Turning inner space into outer space

April 9, 2024

How to include HTML files on web pages the good, old-fashioned way

Server-side includes have been around for as long as I can remember — and that goes back to the days of dial-up. After all these years, I finally feel good about using them.

Let me explain.

First of all, SSIs are an easy way to include one html page in another html page. So, for example, if you have a navigation bar that’s the same on all pages, you can create it once in a separate html file, then include it on all the other html pages.

Here’s what the include code looks like:

<!--#include virtual="/nav.html" -->

That way, if you have to make a change to the navigation, you only have to do it in one place, instead of laboriously going through every page copying and pasting.

But there was always a catch, and I never liked it. You had to change the file extensions of all your pages to shtml. I guess the “s” stands for “server-side”.

Anyway, it’s annoying and looks weird.

So what changed for me at long last? I learned about commands in the htaccess file!

You can add lines to htaccess that make html and htm files act like shtml files.

AddType text/html .shtml
AddHandler server-parsed .shtml
Options Indexes FollowSymLinks Includes
AddHandler server-parsed .html .htm

Before you do that, though, make sure it’s OK with your hosting service. As far as I can tell, the worst that could happen is that it simply wouldn’t work. But you never know. In my case, the service provided the instructions so I knew it was OK.

While I appreciate all the YouTubers patiently showing how to do includes with JavaScript, I can’t help but feel that something coming straight from the server is going to be a faster, more seamless experience for visitors.

April 8, 2024

Your Mac's Preview app is free, fast and more powerful than you might think

Here’s a little thing you can do that, as far as I can tell, is unique to Photoshop: size and crop at the same time.

You go to the the crop tool and specify the size you want the image to be. You then make a box for what part of the image you want. Hit enter and you’re done. It’s the right size and the right shape.

I tried doing this in several other photo-editing apps, but couldn’t figure out a way to do it. You can crop. You can size. But you can’t do both at once.

So if that’s the way it’s going to be, why not see if you can do it with a free app that comes with your Mac?

That’s where Preview comes in.

I have a web app where all the pictures are 100 pixels wide by 200 pixels high. The images I use are grabbed from the internet and vary greatly in shape and size.

The first thing I do is crop so that the space above and below the image looks about right. I find that it’s easier to get the height right and play with the width later.

After that, I change the size to 200 pixels high by whatever for the width.

Lastly, I adjust the width to 100 pixels, and hit Command-K.

Yes, it takes three steps in Preview compared with one in Photoshop, but there are advantages.

Preview starts up a lot faster. In the time it takes to wait for Photoshop to start up, I can have the job done in Preview.

Preview, of course, is free. I have Photoshop on my home computer as a perk of a job I recently moved on from. I have a feeling that will end soon, and I will have to pay if I want to keep it.

Preview is worth exploring. It started off as a way to look at PDFs but can now do a lot more. For basic photo editing, it’s certainly worth looking at.

Macworld has a two-part series here and here on the “superpowers” of Preview. It’s dated 2015, but mentions removing the background, which, I’m pretty sure, was just recently added — a feature, by the way, that I find quite handy.

Apple’s user guide is comprehensive.

Hacker News has a surprisingly long thread about the pros and cons of Preview.

I was curious to know about the history of Preview, but there is precious little to be found. Going by memory, it started off as a way to open and view PDFs, but I’m not sure that explains why it’s called Preview.

There is a thread on Quora that may be enlightening. The gist of it is that, back in the days of desktop publishing, the app was used to preview a document to see what it would look like on paper.

Wikipedia has a skimpy entry for Preview with a small section on history. Apparently, it dates back to 1989 and the NeXTSTEP operating system.

ChatGPT, on the other hand, says it was introduced in 2001 with Mac OS X. That would make sense if Preview was brought along when Apple made the switch to OS X, which was based on NeXTSTEP.

That Hacker News thread refers to Preview as “the Mac app people forget about.” Why download stuff when there’s a free app on your Mac that does a lot more than you might think?

March 29, 2024

What if we did social media IRL?

Have you ever seen someone on social media chastise you for spending too much time on the computer? Go outside, they say. Hang out with friends.

Setting the irony aside, this does conjure an image. What if you did hang out with friends, but you were so conditioned by social media that it wound up being an IRL template?

Here’s what it might look like.

Imagine a group of, say, a dozen people sitting in a circle in your living room. These people would be in that circle because they “follow” each other.

They come and go as they please. Some are there all there all the time. Some might be there for a few minutes.

The purpose of this group is to be social so some talking is expected or it won’t work.

Someone holds up a picture of a deer in their back yard. A few give a thumbs up because they like the picture. Others couldn’t care less about deer and don’t react. Some are distracted and don’t notice the picture.

Now things get rolling, and people have lots to say.

Person 1 says something. It’s interesting but before you can react . . .

Person 2 ignores what person 1 said, and says something unconnected. That’s also interesting.

Person 3 and person 4 bring up two other topics at the same time. It’s getting hard to keep up. You ignore what person 4 said because there is only so much you can take in.

Lots of people are saying lots of interesting stuff, but it’s all unrelated. You start thinking about the witty thing that person 5 said, but before you can fully digest it, person 6 has said something profound that deserves some thought.

After awhile, it’s apparent that there are two types of people in the circle. There are the few who talk over each other, hoping to get everyone’s attention. They’re usually nice about it, but sometimes they’ll say something outrageous just to make you look.

The other type of people are those listening for an entertaining tidbit here and there in the din.

Finally someone says something that makes sense. Get on the computer, they say. Social media is better organized. You don’t have to have people in your house.

And off you go.

March 28, 2024

Join the independent web for fun, not profit

I’ve been making personal websites from scratch since the days of dial-up.

Two of those sites are still going. Newsonaut started up in 2010. Thriftmac — a collection of hundreds of links to free Mac apps — has been going since 2006.

The IndieWeb movement started in 2011 — maybe I'm part of it and didn’t know it. But I’m not so sure.

IndieWeb, from what I can gather, refers to creating your own website with your own design so that you are in control — as opposed to a corporation like Facebook that may not have your best interests at heart.

That makes sense to me, but I would more likely be part of a maker web movement if such a thing existed. I make and maintain websites because I enjoy it. Just like other people love to knit, for example. The joy is making something, not in what you can get out of it.

Joan Westerberg wrote a fine article: The creator economy trap: why building on someone else's platform is a dead end. She makes great points about why you should have your own website and use it as the basis for a platform.

But she also says it’s hard. If you’re trying to make money on the internet, then absolutely it’s hard. It’s hard regardless of how you do it. I tried it for a few years and quit after I realized I was making way too little for the effort required.

Now I’m back to doing it for fun.

You can do it for fun, too. Play around with a bit of HTML and CSS on your computer. You don’t need a domain name. You don’t have to publish. Just see what you can do. If you keep at it and find you’re still having fun, then think about publishing. Going live will cost you, but think of it like other pastimes — they all cost something. If you’re having fun, though, it’s worth it.

The idea of an independent web has been around since at least 2001, which, according to Tantek Celik was “perhaps the heyday of independent web”.

From what I can tell, supporters are mainly a bunch of tech nerds like me who enjoy doing web stuff. They should just admit it. What they really want is for other people to join in the fun.

March 25, 2024

Use Apple's Calendar app as a timetable

If you need a timetable to keep yourself on track with daily routines, look no further than the Calendar app that comes with your Mac, iPhone and iPad.

I’ve configured Calendar to outline how I want to spend my time Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.

Step 1: Create a new calendar. As you probably know, you can have multiple calendars within Calendar. Call this one “timetable” or “morning routine” or whatever works for you.

Step 2: When creating an event, look for “Add Alert, Repeat, or Travel Time”. Click on this option, then tap on the button next to “repeat” and choose “custom”. I chose a frequency of weekly, every 1 week, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

For example, I have a block from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., Monday to Friday, where I work on writing for newsonaut. I’m doing it right now!

Step 3: Deal with alerts. Your Calendar app is likely synced across your Mac, your iPhone and maybe an iPad. That means all these apps will now want to alert you about the events you’ve set up in your timetable. I just want my timetable for reference, so I turned off the alerts for that calendar on all three of my devices. On the iPhone or iPad, go to the Calendar app and find the list of calendars. Tap the “Info” icon next to the timetable calendar and turn off “Event Alerts”. On your Mac, right click on the timetable calendar and choose “Get Info”. From there you can check “Ignore Alerts.”

Step 4: Deal with the Up Next widget. I don’t need timetable events cluttering Up Next, so I stopped those as well. On your iPhone or iPad, go to the widget, then press and hold so you have the edit option. You’ll see an option for “Calendars” that defaults to mirror all calendars. If you turn this off, a new option will appear where you can turn off individual calendars. On your Mac, open up the widgets and press the “Edit Widgets” button. Then tap the Calendar widget and look for the “calendars” option.

Step 5: Optionally, you can hide the timetable calendar. I turned it off on my iPad and iPhone, because I only want to see it on my Mac.

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.