of sorts – I have a course open to help me navigate the quagmire of the Ximalaya podcasting platform, design patterns to practice, and a course on Design Thinking that IDEO made free for April all ready to start. I guess I fear if I close these tabs, or quit my browser, I’ll forever forget about these tasks and move on to something else.

With the increased usage of Google Meet and Zoom for meetings, comes a personal responsibility to safeguard my privacy; on principle, as I do nothing involving others proprietary info. these days, and certainly nothing nefarious. Google and Zoom (and Facebook of course) all represent the “dark side” of consumer privacy, and as the icon in the picture may illustrate, they don’t always want to relinquish their hold.

So once I get started on going through those tabs, I’ll restart my PowerBook MacBook and hope the at first glance disturbing icon disappears.

Goodbye Adobe Fonts?

I received an email today from Adobe letting me now that my Creative Cloud single-app membership for XD was about to renew for USD119.88 plus Tax. I didn’t sign up for Adobe XD but was given a free trial a year ago (time has flown) when I believe they made the final changes to Typekit. Typekit was bought by Adobe in October 2011 from Jeffery Veen’s Small Batch, Inc. I have been a user of Typekit almost from the very beginning and currently have 12 websites using the service.

But I have no interest in any other of Adobe’s products and the year that I have had the opportunity to use Adobe XD I haven’t even bothered to install it. Adobe Audition might prove useful, but at US$31.49/mo (if paid monthly) the price is ridiculously high. There are good enough solutions out there for far less, or in the case of Pro Logic, you can pay a hefty one time licensing fee and over the course of the life of the product save money compared to Adobe’s pricing.

Sketch provides almost all I need in a design tool these days and their pricing model, though still a subscription, is far more agreeable. If the need arises I’m sure Serif Labs tools will more than suffice.

But that leaves me with what to do with Adobe fonts. They don’t offer a separate subscription for the service and I’ve spent in some cases considerable time finding suitable typography for each project I use their type with.

I’m considering a monthly subscription to InCopy which at US$7.49/mo is currently their cheapest plan. But long term I will look for alternatives at Google Fonts and investigate the feasibility of smaller independent foundries that have a sizeable collection of web fonts.

I’ve completely divorced myself from Microsoft office years ago. It seems time to say goodbye to Adobe as well.

Garageband’s Hard Time Limit

I’ve been meaning to switch to Reaper for all our audio editing needs, or perhaps ProLogic, but because Reaper’s interface takes some time to get used to and set-up I’ve put it off. We already use audacity to record single track audio and it’s awful for anything beyond that.

Most of the audio we record has been under or around 30 minutes but today I wanted to create a file of 45 minutes. Garageband (aka garbage-band) has, I discovered, a hard limit in terms of how much time you can create.

So I turned to Google for answers.

Because Garageband’s focus is in the creation of ‘fun’ music projects it has created a hard limit as to how many bars of music you can create in 4/4 at 120 beats/minute. I had forgotten that Garageband’s underlying focus was bars and beats.

The solution was to simply slow down the tempo and apparently voila you have the potential for hours of time. Except I made the mistake of doing this after my project was complete. Garageband does not respect the ‘time’ between edits, or audio files, and everything is spread unevenly all over the place. A complete mess. Returning the tempo to its original state does not help. The audio files do not return to their original location, they remain a mess. So we must start anew.

Garageband is a good enough tool for those creating podcasts on a Mac. But one thing that is missing from many getting started guides is the advice to change the tempo before you start creating your tracks. You can do that by going to the track menu and dragging the difficult to see blue line up and down to your desired tempo.

Escaping Evernote: Managing Bills

One of my use cases for Evernote is the capturing of bill paid receipts, most of which consist of a simple on screen confirmation without a paper trail, digital or otherwise. It’s only purpose is to safeguard against the possibility of error on the bill collector’s side – I still get payment due notices from my daughters CrossFit classes long after the bill has been paid. Credit card records don’t include the bill paid confirmation number.

Peter Rukavina details how he emancipated himself from using Evernote to manage his household and office bills. It’s a bit technical in nature, but if your workflow is anything like his it might be a good way to help you escape from the sinking ship that Evernote has become.

Evernote’s Customer Hostile Upgrade Scheme

Do you think Evernote would like me to upgrade? You have 2 choices here, upgrade or stop syncing. Stop syncing is framed as a negative and if selected won’t result in the user being able to continue to create notes. You are held hostage until you pay.

I wrote or meant to write about how I’ve let certain long term cloud accounts lapse because they no longer filled any pressing need. Evernote was one of them and up until this morning I experienced no real need to keep paying for either of the 2 premium tiers.

My understanding of the premium tiers was such:

  • It provided me with online storage thereby allowing my to access documents across devices, and have an alternative backup to my desktop backup scheme.
  • Text recognition
  • Downloadable notebooks which are useful for storing travel data

In the past if this wasn’t useful to you, you could just keep using the free account with no syncing to other devices. Well no longer.

This morning I was attempting to see pdf’s from a lecture I am watching, Kentaro Toyama’s excellent simplified introduction to affinity diagrams, when Evernote informed me I could no longer use the web clipper because I used up my online storage. No problem, I’ll just create a note manually and it can sync next month. Unfortunately Evernote would have none of that and refuses to let me add a note even if disconnected from the Internet.

I must have missed the email notifying that Evernote has gone completely subscription based. Even worse as you can see from the screenshot, they are absolutely hostile in their approach, ostensively blocking access to your notes until you pay the fee.

I’ll be sending them a complaint and will search for a more customer friendly provider.

BeOS Preview Release 2

Found amongst copies of every Mac Release CD from OS 8 to 10. I used to love UI of this operating system and would skin my Mac at the time to mimic it’s appearance.

Finding a replacement for iA Writer

Image from iA Writer press kit

Image from iA Writer press kit

Microsoft Word was deleted from my computer many years ago, it possessed far more features than my needs required, and it’s ridiculously heavy handed interface was painful to use. Since then I’ve experimented with a number of different solutions, from the robust Nisus Writer to the simplistic Textedit. I also created prototype for a “universal text box” from which all data could be sent, much like Drafts 4 or Editorial on iOS today, but I lacked the programming ability to make it work. Eventually, I settled on BBEdit and Textmate for a long period of time for both writing words and mark-up. Then along came iA Writer and despite a particularly rough start, whereby it didn’t support Chinese, it has been my go to tool for writing text of all lengths ever since.

I love the simplicity, the bundled typeface and the fact that I can open the app. on my iPhone, start typing almost immediately, come home, finish where I left off on my Mac, and later edit on my iPad. Markdown support means I don’t have to remove my hands from the keyboard. There is also the oft promoted concept of distraction free writing, which has value, but until you block Facebook, distraction is still only a keystroke away. There are a number of other subtle decisions they have made that make using the app. a joy, including how it saves with an automatic title in case I forget to.

iA Writer is an important part of my workflow, enough so, that any email that requires a thoughtful response, beyond my usual short blunt replies, particularly anything written in Chinese, is first written in iA Writer.

There are a multitude of dedicated note taking apps. which might be better suited to the majority of what I do, Notational Velocity, Evernote, and Apples bundled notes app. come to mind but I prefer to do as much of my writing in one environment as possible.

Unfortunately, lately I’ve noticed a couple shortcomings with iA Writer which I surprisingly hadn’t noticed in the past.

First, after you have written your document, you need to do something with it, save, send and print are the usual choices (“what can you do next” are natural questions you might record in testing). Unfortunately, iA Writer has extremely limited options in terms of where you can “send” the document. On the iOS version you can email the formatted doc. from within the app., which allows you to send it to Evernote or to an email recipient. Using the Mac version you can open the saved files in other software that supports the exported format. There isn’t a publish to services like WordPress or Evernote feature, which seems like an odd exclusion for an app. designed in an age where many never sent their writing to print. In iOS 8 you can use the open in service to send to Evernote but it’s saved as an attached file and unusable. Cut’n’paste is the quickest way to use the text you have written, but cut’n’paste is still painful in iOS. This in itself isn’t a deal breaker, but this lack of any real publishing options takes away from the overall utility of the software.

Bug: an annoying new behaviour of hiding the text behind the extended keyboard.

Bug: an annoying new behaviour of hiding the text behind the extended keyboard.

Second, and most disastrously, you cannot search text inside an iA Writer document. At least not using iA Writer and not using Spotlight on the Mac (Spotlight doesn’t index Markdown files). I realised this recently when I received an email thanking me for my interest in an opportunity, and asking to set a time to come to their company to discuss. Well, I didn’t remember sending an email to this person, but I did recognise a name in the email chain, and tried to search my past correspondence for any mentions. There were none, in fact no results appeared for any common search terms in iA Writers iCloud folder. I thought it was some bug in OS X, of which there are an increasingly large number of late, but iA Writer support graciously informed me via twitter that it was a limitation of Spotlight. They gave me a possible solution which didn’t work. On iOS you can’t search content inside a different app.’s database (one possible work around for iOS is to abandon iCloud and switch to Dropbox, thereby allowing others apps. access.) Siloing peoples data inside your app. seems like a huge mistake and judging by their support forum, it’s a mistake they don’t seem to be in any rush to rectify. iA Writer is not a good place to leave your data.


Bug 2: Often when I use iA Writer on my iPad I can’t bring up the sharing options or open another file. The bottom and top areas of the interface disappear when writing but often don’t want to reappear. Only doing the iOS equivalent of a force quit brings it back.

Because of this I have spent time looking at a number of different editors that support markdown, including: ByWord, iA Writer Pro (still no search), Typed, Desk, Daedalus and Ulysses.

I use Evernote a great deal but have never really enjoyed using it to enter text, it’s more of a collaboration tool and data bucket for me.

Byword wouldn’t work without internet connectivity the first time I opened the app., and there were some quirks with Chinese text. Importantly you can search! The publishing feature is great, if a bit unpolished, and will send your unformatted text straight to Evernote. If WordPress is your thing Desk on the Mac might be a better choice. It uses the default type choices on iOS which aren’t that great.

iA Writer Pro has a number of features that should be present in iA Writer, like night mode, plus adds a whole new workflow that at least initially places your files in different folders depending on the particular stage of writing you are in. The result tends to be confusion and even greater difficulty in finding past documents.

Typed looks promising but there isn’t an iOS version at present. I’ve tried apps. with soundtracks that supposedly help you get in the zone and I personally don’t see the need. Seems like a distraction to both the writer and the developer.

Desk is the one app. I haven’t tried but it does look very promising, especially with an enthusiastic developer and a growing community. Unfortunately there isn’t an iOS version and it’s current focus on WordPress makes it perhaps not an ideal choice. I will follow it’s development and recommend it to others when appropriate.

Daedalus main purpose appears to be as an iOS partner to Ulysses with a mental model of how to treat document management even more obtuse than iA Writer Pro. I wanted to like it but felt it’s forced metaphor got in the way.

Ulysses is far more extensible than my needs require but the complexity of the tool can be easily hidden. It’s extensive export options could prove to be valuable. Unfortunately it too doesn’t support web services, nor does it have iA Writer’s Nitti typeface, but there are work arounds. Importantly it supports full text search, including iA Writers files on iCloud, which may allow me to continue to use a different solution on iOS. That will mean I won’t be able to use apples oft touted “hand-off” feature but I have yet to see that work in any real world use case. It’s truly a wonderful app. to use.

Since I started writing this short piece, iA Writer for Mac has been updated with the ability to add links using Markdown. I love this stripped down approach to software, just adding what is absolutely necessary and not trying to appeal to all possible use cases. The fact that so many developers agree is great as it gives a range of choices. While I am still rooting for iA Writer to fix the above mentioned problems, it’s now a toss up between Ulysses and Byword, which though designed towards different needs, seem to both work well for me.

Practicing with Sketch


I spent an hour this week trying to come up to speed with Sketch as an interface design tool, not just a wire-framing tool. Lightweight software like this appeals to me as they tend to focus on specific use cases vs. a more swiss army knife approach. The result can be seen in both the speed of the software, it’s function, utility and importantly it’s price. Unfortunately for me I’ve come to rely on specific features of Illustrator which make up for my lack of love for bezier curves. With Illustrator, I can import sketches, create some outlines and in many cases just clean up the curves and be finished. I haven’t seen anywhere yet where Sketch has any crutches to help people like me.

I’m still planning to spend more time using Sketch before deciding to replace Illustrator and OmniGraffle in my workflow. I’ll be finishing the interface design solely in sketch of a couple apps. I’m involved with.

The above is a bit of skeumorphic goodness from the days before Apple dictated everything should be flat. It’s amazing just how dated that style has become in a very short period of time. Though unpolished it was great practice in using Sketch.

App. development is often completely senseless

Craig Mod shares his incite on how apps are made – a process he compares to making pottery. Creating a convincing argument that the how process makes absolutely no sense.

Apps mirror life in their unfairness. Time spent making an app in no way guarantees successes, financial or spiritual. Grizzled developers toil for years and ‘lose’ to the ‘chain-smoking geek’ in Vietnam with the twitchy bird. Guy doesn’t even want the money.

This is so true. How many projects have I started early, or first, or toiled for years on, only to discover someone built a similar idea and brought it to commercial or critical success.

The first pass should be ugly, the ugliest. Any brain cycle spent on pretty is self deception. If pretty is the point then please stop. Do not, I repeat, do not spent three months on the radial menu, impressive as it may be. It will not save your company. There is a time for that. That time is not now. Instead, make grand gestures. General gestures. Most importantly, enumerate the unknowns. Make a list. Making known the unknowns you now know will surface the other unknowns, the important unknowns, the truly devastating unknowns — you can’t scrape our content! you can’t monkey park here! a tiny antennae is not for rent! You want to unearth answers as quickly as possible. Nothing else matters if your question marks irrecoverably break you. Do not procrastinate in their excavation.

How are apps made?

Rise Alarm Clock

Rise is a "delightfully simple and unique" alarm clock, now available for your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch. Shows promise. I prefer UI’s like this to the more heavy handed skeumorpic style seen in most of Apple’s offerings.


As I can’t seem to get a reliable wifi connection this morning at the ITRI campus coffee shop – I keep requesting a password and it never comes – it seems like a good time to put Joikuspot through it’s paces. JoikuSpot is software for S60 series mobile phones which allows me to connect my laptop to the internet using my Nokia’s 3G connection. In effect Joikuspot turns my mobile into a portable wifi hotspot for myself and others. It works pretty well. Though it has slow through-put the experience over all is superior to the broadband connection I have at home which always suffers severe latency problems. I’m using the free Light version but even after this limited trial I’m sold – I’ll be purchasing the premium version.

No cut ‘n’ past in Illustrator

I’ve had this error pop-up regularly for ages when I am using Adobe Illustrator and it drives me mad:
quicktime and a decompressor are needed to view this image
A completely unintelligible error message. What the hell does this mean exactly? I have Quicktime and it’s only a jpg so I have all the necessary resources to allow for what is in every other application on the Mac a basic mode of interaction – cut ‘n’ paste.
So far the only answer I have found is that simply the only way to import a jpg into Illustrator (and InDesign) is to use the ‘Place’ command. That seems unintuitive but if that’s the case than why not say so in the error message!
You can cut ‘n’ paste easily between Adobe applications just not from the Finder into Illustrator and InDesign.

iPhoto magic

I’m importing 6 months of camera photos into iPhoto, the only means in which I take photos these days, and somehow iPhoto detects duplicates. That’s a neat feature I haven’t seen before.
Later: Oh and it catalogues my camera movies as well. I think I might just come back to using iPhoto again after using iView for years.

Adium the memory hog

I’ve been experiencing some severe slowdowns on my Powerbook lately, actions seem to take an age to complete. I have to free up some disc space it seems for the incredible amount of virtual memory that both the OS and applications in general gobble up. But a surprising culprit for eating up the finite amount of real memory was Adium. 140 meg of real plus 350 meg of virtual memory. This is more than Photoshop! Can’t programmers create lightweight apps anymore?
I don’t know how much the memory hungry Adium contributes to my Powerbook woes but I don’t need to keep in touch that much to not try alternatives. Like email.
msn: 21 meg (rm) 160 (vm)
skype: 44 meg (rm) 248 (vm)
yahoo: 45 meg (rm) 200 (vm)
ichat: 19 meg (rm) 178 (vm), ichat agent 5 meg(rm) 108meg (vm)

Yojimbo your life

I have been spending allot of time lately writing for weblogs and performing some general research for other projects that I am working on. It’s not unlike the the activities I performed when I was writing my thesis where I would want to record and create all kinds of data from many different sources. When I was writing my thesis I didn’t really have a great workflow and I am sure that I wasted a great deal of time as a result.
Currently I am using a workflow based on using simple text files and Quicksilver. But I don’t really find it as enjoyable a process as many do and I have been interested in finding a better tool that can save me some time. A wiki of some sort might even accomplish allot of what I need but it isn’t as efficient as many applications that integrate themselves with OS X. I might still take the time to set-up a wiki in the future for longer and more permanent bits of data.
Bare Bones software’s new Yojimbo seems to be a simple tool that will do what I want it to do and thankfully nothing more. And though I am sure that I have seen other tools in the past, they all suffer from offering a complex set of features that have no real use for me. From the Yojimbo site:

Yojimbo makes keeping all the small (or even large) bits of information that pour in every day organized and accessible. It’s so simple, there is no learning curve. Yojimbo’s mechanism for collecting, storing and finding information is so natural and effortless, it will change the way you work.
There are as many uses for Yojimbo as there are users of it. It accepts almost anything—text, bookmarks, PDF files, web archives, serial numbers or passwords—by dragging, copying or importing. You can get anything out of Yojimbo you put into it, in its original form—no lock-in.

Yojimbo allows me to tag and organize the type of information I collect sufficiently – and the search function works fine too. I particularly like the persistent tab on the side of my screen. I can drag and drop all kinds of data onto it and it will immediately organize it by type. I can then go in later and further categorize it. Yojimbo is a Tiger-only application because it relies on the latest Mac OS X advances. For instance, it’s a Core Data application, so that your items are kept easily and automatically in a SQLite database. Yojimbo also makes all non-encrypted items individually available to system-wide Spotlight searches, by representing each one as a stub in your Caches folder. All in all pretty cool.
Mac OS 10.4.3 or later is required to run Yojimbo.

Camino Browser revisited

While visiting Chientai at his beautiful new office in the Creativity Lab I noticed his new browser of choice Camino. I hadn’t seen or used this browser in quite some time and quite happy to see it’s development continue. For me the greatest improvement since I last took time to use Camino is the visceral changes to the UI. I like it allot. I’ve never been a fan of the pinstripe look found in many earlier examples of Apples software interfaces and I am one of the few who probably likes the brush metal look of supposed Apples media software. I do join the chorus in my disappointment that Apple seems to lack consistency through-out it’s software UI. Perhaps the rapid changes apparent in web interfaces are affecting the software development culture.
If you haven’t tried Camino in awhile go have a look. It’s works really well.