Comment: The Functional High Ground

In case you did not notice: in the last months, torches and pitchforks have been held steady in the Apple developer community. People have been furious about the inexplicable and arbitrary rejections of high-profile and / or innovative apps, e.g. Transmit, PCalc and Nintype.

While this particular turmoil seemed to cool down in the last week(s), another topic that has been on the radar for quite some time has been in discussion: The recent decline in Apple’s software quality. Marco Arment hit the nail on the head for a lot of people, myself included, although Daniel Jalkut puts some statements in a more rational perspective.
Additional link: Craig Hockenberry has written another great piece.

Since the launch of iOS 7, the number of people asking me for help or complaining about their Apple-devices has increased significantly.
People are pissed.

This post is written on OS X Mavericks, because I still hear about problems with WiFi on Yosemite. And because the new features just are not worth the risk of the slightest instability to me.

The #1 reason I am not using FreeBSD or PCBSD on my laptop is OS X’s reliability I learned to love since I switched to the Mac around five years ago. And the software I use on a daily basis, which is in my opinion far superior to everything I have seen on other platforms. In short, OS X still is my favorite UNIX desktop.

I would not consider myself an iOS power user. Sure, I use the device quite a lot but it’s nothing all-too fancy: podcasts, OmniFocus, Twitter, navigation and occassionally messaging although I hate typing on the phone. And some annoying bugs along with the restrictions you still have on iOS make me feel tired of the platform.

I tend to agree that Apple’s hardware is amazing – my laptop delights me every day and so does my phone and my tablet.

But it is not hardware quality that convinced me to buy Apple products in the first place. And it is definitely not the attempt to build a platform with inferior Maps, windy Clouds, locked-down devices and rushed-through software releases.

I do not care about Apple doing well economically. As a company, profit will always be the highest priority for them. No matter what. However, it is important to have a long-term strategy for your products.

I want need that strategy to be: making the most reliable operating system there is with the most advanced technologies available that are suitable for the job.

Everything else, I’m out. Sooner or later.

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Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard on OS X

A few weeks ago, my Apple Wireless Keyboard’s K-key broke and I was looking for a replacement. As a good Apple customer, I was already about to order a new one when I remembered all the positive reviews of certain ergonomic keyboards – in particular the Microsoft Sculpt.

So I ordered one from Amazon: there was none with US-Layout offered in the German store so I went with the UK-one instead – not realizing the subtle differences between the layouts.

Anyways, here are my impressions one week after the switch from the Apple-Keyboard to the Sculpt.

First contact

Man, that thing is bulky. Not as bulky as the normal keyboards with a big useless fat num-block to the right but still, the device takes a lot more of (visual) space than the humble Apple products. However, you get used to it pretty fast and since you can easily grab your favorite pointing device without waving your arm, the most annoying issue with Windows keyboards is already resolved.

When switching, you’ll most certainly hit many wrong keys in the beginning – as you’d do with any new keyboard.

If you think you are pretty OK typing blind on the Apple keyboard, you’ll be frustrated to feel your index finger fall into the space caused by the split layout when attempting to type b.

If you are used to not having the Delete Forward key on the small Apple notebook / wireless keyboards and use the fn key for this, you’ll be annoyed the Sculpt does not have such one.

If you are a heavy user of Vim, the Escape key will most certainly be a no-go for you.

And if you use the arrow keys heavily, you’ll notice how nice it is not having to move your wrist to jump a few lines up and and down on the Apple keyboard.

Customization

All this is fairly annoying and I wouldn’t use the Sculpt if it were not for the following modifications.

I found an open source tool callee Karabiner that comes in handy when dealing with the weak points of the Sculpt. While the interface is crappy, it is a very powerful tool that holds tons of options to customize the behavior of your keyboard. If you are not satisfied with shitload of tweaks already shipping with it, you can add your own using XML-formatted configuration files.

Please note that the following customizations have been made using the U.S. With Umlauts via Option Key keyboard layout that facilitates typing German text while using a US layout for programming, etc. You can download it here.

Since using the arrow keys on the Sculpt requires lifting your right wrist from the cushion, you might want Vim-style navigation sometimes. In Karabiner, there is an option for that: hold s + hjkl to use the corresponding arrow keys and you will have to lift your hands far less. However, this comes with a little brainfuck since you are virtually changing editing modes far less explicitly than in Vim (when using the Escape key).

Other mapping are:

  • Alt-Gr to CMD_R
  • Application-key to OPTION_L (Didn’t find a checkbox to use OPTION_R which should not make a difference anyway)
  • Ctrl-Backspace as a poor man’s Delete Forward (I don’t want to accustom to having a dedicated key for that only on the Sculpt)
  • Backquote to Escape and Section to Backquote. Sounds crazy but it’s fine since the British keyboard gives you an extra key you wouldn’t have on the US-Version anyways. Using these options gives you an easily accessible Escape key that you can punch on when stuck in some weird mode in Vim.

The result looks like this:

sculpt_layout_remapped

Final words

Putting it all together, I am not really happy with the steps you have to go through to get an OK experience with the Sculpt on the Mac. However, typing feels like walking on clouds which you’ll appreciate when returning to you MacBook’s internal keyboard.

Karabiner uses standard Accessibility APIs which I don’t expect Apple to break soon. It is a good sign that the software is already compatible with Yosemite which is not released yet.

It took me about two days and several hours of practice in TIPP10 but I feel comfortable now. Temporarily switching back to the Apple keyboard is not much of a problem either since you’ll most cetainly be better at the 10-finger-system than ever before.

I consider the Sculpt a net-win for me although it comes with some major drawbacks that were clearly demotivating in the first days of use.

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iTunes Backup Lock

I am just installing the iOS 8 and wanted my old iOS 7 backup to be preserved in case I need to go back.

While at first, I thought about copying the backup directory located in ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/<UIID> to be sure iTunes doesn’t overwrite it, I discovered that this bloated piece of software actually has something like this built-in.

Just Ctrl-click on a backup in preferences and choose Archive to lock your backup – indicated by the little icon.

iTunes_Archive_Feature

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Recommendation: Soulver

Have you ever felt the need to do some calculations using variables, mathematical functions, unit conversions, etc? Have you ever felt the need to punch Calculator.app into the face?

Soulver might be worth a try. It’s a mix of spreadsheets and writing pseudo-code.

I’ve been using it for several years and it’s what suits my thought-process best.

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30 days uptime

22:13 up 30 days, 7:41, 2 users, load averages: 1,46 1,36 1,31

Im letzten Monat habe ich mein Retina MacBook Pro kein einziges Mal ausgeschaltet oder rebooted. Nach mehreren Jahren mit einem 2008er MBP ist das mit Abstand die gravierendste Änderung meines Nutzungsverhaltens: Während ich zuvor nach einer Stunde Standby bei 80% Ladung angekommen war, kann ich meinen Laptop nun mehr als einen Tag lang vom Strom trennen, ohne mehr als zwei oder drei Prozent zu verlieren – das ist das Gefühl von Mobilität, das ich von einem mobilen Computer erwarte.

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Reading List

Für mehr als zwei Jahre war ich eingeschworener Instapaper Subscriber und habe den Service zumeist mit dem Hintergrund benutzt, ein Archiv von all dem zu haben, was ich mal gelesen habe – es könnte ja sein, dass man das irgendwann nochmal herauskramen möchte.

Wie ich festgestellt habe: Dem war nicht so. Vor allem die Full-Text-Suche, die man als Subscriber bekommt, habe ich höchstens zwei Mal benutzt.

Mit iOS 7 ist nun für Entwickler die Option dazugekommen, Links zur Reading List hinzuzufügen, und genau das hat noch für den Umstieg gefehlt: Tweetbot 3 kann es, Reeder hoffentlich bald auch – viel mehr brauche ich in der täglichen Nutzung nicht.

Was Reading List besser macht

Safari Reading List hat standardmäßig keinen Textparser. Dieser hat bei Instapaper eine Zeit lang ganz OK funktioniert, fangen die Seiten aber mit JavaScript-Spielereien an, kann man das Feature direkt vergessen. Die Reader-Ansicht macht bei Bedarf aber aus fast allem gut lesbaren Text.

Bookmarking wird von mit jetzt erstmals intensiv genutzt – als Ersatz für Instapapers Archiv. Natürlich findet sich in den Bookmarks nicht ein durchgetagger Full-Record von allem, was ich gelesen habe, aber Artikel, die ich irgendwo zusätzlich zur recht unübersichtlichen Reading-List-History speichern möchte, haben hier genug Platz. Für den Rest vertraue ich ab jetzt auf die Suchmaschine meines geringsten Misstrauens.

Was ich mir noch wünsche

Eine (von mir aus auch write-only) Web-API für Reading List wäre wünschenswert, wird aber wahrscheinlich in Zeiten der Platform-Kriege nicht kommen.

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Owncloud

Selber hosten ist cool. Ich nutze Uberspace jetzt schon eine ganze Weile und habe meine Mails vor ein paar Monaten mithilfe dieses Artikels von Gmail migriert.

Was mir aber immer noch gefehlt hat, waren CalDAV- und CardDAV-Sync für Kalender und Kontakte. Das habe ich jetzt auch geändert, und zwar mit Owncloud. Die PHP-Applikation versucht, eine Mischung aus Dropbox und Gmail in einem Webinterface abzubilden, wobei mir diese Funktionalität ziemlich unwichtig ist.
ABER: Owncloud funktioniert auch als Sync-Backend: Das offizielle Manual hat bei mir allerdings teilweise nicht funktioniert, weshalb ich hier mein Setup für Owncloud 5.0.x festhalten möchte.

1. Schritt: SSL-Zertifikat besorgen und installieren
Es ist einfach eine dumme Idee, SSL – wie im Manual empfohlen – abzuschalten, um den Sync zum Laufen zu bekommen.

2. Schritt: Owncloud installieren
Funktioniert ziemlich einfach, sucht euch einfach irgendein Tutorial wie zum Beispiel dieses hier.

3. Schritt: Daten migrieren
Wenn man zuvor Google genutzt hat, bietet sich beispielsweise dieses Tutorial an. Man kann sich aber auch selber denken, wie das funktioniert.

4. Schritt: OS X Sync einrichten
CalDav-URL: https://SERVER/remote.php/caldav/principals/USERNAME/
CardDav-URL: SERVER/remote.php/carddav/addressbooks/USERNAME/ (Achtung: Hier das https weglassen, wird automatisch konfiguriert)

5. Schritt: iOS Sync einrichten
Wie im Manual, lasst aber SSL aktiviert!
CalDAV: SERVER/remote.php/caldav/principals/USERNAME
CardDAV: SERVER/remote.php/carddav/principals/USERNAME/

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