The Strange Case of the Lost Reply

I’ve tried various email clients on iOS, but for quite a while now my favourite has been Dispatch from Clean Shaven Apps. As well as the many integrations and efficient handling of archiving and deleting emails, I like it because it is one of the only apps that lets you order mail in the One True Way.

Which in case you’re wondering is oldest at the top. Newest at the top is fine for blogs and similar news-based things, but it’s not right for anything else. Call me old-fashioned, but that was the default in Eudora and probably in Mutt and Elm and all those too, and it was and remains the best way.

Even Outlook lets you order it oldest-first. Though disturbingly few people take advantage of it.

Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that today Dispatch let me down. I was typing a reply on my iPad this morning. The reply composition window looks like this:

Fullsizeoutput 5a7

I did something — I’m not sure what — that made the composition window slide off to the right. Part of it was still visible, so I tried tapping on it. And it disappeared.

There was no prompt, and nothing in my drafts folder. All that I had typed was gone, like tears in rain.

I’ve just been trying to reproduce it, and I can, up to a point: if you slide the compose window to the right it goes off out of the way, like this:

Fullsizeoutput 5ab

Which is actually quite useful, because it makes the compose window non-modal and lets you interact with your other messages. But somehow something can go wrong, even though I can’t make it happen now.

Not the end of the world. I retyped the mail. but that’s not good enough, Dispatch. You have to be able to trust your email client.

Things That Should be Easy

It ought to be easy to install a software package on Linux. I mean, it usually is. All modern distros ship with package managers, right? So all you should have to do is type (Debian-based example):

sudo apt-get install PACKAGE-NAME

and away you go. Right?

Well, usually. But today, not for me.

I have a NAS box from Western Digital, which is really a little Linux server with a biggish disk drive. Some time ago I replaced the shipped distro with a newer one, but it was so long ago, and it’s been so quiet and reliable that I can’t remember what version, exactly.

So first, there seems to be no way to interrogate it to see what distro it is. I mean, there must be, and this page lists several ways, but none of them work on this box. I mean, uname shows me the kernel version and all that, but not the distro.

Anyway, all that doesn’t really matter. I was only doing it to install Node, and I was only wanting to install Node so that I could run AirSonos. We got a Sonos Play:1 for the kitchen recently, and it’s great, but the one weakness is that it doesn’t support playing from an arbitrary source one your phone, such as, say, your podcast app of choice (Overcast, obvs).

AirSonos is supposed to effectively turn the Sonos into an AirPlay speaker, so you can easily send audio to it from iOS devices. And you want it to be running on a server, so it’s available all the time.

But it turns out that Node does not want to install on my NAS. Either by apt-get, as above, or by downloading the binary and unpacking it. (That installs it, obviously, but it won’t run.)

I’m going to try running SonoAir on my MacBook. That’s a wrapper round AirSonos, and obviously it’ll only work (assuming it does at all) when my MacBook is awake. But life’s too short.

I Upgraded my MacBook

And it’s like having a new machine.

I have a 13-inch MacBook Pro, mid 2010 model. I bought it in about September or October 2010. Which means it’s getting quite long in the tooth. The MacBooks have come on a long way in what they offer since then. Mine had 4GB of memory and a 320 GB hard drive. Nowadays they have solid-state drives by default and start from 16GB of memory, I think.

Thing is, it was still fine in most ways, but it was getting very, very slow. It wasn’t too bad once everything was up and running, but waking it from sleep meant I’d be seeing what Ginger out of The Wildhearts called the “spinning fucking rainbow” (and everyone else calls the beachball) for a long time.

Even when it was up, just switching apps could trigger the slowness. So I was thinking about upgrading. But I figured there was life in the old beast yet. I took inspiration from Jason Snell who writes of upgrading a 2009 model.

According to Apple, the most memory this model can support is 8GB. But according to Other World Computing, this particular model, though no others from around then, can actually take more — up to 16GB.

I went to Crucial, which is noted as the best site for Mac upgrades in the UK (OWC is only in the US). Its tool said it could only take 8GB. But I looked around various forums and decided that there was enough evidence that OWC were right. Plus memory is so cheap these days that the difference in price between 8 and 16 was very small.

So I took a chance and ordered 16GB, plus a 500GB SSD.

Installing the memory was trivially easy. You don’t need more than a small Phillips screwdriver to open the case, and the memory modules themselves pop out and slot in very easily.

But with the two 8GB modules in, it wouldn’t boot up. I just got series of three beeps, repeated every few seconds.

A bit of googling told me that means “bad memory,” essentially.

I tried taking it out an putting it back in, swapping round which module was in which slot, and so on, but to no avail. I put the old memory back just to check that I hadn’t damaged something, and it started up like before.

So it looked like OWC were wrong, and I was restricted to 8GB. I was considering sending the memory back to Crucial and hoping I could get I refund. But then I tried one more thing. One of the new 8GB sticks along with one of the old 2GB ones.

And it booted up, smooth as a cliche.

Of course I tried swapping out one 8GB stick for the other, to check for the possibility that one of them actually was bad. But both of them worked. So it seems that this MacBook can take more than 8GB, but not as much as 16. Which is strange, but never mind.

I’d have to say, though, that the difference in performance wasn’t obvious. But I didn’t spend lot of time with it like that, because I still had the SSD to install. That’s very slightly more involved, needing as it does a Torx screwdriver. But it’s very easy.

Before all that I had made sure my old hard drive was thoroughly backed up, you won’t be surprised to hear.

I booted up in the new configuration and told the Mac to set itself up as a new installation. It downloaded El Capitan over the air and installed away.

There was one slight glitch in this process. Something went wrong with the installation and I started getting a kernel panic on bootup. I don’t quite recall the details now, but I just reformatted the SSD and installed again, and it all went fine.

And the difference… The difference is astonishing. Even with many apps open (I currently have twelve), and a whole stack of tabs in Safari, using it is effortless. Apps switch without the slightest lag. I can start anything up with only a few bounces. I’ve hardly even seen the rainbow.

Even Lightroom, which is the heaviest-weight app I use on here, starts in under ten seconds.

In short, this is the way a computer should be.

URLs and searching

URL hiding

A while ago, I read a piece called “Improving the URL Bar” (turns out it’s almost a year old, but never mind). I made both mental and Pinboard-based notes of it, because my response to it was, “That’s not improving the URL bar, it’s destroying it.”

Reading it again now, I don’t feel quite so strongly; I partly agree with what the author was getting at. But I feel we lose something important as we make URLs less visible. They show something of the hierarchy of a site, its structure — or at least that’s the origin of the path part.

The argument against that of course is that the path part is an implentation detail that doesn’t need to be seen by users, and perhaps more importantly, the whole thing is meaningless at best, confusing at worst to most users.

Well, maybe so. But to those of us who do understand them, hiding them can be confusing, even annoying.Of course you can click in the URL bar, or press Cmd-L or Ctrl-L, to see the whole thing. More usefully, In Safari, which I’m currently using, there’s a preference called “Show full website address”, which overrides the behaviour. So you can have your choice.

Searching

But then there’s this whole thing that we have now, of browsers doing a search when you type something in URL bar; especially (though not exclusively) when it’s not obviously a URL that you’ve typed or pasted.

I don’t like it.

Or I didn’t. I’ve been using Safari since I wiped and reinstalled this Mac because it was getting really slow (successfully, I might add). I decided to keep things as stock as possible (within reason — I wasn’t going to switch back from Lightroom to iPhoto, for example, or from MailMate to Mail.app). And Firefox can sometimes be a bit of a resource hog.

But I spent quite some time trying to find out how to give Safari a separate search bar like FF has (or can have — it may be a plugin, but if so it’s one that I install without thinking). I had muscle memory that went Cmd-T, Cmd-K (or Ctrl-T, Ctrl-T when I’m on Windows) when I want a new tab I’m going to search in. Still have it, actually, because I still use FF on Windows on my work machine.

It turns out that you can’t have that on Safari. You just have to search from the URL bar. So I just got into the habit of doing that. And now I find I do it even on Firefox (you have both options there).

I don’t know; I still feel that the URL bar should be for URLs, and searching should be something else. but it doesn’t offend me like it used to.

Still, the effect is to further blur the distinction between searching for a site and going to a specific site. I see people — even experienced, technically knowledgable people — going to Google’s home page and typing “facebook.com” into the search box. I mean, what?

Oh, and of course if you search from Google’s home page in Chrome, your cursor jumps to the URL bar! Or it did the last time I used Chrome. Which blurs the distinction between site and browser, as well as between site and search.

In the end it doesn’t matter that much — people mostly get where they mean to go — but by making it less than clear what is going on when we navigate around the web, we make it harder for people to understand how it’s all put together, and I think we lose something important in doing so.

Thin

We used to call this “thin clients”; or just a terminal logged on to a server or mainframe. Jason Snell writes of something newish that Adobe and Google are doing with Chromebooks:

> This week I got a demo of Photoshop running inside Chrome, and while it was really interesting, some of my assumptions were faulty. It turns out that when Adobe says Photoshop is a “streaming app,” they mean it—it’s much more like screen sharing than native software. Photoshop runs remotely on a Windows-based server, and video of the app’s interface streams to the Chrome browser.

via Six Colors: Adobe streams Photoshop to Chromebooks.

Aye, (Head)Phones

I’m not in the market for a new pair of headphones. My venerable [Sennheiser HD450s](http://www.head-fi.org/products/sennheiser-hd-450-headphones) are still doing fine for over-the-head use, and the same brand have provided me with a series of earbuds for mobile use. But I tried a pair of Beats by Dre phones in an HMV the other day, just to see what all the fuss was about.

They looked pretty good, felt comfortable, and sounded great. But the price!

Apparently Apple [bought Beats](http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/28/apple-buys-beats-dr-dre-music-streaming) more for the streaming service than the phones. That makes sense: if they’d wanted a headphone company they’d have gone for Sennheiser, obviously (and if they cared about earphones in general they wouldn’t have made horrible ones for years).

But you’d think that if they wanted a streaming service, they’d have gone for Spotify, which is surely more established.

So I suspect the truth may include a combination of the two, plus a degree of cool cachet, in what is perhaps a demographic that they don’t currently reach.

Either way, if the next iPhone or Mac comes with a cool pair of phones (unlikely thought that may be) I won’t be unhappy.

Cluttered by Google, Lost by Bing

I was reading The Clutter Didn’t Kill the Love by Brent Simmons, about how he was trying Microsoft’s Bing search engine, instead of Google. His reason was the current worry that Google is becoming less than trustworthy.

Google losing trust would be a shame. But at least a Google search for “martin mccallion” (without the quotes) has this blog as the number one hit. Try that on Bing at the moment and you get a whole pile of other Martin McCallions.1 The worst part to me is that the first six are Facebook or LinkedIn profiles (the seventh is one of those annoying directory sites, then you get me).

I wouldn’t mind other people with the same name appearing above me, if it was their proper sites; but to me social-network profiles feel like distinctly second-class web entities.

Or is that snobbish?


  1. As an experiment, and to ensure a like-for-like comparison, I signed out of Google, and went to the .com version (I normally use .co.uk by default). I was still at the top. []

Maccetty Mac

So, I’ve had this here new MacBook for a couple of weeks, an I’ve yet to post anything from it. I am, not surprisingly, loving it.

The initial weirdnesses (I’ve never used a Mac before, apart from once very briefly, before OS/X) include the absence of a hash-key (though you can get the character using Alt+3: #); the plethora of modifier keys: Ctrl and Alt, of course, but also Cmd and Fn. Though actually, most laptops have Fn, so it’s really just one extra. But they get a lot of use.

The nicest thing is probably the multitouch trackpad: scroll with two fingers, navigate with three, do some other weird navigation thing (Exposé, I think it’s called) with four. Pure dead brilliant, in the vernacular of my homeland.

Most annoying thing is the American positioning of the @ and ” keys. I’d like to remap those back to where my muscle-memory says they should be, but haven’t worked out how to do that yet.

I’ve installed various pieces of software on trial or demo options. I’m typing this entry using [MarsEdit](http://www.red-sweater.com/marsedit/). I’m gathering notes for the the thing I intend to write for [NaNoWriMo](http://www.nanowrimo.org/) using [Scrivener](http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.html). And so on.

All in all, it’s the beginning of a big adventure.

And now, let’s see how this posts.