7th December 2019
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John Morrissey, writing at Phys.org:

Historians often trace the dawn of human civilization back 10,000 years, when Neolithic tribes first settled and began farming in the Fertile Crescent, which stretches through much of what we now call the Middle East. Prehistoric peoples domesticated plants to create the cereal crops we still grow today, and in the Zagros mountains of Iran, Iraq and Turkey, sheep, goats and cows were bred from their wild relatives to ensure a steady supply of meat and milk. But around the same time as plants and animals were tamed for agriculture, long before anyone even knew of microscopic life, early humans were domesticating microbes too.

In a paper published in Current Biology, we discovered how “milk yeast”—the handy microorganism that can decompose lactose in milk to create dairy products like cheese and yogurt—originated from a chance encounter between a fruit fly and a pail of milk around 5,500 years ago. This happy accident allowed prehistoric people to domesticate yeast in much the same way they domesticated crop plants and livestock animals, and produce the cheeses and yogurts billions of people enjoy today.

Well this sounds a bit interesting, let’s learn more:

Kluyveromyces lactis, or milk yeast, is found in French and Italian cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, and in natural fermented dairy drinks like kefir. But the ancestor of this microbe was originally associated with the fruit fly, so how did it end up making many of the dairy products that people eat today? We believe milk yeast owes its very existence to a fly landing in fermenting milk and starting an unusual sexual liaison. The fly in question was the common fruit fly, Drosophila, and it carried with it the ancestor of K. lactis. Although the fly died, the yeast lived, but with a problem—it could not use the lactose in milk as a food source. Instead, it found an unconventional solution—sex with its cousin.

Okay, I think I’m finished with the internet for tonight.

6th December 2019
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Natasha Daly, writing for National Geographic:

Why would an apex ocean predator eat gloves? Or rope? Or plastic cups? How does a whale end up with more than 200 pounds of waste in its stomach?

Last week, a ten-year-old whale was found dead on a beach in Scotland. A necropsy revealed 220 pounds of plastic and other trash congealed in clumps in his digestive system. The tragedy grabbed headlines—the sheer quantity of debris eclipsed that found in a growing number of similar cases: large whales discovered dead on beaches around the world with stomachs full of garbage.

I thought this would end up being quite a simple answer, but it turns out animals eat plastic for a whole host of reasons.

17th November 2019

Greg, on the How To Drink YouTube channel, made a great video about making Butterbeer that’s regularly referenced/drunk in the Harry Potter series:

There’s something so darn Chistmassy about the Harry Potter films, particularly the first few, that I always thought of them as Christmas Movies, even though maybe they’re not. Well I’m kicking off this holiday season with a hot mug of cheer with this 1588 recipe for Butterbeer. I know there’s a ton of nonalcoholic recipes out there for Butterbeer and those are fine, but honestly, I think this is more in line with what J.K. Rowling had in mind when she wrote the books. For starters, the kids need to grow up from Pumpkin Juice to Butterbeer, implying there’s something more mature about it. Secondly Europe and the U.K. are a bit more lax in regards legal drinking ages, and I’d imagine wizards even more so. Thirdly, Butterbeer is an actual real thing, found in a Tudor cookbook from 1588. Was J.K. Rowling specifically referencing this recipe? I can’t say for sure (unless she wants to answer!) but I CAN say that I was shocked to discover that Nicolas Flamel was a real person, who wrote a book on alchemy and the creation of the Philosophers Stone. They have copies of it at the NY Public Libary reference branch, rare books section. So, she wasn’t strictly making things up with these books. So, this Butterbeer as the official Wizards Butterbeer? Maybe.

I’ve tried the “Butterbeer” that is served at the Harry Potter Studio Tour multiple times, but I assume that it doesn’t compare at all. So I’m definitely going to try and make this recipe soon. I guess I’ll have to order a wooden tankard to drink it from too.

13th November 2019

Apple today, took me by surprise and announced a new MacBook Pro. A 16-inch one to be exact.

I’m very excited about this machine, for various different reasons which I will discuss below. But it has come at a very good point at least from my perspective, as I’ve been recently feeling the need to upgrade my current Mac because of the annoyances I have with it.

My Current Machine

To provide some context, my current machine is the MacBook Pro 13-inch Late 2016 model (not Early-2015 that I somehow thought I had earlier). It has a 6th generation 3.1 GHz Dual-Core i5 CPU, a whopping 256 GB SSD, and 8 GB of memory.

I purchased this while I was at university, so my budget was limited. And that is clearly represented in the specs of the machine. I clearly did not think about the lack of upgradability when I purchased it.

It was a good machine when I first bought it, but over the years it feels like it’s causing friction whenever I want to get something done. Which is a big reason why I think I’m going to buy this new model.

What I Do on My Mac

Along with the usual web browsing, Twitter scrolling, and other common tasks, there are only a few main tasks that I use my Mac for:

  • Developing applications
  • Writing
  • Gaming

All of these are perfectly capable tasks for my machine, but I would say that each of them certainly comes with its own level of friction.

For example, I find developing iOS apps to be cumbersome on a 13-inch screen. This used to be fine for me, but I’ve since been using external displays at work, and I find the 13-inch to be just a bit too compact. The time it takes to compile my projects, and run simulators to be annoying. Not necessarily what I would call slow, but it’s certainly not enjoyable. And with the limited time I have to develop my own personal projects, I want my machine to be as accessible as possible.

The writing I do is essentially all for this blog. I use whatever text editor that tickles my fancy at a moment in time, and I write in plain Markdown. It’s nothing that demands much resources from the machine at all. But it does require a reliable keyboard, and while the current keyboard served me well at the beginning (I personally don’t mind the “clacky” noise it produces), I’ve been slowly finding problems with it. My command keys are a bit flaky, I still haven’t adjusted to the escape key being in the Touch Bar, I occasionally get double characters when typing, and it generally just doesn’t feel as comfortable as other keyboards have been for me.

To me, a keyboard is something that you shouldn’t really notice, but when using this machine to type anything (I don’t need Grammarly), I’m constantly aware of it. Even if it’s not making any errors, I know it can and it means I can’t always focus properly on my writing.

By gaming, I’d like to refine this to playing World of Warcraft. It’s the only game I play on my Mac, and I certainly do play it quite a lot. You may be surprised by the fact that I actually game on a Mac, but while this machine isn’t necessarily built for it (It only has integrated graphics and 8 GB of memory), it gets the job done. But I’ve always wanted a better machine for this reason alone. World of Warcraft can look amazing on a Mac, I’ve just never purchased one good enough.

What Can the 16-Inch MacBook Pro Offer Me?

Perhaps the most obvious improvement that this machine has over my current machine is the size of the screen. I really want a bigger screen, and now it’s an inch bigger than I thought I’d go. I used to be hesitant about this for many reasons, but because of my iPad Pro that I use quite a lot, I’m not taking this on as many trips as I used to. So essentially the only portability I need is the ability to move it around my house.

The keyboard is the most major difference that I think is a real problem solver. I have issues with my keyboard, and I would like to hope that with the new key spacing, increased key travel, and the early opinions of reviews, that this will fix my problems. It also features a hardware escape key, which I think is the perfect comprise between having the Touch Bar or not. I like the Touch Bar, but tapping a screen with no tactile feedback for the escape key has always been weird to me.

One improvement that I think shocked everyone with this new model is the new speaker and microphone systems. I don’t really use the microphone at all, but I watch a lot of videos and listen to a lot of music on my Mac, so these are all welcome changes.

Obviously, with this being a brand new model, using new hardware, it’s going to bring with it enhancements all over the board. I’m sure compile times will be faster in Xcode, gaming will be smoother and with much superior graphics, and everyday tasks will surely feel much more seamless.

What I’m Looking At

The spec I’m looking at getting is the base 2.6GHz 6-Core i7 model, but with an upgraded 32 GB of memory, 1 TB SSD, and the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of memory. I think that GPU would be suitable for my needs, but seeing as the next step is just £90, I’ll have to do some research and see if it’s worth the jump.

What I’m doing differently now, is that I’m actually thinking about the future of this Mac. For example, I limited myself to 8 GB of memory last time, and while I think 16 GB is probably fine for me now. I think the extra jump to 32 is going to prove worthwhile in the long run. The same applies to the SSD. There’s no way I’m going to get anywhere near 500 GB, let alone 1 TB. But it removes a needless restriction, to a machine that simply can’t be upgraded at a later date.

Hopefully, this new 16-inch MacBook Pro can become a laptop that I actually like using again. And after writing this post, I’m even more sure that I’m going to get one.

5th November 2019

I write a lot of my blog posts on my iPad using iA Writer, and because it is mainly a text editor, it doesn’t support adding photos directly into a document. This makes it slightly more cumbersome for myself when I’m trying to include an image in a post, so I’d have to go to the web interface of my blog, upload an image manually, and then copy the URL.

However, it recently came to my mind that I could probably automate this process. And of course, that would be with the Shortcuts app.

So I made a simple Shortcut that can be run from the Share Sheet, accepting only images.

Then because I simply want to upload it to my WordPress blog (I have no separate CDN for images), I attempted to use the “Post to WordPress” action. Which I only just discovered can upload media, along with posts and pages.

And just like when you upload a new post using that action, the result is the URL of the uploaded post/page/media.

Although the URL that was returned wasn’t exactly the one I was looking for. I was expecting the absolute URL for the image that was uploaded. But instead, it was the URL of a kind of “preview” page, which is essentially the same template used for a blog post, except the content is the image that was uploaded.

This stumped me, and I was considering giving up with the Shortcut at this point. But I realised that Shortcuts can handle articles on websites pretty well.

So I played around with the various actions that dealt with articles and found a very simple solution to extract the image URL. It turns out, in the weird media post (that’s not actually uploaded as a blog post 🤨) has the uploaded image set as being the featured image.

That meant that I could extract that using the “Get Details of Article” action, right after the “Get Article using Safari Reader” action, and then select to get the “Main Image URL”. And it worked perfectly.

So with the fundamental work done, I added an “Ask for Input” action at the beginning, to extract the title of the media. And also a “Text” block, to use the title and image URL and format it as Markdown so it can then be quickly copied and pasted into a document in iA Writer.


So after all of that talking, I’m sure you would like to see what the Shortcut actually looks like:

Upload Image To Blog Shortcut Screenshot

Download the Upload Image To Blog Shortcut

Hopefully either the resulting Shortcut can be useful to other people, or at least my thought process behind it, as no matter how good you think you know Shortcuts, it also seems to surprise you.

5th November 2019
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Thomas A. Fine, writing at Sentence Spacing:

So I was on twitter last month when Marcin Wichary asked “Any ideas on what this key/glyph was for in the early Sholes Glidden typewriter?”

This image is from a U.S. patent, applied for before the typewriter went to market, but it was definitely there on the first models.

It’s a fascinating piece of research, and I didn’t want to spoil it here. So I’d recommend reading the full piece, to see what the mysterious ⫶ character was used for.

5th November 2019
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Matt Birchler, writing at BirchTree:

I don’t know how to blame here, Twitter or Apple, but the Twitter app for Mac is really rough in its current form. Text editing specifically is really hard to justify and is not what I would expect from any app on the Mac.

I’ve been using the official Twitter app for macOS ever since it was available, and I’ve found it to be pretty reasonable. But just like Matt shows in this video, it still doesn’t feel completely at home on the Mac.

Hopefully improvements can be made to make it fit in with the macOS ecosystem. But I’m worried that this relies on changes to Catalyst, and potentially iOS, because this is essentially the iOS Twitter app. So I won’t be holding my breath. Maybe I’ll have to switch back to Tweetbot.

4th November 2019

If there’s one game that I’ve been enjoying as part of Apple Arcade, it’s Outlanders. I have been mildly obsessed with it ever since I gave it a try, very soon after it was available.

Outlanders Map

In essence, Outlanders is a game where you control a town of people, have them build out the town, whether it’s a farm to create a sustainable food source, or a tavern which they can go to at night that increases their happiness.

It’s very fun, and it’s based around scenarios that have a primary and secondary goal that you aim towards. For example, the level I’m on right now (6, which is currently the last) has an overall target to build 7 Windmills (which are used to convert wheat to flour, in order for a Bakery to make food), and 5 Taverns. All within 120 days. The optional secondary goal is to have a population of at least 70 by the type you finish.

Outlanders Level 6

At the start it’s relatively simple. You have some people forage for foot, while others focus on getting wood, and building houses for a growing population. But eventually you have a big population, that requires a lot of focus on what needs to be prioritised next. The maps are also finite, so the amount of resources (wood and food) will eventually dwindle down, leading you to build farms, windmills, and bakery’s to sustain the food for the population.

The first five levels I managed all within a few attempts, however this last one is proving to be quite difficult. Which is actually one reason why I’m enjoying it. It’s a fun game, which requires attention, and a general plan on how you are going to build out the town and population.

I really hope that the developer adds in more levels soon, as it’s only a matter of time before I’m finished with this one.

You can download Outlanders as part of Apple Arcade, and I would recommend it as not only one of the best games from the subscription, but of the many games that I’ve played on iOS over the years.

4th November 2019
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Alan Macleod, writing for Fair.org:

While not labeling its own wealthy and powerful elites as “oligarchs,” US corporate media do, as noted, occasionally acknowledge that the United States itself is an oligarchy. But even those admissions are few and far between, appearing for the most part only in articles devoted to arguing exactly that point. Otherwise, the US is overwhelmingly presented as a democracy and a force for good in reporting.

And when a politician like Bernie Sanders suggests that these oligarchs influence the media, senior editors react angrily, claiming he is “ridiculous” and a “conspiracy theorist.” What a strange country the US is—an oligarchy without any oligarchs.

3rd November 2019
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Brent Simmons:

You choose the web you want. But you have to do the work.

A lot of people are doing the work. You could keep telling them, discouragingly, that what they’re doing is dead. Or you could join in the fun.

I agree, all you have to do is join in.