jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

Habits, UI changes, and OS stagnation | Riccardo Mori

August 9, 2021

Riccardo Mori posting last month on how macOS has stagnated roughly since Lion.

And with Mac OS it feels like its journey is over, the operating system has found a place to settle and has remained there for years. Building new stuff, renovating, rearranging, etc., but always on site, so to speak.

This reminds me of a post I wrote in 2018 about some features I’d love to see in the Mac. I’m still waiting for anything I wrote about to be shipped.


Switcher Season 2021

August 8, 2021


Years ago Alex Payne wrote “Switching Season”, about how he thought about switching from Mac to Linux. I know how he feels. From time to time I get the idea in my head that I’d like to move away from all things Apple and diversify my investment in technology. This normally manifests itself when I’m in the market for a new computer (which I am), and often in the form of a Unix workstation on my desk. The past few days I’ve been eyeing the System 76 Thelio.

To be accurate, this is not a “Unix” workstation, since it ships running a weird version of Ubuntu Linux. I wouldn’t run Linux on it though, I’d run a minimal install of FreeBSD combined with the XMonad tiling window manager. Inside XMonad I’d have half the screen taken up by Firefox, and the other half be a terminal, most likely split with tmux. I could keep Vim handy for running Vimwiki and all my other text editing needs, play music in cmus, keep up to date with the news with newsboat, and handle email with mutt.

When I did need Linux or Windows for whatever reason, I’d keep a virtual machine image handy to spin up in bhyve.

It could be a quiet, extremely focused work environment. Zero alerts, no notifications, no extraneous applications to pull me away from what I’m doing.

But… I’d also be closing the door on some future possibilities. I’ve been working on a new Mac app for bookmarking lately, and it’s actually very close to being ready for the App Store. A few things left undone yet, and it’s a little buggy in places, but overall it’s getting close. With my focused Unix workstation I’d be saying to myself “this part of your life is over.” And, that’s hard to say because the Mac and I go way back.

Apple was on the rebound when I bought my first Mac in 2003 or so, but I’d been eyeing them for years from overseas. Very similar to how I’ve been eyeing the System76 box, come to think of it. They were on the rebound, but they still weren’t anything close to what they are now. They were still the scrappy underdog, not literally the world’s most valuable company. The community around the Mac was a lot of fun, we kept getting blown away by the amazing technology that came out of Cupertino.

Following Apple as a hobby has been a spark of joy for many years. The thing is though, as they’ve grown and focused more on services and integrating themselves deeper and deeper into my everyday life, I’ve stared to feel a little uncomfortable. Like maybe I’m not completely ok with the world’s biggest company being my desktop computer, my laptop computer, my phone, my watch, my tv box, my workout companion, my cloud storage, my email, my music, my photos, my headphones, my speakers. So much.

There’s still enough rebel in me that wants to root for the underdog. The little guy trying to do the right thing. System76 ticks the right boxes for me. Aesthetically pleasing design, small company, manufacturing in the US. If I were to do this, I’d eventually want to wean myself off the rest of the Apple ecosystem. Replace my Apple Watch with a Garmin Forerunner. Replace my iPhone with a Light Phone II and a Kobo ereader. Replace the Apple TVs with Rokus. Replace my HomePods with a couple more Sonos speakers. It’d be a long process.

And honestly, it’s a process that I’m not sure I’m up for. Especially when living in the Apple ecosystem is so good. There are tangible benefits from living inside Apple’s walled garden, and when it all works together it really feels like living in the future. And that’s when I love it all again. Despite Apple’s many faults, there’s still just nothing better out there.

The System76 box would be super cool, but I’d be stuck on the Intel platform while Apple speeds ahead with the M1. I’d have to abandon any biometric authentication and go back to typing my password for everything. What I think I’d miss the most though is the trackpad. I’ve had a Magic Trackpad for a few years now and I can’t imagine going back to a mouse. Multitouch is a revelation on any platform its used on, and the Mac is no different. It’s good for RSI issues, it’s amazing for gestures, and I love being able to long-click on words to get their definition. Of course, with an XMonad setup I wouldn’t be using the mouse much, but I’d still need it for navigating the web and the odd task in the window environment.

I don’t want my choice of computer to be making some kind of weird political or lifestyle statement, but then again, when you vote with your wallet what else can it be? I wish Apple had never become the behemoth that it is today, but it still makes the best computers.

Maybe I’m talking myself into that workstation, maybe I’m talking myself out of it. I honestly haven’t decided yet.

Setting up BBEdit 14's Python Language Server Protocol

July 20, 2021

Bare Bones released the new version of BBEdit recently and it’s packed with features that teach the old dog some modern IDE tricks. When programming I mainly work in Python these days, so I obviously wanted to take advantage of BBEdit’s new Langage Server Protocol support. This lets BBEdit start a daemon for you in the background that you install separately, and the daemon takes care of things like code completion, error highlighting, and documentation. However, how to set this up specifically for Python development was a bit unclear to me. Here’s how I got it working.

First, and you’ve probably already got this setup, install python3 with Homebrew and use it to install a virtual environment.

brew install python3
python3 -m venv ~/Unix/env/lsp

Next, activate the new virtual environment and install the Jedi Language Server. Once installed, copy the full path to the executable:

source ~/Unix/env/lsp/bin/activate 
pip install -U jedi-language-server
which jedi-language-server | pbcopy

Finally, open the preferences for BBEdit, find the Languages section, and towards the botton add a Language-specific setting for Python. Under the Server tab, make sure you’ve checked the box to “Enable language server”, and paste the path copied from the previous command.


If BBEdit finds the executable at the path, there will be a green dot at the bottom labeled “Ready to start server”. Otherwise, you’ll see a red dot that says “absolute command path not found”. If you see that make sure the commands above completed successfully.

Now, whenever you open a Python file BBEdit will automatically start the LSP daemon in the background and start working it’s magic.

MKBHD's iPadOS 15 Review

July 15, 2021

Marques as always has a great overview of what’s coming next in iPadOS 15. I recommend you watch the entire thing, but I did take issue with what he said starting here.

They didn’t become a two-trillion dollar company by being bad at business. They’re not going to cannibalize their own products.

I think the opposite, I think Apple would love for the iPad to cannibalize the Mac. I’ve seen other youtubers try (poorly) to make the case for making the iPad into a computer replacement. But where Apple is coming from takes a more nuanced approach. Apple isn’t trying to recreate a computer, with the iPad they are trying to redefine computers.

Steve Jobs said the iPad fit between the iPhone and MacBook. Tim Cook said “We believe that iPad is the perfect expression of the future of personal computing.”. They’ve been trying to remove all the things that make computers difficult to use for people who aren’t Mac Power Users, while at the same time make the overall system more powerful and capable for people to get their work done. With varying degrees of success for each.

There are definitely shortcomings to the system that make it an unlikely candidate for me as a computer programmer to do my job on, I won’t argue that. However, I would argue that it might be possible to rethink how I do my job that might make my personal workflows more flexible and better overall. A workflow built around how a computer works must change when how the computer works changes.

Apple is trying to merge the future and the past, and that’s given us a bit of a jumble with iPadOS. I want them to keep going, I’m looking forward to the future where the only computing device I really need is a single pane of glass. I don’t think Apple needs to worry about cannibalizing Mac sales with the iPad, I think if they could do that they’d love to. That’s what they do, build devices that eat into the old devices sales till the old devices are no longer needed. What they are trying to do with iteratively reimagining the future of computing now needs… more iterations.

As for cannibalizing their own products, Apple has been doing that for years… that’s how they became a two-trillion dollar company.


MacSparky and DEVONthink

July 14, 2021

Yesterday I had the pleasure of chatting with David Sparks about an upcoming Field Guide he’s doing on DEVONthink. He had asked for power users of the app, and given that I’ve been going back and forth with it for years I sent him a screenshot and let him know I’d be happy to help. He responded and here we are. If you’ve ever listened to David on one of his podcasts, he’s just as personable and friendly speaking with him one on one.

I’m looking forward to the new Field Guide. My part in it will be as a kind of power user addendum where a few existing users give a glimpse into what their setup looks like. I hope David can get something useful out of my rambling, overall I felt like I barely scratched the surface of what I wanted to say about DEVONthink. I didn’t get into the custom CSS for Markdown display, or the Sorter menu extra, or how you can import a webpage from Safari as Markdown and strip all the adds and other junk out of it. I didn’t get into backup and restores of the databases, or my Take Note hotkey (^space), or how I integrate RSS into my research database to stay on top of new developments in AWS. Ah well, there’s only so much you can do in 15-20 minutes. I’m sure David already covered all of this in his Field Guide anyway.

Also, since DEVONthink is so good at search and discovering additional data, I closed all but my research database during the recording so I didn’t accidentally surface any proprietary or personal information. One of the biggest reasons I use DEVONthink is because it can keep all my personal data private and secure between machines, but that wouldn’t do much good if I just showed the world my bank account numbers or details about our AWS environment in a search result.

Hopefully David can work some magic in editing. If I’m honest I’m a little nervous about how my section is going to turn out, or if it’ll be included at all. Overall though, I think I’ll be in good company, and that the Field Guide is going to be a great success. I’ve got a lot more to say, maybe I should revisit that podcast idea I’ve had for a while. No matter how my part tuns out, it was great to talk to someone who’s work I’ve been following online for years. David’s work with OmniFocus and Paperless have been foundational, and I hope he has the same success with DEVONthink in the upcoming months.

Inner-Document Markdown Reference Links

July 9, 2021

I’m writing a fairly large document for internal use at work, and instead of using something like Word I’ve generated a bunch of markdown files that I’m stringing together with the excellent Pandoc to generate a very nice PDF file with LaTeX. The resulting PDF is beautifully formatted, thanks to the Eisvogel template. A key part of the PDF is a functional table of contents outline in the sidebar of Preview, and the ability to link to different parts of the PDF from arbitrary text.

Pandoc generates header identifiers for each section of the document automatically, which you can use as normal markdown-formatted links. The documentation states:

A header without an explicitly specified identifier will be automatically assigned a unique identifier based on the header text. To derive the identifier from the header text,

  • Remove all formatting, links, etc.
  • Remove all footnotes.
  • Remove all punctuation, except underscores, hyphens, and periods.
  • Replace all spaces and newlines with hyphens.
  • Convert all alphabetic characters to lowercase.
  • Remove everything up to the first letter (identifiers may not begin with a number or punctuation mark). If nothing is left after this, use the identifier section.

So, the header Header identifiers in HTML becomes #header-identifiers-in-html. I did this manually exactly once before I was certain that it was going to be far too tedius and something that could be easily solved by awk, or so I thought.

It turns out that the BSD version of awk included with macOS doesn’t support the flag needed to convert to lowercase, so instead I grabbed a quick perl command and sandwiched it between two awk commands:

sed s/\ /-/g | perl -p -e 'tr/A-Z/a-z/' | sed s/^/\#/g

Then all I needed to do was drop that in a file with a shebang header and mark it executable, move the file into BBEdit’s “Text Filters” folder and it was made available to BBEdit from the Text menu. Now I just highlight some text I want to format as a link, and select the menu option.

I suppose I could get even fancier and muck with the clipboard, and work all the other Pandoc rules into the script, but I imagine this will take care of %95 of my use cases for what I’m doing. That’s more than enough.

Your Wild and Precious Life

May 25, 2021


Another great video find by Kottke, what are you going to do with your one “wild and precious life”?

The days are long but the years are short.

We Know What You Did During Lockdown

May 25, 2021


Incredibly well done video.

Resurrected Site

January 25, 2021

Late last month the domain for this site expired. I had plenty of warning, ample time to log into the Hover dashboard and renew it myself. I could have even left the auto-renew on, like I have for the past twelve years, but this year was different. This year was the end of 2020, and at the time I felt I had enough of the internet. It was time to log off, possibly forever.

The internet had become a toxic place for me, full of political arguments and outrage, it felt like every time I logged on I was watching everything burn around me, and I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. I left Facebook years ago, I left Twitter in 2020, and I was using my blog to rant about political issues, which was never the intention of this site. This site is here for me to practice writing, to share what I’ve learned, and to force me to think things through1. It’s a repository of my thoughts on the tech industry over time, and a reflection of where I’ve been in my career and mindset.

I didn’t want this site to be something that I knew would start arguments with people I love. My wife and I both got COVID-19 about this same time. There was a lot going on. I let it go.

But then… January 20th rolled around, and 2021 officially started, and with the new year I suddenly felt lighter, more optimistic about the future. I started thinking about sharing tidbits I’ve learned, and I started thinking about the work I’ve put into this site over the years. I remembered how much I enjoyed “blogging” as a hobby, when it was a hobby.

I’m seeing the world with fresh eyes this new year, and I hope you are too. There’s certainly a lot to look forward to, especially as a Mac user. New rumors about M1 MacBook Pros, iMacs, and possibly even the elusive xMac finally making an appearance all have me thinking this might have to be an upgrade year.

I’m also picking up a couple of new hobbies this year. I bought myself an entry-level mountain bike that’s a big step up from the old Walmart special I’ve had for almost a decade. I’m looking forward to exploring the trails around central Iowa. I’m also waiting for a telescope to be delivered. I’ve got an iPhone mount for it, and I’m hoping to be able to do some very, very basic astrophotography. I’ll post what I learn as I go.

They say that getting old means that your sense of time gets warped, one day merges into the next into the next. The days all start to look the same as months turn into years. The fight against that is to never stop learning, to never stop exploring. Novelty is what fights old age, it’s having things worth remembering.

What do you say we make 2021 worth remembering?

  1. As one must when writing, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. 

Student Advice

December 18, 2020

A student asked me for advice for what to focus on getting into the compsci field. Here’s what I said.

I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Stay curious. If you come across something you don’t understand, keep digging till you do.
  2. Start building. The best way to learn is to do. Build a web page, build an app, build a server… whatever direction you want to go, pick a project and start digging in. As you go you’ll hit obstacles, you’ll find things that you don’t understand, when you find yourself there, remember number one and keep at it till you’ve figured it out. Honestly that’s how I’ve built my entire career.

My personal bias is to recommend the devops path, and the first step on that path is to learn Unix. You can download Linux (a Unix clone) for free, or if you have a Mac can pop open the Terminal app and go to town. Figure out what the shell is, what common commands are available to you, and start writing out a personal library of scripts.

Unix is everywhere, it took over the world and no one even noticed. Unix is the core of macOS, iOS, Android, ChromeBooks, and every server running in the cloud. It’s in Internet of Things devices, it’s in your smartTV, it’s probably in your routers and cable modems, and if you do a search for “Unix or Linux Sysadmin” or “devops engineer” you’ll come up with thousands of available jobs.

Here’s an easy trick to get on the path to knowing your computer, once you are in a Unix or Linux environment, run “ls /bin”, that will show you some of the basic programs available to you, pick one, say, “dd”, and run “man dd” and read the manual page on the command. Keep going till you know what every program in the list does.

Secondly, and very closely related to learning Unix is learn networking. Learn the TCP/IP stack, the three-way handshake, basic subnetting, Literally everything is networked, so a solid understanding of how it all works can only help. It’s all just signals down a wire.

On a more practical level, I recommend opening up a Github account, buying a domain name, and using Github to host a webpage with Jekyll. Use that webpage to write about what you learn. Share your projects. Even the experience of getting the Jekyll site up and running is a good exercise. It’s complicated to get started, but once you figure it out, you’ll have a good base for how a lot of things work in industry.

The combination of doing, then writing, helps with your learning, and it gives back to the community for the next person who wants to learn. Come to think of it, I haven’t done enough of that myself lately.

As far as sites to read… well, you could follow Hacker News although I don’t. I know quite a few folks who do. I prefer to follow individual blogs like cks. The tech industry was built, originally, by academics and interested folks building and sharing what they’ve learned, and… well, at it’s core it still works that way now.

I hope it’s good advice, and I wish the student luck on the path to their new career.