I’ve Been Recursive Meme’d

Here are your rules. (You’ve seen this one before, this is just a ‘recursive’ version)

  1. Pick up the nearest book.
  2. Open to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the next three sentences.
  5. Tag five people and post a comment to Garunya‘s blog (your tagees will post to mine, etc.) once you’ve posted your three sentences.

The Five Chosen are:

And my three sentences:

“The tale of Gawaine’s journey through the Wirral in dead winter, at
the end of the year, to keep his vow; his adventures at the castle of
Sir Bertilak, a genial and generous host of handsome appearance and
normal colouring in whom Gawaine does not recognize the Green
Knight, have nothing to do with Arthur. It is a tale of old magic whose
meanings are disputed but related with such visual brilliance and
emotional force, reading it is like experiencing some thrilling nightmare.
Its leading feature is description.”

From The Mystery of King Arthur, long ago borrowed from my friend Wendy’s parents. (Okay, technically speaking, the closest book was the manual for FrameMaker / Mac OS 9, but that’s all sealed up in the box, and seemed like a pain to get at.)

Mac Tricks and Tips and Apps that are Real Good and Stuff

Dru recently won a shiny new Mac. Now he’s wondering about tips and tricks and what he should do with it. I was going to add my advice as a comment to his LJ, but then I realized, hey — this comment is getting so long, it’s totally turning into a free blog post! Ahem.

Dru complains about the menu at the top. I hear you man, it took me about two weeks to train myself to look there, and not at the window itself. Also, closing windows (often) does not close the app. Strange but true.

Tip #1: Yes, you can use a two-button mouse with a Mac. This very minute I am using the Microsoft Wireless Lasermouse 6000, with two buttons, two side buttons, and a clickable scroll wheel. Say what you will about Microsoft, they make some fine peripherals. And no, I haven’t been struck by lightning.

Tip #2: You can convert every file you open in a mac to PDF for free, via the Print menu.

Good mac resources: a bit hard to find, as most mac forums out there are too fanboyish. (Something’s wrong with your Mac? No, something’s wrong with you!)
The only forum I know of with any sense of perspective is Ars Technica’s Mac forum. There are a number of big-name Mac blogs out there but most of the ones I’ve tried subscribing to are vastly overrated. The only other Mac web resource I like is the Macrumors Buyers Guide, which gives you some idea of when the next hardware update is coming, based on historical data.

Software apps. For geeks, the three big ones would be MacPorts (UNIX package manager), XCode (Mac dev environment), and Quicksilver (app launcher plus so much more). Dru is already aware of these, so I’ll move on to my favorite software, almost all of which is Mac-only.

  • Angband: free rogue-like game, incredibly addictive. Not Mac-only, though.
  • Connoisseur: holds your recipes! How awesome is that! Isn’t that why every household was going to rush out and get a personal computer, back in 1980?
  • Delicious Library: holds your book collection. An attractive app, but not terribly useful. It is good if you loan out a lot of books, otherwise it has no real function other than to reduce your OCD.
  • Keychain: comes with the OS, holds your keys and passwords. Most people don’t even know it exists — I didn’t figure it out until a couple years into owning a Mac. I like it just fine, but since Dru is a security professional, there are a number of powerful third party apps.
  • Mail: The default Apple Mail has some drawbacks, but one big bonus is that it works with Spotlight, Apple’s search framework. DANGER WILL ROBINSON: Mail uses a proprietary format for email, so you might be locked in (compared to say Thunderbird which uses mbox). Actually, it’s a sort of bastardized Maildir, so it’s pretty straightforward to convert. Thanks, Sam Kingston!
  • NetNewsWire: excellent free RSS reader.
  • OmniFocus: a very powerful GTD app.
  • OmniGraffle Pro: for diagrams. Like Visio but in my opinion much nicer to use.
  • OmniOutliner Pro: an outlining program. There are a lot of good outliners available for the Mac, but this one is my personal favorite. Though I use it less now, because of OmniFocus.
  • Plaxo: Plaxo is not Mac-only. And a lot of people hate Plaxo because way back in the day they were pretty spammy. However, Plaxo syncs my address book and calendar between my work and home machine, which is just too danged useful to give up. I should note that, Plaxo has borked my calendar and addressbook twice in the past, but it’s been good for the last few months. To be perfectly honest, it’s a love/hate relationship.
  • SuperDuper: Great app for cloning and backups. Leopard now has Time Machine, which obviates some of the need for SuperDuper. But Time Machine can’t do everything SuperDuper can, like making a bootable clone.
  • Spaceward Ho!: excellent old-school space conquest game, with hilarious cowboy sound effects.
  • TextMate: a GUI text editor that happens to be elegant and yet highly customizable and UNIX friendly at the same time.
  • Transmit: a very good GUI FTP client.
  • TurboTax: well, this is available for Windows too, but in any case, it’s indispensable. See, for nearly a decade, I did my taxes all by hand, just like my father before me. But every year they got more complicated. I’m actually pretty good at elementary school math, but checking and double-checking all my tax forms was just getting tedious. Finally, I said to myself, “Man! It would really be great if someone would invent some kind of machine that was, like, really, really good at doing arithmetic and looking things up in tables. That would be just swell!” So. TurboTax. A good idea. And works great on the Mac.

Poisoning the Minds of our Youth

Still going through all the boxes of stuff from childhood. Right now I’m going through college notes, homework, papers, and tests.

I have no idea why I saved this stuff. Maybe I was thinking that if I became a professor at a teaching college, I could reuse some of the homework and exam questions? But ten years later, these papers were all clearly written by Someone Else. Even if for some reason I wanted to throw my career away and jump back into science, I’d have to start all over anyway. Educational value of these N cubic feet of paper? Basically zero.

Still, there some gems in there. One of my favorites is actually an appendix from our frosh lab manuals, A Guide To Technical Report Writing:

One of the most common criticisms of technical reports is that they are not
are not written in a sufficiently brief and concise form. To write succinctly
is often difficult. Writing in a rather loose and informal style is much easier,
but it simply cannot be tolerated in scientific writing today for some very
good reasons. The editor of the Astrophysical Journal wrote
the following paragraph:

The present accelerated growth of this Journal in common with the other
scientific journals, makes it imperative that authors (in their own interest)
exercise utmost restraint and economy in the writing of their papers
and in the selection and presentation of material in the form of tables,
line drawings, and halftones. In spite of the obvious need for such restraint,
the Editor regrets that authors continue to write in the relaxed style common
a century ago; moreover, the temptation to reproduce large masses of IBM
printouts and tracings from automatic recording equipment appears too
great for most authors to resist. The Astrophysical Journal
will enforce stricter standards in the future with respect to these matters.

The present change for publication in the leading physics journals is over $70
per page. Thus, it is important that you learn to write your reports in such a
way that unnecessary words are eliminated and data is reduced to a minimum.
This generally calls for some rewriting.

You don’t say!

Well, one thing is clear: no honest-to-goodness bad writer could possibly string together so many unnecessary passive phrases, nominalizations, repetitive words, and other stylistic blunders — so what is this piece really all about? My theory is that it’s actually a meta-commentary about scientific prose. Like Alan Sokal in the famous Sokal Hoax, the author is trying to raise the community’s awareness of the problem by mocking it at a fundamental level. The piece even goes so far as to advise students to learn the principles of good writing by “read[ing] reports and articles appearing in various engineering and scientific journals, such as The Physical Review.” Such acute, insider wit can only come from someone who has been seething inwardly about this issue for years. (The prim little tone of admonishment is just the icing on the cake.)

Unfortunately, unlike the Sokal affair, nobody ever came forward to admit that A Guide To Technical Report Writing was a joke. Thus, a hapless freshman physics major skimming through their lab notebook might actually have believed that it constituted real advice! So while I appreciate our nameless author’s cri de coeur about the state of scientific writing, I’m not sure it was worth the risk of confusing the students.

Then again, the odds that the students actually read that part of the lab notebook are slim to none. I know I didn’t.

Homework Problem for Next Class: Rewrite the first paragraph of the excerpted piece to say the same thing, using 50% fewer words, thus saving serious $$ when you publish said paragraph in the Astrophysical Journal. Show your work.

Fool Me Once, Can’t Get Fooled Again

Yesterday, an ominous message appeared in my inbox from one of our key engineers, via our bug tracking system:

Didn’t get my visa. Moving back to Calgary. 🙁


Oh, crap!

Okay, I realized that it was April 1st and all. And having to pack up and move back to Canada all of a sudden? That sounds fishy too. On the other hand, closing all your bugs WONTFIX, that seems awfully serious. That couldn’t be a joke… could it?

My friend Jay says I shouldn’t have been fooled for a second. “Dude, engineers never voluntarily update their bug states. That was your red flag right there.”

Ten years working in the Valley, and still so naive. Sigh. Live and learn.