How to update Letterbox for Max OS X after the latest 10.6.8 security patch:

When Apple released the most recent 10.6.8 security patch, that patch broke Letterbox (see also here), an insanely useful Mail.app plugin that allows all three Mail.app panels to be viewed vertically. This view maximizes screen real estate, which is very important for those of us on widescreen displays—which is to say, virtually all Mac users. But this 2010 OS X Daily post describes how to work around the last breakage caused by an Apple update. These are their instructions, except for the addition of two new UUIDs that I found for the latest version of 10.6.8:

* From the Finder, hit Command+Shift+G and enter ~/Library/Mail/ then hit Go
* Open Bundles (Disabled) rather than Bundles – note: if you have already opened Mail, the plugin is disabled, if you haven’t opened Mail yet, it will be in Bundles
* Right-click on Letterbox.mailbundle and select “Show Package Contents”
* Now open the “Contents” folder inside the Letterbox.mailbundle contents
* Using a text editor, open Info.plist (you can use TextEdit, don’t use Word)
* Scroll to the bottom of the Info.plist file and look for “SupportedPluginCompatibilityUUIDs” which is surrounded by key tags, below that will be a bunch of hex strings surrounded by string tags
* Add the following two strings to the bottom of the list (inside the array tags):

<string>064442B6-53C0-4A97-B71B-2F111AE4195B<string>
<string>588FF7D1-4310-4175-9980-145B7E975C02<string>

That’s the important part. The rest is fairly simple:

* Save these changes to the Info.plist file
* Go back to the Mac OS X desktop and hit Command+Shift+G again, then enter ~/Library/Mail/
* You’ll see these two folders again: Bundles and Bundles (Disabled), what you need to do is move the Letterbox.mailbundle plugin from the (Disabled) folder to the Bundles folder. Do this just by dragging the file from one folder window to the other.
* Relaunch Mail.app

You can also navigate to the folder ~/Library/Mail/Bundles on your own, without using the “Go” command.

A lot of people—especially the nerds likely to use Letterbox—have probably already moved to 10.7 or 10.8, though I still haven’t and am unlikely to in the foreseeable future.

Mac OS 10.7 is out today, and I don’t care because “In the Beginning was the Command Line”

A few days ago, I was reading Neal Stephenson’s incredible essay “In the Beginning was the Command Line,” which you can download for free at the link. His work can’t really be summarized because the metaphors he develops are too potent and elaborate to flatten into a single line that describes what he does with them; by the time you finish summarizing, you might as well recreate the whole thing. Despite the folly in attempting summarization, I want to note that he’s cottoned on to the major cultural differences between Windows, Macs, and Unixes like Linux, and by the time you’re done you with his essay realize the fundamental divide in the world isn’t between right and left or religions and secular, but between contemporary “Morlocks” and “Eloi,” the former being the ones who run things and the latter being the ones who mostly consume them (you can see similar themes running through Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out and Anathem). In the meantime, visual culture has become a poorly understood but highly developed global force bathing virtually everyone in its ambiance, and that might not be such a bad thing most of the time. The last issue doesn’t have that much to do with this particular post, but if you want to understand it, and hence an aspect of the world, go read “In the Beginning was the Command Line.”

He wrote the essay in 1999, and the problem with operating systems, or “OSes” in nerd parlance, is that none of them were very good. They crashed frequently or were incredibly hard to use, especially for Eloi, or both. In the last ten years, they’ve gotten much less crashy (OS X, Windows) or much easier to use (Linux) or both, to the point where the differences to a random user who wants to write e-mails, look at YouTube videos, browse for adult material, and look at FaceBook status updates probably won’t notice the quirks of each operating system. Games are a major difference, since OS X and Windows have lots of modern games available and Linux doesn’t, but if you don’t care about games either—and I don’t—you’ll want to discount those.

Some of the major technical differentiators have shrunk: on OS X, you can now communicate with your machine using the Terminal; on mine, I’ve changed the color scheme to trendy green-on-black. Windows has a system called PowerShell, and Linux has various ways to hide the stuff underneath it. But the cultural differences remain. Windows machines still mostly come festooned with ugly stickers (“These horrible stickers are much like the intrusive ads popular on pre-Google search engines. They say to the customer: you are unimportant. We care about Intel and Microsoft, not you”) and a lot of crap-ware installed. OS X machines look like they were designed by a forward-thinking 1960s science fiction special effects person for use by the alien beings who land promising peace and prosperity but actually want to build a conduit straight into your mind and control your thoughts. Linux machines still sometimes want you to edit files in /src to get your damn wireless network working. Given the slowness of cultural change relative to technical change, it shouldn’t be surprising that many of Stephenson’s generalizations hold up even though many technical issues have changed.

This throat clearing leads to the subject of today’s much-hyped launch of Apple’s latest operating system, which is an incremental improvement to the company’s previous operating system. I’ve been using Macs since 2004. I started with an aluminum PowerBook that you can see in this appropriately messy picture. In that time, I’ve steadily upgraded from 10.3 to 10.6, but the move from 10.5 to 10.6 didn’t bring any tangible benefits to my day-to-day activities. It did, however, mess up some of the programs I used and still use regularly, which made me more gun-shy about OS updates than I have been previously. Now 10.7 is out, and you can read the best review of it here. It’s got a bunch of minor new features, most of which I won’t use and are overhyped by Apple’s ferocious marketing department, which most people call “the press.”

I’ve looked at those features and found nothing or nothing compelling. Many are aimed to laptops, but I don’t use a laptop as my primary computer or have a trackpad on my iMac, and it seems like the “gestures” that are now part of OS X, while useful, aren’t all that useful. Apple is also integrating various Internet services into the operating system, but I don’t really care about them either and don’t want to pay for iCloud. I don’t see the point for the kinds of things I do, which mostly tend towards various kind of text manipulation and some messing around with video. It’s not that I can’t afford the upgrade—Apple is only charging $30 for it. I just don’t need it and simultaneously find it annoying that Apple will only offer it through their proprietary “app store,” which means that when I need to reinstall because the hard drive dies I won’t be able to use disks to start the machine.

Still, those are all quibbles of the kind that start boring flame wars among nerds on the Internet. I’ve saved the real news for the very bottom of the page: it’s not about Apple’s OS upgrade, which, at one point, I would’ve installed on Day 1. I remember when OS X 10.4 came out, offering Spotlight, and I was blown away. Full-text search anywhere on your machine is great. It’s magical. I use it every day. Even 10.5 finally had integrated backup software. But 10.6 had a lot of developer enhancements I don’t use directly. Now, 10.7 has improved things further, but in a way that’s just not important to me. The real news is about how mature a lot of computer technology has become. By far the most useful hardware upgrade I’ve seen in the last ten years is a solid state drive (SSD), which makes boots times minimal and applications launch quickly. Even Word and Photoshop, both notorious resource hogs, launch in seconds. New OS versions used to routinely offer faster day-to-day operation as libraries were improved, but it’s not important to move from “fast enough” to “faster.” The most useful software upgrades I’ve seen were moving from the insecure early versions of Windows XP to OS X, and the move from 10.3 to 10.4. The move to 10.7 is wildly unexciting. So much so that I’m going to skip it.

If you look at the list of features in 10.7, most sound okay (like application persistence) but aren’t essential. I rather suspect I’m going to skip a lot of software and hardware upgrades in the coming years. Why bother? The new iterations of OSes aren’t likely to enable me to be able to do something substantial that I wasn’t able to do before, which, in my view, is what computers are supposed to do—like most of the things we make of buy. If you’re an economist, you could call this something like the individual production possibility curve. Installing Devonthink Pro expanded mine. Scrivener might have too. Mac Freedom definitely has, and I’m going to turn it on shortly after I post this essay. The latest operating system, though? Not so much. The latest software comes and goes, but the cultural differences—and discussions of what those differences mean—endure, even as they shrink over time.

EDIT: Somewhat relevant:

Mac OS 10.7 is out today, and I don't care because "In the Beginning was the Command Line"

A few days ago, I was reading Neal Stephenson’s incredible essay “In the Beginning was the Command Line,” which you can download for free at the link. His work can’t really be summarized because the metaphors he develops are too potent and elaborate to flatten into a single line that describes what he does with them; by the time you finish summarizing, you might as well recreate the whole thing. Despite the folly in attempting summarization, I want to note that he’s cottoned on to the major cultural differences between Windows, Macs, and Unixes like Linux, and by the time you’re done you with his essay realize the fundamental divide in the world isn’t between right and left or religions and secular, but between contemporary “Morlocks” and “Eloi,” the former being the ones who run things and the latter being the ones who mostly consume them (you can see similar themes running through Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out and Anathem). In the meantime, visual culture has become a poorly understood but highly developed global force bathing virtually everyone in its ambiance, and that might not be such a bad thing most of the time. The last issue doesn’t have that much to do with this particular post, but if you want to understand it, and hence an aspect of the world, go read “In the Beginning was the Command Line.”

He wrote the essay in 1999, and the problem with operating systems, or “OSes” in nerd parlance, is that none of them were very good. They crashed frequently or were incredibly hard to use, especially for Eloi, or both. In the last ten years, they’ve gotten much less crashy (OS X, Windows) or much easier to use (Linux) or both, to the point where the differences to a random user who wants to write e-mails, look at YouTube videos, browse for adult material, and look at FaceBook status updates probably won’t notice the quirks of each operating system. Games are a major difference, since OS X and Windows have lots of modern games available and Linux doesn’t, but if you don’t care about games either—and I don’t—you’ll want to discount those.

Some of the major technical differentiators have shrunk: on OS X, you can now communicate with your machine using the Terminal; on mine, I’ve changed the color scheme to trendy green-on-black. Windows has a system called PowerShell, and Linux has various ways to hide the stuff underneath it. But the cultural differences remain. Windows machines still mostly come festooned with ugly stickers (“These horrible stickers are much like the intrusive ads popular on pre-Google search engines. They say to the customer: you are unimportant. We care about Intel and Microsoft, not you”) and a lot of crap-ware installed. OS X machines look like they were designed by a forward-thinking 1960s science fiction special effects person for use by the alien beings who land promising peace and prosperity but actually want to build a conduit straight into your mind and control your thoughts. Linux machines still sometimes want you to edit files in /src to get your damn wireless network working. Given the slowness of cultural change relative to technical change, it shouldn’t be surprising that many of Stephenson’s generalizations hold up even though many technical issues have changed.

This throat clearing leads to the subject of today’s much-hyped launch of Apple’s latest operating system, which is an incremental improvement to the company’s previous operating system. I’ve been using Macs since 2004. I started with an aluminum PowerBook that you can see in this appropriately messy picture. In that time, I’ve steadily upgraded from 10.3 to 10.6, but the move from 10.5 to 10.6 didn’t bring any tangible benefits to my day-to-day activities. It did, however, mess up some of the programs I used and still use regularly, which made me more gun-shy about OS updates than I have been previously. Now 10.7 is out, and you can read the best review of it here. It’s got a bunch of minor new features, most of which I won’t use and are overhyped by Apple’s ferocious marketing department, which most people call “the press.”

I’ve looked at those features and found nothing or nothing compelling. Many are aimed to laptops, but I don’t use a laptop as my primary computer or have a trackpad on my iMac, and it seems like the “gestures” that are now part of OS X, while useful, aren’t all that useful. Apple is also integrating various Internet services into the operating system, but I don’t really care about them either and don’t want to pay for iCloud. I don’t see the point for the kinds of things I do, which mostly tend towards various kind of text manipulation and some messing around with video. It’s not that I can’t afford the upgrade—Apple is only charging $30 for it. I just don’t need it and simultaneously find it annoying that Apple will only offer it through their proprietary “app store,” which means that when I need to reinstall because the hard drive dies I won’t be able to use disks to start the machine.

Still, those are all quibbles of the kind that start boring flame wars among nerds on the Internet. I’ve saved the real news for the very bottom of the page: it’s not about Apple’s OS upgrade, which, at one point, I would’ve installed on Day 1. I remember when OS X 10.4 came out, offering Spotlight, and I was blown away. Full-text search anywhere on your machine is great. It’s magical. I use it every day. Even 10.5 finally had integrated backup software. But 10.6 had a lot of developer enhancements I don’t use directly. Now, 10.7 has improved things further, but in a way that’s just not important to me. The real news is about how mature a lot of computer technology has become. By far the most useful hardware upgrade I’ve seen in the last ten years is a solid state drive (SSD), which makes boots times minimal and applications launch quickly. Even Word and Photoshop, both notorious resource hogs, launch in seconds. New OS versions used to routinely offer faster day-to-day operation as libraries were improved, but it’s not important to move from “fast enough” to “faster.” The most useful software upgrades I’ve seen were moving from the insecure early versions of Windows XP to OS X, and the move from 10.3 to 10.4. The move to 10.7 is wildly unexciting. So much so that I’m going to skip it.

If you look at the list of features in 10.7, most sound okay (like application persistence) but aren’t essential. I rather suspect I’m going to skip a lot of software and hardware upgrades in the coming years. Why bother? The new iterations of OSes aren’t likely to enable me to be able to do something substantial that I wasn’t able to do before, which, in my view, is what computers are supposed to do—like most of the things we make of buy. If you’re an economist, you could call this something like the individual production possibility curve. Installing Devonthink Pro expanded mine. Scrivener might have too. Mac Freedom definitely has, and I’m going to turn it on shortly after I post this essay. The latest operating system, though? Not so much. The latest software comes and goes, but the cultural differences—and discussions of what those differences mean—endure, even as they shrink over time.

EDIT: Somewhat relevant:

The computer, operating system, or word processor a writer or novelist uses doesn’t matter much, although I still like Macs

Since around 2002, I don’t think that the computer a writer uses has mattered much for writers, chiefly because virtually all computers on the market since that time will do everything you need: conjure up a window and allow you to type as long as you humanly can. The same applies to most word processors: I can’t remember the last time I got a word processor to crash except for Microsoft Word, and even that’s a very rare event. Around the time Windows XP and Mac OS X 10.2 came out, operating system stability problems receded—in Linux, they often weren’t present in the first place—and by now both Windows XP and the more recent versions of OS X are so stable that writers barely have to think about their computers if those machines are used primarily for writing.

This post comes in response to Betsy Lerner, who recently observed that she doesn’t work for Best Buy and therefore doesn’t know if an aspiring writer should buy a netbook (as a professional writer and wannabe novelist, I have some opinions on this stuff). For those of you too lazy to click the netbook link, netbooks are small laptops that usually range from 7 to 11 inches in screen size. I’d argue against netbooks: they tend to have lousy screens, and I wouldn’t want to look at one for an extended period of time. A desktop sounds more reasonable.

Desktops tend to be more reliable and cost less. The new 27″ iMacs are particularly nice, and the screen attached is as good on the eyes as one can get among consumer machines. But your computer doesn’t matter much: get a $400 Dell with a 20″ monitor and you’ll still have a very nice set up. What actually matters is the time you spend with your ass in the seat, not what you’re facing while you write.

I like Macs, but Windows, Linux, or OS X are all decent; all have fine, stable word processors.

The computer, operating system, or word processor a writer or novelist uses doesn't matter much, although I still like Macs

Since around 2002, I don’t think that the computer a writer uses has mattered much for writers, chiefly because virtually all computers on the market since that time will do everything you need: conjure up a window and allow you to type as long as you humanly can. The same applies to most word processors: I can’t remember the last time I got a word processor to crash except for Microsoft Word, and even that’s a very rare event. Around the time Windows XP and Mac OS X 10.2 came out, operating system stability problems receded—in Linux, they often weren’t present in the first place—and by now both Windows XP and the more recent versions of OS X are so stable that writers barely have to think about their computers if those machines are used primarily for writing.

This post comes in response to Betsy Lerner, who recently observed that she doesn’t work for Best Buy and therefore doesn’t know if an aspiring writer should buy a netbook (as a professional writer and wannabe novelist, I have some opinions on this stuff). For those of you too lazy to click the netbook link, netbooks are small laptops that usually range from 7 to 11 inches in screen size. I’d argue against netbooks: they tend to have lousy screens, and I wouldn’t want to look at one for an extended period of time. A desktop sounds more reasonable.

I prefer desktops because they tend to be more reliable and cost less, as described at the link. The new 27″ iMacs are particularly nice, and the screen attached is as good on the eyes as one can get among consumer machines. But your computer doesn’t matter much: get a $400 Dell with a 20″ monitor and you’ll still have a very nice set up. What actually matters is the time you spend with your ass in the seat, not what you’re facing while you write.

I like Macs, as demonstrated by this shot of my desk. But Windows, Linux, or OS X are all decent; all have fine, stable word processors. For documents you don’t have to share regularly, Mellel is a sweet word processor, and it has the full screen mode some writers really like. By “full screen,” I mean that you can hit command-shift-f and bring up a screen that looks like this, except much bigger:

Mellel Full Screenshot

That’s a real screenshot: you don’t have any menus or distractions on your screen, just text and a scroll bar. I added the black border in WordPress. Some people also like Mac Freedom, a program that “disables networking on an Apple computer for up to eight hours at a time” and sounds like a useful way of Disconnecting Distraction. Spotlight is very cool, as is DevonThink Pro. Both are especially useful for nonfiction.

Nonetheless, that’s the .1% of writing that doesn’t really matter much; the 99.9% that does is sitting at your computer and writing. And you can’t buy that for any amount of money.

EDIT: See also Harold Bloom on word processors (and, for good measure, editing), which contains an appropriate passage I came across on this subject.

Mellel 2.7 released

I should’ve noted this earlier but forgot: Redlers released Mellel 2.7 in mid-September. The biggest new feature from my perspective is Snow Leopard compatibility.

Quick background: Mellel is a word processor for OS X, and Redlers has listed the top ten reasons to switch (presumably from Word) at the link. Many academics use Mellel for its stability, language support, and excellent formatting, and I sometimes use it for very long documents because it doesn’t crash easily. The major problem: no track changes/editing support. But recent forum activity indicates that track changes might be in development; you can see my own comments in the thread.

Apple's Snow Leopard Day!

If you’re a Mac user, today is Snow Leopard Day—meaning that Mac OS 10.6 is out. It has few major “features” in the sense that earlier versions did but is supposed to be much refined from Leopard. My copy is due to arrive early next week.

You can also read David Pogue’s review, Joshua Topolsky’s review (which has numerous screen shots), Brian Lam’s review, and Walter Mossberg’s review if you want to know more.

Apple’s Snow Leopard Day!

If you’re a Mac user, today is Snow Leopard Day—meaning that Mac OS 10.6 is out. It has few major “features” in the sense that earlier versions did but is supposed to be much refined from Leopard. My copy is due to arrive early next week.

You can also read David Pogue’s review, Joshua Topolsky’s review (which has numerous screen shots), Brian Lam’s review, and Walter Mossberg’s review if you want to know more.

Life: thoughts on computers and tools

“Walking into Nathan and Kristi’s empty house was a reminder of why stuff doesn’t really matter: We make the inanimate objects come to life, and not vice versa. Similarly, it reminded me that the fond feelings I have for this place are all wrapped up in the people. There was certainly no charm to those bare walls, studded with hooks where pictures once hung.”

—Alan Paul, “The Annual Expat Exodus Never Gets Any Easier

This is an appropriate quote given a friend’s recent e-mail asking if I’d become overly enamored of computers, given what she called an “almost pornographic” shot of my desk. It’s not dissimilar from Faramir’s comment in The Lord of the Rings, when he separates tools from their uses this way in The Two Towers: “[…] I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend […]”

So too I feel about tools, be they computers or pens, or books themselves, which I see not as objects of reverence, but as bulbs that only shed light when read and shared. This could in part be a decadent opinion born of economic opportunity: five hundred years ago, or even fifty years ago, I might not have been so blithe, as books were far more expensive than they are today and have been declining in relative price for almost all of the 20th Century. Regardless of that, I’m lucky enough to live in a time when books are relatively inexpensive; though a book might have symbolic meaning, it is the thing or potential within, not the thing itself, that appeals, and it’s only to the extent that the exterior thing has the potential to manifest what’s within that I’m interested.

Product Review: Unicomp Ultra Classic keyboard, or, the IBM Model M reborn

A rash of e-mails regarding my negative review of the Matias Tactile Pro 2 leads me to write this positive review the Unicomp Ultra Classic, which is a modern version of the Model M that IBM used to produce. Dan’s Data explains why these “buckling spring” keyboards are so nice:

The big deal about these old keyboards is their lovely, positive key-click. When you use a keyboard that doesn’t have a good positive click, it’s hard to tell when you’ve depressed a key properly. You have to watch the screen to make sure you don’t leave letters out, or you have to really hammer the keyboard, which is not good for your hands.

Most of the mid-priced keyboards […] use some variant of the “rubber dome” switch technology, which gives a definite little popping sensation when the dome buckles, but doesn’t necessarily give you an actual letter at the exact same moment, thanks to uncertain contacts. The old buckling spring tech absolutely positively does give you the letter when you feel the click. These keyboards feel very much like an old IBM Selectric typewriter – there are plenty of these ironclad behemoths still in service, and they may herniate anyone that has to move them but they’re darn nice to type on.

Today, buckling spring keyboards are never or almost never shipped with computers. Fortunately, Unicomp has accomplished what Matias couldn’t and produced an excellent keyboard in the Ultra Classic, which is based on the actual IBM Model M design. Keystrokes are crisp and precise. The “shadow key” problem that bedeviled the Tactile Pro is absent, and the Ultra Classic itself is solid, recalling a slab of stone (see the picture below), unlike the fragile, mushy keyboards most PCs ship with. It’s also been durable, and in the months I’ve pounded on it the only problem has been a backspace key that became slightly squeaky. I sent an e-mail to Unicomp and someone called me to recommend that I pop off the offending key with a butter knife to reseat it.

If you know anything about modern tech support, reread that sentence and let the shock set in. An actual phone call? From a guy involved with the actual manufacturing of the product? Indeed, and I’ve now experienced my miracle. The squeak seemed to go away and I’m back to my normal pattern. Furthermore, the company is based in Kentucky and makes the Ultra Classics there.

The main drawback for me is that I use an iMac and the keyboard is set up for Windows (EDIT: This is no longer a problem for anyone who chooses the Mac version, which Unicomp now sells, presumably thanks to people like me asking for it). The ability to change key bindings was important to me, and OS X allows it to be accomplished easily by going to System Preferences -> keyboard and mouse -> keyboard -> modifier keys:

As the screenshot shows, I’ve disabled the caps lock key—which is not specific to this keyboard, but just a preference—and changed the “option” key to command and the command key to option, which aligns the Ultra Classic to any other Mac keyboard. Windows and Linux users will probably want to leave the alt and control keys where they are. The Ultra Classic is thus a viable Mac keyboard, which delights me after the Matias Tactile Pro 2 problems. Although I haven’t conducted any tests to demonstrate whether I actually type faster with the Ultra Classic, I feel like I do, and even if I don’t, I like typing on it far more than I do other keyboards.

The Ultra Classic’s minor downsides are fivefold: 1) as described above, the command, alt, and option physical keys don’t match what the computer will actually do; 2) the keyboard has no built-in USB ports, which is a problem with Macs because even the 24″ iMac comes with only three on the back, which is too few; 3) the price, at $69, is somewhat high, but I think the productivity improvement worth the extra cost, and 4) the Ultra Classic probably can’t be used in a work or living situation in which you have to share space with someone else, as the clacking will anger the other person. That last drawback is to me part of the advantage—I like the clack, and to me the noise is part of its fun. Finally, 5) Unicomp doesn’t make a version without the number pad, which is incredibly annoying. Like most people I don’t use the number pad much or need it. The number pad is just wasted, inconvenient space.

My only wish is that Unicomp would make keys with “command” on them, so Mac users could pop the Windows keys off and replace them with a Mac-centric layout. These are minor issues, and the necessary trade-offs weigh heavily in the Ultra Classic’s favor for those who care about their typing experience. EDIT: Unicomp now makes a SpaceSaver M specifically for Macs. The SpaceSaver is identical to the Ultra Classic, except that it’s slightly smaller. If you’re on OS X, it’s the keyboard you want. As I wrote above, it’s too bad Unicomp doesn’t make a version without the number pad. WASD does, so for most people it’s probably a better option.


EDIT: Clarified relationship of the Ultra Classic to the Model M. In addition, you can see the Ultra Classic in my post about new workspace. This post discusses computers, tools, and meaning.

EDIT 2: I did buy Mac-friendly keycaps from Unicomp and wrote about them in this post, which also has pictures of the new keys.

EDIT 3: I wrote a long post on what I think of the the Kinesis Advantage, Unicomp Space Saver, and Das Keyboard two years later.

%d bloggers like this: