newsonaut

Turning inner space into outer space

October 14, 2020

Introducing, Captain Gullivant

Captain Gullivant, like Lemuel Gulliver of Gulliver’s Travels, journeys far and wide on voyages of discovery and adventure. But he lives far into the future — so far that it might be considered an alternative reality — and goes from planet to planet throughout the universe.

Technology has advanced to the point where you can build a spaceship capable of going anywhere within a few days. You don’t buy the spaceship, because resources are so abundant that they have become free for everyone. The knowledge required to build such a craft is also freely available.

Captain Gullivant is not actually a captain. There are no ranks in this far future. Everyone can be anything they want to be. “Captain” is his first name, which was bestowed upon him by his parents. Many people change their names in this far future, but “Captain” has a special meaning for him. He is inspired by the last two lines of Invictus by William Ernest Henley:

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

It’s not clear whether he takes true inspiration from the poem, as have famous people through history, or whether he has a more superficial relationship with the poem. His last name, after all, is a combination of gullible and gallivant.

But it definitely shines through in his actions. Wherever he travels, he is certain that he knows better than the inhabitants of the planet, that they should change to be more like him. And just as certainly, they prove him wrong, usually with irony or some twist of fate.

None of the matters to him. He learns nothing, always knows himself to be right, and moves on to the next planet in his travels.

October 13, 2020

Colophon, yeah, here I come

This blog now has a colophon in the footer, listing the apps used in its creation.

iA Writer: the best app for focused writing.

ImageOptim: the best app for crunching images.

Photoshop: maybe not the best, but a work perk that has embedded itself into muscle memory over the years.

Quick Draft: the best scratchpad app with free features.

Transmit: the best-looking FTP client, and possibly the best period.

VS Code: the best free code editor with a GUI. It may very well be surpassed in some ways by BBEdit, Nova, Sublime and others, but not enough to switch.

Textpattern gets a special “built with” mention. This underrated CMS is perfect for those who love to design. You can make your site look like whatever you want, then sprinkle in Textpattern tags to make it functional.

October 12, 2020

AirDrop drop-kicks email to the curb for file transfers

The great thing about older technology is that you already know how to use it. Even though it may take more steps, and be less convenient, it still seems faster.

That might be why AirDrop has yet to become a household word — well, that and the fact that it is Apple only, but more on that later.

Once you learn AirDrop, email reveals itself for the old clunker it really is.

Say, for example, you’ve taken a picture with your iPhone, and you want to do something with it on your Mac. Just tap on the share icon, as you would for email, and choose AirDrop. Then pick where you want it to go.

Within seconds, you see a notification on your Mac that you can click to open the picture in the default app for its format. If the picture is a jpeg, and your default app for jpegs is Photoshop, then that’s the app that will open it.

In an ideal world, AirDrop, or something like it, would be standard for transferring files between all types of devices — Mac, iOS, Android or Windows. There are apps you can download that will do this, but the setup and transfer processes make them about as complicated as email, so why go there?

If you have Apple devices, learn to use AirDrop. If not, hope for a future where AirDrop is a standard.

Update: Even easier — use continuity camera.

October 11, 2020

A handy app for jotting your ideas

Now that I’m writing something every day (fingers crossed), I need a stream of ideas to keep me going. The ideas arrive, but they sometimes exit too soon for me to remember them. The answer: notes.

Often the advice is to carry a notebook where you can jot down your ideas. I already have two of my pockets stuffed with a wallet and a phone. If anything, I would like to find a way of cutting down. That might happen if I ever build up confidence in the iPhone’s wallet app.

So the solution for now is a simple scratchpad app. There are plenty of notes apps filled with a flood of features. In fact I’ve got one that gives me warm fuzzies — Bear. But this is not the same as a scratchpad.

I downloaded Quick Draft a couple of days ago, and so far it’s working well. It has one page, and one page only. Whatever you type on that page is what you see every time you launch it.

It supports markdown, so you can do a bit of styling for headings, bold and italic. You can share, select all, copy all, create checkboxes for a to-do list, and switch fonts.

If you get the Mac version, it automatically syncs your notes via iCloud. I didn’t have to do a thing to make this work.

There is a pro version that allows for more customization, but what you get for free is more than enough for my needs.

By writing this post, I’ve checked the second item in my Quick Draft list. I checked the first one yesterday with my post on favourite crossword clues. There are a couple left, which doesn’t seem like enough — yikes!

October 10, 2020

Cross word? ACRIMONY

Crossword puzzles are one of my favourite things. I like them challenging, but not too challenging. I found a magazine at the grocery store that’s just about perfect — Dell Sunday Crosswords.

The clues I like least are the ridiculously obscure — so arcane that not even a search on the Internet yields answers.

The clues I like most are a play on words. Often these are signalled with a question mark at the end. Below are some that tickled my fancy. See if you can solve them.

Card-playing amphibian? POKERMITTHEFROG
Lawn takeover? COUPDEGRASS
Broker wannabe? EXCHANGESTUDENT
Hermetic miser? AIRTIGHTWAD
Head of France? TETE
Whopper jr? FIB
Way across town? STREET
Revolting word? ICK
Thumb nail? TACK
Term ender? ITE
Country music? ANTHEM
Introductory course? SOUP
Mouth organ? TASTEBUDS
Dollars for quarters? RENT
Inflatable items? EGOS
Short cut? BOB
Coin collector? TOOLBOOTHWORKER
Bird watcher? CAT

October 9, 2020

Planet of the human-eaters

In this story idea, an Earth astronaut travels to a planet where there is a highly evolved super-smart species that dominates. There are also humans, who are about as smart as we are, but their role is more akin to our animals, because they are nowhere near as smart as the dominant species.

As it turns out, humans are also considered to be a delicious delicacy, and much desired by the dominant species. However, because they also have a highly evolved sense of morality, they have devised a compromise that allows them to eat humans without killing them.

Humans volunteer to give up, for a handsome price, an arm or a leg, and have it replaced with a bionic prosthesis that is more powerful and versatile than a normal arm or leg.

Our human astronaut takes a dim view of this, and tries to persuade the humans that it’s terrible to allow themselves to be taken advantage of this way.

But the humans are quite happy with the arrangement. They love the extra money, and they love the high-tech replacement limbs.

The astronaut can’t leave well enough alone, so he keeps stirring up trouble — trying to convince the humans to rise up and revolt.

The dominant species gets wind of this, and sends a representative to meet the astronaut. The rep notes that while humans do get a lot of money for a limb, it is nothing compared with the riches for giving up a brain. Not only that but the brain replacement makes you super smart — almost as smart as the dominant species.

The representative, along with being super smart, is also super persuasive and convinces the astronaut to give up his brain. After waking up from his operation, the astronaut can’t believe how smart he is.

And he also can’t believe he ever thought there was anything wrong with the planet’s human-eating arrangement.

October 8, 2020

Yes, Virginia, there is a good free habit-tracking app

Steady Habit interface

I had no idea habit-tracking was such a fad. The App Store currently features 13 of them, all with bells and whistles out the yin-yang.

As you might expect, though, all but two them involve in-app purchases, which no doubt involve some kind of outrageous subscription.

One exception costs a straight-up $6.99, and has many excellent reviews. It’s called Streaks if you want to check it out.

I downloaded the only free one, called Steady Habit. It really does have no strings attached — they don’t even ask for your email. On the other hand it’s quite straightforward. You list the habits you want, and check them off as you do them.

There are a bunch of templates for habits you may not have thought of. Mine are all once a day, but you can also choose certain days of the week.

Steady Habit also has notifications, which can be a nice touch if you need reminding.

The thing about the paper sheet I’m using is that it doesn’t need to send a reminder. It sits in front of me on my desk every day, making it almost impossible to forget.

The apps with in-app purchases have many amazing features, usually involving variations on charts and forms of encouragement. But the thought of spending a lot of time in an app to check my habits seems a little weird, especially when one of my goals is to spend less time on my phone.

update I occurred to me a couple of days later that you could use the iPhone’s built-in Reminders app as a habit-tracker. The downside is that the habits might get mixed in with other reminders, which would not be ideal.

October 7, 2020

When were the good old days? It depends on who you ask

When people talk about the good old days, they are often referring to when they were children, or maybe in their teens or early 20s.

In other words, the reason the old days were good was because they were young.

In our culture generally, it’s the 1950s that are often thought of as the good old days. Life was simpler, there was post-war prosperity.

If you went back in time to the ’50s, though, you might get a different story. People who lived in that time didn’t necessarily think those were the best of times.

For example, an episode of the Twilight Zone that came out in 1959 featured a man who was desperately tired of the rat race, work pressure and the demands of urban life.

He wound up going back in time to what he imaged to be the good old days — the 1920s. Yes, even the Depression era seemed better than the ’50s. You could sit back on the front porch with your extended family and enjoy a cool drink. You worked for yourself on a tidy little farm.

A lot of our ideas about the ’50s come from TV and the movies. They often portray an idyllic life back then: mom, dad, two or three kids, a dog, a house with a white picket fence. Only dad had to work, and his job was well-paying with regular hours. Mom stayed home to look after the kids.

This portrayal was indeed accurate for some people. If you were a white middle-class male, the world was your oyster.

Recently, TV and the movies have been showing the ’50s for what they really were: an era ruled by bigots, bullies, sexists, racists and homophobes. One show that comes to mind is HBO’s Watchmen. Another that just came out is Ratched on Netflix. Also on Netflix is Hollywood. On Apple TV+, there is For All Mankind.

Watch any of those shows, and you’ll realize that the ’50s, and even the 1940s or 1960s, were absolutely not the good old days for most people.

What were the good old days for me? Sometimes I like to recall funny things that happened in the past, but mostly I prefer to get the most out of the present.

October 6, 2020

Tai chi is on again

After 90 minutes of tai chi, I feel warm, a little sweaty and kind of achy in those muscles that normally don’t get much movement. A lot of people don’t think tai chi is much of an exercise, but I’m feeling it.

We’re starting over from the beginning of the form, with newcomers taking their first awkward steps and old-timers refining the ones they know. I’ve been doing tai chi off and on for decades, and learning never ends.

My habit tracker has been a big help in recent weeks, keeping me on track to practise tai chi twice a day — once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. Habits really are an amazing thing if you harness them for good.

After all that practice, I thought I was doing pretty good, and that I would wow my classmates by whipping through the form. But the learning does indeed never end. I now have a much better idea of how to position my feet in those opening moves. In fact, it’s embarrassing that I hadn’t thought about it before.

My on-again-off-again relationship is definitely on again — and this time I aim to keep it on permanently.

October 5, 2020

Something about Western Togoland

The flags of Azerbaijan and Western Togoland

I learned from the Vexillology subreddit that Western Togoland has declared independence. This is of interest to vexillologists because Western Togoland has a flag. Also, because the flag is quite similar to Azerbaijan’s. The main difference is that the Western Togoland flag has a heart handshake icon in the middle of it, likely taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Meanwhile, in the MapPorn subreddit, there are maps showing the location of Western Togoland. It is a sliver that makes up the eastern edge of Ghana. It started life in 1884 as part of a colony of Germany, which was sliced in two after the First World War, with Western Togoland going to Ghana and the remainder carrying on as the present-day Togo.

There is a lot more you can learn about Western Togoland in Wikipedia.

This is what you write about when you have “write something” in your habit tracker, and don’t really have much to say.