back to the blog with MarsEdit

As I’ve noted several times over the years, I do almost all my writing in a text editor, BBEdit. But when I write a blog post in BBEdit, the process of getting it onto the blog is not as straightforward as it might be. I write a post in Markdown, convert it to HTML, and copy it to my clipboard. Then I open a browser tab for the relevant blog/blogging platform — WordPress for my personal blogs, Blogger for this one — paste in the text, add some tags, and hit Publish. 
I can do all this very quickly, and save a step or two with Keyboard Maestro, but even so it’s not ideal. The estimable Dr. Drang has written some scripts to post directly from BBEdit to WordPress, but I lack the skills to make those work for me, and I can’t even imagine having the skills to write an equivalent script for Blogger. So… 
I’ve owned Daniel Jalkut’s blogging app MarsEdit for a long time, but just recently have dedicated myself to using it every day — and it’s great, a marvelous piece of software. You can write in rich text, HTML, or Markdown (the last slightly awkwardly, but it works) — it even lets me edit a post in BBEdit if I want. MarsEdit offers very convenient options for pasting in links, and also serves, if you wish to download your previous posts, as a backup for your blog. 
For me, one of the most useful features of MarsEdit is the ability to draft a post in any of my blogs and then with a dropdown menu change it to a different blog (this feature aids in cross-posting also). 
When I’m done drafting and adding tags, I click “Send to Blog” and it uploads flawlessly, every time. 
MarsEdit has been around a long time, and I hope will be around for a long time to come. Frustration with most of the dominant social media platforms has led to a mini-revival of blogging, which I hope will become a full-scale revival. Austin Kleon has been blogging daily for several months now; Dan Cohen has gone “back to the blog”; Gordon White recently wrote, “Last night, sitting by the outdoor fire, drinking and ranting into a wordpress window as in the days of yore was joyous.” The great Warren Ellis has noticed: “My RSS reader is starting to get nicely repopulated, and the more people who notice this, the better the world gets.” 
Let’s do this thing. Let’s bring back the blog. And if you have a Mac and want to make blogging as simple and seamless as possible, use MarsEdit

the sources of technological solutionism

If you’re looking for case studies in technological solutionism — well, first of all, you won’t have to look long. But try these two on for size:

  1. How Soylent and Oculus Could Fix the Prison System
  2. New Cities

That second one, which is all about how techies are going to fix cities, is especially great, asking the really Key Questions: “What should a city optimize for? How should we measure the effectiveness of a city (what are its KPIs)?”

The best account of this rhetoric and its underlying assumptions I have yet seen appeared just yesterday, when Maciej Ceglowski posted the text of a talk he gave on the moral economy of tech:

As computer programmers, our formative intellectual experience is working with deterministic systems that have been designed by other human beings. These can be very complex, but the complexity is not the kind we find in the natural world. It is ultimately always tractable. Find the right abstractions, and the puzzle box opens before you.

The feeling of competence, control and delight in discovering a clever twist that solves a difficult problem is what makes being a computer programmer sometimes enjoyable.

But as anyone who’s worked with tech people knows, this intellectual background can also lead to arrogance. People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior training, thanks to their superior powers of analysis. Success in the artificially constructed world of software design promotes a dangerous confidence.

Today we are embarked on a great project to make computers a part of everyday life. As Marc Andreessen memorably frames it, “software is eating the world”. And those of us writing the software expect to be greeted as liberators.

Our intentions are simple and clear. First we will instrument, then we will analyze, then we will optimize. And you will thank us.

But the real world is a stubborn place. It is complex in ways that resist abstraction and modeling. It notices and reacts to our attempts to affect it. Nor can we hope to examine it objectively from the outside, any more than we can step out of our own skin.

The connected world we’re building may resemble a computer system, but really it’s just the regular old world from before, with a bunch of microphones and keyboards and flat screens sticking out of it. And it has the same old problems.

Approaching the world as a software problem is a category error that has led us into some terrible habits of mind.

I almost quoted the whole thing. Please read it — and, perhaps, read it in conjunction with another essay I referred to recently, about the just plain wrongness of believing that the brain is a computer. Ask a software engineer for solutions to non-software problems, and you’ll get answers that might work brilliantly … if the world were software.

an odd puzzlement

I wonder if this ever happens to anyone else: surprisingly often, when I read about a new piece of software, I can’t figure out what the software actually does, or is supposed to do. I suppose that means that I am not in the target audience for the app, but I’m not the target audience for many apps that I perfectly well understand the purpose of. Mathematica, for instance, or for that matter Photoshop.But take Bento. What the heck is Bento for? It’s a “personal database.” Okay . . . but what does that do? Turns out that with Bento I can “display [my] contacts and calendars in new and exciting ways” — I can’t even imagine what that means or why I would want to do it — or “organize contacts, clubs and mailing lists” — what do you mean by organize? — or “track projects, tasks, and deadlines” — so it’s a project manager? — or “manage students, classes, and lecture notes” — what does “manage” mean in this context? — or “store recipes and shopping lists” — wait, why would I want to “store” my shopping lists? And do I need a new application for that? Don’t I already have apps on my computer that do all these things quite well? (And I downloaded and tried Bento when it first came out without resolving my confusion.)I feel the same way about a new online service called AcaWiki, which is “Increasing the Impact of Research Using Web 2.0.” The idea seems to be that you post summaries of academic articles and then have discussions about them. Well . . . okay. But that seems like a great deal of work for a very small reward — at least until there are many thousands of articles that have been summarized. And even then, aren’t there already many thriving listervs and online discussion groups for people in every academic field? I just can’t see what this is adding to the party.Note that I am not saying, in either case, that I’m confident that the software is useless — rather, that I can’t seem to discern what the utility is supposed to be. It’s, frankly, rather disturbing how often I find myself puzzled in this way. . . .