Category Archives: Computing

Computing news, tips, thoughts, etc.

“SSH Plugin” in latest Quicksilver

Today I came across this question, How to create an ssh connection Terminal shortcut, and had to answer as it’s been a frustration of mine. For years I’ve used Quicksilver with the SSH Plugin to quickly log into remote hosts: Cmd-space, type a few characters of the hostname, hit enter, and bam there I am. I avoid passwords by using ssh keys and I avoid setting up a list of hosts because SSH Plugin automatically scans ~/.ssh/known_hosts. And of course, I avoid so many more keypresses because Quicksilver is slick.

But Quicksilver is also old and buggy. The build I’ve been using is from 2006 and it’s is prone to long pauses and abrupt crashes. I’ve tried newer builds but they break SSH Plugin and I could never part with it. Today I decided to give it another try and discovered RemoteHosts. It does a lot more but there’s one critical setting if you want it to work like SSH Plugin: Go into the catalog for it and enabled the checkbox for ~/.ssh/known_hosts.

Incidentally, if you also need the latest Quicksilver binary, this is the latest I could find : Downloads for tiennou’s blacktree-alchemy – GitHub. There are new versions in the quicksilver source tree if you want the latest. All you needis XCode and it’s a one button build.

It’s a shame that Quicksilver has languished when it does so much that its upstart competitors still lack. Maybe the new Quicksilver Collated site will help.

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Hackintosh not worth it

The Hackintosh is a pretty compelling way to get Mac Pro performance for the price of a Mac Mini. To achieve this, you build a custom Windows-style PC using components that are known to work with Apple’s Mac OS X, and then use low level software tricks to make OS X work on this non-Apple hardware. Technically it violates Apple’s license agreement (though some claim sticking an Apple label on the case is sufficient) but based on my experience detailed below, I don’t think Apple is too worried.

I use an aging MacBook Pro that’s on its last legs and I have several times considered building my own Hackintosh. Today, after another sickly cough from my computer, I decided to go for it. Then after spending >3 hours researching and shopping for all the components, I compared what I’d put together against what Apple offers and decided to wait for the next iMac.

The Hackintosh does have some things going for it…
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My Gmail practice

A friend asked me recently how I keep track of what needs acted upon in Gmail, where messages live forever in the “archive”. I replied with the following and thought I’d post it here in case it’s useful to anyone else. I claimed earlier that I would post stuff like this on Practict, but I’ve since noticed that absolutely no one reads that, probably not even Googlebot. Additionally, I’ve realized that the (hopefully) practical tidbits I write up provide some insight into who I am, and thus are consistent with the stated theme of this blog.

I do delete stuff that I know I’ll never read again, like “bagels in the copy room” or automated reminders from RTM.

I think of the Inbox as another label and for me “in:inbox” means that it requires action. When the action is complete, I archive it. A reply in the conversation brings it back into the inbox to act on. I also have status labels “Waiting On” and “Some Day” to qualify the inbox messages.

I use the Quick Links feature in the Lab experiments settings tab to make new views on the inbox, like, “Research to process”. That’s “in:inbox label:Research”.

The Better Gmail extension for Firefox has a really great macro, f-Focus, which takes whatever your current view is and narrows it down to messages that are (in:inbox OR is:unread) AND !is:muted. i.e. ({in:inbox is:unread} !is:muted). I used to love that, but I use Mailplane now for Gmail on my Mac and it’s not extensible.

Since writing that e-mail this morning, Google released a beta of their new Chrome browser for Windows. I gotta say, it’s nice. The best part is it has a simple “Create application shortcuts…” function for any website that basically turns it into a desktop app. Mozilla has something similar with Prism but compared to Chrome it’s bloated and slow. I’ll probably stick with Fluid on my Mac, and I look forward Safari 4.0, which is supposed to have something similar. Hopefully Google will have ported Gears to work in Safari by then. Shouldn’t be hard since Chrome also uses WebKit.

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Automatically updating your timezone

I’m back from Seattle and Chicago. I may post about those trips. But I still haven’t posted about Montreal or DC, so it’s quite unlikely.

But I am posting about something relevant to my summer traveling: the nuisance of changing timezones on your devices as you cross them. For me I had to change my Mac system timezone and my Google Calendar timezone. I even had to change it on my Blackberry, which was particularly annoying because it knows from the network what timezone it’s in, but that’s separate from the issue here. My Blackberry also has GPS and it’s able to tell Fire Eagle where it is. If Fire Eagle could just let other systems know what timezone that location is, they could update with my new timezone.

So I set out last night to try making that work. The challenges to surmount:

  • Fire Eagle doesn’t output timezone info
  • my Blackberry doesn’t update Fireeagle
  • I don’t know how to write Mac (Cocoa) applications

Fortunately, these walls aren’t high.

I wrote to the Fire Eagle dev list and one of Yahoo’s developers, Seth Fitzsimmons, said he would update the system to output timezone info. Sweet.

I found the J2ME updater app by Simon King and got it to run on my Blackberry. Just downloaded the JAR to my Mac, went to Media on Blackberry and chose Receive by Bluetooth and sent it from the Mac. Then I could navigate to the file and install it. After setting up the OAuth (a little clunky) it’s running and updating Fire Eagle. (more details) And if you’re interested in making it better, it’s an open-source project, fireeagle-updater-midlet on Github. Sweet.

So now my location is updated automatically in Fire Eagle and soon applications can look up my timezone. So what software will read it and update my Mac’s timezone? I don’t know Cocoa or Objective-C to write a Mac native app. Fortunately, the timezone can be updated with a simple Mac system command. A different but equally simple command works on Linux. I do know Java and could write a cross-platform app that runs the appropriate command depending on the OS it’s running in.

I’ll wait until Fire Eagle is actually outputting the timezone info, but I wanted to document the above. Also, is anyone interested in collaborating on this application? I’d like to make it plugin oriented so different devices can be updated, e.g. Google Calendar.

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Practict, sharing practical knowledge

I have a whole lot of work to do, so to procrastinate clear my mind I’ve started a new blog, Practict. It’s where I’ll share practical knowledge that I’ve found or created. This will help me focus this blog on myself, in accord with its charter.

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Poor man’s Skitch

Poor man’s Skitch, originally uploaded by TfUnQ.

You can approximate Skitch with the Quicksilver “Screen Capture” and “Upload to Flickr…” actions. Just capture part of the screen and choose the Run action. (More details in this Lifehacker article.) Then QS will capture the image and open it up to operate on. Then hit tab and type begin typing “Flickr” or “Upload” to get the upload action. If you want to tag it too, hit tab again and type them in. Then just hit return to send the picture up to Flickr.

I haven’t used Skitch yet, but this is what I understand it does. At least, that’s what I wanted it for. It’s in closed beta right now.

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[PSA] when you receive "noname" attachments

If you ever receive messages with file attachments called "noname", here’s what’s up.

There’s a problem in Gmail in parsing messages sent with Apple’s  It seems it’s mostly Apple’s fault.  But since Gmail still hasn’t solved it, you can work around it with this web utility.

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Software activation woes with SAS

Forgive me for venting again about a bad experience with a company policy. This times it’s software activation. Maybe if everyone complains, something will change.

I’m trying to do my research today in JMP by SAS. I used to use R (FLOSS software yay) but I have to use JMP in a research methods course I’m taking. It does look easier and should save me time.

…when it works. Right now I’m trying to get the program to open with the serial number I paid for. Here is my e-mail to their tech support (since their phone support is closed for the day).

Technical Support Form
Problem Description:

Subject: My activation is no longer working

Problem Description:

I purchased and activated JMP 7 on my laptop. I have used it several times over the last couple weeks. Today I opened it again, and it asks me to activate. In the field to enter the serial number is the serial number I entered before. I click to activate and it says that that number has already been used and tells me to call technical support.

I did, but it’s outside your business hours. I am very frustrated that I can’t get my work done because a) your company does not trust its users to pay and b) your activation system is buggy.

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E-mail unsubscribe practices: a letter

I get really tired of e-mails from seemingly reputable organizations that make it difficult to unsubscribe. I’ve repeatedly filled out the unsubscribe form for and yet I keep getting e-mail. Here’s what I just wrote them.
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GrandCentral, fancy phone features

Slate writes about GrandCentral, a phone service that wants to simplify your life.

I played with it a couple months ago when the NY Times covered it. I mostly wanted it to get a 412 number so people here in Pittsburgh can call me without paying long distance to my 510 mobile number. fwiw, I can now be reached at (412) ACE-NOMAD.

After toying with it a bit, I abandoned it. I didn’t like it much, mostly for the reasons described in the article. I also was creeped out by the features like “post to blog” for a voicemail you’ve received. That says something scary about the designers.

For listening to voicemails on the computer, I like It’s free and doesn’t try to take over your phone patterns. You just set it up to call into your voicemail and it plays the tones to match the button presses you would make if you were calling in. Only it records the audio of the voicemails and makes it available to you over the web. And they recently added a mobile web interface too.

I just wish they had a version for home answering machines so my mom could backup the messages she loves to save from me and my sister. There’s no room for new ones.

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