How to easily turn off annoying Ulysses features

The Ulysses app was once a paragon of minimalist, distraction-free writing. But since they have gone to a subscription model (which I don’t begrudge at all), they apparently feel pressure to regularly add features. Many of these additions have degraded the soul of the app and, frankly, will soon drive me to adopt another application.

The two additions that I find most egregiously annoying are the “Markup Bar,” and the “Counter.” The former displays text-formatting shortcuts, the latter shows word count. Both intrude on the writing space and, here’s the shitty part, can’t be permanently turned off.

I have filed bugs with the company that Counter and Markup Bar default to turned on for new documents, and also any new view of an existing document. These bugs were confirmed by Ulysses Tech Support, but after several new versions of the app, they still have not been fixed. I don’t know what’s going on at Ulysses GmbH & Co., but they have lost sight of their north star.

The only workaround is to use the Keyboard Maestro macro that I’m sharing below. The next time you’re writing in Ulysses and one of these stupid features raises its head, run this macro to immediately turn off both of them again. I’ll keep it updated to disable any new annoyances they add in the future. The best way to configure this macro is to have it active only when Ulysses is front-most.

Download from GitHub

Ulysses bs macro

Book Review: Existential Physics

This book by Sabine Hossenfelder is subtitled “A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions.” It’s an interesting and refreshing approach to the seemingly impossible “facts” that others are offering about quantum mechanics. One of the great characteristics about this book is that Hossenfelder fearlessly identifies, and describes in clear detail, situations which science currently does not, and probably never will, prove or disprove. (Which is actually quite a big swath of the assertions you hear about the quantum world.)

Technical writers, of which science writing is a subset, don’t get a lot of love or praise. (Ahem.) But Hossenfelder deserves such, as this book is a gem of the genre. One of her very humane tactics is to include a chapter-concluding section called “The Brief Answer.” Instead of wading through all the details, skipping ahead to this summary makes the Big (but Less Interesting) Questions a lot more approachable. Because, frankly, some of them intrigued me more than others. For example, I devoured “Does the Past Still Exist,” but jumped to the brief answer for “Are You Just a Bag of Atoms.”

Here just a few of the notes I took:

  • Sociologist Steve Fuller claims that academics use incomprehensible terminology to keep insights sparse and thereby more valuable.
  • Science and religion have the same roots, and still today they tackle some of the same questions. (Indeed!)
  • Demarcating the current limits of science helps us recognize that some beliefs are not unscientific, but rather, ascientific.
  • “In the end, I hope you will find comfort in knowing that you do not need to silence rational thought to make space for hope, belief, and faith.”
  • Measurement in quantum mechanics destroys information for good. Other than that, and also black hole evaporation, information can’t be destroyed. Once someone dies, information about their unique ways, wisdom, and kindness becomes irretrievable and disperses quickly. But if you trust the math, the information is still there, somewhere, somehow, spread out over the universe but preserved forever. “It might sound crazy, but it’s compatible with all we currently know.”
  • In an interview with Tim Palmer, he and the author discuss how scientists who ridicule religion might alienate youngsters who would otherwise consider scientific pursuits. Science and belief are not always incompatible.
  • You can find many different diagnoses on death certificates, but those are just details. What really kills us is entropy increase.
  • Penrose’s conformed cyclic cosmology sounds a lot like Vishnu’s cycle of creating and destroying the universe. And Penrose’s theory is compatible with current scientific knowledge.
  • For the first time ever, I feel like I understand why the past, present, and future simultaneously exist, and there is no “now.”
  • Much of the supposed weirdness of quantum mechanics just comes from forcing it into everyday language. (See previous bullet point.)
  • Saying what’s beyond what we can observe is purely a matter of belief. If it cannot be observed, claiming it exists is ascientific, as is claiming it doesn’t exist. Don’t pretend that either of those is science. (Paging James Randi!)
  • Religion matters to people in a way that science does not. The two are “non-overlapping magisteria” and according to many people, science is too cold, technocratic, and unhumanly rational.

I bought my copy of the book at Barbara’s Bookstore, but you can also find it at the Amazon.

Book Review: A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century

My parents taught me to always “clean my plate” at meal times. That is, you should eat all that you’ve been given.

“Please clean your plate dear, the lord above can see ya. Don’t you know people are starving in Korea?” — Alice Cooper, Generation Landslide

Intentionally or not, for my whole life I’ve adopted that same attitude towards reading books. Oh, I have plenty of books in my library that I haven’t read (in re tsundoku), but once I begin reading one, I feel obligated to finish it.

That is, until this book. Written by “Heather Heyring and her partner Bret Weinstein, it is subtitled “Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life.” That intriguing premise, and the cool cover (yes, I know) made it seem like something I’d enjoy. I was mistaken.

I won’t belabor the point, as based on other online reviews and the vitriol expressed towards the authors, I don’t need to overly justify my viewpoint. (Unfortunately, I learned about all this after I had purchased the book.) I’ll only add that while the authors might be smart biologists, when it comes to sociology, anthropology, and technology they are sadly lacking in sophistication.

But as is my practice, here are a few points that stood out for me:

  • “…culture exists in service to the genes. Long-standing cultural traits are as adaptive as eyes, leaves, or tentacles.”
  • The authors insist on using WEIRD as an acronym for societies which are “Western nations, with highly Educated populace, an Industrialized economic base, and are Rich and Democratic. That they labored so hard to make this derisive naming work will tell you a lot about their mindset.
  • “…the methods and language of science are imitated by institutions and systems not engaged in science, such that the resulting efforts are generally not scientific at all. Not only do we see words like theory and analysis wrapped around distinctly untheoretical (sic) and unanalyzed (and often unanalyzable) ideas, but — worse — we see the rise of a kind of fake numeracy, in which anything that can be counted is, and once you have the measurement, you tend to forgo all further analysis.”
  • don’t mistake identifying an effect for understanding an effect
  • REM sleep is the creative stage of rest

I stopped reading the book after one too many Jesus references, assertions about males being inherently dominant and females naturally submissive, and a statement that gender dysphoria is caused by endocrine disruptors in our environment. Skimming ahead, the latter half of the books seems filled with platitudes (“smile more”), glib advice (“sit around campfires with your family”), and, sadly, anti-vax bullshit.

Typically, when I’m finished with a book, I’ll donate it to a local Little Free Library so that others can enjoy it. This one is going straight into the trash.

Neighborhood sociopathology

Although I don’t have any medical training, I believe that I have accurately diagnosed a person who lives on my street as a sociopath. (And most likely, by implication, a Trump supporter.)

How did I reach this conclusion? Observation.

My kitchen window overlooks a busy urban street that is in high-demand for parking due to its proximity to popular storefronts and restaurants. When a parking space is vacated, it’s typically immediately taken up by another vehicle. Spaces are unmarked, so cars are parked bumper-to-bumper.

Except during the early hours of the morning. At that time, the stores are closed, and there are often open parking spaces with big gaps between them. And that is when I frequently see my neighbor strategically adjust where his two cars are parked.

He’ll rush out of his home and move both his vehicles so they are parked behind each other. This, you might be thinking, seems reasonable. But it’s where the pathology emerges.

He carefully places each car so that they consume the maximum amount of space. Positioning them just in front of a loading zone (so that nobody can park behind), and then leaving a several foot gap between his cars. I have even seen him pace out the space between his cars so that it’s large, but not so big as to be a usable spot.

When he’s done —and this process takes several minutes— his two cars are taking up enough space to park at least three, if not four, vehicles.

He’s precisely the type of person who should move to the suburbs. And here’s the kicker, he has a two-car garage that he doesn’t use. Definitely a sociopath.

Small-town Dead

This year, I’ve driven back-and-forth across much of the United States multiple times. Resulting in at least 6000 miles of travel, and several weeks of being on the road.

As a fan of Blue Highways, stopping in small-town America is always a highlight. (Although not always a respite when in Trump-y areas, such as Deadwood and all of Oklahoma.)

One consistent attribute of many small towns is what I’ve come to call “Dead Soldier Square.” It’s remarkable how many places have memorials to residents who have died in recent military service. Occasionally, it’s an old-school statue, but more often the memorial consists of photos of the dead on streetlight poles, or otherwise distributed along Main Street. Every so often, the placards are placed in the windows of empty storefronts, which makes them even more haunting and evocative by combining two forms of civic loss.

The photos of dead youth haunt your every step. The intention is probably to remind the living of their sacrifice, but I suspect the actual result is numbing and normalization.

It’s especially poignant knowing that for at least some of these young people, joining the military was the only viable means of escape from the town. And now, in death, the town is the only place where they are remembered.