“Intelligent life has just gotten started”

Mind, blown.

Turns out that there are real reason to cast doubt on the idea that the universe is probably teeming with intelligent life. Sure, maybe it has loads and loads of microbes, but human-like species? We may well be the first, and almost certainly the only one in our galaxy.

The argument comes from the observation that there just aren’t any self-replicating robots anywhere to be found in space.

Mind, blown.

Swift. Changes. Everything.

I signed up as an Apple Developer, because I had heard some really amazing things coming out of WWDC 2014. Apparently, and I’ll let readers find out for themselves, that conference pretty much ushered in The New Apple. The amount of stuff they unleashed to the world is just so comprehensive, and so futurist-looking, that if you’re a developer-minded person, you just have to open your mouth in awe.

Previously, I hadn’t been attracted to the Mac development stuff for one major reason: Objective-C. I just can’t stand writing C code. I know what pointers are, and I know why we’re always checking for nil, but my brain doesn’t like those sort of low-level stuff. That’s why I do everything I can in Python: It’s just the best high-level language there is. Plus, Objective-C has all those horrible names with NS prefixes all over the place, another thing that drives me mad. Reading Objective-C code just makes it so hard. I’m a teacher and anything I develop I don’t have spare hours unpacking stuff. Just let me code it up.

And now Apple has launched Swift, and like most Apple programmer geeks, I consumed the book, and, not only is it Python-like but it levels the playing field considerably. If you’re a guy that’s always wanted to enter the Mac development ecosphere (hand goes up real high) but has been traumatised at the thought of having to dive into unlearning everything you know just to start learning everything again, now is the time to do it.

It’s funny, because I got serious into Python when they launched Python 3, which was a similar situation.

I think this is my way of announcing to the world that I’m going to be making a Mac program within the year. Hmm.. I wonder what sort of project I might work on.

The internet has some ‘super pillars’

I never heard of MetaFilter, but reading about their imminent demise makes for interesting reflection. Think about it, entire ecosystems depend entirely on two Google services:

  1. Search
  2. Ads

And those services are:

  • Closed
  • Proprietary
  • Opaque

The other week a colleague was ruminating on the fact that they are starting to avoid Facebook because, well, it was getting to be just too much. Sort of like Google, entire livelihoods depend upon services that Facebook provides, but all it does is solve a fairly simple problem: Staying in touch with people. Google solved the “how do I find stuff on the internet” problem.

So, I coin here term ‘super pillar’ as an online service where millions of other services depend upon it.

The same colleague asked out loud “is there anything on the internet that is forever”… to which I replied “email”. However, despite email’s horrible reputation for millions of spam bots everywhere, it truly is one of the few things that is “forever” on the Internet. And email is:

  • Standards-based
  • Open
  • Free

Although it doesn’t quite qualify as Open Source, in a way it is the first successful “open source-ish” project that the Internet had, and it remains today as the foremost service the Internet offers. Interesting to think that both Google and Facebook have answers to the problems that email solves…

My password has finally been cracked

In college I remember going to the computer lab and firing up the message forums and email and having to log in with my username and password, which were provided to me by West Chester University. It wasn’t the beginning of my online connective-ness, but it is a fond memory because that signifies the time that I started checking the internet constantly for content.

To this day, that password, which was randomly generated, with a capital letter, a symbol character, and at least six digits, is my go-to password for low-security websites. I understand the wisdom in not using the same password everywhere, and I don’t, but for websites that I couldn’t care less about, I just use my old college one. It’s not a password based off of my last name or my birthday or any other such nonsense, and so isn’t easily cracked.

It was a solid password to use… for fifteen years.

Goes to show you, that … really now … you really, really do have to manage your passwords.

Setting the default printer with a script with Mac OS X

After looking around the internet, I couldn’t find the answer in a single place, but I figured it out and so I might as well publish it here.

If what you want is to make a script so that all the user has to do is double-click something or run a script and their computer will use “XYZ PRINTER” default printer whenever they print, this is the sequence that works:

defaults write ~/Library/Preferences/org.cups.PrintingPrefs.plist UseLastPrinter -bool FALSE
lpoptions -d XYZ_PRINTER

The way it works is that line 1 turns off the “Use last printer” system preference that is the default setting. Then the second line actually sets the default printer. You’d think that all you need is the second line, but the “Use last printer” overrides it, so if you try doing just the second line nothing happens. It’s not obvious, unless you see it right in front of you like it is now 🙂

You can make this into an AppleScript pretty easily. Note that you have to replace any spaces in the name of the printer with an underscore.

A bunch of journalists really wish…

…they could cover a mind-boggling once-in-a-lifetime story like the iPhone launch.

That’s why so many of them are crapping so often on the “lack of innovation” that’s supposedly not happening these days, despite the fact the clear evidence (as given by the many who disagree with that premise) is that in fact innovation is streaming along quite nicely.

What they really want to have happen is for a Jobs-esque figure to get up on that podium and blow everyone’s mind away. So they can cover it. Problem is, you can’t will that sort of stuff to happen.

Blogger of the Year

I often say this too, especially on short flights: “Why can’t I read my Kindle during take-off and landing?”

All hail Nick Bolton.

My Kindle 6″ Review

My parents got me a Kindle 6″. I’m a previous sometimes user of the original first-generation Kindle, and I found it to be a great purchase.

First of all, I bought the cheapest, simplest Kindle, and wasn’t at all interested in the Fire or anything fancy. I already have an iPad and use that for all of my consumer needs sans reading. I love the e-ink feature that the simple Kindle has, and is the main reason for buying it. My father has twice reported that he thought the contrast wasn’t enough, so it might be worth having a look before buying, but I for one love how it’s off-white like paper.

The best part about it is that you can hold it and turn pages with one hand. This feature is great for reading because it means you can do so many other things with it as well. Do some reading during commercials or those in-between times you have. I gave my wife a massage while reading. If you have your iPhone with you, you can read on-the-go as well, due to its automatic read-syncing feature. The buttons are particularly well placed to make for easy turning.

The worst part about it though is that it’s essentially an advertising device. The upshot is that’s why it’s so cheap, because Amazon is selling them to sell more content. Which is a fair enough tactic and completely understandable, especially since this device is essentially an extension of your Amazon account. (To think otherwise is folly.) However, I still have to take it down a few points of my imaginary scale (out of 50 for no reason) for the advertisements on the home screen. I mean, I get the commercials on the screen saver bit, but on the home screen. Even, the same advertisement that I get on the home screen? C’mon?

So, it get my “highly recommended” (45 out of 50!) assuming that you already have an Amazon account, and are prepared to spend a bit more money on content.

The single most interesting thing about Microsoft…

… is that right now it’s really interesting to watch. It’s becoming clear that big companies don’t fail, they melt, and the suggestion that they are probably going to have to divide itself into two or three companies is probably the right one.

I think the main problem facing Microsoft right now is that they are trying to get the same codebase to run everything from phones to tablets to desktops. With the introduction of touch screens, the industry divided itself into two, and that division will continue to increase as time goes on. That fingers alone are used to manipulate everything on a device is such a game-changer it necessarily means having to split off from whatever happened previously.


I swear I haven’t changed a thing

So I maintain an internal site used by teachers and students all the time. So I also hear a lot of complaints. I can’t blame them, I certainly have my own complaints as well.

One of the fascinating things about the development process is that under-the-hood you do need to constantly iterate; you know, tweak the font size a bit, adjust the buttons, make the code run faster. That’s how the developers cut their teeth on stuff, that’s just what you have to do.

The downside to doing that in an educational context though is that the teachers are just too damned busy. There are a lot of things to blame for that, but let’s just accept that they are Just. Too. Damned. Busy. So if they use your site and something changed a bit, even if they are still successful, whenever they have difficulty with something they will surmise that it’s because a change happened.

Many educators who are marking work all the time don’t have the perspective to realize that cosmetic changes aren’t the same as functional changes. They just see change. I helped several colleagues who were trying to get some information out of the website but were stumped and swore up-and-down that I had changed things.

The reality was that they were confused about things from the beginning, and saw something they didn’t understand. All of this makes me think that I shouldn’t be changing things at all, or maybe wait until holidays or breaks, but if I did that I wouldn’t be able to build out the website to meet the community’s needs.