Search As Interface

At the moment we could say that the internet and our computer provides us with so much information that the problem is not that the information you want is not there, but that it is difficult to find.

Back in the early days of computers we developed the concept of files and directories. It has been the underlying metaphor used on your computer since the late sixties.

At the same time there were researchers developing what we call “hypertext”. The idea was first described by Vannevar Bush in 1945. It could be said that the first actual system was “ONS” show by Douglas Engelbart at “The Mother Of All Demos” in 1968, but this was more of a demonstration of the windows, icons, mouse pointer system that was further developed by Xerox PARC and Apple to become the modern computer interface. The hypertextualisation was minimal.

The first real hypermedia system in common use was the Macintosh application “Hypercard” written by Bill Akinson. Through Robert Cailliau (a colleague), Tim Berners-Lee was highly influenced by HyperCard when he developed HTTP and HTML to give us the World Wide Web.

This quickly became a second interface to information. Searching it was not too bad when we only had a few million pages but quickly became unwieldy when it was hundreds of millions of pages.

Curated web pages and lists of web pages became major information sources. Indeed companies such a Alta Vista sprang up to use the power of folksonomy to develop user curated indexes of pages on various topics. Continue reading

The Joys Of Hacking ‘hosts’

In my job I am constantly visiting client offices where you need to know a number of IP addresses that aren’t often kept in the local DNS, even if they have one.

Recently I had a revelation, my computer already holds a (very short) list of names to be translated into IP addresses. The ‘hosts’ file in /etc/ – here’s what it looks like on your Mac:

# Host Database
# localhost is used to configure the loopback interface
# when the system is booting.  Do not change this entry.
##   localhost broadcasthost
::1             localhost

Short, right? Not terribly useful, but we can easily fix that.

Continue reading

Adding an Application Specific Keyboard Shortcut to OS X

This is just a short post mainly so I can link to it for a friend who might want it.

We are going to set a keyboard shortcut to toggle automatic spelling checking in Safari. This is incredibly useful for people who sometimes write a bit in a foreign language as auto correct will keep “correcting” those foreign words.

To start open System Preferences and choose Keyboard. When that comes up select Shortcuts in the row near the top and you will see a pane like the figure below.


Now in the left window click on App Shortcuts and it will be just like the figure.

Now click on the + under the right hand window. A small dialog will open up similar to the figure below. Click on the pop up menu next to Application and you can select Safari. In the text box next to Menu Title type Check Spelling While Typing (the exact text of the menu item to which we want the keyboard shortcut to apply). Then click in the box next to Keyboard Shortcut and type Option-Command-T. Your dialog should look exactly like the figure below. Click on the Add button and our task is complete. If you want to know how I came up with the text ‘Check Spelling While Typing’ then go to Safari and under the Edit menu look at and under Spelling and Grammar you will see the text. This is what the Keyboard System Preference means by “Menu Text”, it’s just the text ofthe menu item you want to trigger when you type the shortcut.


When you want to type some foreign text in Safari type Option-Command-T to turn off auto spell checking and when you have finished type Option-Command-T again to turn it back on.

Using the same method you can easily build your own keyboard shortcuts. For more complex keyboard shortcuts you might want to look at Keyboard Maestro, my favourite keyboard shortcut tool.

Real keyboard dweebs, like me, also install Karabiner for really customizing the keyboard and on desktop Macs with third-party keyboards Seil, a utility for “the caps lock key and some international keys in PC keyboards” as they put it. This may be too much for you but I’m the sort of person who paid $150 for the keyboard I use on my desk at home, so I’m demonstrably not rational when it comes to keyboards and shortcuts.

IPython Install Made Easy for Macintosh

Great news for those that want to run IPython on any platform. Continuum Analytics offers a marvellous tool (for free) called Anaconda that will install Python and iPython in one swift step.

Not only can you install all the requirements in one swift step but you can even install them in your home folder if you don’t have administrator access to your Mac.

The icing on the cake is that Anaconda also takes over the task of virtualenv, allowing you to build specific environments with different sets of libraries or a different version of Python. They even offer a package install tool and package repository, all checked to see they work properly with the current version of Anaconda.

Anaconda installs a huge list of packages along with Python and IPython, if you want to install just a few packages they offer a tool, miniconda, that installs only the tools and Python so you can pick and choose what else gets installed.

This is a highly recommended set of tools for Python and IPython development. They even have installs for Windows and one for Linux that packs the installer in a bash script so it can be installed anywhere (once again you can easily install it in your home directory.)

Hacking The Philips Hue

Philips hue mot vanlig lampa...

Philips Hue (Photo credit: Patrick Strandberg)

A short time ago I bought myself a Philips Hue starter pack and installed the three globes in my lounge room.

I must say that I love the way you can set the colour and brightness of these things. Having installed and played with the iPhone app it came to me that I should have a bit of a hack and see what I could do.

My first need was to find a way to turn the lights down as the evening gets late. I thought that would be a nice way to remind myself it was getting late and to think about going to bed.

I decided Python was the way to go since I can run it on both my server, the iPhone and iPad. I discovered a nicely usable library for Python and quickly wrote the required script. Then I just installed it as an item in the root crontab so now the lights get turned down to half power at 10:30 every night. The script required is tiny:


from phue import Bridge
b = Bridge('')
b.set_light([1,2,3], 'bri', 127, transitiontime=300)

Continue reading

Keyboard Maestro Updated To 6

Keyboard Maestro 6 has just arrived and this already marvellous utility has just improved a bunch. I could tell you about the new features or you could read the press release from Stairways.

The two big gee whizz new features for me are browser actions and the ability to write my own actions. I will have more on it when I have some time to rejig all my existing macros and work on adding some more.

It’s not a huge reworking of the entire application but it is a decent improvement so if you haven’t tried then visit the website for more details and download a free trial.

Unix As A Second Language — Great New Blog

I’ve just discovered an excellent bog on IT World, a site I usually avoid as it is quite “corporate”. Unix As A Second Language by Sandra Henry-Stocker is, however an excellent source of Unix information and tips from anybody just starting out like her Unix Commands And Tools You Just Can’t Live Without to those on the edge of real expertise So You Want To Be A Unix Sysadmin and some for everyone Unix: Cheat Sheets — everything you wanted to know about everything … almost which pointed me to the excellent site OverAPI.

It hasn’t been there long but I suspect it’s going to be a great blog to follow for Unix users and those who delve into the command line of OS X.