Blockwriter +

Blockwriter +

Alternate title: How to turn your computer into a manual typewriter. 

As we all know, the surfeit of distractions available on a personal computer these days can make it exceedingly easy to get nothing done. There’s the constant haranguing of emails, the intrusions of instant messaging, and the endless nagging of countless other attention-hungry applications and utilities.

In looking for ways to defuse this, I noticed a few years ago that some serious writers, at least in the early drafting stages of their work, were turning to manual typewriters as a method of sidestepping all of those distractions. It’s a great solution: what better way to thwart a computer than to step away from it completely? There’s no email to check on a typewriter, no beeps and pop-up reminders from other applications, and no access whatsoever to the Internet and its tantalizing abundance of productivity-killing diversions.

What’s more, a manual typewriter is a powerful antidote to authorial dawdling, that propensity to continually re-edit a sentence or a paragraph — thereby imparting the feeling of working without really working — instead of continuing to write new sentences or paragraphs instead. Unlike word processors or even the simplest text editors, manual typewriters don’t allow you to easily re-edit, insert and revise a sentence once it’s been committed to paper. This makes for an entirely different writing experience: the ideas come first, and the act of finessing them, of word-smithing, comes after all the ideas have been set to paper.

Why Hardware When Software Will Do?

At some point, it occurred to me that it really shouldn’t be necessary to purchase another piece of hardware to accomplish the same things that writers look to manual typewriters for: the ability to focus without distractions, and the ability to work in a mode that disallows excessive editing and encourages continued writing.

Neither of those things are beyond the capability of software, so why not just write software that does those things? I almost don’t have to write any more in this blog post and most readers will get the entirety of my concept: build an application that functions almost exactly like a typewriter.

For lack of a more marketable name, I call it Blockwriter. And because I’m no programmer and I’ll never get around to learning enough Cocoa skills to build Blockwriter for myself, I figured I’d just do what I know: throw together some mock-ups of the user interface to get my ideas across.

Draft Only

Of course, Blockwriter is intended only as a drafting tool, as it’s clearly impractical for the vast majority of text editing and word processing. To quickly knock out a rough version of any piece of writing that requires concentration and complexity, from a lengthy blog post to an article or even to a full-blown book manuscript, it’s the perfect tool. It provides a very narrow feature set that keeps you on task, along with one-touch methods of shutting out the rest of the system. And it’s a lot less bulky than a typewriter.

Alas, Blockwriter itself is only a draft. As I said, I haven’t nearly enough programming talent to make it happen. But I had a good time putting together the interface — more and more Web sites are referred to as “software” these days, but designing a desktop application is an entirely different experience, even a faux one like this. So the hour or two I put into Blockwriter was an interesting foray into a different kind of design. What resulted isn’t perfect, clearly, but maybe someone will find some of these ideas interesting enough to build it for real. I can’t imagine it would be particularly hard for anyone who’s comfortable with Cocoa.

The Problem with Digital Reading is Paper – LiquidText

The Problem with Digital Reading is Paper – LiquidText

A lot of people over thirty-five tend to think they prefer paper books/documents because they’re old. They may see digital as being better in some abstract way and, with a tone somewhere between apology and lament, see themselves as too old to get on board. The beauty of Rosenwald’s piece is that it helps us all get a little closer to the root of the problem with digital reading. The signs are that it’s less of an incompatibility with our childhood habits, as with our psychological and cognitive requirements as people.

Kindle is really designed for casual reading; the place where digital has fallen short, as Rosenwald explains, is with things like digital textbooks. And while Rosenwald focuses on academic reading, other studies have shown similar preferences among professional knowledge workers, about 80% of whom like to print their documents to read them. This kind of professional and academic reading usually involves what academics call “active reading” since it necessitates a more proactive engagement with a text, and especially the physical medium of a text. Taking notes, comparisons, writing excerpts, searching, are all examples.

So why is active reading so hard on digital devices? Partly it’s the nature of a digital device that invites distraction and, on tablets and PCs, the irritating lighting of an emissive display. But a major component is more about what the devices are capable of and how that matches to what people need when they read. Back in the 90s Kenton O’Hara studied what goes into the active reading process at Xerox’s research labs in the UK. He found many of the usual suspects: annotation like highlighting and margin notes, bookmarking, etc. But he found nuances that are less obvious—having good ways to retrieve notes, support for non-linear reading, viewing different document sections in parallel, diagramming, etc.

Think about it—many of the best attributes of paper require it being composed of physical pages. So we’re left in a difficult spot: our digital active reading products are inspired by paper, inherit its problems, and avoid its advantages.

What publishers should do / Boing Boing

What publishers should do / Boing Boing

Some of you are probably familiar with TempleOS, the computer operating system designed by Terry Davis on, according to him, God’s instructions. (Rob posted about it a couple of years ago here.)

At first, I wasn’t sure what to think. I didn’t have the technical knowledge to figure out what TempleOS actually was: A real, functioning operating system along the lines of Windows or Mac OS X? Or just a strange piece of software for making your screen look like DOS crossed with Be Here Now?

Instead, what I wanted to call out was this thoughtful essay by software engineer Richard Mitton—it’s Mitton’s attempt to look at TempleOS as a work of programming, without any preconceived bias about religion or mental illness, without an angle or an axe to grind, simply as software. Gosh, is it a refreshing read in 2016:

There are many bad things to be said about TempleOS, many aspects of it that seem poorly constructed or wouldn’t work in the “real world”. I’m going to ignore them here. It’s very easy to be negative, but you will never learn anything new by doing so…

Perhaps we should instead look at TempleOS as a research operating system: what can be accomplished if you’re not locked into established thinking, backwards compatibility, and market demands.

What can we learn if we are only willing to listen?

For me, this is what publishers should do, whether they are publishing books, websites, conferences, or, well, operating systems: “Look at this. I’ll put a frame around it, because the creator cannot truly frame the work. Here is what you need to know to appreciate this. Here is how you should think about this. Consider.”

The need for this work—publishing—is more desperate than ever, and most book publishers don’t even bother to pay lip service to this essential role of their business.

Thankfully, technology makes publishers of us all, if we choose to accept the responsibility. Your blog can be your publishing house. Put together a Medium collection of your favorite essays on a subject, with commentary.

Don’t just share. Frame your selection. Offer rich, well-researched context. Stand over my shoulder and point out where I should direct my attention, what opinions and attitudes I should consider. Call out my preconceived notions. Challenge me to really look, really think, really learn, and judge for myself.

Today, I challenge you to go beyond the retweet. Find work—a notion, an argument, a story, a work of art—that excites you and challenges you and that you believe deserves broader attention, and give it a frame, some context, and a little push.


Notes on — 512 Pixels

Source: Notes on — 512 Pixels

I’ve had an on-again, off-again thing with Evernote for years. I like having attachments associated with my notes, but dislike almost everything about the service itself.

That said, there’s a lot in Evernote that I don’t use. I don’t have IFTTT routing any content in, and I don’t ever forward emails to the system. I occasionally use the web clipper to save webpages to Evernote, but it’s nowhere near vital to my workflow.

The nerd in me really likes having my notes saved as text documents, written in Markdown. I’ve used Brett Terpstra’s excellent nvALT for years, too. My biggest problem is that I can’t ever seem to find a Dropbox-powered notes app on iOS that I like. Additionally, going text-only means I need to store assorted attachments elsewhere.

I’ve lived with this tension for years, migrating content back and forth between the two systems several times.

(I’ve also spent a lot of time in Simplenote, which I’ve liked for years. It’s fast, lightweight and reliable, but the lack of attachments means it has the same core problem as plain text.)

When Apple showed off iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan, the built-in Notes app got a lot of attention. Gone was the old, let’s-sync-via-IMAP-and-hope-for-the-best system. In its place, a more modern backend — powered by CloudKit — to an app with a lot more features than before.

The new Notes app allows users to style their text easily, add checklists, photos and even hand-drawn sketches. But is it any good?

In a word, yes.

There is a better way to read on the internet, and I have found it – Vox

There is a better way to read on the internet, and I have found it – Vox

Aesthetically, I prefer print to most digital text. The Kindle’s screen is crap at displaying photographs or charts, and while its e-ink text is easier on the eyes than an iPad, it’s harder on the eyes than a book. The gap only grows when it comes to reading most articles online: Magazines are still laid out with a care and thoughtfulness that even the best digital publishers can’t touch (except Vox, of course).

And yet I do virtually all my reading digitally, and for a simple reason: My memory is terrible. I forget 90 percent of what I read about 90 minutes after I read it. The Kindle’s highlights and notes are invaluable to me: I can find any passage that caught my eye, or any thought I cared enough to write down, anywhere that I happen to have an internet connection. Similarly, I use the online storage system Evernote to save passages or full articles I happen across online and may want to refer back to.

These storage solutions make everything I read more useful to me after I read it. My library goes from being inaccessible to being a sprawling digital memory. But both storage solutions are, to be honest, terrible. Amazon’s Kindle site feels like it was built in 2001: It stores your highlights and notes in the least useful ways possible, its search function is garbage, its user interface seems designed to frustrate, and it is extremely, exceptionally slow. Evernote’s text clipper is better, but it doesn’t work on my phone, which is where I end up doing a lot of my reading.

But all that’s in the past. I have figured out how to read online, and it is glorious.

In this, I am indebted to Diana Kimball, who developed this system for “a decent digital commonplace book system.”

Making Kindle highlights useable with and Evernote

It begins with Kindle. will export your Kindle notes and highlights in usable, searchable form — and then plug them directly into Evernote, so they’re available whenever you need them, and sortable in every way you might imagine. The difference here is profound: My Kindle highlights have gone from being available if I can remember what book they’re in to discoverable if I can simply remember any word from the highlight.

In practice, this means my relationship with highlighted passages and notes has gone from one in which I have to find them to one in which they can unexpectedly, wonderfully find me. A search for, say, “filibuster” will call up highlights and notes I wasn’t specifically looking for, and that I had actually forgotten, but that help with whatever I’m working on — and that sometimes prove to be the thing I should have been looking for in the first place.

Using Instapaper premium and Evernote to save article snippets

A lot of what I read, however, isn’t books. It’s news articles, blog posts, magazine features. I’ve long wanted a cleaner way to save the best ideas, facts, and quotes I come across. Now I have one.

Instapaper — which lets you save any article you find online and read it later on any device you choose — recently added a highlight function. The free version limits the number of highlights you can have to some absurdly low number. But if you pay for the premium service — $29.99 a year — it unlocks unlimited highlights.

That’s helpful, but there’s not much you can do with the highlights on Instapaper. But Kimball created an If That Then This recipe that automatically exports Instapaper highlights into Evernote. So now anything I highlight in an article — at least an article on Instapaper — is saved into the same searchable, sortable space that my book highlights inhabit. So basically anything I read in any digital format can be highlighted, and those highlights can be saved and searched. It’s wonderful.

The problem with letting Twitter be Twitter is that Twitter took money on the pr… | Hacker News

The problem with letting Twitter be Twitter is that Twitter took money on the pr… | Hacker News

The problem with letting Twitter be Twitter is that Twitter took money on the promise of being something other that just Twitter.

Or to put it in analogy form. You give me $500,000 to buy you a Ferrari and I give you a Toyota Corolla.

You complain that I haven’t held up my end of the bargain and I point out that the Corolla is a perfectly fine car that can get you from point a to point b and even has some strengths when compared to the Ferrari, so why are you complaining?

That’s the point Twitter is at right now. They took the money to be something other than what they are right now. If Twitter wants to be just Twitter, that’s fine, but you’ll need to cut their 20 Billion market cap down to somewhere around a 3-4 Billion market cap, I don’t have a model with me right now.

having said that, Twitter has some good things going for it.

  - Mobile Advertising numbers are up Year over year

  - Data licensing revenue is up

  - monthly active users are up

IMHO, twitter just needs to shrink in size or find a way to really start growing revenue.

EDIT to the child comment, you are confusing revenue and earnings. There is a huge difference between the two:)

HTTPS: the end of an era — Medium

HTTPS: the end of an era — Medium

Mozilla, the foundation that maintains Firefox, has announced that it will effectively deprecate the insecure HTTP protocol, eventually forcing all sites to use HTTPS if they hope to use modern features.

This essay explains why this was such depressing news to me, why this shift marks the death of a way of life.

Part 0: HTTP vs HTTPS

If you know the difference between HTTP and HTTPS, you can probably skip this part.

But for those of you not into tech acronyms, HTTP is the hypertext transfer protocol that your browser uses to talk to web servers bringing you data. It is relatively simple, to the point that if you have a way to inspect the packets of data as they come down the wire, you could read the web page right off of them. Those packets are being sent down a long series of routers between you and the web server, and there is a not-insignificant chance that somewhere along the way they are being inspected or stored by criminals, overly aggressive advertisers, the US National Security Agency, or some bored creep somewhere.

Thus HTTPS, the secure version. Via HTTPS, the site you are connecting to (herein, because I don’t feel like inventing something clever) has some associated encryption codes, and your PC (or phone or watch or whatever contraption you are connecting with) uses the codes to encrypt all data before sending it, and the other side sends encrypted data back. So all of the packets are basically illegible to any of the many parties that handle those packets, but are legible to you and the web server at

But what if the NSA intercepts your connection, tells you it is, and tells your PC to use NSA’s preferred encryption codes? You send data encrypted with NSA keys over the wire, the NSA decrypts and records your data, then passes it on to, and passes’s requests back to you after recording those. You think nothing is wrong, but the man-in-the-middle (the NSA) has read all your communications, rendering all that encryption useless.

So you can’t trust the data until you get the right keys, but you can’t trust the keys as being from until you get some other verification, but then how do you trust that other verification? The solution is a signed certificate registering the identity of There are a small number of certificate authorities providing such trustworthy certificates, and your browser knows them by name.