How to Crash Any Mac App

Brad Sams, Neowin:

Here is a bit of news that will leave you scratching your head for anyone that uses OS X Mountain Lion. If you type "File:///" (without the quotes) into nearly any app, it will cause the app to crash. This odd bug has been confirmed by Neowin and we have managed to crash Spotify, Tweetbot, Notes and a bunch of other applications too.

Apple's software gets sloppier all the time. Note that the "F" has to be capitalized. I tried this in Safari, Chrome, and Tweetbot, and it works like a charm. Even if you just type it in a search box; even if you don't hit Return. I hope this gets fixed fast.

Valve Finally Releases Half-Life for the Mac

Xanfan, Retro Game Network:

If you are a fan of the first person shooter, chances are you have played the original “Half-Life” at some point in your gaming history. (If not Half-Life, then at least Counter-Strike!) Over the past 15 years, Half-Life has been loved by PlayStation 2 owners, and nearly all computer gamers out there. That is unless, of course, you were a fan of Apple before it was cool, and were a Macintosh user, where the game was never released. We are happy to report that over 14 years after it’s original release, Mac users can finally play Half-Life on their own computers, without having to buy one of those “PC compatible” things.

Only took 14 years. I was eagerly awaiting this port, and then the Dreamcast port, which was cancelled just before release. In related news, Reddit user Murmur322 figured out how to run Black Mesa Source natively on the Mac with Wineskin.

Droid Life Calls Instapaper "Unaffordable"

Kellex, Droid Life:

Instapaper, the uber popular iOS “reader it later” app, received a major update on Android today. I’m still not sure why people wouldn’t go with the free and equally as impressive Pocket for their “read it later” app of choice. But choices are never a bad thing, even if the developer thinks Android is the slums of the mobile Earth, will never match the polish of iOS, and that you probably can’t afford his app. He would like to thank you all for your support, though, because you’ve helped make updates like this possible.

I'm embarassed to say that I was a fan of Droid Life in its early days, when I was a Droid user, and before they went with that awful pink theme.

But seriously, who can't afford a measly $2.99? I paid $4.99 for the iOS version two years ago, and it was worth every penny. Since Marco has to pay server costs every month, I think $4.99 for two years is a really good deal.

As a side note, when I was on Android, I paid $5 for a Twitter client and $8 for a podcatcher. There are fewer paying customers on Android than iOS, so quality apps tend to cost more.

It remains to be seen how Pocket will eventually bring in revenue, and believe me, their investors are going to demand it sooner or later. I like Pocket, but I trust Marco. I've used his products, listened to his podcast, and even done business with him.

Of course, many Android users want to paint him as a jerk because of his straight talk about Android economics. That doesn't makes him a jerk, it makes him honest.

Letterdepressed

This article was originally published in issue 5 of The Magazine, published December 6, 2012 by Marco Arment; edited by Glenn Fleishman.

Loren Brichter’s Letterpress is a beautifully designed iOS game that mixes Scrabble with the ancient Japanese strategy game Go. It’s the best casual game I’ve played in years, and it’s wasted more of my time than I’ll admit.

The trouble is, as the executive editor of this publication can attest, figuring out an ideal strategy isn’t obvious. A lot of otherwise brilliant players seem to struggle at Letterpress. [Editor’s note: I have no idea what you’re talking about.-gf]

This may come from players being stuck in a Scrabble mentality. In Scrabble, the game requires opponents start in the middle and work to the edges. Oddball letters like Z and Q have the highest values, and thus are desirable to preserve and place carefully.

In Letterpress, the worth of a letter isn’t determined by how difficult it is to use, but its position. Scrabble players start in the middle, but the savvy Letterpress player starts in the corners. The objective of Scrabble is to construct words, while the point of Letterpress is to prevent your opponent from doing so.

The basics

Two players see the same five-by-five grid of letters. The game proceeds in turns in which legitimate words must be played (according to the built-in dictionary), or a player must pass. Each word you create may be used only once, may not be a prefix of a previously played word (but can end in the same letters), and must be at least two letters long.

The board's starting position.

Tapping letters on the board puts them in a row below the player avatars and scores, and above the board. Drag letters to rearrange them, or tap to return them to their position on the board. You can test words even when it’s not your turn.

Playing a word stakes a claim on the letter tiles that comprise it. Letterpress shows that tiles are claimed by changing the color, in the default color scheme, to blue (for the local player) or red (for the remote opponent).

A tile’s background is a light shade of the color unless it is surrounded on all sides on the board by tiles claimed by the same player. In that case, a dark shade is used. In any given turn, if a player claims light-colored letters from an opponent, this removes the aegis of any side-adjacent protected letters.

Demonstrating a defending letter with W.

Diagonal letters don’t count for defense, only the sides. And if a defended tile and its surrounding tiles are used by your opponent, that tile remains yours, even though it is no longer accorded special status unless you protect it again.

A player can always use tiles he or she already claimed, but gains no advantage from doing so. Tiles’ ownership shifts back and forth constantly as the game is played. Play continues until all letters have been claimed, or until both players pass their turns in the same round. Whoever has the most claimed letters at the end of the game wins.

Opening moves

The first move in Letterpress confers a huge advantage. A well-played opening can devastate your opponent. If you’re opening the game, always defend a corner letter and make the longest word you can.

Corners are important because they’re the easiest tiles to defend and keep: only two sides need to be locked down, as opposed to three or four for all other tiles. Once a player owns a corner, it is very difficult to lose it. Opening with a defended corner provides a base from which you can expand into more defended letters, thus taking control of the board.

An opening gambit takes a corner.

Often, you won’t have much choice in which corner to take, but, if you can, defend the one with the highest-value letter — either a letter that occurs but once on the board or a vowel. Even if you can’t take a whole corner, try to take as much of one as you can. You might be able to claim it in the next round.

Beyond corner conquests, occupy as much of the board as you can in the first rounds. Each time, play as long a word as you can muster — at least 6 letters. Your opponent will surely steal many of those letters back the next turn, but don’t make it easy.

Before playing your first word, study the board carefully. See what letters lie in the corners and where the vowels and most-used consonants are. Think about some of the words that might be played in the match. Visualize the possibilities by testing out words, even for future rounds, before acting on the current turn.

Also think carefully about not just the words you can play, but how your opponent could turn them against you. Choose poorly, and even the best of openers will be for naught. For example, an opponent of mine opened with AWARES, defending a corner E. Unfortunately, he didn’t anticipate I could play UNAWARES on my turn, depriving him of all but his now-undefended corner E.

Awareness of the board, and all possible permutations of a word, is critical in Letterpress. If I play POOLED, my opponent can’t play POOL, because that’s a prefix of POOLED; but if there’s an S on the board, he can play POOLS. That’s okay, because I can strike back with LOOPS. If he plays LOOPED, I can counter with SPOOLED, and so on.

While all of that is going on, the point advantage is flipping back and forth between my opponent and myself. I call this back and forth “tick-tock.” As I’ll demonstrate later, understanding the tick-tock rhythm is essential to winning at Letterpress.

If you play following an opponent’s really great opening, you’re at a disadvantage, but not an insurmountable one. Like Microsoft in the ’90s, you want to “embrace and extend.” “Embrace” the opponent’s letters by using as many as possible, and “extend” by using unclaimed letters, preferably taking another corner as you do so.

However, the current first-mover advantage might be short lived. Developer Loren Brichter told me that he’s considering adding a “pie rule,” which would allow the second player to veto the opening move. If that happens, this section will still apply, but you’ll probably want to make less aggressive openers.

Mid game

Once the game is underway, Letterpress becomes an all-out war. Like any good general, you want to keep your troops in a tight formation. Spread your letters out willy-nilly around the board and the enemy will easily pick them off. Keep them close together to make them easier to defend.

Ideally, you want to “march” across the board, claiming and defending letters line by line, building a wall as you go. If you’re able to start from a corner, you can build either horizontally or vertically — maybe both. And if your opponent gives you the opportunity to take more corners, by all means do so; just don’t spread yourself thin.

As you make your way across the board, you want to defend as many vowels as you can. According to Brichter, there are at least three vowels (excluding Y) on every board, but never more than seven. Other than ZZZ (yes, it’s legal, according to Brichter), vowel-less words are few and far between. Block them off and your opponent is cut off at the knees.

Of course, the path of glory is never an easy one. The score in a well-matched game will be a constant tick-tock between you and your opponent. For that reason, you almost never want to play a word that would leave you even or at a point disadvantage to your opponent, because he or she can then steal your letters and put you in a hole that will be hard to climb out of.

In order of priority, you want to use your opponent’s letters, unclaimed letters, and your own letters (as you get no points for reusing your own). Also, don’t fall into the trap of just stealing letters, or you’re spinning your wheels. Try to make every word a mix of stolen and fresh letters, so you can hamper your opponent as you expand. Embrace, extend, and extinguish.

Speaking of unclaimed letters, they act as something of a clock for the game. As each one is captured, the end draws closer. If you have a significant advantage, use them as fast as you can, but if you’re behind, avoid them to give yourself time to catch up. Tick, tock.

Endgame

With only a few unclaimed letters left, the end is nigh. More often than not, the decisions you make here will decide your fate.

The “tick-tock” concept becomes crucial at this point, because, in a close game, the player who ends the game usually wins. When only a handful of letters remain, ask yourself before every play, “If I do this, can my opponent finish the game?” If the answer is yes, don’t do it.

Marching across the board, the general's soldiers take tiles.

One letter I’ve often found left for last is Q. It’s a tough letter to use, because it’s seen as dependent on the letter U. But in Letterpress, U is not guaranteed to be on the board. However, if the letter Q is present, there will always be an I, according to Brichter. If you want to be a Letterpress master, learn words that use Q and I, but not U, such as QI(S) and FAQIR(S).

The best thing about Letterpress is that it lets you win in style. Some players, like Marco Arment, like to use the shortest possible word to win. I like to be clever, such as playing a high-school classmate’s own nickname against him. If you’re really good, you can “smurf” your opponent by taking every letter on the board, turning it blue.

Trying to smurf your opponent.

And if no matter what you do, you still can’t win, just remember: Profanities are legal.

Thanks to Loren Brichter for his help with this article.

Special thanks to Glenn Fleishman for his editing of this article, and for Marco Arment for allowing me to republish it on my site.

Ed Bott Reveals Chitika's Inaccuracies

Ed Bott, ZDNet:

I love data-driven journalism more than just about anyone, but Chitika's numbers don't pass the sniff test. I've avoided writing stories based on Chitika's many press releases precisely because I couldn't find any evidence that the numbers were reliable, trustworthy, consistent, or meaningful. On the contrary, the numbers have frequently been just laughably inconsistent.

Great analysis by Ed Bott.

Jekyll Resources for Beginners

Jekyll is a lightweight system for developing websites, most notably blogs, without a database. In fact, once things are set up, posting to a blog can be as simple as creating a text file and running a command. It's been getting a lot of buzz since Brett Terpstra's impressive Jekyll-based relaunch.

I've been playing around with Jekyll myself, and it's a lot of fun. I'm not sure if it'll ever replace Squarespace for me, but the idea of blogging with just BBEdit and a Terminal window is tantalizing (If only BBEdit supported Git).

If you'd like to try it out for yourself, Anup Jadhav has an excellent tutorial on how to install Jekyll on the Mac with the homebrew package manager.

Here's a tip: If you can't get Jekyll to compile, you probably need to install the command-line tools in Xcode. Install Xcode from the Mac App Store, go to Preferences, then the Downloads tab, and from there you can install them.

After installation, you'll be ready to build your first Jekyll site. For that, Andrew Burgess has a great guide on getting started.

Quick Reviews of Christmas Toys

I got a lot of neat things for Christmas, so I thought I'd share them with you.

Tramontina Cast Iron Dutch Oven

I love to cook, and I love cast iron. But cast iron is cantankerous. You have to season it well, can't touch it with water, and acidic foods are a big no-no. Fortunately, they make these enameled dutch ovens that eliminate most of those problems. I cooked a big pot of spaghetti sauce the other night, and it worked perfectly. No strange reactions, and the dutch oven stayed hot hours after turning the burner off.

Doxie Go

I hate paper, but I hate flatbed scanners even more. And while I'd love a heavy-duty scanner like the Fujitsu ScanSnap, we don't have enough room in the house. I don't even have a desk at the moment. So that's where the Doxie Go comes in handy.

It's a portable, battery-powered sheet scanner. It's fantastic. You can toss it into a bag, covered with the included carry case, and bring it anywhere. It scans fast, and with the touch of a button, can switch between 300 and 600 dpi. The included software can even convert documents into searchable PDFs.

My only complaint is that it tends to scan slightly crooked, but that can easily be fixed in the software.

Seiko SNK809

I've recently became enamored with mechanical watches. I love the look, and I love the precision that goes into crafting a good one. Several Reddit watch aficionados recommended the Seiko SNK809 as an entry-level automatic.

It's a sharp-looking watch, with emphasis on minutes instead of seconds. I've enjoyed it so far, but the bilingual days drive me nuts. Is VIE the same as FRI? Is JUE Thursday? Did I set this thing right? Even with a Spanish-speaking wife, this stuff confuses me.

iOttie One Touch Car Mount

This is the first car mount I've owned for an iPhone, and I love it. Press two buttons on the side, and the locking arms open. Put the phone in, push it in, and it activates a button that closes the locking arms. The suction cup is super-powerful, so no fear of my phone tumbling to the floorboard.

I have no complaints about the mount itself, but I miss the Android feature that would keep the phone awake while plugged in.

The above product links are all Amazon Affiliate links that support this site.

Why Gesture-Based Apps Suck

Max Rudberg:

The problem is mainly the lack of visual cues; there is no way to tell that sliding the main screen to the left will toggle the alarm on in Rise, or pinching a list in Clear will minimize it and take you up a level in the hierarchy. It’s not obvious, and what’s often called mystery meat.

I have never liked apps like Clear. While nice to look at, I can never remember which way to flick or swipe. And if I haven't used it in a while, I am completely lost.

Via Daring Fireball.