Using the OS X Terminal

Inspired by and following on from a useful article on iMore, here are a few more tips on how to use the Terminal — if you ever need to:

– Press Tab to autocomplete a path.
– Use Option-left and right arrows to move the cursor by word (this didn’t use to work but does now).
– Use up and down arrows to go back through your previous commands (all the way back to previous sessions).
– “sudo su” if you’re going to do a few things as the superuser.
– Dragging in files from the Finder to type their path is very handy.
– You need to escape spaces in filenames with , as in “My File”.
– It’s written in the article already, but recommended to always use “ls -la” to show all permissions and hidden files.
– “top” is the Terminal equivalent of Activity Monitor, handy for discovering process IDs.
– “kill -9” if something just won’t die.
– When navigating, ~ means your home directory, and / means root.
– Whatever you do, DO NOT type “rm -r /*” because it wipes everything — at least, the files you have permission to.
– The “more” app is a good way to read longer text files.
– “chmod” for changing permissions.
– “dig” or “nslookup” for checking out websites.
– “vi” is a basic, powerful text editor, and knowing its basic commands can get you out of some sticky situations — but it’s weird.

WordPress hackers

If you have a website, you may have been unlucky enough to have been hacked, like me. Right now, I’m wasting my Saturday going through several websites that I host, repeatedly removing infected files and locking down anything I can. It’s incredibly frustrating that hackers continue to actively destroy so many other people’s websites, forcing them (or me) to waste their time dealing with this rubbish.

The nuclear option of converting most of these WordPress sites to unhackable, super-fast static sites remains a possibility. It’s just a real shame that I’m even having to consider it.

When Holidays Go Bad

My wife and I were meant to be flying to Bali this week, but it very much looks like that’s not going to happen. Even if our flight did reach Bali, we’d almost certainly be in a queue trying to return home, as there are thousands of other travellers who’ve been stuck for several days already.

Volcanic eruptions are out of anyone’s control, but the response which companies give to a situation like this is revealing. A few slightly ranty bullet points:

  • Virgin Australia’s customer support line isn’t a freecall number in Australia, which cost some people a lot if they’re on hold for hours. There is also no kind of notification of how long you’ll be on hold, or how many people are in front of you.
  • After eventually getting through, staff were hamstrung by their own policies — Wotif would have to make any changes.
  • To a travel arranger like Wotif, Virgin Australia is regarded as a “regular” airline while Jetstar is a “low cost” airline. You must make changes directly with a low cost airline, but Wotif has to make changes with a regular airline. I’d much rather deal with the airline directly — why can’t I?
  • Wotif do have a freecall number, and a callback service. Unfortunately, yesterday I was told the callback would be 1 hour 20 minutes, but it was over 3 hours. When they called me back, I was then put on hold(!) for another hour and 15 minutes. Insane.
  • I’ve had no dealings with Jetstar, but you can at least (try to?) contact them through Skype.
  • The airlines only cancel flights day by day. Virgin’s language today is indicating pretty clearly that if they can fly on Wednesday they’ll only be taking empty planes to Bali to fly people home, but they haven’t actually cancelled our flight yet.
  • Virgin are offering replacement destinations “for free” (codeshare costs extra) but they are all domestic/uninteresting/cheaper from Brisbane. (And why isn’t Perth on the list when flights to Broome (via Perth) are?)
  • Days ago, Jetstar allowed passengers with flights booked through the end of this week to pre-emptively cancel their flights for a travel credit, but Virgin didn’t. Virgin’s public language only mentioned changes, and refunds could only be arranged by talking to Wotif, who would then read Virgin’s fine print and ask them nicely.
  • Jetstar are now also offering replacement flights to many other destinations (Hawaii/Fiji/Thailand/NZ) with no change fees. Virgin’s more exotic (codeshare) destinations cost an unknown amount of extra money.
  • Wotif can cancel our flights and get our money back from the airline now, but until the flight is officially cancelled, we’re less likely to get our money back from the hotel (and there’s still no guarantee). We therefore have to wait until it’s officially cancelled before making any other bookings, and can’t book any replacement holiday until the day before, when all the cheap tickets are gone.
  • Finally, Wotif want an $80/person rebooking fee. Apparently not, according to the  person I spoke to today.

Lessons learned?

  • Maybe the savings from a package aren’t worth it. Booking directly is much easier to manage.
  • Wotif and Virgin could both communicate a whole lot better. I’ve had absolutely no proactive communication from either company, I’ve had to call them, and each call has taken a long time.
  • Earlier pre-emptive cancellation of flights would help a whole lot of people to actually have a holiday.
  • Wotif really need to react better to this situation. Why not earn some goodwill and actively offer replacement holidays to anyone still in Australia?
  • Wotif really shouldn’t be calling people back to put them on hold, or charging $160 to make a booking. They should be emailing people to let them know they might not be going on holiday in two days time.

Enough. Hopefully everyone stuck in Bali can get home soon.

EDIT: Virgin finally cancelled the flight today on their travel alerts page, so I rang Wotif to get a refund. Full flight credit received, and hotel refunded too. An hour or two after that, Virgin emailed me to say my flight was cancelled. Better late than never?

The Demise of the Local Video Rental Shop

My local video rental shop is (finally) closing, and that’s a sad, sad thing. While this happened years ago for most people, I’ve been lucky enough to have a local video shop this whole time. So what’s the big deal?

Cost is one factor. Watching a movie is now going to cost a lot more than $1 on a Tuesday, and at $5-7 a go, I’m less likely to take a chance on odd movies with mixed reviews. As someone who rarely re-watches movies or TV, I’m not inclined to buy discs. Disc rental was the only cheap way to watch TV shows that were otherwise locked away on pay TV — especially if you’re catching up on past seasons.

Apart from the money, though, the main thing I’m going to miss is the browsing. Digital shopfronts are really good at letting you find what you’re already looking for, and pretty bad at helping you to discover something you’d enjoy. The analog world of the video shop is the opposite: hard to find what you’re looking for (and with limited quantities) but terrific at introducing you to something you didn’t even know you wanted. (Disc rental kiosks don’t duplicate that at all: no older releases, a limited selection, and I still have to return something. Worst of all worlds.)

Spending a half-hour at the video shop scanning the shelves was a joy: all a film needed was an interesting cover to pique my interest. If a quick look on Metacritic showed that it wasn’t trash, I might take it home. I honestly don’t know how to replace that, because the digital world allows commercial interests to insert themselves into that process, and I’ll have to engage with some other system that simply shows me all the films recently released. It probably exists, but it won’t be as much fun as walking the shelves.

So many of the films I’ve found at the local video shop over the years were unknown before I stumbled across them. Sometimes it took repeated looks over a few weeks before I caved in; sometimes they were good, sometimes not. But I don’t know how else I would have found God Help The Girl, or Wanderlust, or Pride, or All Is Lost, or Locke, or What We Did on Holiday, or countless other good movies that never got enough of a marketing budget to put their name in front of my ad-blocked eyes. Also, I couldn’t have watched all the behind-the-scenes making-of specials that don’t always make it to digital formats — Wanderlust alone has an entire alternate cut of the film made from outtakes. I may even have missed out on Game of Thrones, the first season of which I bought when my last video shop of choice went under.

Digital is a tricky beast. It makes search easy, but browsing hard. If digital shopfronts make it difficult to discover lesser-known or older works, then we’re doomed to a future of only tentpole blockbusters for the mass market and indie films few people see. We can do better than that, but given how movies have shifted in just the past few years, I’m not sure if we will.

Basic financial advice

I didn’t expect to ever offer anyone financial advice, but here we are. Some very simple tips that will hopefully help if you’re in the mid-life stage I find myself in.

1. Get a mortgage with an offset account. Not every bank offers this, but many do.

2. Put all your family’s income directly into this offset account. The balance effectively comes off your mortgage instantly for interest calculations, and you’ll therefore pay a lot less interest. If your mortgage payments are made directly from this account, it no longer matters if you pay weekly, fortnightly or monthly, because the money counts against the mortgage both before and after a payment is made.

3. Use a credit card for most purchases, but be sure to (automatically) pay off the full amount each month so you don’t incur any interest. That way, your money will sit in your account longer, paying off your mortgage for as long as possible.

4. To be safer, use a separate account for PayPal and for receiving payments, and don’t keep much (or any) money in it.

That’s it. The basic idea is that it’s better to avoid paying interest than it is to earn interest you have to pay tax on. Hope it helps.

Facebook issues

There have been a couple of posts recently drawing attention to how much power Facebook has over what we see. It might not be obvious at first, but we don’t see everything all our friends post, and we don’t see everything in all of our groups either. We certainly don’t see all the posts from companies we like.

If Facebook becomes the main way we stay in touch with what’s happening, we’re very much at the mercy of Facebook’s algorithms. Given that you can buy your way into people’s feeds, that’s not a great outcome.

Here’s an article on saving the diverse, free web.

Amanda Palmer posted this and more to her Facebook page:

did you know that when i post a youtube clip, they’ll deliberately limit the reach because they want you to embed direct?

did you know that (or so it appears) if you pay to “boost” content, they’ll start punishing you by making your next posts underperform, so that you’ll be tempted to toss in more cash?

did you know that if you use the word “s4@R3″ (it means: to disseminate”) in your post, they’ll limit your content reach?

did you know how freaky it feels to be sitting here, composing this post, knowing that bookface is scanning it, and wondering how much to allow out, and how much to hold me back?

neil and i, and many other bloggers, have discussed this with more and more worry lately. we used to have blogs, on our websites. we’d link to them. people read them. LOTS of people read them. this was in the days before twitter, bookface, instagram, tumblr, etc. it was when you woke up in the morning and read people’s blogs and posted thoughtful comments and it felt like the internet was ripe with possibility and freedom.

it’s going away. even though we both have far larger fanbases than we did ten years ago, our blog readerships have been halved, quartered, more.

Sorry for the long quote, but I can’t link directly (of course!).

And Twitter? It can be good or bad. If your reading diet becomes 140 character chunks, then that’s bad, but if you use to discover something longer and more substantial, then that’s great. Like eating M&Ms vs a decent meal.

Facebook and Twitter aren’t inherently awful things, and neither are content aggregators like Apple News, Clipboard and so on. But blogs and real websites are important too, and worth seeking out. While it’s always tempting to dip into the flow of Twitter or Facebook, if we don’t read the longer pieces on blogs and websites, eventually people will stop writing them.

Watch the Making-Of specials

If you’re into filmmaking, or just into films, you’ll probably find the behind-the-scenes specials worth a look. If you only rent a film digitally, you may miss out, but the real Blu-ray (or, ugh DVD) discs usually include at least a short film or two showing how they made it.

Some movies come with no extras at all — Woody Allen films, for example. The film stands alone.

Other times, there’s something there, but it’s overly driven by marketing, or there was no budget to do a proper job. You may see extended, poorly-edited press interviews with the stars, or specials cut purely to promote the film where the actors talk about how nice all the other actors were to work with. Not very interesting.

Better productions include a decent amount of information, showing the actors and crew doing their job, then talking about it. You can learn a lot from watching these, and they’ll make re-watching the movie a much more engaging experience. Seeing how a DOP sets up their lights or how an actor behaves on set can be handy for anyone wanting to break into those fields, and watching the deleted scenes can be revealing indeed. Sometimes you’ll see really rough performances that just had to go; other times you’ll see alternate endings which disappeared for a very good reason. A commentary over the movie by the director and/or the cast normally gives away all kinds of hidden secrets, but you can do even better. Predestination includes a behind-the-scenes documentary that’s as long as the movie, and Wanderlust includes an entire alternate cut of the movie(!) built using outtakes.

My favourite behind-the-scenes extra snippet is on one of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, movies I didn’t like. The director explains excitedly how they built the biggest set ever made so they could shoot two battling ships at the same time. He was quite proud of it, but just a couple of minutes later, the effects boss explains that they spent a lot of time painting out the ship in the background because it didn’t look right. Gold.

Because picture quality alone doesn’t cost much, these days, Blu-ray discs usually include extra features in HD, but sometimes you’ll see something much worse, like the extras for “Coco”. They’re all standard definition 4:3, which is downright weird. It’s not unusual to see extras where the quality is nearly as good as the film itself, just without the same colour treatment. Extra material like deleted scenes can look good or bad too, depending on how the post production process went.

At the end of the day, though, they’re worth watching. It’s like the liner notes on vinyl: pretty, worth a look, but harder to distribute in a digital world. Seek them out, learn about the craft, and be sure to make your own if you ever get to make a feature yourself.

Adobe CC 2015 update

Adobe have recently released the Creative Cloud 2015 update, making speed and feature improvements to many of their key apps. If you have a CC subscription, there are plenty of new features worth checking out, though not all of them are quite finished yet. One important note, though, is that the default installation option now deletes older versions of the apps rather than leaving them there alongside the new ones.

I actually don’t have a problem with this, because for most apps the improvements are welcome and the files made by newer versions are compatible with the older ones. However, InDesign changes the .indd format with every major release. If you don’t keep older InDesign apps around, then collaboration with anyone who hasn’t upgraded yet becomes a dance involving .idml interchange files.

If you upgrade, but forget to untick the right box under “Advanced Options”, you can still download the older version of the app, but it can take time and will be a large download.

For more info on how to upgrade safely, read this article at InDesign Secrets. For more on the Adobe update, I’ll have an article live at macProVideo shortly.

The Star Trek Experience

I wish I couldn’t write this article, because it gives away a great secret, and reading about that secret ruins it. Sadly, because the experience has been taken away, dismantled, and the chance to experience its magic has been lost, I can indeed write the article which you are already reading.

In Las Vegas, at what used to be the Hilton (no longer) there was once The Star Trek Experience. There was Quark’s Bar, an assortment of costumed staff wandering around (including a Klingon who became pleased if you said “Qapla’!”) and two separate “experiences” where live actors guided you and a small group of other guests through sets filled with other actors.

My wife and I were lucky enough to visit in 2004 while on holiday. We tackled the older of the two experiences first, the one based around Star Trek: The Next Generation. It started out in an unassuming way, where a staffer showed us to a room, we started to watch a safety video, and then the lights went out.

When the lights came back up, just a few seconds later, we were in a different room. Of course, we hadn’t moved — some trick walls had somehow been switched in — but it was silent, effective, and totally unexpected. The door opened, and we had been “transported” to the Enterprise, background hum and all.

I’ve never experienced a better illusion, and the magic of that moment carried through the rest of our tour. An officer led us to the flight deck and beyond, while he and other actors battled a Borg incursion and tried to return us home. The invisible phaser shots did poke a small hole in the facade, but still, they got us to the “shuttlecraft” safely, whereupon we flew violently back to Earth and crash-landed, conveniently, in the Las Vegas Hilton. A “cleaner” let us back into the hotel.

It was perfect. The unexpected “transportation” at the start is something I’ll never forget, and the mild cheesiness after that was forgiven at once. It’s as close as I’ll ever come to being on the Star Trek set, and utter fun. For a more thorough re-telling of that experience, read Wil Wheaton’s take.

After the Next Gen experience, there was a more modern Voyager experience too, featuring a fairly straightforward “4D” video show. It was OK, but not an interactive event with actors on sets like the first. That’s something I’ll never get to do again, except perhaps in VR in a few years time, or on some future holodeck program whose authors have decided to get all meta.

Computer, end program.

On travelling to the USA

It’s been way too long since I wrote anything really worthwhile on my blog, and that’s a bit of a shame. Short thoughts end up on Twitter (look left), short things I think my friends would be interested in end up on Facebook, longer advice has ended up on my Training Brisbane consulting page, and longer tech articles have all ended up on, where I’ve written 3-4 articles every month since 2011.

But hey, here I am with a few thoughts about my recent trip to the USA. After working for CoreMelt at the NAB video industry conference, I was lucky enough to be able to head to the Yosemite conference in Yosemite, a one-off Mac/iOS conference in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I still need to plow through my thousands of photos to find the ones most worthy of sharing, but for now, a few thoughts on the USA. They aren’t very long, and haven’t been massaged into elegant paragraphs, but sit alone in disconnected blobs. Unfortunate, yes, but better to let them out than keep them for a perfect article I may never have time to write.

Driving on the right-hand side of the road isn’t too hard, but the hardest thing to flip is your mental map of where the car is within the lane. I was used to looking at the right side of the car to know where the car is positioned, and you have to flip that along with everything else. It’s not as obvious as driving on the other side of the road, but much more important.

Being able to turn right after stopping at a red light saves heaps of time — nice one, California. Did you know that UPS trucks (usually) don’t turn left?

Distances are huge, and freeways seem necessary even in moderately sized towns. It’s quite odd — sure, there are a few freeways in Brisbane, but we use them to get to the other side of town, not to get to the shopping mall nearby. Freeways are just built into life here, and much faster than the “surface roads” in most circumstances. On freeways especially, very few people seem to do the speed limit anywhere, and I’m sure there are speed traps somewhere but I didn’t see any. Driving felt pretty safe though, with not too many nutters.

Driving a convertible around the desert was a blast, but I wouldn’t have needed so much sunscreen if there’d been a roof on the car instead. At least we got some great footage for our stabilisation demos, and I get to say I drove a convertible around the desert.

Hoover Dam is grand in its scale and impressive to walk about, but the most striking thing is the style of both the architecture and signs. In the game Fallout New Vegas, it’s the setting for the final battle, so it definitely felt like I’d spent time there, but the art deco signage pulled me right back into Bioshock. Love it, and wish there was more of it.

NAB was great for meeting the big names in the FCP X world. Besides finally meeting CoreMelt’s Roger Bolton (who I’ve worked with for years now) I also got to meet just about every FCP X trainer I’ve heard of, to demo CoreMelt’s software to Larry Jordan, to go to several cool parties, and live it up a bit. With any luck I’ll get to do it again.

Living or visiting America feels a little like life without a seatbelt. Get injured? Become ill? Work in a job which doesn’t offer the right kind of healthcare? Well then: you’re stuffed. If you’re stuck in a job you don’t want just because you can’t afford to lose the healthcare plan they offer, you may well discover that freedom isn’t what it appears to be.

My goodness, good beer is cheap here. Not in bars, where it’s about the same as in Australia, but a six pack of interesting beer for US$10? Singles for $1.30? Please?

On the other hand, the imperial system is crazy. Miles? Pints that aren’t even the same as UK pints? Gallons? Fahrenheit? No no no.

Politics is a poisoned discussion here. Most people are actually sane, but those that aren’t are so far off the deep end compared to everyone I know back home that it’s difficult to engage. No preferential voting means there really are only two choices in elections, and I can see why people become disillusioned with the process.

Pricing is a constant surprise. I can’t quite figure out how anyone sticks to a budget here, when you usually have to add 8ish percent state sales tax and often twice that as a tip to every bill. It all ends up a bit vague, and paywave-style tapping to pay is still rare. Foreign cards don’t seem to able to use their Chip-and-PIN, and I only had my signature actually checked once in the entire trip.

There aren’t really enough staff in most places, because the numbers have been crunched to the point where nearly every shop is on the bare minimum staffing level. I visited a Quiznos with just one visible staff member and one other guy who seemed to be taking out the trash but not very quickly. Queues were very common. A point of comparison is my local shopping centre here in Australia, where the staff are unfailingly friendly, often familiar, some young, some old, and everything’s pretty easy. Fewer staff means things are harder, shelves aren’t always stocked, you can’t get help when you need it, and fewer people earning a living. But the stock price is higher, right? Exception: In and Out burger had loads of staff, all working feverishly, making pretty decent food.

In-n-Out’s tasty burger.

Most fast food is pretty average, as you’d expect, but so’s a lot of slower food. Denny’s wasn’t to my taste; Carl’s Jr was nothing exciting; Quiznos was OK. But In-n-Out Burger was probably the best burger I had on the trip. Chipotle did a decent burrito too. Shout outs to the not-too-bad sloppy joe at the pub and the not-too-bad cheesesteak in the food court at the Riviera in Las Vegas, to the buffet at the Wynn, to the awesome (and real) Mexican food at Alta California Fonda on Pico Boulevard in LA. In general, finding anything fresh was a challenge, but doable.

In LA, my wrist-mounted iPod nano was mistaken for an Apple Watch by a guy at a cafe, and a conversation was started. Turned out he was an editor too, so we had a quick chat, and he was the editor on The Right Stuff. And The Mentalist, and lots more besides. LA, right? Where else can you help a random stranger with a question about LUTs?

LA has The Getty Center and Griffith Observatory for awesome, free days out, but everyone knows about them, so they’re busy. Still worth it, though, and free wifi at each.

Free wifi is awesome for travellers. My international roaming data is effectively free (since I roll over quite a bit of spare credit on my Australian prepaid plan) but it’s still pretty limited. So when you can get free wifi, it’s FaceTime Time! That’s glorious when your family is actually awake, the connection takes, and you can point at the blurry thing behind your head and say “that’s the Hollywood sign!”.

A good Airbnb place is so much better than a good hotel. A good hotel can’t offer an open bar, freshly squeezed orange juice and a salad of fresh vegies both from produce grown in the backyard, great conversations and a peek into what a real local’s life is like. If you’re in LA and will have a car, do yourself a favour, and stay with Sri.

Breakfast at Sri’s place in LA.

Driving around the Hollywood Hills was a blast because I’ve driven those streets so many times in Grand Theft Auto V. I ended up searching for the road that Rockstar copied and placed Franklin’s house on, and I’m pretty sure I found it, too. Bonus for visitors: free parking if you want to walk around.

Franklin’s GTA V house was about here.

Yosemite National Park is an amazing, stunning place to be, to visit, to tramp around. Epic in the best and biggest sense, you simply can’t take enough photos of the place. It’s too big.

The Yosemite Conference by Cocoaconf was terrific. While I’m not a veteran conference-goer, I’ve been to a few and really enjoyed this. Great people (hi, everyone) and the chance to share a drink, a meal or simply a chat with great people you may or may not have heard of is a chance worth grabbing. How many other people can say they put a koala into Jim Dalrymple’s beard? Looking forward to keeping up with the people I met on Twitter (hi Aijaz, Corey, Dan, Liz, Maia, everyone!).

Of all the great talks, probably the one guaranteed to change my behaviour is Christa Mrgan’s talk on the Yosemite High Sierra camps and how to design app UI. As a designer myself, I knew most of the app design tips, but really valued the way in which she wove the two themes together, and I now have to trek the High Sierra camps at some point in my life.

Getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing something new is always worthwhile. If you haven’t travelled in a while, get out there. Mind you, returning home felt like stepping into warm slippers. So comfortable, so relaxing, no “bad areas” to avoid, no sense of fear or unease. Australia is, indeed, a lucky country. May it long stay that way.

PS. Pics now added. Will update with a full Flickr set when they’re ready.