Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I saw this in a bank privacy statement:


We do not disclose Customer Information about our present or former customers to third parties except as permitted by law.

So all they're really saying here is that they're not breaking the law. But that's all. They're willing to give out private information as much as possible (without breaking the law). Ugh!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Here's an idea: privacy-invading laws (RFID passports, GPS tolls, speed monitoring) should apply to lawmakers for one year before they apply to the general public. I think lawmakers would have to think about the laws more carefully if they were the ones being watched. We can consider it “beta testing”.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I usually use The Gimp for image manipulation. It's like Photoshop in that it's a complex interface designed for complex tasks. Most of my needs are simple though. They're more complex than what Microsoft Paint can handle but nowhere near what Gimp can handle. I recently tried Paint.NET after reading some good reviews, and I'm really happy with it. It's very easy to use and has a nice interface. All I've done so far is cropping, working with layers, painting in various colors, and adding text. Next time I need to manipulate an image, I'll likely to use Paint.NET instead of Gimp.


Monday, August 07, 2006

Hewlett Packard is running a commercial for their color printers and scanners. In the commercial, a child is at school, giving a report about planets. His speech is of the form, “I scanned this planet in from a magazine,” … “I printed this out on an HP XXXX color printer,” etc. He never says anything about the planets. All he did is scan some pages from a magazine and print them out. Throughout his speech he gets applause.

Is this what school reports are supposed to be? There’s no content! Maybe HP is trying to appeal to people who don’t think. Argh!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

To make the use of my computer screen space, I move windows to the edge of the screen. That way there's no wasted space between the edge of the window and the edge of the screen. In Windows, I use The Wonderful Icon for this. In Linux, I used the Sawfish window manager (but I see no way to do this in Metacity, the preferred GNOME window manager). In Mac OS X, I've been manually moving windows around. Today I found Spooky, a set of scripts that let you move and resize windows to the screen edge.

Spooky isn't user friendly. It's a set of scripts that you have to modify. Here's what I did:

  • Put Spooky into a folder.
  • Turn on “access” for universal devices (see the Spooky readme).
  • Edit the Spooky starter script to fix what appears to be a script error. I changed
    do shell script
      ("defaults write net.doernte.spooky 
            \"pathToSpooky\" " & spookyFile)


    do shell script
      ("defaults write net.doernte.spooky 
            pathToSpooky \"" & spookyFile & "\"")
  • Copy the Spooky starter script to one script for each action (see the Spooky readme):
    for action in maximize centerWindow growWindow 
                  shrinkWindow maxBottomLeft
                  maxBottomRight maxBottom maxLeft maxRight 
                  maxTopLeft maxTopRight
                  maxTop moveBottomLeft moveBottomRight 
                  moveBottom moveLeft moveRight
                  moveTopLeft moveTopRight moveTop zoomWindow; do
         cp spooky\ starter.scpt spooky.$action.scpt; 
  • I then had to edit each of these scripts in Script Editor, uncommenting out the line corresponding to the action for that script. In spooky.moveTop.scpt for example I uncommented out spooky("moveTop"). I would've liked to automate this using perl, but Applescripts are stored in some binary format (why?!).
  • Finally, I assigned hotkeys to run the scripts using Quicksilver's custom triggers. This was quite a pain, as Quicksilver didn't pick up these applications, so I had to drag each action manually into a custom trigger. I gave them the keybindings suggested in the Spooky readme.

Although setting things up was more of a pain than I'm used to, now that they're set up, I'm much happier. For my browser, which I want on the right side of the screen, I use Ctrl-Right, Ctrl-Shift-Down, Ctrl-Shift-Up to position and size it. For my work window (usually Emacs), the sequence is similar except I start with Ctrl-Left. I'm much happier having windows go to the edge of the screen; now I don't have to precisely position and size them with the mouse.

Update: [2014-07-03] I haven't used Spooky for quite a while. I now use BetterTouchTool and Alfred. But if you're looking for something programmable like Spooky, look at Hydra.

Update: [2016] Also take a look at BetterSnapTool, Sticker, Slate (for power users), Divvy, Moom, Spectacle. There are many more. I use Stay and Alfred these days.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Mac seems to limit your choices when it comes to its appearance. Maybe that's what makes it “easy” to use. For example, I use a solid desktop background. What does Windows offer me? A color selection dialog that lets me choose one of 16,777,216 colors. What does Linux (GNOME) offer me? A color selection dialog that lets me choose any color, or a gradient between two colors (281,474,976,710,656 possibilities). What does Mac offer me? A choice of 10 colors. Four blues, four grays, one dark green, and one lavender. That's it. No reds. No yellows. No browns. No oranges. I guess Steve Jobs doesn't like those colors.

Update: [2006-08-07] There's a way to trick the Mac into letting you choose a color.

The color scheme is even more restricted. Classic Windows lets you separately color titlebars, controls, windows, tooltips, etc. There are 3, 121,748,550, 315,992,231, 381,597,229, 793,166,305, 748,598,142, 664,971,150, 859,156,959, 625,371,738, 819,765,620, 120,306,103, 063,491,971, 159,826,931, 121,406,622, 895,447,975, 679,288,285, 306,290,176 color combinations. On the Mac, there are two: blue and gray. On Windows though most apps don't really honor a lot of the color settings, so it's not a fair comparison.

My main complaint isn't so much the lack of choice as the usability issue. I use a custom Windows color scheme to highlight the active window. It's really important to me. (I also use a custom Firefox style to highlight the active form control.) I easily lose track of the active window. On the Mac, the active window has a gray titlebar with black text. The inactive window has a gray titlebar with gray text. The difference is subtle. It's hard for me to keep track of the window focus. It's harder to use, in order to make it pretty.

There's a great Mac app called Doodim that provides an incredibly useful feature for people like me: it darkens all but the focused window. This is better than anything I've seen on Windows or Linux. I love this app! Unfortunately it's somewhat slow on my Intel Mac because it's a PowerPC application, and it's running under emulation. I'm also using MenuShade, which darkens the menubar when you're not using it. I tried out some apps similar to Doodim (FocusLayer and Zazen) but they didn't work as well for me. I wish Doodim's functionality was built into the OS.

The Mac approach to limiting choice seems to be largely about the appearance. When it comes to functionality, it's much better. With keyboard shortcuts, the Mac gives me far more choices than Windows or Linux. I'm impressed (but I'd like a little more—there are odd restrictions on which keys I'm allowed to use). Underneath it all, the Unix (BSD) foundation is there and gives me even more power. I'm quite happy to see Python, Ruby, Apache, and so on installed (although I do wonder why they use old versions of Ruby and Apache). I'll take a while to get used to the differences.