Friday, December 15, 2017

Massive Mac Info Dump

Feel free to share with Mac enthusiasts (or add your own tips in the comments). I won't polish this at all (hopefully it's coherent); I just want to toss the know-how out there. See also My Favorite iPhone Apps


Open Apps, Folders, Files With Crazy Speed and Ease
There are a zillion ways to launch apps, docs, and folders. I don't like to take my hands off the keyboard, and I don't like going through third-party control center thingees. I want to be able to type, for example, command/option X and instantly launch (or return to) Safari. I've been doing it this way since System 7, and it's still the fastest and most efficient approach. However, the apps I've used to get this behavior keep disappearing. Currently, I use Alfred.

It's actually crazily ironic, given that Alfred is the ultimate "third-party control center thingee". You trigger an Alfred box, then type commands. But if you pay Alfred a few bucks for their powerpack, it unlocks un-Alfred-like behavior, allowing you to create "launch app/file hotkeys", totally independently from Alfred's interface. I have it set up, with custom keystrokes, to launch all my most frequently used apps (including Finder), all my most frequently accessed folders (downloads, documents, applications, current project), and documents (food list, tip of tongue list, etc). Properly set up (and Alfred is, alas, an infuriating ballbuster to configure), I become a wizard, wielding my Mac at lightning speed. I don't need "Spaces" to distinguish work spaces. I just type a keystroke to launch or return to whatever I need. I also set a shortcut to launch Isolator, which allows me to see ONLY windows of a given app against a black background.


The Hit List
I raved in "My Favorite iPhone Apps" about "The Hit List", which has a Mac desktop app as well as the mobile.
I live in this app, both for Mac and for iOs. Nominally it's a to-do app, but it's so freeform that you can use it for nearly anything - notes, text, etc (no graphics, though). And the custom paid synch is a dream - the best synching experience I've had on any platform ever. This is my preferred way of transferring info between phone and Mac. Rock-solid app, always updated for latest OS.

File Renaming
I've tried literally every file renaming app. This freebie is by far the best.


Two Cool Little Reference Apps
KeyCue gathers all your keyboard shortcuts in an app-sensitive window you can always bring up by holding the command key. Expensive for what it is, and I don't really grok some of the deeper power stuff, but I find it super handy.

Dashkards takes another approach.


Beloved Software Companies
I'm loyal to quality. The following are all ingenious and beloved software publishers. Not all produce perfectly polished wares, but they're all lovingly developed and clever/useful in some respect. Each one of them makes me say "Show me how to send you more money," because I don't want to live in a world where they no longer do business, and I want to be surrounded by quality and cleverness.

Pangea Software produces game apps that look sort of juvenile at first glance. But give them some time. Gameplay is so, so, smart and thouthfully produced. Even the music. Try Bugdom 2 on your Mac or iPad. And give it some time - like at least a half hour - to really discover the subtle goodness. Not enough people do these days (the company was more popular years ago), so this wondrous company appears to be fading.

Bruji, mentioned below for their "Pedias" series (though if they produce anything else, I will buy).

Sanford Selznick of "Selznick Scientific Software" has been around as long as the Mac. His interfaces are homely and inefficient, and it takes him at least to an x.4 release to get bugs out. But his apps are deeply loveable. Like many people, I use 1Password in-browser to unlock sites. But I use Passwordwallet to store all confidential stuff, including that same website data. And nobody out there is developing great stuff like his SmartWrap anymore.

Everyone uses - and complains about - TextExpander, which has somehow become the default app on Mac for auto-expanding short bits of text into canned outcomes like email sigs, mailing addresses, salutations, etc. It's expensive and greedy about constantly knocking users for upgrades, including bug fixes, and I don't love the app to begin with. But Typeit4Me from Ettore Software has been around or decades, fairly priced, and still works great. I registered this back in 1995, and Riccardo Ettore is still going strong. I'll buy anything he produces.

Irradiated makes RecUp, which I raved about in my iPhone round-up. I haven't had time to dive deeply, but I trust anything they make.

I don't understand why Napkin isn't super famous. It's so honed and perfect that they've never needed to release a followup to their initial v1.0. It's basically an environment for marking up images in useful ways. Awesome for brainstorming. I don't save or export the final napkin....I just screenshot it and distribute a web link to the uploaded PNG (I auto-upload to Imgur via an app that unfortunately is no longer available...you're on your own!).


Tofu
Odd little app that does one thing beautifully. Hate to read on your Mac? Don't just reflexively send everything to Instapaper or Pocket. Consider letting Tofu make it more elegantly readable on-screen.


Pedias
Also in that "My Favorite iPhone Apps" thingee, mentioned that
I catalog all my books, CDs, and DVDs in Bookpedia, CDpedia, and DVDpedia, respectively. These are Mac programs from a great company called Bruji.
Get all these apps. This is a scrappy little company, totally sincere about building great stuff and helping out. Great support. Their stuff is fun to use (the inevitable outcome of really thoughtful app design), and you can even use bar codes (scanned via your phone) to enter currently owned items into the database, which is totally fun.


Screencasts Online
For years I've enjoyed the Mac and iPhone/iPad tutorials at Screencasts Online, hosted by the affable and comforting voice-of-sanity, Don McAllister (who I can't help thinking of as Wallace, from the "Wallace and Gromit" films). A few of Don's associates host screencasts, as well, but they're good-not-great. Eventually I couldn't come up with an excuse to not join and pay and support the effort. I'm glad I did. Not just for the big epic explainers, but for some great little tips. Like the one about PicoText (here's an App Store link). I won't describe it to you. Instead, check out the screencast, fall in love with the site, go absolutely cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs nuts about PicoText (which is something you've always wanted), and send Don your money.


Stop Using Word Processors
Word processors are archaic for nearly everyone. You don't need WYSIWYG treatment in this century; html and markup tags rule the roost, and the best way to work with them is via a text editor, not a word processor.

Best of the lot is BBEdit, perhaps the most loved Mac app there is, and it's free unless you want to upgrade for higher functionality (mostly programmer stuff). BBEdit offers insane power re: text (best of all: life-changing GREP, which allows you to search for patterns of text, rather than just exact text strings)

But it's built for coders, which makes it very intimidating for writers. However, here are steps you can take to make BBEdit windows look and behave like more familiar text composition windows. I use BBEdit for all my writing, and below I describe how I've set up the app.

To proof the output of your html or markup tags in real time, use BBEdit alongside the essential "Marked 2"

TWEAKING BBEDIT TO BE LESS DAUNTING TO WRITERS:
Prefs: Appearance
Deselect line numbers and gutter

Prefs: Application
Deselect “Always Show Full Paths in Open Recent Menu
Select “When Bbedit Becomes Active, New Text Document”

Prefs: Editing
"Show Text Completions Only Manually"
Deselect “Display Instances of Selected Text

Prefs: Editor Defaults
Select “Softwrap Text to: Character Width: 80
Default Font: I like Optima Regular 14

Prefs: Printing
Deselect “Print Page Headers”
Deselect “Print Full Pathname”
Deselect “Print Line Numbers”
Deselect “Print Color Syntax”
Unfortunately, we’re stuck with either time stamp or "date saved" stamp

Prefs: Text Files
Select "Make Backup Before Saving"
Select "Keep Historical Backgrounds"

Prefs: menus and shortcuts
Choose "Simple Menus" (button at lower left)
Deselect #!,

View Menu Hide Navigation Bar
Text Display: Hide Page Guide
Text Display: Hide Gutter

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Jim At Long Last Goes Home

"So what's your home cuisine, Jim?" no one's ever asked me.

Good question! I suppose Cantonese. I spent my formative years in a restaurant called Shing Kee in Manhattan Chinatown, where I memorized the menu, and where the waiters came to treat me like a complete paisano. To this day, Cantonese feels like my culinary ground zero.

"No," insists nonexistent person, "I mean your family's food!"

That'd be burnt brisket and Green Giant canned French-cut string beans - over-boiled and cooled to room temperature before serving. And, on (very) good days, slice pizza, normally consumed while driving.

"But what are you, exactly? Your people must come from somewhere!"

Well, my grandparents had accents, so I figured they were immigrants. But they didn't like to talk about the old country. My paternal grandparents were from "Russia", but that seemed like an amorphous blob. I knew my grandmother was from Minsk, and my grandfather was from Pinsk, though I had no concept of these places, and it freaked the bejesus out of me when Corporal Agarn on F-Troop recounted the exact same origin story. Anyway, you are now thoroughly up to speed with every data point I have concerning my heritage.



Ace chowhound Barry Strugatz (new movie out next spring; read his lightly anonymized story here) recently told me about a brand new Belarusian restaurant in Sheepshead Bay that's crazy-popular. I perused the food shots on Yelp, and felt a strange stirring in my chest.

A few days later, having made the trek to Sheepshead Bay, I awaited the waiter at Belarussian Xata. Playing out a hunch, I checked the Wikipedia entry for Minsk, discovering that, geez, yeah, I'm actually Belarusian. Honey, I'm home!

Felt like it, too. The place is outfitted like a Russian village. See plenty of interior photos on the Yelp page, but I shot a couple minor touches:





I've never eaten Belarusian before. I had my grandmother's cooking a few times, but, being a "picky eater" as a kid, I pretty much confined myself to her fried potato pancakes. Nobody has ever made them the way she taught me, by the way. I figured it was a family thing.

Starting off in food critic mode, I ordered a couple of high-difficulty items, to troll my tablemate and prove myself worthy to the establishment: garlic toast with salo (unrendered pork fat), and hog's ears.

The "garlic toast" consists of fingers of pumpernickel that are fried crunchy. They're super garlicky, and, combined with the lard, offered a glimpse of a magic land I'll never fully enter without a couple new stents in my chest. I contented myself with a few small dips, but they were life-changing.



Them hog's ears was about three times normal size (see dollar bill for scale). Do they sew them together, ala Silence of the Lambs? Or crush them in some fearsome lobe press? They were chewy, of course, but a bit dull. I like how the Portuguese prepare them way better. But the visual was astonishing. I was thinking more "Dumbo" than "Babe":



The Belarussian borscht tasted like somebody at long last got borscht exactly right. It was neither a clobber of beety sweetness, nor watery/dull. So soulful, with a few chunks of floating over-cooked meat - the ingestion of which stirred some muttering deep in my deep brain that could only represent innumerable generations of ancestors approving, finally, of an action of mine (or maybe they were just screaming bloody murder re: the hog and the pig fat). My tablemate and I were so mesmerized by this soup that we forgot to add sour cream - I felt so utterly embarrassed that I seriously considered hiding the untouched cream in a nearby potted plant. Amateur error (tsk, don't buy my app after all).



Then things got all primordial as the potatoes began arriving.

First up: Potato koduni with meat. These are the gordita form of potato pancakes - a couple inches high, glistening with grease, and full of very black-peppery ground mystery meat. I've never had anything like this, yet it was like giving an elephant its first peanuts. I didn't so much enjoy it - it didn't have much flavor to speak of, aside from groaning tonnages of spuddy starch and fat - as meld with it. I suspect this may be what I'm meant to have been eating all along. It was so heavy and greasy and unlively and burdensome...and something in me liked that.





Then came the potato pancakes "with meat", which consisted of bovine chunks and sausage in a creamy, black peppery sauce (the "old country" always tastes like black pepper), all served atop a murderer's row of oversized potato pancakes that are my grandma's latkes...for the first time ever (including Hanukah latke parties at the Jewy functions my parents would occasionally drag me to, where like 40 families all brought their versions, none resembling ours in the least).





These are not "fun" potato pancakes. They are not a special "treat". Non-delightful. These are staple, akin to rice...or, more precisely, Ethiopian injera, given that they serve primarily as a spongey mop for the creamy sauce and residual grease. I've been potato obsessed my whole life - apparently, it's in my blood - but now I've finally spotted them in their natural habitat.

What's more, neither the latkes nor the koduni are crispy, but my grandma's weren't, either, and neither are mine. I can achieve crispy edges, but the middles are always soggy. I've seen latkes fried as crispy as Mississippi fried chicken, but I've never managed it, myself. I figured it was a character flaw. Little did I realize, this is The Way of My People.

These limp, homely, very familiar potato pancakes also contained no onion (rendering them even more staple-ish and non-delightful, yet still highly satisfying). I happen to use onion, but I suddenly recall, out of my distant memory, a note of controversy on the matter. I believe we didn't normally use onion, either. I am Remembering.

At this point, I'm in pain. Not badly over-full, just over-full of the sort of thing I never ever eat. But I craved a bite of vareniki (dumplings) stuffed with sour cherries, another ancient youthful memory, and the waiter talked us into also getting "cottage cheese cakes 'orshanskie'" - cheesey dough balls in pot cheese and cream with loads of vanilla.





The vareniki are not exactly light in the dough. In fact, I nearly requested a steak knife. And this, too, seems deeply right to me. The cherry filling is resolutely tart (very little sugar), and, oddly, you can taste grease, which seems to come from out of nowhere. You know how Game of Thrones has gratuitous nudity? This place is like that with grease.

The cheesey thing was devastating - figuratively and (in my condition) literally.

As I rued the wrecked state of my digestive system, I found myself plotting ways to raise funds for passage to a new land, a modern place where people eat green foods and everything isn't so goddamned heavy and burdensome. America! I must make my way to America!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Check Out the "Eat Everywhere" App for Free!


The Hitchhiker's Guide to All Cuisines!

Your Personal Eating Assistant!


The "Eat Everywhere" app previously cost $5. Problem: being utterly unlike anything out there, it's tough to explain exactly what customers are buying! So we've made it "Freemium". Anyone can install the app for free (it comes with several cuisines), then make an in-app payment of $4.99 to unlock all 75 cuisines.

We'd appreciate if you'd inform friends and networks that "Eat Everywhere" is now free to check out. Links to both iPhone and Android versions can be found on our home page, EatEverywhere.cc.

Previous customers need to know that we took different approaches with the iPhone and Android apps:

Previous iPhone customers:
You'll see an update in "App Store" on your phone. Once you update, you should automatically be upgraded to premium mode, with access to all cuisines (also new: iOs 11 and iPhone X compatibility). If not, please let us know (via email to the address in the app).

Previous Android customers:
Do nothing! The freemium version is a separate app, but you can stay with your current one. However, please do refer friends to this new, freemium one (at this Google Play page, or linked in EatEverywhere.cc">the app's home page).


Thanks very much to those who already purchased. The app has received exclusively five star reviews. We built it with great love and dedication, the goal being to absolutely delight you.

Bitcoins and Bubbles

If you're even considering getting involved with Bitcoin (and, for that matter, even if you're not), read the classic "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay (read for free here, listen to a free audiobook here, or read free on Kindle here), chronicling centuries of irrational investment crazes. It's an amazing, entertaining read, and will inoculate you against this perennial viral foolishness.

These bubbles appear periodically, usually right around the point where memory's dimmed about the previous one. I hear people are now re-mortgaging their houses to buy Bitcoins. Also that the Russians are exploiting and manipulating the market as a way to evade sanctions - and perhaps in order to cause further chaos in the West. What could go wrong?


Please don't comment or email me about how this bubble is different and you're going to make a jillion dollars. It's not, and you won't.

Killer Breakfast Scramble

I managed a full-out "9" (using my surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating foods from one to ten), and it's a kooky enough recipe that I want to share.

This is a skillet of veggies and egg where the egg is essentially steamed. Topologically, it's an upside-down skillet scramble, sans scrambling, and with no saturated fat...that actually tastes good. Feel free to tart it up all you'd like, but this really works as-is.

You can use any leftover veggies, but I used a combo of shisitos from Trader Joe's (remove stems, slice into thirds, marinate in olive oil, salt, and pepper, then blister in a wok with Chinese cooking wine and scallions), stir-fried chopped kale, and baked sweet potato.

Preheat nonstick skillet on medium. Light coat of olive oil (spread via paper towel).

Remove skin and flatten leftover sweet potato between your hands, place in skillet, allow to partially caramelize.

Flip sweet potato, add shisitos and kale (also some quartered cherry tomatoes).

Add three egg whites, seasoned with salt/pepper, roughly atop the sweet potato. Don't stir. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Aleppo pepper flakes. Immediately add 3 TBS water and cover tightly (I'm still riffing on this move). Once sizzling dies down, reduce heat a little and agitate pan (to spread the oil).

Serve when egg whites are quite firm, with some hummus for dipping (recent discovery: blistered shisito peppers and hummus are a fantastic combination, but it also works superbly with this whole dish).

It's killer. Obviously, less healthy versions can be made with cheese, bacon, etc., but it's killer as-is. The egg works its way in everywhere, really tying the dish together, but without the usual blubbery insipid egg whitey vibe. And there's no scorching since egg doesn't touch the pan much and is super-humidified.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Alternative Universe Doug Jones Victory Speech

Why are politicians so godawful at politics? Here's an alternative universe Doug Jones victory speech:
Thank you! Thank you everybody!

A lot of people across the country are watching right now, and I hope they'll excuse me, because I just want to speak directly to my fellow Alabamians.

I understand that very close to half of you did not offer me the honor of your support. But I want to assure you that I intend to work tirelessly for everyone in this state, and to listen carefully to everyone in this state, and to represent everyone in this state. Alabama goes first in all my considerations. You may not have chosen to hire me, but I'll be working ferociously on your behalf!

I'm also aware that I owe this victory to Republicans who voted as an expression of conscience and morality. I want those voters to know that I feel a grave responsibility to govern with that same commitment to conscience and morality. I am determined to honor your moral commitment with every action I take, large and small. I like to think I've led my life until now in a way I can be proud of. But I'm going to step up my game. I will stop at nothing to make myself worthy of the principle shown today by those who took the brave step of voting across party lines.

It was said during the campaign that I'd be a puppet to my party leadership. That's just not correct. I don't work for anyone but the citizens of this wonderful state. And while you may not agree with me 100%, by the time my term ends, you just watch and see if I don't leave you surprised by how hard I listened to you, and how much I cared about doing right by you, and how hard I worked to represent you.

Grief Survival Kit

This works for all forms of grieving - not just for departed loved ones. Feel free to pass it on to someone in need, or bookmark for a future moment. See also the Depression Resuscitation Kit.


To be clear, it's ok to feel sad. Grieving is natural. I'm not suggesting that we should be cold, emotionless robots. But I write this with one important assumption: that you aren't trying to fall in love with your pain. You're not using this sad moment to milk drama and stoke self-pity. You feel bad...and you'd honestly like to feel better. If so, this will help. If not, the following will upset you by minimizing exactly what you're trying to maximize! So consider carefully before proceeding.

Here's the question which you must ask yourself - relentlessly, again and again: What is real, and what isn't? Keep shaving off all the layers of untruth and drama. Slice away until you get to the real part, and then let that hurt (open yourself all the way to this pain; don't deflect it). You do not need to find fake reasons for heightening your pain. Deal with what's real.

Below are a few typical falsehoods (there are many more). They're things we've seen people saying in movies, so we have an unconscious urge to say them, ourselves. But they're just empty memes:

"Poor him/her!"
Whatever you believe regarding afterlife, your dearly departed is certainly not discontent. You can repeat "Poor him/her" ad infinitum, making yourself more and more miserable, but it's not a real thing. You're just hypnotizing yourself, and that's self-indulgence, not grief. "Poor him/her" is not true. Slice it off.

"She/he will never get to see/do X"
We, the living, miss out on things all the time. I'll never play quarterback for the Jets, and most likely none of us will celebrate our grandchildren's 75th birthdays. So what? This isn't the sort of thing we particularly sweat, so why would it be any more so for the dead? And if someone checks out at a low point, missing the happy turnaround, well, that's just normal odds! How many ecstatic peaks have you experienced? And would you have been particularly happy to have died during one them?

So young!
We all die young (at heart, we're the same person we were since we first opened our eyes; we only pretend to be grown-up). This meme, too, has to do with a person's "story", not the actual person. It's not real. Beneath the story-telling, we are ageless presences who watch stuff unfold. This, from their point of view, was just another thing that unfolded - and unfolds for each of us. It's not dramatic in any way. Don't try to make it so.

What a lousy way to go!
Accounts of gristly deaths used to really upset me. But I'm old enough now to have actually lived through some gristly stuff, and you know what? It was all just stuff. Broken bones and root canals seriously hurt! But such things don't ruin our lives. We get through them, and relief follows. Rest assured all suffering's over. It's natural to sympathize with pain, but, question: Did you sob for days when your cousin broke her ankle skiing?

I'll miss him/her.
Ok, now that's real. And that's all that's real. Everything else is just stuff you're telling yourself to heighten the drama and pain. Stay with what's real, open up to it, and let it subside, gradually, to a more manageable level. That's actual grieving, not cinema. Stay with the true!


The impulse to torture ourselves with dramatized falsehoods has nothing to do with the departed. It's entirely about our own internal issues. Consider this: if death's so unthinkable (because living's so wonderful), then why would you pollute your precious alive time with unnecessary drama? If the departed saw you doing this, they'd slap their foreheads and holler "Stop! That's just crazy! Don't do that!! Especially not in my name!" They'd want you to mourn for a while, and then go out there and kick ass, relishing every moment.


Resilience is related.

Monday, December 11, 2017

"Cornered Rat" Report #1

December 11, 2017. The phrase "cornered rat" finds 74,300 google search results.




Good and Evil

"Cold" isn't a thing. It's just a subjective impression of the absence of heat.

Similarly, "Goodness" is just a subjective impression of the absence of malevolence. There's no being a "good person"; even saints are merely opting out of malevolence.


Why do people act malevolently? Simple. It's resistance, born of fear, insecurity, or other internal turmoil. Think of it as aggrieved friction between one's internal and external world; between how one needs it to be and the way it really is; between the burden of the myriad stories one carries around and the utter simplicity and lightness of the actual flow of it all. People are frustrated by the ineffectual toy steering wheel they've spent their lives grasping, and feel compelled to force a result of some sort.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Celebration

I've never had a taste for celebration. I've beaten myself up about this over the years, figuring I was a mope, or a cynic, or that this was just another component of depression. After years of working as a musician while strangers celebrated, maybe I'd gotten detached from human high-spiritedness.

Even worse, my inner terrain was full of discontent and aggravation. I could have used some celebration! For years, I felt like I was a guy with a steep emotional downside and no upside.

In recent years I've re-landscaped my inner terrain via some adjustments of perspective. Tl;dr: I no longer perpetually probe around for what's missing or imperfect in a given moment, nor do I pull back the camera to view and judge how I come off from a third party view. I've let go of my hopes and dreams in the good way. And, finally, I've thinned out my agenda to focus on the things that give me real satisfaction. As a result of these small adjustments, the present moment always feels pretty good. Celebratory, even! But I still don't celebrate "occasions." I just don't get it.

I think, for most people, celebration represents a brief respite from their everyday sense of punishment. I find that appalling. I don't view life as punishment...even when it's punishing. It's all just a ride for our bemused entertainment. And if I needed relief from my normal state of mind, I can't imagine I'd find it in birthday cake and sparklers!

And most people see their lives as hanging upon a series of dramatic plot points. Graduation, new job, favorite-team-wins-Superbowl, That Bad Thing That Happened, etc. But I don't fall for that cinematic view. That Story isn't me; I'm just this guy right here living straight through it all, as always. Nothing happens to me; it all happens around me.

So what's to celebrate?

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