All posts by Philip Regan

About that “conversational tone”…

I find the conversational tone sometimes found in entry-level technical documentation to be maddening at times. To wit…

[insert technical information]

Now because we are all friends here I’m going to share a secret with you. Come closer. Get in here. Let’s have a huddle. [insert non-intuitive technical information]

TREACHERY? WHAT MADNESS IS THIS?

Now don’t get too worked up. [insert follow-up technical information]
Laravel: Code Bright

Clearly, I am not the target audience, but I think this is beyond necessary. I would speculate that anyone who is reading about a PHP framework has enough experience with technical material they don’t need their hand held like this. This amount of conversational tone makes using this material as a reference challenging later. There are ways to be conversational without being wasteful of everyone’s time and obstructive. I don’t see this very often where I roam around, but when I do, I cringe for the author every time I read it.

The same goes with including “um,” “hrm,” “erm,” and “well, let’s see…” and language devices of their ilk anywhere outside of an interview transcription. Just write the damn passage already.

Adobe Digital Editions is *still* the worst ebook reader I have ever used.

Somehow, Adobe managed to upgrade Adobe Digital Editions from version 2 to version 3 with absolutely no improvement. This is impressive in its own way. Text selection for highlighting is still a complete disaster. The app still translates my moving the pointer one pixels to jump the selection of a single sentence to half a paragraph, a problem that inarguably plagued the last version.

That the app was allowed to be released with such a major bug in a vital feature of any ebook reader, is astounding to me. Now I get the impression that the app lives in some sort of development backwaters, using version numbers simply to call attention rather than indicating any real improvements (which puts it in line with past Creative Suite upgrades).

For a company that is in the business of making books and wants to be in the business of eBooks, Adobe Digital Editions is just an embarrassment.

I’ll know it when I see it, and this isn’t it.

SILE versus Word

When most people produce printed documents using a computer, they usually use software such as Word (part of Microsoft Office) or Writer (part of Open/LibreOffice) or similar–word processing software. SILE is not a word processor; it is a typesetting system.

SILE versus TeX

SILE is basically a modern rewrite of TeX.

SILE versus InDesign

InDesign is a complex, expensive, commercial publishing tool. It’s highly graphical–you click and drag to move areas of text and images around the screen. SILE is a free, open source typesetting tool which is entirely text-based; you enter commands in a separate editing tool, save those commands into a file, and hand it to SILE for typesetting. And yet the two systems do have a number of common features.

So, essentially, this is a rewrite for TeX. But the reality is that creating complex layouts really, truly requires GUI layout tools. No matter how good the output is for this application, it’s entering into an firmly-established market with a few, large, expensive players, and not a lot of action. Publishing automation tools are nothing new, but one has to give up a certain amount (usually a lot) of control to create a document on the cheap. Even for those workflows that are intensely reliant on templates, designers are still working in InDesign for the initial design, which is then handed off to a person, or more frequently a system, to translate into something to be automated.

TeX has already been done, and automated layouts have already been done. I’m a long-time user of TeX, and I love it, but I don’t feel this has a long road in front of it.

Be careful what you ask for because you are going to get it.

This video has been making the rounds, so I thought I would take a shot at it…

I’m not really sure where to begin with this, so here’s everything that immediately came to mind upon watching this. All of this would apply to any smartphone, not just Apple’s. Choose what you like…

  1. I find your use of the phrase “for Science” offensive.
  2. Learn to take care of your shit. None of what you have done, or are ostensibly simulating, is a good idea. I don’t believe for even one second that placing the phone in your front pocket would require it experiencing this amount of pressure. Put it in your back pocket where it could experience this amount of pressure, however, and…well…you get everything you deserve by doing so. So, learn to take care of your shit.
  3. In other news, twentysomethings learn that shit is expensive when you have to pay for it yourself. Film at 11.
  4. Can we go back to complaining about battery life and antenna performance? Because this video is a waste of everyone’s time.
  5. Be careful what you ask for because you are going to get it.

I finished my homework

Instead of having hobbies, making side projects, watching TV or movies, playing video games, or reading for pleasure, I did my homework.

eXperimental Knotty Credential Developer

An easy-to-use password generator based on randomly selected words from the English language.

Passwords need to be created such that they are difficult to crack by hackers yet still easy to remember, which is a surprisingly hard thing to do. Randall Munroe of XKCD postulated (but did not endorse; a subtle but important distinction) an idea to create passwords that balance memorability and complexity by using words from the dictionary by virtue of their length.
eXperimental Knotty Credential Developer

There is a lot more I could do with this, but I moved past the spec as encouraged and I have a lot of political philosophy to read before Monday.

Go Crimson

The economics of a web-based book: year one

Let’s face it, un­less you’re re­ally slow on the up­take, you’ve out­fit­ted your web browser with an ad blocker. Ha ha, you win! But wait—that means most web ads are only reach­ing those who are re­ally slow on the up­take. So their dol­lars are dis­pro­por­tion­ately im­por­tant in sup­port­ing the con­tent you’re get­ting ad-free. “Not my prob­lem,” you say. Oh re­ally? Since those peo­ple are the only ones fi­nan­cially sup­port­ing the con­tent, pub­lish­ers in­creas­ingly are shap­ing their sto­ries to ap­peal to them. Even­tu­ally, the con­tent you liked—well, didn’t like it enough to pay for it—will be gone.

Why? Be­cause you starved it to death. The im­mutable law re­mains: you can’t get some­thing for noth­ing. The web has been able to de­fer the con­se­quences of this prin­ci­ple by shift­ing the costs of con­tent off read­ers and onto ad­ver­tis­ers. But if read­ers per­ma­nently with­draw as eco­nomic par­tic­i­pants in the writ­ing in­dus­try—i.e., refuse to vote with their wal­lets—then they’ll have no rea­son to protest as the uni­verse of good writ­ing shrinks. (And make no mis­take—it’s al­ready happening.)
The economics of a web-based book: year one

Either I’m slow on the uptake or I’m just really good at ignoring advertising, because I don’t have an ad blocker in my browser. I have long since disabled Flash, however, but that was more because it was a needless drain on my processor and battery than anything. But, this is an interesting way of thinking about the issue of blocking the ads of ad-supported endeavors. Be careful what you ask for (block ads supporting the content you find useful) because you are going to get it (crappy content because people who can value their time monetarily aren’t going to write content that won’t pay).

A Dream Come True

The JavaScript OSA component implements JavaScript for Automation. The component can be used from Script Editor, the global Script Menu, in the Run JavaScript Automator Action, applets/droplets, the osascript command-line tool, the NSUserScriptTask API, and everywhere else other OSA components, such as AppleScript, can be used. This includes Mail Rules, Folder Actions, Address Book Plugins, Calendar Alarms, and Message Triggers.
Apple: Javascript for Automation Release Notes

This is a dream come true for me; really heady stuff. Applescript has been foundational to my career, but I never once—not once—liked the syntax nor the environment. Giving Javascript a first-class implementation could be very beneficial, I think, as there are a hell of a lot more Javascript developers than there are Applescript developers. The problem still exists with wonky scripting support in applications (I’m looking at you, Adobe with your fancy-pants JSX). Perhaps by removing the Applescript barrier to automation will bring some new talent into this niche area that has been too specialized for its own good. Up until now, the Yosemite update was pretty “meh,” but now I’m excited.

What do you care, Excel?

While doing some automation work, I unintentionally tried to open two files with the same name but from different directories in Excel. Then, this happened:

excel_two_files

I don’t think this is something I’ve ever done in the past, but I also don’t understand why this would be a problem. If the complete paths were the same, I would understand because Mac OS treats all network volumes as /Volumes/path/to/file.ext. Statistically, small but not to the point of being pragmatically impossible, two files on two external volumes could have the same path. But going by just the name seems…short-sighted…or something. Weird.