Archive for April 14, 2020

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Service Station 1.0

Service Station (via Peter Kamb):

Customize your Finder context menu with applications and scripts.

Set up Rules for different sets of file types. Show custom menus depending on which types of files and folders you right-clicked.

I’m a keyboard person, so I have done this sort of thing by writing AppleScripts (BBEdit, Preview, Terminal) and invoking them via FastScripts. This app seems very well done, though, and makes it easy to configure different apps for different situations. It’s free with a $15 IAP to enable unlimited menus/apps and to run scripts.

(Note: Despite the name, it doesn’t seem like this relates to the Services menu.)

Update (2020-05-06): Jason Snell:

So if you want, for example, all image files to feature Photoshop and Preview at the top of the Finder contextual menu when you right-click on them, you can do that. Select the app, and the file will be opened in that app. (Yes, you can navigate to the Open With submenu to do this—but the entire point of Service Station is to float the items you want to see to the very top of that menu.)

It took me a little while to figure out how to adapt my homebrewed automations for use with Service Station. My complex Automator actions that had been saved as Services needed to be re-saved as standard Automator Workflows, but then worked unmodified. Because Automator is the only approved way to build a Quick Action, a bunch of mine were actually just AppleScripts or shell scripts wrapped in a single Automator “do script” block. I pulled that code back out of Automator, made a couple of small changes, saved it in Service Station’s scripts folder, and everything worked just fine.

Bar None 1.0

Shaun Inman (via Bradley Chambers):

Anyway, after Apple regressed the keyboard to a functional design, it was finally time to upgrade. Enter the Touch Bar. One step forward, two steps back.

A week later, I’m still regularly accidentally brushing or resting my finger on it. As a developer my left thumb naturally rests on the command key, my index on the R key, which leads to my middle hovering over or resting on the former home of the function keys. The same thing happens in Photoshop with my right hand, thumb on command, index on the plus or minus key, and middle wandering into Touch Bar territory.


Bar None is an app that lives in your menu bar and ignores all Touch Bar input unless you’re holding the fn key. That’s it. (This effectively nukes the function keys but let’s be honest, Apple did that by introducing the Touch Bar.)


Linea Sketch 3

Ged Maheux (tweet):

Linea’s new Time-Lapse feature keeps a running record of your drawing while you work. When you’ve finished drawing, save a video of the result as either a compressed 30 second clip or a full length movie.


When you draw a line and pause to create a ZipLine, you can now place a single finger anywhere on the canvas to snap the end point of the line to isometric and oblique angles. It’s great for technical drawing or those who want perfectly angled strokes.


Today’s release changes Linea to a subscription model. We’ve received a great deal of feedback on our original plan and have removed limits on canvas creation. Instead, we’ll be using less restrictive reminders and badging. […] Lastly, if you purchased Linea Sketch in 2019 or later, your first year is free.

It now works on iPhones, too. People are not happy about the switch to subscription.


Update (2020-04-15): John Voorhees:

This is one of the mildest reactions I’ve seen to a paid-up-front app converting to subscription. Yes, there are more 1-star reviews, but the reaction on Twitter has been mild. The Iconfactory did a good job by announcing the switch in December.

Ged Maheux:

We tried to give users as much notice as possible instead of springing it on them which was a mistake with Twitterrific. In addition we gave anyone who bought it in the last year a free year without reminders. All these things helped I think.

It still leaves a bad taste because, as with Twitterrific, they took away a working app from people who had already paid. Ideally, customers who didn’t want the new version could keep using the old one, without updates, but because of the way the App Store works, the only way to do that would be to read that the new version was coming, turn off auto-updates, manually update every other app, and never get a new phone or restore from backup. Alternatively, Iconfactory could have segmented the available features based on when you purchased, like Fantastical did.

John Conway, RIP

Sue Gee:

John Conway, the mathematician who will be forever known to many programmers as the man who invented The Game of Life, died on April 11, 2020 at the age of 82, a victim of COVID-19.


As we reported back in 2014, see Does John Conway Hate Life, the popularity of GOL had been something of a millstone to to Conway himself - he regretted the way it overshadowed his other, more important, achievements.

Siobhan Roberts (book, excerpt):

For the last quarter century Conway has held the position of Princeton’s John von Neumann distinguished professor in applied and computational mathematics, now emeritus. Before that, he spent three decades at Cambridge, where in the 1970s, he dived deep into the vast ocean of mathematical symmetry. He discovered a 24-dimensional symmetry group that came to bear his name, and, with his colleague Simon Norton, he illuminated the 196,883-dimensional Monster group with a paper titled “Monstrous Moonshine”. Conway also discovered a new class of numbers, infinitely large and infinitesimally small, which are now known as “surreal numbers”.


In 1993, Conway attracted the attention of a New York Times reporter. The resulting profile opened with what Conway calls his “doomsday rule”, an algorithm by which he can calculate the day of the week for any given date[…]

John Gruber:

The Wikipedia entry on Conway’s Game of Life is excellent. Google has a good Easter egg for the query “Conway’s Game of Life”.

David Smith:

I distinctly recall the very first ‘genuinely cool’ program I ever wrote, Conway’s Game of Life in Computer Science 101. It seemed like magic that something so simple could be so beautiful. I wanted to pay a little tribute to him, so I’m adding this is an option in v1.0.4 [of Watchsmith].

See also:

Update (2020-05-14): Reg Braithwaite (via Hacker News):

Like so very, very many, I mourn Conway’s passing, and yet I also celebrate his life. I celebrate his accomplishments, I celebrate his curiosity, and I celebrate his skill at making important topics in mathematics engaging and interesting.

One of the finest examples of that skill is the programming language FRACTRAN, the subject of this essay.

Update (2021-01-07): zverok (via Hacker News):

At this point, I felt that probably some of APL approaches and examples could be translated to Ruby pretty straightforwardly, and that would be an idiomatic Ruby. To challenge this feeling, I experimented with translating the (in)famous APL’s one-line Conway’s Game of Life implementation—and succeeded to implement GoL in exactly one Ruby statement.

Siobhan Roberts (via Hacker News):

Dr. Conway was partial to the triangle, for which he discovered the Conway circle theorem: If you extend the sides of any triangle beyond each vertex, at a distance equal to the length of the opposite side, the resulting six points lie on a circle.

Siobhan Roberts:

“I used to go around saying, ‘I hate Life,’” Dr. Conway says in the film. “But then I was giving a lecture somewhere, and I was introduced as ‘John Conway, Creator of Life.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s quite a nice way to be known.’ So I stopped saying ‘I hate Life’ after that.”

Recently, some of Life’s most steadfast friends reflected upon its influence and lessons over half a century.