Friday, December 30, 2011

WriteRoom on iPad: Search Done Wrong

- Tuesday 3 January 2012, 02:06:50 PM: WriteRoom (on iPad) actually does have margin tapping virtual cursor keys.

I use WriteRoom on my iPad and iPhone every day. As a straight text editor (as opposed to say a rich text editor or code editor), it is excellent. It syncs with Dropbox in the background. It has TextExpander support. It has a simple and functional UI that intelligently uses the iPad's larger screen real estate. Also on the iPad, it has a great strip of helper keys on top of the keyboard; this strip can be customised and includes cursor left/right by default.

But now that I have 20+ relatively LARGE files that I use regularly for different purposes, search is becoming more important. I am going to switch editors if Hog Bay Software do not get a decent search function into WriteRoom.

Search currently does nothing except narrow down the file list to show only those files whose text includes the search term. For every day use, this is almost USELESS. Search should highlight matching terms in the current file and give you next/previous buttons. It should also offer you the ability to use regular expressions.

Don't get me wrong: searching across multiple files is good - as a secondary function. Rarely do I need that, and if I do, it should still offer the same functionality as regular search: regex, highlight, next/previous buttons.

For a different view (that doesn't mention my qualms about search but does criticise handling of folders), here is an excellent review of this app: WriteRoom: Getting iPad Writing Right by William Deal.

As a side note, I was reading Charlie Sorrel's review of Scribe (another text editor for iOS): Scribe, an iPad Text Editor With HTML, Markdown for the iPad on Charlie mentions another cool feature that WriteRoom on iPad has - and which Scribe doesn't have. Quote: a single tap in the margin to move the cursor one character at a time. It’s like virtual cursor keys, and works way better than Apple’s way to move the cursor (tap, hold, drag, pray). Cursor left/right keys are great - but this mechanism is greater still.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Skyrim Déjà vu

I had just killed a giant frostbite spider in a dank, smelly, cobweb filled room deep underneath the long abandoned Bleak Falls Temple - long abandoned except for monsters and bandits! Panting from the effort, the tingle of spark and frostbite energy still in my fingertips, blood dripped down my right arm from a particularly bad gash. The pain was there, immense, but I was beyond it - still caught in the rush. I had killed the thing by myself; I used no weapons, just the combination of burning and freezing energy pouring from my hands. I had real power!

But adrenalin can only last so long when the hurly-burly is completed, and shortly the distant burning in my arm become an overbearing agony. I stumbled and half fell against a boulder nearby, gasping raggedly as my vision swam. I tried to focus, to examine the pain and gaping flesh. The wound was bad, but I could not feel the blackness of poison - it was only pain. Only pain. I forced myself to still, to relax, to breath deeply and let the pain run through me but not override me. I clenched my left fist, remembered the patterns I had learned for healing and visualised those patterns as white lines blossoming open in my left fist. The energy came, expanded to fill all the places taken by pain. I watched as the torn flesh of my arm knitted closed. I touched the skin, still wet with blood but now whole. I wiped it away with a ragged sleeve. My bloodied robe does not bother me.

Now that I can breathe easily again, I look at the huge corpse, and an idea comes to me. I want to try a new spell, something dangerous, something that still worries at my conscience: can I raise this corpse as a zombie? I have not tried such a thing before, and the idea seems sacrilegious. I studied the book back in town, chill creeping through me as I mouthed the words to myself. Dare I take this step? Will I have the strength to keep my honour intact, or will this be an irreversible act of depravity that damns my soul? Necromancy is dark magic; I have heard many stories of its practitioners, old before their time and twisted by unnatural desires. I do not want to be one one of those ghouls that obsesses over the realm of death.

No, I will not become that. I am more practical. I remember very well the spider getting close enough to rip at my flesh. I made a mistake: I let the enemy get close enough to use its formidable attack. I am no fighter, who can go toe to toe with an enemy. I need something in my way. What better something than the risen corpse of an enemy? My mother always said: "re-use, recycle."

So I began the spell, dark words dripping from my lips, a ball of energy forming in my clenched fist and visions of moist earth and midnight in my mind. I opened my fist. The energy shot towards the corpse. Immediately the inanimate thing began shaking, streams of blue energy circled the corpse, lifting it into the air. I took a frightened step back, but it was too late now: whatever infernal process was taking place could not be halted. The corpse turned over in mid-air. Sickeningly, the limbs of the spider un-curled, straightened. Then it came down, dead limbs taking weight once more. Multi faceted eyes stared at me, as un-readable in death as they were before. I could still smell burnt spider hair, still see the scorch marks and deep cold burns scored deep into its flesh. It swayed... waiting?

I took a step away - and with horror saw the thing lurch after me, it's movements essentially the same, but somewhat jerky. Mechanical almost. I took another step, then another. Like a thing tethered to my ankle it followed me. Spider bristles rubbed together making an eerie sound in the silence now that the form had no will of its own. My skin prickled with goosebumps, but the elation was in me again as I bore witness to my own power manifest.

The spell would only animate this corpse for a short time. I was sure that in this part of the mouldering temple, no other enemies would be present near the nest of such a creature. With no enemies to test my undead guardian, I determined to find out for myself what punishment it could take. Sparks and frost leapt from my hands again, striking the spider who just stood there. It swayed with the impact but did not resist, even as its carapace was further scorched and frozen.

I cannot describe the feeling of power that leapt in my veins, chords of an unearthly music deep in my soul. The thing was still standing after my short burst. I closed my eyes and grinned with the memory playing against the backs of my eyelids. And then heard it move. Shocked, I opened my eyes and watched as it lurched, and then again - towards me! Sick dread coursed through my gut. Whatever energy animates the thing and binds it to my movements, there is obviously a greater imperative. I circled away from the beast, I wondered if its animating energy would run out before my own... and readied myself to face the creature again.

Skyrim Déjà vu.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Birthright by Rick Partlow

Birthright [Kindle Edition]

Rick Partlow (Author)

Amazon page.


Ripping yarn, with lots of sci-fi action: guns, fisticuffs, space combat, some huggin' 'n' kissin', intrigue and some great bad guys and better good guys! There is plenty of rumination over legitimate moral issues, but this story isn't about that. In the end all the morality amounted to was this: loyalty, family and friendship wins the day. It's escapism, but really pulled me in.

This book needs a good edit: there were plenty of spelling and grammar mistakes here that distracted me just a little bit.

What I like most about this story is all the military sci-fi, weapons and enhanced humans - some great kick-ass characters. I would like to read more of Caleb.

Friday, October 21, 2011


I am walking along the street right now, headed towards the train station when from above and barely fifty centimeters in front of me comes the wet sloppy splatter of a distressingly large (pile? collection? load?) load of bird poop, white and steaming on the wet pavement. I crane my neck and see two crows staring down at me. "You missed!" I call and then move on. I swear I heard their returning cackle. "This time.."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How do you decide whether to dictate, type out or hand-write a piece of writing?

How do you decide whether to dictate, type out or hand-write a piece of writing?

I have always had a minor passion for writing, and I enjoy the process of settings ideas out and slowly filling them out, trimming them down or deleting them altogether. This is easiest to do on a computer - so easy to cut, copy paste, organise, Google and re-write. Being able to touch type makes this process an almost organic extension of my consciousness.

Hand writing is a different sort of pleasure. I used to get lost in handwriting in a similar way, but often I felt like my thinking slows down to match my hand-writing speed. I would re-write and draw lines to indicate which bit is meant to go in between which other bits. It was hard to transcribe my writing, but fulfilling because it was a conscious editing step.

In the last decade, the only hand-writing I do now is writing meeting notes at work - but even then I love organising the notes as I go, and doodling! Building up small doodles to fill a page feels good too.

Now I have an iPad with a keyboard case that feels comfortable to use for short periods; I can almost thumb-touch type on my iPhone without looking at the keys.. I can easily spend the entire train trip home just writing out a message or blog post. And drawing apps make me feel like an artist, even though I blanch at every creation. :)

And then I discovered Dragon Dictation on my iPhone - and how it gets about 70% of my words correct.. mangling names but getting the bulk of it right. I find myself stopping and starting a lot - both when I type and when I dictate into my phone. But during dictation, the pauses seem more pregnant, more expectant and I find myself stressing out at being unable to immediately go back and change a word or fix up a capitalisation. I can get out short bursts a lot faster only if I am "on track".

And with Dragon Dictation on the phone - every time you hit "stop" you have to wait while it sends the audio up to the server for translation before giving you back the text, which I feel compelled to edit before going on. But at the same time I wouldn't like to use a recorder, because I find the process of transcribing audio to be far too odious, and lacking the potential of being a true editing step because you have to focus on just typing out what you are hearing.

They have such different characteristics. I love hand-writing but prefer typing.. I feel that dictation should be the fastest but can't get into the flow. Which do you find better?

I posted this first on \ as Handwriting vs typing vs speaking, but I enjoyed writing it so much that I posted it here too!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Scammers watching

Recently, I put up a few ads on Gumtree, listing my phone number. The first three responses I got were SMSs from scammers that included a short message that didn't reference any particular item. Being new to Gumtree and not having received any other response, I was suspicious but willing to at least reply and find out for sure. Well, now I am sure. I am showing these messages here so you can be sure too.

SMS text: Is the price of your funiture ad on negotiable ? please email me at
Naïvely, I responded via email with a list of URLs for all of my postings. the response is below.

Thanks for the response,i will take the hotpoint conditional and refrigerator for $800 including PayPal surcharges since i am interested in the immediate purchase.I just moved to the United Kingdom,where this is needed and i will be making use of a shipping company to have this picked up from you .Further arrangements will be made with you in regards to the pick up once i have paid you.I would appreciate if you email me with more pictures (if available) too since i won't be be able to see this in person,what's the PayPal email to send funds to in order for me to pay you ASAP.

The next SMS was even more abrupt: condition of your posted items please. I responded via email with: Please specify what items you are interested in. Thanks. The response is below.

Thanks for the swift response...I am willing to know the lowest price
of it.due to the nature of my job and location...i will not be able to
come for inspection,am a very busy type as i work long hours
everyday,i have gone through your advertisement and i am satisfied
with it.
As for the payment..i will be paying you via the fastest and secure
way to pay online(PayPal).
I have a private courier agent that will come for the pick up after
the payment have been made no shipping included.
You can now send me your PayPal email so i can pay in right away and
also include your address in your reply.If you don't have a paypal
account, you can easily set up one...log on to and
sign up. its very easy.I await your reply asap

I have had a couple of others since, but I think they all share a couple of key factors to make them recognisable. Broken English and obvious lack of written communication skills is a good sign, but not definitive. A stronger sign is that they don't reference a particular item by name, since the email is probably generic and sent to as many targets without modification as they can reach. The best sign is an offer to buy without inspection. How this all works as a scam is beyond me: perhaps they would eventually ask for a bank account number.

Gumtree has a FAQ section that is worth paying close attention to: How do I stay safe while using Gumtree? To me, the most important key points are:
  • Meet in-person to see the item and exchange money.
  • If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Monday, August 29, 2011

People around me on the train

People around me on the train. A woman reads a chemistry paper, printed copy. A man reads from an Android phone. Two men looking at iPhones with earphones in their ears. Another man reads a Kindle book on an iPad 2. A woman scrolls through happy weekend photos on her iPhone. A man with a big pair of headphones on and cool shades bops his head while scrolling something on an Android phone. Another man two finger iPhone types descriptions of people be sees around him on the train.

Location:St Kilda Rd,Southbank,Australia

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Crippleware on the iPhone

Many apps have a free and paid version. If you pay money, you get the advanced and uber-cool features, while basic features are free. Software creators have every right to set whatever price they wish for their work and the line between what features should be free or paid is wherever the software creator says it is. It is then up to users to decide whether the software is worth the cost.

Some apps claim to be free while putting very basic functions behind a pay wall, making real use of the basic version either impossible or extremely frustrating (see crippleware). The most benign form of crippleware are trial versions or apps that at least tell you in advance what you can expect. Note that benign here just means "really frustrating, but at least you know what you are getting."

Kilojoule & Calorie Counter by ShapeUp Club for the iPhone is, in my opinion, crippleware. From what I can see it is the only app that lets me use kilojoules rather than calories - I live in a metric country thank you! To find a food, you can drill down through their database or perform an in-app search that hits the internet. There is also a tab in the app for "recent" food items, so you don't have to repeat the process over and over to find the same food again.

Except that in this app, when you hit that tab it says you have to pay. And not just pay $5 or $10 for the Pro version of the app. They want you to subscribe to the ShapeUp Club for $38 per year. I don't want to subscribe to a club: I don't want to participate in anything their website has to offer. I only want to use the app. Given the nature of this app is about choosing food items several times a day, I consider the "recent" tab to be a basic function.

I would have been prepared to pay $5 or $10 for a full version. When I contacted ShapeUp Club and asked if they would provide a Pro version without the subscription, they replied:

Most part of ShapeUp Club is free to use, but we also offer a gold membership for more advanced features. I'm sorry that you think this is expensive, but you can try to buy one month subscription if you want to test the features and see if you like it.

I hope you will enjoy our service!

What a shame. So now I use MyFitnessPal on the iPhone, which I thoroughly recommend to anyone - it doesn't have kilojoules, which is a big shame. But it is free, and has the "recent" foods option available.

While I am on the topic, UNO Free! is the most blatant and repugnant version of crippleware I have ever seen on the iPhone: it lets you play one card and then quits, telling you to buy the paid version.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

I have become the vessel for the mote in my eye

They did not come in an armada of outer space ships whose energy drives obliterated the horizon and global communications. Instead, they came in an onrush of colour that occluded my vision and subsumed my consciousness. I have become the vessel for the mote in my eye.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wishlist for iPhone/iOS/iTunes

These are all things I wish I could do without jailbreaking my device. I don't want to jailbreak my device, mainly because I want to keep up with the latest updates and not worry about continually jailbreaking my device after each update.

I wish the Apple cloud would remember what I have paid for.

Having had an Android phone for a while, the most consistently annoying thing about iTunes is that your app purchases aren't remembered "by the cloud". On an Android phone, the Android Marketplace remembers what apps you have purchased and lets you download them again without paying - even if they are not currently on your device.

This is important because after a few years of owning iTunes based devices, I have around a thousand apps on my PC - only a small part of which I can even fit on my iPhone at once. When I am at work (or anywhere away from home) and see a review for an amazing iPhone game or app, I often first wonder "do I have it already?" Most times I won't get the app because I can't remember if I already paid for it; I don't want to risk paying for it again, so I usually just forget about it altogether.

iTunes can really learn a thing or five hundred from the Android Marketplace - you can see all the apps you have purchased, you can register multiple phones and install apps to a given device from the web. Amazing.

I wish there was a quick settings app.

I wish there was an app that would quickly let me change basic settings like toggle wi-fi, bluetooth, 3G etc - like My Settigns Pro on Android.

I wish I could do more with folders.

I wish iOS had a better folder model - one that lets me change how many icons it can store, nest folders, rename icons, handle scrolling within folders etc.

I wish there were better camera controls.

Perhaps this is a hardware issue, but I wish I could control ISO settings, shutter speed etc on the camera.

I wish there were alternative soft keyboards

I want to have a choice between the built in keyboard or Swype or Shapewriter. There was a small number of keyboard apps, but they have all disappeared from iTunes.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Goodbye Nebulous. I love you. I will miss you.

Update: 9th of January, 2011. Recieved a letter from the Vet we took Nebulous to.

She died today, Thursday the 6th of January 2011. I had to put her down because of a hyperthyroid condition and cardiomyopathy; she spent her last day gasping for breath, unable even to miaow, disoriented and perhaps in growing pain. Süheyla watched over her, the last day; she gave her the best care. But Nebulous was unable to walk, her left hind leg failing from a blood clot that separated from her heart; she wouldn't eat and couldn't drink at the end. She had been struggling for a week. I took her to the Glenvale Vet on Tuesday when I noticed her go into wheezing fits any time she was picked up. (And she was so skinny, her ribs poking out, too clearly delineated.) Rohan - the veterinarian - gave me two sets of tablets for her, but within two days she would not even eat.

On Tuesday, Rohan had a grave manner, soft spoken; it was the first time I had come to him, being the local vet in a new neighbourhood. He explained that he heard fluid in her lungs and her heart beat at twice the expected rate for a cat. He was 99% sure her heart was "too big" but that there was no way to be sure without performing exactly the kind of invasive tests that might kill her anyway - especially given my description of how she reacted last time we tried to deal with an ingrown claw.

Today I came home from work ready for a swim in the pool, but it soon became obvious that Nebulous was at the end. She could not walk, but lay on her side without seeming to know where she was. She was breathing through her mouth in short, sharp gasps, and Süheyla explained that she had seen Nebulous twist suddenly during the day; thereafter being unable to use her left hind leg. At first I hoped she would make it through the night at least. I petted her, and realised that it was a death watch. I rang Rohan - and he stayed open long enough for me to bring Nebulous in.

Now I can only remember you Nebulous; my companion for so long. She was with me in primary school, high school, university; she lived in my first house away from Mum and Dad and my first house with my new family, Süheyla and Talya.

Nebulous showed up in late November or early December of 1984. I met a school chum Tim, who was carrying around a box with two kittens; a beautiful white one and an ugly grey one. I wanted the white one but needed permission first. I went home and asked Mum: "ok, but Dad's the sticking point. Tell you what, bring home the kitten and we will make it Dad's birthday present!" I found Tim again, with the asking price of $5, but he only had the ugly grey one left. Oh well. I took her home and lay on Mum and Dad's bed with her nestled on my chest. I remember almost falling asleep until - what, she just piddled on me!

When I was away, studying on campus at Monash Uni, Churchill, Nebulous would fret until I returned each weekend. As if in punishment she would occasionally vomit on my keyboard at home and - when I returned each weekend - would give me the cold shoulder for an hour or so before letting me pet her again.

When I first moved into a house with Süheyla, she had a beautiful pair of dogs: a German Shepherd named Shiela who would bark whenever we kissed, and a dopey but oh so cute Terrier named Foxy (who was so unbalanced that she would fall over any time she shook herself). I brought Nebulous over after a few days to see if she was OK with the whole situation; as soon as I let her loose in the lounge room, Shiela leapt after her (in my mind all I heard was "LUNCH!") and Nebulous (who I swear heard the same thing) raced up the curtains and taught me just how well cats can ignore gravity when they need to. Nebulous went back to Mum's place after that, even though Süheyla swore "Shiela was only playing - she is good with cats!"

She broke her arm in 2009 and - despite having an unwieldy cast - would still jump up and down from my bed. Indominable; I thought... hoped... she would live forever.

Nebulous was not a playful cat. She liked to sit in odd places; drink water from plants; give and get snuggles. She would lick my arm clean when needed, and lay on my chest purring and dribbling, the perfect massage device for the soul.

Goodbye Nebulous. I love you. I will miss you.

Update: 9th of January, 2011. Recieved this letter from the Vet we took Nebulous to. Form letter or not, the thought and effort is deeply appreciated.

Dear Robert,

On behalf of the nurses and myself we wish to convey to you, our sincere sympathy over your loss of "Nebulous".

We realise what a difficult time this must be losing a wonderful friend and we can only express to you our deepest regret that you can no longer enjoy her company.

Our thoughts are with you.

Yours sincerely,
Dr M.R. Nicholls