nerd technology

In .tex we trust

I haven’t published anything in a while and after working in .tex files all day yesterday (for fun!), I want to remember this comic from xkcd.

design nerd technology

Maximize UI for Rdio & Simplify

When I’m in my Fortress of Solitude working on my Mac, it’s a safe bet Rdio (I’m ELBeavers in Rdioland) is feeding my brain a steady stream of rhythms and beats. Brett Terpstra made Sidecar13, a skin for a third-party Rdio controller called Simplify.
Sidecar13 provides a nice visual interface, but I can’t stand to have anything floating above all windows so I can’t see it in the background.
Then I thought about my shortcut to maximize windows, Keyboard Maestro macro that’s always a quick keystroke away.
First I considered created a Macro Group, but as far as I can tell that only makes actions available based on a selected apps availability. Knowing there had to be a way, I looked at the Maximize Window script again and added an if then else statement.
If Rdio is running, the Maximize… script zooms the front window to 1,116 × 786 (on my MacBook Air) ((This macro’s utility is limited to my screen’s dimensions, but with a little more work someone could tweak the macro to see what size screen it’s dealing with and act accordingly.)) and scoots the window 250 pixels from the left edge of the screen. This fills the space to the right while Brett’s beautiful Sidecar13 languishes gorgeous on the left.
Maximize window macro
Another couple of macros watch Rdio’s status. If it’s active, then Simplify is launched (if it wasn’t already). When Rdio quits, Simplify quits too. When those apps aren’t running, the Maximize Windows macro zooms to fill the entire screen.
2013 10 20 simplify
Check out the macros on Github or just go ahead and download them to use with Keyboard Maestro. Let me know if they’re as helpful for you as they are to me.

general nerd technology writing

Labor Day

Labor Day for us meant our daughter came home for her first break from Valdosta State University, which was great. We miss her when she’s gone, which already kicked in after she left earlier today to return to campus.
We watched The Shining together; her first time. During the first half she was rolling her eyes. Second half? Scared out of her wits. She’ll carry that one around for a while. Hey, they don’t call it a psychological thriller for nothing.
On nerdier notes, I sorted out my text files and narrowed my iOS app use to Notesy for quick reference (though I’m still digging into Editorial). I also began migrating to the new Apple Affiliate program. When you click links to apps and make a purchase, you’re supporting this site.
You can learn more about me, this site, and click updated affiliate links on the About page.


Making Adjustments

Both visitors to Carrying Stones will notice some changes.
Gone is the overgrown path to my writing, which is now featured front and center where it should be. My trials on the web during the past year focused on polishing HTML skills, learning CSS, picking up a little JavaScript and jQuery (with a side of perl), then figuring out where those tools intersect. The result was a mediocre site that only a determined sadist could bring themselves to visit every day. OK, once a week. What? Less than once a month?! Come on!

The journey is more important than the ship.

The astute reader will notice a redesigned keel guiding this ship, so allow me to clear the deck before moving on to reflect on and redefine the purpose of this site. After tinkering with Movable Type for about year, I am giving WordPress a whirl and may switch to yet another platform soon. You may see some schizophrenic changes happening as I settle into my new home. I may talk more about this later for the nerds in the audience, but that’s all for now. The journey is more important than the ship.

Missing the Boat

Jimmy Buffett recorded his story A Pirate Looks at Forty in 1975.

The song contains the bittersweet confession of a modern-day, washed-up drug smuggler as he looks back on the first 40 years of his life, expresses lament that his preferred vocation of piracy was long gone by the time he was born, and ponders his future.
Wikipedia, A Pirate Looks at Forty

As long as we agree to disregard my early days on Usenet, we can agree I have no claim on the pirate’s life. ((I have vague memories of going to bed with a 33.6k Global Village Teleport Modem struggling to download hundreds of segmented files to reassemble in the morning, or maybe that was someone else. Yesterday’s BitTorrent.)) It’s the longing in Buffett’s song that pulls me in with a wish to go back in time to my first contact with computers was the Tandy TRS–80s in junior high school. My first personal computer was a TI–99/4a (should have gone with the Commodore 64) and time was screaming past when I bought my first Mac in 1994, a clumsily-named Performa 6116CD. I was a 22-year-old college English student working full time to support to support my wife and 4-year-old son. My course seemed clearly charted, except it wasn’t. Anything can change if you let it, and all of the signs were there if only I had read them. Here are a few of the beautiful shiny buttons, the jolly candy-like buttons, I strolled past as if they weren’t even there.

  1. Growing bored with Mac OS 8 and itching for a challenge, installed LinuxPPC (still active as PenguinPPC) on the aforementioned Performa and later migrated to Yellow Dog Linux.
  2. A preview release of BeOS PR2 was among the software CDs bundled with the Power Computing PowerCenter Pro 210, a Mac clone I bought in 1997. Of course I ran it! Jean Louis Gassée’s folly screamed on Motorola’s PowerPC processors (@gassee still shares his strong opinions on Twitter) and may have overtaken Apple’s OS if not for Steve Jobs’ decision to stop licensing the Mac operating system. Nonetheless, I dreamed of buying a BeBox.
  3. In 2000, I attended the final Atlanta Linux Showcase toting a new Blueberry iBook (triple booting OS 9, OS X beta, and LinuxPPC no less) before the event moved to Oakland, Cali. I chatted with Eric S. Raymond, saw Larry Wall from afar, and watched what happens when you mix free alcohol and nerds at the after-party hosted by A manic performance of a punk-Devo karoake version of Madonna’s “Vogue,” en vogue at the time, is forever burned in my brain. I corresponded with lead developers at LinuxPPC prior to the event and met that inner circle of nerds devoted to running Linux on PowerPC processors, even working with them to write early drafts of documentation. ((The Internet does not forget. I found evidence of early correspondence with fellow PPC pioneers on comp.os.linux.powerpc from 1999!))

These memories begin to illustrate my lifelong interest in computer technology starting as early as computer classes in 1984, ballooning with with my first Mac in 1994, and exploding with my introduction to *nix around 1999. Now, at 41 years of age, I remain what people used to call a computer hobbyist and look back with bittersweet lament that I never pursued those passions as a career. All of my websites since the first hand-coded vanity blog christened in the late 1990s have been experiments; portals for me to learn new things about computers, technology, and the Internet.
The ocean is full of tech bloggers who began building their audience (which included yours truly) while I turned a blind eye to what I wanted to do, instead doing what I thought I had to do. Hindsight reveals I neglected the opportunities of being in the right place at the right time. Maybe sharing my errant past will clear the path for others who feel stuck to know they can change course at any time, a valuable insight I still struggle to accept at 41. As a nerd with a college education steeped in English literature and writing, my secret goal was to build an audience of readers who return because they enjoy what I write. As I breathe, it is not too late for me to refocus on that goal.

Defining a Purpose

It is now clear to me why, with the exception of a very close circle of friends, each iteration has been a failure. Reflecting on my shenanigans on the World Wide Web is akin to looking at photos of myself as a pudgy pale kid bedecked in striped athletic socks up to my knees, or wearing a Jacque Costeau-style diving mask and flippers at the beach, or wearing a sleeveless black muscle shirt in the driveway of my future wife (that part worked out OK bless her heart). My focus has always been more on the nerdery than the writing, though I cannot ignore both passions and promise to stride forward with less navel gazing.
How do I define Carrying Stones? CaSt is the nexus of my love for writing and technology. My influences include a cast of characters ranging from David Foster Wallace to Hunter S. Thompson with special thanks to Patrick Rhone, John Gruber, Merlin Mann, and Dan Benjamin. I am thankful to these mentors whether they know it or not.
This readers’ guide will help you get your sea legs as I continue my journey:

  • Carrying Stones—This site, which will focus on the posts I write for readers.
  • TerrazzoMy Tumblr blog will host the digital detritus that washes up on my shore (e.g. links, interesting stuff by others, pointers to items of interest).
  • Twitter—For personal (usually silly) conversation as @ELBeavers.
  •—Staying in touch with my nerd self as @ELBeavers.

I hope you stay with me. Let’s go.
N.B. Looking Back While Moving Forward: I considered wiping the slate clean and moving forward with a fresh start without the broken links and mishmash of prior posts. For good or ill I decided to leave it with this post standing as a totem marking a turning point. Kindly take all past work with a grain of salt.


Ulysses III brings something old, something new

Buy Ulysses III – The Soulmen GBR and support this site.
The Soul Men launched plain text editor Ulysses 10 years ago and introduced Mac users to the glory of a full-screen writing environment. I don't claim to know Merlin Mann's opinion about the latest release, but this is what he had to say on his site in 2004:

Ulysses is a text editor for writers. That’s it. It doesn’t make code, draw pictures of your kitty, or pop kettle corn. It just helps you plan, organize, track, and write your stuff in a way that I find entirely intuitive. Other document editors have a full-screen option–Scrivener1 springs to mind, I'm a fan–and the concept has infected Macs and iOS devices as full-screen design was embedded in the operating system. The developers of Ulysses have had ample time to reflect, refine, and redesign the writing environment.

New design for a new era

One of the concepts that made Ulysses unique from the beginning was the idea of semantic writing. Using a predefined set of textual cues, a simplified set similar to the HTML and CSS use to manage textual style on websites, allowed the writing to embolden, italicize, and otherwise enhance the style of their text completely within a plain-text environment.
Since the application's genesis, semantic writing has become relatively commonplace as more writers adopt John Gruber's Markdown, which is baked right into the app.2 The Soul Men also include “Markdown XL,” which augments Markdown with text-based editing marks to mark up a document with inline comments, annotations, or suggested deletions for yourself and collaborators.
By default, the blinking blue cursor is reminiscent of iA Writer for Mac OS X and iOS. The rigid standards required by Writer pushed me away, though I appreciate that app's resistance to my fiddly nature.3

iOS influence, iCloud done right

Well-placed popover windows peppered throughout Ulysses III attractively spice up the app with a flavor of iOS.4
Apple Pages and its ilk still freak me out a little when it offers an iCloud dialog box upon opening. Ulysses III eliminates any weird iCloud-Finder5 confusion by altogether skipping the dialog. Much like most iOS apps, users just open a new “sheet” and start writing. Those sheets may be organized with groups or filters.
The developers built in support for their iOS app, Daedalus Touch, as a natural extension to Ulysses III, though wordsmiths may also sync their work via Dropbox (affiliate link) and, or their own WebDAV server.

Write once, publish anywhere

Most of the words I write are slated for publication on the Web, yet who doesn't need to print every now and then. Ulysses III provides an attractive stylesheet for printing to actual gasp paper. (Print tip: limited options to adjust the fonts are available in the print dialog box).

Room for improvement

Autopairing items such as [], (), and "" would be helpful for writing in any flavor of Markdown (keyboard shortcuts exist for tasks, i.e. select a word or phrase and press ⌘-i to wrap it in asterisks or underscores for italics, ⌘-b for bold, etc.) and I'm fairly certain I'm not the only one who would like to see MultiMarkdown support rolled into Ulysses III.
The Soul Men encourage and welcome suggestions at the bottom of each page at their website:

There may be shortcomings, errors even, and you will have questions. We are anxiously awaiting your feedback, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Let us know how it fares. The Soul Men have done a lot of things right with their latest iteration of their premium writing application. Let them know how they're doing by email at and on Twitter as @ulyssesapp.

  1. Scrivener also enjoys cross platform support with versions for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. More information is available at
  2. I look forward hope the developers will expand to support Fletcher Penney's MultiMarkdown (, which enables writers to display attractive tables set in plain text and more.
  3. For writing apps, I waffle between Adobe Source Code Pro and Inconsolata (though I'm trying out Courier Prime as I write this review in Ulysses III).
  4. Apologies if my extended metaphor left a bad taste in your mouth.
  5. For the record, I prefer Path Finder.
productivity technology

Geeks and Repetitive Tasks : Clark's Tech Blog

Geeks and Repetitive Tasks : Clark’s Tech Blog

Geeks and repetitive tasks

This cracks me up every time I see it. It’s so me.