Turning inner space into outer space

January 7, 2024

When you're in control, tracking is a good thing

There are tracker apps aplenty, but be sure sure to look at the fine print before you download them. Some of them siphon off your personal data and do god knows what with it.

Here are three that sync across Mac, iPad and iPhone. They have beautiful interfaces, a reasonable one-time price and respect your privacy. Find them all in your local app store.

Streaks — a habit tracker

You can set up pretty much any habit you can think of and decide how often you want to do it — or avoid it.

The only data collected — crash data — is not linked to you.

Fleur — an expense tracker

Keeping on top of all your personal expenses and incomes gives a great of feeling of control over your life. This app makes it a pleasure.

It’s a little more intrusive but the data is not linked to you — purchases, diagnostics and usage.

Book Tracker — yes, it tracks your books

Reading is one of the habits in my habit tracker. And now that I’m in the habit, I’m having fun getting my reading life organized.

It collects no data at all.

December 10, 2023

Sorry, I didn't know I was helping the trackers

I had trackers on my site and didn’t know until Safari told me it was blocking them.

In the privacy section of Safari settings, there are options to prevent cross-site tracking and hide IP address from trackers. When you visit a site, you can click to see how many trackers Safari blocked. Another click shows the domains of the trackers.

On this site, I found there was a tracker coming from Cloudflare. Turns out that Cloudflare hosts CDNs — content delivery networks — for a lot of the little extras developers like to add to their sites. In this case, it was Font Awesome.

I use Font Awesome because it’s an easy way to add icons. There aren’t many of them on newsonaut, but, still, that’s my habit.

I can’t say I blame Cloudflare for throwing in a tracker. If they’re going to host Font Awesome, they might as well get something out of it. And it looks like they have a use for that tracked data.

I got around their tracking by downloading Font Awesome, uploading it to my shared server and linking to it from there. Cloudflare has been deleted and will no longer attempt to track my visitors.

I checked my other sites, and discovered they too had trackers. Cloudflare not only had its tracker hitching a ride with Font Awesome, but also with Foundation — a framework for styling with CSS.

And there were more! An embedded video from YouTube came along with trackers. An embedded map from Flourish had trackers. Now that I know how widespread this practice is, I’m surprised Google Fonts doesn’t do the same thing.

Anyway, they’re all gone now. Uploading and linking to stuff from my server is less convenient, but — darn it! — I feel a lot better knowing that I’m not helping corporations invade your privacy.

November 25, 2023

Default apps 2023

Inspired by Chris Coyier, who was inspired by

I'm struck by two things — how all-in I am with Apple apps, and how generic the names are for most of their apps.

Mail client: Mail

Mail server: Apple

Notes: Bear

To-Do: n/a

Photo shooting: iPhone SE

Photo editing: Photoshop

Calendar: Calendar

Cloud file storage: iCloud

RSS: Reeder

Contacts: Contacts

Browser: desktop Firefox, mobile Safari

Chat: Messages

Bookmarks: Firefox

Read it later: n/a

Word processing: Word

Spreadsheets: Excel, Numbers and Google Sheets

Presentations: Keynote

Shopping lists: pen and paper

Meal planning: Mela

Budgeting and personal finance: Numbers spreadsheet based on template

News: Reeder

Music: Triode, Poolsuite FM

Password management: Bitwarden

Code editor: VS Code

VPN: GlobalProtect

Special mentions: iA Writer for writing, Tot for temporary notes, Transmit for FTP, ImageOptim for photo compression, SnippetsLab for code snippets.

November 5, 2023

What happened to you, newsonaut?

This blog started out as a way of keeping on top of technology as it is applied to the news.

But I've noticed, lately, that several of my posts advocate avoiding the news — strange advice from someone calling himself newsonaut.

So what happened to me?

When I was laid off 10 years from a newspaper, it was almost impossible to find another job in journalism. I didn't want to move, and local opportunities were almost non-existent.

So I went on to get a job in web design, which, luckily, was another passion of mine. Still, I remained tuned into the news with apps, RSS, social media, whatever.

I noticed, though, that this made me a bit of an outlier. It was almost impossible to have a discussion with my colleagues about something that happened in the news because they had zero awareness and zero interest.

That is their right, and who am I to judge?

In recent years, though, I'm coming around to their way of thinking. My awareness and interest will never be zero, but I do see the merit in tempering them.

There are a lot of bad things happening in the world, and I can't do anything about them. So why dwell on them?

I've talked about news-cations, where I completely avoid the news for awhile, but what might be better would be a sensible diet. Here's what I'm thinking:

RSS feeds

The great thing about RSS feeds is that they present the news in reverse chronological order, with each item getting the same presentation. You decide for yourself which is more important, which is worthy of your attention, which is something you'd rather not think about right now.

News apps present the news similar to the way newspapers did. You can tell by the layout which they consider to be the most important.

Something similar happens with social media. Facebook and Xitter prioritize what is most likely to engage you. This means attention-grabbing headlines that you might not ordinarily have sought out.


I feel a little embarrassed about recommending Reddit because I don't think much of their leadership. Even so, it has a big advantage over other social media in that you can choose to follow topics.

That means you can limit your exposure to, for example, the hobbies you enjoy. You could choose to follow funny, uplifting or wholesome news. You'll still get some perspective on what's happening in the world but with a more positive spin.

Specialty forums and news sites

I like to visit Hacker News to see what technology and nerdery they're talking about. I would never have discovered many of the articles they link to on my own. The discussion is usually intelligent and worth reading.

Techmeme is a great resource for links to technology news. I especially appreciate the fact that they re-write the click-bait headlines into an accurate summary of the article.

There are sites like this for every interest you can imagine. Take charge, and pick your own.

September 14, 2023

The bad news about news

A quick relief from anxiety is to remind yourself of the here and now. For most of us, most of them time, the here and now is fine. You just have to tune into it.

The news, on the other hand, is always about something that happened somewhere else. And often it's something that happened in the past. Or it's a warning about something that could happen in the future.

If you read the news, you take a risk. You move yourself out of the here and now.

Let's take an example.

Let's say there are forest fires nearby, and a lot of smoke has blown into town. Visibility and air quality are poor. This is not a great situation, but if you're relaxing on the couch in your house, you're fine.

Now let's add news to the mix.

You read an article where a prominent scientist is quoted as saying forest fires are getting more intense and more frequent due to climate change. This trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

OK, now you're in future where things are really bad. Summers are filled with smokey days. There's no escape because there's fires all over the place. And who knows what else.

I'm on another news-cation — one of a few I've been on since 2020. The here and now is good. I might make this one indefinite.

August 7, 2023

Re-writing headlines so they make sense

Sometimes when I look at the news, everything that doesn't address climate change seems like a waste of time. With an world-wide life-and-death emergency going on, why are we not totally focused on this one thing?

So I took some of today's world headlines from CBC and updated them so they make more sense.

August 3, 2023

Facebook and Google no longer linking to Canadian news? Good riddance!

So Google and Meta have decided to retaliate against Canadian online news legislation by not linking to Canadian news stories.

I say, fuck 'em.

Not because I think the legislation is any good. It's too little too late. The erosion of local news in Canada may well be beyond repair.

No, it's because there are plenty of other news sources to choose from that are just as good if not better.

In fact, as far as Facebook is concerned, thank God they're getting out of the Canadian news business. When you get a link to "news" on Facebook, it could be coming from anywhere. Unless you're vigilant, you could find yourself going down all kinds of misinformation rabbit holes.

A world without news on Facebook is a better world.

And as for Google, please try to remind yourself that there are other search engines that also have news tabs.

Duck Duck Go not only provides you with news, but also respects your privacy. This article at Search Engine Land lists no less that 21 alternatives.

I've been using Ecosia, and helping to raise money to plant trees with every search.

Search on Google is going downhill anyway. It's been so thoroughly gamed by advertisers that it's almost impossible to find meaningful results.

So, yeah, let's call their bluff. If Google stops providing news links — in other words, actively makes its service even worse — switch to a different search engine.

You'll be glad you did.

July 17, 2023

The best social media alternative is no social media

There's been a lot of controversy lately at Twitter and Reddit, resulting in plenty of articles about alternatives. I've tried some of them, and I have to say they're just fine. Mastodon is a fine alternative to Twitter. Lemmy is a fine alternative to Reddit.

But I've been thinking there might be an even better alternative.

That's because I still find myself getting sucked into worrying about issues I have no control over. I know they exist, I wish they didn't. I don't, for example, need reminders about climate change — all I have to do is look out the window.

What I really need are alternatives that help me chill for awhile. Or at least only be involved in things I do have control over. And those alternatives are not social media. Here are a few that work me.


If you're used to scrolling and scanning, then reading a book will take some adjustment. But hang in there — it's worth it. I just finished a 350-page novel that left me floored with the twists and emotions at the end. The payoff was much more satisfying than a bunch of memes.

Even better, I'm reading this as part of a book club, so I get to discuss it with them later. And no, you don't need an app for a book club. Some friends or co-workers will do just fine.

As a change of pace, I'm delving into a non-fiction book, and I'm already three chapters in. Believe me, this was not an easy transition. You can't scroll and scan a book. You have to read and comprehend pretty much every word.

For some reason, book authors have largely escaped the huge dumbing-down created by social media. I know they're under pressure to crank out a blockbuster series because publishers don't think they'll make enough money from a standalone book. Despite this, there are a lot of great writers today who easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with great writers throughout history.


You might be thinking you need Facebook or Instagram to keep in touch with friends. Technology does make this easier, but there's no need to upload all your personal data in return for a free app. Instead, use email with this one simple trick — contact groups.

I use the Contacts app that comes with all Macs, but I'm sure there are plenty of other apps that do something similar. If I want to contact everyone in the club I belong to, I drag and drop the name of the contact group into the "To:" section of my email app, write my message and hit Send. People who want to respond to the group use "Reply All".

Nobody needs to sign up for anything. Nobody needs instructions.

RSS feeds

You'll need an app for this, but there are free ones that respect your privacy. For Mac users, I recommend NetNewsWire.

With RSS, you can subscribe to whatever news sources you want. It doesn't even have to be news — you could subscribe to newsonaut if you were so inclined.

You can arrange the feeds however you want, and read them in chronological order. They're all treated equally — same size heading, for example — so you can decide for yourself which is most important.

With some configuration, you may be able to read the entire article in the app without visiting the website it come from. In other words — no ads!

RSS is not great for breaking news, but ask yourself: other than idle curiosity why do you need to know right now about something that doesn't affect you? It can wait. And if it does affect you, you'll find out soon enough.


I wish I wrote more, because it really is a good way of getting things out of your system. It's sort of like going on stage. You're nervous as hell right up until the time you step out — then everything is fine.

My writing outlet is is this blog. I coded it myself and host it on a shared server. While I certainly advocate this over Facebook because it puts you are in charge of your own content, I realize it's not that easy for many people.

So if it needs to be Facebook, the go for it. Just try to make it a little more in-depth, a little more original. And remember there are other alternatives such as Tumblr and WordPress.

Or maybe, just maybe, an IRL journal.

The best advice I can give on writing is to put down the words, and keep putting them down, until they make you happy.

May 8, 2023

The other places to find free Mac apps

They say nothing in life is free, but I've done my best to create a collection of Mac apps that are indeed free. At thriftmac, I'm closing in on 300 apps that can be used forever with all their features and no strings attached.

It would be more accurate to say that few things in life are free. In this case, I can think of only two other sites with collections of free Mac apps, and both also have paid apps.

The best of the two is It claims to have 800+ menu bar apps, with a collection of about 350 that are free. I like the fact that it's curated — not just a dump of every Mac menu bar app in existence.

The site is ad free, which is refreshing and perhaps a little suspicious. I know people might wonder why there are no ads on thriftmac. The reason is because it's a hobby that I've enjoyed over the years. Also, I don't like ads on other sites, so why would I foist them on my visitors? does collect analytics but that could be just curiosity to know who's visiting. I've done the same myself.

The other site offering a collection of free Mac apps is MacUpdate. Under Recently Updated, click on See All, then choose Free under Price. You can further refine your search by category, when the apps were updated, popularity and downloads. As of this writing, you start off with 4,873 apps.

There will never be thousands of apps on thriftmac. I select the apps that I think are well crafted and will be widely appreciated. I currently have a list of about 30 candidates that I'm not sure about adding.

Yes, my selection is biased, but it is my site — and I'm happy for people to make suggestions.

December 26, 2022

How to sign up for a free trial without fear

A truly free app in the App Store is a rare thing. Most have in-app purchases. In some cases, you have to sign up for a free trial right away if you want to use the app at all.

Yes, it's scammy, but this is the world we live in. The thing I fear most with a free trial is that I will forget to cancel before it ends and wind up with a charge on my credit card. These charges can be pretty expensive — over a hundred dollars in some cases.

So how do you sign up without fear? Right after you sign up, go straight to your list of subscriptions and cancel. The free trial will keep going for as long as it would have, and it will end automatically without you getting charged a cent.

Don't worry, you'll get plenty of reminders continuing past the trial. Apps may be hit and miss about reminding that you're about the be charged, but there's no doubt you'll get reminders about un-cancelling.