Sunday, September 30, 2007

You Pick the Price

Radiohead are releasing a new album, In Rainbows,  They're selling pre-orders for a Discbox to be shipped on or before December 3rd, and are also offering a digital download, supposedly to be out within ten days.

Here's the neat thing about the digital download, as discovered by Moe C.:
i added the hard copy to my basket just to see, and it was $40. i added the digital download and the price was a fill in field. there was a clickable question mark. THAT said "it's up to you", with another question mark. that one said "no really, it's up to you!"


Considering a new album from iTunes costs $9.99, And Apple and the record company would be taking their rather substantial chunk from that, which would probably not make even the $2 or so that a band typically makes off of a CD sale. So if even one Radiohead fan in five fills in the very same amount, $9.99, they'll come out ahead. Especially since this is on top of the fact that they've already sold you the boxed set.

It would be very interesting to see what the eventual average price people choose to fill in would be.

As for the album itself, I have not been paying attention to the rumour mill at all so I have not heard a thing about any hints about musical direction they might be heading in. I just hope they are heading in one, the last few albums have been good, but it feels like they haven't progressed much since the 90s. They're still good enough that I'll probably still get it sooner or later, though. They're just one of those bands that I tend to expect more from.

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By al - 8:44 PM | (2) comments | Post a Comment

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More Loonie Talk

You know, I still find it bizarre that Canada is the only country in the world where you'll find media reports filled with doom and gloom and predictions of widespread disaster because our currency is going up. I'm picturing an obsequious little nebbishy Walter Mitty telling his boss "Oh, it's OK, sir, you don't have to pay me what I'm worth, I promise I won't go work for the nice man across the street. Yes I know it's costing me more to drive to work and feed my family and heat my home, but I'm comfortable in this little rut right here. Thank you, sir."

See, the other news that happened the same day as our dollar reached parity with the U.S. dollar was that the U.S. dollar sunk to the lowest point in history against the Euro, €1.00 = $1.40 USD. (Mac OS X power tip of the day: Option+Shift-2 will make a Euro symbol. Sweet.) This means that while Americans can buy less of our oil and nickel and lumber, Europeans can buy a lot more of it, and they can also afford to bring it over there. Tying your economy so much to one neighbour because it's easier than developing a shipping industry is proving to be a little shortsighted.

And I'm glad we're not doing anything or even making noises towards artificially creating a lower dollar. If our government did that I would personally consider that they robbed me and 30 million other Canadians of the value of our own money just so some lumber company wouldn't be inconvenienced.

Speaking of the government, if Stephen Harper keeps on paying down the debt and making sensible tax cuts - the value of the interest we would have paid given back in tax cuts is so utterly sensible it makes me weep - I may not burn him in effigy if he's elected again. Still won't vote for him though, don't worry. Jack Layton did make a good point about infrastructure, though. We don't exactly need to wait for one of our own bridges to collapse before thinking it might be a good idea to do some engineering reviews of our cities a little more often.

If Ireland can silently raise itself up so that its standard of living has surpassed that of the United Kingdom without the benefit of natural resources, we shouldn't have any trouble growing either because of or in spite of the US's weakening economy.

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By al - 11:29 PM | (1) comments | Post a Comment

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My Most Unhealthy Breakfast Yet

So last week I was running late for work and was really hungry, so I went to McDonald's (Oh Stratford and your myriad dining choices. I hate you so.) I usually would get a muffin or maybe an egg mcmuffin and a coffee. But I was especially hungry that day and thought I'd finally try the McGriddle.

It took them forever to make, it seemed like it was taking one poor girl her whole attention for about 10 minutes. But what I ended up with actually looked kind of decent, even remotely resembling what the picture looked like.

And yes, it tasted very very good and went through me like a waterslide, as McDonald's food has a tendency to do.

But, this post is not about that monstrosity of sausage and egg and maple-syrup-filled wonder.

It's about what I made today.

You see, I hadn't slept much last night, and was up and about earlier than usual out of sheer boredom with listening to the crows and thinking about what a miserable day it was going to be.

And when I have extra time I like to have a breakfast involving slightly more than the long-suffering bowl of Oatmeal crisp and glass of orange juice.

Today I had some sausages in the freezer I needed to use, so I figured a traditional time to eat such things was breakfast, so I grabbed those, threw them in the frying pan and set them a-go. Sausage and eggs and toast is a perfectly heterosexual breakfast, I thought, a good way to start a terrible sleep-deprived day. Instead of toast, though, I just had bagels, which is fine, they're a little heavy but bread is basically bread, now, isn't it?

One problem, I remembered halfway through cooking everything that I don't own a toaster. And I was thinking of ways to actually toast my bagel, the clothes dryer was out right away because I needed to clean the lint traps. Al Gore would be severely displeased if I used the whole oven to toast a bagel with. So, my nexxt thought was to slosh my sausage and soon-to-be-fried eggs over to the side of the pan and throw the two bagel halves on there.

Cutting to the chase, they take a long time to actually 'toast' this way, but they do a fantastic job of soaking up the butter and grease and runny egg yolk in the pan. Let's hope for the sake of our collective public health that fried bagels don't become all the rage once someone sees this post.

And of course, the natural thing to do was to stack the eggs and sausage together on the drippingly delicious bagel and throw some cheese on there for good measure.

I still made fun of my roommate when he got a McGriddle, though. Because everyone knows McDonald's food is bad for you.

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By al - 10:57 AM | (3) comments | Post a Comment

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Facebook Job Application

I got a chuckle out of this Facebook job ad. They're following in Google's footsteps in trying to attract the best people by being humourous and clever in how they advertize for job applicants. Link.

eam of government programmers to decode copious amounts of possibly illegal wiretaps. Your congressional hearing is coming up, and you need to have these wiretaps decoded as soon as possible so you can give as informative testimony as possible (and clear your posterior of any wrong doing!). Unfortunately, government programmers are not the most well adjusted, sharpest tools in the shed, and they require decisive and firm leadership (e.g. you) to guide them. Programmers are assigned integer numbers to protect their classified identities, while wiretap victims are referred to by their first names.

Due to OSHA regulations, you will always have exactly the same number of programmers as wiretap victims, and each programmer decodes exactly one wiretap. Because this is the government, to decode a wiretap it takes at least 1 server hour per letter in the victim's name. All programmers share the same secured government terminal and they can only work one at a time. Once signed in, programmers must stay at the terminal until they are finished decoding a wiretap. To make things worse, each programmer has certain personality quirks and foibles which can alter their efficiency.
Programmers with an even number suffer from vowelitosis, they require an additional 1.5 hours of work for every vowel in the victim's name.
Programmers with an odd number suffer from consonentia, they require an additional 1 hour of work for every consonant in the victim's name.
Programmers whose numbers share prime factors with the number of letters in a victim's name are struck with a severe phobia, that requires an additional 2 hours of therapy per common factor. Due to DHS regulations, the programmer must stay at the terminal while under therapy, preventing others from using it. For example, it took programmer 12 (factors of 2 and 3) an extra 4 hours of therapy to decode NORMAN's file (factors of 2 and 3).
You are given 26 programmers, numbered from 1 through 26. The 26 wiretap victims are named as follows:


Makes me wonder if they're kidding on the square just a little. They certainly make their money data mining the hell out of their social graphs to better target ads, and you know the US government has been working with telecom companies to spy on innocent people pretty extensively. This jokey job ad is at least their attempt to keep up a good guy public image the way Google's been mostly successful at doing since they began.

Something else that was interesting was the languages they would accept solutions in:
You may use any of the following programming languages:
  • C++
  • Java
  • JavaScript
  • OCaml/SML
  • Perl
  • PHP
  • Python
For extra credit, you may submit additional solutions in the other languages as well as solutions in languages not listed here.
Interesting omissions are C# or any other Microsoft-preferred language. Also OCaml is a neat inclusion, it's a very academic-focused language, perhaps they're looking for more specialized algorithmic experts who might usually turn their noses up at regular software development jobs.

I also liked this bit at the end:
Please send your code and solutions (and a resume) to:

{ (0xFACEB00C >> 2) in decimal format } @ facebook.com

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By al - 7:03 PM | (0) comments | Post a Comment

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Atta Boy, Canadian Dollar

Well, as I wrote back in 2004 in the post My Prediction, the Canadian dollar has reached parity with the US dollar as of 2:00pm Atlantic time today.

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This makes me think I should go buy some shoes in the J C Penny in New Hampshire that is itself bigger than the Charlottetown Mall. I imagine the parking lots near the Canadian border will have more than the usual sight of discarded Canadians' shoes as people leave their old ones right in the lot and put on the new ones to get by customs and save a couple of bucks in duty.

I'm starting to think that the credit crisis, US current accounts deficits, the strong Euro are all forming a perfect storm to deflate the US dollar. Unfortunately the Canadian dollar only looks strong when you compare it to the US dollar, but the Euro and the Yen have been growing steadily against both, only slightly less dramatically against the Canadian dollar. On world markets I suspect that most currency traders still view the two currencies as good or poor buys together, buying both or selling both at once based on what's happening in the US economy. Normally this isn't a bad idea, since our trade relationship is so tight, but I really do see the credit crisis in the US not repeating here. Sure Toronto and Vancouver have ridiculous real estate prices, but I think this reflects genuine demand, rather than inflated prices based on over-eager lending to people who turn around and spend more money than they have competing for every available home up for sale in nearly every major market.

I'm not too worried about this being too harmful to Canada's economy. What will hurt our exporters more than the dollar is simply the dismal economy down South, if people aren't building new houses because they can't get loans, it won't matter how cheap our dollar is if no one wants to by any lumber at all. But at least a strong Canadian dollar will help our ability to trade with the rest of the world, increasing our economic footprint and allowing us to engage on hopefully what will become a more open basis with Europe.

I hope Stephen Harper continues to pay down our debt and doesn't bring in any drastic tax cuts. I wonder if all the staunch supporters of Bush and his tax cuts for the wealthy realize that while they just had their taxes cut by 40%, the value of the money they now have is worth half what it was before Bush came along. But at least they still get to stick it to poor people.

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By al - 2:12 PM | (0) comments | Post a Comment

Home Office


`Home Office
Originally uploaded by Alejandro the Great.

The impromptu deployment command centre

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By al - 1:14 AM | (0) comments | Post a Comment

Monday, September 17, 2007

Career Profile Test Thing - Now With Commentary

I stole this from g. who stole it from Jenna.

1. Go to Career Cruising, www.careercruising.com
2. Put in Username: nycareers and Password: landmark.
3. Take their "Career Matchmaker" questions.
4. Post the results
5. Put the careers you have seriously considered in italics, and the careers in which you have worked/do work in bold.

  1. Multimedia Developer - a couple of the software development jobs I've had would fall into this category. Not sure I'd rush into it again, but there's a lot of neat libraries to play with when you are on a good platform. (i.e., not windows.)

  2. Anthropologist - This was a total surprise, can't picture myself doing the stereotypical trudging through the jungle studying primitive tribes thing, but I do like to read and write about social structures and history which would include anthropology I guess.

  3. Professor - Ugh. No.

  4. Website Designer - Still doing a lot of this, but more on the platform integration / project management end than the pixel-pushing.

  5. Historian - I've always loved history, for sure. Not sure whom I'd work for or what I'd study but maybe historical writer of some sort would be up my alley.

  6. Foreign Language Instructor

  7. ESL Teacher - Wouldn't have the patience

  8. Lobbyist- I'd shoot myself

  9. Economist - I always end up getting caught up in the economics underlying whatever political phenomenon I'm reading about. I could see getting very passionate about this.

  10. Computer Support Person - Been there, done that, buried the bodies.

  11. Corporate Trainer - Training for what?

  12. Fashion Designer - Ugh, what?

  13. Cartoonist / Comic Illustrator - Can't draw for shit, but neither can Scott Adams, so who knows?

  14. Computer Programmer - D'uh.

  15. Jeweler - I'd be too eager to tell you how many African kids lost their arms for the engagement ring I'm making you.

  16. Craftsperson - Total lack of visual crativity would hamper me here, not to mention little to no coordination.

  17. Desktop Publisher - I actually have done a bit of this in my time, flyers, etc. Wouldn't want to have to deal with clients for a living in any kind of visual design job, as it's one of those thigns everyone thinks they have a worthwhile opinion about.

  18. Potter - Harry Potter? Bring it.

  19. Computer Trainer - I can say pretty confidently that I'm a very very good teacher after developing and delivering a couple of technical courses for work. Don't know if I'd want to do it for 8 hours a day 5 days a week but it is an interesting challenge and I enjoy the feedback and answering people's questions.

  20. Criminologist - I get too worked up about corrupt cops and institutional dysfunction in the criminal justice system to want to be a part of it.

  21. Venture Capitalist - I'm too pessimistic, I'd want to take your idea and do it myself because you'll only mess it up.

  22. Electrician - Zap! no thank you.

  23. Curator - I think my impatience for doing ESL teaching would impede me here as well.

  24. Management Consultant - c.f. lobbyist.

  25. Set Designer - No inspiration.

Not bad, nothing really surprising, though I'd have guessed computer programmer would have scored higher based on the way I answered the questions. Maybe I'll just go ask g. to let me come work with her doing anthropology type stuff. :)

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By al - 8:00 PM | (2) comments | Post a Comment

Saturday, September 15, 2007

PEI Shellfish Festival

So I never thought I would have such a good time at something like the PEI Shellfish Festival before I went this year, but the entertainment and the events really were as good as the food wsa.

We got there and had a couple of free samples of mussels and chowder from the chowder competition, and then got some more substantial food. The Culinary Institute had their truck there, the one that's a fully-equipped kitchen in the back of a truck, very impressive, and they were serving mussels cooked in various ways and oysters and other things. I got Casino Style mussels, and a bowl of chowder from one of the vendors. Sadly the girl selling the chowder didn't quite know what was in it or anything, I think I sort of embarrassed her when I asked. It was pretty good, though, your basic mix of seafood chowder.

Then they announced the winner of the chowder cooking competition, and it ended up being Duncan Smith from the Claddagh Oyster House, who's my friend Kelly's husband. He was really not expecting to win, he even said that he hoped he didn't win because if he did he'd have to make the damn stuff every day, but he ended up destroying the competition. Second and third places had something like 147 points and 145 points each, very very close to each other. And Duncan's score was so high that they didn't even say it when they announced the winner, he ended up winning by more than 20 points. For a dumpling he had to get Kelly to run to the store and grab wonton shells at the last minute because the ingredient he wanted to use wasn't working out right because of the humidity today. Kelly was happiest about the prizes, which included a full set of Paderno pots and a $500 gift certificate from A1 vacuum sales, which is not a place where I think I'd spend $500 but if I had the chance I would absolutely love one of those nice canister electrolux deals that last 20 years and are indestructible.

The funniest thing about Duncan's chowder was that he called it something like "Dad's own recipe", but in reality his parents never cooked anything more ambitious than chicken nuggets and Kraft Dinner when he was a kid.

After that was the oyster shucking competition. Not the most exciting thing when you hear about it, but trust me, it's a good time to watch them up there shucking away. You had people who were first time competitors going up against experienced old pros who are repeat national champtions, and you could really see the grace and skill that the veterans had. The had the whole thing shown up on a big screen at the front so you could see in detail all the action, and spot damaged oysters and ones that weren't fully severed from the shells and other things that would result in a penalty.

In the end the penalty time was what really mattered, too. Second and third places all had very low times, 1:02 and 1:07 each I believe, but they both had 30 seconds in penalty time added on. Amazingly, the kid who won had only 2 seconds, which means all of his oysters were perfectly shucked, not something you normally find in competition where time is the critical factor. He also then went on to help beat the American team in the Canada vs. The World shucking relay competition, another fun spectacle, and again Canada lost on flat time but ended up winning because of judging and penalties.

The other big penalty was for blood on the oysters, since cutting yourself is pretty common apparently. I made sure to check carefully before eating the oysters that they brought out to the side of the stage, where I was strategically standing, to let people have the oysters from the competition, just in case.

Everyone who thinks they don't like oysters needs to try them again, and chew them this time. If you swallow them all your tasting is salty slime, that's no good, it's the texture of them that is why they're so prized. Trust me, there's a reason people like them so much.

Update: Duncan won the international portion of the chowder competition today, with a $2000 prize and trophy.  He's the first islander ever to win it.  I'm guessing he's going to be utterly sick of making this stuff by this time next year.  I know I'm gonna have to go to the Claddagh and get a bowl soon.

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By al - 8:33 PM | (1) comments | Post a Comment

Friday, September 14, 2007

It's been too long since I've seen ASCII art

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By al - 11:38 PM | (0) comments | Post a Comment

"Oh, Neat!"

That's right, people, I'm bring back "neat!" as an exclamation. I like the innocent wonder it conveys.

When you say "that's cool" you're making a value judgment, you're saying "this deserves to be called 'cool'." If you aren't cool yourself, you don't have the authority to deem something cool in the eyes of actual cool people.

But anyone can be awed or impressed by something and say "that's neat", since one imagines it usually being said by an innocent four year old seeing a wind-up car zoom across the floor for the first time.

I think the world needs a little more neat-ness.

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By al - 9:40 AM | (3) comments | Post a Comment

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ads in CBC Podcasts

I just played the latest As It Happens podcast and was pretty jarred to hear "Delivery of this podcast is brought to you by the all new Cadillac..." Hearing a CBC radio announcer voicing an advertisement is quite off-putting. You expect these voices to be giving you real news and the reputation of CBC Radio's objectivity as a public broadcaster lends these voices an air of authority and trustworthiness. This evaporates when you hear one of them reading ad copy.

Yes I know it costs money to deliver these thigns, but CBC's been able to do live streaming for over a decasde now without resorting to inserting audio ads in the content.

The way people listen to music and audio content now is no longer confined to listening to it live on a radio. As far as any listener is concerned, this is CBC radio, it's how they listen to it now. So sticking an ad in ther eis not somehow less of a transgression against their duty as a public proadcaster than putting ads in their live broadcasts.

They put baner ads on CBC.ca last year, now this, what line will they cross next?

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By al - 3:56 PM | (0) comments | Post a Comment

Monday, September 10, 2007

Re-building the Pantry

Of course, by "pantry" I mean the one cupboard in my kitchen I'm now setting aside for spices and ingredients to things I haven't cooked in a while but used to really enjoy making. The frozen pizzas and cans of soup are getting demoted, to make way for more "real food".

I've had phases where I'd cook every night, and make pretty elaborate dishes, intersperse with phases of going out for lunch every day and just being satisfied with a sandwich or something small in the evenings.

I basically taught myself to cook ever so slowly in the first Summer I lived by myself when I was 18 and living in Saint John doing my first co-op term at the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant. It wasn't a choice then, since NB Power paid its junior student workers, even fancy-shmancy computer science co-op students, rather little. Adding to that having to pay all my bills and also save up for school in the Fall and I can count on my fingers the number of times I ate out and picked up the bill.

Back then I didn't know much more about cooking than what I gathered by osmosis from eating what my mother made for us growing up. Now, this is nothing against her, she fed us well to be sure, but I was not overly eager to just cook the same things she always made during the first 18 years of my life. So on top of having to learn to cook with no real guidance, I also had to figure out just what kind of food it was I actually wanted to make.

So that Summer I figured out what cuts of meat were good (and / or cheap but still decent), how spices worked, which ones went with which ingredients well, all that.

Then it was back to University and the worst era of Beaver Foods crimes against human nutrition I've ever lived through. I still loved having someone do the cooking and cleaning, though. Making ood food was a pleasure, to be sure, but not an addiciton, I could live without it.

Then the Winter term was my next Co-op term at Lepreau. I had a roommate this time (what ever happened to that Greg fellow, anyway?) and an unfortunate couple of Role Playing Games I was determined to finish, just to see that 2 minutes of video I can go on Youtube and watch right now with zero effort. But I still cooked most days.

Unfortunately, with having to share the kitchen, and going to Fredericton or home to see the girlfriend most weekends instead of spending them in the city by myself, I only had a window in the evenings to cook. So I'd get home at around 5:00pm, after the 45 minute trek home from the isolated wasteland where they built the plant, muck about on the Internet for a while if I could get there before Greg decided to play Need for Speed III, then cook when it was my turn in the kitchen. But by the time the cooking and eating and cleaning was all finished it would sometimes end up being 8:30 or 9:00pm. Which left me about an hour to walk through caves and fight random battles with the same silly RPG monsters over and over until I got sleepy and went to bed for the night to get up stupidly early the next day and go to work again.

So this sort of turned me off of spending much time in the kitchen, when I didn't have a lot of time to begin with. My next work term was when I was making more decent money and could afford to eat at the Regent Mall food court (when you work in the Fredericton Knowledge Park you don't have a lot of options) and I was never hungry in the evenings so I'd just have somehting small. This has mostly been my habit when employed ever since.

The exception to this was the year or so I spent in Fredericton. I was working a lot, and going through some pretty hard times emotionally that I've never quite straightened out or really talked about, and won't go into now, but I felt like the only pleasure I really allowed myself was when I'd get home in the evenings and make a meal. I was experimenting with making different kinds of curries and pasta dishes, and loved spending a lot of time in the kitchen, because I didn't have to talk to my roommates - the air of pre-occupied urgency I took on in the kitchen kept them from expecting small-talk, and I just forgot about everything that was stressing me out and making me miserable that whole time.

Now I am not feeling particularly stressed, can't say I have anything of substance to be unhappy about, but I do have more time now, at least I have the opportunity to make the time, and I'd like to start cooking and exploring doing interesting things with food again. Charlottetown has a lot of great places to eat out, and most are pretty reasonably priced, but I now have the pleasure of a kitchen with enough cupboard space that I can call my own and a good grocery store within walking distance so I can get inspired to try something right now and just go and get what I need and make it.

I'm excited.

As a side-tidbit, if you haven't tried it. Oishi sauce tastes so good you're basically cheating.

oishisaucebottle

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By al - 6:40 PM | (4) comments | Post a Comment

Friday, September 07, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle, 1918-2007

Wow, what do I even write about Madeleine L'Engle? I remember that her books were the first truly engrossing novels I ever read, at an age when teachers made reading into a chore and an obligation rather than what it really could be.

A friend of my mothers whom I'm still close to read me A Wrinkle in Time when I was ten. A chapter or two a day and we'd talk about it and really get into what she was writing about and what it might mean. My favourite experience with a book by far.

I don't even remember the overarching plots of the Murray trilogy, only a few very powerful and sometimes very freaky individual scenes, when Meg had to interrogate her school principal and his exact double to find who was the real one, getting into her head and trying to understand her reasoning. Or any description of Charles Wallace, the young boy who always seemed not of this world.

The fact that she wrote about young kids who were not sports stars or tough streetwise kids that you see in movies, but who were the socially awkward children of briliant scientist parents and unsure of themselves and mistrustful of authority but unsure of what to look to instead, was what made me start to feel like I wasn't so ill-fitting and maybe there were other people like me out there.

She spoke to the reader in exactl the way the person who read me A Wrinkle in Time speaks to kids, like they're people, fully capable of understanding the world around them, but without the baggage and prejudices that tangle up the paths of adults.

Tesser well, Ms L'Engle.

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By al - 9:04 PM | (0) comments | Post a Comment

Monday, September 03, 2007

In the Writeroom, With Black Curtains

The nice thing about working on two projects at once is that you can procrastinate and sitll be productive. Get bored working on one thing, and switch over to doing something for your other work. Eventually I should be able to finish something, I hope.

One thing I’m enjoying using right now is a little program called WriteRoom for the Mac. It gives you a completely black screen with a blinking green block cursor when you first start the program, perfect for distraction-free writing.



To make it perfect all I’d really want is to have

Doc 1 Pg 1 Ln 1 Pos 1

At the bottom-left, and all the WordPerfect 5.1 function key mappings. It has some very cool features that I hadn’t thought of but are quite useful, like the fact that your cursor is kept at the centre of the screen, instead of eventually going way down at the bottom when you start to write anything larger than one screenful of text.

It nicely hides your dock and my other programs while you work, and really helps you focus on just the text, rather than always tempting you to adjust this font or line spacing or heading style.

Back when Linux was my primary desktop OS I used to find myself switching out of X-Windows to a full-screen terminal and coding in EMacs, with no pop-up syntax completion or other features that I’m convinced have killed my brain’s ability to code without all this hand-holding.

Right now I’m messing with Facebook’s application development APIs, maybe as an experiment I’ll drop my fancy IDEs (PHP doesn’t really have much in that department anyway) and go barebones again. Taking the 10 seconds to try and remember how an API call works instead of having it pop up for me might do my memory some good.

PS there's a similar program for Windows here: Writeroom for Windows: Write Without Distraction.

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By al - 2:46 PM | (0) comments | Post a Comment

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