Miscellaneous and Useless Information

Software and the Internet

In my previous blog post, I noted my surprise and distaste for the term “Pasteboard” over “Clipboard” in Mac OS X. It seemed like an unnecessary change in terminology. However, a friend and long-time Mac user later pointed out to me that OS X still calls it a Clipboard, for example, Edit→Show Clipboard in the Finder. In fact, he had never heard of a Pasteboard until reading my blog.

This encouraged me to dig a little deeper. The term “Pasteboard” was inherited from Mac OS X’s ancestor, NeXTSTEP, which used it in its user interface (see The Complete Guide to the NEXTSTEP User Environment for an example). “Pasteboard” is still used in Apple’s documentation for programmers. However, while NeXTSTEP may form the technical foundation for OS X, the classic Mac OS, which always used the term “Clipboard,” is the basis for Mac OS X’s user interface, so “Clipboard” has mostly won out.

So why does the X11 application use the term “Pasteboard”? I can only speculate that the X11’s developers wanted to the distinction between X11’s CLIPBOARD and OS X’s Clipboard as clear as possible, and that computer geeks, who are likely the only ones who would use X11 in the first place, would be familiar with the term.

Last night, I worked on an SVG file that Caitlin Kelleher had created with Inkscape (for the cover of the proceedings of VL/HCC 2011). I also used Inkscape, but it took a few tricks on my Mac to get it to work properly.

  • I wanted to use Helvetica Neue for all of the text, but it wasn’t included in Inkscape’s Fonts drop-down list. I had to copy the font from /System/Library/Fonts to /Users/my_username/Library/Fonts for Inkscape to load it. None of the other fonts in the system folder had problems loading.
  • I also could not use Helvetica. Whenever I chose it, Inkscape kept switching me to Sans. I never figured out what was wrong.
  • I tried to copy some objects from one Inkscape window to another, but the pasted objects were converted into a bitmap. This is because X11 synchronizes its CLIPBOARD and PRIMARY buffers with Mac OS X’s Pasteboard* as much as possible, and something got lost in translation. I turned off the synchronizing by going to X11 → Preferences… → Pasteboard tab and turned off Enable Syncing.
  • I wanted to import an EPS file which contained vector graphics, but Inkscape can’t import EPS files directly. Instead, I opened the file in Preview and then saved it as a PDF. Inkscape then imported the PDF perfectly.

Hopes this helps others using Inkscape on a Mac!

* The clipboard on Mac OS X is called a pasteboard? Bleh!

Back in May, Bob Taylor spoke with Guy Raz at the Computer History Museum about his days at ARPA, funding visionary projects such as Douglas Engelbart at SRI and the ARPAnet, and founding the Computer Systems Laboratory at PARC. Here are some of my favorite quotes of Bob Taylor from that conversation:

  • Computers were abominable to use. (To the audience) How many of you have punched holes in cards? (Most of the audience raises their hands.) You look a lot smarter than that.
  • There are four people that claim to be the father of the Internet. What does that say of the morals of the mother?
  • “Mission-oriented research” by definition can’t be research.
  • (Someone who questioned the importance of the research Taylor was funding said to him:) “If what you’re working on is so important, why isn’t IBM working on it?” What do you say to an idiot like that?
  • Collection of iPad UI conventions pulled from frames of Apple’s demo videos. http://j.mp/daLakN (via @manukumar, @veen) #
  • RT @wattenberg a celebration of color (new piece with @viegasf): http://hint.fm/blog #
  • Must check this out: RT @landay nice talk by Paul Gross of Wash U. (C. Kelleher student) on code reuse in end-user programming tool #iui2010 #
  • Google Buzz: someone’s post can pop into my feed if enough people recommend it, even if I don’t follow them. Very useful within a company. #
  • Google’s code name for Buzz: Taco Town. http://bit.ly/afqsIF A lot of Googlers still calling Buzz postings “Tacos”. #

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One day after the iPad was introduced, reactions in the tech world have been mixed, so I watched Apple’s announcement to see for myself.

There are quite a few features the iPad lacks: multitasking, a camera, Adobe Flash support, HDMI video output, USB ports, an SD slot, and so on. But remember that at first, the iPhone didn’t 3G or native apps for a whole year. And who would have thought you could successfully sell a smartphone without copy and paste for two years? I bet the iPad is starting out the same way — start off with just enough features to get people hooked, figure out what’s really necessary, and then add on.

If you paid attention to Steve Jobs’ pitch, he may have talked about features and specs, but he really emphasized the experience of using the iPad. “The Internet in your hands,” he said over and over again. Hey, it may look like just a giant iPhone, but once you actually try it out, you’ll be hooked. He’s trying to appeal to your emotional, sensual side — which helps explain why a lot of left-brained geeks weren’t buying his spiel.

A few other random thoughts:

  • I found it quite interesting to see what were essentially full-screen iPhone menus being used as pop-up menus or sidebars in iPad applications. If Apple designs its SDK well, it may not be too difficult to create one application that works on both the iPhone and the iPad.
  • The home screens look anemic on such a large screen. The icons look too small, and the spacing too large. I’m surprised Apple didn’t put more design work into this.
  • For input, I didn’t believe the rumor that the iPad would require you to learn a complex set of gestures, but I was hoping for something more interesting than a virtual keyboard (hello, ShapeWriter). I’m curious to try it out and see how well it works. While the iPhone keyboard isn’t perfect, it works better than I expected on such a small screen. And at least you can use a Bluetooth keyboard with it.
  • The biggest surprise for me was how aggressive the pricing is, $500 to $830.

I’d love to get my hands on an iPad, try it out, and see whether it’s as “magical” as Jobs claims. But even if it is, I won’t buy one yet. I never buy the first generation of a gadget, and in the case of the iPhone, it was a good idea. Let’s see what the iPad 2 is like.

This is the ultimate rickroll:


The British band LushLast night, an old song that I first heard in high school suddenly popped into my head. I didn’t know the name or any of the words, but I could distinctly hear in my mind the haunting melody and the clear singing but the indistinct lyrics. I also knew it was by the ’90s British band Lush.

So I went on a little quest: how could I figure out what that song was? Two iPhone apps sounded like they could help.

One of them is Shazam: hold up your phone to a recording of a song, and Shazam will figure out the song. It works well at weddings (American Boy by Estelle featuring Kanye West), bookstores (Midnight Sun by Ivy) and even while boarding airplanes (Taking You Home by Don Henley). But it doesn’t work if you don’t have a recording, so it wasn’t going to help in this case.

Another iPhone app, Midomi, is supposed to detect songs that are played on the radio or even hummed. But I’ve found that it doesn’t work as well as Shazam for recorded music, and when I tried humming the Lush song, it didn’t display any songs by Lush in its results.

So I tried something else: I went to Amazon and searched for Lush. Eventually I navigated to the Amazon MP3 store, where I could press one button and hear 30-second previews of virtually all of Lush’s songs. Finally, at #23, I heard it: For Love. And also thanks to the web, I finally figured out what the heck they were singing.

A few months ago I said I’d blog about the highlights I had gleaned from my friends’ blogs. Well, here they finally are:

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