Quicksilver meet the holy wars…

Was just chatting with Howard, who has literally written the book on Quicksilver, and was trying to figure out why he finds so much more utility out of Quicksilver’s keyboard triggers than I do…  I find myself using the "Command Mode" in most of my interactions with Quicksilver, but Howard makes extensive use of keyboard triggers.  We were chatting back and forth about this, and I struck upon a minor epiphany:

Quicksilver’s command mode is somewhat analogous to the command mode in my editor of choice, Vi.  Keyboard triggers, however, are much more like the meta-keystrokes of the Emacs editor, which is Howard’s favorite editor.  My brain is happy to deal with the notion of different modes for different contexts, where as the Emacs user is much more comfortable remembering a multitude of various keyboard combinations to get their work done.

It’s pretty cool that Quicksilver is this flexible, and in fact it one-ups both of the editors by allowing you to seamlessly choose whichever method appeals to you on a task-by-task basis, and furthermore it’s not mutually exclusive.  I do use a few triggers for some common searches (like IMDb, Wikipedia, etc) but setting up those triggers doesn’t prevent me from executing those searches in command mode.  And in this way, allowing you to choose the solution to a problem from a whole menu of methods (commands, keyboard triggers, mouse triggers, gestures, etc), Quicksilver is also analogous to a combatant in another holy war, Perl.  Perl provides many different ways to express oneself, and generally grants the programmer flexibility in expression.

Another way that Quicksilver is like Perl is that it is very tolerant of ambiguities and tries to resolve them as best as it can.  Type "adress book" into the command window of Quicksilver and there’s a good chance that even though "address" is misspelled Address Book will at least be among the top choices of Nouns/Subjects.  Quicksilver’s stated purpose is to allow the user to "Act Without Doing".  While that motto is a little too metaphysical for me, I think that philosophy is what drove this tolerance programmed into QS.

Myself and many other programmers are frustrated by Perl’s anything-goes philosophy, claiming that by being so permissive it makes reading the Perl code of someone who has a different style than you (or even reading your own code fro a few years ago) a difficult challenge at times.  If I were to try to continue to stretch this analogy, I would say that the Quicksilver version of this gripe is that, as a user, you end up growing so dependent on your specific usage patterns that if you work on a machine with QS configured differently, not installed at all, or science-forbid, a windows box, it can be rather frustrating.  You constantly attempt to invoke Quicksilver and fail, or even worse, learn that your carefully selected keyboard triggers vary drastically from your friends.

I have grown to really love Quicksilver, and I urge all Mac users to give it a swing!  They’ve done a great job of pushing most of the really geeky features under the surface a bit, and it tends to be as complicated as you choose.  I used it for a few years in straight command mode and found it to be super empowering, but over the past year or so (mostly due to prodding from Howard), I have found myself slowly expanding my horizons, and playing with more and more features of this amazingly deep tool.  Not all of the features I play with stick, but when one does, it suddenly feels like your old method of doing something was so antiquated.  For more information:

Update: Here is Howard’s take on this subject.

Random Catching Up

Here are some random things which have been occupying my time:

  • My super Aunt Kathy passed away last week, and we drove to ONONdaga County to attend her memorial service. I was glad to be there for my family, and it was a nice service. An Irish style remembrance of all things which made her awesome with a great vegetarian buffet from a local restaurant they favored. It was tough to be sad with all these great stories about her going around, but I still managed. I was saddened to learn after her passing that she was a Buddhist. I would have enjoyed discussing that with her. I am SO glad that we were able to stop in and see her a few months ago on the way out to FUMN. I already miss her terribly.
  • Learned some lousy news regarding our property today… The (aforementioned) DPW lot behind our house is also getting renovated as part of the huge roads project in our neighborhood. They are turning 2/3rd of the lot into public parking, leaving the middle section as DPW (which isn’t that big of a deal except during this roads project; Normally they just store some snow plows there). Anyway, along our back property line (and the rest of our neighbors as well) there will be a bike path, and they will be erecting a 6′ fence along our property line. But looking at the area, I’m pretty sure they are going to have to cut down all of the shrubs and trees to make way for the bike path… Our downstairs neighbors are pumped about the fence, because it will block 100% of their view of the DPW lot.. But if all those trees come down we not only lose pretty trees but I’m pretty sure we’ll have nothing blocking our view from the deck… Such is the price of progress, I guess, and hopefully my assumptions are wrong, but I doubt it. They are also going to hack down all the trees on our street when they redo that.. So it’s going to look a little grim around here for the next few decades…. :(
  • Loving my new Macbook Pro.  While the Air was a great little machine, I had kind of forgotten what it’s like to have a balls-out monster laptop.  This thing screams.
  • Doing well with our "no car" experiment…  We’ve been without a car for about 6-7 weeks, and so far it’s been fine.  We use Zipcar from time to time to run errands or save some time on a trip to a remote part of the city, but most of the time we use public transit or walk, which is great.  For long trips, like to Syracuse or NJ, we’ve been renting cars from the local Enterprise dealer.  Even with the abundance of trips we’ve had to take in the past 6 weeks, if you add up the Zipcar, Rental, and Transit fees we’ve accumulated, it is STILL lower than what I would have spent on payments and insurance for a new car.
  • Going to NJ tomorrow night for the big summer party I’ve been throwing for a few years now.  The guest list has gotten so big that I’ve had to start removing names from the invite list, which sucks.  If you’re reading this and are upset, I apologize.  I tried to favor people I see less frequently due to distance on the invites, so if I see you a lot or you’re from boston, you might not have made the cut.   I plan on discussing some way to let this party grow a bit more for next year, but more than likely it would have to leave my parents house for it to do so…  Which would mean that the cost would go up, which is definitely not good eats.
  • Red Sox have been playing terribly for awhile.  That is all.

Healing…. Slowly…

It is hard to believe that it has nearly been a month since the big accident. We are healing ever so slowly; each day we seem to be a little less frustrated with the pace.

definitely had more serious injuries than myself, and so it isn’t a surprise that her slow healing has cramped her style more than mine. But this week she was finally able to get back on her bicycle and ride to work, which was a huge milestone for her. I also think I noticed her sleeping on her left side last night, which as far as I know is a first since the accident. My injuries are mostly bruises, and while many of them don’t show any longer, I can still feel them.

Dealing with the other driver’s insurance company, which is Allstate, has been surprisingly painless and pleasant. I received the expected Blue Book value for Hawkeye, and they also reimbursed me for the damage to my computer. I decided, however, that I am not going to have the Macbook Air repaired. The estimate Apple gave me was for damage to the case and trackpad (which are apparently considered one unit on these machines). While everything else is in a reasonable state ofworking, I fear that the impact could have had caused hidden or yet-to-manifest damage. I don’t want to lay out nearly a grand to repair the case to have something else fail in a month or two.

So with repair out of the question, my real decision is what to do next.  What I will do in the near term is to bank the money and keep using the damaged Air.  As I mentioned above, the computer still seems to work, although it does overheat and throttle itself more often now, which has tripped up my usage on several occasions…  There is clearly a fan still working inside the thing, but perhaps this computer has more than one?  Or perhaps the slight bend in the case is enough to disrupt the airflow?  Who knows…   I’m afraid to remove the bottom case:  The ‘screw dents’ in the top case make me worry that taking out the bottom case screws may mean never getting them put back in.  That would take a mostly-working computer and turn it into scrap.

So at some point I’ll replace the Air.  When I do, I think I will probably replace it with a Macbook Pro as opposed to another Air.  The Air has been a great machine, but now that it’s my only machine the lack of hard disk space has been a bit of a frustration.  Honestly it would less of an issue if iTunes could deal with my network-shared 120GB music archive, but the pain of that is non-trivial.  Also, while the Air’s size and weight are great for the days which I walk to work with my laptop, those days are few and far between.  I think that for the money I would spend on another Air, this time I might trade some size for speed/space.

Review: MacBook Air

My MacBook Air finally arrived on Friday, after more than three weeks of anxious anticipation. This machine is replacing my old 1.67Ghz Powerbook G4, which now belongs to . Now that each of us has our own Mac, we are freed from the scourge of Windows. Corinna was reluctant to “switch” while she was finishing her masters, fearing learning new shortcuts and whatnot would slow her down while working, but now that she can learn at a more leisurely pace, she doesn’t seem to mind. Just before Christmas, the boot disk in our PC died, and the frustration of getting that machine back in working order was finally the last straw. After the new year, I began posting the eyepieces I won at Stellafane to eBay to get the money for a new laptop.

I was interested in the Air from day one, but after they started showing up in the local Apple Stores and I actually got to play with one, it was game over. For me, the tradeoffs that most people see weren’t really existent… I walk to work as often as I can, so a lighter machine is a huge win. And most of the time, my old G4 was plenty fast, so the slightly slower processor in comparison to my work MacBook wasn’t really much of an issue either. The only thing that really concerned me was the slower rotational speed of the hard disk, but after playing with it in the store it didn’t seem to be much of an issue (not to mention that eventually there will be faster discs in that form factor that I can upgrade to in the future). I ended up ordering a 1.8Ghz machine (with a traditional hard disk).

The machine is simply awesome. When I’m holding it I feel like if I left go of it, if it didn’t hover in place it would at least gently float to the floor (I haven’t tested this out yet). As you’ve likely heard in just about every review of the machine, it feels way sturdier than you’d expect given it’s size and weight. I’d venture to say it even feels sturdier than my Powerbook, which always felt like a tank to me. I feel like I could drop it from the roof of NRH and still use it when it hit bottom (of course, the floating would help).

I read some reviews criticizing the battery life, and frankly, I just don’t see any problem. Sure, when I was downloading a 10GB file using the 802.11g, the battery life was shortened. But whenever I’m using the machine in a more normal setting, I get 3-3.5 hours out of the battery. I’m sure I could stretch it further if I disabled Bluetooth and WiFi, but whatever. As far as I can tell, it lasts longer than my Powerbook battery ever did.

The screen is gorgeous, even if it is glossy (why can’t you make the matte finish a BTO option on all the lines, Apple? I’d happily pay more!) The LCD backlighting is so bright at full brightness it is almost uncomfortable. I haven’t really trained myself to use the multi-touch stuff much at all, honestly, it seems mostly like a novelty. I’ve been wrong before, though, so I’m going to see if I can make it useful. My guess is that when a 3rd party releases a trainable gesture system, it might become more attractive. I just don’t zoom photos enough to get a semi over the pinching. :)

I haven’t played with Remote Disc… I bought the external drive, but honestly I probably won’t be using that all that much either. I’ve gotten to the point where optical discs are the new floppies. I pretty much buy all of my music and software online these days, so it’s pretty rare that I need an optical drive. The only time I watch movies on a computer is when traveling, and I always ripped DVD’s to the hard disk for travel anyway (as the optical drive devours precious battery).

I don’t really have many gripes with this machine.. I seem to sometimes get a double login prompt when unlocking the machine, but I don’t know if that’s a Leopard problem or specific to this machine. It is also strange not hearing the optical drive initialize every time I wake it from sleep. It’s like trying to sleep in the country after living in a city, the silence is disconcerting. All in all, it’s pretty awesome.

The Slow Death of my PC

I’ve been surprised at how long my PC has lasted with little-to-no maintenance.  I don’t really use it for anything besides playing games anymore, and I soon intend to replace that function with an Xbox 360.   For the past 6 months or so it’s been hobbling a bit, with one of the disk drives occasionally making odd noises on boot and not being recognized by the BIOS.   Today, that drive finally gave up the ghost..  Unfortunately, it was my main boot drive which contained the “Documents and Settings” folder.  This would be nearly a non-event for me if it were lost, but Corinna might have had some files on there that were important.  I managed to coerce the drive to boot one last time and copied that directory off onto another disk, but I just barely made it under the wire.

For the next few hours, I tried to get my legitimate, purchased, copy of Windows XP to install onto another drive.  I’ve installed from this disk on several occasions and on several machines over the years (including this machine).  For some reason it was being stubborn, though, and would hang on the last “text based” screen before it truly starts the install.  Frustrated, I found a bootleg copy of XP online and then used that disc to install XP, using my legitimate license key.  Now the machine boots and I get to enjoy the fun of bringing a 6 year old OS up to date with patches, etc.  Fortunately I had a copy of SP2 burned to CD for such an occasion.

I know I’ve said this before, but allow me to reiterate:  When this computer needs replacement, it is being replaced with a Mac.  My PowerBook never gives me this much grief, and I simply don’t care to fight with my computer any longer…

Work and Space

I had been working on a custom feature addition to FlexSnap at work for the past few weeks which was keeping me off of my main project, and also off of working on the new MacBook work bought..   It came in in the middle of a project and it would have taken too long for me to switch to a different machine running a different OS.  But now that I’m “back in the saddle” I’ve moved everything to the Mac and can (hopefully) be full-time Mac at work now.

Tonight I’m heading with Howard over to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics for open observatory night..  It’s not exactly astronomy weather, but we’ll at least catch the lecture…

Small World

I’ve been trying to be a better user of Quicksilver for quite some time now…  Back in January, I downloaded a PDF of a User Guide which I had found, probably via some post on 43 Folders.  I opened it up every once in awhile, reading little chunks of it here and there over the year, and have also used it as a reference.  I had kinda forgotten about it, but today, I was watching the Google Tech Talk on Quicksilver and remembered the manual, and figured I’d pick it back up where I left off..  Unfortunately, Preview.app decided to forget what page I was on when I last left off, and took me back to the first page.   On it I see the name of Howard Melman…  After some verification, I am shocked to learn that this valuable resource was written by someone who I’ve broken bread with on several occasions..  I wonder if Howard had already started coming to the film club by the time I had started reading this Manual, or if I have a bit of an excuse for my obliviousness…

Firefox Pro-Tip

I’m not sure if this is documented anywhere, but I stumbled upon a cool keyboard shortcut in Firefox 2.0.  Control-Shift-T will restore (un-close) the last tab you closed.  There is Mac version of this shortcut too, I think it’s Apple-Shift-T, but I don’t have a Mac handy and I can never remember the names of their stupid meta keys, so I’m not 100%.

SubEthaEdit for Free!

Since learning about SubEthaEdit from CodingMonkeys, I always felt it would have been a great piece of software to have access to while in college. The thought of collaborative notetaking seems very powerful. Anyway, there is some special pricing today on SEE as part of BLOGZOT 2.0 on MacZOT.com. The software starts out at a discount of $5, and every weblog/journal post about it (like this one) submitted to them will decrease the price by 5 cents, eventually making it free. That would mean that MacZOT and TheCodingMonkeys will award $105,000 in Mac software back to the community that made this sale possible. Sounds like some kind of crazy pyramid scheme, but it is sure to generate tons of buzz!