Linkdump for April 27th through May 17th

An automatically generated list of links that caught my eye between April 27th and May 17th.

Sometime between April 27th and May 17th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • The Case of the Stolen Source Code: Last week, for about three days, the macOS video transcoding app HandBrake was compromised. One of the two download servers for HandBrake was serving up a special malware-infested version of the app, that, when launched, would essentially give hackers remote control of your computer. // In a case of extraordinarily bad luck, even for a guy that has a lot of bad computer luck, I happened to download HandBrake in that three day window, and my work Mac got pwned. // Long story short, somebody, somewhere, now has quite a bit of source code to several of our apps.
  • JSON Feed: Announcing JSON Feed: We — Manton Reece and Brent Simmons — have noticed that JSON has become the developers’ choice for APIs, and that developers will often go out of their way to avoid XML. JSON is simpler to read and write, and it’s less prone to bugs. So we developed JSON Feed, a format similar to RSS and Atom but in JSON. It reflects the lessons learned from our years of work reading and publishing feeds.
  • Let’s discuss the Linguistic & Pragmatic use of the [“N-word”]: No matter what your intentions, the word WILL mean something different depending on your relative status. Language is circumstancial.
  • The neural network writes the episode list for next season’s Dr. Who: I’ve trained this open-source neural network framework on a variety of datasets, including recipes, Pokemon, knock-knock jokes, pick up lines, and D&D spells. Now I give you: training a neural network on the complete list of Dr. Who episodes.
  • What we really need is an adaptation of the original 1740 The Beauty and the Beast: So were you aware that the The Beauty and the Beast story we all know is a heavily abridged and rewritten version of a much longer novella by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve?  And that a lot of the plot holes existing in the current versions exist because the 1756 rewrite cut out the second half of the novella, which consisted entirely of the elaborate backstory that explains all the weird shit that happened before?  And that the elaborate backstory is presented in a way that’s kind of boring because the novel had only just been invented in 1740 and no one knew how they worked yet, but contains a bazillion awesome ideas that beg for a modern retelling?  And that you are probably not aware that the modern world needs this story like air but the modern world absolutely needs this story like air?

Flare

A fun new piece of photo editing/post-processing software was just released yesterday evening. All in all, I’m really impressed with Flare, and had a lot of fun playing with it and exploring different filters and combinations of effects.

A fun new piece of photo editing/post-processing software was just released yesterday evening. One of the features that’s become very popular in many of the iPhone photo apps like Camera+ or Instamatic is the easy ability to apply post-processing filters and special effects. Often designed to mimic the analog effects of toy plastic cameras, old film, faded prints, and other imperfections, these filters have become a popular way to add an artistic touch to digital photos.

However, such effects haven’t been that easy to mimic in desktop apps — not impossible, but not one-click simple, and that’s where Flare comes in.

Satyr Dance

Flare makes adding these kinds of retro effects to any photo incredibly simple: just drag a photo into the window, choose a filter to apply, and export the finished photo to email, a new file, or Flickr. Flare comes with 24 filter presets, and has a small selection (which will apparently be expanded over time) of extra presets that can be downloaded and added to the lineup.

i love you (again)

Not content with that, though, each preset is completely editable. The presets are created by mixing together and adjusting combinations of color, texture, border, and effect, and each preset can be adjusted to tweak the final output, or new combinations can be built from scratch. Once the final look is chosen, the settings can be saved as new presets for use on other photos later on. Presets can even be exported from Flare and shared with others (here’s a sample of that effect).

Swimming

This is a 1.0 release, and while I’ve been enjoying playing with Flare and haven’t run across any bugs, there are some things that I’d love to see in future releases. At the top of my list is image importing: At the moment, the only way to bring an image in to Flare is either a standard “open file” dialog or by drag-and-drop. While this is great for initial simplicity, I tend not to have image files lying around in directories. Rather, they’re all stored in iPhoto or Aperture libraries. While dragging from another program is easy enough, that requires me to have both applications open and taking up screen space. Integrating the standard Mac OS iPhoto/Aperture image browser would make selecting photos to work with much easier.

Update: Thanks to @talosman for pointing out that Mac OS X already has image library support built directly into the “open file” dialog. Just select “Media” from the left hand sidebar, and your iPhoto and Aperture libraries pop right up. Slick! Funny how features like this can easily go overlooked, I’d never stumbled across that before.

I’d also love it if Flare could be more tightly integrated into Aperture. Right now, Flare doesn’t work as an external editor for Aperture (when saving a file after making adjustments, Flare writes to a new file rather than to the file that Aperture created, so the changes don’t get pushed back to Aperture) — and even if it did, I prefer having Aperture tied to the more full-featured Photoshop as an external editor. As Flare is essentially a one-trick pony (admittedly, a very well-trained pony), I’d love to see it available as an Aperture plugin. Happily, there are hints that this is something that may be coming in the future.

Flying High

All in all, I’m really impressed with Flare, and had a lot of fun playing with it and exploring different filters and combinations of effects. Flare is $20, and is on sale for half off ($10) for its first week (until March 18th) if bought through the Mac App Store. It’s definitely worth checking out.

HTML5 Audio Safari Extension

Comes in very handy when combined with John Gruber’s suggestions for running your Mac Flash-free.

From HTML5 Audio Safari Extension // ShaunInman.com:

HTML5 Audio Safari extension currently replaces the default Tumblr audio player (with or without Flash) and WordPress Audio Player (without Flash).

Comes in very handy when combined with John Gruber’s suggestions for running your Mac Flash-free.


(Also, and somewhat unrelated: I’ve finally gotten tired of the many errors the Delicious-to-weblog plugin was throwing, so I’m going to experiment with moving away from using Delicious as a link aggregator, and just post when I find something interesting. Old-school blogging. Imagine that!)

Microsoft Excel .xls and .xlsx weirdness

I’ve been attempting to troubleshoot some issues with sending Excel files back and forth between my Mac at home and a professor who uses a Mac at home and a Windows PC at school. Even though we’re both using current versions of Excel, and though the files opened fine on her Mac, she was having consistent problems on the Windows machine.

I’ve been attempting to troubleshoot some issues with sending Excel files back and forth between my Mac at home and a professor who uses a Mac at home and a Windows PC at school. Even though we’re both using current versions of Excel, and though the files opened fine on her Mac, she was having consistent problems on the Windows machine.

After a few days of back-and-forth and trying to narrow things down, here’s what I’ve come up with.

For some reason, though Excel:mac2008 (hey, that’s how the ‘About’ screen writes the product name, don’t blame me) uses the new XML-based file structure, when saving files, it uses the old standard .xls file extension. Oddly, at least on my machine, it is behaving like this even though Preferences… > Compatibility > Transition > Save files in this format: is set to “Excel Workbook (.xlsx)”.

(And as an aside, why must there be an open workbook to access Excel’s preferences dialog box?)

Current versions of Excel on the Windows side of the fence, however, use (and expect) the .xlsx extension. Same file types, but different extensions, and this causes confusion. When Excel (Windows) sees the .xls extension, it expects a different type of data than it does when opening a document with the .xlsx extension, and it chokes when attempting to open the file.

The solution? Manually change the extension to .xlsx before e-mailing the file.

Sigh.

Use your Twitter stream for Mac OS X’s RSS Visualizer screensaver

A simple tip on setting up Mac OS X’s RSS Visualizer screensaver to display your Twitter update stream.

Just a quick little tip for OS X users. Nothing fancy, and others may have figured this out already, but a quick Google search didn’t come up with answers, just questions…so here we are.

For the uninitiated, one of the default screensavers in OS X is the RSS Visualizer, which shows a slick ‘floating text’ presentation of the text from any RSS feed against a cloudy blue background.

I wanted to put my Twitter timeline in, so that even when my ‘puter’s not doing anything, and I’m across the room reading on the couch, I can keep an eye out for updates. Seems simple, but on first blush, it didn’t seem to work, as I just got the background, and no tweets.

That’s an easy fix, though. Twitter password protects your RSS feed, so that other people can’t ‘hack’ into your feed and see updates from those of your contacts who have protected their feed from public view — and the screensaver options don’t give a way to enter your Twitter username/password combination.

Twitter does, however, respect RSS-embedded passwords. So, in order to get the screensaver to work correctly, change the RSS feed from the default

http://twitter.com/statuses/friends_timeline.rss

to a customized

https://USERNAME:PASSWORD@twitter.com/statuses/friends_timeline.rss

format, and you’re off and running.

Note that I’ve changed the protocol from http to https to avoid transmiting my Twitter username and password in cleartext. With the standard http protocol, in theory, if someone was really determined, there’s a chance that they could intercept the TCP stream between your computer and Twitter and see your Twitter login credentials. Using https (the ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’), the information between your computer and Twitter is encrypted, so that packet sniffers wouldn’t get anything.

And that’s it! One Twitter-enabled RSS screensaver.

LibraryThing Screensaver (for Mac OS X)

For those of you that are LT members (and Mac OS X users), they’ve just released a new toy: the LibraryThing Mac Screensaver. It’s actually just a specialized RSS feed that grabs random book covers from your library which you can put into Mac OS X’s RSS feed screensaver.

Are you a LibraryThing user? First off, if not, why not? It’s a great way to keep track of your library. If you’re on LT, or if you sign up, add Prairie and me to your contacts!

Now, for those of you that are LT members (and Mac OS X users), they’ve just released a new toy: the LibraryThing Mac Screensaver. It’s actually just a specialized RSS feed that grabs random book covers from your library which you can put into Mac OS X’s RSS feed screensaver. Here’s a little YouTube video showing the screensaver and how to set it up:

Basically, just add this URL (with your username, of course) to OS X’s “Mobile Me and RSS” screensaver, and you’re off and running: http://www.librarything.com/labs-screensaver.php?userid=USERNAME When I set it up for the first time, it took a few moments for the RSS feed to start generating images, so don’t worry if you get a “No Pictures Found” error at first. Just wait a moment or two and try it again, it should kick in fairly soon. This is now my screensaver of choice. Slick!

Descent 2 for Mac OS X: FREE!

I’m not much of a gamer. Never have been, likely never will be. Generally, if I get into a game, it’s for a few minutes at a time, and either brainless but fun point-and-shoot or brainless drive-around-in-circles racing games.

This rocks.

I’m not much of a gamer. Never have been, likely never will be. Most computer games bore me, requiring far too much time and mental effort to bother with (any strategy based game — StarCraft, WarCraft, WoodCraft), or just being so pointless I can’t envision devoting time to them (EverCrack). Generally, if I get into a game, it’s for a few minutes at a time, and either brainless but fun point-and-shoot (Doom) or brainless drive-around-in-circles racing games (Star Wars Pod Racer, Wipeout for Playstation).

One of the few games that ever really got my attention was Descent. At the time it came out, it was a groundbreaking game — taking the then-typical pesudo-3D first-person-shooter approach of Castle Wolfenstein, Doom, and so on, and putting it into a true three dimensional world.

Where previous “3D” games were actually two-dimensional (your only real choices of movement were on a plane — forward, backwards, left, and right turns, etc.), Descent put you in control of a small spacecraft flying through tunnels within planets and asteroids, adding the final third dimension, allowing you to pilot your craft through all three axis of movement. You could dive, barrel roll, loop-de-loop, swoop down on targets, anything.

We had some great multi-player Descent games at The Pit (my old apartment in Anchorage), and for once, I had the advantage. While I would occasionally play games, I wasn’t enough of a gamer to have very many old habits built in, so when I started playing with the controls of Descent, it didn’t take me long to get the hang of moving through a fully three-dimensional world. My roommate Jason wasn’t able to adjust as quickly, due to the ingrained habit of only thinking along two axis of movement. Many was the time when he’d end up behind me, blasting away, when suddenly I’d go round a bend in the tunnel just out of his sight, fly into a large open room, and immediately shoot straight up to hover just above the entrance. Jason would come screaming into the cavern and start trying to find me — panning left and right. Meanwhile, I’d be targeting him from above, suddenly unleashing a blistering stream of laser fire onto the top of his ship, and sending him off into blissful digital oblivion.

Of course, Jason being the jobless obsessive-compulsive that he was, he soon spent far too many hours doing nothing but play Descent, so it was only a matter of a week or two before he was flying circles around everyone else in the apartment. Still, my little reign of terror was fun while it lasted.

What got all this started running through my brain, though, was Phil tipping me off to some wonderful news — Descent 2 has been ported to run on Mac OS X, and is freely downloadable!

Schweeeeet.

It’s downloaded, just waiting for me to install it. I think I better wait ’till the weekend to do that, though, otherwise I’m likely to get nothing done from here on out.

Escape Velocity

Get ready to get sucked back in all over again…

Marc, are you out there? [Ambrosia][1] just updated Escape Velocity and EV: Override to be Mac OS X native…and they [ported EV: Nova][2] to Windows!

[1]: http://www.ambrosiasw.com/ “Ambrosia Software”

[2]: http://www.ambrosiasw.com/webboard/Forum15/HTML/000156.html “Override – Ambrosia Software, Inc. web board”

Get ready to get sucked back in all over again…

(via [MacSlash][3])

[3]: http://macslash.org/article.pl?sid=03/08/11/1649237 “Override To OS X”

[From Usenet: 1.2.02 0143]

First off, I hope your experiences with OS X continue to improve, as you indicated they had started to in a followup post. Figured I could go ahead and jump in the fray, though… ;)

[Note: This was originally a post to the `alt.sys.mac.newuser-help` Usenet newsgroup. I’m including it here for completeness. Originally archived [here][1].]

[1]: http://groups.google.com/group/alt.sys.mac.newuser-help/browse_thread/thread/c85a9e7f498dd396?hl=en&q=djwudi&safe=images#0f089be226c884be “Google Groups: alt.sys.mac.newuser-help: OS X — What the hell is this?”

Albert –

First off, I hope your experiences with OS X continue to improve, as you indicated they had started to in a followup post. Figured I could go ahead and jump in the fray, though… ;)

In article ``, Albert Steg `` wrote:

> The installation process disbabled my Enternet software, crippling my internet access, and even when I got back to system 9 I found my internet aliases (eudora and netscape) hidden from my desktop and replaced with Explorer. Felt like a Microsoft ploy.

That’s something of a surprise. Each time I’ve done an OS X install (starting with the Public Beta), it’s gone smooth as silk. Really unsure as to what may have gone on to actually disable anything.

> …and the interface is totally new, isn’t it?” Why is there no warning or explanation in the manual that this system represents a radical departure from the Apple of the past 15 years?

Well, it’s definitely a new system, but the manual I got – while _really_ underwhelming – did at least have a cursory “this is what you’re gonna get” feel to it. Much as ‘puter people sterotypically go with a “install first, read later if something explodes” attitude, sometimes it can be helpful to at least flip through the documentation at least once first… ;)

I am, along with others, somewhat surprised that you were caught so completely off guard – wherever you’ve been, you must have been really out of touch. If you start poking around the web, though, there’s a lot of good information on all the various changes, both why they were done and what the various repercussions are. The OS X manual that Carl linked to (http://homepage.mac.com/rgriff/files/osxguide2.pdf) is a good start, I’d also recommend spending some time digging through Mac OS X Hints (http://www.macosxhints.com/), lots of good info on there.

> Am I alone in being dismayeed and bewildered here? These huge Playskool-style icons,

These can be scaled up and down to your preferences…they are a wee bit on the big side by default.

> the inability to open two windows at one time

You can have more than two open at once. Check your System Preferences and View Options (under the Finder’s View menu) for the various options there.

> …the oily, gimmicky sluuuuurping of windows

Some people like the ‘genie’ effect, some don’t – I’ve switched it to the ‘scale’ effect, as it’s a bit less processor-intensive (and therefore a bit quicker on my machine).

> down to the Windows-like “dock”

It takes some getting used to, but I’ve found the dock to be a very nice addition (though, I’ve gotta admit, I’ve liked certain aspects of the Windows taskbar too). I keep my dock devoid of any aliases, so that I don’t have to try to distinguish between icons of running aps and icons of apps that I can run if I want, and only use it for whatever’s running at the moment. For me it works much better as a application switcher than as a launcher, but different things work for different people…experiment with it a bit, after the initial shock, you may find it more to your liking.

> instead of the crisp windowshade feature of previous systems….

As has been noted by a couple people, there is a shareware program that will bring windowshading back to OS X (though I don’t use it myself).

> these are improvements?

Overall, yeah…just improvements with a bit more learning curve than has been necessary for past OS updates. But then, past OS updates didn’t completely rewrite the OS from the ground up, either…. :)

> How about an explanation of the itools program, rather than just thrusting it at you in the config process?

Apple would do well to explain this a bit more. However, breifly, iTools isn’t so much a program as it is a set of services that Apple provides that you can use or ignore as you like. It includes free e-mail with a mac.com suffix, an online storage space (your iDisk), and some other features that can be explored in more depth on Apple’s iTools site (http://www.apple.com/itools/). You don’t have to use any of them, though, if you don’t want or need to.

> Can I use Eudora *instead* of Itools. . .

Yup – I think there’s even an OS X version of Eudora out by now. Check VersionTracker (http://www.versiontracker/macosx/) to be sure.

> or do I have to use Itools to access eudora now?

Nope, though you probably can use Eudora to access your iTools mac.com e-mail account if you’ve set one up (though I’m not 100% sure on that).

> . . . granted I have to give it a chance, but I am *not* looking forward to this.

Well, go ahead and poke around, play for a while, and give it that chance. There’s some culture shock – especially since you apparently didn’t know what you were in for – but it’s not that bad once you get used to it.

[From Usenet: 5.24.96 2300]

A shareware utility called Drop*PS (the * is really a bullet) will work wonders, as long as all you want to do is print. Drag the .ps file onto Drop*PS, and it sends the postscript data directly to the printer to interpretet it. Nice ‘n simple…

[Note: This was originally a post to the `alt.sys.mac.newuser-help` Usenet newsgroup. I’m including it here for completeness. Originally archived [here][1].]

[1]: http://groups.google.com/group/alt.sys.mac.newuser-help/browse_thread/thread/7a0d95dbad7cd28?hl=en&q=author:woody%40alaska.net&safe=images#5c6034a1ae4d3c82 “Google Groups: alt.sys.mac.newuser-help: printing postscript files”

Nils Dahlmann-Resing wrote:

> I do not know how to print postscript files I got off the net without a helper application on a MAC, though the printer is a postscript printer. Any idea?

A shareware utility called Drop*PS (the * is really a bullet) will work wonders, as long as all you want to do is print. Drag the .ps file onto Drop*PS, and it sends the postscript data directly to the printer to interpretet it. Nice ‘n simple…