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{ Thought of the moment }: “Don't eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.” - Michael Pollan from Unhappy Meals

{ Pimpin' }: I'm playing around at Literary Hack, an experiment in the quick and dirty. It's powered by tumblr.

¶ I've started posting more nerdly stuff over at O'Reilly - here's my author page and entries.

The songs currently tattooed on our brains (a.k.a. songs my son can sing and/or ask for by name)

Posted here mostly for historical purposes, but dammit, it’s pretty impressive that he’s somehow managed to memorize lyrics to most of these songs. Some of these are rather unfortunate (<cough>BUBLÉ!!!1!<cough>), but there’s still a few years left to influence his musical tastes, right? Right?

To Be Continued…

My (current) iPhone Apps


For anyone who owns an iPhone, one of the most common questions you hear from other iPhone folks is, “what apps do you use?”

Never one to pass up the opportunity to blog (AHEM), I shall take this moment to do a quick dump of the apps I currently have installed.

I tend to delete unused applications with abandon, so these are all apps that I’ve either used recently enough to warrant keeping, or are still in that uncomfortable initial “you’re new, let’s get to know each other” phase.

No links to the iTunes store, because I’m lazy, and because Apple put that rounded search field in iTunes for a reason, right?

Items whose names are in red are on my home screen, so you know it’s good stuff.


  • Things - Keeps your ass out of the fire. This is the iPhone companion app for probably one of the better/best to-do productivity applications available for any operating system.
  • Appigo Todo - Things is awesome, but I tend to keep more personal stuff (grocery lists, errand reminders, etc.) in this application, syncing up to the cloud via the Remember The Milk web site.
  • Ultralingua Collins French-English dictionary - Parce que je ne parle pas français très bien.
  • Antidote Mobile - Idem, lire ci-dessus.
  • Simplenote Awesome replacement for the built-in (and rather anemic) Notes app. This syncs with the web site and on my desktop using JustNotes.
  • Dragon Dictation - “I dictated this morning using this out not forget call me I guess.” (Translation: “I dictated this line using this app - doesn’t seem to like me I guess.”)
  • Convert - Very nice units conversion app with an excellent UI
  • TextExpander - Sort of implements the very useful desktop application TextExpander on the iPhone, though syncing one’s text snippets to the phone was kind of PITA-y the last time I tried it.
  • Google Earth - It’s the EARTH. On your fucking PHONE.

Photo-related apps

  • Flickr - there are many alternatives, but this works fine for me
  • CameraBag - This is the main “let’s make iPhone photos look like they weren’t taken by an iPhone” app that I use the most often
  • Best Camera - Weird UI, but this has some nice effects.
  • Photoshop Mobile - It’s Photoshop! On my iPhone! OMG!
  • Camera Genius - I keep forgetting I have this installed, but it sure looks useful
  • Mill Colour - A few people have recommended this app, but I really haven’t gotten around to using it on anything yet.
  • Autostitch - Creates rather decent panoramas, such as this one.

Music-related apps

  • Shazam - Indistinguishable from magic.
  • CBC Radio - Doesn’t support Mobile Safari’s support for playing audio in the background (you did know iPhone 3.x supported this, right?), so I mostly use a home screen bookmark to this list of online radio streams I hacked together. Knock yourself out.
  • SimplifyMedia 2 - I have a Mac Mini at home that hosts my entire iTunes library, and this application allows me to listen to it, anywhere I can access data. Worthy!
  • - I don’t use this that much anymore, but it’s good if I’m in the mood for something different.
  • WunderRadio - I bought this thinking it’d solve my yen for internet radio, but it turns out using my radio streams page is more useful for me.
  • Remote - Not something I use a lot at home, but it’s great at the office for controlling and requesting tunes from the work iTunes computer.
  • Bloom- I rarely use this or Trippy, but they’re fun distractions and great to pull the “look how cool my iPhone is” maneuver while standing in line at Starbucks.
  • Trippy - ^

Media and Words

  • NFB - Amazing, especially considering this and all of the content is free.
  • McSweeney’s - Yeah, yeah, Dave Eggers is boring/too hip/overrated/&c. I still find good stuff here all the time, so it works for me.
  • Amazon Kindle - This (and Stanza) are both pretty decent ebook applications, though I have to admit reading an entire book on the iPhone is still a bit of a far off dream, or the domain of people with eyes much better than mine.
  • Stanza - ^
  • Tumblr - Good for those occasional “I am bored, entertain me” moments, but I much prefer looking at this stuff on my laptop.
  • Instapaper - I fucking love this app. Seriously, it’s the one I use the most often besides the phone and Mail. Instapaper lets you grab articles and stuff you want to read later to its web site, which you can then sync to your phone with stripped-down, easier to read formatting.
  • Reeder - (see below)
  • Byline / Netnewswire

I was jumping between NetNewsWire and Byline for quite a while (Byline is overall better, but NetNewsWire has a few very useful features like Post to Instapaper), and am giving Reeder a try. So far, it’s quite nice, but lacks offline support, which is kind of sad-making.

Chat, VOIP, Messaging

  • BeejiveIM - Arguably the best IM client for the iPhone. Way too many options, but it works great, and does push.
  • Colloquy - My employer uses IRC for almost everything, and this (as far as I can tell) is the best IRC application for the iPhone. Still kind of odd in places, but nothing else comes close.
  • Skype - Mostly kept around “just in case”. I use this (and the next three apps) over 3G using 3G Unrestrictor - yes, my phone is jailbroken.
  • Nimbuzz - ^
  • Truphone - ^
  • WhatsApp - My brother forced me to install this, and then never actually uses it to send me messages. So feel free to add me if you know my phone number and send me bad jokes.
  • Tweetie 2 - Lots of competition in this area, but this is the most useful / least annoying twitter client I’ve used so far.
  • Facebook - Not sure where this should go, but creating a separate category for “things I use that make me feel a bit greasy afterwards” seemed a bit much.
  • Prowl - Highly, highly recommended if you can take advantage of its features. Basically, this allows you to set up push notifications for pretty much any application that supports Growl. I have this set up with push notifications for my work IMAP account and my main personal Gmail account using Notify.

Utilities / Technical

  • iSSH - Not used that often, but when you need terminal access to a server, it’s manna.
  • 1Password - One of the essential applications on all of my macs.
  • TouchPad - Gives you a virtual trackpad to remote systems - I’ve used this to control the home Mac Mini entertainment system.
  • Jaadu VNC - Again, not something I use a lot, but when I need to access my system at home or when I’m too lazy to get up off the couch, this works well.
  • iStat - Pushes a bunch of technical mumbo-jumbo to your iPhone (stats, uptime, ram usage, blahblahblah) from systems you install the remote application onto.
  • Pingdom - Push notifications and alerts for servers that have fallen over and can’t get up.
  • Speed Test - Companion application for the much-loved online internet connection testing web site.


  • - For some reason this is only available via the U.S. iTunes store, which is stupid, but I don’t make these rules, I just have to live by them.
  • RedLaser - Neat and actually useful application that takes a photo of a bar code and returns back online shopping info (prices, availability, etc.).
  • eBay - Who am I kidding, I never use this site.

Files / Cloud stuff

  • Dropbox - Companion app for the frickin’ awesome file backup/syncing service. Seriously, Best. Thing. Ever. (though I wish it supported more video formats, but #firstworldproblem.)
  • Evernote - Companion app (I just like saying those words) for the desktop application / web service.
  • iDisk - With the two applications above, I rarely use my iDisk for anything these days, but it’s nice to have an application that accesses my big Mac Cloud full ‘o’ nothing, anyway.


I went through a short-lived burst of enthusiasm for iPhone games, but soon realize that i rarely actually play the damn things. I mostly keep these ones around because a) they’re enjoyable, and b) I keep expecting I’ll be stuck somewhere intensely boring one day and need the distraction.

Honestly, I don’t have much to say here - you either really enjoy gaming on your phone, or you don’t. I suppose I fall mostly into the latter.

  • FlightControl
  • Zen Bound
  • Modern Combat Sandstorm
  • Rolando 2
  • Zenonia
  • TheDeep Pinball

Kid stuff

Because life with a toddler is so much easier when you have the magic of an iPhone to keep them busy.

  • Babysitter2Go
  • DressChica
  • Toddler Teaser Quizzing
  • Preschool Adventure
  • Preschool Music


  • The Weather Network - Has excruciatingly ugly ads, but does the trick, and is “more accurate” than the built-in Weather app, if using those words in conjunction with a weather forecasting app isn’t an oxymoron.
  • pzizz relax - Helps you nap. Seems to work for me, but honestly, I can never tell how much of this is the placebo effect. Then again, the ends justify the means, right?
  • Urbanspoon - Find a restaurant that doesn’t suck. I’ve had mostly good luck with this application, but obviously ymmv.
  • Red Rocket - Purportedly serves up schedules and such for the TTC, but let’s be honest: with the state of the TTC these days, this app is mostly just window-dressing.
  • Air Canada - I installed this mostly because it’s free. You can check in and get an electronic boarding pass sent to the phone, but the one time I used this, it ended up being a bit of a pain to not have a physical copy. But for those of you who travel a lot, it may be useful.
  • RunKeeper - This is a really nice running / distance exercise application, but since I switched to the treadmill I’ve mostly been using the built-in Nike app. Still, if you run/walk/ride outside, it’s really great, and syncs to an online service as well.
  • Awaken - Alarm / flashlight application. I haven’t gotten a lot of use out of this, but I bought this because I use the desktop version (which works well).
  • Zipcar - I don’t even have a Zipcar membership (we use AutoShare at the moment), but I wanted to install this to check out the UI.
  • Inrix Traffic - This is probably getting deleted soon, but I suppose if you cared about traffic congestion it’d be useful.

Got any suggestions for any of these categories? Post ‘em in the comments.

He has his mother’s sense of humour

Me: Hey, let’s get a card for mommy.
The Boy: Sure!
Me: Okay, you pick one.
The Boy: (grabbing a card) Daddy, this one!
Me: ….

Alec is indoctrinated into the murky world of merchandising

(4265 KB)
Watch on posterous

He (okay, we) love Yo Gabba Gabba, but the massive Toys R Us shelf of assorted YGG crap was still unnerving. The hug was cute, though.

Activate Mac OS X’s Terminal using a keyboard shortcut

Word on the street is that those little hacky but oh-so-useful tidbits known as InputManagers do not work in the upcoming Mac OS X 10.6 (“Snow Leopard”). Apple has been threatening to remove support for these since Mac OS X 10.5 was announced so it’s no surprise that this day may have finally come.

Unfortunately, if this is true it means the death of a lot of really useful add-ons, such as Ecamm’s iSight plugin iGlasses, hetima’s insanely useful Safari enhancement SafariStand, and Mike Solomon’s application patching mechanism SIMBL (which in itself allows developers to “hijack” applications to add more functionality as a kind of hack-enabler).

A SIMBL plugin I use all the time is Visor, developed by Nicholas Jitkoff. Visor patches Apple’s Terminal to make it available system-wide via a hotkey (ala Quake’s console window). With Visor, you hit a pre-determined keyboard shortcut and voila, a Terminal window slides into view.

I use the shit out of this all the time, and if Mac OS X 10.6 truly does kill InputManager support my muscle memory will be downright achy-breaky. So I set out to roughly duplicate this functionality using a method that should continue to work in future OS updates.

Luckily, Applescript seems to be a usable solution, albeit just slightly less responsive than Visor was (and without the slick “slide out” effect). That said, this script still works well enough for my purposes and may fit your workflow as well.

Download the Open Terminal Window script (posted June 9, 2009, version 1.0)
  1. Download the disk image from the link above and mount it.
  2. Move the resulting Open Terminal Window.scpt file into your home library’s Scripts folder (/Users/username/Library/Scripts/). There’s a shortcut in the disk image that should work.
  3. Now we need some freeware assistance to assign a keyboard shortcut to run the script. Download Red Sweater’s free Fastscripts Lite application (direct download link), mount the disk image, and copy the FastScripts Lite application into your applications folder.
  4. Launch the FastScripts Lite application. It’ll appear in your menu bar (the icon looks like a scroll). Click on the FastScripts Lite icon and select Preferences from the FastScripts Lite submenu:


  5. Select the Script Shortcuts tab and double-click the (None) text beside the Open Terminal Window.scpt item. Now you can set a quick key that will run this script. I use control+option+command+0 (zero).
  6. That’s it! Now you can close the FastScripts Lite window and try out your quick key. Assuming you didn’t choose one that conflicts with an existing system-wide keyboard short cut you should see the Terminal application launch and a new window activate. You also will probably want to add FastScripts Lite to your startup items so it launches when you log in.

This script should be smart enough to detect if there is a Terminal window currently open and will reuse it if the window isn’t busy doing something (running top, viewing a man page, etc.). If the current window is busy, the script will open a new tab.

I haven’t tested this that much but it works perfectly for me. Leave feedback in the comments if you run into issues, or if it’s working for you.

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