Python Package: frontmatter

One of these days, I’m going to sit down and create a static website generator similar to Jekyll and Hugo. It’s not likely I’ll be able to make anything better than those two large projects, but I want to do it for the learning experience, and to eventually have my own blog powered by software that I wrote. I have decided to use Python 3 for this project, so in preparation for that, I wrote a simple YAML Front Matter parser package and uploaded it to the Python Package Index. It’s called frontmatter.

Since my blog posts are currently written in Markdown with YAML metadata at the top (aka “front matter”), one of the things I need is a way to separate this YAML metadata from the post content. Ideally, my published posts will be fully compatible with the new static site generator right out of the gate. I already went through one major blog migration earlier this year and migrating all of my posts was by far the most time-consuming and tedious part of that.

There are other Python packages with similar functionality to my frontmatter package, but I wanted something that is as simple as possible, and something that I can continue to maintain and add to over time. I could have forked another project, but since my static website generator will be a learning experience, I wanted to write this part as well (it was a fun little project anyway). My package does depend on the PyYAML for the actual YAML parsing, however.

I haven’t officially started the static site generator project yet, but writing the smaller dependencies that can be packaged up into separate libraries will only help get it off the ground when I am ready.

Best Screenshot Tool for macOS: SnapNDrag Pro

When I published a list of software I used in 2017 last week, there was an app I regrettably forgot to include, and that is SnapNDrag Pro by Yellow Mug Software. I attribute the lapse to the fact that I don’t use the app every day (but I do use it often). So for that reason, and because I rarely see this app mentioned despite its great utility, instead of updating my previous article I decided to dedicate a whole new entry to it.

I’ll just go ahead and say it: SnapNDrag Pro is the best app for screenshot capture and management, hands down. I have never seen or used anything better for this same purpose, which is why I’m a little surprised I don’t see it mentioned very often by other people or publications. Especially considering the hoops others jump through to get decent screenshots on macOS.

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Using Apps to Organize Your Life

If it weren’t for the software I use to keep my life running smooth every day, I’m not entirely sure I could survive. My responsibilities include a full-time job, a relationship with my wife, three young children (each with their own needs, appointments, etc.), other family events and obligations, two dogs, a house to manage and maintain, a car, personal projects, way too many bills, and now schoolwork (my wife and I recently decided to go back to college).

I don’t know if this is a typical load for most families, but to me, it seems excessive when I write it all down. It certainly feels like a lot while living through it, so I need tools that work for me so I can put my energy and focus on actually getting things done.

And work for me they do: school assignments and work tasks are always completed on time; I almost never forget anything important; appointments and events don’t creep up unexpectedly; bills get paid on time; I’m on top of routine house and car maintenance; I’m able to attend all school events for my children. All in all, I’m generally prepared for most things. And on top of all that, I still have time for my family.

However, without the various apps and services I use to keep my life on track, I’d be a total mess. And in fact, I used to be. It wasn’t until I took the time to organize every aspect of my life with digital tools that things started to finally run without a hitch.

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Marco Arment wrote about how Apple should go about Fixing the MacBook Pro. He has a lot more problems with the current MacBook Pros than I do, as described in my recent review, but we agree on two points: the keyboard and the Touch Bar.

He offered a nice suggestion on how Apple could fix the keyboard:

The Magic Keyboard’s scissor switches feel similar, but with a bit more travel, and all of the reliability and resilience of previous keyboard generations. They’re a much better, more reliable, and more repairable balance of thinness and typing feel likely to appeal to far more people — even those who like the butterfly keyboards.

I had no idea the Magic Keyboard had newer, shorter-travel keys with none of the problems exhibited by the new butterfly keyboards. I really hope Apples goes this route with the next MacBook Pro keyboard.

Regarding the Touch Bar, I don’t mind it, I would just prefer not to eat the extra cost next time around if possible. I don’t expect Apple to reverse their decision and just abandon it though, especially considering how heavily emphasized the Touch Bar was. I’m not sure they have that much courage.

The Mac Still Feels Like Home. Gabe Weatherhead writes about his experiment using an iPad and iPhone (mostly) exclusively for five months:

As the title suggests, the Mac still feels more comfortable for almost everything. The Mac feels less innovative and “fun” but I actually feel more relaxed when using multiple windows, real keyboard shortcuts, and a true file manager. The irony here is that the size and design of the iPad makes it more of a joy to use, but it’s also tainted by inefficiency. I do almost every task faster and more easily with my Mac than I can do it on my iPad Pro.

Five months is definitely enough time to get used to something, so it’s not just a matter of familiarity. As much as Apple doesn’t like to admit it, the Mac is still the best tool for the job for many tasks over an iPad. Of course, this is no surprise to me.

While many things are possible to do on an iPad, like Gabe, I have always found it a lot more tedious unless it was a task more obviously suited to direct manipulation or pure consumption (such as drawing and reading). Compared to macOS, trying to do almost anything else with an iPad feels like digital constipation.

macOS is doing just fine

Lately, I have been underwhelmed by recent macOS releases. I’ve had the impression that the development of macOS has mostly stagnated. When I see the focus and effort that Microsoft has put into Windows 10 and its many updates, I have been jealous that Apple hasn’t been giving the same kind of attention to my favorite operating system. Instead, it has been putting all of its eggs into the iOS basket. Or so it seemed.

So recently, I had been writing a piece I had tentatively titled “Frozen In Time”, which was referring to the following quote from the Rolling Stone interview of Steve Jobs in 1994:

They were able to copy the Mac because the Mac was frozen in time. The Mac didn’t change much for the last 10 years. It changed maybe 10 percent. It was a sitting duck. It’s amazing that it took Microsoft 10 years to copy something that was a sitting duck.

In the quote, Jobs is talking about Microsoft copying Mac OS software (not Macintosh hardware). The premise of my article was that macOS is back to where Mac OS was in 1994; a “sitting duck” just waiting to be surpassed by Windows (and even Linux) in the traditional desktop/laptop PC space… and that Apple doesn’t care because it has iOS.

However, after writing a large chunk of the article, as I was conducting research to back up some of my claims, I decided to trash it and reverse my stance. I was wrong. What I discovered is that Apple does care about macOS, and there is plenty of evidence of that—even if it’s not its primary focus anymore.

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I have A LOT to be thankful for

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States, and while the year’s not quite over yet, it has certainly been a remarkable one for me so far. So much has happened over the past several months that it would be difficult for me to believe if I weren’t currently living it. Since this time last year, my life has changed quite a bit, and for the better. No, I didn’t win the lottery or anything like that, but there’s plenty to celebrate nonetheless.

Since 2009, a lot of my focus has been on my professional life: my job, programming, side projects, etc. I spend time with my family and we have our fun, sure, but my priority has been to provide a stable, comfortable life for them and to make sure it stays that way. This year, however, it was time for my wife (Biffy) and I to take a step back and put more focus on some of our personal long-term goals instead.

It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s all been totally worth it. Some of that hard work has already paid off. Some of it won’t be realized for another couple of years. But all in all, it’s all been really great and I’m so, so thankful for the things Biffy and I have accomplished in 2017.

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The Imposter’s Handbook is now available in print. I purchased the eBook version earlier this year and it’s a well written book that delivers on its purpose. I haven’t finished it all the way through yet, but I will, and it will come in handy in the future as well. I’m thinking of purchasing the softcover edition that just came out so I can have a physical copy at my desk. It’s well worth the $50 if you ask me.

As someone without a formal education who works professionally as a software developer, I can relate to Rob Conery’s experience and I’m so glad he wrote this book. I’m definitely in the target market. But even if you do have a Computer Science or Information Technology (or equivalent) degree, you can still benefit from The Imposter’s Handbook as a refresher on some of the things you learned back in college.

Since many job interviewers seem to place a heavy emphasis on this stuff, it’s great to have a good resource like this if for nothing else than to have a refresher on hand with most of the relevant topics all wrapped up in a single book. When I finish reading the book, I’ll keep referring back to it throughout my career.

NOTE: The “buy” link for the print edition is a little hard to find on the linked page so here it is in case you have trouble finding it.

Major software update from Literature & Latte:

Scrivener 3 is now available for macOS at only $25 for existing customers and $45 for new users. And Scrivener 3 for Windows is on its way.

While Scrivener didn’t make my list of most frequently used software in 2017, I do have a license for version 2 and it is my favorite app for long-form writing. I don’t have a book in the works at the moment, but when I do, I’ll be looking forward to giving the version 3 update a spin because it looks pretty awesome.

The Software I Use (2017 Edition)

I mentioned in my recent MacBook Pro review that I spend a lot of time at my computer. As you would expect, I use a wide range of software for a ton of different tasks. Since my setup is constantly evolving (and sometimes devolving, admittedly), I thought it might be interesting to document what software I’m using, why I use it, and to eventually see how my setup changes over the years.

What follows is a detailed survey of the software I relied on in 2017. Everything mentioned here are things that I use either every day, almost every day, or on a semi-regular basis.

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